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Volume 4 -- Issue 75 -- Renegade

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Mankind is on the cusp of a new step in evolution. Mutants are being born with extraordinary powers and have the potential to do so much good. They also have the potential to do a great deal of harm. For that reason, there are those who seek to subdue mutants out of fear. Professor Charles Xavier and the X-men seek to oppose those who would exploit that fear. In their fight they often confronted forces they don’t understand.

Some of those forces have hit some harder than others. On what was supposed to be a trip to celebrate his girlfriend’s birthday, Nightcrawler and the X-men encountered the devious mystic, Selene. The former Black Queen’s lust for power has not been quelled despite her defeat at the hands of the Phoenix Force. She conducted a ritual that turned Amanda Sefton into the key towards unlocking a vast power. In wake of such defeat, Nightcrawler was hit hard emotionally and the X-men were forced to add another enemy to a growing list of threats. One, however, remains the most daunting.

With the recent election of Robert Kelly, the new President is preparing for an overhaul in mutant policy. Controversy already surrounds his administration after his son was turned into a mutant by Magneto. But the new president remains undaunted. He stands prepared to act as he promised in his campaign. However, some of those promises are manifesting in unexpected ways.

White House – Oval Office

Throughout American history, every new presidency went through a rough transition period. During times of crisis, this transition was made all the more difficult. For President Robert Kelly, the times couldn’t have been more treacherous. His presidency faced such crisis on the very day he took office. The and his advisers were able to downplay the Inauguration Day incident and cover up the arrest of the mutant instigator, Stryfe. Despite this ominous start to his presidency, Robert Kelly was not deterred.

Within days of taking office, he went to work asserting his authority. So far he was off to a promising start. He was already letting the people know he was taking charge in a way the previous president had not. In a special afternoon broadcast, the new President addressed the people with new details on his policies.

“And so let me be clear. We will not conduct business with the same chaos as the previous administration. I’ve already ordered every major branch of the military to cease their dangerous operations into Genosha. There will be no more operating behind the back of the American people. Any commanding officer that fails to comply will either tender their resignation or stand trial for treason. Our policy on Genosha will be one of unity. All major task forces from the Navy, Army, and Air Force are pulling back and reinforcing the naval blockade around the island. Rest assured nobody will act out of blind aggression under my watch. The mutant nation of Genosha and the policies that affect it are my top priority and we are already in the process of taking bold and necessary steps. Thank you for your attention and may God bless America.”

With the end of his speech, the broadcast crew cut the live feed and the president’s various assistants went to work cleaning up the area. President Kelly let out a sigh of relief and rose up from his desk to rejoin his advisers. They each seemed satisfied with his performance.

“Nice job, Mr. President. I think that went well,” said his Director of the Interior.

“Yes, I think the people will respond favorably to you asserting more control on the military,” said his female public relations officer, “Polls show that the majority of the public are wary of the military acting without restraint on Genosha.”

“I’m glad they’re happy. I don’t think I’ll be able to say the same to my military advisers,” said President Kelly as he loosened his tie, “I’ll probably make a few enemies by halting their plans.”

“They’ve grown too comfortable dealing with a weak president,” said his chief of staff, “It’s better you do this now and assert your strength. It’ll embolden our efforts to get the new mutant legislation passed in the long run.”

“I hope so, but I doubt that’ll be nearly as easy. None of my supporters seem to like some of the amendments I’ve made to the Mutant Registration Act.”

“Give it time, sir. You’ll just have to do what all good politicians do and persuade them that this way is the best way to move forward,” said another one of his assistants.

They made it sound so easy. None of them were wrestling with political opponents, media pundits, and a mutant son. They had no idea how hard this process was. President Kelly already found himself proceeding more carefully than he originally intended. As much as he hated to admit it, the pundits were right to believe his son had something to do with it. But that wasn’t going to stop him from combating the mutant issue. He was just going to have to go about it more carefully than his critics were comfortable with.

Chief among those critics was Reverend William Stryker. While the rest of the President’s advisers showed approval for his speech, he remained in the corner along with a few of his disgruntled military advisers. They were among those  who weren’t getting along with the new president as well as they had hoped.

“Moving forward? More like reversing course,” scoffed Stryker, “Tell me, does becoming President turn everybody into such an unprincipled farce?”

“Speak for yourself, Reverend. You weren’t the one who had to reprimand ten irate military officers,” said the Secretary of Defense, who had been looking upon the new president with equal disdain, “I took this job because I honestly thought he was going to confront Magneto. All he’s doing is giving our enemies greater opportunity to act.”

“So much for personal loyalty,” muttered the reverend, “I go through all that trouble to downplay that incident during the Inauguration Day ceremony and now he won’t even consider my objections to these amendments of his.”

“I’m still can’t believe you pulled that off, but you have my gratitude. I can’t tell you how rough it was getting Stryfe into custody. I had to call another favor from White Cell again to send him to NORAD. The damn freak wouldn’t stop ranting and rambling about wars the whole way.”

“A prelude of things to come, I’m sure,” said Stryker, “The question remains...how long can he keep this up without suffering the inevitable backlash? It’s going to look mighty unpleasant when his so-called comprehensive reform on the mutant issue fails to stop the spread of wickedness.”

“If he doesn’t find a way to regain the trust of his military, it’s going to be even more than unpleasant. A disgruntled army and growing outside threats are the key ingredients to bringing down any superpower.”

“God help us all if Robert doesn’t grow a spine and stand up to the wicked.”

Reverend Stryker’s gaze hardened as he, the Secretary of Defense, and various other military officials watched President Kelly go over the speech with his advisers. As much as he wanted to walk over and tell him how flawed his speech truly was, he understood that his status here was fragile. He didn’t officially have a position on the President’s staff. He was basically just another adviser that was entirely expendable. He simply couldn’t risk his position in the White House at this point.

While the Reverend and the Secretary of Defense watched from afar, the door to the Oval Office opened and a new figure walked in bearing a full military uniform that denoted a high rank. Nearly every military official tensed at his presence, even the Secretary of Defense.

“Ooh boy, looks like God sent help of a different kind,” said the secretary.

“What do you mean? Who is that?” said Stryker suspiciously.

“Someone who is going to make our jobs a hell of a lot tougher,” he answered ominously.

Reverend Stryker’s gaze narrowed on the new figure while the rest of the defense staff remained tense. They watched as this highly decorated military officer practically barged past President Kelly’s advisers and addressed him.

“Mr. President, I need to speak with you,” he said in a tone that commanded respect even from the leader of the free world.

“And who might you be? I don’t remember seeing you on my defense staff,” replied the President.

“That’s because I’m not part of your staff…not at the moment, anyways,” he replied, “My name is General Nathan Grimshaw.”

“Grimshaw? Why does that sound familiar?” said Kelly suspiciously.

“Trust me, you’ve heard it before. And if it’s not too much trouble, I need you to wrap this up and meet me in the War Room immediately. There is a new development on Genosha that demands our immediate attention.”

North Westchester

The affluent suburbs of Westchester were an ideal place to settle and comfortably. It was perfectly situated between the bustle of New York City and the quiet rural areas of upstate New York. Were it not for the presence of the X-men, the city would have little distinction.

As nice as Westchester may be, Amanda Sefton had mixed feelings about moving here. It had been a week since her encounter with Selene. The mysterious marks left on her body from the ritual remained etched on her body. They were a constant reminder that she was on an unceasing path towards a grim fate. The power she was destined to unleash was never far from her mind. Now that there was no use hiding, her mother decided that they would adapt.

