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Volume 3 -- Issue 61 -- Partners in Madness Part 1

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Partners in Madness Part 1
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Professor Charles Xavier founded the Xavier Institute to promote peace and understanding between humans and mutants. Together with his X-men they struggle in a world that hates and fears them. This struggle recently got a lot tougher after Kevin MacTaggart, the first mutant Xavier ever helped, lost control over his volatile powers and went on a rampage in Liverpool, England that killed over 200 people. This incident has triggered widespread outrage towards mutants and reinvigorated the presidential campaign of Senator Robert Kelly, who is running on an anti-mutant platform.

In response to this crisis, Charles Xavier has set aside his grief and uncertainties to challenge Senator Kelly to a public debate. With help from blooming love interest, Lilandra Neramani, he is set to make his case for mutant kind in front of a global audience. For him and his students, the stakes could not be higher.

In addition to these very public issues, another conflict of a much more secretive nature is brewing. Deadpool, the mentally unstable mercenary who Wolverine and Nightcrawler have clashed with before, has been investigating a shady deal in Central America. This deal is poised to escalate at a time when mutants can ill-afford another incident. Between these two conflicts, the X-men have their hands full.

Xavier Institute – Charles Xavier’s Room

For many years Professor Charles Xavier prided himself on being able to work for his dream without thrusting undue scrutiny on himself and his students. When Magneto drew global attention through his uprisings on Genosha, the landscape of human/mutant affairs was forever changed. It forced the X-men to be more public in their pursuits. With the rise of Senator Kelly, there was no room left for subtlety. The had to confront this chaotic world.

In the time he had been conducting his media campaign, Professor Xavier faced his share of challenges. This presidential election had taken many twists and turns. It was already historic by every measure. But soon, he would face his greatest challenge yet. Live in prime time on a Friday night, he was to share the stage with Senator Kelly in a formal debate. With the Proteus incident still fresh in everyone’s mind, he had to address it assertively even if it still struck him on a very personal level. A lot of mutants were counting on him to give hope to a seemingly hopeless struggle.

He was almost packed and ready to go. Hank and Ororo were with him, helping gather the last of his things. While they were closing up his bags, he was watching coverage of the event on the news. Senator Robert Kelly had been on camera a lot lately, making good use of the backlash against mutants. He seemed supremely confident when asked about the upcoming debate.

“No, I’m not worried. If Charles Xavier wishes to face me, then by all means let him. He should confront these difficult truths about his kind. He owes to a public that will be considering these truths on election day. In addition, I intend to clarify my new position on the Mutant Registration Act. All points considered I envision a spirited debate.”

There was a certain smugness to his tone. He believed he had been vindicated in wake of the Proteus tragedy. Xavier couldn’t help but look at his image with bitter scorn. This man was trying to use Kevin’s death for his own selfish gains. He refused to let that happen.

“He seems quite confident, Charles,” said Ororo as she zipped up his bag, “Are you sure you’re up to this?”

“There’s no use backing down now, Ororo,” said Charles Xavier as he turned off his TV, “This debate is happening. I just wish I had more time to prepare. It feels as though I’ve negated my school too much lately.”

“They all understand, Charles. Just as we understand,” said Hank honestly, “You’re being strong for us so we’re being strong for you.”

“It still feels like the team is still hurting. Jean especially concerns me. I’ve been trying to help her since I returned from Muir Island and her condition has only marginally improved.”

“She’s fighting her way back,” said Hank, “Scott is keeping a close eye on her and I’ve been giving her frequent check-ups. Rest assured, she’s in good hands.”

“And you’ll have plenty of time to help her and everyone else when this is over,” Ororo reminded him, “For now, you need only focus on wiping that smug grin of Senator Kelly’s face.”

“That can’t be his main concern, Ororo...even if I wish it were. Our side needs a voice and your decision to be that voice is nothing short of admirable, Charles,” added Hank.

“It’s not admiration I’m striving for. At this point I’ll be content with renewing hope,” said Professor Xavier, “I just wish I felt more prepared for this.”

“You are prepared, Charles,” said Hank confidently, “Just think of Kevin and the sacrifice he made for us. He and others like him are deserving of such hope.”

The mention of Kevin still struck him, but rather than evoke more sorrow it strengthened his resolve. He thought back to his solemn final moments, remembering vividly that hopeless look on his face before he took his own life. Kevin made a great sacrifice for his family. He was not going to let that sacrifice be in vain.

With all his materials in hand, Charles Xavier placed a small stack of papers in his briefcase and locked it. He then turned towards Hank and Ororo, who had his bags in hand and ready to go.

“I suppose we had best get going,” said the Professor, “Lilandra said she would have her private jet fueled and ready for takeoff in a half-hour.”

“I’ll load the car and get it warmed up,” said Hank.

“And I’ll call Lilandra to let her know we’re on our way,” said Xavier, “But first, I should address my students. If for no other reason, I need to at least pretend I have the strength to get through this.”

“You don’t need to pretend, Charles. You have that strength. The X-men won’t let you leave without it,” said Ororo with a warm smile.

The Professor smiled back. This was sure to be one of his greatest challenges. He was a part of this, his students were a part of this, and the world they vowed to protect was a part of this. It was a heavy load to bear on his weary shoulders, but he stood ready to face it.

Xavier Institute – Outside Infirmary

The rest of the team gathered around their mentor to see him off. Logan, Kurt, Kitty, Bobby, Rogue, Warren, and Remy each lent their mentor their confidence and support. They weren’t concerned in the slightest about Senator Kelly getting the better of him. They had as much faith in him as he did with them. They made sure Professor Xavier knew that in an effort to boost his spirits.

“Give him hell, Professor. Don’t let Senator Kelly push you around,” said Warren.

“Yeah, show the world he’s still a jerk regardless of what the polls say!” said Kitty.

“If only being a jerk disqualified everyone from political office,” said Xavier with a humored grin, his first since returning from Muir Island.

“If you can handle us, you can handle that cranky blow-hard! The man needs to learn some manners and you’re just the man to teach him a lesson,” said Rogue, “We’re all behind you!”

“Our hopes and prayers are vith you, Herr Professor. You’ll likely need zhem vhen confronting politicians,” said Kurt.

“I’m sure I will,” he said.

Every one of his students shook his hand or gave him a hug. It was their way of adding extra motivation. The only two students not present were Scott and Jean. Jean was still ailing, but she did manage to gather enough strength to give him a hug and wish him good luck. Scott did as well, but opted to stay by his lover’s beside. The Professor could hardly blame him. Looking into her room from where he was, he silently vowed that he would help her when this was over.

“Don’t worry about a thing, Chuck. Just focus on ripping Mr. I-Hate-Mutants a new one,” said Logan, “I’ll watch over the runts in the meantime.”

“And by watching over he means makin’ us wash his bike and clean the Danger Room,” joked Remy.

“Well if it’s not too pressing, I also request that you remain on standby,” said the Professor, “Should anything come up, be sure to address it quickly and appropriately.”

“Preferably without causing a scene,” added Ororo, “This debate is very important.”

“No promises there. You know how messy it can get around here,” said Bobby.

That comment earned him forceful nudge from Logan.

“What popsicle means to say is, we’ll handle it,” said the former living weapon, “You can count on it!”

“I’m confident you will,” said the Professor, “And should Jean wake up again, please tell her I’ll back to help her as soon as this is over.”

“Will do, sir,” said Warren, “If she weren’t strung out on pain killers she would be rooting for you too. We all will.”

The Professor nodded and smiled, the support of his X-men further settling his wary mind. Going into a debate like this at anything less than full strength was foolish. A part of him still didn’t feel up to it, namely the part that was still mourning Kevin. However, the part of him that drew strength from his students won out and he was poised to take on this daunting challenge.

As the X-men saw their mentor off, Ororo lingered a bit to say her goodbyes to Logan. She eagerly pulled him into a loving embrace, soaking in his burly form and drawing her own means of strength from him.

“You watch yourself at this shindig, darlin’,” said Logan, “There’s always a chance some deranged nut will try and make a scene.”

“That’s exactly why Hank and I are going with him,” said the African woman, “We’ll be in the audience looking out for him in case anything goes awry.”

