Professor Charles Xavier trained his X-men to use their mutant powers for the good of mankind. Now they must employ that training without his guidance in a world that hates and fears them. They were soundly defeated by the Mutant Liberation Front once before. Now they must face them again and with much higher stakes.
The Mutant Liberation Front is poised to deliver a crippling blow to all of humanity. They have rebuilt the mutant amplification device that Magneto used to pull an asteroid into a collision course with Earth. They’ve even abducted Magneto’s daughter, Lorna Dane, from Genosha in order to power it. With help from the unwitting Madison Jefferies, Toad plans to unleash an electromagnetic pulse that will destroy the entire world’s electronic infrastructure and plunge the human race into chaos.
The X-men followed Madison Jefferies to locate the Mutant Liberation Front. They now stand poised for a final confrontation, but neither side realizes just how big this conflict has become. President Kelly’s new adviser, Henry Peter Gyrich, has deployed a dangerous new anti-mutant unit led by the half-human/half-sentinel, Bastion. Genosha is under siege as a result of Lorna’s abduction. Each conflict threatens to unleash more chaos. Failure on any level is not an option.
Cargo Ship – Lower Levels
“GOD…DAMN…SWAMP!” grunted an enraged Wolverine, “TOAD! IF YOU CAN HEAR ME, I’M TAKING MY ANGER OUT ON YOU!”
The former living weapon was beyond enraged. Going after Toad and the Mutant Liberation Front had been frustrating enough. Just as he was entering the cargo ship, Toad gave him more reasons to turn him into a Cajun dinner. He summoned a fresh army of swamp animals, forcing him to fight through bugs and undergrowth to get on board the ship.
It was an uncomfortable struggle to say the least. Wolverine used his claws to tear into the growing roots. He soon discovered that this plant growth would be difficult to cut through. They grew like slithering tentacles seeping up from the river. As he slashed through them, the roots spread out and tried to surround him. In addition, Toad threw in a wave of mosquitoes and wasps. By the time he reached the hatch, his face was littered with cuts and stings.
“Fuck you, Toad! Fuck you and ever one of your swamp goons!” he grunted as he slammed the hatch shut before more undergrowth crept inside.
His head was now killing him. The many stings he suffered festered like hot acid pouring through his veins. Wolverine fought through the pain, never losing track of Toad’s scent. He couldn’t hide behind his swamp army forever. Now that he was inside the ship, he could hunt Toad down and pull the plug on the Mutant Liberation Front’s plans.
Wolverine ran full speed through the ship’s vast corridors. He followed Toad’s trail closely. The stench grew at every turn. As he ascended through the ship, he saw the lights flicker. Toad was up to something and Wolverine planned on giving him a nice taste of adamantium before he finished. He was nearing the mid-levels of the ship when he heard a blaring voice in his mind.
‘Wolverine! Where are you?’
‘Somewhere between pissed off and fucking livid, Jeannie! You and the X-men better leave something left of Toad so I get a chance to fuck him up!’
‘We’ll do our best, but I wanted to warn you that Toad’s unloading his big gun and he’s doing everything he can to protect it.’
‘Don’t need to remind me, darlin’! The bug bites were warning enough!’
‘It’s not just the bugs. Psylocke and I have been picking up on some new psychic signatures. Toad has his main force on the deck, but we suspect the Mutant Liberation Front has a lot more manpower waiting in the wings.’
‘Whatever punks he’s got for back-up, I can handle it. Just do me a favor and hold off ripping Toad a new one until I…’
Wolverine didn’t get a chance to finish his thought. In his determination to hunt down Toad, he barged through a heavily reinforced door that led into a large lounge area. As soon as he entered, he confronted an unwelcome sight. That backup Jeannie mentioned was a lot bigger than he expected.
Standing in front of him were dozens of mutants. There had to be over a hundred of them. He recognized some as former Morlocks and Genosha refugees. Many were young and inexperienced. For all he knew, their powers probably just manifested a week ago and they were kicked out of their homes because of it. Some were older, looking ragged from years of oppression. When they saw Wolverine, they all recognized him and stood up.
“It’s an X-man! I’d know that ugly uniform anywhere!” said a young mutant woman with red skin and scaly arms.
“He must be here to stop Toad!” said an older mutant man who had the complexion of an insect.
“We can’t let that happen!” said a teenage mutant boy with gray skin, “GET HIM!”
The army of mutants attacked the former living weapon in full force. Some of the mutants that had energy or projection powers fired at him. Wolverine had no choice but to turn around and run. Being this outnumbered and outgunned in an enclosed space did not make for very good odds, even with a healing factor.
‘Hold off on that favor, Jeannie. I’ve hit a snag.’
‘A snag? Wolverine, a snag by your standards is more than a snag!’
‘I’ll deal with it. Tell the rest of the team I’ll be late to the party. I’ve gotta do a little crowd control first.’
Wolverine focused his mind so Jeannie couldn’t belittle him any further. He didn’t need the X-men dividing their attention between him and Toad. If he wasn’t going to get his shot at the rotten little runt, he would have to figure out a way to get through Toad’s thugs.
Running full speed, Wolverine backtracked through the ship while the armies of the Mutant Liberation Front chased after him. He could hear their angry yells echoing through the narrow halls. He didn’t have time to take them all down one by one. He had to come up with a better solution that would help the rest of the team topside. As more lights flickered throughout the ship, it was clear that time was running out.
Cargo Ship – Main Deck
The Mutant Liberation Front was enjoying a greater advantage with each passing moment. Toad watched as the mutant amplifiers powered up in preparation for what would be the final shot of this conflict. By now, Polaris was waking up. Her body was already under plenty of strain as the energy grew to levels that pushed the limits of her powers.
“Hnn…it hurts!” groaned Polaris through the swirling rings.
“You said she would stay unconscious, Toad!” said Avalanche, who was watching as well.
“You sound worried, Lance,” said the amphibious mutant, “Since when do you give a damn about how your friends’ discomfort?”
“Since I betrayed them and put a big ass target on my back!” he responded.
“Ah, you’re back will be fine. You still did the right thing!” said Toad, “Besides, what’s a little discomfort to a new era of prosperity for all mutant-kind?”
Toad sounded pretty confident, but Avalanche didn’t share that confidence. Watching Polaris struggle was giving him all sorts of bad feelings. This was the same machine that left Magneto so weak and damaged. If it did the same to Polaris, then being a traitor to the Brotherhood would be the least of his problems.
Avalanche was relegated to a spectator role while the rest of the Mutant Liberation Front did the heavy lifting. Negasonic Teenage Warhead continued probing Madison Jefferies’s mind with her telepathy. By now he was weakened to the point where he could barely stand. The Kleinstocks held him upright, making sure he stayed in place. Gateway stayed close in case he tried to flee. He was going to help them see this through no matter how much it disgusted him.
As the young psychic extracted the information, she telepathically sent it to Callisto, Caliban, Strobe, and Kamikaze. They were the ones operating the controls they set up about 100 feet from the device. At the heart of these controls was the head of Danger, which contained all the programs they required. As these programs were running, a team that included Sauron, Stryfe, and Reignfire did their part by connecting various cables throughout the deck of the ship. These cables tapped right into the power-grid, which was already showing signs of strain.
In the distance the lights over the vast cityscape flickered. Some areas of New Orleans had already gone dark. It was sure to attract attention, but that didn’t bother Toad in the slightest. He wanted the world to witness Mutant Liberation Front’s ultimate triumph.
“How we doing for power, Sauron?” asked Toad, not taking his eyes off Polaris.
“We’re at 35 percent,” announced Sauron as he flew over with some heavy cables in hand, “At this rate, we should be good to go in fifteen minutes.”
“According to this creepy head, the girl’s magnetic powers should start reinforcing itself at that point,” announced Kamikaze, “From there, it should enough energy for an electromagnetic pulse on a planetary scale.”
“Should make for some awesome fireworks!” said Reignfire as he flew over with Sauron.
“Assuming there are no setbacks,” Stryfe pointed out, who was attaching some cables to the ship’s main conduits.
“You assume too little, Stryfe,” scoffed Callisto as she worked with Caliban on the console, “Vertigo and Arclight are keeping the authorities busy. The X-men are probably just figuring out how screwed they are. By the time anyone gets here, it’ll be too late!”
The Mutant Liberation Front had many reasons to be confident. They had outsmarted everyone to this point. There was no reason to suspect that anyone had the jump on them. Stryfe still had his share of concerns, but he didn’t get a chance to voice them.
While the Mutant Liberation Front was focused on the device, a loud burst of thunder echoed from above. Toad and his teammates looked up to see a large storm cloud forming overhead and from it, the familiar figures of the X-men emerged. They all few in under the cover of Storm’s clouds while Phoenix carried Cyclops, Iceman, Beast, Gambit, Psylocke, Shadowcat, and Colossus towards the ship.
“Toad!” shouted Cyclops, “Your luck is about to run out!”
“And you playin’ with house money now that you in Remy’s home town!” added Gambit.
As the X-men descended towards them, Stryfe looked towards Callisto smugly.
“What was that you said about it being too late?” he asked her.
“Shut up, Stryfe!” barked Callisto as she shot up from the console.
“Kiss and make up, you two,” ordered Toad with newfound seriousness, “They’re early, but this doesn’t change anything. Just protect the device and buy us some time!”
“I may be able to help with that,” grinned Negasonic Teenage Warhead, “Madison here knows of a little fail-safe that Forge never used. Everybody get clear!”
