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Volume 4 -- Issue 76 -- Crowns of Tyrants

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Crowns of Tyrants
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Born with extraordinary abilities, mutants are evolving apart from humanity. Professor Charles Xavier and his X-men seek to foster peace between humans and mutants. Others, however, seek a much more militant cause. They are willing to provoke all out war to attain their rightful place in the future.

Since becoming ruler of Genosha, Magneto has worked tirelessly to ensure that the future belongs to mutants. In a short time he has turned a once desolate island into a futuristic wonderland where mutants can live freely. While the island is being constantly monitored by an international naval blockade, Magneto’s motives remain mysterious. Recently, he demonstrated a mysterious new machine that he used to turn President Kelly’s son into a mutant. Since this incident Magneto has maintained his secrecy, but there is little doubt he is planning something.

While the X-men continue to deal with Magneto, President Kelly has made a move as well. While cleaning up the mess from the previous administration, he was approached by General Nathan Grimshaw. In a daring act to gain the President's trust, he staged a daring raid on Magneto’s citadel. Employing the skills of a soldier codenamed Renegade, he is tasked with stealing Magneto’s helmet. It is a bold and risky move and one that has roots in a conflict with roots that run very deep.

Pentagon – One Week Ago

In the bowls of the Pentagon, there were some were places some workers couldn’t go while others were places nobody wanted to. The office of Colonel Kyle Yost was one of those places most people, civilian and military alike, sought to avoid at all costs. Yet this is where Captain Jack Freeman found himself. Locked in his office for an impromptu meeting, the 28-year-old Green Beret stood respectfully despite knowing he wasn’t welcome.

“Okay Captain, let’s make this quick and painless. You don’t like being in my office and I’ve never been fond of your company either. In fact, I'm never been comfortable being in the same building as you, let alone an office.” said Colonel Yost, who was sitting behind his desk randomly going through paperwork.

"Your honesty is much appreciated, sir," said Captain Freeman, unable to keep sarcasm from creeping in.

“However, I am a reasonable man," the Colonel went on, "I respect those willing to humble themselves in wake of their many transgressions. So just give me your formal apology and we can put this behind us.”

Captain Freeman was taken aback. This was definitely not the meeting he anticipated.

“Excuse me, sir? Did you just ask me to apologize to you?” he said sternly.

“Yes, that is why you’re here, isn’t it?” said the Colonel, looking up from his paperwork.

“I know you don’t have a sense of humor, sir. So I’m not even going to ask if that’s a joke. The only reason I’m here because I was told it was you who was going to apologize to me!”

“Me apologize to you? After you’ve told me on several occasions to go fuck myself?” said the officer, now setting aside his work, “Clearly, there’s been a misunderstanding.”

“Maybe for you, but I understand completely,” said Captain Freeman bitterly, “I can’t believe I actually believed you were going to apologize! After the way you and your cronies have treated me, I would have been less surprised if they asked me here so you could hang me!”

“Don’t tempt me, Captain!” said Colonel Yost sternly, “If you’re going to start venting, why don’t you just get the hell out of my office?”

“So you can do what? Plan your next little scheme to get rid of me?”

Now Colonel Yost was getting really annoyed. Rising up from his desk, his gaze narrowed on the defiant soldier as it had many times before.

“That’s enough, Freeman! You are a soldier! I am your superior! This isn’t a Haight-Ashbury hippie commune! Here, you do as you’re told!”

“No need to lecture me, Colonel. I know the drill,” retorted the embittered soldier, “You act as though I’m some kind of renegade. You and the rest of the top brass think I’m a liability because no squad will work with me.”

“You are a liability, Freeman! Do you want me to list the antics you’ve pulled in the six years you’ve been with us? That says nothing about what you were before you enlisted!”

“Save your breath, Colonel. I know my rap sheet and it pisses me off as much as you, believe me! But the only reason I’m a liability is because people like you keep throwing me into the worst war zones you can think of. I don’t know if you’ve got some secret file somewhere with all the missions no one else will take, but I’m pretty sure I’ve done all of them. Pakistan, the Congo, Columbia, Siberia…the only death trap you haven’t sent me is Hell itself!”

“Spare me your conspiracy theories! You know why we send you on these missions!”

“I’m beginning to wonder about that, sir. Do you send me on these suicide runs because you think I’m a good soldier? Or do you send me because I’m the only mutant the military hasn’t kicked out?”

Colonel Yost tensed as he shot the Green Beret another angry scowl. Yet he did not answer. He already knew the truth that had plagued the young soldier since the day he first joined. Despite various treaties and laws, he was the last remaining mutant in the United States military.

It certainly wasn’t Jack’s intention to be known as a mutant soldier. When he first joined there were already a number of scandals involving mutants that circumvented the law. The growing public opposition against mutants led to an executive order that purged mutants from the armed services. A year later, a new international treaty was signed that purged any remaining mutants from nearly every government military. The only reason Jack was still on board was because he had special leverage. It also helped that he was very good at what he did and despite officers like Colonel Yost, he did it for all the right reasons.

“Let’s not do this, Captain. We know where this conversation is going,” said the Colonel, now leaning towards the soldier in a threatening manner, “If you’re going to get angry over policies I have no control over, it’s just going to end with you telling me to go fuck myself again.”

“With all due respect, sir, don’t bullshit me! We all know just how much control you have. Or used to have. Must be pretty emasculating.”

“But mutant or no mutant, your brazen attitude should have earned you a discharge years ago! I’m beginning to wonder why I haven’t brought you up on charges already!”

“Maybe it’s because I know you’ve been cheating on your wife with Admiral Christopher’s sister?”

“What?! I…”

The veins on Colonel Yost’s his neck were practically bulging with anger and mortification. His inability to answer affirmed what the young soldier stated. By now Captain Freeman had long since lost his respectful stance. He had enough of this meeting. If the Colonel wasn’t going to stop being an ass, then he had no reason to be here.

“Don’t look so shocked, Colonel. My IQ may be low, but I’m smart enough to remember the facts that count.”

“You…you think you can keep blackmailing me with that?!” the Colonel exclaimed.

“It’s not blackmail, Colonel. It’s context,” said Captain Freeman, now staring his superior down, “For the past six years, I’ve fought and bled for my country. I’m the best Green Beret you guys have ever had. No other soldier has mutant powers that make them durable and able to adapt to damn near every condition under the sun. Yet no squad will touch me. No officer respects me. I’m a freak that you people throw into the worst war zone you can find and hope I don’t come back. But I always do and I’m always willing to do it again. Do you think that’s because I’m a glutton for punishment? Or is it possible that maybe I’m just a natural born, fully dedicated, hard-ass soldier!”

The Colonel continued to stare down his subordinate with a mix of bitterness and scorn. Whatever this degenerate called it, that didn’t change the truth in his mind.

“You’ll never be a soldier, Freeman. You are and always will be just a punk…a punk who happens to be a mutant!”

“Says a man who has always had the luxury of having others do the killing for him,” quipped Jack, “If that’s all you bring to the table, then I think this meeting is done.”

“For once and only once, we agree.”

Captain Freeman cast the officer another harsh scorn. They started each other down for another five seconds before the rugged Green Beret finally turned away and stormed towards the door. But for a man like Colonel Yost, a traditional exit wasn’t fitting.

“One more thing, Colonel,” said Jack as he stood by the door, “Go fuck yourself!”

Then to spite him even more, Captain Freeman didn’t just open the door and storm out. He actually walked right through it, using his durability to create a body-shaped hole in the front wall of the Colonel’s office. Needless to say, this enraged the Colonel even more.

“DAMN IT, FREEMAN!” he yelled.

The embittered soldier ignored the Colonel’s angry yell. It wasn’t the first time he had walked through someone’s office door. It probably wouldn’t be the last either. If he was smart, he wouldn’t call Pentagon security and make a scene. But for men like him, the smart choice was rarely the most likely.

Now in a foul mood, Captain Freemen stormed down the halls of the Pentagon in search of a distraction. A soldier who had been in as many fights as him shouldn’t have to put up with this shit. He had been in the military for six years. In that time he had been taunted, hazed, and degraded more times than he could count. Most people would have quit by now, but he wasn’t most people and no pig-headed officer was going to dissuade him from his duty.

As he stormed past the far corner of the officer’s hall, he came across a familiar face. General Nathan Grimshaw was casually leaning against the wall near the drinking fountain. He bore his usual stoic expression. His poise indicated that he observed the spectacle that just unfolded.

“You always have to make a big exit, don’t you?” said the General.

“Sorry sir, but with all due respect the Colonel was asking for it,” said Captain Freeman in a more respectful tone, “He can probably get that door replaced by the end of the day with the strings he can pull.”

