The X-men have dedicated their lives to protecting a world that hates and fears them. Using their extraordinary powers, they fight for peace and understanding between humans and mutants. Recently, they’ve had to carry on this fight without their mentor, Professor Charles Xavier. This comes at a time when the Mutant Liberation Front, Genosha, and the US government are on a dangerous collision course.
It began when the Mutant Liberation Front attacked major infrastructure centers all over the world. One of the most vital targets was a data vault in Switzerland. By destroying this facility, humanity was left more vulnerable than ever. It prompted the governments of the world to become more aggressive at policing mutants. It has caused a rift that has been felt from the shores of Genosha to the streets of District X. After a much publicized incident with Mojovision, tensions have reached a tipping point.
Each side is preparing to make their move. Wanda Maximoff has ordered a bold new project on Genosha using Warlock technology. President Kelly has abandoned the advice of General Grimshaw and followed the plan of Henry Peter Gyrich. It’s only a matter of time before conflict erupts and each side is making sure they’ll come out on top.
Langley, Virginia – CIA Headquarters
Being President of the United States meant being under constant pressure. Robert Kelly used to pride himself on thriving under pressure, but that pride turned into a burden after the Mutant Liberation Front entered the picture. Now he was in a state of desperation. The pressure was getting to him and he needed help. General Grimshaw couldn’t provide it and neither could the X-men. So he turned to Henry Peter Gyrich.
This led him to the newly constructed GRSO base. Gyrich had been building it since the Legacy Virus incident. It wasn’t until recently that President Kelly agreed to fund Gyrich’s plan. He promised to be a lot more proactive than General Grimshaw. However, Gyrich was an unproven ally who lacked General Grimshaw’s charisma and track record.
“Welcome to the official home of the Genetic Response Special Operations unit, Mr. President. Or GRSO if you prefer to save your breath,” said Gyrich as he lead him through the final security checkpoint, “This humble operation has been in the works for a number of years now. I started it with the intention of creating a task force that would be to mutants what Seal Team Six is to terrorists. Your generous support has allowed us to move ahead of schedule with our plans.”
“There’s nothing generous about it, Mr. Gyrich. I’ve never been a fan of the CIA’s bloviating. I’m here because you promised results,” said President Kelly.
“And I intend to keep that promise,” said Gyrich, “I wouldn’t have invited you for a visit if I didn’t think we weren’t ready for primetime.”
“Then let’s skip the tour and get to the part where you tell me how you’ll destroy the Mutant Liberation Front.”
President Kelly walked at a quicker pace. Gyrich had to catch up while adjusting his schedule accordingly. The President wanted to get down to business. That was perfectly fine with him. He was more than ready to take the next step with GRSO.
This special headquarters was pretty advanced for a new division. The facility was attached to the north side of the Langley facility. From the outside it looked like a typical office building, but the bulk of the base was underground. Gyrich led President Kelly into a special elevators that went five stories underground to reveal a much larger complex. It was the size of a football stadium and had a series of floors that surrounded a central area like bleachers. Each floor had a wide array of research labs, computer stations, and offices. All were dedicated to the singular purpose of combating mutants.
Everything felt clean and modern. However, President Kelly wasn’t interested in admiring the construction. He walked across one of the rafters overlooking the central area where GRSO soldiers were engaged in a little target practice with their advanced weapons. They used mock-ups of Toad, Stryfe, and the rest of the Mutant Liberation Front. They all seemed eager to get their shot at these mutant outlaws. That’s why the President went right for the central conference room where Gyrich’s people were waiting.
“I notice you’ve surrounded yourself with CIA-friendly operatives and out-of-work Special Forces,” commented the President as they neared the conference room, “I don’t want to jump to any conclusions, but you seem to be going to great lengths to keep the rest of the Pentagon out of the loop.”
“Don’t take it personally, sir. I just don’t trust a lot of people in the Department of Defense,” said Gyrich, “I haven’t since the last President surrendered an entire nation to mutant rebels.”
“I’m not a fan of that decision either, but I understand that Genosha was your baby. You didn’t like seeing Hodge deposed, even after the world learned of his atrocities. I hope you’re not making this too personal, Mr. Gyrich.”
“There’s nothing personal about it. I’m just a man trying to do my job,” he said, “Our operations have nothing to do with Genosha. The focus is and always has been the greater threat posed by the mutant race. My people have been working overtime to contain that threat and all that hard work is about to bear fruit.”
Once they entered the room, two CIA guards quickly closed the doors and locked them. Gyrich pulled out a seat at the head of the conference table for the President so he could sit down. With him were six high ranking officials from the CIA. President Kelly only recognized a few. Gyrich remained standing as he walked to the back of the room.
“Mr. President, the men you see before you are the same men that I’ve been working with for the past eight years,” said Gyrich, “They’ve taken part in some of our most sensitive mutant-related missions ever conducted by any government. They helped me piece together a very special project that we’ve been working on for the past few months.”
“What kind of project are we talking about here?” asked President Kelly, “I have a big problem with being kept in the dark. I’m only trusting you because my options are limited.”
“They won’t be for much longer, sir,” assured Gyrich, “To explain what we’ve been doing, I’ll let the founder of the GRSO unit take over. General William Kincaid, you have the floor.”
The President was a bit surprised to hear that name. He looked to the other end of the table and saw a man in an officer’s uniform stand up. He looked older than General Grimshaw and a lot less decorated. He also had a name that anyone who survived the Genosha invasion would recognize.
“William Kincaid? As in…” began the President.
“Yes, sir. As in the same name as Jonathan Kincaid, the American who defected to Genosha 20 years ago and became one of Cameron Hodge’s goons. He also happened to be my little brother. Is that going to be an issue?” asked the General.
“That depends. How personal did you take it when we labeled Hodge’s regime criminal?”
“Let’s just say Jonathan was the black sheep of the family. We had a falling out and I didn’t hear his name until he ended up dead. I’ve had my loyalty questioned on more than one occasion, but I’m still in a uniform. That should tell you where my loyalties lie.”
“I can vouch for the General’s credentials and not just because he passed every polygraph test,” added Henry Gyrich, “Were it not for him, none of this would be possible.”
“I’m still not sure that’s a good thing,” said President Kelly.
“You gave General Grimshaw’s methods a chance. All I’m asking is that you give our way a chance. I’m confident the results will speak for themselves.”
Robert Kelly still remembered the impact left by Johnathan Kincaid. Having once been a major spokesman for Cameron Hodge, the he actually met with him the John Kincaid personally a number of times. He wasn’t the most articulate man he ever spoke with. His older brother seemed to share some of those traits, but he carried himself differently. For that reason, he maintained his share of skepticism as Kincaid and Gyrich booted up a projector and began their presentation.
“As you can see, the GRSO unit has been equipped with the latest in mutant suppressing technology,” said General Kincaid as he showed off a few schematics, “Every operative utilizes a high-tech battle-suit. It’s flame resistant, cold resistant, and most importantly in our current political climate…it’s resistant to psychics.”
“Even psychics like Charles Xavier?” questioned President Kelly.
“Especially psychics like Charles Xavier,” the General replied, “To go along with such a formidable defense, each soldier’s primary weapon is a special pulsed energy rifle, capable of delivering high-intensity force to any target. It can be made to stun or kill. I can say from experience that they’re a lot more versatile than bullets.”
“If the technology seems familiar, it should be,” added Gyrich, “Much of it was taken from Genosha during the first occupation of the island.”
“So this is what you’ve been doing with it in your spare time? Why wasn’t it deployed earlier?” questioned the President.
“Like most tech from Genosha, this stuff is a few decades ahead of its time. It wasn’t until we got your recent seal of approval, and the money that came with it, that we worked out the kinks,” said General Kincaid, “The CIA has been conducting small-scale field tests, mostly involving petty cases that the MSA can’t be bothered with.”
Kincaid went through a series of slides, depicting high-resolution photos of GRSO’s activity. There was a shot of three operatives subduing a rowdy mutant in the desert. There was another of them fighting off a couple of mutant twins in some dingy basement. There was even an image of them arresting a mutant that was trying to meet up with the Mutant Liberation Front at one of their attack sites. It wasn’t the cleanest operation, but it was impressive.
“Not bad. Although the targets aren’t exactly high profile,” said President Kelly.
“It’s been a work-in-progress, but I’m confident in saying that they’re ready for the big time,” said Kincaid, “After the Mojovision debacle, someone’s gonna make a move. It could be Genosha. It could be the Mutant Liberation Front. It could be the X-men. Whoever strikes first, it’s sure to be messy.”
“That’s exactly why we feel the MSA isn’t equipped for this,” said Gyrich, “Let’s face facts, Mr. President. Grimshaw’s people are glorified police officers. To take on the Mutant Liberation Front, you need something with more punch.”
“I won’t argue that, but firepower doesn’t mean anything if we don’t know where to find these mutant miscreants,” said the President.
“That was before a few nights ago when my GRSO unit encountered this,” said Kincaid.
The General brought up another slide. It showed a few images of the GRSO attack in Florida where Wolverine was involved. There were a series of images showing the feral mutant fighting the unit. It turned into quite a mess, which never sat well with the President.
“X-men,” groaned the President, “And I was so close to making it through the day without a headache.”
