Born with amazing powers, Professor Charles Xavier and his team of mutants, the X-men, fight for peace in a world that hates and fears them. But lately, that fight as taken on new challenges that reflect the ongoing strain between humans and mutants.
It started with the recruitment of Wolverine from the mysterious organization known as Weapon X and continued through numerous clashes with Magneto and his Brotherhood of Mutants. Each has presented a range of new challenges that have led to victories and defeat. But the tension continues to rise and it isn’t just with the X-men. Mutants everywhere have been getting messages of a coming revolution. And with their recent encounter with the Morlocks, the X-men learned that Magneto is the one behind these messages. What they could entail is not yet clear, but the danger is very serious.
Beyond the tension of mutant affairs outside the institute, there remains plenty of tension within. Recently, Scott Summers, leader of the X-men, began dating his teammate Rogue. This comes after a series of clashes with Wolverine, who has been dating his best friend, Jean Grey. While their respective relationships have blossomed, tension remains and it continues to cause a strain throughout the team.
But strain or no strain, the X-men continue their fight and that conflict is set to affect the life of a special teenage girl from Illinois.
Washington DC Holocaust Museum – 10 Years Ago
Human history had many dark periods. For all the marvelous achievements of mankind, there were undeniable points of shame and sorrow. Among these dark chapters in the course of human affairs was the holocaust. Few events were so horrific. In the darkest days of World War II, the Nazis forcibly gathered six million Jews, gypsies, and other undesirables and rounded them up into concentration camps where they were brutalized, tortured, and exterminated. It was hard to imagine that human beings were capable of such evil. But it was there for everyone to see.
The holocaust was truly a terrible event. Few would ever want to expose a six-year-old girl to these horrors. But young Kitty Pryde was one of the exceptions. Her uncle, an Israeli citizen and former military commando, insisted on taking her to the holocaust museum in Washington DC. It was a trip her parents had reservations about, but they understood his reasoning. As a Jewish family with holocaust survivors in their past, it was important that she was aware of these issues.
“My god…” gasped Kitty as she took in a full-scale replication of the gas chambers at Auschwitz, “How could anybody put people through this?”
“It’s difficult to imagine, I know. But believe me. It’s real,” said her uncle, who kept his hand on her shoulder the whole time, “The men who did this were just men. But they were led to believe that doing this was right. Maybe some of them had reservations. We may never know, but human beings are capable of many horrific acts. It’s the dark side of human nature.”
“But why? Why do they do it? Why did they hate us so much?”
“I wish I could tell you, Kitty. But it’s complicated,” he said, “Hatred is a very powerful feeling. Sometimes people don’t need reasons to hate. Sometimes it’s because they’re told to hate, they’re afraid of something, or maybe they’ve been a victim of hate themselves. But more often than not, hate is not rational. People just hate.”
Kitty still didn’t understand. She couldn’t begin to wrap her mind around how any human being could hate people so much that they would just heartlessly kill with such cruelty. It was frightening in many ways, looking at these displays and knowing that they depicted real events. It was worse than her darkest nightmares. She found herself clinging to her uncle’s leg, not wanting to look at it anymore.
He then took her aside and knelt down so he could look her in the eye. There was still an innocence to this beautiful little girl. That innocence was shaken upon learning about such horrors, but he wasn’t going to let it be tainted.
“Listen Kitty, I know this is hard. But there’s a reason I’m doing this,” said her uncle in a deep, sincere tone, “You’re a sweet, innocent girl in a world that isn’t always just. And I don’t want the world to rob you of that as it did with so much of our family. Your parents and I want you to be able to defend yourself so you don’t give into despair. There’s always a chance that this kind of hate could emerge again. If and when it does, I want you to be ready. Understand?”
It was a difficult thing to thrust on a six-year-old girl, but Kitty was smart and she had a strength that went beyond her age. She couldn’t begin to contemplate something like the Holocaust. But after seeing these displays and hearing her uncle’s desperate words, she understood. Pushing aside her fear and sorrow, she nodded assertively.
“I understand,” she said.
“Good girl,” her uncle smile, “I can already see a tough girl in that cute face of yours. And don’t you worry. You will be strong. I’ll make sure of it.”
Northeast Chicago High School – Present Day
“OW! OW! OW-AHHHHHHH! UNCLE! UNCLE!” groaned a tall, imposing teenage boy in a fit of pain.
“Say your sorry!” grinned a sixteen-year-old Kitty Pryde, who had the boy pinned on a lunch table with his arm behind his back.
“I’M SORRY, OKAY! JUST LET ME GO ALREADY!”
It was almost a humorous scene. Various students at Northeast Chicago High School gathered around to watch. Some were laughing hysterically while others watched on in shock. It started out innocently enough. One of the big time jocks in the school got into an argument with one of the freshman boys. The argument quickly turned ugly when the jock accused the freshman boy, who also happened to be an athlete, of stealing his prized varsity jacket and staining it with mustard. The freshman boy obviously had nothing to do with it, but the jock wasn’t convinced and threatened to beat him up. That’s where Kitty Pryde stepped in.
She told the jock to back off. At first he scoffed, thinking the worst this petite sophomore would do is complaining to the teacher. He never expected her to pull some kind of jiujutsu move on him, grabbing him by the arm and twisting it in a way that hurt so much he couldn’t even move. Even with his bigger frame and greater strength, he was effectively humiliated. It wasn’t the first time Kitty Pryde displayed her toughness. But for the unfortunate jock, it would leave an indelible mark.
“Good, now was that so hard?” she said wryly as she let the jock go.
“Augh! My shoulder!” he groaned, “The coach is gonna kill me!”
“You should have thought of that sooner. Next time, don’t pick a fight. You never know when a combat trained girl with a grudge against bullies will be passing by.”
The jock groaned while a few other students applauded. Kitty smiled humbly and helped the unfortunate freshman gather his things.
“Um…thanks,” he said.
“Don’t mention it. Someone’s gotta stand up to arrogant, pig-headed thugs. It might as well be me.”
“Why you? And where did you learn that cool move?”
“Around,” she shrugged innocently, “It also helps to have a former commando for an uncle.”
The freshman boy smiled back, not sure if she was being serious or not. But he was just glad to be in once piece. Freshman got picked on enough at this school. It was nice to see that someone was tough enough to stand up to them. He just never would have guessed it would be someone like Kitty Pryde.
While the crowds dispersed the unfortunate jock lingered, still clutching his sore shoulder. Kitty didn’t grant him much sympathy. She didn’t grant any bullies much sympathy. She came across many over the years and she never let them push her around. That was thanks largely to her uncle, who began teaching her to fight like a commando when she was six. It came in pretty handy over the years. People assumed just because she was a girl with a petite frame they could take advantage of her. Time and again, she shattered that notion.
Her skills and toughness served her well over the years. It made her confident and strong. She excelled in the classroom and in the halls. Her parents were very proud, even if they didn’t always approve of how she carried herself. And lately, she had been going out of her way to help others who couldn’t defend themselves. It was a personal mission for her, stemming largely from what her uncle taught her as a child. It got her into trouble every now and then, but she had no regrets.
‘Another day, another hard lesson learned. That’s 123298 I owe my uncle. Not like I’ll ever catch up, but it’s one of the few debts worth having…especially when it means seeing self-proclaimed tough guys brought down to size!’
For the jock, it was quite a low point. It was one thing to get beaten up, but to get beaten up by a girl nearly half his size was nothing short of humiliating. Still clutching his shoulder, he looked back towards Kitty Pryde with bitter resentment. That girl had some gall to think she could just butt into other peoples’ business. He was sure that freshman messed up his jacket and if he couldn’t take his frustration out on him, he would have to take it out on Kitty.
