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Volume 6 -- Issue 131 -- Double Threat

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Double Threat
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Humanity is evolving. Every day mutants are manifesting extraordinary powers. Professor Charles Xavier had dedicated his life to teaching mutants to use these powers for the greater good. With his X-men, they fight to protect a world that hates and fears them. But since Professor Charles Xavier has stepped down and the Mutant Liberation Front has emerged as a major threat, fear has ruled the day.

For months now, the Mutant Liberation Front has been launching numerous attacks against key infrastructure all over the world. The X-men’s inability to stop them has put them at odds with the authorities and the mutant nation of Genosha. The resulting fear has drawn a wedge between humans and mutants. Tensions became so volatile a media mogul named Mojo Adams tried to exploit it by putting mutants in a twisted survival show.

Mojo’s actions have sparked all sides into action. His outlandish stunt proved to be a wake-up call. The growing fear over mutants is a threat to everybody and must be curtailed. And with Charles Xavier unable to perform his duties, the task is left to Scott Summers and the rest of the X-men.

Capitol – Closed Meeting Room

Whenever a crisis became too great to ignore, it was the authorities that took the most heat. These same authorities were also expected to do something about the crisis. It was an unenviable task for those in power, but it was even more unenviable for those who had to speak truth to power.

This daunting challenge fell upon the shoulders of Scott Summers. As the newly anointed Operations Commander of the Xavier Institute, he had to the voice for peace amidst a crisis. It was a duty once held by Professor Charles Xavier. He did this duty well because he had the charisma and credentials that garnered respect in many circles. Scott had none of those qualities. So standing before some of the most powerful people in the country was a challenge even for a battle-hardened X-man.

After the incident with Mojovision, President Kelly organized a closed-door session with a few top-level Congressmen and MSA officials. General Grimshaw wasn’t present, leaving Scott on his own as he tried to convince these powerful individuals that they needed a new approach. Rather than using fancy rhetoric, he let a recording of the Mojovison broadcast speak for itself.

“You saw it here first! The world of Mojovision gives you, the viewer, a front row seat to the most extreme survival show in the world! Watch as real mutants face real danger! Will they live? Will they die? Watch and find out! You get to see first hand just how powerful or pathetic mutants truly are! It’s entertainment only Mojovision can provide! Except nothing less than the real thing!”

Scott paused the recording and stepped in front of the main TV screen. It was a disturbing broadcast, but it sent a message that nobody could ignore.

“This is what the human/mutant conflict has been reduced to,” said the X-leader, “It’s not just a controversy. It’s a joke. One that’s being commercialized, exploited, and debased. Can anyone here say with a straight face that we should continue our current course?”

“I wish you would stop showing that clip, Mr. Summers. It’s bad enough my kids won’t stop replaying the leaked videos on youtube,” said one of the Congressmen.

“None of this was leaked, sir. It was broadcasted openly and has since gone viral.”

“And in some very illegal ways, no less,” said one of the Congressmen who sat on the board of the FCC, “Every torrent site, file sharing site, and video site has a recording with at least 10 million views. We suspect that Mojo Adams himself may be distributing these recordings.”

“Yet Mojo Adams is not in jail. Nobody has been held accountable,” said Scott strongly.

“The FBI has already issued a manhunt. Rest assured, we’re not letting his crimes slide, Mr. Summers,” said the Secretary of Defense.

“Excuse me, but I also don’t think it’s right to put him in the same category as the Mutant Liberation Front or Magneto,” said a Colonel from the MSA, “Mojo is sadistic carnival act at worst, but he’s no terrorist.”

“You may be right, sir. Mojo may have been a few circuits shy of a motherboard, but he made everyone realize an uncomfortable truth. Our fear of mutants is driving this madness. If we allow this fear to fester then we’ll get more Mojos to go along with the Mutant Liberation Front.”

The image of Mojo Adams’s face on the TV screen ensured that such a prospect was as disturbing as it sounded. Even if he wasn’t a terrorist, he exploited peoples’ fears in a way that would only exacerbate human/mutant tensions. Scott let that thought sink in for a moment before turning off the monitor. All eyes were now on him and he was expected to give these powerful men answers..

“What are you asking of us, Mr. Summers?” asked President Kelly, who was sitting at the front of the conference table, “We all agree that Mojo’s actions were disturbing. But what do you suggest we do?”

“I’m not asking for miracles, Mr. President. Neither the government nor the X-men have the power to prevent people from fearing mutants,” conceded Scott, “However, we can take steps to stop fueling that fear. The MSA has been a lot more proactive lately. The X-men’s resident legal expert, Betsy Braddock, said there was a three-hundred percent spike in mutant arrests since the Switzerland incident.”

“What you call proactive, we call reactive,” said Henry Gyrich, who was sitting next to the President, “Mutants have been rallying around the Mutant Liberation Front with every attack. The more they respect those terrorist thugs, the less they respect our laws.”

“And you’re only reinforcing that notion by charging them with the kind of bogus crimes that you wouldn’t charge protesters at an environmentalist rally,” retorted Scott in an apprehensive tone.

“Most environmentalists aren’t capable of the terrorism we see from the Mutant Liberation Front. It’s not a double standard. It’s the standard we’re stuck with,” said President Kelly firmly.

President Kelly’s tone was pretty harsh. It was sounding more like Henry Gyrich’s with each passing day. It was a disturbing trend that hadn’t been lost on the X-leader. He didn’t need to be a psychic like Charles Xavier to understand that this could only lead to more problems.

“I understand that mutants are a unique conflict. The purpose of this meeting wasn’t to tell ourselves what we already know. We’re trying to make a bad situation better,” he said to them.

“I’m all for a better way. I’m just not hearing many alternatives,” said one of the Joint Chiefs.

“There are a lot of little things you can do before the weekend. For one, you can stop parading fully armed soldiers through District X. That would go a long ways towards easing the tension.”

“Wouldn’t that spark protests from the rest of the city? They’re the ones demanding that we step up our efforts,” said a senator from New York.

“At least those protests don’t involve superpowers,” retorted Scott, “You could also start reaching out to mutant communities. The X-men have tracked a number of nasty reports that haven’t been covered by the news because of the Mojo affair. Mutants displaced by the Legacy Virus are trying to find sanctuary in communities like District X and Genosha. But they often find themselves arrested, exploited, and sometimes dead. These incidents give mutants everywhere more reasons to respect the Mutant Liberation Front.”

“It all seems so reasonable. Yet it doesn’t solve the larger problems,” President Kelly pointed out.

“Those larger problems won’t be so large if the government is more willing to work with us and not against us,” said Scott with a more impassioned tone, “We can be part of the solution! We can build bridges to other mutant communities. This, in turn, will help rebuild relations with Genosha.”

“That may have been true before the Mutant Liberation Front reared its ugly head. But I would argue that the circumstances have changed,” said a colonel from the MSA.

“I don’t agree with that,” retorted Scott, “The X-men saved the world twice…once from a killer asteroid and again by a killer plague. Then the X-men failed in Switzerland and now we’re being shut out. How is that fair?”

“Fair has nothing to do with it. You didn’t just fail, Mr. Summers. We found out that your beloved Professor was a pill-popping drug addict!” said Gyrich in a more hostile tone, “How do you expect us to take the X-men seriously when the voice for mutant-kind is a twenty-something kid with an jaded background and questionable credentials?”

Scott’s vision narrowed on Gyrich. He was inclined to hit Gyrich with an optic blast for that remark about the Professor and his background. But like Charles Xavier, he had to restrain himself in the face of such unreasonable men. Gyrich had been nothing but trouble since he gained President Kelly’s trust. That was making his job all the more difficult, but that made sending the right message to these people all the more important.

“It doesn’t matter who I am or where I came from. We’re all in this together whether we like it or not,” said the X-leader in a strong tone, “We all have too much to lose if we let the fear between humans and mutants escalate. If you don’t take any lessons from me or the Mojo affair, at least understand this…the more difficult you make it for mutants to do the right thing, the more inclined they’ll be to make bad choices.”

Cape Canaveral, Florida – NASA Research Lab

“Come on! Hurry up, you overpriced hunk of junk!” said an anxious middle-aged man as he hovered over his computer screen.

Madison Jefferies was sweating profusely and it wasn’t because of the muggy Florida weather. He had been looking over his shoulder every five seconds and listening for footsteps all day. Overnight, his life had gone to Hell again. He was in deep trouble and he had to escape.

Madison had been under pressure before. He tried and failed to save his brother after he was wounded in Iraq. Before that, he was forced under threat of torture to help construct illegal weapons for Russian arms dealers. None of that compared to what he was up against now.

