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Volume 6 -- Issue 146 -- Unanswered and Unaccounted

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Unanswered and Unaccounted
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Humanity is evolving. Every day, men and women are born with extraordinary powers. They are the next stage in evolution and as such, they face fear and hatred. Professor Charles Xavier and his X-men work to oppose such fear and hatred. Together, they use their powers to save a world that is becoming increasingly consumed by chaos. Now they face a new kind of conflict and for once, their collective power may not be enough.

Every nation of the world is scrambling for answers. Genosha is no more. It started with a plot by the Mutant Liberation Front. With help from the mysterious organization, White Cell, they were able to hijack a nuclear submarine. With it, they tried to launch a nuclear attack on the naval blockade surrounding Genosha. This attack was thwarted by the X-men, despite the Brotherhood rendering them captive. Then with the Mutant Liberation Front vanquished, Alex Summers made an unexpected move.

Utilizing alien Warlock technology, the Brotherhood organized a mass exodus from Genosha. In gesture that was seen all over the world, every mutant on Genosha was transported away. They are no longer united. They have no homeland. The human/mutant conflict is now hidden, unpredictable, and dangerous in an entirely new way.

Genosha – South Shore

‘When I was a kid, the only movies I could tolerate were spy movies and stoner comedies. The stoner comedies were basic. They were easy to watch while high. But in the spy movies, there was always something bigger going on. At some point, someone would say it’s quiet…too quiet. I never understood how something could be TOO quiet. Now I do and I seriously wish I didn’t.’

Captain Jack Freeman had returned to Genosha a lot sooner than expected. This time it wasn’t part of some daring secret mission. Instead, it was a desperate attempt at finding answers. The naval blockade that once guarded a fragile peace on this island now part of a vast search operation.

Soldiers from varying nations, along with NATO troops and UN inspectors, scoured the island. Together, they combed through abandoned cities and towns. They looked for anything that may help them understand what happened. All they could find were ghost towns within a scarred landscape.

The mutant soldier was tasked with investigating the smoldering areas where the bunkers had resided. It was an unenviable task, but he was the only one capable of getting a close look. General Grimshaw sent him in hopes that he would find something they had missed, but there was still nothing. The Brotherhood, along with every mutant on Genosha, were gone.

“Captain Freeman!” an officer from NATO called out, “Did you find anything? We need to send a report and I’m getting tired of saying we have nothing.”

“Then you better curl up in your jammies and get comfortable. There’s a whole lot of nothing here,” replied the Green Beret as he trailed his fingers over the charred soil.

“How is that possible? I took high school physics. Matter doesn’t just disappear!”

“I doubt anything disappeared,” he said, “For all we know, this is exactly what the Brotherhood wanted. We’re here scratching our heads and chasing our own shadows while they hide in some dark hole laughing their asses off. We have a term for that in the army. It’s called FUBAR.”

“Fucked up beyond all recognition? Yeah, we have that too in NATO,” said the officer.

“Probably the greatest acronym mankind has ever invented,” he sighed.

Captain Freeman shook his head and gave up digging through dirt. The story here was the same all over the island. In every area where there had been a bunker, the ground was blackened with mysterious entrails. It wasn’t like the soil had been burned or heated. This was something that defied any mission that any Green Beret had trained for. With so few clues to go on, Captain Freeman grabbed his communicator and called the General.

As he made his way away from the scarred landscape, he looked out at the eerie scene before him. Various troops and inspectors combed through what was once a busy port. This was where Genosha shipped its alien technology all over the world. Now there was nothing but empty facilities quiet waters.

“What’s your status, Captain? I’m scheduled to give a report to President Kelly within the next two hours,” said the General through his communicator.

“Hope you kept the old one, sir. Not much has changed since yesterday. Hell, not much has changed in the last two weeks,” said Captain Freeman restlessly.

“It’s only been ten days, Captain.”

“Ten days. Three months. It’s hard to keep track on a place like this. Everything is just gone. The mutants left and they took everything with them. I saw no fewer than six Special Forces units comb through the Citadel. It looks like the Brotherhood cleaned everything out, right down to the batteries in the TV remote.”

“They did the same with the Warlock factories on the north shore. When Genoshan leadership high-tailed it off the island, they took their alien technology with them.”

“I’m sure that’s pissing a lot of people off. Did they also pull the plug on that fancy power plant they were running? The one that was broadcasting power to millions of people still recovering from the first attacks by Mutant Liberation Front?”

“That’s where it gets even stranger. The power did flicker for a few seconds. But according to reports from the UN, the power is still flowing.”

“Why the hell would they keep it on? They ran away. They don’t need bargaining chips anymore,” said Captain Freeman.

“They must have a reason. One we can’t figure out, but desperately need to know before we make our next move.”

Captain Freeman groaned at this utter lack of progress. The Brotherhood was frustrating enough when they knew they had their own country. At least with Genosha, the lines were clear. They knew where to find them and how to get in touch with them. Now nobody had a clue what they were up to.

This made the Brotherhood and all the mutants that once lived on this island a lot more dangerous. With many still reeling from the scars left by the Mutant Liberation Front, there was little tolerance for such uncertainty.

The Green Beret started pacing, watching as more soldiers dressed in protective suits passed by. They looked just as frustrated and eager to leave this island. He and many others shared their sentiment.

“Let’s get back to the hard facts. What’s the word on those strange radiation readings we picked up last week?”

“Well it’s got those science guys from the UN baffled. That’s all I can say about it,” he said as he held his phone a little tighter, “The static on our communications gear is getting worse. I think that means the radiation is intensifying or something. I’m the only one who can still walk around without one of those goofy hazmat suits.”

“I figure that light show they put on had some side-effects that are making Einstein turn over in his grave. We’ve already scheduled a full evacuation of the island.”

“After only two weeks?” questioned Captain Freeman.

“Ten days,” the General corrected.

“However long it is, there’s still plenty of crap to sift you. You guys want answers. I want them too. I have a feeling if we leave too soon, we’ll forget something important.”

“I share your concerns, but within a few days the radiation will render Genosha completely unlivable. You can linger a bit longer if you want, but I’ll need you back in Washington soon.”

“Why? So President Kelly can yell at me for not finding anything?” scoffed the Green Beret.

“He’s spent the last week decompressing with the wife and kid. He’s in a slightly better mood, but still prone to making bad decisions. That’s exactly why we need to be there.”

“Assuming he doesn’t shut us out again,” he said dryly.

“I think President Kelly has learned his lesson. He understands the MSA is still his best bet for dealing with mutant threats. Given this new situation, our entire mission might be changed and not for the better. With no more mutant nation, every country in the world is back to handling mutants on more decentralized level. If they’re still organized then we could have Vietnam-type scenario rather than a Soviet Union.”

“You sound like you miss the Cold War, General.”

“I admit it’s a lot easier when you can point out the threat on a map. Then again, easy bores the hell out of me. Someone will come up with a plan at some point. Whether it’s good or bad, we need to be part of it. We’re dealing with a paranoid world now. The only decisions that make a difference are the ones that are hardest to make.”

Captain Freeman groaned at the prospect as General Grimshaw ended the call. He seemed ready to move forward while everyone else’s heads were still spinning. The Green Beret might have been used to adapting thanks to his powers, but this paranoid world the General described was overwhelming even to him.

‘Hard decisions, he says. Paranoia and uncertainty, he says. In the old spy movies, this was usually the point where the bad guys were still winning. That’s what sucks about real life. It’s never that convenient. I have a feeling that when these decisions the General mentioned come down, I won’t like them in the slightest. I doubt I’ll be the only one.’

Xavier Institute - Cerebrum Chamber

Professor Charles Xavier had practically been living in Cerebrum for the past week. The X-men were exhausted and so was he. Between the conflict with the Shi’ar and the battle against the Mutant Liberation Front, few had the energy to sift through the aftermath. He canceled classes so his students had time to recover. However, he refused to rest.

Almost immediately after the exodus from Genosha, authorities from dozens of countries turned to him for answers. Unfortunately, he had little to offer. He couldn’t tell them where the Brotherhood went, where their hundreds of mutant citizens now resided, or what happened to the Warlock technology they possessed. When the news media picked up the story, it got even worse.