“Even so, most soldiers don’t usually get away with telling their superior officers to go fuck themselves.”

“Guess it’s a good thing you outrank him. Somebody around here needs a level head.”

“Indeed…although it would help to have more, especially from our best soldiers.”

Captain Freeman shifted somewhat. General Grimshaw was probably the only person he respected enough to humble himself around. He was the only officer that shared the same dedication and loyalty. He was most responsible for him being the only mutant who wasn’t kicked out of the military. He was also most responsible for turning him from a no-name street punk to the soldier he was now.

The General didn’t hide his disdain for Captain Freeman’s brazen actions, but he showed some understanding. He offered him a respectful gesture, one that officers only reserved for the soldiers that had earned their respect.

“Look son, most everybody will agree that Colonel Yost is a pain in the ass,” he told him, “But these are the people we have to deal with. Like it or not, we’re at the mercy of our circumstances.”

“Some circumstances,” scoffed the captain, “I’m a Green Beret turned glorified errand boy. Every officer here seems intent on sending me on the worst possible missions under the worst possible conditions. I’m beginning to think they’re just trying to get rid of me so their precious organization can be pure again.”

“And yet you never refuse them,” the General pointed out, “You give them a hell of an attitude, but you get the job done. For six years, you’ve done your job and under most circumstances you would be a Colonel by now.”

“You know me, General. I’m a fighter not a desk jockey.”

“Agreed,” the older man affirmed, “Which is exactly why we need a shift in our so-called circumstances.”

“Please tell me it involves tarring and feathering Colonel Yost in a public square.”

“Not quite, but hopefully just as satisfying,” said General Grimshaw with a half grin.

With a subtle gesture, General Grimshaw led Captain Freeman further down the hall so they could talk in private. They didn’t need anybody overhearing what he was about to propose.

“You’re not the only one who’s withering in obscurity,” the General explained, “Since the Genosha uprising, everybody in the Defense Department has been shoveling their dirty work onto my desk. I’ve been stuck managing all those little wars in Iraq, Afghanistan, Africa, and Central America that everybody seems to have forgotten about.”

“No wonder you haven’t had any free time to catch up,” commented Jack, “Your wife must hate it.”

“Let’s just say I prefer the terrorist’s wrath more than hers sometimes. Thankfully, President Kelly helped lighten the load by wrestling back a little authority. This means I have a chance to pursue much more ambitious projects. There is one in particular I’ve been sitting on since Magneto’s stunt with the asteroid and without getting into detail, I want you to be a part of it.”

“Sounds bold,” said the Green Beret, “But you know how I feel about getting caught up in the mutant issue, sir. I want to be a soldier. Not a mutant soldier.”

“I understand that, but in a world of many ongoing wars it’s best to fight the battles you’re equipped to handle. I know you don’t advertise your mutant status, but if you’re a part of this you’ll become much more than one of the military’s many dirty secrets. You said it yourself, Jack. You’re a fighter. This conflict needs fighters and I don’t trust anybody else to pull it off.”

Captain Freeman briefly contemplated the General’s proposition. General Grimshaw had always placed a great deal of trust in him. Sometimes it wasn’t deserved. In some sense Colonel Yost was right. He was still a punk at heart, a no-name loser from San Francisco whose only claim to fame was selling more weed than the competition. He was still trying to escape the ghosts of his former life and until he joined the military, he was never part of something bigger. Perhaps this was his chance to finally be the soldier he wanted to be.

“So…do I have your support, Captain Freeman?” asked the General.

Jack still hesitated, but not for long. His poise shifted and he offered his commanding officer a respectful salute.

“You know me, General. I never pass up a mission promising gruesome death,” he said with the confidence inductive of an experienced soldier, “So what are my orders? I’m guessing there’s an explosive element to this plan of yours.”

“You could say that,” said General Grimshaw with an ominous grin, “But I assure you, it’s nothing you can’t handle.”

Magneto’s Citadel – Outside Courtyard

Captain Jack Freeman, now going by Renegade, landed with a hard thud in a clearing just outside the walls of Magneto’s citadel. It was late at night. There was a light drizzle in the air and no stars or moon to illuminate his surroundings. He couldn’t have asked for a more perfect time to carry out his mission.

‘Haven’t been impaled by metal yet. Guess that means Magneto is catching up on his psycho-tyrant beauty rest.’

Moving quickly, Renegade sealed the air flap back into a compartment on his suit. So far everything was working like a charm. The suit survived the long descent from sub-orbital space. The custom fitted carbon fiber plates that hugged his fame were still a little iced up from the extreme temperatures. It made moving a bit of a chore, but he quickly adapted like always and rushed to find the necessary cover.

He was in what appeared to be a garden of sorts. It seemed odd that someone like Magneto would be into flowers and rose bushes, but he figured every madman needs a hobby. With his back to a line of bushes, he kept low and carefully made his way towards the citadel. He kept his eyes out for any motion sensors. Knowing Magneto, he probably had some exotic forms of security. He wasn’t given a full rundown of what he would be up against so he was going to have to improvise. This was where having the mutant ability to adapt really came in handy.

It didn’t take long for him to encounter her first obstacle. While carefully making his way through the bushes, he saw two figures step out onto the patio through a heavy metal door. Renegade recognized them from his briefing. They were John Allerdyce, aka Pryo, and Lance Alvers, aka Avalanche. They were in their Brotherhood uniforms so it was reasonable to assume they were on patrol.

“You’re so full of it, John! That Mercury chick is not into you!” scoffed Avalanche.

“Aw you’re just saying that because she called your guitar skills a new source for brain damage!” laughed Pyro.

“That girl is made of liquid metal! I doubt she has functioning ears! Let alone any interest in a twisted guy like you!”

“Don’t underestimate the value of an unstable mind, mate,” grinned Pyro, “Some chicks dig fellas with a few screws loose.”

“You’ve got more than a few, John. More like an entire tool shed worth. I’m amazed you have the capacity to dress yourself in the morning.”

“Now I know you’re jealous,” laughed Pyro, “The more you insult me, the more you prove my point! You envy my skills with the sheilas! That or you’re still hung up on the lovely and more-famous-than-you’ll-ever-be Dazzler.”

“Mention her name again and I bury your ass in the Earth’s core!” said Avalanche menacingly.

“Still a touchy issue, eh? You need a more efficient approach to dealing with the shielas, mate. The best way to get over an old flame is to ignite another!”

“It’s bad enough you grossly overestimate your womanizing skills and your fire puns. I think all the times Wanda has hexed you is proof enough of that. But so long as I’m stuck on watch duty with you, we better make it bearable. That booze you smuggled in better be worth it!”

“No worries there, mate! I’m a man of me word!” grinned Pyro as he pulled a bottle of liquor out from his pocket, “Don’t know why Magneto is so uptight about the no booze policy. You figure a fella like him would need a drink or two!”

“Just shut up and open the damn bottle. If I’m going to be on a shift with you, I’m going to need to be shit faced.”

Pyro shrugged as he eagerly undid the cap and took the first sip. Avalanche grabbed the bottle right from him and started drinking too. While they were busy exercising their livers, they did not notice Renegade sneaking up from the bushes. He stayed undetected, but he would have to get past these two if he was going to get through. Looking around, he quickly formulated a plan.

‘No time to wait for them to get wasted. A subtle distraction works much better.’

Backing off a bit, Renegade grinned as he slipped back into the garden. To get these guys’ attention, he needed something overt. He found it in one of the many statues lining the garden. Slipping behind it, he waited until the two men were busy taking another drink. Then he adapted his body to gain extra muscle and with the added strength, he pushed it over so that it fell to the ground. The resulting shatter and the commotion that followed definitely got Pyro and Avalanche’s attention.

“Whoa! The hell?” said Pryo, nearly dropping his bottle, “That supposed to happen when you get drunk, mate?”

“It wasn’t me!” said Avalanche, now on full alert, “Either the wind just got really strong and we didn’t notice or we have a prankster on our hands!”

“Who would be stupid enough to punk Magneto?” scoffed Pyro.

“I don’t know. Let’s find out!”

Avalanche quickly ran out into the garden to investigate. Pyro fumbled with the bottle a bit before running after him. The two men stood ready to do battle. Genosha still had it’s share of discontent as with any rebuilding nation. In addition, those commando raids a while back put everyone on edge. Magneto made it clear he wouldn’t tolerate this kind of intrusion and anyone who tested that policy was to be dealt with severely.

Avalanche reached the broken statue first. By now the rain was coming down more steadily. Looking around through the darkness, he looked for any would-be intruders. His instinct told him someone was out there.

“Whoever is out there you might as well come clean!” he called out, “Magneto doesn’t have a sense of humor! If you beg for mercy he might not horribly maim you!”

