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Volume 4 -- Issue 96 -- Time Bomb Part 2

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Time Bomb Part 2
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Professor Charles Xavier seeks peace between humans and the growing population of mutants. Together with his X-men, they struggle in a world that hates and fears them. Since Magneto unleashed the destructive power of the Cambrian, the world has been on the brink of all-out war. Now he threatens to unleash something just as deadly.

A while back, Magneto discovered that an alien ship crashed on Genosha thousands of years ago. From that ship, he extracted various forms of advanced technology. The most critical part of this technology was a special alien program known as Warlock. This program contained all the hardware needed to replicate the technology on a massive scale. With it, the master of magnetism plans to unleash a T-bomb. This unique bomb will destroy all of man’s modern technology, thus allowing mutants to rule.

His deteriorating mental state is now so apparent that even the Brotherhood of Mutants opposes him. They teamed up with Captain Jack Freeman, General Grimshaw’s most trusted soldier, to take Magneto down. But he managed to subdue them and now they are at his mercy. The only ones left to stop Magneto are the X-men and they are already getting a taste of the master of magnetism’s wrath.

Skies Over Genosha

“Avionics are failing! The stabilizers have just shorted out! Our whole fly-by-wire interface is doing dark!” exclaimed Beast as he frantically wrestled with the controls.

“You don’t need to give us the details, Beast! We know we’re going down!” said Iceman as she and the rest of the team held on.

“Every system is going down! This helicopter just became a glider!” said Cyclops as he fought to maintain stability.

“Last I checked, helicopters were lousy gliders!” said Shadowcat.

“Now I really be missing the X-jet,” groaned Gambit.

The situation was growing worse by the second. As soon as the Velocity passed over Genosha airspace, everything system in the aircraft started failing. It turned an already tense flight into a bumpy descent of the worst kind. They instinctively strapped themselves in and prepared for yet another rough landing.

They were already over the capital city. They could see some activity down below and it didn’t look promising. Something big was going down and they were heading right into the thick of it. Since the General’s message was cut off, all communication lines were cut off and there was no way to find out what this new threat entailed. All they knew was that Magneto had a role in it. Their diplomatic mission just became a combat mission, but at least they knew what to attack. They just had to get there in one piece.

“I know what you’re thinking! You’re hoping I can guide us in!” said Phoenix, who was already clenching her temples in preparation.

“Can you do it, Jean? I sense a lot of worried minds down below. Their fears seem to be coming from a single source!” said Professor Xavier, who was already utilizing his own psychic talents.

“I’m guessing that source is where we’ll find Magneto,” said Colossus.

“That’s the safest best if ever there was one,” commented Psylocke as more turbulence rocked the Velocity.

“From what I’m sensing, we need to head for Magneto’s citadel. That’s where we’ll find the source,” said Xavier, working hard to keep his calm.

“Don’t you mean the ruins of Magneto’s citadel?” said Storm.

“No Storm. I don’t.”

More confusion set in as another hard jolt rocked the Velocity. This time there weren’t any alarms to indicate just how much danger they were in. For a moment, the Velocity was in free fall. That’s when Phoenix tapped her vast telekinetic talents, utilizing some help from the Phoenix Force to catch them and keep them flying at a steady pace.

“I have us...for now at least!” she said through labored grunts.

“You’re doing a fine job, Phoenix! Just keep us steady until we reach the citadel!” said Professor Xavier.

“You’ll be okay, X-men. This is hardly the most challenging task for a cosmic being.”

“Thank you for the assurance!” said Beast, “But I find it rather distressing that Magneto’s citadel is suddenly a factor again.”

“You don’t know the half of it, Beast. Take a look ahead and see for yourself,” said Cyclops, who never took his eyes away from the front window.

Beast looked up to see what the X-leader was talking about. The Professor’s earlier statement suddenly made a lot more sense. Magneto’s citadel was no longer just a pile of rubble. It had been rebuilt with astoundingly efficiency into near perfect condition. It even had a number of ominous improvements.

The citadel looked a bit bigger than the original. It once again stood as the tallest structure in the Genosha skyline. It shimmered in the morning sun with elaborate metal facets that ran throughout each side. There were also a number of cannon-like structures lining the structures that looked eerily familiar. Along with them were a series of ominous pulsing lights that flickered with great power. As exotic as Magneto’s last dwelling had looked, this new citadel was a clear upgrade of sorts.

“Well I’ll be,” said Beast.

“Looks like Magneto be doin’ a little decorating,” said Gambit.

“Even with his colorful tastes, this is too much,” said Storm with dread in her tone.

“Yeah, not even the guys from Extreme Home Makeover could put something like this together,” said Shadowcat.

“I don’t think they would add weapons to the design either,” said Psylocke.

“And not just any weapons! Some of them look familiar,” said Cyclops.

“How so?” asked Colossus.

“Remember the firepower we saw on the Imperial Guard’s cruiser? Take a closer look and tell me you don’t see the similarities!”

Cyclops was right. Those armaments were definitely not of this world. They were too similar to what they saw with the Imperial Guard to be mere coincidence. It evoked a sinking feeling. That feeling soon turned to dread as they got close enough for these ominous weapons to activate.

From the citadel, the advanced energy cannons directed themselves towards the incoming aircraft. An ominous green light formed around the tip. After only a second it unleashed a powerful burst on the Velocity.

“We’ve got incoming fire! Phoenix, take evasive action!” exclaimed Cyclops.

“Ungh! As if this wasn’t hard enough!” grunted Phoenix.

Powerful bolts of energy erupted from the citadel cannons, filling the sky with deadly blasts. It was a dazzling display that caused many on the ground to look on in awe. There was nothing to admire for the X-men though. They were forced to hold on and hope that Phoenix could guide them to their target in one piece.

“We’re almost there, Jean!” said Professor Xavier, urging his student along.

“Too much fire! Can’t keep…avoiding it!” grunted Phoenix.

“I may have overestimated my cosmic capabilities at this stage!”

“So we’re gonna get hit?” groaned Gambit.

“Yes, but that doesn’t mean we have to go down!” said Cyclops with a determined grunt, “Phoenix, go ahead and stop evading it! Instead, use your telekinetic abilities to form a shield!”

“That’s going to make for an even rougher landing, Cyclops!” said Phoenix.

“We can take it! Just keep us in line and let gravity do the rest!”

“Translation…this is going to be another crash landing, isn’t it?” groaned Iceman.

”Would you expect anything less on a visit to Genosha?” quipped Shadowcat.

The X-men held onto their seats and whatever meals were still in their stomachs from the past few days. Their well-being was in the telekinetic hands of Phoenix now. She pushed herself even further, her eyes glowing with the flames of the Phoenix Force as she used her telekinesis to form a barrier around them. Now no longer attempting to dodge the attack, it didn’t take long for the energy cannons to land a hit. When the first bolt struck, the whole aircraft shook violently.

“Whoa! Remy don’t remember Shi’ar weapons hitting that hard!” said Gambit.

“We’re okay! The Velocity just needs to hold together a bit longer!” said Cyclops.

“I know she will, Cyclops! We designed it!” said Beast strongly.

The upper-most parts of the citadel were closing in. They could already see Magneto’s throne room. He always liked to carry out his plans on a high perch so they shouldn’t have to go far to reach him. More energy blasts hit the Velocity as they drew closer. Each was deflected by Phoenix, but the force was still clearly felt. The young psychic was clearly feeling the strain. Sweat was pouring down her face as she fought to protect her friends for just a bit longer.

“We’re about to hit! Hold on everybody!” urged Beast.

“We know the drill, Beast! We’re ready!” said Storm strongly.

“That doesn’t make it suck any less!” groaned Iceman.

Phoenix let out a pained grunt as they were just about to hit. They were less than 100 feet away from the citadel. The team braced themselves. Then something completely unexpected happened.

From side of the citadel, a shell of blackish metal formed on the surface. From this metal, a massive human-like hand formed. The hand literally reached up from the building and caught the incoming Velocity as if it were a baseball. It even bent back a bit to act as a shock absorber and mitigate the impact. To everyone inside, it was like being dropped onto hard pavement while being strapped to a bed. The impact was so rough it knocked the wind out of some of the X-men while causing Phoenix to nearly pass out. But it wasn’t the impact that was most shocking.

“Whoa…I have to say I did not see that coming,” said Shadowcat.

“Is that…a hand?!” exclaimed Psylocke.

“It does not look like a hand that I have ever seen,” said Colossus as he looked out the window with the others.

“Is Remy the only one thinkin’ Magneto just be playing with us?” said Gambit.

“You’re…in good company,” said a breathless and exhausted Jean Grey, “What just happened, Professor? Did we just walk into one of Magneto’s traps?”

“It may be worse than that, my dear,” said Professor Xavier as he clenched his temples.

The X-men were still catching their breath. Most hadn’t reoriented themselves when the mysterious hand started to move again. Cyclops, Phoenix, Beast, Iceman, Storm, Shadowcat, Colossus, Gambit, Psylocke, and Professor Xavier were forced to hold on again as the hand pulled them into the citadel.

