The line in the evolutionary struggle between humans and mutants has been drawn. The extraordinary abilities of mutants have the potential to bring great promise or great destruction. Professor Charles Xavier and his X-men fight for peace and understanding in a world that hates them. Their fight has entered the complicated world of politics under the administration of President Kelly and his new associate, General Nathan Grimshaw.
After earning the president’s trust, General Grimshaw to set up a new police force called the Mutant Security Agency. This government organization will be equipped and tasked with holding mutants accountable under the law. It is the first bold move of the Kelly administration and promises to shift the status quo in the human/mutant conflict.
To make this work Grimshaw also reached out to the X-men. He gave them reason to trust them by providing some useful information on a Weapon X program that emerged in Japan under the Yashida Clan. The X-men were able to stop it and gained a new member in the process, Elizabeth Braddock. Now on board with the General as well, they are supporting him as he and President Kelly announce their bold new initiative to the world.
Washington DC – White House
Over the course of history, many fateful decisions came from the hallowed halls of the White House. Every president that took office understood that their actions would weigh heavily on the nation and the world as a whole. This was certainly not lost on Robert Kelly after he was elected. He promised the American people that he would do something about the human/mutant conflict, but so far most of his presidency involved cleaning up the mess left by the last administration. Now he was ready to embark on something much bolder.
Today was the day he unveiled the proposal he worked out with General Grimshaw. Before a large media crowd that included the likes of Charles Xavier, Reverend Stryker, his family, and the General himself he laid out this bold new plan to the world.
“So in conclusion, I present the Mutant Security Agency to both Congress and the American people. The heart of this plan echoes the very heart of America. No matter who you are or what you can do, nobody is above the law. To those mutants out there who believe they can use their powers to terrorize others and undermine the laws of this nation, you can and will be charged for your crimes. To those humans out there who would use mutants as an excuse to commit your own crimes, you will be charged as well. The days of compromise and special circumstances are over! For those who think this is another version of my Mutant Registration Act, you’re wrong. This is something that encompasses everyone and not just mutants. Under this new initiative, we will move forward together. We have the tools to see this through. It’s time we as a people put them to good use. Thank you.”
President Kelly’s speech earning him a customary applause from the media crowd. Even Professor Xavier, who was sitting in the front row with Scott and Hank, applauded. They still had their reservations, but for now it appeared they were avoiding more extreme measures.
“Not a bad speech,” commented Hank as he clapped with the rest of the crowd, “No major surprises, yet it still resonates as being sufficiently bold.”
“It’s more than bold. President Kelly wouldn’t have agreed to this if it wasn’t,” said Xavier, “I still sense a touch of doubt. A part of him still believes mutants as a whole are a threat.”
“On a scale of one to ten, how far do those concerns go?” asked Scott.
“It’s hard to tell. Both he and the General want to show that they can deal with unruly mutants. The difficulty lies in how far they’re willing to take it.”
“So a seven then?” surmised the X-leader.
“For now, let’s call it a neutral five and wait to see how this new initiative unfolds.”
“You almost sound optimistic, Charles,” said Hank with a wry grin, “Did the speech leave that much an impression on you?”
“It’s not so much the speech. It’s General Grimshaw’s impact. After demonstrating his resourcefulness with Weapon X in Japan, I can safely say he has my confidence.”
“A reserved confidence, I hope,” quipped Hank.
“Always, old friend,” said Xavier, smiling back as well.
The applause gradually stopped and Professor Xavier continued to watch the conference unfold. The media began a round of questions and President Kelly dutifully answered. While he was talking, his staff stood close by so they could offer their input as needed. General Grimshaw stood right next to the President along Captain Jack Freeman. Reverend Stryker was there as well, but he was surprisingly quiet. If he was vehemently opposed, he chose not to speak up.
President Kelly’s family, including his mutant son, was present as well. Xavier noticed his son looked withdrawn, clinging heavily to his mother the whole time. This must have been very overwhelming, hearing his father talk so ominously about mutants. While everyone was clapping he used his telepathy to overhear a brief conversation between the boy and his mother.
“Why is Daddy doing this, Mommy? He sounds so mad at me!” the little boy complained.
“Sweety, why would Daddy be mad at you?” said Sharon Kelly as she tried to console him.
“He kept talking about mutants. Now that I’m a mutant, I think he’s scared of me! Just like everyone else!”
“He’s not scared. He’s worried,” she said, hugging him a little tighter, “There are some very dangerous mutants out there. Daddy’s just trying to protect everybody.”
“But why? I don’t want to hurt anybody. Why does he need all these scary men to protect everybody against me?”
The little boy clung to his mother, holding back his fear as everyone around him applauded this new initiative. Sharon Kelly, being the good wife and dedicated mother, held her child closely and maintained a strong demeanor for her husband’s supporters. That certainly wasn’t easy when men like William Stryker kept looking at her son in disgust.
Professor Charles Xavier couldn’t help but sympathize with Sharon Kelly and her son. The boy’s concerns, while simplistic, were perfectly valid. If a child could see the potential danger in this proposal, what did that say about the message they were sending? It reminded him of how many mutants this was going to affect. It also reminded him of how essential it was to have somebody to hold onto during these uncertain times.
“It’s a shame Lilandra couldn’t be here to offer her insight into this proposal,” commented Hank, “Why did she drop out anyways?”
“She…had some personal matters to attend to at Aerie Global,” said the Professor solemnly.
“Personal matters?” said Scott suspiciously, “Sir, I may not be a powerful telepath, but I do know a thing or two about dating a psychic women. When she says something like personal matters it’s usually code for something that isn’t so personal.”
“It’s not like that, Scott. She assured me it’s nothing major.”
“You don’t sound very sure of that, Charles,” Hank pointed out, “While I’m often inclined to take your word for it, I’ll side with Scott and his experience in being the better half of two powerful psychics. Did something happen between you and Lilandra?”
Professor Xavier sighed to himself. He was still reeling after she discovered the secret he had been keeping from his students and the rest of the world. She reacted much stronger than he expected and it naturally put a strain on their developing relationship. Her absence was troubling, but he had to trust that Lilandra wouldn’t let this get in the way of their cause.
“I would rather not talk about it,” said the Professor stoically.
“Are you sure, Professor?” asked Scott, “I know you still see us as students, but we do have talents that go beyond saving the world in spandex uniforms.”
“I appreciate the offer, but I prefer to take care of such personal affairs on my own time. Right now, we have a new government initiative that is sure to affect how the X-men conduct themselves. We also have a new recruit in Elizabeth Braddock that gives us plenty more pressing matters to concern ourselves with.”
“That doesn’t mean you should write it off, Charles,” said Hank, “Take it from someone who tried that and failed miserably. It only causes more hardship.”
“That is hardship we must be willing to endure, Hank. We cannot spare too many moments in such endeavors. They may be moments we can never get back.”
He almost sounded dire in his assessment. The Professor avoided further questioning by wheeling himself up closer to the podium so he could take part in some media questions and photo ops. Hank and Scott exchanged looks. It wasn’t unusual for the Professor to be focused like this, but when it involved Lilandra that was the proverbial red flag.
Most everyone agreed that Lilandra Neramani had been good for Professor Xavier. She really connected with him in ways that involved more than just a meeting of two powerful minds. Some went so far as to believe that the Professor had fallen in love with her. Allowing that to just fall to the wayside was utterly irrational for a typically rational man.
“Are you as unconvinced as I am, Mr. McCoy?” asked Scott under his breath.
“I believe that goes without saying,” replied Hank as he watched Charles put on a smile while he shook the president’s hand, “Something has clearly happened. Though I can’t imagine what it may entail.”
