For years, Professor Charles Xavier and his X-men have used their extraordinary powers to protect a world that hates and fears them. Now they’re protecting more than the world. They’re protecting an international treaty that is keeping human/mutant hostilities at bay and improving human/mutant relations on an unprecedented level.
In wake of the Cambrian incident, the mutant nation of Genosha made a deal that exchanges peace for advanced technology courtesy of a crashed Shi’ar ship. This technology has led to an economic boom that has re-defined human/mutation relations. Now there is a great incentive to stop further conflict. However, this technology has become the target of some devious forces. Some are ordinary criminals. Others have a much deeper agenda. The mystery of which is which continues to unfold.
In the midst of this conflict, the X-men try to maintain a somewhat steady existence. Now that they work with the support of the Mutant Security Agency, the nature of their operations are shifting. It is not clear where this shift will lead them. What is clear though is that new developments will continue to emerge and often from unexpected places.
Xavier Institute – Upper Dormitories
Part of being an X-man had involved juggling a long list of challenges and constantly changing missions. The recent developments on Genosha and the emergence of the Mutant Security Agency did plenty to make that list even longer. There seemed to be no end to it. There was always a threat to this fragile peace they had built and the X-men kept having to intervene. It left the team with some mixed feelings while ensuring their workload would remain consistently overwhelming.
Somewhere between these new priorities, the team had to deal with the daily rigors of class and personal affairs. The Xavier Institute was still a school, even if the academic aspect of the X-men was being increasingly overshadowed. Personal drama also found a way to affect the team. Couples like Scott and Jean found it increasingly difficult to enjoy their relationship amidst these circumstances. After the mission in Calcutta, they finally had a chance to catch up with one another.
“Sounds like this Agent Zero guy was a real pain,” said Jean as she walked alongside her lover after morning classes.
“That would be a pretty simple assessment of an exceedingly complicated mission,” sighed a restless Scott Summers, “It’s bad enough these shipments from Genosha are the targets of dictators, organized crime, and corporate spies. These super-powered thieves do a lot of damage and not just to the booming economy. An entire ship of dead and wounded bodies does not bode well for any side when the thief has mutant abilities.”
“How bad is it? Should we expect another PR hit?”
“It’s nothing the Professor can’t handle, although the Indian authorities probably won’t settle for a simple apology. I would have loved to uncover more, but he Zero away. That’s what happens when you’re undermanned because some of our teammates aren’t in fighting condition.”
The X-leader’s tone shifted. He made no secret of what and who he was referring to. Jean resisted the urge to bring it up, but her lover wasn’t so quick to brush it off.
“How is Mr. Too-Messed-Up-To-Help-The-Team anyways?” he asked.
“Scott, that’s not fair,” said Jean with a harsh scorn.
“Is it, Jean? You’ve been babysitting Logan for months now and he’s still a mess. Ever since he broke up with Miss Munroe…”
“He’s not using that as an excuse anymore. There are a lot of other factors involved that have nothing to do with ex-lovers.”
“Even so, he’s been way more irresponsible than usual,” the X-leader pointed out, “Now I’m not making light of his problems. Lord knows Wolverine has many. But even you have to admit that what he’s doing to cope with them isn’t working! Even Professor Xavier agrees. Logan is only hurting himself and the team with this kind of recklessness.”
Jean was usually quick to defend Logan. As his ex-lover and one of his best friends, she understood him a lot better than most. That’s what made this latest shift in his demeanor so difficult. Scott’s assessment may have been harsh, but he wasn’t the only one who shared such sentiment.
Jean stopped walking for a moment. Scott stopped as well, watching his lover hug her shoulders in a conflicted manner. She was pretty torn up about this. Even though he and Logan didn’t get along, he understood how Logan’s predicament affected her.
“I’m sorry, Jean,” said Scott sheepishly, “I shouldn’t have…”
“No…don’t apologize. I guess Kitty shouldn’t be the only one who lays out the cold, hard truth,” sighed Jean.
“Don’t give me the guilt trip, Jean. You know how much I hate that,” he said, reaching out and offering a loving gesture.
“I’m not. I’m just a lot more stressed out about Logan than I want to be.”
“We’re all stressed, Jean. That’s not the issue here,” he pointed out, “This is about seeing a friend in pain and I know how that bothers you.”
“It’s more than just pain he’s dealing with,” Jean pointed out, “It’s kind of like what I went through when I first started manifesting the Phoenix Force. I had all these feelings that I didn’t understand building up inside me. I knew something was coming and eventually I was going to have to confront it. The difference with Logan is he’s trying to confront it. He just doesn’t know what he has to confront.”
“He’s a messed up guy with a messed up past. If he truly wants to figure it out, he knows the X-men can help.”
“That’s the other part that frustrates the hell out of me!” said Jean bitterly, “He knows the X-men can help him. But completely unwilling to let someone else shoulder the pain. It’s as if he wants it to torment him! He wants to punish himself for something he doesn’t even know he did!”
Jean needed a moment to gather herself, the frustration and the sorrow overwhelming her for a moment. Scott soothed her conflicted state as best he could, pulling her into a light embrace and gently cupping her chin.
“I have a faint idea of what that’s like,” said Scott in a deep tone, “It’s frustrating, believe me I know. You’ve gone out of your way to help him even more than Miss Munroe, who has done more than her share since they split mind you.”
“I guess she thinks only a psychic is equipped to deal with Logan at this point,” muttered Jean.
“Or maybe she thinks Logan needs to learn how to cope in ways that don’t include getting piss-faced drunk on a regular basis. Even you have to admit he’s not putting in the effort he should.”
“I have a drunk for a father. I know all the negative connotations that come along with excessive alcohol consumption.”
“On that basis you should also know that sometimes a guy has to bottom out before he starts pulling himself up again. You’re doing everything you can. You’re pulling his drunken ass out of the gutter and making sure he wakes up feeling less miserable.”
“Although that does include getting puked on a couple of times,” she groaned.
“That just shows what a dedicated friend you are,” said Scott with a half-hearted smile, “Everybody knows that, including Logan. So long as he has that incentive, he’ll find another way. He damn well better for the kind of stress he’s putting you through.”
“I’m sure you’ll remind him of that every chance you get.”
“If there’s anyone least deserving of extra stress…it’s you, Jean.”
The young psychic smiled back at her lover. His tender touch and loving words was just what she needed. All these extra anxieties were tough, especially for a psychic. Scott was always good at easing her distress. He offered her a tender kiss to help soothe her anxious state. Jean welcomed the feeling, closing her eyes and passionately kissing back.
She was doing all she could for Logan without crossing certain lines. Logan was his own man. She had to have faith that he would pull himself out of this rut at some point. Hopefully, he would do it sooner rather than later. As a result of all this extra effort on her part, she needed to find her own ways of coping. And since she was in Scott’s arms at the moment, she was presented with a golden opportunity.
“Thank you, Scott. I was in need of a pep talk,” she said upon parting from the kiss.
“Anytime, babe,” Scott said with a smile, still keeping her firmly in his arms, “What are good boyfriends for?”
“Well while we’re on the subject of stress, I think we could use some special relief,” she said coyly.
“Special, as in…” said Scott, allowing his words to trail off.
“If you’re really a good boyfriend, you already know the answer to that.”
Scott quickly picked up on the seductive subtext of her voice. With the lingering aches of the Calcutta mission still fresh on his body, a little relief was just what the doctor ordered.
“Hmm…well we do have class in an hour. You sure that will give us enough time?” said Scott.
“Probably not,” she shrugged, “But between our grades and our unending responsibilities, I think we’ll be forgiven if we’re a late just this once.”
“As much as I value being punctual, I value an hour with you alone a lot more.”
The two lovers smiled and met in another kiss. This time it was much more heated. Concerns about class, missions, and Logan melted away for a brief moment. It had been a while since they had an opportunity to share in some extensive stress relief. This was as good a time as any to catch up.
