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Volume 5 -- Issue 119 -- Deceptive Dealings

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Deceptive Dealings
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As the next stage of human evolution, mutants are being born into a world that hates and fears them. Professor Charles Xavier and his X-men have taken it upon themselves to use their mutant powers to fight for peace and understanding. Sometimes there are humans that refuse to make peace. Other times there are other mutants that make their struggle difficult.

President Kelly and the Mutant Security Agency wrongfully considered utilizing a program called Weapon Plus, which promised to create a powerful new weapon with which to deal with mutants. This weapon was fueled by techno-organic material, a special substance developed by Sage, or Tessa as she was once known, while working for Sebastian Shaw. She and the X-men went to great lengths to shut down Weapon Plus and destroy the techno-organic material. The potential of this technology was simply too dangerous.

But this exotic material still hasn’t been completely contained. There are  loose ends that have yet to be resolved, some of which is linked to other conflicts that have been plaguing the X-men. Now with everyone focused on cleaning up the mess from Weapon Plus, the stage is set for a new conflict to emerge.

Shaw Biotech – New Mexico

“Mission log entry 15. The incident with Weapon Plus has added some bizarre twists to this all-around shit storm. Being dragged away to put down Fantomex was more than just inconvenient. It proved General Grimshaw correct on multiple levels. Not only was Colonel Wraith full of shit. His work confirmed some of the General’s other suspcisions as well. He believed there were some shady dealings with Shaw Industries involving mutant research. According to the statement that Professor Xavier gave the MSA, the techno-organic material that made Fantomex originated from Shaw Industries. Officially, that research was abandoned. Unofficially, Shaw kept working on it. Now sonny boy, Shanobi Shaw, seems to be using it as well. I’m not sure who is pulling the strings here. That’s why I’m here at Shaw Biotech where I hope to find some answers before another Fantomex screws everything up.”

Captain Jack Freeman put away his recorder before entering the vast complex. It was late at night in this remote part of New Mexico. Keeping records of his mission in facilities this secure was tricky. For something that was officially off the books, it was necessary. After the battle against Fantomex, he was content to return to missions more befitting of a soldier rather than that of a mutant.

He entered the facility with ease. Using his adaptive body, he pulled off another high altitude jump from a stealth helicopter to land on the roof of the complex. He then placed a special device he borrowed from the CIA near a fuse, which would scramble the sensors and allow him to enter without tripping the alarms. Shaw Industries was notorious for using security measures that put some military installations to shame. For systems this elaborate, they had to be hiding more than just trade secrets.

“You never make it easy for me, Shaw. Wish I was used to it by now, but you just insist on being a gigantic prick,” mused the mutant soldier.

With the sensors scrambled, Captain Freeman forced his way through the top level stair-case near the air conditioner ducts. As soon as he was in, he stayed on his guard and made his way down the stairs. According to the mission details, what he was looking for was on the eighth floor. It required him to cut across a few security barriers and take out a few guards, which was pretty standard for a Shaw Industries facility. If the information he needed was as valuable as he was told, then he had a long night ahead of him.

“Here we go again,” he sighed as he prepared to enter the danger.

The Green Beret approached the door to the eighth level. He had only non-lethal weapons at his disposal. His orders were not to kill anyone. That would bring way too much scrutiny to his mission. Armed only with a special stun gun and his fists, he opened the door and did a quick scan of the area. That was when he confronted an unexpected sight.

“What the fuck?” said Captain Freeman in confusion.

It appeared someone else had done his work for him. As soon as he entered the main hallway, he saw the unconscious bodies of several guards strewn along the floors. They were all lying motionless, but there was no blood or signs of a struggle. It was as if someone had just put them into a deep sleep. Looking around more urgently, he also saw that the security cameras weren’t on and the barriers in front of him had already been breached. Something was definitely wrong here.

“Well this is a disturbingly convenient.”

The Green Beret took a defensive stance and cautiously approached the first security barrier. It was composed largely of bullet-proof safety glass and a vast array of motion sensors. Whoever managed to break through had to have strength beyond human. It meant he may be dealing with another Fantomex-level threat.

He had only begun to scan the damage done to the barrier. Then he sensed a presence approach him from behind. Just as his soldier instincts kicked in, two powerful arms tried to grab him.

“Oh no you don’t!” exclaimed Captain Freeman as he quickly ducked out of the way.

“Talking to yourself is a piss poor tactic for a soldier,” said an obscured figure.

“What I lack in tactics, I make up for with this.”

The Green Beret adapted his body to be more durable. Setting aside his stun gun, he did a quick spin move and struck the shadowy figure with a punishing body blow. He hit flesh, but it felt more like he had struck a slab of granite. The figure was only momentarily stunned, clearly not expecting to be hit so hard. He recovered quickly and hit back, pulling off a sweep kick that forced Captain Freeman to jump back.

Undaunted, the mutant soldier attacked again, going for the head and neck. The figure blocked and countered with a knee to the gut. Grunting through the pain, Captain Freeman responded with an uppercut to the jaw. Both blows hit with a force that would have shattered the bones of regular humans, indicating they needed to use more force than expected.

“I don’t care if you got a head start. You will not keep me from my mission!” yelled Captain Freeman.

“A head start?” questioned the figure, “You think I’m the one that…”

The mutant soldier didn’t wait for him to finish. He adapted his body again to gain more speed and mass. He then charged the figure head on. His enemy hesitated for some reason, causing him to take the brunt of the hit. Captain Freeman laid into him with so much force he drove him through the hole in the barrier and pushed him through several others, stopping only when they reached what looked like a clean room. In this area there was more light so both Captain Freeman and his attacker could identify one another.

“Ungh…you?” grunted the unidentified man.

You who? Do I know you?” grunted Captain Freeman as he kept the man pinned.

“I know you. You’re Jack Freeman…General Grimshaw’s worst kept secret.”

“So you watch Fox News. All the more reason to crush your spine.”

“You’re talking to an Apache warrior. I don’t crush easily. You’re lucky I’m on a mission too because I think there’s been a hell of a misunderstanding.”

In the light of the clean room, Captain Freeman took in the appearance of this man. He was a tall, imposing Native American with a bandana and a strange uniform that didn’t look military garb. The fact his body hadn’t been shattered from Captain Freeman’s attacks indicated he was a mutant of sorts. He demonstrated enhanced strength as well, shoving the Green Beret off him and returning to his feet.

“My name is James Proudstar, but you can call me Warpath,” he said.

“I’ll call you Donald Duck if I want. Whatever mission you’re on, it’s interfering with an official military investigation,” said Captain Freeman, taking a defensive stance.

“Whatever mission you’re on, it’s interfering with something very personal so we’re even,” retorted Warpath, “Now I’m more than inclined to kick your ass and ship what’s left to Iran, but right now I’ll settle for an explanation.”

“What’s there to explain? You broke in before me and tried to steal what you’re not authorized to steal.”

“Ignoring for a second the flawed concept of being authorized to steal, I did not break in before you. I infiltrated this area from the basement and it was already like this when I got here.”

“I may have been held back a few times in grade school, but even I’m not stupid enough to believe that,” spat Captain Freeman.

“I don’t give a damn if you do. I came in here thinking you were the one who broke in ahead of me. But that could only mean someone else beat us both to the punch.”

Captain Freeman was confused now. He wasn’t sure whether to believe this guy or go straight to an aggressive interrogation. Warpath carried himself like a hardened soldier. He knew the signs and he seemed just as defensive, which couldn’t be faked in his experience. If he was right, then that had some disturbing implications.

While the two men struggled to make sense of this situation, they heard another noise from behind the final security barrier. This area was locked down tightly, consisting of a reinforced metal door with no fewer than five heavy locks. It was built like a bank vault so it would take more than just a crow bar to force it open. That was why the two men were very surprised to notice that it had already been forced open.

“You’ve gotta be shitting me!” groaned Captain Freeman as he saw this.

“Quiet!” said Warpath in a hushed tone, “You gave yourself away earlier. Don’t do it again.”