He got no response. He kept looking around cautiously. Then he heard the bushes rustle behind him. Instinctively, he turned around and prepared to unleash his powers. Again, there was nobody there. He moved in closer to investigate. But as he did, he was unaware of a shadowy figure approaching him from behind.

“Nap-time!” a rugged voice called out.

Before Avalanche could even turn around, Renegade forcefully pounded a shard of the broken statue against his head. It shattered almost immediately upon impact. While Avalanche was wearing his helmet, the force was too great. He was knocked out cold.

“Ugh!” he grunted.

“Lance!” Pyro called out, who finally caught up to the scene, “Oh you’ve gone and done it now, mate! That was me drinking buddy!”

Going on the offensive, Pyro ignited his flame throwers launched a large fireball straight towards the mysterious figure. He expected it fry him to the bone. The man didn’t even try to avoid it. He must have had a death wish or something. As soon as he disappeared in the flames, Pyro grinned with confidence. It didn’t look like anybody would be emerging from this. Then to his surprise, the figure shot out through the flame and charged towards him.

“You want to get hammered? Try this!” grunted Renegade.

“Oye…” was all the Australian got out.

Pyro’s eyes widened as he attempted to re-direct his flames towards the mysterious attacker. Whether it was the alcohol or his reflexes, he wasn’t fast enough. Renegade grabbed both his arms and heat-butted Pyro right in the face and drop kicked him with a devastating blow to the torso.

As soon as Pyro was out, Renegade gathered him and Avalanche. He carefully dragged them off to the side and hid their unconscious bodies in the bushes. He also checked their pockets, finding a couple of keys and identification gear that could potentially come in handy. He also took the bottle of hard liquor they had been sharing.

“Chopin Premium Vodka? At least Magneto’s thugs have good tastes.”

Tossing the bottle aside, Renegade moved swiftly into the citadel. Using one of the keys he got from Pyro and Avalanche, he opened the heavy metal door and entered the complex. He immediately found himself surrounded by metal, which was to be expected from Magneto. It didn’t just reflect his power-hungry persona. It also gave him the home-field advantage. Getting in and out with Magneto’s helmet in hand was going to be tricky to say the least. He would probably have to resort to certain extreme tactics that most average soldiers weren’t used to.

District X – Sage’s Quarters

Upon getting word from Cyclops that something was going on with Genosha, Hank and Sage immediately jumped on the case. They had to cut their day off short to do so. Hand had just gotten back from helping the Seftons moved in and was enjoying a peaceful afternoon listening to some new classical music. However, a crisis on Genosha took precedent.

“Oh my…this is most unusual,” said Hank as he looked at one of the displays on Sage’s computer array.

“Coming from either of us, that’s saying quite a bit,” said Sage as she feverishly typed on her main console, “According to Cerebrum, this incoming anomaly came in at a sharp trajectory, indicating it was not a product of natural forces. It was guided.”

“Judging by the signature, it is too small to be a satellite and too large to be typical space debris. Based on the angle of descent, it was in orbit for awhile before it made the shift. Hence, it would be reasonable to assumed that it was timed to make this move when it was right over Genosha.”

“That’s the same conclusion Professor Xavier reached,” said Sage, “But what it did isn’t the mystery. Where it came from is a much greater concern.”

“That, my dear, is what is most unusual,” said Hank, “I’ve been looking at the data from Cerebrum. But because this object was in orbit, I’ve found it difficult to determine it’s origin.”

“I’ve already cross referenced known launches today. None seem to fit the bill. There were a few test launches from a submarine in the Pacific, but none with military hardware.”

“Any chance you could probe deeper? Perhaps there’s something we’re missing.”

“I’ve been trying, but there’s no data trail to follow. If something did happen with those tests, somebody went to great lengths to minimize the details.”

This was disturbing news. If Sage couldn’t hack the secrets from obscurity, then nobody could. The prospect of uncovering the truth just became far less likely. Hank surmised  two ominous possibilities. Either they were dealing with some very resourceful adversaries or they were falling behind. In times this fragile, they could afford neither.

They continued working, trying desperately to uncover more. So far they were only hitting dead ends. All the while, something was clearly unfolding on Genosha. Whatever landed on the island, the effects hadn’t taken hold yet. Sage continued to chase the source of the anomaly while Hank was more drawn to Genosha itself. One of Sage’s computer screens had a real-time image of the island, specifically Magneto’s citadel. It was streamed in directly from Cerebrum. It was probably the clearest view into the heart of Genosha anyone could muster, even the military. It also gave him the first hint at what was happening.

“Damn it! I thought I found an encrypted signal, but it was already purged from every possible database! I’ll have to see if there were any backlogs that picked it up,” said Sage with growing frustration.

“You may have to set that aside, my dear. It appears we have more pressing concerns,” dreaded Hank, “Take a look at the feed from Cerebrum over Magneto’s citadel. It just picked up some unusual mutant activity.”

“What kind of activity? Is it hostile?” asked Sage as she brought the screen up.

“That appears likely. There were a total of three signatures. The first two were from Pyro and Avalanche. The third however…”

“Let me guess…another unknown?”

Hank sighed, his frustration growing as well. So many unknowns wrought havoc on a mind such as his. Not knowing caused a great deal of strain and not being able to do anything wasn’t helping either.

“I’m afraid even Cerebrum’s capacity is limited in this respect,” Hank went on, “Whatever this is, they’re making their way into the Citadel. At this point, we cannot track them.”

“Is Xavier going to send the X-men to help out?” asked Sage.

“I doubt that would do much good. Genosha is too far away and even the X-jet can’t get there that fast. By the time they arrive, this could be over with.”

“So what do we do? Just sit here and watch?”

“I’m afraid that’s all we can do. That and pray the ensuing aftermath won’t rouse another international incident. Magneto has a propensity to overreact.”

Genosha – Inside Magneto’s Citadel

Renegade had been lucky so far. This citadel was a massive, but it wasn’t the maze he thought it would be. The rooms and halls were organized in a grid-like layout, making it pretty easy to navigate. He quickly made his way through the first few corridors, avoiding a few other Acolytes like Mercury and Mellencamp in the process. He soon reached a central staircase. Like everything else, it was made of metal. It was also out in the open, acting as the core to the whole structure. At the top of the stairs there appeared to be elevators that could lead him up to Magneto’s throne room.

Renegade eventually slowed down as he approached the staircase. There was a lot of open space on the ground floor staircase, which in his experience meant there were usually additional security measures in place. A guy in a black suit would definitely stick out. To just run up into the heart of Magneto’s domain would be foolish. He stayed close to the walls and within narrow confines. He began scanning the vast metal atrium in search of his next opportunity to frustrate Magneto.

‘You’ve made it this far without causing a racket. Now you’ve got to get up those stairs, get into the elevator, and get to Magneto’s throne room. If there are any security sensors, I doubt I’ll avoid tripping them on my way up. If I’m going to make a racket, I need to make it in just the right way.’

The hardened Green Beret ran through various scenarios in his head, keeping in mind he was working on a time limit here. The General was probably watching over this operation with the President himself. He couldn’t afford to keep them waiting.

The next few minutes were tense. Then he noticed one of the metal doors on the far side of the foyer opening up. Another one of Magneto’s henchmen walked in, utterly oblivious to Renegade’s intrusion. It was Toad. Renegade didn’t even need to get a good look at him. That putrid swamp spell emanating from his skin gave him away. Getting lower to avoid detection and the stench, Renegade the amphibious mutant approach the stairs with several bags of chips in hand.

“Spicy, ruffled, and sour cream and onion…I am officially set for an off night movie marathon!” Toad proclaimed.

Toad hopped towards the base of the staircase. He stumbled a bit, trying to balance the many bags of chips in his arms. It presented Renegade with the perfect chance to get upstairs. It would mean making his presence known, but that was bound to happen sooner or later. It might as well happen under his terms.

Toad finally coordinated himself enough to get up the first few steps. Just when it seemed he was on his way, he was drop kicked from behind by Renegade and pinned to the stairs.

“Ack! Who the…” he began.

“Say another word and I rip your spine out through your foot!” said Renegade in a gruff, threatening tone, “I need access to that elevator!”

“Pal, do you have any idea who you’re…”

Renegade didn’t give Toad time to threaten him. He delivered a punishing blow to the back of the head, grabbed both his arms, and twisted them behind his back. It was a special submissive hold, one that every accomplished solider in Special Forces had to master. It was enough to make this little punk scream out in pain.

“OW OW AHHHHHHHHHH!” he yelled, “Okay! Okay! Spare my spine and my foot!”

“So you’ll get me in that elevator?”

