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Volume 6 -- Issue 142 -- Paranoid Paradigm

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Paranoid Paradigm
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As humanity evolves, the stage is set for great conflict. Professor Charles Xavier trained his X-men to be at the front line of that conflict. Recently, they had to go even further to prevent the whole universe from untold destruction at the hands of the Shi’ar tyrant, D’ken. They succeeded and after a heartfelt goodbye with Lilandra, the Shi’ar’s new Empress, the X-men returned to Earth in hopes of confronting the conflicts they left behind.

Not long ago, human/mutant relations neared a tipping point. Under the leadership of Toad, the Mutant Liberation Front terrorized the world with their damaging yet strategic attacks. While X-men stopped them, there were casualties.

Chief among those casualties was Polaris, the half-sister of Quicksilver and the Scarlet Witch. Such loss has created new tensions on Genosha and a fragile state with global authorities. And according to the X-men’s allies, the Mutant Liberation Front has returned. Now, the X-men must prepare themselves for a new battle.

This time, however, the circumstances are different. During their adventure with the Shi’ar, Charles Xavier was healed from a lifetime of ailments. He now has full use of his legs again. He’s free of his pain killer addiction and stronger than ever. It remains unclear how this will affect the way the X-men operate. For this new threat, Charles Xavier is poised to have a new role in the human/mutant conflict.

Xavier Institute – Early Morning

It was a crisp, sunny morning over the Westchester landscape, making it the perfect weather for a jog. Not long ago, Charles Xavier thought his jogging days were long over. Now that he was back on his feet, both literally and figuratively, he could enjoy the soothing feeling of cold air brushing by him. After decades of poor health and paralysis, he had plenty of motivation to maintain his new stature. He was going to need it to confront the new challenges his X-men face.

‘It’s such a beautiful morning. A great morning for me to enjoy my legs again. I wish I could be more thrilled. My X-men and I lost six weeks here on Earth. In that time new dangers have emerged alongside old dangers. I hope my newfound strength is enough.’

Xavier ran harder through the final stretch. He emerged from a path in the woods on the western side of the institute. Panting and sweating, he ran by the pool and up the steps to the back entrance. He stopped at the top to catch his breath. While wiping the sweat off his bald head, he reflected on what he recently learned about current events.

‘We’re in a difficult situation. Warren, Mystique, Kurt, and James Proudstar were left to cover for us while we were gone. They had to watch while Stryfe took control of the Mutant Liberation Front and Alex Summers gained more influence on Genosha. In a way, we’re still responsible for this. It was our activity on Genosha that led to their current predicament. Now we have to clean it up before the situation completely devolves.’

The Professor had many tough decisions ahead of him. Feeling energized, he re-entered the institute and made his way to the kitchen. He found a somewhat surprised Ororo, Remy, and Rogue. They were in the middle of cooking breakfast. They were still in their sleeping attire so they obviously hadn’t gone through any morning exercises. It was still a bit of a novelty, seeing Charles Xavier physically active like this.

“Good morning, Charles,” greeted Ororo, “Did you wake up early to go jogging?”

“It’s such a nice morning. I figured I should enjoy it,” said Xavier as he retrieved a bottle of water from the refrigerator, “I used to jog every morning while I was in college. It was the best way for me to prepare my mind for the coming day.”

“It makes all the sense in the world. But Ah still can’t get over it, you being up and about like this, Professor,” said Rogue.

“Yes, I understand it’s still a novelty,” said Xavier as he stretched his arms a bit, “I spent all those years stuck in my wheelchair, feeling my body fail me. I can’t believe it myself at times.”

“It’ll sink in sooner than you think. Especially when there be so much going on,” commented Gambit, who was just finishing up a helping of eggs, “Speaking of which, you still gotta call that MacTaggart woman. She be climbing the walls since she heard you came back. She didn’t even believe Remy when I said you could walk again.”

“Let’s face it, sugah. A smooth-talking former thief ain’t very credible,” teased Rogue.

“I suppose I’ll have to convince her at some point,” sighed Xavier, “I do owe her a great many apologies. I forced my way out of Muir Island before my detox was complete. I imagine she’s not pleased with me.”

“She was worried about you, Charles. We all were,” said Ororo, “As far as I’m concerned, you should just let her yell at you for a while so you can get it over with.”

“I have every intention of incurring her wrath,” he said, “I also have to collaborate with her in explaining my recovery. As you all know, my condition is public knowledge. It’s going to raise a number of red flags when people see me walking again.”

“Somehow Ah don’t think folks are gonna jump to the conclusion that aliens fixed your legs,” said Rogue.

“There will still be plenty of room for speculation. With Moira’s help, I’ve enlisted some of Lilandra’s contacts from Chandilar Enterprise. We’re concocting a cover story that says I underwent a radical and dangerous procedure that helped fix my legs.”

“Sounds believable to Remy,” shrugged the Cajun, “You think that’ll fly with folks like President Kelly and General Grimshaw?”

“I’m afraid I’ll have to offer an entirely different kind of explanation to them,” said the Professor with a light groan.

There were a lot of logistical challenges before the X-men. Many of them had nothing to do with the Mutant Liberation Front or Genosha. They had to resolve the smaller issues before they could move on to the big ones.

“I’ve been organizing a new plan of action since Warren and James told me about the events of the past six weeks. We were lucky that Warren worked with Emma Frost to create a cover story for the X-men’s absence. As far as the rest of the world is concerned, we were on a special operation in the Savage Land.”

“For six weeks? That’s a pretty flimsy story, Professor,” said Ororo.

“You’re right. It would be if Mystique hadn’t been around to impersonate me and Cyclops. She didn’t cover every detail, but she covered most of them,” said Xavier, “Seeing as how the Savage Land is so inaccessible, no one could possibly corroborate or contest the story.”

“Yeah, it all makes so much sense,” said Rogue dryly, “Ah still can’t believe mah mama actually helped. Ah’m having just as hard a time believing that Kurt teamed up with her.”

“How is that a bad thing, cherè?” questioned Remy, “At least with your brother around, she be less inclined to fall back into old habits. It also gives him something better to do than worry about his girl.”

“Ah’m still not convinced it’s a good idea. Ah wanna have faith in Mystique again. From what she told meh, she’s been busy and that ain’t usually a good thing.”

Rogue’s mood soured as she continued dwelling on her family. It had been a point of contention since she heard about it. The idea of her mother doing this spy work again with Kurt just didn’t sit well.

Remy tried to console her as best he could. Upon finishing his eggs, he sat down and placed an extra large plate in front of her. She didn’t touch it at first, even though Remy made it just the way she liked. Personal issues were just one of the many burdens looming over the team.

“Mystique’s trustworthiness is never quite clear,” the Professor conceded, “That said, Kurt did support her so I’m inclined to give her a chance. Logan also seems to have had a significant impact on her.”

“He does that to women. Believe me, I know,” sighed Ororo with a half-grin.

“More importantly, both she and James have stumbled upon the same anomaly,” said Xavier as he continued to muse, “They traced this activity back to White Cell, the company that Thunderbird used to work for. For some reason, this organization helped reconstitute the Mutant Liberation Front. They’re much smaller than they were under Toad, but they are still disturbingly equipped. According to General Grimshaw, they launched nearly a half-dozen attacks in the time we’ve been gone. Their timing is certainly impeccable, given the ongoing tensions on Genosha.”

“It’s another two-for-one deal,” said Remy, “And this might be our fault from what Remy’s heard.”

“Yes, that’s what James told me as well,” said Ororo, “When we left with the Starjammer, we took with us one of Genosha’s Warlock device. This meant they couldn’t produce all the technology they needed to re-establish the treaty. On top of that, Wanda was injured. Now Havok seems to be calling the shots and he’s basically ignoring the treaty that’s been keeping the peace.”

“Some folks just gotta make a bad situation worse,” muttered Rogue, “Alex probably thought we screwed him over.”

“He’s Cyclops’s little brother. He don’t always assume the best,” said Remy.

Now everyone shared Rogue’s sour mood. Having the Mutant Liberation Front back in the picture was bad enough. An unstable Genosha made everything worse. This time they didn’t just have Wanda to contend with. Alex Summers was nowhere near as reasonable as Wanda, especially after losing Lorna. It was a volatile situation on many levels. It was also personal.

“It’s dangerous on multiple fronts, Charles,” said Ororo, “I hope you come up with a plan.”

“I’m still working on that, Ororo. I’ve been getting acclimated to my roles again. I hope my new health will provide some added benefit,” he said.

“You know we’re all here to support you. However, I think you should also keep Scott involved,” said Ororo, “I get the feeling he enjoyed his role as Operations Commander.”