Just when it seemed his life had achieved some sense of stability, his status as a mutant came back to haunt him. It wasn’t enough that he was a brilliant engineer in NASA’s top robotics division. The recent attacks by the Mutant Liberation Front put mutants under intense scrutiny, regardless of how law abiding they were. That scrutiny threatened to destroy his life’s work and he refused to let that happen.

‘Ungrateful jerk-offs! I spend five years building the best robots these pin-heads will ever see and this is how they repay me?! Someone blindly accuses me of selling tech to the Mutant Liberation Front and suddenly I’m a terrorist by defaut! I barely use my powers! I bet it was that asshole I fired for using our data network to download porn! He wants get back at me and all he has to do is lie! Now there’s an arrest warrant on my ass and I have to go on the run again!’

Madison wiped the sweat off his face as his computer finished purging itself of all relevant data. It was the last in a series of steps he took to submit his impromptu resignation from NASA. He didn’t have much time. Hours ago, he found out his phone had been bugged. He also hacked a few emails from his co-workers and discovered that they had been in touch with the MSA. They were coming to arrest him and were probably waiting for him back at his condo. It didn’t matter that the accusations about the Mutant Liberation Front were all lies. They assumed he was guilty and weren’t taking any chances.

Given his checkered history, Madison wasn’t taking any chances either. As soon as his computer was wiped clean, he turned his attention to a painting he had mounted behind his desk. It wasn’t just for decor. Behind it was a special safe he built into installed the wall. Upon removing the painting, he unlocked the safe by using a special retina scanner and opened the heavy door to reveal his most prized possession.

“Don’t worry, Danger. I won’t let them take you!” he said strongly.

The “Danger” he spoke to wasn’t a person. It was actually a robotic head that he had been working on for years now. It had an array of bluish circuits that made up a type of skin. It also had special wires going out of the head, which acted as hair. It had the look of a woman’s head. And when Madison held it in his hands, he held it with the utmost care before placing it in his backpack.

“Time to get moving,” he said as he checked his watch, “Unless Mark is working late, I should be home free.”

It was almost nine and most of the building was empty. He stayed in his office the entire day, not seeing anyone or attending any meetings. As far as everyone knew, he was going about his business. He noticed that not too many people bothered him. Perhaps they knew something was about to happen to him. He was pushing his luck by staying. He had to get moving before his luck ran out.

After putting on a hat and sunglasses, Madison Jefferies walked out of his office in the least conspicuous way possible. The halls were empty and partially darkened. He heard some of the custodians cleaning on the other wing of the office. He didn’t want to risk drawing their attention so he made his way towards the west exit.

‘Stay calm, Madison. You escaped Russian arms dealers and pissed off family members. You can escape the feds. You already made the necessary arrangements. You have your passport, money, and alias. Just get to New Orleans. Get on the boat. And prepare for a new life on Genosha.’

Madison walked quickly yet casually through the mostly vacant halls. The only figure he came across was an electrician installing new fluorescent bulbs near the bathroom. He was so immersed in his work that he barely noticed Madison. The anxious mutant didn’t dare make eye-contact before entering the stairwell and making his way down to the parking garage.

Unknown to Madison, the electrician had noticed him. However, the electrician wasn’t exactly an electrician either. It was Logan. While he wasn’t keen on disguises, this was one mission that required a little tact. Looking down from the ladder, he checked to make sure that Madison was out of sight. He also sniffed the air to make sure he had his scent.

“Bout time you made your move, bub,” said Logan under his breath, “I’m sick of playing handyman in this dump.”

Logan stepped down from the ladder and tossed aside his tools. He then opened a nearby utility door. Inside was more than the usual maintenance equipment. There were three men tied up and beaten up from what had been a very lopsided fight. One was the real electrician, who Logan was gentle with. The other two were armed men in dark suits that warranted more force

“So some prick named Henry Peter Gyrich sent you two to jump Madison Jefferies,” said Logan to the men in suits, “Guess that means I’m on that right track. That or you just feel like being assholes to some random mutant.”

“Mmf mhh hmmf!” grunted one of the men.

“I’m not sure what you said, but I’m pretty sure there was a ‘fuck you’ in there. Just for that, I’ll leave this door locked so you guys have some peace and quiet. Should give you plenty of time to work on some manners!”

“Hnn fuuuu!”

Logan ignored their muffled curses, shutting off the light and closing the door. It would probably be a few hours before anyone came by to let them out. It should allow more than enough time for him to catch up with Jefferies.

‘Either Madison Jefferies is cunning as hell or unlucky as hell. Those guys weren’t just here to arrest him. He either has something they want or knows something they wanna know. All I know is Mystique says he’s gonna be a big part of Mutant Liberation Front’s next move. And I usually trust the word of a woman I’m sleeping with!’

Shedding his electrician disguise, Logan followed Madison Jefferies’s scent down the staircase and towards the parking garage. Everything surrounding this guy came from the visions of Destiny. Having tempted fate many times before, Logan understood that there was a fine line between saving the future and making ruining the present.

Nashville, Tennessee – Train Station

‘This is gettin’ ridiculous. Ah feel like Ah’m finally ready stop running from mah problems, yet somehow Ah’m still a mess. Isaac says Ah’ve gotta do more soul searching Ah can go back to the X-men. Even if Ah have a new appreciation for faith, it would be nice if Ah understood what the hell was goin’ on.’

Rogue watched yet another train come and go. She had been pacing on the main platform of the Nashville Amtrack depot for over an hour. This was supposed to be her final step towards rejoining the X-men. Isaac made it clear that she would not receive his blessing until she completed one final task that would somehow ensure that her soul was ready.

The first step in completing this task involved tracking down this contact that Tessa gave her. Her name was “Domino” and she was supposed to be a very trustworthy operative, but Rogue had to jump through a lot of hoops to get in touch with her. It started with a phone call from District X. It then led her to pay phone at Union Station in New York. From there, she was given a one-way train ticket to Nashville. She was told that Domino would finally meet her on this very platform. She didn’t give an exact time or anything. She was told to just wait.

“Where the hell is she? The Mutant Liberation Front will die of old age at this rate!” Rogue groaned as she checked her watch for the third time.

Another westbound train rolled into the station. When the doors opened, only a handful of people exited and there weren’t many others that entered. At this time of night the busiest hours had passed. But Rogue barely paid attention to the train. She kept on pacing, her impatience growing by the minute. Just as the train doors closed, a gunshot rang out through the station. The next thing Rogue knew, a bullet hit her right between the eyes.

“Arrggghhhhh!” exclaimed Rogue.

“What the hell was that?” said an old man who was standing on the platform.

“It was a gunshot!” exclaimed a woman.

“Everybody get down!” yelled one of the station managers.

Everyone on the platform took cover and every nearby officer rapidly scanned the area for the source of the shot. But Rogue barely heard this order. Her head was still ringing. She was invulnerable and it was nothing that would leave a mark, but the way the bullet hit was enough to rattle her senses. As she stumbled to her feet, she turned towards the direction of the gunshot. When her vision cleared, she noticed a figure on top of the train.

Finally, this night gets interesting,” said Rogue with a determined grunt.

It was hard to make out the figure because he or she was covered in a cloak of sorts. However, Rogue knew she was the source of the shot and none of the nearby officers seemed to notice. She also noted that the figure was wielding a gun, giving her all the reasons he needed to go after her.

“Hey you! Mind if Ah see your ticket?” she scorned as she took to the air.

“Whoa…that’s hot,” said a young man who took cover nearby.

“Wait! Where are you…” began one of the officers still looking for answers.

Rogue ignored the looks and concern of the officers and the bystanders. She flew low and fast, setting her sights on the cloaked figure, who started running the moment Rogue took to the air. The figure ran along the roof of the train and then jumped over to a maintenance platform. Rogue caught up quickly, flying over the train at high speeds. The figure attempted to slip away through a maintenance door. Rogue flew right in front of her, slamming the door shut in the process and grabbing the figure with her arm.

“Gocha!” she said.

“Not bad…you’re as tough as Tessa said you were,” said the figure in a strangely bemused tone.

As Rogue flew up about fifty feet into the air, the cloak fell back to reveal a woman who was older than Rogue, but still fairly young. She had pale white skin, but not the kind that came from a lack of a tan or excessive mascara. It definitely had to be a mutation of sorts. She also had this dark mark over her left eye. It went along nicely with her dark hair and skin-tight black body suit. She also looked pretty fit and durable. And if the gun she was holding was any indication, she was pretty dangerous as well. But when she heard her mention Tessa’s name, Rogue realized that this was the contact she had been waiting for.

“Please don’t tell meh you’re Domino,” she said dryly.

“Do I look like a pizza?” the woman shrugged innocently, “You can call me Neena Thurman if it makes you feel better.”

“Doesn’t matter what Ah call you. Ah tend to get pissed off when someone shoots meh in the dang head!”

“It didn’t even leave a scratch. You’ll get over it.”