With financial help from Professor Charles Xavier, they packed up their quiet lives in Rural Germany and came to America. He and the X-men helped them find a quaint little house not far from the Xavier Institute. This way they could work on avoiding this horrible fate Selene had laid out for them while remaining close to the X-men should they require their assistance again. The circumstances were grim, but there were some significant benefits.

Lying back on her bed in the comfort of her new room, Amanda gazed distantly at the ceiling. So much had gone wrong in her life. Everything she and her mother had prepared for was falling apart. She failed her ancestors and herself. Now she had to find a new way to avoid her dark fate. While lost in thought, Kurt appeared in a puff of smoke carrying a couple of boxes.

“I zhink zhis is zhe last of zhem, frauline. Vould you like me to leave zhem in the closet for now?” he asked her.

“Sure…I’ll unpack them later,” said Amanda in a low tone.

She didn’t sound very enthused about establishing a new life in Westchester. Amanda had been distant ever since Selene’s ritual. Despite her promise to have faith in changing her fate, she was still anxious. As her lover, Kurt took it upon himself to keep her spirits up. As soon as he put her boxes away, Kurt made his way over to her bed and sat down next to her.

“Can I get you anything?” he offered, “Are you hungry? Thirsty? Horny?”

“I’m fine. Thank you,” she replied, still staring at the ceiling.

“You’re not even going to scold me for making an immature joke? Now I know you’re troubled,” made Kurt, “Maybe you should go for a valk or something. Westchester is a vonderful city. I vould be happy to show you around.”

“Sorry, I’m not in the mood for fresh air. Every time I venture too far from home some nutcase with a hard-on for power comes after me. And if it’s all the same to you, I’d like to take a break from looking over my shoulder every other second.”

Kurt’s expression sank. His dedication to lifting her spirits was having little effect thus far. A brief silence followed. He offered no further words of encouragement until Amanda turned to face her lover.

“I’m sorry, Kurt. That was just mean,” she said.

“Nein, it’s a valid concern,” said Kurt, his arm finding it’s way to her face.

“Not enough to justify being a bitch to my boyfriend,” Amanda retorted, “The same boyfriend I’ve been lying to and keeping secrets from for the past three years. I don’t know if that makes me the worst girlfriend in the world, but it should certainly get me an honorable mention.”

“You’re anything but zhe vorst girlfriend, frauline. I understand. You didn’t tell me about zhis power because you vere trying to protect me. You vere trying to protect us.”

“That doesn’t make it any less an excuse. I still lied to you.”

“You didn’t tell me zhe whole story. Zhat’s not zhe same as lying.”

“It is what it is. Time and again you would bring it up and I would always give the same answer. I would say it’s nothing to worry about or it’s just something I have to deal with. But that was a lie. I should have been the one to tell you the truth. Instead you had to get it from Selene.”

“I could have gotten it from zhe devil himself and zhat still vouldn’t have made me love you any less,” said Kurt strongly as he tenderly caressed her face.

“Even so, can you honestly tell me you weren’t hurt by what I did?”

Kurt fell silent. Even though he was trying to be supportive, there was no hiding the truth. It hurt to learn that Amanda had been keeping these secrets from him. It hurt to learn that she was a part of something that could potentially destroy the world as they knew it. It was impossible for their relationship to remain unaffected. However, Kurt Wagner was not about to give up on this woman he loved.

“Amanda…you already know how I feel,” he told her, “But vhat’s done is done. At zhis point ve can only move forward.”

“I know and believe me, I’m trying to,” said Amanda, “You and the X-men have already gone above and beyond. I still can’t believe Professor Xavier was able to pull so many strings to get us here so quickly.”

“He’s a man of many resources. Getting a couple of women vith next to no paper trail into zhe country is really not much of a push vhen you’re zhe a rich, powerful psychic. I’ve already been assured zhat you and your mother vill be as anonymous her as you vere in Germany.”

“It’s not the anonymity that worries me,” she said in a more emotional tone as she rose up and moved closer to her lover, “This is such a huge shift. I not only have to deal with this power inside me. I also have to deal with making a new life here in Westchester.”

“Vell it shouldn’t be too difficult,” said Kurt as he snaked his arms around her waist, “Now zhat you live so close, ve can get together more often. You can’t tell me zhat doesn’t hold some appeal.”

“I never said there weren’t benefits,” said Amanda, managing a slight smile, “There’s just so much on my plate right now. Between my fate and our relationship, I want to have faith that it’ll all work out. I just don’t know where to begin.”

“Try and take it one step at a time. Just know zhat vherever you choose to begin, I’ll be zhere by your side.”

To further assure her Kurt pulled his lover into a close embrace. His warm grip allowed Amanda to take a deep, calming breath. Everything seemed so overwhelming for her and everyone she cared about. A part of her still felt guilty that she was dragging Kurt into her family’s dark secrets, but looking into his loving gaze it was clear that he would be there for her regardless of what fate had in store.

She finally managed a genuine smile, the first since this ordeal began. Kurt smiled back and pulled her into a soft kiss. It was a gesture Amanda eagerly embraced, slipping her arms around his neck and sinking into his warmth.

Their lips eventually parted and they shared another affectionate smile. Then Kurt’s demeanor shifted again. Whereas she lamented about her future, there still elements of the past that hadn’t been resolved.

“I know you’re going though a lot, Amanda. But before ve go any further, zhere’s something I’ve been meaning to give you,” he said in a more serious tone.

“Should I be worried?” asked Amanda, her arms still draped around his neck.

“Nein, but vith everything zhat’s happened ve never did get a chance to celebrate your birthday properly. I never even got a chance to give you your birthday present.”

“Considering the kind of luck I’ve had with birthdays, that’s not necessarily a bad thing.”

“Even so, I still vant you to have it. I originally hoped it vould give you a better outlook on our future together. But under zhese circumstances, I suppose it can help you in another vay. Zhink of it as something you can turn to vhen you start to lose faith.”

Swallowing a swath of nervousness, Kurt reached into his pocket and retrieved the present he never gave her. Amanda watched in anticipation as he placed it in her hand. There was a moment of tension at first. Then she opened her hand and took in her gift.

“Oh Kurt…” she said, tears forming in her eyes again.

“Happy birthday, Amanda,” he said sheepishly.

It was a necklace and a pretty expensive one for that matter. It was made of silver, shining with a gleam that made it clear that this was no fake. It at the end of the chain was a beautiful jeweled charm. It look custom made, consisting of a Christian cross and a mystical pentagram imposed over it with sparking diamonds lining the edges. It was a perfect mesh between faiths, creating a harmonious symbol that reflected the kind of harmony they found in each other. As Amanda put it around her neck, her eyes beamed with joy.

“Faith comes in many forms,” he told her, “I vanted you to have something to remind you zhat no matter vhat form faith may take, zhe most important zhing is zhat you have it to guide you.”

“I don’t think I’ll ever forget now,” said Amanda, still emotional as she gazed down at her gift.

“So…you like it?”

“Even I’m not that good a liar,” she said with a loving smile, “I love it! And I love you.”

In a show of her sincerity, Amanda pulled her lover into another kiss. This time it was much more passionate. Her arms still draped around his neck and she pulled him down onto the bed so that they were lying next to one another where grew heated. Hands started to roam and Amanda let out a deep gasp to communicate her desire. It wasn’t long before Kurt shared that desire as well.

