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Volume 6 -- Issue 140 -- Outer Limits Part 4

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Outer Limits Part 4
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The stakes couldn’t be higher for Professor Xavier and his X-men. For years, they’ve used their extraordinary powers to protect a world that hates and fears them. Now it isn’t just their world they must protect. Countless other worlds are at risk. In order to save them, they must confront an alien threat harboring incredible power.

This dark power is fueled by the tyrannical whims of D’ken, Emperor of the Shi’ar. For much of his reign, he has been waging a galactic civil war. His crown is threatened by the return of his half-sister, Lilandra Neramani. Her half-human/half-Shi’ar link to their bloodline has rallied various factions of rebel forces. Seeking to end the conflict, D’ken has plunged every last resource into a planet-sized device that promises to tap the limitless power of the M’krann Crystal. With this power, he will be able to shape the minds of every sentient creature to his whim.

It was the X-men who uncovered this plot with the help of Charles Xavier and the Phoenix Force. Now, as time continues to work against them, they must formulate a plan to take down D’ken. This plan is aided reluctantly by the Shi’ar rebels. In order to thwart D’ken once and for all, the X-men will need more than just cooperation. They will need every ounce of their resolve to overcome this cosmic threat.

Chandilar-13 Moon Base – Hanger

More than a cycle had gone by since Charles Xavier and Lilandra Neramani put their bold plan in place. Word spread throughout the rebels. Something big was about to happen. Even with news that D’ken’s forces were ravaging the Chandilar-13 system, there was cautious hope among those desperate for an end to this war.

“Get everything into place! The Empress demands haste!” yelled a Shi’ar captain as dozens of subordinates swarmed all over the area.

“Squadron XB-7 is almost ready. We need only the final order to make our move,” replied a space-fighter pilot.

“We’ll need to make it soon. Our latest scouting report says three imperial cruisers are heading towards this base!” said one of the lieutenants.

“It is nothing we cannot handle,” said the captain, “The important part is ensuring the Empress’s passage. For this we must be ready to give our lives. The strength of our people depends on it!”

Every officer, pilot, and foot soldier rallied around this new hope. They were placing a lot of trust in the heir to the Neramani throne. Half a cycle ago, the orders came down from the Empress herself. The base would assemble whatever was left of their space fighters. They would once again be tasked with escorting the Starjammer. Beyond these details, the mission was still shrouded in secrecy. It was likely a means of keeping D’ken’s spies from uncovering this plot. If it was as bold as the rumors suggest, they needed to stay focused and do as they were told.

Hundreds of rebel engineers, technicians, and operators gathered in the hanger to organize the squadron. Some swarmed around the Starjammer, which was once again the centerpiece of a bold operation. With help from Corsair, they repaired the spacecraft to ensure it was in top form. It soon stood poised to lead this daring operation that promised to take the fight to D’ken.

As dozens of rebels rushed to get into place, the X-men emerged. Cyclops, Iceman, Beast, Storm, Wolverine, Rogue, Gambit, Shadowcat, Psylocke, and Colossus followed Lilandra through the bustling facility. Phoenix was with them, still in her White Phoenix attire. She was still glowing with white flames, indicating strong activity from the Phoenix.

The X-men’s uniforms underwent some change as well. The Shi’ar scientists fitted them with some advanced life-support systems in case they encountered difficult environments. Lilandra was in a special uniform as well, which consisted of a special black combat suit with a special metallic crown. Her presence drew a great deal of attention while the X-men still evoked fear.

“The Empress has arrived! Show your respect and work faster!” said another lieutenant.

“Avoid the gaze of the humans. Do not tempt them into sending another Great Darkness upon us!” said a feeble mechanic who was working on the Starjammer.

“Great Darkness? Is that what they fear from us?” asked Beast.

“You understood that, Beast? You’re learning our language quickly,” said Lilandra.

“You should see him at a Chinese restaurant,” quipped Iceman.

“Some phrases are more prominent than others,” added Beast, “I never got a chance to uncover why your people are so afraid of Earth.”

“I never thought I would say this, but that’s probably a mystery best left unsolved,” said Psylocke, “The Professor says D’ken is about to mind rape every mind in the universe. As a telepath, I can safely say that takes priority.”

“No need to convince us, Bets. A fella that goes after every mind in existence ain’t someone you want poking around in your head,” said Rogue.

“He’s a twisted bastard. I ain’t met him and I’m pretty damn sure I wanna stab him in the face,” snarled Logan.

“Giving D’ken a few bruises is only a small part of the Professor’s plan. We’ll need more cunning than resolve,” said Storm, staying focused despite anxious looks from the Shi’ar.

“A little luck would be nice as well, but then again when do we rely on that?” sighed Shadowcat.

The X-men stayed close to Lilandra until they reached the Starjammer. The mechanics and technicians were just finishing their last round of tune-ups. Corsair was standing in the cargo bay opening, avoiding eye-contact with Cyclops every step of the way.

“Is the Starjammer ready, Corsair?” asked Lilandra.

“The Starjammer’s always ready,” he said, patting the ship with his hand, “But for the record, I think this plan is crazier than a sack of ferrets.”

“Nobody asked your opinion, bub,” said Wolverine, “Just make sure your ride here gets us there in one piece.”

Corsair tensed at burly man’s harsh tone. Under normal circumstances, he would have fired back at anyone who insulted his ship. Having his long-lost son in the mix was anything by normal so he preferred to save his energy for meaningful battles.

Now standing at the base of the Starjammer, Lilandra and the X-men waited for the last workers to leave the platform. Sensing their Empress’s impatience, they moved quickly. They undid the clamps on the ship and removed the fuel lines. One engineer stayed behind to address the Empress.

“The Starjammer is ready, my Empress,” he said, speaking English for the benefit of the humans, “The shields and weapons systems have been fully repaired. However, the warp drive may need some fine-tuning.”

“Do not worry about the warp drive. It won’t be necessary for this mission,” assured Lilandra, “Is that correct, Phoenix?”

“Indeed it is, Miss Neramani. My power is more than sufficient to get us to our location. It is the only way we can evade D’ken’s vast defenses.”

“In other words, we be sneakin’ into enemy turf,” Gambit summarized, “As a former thief, Remy can get behind that.”

“That’s part of what’s so crazy about it,” muttered Corsair.

“Crazy or not, it’s the only way,” said Lilandra, “We barely got through the first time. We need to catch D’ken completely off guard so we can carry out Charles’s plan.”

“And what a plan it is. I don’t recall Charles ever conjuring something so ambitious,” said Beast as he looked up at the Starjammer.

“Guess getting his legs back added some extra motivation. Not that he didn’t need any more in the first place,” said Iceman.

“Indeed,” said Colossus, “Where is he anyways?”

An answer proved unnecessary. At that moment, another door across from the Starjammer’s platform opened. It revealed Professor Charles Xavier in a state the X-men had never seen before. He was wearing an X-men uniform, complete with the same life-support extras that the Shi’ar gave them. It consisted of a black body suit with a large yellow X on the chest. When he approached the team, he did so with a pride they had never seen before.

“Wow, I’m still not used to seeing him like this,” said Shadowcat.

“Ah don’t think he’s used to it either,” said Rogue.

“I’m sure he’ll miss having an excuse to stay behind once he sees how crazy it gets in the field,” said Psylocke.

“Or maybe that’ll just encourage him,” snickered Iceman.

Xavier smiled at the reactions of his students. Seeing him on his feet and fully able was still a bit jarring. Given the seriousness of this mission, it was more than fitting.

However, his ability to walk wasn’t a novelty to everyone. Before he reached the Starjammer, Deathbird came running out into the hanger. She wasn’t as anxious as she was angry. She shoved aside any worker or officer in her way to catch up to Professor Xavier. As commander of this quadrant, she was less than enthused about someone usurping her authority.

“Hold it right there, human! We must speak before you launch this foolish attack!” yelled Deathbird angrily.

“Deathbird, the high command already signed off on this. We don’t have time for second guessing!” said Lilandra over the commotion.

“With all due respect, Empress. I don’t care who your mate here convinced. You’re commandeering my assets!” barked Deathbird, “I think I have a right to be outraged!”

Lilandra was about to confront the Shi’ar commander before she reached Charles. He ended up waving her off.

“It’s alright, Lilandra. Let her speak,” said Xavier, “We are asking a lot of her after all.”

“You’re asking for more than you deserve, human!” spat Deathbird as she reached him, “This plan of yours places some very unreasonable demands on our rebellion. You’re putting the last Neramani in the gravest of danger.”

“I understand that, Deathbird. I even explained that to her. She chose to go along with it even after I encouraged her not to,” he said in a calmer tone.

“I don’t care who chose it. I care about what it will do to this rebellion!” she said strongly, “You say D’ken is preparing a machine that will usurp every sentient mind in the universe. I understand the scale of this threat. What I don’t understand is why you insist on sending only yourselves and a small squadron of my space fighters!”

“You were present when I explained this to the high council. This needs to be a focused, surgical strike into the heart of D’ken’s domain. The Phoenix Force can take us to wherever the M’krann Crystal is housed without going through any planetary defenses. Even if she could transport an entire fleet with her, you run the risk of destabilizing the vast machine D’ken has constructed. The result could mean the complete destruction of your home world.”

“You’re not in a position to say we cannot take that risk,” retorted Deathbird.

“You’re right. I’m not. That’s why the high council made the decision.”

“That doesn’t make it correct. This is our war! Not yours!”

“Your war now goes beyond the Shi’ar, Deathbird. It threatens every mind in the cosmos, including those on Earth. Regardless of your sentiment towards humans, this is our battle as much as yours. We have the tools to end it. We don’t require needless sacrifice to make it work.”

“Then how is putting our Empress in harm’s way not needless?” argued Deathbird.

