Author's Note: Hey there, guys and girls! Surprised to see another update so soon? Lol! Same thing as usual, bold text for emphasis, italics for thoughts and telepathic communication (depending on context).
Thanks to everyone who emailed in, Instant Messaged me or posted on the group! Your reviews encourage me to right.
To anyone not reading this on my Yahoo group and wishes to join, the address is:
I can be contacted via email at firstname.lastname@example.org. Drop me a line and tell me what you think. Note, feel free to criticize as well. Constructive criticism helps one improve!
To my Mom who discovered this story by accident, read it, loved it and is now my number one fan! Now, if we can only find some way to convert Dad, lolol!
“Look out!” Ororo yelled, as she summoned up a gust of wind to blow Logan and John out of harm’s way.
The segment of wall next to them had shimmered, then exploded, sending out sizeable chunks of debris that could have caused serious blunt force trauma had they connected with their targets.
Logan landed gracefully on his feet and John hovered into the air to join Ororo. All three took in the sight before them. Going on looks alone, it was nothing short of a monstrosity. Standing in the now warped doorway was what looked to be a bulky, humanoid mass of orange plasma. Yellow crackles of energy sparked across the body and nearby objects began to lose cohesion, dispersing like water droplets on a newly waxed floor.
“We don’t wanna hurt you, kid,” Logan said warningly, “why don’t we all just calm down and when Moira gets here we can all have a nice long talk about it?”
John’s eyebrows perked up in mild surprise at Logan’s non-confrontational stance. The ‘kid’ wasn’t impressed or cooperative. The figure extended its palm in their direction, the crackles of energy sluicing over its body becoming more intense.
“Uh oh,” Logan muttered, taking a couple steps back and falling onto his rear as the floor all but liquefied behind him.
Ororo swooped down to lift him out of his predicament but was promptly knocked aside by a column that extended itself from the floor. She fell to the ground on the opposite side of the room, slightly dazed. Hand-shaped appendages erupted from the wall behind her and locked her in a tight, unforgiving embrace. She struggled, tried to sear them off with lightning, attempted to freeze them into shattered fragments…all to no avail.
A stream of swear words erupted from Logan as he also tried in vain to escape, now chest deep in the ‘floor puddle’. Without any traction he wasn’t having much luck.
John had been using the time in order to try and probe the kid’s mind but was making no real progress. Small wonder at that. As a reality warper, the boy’s mind didn’t exactly have what could be considered a ‘normal’ architecture. It would take time to decipher his mental workings. Time they did not have to spare at the moment.
“Okay, he’s not gonna cooperate,” Logan said, exasperatedly trying to frog leap out of the puddle. “He might not even be in his right mind. Take him down, John.”
John wondered why it was that he hadn't been attacked up to that point. Then it struck him that maybe the boy didn’t want to hurt what looked to him like a five year old kid…which would mean he probably was in his right mind. Come to think of it, neither Ororo nor Logan had been hurt – yet.
Just because he looks like a monster doesn’t mean he’s thinking as one, John said to them both mentally. He’s not attacking me. Maybe it’s because I haven’t attacked him, or maybe he doesn’t want to hurt a kid…either way, he’s not behaving like someone who –
Before John could finish, the sound of running footsteps was heard and it was getting closer. Someone was in the corridor outside.
“Don’t make me do this, Kevin,” a man’s voice could be heard, all but pleading with the boy. “Your mother just wants what’s best for you. It’s dangerous for you to be outside as long as you have.”
Kevin turned around, let out a low pitched roar and rushed out of the room and into the corridor. There was a yell from the man and a blinding flash of light. Another roar could be heard and then Kevin could be seen running down the corridor in the opposite direction.
With him gone the reality warping in the immediate vicinity reversed itself automatically and Logan and Ororo struggled to their feet. John landed next to them, just in time to see the newcomer entering the room.
“Forge,” Ororo, said in relief, running up to hug him. “Thank goodness you came when you did.”
Logan rolled his eyes at the sight, clearly not enjoying it (as much as Forge seemed to be). Small wonder, since Ororo and Forge once had a little thing going on between them. Presently they broke off the hugging and Logan breathed easier.
So this is Forge, John thought to himself, scrutinizing the long haired, Native American Indian man with the metallic left leg before them. In his right hand there appeared to be some kind of gun.
“You shot him?” John asked, incredulously.
Forge squinted and looked at him. “You’re Summers’ kid I take it?”
“Yeah,” John said coolly. “How could you shoot him?”
“It’s not what you think, I only –”Forge tried to explain.
John rolled his eyes. “Oh, really? I don’t think he was trying to hurt us.”
Forge held up his hands for silence. “This is not a GUN per se…not so much as it is a neutralizer. It’s just meant to temporarily suppress his mutation. Or rather it’s supposed to. Doesn’t seem to be working near as effectively anymore. He might have developed a resistance to it.”
John blushed a little. “Oh,” he said in a small voice, embarrassed at having jumped to conclusions (even though they seemed quite obvious). “Still, he ran away. He didn’t stay to fight.”
Ororo nodded thoughtfully. “Yes, you must have frightened him off, Forge.”
“So we got one scared and pissed off teenager running about a facility on lockdown filled with civilians,” Logan griped, letting out an irritated breath. “Just great.”
Forge tapped a small panel on the gauntlet he wore on his left arm. It slid back to reveal a small glowing screen. “Hmm, looks like most of the staff and patients have been quarantined. There doesn’t appear to have been any casualties thus far.”
Logan turned to John, expectation in his eyes. “So, can you track him?”
John shook his head, sorry to disappoint his former mentor. “No. The only time I sensed anything recognizable from him was when he was locked up…when he was actively projecting emotions out of his mind. Trying to get INTO his mind…is the problem. I can’t seem to…um, find the right door.”