As Scott and Jean fervently kissed, they stumbled through the hall. Their bedroom was not too far away, but before they reached the door Jean went after Scott’s pants and Scott pulled off her shirt. By the time they slipped into their room, Jean was naked from the waste up and Scott’s fly was undone. Jean telekinetically slammed the door and locked it for good measure, never once leaving the embrace of her lover. While she fumbled with his pants, the started making their way towards the bed. Their desire for each other was so strong they didn’t notice that someone was already sitting on the edge of their bed.
“Well isn’t this a treat…dinner and a show,” said a wry voice, “Although I don’t remember seeing a NC-17 rating at the front door.”
Their passionate moment was abruptly shattered. Scott and Jean nearly went into combat mode when they broke away from one another to see a familiar figure staring at them with sultry grin.
“Emma?!” said a bewildered Scott Summers.
“What the hell are you doing here?! More importantly, what the hell are you doing in our room?!” exclaimed a mortified Jean Grey, who promptly covered her exposed upper body with her arms.
“Nice to see you too, darling,” said Emma Frost dryly, “It seems you’ve kept in good shape since I last saw you. But don’t you think it’s a bit pointless to cover your modesty? Neither of you has anything I haven’t seen before.”
Scott and Jean were now blushing profusely. They had not seen Emma Frost since the Phoenix affair. They knew she had dropped by a few times to talk with the Professor, but after her role with the Inner Circle and the betrayal that followed it was still a bit awkward to be in the same room with her.
Never-the-less, Emma Frost was a former X-man. She was even wearing a revealing halter top and tight fitting white pants, which was same style she wore when she was part of the team. She didn’t look threatening. She actually looked amused if not excessively so. With plenty of suspicion and a touch of curiosity, Scott zipped up his pants and Jean telekinetically retrieved her shirt. If they weren’t going to be relieving any stress, they might as well get some answers.
“Touchè, Emma,” said a bemused Jean Grey, “Do you have a reason for being here or did just come to sneak a peak at our private lives?”
“Oh come now, you know if I wanted that I could always replay the many cherished memories I have of sharing Scott’s bed,” she quipped.
“Cut the lurid comments, Emma. Explain yourself!” commanded Scott, making it clear she had yet to regain their trust.
The harsh words of her ex-lover tapered Emma Frost’s snide demeanor. Few men ever dared to talk to her like that. Scott Summers was one of the few who could both stand up to her and humble her to the point where she would swallow her bloated pride.
“Fine…I should have known it hasn’t been enough time for you to forgive me. Especially after breaking your heart and your trust,” she said, getting up from the bed.
“Yeah…you should have,” said Jean bitterly.
“Don’t rub it in, Jean,” said Scott before turning back to his former lover, “Emma, you know I’m a very forgiving guy. I understand you don’t do the things you do without a reason. Granted, those reasons may not make sense, but they’re never outright cruel.”
“Oh Scott…even after we stopped sleeping together, you give my heart more credit than it deserves,” sighed Emma.
“I mean it,” said the X-leader, now approaching her with more a more serious disposition, “Talk to us, Emma. It’s been a while since that Inner Circle incident. You said you had reasons for doing what you did. If you came here to talk, Jean and I are willing to listen.”
“Speak for yourself,” muttered Jean.
Scott ignored his lover’s bitter words and so did Emma. She still found it hard to look at either of them, especially Jean. After what Charles told her about the Phoenix affair, she deserved all the resentment she could throw at her. Even if she was bitter, she didn’t sense any outright hostility. Jean hadn’t forgotten their history as friends and Scott hadn’t forgotten their history as lovers. That was part of what made it so hard to finally work up the nerve to come here.
Emma Frost shoved her ego into the recesses of her mind, retrieved a small picture from her pocket, and placed it into Scott’s hand. On it there was an image of three teenage girls that bore an uncanny resemblance to Emma. They all had vacant looks in their eyes and were wearing what appeared to be school uniforms. While Scott was taking in the picture, Jean came up to see for herself.
“What exactly are we looking at?” asked Jean.
“Emma, who are these girls?” asked Scott intently.
“Those girls…are the reason I was betrayed the X-men,” said Emma solemnly, “Their names are Mindee, Pheobe, and Celeste. Biologically speaking, they’re my clones. Technically speaking…they’re my daughters.”
Xavier Institute – Xavier’s Office
Logan never liked being lectured. He was not the kind of guy to sit in front of someone who was nowhere near as messed up as he was and let them drone on about his reckless, ill-mannered behavior. He didn’t need to be told he was a mess. He was already well-aware of that and it was his justification for having to drink himself into oblivion on a regular basis. However, that didn’t mean it was a valid justification.
Professor Charles Xavier was one of the few men he took seriously when it came to morality lectures. This man had more moral fiber than anyone he had ever come across. So he had some credibility. Given his recent shifts in behavior, Professor Xavier had every right to talk down to him. Unlike Jeannie, he was a lot more pragmatic about it.
“We’ve had this conversation one too many times, Logan. I know you’ve had your share of problems recently. I’m not claiming to understand those problems either. My primary concern is how you’re dealing with them,” said Charles Xavier with a critical tone.
“Ain’t like I’ve been doin’ much dealing, Chuck. Between booze and hangovers, the only thing I’ve figured out is how to make an even bigger ass of myself,” grumbled Logan as he sat in a chair across from Xavier’s desk.
“I was simply going to say you were being insensitive, but that works just as well.”
“That supposed to boost my self-esteem?”
“If nothing else, I hope it gives you an idea of how disappointed I am with you,” said Xavier in a calm yet scathing tone.
Logan was inclined to shoot back, but it was useless against a man like Charles Xavier. This was his school and Logan was in no position to question his judgment, especially when his had been so damn lousy lately.
“Logan, you’re letting yourself fall into old habits. You’ve made so much progress since joining the X-men and I hate seeing that progress regress.”
“It pisses me off too, Chuck. Don’t think it ain’t on my mind,” said Logan defensively, “I know I got a good deal here and I don’t want to fuck it up.”
“Yet you seem to be pushing every boundary that’s been built around you. Jean told me you won’t even reconsider psychic counseling sessions,” Xavier pointed out.
“I already know my mind is a mess! Before I got here, it was because of the shit I didn’t know. Now that I know about Rose, Sabretooth, Deadpool, the Yashdias, and Omega Red I ain’t sure psychic therapy will take me that far.”
“You won’t know unless you allow us to try,” urged Professor Xavier.
“I know, damn it! I’m just…I’m not sure I wanna know right now. At least not until I can get my act together so I stand a chance at handling it,” grumbled Logan, “I’m tryin’ to cut back on the drinking. Jeannie and Ro already started hiding my booze and somebody seems to have blacklisted me from a few bars nearby.”
Xavier could tell from his dry tone who Logan suspected that somebody was. He ignored the accusation and kept the conversation focused.
“While I’m glad to hear you’re trying, I’m also concerned about the time you’ve been spending on your personal affairs. Nearly every night, you either go out to get drunk or you go out searching for this teenage girl with claws you told me about. X-23 is it?”
“Laura…her name is Laura,” said Logan ardently.
“My apologies,” said Xavier calmly, “You’ve been looking for her all this time. You say she’s working as a teenage prostitute. I think it’s safe to assume her life is quite difficult. Yet for some reason she does not wish to be found.”
“She’s angry, confused, and unstable. Can’t say I blame her for pushing people away.”
“So what do you hope to gain by finding her?”
“The hell if I know! Maybe I need to, okay? I need something to fill this damn hole that’s been torturing me since I broke up with Storm! Don’t ask me what it is or why it’s only been bothering me recently! I feel like I’m close to…I don’t know, getting some answers! Maybe they’re with this X-23 girl. Maybe they ain’t. All I know is that something’s missing and it’s driving me freakin’ crazy!”
There was a lot of anger and pain in his voice and it was different from the kind of anger and pain that he saw when Logan first arrived. Even with telepathy, it was hard to decipher. The former living weapon essentially sealed his mind, indicating that he wanted to deal with this on his own. He let the X-men help him rebuild the shards of his soul. He wanted to rebuild the rest.