“Still pissed off,” said Rogue sternly.

“I just needed to make sure it was you. But don’t expect an apology because I also needed to make sure you could keep up with me. Congrats on passing with flying colors!”

Rogue looked at this woman with a raised eyebrow. She had a disturbing way of greeting people. She also didn’t seem too worried about being fifty feet above ground in the arms of someone strong enough to snap her spine. Either she was exceedingly brave or mentally unstable.

“You caused a hell of a racket in a crowded area,” Rogue said to her, “You better explain yourself and it better not give meh a reason to drop you.”

“Take it easy, drama-queen. You’re not going to drop me,” said Domino confidently.

“What makes you so damn sure?” retorted Rogue in a tough tone.

“Because Tessa told me all about you and I can safely say I’ve been in a similar position. I too was once lost, angry, and confused. In another life I would have done way more than just shoot you and I wouldn’t have even cared if you dropped me. Then I met up with people like Isaac. He helped me get my life back on track. That’s why I try to help out in my own special way.”

“You know Isaac?” said Rogue skeptically, “Somehow Ah doubt he would approve of shootin’ people in the face.”

“He understands that my guns are as much a part of me as the guns that fill my bra,” she said, citing at her ample cleavage.

“You ain’t even wearing a bra,” Rogue pointed out.

“Thank you for noticing, but that’s precisely my point. You see, my story is probably as upsettling as yours. Neena Thurman is my real name, but I haven’t gone by that name in a long time. It was the name my parents gave me. I don’t remember them and they probably don’t even remember me. I wasn’t exactly the product of a typical family, even by Brady Bunch standards. I was the product of a mutant breeding program in Europe.”

“A breeding program? Sounds like a Weapon X knock-off.”

“It wasn’t even close to that. It was more a hobby than a program,” said Domino, “These poorly equipped scientists found men and women who were carriers of the X-gene and then selectively bred them to get a crop of mutants they could train.”

“By bred you mean…”

“As in good old fashioned breeding and all the lurid details that come along with it,” she said with a wry grin, “I was just one of them. I’m what you may call a purebred mutant because my peculiar skin tone that you see now was there from the day I was born. In addition to my killer looks, I had a real killer instinct. My power involves probability manipulation, sort of like that Longshot guy I saw on Saturday Night Live last week.”

“So you’re lucky and trigger-happy,” muttered Rogue, “Big deal.”

“It’s more useful than it sounds. My kind of luck makes me the ultimate sharp-shooter. I can make shots with any gun that aren’t humanly possible. Hell, I can bulls-eye pennies from a mile away using a rusty old revolver. That shot between the eyes from a moving train on a cloudy night like this is another example. I’m surprised you haven’t even asked about it.”

The thought had crossed Rogue’s mind, albeit briefly. Now that she thought about it, that was a pretty difficult shot. Looking back towards the train, she realized that it was an impossible shot. It sent quite a message about this woman. She was skilled, confident, and daring. She also wasn’t afraid to use unorthodox methods.

“I’d rather not get into all the details of my sorry life. All you need to know is I was trained to be a soldier. I fell in with some bad people and had a few bad experiences. Then I crossed paths with Tessa and did a little soul-searching with the Church of Humanity. Since then I’ve found creative ways to keep myself busy. I like to piss off people who like to make life difficult for mutants. Right now, the Mutant Liberation Front is pissing off everybody so they’re at the top of my list.”

“That’s what this mission is about? The Mutant Liberation Front?” said Rogue, “You know you could have just said that from the get go.”

“And miss a chance to bond with my new partner in crime? Where’s the fun in that?” she grinned.

“Ah’m starting to think Toad ain’t the only crazy one in this fight.”

“Then give me a chance to prove you wrong. Take me down to the parking garage a block from the station. I’ll tell you what I told Tessa and we can be on our way.”

Rogue remained suspicious, but she had a promise to keep. She told Isaac that she would see this through. If she could get along with the likes of Bobby Drake and Kitty Pryde, then she could get along with Domino. The only difference was Domino carried a gun and was much more inclined to shoot first rather than think things through. That only ensured her promise would be more difficult to keep than she thought.

After some brief contemplation, Rogue relented and flew Domino over to the parking garage. She could still hear the commotion down at the train station. It looked like a chaotic scene. It felt like a sign of the chaos that was sure to come.

‘Dang it, Tess. What the hell have ya gotten meh into?’

Xavier Institute – Backyard

Remy used to chide himself whenever his smoking habit became a means of coping. HA smoke break was supposed to be relaxing. It wasn’t supposed to make his sulking worse. No one could blame him for needing an extra pack after the Mojo incident. The X-men always faced a fresh round of scrutiny after a highly publicized mission. Hank and Ororo had been answering calls from major media outlets every few hours and Scott was spending more time in Washington trying to sort this situation out. The rest of the team followed these events closely, but Remy could care less. He had other issues on his mind.

He wasn’t the only one either. When he decided to take a smoke break in the backyard, he was joined by Ororo. Even though she didn’t smoke, she needed a break from this madness like everyone else.

“You keep up that gloomy look, Remy may offer you a cigarette, Stormy,” said the Cajun as he took a light drag.

“You know I don’t smoke, Remy,” she said flatly.

“Well maybe you ought to start. You be looking at your phone the same way a possum looks at an oncoming car. I thought you were sick of talkin’ to reporters.”

“I am. I would be perfectly fine with never talking about Mojovision again. There’s another call I’ve been waiting for. I hope that by staring at my phone long enough, I’ll get it sooner.”

“That be crazy talk and you know it.”

“Sometimes a little crazy is appropriate. It reminds us that we’re still passionate about certain things. You would know, Remy. You’ve done your share of crazy lately.”

Ororo knew him too well. Remy took another heavy drag from his cigarette, nearly finishing it in a single puff. He needed the extra nicotine to deal with this crazy that he and Ororo seemed to share.

“It’s been a while since you talked about Rogue,” Ororo went on, not taking her eyes off her phone, “I thought things were going well with her. After she gained control over her powers, you two didn’t waste time getting intimate. For awhile, you were the happiest I had ever seen you.”

“That ought to be a clue right there,” sighed Remy, “How a homme like me can go from bein’ on top of the world to needing an extra smoke.”

“So what happened? Where did it go wrong?”

“Ain’t nothing went wrong. Remy would be smoking a whole carton if something done gone horribly wrong.”

“I didn’t mean it like that, Remy,” said Ororo, finally looking away from her phone, “Perhaps wrong isn’t the right word. What changed between you and Rogue?”

“Other than her not answering Remy’s calls? Nothing I wanna talk about,” sighed the Cajun, “But you already know that feeling. The way you be looking at your phone, someone ain’t be returning your calls either.”

Ororo shook her head and sighed. Perhaps this conversation wasn’t worth having. She and Remy had similar problems. It didn’t make much sense to talk about it when neither of them was getting anywhere. Remy sulked by smoking. Ororo sulked by staring at her phone. They were both lost and without any clear solutions.

Remy flicked away his finished cigarette and immediately took out another one. There was some rumbling from storm clouds in the distance, which was likely a result of Ororo’s mood. Remy knew from experience that it was never a good idea to provoke Ororo when she was in this sort of mood. It often led to more than just thunder. So they lingered in an awkward silence until they became lost in thought. They almost didn’t notice Jean Grey walking out from the mansion in a sweatshirt and a pair of shorts.

“So this is where all those sulking thoughts are coming from,” said Jean, shivering a bit from the brisk wind, “Here I was hoping it was just Mr. McCoy lamenting over being out of that special hair conditioner he loves.”

“Sorry we all can’t be glowing like you, Jean,” said Remy flatly as he took the first drag off his cigarette.

“Who says I’m glowing?” she asked casually.

“Your hair is wet. You wearing Scott’s shirt. And your lipstick be smeared,” Remy pointed out, “Either you had one messed up shower or you got a little messy with you boyfriend.”

Jean blushed and rubbed the stray lipstick from the side of her face. It didn’t take an acute sense of observation to figure out what she had been doing. Scott got back from Washington recently and she had prepared a nice bath for him. She went out of her way to help him relax after his latest trip to Washington and it obviously got heated. Remy didn’t make a dirty remarks, which was a clear sign that he was not in a good mood.

“Okay, I’m going to let the nicotine console Remy. What about you, Miss Munroe? Is everything alright?” asked Jean as she sat down next to her, “You seemed a little lost in class today.”

“We’ve all been a bit restless, Jean,” she said distantly, “Our clash with Mojo has been exhausting on many levels.”

“You don’t need to tell me. I just got done helping Scott unwind from a face-to-face with President Kelly. I finally got him relaxed enough to fall asleep in the bath tub.”