Forge didn’t look surprised. “He’s a reality warper. And as you’ve seen, he’s a very high level one. His mind isn’t typical in the least.”
Ororo’s expression grew concerned. “Forge, you said something just now. Something about it not being safe for him to be out so long? What did you mean by that?”
Forge’s expression became cagey at that. “I’m not really at liberty to discuss that with you.”
Logan’s fist slammed into a wall, leaving a nice crack. “Look, bub, we’re locked down inside this joint because you couldn’t keep that kid contained. The least you owe us is an explanation.”
“Forge, surely you can give us a general idea of what we're dealing with,” Ororo prodded.
Logan disagreed. “Forget general. I want specifics.”
“I’m sorry, guys. I really am.” Forge took a step backwards. “But I just don’t have the authority to rely that information. You have your superiors, I have mine.” At that Forge tapped his gauntlet and vanished in a flash of emerald light.
“What the hell?” John muttered, running up to where Forge once stood. He waved his little arms about trying to see if Forge was still present but invisible. Just as he was about to perform a mental scan, Ororo spoke up.
“Some sort of teleportation technology,” Ororo said with a scoff, obviously upset that her request for information was turned down. “Forge and his gadgets.”
Logan turned and walked out the doorway. “Come on. Moira runs this place. If anyone has the authority to tell us anything, it’s gonna be her. She better not give us the runaround.”
John extended his psychic awareness and pinpointed Moira’s location. “I found her. You guys better follow me.”
So saying, John led the way…
“You just let him run off?” Scott asked his brother heatedly.
Scott, Alex and Lorna were currently conducting a sector by sector search for the missing mutant teen. So far news hadn't spread to the security staff that Scott was the one responsible for the boy’s escape, which could only mean that the two guards he’d knocked out were still down for the count – thankfully.
Alex stared at his brother belligerently. “I didn’t let him run off. He made his escape before any of us knew what was what. He’s stubborn.”
Scott rolled his eyes (not that they could see it). “So what you’re saying is you couldn’t control a five year old kid?”
“That’s not fair,” Alex said exasperatedly. “He’s a five year old kid who could probably level the subbasement if he got ticked off enough. I was NOT willing to risk having him throw a temper tantrum. Not with the amount of ice cream and surgar he had in him anyway.”
“You know he wouldn't use his powers on you guys that way,” Scott replied.
It was Alex's turn to roll his eyes. “Not intentionally.”
“The Professor said he's in fully control,” Scott insisted.
“It's not Alex's fault.” Lorna decided to stand up for her man. “Besides, John made some good arguments. Even Logan said so. Logan didn’t seem to have a problem taking him along.”
Alex nodded. “Uh huh.”
Scott’s look darkened as he turned to face his brother. “Yeah, I’ll have to have a talk with Logan about that. Just where does he get off –”
“Scott! Alex!” Lorna exclaimed, cutting him off and grabbing both his arm and his brother’s.
All three took a few paces backwards. Segments of the walls, floor and ceiling before them appeared to shimmer and then melt. The fluid material coalesced into a orb that swiftly grew in size, filling the corridor. Then it solidified and fell to the floor with a heavy, metallic clang. It promptly began to roll towards their position.
Lorna’s eyes flashed green as she activated her powers. Her attempts to magnetically push the metal sphere back met with abject failure. “No good,” she said, with a grunt. “I can’t stop it.”
Scott set his optic blast to full power while Alex charged up a full strength plasma bolt. Both let loose at the same time. Upon being subjected to such a powerful combined attack, the orb shattered.
“Booyah!” Alex yell, pumping his fist in the air.
“I guess we know what his power is now,” Scott said.
In the midst of them breathing a collective sigh of relief the shattered fragments re-liquefied and reformed the orb once more. It began to roll again – faster this time.
Lorna’s eyes widened. “Guys, I think we should…”
“Yeah,” Scott said, leading the retreat.
As they turned round the corner they were met with another unpleasant surprise.
“Fuck! Another one?!” Alex exclaimed, getting ready to charge another plasma bolt.
Scott stopped him. “What’s the use? He’ll just reform it. This way.”
They ran out of the corridor and into a side room. There was a loud crash outside as the two balls collided with enough force to shake the ground and nearly toppled them off their feet.
“That was close,” Lorna said, a tad bit breathlessly.
Unfortunately for them, they didn’t realize that it wasn’t Kevin’s intent to smash them to a bloody paste. He was merely trying to herd them into that selfsame room…and then trap them.
“Oh no,” Scott whispered as he realized this too late.
Before them there no longer stood a door. It was just wall. For a moment the fluorescent lights went out. Then came back on – a light blue this time.
Scott blinked then slowly reached for his visor. To Lorna and Alex’s shock he removed it.
“Shit,” Alex swore, upon realizing that he could not generate a plasma bolt.
Lorna too soon realized she too was powerless. It was then that she noticed the figures painted on the floor just in front of where the door once was.
“C-27,” Lorna said in frustration. “He just trapped us in what used to be HIS prison.”
“We must be in some kind of mutagenic dampening field,” Scott said knowledgeably.
“A what?” Alex asked.
Scott explained it to them quickly. “The technology was based upon research conducted here on psychics. It affects the unique brainwaves and neural activity of mutants. It’s specifically geared to those regions of the brain that deal with the activation of mutant powers. For some time now Hank’s been trying to develop a manacle based on it that can suppress mutant powers without the need for continuous drug administration, but no luck. Forge was helping him…”
Alex’s look darkened. “Forge? Moira's right hand man?”
Scott nodded. “It looks like Forge was further along than we expected. This must be what they used to keep him contained.”