“She is part of a high risk, high reward gamble,” retorted Xavier, “You heard about what happened in the first raid. If we proceed wisely, we won’t just stop D’ken. We’ll end his tyrannical reign. Your high council believed that to be a worthy risk. You’re doing all sides a disservice by hindering our efforts.”

Charles Xavier’s firm tone silenced Deathbird in a way few were used to seeing. Some of her subordinates even stopped and watched. It was a volatile moment between two determined minds. In the end Deathbird knew she was already outvoted. No matter how much she despised this plan, she was obligated to support it.

“Did the Professor just threaten her?” wondered Shadowcat.

“Nyet, it was what we call in Russia an uneven deal,” said Colossus.

“Whatever it is, it sure shut that crazy Deathbird bitch up,” said Wolverine.

“Not that I agree with Deathbird, but I already miss the Professor’s gentler tone,” commented Cyclops.

However harsh Xavier’s response was, it silenced Deathbird. She wasn’t going to like it, but she was still going to play her part. This plan had the hopes of the entire Shi’ar Empire riding on it. Regardless of her misgivings, it benefited everybody if it succeeded.

“Be sure the Empress is safe,” said Deathbird through one last scold, “If you care for her, you’ll ensure the continuance of her bloodline.”

“I’ll be okay, Deathbird. I promise,” said Lilandra before Charles could offer his assurance.

“I’ll make sure she keeps that promise,” he told her, “Now go ahead and give the order to your troops. We will depart in seven minutes.”

Deathbird merely sneered to affirm his command. Xavier didn’t expect to change her attitude towards humans so he left her to her duties. With everything nearly in place, he joined up with his X-men.

It was a powerful moment in the history of the X-men. For once, Charles Xavier would join as a combatant not limited by his handicap. He would fight alongside his X-men as a strength and not a liability. After disappointing them so much with his pain killer addiction, it was a fitting way to make it up to them.

“The new uniform looks good on you, Chuck,” commented Logan, “You ready to kick the kind of ass you can’t kick in a wheelchair?”

“I’m more than ready, my X-men,” said Xavier confidently, “You all know the plan. You understand what’s at stake and what we must do. This time, I’ll be by your side every step of the way.”

“I wouldn’t have it any other way, old friend,” said Beast with a grin.

“Nor would I,” said Lilandra as she placed her hand on Charles’s shoulder, “The Starjammer is prepared. So is the Phoenix Force. There’s nothing else left besides a bumpy ride back to Chandilar.”

“Then I say we’re ready,” he said, affectionately taking her hand in his, “Now let’s end this war!”

Lilandra smiled. It gave her some much needed strength. Her people were depending on her. The love of Charles Xavier had become her greatest hope. Despite the lingering issues between them, they stood by one another at this critical hour. The X-men were with them, ready to fight by their side. Heeding the Professor’s determined words, the X-men entered the Starjammer. The rest of the Shi’ar maintenance crew cleared the platform, signaling to the operators that they were ready to launch.

As the team entered through the cargo bay, Cyclops lingered back. He was usually always at the front. This time, Xavier had that honor. He also stayed back because it was impossible to ignore Corsair’s presence. There was still significant tension between them. The earlier revelation about their family ties was still sinking in.

“Go ahead with the others, Jean,” said Cyclops, who stayed by his girlfriend most of the time, “You should get ready for your big moment.”

“I may be in Phoenix overdrive, but I can still tell when something’s wrong with my boyfriend,” said Jean, “You’re not going to make a scene, are you?”

“No more than you would if you just found out your father was a space pirate,” retorted the X-leader, “I’ll be there soon. Just give me a moment.”

Phoenix cast her lover a worried look. She learned about what happened with Corsair shortly after she awoke. Cyclops hadn’t shared it with anyone else besides Professor Xavier. She remembered how upset he was when he heard from Gabriel that his father might still be alive. Finding out like this was difficult to say the least. She gave him some space to talk to him while she followed the others into the passenger bay.

“We’re going to have to talk at some point,” said Cyclops to his estranged father.

“I know,” he said flatly.

“We have a lot to go over,” the X-leader added, “I can’t promise you it’ll lead to a nice father/son moment.”

“I wouldn’t expect it to.”

“Good, then we understand each other. That means we can go back to awkward silence for the rest of the mission.”

With a stoic poise, Cyclops turned away from his father and followed the team. Corsair stayed behind to close the cargo bay. But before they settled into this foolhardy mission, he offered his son one last message.

“Scott…” he said, stopping the X-leader just as he was in the doorway.

“If this isn’t about the mission, you should probably save it for later,” said Cyclops, not even turning around.

“I’m sorry,” said Corsair solemnly, “I just needed to say that before we go any further.”

Cyclops fell silent. He did not allow his father to see the twinge of sorrow that came over him. A simple apology couldn’t begin to cover the cosmic gap between them. It was still a good place to start. Even without facing his father, he acknowledged his words. There would be plenty of time to share more after this was over.

Now that the Starjammer was sealed, they were ready for take-off. Cyclops joined Lilandra and the X-men in the passenger area. Corsair made his way to the flight deck where he prepared for another rocky flight. Outside, the launch area was cleared of all Shi’ar personnel. The XB-7 Squadron was ready as well. One-by-one, the pilots of the space fighters got into their ships. As the final preparations were complete, the engines of each spaceship ignited.

“All personnel retreat behind secure barriers. The launch will commence in thirty micro-cycles,” said an announcement that was broadcasted throughout the hanger.

Dozens of Shi’ar officers, workers, and personnel ran behind their designated barriers. Deathbird was with them along with hundreds of other onlookers from throughout the moon base. They all came to see the Empress and the humans off. They all sensed that this was the biggest moment in the history of the rebellion.

“The final checklist is complete,” said the flight commander from behind the barrier, “Squadron XB-7 has checked in and so has the Starjammer.”

“Then go ahead and commence the launch. Do it quickly before my revulsion gets the best of me,” said Deathbird begrudgingly.

“May our prayers grant you strength, Empress.”

“Our wings are with you and your human friends.”

Hundreds of Shi’ar watched with anxious hope as the platforms were raised and the ships rose up. Ahead of them, the launch tunnel opened. Once the final order was given, the engines of each ship erupted with a powerful wave of thrust. Within seconds, they soared through the launch tunnel and into the vast cosmos outside.

The Starjammer led the pack. As soon as they cleared the base, Squadron XB-7 assembled around the Starjammer in a bubble-like formation. They accelerated to high speeds, reaching the midway point between the moon and planet. In the distance they saw the outlines of D’ken’s cruisers. The battle was still raging, adding all the more incentive to complete this mission.

Once they were in position, Squadron XB-7 received a signal from the Starjammer. They slowed their acceleration, settling to a constant speed facing away from Chandilar-13. Inside the Starjammer, the Phoenix Force flared with powerful white flames. Professor Xavier, Lilandra, and the X-men were all strapped into their passenger seats.

“Are you ready, Corsair? Do you have confirmation from the squadron?” asked Xavier.

“They’re ready and foaming at the mouth,” said Corsair from the cockpit, “Is there any chance this Phoenix thing will make the trip a bit less rocky?”

“Relatively speaking, the second attempt is usually an improvement.”

Usually?” questioned Corsair.

“I can manage!” said Jean strongly as she prepared herself, “Professor, you’ll still have to filter out the crystal’s whining so the Phoenix can get it right.”

“I’ll be with you every step of the way, Jean,” assured Xavier, “Now that my mind is healed, we can be much more focused in our attack.”

Closing his eyes, Professor Xavier used his telepathy to coordinate with the cosmic entity. The cry from the M’krann Crystal was getting worse. It meant D’ken was too close to succeeding. In order to stop him, they had to transport themselves into the center of this chaos.

‘It’s time, Phoenix.’

‘I can already feel the crystal’s anguish. I must confront it…as is my destiny. Hold on while I guide us through the cosmos.’

Jean’s eyes flashed bright white as more white flames erupted from her form. Professor Xavier’s eyes flashed as well, his telepathy acting as a stabilizing force to keep the Phoenix Force focused. The white flames expanded in every direction, consuming the Starjammer in a brilliant cosmic halo. The flames kept on expanding, soon engulfing Squadron XB-7 as well. Once they were surrounded by white flames, the distinct figure of the Phoenix took control. With a cosmic screech that echoed through the cosmos, it disappeared into the depths of space, carrying with it the hopes of an entire universe.

Chandilar Imperial Palace – Royal Prison

The breadth of D’ken’s tyranny reached trillions of unfortunate souls throughout the Shi’ar Empire. The suffering he imposed was agonizing by the standards of any alien race. Yet for those deemed to be egregious threats to his rule, he reserved a special level of suffering.

The Starjammers had long been a thorn in D’ken’s side. They started off as pirates, creating only minor frustrations when they raided imperial supply ships. Then they became an instrumental part of the rebellion. They finally sealed their fate as D’ken’s most wanted traitors when they helped the last Neramani escape his clutches. As such, they found themselves in the heart of the emperor’s royal prison. This was where enemies of the throne prepared for the worst torture in the galaxy.

Raza, Hepzibah, and Ch’od were the current centerpiece of this horrific dungeon. They took part in a bold mission to infiltrate D’ken’s palace. Nearly everyone involved was either killed or captured. Only Corsair and Lilandra escaped. They had no way of knowing if they made it back to the rebels. It was a matter of blind faith to assume they were still in once piece. They willingly sacrificed themselves so they could get away. Now they were strung up on the walls with special energy bands, awaiting their grim fate.

“I still can’t believe it. We’re about to suffer undue torture for Corsair of all beings,” groaned a frustrated Raza, “That human is intolerable to be around half the time. I can’t understand how it was worth staying behind for him.”