Turning back towards the picnic table, he saw a cup of yogurt that someone hadn’t finished. He quickly surmised that if he couldn’t confront this girl in a fight, the least he could do was humiliate her in the same way she humiliated him. So he grabbed the yogurt with his good arm and turned back towards Kitty, who was now facing away.
“Hey Pryde! Bully this, bitch!”
Just as Kitty turned around, the angry older boy threw the yogurt as hard as he could right at her. When Kitty saw it coming, she didn’t have time to react. She instinctively used her books as a shield, but she wasn’t quick enough. It was coming right at her face. But just when she was expecting it to hit, something very strange happened.
The yogurt went right through her. It didn’t miss or curve away from her. It literally went right through her face as if it was going through air. As it did she felt this strange sensation she had never felt before. It left her dazed and confused. For a moment she just stood there, looking down at herself and down at the yogurt. It was surprising enough for her, but for the older boy it was too much.
“The hell? What are you, Pryde?!” he exclaimed as he got up and ran off, “I don’t care what they say about you! You’re no tough girl! You’re just a freak!”
Normally, Kitty would have countered with a quip of her own. But she was still in shock, trying to process what just happened. She bent over and picked up the cup of yogurt, trying to see if there was anything strange about it. By all accounts it seemed normal. Whatever had just happened came from her and for once she was afraid.
“Did this thing just pass right through me?” she mused anxiously, “What’s going on? What’s happening to me?!”
Xavier Institute – Main Classroom
Jean Grey tiredly stretched her limbs as she closed her books and shut down her computer. She had just finished her round of morning classes. It seemed to go longer this morning than usual. Maybe she was just restless or distracted. Their quarterly progress reports were coming up and it was always a rush to get everything done on time. It was always stressful, but the others seemed to be handling it better than she was.
“Later Jean. Don’t work too hard,” said Bobby as he walked by while texting with Lorna on his phone.
“I’m trying,” she sighed.
It didn’t seem fair. She should have been used to this. With all the challenges they faced as X-men, class should be a breeze. But this time it was different. Everything felt more overwhelming. She couldn’t put her finger on it, but had her theories.
One issue was her relationship with Logan. For the most part it had been good. Logan was treating her well, they still went out regularly, and they shared plenty of passionate moments in bed. But lately she felt as though things had stalled. Logan had been more distant than usual. He told her about the conversation he had with Scott about how he still didn’t know why he was attracted to her. She tried not to make a big deal of it, but it was a pressing issue. It really bothered him and it was starting to bother her as well. She couldn’t help but wonder it would affect their relationship if he ever did find out.
Another issue involved Scott. Or more accurately, it involved Scott and Rogue. Since the Morlock incident, their relationship developed quickly. The way they carried themselves, she would have easily mistaken them for a couple that had been dating much longer. She figured it was because Rogue wasn’t sure if she could control her powers with the inhibitor collars forever. It seemed like a convenient excuse to push things along. At least Scott seemed happy with her. But even he admitted it was a bit overwhelming at times. And something about that bothered her. She knew it shouldn’t have, but it did.
Whatever the reason, she was wound pretty tight. It didn’t help that Magneto appeared to be stepping up his plans. They learned from the Morlocks that he was spreading a message through every mutant community he could, urging them all to join what he described as a revolution. He was careful not to divulge details. He may have been a tyrannical maniac, but he wasn’t stupid. The Professor was spending long hours investigating this matter, but so far there were no solid leads.
Sighing to herself, Jean gathered her things. Perhaps lunch and a nice workout would set her mind at ease. She was about to leave when Rogue entered the classroom.
“Mornin’ Jean,” she said with a tired yawn, “Finished for the day?”
“No, but where have you been?” said Jean dryly, “It’s almost eleven in the morning. Did you oversleep or something?”
“You could say that,” she said with a wry grin, “But Ah wouldn’t exactly say Ah did much sleepin’ last night. Ya can blame Scott for that.”
Jean’s face turned crimson red at the sensual undertone of her voice. That was another thing about Rogue’s relationship with Scott that annoyed her. She wasn’t afraid to divulge lurid details of her and Scott’s private time.
“Rogue! Do you not understand the concept of too much information?!” exclaimed Jean.
“Sorry, Ah can’t help it! Afterglow does crazy things to a gal!” she grinned as she sat down in the seat next to her, “Ah don’t know how he does it, but that man knows how to use what the good lord gave him. Heck, Ah’m surprised Ah didn’t pass out when…”
“ROGUE!” yelled Jean as she shot up from her seat.
“What? Don’t be such a prude!” laughed Rogue as she leaned back casually, “We’re both adults here, aren’t we? And Ah know for a fact you and Logan get it on. That funny walk you get every now and then is more than obvious.”
“That doesn’t mean I want to talk about it,” muttered Jean, still blushing profusely, “And if it’s all the same to you, I’d appreciate it if you would stop trying to project your memories of it. I don’t need to see them!”
“Fahne,” shrugged Rogue, rolling her eyes, “You know for a girl dating Wolverine ya sure are uptight, Jean.”
“Well you’re pretty loose for a girl dating Scott Summers, so we’re even.”
Rogue cast a smug grin, but Jean ignored it as she got up and started walking towards the door. She knew this was just Rogue’s way of annoying her. Ever since she started dating Scott, it became somewhat of a hobby for her. It wasn’t unlike the way Logan pushed Scott’s buttons after they started dating. At least with that she managed to keep him in check. Apparently, Scott wasn’t as successful with Rogue.
She could still feel Rogue’s gaze on her as she prepared to storm out. Rather than just leave her with that smug grin on her face, Jean turned back and addressed her.
“Rogue, did it ever occur to you that you’re pushing this relationship a bit too much?”
“Are you just sayin’ that to change the subject? Because it ain’t very subtle,” said Rogue, still grinning.
“No, I’m being serious,” said Jean in a more assertive tone, “Ever since you and Scott became an item, you’ve been moving along pretty quickly. You’re already bragging about your private life as if it’s the most casual thing in the world. But do you ever stop and think that you’re missing the point?”
“What point? Ah’m seein’ a guy I really like and havin’ all sorts of fun with him. What’s there to think about?”
“Plenty,” said Jean strongly, “Mutual affection is all well and good, but relationships are more than that. If you really care about somebody, you don’t just hook up with them. It’s more about reaching out to them on a deeper level. ”
“Well thank you Miss Oprah,” said Rogue dryly, “Ah can only imagine how Logan reacted when you told him that speech.”
“I never had to,” quipped Jean, “Say what you will about him, but at least he tries to take our relationship seriously. You make it sound like a joke and I can’t imagine Scott appreciating that all too well.”
“Oh so now you’re tryin’ to make meh doubt mah feelings for him? And here Ah was thinkin’ you didn’t like buttin’ into other peoples’ private lives.”
“I’m not trying to make you doubt anything!” said Jean defensively, “But seriously Rogue, have you really opened up to him any more than you did before you started dating? Can you look me in the eye and tell me you know better now than before the Dazzler incident? And bear in mind I’m psychic. I already know the answer.”
Rogue’s expression hardened. There were at least ten ways she could respond to those questions, but all of them involved either lying or just brushing it off. She inwardly cursed Jean for being psychic. She also cursed her for making a point. Because when she actually thought about it, she hadn’t really opened up to Scott in any new way except physically. She knew him now about as well as she did before they started dating. She didn’t want to admit it to Jean, but it was an issue that didn’t sit well.