“I suppose that makes him the lucky one. And if it’s all the same to you, I would rather you not describe the intimate details,” said Ororo, still unable to turn away from her phone.

“I wasn’t going to. The team doesn’t have to be involved with how we scratch ourselves, let alone our personal business. Then again, sometimes the personal business of one person intersect with another….like, for instance, a close friend being involved with the older brother of an ex-boyfriend.”

Ororo finally set her phone down. It was no use putting this off. Like it or not, Jean Grey had a personal connection to her problems. Being a telepath, she couldn’t expect Jean to ignore it. As more thunder rumbled in the distance, Ororo closed her eyes and sighed, struggling the find the right words for this issue.

“I hope that thunder doesn’t mean I’m about to get a severe form of detention,” said Jean.

“It’s not that bad, Jean. Not yet anyways,” said Ororo in a somewhat grim tone.

“Then can I finally bring it up? Can we talk about James Proudstar before a hurricane forms overhead?” she asked.

“I’m not sure what to say about him. You know as well as everybody that I’ve been meeting with him since the Legacy Virus. After his brother died, it’s been…difficult for him.”

“I believe that, but I know that’s not the only reason. Otherwise, you wouldn’t be screaming with your thoughts.”

“I’m not trying to hide it, Jean. Consoling James Proudstar has turned into a complicated affair. He’s reached out to me in so many ways. I didn’t expect it to get serious.”

“Yet you embraced it when it did and that concerns me,” said Jean in a more serious tone, “As it just so happens, I’ve known James longer than you. I know his history and I’ve been on the front lines for some of his worst moments. The James Proudstar you’re seeing now is not the James Proudstar everyone else is familiar with. He’s more than just complicated. He’ll take one step down the right path and three steps down the wrong path, dragging others with him along the way.”

“You think he’s not sincere? That losing his brother hasn’t changed him?” asked Ororo.

“I’m psychic, Miss Munroe. If there’s one thing I’ve learned from picking up on peoples’ thoughts, it’s that no one really changes. Their behavior may change. Their emotions may change. Even their thoughts may change. But who they are doesn’t. Sometimes the person you see is bad reflection of someone who is genuinely good at heart. You and I have both dated Logan. I think we can agree where he stands. Then there are others who seem like they’re doing all the right things, but under the surface they still have those same flaws.”

“You think James falls into that category?”

“Given his history, it’s hard to say. Even the best psychics can’t figure out what make some people tick,” said Jean, “That’s what really worries me. If you find out who James really is, will you be able to pull yourself away? Or will you be able to embrace him it? Think about those two questions because how you answer may determine how much it may hurt.”

It was hard to argue with a psychic, even if she was still her student. More thunder rumbled as frustration gave way to confusion. Ororo looked back at her phone as if it was the key to James Proudstar himself. She was involved with this man in more ways than she cared to admit. There was still so much to learn about this man. How deep could it go before it someone got hurt?

“A while back, I met up with James in Boston,” said Ororo in a tone of mixed emotions, “He was going to tell me something. He said he needed someone he could trust. I could see it in his eyes that he wanted me to be that person.”

“So did you?” asked Jean.

“I…didn’t have the chance,” said Ororo, now hanging her head low, “I got an emergency call from the institute regarding the Mojo mission. I’m worried that I sent the wrong message.”

“James has never been shy when it comes to mixed messages,” she pointed out, “He usually doesn’t assume.”

“I still have a responsibility. I believe in him. I think he needs someone to believe in him as well. So I’ve been waiting for him to call, hoping for another chance. But he’s gone completely dark. He won’t answer any calls or texts. I don’t want him to shut me out. Otherwise he may go down those wrong paths you mentioned.”

“Is it possible that he’s worrying about the same thing?” questioned Jean, “James isn’t known for his critical thinking skills. He may think you’re the one shutting him out.”

“If that’s the case, why won’t he call me?!” said Ororo, some lightning flashing nearby.

This sudden outburst started both Jean and Remy. Remy’s cigarette nearly fell out of his mouth as the ensuing thunder rumbled in the distance. It showed that Ororo had a greater emotional stake in James Proudstar than she cared to admit.

“Whoa there, Miss Munroe! Easy on the thunderstorms!” coaxed Jean, “I don’t think you realize just how common it is for men to never call back.”

“Hey! Remy’s still sittin’ here in case you forgot,” Remy pointed out.

“Sorry, I forgot to say no offence,” said Jean, seeing more brief flashes of lightning, “I also forgot to add that if James really wants to trust you, he’ll give you another chance.”

“But what if it’s too late?” lamented Ororo, taking deep breaths in order to calm down, “What if he needed my help and by not getting it, something goes horribly wrong?”

“James has messed up before many times and remained in one piece,” Jean went on, “He’s like Logan. He’s stubborn and pig-headed. He’ll eventually come around, but not until he’s tormented himself enough. That doesn’t mean you need to torment yourself either. You just have to be there when he’s ready.”

It was still frustrating. The idea of waiting didn’t sit well. These were difficult times. There were so many ways things could go horribly wrong. James was in a vulnerable state. Losing his brother affected him in so many ways. Ororo had been there for him. It led to something neither of them expected. If one of them didn’t confront it, then they may miss their chance.

At this point, Ororo couldn’t stand to look at her phone anymore and put it away. This was obviously not an issue that was going to be solved by being upset. The storm clouds overhead were a clear sign that she wasn’t handling this.

“Remy don’t mean to break his silence, but Remy’s gotta play the gender equality card for once,” said the Cajun after another puff of his cigarette.

“You know, I’ve been with you long enough to list all the absurdities in those words,” Ororo pointed out.

“So keep ‘em to yourself and answer Remy this…if a homme like James is supposed to come around, does that mean a femme like Rogue can do the same?”

“Why? Is something going on with you and Rogue?” asked Jean.

“You had best take that question back immediately,” said Ororo with a half-grin, “I don’t think you want him to explain it again.”

“Remy wasn’t gonna. Remy don’t have enough cigarettes,” he said in a bemused tone, “Is waitin’ it out really the way to go? It’s easy for you to say, Jean. You got your paramour upstairs in a bath tub. You really think doing nothing is the way to go?”

Now it was Jean’s turn to be awkward. Her perspective was a little bias since she had a boyfriend that was always just a psychic link away. However, she endured her share of complications in the past. She liked to think she had some useful insight.

“I never said you should do nothing. I’m saying you just take a chance that you don’t turn into a card joke for once,” said Jean in an empathetic tone, “Frustration is part of the game. The only way to cope is to trust that the people you care about know what they’re doing. Even if they don’t, if they trust you back they’ll figure it out. Things will only work out if you let it.”

Interstate 95 – Florida

‘So far so good. I made it out. I didn’t set off any alarms. And no one stopped me along the way. The second hardest part is over! So long as nobody pulls me over, I’m in good shape.’

Madison Jefferies gripped the steering wheel of his car with sweaty palms. He was over 20 miles away from his office at this point, yet he was still a nervous wreck. Someone was still chasing him. He could feel it. The key to escaping was staying on the move and keeping a low profile. That meant driving below the speed limit and not drawing any attention to himself. It was getting late so the traffic was fairly light. It should be smooth sailing at least for now.

While Jefferies was steadily moving along in his SUV, Logan followed closely on his motorcycle. He kept his distance, changing lanes and moving between cars so that Jefferies didn’t get too suspicious. He also kept an eye out for anyone else that could be trailing Jefferies. This guy was a marked man. It was only a matter of time before someone realized the attempt to ambush him at his office had failed.

“This guy drives like a pussy,” grunted Wolverine, “At this rate he’ll get pulled over for holding up traffic!”

It was hard to believe that a man so frail could be so important. If he really was destined to help the Mutant Liberation Front, it wasn’t going to be because of his calmness under pressure. Logan could still smell the cold sweat dripping down his face. Jefferies was terrified, but what kind of trouble could a guy like him attract?

Logan downshifted his motorcycle and fell back a little further. The only option he had at this point was to wait for something to happen. There was no telling how long that would be. If this guy was going to take the scenic route, it was sure to be a long night.

Both Logan and Madison were prepared for a long night of driving. After a few more miles, traffic started to slow down. It soon came to a complete stop. Then a nearby sign lit up, indicating there was a road block up ahead.

“That can’t be good,” dreaded Madison.

He sat nervously in his car, taking deep breaths in hopes that this was just a simple traffic accident. The traffic kept moving, but it was slow going. Madison remained quiet, keeping an eye out for any disturbances until, he reached the road block. He let out a slight sigh of relief when it looked like it really was just a traffic accident. Two lanes of the highway had been blocked off, leaving only one to pass through. On the side of the road, there was an overturned truck and some road workers. There were also some police offers looking around as well. Madison tried not to make eye contact as his car neared the barrier. Then one of the officers waved him down.

