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Volume 3 -- Issue 63 -- The Phoenix Saga Part 1

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The Phoenix Saga Part 1
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Issue 63: The Phoenix Saga Part 1 Cover

Professor Charles Xavier has dedicated his life to pursuing peace between humans and mutants. Along with his team of gifted mutants, the X-men, they use their extraordinary powers to protect a world that hates and fears them. These powers, however, are often a at the very heart of the human/mutant conflict. This conflict has become a key issue in the ongoing presidential election.

Not long ago, the conflict over mutant powers erupted when Kevin MacTaggart, the first mutant Xavier ever helped, lost control of his powers and went on a rampage in Liverpool, England. The ordeal killed over 200 people and left hopes for peace and understanding in jeopardy. Professor Xavier was able to at least partially salvage his efforts in a debate with presidential candidate and long-time mutant foe, Senator Robert Kelly. At the moment he has managed to restore some balance to the debate, but rather than immerse himself in politics any further he has decided to focus on conflicts within the X-men.

The stress of the Proteus affair left Professor Xavier’s students overwhelmed, but few were more greatly impacted than Jean Grey. During the fight against Proteus, she briefly manifested a mysterious but intense power. This power has left her ailing, worrying her fellow X-men a great deal. With a renewed commitment to helping his X-men, Charles Xavier seeks to help her with the intent on not making the same mistake he did with Kevin. However, helping Jean Grey has never been easy. The circumstances of her volatile powers hearken back to the darkest days of her childhood.

St. Claremont Regional Hospital – 6 Years Ago

‘The voices…the screaming…it’s too much! Make it stop! I can’t take it!  Somebody…anybody…please help me!’

These desperate thoughts echoed through the mind of Charles Xavier. They were so full of pain, loss, and desperation. They were feelings no one, especially not a traumatized 14-year-old girl, should have to experience. Yet this was the reality for young Jean Grey and this was why Professor Charles Xavier was here.

Limping along with his cane, he followed an anxious Dr. Christopher Lee through the bleak halls of the St. Claremont Mental Ward. This was a difficult environment for any psychic traverse. Twisted thoughts of the mentally ill were projected constantly. As the world’s most powerful telepath, he was able to filter these thoughts out. The same could not be said for this girl, which didn’t bode well for the challenge before him.

“So you say she’s been in and out of mental wards for the past two years?” said Xavier to Dr. Lee as they moved along.

“Two-and-a-half, actually,” said the doctor as he flipped through some notes, “This girl has had her share of issues. Her story’s pretty sad. Car wreck at eight killed her older sister and crippled her mother. Father’s a barely functioning alcoholic. No real friends and a family history of deviance that would make any daytime talk show.”

“And now she’s having these episodes as you call them?”

“I wish I could be more descriptive, but I really don’t know how else to describe them,” sighed Dr. Lee, “Her father says she been complaining about hearing voices since she was twelve. At first we thought it was due to Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, but they just kept getting worse. Then random objects started levitating around her as the psycho-kinetic effects kicked in.”

“Is that why she’s been living in a padded cell and being drugged every four hours?” said Xavier with a touch of scorn in his tone.

“I’m sorry, Professor, but we really aren’t equipped to handle something like this! Her father is too overwhelmed. Given how drunk he is when he visits, I can’t say he’s equipped either. That’s exactly why we called you. They say you have a talent for dealing with cases like her.”

“She’s a mutant, doctor. Not an illness,” said the Professor strongly, “Her mental state is another matter that her mutant abilities have only exacerbated.”

“Whatever you call it, we’re out of options here,” said Dr. Lee, “Now you say you can help her. If that’s the case, the state is more than willing to release her into your temporary custody. Don’t expect her parents to object. They’ve got their own problems and they aren’t even mutants.”

“Let’s concern ourselves with the legal ramifications later. For now, I need to meet this girl. From what I’ve gathered, her mutant powers are very strong. They have the potential to be much stronger if not handled properly.”

“If you think you can do that kind of handling, then by all means. Not to sound to insensitive, Professor, but there are a lot of staffers here who are just as frustrated as I am. We’ll be glad to send her somewhere that can treat her properly.”

It was a disheartening sentiment. Looking over at the man, Professor Xavier could sense a touch of resentment for this girl. She had been quite a problem for him and his staff, but it wasn’t entirely their fault. Few hospitals were equipped to deal with mutants. It was cases like this that led him to create the recently founded Xavier Institute. With his cancer subsiding and the experience with Kevin MacTaggart still fresh in his mind, he was determined to make a difference in the lives of people like Jean Grey. Having just recruited his first student, Scott Summers, he felt this girl could be a worthy addition if he could reach her.

They finally arrived at the lonely room of Jean Grey, which was located at the far end of the east wing. This area was reserved for those with serious mental ailments. He watched as Dr. Lee anxiously unlocked the door. For a brief moment the hinges shook under the strain of random telekinesis. The doctor hesitated further, but a reassuring nod from Xavier got him to unlock the door.

“Jean…we’re coming in,” said Dr. Lee nervously.

Carefully, the anxious doctor opened to door to reveal a white padded cell. Inside there was nothing but a bed that was shackled to the floor and a toilet in the corner. It was a cold, cramped environment. It was hard to imagine anyone, let alone a 14-year-old girl, spending her days in these confined quarters. Yet sitting in the other corner with her back against the wall was a frail, frightened Jean Grey with her faced buried in her knees.

It was a heartbreaking sight for Professor Xavier. He could sense from her so many sad emotions. The crazed thoughts from other patients couldn’t be helping either. Helping her was going to be a significant challenge.

“Could you please leave us, Dr. Lee?” asked Professor Xavier, “I would like a moment alone with her.”

“Take all the time you need,” said Dr. Lee as he stepped back.

Limping along with his cane, Professor Charles Xavier slowly approached the young girl. At first she didn’t seem to notice his presence. As he drew closer, her bed started shaking. Her telekinesis was flaring up again, but he was not dissuaded.

“Jean…Jean Grey?” he said as he knelt down towards her.

The timid girl looked up, revealing a pair of beautiful but tear-stained green eyes.

“Who…who are you?” she said, “Are you another dream?”

“No Jean…I assure you I’m very real,” said Xavier with a kind smile, “My name is Professor Charles Xavier. I’m here to help you.”

“No…you can’t help me,” she cried, “I’m a freak! That’s what the doctors say!”

“I’m not a doctor. I’m a teacher…one who specializes in unique individuals like you,” he said, reaching out to her and gently wiping away some of her tears, “Forget everything your father or your doctors told you. You’re not sick and you’re not a monster. You just have a gift. You may not understand it, but I do. And I can help you.”

The young girl gazed anxiously at the man hovering over her. His face looked so sincere, a far cry from her drunken father and her clueless doctors. When he touched her face and wiped away her tears, it gave her a warm feeling. It almost convinced her this had to be a dream, but with every tear he brushed aside she began to accept that this was real.

“How…how can you help me?” she asked, “The voices said no one can help me.”

“Those voices are wrong,” said Professor Xavier, “I know because I’ve heard them too.”

“You…you hear them?”

Xavier smiled warmly, helping the timid girl relax somewhat. As he caressed her tear-stained face, he made her a silent promise that she would never be alone ever again.

‘Yes…I hear them as clearly as you. And if you let me help, I can show you how to control them. Because they’re not voices. They’re something so much greater.’

