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Volume 7 -- Issue 158 -- Power Brokers

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Power Brokers
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Professor Charles Xavier has a dream. He wants a future where humans and mutants work together for the common good. His team of gifted mutants, the X-men, share that dream. After years of working on their own, they joined forces with human authorities under the Mutant Monitoring Initiative. It is in this initiative that Professor Xavier has staked much of his dream. So far, the results have been mixed.

There have been times when the initiative has hurt the X-men. In an incident involving a mutant named Nitro, Professor Xavier’s team struggled to cooperate with the government forces in the MSA. It cast doubt as to whether the dream was even still relevant. However, this incident was soon followed up by a pivotal success.

One of their old enemies, Sebastian Shaw, had been distributing a drug known as Mutant Growth Hormone. With this drug, he hoped to enhance mutant powers and control them using a powerful psychic collective. The X-men were not only able to thwart him. They were able to arrest Shaw so he can finally face justice for his many crimes.

This leaves the detractors of the Mutant Monitoring Initiative with a problem. Cyclops and Wolverine quit the X-men in wake of the Professor’s controversial plan, forming X-Force in order to keep the original dream alive. They believe the initiative needs to be stopped before it does irreparable harm to humans and mutants. It’s not clear who is right, but the situation remains tenuous and more complications seem inevitable.


Nova Roma – X-Force Base

“Scott? Hey Scott, have you come back down to Earth yet?” said Domino as she waved her hand in front of the stoic face of Scott Summers.

“Give it a rest, Dom. He’s hasn’t said a word all day,” said Warpath, “I think watching the news has damaged his brain.”

“Yet I’m the one who was in the infirmary for three days,” she retorted, “How is that fair?”

“If you’re that upset about it, you could always do what Logan does and try to drink your frustrations away.”

“Sorry, but even I’m not that lucky,” laughed Domino.

The two mutants left the X-Force leader to sulk over his team’s precarious state. He had been spending a lot of time in the War Room, going over all the ways they failed in the Shaw mission. For a few days, everybody dwelled on it. Warren and Domino had injuries that required extensive treatment from Nova Roman doctors. Nobody slept easy knowing they had performed so poorly. Over a week had gone by and the team was ready to move on, but Scott Summers continued to lament.

Even after Domino and Warpath left the area, he remained fixated on the large television screen that was broadcasting news reports. In the days that followed Shaw’s arrest, details had spread throughout the media. The story was global in scope. It demonstrated to people all over the world how humans and mutants could work together to exact justice. It was a compelling point, but Scott Summers still wasn’t convinced.

The latest report from CNN depicted Professor Xavier and General Grimshaw standing next to President Kelly at a press conference. They were making a very public spectacle of Sebastian Shaw’s arrest. Scott studied it closely, trying to determine what it meant for future missions. For the moment, it was a PR boon for the Mutant Monitoring Initiative.

“Make no mistake, this is a great day for justice. Sebastian Shaw wasn’t just a corrupt businessman. He and others like him undermine the very spirit of a free society. Today, we’ve officially charged him with multiple counts of racketeering, bribery, extortion, unlawful imprisonment, and drug trafficking. He’s facing multiple life sentences and the Attorney General has assured me that he will be prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law. Thanks to Charles Xavier and the efforts of the X-men, we have the evidence to convict him and the resources to contain him. This kind of effort would not have been possible before the Mutant Monitoring Initiative. I hope this quells any lingering doubts that we made the right decisions in pursuing this initiative.”

The President sounded confident. He almost seemed sincere, despite being so mistrusting of mutants. Scott couldn’t tell if he was just being assertive or if he really believed what he was saying. He kept studying the President’s disposition as he took more questions from the press.

“Mr. President, what can you tell us about this drug, MGH or Kick as it is called?” asked a reporter from the LA Times, “Has it been completely eradicated?”

The President responded with a smug grin before answering.

“There have been no confirmed reports that MGH is on the streets since Shaw’s arrest. According to the DEA, all remaining doses are in federal custody. We’re currently studying the substance to determine if others can duplicate it. Our associates at Worthington Industries are assisting us with this under the strictest of scrutiny. So I think it’s safe to say that the public has nothing to fear from this terrible drug.”

Scott tried hard not to scoff. He saw plenty of reasons to fear a government that now had MGH in their possession. If Worthington Industries was now working with it, that opened up a whole new series of problems that he already had Warren investigating.

“Looks like you were right, Warren. If given the chance, the authorities will turn part of their latest success and into their next crisis,” said Scott to himself.

The X-Force leader continued watching. The situation with Worthington Industries was something they had to monitor closely. X-Force also had to focus on the bigger picture and that included some of the logistical consequences of Shaw’s arrest.

“Mr. President, what about the impact of Shaw Industry’s disillusion?” asked a female reporter from the Walls Street Journal, “According to a report from Investors Business Daily, the recent three-hundred-point dip in the Dow Jones was a direct result of Shaw’s arrest.”

The President responded with the same confidence as before.

“With all due respect to the American economy, that’s a small price to pay for arresting a man like Sebastian Shaw. Removing him from the business world will only serve us well in the long run. As for his company, the Justice Department has met with the capital investment group, Fenris International. They’re prepared to take Shaw’s company public under strict government supervision.”

The same reporter followed up with another question.

“What about rumors that his company employs more mutants than any other company in the world? Will that be cause for concern?”

This time Charles Xavier stepped in to respond. The President yielded to him for most questions regarding mutant matters. He seemed to share the President’s confidence with every response.

“No, we don’t expect that to be a major issue. If anything, it’s an opportunity for mutants everywhere. So long as the mutants employed by Shaw Industries are involved in legal, productive jobs, then we have no desire to stop that. We’re even looking into the possibility of starting a program that will allow mutants to acquire such jobs if they don’t feel that life at the Academy of Tomorrow is right for them.”

Scott sighed and shook his head. Professor Xavier was coming off as an opportunistic politician, but not in a bad way. He didn’t imply it outright, but Scott could read the subtext.

Professor Xavier was using this to address one of the major concerns of the Mutant Monitoring Initiative. As Beak showed them, not every mutant was keen on joining the Academy of Tomorrow. Using Shaw’s assets, he could offer another option for mutants while stimulating the economy. It was win-win for mutants and for politicians. It sounded good on paper. However, others weren’t convinced.

“What about the more distressing rumors that numerous senators, judges, and policy-makers received contributions from Shaw Industries?” asked a reporter from the New York Times, “In the past week, several notable officials have resigned for undisclosed reasons. Is this just a coincidence?”

For the first time, Professor Xavier and President Kelly flinched. They maintained their professional poise, but the question struck a nerve. It wasn’t obvious from the broadcast alone, but Scott could see it. He watched as General Grimshaw stepped in to answer.

“We’re aware of all these rumors and we’re not ignoring them. If there are officials that were involved in unlawful activity, we will look into it. Right now, we can do the most good by establishing a case against this Sebastian Shaw. That’s part of our goal for the MSA and the Mutant Monitoring Initiative. We’re trying to establish justice between humans and mutants. This is just a small step in the right direction.”

At this point, Scott paused the TV. He got up from his seat and looked at the image closer. Grimshaw always kept a stoic demeanor, but it was Professor Xavier’s expression that caught his attention. He diverted his gaze while General Grimshaw responded. It was as if he was trying to hide his reaction. Scott knew the Professor well enough to infer what that meant.

“You’ve got a lousy poker face, sir. You’re not as good a politician as we thought. That may not be a bad thing,” said Scott as he stared intently at the screen, “Arresting Shaw has already led to some unexpected problems. I wouldn’t be surprised if others in the X-men are already making a big deal about it.”


Washington DC – White House

Professor Xavier left the press conference with mixed feelings and a touch of frustration. After posing for some pictures with General Grimshaw and President Kelly, he made a quick exit through the East Wing. It was one of those instances where his powerful mind needed space to think.

“You look tired, Xavier. Get some rest. You and your team have earned it,” said General Grimshaw as Xavier left.

“Thank you, General. I’ll most certainly try,” said Professor Xavier, forcing a smile.

Xavier’s smile quickly faded as he slipped into a more secluded area. Once he was clear from the cameras, he took a moment to catch his breath. Taking down Sebastian Shaw had been difficult enough. Processing him through the justice system proved to be a different kind of challenge.

As the world’s most powerful psychic gathered himself, he sensed two familiar figures approach him. Jean and Ororo had been watching the event from behind the media scrutiny. While they had been supportive, they seemed to share the Professor’s concerns.

“That went well, but it could have gone better,” commented Jean.

“I agree. Shaw’s arrest has triggered a domino effect of sorts. I doubt we’ll understand the full extent that impact for quite some time,” said Professor Xavier with a sigh.

“That’s not what I meant, Professor,” quipped Jean, “We read the papers too. We expect men like Grimshaw and President Kelly to dodge certain questions. You on the other hand…”

Jean’s words trailed off. Professor Xavier diverted his gaze and started walking. Jean and Ororo walked with him, making it clear that they weren’t going to let this go.

“I know you want us to enjoy our victory, Charles. You’ve had the MSA and the Justice Department do most of the work in processing Shaw,” said Ororo, “However, we’re a bit concerned about a few recent developments.”

“I have every intention of addressing them, Ororo. Our greatest obstacle in this matter is time,” he told her.