“I thought not,” said Jean.
Now it was Jean’s turn to grin. She was not the boastful type, but she did take some satisfaction in putting Rogue in her place. She started to leave, but she didn’t leave on a completely bitter note.
“Oh and one more thing…I’m not pointing this out because I don’t like you. I’m pointing this out because you’re dating my best friend. If you’re not taking that seriously, then it affects him. And if it affects him, it affects me. You may not like it, but that’s how it is.”
“Some friend you are,” said Rogue bitterly, “Are you this charming to all Scott’s girlfriends?”
“More or less,” snickered Jean, “But that’s another story.”
Jean then turned away and walked out, leaving Rogue to ponder those words. She tried not to let them get to her. She wanted to pass them off as Jean’s way of getting back at her for the lurid comments she made earlier. But even if that was the case, that didn’t mean she was wrong. As much as she liked Scott, she had been caught up in the more physical aspect of their relationship lately. It was only natural after having just regained her ability to touch. But she wasn’t so shallow to believe that was a solid foundation to build a relationship upon. As good as things between them had been so far, there was still a lot they had to learn about each other.
Sighing to herself, Rogue turned on her computer and began working. It was still too early to say how far her relationship with Scott’s would go. Whatever the case, she was still going to have to deal with Jean being his friend.
While most of team was busy with classes, Professor Xavier called an impromptu meeting in his office with Logan and Ororo. He had been watching the news all morning. Seemingly every network was covering the same event. The ambassador from the island nation of Genosha was visiting the United States and he brought the anti-mutant rhetoric of his leader, Cameron Hodge, with him. Naturally, he drew plenty of attention. Both supporters and detractors alike gathered to make their voices heard and it was making for a volatile situation.
As everyone in the institute already knew, tensions were growing within the international community concerning Genosha. Cameron Hodge, who ruled the country with an iron fist, had been making bold claims about his nation’s handling of the mutant issue. Rumors of prison camps and interment were rampant. Other reports told a far more ominous picture. As Hodge garnered more attention, his ambitions grew bolder.
Gathered around Xavier’s desk, Ororo and Logan watched the pre-recorded news report that had been playing endlessly all morning.
“To repeat our top story, Genoshan ambassador and top military advisor, Colonel Jonathon Kincaid, spoke before a large body of VIPs this morning. Among them were top political, industrial, and military officials from over forty nations. The highly publicized speech reiterated what Genoshan leader, Cameron Hodge, has been saying for the last several months. His nation stands at the forefront of the ongoing mutant controversy, boasting what he described as ‘radical proactive measures’ to contain potentially dangerous mutants. While the Colonel didn’t go into detail, many are speculating that these measures include violent persecution and possibly interment. However, no evidence has been put forward to confirm such accusations. But that hasn’t stopped large crowds from gathering outside the prestigious Regal Suites Hotel in downtown Chicago. Both supporters and detractors alike are making their voices heard, leading to several clashes that have resulted in dozens of arrests. Colonel Kincaid had this to say about the issue.”
The image on the TV then shifted to a recording of the speech. It showed Howard Kincaid, proudly dressed in a Genoshan military uniform, standing before a crowded room speaking with a fire that would have made Cameron Hodge proud.
“Let it be known that the mutant issue threatens not just the security of my nations, but all nations. We must stop dabbling in senseless rhetoric and take swift action! And with the guidance and direction of our dear leader, Cameron Hodge, Genosha has made great strides. We stand ready to secure society and civilization itself from any mutant threat and we invite every nation to be a part of it. Time is running out. We must all act quickly. Because if we do not, others with far less honorable intentions will.”
Xavier paused the broadcast at the end of the speech. It was as grave a report as they had come to expect. But the Professor took a special interest in this one.
“And I thought Magneto was crazy,” commented Logan, “They must dump lead in the water in Genosha. Assholes like this are too sick to be sane.”
“Sanity or not, Genosha has been garnering more attention than usual lately,” said the Professor, “We’re all well aware of the issues concerning Cameron Hodge, but I believe this report adds another wrinkle to this matter.”
“How do you figure, Professor?” asked Ororo, “Were you able to sense anything suspicious with Cerebro?”
“I didn’t have to. It’s apparent in Colonel Kincaid’s choice of words. He emphasized that time is running out. That implies that Hodge may be making his move soon.”
“Guess it makes sense,” snarled Logan, “The way he’s whoring himself to every power broker in the world, he’s in a hell of a position to make a statement. Men like him want everybody’s attention when he does something big. It’s probably his way of compensating for not getting enough hugs as a kid.”
Although Logan’s assessment was a bit crude, there may be some truth to it. Hodge didn’t come off as a man of subtlety. If he was going to make a move, it was only natural he would want as much attention as possible.
“Whatever his reasons, I fear there may be more to this ambassador’s visit. The timing is too coincidental. With Magneto stirring up activity in mutant communities around the world, Hodge may be looking to strike back.”
“How bad is it? Have you heard anything else from the Morlocks?” asked Ororo.
“No more than usual. Marrow has been providing me constant reports on the activity of the mutant underground, but they all say the same thing. Magneto is preparing for something and so is Hodge. I feel there’s a very real possibility they may be linked.”
“Hodge and Magneto? Two crazy sociopaths looking to set the world on fire? Please tell me we’re gonna bust one of them,” said Logan with a determined grunt.
“It’s not that simple, Wolverine. These are powerful forces we’re dealing with, especially concerning Hodge’s status in the international community,” said the Professor, “But I agree. We cannot sit idly on this issue. That is why I’m sending the team to investigate the ambassador in Chicago.”
“Investigate how? What do you expect to find?” asked Ororo.
“I am not certain, but we must be proactive in this matter,” said Xavier, “In addition Cerebro detected traces of a new mutant signature around that area earlier. I fear that may not be a coincidence as well.”
“In my experience, there’s no such thing as coincidences,” growled Logan, “It’s always something, and most of the time that something needs a beating.”
“For our sake Wolverine, let’s hope this is an exception,” said Xavier.
The Professor and his staff looked back at the image of Colonel Kincaid on the TV screen. He didn’t have the same fiery presence as his leader, Cameron Hodge, but he definitely had the rhetoric down. Hodge was making a political career out of the mutant issue for all the wrong reasons and it seemed as it was all leading to something big. And if his words were any indication it did not bode well for mutants.
They also couldn’t forget Magneto’s activities in the midst of this affair. As Cameron Hodge was flexing his political muscle, Magneto was doing the same within the mutant community. He built up the Brotherhood, stirred conflict with Weapon X, and was now pushing for more support in other mutant communities. It was a volatile mix that could lead to all out war. And that was something the X-men couldn’t allow.
“I’ll get Hank to prep the Blackbird,” said Ororo, “If I can get him off his laptop that is.”
“Good luck with that,” scoffed Logan, “What the hell has he been up to lately anyways? He was supposed to set up that new Danger Room run for me yesterday and he completely blew it off.”
Ororo shifted somewhat at Logan’s question. He wasn’t the first one to point it out.
“He’s just been busy lately,” she said, “I don’t know what he’s caught up in, but it’s kept him glued to his laptop for quite some time. Whatever it is, I’m sure it’s important.”
“Yeah right, I’m sure every guy who spends hours at a time on a laptop is working on something really critical,” said Logan dryly.
“Logan! I would appreciate it you did not talk about my boyfriend like that!” shot the African woman defensively.
