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Volume 3 -- Issue 69 -- Kings and Tyrants Part 1

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Kings and Tyrants Part 1
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In a world where mutants and humans regularly clash, the future of the human race is in a constant struggle with intolerance and oppression. Professor Charles Xavier and his X-men have thrust themselves into this struggle, fighting for peace and understanding in a world that hates and fears them. For a while, it seemed as though that fear and hatred was winning out. An anti-mutant crusader in Senator Robert Kelly is running for president and their arch nemesis in Magneto runs his own nation of mutants. Yet the X-men have never been more unified.

Recently, the X-men faced their greatest challenge to date. Their teammate and beloved friend, Jean Grey, became consumed by a cosmic being known as the Phoenix Force. She was nearly driven mad with power and came close to destroying the world if not the universe. But through the dedicated efforts of her friends and the undying love of her boyfriend, Scott Summers, she overcame even death itself to regain control. This triumph has reinvigorated Charles Xavier and his team. As the presidential election draws near, they’ll need all that determination for a new round of threats.

While the X-men have worked tirelessly within this ongoing struggle, Magneto and his revamped Brotherhood continue to plot. The Master of Magnetism knows as well as Xavier what is at stake with Senator Kelly’s campaign. Like the X-men, he stands ready to make his mark. Only he is willing to go much further and he is not willing to allow the X-men to thwart him again.

Genosha – Magneto’s Citadel

Erik Lensherr knew he was destined for great things. It wasn’t just because of his mutant powers. He believed he was on this world for a purpose. He believed he was meant to have a major impact on the history of his kind. In a ways he already succeeded with his efforts on Genosha. However, such success was hardly sufficient. As it currently stood, mutants were on the wrong side of history. The events in Liverpool made them vulnerable, dangerous, and aggressive. If they were to truly succeed humanity, that would have to change.

Looking out over the balcony of his citadel, he saw progress in his endeavor. For months the new skyline of the capital city had been taking shape. The elegant buildings that he designed himself were finally coming together. The layout of the city was looking cleaner and more fitting for a nation inhabited by superior beings. Crime and petty feuding had finally waned, thanks largely to the efforts of his Brotherhood under the leadership of Alex Summers. While the younger Summers brother had a tendency to be confrontational, he knew how to get the job done. It was a good thing too because he needed order for the next phase of his plans.

As he stood fixated on his capital city, the door behind him opened and Alex entered with Pietro following close by. The master of magnetism already knew why they were here so he didn’t waste time.

“What is your report?” he said in his usual stoic tone.

“We worked with Scanner and that new telepath you brought in, Quentin Quire,” said Alex, “I even called in some favors from Jubilee back in District X. The story’s the same. The X-men have regrouped and recovered. They say they’re stronger than ever.”

“Which is pretty rediculous when you consider the circumstances,” said Pietro cynically, “Those punks were down for the count! After that Proteus crap in England, they should barely be able to bathe themselves! It doesn’t make sense!”

“You’re right…it doesn’t,” said Magneto, still showing little emotion.

“I told you we should have acted when we had the chance!” the speedster added.

“Spare me the impulsively that you think counts as strategy, Pietro. This is an important change. Charles is cunning, but he’s not irrational. There has to be a reason for this change.”

“Jubilee said something about this huge threat that nearly destroyed them. Something about Jean Grey’s powers going haywire,” added Alex.

“But she has control now?” asked Magneto, “My own scanners picked up some rather unusual surges from Jean Grey recently. I’m curious to know how she’s been faring.”

“Far as I know, she’s as healthy as as she’s ever been and twice as motivated . Those are Jubilee’s words, not mine.”

“For the sake of your credibility, they better be,” said Pietro, rolling his eyes.

“Jubilee also said it was connected to that hostage mess they broke up in New York a while back,” Alex went on, “She suspected the X-men did more than just break it up, but she didn’t have many details to offer.”

“Big surprise, coming from one of your old street buddies,” scoffed Pietro, earning him a look from the younger Summers brother, “But whatever happened, they got through it and they’re stronger now. Should we investigate further?”

Magneto thought about it for a moment. While he was curious as to what happened with the X-men and Jean Grey’s powers, he had other concerns at the moment. He would have loved to know the full story of Charles Xavier’s struggles, but he didn’t have the luxury of indulging in such mysteries at this time.

“No…at least not now,” said the master of magnetism, “The American presidential election is tomorrow and I cannot afford to divert any attention from my plan. I’ve already set it into motion and it requires my utmost attention.”

“Right…this same plan that involves trusting that nutjob, Exodus,” said Pietro.

“Are you going to be an ass with every plan that isn’t recklessly impulsive, Pietro?” retorted Alex.

“Someone has to speak up while others are too busy picking fights and hitting on my half-sister!”

“Start naming names! I dare you! Then we’ll see how fast you are without your shins!” spat Alex, his hands glowing briefly.

“Restrain yourselves, you two! Or I may have to!” scolded Magneto, “I’ve heard enough of your bickering these past few months. Do not test my patience during this critical time!”

His powerful words silenced the two young men. Pietro retained his bitter disposition, but Alex tried to maintained a respectful demeanor towards Magneto. While the speedster may take his father’s trust for granted, Alex took his role as leader of the Brotherhood seriously. That meant being attentive when Magneto was preparing his plan for these volatile times.

“I apologize, sir,” said Alex calmly.

“You would,” muttered Pietro.

“Save your apologies for later, Havok. Save extra for yourself, Pietro,” said Magneto coldly, “Make no mistake, I understand the risk we’re taking with Exodus. That man has been a loose cannon ever since he showed up. While I haven’t the faintest clue as to why he’s so unstable, there’s no denying his dedication.”

“Dedication…right,” said Pietro skeptically, “The man just wants help fixing that twisted mind of his. He’s bad enough when he’s crazy. Can you imagine how much worse it’ll be if he’s sane?”

“I’ll do what I have to in order to make this happen,” said Magneto strongly, “I’ve spent months going over the alien technology we uncovered in the mine. Now it’s time we put it to good use.”

“On a smaller scale, no less,” said Alex, “With all due respect, sir, you said if Senator Kelly gets elected then we would have to hit back. I’m just not sure we’re hitting hard enough.”

“I assure you we will leave our mark. For now, consider this a test run. A means of tipping the balance in the unbalanced world that is human politics,” Magneto explained, “I’m confident you understand your roles. Make sure the rest of the Brotherhood understands as well. We cannot afford another mishap at a time like this.”

“That won’t happen under my watch, sir. No matter how hard some may try,” said Alex, giving Pietro a snide look.

The speedster snarled back at the younger Summers brother, but chose not to make a scene. He was already on thin ice with his father. He was not going to push it.

“And what of the X-men?” asked Pietro, “What if they get involved and aren’t as weakened as we hoped they would be?”

“We’ll find a way to deal with them,” said Magneto as he used his powers to retrieve his helmet.

“Should we assume we’ll have to fight them along the way?” asked Alex, “It’s not like we’ll be able to keep this quiet for very long.”

“With Charles Xavier, it is usually a safe assumption,” he affirmed, “Now if you’ll excuse me, I have an appointment to keep and so do you.”

Upon putting on his helmet, Magneto levitated into the air and flew off. His plan was officially underway. These next few days were going to be important in the history of American politics and global affairs. He was going to make sure it was significant  for all the right reasons.

Alex and Pietro lingered a bit longer before running off to carry out their duties as well. Alex remained serious while the speedster remained skeptical. It wasn’t the plan that bothered him. It was the X-men and all the other forces working against him. Something didn’t seem right and he had a feeling it was going to affect their efforts. As they exited the throne room, they passed Lorna. She was waiting for them and as usual, she smiled at Alex’s presence. It always got under Pietro’s skin. It even got under Wanda’s skin to a point. They both had their reservations about their half-sister showing an interest in a Summers.  They didn’t need that kind of drama or headaches as they entered this new phase in human/mutant affairs.