“It’s still pretty dangerous. And I ain’t just talking about the debate,” said Logan with a wolfish grin, “You’re watching the Prof’s back with your ex-boyfriend. Not that I’d put anything past Hank, but it’s still a test of trust.”

“And I intend to pass with flying colors,” she said warmly.

“I knew I loved you more than just for your exotic underwear collection,” joked Logan.

“I could say the same about that colorful personality of yours that is hopelessly devoid of subtlety,” she laughed, playfully teasing his burly face, “I’ll be back by tomorrow night. Then we’ll put that underwear you speak so highly of to good use.”

“Lookin’ forward to it, darlin’.”

“As am I,” purred Ororo under his embrace, “I love you, Logan.”

“Love you too, Ro.”

The couple shared a deep kiss. It was amazing how fast their relationship progressed since they got together. Between her coming back for him in District X and him helping her through their encounter with the Shadow Kings, they already had their share of drama. So far, they came out stronger every step of the way. This relationship was proving to be good for them. They would surely need each other as they worked through these difficult times.

Upon parting from the kiss, Ororo joined the Professor in the elevator. The team waved one last time, sending him their good wishes and unwavering confidence. It was up to him now and the fate of the human/mutant conflict couldn’t be in better hands.

“Remy don’t think he’s ever gonna get used to that,” said the Cajun thief.

“What? Watching the Professor go up against a hostile public when he knows the odds are stacked against him?” said Warren.

“Non, seein’ Stormy swoon over Wolverine like that,” Remy snickered, “He brings out the animal in her and she makes him a little less of an asshole. Seems like a fair trade.”

“Watch it, Cajun. With Ro gone that means I’m a little less inclined to take your bullshit!” said Logan menacingly.

“Take it easy, homme. Remy ain’t never gonna disrespect Stormy like that,” said Remy innocently, “Although I do admit, I be missing that leopard skin underwear of hers too.”

“Now you’re pushing it, bub! And for your information, she’s since graduated to zebra stripes!”

“Oh now you be the one pushing it, homme.”

Logan and Remy exchanged more confrontational gestures. Any subject about women’s underwear was sure to escalate so Rogue got between them.

“Whoa there, tone down the underwear talk, fellas! We’re supposed to be on standby, remember?” she said.

“And ve vould also appreciate it if you vouln’t fill our heads vith certain images,’ added Kurt.

Logan still shot the Cajun a dirty look, who returned the sentiment even as Rogue escorted him to safety. He was lucky too because he did not take kindly to snide comments about his girlfriend, especially from a guy like Remy. It ensured that no one else dared to make another comment.

“You’re not going to join a conversation about women’s underwear, Bobby?” teased Kitty, “Are you feeling okay?”

“I’m fine. I’d rather just save myself the trouble this time,” said Bobby as he followed Rogue and Remy down the hall.

“That’s probably the smartest move you’ve made all week,” said Kitty dryly.

“Don’t start with me, Kitty,” he replied, “So long as we’re on standby, I’d rather save my fighting energy for real fights.”

“Whatever,” she grumbled.

Kitty and Bobby walked off in opposite directions, leaving Kurt and Warren confused. That was an unusual development. They were under the impression that Bobby and Kitty had kissed and made up by now. No one ever said it was official, but it sure seemed like that. That fight they had the day of the Proteus attack must have been more serious than they thought.

“I don’t even want to know,” said Warren.

“Me neither, mien friend,” agreed Kurt.

“You have any good coping strategies for times like this?” he asked.

“Ja, it’s called candied bacon. It’s probably zhe best ve can hope for at zhis point.”

Kurt teleported away while Warren followed the others. This left Logan alone in the hall just outside the infirmary. He continued to linger, finding himself standing just outside the door. He always hated hospitals and infirmaries. But at the moment, Jeannie was suffering in a hospital bed. That was more than enough to override any memories from Weapon X.

Looking inside, he saw Scott dutifully watching over her. He looked beat, probably due to a lack of sleep. Jeannie looked peaceful, resting as comfortably as he had seen her since she got back from Muir Island. That still wasn’t saying much. He remembered like everyone else that strange power outburst she showed against Proteus. It was quite a sight, but it took a heavy toll on her. As someone who often lost control of himself, he knew when there were greater forces at work.

As Logan watched over Jeannie, Scott turned towards him briefly and nodded. There wasn’t much to say, but the feral mutant did take some comfort in seeing Scott tend to her so passionately. He was still a prick. However, he never doubted that he loved Jean Grey with all his heart. That was enough assurance for him that she was in good hands.

‘This shell shock from Proteus better wear off soon. Jeannie may not have the luxury of waiting for us to get our shit together. After what I saw her do back there...damn, I need another beer.’

Sighing to himself, Logan left the ailing Jean in Scott’s care. Since he was the only instructor on hand, it was his responsibility to watch over everything while Ororo, Hank, and Xavier were gone. If something came up, it was up to him to make sure it didn’t turn into another Proteus-like disaster. It was his sincere hope that the most dangerous thing he would have to attack for the night would be a bottle of whiskey.

He began making his way to the elevator. Then his cell phone started ringing.

“This better be a freakin’ telemarketer,” groaned the feral mutant.

Stopping in the middle of the hall, he took his cell phone out of his pocket and checked the number. It was listed as an unknown, which was never a good sign.

“Yeah, what is it?” he answered gruffly.

“Hello, Logan. This is Seymour Butts calling on behalf of Hugh Jass. I’m looking for a Mr. I.P. Freely. Do you happen to know where I can find him?”

Logan blinked in confusion. That voice on the other end was immature, obnoxious, and more than a little crazy sounding. There were only so many people dumb enough to call him like this, but only one came to mind.

“Deadpool?!” he exclaimed.

“Oh my lordy, you remembered! I’m touched, Logan! You’re gonna make me cry!”

“Cut the wisecracks! What are you doing calling me? I ain’t got time for your games!”

“Oh, but you’re gonna want to make time for this! You see, I’m calling from a payphone in a nice little motel in Panama City. See, I’ve been doing a little sleuthing with Scooby and the gang and I’ve come across an old friend of ours. The name Arkady Rossovich ring any bells?”

Logan snarled upon hearing that name. It was one of the few he still remembered from his beleaguered past. Unfortunately, he remembered it for all the wrong reasons.

“I take it by your silence it’s vaguely familiar. And wouldn’t you know it? He and his posse have dropped in for a little get-together. It’s nothing major really. Just your typical black market deal involving mysterious devices and stolen nuclear reactor parts.”

“So why are you calling me?!” growled Logan, “Is someone paying you to sabotage it? If you’re looking for help you can forget it!”

“Logan, I’m hurt. Are you really going to leave an old partner out to dry?”

“We ain’t partners anymore, Deadpool! I don’t remember us being partners and I’m pretty sure I don’t want to!”

“That’s a shame. Because as it just so happens our old friend Omega Red may have some answers to your past. Answers that I’m WAY too crazy to remember! And of course there’s the whole deranged mutant mob boss looking to get his hands on a nuclear reactor. Partners or not, you and your X-men pals don’t want something like that, now do you?”

Deadpool was still as annoying as ever, but he was pretty damn clever. He was playing off two solid angles. On one, he was tempting him with new revelations about his past. On the other, he was playing off his responsibilities he had to Professor Xavier and the X-men. The last thing they needed was a psychotic mutant like Omega Red getting access to nuclear components. That would be on par with another doomsday by Magneto.

“Okay bub, your next few words better count! Because if you’re jerking me around…”

“Then this would be an M-rated story, but that’s besides the point. For now, just trust in your old partner and look up the specs I’m about to give you. I’m sure you and your buddies will find it a fascinating read! But I must warn you, it’s no Playboy swim-suit special!”

Las Vegas Convention Center

The stage was set for the debate of the century. Senator Robert Kelly and Reverend William Stryker were poised to make the final push in his presidential bid. The entire convention center in Las Vegas had been renovated and reorganized to accommodate the event. Extra seats had to be added and an entirely new broadcast booth had to be put together. This debate was going to be broadcasted live and all over the world. It was a chance for one side to make a final lasting impression before going into the home stretch.

Standing in the middle of the stage, Senator Kelly went over his notes with Stryker. He watched as an army of workers scrambled back and forth, setting up everything for the hundreds of onlookers that would soon fill these halls. He always found it helpful to stand in the same area from where he would be speaking beforehand and this time had a very unique feel to it.