It was difficult to hide the fact that the population of a mutant nation had just disappeared. The prospect of hundreds of angry, exiled mutants armed with Warlock technology terrified everyone. A new wave of fear now gripped the world. He could feel that fear as he pushed his powerful mind for answers. Cerebrum offered some answers, but they were vastly overshadowed by the questioned they raised.

‘So many minds. So much confusion. Havok, you have no idea what you have unleashed. Even your own people are perplexed. Did you even hint to them that you would do something like this? You sacrificed the unity of an entire country. Now mutants are divided once more. This doesn’t just turn back all the progress we made. It nullifies the potential that we so sorely needed.’

Professor Xavier suppressed another yawn as he kept sifting through a sea of minds. At this point, he was searching for mutant population of Genosha one-by-one. It was tedious. The mass teleportation via Warlock technology created a lot of psychic static. It added strain to a mind that had already endured its fair share. No matter how powerful his mind was, there were only so many unknowns he could confront.

“You know at some point you will have to sleep, Charles. I feel as though I should be making plans to move your bed into this chamber.”

The Professor didn’t turn around. He sensed Hank’s presence before he overrode the locks on the Cerebrum chamber and let himself in. He sensed his scorn as well. Even though he was healthier now than he had been in the past, that didn’t stop his old friend from worrying.

“I suppose it was foolish of me to think that locking the chamber doors keep you out, Hank,” said Xavier flatly.

“Seeing as how I designed those locks, I’d say it’s a step beyond foolish,” said Hank as he approached the central area of the chamber.

“Then I suggest you skip the part where you try and convince me to rest. Yesterday, I explained to you, Jean, and Ororo why I cannot. I stand by that explanation,” he said firmly.

“First of all, that wasn’t yesterday. That was three days ago,” said Hank, “Second, I wasn’t going to try. I’ve long since accepted that some causes are simply beyond reproach.”

It sounded like a joke, but there was no humor in his tone. Hank’s tone was as firm and serious as Xavier’s. He reluctantly ignored his friend’s disposition and took in the work he had done. All the mutants he had tracked were now located on a holographic projection of the world. There were more now than there were when he last checked up on him, but it was hardly enough to set their minds at ease.

“With our shared restlessness in mind, care to offer an update? What can you assess from your latest psychic efforts?” asked Hank.

“Not as much as I expected and nowhere near what I hoped,” sighed Professor Xavier, “I suspect that the Brotherhood transported more than their citizens when they evacuated Genosha. As I’m sure you know, the island has been pot-marked with unusual levels of radiation.”

“I wouldn’t say that it’s unusual. Exotic may be a more fitting term,” said Hank.

“I take it you and Tessa have already looked into it.”

“Those were her words. Not mine,” he stated, “Mass teleportation is quite a feat, even with alien technology. It tends to leave an array of quantum residue that is not easy to sift through. Even Shi’ar technology has difficulty making sense of it.”

“That would explain why Cerebrum cannot make sense of it,” said Professor Xavier as he enlarged the image of the globe, “As you can see on the map, the radiation is confined to Genosha. However, the signature of that energy is scattered across the globe. Near as I can tell, they didn’t just teleport themselves. They teleported those bunkers as well.”

“Seems like a reasonable deduction,” said Hank, “How exactly is this making our job difficult?”

“You heard how the Brotherhood described them. They’re designed to ward off any attack, be it a nuclear blast or a psychic intrusion. If the Brotherhood merely teleported their people to random locations, Cerebrum would have picked them up and traced them with ease. Except only handfuls of anxious mutants have been tracked since.”

“Can you deduce anything from their state of mind?”

“They’re all coherent. However, of the mutants I’ve found they all seem quite agitated,” said Professor Xavier as he zoomed in on a number of targets, “These may be individuals who chose to leave the bunkers or were exiled. I’ve found them in locations ranging from Siberia to Australia to the Sahara to the Himalayas and even to the Amazon.”

“All fairly unforgiving locations, I might add,” said Hank.

“I noticed that as well. It implies that while scattered, the people of Genosha are still organized. The Brotherhood may or may not have full authority, but there is definitely a greater plan at work. I just can’t figure out what it is.”

The holographic image of the Earth painted a perplexing picture. The handful of mutant signatures were scattered in a way that made no sense. That made for a long list of dangerous individuals that were unaccounted for. If Charles Xavier was having trouble tracking them down, then it was reasonable to assume that every major authority on the planet was just as powerless. This put everyone in a vulnerable positions.

“I doubt the Brotherhood will make it easy for us,” said Hank, “At least we can take comfort in the knowledge that the X-men have handled this before. We handled the Brotherhood before there was a mutant nation. I believe we’re capable of doing so again.

“I wish I could share your optimism, old friend. But the more I think about it, the more I realize this is different. This is not the pre-Genosha world we remember,” said Professor Xavier distantly.

“I never said the circumstances weren’t difficult.”

“They’re more than just difficult. Genosha made the world too accustomed to seeing mutants as separate. On top of that, Genosha showed the world how dangerous mutants can be when they’re organized. Magneto scared humanity to a point where the idea of mutants living among them in secret causes genuine fear. I know this fear is strong because I sense it every time I look for a mutant.”

“It’ll take time for the shock to wear off,” said Hank, “Perhaps we can turn it into a positive. Separating mutants and humans seemed to exacerbate the conflict at times.”

“That distance also made mutants more visible. It allowed humanity to process the idea of mutants accomplishing great feats with their collective power. By taking away that visibility, there is less inclination to understand mutants as a whole.”

“Do you believe that this new gap is impossible to overcome?”

“I believe it’s a challenge for which our old ways simply will not work,” said Professor Xavier as he took off the Cerebrum helmet.

The world’s most powerful psychic needed a moment to collect his thoughts. He stood in silence before his long-time friend, leaning over the panel for support. He looked up at the image of the world. He saw how many mutants he was unable to find. It was a number too high for the comfort. The human race couldn’t just go back and live life as it did before the Genosha uprising. There was bound to be a significant reaction and the X-men weren’t in a position to combat it.

“In between these searches, I’ve been contemplating our next move,” Xavier went on, “I don’t think it’s enough for the X-men to just be heroes anymore. People will never be inclined to understand mutants if they feel their own governments cannot protect them.”

“There’s only so much security any government can offer,” argued Hank, “That’s why I plan on helping Tessa work with the authorities in District X later tonight.”

“Yet the problem remains and has grown much larger than District X. The security that the MSA and the X-men offer just isn’t enough. If we keep doing what we’ve always done, we’ll only get what we’ve always gotten.

“Well what more can we do?” asked Hank, “If simple heroics aren’t enough in this new world of uncertainty, then how can the X-men remain a force for good?”

“That’s where even my mind falls short, I’m afraid. Because honestly…I do not know,” said Xavier, his voice wrought with anxiety, “I have a few ideas, but I’m not in a position to make any decisions. This may be a case where we must redefine what it means to be an X-man.”

Xavier Institute – Scott and Jean’s Room

Scott Summers had defined his life with the X-men. It wasn’t just part of what he did. It was part of who he was. At the core of this identity, Professor Charles Xavier had always led him down the right path.

He taught him how to make the hard decisions and never lose sight of the X-men’s guiding principles. In all his time as an X-man, he never questioned his mentor’s laurels. He never gave him a reason to do so. Now in the aftermath of Genosha, Scott was consumed with an uncomfortable sense of doubt.

This feeling was so distressing that he couldn’t sleep despite being dead tired. For the past week, the whole team had been catching up on some much needed rest. Some did so better than others. It seemed like no one left their bedroom for days. It was only recently that the team was venturing out into this dangerous new world. Scott was still digesting some of these lingering details. Even days of rest and several rounds of lovemaking with Jean Grey couldn’t ease his concerns.

“Hmm…Scott? You better not be awake,” said a groggy voice.

“Would it make you feel better if I was sleepwalking?” said Scott flatly.

“You’re not walking. I thought I finally wore you out after all the make-up sex. I know it’s not as hot without the Phoenix Force, but was it really that boring?”

“Of course it wasn’t, Jean. Phoenix or no Phoenix, a night in bed with you is plenty exhilarating. It’s just not enough to turn my brain off. I don’t think I want to either. Not when seems fixated on the wrong issues.”

