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Volume 3 -- Issue 71 -- Election Day

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Election Day
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It is a historic day for Professor Charles Xavier and the X-men. In their struggle for peace and understanding in a world that hates and fears them, their most tenacious enemy stems from the heart of human bigotry. It is because of mankind’s fear of mutants that a once obscure politician, Senator Robert Kelly, has risen to prominence. Now he is poised to take on one of the highest positions of power.

In wake of Magneto’s takeover on Genosha, Senator Kelly announced his candidacy for President of the United States. He based much of his platform on the mutant issue, using the growing fear of mutants to rally voters to his cause. He believes he is fit to lead country in taking the necessary measures to protect the humanity from mutants. He has been an outspoken candidate for containment and regulation, provoking many fears amongst the mutant community. Charles Xavier and his ally, Lilandra Neramani, did their best to oppose his agenda. It wasn’t enough. His election seemed inevitable.

But on the eve of the election, Senator Kelly and his family were abducted by Magneto. Having accepted that the senator would be elected, Magneto utilized the alien technology on Genosha to create a machine that would turn Kelly’s own prejudice against him by turning him into a mutant. The X-men were able to rescue him, but not before the senator’s son was affected. It left him and his family devastated while completely changing the nature of his crusade. Now as the election begins, an uncertain future awaits the world.

Downtown Westchester – Polling Station

Article two, section one, clause four of the United States constitution laid out the groundwork for the election of the president. It decreed that every four years, the election would be held on the first Tuesday after the first Monday of November. Throughout American history, many elections have come and gone. Some have been historic in their own right. Some have affected the course of world history. It was safe to say that on this fateful Election Day, it was historic on a whole new level.

All of Westchester seemed to shut down for the day. It was a similar story all throughout the country. Citizens set aside their usual voter apathy on an unprecedented scale and rushed to the polls. The pervading feeling was that this election wasn’t just about choosing the next president. It was about deciding the path for America and humanity as a whole.

Professor Charles Xavier and his X-men participatedBraving traffic, brisk weather, and the occasional heckler he carpooled his students to the polls so they could cast their vote. Among his students were Scott, Jean, Bobby, Remy, and Rogue. Since Logan, Kurt, and Ororo were foreign citizens and Kitty wasn’t of voting age yet, they stayed behind at the mansion. Hank also stayed behind, choosing to cast an absentee ballot instead. Being in public with his appearance in an election fueled by the mutant issue seemed more trouble than it was worth. Warren also was not present as well, but that was another story.

Their polling location was a high school in the downtown area. The lines to vote stretched out the doors for blocks. It was refreshing to patriotic Americans, but for Xavier and his students it was cause for concern.

“You know, we could have been done with this hours ago, Professor,” sighed Rogue, “All you or Jean had to do was teak everyone’s mind just a little to make them believe we were in line ahead of them.”

“Would’ve given us time to get out of here and get back to the mansion before some crazy homme causes another riot,” said Remy, who had been shuffling a deck of cards restlessly while they waited.

“You’re right. I could have, but I didn’t,” said the Professor as they moved ahead painfully slowly in the line, “This is an important election. If we’re going to participate, we’re going to do so as everyone else. And that means having no special privileges.”

“Then explain to me how Warren got out of this,” said Rogue.

“Probably paid someone to stand in line for him,” shrugged Remy.

“Warren cast his ballot early,” explained the Professor, “I already spoke to him. He’s been working a few things out with his father. With all the attention on the election, he figures now would be the perfect time to put a few things in order.”

“Sounds serious,” said Scott, “Then again Warren has been a little distant lately.”

“Yes, I’ve noticed that as well, Scott. He promises to explain everything later tonight. He’s already filled me in on a few details. I can assure you it’s quite important.”

It sounded ominous. Whatever Warren was dealing with, it had to be pretty important for him to ditch the team for his father. There were so many implications to this day already. Standing in a line this long made it too easy to dwell on every little thing.

“I envy Warren. I’m sure what he’s up to is important and all, but we’ve been waiting for almost two hours!” Bobby complained, “Any longer and I may just be in favor of a dictatorship.”

“Seriously, Bobby? You can handle Magneto, Sinister, and the Phoenix, but you can’t handle long lines on Election Day?” joked Jean.

“At least a fight with Magneto is exciting,” he pointed out, “With him we never had to worry about annoying jerks giving us all sorts of evil looks.”

“Evil looks? Now you’re just being paranoid,” scoffed Jean.

Bobby was inclined to stay silent in the face of a psychic armed with a cosmic force. Lucky for him, a couple of voters had just come out from the polling area. One was a middle aged man and the other was an elderly woman. When they saw Professor Xavier, they recognized them and gave them more than just the evil look Bobby described.

“You mutants are in big trouble,” said the woman.

“Yeah, once Kelly takes office, your days will be numbered!” grinned the man.

“And a happy Election Day to you too, good citizens!” joked Bobby with a mock salute.

That earned him more dirty looks, but it was worth it. He turned back towards Jean, who could only respond with a disgruntled look.

‘If you start gloating, you’ll need way more than the spirit of democracy to protect you.’

‘I think I’ve made my point.’

Jean rolled her eyes. She was trying to be optimistic about this election. After the X-men saved Senator Kelly and his family from Magneto, she liked to think there was hope for greater understanding. Even though Kelly had been stubborn in the past, she wanted to believe he would see the human/mutant conflict in a new light.

Jean wasn’t the only one who was holding out for Senator Kelly. Professor Xavier also hoped that he would be more reasonable in future conflicts. After the incident with Magneto, he offered help to his mutant son and the services of his X-men. Whether or not he would accept that help remained to be seen.

“Do you think Senator Kelly had a change of heart after we saved him, Professor?” asked Scott, “I know he’s been a massive tool, but now that his son is a mutant maybe we can get a little empathy.”

“I certainly hope that is the case, Scott. But a change of heart may be asking a bit much,” said the Professor, “Men like Robert Kelly do not just abandon their positions. Say what you will about politicians, there are some who are very principled.”

“So saving his family wasn’t enough?” said the X-leader.

“To change his mind completely…no. But that doesn’t mean he’ll ignore it. He has only known one perspective of the mutant issue. Now he has insight into the other side. It may not affect his prejudices, but it will certainly affect his perspective. He now knows he cannot pass judgment on mutants without it impacting his own family.”

“Guess in that sense ol’ Magneto did us a favor,” muttered Remy.

“Don’t tell me you agree with that crazy scheme of his,” said Jean critically.

“Not saying Remy agrees. But in the long run it may be for the better, non?”

“We can’t know that, Remy,” Professor Xavier went on, “Broadly speaking, if Senator Kelly is as reasonable a man I hope he is he’ll adapt to this new status quo.”

“You actually sound like you’re going to vote for him, Professor,” joked Scott.

“I’ll vote for whoever I believe is best suited for the job,” said Professor Xavier with a confident grin, “Whatever bold decisions Senator Kelly may make as president, the X-men must be ready to both support and oppose him.”

As Charles Xavier and his voting X-men approached the front of the line, they waited eagerly in anticipation. They stood ready to cast their vote. For once, this was a fight that a whole country would take part in. Whatever the outcome, there was no doubt that times were changing.

Genosha – Magneto’s Citadel

Like every other country in the world, Genosha was keeping a close eye on the election in America. Several mutants with technology and electric powers got together to pick up signals from American news broadcasts and send them out streaming to every working television on the island. Magneto felt it was so important that he had live news coverage projected on the south wall of his citadel so that even his mutant citizens who didn’t have a TV could watch the coverage. Tensions were running high and a number of fights broke out amidst the controversy. Some of those fights could be heard from the throne room.

“They’re going to do it! They’re going to elect that tyrant, Kelly!”

“We should’ve killed him! We should’ve killed them all!”

Before many of these fights could get too serious, the Brotherhood and Magneto’s various new acolytes came in and broke it up. Leading the peacekeeping task was Alex Summers, who was throwing himself into each fight as was his custom.

“Break it up you guys!” he would say, “If you’re going to cause trouble, you’re going to have to deal with me!”