“I share your sentiment for those costumed misfits,” said General Kincaid, “But in this case they may be our best lead. The incident you’re seeing wasn’t supposed to be a big deal. It involved some nameless mutant who was accused of helping the Mutant Liberation Front. As you probably know, over 80 percent of those accusations turn out to be bogus or pranks in horrible taste. However, the presence of an X-man means they could be onto something.”
“Could they have a lead on the Mutant Liberation Front?” asked President Kelly.
“We don’t know. But shortly after this encounter, we received a slew of new intelligence that may put us in a position to stop it,” said Gyrich, “That’s why we need your authorization to deploy GRSO in full force. We want to be there when someone fires the first shot.”
“That sounds rather risky, Mr. Gyrich. I’m all for a proactive approach, but I’m not sure a bunch of men in high tech uniforms will make a difference in this battle.”
“My thoughts exactly, Mr. President,” said General Kincaid with an ominous grin, “That’s why we’ve prepared a much bigger gun…one we’ve been saving for our first major operation.”
General Kincaid brought up a new slide. It depicted an image that left President Kelly stunned yet intrigued. Henry Gyrich had droned endlessly about the resources he was acquiring for this new approach. Now he actually brought some substance to the table. It was risky in that it could create an even messier situation. However, desperate times often required equally desperate measures.
“Is that what I think it is?” asked President Kelly.
“Indeed it is,” said Gyrich.
“But how did you…”
“I have a few friends that owed me a more than a few few favors,” said Kincaid, “Now before you make your decision, I think you should see some of the modifications we made. We’ve taken every precaution to make sure that any mutant we encounter won’t stand a chance!”
‘I see flashes…a lot of flashes. The sky is covered in lightening. It surrounds the whole planet. There’s another flash in the distance. It’s so bright it outshines the sun. Millions cry out in terror. Someone emerges triumphant from the ruins. I can’t tell who it is. There’s a fog surrounding everything. It will be either our finest hour or our ultimate defeat.’
The leaders of the Mutant Liberation Front listened intently. Ellie Phimister, or Negasonic Teenage Warhead as she preferred to be called, had been in a trance for the past hour. She had been meditating with Gateway to tap into her precognitive powers, which helped the Mutant Liberation Front to stay a step ahead of their enemies. Now as they prepared to carry out their boldest attack to date, they sought to ensure their triumph.
Toad was standing in front. Behind him stood Sauron, Stryfe, Callisto, Caliban, Vertigo, Arclight, Strobe, Reignfire, Kamikaze, and the Klienstocks. Behind them were the many subordinates that had joined the Mutant Liberation Front since they captured the world’s attention. Some were displaced mutants from the Legacy Virus. Some were former residents of District X. Some were disgruntled citizens of Genosha. They all placed their faith in Toad. He had a vision for their kind and they were finally close to realizing it.
“Tell us more, Ellie. Tell us we’re the ones standing over those ruins!” said Toad intently.
“I…I can’t,” said the young psychic, “There’s too much fog!”
“Fog, you say? You’ve never described that in your other visions,” said Stryfe.
“Cut me some slack, old man,” said Ellie, “That fog I mentioned is the psychic equivalent of static. That’s not a good thing when my powers are like a sifting through a million scrambled emails at once.”
“Should we be concerned?” asked Caliban, “If there is uncertainty in the future, could that mean our victory is not assured?”
“I would be disappointed if it was,” scoffed Arclight, “Where’s the fun in playing the game if you already know you’re going to win?”
“I like playing my games with cheat codes, but every now and then you’ve got to play a game on hard mode,” said Toad as he approached the meditating teenager, “Don’t go on straining yourself, girl. You’ve done enough.”
“Are you sure?” said Negasonic Teenage Warhead, “We usually don’t go on missions until my visions line up with the results we want. And for a mission like this, I want to make sure there’s a victory party to look forward to!”
“You’ve never done a vision for something this big before. We can’t expect it to be a walk through the swamp this time,” said Toad.
“Big or small, uncertainty means one of two thing,” said Stryfe with folded arms, “Either we’re not as prepared as we need to be or someone else is more prepared than us.”
“I hope you’re not suggesting that the humans or the X-men will get the jump on us,” said Callisto.
“Is that really such an unreasonable concern?”
Stryfe was never afraid to voice his discontent. It was a major source of frustration for Toad and the rest of the Mutant Liberation Front. However, Toad never reprimanded him. Despite his attitude, Stryfe often served as an important reminder. Other such as Magneto, Sinister, and Cameron Hodge had attempted something big in their own right. They often failed because they underestimated what they were up against. Toad was intent on avoiding those mistakes.
“Quit staring at Stryfe like he just ran over your foot, Callisto. He’s right. We can’t be overconfident,” said Toad, “We need to be careful, but we need to make damn sure we get the job done.”
“How do you propose we do that?” asked Strobe.
“I’ve already got some plans in the works,” said the amphibious mutant, “Vertigo, I expect you to convince that old friend of yours to cooperate with those plans.”
“We’re scheduled to meet before we launch the attack,” assured Vertigo, “Arclight and I will make sure my friend plays her part.”
“Remind me never to make friends with you,” commented Callisto.
“Go easy on her, Callisto. My old friends have done far worse,” said Sauron.
“You’ll get a chance to do them one better. You all will,” said Toad strongly, “I’ve been looking forward to this moment since I was stuck in Leavenworth. I can see everything down to the finest detail,”
“You’re speaking in that weird voice again, Toad. I hope you’ll maintain this vision of yours to the end,” said Reignfire.
“Others may be swayed by that charming yet unstable personality, but some of us prefer to be extra careful,” added Kamikaze, “Especially when that other personality of yours becomes dominant.”
“That other personality you speak of is what made all this possible,” said Toad as he gestured towards the rest of the Mutant Liberation Front, “Instability is the best weapon for imposing a new order. It’s as basic as any law of nature. When the established order breaks down, something else steps in to fill the void. We’re going to make sure that something is us! That’s why this time, everybody will be part of this mission!”
Toad summoned a few large jungle vines from some nearby trees so that they slithered around his arms and pulled him up into a tree. From here, he could address the rest of the Mutant Liberation Front. The rest of his team still had concerns, but they would soon be laid to rest along with the perverse order that was currently in place. The sliver of the Cambrian that gave him his new powers had guided him this far. He was ready to embrace his destiny.
“Attention, fellow liberators!” he said in a booming voice, quickly garnering everyone’s attention, “You’ve come from every part of the world and from every possible background. You’ve been promised a better future before. Guys like Magneto and Xavier throw around all this fancy talk about peace versus war. I say to hell with them both! We’re part of a new way! A better way! A way that’s built into the very fabric of nature itself! Today, we’re gonna do what guys like Magneto and Xavier always failed to do! We’re gonna set the world straight!”
“YEAH!” the crowd of eager mutants cheered, “SET IT STRAIGHT! SET IT STRAIGHT! SET IT STRAGHT!”
“That’s the spirit!” seethed Toad, “When the sun rises tomorrow, it’ll be a new world! A world where there isn’t just the natural order…it’s our order!”
The cheering continued. They were ready to wage the final battle. The Mutant Liberation Front was ready to carry out their leader’s vision. They bought into it. The time had come turn this twisted vision of nature and order into a new reality.
Stryfe remained a bit more reserved. Sauron, Callisto, Caliban, Vertigo, Arclight, Strobe, Reignfire, Kamikaze, and the Klienstocks didn’t cheer either. Negasonic Teenage Warhead and Gateway just kept looking up at Toad. Emotions were still mixed. Having been on the front lines for this vision, they knew how difficult imposing a new order could be.
“If you were hoping to voice more concerns, Stryfe, I think your window has passed,” said the Klienstocks.
“So it seems,” sighed Stryfe, “I guess we’ll see in due time which of us is vindicated.”
“You sound like you don’t want us to succeed,” said Callisto.
“Oh I would love it if Toad’s grandiose vision actually panned out,” he told her, “But let’s just say I won’t be too surprised if something goes horribly wrong.”
“Well I’d rather not share your pessimism,” said Vertigo, “I have a job to do and so does everyone else.”
“Agreed,” said Sauron as he turned around and made his way back towards the main compound, “While Toad is rallying the troops, we should pick up our final guest. Come Miss Negasonic, I know you’ve been looking forward to this part.”
“Right behind you, Sauron!” said Ellie with an ominous grin, “This time, I ride shotgun.”
“Oh that should be fun,” said the Klienstocks, “If it’s all the same to you guys, I’ll stick to the heavy lifting.”
“Go ahead,” said Reignfire dryly, “Wake me when we can start blowing things up again.”
Between the cheering crowds and the promise of a new order, the Mutant Liberation Front had plenty of work ahead of them. The only one who hesitated was Stryfe. He looked back towards the cheering mutants. Then he looked towards the others as they carried out their respective duties. They had every reason to be confident, but Ellie’s vision gave him more reasons to doubt.
‘You’re as bold as you are putrid, Toad. That much I’ll give you. But you champion the rules of nature and a big part of nature is war. I know better than most that no new order ever survived without winning the war first. And if you won’t fight that war, then someone else must.’
Xavier Institute – War Room
Scott Summers was still adjusting to his new role as Operations Commander. It was difficult to go from being a part-time student to a full-time X-man. But the hardest part of his new job was dealing with the authorities. He never seemed to make much progress with people who were always concerned about the next angry mutant that went on a rampage. Even the Professor struggled with these issues so what hope did he have?
