Welcome, Guest

Volume 4 -- Issue 84 -- Cambrian Explosion Part 1

Download Issue
Read Comments ( 218 ) Issue #84
Cambrian Explosion Part 1
Write Comment

Professor Charles dreams of peace between humans and mutants in a world that hates and fears them. His X-men often find themselves on the front line of this conflict. In recent times, however, the front line has been regularly shifting between growing threats from Magneto and a new challenge from the United States government.

While Magneto has been quiet since the election of President Kelly, he never stopped plotting. On the island nation of Genosha, he believes he has found a way to get around the human/mutant conflict entirely. He seeks something that even his closest associates don’t understand. He took a great risk, having his Brotherhood steal a rare isotope from Worthington Industries to complete a device that will help him find it. While questions remain, he believes he is on the cusp of mutant domination.

However, Magneto’s plan is not without obstacles. During the attack on Worthington Industries, Toad was left behind and captured by Captain Jack Freeman. Now the newly formed Mutant Security Agency has a chance to flex their new mutant enforcing powers. All the while, the X-men are reeling from a host of personal issues and a whole lot of unanswered questions.

Xavier Institute – Infirmary

Nearly a week had gone by since the incident at Worthington Industries. The X-men were on high alert and stood ready to respond the moment Magneto made his move. However, some were more ready than others. The team wasn’t exactly one hundred percent. This was one of those times when there were more personal issues than logistical issues.

Rogue was among those struggling with both in wake of the failed test that caused her powers to go haywire and landed Hank in the infirmary. If the guilt over hurting a teammate wasn’t bad enough, she also watched as Remy developed a new relationship with Betsy. Word spread quickly that they hooked up and were already very intimate. While Rogue was conflicted emotionally, she swallowed every last bit of disdain and remained indifferent. After the stupid risks she took to control her powers, she deserved this emotional strain.

She kept her distance from Remy for most of the week. She kept her distance from most everybody, even Kurt as he was dealing with his own issues with Amanda. Instead, she spent most of her time with Beast, who was still recovering in the infirmary.

“So that’s what’s been goin’ on this week, Mr. McCoy. Heck, you should consider yourself lucky. You get to sleep the days away while the rest of us wait for Magneto to make his move,” said Rogue as she sat at Hank’s bedside, “It’s sort of a given. Magneto succeeding in anything, even some obscure hunk of metal, means big trouble. But Ah find myself losin’ more sleep over what happened to you because of mah powers.”

Rogue’s hugged her knees while watching over the sleeping Hank McCoy. He was still heavily bandaged, with various IVs going into him and sensors for his vitals. He looked comfortable for the most part and the Professor said he should be up and about in a few days. It offered little comfort to Rogue, still struggling with the guilt she felt over what she did.

“Ah know you’ve already forgiven meh,” she went on, “Ah wanna say that’s the morphine talking, but then Ah remember you’re too nice a guy to hold a grudge. Your girlfriend was more upset with meh than you were. By the way, she dropped by yesterday. She was nice and all, even if she did seem a little…cold.”

Before she went further, Rogue cut herself off. She didn’t deserve to be criticizing Beast’s girlfriend. After what she did to him and the many mistakes she made in her personal life, she didn’t deserve to criticize anybody.

“At least you have that special someone. Tessa really seems to love you. Besides Scott and Jean, there ain’t much stability in the relationship department around here. Kurt hasn’t been himself lately. Amanda’s been givin’ him the silent treatment. Ah keep tellin’ him to confront her, but that’s not his style. Ah still wonder if he trusts her too much. Ah could probably say the same for the Professor and Miss Lilandra. Ah still don’t know what the story is with them.”

Rogue shifted again, rising up somewhat and resting her chin on her knees as she swallowed another hard lump of painful emotions.

“Ah guess you’ll be happy to know that trust ain’t much an issue with your ex. Miss Munroe is still handling Wolverine as well as any gal could. That is to say, she’d doin’ the best she can with Logan bein’ in one of his moods. He still hasn’t settled down since that mess in Japan. Then there’s Remy and Betsy.”

Rogue’s voice turned bitter, but her expression remained stoic. It had to be after how everything had unfolded.

“Sorry if Ah sound like a bitch, but Ah really screwed up. Now Ah’m payin’ the price. They ain’t rubbing it in mah face or anything. Hell, Betsy ain’t even being snide about it. Ah wish Ah could hate her. Everyone thinks Ah do. Truth is, Ah really can’t. She’s a beautiful gal in a beautiful new body and Remy’s a guy who ain’t had much action since he joined the team. Not to put too many pictures in your head, but let’s just say he’s been doing plenty of catching up with her.”

Rogue had to hold back a touch of revulsion. She was still getting used to the idea of Remy and Betsy. It was probably going to be a while before she was completely comfortable with it.

“Ah guess fate is punishing meh for being naïve, picky, and just plain stupid. Remy once tried to reach meh even when Ah couldn’t touch. Ah pushed him away and kept him at arm’s length. Now he has a girl who can be everything Ah can’t to a man. Ah can’t tell how much Betsy feels for him. All Ah know is she’s willing to take a chance on him and Ah can’t hate her for that. Ah can try, but that would just make meh jealous and vindictive like mah mama. Between this and that test you had to save meh from, Ah deserve this. So long as Ah’m stuck with these powers, Ah deserve to be alone.”

She wasn’t sure why she was telling this to a man out cold and high on pain killers. He was probably the easiest person to talk to at the moment. Since Hank’s condition was her fault, she owed it to him to keep him company. A slight tear trailed down Rogue’s face and she buried her face in her knees again. She was about to begin yet another round of sulking when an unexpected voice startled her.

“Nobody deserves to be alone, Rogue,” said Hank with a groggy voice.

“What the…Mr. McCoy?! You’re awake?” gasped Rogue, nearly falling out of her chair.

“In a matter of speaking,” he said in a slurred tone, “I believe Jean adjusted my medications a bit too much. I can’t honestly remember when I had this much fun cooped up in bed.”

“So…you’ve been listening to everything Ah’ve been saying?” said Rogue, now feeling very awkward.

“For the most part, yes. But take comfort in the knowledge that I probably won’t remember it in my current state of mind.”

Rogue laughed despite blushing profusely. Talking to an unconscious man had been therapeutic for her. Talking to someone doped out on pain killers worked just as well.

“While I’m still awake in some capacity, would you mind filling me in on what’s been going on with the Brotherhood?” Hank asked her, “No amount of drug cocktails has been able to take that off my mind.”

“Ah ain’t exactly been keeping up with that. All Ah know is the Professor is workin’ with Warren to figure it out.”

“May I assume they’re at a dead end?”

“Even under the influence, you’re quick on the uptake, Mr. McCoy,” commented Rogue, “Ah could find out if you want. Ah guess Ah owe it to you after…you know, puttin’ you in a hospital bed.”

“I’ve already forgiven you, my dear. Just promise me you’ll work harder on forgiving yourself.”

His kind words put a smile on Rogue’s face. It was probably the first she had all week. Hank was such a forgiving person. If only forgiving herself was that easy.

“You drive a hell of a bargain, Mr. McCoy,” said Rogue, her smile not waning.

“So it’s a deal then?” he said with a slurry smile.

“Deal,” she affirmed.

“Wonderful! Now then, tell me more about this isotope the Brotherhood stole. I may be doped up, but I can still recite the periodic table from memory.”

“Ah’ll tell you what we’ve found out so far,” Rogue sighed, “Expect there to be plenty of holes. According to the Professor, the investigation is at a dead end.”

Xavier Institute – War Room

“We’re not at a dead end. We can’t be!” said a deeply frustrated Scott Summers.

“We’re limited to the number of facts we have, Cyclops. Suffice to say, that isn’t much,” said a somewhat calmer Charles Xavier, “We can’t formulate a response unless we have a clear idea of what we’re getting into.”

“I’ll give you a hint, Chuck. If it’s a plan cooked up by Magneto, it’s gonna involve a shit ton of explosions, a hell of a lot of brawls, and more annoying grandstanding from the Brotherhood,” said Logan in his usual gruff tone.

“Sounds like a typical night on the town for you, Wolverine,” commented Bobby.

“Except with Magneto, we’re always left paying the tab!” snarled the feral mutant.

No one hid their growing frustration. Whenever Magneto was a step ahead of them, it was always cause for concern. Nobody was surprised that he was making a move. The only surprise was just how far behind they were.