The Professor took a moment to ponder this predicament. As much as he empathized with Logan’s plight, he couldn’t continue to tolerate his behavior. It was bad for him, the team, and their mission. Something had to be done and if he couldn’t address his problems directly, then he would have to use the indirect approach.
“Logan, if you are really feeling this tormented, then as headmaster of this institute I must take action,” he said assertively.
“Let me guess…I’m suspended or some shit like that? You want me to fork over my uniform or something?” said Logan dryly.
“Of course not,” assured Charles, “You’re an X-man. And X-men don’t turn their backs on one another. Since you’ve been slipping into bad habits under our current routine, then I feel the best recourse would be to change that routine.”
“What the hell does that involve? Makin’ me teach an art class or something?”
“I was thinking something a bit more hands on,” said Xavier with a half-grin, “Until you’re back in the proper form, I’m reassigning you with another task. As you know, Genosha and international authorities have been struggling to keep their ports secured while exporting Shi’ar technology. It isn’t just highly skilled thieves trying to take this precious cargo. Even small, exceedingly reckless foes can’t resist the allure of this technology. Someone needs to be there to provide more of a deterrent.”
Logan was intrigued by the Professor’s undertone. It wasn’t a team mission and it wasn’t a personal assignment either. This actually sounded like something specifically tailored to his strengths, which included scaring the crap out of people who messed with him.
“So let me get this straight…you want me to commute back and forth to Genosha and play the part of a private top cop?”
“More so as an unofficial surveyor of Genoshan affairs,” said Professor Xavier, “Since the island has become such a turbulent place, it could never hurt to have an extra set of eyes, ears, and in your case a nose on the ground.”
“You really think I’m gonna find anything crazier than we already have on that place?” said Logan skeptically.
“Well you won’t know until you search now, will you?” said Xavier with a slight grin, “I’ll have Wanda provide us with a transport orb to get you back and forth. This assignment will start immediately.”
“You’re setting it up before I even agree to it?”
“Unless you feel you can resolve these issues in a more expedient manner, this isn’t up for a debate. Thank of it as a side-project rather than a demand.”
Logan scoffed at Xavier’s attempts to sugarcoat this decision of his. He was too polite to call it a direct order. The idea of spending extra time on Genosha didn’t have much appeal. But at the very least it would be a place full of distractions that would keep him from obsessing over his personal problems. In that sense the Professor’s decision made perfect sense.
“So you think spending more time in Genosha is gonna make me less fucked up somehow,” said Logan as he rose up from his seat, “Makes about as much sense as half the shit I do anyways.”
“So you’ll give this an honest try?” said Xavier.
“You got enough on your plate, Chuck. We all do. Since Rogue and Elf ain’t back from their vacation yet, I might as well give us one less thing to worry about.”
The Professor smiled. This was probably the most hopeful he had seen Logan in months. Watching the feral mutant leave his office, he was confident that this would be good for him. At the same time, he was also curious about this hole he mentioned. Logan’s past was still full of mysteries. In all likelihood they were going to confront more of those mysteries as time went on.
Once Logan stepped out of Xavier’s office, he was greeted by Ororo Munroe. It appeared she had been standing outside the office listening in on the conversation. She had this strange smile on her face, which clearly indicated that she knew something.
“Do my eyes deceive me? Did you just smile, Logan?” she teased.
“Only a little. Don’t throw a freakin’ parade or anything,” he replied, “Any particular reason why you were eavesdropping?”
“For the same reason I would have if we were still dating…because I care,” said Ororo in a more affectionate tone.
“Right…and I’m sure it had nothing to do with you pitching the whole Genosha idea.”
Ororo shifted, unable to stop herself from smiling awkwardly. It was always hard hiding secrets from a friend. It was even harder hiding secrets from an ex-lover. She and Logan were still getting used to being friends again. The past few months hadn’t made it easy on them. That didn’t mean Ororo gave up on helping this man, even if it involved getting the Professor involved.
“I may have made a few suggestions here and there,” she said innocently.
“Sure you did,” he said dryly as he started walking down the hall, “So I guess I should send all my thanks to Chuck if this works out?”
“You could if you wanted to be a pompous brute,” said the African beauty, latching onto his arm as she caught up with him.
“Seeing as how you’ve slept with this pompous brute, that ain’t saying much,” he teased, “But seeing as how I’m so messed up and girls like you and Jeannie care so damn much, I’ll thank you anyways. I guess until I figure this shit out, it couldn’t hurt to stay busy.”
“Enough to get you to cut back on the drinking?”
“Don’t push it, Ro. I got a long list of problems to take care of first.”
New York City – Broadway
The crowded streets of a bustling city were not always ideal for unwinding. Between training, missions, and class the already limited free time the X-men had at their disposal had been further curtailed. So when they finally got a chance to get away from work, pretty much any destination was a breath of fresh air.
After making it through a string of morning classes and training sessions, a few of the X-men took an afternoon trip into New York City. Bobby organized it on the fly with Piotr and Remy choosing to tag along. They wore jackets and baseball caps so they wouldn’t be easily recognized. Now that they were on the news so often, it was hard to maintain their anonymity. Since they had no telepath to tweak everyone’s perceptions, they had to rely on old fashioned disguises as they made their way down Broadway.
“Explain it to me again, Bobby. Why are we spending our free period on Broadway in the middle of the day?” asked Piotr Rasputin.
“What? You don’t like Broadway, Peter?” said Bobby, “With all the hours you’ve been hunched over a computer screen, I thought anywhere other than a trip to Genosha would be a welcome escape.”
“I am liking it fine. I am just not seeing why we need to be in this particular part of the city at this time of day, that’s all. There is traffic, there is crowds, and there is long lines for every possible activity.”
“Dude…have you ever actually been to New York?” joked Bobby.
“Perhaps you askin’ the wrong questions, Pete,” said Remy tactfully, “I think bein’ in New York gives it away. Iceboy here is hopin’ to run into Jubilee again.”
“Now why would I ask you guys to tag along if I was just looking to run into my favorite gal pal?” said Bobby confidently.
“Don’t know. Could it be you been frustrated with this femme lately and you be wantin’ to confront her without you lookin’ desperate?” quipped the Cajun, “Remy remembers you sayin’ how Jubilee loves to sneak into Broadway plays ‘round this time of day.”
Bobby shot Remy a bemused glance. He knew he should have convinced Scott to come along instead. At least he was polite enough not to sound like such a jerk when he brought up personal affairs.
“Are you really hoping to bump into Jubilee like this?” asked Piotr seriously.
“No!” he said, almost shouting, “I mean…no, but I wouldn’t necessarily mind.”
“And you expect us to believe you after an outburst like that?” scoffed Remy.
“Would it be too much to ask even if I said please?”
“If you did lead us here with hopes of meeting up this girl, then why not tell us your reason for doing so?” Piotr suggested, “If something is wrong, perhaps we can help.”
Bobby kept scolding Remy, but offered a more understanding glance towards Piotr as they reached a crosswalk. It was tempting to get it off his chest. He had been keeping it to himself despite the argument he had with Kitty back in Africa. Since they were all so burned out from missions and class, it didn’t seem worth getting anyone else involved. Yet Jubilee was still clearly dominating his mind and he wasn’t been too subtle about it.
“I appreciate the concern, Piotr. It’s nice to know that some people aren’t complete assholes about this subject,” said Bobby, earning him a look from Remy, “The problem is I’m not sure if there is a problem to begin with. After what happened with Lorna and Kitty, I’m not sure if any reaction I have in my relationships is appropriate.”
“Since I was not here to witness those affairs, I won’t say a word on them,” said Piotr, “Is there a chance that our additional workload has been the cause of the strain?”
“If it were that simple, then wouldn’t we all be goin’ crazy over our lady friends?” Remy pointed out.
“Since you’re such an honest guy, I don’t hold it against you for not understanding,” quipped Bobby dryly, “I’m actually hoping that’s the case because Jubilee hasn’t been keeping in touch lately. She keeps telling me nothing’s wrong. I’m starting to wonder if she’s gotten bored with me.”