“Should we probe deeper?” the X-leader asked.
“Tempting that may be, I’m not sure this is an appropriate time for such things. I agree with Charles. We have a lot on our plate with this new initiative and Miss Braddock adjusting to her new predicament.”
“I’m not arguing that, but the nuts and bolts of this proposal have already been worked out and Jean’s been doing a good job mentoring Betsy these past few days.”
“There may be a limit to how well one can fit in after having their mind transferred into someone else’s body. There may also be a limit to how conducive this Mutant Security Agency will be to our mission. I’ve talked to Tessa and even she can’t get a feel for how this new organization will conduct itself.”
“Does this mean Betsy will be getting her first taste of the X-men as Psylocke sooner rather than later?” said Scott warily.
“It’s sure to come sooner,” affirmed Hank, “And she’ll certainly need to be ready when that time comes. We all will.”
Xavier Institute – Danger Room
“Ack, jeez Betsy enough with the screaming already! This isn’t a Bruce Lee movie!” groaned an annoyed Bobby Drake as he rubbed his ears.
“Sorry luv! I can’t help it! The last occupant of this body had a taste for the theatrics!” said Betsy, grinning to herself in the heart of a heated battle.
“Well as a new resident could you at least try to break the old habits? My ears will be grateful!”
Elizabeth Braddock rolled her eyes as she continued to immerse herself in the world of the X-men. She had only been at the institute for a week and already she was taking part in training exercises in the Danger Room. Having been taught to defend herself by her father at a young age, Betsy already had a knack for fighting. Now that she was in the body of Kwannon, a former mercenary with extensive training in ninjitsu, she had skills beyond anything she could have imagined. Those skills were supplemented by her new body’s mutant ability to form psionic blades, making her a force to be reckoned with.
The team already had her working on a level five program in the Danger Room. This was a program that involved taking down hoards of killer robot humanoids that were made to look similar to the Sentinels. They were much smaller than the real deal, but what they lacked in size they made up for in numbers. There were hundreds of them, each armed with a compliment of weapons that included eye lasers, wrist mounted guns, and above-human agility. Betsy’s only support was Bobby and Jean Grey, who were acting mostly as guides through this session. She soon proved she didn’t need much support.
“You blokes picked the wrong disembodied Brit to mess with!” she seethed, “I’m confused, angry, and possibly on my period! You don’t stand a chance!”
“Still think we should be easing her into combat training, Jean?” commented Bobby.
“Don’t rub it in,” muttered Jean as she continued to play a defensive role in this attack.
Wielding two psionic katanas, Betsy tore into a fresh hoard of attacking robots. While Bobby and Jean were playing it safe with strategy, the British mutant showed off her ninja-like talents. The original plan was for Bobby to freeze the robots and Betsy to shatter them with her blades while Jean protected them with her telekinesis. It worked for a while, but Betsy was on a roll. Pretty soon Jean and Bobby were left watching with amazement as Betsy took down legions of attack robots.
“Hyyaaa! Hrrrraaahhhhh!” she grunted as she skillfully sliced through three robots at once.
Grinning to herself, Betsy skillfully twirled the psionic katanas in both hands. Now outside of Jean’s protective telekinetic bubble a few dozen robots tried to surround her. A couple fired a round of eye lasers towards her, but Betsy reacted swiftly with her ninja agility. She was gradually getting used to the properties of these new powers. She found that these blades could act as solid shields against incoming forces. She could also shape them in a way that made them into full-fledged katanas or smaller daggers. Both were deadly and could cut through nearly anything, but they also had other practical uses.
Upon deflecting the laser bursts, Betsy stormed into several nearby robots and decapitated them with her blades. Two more tried to attack her from the side and were able to grab her. She managed to back-flip over them and drive her blades into their backs. Sparks flew and machine parts were scattered everywhere. Smoke was also starting to choke the air around here, but she didn’t slow down. The robots called for more reinforcements and they tried to swarm her again. Rearranging the two psionic katanas in her hand, she formed several smaller daggers and skillfully threw them right at the incoming attackers. When she ran out she just formed more, eventually creating a swarm of psionic blades that tore through each robot.
Eventually, the program ran out of robots to attack with. Betsy’s relentless onslaught along with Jean and Bobby’s own attacks finished off what was left of the attacking robot hoards. For someone still new to the X-men, Betsy’s feats were impressive. She was making a strong statement for her involvement in the regular team.
“Damn! A hot Asian chick killing robots…could the X-men have asked for anything better?” grinned Bobby.
“I’m sure your dreams will have plenty of lurid possibilities to work with,” said Jean wryly, “Between me and Rogue dressed as cheerleaders and Jubilee in a biker’s outfit, you’ll be sleeping much sounder.”
“Hey! Did I give you permission to eavesdrop on my dreams?!” said a blushing young mutant.
“It’s your fault for projecting,” she shrugged, “Aside from her appeal to perverse male fantasies, she’s handling herself pretty well. She’s still got some personal issues she has to work though. The Professor and I have been helping her deal with the psychic clutter that’s still lingering from being transferred to a new body.”
“Bet that’s quite a trip, rummaging around in a mind stuck in someone else’s body.”
“You have no idea,” said Jean, “She’s still disoriented on some levels, but she’s still Elizabeth Braddock. That doesn’t mean there aren’t some lingering traces of Kwannon. It just means that Betsy is going to have to contend with them.”
“Is one of those traces her fashion sense?” smirked Bobby, “I don’t know who got her that uniform, but purple leather and skin-tight halter top just can’t be a mere fashion statement.”
“Believe it or not, that’s one of Emma Frost’s old uniforms. Betsy has this thing about wanting to match her uniform with her hair. Something about maintaining continuity since all the outfits she used to model in were purple.”
“Did I say I disagreed? If she wants to look hot while she’s fighting killer robots, who am I to stand in her way?”
Jean rolled her eyes at Bobby’s immature attitude. On some levels she couldn’t blame him. Betsy did make it a point to have her uniform unique to her new body. Being a fashion model, she knew what she liked when it came to clothes and when she saw the template of her uniform she just had to customize it. Betsy kept the same tight fitting pants similar to the ones she and Ororo wore, only she made sure they were purple. She also had a much more revealing halter top, which almost looked like the top of a one-piece bathing suit. It highlighted her exotic curves and was sure to be a distraction to any male adversaries they may encounter.
With every last robot destroyed and the session officially over, Betsy discarded her psionic blades and rejoined Bobby and Jean. She was a bit more ragged than her fellow X-men, having taken a bit more of a beating since she broke off. It didn’t bother her though. If anything she looked energized.
“That was quite the workout!” she said as she stretched her limbs, “Definitely more exciting than treadmills and free weights.”
“Just wait until you do a run with Wolverine’s program. You may be begging for your old gym afterward,” grinned Bobby.
“I can handle it,” she shrugged, “Between telepathy, ninja training, and these nifty new blades I’ve never felt better! Even if it’s still a trip looking in the mirror.”
“The novelty wears off quickly. Trust me,” Bobby went on, “Like violent movies and video games, you get desensitized to extreme things pretty quickly around here.”
“I’m sure that’s such a chore,” said Betsy dryly.
Jean grinned and shook her head. While it was nice to see Betsy adapting so quickly, she had reasons to be concerned. This woman just went through a traumatic experience with Weapon X. Her means of coping seemed to involve being a tad eccentric, embracing her abilities and putting them to good use with the X-men. It certainly wasn’t the unhealthiest way she could have coped with her new situation. It wasn’t the most efficient either.