“So we’re clear on your opening statement, right?” said Reverend Stryker as he feverishly sifted through his note cards, “You’re to start with some sentimental words for the Liverpool victims. Then you use that as a segway to the Mutant Registration Act.”

“Get them to associate the tragedy with my solution, yes I know. I’ve gone over my notes at least ten times more than you have,” said the presidential hopeful as he fixed his tie and got a feel for the podium.

“I’m not concerned with your handle of the content. It’s the delivery you must be careful with. Be detailed, but don’t get too technical. You want the people to understand your position, not be overwhelmed by it.”

“After what happened in Liverpool, I don’t see how the public can be overwhelmed at this point.”

“That doesn’t mean you should make light of this, Robert. This is our best chance to fully discredit Charles Xavier and all his supporters.”

Reverend Stryker made it seem so dire and for good reason. This campaign had been a roller coaster ride from the beginning. Senator Kelly’s patience and his demeanor had been tested at every turn, but he never lost sight of his main goal. Now with public sentiment was on his side he had to be ready to seize his destiny.

“You don’t have to remind me how important this is, William,” said the senator, “I’ve had the tables turned on me one time too many. I’m ready to finish this once and for all.”

“So am I,” said William, “But Charles Xavier remains a wildcard. I swear that man sold his soul to the devil to make himself this much of a nuisance!”

“I can handle him,” said Senator Kelly strongly, “He’s blindsided me one time too many. I’ll make sure he does not get the better of me this time.”

“I wish I had your faith. Coming from a man of God, that’s saying a lot.”

“If not me personally, at least have faith in our cause,” urged the presidential hopeful, “Tonight, Charles Xavier and I will leave all our cards on the table. There’s no more room for fancy rhetoric and emotional pleas. People have died because of the mutant issues. It’s time we let both sides stand on their merits.”

“And you think that will be enough?” said the reverend.

“You said it yourself, William. God is on our side. We also have the will of the people working for us. It’s high time we bring it all together. With a unified public and a powerless opposition, nothing will stand in our way of doing what needs to be done.”

Xavier Institute – Hanger

Within hours of Deadpool’s impromptu phone call, Wolverine assembled a team in the hanger. It was a test of patience, listening to Deadpool ramble off the details of this deal he claimed to be scoping out. Between the jokes about tequila and Russian strippers, he did provide some serious information. What was even crazier was that everything he said checked out.

Using the War Room computers and enlisting help from Tessa, he confirmed that the Russian mob was showing unusual activity in Central America. He also confirmed that Shaw Industries was highly active in the area. He usually didn’t verify tips on old enemies, especially when they came from a deranged psycho like Deadpool. His gut instinct was usually sufficient. But after the incident with Sinister where he used Sabretooth to lure him into a trap, the former living weapon was more careful. He had to be if he was going to keep his promise to the Professor.

Logan was getting the jet ready. Waiting in the wings were Bobby, Remy, Kurt, and Rogue. Warren was there as well, but he was not in uniform.

“Seriously man, what are the odds?” groaned an exasperated Bobby Drake, “Some crazy mutant who also happens to be a big time Russian mob boss is making a deal for a nuclear reactor? And on the same day Professor Xavier is debating the fate of human/mutant relations for the next decade?”

“Don’t tell me you’re surprised, Drake,” snickered Rogue.

“Did I say I was surprised? I’m just curious because this has got to go against every law of probability I ever learned in advanced math classes!”

“I’m sure Beast can fill in all the blanks when he gets back. You best not be worried about probability when you be dealing with the Russian Mob,” said Remy in a more serious tone.

“I take it that means you know a thing or two about these guys. What self-proclaimed master thief wouldn’t?” said Bobby dryly.

“Even master thieves have their standards. But it’s true. Remy’s heard of Omega Red. When it be coming to the criminal underworld, this guy be in a class all his own.”

“Zhat’s being overly polite, Remy,” said Kurt in an equally serious tone, “I’ve heard of him as well. No one is entirely sure vhere he came from, but he runs an underworld empire known as zhe Omega family.”

“You mean like the Azazel?” asked Warren.

“Nien, his so called business practices vere so brutal zhat even my father vould not vork vith him. Groups like zhe Azazel have measures of conduct zhat are supposed to build towards a noble goal. But Arkady Rossovich is just a thug. Name anything illegal, criminal, or just plain wrong and he’s involved in it.”

“On top of that he has a history with Logan,” said Rogue, “That’s pretty much the trifecta right there.”

It sounded like Omega Red had all the right ingredients to be a very nasty individual. It was not an appealing prospect, but it was just the kind of thing they needed to be proactive about if they were to help Professor Xavier. Mutant thugs with nuclear weapons was sure to skew the debate.

The jet was now ready. The engines were warming up and the rear hatch opened where Logan stepped out in full uniform. At the onset of every mission he always appeared a little grumpy. This time it was even more so with the knowledge that they were going up against an old enemy of his and with Deadpool of all people.

“Alright runts, time to get a move on!” he barked, “This deal is going down at sunset with or without us! For all your sake it better be with us!”

“You’re still assuming zhat Deadpool isn’t leading us on, Wolverine,” said Kurt, his tone becoming bitter at the mention of the snarky mercenary.

“Don’t make this overly personal, Elf! I know you got your beef with Deadpool. I do too. But so far everything he’s said so far has checked out.”

“Zhat doesn’t mean he von’t find some vay to screw us over,” argued Kurt.

“Believe me, I know the risks of trusting this lunatic. But if even part of what he says is true, we need to step in. Rossovich can do more damage than Proteus and Magneto combined if he has the right tools!”

“Right, now explain how some mutant mob boss is gonna make a scene that’s gonna affect the Professor’s debate?” said Rogue dryly.

“Since when is it a good idea for psychos to get weapons of mass destruction? Or did you already forget Magneto’s little asteroid plot?” quipped Logan.

“Ah ain’t saying nuclear weapons should be taken lightly. But is busting up mob bosses all about the debate or is this just personal?”

The former living weapon scoled Rogue for implying that he wasn’t taking his responsibilities as an X-man seriously. However, he chose not to deny her claim. He couldn’t afford to second guess his own motives, especially when his past was involved.

“Just get on the damn jet!” said Logan.

Even though Rogue had superhuman strength and invulnerability, Logan’s enraged tone was enough to stop her from making any further comments. Logan made it clear that he had a personal stake in this mission by simply avoiding the question. If there were other factors at work, he was in no mood to share them. With no room for comments or questions, the hastily assembled X-team filed into the X-jet.

“Even I’m not crazy enough to make another comment,” said Bobby.

“Vait until you meet Deadpool,” muttered Kurt, “You don’t know true crazy until you’ve dealt vith him.”

“If he be Logan’s old partner, I’m sure he’s a riot,” added Remy.

While Remy, Rogue, Kurt, and Bobby strapped themselves in and prepared for takeoff, Logan addressed Warren. The winged mutant was noticeably uneasy about being present, but not being in uniform. Usually, he would be eager to play a part in these sorts of missions. However,, Logan had other plans.

“Sure you’re not undermanned, Logan? I can understand leaving Scott and Jean behind, but why do I have to be sidelined with Kitty?” the winged mutant complained.

“Because someone needs to stick around watch the mansion and Kitty’s in too fowl a mood,” said Logan, “She and popsicle had a spat and she ain’t in the right mindset for a mission like this.”

“That can’t be the only reason,” said Warren, folding his arms bitterly.

“It ain’t,” affirmed the former living weapon, “I also need you to tap those family resources of yours. I know one side of this deal, but I don’t know squat about this Sebastian Shaw. If memory serves me right, Shaw Industries was caught up in those sentinel thefts.”

“I’ve heard plenty of bad things about Shaw, but just because he’s a competitor doesn’t mean I can uncover his life story.”

“Your old man was paranoid enough to spy on him. I’m guessing he still is. Now I need to know everything I can about this deal! I don’t care if you have to gravel, but we need to know what kind of shit-storm we’re walking into!”

It sounded so reasonable, but Warren still didn’t like it. While the idea of turning to his family company for help didn’t disgust him as much anymore, he didn’t like being kept out of the action because of it. This was part of what he had been contemplating so much lately. What Logan was asking him to do was sure to affect that.