“You be an X-men and she finds that boring?” laughed Remy, “Them be some messed up standards for a femme!”
“Well Jubilee is a character, that’s for sure,” grinned Bobby, “She’s also a tough girl to figure out. I like to think I’m not wasting my time trying.”
“I don’t think you are. If a woman is special to you, then I would say it’s definitely worth it,” said Piotr with a reassuring tone as they crossed the busy street.
“You be a bit too generous, homme. Since when is figuring out women supposed to be easy?” added Remy.
“Maybe you’re just saying that because you can’t figure Betsy out anymore and have gone back to familiar territory with Rogue,” quipped Bobby.
Now it was Remy’s turn to do the scolding. He struck a nerve with Bobby so it was only natural that he try to push his buttons as well. The issues between with him and Betsy were poorly kept secrets to say the least. Everybody knew that he was meeting up with Rogue on a regular basis even though she was still living with Kurt and the Seftons. Everybody also assumed this did not sit well with Betsy, which caused plenty of tension.
Piotr sensed a bit too much tension and walked in between them once they reached the other side of the crosswalk. The crowded streets of Broadway were hardly a place to argue over relationship issues. In addition, the longer they focused on this topic, the more likely it was that Kitty would come up and he was not ready for that conversation.
“I think this is enough relationship talk, yes?” said Piotr, “I thought we were out here to get away from such troubles.”
“Tell that to the homme who can’t resist playin’ with the house’s money,” said Remy, still scolding Bobby despite an oversized Russian standing between them.
“You dealt the first hand. I just played it,” shrugged Bobby.
“Now you be makin’ Remy’s card puns too?”
“Nobody will be making any of these puns if you two cannot give it a rest,” said Piotr in a more menacing tone, “We’re in the middle of New York City at a time of fragile peace. The last thing anyone would want to do is cause a commotion.”
Remy and Bobby were still staring each other down. Piotr wasn’t going to let them bicker no matter how harshly they scolded one another. This helped spare them from the trouble of dealing with a major public scene.
While the two young mutants were fuming, a commotion of another kind broke out not far from where they were standing. It came in the form of a strange man climbing on top of a parked car and yelling out through a bullhorn.
“Attention citizens of New York! I have an announcement to make that everyone within the range of my voice should hear! This city has just committed an egregious sin that must be answered for! Just this morning, every major New York paper ran an article on mutants and their status in wake of the Genosha treaty! What should have been balanced news was an affront to the will of God! The way in which your city speaks of mutants is nothing short of blasphemous!”
These thunderous words quickly got Piotr, Remy, and Bobby’s attention. Their debates over women and the value of not making a commotion would have to wait. It seemed they were about to find themselves in the wrong place at the wrong time yet again.
“Ooh boy, of all the rotten luck,” groaned Bobby.
“Remy has a pretty good idea of where this homme is going,” said the Cajun.
The three X-men braced for the worst. It did not seem they would get far enough away in time to avoid hearing what this strange man had to say next.
“Let me read some of the exact words this article used! They called mutants potential threats…dangerous…volatile…flawed…even menacing! Such vile descriptions are completely UNTRUE! These mutants are not threats! They are our salvation and we are rejecting it!”
Bobby, Remy, and Piotr blinked in disbelief. They looked back at the man and then at each other. There was no way that this man just said what they thought he said.
“Comrade, was that what you expected?” asked Piotr.
“Not in the slightest,” said Remy.
“Wait…did a crazy street preacher just say mutants and salvation in the same breath?” said Bobby.
“I think Remy heard it. That don’t mean Remy believes it,” said the Cajun.
They weren’t the only one struck by this man’s words. A small crowd started gathering around the man. Many looked just as perplexed as the three X-men. Some were in shock if not flat out disgusted.
Remy, Bobby, and Piotr moved in closer to get a better look. This man didn’t come off as the usual street preacher. He was wearing a neatly tailored suit with some unusual-looking emblems sewn onto the shoulders and side. He also had a large golden cross around his neck with a series of elaborate embroiders. It was hard to make out the details, but this guy was definitely a religious man. What he preached, however, was anything but traditional.
“The media and the government are guilty of the same sin! They are hypocrites in the highest degree! They pretend to want peace, making deals with our mutant saviors by extorting them for profit and power! They sit down with the very messengers of the Lord and spit in their faces! Just as the Lord, our God, sent his only begotten son to die for our sins…that same all-loving God sent to us the key to salvation! In the form of blessed blood, we have in our midst the gifted and the holy! And what do we do? We reject them! In this very city, we segregate our mutant saviors to a dirty ghetto! In this country we force them onto their own island country! In rejecting them, we are rejecting God! We are damning ourselves before the judgment of the Lord!”
It was a very different sermon regarding religion and mutants. Usually when a preacher talked about mutants, they used words like wicked, monstrous, and demonic. Men like William Stryker made this the mainstream view over this wing of society. This preacher seemed to have another point of view that few knew even existed.
Bobby, Piotr, and Remy sure didn’t know. Their shock turned into a more pleasant surprise as they listen to this man yell into his bull-horn, looking like he had every bit the conviction of the William Strykers of the world.
“Damn…this guy be alright,” said Remy.
“I never thought I’d live to see it,” said Bobby, shaking his head in a daze, “A fire and brimstone preacher who doesn’t hate mutants.”
“Are you sure this is a good thing?” questioned Piotr.
“Are you kidding?” Bobby laughed, “I’d argue this is way overdue!”
While the three X-men appreciated the man’s message of mutants and divinity, others in the crowd were not so receptive. Near the front of the crowd, a number of people were getting worked up. A few onlookers gave the man the finger or booed him. Some were a lot more vocal in their criticism.
“You’re off your meds, pal! Only a psycho calls mutants saviors!” yelled an angry older woman in a thick New York City accent.
“Yeah! Go back to your padded cell!” shouted a young man.
“You’re a fucking joke! Mutants are a joke! Get over it!” spat an old man.
Remarkably, the preacher was not dissuaded. Even as some tried rocking the car he was standing on, he held his ground.
“The will of the Lord will NOT be mocked! I ask all of you out of love and hope for your eternal souls, let go of the lies that others have told you! Embrace our mutant saviors as the followers of Christ embraced the son of God!”
His message had a hard time resonating. One middle-aged man with a mustache and a strong build looked especially offended by this impromptu sermon. He was one of the onlookers rocking the car, trying to shake him off. When the preacher made it clear that he was going to hold his ground, the man abandoned any hopes of a peaceful protest and climbed up on the car.
“You pitiful excuse for a holy man! You’re pissing in the wrong pool!” he spat, “My wife was hospitalized because of the shit mutants pulled with that asteroid! She was an EMT who got beat up by looters because those monsters tried to send the world to hell!”
The preacher pulled away from his bullhorn and stared down the man with burning hatred in his eyes.
“What did you just call the saviors I spoke of?” he said menacingly.
“You heard me, dipshit! I called mutants monsters!” said the man, “That’s what they are! That’s what they’ll always be!”
The preacher’s expression tensed with rage. The man struck a nerve he probably intended to hit. The response of a normal holy man was to hit back with the worlds of the divine. However, this was no ordinary holy man.
The preacher abandoned his sermon. In a burst of rage he angrily tackled the middle-aged man with impressive strength for his size. Even though the man had nearly fifty pounds of muscle on him, he was caught so off guard by the preacher that he tumbled right onto the hard pavement to the gasps of many onlookers. With plenty still watching, the preacher unleashed a furious assault of alternating punches to the man’s face.
“LIAR! INFIDEL! BLASPHEMER! YOU DON’T DESERVE SALVATION! YOU DESERVE DAMNATION!”
It was a shocking sight and one that was attracting more attention by the minute. At this point Piotr, Bobby, and Remy realized they could no longer afford to stand and listen. What started as a pleasant surprise had now turned into a dangerous situation.
“I take back what I said about this being overdue!” groaned Bobby.
“Remy takes back what he said about this guy bein’ alright,” added Remy.
“We can take back our sentiment later! We must stop this!” said Piotr.