“Come on, Bets. Let’s go get changed before Bobby tries to scare you out of any further training,” said Jean, directing Betsy towards the exits.
“I’m not trying to scare anybody. I’m just offering a friendly warning,” said Bobby innocently.
“Sure you are, luv,” said Betsy playfully, “But you can save yourself the trouble. I’m a big girl in a strong new body. I can take care of myself.”
To reinforce her point, Betsy formed a large psionic blade and used it to cleanly slice the head of an already destroyed robot. Bobby tried not to look too impressed. Never-the-less, this girl was going a long way to prove herself.
‘Wow…I can cover myself in ice and even I found that hot. I think hanging out with Jubilee is giving me an Asian fetish.’
‘Watch it with those dirty thoughts, luv. I still have my telepathy, you know?’
‘Oops! Sorry Betsy, I didn’t mean to…’
‘It’s alright. But do me a favor and reserve those exotic tastes for your girlfriend. I have other romantic interests to pursue.’
Bobby left the Danger Room with an awkward blush over his embarrassing thoughts. Betsy wasn’t shy about picking up on them. With three telepaths in the mansion, it seemed no lurid thought was going to go unnoticed. It didn’t seem fair, but that was life with the X-men.
While Bobby walked off, Betsy followed Jean out as well through the opposite exit. She also picked up on Betsy’s brief exchange with Bobby and found herself confronting the X-men’s newest member over her enthusiasm in taking to the X-men.
“Before we get too far, I think some of Bobby’s concerns deserve a little scrutiny…albeit with a touch of maturity,” said Jean as they stood by the door.
“You’re not going to stand here and tell me I’m straining myself, are you?” said Betsy, folding her arms defiantly, “Did I not just prove my skills against an army of killer robots?”
“I wasn’t referring to your skills. You’ve already shown you have plenty to work with in that department,” Jean conceded, “It’s your mindset that worries me.”
Jean’s demeanor became more serious as she approached her fellow X-men with a look of friendly concern. It was the kind of concern that was nothing to joke about.
“Betsy, you just came out of being a guinea pig for Weapon X. Having dated and been inside the mind of someone who went through it as well, I know better than most how horrible an experience it is. Add being thrust into a new body you don’t accept as your own and you’ve got a lot of burdens bearing down on you.”
“Are you trying to have a Dr. Phil moment with me? Because I don’t need a shoulder to cry on,” replied Betsy stoically.
“But you’ll have to find a way to cope with these nasty experiences at some point,” she said, “You’ve been here a week and already you’re immersing yourself in work. Since the Professor transferred your criminology courses from your old school, you’ve stayed on task while keeping up with your new training.”
“I don’t see why that’s a problem. I still want to follow my father’s example and become a detective. I’ll just be using it for the X-men instead of a typical police force.”
“That’s a noble goal and all. But Bobby isn’t the only one who lets his thoughts slip every now and then. Keep in mind, you’re talking to someone who tangoed with a cosmic entity. And without getting into detail, you’re shutting yourself off in some pretty extreme ways.”
Betsy was inclined to shove Jean aside, but the sincere expression in her eyes made that difficult without being a total bitch. It was useless trying to deny it. It wouldn’t make Jean’s concerns any less valid. Faced with these unpleasant truths, Betsy let out a slight groan.
“I suppose it would be bullocks for me to say I’m handling everything in stride,” sighed Betsy, “I also sense you’re not the kind to let it go.”
“I have a tendency to belabor certain issues. If you’re going to be part of the team you might as well know my quirks,” said Jean with a friendly grin.
“It may be a good thing too because to be perfectly honest I’m still not okay with this,” said Betsy distantly, “I haven’t been sleeping much since it happened. I keep having the same nightmare about being stuck in that bio tank, feeling as though someone is shoving red-hot needles into my brain.”
“That’s to be expected from Weapon X. They’ll do a number on your sleep habits, that’s for sure.”
“But that’s not the worst part. What really bothers me is that I sometime find myself reliving memories and experiences that aren’t mine. I know the Professor said that Kwannon is gone, but I still feel like there’s a piece of her inside me. Like when my uncle died, I didn’t just feel the loss as a goddaughter. I felt that loss twice as his real daughter. It’s not like she’s clawing to get out or anything. It’s more like having mental residue in your mind. I don’t know how else to describe it.”
“If you want, I could help you figure it out,” offered Jean with a friendly gesture.
“If only that was all there was to it,” Betsy went on, “I could probably deal with this psychic fog if I didn’t feel so…disoriented all the time. I know that’s to be expected, but I still feel a touch of shock every time I look in the mirror. I know this is the new me whether I like it or not. It’s just that part of me still sees a stranger and I’m not sure how to convince myself otherwise.”
It sounded pretty distressing. Jean liked to think she could empathize with a lot of hardships, but this was one where she had no clue. Betsy was thrust into a new body against her will and the aftermath was still haunting her even as she tried to mask it. With a reassuring smile, she offered Betsy another comforting gesture.
“I don’t think it’s something you can convince yourself of,” she told her, “When it comes to psychic perils like this, we’re at the mercy of our minds.”
“So I just should stop trying?” Betsy said dryly.
“You should probably stop trying to do too much. The mind is a strange thing. We telepaths know that better than anyone. In the long run the best mental exercise is maintaining our own perspective. Eventually, the mind catches up with the brain.”
“Probably doesn’t help that I’m not the most patient bloke in the world,” muttered the British mutant, “I especially don’t like waiting to get my life back on track.”
“That’s where being in the X-men can be your best asset,” said Jean with a smile, “We offer plenty of distractions to put your powers to good use! You still have to fight mentally to keep yourself grounded, but everyone here can help you so long as you let them.”
Betsy let out another deep sigh. She was not used to spilling her guts like this, especially to someone she barely knew. It helped that Jean was also a psychic and that she was a genuinely nice gal. With so much weighing on her clouded mind, it was nice having this kind of support during what had to be the weirdest transition of her life.
“Thanks, luv,” said Betsy, managing a smile, “I’ll try to keep that in mind when I’m not holding myself together with the mental equivalent of scotch tape.”
“Trying is all we ask,” said Jean, smiling back, “That and the occasional explosion.”
“Could be worse,” shrugged Betsy in good humor, “It also helps that the men around here are all such handsome chaps. They’ve all been so friendly.”
“Not to condone Bobby’s perverse viewpoints, but it’s easy to be friendly with an attractive Asian woman with an exotic British accent,” joked Jean.
“Does it look like I care? At least the men around here are more honest with their thoughts. Definitely a step up from the men I knew back in college. It makes me wonder if this whole transition would be easier if I had a special someone to share this new body with.”
Jean snickered at Betsy’s wry innuendo. This woman clearly wasn’t afraid to put herself out there. That adventurous spirit that led her to investigate the dangerous world of criminals and the X-men also made her pretty daring in more personal areas.
“I suppose it couldn’t hurt,” snickered Jean, “A special someone goes a long way no matter what you’re dealing with.”
“That it does,” sighed Betsy, “Bobby has his boyish charm and a growing Asian fetish while Logan has that rough, bad boy deal that’s so hot. Then there’s Scott Summers. Now he’s a catch you wouldn’t throw back!”
“Take it easy there, Betsy. Scott’s off limits, remember?” said Jean, getting a little defensive now.
“Does that mean you’re not into swinging?”
“Just checking, luv!” she joked, “No need to get aggressive. Besides, I already have someone else in mind…someone who also happens to have an exotic accent.”
“Are you talking about Kurt or Remy?” asked Jean dryly.
“Whichever curses in French and smells like hot sauce,” said Betsy with a grin.
