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Volume 6 -- Issue 128 -- Pain Tolerance

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Pain Tolerance
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Professor Charles Xavier has worked hard over the years, training his X-men to protect a world that hates and fears them. They attempt in vain to be prepared for any obstacle. There are so many forces that threaten to turn humans and mutants against one another. Failing to confront these forces has grave ramifications. Time and again, Xavier’s team of gifted mutants has pulled through. This is not one of those times.

From the ashes of the Legacy Virus, a new group of mutant terrorists have emerged. They call themselves the Mutant Liberation Front. Led by former Brotherhood member, Toad, they have filled a vulnerable world with terror by attacking major infrastructure and economic targets. President Robert Kelly and General Grimshaw of the MSA made stopping them a top priority. If that weren’t difficult enough, this comes at a time when the X-men’s relationship with the authorities is greatly strained. So when the X-men learned that the Mutant Liberation Front was attacking a place known as the Swiss FortKnox, they confronted this menace.

However, they underestimated this new enemy. In the end Toad outsmarted the X-men, defeating them and destroying the world’s most valuable digital failsafe in existence. Now the world is more vulnerable than ever. Beaten and demoralized, the X-men must now confront the fallout of this failure.

Boston Harbor

James Proudstar did a lot of heavy drinking after his brother died. He did a lot of heavy drinking before as well, but for reasons that were a lot more selfish. Losing John had a profound impact on him and he had since dedicated himself to making up for past mistakes. His work with Emma Frost at the Academy of Tomorrow was a good first step. Now he was ready to take another step and to do that he needed help.

Since the Mutant Liberation Front attacked the power grid in New York, the entire Northeast had been dealing with rolling blackouts. Boston had been struggling with limited electricity all week. Emergency personnel and the National Guard had been working hard to keep the city going. Emma Frost ordered X-Factor to put on their masks and head out into the city to assist them. James was part of this effort and for the last hour he had been helping a few private ocean liners unload heavy utility equipment, courtesy of Worthington Industries. The harbor was the lifeline for the city so his strength helped speed up the unloading process.

“Thanks for the hand, Warpath! You’re a lot less clumsy than a crane!” said one of the dock managers.

“X-Factor is happy to be of service,” said Warpath as he set series of heavy-duty cables into the back of a truck, “I hope this Worthington equipment stabilizes the grid soon. The mandatory blackouts aren’t helping city morale.”

“The mayor promised to have the lights on for the next game at Fenway. I’m sure seeing the Sox beat the tar out of the Mets will lift everyone’s spirits!”

The truck was closed and ready to transport. The manager seemed pretty optimistic. Having survived the Legacy Virus, the city’s tolerance for mishaps was a lot higher. James found it hard to share that optimism even as the dock workers waved to him in approval. Being a hero was a simple way to make up for past arrogance. It wasn’t the only way though.

While he watched the truck drive off, there was a distinct shift in the wind. It was a shift he quickly recognized as being unnatural. That usually meant one thing and it was one of the few forces that could make him smile.

“I see you’ve done your share of heavy lifting, Warpath,” said Storm as she descended from the clouds.

“Ororo Munroe, I knew the air in this city didn’t get nicer on its own,” greeted the Native American mutant.

“You’re so creative with hellos,” she smiled as she landed next to him, “I thought you would be more content barking orders to X-Factor. They’re still tracking down looters from the police last I checked.”

“It’s Sunfire’s turn to discipline our favorite bunch of super-powered teenagers. Besides, if I was stuck babysitting you might be less inclined to meet up with me.”

“I wouldn’t keep dropping by if I didn’t find it so worthwhile.”

James Proudstar’s smile grew, a feeling he still wasn’t used to. Storm was an unexpected development from his brother’s death. She was with John when he died. She was the one that gave him that special beaded necklace that he always kept with him now. So it was only natural that he would be intrigued by her. He didn’t expect she would become so intrigued with him as well.

It started off with him just needing company. After his brother died, there weren’t a lot of friends he had to talk to. Emma Frost wasn’t known for her compassion. Sunfire and Dr. Nemesis were more co-workers than friends. Somehow Storm put in the extra effort that no one else would. She went out of her way to visit him in the weeks after the Legacy Virus. They didn’t go out on dates or anything. They just hung around and talked. She was a good listener and a great person to be around. It helped she was beautiful as well.

“I wanted to catch up while I had a chance,” Storm went on, “I know I haven’t had time to visit as much lately. The Mutant Liberation Front has kept the X-men busy.”

“If you’re going to apologize for it, don’t bother,” said James, “There are more pressing concerns in this world than coddling some messed up shmuck with family issues.”

“That doesn’t mean I care any less,” she said in a more serious tone, “I just spent the last two hours diverting a large storm the size of Pennsylvania from hitting this area. It would have set back the recovery another week and probably shut down this harbor.”

“Are you telling me this to impress me? That new lipstick you’re wearing is more than enough,” said the Native American mutant.

“I’m telling you because I don’t take those kinds of feats lightly. I usually take my time when altering the course of nature. I rushed this not just because it would make the recover effort easier. I rushed it because I was hoping to catch up with you. While I get the sense you’re ready to move forward from John’s death, I also suspect you’ve been troubled by a new set of issues.”

“Am I being that obvious or did you get one of your psychic students to read my mind?”

“I’ve gotten to know you pretty well, James. One thing I know you’re not good at is subtlety. I’m hoping you’ll still confide in me before my duties as an X-man completely occupy my time.”

Her seriousness turned to sincerity. It was the kind of sincerity that made the Native American mutant uncomfortably vulnerable. He wasn’t used to being humbled. He wasn’t used to someone caring about him like this either. It put him in a difficult position because there were many issues he hadn’t brought up with her yet. A few were more daunting than others. If their respective duties with the X-men and X-Factor continued to escalate, then he may not get a chance to confront them.

“So…is this going to be too awkward? Maybe we should go somewhere less open,” suggested Storm.

“So you want to make it a date while we still have a chance?” said James with a raised eye-brow.

“What? I…no, that’s not what I meant!” said Storm, now blushing profusely, “I’m being serious here, Warpath!”

“So am I…to a point,” he said in a more serious tone, “I’ve trusted you with an awful lot, Storm. I don’t give that kind of trust to just anybody. I’m a guy who has spent most of his life trying to do everything on his own. It’s cost me my brother, my family, and a shit ton of headaches.”

“Are you saying you don’t trust me enough yet?”

“I barely trust myself after what happened to John. You’re asking for a lot right now and I’m not sure I’m equipped to give it with something like this.”

“So there something else has come up,” surmised Storm.

James shifted under her gaze. Storm wasn’t psychic, but she was pretty damn observant. That or she knew him even better than he thought.

“Yes…in ways that are a bit complicated to explain,” said James awkwardly.

“I see,” said Storm, “Well you don’t need to tell me if you’re not ready.”

“I want to tell you because I know you could help with this. You and the X-men,” said James, “It involves something else John left me after he died. Apparently the necklace my mom gave me was just a prelude. For reasons that still bug the hell out of me, John trusted me to finish something he started years ago…something I think he saw as a big threat that was going to affect us all.”

“What is it? Or is that a conversation that’ll have to wait?”

James paused for a moment, conflicted on whether or not he should drag Storm into this. Trust issues aside, this issue was bigger than his grief. It was something he was reluctant to drag anyone into, especially someone he had grown so fond of lately. He pondered his words carefully before responding. Then to their mutual chagrin, Storm’s communicator started beeping. She was getting an emergency call from the X-men.

“Guess that answers your question,” sighed James.

“So it seems,” she said sheepishly, “That doesn’t mean it’s too late.”

Hoping this wasn’t too serious (at least by X-men standards), Storm stepped away for a moment and answered her communicator.

“This is Storm,” she said into the device.

“Storm! It’s Betsy! Where the bloody hell have you been?! Cyclops just sent out a level three SOS! The team is on their way back to the mansion and they’re pretty messed up! I heard something about the Mutant Liberation Front and the Professor being unconscious, but I…“

“Slow down, Psylocke! How bad is it?” asked Storm in response to her hysterical voice.

“Ride the nearest cyclone to the mansion and see for yourself!”

Xavier Institute Infirmary – Later

“Good heavens…this is very bad!” lamented Ororo.

“Told you,” groaned an exasperated Betsy.

It was a distressing and solemn scene. The X-men had lost their first battle with the Mutant Liberation Front and sustained serious injuries in the process. Kitty had a fractured fibula in her leg. Bobby had a major concussion and so did Hank. Scott had several cracked ribs and a broken bone in his arm. Logan, despite his healing factor, had a face that was still growing back. Getting hit with acid took some time to recover from. Needless to say, the team’s morale took a major hit.