They watched in a mix of awe and confusion as the metal on the side of the citadel parted to form an opening for which the giant hand could guide them inside. Once they were completely within the hole, the wall closed up on its own and they were placed by the hand in a small clearing in the corner of a very spacious room.

“Please tell me it’s over,” groaned Iceman.

“Knowing Magneto, it is likely the beginning,” said Colossus as he unstrapped his harness and got out of his seat.

“You’re learning fast, Colossus! But trust me, it gets old fast!” said Shadowcat.

When they finally came to a stop, the X-men only had a brief moment to catch their breath. Looking around, they surmised that they were in the throne room. That meant they were in Magneto’s domain. The master of magnetism quickly made his presence known. Within seconds, a cloud of metal debris started swirling around their aircraft.

“Honestly, X-men, crashing your aircraft into my citadel? Haven’t you used this tactic already?” said the booming voice of a strangely calm Magneto.

The second they heard his voice, the X-men sprang into action. Colossus was the first one to reach the hatch on the side. Already in his metal form, he kicked the door open and led  the X-men out of the jet.

“You almost sound surprised, Magneto!” said the Russian mutant in a stern tone, “You think I would pass up the opportunity to inflict more punishment on your cursed soul?”

“You’re not the only one with an ax to grind, Peter! I seem to remember playing host to some 500-million-year-old blob a certain someone unleashed!” said Cyclops who emerged behind Colossus.

“As sore as I am from that landing, even I can’t overlook this epic scale of douche-baggery,” said a panting Iceman.

“Is that the only reason you’re here?” scoffed Magneto, “To complain about deeds in the past? If so that’s not very heroic of you.”

“We also hear you’ve been off your meds, homme!” said Gambit, “This little stunt you got goin’ tells Remy you need to up the dosage!”

“As if meds are your only concern!” said Storm, who was already summoning her weather control powers.

Magneto looked undaunted. He continued to hover ominously as Colossus, Cyclops, Iceman, Storm, and Gambit led the charge. Psylocke, Beast, and Shadowcat followed close behind, helping a still tired Phoenix and Professor Xavier out of the Velocity. They seemed poised to attack. Cyclops, Storm, Iceman, and Gambit were already taking aim with their powers, ready to end this quickly and quietly. But the master of magnetism was ready for them.

Once again, he tapped the power of Warlock from the metal box he was holding. Almost instantly, more black metal slithered onto the floor and formed a straight line stretching from one end of the throne room to the other. Once in place, the metal assembled a large blackish gold wall that shot up from the floor, creating a thick barrier that effectively deflected the incoming optic blasts, charged cards, ice beams, and lightning.

“Whoa…that’s a new trick,” commented Shadowcat as she, Phoenix, Psylocke, and the Professor caught up to the action.

“When in the bloody hell did he get that power?” said Psylocke as she formed a couple of psionic blades.

“It’s not a mutant power,” said Professor Xavier ominously.

“Again? I’m starting to miss the good old days,” groaned Phoenix.

Cyclops, Storm, Iceman, and Gambit continued attacking, trying to blow through the strange black and gold wall. Colossus got in on the action as well, running up to the wall and slamming it with his fists. Despite putting in enough force to dent steel, the mysterious barrier didn’t register the slightest scratch.

“What the hell kind of voodoo is this?!” yelled Gambit as he unleashed a barrage of charged cards that did nothing but fizzle.

“Must be one of Magneto’s new toys!” said Cyclops.

“Whatever it is, it is quite strong!” said Colossus through alternating punches.

“Oh it’s more than strong, X-men. I’m not merely boasting when I say you have no idea what you’re up against,” said Magneto from behind the barrier, “But consider yourselves typical. You’re not the first to misunderstand the majesty of this power.”

Magneto clenched his fist and directed the power of the box to the area right below where he was hovering. A new pool of black metal formed into a perfect square shape. From this square, the floor opened and a platform from below rose up. On this platform were the bound figures of Quicksilver, Havok, Polaris, the Scarlet Witch, and Captain Freeman. They were still restrained from the neck down by the black metal and in between them was an ominous looking egg-shaped device.

It had the same blackish gold pattern as the walls and black metal that was littered throughout the building. However, this device has a very unique glow to it. The object was about the size of an averaged size car and had a series of complex circuit-like patterns etched on the surface. In the center there was a glass window that gave off a bright purplish glow. It was the same glow as the light that was coming from the box magneto was holding, but this one looked much more volatile.

While the X-men dreaded what this device would do, the Brotherhood knew the truth already. They were still struggling and were just as worried as they were about Magneto’s plan. That was as bad a sign as any that Magneto had crossed a line.

“Okay, I’m not sure whether we should be worried or relieved,” commented Iceman as he gazed towards the Brotherhood.

“Don’t just stand there and gawk! Help us!” exclaimed the Scarlet Witch.

“I know what you’re probably thinking and I agree for once! My dad’s an asshole!” said Quicksilver, “You have my full permission to kick his ass!”

“Wow…I think Hell may have just frozen over,” said an equally bewildered Shadowcat.

“If you guys want to play hero, do it now!” barked Havok, “Magneto is about to set off a bomb! You have to stop it before…”

But Magneto didn’t allow Havok to finish his remark. He ordered Warlock to cover his mouth just as he had done with Captain Freeman to keep him from speaking.

“That’s quite enough, Havok. Give our esteemed guests a chance to witness what this marvelous technology is capable of,” said Magneto.

“Hey! Nobody shuts my brother up except me!” spat Cyclops angrily.

“He’s actually turned on his own children?” said Storm, “He really has gone mad!”

But it wasn’t just Magneto’s harsh actions towards his children that got their attention. The technology he was wielding was cause for even greater concern.

“That technology…” said Beast, “Could it be what I suspect it may be?”

“I already know for certain, old friend,” said Professor Xavier grimly, “I also have a pretty good idea of what Erik plans to do with it.”

“Somehow I doubt it has anything to do with a peace treaty,” said Psylocke.

Professor Xavier wheeled himself forward so that he was in the shadow of the black metal wall. Looking up at his old friend, he didn’t sense the calm and calculating thoughts that usually emanated from Magneto’s mind. Instead, he sensed someone who had truly lost touch with reality.

“Erik! You must listen to me!” the Professor yelled out.

“If you’re going to tell me that I don’t know what I’m doing, you’re wasting your breath, Charles,” said Magneto strongly.

“On the contrary,” Xavier retorted, “I sense you know exactly what you’re doing. What I don’t sense is any indication you’ve thought this through! Have you forgotten everything you’ve lost? Look at what you’re doing to your people! Your family!”

“I am doing what I must to protect them from the humans! Don’t you see? They’re all conspiring against us! As we speak, they’re plotting to wipe us out! This is the only way to ensure our safety for this and future generations.”

“So now you’re playing the conspiracy angle, Magneto?” said Phoenix, “Either I strained my mind more than I thought or you’ve gone X-Files level crazy!”

“I assure you I am not crazy! It is everyone else who has lost touch with reality!” spat the master of magnetism, “If you cannot see that, then you might as well be conspiring with the humans!”

“So says the man who sounds nuttier than a fruitcake factory,” commented Psylocke.

Magneto’s musings weren’t just misguided anymore. They were words from a man who sounded mentally ill. Getting through to Magneto was no longer a viable option anymore. They had to attack.

“I think that’s our cue, Professor,” said Beast, “It appears we will not be able to reason with Magneto this time.”

“As if that wasn’t hard enough when he was sane!” exclaimed Shadowcat.

“I sincerely wish it didn’t come to this so quickly,” lamented Professor Xavier as he clutched his temples again.

Charles Xavier prepared his psionic attack on Magneto. With no helmet to guard his mind, he was vulnerable to attack. Even though he was mentally unstable, he was still competent enough to recognize this tactic.

“Don’t even think about it, Charles!” threatened Magneto as he used his box to issue new commands to Warlock, “Attacking my mind should be the least of your concerns!”

The wall that was keeping the X-men from the T-bomb swirled with a new round of activity. The gold slivers formed a complex pattern of new shapes and from them, a series of black metal wires shot out towards the X-men. They were similar to the tentacle-like extensions that subdued the Brotherhood, but these were focused on Professor Xavier. Colossus took incurred their wrath as well since he had been close to the wall at the time. When they were struck, they were quickly engulfed by their strange metal grip.

“Argh! What are these monstrosities?!” exclaimed Colossus, who was quickly pinned against the wall by the tubes.

“Ahhhhh!” Xavier cried out as he was literally yanked out of his wheelchair.

“Professor!” cried Shadowcat.

“Let him go!” yelled Storm as she unleashed a lightning attack on the wires.

“Divide and attack, X-men! Free the Professor!” ordered Cyclops as he narrowly avoided an incoming tube, “Phoenix, can you carry out a psychic attack instead?”