“Then what’s wrong with right now?” asked Jean in a somewhat insistent tone, “You can walk and talk at the same time, can’t you?”

“At the very least, give us something to tell the others,” said Ororo with a bit less apprehension, “We’ve all been hearing stories about certain congressmen quietly resigning for having ties with Shaw.”

“That’s to be expected. Shaw’s corruption ran deep,” said Professor Xavier.

“I don’t doubt that, but I find it a little distressing that the only ones resigning happen to be members of the other party. We took down Shaw to stop his sinister operations. Not to help the President secure more power.”

“That makes us feel like political tools. We’re supposed to be setting an example, are we not?” added Jean.

Professor Xavier held his head low, not contesting this unfortunate development. He was well-aware that President Kelly appeared to be taking advantage of the X-men’s success. He and other party leaders were using it to further their own agenda, albeit subtly.

It was not the kind of partnership that he hoped to forge with the authorities. It added a corruptive element to the Mutant Monitoring Initiative that could be a problem if it was allowed to propagate.

“But that’s not the most distressing issue that concerns us,” Ororo went on, “What’s this I hear about Hank working with Tessa on a new blend of MGH?”

“Don’t you mean Sage?” Jean corrected.

“Well, whatever her name is, she and Hank seem to be overly enthusiastic about this project. They even have Worthington Industries involved. I hear they’re using that failed cure that was supposed to be thrown out to concoct a dose of MGH that will suppress mutant abilities.”

“I agree it’s a less-than-pleasant set of circumstances, but it was determined that the potential benefits of MGH could not go overlooked,” said Professor Xavier as they entered the South Wing, “There’s no question that Shaw was using MGH for devious means. There’s also no question that he made a significant breakthrough in understanding and controlling mutant abilities.”

“I’m all for helping mutants control what they do, but I’m not for giving the government or Worthington Industries that kind of power,” said Jean.

“All the more reason to maintain a close working relationship,” argued Professor Xavier, “The arrest of Sebastian Shaw demonstrates that we have resources with the government that we never could’ve had on our own. Granted, there will be some drawbacks and I will not ignore them. However, I believe the benefits will far outweigh those drawbacks.”

“I want to believe that as well, Professor. But I just have a bad feeling…” began Ororo.

The Professor stopped walking and addressed the two senior X-men. They were deeply concerned and for good reason. He took it upon himself to reassure them.

“Ororo…Jean…I can never promise that the Mutant Monitoring Initiative will work flawlessly,” he said to them, “There are bound to be costs that we find distasteful. There may even be drawbacks that are difficult to get around. However, we must not lose sight of the big picture. What worked before no longer works now. It’s not enough for the X-men to simply be heroes.”

“I know, Professor. We’ve heard that argument before. We’re not questioning the basis of the Mutant Monitoring Initiative. It’s the logistics we have problems with,” said Jean, shifting uncomfortably under her mentor’s gaze.

“And I admit they’re changing in ways I hadn’t foreseen. Coming from the world’s most powerful psychic, that should say a lot,” said Xavier, “I look at it this way…if we weren’t part of this, then it would likely be done behind our backs. Then who knows what the MSA or the government would do with something like MGH at their disposal? We’re doing ourselves a favor by working with them rather than against them.”

He made it sound so clear cut. Ororo and Jean were still in an awkward position. They couldn’t argue that there was some merit to the Professor’s reasoning. It still wasn’t enough to set their minds at ease.

The two X-women remained silent. Professor Xavier offered them a reassuring smile. He maintained a strong poise despite these difficult circumstances. He had to for both his X-men and his dream.

“It will get better. This I promise,” he told them, “We just need to keep pushing. We’ve come too far to turn back at this point.”

“I’m not suggesting we do that, Charles,” said Ororo, “I’m just suggesting that we be more careful moving forward.”

“I don’t disagree. Right now, there’s a great deal of clutter to work through. We have to make sure that Shaw is successfully convicted. We also have to make sure the mutants he helped slip under Cerebrum’s gaze are accounted for in some manner. There’s a chance that some of the businesses he set up for mutants will be a problem.”

“What kind of problem?” asked Jean warily.

“The kind that will require more subtle efforts from the X-men,” said Xavier, choosing his words carefully, “Shaw took advantage of mutants who feared the Mutant Monitoring Initiative. We need to show those mutants that such fears are unfounded. We can do that by taking what Shaw did and making it legitimate. Now there may be costs along the way. That’s where we’ll need to balance being careful and utilizing the vast resources at our disposal.”


Nova Roma – South End District

“Explain to me again why I agreed to this,” said an exasperated Wanda Maximoff.

“I’m not sure, Vanda. I imagine it’s zhe same reason I agreed as vell,” said an equally bemused Kurt Wagner, “Emma is zhe psychic here. I imagine only she knows.”

“Will you two stop looking so despondent? It doesn’t take a psychic to determine that you two need a night on the town to unwind,” scoffed Emma Frost, who was leading them down the busy streets.

“That’s assuming we wanted your help in the first place, Frost,” said Wanda dryly.

“Hey, I didn’t force you two to tag along. You’re welcome to go back to the base and continue being miserable. You’ll just prove me right either way.”

Emma Frost had an uncanny talent for putting people in no-win situations. Wanda was inclined to hex Emma for having such an attitude about it. Kurt waved her down. There was plenty of frustration to go around and Emma was only a fraction of it. X-Force had been miserable ever since they got back from Mexico. It couldn’t hurt to try something extreme like trusting Emma Frost to get away from it.

Nova Roma had a very spirited nightlife, one reflecting the more decadent side of Greco-Roman traditions. The South End District was home to the city’s night clubs, bars, and bath houses. Ever since Nova Roma opened its boarders, tourism had expanded and many were eager to partake in Nova Roma’s more unrestrained culture.

The buildings themselves were a mix of modern architecture mixed with Greco-Roman aesthetics. The bath houses and clubs were usually crowded. It wasn’t unusual to see attractive women in scantily clad attire hanging out by the entrances trying to convince patrons to pay their admission. This was the time of night where it was just starting to get crowded and before the sun came up, all manners of debauchery would be had.

Emma Frost was among those who were right at home in Nova Roma’s more libertine environment. She often compared it to the Hellfire Club where she once worked. The only difference was that the Hellfire Club was a dirty secret kept by rich men like Sebastian Shaw. In Nova Roma, there was no secret. It was all out in the open for others to enjoy. It offered an escape from the rigors of X-Force and the chaos surrounding her Academy of Tomorrow, one that some needed more than others.

“Now don’t get the wrong idea. I didn’t go through the trouble of convincing you just because I felt like annoying myself,” said Emma as they neared the end of a busy street, “This team has suffered its first demoralizing defeat and without a doubt, our handling of it has been pitiful.”

“No one vill argue zhat, Emma. Mexico vasn’t a proud moment for us,” Kurt conceded.

“That’s why I’ve taken it upon myself to put some of my teammates into a healthier mindset. So far, most of the team hasn’t responded. Warren has chosen to busy himself with the never-ending frustration that is his father. Domino was recovering from injuries so she had an excuse. James can only be somewhat decadent when he’s still hung up on Stom. The same goes for Scott, only to a far more extreme level. I swear we could parade an orgy in front of him and he still won’t look up from his work.”

“You dated zhe man. You know how obsessive he can be,” said Kurt.

“Which is exactly why I didn’t try to convince him,” reasoned Emma, “You’re in a different boat, Kurt. You have a comatose girlfriend and a failing team, yet your sole means of dealing with it revolves around sulking. Being in a city where nude bath houses and drunken fertility rituals are the norm, I’m amazed you find a way to be so miserable.”

“It’s disturbing how your mind crafts such vivid scenarios,” commented Wanda.

“Berate me all you want, Wanda. The saddest part of all is you have no excuse. You weren’t on that mission and one could argue you’re more miserable than the rest of us. There are a great many ways to enjoy yourself, even in the midst of life’s horrors. Believe me, I know. If you don’t give yourself something to look forward to, then how do you expect to move forward?”

Again, Emma made it so Wanda could not contest her remarks. She muttered bitterly under her breath, hugging her shoulders as if to prevent herself from lashing out.

The attractive psychic had a point. She didn’t have an excuse. She had been cooped up in this amazing city and somehow she managed to make herself miserable. That was quite a feat, considering how she used to deal with far more stressful situations on Genosha. She was supposed to be stronger than this.

“I can’t believe I find myself agreeing with, Emma Frost,” groaned Wanda, “I also can’t believe I’m going to try and drown my sorrows in needless partying. This is the kind of thing I expect from my brother.”

“There’s nothing needless about it, darling,” argued Emma, “No human or mutant can function if they don’t take time to relax every now and then. I don’t know what you do to relax in your spare time, but I can safely say it isn’t working.”

“Or maybe a less snobbish vay of putting it vould be zhat ve need a few healthy distractions,” said Kurt, shooting Emma a scold while keeping Wanda from overreacting, “I don’t deny it. Between Amanda and X-Force, I haven’t been in a clear state of mind to say zhe least.”

“I get the concept of having a clear head. I’m just not sure this is the way to go about it,” said Wanda, having to step away from Emma for a moment.

“If zhere is another approach you vould like to try, maybe ve could do zhat,” offered Kurt.