“Maybe he enjoyed it a little too much,” muttered Rogue.

“Yes, I sensed it as well. He’s been tense lately and for good reason,” said Xavier with a sigh, “His brother has always been a sore subject. Jean’s recent issues with her powers certainly doesn’t help.”

“That’s for dang sure. Remy don’t even want to think about what be going down with Jean,” said the Cajun, “She went a hell of a downgrade after the Phoenix went cold.”

“She’ll recover. I hope Scott recovers too. I’ll need them to for what lies ahead,” said Xavier as he gazed out the window, “The X-men’s absence has allowed so much trouble to arise. It’s remarkable how so much can go wrong in a mere six weeks.”

Genosha – Six Weeks Ago

The damage had been done. The loss was immense. No one died and there was only one injury to speak of. However, that injury was on Wanda Maximoff. Since she was the leader of this vulnerable mutant nation, her health often reflected that of Genosha.

The prognosis for both was uncertain. She suffered a serious blow to the head. She could’ve have suffered a lot worse. When she found out about this, she would wish she had.

Alex Summers held the injured leader in his arms as he surveyed the damage to their main Warlock factory. The central area was in complete ruin. All the assemblers were gone. The main Warlock interface was gone. It disappeared along with that mysterious ship. Cyclops was nowhere to be found either. He and the X-men apparently left them behind. For all he knew, his brother used them. The entire nation of Genosha was just a pawn in everyone else’s game.

“Hnn…my head,” groaned a pained Wanda Maximoff.

“Try not to think too much, Wanda. You took a pretty nasty blow,” said Alex as he looked around.

“Ugh…Alex? What just happened?” she asked.

“You don’t remember, do you?” he surmised, not taking his eyes off the damage.

“It…it’s a little fuzzy. I led Cyclops to the factory. He said something about helping him.”

“He lied,” said Alex firmly, “He used us, Wanda. He and the X-men screwed us over! They came in, took our biggest Warlock assembler, and just disappeared! Without this gizmo, we can’t even produce half the hardware we did before!”

The outrage in his voice was enough to amplify any major head injury. Wanda kept groaning, even as Alex helped her stand up again. She could barely maintain her balance. It indicated that the injury she suffered was not something she could walk off. She was still coherent enough to take in the damage.

While Alex stood fuming in the midst of this rubble, a silvery blur into the decimated structure. It was Pietro. He looked every bit as worried as anyone else who saw what happened from a distance.

“There you are, Wanda! What the hell happened here? Are you alright?” he exclaimed.

“Hnn…not so loud, Pietro. My head…hurts so much,” she groaned.

She fell out of Alex’s grip. The speedster ran up to catch her. When he held her in her arms, he saw a bloody bruise on her head. Now it was his turn to share the outrage. He just lost one sibling. Now another was very hurt.

“Wanda! Damn it, don’t do this to me! Not after Lorna!” he said anxiously.

“It isn’t her fault, Pietro. It isn’t even yours for once,” said Alex grimly.

“Will you just skip the part where you’re a massive prick and tell me what did this to her? I got word from Quire that something crashed through the roof of the factory and disappeared. There was even some jet outside that just flew off on its own!”

“I don’t know all the details. They probably don’t even matter. All I know is we’re in deep shit. If we’re going to fight back, we need to make some major moves.”

Pietro didn’t agree with Alex on much. However, he didn’t deny that Alex had cared deeply for Lorna. He fought hard for her and for the Brotherhood. He earned the respect of everyone that followed him. He was here to save Wanda. And if she was going to be out of it, someone had to step up and take charge during this crisis. Since no one listened to him, that someone had to be Alex Summers.

Academy of Tomorrow – Five Weeks Ago

“Are you sure your brain didn’t contract a computer virus, Tess? Because what you’re telling me is more outrageous than what Moira MacTaggart told me…no, I’d rather not come to District X just to read your mind. I’ve got enough going on…don’t worry. Moira and I are already coordinating on some emergency protocols. Charles always had them handy in case he or the X-men were MIA…no kidding. He owes us big time when this is over. I’ll keep in touch. Thanks again for the update, Tessa.”

A very upset and very frustrated Emma Frost closed her secure line with Tessa. This was one among the worst of the worst-case scenarios. She planned for it. She braced for it. She even expected it to happen at some point, but implications filled her with the utmost dread. Charles Xavier and the X-men had disappeared from the face of the Earth.

It confirmed what many had suspected over the past several days. It began when Rahne Sinclair from Muir Island called her in a panic. She said Xavier escaped from his isolation chamber before his detox was complete. Then he used Moira to hijack a jet and fly it to Genosha just in time to disappear under mysterious circumstances. Something quite extreme was going on and the X-men left them with quite a mess.

Sitting behind her desk, Emma fumed with frustration. In front of her, Dr. Nemesis and Sunfire stood anxiously while the news unfolded. Laura was present as well, who had a major interest in this as well because it involved Wolverine. Every update they received so far hadn’t been good and it promised to keep getting worse.

“I take it from your sunny disposition that your friend in District X gave only a limited explanation,” said Dr. Nemesis.

“Not as limited as your arrogant tone would have you believe,” quipped Emma, “Tessa confirmed what Moira reported earlier this week. Charles and the X-men are gone.”

“By gone, do you mean really gone? Or just gone?” said Laura anxiously.

“Don’t assume the worst, Laura. They’re X-men. If they were that gone then believe me, we’d know about it,” said Emma strongly.

“So what happened?” asked Sunfire, “Why would the X-men just disappear without warning?”

“They probably had a good reason. They damn well better,” said Emma, “Never mind the fact that Charles is a recovering addict. The man actually stole a jet to meet up with the X-men on Genosha.”

“He’s lucky that jet had a built-in autopilot to fly itself back. Otherwise it could have gotten even messier,” said Dr. Nemesis, “I’m actually more curious as to why the X-men were on Genosha in the first place.”

“They were there in full force so we can assume there was a threat that required their complete attention,” Emma surmised, “I’d rather not waste time speculating on what that threat entails. Now that they’re missing, we have certain protocols to engage.”

“Does is involve sending X-Factor to investigate? If so, I can get the team ready in less than ten minutes!” said Laura.

“I appreciate the initiative, but these aren’t those kinds of protocols,” said Emma as she got up from her desk and made her way to a safe in the corner, “As a former X-man, I understand that situations like these will inevitably arise. Every so often, some new mission comes along or something goes horribly wrong that requires the X-men be gone for extended periods of time. I’ve been part of them before.”

“Funny, I thought you were just Xavier’s finance guru who avoided going on missions at all costs,” scoffed Dr. Nemesis.

“I also have protocols to severely lacerate your internal organs, Nemesis. Don’t make me implement them as well,” she said sternly as she opened the safe, “This happened once while the team was stuck in the Savage Land. During that time, Moira and I coordinated to make sure the world didn’t know they were missing. We contacted parents, authorities, and pretty much anyone who interacted with the Xavier Institute. We made sure no one jumped to any wild conclusions.”

“In other words, you provided a cover story,” said Sunfire.

“That doesn’t sound terribly difficult,” shrugged Nemesis.

“Keep in mind this was before the MSA or President Kelly. Times have changed and so has the margin for error,” said Emma as she took out two unmarked files.

The powerful psychic was clearly not comfortable with this situation. Her frustration was apparent as she tossed the files on her desk. Inside there were some stacks of paper along with some unmarked computer disks. They were all labeled MIA. They hadn’t been touched in a while and Emma wasn’t keen on using them at a time like this.

“In these folders I have documentation that will help us cover for Charles. Tessa is already working her computer magic to ensure someone is around to pick up the mail, both literally and figuratively.”

“So then what do we do?” asked Laura intently, “What can we do?”

“Well since the world is without a team of mutant heroes, X-Factor will have to pick up the slack,” said Emma, “I’m going to limit certain classes so we can help out with the MSA. We’re not the X-men, but it’ll keep the media from jumping to conclusions.”

“Will they also deal with President Kelly? I doubt the President or General Grimshaw will tolerate this much ambiguity,” asked Dr. Nemesis.

“That’s where it gets even trickier,” said Emma as she set the files on her desk, “According to Tessa, they detected the same anomaly on Genosha that the X-men were drawn to. They seem to think it’s an alien threat.”

“Alien as in foreign?” wondered Sunfire.

“Alien as in the kind Roland Emmerich makes expensive movies about,” said Emma cryptically, “And no, I don’t know the full story so don’t you dare belittle me for details.”

“You’re glaring at me, Emma. Are you singling me out?” teased Nemesis.