Other roles came more easily though. Being in charge of the X-men’s field operations was a natural fit. He could now dedicate more time to learning from past missions and preparing for future conflicts. With the Mutant Liberation Front poised for another attack, he embraced this role in a way that would make the Professor proud.
“Bring up a wider map of the area, Mr. McCoy,” said Scott assertively, “I want a wider range of every route Jefferies has taken along with every possible detour.”
“I’m extrapolating the signal from Wolverine as we speak,” said Hank, who was sitting behind the War Room console, “And for future reference, you do not need to refer to me as your teacher anymore. As Operations Commander, I’m perfectly fine with you calling me Hank.”
“I’ll work on updating the student part of my brain later,” said the X-leader, “Right now we need to keep following this lead. If Logan is right, it could lead us right to the Mutant Liberation Front. It’s a big if though.”
“Yet you’re taking it so seriously. You haven’t even commented about Logan’s annoying tendency to run off on his own missions without telling us,” said Jean, who was leaning against the console next to Hank.
“I’m the Operations Commander. I can’t devote as much energy to belittling Logan as I used to,” said Scott.
“That wasn’t a complaint,” said Jean with a grin, “Being large and in charge has brought out all your strengths, Scott Summers. Dare I say, it’s been good for you!”
“I’m glad my girlfriend is so supportive. Too bad Wolverine doesn’t share the same sentiment,” said Scott, offering a slight grin in response, “I plan on having a talk with him later on that neither of us will enjoy. For now, his reckless bravado is leading us somewhere and we need to pursue it.”
It was a sign of the times when Scott Summers didn’t chastise Logan for his extracurricular activities. Jean Grey was still adjusting to it, but it was an adjustment she didn’t mind making.
Scott was getting the X-men back on track. After the Mojovision incident, it felt like they were a team again despite Professor Xavier’s absence. They still needed to prove themselves to a skeptical world and the best way to do that was to stop the Mutant Liberation Front.
This was where Logan’s unexpected lead came in. A few days ago he went off on what he claimed to be a casual bike ride, but it turned into a mission that spanned several days. He said he had a lead on the Mutant Liberation Front’s next attack. He wouldn’t say where it came from, but Scott gave him a chance to prove that this wasn’t another instance of him choosing his personal battles over the X-men’s mission.
After learning about Madison Jefferies and the suspiciously large target he had on his back, Scott focused the X-men’s resources on following this man. Logan stayed close on his trail, following him on a long trip around the southern United States.
“What’s the latest, Mr. Mc-I mean Hank?” said Scott, “What can you gather from the tracking data?”
“It would seem Mr. Jefferies is taking the scenic route,” said Hank as he printed out a fresh map analysis, “After his encounter with those mystery men in Florida, he’s being exceedingly careful. He’s avoiding all major highways and potential road blocks. It’s delaying his trip, thereby making it difficult to extrapolate his destination.”
“What about those men he encountered? Are they still pursing Jefferies?” asked Scott.
“It’s possible, but unlikely. I’ve detected no major search orders with local law enforcement. There isn’t a mention of the incident on the encrypted bandwidth either. Those men that called themselves GRSO soldiers are staying hidden…if they’re still involved.”
“That may be more likely than we think,” said Jean, “I did a number of scans with Cerebrum. I couldn’t find a single thought linked to this GRSO unit. I even looked over the scans from the night Logan encountered them. There’s no record of any stray minds in that area.”
“Which means they were either skilled psychics themselves or had advanced psychic dampening hardware,” said the X-leader.
“Not too many people have access to such resources,” Hank pointed out.
“My thoughts exactly,” said Scott, “That’s why I checked with the MSA as well. They’re just as confused as we are.”
“Do you think they could be keeping secrets from us?” Hank surmised.
“That was my first thought too, but I don’t think this is them,” he replied confidently, “Logan said they didn’t smell like the MSA. He also said their tactics were different. They were more trigger-happy and didn’t seem interested in protecting innocent civilians. I think we may be dealing with something else here…something that may be just as big a threat as the Mutant Liberation Front.”
“Are you sure of that?” questioned Hank, “Last I checked, our relations with the MSA had copious room for improvement.”
“I’m sure, Hank…as sure as I need to be.”
The three X-men watched the holographic display intently. Hank set it up so that they could see a three-dimensional map of the region where Jefferies was driving through. It was near the southern tip of the Mississippi/Louisiana boarder. He had been lingering in that area for a while, but remained on the move. The computer was still calculating possible destinations when an emergency a transmission came in.
“We’re getting an incoming transmission from, Logan,” said Hank.
“Put him on speaker,” said Scott.
Hank did as Scott requested, but as soon as he opened the line there was an unexpected burst of swearing from the other end.
“GOD DAMN THESE FUCKING MOSQUITOES!”
“Whoa there! Is it supposed to be that loud, Mr. McCoy?” said Jean as they cringed at the outburst.
“Not by design, I assure you,” said Hank as he quickly adjusted the signal and the volume.
“Nice to hear from you too, Logan,” said Scott through the transmitter, “We read you load and clear. Emphasis on loud.”
“After a road trip like this, you’re are lucky I ain’t strangling this guy,” grumbled Logan through the transmitter.
“We appreciate your restraint, Logan…which is something I never thought I would say with a straight face,” said Scott, “But what’s going on with Jefferies?”
“Still trying to figure that out. I’ve been trailing Jefferies for days and the most I’ve seen him do is pull over to take a piss. The guy is still being too damned careful. I’ve kept my distance, but I did get close enough at a gas station to hear him talk to himself.”
“Anything significant? Did he mention the Mutant Liberation Front?” asked Scott.
“Hell no! He mostly talks about how shitty the coffee was in Mississippi. I noticed he’s lugging around this backpack wherever he goes, even when he’s gassing up his car. I swear the guy was talking to it. He said they we’re getting close. Don’t know what the hell that means, but I’m starting to think this guy has issues.”
“You may be right on more than one count, Logan,” said Hank as he brought up some new images, “I’ve been researching Madison Jefferies for the past few days. It would seem his issues began long before the Mutant Liberation Front entered the picture.”
“That mean I should have let those GRSO thugs rough him up?”
“I wouldn’t go that far,” Hank clarified, “Madison Jefferies is a brilliant man of science who, like yours truly, happens to be a mutant. He specialized in robotics and held a rather venerable position at NASA.”
“We know that part, Hank. What issues of his are going to make our jobs more difficult?” asked Scott.
Hank used the War Room computer to retrieve a number of files. These files told a distressing story of a man who had failed at a number of personal and professional endeavors, despite his brilliance. And the weight of those failures affected him in some very unusual ways.
“It came from a psychological profile that I hacked from NASA’s HR department. Apparently, Madison Jefferies has what we may call an unhealthy attachment to artificial constructs. After some unpleasant failures involving his family, he drew solace from his robots…so much so that NASA considered laying him off to seek counselling.”
“So there’s a robot in his backpack? Not sure if he needs therapy or a pet.”
“His mental state is a secondary concern,” said Scott, “Why would this make him a target? If he’s not just running from the authorities, it’s likely he’s trying to protect something.”
“That appears to be a reasonable assessment. But what could it be? And why would it involve the Mutant Liberation Front?” wondered Hank.
The answer to this question was key to getting a jump on Toad. Madison Jefferies seemed like an unlikely player in this twisted scheme. There was a good chance he was an unwilling participant as well. His expertise/obsession with robotics might be a clue and there was no telling what the Mutant Liberation Front had in store for him.
“You guys can screw around with the details. I gotta to keep tailing the guy. He just pulled on route 90. He’s heading west and he ain’t taking the back roads for once.”
“Route 90, you say?” said Hank as he brought up a new display of region, “If he says he’s close to his destination, then that leaves only a small number of likely targets.”
“What would be the most likely?” asked Scott.
“Given his proximity and direction, New Orleans,” said Hank.
“Well THAT would be a real treat. Might as well tell the Cajun this shit’s gonna go down in his own backyard.”
“Remy’s currently in class with Bobby, Kitty, Peter, and Betsy,” said Scott, “I don’t want to mobilize the team until we know what we’re dealing with.”
“Well if this guy is close to where he wants to be, then you’re gonna cut it pretty damn close. Because as soon as the Mutant Liberation Front shows up, it’ll get fucked up in ways that’ll make Mojovision look like a cooking show!”
Scott had an important decision to make. This was not a time when they could afford to be too careful. They lost to the Mutant Liberation Front once. They couldn’t lose again. As Operations Commander, Scott had to come up with a plan that would put the X-men in position to confront Toad while not losing their only lead. This was what Charles Xavier trusted him to do and he needed to deliver now more than ever.
“Jean, go tell Miss Mun-I mean Ororo to cut class short,” said Scott, “We’re flying within the next half-hour.”
“You want us to throw everything we have into trailing Madison Jefferies?” questioned Hank, “We still run the risk of being led astray.”
“If we don’t take that risk, someone else will and I would rather it be us,” said the X-leader, “Logan will keep tracking him. We need to make sure we’re there when he makes his move.”
“I’ll tell everybody you’re playing this gutsy,” said Jean, who was already on her way out of the War Room, “And if this turns out to be the right move, it’ll prove you’re worthy of this role…and worthy of some extra tantric sex this weekend.”