“Excuse me, sir! Can you please pull over!” said the policeman, who stood directly in the path of his SUV.

“I…I’m sorry, but is there a problem officer?” said Madison.

“There won’t be if you pull over. I promise, we’ll make this quick.”

Madison’s heart rate nearly doubled. He did as the officer asked and pulled his SUV over to the left shoulder of the highway. He kept his hands on the steering wheel and watched as the officer shined his flashlight around his van. The uniformed man carefully scrutinized the vehicle on all sides until he reached the driver’s side of the window.

“Sorry for the inconvenience, sir,” said the officer, “We’ve been getting reports of a fugitive in the area. Some say he caused this accident. You wouldn’t happen to know anything about that, would you?”

“Of-of course, not. Why would I?” said Madison, trying to keep his cool.

“Well you look mighty nervous for a fella out for an evening drive. We got brisk winds and ocean breezes, yet you look like you just came out of a sauna.”

“I uh…I’ve been a little sick. I think I might have a stomach flu or something. I’d rather not get anyone else sick so I should probably get moving.”

“Mighty kind of you,” said the officer, “In that case, why don’t you step out of the car and we’ll finish this quickly.”

“Um…is that really necessary?”

While the officer stared down the anxious driver, a new round of activity erupted from the accident. From the overturned truck, the back doors burst open and a contingent of strangely uniformed men came storming out. The road workers and officers also shed their uniforms as well, revealing similar uniforms and retrieving what looked like high tech assault rifles. With military precision, they surrounded Madison’s SUV and pointed their weapons at him. Once he was surrounded, the officer laughed.

“Yes. It’s very necessary,” he told Madison.

“This…this is a mistake!” said Madison, now trembling with fear.

“It’s no mistake Mr. Jefferies. Did you really think we would let you get far? Especially when we can trace your license plate with the click of a mouse? For someone who’s supposed to be smart, you assume the rest of us are mighty dumb.”

Madison wanted to bang his head against the steering wheel. How could he have been so foolish? He should have rented or stolen a car. Using his own SUV was downright stupid. If he was a wanted man, any local cop with too much free time could see his license plate and trace it. He deserved to be caught for stupidity that great.

“Now how about you make it easy on yourself, mutie?” said the officer, “That way the GRSO unit doesn’t have to test its latest mutant-restraining hardware.”

Madison held his head low. There was no use running anymore. Rather than fight back, he turned off his car and stepped out of the van. The heavily armed men of the GRSO unit were waiting for him, ready to take him in.

While it looked like Jefferies was in for a bad night, Logan noticed the activity from down the highway. He expected men with guns to enter the picture, but he didn’t expect this. Those men weren’t MSA. They weren’t police either. They were something completely different.

“Damn! Either Jefferies is the unluckiest bastard on the planet or I’m the luckiest,” said Logan as he revved up his motorcycle.

Someone with a lot of advanced weapons and a death wish was looking to mess with mutants. That was all the excuse Logan needed to mess with them. With his usual recklessness, he drove his motorcycle through the traffic until he reached the left shoulder of the road. Once he had a clear path ahead of him, he accelerated to unsafe speeds and set his sights on these mysterious uniformed men.

Up ahead, the officer was just about to handcuff Madison Jefferies. Ten armed GRSO soldiers stood around him, their guns pointed right at him. They were so focused on Jefferies that they didn’t notice the motorcycle coming right towards them. When the noise was too close to ignore, the officer who pulled Jefferies over looked up just in time to see it coming.

“What the Sam Hill?” said the officer.

“TAKE COVER!” yelled one of the GRSO soldiers.

The order came a few milliseconds too late. Logan actually sped up, lowering his body just as his motorcycle ran right into the heavily armed soldiers like they were bowling pins. They didn’t even get a chance to fire their weapons. Two soldiers were hit head on, falling to the ground and getting some painful skid-marks on the back of their uniforms in the process. As soon as they were hit, Logan jumped off and landed in front of Madison’s SUV. The motorcycle kept going, running into another GRSO soldier in the process and knocking him out cold while breaking a few bones. In the process, the man trying to handcuff Madison knocked him against the side of his van and they both fell to the ground.

“Ungh!” grunted Madison as his shoulder hit the pavement.

“Damn it! It’s an X-man!” said one of the GRSO soldiers.

“An X-man? Which one?” said another.

From the front of the van, Logan snarled angrily and drew his claws. This effectively answered the soldier’s question.

“Oh…that one,” groaned one of the men grazed by the motorcycle.

“You guys know me and I don’t know you!” grunted Logan, “But since you spend your free time harassing mutants, I’m pretty sure I hate you! HRRRRAAAAAHHHHHH!”

Nashville, Tennessee – Train Station Parking Garage

Rogue was usually a pretty good judge of character. Having seen the worst in people like Sinister and the best in people like Charles Xavier, she could figure out how trustworthy someone was. Being able to absorb them offered further insight even if those powers weren’t active anymore. That’s why it was so distressing when she couldn’t figure out Domino.

After their mid-air discussion, Rogue flew Domino to the top of the parking garage just across the street from the train station. There was still a lot of commotion as a result of Domino’s little stunt. Rogue was still fuming, but she was willing to give her a chance at explaining herself. All she had to go on was Isaac’s trust.

“Thanks for the ride. I was in need of some fresh air,” said Domino as they landed on the half-vacant parking garage.

“Stick to the roller coasters. Let’s get this over with,” said Rogue in a more serious tone, “Ah’m willing to overlook the whole shooting-off-a-gun-in-a-train-station bit. Granted, that’s a heck of an oversight, but you damn well better make up for it!”

“While I do have an adventurous side, everything I do on a mission is for a reason,” Domino retorted, “As for when I’m not on a mission…well, that’s another story.”

“Spare me the innuendo. Let’s talk about the mission. Tessa said you know a thing or two about the Mutant Liberation Front.”

“Tessa is too generous,” she said with a grin, “It’s not what I know. It’s who I know. I’m sure you know her too, but in a different capacity.”

“Her?” questioned Rogue.

“I wish I could give you a name, but it honestly never came up. She did have a nickname though…Vertigo.”

Saying that name gave Domino instant credibility. Rogue was now much more intrigued. Her encounters with Vertigo hadn’t been pleasant to say the least. Her stomach churned at the memories of their last fight. First she fought for Sinister. Now she fought for the Mutant Liberation Front. If she was part of this mission, it was sure to get both volatile and nauseating.

Sensing she had Rogue’s full attention, Domino started walking towards the lower levels of the parking garage. Rogue followed her closely. Along the way, she explained the twisted series of events that led their paths to cross.

“I take it by that pissed off look in your eye and the queasy growl in your stomach that you’ve crossed paths,” said Domino.

“You could say that,” Rogue muttered, “Ah’ve lost many good lunches because of that crazy bitch.”

“Consider yourself lucky. I’ve seen her do much worse. Vertigo and I go back quite a ways. She was part of the same breeding program that made yours truly. Her parents were just captured carriers of the X-gene. They got down and dirty, gave birth to her, handed her over, and that was the extent of her family life.”

“Given how colorful you turned out to be, that explains a lot,” said Rogue.

“At least I have a sense of humor about it,” Domino shrugged, “Vertigo was a lot more damaged. We trained together growing up. For a while, we were like sisters. Instead of slumber parties and dances, we learned how to kill and torment our enemies. It’s sort of like summer camp, but with guns.”

“So you were close. What does this have to do with the mission?”

“Aside from her being in the Mutant Liberation Front, a lot. We didn’t have a falling out per se. We just decided to go our separate ways. After the breeding program was shut down, we were basically left to our own devices. We traveled to the United States. We did some odd jobs here and there, mostly mercenary gigs. It was fun, it paid well, and we got to blow stuff up. The problem for her is that it was never enough. Vertigo just wasn’t satisfied with the simple life of a hired gun. So one day she comes to me and says she met some creepy guy offering her a job.”

“That would be Sinister. He’s practically the mascot for all things creepy,” said Rogue.

“No need to convince me of that. But I didn’t know who the hell he was at the time. I didn’t want to get caught up in some bozo’s agenda. I’m a simple girl with simple tastes. Give me a gun and a massaging shower-head and I’m a happy woman!”

“Is that supposed to reassure meh?”

“Does it matter?” shrugged Domino with an innocent grin, “Whatever our tastes, Vertigo and I parted ways. It wasn’t one of those Hallmark moments. She said she was going. I said I preferred to do my own thing. And that was that. We didn’t keep in touch or anything. I didn’t hear a peep from her until last week, which brings us to our mission.”

Domino stopped walking as she and Rogue reached the third level of the parking garage. This was where the mission got complicated. As an expert in luck, she understood that the probability of failure went up with every moving part that was added to the equation. For something this bold, they needed to play the odds.