“He would do the same for us, Raza. You know he would,” said Hepzibah weakly.

“Even so, that doesn’t make our predicament any less frustrating,” said Raza.

“Perhaps what they say about humans is true,” said Ch’od, his voice raspier than usual, “They are a cursed people who damn any who cross their path.”

“Empress Lilandra is half-human. We’ve all seen her strength first hand,” retorted Hepzibah, “Human or not, we must believe that Corsair got her out of here.”

“But to what end?” questioned Raza, “They left before we could obtain what we came for. I doubt they’ll come back for it. Not after what we discovered in D’ken’s archives.”

“We can’t think like that. The rebellion will find a way. They must,” said Hepzibah desperately, “Too many souls are tired of D’ken’s tyranny!”

Hepzibah’s spirited words were answered with a sudden burst of painful shocks. They surged through the special restraints around her wrists and ankles.

“AHHHHHHHHHHH!” she exclaimed.

“Damn it, Hepzibah! You did it again!” grunted Ch’od, who had to look away.

Her cries echoed through a chamber that was full of distraught souls, some of them unfortunate survivors of the raid that led them here. From the other end of the chamber, two large armored guards entered. They were the Imperial Judges. These were special imperial acolytes who were physically enhanced by a special steroid. They were twice the size of a normal Shi’ar and wore special armor that allowed them to torment prisoners as if they were wounded pets. Their presence made every prisoner tremble with dread.

“I cannot describe the satisfaction I feel when you Starjammers suffer,” sneered one of the judges, “You’ve caused many problems for our emperor. It’s unfortunate this war will be over before he can punish you to the extent that you deserve.”

“That lazy son of a Shi’lari whore couldn’t make time for us? I’m insulted!” said Raza.

“Just for that, you all will get a dose of the emperor’s justice!”

Both Imperial Judges held up their staffs and pressed a button. This caused the restraints on every prisoner including the Starjammers to fill them with more painful shocks. All throughout the chamber, cries of agony echoed through every wall. It wasn’t just rebel fighters either. Wounded workers and sick peasants were suffering as well. The presence of all this suffering did little to disturb the hulking figures.

“Savor this agony! For it is merely a prelude!” warned one of the judges, “The Imperial Magistrates have constructed a special Agony Chamber just for you Starjammers!”

“It’s always been our lord’s favorite form of torture,” said the other judge, “Picture your worst nightmares coupled with the most extreme pain. Then magnify it a million fold. Then imagine suffering this fate for what feels like fifty lifetimes. That will give you an idea of how much it hurts to defy the emperor.”

“And just to send a message, every prisoner will watch. They will hear every cry of anguish! Every groan of sorrow! You will be the final example made by our lord before his finest hour!”

“Assuming…he succeeds,” groaned Hepzibah through the pain.

“Ha! You believe our lord can be stopped? These chambers have already deluded you. You are more than ready for your agony to begin!”

The two judges approached the bound Starjammers. The surges from the restraints finally ceased on all the prisoners. They were left writing on the dingy floor, looking up as the imposing figures prepared to punish these poor souls. The agony ahead of them was incalculable. Nobody was looking forward to witnessing it.

The first Imperial Judge went for Hepzibah first. Just as he was about to grab her, a massive tremor rocked the palace. They were followed by a series of loud explosions echoing from many directions. It was enough to cause cracks in the dingy chamber, offering unexpected hope for the prisoners.

“What trickery is this?” wondered one of the Imperial Judges.

“Guess I’m not as deluded as you thought,” grinned Hepzibah.

“You don’t think…” began Ch’od.

“Could it be anyone else?” said Raza, never so glad to be proven wrong.

More tremors followed along with more explosions. As the two Imperial Judges made sense of this development, an announcement blared over the palace speaker system.

“Attention all Imperial Acolytes. The Palace is under attack. I repeat, the Imperial Palace is under attack. Initiate protocol ZX-66. By order of Emperor D’ken, you are to man your posts and maintain them at the cost of your own lives.”

“An attack this deep? Are the rebels really that bold?” asked one of the prisoners who had been part of the initial Starjammer raid.

“It may be a desperate stand,” lamented an older prisoner who was mere skin and bone, “It could be a sign that the end is near.”

“There would be no attack if there was not potential for victory,” said a rebel spy with a large scar on her face.

“Quiet you insolent pests! There will be no victory for anyone besides our lord!” spat one of the Imperial Judges.

“You will still suffer your fate! You can expect plenty of company once we subdue these rebel fools!” said the other.

Through the intensifying tremors, the Imperial Judges ran out of the chamber. Alarms started sounding and lights began to flicker. The attack was not just a mere raid this time. It was a targeted assault. The rebels had a new plan. It offered a fragile hope to prisoners with fragile spirits. While they endured the shaking, only Hepzibah smiled.

“D’ken’s time is running out. I can feel it,” she said strongly.

“You really believe they can end this in a single attack?” said Raza skeptically.

“We’re about to find out. Knowing Corsair, he’s doing something recklessly heroic to annoy D’ken’s forces.”

Starjammer – Above Chandilar

“We’re here, D’ken! I hope you’re as pissed as I am!” yelled a determined Corsair.

“For heaven’s sake, at least try and keep it steady!” shouted Lilandra from the passenger area, “Let’s not do my brother any favors!”

“Sorry Empress, but not this time. If this is D’ken’s endgame, I’m not about to play it safe.”

“Oye, as if my dream of being an astronaut wasn’t tainted enough,” groaned Iceman.

The Starjammer arrived in hostile surroundings just like before. Having been transported to the Shi’ar home world by the Phoenix Force, they caught the Imperial Forces completely by surprise. The massive presence of the Phoenix Force was enough to strike fear even in D’ken’s most hardened forces. Their planetary defenses weren’t even online when Squadron XB-7 began their attack on the palace.

Once they arrived, it didn’t take long for the Imperial Defense Force to strike back. The system was already on high alert. When they arrived over Chandilar, they passed by a series of patrol crafts. Corsair wasted no time taking them out with the ship’s lasers. A number of them broke off and started evasive attacks. Corsair quickly maneuvered the Starjammer around to get a better angle. This caused plenty of discomfort within the ship. It also scrambled the interceptors so that Squadron XB-7 could start taking them out.

“May the strength of the Shi’ar guide our wings!”

This was the primary battle cry that echoed through the Starjammer’s communication systems. Professor Xavier and Beast monitored the attack from a holographic computer located in front of their seats. It showed their position in relation to the rest of the imperial forces. The level of danger was painfully apparent. They were surrounded by a vast armada that guarded both the planet and the moon.

“The attack has begun,” said Xavier, “We’ve achieved the element of surprise.”

“This D’ken guy sounds pretty nasty, but even he can’t account for us having a cosmic bird on our side,” commented Iceman.

“It is a limited, yet vital advantage,” said Beast as he zoomed in on the image of the palace, “The imperial defense forces have picked up on the attack. They’re diverting their attention to the palace as we speak.”

“That means we’ve gained the necessary distraction as well,” said Xavier, “Now we can go after D’ken and the crystal.”

“You mean he’s not on the planet?” said Storm.

“No. Only the dimensional reactors and the primary antenna are on Chandilar,” said Xavier, “D’ken and the M’krann Crystal are on the moon, Chandilar-2.”

“Are you sure of this, Professor?” asked Colossus.

“He’s sure, Colossus. So am I,” said Phoenix, still radiating with white flames.

“I can feel the crystal. It’s entering a critical stage.”

“That means we’re ready to proceed with the next step,” said the Professor as he turned towards the flight deck, “Corsair, pull away from the attack and steady the ship!”

“Damn…just when I was settling in!” said the grizzled pilot.

Corsair gripped the controls and turned the Starjammer around, leaving Squadron XB-7 to take care of the remaining interceptors. They kept attacking the palace, allowing them to slip away from the battle for a moment. Once they were free of enemy fire, the ship leveled off and allowed the X-men to get out of their seats.

As the team got ready for the next phase of this bold mission, Xavier turned his attention to Lilandra. Beast stayed close as well. This was where faith factored into the plan. They each had to believe that they were going to make it through this.

“This is where we part ways, Lilandra,” said Xavier, “Now you’re certain the palace contains this family heirloom you told me about?”

“It was one of the main objectives of our first raid. I know it’s there. Freeing the Starjammers along with D’ken’s many prisoners will help,” assured Lilandra, “Now quit talking as if I’m the one with the harder job.”

“We all have our roles to play. If I could have it another way, we would defeat D’ken together,” he told her.

“It doesn’t matter who brings my brother down. So long as we end this war, I’ll settle for a secondary role. Just be sure you give D’ken my solemn regards.”

“I’ll be sure he gets the message,” Xavier promised, “To aid you in your mission, Beast will stay behind. He is familiar with Shi’ar technology and will utilize the Warlock components we obtained from Genosha. That should make your infiltration into the palace much easier.”

“I’ve put together some creative configurations with help from your fellow scientists. I think they’ll give D’ken’s forces substantial headaches,” said Beast, who had a special handheld computer with Warlock engravings.

“Breaking into the palace isn’t what concerns me. Even after our first attempt failed so miserably,” said Lilandra distantly, “As much as I want this conflict to end, I also want you and your students to come out of it in once piece. Promise me you’ll still be fighting when we rendezvous later on.”

“I promise,” he said with a loving gesture to reinforce his point, “I’ve let my limitations hurt those I love one too many times. I will make this right…for both of us.”

“Then there’s nothing less for me to say other than…be careful.”

Lilandra sealed her faith in him with a kiss. It was a special moment mired in many complications. Yet in the Shi’ar tradition of strength through love, it was fitting.