“Damn it, Jeannie! Could you wait till Hank cuts the feed before you fill my head with disturbing images?”
Hank quickly cut the transmission, allowing Wolverine to get back to his mission while the X-men prepared for theirs. This may be their best and last chance to stop the Mutant Liberation Front. This was also their greatest test to date. Professor Xavier wasn’t here to guide them. They had to prove to the world that they could still fight for his dream.
Genosha – Citadel
“WHAT ARE YOU WAITING FOR, MAXIMOFF?”
“WHY WON’T YOU CONFRONT YOUR PEOPLE?”
“YOU CAN’T HIDE IN YOUR PALACE FOREVER! YOU MADE PROMISES! IT’S TIME YOU START KEEPING THEM!”
Wanda Maximoff still hadn’t gotten used to the civil unrest that had constantly plagued Genosha. The unrest got a lot more vocal after the Mojovision incident. The gate outside the citadel was still swarming with angry mutant citizens who weren’t content with the current regime on this island and these protests were sure to continue as long as the citizens saw no action from their leader. However, that was about to change.
From the throne room, Wanda could hear the sea of angry voices. She took in all their frustration, hoping to channel it with this latest bold endeavor. She had been checking up on the Warlock factory every few hours. The advanced energy device in which she was placing Genosha’s hopes was almost complete. Lance, Pyro, Lorna, and Alex were with her waiting for the big moment while providing additional protection just in case.
“Will those people get a flippin’ life already?” groaned Pyro, “We’re mutants! Not wizards! We can’t make their problems magically disappear.”
“That’s probably the least crazy thing you’ve said in all the time I’ve known you, John,” snickered Lance.
“Having a screw loose doesn’t mean I’m stupid, mate,” said the Australian, who was juggling fireballs to pass the time.
“That’s no excuse for being a prick,” said Alex in a more serious tone, “We’re all on edge here, Pyro. Complaining about it while throwing around fireballs isn’t helping.”
“I’d rather hear more complaining than more awkward silence at this point,” said Wanda as she gazed out the window, “As we speak, Mellencamp and Mercury are trying to keep the peace with the rest of the Acolytes. I may have made a mistake by telling them to spread the word about an upcoming announcement.”
“You think?” said Lance dryly, “In a world with Twitter and Facebook, you should know that word spreads quickly. Unless you start passing out free chocolate, I doubt your adoring citizens will settle down. They’re worse than fanboys waiting for an announcement from George Lucas.”
“I never saw Star Trek and I don’t care how bad it is,” said Wanda strongly, “We need this to work. We need that power generator online so we can start turning things around.”
She was placing a lot of faith in this plan. It seemed desperate at a time when the citizens of Genosha had a very low tolerance for another setback. If this didn’t work out, then everything they had built on Genosha would be destroyed. While Wanda remained fixated on the protesters outside, Pietro returned in a sharp gust of wind from his latest trip to the Warlock factories.
“Tell me something that won’t piss me off, Pietro,” said Wanda without even turning around.
“Good morning to you too, dear sister. I’m fine after running back and forth for the last twelve hours, thank you,” said Pietro dryly.
“Exactly how many times will I have to hex you for an update?” she replied, showing that she was in no mood for his attitude.
“Blob is doing the heavy lifting. Kid Omega is doing the last system checks. And all those creepy Warlock drones are piecing it together. It’s practically taken up the whole factory,” said the speedster, “At this rate, we should be ready to flip the switch by the end of the day.”
“So there are no problems?”
“Well there were a few funky colored sparks as Kid Omega so eloquently described. Blob also said those new elements we’re working with smelled funny. He could have just been hungry, but you know him. The smell of a dead rat makes him hungry,” said Pietro.
“Did you look into it?” asked Alex, “Usually when a giant machine is giving off sparks, that’s not a good sign.”
“I didn’t read the manual so how the hell should I know,” sighed the speedster, “Although if Magneto were here, he would probably find a handful of kinks.”
“As long as it doesn’t delay us, tell them to move forward. I want to be able to say something to my people before the sun goes down,” said Wanda.
She didn’t seem too dismayed by her brother’s assessment. It was a relief for Pietro and a concern for everyone else. Wanda was all too eager to ignore potential problems. She was usually the careful one. It was distressing even for those who had confidence in this plan.
“I still think your people would prefer caution when dealing with alien technology,” said Lorna, who had been silent for the most part.
“Are you listening to the protests, Lorna? Our people aren’t in the mood for caution,” said Wanda strongly, “They want someone to make a move and I have a duty to make it happen.”
“That doesn’t mean it’s the right move.”
“Sometimes the best option isn’t viable,” retorted Wanda, “The people have become so hostile that we can’t even leave the safety of the citadel. I feel like a prisoner, hiding behind the magnetic shields that guard this palace and the Warlock factories.”
“It could be worse,” shrugged Pyro, “We could be trapped in place where we can’t hack a satellite dish and watch European porn!”
“Look at it this way, Wanda…” said Lorna, ignoring Pyro’s comment, “The more you hide behind these shields, the more our people will attack them. I know you feel like you don’t have a choice, but that doesn’t mean you should stop looking for one.”
“I don’t see you coming up with any new ideas, Lorna,” scoffed Lance, “Sometimes you’re stuck because someone else screwed you over ahead of time.”
“I don’t believe that. None of us should,” said Lorna strongly, “It’s one thing to make reckless decisions, but we’re acting like we’ve already been defeated. We might as well just tell the Mutant Liberation Front they’ve won! It’s not too late. We can find a way…a better way to save our people.”
Lorna’s impassioned tone finally got Wanda to look away from the window. Her half-sister was not going to let this go. This time, Wanda didn’t just shrug it off. She asked herself questions she had avoided contemplating since she set this plan into motion. If they still had time, then she would be foolish to not consider the alternatives.
Wanda looked over towards Alex and Pietro. They remained silent, but the looks on their faces made it clear that they agreed with Lorna. Pyro remained ambivalent. He kept juggling fireballs, ready to accept whatever she decided. She continued to ponder their situation. Then Lance’s communicator started beeping.
“You gonna get that mate?” asked Pyro.
“I don’t have to,” he said with a smug grin, “Not to sound fatalistic or anything, but we probably have less time than we think.”
“What makes you say that?” asked Alex suspiciously.
Lance kept smiling. Then for no apparent reason he stepped back. As soon as he did this, a blinding purplish light formed in the center of the throne room and a portal formed and three figures emerged.
“This better be a prank, Lance!” shouted Alex.
“If so, I’m not laughing mate!” said Pyro.
“I honestly don’t know what you guys are talking about,” said Lance snidely, “Oh yeah, and I forgot to mention something. That magnetic shield protecting the citadel…it just failed.”
Wanda recognized the tone in Lance’s voice. It was the tone of betrayal. Her father taught her to recognize it. He also taught her to treat it as the worst possible atrocity. Her eyes flashed with hex bolts and she prepared to punish him for his treachery just as Magneto would.
“What the hell have you done, Lance?” exclaimed Wanda.
“I did exactly what you should have done. I found another way,” said Lance.
“Oh you know you’re gonna pay for this!” said Pietro as he prepared to attack.
“Sorry guys, but like I said…you have less time than you think.”
From the portal, Sauron and Negasonic Teenage Warhead stepped into the throne room with Gateway. As soon as they were through, the young psychic unleashed a telepathic attack that left Wanda, Lorna, Alex, Pyro, and Pietro with a stabbing pain in their heads.
“AHHHHHHHHHHHHHHH!” they all cried out.
“Ha! The psychic shielding here ain’t so tough!” said Negasonic Teenage Warhead.
“That’s because I turned it off and made sure Kid Omega was at the Warlock factory,” said Lance, rolling his eyes, “That also means the protesters can finally let themselves in. So do what you need to do before they start looting.”
“They can have whatever they want. We only need one particular item,” said Sauron.
The winged mutant flew towards the paralyzed mutants, moving quickly so that they didn’t have time to recover and fight back. While they remained stunned by the psychic attack, Sauron grabbed Lorna with his feet and flew her back towards the portal.
“Hnn…LORNA!” cried Wanda.
“ERRRR! LET…HER…GO!” grunted Alex, who tried to fire an energy blast.
“You guys look tired. Why don’t you take a nap?” grinned Negasonic Teenage Warhead.
The young psychic unleashed another telepathic attack that caused Wanda, Alex, Pietro, and Pyro to fall limply to the floor. Unconsciousness came within seconds for most of them, but Wanda managed to stay alert for a bit longer.
“Lance…you bastard,” she grumbled.
“Sorry Wanda, but this isn’t just about us. It’s about all mutants,” said Lance as he stood over her, “Your ways just aren’t working. You’re failing your kind…just like Magneto…just like Xavier. The Mutant Liberation Front has a new way and I’m giving it a chance!”
“Quit rubbing it in her face, Lance. You’ll have plenty of time for that when this is over,” said Negasonic Teenage Warhead.
Lance watched Wanda until she passed out. A part of him still had mixed feelings about this. He had respected and trusted Wanda. She was a lot more reasonable than her father, despite being just as temperamental. But she couldn’t deliver for her people. He wanted a better world for mutants, just like she did. This was just him taking a different route.