“Kurt…if I asked you to make love to me would you find that weird?” she asked with a touch of embarrassment, “I understand these marks on my body might be a bit of a turnoff.”

“Amanda…you put up vith my appearance for years. If I can’t ignore a few ambiguous tattoos zhen zhat vould make me a hypocrite,” said Kurt with a reassuring smile.

“Are you sure?” she asked, her tone still brimming with desire.

“Let me show you just how sure I am.”

With a playful grin, Kurt pulled his girlfriend back into a kiss. No more words were spoken. He had done all the convincing he needed for Amanda. Within moments they shed their clothes and made love on Amanda’s new bed. It was a fitting first step to take as they adjusted to this new turn in their lives and the mysterious fate that now lay before them.

Xavier Institute – Xavier’s Office

Since the early days of the X-men, the team was used to dealing with supernatural forces. They had gone up against real magic like the ones that drove Juggernaut. These were the kinds of forces that were most mysterious and the most unpredictable. So when Selene reared her head again, it definitely got Professor Xavier’s attention. After the damage she did with the Phoenix Force, she was a clear thereat that they could not afford to take lightly.

Sitting in his office, he reviewed some paperwork regarding the Sefton family’s impromptu move to Westchester. Jean was leaning against the desk next to him and Ororo and Logan were present as well. Jean was especially concerned and not just because Selene had caused her a lot of grief with the Phoenix. Madelyne was involved as well. If what she said about being Selene’s apprentice was true, then that would explain a lot about how she ended up with all these new powers. It would also mean that stopping Selene also meant stopping her cousin.

Professor Xavier shard many of these concerns and pulled plenty of strings to aid the Seftons. At the moment he was finalizing the details for their move over the phone. To get two people with such a secretive history into the country without alerting the wrong people was not easy. It required that he call in a few favors.

“Yes…I see…very well. I’ll let them know…no, thank you Emma. I appreciate you doing this for me…I will. And good luck with this new project of yours.”

Upon hanging up the phone, Professor Xavier gathered the papers on his desk and let out a sigh of relief.

“So what’s the verdict, Professor? Did Emma come through or is she going to screw us over again?” said Jean dryly.

“She came through, Jean,” said Xavier in a more serious tone, “She was able to pull the necessary strings with the local immigration office. Amanda and her mother are officially granted asylum. She will also make sure that none of their records become public.”

“Love to find out how she managed that,” said Logan with a wolfish grin.

“I’m sure you have your suspicions,” said Ororo with a playful swat.

“Ain’t the simplest explanation supposed to be the right one?” he shrugged.

Logan got another round of bemused looks from Jean and Ororo. Emma Frost remained a touchy issue, especially for Jean. Even though Emma seemed sincere in trying to make up for her role in the Phoenix affair, suspicions ran high. There was growing concern that whatever leverage Shaw had over her would still be a factor. At the moment, however, suspicions about Emma took a back seat to the new threat posed by Selene.

“For now, let us assume it’s not so simple and be grateful Emma is helping us,” said Professor Xavier, maintaining a serious demeanor.

“She still has a long ways to go if she wants to make up for her recent stunts,” said Jean bitterly.

“Emma’s transgressions aside, she still came through and it wouldn’t be the first time. Now we’re left with a much more serious matter to deal with.”

“As if it wasn’t serious enough when we were just dealing with a new dirtbag in the White House,” scoffed Logan, “I swear Selene the only woman who could wear underwear that sexy and still piss me off!”

“There’s no doubt that Selene is dangerous,” the Professor went on, “She was willing to unleash a cosmic power to get what she wants and if Amanda and her mother are guarding a power anywhere near that level, we must take extra precautions.”

“Any ideas how?” asked Jean, “I’ve spoken to Amanda. The nature of this power is poorly understood, even by her.”

“What about the Phoenix Force? Maybe she knows something about it?” suggested Ororo.

“Already tried that. Still no luck,” sighed Jean, her eyes flashing briefly to reflect the presence of the Phoenix, “Since the Phoenix is a fraction of what it once was, she doesn’t remember all her experiences from when she was an overpowered cosmic force. She’s still learning to understand her own power, let alone something that may be even worse.”

“Then you better get her some tutoring because we need answers before that crazy bitch strikes again!” snarled Logan.

“I don’t disagree, Logan. But this concerns magic and magic has never been the X-men’s expertise,” said the Professor, “In my previous dealings with such matters, I’ve found it best to delegate to someone who is better equipped.”

“Who do you have in mind, Chuck? An exorcist?”

After giving this matter some serious thought, Professor Xavier opened his desk drawer and pulled out a small black book. While there was little doubt their paths would cross with Selene again, the X-men were somewhat powerless to deal with mystical issues. This was one case where it paid to have good friends who owed them a few favors.

“I’m going to give our old friend, Dr. Twoyoungmen, a call,” he said as he found a certain number in his book, “He has far greater knowledge of the arcane and he did help us a great deal against Juggernaut.”

“I thought he goes by Shaman now,” said Jean, who remembered this man.

“Shaman? Twoyoungmen? If the guy is an expert in magic how come he can’t conjure up a better name?” commented Logan.

“Shaman and I go back quite a ways,” explained the Professor, “He’s been a close friend and a strong ally for the X-men. If anyone can uncover this mystery, it’s him.”

“I can vouch for that,” said Jean, “He’s also a friend of John Proudstar. He’s a little on the creepy side, but he knows his stuff.”

I’m sure that will help set Kurt’s mind at ease,” said Ororo.

“So long as Amanda is dealing with this burden, I doubt his mind will ever be at ease,” sighed Xavier as he wrote Shaman’s information down, “I’ll give Shaman a call and arrange for him to visit the Seftons. ’ll also coordinate with Amanda’s mother. So long as they are here we must do what we can to stay a step ahead of Selene. There’s no telling what kind of damage her next macabre ritual will incur.”

With the Phoenix affair still fresh in everyone’s mind, the threat posed by Selene was not taken lightly. Jean sensed the Phoenix flare up the mention of her name. The last time Selene was allowed to carry out her plans, it nearly destroyed the universe as they knew it. If she was as audacious with the Amanda as she was with the Phoenix, they had to stop her she achieved this sadistic destiny of hers.

“Boy, with all this magic and supernatural forces I almost miss taking on mutant political affairs,” commented Jean.

“Be careful what you wish for, Jean. You may get your wish sooner than you think,” said the Professor as he jotted down a few notes.

“Let me guess…Kelly’s making a move?” said Logan dryly, “We knew it was a matter of time before he did something to throw everything out of whack.”

“Indeed, but to his credit his moves thus far haven’t been too radical,” said the Professor, “I watched his speech earlier. Lilandra and I discussed it with some insiders of hers. Near as we can tell, he’s merely strengthening his authority.”

“One has to wonder whether or not that’s a good thing,” said Ororo, “I hear he’s tightening the naval blockade on Genosha and proposing new mutant tracking legislation.”

“Compared to that heinous Mutant Containment Act he proposed when he was still a senator, that’s a world of improvement.”

“He’s still a prick,” made Logan, “Wouldn’t be surprised if he pulls a Richard Nixon and starts dealing under the table. At least Selene is obvious with her bullshit.”

