Professor Charles Xavier created the X-men to fight for peace in a world that hates and fears their kind. Together, they stood united against the forces of tyranny and hatred. Now they are united no more. The X-men, by every measure, have changed in ways that even the world’s most powerful psychic could never have foreseen.
It started and ended with the Mutant Liberation Front. This band of mutant terrorists plunged the world into chaos and terror. They attacked civilians, major infrastructure, and military targets. The collective effort of the X-men and the Mutant Security Agency wasn’t enough to stop them. The Xavier Institute was destroyed. The mutant nation of Genosha was abandoned. Now thousands of mutants are missing and unaccounted for, leaving an uncertain world was desperate for bold action.
In an act of desperation, Charles Xavier laid out an ambitious plan he calls the Mutant Monitoring Initiative. Under this program, the X-men are fully integrated into the Mutant Security Agency. That means the X-men’s collective strength and resources are at the disposal of the government and vice versa. It’s a risky, controversial move. Most have gone along with it. Some, including the X-men’s long-time field leader Cyclops, chose to quit rather than go along with it.
Now the X-men are divided. One team works within the law. One works outside the law. Seven months have passed since the Mutant Monitoring Initiative began. It remains to be seen just how successful or detrimental this plan will be.
Washington DC – Xavier Institute for Mutant Research
Whenever power became concentrated into an area, it left an unmistakable impression. Sometimes it was subtle. Sometimes it was impossible to ignore. The Xavier Institute, by design contained, a great deal of power. The District of Columbia contained a great deal of power as well, albeit in a different capacity. Now that the Xavier Institute had been rebuilt it Washington DC, that indelible mark of power grew more pronounced.
This power and the story behind it was what led Melita Garner to the front gate of the recently completed institute. She arrived via special escort to a complex that had been built into the north part of Rock Creek Park. Only a handful of roads led up to it and all were well-monitored. They ended at a gate that overlooked an institute that was very similar in appearance to the institute at Westchester, but had a great many refinements.
As Melita stepped out of the government-issued BMW, she was taken by the scale of the complex. It was bigger than the previous institute. The front and back yard were pretty vast, but well maintained. There was a fountain leading up to the front door and a pool in the back. The front of the institute had more windows and a more refined appearance. Brick and mortar had been replaced with metal and plastics. It reflected the change in the Xavier Institute from a school to a more sophisticated complex.
Along with the change was a large contingent of MPs and MSA officers guarding the grounds. They patrolled the gates and the area with special rifles, keeping them ready even as Melita approached.
“State your business and show your identification. You have five seconds to comply,” said one of the MSA operatives from behind the gate.
“The paint isn’t even dry on this place and you’re already treating it like George Washington’s tomb. Gotta love this city,” commented Melita as she showed her ID.
“You must be the new press hound from the White House,” said the operative, “Tell me, how did you get roped into this job again? You make a pass at your boss or something?”
“Believe it or not, I didn’t have to sleep with anybody to get this job. Doing PR for the Pentagon just wasn’t exciting anymore. I’m ready for something bigger and that something is waiting for me inside. Now if you don’t mind, can you let me through? I’ve got a deadline.”
Melita spoke with a toughness not often heard from media personnel. The MSA operative stood mildly impressed. He turned towards the MPs and nodded, who opened the gate. The young woman then walked in confidently with poise, adjusting her sunglasses as she walked up the winding trail that led to the Xavier Institute.
Along the way she passed more MPs and a few maintenance workers. Even though this facility looked like a private mansion, it had the feel of a government facility. Something about that seemed a little off, but that was why Melita was here.
She followed the trail up to the front door of the institute. Upon arriving, she saw that Charles Xavier was already standing there waiting for her. He wasn’t dressed like a politician or a military man. Instead he wore dark pants, a dress shirt, and a blazer. He still looked like a Professor, which was reassuring in the sea of controversy that surrounded this facility.
“You must be Melita Garner. The Mutant Monitoring Initiatives newest PR consultant,” greeted Professor Xavier.
“Just Melita is fine. Let’s avoid unnecessary breaths and go straight to being on a first-name basis,” replied Melita as she shook his hand, “We’ll have to be if we’re going to make this work.”
“Indeed,” Xavier agreed, “I hope you’ll bear with me because I’m not quite sure what this entails.”
“You and everyone else at the Press Corp,” she said, “This is General Grimshaw’s idea so take it up with him if you want. He thinks that after the Mutant Monitoring Initiative was approved, it still requires a significant image boost. You and the X-men have been running around making all this noise, but not everyone is able to listen. My job is to sift through that noise and deliver the right message to the public.”
“By right, you mean...”
“I’d rather not get into semantics. For now, assume that John and Jane Q. Public are standing right in front of you. They want a full assessment of how the Mutant Monitoring Initiative has unfolded over the past seven months. They also want to know where it’s going moving forward.”
“Sounds like perfectly reasonable concerns,” said Xavier, “I’m more than happy to discuss them at length. Care to walk and talk at the same time?”
“Taking notes on the move is a requirement for everyone in PR. I’ll be recording this for the record so in the spirit of full disclosure, I’ll ask you to be concise,” said Melita, “It also wouldn’t hurt to be mindful of what you’re saying.”
“I’m the world’s most powerful psychic. Paranoia is somewhat redundant,” he quipped in good humor, “Besides, I’ve nothing to hide, nor do I care to during this critical transition.”
“So try anyways. In this town, saying too much can get you into a world of trouble.”
It sounded like a warning. Melita clearly took her job seriously. He also sensed in her a touch of cynicism. She assumed every shortcoming was severe and did not shy away from harsh truth. It was little wonder why General Grimshaw selected her for this. So while maintaining his calm demeanor, Professor Xavier started walking while Melita turned on her recorder.
“Let’s start with the basics,” she began, now holding the recorder up near the Professor, “Your team consists of seven X-men. Phoenix, Beast, Storm, Rogue, Gambit, Colossus, and Psylocke. You have two reserve X-men with Shadowcat and Iceman, who are currently attending school at the Academy of Tomorrow. Between each of them, you have a fairly limited number of mutants to head up such a bold operation.”
“I’ve always been a strong believer in quality over quantity,” replied Xavier, “These gifted individuals have more than just mutant abilities and the training to use it. They have my trust.”
“That trust must go a long way. Before the ink dried on the Mutant Monitoring Initiative, you and the X-men hit the ground running.”
“We had little choice in the matter. The world was vulnerable. The Mutant Liberation Front may have been thwarted, but the Genosha exodus changed the stakes. Every nation on the planet was clamoring for some sense of clarity. They wanted to know where all these mutants were, what they were up to, and what happened to the valuable technology they took with them when they disappeared.”
“And have your X-men obtained any answers?”
“We’ve surmised part of the answer,” said Xavier, choosing his words carefully, “Before this new institute was complete, I worked with General Grimshaw to get a new version of Cerebrum up and running.”
“Cerebrum…you mean that mutant-tracking computer that many find so mysterious?”
“There’s nothing mysterious about it. The way it works is well-understood by those familiar with the biology and physiology of the X-gene.”
“All of which could probably fit into a greyhound bus,” Melita quipped.
“Even fewer understand quantum mechanics, but that doesn’t prevent people from enjoying its fruits. Namely computers, cell phones, and even the recording device you’re using this very moment.”
There was a certain wryness to his tone. Melita tried to blitz him with finer details, but he didn’t skip a beat. It left her mildly impressed. He still had much to prove though.
“Regardless of how it works, we were able to get a new Cerebrum up and running within a month. Thankfully, I had many of the files from my previous institute backed up in a secure location. So we were able to get to work. Thanks to the addition of the MSA’s resources, we were able to get a firm grasp of mutant activity.”
“How much of that activity was from former Genoshans?” asked Melita.
“Not nearly as much as we hoped,” Xavier conceded, “But we were able to confirm some of our early suspicions. The society that was created on Genosha is still active, even if it’s now fragmented. Just as before, they guard their thoughts and capabilities very well. So much so that Cerebrum cannot hone in on all of them at this time.”
“I assume there are exceptions,” she stated.
“There often are. We discovered early on that some of Genosha’s citizen’s are not quite on board with their leadership’s current agenda.”
Six Months Ago – Argentina
“WILL YOU DAMN X-MEN JUST LEAVE ME ALONE? HAVEN’T YOU RUINED ENOUGH ALREADY?” exclaimed a breathless mutant girl.
“You’re making this way harder than it needs to be, Mercury,” replied an exasperated Jean Grey, flying over on a wave of telekinesis in an effort to keep up.
“QUIT TALKING LIKE THOSE MSA GOONS! YOU’RE BETTER THAN THAT! AT LEAST YOU USED TO BE!” yelled the young mutant.
“Quit blamin’ us for a world your pals fucked up. You ain’t got nobody to blame but yourself,” retorted Rogue, who flew in past Phoenix.