Once Wanda was out cold, Sauron reached the portal with Lorna firmly in his grasp. She was still dazed from the psychic blast, but that didn’t stop her from struggling.
“Let me go!” she demanded, “I won’t…join you!”
Lorna used her powers, causing some of the metal in the floor to shoot up. Sauron flew up higher to avoid it while maintaining a tight grip on the young mutant.
“We’re not asking you to join the Mutant Liberation Front, child. But you will help us,” said Sauron, “Once you see the new order we create, you’ll understand why your sacrifice is so noble.”
“Sacrifice?” she questioned.
“Oops! I meant to leave that part out,” grinned the winged mutant.
Before she could summon more metal, Sauron utilized his energy draining powers to sap her energy. This caused her to go completely limp before he could slip any more hints about what was in store for her.
“Hnn…” was all she could get out.
“Nice and quiet. Just like I like ‘em!” said Negasonic Teenage Warhead.
“You have a very disturbing choice of words, Ellie,” said Lance.
“I know what I said,” she replied coyly.
“That’s what worries me. Can we get out of here now? Toad said this would all be over soon.”
“And it will,” said Sauron as they entered the portal, “Miss Lorna here is the next to last component to this plan!”
“Next to last?” questioned Lance.
“We’ll have plenty of time to explain. The same can’t be said for your former friends. I suspect they’ll be busy entertaining more unwanted guests.”
Lance didn’t dare look back as he followed Sauron and Negasonic Teenage Warhead into Gateway’s portal. He couldn’t afford to have second thoughts. He was already a traitor and there was no going back. He had to leave Genosha behind, hoping that this order promised by the Mutant Liberation Front would be worth the damage he just did.
Once the portal three mutants vanished with Lorna, the throne fell silent. Wanda, Alex, Pyro, and Pietro remained helpless and unconscious. Outside, the protests took a turn for the worse. By turning off the magnetic barrier, the restless protesters were free to storm the citadel.
“THE GATES ARE OPEN! THEY’RE LETTING US IN!”
“NO WAY! THEY MUST BE TRYING TO FLEE!”
“THEY WON’T GET FAR! THEY CAN’T LEAVE US TO ROT!”
“THIS IS OUR ISLAND! IT’S TIME WE TAKE IT BACK!”
New Orleans – West Riverside
It had been a long, exhausting drive for Madison Jefferies. He had to take countless detours and look over his shoulder every step of the way. He was still convinced that someone was following him. He must have outrun them because he had reached his destination.
‘I can’t believe I made it! After that bullshit in Florida, I was sure someone would try and stop me again. No use trying anymore. In about an hour, I’ll be home free…so long as this contact doesn’t screw me over.’
He was placing a lot of faith in the arrangements he made. His luck held out for the most part. He just needed it to last a bit longer. It was getting late in the day and New Orleans was as busy as ever. Rush hour traffic was setting in and the port was pretty active with shipping traffic. He should have plenty of cover to make his final move.
“We’re almost home, Danger. I promise I’ll finish you once we’re safely on Genosha,” he said to his backpack, which contained his most prized possession.
Madison opened the door to his SUV and stepped out. He then made his way towards the eastern end of the dock. This part of the river was the last stretch before reaching open ocean. There were a number of ships currently anchored. Most of them were loading up with heavy cargo. One of these ships would be his ticket out of here.
For a moment, Madison paced anxiously in the shadow of a loaded ship. He didn’t see any dock workers. That must mean he was in the right place. His contact told him that this part of the riverside should be clear by the time he arrived. Once he was certain that nobody was near him, he took out his cell phone and made a fateful call.
“Come on! Pick up the damn phone!” he groaned.
The wait was agonizing. His phone rang more than five times. He was getting short of breath when he finally got an answer.
“Are you here, Jefferies?”
“Yes! I made it,” said Madison intently, “I have everything you asked. Please…tell me which ship I need to board so I can get out of here!”
“Take it easy, man. You sound seasick and you ain’t even on the boat.”
“I’m sorry, but the past few days have been very stressful,” he replied, “My life has gone to hell. I’m a wanted fugitive now. And I’d like to get on with my life if that’s alright with you.”
“If you say so. The ship you’re looking for is right in front of you. Just walk on up and we’ll take care of the rest.”
The line went dead. Madison Jefferies looked in front of him and saw an ordinary looking cargo ship in front of him. It seemed a little obvious as there were two ships anchored in front of it and another three behind it. He noticed a heavy loading bridge about a hundred yards to his right that led right into the ship. Without looking back, Madison ran towards the bridge and made his way up.
“Finally! This nightmare is over,” said Madison with a sigh of relief.
He looked over his shoulder for what he hoped would be the last time before approaching the hatch. He was about to open it when someone else opened it from the other side. From within the ship, a figure emerged that made Madison go pale with dread.
“No fucking way!” he groaned.
“Good evening, Mr. Jefferies. Glad you could join us,” grinned Toad.
“You’re the contact?” Madison exclaimed, “How can my luck possibly be that bad?”
“Don’t sound too surprised. Who else could call in an anonymous tip and set everything up so you would join us at just the right time?” said the amphibious mutant.
“That…that was you? You’re the reason I ended up on the FBI’s most wanted list?”
“Would you rather we abduct you?” he quipped.
“You mean you already haven’t?” said Madison as he slowly backed away.
“Call it whatever you want. But you’re here now and you have something we want. So why don’t we skip the outrage and get down to business?”
Madison was livid. He had been on the run, thinking he had been falsely accused of aiding the Mutant Liberation Front. Now he had made that false accusation painfully true.
Outraged by his own foolishness, he instinctively turned around to run away. He barely made it one step before a glowing portal opened and the Klienstocks emerged. Standing at three times Madison’s size, he was in no position to barge past them. The hulking mutant cracked his knuckles, causing Madison to stammer backwards and allowing Toad to catch him in his powerful arms.
“Vhere you off to in such a hurry?” said the Klienstocks, “My friends and I have a surprise for you.”
“If you think I’m going to help you and your little pack of terrorist…” began Jefferies.
“Hate to break it to you, pal. But you already have!” said Toad as he yanked away Madison’s backpack.
“No! Give that back!” exclaimed Madison.
“Relax, we’ll give it back…eventually,” assured Toad, “In the meantime, why don’t you follow me? You’ll have a front row seat for the greatest show ever!”
Toad shoved Madison into the ship. The Klienstocks followed close behind, making sure Madison had nowhere to run if he broke free. The bewildered mutant quickly disappeared into the ship. With a confident grin, Toad closed the hatch behind him. The final piece was officially in place. The Mutant Liberation Front was ready for its final attack.
As Toad and the Klienstocks disappeared with Madison Jefferies, Logan emerged from behind a dock crate. Having parked his motorcycle nearby, he caught up just in time to see Madison fall for this little trap. It wasn’t looking good for him and it looked like it was about to get much worse.
“It’s official. This Madison Jefferies is the luckiest and unluckiest son-of-a-bitch on the planet,” said the feral mutant.
Staying behind the crate, Logan took a moment to survey his surroundings. He sniffed the air and picked up a large number of familiar scents. Toad’s was the most prominent, but he could smell the rest of the Mutant Liberation Front as well. They were in the area and there had been a lot of recent activity. They were setting something up. It was big, ambitious, and probably destructive on a massive scale. That meant it had to be stopped at all costs.
“You ain’t outsmartin’ us this time, swamp breath,” snarled Logan as he drew his claws, “When I get through with you, you’re gonna look as bad as you smell!”
New Orleans – West End Park
Rogue had never been big on road trips. She could fly, she had a brother who could teleport, and she used to live in a mansion that had a private jet. The idea of setting in a car for hours on end never had much appeal. But riding along with Domino ensured it was never boring.
Throughout their trip, she learned more about her new partner. She was quite a character. The more Rogue talked to her, the more her earlier suspicions waned. They were alike in many ways. They didn’t know much about their real birth parents, they learned to fight at young ages, and they went through a rough period before getting back on a less damaging path. The biggest difference between them had to do with Domino’s personality. She had an uncanny bravado that Rogue hadn’t seen in anyone else. Nothing was off limits to her.
“So this guy you’re seeing…how kinky is it? For a girl who couldn’t touch, I imagine you have a deep bag of tricks,” said Domino as they walked casually down a series of fishing docks.
“Dang it, Dom! Haven’t Ah given you enough specifics?” groaned Rogue, “We spent the entire drive through Mississippi talkin’ about mah personal life.”
“It’s not my fault it’s so interesting,” she teased, “You’re the one who spent hours going over all the crap that kept you apart. I’m now curious about how you plan on keeping it together.”
“Why? So you can give meh advice?”
“I’ve been lucky a few times in my day,” said Domino with a suggestive tone, “I’m sure I can give you a few tips.”
“Well why don’t you save them for later? Part the reason I’m on this mission is so Ah can get mah life back on track.”
“I’m sure it’s a much bigger part than you’re letting on. Tell you what…I’ll drop the subject for now, but only if you promise to describe in graphic detail how you’re going to celebrate with your Cajun stud muffin when all is said and done.”
Rogue glared at Domino. For someone who spent a lot of spare time cleaning guns, she sure was interested in other peoples’ private lives. It seemed inappropriate while they were waiting for Vertigo to show up. They weren’t exactly dressed for battle either. They were in disguises that consisted of hats, sunglasses, and a couple of fancy fur coats that covered their uniforms. It wasn’t very comfortable in the Louisiana heat, but it didn’t seem to bother Domino. Since it was almost time, Rogue decided to humor her.