Jean groaned to herself and rose up from under the sheets. She looked over at the clock and saw that it was three in the morning. Scott was sitting on the side of the bed in nothing but a pair of white boxers. It looked as though his side of the bed hadn’t even been slept on. After they finished making love, he didn’t curl up to her like he usually did. It said a lot about the current state of affairs in the X-men, among other things.

She was not equipped to deal with her lover’s restlessness. Jean still had issues of her own. The Phoenix Force remained distressingly dormant. She had yet to get used to this feeling of emptiness.

It was affecting her on so many levels. Being unable to utilize the forces of the cosmos during sex was only a small part of it. Before Genosha, Scott helped her as much as any loving boyfriend could. Now he wasn’t as focused as he used to be. It was creating strain between them that she didn’t like. In an effort to coax him under the covers, she crawled up behind him and pulled him into a warm embrace.

“Please Scott…work with me here. You’re making this very hard on both of us,” she said, her chin now resting on his shoulder.

“I know. And I’m sorry,” he told her, his tone still flat.

“You can apologize by at least pretending you want to sleep with me,” she said with growing frustration, “Are you only in bed because you can’t think as well on the couch?”

“I’m in bed with you for all the right reasons, Jean. You don’t need to worry about that changing,” he told her.

“But I do worry. In case you didn’t notice, I don’t have a cosmic companion backing me up anymore. That means it’s a lot easier for my boyfriend to shut me out and I think you’re taking advantage of that.”

“You know I don’t guard my thoughts intentionally sometimes.”

“Well if this is one of those times, then you’re doing a lousy job of resisting it.”

“Maybe that’s because I need to process my thoughts on my own this time.”

“Is that what I am now? Interference?” said Jean apprehensively.

“Let’s not play word games. I wouldn’t make a big deal of it if this was an issue where love and rest was enough. Believe me, I wish it were. I would love to just drown my concerns in catching up on sleep and helping my girlfriend when she needs it. I just can’t. Not this time.”

There was a touch of sorrow in his tone. It wasn’t enough to make Jean feel any less saddened. She released him from her embrace and looked away, clutching the bed sheets against her naked body. She tried to project to him how upset she was through their link. He remained isolated, as if to protect his thoughts from more than just her.

Scott couldn’t turn around and face her. It was hard enough, not being able to focus while she struggled with not having the Phoenix Force. It wasn’t just that she didn’t understand. It was that nobody in the X-men could understand.

“It’s about Alex, isn’t it?” she said somewhat bitterly.

“No. Not this time,” said Scott.

“Not even a little?” Jean scoffed.

“Maybe a little, but not as much as you think,” he answered, “I understand what Alex did on Genosha. I even understand why he did it. I can’t say it wasn’t entirely stupid either.”

“Now I’m really worried. You’re actually not going to fume over Alex when he thumbs his nose at you?”

“He made an important tactical decision. For once, it had nothing to do with showing me up. He saw that it was too late. He and everyone else on Genosha played into the hands of the Mutant Liberation Front. In doing so, they condemned themselves to guilt by association. We could never trace anything to White Cell. We never found Frenzy and that gizmo Kurt gave Hank self-destructed on us.”

“I still don’t understand why he would make such an extreme decision,” mused Jean.

“Is it really so extreme? He took the fight away from Genosha. The whole island was one big target. By taking them under the radar, he effectively took the mutant race underground once more.”

“You almost sound like you approve of his decision.”

“Of course I don’t! I still think it was extreme on ridiculous level. At the same time, however, I see what he’s doing. He’s making it so the bulk of the mutant population can’t be surrounded anymore. He rendered all the nations of the world powerless. They can’t target mutants anymore and that has sent everyone into a panic. Professor Xavier is one of them. Usually, he’s the best when it comes to approaching conflict rationally. This time it’s different in a very disturbing way.”

Jean didn’t doubt his opinion. She sensed it too. Everybody noticed the change in Professor Xavier’s demeanor. He was under a lot of pressure.

He hadn’t had much time to get back into all his major roles after recovering from his detox. From the Shi’ar to Genosha, he was confronting every crisis before him without stopping to catch his breath. Now that he could walk, he had the strength to do so. That was why Jean was confident in his ability to handle it. Scott didn’t seem to share that confidence.

“I know this sounds like I’m just bitter about being demoted, but I truly believe that Professor Xavier has lost sight of his own dream,” said Scott as he rose up from the bed, “He’s so focused on the big picture that he seems to be forgetting the smaller details.”

“He’s under a lot of pressure. We all are,” argued Jean, “He never loses perspective. Sometimes it just takes him a while to catch up.”

“I keep telling myself that. Something about this just doesn’t feel right,” Scott went on, “I’ve seen him toiling with Cerebrum, trying to regain the clarity we had when Genosha was intact. He seems less like a man trying to salvage a dream and more like a man who’s afraid of losing control.”

“Some of that may not be him. You heard what Kelly said in his latest speech. With Genosha gone he’s preparing special legislation to track down mutants.”

“I know. It’s the Mutant Registration Act all over again. The Professor thinks he can work around it. It sounds less like the act of a dreamer and more the act of a politician.”

“That’s a pretty strong word, Scott. You’re saying the man we respect and trust is going back on everything he’s taught us,” said Jean, not hiding the scorn in her tone.

“I never said he was. I’m just saying that he’s handling this in a way that the Charles Xavier I knew would scold. He hasn’t crossed any lines yet, but I have a feeling he’s going to. It’ll take just one more push and then the X-men as we know it will be no more. If and when that happens, I don’t know if I can be part of it.”

His ominous words didn’t sit well with Jean. She never heard this kind of doubt from Scott Summers before. His loyalty to the X-men and to their cause had always been the strongest. For him to have this much doubt about Professor Xavier was disturbing. What made it even more disturbing was that there was some validity to his concerns. The Professor was acting different, but that didn’t mean he would cross a major line.

Scott clearly did not share his girlfriend’s faith in their mentor. He remained distant as he got dressed, putting on his pants and a blue shirt. As he went to grab his jacket, he turned back towards Jean. She still looked anxious and restless. He offered a loving gaze through his inner turmoil, but it wasn’t nearly as effective as he hoped.

“I’m going for a walk. I need some air,” he told her, “If you’re still upset with me, I’ll sleep on the couch.”

“I’m not upset with you. I’m worried,” she said with tired eyes.

“That makes two of us. Glad we understand each other,” said Scott as he turned towards the door.

“It’s not about understanding. It’s about us having faith in this life we’ve chosen. I love you, Scott. I’m willing to stand by your side no matter who crosses what line. I need to know that you’re willing to do the same. Can you promise me that?”

Scott stopped just at their bedroom door. He didn’t turn around to face her. If he did she would see a truly hurt face.

“No…I can’t.”

His voice was low and solemn, hiding a deep sorrow. He carried that sorrow with him as he walked out of the room, leaving Jean behind to worry even more.

For a moment she sat in the darkness, tears welling up in her eyes. This was usually where he would promise her that he would never lose sight of the life that bound them. For him to not make that promise showed just how bad this was. As she lay back in her bed, Jean fought off growing doubts of her own. The dust had yet to settle on this new status quo and already it was tearing the X-men apart.

District X – Later That Night

“Attention all residents of District X. This is the NYPD. By order of the MSA and Homeland Security, we require that all mutants and human associates make an official statement. Non-compliance is not a felony, but disorderly conduct will result in significant consequences.”

A large SWAT van with heavy speakers mounted on top made yet another pass down M-street. It had been doing so since late in the afternoon. The same message was blared every few minutes. Now that Genosha was no more, District X was the premier mutant community. As such, it was subject to greater scrutiny. Naturally, this did not go over well with the residents.

“Get the hell out of our town! We ain’t no terrorists!” said a middle-aged mutant with light blue skin.

“I already told you guys I don’t know nothing! I’ve never even been to Genosha!” said an older woman with glowing pink eyes.

“Leave us alone! You want help hunting the mutants on Genosha? Do your fucking jobs!” said an old, overweight mutant as he threw a beer bottle at the van.

This rowdy gesture was an unwise act in an unstable time. Moments after the beer bottle struck the windshield of the van, the vehicle stopped. Some of the mutants still walking the street tensed. They watched as the doors opened and several MSA agents along with three NYPD officers approached the unruly mutant.

“Excuse me, sir. I think you missed the last part of our message,” said the MSA agent who had been driving the van.