“That’s sweet of you, Kurt. But if that were the case, I wouldn’t have agreed to Emma’s little request in the first place,” said Wanda with a sigh, “At this point, I’m willing to try anything. I figure if you’re going to try it too, then I might as well tag along. I trust you way more than I’ll ever trust Emma Frost.”

“I appreciate your vote of confidence, Wanda. But if ve’re going to try anything, having zhe right attitude vould go a long vay,” he said with a slight smile, “Before ve go any further, can you at least promise zhat you’ll make more zhan a half-hearted effort?”

Kurt was a lot more amicable to deal with compared to Emma Frost. He was a lot more encouraging as well. Wanda had tried not to be too awkward around him. Her trust in him seemed to make his predicament with Amanda Sefton worse than it already was. He didn’t hold it against her, though. He still cared enough to make this work for the both of them. She might as well give him the benefit of the doubt because Emma Frost certainly wasn’t cutting her any slack.

‘If you want to jump his bone THAT badly, you should have just said so,’ teased Emma through her telepathy.

‘Get out of my mind, Frost. I can still hex you in ways that no amount of decadence can heal you from,’ replied Wanda.

She finally managed a less anxious demeanor. Under Kurt’s gaze and Emma’s chiding, Wanda convinced herself that she needed this. Taking a deep breath, she prepared to follow Emma through these crowded streets and into the Nova Roma nightlife.

“Okay…I’ll make the effort,” she said, “But I’m not getting drunk. If my brother’s alcohol tolerance is any indication, I’m convinced that little good can come of it.”

“Ve’ll make a note of zhat. Von’t ve, Emma?” said Kurt as he turned back towards Emma.

“You know for the son of Azazel and Mystique, you have too few reasons to be this uptight,” Emma retorted.

“Emma…” said Kurt with a light scold.

“Fine, we’ll take it slow,” said the young psychic, rolling her eyes, “Now if we’re done chiding each other, can we get going? Logan has already made himself comfortable at one of the best bars in the area. I figure that will be a good place to start before we hit the clubs.”

“We’ll also be in a position to hold him back if he gets into another bar fight,” noted Kurt.

“That too,” sighed Emma, “At the very least, it should add some extra excitement to this little outing.”

With renewed confidence, Wanda and Kurt followed Emma Frost through the growing crowds of the Nova Roman streets. A growing number of well-dressed people eager for a little fun were already lining up at some of the clubs. The anticipation was palpable. In a city with mystical heritage and festive ambience, there was no greater place to let loose for some much-needed relaxation.

Under Emma Frost’s guidance, Kurt and Wanda were led past the growing lines and right into one of the larger bars at the end of the street. However, their movements were not as lost within the crowds as they hoped.

Across the street from the bar, a figure dressed in a hooded sweatshirt watched them. He was finishing up what appeared to be his third glass of hard wine. When he saw Wanda enter the bar with Kurt and Emma, he got up and took out his cell phone.

“Alex, it’s Pietro. I found Wanda. Looks like Scanner came through,” he said in a stealthy voice.

“Then she’s two-for-two. I’m ready on my end as well,” replied the voice of Alex Summers on the other line.

“Then let’s make this quick. I’ve already got Blink on standby. Say whatever you need to say to that brother of yours, but I’m not leaving here without my sister. Over and out.”


Washington DC – Lucky Bar

The mood within the X-men had improved a great deal since their victory over Sebastian Shaw. Despite reservations from some, the overall feeling was that they had made progress. This new lineup under the Mutant Monitoring Initiative had been a difficult adjustment. Now they were settling in and Captain Jack Freeman was a big part of it.

As part of his efforts to develop greater trust, Captain Freeman organized a night off with the X-men. He treated them to a nice dinner in Downtown DC where they reserved a special table just for them. Rogue, Remy, Betsy, and Piotr embraced the opportunity to unwind. Jean Grey agreed to join as well, albeit reluctantly after her earlier conversation with Professor Xavier.

The bar was pretty lively and spirits were high for the most part. Some like Rogue and Remy were treating this as an unofficial date. They were in and out of the VIP area, enjoying the relaxed ambience mixed with free alcohol.

“Dang, Ah never had so much fun on Uncle Sam’s dollar. Ah hope we celebrate all our successes like this!” said Rogue as she finished off her drink.

“Even this here thief will admit that workin’ for the feds has its perks. Hell, they let us smoke indoors without being snide about it,” said Remy, who just lit a fresh cigarette.

“Don’t get too used to it, but when you earn it you deserve it,” said Captain Freeman, who wasn’t in his Green Beret uniform, “You guys did good in Mexico. We didn’t just succeed. We came together as a team. That’s almost as important as bringing a guy like Shaw to justice.”

“Da, and you proved yourself worthy of our respect. I am proud to call you my comrade,” said Piotr, giving the mutant soldier a friendly slap on the back.

“I appreciate that, Peter. I may be a slow learner, but I’m committed to my work,” said Jack, “I think this mission showed we can do great things when we’re fighting as a unit.”

“It sure helps not to be at each other’s throats no more,” said Remy.

“I’ll drink to that,” grinned Captain Freeman, “I haven’t been part of a successful field team that didn’t involve selling weed.”

“And I haven’t been involved in a successful government partnership that did not involve organized crime, so we’re even,” made Piotr as he held up a bottle of imported vodka.

“It’s an all-around win, fellas! Let’s enjoy it while it lasts because we know it ain’t gonna last long,” said Rogue.

In a show of camaraderie, the X-men lifted their glasses with Captain Freeman. It was a good feeling, having that team spirit again. They hadn’t felt it since before the Mutant Monitoring Initiative. In a way, it was bittersweet because some of their teammates weren’t present to enjoy it.

No one had forgotten about the absence of those like Scott, Logan, Warren, and Kurt. Their victory in Mexico hadn’t thwarted their efforts with X-Force. It was a conflict that was sure to play out in the future. For now, they were content to celebrate this victory.

Even though there was optimism throughout the team, some had a harder time getting into the spirit. Jean and Betsy weren’t all that enthusiastic with the festivities. They enjoyed the food and the free drinks. They smiled and laughed with their friends. However, when they saw Rogue and Remy out enjoying the dance floor, it reminded them that their respective lovers weren’t with them. Even victory weighed heavy on their hearts.

“You’re thinking about him, aren’t you?” said Jean as she casually swirled her drink, “You’re remembering that girl’s night we had where you and Warren first got acquainted in a club.”

“We’re both telepaths here, Jean. We shouldn’t be too surprised by one another’s thoughts,” said Betsy as she looked out over the crowded bar.

“Then you know I’ve been thinking a lot about Scott lately,” she said, “Knowing him, he took Mexico pretty harshly. He’s probably obsessing over every minor detail right now. It used to be when he dealt with something like this I would drag him out of the War Room, take him out on a date, and make love to him at the end.”

“Did it work?” Betsy questioned.

“As much as we needed it to,” Jean replied as she gulped down her drink, “I sure do miss it. Forced celibacy has a way of dampening a post-mission celebration.”

“Except there’s nothing forced about it,” mused Betsy as she retrieved another drink, “Since we arrived, I’ve sensed no fewer than six men contemplating how they’re going to seduce me.”

“I must be distracted. How many are contemplating doing the same with me?”

“I think you’re better off not knowing, luv.”

Jean managed a slight chuckle as she set aside her drink. Looking out over the crowd that included some attractive men, she continued to dwell on Scott. She also thought back to what Shiro told her during their encounter in Boston. She kept in touch with him regularly. He helped her keep a level head. She was no longer debilitated by Scott’s absence. However, she wasn’t quite sure where she would go from here.

“We are pretty pathetic, you know that?” mused Jean.

“How do you figure?” laughed Betsy as she started on her new drink.

“Our respective lovers took this big stand. They essentially walked out on us because they don’t think we chose the right side in the Mutant Monitoring Initiative debate.”

“Did we?” Betsy questioned.

“That’s debatable, but the point is they’re the ones that took the stand. They’re the ones that left us out in the cold. Yet here we are, two beautiful women at a bar acting like we’re still on the hook for them. It’s like they’re daring us to live without them.”

“Well we can and we have. The mission in Mexico proved that, didn’t it?” she said.

“But how much longer can we wait?” questioned Jean, “I had this same conversation with Ororo. Remember, she’s still hung up on James Proudstar.”

“I thought those two were never official.”

“I don’t know the full story, but she told me that this was not one of those absence-makes-the-heart-grow-fonder type deals. It’s more of a strain-your-heart-and-see-how-far-you-can-take-it type deal.”

“Never heard of that, but it sounds mental,” muttered Betsy, sounding like the alcohol was affecting her.

“It is. What bothers me, and Ororo for that matters, is that there’s only so much strain a heart can take,” Jean went on, “You’re right in that the mission in Mexico proved that we can function without leaning on our lovers. That’s pretty convenient knowledge, but it makes me wonder.”

“About how being hung up on our lovers will mess us up down the line?” said Betsy.

“Beyond that, I wonder what it means for this whole mission we’re now part of,” Jean replied, “After talking with the Professor earlier, I’m convinced that the conflicts will just keep escalating. Now I wonder if it will get to a point where the conflict between the X-men and X-Force gets resolved. If so, what will that mean for us?”

It was a distressing notion that prompted Betsy to gulp down her drink faster. It also prompted Jean to retrieve another with her telekinesis. Right now, alcohol offered a reprieve of sorts even if it was temporary. Between the politics of the Mutant Monitoring Initiative and their relationships, there were no easy answers.

