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Volume 7 -- Issue 168 -- Open Heart Perjury

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Open Heart Perjury
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The human race has never been more vulnerable. Professor Xavier fought hard for peace and understanding in a world that hates and fears mutants. He forged a bold partnership with the governments of the world known as the Mutant Monitoring Initiative. In doing so he bitterly divided his own mutant team, the X-men. The strain of such divisions have never been greater and at a time when a new crisis is emerging from a dangerous old foe.

After the events of the Cambrian incident, Magneto disappeared without a trace. Then Charles Xavier received an ominous note from his old friend, which led him to the decimated island of Genosha. There his X-men encountered X-Force, a team led by the X-men’s former leader, Cyclops.

In a clash sparked by the opportunistic Black Tom, a dormant relic from within Magneto’s citadel was activated. This device along with former White Cell operative, Frenzy, disappeared in a spectacle that left both teams scrambling for answers.

The X-men have a lot to deal with. The world is still reeling after White Cell’s attack on global defenses. Both President Kelly and General Grimshaw continue to frustrate his efforts. While he did not retrieve many clues from Genosha, his X-men managed to capture Warpath. They’re hoping he can provide them some badly needed clues. In the meantime, X-Force is reeling in a way that may threaten their entire mission.

X-Force Base – Lounge

“Damn it! Damn it! Damn it all to freakin’ hell!” yelled an enraged Logan as he knocked over anything that wasn’t nailed down.

“Would you knock it off, Logan? Destroying our base is the exact opposite of helpful,” groaned Domino, who stayed out of his way.

“Never mind that I helped pay for some of it,” said Emma Frost.

“Who gives a shit about equipment? We lost Black Tom, let Warpath get arrested, and found out Magneto is back! This team was supposed to make a point to the X-men and the rest of the damn world! The only point we’re making is how fucked we are!”

Logan continued his angry rampage, knocking over tables and slashing computer equipment with his claws. He wasn’t going to be stopped. He was frustrated by X-Force’s current position. The mission on Genosha was more than just a failure. It was a wake-up call that X-Force couldn’t ignore.

While Logan vented his anger, Scott dealt with defeat in less destructive ways. After returning to Nova Roma, they scrambled to find out what happened at the citadel. The spectacle they witnessed on Genosha was long gone. Black Tom didn’t stick around so they couldn’t press him for answers. Emma attempted a psychic scan for residual activity and Mystique tried following up some leads in Istanbul, but they found nothing. It left X-Force back at square one. Yet that wasn’t what bothered Scott the most.

“I can’t believe the Professor went through with it,” mused Scott as he sat on a couch that was not in Logan’s warpath, “I thought I saw genuine doubt in his eyes. I was hoping that the White Cell attack would make him take a closer look at the Mutant Monitoring Initiative.”

“You’re worried about zhis vhile Logan is destroying our base?” asked Kurt, who sat next to his demoralized friend.

“I think the others sensed it,” said Scott as if he hadn’t even heard him, “They’re worried about what’s happening with the initiative, mutants, and how the X-men operate. They still trust Professor Xavier, but they don’t trust the system anymore.”

“I thought zhat’s vhat ve vere trying to prove in zhe first place,” said Kurt.

“And I was hoping that they would prove us wrong. After our clash with Romulus, I never wanted to be wrong about anything so much in my life. The problem is both sides can’t be right, but both sides can be wrong. Now we may have just crippled each other to a point where Magneto has the best possible advantage.”

“I’m hoping your fatalism is a result of your recent alcohol consumption, Scott,” said Emma as she and Domino gave up trying to stop Logan, “Are you saying that all the trust we placed in you when we joined X-Force was for nothing?”

“I’m sober now, Emma. I’m setting my self-loathing aside and reassessing our mission,” said Scott, “We all trusted in what X-Force stood for. I’m not saying that trust was misplaced, but the circumstances have changed. The world has warped what both X-Force and the X-men stand for.”

“So what does that mean for us? Are we going to quit and just let the X-men handle Magneto?” asked Domino.

“Quitting is never an option. No matter how much Romulus messed me up, I’ll never stoop that low,” said Scott strongly, “However, we have to look beyond the Mutant Monitoring Initiative. If Magneto had a hand in what we saw on Genosha, then it’s safe to assume he’s planning something big.”

“At a time when global defenses have been reduced by more than half, I’d say Romulus did him a favor,” commented Domino, “We really have our work cut out for us.”

“Speak for yourself,” scoffed Emma, “Now that everyone knows I’m affiliated with X-Force, my school could be at risk. Seeing as how we’re in no position to handle another crisis, I should be back with my students and prepare for the worst.”

“Your students will be in greater danger if we leave this up to the X-men,” argued Scott.

“Now you’re the psychic? Scott, I love you as much as any ex-girlfriend, but you’re the one that recently admitted we’re all dangerous. You essentially conceded that President Kelly’s campaign slogan was right.”

“I said that when I was drunk, Emma. People don’t say coherent things when they’re drunk. Just ask Logan.”

“Fuck you, Summers!” exclaimed Wolverine as he threw some kitchen appliances across the room.

“Doesn’t matter how coherent it is. Why should any of us be here if you doubt our mission?” asked Emma.

“I may have question my principles, but I’ve never questioned our mission. And right now, it’s more important than ever,” said Scott as he rose up from the couch, “Remember what happened with White Cell? The X-men couldn’t respond because they weren’t allowed to. Because of that, Romulus crippled major defense force on the planet. He could have done much worse if he wanted to.”

“Doesn’t zhat prove you right?” asked Kurt, “You said you told zhe Professor zhat zhere vould come a day vhen his initiative vould cause bigger problems zhan it solved.”

“Even so, Professor Xavier still thinks he can control the situation. That’s why I fired the first shot after he answered my question. That’s how I know that something will go horribly wrong if we leave Magneto to the X-men. Even with Warren being wounded and Warpath being arrested, we’re still a team with a mission. We need to do what the X-men won’t.”

It left X-Force in an unenviable position. Emma, Domino, and Kurt joined this team for different reasons. None involved going up against Magneto when they were so depleted. Scott might have been scarred from what Romulus did to him, but he saw the threat posed by Magneto. he saw that Charles Xavier wasn’t in a position to confront him.

After what happened with White Cell, it was easy to imagine the authorities forcing the Professor to make the wrong decision. Against someone like Magneto, that was the difference between partial destruction and total destruction. That unsettling feeling left the team dazed and anxious. A lot was riding on their shoulders and a threat from Magneto seemed too great for them to handle.

“I’ll say it again. We’re screwed!” said Logan, who seemed to tire himself out.

“Are you now suggesting we quit, Logan?” asked Domino, “Because I’d rather you destroy someone else’s base if you are.”

“I’m still here, ain’t I?” he pointed out in disgruntled tone, “Joining X-Force has already had me agreeing with Summers in ways I ain’t comfortable with. Leaving Magneto to the others while we tuck our tail between our legs just ain’t gonna work.”

“So you’re still on board with X-Force’s mission?” asked Cyclops.

“What mission?” he scoffed as he reached for a bottle of liquor, “I’m all for roughing up Magneto, but we don’t know shit. We didn’t find out what Black Tom wanted to steal. We didn’t find out what Chuck and the others knew. You want to go up against Buckethead again? Fine! I’m all for it. That doesn’t change the fact that we don’t have the slightest clue what he’s up to!”

“You don’t, but I do,” came a new voice.

Scott, Logan, Kurt, Domino, and Emma all turned towards the main doors to the lounge to see Wanda standing in the doorway. She had a dire expression on her face and she was holding what looked like a snow globe in her hand. Being Magneto’s daughter, she was in the best position to know what her father was up to.

“Vanda?” asked Kurt as he got up from the couch.

“You know what Magneto is planning? How long were you gonna keep this tidbit from us?” yelled Logan apprehensively.

“I just found out thanks to my brother,” she said in a low tone, “I was hoping it would never come to this. Either he’s still crazy or he’s extra desperate.”

“What are you talking about, Wanda?” asked Cyclops intently.

Wanda tried to hide her saddened expression as she showed them the snow globe she was holding. Inside was an intricately detailed model of what looked like another Earth. It represented a plan that Wanda thought was too extreme even by his standards.

“While he was ruling Genosha, he described it to me as his final backup plan for mutant salvation,” said Wanda, “He had many names for it. The one he preferred was Asteroid M. It wasn’t just a homeland where mutants dominated. It was an entire world.”

Savage Land – Warlock Bunker

“How much longer, Pietro? You better not be screwing with us!”

“We’ve been hiding in this death trap for too long. I’m ready for an upgrade.”

“If something doesn’t happen in ten minutes, I’m taking my chances with the MSA.”

The impatient complaining from what was left of Genosha’s mutant citizenry was wearing on Pietro’s nerves. He coordinated with every mutant that was still living in Genosha’s Warlock bunkers. Of the mutants that once forged a nation, only 198 were left.