“Cell phone's still not working.” Alex sighed and leaned on the wall for support. “Well, looks like we’re trapped here for now.”
“I’m sure Logan and Ororo will come for us eventually,” Lorna said with confidence (that she hoped wasn’t misplaced – she had just seen the leader of the X-men outwitted by a mere teen after all). “Hey, at least you’re free of the visor for a while, huh, Scott. Ooh, let’s see what color your eyes are.”
Alex smiled a little. “Hey, yeah. You can be free of the visor for a little while. Look on the bright side.”
Frowning, Scott turned away. “Hard to look on the bright side when you’re blind.”
Lorna and Alex quickly rushed over to him.
“What?” Alex asked, turning him around and gazing into his brother’s unseeing eyes.
“I can’t see,” Scott replied, spelling it out plainly. “My powers are tied to my sight. Affecting one affects the other. Why do you think I never had the Professor telepathically lockdown my powers or used suppressor drugs on occasion?”
Alex looked dumbfounded. “I always thought it was because you were so serious about your job as an X-man. That you didn’t want to be caught off guard in case emergencies came up.”
“Emergencies were forever coming up,” Lorna added.
Scott sighed. “Well, now you know. It’s either I deal with the visor, seeing the world in shades of red and headaches whenever I have power overloads or live my life in complete darkness.”
“Oh, Scott…” Lorna trailed off, not quite sure what to say.
“Try not to think about it. That’s what I do,” Scott told her, putting on a brave face. He decided not to tell them the worst bit – that having his powers active 24/7, 365 days a year carried with it the risk of permanent, irreversible blindness due to gradual lens damage. “Alex, keep trying the cell phone. Lorna, I need you to be my eyes.”
Both of them nodded, determined not to let Scott down now that he actually had a genuine need of them and wasn’t humoring their attempts to help…
“Moira, open this door! Now!” Logan shouted as he banged on the sealed door before him.
Ororo glanced at John. “Are you absolutely sure she’s in there?”
John nodded. “Positive. And she is not alone. She has twelve people in there with her. I’m guessing they’re part of the security squad.”
“Moira so help me…” Logan trailed off, giving the woman to a mental count of ten to open the double doors. He only reached five before he popped his claws and began slashing at the offending panels. “Dammit!” he shouted upon realizing that the doors were heavy duty. His claws had made some deep slash marks but it would take a lot more muscle to break them down.
Ororo’s patience was at an end. “Stand aside,” she commanded, eyes turning white. John and Logan complied, noticing the sudden chill in the air. A freezing gale began to pick up, buffeting the metal panels and gradually increasing in force until the doors were coated in a thick layer of ice. Ororo stepped out of the way and the winds promptly ceased. “John, if you would be so kind.”
“No problem.” John stretched his hand towards the weakened doors and let loose a telekinetic punch that shattered them into metal shards.
The three of them walked inside the security center to find twelve laser guided rifles aimed at their heads. Instinctively, John erected a telekinetic shield.
Moira shook her head. “Stand down,” she ordered them.
The rifles were lowered, as was John's shield.
“You got some explaining to do, lady,” Logan said, not wasting any time.
Ororo backed him up one hundred percent. “Start talking.”
Moira whispered something to the nearest of the security personnel and within moments they all began walking outside and into the corridor, leaving her to speak with the X-men in privacy.
“We wanna know everything about this kid,” Logan demanded. “And where the hell are his parents? Have you contacted them yet?”
“Maybe they can talk him into behaving,” Ororo suggested.
To Logan and Ororo’s surprise Moira burst into tears. John wasn’t as shocked as they were, having sensed the emotional turmoil emanating from her when he entered the room.
Logan, feeling as useless as he always did when emotions were involved, looked to Ororo for some help.
“Uh, Moira, we’re sorry about being so forceful,” Ororo began. “We, of course don’t mean you any harm or –”
John raised his hand, silencing Ororo. “That’s not it,” he said, walking up to the still crying Moira. “He’s your son, isn’t he?” John asked her, having detected the stray thought that slipped from her moments before.
Logan looked bewildered. “Her son?”
Finally, Moira was able to get a hold of her emotions somewhat.
“Yes,” she said finally. “Kevin is my son. Kevin Mactaggert.”
That Moira had a child was news to Logan and Ororo.
“Kevin isn’t a teenager,” Moira went on to inform them. “He’s twenty five years old. I kept him hidden away here at Muir Island.”
Logan growled low in his throat. “Locked away you mean.”
“For his own good,” Moira insisted. “When Kevin’s mutation manifested, his father left us. Our marriage was already on shaky ground, and a mutant for a son didn’t fit in well with his political aspirations.” Moira took a few moments to wipe her eyes. “I never told him his father didn’t want him. He always blamed me for the divorce. I didn’t want him to know that his father hated who he was…so I let him believe that I was the one standing between them.”
“That musta been a real tough call to make,” Logan said, with uncharacteristic empathy.
Moira nodded. “He had enough to handle without knowing his father’s true feelings for him. Over the years his bitterness grew. He became harder and harder to control.”
“He’s no longer a child, Moira,” Ororo said. “He’s a man now.”
“You said it was for his own good,” John interjected. “Forge said Kevin’s in danger by being outside?”
“Kevin’s mutation allows him to alter reality within a certain radius,” Moira explained. “He’s incredibly powerful…too powerful in fact. If unchecked his powers have the potential to burn out his body. We kept him in a special sector that was enshrouded in a mutant repressor field. While it didn’t totally shut down his powers, it kept his form human and his abilities manageable.”
Ororo’s eyes widened. “We ran into him earlier. His form was anything but human in appearance.”