“Quit thinking about all the ways you intend to annoy me about this and I’ll stop,” she said firmly, “Alien agendas aside, we need to pay lip service to these overdressed man-children. With reports of Genosha throwing another hissy fit, we need to inject some civility on Charles’s behalf. Even if it requires a few white lies.”

“And what if those lies aren’t enough?” asked Sunfire.

“They’ll have to be,” said Emma strongly, “The world needs to stay intact without the X-men. It’s going to be frustrating as hell. If it helps, I promise to yell at him until his ears bleed when he returns. Moira even agreed to help.”

It wasn’t much consolation. The Academy of Tomorrow was a school first and foremost. Now they had to essentially do the X-men’s job for them while they were gone. It was a daunting prospect and one where their success may be limited.

“Damn you Charles Xavier for leaving us such a mess,” groaned Dr. Nemesis.

“I’m sure if Warpath was here and not wasting time with undercover work, he would have smashed half our furniture by now,” sighed Sunfire.

“Consider him the lucky one. He’s not the one that has to talk to the President,” said Emma, “I’ll reprimand him later, but for now I need the Academy to function in crisis mode. We should expect a swift, irrational response from the government within days.”

White House Situation Room – Four Weeks Ago

“We should nuke that cursed island off the face of the planet. It would be so much easier,” groaned an exasperated President Kelly.

“Mr. President, I certainly hope that’s not the cornerstone of your new Genosha policy,” said General Grimshaw, who by some miracle managed to remain stoic.

“Is it so wrong of me to want one less problem to deal with?”

“I share your desire for simple solutions, sir. Unfortunately, we’re not in the business of simple. Let’s try the more complicated methods before we resort to extremes,” said Abigail Brand.

The idea of completely destroying Genosha didn’t sound so extreme. Time and again, this tiny island had been the bane of Robert Kelly’s political career. Relations with the mutant nation had been bad enough. They had withdrawn all their troops. Wanda Maximoff and her mutant citizens were now less constrained. Naturally, it didn’t take long for their departure to lead to a new crisis. This one may even involving forces beyond mutants.

It had been two seeks since NORAD detected the mysterious alien anomaly. President Kelly spent one of those weeks in a bunker as a precaution. When the alien presence mysteriously disappeared, there were a lot of unanswered questions. Before they could begin to answer them, Genosha erupted with a fresh round of outrage.

The alien presence was somehow drawn to their island, as if they didn’t have enough trouble in the first place. Details were sketchy, but the damage was severe. Wanda Maximoff had been hurt. Alex Summers was in charge and taking some very aggressive positions. Having been caught in the crossfire one time too many, they were set to become more proactive.

President Kelly sank into his seat as his advisors helped him assess this situation. General Grimshaw and Abigail Brand were the most prominent. The Joint Chiefs as well as the Secretary of Defense and the Secretary of State were present as well. They were giving him all kinds of bad news. It was hard to keep up with at times.

“Mr. President, we need to formulate a measured response,” said the Secretary of State, “Genosha is operating under the assumption that the alien craft was an attack of sorts.”

“How could they possibly blame us for this?” asked one of the Joint Chiefs, “Do they think we’re in league with aliens or something?”

“It’s not as unreasonable as it sounds,” said Agent Brand, “We didn’t warn them of the incoming threat. It resulted in them losing one of their biggest Warlock facilities.”

“Which could effectively derail the recovery process we worked so hard to organize,” said the Secretary of Defense, “They’ve already ceased the export of all major Warlock components. They claim they need that technology for themselves now.”

“I’ll believe that when Congress votes against their next pay raise,” said another Joint Chief dryly.

“Forget the technology for a moment,” said President Kelly, “What did we find out about that alien ship? It wasn’t here on a sight-seeing trip. Was its sole purpose to fuck up the entire geopolitical landscape?”

“That’s doubtful, sir. These things never show up without a reason,” said Abigail Brand, who had more experience with this than anyone in the room, “From what we’ve gathered, this alien vessel was likely a rogue of sorts. We suspect it may have been damaged. That’s why it went to Genosha. SWORD concluded long ago that the Warlock technology that Magneto unlocked was alien in nature.”

“We don’t know that for sure, Agent Brand,” said the Secretary of Defense skeptically.

“It makes the most sense, which says quite a lot. This incident seems to confirm it,” said General Grimshaw, “I suspect the leadership of Genosha knows this as well, even though they’ve been coy about it.”

“If they’re aware of these aliens, why would they accuse us of plotting against them?” wondered the Secretary of State.

“Perhaps they’re afraid of losing their leverage,” surmised General Grimshaw, “They know that Warlock technology is a valuable asset. The world is becoming more dependant on it now that their technology has been plugged into the power grid. They may think we’re trying to make contact with the aliens so we can gain control this asset ourselves.”

“It would be so brilliant if it wasn’t utter hogwash,” sighed President Kelly, “Do we have any hope of convincing them that we’re not conspiring with aliens?”

“Well when you put it like that, it sounds simple,” said Agent Brand, “The problem is we’re not just dealing with Wanda Maximoff anymore. We’re dealing with Alex freakin’ Summers and he’s not nearly as reasonable.”

“For crying out loud, the kid’s a punk! How can we expect him to be reasonable?” exclaimed the Secretary of Defense.

“He’s also the younger brother of Cyclops from the X-men. He has a pedigree for this sort of thing,” General Grimshaw reminded, “He once rallied District X into a full blown riot. He knows how to lead and to provoke. We would be wise to take him seriously.”

“So then why don’t we call up the X-men and have them talk some sense into him? Don’t we still have Xavier on speed dial?” asked one of the Joint Chiefs.

“That’s where it gets a little dicey,” said Agent Brand, “I tried contacting the institute the moment that alien anomaly started heading towards Genosha. I got no answer. Then a little over a week ago, I get word from one of their former students that Xavier and his students are MIA.”

“That’s a hell of a coincidence. The X-men disappearing right after the shit hits the fan?” said the Secretary of Defense skeptically.

“I doubt it’s a coincidence. I also doubt they’re in any position to help. So I’m assuming they’ve abandoned our partnership,” said President Kelly.

The President felt both betrayed and frustrated. His patience for the X-men had been shaky long before this incident. Now it was practically shattered. He trusted Charles Xavier to be a responsible partner. Then he did irreparable harm to his credibility by getting himself hooked on pain killers.

That wasn’t just a stain on his reputation. It was a stain on the United States government. Every time they gave the X-men a chance, they found a way to slip up. This was not a situation where they could afford a wrong move.

“Mr. President, I’m compelled to remind you of all the times the X-men have come through for us,” said General Grimshaw.

“I haven’t forgotten, General,” said the President, “But I don’t have the luxury of waiting for their excuses here. The X-men are clearly caught up in something and are keeping us out of the loop. So it’s only fair that we do the same. In some ways it might be a good thing. We can show the world that we can confront mutant threats without the X-men.”

“I’m not sure if that’s optimism or cynicism, but I hope there’s a plan behind it,” said Agent Brand.

“The plan is still coming together. For now, our best bet is to show this Summers kid that he’s in over his head,” said President Kelly as he turned to his Joint Chiefs, “Get me in touch with our naval forces around Genosha. I also want a secure line to the captains of the Russian, Chinese, and British ships in the area as well. I want to tighten the hold around the island. Nothing gets in or out until this kid backs down.”

“You’re talking about a full-blown embargo,” said General Grimshaw, “Need I remind you that we tried that kind of embargo on Cuba five decades ago and we’re still waiting for it to pay off?”

“Enough with the reminders, General! I’m the President. This is my decision.”

The room fell silent. The President’s frustration had boiled over. He had been compromising and negotiating at every turn. The results were never permanent. Every resolution was more fragile than the last. He no longer had the patience to watch another compromise blow up in his face.

General Grimshaw could appreciate his sentiment. However, he had been trained to never let his frustrations cloud his judgment. Looking around the room, he saw that the President and his advisors were overwhelmed. This alien anomaly had thrown everything into chaos. The absence of the X-men only made it worse. There was nothing he could say to make the President more reasonable so he had little choice but to carry out his orders.

“I’ll get right on it, sir,” said General Grimshaw.

“I’ll organize an emergency meeting with the UN Security Council as well,” said the Secretary of State, “Should I send Genosha an invite?”

“Don’t bother. As of this moment, all diplomatic relations with Genosha will cease,” said the President, “There will be no more imports or exports from the island. We will no longer allow mutants to immigrate to the country, nor will we allow any of their residents to visit abroad.”

“Sounds like we’re getting ready to declare war,” said the Secretary of Defense.