“Ungh…head is still pounding,” groaned Phoenix.

“Cover me a for a few seconds and I’ll give it a shot, luv!” said Psylocke as she gripped her psionic blade.

“Throw as many psychics as you want. You’ll still fail,” said Magneto ominously.

More activity soon emerged from the wall. This time more than just mindless wires emerged. From the blackish gold streaks on the wall, a series of humanoid figures formed. They each stood about six and a half-feet tall, had a slim human-like build, and had gold streaks to make up facial features and muscle structure. There was little expression to make out within these patterns, but they all seemed subservient to Magneto.

“I need not kill you to win. I need only buy enough time for the T-bomb to charge,” said Magneto.

“So you send a bunch of 8-bit Pac Man rip-offs to attack,” said Iceman, “Original, but still ridiculously lame.”

“It ain’t lame if they work, Iceman,” said Gambit as he took out his bow staff.

“We can critique Magneto’s creativity later!” said Cyclops, “Just keep those things from Psylocke so she can take her shot!”

“I’m already working on it, Cyclops!” said Psylocke, “Just give me some-umf!”

She did not get anywhere near the time she needed. In an impressive display, one of the Warlock figures extended its arm across the room and grabbed Psylocke by the neck. This effectively stopped her attack just as it had stopped Xavier’s. Now Psylocke, the Professor, and Colossus were at the mercy of Magneto’s menacing technology and Cyclops, Phoenix, Shadowcat, Gambit, Storm, Beast, and Iceman had to fight back while time was working against them.

“Dang! Creative or not, that ain’t no way to treat a femme!” said the Cajun as he rushed to his lover’s aid while dodging some wires in the process.

“Reform around the Professor, X-men!” ordered Cyclops as he came to aid Shadowcat and the still woozy Phoenix, “Free Psylocke and the Professor! We need our psychics to win this!”

“Don’t you think these guys know that?” grunted Shadowcat, “At least I think they’re guys!”

“I don’t know what they are, Shadowcat. But they’re under Magneto’s control and that alone makes them dangerous,” said Beast as he assembled with the rest of the team.

“No kidding,” said Phoenix as she watched these Warlock figures surround them, “Almost makes me envy Wolverine for running off before this mission.”

“Almost,” said Storm.

The X-men had a bizarre yet rough fight on their hands. Gambit fought to free Psylocke and Colossus was still stuck to the wall. Everyone else focused on the Professor, who was still bound completely by this strange being. It was hard to imagine that this all started out as a diplomatic mission. It seemed the only lucky one at this point was Wolverine. For all they knew, he was having a much easier time.

New York City


These feral roars filled the drunken Wolverine with a mix of confusion and dread. Standing at the other end of an ally, he watched as an enraged teenage girl bearing metal claws very similar to his attacked with murderous rage. Whoever she was, she certainly wasn’t a run-of-the-mill teenage prostitute. She was like a predatory animal on the hunt and her sights were set solely on him.

“Fuck, I know that yell,” he groaned as he instinctively draw his claws.

Wolverine’s only recourse was to take a defensive stance. He was too drunk to respond with his usual agility. So when this girl had the upper hand in unleashing her onslaught of claw slashes coupled with skilled kicks. The former living weapon was able to block the initial swipe, but his drunkenness kept him from deflecting the next three. Several devastating slashes landed, tearing into his flesh and creating deep wounds. The pain was severe, but dulled by the effects of the alcohol. The girl didn’t stop there. She kept driving him back, attacking and slashing with a fury beyond her age and stature.

To the enraged teenage girl, it was all focused anger. When she looked at this man, she saw everything that had ever made her life a living hell. The reason she had suffered and the reason she was out here on the streets selling sex to survive all because of this man. He had to pay. It was the only way to make her pain stop.

“Hrrrahh! Rrah! Argh!” grunted the girl as she kept hacking and slashing.

“Kid! Stop with the-augh!!” howled Wolverine as he took a claw across the face.

“Don’t…call…me…kid!” she cried in between slashes.

To show just how much she meant this, she jabbed her claws right into his upper neck. Wolverine’s reflexes were still too slow and the resulting wound caused blood to spray all over the surrounding pavement. The intense pain jolted  him out from his drunkenness enough to retaliate.

“Errrrrrrr! Fine! That the way you wanna play it?” he snarled.

With blood still gushing from his wound, Wolverine unleashed his own fury on this mysterious teenager. Leading with his claws and his body weight, he attacked with his own barrage of slashes. The girl showed much more agility than him. She ducked and dodged, even pulling off a nimble back flip to avoid his attack. Whoever this girl was, she was very well trained. She had the kind of training that could only be instilled by Weapon X. This served as added motivation to end this fight and get some answers.

This added motivation was almost welcome for the defending girl. For a moment, she thought this was the wrong man. There was simply no way it could be this easy to take down the legendary Weapon X. He may have been drunk, but that didn’t make him any less deadly.

“Hrrrrrraaaaaahhhh!” roared Wolverine as he shoved her back towards a side wall, “You have all the scars of Weapon X! I can see it in your eyes!”

“I have more than that!” snarled the girl as she tried to counter with a stab of her own.

“Who the hell are you anyways?! How the hell does a child get caught up with Weapon X?!” he demanded as he grabbed the girl’s arm and held it firmly.

“I am not a child!”

In a surprise move, two more distinct snikt came from her feet. Wolverine looked down to see two more adamantium claws extending from between her toes. Armed with these new weapons, the girl delivered a swift kick that cut the arm that was holding her. Then in a fluid acrobatic motion, she delivered a roundhouse that slashed right across Wolverine’s chest. The resulting wound was so deep that it caused him to fall back.

“Ahhhhhhh!” he howled.

“You know who I am! Stop lying to me!” she cried out as she unleashed her most ferocious attack.

Wolverine tried to go on the defensive again, putting up his arms and deflecting another onslaught of claw slashes. For a girl her size, she was pretty strong. And between his wounds and his blood alcohol level, he could not match her as he was once again driven back towards the other end of the alley. Slash after slash tore at his flesh. With each motion, the girl let out a powerful grunt. In it there was a lot of anger, but there was also pain as well. It was a pain that festered so deep that few could ever hope to understand and Wolverine was one of the unlucky few.

“It’s all your fault! All of it!” she cried, tears forming in her eyes from the anguish, “They called me a weapon! A monster! They used me! Hurt me! Tortured me!”

As she spat out the crimes committed against her, she ceased her slashing and pulled off another acrobatic move. Using the claws in her feet, she scaled a nearby wall and leaped off so that she descended towards Wolverine with a punishing jump kick. She landed it right across his face, causing him to fall to the ground so that he came to a rest against the back wall.

“Ungh…cute trick,” grumbled Wolverine.

“They called me…X-23,” seethed the girl, “22 times they tried to make a better Weapon X! 22 times they failed! I was number 23! They created me from your blood!”

“My blood…” groaned the feral mutant, “So what does that make you? My clone? My sister? My daughter?”

“It doesn’t matter what I am to you! All that matters is they succeeded because of you!”

Whether he was drunk or overly bloodied, Wolverine could not escape the agony in this girl’s words. As he leaned back against the wall for support, he saw streams of tears filling this girl’s enraged eyes. It was a horrific enough to experience Weapon X as an adult. This girl must have experienced it from the moment she was born. In seeing the depth of her pain, the dazed Wolverine shifted.

Grunting through the drunken agony, he shut out his lingering anger and disdain. It was completely counter-intuitive after spending a lifetime following his rage, but he realized this was not something he could fight. For once, he had to confront this with his humanity. It was the one skill Xavier, Jeannie, Ororo, and the rest of the X-men always tried to teach him, but he failed miserably at every turn. He couldn’t afford to fail this time. Withdrawing his claws, he confronted the confused girl.

“Those bastards,” said Wolverine while clutching his wounds, “I can’t believe it! They put a child through this shit.”

“Shut the hell up! Don’t act like you didn’t know!” roared X-23, pointing her claws right at his face.

“I didn’t know, damn it! If I had, I would have hunted those assholes down and killed every last one of them!”

“You’re lying!” she cried with more tears in her eyes.

“Think for a moment, kid! Why the hell would I lie?” he retorted, “The same monsters that tortured you did the same to me. They took everything. They took my life…my memories…my humanity. Is it really so hard to believe that they took my blood somewhere along the way?”

X-23 refused to believe him, even if it made perfect sense. She was still blinded by rage and anguish. Her hands began shaking as she held her claws up to Wolverine’s face. As she looked into the eyes of this man, a number of conflicting emotions boiled up within her. They were emotions she was never supposed to feel in the first place, yet they somehow superseded her rage.

“I can see it in your eyes…how much it hurts,” Wolverine went on, “It sucks. Believe me, I know. The pain is so bad you just want to…but you can’t. No matter what you do, it never goes away.”

“Stop!” she yelled, “I won’t let you trick me!”