“What are you gonna do? Arrest me?” scoffed the mutant, clearly a little drunk, “You’re the ones driving down my home street for hours on end!”

“Just because you live here doesn’t mean you can spit in the face of government authority!” barked one of the NYPD officers.

“You’re a mutant, remember? A lot of our current problems are mutant related!” said the MSA agent.

“Who gives a fuck? I’m a mutant! All I can do is amplify sound and look like I bleached my skin! If you guys weren’t so damn incompetent, then we wouldn’t be busting each others’ balls!”

“That’s it! I’m skipping the Miranda Rights. I don’t care what the Supreme Court says!” said one of the MSA soldiers.

Before the officers even reached the mutant, the lead MSA agent raised his weapon and fired a paralyzing blast. The drunken mutant was in no position to evade it. He was hit and let out a sharp cry of pain. As he fell to his knees, he glared angrily at the nearby officers and unleashed his powers. He clenched his fists, taking the sound from his own screams and channeling it into a deafening screech.

“AHHHHHHH!” yelled the MSA agents and officers.

“SHUT HIM UP ALREADY!” yelled an NYPD officer.

“GUESS I GOTTA TURN UP THE POWER!” said the MSA soldier that fired the shot.

The men backed up while the MSA agent turned up the power on his weapon. He was about to fire when the rowdy mutant was struck by a blinding shower of firework-like sparks. The sparks erupted right in front of his face, blinding him and disorienting him from using his powers any further.

“ARRGGHHH!” he exclaimed.

“I’m not a fan of cops, but even I thought that was a dick move,” said Jubilee, who revealed herself to be the source of the attack.

“We can’t to give these suckas any reasons to keep shooting at us,” sighed Bishop, who was standing next to her, “Multiple, shut that noisy drunk up!”

“My ears are still ringing. All of them. You owe me, Bishop!” said Multiple, now with ten duplicates standing around him.

Jubilee, Bishop, and Multiple were as thrilled to be patrolling the streets as their human counterparts. They heard the commotion from a block away. It wasn’t the first such outburst and they wouldn’t mind if it was the last. Given the unrest throughout District X, it was doubtful that they would be getting a break anytime soon.

While ten Multiple duplicates swarmed around the unruly mutant, the others ran out to confront the officers. At first, they raised their weapons towards them, but Bishop waved them down. Everybody was on edge. There was no need for a full blown gunfight. They kept them from firing more shots while Multiple pinned their noisy citizen to the ground.

“Ungh! You guys are assholes! Helping the humans like this!” grunted the drunken mutant, “They’re going to screw us all over now! You’ll see!”

“And you’re drunk. Just be glad mutants who act stupid are still low on their list of priorities,” said one of the Multiple duplicates.

The mutant was eventually subdued. The earlier shot, combined with his excess alcohol consumption, rendered him docile. District X never liked turning their citizens over to the police, but it was necessary to maintain the fragile balance they had with the authorities. After the recent events in Genosha, that balance was at an increasingly greater risk.

Mortified by such an outburst, the protectors of District X tried to salvage what they could with the authorities. They were just as anxious as they were about this growing trend of volatility.

Please accept our apologies. Not everyone has recognized our no-booze-after-nine ordinance,” said Jubilee as kindly as she could.

“You’re lucky I’ve seen drunks do more damage when the Jets lose,” said an NYPD officer, “But we gotta report this. We can’t just charge this guy with being an ass.”

“I hear you, but he was right about one thing. He ain’t no terrorist,” said Bishop.

“We’re not going to treat him like one,” said the MSA agent, “But a lot of people above my pay grade are anxious about crap like this. This string of incidence in District X won’t go over well.”

“We’ll get a handle on our people. We have the manpower, as you can see,” said Multiple, forming more duplicates to prove his point.

“You don’t have as much as you think,” said another MSA officer, “We appreciate the cooperation, but it’s only going to get us so far. One too many drunks like this and even Multiple Man here will run out of backup.”

“Then work with us so that shit doesn’t happen,” said Bishop strongly.

“Therein lies the problem. It may have already started,” said the NYPD officer.

The tension in the air remained thick, even as Multiple handled the drunken mutant to the authorities. They proceeded to throw him in the back of their van where a few other unruly mutants had been arrested. It was getting crowded to the point where even Multiple wasn’t as confident in their manpower. District X was now the world’s largest mutant community. That meant it would also be a much bigger target.

This new vulnerability didn’t sit well with anyone. Even Sage couldn’t process it with her computer-like brain. She had been watching this scene unfold with Hank from a nearby rooftop. He was helping her survey the area while the authorities did their sweep. This time it wasn’t something she could do from behind a computer screen. They had to go out into these darkened streets and watch this world descend into a state of irrational paranoia. Even a non-computer mind understood that no good could come from this.

“In think that officer may be right,” mused Sage

“About what? I am not psychic so I cannot hear what our uniformed associates are discussing,” said Hank looked over the surrounding blocks through binoculars, “Though I could make an educated guess.”

“He said it has already started. The overreaction and the backlash from Genosha has already been set into motion,” she said.

“That wasn’t too far from what I guessed,” said Hank.

“So you agree with him?”

“I try to be an optimist. I may have to try harder this time, my dear. There’s a reason I decided to leave the institute earlier and spend my night with you.”

“I assume it wasn’t just because you wanted me to lull you to sleep with lectures on quantum non-locality,” quipped Sage.

“If only it were,” sighed Hank, “The truth of the matter is that I may not be able to take an optimistic position this time. Not after my conversation with Professor Xavier.”

“Is he really that distraught over his inability to locate all those mutants?” she questioned.

Hank’s expression hardened as he put the binoculars down and looked away from the scene below. He recalled the Professor’s earlier concerns. He had been scrutinizing every word with his brilliant intellect. Every conclusion he reached was more disturbing than the last.

Charles Xavier was pressuring himself in ways that went beyond salvaging his dream. He was approaching the mutant conflict in ways he had never done before. It wouldn’t take much for him to resort to some unpleasant extremes.

“Distraught wouldn’t be the appropriate word. Frustration would be more accurate,” sighed Hank, “I can’t say I blame him. After all the work he sank into making Genosha a viable sanctuary for mutants, it failed spectacularly. I’ve never seen him so dispassionate before. I think he and that anxious officer would actually agree with one another.”

“So it really is too late? Does this mean we’re in for many more unruly mutants like this?” said Sage.

“Unruly mutants may only be second in our list of concerns,” he said distantly, “Tomorrow morning, the Professor will address the students. And for once, I have no inkling on what he’ll decide. My greatest concern is that his approach will not be as well-reasoned as it usually is.”

“If that’s all you’re worried about, then you should consider yourself lucky,” said Sage as she offered her lover a tender gesture, “Charles Xavier isn’t perfect, but he always ends up doing the right thing in the long run.”

“That’s just it, my dear,” said Hank as he gently grasped her hand in his, “For once, doing the right thing may not be good enough.”

Xavier Institute Main Classroom – The Next Day

The rest period for the X-men was officially over. Professor Xavier finally emerged from Cerebrum and ordered that all the students meet in the classroom early in the morning. Scott, Jean, Bobby, Kitty, Rogue, Remy, Betsy, and Piotr sensed something like this was coming. Sooner or later, they were going to play a role in this dangerous new world that was unfolding around them. It was taking longer than anyone expected. It got to a point where some couldn’t even rest anymore. For some, it was worse than others.

“You look terrible, Jean. And before you melt my brain, just know I say this out of concern,” said Kitty, who was sitting next to Jean.

“No need to explain yourself, Kitty. If I look as bad as I feel, I probably should’ve put on my old mask before I came down,” said Jean, who was hunched over her desk.

“We’ve had a week off and you are still tired?” questioned Piotr, “Is there something else bothering you, Jean?”

“Something that would explain why Scott is standing in the corner staring at his phone like he wants to throw it in a blender?” said Betsy, who was the only one who seemed to be fairly well-rested.

“I’m having a hard enough time managing my own mood. I’d rather not get into my boyfriend’s mood,” grumbled Jean.

“Is that why he was sleeping on the couch this morning?” asked Kitty, “Did you two have a fight that make-up sex couldn’t resolve?”

“Kitty, just because I can’t tap the Phoenix Force anymore doesn’t mean I can’t burn you to a cinder,” she scolded.