“Sure…I can get it moving!” said Toad, his voice still shaking from the pain, “But I’m warning you…”

“Save it for someone that’s afraid of death,” said Renegade, “Now get up and get a move on!”

“Ugh…so much for my off night,” the amphibious mutant groaned.

His arms were still killing him as Renegade pulled him back to his feet and pushed him up the stairs. He kept Toad’s arms restrained around his back every step of the way. As they made their way up, Renegade noticed some sensors in the wall. They didn’t set off an alarm or anything, but it guaranteed that every bit of security in Magneto’s arsenal would know they had an intruder on their hands. With this in mind, Renegade rushed Toad up the stairs and literally slammed him into the elevator.

“Open it!” he demanded.

“Ow! Enough with the hitting already!” complained Toad as he rubbed his sore arms.

“I’m in a hurry! That means you are too!”

Toad groaned and did as the stranger asked, knowing that Magneto would probably chew him out for it later. He activated the door using a special magnetic key he kept in his pocket. It was a key Magneto only gave to the Brotherhood and his acolytes so that only authorized personnel could enter the citadel. It also worked the elevator, which was driven by magnetism like everything else in this complex.

As soon as the metal doors opened, Renegade shoved Toad into the circular platform. Renegade was careful to make sure there weren’t any traps inside. He kept Toad close in case some fail-safe was activated. Hopefully, this little punk had enough clearance to get him him where he needed to go.

“Get this thing moving!” ordered Renegade.

“Uh…sure,” said Toad in a nervous yet cautious tone, “Where to?”

“You know where Magneto’s throne room is?”

“Yeah, it’s on the top floor.”

“Then take me there!”

The shrouded figure gave the amphibious mutant another shove to show he was serious. Toad grunted bitterly, but did as he was told. This intruder made it very clear that he was much stronger than he was. Toad had no chance to fight back at the moment. So with the same magnetic key he used earlier, the amphibious mutant activated the elevator and set it to go towards the uppermost levels. As the platform began to move, his captor kept him pinned against the wall.

“I don’t know your game, but it’s not too late to turn back,” Toad warned, “The further you go, the more pissed Magneto’s gonna be! And trust me, you do not want to face this guy when his pissed!”

“Let me worry about that. Just shut up and keep this thing moving!” said Renegade firmly.

“Sure thing, but don’t say I didn’t warn you,” said Toad with an ominous grin.

Renegade ignored Toad’s threats. He had no doubt that he was serious. He didn’t need a reminder not to take this guy lightly. Magneto almost ended the world with his powers. There was no doubt he would have little problem ending him if he made the wrong move. It was the kind of danger a soldier trained for, but he doubted anybody ever trained for something like this.

Magneto’s Quarters

“I still say we’re wasting valuable manpower, father!” complained a typically livid Pietro Maximoff, “I’m that this research as you call it is important, but President Kelly has been turning up the heat on us!”

“While I’m not nearly as inclined to whine so much, I agree with Quicksilver,” said Alex Summers.

“Which is probably the best sign of impending doom we can ask for,” said the speedster as he shot an annoyed glare towards his teammate.

“The recent shift in the naval blockade has really unsettled everybody,” Alex went on, “All these reinforcements are prompting rumors that they’re getting ready for a preliminary strike.”

“Has Scanner or Quentin Quere uncovered any evidence to support this?” asked Magneto, not looking up from his studies.

“No, but even if it isn’t true we’re having a hell of a time keeping the peace,” said Pietro, “It sure would help if you had Senyaka, Mellencamp, and some of those other guys working the alien mines back us up.”

Magneto’s demeanor didn’t change as he sat hunched over a pile of books. This wasn’t the first time Pietro and Alex had come to him, complaining about the current status quo on Genosha. There always seemed to be something wrong that strained their limited resources. It was to be expected of a growing nation, especially with the naval blockade surrounding them. What annoyed him was that he never asked the Brotherhood to do anything unreasonable. They were just supposed to keep the peace until he could put this ambitious plan of his into effect.

Rising up from his desk, Magneto closed his books and addressed his two subordinates. They were cutting into his valuable research time. Nearly his entire room was littered with texts, making it seem more like a library than a room for sleeping. These were all of the utmost importance and the Brotherhood was hindering rather than helping their cause.

“We’ve been over this before. I have no desire to repeat myself,” said the master of magnetism in a stern tone, “I put the Brotherhood in charge because I assumed you could handle the masses while I work on my research. Was I wrong in my assumption?”

“No sir,” said Alex, trying to sound reasonable, “But you instructed us to keep the peace on Genosha. We were able to do that with the resources on hand up until President Kelly decided to go all macho on us. The man is putting pressure on us and he’s just itching to see us crack!”

“That will not happen,” said Magneto strongly, “For all our sake, it better not.”

“I don’t want it to happen either, but we’re running out of ways to convince everyone that we actually have a plan.”

“We do have a plan. That’s exactly what I’ve been pursuing since I uncovered the alien craft.”

“Then perhaps a few details would help,” suggested Pietro as he thumbed through some of his father’s books, “I know you love keeping everyone in the dark, but we’ve got a lot of paranoid mutants out there looking for a reason to cause trouble. I don’t know what books like ‘A Critical Review on the Cambrian Explosion’ have to do with…”

“Put that down! That’s a very rare text!” barked Magneto, using his powers to wrestle it out of his son’s hands.

“Fine! Jeez, does everything have to be a secret?” groaned Pietro, who barely got his hands out of the way before Magneto directed the metal in the floor to snatch the book.

“When men like Robert Kelly are keeping our collective species on the brink, I would certainly say so. And this is no exception,” said Magneto as he took the book, “Make no mistake. I’m still pursuing what I know to be best for our kind. I just need time to see it through.”

“Yeah, like I haven’t heard that before,” muttered Pietro.

This comment earned him a penetrating scold from his father that was supplemented by some metallic shaking around the floor. It was enough to make even the defiant speedster tremble.

“It is nothing to scoff at, son. What I discovered on that alien craft has the potential to make this conflict that President Kelly is obsessing over obsolete! This is the future of the mutant race and this time there will be no need for war and genocide. It requires that I research forces that fwe have bothered to pursue and even fewer understand! And I’m close to uncovering the truth!”

“How close?” asked Alex, avoiding the same scolds as Pietro.

“Close enough to warrant the utmost secrecy! The last thing I want is someone like Robert Kelly or Charles Xavier to uncover my work. That is why I cannot relay any information to you or our citizens at the moment.”

“I take it that means no to the backup?” Pietro surmised, finally backing off a bit.

“If it gets too difficult, I’ll make arrangements. But for now, I need you to continue your security efforts. All will be revealed when the time is right and not a moment sooner.”

Alex and Pietro were disappointed. It would have been nice to have something concrete to go on, but that was not Magneto’s style. They were all in this together here on Genosha. They had to trust that this plan of his was going to work, for they had precious few alternatives.

“Now then…if you’ll excuse me, I must get back to my research,” said Magneto, turning away from his subordinates.

“Guess that means more double shifts for the Brotherhood,” sighed Alex.

“Oh joy,” groaned Pietro, “I can’t wait to tell Blob and the others we’re still working under a policy of wait-and-see-what-blows-up-first.”

“Learn to adapt, my son,” said Magneto as he gathered more books, “Secrecy may be frustrating, but you’ll find that it goes a long way towards getting things done.”

“Whatever,” muttered Pietro, “I still say it’s more trouble than it’s worth.”

Magneto was about to further scold his son’s arrogance, but he was interrupted by the sound of a blaring alarm. The entire citadel was wired with an advanced security system not unlike the one Charles Xavier used to guard his institute. So when something was amiss, it alerted everyone within the vast structure.

“Care to test that theory, Pietro?” said Alex, quickly going into full-alert mode.

“This doesn’t prove anything!” retorted the speedster before turning back towards Magneto, “What is going on, dad?!”

“The system is locking down every access point on the citadel. It can only mean someone was foolish enough to make themselves an unwelcome guest!” said the master of magnetism, sounding both frustrated and enraged.

“Seriously?!” scoffed Pietro, “Who the hell would be stupid enough to attack us in our own home?”

“Someone who likely doesn’t know I have a very low tolerance for stupidity in my home,” said Magneto sternly as he used his powers to retrieve his helmet, which was on a table next to his bed.

Setting his research aside, the old holocaust survivor stormed out of his quarters with Alex and Pietro following closely behind. He went to great lengths to keep his operations secret. Whoever dared disturb him in his own domain was going to face the wrath of the master of magnetism.