“Ow! Enough with the peroxide, Bets!” barked an irate Logan, “I’ve had enough acid on my face for one day!”

“Fine! If you’re going to be a bloody sod, go ahead and walk around like Freddy Kruger for the rest of day!” said Betsy, throwing the medical supplies aside.

“Guys…what part of concussion don’t you understand?” groaned Bobby, who was lying on a bed next to Logan’s, “Yelling isn’t medicine last I checked.”

“Quit complaining, Drake. At least you got a shot of pain killers outta this shit,” spat Logan, not caring that his face was still a mess, “Some of us can’t enjoy the luxury of being doped outta our asses!”

The feral mutant was in no mood to hear complaints. The pain of having acid spit in his face wasn’t quite as painful as losing to the Mutant Liberation Front. Looking around, he saw a team that really took one in the jaw.

The injuries from this battle were still nothing to scoff at. Ororo was helping Hank, who didn’t have as bad a concussion as Bobby. He was sitting upright with a large ice pack on his head while Ororo administered some standard tests. Remy was helping Piotr with Kitty, who was wincing every time they tried to get her leg into position for a cast. She was clearly in a lot of pain. Even with the advanced medical technology at the institute, she was going to need a cast. The idea of being sidelined was almost as painful as her broken bones.

“Ahhh! What are you waiting for? Just do it already!” grunted Kitty.

“We’re trying to, petite. A broken leg be needing more than a band-aid,” said Remy, who was trying to align the cast.

“We have alien technology at our disposal! There must be some way of making this go faster!”

“If there was, I would be yelling louder than you, Katya,” said Piotr, trying to coax his girlfriend into being still, “This is what we have to work with. I don’t like it either, but now is not the time to prove your toughness. You need to heal.”

“Sorry Petey, but I don’t heal well after getting my ass kicked,” she retorted.

“Nobody does,” sighed Remy, “Hell, after a mess like this nobody ought to.”

There was plenty of bodily pain to go around, but it was still a secondary concern. The Mutant Liberation Front had won. The X-men had a chance to take this threat out before it could escalate and they failed. Toad set a trap for them and they walked right into it. The battle was lost before it even began. Every defeat was difficult to digest, but this one especially stung.

Scott kept going over all the tactical details even while Betsy was wrapping his chest in bandages. On paper, the X-men had the advantage. They were better trained and better organized than the Mutant Liberation Front. What proved to be the equalizer in this battle was their unfamiliarity with this enemy. Toad knew them, but they didn’t know him. He was a different mutant than the scrawny green man who fought in the Brotherhood. He was smart, cunning, and powerful. His minions in the Mutant Liberation Front followed his orders loyally. They weren’t thugs or hired guns. They truly believed in his plan.

He had to admit it was a pretty ingenious plan as well. Toad maximized the resources at his disposal. He put himself in a position that gave him every possible advantage. He kept the X-men distracted while his team completed their objective. It was the kind of plan the X-men were usually able to sniff out. Having three telepaths on the team usually gave them the foresight they needed. This time, there was a critical weak link.

“We didn’t just get our asses kicked. We were outmatched in every way,” mused Cyclops as he finished applying the cast to his arm, “Toad put together a hell of a plan. He made sure all his pieces were in place before we could even get set up. He knew how we were going to attack him and how to use that against us. First, he took Phoenix and her psychic presence out of the equation. Then used Stryfe to make us see what we wanted to see. It was as clever as it was devious.”

“Since when did old swamp breath becomes such a brilliant tactician?” muttered Kitty.

“I figure that makeover he underwent at Leavenworth is largely to blame,” said Betsy.

“It’s not his new powers that concern me. It’s our failure to work around them that troubles me,” said the X-leader, “We’ve been blind-sided before. We’ve defeated before. What makes this so disturbing is we’ve never been caught so completely off-guard like this. Usually we pick up on deception and ruses. A big part of that comes from having the world’s most powerful telepath on our side.”

“Chuck picked a hell of a time to be off his game,” said Logan bitterly, “Wish I could say it was a fluke, but I can’t say I was surprised.”

“That’s the worst part. We all saw it coming. Now we know just how bad it is.”

Cyclops held his head low, the pain from his ribs only secondary to the pain of this defeat. Much as it saddened him and the rest of the team for that matter, Professor Xavier faltered the most in this battle. There was a general consensus that something had been bothering him. Part of it was the stress put on him by President Kelly and General Grimshaw. They now knew that stress was secondary. Charles Xavier had much deeper troubles than he had let on and it ended up hurting them all.

“I still can’t believe it. Charles Xavier has always been a strength, not a weakness,” said Ororo as she finished treating Hank.

“Like the mighty Goliath who was slain by a sling-shot, he’s still vulnerable,” said Hank, the effects of the drugs clearly taking hold.

“You say he was passed out in the Cerebrum chamber bleeding from his nose and near comatose,” said Ororo, “But it wasn’t from over-exerting himself?”

“Not this time, Miss Munroe,” said Cyclops sadly, “This isn’t a case of him pushing his powers beyond his limits. It isn’t even a case of exhausting himself to the point of collapse.”

“So what could it be? And how much should we be worrying?” pondered Remy.

“Jean’s figuring that out as we speak,” said the X-leader, “She recently returned from her impromptu trip to Australia. Along the way she picked up someone that was on the Professor’s cell phone. She promises to provide answers and from what I gather, we have a lot of worrying ahead of us.”

Genosha – West Coast

“The X-men are inept! The Mutant Liberation Front is the future! I will not be left behind!”

“That’s a lousy reason to turn on us, Senyaka!” shouted an annoyed Alex Summers, “We’re not giving you the luxury of a warning either!”

“Will you quit with the diplomacy and just shut him up already?!” said an equally annoyed Blob.

Genosha was a mess. Word about the Mutant Liberation Front’s success in Switzerland spread quickly. The X-men had been humiliated and the world was now more vulnerable than ever. Fear and terror was consuming the planet. For many mutants, it meant taking sides. The Mutant Liberation Front had newfound credibility and some were seeking to jump on the bandwagon.

Within hours of the news reaching Genosha, an already fragile society erupted in chaos. A large demonstration broke out on a city near the west coast of the island. This led the Scarlet Witch to personally lead Havok, Blob, Quentin, Avalanche, and Quicksilver on a mission to break up the protest. It should have been a standard mission. What made it all the more difficult was the man behind the demonstration. It was Suvik Senyaka, a mutant from Sri Lanka with the ability to form life draining energy whips with his arms. He was also a trusted acolyte who often worked in the Warlock factories. Now it seemed that trust had been misplaced.

“You’re putting me in an awkward position, Senyaka! I thought I could trust you!” said the Scarlet Witch as she and the team arrived via transport orbs.

“I thought I could trust you too, Maximoff!” shouted Senyaka, “You claim to have a vision for mutant kind! Yet what has this vision wrought? An island prison where we exchange what few assets we have for a futile peace?! The Mutant Liberation Front has done more in one day than you’ve done your entire reign! Look around! I’m not the only one who feels this way!”

“He’s right! Why do we remain neutral? Why don’t we join the Mutant Liberation Front!” yelled one of the mutant demonstrators.

“I was here during the first uprising! I’m ready to finish it!” said another.

“I’m sick of being under the thumb of other humans! Let’s assert ourselves and be strong again!” said a hulking mutant with gray skin and green eyes.

The Brotherhood stepped out of their transport orbs and into a very messy situation. Senyaka staged this demonstration at a vital rail lane that led from the Warlock factories to the harbor. They were making themselves heard by disrupting Genosha’s infrastructure. It left little room for discussing.

“Can we please skip the diplomacy already?” groaned Avalache.

“Spare me the whining, Pietro. My patience is already limited,” grumbled the Scarlet Witch.

“Good! I’d hate to leave Pyro and Lorna in the citadel for too long!” said Quicksilver.

The Brotherhood gave their citizens no further leeway. As soon as they were in position, they attacked. Havok fired right at Senyaka, knocking him off the top of a train car that had been acting as a makeshift podium. The demonstrates responded angrily and lashed out at their supposed rulers. A few tried to fire back with various energy blasts that included electricity, fire, and various other mutant powers. Blob used his imposing form to block them while Avalanche caused a series of tremors to disrupt their attack.

“You will not silence us!” yelled Senyaka, quickly recovering from Havok’s attack.