For the past week, Professor Xavier worked tirelessly with Warren to figure out what Magneto could be up to. He gathered Scott, Jean, Logan, Ororo, and Bobby in the War Room to go over the details they uncovered. It wasn’t much and Warren was still working with his people at Worthington Pharmaceuticals. It was even harder with Beast being injured because he often knew more about this kind of research than anybody.

“When do you expect Warren to give us another update, Professor?” asked Ororo.

“Hopefully by the end of the day, Storm,” replied the Professor as he brought up a quick image on the War Room computer, “He’s been compiling all the research done with this isotope in the past five years. The current picture he has is incomplete, but it may provide clues to what Magneto may be up to.”

“Incomplete is still better than a dead end,” Scott pointed out, “You said you’ve had more experience with it than anybody, right?”

“I suppose I should. I helped formulate it years ago while working with Moira MacTaggart,” said Xavier as an image of the isotope came up on screen, “WX-616 is a rare manmade material known for affecting mutation. It is specifically engineered to seek out mutations react in a variety of ways. The reactions can be quite profound. That is why I used it as a primary ingredient in the previous version of Cerebro.”

“That might also be how Magneto knows about it,” Jean pointed out, “You did say he helped you build the initial prototype for Cerebro.”

“Wouldn’t that also give him the knowledge to use it?” Ororo surmised.

“Besides myself and Hank, Erik is certainly equipped to utilize this rare isotope. You’ve seen how well Cerebro has served us in the past. That should give you an idea on what Magneto could do with this material.”

“By that logic if you can use it to augment your powers, does that mean he’ll use it to augment his? Because he did that already and since when do madmen rehash failed plans?” said Bobby dryly.

“Magneto’s madness is debatable, Bobby. But he’s not stupid,” Scott pointed out, “We have to assume he’s got something different in mind. Whatever it is, he’s gone to great lengths to hide it. He’s had all this time to work and if he’s willing to send the Brotherhood to attack a place like Worthington Pharmaceuticals, that’s a good sign he’s close to being finished.”

“The question remains what does being finished entail?” added Jean.

That was the ultimate question the X-men were faced with. It was also the point where they hit a brick wall. Magneto’s plans were always elaborate and with a larger purpose in mind. However, Logan’s earlier assessment often held true in that they usually involved conflict, destruction, and a healthy number of explosions.

“I should have gone with you guys on Rogue’s little field trip,” muttered Logan, “I would have made sure the Brotherhood only left with half their limbs intact!”

“I’m sure you would have been welcome, but seeing as how you were holding up in Chinatown yet again you only have yourself to blame,” chided Jean.

“I also remember calling you a few of times,” added Ororo.

“You’ve made your point, damn it! Trust me, I’m done with Chinatown,” the feral mutant sighed, “I don’t need my girlfriend and my ex-girlfriend ganging up on me.”

“Even the Wolverine has limits, eh?” teased Bobby.

“Shut it, Drake! You were MIA too, remember? You were shacking up with Jubilee in District X again!”

“I would have been there if it was possible. Trust me, Jubilee had me in a position that I could not escape from. I was completely at her mercy,” said the Iceman with a wry grin.

“I’m sure you enjoyed it. As you so often do with women of a defiant nature,” said Scott.

“What’s that supposed to mean?!” said Bobby defensively.

“Nothing we can’t debate another time,” said the X-leader, “For now, we need a contingency plan for when Magneto shows his hand.”

This proposal caused a round of groans through the entire team.

“Damn it to hell! I hate contingency plans,” groaned Logan, “Why don’t we just send Magneto a cake with ‘you’ve won’ written in frosting?”

“Surely we have other options, don’t we?” said an equally frustrated Ororo.

“I wish we did,” sighed Professor Xavier, “Unfortunately, Erik is being extra careful this time. He knows the world is watching him. He knows we’re watching him. He’s taken every precaution and he’s not going to slip up.”

“So why don’t we just do a scan of Genosha? Or better yet, let’s just hop on the X-jet and head over there!” suggested Jean.

“He’s kept his citadel shielded while keeping most of the details to himself. There isn’t a mind on Genosha that knows what he’s up to. And applying additional pressure could only make it worse,” retorted Xavier, “You know how Magneto gets when he’s under pressure. He’ll become reckless and irrational. That will only make him even more dangerous.”

“And here I was thinking Cerebrum was supposed to solve that problem,” sighed Jean.

“Even our updated tools have limits, Jean. Magneto understands those limits better than anybody. For now, we’ll have to rely on more traditional methods to uncover his plot.”

“That assumes it ain’t already too late, Chuck,” scoffed Logan.

Logan’s pessimism didn’t earn him any favorable looks. That didn’t mean he was wrong either. It was not a pleasant feeling, especially when the team was not at full strength. Memories of the asteroid incident and the uprising came rushing back. They were forced to react each time after it was too late and they were put in some very difficult positions. Even though they came out victorious, there was no guarantee that their luck would continue.

“Whatever the case, we’ll keep working,” said Scott, maintaining his assertive demeanor, “I’ll keep the X-jet on standby and set the mansion’s security to level four. We’ll also start working shifts in the War Room to monitor Genosha’s activity.”

“Shouldn’t we also get in touch with General Grimshaw?” suggested Ororo, “This is the sort of thing he wanted to be involved with.”

“I’ve already made some calls, Ororo. General Grimshaw says he’s looking into it. He won’t give me more details and I’m convinced he’s as stuck as we are,” said the Professor.

“What makes you think he ain’t holding back or something?” scoffed Logan.

“It’s too early in our partnership to be getting suspicious, Wolverine. Let’s try and have a little trust for the time being,” he replied with a touch of scorn.

“Right…like a guy working for the President Kelly is so trustworthy,” muttered Logan.

“Logan, if that bitterness of yours keeps up I’m going to have to start taking drastic measures,” made Ororo.

“Knock yourself out, darlin’. I’m gonna need it,” sighed the feral mutant as he abruptly made his leave, “We all will.”

No one tried to stop Logan departure. Jean gave Ororo a look. Having been Logan’s girlfriend as well, she knew what it was like to deal with these moods. She offered her teacher an empathic look and an exasperated smile.

‘Better go after him, Miss Munroe. It sounds like he needs a woman’s touch.’

‘I’ll do my best, Jean. It’s as good a time as any to work on this rift that’s been plaguing us since Japan.’

‘Don’t let it get too big. With Logan, it’s easy to get shut out. You don’t deserve that and neither does he.’

With Jean’s reassuring thoughts, Ororo went after her boyfriend. It seemed this meeting had made as much progress as it was going to. Jean, Scott, and Bobby lingered with the Professor, who remained calm and collected.

“At the risk of sharing Logan’s upbeat attitude, we should probably get to work,” said Scott, “I’ll take the first shift in the War Room so the rest of the team can finish class.”

“Thank you. Your uncanny dedication never ceases to amaze me, Cyclops,” said Professor Xavier with an approving smile.

“Teachers pet,” muttered Bobby.

“In the meantime I’ll try to get in touch with Warren. Perhaps Cerebrum can help with his investigation.”

“Want me to assist you, Professor?” offered Jean.

“It’s okay, my dear. I can handle it. You have classes too, remember? And I still need you keeping an eye on Beast. Regardless of our limits, the X-men must continue to function.”

The Professor began wheeling himself towards the chamber door, leaving Scott behind in the War Room with Bobby and Jean. During times like this, it was necessary for the team to spread itself thin. Even if it led to undue strain, such sacrifices were necessary.

Xavier had just reached the door when his cell phone went off. Immediately, he stopped to see who it was. When he saw the number on the screen, he grimaced.

“What is it, Professor? Is something wrong?” asked Scott anxiously.

“No…nothing’s wrong,” he assured his student, “Excuse me, but I need to take this. Jean, you and Bobby should get back to class. I’ll let you know if anything comes up.”

“Are you sure, Professor?” said Jean Grey, not entirely convinced, “I know that look and I know when nothing means something.”

“That is all, Jean,” said Xavier in a slightly firmer tone, “Please focus on your duties for the time being.”

The Professor left to answer his phone before Jean could question him further. He put up an iron wall around his mind, making sure no one would pick up any stray thoughts. It was somewhat surprising. Jean exchanged a worried look with Scott while Bobby merely shrugged. It was easy to understand why the Professor would be stressed. Whenever Magneto reared his head, there was no such thing as getting too worked up.