“Vertigo didn’t just call to catch up. She wanted me to join the Mutant Liberation Front,” she went on, “She said my skills would be a big help for what they have planned.”

“Did she drop any hints about that plan? Vertigo never struck meh as the kind who can keep her mouth shut,” said Rogue.

“She refused to tell me over the phone. She insisted we meet in person and that’s what we’re going to do. She’s expecting to catch up in New Orleans tomorrow night. However, she’s not expecting me to bring a guest. That leads me to the second reason I greeted you with a gunshot.”

“Now Ah have the urge to fly you up a few thousand feet,” muttered Rogue.

“Jeez, learn to take a compliment,” said Domino in a humored tone, “I may be able to shoot a fly from the other end of a football field, but I’m not exactly durable. I can’t bench a fully loaded Range Rover either. So the chances of me going up against the Mutant Liberation Front are essentially nill.”

“Ah thought you said Vertigo trusted you,” said Rogue, folding her arms skeptically.

“I said we were friends. I never said we trusted each other. She’s not going to take chances. She’ll probably come with a few friends. They’ll be in town for something big. And when she spills the beans, I need someone tough enough to go into the line of fire without getting burned.”

Rogue started piecing together what Domino was saying. As annoying as that gunshot to the head had been, it made a valid point from her perspective. The Mutant Liberation Front weren’t afraid to play rough. If anyone was going to take them on, they needed strength and durability. Rogue had those skills both literally and figuratively.

“So let meh see if Ah understand this so-called mission,” said Rogue as she paced around a bit, “You want meh to follow you to New Orleans. Then you’re gonna meet up with Vertigo, talk her up a bit, and find out what the Mutant Liberation Front is up to. Then once she fills you in, Ah come in and bust through any surprises she may have.”

“Congratulations, you get half a gold star,” said Domino.

“After that, what do we do? Put a gun to her head and have her lead us to Toad?”

“And your back to zero stars,” she said, “There’s no point in taking Vertigo in. She does us no good in a jail cell.”

“So then what’s the endgame? Just pissing her off ain’t gonna do us any good.”

“I wish I could tell you, but there are just some missions you have to leave to chance,” said Domino, “Getting to Vertigo and finding out what she’s up to is only the first step. The second step is something we’ll have to play by ear.”

“Now there’s a mistake just waiting to happen,” scoffed Rogue.

“Sorry, but every mission can’t be laid out in a neat little package. You may be used to that in the X-men, but with me you’ll have to take chances. I think that’s part of the reason Isaac sent you here. You’re willing to take small chances, but you avoid the bigger risks. No big risks means no big rewards. Given the stakes with the Mutant Liberation Front, we need that big reward. You need it too in more than one way.”

Rogue finally stopped pacing. This was not the kind of mission the X-men would conduct. Scott’s head would probably explode at the idea of going into a mission without a clear plan. He understood as well as she did that going into a mission blind was dangerous. The risks were seldom worth the rewards. However, this may be one of those rare occasions where it was a risk worth taking.

Rogue then thought back to what Isaac taught her. She had lost her way ever since she left the X-men. She took a chance by leaving the institute and it didn’t pan out. Going back in the right mindset meant taking a much bigger chance. It didn’t sit well, but she owed it to her friends and to herself to have faith that she could do this.

“For the record, Ah still think this is a bad idea,” she said to Domino.

“I’m waiting to hear the yes. I’m ignoring everything else,” said Domino coyly.

“Fahne then. Yes,” said Rogue in an exasperated tone, “You’ve got yourself a partner that can take a bullet to the face.”

“Great! For once I’ll have more than luck on my side. I’ll also have someone to talk to for the long drive ahead of us.”

Domino then reached into her pocket and retrieved a set of car keys. Upon clicking the button, the lights to a very nice Ferrari convertible flashed. Rogue raised an eyebrow as Domino casually walked over and hopped into the driver’s seat.

“Ah don’t even wanna know where you got that,” said Rogue.

“Stole it from some Nigerian warlord,” she said, “After I shot him in the head from five miles away.”

“Ah said Ah didn’t want to know,” said Rogue begrudgingly.

“You’ll get over it. It’s a long drive to New Orleans. We might as well get there in style.”

“Ah miss the X-jet already,” she groaned.

“If it’s worth having, it’s worth the frustration. Now get in. We can go over all the juicy details along the way!”

This personal mission of hers was already wearing on her. Domino was quite a character. She couldn’t see why Isaac trusted her. She was adventurous if not a little unstable. In their line of work, that was to be expected. She would be playing a dangerous game by going along with her.

Never-the-less, Rogue had no intention of going back on her promise to Isaac. Domino was right about one thing. Anything wroth having was worth struggling for. So despite her many reservations, she joined Domino in the car and they drove off.

Florida – Interstate 95



“You’re welcome to try, bub! You’re gonna regret it!” snarled a determined Wolverine.

On a narrow patch of interstate highway, the evening sky lit up with gunfire. Wolverine faced an unexpected show of firepower. This wasn’t just another case of thugs armed high powered weapons. These guys were equipped even more than he expected. They came prepared to fight a mutant and he soon found himself on the defensive.

The weapons they wielded didn’t fire ordinary bullets. They fired concentrated bursts of energy, the kind that turned the hood of a car into a massive dent. Wolverine saw the power of it early when a shot that missed him hit a small unoccupied car, causing the gas tank inside it to explode. It horrified the already dazed commuters and it didn’t help that these GRSO soldiers showed little regard for collateral damage. That meant they hadn’t been ordered by General Grimshaw or the President. This was something more devious.

Wolverine’s first move was to direct the GRSO’s fire away from the long line of traffic behind him. He also tried to draw them away from Madison Jefferies, but they were keeping a close eye on him. He took cover behind the overturned truck where the soldiers had been hiding earlier. While they fired on him, confused motorists got out of their cars and ran. However, some were foolish enough to stay behind and take pictures with their phones.

“Quit with the paparazzi shit! Get the hell outta here, people!” barked Wolverine.

“Are you kidding? This will be huge on youtube!” said a sloppily dressed teenager.

“If you’re gonna be that stupid, then you deserve to get shot!”

The civilians weren’t making his job any easier. Wolverine could feel the heavy vibrations when high energy bursts hitting the tanker. They were causing dents and tears that could be felt on the other side. If he stayed for too long, they would shoot right through it. He peaked around for a brief moment and counted ten soldiers. They were falling back towards Madison Jefferies. That means he had to make his move.

‘They’re gonna leave with Jefferies. He’s their target. Shootin’ an X-man is just bonus. I gotta make my move and make it fast!’

With his claws drawn, Logan boldly jumped on top of the truck. In the time it took for the men to turn their guns towards him, he attacked.


“I got him!” yelled one of the GRSO troops.

The heavily armed man took aim and fired. The feral mutant jumped out of the way, getting narrowly grazed by the blast in the process. He landed right in front of a van that had been abandoned by a motorist. The same troop shot at him again. Just as before, Wolverine evaded so the shot ended up hitting the van at just the right angle. This caused it to explode in a fiery burst of smoke and debris that momentarily obstructed the view of the GRSO soldiers.

“You dumb-ass! You’re playing right into his hands!” said one of the soldiers.

“I’ll get him with the next shot!”

“No wait!”

It was too late. The overconfident soldier was so determined to hit Wolverine that he didn’t realize how close he was. So when he fired and missed again, he struck the gas tank of a large SUV. When this vehicle exploded, it was so close that the men had to shield themselves from the debris. Within the fireball that ensued, Wolverine absorbed a healthy bit of fire and shrapnel. It tore into his body, but he ignored the pain and saw that he had a narrow window with which to end this fight.

“Done shooting? Now it’s my turn!” he snarled.

Using the smoke and fire as cover, Wolverine went for their weapons. He started with the one that fired the fateful shot, cutting it down all the way to the handle. The bewildered GRSO soldier stumbled back, falling right into one of his comrades just as he was trying to get another shot off. He missed wildly, allowing Wolverine to take his weapon out as well. He threw in a kick to the head to finish them off.

“Ack! Forget the X-man! Get the target!” yelled one of the GRSO soldiers through the smoke.

“Walkin’ out on me already? Those guns must be compensating for something!”

The GRSO unit did as they were ordered, falling back towards the van where Madison Jefferies was still on the ground. They fired a few shots to keep Wolverine away. The smoke made it too difficult to see and Wolverine was willing to take the risk of added punishment. He ended up getting struck on the lower thigh, but that didn’t stun him long enough for GRSO to make their escape.

With another enraged howl, Wolverine slashed his way through their weapons and threw in a few broken bones and concussions to prevent them from leaving. He got rougher with each soldier he took down. When two GRSO soldiers tried shoot him in the back, Wolverine did a nimble back-flip to land right behind them. From there he stabbed their arms and severed a few ligaments so they dropped their guns. Then while they writhed in pain slammed their heads together and knocked them out. The remaining soldiers tried to surround him while two others went for Jefferies. Wolverine saw this and reacted swiftly.