The grunt work had officially begun for the X-men. The Mutant Monitoring Initiative was in full gear, which meant they had missions to coordinate and orders to follow.
They came in quickly once Cerebrum activated. They all had to play catch-up, tracking mutant activity and honing in on those that caused problems. Their primary focus was on mutants who were once citizens of Genosha. Most kept quiet behind whatever safeguards the Brotherhood still had in place. Others, like Mercury, were a bit more reckless. That recklessness led her to a poor farming town in the early hours of the evening.
“Out of my way!” she yelled as she shoved past unwitting civilians that stood in her way.
“Somebody stop that mutant! She just wounded my horse and wrecked my shop!” yelled a civilian in Spanish who was chasing after her.
“Ah ain’t caught up on mah Spanish, so Ah’ll assume that fella is pissed,” said Rogue.
“It’s safe to assume everybody she’s encountered is pissed,” said Phoenix, “She made quite a mess when she tried to steal a cab and ended up crashing into a grocery store.”
“For a former acolyte of Magneto, that’s pretty dang stupid,” scoffed Rogue, “Ah’m headin’ in before she can top herself!”
Rogue changed course, flying in lower and faster towards Mercury’s position. She passed over a vast array of dilapidated housing. The layout of village was crammed and dirty. Mercury probably thought she could avoid the authorities by hiding behind a cloak. That might have worked until she used her powers to do a little carjacking that got detected by Cerebrum. Since Mercury was trained by Magneto, the MSA needed some extra muscle to apprehend her.
Rogue could still see the fire in the distance caused when Mercury crashed that taxi. She caused quite a commotion. The local MSA needed the X-men to ensure that she would do no further damage.
This was the primary function of the X-men it seemed. They would find unruly mutants and corral them for the authorities. It was more streamlined than before. With the support of the MSA, they didn’t have to be covert about their operations. They could get clearance from local authorities to head into an area, do what they needed to do, and get out with less urgency. While it was more convenient, it didn’t make confronting these angry mutants any easier.
“Hey Mercury! Mold your way outta this!” yelled Rogue as she flew in at high speeds.
“I’ll never let you-UNGH!” was all she got out before she was struck.
Mercury had just knocked over a cage of chickens and leveled an old woman. Just as she was about to duck behind another car, Rogue hit her like a flying battering ram. Her liquid-metal body was severely warped. She essentially became a flying glob, letting out muffled cries until she splattered right onto the windshield of a passing car.
“Que es esto?” said the driver, understandably confused.
The driver of the car came to an abrupt halt, which stopped the traffic behind him and caused a few more fender benders to add to Mercury’s rap sheet. Not seeming to understand the gravity of the situation, the old man used his windshield wipers to get the disembodied mutant off his car. As her liquid metal form was wiped away, she reformed in a somewhat messy manner. Rogue’s blow had clearly rattled her.
“Ugh...splattered like mud. I’ve reached a new low,” she groaned.
“If you don’t wanna go any lower, Ah suggest ya call it a night,” Rogue called out from above as she prepared to fly in for another attack.
“Like you’re in a position to give mutants advice? I’d rather get aromatherapy from Toad!” scoffed Mercury.
She was not heeding the X-men’s urgings. She was among many who had grown more cynical since the Mutant Monitoring Initiative began. In some ways, Rogue couldn’t blame her. She heard the same criticisms as everyone else. That didn’t change anything though. The new policy was in place. It had its faults, but it had plenty of benefits as well.
“You X-men are a joke!” yelled Mercury as she stammered through the dirty streets, “From heroes to cronies in one short month? That’s not just stupid! It’s downright lazy!”
Her taunts echoed through the dusty village air. Rogue followed closely, watching as she reached the end of the street. Her malleable form was still jumbled. She looked like a stick figure with jagged tree branches for arms. She sauntered around the corner in hopes of finding a new avenue of escape. She ended up facing a dead end of the worst kind.
“Aye carumba...” groaned the young mutant.
“Attention mutant. This is the MSA, the South American Division. The country of Argentina is a participant in the Mutant Monitoring Initiative. By our authority, you are under arrest!”
Mercury’s already jumbled poise slouched as she stood face-to-face with a large road blockade. Two large MSA armored vans with Argentina flags on the side blocked off her escape route. In front of them stood a dozen fully equipped Argentinian MSA operatives. Their uniforms and weapons looked brand new. It demonstrated how quickly the Mutant Monitoring Initiative had spread, equipping countries all over the world with mutant-fighting hardware.
“I don’t speak Spanish so I’ll answer that with the only phrase I know,” she grunted, “Hasta la vista ba...”
Once again, Mercury was cut off. This time it didn’t come from a strike by Rogue. It came from a telepathic probe by Phoenix, who had since caught up and settled over her position. Having already been dazed by Rogue’s attack, her mind was vulnerable. That was all Phoenix needed to end this fight. She wasn’t gentle about it either.
“Argh!” cried Mercury as her mind was overwhelmed by telepathic force.
“Word of advice, Mercury…never mock my favorite movie,” said Phoenix angrily.
The young mutant’s metallic body became disorganized again and was soon reduced to lumpy puddle. Mercury groaned a big longer before falling silent. Phoenix flew in lower and landed next to her, making sure this rowdy mutant would cause no further problems.
The nearby civilians and the MSA operatives let out a sigh of relief. This chaotic incident appeared to be over. Phoenix didn’t seem to share the relief. Her anger and frustration lingered, even after the threat had passed.
“You’re only the third former Genoshan we’ve tracked down and already I’m sick of your bullshit,” scowled Phoenix, throwing in some telekinesis to keep Mercury pinned.
“Whoa there! Take it easy, Jean, Ah think she got the message,” said Rogue as she landed next to her friend, “Ain’t no need to defend James Cameron’s honor at this point.”
“She’s durable and unconscious. She can take it.”
“That’s just a lack of sleep, a rotten mood, and a bad time of the month talking. Let’s not make this mission more frustrating than it has to be,” she said in a coaxing tone.
Phoenix grumbled to herself, her discontent getting the better of her. It didn’t used to make her this moody. In fact, she used to deal with far worse. The Mutant Monitoring Initiative changed all that. Some were able to adapt. She wasn’t one of them.
After roughly holding Mercury down for a few moments longer, Phoenix eased up. This allowed the young mutants body to stabilize. After a minute or so she was back in a normal human form. This allowed the nearby MSA operatives to move in and surround the unconscious figure. After verifying that she was no longer a threat, one of the operatives placed an inhibitor collar around her neck. This ensured that she remained docile for processing.
“She’s secure,” said one of the operatives in English, “Cuff her and report to base.”
“She better stay unconscious. She made quite a mess. My brother lives out here and I’m sure he’ll vent his frustrations on me,” sighed another operative as he put special restraints around Mercury’s arms.
“She’ll be out cold for at least six hours,” said Rogue, “Just be sure to follow those guidelines Professor Xavier sent out. Since she’s from Genosha, the folks back at the institute are gonna be very interested in what she has to say.”
“They’ll be disappointed. I did a quick scan of her mind. She doesn’t have much to offer,” said Phoenix flatly.
“Hey, Ah thought Ah was supposed to be the cynical one,” said Rogue.
“It does not matter to me, amigos. We have our suspect. We minimized the damage. I’m okay with calling it a day,” said the lead MSA operative, “Gracias for your help, X-men.”
“No problem, sugah. Just hope next time we bring a nicer attitude.”
Rogue continued to scrutinize Phoenix’s demeanor as the MSA hauled off Mercury. They didn’t linger to ask questions or harass the X-men. That was one of the benefits of the Mutant Monitoring Initiative.
Being part of the MSA meant being on friendlier terms with many of their operatives, even if it was a change of policy more than it was a change of heart. This benefit was somewhat lost on Phoenix, who tried to avoid Rogue’s harsh scorn. She waited until the MSA was out of range before voicing her concerns.
“Do Ah really gotta say it?” said Rogue.
“I’m sorry, okay?” said Phoenix with an exasperated sigh, “I’ve just been...”
“Irritable? Restless? Crass? Hostile? Bitchy?” she suggested.
“Could you please not rub it in?” Phoenix groaned, having to step away, “I haven’t had a good nights sleep in weeks. I haven’t had sex in over a month. Not all of us have the luxury of going back home and curling up to our lovers, you know?”
“You know, they make pills and gadgets for stuff like that,” Rogue pointed out.
“Sorry Rogue, but some problems can’t be solved with pills and double-A batteries.”
“Ah’m not trying to bust your chops, Jean. Ah was in the same position as you were, remember? After Ah broke up with Scott, Ah was pretty dang miserable.”
“This is different...very different,” said Phoenix distantly.