Magneto’s Citadel – Top Level

The ride up the elevator was tense. Renegade kept a firm hold of Toad the entire time. He didn’t let him move his arms and was ready to snap his bones the second he acted up. When the metal doors finally opened, he shoved Toad out into the hall. The amphibious mutant didn’t say anything, but he didn’t appear all that intimidated. He still believed it was only a matter of time before this intruder was torn to shreds by a very angry Magneto.

“Where’s the throne room?” barked Renegade, “Take me there now!”

“You really want to keep pushing your luck?” said Toad with an ominous grin, “There’s nothing you can do to me that Magneto can’t do ten times worse!”

“Care to test that theory?” grunted the cloaked soldier, tightening his grip on Toad’s arms.

“We could. But how about a quick anatomy quiz first,” said the amphibious mutant, barely wincing at Renegade’s grip, “Question one…what’s the most powerful part of a toads body?”

Renegade was about to break his first bone to shut him, but before he could Toad answered his own question. Using his powerful legs, he bent over slightly and then launched himself backwards right into the torso of his captor. This caught Renegade by surprise and sent him crashing into a nearby metal wall, causing him to lose his grip on Toad in the process.

“Argh!” grunted the hardened soldier.

“Ooh, sorry but the correct answer was the legs!” grinned Toad, now free and facing his adversary, “Now for question two! What kind of reward does Magneto offer for stopping an intruder and kicking his ass?”

“I’m gonna say that’s a trick question,” said Renegade with a sneer.

Toad lunched forth to attack again, leading with an acrobatic jump kick. But Renegade was ready for it this. His durable form helped him recover quickly and his soldier reflexes allowed him to grab the incoming mutant by the leg before he could hit.

“Ooh shit!” dreaded Toad.

“You don’t know the half of it.”

Adapting his body to gain some added strength, Renegade redirected the amphibious mutant while he was still in mid-air and slammed him against the metal wall. He slammed him so hard that he was nearly knocked out on impact. Renegade made sure he would be lucky to wake up with anything less than a moderate concussion. Toad had served his purpose. He got him to the top level. Now he was on his own again.

‘So much for my tour guide. Guess I’ll have to find the throne room on my own!’

The determined soldier moved quickly, now no longer caring about stealth. He could already hear alarms going off in nearby rooms. Chances were Magneto and his henchmen were already looking for him. With no map or intelligence to go by he was basically running blind. His only hope was to cover as much ground as he could and find the helmet before Magneto caught up with him. This assumed Magneto wasn’t already wearing it and Toad hadn’t been leading him into a trap.

As he ran at full speed, Renegade continually scanned his surroundings. Looking around in nearby rooms, he surmised that this area included mostly dormitories. He saw mostly bedrooms and a few bathrooms, but nobody was inside. It didn’t look as though he was any closer to the throne room. If he had to backtrack, then he would be really pushing his luck.

‘Damn it! Where is it already?! I swear if that walking rectal wart led me to the wrong floor…’

But Renegade didn’t get to finish his thought. Just up ahead at the end of the hallway, he saw the shadow of an approaching figure. Instinctively, he ducked into a nearby bedroom. He managed to slip away just as Wanda Maximoff came running down the hall.

“Lorna! Blob! Are you awake? We have an intruder!” she shouted out.

Renegade recognized this figure as Wanda Maximoff. She was one of the mutants he was told to avoid at all costs. Her powers along with being Magneto’s daughter made her extremely dangerous. But she was searching the rooms and he couldn’t afford to be slowed down. He couldn’t take her hostage like he did with Toad. He had to play this safe relatively…speaking.

Wanda frantically looked through the rooms, staying alert the whole time. Her hands were glowing with purplish energy, ready to hex anyone she didn’t recognize into submission. The first few rooms she looked into were empty. The third one had the door already open and the light was on. She assumed someone was inside and quickly peaked in.

“Blob, you better not be…”

“He’s not,” answered Renegade flatly.

As she poked her head in Renegade reached out and grabbed her by the neck. Before she could react, he forcefully struck her in the back of the head. Her body quickly went limp afterwards. Renegade wasn’t as rough with her as he was with Toad. This was Magneto’s daughter. He needed to only leave her mildly concussed so she couldn’t use her hex powers on him. A quick blow to the head and a careful strike to a nerve cluster around the neck, a powerful technique carefully refined through Special Forces training, more than did the job.

“Down goes the Scarlet Witch,” he stated as her body fell limply to the floor, “This mission just got a little bit easier.”

The daring soldier rushed back out into the hall to continue his search. He didn’t get far though. Just as he stepped out of the room, he was confronted with another presence at the end of the hall from where he had come from. This one was even bigger than Wanda’s, at least literally.

“And again I spoke too soon,” Renegade muttered.

“You there! I saw what you did!” roared Blob, “That’s no way to treat a lady! Guess you need a lesson in manners!”

“This coming from a guy with mustard dripping down the side of his chin,” quipped the cloaked soldier.

Blob let out an angry grunt as he charged down the hall towards Renegade. His size made him difficult to get around, but it also made him slow. Renegade was easily able to evade his attack, but Blob didn’t relent. He kept trying to grab hold of the nimble figure and Renegade kept dodging him, trying to throw in a few punches in the process. He quickly found out that Blob’s size wasn’t just a result of eating 20,000 calories a day. His bulk gave him the durability that ensured he could not neutralize him like he had the others.

‘Humpty Dumpty has some fight in him! Gotta think fast!’

“That all you got, puny?” taunted Blob, not even flinching when Renegade jump kicked him in the back of the head.

“I do have a Plan B,” grunted Renegade in frustration, “I just have to figure it out.”

“Ha! You’ll last as long as my last snack!”

Blob laughed. Even he could tell that his daring intruder was just improvising. For someone who was used to dealing with the tactically astute minded X-men, it was a joke. This stranger didn’t stand a chance.

Renegade narrowly avoided a few more body blows from the lumbering Blob. That Plan B he mentioned wasn’t coming to him yet and time was wasting. He had to do something to end this fight and stay on the move. Acting on a whim, the experienced Green Beret made his move.

Blob let out another angry grunt as he tried to pin Renegade to the wall. This time he let the oversized mutant come close. Instead of ducking to the side, he used the wall jump up and scale the massive figure so that he landed right on top of his head. As soon as he landed, he employed a powerful choke hold. Using both arms, he squeezed Blob’s neck in a powerful vice. It was a lot more difficult than a usual choke hold because Blob had so much fat around his neck. Renegade had to adapt more strength for the oversized mutant to even feel it.

“Ack! You think…this will stop me?!” grunted Blob.

“It’s working, isn’t it?” said Renegade with equal determination.

“Pal…you just made my job easier!”

Using his size to his advantage, Blob thrust his body against a nearby wall. The resulting impact was strong, leaving large dents in the metal wall and disorienting the rugged soldier. But Renegade maintained his grip. He adapted his body again to protect from these crushing blows. That didn’t make them any less painful.

“ERRR! I’LL…CRUSH…YOU!” choked Blob as he kept stammering back through the hallway, crashing into anything he could.

“Augh!” grunted Renegade in pain, “That…all you…got…fat boy?!”


Now Blob was really angry. Despite choking due to a lack of air, he kept on raging. He plowed his way all the way back through the hall until he reached the elevator. Summoning his vast strength, he charged backwards towards the elevator doors. He was going full speed, looking to use as much of his mass as possible to crush this intruder.

Renegade saw what he was doing, but held on strong. Ignoring the pain, he looked back to see the elevator doors coming up fast. His Green Beret instincts once again kicked in and he surmised a much less painful method with which to subdue this oversized obstacle.

‘This is why I love Plan B!’

Just as Blob was about to crush him against the elevator, Renegade abruptly let go of his neck and jumped up so that he was standing right on Blob’s shoulders. At this point the oversized mutant had so much momentum built up that there was no way he could stop himself. He kept going towards the elevator door and to make sure the impact was maximized, Renegade delivered a forceful kick to the head that sent Blob on a path of no return.

What happened next was a testament to physics. Blob and his immovable mass crashed into the elevator doors with so much force that the sturdy metal structure gave wayt. The doors warped under the pressure, creating a gaping hole that Blob crashed through and onto the heavy metal platform. In the process his weight put an unexpected load on the inactive elevator and the whole platform was sent crashing down towards the ground floor.

“AAAHHHHHHHHHH!” yelled Blob, his angry voice echoing up the elevator shaft.

Renegade took a peak into the hole to make sure he was out of sight. Within seconds, he head a loud thud at the ground floor followed by a welcome silence.

‘So that’s what happens when an unstoppable force meets a flimsy elevator? And to think I flunked every physics class I ever took.’

Renegade had officially made it through two daunting obstacles. He took out the Scarlet Witch and Blob. It didn’t come without a price though. His body suit was pretty messed up after the beating Blob gave him. He also had the added challenge of a very sore torso. It was nothing he couldn’t endure, but the mission was taking a toll.

