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Volume 5 -- Issue 102 -- Prison Break Part 3

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Prison Break Part 3
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Professor Charles Xavier has a dream. He seeks peace between humans and mutants. He formed the X-men to protect a world that hates and fears them, but he frequently finds himself at odds with authority figures, a hostile society, and even other mutants. Simple or not, attaining that dream is not easy. It comes with victories, defeats, and sometimes a little of both.

Since the mutant nation Genosha forged a treaty that traded alien technology in exchange for peace, it has been a target. Many with various agendas have sought to undermine or exploit it. Colonel Wraith and his associate, Reverend William Stryker, are have done their share of exploiting. They took this technology and crafted an EMP bomb that allowed them to break into a prison complex in Colorado Springs so they could extract known anti-mutant zealot, Graydon Creed. In doing so, however, they had to work with Shanobi Shaw, who sought to undermine the Genosha treaty and steal their technology for his own selfish gain.

Shanobi had been running Shaw Industries since his father’s incapacitation at the hands of the X-men. The Genosha deal turned out to be a detriment to the company’s operations. Seeking to succeed in his father’s place, Shanobi used Colonel Wraith’s plan against him. He tried to steal the plans for Genosha technology using Wraith’s connections. He failed thanks to the combined efforts of Wolverine, Cyclops, Phoenix, and Emma Frost. However, this victory came at a price.

Downtown Manhattan – Parking Garage

The battle against Shaw’s forces had come to a surprisingly lackluster end. For a moment, his forces seemed endless. They had the inexperienced students from the Academy of Tomorrow cornered. Hellion, Cannonball, Surge, and Sunspot were fighting hard in a confined area, trying to protect the Stepford Cuckoos while Emma and the X-men attempted to free Sophie and Esme. As the battle unfolded, they started to wear down. Shaw’s security forces threatened to overwhelm them. Just when it looked like they were going to fail, an alarm sounded and the attack stopped.

“Whoa…what in the Sam Hill just happened?” wondered Cannonball as he watched the guards retreat.

“Would it be wishful thinking to say that we scared them off?” said Hellion.

“Don’t be too full of yourself, Julian. There’s no way it’s that simple,” said Sunspot.

The three young mutants watched the guards trip over each other as they evacuated the parking garage. The sound of these alarms signaled something dire. It couldn’t be as simple as a fire drill or a warning. These guys were in full retreat.

“No way this is another drill. Everybody move out!” said one of the guards.

“I knew this was going to happen. As soon as the X-men showed up, I just knew it!” said another as he shoved aside his associates and sprinted towards the entrance.

“Hurry up before Shaw docks our hazard pay!” yelled another guard.

It seemed pretty urgent. The students of Emma’s Academy were starting to wonder if maybe they should be running as well.

“I’m guessing that alarm isn’t the lunch bell,” said Hellion, “You think maybe we should follow them?”

“Miss Frost specifically told us to stay here and defend the Cuckoos,” said Cannonball strongly.

“Well what if that alarm means the every building on this block is about to blow up or something?”

“Compared to what Miss Frost may do to us if we screw up, I’ll take that chance.”

Tension ran high throughout the team. There was no telling what sort of trickery Shaw would pull. There was no guarantee that Emma Frost and the X-men could deal with it either. This being their first taste of combat, the young mutants stood paralyzed, uncertain of what to do now.

Then to their surprise, the alarm abruptly stopped. The parking lot went quiet again. At first Hellion, Cannonball, and Sunspot looked at each other in confusion. Then Surge, who had been keeping an eye on the Cuckoos, noticed something disturbing.

“Uh…guys?” she said, getting the attention of the three bickering boys, “I think you should come take a look at this.”

“What is it, Surge? Are the girls alright?” asked Cannonball with renewed concern.

“I don’t know. After what we saw from them earlier, I honestly don’t have a clue,” said Surge.

Cannonball, Hellion, and Sunspot rushed over. They arrived as Surge was removing the psychic amplifying helmets. They quickly noticed that Phoebe, Mindee, and Celeste weren’t moving. They still looked alive, but something was very wrong. Tears were streaming from their eyes. It was as though a part of them had just died.

“Damn…guess whatever was hurting them earlier was just too much for them,” said Sunspot.

“It happened as soon as the alarms went off. One minute they’re in the middle of a psychic marathon and the next they just collapsed. I tried to add some juice to their helmets, but it didn’t work,” said Surge.

“What do you think it means? You don’t think Miss Frost and the X-men are…”

“If that was the case, we would be in a lot more trouble by now,” said Cannonball confidently, “I ain’t ain’t psychic, but I’ve got a sinking feeling that something really bad just happened on their end.”

Shaw Industries Secret Lab

Destruction had consumed Shanobi’s lab. Everything was in ruin. The computers had all shut down. Most of the lights had been blown out. A number of explosions had rocked the building, severely shaking the whole area. But one explosion in particular delivered a devastating blow to the X-men and especially to Emma Frost.

“I won’t leave my girls them behind!” said Emma as she braved the chaotic scene.

The dust had yet to set. The explosion devastated nearly half the lab. It caused portions of the ceiling to fall in, causing it to pile up in a twisted heap of metal and mortar. The whole structure looked unstable, but the danger did not dissuade Emma. Still in her diamond form, she sifted through the debris in search of Esme and Sophie.

Across the lab, Cyclops and Phoenix watched anxiously. Cypher was with them as well. He had been kind enough to betray Shanobi and stop the self-destruct protocols before they were caught in the blast. He didn’t fully grasp what was going on, but he was smart enough to understand it wasn’t good and it wasn’t in his best interest to side with Shaw.

“Um…not to sound insensitive here, but what the hell is going on?” asked Cypher.

“Those girls…they were Emma’s daughters,” said Cyclops distantly, “Phoenix, how bad is it?”

“Based on what I sensed…pretty bad. If not the worst,” said Phoenix sadly, “Shanobi just had to one-up his father in some way. I guess that meant taking take something from Emma as well.”

“Does that mean they’re…” said Cyclops, allowing his words to trail off so he wouldn’t have to say it.

“No…but they probably wish they were,” said Phoenix grimly.

The two X-men rushed towards the debris with Cypher following close behind. As they approached, Emma found what she was looking for. Two mangled bodies lay trapped under a mound of brick and metal shards. One was burnt beyond recognition while the other had shrapnel lodged in her torso and legs. Emma was no doctor, but it was obvious that these injuries were serious and fatal. Even so, she clawed through the debris in an effort to get to her daughters.

Every piece felt heavier than the last. In her diamond form it was impossible for her to cry. For that reason, she stayed in this form so that she wasn’t overwhelmed with sobs that would render a weaker woman paralyzed. As she cleared the debris for the two bodies, she noticed some movement in one of them. It was the body which hadn’t been horribly burnt. Emma picked up on some weak thoughts to discover it was Sophie.

“Hnn…mother,” she said in a barely audible voice.

“I’m here, Sophie. I’m unfashionably late, but I’m here,” said Emma, holding back her emotions as best she could.

“It…it hurts. Everything hurts. Nothing…makes sense.”

“I know,” Emma told her daughter.

“Esme…she’s dead, isn’t she?”

“Yes,” she said flatly.

Sophie’s already bloodied complexion writhed in pain. However, her injuries were so severe it was hard for her to express these pained emotions. Her body was twisted in an unnatural position, indicating a broken leg and a damaged spine. Her face also had a gaping wound right on her forehead. Along with the deformations caused by Shanobi’s atrocities, she already looked like a corpse.

Despite this grim state, Emma knelt down and took the wounded young girl in her arms. She remained in her diamond form, cradling her as if she was a baby. In a ways she was still a baby. This girl had been brought into this world without ever knowing her mother’s touch. She had every right to be angry. She did not deserve this grim fate.

“Are…are you satisfied now? You’ve won,” said Sophie through her pain.

“I didn’t want this for you. I didn’t want this for any of my girls. This was all because of Shaw!” Emma said strongly.

“Wrong…it was you. I…I sense it. All this pain…it’s all because of you.”