Just outside the War Room, Xavier made sure nobody was listening before answering his phone. His demeanor remained strong while his expression remained wrought with weariness.

“Dr. Riseman…I assume the results are in?”

“Nice to hear from you too, Professor. You know I wouldn’t call you if it wasn’t important. We REALLY need to discuss your latest blood work. I think it’s even worse than we thought.”

Washington DC – White House

President Robert Kelly knew he would be in for it when he agreed to General Grimshaw’s plan. Ever since he announced it to the world, he had been getting mixed responses. By and large, the public was supportive. A recent poll showed a nearly sixty percent approval of the measure. It wasn’t nearly as high as he hoped. There were still plenty of extreme voices saying he was going too far or not far enough. As someone with a history of extreme views, he took both sides seriously. The only way to vindicate one side over another was for this plan to show its worth and it looked like General Grimshaw was going to get his chance.

In a secure room located in the lower levels of the White House, President Kelly met with his new ally for an impromptu meeting. Much to his dismay, it involved Magneto. But unlike last time, they had something to work with.

“So let me see if I understand the situation, General,” said President Kelly as he paced back and forth in the secure conference room, “You detected activity on Genosha and traced it to Worthington Pharmaceuticals. From there you found out his so-called Brotherhood of Mutants stole a rare mutagen called WX-616, but not without confronting the X-men.”

“Who, by the way, were not able to stop them,” General Grimshaw reminded him.

“So it seems,” he said dryly, “Now Magneto has his isotope, which is supposed to have some very exotic properties according to the people at the National Science Foundation. We don’t know what he’s planning on using it for, but we have a clue in the form of that punk that Captain Freeman took into custody.”

“Mortimer Toynbee to be precise. You probably know him as Toad.”

“Oh I remember. You don’t forget a man who smells like swamp gas and dead pigs,” he muttered, “Personal hygiene aside, how do you expect to use this? I assume we’re not going to sit by ideally while Magneto moves forward with his plan.”

The President stopped pacing. He made it clear to the General that he wanted to use this development to their advantage. But as with most issues regarding Magneto, that was easier said than done.

“That’s exactly where it gets dicey, Mr. President,” said the General, “Toad is the first major arrest made by the Mutant Security Agency. Under international law, he’s an illegal alien guilty of a major crime so we can’t treat him as a prisoner of war. Last I checked, we didn’t declare war on Genosha.”

“Might this little incident give us a reason to?”

“This heist was not an affront against this country or humans in general. It was a theft, plain and simple. However, because Toad is wanted for a laundry list of other crimes and has actively participated in an insurgency, we can hold him under military jurisdiction before we can officially charge him.”

“You really think we should consider the legality of this matter when it’s a given that Magneto is up to no good?” questioned President Kelly.

“With all due respect, sir, we would be missing out on a major opportunity to both legitimize the MSA and make Magneto the bad guy,” the General pointed out, “I pitched this plan as a means of holding mutants accountable. Well here’s our first case. If we can process Toad in a way that appears legal and humane, we’ll be seen as administers of justice. That way if Magneto pitches a fit, he’ll look even more foolish.”

President Kelly was all for Magneto looking foolish. At the same time, he was wary of underscoring this conflict. They had one of Magneto’s henchmen in custody. They also had strong evidence that the master of magnetism was up to something. Having seeing what this man was capable of first hand, his biggest concern was stopping him before it was too late.

General Grimshaw shared his Commander-in-Chief’s concern. He had no desire to endure another stunt by Magneto either, but in his experience crisis was never a good reason to sacrifice principle.

“Sir, I know you have a strong urge to interrogate Toad in every way the Geneva Convention prohibits. I ask that you fight that urge and approach this matter carefully.”

“Being careful with men like Magneto is just asking for trouble, General,” said President Kelly grimly.

“It’s risky, but it’s never foolhardy to maintain the moral high ground,” said General Grimshaw, “If we’re to get anything from this guy, we need to be smart.”

“Then define for me what being smart entails. If I’m going to decide on anything, I need some viable options.”

“I understand that, sir. Just bear with me,” said the General, “At the moment, I have my people questioning Toad. We’ve asked him about the heist, the isotope, and Magneto’s plan.”

“Let me guess. He’s not talking?” surmised President Kelly.

“He claims Magneto hasn’t told anybody the full extent of his plan. All he knows is Magneto needed that isotope to continue.”

“And you believe him?” said the president skeptically.

“I wouldn’t be inclined to if it didn’t make so much sense,” said the General, “By keeping the people around him ignorant, he keeps men like Charles Xavier in the dark. He also makes it so that anyone we capture won’t be able to give us the full story.”

“I hate a madman who leaves so few loose ends,” President Kelly groaned.

“Don’t get too down on yourself, sir. That doesn’t mean Toad can’t provide us with useful information. In a sense he already has. He’s confirmed that Magneto is getting ready to strike. That gives us a reason to make a move ourselves.”

“What kind of move are you talking about?”

General Grimshaw’s placed a small file on the table before the President. He had more experience in situations like this than anybody Kelly had in his inner circle. There was no full-proof way to handle them. Sometimes the only solid plan is to adjust with the status quo.

“I present to you a special executive order that just needs your signature,” said General Grimshaw, “With this intelligence in hand, we are able to beef up the naval blockade under the treaty with Genosha. This order will do that, diverting forces from the North Atlantic to reinforce our ships. I’ve even worked out some secret channels to get the British and Russians to supplement their forces as well.”

“Seems like a half-hearted response at best,” the president pointed out.

“I didn’t say I was finished,” said the General ominously, “In addition to extra forces, it also authorizes our nuclear subs and cruisers to prepare a load of CMX missiles. Now if you’ll recall, CMX are the most powerful non-nuclear missiles in our arsenal. They can be launched via rail gun as well, making it next to impossible to stop even for Magneto.”

“Hmm…I’m liking this option a little more.”

“There is a downside, sir,” Grimshaw reminded, “This extra show of force will put pressure on Magneto. The world will get suspicious. If push comes to shove, he may make a dangerous move. We could keep our forces secret, but that would diminish the firepower we can impose.”

It was a difficult trade-off. President Kelly mused over the options as he looked over the file. He had been waiting for a chance to stand up to Magneto, especially after what he did to his son. Now he had a chance. His biggest concern was how it could potentially backfire.

“Before I make any decision, I need to know what exactly these actions will accomplish,” said the President.

“Other than add additional resources to a volatile situation, not a whole lot. It probably won’t stop Magneto from doing what he’s doing. If anything, it’ll make him panic. If he panics, he could get sloppy. We could use that chance to nail him for breaking the treaty. The best case scenario is he determines it isn’t worth the risk.”

“And the worst case?”

“We give him more of our manpower to target.”

That was certainly not a pleasant thought. It made President Kelly think twice before signing this document. General Grimshaw seemed wary as well, but never lost his poise.

“Sir, I know it doesn’t seem like much, but right now it’s important that we buy time. There may still be a way for Toad to aid us. I’m planning on getting in touch with Charles Xavier to…”

“Hold that thought, General,” said President Kelly, cutting him off, “Let’s keep Charles Xavier out of the loop on this one. I’m not quite ready to resort to that option just yet.”

“But sir, Charles Xavier knows Magneto better than…”

“Which is exactly why I want to keep him out of this!” the President said firmly, “Your initiative has the potential to do a lot of good, but that potential is going to be hampered if it’s dependent on the X-men. Now a lot of people are still split on the Mutant Security Agency. Show them you can get things done without resorting to outside help and you’ll have all the support you’ll need.”

“I’m all for support, but with all due respect this is not the time to test the aptitude of this organization!”

“Then don’t think of it as a test. Think of it as an ultimatum,” said the president, “Either succeed and live in the shadow of the X-men or succeed and prove to humanity that we don’t need mutant powers to ensure peace.”

“And if we fail?”

“The cost of failure is the same for both. We might as well go for the greater reward while we have the chance.”

General Grimshaw fell silent. As a General, he was used to taking risks. He could see why President Kelly would be averse to getting the X-men involved. They were still a controversial group both politically and publicly. However, they also knew how to take on Magneto. Leaving them out of the equation could prove costly.

Yet President Robert Kelly showed no signs of waning in his decision. He made his decision and he expected Grimshaw to do his job. Taking the file from the table, he took out his pen and signed the order.