Using his size and strength, the Russian mutant plowed through the growing crowd with Remy and Bobby following close behind. Along the way some were cheering the preacher on. Others were terrified at such a violent outburst. Some were trying to force him off his victim, but the man kept fighting. Whether through divine inspiration or madness, he attacked anybody who dared to stop him.
“COME ON! YOU WISH TEST THE STRENGTH MY SOUL?! I WILL FIGHT THIS WHOLE CITY IF I HAVE TO!”
The man he was attacking had long since been knocked out, his face bloodied with significant wounds. Others were trying to get into the act as well. The preacher looked determined to carry out his menacing words. Someone managed to grab him by the neck just as Piotr arrived. Shifting into his metal form, the Russian mutant quickly forced the people away from the preacher and pulled the man away from his victim.
“That’s enough!” proclaimed Piotr.
“Everybody back up!” yelled Remy.
The Cajun mutant took out a few cards, charged them, and threw them up in the air so that they gave off a light explosion. It wasn’t too much a spectacle, but it did get nearly everyone to back off. It also gave them room to clear up this unusual incident. While they pulled the preacher back onto the sidewalk, Bobby looked over the injured man. It didn’t look too serious, but he was definitely going to need a trip to the emergency room. The three X-men soon regained control of the situation. Then they noticed the expression on the preacher’s face change to a new extreme.
“Oh heavenly father…” he gasped.
In an instant he went from rage to exhuberance. When he looked at Remy and Piotr his legs buckled. Piotr lost his grip on the man and he fell to his knees almost as if he was praying.
“It…it’s you! It’s really you!” the man cried, “Am I, Isaac, really in the presence of the blessed ones?”
“Easy there, homme. You be having enough fire and brimstone for one day,” said Remy.
“Please…oh please forgive me! I was just trying to…I thought…oh Lord, I’m not worthy!”
In another unexpected outburst, the preacher who called himself Isaac shot up and ran past the two X-men at speeds that were every bit as surprising as his earlier actions.
“Hey wait!” yelled Bobby, who had been looking over the wounded man.
But before Bobby or his two fellow X-men could chase him, Isaac disappeared into the crowd. He didn’t have to go far to disappear from sight. Piotr and Remy met up with Bobby and tried to scope him out, but they soon lost him. The mysterious preacher was gone and they still had a wounded man in need of medical attention.
“Whoa…should we go after him?” asked Bobby.
“After the fireworks this fella shot off?” scoffed Remy, “Don’t think that would go over well in broad daylight in a city armed with a million cell phone cameras.”
“We should probably stick around and help clean this up. I’m sure the Professor would appreciate us sparing him the work,” said Piotr.
“Definitely!” affirmed Bobby, “I bet he would also appreciate an explanation. Seriously, what the hell did we just see?”
It was a question none of them were equipped to answer. This was one of those scenarios the Danger Room never prepared them for. This could very well be an isolated anomaly, but in their line of work that was rarely the case. There were some strange and potentially groundbreaking forces at work and the X-men were sure to have a hell of a time figuring this one out.
Shaw Industries – Executive Office
“Business through power…power through order…order through strength.”
The motto of Shaw Industries helped it covertly dominate the business world for the better part of five decades. Since Jacob Shaw, father of Sebastian Shaw and grandfather of Shanobi Shaw, established this enterprise all those years ago, it had grown into something that embodied that motto. They towered over the weak, the chaotic, and the incompetent.
It was the organization that Shanobi Shaw had been groomed since birth to inherit. He worked tirelessly to live up to his father’s lofty standards, but it had been an uphill battle for him. He an illegitimate offspring that his father sired when he was engaged to another woman. Not only did this break off his engagement, his biological mother died during childbirth. That’s what his father told him, but he wouldn’t be surprised if there were more devious details involved. Even if that was the case, it didn’t change his ambition. If his father wanted to make following in his footsteps a challenge, then Shanobi was more than willing to confront it.
“Mr. Shaw, sir. Your 12-o-clock has arrived.”
The intercom linking to his father’s desk was a constant annoyance now that he was running the company. The young man set aside his current task related to a few mundane billion-dollar deals before answering.
“Send him in,” he said after pressing the button.
Shanobi’s rose up from his father’s chair to meet his associate. It still felt bittersweet, being in this great position of power. He only had these responsibilities because his father was still in a coma courtesy of those pestilent X-men. Since the ill-fated ceremony involving the Phoenix Force, his father had undergone numerous treatments. All the doctors gave him the same story. It was unlikely that his father would ever wake up. If that were the case, then Shanobi would never prove himself to his father and that was something he could not accept.
There was still an opportunity to show he had what it took to be worthy of his heritage. In his father’s absence, a pressing new challenge had emerged that even his father would have had struggled to address. If Shanobi could take this challenge and turn it into another strength, then his father would have no choice but to recognize his efforts. His plans were already underway. When the doors to his opulent office opened, one of his main partners in this affair entered.
“You’re a little late, Warhawk,” greeted Shanobi in a harsh tone that would have made his father proud.
“You can’t even manage a simple hello to your most loyal associate?” said Warhawk dryly.
“Given what I pay you, I’d say I have every right to do so,” retorted Shanobi, “Now can we dispense with the pleasantries and get to your report?”
“You’re not going to ask if I had any difficulties, did you?”
“Since you can’t seem to wipe that snide grin off your face, I’m assuming there were none. Now are you going to tell me or must I utilize some of my father’s more questionable tactics?”
Warhawk scoffed. This spoiled brat may try to carry himself like his father, but he was a poor imitation of Sebastian Shaw. At least with him, there was never any question about who was tougher. Shanobi assumed respect while his father earned it.
Sebastian Shaw earned Warhawk’s respect decades ago when he was a skilled operative in Vietnam. His job put him in a lot of danger and when that danger caught up to him, Shaw was there to pull him out. In the later days of the war, his skills weren’t enough to avoid serious wounds from heavy mortar fire. The only reason he survived was because of some latent mutation that changed the density of his skin in a way that allowed him to take the punishment. His father had the same ability, which helped him become a skilled assassin. Warhawk still wanted that role and Sebastian Shaw came along to help him get it. With the help of some advanced mutant research, his power was expanded. It gave him the strength to carry out various tasks for Shaw as a mercenary. Now he was doing the same for Shanobi.
“This little stunt of yours is working so far,” reported Warhawk, “I just returned from Colorado Springs where our old friend, Graydon Creed, is being held.”
“What’s his status?” asked Shanobi.
“As well as can be expected for a mutant-hating zealot that isn’t used to solitary confinement,” he replied, “Why you insist on having Wraith break him out is beyond me. Then again, I’m not the one signing the checks.”
“You don’t need to know the reasons. Assume for the time being that Wraith owes for providing him the resources he needs for another one of his twisted science experiments. I could care less what it involves. What matters to me is how he returns the favor.”
“Well he isn’t in a position to return anything from what I saw,” said Warhawk, “This place is locked up pretty tight. It’s underground, it’s well-shielded, and it’s got enough armed guards to occupy Hanoi. They don’t want Creed calling one of his friends or conjuring some old family connections so they’re keeping him locked up in the same place they keep other degenerates like that Juggernaut.”
“I know their reasons for keeping Creed at bay. While I doubt he would ever thank us for his release, he’ll still end up benefiting us once he’s free. To do that, I need to ensure that Wraith’s people have access to NORAD computer networks.”
“No worries there,” assured Warhawk, “I bribed those guys you told me about. They were pretty desperate to pay off their loan sharks for gambling on their down time. I didn’t even have to threaten them to install those hardware bugs into the network.”
“I’m sure you’re thrilled,” said Shanobi dryly.
“I even had that Ramsey kid test them. He says they’re good to go! Although the kid looked like he was ready to snap his own neck.”
“Don’t worry about our little Cypher. He’ll do as he’s told. He damn well better.”
With this news, Shanobi returned to his desk and did a quick test of his own. His laptop was already wired into the uplinks that Warhawk had placed at NORAD. So far this wasn’t nearly as messy as he expected it to be. Working with John Wraith almost always got ugly at some point. That’s why he kept him at arms length. His ambition would be Shanobi’s salvation.