“Hey, I ain’t knocking him. I just call em like I see em,” he shrugged, “Just tell him to keep better track of his time. We got enough slackers around here anyways.”
Ororo shot him a disgruntled look, but Logan brushed it off as he walked out of Xavier’s office. She sighed to herself and shook her head. She then turned to Xavier, who seemed somewhat curious as well.
“Please don’t ask, Charles,” she told him.
“I understand,” said the Professor, not adding anything else to Logan’s crass comments.
Ororo managed a slight smile. She could always count on Xavier not to inquire about personal matters. Logan wasn’t so restrained and while she found it annoying, he did touch on a sensitive issue. Hank really had been a bit of a flake lately. He was still affectionate towards her and they still spent plenty of time together, but he seemed preoccupied with something else. He kept assuring her it was just work piling up and she wanted to believe him, but she just wasn’t sure.
Whatever the case may be she was hopeful they would work it out. They had enough ongoing issues with Cameron Hodge and the Brotherhood. They didn’t need personal affairs adding to it.
Regal Suites Hotel – Presidential Penthouse
Colonel Jonathan Kincaid had been a busy man. Glad-handing the American media wasn’t as easy as the dear leader, Cameron Hodge, made it out to be. The crowds outside the hotel were still going strong into late afternoon. Even atop the luxurious presidential penthouse, he could hear the incessant chanting among the protesters. Some were for their crusade, rallying around his anti-mutant rhetoric. Others were far dead set against it, protesting their cause as a cause of hate and intolerance. Below he saw signs from parents of mutant children and supporters of mutant rights. He even heard some of them blaring music from the mutant pop star, Dazzler. It was quite a scene, shutting down several blocks and forcing the police to employ anti-riot measures.
It was pathetic. In Genosha this kind of societal chaos wouldn’t have been tolerated. Cameron Hodge would have sent in the army long ago to start making arrests. There was no room for such obstructions in civilized society. As far as he was concerned, whenever people took to the streets they were taking whatever productive energy they had with them away from their proper roles. The Colonel partially blamed the continued decadence that too many nations tolerated. But it was the mutants who were most to blame. It was their fault for stirring this controversy. If the most powerful nations of the world weren’t going to handle it, then Genosha would take matters into its own hands.
As Colonel Kincaid gazed out his window, enjoying a nice class of authentic Genoshan wine, one of his subordinates, a trusted lieutenant, approached him.
“Sir, our people have prepared the secure uplink as you requested. General Hodge is will be calling in any second.”
“Excellent,” said Colonel Kincaid, “Make sure the link remains encrypted. If even the slightest bit of it gets out, General Hodge will have all of our heads.”
“Understood sir,” said the young soldier with a loyal salute.
Setting aside his wine, the Colonel followed his lieutenant into the main bedroom where the uplink was set up. Three skilled technicians had been working for the last hour to set up the secure interface. It included a small satellite dish they had set up on the balcony, a couple of box-sized computing terminals that acted as encryption devices, and standard sized laptop with high resolution camera attacked to it. It was an elaborate concoction for what could have easily been accomplished with a cell phone, but General Hodge didn’t want to run the risk of anyone eavesdropping on them.
The technicians positioned the satellite dish and ran one final check. Once they got the signal, they brought up the video link and launched the program.
“Are we ready?” asked General Kincaid.
“We’re online sir,” said the lead technician, “Both encryption servers are running at one hundred percent. You’re officially secure.”
“Good,” said the Colonel, “Then wait outside. I must speak to the General in private.”
The technicians and body guards all nodded and saluted before promptly exiting the room. The Colonel waited anxiously until they were all out of sight. For what was about to transpire, nobody could know. After about a minute or so of tense waiting, the Colonel saw the unmistakable figure of Cameron Hodge on the computer.
“Greetings Colonel. How is the weather in Chicago?”
“Windy, dreary, and cloudy, sir. Just as we hoped,” answered the Colonel obediently.
“And what about the media fair? Did everything go according to plan?”
“I went over everything you specified, sir. Our business partners are still on board, but they’re growing weary of the high cost from all the resources we’re commanding.”
“Tell them not to worry. They’ll see the fruits of their labor very soon. And what of our political prowess?”
“They’re still on the fence. Nobody is willing to take a stand so long as mutants remain an issue. They’re just one major incident away from throwing their hat in the ring for us.”
Cameron Hodge grinned ominously on the screen.
“Then that’s what we’ll give them. I’ve already prepared a little ‘surprise’ for our American friends. It’s something our crews have been working on in their off time. It should send the necessary message to the global community and mutants at large.”
“What exactly does it entail, General?”
“That you do not need to know, Colonel. Just make sure nobody in the hotel goes on the roof for the next hour. A transport helicopter should be arriving in about fifteen minutes. Help them unload the payload and then go back to your duties.”
“Will that be all, sir?”
“That’s all Colonel. You need only enjoy the rest of the trip and make sure American and global media remain clueless.”
“That won’t be a problem, General,” grinned the Colonel.
With a respectful salute, the Colonel shut down the video link. He couldn’t help but be curious what this ‘surprise’ was. But if General Hodge’s undertone was any indication, it was sure to make a statement.
Without question, the Colonel followed his leader’s orders. He directed his security forces to seal off the roof so nobody had access to it. His men worked swiftly and efficiently, holding workers and guests up at gunpoint if they didn’t obey. Luckily none were foolish enough to ask questions. Within ten minutes they cleared the entire roof of any and all witnesses. His men made sure all doors were guarded and all security cameras were blacked out. The weather was cloudy and dreary so nobody below could make out what was going. Mother nature was on their side because that was exactly how General Hodge wanted it.
Once the area was secure, Colonel Kincaid didn’t have to wait long before he heard the distinct sound of a transport helicopter descending through the clouds. It was hard to make out at first, but it eventually came into view. The Colonel and his men stood back, giving the aircrafts space to land. They quickly noticed this was no ordinary helicopter. It was much larger than a standard transport and it was much more high tech, complete with stealth technology and noise dampened rotors. It was most likely a special craft owned by General Hodge himself.
Once it landed the engines kept going, but the cargo bay in the rear opened up. A small ramp opened up and a whole platoon of General Hodge’s elite guards came rushing out. The Colonel and his men stayed back, only surveying as they unloaded a large spherical object about thirty feet in diameter. They couldn’t tell what it was since it was covered in a thick black tarp. As soon as the elite guards set it down on the roof, they immediately rushed back into the helicopter. One, however, stayed behind to address the Colonel.
“Is this the surprise General Hodge spoke of?” asked the Colonel.
“I am not at liberty to say, Colonel,” said the guard, “All you need to know is it will activate on its own. Just keep the roof clear for another fifteen minutes and leave.”
“Very well, did General Hodge have any other instructions for me?”
“Yes…this event never happened,” replied the guard.
Colonel Kincaid had been in this business long enough to know what that implied. He only saluted the elite guard and signaled his men to back off. They all complied obediently, not even showing a hint of curiosity for what could be under the mysterious black tarp. The Colonel set it aside as well, watching as the elite guards closed up the helicopter and took off as quickly as they landed.
Before he left for this trip, General Hodge stressed the importance of this event. He said it would provide the necessary catalyst he needed to set his master plan into motion. Soon it would all come together and humans and mutants alike would wisely take notice.
The atmosphere in the X-jet was more tenuous than usual. As if venturing into a city full of protesters, media envoys, and diplomatic personnel wasn’t stressful enough, this mission had an ominous feel to it. Every recent mission from their first encounter with the Brotherhood to their latest encounter with the Morlocks seemed to be connected. It was as if it was all building towards something much bigger and if it involved the likes of Magneto and Cameron Hodge that couldn’t be a good thing.