“I’m just trying to be proactive,” he said, “I want to resolve this as quickly as possible. Between mutant threats and alien visitors, we need one less thing to worry about. Heaven forbid if some other crisis comes up to make everything worse.”

Northern New Mexico – Three Weeks Ago

In an unfair world, there were some who never experienced real justice. Some were always victims, no matter how much they tried to resist. The Morlocks once had a saying. Justice was a tragedy waiting to happen. It turned out to be a self-fulfilling prophecy because the Morlocks were wiped out. Those who tried to carry on their legacy only completed the tragedy.

Callisto and Caliban once believed they could honor their people by liberating their kind. That was their motivation for joining the Mutant Liberation Front. They believed they could impose greater justice on this wretched world. In the end they only added to their peoples’ sorrow. They lost the final battle. The injustice continued and now they were in the back of an armored car on their way to a special prison.

“How much longer in our sentence, Caliban?” asked Callisto in a low tone.

“You asked me that fifteen minutes ago. Somehow I doubt that makes a difference in a 25 year to life sentence for terrorism,” said Caliban in an equally morose voice.

“I know. I just like to remind myself that time hasn’t completely frozen on us.”

“It could be worse. We could be in Negasonic Teenage Warhead’s position. She’ll be serving her sentence in far greater discomfort.”

Callisto turned to her right where Ellie Phimister was sitting. She was in a pretty nasty state. They were all bound by their hands and feet in special shackles. They also had a power inhibiting collar around their neck. Since Ellie was so dangerous, they took it a step further. They rigged the back of the armored car with a series of IV drips and electronics. They were all hooked into Ellie so that if she even thought about using her powers, she would get a painful shock. The guards for the MSA made it clear that this was not temporary. This was how Ellie would serve her entire sentence.

No one was taking any chances. As mutant terrorists, it wasn’t enough to house them in a federal prison like Leavenworth. Instead, a special containment center was set up within a decommissioned nuclear missile silo. This was where many mutant prisoners were beings housed now. Those such as Toad were sent to NORAD where he would share a cell right next to Juggernaut. The whole facility was built to contain mutants, their powers, and withstand a nuclear strike if necessary. There would be no chance of escape.

“You think somewhere out there Marrow is laughing her ass off,” wondered Callisto, “It seems she made the right decision. We offered her a chance to join us, but she chose to stay in District X.”

“I doubt she would laugh. She would probably yell at us for being foolish enough to trust a man like Toad in the first place,” said Caliban, “Now Healer on the other hand…”

“Don’t bring him into this,” she said firmly, “He would be disappointed. There’s no doubt about it.”

“Well maybe they’re right to belittle us. Look around. We messed up. We made the wrong decision.”

“We lost the final battle. That doesn’t mean we weren’t on the right side, Caliban,” argued Callisto.

“Since when is the right side convicted of terrorism?” quipped Caliban, “Face it, Callisto. There will never be perfect justice in this world. We can fight all we want. It’s never going to change.”

“That doesn’t mean we shouldn’t stop fighting,” Callisto retorted, “If we get another chance, we would be doing our people a disservice by not taking it.”

“I don’t see how that matters anymore. From what I heard about this prison, we’ve run out of chances.”

Caliban and Callisto continued holding their heads low. The armored car was less than twenty miles from the prison. It wouldn’t be long now. Even if they broke out, they were completely surrounded by endless desert. Even former sewer dwellers wouldn’t last long. They were part of a three-car convoy. The van ahead of them was full of armed MSA personnel. The one behind them had personnel from the prison. They weren’t going to allow another break-out so the former Morlocks assumed there wasn’t going to be one.

This solemn silence was abruptly shattered when the once smooth ride became unexpectedly rocky. Callisto and Caliban had to brace themselves as they helplessly bounced around the confined area.

“Whoa! That’s a hell of a pot hole!” said Caliban.

“This is no pot hole,” said Callisto strongly.

The next thing they knew, the whole van came to a complete stop. It stopped so quickly that the two former Morlocks were thrown against the restraints for Negasonic Teenage Warhead. While their heads rung and their bodies ached, they heard an outburst of commotion outside.





Gunshots rang out, followed by loud footsteps around the van. These footsteps gave way to hard thuds. Callisto and Caliban could tell those thuds were from bodies hitting the armored van. They knew these sounds all too well.

 More groans of agony rang out. They were accompanied by the sickening sound of some guards throwing up. It was all over in under five minutes. Callisto and Caliban couldn’t tell what just happened. Clearly, there had been a major fight of sorts and the guards had lost.

The two former Morlocks waited anxiously. Even though they were still bound and their powers subdued, they prepared to defend themselves. They heard more footsteps just outside the back door. Then they heard a deafening rip. Two powerful hands literally tore through the heavy doors. In one swift motion, these doors were ripped open to reveal a tall woman with dark skin and curled hair.

“Good news, guys! You’ve just been paroled,” said the woman.

“You don’t say?” said Callisto, smiling for the first time in ages, “What were you saying about us being out of chances, Caliban?”

“Hold on, Callisto. I for one would like an explanation,” said Caliban.

“Long story short, I’m Frenzy. I’m under orders to break you and Miss Negasonic girl free. The fewer questions you ask, the better off you’ll be,” said the woman.

“Allow me at least one,” retorted Caliban, “Exactly who gave you these orders?”

“Someone who knows the value of your resolve,” came a new voice.

Callisto and Caliban tensed. They each knew that voice well. So when a new figure emerged behind Frenzy, they were not surprised. Callisto was especially annoyed.

“Stryfe!” groaned Caliban.

“I take back what I said,” said Callisto, “Our luck is still shitty.”

“Oh Callisto, you wound me,” said Stryfe coyly, “I hoped you would be in a better mood. I wouldn’t have gone through the trouble to free you if I didn’t believe you were a strong asset.”

“Spare me the sweet talk, Stryfe! What do you want?” spat Callisto.

“I imagine I want what we all recently lost. Toad failed us. Our kind was on the cusp of liberation and we couldn’t grasp it. Am I wrong to assume that you don’t want a second chance? Others have been daring enough to take a chance.”

Frenzy stepped aside to reveal that Stryfe had already convinced others. Vertigo and Arclight were among them, who were likely the source of the guards getting sick. Reignfire was next to them, who was likely the source of the smoke they could smell in the hot desert air. Avalanche was emerged as well alongside Frenzy. He was likely the source of the shaking that derailed the armored van. They had all escaped imprisonment. They looked reorganized and revitalized.

“What is this? The new and improved Mutant Liberation Front?” scoffed Callisto.

“That’s actually quite accurate,” grinned Stryfe, “Toad’s method failed. His method of liberation was incomplete. So those of us who were smart enough to avoid capture made a few tweaks to those methods.”

“If you’re the one leading then I don’t see how that’s an improvement,” she added.

“Who said I was the sole leader?” he quipped, “One of the lessons I learned under Toad was the value of good contacts. Sometimes having the right friends allows you to access the right resources.”

“You want proof? Hold still and let me show you,” said Frenzy in demanding tone.

Calisto and Caliban were still suspicious. They watched as Frenzy casually reached into her pocket and pulled out a special key. With it, she unlocked the restraints around their limbs. She also used it to turn off the power dampeners. For good measure, she ripped up the rest of the shackles with her strength. It seemed like a simple act, but it left Callisto and Caliban shocked.

“What the hell did you just do?” asked Caliban as he felt his powers return to him, “The guards told me the power dampeners couldn’t be turned off. Even if we could, those shackles were wired with lethal safeguards.”

“It helps to have the key,” said Frenzy as she turned her attention to Ellie.

“I was under the impression that there were no keys. Not for us,” said Callisto, still suspicious.

“It also helps when the ones who craft these devices program their own safeguards,” said Stryfe, “Miss Joanna Cargill here works for some fairly influential people. They were kind enough to provide us shelter, resources, and a plan. I want you, Caliban, and Ellie to be part of that plan.”

“What kind of plan is it this time? Another riot mixed with terrorism?” said Callisto dryly.

“I was thinking of something a bit more ambitious,” said Stryfe ominously, “You’ve seen what happens when we try to confront our oppressors directly. You’ve also seen that there are those among our own kind that work against us. Toad’s downfall was that he tried to fight them all at once. I believe along with our new friends at White Cell that there’s a better way.”

“And you actually trust these new friends of yours?” questioned Caliban.

“Let’s just say they have a vested interest in our success,” said Frenzy while ripping out the wires that fed into Negasonic Teenage Warhead.

“As do you,” added Stryfe, “I won’t offer any more details. Not unless you’re still willing to fight for our kind. If your last defeat was too much for you, the prison is twenty miles down the road. They’ve already dispatched a response unit. You’re welcome to run from them and risk getting captured. Otherwise, we welcome your presence.”