“I tried to save you, damn it! Don’t make me call you an ungrateful brat when you’re dying in my arms.”

“You could never…save me. Even before today…you were already…too late,” she said through a light cough, “You must…suffer. You must know…what Esme and I went through. You must feel what we felt.”

“But I am suffering. I failed you. I’m holding in your final moments. Isn’t that enough?!” exclaimed Emma.

“No…not enough…not even close,” said Sophie as she weakly reached up to grasp her mother’s face, “Esme and I…just like you. Guilt, sorrow, regret…we struggle to feel it. You hide behind that diamond shell…because you’re weak. Because of that weakness…you doomed us. For Esme…for my sisters…I must…hurt you.”

Those were Sophie’s last words. As her hand reached for Emma’s solemn face, she exhaled her last breath. Her weak yet powerful words stung Emma in a way from which her diamond shell could not protect her. This girl had been created through her own flesh and blood without her knowledge or consent. Shaw was the one that used them, but somehow Sophie and Esme came to hate her with a level of malice that was all too familiar.

For much of her life, Emma avoided any emotion that made her weak. That included emotions like compassion, empathy, guilt, and sorrow. She only began to learn how to feel them again with the X-men. But in this painful moment, all those emotions she avoided came rushing back. It stung in a way she could not avoid. And this time, Emma didn’t try to avoid it.

These two girls, her own daughters, embodied her worst attributes. Shaw made sure that they were imbued with everything that almost made her his White Queen. But unlike her, Esme and Sophie never had a chance at redemption. Emma wanted to blame Shaw for this madness, but that didn’t change the cold hard truth. She was their mother and she failed them.

“Rest easy, girls. Your pain is over now,” said Emma distantly as she closed Sophie’s eyes, “Consider yourselves lucky.”

Emma Frost fell into a solemn silence. She did not shift away from her diamond form. Doing so would reveal too many emotions that would have rendered her weak. She couldn’t be weak at a time like this. She refused to give Shaw the satisfaction.

As she knelt solemnly over the bodies of her daughters, Cyclops and Phoenix approached her while Cypher stayed back. The two X-men had their share of differences with Emma. She betrayed them during the conflict with the Inner Circle, but she was still a big part of their lives and she had a special place in the history of the X-men. Despite her harsh personality, they still saw her as a friend. Rare moments like this brought out a side of Emma Frost that only they knew. Being among the few who got to see this side of her, they offered their comfort.

“I’m sorry, Emma. I…wish there was something we could have done,” said Cyclops, placing a warm hand on her shoulder.

“Don’t even try to feel any guilt over this, Scott. This is my failure and mine alone,” said Emma, pushing his hand off her shoulder.

“Don’t even try to bear the full burden, Emma. You know we’re not going to let you torment yourself like that,” said Phoenix strongly.

“Why the hell not? I had five daughters. Five! That’s all I’ll ever be able to have because of Shaw. Now I’ve lost two!”

“No Emma…you didn’t lose them. They were taken from you,” Phoenix went on, offering a gesture of her own, “Shanobi made sure you never had them to begin with. You can’t feel guilty for someone else’s atrocities.”

“But I should feel that guilt,” she said, her pained voice showing even through her diamond form, “I’ve done so many terrible things. I’ve resisted feeling any kind of remorse. By definition, that makes me a sociopath.”

“You’re feeling remorse now. By that same definition, you’re nothing of the sort,” said Cyclops.

“It’s still way less than I deserve to feel. Sophie and Esme should have hurt me more. It would at least partially make up for being a cold-hearted bitch.”

“That cold-hearted bitch risked her life and so much more to not become the person that Shaw wanted her to be. You’ve already succeeded in that respect. Don’t let this distract you from how far you’ve come,” said Cyclops.

The X-leader knelt down so that he was now eye-to-eye with his former lover. He still saw in her the woman he shared many passionate nights with. That woman came a long way from who she was when she first joined the X-men. Seeing her like this tore at his heart, but it also reminded him why Emma Frost was such a special woman.

“You’re hurting, Emma. We get that,” said Phoenix, “But just because you’re hurting doesn’t mean you have to suffer.”

“Listen to your ex-boyfriend, Emma. I know that goes against every instinct every woman has ever had, but he’s right,” said Phoenix.

“Say what you want about what you deserve, it doesn’t change the woman you are. You convinced me and your daughters that you still have a heart…even if you hide it behind a diamond shell. Don’t let Shaw take that from you as well.”

Emma fell silent. She wasn’t the kind to break down in tears, even with the dead bodies of her daughters lying before her. She kept staring at the bodies, reflecting on all the ways she failed them. Then she looked towards Cyclops. Phoenix was still behind her, a gentle hand still on her shoulder. These two had many reasons to hate her, yet they still treated her like a friend and teammate. It brought out a rare feeling of vulnerability and solace for Emma Frost. Even if she didn’t deserve it, she still embraced it.

No more words were said as they stood with her over the bodies of Esme and Sophie. Shaw’s agenda, the Genosha deal, and every complication in between fell to the wayside. Just as the Cuckoos had changed Emma’s life forever, the loss of her daughters was sure to change it even more.

Colorado Springs Prison Complex – Outer Walls

“You’re running out of room, you puny shits! Keep running and you’ll just die tired!” bellowed the booming voice of Juggernaut.

“Don’t stop! Don’t look back!” urged the lead operative of the now decimated Isaiah unit.

The Purifiers were nearing the end of this cursed mission. They had the unconscious Graydon Creed in their possession, but his extraction came at a high price. The seemingly ingenious plan that knocked out the entire prison personnel with a psychic attack and cut the power had an unexpected consequence. It released a very angry Juggernaut from his prison cell. Four of their brothers had fallen. While they were left to God now, the rest of them had to content with this demonic monstrosity.

They had just made it out of the back entrance where they came in. The rest of their brothers were in sight. They had just deployed the special extraction balloon that was supposed to get them out of this hell. With the plane nowhere in sight and Juggernaut closing fast, it seemed God’s grace had run out.

“Stay back, brothers. The beast is closing fast!” yelled the lead operative.

“We’ll cover you. Just get Brother Creed to us!” said the six operatives of the Eziekiel unit, all of whom had their weapons armed ready.

“YOU’RE WASTING YOUR TIME…ALL TEN SECONDS OF IT!” roared a powerful voice from within the building.

The lead operative and his fellow Purifier barely made it halfway to the others when Juggernaut came bursting out of the complex. There was no subtlety to his madness. This monster of a man plowed right through the door and part of the wall as well, leaving a gaping hole in the structure to demonstrate his immense strength.

The Ezekiel unit could not hide their awe and horror of such power. He was glowing in an ominous pink halo of energy. He seemed all but invincible, as if powered by the forces of Hell itself. He set his sights on the Purifiers, cracking his oversized knuckles in preparation for his attack.

“Ahhh fresh air!” Juggernuat proclaimed, “I know you’re out there, Uncle Charlie. These goons of yours sure aren’t putting up a fight. I’ll remember to mail you their bodies in pieces!”

“God help us,” gasped one of the Purifiers.

“We will be delivered,” said the lead operative confidently as he arrived with Graydon Creed, “Have faith and prepare to fight to the death. We’re on a crusade. We must be willing to face the devil himself!”

“I can’t imagine the devil being much worse than this,” groaned another.

The six men stood defiantly, holding their guns with fear they dared not show. They watched with their fingers on the trigger as Juggernaut began his attack. They had the outer walls of the complex behind him so there was nowhere to run. They also had the special balloon that Colonel Wraith’s aircraft needed to hook onto if it was to extract them. That meant they had to hold their ground to the last breath.

The Purifiers braced themselves while the lead operative strapped Graydon Creed to his body with a special clip in preparation for the extraction. The ground literally shook with each step Juggernaut took. He was getting close. Then a message from Reverend Stryker came in through the radio.

“My brothers, are you in position?”

“Yes Brother Stryker. We’re ready!” exclaimed the lead operative, “Where is the plane? Juggernaut is closing fast!”

“Try not to worry. Tell me, is this Juggernaut monstrosity wearing a helmet?”