Thick clouds had descended over Chicago as the late afternoon set in. It was getting darker and there was lightning in the distance, hinting that a storm was brewing. Scott flew the jet under the cloud cover and was now over the city. He made sure they were in stealth mode. Despite the weather, there were still protesters and media throughout the area. The last thing they wanted to do was insight more chaos.
Things were quiet in the jet for the most part as they got into the mission-ready mindset, but not everyone shared the same focus.
“Seriously Bobby, texting during a mission?” commented Warren as he heard Bobby’s phone beep for what must have been the hundredth time, “Do I even need to point out how messed up that is?”
“I’d stop if I could. But Lorna is really distressed. I can’t leave her hanging,” said Bobby, not even looking up from his phone.
“How the heck can you tell? It’s texting for cryin’ out loud!” commented Rogue.
“Ever hear of emoticons, Rogue? Seriously, try and keep up with the times. And besides, I know Lorna well enough to know when it’s serious. I can read between the lines.”
But the team wouldn’t hear it. Scott rolled his eyes and turned to Jean, who quickly picked up on what he was thinking. Using her telekinesis, she snatched the phone away from Bobby and floated it to her hand.
“Hey!” he complained.
“That’s enough, Iceman,” said Scott in an authoritative tone, “If Lorna knows you as well as you know her, she’ll understand if you have more pressing matters like a mission.”
“Oh come on! It’s not like we’re attacking Magneto’s base head on or something!” Bobby groaned, “The Professor just sent us here to investigate!”
“Name one recent instance where that hasn’t led to something more serious,” quipped Scott.
Bobby muttered a curse under his breath. Just once he would have liked one of these fact finding missions to turn up dry. But given their history, the odds were stacked against them. That still wasn’t an excuse for them to interrupt a conversation with Lorna.
“Take it easy, Bobby. You’ll catch up with her,” assured Jean.
“Yes, you can always text her in the middle of class as you so often do,” added Ororo with a wry grin.
“Whatever,” groaned Bobby, “Let’s just get this over with. What did the Professor say was so strange about this again?”
“Aside from an ambassador from a mutant hating country coming to town, plenty,” said Scott, “He suspects Genosha’s escalating activities are somehow linked to Magneto’s. Our job is to find out what we can while keeping an eye on a new mutant signature he detected close by.”
“A new mutant? Why would that be a big deal?” asked Bobby.
“Because it’s a hell of a coincidence and that’s always the first sign of something rotten,” said Logan.
It sounded a little paranoid, but even Bobby conceded it was suspicious. It wasn’t every day an anti-mutant zealot was in the same city as a new mutant signature. It was a volatile mix that could get out of hand very quickly.
Scott flew in lower and around the airspace over the hotel. Even though the clouds were settling in, they could still see the crowds swarming throughout the streets. The media was probably there as well and sticking around for rush hour. If something was going to happen, this was probably a good time. So much focus was still on the hotel and if just one of the individuals amongst the crowd was the mutant signature Xavier picked up on it could get ugly fast.
Suddenly, one of the screens in the cockpit flashed. Then just as they were about to fly over the roof of the hotel, they noticed a bright streak of fiery light shoot up from the roof of the building. It was like a rocket of sorts, but none they had ever seen before.
“Whoa! What was that?” said Warren as he and the others looked out the window.
“Sure as hell didn’t look like fireworks,” commented Rogue.
“It wasn’t,” said Hank grimly as he began working feverishly on the scanner, “Whatever that was it took off at a phenomenal rate. And if the trajectory is any indication it appears to be intelligently guided.”
“What could it be? A missile?” asked Jean.
“Doubtful,” assured Hank, “But whatever it is it’s definitely targeting something. And it appears to be close by.”
“Oh we gotta stop this,” said Logan, “Think you can catch it, one-eye?”
“Just watch me, Logan,” said a determined Scott.
Gripping the controls, Scott hit the afterburner and followed the strange object through the clouds and into the city. The rest of the X-men held on and let their leader show off his flight skills. Whatever this thing was, it didn’t look friendly.
Kitty Pryde was having a hell of a day. After the incident with that punk jock at school it was all a blur. It kept playing out over and over in her head, the moment when that fateful cup of yogurt passed right through her. And if that wasn’t strange enough, she couldn’t help but feel she did something to make it happen. It was as if something in her mind and body switched on and made it possible.
She wrestled with it for the rest of the day. She found herself taking a long walk, not going directly home like she usually did after school. She ended up in Northview Mall, a popular afterschool hangout where she just started walking endlessly, lost in her thoughts. She didn’t browse through any merchandise or do any shopping. All she could think about was that one incident and the strange feeling it left her dealing with.
‘What’s wrong with me? Why can’t I just let it go already? It only happened once. For all I know it could be just a one-time thing. So why does it make me feel so…strange?’
As she passed by the electronics store, she saw a TV display blaring the news about the ambassador from Genosha visiting. She didn’t pay much attention to it. But it had caught her attention at times. The rumors of interment camps and mass prisons from Genosha reminded her too much of the Holocaust, an event that hung strongly with her since her uncle took her to the Holocaust museum. She had sympathy for struggling mutants, but it was a divisive issue that she tried not to get caught up in.
Then it dawned on her. What if she was a mutant? What if that incident with the yogurt was a mutant power or something? She found herself shuttering at the notion. With anti-mutant crowds just a few blocks away, it was not a comforting thought. But it was an impossible explanation for an impossible situation. The more she thought about it, the more it unnerved her.
‘No…that can’t be it. I’m not a mutant! I can’t be! There aren’t any mutants in my family! I look and feel completely human! How could I be one?’
Her mind continued to race as she started walking faster towards the main area of the mall. It was a crowded yet open area that surrounded an elaborate fountain, which stood under a large glass dome that marked the center of the mall. It felt like the most logical place to be, surrounded by other seemingly normal humans where she could get some air. Kitty Pyrde found herself sitting at the base of the fountain and hugging her shoulders. It was as if her grip on her world was starting to slip away. Thinking back to the news report, the thought of being a mutant in a world so on edge did not sit well.
For a moment she just caught her breath, trying not to look like she was freaking out. Her expression hardened as she looked at her reflection in the fountain.
‘Get a grip, Kitty! You’re stronger than this! You’re the girl who took down a guy twice your size less than six hours ago! Stop acting like a weakling! Remember what Uncle Pryde taught you. The first step to defeat is accepting weakness. And you’re not weak! You’re not…’
But before she could finish her thought, she noticed something in her reflection. Or more accurately, she noticed something in the background. It was coming from above, just outside the large glass dome that loomed directly over her. She wasn’t sure what it was at first. Then when she looked up and saw it, her eyes widened with shock and fear.
In the span of a second, the ambience of the Northview Mall was shattered when a strange spherical object came crashing through the glass dome above. The deafening sound of glass breaking caught everybody but Kitty by surprising, causing many to freeze in momentary shock. Then when they saw what caused it, they started to run.
“Please let this be a dream…”
But it was no dream. From the hole in the glass dome, the large spherical object didn’t impact the area below. It actually landed, crushing the fountain in the process. Kitty found herself backing away slowly as confused mall patrons ran in terror. Whatever this object was it didn’t look friendly. It was large, standing at around thirty feet and diameter. It was a mix of pink and black with a glossy finish around the body. There was a large array of silver streaks covering the object that looked almost like human eyes. On the bottom were three equally spaced holes. At first they seemed out of place, but then they started shooting out a rocket-like thrust, causing the sphere to levitate just over the crushed fountain.