Now more curious than frustrated, Captain Freeman approached the opened door. Warpath moved out in front of him, armed with a large knife that he had kept in a holster near his hip. He was every bit as apprehensive, sensing another hostile presence in this area. If it was as hostile as Captain Freeman, they both had to be ready.

Ready to attack, Warpath forced open the door and stormed into the area. He and Captain Freeman entered what appeared to be a computer archive. They took no more than three steps before stopping again to discover what they expected to find. There was indeed another presence in this facility that beat both of them to the punch. When they saw who it was, they were left equally stunned.

“You’ve gotta be shitting me!” exclaimed Warpath.

“Now you’re copying me? Some Apache warrior you are,” quipped Captain Freeman.

The two men were now staring down an equally confused figure, who had been hunched over a series of computers. It was a woman this time. She was dressed in all black, had pale skin, and a distinct white streak in her hair that allowed them to identify her quickly.

“So you boys were causin’ that racket outside?” said Rogue in a befuddled tone, “Dang, this is awkward. Since Ah was here first Ah guess Ah owe you fellas an explanation.”

Downtown Boston – Earlier That Day

Logan was once again in unfamiliar and uncomfortable territory. Joining the X-men had been a difficult transition. Teaching confused young mutants to survive in a hostile world didn’t come naturally either. However, all those challenges paled in comparison to this.

He had a teenage girl who happened to be his clone. For all intents and purposes, she was a part of his family. Because of his age and history, nearly everyone in his family was long dead. If he had any living relatives, Weapon X erased all records of them when they destroyed his life. It took a while for Laura to accept the concept of family. The battle against Weapon Plus helped her give it a chance. Now she wanted to rebuild her life and Logan was helping her.

Thanks to him, she was enrolled at the Academy of Tomorrow. As part of her learning to be more Laura Howlett and less X-23, Logan began visiting her regularly. This was only the second week of visits. It was still very awkward. Logan was as lost as Laura at times, not knowing how to handle the concept of being a family. He took Laura for long walks through Boston where they continued learning about one another. Logan bought Laura a few hot dogs while they walked through the downtown area. Along the way, she recounted some of the horrors of a past that was forever linked to his.

“So the assholes that made you…you ain’t even sure who they were?” said Logan as he finished his hot dog.

“No, they were very careful not to reveal too much,” said Laura flatly, “I spent much of my life on a single floor of some nameless building. Whenever I left, I was blindfolded. But I rarely had to leave because this place was where all my conditioning took place.”

“I know what that entails. You don’t gotta remind me. It’ll only piss both of us off,” he said.

“I’m certain it wasn’t the same Weapon X that made you if that’s what you’re asking,” she added, “This was different. It wasn’t military, that’s for sure.”

“How do you know?” questioned Logan.

“Because they constantly talked about profit and business. I wasn’t just a weapon to them. I was a commodity. That’s why they went to such great lengths to make sure I was in no position to feel emotion or develop any kind of free will.”

“What kind of lengths are we talking about here? Or do you not wanna talk about it.”

“There’s a lot I’d rather not get into, especially in a public place,” she said, clutching her hot dog before throwing it away in the nearest trash bin, “Let me give you one example…when I was seven, they gave me a puppy to care for. They let me grow close to it and develop an attachment with it. Then when my handlers felt I was too attached, they made me kill it with my bare hands.”

Logan’s expression hardened. Even if the people behind X-23 weren’t Weapon X, they were every bit as sadistic. He could tell by the way Laura’s demeanor shifted that this had a profound effect on her.

“Damn…those bastards were hardcore,” said Logan.

“They were every bit as bad as you could imagine,” she said distantly, “It’s strange though. When I was dying, the one event that kept coming back to me was that moment I killed something that I had become attached to. With that innocent little dog, I felt emotions that I wasn’t supposed to feel. I guess they thought that by making me kill it, they would completely numb my emotions. Instead, they grew stronger. From that point forward, Weapon X-23 was doomed to fail.”

Logan was silent for a moment as they stopped near a crosswalk. She was still tense, anxious for something to stab. He ended up placing a hand on her shoulder in a show of comfort.

“As far as I’m concerned, that’s the best damn failure ever.”

“Easy for you to say. They sure loved reminding me how much they hated failure,” said Laura through a strained voice.

“Hope that means you were extra rough on them when you broke out,” quipped Logan.

“Don’t know how I could have been much rougher.”

She was still struggling to process these emotions. The memories and horrors of her life filled her with so much rage. Yet all it took was a simple gesture from Logan to temper that rage. It was a new feeling that Laura didn’t understand, but it didn’t stop her from embracing it.

“I know this is probably gonna sound stupid, but you can’t take too much satisfaction in what you did to those assholes,” said Logan as they started walking again.

“You’re right. That is stupid,” muttered Laura.

“Hear me out,” the feral mutant argued, “The shit these guys did to you was sick. Ain’t no way around it. It was every bit as sick as what Weapon X did to me. The difference is you were a child. I was just some dirt-bag with a lot of blood on my hands.”

“I don’t see why that makes a difference.”

“It does, Laura. Believe me, it make as a hell of a difference,” he said strongly, “My life was already fucked before I got shot full of adamantium. But you didn’t even get a chance at life. In both cases, these people wanted us to kill people and not feel a damn thing. So when we take some sort of perverse pleasure in giving them a taste of their own medicine, we’re doing just what they wanted us to do.”

“Does it matter? They still got what they deserved,” she questioned.

“Hell yeah, it matters! I learned from the X-men that when we start embracing all those dark feelings, we lose a part of ourselves. And when we lose too much of it, then what’s the point? We’re just proving them right. I don’t want that and neither do you. The way I see it, the best way for you to show up those assholes is to become exactly what they didn’t want you to become.”

“Which is what?” she asked.

“A regular teenage girl with more heart than they’ll ever know.”

It still didn’t make sense to her. However, it did sound logical. Laura was still a product of her creators. She was very much the angry killing machine that her creators wanted her to be. She was fighting that now with help from Logan and the Academy of Tomorrow. It wasn’t an easy fight, but that’s what made it so important.

Laura fell silent again as they continued walking, passing by some toy stores and video game stores. Inside, Laura saw some kids playing games and fooling around with toys, smiling and laughing in all the ways she had been denied. It was a sight that put into perspective how far she had come.

“Guess I have a long ways to go. There’s so much about being a teenage girl I don’t understand,” she said.

“That ain’t saying much. I doubt most regular teenage girls understand it either,” joked Logan.

“Even so, I didn’t do myself any favors after I killed my creators,” she mused, “I didn’t learn much on the streets of New York other than how to survive as a teenage prostitute.”

“Yeah, I don’t even wanna know how you got caught up in that,” said Logan, cringing at the thought.

“That’s a longer story I’d rather not tell,” said Laura, showing more signs of burning rage, “Surviving the Academy of Tomorrow is a another challenge. These classes I’m taking are different to say the least. Going clothes shopping with Tabitha and Amara was as chaotic as any mission I’ve ever been on.”

“Seems you did okay. You didn’t let them dress you up like another teenage prostitute,” said Logan, looking over her simple yet fitting attire.

“There’s also the boys at the school. They seem a little awkward around me. One boy, Julian Keller, was particularly intent on showing me this thing called Guitar Hero.”

“If hormonal teenage boys become a problem, just let me know and you’ll never hear from them again,” said Logan with a wolfish grin.

“I appreciate the thought, but I’ll learn to deal with it. I’ll have to figure it out sooner or later,” she said, finally showing a slight smile of her own.

Seeing Laura smile helped lighten the mood a bit. She took a few deep breaths, finally collecting herself after talking about such difficult issues. Logan suspected this was the first time she really opened up about it. He understood what that was like. It was soothing and infuriating at the same time. It took him a while to get used to that feeling. If he could manage, then so could she.

They started walking again, entering a mini-mall in the downtown area where there were some fountains along with some small shops. They still didn’t have a destination in mind or anything. Pretty soon Laura had to head back to the Academy of Tomorrow. Emma Frost didn’t accept family time as an excuse for missing classes. Before they headed back though, Laura had one more burning question for Logan.

“Now that you’ve had your chance to ask me uncomfortable questions, is it already if I ask you something?” asked Laura.