It sounded less like an offer and more like blackmail. Their choices were pretty limited. Callisto and Caliban were known terrorists. If they ran, they would be hunted down and thrown into a deeper hole worse than the one they were going to in the first place. They would spend the rest of their days embittered by defeat and injustice.

That was no way to honor their fallen Morlock brethren. Even thought Stryfe lacked charisma and credibility, he brought them a new opportunity. The desire to fight against their oppressors was still strong. So against their better judgment, they made their decision.

“Your people skills are pathetic, Stryfe. I’m not sure if I should slap you or feel sorry for you,” said Callisto.

“I know what you’ve decided so spare me the attitude,” he said smugly, “It won’t help you save face.”

“You’re an ass,” groaned Callisto as she begrudgingly followed Caliban out of the van.

“We dealt with it before. We can do it again,” said Caliban.

Stryfe kept grinning, even as Callisto and Caliban avoided eye-contact. They didn’t like him and that was just fine. He didn’t need to be liked in order to get what he wanted. White Cell was already providing everything he needed. They would come to appreciate his methods soon enough.

Back in the armored van, Frenzy finished getting Negasonic Teenage Warhead out of her restraints. Just as with Callisto and Caliban, she used a key that nobody was supposed to have to free her. Once she undid the shackles, she carefully removed the IV going into her arm. She then carried the dazed teenage mutant out in her arms. Frenzy followed Stryfe, Callisto, and Caliban back to the others. Above them, a cloaked jet was waiting for them. It was just one of the many resources that White Cell would provide.

“Hnn…I don’t remember foreseeing this,” said Negasonic Teenage Warhead, still dazed from the drugs.

“That’s because we’ve taken precautions. We’re not going to slip up like your predecessors,” said Frenzy as she prepared to enter the jet with the others.

“Nnn…who’s we?” she asked.

“You’ll see. We’re resourceful in many different ways.”

Two Weeks Ago – Alberta, Canada

“Mother? Mother, are you zhere? Come in! Zhis place is a maze!” said Nightcrawler in the stealthiest tone he could manage.

“Quit trying to reverse our roles, Kurt. I’m the mother. I’m the one who should get needlessly worked up.”

“I do not mean to mock you. I’m still adjusting to zhe idea of vorking vith you like zhis.”

“That makes two of us. Although I’m getting used to it.”

Nightcrawler rolled his eyes. His mother was difficult to work with, even when they were on the same side. Not long ago, he never would have imagined something like this. After the incident with Amanda and the Cheyerafim, he sought her out instead of the X-men. He needed answers that the X-men simply could not provide. His mother seemed to be on the right track, but as was often the case it led to a fair amount of trouble.

On this night, that trouble took the form of a daring raid in a highly secure facility in Canada. It was a prolonged headache from the get-go. The weather certainly didn’t cooperate. For the last two hours, freezing rain had been falling throughout the area. It made most of the roads leading into this facility impassible. Thanks to Nightcrawler’s new powers, getting to these array of buildings located near an oil refinery was the easy part. Getting what they needed from inside without drawing attention to themselves was the challenge.

Nightcrawler was tasked with quietly cutting the communications antennas on the roof. This way the facility couldn’t alert its shadowy superiors that something had gone wrong. With nothing but a pair of pliers and a vague understanding of the schematics, the German mutant braved the cold while carefully cutting the necessary wires. Covering their tracks was a huge part of these ambitious endeavors his mother had organized. Even with their powers, there was only so much they could do without getting noticed.

“Excuse me, but I don’t remember maintenance calling a repair guy. Let alone one dressed like a Smurf,” came a voice from above.

Nightcrawler clumsily fumbled the pliers upon hearing that voice. He froze as he felt a menacing presence hovering over him. He recognized the voice so he knew he was in trouble.

“Uh…guten tag,” he said nervously, “You must be Miss Heather Hudson, correct?”

“You’re German. Not French. So spare me the sweet talk,” she replied, “Since you’re the intruder, you can call me Vindicator. That means I’m perfectly vindicated in beating you to a pulp for Department H.”

“Pardon my German manners, but I thought Department H vas shut down decades ago,” said Nightcrawler, hiding a coy grin.

“I don’t care where you’re from. Being a smart ass only vindicates me even more!”

Vindicator flew lower and tried to land a punishing blow to knock Nightcrawler out. He sensed it coming and teleported out of the way. He appeared fifteen feet away top an air conditioning unit. Vindicator swiftly turned around and prepared to attack again. Through the freezing rain, Nightcrawler could see a very angry woman.

“A teleporter,” she scoffed, “So that’s how you made it to this hell hole!”

“It’s not as easy as it sounds,” teased Nightcrawler, “Zhis cozy facility vasn’t on any map. You don’t vant to know vhat me and my mother vent through to find it.”

“You’re going to wish you hadn’t!” said Vindicator as she rose up into the air.

“She also warned me about you and your husband, James Hudson,” said Nightcrawler as he took a defensive stance, “She said you two are all zhat is left of Department H. Yet somehow you’re still on zhe payroll and can afford zhese fancy suits zhat give you super-powers. I vasn’t aware zhat zhe Canadian government had such generous benefits.”

“The more questions you ask the shorter your life will be!”

With determined focus, Vindicator flew towards Nightcrawler at high speeds for another attack. The nimble mutant did an acrobatic back-flip, causing Vindicator to make a major dent in the machinery. Without missing a beat, she tried striking him again. He teleported behind her and tried to drop kick her in the back. He might as well have tried to drop kick a brick wall. When he made contact with her, the suit she was wearing flashed. It created this thin shield that made her extra durable. It did no damage and allowed her to turn around and attack again.

‘You’ve done it again, mother. You’ve made another powerful enemy. I almost feel sorry for zhese two. James and Heather Hudson probably don’t like it here anymore zhan ve do. Our last contact said zhey vere once heads of Department H. It vas supposed to be a joint venture between zhe Canadian government and a number of private arms groups. For reasons ve haven’t discovered, zhe government pulled zhe plug. James and Heather Hudson vere left vith no job. So zhey had to work vith one of zhe private companies. If zhese suits are any indication, zhey joined zhe one ve’re after.’

Nightcrawler stayed on the defensive, evading Vindicator’s attacks at every turn. She tried kicking him back towards the edge. He ducked out of the way and rolled to the side. She tried punching him again, forcing him to teleport out of the way. She ended up leaving another thick dent in her wake. He didn’t try fighting back. That suit of hers was too powerful. It reminded him of Colossus’s strength. He couldn’t afford to take too many blows from her.

“Hurry mother,” muttered Nightcrawler under his breath.

Vindicator smashed both her fists against a nearby ledge, causing cracks to form on the roof. Nightcrawler teleported again, landing right behind her. Unfortunately, he landed right in an area where a large crack formed. It caused him to lose his balance and fall flat on his face. Upon seeing this, Vindicator lunged forth and grabbed him by the throat.

“Ungh!” he choked.

“Now I’ve got you!” said Vindicator.

Nightcrawler tried teleporting out of her grip. He disappeared and reappeared in several different areas around the roof, but due to Vindicator’s grip he ended up teleporting her with him. It was no use. He couldn’t break free.

“Do yourself a favor and ditch the mutant tricks,” she said strongly, “I don’t want to hurt you, but I will! The people I work for are very serious. They don’t take kindly to others snooping around.”

“Hnn…ja, ve noticed zhat!” gasped Nightcrawler.

Vindicator pinned the German mutant against a ledge near the communications dish he had been working on earlier. She tightened her grip to show that she was serious. She was going to get him to talk or they would both be in a world of trouble.

“Company policy requires that I ask you this once. Answer truthfully and you’ll be shown a certain degree of mercy,” said Vindicator, sounded as though she was reading from a script.

“Doesn’t…sound like…much,” grunted Nightcrawler, getting short of breath.

“You’ll want as much as you can get. Trust me,” she said strongly, “Now tell me why you’re here and who you’re working for. Department H may be gone, but I still have enough authority to make your life miserable!”

Nightcrawler was silent, not offering a response. He could barely breathe, let alone speak. Vindicator was prepared to move onto the next company policy, which was often a lot messier. Then without warning there was a powerful explosion from the lower floors below.

It was so powerful that it blew out every window on the first three levels, shaking the very foundation. It was enough to cause Vindicator to stumble. In the process she lost her grip on Nightcrawler. Upon sensing this opportunity, Nightcrawler kicked her back into the satellite dish. In doing so she broke the supports holding it up, severing the wires and rendering it useless.