The lead operative was stunned by such a question. It seemed like trivial information at this point, but he answered none-the-less.

“No Brother Stryker, he is not. Why do you ask? We need help this instant!”

“And you’ll get it. Just make sure everyone still has the psychic dampeners in their helmets active and prepare for extraction.”

The Reverend’s voice sounded confident. The lead operative tried to share that confidence, but that was difficult with Juggernaut bearing down on them. He gazed over towards his men and nodded. They loyally stood their ground as they had been trained to do. They all trusted Reverend Stryker. They had an unyielding faith that he would honor that trust.

The Purifiers were prepared to fire their weapon as Juggernaut came within less than fifty feet of them. Then their deliverance came when the guard tower above becoming active again. Just as Juggernaut was about to reach the Purifiers, one of the blinding search lights maneuvered via automatic gears so that it was shining on the hulking figure. It was so bright that Juggernaut had to slow down and shield his eyes.

“Son-of-a-bitch!” he cursed, “You think blinding me to death will save you?”

This is the Reverend’s deliverance?” said one of the Purifiers anxiously.

“Wait for it,” said another Purifier confidently.

Atop the guard tower a spherical device started moving. Then another smaller light on top of it was aimed right at Juggernaut. Once it locked on, it unleashed a powerful blue pulse wave. It did nothing to affect the Purifiers, but it hit Juggernaut with a familiar pain.

“Auuuugggghhhhhh! Not again!” he exclaimed as he clutched his head.

“What in God’s name just happened?” asked one of the Purifiers.

“More than deliverance, it seems,” grinned the lead operative, “This monstrosity is being punished for not having psychic dampening helmets like ours.”

The Purifiers took a perverse satisfaction in watching this monster languish in pain. He killed their brothers. He cared nothing for his fellow man. He may not even be a man anymore. He was a lost soul who deserved every ounce of God’s wrath.

“Hnn…knew I should have…picked up my helmet,” groaned Juggernaut, “Damn you, Uncle Charlie. Get you…next time.”

The unstoppable behemoth sauntered for another minute or so. Without his helmet, the psychic onslaught lulled Juggernaut into a deep unconscious state. He fell unceremoniously to the hard ground, stopping his rampage before it started. The eight remaining Purifiers could finally breathe a sigh of relief. It seemed this hellish ordeal was almost over. As they gathered themselves, Reverend Stryker’s voice once again echoed through their radios.

“I take it by your lack of screaming that our emergency tactics worked.”

“Affirmative, Brother Stryker. The Juggernaut has been subdued.”

“Then it would seem our friend, Arcade, has come through once more. We should feel blessed and encouraged. For once Charles Xavier has done us a favor by providing this complex a means to subdue this monstrosity.”

“For the sake of our souls, I hope we don’t have to rely on such favors too often,” said the lead operative, “I only wish we had time to spite him further for what he did to our brothers.”

“We won’t have that chance today, but I promise there will be others. Now that we have Graydon Creed on our side, we’ll have plenty soon enough.”

“Praise the Lord, Reverend. But how is he going to help our crusade?”

“That you do not need to know. Right now, the gunship should be coming into view. Standby for retrieval. We must be gone from this god-forsaken place before any other heathens oppose us.”

“Affirmative, Brother Styrker. For God and humanity!”

Within minutes, the Purifiers saw the large C-130 gunship closing in from above. The balloon suspended above them was now hooked to every one of them and they were ready for extraction. The mission was complete. There was still plenty of work to be done. As always, God would be on their side in their crusade against the mutant menace.


By the time the X-men arrived at the prison complex, the chaos had ceased. The setting was eerily quiet. The complex was only partially lit to reveal the extent of the destruction. It was very different from what the X-men expected. Even with the recent enhancements to the X-jet, they were still too late.

They landed just inside the front gate. Beast settled the jet into a silent hover so they could investigate the situation. They were in combat-ready mode, but were surprised to find no battles to fight. Every guard, officer, and worker was out cold. They didn’t appear to have any injuries. They were just in a deep sleep. There were still signs of a major struggle. There were gaping holes on the side of the building, no doubt Juggernaut’s handiwork. But he had already been subdued. Whatever battle had taken place here was over and done with.

“Dang…looks like we missed a hell of a party,” commented Gambit as the team scouted the area.

“I know. We actually don’t have to do any fighting this time,” said Iceman, “Am I weird for not feeling relieved?”

“You make snow cones out of mayonnaise for deserts. Weird is an obscenely relative concept for us,” said Shadowcat.

“Hey! Are you knocking mayonnaise?”

“Let’s not have that fight, Iceman,” scolded Storm, “You’re not the only one with that feeling either. Fight or no fight, we must find out what happened here.”

“Well it wasn’t a drill. That’s for damn sure. I’m detecting a psychic blackout for every mind in a five mile radius of this base,” said Psylocke, who had been doing telepathic scans since they landed.

“It would also appear the power has been knocked out. I suspect there the attack involved a powerful electro-magnetic pulse,” added Beast as he assessed the state of the complex.

“Does that mean Magneto was behind this?” asked Colossus warily.

“Anything with electro-magnetic in it usually be his calling card,” said Shadowcat as he assessed the perimeter of the complex.

“It’s a disturbing possibility, but highly unlikely. Magneto usually makes a much grander spectacle. What we have here is a classic covert operation. For a complex of this nature, it had to be well-planned, well-timed, and well-executed.”

“And equipped to take down Juggernaut,” added Gambit, “Take a look over here.”

Storm, Iceman, Shadowcat, Psylocke, Colossus, and Beast caught up with Gambit, who scouted out ahead towards the main complex. They arrived to find Juggernaut lying flat on his back, out cold and not yelling at the top of his lungs about how he was going to kill Professor Xavier. It was a relief to see that he was already subdued, but at the same time it posed some distressing questions.

“Whoa…someone else took out Juggernaut?” said Iceman, “I don’t know if I should be relieved or terrified.”

“He is out though, right? He’s not just sleeping or anything?” asked Shadowcat intently.

Psylocke placed her hand over Juggernaut’s head and did a quick scan.

“Far as I can tell, he’s was on the receiving end of a punishing telepathic blast,” she surmised, “Not a very clean one though. It feels…artificial.”

“That’s to be expected. Charles did mention something about providing psychic defenses to the prison complex that originally housed Juggernaut,” said Beast.

“Wait a sec…so Juggy here got taken out by the prison defenses and none of these here guards were even awake to see it?” questioned Gambit.

“Maybe they got a little trigger happy?” Iceman shrugged.

“I doubt it,” said Psylocke as she did more scans, “Based on the psychic traces I’m sensing, there were two major telepathic attacks on this place. Both were artificial. I suspect the first one took everybody out. The second one took out Juggernaut.”

“And you are sure of this?” questioned Colossus.

“I’m a powerful psychic and a criminology major. I’m sure,” said Psylocke confidently.

“And we don’t doubt your detective skills, Psylocke. But the question remains…who else was here to spark this conflict?” said Storm.

The possibilities were disturbing. There had very clearly been a struggle here. Looking towards the main complex, they saw the path of destruction Juggernaut left in his wake. Judging by the amount of rubble, he had been on a real rampage. It was like he was chasing something. Whatever or whoever it may have been, they were long gone.

The X-men were in an awkward position. It wouldn’t be long before these guards and everyone started waking up. It also wouldn’t be long before General Grimshaw found out about this attack and began an investigation of his own. Something big was unfolding. Between Cyclops and Phoenix’s mission and the uptick in activity on Genosha, there were signs of a major conflict brewing.

“So what do we do? Is it too late to catch up for those responsible for instigating this mess?” asked Colossus.

“For now, I think it is safe to assume they escapled,” sighed Beast, “We should probably stick around anyhow for when General Grimshaw’s reinforcements arrive.”

“We’ll also have to help get Juggernaut back in his cell,” said Storm, “So long as we’re here, we might as well make sure he doesn’t go on another rampage.”

“Didn’t Professor Xavier say that Graydon Creed was imprisoned here too?” said Shadowcat.

“That Friends of Humanity nutcase?” groaned Iceman, “How much do you want to bet he’s not in his cell?”