“I’m authorizing the reinforcement of our naval blockade,” he told General Grimshaw, “Let’s spare Magneto the subtlety. Show him we mean business. I want hourly updates and I also want you to hold onto Toad as long as possible. If he gives us something useful, don’t hesitate to act. I don’t just want to stop Magneto. I want it to do it before a global audience!”

“Yes sir,” said General Grimshaw with a touch of bitterness as he took the file, “If by chance this backfires, I suggest you and your family get to a safe location.”

“Duly noted, General. But I’m staying at the White House. If Magneto wants to appear confident, then so do I. Politics is a game of wits. Unlike the last administration, I’m going to show him he can’t intimidate me or this country!”

Mutant Security Agency Base – Holding Cell

“Jeez, you guys! Don’t you have freakin’ lives?! How much longer are you gonna waste your time with this shit?” said an exasperated yet humored Toad.

“If you’re trying to sound tough, Toad, you should know that tough guys always fare the worst when they’re in as much trouble as you,” threatened a menacing Colonel.

“Blah blah blah, go on. Keep trying to scare me. Tell me a ghost story while you’re at it. It’s not gonna work. I don’t know who came up with this whole torture with boredom crap, but they must have been brain damaged!”

This had to be the tenth time Mortimer Toynbee mocked his captors on this day alone. Since his arrival at this facility, he had been isolated in a cell and interrogated on a regular basis by various military officers from both the Mutant Security Agency and major branches of the military. The cell itself was located within a makeshift MSA base that was hastily established at a marine complex in Quantico, Virginia. It was just like the cells they used in places like NORAD where they kept Juggernaut. He spent the first few days being treated for his injuries. He still had bandages on his torso, a cast on his leg, and a splint on his arm. Even with these injuries, Toad was kept in a confined cell and always under watch by an army of military police.

When they were interrogating him, they put him into an isolated chamber not far from his cell where his every limb was chained to a desk and two MPs stood close by with guns pointed at him at all times. Captain Jack Freeman was there as well for good measure. These interrogations were supposed to shed light on what Magneto was up to. This lone Colonel was just the latest officer to endure mind-numbing frustration.

“We can still make life very unpleasant for you, Toad,” threatened the Colonel, “Give us one too many reasons and we can make certain you become the unofficial whipping boy of the United States government!”

“You’re blowing way too much smoke, GI Joe. Better quit for the sake of your lungs,” smirked Toad.

“You think I’m joking?!”

“I think you’re overestimating yourselves. There ain’t nothing you can do to me that Magneto can’t do a million times worse. You guy can imprison me, wound me, or outright disembowel me. I ain’t scared. You’re jerking yourself around thinking you can.”

The veins in the Colonel’s head were throbbing. He looked poised to test Toad’s theories on what kind of torture was worse. Lucky for him and Toad for that matter, the MPs remained close by and Captain Freeman was there to pull him away.

“Maybe you should call it a day, Colonel,” he told him, grasping his shoulder for good measure, “He’s still not ready to talk. Give him more time. Give your blood pressure some rest while you’re at it.”

“My blood pressure is the last thing you should worry about, Captain,” scoffed the Colonel, “This punk knows something. The less he tells us, the greater the danger.”

“You don’t know the half of it!” said Toad ominously, “Just wait till Magneto starts the grand finale! You’ll be in for a real treat!”

At that point the Colonel couldn’t take it anymore. Shooting up in a fit of rage, he slammed his fist on the table in front of Toad and seethed.

“Damn it, Toad! Stop bullshitting us! You know something and one way or another you’re going to tell us!”

“I take it back. You should be worried about blood pressure,” snickered Toad, “Ever think about taking up Yoga? Or maybe colon cleansing? You look like a guy who would love that!”

The Colonel tried to lunge towards Toad again. This time Captain Freeman pulled him away. The two MPs also got involved as well, sensing that the situation was getting out of hand.

“Okay Colonel, time to take five,” said one of the MPs.

“Remember what the General said. The moment you start pounding fists, you get a time out,” said the other.

“I’m starting to seriously question those policies,” muttered the Colonel, “It’s a mistake to grant this freak all this mercy!”

“That’s what sets us apart from Magneto, sir. Try not to give him the satisfaction,” said Captain Freeman as he helped the MPs get the Colonel away.

Toad kept laughing as this scene unfolded. Having been in jail before, he knew the benefit of making his own entertainment. These so called interrogators were a joke. Magneto always made it a point to stand firm against the humans when captured. There was nothing these primates could do that wouldn’t be rendered moot after all was said and done.

While the MPs escorted the Colonel out of the chamber, Captain Freeman lingered and shot Toad a hardened look. He had been in enough war zones to know when someone was truly tough as nails or just going through the motions. Toad was a cocky little punk, but he was no soldier. As soon as the Colonel and MPs were out of the room, he confronted the amphibious mutant.

“Just so you know, I can see what you’re doing, Toad,” said Jack in a threatening tone, “You may be able to jerk these busy bodies around, but you can’t fool me.”

“You sure? You look pretty foolish to me, a mutant serving in the military,” Toad taunted.

“You’re not going to get under my skin you little slime-ball!” quipped the Green Beret, “I’m sure Magneto taught you all the right tricks. Drop hints here, agitate them there, and if you’re lucky get them to start yelling. It helps make them think they’re on the right track when all it does is hide the truth.”

“And what might that be? That you army grunts couldn’t pull your foot out of your ass if the instructions were written on the heel?”

“That you really don’t know anything,” said Jack, “For all your tough talk, you’re every bit as ignorant as you look. You may have faith in Magneto’s plan, but it doesn’t hide the fact you don’t know shit about it. You’re just assuming it’s big and that it’s going to work.”

Toad didn’t have a response this time. Unlike the other men who interrogated him, this guy knew how to get his hands dirty. He had the scars to prove it since he was the one that took him out back in Huston. Him being a mutant also played a part. When he heard the military had a mutant in his mist he didn’t believe it. Seeing anybody willingly thrusting themselves into this joke of a human army made him question this man’s mindset.

“So if you know then how come you’re not speaking up?” questioned Toad, “Why are you just letting these fools waste their time?”

“Because I’m banking on you slipping up,” said Jack, cracking his knuckles a bit, “You know more than you think you know, Toad. Sooner or later, it’s going to come out.”

“What makes you so sure?” he scoffed, “Do I look like a guy who can keep a secret?”

“Hell no, but you look like a guy who wears his fears on his sleeve. You’re a product of the streets and so am I. Guys like us know that words only tell part of the story. It’s those unseen gestures in between where the real secrets lie.”

Toad actually tensed under the Green Beret’s gaze. For the first time since he arrived, he actually felt a little uncertainty. Maybe he was telling this man something he wasn’t aware of. He knew the look of a man hardened by street life. Captain Freeman didn’t even try to hide it. He could read him in a way these military types couldn’t.

The two men shared cold gazes for a brief moment before Jack turned away to rejoin the MPs. Toad got the message. While he wasn’t nearly as confident anymore, Toad still showed some toughness. He wasn’t the only one who could see the meaning beyond the words.

“Even if you do learn my secrets, you’ll be making a big mistake pal!” Toad threatened, “You’re on the wrong side of evolution, Captain. You’re like a chicken trying to gain the trust of a wolf. Sooner or later, they’re gonna get hungry.”

“I told you, Toad. You’re not going to get to me. I’ve seen your side of the mutant conflict. There’s a reason I’ve stayed where I am.”

“I could give two squats from a lizard’s ass about your reasons! You’re still a mutant! Sooner or later, it’s gonna come back to bite you. Every other mutant in the world knows where they stand. You on the other hand…you’re just lying to yourself! It ain’t just sad. It’s pathetic!”

Jack Freeman’s expression tensed with anger, but he didn’t give Toad the satisfaction of seeing it. He just left the chamber, those words lingering ominously in his mind.

Xavier Institute – Roof

‘This be messed up on way too many levels.’

These were the kinds of thoughts that had been running through Remy Lebeau’s mind for the past hour. Usually when he took his daily smoke break, it was a time for him to clear his head. On this day, however, that was not the case.

He should have been in a better mood than this. He had a beautiful new girlfriend in Betsy Braddock. She was tough, sexy, smart, and witty. She embodied many of the traits he found appealing in a woman. She was still going through a rough period, having to adjust to a new body. But he helped her cope in his own special way and often that included sharing some passionate nights in bed.