Her harsh words and harsher tone were enough to silence anyone from making another comment. Jean also got up and moved to another seat so she could sulk in relative peace. No one followed her, not willing to risk the wrath of an angry telepath. That didn’t make them any less curious.

“Wow…Jean hasn’t been in this bad a mood since she lost her autographed Avatar Blu-ray,” said Kitty.

“I’m guessing it definitely has to do with Scott being banished to the couch,” said Betsy.

“I am not sure that is the full story,” said Piotr, “I tried speaking with Scott earlier. He said he slept on the couch voluntarily.”

“What kind of bloke sleeps on the couch by choice? Especially when he has a beautiful girlfriend who can telepathically sooth his stress while wearing see-through lingerie?” said Betsy.

“Is that how you and Warren have been soothing each other?” quipped Kitty, “You spent half the week at Warren’s pent house. How much lingerie to you have?”

“Not nearly enough?” she shrugged with a humored grin.

“While I am glad you enjoyed your off-week, Betsy, I am concerned that this is a bad sign,” said Piotr.

“For what? Mr. and Mrs. X-men?” scoffed Betsy, “Those two will work it out. They love each other so bloody much it’s sickening.”

“It is not Scott and Jean’s relationship that has me worried. It is the tension that seems to be causing these problems. We’ve all sensed it. Some have dwelled on it more than others. I admit I tried not to think about it for the past week. Few of us did. But we cannot avoid it forever. That is the point of this assembly, is it not? The more I think about it, the more I find myself worrying.”

The Russian mutant’s words were laced with a serious undertone. Looking over towards Jean and back towards Scott, it was easy to see why this was a bad sign. If there was enough tension to cause problems with a relationship like theirs, then it was definitely something to worry about.

Others shared Piotr’s growing concerns. Having rested and recovered from all their recent battles, there were a great many smaller details that had to be addressed. Rogue, Remy, and Bobby had been content to ignore them for the past week like some of their teammates. They weren’t showing much optimism either.

“Man, this shit must be bad if it has Scott and Jeannie on the rocks,” said Remy, “Who the hell is Summers talkin’ texting on his phone?”

“The hell if Ah know. He wasn’t much of a texter when we were dating,” said Rogue, who looked towards him with concern as well, “He looks pretty messed up.”

“How can you tell? I thought Scott dated psychics and energy absorbers because he’s harder to read than one of Mr. McCoy’s physics questions,” commented Bobby.

“Ah can tell. Ah’m surprised you can’t and still call him your friend,” said Rogue.

“Hey! You think I haven’t been messed up about this either?” retorted Bobby.

“If you do, you got a strange way of showing it. You spent a good chunk of your week Skyping with Amara at the Academy of Tomorrow,” said Remy.

“How is that any different than you and Rogue spending most of your week making noises I’ll never unhear?” quipped Bobby.

“Take it easy, fellas. Let’s not turn this into a flame war on a Penthouse forum,” said Rogue, pulling Remy away from Bobby before he could make another remark, “We’re all on edge. We’re all messed up. Some are messed up more than others. We’ve had a week to digest this. Let’s not jump to conclusions before we start busting each others’ balls.”

“And I know how much you value Remy’s balls,” muttered Bobby under his breath.

Now Remy had to hold Rogue back upon hearing that. The mood throughout the team was one of uncertainty and uneasiness. There was plenty to discuss. Then the doors to the classroom opened and Professor Xavier stepped in. Immediately, the room fell silent.

As the Professor walked towards the front of the room, Scott looked up from his phone. He stood fixated on Xavier for a moment, not making a secret of his conflicted thoughts. They were difficult thoughts to ignore. He made sure Scott knew he was aware of them.

‘We can talk about it later, Scott. Please tell Captain Freeman you’ll catch up with him. This will surely affect him as well.’

Scott didn’t reply with any thoughts of his own. He remained stoic as he put his phone away and found a seat. He sat down next to Jean, who was still clearly upset with him. She didn’t give him one of her dirty glares, but she made it clear that he caused her plenty of grief. It was something they would have to confront later. As Professor Xavier reached the front of the room, he turned to address his wary students.

“Thank you all for meeting here this morning. I hope you enjoyed your week off. It’s important we’re all rested for the challenges that lay before us,” said Professor Xavier.

“That imply it may be the last break we get for a while?” asked Remy, “Between aliens and mutant terrorists, a week just don’t seem like enough.”

“I wouldn’t expect it to be. It’s been overwhelming, I know. I wish I could give you more time off. You’ve more than deserved it, X-men. However, we’re at a critical moment in human/mutant relations. The very core of our mission is changing. This time it’s going to be much harder to adapt.”

Professor Xavier took a deep breath, allowing his students to prepare themselves for what he was about to announce. They were all looking to him for answers. He was usually so good at providing them. This time, it was different in a profound way.

“First off, I’d like to update you on a few recent activities. Last night, Hank left for District X so he could aid Tessa in maintaining the fragile peace. Now that Genosha has been abandoned, District X is officially largest mutant community in the world. As such it’s been heavily scrutinized by the MSA. They’ve been questioning the locals, looking for leads on the Brotherhood.”

“And Bishop is okay with this?” said Bobby skeptically.

“He’s not in a position to oppose it. Even the mutants of District X understand that mutant affairs are tense. We can’t afford to spark any further conflict,” said Xavier grimly, “This leads me back to Genosha. As you know, Logan and Ororo have been working with Mystique and Warpath in the Persian Gulf. They’ve been trying to track down Frenzy in hopes of making more connections with White Cell. Last I heard, the trail has gone cold. Logan says there’s little hope of something substantive.”

“I’m sure he used more four-letter-words in his report, Professor,” muttered Jean.

“That’s the heavily edited version,” he reported, “In addition, Nightcrawler has been working with Wanda to track down the rest of the Brotherhood. We assumed they would contact Wanda once they were settled. So far, not even Pietro has reached out to her.”

“He probably knows Wanda is still with us,” said Betsy, “For all we know, she’s just waiting to meet up with him after we let our guard down.”

“After we saved her life and her island? That would be cruel, even for her,” said Kitty.

“Which is why I don’t suspect that is the case,” said Xavier, “The Brotherhood and every last citizen of Genosha are keeping a low profile. Of the few citizens that have dispersed, they seem unaware of any larger plan. But with so many mutants unaccounted for, it’s safe to assume that the Brotherhood still has a move in mind. They haven't made it yet and I don’t suspect they’ll make it anytime soon. This leaves the rest of the world bereft of answers. I fear this will allow governments all of the world to take extreme measures.”

“For all we know that could be just what the Brotherhood is hoping for,” said Betsy.

“That may be the case, Betsy. As such we cannot simply wait for the authorities to overreact. The X-men need to stay involved. That also means being ready and willing to adapt in uncomfortable ways.”

The X-men held their collective breath. They were prepared for bad news on multiple levels. There seemed to be little silver lining to what was happening. Genosha as a nation was gone, but everything that made it dangerous was still present. Professor Xavier was intent on not falling behind again.

“I wish I could tell you a clear cut plan for our future. Our next mission has yet to take shape because the dust has yet to settle on Genosha. However, we can still put ourselves in a more advantageous position. With this in mind, I've made the following decisions. First off, all scheduled classes and tests are suspended indefinitely. There will be no more tests, projects, or state sanctioned exams.”

“So…that means the higher learning part of the institute no longer applies?” said Bobby.

“Don’t get too excited, Bobby. There will still be plenty of learning. Except now it will be exclusively focused on training,” Xavier explained, “Starting today, all students will undergo a new series of training exercises. They won’t be restricted to the Danger Room either. They will involve regular scouting of suspected hot-spots, getting updates from staff, and taking necessary action when needed.”

Necessary action?” questioned Scott, “That’s a pretty vague term, Professor.”

“I know, Scott. Clarity is at a premium right now, but given the current state of affairs the X-men must remain active full time. That is why I am also implementing new regiment of shift work. At least two X-men must be ready for deployment at all times. You’ll be divided into three groups, each taking an eight hour shift. Even when not on duty, the team must still be ready to mobilize at any given moment.”

“So we’re basically going to be X-men 24/7? Always assuming there’s a crisis going on?” surmised Kitty, “I’m not sure that’s what we signed up for, Professor.”