“Argh!” groaned Vindicator, her suit shorting out as sparks from the severed wires damaged it.

“Vell zhat vas a lot easier zhan cutting vires,” grinned Nightcrawler while catching his breath, “For once, my mother overreacted at zhe perfect time.”

Nightcrawler turned back towards the ledge and looked below. He watched as fireballs erupted from the shattered windows. The original plan for this mission only involved blowing up a small part of the complex. Obviously, the plan had to be revised. He saw the reason for this literally fly out through the second story window.

“YOU CRAZY BIIITTTTCHHH!” yelled an angry figure as he flew out.

“Watch the language, Guardian! My son is still an impressionable youth!” said Mystique, who stormed out onto the roof from a secure door.

“I see you packed extra explosives, mother,” said Nightcrawler as she caught up with him, “Vas it necessary to use all of it?”

“Not really, but the man was getting on my nerves,” said the shape-shifter, “I see you were a little gentler with his wife. It’s nice to know you’ve learned some manners.”

Nightcrawler rolled his eyes as Mystique looked over at the barely conscious Vindicator. He didn’t remember being this rough with the X-men. Usually he would get scolded for something like this. Working with his mother had a different set of standards, some of which he wasn’t comfortable with. Given the shadowy foe they were up against, he had to do a lot of uncomfortable things.

“Did you find vhat you needed?” asked Nightcrawler.

“More or less,” said Mystique, holding up a few disk drives, “This place is a dump. Department H hasn’t been relevant nearly two decades. It was perfect for storing this sensitive data.”

“Does zhis mean ve know vhere zhis mystery man is hiding? Zhe one who may have helped Black Tom destroy zhe Azazel?” asked Nightcrawler.

“Based on what I saw, we can stop speculating. This man was definitely working with Black Tom. You see those suits Guardian and Vindicator are wearing?” she said, pointing back towards Vindicator, “Those are the kinds of resources he has at his disposal. We also know he’s mobilizing those resources as we speak.”

“I assume zhat is not good news. Vhat could zhey be up to zhis time?” wondered Nightcrwaler.

“I don’t know yet, but we’re going to find out and beat the living shit out of them before they see it through!” said Mystique strongly.

“Once again I’m tempted to point out how zhat sounds like something Wolverine vould say, but I’d rather not have that conversation again.”

“Me neither. So let’s skip it and teleport back to the safe house with Destiny. She’ll know what to do next,” said the shape-shifter, her tone remaining harsh and serious.

Nightcrawler was just as eager to get out of this freezing rain. However, a part of him wanted to push the issue. This might not be the time or the place, but this was one of those issues that would only get more awkward the longer they waited.

The whole ordeal with Wolverine was something Mystique continued to avoid. When he first called her, he hoped to confront some of these sensitive subjects. She was definitely a different woman after learning about her previous life with James Howlett. Nightcrawler saw it in the way she carried herself. It was a change for a better in many ways. There was still room for improvement, but progress was still pretty slow.

Progress aside, she was still his mother. He was willing to fight by her side. With his new teleportation powers, they were able to work much faster. The key to present was within Mystique’s past. She believed she knew the man who helped take down Azazel. This mysterious man may be the only one left who knew his father’s secrets. With their combined powers, Nightcrawler was confident they could catch up to him. That didn’t stop him from thinking about the future.

“Very well,” said Nightcrawler as he grasped his mother’s shoulder, “But for zhe record, I’m still willing to talk about Wolverine. Ve can’t put it off forever, mother.”

“I don’t plan to, Kurt. I’m just not ready. Neither of us is,” said Mystique in a stoic tone, “Now let’s get out of here! If what I uncovered is accurate, we may not be the only ones on this mystery man’s radar.”

Nightcrawler nodded, hiding his exasperation. He turned his attention back to the task at hand. Using his enhanced powers, he and Mystique disappeared in a puff of sulfurous smoke. The trail was heating up. They were onto something big and it had the potential to blow up at any moment.

New York City – One Week Ago

‘Damn you, John. What have you gotten me into?’

James Proudstar cursed his deceased brother for the third time this morning. He had long since lost count of the overall total. When he decided to honor his brother’s memory by taking on his unfinished work, he never imagined it would lead him to this. It put him at odds with his job at the Academy of Tomorrow. It complicated his blossoming relationship with Ororo Munroe. John had always been the more ambitious member of the family. He knew how to find trouble wherever he went.

So far, that trouble had led James through a maze of frustrating puzzles. It started with a simple safe deposit box he kept at a small bank in Denver. In that box was a series of data drives that documented his work with White Cell. It was clearly off the books. Even though this organization helped their reservation, John was very suspicious of them. He suspected this shadowy private military group was behind some shady dealings. John was onto something and never got a chance to see it through. It was up to James to finish it and that’s why he found himself in New York City.

“Come on, where are you two? I know you’re here?” he muttered to himself as he stood at a street corner wearing a trench coat.

The Native American mutant kept looking around. This was not the time of day to be tracking anybody. It was the middle of the morning on a weekday. The stock market was about to open and the streets were clogged with traffic. The sidewalks were equally congested, forcing James to rely on the accuracy of the information he spent the past few weeks gathering.

He checked his watch, which read a quarter till nine. He then looked across the street and noticed two figures standing in a crowd of people looking to cross the street. They were a pair of twins, male and female. They were wearing matching outfits consisting of jeans and a black sweatshirt. They each wore sunglasses as well while the girl wore a baseball cap. They looked as normal as anyone else, but James recognized them immediately.

“Jean-Peal and Jean-Marie Beaubueir. Right on time,” said the Native American mutant, “John’s journal was right. These guys are precise.”

James casually looked around, trying not to draw attention to himself. He bent down and casually fixed his shoelace while at the same time watching the Beaubueir twins cross the street. When they reached the other side, he rose up and started following them. He kept his distance. John mentioned that he worked with these two. They were formidable soldiers and weren’t to be taken lightly.

‘So these two were supposed to be John’s battle buddies. He always ran with an odd crowd. These two are supposed to be veterans of the whole private military game. That or they couldn’t find a better job after they found out they were mutants. John trusted them, but they were hopelessly loyal to White Cell. I doubt they would agree with John’s suspicions about this operation of theirs. Guess I’ll have to convince them. The only way I’m going to learn the truth is if I get help from the inside.”

James kept following Jean-Paul and Jean-Marie from a distance, carefully weaving his way through the early morning crowds of New York City. He never took his eye off the twins, who seemed to be heading towards Lower Manhattan. White Cell had an office there. If he was to get their trust for this little investigation, this was the best time to do it.

He followed them for a good fifteen minutes. They crossed a few more streets and then turned right at a large crosswalk. Now they were on a street lined with restaurants and shopping boutiques. This area was especially crowded because of lines stretching out along food carts. James got a little impatient trying to keep up with the twins. He was so focused on them that he barely noticed when he knocked over a box of condiments from a hot dog stand.

“Damn it! Watch we’re you’re going!” spat a balding hot-dog vendor.

James ignored the guy at first, trying to keep his focus on the Beaubueir twins. The hot dog vendor didn’t take kindly to the silent treatment and grabbed him by the arms.

“Hey! I’m talking to you, hippie boy!” said the man angrily.

“I’m not a hippie. I’m not a boy. And you’re not wasting my time so back off!” yelled James as he roughly shoved the man back into his cart.

His outburst was so impulsive that he added a little strength into his shove, causing the man to hit a little harder. It left him dazed and drew some attention from pedestrians that passed by. Some gave James an odd look. Others just held their head low and walked faster. With no time to apologize, the Native American mutant grunted and tried to catch up. By now he lost sight of the twins.

‘Stupid hot dog vendor! Now I’ve lost my targets! I can’t afford another setback! Not when I’m this close!’

James walked a bit more aggressively, shoving his way through more people as he tried to make up ground. The Beaubueir twins were nowhere in sight. It seemed as though they had disappeared into the crowd. Still determined, he fought his way up to a clearing near a cluster of news kiosks. Up here the crowds dispersed a bit because of an adjacent crosswalk. James used this area to scan his surroundings more thoroughly. His frustration mounted when he saw no trace of his targets.

“Damn it! This day has just gone straight to hell,” he groaned to himself.

He turned around and prepared to backtrack. Then suddenly he felt a gust of wind sweep through the area. It was so sharp that it caused most nearby pedestrians to shield themselves or turn away. As they did this, James found himself roughly tugged away by two high speed forces. Even with his strength, it happened too fast. The next thing he knew he was pulled into a nearby alley and shoved against the wall. Instead of finding his targets, they found him instead.

“Prepare for your day to get worse, monsieur,” said Jean-Paul in a threatening voice.