Noticing their disposition, Captain Freeman walked over to the two X-women with a plate of chicken wings. As field leader, he was obligated to take an interest when members of his team looked conflicted.

“I just heard the word, X-Force. I hope that means the two of you aren’t too drunk,” said the Green Beret.

“Not yet, luv. But we’re working on it,” said Betsy dryly, “Why? Is that a new team rule? No talking about the opposing side?”

“No, and I don’t intend for it to be,” he said, “But it’s something worth discussing openly. I heard about the conversation you had with Professor Xavier earlier, Jean. I understand you’re concerned about the side-effects of our success.”

“Sorry if I was brooding. I’m not used to worrying about how being an X-man will contribute to DC’s ever-expanding corruption,” said Jean in a somewhat cynical tone.

“It’s not as corrupt as you think,” said the Green Beret, “If a punk like me can contribute to this country, then there’s more than enough hope for the X-men.”

“I’m not saying I don’t have hope. It’s just that I’ve never had hope that was so fragile,” sighed Jean, “I see Professor Xavier coordinating with President Kelly. I see Hank McCoy playing with MGH in ways only possible with government supervision. This is exactly what X-Force warned us about.”

“Then it’s our job to prove them wrong. Hell, they may even want us to,” said Captain Freeman, “They wouldn’t put something like X-Force together just for kicks.”

“I sure as hell hope that Warren would prefer being on the same side as his girlfriend,” said Betsy, “That way we could go back to fighting about simple things like his feathers clogging the shower drain.”

“I’m sure that will be a welcome change. For now, X-Force is walking a fine line with the law,” said the Green Beret, “If it gets to a point where they undermine our efforts, then that defeats the argument and becomes criminal. I don’t know what sort of end your boyfriends have in mind. But for their sake and ours, they better come to their senses before they cross certain lines.”

“That’s painting a pretty bleak picture,” said Jean warily, “You can’t expect us to choose between the people we love and the side we’ve chosen.”

“I wouldn’t want you to,” said Jack, “But if you love them, then you’ll reach out to them no matter how stubborn they may be.”

Jean and Betsy fell silent, needing anther drink to quell their inner turmoil. They were both in an unenviable position. Jack noticed how they looked towards Rogue and Remy as they stepped out of the VIP area to mingle. Their affectionate gestures were harsh reminders that they were alone and there was no guarantee that their respective lovers would come around.

“Look…I probably shouldn’t even be telling you this. I’ve made a habit out of screwing up relationships for most of my life,” he said, “But sometimes you have to cross a few lines yourself to do the right thing. It’s not pleasant. Hell, it’s not supposed to be.”

“Are you telling us we should be more aggressive with our pseudo-boyfriends?” said Betsy dryly, “What good would that do?”

“Well for one, it would offer some much-needed clarity,” said the mutant soldier, “You’re doing a good thing, serving your country. Even if you’re not letting your relationships affect your work anymore, you shouldn’t let it prevent you from being happy. You X-men deserve it and that’s coming from a guy who hated your guts when he first met you.”

“You know for a field leader, you offer a pretty skewed perspective,” said Jean in a humored tone.

“I believe that all perspectives are skewed. That includes your boyfriends,” he told them, “So why keep worrying about theirs? Work on your own for a change and let the chips fall where they may. Even if it comes back to bite you, it may also come back to bite X-Force first.”

Jack raised his glass a bit, showing a rare bit of humor. Jean and Betsy still weren’t convinced, but they raised their glasses anyways. There was only so much they could control in their hectic lives. Unfortunately, their lovers weren’t among them.

Skewed or not, Jack Freeman offered an oddly reassuring assessment. They could function without their lovers, but could they be happy as well? That was a question that would be much harder to answer. In the meantime, the conflict between X-men and X-Force was sure to escalate. There was no telling what difficult decisions they would have to make.


Nova Roma – X-Force Base

‘I don’t know if it’s possible to overdose on news, but I think I’m way too close to finding out. The others may be right. I’m entering unknown territory in terms of being obsessive.’

Scott Summers let out an exasperated sigh as he turned off the TV monitor and rose from his seat. He stretched and yawned, having not slept much since their return from Mexico. He had watched and re-watched the news surrounding the X-men and the Shaw affair to the point of nausea. At some point, he had to let it sink in. Unlike before, he didn’t have a girlfriend to remind him when he needed to step back.

In a tired daze, the X-Force leader walked over to a nearby window and gazed out over the Nova Roman cityscape. It was early evening now and the landscape looked oddly peaceful. It was nights like this where he and Jean would usually go out and unwind. He missed those nights in ways he could never put into words. Not being with Jean was one of the hardest challenges that came with running X-Force. He could make it work if he remained obsessively focused. It still made for a strenuous existence.

‘I need to pull it together. And for once, I can’t rely on Jean’s support to help me. I never knew how much I depended on her until now. I can’t lead X-Force and be an emotional wreck. No matter how much I love her, this is bigger than either of us. Someone has to make a stand no matter how heart-wrenching it may be.’

Scott leaned against the window in a daze, trying hard not to think about all the ways Jean would make things better if she were with him. He could almost see her reflection in the window. It was too much for his heart to take. He had to shut it out. Like it or not, he had to do this without her.

‘One setback shouldn’t be this big a deal. X-Force is wounded, but still intact. The Mutant Monitoring Initiative was bound to make some progress. X-Force needs to make more. There’s a hidden subtext here that someone is missing. I keep looking for it, but I can’t find anything. The others are depending on me. With or without Jean Grey, I need to be better.’

The X-Force leader continued contemplating the many challenges he had before him. He clearly wasn’t going to find any answers in his current state of mind. He needed to rest or do something to clear his head. Regaining strength was the most important step in recovering from a defeat.

Letting out a tired yawn, Scott prepared turn in early for some much-needed shut-eye. Then as he made his way across the room, he heard some strange noises in the floors below him. They sounded like gunshots mixed with yelling. In his anxious state, Scott was in no mood for horseplay.

“Domino, you better not be doing that target practice drill with James again,” he shouted, “Warren’s pockets are deep, but even he gets tired of paying the repair bills.”

More noise followed. It quickly escalated as if the gunshots were on the move. Scott listened more intently as the commotion ascended the stairs. The X-Force leader instinctively retrieved his visor from a nearby table. Something about this didn’t sound like a training exercise gone wrong.

“So much for catching up on sleep tonight,” he groaned.

Scott prepared for the worst as he carefully approached the door. Before he was even halfway there, it burst open as a result of James Proudstar being thrown in like a rag doll. Scott immediately stepped back and aimed his visor at the door.

“Hnn…so how’s your night going, Scott?” groaned James.

“About as well as yours, it seems. What’s going on? Has our base been compromised?” asked the X-Force leader.

“Depends on your definition, big brother,” came a familiar voice.

Scott watched as a figure emerged through the now gaping hole in the wall where the door used to be. His eyes widened behind his visor as he watched his brother, Alex Summers, approach him. Behind him was Blob, who was clearly the one who threw James with such ease.

“Alex…how the hell did you find this base!” exclaimed Scott.

“You act as though there’s much to find,” laughed Blob, “No offence, but this is a hell of a downgrade compared to the mansion.”

“Cut him some slack, Freddy…as hard as that may be,” quipped Alex, “These aren’t the X-men. Let’s not treat them as such.”

Scott remained apprehensive as Alex approached. He didn’t come in with his usual aggressive demeanor. He casually stepped over James’s semi-conscious body and addressed his older brother.

“Spare me the outrage, Scott. I didn’t come here to fight for once,” said Alex.

“I’ll believe that when Blob here goes on a diet,” scoffed Scott.

“Wow, you have some crazy standards,” laughed Blob, “I told Alex this was a waste of time, but does anyone listen to the guy who considers a turkey a light snack?”

“It’s true, Scott. I don’t have the luxury of attacking you, even though you keep giving me plenty of reasons,” said Alex.

“If you’re going to say something that isn’t a snide remark, say it now! Otherwise, I’ll start taking my many frustrations out on you!” barked Scott.

“Boy, these X-Force guys are moody,” commented Blob, “At least they’re easy to toss around or I would be bored already.”

Blob cracked his knuckles to further dissuade Scott from further outbursts. He was prepared to hold the former X-leader down if necessary. He had to scrap those preparations when he heard gunshots coupled with the sting of bullets hitting him from behind.

“We’re not as easy as we look…or dress for that matter,” grinned Domino, who looked somewhat tattered but was still poised to attack.

“You?! Didn’t I throw you out a window?” groaned Blob as he turned around.

“I’ve been thrown out of worse,” she quipped, “Now what do you say, big boy? Care to see if your luck is as big as your waistline?”

She fired a shot that hit him right around his neck. It didn’t do much physical damage, but it still hurt. Now flushed with renewed anger, Blob prepared to attack Domino.

“Have fun with your brother, Summers! I’m going after the crazy bitch in the black spandex!” roared Blob.

“As if we don’t hear that enough from Pietro,” said Alex as he rolled his eyes.

Blob stormed out of the room through the hole he made with James. Domino led him out of the living room and back towards the staircase, leaving Scott to confront his brother one-on-one.

Over the commotion of more gunshots, Scott and Alex stared each other down. Scott was tempted to lash out at his wayward brother. He had breached X-Force’s base. He could compromise their whole operation. Yet that didn’t seem to be his intent. So with his hand still on his visor, Scott probed for answers.