“That’s something Lildandra promised her people would keep an eye on. There’s always a chance that there will be other forces at work within the government,” said Xavier seriously, “For that reason, I’ll be redirecting team training towards dealing with government forces. We may end up having to involve ourselves in government affairs to either thwart or expose them.”

“That sounds like a risky game, Professor,” said Jean warily, “Aren’t we supposed to be gaining their trust?”

“Trust is a luxury, Jeannie. Sometimes you gotta settle for leverage,” said Logan.

“As long as it doesn’t turn into blackmail,” she said.

“We won’t cross that line, Jean,” said Xavier strongly, “But these are the circumstances we must deal with. With President Kelly in office, the front lines of human/mutant conflict will surely become obscured. We must learn to manage this conflict as it unfolds. Otherwise we’ll only provide a world ripe for Selene to exploit.”

Suddenly, the mystical conflicts with Selene didn’t seem so overwhelming. At least with her there was no subtlety. President Kelly made it clear that he would confront the mutant issue, regardless of what happened to his son. The X-men had to somehow confront him while gaining a certain level of trust from the government. The X-men could not do their job if they were considered enemies of the state. They had to remain heroes in the eyes of the public.

District X

“Is that the best you can do, Iceman? The rate you’re going, I may just nod off for a bit!” taunted a confident voice that echoed through the streets of District X.

“Oh I’m just getting warmed up, Jubilee!” replied an equally confident Bobby Drake.

“Don’t you mean cooled down?”

“Don’t be a smart ass! I get enough of that at the institute!”

“Sorry, cutie, but you’re on my home turf now! I’ll be as smart as I have to be! Ass and all!”

Bobby Drake laughed, but remained determined as he fought to keep up with the ever energetic Jubilee. What started off as a casual online chat a few days ago turned into something neither of them expected. Right now they were in the middle of a race. It was Bobby and his ice slides versus Jubilee and her custom made skateboard that was actually a high tech hover-board that Tessa gave her. How she found a contraption like this was not a question Bobby bothered to ask. He only cared that it was helping Jubilee beat him and he couldn’t have that.

They were making their way down a steep hill near the north end of the district. It was a place where there was little traffic and little distractions. It consisted primarily of open stormwater channels and utility ditches. Since there hadn’t been much rain , they were almost completely dry. That made it the perfect place for a couple of teenagers to hang out. Here they could be as free and rowdy as they wanted while also throwing a little flirtation in for good measure.

“Are you really trying to beat me?” questioned Bobby as he lingered behind, “Or are you just trying to make me to admire your ass?”

“Are you complaining? Do you not want to look at my ass?” Jubilee teased as she sped up.

“That’s a loaded question and you know it!”

“I also know you’re still too slow! I’m starting to think you don’t want the grand prize for winning this race!”

“There’s a prize now?” said Bobby with intrigue.

“Only if you’re taking this race seriously!” Jubilee quipped.

Bobby Drake found himself focusing more now that he knew a prize was at stake. While he certainly didn’t just come for a race, he was obligated as an X-man to rise to the challenge. . The original reason for meeting up with Jubilee at a time when the X-men had major issues to deal with was much more complicated.

Ever since their initial encounter with District X, Bobby had been exchanging emails with Jubilee. They started out innocent enough. Like many others in District X, Jubilee admired the X-men. She definitely got Bobby’s eye and pretty soon those emails turned into something more. It would eventually lead to conflict with Kitty that blew up in his face. But now that they had worked that mess out, he was free to get involved in his next female-driven mess. With everything that had been going on he needed to have a little fun and Jubilee was more than happy to oblige him.

“You think that hover-board can beat ice?” laughed Bobby as he pulled to within inches of Jubilee.

“As sure as a flux capacitor requires 1.21 gigawatts of electricity!” quipped Jubilee.

“I think someone has seen Back To The Future II one time too many!”

“Don’t be knocking my board, Drake! I’m a skater chick at heart and Tessa figured this would make my patrol that much more efficient!” retorted Jubilee as she skillfully swiveled her board along the concrete path, lowering her body so that she could go faster.

“And people take a teenage girl with sunglasses, black leather pants, and a hover board seriously?”

“They do when I show them tricks like this!”

Just as they were about to reach a downward slope in the channel, Jubilee ducked down a bit and pulled off a skillful jump on her hover board. While in mid air, she positioned her hands so that they were behind her facing away and slightly down. She then fired off a burst of dazzling energy blasts that rocketed her into the air. It was enough to disorient Bobby. He had to shield his eyes and slow down while Jubilee shot out ahead of him at high speeds.

With a cocky grin and a confidence few would expect from a teenage runaway, Jubilee skillfully descended towards the end of the concrete channel. She used her hover-board to slow her descent so she barely grazed the surface.. She landed right in front of a dry stormwater outlet, but a quick jerk of her board and she came to an easy stop. She even had enough time to blow a quick bubble with her gum before Bobby caught up with her, reaching the end of the channel on his ice slide and looking both defeated and bedazzled.

“Okay, I’ll admit that was pretty awesome!” he said while still rubbing his ize, “But you know you didn’t win, right? You used your powers!”

“So what? You’re using yours,” she pointed out casually as she kicked her board back up into her arms.

“That’s different! I have to use my powers because I don’t have a hover-board. If you’re going to say that’s just an excuse then you’re just being immature. And coming from me, that’s saying something.”

“Oh don’t you worry your cute little face, Iceman. I’m not going to ask that you message my ego. I’m not that kind of girl,” she said as she raised her sunglasses.

“Good, because I have a bad experience with people who try to win at all costs. That’s what creates super villains, mad scientists, and politicians.”

“Who says I cared about winning to begin with?” she said as she moved in a little closer to the young man who was still catching his breath.

“Oh? So what were you doing?” he asked, shifting awkwardly somewhat in her close presence, “All that boasting about you keeping up with an X-man couldn’t be for the hell of it.”

“I don’t know. Maybe I was just trying to pit my wits against someone who goes up against Magneto, killer robots, and aspiring Presidents on a regular basis. Or maybe I was just trying to show a veteran X-man like you that folks in District X can be just as tough. Or maybe…just maybe…I was trying to make a good impression on a cute guy I went out of my way to lure away from his usual save-the-world duties.”

The flirtatious subtext of her tone caught Bobby off guard. She was now standing within inches of him, her penetrating gaze leaving him captivated hard even though she often kept those eyes of hers covered by her sunglasses. It had been a while since a girl gave him that look. Even after having been burned by messy affairs with Lorna and Kitty, he missed that look.

It confirmed what he suspected and what Kitty had yelled at him about from the beginning. He was being drawn to another woman he conversed with over the internet and was now getting to know on a face-to-face basis. Just like Lorna, he couldn’t tear himself away from this. Any lingering heartache or better judgment had been effectively shut out.

“I um…are we going to start debating which it is?” he asked her, shifting awkwardly, “Because I’m not good at winning arguments with girls like you.”

“Only if you want to be dense about it,” scoffed Jubilee.

“What? No I…that didn’t come out right,” Bobby began, but Jubilee cut him off.

“It’s okay, Bobby. I’m not going to spell it out for you. I never cared for melodrama,” said Jubilee with a reassuring smile.

“Good, because I usually end up making a fool of myself. Just ask my ex-girlfriends.”