“Ah agree. The world turned itself inside out. We got a new institute being built, we got a new job description, and Scott Summers ain’t nowhere to be found. We all knew this wasn’t gonna be easy when we signed up for it. The Professor made it pretty dang clear that if we didn’t wanna be part of it, he wasn’t gonna stop us from leaving.”
“I do want to be part of this, Rogue. I never doubted it would be rough, but...”
“Before you start making excuses, let meh remind you that Scott is still out there. So is Logan. So are a lot of folks who ain’t convinced that this Mutant Monitoring Initiative will work,” said Rogue, now grasping Phoenix’s shoulder in a friendly gesture.
“Are we even trying to convince them otherwise?” questioned Phoenix.
“Not with that attitude, we ain’t. Ah ain’t gonna say we shouldn’t have our doubts, but look at what we just did. We handled a situation. We worked with the authorities. We’re takin’ the first steps. We got a long way to go. If we’re gonna show the world and Scott for that matter that this can work, we gotta hold our heads a little higher. Even with a broken heart, you gotta keep moving forward.”
Phoenix let out another exasperated sigh. For once, she didn’t have an overly complicated reason for being moody.
Her boyfriend had left her. Her life as an X-man had changed so drastically over the past month. She stayed on board despite all the personal drama. Now she was letting that drama hold her back. As much as she was reeling from Scott walking out on the team, she had to move forward. It wasn’t just because the Mutant Monitoring Initiative needed her. She needed to pull herself together for the conflicts that were sure to come.
Rogue offered a friendly smile to her distraught friend. Having been in her position before, Rogue could certainly empathize. She did have an advantage in that she still had Remy waiting for her back at the institute. Phoenix never rubbed that in her face when the situation was reversed so she had no intention of doing the same.
“You’re right. I really do need to get out of this rut I’m in,” conceded Phoenix, “But between the Phoenix Force going silent and my boyfriend walking out, I’ve got a lot of baggage weighing me down.”
“If Ah can lug around that kind of burden, then you can do, sugah,” assured Rogue.
“Speak for yourself. You can bench press a tank,” quipped Phoenix.
“Strength and muscles is a luxury. It ain’t a requirement,” she shrugged, “If it makes ya feel better, Ah’ll handle the de-briefing. That way you can sulk in peace.”
“You’re a hell of a friend, Rogue,” said Phoenix, her mood lifting somewhat, “I’m sure we’ll need that and plenty more to make this Mutant Monitoring Initiative work.”
Xavier Institute – Present Time
Melita jotted down a few extra notes as she continued walking alongside Professor Charles Xavier. His insight into the Mutant Monitoring Initiative’s international efforts was an important angle. It demonstrated that this proposal had a truly global reach.
“So your X-men didn’t waste time. You went straight for Genosha, attacking what people feared most head on,” Melita surmised.
“This was deemed to be the most prudent approach,” said Professor Xavier, “Uncertainty is part of what drives the fear of mutants. By finding those who feed on that fear, we can foster a greater peace.”
“Peace, you say? I’ve heard the White House call it order,” she pointed out.
“They are not mutually exclusive. Nor are they one in the same,” retorted Xavier.
“But there is a difference. One I think that mutant you mentioned, Mercury, understood.”
“Are you suggesting that the mutants of Genosha are correct to avoid us? That they’re better off living in the shadows?”
“I’m suggesting that they may have valid reasons for resisting this Initiative,” quipped Melita, “I’m not the only one either. The pundits and talking heads bring it up more than I care to recall. They wonder if the ideal you’re working towards is obscured by politics. Perhaps that’s what Mercury and mutants like her are running from.”
Professor Xavier stopped walking so he could talk to Melita directly. She was not avoiding the difficult questions. She wasn’t the first one to bring them up and she probably wouldn’t be the last.
He was under no illusions. Professor Xavier understood the risks when he started pursuing the Mutant Monitoring Initiative. By teaming up with the authorities, he was tacitly acknowledging that mutants were dangerous. Humans by themselves could not deal with them without resorting to conflict that would destroy them both. That was what made the compromise so difficult. Many mutants, especially those from Genosha, didn’t care to be monitored for the sake of fearful humans. The case with Mercury was just one of many that had plagued the initiative since it began.
“I don’t deny that emotions have been running high,” said Professor Xavier, “I recall conversing with Mercury personally. She was quite upset with the X-men. She believes that we’re becoming what Genosha fought so hard to resist.”
“Which is what? A tyranny?” suggested Melita.
“That might be too harsh a word,” said Xavier, “What we do is anything but tyrannical. Mercury broke the law. Thankfully, I convinced her to cooperate, which I’ve been unable to do with many former Genoshans.”
“Is that why she was enrolled in the Academy of Tomorrow rather than thrown in jail like so many others?”
“It was our way of showing that we’re willing to be reasonable. She severed her Genoshan ties because she didn’t feel they were working in the best interest for mutant-kind. I’m hoping we can show her that our way can work.”
“Is that the only reason?” questioned Melita, “Did she also provide some information on Genosha, the Brotherhood, and what that lost horde of dangerous mutants is up to?”
“If she did, I’m not at liberty to discuss,” quipped Xavier, “I’m willing to be honest with you, Miss Garner. However, that honesty only goes so far.”
Xavier started walking again. Melita lingered a bit, casting the powerful telepath a suspicious gaze. She expected some level of secrecy from any government operation. This was different. That was a fear shared by all sides. Not having answers only added to that fear.
“Excuse me, but didn’t you just say that uncertainty was driving the fear surrounding mutants?” asked Melita as she caught up, “Secrecy doesn’t ease uncertainty last I checked.”
“As with all law enforcement, I’m afraid, some matters need to remain confidential,” retorted Xavier, maintaining his confident demeanor.
“Then how do you expect to deal with the whole uncertainty issue? I doubt that’s something people will overlook,” she stated strongly.
“There are other ways of easing public concerns, Ms. Garner. That is a secondary aspect of the Mutant Monitoring Initiative,” said Professor Xavier, “As Magneto himself once stated, mankind fears what it doesn’t understand. Mutation is still poorly understood. That is why I made sure that the MSA and the governments of the world dedicated a fair amount of resources to researching mutants on a more basic level. This is another area where the trust I have in my X-men is a vital asset.”
SWORD Laboratories – Five Months Ago
Hank McCoy’s curiosity often got the better of him. Sometimes he joked he was more of a cat than an ape due to his incessant desire to uncover the unknown. That curiosity helped drive his brilliant mind. He often pounced on opportunities to learn more. Sometimes this required him to overlook certain anxieties that reason alone could not escape. So when the time came for him to make a larger contribution to the Mutant Monitoring Initiative, he did so with a mix of excitement and concern.
“As you can see, we never underfund our R&D department here at SWORD. Since our original intent was to investigate off-world threats, we’ve always had to utilize advanced technology from every possible arena. This includes technology from both crack pots and geniuses,” said the assertive voice of Abigail Brand, “Under a new directive for the Mutant Monitoring Initiative, we’ve reorganized our main lab to become the central hub for mutant research. This is where you’ll be putting that big brain of yours to use, Mr. McCoy.”
“And a worthy hub it is,” commented Hank as he looked around in amazement, “This is quite a collection of hardware, Agent Brand!”
“It’s more than a collection. It’s a network of all things outside the reach of the typical science buff. We’re essentially the Amazon.com of advanced science, classified and non-classified alike. So you’ll never have to worry about limited resources.”
“I’m all for having tools at my disposal. Shall I assume that some of these tools have nefarious histories?”
“Would that be a problem?” she asked in a somewhat cold tone.
“Not if we maintain a reasonable level of transparency. I share in SWORD’s philosophy of using all available resources. However, I do have certain standards that I will not compromise.”
“Famous last words,” she scoffed under her breath.
Hank heard her wry comment and chose to ignore it. He was too enamored with his new settings to get into an argument with this woman. He could tell from her tough attitude that she was not someone to quarrel with.
There was no arguing with Agent Brand’s depiction of SWORD’s resources. This research facility was built right into the US Naval Research Laboratory in southern DC. The SWORD division was built underground and was by far the largest.
All major networks from military, public, and private research hubs fed into this area. It was shaped like a large beehive with nearly a dozen levels extending underground. Some levels were designated for high energy physics experiments. Others specialized in biology and chemistry. In the center of the complex was a large circular area where high-level experiments were conducted through a central computer array. On every level, an army of scientists were hard at work doing experiments and cataloging their research. There was a very military-like feel to this environment. Excitement had to be tempered with a heavily regimented structure since their work was so important.
‘She seems to think I’ll be in over my head. That I’ll be overwhelmed by all the resources at my disposal. I suppose I’ll have to prove her wrong. Hopefully I won’t end up having to prove myself wrong as well.’
It was a legitimate concern, for Hank. Back at the Xavier Institute, he never had to worry about his work being put to detestable uses. As Agent Brand led him into the central area, he could tell that this would be different.