Most remained scattered in bunkers all over the world. A number had left, choosing to take their chances with the Mutant Monitoring Initiative rather than stay united. They needed another unifying moment that would empower their kind. That was what Pietro and the rest of the Brotherhood hoped to provide.

Every mutant within their bunker had crowded around a special area that Pietro helped set up. He worked with Blob, Pyro, Quentin, Alex, Mellencamp, and Unus to construct an array of special antennas using Warlock components. Aiding them in the construction was Dr. Edgar Wyndham.

He was the one that set this into motion from the beginning. He was also the one that had been hard at work reconfiguring their Warlock technology. They had placed a lot of trust in this man and while he delivered much of what he promised, some still had reason to be suspicious.

“You sure we can’t speed this up, doc?” asked Pietro, “Our people are getting restless and they look like they want to take it out on us.”

“I’m getting similar reports from our other colonies,” said Alex, “I thought you said he retrieved that gizmo from the citadel.”

“He did. He has everything he needs on his end,” assured Dr. Wyndham as he made a few final adjustments, “Unfortunately, there was a mishap. He was hoping to bring a very special guest with him, but it appears he ended up with someone else.”

“Are they gonna cause problems? If so, I can soften them up,” said Blob as he drove the base of the antenna into the ground with his strength.

“That won’t be necessary, Mr. Dukes. I’ve made sure there will be no obstructions,” he said confidently.

“Not that I’m questioning your IQ or this cosmic awareness ability that you’ve never fully explained, but we’ve heard that before. Being that overconfident rarely ends well,” Alex pointed out.

“It’s not overconfidence. It’s merely understanding the details enough to surmise the effects. I could spend a great deal of time describing the intricacies of what I experience that few others dare to imagine. I just prefer to use my time more wisely.”

“That makes two of us,” said Pietro as he ran by at high speeds, hooking up all the main cables, “Will you give it a rest, Alex? This guy taught my father. If it weren’t for him, we wouldn’t have a plan. We would just be lounging around picking up dinosaur shit. You saw what he did with Vargas. I think he’s earned some credibility.”

“It’s more than enough for me, mate,” shrugged Pyro, “Now will you quit being a wanker and give me a hand with this?”

Alex scolded Pyro for being so trusting. Then again Pyro was mentally unstable so he didn’t bother arguing with him. He still cast a suspicious glance towards Dr. Wyndham, who just kept working the Warlock controls.

It was hard to read him because he had these strange eyes that glowed with a distinct purplish hue. He said that it was because his eyes could see beyond the thin veil of reality. Alex didn’t think that was all he saw. This man made some lofty claims, some of which he had already delivered. Others, however, remained to be seen.

“I believe that’s the last of the converters,” said Mellencamp, who was working alongside Pyro.

“The antennas looks good as well,” said Unus, who helped Blob align it, “If that’s what this thing even is.”

“I’d give you a more technical description, but that would require more syllables than you’re capable of processing.”

“What’s that supposed to mean?” said Unus angrily.

“Don’t start with him, big man. He’s in one of his zones again,” said Pietro, running out ahead of Unus to keep him from delaying this any further, “Just make sure everything is hooked up.”

“Near as I can tell, everything’s online,” sighed Alex, who hid his lingering skepticism.

“Looks like our buddies at the rest of the colonies are hooked in as well,” reported Quentin from one of the consoles, “Can Blink finally stop making so many trips because I think she’s ready to kill someone.”

“Tell her to remain where she is. I’ve just confirmed that we’re ready to begin!” said Dr. Wyndham, his purple eyes glowing with more intensity.

Without warning the Brotherhood or telling the other mutants to stand back, Dr. Wyndham activated the controls. That caused power to flow from the bunker’s main generators and into the cables. They filled the antenna with a vast amount of power, causing it to illuminate in a yellowish glow. Much to the surprise and annoyance of the Brotherhood, it triggered sparks that spread throughout the bunker.

“Ow!” exclaimed Blob as some of the sparks hit him in the face, “Were you gonna warn us, doc? Or are you just being an asshole?”

“Whoa…talk about flashy,” said Pyro as he looked at the antenna in a daze.

“Um…why is the bunker shaking?” asked Quentin.

“That’s supposed to happen…isn’t it?” asked Pietro, trying to sound confident.

“Relax, my friends. We’re not even at the best part yet,” said Dr. Wyndham gleefully.

Dr. Wyndham entered a few more commands. Within moments, the shaking became more violent. It became so violent that nearly everyone inside couldn’t keep their balance. Pietro, Alex, Blob, Pyro, Quentin, Mellencamp, and Unus quickly ran away from the antenna. They met up with the rest of the mutants from the bunker, whose impatience had long since faded.

“Please tell me this guy isn’t as crazy as he sounds, Pietro,” said one older mutant.

“He’s not crazy. No more than the rest of us,” said Pietro, starting to get a little nauseous.

“That ain’t too comforting, mate,” said Pyro.

“That’s it! I’m taking my chances with a T-Rex,” said a young mutant woman.

“It’s too late. It’s working perfectly!” proclaimed Dr. Wyndham, “The other colonies are reporting full resonance. We’re ready for liftoff!”

“Liftoff?” exclaimed Alex, “I thought you said…”

The Brotherhood leader never got a chance to finish. As the shaking reached its peak, every piece of Warlock hardware erupted with a yellowish light. Time soon became blurred as the Brotherhood and the rest of the 198 former citizens of Genosha were transported into the unknown.

Andrew’s Air Force Base

James Proudstar had made many sacrifices as a warrior. Not long ago, he was more an arrogant thug than a genuine warrior. Working with the Academy of Tomorrow, joining X-Force, and the recent death of his brother helped remind him what a true warrior stands for. His father once told him that great warriors make great sacrifices. For much of his life he refused to make such sacrifices. That changed in a big way with X-Force and in a much bigger way with his most recent sacrifice.

‘John, I know your spirit is out there. I’m sure you’re laughing your ass off right now. When you catch your breath, I hope you take some time to realize what I just did. You always called me a selfish bastard for putting myself before everyone else. And you know what? You were right. That’s why I’ve gone out of my way to prove you wrong. I just wish you were there to see it. I know you would be proud of me.’

The Native American mutant smiled in a surreal sense of peace. It was remarkable he could feel any sort of peace in a place like this. As soon as he woke up from the blow inflicted by Black Tom, he discovered he was in MSA custody with a power inhibiting collar around his neck.

The X-men had taken him back to the United States where he was kept in special mutant holding cell. The MSA were originally going to label him an enemy combatant. Professor Xavier convinced General Grimshaw to try him as an American citizen involved with obstruction of justice, conspiring against the United States government, and undermining the Mutant Monitoring Initiative. He faced some serious penalties, yet that didn’t bother him in the slightest.

Lying back on his stiff bed and crammed containment cell, James continued to reflect on what he did and what it meant for him. He almost forgot about all the lawyers and MSA agents that kept questioning him. That peace and quiet was eventually disrupted when his heavy cell door opened to reveal a welcomed visitor.

“James…do you care to talk?” asked a distant Ororo Munroe as she entered the cell.

“With lawyers and government types? Hell no!” he answered, still lying on his bed, “With you? Can’t think of anyone I’d rather talk to. I knew it was only a matter of time before you paid a visit.”

“You took a lethal blast for me, James. How could I not?”

“You almost sound confused.”

“I’m just…at a loss,” said Ororo in a serious tone as she stood by James’s bed, “You and I put our feelings on hold after the Mutant Monitoring Initiative. We sacrificed personal gains for something greater than ourselves. Yet in an instant you threw those gains away just to save me.”

“Wasn’t like either of us were gaining much,” shrugged James, still lying on his back, “Tell me, how is the Mutant Monitoring Initiative working for you lately? If it’s as bad the state X-Force is in, I’d say we got dick for our sacrifice.”

“Forget about the sides we took, James. You don’t lay your life on the line for another unless it means something. I didn’t know how much meaning there was between us beforehand. Apparently, it’s much deeper than I thought.”

Ororo’s voice grew strained with emotion. James finally rose up from his bed, allowing Ororo to sit down next to him. He did his best to hide his own emotions. There was no denying that those feelings drove him to do what he did. Taking that blast was the easy part. Making sense of it would be much more difficult.

“Ororo, I’m not going to make excuses for what I did,” said James.

“I wasn’t expecting you to, James.”

“But you’re still looking for a reason and therein lies the problem. I had no reason to throw myself in front of you. I just did my whole team a huge disservice. I got myself arrested. I’m being charged with crimes that could put me in prison for a long time if certain people have their way.”

“The Professor won’t let that happen,” said Ororo strongly, shuttering at such a thought, “He’s been meeting with some lawyers and Congressmen. They’re going to try and frame your case as a form of civil disobedience.”

“You think I give a damn about what they charge me with?” he scoffed.

“You should, James. I don’t want you to do this to yourself. Not if it’s just for me,” said Ororo with tears forming in her eyes.