Once they parted, Xavier joined up with his X-men. Cyclops, Iceman, Storm, Wolverine, Rogue, Gambit, Shadowcat, Colossus, and Psylocke gathered around Phoenix. Her eyes were glowing again, the white flames expanding with growing intensity. Xavier made sure her mind was still protected from the cries of the M’krann Crystal. Now that he could walk, he would do more than simply guard minds on this mission.

“Glad to see it ain’t just your legs that are working again, Chuck,” commented Wolverine with a wry grin.

“We’re about to face an alien tyrant and you’re still making dirty jokes?” said Psylocke.

“I’d be more concerned if he wasn’t,” said Shadowcat.

“Womanizing aside, are you ready, Professor?” asked Storm.

“More than I’ve ever been before, Storm,” he answered as he retrieved a handheld blaster from under his seat, “While I normally oppose the use of firearms, I’ll make an exception for this mission.”

“The Professor packing heat…never thought I’d live to see the day,” chuckled Iceman.

“Just be careful with that thing, Charles,” said Beast from the cockpit, “Your mind is still your greatest weapon.”

“We’ll need more than our greatest,” he said, “Just be sure you reach us before D’ken pulls the proverbial switch.”

“And if he has?” questioned Corsair, “Is there a Plan B?”

“If there is, it won’t be up to me,” said Xavier as he turned towards Phoenix.

By now her white flames had engulfed the team. The X-men shut aside any lingering anxiety and prepared for battle. The time had come to confront D’ken. Once the white fires fully consumed them, the Phoenix Force was set to guide them into the very heard of this cosmic chaos.

“It’s time, Jean. Take us to D’ken!” said Xavier as he gripped his weapon firmly.

“Hold on, X-men! The crystal awaits us.”

The white flames let out a brilliant burst of light. In a flash, the Phoenix disappeared along with the X-men. Lilandra and Beast watched anxiously, knowing they were about to face the very worst of D’ken’s madness.

“We should get moving,” said Lilandra, her voice now hiding her lingering emotions.

“I concur,” said Beast, coaxing her back into her seat, “The scanners just detected some energy spikes on the two massive antennas. I believe that starts the final clock.”

“Lucky for us, I do my best flying under pressure!” said Corsair as he gripped the controls.

The Starjammer’s engines roared as it turned around and accelerated back towards the palace. The battle between Squadron XB-7 and the Imperial air defenses was still raging. In the distance they could see the massive antennas that dominated the planet’s landscape light up. The final hour was upon them. Either D’ken would fall or the war was lost.

Chandilar Moon – Crystal Chamber

“Yes! It’s happening! The shards have been fully fused!” said a determined Jason Wynegarde, who still had his hands on the glowing relic.

“Does this mean it is ready?” asked D’ken impatiently.

“The psionic reservoir is vast and ready to be filled with power,” mused the old psychic in a tone that sounded only partially coherent, “It demands to be filled!”

“I’ll take that as a human’s comical way of saying yes.”

The wait was finally over for D’ken. The Shi’ar emperor watched as the shards of the M’krann crystal merged into one brilliant unit. The dark red glow shifted into a bright yellow. It was so bright that it was like another sun. The whole crystal was now the size of a large star-fighter. Its newfound potential was just waiting to be unlocked.

Without even warning Wynegarde, D’ken brought up the main controls for the core. They were specifically tailored only to respond to his input. It consisted of a hovering holographic sphere and a series of glowing buttons. From this panel, he saw a layout of both the antenna on Chandilar and the one here on the moon. His workers had made the final connections. With little regard for the safety of his people, D’ken activated the main power sequence. It triggered a series of tremors that rocked Chandilar and its moon to their core.

“Finally…the power will be mine!” said D’ken intently.

The emperor stepped back from the panel and watched all the conduits leading into the crystal erupt with sparks. Tremendous power started flowing into the relic. The holographic image showed the dimensional reactors on Chandilar’s surface entering their preliminary stage. Even at this level, it generated enough energy to fuel an average planet for a full stellar cycle.

This energy flowed from the massive antenna on the surface to the one on the moon, feeding directly into the conduits. As the crystal received this power, it changed color again. It shifted from yellow to bright red, pulsating with increasing intensity. The only other step at this point was to wait.

“You’ve done your part for now, Wynegarde. Now step away from the crystal,” ordered D’ken.

“So beautiful,” he said, not taking his hand off the relic, “Every mind and soul, connected by the psychic forces of the universe.”

“Have you finally gone crazy you senile human? I said step away!”

D’ken approached the dazed old man and grabbed him by the shoulder. Just as he was about to pull him away, the M’krann Crystal let out a strange flare that knocked them both back. It caught the emperor completely by surprise.

“Argh! That better not be your doing!” spat the emperor.

“It wasn’t,” he said distantly, “The crystal just sensed something.”

“Again, you speak of it as if it’s alive? You really have gone crazy!”

“I’m only as crazy as the knowledge I lack,” retorted Wynegarde, “Alive or not, the crystal knows what we’re doing to her. She’s been sending out distress calls and it appears they were finally answered!”

“What do you mean they were answered?”

D’ken got his response in the form of an alarm that blared throughout the facility. Despite this being one of the most secure areas in the galaxy, something was threatening this chamber and the emperor’s moment of triumph.

“Warning. Intrusion detected. Hostile forces have infiltrated the central docking bay.”

“No! Not now! Not at this stage!” seethed D’ken.

“It’s true, my lord. Orcale has confirmed the presence of eleven new minds. It appears to be the X-men,” said Gladiator, flying up from a lower level to confront his emperor.

“And the Phoenix Force is with them,” added Wynegarde, “The crystal…she hasn’t forgotten her greatest companion.”

“I also received confirmation from our planetary defense sentries! A rebel attack has been launched on the palace!” added Gladiator, “How shall we respond?”

“Tell the fleet to crush the attack! Take no prisoners! Kill everything that even tries to interfere!” said D’ken.

“Your order will be given. But what of the X-men?” asked Gladiator.

D’ken turned back to Wynegarde. He was still transfixed on the crystal. The presence of these X-men did not surprise him. He clearly expected this. The crystal would not give up its power easily.

“Kill them if you can. Slow them down if you cannot,” ordered D’ken, “Sacrifice every Shi’ar in the galaxy if you must! Those humans must not interfere!”

“It will be done, my lord,” assured Gladiator, “What about the palace? What if the rebels manage to destroy it? Doing so would cause great disruption to the imperial order.”

“As far as I’m concerned, the imperial order is as important as a hatchling’s excrement. If the fleet can’t stop them in time, let the palace fall. It won’t matter once the power of the crystal is mine!”

Gladiator’s stoic demeanor faltered upon hearing these harsh words. Never before had an emperor been so willing to sacrifice the imperial order. This was the very heart of the Shi’ar Empire and it was what his imperial guard vowed to protect. It stirred in him a conflict of protecting his emperor and protecting the order. Such conflict didn’t change his decision. He would obey his emperor.

“It will be done, my lord,” said Gladiator respectively.

“Then get out of my sight and prepare the guard!” yelled D’ken, “The crystal is almost ready! I will not have the salvation of the Shi’ar thwarted by humans a second time!”

While Gladiator flew off to fulfill his duty, D’ken approached the crystal anxiously. The time had come to embrace his destiny. With bated breath, he placed his hand upon the pulsing crystal. As power flowed into it, brilliant radiance of the ancient relic started flowing into him.

“Yes…I feel it!” he proclaimed, “Cry all you want for help! The power will be mine!”

Chandilar Moon – Core Loading Bay

“Intruders detected! Intruders detected! All imperial drones shifting to attack mode.”

“Well this is a hell of a welcome,” commented Rogue.

“Killer alien drones? Am I supposed to be this underwhelmed?” said Iceman.

“D’ken must be in a good mood. He’s giving us a chance to warm up,” snarled Wolverine as he drew his claws, “HRRRAAAHHHHHHHHH!”

The feral mutant’s battle cry began the battle that had every mind in the universe at stake. Cyclops, Iceman, Storm, Wolverine, Rogue, Gambit, Shadowcat, Colossus, Psylocke, and Professor Xavier appeared right in front of the imperial shuttle that D’ken arrived in. The moment they emerged from Phoenix’s white flames, they were confronted by hundreds of robot drones.

The drones had been carrying out their work duties beforehand. As soon as they sensed the X-men’s presence, the large beacon of light that dominated their faces turned from green to red. Their attack protocols took over and they relentlessly swarmed the intruders. They outnumbered the X-men fifty to one. They would have to strike hard if they wanted to get through.

Wolverine delivered the first blow, using his claws to slice off the head of the nearest drone. As other swarmed around him, the rest of the team launched their own attacks. The only one who avoided confronted the drones was Phoenix, who was still hovering within a sea of white flames.

“I sense the crystal is near. I must get to it!”

“Guess that involves blowing open those oversized doors, which I’m sure D’ken locked,” said Phoenix as she gazed out ahead.

“I will get us through any barrier.”

“Then don’t waste time talking about it and get moving!” shouted Rogue, who was already ripping into drones with her strength.

“We’ll minimize your distractions. Do what you must, Phoenix!” said Storm, who took to the air close to her.

Drawn in by the cries of the crystal, the Phoenix Force soared across the hanger over dozens of swarming drones. Some tried to jump up at her and slow her down. They ended up getting pulverized by the determined cosmic being. When she reached the far side of the hanger, she was met with a massive metal door that looked completely sealed. It was far bigger than any seal she encountered on Earth. D’ken was clearly trying to keep them out. He would not succeed.

“This thing looks heavy,” said Phoenix, “It may take a while to pry it open.”

“A while is too long. I will get it open even if it means growing my embers to new levels!”

“You sure that’s a good idea?” asked Phoenix warily, “You’re the one who’s told me countless times that growing beyond your limits creates more problems than it solves.”