Moira shook her head despondently. “That’s what happens when he’s outside of the field. His body becomes encased in a sort of reality warping aura. It also serves as a protective sheath, repelling many forms of attack and scrambling various forms of energy in the area. The longer he’s in that form, the quicker his body begins to degenerate.”
“That could explain why the cell phones aren't working,” John said thoughtfully. “His energy emissions must be jamming them.”
“Precisely,” Moira said. “If unchecked, eventually, his entire form will become completely energy based in nature. I'm not sure if he would be able to return to a normal physical form after that. It's possible that without a vessel to contain his energy, Kevin may lose cohesion, resulting in irreversible dissolution of his being...death.”
Logan was confused. “What I don’t get is why he hasn’t busted out by now. We've seen what he can do.”
Moira had news for them. “In the event of a breakout, the outside of the facility is bathed in a dual force field that incorporates the mutant repressor technology. The force field extends underground, completely surrounding the entire complex. He can’t set foot outside of the facility’s borders while it’s active – and he knows this.”
“A force field that size?” Ororo asked in amazement. “Wherever do you get the power from?”
Moira looked guiltily away. “We have a small nuclear reactor located under the main facility. Keeping Kevin’s living quarters perpetually encased in its dampening field uses a lot of energy. I had no choice but to have one secretly built.”
Bit by bit the pieces fell into place.
“Keeping the force field active outside around the entire facility is seriously draining power though,” Moira said worriedly. “Eventually we won’t be able to sustain it any longer and Kevin will make his escape.”
Logan finally understood. “So that’s what he’s doing. He just running around evading capture, waiting for the power to fail so he can break out of here.”
Moira confirmed it. “Yes. He wants to see his father,” she explained. “Kevin is very temperamental. He honestly thinks his father wants him and that I’m the problem. If he finds out the truth there’s no telling how he might react…the damage his powers may do.”
“Moira, don't you guys have surveillance equipment?” John asked. “Can't you monitor and track him down using the cameras and stuff?”
She shook her head despondently. “Most of the cameras are down. He's destroyed them.”
Ororo quickly returned into leadership mode. “Alright, how much time do we have before the power runs out?”
Moira looked grave. “Just under an hour.”
“Then we better haul ass,” Logan replied. “John, I think it's time you got in touch with your father.”
“Just one thing,” Moira added quickly. “Forge tells me the pulse neutralizer no longer works on Kevin. We need to trap him in an area that under continuous dampening. Understand? Forge has rigged up the hall leading to the back exit. If you could lure him or force him there somehow, we could trap him. I'll be in the central command center if you need me.”
“Got it,” Logan responded, motioning to Ororo and
John to follow him.
“There's no door. At least there isn't one anymore,” John said, stepping back from where the door to sector C-27 once stood. “But they're in there alright.”
Logan scoffed. The idea of a mere piece of wall standing in their way...
“Well, considering what you did to the Danger Room I don't think this wall stands much of a chance,” Logan pronounced. “Let her rip.”
John smiled and cracked his fingers, glad for getting permission to really cut loose. “You got it.”
Ororo stopped him before he had the chance. “Hold it. Moira said that Kevin had the power to alter reality in a certain radius around himself.”
“Yeah, and?” Logan asked, clearly getting impatient.
Rolling her eyes Ororo thought that her point would have been obvious. “He obviously removed the door. And it hasn't reappeared yet. He may still be nearby. Making a big commotion and breaking down the wall may bring him here, precipitating a fight before we even get the others out of there. We need to be as quiet and as subtle as we possibly can.”
John pouted, causing Ororo to smile regardless of the circumstances. “I don't know how to break them out of there without making a big commotion,” John said with a frown. “Any ideas?”
Ororo, in fact, had one. “Scan the complex, locate Forge and contact him. We can have him teleport them out of there with that gizmo he used to get away from us earlier.”
Logan and John both blushed at the same time, both clearly embarrassed at not having thought of that. It was a simple matter to locate Forge and relay the message. Within two minutes Scott, Lorna, Alex and Forge had joined them in the corridor.
“If that's all,” Forge said, tapping his gauntlet, “I need to get back to the command center.” He promptly vanished from sight.
“The trick is forcing him to the back entrance,” Ororo explained to Scott and company, informing them of Moira's plan. “The damage that Kevin has done so far is for the most part reversible. That's not the case with our powers.” Ororo herself would be somewhat limited being in a confined environment. “We don't want to wreck the entire complex...there are too many civilians locked inside.”
Scott was in agreement. “I, um, actually have a little confession to make.”
Logan's eyebrow perked up. “Eh?”
With a look of terrible guilt on his face, Scott explained his part in Kevin's escape.
“Crap,” Alex said, but with a semi-smirk on his face. It disappeared quickly upon his being slapped by Lorna. “You...you hacked into their system and did that...oh, surely not you, Scott.”
Scott reddened a little. “Well, John was convinced Moira was hiding something...and I was too. And it needed to be investigated so I tried to pull up some information.”
John looked at his father with pride, glad that his opinions were finally being taken with some seriousness. In the past he was reasonably sure that Scott would have written off any concerns that he'd had.
“So, back to our problem,” Scott said, drawing attention away from himself, “open confrontation is to be avoided. We might have to engage in a little bit of trickery.”
“You thought of something?” Ororo encouraged.
Scott opened his mouth to say something, then closed it. “Working on it.”
John raised his hand. They ignored him (mostly because they didn't see, with him being so small). “I have an idea!” John said excitedly.
Scott nodded. “Yeah, me too. It involves getting you somewhere safe. Come on.”
John took a few steps back. “Look, just hear me out first.”
Scott let out a mildly exasperated sigh. The he remembered that John had shown some ingenuity in getting himself, Tessa and Emma back home and away from Magneto's base in the Rockies. It couldn't hurt to listen. “Oh, alright. What's your idea?”