“You heard him! Take all your frustrations out on this bloke!” Pyro called out.

“Shut up and begin another one of your light shows! Form that giant flaming skull if you have to!”

“It’s gonna be a long day,” groaned Blob as he prepared to follow Havok into the fight.

Such warnings were usually enough to stop any fight. Those that ignored it did got a healthy doze of his energy blasts and fireballs. Normally, Magneto would have handled it more directly, but he remained occupied in his throne room. Since he returned from the attack on Senator Kelly, he had been watching the news coverage. Wanda, Pietro, and Lorna stayed in the throne room with him, only occasionally venturing out to break up fights when Alex and the others got in over their heads.

As it stood, Senator Kelly held a narrow lead. Reports of the senator’s abduction spread quickly. So far the media hadn’t stated that Magneto was behind it all, indicating that Kelly’s handlers decided to cover it up. One issue they couldn’t hide, however, was the mutant status of his son.

“This just in. A new poll has emerged in response this morning’s startling revelation by Senator Kelly that his son is a mutant. Among Kelly’s ardent supporters, 54 percent state that this revelation has not affected their confidence in their candidate. 40 percent state they are deeply concerned that this will affect his decision. 6 percent remain uncertain. The senator and his campaign have been very tight-lipped about it since the story broke. There is widespread speculation as to how this secret was kept for so long. No details have emerged, but is widely believed that it will affect Kelly’s anti-mutant platform.”

Magneto almost smiled at such reports. It showed his plan was having some tangible effects. His plot may not have turned out exactly as he hoped because of the X-men. It probably would have been much more chaotic had he succeeded in turning Senator Kelly himself into a mutant. In the long run it may actually work out for the best.

“American politics are so strange,” commented Wanda, “They’re making such a spectacle of this election. It makes democracy seems like more trouble than it’s worth.”

“That’s what happens when you give ignorant humans political power. They use it to create anarchy,” scoffed Pietro, “It shows they really are unevolved when they offer a man like Senator Kelly a chance to run their country.”

“I wouldn’t say that makes them unevolved, but they certainly seem misguided,” added Wanda.

“Misguided…unevolved…what’s the difference?”

“It’s nothing to scoff at, Pietro,” said Magneto firmly, “The difference is that one can be rectified more easily than the other. If Genosha is to succeed, we’ll have to know what we’re dealing with so we can plan accordingly.”

His father’s words were serious. He may not have been a fan of American politics either, but he understood how important they were. Pietro still wasn’t convinced that it was worth it. As far as he was concerned, the American election was just a façade.

While Pietro may not be taking it seriously, Lorna shared her father’s concerns. She was born in America. She grew up in America. It was hard for her to watch her country nominate a man like Senator Kelly. Even though her life was on Genosha now, there were many ways this election that could affect her and the country they were trying to build.

“It looks like Senator Kelly is going to win,” said Lorna as she watched some results stream in on the news.

“That was never in doubt,” her father replied, “His support base is strong. Even having a mutant son isn’t enough to discourage those that he has swayed with his rhetoric.”

“Do you think having a mutant son will really help our people?” she asked, “Maybe now that he can empathize with our plight, he could be an ally instead of an enemy.”

“You’re assuming an awful lot about this guy, Lorna. Since when has he ever showed a capacity for empathy?” said Pietro dryly.

“While I appreciate your optimism, Lorna, your brother may have a point,” said the master of magnetism, “I’ve never been under any illusions. People don’t change. An enemy is an enemy, regardless of their capacity for empathy.”

“So we’re still going to treat him as hostile?” said Lorna warily.

“That would defeat the purpose of what I did to his son. While men like him may not change, they can be influenced. Whether Senator Kelly is an ally or enemy, we need him to keep the uneasy peace between humans and mutants.”

“But to what end, Father?” asked Wanda.

“That is developing as we speak, Wanda,” said Magneto, his gaze narrowing as an image of Senator Kelly appeared on the TV screen, “Our latest efforts against Senator Kelly was just the beginning. When the dust settles on this election, humans and mutants alike will never be the same.”

They were ominously bold words. The election of Senator Kelly was sure to complicate their affairs, but if their father said it would all work out in the end they were inclined to believe him. Only Lorna showed reservations. She had been working hard to uphold her mother’s dying wishes. So far Lorna had been able to keep him grounded in spite of pressures from Genosha’s mutant population to confront the humans. As she watched the reports come in on the news, she had a feeling she would have to work a lot harder to keep her father from going down that dark path again.

Xavier Institute – Living Room

While the Professor and the others were out casting their vote, those that stayed behind remained glued to the TV. It was getting late in the day and it wouldn’t be long before the results started coming in. All day the coverage was mixed between the election and the revelation about Senator Kelly’s son. It seemed every major network was obsessing over the possibilities.

Even though Hank, Ororo, Kitty, and Kurt stayed close to the TV, officially they were still on standby. With Cerebro still down, Hank was coordinating with Tessa to make sure the X-men could respond to any major mutant-related event. So far all was quiet. It was a relief in some ways and a concern in others.

“Your American media is making quite spectacle of zhis election,” commented Kurt, who was sitting next to Kitty while eating an overstuffed sandwich, “Does your country go through zhis every four years?”

“I wish I could say this is a fluke, but even if it was it wouldn’t be a very big one,” said Kitty, who was flipping through various news channels, “Then again, I don’t think there’s ever been an election that involves anti-mutant hate-speech, staged terrorist attacks, and abductions.”

“I think it’s amazing so many people have turned out to participate,” said Ororo, “I was always under the impression that Americans had a problem with voter apathy.”

“Well when you throw the threat of mutant wars into the mix, you can get pretty much anybody off the couch,” commented Kitty.

Looking at images of polls being overwhelmed, it was easy to see how impassioned everybody was. It may or may not be a good thing for human/mutant relations.

“The high turnout has another benefit. We may know the result of the election much faster,” said Beast, who was sitting on a recliner next to the couch working on his laptop.

“Great, then the backlash can begin even sooner,” said Kitty dryly.

“Don’t be so pessimistic, Kitty,” said Kurt as he swallowed the last of his sandwich, “I get zhe feeling if ve haven’t had an incident now, ve von’t have one for zhe rest of zhe day.”

“Your sentiment appears to be well-supported, Kurt,” said Hank as he kept typing on his laptop, “I just got some encrypted signals from Tessa. So far activity on Genosha is staying contained, the Morlocks aren’t staging any attacks, and District X is still quiet. Granted, Jamie Madrox has had to crate a few extra clones to keep wary mutants from acting out, but as it stands now we’re in the clear.”

“That’s a relief,” said Ororo, “But are you sure Tessa can cover everything? Not be skeptical of your new girlfriend, but she’s no Cerebro.”

“Wow, did I just detect some bitterness from Miss Munroe?” said Kitty under her breath.

“Can you blame her? Zhis woman stole her boyfriend,” Kurt reminded her.

It was true. There was some bitterness in her tone. She did try to hide it, but didn’t do a very good job of it. Hank didn’t make too much of it though. He understood there were more pressing matters than old relationship sentiment.

“Tessa is no machine, but she can get the job done,” assured Hank, “Hopefully, we won’t have to rely on her vast brain power for very long. Charles and I are hard at work on the new Cerebro interface. Not to sound too esoteric, but it will be something to behold!”

“Hey, be as esoteric as you want, Mr. McCoy,” said Kitty, “Whatever you have planned, I’m sure it’ll be great. Chances are we’re going to need it.”

“With current poll trends, I don’t disagree,” sighed Hank, “But if Tessa’s tracking programs are any indication, we should be getting the results soon.”

“Zhat’s good news. I don’t know how much longer I can stand vatching American news,” said Kurt, “I miss my CSI reruns.”

“Don’t we all?” sighed Kitty, “That reminds me, where’s Logan? If the results will be coming in soon doesn’t he want to be around to see it?”

Ororo shifted at the mention of her lover. While not surprised by his absence, she still worried about his reasons for running off. She suspected it involved more than just blowing off steam with a casual bike-ride.