“Attack them! They are not our rulers!” shouted one of the demonstrators that braved the tremors.

“Your thinking is really messed up. I can fix that!” grinned Quentin.

While Avalanche’s quakes kept the demonstrators disorganized, Quentin Quere used his vast psychic potential to attack the minds of these unruly citizens. Using telepathy, he forcibly tore into their mental defenses and induced seizures. They were uncomfortable for most and painful for those who resisted.

“Ahhhhhhh! My head!” groaned one of the demonstrators.

“Hnn…so tired,” said another with much weaker resistance.

Quentin’s psychic attack put a stop to most of the demonstrators. A few kept trying to use their powers to fight back. The Scarlet Witch made sure they weren’t able to, using hex bolts to suppress their abilities until they gave into Quentin’s attack.

“If it’s any consolation, I take no pleasure in doing this,” said the Scarlet Witch flatly.

“I don’t think they can hear you!” said Blob as he casually knocked a few lingering demonstrators back.

“It’s the truth and it’s worth saying.”

“If you’re worried about your conscious, it’s a losing battle,” said Avalanche, “Stick to the fights you can win and you’ll sleep easier.”

It was cynical advice, even if it was sound. The Scarlet Witch cringed as she watched these demonstrators, her own citizens fall by their hands. Having to hex some of them was a failure on her part. As leader of Genosha, she couldn’t rally the support of her people. It was a solemn and frustrating feeling.

Blob and Avalanche subdued the rest of the demonstrators that kept resisting. Quentin and the Scarlet Witch used their abilities to ensure it wouldn’t get any messier. This left Quicksilver and Havok to go after Senyaka. He had fallen off the train cart, he tried to find cover. He didn’t get a chance because Quicksilver appeared right in front of him in a speedy blur. He made it clear that Senyaka wasn’t getting away.

“So how hard do you want to make this on yourself?” said Quicksilver.

“I’d rather not fight you! I’d rather we work together!” said Senyaka.

“And do what? Join the Mutant Liberation Front?” scoffed the speedster, “Do you jump ship the second someone upstart makes a few waves? You must suck at fantasy football!”

Quicksilver ran in at high speeds to strike Senyaka with a punishing haymaker. He managed to block the incoming blow. Quicksilver used his speed to run around and hit him from behind, knocking him back towards the train cart. As he fell back, Havok emerged and approached the restless mutant.

“You don’t fight new battles before finishing the ones that matter. You’ll only end up wearing yourself out,” said Havok, his hands glowing with energy.

“Wear this out!” spat Senyaka.

Before Havok could fire his blast, Senyaka summoned his powers. He formed two glowing energy whips with his arms and unleashed them on his former superiors. Havok had to hold off his blast and duck to the side in order to avoid it. Quicksilver went on the evasive, falling back a bit in the process. Growing more frustrated, he prepared to end this unruly outburst once and for all.

“You just love making it worse, don’t you?” said the speedster.

Quicksilver tried to run around to Senyaka’s side so he could get in the necessary blow. He moved in a rapid blur that was too quick for him to see, but as the speedy mutant tried to move in closer Senyaka unexpectedly redirected his energy whips so that they swing around close to the ground. This caused one of them to get tangled up with Quicksilver’s legs, causing him to trip and tumble along the ground.

“Whoa shi-ARRRGGGHHHHH!” was all he got out.

In addition to being tripped up, Senyaka’s energy whips started draining him. The speedster immediately felt his life energy leaving him. It slowed him down and gave Senyaka a needed boost.

“I warned you!” Senyaka yelled out, “This isn’t just about me! This is about all of us! We need to stand together with the Mutant Liberation Front or be left behind!”

The enraged mutant was emboldened by the flush of new energy. However, his focus on Quicksilver caused him to negate Havok. Having kept his distance from the energy whips, Havok was able to take aim and fire another energy blast. This time he used more energy than he planned before. The resulting burst was large if not excessive. When it hit Senyaka, he was driven into the train cart so hard that it left an outline of his body.


Upon being struck, he was knocked out cold. In the process his energy whips faded. This freed Quicksilver, allowing him to return to his feet with a throbbing headache. It wasn’t the worst injury he sustained while subduing public unrest. That didn’t make it any less annoying.

“Ugh…I hope that leaves him with brain damage,” groaned the speedster.

“He’ll recover,” said Havok flatly as he walked up to the defeated mutant, “Depending on how severely Wanda decides to punish him, that is.”

Quicksilver was still rubbing his head as he approached the unconscious body of Senyaka. He and Havok were soon joined by the others. Blob, Avalanche, Quentin, and the Scarlet Witch finished breaking up the last of the demonstration. Everybody was either knocked out or subdued. They now stood over the man who started it all. While stopping him wasn’t too great a problem, it opened the door to a much greater problem.

“Well that wasn’t terribly difficult,” said Quentin.

“Of course you would say that,” scoffed Blob, “All you gotta do is think. You never break a sweat!”

“You want to switch powers? Fine,” shrugged Quentin, “I would love to have the power of ingesting a fully cooked turkey in under two minutes.”

“This wasn’t the hard part, Quentin. Not by a long shot,” said the Scarlet Witch distantly, “We now have to figure out what to do with Senyaka and all these protesters.”

“So throw him in jail. He’s a traitor. They all are,” said Quicksilver, still rubbing his head.

“We can’t throw productive members of society away. That’s what America does and I’d rather not adopt that policy. All this time negotiating with the United nations and working with the X-men has left us little time to develop our court system.”

“We have a court system?” questioned Blob.

“We’ll need one if this is to be a trend,” sighed the beleaguered ruler, “My father chose Senyaka to be an acolyte because he was a loyal militia leader back in Sri Lanka. I was there when he pledged his loyalty to Genosha. I fear the success of the Mutant Liberation Front will cause others to question their loyalty as well. Especially since we’ve struggled to recover from the Legacy Virus.”

“You make it sound as though we’re not up to challenge,” said Havok.

“Are we?” questioned Avalanche, “I don’t recall us ever discussing the merits of the Mutant Liberation Front.”

“You’re assuming they have any,” scoffed Quicksilver.

“They did beat the X-men. That’s nothing to scoff at and we all have the bruises to prove it,” said Avalanche, “I’m not saying we should start getting paranoid. I’m just suggesting we take them more seriously. Others clearly are.”

Avalanche made a valid point. The Mutant Liberation Front had credibility now. The best Genosha had was an unstable treaty with the rest of the world that was difficult to uphold after the Legacy Virus. Wanda Maximoff was not Magneto. She didn’t have the charisma and vision to inspire the fierce loyalty that her father demanded. Looking down at Senyaka, they saw a dangerous new problem that couldn’t be ignored.

“We will have to confront this. There’s no way around it,” said the beleaguered leader, trying to sound strong, “However, we’re not changing our plans on account of one successful clash with the X-men.”

“We have plans? Did I miss a meeting or something?” questioned Blob.

“Quit acting like we’re clueless, Blob,” said Quicksilver in a disgruntled tone.

“Could’ve fooled me,” said the oversized mutant, earning him another scold.

“We’re not clueless. But we have forgotten what this island was supposed to be,” said the Scarlet Witch, her gaze fixated on Senyaka, “We’re not terrorists. We’ve seen what happens when you try to fight the entire human race. It doesn’t end well. The Mutant Liberation Front may be successful now, but their luck may run out at some point.”

“Even if it does, we need to put ourselves in a better position,” argued Avalanche, “Because what we’re doing now isn’t working.”

“Then we’ll make it work. We need to remind our people that waging war won’t help our people. We’ll set up a public trial for Senyaka. We’ll let him make his case and we’ll give out an appropriate punishment, even if it means constructing a new prison from scratch. We’ll show everybody that we can be civilized on our own terms.”

“You really think you can win people over by being that reasonable?” asked Havok.

“It’s not about being reasonable. It’s about showing strength,” said the Scarlet Witch strongly, “The Mutant Liberation Front showed that we can’t rely on the X-men anymore than we can rely on General Grimshaw. The world is going through a turbulent change and we need to be in position to emerge stronger…especially when our supposed allies are so weakened.”

Xavier Institute – Xavier’s Dormitory

‘The pain…it’s too much. I failed. My X-men…all those people…it’s all my fault. I need my pills. I can’t take this!’

‘Sorry Professor, not this time. You don’t get to take the easy way out.’