“You better keep it in your pants, Summers,” he muttered under his breath.

“Are you saying that because she’s your sister?” snickered Alex.

“Half-sister,” the speedster corrected.

“Does it matter?” he shrugged.

“I’d sure say so! I think I’ve made it pretty damn clear that I don’t like you and I don’t like you hanging around her.”

“Being the team leader requires that I respect you. It doesn’t require your approval for personal affairs.”

“I already know that and so do you. And for the sake of not pissing off my father, let’s fight each other after this is over! If everything goes well with my father planned for once, we’ll have plenty of chances!”

Xavier Institute – Jean’s Room

“So what do you think, babe? Is it me?” said Jean Grey as she posed gracefully before Scott, “I kind of liked the waist scarf and the color scheme, but I’m just not sure if it meshes well enough with my X-uniform.”

“I think it looks great to me. Then again, I’m utterly bias,” grinned an all too relaxed Scott Summers, who was lying back casually on her bed, “I think you’re old uniform was fine, but if you want to look even hotter in the field who am I to argue?”

“It’s not about looking hot…well, not entirely anyways,” snickered Jean, “After the whole Phoenix thing, I think my outward persona needs an overhaul.”

“So you’re just not into Marvel Girl anymore?”

“Not that I have anything against it, but let’s face it. I outgrew Marvel Girl two bra sizes ago. So long as I’m wielding the spirit of the Phoenix, I might as well flaunt it!”

Scott Summers couldn’t stop smiling as he watched his lover show so much enthusiasm for this little project of hers. Ever since the Phoenix affair, she was a reinvigorated woman. There were no more migraines, no more visions, and no more cosmic manifestations. There was just a beautiful young woman looking to move forward with her life and he was the lucky guy who got to share it with her.

As a means of ushering in this new stage in her life, she chose to update her uniform. She sought a look to match her new persona, which now included the Phoenix Force. For the past few hours they had been going over new designs. Scott wasn’t much of a fashion guru, but there was plenty of appeal in watching Jean Grey dress and undress in between these ridiculously hot uniforms. As if her old uniform hadn’t been provocative enough, she was settling on something that really brought out her new identity.

Her latest effort yielded a mix between her old X-men uniform and the Phoenix attire the Inner Circle so generously provided. She had the same skin tight black pants and halter top from her X-uniform, but now she had a Phoenix emblem etched on it as well as the elegant yellow scarf around her waist. She also made a few adjustments to make it a bit more revealing. It was somewhat revealing, but Scott was in no position to argue. The way he saw it, if their enemies got too distracted by looking at her, then that would be a good tactical advantage. The only drawback was he might not be able to stop himself from staring either.

The potential drawbacks didn’t bother Jean in the slightest. She smiled back as she watched her lover admire her new form. This new identity felt right. Like the Phoenix itself, she had been reborn into a new, more mature woman. That still didn’t mean there wasn’t room for youthful indiscretions. Feeling playful, she made her way over to her bed and sensually crawled on top her lover.

“You’re enjoying this way too much, Mr. Summers,” she grinned as she seductively loomed over him.

“Why shouldn’t I?” he said, slipping his hands up her hips, “I’m happy to see you doing so much better. Between the migraines, visions, and the power surges I was really worried about you, Jean.”

“Well worry no more! I can honestly say I’ve never felt better in my life. My mind is stable. My powers are stable. I even have a few new tricks to use in the field!”

To prove her point, she tapped into her new Phoenix powers to form a fiery mini-halo around her body. It wasn’t intense like it was when the Phoenix first possessed her. It was warm and gentle, yet every bit as cosmic as the power it came from.

“That is so incredibly hot it’s not even funny,” grinned Scott.

“Should help keep us nice and warm when it gets cold,” purred Jean, “It also gives us one more reason to cuddle.”

“The more the merrier, I suppose,” said the X-leader, “But all sexiness aside, how have you been coping with these new powers? Ever since it happened, you’ve been adjusting in spurts. Should I start a new round of worrying?”

“I think we’ve done enough worrying for the next two decades so save yourself the trouble, babe,” assured Jean, her tone becoming more serious, “I admit, it has been quite an adjustment. It’s not every day you have the power of a cosmic entity ingrained in you.”

“I hope that isn’t as awkward as it sounds,” said Scott.

“Not nearly as much as it could be, that’s for sure,” she snickered, “But the Phoenix has made good on her word. She’s stable once more and so am I. My powers aren’t at cosmic level, but they’ve definitely been upgraded.”

“How so?” wondered Scott.

“That’s a bit trickier to explain,” she replied, “You know how the Professor always talked about my potential?”

“As if I ever needed to be reminded of that.”

“Well I think it deserves another reminder because the Phoenix basically kick started that lingering potential I’ve never been able to tap. Hank even says it may make me one of the most powerful psychics in the world. It’s a little overwhelming, but when you have a cosmic being on your side it gets easier.”

“I’ll bet. And it’s not causing you any serious strain?”

“Nope! I’m in complete control!” said Jean happily, showing off with an extra Phoenix flare to prove her point, “I’m still a long ways away from the power I wielded when I was flying through space and blowing up asteroids, but that’s probably for the better.”

“No kidding. I’d have a hard time competing with that,” Scott commented.

“As if a night with you stood a chance against the cold, endless vacuum of space,” she quipped, “It’s still a work-in-progress. Just as the Phoenix is trying to learn from me, I’m trying to learn from it too. We’ve got a long ways to go, but whatever we have to face I’m sure it beats the hell out of nightmares and migraines.”

“I second that sentiment,” grinned Scott as his tone shifted again, “I guess that also means you won’t spend nearly as much time being bedridden.”

“You almost sound disappointed,” teased Jean.

“Would you hold it against me? I was just getting used to being your personal healer. If you don’t have migraines anymore, then I won’t have as many reasons to treat you with the healing power of full body massages and tantric.”

“Oh I’m sure we’ll come up with plenty of new reasons,” said Jean, throwing plenty of sensual subtext into her voice.

Scott’s grin grew wider as Jean seductively pulled him into a closer embrace. This was yet another pleasant side-effect of their encounter with the Phoenix. Now that Jean was no longer ailing, she could dedicate much more energy into these affectionate moments. After all the strain they endured recently, they really needed them. He came so close to losing her. The Phoenix threatened to tear them apart forever, yet in the end it brought them closer than ever.

The two lovers relished in this newfound closeness. Jean eagerly soaked up the warmth of lover’s body. She had so many reasons to be optimistic now that the Phoenix ordeal was over, but what really gave her the most hope was the powerful new bond she and Scott shared. They had overcome so many hardships together. They literally fought and died together. Yet here they were, holding each other with a love that was stronger than ever.

“So before we get too distracted, is this new uniform a winner?” said Jean, still in a playful mood.

“I’d say so,” conceded Scott, “Definitely more Phoenix than Marvel Girl.”

“Then it’s settled! Marvel Girl is officially retired. Phoenix is officially in vogue!”

“You want your new codename to be Phoenix?”

“Can you think of a more appropriate title?” she teased.

“Why would I want to? It fits your fiery personality so well,” he teased right back, “Anything that brings out that passion of yours is okay with me.”

“Glad you think so because you’re going to be dealing with it a lot more now. Since we’re moving in together, we’ll have to accommodate each others’ little quirks.”