“He…had something personal to take care of. Didn’t say what it was, just that he needed to handle it on his own,” the African woman said.

“Personal, he says?” said Hank suspiciously, still having an interest in his ex-lover, “And that does not worry you?”

“Of course it worries me, Hank. But I trust Logan. When you love someone, you need to trust them,” said Ororo, “Besides, you know how he feels about politics.”

“Can’t say I blame him,” shrugged Kurt, “Vhatever it is, I hope it’s nothing serious.”

“Totally,” said Kitty, “With Logan, personal could mean any number of things.”

“And between him and Warren, who knows vhat kind of trouble zhey’ll cause.”

Their sentiment did little to ease Ororo’s concerns. If the past was any indication, Logan’s personal issues could mean something much more volatile. It didn’t always affect the team, but it was certain to affect his relationship with her. This election was sure to cause many changes. They were going to need each other to get through them.

There was plenty of temptation to worry more about Logan. The same could be said for Warren. Then one of the news stations just showed a breaking news message.

“Oh dear, it looks like we’ll have to speculate on those two later,” said Hank as he set his laptop aside, “It looks like they’re about to announce the winner!”

“Looks like it,” said Ororo as she moved in closer, “Better turn it up, Kitty. This is what we’ve all been waiting for.”

“Ugh, I can’t watch,” she groaned as she turned away.

A new message on the TV came up and the image panned onto one of the broadcasters, who made the historic announcement.

“Well it’s official. The latest numbers have confirmed a winner. The next president of the United States is…”

Abandon Farm – 15 Miles From Xavier Institute

The back roads of Westchester were a long ways away from the commotion of the election. Logan was glad to get away from it all. He couldn’t turn on a TV or pick up a newspaper without hearing people drone endlessly about how this was such a historic day. History was overrated in his view. Presidents may come and go, but the same problems remained. Having been caught up in many of those problems, he had enough politics for more than a dozen lifetimes.

But he wasn’t just out here riding on his motorcycle to get away from it all. He was actually on a mission. It wasn’t an official mission. He wasn’t even in his uniform. As he pulled up to a hill overlooking a vacant farm, he wasn’t sure what to make of this. Like so many other messes in his life, this little mission had some unusual circumstances.

Once atop the hill, Logan powered down his bike and carefully sniffed the air for scents. Checking his watch, he saw that it was just about time. The cold November air was blowing across the vast fields. This was probably the quietest part of Westchester there was. It seemed like a fitting place to tie up loose ends.

“I know you’re out here!” he called out, “This cold ain’t gonna mask your scent! You might as well show yourself so I don’t have to hunt you down!”

At first there was no response. The former living weapon maintained a defensive posture. He knew he was being watched. He could feel it in his adamantium bones. Drawing his claws, the feral mutant stood ready to take on any threat that came his way.

“Go ahead and put those away,” came a familiar voice, “It’s not like they would do you much good anyways.”

Logan shot around, keeping his claws drawn in an aggressive stance. He quickly made out a figure walking up the hill and approaching him.

“Mystique…” he snarled, “You actually showed.”

“Why wouldn’t I?” she shrugged, “I was the one that called, remember?”

“How you got my number I’m still trying to figure out,” grunted Logan.

“Let’s just say I have my methods,” grinned the shape shifter, “But if anything, I should be the one who’s surprised. I never thought you would be foolish enough to meet me out in the middle of nowhere without any backup.”

“You said to come alone.”

“True, but I didn’t think you would actually listen,” she scoffed.

It was a tense situation. Meetings with Mystique often were. She remained unafraid of his apprehensive stance, standing closer to him than most enemies dared. Near as he could tell, she wasn’t looking to start a fight. With that in mind, he withdrew his claws.

“Enough tough talk, Mystique,” he said, “You gonna tell me what this is about? I’m sure there’s a bus full of nuns you’re planning to blow up tonight.”

“And they call me bitter,” she said rolling her eyes, “I didn’t call you because I enjoy that annoying attitude of yours. I called you because I need you to deliver a message to Kurt and Rogue for me.”

“A message? That’s it?” scoffed Logan, folding his arms suspiciously, “You know there is something called email.”

“Seeing as how we’re still not on speaking terms, they would probably delete anything I send them. I figure they’ll take it more seriously if it comes from you.”

“Right…and what makes you think I’m willing to be your delivery boy?”

“Because you owe me,” she said firmly, “Remember, it was me who saved your life back at Hellfire Manor. Were it not for me, you never would have made it inside to help your friends.”

Logan didn’t contest her claim. He remained apprehensive even as she reached into her pocket and pulled out an unmarked envelope. It didn’t smell suspicious and it didn’t appear to have any unusual features. It was just a letter addressed to her kids.

“Now I know you’re an insufferable brute, but you have to have some semblance of honor,” she said as she presented him the envelope, “That’s why I know you’re going to deliver this letter to them.”

“You’re really that sure I won’t just throw it away as soon as I leave?” questioned Logan.

“You won’t do that.”

“But how do you know?”

“Because you won’t,” she responded firmly, “I know you won’t.”

Logan stared at the shape shifter strangely. It sure didn’t sound like she had a lot of faith in him, yet for some reasons she trusted him. If that weren’t strange enough, Logan found himself taking the letter from her and putting it in his pocket. His every inclination was to just rip it up, but for reasons he could not fully explain he didn’t.

Something about this was very off. Logan sensed it and he could tell Mystique sensed it as well. She wasn’t looking at him the way an enemy would look at an enemy. He knew that look and what he saw in this woman was very different. It led him to dig deeper.

“I ain’t convinced,” said Logan strongly.

“Oh for crying out loud! I don’t have time for your accusations, Wolverine!” the shape shifter groaned, “I know you the X-men hate me, but there really is no ulterior plot this time! I just need my kids to get that damned letter!”

“I ain’t talking about the letter,” he said in a more serious tone, “I’m talking about why you called me here. I think you got another reason you ain’t telling me. I never would have come out here alone if I didn’t have some reasons of my own.”

“What the hell are you babbling about?” scoffed the shape shifter.

Upon putting the letter away, Logan moved in closer to the shape shifter. For once it wasn’t confrontational or threatening.

“I’m babbling about what started back on Genosha,” the feral mutant went on, “Don’t act like you forgot. You remember it as well as I do.”

“I have no idea what you’re talking about,” scoffed Mystique.

“Sure you do. How could forget having me pinned on top of a pile of rubble, impaled through the gut with no way to escape? You were standing over me with that damned rotor blade in your hand. You were in position to finish me off. But you didn’t.”

Mystique was silent. The whole incident played out in her mind again. It was just as confusing now as it was then.

“You’re a killer, Mystique. Just like me,” he said, “Killers like us don’t hesitate. We see an opportunity to finish the job and we take it. For you to just up and freeze like that…something was holding you back.”

“Or you’re making a big deal out of nothing,” she retorted.

“I don’t believe that. I can tell you don’t believe it either. It wasn’t just a one-time thing. It happened again in Morocco when I saved your ungrateful ass. I still don’t know why the hell I did it. The same could be said for the whole Hellfire Manor mess. You didn’t have to save me. You could have just let them kill me, but just like before you didn’t.”

“What’s your point?” said Mystique with growing frustration, “So I hesitated. We saved each other when we didn’t have to. What does it mean?!”

“That’s why I’m here,” said Logan, still sounding very serious, “Something stopped you from killing me that day. Something drove us to save each other. I need to know what the hell that something is!”

“Well what the hell could it be?! Why do you even think I would know?!”

“Who said I thought you knew?! I just…I have to find out! You can’t tell me it ain’t been driving you crazy!”

“But it makes no sense! Why would there be something…anything between us?”

“I don’t know! I don’t…”

In his frustration, Logan’s words trailed off. Both he and Mystique were at a loss. Here they were standing on a hilltop in the middle of nowhere, frustrated over a handful of mysterious incidents between them. For a moment they just stood in silence, gazing at each other in a mix of anger and confusion. Then through the frustration, something strange happened…something even stranger than all the previous incidents combined.