“Sure kid. You can ask me anything. Embarrass me if you want. I can take it,” said Logan as they stopped near the fountain.

“Very well. Here goes…” she said, pausing for a moment, “When Fantomex nearly killed you, did you see something?”

“What do you mean?” asked Logan curiously.

“I mean did you experience something…strange? When I was dying, I wanted to let go. But something prevented me. I don’t know what it was. My memories of it are…fuzzy. I remember reliving all the horrible moments my creators put me through. Then I saw these flashes of people and hearing these voices. I don’t know who they were, but somehow this brought me back. I just wanted to know if you experienced something similar.”

It was a tougher question than he expected. This was another aspect that linked them both in a profound way. They came very close to dying. She clearly experienced something during those moments. He experienced something as well. Whatever it was, he was just as confused about it as Laura.

“Damn it,” he muttered, “Now I wanna take back the whole ask me anything deal.”

“I’m sorry. Maybe it’s too soon to talk about it,” said Laura sheepishly.

“No, it ain’t that. That kind of shit will mess anybody up, no matter how much time goes by,” said Logan, “I want to give you a straight answer, Laura. But in all honestly, I’m still trying to wrap my head around that shit. Unlike you, I had my memory wiped at least twice. I ain’t sure if some of the things I saw were memories or nightmares.”

“I don’t know. I wouldn’t mind having some of my memories erased,” she said bitterly.

“Trust me, it ain’t as fun as it sounds. As bad as your life has been, it would be a hell of a lot worse if your memories were wiped and all you had left were shadows. I’ve had to confront those shadows and every time I do, I find another reason to hate myself.”

“Now you’re confusing me even more. If you hate yourself every time you learn something, then why do you keep searching?”

“I’ve wondered that myself. Maybe I’m just a glutton for punishment or something,” mused Logan as he looked towards the fountain, “That night you first saw me, I was at rock bottom. It was the first of many drinking binges. I didn’t stop until the X-men gave me ways to occupy myself. Now that Genosha’s all paranoid from the Fantomex attack, they don’t want me there anymore.”

“Is that what I am now? A way to keep yourself occupied so you don’t self-destruct?” said Laura cynically.

“Hell no! Don’t even be sarcastic about that shit,” he said strongly, “You mean a lot more to me than that, Laura…more than I can put into words right now. I admit I’m going through a bit of a rough spot There are still some things I ain’t getting through my thick, metal skull yet.”

“If you’re asking me for help, I don’t think I’m equipped either. You’ve been the one giving me all the support,” said Laura, now in an awkward position, “Maybe I shouldn’t have asked the question anyways.”

“It wasn’t a dumb question to ask. Someone had to bring it up,” muttered Logan.

“I wish it wasn’t me. Maybe we’re not supposed to understand what we epxerienced. Those people and memories…whatever they mean, we’ll never figure it out. If we don’t even know who they are, then they’re just more feelings I don’t understand.”

Logan and Laura starred at their reflections in the fountain. It was a troubling feeling, not understanding something that affected them so profoundly. Coming so closed to death changed them both, but what they experienced still didn’t make sense and it felt as though it never would.

For Logan, however, the words of this teenage girl clone stuck a different chord. He found himself thinking back to what he saw during those fateful moments when he was about to die. Despite all the visions of people and places he didn’t recall, one in particular stood out. That vision he had of Rose was more than a memory. In the moment before he woke up, she said something to him.

“That’s the key to it all. That’s where the past and the present meet. Those answers are out there for you to find. Many are closer than you think.”

Something about those words resonated. As he looked at his reflection in the fountain, he saw Rose again for a brief moment. A strange new feeling came over him. It wasn’t confusing or frustrating. It was different this time. It was worth digging a little deeper, even if it meant another dark revelation from his past.

“You’re more helpful than you realize, Laura,” said Logan distantly, “I’m gonna keep trying to return the favor and not screw it up. To do that I’m still gotta figure a few things out.”

“Like what?” asked Laura.

Logan turned towards her and grinned, placing his hand on her shoulder as they started walking again.

“You don’t gotta worry about that. Right now, focus on staying a step ahead with Emma Frost and the other runts at her academy. I’m gonna be the family you need me to be. I promise. And it’s about time I start keeping my promises again.”

Xavier Institute – Present Time

It was early evening at the Xavier Institute and classes had just ended for the day. Everything was getting back to normal for the most part. The chaos from Weapon Plus was still settling. However, the mood throughout the team was still tense and some were still on edge.

Ororo was not immune from such restlessness either and dealt with it in her own way as she had she joined the X-men. Her method had always been to stay calm and focused. It wasn’t unlike how she managed her powers. Right now, her sole focus was on what to have for dinner. That focus was disrupted upon hearing a knock at the front door as she passed through the foyer.

‘Go ahead and answer, Ororo. Cyclops and I are expecting guests.’

‘Understood, Charles.’

The telepathic voice of Charles Xavier reassured Ororo that this guest was expected when she opened the door. Her curiosity was heightened when she opened it to reveal John Proudstar, the former X-man who was still a trusted ally to the team. He also had two companions with him.

“John Proudstar,” greeted Ororo Munroe, “Now I know you don’t come around very often without a purpose.”

“Nice to see you too, Miss Munroe. I take it you just got the same psychic message from Professor Xavier that we did,” said John as he entered with his two associates.

“He’s already waiting for you. Should the X-men be concerned?”

“That might not be a bad idea. Wherever John goes, he tends to attracted trouble,” said a young man in a French Canadian accent standing next to him.

“Try to taper your sense of humor, Jean-Paul. Just because we’re off the clock doesn’t mean you can bust my chops more than you already do,” said John.

“As if that’s ever stopped him before,” said a woman who looked very similar to the man John called Jean-Paul.

The Native American mutant sighed. He was clearly taking this more seriously than his two associates. Ororo found it amusing, much to John’s chagrin.

“Don’t mind the twins here. Jean-Paul and Jeanne-Marie are new to White Cell. They don’t understand how sensitive it is when we do these side-projects of ours,” said John.

“No need to apologize. I’m sure the Professor will understand,” said Ororo with a grin.

“He’s not the one that concerns me. It’s Cyclops that I’m worried about.”

“Cyclops? What does this have to do with him?” she asked, now more intrigued.

“Sorry Storm, but it’s kind of a family affair,” sighed John as he and the twins walked past her, “The less you know, the less inclined you’ll be to get caught up in it.”

Unknown Location

Madelyn Pryor used to take great pleasure in completing a mission. She used to liken a successful job with a full body orgasm. It was how her mistress taught her to approach her work. She was to equate success with pleasure.

But enjoying that pleasure was a lot harder now. Her mentor was gone. Selene lost the battle in Nova Roma. It wasn’t clear whether she was alive or dead, but her absence was undeniable. Madelyn was still at a loss, uncertain of how to move forward without the Black Queen’s guidance. She was still an apprentice. She wasn’t ready to take up the mantel she had been groomed for. The only one left to give her life purpose was Uncle Sinister. He still had plans, but they had undergone a major change lately.

“Uncle Essex? Uncle, where are you?” she said as she entered his main lab.

“I’m over here, dear niece,” said a flat voice from across the facility.

The lab had undergone an overhaul since the Nova Roman affair. Sinister completely revamped his work. He scrapped the plans he was originally going to use for this project and gave it a new twist. This time it involved constructing a dome-shaped array that took up half the lab. It bore an uncanny resemblance to Cerebro, the psychic amplifying device that Professor Xavier used. Sinister and his Marauders had been working on it nearly every waking hour, but it still wasn’t clear what this machine would do when Sinister turned it on.

Madelyn tenuously approached her uncle. Gabriel was already there, standing with equal trepidation over their godfather’s demeanor. Sinister was a different man since they lost Selene. He was cold and cruel to begin with, but without the Black Queen he no longer carried himself with the same refined demeanor.

“The Warlock components you acquired for me worked perfectly,” Sinister told her, “It helped me incorporate the research I did with the Summers/Grey genetic material with the process refined by Weapon X. Now I can plant the proverbial seeds that will bear my fruit.”