As she watched it hover, Kitty stumbled back against a table. She wasn’t sure why, but somehow she knew this thing was after her. Everybody else around her was running and shoving to get as far away from this area as possible.
“What is that thing?!”
“This an alien invasion or something?”
Kitty remained frozen, trying to maintain her breathing as she stumbled away from the table and started backing off. But then this mysterious black sphere ‘activated’ somehow. Now hovering in mid air, the sliver streaks started to glow with a yellowish, orange light. Once every streak was lit, the object looked as though it had eyes all over it’s surface. And when one of them got a glimpse of her, it flashed red.
“Danger. Mutant present.”
“Mutant?! No! There must be some mistake!” exclaimed Kitty.
But there was no mistake. This strange sphere started hovering towards her, the red eye in the center never losing sight of her. This was all becoming a surreal nightmare. She just spent the last few minutes trying to convince herself she wasn’t a mutant. It seemed as though this ‘thing’ knew something she didn’t.
She immediately tried to run, but was in such a state of disarray she tripped over a chair and fell flat on her face. Turning over in a panic, she saw the strange sphere hovering just over her with the eye now glowing even brighter. She didn’t like where this was going. All she could do was close her eyes and brace herself for whatever happened next. Then she heard it, a powerful zapping sound straight from the glowing red eye of the sphere. It fired some sort of powerful laser weapon at her, aiming right for her heart.
But just when she thought she was about to meet her maker, it happened again. Just like what happened with the cup of yogurt earlier, the powerful laser passed right through her.
“What the…” she said in a daze, “Again?”
But while Kitty was still processing what just happened, the deadly orb quickly picked up on it and charged up again for another shot.
“Danger. Mutant still present.”
“Ugh! You’ve gotta be kidding me!” she groaned.
Instinct took over as Kitty stumbled to her feet and started running with all her might. But the strange sphere didn’t let her escape. The objects lower rockets ignited and started pursuing her, its many eyes never losing sight of her. By now most everybody had fled the central area of the mall and were crowding around the exits. Kitty shoved her way through the crowds, trying to escape this monstrosity. But she couldn’t outrun it and nothing was stopping it. It knocked over displays, advertising posters, and food carts as if they were nothing. It was as if this thing’s sole focus was to seek out and destroy her.
Kitty Pryde was not the fearful type. Her uncle trained her to overcome fear. But he never trained her to face a killer robot orb with laser eyes. Her whole world was falling apart. One minute she was a normal teenage girl and the next she was some mutant freak being targeted by a killer robot. It was officially the worst day of her life.
“Danger. Mutant. Danger.”
“I heard you the first time!” exclaimed Kitty as she ran towards the food court.
But the object didn’t listen. It just fired another laser. This one missed her, hitting just at her feet. Kitty nearly lost her balance, but kept going and tried to take cover in the tables and displays within the food court. The sphere fired several more rounds, destroying tables and trash cans. She tried to get lower to hide from this thing’s sights, but it was no use. She couldn’t escape this thing.
“Please! Just leave me alone!” she cried out.
She was now backed against a wall, staring down a killer robot. Everything seemed to be going wrong for her. She could only watch as the strange red eye started glowing again, preparing for another shot. She braced herself, hoping that whatever protected her last time would do so again.
But just as the object was about to fire, something different happened. She suddenly felt herself lifted up into the air by two powerful arms. And just as the orb fired, she was literally flown out of its sights. Startled, she opened her eyes to see herself in the arms of a young man with blonde hair. Only he wasn’t an ordinary man. He was a man with wings on his back. This day just kept getting weirder and weirder.
“Huh? What…who are you?” she exclaimed in confusion.
“A winged man saves your life and somehow I still get that look,” said the winged man with a humored grin, “Don’t worry, Miss. We’re the X-men. We’re here to help.”
While Angel flew Kitty away from the sphere, the rest of the X-men emerged in the food court. Cyclops led with Wolverine, Marvel Girl, Rogue, Iceman, Storm, and Beast following close behind. They arrived after having followed the strange rocket trail from the top of Regal Hotel Suites to this mall. But they were a bit too late to stop the chaos from erupting.
“A killer robot sphere? How unoriginal is that?” laughed Iceman as he came in on an ice slide.
“Creativity must be at a premium for the anti-mutant crowd,” said Beast as he took in the sight of the sphere, “Now we know what that mysterious launch was back at the hotel.”
“Yeah…it was an attack!” growled Wolverine as he drew his claws, “That’s all I need to know!”
With a feral roar, the former living weapon charged the hovering metal sphere with murderous intent. But the object sensed him coming and just as he pounced for an attack, it fired its thrusters and shot up higher into the air. But Wolverine didn’t let this slow him down. Not missing a beat, he leapt on top of a couple of tables and shot up towards the underbelly of the object between the three thrusters. But then another strange red eye appeared on the glossy surface of the sphere and fired a laser that struck him head on.
“Augh!” he howled as it scorched his upper body.
“Ooh, who didn’t see that coming?” said Iceman as he swooped in to pick up his teammate on an ice slide.
“Dang, that thing packs a punch!” said Rogue, cringing at the burns left on Logan.
“And it’s got more than one eye to shoot from,” said Cyclops as he assessed the situation, “Keep your distance, X-men! Take this thing down at all costs! Aim for the thrusters!”
It was a simple plan for a not-so-simple foe. But the X-men had faced far stranger adversaries before. Cyclops, Storm, and Marvel Girl stepped forth and combined their efforts to strike at the machine. Cyclops hit it with an optic blast while Storm formed some clouds overhead to unleash a barrage of lighting. As they launched their attack, Marvel Girl hovered in mid air while telekinetically sending chairs and tables at the object. However, their attacks did not go unnoticed by the sphere.
As soon as the first optic blast hit it, the orb sprang fired its thrusters and began evasive maneuvers. The blasts and lightening only did minor damage while Marvel Girl’s telekinetic onslaught missed entirely. The orb then fought back, increasing its speed and changing direction so it was coming right at them.
“Everybody get back!” exclaimed Marvel Girl, using her telekinesis to shove Cyclops and Storm out of the way.
When that orb missed them, it set its sights on her. Suddenly Marvel Girl found herself having to fly up higher to get away.
“Oh boy! Should’ve taken my own advice!” groaned the young psychic.
She tried to put up a telekinetic shield, but the orb was coming too fast. It literally rammed her head on, causing her tumble out of the air. Luckily Beast was there to catch her before she hit the ground.
“Ugh! I think we need a new strategy,” groaned Marvel Girl.
“It appears this thing is well-armored and programmed for counter-attacks,” said Beast.
“Thanks for stating the obvious, bub!” groaned Wolverine as he came in on an ice slide with Iceman, now fully healed, “Just get me close to that thing again! I’ll tear it up!”
“I don’t think you’ll have to, Wolverine,” said Iceman as he watched the orb fly around for another pass, “It’s coming to us this time!”
“Good…saves me the trouble,” growled the feral mutant.
Wolverine shook off support from Iceman and Marvel Girl as he prepared to attack this thing again. But to his and everyone else’s surprise, it abruptly changed course halfway there. Now it was focused back on Angel and Kitty, who were still flying up around the second floor looking for. The winged mutant had been looking for a safe place to set her down, but it looked as though he had more pressing concerns.
“Ooh boy, here we go again!” groaned Angel as he took more evasive.