“Fahne,” said Rogue, “Only if it means you’ll start takin’ this mission seriously.”
“I’m always serious when it comes to missions,” said Domino as she stopped walking, “Just look around. We’re in a perfect position for everything to go horribly wrong. We might as well give ourselves something to look forward to.”
Rogue stopped as well. She didn’t see what Domino was referring to. Then she realized that they were out in the open and very vulnerable. This part of the West End Park was full of docks, yachts, and fishing boats. It was not an ideal place to have a meeting of this nature and that was probably intentional. There were still plenty of people cleaning their boats, cutting up fish, and walking casually along the nearby shops. There were also plenty of directions from which anyone could attack. This was the kind of dire situation that X-men were trained to deal with and she couldn’t afford to be rusty.
“That’s your queue to get somewhere out of sight,” said Domino.
“Why? Is Vertigo close by?” asked Rogue anxiously.
“No, but she will be soon,” she said, “I know this woman. She’s waiting for the last possible moment to confront me. It’s how she was trained.”
“So what am Ah supposed to do? Wait and jump in when it all goes to hell?”
“Preferably sooner, but if you’re serious about being an X-man again, you’ll make the right move. Now shoo while I catch up with my soon-to-be ex-BFF.”
Since arguments with Domino were pointless, Rogue slipped away to the other end of the dock. Once she was out of sight, she flew up to the top of one of the yachts so that she had a nice view of the area. It was also high enough to ensure that Vertigo wouldn’t see her when she arrived. Rogue still wasn’t clear on her mission. Domino was perfectly fine with winging this whole thing, but she wasn’t. There were just too many ways this could go wrong.
Domino remained calm as Rogue disappeared from sight. She kept looking around, noting every detail of her surroundings. Part of having luck powers was being aware of everything that could be affected by luck. In missions like this, luck couldn’t be the only weapon in her arsenal. It was still the most important.
‘The chances of Rogue being necessary…I’d say around 98 percent. The chances that Vertigo pushing my luck along with hers…definitely 100 percent.’
She waited another minute or so. Then she felt her phone buzz in her pocket. Before she could answer it, a glowing portal of light formed in the trees in front of her. Once it faded, two figures emerged.
“You’re four seconds late, Vertigo. A new record,” greeted Domino with a friendly grin.
“You still keep track of every second? Good to know you haven’t changed, Neena,” said Vertigo as she emerged from the trees.
“That’s Domino?” said the figure standing next to Vertigo.
“Spare me the attitude, Arclight. She’s a lot tougher than she looks.”
Domino kept grinning as Vertigo and Arclight approached. They were in disguises as well. Vertigo was wearing a business-dress with sunglasses and a head-scarf. Arclight was wearing more casual attire, consisting of a long dress and oversized hat. They didn’t seem that tense. They looked like two regular women going on a stroll through the park, which Domino interpreted as not-so-subtle sign of hostility.
“How long has it been? I’m sure you’ve kept track,” said Vertigo.
“I’m not interested in the past. Why don’t we talk about the future?” quipped Domino, “I know you didn’t call me bake cookies and swap old war stories. You said you had an opportunity for me that you couldn’t describe over the phone.”
“I would have told you everything, but as you can imagine I’ve had to be extra careful lately,” said Vertigo.
“So I’ve heard. First Sinister, then a stint in Leavenworth, and now the Mutant Liberation Front? You can never be in too much trouble, can’t you?” Domino teased.
“That’s about to change. We’re on the verge of something big, Dom…something that’s going to change the rules of the game for everyone. It’ll make mutants like you and me a hot commodity…in more than one way.”
Vertigo and Arclight stood around Domino as if to prevent her from fleeing. It was a domineering gesture, one that Rogue found suspicious as she watched on from afar. Domino shared her suspicions, but remained as friendly as she could be with this woman. Her luck could only improve by making sure Vertigo kept talking.
“We were brought into this world for the sole purpose of being exploited. Whether we’re hired guns or just a couple of freaks, it’s always the same. I don’t know about you, but that bothers me and it bothers a lot of mutants. Humanity has made it painfully clear that they’re not going to change the way they treat us. But the Mutant Liberation Front is going to give the human race a damn good reason to change their ways.”
“I’ve heard that before,” said Domino, rolling her eyes, “How many people does it involve killing this time?”
“It’s not that kind of mission. This time there’s no killing of any kind,” said Vertigo.
“Oh please, when have you ever been part of something that doesn’t give you the opportunity to make someone puke out their organs?” scoffed Domino.
“You know, I said the exact same thing when she approached me as well,” commented Arclight.
“You’re not helping, Arclight,” muttered Vertigo.
“Just saying she’s not wrong,” she retorted.
“Well seeing as how every other opportunity seems to go wrong, I think we’re better off trying something different. And this opportunity here involves a much more pragmatic approach.”
“Then why did you call me of all people? I’m a crack shot and I’ve never lost a game of Bingo. I’ve never been big on grunt work.”
“I know your strengths, Neena. I wouldn’t have called you if I didn’t think you could pull it off. Toad’s vision for mutants isn’t like Sinister or Magneto. He understands that for things to get better for mutants, you have to restructure the current order that makes it so easy for us to be exploited.”
“I’m still waiting for the details,” said Domino.
“We’ve been taking steps to put ourselves in just the right position,” Vertigo went on, “I’m sure you’ve heard of our exploits. We’ve been attacking infrastructure, major utilities, and economic targets all over the world. But all that was just a prelude. The main event is about to happen in this very city.”
“Sounds like fun,” she grinned, “So what do I need to do if I want in?”
Vertigo looked over towards Arclight, who just nodded. It was almost time for this big event to begin. Domino’s knack for being lucky was about to be tested.
“What we need from you is help with a potential problem we’ve uncovered,” said Vertigo, “As you can imagine, there are people out there who would love to throw us in a jail cell or a body bag.”
“It’s tragic, but unavoidable,” said Arclight with a shrug, “Somehow our plans were leaked to the humans. This guy, Gyrich something, found out that we’ve arrived here in New Orleans and he’s sending some advanced anti-mutant hardware to stop us.”
“Ah, I see where this is going,” said Domino.
“I don’t think you do,” said Vertigo, “On one hand, we do want the humans to come after us with their top guns. That way we don’t have to go through the trouble of looking for them and taking them out one-by-one. On the other, the way they found out about us is a little complicated.”
“You see, we suspect that someone within the Mutant Liberation Front leaked our plans to the MSA,” said Arclight, “They’re probably on their way to shut us down before we’ve even started.”
“Okay, now I don’t see where this is going,” said Domino with a bemused look.
“Take another ten seconds to think about it,” said Vertigo as she checked her watch, “I promise it’ll make sense.”
Domino picked up on a strange tone in her voice that she knew all too well. It was the tone she used when she was about to screw somebody over. She had seen her use it many times during their days as hired guns. She had never been on the receiving end like this. As Domino looked around, she realized what was going on.
After about ten seconds, all the ships that were anchored at the dock opened up and a large team of oddly uniformed men stormed out. The uniforms were more like armor. It covered their entire bodies from head to toe. They also had a large helmet that completely obscured their heads. It looked advanced, high tech, and powerful. It also had the label GRSO along the back and front. That same label was plastered across a very advanced-looking assault rifle that they were all carrying, which they aimed directly at her.
Within moments, the whole park was swarming with these uniformed soldiers. They flowed out from the ships in perfectly coordinated movements, establishing a perimeter around Domino’s position. They also came in form the southern area of the park. Civilians that had been casually walking around were revealed to be agents in disguise. They quickly dawned their advanced uniforms and cut off any possible escape route.
“Really Vertigo? You finally develop a sick sense of humor and decide to test it out on me?” said Domino in a very surprised yet very annoyed tone.
“That’s the complicated part,” said Arclight with a half-grin, “That tip I mentioned? Well, we’re the ones that phoned it in.”
“It’s nothing personal, I assure you,” said Vertigo, who didn’t seem too nervous, “We need someone to keep these gentlemen occupied while Toad flips the switch. Like always, you’re the lucky gal to fill that role.”
Domino scorned her former friend, not even looking at the approaching GRSO soldiers closed in on them.
“GET DOWN ON THE GROUND, MUTANTS!” yelled one of them, “BY ORDER OF THE GRSO UNIT, YOU’RE UNDER ARREST! THIS IS YOUR FIRST AND LAST CHANCE TO GET THROUGH THIS IN ONE PIECE!”
“With Lady Lucky on our side, we’ll gladly take that chance,” said Arclight.
Vertigo shoved Domino to the side while she and Arclight shed their disguises to reveal their uniforms. Then Arclight fired the first shot of this battle. A purplish ball of energy formed around her and she punched the ground, causing waves of energy to ripple through the park. It distorted the landscape and threw off the approaching GRSO troops. It was enough to make them skip the rest of the negotiations and begin the battle.
“THE TARGETS ARE HOSTILE! TAKE THEM DOWN! TRY AND GET ONE OF THEM ALIVE!”
“Some friend you are, Vertigo,” grunted Domino as she shed her disguise and drew her guns.
“And I thought this was your kind of fun,” taunted Vertigo, who ran off with Arclight.