“Okay Alex, you have my attention. I’m still inclined to shoot you, but that depends on what it is you have to say,” said Scott.

“I promise it’s worth hearing,” said Alex strongly, “It involves your recent trip to Mexico and how it went horribly wrong for some…and horribly right for others.”

“I already know that. Tell me something I can’t get from CNN!” he said.

“Okay, how about this…we discovered something about MGH that even Shaw wasn’t aware of. It’s something so big that you’ll quit being a dick and listen. This runs a lot deeper than the fight between humans and mutants.”


Nova Roma – Jupiter Parlor and Bar

No matter how different some cultures were, certain tenants remained constant. Alcohol was one of the few uniting factors for every culture. Even a culture driven by magic and Greco-Roman traditions had a place for alcohol. It was oddly comforting in the midst of such dramatic differences, some of which were easier to handle for some.

“You boys are pathetic. You think your lurid tales with a high priestess will make me agree to a sordid fertility ritual? Never mind that those rituals are just glorified orgies,” scoffed Emma Frost as two heavily muscled men flirtatiously leered over her.

“I’ll have you know that most women would consider it a privilege to partake in such a ritual,” said one of the men, who was clearly a little drunk.

“My friend speaks the truth. A woman of your assets would have a grand time!” said the other man, who was looming a bit too close to Emma.

“I prefer to have a good time on my own terms. And unless you want leave this bar as a drunken eunuch, you’ll quit trying to cop a feel. You haven’t earned it yet,” said Emma in a threatening yet alluring tone.

The two large men were taken aback, yet unable to pull themselves away. They knew she was manipulating them. For any number of reasons, they didn’t seem to mind.

Emma Frost’s way with men was always a spectacle. In a place like Nova Roma, she fit in perfectly. Logan had seen it plenty of times since they set up shop in this hidden city. It was amusing at times, but after the fiasco in Mexico it wasn’t nearly as entertaining.

Logan opted to drink his frustrations away as he so often did. He had been coming to this bar nearly every night since they returned from Mexico. Tonight, he had company with Kurt, Wanda, and Emma. Kurt was sitting next to him. He kept to himself for the most part, which Logan interpreted as a sign that something else was bothering him.

“You just gonna sit there and stare at your drink? If so, that’s a lousy way to get drunk,” asked Logan, who was working on his third bottle of whiskey.

“I’m not trying to get drunk, Logan,” said Kurt as he swirled his drink.

“That’s a hell of a missed opportunity, bub,” scoffed the feral mutant, “For one, you’re in a city that doesn’t have a drinking age. Second, you’re in one of the few places on Earth where being a mutant ain’t that big a deal. After we saved this dump, we’re practically royalty. Hell, I even see some of the girls checking you out.”

“Vhat’s you’re point, Logan?” he said in a flat tone.

“You mean other than your complete lack of respect for alcohol?” quipped the feral mutant, “Face it, Elf. You have no excuse. You can hide your problems when we’re in the field, but when you’re out like this trying to unwind it’s as obvious as your appearance. You’re choosing to be miserable and it’s a damn lousy choice.”

Logan made a crude yet valid point. He really couldn’t hide his problems. He couldn’t use his appearance or his powers as an excuse. In Nova Roma, that wasn’t an issue since he was a recognized hero of the republic. Looking up, he noticed that some of the other patrons were checking him out. A handful were still repulsed, but others looked intrigued. It wasn’t a look he could have gotten anywhere else, yet he still brushed it aside.

“Are you at least gonna watch Frost emasculate two more man? It’s a hell of a lot more interesting than misery,” said Logan as he watched the two men makes a fool of themselves over Emma.

“I don’t need to know how Emma handles herself around young, Nova Roman men,” said the German mutant.

“Then why the hell are you here?” he questioned, “You look as deadpanned as Wanda. Maybe you should try staring at her instead. I don’t think she would mind.”

Now Kurt needed to take a drink. In wake of Logan’s words, he gulped down his glass of cognac. In doing so Logan knew he struck a nerve.

“Or maybe that’s part of your misery,” Logan surmised, “And here I was thinking that it was only Amanda that was making you nuts.”

“Amanda isn’t making me nuts,” said Kurt strongly, “She’s in a coma.”

“I ain’t making light of that, but you seemed to be dealing with that just fine until Wanda showed up. Either something changed or something’s in the process of changing.”

Kurt turned his attention back towards Wanda, who was sitting in a booth not far from where Emma was flirting with the men. She was turning a few heads throughout the bar, but she kept to herself. At times, she looked back towards him, resulting in an awkward moment. She was clearly as uncomfortable as Kurt and that spoke volumes.

“I see. You’ve been rubbing elbows with Magneto’s daughter and it started chaffing, didn’t it?” said Logan.

“I don’t ask you about your history vith my mother. I hope you don’t mind returning zhe favor,” said Kurt as he signaled for another drink.

“That’s where we’re both fucked, Elf. You see, I don’t wanna bust your balls about Wanda any more than you do. The problem is, I promised your mom I would look after you while she’s undercover.”

“Perhaps you can track down Rogue and catch up vith her. I’m sure she vould have plenty more to say,” said Kurt as he started drinking more.

“Rogue’s got Gumbo. She’s also as durable as a tank. I ain’t worried about her. You’re the one with a comatose girlfriend that decided to join X-Force. You’re also the one that got a bit too close to Wanda after Genosha fell apart. All in all, I’d say you need to be drinking more than me right now.”

“If zhis is your vay of looking after me, zhen I zhink you should quit before you break my mother’s promise,” muttered Kurt.

“If she were here right now, she would be a lot harsher and you know it,” Logan pointed out, “She would probably tell you that getting caught up with Magneto’s kids is a problem that’ll end with someone getting their heart ripped out. Just ask Iceman for proof. Then again, you’re dealing with Amanda so you might actually be equipped to handle it.”

“Are you encouraging me or discouraging me?” questioned Kurt. “Because I can hardly tell.”

“I’m encouraging you to figure it out before it blows up in your face. You’ll do yourself and Wanda a favor. I don’t know what the endgame is for you two, but that’s the kind of crap we deal with in X-Force. We fight the battles as they come and leave the self-loathing to Cyke.”

Kurt chuckled slightly, which he attributed to the alcohol. These were serious issues of a personal nature that he couldn’t keep ignoring. If he was to continue serving on X-Force, he had to work this out. It was hard enough waiting for Amanda to come out of her coma. Wanda’s presence made everything harder. He couldn’t afford to let them fester, especially when X-Force was in a vulnerable state.

While Kurt was lost in thought, Wanda was still struggling to relax. In between her wandering thoughts, she watched as Emma drew all sorts of attention from men and even a few women. Emma was so skilled that Wanda’s presence was barely noticed.

She reminded her somewhat of Pietro, who loved to control a crowd. Emma was just did it in a less arrogant manner. She had long since enticed the two men that had been flirting with her to the point where they would follow her into a volcano. When Emma led them both towards her booth, Wanda couldn’t help but be impressed by her bravado.

“Good news, Wanda. These strapping lads have agreed to keep us company for the rest of the night,” said Emma as she toyed with the chin of one of the men.

“Us? Since when has there been an us?” said Wanda dryly, “You’ve been taking up the attention ever since we got here. I might as well be invisible.”

“It’s not my fault you decided to sit lifelessly at a table and occasionally glance at Kurt,” she quipped.

“Careful how you say glance, Emma. I’m not afraid to hex you in a crowded place, you know,” threatened Wanda.

“Ooh, this woman is feisty! I like her,” said one of the men.

“She has the spirit of Artemis in her. She looks good in a skin-tight garb as well,” said the other.

Wanda blushed under such attention. She wasn’t used to people being attracted to her. On Genosha, everyone feared her. That was the baggage that came with being Magneto’s daughter. Nova Roma was isolated and the citizens were more brazen. It was oddly reassuring, but Emma was inclined to take it a step further.

“See? They’re more than willing to cheer you up if you let them,” said Emma playfully, “Don’t make me do all the work of making you more content.”

“That’s actually something I wouldn’t mind seeing,” said the man.

“Don’t give her any lurid ideas…not yet anyways,” said Emma.

“Emma, you’re putting me in a very awkward position here,” said Wanda, trying to hide her blush.

“Why shouldn’t it be awkward?” she questioned, “You’ve been cooped up on this island, worrying endlessly about Genosha and all the insanity surrounding mutant affairs. You’re clearly not making much progress so why shouldn’t you clear your head with a little reckless debauchery?”

“You make it sound like a cure-all, Emma. Why are you trying to convince me that I need this? Is it just because you like belittling me?”

“No need to be hostile, darling. We’re not enemies…not at the moment, anyways,” shrugged Emma, “If you really need a reason, consider this…you’re Magneto’s daughter. And in case you didn’t know, when Magneto starts brooding like this, it’s usually a bad sign. Since you don’t seem to give anyone else besides Kurt a chance, why shouldn’t I try before something goes horribly wrong and…”

Emma stopped in mid-sentence while Wanda was finishing her drink. It was hard to tell if Emma was being sincere or just self-serving. Shaking her head, Wanda looked up towards the attractive blond with a harsh gaze.