John smiled. It was simplicity in itself.
“Have Moira and them shut down the power supply for the inside of the complex,” John explained. “Trick Kevin into thinking that the power has finally run out and that he can make his escape. They can shut down the forcefield operating outside too. And without power to keep the doors locked tight – well, to make it look like that anyway, Moira can have them opened.”
Logan saw what he was getting at. “So, Kevin sees the place go dark and the doors opening and makes a dash for it.”
John nodded. “Yeah. Moira said that the surveillance equipment inside was mostly fried. But the cameras outside should be fine. They can use those to see when and where Kevin makes his exit...and then -”
“Switch on the repressor force field,” Scott said, smirking at the cunning of the plan.
“And shut the doors again so he can't run back inside for protection,” John added. “Then while he's trapped outside and powerless they can converge on him and knock him out with a sedative or something. Hell, if we get lucky he might even try to use the back exit and then we can turn on the repressor field there and catch him before he even sets foot outside the facility.”
Lorna clapped dramatically. “Absolutely brilliant.”
“Aw, our little tactician,” Alex said mockingly, but with real pride.
John bowed and accepted the compliments.
gets that from me,” Scott joked, patting his son's head (to
John's irritation). “Alright, let's go tell Moira.”
“Nice plan,” Forge said, looking suitably impressed. “But Moira's left the command center and we haven't been able to find her.”
“What do you mean you can't find her?” Logan asked Forge irately.
The techno whiz shrugged his shoulders. “The communications systems are down and most of the indoor cameras as well.”
“Why would she just leave the command center?” Ororo asked, a little miffed at Moira being so careless at a time like that.
Forge explained that Moira, growing more desperate at seeing their time running out, had left to go scour the various sectors on her own. She had hoped that she could somehow reach Kevin and talk him into coming back.
Logan rolled his eyes. “That boy's not coming back,” he said. “What was she thinking?”
Lorna's look softened. “She was thinking that her son runs the risk of dying and that she couldn't just sit by and let it happen. She's a mother, Logan.”
“I doubt he'd attack his mom,” Forge said, thankful for small blessings. “So at least she's reasonably safe.”
Logan had his doubts about that. Moira, was the one responsible for his confinement, after all. She was the one who he blamed for the departure of his father. Forge sounded as if he was engaging in some wishful thinking. “If that's the case then why the hell can't John find her?”
John was in fact currently engaged in scanning the facility telepathically. “She might be unconscious or something,” John said, uncertainly. “I was able to sense the Brotherhood and the MALE even after I knocked them out...but that was right when this boost was at its strongest. I may have lost that ability...the boost is wearing off bit by bit you know.”
“She's under a lotta stress,” Alex interjected. “What if she like, fainted or something?”
“Possible,” Logan admitted. Moira was past fifty, worried to no end, pacing up and down the complex apparently. She might have temporarily burnt her energy out. Then again it was possible that Kevin had acted out in violence against her. It was even possible that Moira may have tried to lure Kevin to the back exit, he figured it out and then turned on her.
A short distance away Scott slammed his fists on the console. “She's nowhere to be found. At least not in the sectors still under surveillance.”
A collective sigh of disappointment arose as the sliding doors opened. The security squad had returned from their (grossly undermanned) search of the facility. No one had seen Moira or found anyone who could direct them to her.
John finally decided to call it quits. “She might be unconscious or something,” he said. “I can't locate her anywhere.”
Forge turned to the security personnel. “Keep trying. The facility’s on lockdown. She's somewhere inside here. Find her, get to it!”
The men hurriedly left the room again, the double doors sealing shut after their departure. At that moment the lights went out then on again, then finally they dimmed. The monitors all went dark except for the large display unit on the wall. There was a countdown on it.
“Looks like we're finally outta juice,” Logan grumbled.
“Power core shutdown protocol initiated,” a computerized voice declared, proving Logan wrong. The power hadn't run out. Someone had launched the shutdown sequence.
Forge ran to the console and knocked Scott aside. “Computer, who authorized this procedure.”
“Authorization granted by...Dr. Moira Mactaggert.”
Forge's jaw dropped. “Impossible.”
Scott's face darkened. “How can she issue orders when she's unconscious or possibly worse?”
Logan supplied the answer. “Not she. He can if he threatened her, or forced her to give him the authorization codes somehow.” He turned to Forge. “Well, override the damn thing.”
Forge was in fact pounding away at the console. “I can't. Moira's authorization codes have the ultimate priority. It's hard coded into the systems. I'm...I'm locked out!”
“Core shutdown in 5...4...3...,” the computer announced...
“Anyone got a...”
There was an audible click as Logan flicked his cigarette lighter.
“...light?” Scott finished.
“What are you still doing with that?” Ororo gave Logan a pointed look. “I thought you quit.”
“It's a work in progress, babe,” Logan replied. “Besides, it has...sentimental value.”
Forge's gauntlet slid open to reveal a powerful electric torch attachment.
“Well aren't you handy,” John murmured. He began to channel psychic energy directly into his aura, which took on its now characteristic golden glow. It had a powerful illuminating effect, lighting up much of the command center.
“You all try and locate Moira,” Forge suggested as he slid open a panel on the floor beneath the main console. “I'll work on trying to reboot the computer and restore the power. You'll have to blow the door open. The doors leading outside the facility unlock without power from the core to keep the electromagnetic locking mechanism engaged...but these doors have their own reserve power. It's a security feature. They won't open until they get a command from the main computer.”
“Can't you just teleport us outside with your little gadget there?” Logan asked Forge, curiously.