“We’ve been living under the same roof for years, Jean. Sharing a room isn’t necessarily too big a step,” said Scott.

“So you think we’re really ready for this?”

Scott’s demeanor shifted and became more serious despite Jean’s playful gestures. This was a bold new phase in their relationship. They were going to move out of their old bedrooms that they had been living in since they first arrived at the institute and moving into a larger shared room together. It was a sign they were serious about moving beyond the petty issues that had plagued them before. They were both willing to really work at making this relationship different from the others they had in the past. It was a bit sudden given the circumstances, but it was a step they were more than ready for.

“Jean, you know I love you, right?” said Scott as he gently caressed her face.

“Of course I do. I love you too,” she said, her expression becoming more serious as well.

“Well the Phoenix proved just how powerful that love is. We literally died for each other. We overcame obstacles that nobody else even contemplates having to deal with. That shows me beyond a shadow of a doubt that this is it. You and me…we’re meant to be. It’s literally ordained by cosmic forces.”

“Oh Scott, you’re trying to get back at me for forcing you to be my fashion judge, aren’t you?” said Jean, smiling despite a tear forming in her eyes.

“It’s the truth. We’ve gone through the motions of other relationships. We’ve gone through our share together, sometimes more than we should.”

“Is that your indirect way of apologizing for being so cold during our bout with family affairs?”

“Call it whatever you want, Jean. I’m genuinely willing to go all in with you,” said Scott strongly, “Moving in together and taking a chance at a more mature relationship is the next logical step. It feels right. I know it’s right. So why fight it?”

It was flawless logic mixed with heartfelt emotion. Jean couldn’t have had any doubt if she tried. His reasonable yet tender words evoked an even bigger smile. Yet he still felt the urge to convince her. To really send his point home, Scott pulled her into a passionate kiss.

Feeling so invigorated and excited, she affectionately kissed back. The two lovers quickly became flushed with passion. As he kissed her, Scott tenderly trailed his hands up her hips and waist. He eventually settled over the Phoenix emblem on her lower back, evoking a brief flash of distinct Phoenix power within her eyes. Driven by this passionate energy, Jean she eagerly pushed Scott onto his back and let her warm body sink into his.

“Hmm…this may our last chance to make love on this bed,” said Jean seductively.

“You’re right. And if I recall, we already did it on my bed this morning,” grinned Scott.

“And quite thoroughly I might add. So it’s only fair mine get a proper send off as well,” she reasoned.

“Fair and proper...sounds good to me,” said Scott, already succumbing to the growing desire.

“Guess that means we’ll have to make it count!” she said intently.

“When you’ve lived and died together like we have, it always does.”

With tender yet passionate fervor Scott and Jean shed their clothes, curled up under the sheets, and made love. They went from friends to lovers to soul mates. They were set to move forward with their lives, not just as a couple but as X-men. Whatever this new future may bring, they would face it together. They would also have the added blessing of a cosmic force to guide them.

‘Such amazing passion yet so playful. I had no idea the mortal act of physically expressing love was so diverse.’

‘Phoenix, remember that discussion we had about playing an active role during private moments?’

‘Forgive me, Jean. I promise I’ll be more tactful in my musings. Please proceed with making love to Scott.’

‘Thanks! I most certainly will!’

Xavier Institute – Infirmary

Professor Charles Xavier was used to pushing the limits of his health. As a cancer survivor, he understood his body was much less resilient than others. Because of these limitations, it took him much longer to heal from the Phoenix affair than the rest of the team. He had been bedridden and weakened for quite some time now. It wasn’t a particularly good time to be in such a state either. The presidential election was tomorrow and healthy or not, he was going to be a part of it.

Through labored breaths, he sat up in the infirmary bed after his latest around of tests. He was no longer on an IV drip or taking a cocktail of medications. He was trying to function on his own, or at least as well as a paraplegic could. It helped that Lilandra stopped by for a visit. She had been in and out of the mansion ever since she heard about what happened with the Phoenix. It was quite a feat for her body as well, given all the work she was doing with Aerie Global to continue his abandoned media campaign. While the future of the mutant race was pressing, her concern for Charles was never far from her mind. She made sure he knew that when she stood by his bedside as he prepared to end his recovery period.

“You’re certainly looking better, Charles. But are you sure it’s wise to end your treatment like this?” said Lilandra as she helped him into his wheelchair, “I specifically remember Hank and Moria saying you should stay on your meds for another two weeks.”

“The election is tomorrow, Lilandra. Unless someone can miraculously change the US Constitution, I will not be bedridden,” said Xavier, still sounding a bit drowsy.

“Under normal circumstances I would try and convince you to reconsider. But I would probably be wasting my time, wouldn’t I?”

“You should know me well enough to know how far I’m willing to push myself,” said Xavier with a wry grin.

“That doesn’t mean it’s right or healthy for that matter,” she retorted.

“I may not be at full strength, but I’m strong enough to go through with this.”

“That I don’t doubt. It’s the rest of the world that I’m worried about,” she said, “While you and your X-men have been struggling with cosmic forces, I’ve been struggling with something far more powerful.”

“Are you referring to the intricacies of American politics?”

“If you can think the Phoenix was difficult, I would have loved to switch places,” sighed Lilandra, “Aerie Global has been going all out with media promotions, debates, and grass roots campaigns. I’ve personally lost count of how many confrontations I’ve had with Senator Kelly’s supporters. I’ve also lost track of how much hate mail we get on a daily basis.”

“I would say you get used to it, but the special spam filters I installed on the Institute’s email system says otherwise,” said Xavier.

“I wouldn’t mind the hate mail if we could say we were making progress. So far we can’t seem to make any significant headway. The latest polls still show Kelly with a slim but comfortable lead.”

“Has Aerie Global made any plans for an Election Day push?” asked the Professor.

“Even with our resources, I’m not sure we can do much more. We may have to consider the unsavory possibility that Senator Kelly may win this.”

Lilandra didn’t sound very optimistic. She dedicated so many resources to opposing Senator Kelly’s campaign and it seemed as though it would not be enough. But Charles Xavier would not allow himself to fret. After taking on the Phoenix Force, he was more determined than ever and for reasons that went beyond politics.

“I suppose we’ll just have to do what we can,” he said, “Regardless of how the election turns out, it’s important the people remember our message.”

“But if Kelly gets elected, that message may be in danger.”

“I don’t believe that. Not for a second,” said Xavier strongly, “If indeed the senator is elected, it will radically change the circumstances of our fight. But it will not change the goal. Our task may be more difficult, but we will adjust and adapt accordingly.”

“You almost make it sound easy, Charles.”

“When you’ve stared down cosmic entities and visions of alien wars, every other conflict seems to get a more manageable. I like to think the recent struggles my X-men have faced remind them of how small we are in the grand scheme of things. Yet we can still make a difference so long as we hold onto that which makes us strong.”

It was remarkable how he could still sound so hopeful and even smile during times like this. Lilandra couldn’t help but admire such resolve. She could only imagine how different the world must seem to him now. With everything he’s faced, he was in a unique position to do something special. Even though she couldn’t understand what it was like to face a cosmic level threat, she could still stand by his side and draw strength from him.

“If only everyone can gain that kind of perspective, Charles,” she said with a warm smile.

“I suppose we’ll have to make due with the people we’re stuck with,” said Xavier smiling back, “My X-men are ready and stronger than ever. I promise we’ll be there for you every step of the way.”

“That’s all the reassurance I need,” said Lilandra, “It may be a little tedious since you’re still rebuilding Cerebro.”

“We’ll find ways to get around it. In our line of work, revelations can come from any number of interesting sources.”