“We haven’t a choice, Jean. The crystal needs me. It is a chance I must take.”

The idea of the Phoenix Force taking changes with its power didn’t sit well. Jean had seen and experienced what it led to. There was no arguing with the cosmic being at this point. It was already expanding her cosmic flames, using them to reach into the barrier and destroy the heavy seals. The force she exerted was strong, but not nearly enough. So from deep within her being, the Phoenix Force summoned more power and all the danger that went along with it.

While the Phoenix Force went to work, the X-men charged ahead to meet up with her. The army of imperial drones did not make it easy for them. They formed phalanx-like formations in an effort to slow them down. They were met with optic blasts, ice blasts, and charged cards. Along the way the glowing red light on the face of every drone was revealed to be a deadly energy blast.

“Destroy them! Destroy the humans! Their presence brings destruction to the Shi’ar!”

“Dang! Even the robots be afraid of humans,” said Gambit as he took out his bow staff.

“They’re shooting at us, Gambit. I don’t think they are afraid,” said Colossus, his metal skin able to absorb the blasts with limited damage.

“If they aren’t, they will be,” said Shadowcat while phasing through three drones, causing them to short out.

Despite the added firepower, the X-men kept pushing forward. Wolverine and Colossus led the charge, tearing through columns of drones that tried to overwhelm them with their numbers. Rogue and Storm provided air cover, drawing plenty of fire in the process. Rogue flew down and rammed through hoards of drones with ease while Storm used the moisture in the hanger to large wind attacks that kept the team from becoming surrounded. Gambit, Shadowcat, and Psylocke provided secondary support for the drones that got through Colossus and Wolverine. Cyclops, Iceman, and Professor Xavier took on any attack coming from the sides.

Drones started falling by the dozens. These robots clearly weren’t designed for combat. They were merely trying to slow them down and were proving fairly adept. For Professor Xavier, it was an entirely new experience. While he was no stranger to combat, actually participating in it was a bit of a shock. He couldn’t use his telepathy either. These were machines. Instead he relied on his handheld blaster, which proved quite effective at blowing off the heads of these faceless drones.

“Nice shooting, Professor. Way to channel your inner Han Solo,” commented Iceman, who came by on an ice slide to freeze a large block of drones.

“It’s not as awkward as I expected. It’s more productive than anything I could do in my wheelchair,” said Xavier breathlessly as he got in two more head-shots.

“Stay close anyways, sir! You’re still a better visionary than you are a fighter!” said Cyclops, using wide-arced optic blasts to stop two drones from jumping him.

“I sense you’re a little uncomfortable with me not being paralyzed. Is this going to be a problem, Cyclops?” asked Xavier over the commotion.

“No sir! Not yet anyways,” replied the X-leader somewhat flatly, “I worry about you the same way I worry about the rest of my time.”

The X-leader’s demeanor was a bit off. His aim wasn’t as sharp as he took on several incoming drones. A couple were only partially disabled and managed to get in a light blow. Iceman came by again and sealed them in a block of ice before they could squeeze in another.

Even as many drones fell, many more kept swarming the hanger. It was like they were lined up around every opening, waiting to throw themselves at the intruders. Iceman moved a bit higher on his ice slides and noticed all the smaller doorways lining the walls. Storm and Rogue noticed them as well and quickly shifted their attack plan.

“D’ken’s throwin’ all his toys at us. Ah’m thinking we should play dirty!” said Rogue.

“If by playing dirty you mean cutting off their reinforcements, I agree!” said Storm as she flew by.

“That better be what she means,” joked Iceman.

“Shut up and get ready to form some glacier-sized plugs, Iceman!” said Rogue.

Upon ripping through several more robots, Rogue flew up higher to draw more fire. This gave Storm some room to summon more of her winds. Her eyes flashed bright white as she gathered all the moisture in the air and redirected it into a punishing collection of tornados. These powerful winds pushed several waves of incoming drones back. The metal shards of their mangled bodies quickly clogged the large doorways, preventing reinforcements from entering the hanger. Iceman made sure they stayed out by forming massive blocks of ice around them.

“That ought to keep them out!” said Iceman proudly.

“For the moment,” said Storm as she redirected the tornados, “I don’t sense these are D’ken’s most fearsome defenses!”

“Probably saving the best for last,” said Rogue, “So let’s not waste too much energy on these lightweights!”

Iceman proceeded to plug up several more doorways. For the others that remained open, Rogue flew down and smashed the controls. This caused the doors to slam down and seal the reinforcement drones behind. She could still hear them shooting from behind. They were not about to halt their attack. They were going to keep coming. That meant the X-men had to make the most of this narrow window.

With reinforcements cut off, taking out the rest of the drones got a lot easier. Gambit, Psylocke, and Shadowcat cleared up the lingering drones that tried to sneak an attack from the side. Gambit charged his bow staff to add some extra punch to his attacks. Psylocke used her psionic blades to short out any drone that got too close. Shadowcat drew much of their fire, using her phasing abilities to trick them into shooting each other.

“I think Storm is right about these guys not being too fearsome,” commented Shadowcat, watching almost casually as four drones shot each other trying to hit her, “Doesn’t this usually mean the worst is yet to come?”

“Not always, luv,” said Psylocke, pulling off a nimble back-flip to land behind two drones before stabbing them, “Sometimes a bloke is just desperate and starts throwing every piece of junk he has at his problems.”

“Sounds almost like Remy’s brothers,” grinned Gambit as he avoided a couple of incoming blasts, “Or maybe there be less obvious reasons.”

“When is that ever the case?” said Shadowchat while phasing her arm through the head of two drones to short-circuit them.

“Don’t mean this can’t be the first!” the Cajun retorted, “Maybe D’ken don’t need a trap. Maybe he don’t even need his big guns. He just needs to run out the clock! He must think he can end this game with his big gun!”

“I almost prefer the trap,” muttered Shadowcat.

“You ain’t the only one, petite.”

Gambit drew the attention of seven nearby drones. They all tried charging him in a columned attack. Gambit evaded a couple of energy blasts and charged his staff up again. When the first drone got close enough, he used it to trip it up so it fell right on it’s back. Before it hit the ground, he reached out and touched its head to charge it up. A second later, it was charged and ready to blow. Gambit then used his staff to hit the hapless drone as if it were a golf ball, sending it flying towards the other drones. As soon as it hit, the drone exploded. The resulting blast took out a number of other robots that were just preparing to attack.

This move by Gambit cleared out a good area near the main door. With no reinforcements coming in, Wolverine and Colossus cleared the rest that were trying to form miniature blockades.

“Damn it, Cajun! Don’t hog ‘em all!” yelled Wolverine as he sliced through six drones, getting shot by energy blasts twice along the way.

“You want Remy to apologize for makin’ your job easier, Wolverine?” joked Gambit.

“Even if you did, I doubt that would settle him down,” said Colossus as he crushed the heads of two drones with his powerful hands.

“I don’t want to settle down and the only easy I care for involve women,” said Wolverine, “D’ken’s just fucking with us! He doesn’t expect us to get there in time!”

There may have been some truth to Wolverine’s angry words. He didn’t let up, running out ahead of Colossus and literally jumping into a crowd of drones. He took several more blasts, adding more bruises to his already battered form. This only pissed him off even more. With near berserker-level intensity, he ripped into the drones. He was now standing just below Phoenix, who was still working on the blast door.

Having heard Wolverine’s assessment, the Phoenix Force suspected there may be some truth to it. If D’ken was serious about stopping them before they reached the chamber, he would have thrown a lot more at them. He must be close. The crystal was in agony and they were falling behind. Simply pushing the limits of her power wasn’t enough. She had to tap the potential that once made her such a destructive (and unstable) entity.

“Wolverine is right. D’ken has begun feeding energy into the crystal. He knows we won’t get there in time to reverse it.”

“So why don’t we just teleport in there or something?” said Phoenix, feeling the strain of using so much power.

“If it were that easy, I would have done that from the beginning. D’ken has surrounded each level of the core with an electromagnetic seal that resonates at the same frequency as the crystal. It’s not only containing its volatile energy. It’s keeping me out! The only way we’re going in is with brute force!”

“In case you didn’t notice, we’ve been pushing as hard as we can!”

“No Jean…we haven’t.”

“Phoenix, whatever you’re about to do…”

“I’ve already done it. Prepare yourself for more power, Jean Grey!”

Phoenix let out a pained grunt as more cosmic power surged through her. The Phoenix Force was pushing itself hard. It was frustrated, being a mere ember of what it once was. In the past, she could have dissolved a barrier like this with a simple thought. Now she actually had to strain herself. Jean Grey has to share in that strain, feeling the power building up inside her. The fiery raptor surrounding her grew, so much so that the flames grazed Wolverine while he was fighting some lingering drones blow.

“Ow! Watch it, Jeannie! Now ain’t the time to go nuclear!” said Wolverine.

“Something’s wrong. The Phoenix is growing too fast!” said Cyclops, who caught up along with the Professor, “We need to stop her!”

“No Cyclops!” said the Professor, holding the X-leader back.

“But Professor, if she goes Dark Phoenix on us…”

“We have to take that chance,” he replied, not letting him finish, “We don’t have the luxury of playing it safe.”

Cyclops looked up at his lover anxiously, resisting the urge to pull away from his mentor’s grip. By now most of the drones had been dealt with and reinforcements weren’t coming since Iceman and Rogue sealed the hanger doors. They helped Gambit, Psylocke, Shadowcat, and Colossus clear out the remaining drones. It soon became difficult to ignore the Phoenix’s growing volatility as well.

“Whoa. I was hoping we wouldn’t have to have a fight like this again,” groaned Iceman.

“Ah sure hope Jean knows what she’s doing,” said Rogue.

“Jean’s not the one I’m worried about,” said Psylocke, who was sensing the growing psionic presence of the Phoenix Force.