Mystique’s frustrated demeanor waned slightly as she moved in closer to Logan. The former living weapon settled as well, almost as if he was calmed by her presence. They were no longer thinking. Mystique and Logan were just acting on pure instinct now. Whatever that instinct was, it was driving them closer together so that their faces were mere inches apart. Logan unconsciously cupped her chin while Mystique unconsciously placed her hands on his shoulders. It was almost as if forces beyond comprehension were drawing them together. Now completely lost in this daze, their lips met in a soft kiss.

Their lips hadn’t touched for more than a second before Mystique came crashing back to reality.

“Get away from me!” she yelled as she abruptly pushed away.

Now confused and utterly outraged, Mystique pulled out one of her guns and pointed it right at Logan’s head.

“What the hell was that?! What did you do to me?!” Mystique demanded.

“I didn’t do anything,” said Logan distantly, “It just…happened.”

“Bullshit! This is some trick!” spat the shape shifter, “I won’t fall for it!”

She gripped the gun firmly, aiming it right in the center of Logan’s face. But the feral mutant remained unafraid. It wasn’t because he had a healing factor and could survive most any gunshot. It was because he believed that she wasn’t going to shoot. He couldn’t explain it just like he couldn’t explain anything about what just happened.

Without fear or concern, he approached her. Mystique continued to hold the gun in a threatening manner, but her hand was shaking. The hands of a true killer never shook. It led Logan to push even further.

“Are you gonna do it or not?” he said to her.

“Stay back!” she demanded, “Don’t test me!”

“Enough with the threats, darlin’. You ain’t gonna shoot me.”

“I’ll kill you! Healing or no healing, I swear I’ll end you where you stand!”

“Then what are you waiting for?” questioned Logan, “Here, let me help you out.”

To Mystique’s surprise, Logan walked up even closer and directed the gun downward so it was pointing right at the veins in his neck.

“Right here,” he said, “One shot to the jugular and I’ll bleed myself dry in 30 seconds flat. That’s all it’ll take. You just have to pull the trigger.”

“Shut up!” she yelled, sounding more desperate.

“Go on,” urged Logan, “I’m not gonna stop you. I don’t know what just happened, but I’m pretty damn sure you ain’t gonna pull that trigger. Not unless I was wrong.”

“You are wrong! This whole thing…calling you…kissing you…it was all wrong!”

“Then do it!” grunted Logan intently, “Come on…prove me wrong!”

Her hand continued to shake. Her finger kept twitching. Logan could see in her eyes that she wanted to. She was trying to. But something was holding her back. It was the same something that stopped her last time and the same something that made them kiss. She was trying to defy it. Logan even tried to make her defy it.

“Do it. Do it, Raven!” he said again, almost commanding her.

“I’ll kill you! I swear!” she yelled, her voice cracking under the strain.



In an outburst of anguish, Mystique threw her gun to the ground and turned away. Before Logan could try and go after her, she shape shifted into a black raven and flew away as fast as the winds could carry her. Whatever this feeling was that made her feel so conflicted, it was too much for her

It wasn’t the reaction Logan expected. Now he was left with more questions than answers. He really did it. He just kissed Mystique. Logan couldn’t begin to wrap his head around it. Whatever mysterious feelings were behind him and Mystique, they were even stronger than he thought.

‘Son of a bitch. Why couldn’t she shoot me? If Ro, Jeannie, stripes, or Elf find out about this I’ll need more than a bullet to the head.’

Grunting in frustration, Logan turned back to his bike and prepared to head home. He hoped going on a little side-mission would get him away from the chaos of the election. Now it was worse than ever. Once again, he was truly at a loss.

‘Can’t believe I kissed her. Damn, maybe I am going crazy. Maybe Mystique and I just share the same brand of crazy. I can’t let this fuck me up more than I already am. Just gotta try to keep it together. Don’t think about that kiss. Don’t think about Mystique. Try not to get caught up in the past for once! Just try, damn it…if it’s even possible.’

New York City Plaza Hotel – Ballroom

“It’s official, ladies and gentlemen. America is moving forward with a new leader. So to all of you I propose a toast! To Robert Kelly, the new President of the United States!”

“Here here!”

A great many cheers echoed through the opulent ballroom of the world renowned Plaza Hotel. Numerous guests from the Kelly campaign and popular supporters raised their glasses in honor of their new leader. Reverend William Stryker himself was the one who proposed the toast. As soon as they got the word from Washington, they started celebrating. But for Robert Kelly, the celebration was bittersweet.

For one, his wife was not present. She was up in their hotel suite tending to their new mutant son. She refused to come down and join, less their son be put at risk by this well-known anti-mutant crowd. He couldn’t blame her. It was a problem he never thought he would have to deal with, yet here he was.

When he started this campaign, he was so certain that he could be the one to lead humanity against the mutant threat. He and many others saw his campaign as a crusade against mutant forces that were growing more militant, more radical, and more dangerous. Now those views had taken a major hit. This issue was no longer so clear cut. Mutants weren’t just some shadowy figures looking to start trouble. They had a human face now. That face was his son.

He tried to put on a happy face, smiling for the cameras as his people cheered their victory. It was quite a push after what he went through with Magneto, but he couldn’t afford to show weakness. He had to be strong not just for the American people, but for his family.

“Well praise the lord, Robert, you did it,” said Reverend Stryker as he pulled him aside, “You got yourself a job that only a handful of men have ever had. Given how hard we worked to get to this point, I expected you to be ecstatic.”

“I am, William,” he said distantly, “It’s still sinking in I guess. I expected it to be a struggle from the beginning, but I never expected it to be so…costly.”

Stryker picked up on the subtext of his tone and pulled the newly elected president aside. As one of the elite few who knew of the Magneto incident, he was deeply concerned with how it would affect their partnership. When he returned he was relieved to see him in one piece, but when he heard about his son he couldn’t help but worry.

“Look Robert, I know the last 24 hours have been rough on you,” he said, “It’s not every day you get abducted by a monster and elected president within the same week.”

“You’re not worried about me, are you?” said Kelly, “Because if you think being abducted and nearly experimented on will affect my ability to lead, you’re wrong.”

“It’s not your ability to lead that concerns me. It’s more your mindset now that your son is a mutant. We both know your entire presidency is going to sink or swim with the mutant issue. Now you’ve spent the past year fighting the good fight, speaking out against the evils of mutation. And I have to know, Robert…are you still willing to do what’s necessary?”

“Is this really the time to debate this, William?” he replied, uncomfortable with his tone.

“This matter cannot wait. I understand it’s going to be harder now with your son, but we have to remember…”

But the president elect cut him off before he could finish.

“Stop right there, William,” he said sternly, “Don’t say another word. Don’t even try to be empathetic here because you don’t know. You seriously, honest to God, have no idea what I’m going through!”

“Robert, lower your voice!” said Stryker tactfully, trying not to arouse attention.

“I’ll be as loud as I have to! Right now, my wife is upstairs with our son. He’s been crying ever since we got back. He knows how I feel about mutants. He’s heard what I’ve proposed in my speeches. And he is terrified! My own son is terrified of me and what I’ll do! You cannot possibly understand what that’s like!”

Reverent Stryker fell silent, not willing to push this man too far. With the cameras rolling they couldn’t afford to make a scene. So he gave the newly elected president a moment to calm down.

“Now I know you’re worried about my stance,” Kelly went on, “So I’ll say this now so I don’t have to say it again. I’m not backing down. I will address the mutant issue.”

“Because of or in spite of your son?” questioned the Reverend, “Because there is a difference.”

“You’re right. It has to be different now. I have a personal stake in this cause so expect me to adapt my position. This issue isn’t so black and white anymore and we can’t treat it as such.”

“That’s where you’re wrong, Robert,” said Stryker under his breath, “You cannot compromise with wickedness. Compromise will doom us all.”

“Then humanity, and mutants for that matter, will have to adapt,” said Robert sternly, “You’re welcome to assist me, but keep in mind the people elected me and not you. I’m going to do what I believe to be right…not just for humanity, but for my family as well.”