Cerebro Chamber

Whenever the X-men took part in a major battle, if often left a number of scars. Few battles were more major than being on the wrong side of a cosmic entity’s wrath. The X-men certainly endured their share of damage. For the most part, they were healing nicely. Aside from the emotional impact, parts of the institute were still in ruin and that would be more tedious to repair. The area that definitely took the most damage was the Cerebro chamber.

In Professor Xavier’s desperate effort to contact the Phoenix using the M’krann crystal, he overloaded the whole system. It didn’t just crash. It was practically demolished. Nearly the whole system would have to be rebuilt. It was a complicated task, but it was a task Hank McCoy didn’t mind. If anything, he felt a surreal sense of peace in rebuilding this intricate machine that was so vital to the X-men.

‘It’s good to get back to much simpler tasks. I almost forgot how it feels to tinker without the threat of a global cataclysm looming overhead.’

Having cleared out most of the debris, Hank was now lying under the main panel rewiring the main power conduits. Very little survived the blast that destroyed the system. The first step in repairing this complex machine was getting the power flowing again. After that, the real building could begin. He and Charles already had major plans to increase its functionality. The Phoenix certainly showed the limits of their equipment and an upgrade was long overdue. They were even talking about giving it a more advanced sounding name like Cerebra, Cerebrum, or Cerebro 2.0. Whatever they decided, they would do so later. These were exciting times and the work was just beginning.

Hank grunted as he yanked out the last cluster of old wires. He had next to him a toolbox and a collection of recently delivered components from Chandilar Enterprise to install. With a clear panel to work with, he reached down for the wires and a wrench. But to his surprise, he didn’t have to reach for his equipment. Someone had been hovering over him and was kind enough to hand him the parts he needed. When Hank peaked out to see who it was, he was shocked.

“Hard at work as always, darling?” said a smiling Emma Frost, “Glad to see some things haven’t changed around here.”

“Emma?!” he exclaimed.

Hank instinctively shot up, bumping his head pretty hard in the process. Emma snickered in her distinct, somewhat snide manner. Grunting from this fresh round of soreness, he slipped out from under the console and addressed his former student.

“Ugh! Just when I was getting to like having a head that wasn’t throbbing,” he groaned, “You could have given me some warning, Emma.”

“Now where’s the fun in that?” she remarked coyly.

“I’ve often questioned your definition of fun. I still do,” he said, still rubbing his head, “But I assume fun is not reason enough for you to drop by like this.”

“You’re a smart man, Mr. McCoy. I could never slip anything past you,” she shrugged.

“Then can I also assume you’re going to tell me? That way I can spare myself another headache.”

Beast used to be so amused by Emma’s charming wit. Even when she was a student at the Institute, she had a distinct attitude that he often clashed with. But Hank was not in the mood for the usual banter. Like everyone else in the X-men, he was quite upset with Emma. During their run in with the Phoenix, she took advantage of their trust and aided the Inner Circle in using Jean. Even though she acknowledged her misdeeds and promised to make up for them, she had a long ways to go before she could say she had atoned.

“I was just dropping by,” she said, “I heard Charles was getting out of the infirmary and I wanted to pay him a visit.”

“I’m sure he was happy to see you,” said Hank as he gathered some of his tools.

“He always is,” she sighed, “Even after I’ve been a traitorous, selfish bitch.”

“Which if memory serves me right, you never adequately explained,” he pointed out.

“And I will. Believe me, I want to. But everyone in this whole bloody mansion is still suspicious of me. I swear Wolverine is just looking for an excuse to sink his claws into me.”

“To be fair, he looks that way more often than not,” Hank pointed out.

“Even if he does, he’s in good company. Even Scott won’t sit down and talk to me. Then again he has been busy making time with Jean lately. Those two can’t seem to go more than an hour without humping.”

“It takes time to get over betrayal, Emma. Especially when it comes from someone we’ve cared about and trusted,” said Hank, his tone more sincere.

“I understand and make no mistake. It has been bugging the hell out of me ever since,” she said with a touch of bitterness, “Thankfully, I’m already taking some important steps. I don’t know if Charles told you, but I recently stepped down from my hedge fund. All my assets have been liquidated. All my future business endeavors have been scrapped.”

“You’re dropping out of the business world?” said Hank, shocked by such a revelation, “But why? I thought that was what you wanted. You stated that as your primary reason for leaving the X-men.”

“It was a reason. I never said it was the reason,” she said cryptically.

“It’s still a rather extreme decision. I hope you’ve thought it through.”

“As someone who dedicates more time to her lipstick than most people dedicate to their taxes, I hope you don’t doubt the scrutiny I put into every major decision,” retorted Emma, “A lot has changed and I’m not just talking about that Phoenix debacle. A few interesting revelations have come to light…revelations that have made me re-evaluate my plans.”

“Such as?” said Hank curiously.

Emma paused briefly. This was not easy for her to talk about. Even though the X-men were probably the only real friends she had (or used to have before she betrayed them), she kept her share of secrets. It was these secrets that got her involved in the Phoenix affair iand it was those same secrets that were leading her to make these difficult decisions.

“It has to do with Sebastian Shaw, a man you know full well I have a colorful history with,” she said in a low tone.

“Oh…I see,” said Hank with a bit more understanding.

“I highly doubt that,” Emma retorted, “For once, I’m not referring to the little tricks he played on me when he was my so called Black King. I’m not even referring to his endless attempts to turn me his little plaything. There’s more to it…a lot more.”

“More than you told us when you were with the team?” questioned Hank.

“You act as though nobody here has ever kept a secret,” she retorted, “From a man who got caught up in an online dating affair when he was still with his now ex-girlfriend, I would think you’re in no position to judge.”

“Emma don’t…” said Hank, cringing at her harsh words.

“Sorry, I know that was harsh. But it helps make my point. I didn’t help Shaw just because of our history. My reasons for doing so are vast, but they all come down to a sort of special leverage he had over me.”

“What kind of leverage?” asked Hank curiously.

“The powerful kind…the kind you can’t ignore no matter how much you hate it. I can’t exactly go into detail without revealing some rather disturbing facts.”

“I wouldn’t think less of you if you did,” said Hank, “Especially if they justify your recent actions.”

“Nothing can justify betrayal,” Emma retorted strongly, “Just know that it involves something Shaw took from me…something I’ve been trying to get back for a long time. It was only after I got some quality time with the Inner Circle that I finally have what I need to get it back.”

“Is that what this is about? Earning our trust so you can get this pertinent possession of yours?”

“No…I didn’t come here to get your help. I plan on taking care of Shaw’s dirty tricks on my own. That’s how it must be,” said Emma more seriously.

Hank was intrigued by this revelation. He always suspected there were other reasons for Emma’s departure from the X-men. He never expected it to involve Shaw and the Inner Circle. She spent years getting away from their influence. He and the rest of the team assumed she put it behind them. But over the course of the Phoenix affair, they learned first hand how devious Sebastian Shaw could be. It wasn’t unreasonable to imagine that he would gain a powerful kind of leverage over someone like Emma. He could tell by the look on her face it was something important. He could also tell it was something she didn’t wish to discuss.

“Please Emma,” Hank coaxed, “I do not wish to pry. You know I tend to be more forgiving than the others.”

“Of course I do. Why do you think I would come to you first? Other than the fact that Charles can’t seem to stop swooning over that Lilandra woman?” made Emma.

“I appreciate the thought, but understand you’re still an X-man. We will help you if you just give us a chance.”

“I wish you could, but this is personal. I need to deal with it alone,” she said firmly, “Which brings me to the other major reason I’m here.”

“You mean there’s more than one?”