“I’m glad you’re satisfied with my efforts, Uncle. Taking this hardware from Genosha without causing a scene wasn’t easy,” said Madelyn, “Although I’m a bit concerned that you’re taking so little pleasure in our success.”

“There is no success at this point, Madelyn,” he said grimly, “I have lost my darling Selene. As such, there is only solace. That solace can only be vindicated by finishing what we started together.”

“Forgive me for making light of such loss, but I thought you said that what we started no longer mattered,” said Madelyn, getting more upset by her uncle’s demeanor.

“Calm down, Maddie. An angry Goblin Queen does none of us any good,” coaxed Gabriel.

“To hell with calm! We were supposed to carry on for Mistress Selene. Now you’re telling me it’s not even worth it?”

Gabriel had to hold his lover back. She had been a lot moodier since Selene’s demise. He was the only one to keep her volatile emotions in check. Sinister remained cold and grim as he rose up from underneath a few panels in the array. When he addressed them, he was more disheveled than they had ever seen him before.

“Spare me your frustrations. I don’t have the time to contend with your immaturity,” said Sinister firmly, “I meant what I said about success. I never implied it wasn’t worth it. What I’m doing here will further my research as planned. However, without Selene’s contributions, it is necessary to take extreme measures.”

“Therein lies the source of our frustration, Uncle. You’ve yet to reveal what such measures entail,” said Gabriel, still having to hold Madelyn back.

“You’ve used the word extreme before. We’re all a little confused in addition to being quite frustrated,” said Madelyn bitterly.

“I never use such terms lightly,” he added, “My darling, Selene, was supposed to provide me with a foundation for my research. Nova Roma and all her resources were going to help me acquire the information I desire. Our collective failure means we’ll have to get that information through less efficient means.”

“As if sending us to forcibly extract samples from random mutants wasn’t efficient enough?” quipped Madelyn.

“It was efficient within a context. With Selene by my side, I could stand to be patient. Now that she is gone, my patience is as limited as my sympathy. This world took my love from me. That’s why I do not hesitate to implement this new protocol. Project Legacy is my universal plan B.”

There was a sense of darkness in his tone that Gabriel and Madelyn hadn’t heard before. It was disturbing, much more so than it was frustrating. Sinister was always vague about the details of his work. He only shared it with Selene, who in turn shared it with them. Now there was no one left to reveal his secrets. Whatever this Project Legacy entailed, they wouldn’t know the full details until it commenced.

While Gabriel and Madelyn struggled with Sinister’s attitude, Blockbuster emerged from the center of the machine. He looked pretty beat, as did the rest of the Marauders.

“It’s ready…finally,” said the oversized mutant with a sigh of relief.

“Then step aside. I must make sure you and Arclight didn’t screw it up,” said Sinister.

He roughly barged past Blockbuster, which for a man of his strength wasn’t easy. Gabriel and Madelyn followed him right to the front of the machine, which had a sphere-shaped tank that was suspended over a special cross-walk. Riptide, Arclight, and Harpoon stepped aside, not looking to test Sinister’s mood.

When he approached the sphere, he pressed his hand upon a small panel. This opened a small compartment. From it he drew a silvery-black liquid. It had the consistency of mercury and the distinct patterns of the Warlock material. As Sinister held it in his hand, he gaze became distant again.

“The greatness of every man is directly related to the legacy he leaves behind. Selene and I could have left such a wondrous legacy together,” he mused, “With our collective abilities, we could have mastered the forces of evolution and magic. The rules that confine us all would no longer be relevant. We would no longer be shackled by our limitations. Every man, woman, and child could be who they truly are without restraint.”

“I take it there’s nothing magical or evolutionary about what you’re holding, Uncle,” said Gabriel.

“It could have been so much greater,” said Sinister with a touch of sadness, “Unfortunately, it will now have a different purpose…one that shall touch every being on this planet. If humans and mutants cannot rise above their limitations, then they will succumb to them.”

In an act that was very uncharacteristic of Sinister, he grabbed a nearby utility knife and held out his arm. Madelyn and Gabriel cringed as they watched him cut a gaping wound along his bicep and forearm, allowing his grayish blood to flow into his hand. Once it touched with the mysterious material, it took on a new set of properties. It started glowing ominously, taking on a runny texture that seemed to defy the laws of chemistry.

“I have what I need,” said Sinister in a deep voice, “Gabriel, tell the Marauders to rest up. I have a new mission for them.”

“You not going to explain what you’re holding, are you?” said Gabriel.

“You don’t need to know. You need only trust me.”

“Trust isn’t the issue, Uncle,” said the oldest Summers brother, “You always taught me that we must see our goals through no matter what the cost. What concerns me is you’re not thinking clearly. Is this really part of your goal?”

“Goals can be reached in many different ways, my boy. This is one I don’t choose lightly. As uncertain you might be, I still trust that you and Maddie will see it through with me, my Godchildren”

Sinister put them in an awkward position. Gabriel and Madelyn had always trusted their uncle implicitly. Now he was trusting them and they weren’t in a position to refuse.

“I’ll make sure they’re ready,” said Gabriel.

“Be sure that you do. I’ll brief them once I take care of some personal business,” said Sinister before turning towards his niece, “Madelyn, bring me Mystique.”

“You’re still going through with that?” muttered Madelyn, this time knowing exactly what her uncle had in mind.

“I made her a deal. I also intend to see it through,” he said while gazing at his bleeding arm, “I don’t care how upset she is after finding out about Graydon Creed. If she still wants the truth, I’m going to give it to her.”

“That could make her a problem we don’t need,” argued Madelyn.

“It’s a problem with an easy solution,” said Sinister confidently, “She’ll still serve her purpose…more so than she already has.”

Shaw Biotech – Research Archives

“Okay…back up again. This clearly isn’t going anywhere,” said an exasperated Captain Freeman, who had been pacing anxiously for the past twenty minutes.

“Speak for yourself,” scoffed Rogue, “How many times do Ah gotta repeat mahself? Ah flew in before you fellas got here, Ah absorbed the guards while Tessa hacked the security, and I let mahself into archives. It ain’t mah fault you both are so dang slow!”

“It’s not the how that’s bugging me. It’s the why,” said the Green Beret, “Isn’t it just a wee bit disturbing that we’re all on the same mission here?”

“I don’t know what mission you two are on, but I’m stuck doing this as a favor,” said Warpath dryly, “This business was supposed to be strictly personal. The last thing I want is to get caught up with the MSA or the X-men.”

“Tough luck, Apache boy! You’re stuck with us. Now are you going to be a pain in the ass or are you going to contribute?” said the Green Beret strongly.

Warpath despised Captain Freeman’s attitude. Even if he was a soldier, he wasn’t much of a warrior. He lacked the maturity to go along with his skills, which Warpath knew from his own experience was a bad combination. When Emma Frost sent him on this mission, he did not expect to deal with this. For whatever reason, paying off his debt to this woman came with a hefty interest rate.

There was plenty of frustration to go around. Warpath, Rogue, and Captain Freeman had been going around in circles. They managed to not fight each other, but they were still trying to understand the situation. They weren’t after the same thing, but they ended up in the same location. Rogue still had several data disks in hand and Warpath had been surveying the area while Captain Freeman demanded answers.

“Let’s take it from the top again so we don’t waste more time than we already have,” said Captain Freeman as he stopped pacing.

“As if we haven’t wasted enough,” muttered Warpath as he looked over a few terminals.

“You say you’re here on personal business, Mr. Warpath,” said the mutant soldier, ignoring his remarks, “Somehow a Miss Emma Frost from that other mutant school roped you into breaking into this place. And for what? To get some dirt she could dump on Shaw Industries?”

“It’s not as easy as it sounds. Guys like Shaw have enough lawyers and lobbyists to make him come off as the son of Mother Teresa and Gandhi,” said Warpath.

“You know I could easily report this to General Grimshaw and charge the both of you with industrial sabotage. I’m pretty sure that’s a crime.”

“But you’re not going to, are you?” said Warpath, not taking his eyes off a few active terminals.