“Sorry homme, but Remy don’t take sucker bets,” said Gambit.

“I’m sure we’ll find our share of distressing clues. For now, this mission has turned into a clean-up operation,” said Storm assertively, “I’ll radio the Professor and give him a status update. I’m sure he’ll want to know everything for when he confronts Grimshaw.”

It sounded like a somewhat tedious plan. It was another difficult aspect of this new status quo between mutants and the MSA. They had to jump through the assorted hoops that men like Grimshaw laid out for them.

“Bloody fantastic…instead of an epic battle, we’re stuck on cleanup,” sighed Psylocke as she prepared to help move Juggernaut.

“It could be worse, cherè,” said Gambit, who prepared to help her.

“That might not be an appropriate assessment, Mr. Lebeau,” said Beast distantly as the X-men went to work, “For all we know this ordeal is already worse than we think it is.”

Genosha – Outside Military Base

Wolverine’s trips to military bases were rarely pleasant. More often than not, he left with his share of bruises. His latest tour of the military base on Genosha had been no exception. After storming the gate, convincing an officer to take him to the network hub, and severing the connection in a not-so-subtle way, he hardly ingratiated himself to the authorities. His brazen actions got him forcibly escorted off the base and back on the dock. It only came as a minor surprise to find Wanda Maximoff along with Alex and her brother there waiting for him.

“You really know how to make a poor impression, Wolverine. Why Charles Xavier chose you as his diplomat makes me question his judgment even more than yours,” scolded Wanda with a look in her eyes that indicated a burning desire to hex him.

“Can’t argue with results,” said Wolverine dryly.

“Excuse me, but how exactly did crippling Genosha’s computer systems work?”

“Not that I care to defend this asshole, but it did stop an attack,” said Alex, “I spoke with the Major. He said someone was on the verge of reaching the Warlock network. Do you have any idea how screwed we would be if someone stole that data?”

“Figures you would approve of his methods,” muttered Pietro.

“Sometimes cleaning up a mess is a lot easier than recovering from a lost battle…especially when it’s a battle we can’t afford to lose,” Alex pointed out.

He made it seem justified. Alex was usually okay with ignoring the logistics when it came to results, but Wanda couldn’t afford that luxury. She was the leader of this nation and she was responsible for this deal. Wolverine’s actions were sure to create a lot of extra headaches on top of the ones she had been dealing with already.

Wanda had Alex and Pietro corner the hot-headed X-man just outside the base. He was still being monitored by armed soldiers near the main gate. A few more members of the Brotherhood were right there with her to help with this tense situation if needed. Mercury and Mellencamp stood behind her, ready to arrest Wolverine before the military got their hands on him. However, that decision was not theirs to make.

“I need a moment,” groaned Wanda, walking away for a minute to collect herself, “I know you did the right thing, Wolverine. I’m still fighting the urge to hex you in ways I usually reserve for my brother.”

“If it’ll make you feel better, by all means. Wouldn’t be the worst feeling I’ve had these past few months,” said Wolverine as he sat casually on the steps leading up to the base.

“And you guys say I’m messed up,” scoffed Pietro.

“At least he’s honest about it,” Alex pointed out, earning him some heavy scorn from the speedster.

“I’m not sure of I should be flattered or disturbed,” said Wanda, ignoring her brother’s remarks, “You’re lucky I got a call from Charles before I came here. He explained the rather complicated details. This was a pretty elaborate attack that targeted much more than just Genosha. I doubt we would have picked up on it in time to do anything less brazen.”

“That gonna get me a metal or something?” said Logan dryly.

“It’ll give me an excuse not to arrest you or turn you over to the military,” she said, turning back to face the former living weapon, “Believe me when I say that if my father were running things, this would have been a lot messier.”

“And here I was thinking you were a daddy’s girl,” the feral mutant remarked.

“Only to a point,” said Wanda, “Since I hear you’ve been drunk for a most of these last few months, allow me to give you a refresher, Wolverine. I’m trying to build a nation for our people. I’m trying to turn Genosha into a country where mutants can live freely and prosper. In order to do that I need to maintain this treaty.”

“So you’re compromising instead of resorting to genocide?” surmised Logan, “I take back what I said about you being a daddy’s girl.”

“I’ll gladly exchange blood for technology so humans are placated with cell phones, video games, cosmetics, and whatever else they find distracting. Warlock gives us that luxury every time it churns out more parts. Because of this, most of my job doesn’t involve ruling this nation as much as it involves keeping that tech flowing. Make no mistake though…I will not let anyone mess it up. So if you’re going to be Xavier’s new watchman, you’re going to play by my rules. Understand?”

Wanda’s eyes flashed ominously with some hexing energy. It was her way of showing that she didn’t appreciate Logan’s recklessness and wouldn’t hesitate to come down on him if he got out of line. It wasn’t unlike the speeches he heard from the Cyclops or Professor Xavier. Unlike them, Wanda was someone he fought against as an enemy. She did not have his respect and he didn’t seem to have hers either.

For a moment, they continued to stare each other down. Wanda maintained her assertive poise. Wolverine remained stern, but didn’t push his luck. This was not something to take lightly. This wasn’t just a mission on the behest of Charles Xavier. It was his way of clawing out of the stupor he had been languishing in for too long.

“I got one more question for you, Maximoff. Then we should be good,” said Wolverine.

“And what might that be?” she asked with plenty of reservation.

“If I’m gonna be under someone’s thumb, can we at least get some beer in this dump? It would make this a hell of a lot more bearable for both of us.”

Wanda groaned and rolled her eyes. Some of the Brotherhood behind her laughed. She still questioned Xavier’s decision to choose Wolverine to oversee their operations. He was every bit the ill-mannered brute he appeared to be, even if his methods were effective on occasion. That was bound to make her job that much more difficult.

“Just be mindful of where you are, Wolverine,” said Wanda strongly, “I’m willing to work with the X-men, but not if it’s more trouble than it’s worth.”

“Whatever, Miss Scarlet Emperor or whatever you call yourself,” said Wolverine flatly, “Don’t expect me to slack on my mission though. I’m more serious about it than you think.”

“Yes, I’m sure you’re so dedicated,” said Pietro dryly.

Wolverine snarled at the speedster as he and Wanda left the feral mutant to his own devices. It seemed he would avoid being arrested or turned over to the authorities. Wolverine did some significant damage and caused quite a scene. However, the former living mutant could care less about how despised he was on this island, If he was going to be patrolling this place on Xavier’s behalf, then they were going to have to get used to it.

While the others walked off, Alex stuck around. Having been guilty of a few brazen actions himself, he was a bit more understanding. He may not have liked the guy and the side he fought for. That didn’t mean he couldn’t appreciate his bravado.

“Looks like you’re going to have plenty of enemies here, Wolverine,” Alex commented.

“Throw me on another dissection table and find a piece of me that gives a damn,” muttered Wolverine.

“Still, it may make your job easier if you tried to get along with at least someone here on this island.”

“Like you?” scoffed the feral mutant, “I already butt heads with your brother at least twice a day. Why the hell would you want us to get along?’

“Ignoring the fact that I’ve been butting heads with my brother a hell of a lot longer, I know actually know where you’re coming from. I also know where they hide the imported European beer on this island.”

Wolverine looked at Alex with suspicious intrigue. He was usually very skeptical when it came to trusting someone outside the X-men, especially if they were part of the Brotherhood. However, when imported beer entered the equation, his skepticism was vastly downplayed.

“European eh?” he said with a wolfish grin, “Never thought I’d say this to a Summers, but you’re all right.”

Xavier Institute – War Room

The partnership between the X-men and the authorities had always been tenuous. Ever since Robert Kelly was elected President of the United States, this fragile relationship had been continually tested. Even with the Genosha treaty in place, they were always just a few slip-ups away from disaster.

They did their part to help the Mutant Security Agency maintain the peace, holding mutants accountable to the law, and protect the treaty that kept this frail prosperity going. But when something went wrong, Professor Xavier and his team had to answer to people who did not always have the purest of ideals.