“Well we didn’t sign up to fight aliens either, but we learned to adapt,” shrugged Rogue.

“That’s easy for you to say. You don’t have parents who assume the superhero gig is just a part-time thing,” said Kitty.

“Yes, I understand there are legitimate concerns and they will be addressed,” Xavier told them, “However, those issues will have to wait until we have a more concrete plan in front of us. For the moment, we must err on the side of vigilance.”

“More like paranoia,” commented Scott.

“Scott don’t,” groaned Jean, scolding him to dissuade any further remarks.

“I understand your sentiment, Scott. I would appreciate it if you and everyone else worked with me during this difficult time,” he said in a serious yet reasonable tone, “This tension will pass. We just cannot assume our old methods will continue to work. Just as when the X-men chose to unmask, we must follow the times. We’re entering this new era, regardless of whether or not we’re prepared.”

He made it sound so easy, yet so complicated. The X-men had always been vigilant, but the Professor always balanced their duties as heroes with their responsibilities as students. Now he was telling them that they couldn’t be students anymore. They had to be full-time participants in this conflict.

For some, that wouldn’t be too much of a change. For others, it was a daunting notion. Their only solace was Professor Xavier’s confident tone. He wouldn’t make these decisions if he didn’t feel they were absolutely necessary.

“Now then…are there any questions?” asked Professor Xavier, hiding the distress in his tone.

“Just one, Professor,” said Remy, “If we gonna be training all the dang time, shouldn’t we have an idea on what we’re training for? It sounds like we stumbling around in the dark here.”

“Everyone is in a similar position, Remy. We’ll know what we’re training for when the situation arises,” said Xavier.

“When do you think that will be, Professor?” asked Piotr.

“Sooner than we expect, that much I’m sure of,” he said, “Now, at the risk of going over too many trivial details, I’d like to begin the new training regiment immediately. Logan, Ororo, and Hank will return later today and join you.”

“What about you, Professor? What will you be doing?” asked Rogue.

“I’ll be in the War Room formulating our next step with General Grimshaw and President Kelly,” he said, “I promise I’ll inform you the moment a major decision is made. Until that time comes, I trust you will be ready. Whatever may come of this chaos, one fact still remains. The world needs the X-men.”

It was the only absolute truth amidst a sea of uncertainty. While some had reservations about these changes in their day-to-day operations, they understood the need for added vigilance. There were any number of disasters that could make this situation worse. The best they could do was be prepared, although this time not everyone was confident that the X-men would make the right decisions.

‘I’ve never seen the Professor this grim before,’ said Scott through his link with Jean, ‘Something very bad is going to come of this. I can feel it.’

‘He’ll do what needs to be done, Scott. He always does,’ she replied as she and the others got up to begin their training, ‘If anything, we should be more hopeful. He has his legs back. He’s not limited like he once was.’

‘That’s exactly why I’m so certain,’ he replied, lingering a bit, even as Professor Xavier left for the War Room, ‘New abilities have a way of changing people. Some people can handle it. Others let it go to their head. So far, I’m not sure where Charles Xavier falls, but I’m sure we’ll find out soon enough.’

Nova Roma

Wanda Maximoff spent much of her life hiding and avoiding scrutiny. Her father went to great lengths to prevent a corrupt human world from tainting her as it did him. It wasn’t until she joined his Brotherhood that she was thrust into the public spotlight. As the leader of Genosha, she grew used to the attention. So the idea of going back into hiding seemed regressive.

In the days that followed the Genosha exodus, she assumed someone from the Brotherhood would seek her out. She kept looking over her shoulder, expecting Pietro to show up and make some annoying remark to get her blood boiling. When a day passed she grew confused. After a week, it became apparent that nobody from Genosha was coming for her. It left her alone and surrounded by hostile circumstances.

It was assumed by many that Wanda disappeared with the rest of Genosha. Few knew that she was with Kurt and the X-men when everyone was teleported away. For a time, she tried to contact her people. She even thought about contacting General Grimshaw or President Kelly. The X-men convinced her that this was not the best idea.

She was now an exiled leader from a failed country. There weren’t too many places she could go and avoid unnecessary scrutiny. That was why Kurt took her to the remote city of Nova Roma.

They arrived atop a ridge overlooking the Curia. When they emerged from a puff of smoke, Wanda was greeted with a pristine and exotic world. It was not unlike the isolated Swiss mountains where she and Pietro grew up.

“So this is Nova Roma,” she said distantly, “I’m still not sure if this counts as exile or an unscheduled vacation.”

“It is vhat it is, Vanda. Don’t try to make it anything else,” said Kurt.

“I’m still not sure this is right. My people are still out there! My brother is probably running circles worrying about me! And for him, that can kick up a full fledged tornado.”

“Zhat’s yet another reason vhy you should be here,” he reasoned, “Zhis is zhe last place he or anyone for zhat matter vould look for you.”

“You make it sound like I’m in hiding, Kurt,” she said in a low tone.

“In a vays, you are,” he told her, “You remember vhat Professor Xavier said about President Kelly. He and every other world leader vants you for questioning. Some vant you arrested. It von’t do your people any good if you’re treated like a criminal.”

“Guess that says a lot about how reasonable humans can be the moment they can’t point their guns at something,” she said dryly.

“People are afraid. Nobody acts logically vhen zhey are afraid. I’m sure you’ve seen zhat first hand. Try not to take it as a total defeat. I’ve dealt vith losses and fear for much of my life. Zhe moment you lose faith in zhe future is zhe same moment you let zhat same fear consume you. And you’re better zhan zhat, Vanda.”

He spoke with such strength. It was hard for anyone to feel strong after they had been forced into hiding. Wanda tried to draw strength from his words. As she looked over the elegant Nova Roman landscape, she hugged her shoulders. Kurt consoled her, staying by her side and imparting whatever assurance he could give.

“Try to focus on vhat you can control at zhe moment,” Kurt went on, “Zhe Professor has taken care of zhe details. As far as zhe General and President Kelly are concerned, you disappeared vith zhe rest of Genosha.”

“Isn’t him lying for me only adding to the danger?” she questioned.

“I zhink it shows just how much confidence he has in you,” he retorted, “I’ve taken care of zhe smaller details. Margali Sefton and zhe Nova Roman authorities have agreed to offer you sanctuary. Zhey may still be untrusting of outsiders, but zhey owe me and zhe Seftons a great many favors.”

“So I’ll be an outsider once again. Except this time I won’t have my brother to yell at.”

“I assure you zhat Nova Roma is different. It’s not like a typical human city, especially after zhe X-men vere honored for saving it.”

“You saved this city? What did that involve?” she said curiously.

“It’s a long story,” said Kurt with a half-grin, “For zhe moment, use zhis time to get your head together. Don’t zhink about human/mutant conflict. Don’t zhink about a looming war. Let zhe X-men deal vith zhe aftermath.”

“It sounds like you’re asking me to walk away from this conflict completely.”

“Nein…not completely,” he told her, “Sooner or later, zhe Brotherhood vill return and so vill your people. Vhen zhat time comes, you should be ready. I can zhink of no better place to prepare zhan Nova Roma. I know you still have your doubts, but all I ask is zhat you trust me as I trusted you vhen ve stopped zhose missiles.”

The idea of trusting an X-man was still a bit off-putting. However, she didn’t see Kurt Wagner as just another X-man. He proved to be something different. They had to trust each other in a great many ways in order to save Genosha. That trust was key in protecting her people. After her trust in the X-men had been shaken over the incident with the alien ship, it was reassuring to have someone to rely on.

Wanda offered a weak smile as she turned to face Kurt again. She mustered a new strength. Her situation was not ideal, but it could be many times worse. She had to step back from this conflict. It might even be good for her. She made too many bad decisions leading up to the Genosha exodus. She needed to be in a better state of mind when the time came to make those fateful decisions once more.

“Okay Kurt…I trust you,” she said in a more confident tone.

“Danke, Vanda,” he said with a smile, “I promise I’ll value your trust for as long as I have it.”

“Be sure that you do,” she said with a touch of humor, “So while I’m here, what will you do? Return to the X-men?”

“To be honest, I don’t know,” he sighed, “I’ve been helping my mother investigate White Cell. Now, I’m not so certain zhat’s a productive use of my time.”