“Well I’m not them and I don’t want it to be like that,” she said in a more serious tone, “You’re a guy who likes to have fun, Bobby. I’m like that too. Since we’ve been chatting and junk, my crummy life in an all-mutant ghetto has been that much more bearable. You’re probably the first guy my own age I’ve been able to relate to who hasn’t excessively mulled over our crummy situation.”

“I’m honored. I could also say the same about you,” said Bobby, shifting to a more serious demeanor as well, “It is one of the drawbacks to being an X-man. It’s hard not to dwell at times and it’s even harder to find someone that can keep your feet on the ground.”

“Is that why you end up emotionally draining relationships that end up going horribly wrong?”

“It’s probably one of the reasons,” he sighed, “I’d tell you about the theories my fellow X-men have, but that may prompt you to call the nearest insane asylum and have them throw me away.”

“I doubt you’re that crazy, Bobby. You’ve got baggage. So do I. I think it’s even safe to assume we have way more than your typical teenage mutant,” Jubilee went on, “I can’t tell you how heavy that is for a girl like me. It’s part of why I ran away from my foster homes. It helped lead me here to District X. It’s may not be a cozy gated neighborhoods in northern California, but it works for me. Just as I’m sure the Xavier Institute works for you.”

“In other words, we’re both crazy,” Bobby surmised.

“Only if by crazy you mean resourceful, tough, and astonishingly cute.”

Keeping with her serious yet flirtatious demeanor, Jubilee moved in closer. She slipped her arms around Bobby’s neck, causing him to defrost his ice shell. Feeling less awkward he returned her gesture by slipping his arms around her waist. It was enough to give even someone like him a warm feeling.

“The way I see it…if we can relate to one another, why not embrace it? It might actually turn into something special,” she said.

“Jubilation Lee, is this how girls in District X ask guys from another super-powered team out on a date?” said Bobby with grin.

“Let’s not get ahead of ourselves,” said Jubilee coyly, “I’m not the kind of girl who likes to get seriously too quickly. If you and I are gonna get comfortable with each other, I want to have a little fun beforehand.”

“I understand completely,” said Bobby, their lips now within inches of each other, “What kind of fun did you have in mind?”

Jubilee was silent for a moment, still smiling as she embraced Bobby even closer. He looked so cute. She could tell he was trying to play it cool in a non-literal way. His recent experience with relationships showed. But she didn’t want to be like Lorna or Kitty. If they were going to have something special, she had to set herself apart.

For a moment, Bobby thought they were going to kiss. He was about to lean in to capture her lips. Then to his surprise, Jubilee slipped out of his arms and tossed her hover board back down onto the pavement.

“I got one word for you, Iceman…re-match!” she said playfully.

“Re-match? I uh…” stammered Bobby, still in slight shock.

“Oh don’t be nervous! I’ll even raise the stakes a bit! Beat me this time and I’ll let you hold me even closer!”

Before Bobby could even accept the challenge, Jubilee commenced the race. With a quick kick of her hover-board, she was speeding down the other end of the stormwater channel. For a second Bobby Drake stood awkwardly still. Never one to fall too far behind in a race, Bobby formed another ice slide and joined the race. As an X-man that dealt with aliens, killer robots, and magic it was hard to surprise him. Yet somehow this girl succeeded and he found himself drawn to her on a new level.

‘This girl is so unbelievably cool! I think the Iceman is ready to love again!’

Xavier Institute – War Room

Class in the Xavier Institute was always changing. It had to if they were to adapt to the new challenges that were constantly emerging. There were the traditional academic classes they took on a daily basis. Then there were the training classes that prepared them for battle as X-men. Most of the time this training took place in the Danger Room, but on rare occasions they would get training of a different kind in the War Room. Since the election of President Kelly, the War Room got almost as much use at the Danger Room.

“Okay, so let’s go over it again,” explained Scott as he walked about near the central hologram projector, “We’re on Genosha. We’ve got Magneto’s forces in front of us and approaching military forces behind us. They’re both looking to attack us and the military is closing fast. We need to buy time to allow Professor Xavier to reach the President so he can call off the attack. What do we do?”

“Put them all to sleep by giving the same dang lecture five times in a row?” commented Rogue with an exasperated groan.

“Don’t know if the Prof would approve of weapons of mass destruction, cherè,” said Remy, who slouching in his chair and casually shuffling some cards to keep himself awake.

“Damn it, guys! That joke wasn’t funny the last time and it’s not funny now!” barked Scott, “We need to get this strategy down and we’ll go over it as many times as we have to!”

“As many times as we have to or as many times as you have to?” questioned Remy, “You can’t be expecting us to play along with your OCD, homme.”

“You think I should take this lightly? We’re talking worst case scenarios here!” quipped Scott, “We need to be ready for them no matter how much we try to avoid them!”

“We get it, Cyclops. Strategy is important,” said Kitty, who had been resting her head on her arms, “But wouldn’t it just be easier to make a Danger Room session out of it?”

“The Danger Room can simulate a lot of scenarios, but it can’t simulate this. It’s no longer enough to be physically capable to oppose these threats. We have to understand the fragile geopolitics involved.”

“Ah still prefer a Level 8 Danger Room scenario with Sinister on one end and an army of Sentinels on the other,” said Rogue.

“I know it’s nowhere near as exciting, but as field leader I say we have to understand and so does the team,” said Scott strongly.

Rogue, Remy, and Kitty let out a collective groan. Scott was a great field leader and a solid fighter, but when it came to lectures he wasn’t anything but engaging. It was like he was reading from a textbook or something. Even with the added visual aids of the holographic projector it was hard to stay interested. Compared to running for their lives in the Danger Room, incorporating politics into their battle plan seemed more tedious than it was worth.

Scott replayed the scenario again, manipulating the hologram so that it brought up an accurate display of the Genosha coastline. On the mainland there were red blips to represent Magneto’s forces and in the sea there were lines of blue blips to represent the naval blockade closing in. In the middle was a black X to symbolize the team. Upon entering a few commands, everything started moving to mimic a battle scenario. Scott, being the tactical leader, could break the situation down easily. But looking up at his teammates, none of whom seemed very enthused, it didn’t look as though they were getting anything out of this. It would have been a lot easier if Beast was around to teach. He had always been good at making the mundane seem exciting. But since he was helping Kurt and the Seftons, Scott had to fill in. In many ways it gave him an appreciation for Mr. McCoy’s talent for teaching.

“I think we’re all pretty clear on the strategy for Magneto,” he began, “We need to hit them back with firepower. That’s where Iceman, Phoenix, and I come in. Since Jean has the added power of the Phoenix Force, I’m fairly confidence we could hold our own. So I won’t get into that.”

“Lucky you,” said Kitty, “Since when is attacking Magneto an overly complicated strategy?”

“Which is why I want to focus on the military. I think you guys are underestimating just how different it is dealing with them.”

“You don’t need to be reminding us of the risks, homme,” said Remy as he did a few card tricks, “The military be off limits. Ain’t no way we want to get on the bad side of army folks.”

“It’s not just the government. I don’t doubt you all understand the risks there. I only doubt you understand the reasons behind these risks. These are risks we’ve never dealt with before,” said Scott.

“They’re the big guns guarding the fellas in charge. Ah think those risks are pretty dang apparent,” shrugged Rogue.

“That’s where you’re wrong, Rogue. And don’t have the luxury of being wrong in the face of the people with big guns as you call it,” said Scott strongly, “But since you find the simulations so boring, why don’t I explain it another way?”