Jean shifted awkwardly again. She knew who she was referring to and didn’t respond. Instead, she just opened the Danger Room chamber door and started making her way towards the locker room. This was one part of the issue that even she didn’t want to get involved with. Sensing Jean’s new disposition, Betsy looked at her strangely and quickly caught up.
“Now what is it?” she said in a frustrated tone, “Don’t tell me you and Scott have something with Remy in the side.”
“It’s not that, Betsy. But if you’re interested in Remy, you might want to show a little restraint,” said Jean distantly.
“Why should I? The man has been good to me ever since I first woke up on this new body! He’s also handsome, charming, and witty. I can’t think of too many reasons why a gal like me wouldn’t take a shot at him.”
“I’ll give you one…Rogue,” said Jean.
“Rogue? I thought she and Remy were strictly friends,” said Betsy, now somewhat confused, “Remy told me himself they already went through the motions.”
“That’s what they say. It doesn’t mean that’s how they feel,” Jean pointed out.
“I’m psychic too, Jean. I know how subtext works,” Betsy went on, “But even you have to sense those two are frustrated. Remy needs someone and Rogue knows she can’t be that someone. So why would it be unreasonable for an available woman like myself to try and fill that void?”
Jean stopped in the middle of the hallway for a moment. She already experienced being on the wrong side of a love triangle with Rogue when she dated Scott. She didn’t need to get caught up it again with Betsy showing interest in Remy. For the sake of putting this issue to rest, she offered the newest member of the team some friendly advice.
“I’m not going to tell you how to run your personal life, Betsy,” said Jean with a mix of seriousness and sincerity, “I just ask that you be careful about how you go about it. Because if there’s one thing you should know about relationships within the X-men, it’s that they’re always more complicated than they need to be.”
Xavier Institute – Backyard
It was high noon and there wasn’t a cloud in the sky. Despite being bitterly cold, it was perfect flying weather. Ever since Warren turned her onto the experience, Rogue set aside time every day to go on brief flights over the Westchester landscape. It was usually so comforting, allowing her to clear her mind. Lately, however, her mind was a lot more cluttered than usual.
‘Why am Ah doing this to mahself? This time last week Ah was talking to Kitty about how Ah was gonna take a chance with Remy. Now here Ah am bracing for it all to go bad because there’s a new gal on the team that he seems to fancy and can touch. It ain’t fair! Remy and Ah have been gettin’ closer since mah powers went haywire on meh! Why should Betsy be allowed to move in and take him?’
Rogue tensed as she descended back towards the mansion. She tried not to be so mad at herself. It was her own fault she was in this position. Would it be so wrong if Remy hooked up with someone he could actually be intimate with? Remy was a charming guy, but he was still a guy. Forced celibacy was hard enough for her. Why should Remy endure the same torment? Even if the thought of him being with someone else tore at her heart?
Her afternoon flight did little to calm her nerves. When she landed in the backyard she immediately reached for her pack of cigarettes. With a frustrated groan, she took out a single cigarette and prepared to light it. But before she could retrieve her lighter, a glowing playing card zipped by her face and lit it for her. Rogue was startled at first, but it quickly wore off because she knew who was responsible.
“Dang it, Remy! If you wanna use mah face as target practice, do meh a favor and ask first!” she barked out.
“Whoa there, cherè! Ease up on the jetlag!” said Remy, who emerged from under a nearby tree, “Remy just thought he would have a little fun to get your attention. Ain’t like that’s unreasonable since you been avoiding Remy these last few days.”
“What in the heck gave you that idea? Ah figure I’m Ah’m avoiding that annoying charm of yours no more than usual,” muttered Rogue as she took a heavy drag from her cigarette.
“Then your figuring be off. Remy could prove to you by listin’ all the excuses you been makin’ or we could save ourselves the trouble and just talk it out over our daily nicotine fix.”
Rogue fell silent as she made her way towards a picnic table overlooking the lake. It was always hard to stay vindictive when she knew she was wrong. How Mystique managed that kind of inhumanity was beyond her. As much as she wanted to keep avoiding Remy, she didn’t run away when he approached and sat down next to her.
“Come on, Rogue. Talk to Remy,” the Cajun pleaded, “You be lookin’ miserable since we got back from Japan. You know how much Remy hates to see you miserable.”
“Funny, Ah never got that impression since you’ve looked so dang content when you’re around Betsy,” retorted Rogue as she drew another heavy drag.
“Betsy? Is that what this be about?”
“Ah don’t know, Remy. Could it be about anything else?”
Remy groaned and rubbed the back of his neck awkwardly. He should have known this would come up. He had been helping Betsy adjust ever since their paths first crossed. It wasn’t lost on him that she would give him a few flirtatious looks. He may have even returned a few. He should have known Rogue would notice. He also should have known it would bother her.
“Cherè, don’t be gettin’ the wrong idea,” said the Cajun, “Sure, Betsy be flirting. She be that kind of girl. It don’t mean nothing.”
“Then why do you flirt back so damn much?” said Rogue bitterly.
“Remy likes to flirt. Don’t tell me you just figured that out.”
“There’s play flirting and there’s real flirting. Usually, you stick to just one and that doesn’t bother me. Hell, it’s kind of entertainin’ watching you make a fool of yourself. But around Betsy Ah’m not laughing.”
“Don’t be taking it that seriously, Rogue,” he said, “Betsy’s been going through a lot. It ain’t Remy’s fault if she keeps turnin’ to me.”
“Oh really? Then look meh in the eye and tell meh you ain’t attracted to her,” said Rogue apprehensively, “And don’t just give meh that bullshit about her just being this hot Asian girl with an exotic accent. Ah’m talkin’ attracted as in she’s someone you actually want to get to know beyond what color panties she wears.”
Remy stared Rogue down as she continued puffing away at her cigarette. His lips flinched briefly. He had a response, but he stopped himself before he could get it out. There was no answer he could give that would end this argument. Even if he lied, it was pointless. He was a horrible liar, especially to Rogue. His only response was to look away and hold his head low.
His silence confirmed what Rogue feared. There was officially another woman interested in Remy and unlike her, this woman was not bound by her powers. It angered her to no end, but rather than lash out at Remy she finished her cigarette and flicked it off to the side.
“Look Remy, Ah ain’t gonna get sentimental on you. Your business is your business and Ah don’t have the right to stand in your way. The only right Ah ever had is to poke fun when you make a fool of yourself,” she said stoically.
“I’m touched, but if that’s the case then why does it have to be a big deal?” Remy finally said, “If you really serious about this whole ‘just friends’ deal, you shouldn’t be this frustrated.”
“Ah know Ah shouldn’t! But Ah am, damn it!” she grumbled as she got up from her seat, “Believe meh, Ah was serious about just being friends because of mah powers. Problem is, Ah wasn’t as serious as Ah thought Ah was.”
“Does that mean when you feel for Remy more than…”
But Rogue quickly cut him off. She didn’t need him to finish. It was hard enough just thinking it.
“Stop right there, Remy! Let’s not go there. We’ve been down that road and we know where it leads,” she said firmly, hiding a touch of hurt in her voice, “The way Ah see it…you and Ah are friends. That’s all we can be so long as mah powers are in the way. And there’s no reason for meh to make the people around me just as miserable.”
“Rogue…” Remy began, getting up to approach her.
“That’s all Ah want to say, Remy,” she said, still facing away, “What you do from here on out is your decision. Meh…Ah’ll still be there. Ah’ll be miserable, but Ah’ll still be there.”
“So now you just accepting that you’ll always be miserable?” said Remy defensively, “You not even holding out that you might control your powers again?”