Betsy was great, but this relationship was just beginning. He wasn’t sure how serious they were. He wasn’t even sure if there was a genuine love between them. There was definitely chemistry and plenty of lust. Love usually took a little longer. They were certainly off to a better start than he was with Belladonna, but that wasn’t what bothered him most.

‘I ought to be feeling a whole lot better than this. Betsy’s been doin’ Remy all sorts of good in and out of the bedroom. I still can’t believe a gal so tough can be so reckless with a fella in bed. Must be because she be usin’ someone else’s body. There be so little to complain about yet Remy still don’t feel right. It’s like there be bad gumbo brewing in my stomach and it ain’t goin’ away.’

Groaning to himself, Remy casually flicked a cigarette off the edge of the roof and took out another one. As his mind continued down this endless cycle of thoughts, Kurt appeared behind him in a puff of smoke. The Cajun was so lost in thought he didn’t even turn to face him.

“You come to give Remy a stiff talkin’ to? You be about a week late,” said Remy as he lit another cigarette.

“You certainly are in quite a mood. I vould expect someone vith a new girlfriend to be happier,” Kurt pointed out as he made his way towards the edge of the roof.

“And Remy would expect a guy who stopped trying to call his girl to be a lot more miserable, so we be even,” quipped the Cajun.

“Touchè, mein friend,” the German mutant sighed, “Does zhat mean zhis roof is big enough for zhe two of us? You’re not zhe only one in need of fresh air, you know.”

“I’m on my third cigarette, homme. I couldn’t care less if you brought a parade up with you.”

Kurt smirked somewhat as he sat down next to the Cajun. Even though he looked pretty distant, Remy hadn’t lost his wit. It showed he was in a much better predicament than he was.

It had been a heart-wrenching struggle ever since his conversation with Kitty. He stopped trying to call Amanda. He figured Amanda would call when she was ready. But the longer he waited, the more his doubts grew. He used to scorn himself for ever having a shred of doubt when it came to Amanda. He always had faith that their love would get them through any obstacle. Now he wasn’t so sure. On top of that, he had a sister still reeling from personal dramas and the failed experiment that left Beast injured.

“I spoke to Rogue earlier,” said Kurt as he gazed out over the landscape.

“How’s she doing?” Remy asked, “We ain’t been talkin’ much since…you know.”

“She’s coming around,” he sighed, “You know Rogue. She’s a very resilient woman. She can bear all sorts of burdens…some more so zhan others.”

“That she can,” Remy agreed, “She puts on a tough face. Remy sees it all the time, even when we share a smoke. She makes it seem like she be moving forward. Even if she is, that don’t mean she ain’t dwelling.”

“She’s my sister. I can read her every bit as vell as you can. I can see how zhe guilt is tearing her up inside. She vent to extremes to control her powers and she hurt Beast in zhe process. She also blames herself for zhe Brotherhood succeeding in stealing zhat isotope.”

“She shouldn’t. It more Remy’s fault than anyone else’s.”

“Now you’re zhe one bearing zhe burdens,” said Kurt, “She made her choice. You didn’t make it for her.”

“But Remy influenced her. I could’ve done something.”

“Zhis is Rogue ve’re talking about. Even if zhat vere true, Rogue is too stubborn. She’s just like our mother. Zhere isn’t a force in Heaven or Hell zhat would have changed her mind.”

Remy laughed somewhat. It didn’t make him feel any better, but it did make his guilt seem more self-imposed. Kurt had a point. There really wasn’t anything that would have changed Rogue’s mindset. She was just that type of woman, never willing to face reality and always trying to do something about it. That’s part of what made her such an amazing woman.

As Remy kept smoking, Kurt turned towards the Cajun. Ever since he joined the X-men, he had mixed feelings about this man. Early on, he didn’t like that he was so drawn to his sister. Since then, he saw firsthand just how much he cared about her. It said to him that Rogue was more than just a pretty face and a hot body to him.

“You still care for Rogue, don’t you?” said Kurt.

“Course Remy cares for her,” said the Cajun as he puffed away on his cigarette, “She’s been the best friend a guy like me could ask for.”

“Zhat’s not vhat I meant,” the German mutant said more seriously, “You care for her more zhan zhat, don’t you?”

“Come on, let’s not be gettin’ into that again,” groaned Remy as he turned to face his fellow X-man, “It’s true, Rogue has a special place with this here Cajun. Probably more so than even Remy thought. But we went through the motions. We did everything a man and a woman could do without takin’ that next step. It just can’t happen.”

“Can’t happen? Or simply didn’t happen?” Kurt questioned.

“You know what we be up against. Her powers…”

“I know about her powers. You don’t have to remind me. Zhat’s still not an excuse.”

“Not being able to touch be more than just an excuse, homme,” argued Remy defensively.

“You’re wrong. Bear in mind you’re talking to someone who has a Halloween costume he can never take off. You zhink zhat didn’t come between me and Amanda vhen ve got together? You zhink zhat still isn’t an issue to zhis day?”

Remy turned away took another large drag off his cigarette. He wasn’t about to argue this issue. He had done so enough with Rogue and it never led to anything pleasant. Unfortunately, Kurt didn’t get the message.

“It’s a test of will-power, loving someone you can’t be intimate vith. I know your history, Remy. It’s not like you keep it a secret. You’re a man who likes to be intimate vith women.”

“And you don’t?” scoffed Remy.

“Whether or not ve like it isn’t zhe point. Vhat matters is our ability to remain passionate about someone even if we can’t express it as ve vish ve vould. It forces us to focus on zhe non-physical aspects of attraction.”

“Remy was willing to try that. Rogue wasn’t. End of story,” said Remy bitterly as he took a heavy drag off his cigarette.

“Maybe you veren’t as villing as you thought you vere. And maybe Rogue wasn’t as unwilling as you zhought she vas,” argued Kurt, “Zhat’s vhy it surprises me to see you going to Betsy. I understand she can give you something Rogue can’t, but vhat I don’t understand is how you can build a relationship vith her vhen you clearly aren’t over Rogue yet.”

Remy muttered some curses to himself as he finished his cigarette and tossed it aside. Kurt knew how to hit all the right nails. He essentially summed up everything that had been bothering him. It hurt even more hearing it from someone else, especially Rogue’s brother.

“Why you bustin’ Remy’s balls over this? You implying Remy betrayed your sister?” he said defensively.

“Nein, I’m just pointing out zhat you’re folding before all zhe cards are dealt,” said Kurt, “When it comes to Rogue, I always thought you vould call her bluff.”

“Easy with the card lingo, homme. That be Remy’s department,” the Cajun scoffed.

“Just trying to put it into terms you can understand,” he quipped.

“Why you makin’ an issue of this anyways? Remy worked this out with Rogue. I got a new femme to work on. How does that make me the bad guy?”

“I’m not telling you zhis because I’m mad at you. I’m telling you zhis because you still have options,” said Kurt, his expression shifting, “I only vish I could be in your position.”

“Why do you say that?”

Kurt sighed as he shifted his gaze back to the horizon. It wasn’t easy talking about relationships, especially with the man who had been eying his sister since the day he met him. At the same time it was therapeutic. Ironically enough, Remy Lebeau was probably the only one who understood these difficult feelings.

“Let’s just say Amanda and I are being dealt some pretty rough hands,” he said, “And for the first time in zhe history of our relationships, I’m zhinking about folding.”

“Wait…you seriously thinking about calling it quits with her?” said Remy.

“Of course not. I still love her. She still loves me too,” Kurt said distantly, “Zhe problem is everything between zhat love. To put it in terms you can relate to, ve’re betting vith zhe houses money and ve’re on a hell of a losing streak.”

Remy’s gaze soon shifted from being defensive to being sympathetic. It used to be Kurt was in the most envied position, having the most stable relationship on the team. He and Amanda always seemed so happy and stable. Now for the first time there was doubt. Ever since the Selene incident, there was reason to believe that he and Amanda could not make it work. In some ways it was more hopeless than he and Rogue ever were.

As the Cajun began digesting this revelation, he rose up from his seat and started walking away. Kurt didn’t get up. He kept staring out into space, lost in his own thoughts. Remy had no further advice to offer him. The best response he could muster was to reach into his pocket, pull out a lone cigarette, and toss it into Kurt’s lap.