The young psychic transmitted a new protocol to Kamikaze, who quickly ran it using Danger. As soon as it started running, the control panels lit up with activity. He, Callisto, Caliban, and Strobe ran away from the computer array as fast as they could. Toad and Avalanche stepped away as well. They then joined Gateway, the Kleinstocks, and Negasonic Teenage Warhead. Once they were clear, a burst of light erupted from the device.
The X-men landed on the deck of the ship just in time to the fail-safe activate. From the glowing rings that surrounded the device, a blue dome of energy formed around it. It grew from where Polaris was restrained and soon encompassing both the device and the controls, creating a powerful glowing barrier that would prevent anyone from tampering with the mechanisms. It allowed the Mutant Liberation Front to take on the X-men while the machine remained protected.
“Well that’s a major inconvenience!” said Shadowcat.
“Wait…that’s Lorna in there!” exclaimed Iceman, “What’s going on?! Is that gizmo what I think it is?!”
“It appears to be exactly that, Iceman,” said Beast, “The Mutant Liberation Front has remade the same device that Magneto used to amplify his powers.”
“Why on Earth would they want to do that again?” wondered Storm.
“You guys want to play 20 questions? Or do you want to beat the answers out of these blokes!” said Psylocke as she formed two psionic blades.
“I choose the beating,” said Colossus, now in his metal skin, “I am wanting a rematch with these scoundrels.”
“You and me both, Peter!” said Phoenix.
The X-men now had two barriers in front of them. The first was the shield surrounding the device. The second was Toad and his Mutant Liberation Front. They all gathered in front of the machine just outside the energy barrier, ready to guard it until it was fully powered. Toad and Avalanche stood at the front of the pack. The Kleinstocks tossed the dazed Madison Jefferies aside while Negasonic Teenage Warhead and Gateway joined him. Callisto, Caliban, Strobe, Reignfire, Sauron, Stryfe, and Kamikaze joined in as well. Having defeated the X-men once before, they had every reason to believe they could do it again.
“That AI from Jefferies will do the rest of the heavy lifting. From this point forward, all we need is time,” said Kamikaze.
“Of which we have plenty, but we can always afford to make more!” said Sauron.
“And we will,” announced Toad with a sinister grin, “Since you’ve all been so loyal, I’m officially lifting the Mutant Liberation Front’s no-killing policy!”
“I couldn’t think of a better exception!” seethed Reignfire.
Fueled by plenty of confidence, the Mutant Liberation Front launched their attack on the X-men. Cyclops, Phoenix, Iceman, Beast, Storm, Gambit, Psylocke, Shadowcat, and Colossus braced themselves for another clash. The stakes were much higher this time. This wasn’t just some attack. This was the Mutant Liberation Front’s endgame. So with determined focus, the X-men launched attacked as well.
“Remember what we talked about, X-men!” said Cyclops, “This time, we fight them on our terms!”
New Orleans – West End Park
“Rogue! Damn it, Rogue! Where the fuck are you?” exclaimed a very frustrated Domino.
The GRSO unit was closing in and Domino was running out of luck. She was cornered behind a couple of trees. She tried to move into a better position, ducking and narrowly dodging incoming gunfire. It was no use. The GRSO unit had the whole park surrounded and she was going through bullets at an alarming rate. Rogue was supposed to be the muscle that picked up the slack for a situation like this, but so far she was nowhere in sight.
‘The probability of me escaping this…zero percent. I’d rather not calculate how much longer I can hold out. I may not even get a chance to use the last of my bullets.’
“SHE’S OVER HERE! OPEN FIRE!” yelled one of the GRSO soldier.
Powerful bursts of high-energy blasts shot out from all directions. They shredded the trees and reduced a nearby picnic table to splinters. Domino had to rely on more luck to avoid getting grazed. She was flat on her stomach as she tried to load a new clip of ammo into her gun. She rolled over on the ground, firing along the way at the closest GRSO soldiers. She managed to hit them, but they didn’t stay down. Their uniforms were too well-armored. It was like the men weren’t even registering any pain.
It was looking increasingly grim. Domino kept rolling until she reached a nearby park bench. She saw the soldiers closing in from all direction. She was prepared to empty what was left in her ammo clips. Then to her amazement Rogue finally showed up, but it wasn’t in the way she hoped. Rogue came crashing down as if she had been thrown from a plane, landing a few feet from her with a hard thud and leaving a deep mark in the soft grass.
“Ungh!” she groaned.
“There you are!” exclaimed Domino, “I won’t ask where you’ve been if you’ve got a damn good excuse!”
Rogue’s excuse flew in overhead, causing the GRSO soldiers to cease their attack. Domino looked up to see Bastion hovering in mid-air, his hands and eyes glowing with menacing fury. She pointed her guns up at him, but Rogue waved her down.
“Don’t bother,” grunted Rogue as she forced herself up, “Bullets ain’t gonna do squat against this fella!”
“A wise assessment, mutant. If you’re smart, you’ll cooperate,” said Bastion.
“Never made the honor roll in school. I’ll take my chances!” said Domino strongly.
“Save your bullets, Dom. Ah know this poor sap,” said Rogue.
“Let me guess. Ex-boyfriend?”
“He wishes,” Rogue scoffed, “That’s Bastion! He used to be a man, but he traded all his fleshy bits for sentinel parts.”
“I didn’t trade. I upgraded,” said Bastion, “What you see before you is the most advanced mutant-hunting system in the world. I am more than just a man armed with the hardware of a sentinel. I am a sophisticated combat unit, capable of leading attacks against any mutant.”
“I don’t care if you’re Santa Claus. Any guy who trades his dick for fancy gear to hunt mutants can’t be capable of much!” retorted Domino.
“The very sound of your voice sickens almost as much as your tainted genetics,” scoffed Bastion, “In case you haven’t noticed, I control the GRSO unit. I can effectively counter any mutant ability you throw at me. Your luck will not last if you defy me.”
Bastion demonstrated his abilities by signaling the GRSO troops to move in perfect unison. Rogue and Domino watched as they encircled them completely. They moved as if they were one unit, synchronizing everything down to the way they walked. It was so perfectly choreographed that Domino doubted her luck powers could affect it. The soldiers now stood within fifteen feet of her and Rogue, their guns pointed at them from all directions.
“Still feeling lucky, Domino?” asked Rogue.
“No more than you, I’m afraid,” quipped Domino.
“No mutant ability can counter perfect coordination and overwhelming firepower,” said Bastion as he hovered a mere ten feet above them, “Alone, a GRSO soldier is just an ordinary man in a high-tech battle suit. But when networked together through my AI, they become a single unit. I can block out their pain. I can condition them to overcome fear. They become an extension of my mission to counter mutant threats.”
“Are you telling us just to listen to yourself? Or are you going to grow some balls and shoot us?” said Domino.
“Don’t give him any ideas, Dom!” said Rogue.
“Believe me, mutant. Nothing would satisfy me more than to end you where you stand,” said Bastion, “However, I have been ordered by my superiors to follow proper protocol. You have hereby been identified as agents of the Mutant Liberation Front. If you wish to live, you will cooperate and lead us to Toad. Otherwise, I have the authority to terminate you where you stand.”
Rogue and Domino were truly in a no-win situation. Vertigo and Arclight really hung them out to dry. Bastion thought they were the link to the Mutant Liberation Front. Seeing as how he was more machine than man, there was little chance they could reason with him.
“It’s official. This is a big waste of time for both of us,” groaned Rogue.
“You want to explain that to Robocop over here?” said Domino.
“Can I infer from your response that you will not comply?” asked Bastion coldly.
“Even if we did, you wouldn’t accept the truth,” said Rogue.
“If that is your choice, then you leave me only one recourse.”
Bastion aimed the blasters built into his hands at the two mutants before him. The GRSO soldiers did the same and prepared their rifles. Rogue and Domino braced themselves. They were surrounded and Bastion cut off an air escape. There seemed to be no way out.
But just as Bastion was about to fire, Vertigo and Arclight emerged from the trees nearby. They managed to slip away during the commotion, but they didn’t leave them behind. Now they had a chance to strike back.
“Hey Astro-Boy! Recourse this!” shouted Arclight.
“Who dares?” said Bastion.
Bastion looked over just in time to see Arclight leaping from a tall branch on a nearby tree. Her entire arm was glowing with purplish energy. When she hit the ground, she slammed her fist into an area a mere ten feet from where the GRSO soldiers had Rogue and Domino surrounded. The purplish energy surrounding her arm transferred into the ground, causing a shockwave that coursed through the area.
“DAMN IT! SHOOT HER BEFORE-AHHHHH!”
Not one soldier got a shot off. They were too focused on their other targets. The energy wave that struck was powerful enough to knock the disciplined GRSO soldiers out of their formation. Rogue used her invulnerable form to shield Domino, allowing them to stay on their feet. The only one it didn’t hit was Bastion, who redirected his energy blasts to shield himself.
“Was that intended to save your friends?” scoffed Bastion.
“They’re not our friends!” said Arclight, “But we can’t have you finishing them this quickly!”
“Should I be touched or disgusted?” asked Domino.
“Don’t flatter yourself, girlfriend. We have our orders as well. You’re just cannon fodder in a skin-tight outfit,” said Vertigo.
It wasn’t very heroic. Domino and Rogue didn’t expect anything less. For some reason, saving them from Bastion served a purpose for them. That didn’t have time to figure it out and they didn’t have the luxury of refusing help at this point.