“Even if it does happen, that doesn’t mean everybody around meh has to suffer in the meantime. If you really wanna do the right thing for both of us, don’t be miserable with meh.”
Rogue took to the air again where Remy couldn’t follow her. This way he couldn’t see the saddened expression on her face as she flew away. As much as she may have hated it, she did what she had to do. It hurt even more than she thought it would. She wasn’t even clear of the institute yet and already she was regretting it.
‘So that’s it? Ah just gave Remy permission to go hump Betsy and this is how it feels? Since when did doing the right thing have to suck so much?! Damn these powers! If only Ah could somehow control them again. If only…’
Back on the ground the Cajun mutant stood silently and watched Rogue disappear into the sky. He couldn’t help but feel a bit angry towards Rogue for running off like this, leaving him to pick up the pieces. She was an amazing woman, but she could be a real bitch sometimes. Shaking his head in frustration, he took out a deck of cards and started shuffling randomly as he made his way back towards the mansion. He had fancied himself as a student of philosophy. He was going to need a lot more than thinking skills to work this out.
New York City – Chinatown
“I DON’T KNOW! I DON’T KNOW! I SWEAR ON EVERY HOLY SHRINE IN ASIA I DON’T KNOW!”
These terrified cries echoed feebly through an isolated ally in the heart of Chinatown. They belonged to a nameless thug who just left a sushi bar. He happened to bear the distinct tattoos of the Yakuza, namely that of the Yashida Clan. Because of this, he was an instant target for an angry Wolverine. Even though the Yashida Clan was no more, word spread quickly about someone stepping in to take the Silver Samurai’s place. That was all Wolverine needed to know to start asking tough questions. Lucky for him, Professor Xavier was too busy with events in DC to scold him for it.
“Whining ain’t gonna win you any mercy, bub! The more you jerk me around, the less patient I get!” growled Logan as he held the thug by the neck with his claws pointed right as his eyes.
“I SWEAR I’M TELLING THE TRUTH! I ONLY HEARD YASHIDA WENT UNDER! I DIDN’T HEAR ANYTHING ABOUT A NEW LEADER!”
“That tattoo on your arm says otherwise!” barked the feral mutant, “I know the mark of a Yashida Enforcer! Now are you gonna tell me or am I gonna have to a little back-alley surgery?”
“IF I KNEW I WOULD TELL YOU! BUT I’VE BEEN CUT OFF! EVERYBODY OUTSIDE OF JAPAN HAS BEEN CUT OFF! THERE’S NOTHING I CAN GIVE YOU!”
Logan snarled angrily as he held tightened his grip on the young thug. This kid was certainly a far cry from the fearless Yashidas he encountered in Japan. Either they didn’t do very good recruiting overseas or the death of Harada had deeply affected their operations. He wanted information on all things Yashida related. He was willing to resort to tactics the X-men frowned upon. Yet here he was interrogating low-end thugs for answers he clearly wasn’t getting.
As he held this kid in a death grip, Logan looked down and noticed the kid lost control of his bladder. These cries of anguish were no act. He really didn’t know anything. With a frustrated grunt, he released him.
“If you’re not gonna tell me you ain’t no use to me,” grumbled Logan, “Now get out of my sight!”
“Ungh!” the thug groaned as he coughed to catch his breath, “You’re…you’re letting me go?”
“You’d rather I carve you up a bit?! I’ll say it again! Leave before I change my mind!” the feral mutant commanded.
That was all he needed to hear. Before he fully recovered from his ragged breath, he stammered up and ran out of the alley as fast as his legs could carry him. Watching his would-be victim run off, Logan let out a frustrated grunt and banged his fist against the brick wall. This was supposed to be behind him. He and the X-men took down the Yashida Clan. The Silver Samurai was no more and their business with Weapon X had literally gone up on flames. But that wasn’t enough.
Somehow the Yashida Clan was still in business and he couldn’t tolerate that. The memories of what happened with him, Mariko, and the Yashida family wouldn’t allow him. Besides the frustration, there were still gaps in his memory that he needed filled. Most centered around the words of Yurkio Oyama.
“You are a monster, Logan! You’ll always be a monster!”
It was a message he heard many times before and one the X-men went to great lengths to prove wrong. He thought he made strides. The Professor, Jeannie, Storm, Kitty, Bobby, and the rest of the team supported him and helped him rebuild his life. Yet here he was, falling into old habits.
‘What the fuck am I doing? This is the shit I wanted to get away from when I joined the X-men! I might as well send Yurkio a big freakin’ billboard saying she was right. I am a monster and there’s nothing I can do about it.’
While he was lost in his own twisted thoughts, his phone rang for what had to be the fifth time. The former living weapon cringed, already having a good idea of who it was. Withdrawing his claws, he checked the call. Sure enough, it was Ororo. She had called three times. Jeannie called once and so did the Professor. The team was starting to worry about him and had every right to do so.
He was putting the whole team at risk whenever he ran off in search of answers to his past. It was even more risky now that the X-men were under more public scrutiny under this new plan General Grimshaw was hatching. Going after the Yashida Clan was dangerous, but thankfully most Yakuza they weren’t likely to go to the police or the newspapers. That didn’t mean it wouldn’t cause trouble. It just meant that his desire for answers was going to be a lot harder.
‘Can’t believe Ro hasn’t started hating me yet. I’ve been nothing but an asshole and she’s still trying to be the best girlfriend a guy like me could ask for. She ain’t even cuttin’ me off from sex! It should be freakin’ illegal for me to touch her after the shit I’ve done. Hell, Yuriko was nice enough to start making me doubt I can love her like I should. She may be a bitch, but she’s a bitch I helped create.
Sighing to himself, Logan put his phone away. It was one of the more difficult side-effects of his encounter with the Yashida Clan. It was putting a monumental strain on his relationship with Storm. For a while, it felt like they really had something solid. They got over him kissing Mystique and were growing closer. It felt as though he had learned from his mistakes from Jeannie. Now he wasn’t so sure.
It wasn’t so much that Deathstrike called him a monster, incapable of loving anyone. It was the memories of Mariko and how he struggled to reciprocate the feelings she had for him. She was so dedicated, willing to sacrifice everything for him including her own life. If he couldn’t love her enough then how could he hope to love Ororo?
There was nothing left for him here. He had to stop chasing ghosts. Even if there were still parts the Yashida Clan left over, he couldn’t let that become the sole focus of his life. He had the X-men and a girlfriend that deserved his attention. Swallowing his anger, he turned to leave the alley. He was then confronted by an unexpected presence.
“You got a lot of nerve coming up in here,” said a stoic yet stern Lucas Bishop.
“What the hell are you doing in Chinatown, Bishop?” grumbled Logan.
“I love sushi and District X ain’t much for exotic foods,” he replied as he confronted the feral mutant, “Wish I could enjoy it, but you’re starting to scare a lot of folks around here with your grab-first, stab-second, and after you scare the piss out of somebody you kick them to the curb type bullshit.”
“It ain’t like I’m beatin’ on guys anybody would miss. Most of these punks deserve to have the shit scared out of them.”
“Even if they do, you’re not making it easier on our kind,” retorted Bishop, “District X has an unspoken peace with every neighborhood on this side of the city. That includes the ghetto parts as well. So when word comes out some mutant sucka is making trouble, it’s gonna come back to us.”
“You worried I’m hurting your PR campaign?” said Logan dryly.
“I never had to give a damn before, but now that your Professor is getting cozy with Uncle Sam we got a whole lot of mutants scared. Not sure if you’ve been keeping up, but this whole Mutant Security Agency feels a lot like The-Fools-Who-Get-To-Legally-Harass-Mutants Agency.”