Domino was inclined to make Vertigo her first target. Unfortunately, the probability of her being able to make a second shot would be greatly diminished. The park was quickly consumed by high energy gunfire. The only reason she wasn’t hit with the first wave is because Arclight’s blast kicked up enough dirt and earth to take cover behind. Domino got down low, avoiding incoming blasts in the process. Then she rolled up to the nearest dirt bank and started firing at GRSO unit that had a clear shot at her.
Every shot was as perfect as she could make it. She had to avoid killing if possible. Otherwise, she would make a bad situation with the authorities much worse. With her trusty Colt 45 pistols, she fired three bullets that hit the arms of three targets. They struck right in the shoulders of the three soldiers, causing them to drop their weapons. They should have hit the ground in agony, but to Domino’s surprise they barely stammered.
“WE’VE TAKEN FIRE! MOVE IN FAST! DON’T LET THEM GET AWAY!” yelled one of the soldiers that got hit.
“Well that is going to make things difficult,” groaned Domino, “I hope Rogue is seeing this. I could use a little extra muscle.”
Domino ran for more cover while the GRSO troops attempted to swarm her. Vertigo and Arclight were nowhere in sight. It wasn’t clear if they slipped away, but it didn’t matter. These guys were targeting her and she needed more than luck to get away.
From atop the yacht, Rogue saw the whole scene unfold. Domino warned her that there were a lot of unknowns with this mission. A sudden attack from mutant-hunting soldiers certainly qualified. They didn’t look like MSA soldiers either. Domino wasn’t going to last long against these guys. It was up to her to tip the balance.
“Well this is going every bit as bad as Ah expected,” she said, “Hang on, Domino! Ah’ll help you deal with these amateurs!”
Rogue took to the air and prepared to attack. She made it only a few feet when she was struck from behind by a powerful energy blast.
“Arrgggghhhh!” she cried out.
“Amateurs, you say? Mutant, I would be insulted if your presence alone didn’t disgust me!” said a booming voice.
Rogue tumbled down onto the roof of the yacht. Even with her durable form, a good chunk of her body stung with agony. It was a test in pain tolerance just to turn around and locate the source of the shot.
“You!” she exclaimed upon recognizing the shooter.
“Ah, you recognize me? You should. Your kind didn’t just create me. You made me necessary!” said the figure as he hovered over her menacingly, “Where once I was Sebastian Gilberti, a man simply dedicated to his mission…I am now, Bastion! Leader of the GRSO unit! Hunter of mutants! And you have the honor of being my first target!”
Inside Cargo Ship
“Is this really the guy?”
“I gotta say I’m disappointed.”
“You would be. You didn’t get to blow anything up.”
“The night is young. I’m sure we’ll have plenty of chances!”
There were a lot of voices surrounding Madison Jefferies. None of them sounded friendly. Within moments of being dragged onto a cargo ship by Toad and the Klienstocks, he was blindfolded. He struggled at first, but that earned him a punch in the gut by Toad. It was enough to render him helpless as the Mutant Liberation Front literally dragged him into their plot.
It felt like a lifetime as he was led through a maze of corridors and stairs. Along the way, they passed the Mutant Liberation army that Toad had assembled. Madison could hear in their ramblings how eager they were. It sounded like all their forces had gathered in this one ship. This was more than just another terror attack. This was the knock-out punch that the Mutant Liberation Front had been waiting for.
Eventually, they reached their destination. Toad and the Klienstocks led Jefferies up a freight elevator. Once they got off, Toad ripped the blindfold off his face and Jefferies saw what he was up against.
“The guest of honor has officially arrived,” announced Toad.
“Wow…he actually fell for it?” laughed Kamikaze, “I thought this guy was smart.”
“Book smarts and street smarts are two very different things,” Avalanche pointed out.
“Is he going to cooperate?” asked Strobe as he stared at the man without remorse.
“He will if he knows what’s good for him,” said Reignfire, flashing some energy to give Jefferies plenty of reason to go along with them.
“Hopefully, he’s smart enough to make it through this in once piece,” said Toad, “That involves cooperating while we borrow his favorite toys.”
Madison trembled as they dragged him into the central area. This part of the ship was located right in the middle and just one floor below the main deck. This vast, open area that was usually filled to the brim with shipping containers. It was purposely cleared out before the Mutant Liberation Front borrowed it. There was only a single container in the area. Inside was an array of computer equipment connected with a series of wires that ran outside the container and into a much larger array that was covered with a gray blanket.
Toad shoved Madison in front of the computer. Sauron, Avalanche, Stryfe, Callisto, Caliban, Strobe, Reignfire, Kamikaze, Gateway, Negasonic Teenage Warhead, and the Klienstocks all surrounded him. They made it clear that he wasn’t going to escape. As he looked around, he recognized some of the systems. That sick feeling in the pit of his stomach continued to grow.
“Those computers…I’ve seen them before,” said Madison.
“Of course you have, smart guy. They were under your name when we stole them from some old storage depots,” said Callisto.
“Yours and your old partner,” added Toad, “I’m sure you remember Forge. You two were like the Bert and Ernie of high tech mutant gizmos.”
“If he’s here, I prefer that you kill me right now,” groaned Madison.
“So you’re both smart and a coward? You must have so much going for you,” said Strobe dryly.
“Don’t chide the man, Strobe. He’s had a rough day,” said Toad, “There’s no need to slit your wrists, Mr. Jefferies. Forge isn’t here. But you still owe him an extra punch in the balls. When he was working for Magneto, he told us all about you. You both worked for the military developing all sorts of toys for trigger-happy humans.”
“Did he also tell you he tried to screw me over?” muttered Madison, “Neither of us enjoyed having our talents exploited. The difference was that he thought he could use me as a fall guy so he could escape.”
“And you outsmarted him,” said Toad, “He ended up in NORAD. You ended up working at NASA. Now you’re here because you know a thing or two about the tech you and Forge invented. These computers you’re looking at were copied from this mutant amplifier thingy that Forge made for Magneto.”
“You mean the device that Magneto used to pull an asteroid on a collision course with Earth?” said Madison, “Now I’d like you to kill me again.”
“You know for a mutant and a genius, you’re pretty pathetic,” said Reignfire dryly.
“Well I’m sorry I can’t channel my inner Magneto like the rest of you!” he spat, “You people are really giving our kind a bad name! Trying to finish what that psychopath started!”
“Who says we’re going to use the device in the same way?” quipped Toad, “We’re the Mutant Liberation Front. We’re not big on killing people. What we’re about do isn’t gonna take a single life…although it’s gonna make one person very uncomfortable.”
Toad turned towards Avalanche, who was standing near the large setup that was covered by a blanket. He nodded, signaling him to remove the cover. He pulled it back to reveal the next troubling sight for Madison Jefferies.
It looked nearly identical to the mutant amplifying device that Magneto used. It consisted of a large metal plate in the center surrounded by a series of concentric rings. They were all connected to the cables that went into the computer systems. However, Madison noticed that the Mutant Liberation Front made a few modifications.
In the center, there were a series of restraints that connected to an unfortunate young woman who was suspended a few feet above the plate. She was bound by her hands and feet, slumped over and unconscious. Madison recognized her as Lorna Dane, the younger daughter of Magneto.
“As you can see, our inside guy on Genosha got us all the old specs from Magneto’s hardware,” said Toad, “He also helped us get our lovely centerpiece to make it all work. She’s not Magneto, but she packs as much power as her daddy, minus the personality disorder.”
“You make it sound like it was no big deal, Toad,” said Avalanche, “I had to betray a lot of people to put this shit together. This had better work!”
“That’s up to our guest,” said Toad, turning his attention back to Madison.
“What do you people to accomplish?” scoffed the beleaguered mutant, “That machine is only good for unleashing mass destruction!”
“Maybe in the hands of Magneto, but with a few tweaks, it’ll be the Mutant Liberation Front’s crowning achievement,” proclaimed Toad, “You’ve seen our exploits. We’ve been attacking infrastructure, defense, and major utilities all over the world. It wasn’t just for kicks, although I do admit we had a damn good time! It was to soften the humans up for the final step.”
The amphibious mutant walked up to the unconscious Lorna and caressed her face. All his twisted visions were taking form and substance. One sliver of the Cambrian led him to this moment. It took him from a deformed weakling into a visionary for his kind.
“There are a lot of problems with this world. I’m sure you’ll agree with me on that,” Toad went on, “Most of those problems stem from evolution being so damn slow. In biological terms, humans are still cavemen. The only reason they can oppress mutants and each other is because they rely on their precious tools. They don’t use their bare hands or the powers they’ve been blessed with. They rely on technology to maintain their dominance. So if you take away that technology, they’re back to being cavemen.”
“Is there any point to this insanity?” made Madison.
“There’s nothing insane about it. By attacking technology, we reduce humans back to their natural place. You’ve seen how it turns them into mindless drones. That shitty Mojovision shows just how depraved the human race has become.”
“As if American Idol wasn’t low enough,” added Negasonic Teenage Warhead.
“That’s why we’re going to hit the proverbial reset button,” said Toad intently, “With this gizmo and Miss Lorna’s help, we’re going to unleash an electromagnetic pulse so big that it’s gonna short out the entire planet! Just picture it…humans will be completely stripped of all their tools and technology. They’ll go back to that tribal mentality. They won’t have the luxury of oppressing others because their sole focus will be survival.”