Young Jean’s eyes widened. His voice echoed in her mind, just as all the other voices. Only this was softer and more controlled. Upon hearing his voice so clearly, everything in her chaotic mind seemed to settle down.

“You see? I can help you understand these voices,” Professor Xavier told her, “There is so much you can learn from these abilities, but the only way to do so is if you allow me to teach you. Will you give me that honor, Jean?”

A calm sensation came over her the likes of which she hadn’t felt in a long time. Looking into this man’s sincere gaze, the confused 14-year-old girl saw in him the answers she had been looking for.

“Please Mr. Xavier, sir…teach me,” she said to him with longing in her eyes.

“Very well, my dear,” said the Professor with a warm smile, “You have my word, I will be with you every step of the way.”

Xavier Institute Infirmary – Present

“Hnn…ungh! My head…augh! Can’t…keep it…ahhhhhhh!” groaned a pained and distraught Jean Grey.

“Hang in there, Jean! I’m almost done!” urged Professor Xavier, who was concentrating hard with his telepathy while clutching Jean’s temples.

“Damn it, Chuck! Finish it already!” barked a very upset Logan.

“Stay back, Logan!” urged an equally anxious Scott Summers, “He knows what he’s doing…I hope!”

“He damn well better!”

It was a difficult sight, watching Jean suffer so much through this so-called treatment. It had only been going on for nearly an hour, but to Scott and Logan it might as well have been a lifetime. Ever since the Professor returned from his debate in Las Vegas, he had been working with Jean extensively. Whatever overwhelmed her during the fight with Proteus was still affecting her in a profound and ominous way. Even extensive one-on-one telepathic therapy with the Professor wasn’t enough to stop this mysterious ailment. This ailment was symbolized by the flashing fiery yellow eyes that plagued her during this entire session.

Professor Xavier shared Scott and Logan’s growing concerns as he struggled to contain  Jean’s affliction. It stemmed directly from her powers. It began with the surge she experienced when she used Magneto’s machine to stop that asteroid. From there the migraines began, but it was Proteus that sent her over the edge. Now her psychic powers were flaring in ways he had never sensed before. It was as mysterious as it was disconcerting. The best he could do to help her was forge a series of mental blocks on her psyche. It was only a temporary solution, but it was all he could do for now.

Jean continued to struggle in infirmary her bed, groaning in pain as the Professor tried to sooth her chaotic mind. He stepped up his efforts, concentrating harder until sweat was forming on his forehead. Her eyes flashed a fiery yellow again, causing the bed to shake violently. Scott and Logan watched anxiously. This time Logan was the one that had to hold Scott back. After a few tense moments, she finally started to settle down.

‘That’s it, Jean…stay calm. Let me steady your mind. I made you a promise all those years ago, remember? And I’m going to keep that promise.’

His gentle telepathic voice seemed to further calm the ailing woman. She started taking deep, calming breaths. The fiery glow in her eyes started fading as Xavier fortified the blocks around her mind. But before they were solidified, he heard a strange voice.

“It’s coming…”

“Argh!” groaned the Professor as he finally finished the job.

“Professor?” said Scott anxiously.

“I…I’m fine, Scott,” he assured his student as he rubbed his tired head, “I was able to re-fortify the mental blocks. She should be okay.”

Should be?” said Logan skeptically, “That ain’t a promising choice of words, Chuck.”

“It’ll have to do for now. I…still don’t know what’s causing this. Until I do, a permanent solution will have to wait.”

Logan still wasn’t convinced, but he wasn’t about to get into an argument with the Professor. Jeannie was still in pain and she needed their support.

With the psychic blocks now solidified, Jean was finally stable. She was sitting upright, conscious and without those strange glowing eyes. She was no longer pained by throbbing headaches or haunted by mysterious voices, but it felt strange. She was dazed and weak, clutching her tired head. She was coherent enough to feel Scott’s tender arms slip around her.

“Jean…I’m here,” he said softly, “That’s it, babe. Deep breaths.”

“Hnn…Scott,” groaned Jean as she gathered herself, “I feel like I’m gonna throw up.”

“Cyke hasn’t been showering regularly since you’ve been down here. That’s to be expected,” commented Logan as he sat down next to her.

Scott shot him a disgruntled look while Jean laughed somewhat. It was a good sign. If she could laugh at one of Logan’s dirty comments, that was a sign that she was doing better already.

“What day is it? It feels like I’ve been down here for over a month,” she said.

“More like ten days, but don’t worry. You didn’t miss much,” said Scott as he continued to embrace her, “Well…aside from a debate with Senator Kelly and Logan running off on a crazy mission in Panama with Deadpool.”

“Panama? With Deadpool?!” said Jean as she looked at Logan strangely.

“Long story, darlin’. I’ll fill you in later. It was a hell of a mess and should give you more a few reasons to yell at me. And you sure as hell don’t need that right now,” replied the feral mutant.

“I’m sure Miss Munroe did more than enough,” replied Jean.

“You don’t know the half of it.”

Jean smiled lightly, earning her a smile from Scott and Logan as well. The two men were both glad to see her looking better. As two very important figures in her life, they were dedicated to helping her just as she helped them.

While Jean sat comfortably in Scott’s embrace, Professor Xavier wiped some of the sweat off his face and approached his dazed student. He was glad to see her settled as well, but what he sensed from her mind gave him little reason for comfort. He had a feeling they had seen of this mysterious ailment.

“How is your head, Jean? Any migraines to speak of?” asked the Professor.

“For once, no,” she said with relief, “Still feels kind of strange though. Like there’s some sort of pressure in my mind.”

“That’s to be expected. Those blocks I placed on your mind will hold back some of the unusual flare-ups you’ve been experiencing. I can’t say for sure what’s behind them, but from the looks of it you’ll need to keep these blocks up for the foreseeable future. You’ll also need to limit the use of your powers.”

“But what about the X-men? Just because I’m a little woozy doesn’t mean I need to be sidelined!”

“That’s brave of you, Jeannie. But you keep forgetting that you ain’t the one with a healing factor,” said Logan, “You don’t want to make whatever it is that’s messing with you any worse.”

“Logan’s right, Jean,” affirmed the Professor, “This is more than just your typical psychic episode. I don’t know if you remember what happened back with Proteus, but something very strange is affecting you.”

“I...only remember bits and pieces,” she said, “Strange doesn’t even begin to cover it.”

“Whatever it is, I sense it’s related to your powers. This may be an entirely new form of psychic phenomenon. Just as before, it will take time for you to fully grasp them. You’ve been able to deal with such power before. I’m confident you can do so again.”

It was not a pleasant notion to contemplate. Jean still remembered how hard it was early on. The thought of having to go through it again was a daunting prospect. She found herself leaning in a little closer to Scott.

“Sounds like so much fun,” she said dryly, “God, I need some fresh air. And a bath.”

“I can help you with both,” said Scott with a reassuring smile, “If you really feel you’re up to it.”

Scott and Jean turned to the Professor for approval. He only nodded, still looking concerned but not enough to keep her cooped up in the infirmary.

“Go right ahead,” he said, “But I’ll need to check those blocks every six hours. At least until we can find out more.”

“Thank you, Professor,” said Jean with a warm smile, “I’m not worried. I know I can count on you.”

The Professor managed a slight smile as he watched Scott and Logan help Jean to her feet. She moved somewhat gingerly, still light-headed after being confined to a bed for much of the past week. She seemed plenty eager to get out of the infirmary and visit the others as well to let them know she was okay.