“This ain’t a trick, kid. And before you yell at me, think again. You are a kid…a child who was clearly tortured by the same people. You got every right to be pissed off. But what the hell do you hope to gain by killing me?”

“I…I need to end this! I escaped and killed everyone who made me! All that’s left is you! Either I’ll kill you or you’ll kill me! That’s how it has to be!” said X-23, her voice cracking under the strain.

“Killing me won’t undo the shit that was done to you. It won’t even make you feel better,” said Wolverine as he approached the feral girl despite his injured state, “Besides…why would you want to kill the only one on this planet who understands what your pain? Hell, I’m probably the closest thing you have to family.”

“No…I can’t have a family!”

“You really believe that?” scoffed Wolverine, “Maybe the only one tellin’ lies here is you!”

She was on the verge of breaking down. The former living weapon could smell it in the tears she was holding back. She was still poised to attack, but she wasn’t going to. Somehow Wolverine was certain of that. It put him in a strange position. He was never good with empathy, sympathy, or anything of the sort. Yet here he was trying to reach out to the only person who could possibly understand him and vice versa.

“You ain’t some weapon. You ain’t a lost cause either. An old bald guy who’s a hell of a lot smarter than either of us once told me there’s no such thing as a lost cause,” he said as he reached out to touch her face.

“Don’t!” she seethed.

“You probably think you’re just a weapon. That’s probably what you’ve been told by people who deserved your anger way more than I ever will. Well guess what? You ain’t a weapon. Real weapons don’t cry like you’re crying right now.”

“I…I’m not crying! I can’t!”

“Stop lying to yourself, damn it!” said Wolverine firmly, “You don’t have to be X-23. That’s number, not a name. Ain’t anyone ever call you by a real name?”

The girl was silent. Her hands were still trembling even as her claws threatened to impale the feral mutant in the neck.

“If you don’t have one, why don’t we make one up right here on the spot?” he went on, “I ain’t good with names. You look like me. You act like me. You’re stubborn like me. How about…Laura? Sounds kind of like me, but fits a teenage girl.”

“Laura…” X-23 found herself saying.

“Sounds better, doesn’t it?” he said, “I could help you with more than just your name. Just let me sober up and I’ll take you somewhere better than this.”

“I don’t want your help!” she cried, tensing up again.

“But you need it, don’t you?” said the feral mutant as he gently placed his hands on hers, “Take a good long look at me. I’m a pathetic son-of-a-bitch. I just broke up with my girlfriend, I’m out on a bender in this shit hole part of the city, and I hate my own guts more than I could hate anyone else’s. Do you really wanna walk the same path I’m walking? Because this is how you’ll end up.”

Every word he said struck a nerve that had never been struck. X-23 was still inclined to cut this man to pieces. So many instincts were urging her to, but something else was holding her back. Those emotions that her creators tried to breed out of her were holding her back. It was so painful. Every tear was more agonizing than the last. These weren’t emotions she was supposed to feel. It was just too much for her.

“Listen to me…” said Wolverine.


In an uncontrolled outburst, she shoved her claws back into a wound in his torso and drop kicked him back into the wall. She could have easily followed up with another lethal blow, but she didn’t. Instead, she turned around and ran.

“Augh! Kid wait!” groaned Wolverine.

She was already halfway down the alley. Grunting through pain and the lingering effects of alcohol, the former living weapon tried to run after her. He clutched his bleeding wounds and stammered down the alley. He stumbled twice, falling face first on the pavement. If he were sober, he may have been able to reach her. Since he wasn’t, she was long gone by the time he reached the end of the ally.

“Kid…” he said in a distant, slurred tone.

He tried tracking her scent. The dirty city air had scattered it to the winds. This girl really was of his blood. She knew how to escape in a way that was hard to track. It didn’t take long before her scent was mixed with that of many others throughout the city. Between the humidity and his drunken stupor, there was no way he could find her at this point.

“Damn it all to fucking hell!” was all he could say.

Defeated and demoralized, the former living weapon collapsed against a nearby wall. His wounds were still bleeding profusely, but his healing factor was already mending them. But his wounds remained secondary. Once again, he was left to wallow in his own world of sorrow and pity.

‘What the fuck just happened? Did I just come face-to-face with another skeleton from Weapon X? I’ve been poked, prodded, dissected, and mind-wiped. Now I’ve been cloned too. What the hell am I supposed to do with this?!’

A whole host of uncertainties plagued his mind. Logan was in a bad enough state after breaking up with Storm. Now it wasn’t just his heart that was wounded. No matter what he did, the world would find ways to torture him. This X-23 sounded like another manifestation of that torture. There was someone else out there like him who endured the same torture and the first thing she wanted to do was kill him. Even if he did get through to her, he still didn’t do enough and that hurt even more.

Maybe he deserved it. Maybe what he did in his past life was so horrific that all this torment from Storm to X-23 was karma coming to kick him in the ass. It only vindicated him leaving Ororo out of his cursed life. He deserved this burden and all the pain that came with it.

“Screw this healing factor,” grunted Logan as he pulled himself up, “I need another beer…or 50.”

Magneto’s Citadel – Throne Room

The battle against Magneto raged with increasing urgency. The X-men were pinned down and boxed in, losing precious time as the ominous T-bomb stood ready to go off at any moment. Magneto did little fighting. He just hovered over the battle arena, directing the Warlock program to hold the X-men back until the bomb was ready.

Over a dozen six-foot humanoid figures surrounded the X-men. Each were armed with the same exotic properties as the black and gold metal that made the unbreakable wall keeping them from the T-bomb. They could shape-shift, contort their figures, and take a great deal of punishment in addition to using their nimble forms to restrain Magneto’s adversaries.

Cyclops continued to direct the attack, looking for any means of beating them back and getting to the T-bomb. He and Iceman coordinated with a still weakened Phoenix to save Professor Xavier, who was still bound from the neck down by the exotic metal. Gambit and Beast were trying to do the same with Psylocke, who also had the misfortune of being a target because of her telepathic talents. Shadowcat and Storm launched their own attack on the thickening black wall, which still had Colossus pinned. He had been struggling since it latched onto him and even with his strength, the Warlock program held strong.

“Hang in there, Peter! I’ll get you out!” said Shadowcat as she phased through a Warlock figure just as it attempted to engulf her.

“I’ll cover you, Shadowcat! These things may not respond to your phasing, but they respond quite nicely to lightning!” said Storm, who utilized an extra ferocious lightning attack.

“Keep it up, Storm! Just think of these clowns as a means to vent your post-breakup frustration!”

Two more Warlock humanoids tried to stand in Shadowcat’s way. Storm took her advice to heart and unleashed a massive lightning burst that reduced the two figures to ash. Being part mechanical was not an advantage here. Anger and heartache worked to intensify her control over the elements and Warlock couldn’t handle such wrath.

Whatever was motivating Storm, it gave Shadowcat the opening she needed to reach Colossus. By now he was completely covered from the neck down and pinned against the wall. Only his hands and feet remained uncovered. Once she reached him, he offered a somewhat sheepish smile.

“Uh…perhaps this was not the best method of attack, yes?” said the Russian.

“You live and you learn, big guy,” she said with a humored grin, “I’ll help you out. Then we need to free the Professor.”

“Agreed, but how do you propose we fight these monstrosities?”

“We’re the X-men. We always find a way to destroy Magneto’s fancy toys!”

Grabbing onto his hand, Shadowcat phased the Russian out of the Warlock’s clutches. It didn’t give him up without a fight. It tried to engulf him with more wires. This time they were unsuccessful. As soon as Colossus had an arm free, he was able to fight them off. By the time his whole body was free, Warlock responded by forming three more figures to block their path.

“Get to the Professor!” urged Storm from above, “I’ll clear a path!”

“And I shall make it wider!” said Colossus with renewed determination.

A powerful wind gust swept through the area, blowing aside the three figures with the force of a category five hurricane. In wake of this destruction Colossus lowered his shoulders and plowed forward, shattering other Warlock soldiers that tried to reform in his way. Those that managed to survive were met with Shadowcat’s boot.

“This thing is like one big cockroach!” she said as she kicked the head off one of them, “There has to be a weak spot or something!”

“There is! It’s Magneto! We need to end this with a psychic attack!” urged Storm.

“You think he doesn’t know that?” retorted Shadowcat, “Please tell me we have a Plan B!”

“Do we ever?” said Storm grimly as she unleashed more lightning.

That could have been lingering break-up bitterness in her voice, but that offered little reassurance. Magneto knew their plan and so did Warlock. If this was their only hope, then they were in big trouble.

But the Professor wasn’t the only psychic in danger. Psylocke was still at the mercy of one of the Warlock minions. After being engulfed by some wires, two figures formed around her and wrapped themselves around her limbs and neck. She was choking desperately for air at this point and couldn’t even from psionic blades to free herself.

“Ack! Can’t…breathe!” she gasped.

“Hold on, cherè! Gambit’s on his way!” exclaimed the Cajun.