Forge shook his head in the negative. “The gauntlet itself is not the teleportation device. It merely serves as a remote control for the actual device that's in my lab. The teleporter draws its energy from the power core and with it down -”
“We understand,” Ororo interjected.
Scott turned and was about to fire upon the double doors. John stopped him.
“Wait!” John shouted, causing all present to jump. He scanned the corridor outside. “We wouldn't want to blow the door down when someone could be right outside.”
Everyone was agreeable and a little embarrassed that it had slipped their minds.
“It's clear,” John informed them. He looked a bit sheepish before asking, “Um, can...can I do it? Please?”
Ororo frowned, not liking John's seeming lack of maturity. “Now is not the time for –”
“Oh come on,” John replied insistently. “I feel like I'm in a Ferrari and being made to drive at the speed limit.”
Scott couldn't really say no to a pouting 'little kid'. “Why not?”
John smiled and stepped forward. “Here goes...” The panel on the wall next to the double doors shattered and showered the ground with a torrent of sparks. “Now for the wiring...” John mumbled, tearing apart the wires supplying power to the locking mechanism. Finally, he forced the two double doors apart. They slid open revealing the darkened corridor.
“But...I thought...” Ororo trailed off, looking a tad bit surprised.
“What? That I'd break it to pieces?” John smirked. “I assumed they might want to make use of this maximum security door again sometime. I thought I'd spare them the expense.”
“Good thinking,” Scott praised before leading the charge outside. “Alright, let's move out!”
They'd scarcely been searching for ten minutes before the lights in the corridors came back online. Forge must have been able to successfully reboot the computer and restart the core, they surmised.
“Guys,” a voice blared over the intercom. “Get outside, now. There's an exit to your right, just down the corridor. I'll meet you there. External cameras located Moira.”
Scott looked at the ceiling, obviously confused. Hadn't Forge said all communications systems were down? That Kevin's energy emissions were scrambling the technology in the area? Unless...could that mean that Kevin WAS no longer in the vicinity? Had he managed to make his escape in the short time during which the facility had no power?
Without wasting anymore time, they complied with Forge's request. Sure enough when they exited the building they could see Moira's form standing outside on the tarmac. In a flash of green light Forge teleported next to them.
“She's just standing there,” Lorna said, worry seeping into her tone.
Indeed, Moira was standing still, staring up at the sky like a broken woman.
“Come on,” Forge said, urging them forwards. “Let's go see if she can give us some answers as to where Kevin went.”
John stood behind the adults, a perplexed look on his face. There was Moira, standing before them all on her own power. Therefore she had to be conscious. Logically, her mental state should be anything but stable at the moment. So why was he still not able to sense her telepathically?
“Moira,” Forged began before being cut off.
“I had no idea,” Moira said in a shaky voice. She turned around to face them all, tears running down her face.
Ororo stepped forward, ready to offer kind support and empathy. “It isn't your fault, Moira. You tried to do what was best for him.”
Moira smiled weakly. “I know,” she said, eyes suddenly flashing a violent shade of orange. “I know she did. But he...he has to pay!”
“The hell...” Scott trailed off, not quite liking the sound (and sight) of that. “She did?”
Everyone gasped as Moira levitated into the air above them.
“Oh my God!” Alex's jaw dropped. “I thought she was human.”
John stepped forward, realization suddenly dawning on his face. “Well, I guess now we know why I couldn't sense her.”
“He's inside her,” Logan said, eyes widening.
'Moira's' face had since become a mask of rage.
“Kevin –” Ororo began.
Logan silenced her. “The time for talk is over, Ororo.”
“Damn right.” Forge nodded. “His form must have become completely energy based. If he stays in Moira too long there's no telling what the repercussions on her body will be.”
Without any warning Kevin jetted off at high speed, soaring over the sea.
Ororo immediately gave chase. Lorna joined her. Before anyone could stop him, John took off after them, ignoring calls for him to return.
“Give him a chance,” Logan told Scott as they entered the Hawk and started powering up. “Looks aside, he's not a kid anymore. You gotta let him grow at his own pace.”
Scott was used to hearing Logan say that about the students for years. A part of him even agreed. But things were always different when it was your kid. On this occasion however, Scott relented. John's amplified powers might come in useful.
“Alex, you contact the school,” Scott ordered his brother. “Notify the Professor of what's happening.”
Logan joined Scott at the cockpit. “No doubt he's going after his old man,” Logan pronounced, quickly explaining everything that Moira had told them. “He said he had to pay.”
Scott got Forge on screen. “We need to know the whereabouts of his father.”
“Joseph Mactaggert,” Forge informed them, “is a high ranking politician. I'm sending coordinates to his residence now. He's likely to have a full contingent of security.”
Logan scoffed. “That won't stop him. Might not even slow him down.”
Forge nodded. “Of course it won't. I'm just letting you know the casualty potential. Aside from the security staff there's bound to be domestic help and the like about the place. Too many people are at risk. I'll contact them and try to have them evacuate and get Joseph into hiding.”
“Good idea,” Scott concurred, launching the Hawk off the tarmac and after their runaway...
Kevin made landfall near the cliffs overlooking the western sea. Turning around he saw that his pursuers still hadn't given up. In the distance a black craft could be seen fast approaching.
“I don't want to hurt any of you,” Kevin said to the two women and the child as they came within hearing distance. “So do yourselves a favor and don't get in my way.”
Ororo dropped to the ground in front of him. “Kevin, I know that finding out the truth about your father's feelings this way must hurt you to no end...your entire world must feel like it's collapsing. It's always like that when we are forced to face the truth about a situation or person that we –”
Kevin laughed bitterly. “You don't know anything.”