“So are you gonna start whining or are you gonna play daddy’s boy?” said Logan.

“Fine!” said Warren bitterly, “But you owe me for this Logan!”

“I’ll by you lunch at a topless bar later,” said Logan as he made his way into the jet, “Keep your com-link handy. The second you find something, let me know!”

“Sure thing,” he sighed.

The rear door to the jet closed and the launch tunnel opened. Within minutes, the engines ignited and the high tech aircraft shot out into the sky. Logan wasn’t playing around. This mission wasn’t just about preventing some incident that was going to make the Professor look bad. Between Omega Red and Deadpool character, it must have been very personal.

Warren didn’t concern himself with the ever complicated subject of Logan’s personal vendettas. He had his own issues to work out. Once again, he was being asked to use his family resources to help the team. It seemed as though that was his greatest power lately. His wings and combat skills were just secondary. Regardless of how the Professor’s efforts panned out, he was going to have to address it sooner or later.

‘You really have a knack for timing, Logan. I was hoping not to overthink this whole issue of doing more good as Warren than Angel. Guess this means I’m at the point of no return. It doesn’t matter what I do from here on out. There’s only room for one role and right now the one with my wings is in trouble.’

Las Vegas International Airport

The flight to Las Vegas aboard the Aerie Global private jet was uneventful. For Professor Charles Xavier, it went by all too quickly. There wasn’t enough time to get himself in the mindset he needed to be in. There wasn’t enough time to go over his notes as thoroughly as he wanted either. Time was moving too fast. There were so many ways in which he wasn’t ready for this, but there was no turning back. He had to face Senator Kelly and the world.

As soon as they touched down they were met with an unwelcome sight. A hoard of media vans and assorted personnel were there to greet them. There were even a few protesters holding signs. How they got in past airport security was beyond them. It gave the Professor an ominous hint of what he was up against.

“The debate hasn’t even started and people are already responding,” sighed Ororo, “I wouldn’t call that a promising sign.”

“This is to be expected, I’m sorry to say. CNN is already billing it as the media circus of the new millennium,” said Hank.

“Almost makes me wish they would waste more of their time on celebrity gossip,” sighed the African woman.

As the jet came to a halt, some of the protesters in the crowd started pelting the plane with rocks and food. Many of them were wielding signs bearing slogans like “Xavier Teaches Murderers!” and “No Excuse for Monsters!” They had seen these kinds of signs before, but in the context of the Proteus affair they had an added impact. Even though he was trying to stay focused, it was hard for Charles Xavier to not be affected.

“Charles…” said Ororo, sensing his concern.

“I’ll be fine, Ororo,” he assured her, “Let’s get moving. The quicker we get to the convention center, the sooner I can address these angry crowds.”

They had to wait a moment for the airport authorities and the local police to clear a space for them to exit. They did not open the hatch until a special limousine surrounded by police pulled up. In order to get from here to their destination they were going to need protection and Lilandra had made the necessary arrangements. As the hatch opened and they descended the special elevator for Xavier’s wheelchair, they heard a fury of protester chants and media inquiries.

“Professor Xavier! Do you wish to comment on rumors of this debate being staged?” asked one reporter

“Are you aware that the families of several Liverpool victims will be present in the audience tonight?” asked another.

“Go away, mutie! No one wants to hear it anymore!” yelled a protester.

“I once thought you X-men were heroes! But you’re just monsters in spandex!” yelled another.

Charles Xavier remained silent and so did Hank and Ororo. They understood the less they gave their opponents to work with, the less ammunition they would have to attack them. Every possible word and response had to be saved for Senator Kelly.

As they approached the limousine, a few rocks and trash were thrown towards Xavier. Ororo used her powers to kick up a small gust of wind to blow them away. It helped keep protect them until they were inside the vehicle.

“Sorry about that, Charles,” said Ororo, “I don’t know how they sneak cheeseburgers and corndogs out here, but its best they not end up on your face or suit.”

“You don’t need to apologize, Ororo,” said the Professor as he wheeled up to the passenger door, “We’re all targets here. So long as they’re throwing food and not bombs, there is still hope.”

After Xavier was successfully in the limousine, Ororo and Hank joined him. Inside, they were met by Lilandra Neramani, who looked just as anxious as the Professor. Even though she helped put this together at his request, she had her doubts. If this went wrong, it would be difficult to recover from.

“Are you ready, Charles?” she asked with worried eyes.

“Not as much as I’d like to be,” replied Xavier bluntly, “Is everything set?”

“They’ve closed off the entire block surrounding the convention center. Pretty much every media outlet in the world is going to be in attendance and Senator Kelly has made sure all his supporters are with him as well. The only missing ingredient is you.”

“Then we had best not disappoint them,” he said with understated confidence.

Sensing he was not going to be dissuaded, Lilandra nodded and signaled the driver. Within minutes, the convoy started moving. Protesters and media reports continued to swarm the area. It was slow going at first as a few were foolish enough to jump in front of the escorts in an effort to stop them, but the police managed to clear them away.

“I don’t want to put any more pressure on you, Charles. But I want you to know that I’m very proud of you for doing this,” said Lilandra.

“Thank you, Lilandra. Your support means a great deal to me,” said Xavier with a meager smile.

Lilandra smiled back, blushing somewhat under his gaze.

“And do be careful up there,” she added, “Senator Kelly is vicious when he’s emboldened. If he sees a chance to land a knock-out blow, he’ll take it.”

“I won’t give him that opportunity,” said Xavier strongly, “While he may be devious in his tactics, I believe Senator Kelly still has his weaknesses. He’ll be overconfident in making his points. It’s that kind of hubris that I hope to turn against him.”

“Do you really think it will be enough to make a difference?” asked Beast.

“We’ll find out soon enough, old friend. As we have seen many times already, it takes very little to turn the tide in a major conflict.”

As if to reinforce his point, the windows of the limousine were hit with what appeared to be globs of ketchup and mustard. How the protesters managed to concoct such a mixture was a mystery even for world’s most powerful psychic. It showed just how far to the other side their fight had swung. Now as they were making their way towards the convention center, the opportunity for another major shift loomed over them. However, it still depended on there being no major distractions in the human/mutant conflict at large.

Panama – Outside Shaw Industries Fright Complex

The X-jet flew over the dense Central American jungles in full stealth mode. Between paranoid Panamanian officials, a ruthlessly paranoid Russian Mafia, and a mysterious force in Sebastian Shaw it was vital that they remain undetected. Logan wouldn’t even fly the jet over the complex or land in a clearing. Instead he set the jet to hover and had them disembark a half-mile away from the perimeter. To get to the area where this deal was going to go down, they were going to have to hike through the dense tropical jungle.

As they disembarked, the complex seemed so far away. Logan couldn’t get moving fast enough. As soon as he stepped out into the humid jungle air, he sniffed the air. Rogue, Remy, Kurt, and Bobby could tell he was trying to pick up Omega Red’s scent. For anyone to be this eager about facing a ruthless mobster, they had to have a quite a history.

“So how exactly do you know zhe Omega family, Logan?” he asked him.

“Keep your voice down, elf! For all we know this whole jungle could be bugged!” snapped Logan.

“Enough with the excuses, Wolverine! The guy was askin’ a serious question!” said Remy in a slightly lower voice, “And not to take sides, but don’t you think you be owing us an answer?”

Logan grunted in annoyance as he quickly scouted ahead. Even if it had some very personal undertones, they at least deserved some back story.

“It ain’t pretty. Even I don’t know the full story. You can thank Weapon X for that,” he grunted as he sliced through some thick vines.

“Then what do you remember about this fella? Is he really that bad?” asked Rogue.

“He’s worse!” snarled the feral mutant, “Back during the Cold War, he was the Russian equivalent of Weapon X. Stalin himself dragged him out of the gulags because they found out he was a mutant with some sort of healing powers.”

“You mean a healing factor like yours?” asked Bobby.

“I ain’t entirely sure, but he had something that helped him survive. They put him through some nasty experiments to crank his lethality potential up to 11. They gave him the title, Omega Red. They made him stronger, tougher, and gave him these unbreakable metal whips he can shoot out from his wrists.”