“Well it’s too late now because I did it. And you know what? I would do it again in a heartbeat,” said James as he reached over and took her hand in his.

Ororo resisted his touch at first, but found herself unable to turn away. She tried hiding her tears. James gently cupped her chin and turned her gaze towards his. She saw in his eyes the heart of a true warrior. She also saw in them a level of emotion that she hadn’t seen since his brother died.

“I’m an Apache warrior, Ororo. I’ll make whatever sacrifice I have to make,” he told her, “When battles like the one between the X-men and X-Force have no resolution, we’re only left with the battles in our hearts. And like it or not, you have a big place in my heart.”

“Big enough to risk your life for?” she questioned.

“Without a doubt,” said the Apache warrior confidently, “Does that worry you?”

“In a number of ways…yes.”

“Why should it? You wouldn’t be sitting with me in a prison cell if you didn’t share these feelings. Are you going to look me in the eye and tell me there aren’t greater forces at work here?”

Ororo remained paralyzed by emotion. She found her face drifting closer to James, who pulled her into his embrace. Her world started spinning as a surge of warmth emerged from within. But before she could fully immerse herself in his grasp, she swallowed her emotions and turned away.

“It’s not that, James,” she said in a strained voice, “The problem is that I do share those feelings. You throwing yourself in front of that blast just reminded me in a way I wasn’t prepared for.”

“So then why are you avoiding it?” he asked intently.

“It’s just…not a good time.”

“Well I wasn’t going to get too conjugal if that’s what you were thinking,” assured James with a touch of humor.

“I’m afraid it’s less lurid than that. There’s actually another reason I came to visit you, James…one that involves a different set of emotions.”

“What is it? Did something else go horribly wrong while I’ve been counting bugs in here?” asked the Apache warrior more seriously.

“That would be an incredible understatement,” said Ororo in a sad tone, already standing near the cell door.

Now James started sharing some of those different emotions. He stood up from his bed and approached her from behind. He could tell she still had tears in her eyes without even looking at her.

“In some ways you’re the lucky one. The General suspected that X-Force knew more about Magneto than the X-men. Now that doesn’t seem to matter anymore. Magneto has made his presence known. That activity we saw on Genosha has repeated itself in remote areas all over the world. A few hours ago, Hank was able to trace the path of each signature to a single location.”

“Where? You guys are already planning to attack him, aren’t you?” said James, “Ororo, I shouldn’t have to list all the reasons why that’s an insanely terrible idea.”

“You wouldn’t be the first one to point that out. Luckily or unluckily, depending on how you look at it, an attack may not happen,” said Ororo in a low tone.

“What do you mean?”

“That single location is in space,” she said grimly, “It’s actually in the same asteroid Magneto tried to use to destroy the world.”

James Proudstar’s eyes widened. That was a new extreme even for Magneto. Given his history of madness, there were many ways it could unleash destruction. It was a given that the X-men would be on the front lines and that meant Storm would be in danger.

“Wow…that’s a new one on me,” he said distantly.

“We’re all trying to make sense of it,” Ororo went on, “After what happened with White Cell, our options are limited. The President is already scheduling emergency meetings with other world leaders. The prevailing sentiment is that they’ll resort to extremes and they’ll expect the X-men to carry them out.”

“But you’re not going to, are you?”

“If we don’t, we risk making a bad situation much worse. That’s why I wanted to visit you, James. Because this may be our last chance before we’re forced into a battle where we cannot save one another. I wish we had more time. We could have created something beautiful together. We just…”

Ororo couldn’t finish. It was too difficult at this point. Channeling all the strength that Mother Nature could grant her, she restrained her emotions from further outcry. Then in a gesture that caught James by surprised, she turned around and kissed him passionately on the lips. It was the most passionate gesture they had shared to this point. Desperation only made it more meaningful. James tried to savor it, but Ororo pulled away all too quickly.

“Wish us luck, James,” she said, “And thank you…for saving my life.”

James didn’t say a word. He just watched as Ororo walked out of his cell. Mixed emotions turned to dread as the specially reinforced door closed behind her. His cell started to feel like a real prison now. The woman he loved was about to get caught in the crossfire of another madman and there was nothing he could do about it.

‘Great warriors make great sacrifices indeed. Now I know you’re not laughing anymore John. I make one sacrifice only to make another necessary. Of all the times for Magneto to go on another power trip! If this is a test of spirit, I’m already failing.’

Unknown Location

“Ugh…I feel sick to my stomach,” groaned a dazed Blob.

“Never thought I’d hear you say that,” said an equally dazed Pietro Maximoff.

“Is it over yet? Can I open my eyes,” said Quentin, who was still lying face down.

“Uh…you might want to keep them closed. It depends on how freaked out you want to be,” said Alex Summers, who was already conscious and fully alert.

Alex Summers was the first to stand up and take in their new surroundings. The bizarre trip that started in the Savage Land was over in a matter of seconds, yet it felt like a lifetime. Now the Brotherhood and the mutants from their Warlock colony found themselves in a very different setting. Alex also noticed that it wasn’t just their colony that had made the trip. Looking around, he saw that all 198 ex-citizens of Genosha had been transported as well

They were now on what looked like a mountain-top overlooking a lush valley. It looked like an image from a postcard. The valley was vast, covering miles of forest, grasslands, and plains. There was also a large river flowing through it. The water seemed to sparkle under the clear blue skies.

However, it wasn’t a normal blue sky by any stretch. Looking up, Alex saw that the sky was littered with stars and auroras. There was no single sun illuminating everything. There were many sources of radiance, making the whole area feel pristine and inviting.

Such a sight quickly captivated the Brotherhood. Alex, Blob, Pyro, Quentin, Mellencamp, and Unus gathered at the ledge of mountain summit. Blink and Scanner joined them, who had been in another colony during the trip. The rest of the 198 quickly emerged from their daze as they looked around in complete awe.

“Wow…it’s beautiful!” exclaimed a young mutant girl.

“What exactly is it?” asked middle-aged mutant man.

“Moreover, where is it? I’d like to know so I can make this my favorite vacation spot!” said another young mutant with gray skin.

“Is this part of that bold new plan you told us about, Pietro?” asked another tall mutant with yellowish skin, “If so, I’m sorry I doubted you!”

“I’m sorry I doubted me too,” said Pietro with a wide grin, “I knew my father was going to pull out all the stops. I had no idea it would be this awesome.”

The hopes and spirits of the former citizens of Genosha had been rejuvenated. They seemed eager to forget the conditions they came from. It was definitely an upgrade, wherever it was.

While renewed optimism was welcomed, Alex Summers was still cautious. Pietro and Dr. Wyndham convinced everyone there was still a plan. This plan was supposedly a universal backup plan that Magneto had in place before he disappeared. He expected it to be grand, but not like this.

“We’re all impressed, Pietro. But I think you owe us an extremely detailed explanation,” said Alex more seriously as everyone admired the view.

“I already told you everything I could remember,” said the speedster, “If I recall, you were the one that came to me when we ended up in the Savage Land. You saw our people leaving. You were desperate for a plan.”

“Rubbing it in my face doesn’t make it less necessary,” he retorted.

“I know. It’s just fun!” grinned Pietro, feeling vindicated after all the doubts surrounding his efforts, “My father never revealed all the details of his plan. But he told me that if Genosha failed and he fell in the process, there was an emergency plan in place.”

“If this was the emergency plan, we should’ve done it sooner,” said Blink, “It would have been much easier than just hanging out in bunkers hoping no one would find us.”

“You’re probably right, Blink. But Dr. Wyndham said it was a last resort. My father didn’t want to go this far unless it was absolutely necessary.”

“Well I would say this qualifies,” said Alex, “Where is Dr. Wyndham anyways? Why the hell didn’t he get us here sooner? And why did he have us go through the trouble of stealing MGH and getting that Vargas guy for his experiments?”

Pietro rolled his eyes. Why couldn’t he just admire their new surroundings like everyone else? He was about to respond when a series of shadows passed over them, followed by a deafening screech.

Pietro, Alex, and the rest of the 198 looked up to see a flock of large, winged creatures that looked like a cross between a bat and a falcon. They flew over the summit of the mountain, causing many mutants to set aside their awe and ponder some of Alex’s burning questions.

“Whoa...I’m getting a very Avatar feeling here,” said Quentin.

“Should we smoke ‘em? I didn’t come here to be someone’s lunch,” said Pyro as he readied his flame-throwers.

“No Pyro! Look!” yelled Unus as he diverted the Australian mutant’s arm and pointed up to one of the creatures.

Everyone else soon saw what Unus was pointing at. As the flock of creatures flew by, one in particular broke off and flew down towards the summit. The creature had two distinct figures on his back. They recognized one as Dr. Wyndham, who appeared to be the one guiding the creature. The other was a familiar figure they didn’t expect to see, but probably should have.

“Father...I knew you couldn’t stay hidden for this,” exclaimed Pietro.