“Having worked with Mystique myself, I’ll avoid saying anything about the twisted way she operates.”

“I appreciate zhat,” said Kurt with a slight laugh, “I’m sure I’ll figure something out. Zhere are sure to be plenty of new challenges now zhat Genosha is gone.”

“Well if ever it becomes too much, please don’t hesitate to visit,” she said, “I’ve come to appreciate your company.”

There was a distinct touch of emotion in her voice. Kurt also noticed her drifting closer to him. It caught him off-guard. Was Wanda Maximoff actually attracted to him? Or was it just the lingering adrenaline from saving her people?

Whatever the reason, Kurt hadn’t forgotten about Amanda. Even if she was still comatose, he placed his hand between his face and Wanda’s. This stopped them from going any further.

“I’m sorry, Vanda. But I zhink some hesitation may still be necessary,” he told her.

“You’re…you’re right. I’m sorry. That was inappropriate in a way only my brother can appreciate,” she said, now in a very awkward position.

“No need for apologies, Vanda. Ve have enough personal issues to deal vith,” he told her, “Like I said, zhere are plenty of new challenges out zhere. Ve need to stick to zhe ones ve can handle for zhe moment. And I have faith zhat you’ll figure zhem out here on Nova Roma.”

Another awkward silence followed. Kurt offered another smile, which Wanda returned. Now that everything was set up for her on Nova Roma, Kurt was ready to depart. He gave her one last friendly gesture before he teleported away in a puff of smoke. Even after he disappeared, Wanda kept smiling. Even if she had made a fool of herself, Kurt’s powerful words lingered with her.

“Faith…I’ll work on that, Kurt,” she said distantly, “For both of us.”

Persian Gulf – Dubai

“Where the hell is Kurt? How can someone who can teleport all over the world take this long to drop someone off?” groaned an impatient Mystique.

“Take it easy, darlin’. I’m supposed to be the grumpy one. Hell, I’ve got way more reasons to be pissed!” said an equally exasperated Logan.

“There’s plenty of reasons for everyone to be pissed,” she sighed, “We’ve hit a dead end with White Cell and the world is one big clusterfuck.”

“When is it not?” he retorted, “That ain’t what we should be talking about anyhow. Ro and I are heading back to the mansion where Chuck has this crazy new regiment set up. I’d be that much less pissed if I knew where we go from here.”

It was hard to get over how everything had panned out, even after they had over a week to cool off. Mystique did not consider their recent exploits a success. Even though they found Frenzy and stopped the nuclear attack on Genosha, she still didn’t find what she wanted. White Cell guarded its secrets well. She and Kurt uncovered the link to the Mutant Liberation Front. For more promising links, they would have to dig deeper.

Doing this meant putting off the lingering issues between her and Logan. It was why he lingered behind with her and Warpath while they kept looking for Frenzy. The trail went cold in Dubai. Now they were standing on the roof of the Burj Al Arab hotel, the Velocity already powered up as they prepared to part ways once more. There were a lot of conflicting emotions they had yet to work through. Given their impatience it seemed as though the time would never be right to deal with this. It was still awkward. Even when he reached up to caress her face, she tensed under his gaze.

“I wish I could gloss over this, Logan. Don’t think I’m using White Cell as an excuse to avoid you,” she told him.

“I know it ain’t like that. I have the same messed up memories as you now, remember?” he replied.

“Then don’t get too angry when I say I’m going to keep looking. I’m convinced that White Cell is connected to this mentor we can’t seem to recall. Frenzy seemed to know who I was. That means he knows I’m looking for him and you know how I hate to disappoint.”

“I’m sure he’s excited. I’m also sure he’ll be about as welcoming as a bad hangover,” said Logan dryly, “You really wanna go all the way here?”

“Is that an invitation to spend an extra night here in Dubai?” she said wryly.

“Don’t get cute with me. Not when I’m this sober,” he quipped, “You’re makin’ this pretty damn personal. What’s Kurt think about it?”

“He has his own reasons helping me. To be perfectly honest, I’m not sure how long he’ll stick around. Even if he doesn’t, he knows I need to finish this. I can’t move forward without the full truth. I know it demands a lot of patience on your part. I can only promise that when the time comes, you’ll be the first to know.”

“You think you can keep that promise?” Logan questioned.

“I know my track record leaves much to be desired. I’m sure my kids love reminding you of that. This time I have more incentives. Keep those incentives in place and nothing will stop me from honoring them.”

There was a stern seriousness in her tone, but there was also a touch of passion. Mystique wasn’t approaching this in her usual cold, calculated manner. She was confronting it the same way Rose used to with determination and heart. Hearing this helped further assure Logan that she wouldn’t disappoint the people she cared about this time.

“I almost feel sorry for the unlucky dirt-bags that get in your way.”

“Almost,” she teased.

The shape-shifter gave him a light kiss on the cheek. It wasn’t the most passionate gesture they could share before parting. It seemed more appropriate to save that for when this mission was complete. There didn’t seem to be much time for more passionate concerns. They weren’t the only ones who had to hold back either.

While Mystique and Logan shared some parting words, Ororo confronted James in a way that was almost as awkward. The tension between them escalated in the events leading up to this mission. Having fought alongside one another in this struggle, they seemed to reach a tipping point. They couldn’t part ways without confronting it.

“So what’s next for you, James?” Ororo asked him, “I know you didn’t uncover everything you wanted.”

“Well even if I didn’t, we stopped a nuclear attack and saved countless of lives. I don’t think John could bust my balls for that,” said James with a slight grin.

“He would be proud of you. That I’m sure of,” she said with a smile.

“That said, I’m still at a dead end. Since Frenzy got away, I’m out of the leads my brother left behind. I want to keep digging, but I wouldn’t know where to begin. Unlike Mystique, I still have an obligation to my students at the Academy.”

“As do I,” said Ororo, “That doesn’t mean you should set this matter aside.”

“I don’t intend to. I also don’t intend to keep stumbling around in the past. Especially when Genosha’s little disappearing act screwed up so damn much. I’ve received no fewer than 15 voice messages from Emma Frost this past week. I’d rather not go over what she said. Even I find that kind of swearing inappropriate…especially in front a pretty girl.”

Ororo blushed at his remark. James was not a charmer like Remy or crude like Logan. He had his own way of making women feel special around him. She was still getting used to that feeling, but it wasn’t as awkward as it used to be.

“So I take it this means you’ll be spending more time at the Academy,” said Ororo.

“Unless I want to risk the wrath of Emma Frost, that’s the plan,” he said, “As soon as I help Mystique and Nightcrawler set up their next mission against White Cell, I’m hopping a plane back to Boston. Will you be there to greet me at the gate?”

“If I can find time between the Professor’s new regiment, I’ll try,” she said, “I’m not going to be subtle about it anymore, James. You and I have discovered something. I would like to explore it outside life-threatening missions.”

“Yeah…I would too,” said the Native American with a touch of awkwardness, “Besides, I owe you a dinner or two. I made an ass of myself against Frenzy.”

“You’ll find I’m pretty forgiving,” said Ororo, moving in closer to help ease his tension, “I understand that emotions run high at times. Like the weather itself, it can get pretty chaotic. That’s why it’s important to make good use of the time between storms.”

“Do you describe all of life’s crazy quirks with weather metaphors?”

“Only when it’s appropriate,” she said with a smile.

There was definitely a different kind of storm brewing between them. James could feel it. After the emotional beating he endured in wake of his brother’s death, he needed someone like Ororo Munroe in his life. She had the heart to reach out to him and the patience to deal with him. She was special in more ways than he could count. He would be foolish on an entirely new level if he didn’t take a chance with her.

White Cell, Genosha, and the Mutant Liberation Front left them both with a new set of challenges. In the midst of this conflict, Ororo and James grew closer. In this deepening moment, Ororo moved in to kiss him. Just before their lips met, a loud voice rang out from the Velocity.

“Keep it in your pants, Ro!” Logan yelled out, “Make him earn it like you did with me!”

“I so want to crush your ex-boyfriend’s skull in right now,” grumbled James, annoyed that someone interrupted this moment.

“That’s more normal than you think,” sighed Ororo, “But perhaps he has a point. We can save this for later when we’ve had a chance to settle in.”