Kitty’s expression was grave as she clung to the winged man while staring back at the deadly object.
“It…it’s after me!” she proclaimed, “Why is it after me?!”
“I don’t know, but don’t worry! We won’t let it get you!” said Angel, “Hang on!”
Angel flew higher up to the third level of the mall, drawing the orb further up. It started shooting red lasers at him through it’s strange red eye, which seemed to shift to other parts of it’s exotic surface. They just missed, forcing Angel to swiftly change direction. He flew in a sharp arc and did a near-vertical dive at high speeds, putting some much needed distance between him and the orb. But the object didn’t miss a beat. The red eye on its body shifted, following his path and still firing. It also shifted it’s thrusters, allowing it to descend and pursue its target.
Kitty held on for dear life, bracing herself as Angel just missed the ground as he flew back into the food court. Along the way he passed the rest of the team, who was still reeling from earlier.
“That’s strange. It seems locked on that girl for some reason,” said Beast, “That’s why it didn’t fire at us.”
“But why her?” asked Storm.
“Might just be a case of bein’ in the wrong place at the wrong time,” said Wolverine, “Bad luck is a bitch, believe me.”
“Then we better draw its attention again!” said Cyclops assertively.
“And Ah have just the thing, sugah!” grinned Rogue.
Reaching into her belt, Rogue took out three marble-shaped objects she had been looking to test out. Since her powers weren’t always useful in a mission, she had to find other ways to contribute. This is where being raised by Mystique had some benefits. It also helped to have an inventive mind like Beast.
Just as Angel made another pass, Rogue got up on top of a table and threw the three marble projectiles at the orb. Thanks to her crack aim, she hit it head on and as soon as the projectiles struck, they burst in a cloud of smoke and sticky adhesive that covered a good portion of the orb. This threw off the sensors of the object and it started flying erratically, allowing Angel to get further away from it.
“Now’s your chance, guys! Take another shot!” urged Rogue.
“Gladly,” said Marvel Girl, still sore from the impact that thing left on her earlier.
But before she, Cyclops, or Storm could get another shot off, the area covered on the sphere started to glow. And through the sticky adhesive several rounds of lasers shot out, forcing the team to back off. Most of the shots missed, but a few landed.
“Augh!” groaned Cyclops as one grazed his lower leg.
“Damn it! Hold on, Cyclops!” groaned Marvel Girl as she used her telekinesis to drag a table over to use as a shield.
While Marvel Girl protected them, Rogue got him to safety. But the orb quickly resumed it’s objective, which was focused on Kitty Pryde.
“This thing is more resourceful than we thought,” said Storm, groaning as she picked herself up.
“No kiddin’,” groaned Wolverine, who took another round as well, “Better come up with another plan quick, one eye. Or Angel’s wings are gonna get deep fried!”
It wasn’t looking good. The orb was closing fast on Angel and Kitty again. This time he had less room to maneuver. This object seemed to pick up on his tactics from earlier and was countering them. It was now flying above him, keeping him from gaining altitude again. It then picked up the intensity of its lasers, firing them in short concentrated bursts that were weaker but more numerous and harder to avoid.
“Hang on!” urged Angel as he tried to shield Kitty.
He tried to fly over it again. But this time it was ready for him. One of it’s shots hit him right in the left wing, knocking him out of the air and sending him tumbling to ground against a burger stand. He tried to protect Kitty, taking the blunt of the impact. She braced herself, still hitting with a hard thud that left her head ringing and her body sore. It also left Angel reeling.
“Ungh…” he groaned, unable to pick himself up.
“No! Please, you have to get up!” she urged him.
But it was no use. He was in no shape to fly. It left Kitty with no escape as the robot sphere hovered in closer, the center eye now glowing bright red. It was preparing for a lethal shot. She knew it. The teenage girl looked at it with a mix of anger and fear. She hadn’t done anything and this thing was out to kill her. It didn’t make sense. Nothing made sense anymore.
“Mutant target locked. Objective: Destroy.”
“What do you want from me?!” she yelled.
But the object gave her no answers. It just prepared to shoot her. Kitty Pryde didn’t get scared often, but she now found herself in a true life-or-death situation. But despite this fear, the training her uncle instilled in her remained. Part of her conditioning was to never accept fear and never go down without a fight. And if this thing really was going to kill her, she wasn’t going to cower for it. So on an instinct, she lunged forth and attacked.
“LEAVE ME ALONE!” she exclaimed.
Just as it was about to fire she made contact with the object. But just as before, something unexpected happen. Her fist didn’t strike the strange, glossy material. It went right through it as if it were just air. This time Kitty didn’t respond with shock or horror. Now she was just confused. But in that confusion, something strange began to happen inside the orb she didn’t expect. Those strange glowing eyes started to spark erratically and the hover mechanisms started firing erratically.
As these erratic behaviors became more severe, Kitty pulled her arm out of the mysterious object and backed away from it as fast as she could.
“System compromised. Self-destruct protocol initiated.”
Kitty’s eyes widened at that message and fell back, but thankfully Angel was there to catch her. Then the object became more erratic, the glowing red eyes flashing ominously and with greater intensity. More sparks flew as the jet thrusters failed and the whole orb started pulsating with a menacing glow. She braced herself for the inevitable explosion, but that’s when the X-men came back into the picture.
“Storm! Marvel Girl! Get that thing airborne!” ordered Cyclops.
“On it, Cyclops!” said Marvel Girl, “Storm, I’ll need an F5 tornado for this!”
“You’ve got one!” assured the African woman.
With her eyes glowing bright white, Storm kicked up a concentrated whirlwind around the flashing black orb and lifted it into the air. Marvel Girl took it from there, focusing her telekinesis in a single concentrated burst and literally launching the orb straight up through the multi-level mall like a rocket. Just before it impacted the ceiling, Cyclops fired a powerful optic blast that blew a gaping hole in the ceiling big enough for the object to pass through. From there Storm’s tornado did the rest, carrying the object high into the air and up into the clouds.
Then with a deafening bang, the orb exploded in a brilliant flash that momentarily lit up the sky above them. It was quite a blast for something of that size, hinting it packed a lot more energy than it showed. It could have done a lot of damage had it still been in the building, but the X-men didn’t let that happen.
The team let out a sigh of relief as they watched the smoke and debris clear overhead. Cyclops was still leaning on Rogue as a result of the shot he took to the leg. And Wolverine was still healing up from the shot he just took. Angel was also pretty sore, having hit the ground pretty hard and having been charred badly on the wing. But it was nothing he couldn’t heal from. However, nobody was more relieved, or shocked for that matter, than Kitty Pryde.
“Wow…” was all she could say.
“Couldn’t have said it better mah self,” snickered Rogue.
“Are you okay, child?” asked Storm as she approached the young woman with a concerned look.
Kitty looked at her and then back at the rest of the team. She heard of the X-men, but never thought she would be meeting them like this. There was still so much to process. At the beginning of the day she was a normal teenage girl without a care in the world. Now it looked as though normal had completely left her behind.
“You…you’re the X-men, aren’t you?” she said.
“Can you think of any other mutant team that runs around in spandex fighting robot death machines?” commented Iceman.
His remark earned him a look from Cyclops and the others, but for Kitty it only affirmed what she suspected.
“Then it’s true. I…I am a mutant,” she said distantly.
“Yes, that seems to be the case,” said Storm with a compassionate tone, “I know this is probably a lot to take in. You’ve just endured a trying experience. It’s going to take a while to sink in.
“That’s putting it mildly,” she muttered.
“But you’re going to be okay. We’re here to help,” assured the African woman.