“First you wanna kill me! Then you wanna run?” grunted the feral mutant, “Make up your mind already!”

“Your days are already numbered, X-man! It doesn’t matter what we decide!” said one of the GRSO soldiers as he readied his weapon.

“You don’t say? Guess I’ll have to make this hurt a lot more!”

He was now clear from the smoke, which meant the GRSO soldiers had a clearer shot. But before they could shoot him again, Wolverine kicked up one of the energy rifles that one of the guards dropped. He hadn’t slashed it so it was still functional. While he usually preferred his claws, he made a rare exception and fired the weapon. But he didn’t aim right at the guards. He aimed for one of the empty police cruisers behind them. He hit it right around the gas tank, causing it to explode. The resulting blast released a powerful shockwave that knocked the remaining GRSO soldiers off their feet, dropping their weapons in the process.

From here, they were easy prey for Wolverine. The former living weapon threw aside the weapon and finished the rest of these goons with his fists. He used his claws to disable the rest of the weapons before they could be retrieved. Then he kicked two of the GRSO soldiers in the head, either knocking them out or putting them in too much pain to fight back. The rest that were standing only put up a short fight before they fell as well.

‘These guys are definitely newbies. This is probably their first mission. Ain’t no way a trained marine or MSA soldier would go down this easy. Either the feds are getting cheap or someone’s new wants the X-men to kick their ass.’

Once the last GRSO soldier fell, he set his sights back on Madison Jefferies. By now one of the soldiers that broke off from the group was dragging Jefferies away. He was trying to shove him into a van behind the overturned truck. Jefferies was still dazed, but struggling to get away.

“This is crazy! I didn’t do anything! I’m just a guy trying to make a living, damn it! What the hell do you people want?!”

“Shut up, Jefferies! Cooperate and you might have a chance to live out that robot fetish of yours!” said the GRSO soldier as he roughly pinned him against the van.

His eyes widened. Whoever these people were, they clearly knew him better than he thought. That had some disturbing implications that led him to conclude that this probably wasn’t just a case of being falsely accused.

“Robot fetish? How did you…” he began.

“Hey!” barked Wolverine as he caught up, “Let’s skip the bullshit and get to the part where you let him go!”

“Forget it, badger boy! I have my orders! We all do!”

The GRSO soldier pulled out a handgun and aimed it towards Wolverine. The feral mutant ducked to his right to avoid the first shot. Then he pounced, taking the second shot in the lower thigh. He barely felt the pain, focusing completely on disarming this man. He used his claws to not only cut the weapon, but deliver a gaping wound right into the center of his hand.

“ARRRGGGHHHHH!” the soldier cried out, dropping the gun and losing his grip on Madison Jefferies.

He fell back in agony, but Wolverine caught him before he could fall to the ground. He then grabbed the man by the throat and pinned him against the side of the van. His claws still drawn, he pressed them near his face and stared him down with a gaze that could petrify even a hardened soldier.

“Okay, bub! Time for a little chat!” growled Wolverine, “You dip-shits are obviously new at this so let me explain how this is going to work! I’m gonna ask a few questions and you’re gonna tell me everything before I get too pissed! And since you just shot me, you’re already behind the curve!”

“Hnn…I don’t have to tell you anything!” grunted the man.

“Maybe you didn’t notice, but these claws are pretty damn sharp!” grunted Wolverine, pointing one of his claws right at the man’s eye.

“Threaten me all you want! The GRSO unit doesn’t break!”

“GRSO, huh? That actually stand for something or is it just a lousy name?”

“You’re just lucky enough to catch a sneak preview! Every mutant will know what it means soon enough!”

“Says who?!” roared the feral mutant, his claws mere inches from the man’s eye.

“Go ahead! Do it!” taunted the man, “Pretend you’re just killing some nameless thug! You’ll see how screwed you are by sunrise!”

Wolverine was tempted to take him up on his dare. However, he sensed he was telling the truth. The man actually wanted Wolverine to rough him up. He knew what it would mean for him and for mutants. Wolverine still kept his claws drawn, but he would not give the man the satisfaction.

“You seem awfully confident, bub! How much pain you willing to take before you stop bluffing?” grunted Wolverine.

“However much you’re willing to risk for what’s left of the X-men!” sneered the man.

“You’re the one harassing innocent mutants and holding up traffic!”

“That’s not how my bosses will see it.”

“Then why don’t you tell me where they are so I can ask them myself?” retorted Wolverine.

“I’m not in a position to speak with them until I have Madison Jefferies in custody,” said the GRSO soldier snidely, “Which means in a few moments, we’ll both miss our chance.”

Wolverine then he remembered Madison Jefferies. He slipped away shortly before he began this little interrogation. Following his scent, Wolverine turned around and saw that Jefferies was staggering back to his SUV. The feral mutant grunted in frustration and let the GRSO soldier go. As curious as he was to learn more about these guys, Madison Jefferies remained his top priority.

“Damn it! Hold up, Jefferies!” yelled Wolverine as he ran towards the van.

“No way! I’ve had a bad enough day, thank you very much!” spat Jefferies.

The bewildered mutant rushed back into his SUV and restarted the engine. He didn’t even take time to close the door. Just as he was about pull away, Wolverine jumped over the hood and reached into the driver’s side of the vehicle where he grabbed Jefferies by the collar.

“This ain’t no time to be a coward, bub!” he said to him with the same forceful tone he had used with the GRSO soldier, “I saved your ass for a reason! Now if you don’t want your bad day to get any worse, you’ll let the X-men help you!”

“I don’t even know you people and I don’t want any part of the X-men’s bullshit!” retorted Jefferies, “I’m grateful for the save, but I already have a Plan B and I’m taking it!”

“You drive away, you’ll screw us all over! Not just yourself!” barked Wolverine.

“You’re warning is duly noted and subsequently ignored!”

With Wolverine still gripping his collar, Madison stepped on the accelerator and pulled away from the scene. The feral mutant had no choice but to let him go. He had been ravaged enough by gunfire and explosions. He didn’t need to be dragged down the highway at high speeds.

Wolverine grunted in frustration as he watched Jefferies drive off. He closed the door along the way and drove over some cones in the process. Ahead of him was vacant highway. He was well on his way to wherever he was going. However, that didn’t mean Wolverine’s mission had failed. It just got more cumbersome. Setting aside his frustration, he took out his communicator and activated a special GPS map.

“Go ahead and run you little pansy. You’re gonna help me whether you like it or not,” said Wolverine.

Jefferies didn’t realize it, but just before he grabbed him, Wolverine slapped a tracking bug on the side of his SUV. It was a little something he grabbed from Beast’s workshop before he left on this mission. Now could follow Madison Jefferies wherever he went. The man said he had a plan. It may lead him to the answers he needed.

Looking back towards the GRSO soldiers, he saw that none were in a position to talk. They were either knocked-out, wounded, or defiant. The one he tried interrogating earlier was long gone. He was probably calling for backup, which meant he had to get moving. He ran back to his motorcycle, which was lying on the side of the road. It was damaged, but it still worked. Once he got on, he sped away.

“Pretty sure I ain’t seen the last of you GRSO goons,” said Wolverine as he rode off, “If you ever do talk to that boss of yours, tell him I’ll be seeing him real soon!”

Genosha – Warlock Factories

“Wanda! Will you please slow down! I feel like I’m talking to Pietro!” said a beleaguered Lorna.

“You’d have a better chance at stopping him at this point, Lorna,” said a stoic Wanda Maximoff, “I’ve made up my mind. I’m going through with this!”

Lorna was almost out of breath and patience. She had been trying to talk some sense into her half-sister since they left the citadel an hour ago. She might as well have been talking to a brick wall. Wanda was dead set on this new plan of hers. Lorna thought it was a bad idea on no fewer than ten different levels and she couldn’t get Wanda to even consider one of them.

Lorna trailed Wanda through the main Warlock factory. Since the Legacy Virus, the factories had not been operating at full capacity. There were too few mutants they could trust at this point so most of the factory was maintained by Warlock drones. They were simple humanoid robots that carried out the day-to-day operations. Only the Brotherhood and a select few Acolytes had the privilege of entering this area. That number dwindled further after the protest by Senyaka. This alien technology remained Genosha’s greatest asset and Wanda sought to use it in a bold new way.

It started with the Mojovision broadcast. Nearly all of Genosha had seen it at this point. While some humans may find it entertaining, the idea of throwing mutants into death traps for amusement did not sit well with anybody. Wanda already voiced her displeasure of this situation to the MSA. Then less than twenty-four hours they heard that President Kelly refused many of the proposals offered by Scott Summers in their latest meeting. Since Charles Xavier was still MIA and the X-men were increasingly inept, Wanda was ready to take matters into her own hands.