“Of course, darling. You know I never show up under-equipped,” said Emma with a wry grin, “If I’m going to make up for my betrayal, I might as well aid the X-men once more. As it just so happens I came across a few other secrets while I was prying around the minds of the Inner Circle…secrets that may be important for the X-men.”

“Oh dear, I have a feeling I won’t like where this is heading,” sighed Hank.

“With these people, that’s a given,” said Emma, “It turns out they’ve had quite an interest in the current state of mutant affairs. One of their ongoing side-projects involves something that may effect the election Charles has been following so closely.”

“If you’re going to tell me they’ve been pulling the strings, I’ll burn all my textbooks and throw away my tools,” said Hank.

“Not quite, but they’ve been working with someone who they hope will tug on those strings,” said Emma.

The powerful telepath reached into her pocket and pulled out a thick fold of paper. She quickly unfolded it and gave it to her former teacher. Hank recognized it as a copy of a file of sorts. If the large confidential stamps on the top and bottom of the page were any indication, it was an important document. When he saw a picture of who it involved, he quickly surmised why.

“Exodus?!” he gasped, “Isn’t he working for Magneto?”

“In a manner of speaking,” said Emma wryly, “That’s the tricky thing about the Inner Circle. It’s not enough for them to have spies in high places. They have to use people in such a twisted way that they don’t know they’re helping them.”

“You mean Exodus is some kind of victim?”

“With his history, that’s the last thing I’d call him. All I know is that Leland was planning on making a move with him shortly before the Phoenix incident. Near as I can tell, that plan is still on.”

“What kind of move does it entail? And how does it relate to the election?” asked Hank intently.

“All the details are on that file. I’ve also sent some extras in an email. I’m sure you and Charles will find them useful in making sure tomorrow doesn’t become another day of infamy in American history.”

Hank quickly immersed himself in the document, forgetting about the vast repairs that needed to be done with Cerebro. This was big. If Exodus was making a move tomorrow, then there was little doubt the X-men would have to get involved. This was the perfect time for someone like Magneto to make a move. Without Cerebro they were at a disadvantage. With this information, they still had something to go on.

While Hank started processing the information before him, Emma turned around and started walking away. She had done what she set out to do with this visit. Once again, she and the X-men would have to fight different battles.

“My word this is…” Hank began just as he looked up, “Wait…aren’t you going to stay and help, Emma?”

“Given my current standing? I’ll only get in the way,” she said, “Besides, I have too many of my own affairs to sort out. I need to take care of them before I move on.”

“You know, you don’t have to keep walking away from us,” he reminded her sincerely, “You may act cold at times, but I know full well you have good heart. It’s not too late to use it.”

Emma froze briefly, but didn’t look back. It was tempting to at least try to reconnect with the X-men she left behind. A part of her missed it sorely. The X-men were quite possibly the closest thing to family she ever had. But she left for a reason and it was a reason that she couldn’t turn away from.

“I’m working on that, Hank,” she told him, “My heart is still a work-in-progress. I just have to take care of it on my own first. Don’t get too excited. You will see me again. It’s just going to be in a very different capacity.”

“I see,” said Hank distantly, “In any case, remember that you still have a home here.”

“I always will,” she said as she started walking again, “And before you and Charles are off to save the world again…please tell everyone I’m sorry. Coming from a cold-hearted bitch like me, that’s not something you take lightly.”

“Indeed,” was all Hank could say to respond.

With those harsh words, Emma left the chamber. Despite her questionable standing with the team, she was still an X-man. Emma was a unique woman. She had many faults. While she came painfully close at times, she never lost her humanity. Hank and pretty much everyone else on the team were shocked and saddened on the day she decided to leave. He still pondered what secrets she was still keeping from them, but that was a conflict for another time.

Right now, the information in this file was very pressing. He had to get it to Charles and inform the rest of the team. This was a serious threat at a serious time. It could only get worse as it began to unfold.

New York City – Plaza Hotel

‘Democracy isn’t supposed to be simple, but it sure as hell wasn’t supposed to be this complicated. I’m pretty sure if the people of Athens had to deal with a presidential campaign, they would have run to the nearest dictator. But it’s times like this when all the frustration is worth it.’

The stage was set for Senator Robert Kelly’s big night. He had just finished the last leg of his exhaustive campaign. He had been to so many cities in so many states by now he wasn’t even sure what time zone he was in anymore. But it would soon all be over. Tomorrow would be the day when his tireless efforts would pay off. Victory was not assured, but he was confident that history would play out in his favor.

He and Reverend Stryker had already put together their victory party. They rented out the opulent ballroom at the Plaza Hotel in New York City where a long list of guests and their families were set to arrive later tonight. Together, they would wait for the official word on the election. As soon as the numbers started pouring in, they would know whether to celebrate or lament. For either case, Senator Kelly had a speech to address both. However, there was only one he looked forward to giving.

While going over the latest poll numbers, Senator Kelly surveyed the ballroom as the hotel staff was setting everything up. Reverend Stryker was with him, giving out orders to the workers and keeping everything moving along.

“You there, please make sure the TV monitors are set up to the speaker system properly!” he said to one of the workers, “There was so much static last time I could barely hear the evening news! Make sure that doesn’t happen tomorrow!”

“Cool your jets, Reverend! We’re on it!” said the worker, “For a man of God, I would hope you would be more trusting.”

“I trust in the creator completely. It’s his creations that cause me so many problems.”

The workers rolled their eyes as they continued their efforts. Stryker kept a close eye on everyone, letting them know they were on a short leash. He was not running for president so he could afford to be more aggressive.

“You’re doing a bang-up job, William. Even if you aren’t winning any converts,” said the presidential hopeful.

“The Sheppard can only tend to his flock after the storm has past,” replied Stryker, “Even men of God fall under heavy stress when the weight of history is upon them.”

“Well if at all possible, let’s take it easy on the melodrama. This is supposed to be an exciting time for us. Let’s make sure we act as such when the election is underway.”

“Excitement cannot negate just how serious this is, Robert. Even though Charles Xavier has left the public spotlight, our support is not as solid as I would like it to be. Since that debate in Las Vegas, we’ve hit a proverbial wall.”

“You don’t need to remind me about that debate. I know I dropped the ball,” said Senator Kelly bitterly.

“That’s being generous. When Satan let his pride get the better of him, he didn’t stumble on his way to the lake of fire.”

“I’m not a fallen angel or a crusader. I’m a politician. And Xavier did us a favor by stepping aside. We’ve held onto our slim lead and if the numbers hold up, I’ll be giving my victory speech by this time tomorrow.”

“Victory may not be enough if we’re to accomplish what we hope to,” said Styrker in a serious and somewhat grave tone, “A narrow victory means a divide electorate. How do you hope to pass the necessary mutant legislation when the people still have doubts?”

“I think you’re getting ahead of yourself, William. Make no mistake, I’m eager to get to work, but we have to take it one step at a time. Great change never happened overnight.”

“It took God only six days to create the Heavens and the Earth. We would be wise to follow His example as we move forward.”

“We’re not gods, Reverend.”

“You’re right. We’re limited in a great many capacities,” he conceded, “All the more reason to work fast before those limitations hinder us.”

Senator Kelly grumbled at the reverend’s aggressive rhetoric. At times it sounded as though he was the one who was running for president. Even though he trusted him implicitly as his spiritual and political advisor, there were times his passion for the mutant issue got the better of him. He had best keep that in check if and when he took office. He would need him if he was to make the changes he hoped to make.

“I suppose we can only hope,” said the senator, “In the meantime, have you gotten any word on my family’s flight?”

“Yes, I heard from your wife a half hour ago,” said Reverend Stryker, not diverting his attention from the workers, “The rain finally stopped and her plane is in the air as we speak. She and the children should arrive in a couple hours.”