Reverend Stryker’s expression grimaced as he remained unconvinced. He didn’t see in Robert Kelly the kind of fire and brimstone he saw before his son was a mutant. He saw in him a man who may be having doubts. In a battle against the wicked, there was no room for doubt. Yet he could not conduct this battle without going along with this man. So with a begrudging look, he swallowed his dogmatic pride.

“I understand,” he finally said.

“So we’re clear?” the president elect asked.

“Yes Robert…we’re clear,” said the Reverend, “I apologize for being a tad confrontational. The mutant issue is too important to me.”

“It is to me too…even more so than before. We’ll discuss this in greater detail later. For now, let’s try and enjoy this night. I still have a victory speech to give.”

“Very well…Mr. President,” said Stryker stoically.

The Reverend gulped down the rest of his champagne as the newly elected president slipped away to shake a few hands. Almost instantly, he put on the face of a politician. He smiled for the cameras, posed for some pictures, and reassured his supporters that he was still the strong man he campaigned as. For the most part, the people seemed to buy it. Only William Stryker had his reservations. He assumed that once the election was over, nothing would stand in their way from confronting the mutants. Now he had a real obstacle in Robert Kelly’s conscious. It was his God-given duty to be part of this fight. If this was the creator’s way of testing his resolve, so be it.

Xavier Institute – Xavier’s Office

It was official. The world of the X-men had once again changed. Senator Robert Kelly had been elected president. A man with a history of anti-mutant dogma would be running this country for the next four years. It was a new status quo and one that was sure to affect them.

In wake of this historic news, the team gathered in Professor Xavier’s office. He, Scott, Jean, Remy, Rogue, and Bobby returned from the polls. Kurt, Kitty, Ororo, and Hank were there waiting for them. Logan and Warren joined them as well. Even Lilandra dropped by, having flown in on a private jet from Washington. She was in a conflicted state just like Charles. Right now, their attention was on the TV in his office. All the news channels had once again interrupted their usual broadcast to show the new president’s acceptance speech.

“Throughout history, there have been times when great upheaval emerges from a singular event. There are moments where we as a collective take note that we were part of something special. Today, we are all part of the same moment. We as a people stand together on the cusp of a new era. And I am honored to be the man the people entrusted to lead them. But before we move forward, I ask that we look back and try to understand how far we’ve come. As many of you know, I based my campaign on confronting the mutant issue. Let me say right now that I intend to keep that promise, even after it has come to light that my own son is a mutant. But in confronting this truth, I am reminded that for all the danger mutants pose there is still a very human face behind them. If we’re to approach this issue carefully, we must all remember that human face. We must fight through the forces of fear and hatred so we can make a better future for our children…human and mutant alike. Again, I thank all of you. Goodnight and God bless America.”

It was not the kind of fiery anti-mutant rhetoric he used in the past. It wasn’t a complete turnaround either. He almost seemed sad when he mentioned the mutant issue and his son. Yet he remained strong as any good politician should. It should have been a time for dread, but the X-men found themselves a bit more optimistic about President Robert Kelly’s future.

“Is it just me or did he actually sound reasoanble when he mentioned mutants?” pondered Kitty.

“It’s not you, Kitty. I heard it too,” said Ororo, “It appears he is genuinely conflicted about his previous stance. Dare I say, he’s questioning his old laurels.”

“A politician is actually being honest with himself?” scoffed Rogue, “That’s gotta be a sign of the apocalypse or something.”

“If it is zhen ve are much closer to Armageddon zhan I thought,” joked Kurt.

“He still has the stench of a mutant-hating asshole,” grumbled Logan.

“Oh come on, Wolverine. You can’t be saying you ain’t a little encouraged,” said Remy, “Heck, he didn’t even use the words mutant and menace in the same sentence.”

“Yeah, even I’m impressed and I’m the one with the cosmic entity,” said Jean, trying to encourage Logan somewhat.

“Still won’t stop a guy like him from screwing us all over,” said the feral mutant.

“No one is saying he’ll become a passionate mutant activist, but there’s definitely more reason for optimism,” Hank pointed out.

“I ain’t in the mood for optimism. Call Something’s gonna blow up in our face. With a guy like that, it’s only a matter of time.”

“I think someone just snagged the award for biggest Election Day bitterness,” joked Bobby.

“As if it was ever a competition,” said Scott.

Logan snarled at such remarks, shoving his hands in his pockets and maintaining the same disgruntled expression he had since he got back. He didn’t tell anybody where he had gone or what happened with Mystique. He hadn’t even given the letter to Kurt and Rogue yet. Even if this was a historic day for the world he was in no mood to reflect.

Ororo hadn’t been ignoring his mood. She stayed close to him, holding his hand and offering her love and support. It kept him from making too big a scene, but she was still very worried.

“Are you sure you’re all right, Logan? You’ve been…distant since you got back,” she said under her breath.

“You don’t have to sugarcoat it, darlin’. I know I’m being an ass,” he admitted.

“Are we going to talk about it? You know I’m here for you,” said the African woman, giving his hand a firm squeeze.

Logan took some comfort in her presence, but it was a comfort he didn’t deserve. He had kissed another woman. He was a total ass and Ororo deserved better. He was still trying to make sense of it all. For that reason, he couldn’t bring himself to tell her the full story.

“We’ll talk, darlin’…eventually,” he said, squeezing her hand as well.

“I hope eventually means sooner rather than later,” she said, still offering the assurance of her love.

Ororo remained concerned, but trusted his word. She had been with him long enough to know when pushing him wasn’t wise. With a new mutant-obsessed president, they would have plenty to worry about for the time being.

While the situation was certainly not as grim as it could have been, Professor Charles Xavier tried to maintain perspective. Having fought so hard against the anti-mutant agenda in this election, he was left in a difficult predicament. Robert Kelly was a dedicated man if nothing else. His determination to protect humans from mutants was still as strong as ever, but it would certainly be complicated now. This was sure to change how he and the X-men operated.

“So I guess our efforts failed in the end,” said Lilandra as she watched the new president pose for the TV cameras, “Even with Magneto’s intervention, Kelly’s side still won.”

“I don’t think it was a complete victory as a victory for anti-mutant forces, Lilandra,” said Xavier, “I don’t think either side can claim total victory. It’s clear in his speech that the views he had when he started are not the views he has now.”

“But do you think having a mutant for a son will be enough?” wondered Lilandra, “It may not stop him from passing all that anti-mutant legislation he campaigned on.”

“That may be the case, but this is where we can take some comfort in the complexity of politics. The public is still not completely behind an anti-mutant agenda. Even without his son being a factor, nothing too radical is possible at this moment.”

“That won’t make him any less ambitious,” Lilandra pointed out, “Perhaps I’m a bit bitter from all the debates I’ve had with him. But with or without a mutant son, he’s made it clear he’s not going to sit on the mutant issues. There’s no doubt he’s going to take bold steps that are sure to raise tensions.”

“I don’t disagree,” said Xavier, “But it’s no longer clear what those steps will entail.”

“That mean mutant concentration camps are off the table?” asked Kitty.

“I would certainly hope so. But I do feel our efforts to reason with him were not in vain. You may not see it in his speeches, but I sensed an honest resolve in his mind. He will do what he feels is best for humanity, even if that means reaching out to mutants.”

“You really think he could become an ally? Or at the very least someone we don’t have to worry about attacking us?” asked Scott seriously.

“That remains to be seen,” said Xavier, “Whatever challenges we face with President Kelly, we must never lose our focus. We’re still X-men. We must continue to do what X-men have always done.”

“You mean running around in skin-tight outfits playing hero? Sure, we can do that!” said Bobby.

That earned Bobby a few laughs and some bemused looks. It was nice they could still joke at time like this. Professor Xavier exuded a quiet confidence. Fear and hatred had not won out over peace and understanding. There were still battles that needed to be fought and the X-men were sure to be on the front lines as they always were.

“You can count on us, Professor,” said Scott strongly, “We’ll be ready no matter what Senator Kelly throws at us.”

“Don’t you mean President Kelly, sugah?” said Rogue.

“Yeah, that’s going to take some getting used to,” sighed Jean.

“So long as ve stick together, I’m sure ve can manage, ja?” said Kurt.