“What’s the matter, Emma? Did you run out of snide things to…”

Wanda froze as she took in Emma’s expression. It was stuck, as if all the muscles in her body were tense. She couldn’t move or talk. She noticed it on the two men as well. With growing confusion, she looked around and saw that everyone in the bar had the same look.

They were all frozen in place. They were still conscious, but their bodies were frozen. The music was still playing. The TVs were still on. However, everyone was still as a statue. Even Kurt and Logan were frozen, but they were actively fighting it.

“Hnn…Vanda,” groaned Kurt.

“What’s going on? What is this?” she demanded, her hands glowing with hex energy.

‘Relax, Miss Maximoff. They’re fine. Their brains and their bodies just aren’t on speaking terms at the moment.’

Wanda recognized that telepathic voice. She immediately shot up and scanned the bar, preparing to hex the first thing that moved.

“I know that voice. Quentin! It’s you, isn’t it?” she shouted.

‘So you remember? Guess Pyro owes me twenty bucks. He and plenty others think you’ve been trying awfully hard to forget about your people.’

“Spare me the mind games and show yourself!” Wanda demanded, “How did you even find me?”

‘Easy…I had help.’

Wanda felt a familiar gust of wind course through the bar. Every frozen figure tensed, showing clear discomfort under the telepathic hold of Quentin Quire. She followed the mysterious gust to the front area where Kurt and Logan were sitting. Right next to Kurt, the domineering presence of Pietro Maximoff appeared.

“Hello, dear sister. It’s been a while,” he said as he took Logan’s drink right out of his hand, “Sorry for the psychic trickery, but we need to have a talk. We need to discuss your return to the Brotherhood.”


Meanwhile

Cyclops was torn between listening to his brother and blasting him into the next time zone. It was a familiar conflict that had defined most of their recent encounters. He had just told him something with potentially huge ramifications. All the news reports he saw stated that every last drop of MGH was now in government hands. Now his brother was telling him this wasn’t the case.

“Okay Alex…you have my attention,” said the X-Force leader, “What are you up to this time? How did you manage to find us?”

“The mere fact that we found you in a place like this should be proof that I’m not lying. We really have MGH and we know how to use it,” said Havok, “This is actually a test run, of sorts. We have a mutant named Scanner who can track certain mutants on a limited basis. But with a dose of MGH…well, let’s just say it kicks Cerebrum’s ass.”

“And you don’t think that’s dangerous?” questioned Cyclops, “Didn’t you see what that shit did to Beak and Jubilee?”

“Like I said, it was a test. She only got a small dose, but the results have been encouraging. We’re not just talking about enhancing mutant powers here. We’re talking about control and focus the likes of which Shaw could only dream of.”

“If something like that’s in your hands, then that’s another crisis waiting to happen.”

“So let me convince you otherwise,” said Havok strongly, “Believe it or not, this could benefit you more than me.”

Cyclops remained cautious as Havok approached. He didn’t harbor the usual hostility he did during previous encounters. This was the first time they faced each other since the Genosha Exodus, which happened to be when he revealed that their father was still alive. That seemed to have a profound effect and Havok wanted to share it with him.

“Don’t let this go to your head, bro, but I’m impressed with what you’ve done,” said Havok as he looked around at their base, “I never thought you had it in you. You actually left the X-men when they did something we both know is a mistaked.”

“I’d rather not argue the merits of the Mutant Monitoring Initiative. It’s been a sore subject on way too many levels,” said Cyclops dryly.

“I’m not one for politics so I won’t even try, but I will say this…you’re doing the right thing. You’re on the right side. Forget what happened in Mexico. That just rearranged the deck chairs on the Titanic. It didn’t change a damn thing.”

“Are you actually encouraging me?” said Cyclops in a humored tone.

“I’m trying to show that we’re on the same page for once. You know as well as I do that Professor Xavier has lost his damn mind. He’s giving human authorities the power of judge, jury, and possibly executioner with this initiative of his. It may not look bad on paper, but it’s only a matter of time before they start abusing it. You know I’m right about that so let’s talk about the implications.”

Cyclops finally took his hand off his visor. This was a rare moment. He and Havok actually agreed on something. It took a moment to sink in. As he processed this, Havok reached into his pocket and pulled out a small container of MGH.

“You see this shit? There’s a lot it can do for us if we use it right,” said Havok as he held up the container, “Shaw was an asshole. He didn’t give a damn about mutants. He just wanted to control the power so he could be an even richer asshole than he already was.”

“And are you hoping to steal his idea?” questioned Cyclops, “If you’re tampering with MGH, you’re playing with the kind of fire that will burn us all.”

“We’re not just tampering. We’re refining it into something better. And this time, it’s for the right reasons,” Havok argued, “Genosha has been decimated. If you put all our Warlock colonies together, we have a total of 198 mutants left on our side. That includes me and the Brotherhood.”

“I don’t see how that counts as all the right reasons,” quipped Cyclops.

“Think about it from another perspective. Part of Magneto’s promise was giving mutants a place where they could use, control, and if necessary contain their powers. He never came close to delivering on that promise. He thought the Cambrian would do that. He was wrong. Well, MGH can succeed where the Cambrian failed. We’ve already filtered out that mind-control shit that Shaw put into it. We’re close to making another breakthrough that will completely change our fight and yours.”

“Before I even begin to take that seriously, how exactly are you making these breakthroughs?” questioned Cyclops, “No offence, but you were never a science nerd and I can’t think of anyone in the Brotherhood who is.”

“We found a guy with a knack for this stuff. He’s been using our Warlock hardware to do some pretty amazing shit,” said Havok.

“Who is he and where did you find him?”

“That’s information I don’t trust you enough to reveal, but I’d like to change that. I admit I wouldn’t have done this if you hadn’t dropped the ball on our dad being alive. That said to me that we can work together like we once did. We’re both on the run from the Mutant Monitoring Initiative. We both see the trouble that’s brewing. Between X-Force and the Brotherhood, we could be unstoppable. We could end this fight before it blows up in everyone’s face!”

“That’s all well and good, Alex. But skip to the catch. What’s the price my team will have to pay to go along with this?” asked the X-Force leader intently.

“Well, I could fight you for it again, but we both know how that usually turns out,” said Alex dryly, “Instead, why don’t we turn it around a bit? What would I have to do for you to get X-Force to team up with the Brotherhood?”

Cyclops was taken aback. He had never seen this kind of reasoning from his brother. The revelation about their father had a genuine impact on him. He looked dead serious. He wanted X-Force to work with the Brotherhood. On the surface, it sounded like an outrageous proposition. But as he looked at the container of MGH, Cyclops knew it was something he couldn’t ignore.

In many ways, Havok was right. X-Force and the Brotherhood were in a similar position. They were both opposing the Mutant Monitoring Initiative. They were both on the run and the recent events in Mexico had them at a disadvantage. They needed a game-changing move and they needed it soon.

If Havok was as serious as Cyclops suspected, then he really may have something. That revealed just how desperate he was becoming. Yet as he was pondering this offer, he received an unexpected telepathic message from Emma Frost.

‘Scott! You must…the Brotherhood…they’re here.’

Cyclops shifted briefly, doing his best to hide his demeanor from Havok. He tried looking away briefly so he could focus.

‘What is it, Emma? You’re coming in with a lot of static.’

‘Give me a sec! There’s some…interference.’

Cyclops stalled for a moment, pretending to think hard about Havok’s offer. He started pacing, feeling his younger brother’s harsh gaze every step of the way. As he paced, he received a series of jumbled images and telepathic warnings. It was like Emma was trying to reach him with a bad cell phone reception. However, she was able to get her message across. When Cyclops made sense of it, he tensed and turned back to his brother. Suddenly, he felt sick for actually considering this offer.

“You want to hurry it up, bro? Blob won’t keep going easy on Domino,” warned Havok.

“Actually, there is one way you could earn my trust,” said Scott as he approached his brother.

“Name it,” said Havok confidently.

“Tell me with a straight face that Pietro and Kid Omega aren’t in the process of abducting Wanda and mind-wiping her. And while you’re at it, tell me you weren’t going to use Kid Omega to mind wipe us if we didn’t cooperate.”

Havok’s demeanor shifted as if Cyclops punched him in the gut. His once reasonable disposition turned to frustration as he started muttering curses under his breath.

“Damn you, Quentin,” he grumbled.

“Thought so,” said Cyclops, “In that case, here’s my response!”

With a mix of outrage and frustration, Cyclops fired an optic blast right at his brother’s hand. This knocked out the container of MGH and left him momentarily stunned. Then Cyclops moved in and hit him with a knee to the gut, which incapacitated him and allowed Cyclops to pin his brother against a nearby table.

“Ungh! Damn it, Scott! Think about the bigger picture here!” exclaimed Havok as he choked under his brother’s grip.

“I already have. You’re the one that’s putting it off,” seethed Cyclops, “Mind control? Deceit? You really think the end justifies the means this time?”

“Hnn…if you saw what we were doing, you’d understand,” said Havok, now short of breath.

“And that, little brother, is why things like the Mutant Monitoring Initiative happen. Don’t you see? You’re just proving everybody else right! Whatever you’re doing, I’m pretty damnb sure it’s worth stopping!”

Havok grunted in disappointment. He really thought this was their chance to work together. Thanks to Quentin’s poor psychic shields and Cyclops’s stubbornness, they were going to have to do this the hard way.