With all this hardware came concern. Hank noted all the advanced components he had to work with. He hadn’t seen this much advanced hardware since his encounter with the Shi’ar. He noticed some of the technology looked like it had alien origins, which he surmised were materials from Genosha or Chandilar Enterprise. He and Xavier agreed it was best to keep that encounter to themselves for now. They would have enough Earthly concerns regarding the use of this technology. Any major breakthrough that he or someone else made was sure to affect how they handled human/mutant conflict.
“Try not to drool over these fancy gadgets for too long,” Agent Brand told him, “This isn’t your own personal sandbox. President Kelly, General Grimshaw, and Charles Xavier himself agree that we need to push harder in the mutant science department.”
“On this, we agree,” said Hank as they passed through some sliding glass doors, “The X-gene is still poorly understood. I’ve dedicated much of my life to uncovering its mysteries.”
“I don’t care for mysteries and neither do my superiors. The point of this arrangement is for you and any other brilliant mind to develop new tools that we can use to deal with mutants.”
“By new tools, you mean…”
“Anything that our jobs easier,” she clarified, “I don’t care if it’s a gizmo that turns Magneto into a kitten or a chemical that makes Toad’s feet smell like fresh roses. If humans and mutants are going to get along, we’ll need a level playing field. Technology can help with that, which brings me to your new lab partner.”
Agent Brand led Hank through the central area, passing by dozens of anxious scientists in the process. He could tell that they were all trying to adapt to these changes as well. Some looked at him strangely. Others were indifferent. As they approached the central computer hub, one figure in particular stood out. She was a short, middle-aged Indian woman. When she saw Agent Brand approach, she stood at attention like a soldier.
“Hank McCoy, meet Dr. Kavita Rao,” said Agent Brand, “When it comes to the hierarchy of mutant research, she’s at the top of the food chain.”
“Your compliments are always appreciated, ma’am,” said Dr. Rao respectively, “Food chain or not, it’s a pleasure and an honor to work with one such as you, Hank McCoy.”
“The feeling is mutual, Dr. Rao,” said Hank with a smile, finding this woman much more approachable than Agent Brand, “I look forward to combining our formidable intellects. If I recall, your name has appeared in the annuls of mutant research before.”
“It damn well better,” said Agent Brand, “She’s the one that helped the MSA build the prison that contains colorful characters such as Toad and Juggernaut. She was also the one that took those power-inhibiting collars that Cameron Hodge developed on Genosha and turned them into a viable mutant containment tool.”
“Ah yes, I remember reading over your research,” said Hank as he approached Dr. Rao, “Quite a fascinating concept, using fluctuating quantum particle fields to contain the manifestations of X-gene phenotypes.”
“It wasn’t as difficult as the math made it out to be,” said Dr. Rao, “Since the X-gene manifests proteins with unique quantum effects, it was only logical that countering those effects would effectively negate mutant abilities. This allowed us to scale up the collars and create entire areas where mutant powers cannot manifest.”
“Sounds like a promising field. Provided it’s properly and ethically implemented,” said Hank curiously, “What’s the next advancement you’re hoping to develop?”
“That’s why you’re here, Mr. McCoy. The Genosha exodus has created a high demand for more usable knowledge on mutants. We’re on the cusp of a few very important breakthroughs and I hope you can help us achieve them.”
She sounded sincere, yet ambitious. Dr. Rao seemed to prefer a low profile. She didn’t make too much noise when she redeveloped the inhibitor collars. Perhaps she didn’t feel it was worth getting excited about. Perhaps she had something much bigger in mind. Since Agent Brand made it clear that knowledge wasn’t enough, it was important that he get involved with her work.
“Sounds like you two will get along just fine. I didn’t plan on holding your hand for the first day of school so I’ll leave Dr. Rao to take it from here,” said Agent Brand.
“Very well,” said Hank, “If there’s nothing else to discuss, I will gladly get to work.”
“Actually, there is one more caveat. One I’ll continue to reinforce from here on out,” said she said in a more apprehensive tone, “Your research with us is a joint effort. By that, I mean you’re not to share it with anyone not cleared to see it and you’re not to work on it outside this lab. That includes friends, family, Twitter followers, message boards, and girlfriends.”
“Seeing as how my girlfriend has been dealing with some personal problems lately, I do not think that will be an issue,” said Hank, not daunted by her hostile tone, “Rest assured, I will deal with such issues on my own time.”
“See that it stays that way,” she said strongly, “We’re doing some very sensitive work here and I wasn’t on board with having you involved in the first place. Please don’t vindicate my fears. We don’t just want this to work. We need this to work.”
Agent Brand made sure her words lingered. He had yet to earn her trust and he wasn’t going to make it easy for him. Even as she made her way out of the lab, she maintained a suspicious glare towards this man. Charles Xavier wanted his people involved in their research. It seemed pragmatic, but it was also risky. Hank along with many others may not like the kind of work they were doing.
Once Abigail Brand left, Hank turned back to Dr. Rao. Some of Agent Brand’s attitude was directed towards her as well. It set the tone for the kind of environment they would be working in for the foreseeable future. There was so much promise with all this technology at their disposal, but with Agent Brand running the show scientific curiosity would be secondary towards results.
“I hope these settings aren’t as hostile as Agent Brand’s demeanor would imply,” commented Hank.
“She’s what we at SWORD like to call the proxy variable,” sighed Dr. Rao, “No matter how deep we probe into the scientific wonders of the universe, she’s always close by to remind us of our roles.”
“I intend to make such reminders unnecessary. Professor Xavier and I have already set out a series of goals for our mutant research. With the full faith and backing of the United States government, I look forward to accomplishing them.”
“In that case I’ll show you to our biomutagentic recombinator. I think you’ll find it very useful in getting started,” said Dr. Rao, taking his arm and escorting him towards the north end of the lab.
“Marvelous! In the meantime, I would love to talk about the paper you published recently. I find your insight into potential cures for certain congenital defects are very intriguing.”
Xavier Institute - Present Time
Melita had to slow down as she tried to write over the scientific jargon that Professor Xavier was using. She had never been a science buff. These issues surrounding mutant research were flying over her head. Most ordinary people probably wouldn’t understand it either. She would have to be creative with her words to make sure the right message got through.
“So the X-men now have a better R&D department. Is that the simplest way I can describe this arrangement with SWORD?” asked Melita.
“It’s simple, but I wouldn’t say it’s the most accurate,” said Professor Xavier.
“I’ll use it anyways. It’ll save me the trouble of getting a thesaurus. This has to be tailored for public consumption, remember? Most people aren’t going to care about the inner workings of mutant genetics.”
“It’s a vital part of our mission. Even if some don’t care to learn the intricacies, it’s important that we get this information out into the public domain.”
“Americans don’t like doing homework last I checked. So we’ll have to work on dumbing it down for our failing high-schoolers to digest.”
Professor Xavier chuckled to himself. Melita had quite the unenviable task of trying to communicate these very complicated matters to the public. These were issues that did not have easy explanations yet everyone seemed intent on a quick fix. Intensive research was the key, but that didn’t mean the smaller issues should be negated. The essence of the Mutant Monitoring Initiative was how far it extended.
“You don’t have to go over every details of our research,” assured Xavier, “The goal of all our efforts has never changed. We wish to develop tools and knowledge to help aid humanity in co-existing with mutants.”
“That sounds all nice and rosy, but for some co-existing with mutants is akin to co-existing with hungry grizzly bears,” Melita pointed out.
“I don’t think it’s fair to compare mutants with dangerous predators, Ms. Garner,” he retorted.
“Okay, maybe that wasn’t my best metaphor. I’ll burn my English degree from NYU later, but I think you get my point.”
“Indeed I do, and it’s not without merit. Teaching mutants to control their powers has always been a core concept of the X-men. The Mutant Monitoring Initiative is taking it one step further. Hank McCoy, Dr. Rao, and dozens of other brilliant scientists are looking for new ways to unlock the potential mutant abilities hold while minimizing the danger.”
“Ah yes, the danger,” said Melita, now starting on a new page, “That we don’t have to dumb down. I think everybody has had experience with the danger that mutants pose.”
“And I hope to counter those negative experiences with more positive experiences,” Xavier went on, “Confronting dangerous mutants and researching mutant biology are our most pressing roles. However, I’m also hoping to emphasize a more humanitarian role with the X-men. Thanks to an influx of support from the UN, the Mutant Monitoring Initiative has made it possible for mutants to show just how valuable they can be.”
Southeast Asia - Three Months Ago
There was a running joke at the UN when it came to developing countries. Trying to instill prosperity was like trying to manipulate the weather. It was an impossible task. Since the Mutant Monitoring Initiative took effect, however, impossible was being redefined on a constant basis.