Charles Xavier was shocked to hear another telepathic voice in his head. As the world’s most powerful telepath, his mind was always so heavily shielded. It should have been impossible for another telepath to hear him projecting. It was so startling that it jarred him from his semi-conscious state. His world was still laden with agony. His head was throbbing just as it had before he passed out. Everything after that was a blur. When he opened his eyes, he realized he wasn’t in Cerebrum anymore. He also realized he had two very disgruntled figures standing by his bed.

Jean Grey had a lot of reasons to be grumpy. She had to fly all the way back from Australia while discovering that the Mutant Liberation Front had succeeded along the way. Then when she arrived at the mansion, she discovered Professor Xavier in a dire state. This time it wasn’t because he pushed himself too hard. It’s what prompted her and Betsy to call Dr. Cecilia Reyes, who was standing next to her holding the bottle of pills they found Xavier grasping. When he saw her disappointed gaze, the Professor could barely look at her.

“Jean I…” he began.

“Don’t attempt to explain yourself, sir. Dr. Reyes told us everything,” said Jean, not hiding her disappointment.

“I’m sorry, Charles. But the whole doctor/patient confidentiality agreement goes out the window when it’s abused,” said Cecilia with equal scorn, “I covered for you. I lied for you. Now you’ve taken it too far.”

“The X-men…are they okay?” asked the Professor, still avoiding eye-contact.

“They’re okay…for the most part,” said Dr. Reyes, “They sustained some injuries. They weren’t in a position to stop the Mutant Liberation Front. Not after they lost their psychic shielding and failed to uncover Toad’s trap.”

“My God,” gasped Xavier, “That means they succeeded! They took out the data center!”

“Forget the mission for a moment, sir. Forget the damage that’s been done to human/mutant relations or all the ways President Kelly is pissed off at us,” said Jean in a harsh tone, “Let’s talk about what you did to yourself!”

The powerful psychic used her telekinesis to rip the pill bottle out of Dr. Reyes’s hands and retrieve it. Jean was not going to be subtle. This man was like a father to her, much more so than her real father. Uncovering secrets like this was painful in so many ways.

“When we found you in Cerebrum, you hadn’t passed out due to the usual psychic strain! I know the symptoms and the pill bottle you were clutching was a dead give-away! I found the number for Dr. Reyes on your cell phone and she got over here as fast as the X-jet would take her! I didn’t want to believe it until I heard it from her, but I know the truth now! We all do!”

“Please understand, Jean!” urged Xavier, “I…”

But Jean didn’t give him a chance to explain himself. She telekinetically threw the empty bottle of pills onto his lap and continued her emotional revelation.

“A drug overdose! That’s what took you out of this fight!” she shouted, “It wasn’t because of some powerful new psychic! It wasn’t because of cancer either! You were so hopped up on pain killers that you nearly drowned in your own drool! And you’re supposed to be the world’s most powerful mind?!”

“That’s enough, Jean,” said Dr. Reyes, having to hold her back.

“Did you really think it wasn’t going to be a problem? Did you really believe that you could be an addict and a visionary for the X-men at the same time?! Who do you think you are? A cult leader?!”

“Jean! That’s not helping!” shouted Cecilia, pushing her back.

She was on the brink of tears. This was difficult for her to digest and there was no easy way to process it. Professor Xavier finally looked up at his student, ashamed of his failing. His students always held him in such high regard. He worked hard to gain their trust. Now he had abused it and it finally caught up with him.

Jean continued fuming, having to step back and wipe the tears from her eyes. Dr. Reyes stayed with her a moment, offering a comforting gesture. This was difficult for her to, but for a very different set of reasons.

“Do not lose control, Jean. I know as well as any cosmic entity that it will only make things worse.”

“I know. I’m not trying to sound like a total bitch,” sobbed Jean.

“You’re not a bitch, Jean. You’re upset. I am too,” said Dr. Reyes, “I dreaded that something like this would happen. I’m glad it happened now before it got any worse.”

Leaving Jean to cool down, Cecilia turned her attention back to Charles Xavier. He was holding his head low, ready to accept whatever scorn she had to give. He more than deserved it.

“I won’t yell at you, Charles. Although I admit I am tempted,” said Dr. Reyes.

“Feel free to yell all you want, Cecilia. I put you in this position. I hurt you just as much as I hurt my X-men,” he said sadly.

“I would rather be more productive while you’re still coherent,” she said, “While you were out, I ran some tests with Jean in the infirmary. They confirmed what I suspected may happen.”

“That I would become addicted to these pills?” said the Professor as he looked down at the empty bottle, “I don’t see how a test is necessary to figure that out.”

“I’m afraid it’s more complicated than that. This goes back to those risky treatments you underwent when your cancer returned. I say they’re risky because they weren’t aimed at actually treating the cancer. They were aimed at managing the symptoms. Any doctor who spent more a few months in med school will tell you that attacking the symptoms rather than the disease is a losing battle. You got exceedingly lucky by crossing paths with aliens who could cure your cancer. However, they didn’t cure the effects these powerful medications had on your body.”

Cecilia’s tone shifted as she opened a folder containing various test results. They were difficult to read. This man had been ailing for much of his life. It was imagine someone enduring so much pain and discomfort.

“Even without the cancer, the medications did significant damage to your nervous system. Without using too much medical jargon, the neural pathways in your brain have been fried and re-fried in more ways than I can measure. The pathways I’m specifically referring to are your opiate receptors. These are the areas your pills affected most, thus creating a powerful and dangerous dependency.”

“I made myself an addict, Cecilia. There’s nothing technical about it,” said Xavier sadly.

“It’s worse than that, Charles,” said Dr. Reyes, “The pain your feeling isn’t just from withdrawal. Your own mutant abilities are exacerbating the problem. By using your telepathy so excessively, you’ve forced your brain to rewire itself with faulty wiring. The excessive sparks along with fried pain receptors are what’s causing all this discomfort. By taking more pills you’ve only done more damage and caused more sparks. If you don’t do something about it soon it’ll get to a point where the pain is so great that your brain will be damaged beyond repair.”

It was difficult to contemplate. The pain was already so great. Charles Xavier couldn’t imagine it getting any worse. Brain damage was certainly a dangerous threshold. He couldn’t do the world much good if he destroyed his mind. He clutched the empty bottle of pills harder and looked up at Dr. Reyes. At this point, Jean had gathered herself enough to face him again.

“What are my options?” asked Xavier, trying to sound strong through the pain.

“The same as they are for any addict,” said Jean, “You need help.”

“Given your circumstances, you need a special kind of help,” added Cecilia, “The only way to reverse this damage is to force your brain to rewire itself again. That means extensive detoxing and some rather unorthodox therapy.”

“Without using any telepathy, I figure that’s going to be very uncomfortable,” he said in a low tone.

“I’d rather not get into descriptions. I’ll just say it’ll be a difficult process,” said Dr. Reyes in a conflicted tone, “During this process, you won’t be able to use her telepathy. You won’t be able to handle the stresses of running the institute either.”

“At a time like this? When the Mutant Liberation Front is growing stronger and our support base is growing weaker?” the Professor lamented.

“You can’t win the major battles while losing your personal battles,” said Jean, “That was one of the first lessons you taught me when I joined the institute, Professor.”

“Jean is right, Charles. You can’t fight every conflict at once. You need to take it one struggle at a time,” said Cecilia strongly.

“But all the progress we’ve made…the obstacles we’ve overcome,” said Xavier, “The Mutant Liberation Front is threatening to undo everything!”

“Then the X-men will deal with it,” said Jean strongly, “You’ve taught us so much, Professor. All these years, we’ve grown and flourished under your guidance. We’ve trusted you with our lives. Now we need you to trust us. Let the X-men carry on your dream while you get better. Give us a chance to do this on our own accord and we’ll make you proud.”

It sounded like a reasonable request, but Jean was asking a lot of her mentor. His dream was in danger. The Mutant Liberation Front had struck at the heart of everything the X-men worked so hard to build. Charles Xavier felt he needed to be the one to put the pieces back together. However, his health would not allow him. He would only do more damage to his students and his cause in this state. He never expected to fight this battle forever and he trained his X-men to carry on after he was gone. He wasn’t sure if they were ready. It seemed as though they were going to have to find out.

Sighing to himself, Professor Xavier looked at Jean and then back at Dr. Reyes. They were silently urging him to make the right choice even if it meant taking a significant risk. There was no way around it. He needed to get better and his X-men would have to carry on without him.

“I suppose I’ll have to make some arrangements,” said Xavier sadly.

“We’ll help you along the way, Charles. It’s for the best,” said Dr. Reyes with a tough of relief.