“Good,” he replied, “With all this campaigning, it feels like I haven’t seen her or the kids in ages.”

“When they see our accomplishments tomorrow, I’m sure they’ll understand.”

“I certainly hope so. But if this doesn’t pan out, mutant backlash will be the least of my worries.”

“And they say the celibacy vow is overrated,” said Stryker.

Senator Kelly grinned with only mild amusement. Even when he was dead serious, Reverend Stryker found a way to preach his personal gospel.

“On that note, I’ll let you get back to work, William. You take care of your flock while I prepare myself for tomorrow. I’ll be bearing the weight of history on my shoulders. Here’s to hoping I’m ready for it.”

“Godspeed, Robert,” said the Reverend as he continued his efforts.

The two men returned to their respective duties. There was still plenty to be done between now and the election. Months of planning and hard work had built up to this fateful moment. Now it was finally upon them. After tomorrow, history would take a new course and by the will of the people Senator Robert Kelly would be a part of it.

While work continued at a heated pace, another figure watched intently. From behind a door leading into a utility closet, the mysterious mutant who only knew himself as Exodus sat in wait. Just as Senator Kelly was planning on giving a victory speech, he was planning for a little victory of his own.

‘Just a couple hours. That’s all I’ll have to wait. I’ve been waiting for God knows how long. I can afford to wait a little longer, even if this undercover work is beneath me.’

The powerful mutant had to take short breaths to avoid breathing in too many fumes from various cleaners and chemicals. He almost welcomed it when the workers came in to get some supplies, allowing some fresh air to enter. They walked right past him, never even knowing he was there. Thanks to his telepathy, they had no idea he was just standing in the wings waiting to make his move.

This was the first time in quite awhile that Magneto was trusting him with a task so important. Because of his mental instability, Exodus had not gone very far in winning over any allies. He wasn’t even allowed to participate with the Brotherhood. Everyone was worried because he couldn’t maintain focus. His mind was still a mess of conflicting visions and memories. He would often disappear for days or weeks on end trying to follow these mental flashes, but they never led him to any answers.

That was all going to change. As soon as he completed this task, Magneto promised to use the technology recovered from the alien ship to put his mind back in order. He said he and his scientists had made a breakthrough and with the help of some new psychics like Quentin Quere, he had the tools to help him. He just had to earn it.

‘Must stay focused. I cannot follow any more visions! This may be my last chance! Lord Magneto says he’s willing to forgive all the headaches I’ve caused him if I succeed here. I must not let him down!’

Xavier Institute – Front Yard Fountain

Remy Lebeau was taking his afternoon smoke break a little earlier than usual. It had already been another busy day of classes and training. Since the Phoenix affair, it took a while for everyone to get back in the groove of things. Midterms were almost upon them and everybody was behind. But in a school like the Xavier Institute, they were used to it. Remy had never been one for school even though classes around here were starting to grow on him. Studying philosophy was nothing short of therapeutic for a former thief and it was part of that studying that had him in such a daze.

Taking a heavy drag from his cigarette, the Cajun mutant watched as Ororo conducted some outdoor training with Bobby, Kurt, and Kitty. Wolverine was on a bike-ride and Warren was on another one of his flights, so the training was light. It involved playing a game of mutant ball as they called it. It involved one person having to take a ball from the other using their powers. The hard part was the person holding the ball because they could use their powers in any way to prevent this. Naturally, it had a tendency to get chaotic. The game was supposed to hone strategy and teach them how to use their powers in unique ways. More often than not, it gave them an excuse to goof off.

“This is unfair on at least ten different levels!” complained Bobby as he once again crashed into a tree after trying to sneak up on Kitty.

“Complaining isn’t going to put this ball in your hands any quicker, Bobby,” grinned Kitty, shoving the ball in his face to tease him.

“Kitty…sportsmanship,” reminded Kurt as he teleported next to Bobby and helped him up to his feet.

“Forget sportsmanship! Isn’t there a rule that says certain powers shouldn’t be allowed in this game?” groaned Bobby, “Kitty’s been holding the ball for seven minutes already! How am I supposed to use ice powers against someone who can just phase through everything?”

“That’s the point of this game, Bobby. You’re supposed to find a way using strategy and not just force,” said Ororo, who was acting as referee.

“In other words, you’ll have to use your head Iceman,” grinned Kitty as she casually juggled the ball, “Now are you going to stop whining and play already? I’m getting bored and I have midterms to study for.”

“You’re both conspiring against me, I swear!” he said.

“Take it easy, mien friend. Nobody’s plotting against you,” said Kurt, trying hard not to laugh, “Ve’ll find a way. Ve just have to get creative!”

“Are you going to give me more excuses? Or are you going to give me more reasons to question your manhood?”

“Now you’re knocking my manhood?” quipped Bobby.

“Okay, I take it back. Now it’s on!” said Kurt, now getting into the spirit as well.

Bobby and Kurt began their next round of attack while Kitty ran off with the ball in hand. Ororo tried to keep up, but the two mutant teenagers were already going at it. Once again, it looked as though the game was getting out of hand.

Remy grinned at such a sight. He never would have guessed they were were still healing from having recently faced a force as powerful as the Phoenix. It amazed him how everything returned to normal so quickly. He shouldn’t have been too surprised. It wasn’t like the X-men hadn’t recovered from world-threatening crisis before. But this was something very different. The others may have gotten over it, but Remy Lebeau couldn’t stop himself from musing endlessly over this incredible affair.

He continued watching Bobby and Kitty as he finished his cigarette and promptly took out another one. Just as he lit it, a familiar figured descended behind him.

“Ah see you started without meh,” said Rogue, “You must be having a pretty rough day if you’re already on your second drag.”

“Bonjour to you too, cherè,” said Remy, not diverting his gaze.

“So are you gonna tell meh about it or do Ah need to open a new pack first?” she said as she sat down next to him.

Remy didn’t respond. It was almost as if he hadn’t even heard her. Rogue looked at him curiously as she took out a cigarette of her own and lit it. Usually Remy couldn’t resist throwing in that distinct charm of his when they sat down to share a smoke. It was part of their daily ritual together, but something was different today. Remy just kept staring off into space, lost in his own thoughts.

“Hello? Ah know you heard meh, Cajun!” she said, snapping her fingers in front of Remy’s face, “Are ya at least gonna make a jab about meh fallin’ asleep in class again this morning?”

He still didn’t respond. She tried waving her hands in front of him. That didn’t work either. Now Rogue was getting concerned.

“Remy? If you finally lost your dang mind blink twice or something,” she said, “Seriously, you’re startin’ to freak meh out!”

“You believe in God, cherè?” he finally said.

Rogue looked at the Cajun strangely. She had come to expect the unexpected when dealing with Remy Lebeau, but she never expected something like that.

“Um…is this another one of your mind games?” she asked, “Cause Ah ain’t in the mood for more philosophy gibberish.”

“Remy be serious,” he said, still in a daze, “Do you believe in God? Because after you be facing something like the Phoenix, it becomes a pretty important question, non?”

“The Phoenix had god-like power, Remy. That doesn’t mean it was God,” said Rogue.

“Who’s to say the line ain’t that clear? Whether it be God or god-like, does it really matter?”

“Dang it Cajun, Ah thought smoking was supposed to calm your nerves. The way you’re going, there ain’t enough nicotine in the world to do the trick.”

“You still never answered my question, cherè.”

“Fine…if it’ll stop this esoteric hogwash, Ah’ll tell you!” she said, “The answer is no. Ah don’t believe in God.”