“What he has me doing isn’t all that legal either,” groaned Captain Freeman, “After we traced that cyber-attack on Genosha from Shaw Industries, General Grimshaw has been very suspicious of these people. He’s been wanting to dig a little deeper. It doesn’t help that Shaw and that son of his have been MIA lately.”

“So what does that make you, tough guy? A glorified detective, minus the talking dog?” said Rogue apprehensively.

“It makes me a pissed off Green Beret on a mission I shouldn’t be on in the first place. And after what happened with Weapon Plus, I have even more reasons to be pissed off.”

“You ain’t the only one, sugah. That’s why Ah’m here too,” said Rogue in a calmer yet equally firm tone, “I’m in the same boat as Warpath. This business is personal. A friend of mine has some history with Shaw Industries and she’d like to make it less painful.”

“I don’t care if your friend is Jesus himself. You’re digging a deep hole for yourself by being here. And at the rate you and errand boy over here are going, you’ll end up burying us all.”

“After all the damage Fantomex did, Ah’d say that gives plenty of reasons to dig a little deeper. That whole mess ain’t happening unless Shaw started the work that Weapon Plus finished,” argued Rogue.

“And you think you’re qualified to do the digging?” scoffed Captain Freeman.

“Before you berate at her, Captain, you should know that she’s right. Come look at this,” said Warpath.

Captain Freeman and Rogue stopped staring each other down and turned their attention to Warpath. He finally found a computer terminal that he could access. He brought up a couple screens that had tables of data and images, some of which were heavily secured. Somehow he managed to break the encryption. They now had access to a treasure trove of fresh data and much of it was related to the techno-organic material that had caused so many problems lately.

“Wow…how in the heck did you hack that thing? Ah couldn’t even get it to boot up,” said Rogue.

“One of Frost’s students hacks NSA firewalls for kicks. He gave me a little program to crack Shaw’s encryption and it finally finished running while you two were bickering,” replied Warpath.

“You’ve got a student that can hack the NSA? Somehow I doubt General Grimshaw will be comfortable with that when he hears it in my mission log,” grumbled the Green Beret.

“Bitch about it later, Rambo. I think this is what we’ve been looking for,” said Warpath as he brought up a few new screens, “Shaw Industries is no stranger to research that’s illegal, unethical, and everything in between. This techno-organic goop was officially decommissioned years ago. Unofficially, Shaw tried to keep it going. But progress was slow at best.”

“That’s where mah gal pal, Tessa, comes in,” said Rogue, “She left Shaw high and dry. She made doubly sure she didn’t leave him enough know-how to do anything with this stuff. Ah’m here to figure out how the hell he managed to make a fella like Fantomex possible.”

“Well he didn’t do it legally, that’s for sure,” said Warpath as he brought up a few reports, “His people here did experiments on the stuff using materials and equipment that no fewer than fifteen governments deem illegal.”

“So the General was right. Shaw was deceiving everybody and doing a damn good a job of it,” said Captain Freeman angrily.

“But how in the hell did he turn that techno-organic goo into something useful?” wondered Rogue, “He had it for years and didn’t make an army of Fantomex goons along the way. Did he lack some other kind of illegal tech?”

Warpath dug a little deeper, opening a series of files that were dense with heavy encryption. Shaw had a lot of secrets he wanted to hide. There was already enough here to damage his company in ways that might actually make Emma Frost crack a smile. There were still a few missing pieces that didn’t quite add up. One vital question remained unanswered. What could be so valuable that it required this level of deception?

“I don’t think it was the technology that helped him develop the material, Rogue. It looks like someone helped Shaw in the interim,” he said as he opened a few new files.

“That ain’t possible. Tess made sure no one could so use this gunk besides her,” she argued.

“Well it looks like Shaw found someone. Whoever it was, they worked here for about four years. This must be how Weapon Plus managed to get such a potent sample,” said Warpath.

“What kind of who are we talking about here? Can you find a name?” asked Captain Freeman.

“What do you think I’m looking for? There’s a report here on the techno-organic control mechanisms. Someone had to sign their name on it. I just need a second to decrypt…”

As soon as Warpath tried to open the file though, the screen flashed. It turned completely red and in a matter of moments, every screen on every terminal turned red as well. No alarm went off and no additional security forces came barging in. All around the room, every computer and every server started sparking in a way that couldn’t have been a normal malfunction.

“Please tell me that’s not what I think it is,” groaned Captain Freeman.

“I don’t think this is a simple case of pop-up ads overloading a system,” said Warpath in an urgent tone.

Then the screen flashed with an even more dire message. On every single computer screen, the image of a number twenty came up. A few seconds later, that number started counting down. It didn’t take long to figure out what that entailed.

“Shit! I’m guessing a simple reboot won’t fix this,” groaned Warpath.

“It’s a self-destruct protocol. Let’s get the hell out of here!” exclaimed Captain Freeman.

The three mutants ran full speed out of the archive. Rogue barely had time to grab the data disks she gathered. Jack and Warpath didn’t even get a chance to pick up anything meaningful. Shaw never made it that easy for them. He also had a way of making every struggle more frustrating.

The next few second ticked by slowly. As soon as they made it out of the room, Warpath kicked the reinforced door shut. Since Shaw probably had a lot of explosives wired in the area, they kept running. They ran all the way out past the first security barrier. There were no guards along the way so there was no need to play rescue. They wouldn’t have had time anyways. As soon as they reached the first barrier, a powerful explosion rocked the area.

“Ungh! Damn you, Shaw!” seethed Rogue.

The entire floor was briefly illuminated with a bright fiery burst. Every corridor and laboratory in the secure wing was engulfed, effectively purging it of any other secrets it might have contained.

As a result, the entire south side of the building was blown out. The fiery burst didn’t quite reach the first security barrier, but the force of the blast was still enough to send a powerful shock through Rogue, Warpath, and Captain Freeman. In this blast storms of paper blew about, fire alarms went off, and walls were shattered. It all transpired in the span of a few seconds. It left their ears ringing and their heads pounding. Behind them, the archive room was now just charred remains and every area surrounding it was in ruin.

“It’s official. This mission a complete clusterfuck!” grunted Captain Freeman.

“Emma was right. Shaw leaves nothing to chance,” said Warpath, rubbing his head as he turned around to survey the damage.

“Chance nothing! You must have triggered some fail safe when you hacked that terminal,” spat the Green Beret angrily.

“Don’t even try to blame me for this!”

“Why not? If you didn’t hack the damn thing, I could have at least ripped out the hard drives!”

“Like that wouldn’t have triggered the fail safe either? Face it, GI Joe. Shaw outsmarted you. He outsmarted us all!”

“Spoken like an asshole trying to hide what a piss-poor warrior he is! And you’re supposed to be the kind of mutant the MSA helps?”

“You looking for an apology? I got your apology right here!” spat the Native American mutant, cracking his knuckles intently.

The two mutants looked ready to attack each other, even with fires and broken glass surrounding them. Rogue forced her way between them, having to use her enhanced strength to push them away.

“Both of you, dump the testosterone already!” she shouted, “Keep in mind Ah’m the mutant who can drain fellas just by touching them. Don’t make meh to do you what Ah did to the guards.”

“You really want to play ref at a time like this, Rogue?” said Warpath.

“If not meh, then maybe you would prefer all the police that are probably on their way. If they ain’t heard the explosion or your loudmouthed bickering, they definitely heard the fire alarms. So unless y’all want this failed mission to say secret, we better make ourselves scarce!”

Captain Freeman and Warpath scowled. As much as they wanted to vent their frustrations on one another, they didn’t need extra scrutiny. Every security guard in this building was probably on their way. The police and fire department probably weren’t far behind. Warpath didn’t need to bring bad PR to the Academy of Tomorrow and Captain Freeman didn’t need to bring that same scrutiny to the MSA. If they were more secrets to uncover, Shaw was going to make them look even harder.

“This is going to come bite us,” said Captain Freeman grimly.

“When it does, you better not be in my way again,” seethed Warpath.

“Likewise, Warpath,” spat the Green Beret, “Obstruct another mission and you’ll be teaching young mutants with a broken jaw and no balls.”

