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Volume 7 -- Issue 169 -- High Evolution Part 1

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High Evolution Part 1
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Professor Charles Xavier believes that humans and mutants can live in peace. But in a world that hates and fears mutants, achieving such peace has proved difficult. It became so difficult that Professor Xavier forged a partnership with the government known as the Mutant Monitoring Initiative. This partnership has been controversial amongst allies and enemies alike. Now this initiative faces its biggest crisis to date.

It started in the ruins of Genosha. Professor Xavier’s X-men clashed with X-Force, a rival group led by Cyclops, that opposed his initiative. In the midst of this clash, a mysterious device was activated. It revealed that Magneto had returned from exile with terrifying ambition.

This sent President Kelly and the governments of the world into a panic. With few answers and decimated defenses in wake of the attack by White Cell, humanity sought to act swiftly. Then in an unexpected turn, those answers literally arrived at their doorstep. Wanda Maximoff arrived with X-Force to tell them all about her father’s plan.

He calls it Asteroid M. It is his most ambitious and desperate attempt to create a world where mutants dominate. With help from Dr. Herbert Wyndham, he transported the Brotherhood and the 198 remaining mutants from Genosha to this world. They arrived to find a paradise landscape ripe with new ecosystems. However, Asteroid M promises to do more than just shelter mutants. It promises to usher in a new kind of evolution.

Asteroid M – City X

The Brotherhood and the 198 former citizens of Genosha were continually astonished as they explored their new home. Asteroid M was more than just a world carved out of a space rock. It was a clean slate for their kind. The many reservations about Magneto’s return were quickly cast aside as he led them on a tour of their new domain.

Utilizing a series of magnetic platforms, he levitated the Brotherhood and the 198 so they could get an aerial view of this vast space station. The primary level, as Magneto called it, was a large plain that covered a diverse topography. The river that ran through the center nurtured a diverse valley that contained all sorts of ecosystems. There were forests, grasslands, deserts, swamps, and even a few polar regions around the mountains. It was amazing that so much could fit into a single asteroid. However, he reserves the most amazing sight for last.

“Slow down, father! I wanted to see more of those beach areas you showed us,” said Pietro eagerly.

“Forget the beach! What about all those bizarre animals running around?” asked Blink.

“What about them? You can’t have a thriving new world without a little biodiversity,” shrugged Dr. Wyndham, who was standing at the front of the platform.

“Can we eat them?” asked Blob.

“I just knew you were going to ask that at some point,” said Alex, rolling his eyes.

“I’m afraid I can’t show you everything Asteroid M has to offer in just one tour,” said Magneto as they flew over a series of hills, “There will be plenty of time to explore, but right now you need to see the centerpiece of this wondrous new world. While we may no longer be on Earth, I assure you we won’t leave the comforts of civilization behind.”

As soon as they passed over the hills, the Brotherhood and the 198 saw what he meant. In the very center of this vast plain was a city that was truly worthy of a world this vast. It was larger than any city that existed on earth.

It was organized in a series of rectangular grids that were all interconnected by roads and utility lines. The grids contained a wide array of buildings including residential complexes, recreation centers, manufacturing areas, and commercial hubs. The same river that ran through the valley they saw earlier ran through the center, fueling opulent waterways and fountains. It was so clean and ordered, bearing all the trappings of a prosperous city.

In the center was Magneto’s citadel, which had been rebuilt in spectacular fashion. It was taller and more elaborate than anything on Genosha. It bore some of the distinct marks of Warlock technology. In fact, much of the cityscape shared that high-tech style. The city seemed to anchor the vast landscape with the rest of the asteroid. In terms of a new home for their kind, this city added to the appeal.

“Wow…please tell me this is where we’ll be living!” exclaimed a young mutant boy no older than 14 from the 198.

“I certainly wouldn’t mind living here,” said a mutant woman who appeared to be the boy’s mother, “It seems much safer than Genosha.”

“That’s for sure!” said a middle-aged mutant man with dark skin, “This is way better than a bunker or an island!”

“It’s a new world, my mutant brethren. A fresh start for us and for generations to come,” said Magneto, “Dr. Wyndham and I have built City X from the ground up, creating an advanced environment that will foster an advanced society.”

“Just the two of you built something this huge?” said Alex in astonishment, “You must have had a lot of free time or some kick-ass tools.”

“It wasn’t as difficult as you think,” said Magneto wryly, “Dr. Wyndham has been planning this massive undertaking for decades. His brilliance and resourcefulness helped make Asteroid M possible. I just provided the extra muscle.”

“That and the most advanced Warlock technology ever crafted certainly helps,” grinned Dr. Wyndham.

“Indeed,” said the master of magnetism, “In fact, it was Dr. Wyndham that helped me uncover that alien ship on Genosha. He discovered this technology decades before anyone else.”

“By discover, he means I risked life and limb to sneak onto Genosha and steal as much hardware as I could carry,” added Dr. Wyndham with a touch of humor.

“I was on Genosha when men like Cameron Hodge were running things,” said Unus, “Your bravery is commendable.”

“And thanks to his work, we can enjoy the fruits of his labor,” Magneto went on, “During my exile, I helped Dr. Wyndham assemble the technology that carved this world out of a dead chunk of space rock. That same technology will ensure that City X is the most advanced city ever created. Food, water, utilities, and even high-speed internet are built into its heart for a strong, prosperous society.”

“So that means my iPhone will still work?” asked Scanner.

“I also hope it means this world is self-sustaining,” said Mellencamp, “I’d rather not return to Earth anytime soon.”

“Not unless we go back just to burn it down,” said Pyro.

“We’ll have everything we need here on Asteroid M,” said Magneto, “There will be no need to go back to Earth. If anything, Earth is officially obsolete.”

It was hard not to share that sentiment as they passed over the citadel. It gave the Brotherhood and the rest of the 198 a perfect view of Asteroid M’s sheer scale. The city was at the center of this vast landscape. Even though they were on an asteroid, it felt like they were on another world. It was much larger and more complete than Genosha ever was. Everything seemed so advanced and polished. However, there were still plenty of burning questions.

“This is incredible, father! You’ve truly outdone yourself this time,” said Pietro proudly, “Makes me wish we made this place sooner. It would have saved us a lot of headaches.”

“There’s a reason for that, my son. I had hoped that Asteroid M wouldn’t be necessary,” Magneto explained as they circled around the citadel, “I thought we could create this world on Earth with the collective strength of all mutant kind. We fought hard for that world over the years. I’m sad to admit I was wrong.”

“If this place is as good as it looks, consider yourself forgiven,” said Blob, grinning as he looked out over the cityscape.

“I admit I’m impressed,” said Alex, “But an entire world just for mutants? It just seems like a bit much.”

“I hope you’re not going to complain,” scoffed Pietro, “Overkill or not, this is exactly what our kind needs after everything we’ve been through.”

“Alex still brings up an important point, son,” said Magneto, “This world is vast. And while the population of mutants is growing, they still account for a small percentage of Earth’s population. Even if Asteroid M were to house every mutant and their families, this world would still have plenty of room to spare.”

“Not that I’m against abundant free space, but it still presents an inescapable problem,” said Dr. Wyndham, “By assembling all mutants in a single location, we inhibit the potential for biodiversity. If we wish for this world to evolve, we must have a sizable population with equally sizable diversity.”

“What does that mean? Large scale breeding programs?” joked Pyro.

“I can get behind that!” said Unus as he high-fived Pyro.

“Even if that were appropriate, it would be too slow. We need Asteroid M to be viable long term before the unevolved fools on Earth attempt to destroy it,” said Magneto, “That is why Dr. Wyndham and I have formulated a new strategy…one that has forced me to reevaluate my stance on humanity.”

“To what extent?” asked Alex suspiciously, “I hope it didn’t come from any lastingeffects the Cambrian had on you.”

“You’re just looking for ways to spoil this moment, aren’t you?” groaned Pietro.

“It is not an inappropriate question, Alex. Nor is it worth going into extensively,” said Magneto, “It goes back to what doomed Genosha. We closed ourselves off. We drew lines in the sand with the humans. We refused to surrender or compromise. While it is admirable not to surrender, it is foolish to never compromise.”

“Magneto compromise with humans? You sure he doesn’t have a bit of Cambrian left in him?” said Pyro under his breath.

“Can it, flame brain! Or you’ll compromise with my fist,” scorned Pietro.

“Being a dominant species, we bear a certain responsibility to those less evolved,” said Magneto, ignoring Pyro’s comments, “I negated those responsibilities for a long time and it cost us dearly. We must be willing to share this marvelous endeavor. That is why we must act prudently.”

He sounded both serious and sane. It was a welcome change for some yet still suspicious for others. Magneto didn’t give anyone time to question him further. Using his powers, he redirected the large metal platform that carried the Brotherhood and the 198 to the base of the citadel.

After a brief trip, he placed it in a large clearing. Upon landing, Magneto turned towards the front entrance to the citadel and gestured at the front gate. The large metal doors opened to reveal Frenzy, who bore a new uniform worthy of this new society.

“Allow me to introduce Joanna Cargil, or Frenzy as she prefers when in uniform,” said Magneto, “By pure happenstance, our paths crossed and I have convinced her to serve with the Brotherhood here in Asteroid M.”