“I’m not sure there is a best way to handle this, Cecilia,” said the Professor with a tired sigh, “I fear I’m leaving my X-men in a difficult position. We’re losing allies. We’re losing trust. The world is a much more volatile place now. Like my illness, it may be a symptom of something far worse.”

The White House – Oval Office

General Nathan Grimshaw was used to dealing with irate politicians. It was one of those skills that nobody could claim they were good at. The best anyone could hope for was mitigating the damage. When the President of the Untied States was pissed, the damage could be pretty extensive.

“This is unacceptable!” said a very distressed Robert Kelly, “I’ve heard from every intelligence agency and every analyst that I can reach on a cell phone! They’re all telling me the same thing! We’re screwed!”

“Sir, if I may clarify…” said the Secretary of Defense.

“No sir, I have a perfectly clear picture as it stands!” spat the President, not even letting him begin, “I’m the President of the Untied States! It’s my ass they’re holding to the fire and right now I smell burning meat! Is there any way someone here can put a positive spin on losing our most important data center?! I’m told it’ll be another six months before we can back up everything that was in that vault! If the Mutant Liberation Front attacks before then or some cocky terrorist finds a way to take out our digital infrastructure, that’s it! We’re back in the 19th century!”

It was a dire assessment from a beleaguered leader. Nobody present could possibly argue. This emergency meeting was essentially one long string of bad news. The moment word got out that the Mutant Liberation Front successfully crippled the Swiss Fort Knox, every major country went into a panic. This came at a time when many were still recovering from the Front’s earlier terror attacks. Now everyone was vulnerable.

General Grimshaw was just one of many officials who were brought in for this meeting. The Joint Chiefs were present as well as the Secretary of Defense. Several other Generals as well as their main ambassador to the UN joined in as well. Captain Jack Freeman was also there, but he kept his distance. He could tell from the enraged tone of the President that he was in no mood to face a mutant.

As bad as this was, General Grimshaw tried to maintain a calm demeanor. Even though they were vulnerable, he didn’t share the President’s assessment. These attacks exposed a new threat that they weren’t prepared for. It simply meant they were going to have to make some difficult adjustments.

“Now I’m addressing the nation in under three hours,” said the President in a slightly calmer tone as he sat back down in his chair, “I’d like to be able to tell them that we’re doing something of merit. So somebody paint me a better picture from this pile of shit and do it fast!”

“We’re mobilizing every emergency protocol we have on paper, Mr. President. Power is slowly returning to the Northeast and half of all major networks are up and running,” said one of the Joint Chiefs.

“That’s not going to make a difference if the terrorists strike again,” said Henry Peter Gyrich, who had the privilege of standing next to the President behind his desk, “This Mutant Liberation Front is not stupid. They understand we can recover from a few attacks. Now they’re going after our fail-safes.”

“That data center wasn’t the only backup we had, but it was the most comprehensive,” said the Secretary of Homeland Security, “We’ve been working closely with the Pentagon to back up our major data at a number of secure locations.”

“Need I remind you that those locations aren’t networked? Not to mention that Swiss Vault was supposed to be more secure than anything we have active at the moment?” said another Joint Chief, “Any attack on our digital infrastructure at this point would be devastating. The best we can hope for with our limited back-ups is a network efficiency that would barely be on par by 1996 standards.”

“Seeing as how our digital footprint has grown exponentially since then, we’ll still be left with serious infrastructure damage,” said the Secretary of Interior, “So much of our society has been digitized. We can’t turn the clock back without paying a high price.”

“That also assumes that the Mutant Liberation Front won’t take out our secondary backups,” said Gyrich, “If they can attack the vault in Switzerland, we should assume that none of our backups are safe.”

“Is any of this supposed to reassure me?” said President Kelly dryly, “If so I’m inclined to fire every last one of you.”

A harsh silence fell over the room. The President was not in a reasonable state of mind. He was beleaguered in a way that went beyond a typical crisis. He was walking a fine line between rational and irrational discourse. Since no one else was willing to risk his wrath, General Grimshaw stepped up.

“I suggest we stop talking about damage control for a moment and focus on the heart of the threat,” said General Grimshaw in a less dire tone, “If we want to put a stop to this madness, we need to stop the Mutant Liberation Front.”

“You make that sound like a viable option, General,” said Gyrich skeptically, “We both have access to the same intelligence. Nobody in any country has been able to locate or even track these walking freak-shows.”

“That’s because they’ve hit us when we’re weak. The Legacy Virus forced everything to slow down including our intelligence operations.”

“I refuse to believe it’s that simple,” scoffed the Secretary of Defense, “I’ve had several teams tracking the Mutant Liberation Front and they’ve been a step ahead of us the whole time. We suspect they have a powerful psychic on their side. They probably have some other mutant with exotic powers that make it difficult for our spy satellites to track them!”

“I don’t think you’re giving them enough credit,” argued Grimshaw, “Look beyond the mutant powers for a moment. They used that time to plan their attack, gather more resources, and expand their ranks. They’ve also avoided high casualties at every turn, making them a lot more appealing to disgruntled mutants.”

“That may only mean those freak-shows want enough of us alive to terrorize when they’re finished,” said Gyrich.

“These freak-shows as you call them aren’t stupid, Mr. Gyich. They’re not big on Magneto-style theatrics. They have a plan and they’re pulling it off with alarming efficiency.”

“I almost long for a threat like Magneto,” grumbled President Kelly, “At least he had an ego that he couldn’t resist flaunting.”

“The Mutant Liberation Front seems to have taken lessons from that,” reasoned the General, “They aren’t looking to make one big statement that says mutants are better than humans. They’re scaling it down, making a series of smaller statements that add up over time. The MSA has done some recon on the mutants involved in these attacks. They’re not much different from what we’ve dealt with before.”

“Did the word different change definitions at some point, Grimshaw? If so, I didn’t get the memo!” said another lower ranking General.

“I’ve seen those same reports. One of them says they have this mutant named Gateway,” said the Secretary of Defense, “If I remember the assessment correctly, he can generate portals that can take anyone to any point on the planet. He was also under the MSA’s watch in Leavenworth if I recall.”

“You don’t need to remind me, Mr. Secretary,” said Grimshaw, trying to maintain his demeanor.

“Actually, I think it’s worth bringing up again,” said Gyrich, “This all started and ended with you, Nathan! You were the one who encouraged us to work with Charles Xavier and Wanda Maximoff! You were the one that encouraged us to try mutants as if they were human! Well those mutants you captured escaped, the X-men failed, and is as well-managed as a Russian rock band!”

“We’ve all suffered a defeat at the hands of this new enemy. That happens in the course of battle. We shouldn’t abandon everything we’ve worked so hard to build in light of one setback!” said the General strongly.

“This is more than just a setback, General! This is an entirely new battle and it seems painfully apparent that your methods aren’t working!” said Gyrich.

General Grimshaw scolded Gyrich for his harsh criticism. It wasn’t without merit, but it certainly wasn’t reasonable. This man wasn’t an officer. He was a CIA spook who lived in a world of fear and deception. He was a dangerous man to have the President’s trust. The General was about to respond when President Kelly stepped in.

“That’s enough, you two! This the Oval Office, not an insult forum!” said President Kelly.

“Sir, if I may…” began General Grimshaw, trying to maintain a reasonable tone.

“No Nathan, you may not!” he said strongly, “I’ve heard your arguments. I’ve gone over your assessment. Frankly, I think Gyrich has a point. It’s outdated. Working with Genosha and the X-men was fine before the Mutant Liberation Front. Now we need a new approach.”

“I agree, but that doesn’t mean we should abandon every aspect of the previous plan,” reasoned Grimshaw, “The MSA is still strong and the X-men still have plenty to contribute.”

“I don’t much care for the X-men’s contributions anymore. As far as I’m concerned, Charles Xavier is no longer a trustworthy ally. We can’t rely on him to get us through this. We need a new plan of action and if you’re not willing to propose one then I don’t see why you need to be here. Do I make myself clear?”

The General’s gaze hardened. The President was in a very different mindset now. He no longer saw the man he had been able to work with before. Losing his son and the new influence of Henry Gyrich had changed him. There was no reasoning with him anymore.

“In that case, I’ll excuse myself,” said the General as respectfully he could manage.

“Very well,” said Gyrich smugly, “We appreciate your input none-the-less.”

“Don’t patronize me, Mr. Gyrich. The CIA hasn’t scared anybody since the 50s. You’re not going to scare me.”

Gyrich’s smug grin didn’t wane as Grimshaw turned around and left the Oval Office. Along the way he passed Captain Freeman, who decided to follow him. If the General didn’t have any credibility anymore then it was a safe bet that nobody would listen to him either. Nobody offered them much sympathy as they stepped out. They seemed to share in the sentiment that General Grimshaw’s methods had failed.