The two men couldn’t get away from each other fast enough. Captain Freeman ran back towards the stairwell where he first entered. Warpath rushed towards the other end of the hall where he got in through the freight elevators. They each had failed missions to report and plenty of reasons to be pissed about it. This left Rogue behind with dust and debris from the blast still choking the area.

Tessa’s latest errand for her was nowhere near as smooth as she hoped. She always emphasized being quiet and stealthy. It kept attention away from District X and the X-men. This little incident was sure to make her work a lot harder. Now Shaw’s people knew someone was after their secrets. They were sure to take extra precautions now. But unlike Captain Freeman and Warpath though, she didn’t come away empty handed.

“These data disks better be worth it,” she said, looking down at the data disks she grabbed earlier, “Ah hope you find what you’re looking for soon, Tess. Ah sure as hell ain’t any closer on mah end.”

Sighing in frustration, Rogue took to the air and flew out through one of the blown windows. Whatever secrets Shaw was keeping, they remained hidden. And the longer they stayed this way, the greater the chances that something terrible would come of it.

Xavier Institute – Charles Xavier’s Office

Scott Summers was staring at something that cast doubt on everything he thought he knew about his life. On Professor Xavier’s desk was the file that John Proudstar recently acquired for him. In that file contained some ominous details about one of the most important events in his life. This information was so disturbing that it prompted him to call John and his associates to a meeting with the Professor.

“How certain are you that this information is accurate?” asked Professor Xavier as he looked over the file.

“As certain as anyone in this line of work can be, Professor,” said John as he stood across from his former mentor with Jean-Paul and Jeanne-Marie.

“We can second and third that,” said Jeanne-Marie in her French Canadian accent, “My brother and I helped John uncover this information. It was one of our first missions.”

“The Canadian military may not have a don’t-ask-don’t-tell policy for homosexuals, but for mutants they draw the line,” said Jean-Paul.

“You’re a homosexual?” said Xavier, trying to piece together everything he had just learned.

“I am. My sister is not,” said Jean-Paul, “I thought my perfectly manicured nails gave it away.”

“Quit flattering yourself, brother. White Cell didn’t notice either when they picked us up,” said Jean-Marie, “The ink on our discharge papers wasn’t even dry yet, but John here vouched for us and that was enough. So in exchange we helped him obtain that file. It wasn’t easy, I assure you. The American version was heavily censored. I think you’ll agree that the Canadian version is a much more engaging read.”

Jean-Marie’s words were cryptic, but true. For them, it was a tedious mission. For Scott Summers, it was far more personal. The report she and her brother helped John obtain was highly classified. It detailed a special joint investigation done by the American and Canadian militaries on the fateful plane crash that killed his parents. Since the plane passed over Canadian airspace, the Canadian version of the report did a much better job than their American counterparts. Either that or they did a much worse job of keeping it a secret.

For so many years, Scott accepted that the plane crash that killed his parents was an accident. Even though his dad was an experienced pilot and his mother worked on advanced aircraft for a living, something went wrong and that’s all there was to it. This report said otherwise. It wasn’t just some random mechanical failure. And this report had some very telling details that the authorities never told him.

“Clear signs of an attack…some marks indicative of high-powered laser blast…no signs of internal malfunction,” Scott read, summarizing some of the major details that stood out, “So it wasn’t an accident!”

“That poses a lot more questions than answers, Scott,” said John, “I would tell you not to jump to conclusions, but I can tell you already have.”

“That’s not even the most disturbing detail,” he said distantly, “It also says in fine print that they didn’t find any bodies. Everybody just assumed my parents were dead.”

“Can you blame them? They never found a trace,” said Jean-Paul, “We tried to find out if they did a search for your parents. Unfortunately, this is all we could get.”

“This is more than enough, Jean-Paul…more than I’m capable of processing right now,” said the bewildered X-leader.

Scott stepped away for a moment and gazed out the window. This was a lot to take in. He lived all these years of his life under a known lie. Whether it was intentional or simply beyond his control, this fateful moment in his life was more complicated than he ever could have imagined. The implications of this revelation were too vast to contemplate.

“If you want to step out for a moment, I would completely understand, Scott,” said Professor Xavier in a sympathetic tone.

“I’ve never been one to just walk away from an issue. I don’t plan on starting now,” said the X-leader distantly, “Guess this means Gabriel’s little hint wasn’t just to taunt me. He knew about this. He may even know more than that report.”

“I know what you’re thinking, Scott. You’re not even trying to hide your thoughts,” said Xavier in a more serious tone.

“I don’t want to hide them. I need to see Gabriel again! And I’m not confusing need with want either. This is something I need to figure out.”

“Speaking as a purely objective observer, I’d say that’s a dangerous mindset,” said Jean-Paul, “My sister and I come from a family of military brats who always had a need to be somewhere dangerous. It didn’t always turn out well.”

“I know this sounds ridiculous coming from your girlfriend’s ex, but you need to calm down,” said John as he approached his former student, “Remember the first lesson I gave the X-men?”

“Yeah…the best soldiers are more focused than determined,” said Scott, his tone still laced with conflicting emotions.

“Well you need that before you need any more life-changing revelations. There’s probably a reason why Gabriel didn’t spill this secret sooner. I doubt it was just to spite you either. Brother’s usually take it a lot further. Trust me.”

Scott chuckled a bit. John was right about brothers. He was also right about focus. His usually disciplined demeanor faltered under the weight of his revelation. He thought back to his fight with Gabriel on Nova Roma. Whatever secrets he knew, it was enough to fill him with unparalleled hate and bitterness. It was also enough to make him trust Sinister over his own family. It left Scott to wonder what that would do for him and Alex if they ever uncovered the truth.

“Regardless of what I need, there are a lot of question left to be answered,” said the X-leader as he picked up the file again, “If Gabriel was serious, that could mean my parents are still alive. The report says they found no human remains.”

“Keep in mind, Canadian reports aren’t immune to censoring as well,” said Jean-Paul.

“It’s still possible. As far as I’m concerned, anything is possible,” said Scott strongly, “Dead or alive, an attack like this can’t be random. The biggest question remains. Why would anyone attack my family in the first place?”

“I think you’re in the best position to answer that, Scott. Do you remember if your father had any enemies or something?” asked Jean-Marie.

“He and my mother were involved in advanced aerospace research. They also had very high clearances so they definitely had access to government secrets,” said Scott as he thought back.

“If you think someone in the military ordered the attack, I think that would be pushing it,” said Jean-Paul, “The report said something about a high powered laser bringing down their plane. To my knowledge there weren’t even high powered lasers on the drawing board at the time this happened.”

“Which makes me suspect it was someone else,” said Scott as he clutched the file, “This is bigger than the military. We need to learn more!”

“I certainly don’t blame you for wanting answers, Scott,” said the Professor, “However, I’m not sure where we would begin with this. You know we’ve never been able to track Sinister and his Marauders with Cerebrum.”

“It was also hard enough getting this file,” said John, “I doubt there are too many like it. Files like this have a tendency to disappear.”

“There are still places you haven’t looked, right?” retorted the X-leader, “If White Cell has connections, use them! The X-men have connections too. We can figure this out if we put these resources together.”

“At a time when tensions are pretty iffy from the Weapon Plus fiasco?” reminded Jean-Paul.

“If I wait for things between humans and mutants to settle down, I’ll be too old and gray to figure this out,” said Scott strongly, “I don’t care how disturbing these secrets are. I won’t live in a world of lies!”

Scott didn’t allow anyone to console him this time. He stormed out of Xavier’s office with every intention on digging deeper for the truth. It left Xavier and John in a difficult position. This was very personal for Scott. They couldn’t expect him to let this go. It involved his family and the tragic event that tore them apart. Beyond his conflicted state, he may be right about these secrets. There may be greater forces at work that they couldn’t afford to ignore.

“I haven’t seen him that worked up since he broke up with Emma,” commented John.

“Scott internalizes much more than he should,” said Xavier solemnly, “You know as well as I do that he rarely discusses the day he lost his parents. He’s always been content to lock it all away.”

“I don’t see how that’s possible now,” said the Native American mutant, “If this is going to ruffle some feathers, perhaps I should stick around to help out.”