“You make it sound as though I had options,” scoffed Frenzy as she approached, “Is it that time already?”

“Indeed it is,” said Magneto with an ominous grin.

“Time for what?” asked Blob curiously.

“Frenzy will finish the rest of the tour from here,” said Magneto, “She’ll show the Brotherhood the Citadel and the various sub-levels. The rest of our residents are free to explore the city.”

“Works for me! I call dibs on that fancy fountain we passed over,” said a mutant boy with a fish-like appearance as he ran off into the city.

“You can’t call dibs on a fountain! Hell, you can’t call dibs on anything here!” argued a similarly aged mutant girl who also had a fish-like mutation.

“Why not? This place is big enough and not nearly as dull as Genosha!” said an older mutant man with sand-like skin.

The 198 quickly dispersed, excited to explore their new home. It left Alex, Pietro, Blob, Pyro, Mellencamp, Unus, Scanner, and Blink behind with Frenzy. She and Dr. Wyndham led them back towards the citadel while Magneto flew off in another direction. They had plenty more to show them and Magneto still had important work to do.

“Where are you going, father?” asked Pietro.

“To deliver an important message to a desperate world,” the master of magnetism replied, “Dr. Wyndham will explain it along the way. For now, relax and adjust to your new surroundings. We’ll be having some important guests very soon.”

Colorado Springs – NORAD

“You’re dropping some distressing revelations on us, Miss Maximoff,” said an exasperated Present Kelly, “They’re almost enough to make me forget that you’ve been MIA since the Genosha exodus and are rubbing shoulders with X-Force.”

“Is that going to be a problem, Mr. President?” said Cyclops in an assertive tone.

“It could be,” he replied, “Depending on how big a threat this space station you’re describing turns out to be.”

“It’s not a space station. It’s a whole new world! At least, that’s how my father sees it,” said Wanda Maximoff, still under heavy scrutiny by the Secret Service and the X-men, “Asteroid M was constructed as the ultimate backup plan to Genosha. It’s a separate, self-contained, self-sufficient environment where mutants can live in peace. He said he would only pursue it if it became apparent that Earth was too dangerous.”

“Well I’d say he picked a hell of a time to make that decision,” said General Grimshaw, “After how poorly we handled the White Cell attacks, he’ll have no problem convincing mutants that they aren’t safe in this world.”

Few contested the General’s assessment. Even fewer took any comfort in these disturbing answers that Wanda had provided them. As soon as she arrived at NORAD with X-Force, she convinced President Kelly and General Grimshaw to let them in.

They opened the blast doors to the bunker and were escorted by armed MSA operatives to the control room where they could address both the President and the leaders of the world tuning in through an encrypted video link. She told them everything she told X-Force regarding Asteroid M. For some, it was too fantastic to believe. Since it involved Magneto, the lines of impossibility were heavily blurred.

For Professor Xavier and the X-men, such revelations were coupled with a bittersweet reunion. Their recent clash with X-Force was still fresh in their minds, yet here they were. Scott, Emma, Domino, Logan, and Kurt each maintained a vigilant stance. It was so awkward that it was almost a relief that they were surrounded by the MSA. Xavier was left in a difficult position along with Jean, Hank, Ororo, Rogue, Remy, Betsy, and Piotr.

“I don’t like this, Professor. It feels wrong on way too many levels,” said Jean.

“You’re in good company, sugah. Asteroid M sounds like another one of Magneto’s plans that’s just bound to go horribly wrong,” said Rogue.

“He really made a new world out of an asteroid?” commented Betsy, “You gotta hand it to the bloke. He’s an overachiever to a degree that’s utterly mental.”

“Asteroid M isn’t what bothers me if you can believe that,” Jean went on, “First we find out that X-Force has been hiding Wanda in Nova Roma. Now they’re here, making themselves completely vulnerable while they share this with us.”

“Would you rather they make us fight for it?” asked Piotr.

“Hell no, but it just feels…wrong,” she said distantly.

“Well for something this crazy, it really don’t make sense to take sides,” said Remy.

“He’s right, Jean. This is on a scale that transcends the Mutant Monitoring Initiative,” said Ororo.

“Assume there’s more to it than we’ve been told, X-men. I sense that X-Force has already accepted that,” said Professor Xavier as he digested these revelations, “I’ve known Erik to go to great lengths before. This certainly qualifies, but in a very different way.”

The Professor navigated through the armed security personnel so he could get closer to Wanda and X-Force. The President and the General kept plenty of armed buffer between them, having no fewer than a dozen armed operatives pointing their weapons towards their unexpected guests. While Wanda revealing the extent of Asteroid M, Hank worked with a number of analysts to fit the story into what little they knew beforehand.

“Hank, where are we with tracking?” asked Professor Xavier.

“We’ve been coordinating with Russian and Japanese defense networks to triangulate the source of the magnetic disturbance. We’ve successfully repositioned a number of spy satellites into a new orientation,” said Hank from one of the computer terminals, “We now have a much clearer picture of this source and it fits Wanda’s descriptions. It is most definitely Asteroid M.”

“So he carved a new world out of the same rock he once used to try and destroy us,” surmised Captain Freeman, “Refresh my memory. Is that irony or just plain fucked up?”

“It doesn’t matter what we call it. That asteroid was the size of Texas and extremely rich in iron,” said Hank as he displayed an image on the screen for everyone to see, “Logistically speaking, it is the perfect canvas for Magneto to create such a world.”

“Something this big would require more than a few fancy magnetic tricks,” said President Kelly, “How the hell could he pull this off without us detecting it? Moreover, how the hell could he get into space to reach it?”

“Magneto is a resourceful man, Mr. President. Getting into space when he had Genoshan technology at his disposal isn’t as outlandish as it sounds,” said the Professor.

“In addition, the orbit of that asteroid was quite erratic,” noted Hank, “For a while it was outside the orbit of the moon. Even if he were utilizing vast quantities of magnetic energy, it would have been difficult to detect.”

“Plus, we had plenty of shit to deal with here on Earth,” said Logan, “Hell, we did him a favor by turning against each other.”

“That was your doing! Not ours!” retorted Captain Freeman.

“Of course, because you guys were so reasonable about turning mutants into a bureaucracy,” said Domino dryly.

“Please, let’s not get into that argument right now,” said Professor Xavier, “Our primary concern is Magneto. Wanda has given us some important if not audacious information. We must now decide what we’re going to do with it.”

Professor Xavier shoved his way past one of the MSA operatives so he could get closer to Wanda. They were reluctant at first, but General Grimshaw waved him down. He had dealt with Wanda in the past. Despite plenty of missteps, there was still a level of trust between them. They needed that trust if they were to formulate a plan.

“Wanda, I know you didn’t come here just to share facts. I’m also certain that X-Force isn’t tagging along out of curiosity,” Xavier told her, “Your father’s action worry you. They worry me too.”

“Don’t fane for me empathy, Professor,” said Wanda strongly, “I didn’t come here for you. I came here for everybody. I know my father has made many enemies and few of you would hesitate to kill him if you had the chance.”

“With all due respect, Miss Maximoff…your father has committed many crimes for which he’s shown no remorse,” said President Kelly, “Some of them have been personal. My own son is proof of that.”

“If you’re expecting me to apologize for him, then you’re wasting your time. I won’t because I can’t,” said Wanda, “I know the kind of man my father is. I have supported him in the past, but I don’t agree with everything he’s done. This is one instance where the potential for destruction is just too great.”

“Does this mean you’ll assist us in confronting Magneto?” asked the President of China.

“You are his daughter. You are in the best position to stop such destruction,” said the Prime Minister of Israel.

“You’re right and I have no intention of avoiding that responsibility,” she said, “However, I don’t believe my father’s intentions are as malicious as you all think. In fact, he may not even be the one pulling the strings this time.”

“You dare paint Magneto as a victim?” scoffed the Defense Minister of Saudi Arabia, “That man has terrorized this world in too many ways! He is undeserving of sympathy!”

“I won’t try to convince you people that my father is innocent. I just need you to believe me when I say that any random attack on Asteroid M won’t work. Like it or not, I’m your only shot at getting to him. My father expects me to join him. I don’t intend on disappointing him, but I don’t intend on going in without a plan. That’s where X-Force comes in. That’s where you come in as well…if you’re willing to give me a chance.”

Wanda spoke with force and poise. Her experience as ruler of Genosha showed. The President and the dozens of other leaders watching through the video link were dubious, but she had significant leverage working in her favor. She knew more about Asteroid M than anyone. She had proven in the past that she could work with the rest of the world in a way that Magneto couldn’t. The idea of launching ballistic missiles at the problem seemed like a waste. As disconcerting as it may be, Wanda was their best bet.

“You’re lucky we have very few options, Miss Maximoff. Otherwise we would exhaust them before trusting you with this,” said President Kelly begrudgingly.

“I hope that wasn’t as coarse as it sounded, Mr. President,” said Wanda strongly.

“You’ll have to excuse us. We’re all a little on edge here,” said General Grimshaw, who silently urged President Kelly to hold his tongue, “You say you want us to be part of this backup plan you mentioned. What exactly does that entail?”