“Dang, sounds a lot more cumbersome than claws,” commented Remy.

“But he knew how to use them!” grunted Logan as he stormed past some thick bushes, “I don’t know exactly how many times we clashed, but I know we met up just before Weapon X got their hands on me. We were in Korea and he was working some angle on the South Korean government. The two of us tangoed and it got pretty messy.”

“Ah’ll bet!” said Rogue, trying to contemplate such a battle, “Ah take it you kicked is ass, seein’ as how you’re still here.”

“That’s just it! I thought I killed him!” snarled the former living weapon, “I damn near decapitated him! But somehow he survived! He even returned the favor!”

“How so?” asked Bobby wearily.

Logan grew even tenser as he literally chopped through some dangling branches. He was clearly itching to get his hands on this guy again and for very good reasons.

“That’s where my memories start getting fuzzy again,” grunted Logan, “All I know it was something worth killing him for…again! I’m taking this clown out like I should have years ago!”

“And doing so vill require you to keep a level head, Herr Logan,” coaxed Kurt, teleporting in front of him to slow him down, “Ve all understand zhat zhis is very personal to you. But remember, ve are on a mission. Ve must stop zhis man from hurting zhe Professor’s efforts.”

Logan snarled again. It was easy to forget his responsibilities in the heat of the mission. It was times like this he almost missed Cyclops’s leadership, even if he was an annoying prick. But he had his hands full with Jeannie. So for all their sake, he had to be the leader and put the mission above his personal vendettas.

The team fell silent and carefully followed Logan through the thick jungle. The facility was coming into view. They could see the outline of the building just up ahead through the haze. It was fairly big for a freight yard, but nothing seemed too out of the ordinary so far

“What about the other fella in this deal? Sylvester Shaw?” asked Rogue, “Do we know anything about him?”

“It’s Sebastian, Rogue,” Logan corrected, “And no. We don’t know dick about this guy. All we know is his company was involved in those sentinel thefts a while back.”

“So why didn’t we investigate this homme?” said Remy, bitterly recalling that affair, “If he be involved in the sentinels and with this Omega punk, he got to be a problem waitin’ to happen!”

“Funny, I told Chuck the same thing. But this guy’s a big time businessman, not a thug. Whatever he’s involved in, he knows how to keep his hands clean. Far as the real world is concerned, Shaw just an  upstanding fat cat.”

“Upstanding…right,” said Bobby dryly, “Must have some damn good lawyers protecting him.”

“Probably more zhan zhat,” said Kurt, speaking from experience in the Azazel, “Vhatever he’s involved in, I zhink it’s safe to say it isn’t noble.”

“Think we ought to worry about him more than Omega Red?” asked Rogue.

“I’m more worried about throwing Deadpool in zhe middle of all zhis,” said Kurt, “Zhat man has caused me nothing but trouble. For all ve know…”

But before Kurt could finish, he was abruptly cut off. Logan stopped in mid-stride and grunted intently as he took a defensive position.

“Quiet, elf!” he said under his breath, “Nobody move a muscle!”

“What is it, Logan?” asked Remy.

“All of you stay back! We’re being watched!” growled the feral mutant.

Remy, Rogue, Bobby, and Kurt each froze as they quickly scanned their surroundings. Logan’s senses were always pretty sharp. If he said something was there, then something was definitely there and that was usually a prelude to something messy.

The next few moments were tense. Logan, his claws drawn and ready for combat, sniffed the air thoroughly to pick up the scent. He took a few steps further, leaving the rest of the team to back him up. He eventually stopped at the base of a tree. That’s when he heard it.

“Peak-a-boo! I see you!”

Immediately turning his attention upward, Logan watched as the menacing figure of Deadpool came into view. Just as he had back in Germany he came in from above, descending from an adjacent tree with both his guns in hand. With Logan in his sights, he started firing relentlessly at his old partner. As soon as he landed, he set his guns to full auto and showered his former partner with a barrage of bullets.

“Errrrrr! Deadpool!” howled Logan as the bullets ripped through him.

“I’ve got him, Wolverine!” said Bobby.

Bobby sprang into action along with Rogue, Remy, and Kurt. He quickly iced up and fired and ice blast at Deadpool’s hands, freezing them and his guns in a thick block of ice to stop the shooting.

“Whoa that’s cold!” said Deadpool.

“Allow Remy to warm you up!” said the Cajun thief.

Taking out a couple of cards, Remy charged them up and flung them right at the stunned mercenary. They exploded right near his hands, shattering the ice and knocking him back against the tree. In the split second it took for him to recover, Kurt teleported in front of him and swiped his guns.

“I’ll be taking zhese!” said Kurt with an angry tone.

“Penelope! Lucile! Be careful with those! They’re minors!” said Deadpool obnoxiously.

“You want careful? Ah’ll show you careful!” said Rogue as she attacked.

“Ooh! Sounds sexy-ahhhhh!”

The merc with a mouth’s dirty comment was abruptly cut off when Rogue lunged forth and pinned him against the tree, pressing her forearm against his neck. She used an extra dose of strength, not just to keep him restrained but to shut him up as well.

While Rogue had Deadpool pinned, Remy and Bobby helped Logan back to his feet. He had at least fifteen bullet holes in him, but he was far from out of it. The wounds were bleeding profusely, but Logan was too pissed off to feel pain. With blood dripping down his face he stormed over towards Deadpool and held his claws right up to his face.

“You got a lot of nerve, bub!” roared the angry mutant, “First you call me and my friends out here! Then you attack us?! What kind of bat-shit game are you playing?!”

“Ack! Take it easy, Logan! I was just playing!” said Deadpool through Rogue’s choking grip, “You always liked it when I snuck up on you back in the day!”

“Why in the heck would anybody like being shot by a masked clown like you?” scoffed Rogue.

“What can I say? When you heal like we do, you gotta find new ways to train!” laughed the masked mercenary.

“Whew, this guy really is crazy,” commented Bobby.

“Aww, now that really hurts,” said Deadpool playfully, “I go out of my way to reach out to you and this is how you repay me? Seriously, Logan, have a heart!”

“For all zhe trouble you’ve put us through, vhy vould ve have any kind of sympathy?!” spat Kurt, who was eager to condemn this man for abducting Amanda twice.

“Would it help if I said I was sorry?”

Kurt and the rest of the X-men looked at him strangely. Rogue maintained a firm grip on his neck, ready to crush him the second he gave her another reason. It was starting to look as though this deal they were here to stop was a ruse.

Then Logan’s demeanor shifted unexpectedly. Looking at Deadpool, he searched his memories. Everything involving the wise-cracking mercenary was still pretty vague, but some of it was starting to come back to him. The pain of the bullets left in him seemed to jar his memory. He recalled a similar greeting like this when they were partners in Southeast Asia. It was still as annoying back then as it was now, but it was part of how they operated. He even remembered encouraging Deadpool.

“You seriously gotta try harder, Wilson. How do you expect me to be ready to stop an ambush when you’re as subtle as a live grenade?”

“I’ll make note of that, old buddy! Next time, I’ll shoot first and make jokes after!”

As the memory played over, he made a fateful decision.

“Let him go, Rogue. We need him,” said Logan begrudgingly.

“Vith all due respect, Herr Logan, have you lost your mind?!” exclaimed Kurt.

“The only way Ah’ll let this guy go is if he’s in a straight-jacket!” added Rogue.

“I said let him go, Rogue!” barked Logan, “Don’t make me list a ton of reasons!”

Rogue hesitated briefly. She continued applying pressure to his throat with her forearm, keeping Deadpool from making any extra remarks. Neither she nor the rest of the team were very trusting of this man, especially Kurt. But Logan wanted to trust a maniac and they didn’t have time to question his judgement. Now they were starting to miss Cyclops’s leadership as well.

Rogue bitterly let him go, allowing Deadpool to catch his breath and gather himself. Logan’s new friends packed plenty of muscle. It was a good thing too because they were going to need it. It also helped that some of them were easy on the eyes.

“Damn, that’s some grip you got there, babe! Are all your muscles that strong?” said Deadpool with a dirty tone.

“Are you bones that brittle?” grunted Rogue in annoyance.

“Homme, you be giving Remy way too many reasons to blow you and that mouth of yours to hell!” spat the Cajun mutant.