After some moderate typing on the computer, Shanobi verified that the uplink to the networks was live. It was still heavily encrypted and surrounded by firewalls that had to be breached. That was not his expertise. That was where Doug Ramsey would play his role. His circumstances were different from Warhawk, but if he knew what was good for him he would deliver.
“Excellent,” he said upon completing the test, “It looks like we’re ready. Now all we let our old friend, John Wraith, do the work for us.”
“That mean you’re not sending me to help out?” asked Warhawk.
“Heavens no,” scoffed Shanobi, “I could care less if Wraith succeeds. In fact, his failure may actually benefit us in the long run. All I care about is having his people infiltrate the defense networks. That way my people have a way in.”
“Do I even want to know what you’ll do with that access?”
“That would fall under the category of Shaw Enterprise Business interests, which I know you find horribly boring.”
“Whatever,” said Warhawk rolling his eyes.
The skilled mercenary didn’t bother probing deeper. He never cared for the logistics of Shaw’s plan. All he knew is that whatever he did on these missions, they somehow benefited Shaw Industries. That was good for him because that means the checks he got wouldn’t bounce.
“There is one other detail I came across while I was there,” said Warhawk, “I’m guessing you already know, but I figure I’ll bring it up anyways.”
“Go ahead, Warhawk. It’s not like my time isn’t valuable or anything,” said Shanobi dryly as he closed his laptop and reached for a bottle of wine.
“It’s the psychic defense issue,” he explained, “If I were to do this mission five years ago, then I would have just broken in and placed those uplinks myself. But ever since Magneto and the X-men came onto the scene, everyone with something to hide has invested a shit ton of resources into psychic defense. I’m not sure what Wraith has in mind, but if he overlooks this little detail they’ll have the entire MSA on their asses.”
“Yes, psychic defense are all the rage these days,” said Shaw as he calmly poured himself a glass of wine, “Fortunately for Wraith, I have a proverbial wild-card to ensure this operation can progress despite how horribly undermanned those Purifier thugs are.”
“Is this another one of those details you’re not going to share with me?” said Warhawk.
“For you? Someone who is such a dear friend to this company and my father? Of course not!” he said with an ominous grin.
With a nice glass in hand, Shanobi tossed the bottle to Warhawk. He instinctively caught it while the younger Shaw retrieved a small remote control from his pocket and pointed it towards the wall to his right. After a few quick commands, a hidden door was opened. Warhawk had seen plenty of hidden surprises in Shaw’s dwellings, but this was new to him. He took a quick drink from the bottle and followed Shanobi through the opening where he encountered an unexpected yet visually appealing sight.
“Damn…” said Warhawk with a wry grin.
“I know,” said Shanobi as he took a sip of his wine, “My father always had a thing for blonds. Sometimes he couldn’t resist mixing his work with his play.”
That was as accurate an assessment as anyone could make about Sebastian Shaw. Within the opening were two special gurneys. On them lay two similar-looking figures. They appeared to be young teenage girls with blond hair and a fairly well-developed frame. They were naked except for some special restraints covering around their waist, chest, arms, and feet. Their heads were also covered by a couple of elaborate helmets with a maze of wires running out of the top. These wires ran into a series of high-tech computers that were built around the small room. The function of these machines was hard to determine for anyone not versed in electronics. Whatever they were doing, they kept the two girls completely docile.
“So what’s the story? They you’re daddy’s jailbait or something?” joked Warhawk.
“That’s a bit complicated to explain. The story of their origins is quite an ordeal to say the least, but where they come from isn’t nearly as fascinating as what they can do,” said Shanobi.
“For a couple of blonds, that sounds pretty sexy.”
“Don’t get any ideas, Warhawk,” said Shanobi in a deathly serious tone, “Their names are Sophie and Esme. They are the telepathic equivalent of an atom bomb. They are how we’re going to deal with NORAD’s psychic defenses. They are also how we’re going to ensure that no matter which side loses, the Shaw legacy will still win.”
Xavier Institute Dormitories – Scott and Jean’s Room
“The Stepford Cuckoos,” said Jean as she looked at the small picture, “Why would they call themselves that?”
“It’s not a name I chose, that’s for sure,” said Emma distantly, “That’s the label they were given when they were born.”
“By Shaw?” said Scott, who was sitting next to Jean on the foot of their bed.
“Who else could be as unimaginative as he is cruel? You already know the long list of ways he hurt me before I joined the X-men. This is just the latest and it was enough to give him the leverage I worked so hard to deny him.”
Scott and Jean were speechless. Emma Frost had a long history of secrets. She often reserved some parts of her life, even from those she cared about. This was a secret that finally explained some long-standing questions that had been lingering since she left the X-men. Even with her troubled past, this was pretty extreme.
Emma Frost’s past had come back to haunt her in a profound way. The man she once knew as the Black King conditioned her in many devious ways with the intent of making her his queen. When she broke away from him, he was not inclined to let her go. So even while she rebuilt her life with the X-men, the man who revealed himself to be Sebastian Shaw found yet another way to hurt her.
It was creative to say the least. He actually went so far as to make partial clones of Emma and artificially aged them into adolescence. They were essentially her daughters. As such, they had a great deal in common with her. And it was these beautiful girls who had been created out of an act of perverse greed that drove Emma Frost to betray her closest friends.
“So these girls of yours…Shaw created them from your eggs?” said Jean, choosing her words carefully.
“He did more than that, I’m afraid. When it comes to tormenting people, Sebastian Shaw never does anything half-way,” said Emma, who was facing away so they wouldn’t see the pained look in her eyes, “Before I even started dancing at the Hellfire Club, he pulled a sneaky little trick on me when I was going through the extensive plastic surgery he paid for.”
“What kind of trick?” asked Scott intently.
“The kind made all those birth control talks we had while we were dating a complete waste of time,” she said angrily.
“What do you mean?” asked Jean, who put the picture of the Cuckoos down to listen.
“I mean the bastard took all my eggs!” she spat, turning around to reveal that she had tears of anguish and anger in her eyes, “During my surgery, the doctors conveniently forgot to tell me that they extracted every egg in my ovaries at Shaw’s request. They essentially stripped me of my ability to have children. The only chance I would ever get is through Shaw!”
“So…that’s the leverage he had over you? That’s why you betrayed us?” surmised Jean, now more disgusted with Shaw than before.
“It’s worse than that…a lot worse,” she said ominously.
Emma fought off more tears. She was too proud to get this emotional. Scott tried to comfort her, but she wouldn’t allow it. She didn’t deserve his comfort. After what she did to him and the X-men, she didn’t deserve any sympathy whatsoever. Yet that was exactly why she was here. She needed them to understand her toil.
“The tragedy of this whole bloody mess is that it worked so damn well,” said Emma in a somewhat calmer tone, “I never knew what Shaw did. Far as I was concerned, I was just working my way up into the Inner Circle hierarchy. I’m sure you recall my work as a stripper and high-end escort to the wealthy and privileged.”
“Yeah, we uh…don’t need to hear the details on that again,” said Scott awkwardly, having heard plenty of details from having dated her.
“And while all that was going on, Shaw and his team of overpaid, ethically bankrupt scientists put my eggs to work. They had been working on this cloning program for the past two decades and had refined some special process that develops mutant abilities at an accelerated rate. That way the specimen as they call it doesn’t have to go through the trouble of growing up and developing it on their own.”
“I take it this is what they did to your girls,” surmised Jean.
“That was the whole bloody point of the Stepford Cuckoos Project!” she said with more outrage as she recalled the grim details, “My telepathy made my genetics highly desirable. Shaw wanted a high level telepath on his side and if he couldn’t have me as his queen, he would settle for the next best thing. That involved tampering with my eggs, getting all the right genetics in place, and creating his own little army of psychics that also happened to be attractive blonds.”
“That sounds sick and perverted on a supremely ridiculous level,” said Jean.