Logan helped Jean reorient herself. Like the Professor, he had negated her as well with his own affairs. While she was suffering, he ran out to fight his own battles against Omega Red. Even though he wasn’t dating her anymore, he still cared deeply for her. For that very reason, he lingered a bit longer while Scott escorted Jean to the elevators. He cast a critical look towards Professor Xavier, whose smile quickly faded as soon as Jean was out of sight.

“You lied, Chuck,” he said with a slight grunt.

“It’s not that obvious, is it?” said Xavier warily.

“For the world’s greatest telepath, you’re a piss poor liar. You’re lucky One-Eye was too dense to notice or he would have made a hell of a scene.”

The Professor’s expression fell. Logan’s tone was harsh and rightfully so. He always strived to be honest with his students and Jean was especially important to him. Withholding the truth from her was grave offense, even if he had good reason.

“So are you gonna tell me or what?” said Logan, his arms folded critically.

“It’s not that simple, Logan,” said the Professor seriously, “While I was in her head, I got a sense for what may be causing her such anguish. It was a…presence of sorts.”

“A presence? You mean like another mind?”

“That’s just it. I’m not entirely sure,” he said distantly, “It was as if someone or something was connected to Jean. It was more of a force than a presence. And somehow this force was pushing her powers to vast and uncharted limits. It may have even been behind that strange burst of power she showed against Proteus.”

“And you can’t shut just shut this damn thing out?” said Logan in a frustrated tone.

“I’ve been trying, but this force unlike anything I’ve ever encountered before! I’m truly at a loss and I don’t wish to worry Jean or Scott for that matter.”

“You’re assuming lying ain’t gonna make it worse,” scoffed Logan.

“She’s in a vulnerable state, Logan. Believe me, I’m not taking this lightly. We have to be careful. Jean’s powers have always been volatile. If we’re to deal with this, it’s best we not stress her any more than we have to.”

Logan still showed his disapproval. He knew from experience how lying rarely worked for the better. Since this involved Jeannie, he was not fond of taking any foolish risks with her. The Professor still had a point. He remembered that strange display of power against Proteus just as well as he did. If they were going to avoid another incident like that, they had to keep her calm. That still didn’t make it right.

“If you say so, Chuck,” he said, still disgruntled as he turned to walk away, “But whatever this shit is, you better find out fast. The more you have to lie, the more it’ll hurt her. You may be willing to risk Jeannie’s safety, but I ain’t!”

“I’m not risking her safety, Logan. I’m doing everything I possibly can!” said Xavier strongly.

“I know you are. But it still ain’t an excuse.”

Logan stormed out before the Professor could respond. He was troubled, not to mention annoyed, by his feral associate’s harsh words. Logan was never one to avoid painful truths. He made his point no matter how ill-mannered it may be and his point was usually valid.

Letting out a frustrated sigh, Professor Xavier’s thoughts shifted back to Jean. He stepped back from his media campaign because he believed his students needed his help more than anyone. Yet here he was with one of his most prized students suffering and there was nothing he could do to help her. Thinking back to what he encountered in her mind, he knew there was something brewing in the young woman’s psyche. And whatever it was, it had the potential to be very destructive.

Upper Dormitories – Kitty’s Room

Not so long ago, the most stressful challenges in Kitty Pryde’s life were school and grades. As a straight-A student for most of her life, she used to lament over something as minor as a B-plus on a test. Now as an experienced X-man, she had an entirely new understanding of stress. It made her old obsession over grades seem kind of foolish.

Now she actually took some comfort in her schoolwork. Compared to battles against Proteus or going toe-to-toe with Magneto, it really didn’t seem as hard anymore. It was a good way to occupy her mind from the many other stresses of her life. Lately, she found herself doing more class work. After brooding for days about Bobby and not being picked for the mission to Panama, she needed a distraction. It gave her time to cool down and reflect.

‘The world must be coming to an end. I actually find homework relaxing. Maybe Rogue is right. The more work we do as X-men, the crazier our lives get.’

Sighing to herself, Kitty relaxed on her bed as she typed on her laptop while looking over her books. Now that the Professor was rededicating his time to the institute, more emphasis was placed on classes and catching up with course work. In addition to being a team of mutant heroes, they also had to play the role of an average aspiring student. Kitty was fully engrossed in the exciting world of computer science when she heard a knock at her door.

“Kitty? Uh…you got a minute?”

It was the anxious voice of Bobby Drake. And he should have been anxious. Given his recent handling of their relationship, he deserved a little guilt.

“What do you want, Bobby? I’m busy,” she said in a flat tone.

The door opened and Bobby stepped in. He was already feeling awkward. They hadn’t spoken much since he got back from the mission in Panama and the silence was getting to him.

“Have you been avoiding me?” he asked as he closed the door behind her.

“Now why would I want to do that?” said Kitty dryly, “You don’t seem to want to talk about it so I figured I would save myself the trouble.”

“That doesn’t mean I deserve the silent treatment.”

“Why not? You were being a jerk. I say you deserve way worse. Lucky for you, the Professor emphasizes forgiveness in our curriculum.”

Bobby groaned as she thrust more guilt on him. The silent treatment suddenly didn’t seem so bad.

“Look, I admit I messed up. And I’m sorry! I really am!” he said strongly, “I never meant to hurt you. I really did like you. And I’m glad you were there for me after I broke up with Lorna. I needed it. It just…turned into something we didn’t understand.”

Kitty sighed and closed her laptop. She was going to have to confront Bobby about this sooner or later. It might as well be now since the team was in a recovery period.

“Yeah, that seems to be the underlying problem,” she sighed, “In that sense I guess I should apologize as well. I probably was expecting too much from us.”

“So…you don’t hate me?” said Bobby.

“You’re still a jerk for swapping juicy messages with Jubilee,” Kitty pointed out.

“Okay, that I concede was my fault. But is that reason enough to hate me?”

Kitty shot him a disgruntled look, but it quickly faded. There was no use in dragging this out any further.

“I don’t hate you, Bobby. With all the hate we deal with on a regular basis, I don’t think it does us any good.”

“That’s for sure. With people like Senator Kelly and the Friends of Humanity, there’s plenty of hate to go around,” he pointed out.

“You think throwing in a joke is going to help your case?”

“It’s I do when I’m upset. I make dumb jokes,” he shrugged innocently, “Isn’t laughter supposed to help when you’re angry?”

“I think you’re confusing anger with something else entirely.”

“Well whatever it’s good for, I hope it at least proves to you how sorry I am! I didn’t want it to turn out like this.”

“Then how were you expecting it to turn out? Was I supposed to dye my hair green and fake daddy issues,” said Kitty,.

“I don’t know! I...didn’t think that far ahead.”

“What a surprise,” said Kitty, rolling her eyes.

“My lack of foresight aside, I want to lay this crap to rest. Between the mess in Panama and everybody been shell shocked from Proteus, can we at least try to put it behind us?”

Kitty set her laptop aside and slipped off her bed so she could look Bobby in the eye. He seem as ready to move on just as her. This was causing them so much stress at a time when the team was trying to get their act together. Even if he bore more of the blame, holding a grudge just didn’t seem right. She was still looked upset, but nowhere near as angry as she had been.

“So…do you accept my apology?” he asked.

“For being such a jerk? Sure, I can accept that,” she sighed, “Guess I should say I’m sorry as well. I shouldn’t have let it get this bad to begin with.”

“If you accept my apology I’ll accept yours,” said Bobby with a look of relief.