“As if ve didn’t already have enough,” said Kurt bitterly.

“Oh don’t tell me you guys are going to hold a grudge! I was hoping we could be one big happy family and sing camp tunes when this is over!”

“And you guys call me obnoxious,” snickered Bobby.

The air was tense. Rogue, Remy, and Kurt looked ready to beat Deadpool to a pulp. Logan had to step in to stop them.

“All of you shut up!” he yelled, “I get it! Deadpool is annoying an annoying son-of-a-bitch! But he ain’t the enemy!”

“Speak for yourself,” muttered Kurt.

“If you got a beef with him, take care of it later! We have a mission, remember? We’re here to stop Omega Red! The rate we’re going he probably knows we’re here!”

“Ah relax, old buddy! He’s not even here yet,” assured Deadpool, “We’re still under the radar. I’ve made sure of it. Just before you arrived, yours truly took out the sensors Shaw has around this place!”

“Right, and you’re so trustworthy we just have to take your word for it,” said Rogue dryly.

“His goons haven’t shown up yet have they? With all the racket we’ve been making, doesn’t that give me some credibility?”

The X-men looked at him strangely. Credibility and Deadpool didn’t sound like they belonged in the same breath. Although the considering their situation, he may have had a point. The freight yard was in plain view. If they could be this loud and not draw any alarms or security, it was clearly evidence of some action on Deadpool’s part.

“Zhat doesn’t prove anything!” said Kurt, still highly skeptical, “For all ve know you could be setting us up!”

“Now who’s being crazy?” laughed Deadpool.

“This is starting to feel like a test in semantics and I didn’t study,” groaned Bobby.

“Seriously kid, do I look like the kind of guy who could plan an elaborate trap? You need a certain level of sanity to make those kinds of plans. And sanity for me is a serious commodity. The six other voice in my head says so.”

It was pretty hard to argue with that logic. This guy was recklessly impulsive and couldn’t keep his mouth shut. If there was some elaborate plan at work here, he clearly wasn’t behind it.

Kurt remained bitter and suspicious, but Rogue, Remy, and Bobby were convinced. Logan’s concerns were eased somewhat as well, but still had his share of doubts. Even if he and Deadpool were old partners, he still had a lot to prove.

“Can’t say I speak for the rest of the team, but that’s good enough for me,” said Logan, earning him a bitter look from Kurt, “So you say you took care of outer security. What about the inside?”

“Ah, now that’s where it gets tricky,” said Deadpool as he retrieved his guns from Kurt, “You see, this Shaw guy has really pulled out all the stops. He actually enlisted help from local guerrilla fighters to beef up security for this deal.”

“He hired an army to act as body guards?” said Remy, sounding both surprised and suspicious.

“Can’t say I blame him,” shrugged Deadpool, “Have you seen the kinds of hardware Omega’s boys are packing? They don’t dick around! They got gear I literally have to kill for to get my hands on!”

“So they’re both taking this deal pretty damn seriously,” said Logan, “Any idea why?”

“Aside from the promise of illegal nuclear components? Not a clue,” shrugged Deadpool, “I seriously couldn’t find squat on this Shaw guy! That’s part of why I called you in, old buddy! If I’m going to crash this party, I’m gonna need your help!”

“I’m sure you’re just doing it all for kicks, Deadpool,” said Kurt with a scorn, “Before we can even begin to take you seriously, vhy don’t you explain to us vhy you’re so interested in zhis deal?”

“Smart boy. Azazel trained you well, young Skywalker! Did he also teach you to make macaroni art?” said Deadpool, earning him a harsher scold from Kurt.

“You’re not helping your case, Deadpool,” Bobby warned as he held his friend back.

“Hey, the kid has a point. Your daddy would be proud! See, after the second time around with those Sefton girls I got curious. I mean usually I wouldn’t give two shakes of a skunk’s ass, but there was just something in those puppy dog eyes that cried ‘Wade! This is seriously bad! Please help us! And while you’re at it, check this lump on my breast! I think it may be a tumor!’ Okay, so maybe that last part was a little understated.”

Kurt tensed with anger and tried to lunge at Deadpool for his remark. But Rogue and Bobby were able to hold him back.

“Whoa there, little brother!” urged Rogue.

“You’re pushing your luck, Deadpool!” spat Kurt.

“Okay! Okay! Sheesh, it was a compliment! Your girl and her mother are hot! It’s your fault, not mine!” said Deadpool innocently.

“Get to the point, bub!” grunted Logan.

“That’s pretty much it, old buddy. I decided to check back in with the people who were after those two. I have to say, even by my twisted standards they don’t play nice! I’m not just talking loan sharks or mad scientists! I’m talking Lord of the Rings, Mordu-style darkness! The kind that gives Peter Jackson wet dreams! Near as I can tell, these girls have been running from them for years.”

“But…vhy?” asked Kurt, now with greater intrigue.

“That’s exactly why I’m here!” the masked mercenary proclaimed, “The first clowns who hired me for this gig were somehow linked to this Shaw guy. Don’t ask me how. That’s all I’ve been able to uncover. So here I am, hoping this deal will shed a little more light on the mystery. That’s the full story. I swear! Now can I get a Scooby snack?”

This deal had officially taken on a new light. Even Kurt was starting to take it more seriously despite his reservations about Deadpool. It was a good thing he was sane enough to do so because something about this was definitely off. Between this mysterious Sebastian Shaw and the ruthless Omega Red, it definitely had the potential to affect mutants and so much more.

There were greater forces at work and it wasn’t just about preventing another disaster for human/mutant relations. These people had been after the Seftons and played a part in the Sentinel thefts. Whatever they were planning, they had to put a stop to it.

“You’re still a thug, Deadpool. I’ll never stop resenting you for vhat you did to Amanda and her mother,” said Kurt, “But you’re not zhe only one vith mercenary instincts.”

“So you believe me? I don’t have to buy you an extra Christmas present?” said Deadpool.

“Don’t push it, bub,” said Logan, “I believe this deal is going to happen. That leaves only two more questions. When is it going down? And what do we do to stop it?”

Before Deadpool could answer, the sound of heavy helicopter blades and jet engines descended over the area. From just above the canopy, several large aircrafts flew over the dense jungle and into the large freight yard up ahead. They all looked pretty high tech, not unlike the technology used in the X-jet. In addition they could hear some commotion in the distance. A bunch of guerillas speaking Spanish were guiding the aircrafts in. Whatever they were carrying, it had to be of great importance.

“Well that answers one question,” commented Bobby.

“Just as the writer planned, I’m sure,” sighed Deadpool.

“It also means we’re out of time!” grunted Logan, “Tell my you’ve found a way to get us in, Deadpool! You’ve been here long enough to figure it out!”

“As it just so happens, I did find this clearing on the south wall that has a pretty nice view of the whole freight yard,” he replied, “It doesn’t offer a close up view of the girl’s dressing room, but it’s okay I guess.”

“Take us there!” barked Logan, “And you better not blow our cover with that mouth of yours! If this goes wrong, I’m taking my frustrations out on you!”

Deadpool replied to this threat by pretending to wipe a tear from his eye.

“Wow…just like old times,” he said, “Excuse me if I get a little emotional here!”

“Well ya just shut the hell up and show us the way?” groaned Rogue.

“Since you asked so nicely and you look so good in that uniform, sure!” he said obnoxiously, “Stay single file class! The other children have very short tempers and a lot of dangerous toys!”

The X-men let out more groans. No one was looking forward to working with this man, but they were officially caught up in this now. They were going to confront Sebastian Shaw and Omega Red and get some needed answers.

As they followed Deadpool through the jungle, Logan snarled at his former partner. Even when the mission got serious, Deadpool was still obnoxious. It was just like he remembered. How they ever lasted as partners he would never know. Perhaps this mission would shed some light on those cloudy memories.

Las Vegas Convention Center

The stage was set for the debate between Charles Xavier and Senator Robert Kelly. Everything was falling into place. The convention center was filled to capacity with influential people of all types. Every seat was taken, every open space was occupied by cameras and news personnel, and every square inch of the complex was being monitored by security. An army of newscasters were reporting from the floor on the upcoming debate. It looked like they were ready to go.