“Should we be worried?” questioned Blob.

“There is no need for worry here, my brothers and sisters. For you are now home!” proclaimed Magneto as the creature landed a few dozen feet from the bewildered mutants, “It is with bittersweet pride that I welcome you to Asteroid M.”

“Asteroid M? Why do you call it that?” asked Scanner.

“It’s nothing dubious, I assure you,” said Dr. Wyndham, “But if you look up, I think you’ll see why it’s appropriate.”

The Brotherhood and the rest of Genosha’s former citizens did as he suggested. In doing so, they found a completely new reason to be in awe. The elaborate array of stars and auroras that made for such a beautiful sky faded momentarily. It revealed that this picturesque place was more exotic than they expected.

It was so exotic it wasn’t even on Earth. It was a vast space station. Through the faded sky they could see a large image of the Earth. It helped reinforced what Magneto said. This truly was a new world.

“Dude...we’re in space,” said Quentin.

“I’ll say it again. Should we be worried?” repeated Blob.

“Only for those who have yet to join us,” said Magneto as he approached his bewildered mutant brethren, “This magnificent world has been many failures in the making. Follow me and you’ll see why Asteroid M is the best and last hope for our kind.”

Washington DC - Liberty Bar and Restaurant

Jean Grey acquired her share of scars over the years. Some festered more than others, but part of what made X-men strong was the ability to heal in time for the next mission. The ones she incurred on Genosha were different. They were the kind of scars that ran much deeper, calling into question everything she had fought for.

With tensions escalating over the prospect of Magneto’s return, Jean took the same advice as Ororo. She slipped away from the Xavier Institute to gather her thoughts. For the first time, she stood against X-Force. She fought a team that contained friends, allies, and the man she loved. In the end neither side could claim victory, but she was left feeling sick to her stomach.

In her confusion she made a call to someone who might offer some objective insights. She waited for him in a corner booth at Liberty Bar and Restaurant, trying hard to not to torment herself in the meantime.

“I came as soon as I could, Jean,” said the understanding voice of Shiro Yoshida, “I hope I arrived before the bitterness sets in.”

“I’m afraid you’re late by a day or two. I’ve been telekinetically crushing peanuts for the last half-hour,” said Jean as she greeted the Japanese man with her saddened eyes.

“I’ll work around it,” he said as he sat down next to her, “Luckily, I was already summoned to Washington. Apparently, they have some questions about Emma Frost and how she can be in X-Force while still running the Academy of Tomorrow.”

“That sounds pretty messy. How have you been managing that anyways?”

“I’d rather not burden you with my secrets. I’m here to share your own burden. Now tell me, Jean…why have you called me here?”

Jean looked down at the table. She had next to her a pile of peanut shells and a half-empty cocktail. Looking around at the crowded restaurant, she sensed the normal thoughts from normal people that had no idea the kind of danger that was upon them. It reminded her of just how abnormal her problems were, both personally and as an X-man.

“I realized something recently, Shiro…something I should have realized long ago,” she mused, “There’s no room for heart in these missions anymore. Everything is so cold and calculated. You have to leave every emotion at the door except fear. That’s the only emotion anyone seems to understand.”

“I see,” said Shiro, “And what has led you to this distressing conclusion?”

“I recently went on a mission that required me to fight the man I loved and some of my closest friends. I sensed in them a kind of fear that X-men are supposed to overcome. Scott’s mind was…damaged. Logan, Kurt, and even Emma…they were no longer thinking about the big picture. They were acting on fear and uncertainty.”

“Given what I’ve been told about X-Force, that’s understandable.”

“What you’ve been told and what you sense are two different concepts. But that still wasn’t the most disturbing revelation. What really struck me was that I sensed those same feelings in the X-men.”

“So two teams that are supposed to be opposing one another are sharing the same fears? You’re right, that is distressing.”

“It’s more than just distressing. It’s tearing at my heart! I honestly don’t know how I’m supposed to deal with this. It’s one thing to take a side and fight for it. Now I’m not sure there’s a side to take anymore. We’re not fighting for something bigger. We’re just fighting. It’s hurting the people we care about and it’s only going to hurt many more.”

Jean’s emotions were getting the better of her. As she grew more distressed some of the peanuts in front of her shattered violently under her telekinetic strain. Shiro moved in closer and grasped her hand to help calm her down.

“If you think venting will help resolve these issues, I strongly suggest you reconsider,” Shiro told her.

“I’m not trying to make you my personal stress ball, Shiro. I was just hoping…”

“Jean, you know I can’t give you the answers you desire. It sounds to me that you’re not attempting to resolve anything. You’re just preparing yourself for the worst.”

“Does that make me crazy? Or just selfish?” she muttered.

“It doesn’t make you anything other than overly frustrated. You had to fight people you cared about. That does not sit well with you. I doubt it sits well with anyone.”

“I never said it did,” said Jean as she grabbed her cocktail and gulped it down, “I know I’m overreacting, but I don’t know any other way to react. Ever since the Phoenix Force went silent, I’ve felt so weak.”

“You think having the Phoenix Force would have even made a difference? For all you know, it could have made things worse.”

“Well they can’t be much worse than they are now! My friends are in pain. I’m in pain. The world is vulnerable and nobody has the power to stop it anymore. It’s like we all stood by and watched ourselves get sicker and sicker. Now the disease is taking hold and there’s nothing we can do to treat it.”

Jean pulled out of Shiro’s grip and hugged her shoulders. He was right about venting. It certainly wasn’t helping. He helped her gain a new perspective when they met up in Boston. Now he looked as lost as everyone else.

“I’m sorry, Shiro. I don’t mean to dump this on you,” she said in a low tone.

“It’s quite alright, Jean. We’re all at a loss right now,” he told her, “However, I think calling recent trends a disease is the wrong way to look at it.”

“Then what’s the right way? How else can we describe something that’s this fucked up?” she muttered.

“There’s no right way to begin with, but there are ways that are better. At some point we have to overcome our shortcomings. Otherwise they’ll destroy us. We can’t rely on others or cosmic forces to do it for us.”

“Is that my problem? I’m relying too much on power?”

“It’s not a problem as much as it is an approach,” Shiro went on, “Jean, no breakthroughs in life comes without having to make hard decisions. I always had the power to leave Japan and become my own person. I just never used it.”

“It’s one thing to make life decisions. It’s when you have to deal with governments, generals, and diplomats where those decisions become impossible,” Jean said bitterly.

“I don’t believe that. Not for a second,” said Shiro strongly, “I think everyone has that kind of power regardless of who they’re dealing with. It’s a power that may not be as potent as the Phoenix Force, but it’s every bit as profound.”

“You make it sound easy,” she said, “Right now, I have to decide whether I’m going to keep following Professor Xavier and the Mutant Monitoring Initiative. This isn’t an instance where I can just flip a coin and leave everything to chance.”

“Deciding is only half the equation, Jean. Timing is the other,” he told her, “You clearly see a problem with what’s happening with the X-men and X-Force. You could decide to do something about it this instant, but it would do you little good. The key is deciding at the right time so that others around you can make the appropriate decisions as well.”

“Now you make it sound so difficult,” Jean quipped, “How am I supposed to know when the time is right?”

“Well aside from being psychic you’re also a smart, compassionate woman,” said Shrio as she grasped her hand again, “I don’t know the particulars of what the X-men are going through. What I do know is that you’re the kind of person that won’t cross certain lines. I suspect that when others around you start walking that line, you’ll know what to do. It’s just a matter of having heart, which I know you have plenty.”

Jean let his words sink in. He painted a pretty complicated picture. It sounded as though she would have to make the hardest possible decision at the hardest possible time. After what happened on Genosha, she didn’t have the strength. The Professor was forgetting his vision. The X-men were losing sight of their purpose. The governments they served were losing sight of their duties. It seemed as though there was little she could do.

She still took comfort in the confidence that Shiro had in her. Everyone else expected her to be a great X-man. He only expected her to have a good heart. That didn’t seem nearly as daunting. She found herself leaning on him for support as she swallowed her emotions and re-gathered her strength.

“I hope you’re right, Shiro. For all our sake, you better be,” she mused.

“I have as much confidence as any bisexual Japanese mutant can offer. I suppose when I put it like that I’m not doing either of us any favors,” said Shiro with a touch of humor.

“You do plenty,” said Jean, mustering a slight smile.

“Thank you. With that in mind, can I ask you a somewhat unrelated question for a change?” he asked her.

“Seems like the least I can do,” she said with a shrug.

“The man you love…Scott,” he said in a more serious tone, “Do you love him enough that you want to be with him no matter how these events pan out?”

“That…is a whole other issue, Shiro,” said Jean with a sigh, “Loving someone and being with them are two very different concepts.”

“Are they really? Or is that what you’ve been telling yourself to make it easier?”

“Are you asking because you’re hoping to give the female body another chance?”

“What? No I uh…” said Shiro, now feeling very awkward.