“So long as it means no more of those dang media campaigns, Remy’s game,” said Remy.

“Totally,” said Kitty, “I’ll take heroics over smiling for the cameras any day!”

Everyone seemed ready for a return to basics. It was simple heroics from now on. As a strategy for the future, it was the best the X-men could hope for. The Professor’s confidence was definitely shared throughout the team. Even with a president like Robert Kelly they remained unified.

However, there were some elements in the team that knew they couldn’t just rely on heroics. Their recent battles had changed a lot of things and moving forward, they were going to have to change as well.

“Yeah um…about that,” said Warren, breaking what had been a prolonged silence for the past few days now.

“Oh no, I’ve seen that look before,” said Kitty, “Is this the kind of news that’s going to add insult to injury?”

“No…not quite,” said the winged mutant, “But as I’m sure some of you have forgotten already, I promised to make an announcement.”

“Yeah, that may have slipped my mind,” Bobby admitted, “Between Magneto and the election it’s hard to keep up.”

“It’s nothing serious, is it?” asked Ororo warily.

“I wish I could say it wasn’t, but I’d be lying and you guys know from my poker losses I’m a lousy liar,” said Warren.

“So tell us the truth,” said Scott, “If we can handle election news, we can handle this.”

“This isn’t like the election. It’s something far more personal,” said the winged mutant distantly, “As I’m sure you all noticed, I’ve been kind of detached from the team lately. I haven’t been to class. I wasn’t here when Magneto reared his ugly head again. But there’s a reason for that…a good reason.”

All eyes were on Warren now. He had been rehearsing this speech since he got back from his visit with his father. Already, he forgot the elaborate details he laid out to soften the blow. This was by far one of the most difficult things he ever had to do. For these friends, who were like family to him, they deserved the simple truth.

“I’m leaving the institute,” he finally said, “I worked out the details with my dad. I’m leaving tomorrow and taking a position as an executive manager at Worthington Industries.”

This revelation utterly shocked the team. As chaotic as the events of the past 48 hours had been, this was by far the most surprising.

“You’re…you’re leaving us?” said Jean, saddened by this news.

“Don’t you mean quitting?” spat Logan, “And to join your old man?! Not to mince words, but what the fuck?!”

“Take it easy, Logan. I’m not flat out quitting,” Warren assured, “It’s not like I’m abandoning my friends for Magneto or something.”

“But you are leaving,” said Scott, who was also hard hit by his revelation.

“Yes,” he affirmed sadly, “But like I said, it’s for a good reason.”

“Ah doubt it’s good enough,” scoffed Rogue.

Everyone was hurt, not to mention skeptical. It wasn’t like people hadn’t left before. John Proudstar, Rahne Sinclair, Emma Frost, and Sean Cassidy all did the same. But they didn’t leave to join their asshole father, who had been a major pain for mutants over the years. For that reason they deserved a good explanation.

“I’ve been thinking about this long and hard,” Warren began, “It started with District X. That was the first time my father used our family resources to help the mutant cause. That whole affair could have turned out a lot worse had I not accepted his offer to oversee the Friends of Humanity. In many ways I did much more as a Worthington than I did as Angel.”

“And that’s reason enough to walk out on us?” said Kitty skeptically.

“It wasn’t just District X. There were the sentinel thefts that I uncovered through Worthington Industries networks. There was deal in Panama where I uncovered Sebastian Shaw’s trickery. There were the specs on the device he stole. All those incidents would have turned out very differently if I hadn’t tapped my family resources.”

“And we’re glad you did,” said Hank, showing a bit more sympathy, “But you never made a big deal about using those resources.

“That’s the problem, Mr. McCoy. It is a big deal. If my trust fund is just as valuable an asset as my wings, it would be irresponsible of me not to use it.”

Warren did make a valid point. He had connections to a multi-billion dollar company. Part of being an X-man was learning to use their powers for the greater good. Wealth may not have been the most noble of powers, but it could still do every bit as much as flight, firepower, or a healing factor if not more so.

“Senator Kelly’s election only adds more urgency to the issue,” Warren went on, “I have the tools. I have the connections. I have a legacy to think about.”

“Since when did you care about your legacy? I seem to recall you once wanting to legally change your name,” said Bobby, not hiding his bitterness.

 I know I’ve never been too high on my family history, but times are changing. The world is changing. We have to be willing to make bold moves. It may not be as flashy as playing hero, but it can still make just as great an impact.”

“Despite the fact your father is still technically in charge?” Scott questioned.

“Yes, that hasn’t slipped my mind either. I know my father has a history of screwing up. Trust me, I’m taking that into account. The way I see it, if he’s serious about passing the torch to me then it’s probably best I be there to make sure it goes right.”

Another silence fell over the team. Warren sounded conflicted, but determined none-the-less. No one could argue with his intentions. He really did want to do the right thing, even if it meant making such a hard decision. Taking that into account, it wouldn’t be right for them to stand in his way.

“Warren…are you absolutely certain about this?” asked Hank seriously.

“I’ve scrutinized every details, just as I’m sure you would with a physics experiment. I want to do this. I need to do this.”

“Then there’s nothing any of us can say except…good luck,” said Professor Xavier.

Warren smiled at his mentor. With his decision final, the others smiled as well. While it was always hard to see a fellow X-man leave, it seemed appropriate on a day full of so much change.

“Dang…this here country elects Senator Kelly as president and one of us is leaving the team,” sighed Remy, “This be one hell of a day.”

“I know. I’ll be sad to see you go, sugah,” said Rogue, offering a gesture to her winged friend, “Guess Ah’ll have to go on mah morning flights alone from now on.”

“Don’t get too sappy on me guys. It’s not like I’m leaving forever,” said Warren with a half grin.

“After everything we’ve been through, you better not,” said Jean, having to wipe aside a slight tear.

“You know the story. Once an X-man, always an X-man,” said the winged mutant, “I’ll still have my uniform with me. I’ll just be helping the team in a different way.”

“By becoming the head of a heartless industrial corporation?” Bobby joked.

“Think of it as fighting fire with fire, no offence to the Iceman,” said Warren, earning him a look from Bobby.

“None taken.”

That earned Warren a few laughs. There was still some sadness about him leaving. Even if he would be a reserve, the team wouldn’t be the same without him. He got some hugs from Jean, Rogue, and Kitty as well as some handshakes from Scott, Kurt, Remy, Hank, and the Professor. Logan was still in a bit of a mood so he just gave him subtle nod.

“Better not get soft on us, wings,” he told him.

“You taught me, Logan. You know I won’t,” grinned Warren.

It was a profound moment for the X-men. So much had changed in just the past two days. The country would be different, the missions would be different, and now the team would be different. Just as President Kelly had to adapt to his new situation, they had to adapt as well.

As difficult as it was to see a student leave, Professor Xavier smile and expressed confidence in his students. He found himself grasping the hand of Lilandra, who couldn’t help but smile as well. It Her organization was tied to politics and couldn’t play hero. They both had daunting jobs, but he was glad to have her by his side.

“I know I can always count on your resolve, my X-men,” he told his students, “Whether you’re here or not, we have a lot of work ahead of us. We’re still a school, mind you. As such, we have a lot to learn about the new world we find ourselves in.”

“I take it that means more training and more homework,” sighed Kitty.

“Something I’m sure I’ll miss,” grinned Warren.

“Go ahead and gloat, Warren,” said Jean, “At least it’ll stay exciting around here.”

“Indeed,” said Xavier, “As such, I urge you all to rest up and gather your strength. Tomorrow is the beginning of a new era. Let’s make sure we’re ready for it.”

It was an order everybody was more than happy to comply with. The past two days had given them plenty of reasons to rest. Between a new president and Warren leaving, everybody needed time for it to sink in. Rest was sure to be at a premium as the world adjusted to this new status quo. They might as well enjoy it while they could.

As the team filed out of the office, Xavier lingered with Lilandra. They continued watching the unfolding newscast. There were already pieces running on what kind of mutant policies the new president would pass. Already, there was debate brewing over whether or not his son’s mutant status would affect him. It was an issue both he and Lilandra would have to deal with eventually. It would be necessary in order to shape a better future for mutants and humans alike.