“Sorry bro…can’t let you do that,” grunted Havok.

Despite being under Cyclops’s grip, Havok managed to kick him in the knee. That stunned him just enough to loosen his grip. From there, Havok fired an energy blast at his face. Even though their respective powers couldn’t do much harm to one another, it did knock Cyclops’s visor off.

That allowed Havok to break free from his grip and strike back with haymaker to the jaw. As soon as Cyclops fell back, Havok shoved him to the floor and placed his foot over his neck.

“I didn’t want it to be like this, bro. I wanted us to be a family again. Now that dad’s alive, isn’t that something worth fighting for?” yelled Havok.

“Err! Not like this,” grunted Cyclops as he tried to push Havok’s foot off his neck.

“That’s a shame. Because now I gotta wait until Quentin is done with Wanda so he can mind wipe you too. One way or another, you’re not stopping us!”

“Forgetting something?” came an unexpected voice from behind.

Havok instinctively turned around to see Warpath standing behind him. He had since recovered from being thrown through the door by Blob. Now he was poised to vent his anger out on Havok.

The younger Summers brother tried to turn around and blast him, but Warpath didn’t allow it. With a less-than-casual swipe, he sent Havok flying across the room. He impacted the wall right next to where the door had been shattered. The blow knocked the wind out of the younger Summers brother. It allowed Warpath to help Cyclops back to his feet and return his visor.

“I don’t take too kindly to being mind-wiped or thrown through doors,” said Warpath, “If you weren’t Cyclops’s brother, I wouldn’t have been so gentle.”

“Next time, don’t give him the courtesy,” said Cyclops as he caught his breath.

“Hnn…you’re gonna regret this. That’s not just a threat!” grunted Havok.

“Then maybe you should have Kid Omega mind-wipe you too,” quipped Warpath.

Seething with frustration, Havok prepared another blast. He couldn’t leave without making sure X-Force forgot about this meeting.

“Blob! If you’re done with Domino, get back in here. We have a situation!” yelled Havok.

“Give him a minute. He’s almost done!” shouted Domino from the other room.

The sound of Domino’s voice came as a surprise. Havok thought that Blob would have handled her by now. While still catching his breath, he turned to his right and saw Blob’s oversized figure emerging through what was left of the door way. His uniform was littered with bullet holes. Some parts of his body were actually smoking. His expression was dazed, as if he had been hit in the head by a wrecking ball. He lumbered forward only a few steps before falling flat on his face.

“Ugh…” was all he got out.

“Aww, poor baby,” said Domino coyly as she emerged behind him, casually twirling her guns, “Looks like he’ll need a nap.”

“Do I even want to know what you did to him, Dom?” said Warpath in a humored tone.

“Let’s just say I got in a few lucky shots…amongst other things,” she said.

The situation was declining rapidly for Havok. Looking at Blob and then at Domino, he realized his fallback plan was no longer viable. He couldn’t stall these three on his own and expect Kid Omega to come through. He had already disappointed him. He had to assume that this mission was lost.

“Whatever plans you had to salvage this stunt of yours, I suggest you drop them, Alex,” said Cyclops as he approached his younger brother.

“Okay, I’ll say it. I overestimated Kid Omega only slightly more than I underestimated you,” he retorted.

“We have psychics of our own, you know? We can find out what you’re up to whether you want us to or not,” warned Cyclops.

“You’d allow someone to mind rape your own brother? Dad would be ashamed,” scoffed Havok, “Lucky for me, you can’t mind rape someone that isn’t here.”

Before Cyclops could take another step closer, Havok pressed a button on his belt.

“Blink, extraction plan alpha!” he yelled.

Almost immediately, Blink appeared between Blob and Havok. Cyclops tried to reach him before they disappeared, but he couldn’t. Havok and Blob disappeared into Blink’s portal before he got close enough. Just as he disappeared, Havok shot his older brother a harsh gaze. It wasn’t a taunt as much as it was a scold. It was a show of disgust the likes of which struck Cyclops harder than any punch ever could.

“Damn you, Alex,” said the X-Force leader distantly.

“He’s always got a failsafe. Just like you,” commented Domino.

“Don’t remind me,” grumbled Cyclops.

“Don’t get too outraged, Cyclops. It isn’t a total loss,” said Warpath as he retrieved the container of MGH that Havok dropped, “Looks like your brother left us a consolation prize.”

“Sorry Warpath, but it’s not very consoling,” said Cyclops who was already running out the shattered door, “I’ll feel marginally better if we go after Wanda and stop the Brotherhood from taking her.”


Jupiter Parlor and Bar

“Errr! Pietro…what’s happening? I…can’t move,” grunted a now paralyzed Wanda Maximoff.

“Don’t fight it, Wanda. You’ll only make it worse,” said Quicksilver as he approached.

“Trust me, you don’t want to risk the brain damage. No more than necessary anyways,” came another snide voice.

“Stay quiet and stay focused, Quentin. We don’t need anybody moving, listening, or remembering what’s going on for that matter,” said the speedster, “This is between me and my sister.”

Wanda felt as though every muscle in her body had turned to stone. She couldn’t move, but she was still conscious. Everyone in the bar was in a similar state. From the main entrance, Quentin Quire emerged. He looked remarkably calm for someone who was probing the minds of so many people. It was a power she hadn’t seen Kid Omega demonstrate before. He followed Quicksilver closely, standing next to Emma Frost while the speedster addressed his sister.

“Sorry for the discomfort, but I had a feeling you wouldn’t hear me out. You’ve been hanging around former X-men for over six months so I assume they’ve corrupted you to some extent,” said Quicksilver, “Thanks to Kid Omega’s new trick, we can skip the part where you hex me several times before you start listening.”

“I’ll hex you…even more if you don’t…quit playing dirty. This is low…even for you,” said Wanda, seething with anger.

“I know it is. Trust me when I say I take no pleasure in having to psychically restrain my own sister. But I don’t blame it on you, Wanda. Hell, I don’t even blame it on these phony X-men. I blame myself. And for that, I’m sorry.”

That admission was almost as stunning as Kid Omega’s psychic attack. Her twin brother rarely apologized for anything. It was even rarer when the apology was sincere.

“This was my fault. I didn’t look hard enough for you after Genosha disbanded,” Quicksilver went on, “We didn’t pin-point your location until earlier this week. I can’t say I blame you for hiding out in a place like this. After the Mutant Monitoring Initiative, you needed somewhere to lay low.”

“If you’re trying to win sympathy, you should quit while you’re behind,” grumbled Wanda.

“I could care less about sympathy. I’ll settle for cold hard facts,” he said, “You see, Genosha may be disbanded, but our father’s vision is far from dead. We still have 198 mutants on our side. We have Warlock colonies in remote areas all over the world. We’ve been biding our time, waiting for an opportunity to unite once more. Well that opportunity has come and I want you to be part of it.”

“I figured as such. Whatever this opportunity is…if it involves more psychic attacks, then I’m more than a little skeptical,” said Wanda.

“Oh I know I can’t convince you,” said Quicksilver, “I learned my lesson with Lorna. Once the X-men influence you, it can’t be undone. I’ve been watching you for the past week and I can tell they’ve already gotten to you.”

“They haven’t gotten to me. They’ve helped me. Must you mistake every act of charity as a conspiracy?”

“You’re wrong. I know they’ve gotten to you. The way you’ve been looking at smurf boy over there is proof of that,” said Quicksilver, gesturing over the Nightcrawler, “If I were to threaten him right now, would that really piss you off? Would you be willing to mortally wound your own brother for the sake of some X-man who just happened to be nice to you?”

Wanda’s gazed hardened. It was obvious that Quicksilver had been watching her. If he saw even half of what she had been going through lately, then he had all the excuses he needed to take extreme measures. She dreaded where this would lead her.

“I thought so,” said Quicksilver, “There’s a lot I want to tell you. The Brotherhood is preparing something big. However, I won’t divulge anything until the past six months have been put into their proper context.”

“Context? What do you mean?!” exclaimed Wanda.

“I mean that as far as we’re concerned, these past few months didn’t happen for you. The last thing you’ll remember is saving Genosha from that nuclear attack. Then you’ll wake up from a special coma at our base,” he explained with a crass tone.

“In other words…you’re going to wipe my mind, aren’t you?” said Wanda as she surmised his plan.

“It’s the only way, I’m afraid.”

“Bullshit! What kind of brother does that to his own sister?”

“That kind that cares enough to spare you the same fate Lorna suffered,” retorted Quicksilver, “I need you for this, Wanda. If I can’t convince you, then this is the only way. I don’t expect you to understand. Thankfully, you’ll never have to.”

“Errrrrrrrr! Go to Hell, Pietro!” yelled Wanda in a rage.

Quicksilver shut out her outrage and turned to Quentin. The sooner they got it over with, the sooner they could put it behind them. He wanted his sister back and he was willing to cross any line to get it.

“She’s ready, Quentin. Make it quick,” said Quicksilver.

“If she resists, it may take a while. It may be pretty painful too,” warned Kid Omega.

“Do whatever it takes,” was all the speedster said.

The powerful psychic shrugged. He was enjoying his new psychic talents too much to not push them further. Wanda Maximoff presented a challenge, but his mind was up for it. Being with the Brotherhood allowed him to embrace his skills in so many devious ways.