“It’s okay, Shiro. I was just trying to muster up some humor,” she said with a light smile, “If you’re right about making hard decisions at the right time, then I’m sure I’ll know where I stand with Scott when that time comes.”

The awkwardness lingered, but Shiro found himself smiling back. He offered whatever comforting gestures he could manage. He had to restrain himself at some point. This was a beautiful woman and she still clearly had feelings for her former lover. Even if they weren’t together at the moment, he ran the risk of complicating that situation. It was still a risk worth taking.

“I see you’ve found better company than the Institute,” came a new voice, “I hope my timing isn’t as bad as it looks.”

Jean turned away from Shiro and looked up to see Ororo standing near her table. She had that look on her face that indicated she had bad news. She also had a look that implied a certain level of personal curiosity.

“Storm…I thought you were visiting Warpath at the base,” said Jean awkwardly.

“I was. Then I got a text message from Hank. We’re expected to be at NORAD within an hour. The Professor already has the X-jet prepped,” she said, “That means we need to be on it within the hour.”

“I take it this means someone the President and General Grimshaw are getting ready to throw us into the fire,” said the young psychic with a sigh.

“Amongst other things,” said Ororo flatly, “Which is why we had better get moving.”

It sounded like the moment everyone had been dreading, but Jean didn’t move with the same urgency as usual. If Genosha was any indication, that moment Shiro mentioned may be coming up fast.

“Sorry to cut this short, Shiro. I’m used to it. You’re probably not,” said Jean as she slipped out from the booth.

“I understand, Jean,” he assured her, “Do what you need to do. Just be sure to make room for those passions you mentioned.”

“I’ll do my best,” she said, trying to sound confident.

Jean left Shiro and his comfort behind. It was up to her to find the strength she needed. Looking over at Ororo, she sensed that she wasn’t the only one.

“What was that about passions, Jean?” asked Ororo curiously.

“It’s not the kind you’re thinking about,” assured Jean.

“You sure about that?” she questioned.

“As sure as anyone can be at a time like this,” Jean replied, “Let’s get out of here and get this over with. I’d like to know what kind of madness Magneto is up to now so we know how screwed we are.”

Nova Roma – X-Force Base

“It’s official. We’re more screwed now than we were before!” exclaimed Wolverine.

“I haven’t even gone over the most important details yet,” said Wanda Maximoff, who had been describing Asteroid M to X-Force.

“I don’t think we need ‘em at this point,” he said as he opened a fresh bottle of Jack Daniels, “It was bad enough when Magneto had a whole country to himself. Now you’re saying this Asteroid M is an entirely new world? Is that asshole ever satisfied?”

“I understand the frustration of not being satisfied, but even I think this is too far,” commented Emma Frost.

“There’s still more to it, I’m afraid. More than even I may know,” said Wanda grimly.

X-Force stood overwhelmed by Wanda’s revelations. This was much bigger than anything they could have imagined. At a time when they were depleted and demoralized, it put them in a position where they were doomed to get caught in some form of crossfire.

Magneto was thinking bigger on a whole new level. It sounded like a last-ditch effort to create a world where mutants would be dominant. In that sense, Magneto took this vision quite literally.

He created a new world out of the very asteroid he used to try and destroy everything. This world was exquisitely detailed in the snow globe-like display that Wanda had received in a package from the Brotherhood. Scott, Emma, Kurt, Domino, and Logan each took turns observing it. By every measure, it was Magneto’s most ambitious plan to date.

“Screwed or not, it makes a twisted bit of sense,” said Scott, who was currently holding the globe, “He couldn’t subdue this world so he created his own.”

“Believe me when I say he never wanted it to get this far,” said Wanda distantly.

“I find that hard to accept,” scoffed Domino, “Even if this is excessive on way too many levels, it seems like he’s taking the easy way out.”

“That’s exactly why my father wanted to avoid it,” Wanda said in a stronger tone, “Asteroid M wasn’t originally his idea. It was something his former mentor cooked up.”

“Wait…Magneto has a mentor?” said Kurt curiously.

“You don’t think he became Magneto overnight, do you?” quipped Wanda, “I’m sure Charles Xavier told you the story about how he lost his wife…my mother during his peace-keeping work with Charles Xavier. What he didn’t tell you was what happened in the years that followed.”

“The Professor did say he lost track of Magneto for a number of years,” said Scott, “Is that where this began?”

“It probably began before that,” said Wanda, “My father’s mentor was an unusual man with some unusual insights. His name was Dr. Herbert Edgar Wyndham. He was once a respected biologist in England. Then one day he visited these mountains in the Balkans. I’m not sure what they were called, but my father called it Wundagore.”

“Wundagore? Sounds like a Disney ride,” muttered Logan, who had already chugged half his bottle of Jack Daniels.

“I don’t know much about it, but my father said that Dr. Wyndham set up this elaborate lab within the mountain. I don’t know how he did it or where he got the resources. All I know is he became a major influence on my father. You see, in addition to being a brilliant biologis,t he was also a mutant. I’m told he had this strange power that made him hyper-aware. My father called it cosmic awareness. Pietro just called him loony a brain-damaged squirrel.”

“Zhat vould be only zhe second time I’ve agreed vith Pietro,” said Kurt.

“Regardless of how we felt about him, my father learned a lot from that man. But as much as they learned from one another, there was one thing they never seemed to agree on.”

“And somehow Asteroid M was their way of compromising? That sounds like quite an argument,” said Emma dryly.

“It wasn’t an argument as much as it was a debate,” said Wanda, “My father believed in reshaping this world rather than abandoning it. He believed that mutants could usher in a new era…one that was worth fighting for, no matter how much humanity resisted it.”

“So he thought an asteroid and the Cambrian would reshape everything?” muttered Logan, “Get your old man a dictionary because his definition is fucked up.”

“I’d rather not argue my father’s past misdeeds and I’d appreciate it if you quit slandering him,” said Wanda, her eyes flashing briefly.

“Pay no attention to him, Vanda. Logan is somewhat drunk,” coaxed Kurt, “Please continue.”

Wanda was tempted to hex Logan for insulting her father. They were former X-men so they couldn’t see the greater aspects of her father’s vision. Even though some were jaded by his personal shortcomings, she still saw merit to her father’s goals.

“Dr. Wyndham’s vision for the world was far more cynical if that’s the correct word,” Wanda went on.

“More cynical than Magneto?” scoffed Emma, “That’s quite a feat.”

“I don’t know if it was due to that cosmic awareness of his, but Dr. Wyndham believed in starting anew. He called evolution on Earth a dead end. He believed the only way it could succeed is if it started from scratch. For him, that meant creating entirely new ecosystems. My father helped him acquire genetic samples from all over the world. Dr. Wyndham’s ultimate vision was to create a completely independent environment. I remember him pitching the idea to my father that they capture a large asteroid. My father disapproved of the idea, but then came the whole asteroid impact affair. Suddenly, Dr. Wyndham had a large chunk of rock orbiting the Earth at his disposal.”

“Guess that’s one way of turning success out of failure,” said Scott as he held up the snow globe, “I remember the Professor saying that Jean couldn’t completely deflect the asteroid. Instead, it was pushed into a stable orbit.”

“It’s not as convenient as it sounds. Where do you think he got the plans for that machine he used to draw the asteroid in?” said Wanda.

“I always vondered about zhat,” muttered Kurt, “It makes sense zhat he vould have help.”

“It also makes sense that he would go back to this mentor of his after the Cambrian worked him over,” Scott reasoned, “Guess now they’re in agreement about Asteroid M.”

“That still doesn’t explain how one guy could carve an entire world out of an asteroid,” said Domino skeptically as she took the snow globe from Scott, “This Wyndham guy sounds like he lost his mind long before Magneto.”

“That’s what worries me,” said Wanda in a more anxious tone, “Say what you will about my father, but something is definitely wrong with him if he’s joined Dr. Wyndham in assembling Asteroid M.”

“Something was always wrong with him,” said Logan, “Maybe he’s just given up on all that reshaping bullshit you mentioned.”

“It can’t be that simple. I refuse to believe that my father has grown that desperate!” said Wanda defensively.

“How can you be so damn sure? Maybe your old man watched the world go to Hell. For all we know he just said ‘fuck it’ and ran away to his floating space rock.”

This time Kurt couldn’t hold her back. Wanda used her hex bolts to shatter the half-full bottle of Jack Daniels while it was still in his hand. That enraged an already pissed off Logan, who proceeded to throw the broken bottle aside and draw his claws.

“Errrrrr! So that’s how you wanna play it?” snarled the feral mutant.

“You were asking for it, Logan! I can do much worse if you keep testing me!” said Wanda menacingly.

“Bring it on, Maximoff!” snarled Logan.

“Why don’t you sober up, Logan?” quipped Scott.