General Nathan Grimshaw was never one for ideals. For him, ideals were the stuff of fantasy. He was all about tangible results. Indifference was the only viabley position when it came to human/mutant affairs. That made him a tenuous ally at best. When things went wrong, such a simultaneous attack on Genosha and a secure prison complex, he was not nearly as pleasant to work with. So when Professor Xavier called him up in the War Room, it was a foregone conclusion that this was not going to be a pleasant conversation.

“You’re giving me an awful long list bad news and screw-ups, Professor Xavier. Explain to me again how you know this cyber-attack was linked to the break-in at the prison complex? Which, I might add, has made everyone in the Pentagon a nervous wreck.”

“I never said I knew there was a connection. I only said I suspect as such,” said Professor Xavier, who was speaking to a holographic image of the General through the main computer, “My X-men have cooperated with the forces on the ground in Colorado. In addition to helping contain Juggernaut, they made some intriguing discoveries.”

“Are you talking about those dead mangled bodies they found in the mid-level security wing? The same bodies that didn’t have a trace of identifying markers on them?”

“They were found in the same area where Graydon Creed was being held and now he’s escaped and unaccounted for. If you don’t consider that an indication of a much larger conflict, then I say your standards are too high.”

The Professor fought to restrain himself. General Grimsahw was a frustrating man at times. His indifference made discourse a challenge at best. Graydon Creed was an anti-mutant zealot who was a threat to mutants everywhere. That concern seemed to be only secondary to him.

“I’m not trying to bust your chops here. Creed’s escape bothers me. However, there’s only so much bother I can manage when I have no idea who the hell is behind it.”

“Until we process those bodies, we do have other leads to pursue,” said Xavier strongly, “My X-men have also been involved in an investigation of Shaw Industries and we’ve concluded the cyber-attack originated from the office of Shanobi Shaw. From what Cyclops and Phoenix have told me, this man went to disturbing lengths to hack Genosha’s network. It makes a good deal of sense because his company has been among the hardest hit by the influx of Warlock technology.”

“I admit there’s plenty of incentive. Shaw Industries does have a history of using less-than-ethical business practices that also tend to be blatantly illegal.”

“But you’re not going to investigate their operations, are you?” surmised Xavier.

“You’re damn good psychic, Professor. You’re also painfully ignorant of the bureaucratic mess guys like me have to sift through. Don’t get me wrong. I would love to storm every office of Shaw Industries and hit them up on a long list charges. There have been rumors about illegal operations for decades. The problem is Shaw Industries has more lawyers than I have soldiers. They also have no fewer than 200 congressmen in their back pockets.”

“So what do you propose? Surely this isn’t an incident that can be swept under the rug.”

“It won’t be ignored, I assure you. An incident like this is an eye-opener to say the least. It shows we’re a lot more vulnerable than we thought and my relying on the X-men to pick up the slack wasn’t as effected as I thought.”

Professor Xavier sensed some not-so-subtle apprehension in General Grimshaw’s tone. As reasonable a man he was, the General did not have a forgive-and-forget policy. He saw this as a failure of their current arrangement. Perhaps he was right to be upset. The X-men had been pushing themselves in ways they weren’t used to. The challenge of this Genosha treaty was evolving faster than their ability to adapt. It may be the case that they both overestimated the X-men’s ability to pick up the slack that the MSA couldn’t manage.

“General, I understand you’re frustrated. I am too,” said Xavier, maintaining a reasonable tone, “But I hope that in your frustrated state you don’t make any rash decisions.”

“I never do anything rashly, Xavier. I take whatever measures I must to complete the mission.”

“Within reason, I hope,” Xavier retorted.

“I have lines I don’t cross, but those lines are subject to change as the mission changes. Don’t expect me to completely shut you out, but one thing is becoming all too apparent…you need me a lot more than I need you. You can’t expect to resolve these issues by throwing on fancy uniforms and playing vigilante.”

“By that same token, I’m starting to wonder if you’re making this conflict a bit too militarized if that’s the right word,” retorted Xavier.

“Now that some major economic and political interests are in play, that development may be unavoidable.”

“That doesn’t mean it’s a good thing.”

“I never said it was. We’re both playing a dangerous game here, Xavier. The line between mutant conflict and your standard geopolitical nightmare is getting real blurry. Maybe that’s better for your side than mine because it puts mutants front and center. At this point we can’t turn against one another without disrupting the fragile order we’re fighting tooth and nail to maintain.”

“Now you’re playing the victim?” said the Professor with a touch of sarcasm.

“I’m painting you a picture that I hope you can see without me writing you a novel. This incident shows we’ve got some very complicated forces working against us. In order to deal with it, one of us has to step up. Since your X-men don’t appear to be up to the task, the MSA will have to carry the torch.”

“And you believe you’re people can handle it after the cunning we’ve both seen in men like Shaw and Graydon Creed?”

“Unlike you, we have the backing of the military and the law. I admit it’s not what I envisioned the MSA to be. However, it serves the same purpose. I want to keep this world from descending into chaos and I’ll do that with or without your support. Is that clear?”

The General sounded like he was giving the Professor a warning rather than an assessment. He had to minimize incidents like this or risk leaving mutant affairs to an organization he could not control or influence. It put Charles Xavier and the X-men in a difficult position. They couldn’t just be heroes anymore. They had to accommodate the missions of the MSA. It was not at all part of the dream he had been fighting for with his X-men all these years, but at this point there was no avoiding it.

“We’re clear, General,” said Xavier in a conflicted tone.

“Glad we understand each other. Now officially, I have to file a report about this incident and you can expect some changes to our operations. If you want any say in influencing those changes, you and the X-men will find some answers. I expect to be kept in the loop every step of the way.”

“As always, we’ll do our best,” sighed the Professor, “I still find it troubling that you’re placing the burden on our shoulders when you’re the one with greater resources.”

“Like I said before, the conflict is changing fast. Either adapt or face extinction. You of all people should understand that. Over and out.”

General Grimshaw’s holographic image faded, leaving Charles Xavier to contemplate the bigger picture. The General didn’t leave much room for negotiations. He was frustrated and his trust in the X-men had been shaken. If they were to get it back, then they had to earn it.

Based on what Beast and Storm told him from their investigation in Colorado, they had no leads as to who was behind the infiltration. All they knew is that Gradyon Creed was missing. Some answers may reside with Shanobi Shaw, but he got a similar story from Cyclops and Phoenix. Shanobi destroyed the incriminating evidence, including the two girls Emma Frost told him about. Overall, they had precious little to go on. There was only a certainty that something much worse would likely come of this.

‘Adapt, he says. Somehow doing the right thing just won’t get the job done anymore. The tragedy of it all is that he may be right. Being heroes simply isn’t enough.’

Pentagon – Mutant Security Agency Hub

General Nathan Grimshaw remained in a bad mood after finishing his holographic meeting with Charles Xavier. He sat fuming behind the desk of his recently completed office. Captain Jack Freeman was with him, being the only man he trusted to be brutally honest in a situation like this.

General Grimshaw didn’t like staring down Charles Xavier. He and his X-men usually had his respect even if they didn’t have his trust. Now that respect was shaken. There were a lot of moving parts to maintaining the Genosha treaty and guiding the public sentiments towards mutants. For the most part, Xavier showed that he and the X-men could handle it. Now it seemed they had reached their limits and it came a lot sooner than he would have liked.

“Need me to get you some coffee, sir? Or perhaps a Swedish Massage? I’m not liking the way the veins in your head are throbbing,” said Captain Freeman.

“I don’t need relief from the stress, Captain. If anything, I need more. Stress is supposed to be a motivator,” said the General strongly.

“Ignoring the ridiculous flaws in your understanding of health, would you think less of me if I said you were a little harsh?”

“I don’t look down on anyone who smells bullshit when others don’t,” Grimshaw replied, “Maybe I was harsh, but Xavier is putting me in a hell of a position. If his X-men can’t prevent incidents like this, then we’re the ones that have to be proactive.”

“And that’s a bad thing?” the Green Beret questioned.

“Only to the extent that being proactive means taking measures that could take the MSA down some very slippery slopes.”