The X-leader paused the simulation. So far the textbook approach wasn’t working with them. If he was going to get his point across, then he was going to improvise and that involved adding a personal touch.

“When I was growing up, my father told me all sorts of stories about the people he met while he was in the Air Force. He was in a unique position to interact with both people who were in the military and people who worked with the military. It allowed him to meet all sorts of colorful characters that came from every walk of life.”

“Ah thought you said he was a test pilot or something,” said Rogue, “Or did you not put much care into the pillow talk you shared with meh when we were dating?”

“Officially, he was a test pilot. But officially in the military is always a mere fraction of the truth. Everyone he came across thought of themselves as a soldier, even if they weren’t official. They all had their stories to tell, but they all shared a common bond in combat. My dad understood that more than anyone and he made sure I understood as well.”

This seemed to gain some renewed interest from Rogue, Remy, and Kitty. It was certainly more interesting than going over terrain features on a map. With their attention in hand, Scott continued.

“One story that really put it into perspective involved a rescue mission my father took part in before he became a test pilots. He was responsible for flying a lightly armed transport chopper deep into hostile territory and landing it in a clearing so the rescue crews could get extract a group of liberated prisoners. It was supposed to be happen right around nightfall. It ended up being as chaotic as you would expect in a warzone. A team of marines were sent in ahead of the rescue team and my dad was left to wait and see who made it out alive.”

“So…how many made it?” asked Kitty, now no longer laying on her arms.

“Not many,” sighed Scott, “My dad never gave me an exact number. Whatever the body count, there were survivors and it was his job to get them out. So he kept the chopper steady while about three dozen marines dragged as many POWs they could into the choppers. There were a lot of bullets and mortars going off, but every marine stayed focused and moved forward. They hung together as a unit.”

“So what’s the moral of the story? That we should all be like them marines?” said Remy, still shuffling cards.

“I never said I was finished,” Scott went on, “The part of the story that always stood out was near the end when the chopper was almost full. My dad was one of the last transports to leave. As soon as they were at full capacity, they started to lift off. Then a mortar went off nearby and one of the marines fell out. What happened next is the key to understanding the mind of a soldier.”

To emphasize his point, he started the holographic projector again. This time he narrowed the focus on Magneto’s forces and the military forces. He started playing out simulated movements on the battlefield, which helped highlight the difference between the two sides.

“We’ve all fought the Brotherhood before. They may call themselves a team, but you know how they operate. They fight as a bunch of individuals. If one of them goes down, chances are they may help. But can you honestly see someone like Pyro running into the line of fire to save someone like Avalanche or Toad?”

“A fella that unstable, Ah ain’t sure he would be wise enough to do it anyhow.”

“But a soldier would without hesitation,” said the X-leader, “That’s what those marines did on my dad’s helicopter. Three of them jumped right out of the helicopter like madmen and tried to save their fellow soldier. One of them was hit in the head with a stray bullet and died instantly. The other tried to save them both, but he was blown to bits by another mortar. Others wanted to go after their fellow soldiers, but my dad’s commanding officer ordered him to take off. He did as he was told and they were able to lift off before more lives were lost. One of the marines actually pointed a gun at my father’s head and ordered him to turn back. But he did as he was ordered. He knew the damage was done. The marines knew that too, but that didn’t matter.”

There was a brief silence from the others as Scott gave them a moment to process this story. It was just one of the many stories his father told him growing up and it always gave him plenty to think about as leader of the X-men. Kitty, Rogue, and Remy seemed to be thinking about it as well. With the simulation still going on the holograph projector, he changed the focus again so that it was solely on the military forces.

“My father told me that story to demonstrate the mindset of a soldier. These blips you see on this screen aren’t madmen or misguided followers. They’re not fearful of outsiders and they’re not fanatics like the Friends of Humanity. A lot of them are as young as we are, but they’re not children. They’re soldiers. They do whatever it takes to accomplish the mission.”

“So…what does that mean for us?” asked Kitty, “My Uncle was a commando. I know all about how tough soldiers can be.”

“It’s not just the toughness, Kitty. It’s who they are and what motivates them,” Scott went on, “Chances are, most of these soldiers have no stake in the human/mutant conflict. Some of them may not even care about mutants. Some may even be closeted mutants like John Proudstar, but after what happened with him a few years back I doubt there are any left.”

“Why? What happened?” wondered Rogue.

“That’s a long story for another day. The point I want to emphasize here is the same point my father did. These soldiers may have different motivations. Some of them may do this out of genuine patriotism. Some do it out of duty. Some do it as a career. Some do it just because they’re those rare kinds that are born to be soldiers.”

“If those folk be anything like born thieves, then Remy hopes we don’t be having to deal with too many of those,” commented Remy.

“But we’ll have to prepare like we will because no matter what their reasons, they’re still soldiers at heart. Those men who sacrificed themselves that day should give you a clear picture of what we’re dealing with. They’re not like Magneto, the Brotherhood, or some anti-mutant extremists. They’ll sacrifice when others won’t and they’ll go beyond limits even the Brotherhood won’t touch. These are people who are not only determined to do a mission, but to do it together.”

Scott gave them another moment to digest that as he stopped the animation on the holographic projector. The scene that played out was the same scene that he used during the first few times he lectured, only this time he focused on the military forces. He made sure to highlight the coordinated movements, the relentless push, and the cohesive nature of a real band of soldiers. It helped paint a new picture for the X-men’s approach in dealing with the military.

“Now with all this in mind, are you guys ready to go over our military strategy again?” asked Scott.

Remy, Rogue, and Kitty shifted in their seats. Rogue and Kitty sat up and Remy put away his cards. Scott wasn’t as keen a motivator as Xavier or Beast, but he did know how to get a point across. His story put the simulation in a new light for and suddenly this lecture didn’t seem so inane.

“Fine, I’ll try to stop nodding off,” sighed Kitty, showing a renewed interest.

“Dang, who knew Cyke could be so convincing?” muttered Remy.

“How do you think Ah feel? Ah dated the guy. You wouldn’t believe some of the things he convinced meh to do,” said Rogue with a wry grin.

“I’d rather not,” muttered Kitty.

“Speak for yourself,” snickered Remy.

“I hope that means I have your attention now,” asked Scott, grinning somewhat at Rogue and Remy’s reaction.

“You got us hook, line, and sinker, sugah. Fire away,” assured Rogue.

“Good, then we’ll start from the beginning once more.”

With the renewed interest in the subject, Scott restarted the holographic computer so that it was showing a full three-dimensional map of Genosha. He began loading the program, preparing the simulation for another run.

“This time, I want you guys to chime in on some strategies,” said the X-leader as the program loaded, “If we’re going to be dealing with soldiers, we need have as many options on the table as possible. That way when we have to face them we’ll be…”

Then Scott was abruptly cut off by some unexpected activity on the War Room computer. The training program stopped loading and a series of red lights started flashing all over the console. A series of ominous warning messages came up on the holographic screen and the map of Genosha was enlarged so that it encompassed the entire table.

“Um…is this a new part of the lecture?” asked Kitty.

“I wish. Looks like lecture time is over, guys. The War Room mainframe is picking up on some unusual activity on Genosha,” dreaded Scott.

“Please tell me that’s just another trick to get our attention,” groaned Rogue.

“The monitoring programs the Professor installed don’t play tricks!” said Scott with a new urgency as he started working the console, “The War Room mainframe is connected directly with Cerebrum. The Professor always has the systems monitoring certain hotspots and Genosha definitely qualifies!”