“Well for one, I need assurance that no one will launch an attack of any kind on Asteroid M,” said Wanda, “If you don’t trust me on anything else, trust me when I say that it will only make everything worse.”

“That’s asking a lot. You want us to throw in a gold-plated Hummer while we’re at it?” asked Captain Freeman.

“I’ll also need you to absolve X-Force of their role in this and all previous exploits,” said Wanda as she gestured towards X-Force, “I know they’re criminals under the Mutant Monitoring Initiative, but they can’t have that label if we’re to move forward.”

“Does that include Warpath?” asked Professor Xavier.

“It includes all of X-Force,” said Wanda strongly.

“Sounds like they made quite an impression,” commented General Grimshaw, “Is this your way of thanking them for hiding you?”

“I have my reasons,” she said as she briefly glanced towards Kurt, “Right now, I trust them more than I trust any of you because they have much more to lose.”

“We’re also more likable. You people have become far too hostile since the Mutant Monitoring Initiative passed,” commented Emma.

“Be careful with your words, Miss Frost. Your presence here has already cast plenty of suspicion on the Academy of Tomorrow,” said President Kelly sternly, “I’m starting to question the role we’ve had your school play in the initiative.”

“If you continue to belittle us, you’ll have far greater worries,” said Wanda, “These are my terms. I’m willing to be flexible in some areas, but for any plan to work we need to draw a few lines. Is that clear?”

President Kelly and General Grimshaw stared down this powerful young woman. She definitely had her father’s poiseShe also sincerely believed that something was wrong with her father that went beyond his usual megalomania. They had to give her the benefit of the doubt if they were to have any influence in this conflict. President Kelly turned towards the General, who merely nodded to convey his sentiment.

“We’re clear, Miss Maximoff,” said President Kelly, trying to hide his bitterness, “I’ll call the Attorney General. He’ll pull some legal wizardry to get X-Force off the hook.”

“Really? It’s that easy?” said Domino.

“Could’ve saved us all a lot of trouble if you pulled your head out of your ass sooner,” said Logan.

“Don’t push it, X-Force! This deal is contingent on your ability to cooperate. So it’s in your best interests to be professional,” said the President firmly.

“By professional I hope you don’t mean submissive,” said Emma Frost dryly, “That would defeat the purpose in more than one way.”

“Vould you be careful vith your choice of words, Emma? You’re not helping,” said Kurt under his breath.

“Call it whatever you want. You’ll still be on a very short leash,” added General Grimshaw, “I think I speak for all our global guests when I say the tolerance for slip-ups here is extremely low.”

“More like non-existent,” said the President of Egypt, “Do not assume we won’t consider alternatives even as we’re agreeing to this madness.”

“We all expected more from the Mutant Monitoring Initiative. It is in all our best interest if you and your friends in X-Force pick up the slack, Miss Maximoff,” said the President of Russia.

“We fully intend to do our part,” said Scott, addressing all the world leaders through a video link, “We only ask that you give us a chance so we don’t have to improvise.”

“Is that a warning, Summers? Because usually you’re a lot more subtle about it,” scoffed Captain Freeman.

“Seeing as how we can’t fully trust one another, we should expect a certain level of paranoia,” said Wanda, “I’m hoping that Charles Xavier and his X-men will keep that to a minimum. Whatever your history, recent or otherwise, I trust that he’ll make those improvisions Cyclops mentioned unnecessary.”

The attention turned to Charles Xavier, who would be in the most awkward of positions with this endeavor. Not only would he have to work with Wanda Maximoff again, he would also have to work with some of the students he alienated with the Mutant Monitoring Initiative.

Scott, Emma, and Logan avoided eye-contact with him. Xavier could sense them closing off their thoughts as well, showing that they did not trust him with their minds anymore. He would have to earn back that trust and this mission would be the best way of doing so.

Turning back towards his X-men, Xavier sensed that they had already set the politics aside. Jean, Ororo, Rogue, Remy, Betsy, and Piotr were all eager to work with their friends again. They felt better about confronting this threat as a team, even if there were still bitter divisions to contend with.

“I hope you’re not overthinking this, Charles. Policies aside, our choice is clear,” said Ororo.

“A clear choice is often no different than limited options,” sighed Xavier.

“Hope you don’t hold it against us, Chuck. We didn’t come here to put you on the spot...not entirely anyways,” said Logan with a smirk.

“None of us can afford to be petty right now,” he said, “If this is Magneto’s ultimate backup plan, then we must assume he’s leaving nothing to chance. If there are other forces involved, then we’ll need all the manpower we can get to counter it.”

“What kind of other forces could we be dealing with here, Professor?” asked Piotr.

Xavier and Wanda exchanged glances. That was the burning question that they had both been contemplating. They didn’t agree on much, but they each believed that something was amiss with this situation.

Before they could begin to speculate, the whole room was overcome by a wave of interference. All the video links and communications equipment became awash with static. It was so loud that many of the technicians and officers had to take off their headphones.

“Ahh! The hell happened to the feed?” exclaimed one of the communications officers.

“Link…can’t hear…something overriding,” said various video links all over the screen.

“Oh dear. I’m getting a very ominous sense of déjà vu,” said Hank as he looked over some of the terminals.

“You just had to jinx it. Didn’t you, Pete?” said Betsy with folded arms.

“Does this mean what I think it means?” said the President.

“I’m afraid so, Mr. President,” said Hank as he worked with the communications team to make sense of the interference, “It appears Magneto is preparing to make his presence known. It’s just like the feed he used the last time he announced the incoming asteroid.”

“Where is it broadcasting from?” asked General Grimshaw as he and Captain Freeman rushed to the terminals.

“The same place anyone with an ego and a message go to send a message…Times Square,” said Hank as he quickly deciphered the data.

The activity in the control room quickly became more urgent. Officers scrambled to filter out the interference while President Kelly worked with General Grimshaw to get a line open to their allies. The X-men surrounded Hank at one of the terminals, hoping to get a view of what Magneto’s latest message entailed.

The MSA and NORAD MPs kept a firm eye on X-Force, not letting them move from where they were standing. Professor Xavier lingered close by, still separated by a barrier of armed personnel. He maintained a close visual on Wanda, Scott, Logan, Domino, Emma, and Kurt. They each seemed to expect this moment. Now they had to confront it together despite bitter divisions.

“It appears we’re about to find out how right our suspicions are, Xavier,” said Wanda.

“I sense you’re hoping we’re wrong, at least in part,” Xavier pointed out.

“It would be a lot easier if we were. If not, then my plan to confront my father will only become more dangerous.”

New York City – Times Square

Vargas had never been one for sight-seeing. Since becoming a mutant, every sight took on a greater meaning. Now he was a part of something that was so much larger than himself. It filled him with a sense of purpose that he had never known. That purpose continued to grow as he helped carry out the next phase in Magneto and Dr. Wyndham’s vision. The Church of Humanity was just a stepping stone. Now they were ready for the next great leap.

“Is it ready, Vargas?” said a deep voice into an ear-piece.

“The hardware Dr. Wyndham gave me is booting up. You’re set to deliver your message in thirty seconds,” replied Vargas through his transceiver.

“Excellent. Stand by for the most important broadcast in the history of the human race.”

Vargas grinned at the prospects. He looked around at the crowded streets of Time Square. It was late in the afternoon and the evening rush was just beginning to settle in. Having taken a subway from the Church of Humanity into downtown Manhattan, he quietly prepared a setup using some advanced Warlock equipment that Dr. Wyndham provided him. He disguised himself as a utility worker and entered the sewers where he installed the Warlock tech right into the communication lines that fed into NBC studios. From here, he got to exercise his new powers to their fullest.

Now standing in the middle of Time Square at a special electrical service station, Vargas utilized the talents that Dr. Wyndham had given him. Becoming a mutant was a truly life-changing experience. He didn’t just possess enhanced strength, agility, and awareness. He also possessed the unique mutant power to intercept certain electromagnetic frequencies and redirect them.

It didn’t just allow him to eavesdrop on cell phone communications. It allowed him to tap a broad range of signals and manipulate them on a whim. It also allowed him to play an important role in this historic moment.

‘These powers are so invigorating! I can feel every electronic transmission in the air as if it were an echo. Magneto needs to send his message to every medium that will receive it. For this, I am truly blessed.’

Grinning to himself, Vargas took off his disguise helmet and utility gloves. He then reached into the electronic box and grasped the wires with his fist. Sparks started flying. Some pedestrians across the street noticed this and looked on curiously. Their curiosity was quickly diverted by something much grander as the Warlock device under the street became active.

“We’re ready, Magneto. The world is ready to receive your message!” Vargas proclaimed as the sparks flew around him.

As he said this, every major monitor in Times Square became awash with static. Every pedestrian with a phone suddenly received an incoming transmission. It was a scene that quickly filtered to every part of the world that was capable of receiving such a signal.

“Hey! What’s happening to the big screen?” asked a young woman as she looked up at the Time Square monitor.

“What’s with my phone? This better not be some fancy new spyware!” said a man in a suit as he exited a cab.

“I don’t think it’s just your phone,” said the cab driver as he and many others got out of their cars.

“I don’t think it’s just phones either. Look!” said a middle-aged woman as she pointed up into the sky.