With Lorna still following closely, she reached the central console. Lance, Pietro, and Alex were standing at the controls. They were just as surprised as Lorna that Wanda was going through with this.

“Have you made the necessary adjustments?” asked Wanda, “I want construction to begin before I finish this sentence.”

“We’re ready, Wanda,” said Alex, “We followed the instructions from your dad’s journal. But before we turn it on, I think we should discuss how we’re going to play this card.”

“There’s nothing to discuss! Did you see the clips from that sick Mojovision crap?” retorted Pietro, “They’re already rounding up mutants and turning them into reality shows! That’s crossing way too many lines!”

“And for once, Pietro and I are in full agreement. That alone should tell you how serious I am about this,” Wanda added.

“Mojovision was one level of insanity. This is dangerously close to another,” said the older Summers brother, “We’re talking about a global sideshow that’s going to put a big target on our asses.”

“That target was there before Mojovision’s feed was cut,” said Wanda, “Now even I’m tempted to join the protesters that are camping out near the citadel. Our people are sick of seeing innocent mutants treated like circus animals.”

“It could be worse. They could be randomly arresting mutants and hoping to make the latest episode of Cops,” shrugged Lance.

“Funny you should say that because Blob told me there’s a report coming out of Florida,” scoffed Pietro, “The authorities there must be bored because they actually tried to arrest a respected mutant who worked for NASA. And I’ll bet you one of Blob’s steak dinners that it was for a bullshit reason.”

“You’re probably right, Pietro. That alone shows how bad it has gotten for our people,” groaned Wanda, “We’ve been bending over backwards, trying to get our country together. It’s time we make a statement…one that our citizens can be proud of.”

“And one that will scare the bejesus out of everybody else!” argued Lorna.

“Well maybe it’s time the rest of the world fears us again,” retorted Wanda, “That way they’ll think twice before turning our people into a stage props.”

Wanda shoved Alex and Pietro aside so she could take control of the console. She wasn’t going to wait for them to agree with her. They could deal with the consequences as they came.

Wanda didn’t consider herself tech savvy, but she was smart enough to follow the instructions her father left her. After entering a few commands on the console, every Warlock drone in the factory shifted their focus towards the center of the factory. In this area, a large space had been cleared. It was about the size of a football field with nearly five stories of space above it. Around this area, the Warlock drones set up a series of box-shaped assemblers. These powerful assemblers were hooked up to a series of heavy cables. They would do the heavy lifting for the bulk of this project.

“When my father was studying the alien ship, he told me about the unique power source that drove it,” explained Wanda as she watched the Warlock drones work, “He described it as a tuning fork on a cosmic level. It generated power in a way similar to a solar panel. But instead of soaking up sunlight, the generator captures a larger chunk of the electromagnetic spectrum. All the energy that bombards us every day is just there waiting to be tapped and the aliens figured out how to use it in their star ships.”

“Magneto always had a hard-on for all things high energy,” said Lance, showing relative indifference to what she was doing.

“He once told me that there’s enough energy within the volume of a beach ball to power the entire industrialized world. To make that energy useful requires some physics that humanity doesn’t fully understand. The reactor in that alien ship used a mix of high-tech machinery and rare elements. He drew up plans for a particle accelerator that used the same alien technology to synthesize these elements. With them, we can remake the alien generator and use it to create more power than the United States will make for the next thousand years.”

“Except generating power is not where Magneto’s plan ended. It only got crazier from there,” said Lorna bitterly.

“It’s not crazy, Lorna. It’s a power play in more ways than one,” said Wanda as she watched the assemblers glow with activity, “We’re the only ones capable of synthesizing these alien elements. No one else in the world has found a use for them. They also haven’t been able to create the same alien generators like the ones we found in the ship.”

“Hence oil still costs a hundred bucks a barrel,” added Pietro.

“These devices will make the most advanced nuclear reactor in the world look like a steam engine. They won’t just generate power. They’ll be able to broadcast power. From anywhere on the planet, anyone will be able to tap all the power they’ll ever need. All those greedy businesses that fuel political campaigns all over the world will be obsolete.”

“That would sound so noble if you weren’t going to charge for it,” said Lance dryly.

“Why shouldn’t we?” scoffed Wanda, “We supply the world with endless power and we gain the ultimate leverage. They will have a much stronger incentive to respect mutants. My father was never afraid to stack the deck in his favor.”

“He was also never good at thinking things through,” Lorna reminded her, “I read the same journal you did, Wanda. There’s a good reason why Magneto didn’t try this sooner. He used words like ‘untested’ and ‘dangerous’ on more than one occasion.”

Wanda could feel her half-sister’s critical eyes even on her as she entered the final string of commands on the console. The process had already begun. The Warlock drones were assembling the base of the accelerator that would make this device work. It was a bold move and one Wanda didn’t take lightly. However, Lorna remained convinced that this was one of those plans destined to go horribly wrong at some point.

“Wanda please…” she urged.

“I’m aware of the risks, Lorna,” said Wanda firmly.

“Are you? It sounds to me that you looking for a quick fix to all our problems. Do I need to remind you how many times that backfired on our father?”

“She makes a good point, Wanda. Trying to finish a fight with one blow can create more problems than it solves,” said Alex.

“Of course you’ll agree with the girl who’s sleeping with you,” scoffed Pietro.

“Who happens to be your sister!” said Lorna in a stronger tone.

Half-sister!” the speedster corrected.

“Don’t start, you two!” said Wanda, using her hex bolts to separate them.

Lorna was still fuming, desperately pleading with Wanda to reconsider. Alex showed concern as well. Even though Pietro and Lance supported this move, it didn’t mean they weren’t concerned. This was happening so fast. Wanda, being the leader of Genosha, had put herself in this difficult position. That meant showing the kind of firm leadership that their country and people needed.

“I’m not taking this lightly, Lorna. Don’t think for a second that I’m acting on an impulse,” said Wanda in a more serious tone, “This isn’t a power play. This isn’t some mutant domination plot either. This is us adapting to a situation.”

“Adapting? Or exploiting?” questioned Lorna in a bitter tone.

“Sometimes they’re one in the same. The Mutant Liberation Front has made the whole world vulnerable. The nations of the world are losing their infrastructure. People need power for all the essentials of modern life. We’re in a position to deliver that power on an unprecedented scale. We can use that to help those people and our fellow mutants. At a time when we’re all on edge, we need to make a move like this. I’m not expecting you to approve of this plan, but I need everybody to see it through.”

Lorna now found herself in an unenviable position. She remembered how she used to temper her father’s irrational inclinations. This was different. On some levels she agreed with Wanda. They needed to foster a relationship with humanity that involved mutual benefit. She just didn’t think this was the way to do it.

Never-the-less, Wanda’s mind was made up. Lorna looked towards Alex and Pietro. Alex had his doubts, but he wasn’t going to fight her if her decision was final. Pietro wasn’t going to argue with Wanda either. And Lorna knew that she couldn’t help this situation if she wasn’t involved. That meant she had to remain a part of it, even if it went wrong.

“It’ll be okay, Lorna. We’ll make this work,” assured Wanda.

“And if it doesn’t, I’ll be here to say I told you so,” she sighed.

“Does that mean you’ll still help?”

“Only as much as I can stomach,” said Lorna.

“And only if you’ll listen when someone speaks up,” said Alex, “Just because you’re using your father’s plans doesn’t mean you have to make your father’s mistakes.”

“Which is why we’re going to proceed carefully,” said Wanda with a nod, “I plan on making a public statement within a few days. I need you guys to supervise the Warlock drones to make sure everything is in place.”

“You can count on us, sis,” said Pietro confidently, “Whatever problems arise, I’ll fix them before these two have a chance to complain.”

“That’s so reassuring,” said Alex dryly.

“Oh try not to assume the worst for once, you guys,” said Lance, who was the only one smiling, “Call me an optimist, but I have a feeling this will all work out for the best.”

“Coming from you, that means we should be even more careful,” quipped Pietro.

Lance scolded the speedster, which was promptly ignored. Wanda offered Lorna another reassuring gesture that seemed to calm her down. Alex helped with a gesture of his own, making it clear to Wanda that there were plenty of reasons to worry about this plan.

None of that mattered for Lance. He could care less about this plan. He already knew how it was going to pan out. These alien power generators might as well have been stage props. They weren’t going to change the endgame for humanity.

‘Be as careful as you want, Pietro. You and your daddy issues won’t matter in the long run. The Mutant Liberation Front is going to make their move and there’s nothing anyone can do to stop them! I’ve already made sure of it.’

Up next: Natural Disorder

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