“I don’t think they will allow us to reach her this easily! These creatures operate as computers! They cannot be overmatched!” said Beast as he pulled off a back-flip to avoid a simultaneous attack by two Warlocks.

“Don’t be pointin’ out the obvious, Beast! Gambit needs extra muscle! Not a lecture!”

Gambit fought harder, using his bow staff to beat back four Warlock minions that were blocking his path to Psylocke. He kept fighting them and they kept pushing him back. At times they tried to restrain him as well, but he managed to avoid them with his agility. He tried blowing them away with a barrage of charged cards. This tactic only worked somewhat the first time. Warlock quickly adapted, forming shields to deflect the cards. It made each of the Cajun’s successive attacks less and less effective.

He was blinded by his determination to save Psylocke. Seeing her being choked to death kept him from formulating any strategy. Beast tried to compensate, keeping a fair distance from Psylocke and looking for a means to free her. All the while, he kept using his ape-like reflexes to evade attacks by Warlock.

“These beings are quite fascinating,” he mused, “Part biological and part mechanical, operating within set parameters yet maintaining a collective unity. Yet they display the basic function of a computer program. I wonder how far that goes.”

Upon leaping over two charging Warlock minions, Beast formulated a plan. He noticed that Gambit was attracting most of the minions. At the moment he had five surrounding him, forming bow staffs of their own to subdue him. This left the path to Psylocke clear. It was just the window he needed.

“I’m going to try something, Gambit! I’ll need you to keep up your attack!” said Beast as he made a beeline towards Psylocke.

“Augh! Hold up, Beast!” grunted Gambit as two Warlock minions hit him on the head and back, “Remy’s gotta…”

He didn’t get a chance to finish. The Warlock humanoids kept attacking, knocking his bow staff out of his hand and cornering him. All he had left was a fresh deck of cards and that was only going to last for so long.

While Gambit took a beating, Beast reached Psylocke. The two Warlocks holding her took notice and tried to attack, launching a stream of wires from their chests in an effort to restrain him. Beast anticipated this and pulled off another acrobatic leap, avoiding the attack and landing within about twenty feet of Psylocke.

“Betsy! On my mark, form two psionic blades in your hands!” he ordered.

“But I…” she choked, sounding almost out of breath.

“Trust me! I know what I’m doing!”

Having little time or breath to argue, Psylocke prepared to do as he said. She had both her arms restrained, but her hands weren’t covered so she could still form her blades. It wasn’t clear what good they could do. She would have to trust Beast’s word.

“Now!” yelled Beast as he moved in close.

Psylocke summoned the last of her strength and formed two blades. Beast then moved in and grabbed both her hands with his gorilla strength grip. Using his ape-like strength, he pulled her hands free from the Warlock’s’ grip and shoved the two blades right into their heads. The impact caused them to dissolve along with their hold on Psylocke.

“Augh! Bloody hell!” she groaned as she felt to her knees and gasped for air, “It’s official! I fucking hate these things!”

“Save the profanities for when your breath returns,” said Beast as he protectively hovered over her, “As I expected, these minions work like computers. Their program allows them to certain individuals. But when I attacked with your abilities, they were ill prepared.”

“So much for being overmatched,” she panted.

“Being able to overmatch us does not mean they are able to outsmart us.”

It made sense. Beast was the resident computer whiz. A fight like this was right up his alley. While she caught her breath, he continued to fight off incoming Warlock minions that tried to restrain her again. While he kept her safe, she noticed that Gambit was in trouble.

“Ungh! Gambit don’t think you hommes be folding, non?” he groaned as he fell to the floor after taking another bow staff to the gut.

“Bloody hell,” said Psylocke, rolling her eyes.

Armed with Beast’s insight, Psylocke formed a series of psionic daggers. She then took aim and threw them in a devastating barrage against the Warlock humanoids. As soon as it hit them in the head, they started dissolving. Some tried to reconstitute, but Gambit was able to finish them off by flicking out a few more charged cards. Once they were gone, Psylocke rushed over and helped her lover back to his feet.

“My hero,” she said dryly.

“Remy already hurt his body, cherè. Don’t be wounding his pride while you at it,” groaned Gambit.

“Pride should be the least of our worries! Are you able to attempt another psychic attack?” asked Beast as he knocked back a few more minions.

“I can try,” she said, “First my head needs to stop throbbing. Believe it not, being choked to death isn’t good for the brain.”

“I hope you can recover quickly! It does not seem they’ll be letting Charles free anytime soon!” said Beast as he watched a fresh round of Warlock minions form.

These exotic beings showed no signs of letting up. They weren’t going to give Psylocke a chance to recover and they weren’t going to let them aid Professor Xavier either. They were following their program to protect the T-bomb and as long as that program was in place, there was no stopping them.

While Gambit, Beast, and Psylocke could not assist the Professor, the rest of the team did their best to make due. Most of the Warlock minions surrounded Professor Xavier, making sure there was no chance of him being freed. Magneto placed a special emphasis on keeping him at bay. He also gave Phoenix her fair share as well, sending hoards of Warlock attackers that added extra mass to their bodies as they swarmed her, Cyclops, and Iceman. This forced her to use her telekinesis to protect them and so long as she kept this up, she couldn’t utilize her telepathy.

“So heavy!” groaned Phoenix as six Warlock soldiers kept pounding at her shields with hammer-like hands, “Can’t…keep…holding them back!”

“You’re doing great, Phoenix! We just need a bit more time!” said Cyclops as he kept firing blast after blast towards the minions guarding Xavier.

“Sure you’re not being generous with your time frame, Cyclops? They just keep reforming!” said Iceman, who used his ice powers to freeze these creatures where they stood.

“All we need is a brief opening! We can do it!”

“And you’ll have help!” said Storm, who emerged from across the throne room with Shadowcat and Colossus.

“Da! Just hold on a bit longer, Professor! We will free you!” yelled the Russian as he plowed through more Warlocks.

Several Warlocks went flying as a result of Colossus’s presence. Iceman even made it easier for him, freezing some nearby Warlocks so that he could shatter them like glass. Storm did her part too, attacking the Warlocks with hammer-like hands that were attacking Phoenix. This gave her some much needed breathing room and allowed Shadowcat to get in closer so that the Professor was within her reach.

“I’ve got you, Professor!” yelled Shadowcat as she reached out for him.

“Really? You think me that crazy?” questioned Magneto, who was still hovering ominously above them.

Utilizing the box, he caused Warlock to form a puddle of black metal under Shadowcat’s feet. Just as she was about to touch the Professor’s hand, the metal opened a hole in the floor and she fell right through it.

“Ahhhhhhhhh!” she cried out.

“Katya!” exclaimed Colossus.

The Russian abruptly halted his attack against the Warlock creatures and lunged to catch Shadowcat’s hand before she fell. He barely got to her in time, grabbing her wrist while she now dangled over a pretty lengthy drop. Magneto made sure Warlock opened up other holes as well to make certain that she wouldn’t think of phasing.

“I believe that’s the second time you’ve fallen for that trick,” said Magneto stoically, “And you X-men say I never learn.”

“Is this how you hope to win, Magneto? By fighting dirty!” yelled Cyclops.

“It’s working, is it not? Warlock is almost done charging the T-bomb. In less than a minute, the human world you so foolishly defend will be no more.”

It seemed Magneto had them right where he wanted them. With Colossus clinging to Shadowcat, the plan to free the Professor faltered. Cyclops, Storm, and Iceman were overwhelmed by a fresh hoard of Warlock minions and Phoenix was cornered by more figures that continued pounding on her telekinetic bubble. It didn’t look like Psylocke was going to get another shot either as she was too busy defending the wounded Gambit with Beast. All the while, Professor Xavier was still trapped.

“Looks like we’re going to need another push, Cyclops!” said Storm as she flew in to protect Colossus while he pulled up Shadowcat.

“Doesn’t look like there’s time!” grunted Cyclops as he widened the arc of his optic blasts, “There’s too many of them! We can’t get through!”

Now are you going to say we’re screwed?” lamented Iceman as he took a heavy blow from a nearby minion.

Iceman’s assessment was bleak. It didn’t seem there was any way around it.

“Professor…you have to…attack Magneto!” urged Phoenix, her body now glowing with the flames of the Phoenix force.

“I’m…trying!” gasped Xavier.

“This Warlock program is too robust!” exclaimed Beast, “You must find a way to outsmart it! This is Shi’ar technology! Surely it must have a failsafe!”

“A failsafe…” said Xavier.

Beast’s words triggered a sudden spark of inspiration. For a moment, Professor Xavier stopped trying to psychically attack Magneto and turned his attention to Warlock. Despite being strained both in body and mind, he was not a dying man anymore. He had strength to spare and with that strength, he detected something unexpected.

This Warlock creature wasn’t just a computer program. It had a certain level of intelligence. By that same degree, it also had a mind.

“Of course!” he exclaimed, “The AI…”

“Professor, if you’re going to try some crazy new plan! Do it now!” urged Cyclops.