Confusion escalated as the signal spread. That confusion quickly turned to terror as many in Time Square looked up to see a strange scene unfolding above. Through the thick overcast, the ominous figure of Magneto emerged. Around him were eight large spheres of Warlock material.

Those spheres were once the bunkers that housed the Brotherhood and the former citizens of Genosha. With this same technology, he received the signals from Vargas and transmitted them through every major communication spectrum all over the world. Once he was fully attuned, Magneto ordered the Warlock spheres to form cameras so that his image could be broadcast along with his message.

“Greetings, humans and fellow mutants alike,” he said in his powerful tone, “I know it’s been a while since I’ve made my presence known. I also know that whenever I address the world, it’s usually to deliver a message of doom and domination. Well, that is not the case this time. Instead, I have a message of hope. This world is in shambles. Recent events have revealed that the authorities of this world are no longer capable of protecting their citizens. These same authorities have ravaged ecosystems, plundered resources, and put every soul on it in grave danger. It has made my most recent endeavor all the more important because in the time I’ve been gone, I’ve realized something profound. I was wrong.”

This admission alone was enough to trigger gasps from the many viewers below. Magneto could sense the gasps all over the world, even as Vargas used his powers to translate his message into various languages. It was a difficult admission to make, but for once he needed to show humility as well as strength.

“For years, I’ve preached the superiority of mutant kind. I’ve condemned humanity as a race doomed to extinction in a world that is rapidly decaying. I now realize that it doesn’t have to be this way. Humanity can share in the evolution of our kind. That is why I have worked tirelessly to develop a new process using what some may know as Mutant Growth Hormone. This process can change an ordinary human into a full-blooded mutant. If you’re a human who feels weak, desponded, or rejected I open my arms to you. I am granting you a chance to become part of a new generation. You won’t just gain a new status in the evolutionary hierarchy. You’ll gain a new home as well.”

Magneto issued a command to the Warlock interface. It broadcasted a new image to be displayed to the world. It was a picturesque image of Asteroid M as it orbited in space. He made sure it looked as awe-inspiring as possible. He wanted to make sure that every human that saw it would be eager to live there.

“As we speak, this new home orbits above us in the same asteroid that once came close to dooming this world. I call it Asteroid M. From it, I have carved a new world and a new ecosystem for which this new generation can thrive. As with Genosha, I welcome any mutant to join. Unlike Genosha, I will welcome a limited number of humans as well. You may join your mutant brethren in this new world, provided you undergo the process that will make you one of us. You will be reborn into a new society. I offer this as a means of escape from a world that has lost its way.”

As the master of magnetism delivered this message, images of Asteroid M’s lush landscape were broadcasted all over the world. It included images of City X and shots of the former citizens of Genosha enjoying their new surroundings. Those images were meant to instill a sense of hope and longing rather than fear and dread. Once the streams of scenery had passed, the feed returned to Magneto.

“This choice is open to all of humanity. Those who reject it and prefer to stay in this world will not be condemned. Those who choose to embrace it will begin a new life. After I complete this message, I will send fifty pods to all corners of the globe. These pods can fit a maximum of 20,000 humans. In all, one million will be allowed to join Asteroid M initially. For those who are unable to board them, fear not. You will not be the last. In approximately 24 hours, these pods will ascend to Asteroid M where they will join with the other mutants that choose to be part of this world as well. The entire process shall be done peacefully. Those who attempt to threaten humans or mutants who wish to enter the pods will be dealt with swiftly and harshly. Those who hurt others in an attempt to join shall be rejected. I’ll leave it to the people and the governments of the world to decide how they shall deal with this. I only ask that you decide wisely. Asteroid M will not be a source of your destruction. But rest assured it will outlast this broken world.”

Magneto said these words with complete confidence. It sounded like a warning. Such a warning was already triggering commotion throughout Times Square. Magneto sounded like a very different man compared to the unapologetic mutant supremacist they knew so well. It led some to question this message of his, but what he offered was far too appealing to outright reject.

“As I leave you to choose, I shall broadcast the coordinates of all fifty pods to the internet for those who seek them. I shall also broadcast a separate message for mutants who wish to leave this inept world. Since I know the governments of the world are watching, I have for them only one message…stay out of my way. And since I’m equally sure that my daughter, Wanda, is watching I have a message for her as well…I’ll be waiting. I trust that you and millions of others will make the right decision.”

The broadcast ended, leaving a stunned yet conflicted global population. Magneto expected a wide range of reactions. He stood ready to confront every one of them. Still hovering high above Times Square, he focused his powers and issued new commands to the Warlock technology surrounding him. With a strong gesture, he sent them higher into the sky where they joined up with other dark spheres of Warlock material. From there, they all dispersed to their specified coordinates where eager participants would await.

As the scene played out above, the commotion throughout Times Square intensified. Vargas had a front row seat to this historic moment. As he finished broadcasting the message through major internet channels, he saw people already scrambling throughout the streets reacting to this powerful message in a variety of ways.

“That’s it! I’m getting a shotgun and locking myself in the basement! Ain’t no way this isn’t one of Magneto’s global attacks!” said an old man as he got back into his car and sped off.

“Dude! I just got a message on my phone,” said a young man, “One of those pods is landing in Central Park!”

“Does anyone have a cell phone that doesn’t have a dead battery!” exclaimed a teenage girl, “I need to call my dad at Hope Memorial Hospital! He needs to know that we may have a way to cure his ALS!”

“I wonder if that Asteroid M place has booze,” said a ragged homeless man from across the street, “If so, then sign me up!”

The streets and the traffic quickly became chaotic. Several cars drove over the sidewalks in an effort to avoid the traffic. Magneto had stoked something much more powerful than fear. He presented hope to a world that had become so vulnerable and many were willing to take any chance in order to escape it.

Vargas kept smiling to himself as he let go of the transmission conduits. Everything was going exactly as Magneto and Dr. Wyndham had planned. The next step would be the most complicated. He and the rest of Asteroid M were about to find out just how desperate these people were to embrace what they once hated and feared.

‘And so it begins. Now it is up to Dr. Wyndham to prepare the Brotherhood for what we’re about to confront.’

Asteroid M – Magneto’s Citadel

Magneto’s broadcast to the world was heard far and wide. Dr. Wyndham made sure of it from a lab area buried deep inside the Citadel. It was where the tour for the Brotherhood ended.

Frenzy led them throughout the elaborate structure, showing them how much greater this citadel was compared to the one on Genosha. She made sure she got them to Dr. Wyndham’s lab just in time for the broadcast. It left Alex, Pietro, Pyro, Mellencamp, Blob, and Unus in a conflicted state. It was a very different message compared to Magneto’s previous ploys. It left some intrigued and others suspicious.

“Crikey! That brush with death must have softened up the big boss. He sounds like a completely different bloke,” commented Pyro as the feed from Dr. Wyndham’s monitors was cut.

“I’d say it’s an improvement,” said Mellencamp, “Threatening the world with doom and destruction certainly hasn’t worked before.”

“That doesn’t mean this will,” argued Unus.

“Even if it does, Mags sounded a few sandwiches short of a snack,” commented Blob, “You sure he ain’t crazy?”

“Doesn’t sound any crazier than usual,” shrugged Pyro, showing his approval of this plan already.

“That’s not an unreasonable question to ask, Blob,” said Alex, who was among those with lingering suspicions.

“Normally, I would give you both a supersonic slap upside the head for calling my dad crazy. This time, I’m a little torn,” said the speedster.

“What’s the big deal? I thought you guys would actually appreciate this,” said Frenzy, “This means you won’t have as much fighting to do. It’s not like you guys were all that good at it in the first place.”

Pietro scolded the former soldier angrily. Since she got caught up in this by accident, Frenzy did not have a lot of trust on the part of the Brotherhood. Trust seemed to be the primary source of contention, especially after hearing Magneto’s message.

“You’re new at this, Frenzy. So I’ll skip the part where I point out how much I don’t appreciate insults out of common courtesy,” said Pietro dryly.

“Oh did I hurt your feeling?” mocked Frenzy, “Get over yourself, Pietro.”

“It’s not just him you should worry about,” said Alex, who had to hold Pietro back before he attacked Frenzy, “I like to think we have legitimate reasons to be concerned.”

“I also like to think I know my own father,” spat Pietro with heightened emotion, “He has a long list of flaws, but he’s always been a man of conviction. One of those convictions involves a very low opinion of humanity.”

“I won’t say I know Magneto any better, but he’s always been pretty adamant,” added Blob, “He’ll negotiate with humans. Hell, he’ll even compromise from time to time. But he’ll never embrace them. It’s just not his style.”

“Why can’t it be? People change,” shrugged Dr. Wyndham.

“Not my father! He’s too damned arrogant to change this much!” said Pietro sternly.

“Perhaps you don’t know your father as well as you think you do. Your own arrogance may be clouding your judgment.”

“You better choose your words more carefully, Doctor! You’re commanding a lot of trust and I find it pretty fucked up that you’re getting it!” scolded the speedster.

“Seeing as how I designed Asteroid M and synthesized entire ecosystems that fill it, I say I’ve earned it,” said Dr. Wyndham strongly, “Just look around at what you’re a part of. Does this not earn me a certain amount of credibility?”