“And if I were to drop the issue now, will you spare me the details?”

“I’d rather not ignore them, Captain. The MSA is already expanding in ways I didn’t plan. Now we’re running into political brick walls with guys like Graydon Creed and Shaw Industries. That’s making us look weak and the only actions the higher ups will want will either make us weaker or more corrupt.”

“So what do we do about it? You think X-men can get their act together so we don’t have to cross that bridge?”

General Grimshaw pondered this question intently. A part of him really wanted to give Charles Xavier the benefit of the doubt. Shortcomings aside, he was a man of principle. That sort of thing was hard to come by in his line of work. He needed principled men in this operation. However, the General also understood he was at the mercy of his role. His loyalty was to his country and he didn’t have the luxury of ignoring the bigger picture.

After a moment of contemplation, General Grimshaw planned his next move. He still had a job to do and couldn’t lose focus. But in order to do his job, he needed a certain margin for error. This would require making a decision that could come back to haunt him.

“I’ll let the X-men do what they do best,” said Grimshaw assertively, “However, I would sleep a bit easier at night if someone else looked into the matter as well.”

“By someone I take it you mean me,” surmised Captain Freeman.

“You still have my trust, Captain. That’s what I need most right now. Officially, I can’t investigate dirty details like Shaw Industries. That’s a political hot potato that could paralyze this whole operation. But if there is something going on with those bastards, I want you to find out.”

“But that will mean taking me off field operations. I trained to be a soldier, not play Scooby Doo!” the Green Beret complained.

“I know you’re not too high on your detective skills. To be honest, I’m not either.”

“You don’t need to remind me of my grade point average, sir. I get reminded of that at least twice a week,” said Captain Freeman dryly.

“But you’ve got good instincts. Now I need you to use those instincts to find out what you can,” retorted Grimshaw, “With Graydon Creed on the loose and Shaw Industries entering the equation, something big might be brewing…something I would rather deal with before it derails everything we’ve worked for. I don’t think I need to tell you what’s at stake so can I trust you to do what needs to be done, Captain?”

Captain Freeman didn’t like this new mission one bit. The General knew as well as anyone that his IQ tests were nothing to be proud of. Investigating a secretive company for a connection that may or may not be there had less appeal than a week in the Congo. Being the soldier he was though, Captain Freeman only had one response.

“Yes sir,” he said, “I’ll get right on it.”

The Green Beret left the office with his new mission, his confidence just as shaken as the General’s. The X-men were reeling. The MSA was in for a rough time. The only ones who could possibly benefit would be Graydon Creed and whoever was foolish enough to break him out.

Unknown Location

“Don’t be a freak, Graydon. Just because you’re adopted doesn’t make you any less of a man. You’re as resilient as anyone else if not more so. Now start acting like it! You’re human. I’m human. We’re all human. Remember that.”

“Hnn…human,” groaned a very tired Graydon Creed through a throbbing headache.

“Reverend, he’s waking up.”

That voice did not belong to his late father. That came from a dream that Graydon Creed had many times before. It was a dream he had been having more frequently and for good reason. The memories of what he learned from his adopted family were powerful reminders of what it meant to be human.

As he emerged from his unconscious state, he realized that he was not in a prison cell anymore. He was not necessarily free either. When he opened his eyes he found himself in a dark room sitting in a chair without handcuffs or restraints. It was not unlike the many dark rooms he had been interrogated after his arrest for the District X fiasco, but this felt different.

There were many figures around him, but they did not look like cops or soldiers. None of them were armed and none of them looked down at him as a criminal. He recognized two in particular as they approached.

“It’s a pleasure to meet you, Mr. Creed,” greeted Reverend William Stryker, “I’ve long followed your work.”

“You…you’re William Stryker,” said Graydon Creed as his vision cleared, “You’re an advisor to President Kelly.”

“Not any more, I’m afraid. I suppose you didn’t get CNN in your prison cell. I had to resign from the Kelly administration because he capitulated to the wicked. He is now working with the mutants, leaving others like us to deal with them.”

This revelation caused Graydon Creed’s headache to subside very quickly. Apparently, there had been some changes since his incarceration. If the President of the United States was now supporting mutants, then the situation was even worse than he left it.

“I can tell you’re not happy about this. You’re in good company,” Stryker continued, “That’s why we went to great lengths to get you paroled. Our efforts came at a cost, but one we don’t have the luxury of avoiding. Our cause is on very shaky grounds and we need to ban together if we’re to confront the mutant menace.”

“Ban together…that sounds desperate,” scoffed Creed.

“More so than you can imagine, Brother Creed,” said the Reverend, “I could bore you with the details, but I know you’re a man of action. So I’ll skip ahead to the solution and introduce my associate, Colonel John Wraith.”

Reverend Stryker stepped back, allowing Colonel Wraith to approach Creed and present him with an unmarked folder. It was pretty thick, overflowing with documents and pictures that looked disorganized yet detailed. As Graydon opened it and read through some of the documents, Colonel Wraith explained the situation.

“We’re facing a huge problem, Mr. Creed. Mutants now have leverage over humanity and humanity still doesn’t have a way to strike a balance. For decades, I’ve been developing a way for people like us to keep dangerous mutants in check. That was the logic behind Weapon X…a project that has had its share of complications.”

“Is that what this is about? Me helping you complete a project I assume has failed repeatedly?” said Creed skeptically.

“Oh make no mistake, Mr. Creed. This isn’t about completing an old project. It’s about building a new one that effectively learns from past mistakes. What you have before you is the next logical step from Weapon X. We call it Weapon Plus.”

As Colonel Wraith spoke, Graydon sifted through some of the files. Most of the materials looked highly classified, full of technical specs and advanced hardware that couldn’t be legal for any non-military entity to possess. On the surface, it looked pretty ambitious. It reminded him somewhat of the Bastion project. It even seemed Colonel Wraith had drawn inspiration from it.

However, what stood out most was the sheer potential of this Weapon Plus project as he called it. These specifications threw around numbers that he never even dreamed of with Bastion. It was bested represented in a digital sketch of a prototype labeled “Fantomex.”

“Impressive…and I don’t throw that term around often,” said Graydon with an ominous grin.

“There’s just one problem,” Wraith pointed out, “I’m not exactly a trusted officer in the United States military at the moment. But I’m an old soldier with an old philosophy. Even if you lose the battle, you never stop fighting the war.”

“Good words to live by,” replied Creed, “So why do you need me? What would require you to go through the trouble to get me out of prison?”

“There are two reasons actually,” the Colonel explained, “First and foremost, you have money. I know your background Creed. Your family made their fortune by making weapons. In this age of mutants and terrorism, I imagine such investments are quite lucrative.”

“My parents were a strong believer in protecting humanity by any means necessary. May they rest in peace for their noble efforts,” said Creed.

“Which brings me to my second reason,” he went on, “Before you went to prison, you were smart enough to move your money off shore and decommission any incriminating facilities you still had operating. But I’m guessing you still have a few off-the-books facilities that you kept under wraps.”

“That’s another lesson my parents taught me. Prepare for the worst, but remain equipped should you get a second chance at victory.”

“Well guess what, Mr. Creed? You have that second chance. You can finish what you started with Bastion. My people have the knowledge and the science. Reverend Stryker has the manpower and the guns. All we need is your money and your resources. Together, we can bring Weapon Plus to life.”

Graydon Creed almost laughed at this sudden turn of events. Less than 24 hours ago he was rotting in a prison cell, unsure if he would ever have another opportunity to fulfill his destiny. He still believed that he would be the one to take down the mutant menace and protect humanity. That belief was shaken in wake of the District X debacle, but it never waned. Now fate had given him another chance.

“You know, when I was a boy I saw firsthand how vulnerable we humans are. Having been vulnerable myself more times than I care to recall, I’ve learned that the best qualities of humanity are those that help us persevere through hardship,” he mused.

“Spare us the suspense, Mr. Creed. Are you going to help us or not?” asked Wraith.

“Colonel, if you’re even remotely familiar with my history, then you wouldn’t even bother asking such a question,” laughed Creed, “Tell me everything there is to know about Weapon Plus. Then get me a secure phone. I have a few calls to make.”