“Time to get back to work,” he said as he turned away from the elevator and made his way back down the hall.

But once again, he didn’t get far. This time he was stopped by an seemingly unimposing figure that appeared at the end of the hall adjacent to the elevator. However, this figure made made her identity and her power all too clear when the metal floor beneath him came to life, taking on a liquid-like form that engulfed his body.

“Ugh! Just what I hoped to avoid!” groaned the cloaked soldier.

From the other end of the hall, Polaris came rushing over. She had heard the commotion with Blob earlier and arrived just in time to see him go crashing down the elevator shaft. She saw how the mysterious figure was able to handle one of their strongest acolytes. She wasted no time in restraining him so that the chaos could stop.

“That’s quite enough! I will not let you wreck our home any further!” said Lorna, using her powers to form tight metal shackles around the figure’s limbs.

“Ungh…Polaris, right? I’m actually relieved,” said Renegade as he struggled with the restraints, “For a minute there I thought I was about to face Magneto himself.”

“Trust me, you don’t want to hassle my father like you did Blob. Stop resisting and you might make it out of this in one piece.”

The intruder didn’t take her advice. It mattered little to Polaris. She tightened her hold, using her magnetic powers to manipulate the metal further. Further warping her surroundings, she levitated the cloaked figure and pinned him against a nearby wall. She made sure he stayed restrained, forcing each of his limbs into the metal so that he had no means of escape. Walking up to his bound form, her gaze narrowed on the mysterious figure.

“Hnn…like father like daughter indeed,” grunted Renegade, “He must be so proud…a future tyrant in the making.”

“Acting tough won’t help you!” scolded Polaris, using more metal to tighten her hold, “You’ll find I’m a little more understanding than my father. I suggest you take advantage of it because you’re in a world of trouble!”

“Story of my life,” groaned the bound soldier.

“Does that mean you’re not going to drop the Rambo bit and cooperate?”

“Ugh…that depends. Does your old man instill a sadomasochistic fetish in all his kids?”

That was the last straw for Polaris. Using her powers she forced a heavy sheet of metal over the intruder’s face so that he couldn’t talk or breathe.

“Fine…if that’s how you want to do this,” she said angrily.

Keeping the metal firmly over his face, she watched as the mystery figure continued to thrash and struggle. This only caused him to use up more air quickly. It didn’t take long before he finally settled, moving slower and slower until he passed out. Within a few minutes, his body was motionless. If this man wasn’t going to cooperate, he wasn’t going to stay conscious so he could give that same attitude to her father. They certainly didn’t need someone like this pushing his temper.

Once Polaris was sure he was unconscious, she loosened her metal grip on him. She kept his arms and legs bound just in case. Her father should be catching up with them soon. An intruder in their own home was a big deal. Whoever this guy was, he was taking a big risk. If he was some sort of agent this could very well be the spark that leads Genosha back down the path to war. It was a path Lorna would only reluctantly follow.

“You better pray my father is in a forgiving mood. We’ve had such a fragile peace. It would be a shame if it had to end like this,” mused Lorna.

She finally removed the metal from his face. Nobody could go this long without air so she was fairly certain he was out cold. She didn’t want to kill him either and they needed him conscious at one point to figure out who he was.  She started inspecting the figure closely, looking for any identifying markers. He may have been some covert commando or some hired mercenary. Whoever he was, he was going to answer to her father.

She prepared to remove the helmet that had been covering his face. Just as she placed her hand on it, the intruder’s left unexpectedly ripped through the metal restraint and grabbed her by the neck. It caught her completely by surprise. Lorna watched in shock as the figures eyes shot open as if he hadn’t even been unconscious at all.

“Can’t believe you feel for that,” he said.

“Ack!” Lorna choked.

With a firm hand around her neck, she quickly became disoriented and lost her hold on Renegade. This allowed him to break free from the rest of his restraints. Now, free he put Lorna in a powerful choke hold similar to the one he used on Toad earlier. She tried to free herself, grabbing his arms and kicking wildly. But she was no match for Renegade’s adaptive strength.

“Confused? You should be!” Renegade went on as he tightened his grip, “You see, I’m what you call a survivor! I can adapt to conditions that kill most people. You cut off the air to my lungs, I started breathing through my skin. You bind me with metal so I increase my muscle mass for an extra burst of strength. Neat huh?”

“Ungh! So…is this!” grunted Polaris.

In a desperate gasp, the young woman used her powers to manipulate the metal on the floor again. Renegade reacted swiftly, striking Polaris in the back of the head with his forearm to effectively knock her into a barely conscious state. This not only made her docile, it halted a second metal attack.

“Hnn…” was all she could say.

“So much for daddy’s little girl,” said Renegade, “It’s times like this I’m glad I never knew my father.”

Now Renegade had the daughter of Magneto at his mercy. If this man cared at all about the safety of his children, the Green Beret had the best possible chance to finish this mission. It didn’t come a moment too soon either. As he held Polaris securely by the neck, he felt another rumble through the hall. All the metal around him started vibrating and the lights flickered. It was similar to the trick Polaris showed earlier, only this was much more violent.

“Ooh boy…looks like my search is over,” he said as he looked around at the vibrating metal.

Renegade stayed in the center of the hallway, keeping a firm grip on Lorna. He made sure the metal from the walls couldn’t get him and kept a firm eye on his surroundings in case something shot out at him. This didn’t seem like an attack as much as it was a show of force. It helped to demonstrate the power he was up against.

From the opposite end of the hall, the ominous figure of Magneto emerged.  Quicksilver and Havok followed close behind, each just as intent to face the intruder. Hovering steadily in mid-air, Magneto made his way towards Renegade. When he saw the state of his youngest daughter his expression contorted with even greater rage. Havok and Quicksilver were pretty unnerved as well.

“Lorna!” Havok exclaimed.

You!” yelled Magneto with burning rage as he neared the figure, “Who dares break into my home and attacks my family?!”

“Someone with balls you can only dream of and too much free time,” retorted Renegade, “So you’re Magneto? I have to say you’re a lot shorter in person than I expected.”

Magneto’s scowl intensified as he clenched his firsts, forming a storm of metal shards around the intruder. The mysterious figure remained unafraid, keeping a firm hold on Lorna.

“Release my daughter at once!” Magneto commanded.

“Easy with the theatrics, old man. You’re not going to intimidate me,” retorted Renegade.

“If you don’t release my sister, then intimidation is the last thing you’ll need to worry about!” exclaimed Pietro.

“I’m not letting anybody go until we have a little chat! If you sociopaths value the livelihood of mini-Magneto here, you’ll back the fuck off before I start snapping bones!”

There was a serious intent in the stranger’s tone. It was an intent that showed he was capable of carrying out his threats. Magneto had heard such tones before. They were the words of a trained soldier or killer. They were not to be taken lightly. As angry as he was, the safety of his daughter took precedent.

His scowl never waning, Magneto called off his metal storm. The various shards swirling around the intruder settled and re-merged with the walls and floor. There were still slight vibrations throughout the area, indicating Magneto wasn’t completely letting his guard up. Even so, both Quicksilver and Havok were surprised and relieved. It showed once again just how deeply Lorna had affected him.

“There now, isn’t this nicer? No more powers or grandstanding. Now we can get down to business,” said Renegade calmly as he slowly inched towards Magneto and his two henchmen.

“Don’t you dare talk down to me! You’re on my island inside my domain! You would be wise not to overestimate your leverage!” said Magneto, his tone still very menacing.

“Don’t worry because I don’t need much. I just need enough to make a simple trade.”

“You think you can hold all of Genosha hostage?” scoffed Havok, “I don’t know who sent you, but he’s way behind in art of terrorism!”

“Who says this was terrorism. I said I wanted to make a trade, not a deal. I could care less about Genosha.”

“So then what is it you want? Why risk my wrath?” asked Magneto.

“Why I’m doing this is none of your business. Let’s just say I have an appetite for danger,” grinned Renegade, “Seeing as how you’ve already given me plenty, I’ll make it simple. I’ll let your daughter go if you give me your helmet.”

“My helmet?” scoffed Magneto, “That’s your idea of serious business?”

“Why not? I’m guessing something like that will fetch a ton on Ebay! Now are you going to hand it over or would you rather I ask for something more drastic?”

Magneto carefully studied this man. It was hard to tell how serious he was. He sensed an ulterior motive, but it was difficult to determine. This man carried himself with poise. Even if he was a fool, there was no denying his skill. He never would have made it this far without it. Compared to what he could have demanded, his helmet seemed like an unusual bargain.

Havok and Quicksilver looked at the intruder strangely and then back at Magneto. To their amazement, he actually removed his helmet and suspended it in mid-air with his powers.