As soon as they left the Oval Office, Captain Freeman broke his silence.

“This is bad, sir. We just enshrined ourselves on the President’s shit list!” said the mutant soldier.

“I’m on a lot of shit lists, Captain. So are you. That’s not what should concern us at the moment,” said the General as he walked rapidly through the White House corridors.

“Seriously? Being on the President’s bad side shouldn’t concern us?” Captain Freeman questioned, “This guy has the power to shut the whole MSA down last I checked! He’ll probably throw me in Leavenworth while he’s at it!”

“He won’t do that,” assured Grimshaw.

“What makes you so sure?!”

“Because shutting down the MSA would mean admitting he was wrong. Politicians by their own nature are adverse to ever admitting they’re wrong. He would lose just as much credibility as me and he can’t afford that during a crisis.”

“I wish I could share your cynicism,” muttered the Green Beret.

“It’s not cynicism. It’s experience,” said the General in a stronger tone, “We’ve lost the President’s trust. He expected the MSA and the X-men to stop the Mutant Liberation Front. They didn’t.”

“That wasn’t our fault!”

“Doesn’t matter whose fault it was. What matters is he needs answers and he’s not in a sound state of mind to get them. Losing his son affected him more than he’s willing to admit. Before he couldn’t be so hostile towards mutants because it meant being hostile to his son. Now he’s falling back into old habits. It’ll end up with him making a huge mistake…one that’ll make the Mutant Liberation Front the least of our worries.”

Captain Freeman’s head was spinning. All this political talk was as confusing as it was frustrating. His position in the military was in serious trouble if President Kelly started acting on his old anti-mutant sentiment. He would join a long list of other unfortunate mutants if the Present took his frustrations out on all mutants. They needed a plan.

“Tell me we’re going to do something about this, General,” said Captain Freeman strongly.

“So long as the president is listening to Henry Peter Gyrich, we’re not going to have any influence with Robert Kelly,” said the General, “That means any plan we hatch will be limited by what the MSA can provide.”

“And what about the X-men?” asked Captain Freeman.

“Far as I’m concerned, our plan can’t rely on them either. If we’re going to win back our credibility, we need to take down the Mutant Liberation Front ourselves.”

“So we’re basically forgetting about Charles Xavier and his students.”

“I thought that would be your favorite part, Captain,” said Grimshaw, “We need to take more risks and hope they don’t blow up in our faces. I’m going to make a few calls. I’m going to get in touch with people I hoped to never speak to again. Those are the kinds of risks we’ll have to take. Either we’ll drag Toad and his goons down Pennsylvania Avenue on a float or we’ll face the brunt end of the President’s wrath.”

Captain Freeman stopped walking even as General Grimshaw continued. He was usually on board with his plans. He rarely led him astray. However, there was nothing about this that sat well. Taking big risks and shutting out the X-men did sound like a solid plan. While his distaste of the X-men hadn’t changed, his trust in them had grown. It was now conflicting directly with the trust he had in the country he swore to protect.

‘Guess President Kelly isn’t the only one taking his eye off the ball. I usually let you do all the thinking, General. You’re way better at it than I’ll ever be. But since I’m the one with the mutant powers here, I better make a plan of my own. Guess that means I need to make some calls as well.’

District X – South District

“What do you mean ya can’t give meh your blessing?!” said a deeply irritated Rogue.

“I believe my words were perfectly clear, Rogue,” said a distracted Isaac, “I will not bless your desire to return to the X-men.”

“Ah heard ya the first time! Ah’m not buying the reason!”

“I’d be happy to explain if you would lower your voice. It’s making our hungry disciples wary.”

Rogue had to take a step back. This was supposed to be a simple formality. Ever since she crossed paths with Isaac, he had been helping her. She arrived at District X feeling so lost. Isaac acted as a guide of sorts, helping to get her head on straight again. His spiritually motivated understanding went a long ways, much further than she expected. Now that she had control of her powers and was in a semi-stable relationship with Remy, she figured she was done. Isaac made her promise not to return to the X-men without his blessing and she honored that promise. Now it was complicating everything.

Isaac never took his spiritual path lightly even if Rogue did. He considered helping this woman an important part of God’s plan for him. He already established himself as a prominent figure in District X. His role grew after the Legacy Virus. An influx of dazed and anxious mutants arrived in need of comfort. He offered that comfort through preaching, bible studies, and general counseling. He made many close friends, some of which went onto join Father Henson at the church. He took pride in confronting these new challenges. However, it was Rogue who remained his most inspiring case.

Rogue paced back and forth while Isaac served some free food to hungry District X residents. It had been donated from the church by Father Henson and the recent influx of new residents led to many hungry mutants. They were grateful for a nice meal even if it was from a human. The only one not at peace with such charity was Rogue.

“Is she okay, Mister?” asked a young mutant girl with orange hair and blue skin.

“She’s fine, blessed one,” assured Isaac, smiling as he gave the girl a plate of food, “She has issues that go beyond an empty stomach.”

“Hey, Ah can still hear you!” Rogue complained.

“You know for an X-man you sure do whine a lot,” commented Pixie, who was helping Isaac serve the food.

“Take it easy on her, Pixie. She’s not with the X-men right now,” said Jubilee, who was helping as well, “I can certainly see why.

Rogue shot the two younger mutants a scold. They kept smiling and shrugged. Isaac remained indifferent. He kept his focus on the needy souls before him, working with Jubilee and Pixie to serve meals to District X’s hungry residents. Eventually, Rogue gathered her composure.

“Ah’m sorry if Ah’m makin’ a scene,” she said to Isaac, “Ah’m just a little confused and maybe a little frustrated.”

“No need to apologize. God makes the righteous path difficult for a reason,” said Isaac, still focusing on serving food.

“Ah ain’t equipped to understand God’s reasons. Ah’ll settle for yours.”

Isaac finally turned away, passing the serving duties off to Jubilee and Pixie. They seemed to understand that this was a personal matter. Isaac approached Rogue with his usual sincerity, but there was also a touch of conflict in his eyes.

“Rogue, when our paths first crossed, your soul was in turmoil,” he said to her, “You weren’t sure where your heart was leading you. You were conflicted over your powers, your emotions, and your loved ones. I reached out to you with my spirit and you embraced me. You let me console you with God’s message. I can tell it has affected you in a positive way. I see a much stronger woman now both spiritually and physically.”

“So what changed?” she asked, “Why don’t you think Ah’m ready to go back to the X-men?”

“The change occurred when you gained control over your powers,” said Isaac, “Suddenly, that conflict that brought you here was forgotten. Being able to touch made all your struggles meaningless.”

“It’s not like Ah forgot everything you taught meh. Ah can still recite a dozen verses from 1st John if you don’t believe meh,” argued Rogue.

“Anyone can memorize scripture. Only those rich in spirit can reap it’s benefits,” he went on, “When you returned to District X, you overlooked the road that brought you there. You tried to forget the conflict that preceded it rather than learn from it. You became so engrossed in embracing the feelings you had been denied that they overshadowed the struggle that made you strong.”

Rogue shifted uncomfortably at his words. She didn’t contest Isaac’s assessment. She had been selfish. There was no way around it. Remy pointed it out during his last visit. There was certainly no way Isaac was going to miss it. The only one that didn’t seem to realize it was her. Being that oblivious was hardly the mark of an X-man.

“Guess it doesn’t help Ah’ve been testing out mah new touching abilities with Remy,” she said sheepishly, “Ah know that’s a sin in at least a dozen parts of the bible.”

“Sins of the flesh are not nearly as egregious as sins of the soul,” said Isaac with a kind gesture, “It was the strength of your soul that made you an X-man. I can’t in good conscious condone your return to the X-men when your soul is this weakened. If you wish to uphold the promise you made me, you’ll understand my reasoning.”

“Ah don’t understand completely, but Ah am a woman of mah word,” she told him, “What do Ah gotta to in order to get your blessing?”

“For that, mere teaching won’t suffice,” he said, “You must remind yourself what it means to be an X-man. For this, I’ve enlisted some help.”

“What kind of help?” she said with a raised eyebrow.

Isaac smiled and turned his attention to his right. Rogue turned to see what he was looking at. It was Tessa, who looked like she had run clear across District X to reach them. She looked exhausted and a little disgruntled.

“I was hoping she would catch up with you before you found me,” said Isaac.