“Why are you following us?” demanded Jean-Marie, “Talk before we call some very cranky friends of ours.”

“Ow! Take it easy on the super-speed! Don’t go tattling just yet!” grunted James, who used his strength to break their grip.

Jean-Paul and Jean-Marie remained defensive, ready to strike this man if he so much as flinched. It wasn’t until they stood back and took in his appearance that they recognized him.

“You…you’re John Proudstar’s brother,” said Jean-Marie.

“Good, I don’t have to introduce myself. If John was you’re friend then you know I’m not here to screw with you,” muttered James as he brushed himself off.

“I don’t know. From what John told us about you, I’m still tempted to run you into the East River,” said Jean-Paul in a threatening tone.

“If John was even partially honest, you’d threaten me with much worse. But if you cared about John in any capacity, you’ll listen to what I have to say,” said the Native American.

“Is that a threat or is that your unique way of being friendly?” scoffed Jean-Paul.

“This is as polite I can be to two people who just slammed me up against the wall so bear with me,” retorted James, “If my brother really trusted you, then trust me when I say I need your help. Before he died, John was doing a digging into White Cell’s operations. I’ve been picking up where he left off and I think he was onto something.”

The Beaubueir twins exchanged glances. They weren’t all that surprised by James’s claim. James was prepared for a long, tedious debate. These two were long-time White Cell operatives. He expected their loyalty to be pretty stubborn. Their response was completely unexpected.

“So you think our superiors are up to something as well,” said Jean-Marie, “This is becoming a disturbing trend.”

“Wait…you mean I’m not the first one to make this outlandish claim?” said James.

“It’s not as outlandish as we originally thought,” said Jean-Paul, “We received an anonymous tip that a certain wing of our organization was engaging in some nasty activities. We were on our way to follow up a lead. If you were looking for us in such a clumsy manner, I doubt you’re that lead.”

“Watch it, pretty boy! I’m no amateur,” said James harshly, “How do you know I’m not the guy you’re looking for?”

“Because true professionals would have been smart enough to stay out of sight,” came an unexpected voice from above.

James, Jean-Paul, and Jean-Marie all looked up with a defensive stance. Standing just above them atop a fire-escape were Mystique and Kurt Wagner. It looked like they had been watching over them for a while because they almost seemed humored by their confrontation.

“Raven Darkholm,” scolded Jean-Marie, “Please tell me you weren’t the one that brought us out here!”

“Would it make you feel better if I told my son to place the call,” she shrugged.

“Does it really matter who brought this up? Ve’re here for the same reasons,” asked Kurt as he casually leapt down from his perch.

“Oh I would say it definitely matters,” said Jean-Marie apprehensively, “White Cell has an extensive file on Mystique. I remember a certain report blaming her alone for Juggernaut being unleashed back in Colorado Springs.”

“You’re still not over that?” scoffed the shape-shifter, “If that report you mentioned was halfway accurate, you know I always have a reason for doing what I do.”

“That doesn’t mean your reasons are valid,” quipped Jean-Paul, “If you’re trying to dig up dirt on White Cell, my sister and I won’t help you!”

“Who said anything about dirt? I’m just after the truth and I think White Cell has been hiding it in ways that make my transgressions look like charity work.”

Jean-Paul and Jean-Marie backed up as Mystique approached. They knew of this woman’s history. She often brought trouble with her wherever she went. If it was only her making these claims, then it would be easy to write off. However, James was saying the same thing about White Cell. Given their less-than-noble histories, it was difficult to ignore.

“So you also believe they’re up to no good?” said James as Mystique and Kurt stood besides them, “This just keeps getting better by the minute.”

“Ve believe zhese people are keeping secrets. Important secrets zhat threaten many,” Kurt clarified.

“White Cell has always been about private security work. Nothing more,” said Jean-Paul, “That is not a secret.”

“They’re extremely secretive and they employ a lot of mutants. You don’t see that as a red flag?” said James dryly.

“You’re mercenaries. Plain and simple,” added Mystique, “I’ve been a mercenary longer than either of you. Believe me when I say it’s a business prone to corruption.”

“I’m not saying our line of work is all that noble. I’m just saying it’s a world we know pretty well,” said Jean-Marie strongly, “Now I admit these are disturbing accusations. I’m not going to say they’re without merit, but if you’re asking us to question our loyalty then you’re wasting your time.”

“White Cell has done a lot for us. We would need more than multiple suspicions to go along with this,” said Jean-Paul, “If you offer us something tangible, we may be inclined to help.”

Mystique, Kurt, and James sensed some stubbornness with the Beaubueir twins. They were taking this seriously, but were reluctant to go too far with it. They would have to convince them that this was worth looking into because they weren’t going to get answers without help from someone on the inside. They had a quite a story to tell so they might as well start from the beginning.

“Fine, you want proof?” said Mystique impatiently, “Give me ten minutes and I’ll…”

Suddenly, a powerful shockwave ripped through the nearby streets. It stopped the shape-shifter before she could even begin. She along with Kurt, James, and the Beaubueir twins were jolted into an alert state. Something was unfolding nearby and it struck terror into everyone nearby.





It came in the form of a blinding purplish light. This powerful ball of wavy energy arose from the middle of Time Square. People abandoned their cars and started running. Those that didn’t were trapped as their cars were tossed around as if they were toys. The purplish light grew until it took up nearly half-a-block. When James, Kurt, Mystique, and the Beaubueir twins ran out from the alley they quickly recognized the source. It was Arclight and she was making a hell of a statement.

“I know some of you foolish humans are recording this on your phones so listen up!” she shouted, “The Mutant Liberation Front is back! Your government and your heroes have failed you! We were merciful before! Now prepare to suffer a much greater wrath!”

From deep within this purplish dome of energy, Arclight’s fists were glowing like two small stars. When she slammed them into the ground, she triggered a massive tremor that shook the whole area. Windows shattered, streets were ripped up, and people were hurt. Cries of anguish quickly filled the area. It was a terrifying way for the Mutant Liberation Front to make their presence known again. It was also a striking coincidence that was too great to ignore.

“Mien Gott!” gasped Kurt.

“Those assholes again?” exclaimed James.

“This…this is bad,” said Jean-Paul, “What does it mean?”

“You wanted something tangible. Well here it is,” said Mystique.

“You’re not saying White Cell was behind this, are you?” exclaimed Jean-Marie.

“It makes more sense than you think. Come with me and I’ll explain what we’ve discovered. We may also have to get some extra help.”

“I’m on it, mother!” said Kurt, already enacting one of their many contingency plans, “I also know just zhe man to help us vith zhis. I just hope he’s feeling up to it.”

Three Days ago – Huston, Texas

“Take it easy, Kurt. I told you I’m on it…I get it. Money only goes so far in cases like this. I’ve already made arrangements. Although for the record, I’m still not comfortable with your mother being involved…I told you, I’m up for this. Quit worrying about my health. I didn’t get a chance to take on the Mutant Liberation Front before. I don’t just want to make up for it. I need to…no problem. I’ll see you at the mansion.”

Warren Worthington III set aside his phone and continued packing his things. He finishing putting on a special shirt that his doctors just completed. It was lined with sensors and wires meant to monitor his tenuous health. It was just a precaution. His health was no longer an excuse. He was ready to be an X-man again.

While he was packing, one of his doctors came storming into his private quarters. He had been living out of this area for the past two months and a good deal of that was spent being too weak to do anything. Despite this latest round of treatments, his doctors were deeply concerned.

“Mr. Worthington, a nurse just informed me that you were checking yourself out. Please tell me that’s not true!” said the doctor.

“I respect you a great deal, Dr. Aaron. So I’ll spare you the cold truth,” said Warren, not looking away from his gear.

“As your doctor and one of Worthington Industries most senior researchers, I’m obligated to tell you how dangerous this is,” said Dr. Aaron, “I’ve already jeopardized my career by giving you this very secret and possibly illegal treatment.”

“There aren’t any laws against using techno-organic material. Not yet anyways,” said Warren flatly, “So don’t worry about going to jail.”

“This is the same material that caused the Legacy Virus! The material that’s so unpredictable that we’ve yet to grasp the side-effects!”

“I understood the risks when I put this together, Doctor. That’s why I kept everyone I cared about out of the loop. I needed a miracle. I needed something that would make me strong enough to fight again. You can’t possibly understand. I’m not just some sick patient looking to live a semi-normal life gain. I’m an X-man!”

“Just let us run a few more tests on your wings!” urged Dr. Aaron, “Let us establish a baseline before you start straining yourself.”