“You should under the circumstances. You’re the one who can’t resist the lure of a pretty girl on the interent,” said Kitty with a wry grin.

“Ah jeez, are you going to keep holding that against me?”

“If it keeps you in line, why shouldn’t I?”

“So what’s the point of accepting my apology?” he complained.

“You’re not the only one who likes to joke around, Bobby. And seeing you with that annoyed look on your face makes me feel that much less upset.”

It was a hell of a way to settle this chaotic affair. The fact that Kitty was smiling again was a positive sign, even if it made Bobby the butt of the joke. He shifted again before smiling himself. It was a relief to finally get this off his shoulders.

The bitterness over this pseudo-relationship of theirs could finally be laid to rest. Kitty accepted Bobby’s apology and Bobby accepted hers as well. It wasn’t as bad as Bobby’s breakup with Lorna. No one ended up switching sides or developing a lifelong grudge. Now they could move on, hopefully learning from this experience. At least one of them didn’t have to wait long.

“So now that we got that out of the way, I take it you’re going to hook up with Jubilee the first chance you get,” said Kitty cynically, “That way Mr. McCoy will have some company whenever he goes to District X.”

“And make myself an even bigger jerk for you to yell at? Hell no,” laughed Bobby, “Not that Jubilee isn’t nice and all, but she’s even less serious about relationships than I am.”

“I find that hard to believe,” said Kitty, rolling her eyes.

“It’s the truth. Besides, I think I need a break from emotional dramas. We all do.”

“As if they ever stop around here,” she sighed.

“Could be worse,” shrugged Bobby, “We could face some other overwhelming force bent on destroying the world as we know it.”

“That’s not funny, Bobby.”

“That’s not a joke, Kitty. Around here, you just never know.”

Xavier Institute – Backyard

Jean Grey inhaled deeply at the crisp Westchester air. After over a week in the infirmary, it felt good to be outside again. It also felt good to see the others again, who were all very worried about her. Ever since her mysterious outburst against Proteus, they had plenty of reason to be concerned.

Through this recovery period, Scott stayed by her side. His presence and support meant a great deal to her. He was always so quick to embrace her when she was struggling and hold her hand when she needed to feel his loving warmth. It was more dedication than she had ever seen out of Scott Summers in a relationship. It was an instance of something that went beyond a normal relationship between two people. It gave her all the more incentive to fight whatever was afflicting her.

Walking hand-in-hand, Scott followed Jean as she walked along the cliff overlooking the lake. It was fairly cool out and the sun was shining, causing the waters to sparkle in the distance. It was the perfect sight to help ease her mind. Ororo and Kurt were also walking with her, offering some additional friendly company.

“It’s certainly good to see you up and about, Jean,” said Ororo, “How are you holding up so far?”

“Under the circumstances, I’m doing okay,” said Jean with a half-smile, “I think I’ve had all the meds and bed-rest I can take. I don’t even want to think about how much class I’ve missed.”

“You’re in good company. Ve’re all catching up. Ve have quite a vays to go, but ve should be up to speed by Christmas…next year, zhat is,” joked Kurt as they stopped walking and stood over a spot that always offered a nice view of the lake.

“Unfortunately, that’s probably accurate,” commented Scott, “It’s one of those major revelations we had while you were sleeping. We found out the Xavier Institute was still a school.”

“And we’re still technically students,” said Jean, “At least I’ll have plenty of homework to keep me busy. That should give my mind something else to focus on.”

“As soon as you’re up to it, of course,” said Ororo more seriously.

“Oh I’m up for it. My mind may be shell shocked, but I’m not crippled. Besides, I’d like to get back to some sense of normalcy.”

“That’s perfectly understandable, Jean. But that doesn’t mean we’ll stop worrying,” said Scott.

“That doesn’t mean I’m overly fragile either,” she argued, “I didn’t gain control of my powers the first time without toughing out some pain.”

“We all know you’re tough enough to handle pretty much anything, but we still care about your well-being and this is one instance where toughness is not the issue,” said Scott.

There was a certain level of criticism in his tone. Jean shifted as she looked away from her friends and out towards the lake. She didn’t like everybody worrying about her like this. It reminded her too much of those helpless feelings she struggled with for much of her early life.

“It’s not that I don’t care. I’m as worried as the rest of you about these episodes if that’s even the right word,” said Jean more seriously, “It was just so hard getting control over my powers the first time. The idea of going through it again isn’t pleasant to think about.”

“Ve’re not trying to make you dwell on it, Jean,” said Kurt with a friendly gesture, “But did you ever stop and vonder if zhis involves more zhan just your powers?”

“Well what else could it be? It’s not like anything else could have caused whatever happened with Proteus.”

“You forget you’re talking to zhe former heir apparent of zhe Azazel. Growing up ,I had a front row seat to zhe vorld of supernatural forces and mystical cult. My own father vas a being from a supernatural realm. I’ve seen feats of magic zhat defy comprehension.”

“You think what’s happening to me may have a mystical component?” said Jean, now looking at the German mutant more curiously.

“It may be hard to wrap your head around, but one must always be open to zhe possibility zhat zhere are more forces out zhere zhen ve can imagine.”

It was another daunting notion, the idea of having more than just her powers to deal with. Anything seemed likely at this point, no matter how outrageous it may be. It left Jean feeling even more overwhelmed.

“I don’t suppose you have an in depth knowledge of forces that involve psychic migrains and fiery displays,” said Jean, now hugging her shoulders somewhat.

“Nein, zhere vas only so much my father could teach me before he disappeared,” said Kurt, “I never did get around to reading his vast collection of supernatural literature.”

“Bummer,” sighed Scott, “We could use all the help we can get at this point.”

“I could always call Amanda’s mother,” Kurt offered, “She’s a lifelong mystic. She may have an idea of vhat zhis is.”

“That’s sweet of you, Kurt. But I don’t know if throwing magic into the mix is a good idea,” said Jean, “In my experience with Juggernaut, magic tends to complicate things. Besides, this doesn’t feel very magical if there is such a thing.”

“Well what does it feel like?” asked Ororo intently.

“That’s just it. Words simply aren’t enough to truly describe it. Hell, I don’t even think regular thoughts can do the trick,” she said as she turned her attention back out to the lake, “What happened when I went up against Proteus was so…intense to say the least.”

“Intense how?” asked Kurt curiously.

Jean hugged her shoulders as she recalled that fateful moment. It made her head throb just thinking about it. But

“Try and imagine for a moment that you’re an ordinary light bulb. Then imagine being plugged into the sun. That should give you a vague idea of what it was like. Because for a brief moment, I felt as though I had the power of a star in the palm of my hand. There was so much power and somehow I was tapping it. But you know what the really weird thing is? This power, or whatever it was, wasn’t just a power. It was almost like a presence.”

“You mean it was alive?” asked Ororo, fascinated by her description.

“I’m not sure. But there was definitely some sort of intent behind it. I never felt anything like it. Not since…”

Jean’s words soon trailed off. Her head started throbbing again. Just describing this mysterious phenomena was enough to strain her mind.

“Not since vhat?” said Kurt.

“I’d…rather not talk about it,” said Jean, “And if you guys don’t mind, I prefer we change the subject.”

“Say no more, Jean. We understand,” said Ororo, offering her student a reassuring gesture, “Sorry if we were being pushy.”

“Don’t be sorry. It’s not your fault I’m such a basket case,” said Jean with a half-smile.