“Here…you need this more than me, homme,” said Remy as he walked away.

“Danke, but you know I don’t smoke,” said Kurt with a half-grin as he tossed the cigarette aside.

“Maybe you should start. When dealing this sort of stuff, a dose of nicotine and smoke do wonders.”

Kurt wasn’t sure if that was a joke or real advice. Before he could ask, Remy was gone. He had done enough sulking for one day. Kurt, however, was just warming up. He had to make a decision with Amanda and he had to make it soon. Whatever ominous fate lay before them, he had to prepare himself for the worst. Even a man of faith had to concede to cold harshness of reality sooner or later.

Magneto’s Citadel – Two Hours Ago

“Please, big brother…don’t do it. I don’t like this place!”

“It’ll be okay, Illyana. Trust me,” said a stoic Piotr Rasputin as he walked with his sister through the corridors of Magneto’s citadel.

“You’ve been saying that for weeks! The more I hear it, the more I hate being here! Why do we have to live here now? Why couldn’t we go to America?”

It was difficult listening to the defiant cries of a 14-year-old girl. Piotr Rasputin had been enduring them for months now. Ever since he told her they were moving to Genosha, his confused and vulnerable little sister, Illyana, had been difficult to say the least. For years he talked about leaving Russia and starting a new life in America. When he suddenly changed their plans, choosing instead to move to Genosha, Illyana was understandably anxious. It didn’t help that she was an emerging teenage girl, set to go through all the typical rebellious stages. It helped even less that she was a mutant like him. Only her powers were much more volatile.

“Illyana, I explained to you why we’re here. America simply isn’t safe anymore. Not with that new American president who seems to despise mutants,” he said to her with a gentler tone, “Genosha is a place where we can be safe. I don’t need to tell you how many favors I needed to do for the Omega family to get us here.”

“I don’t care. I still hate this place!” whined Illyana.

“I understand your dismay, but Mr. Lensherr says he will grant us special protection if I deliver to him this device from back home,” said Piotr, holding up an unmarked briefcase that he had handcuffed to his wrist, “We need that protection because of…”

“Because of what? Me?!” scoffed Illyana.

“No…not you. It’s your powers,” he said more seriously, “These outbursts of yours are deeply distressing. There is no one in Russia or America who is equipped to deal with them. But here on Genosha, you can get the help you need.”

“I don’t want help from these people!” she cried, “I would rather be sick than stay here!”

The young girl’s eyes started flashing in a bright yellowish hue. The air around her grew hot and she clenched her fists in defiance. Piotr had seen this look before. It was a look that often led to chaos. It was the reason why he worked so hard to get her out of Russia. It was the reason why he kept working for men like Omega Red. Every time he saw it, he saw his little sister slip away from him and he refused to let that happen.

“Illyana please! Let’s not do this here!” he said in a stern yet caring tone.

“I don’t want to, big brother! But I…”

“I know you don’t like this place. But I would never put you through this if I didn’t think it was best for both of us! Something is happening to you…something I cannot protect you from. You need help!”

“How can these people help me?” she said, her eyes glowing even brighter.

“I cannot say. That is why I keep asking that you trust me. Mama and papa made me promise to look after you before they left us. Help me keep that promise so we can build a new life away from these conflicts!”

The mention of their parents got Illyana to settle down. The area around them no longer felt so ominous. It allowed Piotr to let out a sigh of relief. His sister still looked defiant to show she still had reservations. None-the-less, she clung harder to his side and gazed at him with trusting eyes. Piotr managed a slight smile, if only to show strength. Even for a man like him who could lift tanks and tractors with ease, it was difficult to be strong in a place like this.

As Illyana was settling, a nearby metal door opened up and Pietro Maximoff approached them.

“Is there a problem here?” he said, eyeing the girl with the glowing eyes.

“No, comrade…not at all,” said Piotr sternly, keeping Illyana behind him.

“Are you the guy Magneto told me about? The one with that gear he brought from Russia?”

“Da, I have it right here,” Piotr replied, holding up the briefcase, “Not to sound impatient, but I am eager to get my sister the help Magneto promised.”

“Not to worry, Ruskie. My father is a man of his word,” assured Pietro, “Just follow me and hold on for a few hours. Once we’re done here, you and your sister will have all the help you’ll ever need.”

Magneto’s Citadel – Present Time

“Clear the area! The final test is about to begin!” said the booming voice of Magneto.

“You heard the man! Stand back!” ordered Havok to the rest of the Brotherhood.

It was the command everyone was waiting for. At last they were going to see what Magneto had been holding back for so long. The entire Brotherhood was present, which included Havok, Polaris, Avalanche, Blob, Pyro, Quicksilver, and the Scarlet Witch. Piotr and Illyana Rasputin were present as well. Having delivered one of the final components, Magneto saw fit to grant them an audience to this momentous occasion.

The Brotherhood rushed to clear the area around the make-shift Cerebro that Magneto had been working on. It certainly didn’t look as neat or as polished as the one the X-men used. There were still wires and debris scattered along the floor and the walls. When time was a factor, there couldn’t be much concern for aesthetics. The device just had to work well enough to locate what Magneto was looking for.

While his henchmen were getting behind the safety barriers, Magneto looked over the small device he received from Piotr Rasputin. It was a small hand-held computer about the size of a cell-phone. It didn’t look like much on the surface, but electronics like this were a hot commodity.

“Are you sure that thing will work, Father?” asked Wanda, “It looks a little…dated.”

“I’ve tested it, Wanda. It will do the job,” he assured her, “It’s not the most advanced psionic signature tracker, but it’ll do. Once the signature is located, I should be able to lock onto it no matter where it is located.”

“I still don’t get why you didn’t just make one yourself. It’s not like you don’t have the tools,” said Wanda, casting a suspicious gaze towards Piotr, “Call me paranoid, but I don’t like relying on the Russian mob for key components.”

“Your concern is well-founded. Believe me, I wouldn’t have resorted to the black market if we weren’t being rushed. After the attack on my citadel and Toad’s subsequent capture, I’m forced to improvise. Scanner reported earlier that the naval blockade is being expanded. Clearly, the rest of the world knows I’m up to something.”

“All the more reason to finish before Uncle Sam gets trigger happy,” said Pietro as he ran up to Wanda at super speeds, “I just checked the generators. We’re all powered up.”

“Good,” said Magneto flatly, “Then send him in.”

Pietro nodded and turned towards Havok to give him the signal. The younger mutant nodded back and pushed a button on a remote control to open a door adjacent to the Cerebro device. From there, a mysterious new figure entered.

He couldn’t have been older than 18. He was short and lanky, looking horribly undersized for someone his age. He had a slightly larger head, but not noticeably larger from a distance. There was only a small patch of pinkish hair on his head and he was wearing what looked like a school uniform consisting of black khaki pants and a nice dress shirt with a sweater over top of it. He also bore a cocky grin and arrogant demeanor to go along with it. When he saw Cerebro he grinned ominously, which gave some in the Brotherhood chills.

“This is Quentin Quire?” said Pyro, looking unimpressed.

“That’s him,” Avalanche affirmed, “Before you start making wise-cracks you should know he’s every bit as creepy as he looks.”

“Eh, I’ve seen worse,” shrugged the Australian.

“Maybe when you’re off your meds,” joked Blob.

“Don’t even joke about that, mate! You have any idea how many people have tried to put me on pills over the years?” retorted Pyro.

“Probably as much as much as this kid,” quipped Avalanche, “Quire’s supposedly this uber-powerful psychic who had a thing for twisting the perceptions of an entire school. You would think a kid with that kind of power would find something better to do with it.”

“Sounds like a dork,” laughed Blob, “I hear he lobotomized one too many people and that’s why he had to come here.”

“He’s lucky Magneto needs a psychic. He was being drugged left and right to hold his powers back.”

“I know how that feels,” sighed Pyro, “I’m guessing it didn’t work and he mind raped the blokes who tried to stop him.”

“Why else would he get along so well with Magneto?” made Avalanche, “They say he’s got potential on par with Xavier himself. That’s the kind of power we need to stay a step ahead of those X-geeks.”

“Except after this they won’t be much of a threat anymore,” grinned Blob.

“So says Magneto,” said Avalanche skeptically, “I’ll believe it when I see it.”