“Nothing…crazy about it!” he said with a newfound strength, “This ends now!”

The Professor directed his telepathic towards the mysterious being that was restraining him. Using his mind, he searched for a sentient intelligence and he didn’t have to search for very long.

‘Warlock, can you hear me?’

‘Program Warlock acknowledges unrecognized intelligence.’

‘My name is Charles Xavier. You must stop what you are doing with the T-bomb!’

‘Negative. Program instructs that T-bomb must be constructed, charged, and defended. Warlock must obey program.’

‘If your program is that of the Shi’ar, is there not a special provision that forces you to protect the sanctity of life? If ever your actions threaten or inflict pain upon living beings, you are to automatically cease your function.’

‘Inquiry processing…provision acknowledged. Emergency protocols have been overridden. Ignition will not directly harm living beings.’

‘But it will! Listen to me and not what Magneto entered! Your actions will cause great harm to all life on this planet! Open your interface to my mind and you shall see!’

The grip on Xavier loosened slightly and the Professor was allowed to unleash a more powerful psychic probe. In this probe he revealed the intent of Magneto’s plan. The Professor figured Magneto was smart enough to manipulate Warlock in a way that would circumvent the fail-safes. Xavier had get those failsafes working again and so Warlock could see the truth.

As soon as Warlock interfaced with this new information, a new round of activity erupted. All the gold streaks in the black metal started flashing in an ominous red hue. The program it had been running so efficiently abruptly stopped. It even caused the box Magneto was holding to vibrate ominously.

“What is this?! A system crash?” Magneto gasped.

“New data assimilated. Emergency protocols back online. User interface severed.”

“No! Listen to me, Warlock! I command you!”

“Too late, Magneto!” Xavier called out, “Warlock just initiated a new user. And with this access, I’m shutting down the T-bomb!”

The Professor was now psychically controlling Warlock. Using this connection, he ordered Warlock to break down the components to the T-bomb and reduce it to base matter. As soon as Magneto saw it dissolve, he flew down in a feeble attempt to catch it.

“The bomb! What have you done?!” he yelled out.

He ended up grabbing only the formless proto-matter. The bomb was gone and so was his plan, but it didn’t stop there.

Taking full advantage of this new interface, Xavier ordered Warlock to cease its attack. In an instant, every figure froze where they stood and dissolved into a puddle of black metal. Even the hole that was made for Shadowcat closed up, allowing Colossus to stand up and pull her out. This certainly came as a relief to the X-men, who stood breathless and confused at what was going on.

“Whoa…what’s happening? Why are they retreating?” wondered Iceman.

“I don’t know. But I’m sensing some unusual psychic activity,” said Psylocke.

“Me too, but I know where it’s coming from,” said an exhausted Phoenix as she turned to the Professor and smiled.

The rest of the team picked up on it too. Cyclops, Phoenix, Iceman, Beast, Storm, Shadowcat, Gambit, Psylocke, and Colossus all gathered around where the Professor was still being held. They watched as the strange black matter lowered Xavier down to the floor. Then before their very eyes, Warlock formed a new wheelchair that was identical to the other one. It proved beyond a doubt that he was now in charge.

“What in the hell did you do Professor? Low jack this thing or something?” asked Gambit, who was being held up by Psylocke and Beast.

“You could say that,” he said wryly,, “Magneto didn’t have the luxury of encountering the aliens behind this technology. He had no idea of knowing that the Shi’ar were very careful in ensuring their technology had sufficient of failsafes.”

“Thus sparing themselves the Terminator outcome,” reasoned Phoenix, “Makes sense to me.”

“Does that mean the threat is behind us, Charles?” asked Beast.

“Not quite, old friend. There is still one important matter to resolve.”

Professor Xavier issued another command to Warlock. Within seconds, the large wall that had been separating them from Magneto and the captured Brotherhood dissolved. Shortly afterward, the black metal encasing Quicksilver, Havok, Polaris, the Scarlet Witch, and Captain Freeman dissolved as well.

“Finally!” said Quicksilver with a sigh of relief as he stepped out from his confinement.

“That was messed up in way too many ways,” groaned Havok, trying to get the feeling back in his body.

“You’re right…it was,” said Captain Freeman as he shook off the metal, “And for once, we’re in a position to punish the asshole behind this!”

The former Green Beret didn’t wait for his body to recover. The moment he was free, he set his sights on Magneto. He was still lamenting over the loss of the T-bomb, hovering over where it once stood. This left him completely vulnerable to the angry soldier and Jack Freeman took full advantage of it.

“Captain Freeman! Don’t!” urged Cyclops.

“Father!” Polaris cried out.

The determined solider ignored their cries. With Magneto in his grasp, he was determined to make it count. He quickly adapted his body for extra strength and grabbed the old man’s neck. He then charged past Polaris and the Scarlet Witch, who were still recovering. He kept going until he reached the wall right behind his throne. And with his dominating strength, he pinned Magneto so he was completely at his mercy.

“This has been a long time coming, old man! Your bullshit has caused a billion too many headaches!” he seethed angrily.

“Ack! You dare…accuse me?!” choked Magneto, already feeling short of breath.

“I don’t just dare! I triple dog dare!” spat Captain Freeman, “I came here to negotiate a treaty! But you just had to throw another world-threatening plot into the mix! I’m pretty sure my superiors have no problem with me playing the role of judge, jury, and executioner!”

“End me here…and you’ll make me a martyr,” gasped the master of magnetism.

“A martyr?! You’ve pissed off damn near everybody! Human and mutant alike! There isn’t a soul on this planet who wouldn’t have me snap your neck! Even if it makes you a martyr to some, that’s a price I’m more than willing to pay!”

Captain Freeman tightened his grip, cutting of Magneto’s air even further. Blood was coming from his nose and eyes. He was trying to use his powers to manipulate the metal around the angry soldier, but it was no use. He couldn’t concentrate. The world around him was fading into darkness.

The battled hardened Green Beret stood poised to end the threat of Magneto once and for all. He was pulled back at the last minute by a hex bolt from the Scarlet Witch and a shard of metal courtesy of Polaris. This sudden tug forced him to loosen his grip, causing Magneto to fall from the wall.

“Let him go, Captain!” ordered the Scarlet Witch.

“Ungh! Back off, Maximoff!” grunted Captain Freeman as he fought the effects of her hex bolts, “You don’t want to defend this asshole anymore!”

“That asshole you’re referring to is still my father!” she said strongly, “You end him and you can forget about any peace!”

“Peace?! Now you’re as crazy as he is! This latest round of bullshit has effectively made a peace deal impossible!”

“No it hasn’t, Captain. Peace is still possible!” said Professor Xavier as he and the rest of the X-men caught up, “But if you finish what you’re doing, you’ll do more to destroy it than Magneto ever could. Are you equipped to bear that burden?”

Captain Freeman looked around. He was officially outnumbered by the X-men and the Brotherhood. They seemed ready to attack the moment he tried to finish the deed. Looking at them and then back at Magneto, the angry soldier groaned and let him go. He was reminded of General Grimshaw’s message to him. He was supposed to do the right thing when the mission demanded it and sometimes the right thing was downright frustrating.

“Somehow I know I’ll regret this,” grumbled the Green Beret as he watched Magneto gasp for air.

“You’ll hate yourself less in the long run. Trust me,” said Cyclops with an understanding look.

Now that Magneto was free, his children came to his aid. Quicksilver, Polaris, and the Scarlet Witch rushed to help him back to his feet. He still look so dazed in addition to being so deeply frustrated. Seeing his children only made it worse.

“Deep breaths, father. Try and come back to us from crazy land,” said Quicksilver.

“Can it with the crazy talk, Pietro! He needs help,” said Polaris, showing more compassion than the others.

“Among other things,” said Havok as he stood apprehensively over Magneto.

“That goes double for you, Havok!” said the Scarlet Witch with a touch of scorn, “Seriously Father, is this what you’ve been reduced to? Fighting everyone including your own family?!”

Magneto looked up at his family. Their eyes were full of worry and disappointment. Having supported him for so many years, it was strange to see them so disgusted by his actions.

“My children…everything I do…everything I’ve always done…has been for you,” he said to them, “Don’t you see? The humans are conspiring! They even sent a mutant dressed as a soldier to kill me!”

“Hey! This uniform isn’t a fashion statement! I can back it up with or without mutant powers!” said Captain Freeman angrily.

“Whoa there, Captain! Take it easy!” said Cyclops as he and Beast held him back.

“Now would not be the time to debate your fashion sense,” added Phoenix, using some telekinesis just in case.

Captain Freeman was still seething. Magneto deserved far worse than the treatment they were giving him. But for Magneto, these weren’t crimes. Everything he ever did had purpose and this was no exception. His children and the X-men just didn’t understand.