“I think you’re being too harsh on yourself, Jean. You’re struggling with something you don’t understand. We’ve all had to deal with something like that at some point. Whether it’s firing lasers out of your eyes or unexpected power surges, we learn to deal with the unknowns,” said Scott, slipping his arm around her waist.

“You make it sound as simple as getting over a cold,” said Jean anxiously.

“It doesn’t matter what it is. All that matters is you’re here with friends who will help you find the answers,” said Scott strongly, “It may seem daunting now, but we’ll figure it out. We’ll make this right.”

Scott, Kurt, and Ororo offered her their comforting glances. It helped calm Jean down and ease her tense state. They were all so eager to help her even when they had no idea what they were up against. What she just described was only a fraction of what she experienced. If they could feel what she felt during those fateful moments, they may feel differently. But she never doubted that they would still support her.

“I hope you’re right,” she sighed.

“That makes two of us,” said Ororo with a friendly smile.

“Your optimism is so inspiring,” said Jean dryly.

“Ve’re more hopeful zhen you give us credit for, Jean. I vould only encourage you to have faith in zhe dededication of your friends. It’s far stronger zhan any force on Heaven and Earth,” smiled Kurt, “But enough of zhese negative musings. You say you vanted to change zhe subject, ja? Has anyone told you about zhe Professor’s debate?”

“No, but I hear it was quite a spectacle,” said Jean.

“Indeed it was. Almost as much as Logan’s ill-fated Panama mission,” said Ororo, “Keep walking with us and I’ll tell you all about it.”

Xavier Institute – Front Yard

It was early in the afternoon. Morning classes had ended and so had lunch. This time of day was usually reserved for study hall and catching up on various school-work. For Rogue and Remy, this was the time for their daily smoke break. Given that this was a recovery period with the Professor placing a renewed emphasis on class and study, they used it as an excuse to do a little extra smoking. It may not have been the healthiest extracurricular activity, but it was effective in its own right.

Sitting on the edge fountain, which had become their favorite spot, Rogue and Remy sat back and took steady drags off their cigarettes. It felt good to not have the looming prospect of Professor Xavier’s media campaign hanging over them. They no longer had to worry about always being on call to stop some mutant related event that could derail his efforts. As the smoke filled their lungs, they found themselves relaxing more than they had in weeks.

At least Remy was relaxed. He noticed that Rogue remained tense, already on her third cigarette while he was still on his first. He knew her well enough to sense when something was bothering her. If she got to her fifth cigarette before he could light up his second, then she was really in trouble.

“Tryin’ to play catch-up, cherè? We ain’t been missing that many smokes in between class and missions,” he commented.

“You stick to your pace and Ah’ll stick to mahne. Ain’t mah fault you’re such a lightweight,” she quipped as she inhaled deeply.

“So now it be Remy’s fault he ain’t smoking enough? How does that make any sense?”

“Why does it have to make sense? Maybe Ah just need it more than you.”

“Or maybe you need to be telling Remy what’s bothering you before he has to resort to more extreme methods. You know I ain’t above pestering a pretty femme when she’s clearly upset.”

Rogue groaned as she finished her cigarette in a final puff. She cursed Remy under her breath for knowing her so well. Even after they went through all the trouble to keep things friendly between them, he still got under her skin. As she quickly reached for another cigarette, Remy took another puff and scooted closer to her.

“Come on, cherè. You know you can tell Remy,” he coaxed, “Classes can’t be that bad, non?”

“It ain’t class,” Rogue muttered, “Hell, class is probably the least stressful thing in mah life right now.”

“Then what is it? For a femme as tough as you, it got to be something.”

He wasn’t going to stop pushing. He had that curious and worried look in his eye. It was a look Rogue always found hard to get around. As she lit her next cigarette she found herself talking it out.

“It’s about mah mama,” she sighed, “Ah’ve been thinkin’ about her a lot lately.”

“Mystique, huh?” said Remy, “I take it back. You ain’t be smoking enough now.”

“And here Ah was thinking you were worried about mah health,” she said dryly.

“Any particular reason you be thinking about her? Remy knows when she be on your mind, it ain’t for the hell of it.”

“That’s the messed up part. Usually when Ah’m hung up on mah mama, it’s because Ah remember how pissed Ah am at her for all the stunts she’s pulled. But this time it’s different. This time…Ah’m not sure.”

“How so?” asked Remy, now even more curious.

Rogue took a particular heavy drag off her cigarette as she thought back to all the issues surrounding Mystique. She had so many reasons to be angry with her. She practically abandoned her so she could join Magneto. She tried to trick her into leaving the X-men. She even tried to trick Kurt to get back on her good side. She did so many wrong things for the wrong reasons. Now things were changing and it was forcing her to rethink her attitude towards her adopted mother.

“It started with that dang Shadowkings mess. That crazy affair completely undermined every notion Ah ever had about mah mama. We got roped into helping some disembodied asshole and ended up destroying something that could have answered so many questions.”

“You talkin’ about that dairy?” said Remy, “Heck, for all we know them answers could have made everything much worse.”

“Or they could have made sense of everything,” retorted Rogue, “What if that book explained why mah mama was so hell-bent on training meh to fight? What if it revealed another reason why she ran off? Or better yet, what if it had information on mah real parents?”

“You can’t be beating yourself wondering about that stuff, cherè,” said the Cajun, sensing she was getting a little worked up.

“Why not? You think Ah’m better off not knowing the truth?”

“Non, but this be Mystique we’re talking about. When she be after something, it don’t usually lead to something good.”

“It may seem that way to you, but it’s different for meh! She’s still mah mama whether Ah like it or not! You all don’t know her like Ah do! You don’t know that there was once a time when Ah actually trusted her to do the right thing for meh and Kurt.”

Now Rogue was getting even more upset. Remy fell silent for a moment. Not wanting to risk saying the wrong thing, he reached into his pocket and took out another cigarette. As he lit it, Rogue took another hard drag off hers. While Remy began puffing away on his, Rogue continued to muse.

“It’s been a long time since Mystique was a halfway decent mother. That’s the one thing nobody around here can ever wrap their head around. There was a time when she was a good mother. Ah’m sure even your foster father showed some heart when you were growing up.”

“Jean-Luc had his moments,” shrugged Remy, “But they was few and far between.”

“Yeah, that was kind of how it was with Mystique. Even now after all these years, Ah find myself wondering if she still has moments like that in her. The Shadow King mess showed she ain’t a lost cause. She was right about us. We were the bad guys that time and she was the victim.”

“We still don’t know the full story, cherè,” Remy reminded her.

“Ah know enough,” she said as she took another heavy drag, “Maybe Ah am being hopelessly naïve, but a part of meh wants Mystique to redeem herself. Call me problem child, but Ah want her to be that mother Ah remember.”

“It ain’t a problem to want a mother’s love. You just can’t always be sure that love is genuine,” Remy pointed out.

“That’s just it. Ah know she still loves meh and Kurt. She just keeps going about it in the wrong ways. It is so much to hope for that she fesses up and starts doing the right thing for the right reasons?”

It was a tough notion to contemplate, Mystique doing the right thing. Even Remy had to admit that their recent encounter with the Shadow Kings showed a different side to the shape shifter. She was capable of being on the right side of the battle. That alone put her several levels above Jean-Luc. But given what Rogue had told her about Mystique and his numerous encounters with her thus far, it was hard to tell. Yet he could sense how important this was to Rogue and offered what little understand he could manage.