“It’s Sebastian Shaw. If he’s not doing something diabolical with his vast resources, then he’s not trying very hard,” grumbled Emma, “No one can fault the man for his persistence. He kept pursuing this little project of his even after I blew him off and joined the X-men.”
“So at this point you still didn’t know?” asked Scott.
“Didn’t have a clue,” she affirmed, “Far as I was concerned, I was a free, healthy, fertile woman looking to rebuild her life. But Shaw never had any intention of letting me walk away from the Inner Circle without paying a price. During those years he developed those girls, accelerating their growth and nurturing their telepathy. Don’t ask how they did things like give them personalities, fill in years of lost youth, or teach them how to use their powers. Whatever they did, those girls were being turned into one part machine and two parts Shaw’s personal play things.”
It struck Emma on a profoundly personal level. Scott and Jean had never seen her look so vulnerable. She was always so good at not letting anyone or anything get under her skin. To see her so worked up was unusual and very distressing.
Scott, being one of the few who knew her on a deeper level, offered his consolation. This time she accepted it. She needed it even if she didn’t deserve it. He could tell there was more. It was starting to make sense now, going back to her departure from the X-men and the end of their relationship. There were just a few more pieces that hadn’t fallen into place.
“So how did this drive you away from the X-men? And me for that matter?” asked Scott.
“No need to give me that puppy-dog look, darling. I’ve no reason to hide it from you anymore,” sighed Emma in a calmer tone, “It happened shortly before we broke up. Shaw finally worked up the nerve to come after me. He wasn’t very tactful about it either. He called me at two in the morning saying he wanted to speak with me.”
“Please tell me you told him off,” said the X-leader strongly.
“In ways that would get me fined several times by the FCC,” she affirmed, “But Shaw threw in a wildcard. He told me to get my ovaries checked. At first I thought it was just another one of his annoying sexual advances. Then he asked me if I wanted to become a mother one day. It was then I got a sinking feeling like I just ate one of Warren’s famous Mexican dinners.”
“That bad, huh?” said Jean, who looked back at the picture.
“Bad enough to make me actually listen to that sadistic bastard,” grunted Emma, “He even gave me an unlisted number to call as soon as I got the results. I’m sure you remember this day, Scott. It was that day I said I had a personal affair that you couldn’t help me with.”
Scott tensed at the recollection of this unpleasant moment in his romantic history. It took place at a time when his feelings for Jean were growing while he still loved Emma enough to try and salvage their relationship. It was a tumultuous period that he spent years struggling to understand. Now it was finally making sense, albeit in a very distressing way.
“I thought you were mad at me. I thought I did something wrong and you were going over the necessary steps to break up with me,” said Scott in a strained tone.
“Oh come now, Scott. You know I’ve never been able to stay mad at you, no matter how much you tempted me,” said Emma as she turned to face her former lover, “The truth is I spent that day at a private OBGYN who I knew from my Hellfire Club days. She agreed, thanks to an extra cash incentive of course, to give me a quick check-up. By the end of the day I had the results. I was barren. Every one of my eggs was gone. I wish I could telepathically broadcast how patently outraged I was at that moment, but I’ll spare you the torment.”
“We get it. You don’t need to go into any further details,” assured Jean.
“Good, because I did enough damage to myself afterward,” groaned Emma, “I called up Shaw and agreed to meet with him. He had the gall to actually have me meet him at a fancy restaurant where he once took me out on a date. I cornered him and demanded to know what he did to me. The son-of-a-bitch wouldn’t stop smiling when he told me all the graphic details. I was ready to end him where he stood. That’s when he showed me pictures of my girls.”
“So that’s how he played you. He had your daughters under his control and could do whatever he wanted with them if you didn’t dance to his tone,” Jean summarized, not hiding her disgust of such a tactic.
“You’re a smart woman, Jean. Even if you can only stand to be somewhat sympathetic to your lovers ex,” replied Emma, “It’s true. This was Shaw’s way of getting back at me. He said that these girls were his little telepathic tools and he could easily have them tormented, abused, or damaged in any way he saw fit. He claimed he was willing to give them the benefit of knowing their mother. I honestly didn’t believe for a second that he meant it. But for the sake of saving the last piece of my own flesh and blood, I had to listen to him.”
“And that’s why you left the team. Shaw demanded it,” Scott surmised.
“Among other things,” she sighed, “You know what happened next. You and I broke up. I told the X-men I was leaving. And I moved to New York City to start my own hedge fund. Nearly all of it was under Shaw’s direction. He wanted me out of the X-men so I couldn’t turn to you for help. If I reached out to you or anybody for that matter, my girls would suffer. It was his way of punishing me. The only way I was going to live was on my own, wallowing in self-pity. I didn’t know what to do so I tried to make the most of it. I made as much money as I could and tried to buy myself out of misery.”
“I won’t bother asking how that worked out,” said Jean, rolling her eyes.
“You have as much appreciation for Gucci purses as I do, Jean. Don’t tell me you wouldn’t have done the same,” said Emma in a coarse tone, “That’s the life I lived after the X-men. I had to live every day knowing I was living with Sebastian Shaw’s sick shadow always looming nearby. He kept those girls in his possession as leverage all that time, only sending me pictures and videos to keep me in line. He was saving it for when he needed my help. That time came with the Phoenix affair. You both know how that ended so I’d rather not get into it.”
Emma pulled away again and retrieved the picture from Jean. The truth had finally come out. There was nothing left for her to reveal in terms of secrets and lies. The onus was now on Scott and Jean to process it all.
Thinking back to the Phoenix affair, Scott and Jean had plenty of reasons to hold a grudge against Emma. She was supposed to be their friend. In Scott’s case, she was someone he genuinely loved for a time. Her betrayal hit them pretty hard. Now that they had an explanation, there were a lot of mixed feelings between them. This revelation about Shaw and the Cuckoos didn’t completely absolve her, but it did offer some painful insight into her actions.
Whatever happened in the past could not be changed. Everything had been neatly laid out for them. The next move was theirs. For a moment, the two lovers stared at each other. They didn’t even need to exchange thoughts. The look in their eyes revealed that they were already on the same page.
“What do you want from us, Emma?” asked Jean as she approached the distant blond, “You barge into the mansion unannounced, sneak into our bedroom, and drop all this on us. There is a reason for it, isn’t there? I know you didn’t just come to ask for forgiveness.”
“That’s assuming I want and deserve it,” retorted Emma, “Trust me, I’m a long ways way from forgiveness. I can tell from your thoughts that you’re still pissed at me.”
“Emma don’t,” said Scott with more sincerity in his tone.
“That’s a debate for another day, darling. You of all people should know I usually have an ulterior motive. This is no different.”
“Hopefully, that means it’s not as devious either,” quipped Jean.
“Since I’m still feeling pretty lousy about myself, I’ll choose to ignore that,” said Emma with restrained resentment, “Me telling you about the Stepford Cuckoos were only minor reasons for this little visit. The bigger reason I’ve chosen this moment to confront you is because…I need your help.”
Scott and Jean were taken aback. They certainly weren’t expecting that. Emma seized upon their silence to show them the picture of the three girls that shared her blood. She held it up so it was right in front of their faces, grasping it with almost a desperate grip.
“These three girls you see here…there should be two more,” said Emma with more strain in her voice.
“Two more? You mean…” Jean began.
“Yes…Shaw still has two more of my girls,” she affirmed, “Shortly after the Inner Circle was defeated, I questioned the surviving members of the Inner Circle. I learned of the secret facility where Shaw was keeping them. I enlisted the help of a few old contacts to rescue them. But when I reached them, I only found these three. Out of all the eggs Shaw took from me, only five produced viable beings. He kept two more, Esme and Sophie.”
“Where? Do you know where he’s hiding them?” asked Scott with a sense of urgency.
“I discovered that very fact earlier today,” she revealed, “While Sebastian may be in a coma, his bastard son is keeping my girls in his corporate headquarters for his own sick ends. Since Shanobi likes to outdo his father in everything, including my ongoing torment, I have to get them out! But I can’t do that alone. I need help from the only two people I can trust.”