Before the hostility could get any worse, Scott adjusted his visor and fired a stun-level blast at Logan. It struck him right in the chest, knocking him back against the refrigerator. Kurt got in front of Wanda so he couldn’t come back at her if he tried. It left the former living weapon sore as well as angered.

“Hnn…you’ll beat yourself up after shooting Warren, but you won’t flinch a muscle when you shoot me?” he snarled.

“Wanda was right. You were asking for it,” said Scott strongly, “We get it. You think Magneto is crazy. I admit I’m skeptical as well when she says something is wrong with Magneto.”

“You mean aside from a long list of issues?” grumbled Logan as he pulled himself up.

“We can debate that another time, but for the moment…I believe Wanda.”

“So do I,” said Kurt strongly, making it clear that he wasn’t going to let Logan attack her.

“As disconcerting it may be, she may actually be our best ally. Keep in mind we have precious few,” Emma pointed out.

“You’re out-voted here, Logan. So why don’t you give it a rest and listen?” said Domino, “We won’t do ourselves any favors by fighting each other.”

“Speak for yourself,” grumbled the feral mutant.

Logan kept muttering curses under his breath as he rose up from Scott’s blast. The rest of X-Force turned back towards Wanda. On some levels, Logan had a point. They were relying an awful lot on Magneto’s daughter. They were in a vulnerable position and their only hope of confronting this crisis was through her.

“Let’s skip the part where we speculate why Magneto helped create Asteroid M. Right now, I’m more curious about why the Brotherhood would send you this package and just leave without a trace,” said Scott.

“Well after what happened the last time they paid a visit, I’d expect them to be more reluctant,” said Emma.

“That’s never stopped them before,” said Wanda as she looked distantly into the snow globe, “They could have easily knocked me out, drugged me, or just shoved me into one of Blink’s portals. But they didn’t. That says to me that Pietro wasn’t the one that sent me this package.”

“No surprise there,” shrugged Kurt, “Pietro can never resist making a scene.”

“Then that probably means Magneto sent it,” Scott surmised, “The question is why.”

“I already know why,” said Wanda, “He’s expecting me to understand that Asteroid M means this world is about to fail in a significant way. He wants me to rejoin him. Moreover, he wants me to come of my own volition.”

“And are you?” asked Kurt in a worried tone.

Wanda paused for a moment. She turned away from the snow globe and back towards X-Force. She didn’t choose to be stuck in Nova Roma with X-Force. However, she had chosen to stay and doing so had been quite an experience. That experience greatly complicated this seemingly simple decision.

“If this came to me a few days after the Genosha exodus, I wouldn’t have hesitated. Now I’m not so sure,” said Wanda, “Aside from Logan’s juvenile personality, I’ve learned a lot from X-Force. I’ve seen you do things that make me wonder what I should do given my position.”

“Does that mean we get to say you’re welcome?” said Domino.

“Don’t get ahead of yourselves,” said Wanda, rolling her eyes, “You may not like it, but I still care about my father. I still care about the Brotherhood and what we once stood for. I may have changed my stance on a number of issues, but I won’t change my stance on the future of our kind. That’s exactly why I can’t just go to my father. Something just feels…wrong.”

“I believe you. I also believe that you can’t ignore this,” said Scott.

“I know I can’t. But what am I supposed to do? You said it yourself. X-Force is decimated. The X-men can’t be trusted. If I turn out to be right, then it doesn’t matter what we do. We’re not in a position to stop it.”

Wanda set down the snow globe and hugged her shoulders. Kurt offered to console her. Scott, Emma, Domino, and Logan shared in her frustration with little hope of such consolation. Asteroid M was Magneto’s ultimate stand. On the surface it seemed like a viable if not excessive solution.

A heavy silence fell over the room. It was a given that Magneto controlling a massive space station would cause a major panic once word got out. For that reason, the X-men and the authorities weren’t going to let it stand. Such a move could make an extreme situation much worse. Scott, who was still reeling from the scars left by Romulus, understood this more than anyone. X-Force had to do something about it.

“In this instance I don’t believe you, Wanda. We are in a position to stop this,” said Scott in a stronger tone.

“We are?” questioned Logan, “You sure you ain’t been drinking again, Cyke?”

“Near as I can tell, he’s sober,” said Emma dryly, “Although I can’t help but be dubious.”

“I know my credibility has taken a hit lately. I don’t blame you for doubting me, but we can’t doubt our mission. Magneto is making a move. We can expect the X-men and the MSA to make a move of their own. If White Cell was any indication, we can expect that move to be mired in complications. We can’t afford that this time. We need to be in a position to deal with them and Magneto.”

“Why don’t we do some Korean algebra while we’re at it?” scoffed Domino, “Seriously, Scott. Are you sure you’re not still drunk?”

“I’m not drunk, damn it! And like the rest of you, I’m not going to stand by while our already vulnerable world is threatened,” said the X-Force leader, now sounding stronger than he had since the White Cell affair.

“I agree vith you, mein friend. No one here intends to ignore zhis, but ve can’t do anything meaningful vithout a plan,” Kurt pointed out.

“I know that, Kurt. Which is why I have a plan,” said Scott.

“Is it a plan like the one we had for White Cell?” said Logan dryly, “Because you handled that so well.”

“Since I’ve learned some harsh lessons from that mission, I’ll skip the part where I shoot you with another optic blast, Logan. But unless anyone has a plan of their own, we need to act soon. Neither Magneto nor the X-men are going to give us much time.”

Logan, Kurt, Emma, and Domino studied their leader. Scott sounded a lot more like the competent tactician they placed so much trust in when they joined X-Force. Yet there was still an unmistakable doubt in his tone. It left them plenty of reasons to worry, but since no one had a plan of their own they decided to hear him out.

“Since no one is asking if I’m drunk anymore, the rest falls on you, Wanda,” said Scott, “You helped us in a tough situation against White Cell. Now let us help you in a tough situation with your father.”

“I’m not going to refuse help in this matter,” she told him, “However, I’m worried about what this help will entail.”

“Give me a chance to put those worries at ease,” he urged her, “When we’re done, help me make a few calls. For this plan to work, we’ll have to put ourselves right in the line of fire. But unlike the White Cell mission, we will maintain control.”

“How can you be so sure this time?” said Emma skeptically.

“Because we’re not going to stay in the shadows,” Scott replied, “We’re laying everything on the line this time. There will be no room for ambiguity. That’s how we’ll maintain control. And that control will be our greatest edge.”

The X-Force leader never took his eyes off Wanda. Regardless of how confident the team was with him, everything fell on her shoulders. Plan or no plan, she was responsible for whatever damage her father incurred. Turning towards Kurt and then back towards Scott, she made a fateful decision.

“Okay Cyclops,” said Wanda, now sharing his strength, “What’s the plan and what do you need from me?”

Church of Humanity

“In the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit,” said Father Ryan Hansen before his crowded pews, “Peace be with you.”

“And also with you,” they replied in unison.

It was a refreshing moment for the passionate preacher. After suffering from a gunshot wound at the hands of William Stryker, he was relegated to a hospital bed and away from his congregation. Once he had sufficiently healed, his flock eagerly returned to his sermons.

It was probably the largest crowd he had seen at his church to date. Mutants from District X along with nearby residents and their families came in droves to wish him well. Even Isaac took some time off from his work in District X to share this moment with him. He and a great many others sorely needed it.

While he was recovering, his followers faced their own test of faith. The recent events with White Cell left many feeling vulnerable. It seemed as though the MSA, the military, and every other authority they trusted could not protect them. In this fear it was only natural that they turn to a much higher authority.

“Thank you everyone,” he told his flock, “I am truly warmed by your love and support. I understand such warmth is hard to come by in these difficult times. A gunshot wound to our bodies can be just as painful as a wound to our souls. I healed from my wound, but I sense you are wounded as well. I’m here to tell you that faith can help us heal our wounds, although my doctor tells me gunshot wounds are the exception.”

That morbid joke earned some laughs from the pews. It was remarkable that Father Hansen could still smile after his ordeal. It showed how strong his faith was, having healed with his heart and spirit intact.

“One of Christ’s most significant acts was healing the sick,” Father Hansen went on, “He understood that a man’s body was as frail as his spirit. We often forget just how vulnerable we are until part of us is wounded. Well the wounds inflicted by White Cell ran much deeper. Near as we can tell, they sought to destroy the safety and harmony that we’ve come to rely on. The brave men and women that we rely on to protect us have been crippled. They have their lives, but not the tools with which to do their duty. I would say unto them and to everyone here that we still have our most important tool intact. That tool is our faith. For no matter how wounded we may be or how vulnerable we may feel, God is still watching out for us. God gives us the strength to endure. Through the love and charity bestowed upon us by His only begotten son, we shall heal.”

“You may be right, Father. But what good is healing if we end up enduring greater wounds?” came a voice.

That powerful voice interrupted Father Hansen’s sermon. Everyone within the crowded pews turned back towards the main entrance where a lone figure stood in the open doorway.