“It seems I overestimated GRSO soldiers I sent to subdue you,” said Bastion to Vertigo and Arclight, “No matter. Your interference changes nothing.”
“If you humans are resorting to cyborgs at this point, I can’t say I’m worried,” scoffed Vertigo.
She and Arclight launched another attack. Arclight charged her arm up with a fresh wave of purplish energy while Vertigo unleashed the full force of her nausea-inducing waves on Bastion. However, the effect on him wasn’t as great as she expected.
“Your psionic powers do not affect me,” scoffed Bastion, “You cannot induce discomfort in a man who no longer needs food or a stomach. You might as well be a dog barking at a tank.”
“Talk to the glowing hand, asshole!” said Arclight.
Despite Vertigo’s ineffective attack, Arclight punched the ground again and unleashed another wave of force. This time, however, Bastion did more than just guard against it. As the wave came his way, his eyes flashed and he absorbed the energy into his body. The strange purplish glow was redirected into his hands. Then with casual gesture, he unleashed his own blast wave. This time it was Vertigo and Arclight’s turn to brace themselves.
“You and your big mouth!” groaned Vertigo.
“Shut up, bi-AHHHHHHH!” exclaimed Arclight.
The two mutants tried to turn around and run, but it was no use. The blast from Bastion threw them into the air so far that they soared over the nearby docks and landed in the water. It was a powerful show of force that would make them think twice before attacking again.
“Pathetic mutant scum,” said Bastion, “If you dare attack again, I can formulate a dozen additional ways to make you suffer. You will either surrender or be destroyed.”
“Tough choice,” said Rogue, who was on the move again, “In that case, Ah choose none of the above!”
Bastion turned to his right and saw Rogue and Domino continuing to defy him. They slipped past the GRSO soldiers that were still recovering from Arclight’s blast and made it to a small clearing where Rogue took to the air with Domino on her back.
“Nice meeting you, robo-douche! But my new best friend here promised to show me the sights!” said Domino.
“Since when am Ah your new best friend?” questioned Rogue.
“Fly me outta here and I’ll kiss you in ways that these men will fantasize about for years!”
Rogue rolled her eyes at Domino’s remarks and ascended into the air at high speeds, despite being sore from the blast she took earlier. Domino held on tightly, not looking back towards Bastion or the GRSO unit.
Bastion remained undaunted as the two mutants made a run for it. Their actions were not unexpected. He had already prepared for this possibility as he did with every other and formulated a new strategy and relayed his actions to his superiors.
“The targets have chosen to flee. Will engage pursuit protocol omega,” said Bastion in a deep tone, “Prepare to reconfigure GRSO armor.”
Bastion’s eyes flashed as he sent a new round of instructions to the surrounding soldiers. Most had recovered from Arclight’s attack. Some were still wounded from Domino’s shots and were singled out. Only about seven soldiers were in the right condition. The suits on these soldiers started flashing as the new instructions were processed. Within seconds, the back of their suits opened up to reveal fully functional wings. Once they unfolded, rockets within their boots erupted and they took off into the air.
While the GRSO unit took off, Bastion formed some wings of his own. The metal around his body shifted as if it were made of clay, forming two large wings on his back that resembled that of an angel. He then ascended into the air as well at much higher speeds. He quickly soared past the GRSO soldiers and led the formation.
“Now that’s just cheating,” said Domino as she looked back.
“Don’t tell meh you expected them to fight fair,” said Rogue.
“Is that really asking so much?”
“And here Ah was thinking you enjoyed a challenge,” she quipped.
As Bastion and the GRSO soldiers closed in, they started firing energy blasts. The GRSO unit used their high energy rifles while Bastion used the hardware built right into his arms. It filled the evening sky around Rogue and Domino. Rogue went on the evasive, flying down lower while trying to avoid populated areas.
“Can you shoot and hold on at the same time?” asked Rogue over the high winds.
“I’ve had tougher shots,” said Domino as she took out her guns, “If you have any other strategies I’m open to suggestions!”
“Ah can see some storm clouds up ahead. Ah’ll try to ditch ‘em there, but if Bastion doesn’t hit us the lightning sure will!”
“Hit by lightning or shot by a mutant-hunting cyborg? Tough choice,” groaned Domino, “I’ll let you decide! Just don’t expect too much luck at this point!”
With few options, Rogue changed directions and headed south. The clouds up ahead were growing. It seemed a little odd, but they didn’t have time to assess the situation. Bastion and the GRSO unit were gaining fast and weren’t going to stop until they were blown out of the sky.
Langley, Virginia – GRSO Headquarters
“We’ve got ourselves a couple cunning freaks,” said General William Kincaid as he watched the live feed from Bastion.
“Cunning yet apparently oblivious,” said Henry Gyrich, “They seemed to be just as surprised as us when we asked about the Mutant Liberation Front.”
“We saw Vertigo and Arclight with them. They’re known associates of Toad,” reasoned Kincaid, “Near as I can tell, these ladies knew each other and were planning something. They just didn’t expect us to ambush them.”
“That better be the only unexpected factor in this mission. I would prefer that GRSO’s first test not be a wild goose chase.”
Gyrich and General Kincaid remained deeply engaged in the operation, as was the rest of the CIA’s GRSO officers. President Robert Kelly remained silent for the most part. He was still digesting the revelation of this big gun as they called it. Bastion was less a big gun and more a loose cannon. He vividly recalled how Bastion became a publicity nightmare during his presidential campaign. Graydon Creed and the Friends of Humanity thought they could make a statement by merging a man with a Sentinel, but they ended up creating a new monster.
Henry Gyrich and General Kincaid acted as though they had complete control of that monster. They spent a fair amount of time demonstrating all the upgrades they had made since they acquired him from Worthington Industries. President Kelly didn’t get to ask too many questions because they had already deployed him. He was supposed to follow a lead that would take them right to the front door of the Mutant Liberation Front. As the battle unfolded, it only became more chaotic.
“I still can’t believe you think this is a solution,” said President Kelly, who was still trying to rub away a pounding headache.
“The mission isn’t even over, sir,” Gyrich pointed out, “You said you were willing to give our methods a chance.”
“That was before I know Bastion was involved,” he said sternly, “First you tell me that you confiscated him from Worthington Industries, which I’m pretty sure involved activities that would give the Attorney General migraines. Then you tell me you spent untold millions improving on Graydon Creed’s mistake!”
“Graydon Creed was more a zealot than a visionary. That much we can agree on,” said Gyrich, “But the concept of a human/sentinel interface isn’t without merit. It just needed a little fine-tuning.”
“By fine-tuning you mean removing all the flesh from that poor man’s body and replacing it with some advanced AI?” questioned President Kelly.
“With all due respect, Mr. President…I knew Captain Gilberti personally,” said General Kincaid, “Believe me when I say it was not an easy decision. But the doctors at Worthington Industries agreed. Most of Sebastian Gilberti’s flesh either burned or damaged beyond repair. He would have been a brain-dead vegetable in chronic pain if we hadn’t integrated our GRSO technology into him.”
“I’m still tempted to ask where you obtained this technology, but something tells me I’m better off not knowing,” muttered President Kelly, “At least until I stop feeling sick to my stomach about this operation.”
“I promise you’ll feel better soon, sir,” assured Henry Gyrich, “Just watch Bastion and GRSO in action. See for yourself that they can take down these mutants and lead us to the Mutant Liberation Front. We can do this! That I promise you!”
“Don’t attempt to bullshit a politician, Mr. Gyrich. We know the smell better than you ever will,” he replied strongly, “Until I see results, all your promises are as limited as my patience.”
The President showed increasing skepticism. He wasn’t making this easy for them. Gyrich and General Kincaid had to make sure that this operation succeeded. It had to pay off if they were going to solidify their role in President Kelly’s mutant initiative.
The two men turned their attention back towards the video screen. The footage of the chase was getting more intense. They were now flying over the heart of downtown New Orleans. Bastion and the GRSO unit were still on their tail, but one of the mutants was firing back with a gun. It seemed like a weak response, but somehow she was able to hit her targets at high speeds in mid-air. It caused some of the GRSO soldiers to sustain damage and break off their attack.
“GRSO 7 is hit. So is GRSO 4. We’re breaking off for an emergency landing. Bastion has ordered a new formation. We’re going to try and shoot them down over the river.”
“Copy that, GRSO One. Proceed and engage,” said the communications analyst.
It wasn’t a good sign when these advanced soldiers were taking damage from two mutants on the run. Henry Gyrich tried not to appear too worried while General Kincaid maintained his poise.
“You seem anxious, Henry,” said General Kincaid under his breath.
“I was hoping the President would be more impressed. Guess he’s not as desperate as we thought,” replied Gyrich.
“We knew he wouldn’t be thrilled about Bastion. We’re expecting the results to speak for themselves.”
“You sure we’re not assuming too much? Even if we subdue these mutants, we have no guarantee that they’ll lead us to the Mutant Liberation Front.”
“Well we won’t know until we ask them now will we?” retorted General Kincaid, “I wouldn’t have followed that tip if my people didn’t suspect it was legit. We’ve covered every detail from every angle. If we’re going to one-up the MSA, we need this to work!”
Gyrich tried to share the General’s confidence. The GRSO unit was their best bet to usurp the MSA. The GRSO unit was also their beast weapon against the growing mutant threat. Looking back at the screen, it was hard to determine just how effective they were. He and Kincaid worked hard to make sure that all the pieces were in place. They couldn’t afford to miss out on this opportunity.