It happened only once every fifty years or so. A super typhoon of massive proportions formed in the Pacific Ocean and took aim at Southeast Asia. These were the kinds of storms that caused destruction on a level that set entire countries back. This storm that some were calling the Howl of the Dragon was on a direct collision course with the Philippians, Vietnam, and Southern China. It had the potential to affect Taiwan as well, thus creating an economic and humanitarian crisis.
On the westernmost island of the Philippians, the very edge of the storm could be seen from the local beaches. It lingered in the distance like a wall of raw destruction. Lightning flashed and thunder echoed in the distance, adding to the sharp winds that kicked up choppy waters around the beach. In preparation for this crisis, the UN was already present.
A large ship was anchored just off the beach where inflatable boats transported large packages of aid to the already impoverished region. Normally, they would also be assisting in the mass evacuation of the island. This time, it was different. This time, they had a valuable resource at their disposal.
“Those clouds look scary, mommy,” said a three-year-old young girl in her native Spanish tongue.
“They are scary, my child. I’ve lived here all my life. I’ve never seen a storm this big,” said the young girl’s mother, who hugged her daughter tightly.
“It’s a big one. No doubt about it,” said a uniformed UN worker with a humored grin.
“You sound pretty content. It’s as if you don’t even care if our island is destroyed by this storm!” said the woman angrily.
“We’ve all worked so hard to clean up our towns and villages. We were just beginning to prosper after that corrupt leader in the capital stepped down. Now it’s going to be wiped out?” lamented an old man, who had to lean on his son for support.
“No…it isn’t. Not today,” said the UN worker confidently.
“That’s easy to say when your home isn’t being threatened,” said the woman.
“It’s even easier to say when you have powerful allies on your side,” quipped the worker, “Just keep watching and you’ll see what I mean.”
The UN workers remained calm while over a hundred anxious Philippianos watched the approaching storm clouds. They had all been assured that there was no danger. There was no need to take shelter. They were told to simply watch and wait, which they had been doing so for nearly an hour. It seemed the storm would hit them head on. Then as the thunder in the distance intensified, the worried islanders discovered what the UN workers were referring to.
“Look! The clouds...they’re breaking up?” yelled an old woman in astonishment.
“They’re moving away from us!” exclaimed a teenage boy.
It unfolded like magic. Through the dark clouds in the distance, an unseen force shot through to disrupt the swirling winds. The once ominous storm cracked like a giant piece of glass, allowing thick rays of sunlight to penetrate. It weakened the clouds, dissipated the lightning, and softened the thunder.
It happened so quickly and so dramatically that nearly everyone on the island stopped to take notice. They kept watching as astonishment as this now weakened clouds changed directions before their very eyes, turning south so that it would completely avoid the island. It meant that their homes and their livelihoods were saved.
While hundreds of amazing locals watched on, a figure emerged from the clouds and soared over the island on a wave of blistering winds. The UN workers recognized her and smiled. It was Storm and she was surrounded in a thick layer of swirling winds. This indicated that she was using her powers at very high levels. This allowed her to take on one of nature’s most powerful forces and bend it to her will.
“THAT WOMAN! SHE HAS VANQUISHED THE STORM!” exclaimed a little 4-year-old boy, pointing up as Storm flew over the shores.
“I KNOW HER! SHE IS THAT MUTANT WHO CONTROLS THE WINDS!” said a middle-aged man.
“WE ARE SAVED! HAIL TO THE WIND RIDER!” cheered an old woman.
A round of jubilation erupted from the surrounding islanders. Celebrations broke out across the beaches and in the streets of the surrounding towns. Some started dancing and singing. Others threw up berries and sand, making their gratitude known as Storm flew overhead. For the UN workers, no celebration was necessary.
“I never get tired of seeing that,” commented one of the UN workers.
“What? Seeing a mutant stop a killer storm or the reaction that inevitably follows?” asked another, with a humored grin.
“Both. It makes our jobs a lot more exciting.”
The cheering continued. The anxiety that once engulfed the island quickly melted away and was replaced with relief. For the UN workers, their task was far from over. Besides diverting the typhoon, their primary mission was to distribute aid to this impoverished region. Now that the locals were in such a good mood, that task was sure to be easier.
As Storm passed over the beaches, one of the boats from the anchored ship reached the shore. On it was a large collection of heavy aid. There were no UN workers on this boat. Only one was necessary for this heavy task. Colossus, who was in his full metal form, stepped off onto the beach carrying two heavy crates in each arm. As he made his way towards the locals, Storm flew around and settled over his position.
“Another disaster averted, Storm. Well done!” said the Russian mutant with a smile.
“This one was tricky,” she said as she settled to catch her breath, “I’ve never diverted a typhoon this big before.”
“You will likely never have to pay for a meal on this island again,” said Colossus as he set down the two heavy crates, “It seems I have much more heavy lifting to do in order to catch up.”
“You’ll manage. You always do when it comes to strength,” said Storm with a smile.
“That’s what Kitty tells me,” said the Russian as he opened the crates, “Speaking of which, I need to call her soon. She gets rather intense about checking in with her.”
“I don’t blame her. She’s probably still not used to long-distance relationships. Seeing as how she used to criticize Bobby for having one with Lorna, I think she’ll need to stay humble. We all will.”
“Is that how you are making it work with this James Proudstar man you’ve been seeing?”
Storm blushed despite still being surrounded by swirling winds. The Mutant Monitoring Initiative changed their lives a great deal. Their relationships were certainly affected.
Colossus and Kitty still saw each other, but not as often as they used to. Between their X-men duties and what little downtime they had, it was hard to keep up. For her and James Proudstar, it was different. Before this initiative, they seemed to take a major step. Then the mansion was destroyed and many things changed.
‘Peter Rasputin, you don’t know how lucky you are. At this point, you and Kitty probably have the most manageable relationship among us all.’
Like Colossus and Kitty, she and James had to endure a long-distance relationship. It was difficult to keep up with, but for reasons that went beyond simply keeping in touch. As far as everyone else knew, James was still a regular teacher at the Academy of Tomorrow. She and many others suspected this may not be the case. The details were still not known, but since their relationship was still developing it would take time to unfold.
“Making something work in this arrangement is still unknown territory for us all,” Storm sighed, “Let’s just say James and I are behind the curve.”
“You are not worried, are you?” he asked as he picked up another heavy crate.
“Worried being relative, I think we’re finding our way. There are always costs and rewards. So far, I would say the rewards are more than worth the cost of such work.”
Storm didn’t even have to prove her point. He had to abruptly drop their discussion on relationships because a swarm of jubilant Philippino children had run onto the beach. They quickly surrounded Storm and cheered her while others clamored around Colossus, welcoming him with open arms.
“Look! The metal man brought us food!” said one child.
“He must be friends with the weather girl!” said another.
“Look at how strong he is! I want to be strong like that too!” said a young boy as he hugged the Russian’s muscular legs.
Colossus smiled as he was overwhelmed by the joyful cries of the young children. His strength along with the aid he brought made him a real hero in their eyes. For a former courier of the Russian Mafia, it was a great feeling. It helped affirm that what they were doing was working and despite the strain it put on relationships, it was worth it.
Xavier Institute – Present Time
“So you’ve added more humanitarian work to the X-men’s resume,” summarized Melita as she finished another page of notes, “That we can definitely use. Saving impoverished people from destruction is a completely apolitical issue.”
“I would certainly hope so. Mutant powers can enhance many facets of our lives. Humanitarian aid is one of the most valuable,” said Xavier, now casually leaning against a picnic table in the back yard.
“If only we could build the whole campaign around it, but that’s not the world we live in. Playing Mother Teresa will earn mutants some bonus points. I doubt it will be enough to sway public opinion.”
Melita was overly pragmatic in her assessment without being too crass. Professor Xavier made it a point to emphasize the good his X-men did under the Mutant Monitoring Initiative. That often got lost in the midst of so many controversies. Now that the X-men were working so closely with the authorities, there was more order to their efforts. It was hard to see that as anything but positive. That didn’t mean Melita couldn’t find flaws.
While his idealism intrigued her, it wasn’t her job to share the best possible scenarios. It was her job to probe deeper. That meant tapping her own inner psychic for a bit.
“Let’s use this humanitarian angle to paint another picture,” said Melita, “The island your X-men saved was right in the middle of a vital shipping lane. It linked up with Hong Kong, Macau, Taiwan, Japan, Vietnam, and Southeast China. If that vital typhoon swept through, it would have disrupted some key economic areas in addition to creating a humanitarian nightmare.”
“Protecting the economy is a bonus,” shrugged the Professor, “I don’t see why that would be an issue.”
“I didn’t say that it was, but being in the world of the so-called liberal media conspiracy, I do hear people talk when they think nobody is listening. A few leaked memos indicated that China, Japan, and Taiwan lobbied heavily for the X-men to stop this typhoon. That poor island in the Philippians was just a staging area.”