“The Mutant Liberation Front just attacked Time Square. The time for tests was over four days ago,” said Warren strongly, “I understand the risks and I accept them. The wings work. That’s all I need.”

The young mutant made this point clear when he turned around and revealed his wings. He had them folded up behind his back in a way more compact than he was used to. They were no longer the frail, thinning feathers that withered so severely after he got sick. They encased on metallic coating now. This coating flowed as if it were alive, guided by the plasticity of the techno-organic material. They didn’t just make his wings strong again. They made his body strong as well. He gained back the nearly fifteen pounds of muscle he lost and his skin was no longer pale. He could now call himself Angel again.

While he looked healthy, Dr. Aaron saw signs of trouble. Along the new techno-organic wings, there was some discoloration in his back. During this process, Warren’s skin shifted into a strange blue color at times. It usually faded, but it hadn’t gone away completely. It was an anomaly that had him and many other doctors worried. He needed more information. It didn’t look like he was going to get it.

“Tell the other doctors I appreciate their cooperation. Expect a nice bonus at the end of the year,” said Warren as he zipped up his bag, “This shirt you gave me will monitor my vitals. If something goes wrong, I’ll give you a call.”

“By then it may be too late,” warned Dr. Aaron, “This is unknown territory on several different levels.”

“Guess we’ll have to learn by doing,” said the winged mutant, “Now if you’ll excuse me, there’s a crisis unfolding and the world needs the X-men.”

Dr. Aaron stood in somber silence, watching as Warren made his way to the special balcony outside his room. As soon as he opened the doors, he took to the sky. He flew much faster than he did before his wings were given the techno-organic treatment. He carried himself with such strength and arrogance. He may not have been sick anymore, but that doesn’t mean he was fully healed.

Now soaring through cloudy skies, Warren Worthington III was ready to fight like an X-man again. If what Kurt told him was accurate, he needed these new wings. The Mutant Liberation Front and whatever shadowy force was helping them were sure to cause untold chaos.

Xavier Institute – Present

Professor Charles Xavier deeply valued the trust of his students. There were times they didn’t see eye-to-eye, but their trust in each other was a big part of what made the team strong. Through personal struggles and world-threatening crisis, he took comfort in his students’ resolve. It used to be that he taught them to act because he was unable to do so. Now that he had his legs back, they could act together. It was a concept that many were still adjusting to with some not doing as well as others.

After his morning jog, the Professor got dressed and prepared for a long day of work. He had time to digest the situation that Warren, Mystique, James, and Kurt described to him. Now he was ready to start taking action. Before he could move forward, there was one detail he had to clear up.

“Come on, Alex! Answer the call, damn it! Quit being a brat and ditch the fucking silent treatment!” came an angry voice from the War Room.

Professor Xavier stopped for a moment. He recognized the voice as belonging to Scott Summers. He had been among those struggling to adjust after their return from the Shi’ar.

Before this crisis, his role had been very different. He was the Operations Commander of the X-men. He was the one responsible for organizing the missions that carried the X-men into battle. It seemed like a burdensome role, but Scott came to embrace it. Now that Xavier was back, he wasn’t too keen on going back being a student.

If that weren’t difficult enough, the bulk of this crisis was being caused by his brother. Alex Summers was the one who shut out the rest of the world. He was also the one daring President Kelly to make a move against Genosha. He wasn’t listening to reason, let alone his older brother. When Xavier finally entered the War Room, he could sense Scott’s burning frustration.

“Have you been down here all night, Scott?” asked Xavier as he entered.

“Good morning to you too, sir,” he said restlessly, “Are you going to drag me out of here like Colossus and Bobby tried earlier?”

“Seeing as how they clearly failed, I’ll save myself the frustration,” said the Professor as he sat down next to his student.

“I appreciate that, but you might want to keep your distance. I’m on the verge of blowing a hole through this thing!”

“Given how expensive these machines are, I prefer to stay. Besides, I’ve been meaning to talk with you. We’re all facing a growing crisis and we need to be on the same page.”

Scott continued fuming as he gazed at the main computer screen before him. It had on it the record of countless failed calls to Genosha. For hours on end he kept trying to reaching his brother. While the X-men were in space, Alex had crossed a line. Whether it was a result of losing Lorna or not having his older brother to knock some sense into him, Alex was making a lot of reckless decisions. It wore heavily on this X-leader because it added a personal element to this crisis.

“I’m sorry, Professor. I admit it. I’m a total wreck,” said Scott, holding his head low.

“You’re not a wreck, Scott. You reunited with your father and found out your brother was causing a global crisis within a twenty-four hour span. You’re well within your right to be upset,” Xavier pointed out, trying to sound light-hearted.

“It shouldn’t be this bad. Alex and I were finally starting to not hate each other. Now he has to ruin it all by being a reckless prick!”

“He’s overreacting to something he doesn’t understand. Keep in mind he doesn’t know anything about the Shi’ar. He doesn’t know why we were gone for six weeks either,” he said, maintaining a calm demeanor.

“That’s why I’m trying to reach him! I need to explain! I need to tell him about, our father!” said Scott, pounding his fists on the controls.

“You’re getting more worked up than you should, Scott. You’re not doing yourself or your brother any favors by acting like this. I know you have many reasons to be distressed. Some of which you’re ignoring.”

Scott clenched his fists and took deep breaths. The strict discipline that once his strength faltered under so much strain. His family, his role with the X-men, and this new crisis was affecting him on too many levels. Under his mentor’s coaxing, he managed to calm down.

“It just feels like too much,” he said in a calmer tone, “Jean’s still messed up from the Phoenix Force going silent. She was so restless last night that she asked to be alone. Instead of being strong for her, I make it worse by trying to reach Alex. That’s a losing battle if ever there was one.”

“I plan on talking with Jean. I’m confident she’ll get through this. She’ll need your love and support along the way. So will the rest of the X-men,” said Xavier.

“I wish I could give more. I need to give more, but it feels like I’m…stuck.”

“Is that because these personal battles are too much?” Xavier questioned, “I refuse to believe that. You’ve taken on much greater burdens.”

“This is different, Professor,” Scott pointed out.

“You’re right. It is different. The main difference is I have my legs back. I’m taking on my old roles with greater vigor now. After taking over and thriving as Operations Commander, all this change bothers you.”

“It’s not like that, sir,” retorted the X-leader.

“Scott, you’re talking to the world’s most powerful psychic. I can sense what’s on your mind. You’re not even trying to hide it.”

Scott fell silent. The Professor’s serious tone humbled his demeanor. He ignored it without avoiding it. The Professor’s return and his new health bothered him. It wasn’t just because he enjoyed his time as Operations Commander. All these changes just didn’t feel right.

“I can’t help what I think,” said Scott solemnly, “It’s not that I have a problem with being demoted. I admit I’m a little anxious about you taking on new roles.”

“You’re worried about how I handle myself in combat,” said Xavier.

“It’s not just that either. You were always a visionary, not a fighter. When you came with us in the battle against D’ken, it was different. At times it felt a little off.”

“I agree. It was new territory for me and the X-men,” Xavier conceded, “But we still prevailed. I owe our success to your field experience. Don’t forget that you were the one that saved me from D’ken’s grasp.”

“I haven’t forgotten. I’m just not sure how this new arrangement is going to work.”

“Me neither, which is why your support is all the more vital,” said Xavier in a more encouraging tone, “Don’t think of my return as a demotion. Think of it as a new way for the X-men do carry out their duties. The world fell into disarray while we were gone. I’ve had some time to formulate some plans. None of them are possible without you, Scott. I need you to work with me and not in spite of me.”

Scott finally turned to face his mentor. Professor Xavier had always been an important, inspiring him to do great things. He had always been limited because of his legs. He always relied on his X-men to carry out his dream. Now he was strong again. He could play a role that went beyond being a mentor. Such change was difficult to digest, but the goal was the same. They still had a world to save.

“You know I’ll follow you across the galaxy, Professor. More so than I already have,” he said with a touch of humor.

“I know, Scott. And I value your trust more than my renewed health,” said Xavier with a smile, “I can’t promise you the transition will be an easy one. I can only promise that we’ll make the most of it as this crisis unfolds.”

“I don’t doubt that, but you know I’ll hold you to that promise,” said Scott, smiling back.

“I would expect nothing less,” said Xavier as he rose up.

“That being said, how do you plan on responding to my brother’s mess?” asked Scott, “We have a lot of ground to cover.

“That we do,” said the Professor as walked out of the War Room, “Follow me and I’ll show you what I’ve been working on. It’s going to require the X-men to tap all available resources. We came close to the brink before with the Mutant Liberation Front. We can’t let it happen again!”

Up next: Proactive Regression

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