“Thinking you should get some rest as well, Charles?” asked Lilandra.

“You’re a telepath too, my dear. You already know the answer to that,” grinned Xavier as he turned off the TV.

“I hope you’ll lead by example. I find it remarkable that you and your students are in such good spirits with the prospect of Robert Kelly being president.”

“Between the ordeal with the Phoenix and our latest confrontation with Magneto, our spirits have never been stronger,” he said as he wheeled out form his desk.

“So it would seem,” she said, “But I hope you don’t push yourself too hard. All this stress can’t be good for you.”

“I’m sure I’ll manage, Lilandra. I’ve overcome far greater strain since I…”

But the Professor was cut off in mid-sentence. Halfway between his desk and the door, he was hit with a stabbing pain in his stomach. It was as if someone was driving nails into his gut. Groaning through this sudden agony, he nearly fell out of his wheelchair. Lilandra quickly caught him, keeping him back to an upright position.

“Charles! Charles, are you alright?” she asked anxiously.

“I…I’m fine,” he said, his face still contorting in pain.

“Didn’t you just hear yourself? I’m a telepath! I can tell you’re not fine!”

“It’s nothing, Lilandra. Just…probably something I ate,” he said breathlessly, “No need to worry. I’ll be okay.”

Lilandra wasn’t convinced. Xavier tried to reassure her, taking deep breaths as the pain gradually passed. Perhaps the stress was getting to him more than he let on. His health was already not very good to begin with. As if she didn’t worry enough about him. This gave her a strong sense of dread.

But as unexpected as it was, Professor Charles Xavier pushed it aside. He was used to pain. Being a cancer survivor hardened him. He had an ominous idea of what this pain was, but he couldn’t afford to be crippled by it. He couldn’t allow his physical limitations to slow him down at this point.

‘No…not now. I cannot deal with this again! The world needs the X-men and the X-men need me. Don’t drop any hints to Lilandra. Guard your mind from Jean as well. Just get some rest and don’t give into the pain. So long as there’s a breath in my body…I must not give in.’

Sierra Nevada Mountains – Secret Shaw Industries Laboratory

In a world of rampant paranoia and greed it was hard to keep a secret. Even those with nearly limitless resources like Sebastian Shaw couldn’t hide forever behind a veil of power and wealth. The truth would always come out, especially when vindictive telepaths like Emma Frost were involved.

People had been keeping secrets from Emma all her life. Everyone from her family to the Inner Circle had deceived her. It took her years to get over that deceit, yet it still affected her to this day. Having had a chance for some quality time with the Inner Circle, she unlocked a number of secrets that were sure to profoundly affect her life. One had already helped by providing the X-men with vital information on Senator Kelly’s abduction. Another promised to have an even greater impact.

With the information she extracted from the Inner Circle, she made her way to a facility very few of Shaw’s shareholders knew about. It was a research laboratory nestled in the mountains of the Sierra Nevada. It could only be accessed by helicopter and was often shrouded by snow and clouds. Getting in wasn’t easy, but thanks to the election the security staff was light. Emma was more than capable of getting inside. Getting through the automated security systems, however, required some added assistance.

“Emma, will you quit fooling around and help already?! You’re hanging me out to dry here!” yelled the voice of an annoyed Native American man.

“Oh stop whining, Proudstar. I thought you were supposed to be tougher than your brother,” said a stoic yet focused Emma Frost, who was in her diamond form.

“How many times do I have to tell you? Call me Warpath! You know full well my brother never would have helped you!”

“That’s because he doesn’t owe me several favors. It’s your fault for needing my help to stay out of jail. That’s what you get when you throw yourself into the mercenary trade.”

“Don’t remind me!” he muttered.

James Proudstar let out another frustrated grunt as he ran out ahead, using braving bullets and laser fire to get through the most secure area of the facility. It was laced with automatic gun turrets, laser sensors, and electrical fields that could kill most anybody dumb enough to get close. Luckily for him, he had mutant powers similar to his younger brother John. He had enhanced durability, strength, and heightened agility. Also like his brother, he was a battle tested warrior. He hadn’t honed his skills in the military like John did, but that was another story.

He still couldn’t believe Emma talked him into this. It was hard to say no when she helped get him out of jail a few years ago. He got into trouble doing some mercenary work for the wrong people. Emma managed to persuade a few officials to let him go. He got his freedom, but Emma Frost rarely did anything for charity.

“Ugh! How much further?” groaned Warpath as he punched through two more turrets, “These things are really getting on my nerves!”

“Just through the next barrier,” said Emma, who casually walked through the gunfire, protected by her diamond form, “According to the secrets I harvested from Leland’s mind, what I’m after is being stored in the high security bio-containment area.”

“What the hell is he hiding anyways? Must be something to put in a place like this!” said the Native American mutant as he skillfully leapt into the air, doing a summersault as he crushed two more turrets with his fist.

“It’s important, I assure you. He’s been using it as leverage over many people for years. He used it on me to hurt my friends. I won’t let him use it again!”

Warpath rolled his eyes as he finished off the last of the turrets. In terms of infiltration, this was going fairly smoothly. Since Emma took out all the guards with her telepathy, they encountered little resistance. She got them through all the major security barriers as well, having swiped the codes from the Inner Circle. All that was left was for Emma to claim her prize.

Now that the electric grid was down and the last of the turrets were destroyed, Emma shifted out of her diamond form and approached the access panel. Using the code she stole from Donald Pierce and an override she got from Leland to get past the biometrics, she opened the heavy steel door to reveal the advanced bio-containment area. Upon entering, both she and Warpath were met with quite a sight.

“Wow…the hell kind of freak show is Shaw running here?” said the Native American.

“The kind that nightmares are made of,” said Emma grimly, “This is just a fraction of his collection. You would be sick for the next three days if you knew the full extent of his little side projects.”

“I’ll take your word for it,” he muttered.

It was like a museum of every horror movie ever made. All throughout the secure area were advanced bio-tanks. All were well-lit, bathing the area in an eerie dark glow. Some were empty. Some were full of various fluids of many different colors. Some had things floating in them, some of which looked alive and some of which looked dead. Even for hardened warriors like Warpath, it was a difficult sight.

Emma moved swiftly through the rows of tanks, ignoring the ghastly sights along the way. She was too focused to be disgusted. Having been more intimate with Shaw than she cared to admit, she knew the depths of his madness better than anyone. This didn’t surprise her a bit. All that mattered to her was getting back what he took from her.

‘Where are they? You better not have done anything to them, Shaw! Or I swear on everything holy I’ll make sure you’re every remaining breath is filled with the pain of a thousand Hells!’

While Emma searched feverishly, Warpath lingered a bit to take in some of these tanks. He passed by a few ominously labeled containers, one of which was called “Project Legacy.” There were a few others that caught his attention. One was labeled “MGH Prototype.” Everything about this place made him cringe. If he ever met this Shaw guy personally, he had to remember to rip his head off.

One tank in particular caught his attention. It wasn’t like all the others in the sense that it was broken. There was no fluid in it and there were no wires going into it. It was probably the only one that was in such disrepair. As he ran his hands over the broken glass, he dusted off the bottom and saw a label.

“Weapon X-23…hmm, wonder what happened to the last 22,” he muttered, “Damn, this guy is sick. I ought to burn this place to the ground out of general principle.”

As Warpath scanned over the broken tank and the labels surrounding it, he heard Emma yell out from across the chamber.

“Warpath! Over here!” she said, “I’ve found them!”

Gripping his knife, James Proudstar ran to catch up with Emma. After running through a few rows of grotesque specimens, he found her standing near one of the corners gazing at three distinct tanks. There didn’t seem to be anything too special about them at first, but when he moved in closer he saw why it caught her attention.

Hovering silently in the tanks were three figures floating in suspended animation in a green fluid. They all had wires going into their nude bodies along with masks covering their faces. Each looked identical, bearing the figure of a teenage girl with blonde hair, blue eyes, and a nicely developed frame. Warpath couldn’t help but notice their frames looked an awful lot like Emma’s, but that wasn’t all that caught his attention.