It was hard to contest this point after having seen the sheer scale of Asteroid M. Dr. Wyndham spared few details, describing how he and Magneto utilized Warlock technology along with his decades of research to create this world. The Brotherhood did not hide their astonishment. It was as vast as it was beautiful. In many ways it felt too good to be true and that only fueled their suspicions.

Dr. Wyndham understood that, which was why he saved his lab for the final leg of the tour. The area had been built one of many major sub-levels within Asteroid M. Like everything else, it quite vast. Volume wise, it was the size of a football stadium and arranged into multiple levels that contained various scientific equipment. Some levels were reserved for tinkering with Warlock technology. Others were reserved for computer hardware.

The lowermost level was reserved for his biological research. This was the research that made all those ecosystems possible. It was also the research that perfected MGH. Now it would have to be the key to earning the Brotherhood’s trust.

“Irrespective of such arrogance, I’m not an unreasonable man,” Dr. Wyndham went on, “I understand that while I’ve long since earned Magneto’s trust, I’ve yet to earn yours. So I’ve prepared a little something that I think should help.”

“If it’s an all-you-can-eat buffet, that will earn you some points in my book,” grinned Blob.

“Oh please, you’ll trust anyone who gives you a free donut,” scoffed Mellencamp.

“Well my standards are a bit higher,” said Pietro, still showing hostility towards Dr. Wyndham, “You haven’t even tried to convince us that giving a million humans mutant powers is a good idea. You really think you can bribe your way out of it?”

“I have no intention of avoiding your concerns. However, if you’re going to take me seriously, I know I’ll have to provide you with a good reason to do so. Follow me and you’ll see what I mean.”

Dr. Wyndham gestured for the Brotherhood to follow him towards the south end of the lab where there appeared to be a series of elaborate containment chambers. Pietro remained the most reluctant, but he followed the rest of the Brotherhood. They were curious about what else this man had to offer. He already presented them with some pretty compelling reasons after showing them this elaborate space station. Given all the hardware he had, he was certainly capable of more.

As the Brotherhood followed him, they passed by a series of elaborate bio tanks as well. Each tank contained various samples of the diverse plants and animals that inhabited Asteroid M. Some looked alive, hovering in suspended animation. Others looked dead or mutilated, most likely failed prototypes. It was amazing that one man could create so much advanced life, let alone carve a world out of an asteroid.

He seemed particularly excited as he led them to a large cylindrical bio tank in a corner. It was filled with yellowish liquid, which surrounded a humanoid figure. As Dr. Wyndham approached it, he turned to Frenzy and nodded.

“Prepare the bio-aetheric synthesis, Frenzy. It’s time for our star specimen to awaken,” said Dr. Wyndham.

“I was hoping you would get to this sooner. It might have saved me some serious frustration from Maximoff here,” said Frenzy as she manned a computer terminal that was adjacent to the tank.

“Keep talking, Frenzy. You may just make me compensate,” quipped Pietro, “Assuming this reason the good doctor mentioned isn’t bullshit.”

“Oh I assure you it’s as legitimate as you could possibly hope for,” said Dr. Wyndham confidently, “It went a long way with Magneto. I’m certain it will go just as far with you.”

“Depends on what it is,” said Alex curiously as he took a closer look at the tank, “Is this another one of your exotic creatures?”

“There’s nothing exotic about this. I understand that I could show you the entire universe and that would still only marginally impress you. In order to earn your trust, I understand I must add a personal touch.”

There was a certain wryness to his tone that Alex and Pietro found unsettling. He continued to ignore their harsh gazes and turned towards the bio tank. A strange smile formed on his face as Frenzy worked the controls. Within moments, the yellowish liquid within the tube was drained by a pump.

As it drained it revealed the obscured figure. When Pietro and Alex saw who it was they gasped in astonishment. The shock quickly spread throughout the Brotherhood.

“Well I’ll be a dingo’s half-eaten baby,” said Pyro with a grin.

“Lorna!” exclaimed Pietro as he ran up to the bio tank, “I swear on everything holy I’ll kill you if this is a sick joke!”

“You can dispense your homicidal impulses. It’s really her,” said Dr. Wyndham, “You’re looking at the real Lorna Dane.”

“I knew it! I knew she couldn’t be dead!” exclaimed Alex as he ran up to the bio tank as well.

“Well, she sure as hell looked like it when we last we saw her,” said Blob.

“She may have been dead had I not detected her unfortunate outburst in New Orleans,” said Dr. Wyndham, “It happened while I was treating Magneto for the mental damage he suffered under the Cambrian. I needed his help to carve out Asteroid M and he wasn’t going to be motivated without significant incentive. The way I saw it, saving Lorna would give him more than enough reason to regain his composure.”

“But how is it even possible?” asked Pietro as he recalled all the grim details, “We scanned every square inch of that place! Everyone even Xavier told us Lorna was a goner!”

“They weren’t completely wrong. For all intents and purposes, Lorna was no more,” said Dr. Wyndham, “In a more scientific sense, the machine the Mutant Liberation Front used on her caused every cell in her body to phase shift from normal matter to a complex array of electromagnetic radiation. While technically still intact, she was not among the living.”

“I flunked biology in school so I won’t even pretend to understand what that means,” said Alex as he gazed longingly at Lorna, “I just need to know she’s okay.”

“Oh she’ll be the same woman you remember,” assured Dr. Wyndham, “I used Magneto’s unique electromagnetic signature to locate Lorna’s. Once I found it, I captured it in a capacitor. While I couldn’t phase shift her body back to its original form, I was able to use the information within the signature to reconstruct her body, cell by cell. I kept her in stasis to ensure that she healed. Now that you’re here, I think she’s ready to wake up.”

Dr. Wyndham signaled Frenzy, who entered the final command. That opened the glass doors on the bio tank. Now that the liquid was fully drained, Lorna’s limp body keeled over. Pietro and Alex quickly caught her. She was wearing some sort of black body suit, which was hooked into a series of wires. As the wires disconnected from the suit, she seemed to receive a jolt that roused her from her long slumber.

“Hnn…Alex…look out,” she groaned in a raspy tone.

“Take it easy, sis. You’re not in New Orleans anymore,” said Pietro as he and Alex carefully sat her down.

“But…what about Toad? The machine?” she said breathlessly.

“Wow…you’ve got a lot to catch up on,” said Alex, his voice quickly becoming strained with emotion.

Lorna slowly adjusted to the feeling of being conscious again. Now sitting with her back against the bio tank, she looked up see Pietro and Alex kneeling over her. They both looked very relieved to see her. She also noticed Pyro, Blob, Mellencamp, and another mutant she hadn’t met yet standing behind them. They all seemed amazed by her presence as well. Clearly, she had definitely missed something.

“Ungh…my head feels strange,” she groaned.

“After everything you’ve been through, you’re lucky that’s all you’re feeling,” said Pietro.

“I’ll have to take your word for it,” said Lorna as Alex and Pietro helped her to her feet, “Where exactly are we? This doesn’t feel like Genosha.”

Alex looked over towards Pietro. Then he looked back towards the Brotherhood before turning to Dr. Wyndham. Showing them Asteroid M and the Ditadel had been a statement of sorts. Bringing Lorna back to them like this was an entirely different statement. It was his way of earning their trust. As he embraced Lorna’s warmth once more, he had no problem admitting that it worked.

“We’re home, Lorna,” said Alex, his sentiment now fully shared with the Brotherhood, “This is Asteroid M…the new home of the mutant race.”

Andrews Air Force Base – Holding Cell

“Civil unrest…mass chaos…and rampant fear,” summarized James Proudstar from inside his confined prison cell, “Sounds like a typical Tuesday for Magneto.”

In many ways James was both lucky and unlucky. As soon as Ororo left, the silence became more deafening. It was painfully apparent that something big was about to happen. It didn’t take long for the details to emerge.

Inside his cell, the only window he had to the outside world was an old TV. When Magneto broadcasted his message all over the world, his TV actually turned itself on so he could hear what the rest of the world heard. Being in a prison cell meant he was fairly insulated against the madness it was sure to cause. It also meant he couldn’t do anything about it.

James had since muted the TV because all the reports were the same. Reactions to Magneto’s message had triggered widespread chaos all over the world. Various mutant communities all over the world were being abandoned, including District X. Countless humans were scrambling to get to the pods before they filled up. Some attacked those trying to get to the pods as traitors. Certain governments tried to cordon off the area so none of their citizens could leave them.

However, their lack of manpower from the White Cell attack made that all but impossible. This was a different kind of threat from Magneto and it had the potential to do make the largest impact yet.

“Gotta hand it to you, Magneto. You’ve gone beyond screwing up the world to screwing with peoples’ minds,” said James as he stared distantly at the TV, “You don’t sound insane, but you sure act like it. What the endgame here? Make sure the world is so divided that it can’t fight back? I sure hope X-Force or the X-men find a way to put you in a prison cell just like this one.”

James continued watching images of riots and angry debates stream across the TV. His thoughts quickly drifted towards X-Force and the X-men. Ororo seemed to imply that the MSA was already poised to do something about it. He had a sickening feeling that it wouldn’t go smoothly since operations against Magneto rarely did. As he pondered all the ways it could go wrong, the door to his cell opened. James stood up as two armed MSA operatives and a neatly dressed middle-aged woman walked in.