While the two men contemplated this risky operation, the door to the conference room opened and one of the President’s aides walked in.
“Excuse me, but this is a private meeting!” barked General Kincaid.
“I…I understand, General,” said the female aide nervously, “But the Pentagon has received an urgent call from Genosha. Wanda Maximoff is demanding to speak with President Kelly.”
“Genosha? What the hell do they want?” asked President Kelly, now more interested in this news than the operation with Bastion.
“It would take me an hour to explain. I think Wanda Maximoff would explain it better. She’s on line eight.”
The aide handed President Kelly an unmarked cell phone. General Kincaid and Gyrich exchanged glances. Whenever Genosha was involved with anything, it didn’t bode well.
“Are you sure you covered every detail, General?” said Gyrich dryly.
“Now is not the time, Henry,” groaned the General.
“Quiet, you two! Turn off the live feed,” ordered President Kelly as he took the phone, “I need to take this. For the sake of your GRSO unit, this had better not be related.”
The mood amongst the GRSO staff became very tense. President Kelly put the phone on speaker mode so they could all hear. There was a lot of noise in the background. It seemed Wanda was having as bad a day as the President.
“This is President Kelly. To what do I owe this incredibly ill-timed call, Miss Maximoff?”
“Mr. President, I think you already know that we’re both in a world of trouble. The Mutant Liberation Front just screwed us over in a big way. I hope you can help because we may be out of time.”
Genosha Citadel – Upper Levels
“I’ve barricaded the throne room and the dormitories! Hurry up and seal the elevators, Pyro!” ordered an incensed Havok.
“Quit yelling at me like I’m wanking off, mate! These blokes have powers too!” said Pyro.
“You’re not the only one pissed off, Havok! So quit taking it out on us!” added Quicksilver as he ran back and forth at high speeds.
The citadel was under siege. Genosha was descending into anarchy. The protesters that had been voicing their discontent outside were venting their frustrations in a more destructive way. Avalanche’s betrayal didn’t just leave Havok, Quicksilver, Pyro, and the Scarlet Witch unconscious. It rendered them very vulnerable. The electromagnetic shield that they had been using to protect their home had been sabotaged. That allowed over two hundred angry Genoshans to storm the citadel.
Once they were in, the protesters ransacked the lower levels, destroying rooms and looting anything they could carry. Most were content to leave with food and supplies. Others were more ambitious and scaled the citadel in search of their leaders.
They made it all the way to the upper levels. Once the Scarlet Witch regained consciousness, she and the Brotherhood fled the throne room. They ended up barricading themselves in the upper dormitories. The protesters were trying to force their way through the main door and since there were some mutants with enhanced strength, it was only a matter of time before they broke through.
“YOU CAN’T KEEP RUNNING!” yelled one of the protesters through the heavy door.
“WE TRUSTED YOU AND YOU FAILED US! NOW IT’S TIME FOR A CHANGE!”
“OUR VOICES WILL BE HEARD!”
“We hear you, damn it!” shouted Quicksilver, “You assholes are making a bad day much worse!”
The heavy doors threatened to give way. Quicksilver was running at high speeds, getting as many heavy objects as he could lift from the surrounding rooms. He placed them in front of the main door while Havok used his powers to push back against the protesters. There were two large mutants behind the doors trying to ram their way through. They were creating massive dents and weakening the barrier. It looked like it would give way at any moment.
“Have I told you guys how much I want to kill Lance?” groaned Quicksilver, who needed to catch his breath.
“Only about ten times!” grunted Havok.
“Really? I had it at twelve,” said Pyro as he ran over as well.
“We’ll skip the recount and call it eleven! Did you shut down the elevators?” asked Havok.
“If by shut down you mean burned the control circuits and singed the doors shut, then yes,” replied the Australian.
“Since someone fucked up our defenses, I doubt they would have worked anyways,” said Quicksilver, still seething with bitterness.
“That’s all well and good, mate. But I don’t think these blokes care!” said Pyro, “Besides protecting me porno stash, what the hell are we doing? Is there a plan or something?!”
For once, Pyro said something that made sense. The thuds against the door got louder. Some of the smaller items Quicksilver used like DVD cases and a TV remote fell away from the pile. Havok fired a few concentrated blasts to push it back. It was clearly a losing battle. They had nowhere left to run.
“Wanda says she needs time. For now, the plan is to give it to her!” said Havok.
“Time for what? Begging President Kelly to send in a fleet of tanks?” said Quicksilver.
“Unless you want to be refugees from a failed government, we need friends in high places!” said the Brotherhood leader, “If this country is going to stay in one piece, we need help!”
“It’s a little late for that,” grunted Quicksilver, “I bet that’s what Avalanche was banking on. He’s probably laughing his ass off at us along with Toad.”
The speedster wasn’t helping with his seething hatred of Avalanche. He wasn’t helping much with his power either. He didn’t see the point. Pyro was at a loss as well. As more thuds hammered against the barrier, it was only a matter of time before they broke through. This mutant nation they worked so hard to build was on the brink of failing.
Havok continued to resist, doing his best to fight back against the onslaught of protesters. From a nearby bedroom, the Scarlet Witch emerged. She had been on the phone with President Kelly for the last five minutes. If her demeanor was any indication, little progress had been made.
“What do you mean you thought you had a lead?! I just told you the Mutant Liberation Front has made their move…no, I’m pretty damn sure this is their endgame! One of my own acolytes betrayed me and abducted my sister…no, I don’t know the details of their plan, Mr. President. If they screwed me over, they’re probably in the process of screwing you as well…don’t ask me how! Right now, I need help cleaning up Avalanche’s mess! And I’m willing to use that power generator I told you about as payment!”
“He’s not going to help us, Wanda. You can stop graveling,” scoffed Quicksilver.
“Shut up, Pietro!” she spat angrily, “Sorry Mr. President, but some of my subordinates are being annoying!”
“Subordinates?” questioned Quicksilver.
“We’ve got an angry mob looking to string us up by our ankles! I’d say we’re pretty damn subordinate!” said Pyro.
“You guys just love stating the obvious,” said the speedster angrily, “I think we all have a right to be pissed off! My sister is gone! Our people hate us! And we have no fucking clue what those Mutant Liberation Front assholes are doing with Lorna! You can keep shoveling shit for all I care, but I’m going to stay pissed if that’s alright with you!”
In a show of frustration, Quicksilver grabbed a book that had been knocked from the barrier and threw it right into a nearby dorm. In the process, he hit the TV that was mounted on the wall and ended up turning the TV on. The reception on Genosha wasn’t very good, but it was still capable of picking up the major news networks. It just happened to be tuned into CNN where a major story was just breaking.
“If you’re just tuning in, we have breaking news out of New Orleans. Rolling blackouts have gripped the city. We’ve also received word from a local affiliate that the Mutant Liberation Front has been sighted at the West Riverside harbor where they’ve taken over a cargo ship. Witnesses claim a large glowing object on the deck. We’re bringing you live feed from a local news chopper. Anyone within the city is advised to take immediate cover.”
This report quickly drew the attention of the Scarlet Witch and the Brotherhood. This news was breaking all around the world. Images of a cargo ship surrounded by swamp creatures blared across the TV screen. It was a clear sign that Toad was on board. However, that’s not what caught their attention.
“Is that…” gasped Havok.
“It is,” said the Scarlet Witch in words laced with dread.
“How did Toad…” began Pyro.
“I don’t know. And I don’t think I want to know.”
“What the hell is he doing? He’s seen that gizmo fail before. How did he even get it to work?!” exclaimed Quicksilver.
Havok and the Scarlet Witch looked closer. Details from live feed from the news cameras were hard to make out. In addition to the undergrowth surrounding the ship, they could see a glowing blue light on the deck. The Scarlet Witch recognized it as coming from the same machine her father used to amplify his powers. Somehow Toad was using it as well. Why he would reconstruct a failed endeavor like this was anyone’s guess, but that didn’t worry her as much as how he was running it. Then it came to her.
“Lorna!” said the Scarlet Witch grimly.
“What? What about her?” asked Havok intently.
“That’s how they’re powering that machine. That’s why they kidnapped her. They’re using her powers in the same way Magneto used his!”
“Why the hell would they do that? And why the hell would they do it in the middle of a big city?” asked Quicksilver.
Certain pieces of the puzzle were falling into place. As the screen panned over a shot of the glowing machine, the source of its power became painfully clear. Lorna was down there along with the Mutant Liberation Front. There were also some shots of the X-men arriving on the scene. A heated battle was unfolding and Polaris looked to be caught in the crossfire.
For Havok, he had seen enough. Whatever the Mutant Liberation Front was using her for, they couldn’t be allowed to succeed. He didn’t trust his brother and the rest of the X-men to stop them. He would see to it personally.
“Lorna…I need to get to her!” said Havok as he ran off.
“Wait! Where the hell are you going?” exclaimed Quicksilver.
“To the roof! I’m taking a transport orb to New Orleans! To hell with these protesters! I’m going after my girlfriend!”
“Are you crazy, mate? You’re just going to leave us?” exclaimed Pyro.
“And making yourself as big an asshole as Lance in the process?” added Quicksilver.