Remy fell silent again and took another puff of his cigarette. Rogue did the same, taking a fairly heavy drag. Even though she was closer to Remy Lebeau than the others, she couldn’t for the life of her figure out what made him tick half the time. He was taking these philosophical musings too seriously. It got him, and her for that matter, thinking about things they didn’t have to.

“Honestly, Remy, if you’re having a crisis of sorts, you can tell meh. You know that right?” said Rogue in a more serious tone.

“Of course I know that. Remy don’t forget that easily,” he said.

“So why are you getting all Confucius on meh? Was fightin’ the Phoenix too much for your brain to handle.”

“It ain’t that,” said the Cajun mutant, “It be much deeper.”

“Deeper than theology questions that ain’t nobody has come close to answering in 4,000 years?” she quipped.

“It be much longer than that, chere. And them folk didn’t see anything like what we just saw, non?”

Remy took another heavy puff of his cigarette before tossing it aside. He figured if he wasn’t going to worry Rogue, he might as well skip a few steps. He had been pondering this for days now and Rogue was the only one he felt comfortable discussing this with.

“You see, cherè, when Remy was growing up, I was actively discouraged from believing in God. It kinda came with the lifestyle. If you grow up a thief, you can’t be worried about some higher power. Far as my Perè was concerned, the Guild was God and we was the disciples. Remy’s brothers and cousins sure took to it and for a while, Remy did too.”

“But it didn’t stay that way, did it?” Rogue surmised.

“You know me well, Rogue,” he said, finally grinning for once, “It’s true. Remy didn’t go with the flow on everything Jean-Luc taught. Even when Remy was stealin’ his way to the top of the Guild, a part of Remy still believed.”

“How much?” Rogue questioned, “It ain’t like you walk around with a bible in your pocket.”

“Remy was no preacher, but them beliefs probably kept Remy in line a few times. Guess my Merè can take credit for that too. Then when I lost Belladonna and later met Stormy, it became more important.”

“Funny, Ah never pegged you for a spiritual fella.”

“Just because Remy believes, it don’t mean he’s an angel. It’s a fact of life in the streets. Once a deviant always a deviant.”

Rogue shook her head as she finished her cigarette. It seemed no matter how much she learned about this man, there was always something new to discover. He was unlike anybody she ever met before. Even though she was adamant about maintaining their just friends policy, it was hard not to be drawn to him at times.

“So what does this all have to do with the Phoenix?” said Rogue, “Ah’m assumin’ there’s some point other than giving you more excuses to smoke.”

“That’s just it, cherè. Remy’s still working that out,” he sighed, “Back in the day folks like Aristotle believed the stuff of the gods could never be touched by humans. Yet here we are, having faced something that ain’t too far off.”

“And that’s too much to process for some reason?”

“Processing ain’t the problem. Interpreting always be the bigger challenge.”

“Can’t say there’s much to interpret. We saved the world. Hell, we may have saved a ton of worlds,” Rogue pointed out.

“The what ain’t ever as interesting as the why. Remy can’t help but think that maybe fighting the Phoenix means something more. Like maybe it’s a sign we be part of something much bigger.”

“We’re a part of a mutant strike team that fights psychopaths, politicians, and god-like cosmic forces. How could you possibly get any bigger than that?”

“Remy could think of a few ways,” quipped the Cajun, “But that would require a whole new carton of cigarettes.”

Rogue shot him another look. She was tempted write it off as sarcasm, but the look on his face was too serious. he Phoenix had a huge impact on all of them, but it was affecting Remy in a unique way. For whatever reason, Remy was struggling with it and Rogue wasn’t sure what to do about it.

They continued to sit in silence, watching as Kurt, Kitty, and Bobby finally finished up their game of mutant ball. Bobby and Kurt finally managed to outsmart Kitty, sneaking up on her and surprising her to the point where she couldn’t stay intangible long enough to hold onto the ball. It led to a series of obnoxious cheers followed by some bemused looks from Ororo. It seemed so much easier for them to get back to life before the Phoenix. If only they had that luxury.

Rogue was about to light another cigarette, but instead she scooted closer to the musing Cajun. He was still gazing off, lost in though. When she slipped her covered arm around his shoulder, he finally eased somewhat. Usually he was the one who looked for an excuse to get a little closer, but the Phoenix changed a lot of things. This seemed to be yet another case where times were changing and people were evolving.

“Whatever you’re stuck on, Ah’m sure you’ll figure it out,” she said with a warm smile.

“Are you just saying that so you won’t have to listen to Remy ramble for another half a pack?” Remy replied.

“Don’t get sell yourself short, Cajun. As if you could ever get a fair price,” Rogue teased, “You ain’t the smartest knife in the drawer, but when it comes to the deeper things in life you’re better at understanding it than anybody.”

“Thanks for the vote of confidence, cherè. It means a lot to Remy,” said the Cajun, managing a light smile, “It just bugs Remy, you know? I know there be answers, but they just out of reach.”

“Guess sometimes they just ain’t as close as we think they are,” she shrugged.

“Maybe…or maybe they be closer than we think.”

“Now you’re just being a smart-ass again.”

“Remy can’t help himself sometimes,” he said with a light chuckle, “But however close they may be, I hope Remy figures them out soon. Not having the answers can take a toll and God knows we got enough deranged folk out in this crazy world.”

Plaza Hotel – VIP Suite

While Reverend Stryker handled the logistics of their elaborate setup in the ballroom, Senator Kelly retreated to his suite on the top floor of the hotel. He was changing his suit to prepare for what he hoped would be his final rounds with the media. Already, there were activists and photographers gathering outside the hotel. There were sure to be many more later tonight as they prepared for the main event tomorrow. As a politician, it was the most nerve racking experience. The day before the election always seemed much longer than the day of the election itself. He had never been part of something this big before, but he believed he was ready for it.

As he carefully fixed his tie, making sure his suit looked every bit as presidential as he was aspiring to be, there was a knock on his hotel door. Smiling to himself in the mirror, stepped out of the bathroom and made his way to the front.

“Let them in,” he told his body guards.

One of his three body guards nodded and opened the door. As soon as it did, two familiar figures came rushing in at full speed.

“Daddy! Daddy!” a 10-year-old girl called out joyfully.

“You’re here! It’s really you!” exclaimed a 7-year-old boy with equal enthusiasm.

Senator Kelly smiled brightly as his two children ran up and embraced him.  He knelt down somewhat so he could embrace them as well, taking them into his arms and hugging them tightly.

“Yes son, it’s really me,” he said warmly, “Wow, I think you both grew another three inches since I last saw you!”

“I think you grew too, Daddy,” said his daughter brightly, “I think the TV made you bigger!”

“Well Daddy is running for President and that’s a pretty big job,” he quipped, “He has to be big if he’s going to have a chance.”

“But when are we going to know if you’ve won?” his young son asked, “I’m tired of seeing you run around on TV.”

“Soon son…I promise. After tomorrow, the whole world will know and we can put all this craziness behind us.”

“Promise?” the little boy asked.

“I promise.”

The presidential hopeful and proud father gave his kids another firm hug before letting them go. His son and daughter weren’t the only one who he hadn’t seen in a while. His wife, Sharon, had been working just as hard as him during this campaign. It was refreshing to see her in person for once.

“Kids, go with Daddy’s friends and get changed real quick,” he told his kids, “Daddy needs to talk to Mommy.”

“Do we have to?” his daughter complained.

“This is an important night, sweetheart. We have to be looking our best for it.”

The two young children begrudgingly conceded and followed one of the body guards into the bedroom so they could get changed. This left him alone with his wife, who was smiling just as much as he was.

“Hello there, stranger. How have you been holding up?” she asked as she pulled him into a quick embrace.