“Are you sure that’s a good idea, John?” asked Jean-Marie, “You know what White Cell’s policies are with regards to personal missions.”

“I read the handbook. I know the risks and you two don’t have to stick around to take them,” he assured her and Jean-Paul, “Besides, I’ve got a ton of vacation time saved up. Might as well use it now when the X-men need me.”

“You don’t have to do that, John. Don’t feel obligated to get caught up in the X-men’s affairs again,” reminded Xavier.

“I may not be obligated, but I am responsible,” he said, “I owe the X-men a lot of favors. I’ve waited too long to return them. For something involving secret dealings, missing bodies, and all sorts of potential danger…sounds like a good place to start.”

Professor Xavier smiled. John may have left the Xavier Institute, but he was still an X-man at heart. The X-men had enough troubles on their plate and now they had more personal troubles on top of it. He needed all the willing help he could get. Secrets of this nature had the potential to be very damaging and not just to the Summers family.

Xavier Institute – Scott and Jean’s Room

“Will you quit trying to show me those pictures, Betsy? I thought we were supposed to be studying,” groaned an exasperated Kitty Pryde.

“Sorry luv, but the look on your face is more interesting than studying,” teased Betsy, who was trying to shove her phone in front of her friend’s face.

“I don’t need to be reminded of how I made a total fool of myself at the club. It’s bad enough you shared those pictures with Peter and Warren.”

“You’re only making it harder on yourself, luv. I didn’t hide from my buffoonery on our night out. You shouldn’t either.”

Betsy kept trying to get Kitty to look at the pictures she had on her phone. Kitty kept resisting. Her memories of their recent girls night was vivid enough to negate the need for pictures. They seemed to forget that Jean invited them to her and Scott’s room for more serious issues. They had exams coming up and they were supposed to be preparing. So far they weren’t being very productive as she hoped. However, that didn’t bother Jean as much as it should have.

“You know, you could put a stop to this, Jean,” complained Kitty, having to shove Betsy’s phone away, “This is your room last I checked. You’re allowed to telekinetically throw Betsy out the window.”

“Sorry if I can’t get too outraged, Kitty. I’m not in the mood to play referee for you two,” she said in a flat tone as she stared at her laptop.

“Doesn’t look like you’re in the mood for studying either,” remarked Betsy, “You’ve had the same million-mile-stare for the last half-hour.”

“I’m trying to close the gap. It’s not easy when your boyfriend is so worked up about that file John gave him,” sighed Jean.

“Is he still sleeping on the couch for obsessing over that thing?” Betsy asked, “What’s in that file anyways?”

“I’d rather not get into it. I’d like to ignore it and focus on schoolwork, but it’s not as distracting as I hoped.”

“Maybe you should call Warren over,” suggested Kitty, “He did such a good job of distracting Betsy at the club.”

“Now you’re tempting me to telepathically force these pictures into your brain,” said Betsy with a fresh round of hostility.

“I would love to see you try.”

Kitty and Betsy continued to bicker. Jean rolled her eyes, concluding that these two weren’t going to take this seriously. That may not be a bad thing. She was so worried about Scott that she didn’t need others to share her concerns. That file brought up some deep personal issues for Scott and she was ill-equipped to help him manage it. The details were still unfolding and it was bound to affect her sooner or later. In the meantime she could use a distraction, but this wasn’t working.

‘I’m confused, Jean.’

‘That makes two of us, Phoenix.’

‘Scott is deeply troubled. Your friends don’t seem to be providing much solace. Are matters of such a personal nature always so inefficiently handled?’

‘I wouldn’t call it inefficient. Sometimes it’s just easier to avoid the truth until you’re ready to confront it.’

Even the Phoenix Force was running out of patience. Jean was ready to call this study session off. Then there was a knock on her door and Logan came walking in.

“Heya Jeannie. Sorry to interrupt your slumber party, but I need to talk to you about something…in private,” he said in a serious tone.

“Your timing couldn’t be better, Logan,” said Jean as she closed her laptop.

“How private do you mean?” asked Betsy coyly, “Usually when ex-lovers talk in private, nothing good comes of it.”

“Beat it, little miss ninja. I ain’t in the mood for your snobby British bullshit,” said the feral mutant sternly.

Betsy and Kitty got the message. Logan had that look in his eye that made clear that he wasn’t joking around. He actually looked more bothered as Jean.

“You heard the man. We’ll study later,” said Jean, shooing them out of her room.

“No need to crack the whip, Jean. We can take a hint,” said Kitty as she gathered her books and left.

“Just because she’s kicking us out doesn’t mean you’re not looking at these pictures,” grinned Betsy as she followed closely.

“Keep bothering me and I’ll phase you to the center of the Earth!” threatened Kitty as she walked a little faster.

“Oh don’t be such a spoiled sport. You may actually like them. It’ll give you and Peter something to laugh about while you’re on the rocks.”

“We’re not on the rocks. Now quit bugging me!”

Kitty phased through the wall to get away from Betsy, but the British mutant didn’t give up the chase. She ran out of Jean’s door and continued the pursuit. Kitty’s angry voice could be heard down the hall along with laughter from Betsy, prompting Logan to close the door.

“Do I even wanna know what that’s about?” asked Logan in an annoyed tone.

“I’d rather skip to the part where you explain why you’re here. It’s been over twenty seconds and you haven’t made a crack about my underwear showing. So I’m assuming this is serious,” said Jean.

Even without telepathy, Jean Grey knew Logan too well. It didn’t help that she looked almost as disheveled as him and it wasn’t just because of her underwear showing through those old cotton shorts she was wearing. But whatever was stressing her, he didn’t have time to get into it.

“I need you do some emergency psychic therapy,” he told her, “I’d ask Chuck, but I’d rather you do it.”

“Why me?” asked Jean curiously, “You haven’t needed many therapy sessions lately. Between drinking and getting to know Laura, you’ve been self-medicating pretty effectively.”

“All the booze and family won’t do shit for this. I need someone with telepathy who can probe my mind and pull out a few memories.”

“I thought we already went down that road, Logan. You told me outright that you were dead set against forcing out new memories,” she said, now showing more concern.

“I’ve had a change of heart.”

“Right, because you’re so open-minded and your mind changes all the time,” she said dryly.

“Are you gonna help me or not?” said Logan, getting more frustrated.

“Of course I’ll help you. But before I venture into the dark holes of someone’s mind, I think I should know what I’m getting into.”

The feral mutant swallowed his frustration. So long as he was dragging Jeannie into this mess, she deserved to know. It had affected her before when they were dating. This was no different and was much was more serious.

“It’s about Rose,” he said.

“Oh…I see,” said Jean, her demeanor quickly shifting.

“Don’t give me that look. It ain’t what you think.”

“No, I didn’t mean to…”

“Skip the apology, Jeannie. Can we just assume this is something I need and get started already?” said the feral mutant impatiently, “I’ve been dealing with a lot of shit lately and not the kind I’m used to. I’ve had some…episodes lately.”

“And you think they’re connected to Rose?”

“I ain’t ever sure what goes on in my dump of a mind. That’s why I need you to sift through the clutter. There’s something about Rose I need to remember. I got these feeling that don’t make sense. I’m guessing if Rose is part of it, my memories of her are the key.”

His reasoning was sound, but the substance was still distressing. Jean had experienced first-hand how Logan’s memories of Rose had affected him. It was major part of his psyche, even before he remembered her. Of all the gaps in his memory, Rose always stood out. There had to be a reason for it. Wolverine never had a reason for dwelling on it until now. It left Jean in a difficult position, as both a close friend and a former lover.

“Okay…I’ll help you,” said Jean in a more serious tone, “Lie down on my bed.”

“Never thought I’d hear you say that again,” commented Logan.

“You were always so comfortable in it when we were together. I’ll need you to be just as comfortable if I’m going to dig deep into your mind,” she said as she closed her laptop and gathered her books.

“Then maybe you should use any bondage gear you and Cyke have to hold me down. This may be one of those things that sends me into another berserker rage.”

“I’ll take that chance. I may have to if these memories are really hidden,” said Jean.