The fires around the Phoenix kept growing. They grew to a level where the white flames turned dark red. The look in her eyes became more aggressive. As the power of the cosmic being grew, the massive blast door started to crack under the force. Seething with this newfound power, Phoenix clenched her fists and unleashed a burst of cosmic flame that momentarily lit up the room. This light was accompanied by a deafening from the metal doors. Under this cosmic strain, the seals were broken.

“I…I did it. The power…I feel it again!”

“So do I,” said Jean breathlessly, “It’s still growing!”

“Jean!” Cyclops called out, “What’s going on? Are you still in control?”

“The door has been opened! We must proceed, X-men! Follow me!”

“Remy ain’t arguing with a cosmic bird,” said Gambit.

“Me neither,” said Professor Xavier, “Come X-men! We must proceed!”

Phoenix flew ahead through the opening of warped metal. Professor Xavier led Iceman, Storm, Rogue, Gambit, Psylocke, Shadowcat, and Colossus through it as well. Cyclops and Wolverine lingered for a moment, looking up at Phoenix’s volatile new state. They had seen this instability in her before. It nearly destroyed them all. Professor Xavier was taking it too lightly for their tastes. Unfortunately, they weren’t in a position to debate this. D’ken remained the top priority. So with plenty of reason to worry, they followed the team into the depths of the base.

“I don’t like this. Not one bit!” said Cyclops.

“The fact I agree with you shows just how fucked we are,” said Wolverine as they caught up with the others.

“The Professor is assuming a lot with this plan. It’s only a matter of time before something doesn’t go as planned!”

Chandilar Imperial Palace – Royal Prison

“What’s going on out there?”

“I think I heard some splatters! Does that means the rebels are winning?”

“It could mean they’re getting slaughtered!”

“No! We can’t think like that! They’re going to rescue us! I can feel it!”

The royal prison was awash with hope and dread. Dozens of anxious prisoners listened to the ominous sounds of the battle unfolding outside. This was clearly not a hit-and-run style attack. There was purpose behind it. Someone managed to attack the palace. It could have been rebel commandos. It could have been an uprising. Whatever the source, the commotion was growing.

For the Starjammers, the uncertainty was all the more agonizing. Raza, Ch’od, and Hepzibah were convinced that Corsair was part of this. That did not guarantee that they would get out in one piece. If anything, the odds were stacked against them.

“It’s getting closer. Did Corsair bring the entire rebel army with him?” wondered Ch’od.

“Given his colorful reputation, that’s as likely as D’ken surrendering the throne,” scoffed Raza.

“Well he and Lilandra must have something capable of causing this much commotion,” said Hepzibah.

“Given the limited resources at his disposal, what could they possibly concoct?” asked Raza skeptically.

The three Starjammers listened intently as the sounds of intense fighting drew closer. The chamber door was sealed, but they could hear some explosions outside. Someone was using a lot of firepower out there. It caused the lights to flicker and the walls to shake. It wasn’t clear if this was from the intruders or the Imperial Guard. Some of the prisoners braced themselves, not certain if they were going to get caught in the crossfire.

Then there was a loud thud on the main door. It caused everyone in the chamber to tense. It sounded as though someone or something hit with a great deal of force. It caused the chamber door to dent slightly. There were also these strange mechanical sounds. They sounded like drones, but not like the ones that usually patrolled the palace. As more explosions followed, a few familiar voices rang out.



Another explosion followed. This time it was so strong that it blew the prison door wide open. In addition, the two Imperial Judges that threatened them earlier came flying through. Their once imposing armor had been damaged and blown off in some areas. They tumbled into the cell, defeated and unconscious. The beleaguered prisoners looked at them in shock. Then they looked back towards the opening and saw the source of this attack. It was not from D’ken. It didn’t look like it was from the rebels either.

It was an army of Warlock drones. This level of hardware was rare and D’ken was supposed to have a monopoly on it. These were clearly not his. The drones were built like hulking mechs, standing over seven feet tall and wielding two powerful cannons on both shoulders. The limbs and torso were thick, like that of a primate. There were a lot of them so they clearly outnumbered the Imperial guards. With the judges subdued, Warlock addressed the prisoners.

“Attention prisoners of D’ken. We are here on behalf of Empress Lilandra. Please remain calm while the mission objectives are updated.”

“I suppose that answers your questions, Raza,” said Ch’od.

“Warlocks…very fitting,” Raza conceded, “But this technology is extremely rare. How did the Empress manage to obtain it?”

“It wasn’t as hard as you think,” said a voice from behind the drones, “Some friends from out of town were happy to contribute.”

The column of Warlocks stepped aside, revealing Beast and Lilandra. They had been following behind, controlling the Warlocks from the moment they arrived. When the prisoners saw the empress they were relieved. It came as an even greater joy to the Starjammers.

“You…you’re the X-man from Earth!” said Hepzibah.

“It’s a pleasure to see you again, Starjammers,” greeted Beast, “I come bearing the Empress and some noteworthy developments in the fight against D’ken.”

“By noteworthy, he means dire,” said Lilandra a she stepped over the Imperial Judges and approached the Starjammers, “I’m sorry you guys had to get captured. You know I wouldn’t have allowed if there had been another way.”

“Don’t mention it, Empress. We’ve endured worse,” said Raza, “Where’s Corsair? What’s going on with this attack?”

“There’s no time to go over the details! I need to know if you two were able to make any progress before you were captured,” said Lilandra, “Tell me you were able to make get a lead on the royal archive!”

“I’ll do you one better. Before we were captured, I swallowed at little something I snatched from the Imperial Magisters. It’s safely stored in my second stomach. Get me down and I’ll gak it up!”

“And once again, you find a new way to disgust me, Ch’od,” groaned Raza.

Lilandra didn’t care for details. She quickly retrieved the special keys from the Imperial Judges. With the push of a few buttons, the restrains holding the Starjammers were released. With a few more commands, every prisoner in the chamber was freed. It was a powerful moment for these distraught prisoners, many of which endured the worst of D’ken’s tyranny.

“We’re…we’re free,” said a young Shi’ar, almost tearing up at the feeling.

“I almost forgot what it feels like,” said an old purple-skinned alien.

“Well now you have a chance to fight in the final battle to take down D’ken,” said Lilandra, now addressing everyone around her, “As we speak, he’s preparing to make his last stand! This palace is still steaming with Imperial Forces. I need to retrieve something from the archives that will tip the balance against the emperor. In order to stop him, I need your collective strength. Will you stand with me?”

The ravaged prisoners all stood up, despite starvation and disease. They needed little convincing to fight against the monster that threw them into this dingy chamber. With whatever strength they could muster, they would stand against D’ken.

“We are with you, Empress!”

“D’ken killed my family and destroyed my home! I will be happy to see him fall!”

“What are your orders? How can we aid you?”

Lilandra turned to Beast, who was already reconfiguring the Warlock programs on his handheld computer.

“Contact Corsair,” she said, “Let him know we’ve freed the others. You’ll meet him near the throne room with the bulk of the Warlocks.”

“I take it this means you’ll be going for the archives,” surmised Beast, “Are you sure this royal object you told me about is there? Moreover, are you sure it will make a difference?”

“Trust me, it’ll help,” assured Lilandra.

“We wouldn’t have allowed ourselves to be captured if it wasn’t worth the effort,” said Raza.

“Fair enough,” nodded Beast, “We’ll be sure to draw the bulk of the Imperial Guard. Do what you must and keep in mind that Charles is expecting to see you soon.”

“And he will,” said Lilandra.

Confident in the Empress’s promise, Beast led the Warlock drones out of the chamber. Along the way he blew through the walls, allowing prisoners to escape more quickly. Lilandra and the Starjammers lingered to rally the prisoners. They were tired and sickly, desperate for this conflict to end. They needed no inspirational words to guide them. They only needed faith that the end of this tyranny was close.

“Be honest with me, Lilandra. How bad is it?” asked Hepzibah.

“See for yourself,” said Lilandra as she led everyone out of the chamber.

As soon as they stepped out, the Starjammers and the prisoners were greeted with an ominous sight. Just outside the chamber were a series of thick windows that looked out over the Chandilar landscape. In the distance they could see the massive antenna that had been built on the backs of slave laborers. It was now glowing brightly, pulsating with yellowish energy. It was so bright that the lights in every other area flickered out. They could see countless souls running for cover, terrified of what this device would unleash.

Not only was the antenna on the planet active, the one on the moon was actually brighter. It was so bright that it nearly outshined their sun. There was a fiery flame building around it. The power seemed to radiate everywhere, as if to disrupt the very fabric of reality. Fear and despair were gripping the planet. Their only hope rested with Lilandra.

“I conclude this is quite bad,” said Raza grimly.

“I don’t need a computer in my brain to tell me that,” said Ch’od, “Let’s get to the archive! I hope your plan involves more than just stealing D’ken’s toys!”

“I do,” said Lilandra as she led the Starjammers and the prisoners through the palace, “As we speak, it’s unfolding on Chandilar-2. D’ken is about to tap the elemental forces of the universe. The only ones who can prevent our immediate annihilation are Charles Xavier and his X-men.”

Chandilar Moon – Crystal Chamber

It was almost ready. The M’krann Crystal was poised to grant D’ken his ultimate triumph. The powerful relic was still resisting him, glowing dark red with increasing volatility. Power from the antennas kept flowing, increasing that volatility with each passing moment. Soon he would have the power he needed to end this conflict for good.

“More power! Increase every input to maximum threshold!” said the emperor, still working the control panel, “Every mind in every world will succumb! It must!”