The speedster was about to run after the fleeing Havok. Then the protesters reminded him that he had more pressing issues. Without Havok, the angry mob outside was breaking through. Two mutants with enhanced strength were ramming the door with their shoulders, knocking back the pile of assorted junk that Quicksilver used to barricade the door. Some were actually reaching through the opening in a show of determination.
“WE’RE ALMOST THROUGH! PUSH HARDER!” said one of the mutants.
“STAND BACK! I’VE GOT THIS!” said one of the oversized mutants.
“Damn you, Havok! I almost hate you as much as Lance right now!” groaned Quicksilver.
The speedster opted not to chase Havok and went back to reinforcing the barrier. With blinding speed, he grabbed some of the stuff that had been jarred loose and forced it back into the pile. Pyro also tried to push them back by forming a large fireball and sending it through the door. When it burst through, the protesters on the other side stammered back, but remained determined.
“How much longer are we going to keep this up before we follow Havok’s lead?” asked Pyro as he formed more fireballs.
“As long as we have to!” said the Scarlet Witch, who was still fixated on the news broadcast, “This news changes things. We may be able to use it.”
The Scarlet Witch left Quicksilver and Pyro to hold back the protesters, which they did so begrudgingly. She couldn’t blame them for wanting to follow Havok, but she wasn’t ready to turn her back on Genosha. If Toad was taking a page out of her father’s playbook, then maybe she could use it to her advantage.
“Mr. President, I’m sure your people have turned on the news for you. So I’ll skip the details for now,” she said to him, “If Toad’s up to what I think he is, you’ll need my help as much as I need yours.”
Cargo Ship – Main Deck
The battle between the Mutant Liberation Front and the X-men unfolded with increasing intensity. Under the ominous glow of the mutant amplification device, the battle between the two mutant teams became more urgent for both sides. The very future of mutants and humans hung in the balance.
Cyclops went right for Toad, sending him on the defensive with a barrage of optic blasts. Storm stayed in the air so she could take on Sauron, who set his sights on her immediately. Iceman came in on an ice slide and targeted Reignfire, who quickly took to the air. Beast and Gambit teamed up to take on Callisto and Caliban while Shadowcat went after Strobe, who was already shooting fireballs in her direction. Psylocke took on Kamikaze, who slammed his fists together to generate some explosive potential. He was backed up by the Kleinstocks, who went after Colossus. This left Gateway, Avalanche, Stryfe, and Negasonic Teenage Warhead to guard the unconscious Madison Jefferies from Phoenix, who flew in surrounded by an aura of cosmic fire.
It was not an even battle in the slightest. The Mutant Liberation Front didn’t have to completely subdue the X-men. They just had to bide their time until the machine was fully powered. The energy shield activated by Madison’s AI added additional insurance. To keep them from interfering, the Mutant Liberation Front had to use every trick at their disposal.
“What are you waiting for, Gateway? Thin their ranks! It worked so well before,” said Stryfe.
“Trust me, this bitch is a handful,” groaned Avalanche, “Especially when she’s packing that psychic fire PMS.”
“Then his time send her to the South Pole,” grinned Negasonic Teenage Warhead.
Gateway stayed silent as he always did and went into a meditative state so he could summon his portals. Phoenix saw this coming and wasn’t eager to take another impromptu trip.
“Oh no you don’t!” she said, her eyes flashing briefly.
Gateway started forming a portal, but Phoenix stopped in midflight to focus on the meditating mutant. As a purplish portal formed in front of her, Phoenix unleashed a wave of cosmic fires that consumed both the portal and Gateway. In the process, the portal was closed and reformed. This time it appeared around Stryfe and Avalanche.
“So much for playing on a winning team,” said Avalanche as he failed to escape the portal.
“Gateway, what the hell are you doing?!” exclaimed Stryfe.
“Hnn…” was all Gateway could get out.
“He’s not the only one experienced in the art of manipulating time and space, Stryfe. By cosmic standards, he’s still a novice.”
The cosmic undertone in her voice was distressing. Only Negasonic Teenage Warhead managed to escape the portal, her precognitive powers giving her sufficient warning to evade. Gateway, Avalanche, and Stryfe weren’t so lucky. They remained frozen in place as the portal consumed them. In an instant, the three mutants were transported away from the scene. It left only Negasonic Teenage Warhead to confront Phoenix.
“Well that was a dick move,” said the young psychic dryly.
“If you’re worried about them, don’t be. They’re still in the same time zone, but Gateway will be MIA for a few hours,” said Phoenix.
“You think I’m worried about those two? This just means they don’t get to watch me while I pwn your fiery ass!” she said.
“Spoken like a cocky little shit who cheated her way through high school and didn’t mind falling in with a bad crowd. Let’s see you cheat your way through the Phoenix Force!”
Negasonic Teenage Warhead stood behind Madison Jefferies and launched a telepathic attack. Phoenix continued to hover in midair as she countered with an attack of her own. This young girl was tough and aggressive. Even with the Phoenix Force, she would be no pushover. Phoenix kept up her guard, making sure the others were free from psychic attack so they could fight their own battles. There was no Charles Xavier to guard their minds this time so the responsibility was hers and she had no intention of failing.
Not far from this psychic battle, the battle against Callisto and Caliban was heating up. Gambit and Beast faced the blunt end of their onslaught. Like Negasonic Teenage Warhead, they stayed on the offensive. Both former Morlocks had enhanced strength so they attempted to overpower the two X-men. Caliban attempted to slam his fists against Beast like a sledge-hammer while Callisto used her more refined fighting experience to take on Gambit. Armed with his bow staff, he had to stay on the evasive.
“Why can’t you X-men take a hint?” spat Callisto as she narrowly missed Gambit with a haymaker, “We tried your ways and they failed!”
“Really? Ain’t like you tried very hard,” retorted Gambit, “You jumped on board Toad’s little soirée pretty damn quickly.”
“He’s given us another path…a more logical path.”
“Maybe you be fuzzy on certain concepts, chere. But terrorizing the whole dang world ain’t all that logical,” the Cajun pointed out.
Callisto attacked Gambit again. The Cajun countered by charging up his bow staff and using the extra energy to hit back. This hit Callisto with an extra burst of force, which knocked her off her balance. It allowed Gambit to go on the offensive, driving her back towards Caliban and Beast.
There was much less taunting from Caliban. He was fully focused on crushing Beast with his strength. Beast used his agility to avoid the powerful blows. Like Callisto, Caliban was a former Morlock. Beast had confronted him before so he tried to reason with him.
“It doesn’t need to be this way, Caliban,” said Beast as he jumped behind the former Morlock and pulled him into a choke-hold, “I know you. The X-men have helped you. This madness isn’t who you are!”
“That was before I lost everything!” seethed Caliban.
“But you didn’t. I share your lament for the loss of the Morlocks. This is not the way to honor their memory!”
“Don’t talk to me about honoring their memory! How easy was it for you and everyone else to completely forget about us after we were wiped out?”
“I understand your pain. Please, my friend…there’s still time!” urged Beast as he struggled to maintain his grip on the strong mutant.
“No…there isn’t. You X-men still don’t understand. And you never will!”
Fueled by outrage, Caliban broke the grapple with Beast. Then he grabbed Beast’s arm and turned him around. Before the nimble mutant could slip from his grasp, Caliban struck Beast right in his elbow. He struck him so hard that he shattered the bones in his forearm, putting Beast in a world of pain.
“Arrrrrggggghhhhh!” he roared.
“Dang…you fellas be fighting dirtier than usual!” grunted Gambit.
“We lived in a fucking sewer while you lived in a mansion! You really expect us to fight fair?” said Callisto, who made sure he wouldn’t rush to Beast’s aid.
Callisto grabbed Gambit’s charged bow staff and used it to throw him away from Beast. The Cajun tumbled across the ship deck, landing not far from the energy barrier protecting the device. He returned to his feet, but Callisto made it clear that he would have to go through her if he wanted to help Beast.
But Gambit wasn’t the only one that noticed Beast’s plight. In the skies above the ship, Iceman was chasing Reignfire. Storm and Sauron were soaring nearby as well. They saw what was going on down below. One of them had to go to Beast’s aid.
“Beast needs your assistance, Iceman!” yelled Storm as she flew past him at high speeds.
“Why me?” he exclaimed through the winds.
Shortly after Storm few by, Sauron soared past him as well. He was chasing her at high speeds, fighting off her wind gusts and staying on her tail. He got so close that Storm had to turn around and fight off his attacks.
“You think your winds can hold me back?! I survived in the Savage Land for years! I’ve endured worse storms in between naps!” yelled Sauron.
“Never mind,” groaned Iceman, “I’ll get right on it!”
“Not in one piece, you won’t!” yelled Reignfire as circled around for another attack.
“Then I’ll skip the part where I ask nicely and just assume you’re about to get out of my way,” taunted Iceman.
Reignfire flew in hot, picking up seed as he chased Iceman over the river near the starboard part of the ship. He unleashed a relentless barrage of energy attacks. They came at Iceman like a machine gun, forcing him to do a few barrel rolls on his ice slide in order to avoid them. Reignfire tried to fly in close for a finishing blow. Once he was close enough, Iceman countered.
Now flying mere feet above the water line, Iceman did another mid-air flip and fired a highly concentrated ice beam right at the water below him. The intense cold caused a large iceberg to form within seconds. It literally shot up from the waterline and since Reignfire was going so fast, he couldn’t avoid it. His eyes widened as it came up right in his face.
“Whoa fu-UNGH!” he exclaimed.
“Ooh, sometimes me being right hurts…a lot,” grinned Iceman.