“If you’re looking to talk politics, you’re asking the wrong guy, bub,” snarled Logan, “So if you got nothin’ else to say, I’m headin’ outta here. I got a lot of worried friends and a pissed off girlfriend who ain’t gonna give me any leeway.”
“You trying to ditch me, Wolverine?”
“If it makes you feel better, I’ll cut back on hunting these Yakuza scum. But don’t think I won’t come back if I find out someone knows something they shouldn’t.”
Bishop didn’t look convinced, but the former living weapon could care less. Bishop didn’t understand. Nobody understood. His past was too important to ignore. That wasn’t going to make his life as an X-man any easier, especially with Xavier’s new plan with Grimshaw. If Bishop’s reaction was any indication, it wasn’t going to be without greater complications.
“What exactly are you looking for, Wolverine?” shouted Bishop before Logan was out of sight, “You can’t keep causing all this bullshit up in here! Not without a damn good reason!”
“Tell me something I don’t know,” muttered Logan, “Believe me, I wanna stop. But I can’t! Not until I have all the answers!”
“You really think you’ll find your answers like this?” scoffed Bishop.
“It’s all I have, Bishop! Even if it annoys my friends and my so-called allies, I’ll do what it takes!”
Xavier Institute – Kitchen
The phones at the Xavier Institute had been getting a lot of use lately. Between coordinating with Professor Xavier in DC, trying to reach an overly moody Wolverine, and the typical chatter with family and friends there was a lot of bandwidth to go around. Add trying to reach an ailing girlfriend to the mix and an outrageous phone bill was all but guaranteed.
Kurt Wagner was among those too distracted to be caught up in issues concerning General Grimshaw, the recent mission to Japan, and a new resident in Betsy Braddock. He spent the better part of the week trying to get in touch with Amanda. She had been adjusting in spurts ever since she moved to the area and he had been with her every step of the way. Recently, however, she seemed to be shutting him out.
“Vhy von’t she answer?” Kurt groaned in frustration as he paced restlessly around the kitchen, “She hasn’t returned my messages in three days! Could she be in trouble?”
“Kurt, I think you’re starting to panic and I don’t mean in a healthy way,” said Kitty, who was sitting at the kitchen table eating a sandwich, “This isn’t the longest time Amanda has gone without calling you and you’re making it out to be a sign of the apocalypse.”
“Zhat vas before Selene. Any amount of panic is appropriate at zhis point,” said the German mutant bitterly, “I know zhis Shaman person zhe Professor called has been vorking vith her non-stop, but she never used it as an excuse to shut me out.
“I’m sure she’s not doing it on purpose,” assured Kitty, “Besides, I thought you two worked that out already.”
“Ve did…at least I zhought ve did.”
Kitty cast her friend a concerned look. He sounded just as confused as her. While she usually didn’t hesitate to offer her brutally honest input on relationships issues, this was different. Kitty always admired how dedicated Kurt was to Amanda. He really did love her. She didn’t know Amanda that well, but she could still tell she loved him back. It certainly didn’t help that their relationship had some very unusual circumstances. Then again, what relationship didn’t?
Kurt muttered a few German curses as he finally gave up on his phone. Amanda was clearly not going to answer. Usually, he was very respectful of her desire for privacy. But after what Selene did to her, the boundaries of privacy were heavily blurred. He still wanted to be there for her. It just wasn’t easy when she constantly lamented about being the key to so much destruction.
“I zhink I’m done for zhe day. If Amanda von’t talk after four calls, zhen she von’t talk,” he sighed as he tossed his phone onto the kitchen table.
“She’ll call when she’s ready, Kurt. No girl can be that cruel, especially to a guy as great as you,” assured Kitty as she finished her sandwich.
“You don’t know Amanda like I do. She can be so open and caring most of zhe time. Zhen zhere are zhese phases vhere she von’t say a word.”
“Sounds like she’s pretty big on alone time,” commented Kitty, “But she still loves you. Even I know enough to see that.”
“Love isn’t zhe issue, Kitty,” he said as she sat down at the table and rested his head on his arms, “Love can only go so far vhen you’re dealing vith forces like magic and death. My father used to tell me about all zhe destructive potential vithin zhese forces. I used to zhink he vas exaggerating, trying to overblow it so I vas ready if I ever had to face it. Now I’m beginning to zhink he vas being too protective.”
“Wouldn’t be the first time for a concerned parent,” Kitty pointed out.
“Maybe so, but I zhought I could handle zhis! Growing up in zhe Azazel, I felt more equipped zhen anybody to take on magical forces! Who better to help Amanda zhen me? Someone who not only trained for zhese conflicts, but who loves her so much.”
“She’s in good hands, that’s for sure,” said Kitty with a reassuring smile.
“Do me a favor, Kitty. Stop trying to be so supportive,” he muttered, “My undying faith can be a strength and a weakness. Right now, I vould rather have zhe honest truth.”
Kitty was taken aback. She thought she was doing the right thing, not letting her knack for blurting out her opinions before thinking first. That’s what always got her into so much trouble. Now one of the least judgmental and least arrogant guys she knew was telling her he needed her old tendencies. It left her in a very awkward position. Rather than overthink, she got up and made her way to the sink with her dishes in hand.
“In that case maybe I should get to class,” she said, “I’m the last person who should give anyone the brutal truth.”
“Vait Kitty!” said Kurt, teleporting in front of her before she could reach the sink, “I’m serious. I need an honest answer from someone I trust.”
“Kurt, you know how I am with honest answers. Do you want me to list all the times they’ve gotten me into trouble?” Kitty retorted.
“I’ll take zhat risk,” he said, placing both hands on her shoulders, “Please tell me zhe truth. Am I just punishing myself? Even though I love Amanda, is having to help her like zhis unhealthy?”
Kitty bit her lip. The way he was looking at her demanded and answer. He really did need this. Despite her better judgment, Kitty did what she used to scold herself for so many times before.
“In all honesty, Kurt…I think you and Amanda were unhealthy before Selene came along,” said Kitty, being extra careful with her tone, “I mean, she has this secret power that’s so deadly and yet she seems so helpless. I know it’s because there’s magic involved, but whatever the source you both seem completely powerless. It’s like one of you is doomed and the other is trying not to be doomed as well, but it essentially dooming themselves anyways by obsessing so much.”
“So I’m doomed as vell as obsessed?” sighed Kurt, “I had a feeling it vas pretty bad.”
“I wouldn’t go so far as to call it bad. When you love someone, you’re kind of expected to make sacrifices for them. I just think there gets to be a point where the sacrifice is too much. It sounds like Amanda understood that. It explains why she went to such great lengths to keep her secret from you.”
“I understand her reason. I just don’t understand vhy it has to hurt zhis much,” Kurt mulled.
“That’s where the truth gets a little brutal. Because in keeping her secret, she was kind of living in a fantasy land. I mean, she had to know something like this was going to happen sooner or later. One way or another someone was going to suffer.”
“So she was delusional as vell,” added Kurt.
“I didn’t mean it like that!” said Kitty quickly, once again letting more words slip than she meant, “You and Amanda are just so…strained. Love or no love, sometimes there are too many factors working against you. If they can’t be changed then…I don’t know, maybe it’s a sign it can never work as well as you want it.”
Kurt’s demeanor sank. Kitty’s brutal honest said what he wouldn’t even let himself think. It made him look like a glutton for misery. Looking back at his phone, which was still on the table and silent after making so many calls, he did something hadn’t done in a long time. He started to have doubts.
“Um…I better stop,” said Kitty, “You probably shouldn’t listen to me. I mean, what do I know? I’m not you. I don’t understand.”