“As well as can be expected, Sharon,” sighed Robert, “Stryker’s been taking care of the setup. He’s also going to warm the reporters up before the festivities begin.”

“I hope you’re not giving him too many responsibilities. You know how I feel about that man. After that mess with Graydon Creed, I find him less than trustworthy.”

“Yes, you’ve made no secret of that. But I would rather not have that discussion again. Tonight is about the future. Not the past.”

“It still feels like we’re getting ahead of ourselves though,” Sharon pointed out, “This elaborate victory party feels a bit premature.”

“It helps to present an aura of confidence. You’re a former public relations consultant and political aide. You know how important it is to present an image.”

“It’s not your image that worries me, Robert. A lot of people are already painting you as the White Knight setting off to do battle with the mutant menace. It’s the target you’re painting on your back that keeps me up at night. Even this army of security guards you’ve surrounded yourself with isn’t putting my mind at ease.”

“You’re still worried I’ll invite retaliation from disgruntled mutants?”

“With the policies you’re pushing, that’s a given.”

“And it’s a risk we have to take, Sharon. If I don’t do this, someone else will have to and they may not be as strong,” he pionted out.

“I never doubted your strength, Robert. But it isn’t just the mutants that worry me. That madman who tried to kill you in Philadelphia was just as dangerous. If you do win this thing, what’s to stop other people from doing something just as extreme?”

She clung to him a little harder as she detailed these concerns. This wasn’t the first time she brought them up and it probably wouldn’t be the last. If he won the election, it would become an even bigger issue. It was something that was always on Senator Kelly’s mind and something he didn’t take lightly.

“I understand this is stressful. I’ve lost my share of sleep over it as well,” he said in a caring tone, “But that is the risk every president takes.”

“So why do you continue to take even greater risks?” asked Sharon.

“Because this time the stakes are even higher. We’re not just talking about making the transition from one president to the next. We’re talking about a new era for this country and the world as a whole! I thrust myself into this position because I truly believe I can lead everyone down the right path.”

“You don’t have to convince me of that, Robert. I knew from day one how important this is to you. It’s important to me too. I wouldn’t have supported you this much if I didn’t share this ambition.”

“And I’ll need that support if and when I take office. You’ve known me for years, Sharon. You know I’m a man of conviction. Every politician may say that, but I’m the only one who truly means it. When I said I wanted to protect my family from all the dangerous mutants out there, I meant it.”

“I know you do. I’m just as concerned about mutants as you are. I do not want the children growing up in a world where they have to worry about some freak shooting them with heat vision or lightning bolts.”

“And the sad part is that’s probably not the worst of it,” he added.

“Even if it wasn’t, you’re bearing an awful heavy load for the world, Robert. I know you feel ready for it. I just don’t know if I’m ready. Or the children for that matter.”

“Hey, I wouldn’t have done this in the first place if I didn’t think my family was ready,” said Robert, holding his wife a little closer, “You’re strong, Sharon. That’s one of the reasons I married you. The kids are strong too even if they are restless. I just need you to hold onto that strength. These are historic times for us all. One way or another, I’m going to be a part of it and I want you to be a part of it as well.”

When he put it in such a grand context, Sharon couldn’t help but be overwhelmed again. Even in the comforting embrace of her husband, she still had so many concerns.

“Oh Robert…” she said.

“Please Sharon…I need you for this.”

The presidential hopeful gently cupped her chin as he gazed longingly into her eyes. It was a gaze she always struggled to tear herself away from. She wanted to be strong for him. She really did. This was just such a big endeavor it was hard to wrap her head around it.

Trying to show his support, Senator Kelly began to draw her into a kiss. He had to remind her that they were in this together. They would make it through together. But just as his lips were about to touch hers, there was another knock on his door.

“Ah hell, hold that thought,” he said, placing a finger on her lips, “Could one of you get that? I don’t remember inviting anyone up.”

“Of course, senator,” said one of his body guards, “Go ahead and carry on with the Misses.”

The lone body guard rushed to the door. Ever since the Philadelphia debacle, the Senator kept many layers of security around him. Not just anybody could be allowed to get close to him. They always had to go through security, less some renegade mutant tried something funny.

Maintaining a cautious demeanor, the body guard looked through the peep hole to see who it was. He quickly identified it as Reverend Stryker.

“Reverend Stryker?”

“Please, let me in. I need to talk to Senator Kelly. It’s very important,” he said in a strangely mechanical tone.

“He’s a bit busy with his family, but so long as it’s important,” the body guard replied.

Since Reverend Stryker was one of the few man who had easy access to the senator, the body guard relaxed somewhat as he opened the door. But as soon as he did, he noticed something was off. Reverend Stryker’s expression looked somewhat…stiff, for lack of a better word.

“Reverend Stryker? Are you alright?” he asked, “You look a little…”

Suddenly, the body of the Reverend fell forward and landed flat on his face. It was as if he was a statue, landing with a hard thud. The body guard fell back in shock, confused at what he just saw. Then he looked up to see that someone had been standing behind the Reverend.

“Don’t worry. He’ll be fine,” said Exodus in a cold tone, “You on the other hand…”

“Code Red!” yelled the body guard.

He quickly reached for his gun, but before he could even pull it out he was rammed with a tidal wave of telekinetic force. It sent him flying clear across the spacious suite, impacting hard against the glass window on the other side. The body passed by Senator Kelly and his wife in the process. Again, their moment was interrupted and they were quickly consumed with dread.

“Oh my…” gasped Sharon Kelly.

“Security! Get the kids!” yelled the Senator as he moved to protect his wife.

While they rushed to find their children, four armed body guards came rushing out of the bedroom. Exodus was hardly dissuaded. He walked casually into the room, never taking his eye off the Senator. The four body guards quickly tried to form a barrier between them and the senator.

“Take him down! Shoot to kill!” yelled one of the body guards.

“I couldn’t agree more,” said Exodus ominously.

The four men opened fire, unloading nearly a dozen rounds towards the approaching figure. But to their horror every bullet stopped in mid-air, freezing just a few inches away from his body. While they were consumed with shock, Exodus casually waved his right hand and the bullets were swiftly redirected at nearly the same speed they were fired. Every one of them ripped into the four body guards, striking them in the chest and head. They each died instantly, falling lifelessly to the floor.

This horrifying scene played out right in front of Senator Kelly, his wife, and their two children. Kelly tried to protect them, but he seemed to place too much faith in his body guards. When they saw this grizzly display of power, the kids screamed in horror.

“Ahhhhhhhh! It’s a monster!” the little boy cried.

“Stay back, son! Everything’s going to be okay!” assured Senator Kelly boldly.

“You politicians…always making promises you can’t keep,” scoffed Exodus.

Clenching his fists again, Exodus ripped out various power chords and phone lines from throughout the room. He then skillfully directed them with his telekinesis to tie up Senator and his family by the hands and feet. The two kids clung to their mother in horror while they were forced to the floor. Senator Kelly, however, was levitated into mid-air and drawn towards the stoic Exodus.

“Daddy!” the little girl cried out.

“Leave him alone!” demanded Sharon.

“Silence!” said Exodus firmly, “Don’t make this any harder than it has to be.”

“Who are you?! What do you want?!” demanded Senator Kelly.

“Who I am is not important,” he replied, “What I want is whatever Lord Magneto has determined..”

“Magneto?!” exclaimed the senator, “You fool! Does he have any idea what he’s getting himself into by attacking me and my family?!”

“You’ll have to ask him yourself,” said Exodus ominously, “You and your loved ones are about to meet him. I’m sure you’ll have plenty to discuss…Mr. President.”

Next Issue: Kings and Tyrants Part 2

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