“Remy don’t blame you for wantin’ your merè back. Them good memories you have of her be hard to let go of,” he told her, “But if there’s one thing Remy’s learned from philosophy and thieving it’s that no matter what goes down, people don’t change. They are who they are. If someone be a bad homme, they always be a bad homme.”

“So you’re saying it’s hopeless,” said Rogue in a low tone.

“That ain’t what Remy’s gettin’ at,” he went on, “People don’t change, but their thoughts, their behavior, and their attitudes change constantly. That could mean one of two things with Mystique. On one hand she could be every bit as bad as we’ve seen and those good memories you have of her were just her going through the motions. On the other hand, maybe it’s that caring mother you remember that’s the real Mystique and something else be at work to make her the bitter woman she is now.”

“So how do Ah know which one it is?” asked Rogue intently.

Remy took another puff of his cigarette and sighed. As much as he enjoyed such philosophical musings, there were limits to what he could conclude.

“That Remy don’t know,” said the Cajun, “You said it yourself. You be knowing your merè better than anybody.”

“That still ain’t saying much,” said Rogue with renewed bitterness, “Just because Mystique adopted meh doesn’t mean Ah know what makes her tick.”

“But you be in a better position than anyone to find out,” Remy pointed out, “With that woman, you never know. She may surprise you.”

“Yeah, she’s good at that,” said Rogue, rolling her eyes.

“And it might just be a matter of time before it be in a good way. The law of probabilities ensures it be possible, non?”

The idea of Mystique giving her any less reason to despise her seemed outrageous at best, but Mystique was nothing if not unpredictable. She could actually turn out to be that woman Remy described,. She could be someone who really did care but other forces pushed her into being the spiteful bitch she had since become. It was an interesting prospect. She had no doubt that she, Kurt, and Mystique would cross paths again eventually. It was only a question of how far she was willing to go to uncover these dark secrets that had so consumed their family.

“Guess we’ll have to wait and see,” sighed Rogue as she took out another cigarette, “And Ah ain’t one for waiting when it come to mah mother.”

“In the meantime, Remy can keep you company,” said the Cajun with a flirtatious grin.

“Why do you still insist on doing that?” said Rogue, rolling her eyes.

“Why not? Remy can’t help himself around beautiful femmes sometimes,” he shrugged.

“More like all the time. And you know why it’s a waste with meh. We’ve been over this before. Ain’t you ever gonna accept it?”

“Remy be trying, but it ain’t easy.”

“So try harder,” she quipped.

“Why give in, cherè? You never know. Just like with Mystique, Remy may surprise you. And you may surprise yourself.”

In another cocky show of his flirtatious persona, the Cajun mutant reached forth and touched the tip of her cigarette with his index finger. As soon as he did, the tip lit up on it’s own in a soft glow. It was shameless showboating that he probably used on women before. Yet Rogue still couldn’t stop herself from smiling.

Remy had a way of putting things in perspective. It was that philosophical side to him that was able to make sense of the issues she couldn’t. It was part of what she really liked about him and part of why she took these smoke breaks with him. The flirting was still a nuisance. She wasn’t sure how long Remy was going to keep it up. Even if it was annoying at times, she was glad to have him in her life.

Hank’s Lab

“Come on, Mr. McCoy! Show me something! You’ve been working in that database for almost two hours!” said the anxious voice of Warren Worthington III.

“Please calm down, Warren. There is a sizeable volume of information to sort through. It’s going to take time uncover the information we need,” said Hank as he worked feverishly on the computer array he had set up in the corner of his lab.

“For all we know, Shaw could be deleting that information as we speak!”

“Well we won’t know until we do a thorough search and we can’t be thorough if one of us is being ovelry obsessive,” Hank pointed out.

“It’s not obsessive. It’s the cold world of business. When something blows up, people start scrambling and answers get lost. And we need those answers!”

Hank McCoy could honestly say he had never seen Warren so focused before. In all the years he had been teaching him, he knew he had a strong drive. But it was never on this scale. He was usually easily distracted, looking for excuses to go out and fly. He always surmised his wings instilled in him a powerful avian instict to fly. It would seem that instinct was overpowered at the moment.

While most of the team was using this time as a recovery period, Warren was doing the opposite. Ever since the Panama incident he had been focused on one goal and that was to uncover the dirty secrets of Shaw Industries. Twice, they had gotten caught up in their affairs and each time it led the X-men into a volatile situation. Even though two incidents didn’t technically make a trend, Warren sensed something deeper afoot.

Once again, he turned to his father for help. All over Hank’s lab were a collection of materials he personally gathered from Worthington Industries archives. His father, now that they were on better terms, was nice enough to give him sufficient access. He suspected it was because Shaw Industries was a major competitor and exposing their shady dealings was good for business, but for once Warren didn’t care about his father’s reasons.

“What are you hiding, Shaw?” he said aloud as he looked over another stack of papers, “A man doesn’t go through all the trouble of dealing with the Russian Mafia without it being for a good reason. What was so important that you had to blow up one of your own freight yards?”

“If you’re looking for these documents to speak, you’ll be looking a long time, my boy,” commented Hank.

“Sorry if I sound a little crazy, Hank. But saying it out loud helps me think,” said Warren as he sifted through more papers.

“Funny, I don’t remember you using that technique on your English homework.”

“No offense, teach, but this is a bit more important than 19th century French poetry. Shaw Industries is up to something. They’ve already shown a talent for drawing us into affairs that involve sentinels, mutant mob bosses, and stuff that explodes. If the Panama debacle is any indication, we had better get the jump on them before they strike next!”

“That assumes they have some kind of vendetta against us personally,” Hank pointed out, “I’ve seen nothing in these databases your father spies on to indicate they’re anything more than a less than reputable business.”

“That could just mean they’re hiding something big!” said Warren intently as he pushed over another stack of papers.

“Now you’re sounding close to paranoia,” said Hank surprised by his gesture.

“Maybe I am, but that doesn’t mean that I’m wrong!”

Hank cast a worried look at the young man. Shaw Industries wasn’t just a potential adversary. It was personal to him. He suspected it might have something to do with his father’s company being involved, but given the mixed relationship he had with his family that couldn’t be all.

Whatever his reasons, Hank turned back to his computers and kept working. Warren may be paranoid, but he was right to be suspicious about a company like Shaw Industries. It seemed the more he uncovered about these people, the less innocent they seemed to be. He understood from basic economics that businesses had a tendency to be cold, but Shaw Industries took it to a new level. It was as if part of their culture was centered around backstabbing and deceit. And it wasn’t just for money. They seemed to have other more ambitious goals, but since their systems were so vast and secure they could only speculate.

While Hank worked the computer end, Warren stayed focused on the paper trail. The odds of finding something incriminating that were actually written down were scarce. He was hoping someone would slip up at some point, but Sebastian Shaw was proving to be very careful and meticulous. It was deeply frustrating and really tested his patience.

“What about that device?” Warren found himself saying, “Gambit said it was the size of a TV or a stereo. How on Earth could something like that be a valuable as four nuclear reactors?”

“Not to interrupt your inner musings, but I feel it’s worth reminding that big things can come in small packages,” Hank pointed out, “Perhaps that device was part of something Shaw needed.”

“For him to go down there personally to set the deal up, it had to be pretty important,” Warren continued to muse, “Any hint on what it was or what it did? I though you had Tessa looking into that.”