“Nien…you understand more zhan you zhink. Maybe even more zhan I let myself zhink,” said Kurt in a morose tone.
“Now you’re giving me too much credit and scaring me at the same time,” said Kitty warily.
“You’re still right, Kitty. I’m starting to see zhat now. All zhese sacrifices I make…all zhe burdens Amanda is bearing…it’s too much. We’re only hurting each other. Amanda vas right all along. She should have kept her family secrets from me.”
Kitty reached out to console her friend, but he wouldn’t have it. Kurt teleported out of the room in a puff of brimstone, leaving his friend to process what just happened. Kurt Wagner, probably the most spirited and resilient human being she ever met, was questioning his faith in the future. She never thought she would live to see the day. This was someone who had Mystique for a mother, a lord of Limbo as a father, and a girlfriend doomed by some mystical prophecy t. He always was able to handle these challenges with a smile. Now the pressure was getting to him.
‘Did I just mortally wound Kurt Wagner’s heart and soul? I don’t know if that makes me a lousy friend or just an honest one, but I’m pretty sure I messed up. Talk about lousy timing! We’ve got Logan going through another phase of past-life-obsession and the Professor making a deal with that General guy that could go wrong in so many ways! If men like Kurt start to lose faith, then what hope do the X-men have?’
Later – Institute Classroom
It was strange how work could actually be relaxing at times. It was an unintended but welcome side-effect of being an X-man, being able to work and have it be relaxing. Ororo Munroe never expected it as such after training to become a teacher in college. She was often taught that working with aspiring young minds was a great challenge. While this was certainly true to some extent, it often paled in comparison to the X-men’s missions and the personal dramas that came with it.
It was past five in the afternoon and classes were done for the day. For Ororo that meant gathering papers and going over tests, which offered only momentary reprieves. Much of her attention for the past week had been on her lover, Logan. Ever since the mission in Japan, he had been withdrawn. It wasn’t the first time he pushed her away, but unlike before he was making it much more difficult for her to reach him. As much as she loved Logan, he was a difficult man to be with.
‘So much for staying busy. It must be a bad sign in any relationship when work becomes a reprieve. Why must Logan keep tormenting himself? Japan is over and done with. He’s letting what Yuriko said get to him. It makes me wonder if these so-called clean-up missions to Chinatown aren’t just an excuse. It wouldn’t be the first time one of my boyfriends let personal issues come between us. I suppose it’s my fault on some levels because I keep falling for men of such flaws.’
It seemed like there was no relief from her relationship distress. Ororo let out a tired sigh as she gathered her papers and put them away in her desk. Her gaze once again fell upon her phone, which she kept close to her at all times in case Logan called. She had already called him several times, urging him to come back to the mansion and talk to her. He just couldn’t tear himself away from these old personal conflicts.
‘Oh Logan…why must the past always consume you? There’s so much more to be gained in the present. Perhaps Yuriko made it a point to remind you. She knew it would cause you pain. Now you’re starting to doubt everything…even us. I don’t share those doubts. I’m not Jean. I’m not Mariko either. I have faith in us. Why can’t you have it too?’
The African woman picked up her phone and saw that Logan still hadn’t called. If he hadn’t checked in by now then he probably wasn’t going to for the rest of the evening. He would most likely find a bar, start drinking, and stammer back to the institute where he could sulk on is own. This was how Logan vented his frustration. She wanted to believe that such frustration would pass. The problem was that Logan didn’t seem to believe it.
Upon slipping her phone back in her pocket, Ororo gathered her things. If work wouldn’t offer her any reprieve, then maybe some extra Danger Room sessions would do the trick. It worked for Logan. Why wouldn’t it work for his girlfriend? Once all her materials were packed away, she prepared to head out. That’s when the door to the classroom opened and Rogue entered.
“Miss Munroe? You got a moment?” she said, sounding as though she wasn’t in her best mood.
“Of course, Rogue. What can I do for you?” said Ororo, almost glad to have another distraction.
Rogue made her way towards the front of the classroom, looking more conflicted than usual. Her hair was messy and her uniform was wet, indicating she went on an unusually long flight.
“Is everything okay?” Ororo asked, “You look a bit…”
“Yeah, Ah know. Ah ran into a few storm clouds,” she muttered.
“Nobody runs into storm clouds when they’re flying Rogue,” Ororo pointed out, “Either you ran into them on purpose or didn’t care enough to avoid them. It usually means something’s wrong. Believe me, I’ve been there.”
Rogue groaned and turned away. Ororo was a pretty insightful woman. It was nice at times, but it could also be annoying.
“Can we not go there?” said Rogue with a touch of harshness in her tone, “Ah just wanted to ask if you knew how to get in touch with Warren. Since the Professor is in Washington with Beast, Ah was hoping you would know. He has kept in touch, hasn’t he?”
“Indeed he has, but why would you want to contact him now of all times?” said Ororo.
“It’s personal. And if it’s all the same to you, Miss Munroe, Ah’d rather not talk about it. Ah’ve tried his old cell number, but he ain’t answering. Just tell meh you know another way to reach him and Ah’ll take it from there.”
She almost sounded desperate. Rogue did tend to be a bit harsh at times, but not like this. If her demeanor was any indication, Rogue was dealing with something serious. With this in mind, Ororo went against her better judgment and didn’t ask questions.
“I haven’t heard from Warren directly, but the Professor has been forwarding me regular updates on his research at Worthington Industries. He’s using a secure line. I’ll forward you the number and you should be able to reach him with it.”
“Thanks,” said Rogue in a flat tone as she started making her way back out.
“Is there anything else, Rogue?” said Ororo quickly before the young woman ran off, “Even if you don’t want to talk, I could stand to do some talking of my own.”
“Sorry Miss Munore, but Ah ain’t in the mood for more problems. And for once Ah’m gonna try and do something about it before it gets worse.”
Washington DC – Pentagon
It had been a productive day in Washington. The President and his associates spent much of the day laying out his new initiative for human/mutant relations. Before the ink had even dried on the documents, General Grimshaw was assembling the components for the newly created Mutant Security Agency. By executive order, the president redirected manpower from the FBI, the ATF, the CIA, Homeland Security, and even several military branches to help construct this new organization.
General Grimshaw was plowing ahead at full steam. With two of the Joint Chiefs from the President’s cabinet by his side along with Captain Freeman and a number of Pentagon aids, he entered one of the secure command centers in the very heart of this new agency’s primary hub. It was in these areas where computers, analyst, and officers directed traffic throughout America’s military machine. To make way for the MSA, he had a team of technicians and contractors allocate a certain control area and integrate its function towards mutant affairs. It was actually an area that used to focus heavily on Genosha. It seemed logical that for the MSA to function, it would need to keep track of the major mutant hotspots.
There was a lot of activity as people were moved, desks were rearranged, and new equipment was brought in to supplement the systems already in place. It was already starting to look like mission control for the space program, surrounded by computer monitors that littered the walls and computer servers that processed the endless stream of data. It was still a bit messy, but since the hardware was already in place it wouldn’t be long before the MSA was up and running. For General Grimshaw, they couldn’t get to work soon enough.
“As you can see, General, this area should provide a functional, secure location for all MSA operations,” said one of the Joint Chiefs, “We were looking to expand it anyways. When Hodge was running Genosha, I could count all the analysts in this area with one hand. Now with Magneto in charge we’ve needed a whole new division.”
“That explains why our intelligence on Genosha has been so fragmented. Too many people working in too many layers,” said General Grimshaw, “Just so you know, I don’t run operations like that. In my experience red tape leads to black body bags.”