The Shi’ar Emperor was growing increasingly anxious. He was so close. He could feel the power from the crystal radiating with a limitless reservoir of psionic energy. The conduits feeding into the crystal started sparking, indicating that they were carrying more power than they were ever designed to handle. So long as they remained intact, D’ken could care less.

Still lying on the floor next to him was the stoic Jason Wynegarde. He hadn’t said anything since he helped fuse the crystal. His mind seemed lost after having encountered such extraordinary power. His expression remained dazed as he watched D’ken push relentlessly towards his goal. While he seemed lost, his mind was still working.

“They’re here,” he said.

D’ken barely heard Mastermind’s warning. However, he did hear when the large barrier to the chamber was blown open by a force that sounded like an imperial cruiser crashing into a meteor. Even the Imperial Guard was shocked by this development. They all fell back as they watched some familiar figures enter the heart of this vast complex.

“Way to ring the bell, Jean!” said Rogue as she and the other X-men followed her inside.

“I’m almost disappointed. I expected Mr. Big Bad Emperor to have more elaborate defenses,” said Psylocke.

“I am not complaining,” said Colossus as he cracked his knuckles, “What is the next part of the plan, Professor?”

“This is where we’ll have to improvise, X-men,” said Professor Xavier, standing besides Phoenix as they entered the core.

“Works for me!” snarled Wolverine, drawing his claws once more.

D’ken looked down from the control panel to see the intruders that had caused so much commotion. It was annoyingly fitting that his greatest plan was threatened most by a team of humans.

“Arrogant pests!” he grunted, “Imperial Guard, restrain the humans! The crystal is almost ready!”

“It shall be done, my lord,” said Gladiator, “The X-men have dishonored my guard once before. They will not do so again.”

“Aww, he remembers us,” teased Shadowcat.

“I remember as well. I think parts of me are still sore,” said Iceman.

“Haven’t you humans tormented the Shi’ar enough?” exclaimed Oracle, “This is our lord’s moment of triumph! He will not be denied!”

“I don’t care how or why the Shi’ar hate humans. I care what your emperor will do to us all if he does triumph!” said Cyclops, “You should too!”

“Our only cares are that of our emperor,” said Gladiator, “Imperial Guard, let us reclaim our honor!”

Their blind loyalty overshadowed any reservations they may have had about their emperor’s plans. Gladiator, Starbolt, Smasher, Hussar, Flashfire, Neutron, and Oracle charged towards the X-men in full force. Cyclops, Iceman, Storm, Wolverine, Rogue, Shadowcat, Gambit, Psylocke, and Colossus launched their own attack. While they stood ready to clash with the Imperial Guard, Phoenix rose up with Professor Xavier via telekinesis and went straight for D’ken.

“We need to get to the crystal, Jean! The X-men will cover us!” said Professor Xavier as he looked up at the crystal.

“How much time to we really have, Professor?” asked Phoenix.

“Not nearly as much as we need.”

As Phoenix and the Professor soared over the battle, Gladiator took notice. He broke off from the rest of the guard and flew up in an effort to intercept them.

“Stay away from the Emperor!” he yelled.

Before he could even get halfway to his target, he was hit hard by an optic blast from below. Cyclops had his visor on its highest setting so it was enough to send Gladiator tumbling. The X-leader ran after him, keeping up the blast to make sure he wouldn’t attempt another attack.

“You want to reclaim your honor, Gladiator? Fight fair!” yelled Cyclops.

“Human, if you knew the atrocities the Shi’ar endured at the hands of humans, you would know that no fight between us is fair!” the alien powerhouse retorted.

Cyclops didn’t care for an alien history lesson. He kept up a constant optic blast, which kept Gladiator pinned up against the second-tier platform. Phoenix and Professor Xavier were well on their way to D’ken. It was up to the X-men to make sure they had a chance to take him down.

While Cyclops focused on Gladiator, the rest of the Imperial Guard relentlessly pounced on the X-men. Psylocke took on Oracle in a battle of telepathy. Starbolt went after Iceman, using the exotic flames around his body to attack. Neutron went right for Colossus and Shadowcat, who had frustrated him in their previous encounter. Gambit went for Hussar, who had a new energy whip she acquired for just such a threat. Wolverine went after Smasher, wasting no time in attacking the alien’s durable form with his claws. Flashfire took to the air using his supercharged body. He confronted Rogue and Storm, who each ascended as well to prevent him from going after the Professor. Under the pulsing light of the M’krann Crystal, the ensuing clash rocked the chamber.

“Are you fellas really that loyal? Or does D’ken not allow you to think?” questioned Rogue as she flew in to attack Flashfire.

“The loyalty of the Imperial Guard is absolute. You humans will never understand it!” replied Flashfire, his body now glowing with greenish energy.

“Then you’ll never understand the madness you’re part of!” said Storm.

While Flashfire was charging his body, Rogue flew in and leveled him with a powerful right cross. Even with her strength, she only knocked the glowing alien back a few feet. She struck him again, sparks flying out from his body with each blow. Flashfire didn’t seem to feel much pain from it. Before Rogue got in a third strike, he unleashed powerful greenish burst from his chest. Rogue managed to get her arms up and guard her face, but it still sent her crashing into what was left of the chamber door.

“Ungh! That stung in an extremely weird way!” groaned Rogue.

“They’ve had time to train since our last encounter,” reasoned Storm, already building up some high winds, “I’ve done my share of training too!”

Keeping her distance from Flashfire, Storm formed two ball-shaped clouds in front of her. Then using the powerful sparks from the lingering conduits, she supercharged the clouds and launched them at the hovering alien. This knocked Flashfire back further than Rogue’s attack. It even knocked away some of the greenish energy that he had been charging himself with. He still had plenty left with which to respond.

“Even the power of nature cannot oppose the will of the emperor!” yelled Flashfire.

As sparks erupted around him, Flashfire unleashed a barrage of smaller blasts. Storm flew up higher to avoid them. Some struck, delivering the same uncomfortable sting that Rogue experienced. It kept her from forming more wind attacks, allowing Flashfire to drive her back towards the others.

The battle below her offered plenty of other painful stings. Starbolt followed Flashfire’s strategy, using his exotic fire attacks against Iceman. He unleashed columns of flame, driving the young mutant back towards where Rogue hit the door. Iceman swerved around on an ice slide, forming a thick ice shield around his arm to protect himself. He quickly discovered the flames from Starbolt were not normal.

“Whoa! Is that fire or bad aromatherapy?” he grunted, feeling his ice shield literally dissolve.

“My flames cannot be quenched!” proclaimed Starbolt, “Even ice can be burned!”

“I’d like to see you try,” scoffed Iceman.

Starbolt grunted angrily and shot out a series of fireballs from his eyes. These fireballs were like smart bombs, seeking out Iceman even as he swerved around on his ice slide. They ended up taking the ice out right from under his feet, causing it to be burned away. He ended up tumbling towards the ground below, landing right on his shoulder.

“Ugh…I take back what I just said,” he groaned.

Iceman scrambled to get away from the incoming Starbolt. As he tried to form another ice slide, Neutron came flying by. He had just been hit by a powerful uppercut from Colossus. In his determined effort to make the Russian pay for his previous defeat, he failed to counter Colossus’s Spetznaz skills. Even with his durable form the same laws of physics applied when he was hit hard enough.

“You crass excuse for a primate! You fight with no honor!” yelled Neutron.

“If no honor means using your own moves against you, then consider me dishonored,” said Colossus as he loomed menacingly over the figure.

Neutron shook off the ringing in his head and got up to confront the Russian once more. He made it only half way because he didn’t notice that Colossus knocked him right towards Shadowcat, who coordinated with him from the beginning. She grabbed him by the shoulders and used her powers to phase him right into the metal floor.

“If you call that honor, then I hate to hear what you aliens call dirty tricks!” she said with a grin.

“Ungh! You puny weaklings!” yelled Neutron.

“Weaklings? I’m not the one who just got out-smarted by a couple of humans. I thought everybody here hated humans!” Shadowcat taunted.

Her harsh words seemed to strike a chord with the powerful mutant. Burning with rage from such dishonor, Neutron managed to actually bend the metal he was stuck in. He ripped it up as if it were made of paper, so much so that he caused cracks in the platform from nearby. Shadowcat nearly fell into one of these cracks, stumbling back in shock.

“Oh hell!” she groaned.

“I’ve got you, Katya!” said Colossus, running over and grabbing his girlfriend’s hand before she fell into the cracks.

“You humans! You know nothing of the dark stain your kind has left on this universe!” seethed Neutron, metal still hanging from his body as he rose up, “You will pay for the sins of your past! The emperor will see to it!”

Neutron went on the offensive again, forcing Shadowcat and Colossus to re-think their strategy. They were driven back towards Hussar and Gambit, who were locked in a bitter stalemate. Hussar was using her special energy whip to deflect incoming charged cards from the Cajun. She showed off some impressive reflexes, her whip glowing with energy each time a card nearby exploded.

“You be pretty good with that whip, cherè. Probably the third best Remy’s ever seen!” said Gambit as he unleashed a ten-card barrage at her.

“Third? Whoever the other two are, I bet they cannot do this!” quipped Hussar.

Gambit reached for a fresh deck of cards in his trench coat. This time Hussar beat him to the punch. With inhuman precision, she directed the tip of her whip right into the inside of his coat. It struck directly on the pocket, tearing it and causing the cards to spill out. Gambit instinctively reached for another. Hussar did the same, knocking the deck right out of his pocket before he could even touch them. It was impressive and disturbing.

“Dang! Looks like there be a new number one,” said the Cajun, now opting to use his bow staff.

“You humans have such laughable standards. I’ve not yet begun to torment you!” said Hussar.

Gambit had to change his tactics, abandoning card tricks and utilizing a more direct attack. He charged his bow staff so that when Hussar tried to pull it away from him, the energy between them clashed. It caused small energy bolts to shoot out, which disoriented them both. They never lost their focus. They continued their attack, tempting each other into making the first mistake.