Lorna looked from Ororo to Kevin nervously. Kevin waved his hands. The sand of the beach flew up and surrounded John in an orb, crystallizing into a transparent, glass-like cage that Kevin hovered out of the way. John kicked at his prison, then exerted telekinetic force sufficient enough to crack it. As fast as cracks appeared the cage repaired itself.
“Wouldn't want you getting hurt, kid,” Kevin said. “Don't want that on my conscience.” Kevin turned to the women. “I have to do this. He's a fucking hypocrite...then again he is a politician. Big on traditional family values is he – ha! This is your last warning. Don't try and stop me.”
“Do what?” Ororo asked, knowing full well she wouldn't like the answer. “What's he done that –”
“I know the truth now,” Kevin said, monotoned. “It wasn't mom's fault – it was his. He didn't leave because she pushed him away. They'd had problems for years. Problems he caused.”
“It's good that you understand that,” Lorna interjected, trying to cool his temper and defuse the situation until the Hawk could arrive.
“He used to beat her senseless,” Kevin said, baring his teeth. “But he did so much more than that. No, he has to pay for what he did.”
There was an explosion of light and a scream as John finally broke free of his crystal cage, shattering it beyond repair. The shockwave threw up torrents of sand and flung Ororo, Lorna and Kevin off their feet.
“You're not a typical kid, are you?” Kevin asked as he got back onto his feet. “You look like one...but...”
“You got that right,” John said, aura flaring menacingly. “Appearances can be deceiving. I'm sure you can relate, given your current transgender condition.”
Kevin frowned. “Good, now I don't have to feel guilty if you gimme cause to kick your ass.”
“Better than you have tried,” John said, not phased in the least. “But you're more than welcome to take a shot.”
The sound of the Hawk could be heard from above. Finally Scott, Alex and Logan had caught up with them.
“I don't have time for this,” Kevin exasperated, taking to the air once more to engage the jet.
Ororo's eyes glowed white as she too joined him in the ether. “I can see that you're the sort who needs tough love,” Ororo said, hair billowing as the night sky darkened further and storm clouds gathered. Flashes of lightning bore testament to Ororo's rapidly waning patience.
“Ororo, don't,” Lorna warned her. “You might hurt Moira!”
Kevin scowled. “Don't worry. I won't let anyone hurt my mom ever again.” The ground below began to tremble. Sand erupted up into the air, crystallizing into razor sharp shards, each at least twelve feet long. Kevin launched a volley at Ororo who blew some away and blasted the rest with lightning. She in returned hurled three low powered bolts of lightning at him. He nimbly avoided all three. The Hawk landed while Kevin was distracted.
A stun strength optic blast from beneath him drew Kevin's attention.
“Kevin, you're putting your mother at risk!” Scott shouted as he ran onto the scene. “If you stay in her body too long –”
“I won't be in here much longer,” was Kevin's stubborn response. The trembling intensified. Everyone looked at the cracking ground, but that was merely a distraction.
“Dad, look out!” John shouted.
Scott turned around just in time to be ensnared by the animated, sinuous branches of the trees lining the edge of the beach. He let loose blast after blast, but the limber branches merely moved out of the line of fire, never relinquishing their hold in the least. Logan had by then arrived with Alex in tow. Alex launched a weak plasma bolt at Kevin to draw his focus while Logan began slicing Scott free.
“God, you people are like ants!” Kevin roared. “There's always more and more...” He raised both arms. “Fine then! I'll just have to crush you like ants!”
“Oh no you don't!” Lorna yelled as she generated an electromagnetic forcefield around Kevin.
“Go Lorna!” Alex shouted, cheering her on. “Get him!”
Lorna amped her focus up to its maximum as Kevin struggled within his prison. Little by little she pulled him down to the beach below.
“You think this can hold me?!” he shouted, turning his gaze towards Lorna. Her forcefield began to blur and blink in and out of existence as he began warping the energies of which it was composed.
Lorna's brow furrowed as she was pushed to her limits, doing her utmost to repair the forcefield as quickly as he was tearing it down.
“John! Help her!” Logan yelled. “Form a shield around him like Lorna did!”
John was non-compliant.
Ororo squinted at the staring boy. “John?”
I can't, Professor. I've tried but this isn't like someone who's resistant or immune. It's not a locked door I'm facing...I can't find a doorway into his mind.
Try harder, John, Xavier encouraged him.
I am trying. As hard as I can.
John could see Lorna still struggling to contain Kevin. Moira's body was now surrounded by the same cracking, orange energy that they'd seen around Kevin in their first encounter.
Can't you merge minds with me? John asked Xavier with optimism. Like we did when the MALE attacked the Mansion?
As it was, Xavier could not.
I still cannot make sense of your mind, Xavier replied. I can't establish a mind merge without us being on the same wavelength. It's up to you. The answer is not to be found in direct physical confrontation with him. Moira may be irreversibly harmed if our people are forced to hit hard.
John agreed. Yeah, and God alone knows what just having him in her is doing to her.
A sudden thought struck the Professor. Wait a moment...the Astral Plane...
What about it?
We may not be able to breach his mind on the physical plane, but we may be able to disable him on the Astral Plane instead, the Professor replied enthusiastically. Occupy his attention as long as you can. I'll search for his presence on the Astral Plane and attempt to incapacitate him.
Right, got it!
“Ah!” Lorna shrieked in pain as her forcefield was shattered. The feedback brought her to her knees, helpless. Kevin was approaching her position.
“I told you not to get in my way,” he said threateningly, rising into the air again.
Guys, the Professor is on the case, John projected into their minds. Do what you can to delay Kevin and buy the Professor some time...anything that won't cause permanent damage to Moira.
“Back off!” Alex shouted as he got between Lorna and Kevin and fired a warning blast. The shot flew mere inches from Kevin's head but he didn't so much as flinch and continued to approach.