“Father, what are you…” began Pietro.

“Quiet son! I’ll handle this,” said Magneto firmly.

“Yes you will,” affirmed Renegade as he kept moving closer and closer to the master of magnetism, “Now set it down on the floor and no metal tricks! You try anything and your daughter pays the price.”

“If you so much as graze my daughter, you will not leave this citadel alive! I will see to it personally that you suffer the greatest of torment until you draw your last breath!”

“That might actually scare me if I was afraid,” he retorted, “The problem you have is I am willing to die if I have to. But are you willing to see your daughter suffer?”

Magneto’s scowl hardened. He looked at Lorna and then back at the masked man. There was no doubt in his mind. This man was a fool, but he was a fool who was not afraid. It could have been outlandish bravery or sheer stupidity. Either way, it left Lorna in a dangerous position. He could not risk her safety for his helmet or his pride.

The next few moments were tense. Renegade tightened his grip on Lorna to push the master of magnetism along. Havok and Quicksilver stood in wait, ready to attack the second Magneto gave the order. That order never came.

“You’re a fool,” Magneto told the stranger, “You’re making a very powerful enemy!”

“Is that a yes or a no?” said Renegade sternly.

“If my helmet is all you want? Then by all means,” he replied, “But don’t expect me to forget this.”

“Let me worry about that and hand it over!”

Clenching his fist again, Magneto’s gaze remained hardened. He used his powers to slowly float his helmet over towards Renegade. Eventually, he stood a mere six feet away from the powerful mutant with the helmet hovering between them. The hardened soldier saw in his eyes a hatred that would not let this stand. He may let him have the helmet. That didn’t mean he was going to let him keep it.

The Green Beret quickly formulated a plan as he stood ready to take the helmet. He looked over at Havok and Pietro. Havok’s hands were glowing, showing he was ready to blast him the second he was vulnerable. He had to make this quick. General Grimshaw was counting on him.

“Smart move,” said Renegade, “I’ll make this easy for all of us.”

“Shut up and let my sister go already!” spat Quicksilver.

Renegade grinned under his cloaked face. This was always his favorite part of the mission.

“If you say so,” he said, “Catch!”

With the reflexes of a veteran soldier, he roughly shoved Lorna’s unconscious body right at Magneto and Havok. He shoved her so hard it caught them both by surprise and they were sent tumbling to the floor. Using this split second window to his advantage, Renegade lunged forth and grabbed the helmet out of mid air. As soon as he had it in hand, he made his next move.

Still brimming with anger, Magneto attempted to rise up with his unconscious daughter still in his arms. But Renegade didn’t give him the chance. Still charging at full speed, the cloaked soldier put the helmet to good use. Gripping it firmly, he used it to hit Magneto upside the head. This not only erased that annoying scowl of his. It nearly knocked him out cold.

“Augh!” grunted the master of magnetism.

“Father!” yelled a bewildered Pietro.

“I got him!” said Havok, quickly looking to take aim.

“That’s not proper grammar!” taunted Renegade.

Before Havok could get the shot off, Renegade back kicked Havok squarely in the chest. This knocked him back against the metal wall and left him momentarily stunned. Upon seeing this, Quicksilver sprang into action and charged the waiting soldier.

“Now you’re really dead!” yelled the speedster.

“And you’re really dumb,” quipped Renegade.

Trying to use his speed in the narrow halls, Quicksilver tried to tackle him to the ground. Renegade saw it coming before he even started moving and swiftly ducked to the side whee he used his muscular arms to clothesline the incoming mutant. Quicksilver was going too fast and he ran right into it, causing him to trip and tumble into the wall right next to Havok. He wasn’t knocked out, but he was in a world of pain.

But Renegade didn’t stop there. With Magneto and his magnetic powered daughter down for the count, he had a narrow window of escape. With the helmet in hand, his next challenge was to get to a transport orbs. Since he had a hard enough time finding the throne room, he was going to need directions. Seeing that Quicksilver was still conscious, he began a swift interrogation. Before he could get up he kicked him back into the wall and placed the heel of his boot right over his groin, making sure he was putting pressure on just the right area.

“Ahhhh not the balls! Not the balls!” Quicksilver whimpered.

“Not so tough now, are you?” grinned Renegade, twisting the heel of his boot just a bit, “Now tell me where I can find the nearest transport orbs or Magneto is going to have a few less grandkids to look forward to?”

“If you think you’re gonna escape you…” he began.

But Renegade wouldn’t have it. He added some extra pressure to Quicksilver’s groin, causing him to writhe in even greater pain.


“That’s not an answer!” said Renegade.

“Errrrrrrr down the west wing! Last door on your right!”

“There, now was that so hard? On second thought, let me answer that for you!”

To make sure the speedster wouldn’t be a problem, he rose his foot off Quicksilver’s groin and delivered one last kick to the head. This left him down for the count just like Lorna and Magneto. Now nobody was left to prevent his escape.

‘The hard part and the fun part are officially over! Now comes the part I hate the most…the escape! God I hate the escape!’

Tucking the helmet away, Renegade ran full speed down the hall leading to the west wing. Magneto and Lorna wouldn’t be out for long. If they came to and he was still in the citadel, they would probably bring the whole building down on him. Even he couldn’t adapt to that. He had to get to a transport orb soon and pray that the toverride device the General gave him worked.

While Magneto, Lorna, and Pietro remained dazed, Havok was able to pull himself up. He was still very sore from the kick he took, but he toughed through the pain and returned to his feet. This intruder was not going to escape.

“Oh you’re not getting away from a stunt like this!” he grunted.

Braving more pain, Havok ran after Renegade. He cut through a few rooms to get to the halls leading to the west wing. Eventually, the cloaked figure came into view. Havok tried to take a few shots at him with his energy blasts, but he was too far away and the figure easily avoided it. He kept on running though. He never let an enemy run away from a fight.

Renegade ignored Havok’s pursuit and kept his eyes focused on the path ahead of him. He eventually reached his destination at the end of the hall. It was right where Quicksilver said it would be. The door was already open and as soon as he entered, Renegade slammed his fist against the control panel on the wall to close the door behind him. He also adapted his fist to be as hard as a rock so he could smash the panel, rendering it inoperable.

“That should buy me some time,” he said, “It damn well better.”

The cloaked soldier quickly made his way to one of the metal transport orbs that lined the room. There were about a half dozen of them. He figured these orbs were reserved for Magneto and his Brotherhood. They were all set up on a special platform with a small control console. This was where Renegade had to employ the device. He was not a computer expert so he couldn’t afford to have this fail.

“This gizmo better work,” the Green Beret muttered as he took the device out of a special compartment on his hip.

This small component that was supposed to get him out of here was only about the size of a cell phone. The General told him that all he had to do was turn it on, place it over the control console, and let it work. It was instructions even someone of his poor academic record could understand.

While he was activating the device, he heard a loud pounding on the door. It sounded like someone was blasting it from the other side. Renegade figured it was Havock It looked as though it wouldn’t be long before he broke through.

“I know you’re still there! You started this fight! You damn well better finish it!” Havok yelled out.

“Kid has a temper. Sure wish I could teach him a lesson or two,” muttered Renegade as he placed the device over the console, “But as the drill sergeant told me, you never fight a battle on someone else’s terms!”

Renegade waited anxiously as the device went to work. More loud thuds from the door echoed through the chamber. The flashes of Havok’s energy blasts could be seen through the edges of the door. It looked as though it would blow open at any moment.

“Come on! Come on, you piece of junk! Work already!” urged Renegade.

He watched as a series of jumbled computer code came up on the device. It was definitely working. But the red light on the console was still active, indicating it wasn’t ready yet. Keeping the helmet firmly tucked away, Renegade kept an eye on the door. He couldn’t afford to stay here much longer. If his escape plan was thwarted, this whole operation would come crashing down.

Finally, the light on the console turned green. The device beeped to indicate that the transport orb was ready. Letting out a sigh of relief, Renegade grabbed the device and stepped into the open orb.

“Finally!” he said, “Now get me the hell out of this dump!”

The transport orb closed around him and levitated into the air. At the same time Havok blasted through the heavy door and stormed inside. His hands were still glowing, ready to fight. But he would not get his chance. The orb took off before he could catch up. Within seconds, it accelerated through the opening in the walls. By the time Havok reached the platform, it had already disappeared into the night.

“Get back here you fucking coward! I’m not done with you!” yelled Havok as he fired aimlessly into the sky.

The younger Summers brother kept shooting into the darkness in a vain attempt to stop the intruder. Even after he was long gone, he kept firing in deep frustration. This man had the gall to enter their domain, attack them, and steal from them. Nobody should be able to hit them like this. Yet here they were, defeated in their own home.