“Your ex-boyfriend and the woman who’s currently sleeping with him?” questioned Jean.
“It’s pathetic, I know. You can mock me later. As I speak Sophie and Esme are in Shanobi’s clutches. Mindee, Phoebe, and Celeste are back at my Academy of Tomorrow staying in psychic contact with them. They’re in pain because Sophie and Esme are in pain. And as their mother of sorts, I need to stop that pain! Now are you going to help me rescue them or not?”
Scott and Jean stared at the picture for a moment. Emma Frost was asking a lot of them. She was urging them shoulders to overlook her betrayal and help her in a time of great need. That was a lot to work through in such a short period of time.
Emma’s transgressions aside, this did not change the danger facing these unfortunate girls. The X-men had clashed with Shaw enough times to know that whatever he had planned, it was something that needed to be stopped. Scott and Jean were never one to hold much of a grudge anyways. The Professor always emphasized humility with his X-men, even with those that had wronged them. This was the deciding factor in their decision to help Emma Frost.
“I’ll go tell the Professor we’ll have to make up class over the weekend. I’ll also give Warren a call. He knows more about Shaw Industries than any of us,” said Jean, making only brief eye-contact with Emma before making her way out of the room.
“Did I miss the part where you two were polite enough to say yes?” said Emma with a half-grin.
“Did you really expect us to blow off a friend, lover, and former X-man?” said Scott with a friendly gesture, “Believe it or not, there are people who still care about you, Emma. We’re going to help you no matter how cynical you are.”
The tension finally eased within the powerful telepath. The warm comfort of Scott Summers was a welcome feeling. It reminded her of why she fell in love with him in the first place. It also reminded her that X-men were heroic in more than just deeds. Their capacity to forgive and assist those close to them was still unmatched.
“Follow me,” said Scott, taking her by the arm and leading her out of the room, “Let’s get your old uniform out of storage. As of this moment, you’re an X-man again.”
Colorado Springs – Secret Prison
“They’ll never stop coming. They’ll always be a threat to us. They’ll always be ready to strike us…ready to doom us. Humanity is becoming extinct.”
“Damn it, Creed! Will please you shut the hell up?!” exclaimed a disgruntled prison guard, “It’s bad enough I got assigned to guard you! Don’t make it worse with your mutant hating psycho-babble! Even Juggernaut wasn’t this much of a pain!”
This spiteful outburst was the closest thing to normal human interaction that Graydon Creed had anymore. His options being so limited, he had to take what he could get. Life in prison for someone convicted of domestic terrorism, fraud, and gross corporate misconduct was practically an inner circle of Hell.
It had been months since Graydon Creed was hauled away by police as a result of the District X fiasco. His sentinel project, which included the unfortunate mishap with Captain Sebastian Gilberti, turned him from a visionary to a monster. His ultimate weapon against mutants turned into a nightmare. Captain Gilberti became the half-machine, fully unstable persona known as Bastion. His attack on District X wasn’t seen as a stand against the mutant threat. It was seen as an attack on innocent civilians that caused wide-spread property damage. Instead of being the saviors of humanity, he and his Friends of Humanity were seen as common terrorists.
It was a mortal blow made all the more difficult by Worthington Industries betrayal. Before he could even try to cover his tracks, Warren Jr. and that brat of his blew the lid on the whole operation. Such revelations not only turned the public against him, it provided more than enough evidence for a federal judge to indict him on domestic terror charges. That was a serious charge that landed him in highly secure, highly secretive prison meant for what were officially designated as special case inmates. Lobbyists from Worthington Industries probably didn’t help his case either. Even with his family fortune, he was a broken man with little hope of accomplishing his vision for humanity.
“Do you believe in destiny?” Graydon found himself asking the guard outside his cell.
“Creed, you’re making me seriously reconsider the limits imposed on me by the Geneva Convention,” said the disgruntled guard.
“Perhaps I should phrase it another way. Do you believe in duty?” he asked, ignoring the attitude he was getting, “I assume you have some sense of duty. You wear that uniform so proudly. You should. You’re serving your country and your fellow man.”
“Thirty seconds, Creed. That’s how much longer I’m going to tolerate your bullshit,” said the guard.
“I ask because all men have a capacity for duty. Far fewer have an inclination. For years, my only duty was to protect the human race. I had the tools, the money, and the motivation to do more than your average citizen. I ask you as a man of duty, is it such a crime to merely do what you feel destiny has beckoned?”
The guard was silent. He was facing away from the cell so Creed couldn’t tell if his words had any impact. Judging by his demeanor, he definitely struck a chord.
That was the only vindication Graydon needed. His life was now confined to this sterile, ten by twelve foot cell. There were no traditional windows with bars. Instead, there was a barrier of bulletproof glass with small air-holes that kept him from the outside world. Every day he woke up on a small bed with a small toilet and sink across from him. It was a cell that was horribly unfit for a defender of the human species.
“Lunch time, Creed,” said the guard, finally breaking his silence.
Gradyon smirked at the guard’s flat tone. Even in a prison cell, he could get under the skin of those who stood against him. He knew the world was still fearful of mutants. He heard mumblings of President Kelly’s election, the Cambrian affair, the Mutant Security Agency, and Magneto’s disappearance. There seemed to be a place for a man like him. If only he were still a visionary and not accused terrorists, he could fill that role.
A series of horns sounded around the cell, indicating that the lunch compartment was about to be opened. Since Creed was deemed too dangerous to dine with other inmates, they had to be delivered through a special slot in the side of the cell. The guards watched his every move and that of the one delivering the food, which usually consisted of a small tray of moderate staples. Nothing seemed out of the ordinary. However, the guard did not seem to recognize the uniformed figure delivering the food.
“You new here or something?” the guard asked as he checked the tray.
“Filling in for Stan. That truck of his broke down again,” said the figure, who seemed a bit young for a job in this area.
“Damn it, I warned him about that thing! I don’t care if it’s a classic. If it runs like shit it ain’t that classy,” sighed the guard.
“Mind if we hurry this up? I’m pulling double duty in the meantime.”
“Yeah sure,” the guard shrugged, “Figure Stan owes us both anyways. Just drop it in the bin and don’t make too much eye contact. Creed is in another one of his moods.”
The figure nodded casually and slipped the tray into the slot. He then pushed a small buzzer to indicate it was safe to close the compartment. Once confirmed, the compartment opened up on Creed’s side and his meal was presented to him.
However, before the figure left, he ignored that small bit of advice the guard gave him. For a brief moment, he gazed towards Graydon Creed through the glass in his cell. In that tiny window of time, he gave the man an ominous grin. When Creed saw this he was confused. Most everyone who came his way never looked at him, let alone grinned. It sparked his curiosity in a way it hadn’t been in quite some time.
“Eat up, Creed. At least with food in your mouth, you can’t spew your bullshit,” said the guard.
“Salisbury stake and cream corn,” scoffed Creed, “Like that will silence a hardened soul.”
With more intrigue than usual, Graydon retrieved the tray and sat down on his bed. He made sure he was facing away from the guard. There was no real reason for it. He was just listening to his instincts at this point. For a moment he just stared at his tray as if there was some secret to this bland excuse for a meal. Nothing seemed too extraordinary, but that grin from the figure indicated there had to be something amiss.
Creed found himself taking the biscuit that was included with the meal. It looked no different than usual. So in his curiosity, he bit into it. As soon as he did, he found something. There was something baked right into the food. Carefully and without drawing too much attention from the guard, Creed opened the biscuit to retrieve what appeared to be a small slip of folded paper. He eagerly opened it up to find that it had a message printed on it.
“Sometimes a nightmare is worst just before you wake up. Eat up, relax, and take a nice nap Mr. Creed. This time you may end up in a much nicer place.
PS: You may want to dispose of this note along with your biscuit if you wish to sleep soundly.”
It was the first time in many months that Graydon Creed smiled. He proceeded to eat the rest of his meal, carrying on as if nothing was amiss. Being in a prison cell usually gave little reason to be excited. But now he had reason to believe that he may yet fulfill his duty to the human race.
Next Issue: Prison Break
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