Reignfire had to surround himself with energy to avoid being crushed on impact. He ended up plowing through the top part of the iceberg, shattering it and tumbling into the water. He skipped along the surface like a rock until he settled near another ship. He was definitely not conscious after that. He would be lucky if he woke up without any brain damage.
“That’s the only time seeing Titanic ever came in handy,” said Iceman as he changed directions, “Hold on, Beast! The coolest kind of help is on its way!”
Within moments, Iceman made his way back over the deck of the ship. He arrived to see Caliban standing over the injured Beast, ready to deliver the final blow. Both his fists were in the air and he looked ready to strike. Iceman flew in lower and fired another concentrated ice beam that hit the former Morlock right in his hands. It formed a heavy block of ice around both fists, throwing him off his balance and causing him to stumble.
“Errr!” grunted Caliban at the sudden cold, “That was uncalled for.”
“Says the guy who just broke a man’s arm,” retorted Iceman.
The young mutant landed next to his teacher and helped him up. Beast winced as he returned to his feet, holding his awkwardly bent arm. It wasn’t the worst injury an X-man had ever sustained in battle, but it was still not a pleasant sight. Iceman could see the bones poking awkwardly against Beast’s furry skin.
“Sorry if this is a stupid question, teach. But are you alright?” asked Iceman.
“There are no stupid questions, Iceman. Some just evoke more discomfort than others,” groaned Beast, “I’ll be fine. Provided I not participate in any arm-wrestling matches.”
“Just imagine Tessa in a sexy nurse outfit,” said Iceman as he set his sights on Caliban, “I’ll take care of Mr. Cranky here!”
Caliban had already broken off the ice block around his hands. Having injured one X-man, he was more than willing to take a shot at another. He attacked Iceman just as he had Beast. Rather than evade him as Beast had done, Iceman countered with a blistering blizzard blast. This caused more ice to form around Caliban, stopping him cold in his tracks.
“Y-y-you w-w-won’t s-s-stop us!” said Caliban, shivering through the blast.
“You m-m-might want to want to save your breath before I freeze that too,” taunted Iceman.
Caliban’s attack slowed down considerably while Callisto’s struggle with Gambit showed no signs of letting up. Other battles had reached a stalemate as well.
Kamikaze and Psylocke were exchanging a mix of blows while Shadowcat was nearby trying to keep Strobe’s fireballs from torching anybody. She cut it a little close at times, leading Strobe right into the crossfire with Psylocke. She was using her psionic blades to block Kamikaze’s charged fists. Each blow caused a burst of sparks that were almost as bright as Strobe’s fireballs. Psylocke stayed on the defensive while trying to use her telepathy to end this.
“I can feel you trying to enter my mind,” said Kamikaze, “As you’ve probably figured out by now, I’ve been working on my psychic shields!”
“Your shields might be even better if you stopped staring at my ass!” grunted Psylocke.
Kamikaze’s attacks grew more aggressive. Every time he pounded his fists against the ground or a crate, his hands glowed brighter. He was building up destructive energy, further adding to his strength and durability. Psylocke used her ninja skills to evade him, but she was only making it harder for herself every time he missed. So when he attacked again, she pulled off a mid-air spin move to get behind him. She then tried to strike him from behind with her psionic blades. She ended up missing his head and struck him in the chest. which only seemed to stun him.
“Ungh…” he grunted, “That…tickles.”
Then, to Psylocke’s surprise, Kamikaze swung around and struck her with a right cross. She instinctively used her other psionic blade to block, but the force in Kamikaze’s punch was so great that it broke right through. He hit her right in the lower torso, cracking some ribs and knocking the wind out of her.
“Augh!” she cried out.
“I’m guessing that didn’t tickle,” grinned Kamikaze.
Psylocke was in trouble. She fell to the ground, short of breath and in a lot of pain. Shadowcat saw this as she took cover behind a crate for a moment, trying to put some distance between her and Strobe. Having just recovered from her own injuries, she intended to spare her friend the painful rehab.
“He enjoyed that way too much,” said Shadowcat as she caught her breath, “Someone needs a lesson in manners!”
“Keep on running and I’ll make the burns extra painful!” shouted Strobe from across the deck.
“Guess he’s not the only one,” she sighed.
Shadowcat phased through another incoming fireball. Strobe wasn’t letting up. He was either a slow learner or lousy shot. She decided to use both to her advantage.
Kamikaze was about to land another blow on Psylocke. He had her by the neck because she was in too much pain to evade him. His arm was still glowing, indicating he had plenty of strength to do plenty of damage.
“You’re such an attractive woman and you do that phony British accent so well,” he told her, “So for the record, I’m not going to enjoy messing up that face of yours.”
He was about to land a finishing blow on the young psychic. Then Shadowcat came running out in his direction. Strobe chased after her. She was about ten feet from Kamikaze when Strobe unleashed another devastating fireball.
“Hey Psylocke! Think fast and get low!” yelled Shadowcat.
“Wha-AHHHHH!” was all Kamikaze got out.
Just as the fireball caught up to them, Shadowcat grabbed Psylocke and phased her through the attack. Kamikaze wasn’t so lucky. He turned around just in time to get a face full of fire. The inferno blasted his face, burning his hair and skin severely. His uniform caught fire as well. Blinded by pain and fire, he stumbled back.
“ERRRR!” he howled, “STROBE YOU STUPID MOTHERFU-ARRRGGGGHHHH!”
Kamikaze was in so much pain that he didn’t realize that he backed all the way towards the edge of the ship. Once he reached the rail, he fell over and plunged down into the murky waters below. It may have helped sooth the burns, but it also took him out of the fight. It left Strobe in an awkward position, watching as Shadowcat helped Psylocke back to her feet.
“If you’re going to throw up, give me warning, Betsy,” said Shadowcat.
“I think that bloke collapsed a lung, but luckily I’ve got a spare,” said Psylocke, grunting through the pain, “Thanks for the assist. It always dulls the pain to see these sods do the fighting for us.”
Strobe was outraged as well as humiliated. Despite this mishap, he had no intention of halting his attack.
“If you girls think I’m gonna hold back, you’re full of shit!” shouted Strobe.
“Go ahead,” taunted Shadowcat with Psylocke now leaning on her for support, “With your aim, I feel safer already!”
Strobe unleashed a fresh burst of fireballs. Shadowcat phased again while helping Psylocke get back on the move. In her condition, a one-on-one fight was too risky. They would need to wait for another chance in order to beat this guy.
Strobe was a bit more careful with his aim this time. His fireballs didn’t come close to disrupting the fight between Colossus and the Kleinstocks, who had been locked in another test of strength. They repeatedly slammed each other against nearby shipping containers, leaving numerous dents in their wake. For once, Colossus didn’t have the size advantage. The Kleinstocks were taller and had better leverage. Even with his strength, the Russian mutant struggled to gain the upper hand.
“You probably fancy yourself as a heavy hitter,” said the Kleinstocks as they slammed Colossus into another crate, “No matter how strong you are, zhere is only one of you while ve are three!”
“Strength is only one of my skills,” grunted Colossus, “I have many other ways of defeating you!”
Colossus pushed away, shoving the Kleinstocks back so he could strike them with a series of body blows. His Spetznaz training helped him go for all the vulnerable points around the torso. The Kleinstocks grunted and gagged as they absorbed these blows. However, their collective durability allowed them to maintained leverage over Colossus.
Colossus and the Kleinstocks were so determined to overcome one another that they didn’t notice that Storm and Sauron were still locked in an air battle. Storm had been trying fight the winged mutant off with wind gusts and arctic blasts. However, Sauron was more durable than he looked. He kept chasing her, getting closer with each attack.
“Your pitiful winds will not protect you from me!” Sauron shouted.
“I would advise against mocking the forces of nature!” warned Storm.
Storm’s eyes flashed bright white as she unleashed a miniature tornado over the area. Sauron flew right into it. For a moment, it seemed his pursuit was halted. Storm settled into a hover to control the tornado, using it to drive Sauron back. However, the pterodactyl mutant never lost focus. He actually used the winds to get closer to Storm. Now that she was hovering, he was able to focus his hypnotic gaze on her. This was a power he had not demonstrated to the X-men before so it caught Storm by surprise.
“You offered your advice. Now here’s mine!” he shouted over the winds.
“Augh…my head!” groaned Storm.
“Surprised? I’ve been saving this for just the right occasion!”
Sauron’s eyes flashed bright yellow as he narrowed his gaze on Storm, who quickly grew disoriented. She couldn’t sustain the tornado she created. She couldn’t fly away either. Storm started tumbling through the air in confusion, allowing Sauron to capture her with his clawed feet. Now that he had a firm grip on her, he could drain her life energy.
“Any more advice before I finish you?” taunted Sauron.
“Nnn…brace yourself,” muttered Storm.
The winged mutant didn’t have time to process this request. Just as he was about to drain her, a bolt of lightning shot out from the clouds above. It struck Sauron right in the back, shocking him in mid-air and rendering him paralyzed.
“ARRRRGGGGHHHHH!” he cried out.
“I was saving that for when you were foolish enough to reach me,” said Storm.
Sauron was literally smoldering as he fell out of the sky. Storm was able to reorient herself enough to get the winds going again. It wasn’t enough to keep her airborne completely, but it did slow their fall. She and Sauron plunged back down to the ship below. Along the way Storm noticed the battle between Colossus and the Kleinstocks. Using her winds, she nudged Sauron’s descent right into their path.