Scott and Jean’s Bedroom – Later

It was amazing how some people could live their lives without understanding who they really were. Emma Frost once thought she understood herself. She was a greedy, ambitious, cold-hearted bitch who would gladly shoot someone in the head to get what she wanted. This understanding led her down a dark and dangerous path. She could have easily lost her humanity along that path had fate and a bit of luck not intervened.

When she joined the X-men, she reassessed her understanding of herself. It took a long time for her to rebuild her soul, But when she finally realized what she was becoming, she turned away from that path and never looked back. However, that didn’t stop the past from coming back to haunt her. No matter how hard she tried to atone, the heavy burdens on her soul always seemed to find a way to torment her.

‘I deserve this. I deserve all of it. Karma is a real bitchjust like me. I lost my girls. I betrayed my friends. Damn it, I hate being so utterly pathetic. How much longer am I going to have to suffer for letting Shaw turn me into his personal queen?’

The powerful telepath had been consumed with a mix of anger and sorrow since she returned from Manhattan. She sent Sam, Roberto, Noriko, and Julian back to the Academy of Tomorrow while taking Mindee, Phoebe, and Celeste back to the Xavier Institute. Sensing two of their sisters die was a very painful experience. It left them in a traumatized state that required some intense psychic treatment. Professor Xavier was nice enough to provide it, having had plenty of experience in treating damaged minds. She should have been in the infirmary with her girls, but she couldn’t bring herself to face them yet.

While her girls underwent treatment, Emma found herself back in the room where this all began. Scott Summers and Jean Grey evoked a wide range of emotions with her. They each had a profound impact on her life. While pacing about in their room, she reflected on that impact. Despite her transgressions, they still saw her as a friend. It was a remarkable feat, proving beyond any doubt that she didn’t understand herself half as well as her friends.

Being in their room again brought back numerous memories and powerful emotions. Emma was so lost in her daze, she barely noticed Jean Grey entering the room. Emma didn’t even make eye contact, instead setting her sights on Jean’s book case near her dresser.

“A Beginners Guide to Tantric Sex,” Emma read from one of the books, “That’s disappointing. I know I conditioned Scott’s love-making skills better than that.”

“Emma, do you really think you can deflect the events of the past 12 hours with lurid quips about my private life?” quipped Jean in a serious tone.

“I’m genuinely concerned. It’s already quite clear you’ve enjoyed the fruits of my conditioning a great deal. The liberator pad underneath your bed proves that. I hate to think he’s with a woman who can’t keep up.”

“Emma…” said Jean in a stern tone.

“What?! Are you going to mind rape me into talking about it?” spat Emma, finally turning towards Jean with an angrily glare.

“You know that’s not my style. If you’re not ready to talk…”

“Why bother with blissful ignorance?” she scoffed, “I failed, damn it! Two of my daughters are dead and Shanobi got away. What do you expect me to do? Hire you for therapy?”

Emma’s tone was full of anger and self-hated. Were it anyone else, they would be running away as fast as their legs would carry them. But Jean Grey wasn’t just anybody. She was inescapably linked to Emma whether she liked it or not. And it wasn’t just because she was sleeping with her ex-lover or because of her role in the Phoenix affair. Jean had so many reasons to resent this woman, but she still saw her as a friend.

“You’re not going to chase me away, Emma. And not just because this is my room either,” said Jean in a more compassionate tone.

“You may want to reconsider. There are several billion ways I could tell you to piss off and I’m perfectly fine going through them one-by-one,” said Emma bitterly.

“Go ahead. I’m a very patient person. I have to be when dealing with friends like you.”

“You still call me a friend? After everything I’ve done?” she scoffed.

“You’re talking to someone who has dated John Proudstar and Wolverine…two men who have a sizable list of transgressions as well,” Jean pointed out.

“I can only begin to speculate how a girl with your daddy issues would be attracted to damaged men.”

“My personal issues aside, I don’t just look at what they do. I look at why they do it. The same goes for my friends. People are put in situations where they’re influenced by all these horrible things. But there’s a big difference between people like my father who just didn’t give enough of a damn and people like you who do everything they can to escape.”

“And you think I’ve escaped? After I let Shanobi torture my daughters?” cried Emma.

“There are some things we can never escape. I know that as well as you do. But we can never stop trying. That’s what sets you apart from people like Shaw, Emma. You keep fighting and look incredibly fashionable doing it. That’s why I consider you a friend and that’s why you’re a damn good X-man.”

Jean’s words struck Emma harder than anything on that list she mentioned. Despite her hostile demeanor, Jean approached her as a friend. At first Emma turned away, but she couldn’t bring herself to despise this woman. She saw the good in people that was not readily apparent. Under Jean Grey’s compassionate gaze, the good that Sebastian Shaw failed to destroy was allowed to grow.

Then Emma’s attention shifted to Jean’s dresser where there was a sizable collection of pictures, many of them containing her and Scott in various romantic moments. There were even a few old ones of her and Scott. Seeing these shadows of her past caused her demeanor to shift once more.

“You want to hear something really pathetic?” said Emma in a flat tone.

“Is this number one on that list you mentioned?” asked Jean.

“I’d rather save that for when I’m not getting over the deaths of my daughters,” she said dryly, “This is about me and the man you’re lucky enough to share that bed with.”

“Scott? What does he have to do with it?”

“More than you think or will ever be comfortable with,” sighed Emma.

Still not looking Jean in the eye, Emma picked up one of the photos on the dresser. It was one of Scott and Jean in a simple embrace with the lake in the background. They looked so happy and so deeply in love. She had once been in Jean’s position. She still remembered that wonderful feeling and how she took it for granted.

“When Scott and I first got together, I was in no condition to love someone,” she said distantly, “I was still a product of the Inner Circle’s conditioning. My only concern at the time was getting away from that path. Scott was a means of doing so. He was a decent and honorable man…the complete opposite of all the men from my previous life.”

“Yeah, he’s a quality man cut from quality material. That’s for sure,” said Jean with a half-grin, “I remember how smitten he was with you.”

“You don’t need to remind me. I could readily sense how much he loved me. He went out of his way to prove that love in so many waysMe being the selfish bitch that I was, I entertained his emotions. I let him into my heart, not expecting more than a breath of fresh air.”

“As if you stopped there,” said Jean dryly.

“Don’t make me go over every little detail,” said Emma, rolling her eyes, “It’s true. A lot of it was selfish on my part. As I’m sure you recalled, that included the more physical components of our relationship. I spent a lot of time and energy conditioning him to be the lover I needed him to be. At times I may have been a little commanding.”

“Only a little?” questioned Jean.

“You get to enjoy the fruits of my labor so I wouldn’t be so crass, Jean,” retorted Emma, “But what I wanted out of the relationship didn’t match what I got. I ended up getting something I never expected…something that still bugs the hell out of me to this day.”

Emma put the picture down and turned to face Jean. The bitter look in her eyes faded and revealed a rare humility. Her relationship with Scott had a profound impact on her. Knowing that impact all too well, Jean showed no animosity. She could sense just how much this meant to Emma.

“This is the pathetic part,” Emma went on, “As I was using Scott to cope with my problems, I started falling in love with him. It sounds like an utter violation of logic, decency, and common sense. Instead of falling for someone and sleeping with them, I slept with Scott and ended up falling for him. I wasn’t trying to. Hell, I didn’t even want to. But it just…happened.”

“I wouldn’t say that’s pathetic, Emma. This is Scott Summers we’re talking about. He’s a very easy man to fall in love with. That’s not just me talking. Ask Rogue. She dated him too and she would agree whole-heartedly.”

“I’m not arguing that. Heavens knows we’re both versed in the art of loving Scott Summers,” said Emma with a touch of lingering, “It only goes horribly wrong when you scrutinize how it panned out. Scott loved me and I was starting to love him. But before we ever caught up with one another, our emotions started going in different direction. I don’t think I need to remind you of what happened during the infamous Savage Land mission.”