“Plus, we owe you,” said Angel, still rubbing his wings, “I don’t know what you did to that thing, but it takes a lot of guts to fight an evil flying snow globe.”
Kitty couldn’t help but smile and blush. Her uncle trained her well. She never thought she would have to use it for something like this, but it was comforting to know it made her tough enough in the eyes of people like the X-men.
“Thanks,” she said, “Guess I just don’t like being pushed around, whether it’s by robot killing machines or schoolyard bullies.”
That earned her a look of approval from the entire team. This girl was stronger than she looked. She had to deal with finding out she was a mutant and being hunted by a killer robot sphere all in one afternoon. Yet somehow, she found the strength to fight back. There was a lot to be said about someone with that kind of strength. It was the kind of spirit X-men were made of.
“Come…we’ll take you home,” said Storm kindly, “It seems we have much to discuss.”
Genosha Imperial Palace – Cameron Hodge’s Office
It had been a busy day for Cameron Hodge, Genosha’s unquestioned leader and overlord. In an ambitious publicity effort, he sent an envoy to Chicago with a very special goal. He wanted all eyes on his small island nation for what was about to transpire. It would mark a significant turning point in the course of civilization. While the event garnered plenty of attention, it didn’t pan quite as well as he hoped.
The speech by the Colonel and their various partners was just a prelude. The main event involved a very secret operation involving an advanced prototype his scientists had been working on. He pulled many strings to get it flown into the country and shipped to the roof of the hotel so it could be activated. From there, it was supposed to be a turning point. He had it programmed specifically to seek out the nearest new mutant signature and attack. Once the target was killed, it was to explode in a very public way, hopefully taking many civilians with it.
It would have been the proverbial spark that ignited an all out war on mutants. The explosion and the event would have been blamed on a mutant, invoking mass chaos and unrest throughout the world. No government or organization could stand for mutant rights anymore and everybody would have to turn to him and his well-publicized push to deal with the mutant menace. But that didn’t happen.
Reports from his agents were sketchy, but the mutant the prototype targeted proved more tenacious than expected. It managed to evade the prototype long enough for those annoying X-men to show up. Not only did they save the mutant, but they prevented the prototype from causing any major damage. And because of the inept American media, nobody would be able to trace it to mutant activity. It was hardly enough to rally people to his cause.
Sitting in his opulent office, the proud general sipped his Cognac and watched the American news reports.
“It’s still unclear what transpired here at the Northview mall less than two hours ago. But witnesses claim a strange flying object crashed into the mall and attacked local patrons. Later, the controversial X-men were said to have intervened and neutralized the object. Authorities have confiscated surveillance footage of the incident so it is difficult to confirm such stories. The FAA and military officials have also issued a statement saying they have no record of any object over the area at the alleged time.”
Sighing to himself, Hodge turned off the TV. He casually swirled his Cognac, contemplating his next move. While the event didn’t pan out the way he hoped, no one seemed to suspect his forces involved. And there was no way the military would leak any details to the press. But if he was to succeed in his grandest ambitions, he was going to have to make a big statement some other way.
“What now sir?” asked one of his loyal subordinates.
“Do not fret my humble acolyte. This is a minor setback,” said Hodge, “I’ll just have to find another way of making my statement to the world. I already have several ideas. It’s just a matter of taking into account possible…obstructions.”
His face hardened as his thoughts drifted back to the X-men. Those meddling punks proved quite a nuisance. He may have to take them into account from now on. There was no way he was going to let them stand in his way when he was this close to his ultimate triumph. Looking out the window at his small but proud island nation, he couldn’t help but smile. It didn’t look like much, but soon this humble country would take center stage in the global arena and mutants would be the catalyst.
Outside Pryde Home - Later That Week
Everything was set for Kitty Pryde. Her bags were packed, her paperwork for school had gone through, and she was standing with her parents on the front porch ready to say goodbye. It was an emotional moment for the young mutant. Shortly after the incident at the mall, the X-men paid a visit to Kitty’s parents and talked about her future. After some lengthy and heart-felt debate between them, Kitty decided that the best place for her was the Xavier Institute.
Kitty couldn’t have been more excited. After the shock of learning she was a mutant sank in, so many other possibilities opened up to her. Not only would she have a chance to develop her mutant talents, but she would also have a chance to make a difference. One thing about her uncle’s training that always bothered her was she never had a chance to use it for anything more than defending herself. But with the X-men she had a chance to be a real hero. It was a daunting idea, but Kitty knew she was tough enough to handle it.
Naturally, her parents were worried. The idea of their little girl getting into the kind of trouble the X-men dealt with didn’t sit well. But Kitty made her intentions clear. She wanted to do this. And being the good parents that they were, they supported her. Professor Charles Xavier was very convincing as well.
While Kitty said goodbye to her parents Scott, Jean, and Ororo loaded up the van with her things. Professor Xavier was with her for moral support and waited closely as the young woman gave her parents a big goodbye hug.
“We love you very much, sweetie. Please be safe,” her mother said as she hugged her extra closely.
“I’ll be okay, mom,” assured Kitty, “You’ve got a daughter that’s literally untouchable.”
“Indeed,” said her father as he hugged her as well, “I always knew you were a special little girl, Kitty. Guess I was right in more ways than one.”
“I guess you were,” she smiled.
After one last round of goodbye hugs and kisses, Kitty waved goodbye and followed the Professor to the waiting van. It wasn’t every day Xavier came across mutants that just exuded the kind of tenacity that made for a true X-men. But Kitty Pryde was indeed special and he was glad to have her at his institute.
“Welcome to the X-men, Katherine Pryde,” said Xavier as he waved to the parents as well, “I honored to have you join my institute.”
“I’m psyched to be part of it!” said Kitty with burning excitement, “So when do I get a uniform and a cool codename?”
“We’ll…work on that later, my dear,” grinned the Professor, “For now, let’s take things one step at a time.”
Kitty sighed impatiently, but she kept smiling. Being a hero wouldn’t come overnight. She was willing to wait if she had to. It was all part of being an X-man.
While she followed the Professor into the van Scott, Jean, and Ororo couldn’t help but smile at her enthusiasm. Times were difficult for the X-men and mutants at large. It was nice to have moments like this that reminded them what their cause was all about. Given what they had seen from Kitty, they had a feeling she would make a great X-man.
“I think Kitty’s going to do just fine with us,” said Ororo.
“I agree. She’s a tough one, I’ll give her that,” said Scott, “Anybody who can make it through a week like this and come out smiling is tough enough in my book.”
“I’ll say,” said Jean in agreement, “Too bad we never found out where that robot sphere came from though. It would have been nice if we could have pinned it on Hodge’s entourage, but they just happened to skip town soon after the incident.”
“And that thing just happened to have a self-destruct mechanism to erase any traces,” sighed Scott.
The three X-men were silent for a moment. It was an unusual set of circumstances for an increasingly dire situation. Between Cameron Hodge, Magneto and the Brotherhood, and escalating mutant tensions it seemed the X-men would need all the help they could get from their new recruit.
“You think it’s too convenient to be a coincidence?” said Ororo.
“Logan said it himself. A coincidence like that is always the first sign of something rotten,” said Scott.
“Scott Summers, did you just agree with something Wolverine said?” teased Jean.
“Oh shut up,” said Scott with a wry grin as they all got in the van, “But coincidence or not, I don’t think we’ve seen the last of Hodge or Magneto. If the two are linked, I have a feeling we’ll have to deal with them both sooner or later.”
Next Issue: Uprising
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