“Colossus! Hit him low!” shouted Storm.
“Vhat is das?” said the Kleinstocks upon hearing this.
Colossus saw what Storm was doing and made his move. In a swift spin-move, he broke through the Kleinstocks grasp. He then ducked down low, leaving the oversized mutant trio exposed. They never saw the falling Sauron coming. The winged mutant collided with them and they ended up tripping over Colossus. In the process, the three mutants that made up the Kleinstocks were separated.
“Ugh,” muttered Eric.
“That…hurt,” said Sven.
“Damn it, Sauron! Look vhat you’ve done!” yelled Harlan.
“Excuse me,” said Colossus, “But I think you said something about my skills.”
The Russian cracked his knuckles menacingly. The three Kleinstocks gulped nervously. In their separated form, they were as vulnerable as anyone.
“Hurry up and reform!” urged Harlan.
“I think not!” shouted the Russian.
Harlan and Sven jumped towards Eric. Colossus reached them first, catching the two mutants before they could reform with their brother. He held them by the neck briefly and gazed at them menacingly. In another life he would have been much rougher. He was content to simply take them out of this fight. So with his strength, he threw the two brothers against a nearby shipping container. Once they hit, they were effectively knocked out. He stared down the remaining Kleinstock, who looked up at him nervously.
“Um…why don’t we call it a draw?” said Eric.
“I’ll give you a five second head start,” said Colossus in a menacing tone.
The remaining Kleinstock quickly turn around and ran full speed. However, in his haste to get away he didn’t see another container right behind him. He comically ran right into it, knocking himself out of the battle so Colossus didn’t have to.
The Russian mutant had neutralized the Kleinstocks just as Storm had done with Sauron. Colossus looked up and saw Storm stumble back onto the deck. She was still dazed from Sauron’s hypnotic glare. Colossus rushed to her aid, catching her as she struggled to stay on her feet.
“I appreciate the assistance, Storm,” said the Russian mutant.
“Thank me when my head stops spinning,” said Storm, “We need to help the others! I have a bad feeling that we’re running out of time!”
Colossus could feel it as well. Looking back towards the amplification device, the area surrounding Polaris was getting brighter by the second. In the distance more lights were flickering over New Orleans. Before long, the device would be fully charged. If they were going to stop Toad, they needed to do it soon.
Colossus and Storm made their way to the shield covering the device. They passed Shadowcat and Psylocke, who were keeping Strobe occupied. Beast and Iceman were doing the same with Caliban, who at this point was nearly frozen in a solid block of ice. Gambit was still struggling with Callisto while Phoenix had Negasonic Teenage Warhead on the ropes. The Mutant Liberation Front seemed to be faltering. However, Toad showed no signs of concern.
“You know what, Cyclops? I’m glad you X-men showed up,” teased Toad as he skillfully leaped over another optic blast, “I was worried this final step would be boring!”
“If this is your idea of trash talk, then you’re even worse than the old you,” said Cyclops.
“Oh please, I’m way too evolved for common trolling,” he scoffed, “In case you haven’t noticed, I’m not that same pathetic street punk that nobody ever respected!”
To prove his point, Toad nimbly jumped atop a series of containers. Cyclops fired more concentrated optic blasts at him. Toad skillfully dodged them, showing the kind of leg strength and agility that was well in excess of what he could do before the Cambrian.
“I’ve got more than good looks and muscles going for me now,” Toad went on, “I have a vision! Just like Magneto! Just like the X-men! I want to see a world where this human/mutant bullshit is finished!”
“Yeah, you’re a regular humanitarian for just terrorizing people,” grunted Cyclops as he unleashed another barrage of optic blasts.
“The only reason they’re terrified is because they take everything for granted,” retorted Toad, who easily dodged the blasts, “They spend all their time trying to carve out their place in nature and therein lies the problem. It should be the other way around! The natural order is the only order!”
“If you’re confusing hygiene with nature, I can safely say that your order stinks!” retorted the X-leader.
“Just because it stinks doesn’t mean it’s wrong. Think about it, Cyclops. We cut the power, the resources, and the life-blood of civilization and everything goes back to nature. The goal changes from having a five-car garage to having enough food for the week. That’s how this conflict will end. That’s how mutants will get the respect we deserve. In this new order, we’ll be the fittest. We’ll be the ones humanity will turn to for all those comforts they once took for granted. When you get right down to it, we’re not so different. We both value human and mutant life. We could carve out a new order together! Just imagine it…a better order for everybody!”
These weren’t mindless ramblings of a deranged mind. A lot of what he said made intuitive sense. So much of the human/mutant conflict emerged from a certain arrogance about trying to control the world around them while taking for granted everything they had. It seemed so logical to want to reset everything and start from scratch.
But Cyclops still wasn’t buying into it though. He never stopped his onslaught. He kept firing at Toad, driving him back towards the energy barrier that was protecting the device. This man had to be stopped before he could unleash more terror. This vision of his couldn’t come to pass.
“Do you really think that this is the answer, Toad? Do you really believe all these conflicts will resolve themselves by sending mankind back to the Stone Age?” said Cyclops as he shot several more blasts.
“Better we deal with conflicts of the natural order than the unnatural bullshit we deal with now,” said Toad as he did a back-flip to avoid the incoming blast.
“Then you’re wrong! We are different in a very important way. You’re willing to trade one set of problems for another. But the X-men aren’t ready to give up on this world.”
It was not an unexpected response. Toad didn’t expect the X-men to appreciate the grandeur of his vision. Once he finished avoiding Cyclops’s optic blasts, he let out a bemused sigh.
“That’s a shame, Cyclops,” said Toad, “I almost feel bad for you. I guess you and your pathetic team will just have to rot like the rest of the humans.”
“Better to rot with them than you, Toad,” retorted the X-leader, “Besides, it’s not over yet!”
Just as Cyclops was about to unleash another attack, Toad summoned his army of mosquitoes and various bugs. They gathered around the amphibious mutant and with a single gesture, he guided them towards at the X-men. Cyclops countered by adjusting his visor and firing a wider arc of blasts. This cleared out a good chunk of the swarm. However, more kept coming, forcing Cyclops to fall back.
“Correction! It was over ten optic blasts ago!” proclaimed Toad.
As the X-leader’s attacks faltered, a new round of activity erupted from the machine. The amplifiers surrounding Polaris flashed with massive sparks of energy and in the center her body was surrounded by a bright blue aura. As the energy engulfed her, every metal object on the deck started to shake. The young mutant writhed in agony as the device reached full power.
“Power levels at 97 percent,” said Danger from within the barrier.
“AHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHH!” Polaris cried out.
“Hang on, Lorna!” shouted Iceman, who just finished freezing Caliban completely.
“No…we have to get to the machine!” exclaimed Cyclops.
“We’re trying! We cannot break this shield!” grunted Colossus, who was pounding against it with all his might.
“It’s no use, Cyclops!” said Storm, who tried hitting it with lightning.
“Ooh, that’s sweet music to my ears!” said Toad.
The amphibious mutant summoned more swarms of bugs. This time he didn’t just direct them at Cyclops. He sent them after Phoenix, Iceman, Beast, Storm, Gambit, Psylocke, Shadowcat, and Colossus. It forced all of them to fall back. Phoenix stumbled away from Negasonic Teenage Warhead just as it seemed she was breaking through her psychic shields. Gambit fell back from Callisto, taking a few punches from her along the way. Psylocke and Shadowcat had to divert their attention from Strobe and take cover behind a shipping container. Colossus and Storm were forced the join up with them to escape the buzzing swarm. Iceman and Beast were the ones closest to the barrier. However, they still couldn’t get to Polaris.
“Augh! Damn bugs! Get out of my face!” grunted Iceman as he tried to swat them away.
“The device is nearly ready!” said Beast, trying to protect his face as well despite his broken arm.
“Can you get to it?” asked Cyclops.
“I’ve yet to surmise a path through this energy barrier!” responded Beast.
“That’s the point,” said Toad, “Sorry, but looks like it’s lights out for the X-men. Don’t worry though…you’re about to have plenty of company!”
There seemed to be no stopping it. The mutant amplification device was almost at full strength. In the distance, the X-men noticed all the lights in New Orleans going off. For all they knew, the lights were going off for miles in every direction. If they didn’t find a way to stop him, then Toad was going to pull the plug on the entire human race.
“THIS WAY! I SEE HIM!”
“GIVE ME ANOTHER SHOT! I’LL HIT HIM!”
“SAVE SOME FOR ME! I ALWAYS WANTED TO TAKE DOWN AN X-MAN!”
Wolverine had been on the run for what felt like hours. Every last reserve from the Mutant Liberation Front was out to get him. They chased him through the ship as if it were their hunting grounds. It forced the feral mutant to rethink his strategy.
The only good thing about this frustrating chase was that it kept Toad from calling upon his reserves. These mutants were not trained fighters. They were just a bunch of pissed off mutants looking to vent their frustrations on the entire human race. The ones at the head of the pack were ones with energy powers. Some shot fire, others shot electricity, and one even shot globs of this sticky goop that smelled like spoiled milk. Wolverine managed to avoid these attacks for the most part, but it didn’t make them any less annoying.
“You punks need better hobbies,” grunted Wolverine, “Work on your aim while you’re at it!”
“YOU BETTER SHUT YOUR MOUTH, X-MAN! YOU’RE ALMOST OUT OF PLACES TO RUN!” yelled a mutant with red skin who was shooting off bluish flames.