“Unfortunately, I can’t fly over late afternoon traffic,” said Tessa as she finally reached them, “I’ve been talking with Isaac all week and I agreed to give you one last mission.”

“Another mission? Ah thought you were done chasin’ Shaw’s ugly shadow,” said Rogue.

“I am. This one has nothing to do with past mistakes. We’re all trying to focus more on the present and future,” Tessa explained, “I’m sure you’re aware of the recent wave of attacks by the Mutant Liberation Front.”

“Ah ain’t been living under a rock with mah fingers in mah ears, Tess. Ah do keep up with the news every now and then. If the mission has anything to do with those glorified thugs, how is that any different than meh going back to the X-men?”

“Perhaps you’re not watching keeping up as well as you think,” said Isaac, “The X-men recently suffered a difficult defeat at the hands of these devilish heathens. They aren’t just wounded. They’re facing unholy scrutiny from those seeking to benefit from their failure. Surely you can appreciate how difficult it is to fight so many battles, both publicly and privately.”

Now Rogue felt selfish again. She heard from Remy that the X-men were roughed up in Switzerland. She was relieved to hear that nobody had any injuries they couldn’t recover from, but she didn’t contemplate the larger issues at hand. She assumed the X-men would bounce back like they always did. It was an assumption that made it easier to resist going back. Isaac was right. She needed to remember what it meant to be an X-man.

“If you’re trying to guilt meh into going along with this, you can stop already. Ah get the point. Ah need to start being a real X-man again,” said Rogue.

“I’m not trying to guilt you into anything, Rogue. I’m trying to present an opportunity for your soul,” said Isaac.

“And an opportunity to take part in the fight against the Mutant Liberation Front,” added Tessa, “While the X-men are fighting their many battles, there’s a much smaller battle I need someone to help me fight. It involves working with an old friend of mine who Isaac used to counsel as well.”

“What kind of friend are we talkin’ about here?” questioned Rogue, “Because it’s your old friends that were such a hassle with the other missions ya gave meh.”

“I assure you, this one is different,” said Isaac, “She was once a lost soul that found her way to the Church of Humanity. Like you, she’s rough around the edges and she’s prone to certain moral shortcomings. However, there is good in her and I’m confident you’ll get along with her.”

“You would be one of the few,” said Tessa with a light sigh, “Trust me, you’ll need her help to carry out this mission.”

“Is that supposed to be encouraging?” said Rogue dryly.

“It’s more of a warning. This task of yours is something I require out of desperation. Hank and I have concluded that the Mutant Liberation Front isn’t going to give away their position no matter how hard we probe. The only hope we have of tracking them is through cunning, deception, and a healthy bit of luck.”

While Rogue contemplated this assessment, Tessa reached into her purse and took out an unmarked cell phone along with some folded slips of paper. This was not a task she took lightly. She never would have agreed to it if she didn’t believe it would bear fruit. Rogue had served her well during the whole techno-organic nightmare. She needed her to be just as resilient while dealing with another figure from her past.

“Take this to Union Station. Call the number I give you. Ask for Domino,” said Tessa.

“Domino? Does part of this mission involve ordering a pizza?” questioned Rogue.

“That’s the only name she’ll go by. If you endear yourself to her, she may tell you her real name,” said Isaac.

“I’ve already told her the details of the mission,” Tessa went on, “She’ll fill you in and take you where you need to go. Before you arrive, I suggest you call your friends and family to let them know you’ll be MIA for a while. This isn’t the kind of mission where you can afford distractions.”

“Ah’m sure Remy and Kurt will be happy to hear Ah’m keeping busy,” said Rogue as she took the materials, “Although Remy may be disappointed if this means holding off on booty calls.”

“If he loves you, he’ll understand,” said Isaac as he placed an encouraging hand on her shoulder, “I believe this will be good for you. It’ll be good for all of us. The Lord is on our side, but He expects us to do our part. I have faith in you Rogue. Godspeed.”

Rogue smiled at Isaac’s encouragement. He had done so much for her and now he was placing his faith in her. This mission already felt different. She was finally going to contribute in the battle against the Mutant Liberation Front. It wasn’t just her seeking to rejoin the X-men. This was her seeking to capture that spirit that once made her so strong. She wasn’t going to let her friends or her God down.

Xavier Institute – Hanger

Charles Xavier had confronted many painful moments in his life. The death of his parents, watching Erik Lensherr slip into madness, fighting against his nephew, and battling cancer were all difficult on so many levels. They still paled in comparison to this.

His X-men had gathered in the hanger. Many were still recovering from their wounds. Kitty was on crutches because of her leg, Bobby still had a bandage on his head from his concussion, Scott’s torso was wrapped in bandages to protect his broken ribs, and Hank still had a noticeable bump on his head. Remy, Jean, Ororo, Logan, Betsy, and Piotr were standing with them. They might as well have been wounded too because they understood how bad this situation had become. Beyond losing to the Mutant Liberation Front and facing a new wave of scrutiny from President Kelly, they now had to watch their mentor go through this very difficult moment.

Xavier took a deep breath to prepare himself for this. Standing behind him was Cecilia Reyes, who had made the necessary arrangements. This first step was just one of what promised difficult struggles.

“My X-men…I’m so deeply sorry,” he said solemnly, “I’ve failed you. I’ve failed myself. I’ve failed all the ideals I ever taught. For years, I’ve set a very high standard for my students. I expect them to conduct themselves with strength, integrity, and honor. Above all, I fought for and cherished your trust. Now I’ve taken advantage of that trust one too many times.”

“Nobody’s perfect, Chuck. Quit beating yourself up for not being a saint and tell us what happens from here on out,” said Logan, hiding his emotions in his gruff tone.

“Whatever you choose, know that we’re behind you every step of the way, sir,” assured Scott.

Their solemn understanding struck Xavier even deeper. He had to take a moment to collect himself before he continued.

“As you all know by now, I’ve been concealing a painful addiction,” he said through a strained voice, “In my efforts to manage my cancer, I only gave myself a new ailment. I thought I could continue my duties by medicating myself with pain pills. I was wrong. The loss you sustained against the Mutant Liberation Front was my fault. No matter how powerful my mind is, I’m as susceptible to the same side-effects as anyone. Relying on these pills is only making me weaker and putting the X-men at risk. That is why as if now I’m taking a leave of absence. I’m going to Muir Island where I hope to get clean.”

This revelation didn’t come as a total shock. It still hit the X-men hard. So much of what made the Xavier Institute work came from the strength of Charles Xavier. The idea of him being this sick and needing to seek treatment was a tough pill to swallow.

“It’s the right thing to do, Charles. Although I wish it didn’t have to happen this way,” said Ororo sadly.

“Yeah, it’s almost as bad as a fractured fibula,” said Kitty, still not used to her crutches.

“Will you get off the fibula, luv?” said Betsy, rolling her eyes, “You’ll be on your feet in a few weeks. Addiction is a bit more complicated.”

“Do you know how long it’ll take for you to get better?” asked Jean, who had tears in her eyes.

“No…I don’t,” said Xavier solemnly.

“What about the Mutant Liberation Front and all the hommes in Washington that be yelling at us?” asked Remy, “We can’t be waiting around while that shit rots like a dead possum.”

“The X-men will continue to operate even if I’m not around to oversee it,” assured Xavier, “I knew this day would come sooner or later. It actually came a lot later than I expected. I’ve been training the lot of you to carry on without me so consider this your first major test.”

“I almost prefer back-to-back midterms,” muttered Bobby.

“I would tolerate much worse, comrade,” said Piotr.

Xavier turned to Hank and Ororo, who had been filled in ahead of time before this announcement. Neither seemed too eager. These were not the circumstances in which the X-men were supposed to move on without their mentor. They had little say in the matter so the Professor prepared to make it official.

“As of now, Hank and Ororo will be headmasters of the Xavier Institute,” said Xavier, “They will organize all classes and training regiments. You will all continue with your schoolwork. That must take precedent over being X-men for the moment.”

“You’re benching us at a time like this?” said Logan, “It would’ve been easier to tell those Mutant Libertation pricks we give up!”

“I didn’t say the X-men would be inactive, Logan. Our latest defeat has shown that we need to shift our focus. You are students first and foremost. Part of being X-men is reminding yourselves that you’re still human. You can’t expect to solve all the world’s problems. You must take these new challenges they come. I don’t expect everything to fall into place. We must still be proactive on some levels. That is why I am assigning Scott to a new role.”

“Me sir?” said the X-leader, who was caught off guard by this revelation.