It was a promise they heard from Magneto before. All his plans were supposed to top the humans and beat out the X-men. So far each plan had fallen short. They weren’t always total busts. They did end up with their own homeland for mutants. If this plan was as ambitious as Magneto claimed, there was no telling what the final outcome may entail.

The Brotherhood was now behind a heavy glass barrier that gave them a full view of the makeshift Cerebro before them. Magneto remained in the test area, meeting up with Quentin Quire. Quentin seemed in awe yet only mildly as he gazed around the area. Magneto remained as serious as ever, not taking into account that this was still a teenage boy.

“Wow! This Cerebro thingy is really something?” the young psychic grinned, “Is it true that Charles Xavier himself uses it to sup up his powers?”

“It does more than that, Mr. Quire. The psychic aspect is only part of what makes this device such a valuable tool. I would ask that you refrain from referencing Charles Xavier because you’re going to do something that he’s never done before.”

“If it gives me a chance to one-up the world’s most powerful telepath, I’m all for it!” said Quentin, already gazing at the main helmet eagerly, “Just tell me what I gotta do so I can give this baby a psychic test drive!”

“You don’t need to know the nuts and bolts of the procedure,” said Magneto, “All you need to know is you’ll be using this device to locate a special psychic signature. One that Xavier himself could never find.”

“Sounds easy enough,” Quentin shrugged, “Who exactly am I looking for?”

“In this instance it is not exactly a who, Mr. Quire.”

Quentin looked at Magneto strangely. The Master of Magnetism reached into his pocket and pulled out a small test-tube that was heavily sealed. Inside was a brownish, silvery substance that Quentin had never seen before. It was hard to tell, but it looked like it was moving. Whatever it was, Magneto held it up carefully.

“This is what you are looking for,” said the master of magnetism, “Or more accurately, you’re looking for the rest of this unique organism.”

“That’s it?” scoffed Quentin, “You want me to find some big hunk of pond scum?”

“I assure you this is not mere scum. It is the key to the salvation of the mutant race!” said Magneto sternly, “Now cease your mockery and look closer at this vile! You’ll sense it is very much alive.”

Quentin was still skeptical, but Magneto’s stern tone made him think twice about questioning him. He placed his hand on the glass vile and scanned the mysterious substance. To his amazement, Magneto was right. This thing was alive. When he used his telepathy to scan it, he saw it shake violently. It even started glowing. For such a small sliver, it had quite the signature.

“Whoa…I must be slipping or something. I could swear there’s actually a mind in this stuff!” said Quentin.

“Oh it has a mind, Mr. Quire…one very different from what you’re used to,” said Magneto as he pulled the vial away, “This is but a small trace. I theorize that there is a much bigger mind wherever the rest of this organism is residing. That is what I need you to find. Locate the mind and I’ll do the rest.”

“It would be an honor and a welcome challenge!” said Quentin as he eagerly made his way to the Cerebro chair, “Strap me in and beam me up! I’m officially curious about what this mind has to offer!”

Quentin couldn’t get himself ready fast enough. Magneto welcomed his enthusiasm, if only to speed up the process. Using his magnetic powers, he locked Quentin into a specially designed chair with various tubes and wires going into. On top was the special helmet that acted as the main interface for the system. It worked just like the one Charles Xavier used, but he never used it like this.

As soon as Quentin was strapped in, Magneto activated the systems on a nearby computer console and stepped back. The helmet lowered itself onto Quentin’s head and various lights and monitors came to life. By the time he was behind the glass barrier with the rest of the Brotherhood, all systems were powered up and ready for the scan. A holographic map of the world was projected onto a nearby screen, offering an unabated view of all the possible locations of this organism.

“The scan can begin in ten seconds, Quentin,” announced Magneto, “Remember the signature from the sample. Once you find it, get a solid fix on it and the location will show up on the map.”

“Shouldn’t take more than a few minutes!” grinned Quentin, “A mind like this should definitely stand out.”

Magneto waited impatiently as the countdown began. The rest of the Brotherhood watched eagerly, not knowing what to expect.

“This is what he’s been after all this time?” mused Polaris, “What could he possibly do with some exotic hunk of goo?”

“You’re his daughter, Lorna. If you don’t know, then none of us know,” said Havok, “I’ve always been a what-the-hell kind of guy. He says it’ll do something for our kind. I say we take the ride.”

“Wish I had your thrill-seeking attitude, Alex,” she sighed.

Polaris wasn’t the only one showing some nervousness. Wanda and Pietro also had their reservations. Being kept out of the loop was an unfamiliar feeling. Usually, their father shared everything with them. They could understand being extra careful with the X-men and all the navies of the world bearing down on them, but it didn’t make them feel less anxious.

“We’re almost finished, my children,” he assured them, sensing their demeanor, “I promise it will all make sense very soon.”

“I would feel a lot better if I knew the risks we’re dealing with here. You know how I am when it comes to taking chances,” said Wanda.

“Oh come now, Wanda. You know I’m never one to play the odds when they aren’t in my favor,” said the Master of Magnetism as he watched Quentin prepare himself, “I’ve taken all the necessary precautions. There will be no confrontations this time. This affair will be swift and clean.”

“Sounds boring,” commented Pietro, “Since when do we shy away from a fight?”

“We’re not backing down from any fight, my son. We’re just fighting smarter.”

Magneto used his powers from behind the barrier to flip a few more switches. The lights throughout the throne room flickered as the Cerebro components hummed ominously. Within seconds, Quentin Quire was immersed on a new psychic realm. A mysterious blue halo of energy formed around his head as his powers expanded to levels he had never felt before.

“This is awesome!” said Quentin intently, “I wonder if this is how God’s mind feels when he’s feeling out the world he created?”

“You can play around on the psychic plane later, Mr. Quire. Can you find the mental signature of the sample?” asked Magneto impatiently.

“With this thing, I could find the holy grail with half a brain cell!” he boasted, “Give me a few minutes! I’ll find your goo’s mental imprint!”

Quentin’s expression tensed as the grin on his face grew wider. He was clearly enjoying this new power boost, if not a little too much. The monitors showed plenty of activity. Whether or not he was just goofing off was hard to tell, but he was definitely searching for something. Magneto kept a close eye on the map of the globe, watching as various flashing dots appeared across the landscape. After a few seconds the dots became more ordered and focused, narrowing their activity around an area just north of Australia.

“Yes…I sense something. It’s close! It’s powerful!” Quentin seethed, “Ooh, this is too cool! Give me a few more seconds while I…”

Suddenly, every monitor in the room started flashing ominously. The bluish halo hovering over Quentin’s head erupted into a blinding burst of energy. It was so bright Magneto and the Brotherhood had to look away.

“Uh…is this supposed to happen?” asked Pyro.

“No…it isn’t!” said Magneto grimly.

What happened next caught even the Master of Magnetism by surprise. In another round of pulsing light, the wires and tubes going into the helmet literally exploded in a series of miniature bursts. All the monitors started flashing chaotically, engulfing Quentin Quire in a painful wave of shocks. However, when he cried out in pain he didn’t sound like the same 18-year-old boy that first entered.


“Wanda! Cut off all power before…”

Magneto didn’t complete his order before the array of computer terminals surrounding Quentin literally exploded. It was so powerful it shattered the glass barrier. Wanda instinctively used her powers to protect and deflect the incoming shards. The Brotherhood rushed for cover while Magneto gazed through the chaos intently.

“Ugh! Does anything ever go right with these gizmos?” groaned Avalanche.

“Stay back, Brotherhood! I must retrieve Quentin!” said the Master of Magnetism.

“No Father! Don’t make it worse!” yelled Polaris.

“We can still find it! We must!” he exclaimed.

Braving the flashing lights and deadly sparks, Magneto used his powers to force the cables and various electronics out of the way. A quick pulse shorted out the power and a hard magnetic tug separated Quentin from the helmet. There were still a few small fires burning throughout the area and sparks were still flying about, but the worst had past. Shielding himself from the sparks, Magneto rushed to retrieve the young psychic. When he reached his limp form, his head still glowing slightly with a psychic aura.

“Quentin! Mr. Quire, wake up! I need to know what happened!”

The young psychic stirred, but still didn’t sound like himself.

“Beginnings…endings…extinction…creation…so bugh ahf nugentine!”

“Pull yourself together, boy! Tell me what happened!” said Magneto as he helped him out of the chair.