Havok kept on shooting, even though he was greatly fatigued. He only stopped when Magneto caught up. He was still dazed from the blow he took and had a nasty mark on his head. He already sensed that it was too late.

“Enough Havok. He’s gone,” said the master of magnetism as he entered the chamber holding the wounded Lorna in his arms.

“So bring him back! Don’t those orbs have tracking beacons or something?!” exclaimed the frustrated mutant.

“Do you really think someone skilled enough to attack us would be so foolish?”

“You sure? The guy just wanted your helmet! Sounds foolish to me!”

“He robbed a king of his crown. That’s nothing to take lightly,” said Magneto strongly, “Not when so many enemies are looking for signs of weakness.”

Havok remained deeply frustrated. Breathing hard, he gazed out into the sky where the intruder had escaped. It was never easy losing a fight, especially when it caught everyone by surprise. Whether it was a calculated attack or some deranged thrill-seeker, the message was clear. They were vulnerable.

No one understood this more than Magneto. Looking down at his unconscious daughter, he set his own pain aside. Ever since the abduction plot with Robert Kelly’s family, he had been biding his time. He had no desire to walk the same path he did during the asteroid incident, but he never lost his desire to see mutants assert their rightful place in this world. The stakes were changing. His fight was no longer as clear cut. As such, he could not allow this to stand.

“So…what do we do now?” asked Havok, having finally calmed down somewhat.

“Someone took a grave risk by attacking me in my own home. We have to be willing to take such a risk as well,” said Magneto distantly, “I was hoping to have more time to implement my plan, but it is now clear that time is not on our side. We must act!”

“Does that mean you’re finally going to tell us what all this research you’ve been doing is about?”

“As soon as you and the others are able, meet me in my study. We’ve much to discuss. Whereas securing a homeland for mutant kind was a revolution…what lies before us will be evolution!”

Later – Xavier Institute

The situation on Genosha was over and night had fallen over the Xavier Institute. The Professor called an emergency team meeting in the War Room. Kurt returned from Amanda’s new home and Hank returned from District X. Everyone gathered around the main computer, which still bore a holographic image of Magneto’s citadel. Various red marks were highlighted to indicates points of a disturbance. There was one just outside the back entrance, a few within the interior, and another near the top floor. Something had clearly happened on Genosha and Professor Xavier was just getting the full story from Wanda Maximoff on Genosha.

“So all he wanted was the helmet? He didn’t…no, of course. I’m sure there is more to this as well. I was simply…please Wanda, calm down…it’s okay. I understand…and you’re sure you didn’t recognize the intruder? If this was meant to send a message someone surely would have made their presence known…I suppose not. I promise you, we’ll look into it. In the meantime is there anything your father needs help with? He knows I’m always willing to…oh, I see…very well then. Thank you, Wanda.”

With a conflicted sigh, Professor Xavier hung up his cell phone and addressed his X-men. Scott, Jean, Hank, Bobby, Ororo, Logan, Remy, Rogue, Kurt, and Kitty each seemed to share his sentiment. This was bad and had all the makings of something that could become much worse.

“So what’s the story, Professor? How volatile can we expect this to get?” asked Scott.

“Our earlier suspicions have been confirmed. Magneto’s citadel was breached,” the Professor affirmed, “Wanda was quite upset and was quite possibly suffering from the effects of a concussion.”

“But you said she was okay,” said Bobby, “What about Lorna?”

“Near as I could tell, she escaped only with moderate injuries.”

“Moderate huh? I guess that’s good news,” said Bobby, shifting awkwardly.

This earned him a look from Kitty, who knew all too well the mixed feelings Bobby still had about his ex-girlfriend.

“I’m sure they’ll manage under Magneto’s generous care,” said Kitty dryly, “But how sure are we that Wanda is giving us the full story?”

“If she be learning tricks from her daddy, then we can’t be expecting any guarantees,” commented Remy who was anxiously shuffling a deck of cards.

“We can afford to have a little confidence, Remy. Wanda is one of the few people we can give the benefit of the doubt,” said Scott, “She’s may be misguided, but she’s probably the most reasonable person on that island.”

“As if the bar was set that high to begin with,” muttered Jean.

“Which is why her story was so disturbing,” Xavier went on as he continued to ponder, “This intruder made a powerful statement. Not just to Magneto, but to everyone.”

“The only statement I see is someone was stupid enough to steal from Mags in the first place,” grunted Logan, “If I went through the trouble to break into the heart of Magneto’s little kingdom, I sure as hell wouldn’t have settled for an empty bucket as my only souvenir.” 

“Ah’m sure you wouldn’t, Wolverine,” said Rogue, rolling her eyes, “What good is Magneto’s helmet anyways? Can’t he just get himself a new one?”

“The helmet is not important, Rogue,” said the Professor, “The mere fact that Magneto’s citadel was breached is what’s most disconcerting.”

“Even more importantly is why,” added Scott, “The helmet couldn’t have been the only reason.”

“How can ve be sure, mien friend?” asked Kurt, “It’s not like zhere aren’t genuinely crazy people in zhe vorld. Ve’ve dealt vith some of them.”

“No one will argue that it takes one of questionable sanity to want to take on Magneto, Kurt. But based on what Tessa and I uncovered, that appears highly unlikely,” said Hank, “Allow me to demonstrate.”

Hank took over for a moment, using a remote control to work the holographic computer. He replayed a simulation rendered by him and Sage while they were monitoring the affair. Between the two of them, they probably had the best chance to uncover the truth. As he ran the simulation, the rest of the team saw for themselves.

“As you can see the intruder descended towards Genosha through a most unorthodox manner. Dropping out of sub-orbital space and landing right in Magneto’s back yard is not something anyone of poor sanity could accomplish.”

“Or anyone human for that matter,” said Jean, “For someone to survive a fall that big, they would need to be a mutant or something.”

“That appears likely, but we just don’t know. What our systems first detected was probably the only trace anybody had of this event. Tessa and I worked tirelessly to trace the source, but even with her access to highly sensitive material we couldn’t find any hint of this being an operation launched by any government. We couldn’t even find any trace of mutant groups being behind it either.”

“Did you check with the Morlocks? Or what about that company John Proudstar works for? White Cell, is it?” suggested Ororo.

“We checked all of those. The story remains the same. Whoever orchestrated this attack left nothing to chance. We’re clearly dealing with someone very cunning and very resourceful.”

“Which leads me to believe that someone is trying to assert themselves and taking a bold first step,” Xavier concluded, “In wake of this incident Wanda says Magneto will be stepping up his own plans, of which is always a concern. The problem is we know about as much about his plans as we do this intruder. Tensions are sure to mount as a result of this incident.”

“So what do we do about it?” asked Kitty, “Send Magneto a fruit basket and a bottle of valium to calm him down?”

“Somebody just attacked his home and his family, Kitty. We shouldn’t expect him to calm down,” said Ororo.

“We shouldn’t expect him to be reasonable in his response either,” said Scott, “We need to have a response of our own ready for when Magneto makes his own bold statement.”

Professor Charles Xavier gazed distantly at the image of Magneto’s citadel. This was always the hardest mission to prepare for. His students always relied on him to have a response of sorts. He was usually pretty good at not letting them down. This time, however, he was at a loss. The consequences of this attack promised to affect him and his students as much as it promised to affect Magneto. Yet Magneto was only half the danger. Whoever was behind such a ploy was surely a force to be reckoned with.

As he contemplated, he became short of breath. Once again, he felt his health catching up to him and the timing couldn’t have been worse. His face tensed as he felt a sharp pain in his abdomen. He tried to conceal it by rubbing his head as if it were a headache. It certainly didn’t go unnoticed by his students.

“Professor?” said Jean with a concerned gesture, “Are you…”

“I’m fine, Jean,” said the Professor quickly and calmly, “I’m just…frustrated. We all are.”

“Does that mean we don’t have a plan?” made Kitty.

“Does zhat also mean helping Amanda is now a much lower priority?” asked Kurt anxiously.

“We have a plan…for each crisis,” assured Xavier, “I’ll finish making arrangements with Shaman and then I’ll give Lilandra a call. We’ll most certainly need her help for the events to come.”

“We’ll probably need way more than that, Chuck,” commented Logan, “Pissing Magneto off usually means less room for error and more cravings for hard liquor.”

“As if you ever needed an excuse for drinking,” said Rogue, rolling her eyes.

“Upsetting Magneto is only half the danger this time. This incident was meant to send a message. We would all be wise to make note of it. For that reason I have a strong feeling we’ll confront whoever sent this message sooner rather than later.”

Next Issue: Meeting of the Minds

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