“I think that’s delving a bit too deeply into conspiracy theories, Ms. Garner,” said Xavier, who shrugged such a notion aside.
“I’m not talking about aliens abducting Elvis here. I’m talking about politicians and greedy men trying to protect their power and their wallets,” Melita went on, “In my experience, when you give politicians power, they use it. The X-men, as you just demonstrated, are pretty damn powerful.”
“Yes, but the Mutant Monitoring Initiative ensures that the X-men maintain their independence,” said the Professor in a more serious tone, “I made that very clear to President Kelly from the beginning.”
“I don’t doubt your sincerity, Professor Xavier. Maybe you didn’t hear that shortly after your X-men stopped that crisis, those Asian countries I told you about agreed to lower tariffs on American goods. China even turned over a few very dangerous nationals they had been sheltering out of the blue.”
“Are you suggesting that President Kelly used me for his own political gain?”
“He may simply be reaping the reward. All he had to do was point the UN to a certain location, tell you it was a crisis, and the X-men took care of the rest. He didn’t have to lie or deceive you. He just had to honor his part of this initiative you made.”
“I don’t like what you’re accusing me of, Ms. Garner,” said Xavier in a more defensive tone.
“I’m not accusing you of anything. I’m just pointing out some of the alternative facts that didn’t used to affect the X-men. Perhaps it’s worth mentioning that these noble efforts of yours are benefiting politicians that couldn’t care less. Never mind that at the same time that typhoon was going on, I was covering this massive earthquake in Iran. It was a disaster that killed way more people than that typhoon ever could have. Your X-men could have saved a lot of people. But since Iran isn’t in friendly terms with the United States, it didn’t get the help it needed.”
The Professor’s demeanor changed drastically. He started walking again, needing to avoid eye-contact with Melita for a moment. She kept following him with her recorder going. She clearly struck a chord and decided to push further.
“I’m not trying to grill you, Professor Xavier. I’m just trying to be proactive. You have to expect this sort of thing in politics,” she said in a less apprehensive tone.
“I’m trying to minimize the political complications of this endeavor,” said Xavier, still sounding somewhat coarse, “My intent with the X-men has never changed. We seek to use our powers for the greater good.”
“Intent never stopped politics before. I don’t see this as being any different. That’s why we need to confront these issues now before the talking heads of the world start whining about it.”
“What is there to confront?” he questioned, now walking a bit faster, “I’ve been very open with what my X-men do under the Mutant Monitoring Initiative. We work carefully to maintain an astute perspective. If there has been an instance where we’ve deviated, I’m more than willing to confront it.”
“I’m glad you said that because that leads me directly into another little incident I uncovered a few months ago. In involved a couple of your X-men,” said Melita, now walking faster so she could get every word of this.
“Which incident is this? All of the X-men’s exploits have been public thus far,” said Xavier, now sounding anxious at what Melita might reveal.
“This was no exception, but not everything was reported. It directly relates to the X-men’s close partnership with the authorities as a whole. In addition to helping the MSA, you also lend a hand to major law enforcement. Sometimes this creates a messy situation to say the least.”
Miami, Florida - One Month Ago
“FREEZE! HANDS WHERE I CAN SEE THEM!”
“DON’T EVEN THINK ABOUT RUNNING! WE’RE AUTHORIZED TO SHOOT!”
The once festive mood of one of Miami’s most exclusive clubs had been shattered. This was supposed to be a private party. The entire top floor of the club had been rented and filled with quality liquor, loud music, and beautiful women. The party was just getting heated up when out of nowhere, the feds came storming in.
For many, it was terrifying. For someone like Carlos Caliaccio, it was as annoying as a stubbed toe. As one of the Italian Mafia’s top bosses, he rarely feared the law. He had seen raids like this before. They were a part of life for every mafioso. While the weak and the stupid, the smart and the well-connected sat back and enjoyed the show.
Caliaccio had been sitting comfortably in a booth in the corner of the club. To his left was his attractive 28-year-old girlfriend, who was not to be confused with his wife. To his left was his girlfriend’s 22-year-old sister, who was equally attractive and equally timid when the FBI swarmed the scene. Both she and her sister immediately ducked down. Most at the surrounding tables did the same. The FBI wasted no time in securing the area before anyone had a chance to escape.
“What the hell? I thought this party was private!” barked one of the Caliaccio’s associates.
“Since when do pigs need invites?” said another associate that had been sitting at the bar.
“This is so not what I signed up for! My pimp is going to be really pissed!” said one of the attractive women who had been dancing on the main stage.
“To hell with your pimp! I don’t need Johnny law sticking his nose in my business again!” said an overdressed man in a hoodie.
“Hey! Save the bitching for your next album, Ice-T. We’re not here for you. Not this time anyways,” yelled one of the FBI agents, shoving a gun in the young man’s face.
The commotion died down as quickly as it escalated. Within a few minutes, the FBI had every corner of the club accounted for. Nobody had slipped out. Once they made sure no one would pull a crazy stunt or anything, they closed in on Caliaccio’s table. He remained the calmest man in the club. Surrounded by a couple of beautiful women and an assortment of six body guards, he still felt plenty safe.
“I think you fellas took a wrong turn at Albuquerque,” he joked, “Didn’t you pigs learn your lesson the last time you tried to bust in on my parties? I seem to remember six feds losing their jobs because of me.”
“Don’t try sweet talking your way out of this, Caliaccio! That annoying smile of yours is gonna be gone for good once we’re through with you!” spat the lead agent.
“If only I had a nickle for every time I’ve heard that. I would’ve retired long ago and you guys would still be busting my balls,” laughed Caliaccio, “Seriously, what is it this time. You gonna hit me up for unpaid parking tickets? Speeding? Having hotter girls than you ever will?”
“Try murder, drug trafficking, and enough racketeering charges to put you away until the sun explodes!” barked another FBI agent.
“Oh please, haven’t we played this game before?” scoffed the mafioso, “In your fucked up little world, you need a little thing called evidence to convict someone of that shit. Last I checked, you pigs ain’t got none!”
“That’s about to change and I know how much you scumbags hate change,” said one of the agents with a grin, “Bring her in!”
Two nearby FBI agents signaled towards the back of the club from where they had entered. They in turn allowed Elizabeth Braddock to enter with two more FBI agents by her side. She was wearing her usual X-men uniform, but now there was a special patch on her shoulder bearing the logo of the United States Justice Department. She fearlessly made her way towards Caliaccio’s table. Along the way, some recognized her.
“What’s this? The feds now giving free lap dances to hard-working Americans like myself?” joked Caliaccio.
“Boss, that’s Psylocke!” said one of Caliaccio’s consigliere.
“Psy-who?” asked one of Caliaccio’s body guards.
“Psylocke! She’s one of those psychics that works for the X-men. Since they partnered with the feds, they’ve been making major busts every other week.”
“Keep your panties on. I ain’t scared of no X-men. Especially one that looks like she belongs in a Bankok brothel,” said Caliaccio.
“When I get through with you, you’re going to be scared,” said Psylocke menacingly, “Just for that, I’ll skip the protocol and get to spoiling this fancy party of yours.”
The young psychic glared sternly at the overconfident mafioso. He had the look and demeanor of a criminal who thought he was untouchable. Psylocke had encountered men like him before. She wasn’t always in a position to humble them, even when her father was leading the charge at Interpol. Now under the Mutant Monitoring Initiative, she could finally exact justice on men like Caliaccio.
“You think you have everything covered,” said Psylocke as she stood over the mafioso’s table, “Your drug shipments, human trafficking operations, loan sharking, and counterfeit goods are carefully organized so that you have zero liability. You’ve insulated yourself so damn well that all you have to do is sit back and count your money.”
“Wow, you really are psychic,” said Caliaccio dryly.
“We’re here under special order to find out where you’ve screwed up,” she went on, “Last week you had three people and their families killed for honing in on your territory. One of them was an undercover cop so our patience with you is officially nill.”
“You actually tried to get a snitch in my crew? Even if I did do it, I would have tortured the little prick first!” laughed Caliaccio.
“That leads me to the second part of that special order,” said Psylocke, now grinning as well, “I’m officially sanctioned to scan your mind and uncover all your dirty secrets. Given your history, I’m sure I’ll need a shower afterwards.”
The prospect of someone actually reading his mind was enough to make Caliaccio somewhat nervous. Any mafioso could cover a paper trail, but no one ever taught them about covering their thoughts. Like many people in his business, he had some memories that he would rather not reveal to someone with friends in the FBI. Sensing this, his chief consigliere tried to step in front of Psylocke before she could begin.
“Now wait just a damn second there, lady! I know the law. A man’s mind is his property. You can’t just poke your way inside!” he said strongly.
“That’s gotta be illegal, right?” said one of Caliaccio’s associates.