As the Master of Magnetism helped Quentin to his feet, his eyes shot open. To Magneto’s surprise, they were completely black and glowing with this strange new light. What made it even more disturbing was the wide smile on his face.

“Magneto sir…I sensed it! It’s real!” said Quentin in his normal voice.

“You found it?! You were able to locate the Cambrian?!” he said intently.

“No sir…it found me. It wants to find you too. It wants to find everybody!”

Xavier Institute – Backyard

“No way! You’re totally full of it, Betsy!” said an overly enthused Kitty Pryde.

“I kid you not, luv. I saw the whole thing with my own eyes,” grinned an all too calm Elizabeth Braddock, who was sitting across from Kitty.

“An entire gang of thugs, thieves, and all around jerks just broke down and started crying? In front of your father?” she restated, “All because he threatened to tell their boss they failed to steal some government documents?”

“You would be surprise how little the Yakuza tolerate failure. The Yashidas weren’t the worst, but they were right up there. My father knew how to deal with them. He’s part of why I took up criminology. I learned a lot from him and I’m hoping it translates well into the X-men.”

“If you can somehow use those techniques to get Magneto and the Brotherhood cry, we’ll start a new school and call it Braddock Institute for Higher Learning! Although I have to warn you, they’re a lot tougher than your typical criminals.”

“When it comes to deviants and megalomaniacs, I never assume anything. I only worry about how messy it’s going to get.”

It sounded like a reasonable perspective to have for a new X-man. Kitty Pryde was impressed. Betsy had been here a week and she was already carrying herself like a veteran member of the team. She still remembered how it took a while to get over the shell shock of being in the X-man. It wasn’t until after her role in the Genosha uprising that it really sunk in. Betsy hadn’t faced her first test yet, but if her demeanor was any indication she should do just fine.

Betsy was already growing fond of her new surroundings as well. The Xavier Institute was certainly a step up from the university back home. Here she could study at her own pace and had access to better resources. It was also nice that she could do her school work outside like this. She felt too cooped up in the classroom and decided to finish her classes outdoors at one of the picnic tables. Kitty joined her and it wasn’t long before they were just enjoying each other’s company.

Overall, everyone in the team was friendly. She was already striking up a solid friendship with Kitty Pryde and Jean Grey. She also got along well with Scott Summers and the ever playful Bobby Drake. Some like Kurt and Rogue were going through some personal issues so it was hard to get to know them. While Ororo, Hank, and the Professor were nice and understanding as teachers, she was still getting used to Logan’s gruff style.

Then there was Remy. She couldn’t help but smile as soon as his name crossed her mind. Between her helping her recover from her body swap and the new relationship they so passionately embraced, she had plenty of reasons to be fond of her new life in the X-men.

“So…” said Kitty, noticing a shift in her demeanor, “While we’re so ridiculously off topic, why don’t we bring up Remy? He seems to be keeping you occupied lately.”

“That’s one way of putting it,” said Betsy with a suggesting grin, “I know it’s sudden and all, switching bodies in one week and hooking up with a new boyfriend the next. But it’s been good for me. It’s been good for both of us.”

“The way you’ve been carrying yourself, I won’t argue the benefits,” laughed Kitty, “I’ll only argue it seems tad physical.”

“Why shouldn’t it be? Remy and I are both physical people so to speak. We got together and we’re in that wonderful early stage in our relationship when we’re exploring what we can do for one another and having a damn good time in the process.”

“Good times being relegated to the bedroom,” Kitty pointed out.

“Call it a side-effect of being stuck in a body you don’t feel is completely yours,” Betsy shrugged, “I find it reassuring that I can have such experiences in this body and see it as belonging to me and not Kwannon. It helps even more when the sex is good enough to make you want to enjoy it! Remy sure isn’t complaining.”

“I don’t see why he would. To be fair, you and Remy aren’t the friskiest couple I’ve seen,” Kitty stated, “After the Phoenix affair, Scott and Jean certainly enjoyed themselves as well. At one point I think Jean’s voice actually went hoarse.”

“So why are you looking at me like it’s a problem?” said Betsy, “You don’t sound like you just want the juicy details of how I’m breaking in my new body.”

“If that’s all I wanted, I would have brought Bobby along to see the look on his face. I guess I’m bringing it up because…well, I’m concerned.”

“About me and Remy?” scoffed Betsy, “We just got together, luv! It’s a little early to start having doubts.”

“It’s not so much you and Remy as it is just Remy,” Kitty clarified.

Betsy’s demeanor shifted. The conversation just went from lurid to serious in a way she had been hoping to avoid. This wasn’t the first time someone gave her this look when the issue of her relationship with Remy came up. It always led to one person, who happened to be the only one in the team she wasn’t getting along with.

“Bloody hell, this is going to involve Rogue again, isn’t it?” Betsy groaned.

“It kind of has to. You’re new so you don’t quite know the taboos around here,” said Kitty a bit awkwardly, “Since you’re dating Remy now, you’re going to have to deal with them and like it or not Rogue is part of it.”

“So I’ve learned,” she muttered, “I still don’t get why it’s such a big deal. Remy said he and Rogue worked this out. She can’t touch. She wanted him to be happy. Our relationship is doing that. What’s the big deal?”

“I’m not saying it’s wrong. I’m just saying you might want to prepare yourself for a rough ride. Rogue and Remy are really close and I don’t just mean in a friendly way,” said Kitty, never one to sugarcoat the truth, “They have a special kind of chemistry. Some have speculated it’s the fact they haven’t been intimate that has made them so close.”

“How in the bloody hell does that make sense?” said Betsy skeptically.

“Your guess is as good as mine,” Kitty shrugged, “The reason I bring it up is because for all their chemistry, Rogue and Remy are dense on a whole new level. They may say one thing, but mean the complete opposite.”

“He’s a former thief, luv. And Rogue’s a rebel if ever there was one,” Betsy pointed out, “I know how minds like his work. I never would have thrown myself at him if I didn’t think it was meaningful.”

“I never said it wasn’t meaningful. I’m just saying…I don’t know, you may not understand as well as you think,” said Kitty, trying to be careful with her words for once, “Rogue may have given Remy his blessing. That doesn’t mean she’ll withdraw from his life completely. It also doesn’t mean that special chemistry they have is going to go away.”

Betsy grumbled to herself and rested her head on her arms. Everyone seemed to doubt her and Remy. It was as if they were trying to stop her before she messed up whatever so-called chemistry Remy and Rogue had. It didn’t make sense to her. She really liked Remy. Maybe she hadn’t gotten to the point where she was head over heels in love with the guy, but that didn’t mean she shouldn’t explore this relationship.

“Look Betsy, I can tell you like Remy,” Kitty went on, “I don’t blame you for wanting to date him. He’s handsome, rugged, and has that bad boy allure going for him. I just think you should be ready for a little frustration. Rogue is probably going to be at your throat at times. You might want to at least try and clear the air with her.”

“My head hurts,” Betsy groaned.

“I don’t blame you,” she laughed, “Rogue can be overly hostile at times, but she always comes around. She and Jean really patched things up when…”

“No Kitty! I mean my head really fucking hurts!” she said, now clutching her head with both hands.

Kitty was taken by surprise. She quickly abandoned the point she was making and looked to see that Betsy was really in pain. Her face was awash with agony, as if someone was drilling into her head. She nearly fell right out from where she was sitting. Kitty actually had to catch her to keep her from keeling over.

“Whoa! Please tell me this isn’t some kind of weird seizure!” said Kitty with a new sense of dread.

“I…don’t…think so!” she groaned, “My telepathy…something is tying to-AUGH!”

Suddenly, her eyes started glowing in a strange dark light. She started breathing erratically. She was still conscious, but in a great deal of pain. For a moment the worst seemed to be behind her. That’s when she and the rest of the X-men got an unexpected message from Professor Xavier.

‘X-men…report to the War Room immediately! Something has happening on Genosha…something that just hit every telepath in the world!’

The Professor sounded like he was in as much pain as Betsy. She also picked up some groans from Jean as well. These were two of the most powerful telepaths in the world. As Kitty helped Betsy up, she had a sinking feeling as to what this meant.

‘That sounds like a pretty big something, Professor! I’m guessing Magneto’s set for his regular butt-kicking!’

‘I’m afraid it’s not that simple, my dear. It appears Magneto is now the least of our concerns.’

Next Issue: Cambrian Explosion Part 2

Write Comment
Read Comments ( 218 )

Share |