“We’ll keep that in mind,” said the other Joint Chief as they watched several technicians hook up some new systems, “For now, think of this as your new nerve center for the MSA. All major operations will go through here while the bulk of the MSA will work out of the new administration building down the road. We’ve already got some people working on an old building the FBI once used for processing war protesters. They’ve been letting it rot for years and they’ll be happy for us to take it off their hands.”
“What about plans for MSA buildings in every state capital?” asked the General, “I need those up and running as well so we can start implementing our directives across the country.”
“The President is still trying to sell this proposal to the rest of the country, General. Let’s not get too ahead of ourselves,” said one of the presidential aides.
“We’re already behind the curve in terms of mutant affairs. I don’t see how moving quickly would be a bad thing. Now if some people in the states are complaining about having to work too hard, tough! We need to be up and running as soon as possible.”
There was no room for argument in the General’s tone. He had no tolerance for excuses. This proposal was his brainchild and he was going to make sure it succeeded on every level.
“Very well,” said the aide, “I’ll get in touch with the FBI. They should be able to move the process along on the state level.”
“If you have to wake them up, just mention my name and tell them I’m working under direct orders of the President,” said the General.
“And if they continue to balk?”
“Tell them I have friends in the IRS and I can have their taxes audited. That should get their attention.”
The aide nervously nodded and quickly rushed off to carry out the General’s orders, already looking anxious at the prospect of a long night.
“You always did leave quite an impression, General,” commented Captain Freeman.
“I’m just trying to do my job under exceedingly convoluted circumstances,” he replied.
“That wasn’t a compliment, sir. Maybe I’m the only one who can be blunt here, but it feels as though we’re shooting from the hip. If memory serves me right you were the one that once told me that the fastest man is often the most careless.”
“I hate it when you quote me. Since when did you start worrying about this initiative? You’re probably the only one besides Reverend Stryker who has been less enthused about it.”
“Let’s just say I’m trying to be more than a blunt instrument for this,” replied Jack, “Like it or not, I’m going to have a higher stake since I’m a mutant. So I might as well put the extra effort into it.”
General Grimshaw looked at the seasoned soldier strangely. Jack could tell he was surprised to see him speak up. Given the mood he was in after they left the Xavier Institute, he couldn’t blame him. That extra visit from Scott Summers went further than he expected. For once, Jack Freeman wasn’t just keeping his mouth shut for a mission. This seemed to concern the General. Lucky for him, the Joint Chiefs were still present and getting impatient.
“General, if we could continue…” one of them said.
“Of course,” said General Grimshaw before shifting his attention away from Captain Freeman, “We’ll go over the organization of this new nerve center once it’s fully up and running. In the meantime, we’ll get to work discussing how we’ll fill the ranks of the MSA. The President has a plan to redirect SWAT teams from each state into their respective divisions. I’ve also proposed offering soldiers returning from overseas advanced positions.”
“I’m still concerned that may not be enough to handle a growing mutant population,” said one of the Joint Chiefs, “I’ll be even more concerned if we have to rely heavily on assistance from outside sources like the X-men to pick up the slack.”
“Let’s not get into that old argument again. I know the X-men are taboo around here so let’s save that for a less stressful time,” groaned the General as he started leading his associates out of the area.
“I don’t know if we can afford to set it aside,” said the other Joint Chief, “This Mutant Security Agency of yours is still in its infancy. What if something major comes up that requires more manpower than we can manage?”
“All the more reason to work hard, fast, and smart,” Grimshaw retorted, “The President has given us a chance to carry out a mission that many others have botched. Let’s not blow it!”
They were about to leave the area for the conference room. Then one of the technicians working on the computer array shot up and rushed over.
“Wait! General Grimshaw, I think you should see this!” he said urgently.
“Calm down, poindexter. No need to start screaming before we’re up and running,” said Captain Freeman, stopping the man before he ran too far.
“I’ll be the judge of that,” said the General as he addressed the technician, “What’s going on, son? Why the fireworks?”
“It…it’s one of the systems we’re integrating!” he said breathlessly, “You know how our carrier groups are monitoring all of Genosha for unusual magnetic activity? Well I just finished transferring it to the MSA servers and as soon as I turned it on it detected something!”
“Define something. For a guy like Magneto that could be a whole hell of a lot,” said the General, remaining calm yet urgent.
“Come see for yourself! It’s something I think we’ve seen before!”
The General rushed over to the terminal with Captain Freeman and the Joint Chiefs following close by. They along with many others were very interested in this new development. When they arrived at the computer array the technician brought up an image on one of the monitors on the wall. The image consisted of a detailed satellite map of Genosha with some unusual color shading to indicate a special kind of data.
“As…as you know, when Magneto sends his people somewhere he often uses those metal orb things,” said the technician, still stammering in a way that indicated he was clearly not a soldier, “Well, whenever one leaves the island, we’re able to track it because it leaves behind a distinct magnetic trail that our satellites can follow.”
“I flunked out of high school, but even I can see where this is going,” made Jack.
“I wish it weren’t so obvious, but here it is,” said the technician as he ran some time lapse to the scan, “About six hours ago, three distinct trails were detected. All of them shot out into the airspace over Genosha and accelerated at high speeds towards the northeast.”
The General remained stoic as he took in this information. He then turned towards the two Joint Chiefs.
“It would seem your concerns about being undermanned have just been validated,” he told them, “Magneto’s up to something. He wouldn’t risk sending out his people if it wasn’t important.”
“Could this be some sort of response to the President’s announcement today?” said one of the Joint Chiefs in a worried tone.
“It’s possible,” said the General as he started pondering the possibilities, “Tell me these systems have the ability to trace where the transport orbs are heading. Or at least tell me who should be fired for not being that proactive.”
“At the speed their moving, we can’t pinpoint them exactly,” said the technician, “But we were able to narrow it down to a small area. The trails end around somewhere around downtown Huston, Texas in the northern part of the city. Near as we can tell, there hasn’t been any major mutant activity reported.”
“Houston? What the hell is in Huston that would interest Magneto?” wondered the other Joint Chief.
“Maybe he’s a fan of Texas style barbecue?” shrugged Captain Freeman.
General Grimshaw remained silent. For a moment, he watched the animation as it followed the magnetic trail across the globe to Huston. His instinct told him this was something serious. Magneto was still probably steamed about the raid he organized. Guys like him didn’t just sit by and let their ego heal on its own. This felt like the first sign of a much bigger response.
The General looked closer at the screen, trying to see if there was something specific that could be of interest for Magneto. There wasn’t much to pick from. This area of Huston didn’t have a whole lot of defining features. It just had a bunch of office buildings, some shopping malls, and a few utility hubs. But there was something about the area that didn’t sit right. Whatever he was after, it had to be something specific.
“Any ideas yet, General?” asked Captain Freeman, “This is usually the part where you figure it out and make everyone look stupid.”
“I wish I could keep that tradition, but I’ve got nothing,” he said flatly.
“So what do we do?” asked the Green Beret, “We can’t just wait until we’re up and running to look into this.”
“Which is why we’re not going to wait,” the General replied, “You’re going to get on the first plane to Huston and see what you can find out on the ground. In the meantime I’m going to get in touch with our new intelligence people. We need to know before it blows up in our face!”
“I’ll coordinate with our carrier groups and see what they can do to gather more intel around Genosha,” added one of the Joint Chiefs, “But what about the X-men? Are we going to get them involved?”
“No…not until we know what we’re up against,” said the General firmly, “Magneto wants to test us? Good! I’ll see to it the MSA passes with flying colors.”
Next Issue: Test Subject
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