“James Proudstar, aka Warpath,” said the woman, “My name is Marjorie Gillen. I’m here on behalf of the Attorney General.”

“You about to offer me a last meal?” said Warpath, “Because I had a big breakfast.”

“Actually, I’m here to inform you that you’ve been conditionally pardoned,” she said, “As of this moment, the charges against you and all records of them are henceforth nullified.”

The Native American mutant looked at the woman with a raised eyebrow.

“Okay, that’s great news and all, but why the change of heart? Was President Kelly drunk or something?” he asked.

“I’m not at liberty to discuss the details,” she said in a flat tone.

“I’ll take that as a maybe,” said James with a sneer.

“However, I am at liberty to discuss the conditions I mentioned,” she went on, “This pardon is contingent on your participation in a joint X-men/MSA operation. Refusal to participate will invalidate the pardon.”

“In other words, I have to go along with whatever plan President Kelly and his buddies concoct or I stay in jail. That makes it a much tougher choice than it ought to be.”

“Who said this was his plan to begin with?”

“That implies someone is playing him,” James surmised, “The list of people in that is extremely short.”

“Then you don’t need me to help you figure it out. I just need you to make this official so I can go home and barricade myself with my family.”

Miss Gillen reached into her briefcase and pulled out a leather binder with the official White House seal on the cover. She opened it to reveal a series of notarized letters, giving official status to this conditional pardon of his. She handed a copy to one of the guards and another to James. He didn’t bother reading over the legalese. The timing and circumstances of this development led him to a few apparent conclusions.

“I knew you guys wouldn’t let me sit this one out,” he said with a grin.

“So you agree to the conditions?” asked Miss Gillen.

“Rotting in prison versus confronting Magneto may be a no-win situation for some, but for a warrior it might as well be a godsend. I’m in!”

“Good, that means we can get out of here,” she said impatiently.

Miss Gillen signaled the two MSA guards. They each proceeded to use their special keys to unlock James’s power inhibiting collar. Once it was deactivated, Warpath swiftly ripped it off. He was as eager to get back to the front lines of this conflict as Miss Gillen was to avoid it.

“There’s a chartered jet plane waiting outside,” she told him, “You’re set to leave in ten minutes. You’ll receive additional briefing on route to the destination that President Kelly wouldn’t disclose.”

“Any chance I can get my uniform back? I’d rather not face Magneto in prison garb,” said the Native American mutant.

“It’s already on the plane. You should be too. If we both do our jobs from here on out, then this is the last time our paths will have to cross.”

Colorado Springs – NORAD

It was exceedingly rare when Professor Xavier, General Grimshaw, and President Kelly were in full agreement during a crisis. It was even rarer when such a crisis was on a global scale. Magneto’s latest global triggered many different reactions. It wasn’t a typical crisis by any stretch. At the same time, it was a crisis in which everyone seemed to share the same sentiment that Wanda had expressed. It felt very wrong.

The emergency meeting amongst the allied countries abruptly ended. Every government had to scramble to deal with the effects of Magneto’s latest ploy. They had to mobilize whatever limited forces they had to maintain order. Some were inclined to use those forces to prevent their citizens from joining Magneto on Asteroid M. It was sure to get messy and the United States would not be immune from it. Once the video links were shut down, President Kelly started coordinating with the Joint Chiefs on a response.

“Set up a secure link to the National Guard and every State Police department. I want full reports from every state and every major city on the hour,” said President Kelly as he was escorted from the control room.

“We’ve started mobilizing regional units,” reported the Secretary of Defense, “They’re tracking the location of the transport orbs as we speak. They’ll have the area surrounded within the hour.”

“That’s still not saying much, Mr. President,” said one of the Joint Chiefs, “Defense forces on all levels are still under-equipped. If a large number of people show up at these sites, we may not be able to hold them back.”

“There’s also the touchy matter of maintaining our forces overseas,” said the Secretary of State, “Some have already been brought home to pick up the slack. Others are staying because if we pull too many troops out of the fire, it could cause a diplomatic mess.”

“Diplomacy is the least of our worries now,” said Mr. President.

“I wouldn’t go that far, sir,” said another one of the Joint Chiefs, “If we start abandoning allies, it could undermine treaties and cause greater fragmentation.”

“Keep in mind that Magneto didn’t threaten to destroy the world this time,” said the Secretary of Defense, “We shouldn’t adopt an every-man-for-themselves mentality just yet. We’ll still have a country and a world to govern.”

“I have a gut feeling we’re closer than we think,” mused President Kelly, “The onus is on Professor Xavier and Wanda Maximoff to prove it wrong.”

“With all due respect, Mr. President. You’re placing a lot of trust in them,” said the Secretary of State, “Are you just going to trust them to confront Magneto and hope they find something damning?”

“You heard what Magneto said just as they did. Having stared down Magneto before, I can tell when there’s something off. We’re not in a position to uncover it through brute force. Since Xavier and Wanda have just as much to lose, we’ll all have to place an uncomfortable level of trust in them.”

“And if it backfires?” questioned one of the Joint Chiefs.

“We’re prepared for that as well,” said President Kelly cryptically, “For now, we need to focus on holding the country together. Leave General Grimshaw to take care of the particulars. He understands what’s expected of him.”

There was a subtle undertone to the President’s words. It sounded like a mix of confidence and dread. The crisis had many moving parts and he had to entrust others to handle the finer details. As he left with his staff, President Kelly turned back towards General Grimshaw. He offered a subtle nod to acknowledge the President’s expectations. President Kelly nodded back before leaving him to manage the most important part of this bold plan.

“How bad is it going to get, sir?” asked Captain Freeman, who stayed behind with the General.

“That depends on how many bad decisions we end up making,” he replied.

“Don’t you mean good decisions?”

“In a crisis, it’s never a matter of how good your good decisions are. It’s how bad your bad decisions turn out to be,” the General replied, “That’s why we have to limit them. If this really is Magneto’s ultimate back-up plan, then the margin for error is astronomically small.”

That grim assessment added to the already massive pressure everyone was facing. By now all of NORAD was on high alert. Every uniformed officer and soldier was at their posts, monitoring the situation as it unfolded. Every major news feed was observed. Every site where a transport pod was set to arrive was monitored.

The activity from Asteroid M was heavily scrutinized. Tensions were high as this information filtered to President Kelly and various other officials. The tensions were even higher between the X-men and X-Force, who would have to work together in order to confront the crisis.

While NORAD acted as the eyes and ears of the operation, the MSA and the X-men acted as the muscle. Professor Xavier was already coordinating with Wanda to put her plan into action. The MSA set up a special area of the control room so they could link into the defense network. From here, they coordinated with Hank to set the stage for another confrontation with Magneto.

“For the record, I was highly skeptical, Wanda. I honestly believed that Magneto was genuine with this latest stratagem,” said Hank as he helped her establish a special communication link.

“I’m surprised it took so little convincing to change your mind,” said Wanda, “I was expecting the President and the General to be just as skeptical.”

“They know Magneto better than most. They saw the same subtleties you did,” Hank went on, “This message of his contains some inconsistentsubtext,for lack of a better term. It simply doesn’t fit with Magneto’s usual methods.”

“All the more reason to suspect that other forces are at work,” said Professor Xavier as he looked at replays of Magneto’s broadcast, “Erik’s wounds run deep. In all the years I’ve known him, he’s always blamed humanity for inflicting those wounds. I can’t see him overlooking them at this point.”

“Neither can I. That’s why I’m certain something wrong with him…more so than usual,” said Wanda.

“As am I,” said Xavier in agreement, “Merely tolerating humanity is one thing. Allowing them to join him is a radical step that I just can’t see Erik taking.”

“It stands to reason that he plans on utilizing some unsaid tactics. Perhaps your return will be the trigger, Wanda,” said Hank as he finished creating the link.

“I take it this means you deciphered the signal,” Wanda surmised.

“Once again, you were right,” said Hank as he rose up from his seat, “There was an encrypted transmission embedded within the message that was sent across the global spectrum. It was addressed solely to you, although it requires a password to unlock.”

“That won’t be an issue. I already know it,” said Wanda as she sat down, “My father always told me that if we got separated, he would find a way to get in touch with me. For all I know, this isn’t the first time he’s tried.”

“So why haven’t you attempted to answer until now?” asked Professor Xavier, “What made you stay with X-Force when you could have rejoined your family?”

“I have my reasons,” she replied stoically, “But if you insist on pestering me about them, then let’s just say that being away from the human/mutant conflict gave me plenty of time to think.”

Professor Xavier was tempted to probe further. It sounded like something had really changed within Wanda. She always set herself apart from her father and brother. Yet this was different. She was willing to confront and oppose her father with the very forces that had so often been in her way. Something had definitely happened to her while she was with X-Force.

While Wanda went to work on the terminal, X-Force and the X-men watched on knowing it was only a matter of time before they confronted Magneto. Scott, Logan, Emma, Domino, and Kurt remained surrounded by MSA operatives. They were still under close scrutiny while various officers coordinated with the X-men to set up the ambitious operation.