“That’s where we come in,” said Callisto.
The rest of the Mutant Liberation Front stepped forward, showing that they shared Toad’s vision. It was their way of demonstrating their unity to Madison. They saw themselves as liberators from a corrupt order that would only seek to destroy them.
“We’re won’t be destroying all technology permanently,” said Caliban, “We’re merely reshuffling the order.”
“That was the main point of the Switzerland attack,” said Kamikaze, “We took away humanity’s ability to recover. They won’t be able to reform once this device is activated.”
“Don’t think we’re going to let the human race crumble, although I admit it is tempting,” said Callisto, “We as mutants, with our powers and collective knowledge, will carve out a new society from the ashes. Humans will still get the food, medicine, and shelter they require. However, they’ll have to work with us and respect us if they want it.”
“If they don’t, then they’re on their own,” said Avalanche.
“It may sound cruel, but think of it as the ultimate incentive,” said Toad as he turned back towards Madison, “We don’t hate humans. We just want a more natural order. Take away all those modern comforts that humans take for granted and they’re left to rely on what nature gives them. We mutants are a product of nature. With our powers, it’s only natural that we stand at the top of the food chain. We lend our talents to humans and they respect us in return.”
“Respect? Or would it be obedience?” questioned Madison, “Say you succeed and humans are left roaming the streets desperate for food. What’s to stop you from becoming the oppressors?”
“I like to think we’re not that vindictive,” said Toad with a sneer, “I’m not talking about setting up a kingdom or anything. We’re just giving civilization a second chance. Whatever happens will happen. And it starts with you.”
It was indeed different from Magneto’s vision. That didn’t make it any less insane. As a man of science, the idea of destroying all the wonders of civilization had sickened him to no end. These mutants may think of themselves as liberators. To him, they were just another incarnation of Magneto’s genocidal madness.
“You make everything sound so logical. If my IQ was a few points lower, I might buy into this bullshit,” scoffed Madison, “Unfortunately for you, what’s natural isn’t always what’s right.”
“See? I told you he wouldn’t go along with it,” said Stryfe, who was the only one that remained withdrawn from the group.
“Always looking for a downside, aren’t you?” said Callisto dryly.
“Good thing I’m an optimist by nature,” shrugged Toad, “It doesn’t matter if you reject us, Jefferies. You’re gonna help us make the necessary adjustments on this contraption. We’re not giving you a choice.”
“What are you going to do? Kill me if I don’t help?” he scoffed.
“Of course not!” assured Toad wryly, “A mind is a terrible thing to waste. Care to demonstrate, Ellie?”
“Way ahead of you, Toad,” grinned Negasonic Teenage Warhead, “I used this trick to pass physics class. It works just as well in fixing up old toys!”
The Klienstocks held Madison Jefferies tighter as Negasonic Teenage Warhead approached. While he trembled, Toad tossed the backpack he took earlier to Kamikaze, who opened it and retrieved the head of Danger. Using the wires in the mysterious head, he connected it to the computers.
“Wow…Forge was right. You do have some kinky tastes,” grinned Toad as he looked at the head, “I hope he’s also right about you keeping a backup of every program you’ve ever worked on inside it.”
“Only one way to find out,” said Negasonic Teenage Warhead, “Keep your minds open and I’ll link you the instructions.”
“No! Stay out of my mind!” yelled Madison desperately.
“Better be quick about it, Ellie,” said Callisto as she and Caliban joined Kamikaze, “I’d rather not listen to any more whining.”
There was nothing Madison Jefferies could do at this point. The Klienstocks held him by his arms while Negasonic Teenage Warhead placed her hands on his temples. He attempted to put up mental shields, but this girl was aggressive. Within moments, he could feel her sifting around through his brain and extracting the necessary information.
As the young psychic sifted through his thoughts, she telepathically sent instructions to Toad’s cohorts so they could configure the amplifiers. All the software they needed was within the head of Danger, just as Toad predicted. It was just what they needed to ensure that the device would do what they needed it to do.
“We’re installing the new protocols,” announced Caliban as he looked at the status bar on one of the computers, “We should be ready within the next fifteen minutes.”
“Fifteen? That’s still a lot of time for something to go wrong,” Stryfe pointed out.
“And I thought Jefferies was a skeptic,” commented Strobe.
“A little negativity can help,” said Toad, “We can’t be overconfident like Magneto. When it comes to preparing for the worst, I’m in favor of overkill.”
“Does this mean we can get some fresh air?” said Sauron cryptically.
“By all means, my Jurassic friend!” said the amphibious mutant.
While the machine was still powering up, Sauron flew across the central area and landed in front of a large control panel. He then pushed a few buttons and pulled a couple of levers to trigger a series of gears throughout the central area. The sound of hydraulics and cables filled the area. Just above where the device was located, a large panel opened in the ship. In addition, the central area rose up like a massive elevator. The Mutant Liberation Front hung on through the turbulence, enduring until the platform reached the deck of the ship.
Now they were exposed to the evening air of New Orleans. The sun had just set. They could see the lights of the city in the distance. Those lights were destined to go dark very soon. Sauron, Avalanche, Stryfe, Callisto, Caliban, Strobe, Reignfire, Kamikaze, Gateway, Negasonic Teenage Warhead, and the Klienstocks kept their focus on the equipment. Now that it was exposed, they had to be on the defensive. As an added precaution, Toad made his way to the side of the ship and looked out over the river.
“Ah, the bayou! I couldn’t ask for a better setting,” said Toad as he took in the swampy air, “So long as we’re imposing a new natural order, we might as well get nature involved!”
The amphibious mutant closed his eyes and a dark glow soon formed around him. The power he gained from the Cambrian and the connection he shared with the swamp came together. As he gazed out over the river, bubbles erupted from the sea bed. From the nearby docks and harbor, the ground started cracking. It shook the whole area and within moments, a maze of vines shot up and surrounded the base of the ship. In addition, an army of bugs, frogs, and alligators emerged from the murky waters. They helped forge a swampy barrier around the ship, ensuring that nothing would stop the Mutant Liberation Front from ultimate victory.
Airspace Over New Orleans
“Whoa…looks like the Big Easy has a big problem,” commented Kitty as she gazed out the windows of the X-jet.
“Bet you miss having a busted leg,” said Bobby.
“Are you kidding? I’ve aching for another shot at Toad’s goons!”
“It seems they have saved us the trouble of looking for them,” said Piotr, “They’re making a very public statement.”
“So it would seem,” said Hank as he looked out through the window, “They’re clearly saying that this is their boldest endeavor and they defy anyone to oppose them.”
As they flew over the river, the X-men saw the swampy flora and fauna surrounding a lone ship. It was definitely Toad’s handiwork. He was really going all out, using the swampy surroundings of the Louisiana bayou to his full advantage. They wouldn’t just have to fight their way through the ship. They would have to fight through vines, alligators, bugs, and swamp fumes. It was difficult to make out any activity from this altitude. Whatever Toad was trying to protect, it was big enough to choke up the river. At the rate it was growing, it would engulf a good chunk of New Orleans.
“Dang…these hommes be spreadin’ their shit over Remy’s home town,” said the Cajun.
“Must be bittersweet,” said Betsy.
“Not as much as you think, cherè.”
“Logan is also down there,” said Ororo as she gazed down at the scene anxiously, “Jean, can you sense him?”
“Oh yes…I can sense how pissed off he is,” said Jean, who was sitting in the cockpit next to Scott, “He’s already bushwhacking his way towards the ship. He says Toad is on board and he’s taken Madison Jefferies along for the ride.”
“In this case, I don’t mind him going in ahead of us. At the rate those swamp creatures are going, it’ll only be harder if we wait,” said the X-leader as they flew in lower.
“That’s not all I sense,” said Jean as she concentrated harder, “There’s…something else going on down there and it’s not a Mardis Gras parade.”
“Care to be more specific, Jean?” asked Betsy, who was also telepathically scanning the area, “It’s hard to sense anything beyond Toad’s disgusting tastes in insects.”
“I may not be as astute as Jean’s telepathy, but I’m also detecting huge spikes in electromagnetic energy,” said Hank, who was monitoring some of the on-board computers, “I don’t think I need to tell you where the source resides.”
The activity below continued to escalate. In addition to the swamp creatures, there was a strange glow emerging from the top of the ship. It seemed oddly familiar. It was already making some lights in nearby buildings flicker. They were definitely planning something big. For all they knew, this was the biggest attack the Mutant Liberation Front had attempted to date. The stage was set for a final showdown and the X-men would have to defeat them without the aid of Charles Xavier.
“Don’t waste any more energy trying to figure it out. We’ll see for ourselves soon enough,” said Scott as he took the X-jet into a steady hover, “We’ve been in this position before. We’ve stared down the Mutant Liberation Front and they beat us. This time, we can’t afford another defeat!”
“I hope this means we have a strategy going in this time,” said Bobby anxiously.
“We do have one, don’t we?” asked Piotr.
“Yes…we do,” said Scott as he unbuckled his restraints and made his way to the hatch, “Toad thinks he has the edge because he’s humbled everybody who ever doubted him. Now it’s our turn to humble him. Let’s move, X-men! This ends tonight!”
Up next: Natural Disorder Part 2
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