Logan still had his reservations, but didn’t have the patience to argue with her. He watched Jean put her stuff away and smooth out the sheets on the bed. Logan had never been a big fan of this brand of psychic therapy. Revisiting the past memories was often unpleasant. But for Rose, he was willing to endure.

The feral mutant took a deep breath and laid down on Jean’s bed. Having been through this before, he prepared his mind for what was sure to be a rocky journey. Jean prepared herself as well, having to set aside whatever was bothering her with Scott so she could focus on this.

“You know the drill, Logan. Deep breaths, closed eyes, and as clear a mind as you can manage,” said Jean as she dimmed the lights a little.

“Way ahead of you, Jeannie,” he said through his deeper breathing, “For the records, I’m sorry you gotta revisit this. I know Rose is sort of a sore subject.”

“Don’t be sorry, Logan. No one should be sorry for wanting to know the truth.”

“Even if the truth hurts like a bitch?”

Especially when the truth hurts like a bitch,” said Jean with a light smile.

Her kind tone helped Logan settle even more. Jean gave him a few more minutes while she got ready as well. A lot had changed recently with Laura and Fantomex. There was no telling what she would find. But for once, Logan was determined to confront it.

As soon as she felt he was ready, Jean stood over the side of the bed and placed her hand on his temples. She then channeled her telepathic talents before beginning the psychic probe.

‘Stay focused, Logan. Let’s begin our little psychic journey with the basics. Settle your thoughts. Focus your mental energy. Follow those feelings you mentioned. Take me to Rose. Help me as I guide you and we’ll find the truth together.’

Sinister’s Lab

Raven Darkholme’s entire life revolved around deception. Being a shape-shifter, it was in her nature. Her powers and her skills extended from her ability to deceive. So when it came time to confront the painful truth, it stung a lot more. But despite this pain, she continued her reckless pursuit of the truth.

“This better not be another one of Sinister’s tricks,” Mystique told Madelyn as she followed her into Sinister’s main lab.

“You’ve seen how he’s been lately. He’s not in the mood for tricks,” said Madelyn stoically.

“Do you know what he’s hiding from me? Are you hiding it too?” said the shape-shifter apprehensively.

“No need to get snippy with me, Raven. You’ll get what you want soon enough. Although after what happened with Graydon Creed, I can’t imagine why you would want that.”

Mystique scowled Madelyn for her callous remark. It didn’t bother her in the slightest that she was still reeling from what happened with her wayward son. After finding out that Graydon Creed was the child conceived from the rape she suffered at the hands of Sabretooth, she had been seething with anger and disgust. But those feelings were tempered by the painful loss she felt. She could still remember his words when she confronted him.


Once again, another one of her children hated her. She failed Graydon just as she failed Kurt and Rogue. If that wasn’t bad enough, it explained why she hated Sabretooth so much. He raped her and took sadistic pleasure in the memory. Such a revelation hurt her in ways she wasn’t used to. Destiny warned her that she would suffer if she went through with this. And once again, her vision had been proven right in the worst possible way.

But as painful as these revelations were, Mystique was determined to uncover the full truth. The revelation about Graydon Creed was Sinister’s way of showing that he knew more about her than she knew about herself. He still had the answers she craved and had been holding them over her long enough. Either he would come clean this time or she would beat the truth out of him.

“If you think you can handle more punishment, he’s waiting for you,” said Madelyn as she stopped halfway into the lab, “Just know I’ll only think slightly less of you if you turn back.”

“All the shape shifting in the world couldn’t make me care what you think, Pryor,” scoffed Mystique, “I’ve come this far. I’m not turning back now.”

“You may wish you had,” she said ominously.

Mystique didn’t even hear her remark as she continued forward while Madelyn left the lab, making sure to close the chamber door behind her. Sinister specifically requested that this meeting be private. Based on what he told her, they were going to need it.

Sinister was putting the finishing touches on his latest project when Mystique approached. He was entering in the final configurations on the panel under the sphere-shaped structure hanging over the circular array. He even timed it perfectly so that the shape-shifter arrived at just the right moment.

“Nosce te ipsum,” said Sinister upon sensing her presence, “It’s Latin. It means know thyself. Are you familiar with this saying, Mystique?”

“Don’t get poetic with me, Sinister. If you’re not going to come clean, tell me now so I can start strangling you,” said Mystique firmly.

“To simply tell you without an explanation would miss the point,” said Sinister, not taking his eyes off the console, “You’re a deceiver. You live in a world of lies. For all intents and purposes, you don’t need a life to call your own. You can simply steal one from someone else. It makes me wonder if you see a stranger every time you look in the mirror.”

“You sound as though you look down on me. That’s really pathetic coming from a man who hides behind a monstrous face.”

“I hide nothing,” said Sinister, rising up and turning to face the shape shifter, “This distinct complexion is who I am. I’m one of the few whose face reflects their true identity. Believe it or not, you’re not really that different from most other human on this planet. Most are deceivers in their own respect. Deep down they know who they really are. Some embrace it. Most repress it. You, however, set yourself apart. You only think you know who you are, but deep down you’re truly lost. For all your mystique, you’ve no identity of own.”

Sinister’s words were harsh, stirring more anger within the shape shifter. However, she did not contest his words. He was right on some levels. She was lost. She wouldn’t have gotten caught up in this madness if she wasn’t. As much as she despised him, Sinister knew her better than she knew herself and the incident with Graydon Creed proved that he had more than just words to back it up.

Mystique then noticed that Sinister had something in both hands. In one he had a strange-looking device that looked like a remote control of sorts. It appeared to be another one of his high tech toys. However, the shape shifter found herself more drawn to what he had in the second hand. He was concealing something important and as he approached her, Mystique became more apprehensive.

“When you first came to me, I gave you an old dog tag. I see you’re still wearing it,” he commented, gesturing towards the tattered tag draping from a metal necklace, “It is one of the few remaining relics from your true self. You wouldn’t have accepted it if you didn’t remember to some extent.”

“If my memory were perfect, I wouldn’t need you’re ugly ass to fill in the blanks,” she said bitterly, pulling the tag away from his grasp, “You said you had more. Now are you going to give it to me or are you going to make me fight you for it?”

“You talk to me with such hatred. That’s unfortunate and rather ungrateful. You owe me a great deal and not just because I can give you the answers you seek.”

“I’ll decide whether thanking you is appropriate once you quit with the trickery and tell me what I want to know.”

“There is no trickery in what I do. I’ve just been waiting until you’re ready. After seeing your reaction to the revelation about your son, I’m not convinced you can handle the truth. You’re lucky I’m a man of my word. I don’t have time to wait for you to mature. So I’ll give you your precious truth. I only ask that you not to be too surprised when it utterly destroys you.”

After so much waiting and frustration, Sinister delivered to Mystique what he promised. It came in the form of another dog tag. It was the tag he purposefully separated from the one he gave Mystique earlier. He casually gook the shape shifter’s hand and placed it in her grasp.

When Mystique opened her hand, she held up the dog tag. It had the same look and feel as the other one, indicating they were part of the same package. The first tag had a name she recognized, Raven Darkholme. The second tag had another name. And the moment she read it, everything she thought she knew about herself was shaken in a way she was completely unprepared for.

“No…it’s not possible!” she gasped, shaking her head in disbelief.

“Denial is always the first response when confronted with the truth,” said Sinister as he pushed a button on the device he was holding in his other hand, “Allow me to bridge the gap between the past and present.”

While Mystique was reeling, she didn’t even notice Sinister wave the strange device over her forehead. As he did this, the shape shifter was bombarded by an onslaught of memories. Like a nightmare, they streamed through her mind in rapid succession. Within these images were more painful truths and as they played out, the shape-shifter fell to her knees in a moment of complete vulnerability.

“It’s too much! Please…make it stop!” she cried as tears formed in her eyes.

“You wanted truth. I’m giving it to you courtesy of the mnemonic regenerator. This device will send specially calibrated psionic waves into your mind so that you can recall what was once suppressed by deception and lies,” said Sinister in a flat yet devious tone, “It’s time strip away the mystique you’ve been hiding behind. Face the truth, Raven Darkholme. Accept who you really are.”

Next Issue: Sinister Revelations

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