“That’s assuming another one of those storms you mentioned doesn’t blow through.”

“At this stage, I’m not sure anyone has the stomach for another,” she assured him, “Let’s take these new challenges one step at a time.”

“If you say so,” said the Native American with a sigh of his own, “Guess I’ll text you when I’m back in Boston.”

“I’ll be waiting, James,” she told him.

She smiled at him once more, which helped ease his lingering anger towards Logan. They then parted ways, saving the kiss for another time. Ororo caught up with Logan, who had just opened the main hatch on the Velocity. James and Mystique didn’t linger. Upon saying goodbye, they left the helicopter pad. They all had a daunting list of duties ahead of them, leaving little time for their personal lives.

When Ororo met up with her former lover, he still had a bemused look on his face. He still didn’t fully approve of her attraction to James Proudstar. While some of his concerns had been eased, he couldn’t help but belabor the issue.

“You were ready to jump his bone, weren’t you?” he said to her.

“Seeing as how I jumped yours in a similar way, are you really in a position to judge?” she teased.

“Who says I’m judging? Warpath is a bit a prick, but you could do worse. You could do a hell of lot better too.”

“Too bad I won’t get to find out. The Professor says he has a training regime waiting for us as soon we get back. That’ll cut into my time with James as much as it will cut into your time with Mystique.”

Logan sneered at her remark a bit, but decided not to argue with her. She was right about Professor Xavier having plenty of work for them when they got back. He was preparing the X-men for a more proactive role in this post-Genosha world. It could never hurt to get a head start before their next challenge found them.

Ororo climbed into the Velocity and headed towards the cockpit. Logan was about to follow. But just as he was closing the hatch, he paused. Despite the noise of swirling winds from the helicopter, he found himself sniffing the surrounding air. His heightened instincts prompted him to step out for a moment and scan the area.

“What’s wrong, Logan? Was that comment on Mystique too harsh?” asked Ororo.

“Hell no. I just thought I smelled something,” said Logan suspiciously, “Something besides desert sand and jet fuel.”

“Is it something that requires us to call the Professor and explain why we’re running behind? If so then you’re the one telling him.”

Logan sniffed around a bit more. It was hard to pick up anything in this dry, desert air. It lingered for only a few seconds. Then it passed, seeming to disappear amidst the winds.

“Nah, it’s gone now,” said Logan, “It wasn’t Frenzy or Sabretooth. So it ain’t worth calling Chuck. If someone wants to fuck with my senses, they’ll find out there are way easier ways to commit suicide.”

The feral mutant closed the hatch and made his way to the front end of the Velocity. The scent wasn’t familiar or strong so he was content to leave it behind. He and Ororo didn’t have the time or energy for another clash. The X-men were going through another transitional stage and they couldn’t afford any further setbacks.

Within moments, the Velocity took off from the helicopter pad of the Burj Al-Arab hotel. The high-tech aircraft quickly accelerated towards the west. Ororo and Logan settled in for what would hopefully be an uneventful flight. However, they failed to realize that they weren’t the only ones aboard the aircraft.

Nestled in the confined cargo bay, the battered figure of Stryfe curled up in an uncomfortable position. He just barely evaded detection by Logan’s keen senses. The swirling winds and salty air seemed to cover his tracks. Now he was on his way back to the Xavier Institute where he could exact the vengeance he craved.

‘You arrogant, do-gooder shitheads! I’m convinced! You X-men are a danger to mutant kind. You’re so-called heroics will only lead us to destruction. That’s why I’m going to take care of you once and for all! Provided Lance didn’t slack off and miss his flight! This time when the tyrants tremble, there will be no traitors to save them!’

Later That Day – War Room

Professor Charles Xavier was used to sensing anxiety from his students. In their line of work, they had to be anxious if they were to be in the right state of mind for when trouble arose. What he wasn’t used to sensing was doubt. Even after he betrayed their trust by hiding his pain-killer addiction, they never doubted his methods. That dedication to his vision meant a lot. It was part of what gave the X-men their strength. Doubt had the potential to undermine that strength.

Most of the doubt came from Scott Summers, who had always been his most dedicated student. He tried to hide his thoughts, but he didn’t hide them particularly well. He did not approve of Professor Xavier’s recent string of moves. He wasn’t the only one either.

Logan and Ororo weren’t too enthused with this new training regime upon returning from Dubai. However, they were not as critical about it as Scott. While they all adhered to the revised policies, not everyone embraced them.

The Professor still figured that once the dust settled from Genosha, they would have a better idea on how to move forward. Part of this process involved working with President Kelly and the MSA. It wasn’t just to lend support. It was also to gauge the mindset of the authorities. Their reaction to the Genosha exodus would determine how mutant affairs would be handled. On this Charles Xavier had doubts of his own.

“I’m sorry if I sound too blunt, Professor Xavier. But if the point of this private conference was to reassure me, then I say you’re failing miserably,” said the holographic image of President Robert Kelly on the War Room computer.

“I’m under no illusions, Mr. President. I told you from the beginning that I’ve been unable to track down the Brotherhood,” said Xavier, trying to maintain a calm demeanor.

“The Brotherhood I can understand. They’re cunning and resilient. But over 85 percent of Genosha’s mutant population? That is NOT a trivial deficit, Xavier!”

“I know. And I’m working hard to narrow that deficit. My resources are limited and Genosha’s psychic defenses were resilient to begin with.”

“That’s what really bugs me. There is no Genosha anymore. NATO recently pulled out of the island. They didn’t find any clues except that exotic radiation that has rendered the island uninhabitable. All those mutants that Magneto once rallied are on the loose, unaccounted for, and in all likelihood very upset.”

“We don’t know what their current state may entail. We also don’t know if their next move will be overtly hostile,” argued Xavier.

“Even if it was, I would much rather know rather than sit here waiting for the next catastrophe! I’m not saying this is all on your shoulders, but this is supposed to be your domain! There are millions of terrified human beings out there all waiting for answers! Unlike you mutants, we don’t have the luxury of being powerless!”

“It doesn’t have to be that way, Mr. President. We’re still on the same side,” Xavier reminded him, “Have the X-men not proven their worth yet again with this latest triumph?”

“I admit you did reassure us after your six-week absence. Although I still have plenty of questions I would love answered, we both have a hell of a mess on our hands. Genosha just became a guerilla-style conflict. We can’t attack it with diplomacy anymore. We can’t pacify it with an economic deal. We have a ticking time bomb on our hands and every country on this planet is prepared to take drastic action.”

“Drastic how?” he asked warily.

“I couldn’t tell you. Even if I knew, I’m not sure I would. Assume it’s something that mutants everywhere won’t like. Now I don’t want it to come to that, but something has to be done! Just playing hero isn’t enough. Trying to police mutants with the MSA isn’t enough either. We need something else! Now unless you have an alternative, what more do we have to discuss?”

President Kelly’s voice was filled with urgency. He was serious about these drastic actions as he called them. It implied something more serious than the Mutant Registration Act. For all he knew, it was as serious as the sentinels. No one was going to make a rational decision in wake of such fear and uncertainty. There had to be another way and so far Professor Xavier was out of ideas.

The President was getting restless over the line. He demanded a response and Professor Xavier had to give him something. He was about to address him when a disturbing rumble rocked the War room. It made the lights flicker and caused interference over the secure line.

“Oh dear…this can’t be good,” he said as he scanned the mansion with his telepathy.

“What is it, Xavier? I thought I heard something!” said President Kelly’s jumbled image.

“I’m sorry, Mr. President. There appears to be…”

At that moment, Xavier sensed it. Through the thick walls of the Xavier Institute’s lower levels, he detected two unwelcome psychic signatures. One was on the surface just outside the main gate. The other was inside the mansion and unleashing an attack for which his X-men were not prepared.

“No…Stryfe!” he exclaimed.

“What was that? Did you just say Stryfe?” yelled President Kelly over the line.

“I uh…I’m afraid I’ll have to call you back, Mr. President.”

“Don’t you dare hang up on me, Xavier! Don’t make me…”

The President didn’t get a chance to finish his threat. Professor Xavier had already cut the line and was sprinting out of the War Room. It seemed the battle against the Mutant Liberation Front wasn’t over yet. Despite all the damage he had already done, Stryfe was prepared to make one last stand.

Up next: Vengeful Anarchy

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