“The Cambrian showed me many truths,” he continued to muse, “It showed me that as long as we remain divided, the humans will keep conspiring. Their leaders, their armies, and their people will always hold a sword over our heads. No treaty or compromise will ever ensure our safety. They’re going to keep coming for us! I refuse to let our fate be the same as my parents!”

“Father, are you listening to yourself?” said Polaris, looking at her father with tears in her eyes, “You’ve crossed a line that goes beyond protecting our people. These worries of yours aren’t rational. Hell, they’re outright paranoid!”

“No…I’ve seen it. The Cambrian showed me!”

“The Cambrian messed with your mind and did a damn good job of it!” said Quicksilver, “I know this sounds strange coming from me of all people, but you need to slow down! I hate human atrocity as much as you do, but this kind of bullshit is pushing it!”

“Even you cannot see it, Pietro?” said Magneto in a gasp of shock, “You’ve never shied away from striking the humans before.”

“I might have given it some thought, but then you had to attack us. Maybe I’m the crazy one, but when a plan involves my own father throwing me into the mix with a 500 million-year-old pile of sludge or some fancy alien tech I don’t see that as much of a plan.”

“The same could be said by all mutants,” said Havok, reinforcing the point, “Before the Cambrian, you helped us forge the first ever mutant nation. You inspired mutants to stand together. Now you’ve fallen way off the tracks! You’re fighting us to fight the humans! How is that not crazy?”

“I am not crazy!” exclaimed Magneto, “I do what I must…”

“For the good of your people, I know. I’ve heard the excuse more times than I care to count. But the question remains…at what cost?” said Professor Xavier, who moved in to confront his old friend.

His children clearly weren’t getting through to him. The pleading tears of Polaris, the festering outrage of Quicksilver, and the harsh scorn of the Scarlet Witch wasn’t making Magneto see the error of his ways. Having known Erik Lensherr longer than any of them, Professor Charles Xavier was the only one who could possibly get through to him.

“Erik…think long and hard about what you’re doing,” he said to his friend, “Beforehand, you were fighting for a cause. Now you’re just fighting. You’re lashing out against humanity and even your own family out of fear and paranoia. In the process you’re alienating the very people you’re trying to save.”

“I am fighting the battle so they won’t have to!” said Magneto, “They may not understand, but one day they will see the truth just as I have!”

“Will they, Erik? Or will fear always stand in their way?” questioned Professor Xavier, “If you’re not willing to believe me, then allow me to show you something that I hope will offer some perspective.”

Xavier closed his eyes and placed both hands on his temple. Captain Freeman and the Brotherhood watched nervously. The X-men, however, didn’t seem as worried. They had far more confidence in their Professor. He had been working to regain their trust after he lied about his cancer. This would most certainly go a long way.

“What the hell is he doing?” asked Havok.

“Only what he does best,” shrugged Iceman.

“Give him a chance, bro. After saving us both, he deserves one,” said Cyclops.

Havok and the rest of the Brotherhood weren’t in a position to argue. It was Charles Xavier that took control of Warlock and stopped the T-bomb. If he was smart enough to handle alien tech, then he was smart enough to handle Magneto.

Using his mind, Professor Xavier channeled the frightened and confused thoughts from mutants throughout Genosha and directed them right into Magneto’s mind. He spared no detail either. He gathered thoughts from soldiers terrified that they would never see their families again and thoughts from mutant citizens who were hiding in terror at what Magneto was going to do. They feared destruction similar to what was wrought by the Cambrian. Instead of fearing the armed troops, they feared Magneto. He was the tyrant. He was the one conspiring against them.

‘Magneto’s going to kill us all!’

‘Fucking Magneto! I’ll never see my wife and son again!’

‘He’s gone mad! Why did I ever trust that monster?!’

‘I can’t take anymore! I don’t know which is worse! The humans or Magneto!’

As these tormented thoughts poured into his mind, the master of magnetism clutched his head. A new kind of agony engulfed him. It wasn’t the pain of defeat or discomfort. It was a cold hard sorrow that emerged from the realization of what he had become.

“No…it’s not possible! How could they?” Magneto lamented.

“How could they not, Erik?” Xavier retorted, “Do you now see what you’ve doing? Everyone, human and mutant, fears you now. In your paranoia, you have forgotten what was once most important to you.”

Magneto’s face contorted with anguish. It was hard to tell if he was crying or just angry with himself. For the X-men, it was a strange to see him so distraught. He was a far cry from the megalomaniac tyrant they were used to fighting. His children, however, were more compassionate. Polaris went so far as to offer him a comforting hug.

“Listen to him, father,” she said with a loving gaze, “It’s not too late! Look at yourself and ask the questions you’ve been avoiding. Is fear the only legacy you want to leave behind? Is this the role you want for yourself?”

Magneto looked up at his children that he had done so much to protect. Everything felt so wrong. His people feared him. His own children feared him. Even if the humans feared him, what was the point? He would still inspire fear and not unity. It was this harsh reality that led him to an inescapable truth. He really had gone crazy.

There were still traces of tears in Magneto’s eyes, but now there was also a new resolve. With this new mindset, he gave Charles and his family a clear answer.

“No…I don’t.”

What happened next caught even Polaris by surprise. Magneto unleashed a wave of magnetic energy, causing the metal in the floor below him to liquefy and re-shape itself. In an instant, a powerful pulse shoved Polaris and her siblings back ten feet where the Havok and the X-men caught them. The moment they were clear, the liquid metal formed a bullet-shaped shell around his body. Then it launched straight up like a bullet shot from a gun, blowing a clean hole through the ceiling in the process.

“Father!” Polaris cried out as she watched her father disappear into the sky.

“Son-of-a-bitch! Now you’re playing coward, Magneto?!” yelled Captain Freeman as he tried to leap up at the bullet, “I already miss the crazy tyrant!”

It was a feeble attempt. The Green Beret tried to adapt his body so that his legs would have more jumping power, but even that wasn’t enough to catch the fleeing bullet. When he fell to the floor he landed flat on his face in a fit of frustration.

“Nice move, luv. Even if it was hilariously unnecessary,” said Psylocke dryly.

“Was that one of those it-seemed-like-a-good-idea-at-the-time moments?” said Phoenix as she and Storm helped him up.

“Spare me your sympathy,” muttered Freeman, “This is bad! The man responsible for a long list of crimes and he just skipped bail on us! Now how are we supposed to clean up his mess?”

“You would rather have him stick around?” said Iceman.

“Why not? He hasn’t answered for any of his crimes. That’s going to be very unsettling to the higher ups overseas. It doesn’t even begin to factor how much more paranoid the public is going to be with Magneto on the loose.”

“Let them be paranoid,” said Quicksilver bitterly, “Like we would have let you put our father on trial anyways.”

“Then that means this was a waste of time before I even got here! I know he’s your father and all, but he’s not above the law. Until Magneto starts paying for his crimes, we can forget about any kind of treaty!”

Captain Freeman’s harsh words revealed an even harsher reality. The battle against Warlock may be over, but the damage had been done. Now Magneto was gone and he was leaving a hell of a mess in his wake. It was enough to make the X-men and Brotherhood reel in greater frustration. Professor Xavier wheeled towards Polaris and the Scarlet Witch with Cyclops, Phoenix, Iceman, Beast, Shadowcat, Colossus, Storm, Gambit, and Psylocke standing beside him. Havok and Quicksilver stood apprehensively next to Captain Freeman. It seemed the chances for salvaging peace were even worse than before.

For Polaris and the Scarlet Witch, a treaty was the last thing on their minds. Polaris was still in tears after seeing her father run away from them. Havok moved in and offered a comforting gesture to her. There was plenty of sorrow to go around and plenty of blame to go around, but little in terms of answers.

“Father…” said Polaris distantly.

“Um…I’m sorry, Lorna,” said Iceman, offering some words of comfort to his ex, “I won’t even going to pretend to understand how much this sucks.”

“It is definitely unexpected, that’s for sure,” said Beast.

“Where do you think he went?” wondered Havok.

“I have no idea. He’s never run away from us without a plan,” said the Scarlet Witch, “Maybe he really isn’t all there mentally and just needs time to collect himself.”

“Or this may be his way of punishing himself,” said Professor Xavier as he attempted to support the children of his old friend, “Erik is a complicated man. When he finds himself in a position he doesn’t want to be in, he’ll often struggle to understand it before he starts to make amends.”

“How long does it usually take him?” asked Polaris in a low tone.

“Longer than it should,” sighed Professor Xavier, “But he’ll come around. I have faith that he will.”

“Not everyone can share that kind of faith, Professor Xavier,” said Captain Freeman bitterly, “I’ve always been a cynical pragmatist at heart. Since there’s nothing left for us to discuss, I have to deliver a failed mission report to General Grimshaw.”

“So you’re just going to walk away and let everything get worse?” said Shadowcat apprehensively.

“Ain’t that hypocritical after you be calling Magneto a coward?” said Gambit, which earned him a harsh scold from the mutant soldier.