Gambit and Hussar weren’t the only stalemate. Not far from where they were fighting, Smasher had his hands full with Wolverine. The alien figure was nearly twice the size of the feral mutant and many times stronger. However, he had a hard time getting his hands on him. Wolverine kept maneuvering around, getting in a few good swipes that actually scratched Smasher’s invulnerable skin. When he tried to body slam the nimble mutant, Wolverine managed to climb onto his back. From here he jammed his claws right into Smasher’s thick neck.

“Argh! Get off of me you annoying runt!” seethed Smasher.

“Bub, only one asshole calls me runt! And he’s a lot uglier so don’t insult yourself!” grunted Wolverine as he stabbed right into a thick vein on Smasher’s shoulder.

“Ungh! If you think you can wound me into defeat, you’re mistaken! The emperor will complete his task before I even feel woozy!”

“Mistake nothing! We’re working on that too! Ain’t we, Bets?” said Wolverine.

While the feral mutant stayed atop Smasher’s shoulders, he didn’t let his rage consume him as much as he did with the drones. He had to stay focused while Phoenix and the Professor were working on stopping D’ken. The only insight he had into this battle was Psylocke, who was in the middle of a psychic battle with Oracle. As the only other telepath, she knew where they stood with D’ken. It was difficult to share that information when Oracle was being so aggressive.

“Hnn…can’t give you an update now, luv,” grunted Psylocke, “This alien sod has been practicing.”

“I can sense the growing psionic energy as well. I also remember that your fighting skills are not useful if your mind is occupied,” said Oracle.

“Really? It took you that long to figure it out?” she scoffed.

“It’s working, is it not?” she grinned, “In moments, the emperor will succeed. Then no mind will be able to escape his justice!”

Psylocke tried to move in closer so she could use her ninjitsu skills to take Oracle down. She wasn’t about to let that happen. She focused her telepathy with extra intensity, attacking in a way that paralyzed her enemy from so much as taking a step forward. Psylocke tried to push her out, but the attack was aggressive. If she was right about D’ken then it was wasting precious time as well.

Wolverine was discouraged by Oracle’s assessment. He had his hands full with Smasher so he couldn’t do anything to change it. Cyclops heard it as well. He still had Gladiator pinned with his optic blasts, but if the Imperial Guard thought they were winning then that meant the X-men had to change their tactics.

“Thanks for the warning, Oracle,” said the X-leader as he halted his attack on Gladiator, “In that case, I’ll go lend an extra hand!”

“You’ll do no such thing!” yelled Gladiator, now free and flying directly towards Cyclops, “By the strength of the Shi’ar, the Imperial Guard will crush you!”

Gladiator closed in on Cyclops fast. Before he could reach him, the alien powerhouse was blindsided again. This time it came from Rogue. Having recovered from Flashfire’s strike from earlier, she heard Orcale as well and picked up on Cyclops’s idea.

“Hold that though, sugah!” she said as she rammed him from the side, “Give mah ex-boyfriend a chance. Ah know from experience he can keep up in rough situations!”

“Thanks Rogue. Just keep him busy!” said Cyclops, who was already running towards the nearest elevator platforms, “I need to make sure the Professor’s plan is still on track.”

The X-leader left behind the chaotic scene with the Imperial Guard. Gladiator tried to go after him, but Rogue kept a strong grip on him and shoved him back towards his comrades. The Imperial Guard and the X-men were wearing each other down. They both knew that time was of the essence. As Cyclops tried to catch up with the activity in the core, a new round of energy erupted from the crystal.

While the battle below had been unfolding, Phoenix and Professor Xavier reached the central platform. They arrived in time to see D’ken entering the final commands on his control panel. His anxiety turned to exhilaration as the M’krann Crystal pulsed more erratically, emitting more dark red light.

“D’ken! You must cease this immediately!” yelled Professor Xavier as he landed right behind the Shi’ar emperor.

“You know not the forces you deal with. You’re spitting in the face of the cosmos!”

“Do not waste your breath, humans,” scoffed D’ken, “Do you think you get this far so easily if your cause wasn’t already lost?”

“You haven’t ripped apart everyone’s mind yet! So I’ll just say you’re crazy!” said Phoenix as she surged towards him with the full force of her cosmic fires.

“I don’t have to reach every mind yet. They M’krann Crystal has many other uses.”

With a sinister grin, D’ken raised his hand and gestured at the glowing crystal. Suddenly, the Phoenix Force found herself struck with an unseen force. A series of mysterious waves started radiating from the M’krann Crystal. When these pinkish waves washed over the cosmic being, her flames were abruptly paralyzed. She froze in mid air, stuck as if she was encased in ice. her once powerful flames were reduced to minor flickers, leaving both the Phoenix Force and Jean Grey incapable of striking D’ken.

“No! My flames!”

“Can’t…move! The crystal…not letting me!” groaned Phoenix.

“Jean! What did you do to her?” demanded Xavier.

“Consider it a demonstration,” said D’ken as he stepped away from the panel, “Before you even entered this chamber, I gained control of a sizable chunk of power from the crystal. As you can see, I’ve tuned this power directly to my mind.”

“That…that’s not possible,” said Xavier, who tried to use his telepathy to reach out to the crystal again.

“I sense what you’re doing. It will not work,” said D’ken, “Unlike my half-sister, I was not born with telepathy. My strength is as limited as any other Shi’ar. That is why the crystal is key to every Shi’ar emperor. From the day we take the throne, we absorb some of its power. With the addition of the shard Jason Wynegarde provided, I can absorb so much more. Despite his insufferable personality, he has offered new insight into this most holy of relics. Now with the added energy from the dimensional reactors, the potential of the crystal is magnified immeasurably!”

D’ken made another gesture. This time it manifested around the blaster Xavier had in his right hand. To his astonishment, it was yanked out of his hand and crushed into a ball smaller than the head of a pin. While Xavier may have been the most powerful psychic on Earth, but even his talents paled in comparison to what he just saw.

“I could do that to you with but a thought. The Shi’ar would be much better off with fewer humans to worry about,” warned D’ken, “However, I spare your life for a reason. I sense you are a man of great vision. In a sense, we are not that different.”

“You are attempting to plunder every mind in the universe. We’re nothing alike!” shouted Charles angrily.

“Take a moment to look beyond what I’m doing and try to understand why I’m doing it,” said D’ken, his tone burning with maddened intent, “I watched my family slaughter one another. I witnessed the destruction of countless planets, before and during my reign. I’ve studied the countless conflicts that have plagued the Shi’ar as well as the conflicts that plague every advanced race. The problem is always the same. The conflict never ends. One war begets another. Every peace is just a prelude. No matter what I do in my reign, it will be utterly meaningless in the end.”

“That doesn’t justify the horrors you’ve inflicted on your people!” argued Xavier.

“What you call horrors I call necessity. I realized this after I discovered my half-sister was still alive.  I thought my strength alone could secure a strong, stable empire that would be more prosperous than all those that preceded it. I lost my entire family to make sure my rule was absolute. In the end, it still meant nothing! That is why I seek the power of the M’krann Crystal. It can end not just this conflict, but all conflict.”

D’ken pressed one last button on the control panel, causing the console to lower into the platform. He turned to face Charles Xavier, the M’krann Crystal bursting with a new wave of energy. Xavier had to cover his eyes with his arm. The intense psionic forces were difficult to block out. As more energy poured into the crystal, the near limitless potential started taking a new form.

“Imagine it for a moment with your feable human mind. Every intelligent mind in this universe linked through the power of the crystal…countless chaotic thoughts becoming ordered all at once. In that moment, we can be a single mind. With the power of the crystal I can make it so the mere thought of war causes great pain. I can completely nullify the thoughts of who attempt to cause conflict. Every war, genocide, and slaughter could be averted. Is that kind of peace not worth the sacrifices I’ve made?”

“You make it sound like the instinct for war can be turned off,” Xavier pointed out, “But rewiring something so fundamental, you’ll damage every mind beyond repair.”

“Better a universe of damaged minds than one teaming with chaos,” retorted D’ken.

“I understand your aversion to war. I too have sensed and experience a great deal of suffering,” said Xavier in a more reasonable tone, “But what you’re proposing is not a solution. You’re talking about ravaging the minds of countless beings! You’ll end what it means to be sentient! What gives you the right to inflict such madness?”

“It isn’t madness. It is necessity!” yelled D’ken, “You think my mind is not fit to end such horrors?”

“I think no mind is fit. You are the emperor of a vast civilization, yet you are as vulnerable as any other being. If you try to tap these cosmic powers, they’ll won’t just destroy you. They’ll utterly corrupt you.”

D’ken glared menacingly at Professor Xavier, the light from the M’krann Crystal illuminating his jaded madness. He looked less like a tyrant thirsty for more power and more like a beleaguered king for whom the burden had become too much. It was difficult to have sympathy for someone who inflicted so much suffering on so many. Yet there was a reason to his madness. He truly believed that this was necessary.

D’ken remained silent. These forces that stood in his way didn’t understand. They could never hope to understand. The only way they would truly appreciate his vision was to experience it themselves.

“You’re wrong! I’ll prove it to you!” yelled D’ken, “The power of the M’krann Crystal is mine! This is my destiny!”

“No! I won’t let you!” yelled Xavier.

In one last desperate move, Charles Xavier ran full speed with his newly healed legs towards D’ken. The emperor clenched his fists and summoned the full force of the M’krann Crystal. The powerful relic unleashed a blinding light that completely filled the chamber. In this powerful gesture, Emperor D’ken was immersed in immense cosmic power. With this power, every mind in the universe was now at his mercy.

Up next: Outer Limits Part 5

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