As Emma gazed at these tanks, she got somewhat emotional. She placed her hands on the glass as her expression shifted from her usual stoic look to one of sorrow and remorse. Even Warpath was surprised. As he took a closer look, he noticed the labels on the bottom of the tanks.

“The Stepford Cuckoos,” he read, “What the hell kind of name is that?”

“The name Shaw gave them,” said Emma, her voice shaking with a mix of anger and sadness, “They were….they are my pride and joy. At least they should have been. That’s why Shaw took them from me.”

“And this is the leverage he’s been using on you all these years? Why? What’s so special about them?”

“It’s…a long story. One I doubt you’ll care to hear,” said Emma bitterly.

With her hand still on the glass, Emma Frost reflected on how far she had come. She thought she could leave it all behind and start a life on her own. But no matter how successful she was in business, she couldn’t escape the shadows of her past. Men like Shaw would not stop trying to use her. There were too many bad people out there with too many bad agendas. Her girls Mindee, Phoebe, and Celeste had already suffered because of it.

‘I’m sorry, my girls. I let you down. You can thank Charles Xavier for reminding me I still have somewhat of a heart. I may be a cold, hard-nosed bitch, but I’m a bitch who learns from her mistakes. I’m going to make this right…for you, for the X-men, for everybody. I promise.’

Having made her promise, Emma set out a new plan for her life. Everything was going to change. It would require her to humble herself in ways she was not used to. It was only fitting she be willing to rise to the challenge. That’s what X-man, past and present, were supposed to do.

“Help me free them, Warpath. I’m getting them out of here!” said Emma strongly.

“Whatever, Frost,” he shrugged, gripping his knife and making his way to the controls, “Just what exactly do you plan to do with these cuckoo girls?”

“Whatever I have to,” replied Emma, “The world is nasty place. There are a lot of people out there whose sole purpose is to crush those who haven’t been completely corrupted. Between Robert Kelly being president, Magneto being ruler of Genosha, and Sebastian Shaw still breathing the world is going to need more than just the X-men to make it.”

“So what are you going to do? Form your own little team?” joked the Native American.

“Something like that,” she said with a half smirk, “I already have big plans. Only this time, I’m going to see it through. And this time, it will take an act of Heaven and Hell to save those who try to use me again!”

Unknown Location

In an infinitely complex universe, there were so few constants. Change was among the few constants that applied to all things, living and non-living. For a woman like Selene, it was a process she understood better than most. There were a handful of powerful forces that would never change. One of those forces was fate. There were some things that could not be prevented. They could only be delayed. In her latest encounter with the Phoenix, her fate had been denied. But as was so often the case, fate had a way of working everything out.

“Selene…Selene, my dear,” said a gentle whisper, “I know you can hear me.”

The Black Queen let out a soft groan as she returned to the world of the conscious. Her memory was still a bit hazy. The last thing she remembered was fighting the Phoenix with the power of the M’krann Crystal. It was a fight she ended up losing. She didn’t even remember passing out. She only remembered everything going dark. But at no point was she fearful. She knew from the beginning that fate would protect her in the end.

“It’s time to wake up, Selene. You have some very special visitors.”

Opening her eyes, she was greeted with the sight of a familiar figure. She was weak, drowsy, and very sore. She could barely lift her limbs. But when she heard that fateful voice, all the discomfort melted away.

“Nathanial…is that you?” she said weakly.

“Yes, my love. It’s me,” replied a dark and imposing figure.

A devilish yet affectionate smile formed on her face as her vision cleared. Looking down on her with glowing red eyes was the one other constant besides fate in her life. Nathanial Essex, better known as Sinister, was there tending to her as she knew he would. She felt her strength return to her as he lovingly caressed her face. Even though he was a man whose mere presence made so many cringe, he still convey to her his own special brand of affection.

As Selene fought through her weakened state, she took in her surroundings. She recognized this place as one of Sinister’s labs. She was lying in what appeared to be the infirmary. All the walls were lined with advanced medical and biotech equipment, some of which was hooked up to her. Even though she didn’t really need such medical marvels to heal, Sinister made sure she got extra care.

She also noticed that Sinister wasn’t alone in tending to her. Standing next to him were two familiar faces, Madelyn Pryor and Gabriel Summers. It had been a while since she saw either of them. Having them with Sinister in her presence was very liberating sight.

“Hello Mistress Selene,” said Madelyn respectfully, “I know it’s been a while. I’m glad to see that you’re okay.”

“And you, my pupil,” said Selene, “But you shouldn’t have been worried. You know I’m quite durable.”

“You always have been,” grinned Gabriel, “But you should have seen what you looked like when you first arrived. From what we uncovered, the Phoenix did quite a number on you.”

“Yes, that encounter did not go quite as I planned,” she said, snarling somewhat at the memory, “Jean Grey and those damned X-men ruined everything.”

“They’ll do that unfortunately, but don’t you worry about them. You’ll get another chance…we both will,” assured Sinister.

“I know. But my failure to tap the Phoenix will greatly hinder my plans and yours for that matter. Without its power, we cannot proceed with the next step,” she said bitterly.

“It is a shame. The Phoenix Force certainly would have made everything a lot easier,” he sighed, “But alas, we can continue. It’s just going to be a bit messier going forward.”

“I don’t mind getting my hands dirty,” said Selene, her tone cold with malice, “But it will be much more cumbersome now.”

“Indeed…lucky for us I’ve already taken the first step,” grinned Sinister.

“Have you now?” said Selene with a dark grin, “You better not be saying that just to make me feel better.”

“Look at the bed next to you and you’ll see what I mean.”

Selene’s grin widened as she did as he requested, turning to her left to see what surprises her love had for her. What she saw greatly lifted her spirits. There was another figure lying in the bed next to hers. It was a figure she hadn’t seen in a long time, but recognized as clear as day.

“Exodus…I must have been out longer than I thought,” she said.

“Consider it a get-well present, Mistress,” said Madelyn, “Ironically, he’s here for the same reason you are. He got into a fight with my bitch of a cousin and was blown into another time zone.”

“He survived fully intact…for the most part,” said Gabriel, “He’s got quite a story to tell as I’m sure you’re well aware of.”

Selene couldn’t help but laugh, a rare if not unheard of gesture for her. This was quite ironic. After being thoroughly defeated by the Phoenix, her plans should have been set back a great deal. With Exodus, however, they were back on track. It had been a long time since they last crossed paths. Their history was complicated to say the least yet like the Phoenix, their fates were entwined.

Seeing Selene awake and reinvigorated brought a smile to Sinister’s macabre expression. He knew she was disappointed that she could not succeed with the Phoenix. But like her, he was not dissuaded. Just as she was determined to realize her destiny, he was equally determined to realize his.

“Oh Nathanial…you know just how to treat a woman who is still royally pissed off at be being denied her birthright,” purred Selene.

“I share your frustrations, my love. You and I have waited patiently for nearly a century. But we’ll get there. It’s only a matter of time.”

“With the Inner Circle decimated, my resources will be limited.”

“So you’ll work more closely with me and my Marauders. They’ll be more than happy assist you in your new line of plans,” said Sinister, “I certainly wouldn’t mind your presence either.”

“I’m sure you wouldn’t,” she said in a sultry tone, “I know the Inner Circle kept us apart, but now that they’re not in the picture we have all the more reason to coordinate our efforts.”

“As if we ever needed any, my love,” he said with another gesture of dark affection, “Whatever our predicament, fate is on our side. We will finish what your ancestors started…what we started. This world will endure great change…that you can be sure of.”

“Not just a change, my love…a legacy.”

The spirit between them was so dark, yet the love between them was undeniable. They didn’t express it with a kiss or tender words of affection. They needed only a single gaze to convey everything that needed to be said.

The Phoenix may be lost, but their goals remained the same. There were plenty more elements that had to come together, the least of which were the X-men. While they had meddled a great deal in their affairs so far, they would eventually play a major role in leading them to their destiny.

End of Volume 3

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