“Yes, my boy. As of now, you are finished with classes. I called up the local education board and they’ve agreed to issue a special associates degree to you. This will grant you legitimacy as your new title of Operations Commander. Within this role, you will be the one dealing with General Grimshaw and the MSA. You’ll also have the authority to mobilize the X-men should a new threat arise.”

Scott Summers was taken aback. Professor Xavier was trusting him with a lot. He was giving him the keys to the X-men. He was no longer just a student leader. He was a real leader who would wield real influence. It was a big responsibility and he wouldn’t take lightly.

“I…don’t know what to say, sir. I’m honored,” said Scott at a loss for words.

“Great, give the guy more reasons to be a prick,” muttered Logan.

“So…does this mean Scott has officially graduated?” asked Bobby.

“The official documents should arrive whenever the postal service gets up to speed,” said Xavier, “Think of it as a natural extension of his role as field leader. Someone needs to be the voice of the X-men. I trust you to carry out that role with everything you’ve learned.”

“I will sir. I won’t let you down!” said Scott strongly.

“And we’ll support him,” said Jean, taking her lover’s hand proudly, “We’ll support each other through this whole process.”

“We’ll keep the world intact so you can get healthy,” said Betsy.

“After the rest of us get healthy ourselves,” said Kitty, still not used to her crutches.

Professor Xavier smiled lightly at the resolve of his students. He taught them well. Now they had a chance to use everything they learned without his guidance. The circumstances could have been better. The disappointment from his personal failings certainly did not help. However, he was confronting those failing with the knowledge that his X-men remained strong without him. He was leaving them to face a tumultuous world. He had faith that they would be able to handle it.

“The institute is in good hands, Charles,” said Hank to his mentor and friend, “Know that we’re here for you every step of the way.”

“Just promise us that you’ll come back healthy,” said Ororo.

“I don’t care to make a promise I may not be able to keep,” said Xavier, “Addiction is not something you can easily heal from.”

“We’ll still call your bluff,” shrugged Remy, “That’s how much we trust you.”

“You literally put the X in X-men, Professor. With or without your presence, you are and always will be an inspiration to us all,” said Jean.

Their collective strength was reassuring in so many ways. Charles Xavier had an arduous and painful path ahead of him. He was under no illusions. He would not be in any position to be the man he was before. That burden was on the shoulders of his X-men. They had faith in his ability to overcome this. He had every intention of honoring that faith.

The Professor had said what he needed to say. He and Dr. Reyes were set to depart on the Velocity. Moria, Sean, Forge, and Rahne were all expecting him on Muir Island. His road to recovery would begin with this important step.

“It’s time, Charles,” said Cecilia, “Are you ready?”

“Can anyone in my position say they’re ready?” questioned Xavier.

“I’ll just pretend you said yes,” she said with a smile.

“Be sure to check in regularly, Charles,” reminded Hank.

“Try not to worry more than I know you will,” said Logan, “If it gets too fucked up around here, I’ll rip a few new ones to keep things in line.”

“I appreciate that, Logan. I’m sure it won’t be necessary,” said Xavier with a light smile, “I have my mission. You have yours, my X-men. I can heal better knowing the world is in the best of hands.”

The torch had officially been passed, even if it was temporary. Charles Xavier gave his students one last nod of confidence. Then with many mixed emotions, he turned to Dr. Reyes who proceeded to wheel him into the Velocity. Within minutes, the hatch was sealed and the engines were fired up. Scott, Jean, Hank, Bobby, Logan, Ororo, Kitty, Betsy, and Piotr stood by as the aircraft took off. They waved goodbye to their mentor. This was a difficult time to be an X-man and it was going to be even more difficult without Charles Xavier’s guidance. In a world with so many new nightmares, it was now their responsibility to keep the dream alive.

Unknown Location

“Will you hurry up, Vertigo?! We’ve been looking through this junk for over two hours!” said an exasperated Arclight.

“Quit reminding me, Arclight!” said Vertigo in a more serious tone, “It’s bad enough we didn’t get picked for the Switzerland mission. Let’s not make this mission worse by bitching about it.”

Vertigo and Arclight were two women who were lucky to be in one piece. It wasn’t long ago that Vertigo was in a jail cell at Fort Leavenworth and Arclight was presumed dead along with Sinister. They owed their lives to the Mutant Liberation Front. That didn’t make these missions any less tedious.

The Mutant Liberation Front was emboldened by their recent victory in Switzerland. They defeated the X-men and further crippled humanity. The whole world now feared them. Toad’s plan was unfolding better than they ever could have hoped. Their recent progress meant they could push forward. That’s what led Vertigo to this seemingly unremarkable storage facility somewhere north of Omaha, Nebraska. It was one of the many small facilities once used by Sinister. He had resources that Toad deemed vital to their plan. That’s why he put Vertigo in charge of obtaining them.

This is what led her to cross paths with Arclight again. Somehow, she managed to survive the Legacy Virus. For all they knew, she was the last of the Marauders. Vertigo managed to track her down with help from another old friend of hers. With nowhere else to go, Arclight joined the Mutant Liberation Front. She also helped lead Vertigo to this facility in the first place. They had been sifting through Sinister’s old toys, looking for one item in particular.

“I don’t mean to dwell. I know I should be grateful after you tracked me down,” said Arclight, who took a break from her searching, “How did you manage that again?”

“I have old friends who are great at keeping tabs on people. That’s all I’ll say,” said Vertigo, who stepped up her searching, “You’re lucky I needed you to find this place because you’ve been less than helpful ever since.”

“I think I have a right to be disappointed,” she argued, “Sinister screwed us all over and left the Marauders for dead. Then I agree to go along with your latest fan-club and I don’t even get to be part of the fun stuff!”

“You mean beating the X-men?” said Vertigo as she stepped over a few old boxes.

“Don’t tell me it doesn’t bother you.”

“I never said that it didn’t.”

“Well maybe you should make a bigger deal of it! If the Mutant Liberation Front good enough to beat the X-men, then I want to be part of the action! It beats going on these boring scavenger hunts. At least Sinister let us blow stuff up along the ways.”

Vertigo rolled her eyes. Arclight loved to dwell and hold grudges. It was part of what made her so effective in the Marauders. It’s also what made her an annoying partner. She didn’t blame her for wanting another shot at the X-men. She couldn’t help but be jealous herself at not being part of a battle that left the X-men defeated. She was willing to endure tedious tasks like this if they promised to pay off. Toad had delivered thus far with his plan. She was willing to see it through.

“How much longer are you going to complain? I’d like to know when I’ll get some help with these crates,” said Verigo as she looked over some of the larger boxes.

“Always strictly business,” sighed Arclight, “You’re just like my twin brother.”

“Maybe I should have recruited him,” she quipped.

“With the gig he’s got, fat chance!”

“Well if you want to upstage him, help me with this. We’re not leaving until we find the device Toad requested!”

“You’re assuming awful lot about Toad’s plan,” Arclight pointed out.

“You’re not giving him enough credit,” retorted Vertigo, “The man may look like hell and smell worse, but he treats us with more respect than Sinister ever did.”

“He still hasn’t given us all the details and that didn’t exactly work out too well with Sinister.”

“This time will be different,” she said strongly.

“How can you be sure of that?” questioned Arclight.

Before Vertigo answered, she pulled off the cover of a large crate. It revealed a familiar label that included a magnet symbol and a series of coded numbers. It was a special label she saw before when working with Sinister. Toad had seen the same label while the Brotherhood worked with Sinister as well. That meant this tedious search may finally be over.

“Let’s just say my certainty is growing with each passing day,” said Vertigo ominously.

“What makes you say that?” asked Arclight skeptically.

“See for yourself.”

Arclight stepped over the messy pile of boxes and caught up to Vertigo. At the same time, Vertigo used a crow bar she brought with her to open the crate. The box was old so the top came off fairly easily. When she looked inside she saw a thick layer of padding. She quickly peeled it back to reveal a complex metal device at the bottom. It was about the size of an oven and had a very high tech look to it. When Arclight saw it as well, some of her skepticism waned.

“Okay, I’ll say it. Toad’s more ambitious than I gave him credit for,” said Arclight.

“I’ll call Gateway. We’ll need help getting this thing back to the base,” said Vertigo with an eagerness in her tone.

“Looks like we may get to blow stuff up after all!”

“I’m already looking forward to it.”

The Mutant Liberation Front was one step closer to their ultimate goal. Humanity was powerless to stop them. The X-men proved they could not oppose them. The next step was to deliver the final knock-out blow. Once they were finished, the mutant race would be liberated.

Up next: Impossible Odds

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