He was a tall, imposing man with long dark hair and a Latino complexion. He wore a strange black and blue body suit with a large M embroidered on the chest. As he entered this holy sanctum, some viewed him with suspicion. Among those were Idie, Jubilee, and Teon.

“Fight?” said Teon with a growl.

“No Teon…not yet,” said Idie as she watched the man closely.

“My creep detector is going haywire,” said Jubilee, “If Gabriel, Laurie, and Kenji hadn’t landed patrol duty with Bishop, I bet they would say the same.”

“I would not argue with them. But let’s not judge him just yet. Especially in a church,” said Idie.

All eyes remained on the man as he approached the altar. As he drew near, Isaac came out from the front pew and confronted him.

“Excuse me, sir! I don’t know if this is the first time you’ve been in a church, but it’s incredibly rude to interrupt Father Hansen while he’s preaching the good word,” said Isaac in a threatening tone.

“Forgive my manners. My name is Vargas. I am a former sinner who overcome his sin in a very special manner,” he said cryptically, “I meant to arrive sooner, but my trip was rather extensive. I’m not here to speak out against God. I’m just here to share some good news of another kind.”

Isaac remained apprehensive. Father Hanson stepped down from the altar to wave him down. Like many others, he was intrigued by this man.

“Stand down, Isaac. This man has something to say. Let him say it,” said Father Hansen.

“Thank you, Father. I promise I’ll be brief. I have many other stops to make in spreading this message. Your congregation just happens to be the first,” said Vargas.

The mysterious man turned around to address the curious pews, who listened intently with mixed suspicions.

“This is a very special group you have here, Father. You and your followers are bold. You embrace the greatest outcasts of society, a very Christ-like act in a world where there are few. I see some mutants in the audience. I also see some humans, sharing in their burden. You may look vastly different and wield powers that further those differences. Yet the good reverend here preaches a powerful message. He urges us to embrace these differences rather than fear them. That makes you worthy of this message that I hope will soon spread far and wide.”

Vargas rolled up the sleeves of his body suit, revealing scars that ran up and down his arm. They were the unmistakable scars of a drug-addict. He walked up and down the rows of the pews so everyone could see the scars of his sins.

“As my scars demonstrate, I was once weak, wounded, and vulnerable. I barely had the strength to stand on my own two feet, let alone defend myself. Then God sent to me his blessed children. They revealed to me a way in which we could all be strong again! That way flows through my veins as we speak. It flows in the veins of every mutant in the world. God has given us a taste of the blessed. Now we have a means to share it.”

Now standing in the center of all the pews, Vargas reached into his body suit and pulled out a container of glowing red fluid. Many stood up so they could get a closer look. Jubilee, Teon, and Idie were among them. Unlike the rest of the congregation, they recognized what Vargas was holding.

“Jubilee, is that…” gasped Idie.

“It is,” said Jubilee, her gaze narrowing on Vargas, “We should probably warn Bishop and Sage. I doubt anything godly will come of this.”

Jubilee led Idie and Teon out from the pews while everyone else crowded around Vargas. They didn’t understand what they were looking at, but they could sense its importance.

“I hold in my hand that which ended my sin,” Vargas proclaimed proudly, “I subjected myself to grueling experiments, enduring pain the likes of which I cannot describe. These experiments yielded this wondrous elixir. It turned me from a wounded human into one of the blessed.”

“By blessed you mean…” began Isaac, who remained defensive of Vargas’s message.

“Yes…I am now a mutant,” he proclaimed, “I was born human, but I was given the chance to change that. I took that chance because like you I’ve watched the world become mired in conflict. There are too many humans that seek to destroy mutants and too many mutants that seek to destroy humans. That is why I came here on behalf of the former mutants of Genosha. They seek to escape this world of conflict and they embraced me in my desire to escape as well. Now I offer this choice to everyone. You can do as I have. You can become a new generation of the blessed, free from fear and pain. We can rebuild what was lost on Genosha in a new world!”

His message sparked commotion and discussion throughout the pews. This man claimed that he had willingly chose to become a mutant. Such a choice seemed inconceivable in a world where human/mutant issues drove so much conflict. Yet it made sense in a strange sort of way. What better way to resolve those issues than to share the burden? Some were already curious to know more.

“That elixir you’re holding…could it help my wife? She’s been sick with cancer for nearly a year now,” asked a middle-aged man eagerly.

“Could it make me taller? I would love to be taller!” said a short woman with tanned skinned.

“You said something about rebuilding Genosha,” said a mutant woman from District X, “Was that a metaphor or were you being serious?”

“Oh we’re doing more than rebuilding. We can do more than heal physical wounds as well,” said Vargas ominously, “I’ll be happy to share more with you, but we must be brief. A much larger announcement will be at hand and the world must prepare to embrace God’s plan!”

Father Hansen’s sermon seemed to fall to the wayside. Everyone was now clamoring around Vargas. The mutants in the pews were eager to learn more about a rebuilt Genosha. Humans were eager to learn about embracing this power as he had described. If it could save Vargas from his sin, then it could save many others.

In the midst of this commotion, Isaac and Father Hansen stayed back. Isaac remained suspicious of Vargas, seeing in him more sin that he let on. Father Hansen was less certain. This revelation posed some profound issues that went beyond the spiritual.

“This man has all the trappings of a false prophet, Father,” said Isaac sternly, “We cannot allow him to poison our flock.”

“His message may be misleading, but I sense no deception,” said Father Hansen distantly, “I’ve heard the words of liars and charlatans. This man does not speak like one.”

“Does it matter?” questioned Isaac.

“It always matters when a messenger believes his own message. I get the sense that even he doesn’t fully understand what he preaches.”

“So what do we do? Watch and pray he does not lead God’s children into the lake of fire?”

Father Hansen turned towards his long-time associate and led him aside so that they were away from the crowd. Father Hansen may have sensed sincerity in this mysterious man, but he also sensed trouble. For this they would require more than just prayer.

“We will not forget our flock, my friend,” assured Father Hansen, “At the moment, we’re witnessing the beginning of something biblical in size. It won’t be long before others witness it as well. That is why we must maintain our faith and make some important preparations.”

Colorado Springs – NORAD Headquarters

“Attention all NORAD personnel and support staff. We are going into lockdown. I repeat, we are going into lockdown. All major bunkers will be sealed within the next twenty minutes. Maintain protocols 16-1015 until further notice.”

Those emergency announcements had been blaring throughout NORAD since President Kelly arrived. The events on Genosha initiated a long list of security protocols. President Kelly didn’t take any chances. He left Washington with his family as soon as Professor Xavier informed him of what happened.

General Grimshaw lingered in Washington to help the MSA transfer their operations to NORAD so they would be more secure. Given their depleted manpower and Magneto’s resilience, it wasn’t clear if these measures would do them much good.

“Do they really think hiding here will protect them from Magneto?” said Betsy dryly as she followed the X-men through the elaborate complex.

“This facility was built to withstand a thermonuclear strike. I would hope it offers some protection,” said Hank.

“Who’s to say he’ll even target President Kelly or the MSA?” questioned Jean.

“He’s Magneto and the last time we faced him, he was nuttier than a pack of hungry squirrels,” said Rogue, “Ah wouldn’t put anything past him.”

“I don’t know, Rogue. He must be somewhat competent to attack at a time like this,” said Ororo, “He must be sane on some levels to attack when global defenses are at their weakest.”

“His sanity is a secondary concern, at least for now,” said Piotr as he looked around, “I’m more worried about how the President and the General will respond. The last time they faced such an imminent threat, it did not work out so well.”

“I hear you, Pete,” said Remy, “Hopefully, they done learned their lesson. If not, then it really don’t matter how strong this bunker is.”

The sense of vulnerability permeated even as the large blast doors that protected NORAD were closed behind them. Jean, Hank, Ororo, Rogue, Remy, Betsy, and Piotr watched as various military personnel scrambled to get inside before the complex was sealed. The whole facility was buried deep within a mountain and sheltered underground underneath many layers of rock. Yet it didn’t set anyone’s mind at ease. The X-men had faced Magneto enough times to know they couldn’t hide from his wrath.

Shortly after the blast doors were sealed, the X-men met up with Professor Xavier and Captain Freeman. They had already arrived at this facility earlier and didn’t seem to take much comfort in the security measures either.

“Thank you for arriving so quickly, X-men,” greeted Professor Xavier, “As you can see, the President is taking this threat quite seriously.”

“This is one instance where there’s no such thing as overreacting,” sighed Betsy, “Is he that convinced that Magneto is up to his old tricks again?”

“As far as I’m concerned, it’s beyond dispute,” said Xavier confidently, “Some new data just came in. President Kelly and General Grimshaw are discussing it with allied countries as we speak.”

“I hope no one has started shooting off nuclear missiles just yet. We all know how badly that turned out last time,” said Jean.

“Some of these people have short memories,” said Captain Freeman, “That’s why General Grimshaw wants us there. We’re hoping to avoid any unreasonable extremes, at least for a while.”