“I do, but she’s just as stuck as we are. All we know is what the others overheard,” said Hank, “Kurt said it was stolen from Genosha.”

“From Magneto?”

“No, from Hodge when he was still in charge.”

“Damn…I’m not sure which is worse,” said Warren, “This is the guy who was able to make the sentinels with alien technology. There’s no telling what else he could have made with that hardware!”

“I agree, the implications are serious,” Hank conceded, “But I honestly do not see how we’ll find the answers using your father’s scrupulous resources.”

“Can you think of a better way? It’s worked before. My father keeps tabs on all his competitors and Shaw Industries is the biggest. He has to know something!”

“I’m hoping he does, but we should still consider other means of investigated this matter.”

Warren tensed upon hearing such a suggestion. Hank stopped typing as he felt the winged mutant’s shift in demeanor. The idea of using any other means than what his father had set up did not appeal to him. He almost seemed intent on uncovering this mystery with his family connections. That got Hank to wonder.

“Unless, of course, you have a reason for wanting to use your father’s company as the sole resource with which to counter this connundrum,” he pointed out.

“Now why would that matter?” said Warren incredulously.

“Warren, you get upset when someone puts the wrong topping on your pizza. Unless this is some new obsessive compulsive ordeal, there has to be another reason.”

Warren fell silent and turned his attention back to the stack of papers. Hank’s critical eyes were still on him. The winged mutant tried to ignore his scrutiny, but he was too smart for that. For the sake of avoiding distractions, he sighed to himself and came clean.

“Let’s just say I’m testing a theory,” said Warren, not taking his eyes off his work, “Surely someone like you can appreciate a little experiment on the side.”

“That depends on the experiment,” said Hank in a critical tone.

“If you’re worried it’s something trivial, don’t bother. It’s very serious,” he said strongly, “I want to know if my family resources can make a difference that’s equal to or greater than my wings.”

“As interesting a question that may be, why would you want to test something like that?”

“I have my reasons,” said Warren cryptically, “For now, can we please focus on the challenge at hand? My primary concern is still Shaw. If he really is up to something it’s important we find out what it is. Otherwise it may find us first.”

Wall Street, New York – Frost Enterprise Investments

The world of big business and finance was mysterious territory for most ordinary people. In some ways it was a paradox. These big, faceless entities raked in so much money it baffled the average consumer. At the same time that money was a result of giving that consumer the goods and services they wanted. It wasn’t a charity and it certainly wasn’t an act of good-will. Such a cold, amoral world was not for the faint of heart, but there were a select few that thrived in this environment.

Emma Frost was one of those few. She had spent much of her life in the business world in some form or another. Bright, intelligent, and beautiful almost to a fault she was well-versed in the art of making money. Even though she was only 27 years old, she amassed a small fortune through her up and coming hedge fund she humbly named Frost Enterprise Investments. She had a reputation for being aggressive if not predatory, but she was also known for being a woman of strong principles. To the rest of the Wall Street crowd, she was a mystery and there was a good reason for that.

Clad in her high end business suit and overpriced heels, Emma stepped out of the main elevator in her upscale office complex. It wasn’t the largest headquarters for a growing hedge fund, but she was confident it would be one day.

“How many times do I have to tell you? I don’t trade with companies who spend more money on lobbyists than marketing!” she barked into her cell phone, “I don’t care if their revenue sheet gave the analysts multiple orgasms! I’m not buying! If you don’t like it go work for someone else with less brains and no balls!”

The attractive blonde abruptly ended the call, not giving her broker on the other end a chance to make his case. She heard all she needed to hear and her decision was final. She may have been abrasive when it came to getting her point across, but it got the job done. In this business she couldn’t afford to be coy.

Walking through her bustling office, she passed by her various assistants and analysts. They always grew somewhat anxious when she passed by. If her demanding style wasn’t intimidating enough, her beauty more than compensated. Wall Street wasn’t used to having an attractive blond run things. Usually they were the ditzy secretaries who were nothing more than eye-candy for visitors. Emma despised such shallow practices, probably because at one point she had been part of it. But that was another story and a part of her life she had long since left behind. As she stormed towards her office, one of her female assistants came running up to her.

“Miss Frost, ma’am. A couple of messages came in for you while you were on your conference call,” the assistant said.

“If one of them is from that conniving consultant from Fenris International, you can just ignore it. I’m sick of listening to him drone endlessly about his oh so vast connections in the private defense sector.”

Her assistant paused for a moment before flipping through a few more paper she had.

“Okay, I stand corrected. You have one message that came in while you were on your call. Some man claimed he had an important appointment with you. Says he would meet you when the time was suitable.”

“Funny, I don’t remember making an appointment with a man too vague to give a name and a halfway meaningful time.”

“He said he was an old friend of yours,” she explained, “He also said you were returning a favor or something.”

Emma looked at the assistant curiously. That sounded like a pretty strange message, especially the part about it being from an old friend. Emma didn’t have a lot of old friends. The few she did have rarely contacted her. There was also the part about the favor. In this business there was little room for favors, let alone repaying them.

“I’ll look into it,” said Emma in a flat tone, “For now, hold my calls and make sure everyone stays focused on those options I laid out.”

“Yes ma’am. We’ll take care of it.”

“I know you will.”

It wasn’t so much a vote of confidence as it was a statement of fact. That was one of the unique aspects about working for Emma Frost. Nobody could ever lead her on. She could read people in ways that left little room for uncertainty. She claimed there was a very good reason for this, but whatever it was she kept it to herself.

While her assistant ran off to carry on with her duties, Emma swiftly navigated through the busy floor towards her office. As the founder and leader of this hedge fund, her office was a bit nicer than the ones the rest of her staff enjoyed. It took up a whole corner of office space where she kept a spacious, well-maintained, and nicely decorated. It was also walled off so she had her share of privacy. Compared to other bosses, she was very keen on secrecy. It was part of what made her a mystery to her co-workers. It was also necessary for more personal reasons.

‘An old friend she says? Please! I haven’t had time for friends in years. Who could possibly be looking for a favor?’

Scoffing to herself, Emma entered her office with every intention of brushing that message off. But as soon as she stepped inside, she was met with a presence that literally froze her where she stood.

“Hello Emma. It’s been a while,” said an articulate but cold voice.

The attractive blond gasped. She would recognize that deep, sadistic voice anywhere. It could only belong to one person.

“Sebastian!” she yelled with venomous anger, “What the hell are you doing here? And how the hell did you get in my office?!”

“Oh come now, my dear. Is that any way to treat an old flame?”

The dark, imposing figure of Sebastian Shaw rose up from the corner where he had been sitting. His presence was just as nauseating as she remembered. He still wore that neatly tailored Victorian style attire that supposedly made him so much more sophisticated than the average man. He also still looked down at her as if she was his pet, a cold reminder of another life.

“Give me one good reason why I shouldn’t throw you out the nearest window!” spat Emma with menacing ferocity.

“You’re welcome to try, but I wouldn’t recommend it. You know it won’t do you any good,” replied Shaw snidely.

“It’ll make me feel pretty damn good after all these years! I still haven’t forgotten about what you did to me! I don’t get over being used!”

“Oh don’t act like you didn’t enjoy it at times. After all, it did give you the means to create such a successful little company. Pity it’s so small. A mere several billion. Pocket change compared to what you could have had.”

“If you’re here to tempt me you’re wasting your time! I’m never joining you or your little club! Not after what you did to me!”