“On an island full of mutants run by Magneto, it only be a matter of time,” made Remy, “Any idea how bad this be?

“I’m not sure. I’m getting some mixed messages here. Something is definitely up and I don’t think it’s coming from Magneto this time!”

The X-leader began working feverishly on the console while Remy, Rogue, and Kitty gathered around the holographic map. More red warning signs flashed around the island and several blaring error messages came up. Whatever the system was detecting it must have been pretty exotic. Through these strange warning signs, the computer picked up on something that materialized on another portion the holographic screen. When Rogue, Remy, and Kitty saw it they were just as perplexed as the computer seemed to be.

“Ooh boy, looks like something be up in more ways than one,” said Remy.

“Why? What is it?” asked Scott as he looked up from the console.

“See for yourself, sugah,” said Rogue, “Unless somebody is testing some new brand of fireworks, Ah would say Magneto and the Brotherhood be in for quite a show.”

Scott stepped away from the console to get a better look. He quickly surmised what Rogue and the others were looking at. On the holographic screen, a blurry image was descending over the Genosha landscape. It looked like a meteor, but not of the natural kind. It was so unusual the image was a just blur of data-bits. He figured it was the computer trying to make sense of the data it was getting from Cerebrum. Even with the War Room’s advanced hardware, this proved difficult. The most disturbing part, however, was the direction this anomaly was headed. It was on a collision course with Magneto’s citadel.

“Call the Professor!” said the X-leader in an urgent tone, “Get him and everyone else down here! It looks like Magneto is about to get a very unwelcome visitor!”

Suborbital Space Over Genosha

‘So this is what being an astronaut feels like. I gotta say, this shit is way overrated. Space is just a whole lot of nothing. Kind of reminds me of my younger self. Bet my younger self never imagined I would find myself in this position.’

At some point in their lives nearly every kid dreams of being an astronaut. They get so enamored with the idea of flying into space and looking down at the Earth below they forget that they’re watching it from the most unforgiving environment imaginable. In space, there are so many different forces that can kill. There is everything from punishing heat, blistering cold, deadly cosmic radiation, and various space debris that fly so fast it’s like being shot at by a high powered rifle. Even sub-orbital space, an area about 100 kilometers above sea level, is a deadly place. Only the bravest, best trained souls dare to venture into this unforgiving environment. Some, however, ended up in this environment for reasons that had little to do with bravery.

Soaring through the vast reaches of suborbital space at one kilometer per second was a single unmarked black pod. It was about the size of a telephone booth, bore no national emblems, and didn’t have the appearance of a typical spy satellite or research probe. It was a vessel of a very different kind with a very special cargo inside. That cargo was the key to the events that were about to unfold.

“Captain, this is Grimshaw. Do you read?”

The faint radio signal echoed from within the pod. Inside, a lone figure wearing an exotic black body suit stood silently. As if waking from a deep sleep, his head rose and he answered the call.

“Yeah…I read, General.”

“How are you feeling?”

“About as well as anybody who’s been stuck in an over-sized sardine can for the last six hours. Good thing the doctors gave me that pill to knock me out for a while. I would have run out of ways to amuse myself by now.”

“You’re a Green Beret, Captain. You’ve been in far worse.”

“That’s for sure. The really sad part is this is still better than my last mission in Afghanistan.”

“Wait until you see Genosha. It may give you a whole new appreciation for the death traps you used to deal with.”

“You trying to scare me, General? Because you’re doing a lousy job,” scoffed the figure.

“Well I know how much you love a challenge so I thought I’d set the stage. This promises to be unlike anything either of us has ever been a part of. The pod you’re in has been made by the lowest bidder with no traceable parts. You were launched via private submarine in a private rocket  from the middle of the pacific ocean. And we’re currently talking through a signal God himself would have a hard time decrypting. As far as anyone is concerned, you’re a ghost. We need you to be in order to carry out the mission before you. This is a high risk, high reward game and you’re the only one I trust to pull this off, Captain Freeman.”

“You know me, General. Suicide missions…zero support…my kind of challenge!”

The rugged voice of the figure embodied that of a battle hardened soldier. Clenching his fists, the figure reached up to lift the visor on his black helmet. The special suit he was in was made specifically for this mission. It consisted of special materials that hugged his tall, imposing frame perfectly. Around this suite was a pattern of shell-like armor that highlighted his muscular physique. Like the pod he was in, he bore no identifying marks. There was no hint of affiliation or nationality. By all indication, he was completely alone.

Now able to see, he reached up and opened the narrow window in the pod to reveal a breathtaking view of the Earth. With the sun just setting in the distance it was quite a sight to behold. Few people outside of NASA had a chance to see something like this and for him, it was a stark reminder of just how far he had come. But the imposing soldier had little time to take in the sights.

“We’re almost out of airtime so I’ll keep this brief. In just under two minutes you’ll be over the target area. The bottom of your pod will drop out and you’ll fall back to Earth. Once you’re at 20,000 feet your special suit will deploy wing flaps so you can guide yourself in. You’re to land as close to Magneto’s citadel as possible.”

“Right into the lap of the most dangerous mutant on the planet? I bet the boys back home are loving this,” said the Captain dryly, “How big has that betting pool of theirs grown?”

“For the sake of perspective, I’d rather not say.”

“Thrown in a few hundred bucks for me. I’m in need of a new Iphone.”

“You always were one to play the odds. But I would strongly advise against doing so if you end up crossing paths with Magneto?”

“What do I do if he crosses mine? Try and knock some sense into him?

“Even you’re not that resilient, Captain. Your mission is simple. Break in and steal Magneto’s helmet. Don’t worry about collateral damage, but try to avoid his three kids. You watch the news so you should know what they look like.”

“Quicksilver, Polaris, and the Scarlet Witch. The apple of their daddy’s eye, no doubt.”

“They’ll be your biggest obstacle. But I trust you’ll find a way to get around them.”

“I always do, General,” her grinned, “So what do I do after I have the helmet. I’m guessing I can’t exactly count on a rescue.”

“That’s where you’ll have to improvise. We can’t have you being picked up by the naval blockade so you’ll have to rig one of those transport orbs to escape. Our tech boys already provided you with an override. Be careful with it because you’ll only be able to use it once.”

“No need to remind me. I’ve never been all that tech savvy,” replied the imposing figure, “Anything else I need to know?”

“Yes…be careful. Remember, you’re not a Green Beret for this mission. You’re a no-name mutant looking for a cheap thrill on Genosha. If you get captured we’ll have an international incident of biblical proportions on our hands. I’ve got the President himself sitting next to me and you’ll be making his life a lot harder if you fail.”

“You always did run with a rough crowd, General. Tell the president he has nothing to worry about. Just sit back and enjoy the show.”

“I’ll relay that message. As always, you have my utmost confidence. When we get back, we’ll be making some bold moves and I want you by my side. So you better get back alive, Captain Freeman.”

“I’ll be okay, General. And please, for the duration of this mission…call me Renegade.”

“Very well…Renegade. Godspeed.”

With those final words of encouragement from General Grimshaw, the radio link cut out and the figure now calling himself Renegade prepared for the mission before him. He had less than a minute to go. He did a quick check of all his supplies. His oxygen mask was working, his suit was secure, and he had his knife and tools in a specially protected pouch along his waist. This lone soldier was about to literally dive head first into the human/mutant conflict. His success or failure could determine the course of global affairs for decades to come.