The two debaters were on stage at their podiums, going through some last minute preparation with their advisers. Senator Kelly was getting some last minute tidbits from Reverend Stryker and Lilandra was giving Professor Xavier a few final words of encouragement. The director and various producers were barking out commands to the sage hands, going over the final list of checks before they went live.

“Get those lights in place! And will someone turn the volume up on the microphones? We’re going live in two minutes!” yelled the director.

The stage crew made their adjustments began clearing out, leaving Xavier and Senator Kelly on stage with their respective advisers.

“This is it, Charles,” said Lilandra intently, “Still have mixed feelings about this?”

“Not enough to make me back out,” he replied as he fixed his tie, “So I might as well go through with it.”

“I don’t have much more advice to offer. I just recommend you try and maintain perspective. You’re debating a man who happens to have some very bitter feelings towards mutants. He’s not some super-powered menace or overbearing tyrant. He’s just a man.”

“A man who happens to be an aspiring politician,” reminded Xavier.

“I know, but try not to hold it against him,” she said in a light-hearted tone.

Xavier managed a light smile. Lilandra’s support for him unwavering as it had been from the beginning. Then in an unexpected gesture, she leaned in and kissed him on the cheek. This caught Professor Xavier off guard, but it got the message across.

“Good luck,” she said softly, “I’ll be watching with Hank and Ororo in the audience.”

“Thank you, Lilandra…for everything,” said Charles.

They shared more smiles before Lilandra exited the stage with Reverend Stryker. His face still warm from her kiss, the Professor took one last deep breath. He was still anxious, but for now this was as calm as he could possibly be. It was time to confront the challenge before him.

Now it was just Charles Xavier and Robert Kelly on the stage. The two men stood on opposite ends of the stage with Xavier being propped up to accommodate his wheelchair. The commentators and moderators were getting their final orders from the directors. The broadcast was about to begin.

The two men stared each other down across stage one last time. Neither man showed any overt animosity, but there was still little respect between them. They opposed each other every step of the way. They were the antithesis of their respective positions. As the final signals were given, Senator Kelly sent a final message to Charles Xavier with his thoughts.

‘I know you’re probably reading my mind, Xavier. Allow me to make one point clear before the cameras start rolling. You and your kind don’t scare me. I don’t care how powerful you are or how you claim to use your powers. You will not stop me from doing what has to be done to protect humanity. You and your X-men think of yourself as heroes. But real heroes don’t hide behind costumes and defend ticking time bombs like Magneto. Your days are numbered, Charles. You and your X-men will face justice. I’ll see to it personally, regardless of how this election turns out.’

His thoughts were every bit as serious as his emotions. This was not an act or a ploy. Senator Kelly genuinely believed everything he preached. That made him unique among politicians. It also made him a tenacious foe. Despite this, Charles Xavier had a message for him as well.

‘Good luck to you too, Senator.’

Senator Kelly shot the powerful telepath a disgruntled look. Then once the spotlight descended on them and the cameras started rolling, he quickly put on his media-friendly demeanor. The crowds were settling down and the moderators were taking their seats.

The director at the base of the stage signaled the cameras and the moderators checked their ear-pieces to make sure the signal was strong.

“We’re feeding in live in 5…4…3…2…1.”

The director then pointed to the moderator who began the event.

“Thank you for joining us here live in the Las Vegas Convention Center. Tonight, we’re honored to bring together two prominent figures of recent times. Senator Robert Kelly, who has focused much of his presidential campaign on the mutant issue, joins us on the latest leg of his recent tour promoting his revamped Mutant Registration Act. Here to debate him is Professor Charles Xavier, founder of the Xavier Institute and leader of the famous mutant team, the X-men. Throughout this campaign Professor Xavier has spoken out against Senator Kelly’s proposals, but the recent tragedy in Liverpool has reshaped the landscape of human/mutant affairs. Much has been said about what should or should not be done and that is what these two gentlemen are here to debate.”

Professor Xavier and Senator Kelly gathered their notes and prepared to confront a weary global audience. All cameras were now on them. This broadcast was going out to all corners of the globe. They may not have another opportunity like this to make their case for humanity so they couldn’t afford to mess it up.

“Without further adieu, we’re ready to begin. We’ll start with opening statements. Then we’ll move onto rebuttals, followed by individual questions, capping off with closing arguments. Professor Charles Xavier, you have elected to make your statement first. You may begin when ready.”

Panama – Shaw Industries Fright Complex

Activity at this isolated freight yard nestled in the jungles of Panama was more hectic than usual. Built along the old trans-Panama railway that crossed through the heart of the country, it was a major hub for shipping freight in the region. It was usually busy enough, loading and unloading heavy trains as they passed through. But tonight, a very different kind cargo was set to be exchanged.

The entire workforce that usually maintained the complex had been given the night off. The only people running the area now were the armed henchmen of Sebastian Shaw and Omega Red. Shaw’s forces consisted largely of local militia, all of which were armed with automatic weapons and jungle camouflage uniforms. Omega Red’s forces looked distinctly different. There were fewer of them, but they were much better equipped. They bore more advanced-looking weapons, courtesy of the vast connections of the Russian Mafia. They also bore distinct brown uniforms, all of which had the distinct omega symbols on their belts and headgear. Each side was very intimidating. They had to be for a deal like this.

The opposing forces stayed on opposite halves of the freight yard. Omega’s forces were all coming in via helicarrier transport. In order for them to move the cargo Shaw was trading them, they needed as much manpower as they could spare. Shaw’s people guided them in, but did little to help them organize their affairs. The tension between the two sides was apparent. Each stood ready to attack at the slightest provocation. Keeping the order fell upon the strong shoulders of Arkady Rossovich himself. But while he was conducting business of this sort, his men knew him only as Omega Red.

“Secure the tracks, comrades! The package is about to arrive!”

Dozens of armed henchmen worked feverishly, barking commands out in Russian as they cleared the way and worked the tracks. They were a bit clumsy since many of them didn’t speak or read Spanish. Under their boss’s demanding poise, they managed to get everything set up. When they were ready, the main gate was opened and a lone freight train moved in.

Tensions escalated as Omega Red himself guided the train into the heart of the complex. It looked like an ordinary freight train, but it was much shorter than what usually came in through this area. It was also unmarked, showing no allegiance to a company or country. The only indication that it belonged to anybody was the ominous omega symbol painted on the front.

“Every last one of you keep your guns down!” Omega Red ordered, “Any one that comes within twenty meters of my train will be shot!”

These stern orders caused most of Shaw’s militia to back away slightly, but they all kept their weapons ready as they watched the mysterious Russian forces unload their precious cargo. As soon as the train came to a stop, Omega Red made his way to the third car from the front. Using his super-human strength, he single-handled undid the heavy locks and forced open the doors. This revealed the precious cargo that Shaw was willing to pay so handsomely for. It was deceptively small compared to the nuclear components they were getting in return, but it was rare and worthy of Omega Red’s most trusted courier.

“How was your trip across sea, Comrade Colossus?” said the Russian mob leader.

“Uneventful,” replied an imposing young man stoically.

“The package is secure, yes?”

“It has not left my side since it was given to me.”

“That’s my boy,” said Omega Red with an approving grin.

Under heavy guard, the imposing figure known as Colossus stepped down from the train. His presence commanded respect among the other henchmen and it wasn’t just because he was Omega Red’s favorite courier. His mutant powers, which gave him great strength and the ability to shift his skin into a near-unbreakable metal shell, also helped him fit in with this very brutal world.

As he joined his Omega comrades, he carried with him an oversized metal case. This case, which was handcuffed to Colossus’s wrist, contained the merchandise that Shaw coveted. The case was much bigger than an average suitcase, which is part of why they had to bring it in on a ship instead of flying it. It took four men to set it down and lay it on a wheeled trolley. Once it was settled, Colossus undid the handcuffs started pushing the trolley.

“This is it, yes?” said Colossus, “After this, you will grant me and my sister safe passage to Genosha.”

“You’ve served me this long. It’s only fitting I reward such loyalty,” said Omega Red, “Although I wish you would reconsider. It’s so hard finding trustworthy couriers these days.”

“I’m certain there are others more than willing to do this job.”

“But none of them have your skills or your strength,” he retorted, “Just understand that you are a rare breed, Piotr Rasputin. Do not make light of it.”