“You sound like the odds be stacked against us, Captain,” said Remy.

“Let’s just say these are high stakes that even you would never play, Lebeau,” said the Green Beret.

Captain Freeman’s tone was more crass than usual. Even he accepted that they weren’t going to enjoy the roles they would play in this crisis. After the White Cell debacle, no one seemed to have a coherent plan anymore. That left Magneto at a huge advantage.

Despite this mix of cynicism and dread, the X-men followed their mentor into the heart of NORAD. They passed by a number of security barriers, many of which were undermanned due to a significant lack of manpower. The effects of White Cell’s attacks were apparent. Many of the personnel within the base looked like they had been stretched too thin. When they reached the main control room, they saw that President Kelly was just as beleaguered.

“Any change yet, General?” asked Professor Xavier as he arrived with the X-men.

“See for yourself, X-men,” said General Grimshaw, who stood back near a computer terminal, “It’s as unnerving as you expect.”

Professor Xavier lingered with the General behind the terminals and watched President Kelly converse with other world leaders. Several dozen video feeds were projected onto a large screen that dominated the front wall. The video feeds displayed the worried demeanors of leaders and ambassadors from various countries. They all seemed to share his concerns and his distress.

“My people have looked over these magnetic readings from space, Mr. President,” said the French Defense Minister, “They’re all in agreement. These anomalies are consistent with those caused by Magneto.”

“You don’t need to convince me of that. Our team here at NORAD has analyzed it as well,” said President Kelly, “Magneto always leaves a signature whenever he pulls off one of his magnetic stunts. He just can’t resist showing off.”

“I’m not as concerned about him showing off as I am his sanity,” said the Russian President, “This man unleashed that Cambrian creature on us. There are parts of my country that are still cleaning up from it.”

“My country was hurt more by that communications blackout he pulled before he disappeared,” said the Prime Minister of South Korea.

“Yes, we can all attest to our countries being affected by Magneto,” conceded the British Prime Minister, “Whether he’s sane or not, he’s clearly making a move of sorts.”

“At a time when our collective defenses are still rebuilding no less,” said President Kelly, “That should be proof enough that Magneto has been biding his time.”

“And we are simply not equipped to deal with it like we were when he invaded Genosha,” said the President of South Africa, “Our African Union forces were disorganized to begin with. Now I have several countries that can’t even protect their capital cities, let alone defend against another threat from Magneto.”

“Excuse me for being overly blunt, but isn’t this why we agreed to the Mutant Monitoring Initiative?” asked the President of Brazil in an apprehensive tone, “Isn’t this something the global MSA should be handling?”

“Like every other defense force in the world, the MSA has been hit hard by the White Cell attack,” said President Kelly, “General Grimshaw has been coordinating with most of your affiliates. They’ve been supplementing basic defense forces, but they aren’t even close to full strength.”

“So what are our options?” asked the Premier of China, “Everyone else here seems too spooked to even contemplate a plan.”

“That’s because we don’t know enough about what we’re dealing with here. We only know that Magneto is involved. This limits our options, especially given the location of the source. I’ve sent every one of you our latest spectral analysis in an encrypted email. This should explain how difficult any plan would be.”

President Kelly adjusted his tie in an effort to keep his composure. Every other leader seemed anxious to act. He brought up the analysis on one of the terminals. It depicted a large digital display that had a scaled mock-up of the Earth and moon. In the middle of each was the source of the anomaly, marked by a large red dot. Around this dot were multipledata points that reminded them of how poorly equipped they were.

“As you can see, the source of the magnetic anomaly on Genosha was traced back to this point in space,” said President Kelly, “NORAD has determined that the source is either an asteroid or a large space station of sorts.”

“It wouldn’t be the first time Magneto has used an asteroid,” said the defense minister of Egypt, “Is this another instance where he hopes to wipe us out with an impact?”

“It’s possible, but not very likely. Even Magneto isn’t that unoriginal,” said President Kelly, “NASA, Russia, and the European Space Agency have all tracked the source. It appears to be in a stable orbit. The problem is that orbit is beyond the range of any space vehicles, including the classified ones the public doesn’t know about.”

“They are not out of the range of ballistic missiles,” said the President of Russia intently, “My top engineers assured me that they could reach this source with only a few modifications.”

“My engineers went to the same schools that your engineers did, Mr. President,” said President Kelly, “Believe me, we’re making sure that’s an option.”

“Then why aren’t we acting on it? Do we even have any other options?” questioned the German Chancellor.

“That’s something we’re still trying to determine,” said President Kelly.

“Well given our current situation, I say the time for such determinations are limited,” said the President of Japan, “We’ve waited too long in the past and it has allowed Magneto to do great damage. Why should we wait this time? Why not end this madness before it escalates? We would be doing the world a favor.”

“I agree!” said a high ranking military officer from Saudi Arabia, “We should have ended this long ago. Let’s end it now before our people pay the price!”

“If we’re voting, I would second this resolution,” said the President of Argentina.

“I would gladly third,” said the Prime Minister of India.

The sentiment was clear. No one was willing to wait for all the facts to come in. They failed to stop Magneto before he unleashed the Cambrian. They couldn’t fail again at a time when they were this vulnerable.

That didn’t sit well with Professor Xavier and the X-men. They turned to General Grimshaw, who maintained his usual stoic demeanor.

“Aren’t you going to say something, General?” asked Professor Xavier, “I thought you were an ardent opponent of shooting blindly at a threat.”

“I’m also an opponent of fighting battles I know I can’t win,” said the General, “No country had the ability to oppose Magneto when their defenses were at full strength. Can you really blame them for wanting to be proactive when they’re at less than half?”

“That’s an excuse. Not a reason,” the Professor pointed out.

“And not a very good reason I might add,” said Ororo.

“If you have an alternative, then by all means,” quipped the General, “Believe me, the suggestion box is wide open.”

“Keeping in mind that negotiating with Magneto probably won’t fly,” noted Captain Freeman.

“We don’t know that. We don’t know anything about what he’s doing,” said Hank.

“For all we know we’ll start a crisis far worse than the one we resolve,” the Professor added.

“I’m not comfortable with ignorance either. I wish I knew more and so does everyone else in this base,” said the General, who remained fixated on the President, “We’ve exhausted what limited resources we have trying to figure out what that anomaly on Genosha was and what the even bigger anomaly orbiting overhead entails.”

“That doesn’t mean we should stop trying,” said Professor Xavier strongly, “With a few adjustments to Cerebrum, I may be able to psychic scan further into space. I may even be able to make contact with Magneto.”

“You think anyone here has the patience to wait for a breakthrough like that? Face it, Xavier. Unless new intel literally comes knocking on our door, we have no choice but to…”

Then the General was unexpectedly cut off. One of the female Majors rushed over from one of the terminals. She had with her a tablet computer that she held close to her chest. She literally forced herself in front of the General and the Professor to get their attention.

“General, sir! You’re not going to believe this!” she said breathlessly.

“We’re in the middle of a doomsday scenario. I’m more gullible than usual,” said the General.

“We just got some unannounced visitors. The MPs patched through the security feed. I’m not sure if it’s a bad sign, but it’s definitely worth noticing.”

The female Major showed her tablet computer to General Grimshaw and Professor Xavier. The rest of the X-men crowded around as well to get a look. When they saw the video feed, their eyes widened with shock.

“By stars and garners!” gasped Hank.

“I think that pretty much sums it up,” said Betsy.

“General, you must…” began, Professor Xavier.

“I’m already on it, Professor,” said the General.

Breaking his silence, General Grimshaw grabbed the tablet computer from the Major and approached President Kelly. They were still in the middle of discussing the ballistic missile option. The General was all too eager to interrupt them.

“Excuse me, gentlemen. But something has come up that demands your attention,” the General announced.

“General, we’re in the middle of something very important so this had better be relevant,” warned a distressed President Kelly.

“Trust me, it’s related…in more ways than one,” he replied cryptically, “Give me a moment. I’m going to patch the security feed into your communications link. I think you’ll all want to see this.”

General Grimshaw didn’t give President Kelly a chance to argue. He signaled the Major, who was already working with her team to patch the feed into the encrypted link. Within moments, a new video image appeared on the massive screen. The image depicted X-Force standing right in front of the main gate outside NORAD’s main entrance. Cyclops, Domino, Emma Frost, Wolverine, and Nightcrawler were in full uniform looking ready for battle. But what really drew everyone’s attention was who they had with them. It was Wanda Maximoff and she looked as impatient as everyone else.

“Are we patched in yet? I’m not my brother, but I share his lack of patience,” said Wanda through the feed.

“We hear you, Miss Maximoff. You’re now speaking to the President and a long list of world leaders that I don’t have time to name,” said General Grimshaw through the computer.

“Good, because they need to know what my father has planned. And if they want to avoid more needless destruction, they’ll also listen to what X-Force and I plan to do about it.”

Up next: High Evolution

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