Captain Jack Freeman took a deep breath as the seconds ticked by. He took one last look at the picturesque view of the Earth before closing his eyes and entering his soldier mindset. Time seemed to slow as the moment of truth arrived. As of this very moment, Jack Freeman no longer existed. For the rest of this mission, there was only Renegade.

‘Pod deployment in 5…4…3…2…1.’

A powerful jolt rocked the pod as the floor of the structure was literally blown apart. As soon as the area beneath him was gone, Renegade fell out through the flames and debris. Within seconds he was plunging towards the ground below like a meteor from space. He was already moving at speeds that would have crushed the flesh of a normal human. But to him it barely stung. This was because he wasn’t a normal human. He wasn’t a normal soldier either. He was something that shouldn’t exist, yet here he was ready to enter the human/mutant conflict after avoiding it for so long.

As he descended towards his target, Renegade shut out the politics, biology, and personal misgivings of the conflict. Now there was only a mission. He was falling so fast right now that the armor pads on his suit were burning red hot. Faster and faster, he neared soared to his destination. Through the special visor on his helmet he could already see his target. The island nation of Genosha awaited him as did its dangerous ruler, Magneto.

‘If only my younger self could see me now. He would probably think I’ve completely lost it. But if the thought of mixing it up with Magneto and an entire island of angry mutants seemed even remotely reasonable, you never had it to begin with. That’s the price you pay for being a Green Beret. De oppresso liber, motherfucker!’

White House – Underground War Room

As soon as General Grimshaw cut the communication link with Captain Freeman, he took a seat next to President Kelly. The two men at the end of a table in the lowermost levels of the White House. This secure area was built during the Cold War and was later modified to be a super secret bunker capable of withstanding a nuclear blast. It was the perfect place to have a meeting of this sort.

In the center of the table were a series of monitors and holographic projectors, all of which were linked to the various spy and satellite networks. They were all focused on Gneosha, specifically on Magneto’s citadel. It was never easy getting a clear view of this area, but for this brazen mission they had pulled out all the stops. Whatever was about to go down, it was going to be seen by the President.

Very few people were present. Most of President Kelly’s advisers weren’t allowed in this secure area. Only his defense secretary, the Secret Service, and the Joint Chiefs were allowed to join them, but they all had to sit at the other end of the table. The only one who would be taking an active part in this meeting was General Grimshaw. It drew the president’s suspicions, but he was none-the-less intrigued.

“Explain it to me again, General. What exactly is the purpose of this stunt and why does it have questionable legality written all over it?” he asked as he watched the monitors intently.

“I assure you, sir. This is not a stunt and legality is not a factor,” said the General strongly, “I planned this operation on my own, off the clock, and without any government resources. It’s bold and it’s risky, but only to me.”

“Is that suppose to reassure me or make me question your competence?” questioned President Kelly.

“I’m not going to hide my agenda from you, sir. I’ve never hidden my agenda from my superiors going all the way back to my days at West Point. I believe strongly in developing partnerships based on trust.”

“An admirable quality, but it doesn’t answer any my question.”

“Allow me to explain it by reminding you of my track record. For the last few administrations I’ve been the silent bulldog of the military. The commanders, colonels, and talking heads who give press conferences may get the glory. But I’m the one who gets things done. I’ve been organizing military campaigns since I was a Major with a full head of hair. Iraq, Afghanistan, Panama, Kosovo, Nicaragua, Africa…I’ve been involved in every one of them. The way I operate is I go to where I feel the most dangerous threat is emerging. After Magneto’s uprising on Genosha, I determined that mutants were the next threat.”

“We’re on the same page so far. So why didn’t you speak up sooner?” asked President Kelly.

“Logistical reasons,” the General answered, “The last administration didn’t know the first thing about this issue. Nobody took the time to do their homework. I tried to put a plan together, but then the asteroid incident happened and the president’s credibility tanked. You know what happened after that.”

“We all do, General. We also know a lot of formerly decent military people took advantage of it. I’m hoping you weren’t one of them.”

“I wasn’t. I was the only one off doing his homework,” the General retorted, “With the commander-in-chief’s authority shot, everybody was trying to fight the war as they saw it. Those ill-fated raids on Genosha were a microcosm of everything that went wrong. I suppose in that respect I should commend you for purging the old ranks and re-establishing some order around here.”

“If you’re trying to flatter me you should know that won’t earn you any additional trust.”

“I wasn’t finished. While I do commend you for getting the Pentagon back in order, you went at it with a hacksaw when you should have been using a scalpel. You didn’t just get rid of the bad seeds. You torched the whole garden.”

“You been watching Fox News, haven’t you?” said the President dryly.

“Only as much as I have to. Even the Murdoch family can see the problems you’ve created for yourself. You don’t have the support and respect of your military leaders. I doubt you could get a single officer to buy into your plan right now.”

President Kelly held back a disgruntled scorn. This man knew how to be painfully blunt. He didn’t just point out his strengths and his weaknesses. He summed up his biggest challenges in a plain and simple assessment. Despite the unpleasant truth, he continued to listen.

“Thank you for the painful reminder, General. Now are you going to offer a solution or continue grandstanding??”

“That, Mr. President, is part of what this little demonstration is about. I strongly believe I can fill the void left by your little purge. I can take this weakness in your administration and turn it into a strength.”

“That’s very astute of you, but somehow I highly doubt you’re not doing it out of the kindness of your heart.”

“I’m a military man, sir. I’ve always been more fond of mutual benefit. The way I see it, you can get more done with me at the helm and I can get more done if I have your support. I’m the only one in the whole Department of Defense who has respect from every branch and I’m the only one who you can get through Congress without it turning into a circus on C-SPAN. I can get you the full backing of America’s military. In return, I want your trust. This operation, which I can tell you right now is completely off the books and complete under the radar, is my way of earning that trust.”

“And what exactly do you intend to do with that trust? What is your agenda here, General Grimshaw?”

“Same as it’s always been, Mr. President…doing my job,” replied the General.

President Kelly cast the General a skeptical gaze. He wasn’t sure what to make of this man. He seemed like just another ambitious officer looking to make a name for himself. But there was something about him he couldn’t quite ascertain. He knew of this man’s track record to some extent, but he knew nothing of his agenda. Between the reaction he got from his staff and the audacity of this little mission, he seemed like a man worth getting to know. If it had the potential to strike at Magneto and bring him down a peg, that would be a nice bonus.

On the monitors, the show was about to begin. The systems tracking Captain Freeman’s descent showed him coming up on Genosha. He was falling like a meteor out of the sky, descending rapidly towards the mutant nation. The rest of his staff seemed nervous, but General Grimshaw showed an uncanny poise.

“We’re about to begin, sir,” said the General as he enlarged the image on the monitor, “My specially selected operative is getting ready to make his move.”

“Yes, about this operative of yours…who exactly is he?” asked President Kelly as he remained fixated on the beacon, “I can’t say I’ve heard much about this Captain Jack Freeman.”

“You will, Mr. President. Trust me, you’ll be getting to know him and the rather unusual circumstances surrounding his career as a Green Beret. Just watch the little incident that’s about to unfold. Once all is said and done, I hope you’ll be able to make an informed decision…one that will go a long ways towards fighting the conflict we both know is coming.”

Next Issue: Crowns of Tyrants

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