Such compliments were rare from a man like Omega Red, but Piotr took little comfort in such sentiment. As much as he appreciated everything the Omega family had done for him, he had his reasons for wanting to move on. As soon as this deal was over, he would have that chance.

The rest of the Omega henchmen stood back, allowing Omega Red and Colossus to do the rest. Together, they started making their way to the center of the freight yard. Colossus carefully pushed the trolley with the cargo while Omega Red stood close by. As they entered the other half of the complex, Shaw’s militia increased their guard.

“I have what you’re looking for, Shaw! Come out from wherever you are hiding so we can get this over with!”

At first there was no response. Omega Red kept his guard up while Colossus continued pushing the crate. Then from one of the buildings up ahead, a heavy garage door opened and a figure stepped out. It wasn’t Sebastian Shaw, but it was someone who looked like him. He had Sebastian’s facial complexion, only his hair was blond instead of black. He was dressed in a similar Victorian-style suit, only his was a bit darker. As he stepped out from the structure, a dozen or so guards followed him. They were dressed very differently than the militiamen, bearing black body suits, white masks, and high tech weapons. He may not have been Sebastian himself, but he looked just as serious as him.

Omega Red was insulted. He was under the impression that Sebastian Shaw himself would be here to make good on his deal. He and Colossus stopped in the center of the complex and watched with heightened suspicion as this new figure and his mysterious guards approached them.

“What is this?!” he demanded, “You’re not Shaw!”

“On the contrary. I am Shaw, just not the one you were expecting,” said the figure in a snide, but business-like tone, “But where are my manners? Allow me to introduce myself, Mr. Rossovich. I am Shanobi Shaw, son of Sebastian Shaw and I will be facilitating this little exchange.”

“He sends his son to do his bidding? What kind of businessman does he think he is?” scoffed Omega Red.

“A very pragmatic one,” said Shanobi with a snide grin, “There’s a good reason why he sent me to carry out this deal, but it is a reason you need not concern yourself with.”

“I always concern myself with those I do not trust! Shaw made no mention of this! How am I to trust his word if he is not here?”

“Mr. Rossovich, I could spend hours debating the merits of my father’s business practices. I’m sure we would find plenty to agree upon. But as it stands, we have business to conduct. Now are we or are we not going to do this?”

Omega Red gazed at the young man suspiciously. This was an unexpected development and in his vast experience, unexpected developments were not a good sign. He also didn’t like how smug this man was. He did not get the same certainty from him that he got from his father, which wasn’t much to begin with. However, considering all the resources he put into this deal, it would be too costly to turn back now. He wanted these reactor parts every bit as Shaw seemed to want this device. When it came down to ambition versus suspicion, ambition won out.

“Very well, comrade Shaw,” said the powerful Russian with an imposing sneer, “Colossus, open the case. Let us finish this quickly so we can get back to Russia. I have plans for these parts that I am not wanting delays!”


While Omega Red and Shanobi Shaw were discussing their deal, Deadpool and the X-men watched carefully from afar on top of the southernmost building. This was where Deadpool set up his little observation post. It happened to be the building adjacent to the one Shanobi walked out of so they had a good view of the activity below.

Wolverine and Deadpool stayed low as the scoped out the scene through a pair of binoculars. Iceman, Gambit, Rogue, and Nightcrawler stayed behind them, keeping an eye out for anyone immediate threats. Near as they could tell, nobody knew they were there. If they were to stop this deal from going down, that was how it had to stay.

“Vhat do you see, Wolverine?” asked Nightcrawler as he kept an eye on the west end.

“Plenty,” snarled the feral mutant, “Arkady looks every bit as ugly as I remember him!”

“Yeah, he’s like us in that he ages gracefully,” said Deadpool in an overly dramatic tone, “I’m sure he’ll be so happy to see you again.”

“Soon as I get my chance we’ll see,” he said as he looked closer, “But there’s something else going on here. I know that guy hauling the crate.”

“The fella with the metal skin?” said Rogue, “Who’s he? Another guy from your past?”

“Not this time,” replied Wolverine, “I met him with Cyke and Angel back in Russia when we thought the mob was stealing sentinel parts. He’s a mutant who does errands for the Omega family.”

“So he’s a bad guy then?” said Gambit.

“Not exactly,” said Wolverine, “Guy never struck me as being mob material. Push comes to shove, he may be able to help us.”

“How so? It’s not like we have a plan here, right?” said Iceman anxiously.

Wolverine snarled, but Iceman had a point. Wolverine was not a planner. The only plan he had was to confront Omega Red. He wasn’t sure how, but this man was more deeply connected to his past than he remembered. Him getting his hands on nuclear materials played a part as well. He was pretty sure that wouldn’t look good for mutant relations, but that was still secondary in his mind.

As they maintained a close watch, they saw Omega Red discussing something with the man in the suit. It was hard to tell what they were saying. Deadpool didn’t have his sonic amplifier with him, but they didn’t need to hear in order to know that they were discussing something big.

“That guy in the suit, Shaw?” said Wolverine.

“I’m not sure. He’s not the same guy I saw meet with our favorite Russian earlier,” said Deadpool, “But he looks like him and has the same fashion sense. They must shop at the same costume store. Bet they get a hell of a discount that way!”

“Must be one of Shaw’s errand boys,” he surmised, “But what the heck are they dealing anyway? It better be pretty freakin’ valuable to pay in nuclear reactor components.”

“Beats me,” shrugged Deadpool, “For all I know they’re swapping cookie recipes.”

“Remy’s guessing it probably involves that fancy case. Any idea what’s in that?” said Gambit, who was taking an interest in the deal as well.

“Hell if I know. It could be gold. It cold be jewels. Or even a non-Brett Ratner version of X-men: The Last Stand!”

“Whatever it is, it must be important,” grunted Wolverine, “Omega Red and his boys are guarding it pretty damn closely. If we’re gonna stop him and get some answers, I’m guessin’ that case is gonna be the key!”

“Great! So what’s the plan for getting it? Because it looks like they’re almost done,” said Iceman anxiously.

“I told you, Iceman, I’m still working on it! Now shut up while I…”

Then Wolverine unexpectedly froze in mid-sentence. Something new caught his attention. He started sniffing the air intently. Within seconds, every combat instinct he ever developed kicked in. Setting aside the binoculars, he rose up and drew his claws.

“Uh oh…I know that look,” said Deadpool, “And it’s not the look that means ‘Yay! The ice cream truck is coming!’”

“Vhat is it, Wolverine? Do you sense something?” asked Nightcrawler intently.

“Yeah…something I vaguely remember smelling before and for all the wrong reasons!” he snarled.”

Just as hes tarted scanning the immediate area, the whole team was blinded by an unexpected flash of light that appeared between all six of them. The light was strange, having a dark but intense purplish glow. For a moment, they shielded their eyes. When they looked back to see what was going on, a new figure emerged from the light.

The figure was a woman and a very imposing looking woman at that. She had long dirty-blond hair, a voluptuous but well-built frame, and dark glowing eyes that seethed with the same brightness as the light surrounding her. She was wearing a dark body suit and like all the others in the Omega family, it had the distinct omega symbol on her chest. As she took in the sight of the bewildered X-men, she seethed with murderous intent.

“Whoa…” said Iceman, struck by her appearance, “She must be the backup.”

“Some backup,” said Gambit, unable to stop himself from staring.

But the woman wasn’t concerned with Iceman, Gambit, Rogue, or Nightcrawler. It was Deadpool and Wolverine that caught her attention. The minute she laid eyes on them, she erupted with murderous rage.

“YOU!” she yelled in a thick Russian accent, “Of all the times for you traitorous dogs dare rear your ugly heads! Why must it be now?!”

“Ooh boy, we’re in deep doo-doo now!” said Deadpool.

“You don’t say?” said Wolverine dryly as he took a defensive stance, “Not to be impolite lady, but do I know you?!”

“You damn well better, you western slime!” spat the woman as the energy around her intensified, “I am Laynia Petrovna! But you may call me Darkstar! Remember it this time, Team X! Because it is the last name you shall ever hear!”

‘Um…could we please save this for the next issue? Thanks! Don’t forget to leave a review!’

Next Issue: Partners in Madness Part 2

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