The mood between the two teams remained tense. Jean, Ororo, Rogue, Remy, Betsy, and Piotr were reluctant to address their former teammates. It didn’t help that Rogue noticed Kurt gazing at Wanda somewhat intently.

“You stare any harder at her and you’ll burn a hole in her, little brother,” commented Rogue, “Do Ah need to point out that this is Magneto’s daughter we’re dealing with?”

“I’m not staring,” said Kurt flatly.

“Kurt, Ah know we’ve been on different teams for a while, but Ah’m still your sister,” she told him.

“Adopted sister,” he corrected.

“Don’t start gettin’ bitter on meh. You ain’t very good at it,” said Rogue in a more serious tone, “I knew the whole situation with Amanda was wearin’ on you before. Now it looks like you’re cracking.”

“Go easy on him, chere. These ain’t the best circumstances for catching up,” coaxed Remy, who sensed his girlfriend getting worked up.

“Well Ah’m sorry Ah can’t bring mah self to care less when mah brother is eyeing Wanda freakin’ Maximoff!” she said, still scolding her brother, “Ah know that look in your eye, Kurt. It’s the same look you give a plate of freshly cooked bacon.”

“Now that just ain’t fair,” said Remy as he kept a hand on her shoulder to hold her back.

“Fair nothing! You put yourself in a horrible position with Amanda, Kurt. Please look meh in the eye and tell meh Ah’m just seeing things. It would be a whole lot easier on the both of us.”

Rogue sounded desperate for Kurt to prove her wrong. It was the first time she had spoken with him since the Mutant Monitoring Initiative and without saying a word, he sent some disturbing messages. However, the German mutant refused to look his sister in the eye and lie to her. He just remained silent, not taking his eyes off Wanda. Rogue’s frustration continued to grow. Then Domino stepped in to help Remy calm her down.

“Ease up on the melodrama, Rogue,” Domino urged as she stepped in front of Kurt.

“Don’t tell meh you’re gonna fend for him, Dom,” said Rogue bitterly.

“There are only a handful of areas where I don’t push my luck. This is one of them,” she said, “A lot has happened since X-Force set up shop. A lot more is bound to happen with Magneto in the picture.”

“All the more reason to get this outta the way,” Rogue retorted, “It involves the man’s daughter for cryin’ out loud!”

“Who happens to be our best bet at stopping that same man’s crazy plan,” added Remy, “Listen to your lady friend pal and your paramour. This ain’t the right time.”

Rogue’s demeanor remained tense. She looked over towards Wanda and then back at Kurt. He finally diverted his gaze and held his head low. It was a silent admission that something had happened between him and Wanda during his time with X-Force. It didn’t sit well for a minute, yet she had to stomach it.

“We’re gonna talk about this at some point, Kurt,” she said to her brother in a low tone.

“I fully expect you to keep bugging me about it, Rogue,” replied Kurt, “I vouldn’t have it any other way.”

His dry remark added to the tensions surrounding both teams. X-Force had done more than just oppose the Mutant Monitoring Initiative. Plenty of other personal dramas had arisen in the meantime. These dramas threatened to undermine the fragile team unity that had once been the X-men’s source of strength.

“You guys look like a deer staring at an oncoming truck,” commented Logan with folded arms as he stood next to Betsy and Piotr, “Has working for the feds been that bad or are you just pissed you have to trust us again?”

“I see your time with X-Force has not softened your personality, Logan,” said Piotr dryly.

“I doubt a three-week cruise in the Bahamas would soften his personality,” added Betsy.

“I take it that means it did go bad,” he surmised, “Did it start before or after White Cell? There’s always a spark that makes you appreciate just how good guys in government uniforms are at screwing you.”

“You know in Russia, we say those who assume they are right before they are vindicated end up hanging themselves from a scaffold they build,” said Piotr.

“Is there also a saying about ignoring all the warning signs before you walk off a cliff?” quipped Logan in a more serious tone, “I seem to recall warning Chuck that this shit would turn against him. Are you gonna tell me with a straight face that this would be a hell of a lot easier if we weren’t so divided over this shit?”

“It didn’t have to play out like this, Logan. We all made choices,” said Betsy, having to hide a touch of bitterness.

“And who do you think ain’t as bitter about the choices they made?” said Logan, “We threw our asses into the fire with X-Force. Some of us even got burned. I’m hoping you paid Warren a visit in between running errands for politicians.”

“Don’t you dare bring him into this, Logan! I’m warning you!” said Betsy strongly, flashing a psionic blade to further reinforce her point.

“Why are you gettin’ mad at me?” said the feral mutant, who remained undaunted, “He made the harder choice and I’ll bet you all the adamantium in my bones that he would do it again in a heartbeat. Can either of you say the same?”

Betsy gripped her psionic blade more firmly. She pointed it right at Logan’s face, fueled by the emotions surrounding Warren and these harsh criticisms. It was the only response she could muster. She had been among the most vocal supporters of the Mutant Monitoring Initiative. It hadn’t played out nearly as well as she or anyone for that matter expected. It left her with many bitter feelings to swallow. As she struggled to do so, Piotr coaxed her into lowering the blade.

“You know, I spoke with Kitty before this began,” said the Russian mutant, “She asked me the same question. She asked after having said she would have made different choices if she knew what we all know now.”

“What did you say to her? Assuming she didn’t threaten to lock her panties if you ignored her,” said Logan.

“I told her…I don’t know,” he replied, “However, I get the sense that I will know by the end of this mission. Whether it ends up vindicating your side or not, I hope you won’t hold it against us. We’re still your friends.”

“You ain’t gotta worry about that, Ruskie,” said Logan with a grin, “I know Kitty will bust your balls enough when this shit is over.”

Piotr managed only a partial grin while Betsy stepped back to calm down. Logan may have been critical of their choices, but he was still a friend. He was still willing to fight by their side against a threat this big. X-Force and the X-men had built up plenty of animosity between them. They would have to overcome all of it if they were to get through this.

Some of that animosity was easier to overlook for others. Ororo and Jean had been among those expressing concerns about the Mutant Monitoring Initiative before the White Cell. They weren’t afraid to concede that X-Force had been right on a number of levels. That didn’t make the complicated emotions between them any easier. Ororo tried distracting herself by helping some NORAD officials coordinate the mission.

“I just received confirmation that James is on his way,” said Ororo as she sifted through messages on her phone, “His jet should arrive within a few hours.”

“Tell them to use the afterburner if you can,” said Scott, who was standing next to Jean and Emma, “Wanda is almost done booking our ride. We need to be ready to mobilize the second everything is in place.”

“He’ll be here. All the forces of nature couldn’t keep him from being part of this mission,” said the African mutant, her voice trembling at the prospect of fighting alongside James.

“Don’t you sound excited,” teased Emma Frost, “Hoping to squeeze in a few side-missions before we depart for Asteroid M?”

“I left his cell not sure if I would see him again. I don’t plan on hiding my emotions when the time is appropriate.”

“That puts you light-years ahead of Kurt in terms of maturity,” added Emma.

“What’s the story behind that anyways? Rogue looks like she wants to deck Wanda several times over,” asked Jean.

“Why do you need to ask? Can’t you pick up on all the thoughts he’s projecting?” said Emma with a not-so-subtle taunt in her tone.

“I probably could if you weren’t putting up so many psychic defenses,” said Jean sternly, “If you want us to trust you, then you should know that keeping secrets is counterproductive.”

“Depends on the nature of the secret,” shrugged Emma casually, “Does it really bother you that much? Or are you afraid you may uncover some unpleasant revelations about what we’ve been up to outside your oh so protective embrace?”

“What’s that supposed to mean?!” exclaimed Jean.

Her outburst almost surprised Emma. Jean’s emotions always ran high. She had to be restrained by Scott, who avoided addressing her since X-Force showed up. Seeing as how he was a major factor behind these emotions, he couldn’t afford to avoid her any longer.

“It doesn’t mean anything, Jean!” he told her, “We’re all a little on edge here and you know as well as I do that Emma loves to give everyone that extra push.”

“I’m still standing here, you know?” said Emma with folded arms, “It wasn’t meant as an insult anyways. I was hoping to make a point.”

“Well consider it made. You proved there’s some lingering bitterness between X-men and X-Force,” said Scott strongly.

“All the more reason to confront it,” Emma pointed out, “We’ve all done plenty on our respective teams to piss each other off. We’ll have to be adults about it at some point and move on. Some seem more ready to do so than others.”

Jean snorted bitterly at Emma, even if she was painfully right. She turned away from her former teammate and stepped away so she could fume. Scott followed her, remaining close without getting too close.

“If it makes you feel better, I think she was referring to me more than you,” said Scott.

“It doesn’t,” said Jean flatly, ‘This marks the second time our paths have crossed only to make things worse.”

“This is different, Jean. We’re not opposing one another this time. We’re working together,” he said.

“I wasn’t referring to the team, Scott. I was referring to us.”

Scott shifted awkwardly. Now Jean was looking at him with those longing eyes of hers. They were both in an emotionally vulnerable state. Now was not the time to confront it, but it was something they couldn’t avoid.