“I have my orders, X-men. If there are no grounds for a treaty, I’m supposed to report that. So unless you guys can come up with some magic way to deal with the damage from Magneto’s latest episode, then I have no reason to be here.”

The hardened soldier gave the X-men and the Brotherhood a moment to respond. It could very well be their final chance to salvage any sort of peace. But Professor Xavier, Polaris, and the Maximoff twins remained silent. Captain Freeman watched as their expressions fell. That pretty much summed up their whole predicament.

With a stoic gaze, Captain Freeman turned to make his leave. Professor Xavier exchanged glances with his X-men and the Brotherhood. It seemed the state of mutant affairs was destined to deteriorate even further.

“This is very bad, yes?” said Colossus.

“No peace treaty after a fresh round of buggery from Magneto? Yeah, I would say that’s pretty bad,” said Psylocke.

“Isn’t there anything we can do to salvage this mission, Professor?” lamented Storm.

“I don’t know, Storm. It seems the path to peace isn’t going to get any smoother,” he sighed, “Without Magneto, we have little else to work with.”

“Well we’re open to alternative! How can you X-men be so good at saving your own asses and so bad at covering them?” said Quicksilver impatiently.

“Hey! Don’t get mad at us!” spat Shadowcat, “You’re the one who let Magneto run amok!”

“Spare me the blame game! This is serious!” said Havok strongly, “We’re on the verge of picking an exceedingly fight that we have no chance of winning!”

“So now you’re worried about avoiding a fight?” said Cyclops dryly, “That’s a first.”

“Easy on the sarcasm, babe. Now is not the time for a sibling scuffle,” scorned Phoenix.

It was getting tense. Cyclops looked ready to beat each other up. Shadowcat and Iceman looked ready to attack Pietro. All the while, Polaris was still in tears. It forced the Scarlet Witch to step in.

“Enough! Let’s not start another fight!” she yelled, flashing some hex energy to settle everyone down, “Magneto is gone. That’s a huge problem We get that.”

“More than little too late, I’m afraid,” said Storm solemnly.

“Forget my father’s mental state for a moment. What can we do to salvage this mess without him? Is there anything we can still bring to the table?”

Another silence fell over the two teams. Captain Freeman was almost gone and so was any chance at a desperately needed treaty. Magneto may not have succeeded with the T-bomb, but he ensured their efforts would still fail unless something drastic could be done.

As Professor Xavier pondered this, his gaze fell upon the now silent metal box Magneto had wielded earlier. The Warlock program had long since been shut down and it was no longer a threat. As he looked at this box, he was reminded of his recent encounter with the Shi’ar. That’s when an idea came to him. It was bold and brash. It was also quite risky, but the rewards were just what they needed.

“Wait Captain Freeman! We may yet have a chance!” Xavier called out as he anxiously wheeled across the room to the box.

“What are you babbling about now, old man?” scoffed Quicksilver.

“Shut up, Pietro!” said Iceman, “I know that look! The Professor’s onto something!”

Captain Freeman was almost out the main door when Xavier called out to him. Skeptical yet curious, he turned around to face the Professor.

“I hope you came up with something, Xavier,” he said as he picked up the box, “Because I have to report to the General ASAP.”

“And you will, Captain. But first, answer me this…what value would the nations of the world place on access to fully functional alien technology?”

Pentagon – Mutant Security Agency Hub

“General…blackout going…out of control! So you better…the status…Magneto…find out!”

“Mr. President, I wish I could reassure you, but I honestly can’t understand what the hell you’re saying,” said an exasperated General Grimshaw, “Our communication links are coming back on line, but they’re scrambled. I’ll contact you when I know more!”

“General, if you…listen to my…damned phone!”

There was nothing to be gained from the President’s jumbled message. His was one of countless lines of communication that were still down. Moments ago, the mysterious signal that had scrambled communication all over the world had ceased. Since then, General Grimshaw and scores of Mutant Security Agency analysts were scrambling to re-establish all major government and military channels. To everyone’s relief, the world was still intact when the data began flowing again. Near as they could tell, everyone was confused as hell over what just happened.

“We’ve got surges on several major hubs overseas! Servers are being pushed to the max with all these data requests!” yelled one young female analyst.

“Just got word another cell phone network failed! Looks like 60 million people will be without their cell phones for another hour at least!” said a middle aged technician.

“Radio signals are vying for airspace like it’s laced with gold! Between the public and private networks, they’re going to crash the system again!” said another male analyst.

“Forget the non-essentials. Everybody focus on the military uplink!” ordered General Grimshaw, “I still haven’t heard from Captain Freeman and I need to be in touch with our troops in case we need to attack something!”

“We’re trying, sir! But some lines go through private networks,” said one of his officers.

“So use the emergency lines!” the General retorted, “I need to be talking to the President or Captain Freeman no sooner than five minutes ago! Whatever crazy stunt Magneto just pulled, I need to know the details so we can prepare a proper retaliation.”

The General’s words were menacing. He shared the same sentiment many of the officers in that Magneto was behind this. That mysterious signal came from Genosha and the few transmissions they received beforehand indicated that something was happening. Whatever it was, Grimshaw was pretty sure it would require confronting the master of magnetism in the worst possible way.

It may have just been the anger of the moment, but General Grimshaw had been in this position long enough to understand when a threshold had been reached. He was willing to give Genosha a chance at peace. He pushed President Kelly to give his people a chance so that they could regain some semblance of stability. If this latest event had the slightest connection to Magneto (which was all but guaranteed), then there would be no room left for negotiations.

Every nation of the world was going to want Magneto’s head on a platter. More troops would probably pour into Genosha. Chances were they wouldn’t allow Wanda Maximoff to run the country either since she and the rest of the Brotherhood insisted on protecting Magneto. It had the potential to be a full blown war, which would only fuel human/mutant tensions abroad. His Mutant Security Agency was going to be turned into a hub for containing mutants rather than keeping the peace. It seemed Magneto finally succeeded at destroying any chance at human/mutant peace.

‘Damn you, Magneto. You’ve finally done it. You’ve sent us all on a warpath. If God has any mercy on your soul, you sure as hell don’t deserve it.’

As General Grimshaw looked over video feeds of their mangled communications network, one of the officers sitting at nearby desk shot up. One of the few stable uplinks came to life and it was someone they had been hoping to hear from.

“General Grimshaw, sir! I’m getting a fresh call from Genosha! It’s Captain Freeman!” exclaimed the officer.

“Is it verified?” said General Grimshaw as he rushed over to the station.

“It’s authentic, sir! And it sounds like he’s got something!” he affirmed.

It was the first good news he had heard all day. Eager to hear his report, General Grimshaw grabbed the headphones from the officer and put them on. The officer then gave him the thumbs-up to signal the communications officer to open the channel.

“Captain, do I even need to tell you how impeccable your timing is?” said Grimshaw.

“Nice to see you too, sir. As I’m sure you’ve already figured out, there’s been a bit of a hitch in the mission.”

“Don’t beat around the bush, Captain. It demeans you. Tell me what the hell is going on so we can get some answers over here!”

“I’ll be happy to fill you in, but first we need to discuss the treaty.”

“Treaty? Is that a joke, Captain?”

“Since when have you known me to have a sense of humor, General? I’m dead serious. We have a potential breakthrough over here. It should both explain Magneto’s latest serving of bullshit and how we can turn it into a positive.”

“I’ll believe that when I see it.”

“And you will, sir. But since much of this stuff is over my head, I’ll let Wanda Maximoff explain.”

“Maximoff? Captain what are you…”

Grimshaw wrestled with the headset for a moment, now both confused and suspicious. Captain Freeman had never been inclined to screw with him. He had never been inclined to negotiate either. Something big had clearly happened on Genosha, especially if Wanda Maximoff was willing to talk. He heard some static over the line before a new voice echoed through the headphones.

“Greetings General Grimshaw, this is Wanda Maximoff. Let me first say right off the bat that I apologize we have to…”

“I don’t mean to be rude, Miss Maximoff. But I’m in no mood to hear your voice right now! Your father is in worlds of trouble and I’ve got a lot of terrified people on my end looking for answers!”

“And you’ll get them. I promise. But first, we need to make a deal. I don’t want to see my father’s shenanigans derail our efforts any more than you do. So with help from Professor Xavier and Captain Freeman, we’ve worked something out that might just make peace possible to our side and yours.”

“I’m warning you, Maximoff. Whatever deal you’re offering is going to need to be encrusted with diamonds for me to even consider it.”

“I think this qualifies, sir. It appeals to something that all sides hold dear.”

“And what might that be? Our hearts and minds?” said General Grimshaw dryly.

“I was thinking more…your wallets.”

General Grimshaw paused for a moment. His curiosity was suddenly sparked. He was no political idealist. He understood that in the world of global politics, money was the only universal language. If Genosha had something of value to add to the equation, then maybe Magneto’s misdeeds won’t be so hard to overcome after all.

“I’m listening…”

Next Issue: Uneasy Truce

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