“Spare me the morality stand, Emma. As if you’re in any position to do so,” replied Shaw with an ominous grin, “I’m not here on a casual stroll. I’m here because you owe me a favor and it’s time you make good on it.”

“I owe you nothing!”

“On the contrary. You owe me everything!” he said as he approached her, “Everything from your cunning buisness savvy to that surgically enhanced body of yours is because of me. Honestly, would anyone take you as seriously if your breasts weren’t perfectly shaped and your face was so elegantly enhanced?”

“Still fighting the urge to throw you out the window,” she scolded.

“As if you’ve ever been good with questionable urges,” Shaw quipped, “That doesn’t even begin to describe your more subtle talents, of which I’m sure you’ve gone to great lengths to keep secret.”

Emma’s face contorted with anger, but Shaw struck a chord. As much as it pained her, the man was right. He was the one that paid for her to go through the cosmetic surgery that shaped her body into the pristine example of womanly perfection she was today. He also groomed her in the ways of business, nurturing her desire to succeed in the world of wealth. These all paled in comparison to her biggest secret, which had only grown in importance in wake of recent events.

As she stood in silence, her eyes brimming with anger, Shaw boldly approached her. In a dominating gesture, he tenderly caressed her face. His touch only enraged her further, but he was not afraid. She was still as beautiful as he remembered. She was no longer the naïve, arrogant teenage girl she was when their paths first crossed. She was a strong, ambitious woman with so much going for her. It was only a pity she wasted such ambition on trivial matters.

“Regardless of your feelings towards me, you will do me this favor,” he said strongly, “You see, I recently completed a deal with a dear associate of mine from Russia. I have in my possession something of great value that can, if used properly, grant me access to something of even greater value.”

“What is it this time? Some magic wand that allows you to bribe politicians without having to pay for lobbyists?” scolded Emma.

“That you don’t need to know. All that matters is that various partners of mine are eagerly awaiting the acquisition of this new resource and you’re going to help me get it.”

“What could I offer that the might Sebastian Shaw can’t obtain on his own?” said Emma snidely.

“Something even money has a hard time buying…trust.”

“Trust? Have you finally lost it, Shaw?”

“Oh I’m deathly serious, Emma,” he said in a more serious tone, “Truthfully, I never would bother coming to you if you weren’t in a position to benefit me so. Unfortunately, you have something no one else in my Inner Circle possesses. You have the trust of Charles Xavier and the X-men.”

Emma’s eyes widened as she promptly pulled away. The mention of the X-men once again evoked a range of angry reactions. While her history with Sebastian Shaw was complicated, her history with the X-men was even more so.

“No way! It’s never going to happen!” yelled Emma, “You will not use me to get to the X-men! I’d rather die than help you hurt them!”

“You say you’re willing, but your demeanor gives you away,” said Shaw as he pulled her back into his grasp, “I know you have a soft spot for Charles Xavier and his band of makeshift heroes. I also know you’re a woman of great ambition. You’ve worked so hard to build a successful life after your little X-men career.”

“Get to the point, Shaw! You know you have nothing to threaten me with!”

“Oh I beg to differ. You’re very protective of this web of lies you’ve constructed.  The last thing you would ever want was for some unfortunate incident to come along to destroy everything you’ve built. Like say oh…a little detail revelation about you being a mutant.”

Emma’s expression shifted from anger to dread. Shaw was now hitting her where it hurt most…her pride. He knew that she was serious when it came to protecting her assets. All the hard work and toil she put into this company could easily be undone if the public found out that she was a mutant.

The backlash could be especially bad if they found out she was a telepath, and one trained by Charles Xavier no less. She had been able to keep much of her history with the X-men secret. That was why it was so easy for her to enter the business world so seamlessly. With anti-mutant sentiment was so, she would become a huge target. She could already envision competitors accusing her of using her telepathy to manipulate the markets. Given the friends Shaw had at the SEC, he was certainly capable of making her life a living hell.

“You know I’ll do it, Emma. So don’t test me with that charming wit of yours,” said Sebastian in a more threatening tone.

“You really think ruining me will make me betray the X-men?”

“It’s good motivation, I’m sure. But if you remember correctly, I have another major piece leverage over you…or more accurately, three pieces of leverage,” he snickered, “I used them to get you out of the X-men. I can use you to get you back in because you know what will happen if you don’t.”

Shaw went for the jugular this time. Emma knew exactly what he was referring to. It was the one thing he took from her that he knew she could not risk. t was what drove her from her friends in the first place. Now he was using it again like a trump card he had been waiting to use after all these years.

“You will help me, Emma. But bear in mind I’ll get what I want with or without you. The question you should ask yourself is…are you really that willing to lose everything you’ve gained? And are you willing to risk further what you’ve already lost?”

Emma was filled with even more anger. Even though she was so tempted to lash out at this man for this kind of blackmail, she knew it would do her no good. Shaw was too cunning. He made it so he would win either way. In the end, she had to make a difficult decision.

“What do you want me to do, Sebastian?” she said in an angry but bitter tone.

“Ahh, it feels so good to hear you say those words again. And with your clothes on for once,” he snickered.

Emma tensed with disgust, but Shaw ignored her discontent.

“First off, you’re going to continue working as though nothing is amiss,” he told her, “And second, you’re not going to drop a psychic hint to anybody.”

“And just how would you be able to tell?” scoffed Emma.

“I have my ways,” said Shaw slyly, “Third and most importantly, you’re going to follow a detailed script that I’ve put together for you. I assure you it’s nothing too difficult. I’m sure my former White Queen can handle it.”

“I will, but don’t ever call me that again! I’m not your queen anymore!” spat Emma.

“For now, you are,” he stated, “And so long as you’ll be playing your part, you might as well meet the other actors involved.”

Shaw stepped back and snapped his fingers. As soon as he did, the area at the back of Emma’s office became wavy as if the surrounding reality was fading. Emma quickly recognized it as an illusion of sorts and a potent one at that since she was unable to detect it with her telepathy. From this fading illusion, a handful of figures formed before her eyes. None of them looked friendly.

There were seven of them. The first six were heavily armed in a manner of speaking. They had human figures, but much of their bodies were wired with various cybernetics. One had a gun built right into his arm, another had a long metal blades extending from his upper wrist, and another had his legs replaced with mechanized wheels with built in miniature gatting guns. These were just the weapons that could be seen. There was no telling what other surprises these cyborg thugs were hiding. Emma couldn’t read their minds or even see their faces, which were hidden under cybernetic masks. They were an imposing sight, but they were not the only ones that caught her attention.

Standing in front of the team of cyborgs was a man in uniquely tailored suit. He was well-groomed, well-aged, and had eyes that were a mysterious shade of gray. Emma detected a strong psychic aura from him. He clearly had some psionic abilities emulating from him, but she could not pierce it and he seemed to know it with the way he was grinning snidely. Between this man and his cyborg thugs, Emma wasn’t looking forward to what Shaw had in store for her.

“Emma, my dear, I would like you to meet the Reavers. They are some of the best hired guns money can buy, literally and figuratively,” said Shaw with an ominous grin, “And the gentleman with them is my associate Jason Wayengard.”

“I would say it’s a pleasure to meet you, but I doubt I could do so with a straight face,” she muttered.

“They’re all going to be playing a major role in what’s to come. And you’re going to help them,” Shaw went on, “It’s all coming together as we speak. The only missing ingredient is a friendly call to your old associates at the Xavier Institute.”

Next Issue: The Phoenix Saga Part 2

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