“This should be fun,” said Kid Omega, cracking his knuckles before turning to Emma Frost, “Sit tight, Miss Frost. Once I’m done with this, I’ll test a few other tricks if we have time. I’m sure a fellow psychic like you would appreciate it.”

“Hnn…amanath,” said Emma, finding it difficult to talk.

“What was that? Were you about to compliment my many talents?” said Kid Omega coyly as he leaned in closer to the paralyzed woman.

“I said…piss off.”

Then in a move that started both Quicksilver and Kid Omega, Emma broke free from her paralysis. The first move she made once she was in control of her body was to kick Quentin Quire in the groin as hard as possible. This not only caused Quentin to keel over in agony. It caused him to nearly lose his psychic grip on everyone in the bar.

“Augh! You…bitch!” exclaimed Kid Omega as he clutched his lower region.

“You’re a powerful telepath to pull a trick like this, but you’re still an amateur,” scoffed Emma.

“Damn it, Quentin! Keep everyone paralyzed!” ordered Quicksilver.

“Quit yelling! I’m…trying!” groaned the powerful psychic.

Everyone in the bar twitched for a moment, but remained paralyzed. Acting quickly, Quicksilver took out a loaded syringe filled with a clear liquid and pointed it at Wanda.

“I didn’t want to do this. But your new buddies just love doing things the hard way!” said the speedster.

With his superhuman speed, Quicksilver tried to inject his sister in the neck with the syringe. He couldn’t risk her breaking free from Kid Omega’s paralysis. The needle was within mere centimeters of her skin when Quicksilver suddenly found himself surrounded by purplish hexing energy. Suddenly, he was now the one that was paralyzed.

“Really Pietro? First mind wiping and now drugs?” exclaimed Wanda, her eyes glowing with burning hatred, “Even father wouldn’t stoop this low. Since he’s not here, I guess I’ll have to punish you!”

“Ooh boy,” groaned Pietro as he was levitated into the air, “Quentin…a little help here?”

Wanda’s outrage made her mind too difficult to paralyze. Although seeing her torment Quicksilver would be quite a spectacle, Kid Omega understood how this would be detrimental to their plans.

“Ugh…sure. Make me do all the work,” grunted the young psychic.

He prepared to unleash a focused attack on Wanda’s mind. He was so focused that he didn’t notice Wolverine coming up behind him. He only realized it when Wolverine slammed a nearly empty bottle of liquor over his head. The bottle broke and the powerful psychic fell limply to the floor.

“Argh!” he exclaimed.

“Working hard, bub? Take a load off,” snarled Wolverine as he tossed aside the broken bottle, “Oh, and you now owe me a bottle of whiskey!”

With Kid Omega out, his psychic hold on the patrons was released. But before a commotion could ensue, Nightcrawler appeared next to Emma Frost.

“Emma! Zhe people!” he shouted.

“Don’t worry! I’ll cloud their minds. And I’ll be a lot gentler than this little brat,” said Emma, giving Quentin’s unconscious form another light kick.

Within seconds, everyone in the bar was silent again. They weren’t necessarily paralyzed this time. Instead, their eyes were closed and it was like they were sleeping on their feet. It ensured they would all be quiet and forget this little incident while Wanda glared daggers at her overly hexed brother.

The whole attack by Kid Omega went practically unnoticed for Wanda. She was too busy tightening her hex bolts on Pietro. She was so outraged that her brother would even attempt to do this to her. He didn’t just cross a line. He betrayed whatever familial trust she had left in him.

“YOU SNIVILING, MANIPULATIVE ASSHOLE! HAVE YOU GONE AS CRAZY AS FATHER? AS FAR AS I’M CONCERNED, YOU’VE COMPLETELY ABANDONED HIS VISION! YOU’RE NO BETTER THAN SHAW!”

“Can’t…breathe!” grunted Quicksilver, “Wanda…you must listen!”

“I’M THROUGH LISTENING TO YOU!”

She clenched her first, causing her hex bolts to intensify around her brother. His face and body contorted in ways that put great strain on his body. She had hexed him out of spite before, but not like this. She was prepared to do serious damage this time.

Upon seeing the look on her face, Nightcrawler ran up to her. While he couldn’t blame her for being outraged, he couldn’t stand to see her cross a line that she would regret. He had seen it crossed way too many times before with horrendous results. Braving stray hex bolts, he reached her and gently grasped her shoulder.

“Vanda don’t!” he told her, “I zhink you’ve made your point.”

“BACK OFF, NIGHTCRAWLER! THIS IS BETWEEN ME AND MY BROTHER!” yelled Wanda.

“If you’re not careful, you’ll be an only child. And you don’t vant zhat.”

“DON’T TELL ME WHAT I WANT! I’M SICK OF PEOPLE DOING WHAT THEY THINK IS BEST FOR ME!”

“I know how zhat feels. To have no little control over your fate…to curse your own heritage,” he said in a calmer tone, “You don’t have to destroy it in order to overcome it. You just need to be better. And I know you’re better zhan zhis!”

“I…” she began through strained words.

“Please Vanda…you don’t vant to fall into old habits. Zhey’ll keep haunting you if you let zhem,” he said in an empathetic tone.

Wanda continued glaring angrily at Quicksilver. Her anger urged her to make her brother pay. However, Nightcrawler’s grip on her was a lot stronger than her anger. As she seethed through this agonizing rage, her hex bolts started to wane. Eventually, they ceased and Quicksilver fell breathlessly to the floor.

“Ungh! I’m ready…to call this a draw,” he groaned, “I’m sorry, Wanda. I failed you.”

“You failed us both,” scorned Wanda, “And if you think I’ll just let you go…”

“Wasn’t planning on it,” said the speedster.

While still catching his breath, he pressed a button on his belt.

“Blink! Extraction plan alpha!” Quicksilver shouted.

Wanda and Nightcrawler stumbled back as a bright portal appeared behind Quicksilver. From it, Blink emerged and swiftly retrieved him and Kid Omega.

“That’s two for two,” groaned Blink, “This night is a total bust.”

“PIETRO!” yelled Wanda as she tried to run after him.

It was no use. The portal disappeared with Quicksilver and Kid Omega. In a flash they were gone. They left behind a confused X-Force and a beleaguered Wanda Maximoff. As Wanda looked at where her brother once stood, she fell to her knees. Tears started forming in her eyes as these painful events sank in. Nightcrawler was there to catch her, at a loss for words as she buried her face in his shoulder.

“Vanda, I’m…” he began.

“Shut up, Kurt,” she muttered, “Just…shut up and hold me.”

It sounded almost like a command, but Nightcrawler didn’t question it. He continued to embrace her, having to hide his awkward demeanor. He didn’t expect something like this, Wanda Maximoff crying in his arms. But it was clear now that there was no avoiding it.

As Wanda sulked in her anguish, Emma and Wolverine watched on. Emma still had everyone in the bar in her telepathic hold. They weren’t aware of what was going on and planned to wipe their memories of any anomalies. However, there was no psychic powerful enough to override what was happening before them. It would have been ironic if it wasn’t so tragic.

“This is where you usually say something crass, Frost,” said Wolverine.

“This is also where you make a dirty joke or two,” quipped Emma.

“Even I ain’t that drunk. I ain’t that heartless either,” he said.

“Neither am I…although I’m sure you would contest that.”

“We can debate that shit later. For now, just keep everybody’s mind clouded. Give them a moment to collect themselves. They need it. And if Quickie wasn’t bullshitting us, then we will too.”


Later – Savage Land

It was a common human fallacy. Strength was so easy for the strong to take for granted. The weak almost never had an opportunity to experience it. When they did, they understood how precious it was. In evolution, it was difficult for a stronger species to empathize with weaker species. Such empathy was maladaptive because if they understood the true value of their strength, then they would worry about losing it.

It was for this reason that Dr. Herbert Wyndam preferred working with the weak. Ever since he joined the Brotherhood in their ambitious affair, he came across way too many mutants that took their abilities for granted. Those such as Pietro Maximoff and Quentin Quire were especially arrogant. It was a major reason why they were lying on hospital beds inside his lab next to Freddy Dukes. At least Alex Summers knew how to fight back when his strength failed him.

‘These poor, naïve souls. No wonder they were so easy to convince. They need me a lot more than I need them.’

Dr. Wyndham spared these three unfortunate mutants his pity. The lab they helped him build within the Warlock dome nestled deep within the Savage Land was far more important than their health. It was in this lab that he was formulating a breakthrough that would change the world. The Brotherhood wanted to regain their strength. Dr. Wyndham was willing to assist them, but only in as such it served him.

Turning his attention towards the center of the lab, he focused on a frail figure that was lying on a gurney. This figure was think, sickly, and in declining health. He was what remained of Vargas, the only human allowed to enter the Brotherhood’s domain.

He was the very epitome of someone who was weak who craved to know what truth strength was. As he stood over the young man, he gathered a series of IV drips that were filled with reddish fluid. These special packages were the result of the MGH that the Brotherhood so generously retrieved for him. Looking over Vargas, he saw a man who was poised to be his first test subject.

“How much longer, Dr. Wyndham?” he asked in a weak tone.

“Soon, Mr. Vargas. Very soon,” consoled Dr. Wyndham as he stared at the syringe, “Take comfort in the knowledge that you’re be the first. You’ll be the one that will lead humanity down a higher evolutionary path.”

Up next: Unholy Man

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