“I know this is hardly an appropriate time to get mushy, but I would feel a lot better if you weren’t keeping your mind closed off from me,” said Jean.

“There are reasons for that, Jean…good reasons that I can’t reveal just yet,” he said to her, offering a tender gesture to help mend her frustrations, “I know it’s frustrating now. I just need you to trust me and the rest of X-Force. We wouldn’t have come if we didn’t believe this could work.”

“I wouldn’t be this messed up about it if I didn’t believe it either,” she groaned, “I just…I want a chance to see if there’s enough us to salvage.”

“You’ll get that chance. I promise.”

It had been a while since Jean received a promise from Scott Summers. After so much time apart, the meaning of such a promise was much more fragile. Jean found herself leaning into Scott’s presence as if to give him more reasons to keep his promise. The X-Force leader reluctantly embraced her, showing his own uncertainty as the prospect of another confrontation with Magneto drew near.

The X-men and X-Force clearly had many issues to work through, both personal and logistical. There were a lot of complex emotions that needed to be resolved and they needed to be able to work around them for this mission. Magneto had already set the stage. Now they just had to join him.

“I did it! We’re all set,” Wanda announced.

“That was quick. Magneto must be in a hurry to get his ass kicked,” commented Logan as the two teams gathered around Wanda.

“What’s the story, Miss Maximoff? How is this going to go down?” asked Captain Freeman as he and General Grimshaw joined as well.

“Well, it doesn’t look like you’ll have to sneak in behind me if that’s what you’re worried about,” she replied, “My father is sending a special transport orb that will fit all of us. He’s willing to allow both the X-men and X-Force onto Asteroid M.”

“That sounds way too polite of him,” said Domino.

“Erik would never make himself that vulnerable to his enemies,” said Professor Xavier.

“He didn’t give specifics. He just told me there would be precautions,” said Wanda cryptically.

“At least that shows he’s not that crazy,” said Hank.

“The transport orb will arrive at Lake Moraine in about two hours. He expects me to be there and he expects the lot of you to behave yourselves. Those are his words, not mine,” said Wanda.

“That mean we have to leave Logan behind?” said Remy.

“Not funny, Cajun!” snarled Logan, who drew his claws.

“Not an unreasonable demand either,” said Scott, “But if he agreed to allow X-men and X-Force onto Asteroid M, that’s what he’s going to get.”

The logistics were sound, if not excessively so. Both teams were walking right into Magneto’s domain. They were exposing themselves in ways that left them very vulnerable. It placed an even greater emphasis on Wanda’s influence. If she was right about her father, then she would be the key to getting through to him.

“I’m not as concerned about Magneto’s hospitality as I am the forces around him,” said General Grimshaw.

“Easy for you to say. You ain’t even going,” muttered Rogue under her breath.

“We all seem to agree with Miss Maximoff’s earlier suspicion. Something is very wrong with Magneto and we need to find out what it is. Do you have the slightest clue as to how you’re going to figure it out?” asked the General, ignoring Rogue’s remark.

“We’re not under the illusion that we have an efficient strategy here, General,” said Professor Xavier, “However, between my telepathy and Wanda’s presence we should be able to uncover whatever unseen influence may be hiding.”

“And if we can’t?” asked Captain Freeman.

“We can’t plan that far ahead, Captain. This is a mission where we’ll have to make adjustments based on what we uncover on Asteroid M.”

“I still don’t like the idea of going in blind,” said Piotr.

“What we lack in intel we’ll have to make up for in manpower,” reasoned the Professor, “For this, we are no longer fragmented. The collective strength of the X-men and X-Force must be greater than any unexpected surprises that we uncover. That means we must set aside our petty disagreements if only for just this mission.”

“That’s gonna be a tall order, Chuck. There’s only so far we can stick our heads in the sand,” said Logan.

“Who’s to say those disagreements even matter anymore?” questioned Jean, “Didn’t White Cell make that abundantly clear?”

“That’s a debate we can all discuss once this is over,” said Professor Xavier, “Without a doubt, there will be some changes to discuss. That’s why we need to make it through this in one piece. I would prefer that this corroboration not be a one-time deal.”

Professor Xavier sounded sincere in this desire. Many within both teams seemed to share that sentiment. Emotions aside, the idea of the X-men staying divided just didn’t work. Recent events proved that if they remained separate, they would continue to unravel. They couldn’t allow that to happen.

Since no objections were expressed, General Grimshaw stepped in with Captain Freeman. The two teams were ready to do their part. Now he was ready to do his.

“Since everyone has stopped yelling at each other, I’ll assume you’re ready to begin,” said the General, “Captain Freeman will organize an MSA transport that will take you to Lake Moraine. You’ll link up with James Proudstar along the way.”

“I take it you’ll remain with the President to maintain some semblance of order,” said Wanda, “Can you promise us you won’t do anything to disrupt our operation?”

“Seeing as how you’ll be in space, it’s redundant to think otherwise,” retorted the General, “We have our hands full here on Earth. However, you will be equipped with special communicators so we can keep tabs on what’s going on. If the President makes a decision, you’ll be the first to know. Just remember we’re not equipped to provide backup should it be needed.”

“Don’t worry, General. We’re not expecting it,” said Scott.

“Then in the words of Alan Sheppard…please don’t let us screw up,” said General Grimshaw as he saluted the two X-teams, “Godspeed X-men. You too X-Force. Whatever you find up there, I hope it’s something you don’t have to blow up.”

Asteroid M – Citadel

‘Such a productive day, if I do say so myself. I have the Magneto, the Brotherhood, the X-men, and the entire Earth right where I need them to be. Like the invisible hand of natural selection that guides evolution, I guide this new genesis to its ultimate destiny.’

Dr. Wyndham held his head high after surprising the Brotherhood with Lorna’s return. Bringing her back to the world of the living went a long way towards earning their trust. Now they were less inclined to oppose him. He would need their support once the X-men arrived with Wanda Maximoff. He didn’t need their complete obedience. He just needed their loyalty through the most vital stage of this new evolution.

While the Brotherhood shared a joyous reunion with Lorna, Dr. Wyndham slipped away to another part of his lab. His glowing purple eyes flickered as he entered a small area nestled in the northwest corner. Frenzy followed close behind him. She was every bit the loyal soldier he needed her to be. As a result, she could bear witness to a profound moment that was decades in the making.

“I’d say you’ve endeared yourself to the Brotherhood,” Frenzy commented, “I can still hear them gushing over Lorna.”

“Give them their moment. It’ll only reinforce their loyalty, which I’ll most need once the X-men arrive,” said Dr. Wyndham.

“You don’t sound too worried,” said Frenzy with folded arms.

“Why should I be? I want them to be part of this. Even if they end up opposing me, they’ll bear witness to this amazing evolutionary event.”

Brimming with excitement, Dr. Wyndham pressed his hand against a panel on a nearby console. A computer quickly scanned his palm and verified his identity. In doing so a large rectangular container that was adjacent to the wall opened.

The container revealed a special bio-mechanical suit that had purplish scale-like modules covering the body, special tubes extending from the shoulders, and a custom helmet fitted with a visor over the eyes. It looked like an exoskeleton of sorts. If the exposed wires were any indication, it was only completed recently.

Frenzy watched as Dr. Wyndham removed his lab coat and shirt. She turned away while he removed his pants and everything underneath. With his eyes still glowing, the old man stepped into the container. Without even moving, the exoskeleton came to life and started to slither around his body as if it was merging with him.

“Do you know what the problem with regular evolution is, Miss Cargill?” asked Dr. Wyndham as the exoskeleton engulfed him.

“You mean besides giving men nipples and making too many insects that sting?” answered Frenzy.

“It’s too chaotic and relies too much on trail-and-error. It’s a major reason why this conflict between humans and mutants is so wasteful,” he said.

“I thought it was just stupid, but I guess that’s more scientific.”

“Throughout history, mankind has tamed that chaos. We’ve redirected rivers, moved mountains, and created elements that nature is incapable of producing. So it stands to reason that man can give evolution a nudge in the right direction. No one has been able to because they can’t see all the complex intricacies that go into living systems. But thanks to my cosmic awareness, I see it like a painter sees a fresh can of paint.”

Frenzy took a step back, watching as the exoskeleton slithered more rapidly. As it surrounded Dr. Wyndham, his body tensed and contorted. In the process, it reshaped his muscles and stature.

He became taller, more muscular, and more intimidating than the timid old man that seemed so underwhelming to others. He now looked like someone who could command the loyalty he needed. Once the exoskeleton settled, Dr. Wyndham stepped out of the container. His eyes were glowing even brighter than before. It looked like he was staring off into space, but he was clearly seeing so much more.

“I’ve spent half my life understanding the mechanisms that make life work in all its grandeur. I spent the other half taking that knowledge and creating a new evolutionary template,” said Dr. Wyndham in a new voice that projected great strength, “Now I have my own Garden of Eden here on Asteroid M. Unlike the gods of mythology, I will open this garden to those who vow to respect it.”

“So what kind of god does that make you?” asked Frenzy.

“Oh I’m not a god. I am the personal embodiment of pure evolution. I am the High Evolutionary and by my just hand, there will be no natural selection…only my selection!”

Up next: High Evolution Part 2

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