“That was then. This is now,” said Psylocke, “The rules of the game have changed. Or didn’t you read the fine print on the Mutant Monitoring Initiative?”
“Don’t talk to me about fine print! You still need a warrant!” said the consigliere anxiously.
“I’ve got your warrant right here, luv,” she quipped, forming a psionic blade and pointing it right at his neck.
Caliaccio and his consigliere grew more nervous. Two FBI agents didn’t wait for them to get comfortable. They roughly shoved Caliaccio’s body guards back into the booth so Psylocke had an unobstructed view of the vulnerable mafioso.
“You…you can’t do this!” complained the consigliere.
“I already have,” said Psylocke, her gaze narrowing on Caliaccio, “Looks like this is going to be easier than I thought. Not only do you keep detailed records in a bank vault we can easily subpoena, you even have a special computer stashed under your bed with all your backups. Nice choice of password, by the way. OpenSesemeBitch is quite easy to remember.”
“NO! Get the fuck out of my head, bitch!” yelled Caliaccio, shooting up from his seat in a fit of outrage.
“Why would I want to do that?” Psylocke taunted, “I was just getting to the part where you slept with your Don’s married daughter and stole money from his gambling operation. I wonder how willing he would be to expose your operations if we sent him this info…namely with an attachment of the pictures you kept on your computer.”
At this point, Caliaccio couldn’t be calm or overconfident anymore. It didn’t matter how thorough he had been at hiding his operations. This psychic bitch could expose them all. If the feds followed up on the information she took, he was finished. Even if by some miracle he avoided prison, the Don would have his head for sleeping with his daughter. There was nowhere for him to hide. That didn’t mean he couldn’t run.
Now burning with anger, he grabbed the two girls he had been with and shoved them right into the two FBI agents that were standing to his left. Then he issued the order that no mafioso ever wanted to give.
“FUCKING MUTANT PISSANTS! JAILBREAK THIS DUMP!” he yelled out.
“No...not like this!” groaned the consigliere.
“Nut up or shut up, you damn pansy! You heard the man!” said one of Caliaccio’s body guards.
The jailbreak order was well-understood by both mafioso and law-enforcement alike. It was a last-ditch effort by a high-level boss that knew he was done for. Rather than face jail time or the wrath of his mafia bosses, they decided to go out in a blaze of glory. That meant it was every man for himself.
Caliaccio’s body guards took that order to heart. In brazen attack, they pulled out their guns and started shooting. Two FBI agents were hit, one in the leg and the other in the arm. They fell to the floor, allowing Caliaccio to run past them. Psylocke tried to go for him, but two of Caliaccio’s body guards warmed her. Several other mob associates throughout the club followed suit, taking out whatever weapon they had and firing wildly in an effort to escape.
“THEY’RE PLAYING COWARD! TAKE THEM DOWN, BUT KEEP THEM ALIVE!” ordered one of the FBI agents as more shots rang out.
“Figures...we bring a mutant to the party and it gets ugly,” muttered one of the agents.
The chaos unfolded rapidly. Every FBI agent in the club swarmed, taking cover behind tables and quickly firing back at anyone who showed a gun. The smart ones stayed on the floor and waited anxiously for it to end. Psylocke and the agents surrounding her focused on containing Caliaccio’s henchmen.
The two body guards that attacked her tried to shoot her right in the head. Her ninjitsu reflexes allowed her to avoid their line-of-sight and with her psionic blades, she cut them around the back of their legs and delivered a hard blow to the head.
“Arge! You bitch!” yelled one of the body guards.
“Seems to be the only way you blokes know me,” grunted Psylocke as she delivered another kick to knock them out.
“We’ve got wounded and witnesses!” announced an FBI agent as he shoved the consigliere onto the table, “Did someone get Caliaccio?”
“No, but don’t worry. He’s about to get an early hangover,” said Psylocke, already picking up on some psychic chatter.
While gunfire erupted throughout the club, Caliaccio ran past two wounded FBI agents and slipped into a private VIP room. That room probably contained a secret exit, which was standard for most mob hang-outs. Caliaccio was leaving everyone else out to dry, but Psylocke was in no hurry to go after him. She first made sure that his goons were subdued, leaving the mafioso to the other surprise that was waiting for him.
Caliaccio didn’t look back, even for a second. Years of mafia loyalty were utterly nullified in the face of desperation. He had no clear plan and his fellow mafioso were not going to help him. He was on his own, his power crumbling in an instant. His only option now was to run.
‘Damn those fucking X-men! Damn those fucking feds for working with them! Ain’t nobody plays by the rules no more! Even the law is fighting dirty! And they call ME a criminal! The whole world has fucking lost it!’
Caliaccio kept moving as fast as his middle-aged body would take him. From the VIP room, he kicked over a TV stand that hid an emergency escape route. It was officially a fire escape, but he made sure it was concealed. The FBI didn’t seem to be aware of it, otherwise they would have done a better job guarding it. Once through the door, he descended down a winding staircase towards a utility exit in the rear of the club.
‘Guess it’s all survival now. I gotta find my emergency cash stash, hop any boat at the pier, and start sailing until I hit a place with no extradition laws. Can’t worry about the wife and kids. Can’t think too far ahead. That psychic may still be reading my thoughts!’
Caliaccio was tantalizingly close to fresh air. The exit was just up ahead. He was already panting, having drank a bit too much earlier. For a moment it looked like he would have a chance. He reached out for the door, but then yet another unwelcome figure emerged from behind the staircase.
“Going out for a stroll, homme?” asked a very calm Remy Lebeau.
“The hell? Another mutant?!” he exclaimed, “Stay the hell outta my mind!”
Caliaccio went for the door, but Gambit didn’t let him get any further. Using his bow staff, he jabbed the mafioso right in the gut and forced him back.
“Non, I don’t attack the mind. Gambit can dish out hurt in so many other ways,” he taunted as he slammed Caliccio across the face with his staff.
The once powerful mob boss fell to the floor, his face bruised with a couple of broken bones on top of it. Out of breath and half-conscious, he was in no condition to run anymore. The game was over for him.
Gambit stood over wounded figure, making sure he stayed down. His experience as a thief proved to be a vital asset once again. Caliaccio and all men like him always have an escape route. This was exactly the kind of route he would have used. The FBI overlooked it, assuming they could corner him before he ran. In his experience, law enforcement always underestimated the cunning of professional criminals. It was for that very reason that Gambit was left conflicted.
“I know you be pissed. Remy understands…more than you think,” he said to the dazed mafioso, “In another life Remy would be in the same place you in right now. The world of crime be like a game of blackjack with a loaded deck. Every criminal tries to make sure the deck be in his favor. Some play dirty. Some play with honor. What disturbs Remy is that this time, the good guys were the ones playing dirty. I almost feel like Remy ought to apologize.”
“These walls must be dingy. I thought I just heard someone apologizing to a mob boss,” came a voice from behind, “I know you were a former thief, Gambit. That doesn’t mean you should have sympathy for them, especially blokes like this.”
Gambit turned around to see Psylocke approaching. She must have caught up while the FBI settled things down upstairs. She heard his philosophical musings and the bemused look on her face showed that she didn’t agree with them. Gambit could hardly blame her. She came from a family of cops. He came from a world of thieves. Now that he had been part of both it added to his perspective and the outlook mixed.
“Remy takes it the party be over now,” said Gambit.
“The FBI is making arrests. Interpol will show up later to file their own set of charges. But you don’t care about that, do you?” said Psylocke as she approached her former lover.
“Remy ain’t never been one for paperwork. I’m a man of action. You know that as well as any femme Remy’s slept with.”
“Just because you’ve seen me naked doesn’t mean I’ll overlook your questionable attitude,” she said in a critical tone, “I hope you’re not having second thoughts. The Professor was pretty open with us on this mission. Part of our new duties involve helping major law enforcement. I think taking down mob bosses is a productive use of our powers, don’t you?”
“Remy ain’t saying the world is better with folks like Caliaccio on the loose. Remy just worries about things getting unbalanced,” said Gambit, who used his bow staff to turn the beaten mafioso over so that he was on his back.
“You’re not going to get official on me, are you? Saying that we need a warrant or that we should play fair?”
“Remy ain’t no lawyer. I’m just saying we played dirty. This Mutant Monitoring Initiative be putting us in a lot of strange positions. We be playing by rules that be as solid as bad gumbo.”
“We do what we have to,” she argued, “We’re still working within the law and that’s our greatest asset.”
“It also be our greatest weakness, non? The Professor tells we be doing ourselves a favor by earning points with the law. Remy just can’t help but wonder that if we keep playing this here game, the line between us and folks like Caliaccio will get real blurry and that’s a game nobody can win.”
Xavier Institute - Present Time
Professor Xavier stood in conflicted silence for nearly five minutes. He and Melita stopped walking. They were now standing on the back deck of the institute. Having listened to her report of the Caliaccio sting, he was confronted with some unpleasant details of his ambitious initiative. This incident and others like it made X-men seem above the law. It made for some disturbing and unavoidable implications.