Wolverine narrowly escaped another burn as he turned the last corner. That mutant was right. He was in the stern of the ship just outside the engine room. He didn’t bother going out where he came in. Outside, there was still a massive amount of undergrowth surrounding the ship. It seemed the Mutant Liberation Front had them trapped. However, they did not realize that Wolverine was already working out a plan.
‘Cyke owes me big time for this shit. I could be topside skewering Toad with a fishing hook. Instead, I gotta baby-sit these punks. Good thing they’re about to get a major time out.’
Wolverine entered the final straight-away before entering the main engine room. It was a much more open area than the previous decks. There were a fleet of large diesel generators along with a set of massive engines. It was inactive since the ship was anchored, but that didn’t mean it wasn’t volatile.
“THIS WAY! HE’S IN THE ENGINE ROOM!” yelled a mutant.
“That’s right you little shits. Follow me like I don’t got you right where I want you!” he grinned.
When some of the mutants burst through, they started firing at him. Wolverine quickly jumped over the scaffolding and descended to the lowermost region. This led him to the large fuel tanks that housed much of the fuel for the ship. With the mutants drawing closer, he used his claws to open a large gash in the tank. This caused a river of diesel fuel to spill out over the area.
By the time the mutant crowd reached him, they didn’t realize what he was up to. The mutants with firepower remained at the head of the pack. As soon as they got a clear vision, several mutants took aim and fired.
“I SEE HIM!” said a mutant with electricity powers.
“TAKE HIM DOWN!” said another mutant with fire powers.
“NO WAIT!” said a mutant that realized what was going on.
It was too late. The mutants fired and when they hit the pool of fuel, it ignited. It caused a massive flare to shoot up from the lower area of the engine room. The flare quickly expanded into the fuel lines and the engines. When the reserves of the Mutant Liberation Front saw what they had done, they knew they made a mistake.
“Ooh crap!” groaned one.
“YOU DUMBASS! LOOK WHAT YOU DID?” exclaimed another mutant.
“YELL AT HIM LATER! WE HAVE TO GET OUT OF HERE!”
The angry mutant mob turned around and ran back the way they came, proving once again that they weren’t experienced fighters. This solved one problem for Wolverine while creating another. As the fires erupted throughout the engine room, he braved the intense flames to cut up all the safety valves and fire control systems. The heat of the fires burned his skin severely. Having already endured bug bites, it didn’t bother him as much as it should have.
“So much for Toad’s backup,” grunted Wolverine.
Once the final safety valves were cut, the former living weapon fought all the way back to the wall of the ship. Only a few inches of reinforced steel separated him from the swampy waters outside. With the fires behind him growing by the second, Wolverine plunged his claws into the hull and ran along the side to open a gaping wound. Water quickly poured in like an avalanche. It mixed with the growing flames, causing even more damage. Once Wolverine let in enough water, he rode it to the upper levels.
In order to make sure that the ship would be flooded, Wolverine sliced through the door that the Mutant Liberation Front reserves escaped out of. He sliced through more locks and safety mechanisms along the way. As soon as he entered the hall again, he heard a series of explosions behind him.
“That should piss wart breath off,” snarled Wolverine, “Time to see how much sinking his toy boat will ruin his day!”
Cargo Ship – Main Deck
“Whoa! That isn’t supposed to happen is it, Toad?!” exclaimed Callisto as the ship started rumbling ominously.
“No…it isn’t,” said Toad, showing his first sign of concern.
For a brief moment, it looked like everything was coming together for the Mutant Liberation Front. They bought plenty of time for the device to charge up. Just before the power levels reached their full capacity, the ship was rocked by a series of powerful tremors. They came from within, shaking the vessel to its core. It shook so violently that some of the cables going into the machine were yanked out, causing the energy barrier around the device to flicker.
“Please tell me that’s just a hiccup,” shouted Callisto, who was still fighting Gambit.
“If it is, it ain’t one I planned,” said Toad as he watched nervously.
“And I didn’t foresee it either!” said Negasonic Teenage Warhead.
“Then I guess that means our plan worked,” said Cyclops.
“Your plan?” questioned Callisto.
“Now you be noticing? Guess that means Gambit can finally do this!” said Gambit.
In her confusion, Callisto let her guard down. While she was holding onto his charged bow-staff, he let go of it and kicked her away. Since the bow-staff was glowing, she instinctively threw it aside just before it exploded. Then she realized that the staff wasn’t the only thing Gambit left her. He slipped some charged playing cards into her pockets. By the time she pulled them out, they exploded right in front of her.
“Augh!” she cried out.
“Hold on, Callisto!” shouted Strobe, “These X-punks won’t outsmart me!”
“Hate to break it to you, firefly. But we already have,” said Shadowcat with a grin.
Strobe prepared to unleash a fresh barrage of fireballs. However, he didn’t notice that Shadowcat was already phasing. As a result, he didn’t see Iceman on the other side of her. He had just finished freezing Caliban and now that Callisto wasn’t a threat, he set his sights on Strobe. He didn’t realize that Iceman was attacking until he saw an ice beam blast right through Shadowcat and Psylocke. When it hit Strobe, it froze his whole body from the neck down. He fell onto the deck just in time for more rumbling.
“Y-y-you l-l-little bitch!” shivered Strobe.
“Hey! I’m not the one who froze you,” said Shadowcat, pretending to be offended.
“You’re welcome, by the way,” said Iceman from behind her.
“That better be the last of them,” groaned Psylocke, still sore from her injuries, “I’m ready for this to be over so I can soak in a hot bath.”
Now Toad was starting to worry. The energy barrier surrounding the device was almost gone. The amplifiers were sparking erratically. All the computers that fed into the machine flashed warning signs. Something had gone very wrong and it was only getting worse.
“Okay, I’ll say it. I’m confused and a little pissed off,” said Toad as he stared down the approaching X-men.
“That’s the point, Toad,” said Cyclops, who used his optic blasts to clear away more bugs, “We attacked you head on once and failed miserably. Did you really think we would make the same mistake twice? I’m surprised you didn’t notice that one of our teammates was absent.”
“For some reason the thought didn’t cross my mind,” said the amphibious mutant as he backed away nervously.
“That’s because I made sure your resident telepath didn’t sense it,” said Phoenix as she joined Cyclops and the others, “The element of surprise isn’t so satisfying when it works against you, is it?”
“Bullshit! You couldn’t have blocked my powers,” said Negasonic Teenage Warhead.
“I already did,” she said confidently, “If I hadn’t, you would have picked up all the activity going on below deck. You would have also figured out that Wolverine was down there, leading your own people into a trap and doing some remodeling in the engine room.”
“By remodeling, she means he probably blew it up,” said Shadowcat.
“Destruction is Wolverine’s specialty,” added Colossus.
“That’s why I wasn’t trying to beat you in a telepathic battle. I was just trying to occupy you,” Phoenix went on, “I guess it worked.”
Negasonic Teenage Warhead was more annoyed than Toad right now. She was supposed to be the better psychic. She was supposed to sense this sort of thing so that nobody got the jump on the Mutant Liberation Front. The notion that she had just been outsmarted was a tough pill to swallow. In her frustration, she lashed out at Phoenix.
“Bullshit!” she yelled, “I can still beat you! I sear I’ll tear your mind apart molecule by molecule!”
“You still have a lot to learn,” said Phoenix, undaunted by her outburst, “If you were really skilled, you wouldn’t have let me block your telepathy so that Mr. Jefferies could sneak up behind you.”
The young psychic’s eyes widened as she saw a shadow come up behind her. She only turned around in time to see Madison Jefferies hit her over the head with a crow bar he found next to a shipping container. It knocked her out cold and fractured her skull.
“Ungh!” groaned the young psychic.
“Now you know how my head felt, you little brat!” spat Jefferies.
Still dazed from his ordeal, Madison Jefferies needed a moment to catch his breath. That moment didn’t last long as the ship was rocked with another round of tremors. It caused more cables around the amplifiers to snap. Storm and Colossus rushed over to help Jefferies, but now it seemed they had a new set of problems.
“Bravo, X-men. Bravo,” said Toad with a mock clap, “You beat my team. There’s just one little tidbit you forgot. The machine is still powered up! It can still get the job done!”
“You’re wrong,” said Beast, still clutching his broken arm, “Now that the shields are down, we can pull the plug!”
“Wrong again, blue boy! So long as this little puppy is purring at full power, the EMP will still go off! Every last piece of electronics on this planet will be destroyed beyond repair!”
“Actually, you’re both wrong,” said Madison Jefferies as he looked back towards the machine anxiously.
“What?!” exclaimed Iceman, who was fixated on Polaris, “Please tell me that’s just your way of pissing off Toad even more!”
All eyes were now on Madison Jefferies. As more rumbling shook the ship, a new round of sparks erupted from the machine. Then to everyone’s astonishment, the machine levitated. With Polaris still restrained inside, the whole ascended from the deck and into the cloudy skies above where a string of massive lightning bolts erupted from the clouds. Jefferies recognized the signs and he understood that this was bad in a whole new way.
“I don’t mean to sound apocalyptic, but I think we’ve all lost,” said Jefferies, “In less than five minutes, that machine is going to short-circuit in a way that’ll disrupt the Earth’s magnetic field. It’ll do more than disrupt all electronics. It’ll doom us all!”
Up next: Natural Disorder Part 3
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