Jean shifted awkwardly. She should have known this would come up. That Savage Land mission was a major turning point for them. It came at a time when they were growing from teenagers to adults. Their friendship had evolved as they had grown. But it was that fateful mission where she and Scott connected on a much deeper level. It was also the beginning of the powerful love that they now shared.

That love marked a turning point for Emma Frost as well. In a ways it was fitting. She had been so arrogant in dealing with her relationship with Scott. It was appropriate that this attitude would catch up to her.

“I remember when you came back from that mission. You looked like shit and smelling twice as worse,” she said with restrained emotions, “You were laughing, smiling, and holding hands in a way that made me very uncomfortable. I don’t think either of you realized it, but I sure did.”

“You wouldn’t have been the first one. John said the same thing…albeit with an annoying lack of subtlety,” said Jean awkwardly, “But it’s not like those emotions developed overnight.”

“It would have been a hell of a lot easier they did,” argued Emma, “From that day forward, both our relationships declined. You were the lucky one. You and John were on friendlier terms. I was less understanding to say the least.”

“You make it sound like you two got hostile. It wasn’t that bad…was it?”

“Don’t be foolish. You know Scott’s too much a gentleman to completely disrespect a woman. If there was any hostility, it came from me. I was furious. At long last I was in love with someone for all the right reasons. Then Scott had to grow up and mature on me, falling in love with someone else along the way.”

“That wasn’t his fault, Emma,” said Jean in an empathic tone, “Even though we had our share of clashes during that time, I really am sorry that it…”

“Don’t even try to apologize, Jean. Nobody should ever be sorry for falling in love with Scott Summers,” said Emma distantly, “To his credit, he did everything you could ask of a man to make a failing relationship work. Were I not a telepath, I might have been content with that. I guess I’ll never know. Even without Shaw’s influence, I don’t see how we could have lasted. It’s probably for the best anyhow. At least he’s with someone who loves him as much as he deserves.”

Emma had to turn away again, this time to hide the tears that had formed in her eyes. She was still too arrogant to show such weakness, especially to a woman who had something she foolishly took for granted. Jean offered another friendly gesture. It was completely undeserved, but that didn’t stop Emma from taking comfort in it.

“I won’t hide what I’m sure you’ve already sensed, Jean. A part of me still loves Scott Summers,” said Emma.

“Yeah…I figured,” said Jean, trying to hide the awkwardness in her tone.

“I’ve hurt so many people with my many sins. But the one that still hurts the most is what I did to Scott. He’s the man who gave me faith in humanity again. He loved me despite knowing where I came from and what I had done. I didn’t think it was possible for any man to love me for more than just a memorable one night stand, but…”

“I get it, Emma. Scott’s a great guy. No need to remind me,” said Jean in an awkward tone, “But you should know I’m just as protective of my boyfriend as the next girl with a cosmic force at her disposal.”

“Relax Jean. I’m not looking to steal him back or anything. I know he doesn’t love me anymore. I don’t deserve him anyhow…although I am open to benefits of a sort.”

“Don’t push it,” Jean warned her.

“Sorry…old lurid habits die hard, I suppose,” said Emma, “The fact remains I’m still trying to learn from all the lessons Scott taught me. He and Charles Xavier showed me that I’ve still got a heart under this bitchy yet fabulous shell. I’m just unfashionably late in remembering that and I keep paying the price…this time with my girls.”

It was hard enough recalling all those emotions she still felt with Scott, but those were in the past. What happened with her Cuckoos was still fresh in her mind. It brought her full circle in a sense. Jean had been part of what helped her rebuild her life when she first joined the X-men. Now she was part of the next stage where she tried to give that life greater meaning.

“But you’re still putting that heart to good use. That’s saying something right there,” Jean pointed out.

“You’re not going to make the better-late-than-never argument, are you?” groaned Emma, “That pitiful excuse died with Sophie and Esme.”

“You’ve never needed excuses, Emma. I’m not going to make them for you. But as your friend, I just want to say…don’t let yourself go completely numb. Everything you’ve gone through, as horrible as it may have been, has made you stronger.”

“Among other things,” she muttered.

“Call it what you want, but I believe the good more than outweighs the bad. The proof is just you being here talking to me, taking responsibility and not blaming everyone else like the Magnetos and Shaws of the world,” argued Jean, “You’ve already taken the first steps with the Academy of Tomorrow. I even hear you’ve allowed that Doug Ramsy kid to join since Shanobi left him out to dry.”

“At least someone should come out of this mess intact,” Emma sighed, “It’s pennies compared to the massive debt on my soul I’ve yet to pay.”

“It has to start somewhere, Emma. You can’t expect everything to fall into place all at once. Not with relationships. Not with the past either. Sins and burdens aside, the worst thing anyone can do is stop trying.”

“You’re not going to give me a never-give-up speech, are you?” said Emma dryly.

“I’ll take that sarcasm as another one of your charming way of acknowledging my point,” said Jean with a half-grin, “You may have lost Esme and Sophie, but you still have three more who need your guidance and your love. Daughters or clones, you have an opportunity to make it count with them. You also have a bunch of confused, anxious, and overly hormonal teenage mutants who need some of that love as well.”

“You make it sound as though a cold-hearted, ex-stripper is in the best position to help them.”

“If it were up to me, I’d still say you were the best cold-hearted, ex-stripper a for the job.”

Emma turned to face Jean again. It still felt strange, confiding in this woman. She was dating her former lover and she was the victim of some of Emma’s most egregious misdeeds, namely with the Inner Circle. That didn’t stop her from being the loving, compassionate person she had always been.

It was eerily fitting. Even with the failures of the mission, she was still moving forward with this new phase of her life. She had a long way to go. But with her students and her Cuckoos, she was on the right track. Jean Grey clearly had faith in her. And if Jean Grey of all people had faith in her, then she had no excuse.

While the two girls exchanged smiles, Scott entered through the bedroom door. He was a bit surprised to see Emma and Jean in the same room smiling together. From his experience that could be either a really good or a really bad sign.

“Hey uh…am I interrupting something?” asked Scott.

“Were you expecting us to be making out on the bed in our underwear?” said Emma, now back to her wry demeanor.

“Don’t give him any ideas, Emma,” said Jean with a playful grin.

“As if that thought hadn’t already crossed his mind several times since I showed up,” she scoffed.

Scott didn’t dare reply. He had his ex and his girlfriend in the same room. He would be a fool to make too much of it after a day like this.

“No comment,” was all he said with a bemused grin, “Just thought you should know the Cuckoos are awake now. The Professor says they’re doing better and should be ready to go home in the morning.”

“Good to know Charles still has that magic touch,” said Emma, “I assume they’re clamoring for their mother.”

“Those maternal instincts will have to do because they’ll never admit it. They’re too stubborn and proud,” said X-leader.

“Can’t imagine where they got that trait from,” commented Jean.

“I could make take a few wild guesses,” he shrugged while smiling towards Emma, “If you want, we could help out. I understand if you still need some time.”

“That’s okay, darling. I’ve bugged you and your girlfriend enough,” said Emma, “If memory serves me right, I interrupted a rather passionate moment when I arrived. It wouldn’t be fair if I didn’t give you a chance to make it up. Although if you want me to stick around to offer pointers…”

“Enough Emma,” said Jean, rolling her eyes, “Go to your girls. We can manage.”

“But this time, don’t shut us out after you leave,” added Scott, “You can be as abrasive as you want. You’ll still have people here who care about you.”

Emma managed another smile as she made her exit, stopping along the way to give Scott a hug and a friendly kiss on the cheek. Even if she didn’t have his love anymore, it was nice to know that she still had a place in his heart.

She owed him and the X-men a lot. They put her back in a position to do the right thing. This time she wasn’t going to let anything or anyone derail her efforts. She had her students, her Cuckoos, and the X-men. Even if she didn’t deserve it, Emma Frost was going to keep doing what she did best and make the most of it. Upon leaving the room, she had one last telepathic message for Jean.

‘Take good care of him, Jean…both in and out of the bedroom.’

‘No worries there, Emma. I’ve got that covered!’

Next Issue: Shifting Tides

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