“I don’t mean to belabor the point, Professor Xavier. But this information is out there. It deserves to be addressed,” said Melita, still holding her recorder close to him.
“I know,” said Xavier in a flat tone.
“So how do you plan on doing so?” she asked, “That case is still pending. The law isn’t entirely clear on having psychics probe peoples’ minds against their will, even if they are known criminals. You’re giving the government some very powerful tools here and we both know that governments don’t always behave ethically.”
“It’s an imperfect world, Ms. Garner. Working with the authorities tends to exaggerate those imperfections,” said Professor Xavier.
“But are those imperfections because of the government? Or is it because of the X-men? I need to know where you stand here, Professor. Imperfect mutants working with imperfect politicians is a dangerous recipe. How do you manage it? Can you manage it?”
She was really putting him on the spot now. Professor Charles Xavier was used to dealing with media scrutiny. This was scrutiny of a very different kind. He detailed for her all the good his X-men had done under the Mutant Monitoring Initiative. That didn’t erase the potential danger that was inherent in this arrangement. It bothered him in ways he would rather not articulate to the public.
“I’m afraid I don’t have an answer to that question at this time,” he said to her, “I can only articulate what I’ve been trying to reinforce to every party involved. The X-men will continue to be a force for good. There may be challenges and mishaps along the way, but we will confront them. So will the authorities.”
“That still assumes that it’s possible,” Melita retorted.
“I’ve described to you what the X-men are capable of. I’ve described the research and humanitarian aspect. I’ve described the law enforcement aspect. I never said in any case that it was perfect. It is a work-in-progress and I have faith that we can make this work with the authorities.”
There was a mix of frustration in his tone. Having made his main points, Professor Xavier turned away from Melita’s recorder and headed back into the mansion.
“On that note, I think we should end this interview,” he said.
“Already? I haven’t even touched on the two X-men who left, Cyclops and Wolverine,” said Melita.
“That is a discussion for another day. I don’t think the public needs to dwell on that just yet,” said Xavier in a more forceful tone, “Now if you’ll excuse me, I have a daunting set of tasks before me.”
Metlia didn’t get a chance to go after the Professor for more comments. As soon as he entered the institute, he closed the door behind him. It sent a clear message. He was not going to offer answers he didn’t have and he wasn’t going to stick around to say something he would regret. In that sense he was already behaving like an experienced politician. It was an ominous sign that couldn’t be ignored.
“Well this is sure to be an interesting story,” she mused, “I imagine the newshounds will have plenty to talk about.”
‘I never considered myself a news junkie. I’ve always operated under the no-news-is-good-news principle. For me, it’s always been about the mission. I look back only as much as I have to. I used to rely on others to take these missions and put them into a vision. Now I have to think in terms of the big picture. I wasn’t ready for it. I did everything I could to avoid it. Now the mission IS the bigger picture and I don’t think anybody has fully grasped that yet.’
Scott Summers hid his thoughts behind his usual veil of disciplined focus. He and Wolverine were standing atop the roof of a Holiday Inn hotel, looking out over the busy streets of East Oakland. The weather was less than ideal. The sun had just set and a light rain had settled over the city. Through a pair of binoculars, his gaze never diverted from the target area.
“We’ve been up here for an hour, bub. You sure Frost’s timing ain’t off?” grumbled Wolverine, who was reading a newspaper and working on a six-pack of beer.
“She’s never off, Logan. The target van will show up. I’m sure of it!” said Cyclops strongly.
“You trust her because you used to sleep with her? Or because she’s willing to rip through minds in ways that would make Chuck and Jeannie puke?”
“It doesn’t matter, Logan. We need to trust each other. X-Force has to pick up the slack now that the X-men can’t. Either we stick together or everything falls apart.”
Wolverine grumbled some more, crushing his can of beer and tossing it aside. He wasn’t fond of Cyclops’s black-and-white assessment. He wasn’t fond of many aspects surrounding X-Force. The problem was that doubts had since become meaningless. At this point, they were betting everything they had on this team. There was no alternative.
X-Force was the complete antithesis of what the X-men had become. There were no politics or public relations. There was no institute, no school, and no training either. Their only focus was the mission.
Sometimes it involved confronting mutant threats that the new X-men overlooked. Sometimes it involved actively opposing the new policies of the Mutant Monitoring Initiative. They had to break laws, live on the run, and carry out their work in secret. With Angel financing them and Nightcrawler teleporting them, they were like shadows. Their new X-men uniforms were black to reflect this shift. Over the past few months, this shift became more and more apparent.
It was nothing terribly new for Wolverine. He worked in shadowy worlds before and unlike Cyclops, he had to balance his work with personal matters. Mystique was still doing her own thing. Laura was still at the Academy of Tomorrow. So in an unusual role reversal, he often had to step back and look at this conflict from a more personal angle.
“When you get tired of staring at air, you should take a look at this article,” said the feral mutant as he looked over his paper despite the rain.
“Since when do you keep up with the news?” quipped Cyclops.
“Since you found a way to be more a dick than you already were,” retorted Wolverine, “This Melita Garner chick has been writing all these articles about the Mutant Monitoring Initiative. I ain’t sure if she’s writing in code, but I can read between the lines. It says here that Chuck is aware that working with the feds has drawbacks. Says he’ll deal with it. The more I read, the more arrogant it sounds. It makes me wonder if this shit is starting to bite him already.”
Cyclops was silent and unflinching, not indicating whether or not he heard Wolverine’s words. As the rain poured harder, Wolverine folded up the paper and rose to his feet. He kept scolding the former X-leader, trying to make sure he still gave a damn about Professor Xavier and the X-men.
“That better bother the hell outta you, bub,” sneered Wolverine, “Last I checked, our friends were still on board with Chuck’s plan. That includes Jeannie, who I know has been a sore subject for you since day freakin’ one.”
“Don’t Logan. Not now!” said Scott in a low, angry tone.
“Why not? Her getting caught in the crossfire should motivate your ass. We been at this shit for months. We’ve helped mutants, busted heads, and ran up bird boy’s credit cards. Yet we still don’t have an endgame. I thought X-Force was supposed to prove that Chuck made a mistake. I don’t see how this is gonna get us any closer. I sure as hell would like to do something because the longer we wait, the more it’ll stink when the shit hits the fan.”
His assessment was crude, but accurate. X-Force was still operating on a low-key basis. There was no final goal or ultimate objective. They were simply the counterbalance for what the X-men were becoming.
Cyclops gripped his binoculars as he mused over the possibility that Jean and his friends would be hurt when the Mutant Monitoring Initiative went bad. There were enormous incentives to make a bold move at some point. It wasn’t clear just what this move would be, but sooner or later they would have to confront it. In all likelihood, it would require the former X-leader to make yet another difficult decision.
“I see the target,” said Cyclops, allowing Wolverine’s comment to fall to the wayside.
“Always gotta quit while you’re behind, eh Cyke?” said Wolverine.
“We’ve got a mission in case you’ve forgotten. That mutant Emma discovered is being hauled off as we speak. We’re going to stop it and this time we’re not going to be as discrete.”
Cyclops put the binoculars away and gazed down at the street below. From a distance, he could see some operatives from the MSA escorting a scared teenage girl into the back of a van. She looked like she was crying. She was also flaring these hot yellow flames from her body. She needed help and it didn’t look like the MSA was doing a very good job. So with his team in position, Cyclops sent the usual signal to X-Force through special encrypted communicators.
“They’re getting ready to move. Check in, X-Force!” said Cyclops.
“I’m in position across the street,” reported Warpath, who was in disguise at a coffee shop.
“I’m in position from above,” reported Angel as he flew overhead from the clouds.
“I’m locked onto their minds. As always, they’ve grossly overestimated their defenses,” reported Emma Frost in her usual vain tone.
“I’ve got my shot. Just give the word and I’ll take it!” reported Domino from another rooftop a mile away.
“Take it in 30 seconds, Domino. Nightcrawler will put us in position. As soon as the commotion begins, we make ourselves known,” said Cyclops.
Every member of X-Force confirmed the message. As soon as Cyclops put the communicator away, Nightcrawler appeared up in a puff of smoke. With an equally serious demeanor, he grasped his friends’ shoulder and prepared to begin.
“Glad to hear ve’re getting a little bolder, mien friend,” said the German mutant, “Zhe Professor vill surely take notice.”
“That’s not my concern. Not yet anyways,” said Cyclops, “We need to prove that he’s making a mistake with the X-men. The best proofs tend to be painfully apparent.”
With a confident grin, Nightcrawler teleported Cyclops and Wolverine away. Moments later, shots rang out. X-Force was on the move once again.
Up next: Walking A Fine Line
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