“Don't make us do this, Kevin, please,” Ororo pleaded, manipulating the gentle sea breezes into a gale. Kevin was unmoved. “Very well...you've made your choice...” She unleashed it against him and succeeded in blowing him further inland and into the nearby thicket of trees. The sound of breaking branches could be heard and then a painful sounding 'thump'.
Everyone stared in silence and waited, wondering if Ororo had used too much force.
Logan cocked his head. “I hear movement...a twig just snapped...”
“Something's happening,” Scott warned, hand reaching for his visor.
Indeed something was. The branches of the trees began to shake violently, dislodging innumerable leaves that began falling to the ground. Except that they didn't make contact with terra firma. Instead they began blowing towards their position in an unseen and unfelt wind.
“Ah fuck!” Alex cursed as the blade of a leaf brushed against his arm, slicing him and drawing blood.
John quickly raised a barrier and just in time as more and more leaves began falling. A veritable column of sharp bladed foliage coalesced and mercilessly pummeled against the telekinetic shield.
“Hey, look!” Lorna alerted them, pointing to the sky. “He's heading for the house on the cliff!”
“I wonder if they evacuated the place,” Alex mused out loud.
John turned his telepathic gaze to the house. His eyes widened. “More like they amped up the security and – ” John paused as he narrowed his focus. “They're armed with guns!”
When Kevin got out of range the deadly leaves fell harmlessly to the ground and John collapsed the shield. Ororo and Lorna leapt into the air. John snatched the others up mentally and towed them along with him as he followed the two women to the home of Joseph Mactaggert.
By the time they arrived on the front lawn of the residence a full scale battle was already underway. Shots were being fired. Thankfully, the rounds weren't live but were rubber. Not that it was having any effect on Kevin. Before the bullets made contact with Moira's body they were transformed into something resembling really small cotton balls which fell harmlessly onto the ground.
Kevin raised his arms to the twelve guards or so and began working his will on them. The X-men watched in horror as the limbs of the men began to stretch and warp into impossible angles, as if they were made of jelly. The bloodcurdling screams that filled the night air finally spurred the X-men to action.
“We have to stop him before he winds up killing someone,” Scott finally announced.
Ororo looked torn. “But Moira.”
“Moira wouldn't want people to die,” Logan said. “And she wouldn't want Kevin to become a murderer. It's Kevin's life and hers weighed against alla the people in that house.”
Ororo nodded and hurled a medium strength bolt of lightning at Kevin. It hit him dead center in the back. He stumbled and his focus on the men broke. Their forms swiftly returned to normal and they at once ran off and into the house, barricading the doorway as a defensive measure. Kevin turned around to face his inexorable pursuers. He didn't waste any time with words and the X-men realized that at this point neither should they.
John, those barricades won't hold him back, Scott said to his son telepathically. I don't know if Lorna can manage after the beach. She took a big hit with the feedback. Do you have it in you to place a shield over the entire house itself?
House? Mansion would be a better word. John's expression became one of utmost determination. No way of knowing unless I try.
So saying he telekinetically pulled Lorna out of danger and next to him.
Lorna, if he manages to punch a hole through my shield then you're gonna have to try and plug it. Do what you can. Okay?
Lorna nodded and watched as John's forcefield took form, growing from the ground upwards, sealing the house and its immediate surroundings in a dome of translucent blue energy. Kevin looked at the dome and began trying to erode its integrity in the same manner he had done to Lorna's. To his surprise (and anger) he found that this barrier was much more resilient. Kevin gave it up for the time being and turned his attention once more to the more immediate threats. Scott, Logan, Ororo and Alex.
Scott fired an optic blast at the same that Alex launched a plasma beam. Both watched in amazement as the beams bent at ninety degree angles, looped around Kevin and came speeding right back at their position. Both of them had to lunge out of the way as the ground where they were standing exploded, leaving a huge smoking pit on the lawn. Bolt after bolt of Ororo's lightning was similarly warped, their trajectories manipulated until they headed back to their point of origin.
Logan thought to seize the initiative while Kevin seemed preoccupied and tried to jump him. Kevin merely hovered higher and evaded the feral mutant. Logan landed on the ground beneath him and soon found himself knee deep in a pool of slurry as the earth beneath him melted in seconds.
“Dammit, not again!” he swore as he began to sink like a stone. As soon as his head vanished beneath the surface the ground solidified into a material resembling stone, burying Logan alive.
“Logan!” Ororo shrieked in terror. She raised both hands to the heavens and the winds began to pick up, snatching Kevin and spinning him round and round. The temperature dropped to freezing in moments and Kevin soon became covered in a casing of ice and frost.
In the meantime, Scott and Alex pummeled the ground where Logan fell with low intensity blasts, softening the earth enough for Logan to come scrambling out.
“That guy is seriously starting to piss me off,” Logan growled, gasping and wheezing for breath.
Ororo grunted as she flung Kevin against the ground. The icy shell covering him shattered but he was still freezing and unable to do much but shiver. John's shield dissolved and he and Lorna came walking up to join the circle of X-men that surrounded the unmoving Moira.
“Is...is she alive –” Lorna began, gasping when Moira's body crackled with energy, then went still.
John nodded, eyes closed. “Yes. I can sense her presence now. Something must have happened to Kevin. Maybe the Professor managed to disable him on the Astral Plane. Just give me a moment to check with him.”
It happened so fast that no one had the time to react to it. A burst of orange energy, roughly humanoid in form erupted from Moira's body and into the ether. It was Kevin in his new energy based form. He flicked from one of them to the other at lightning speed, assessing each of their potential as a new host. For a split second he hovered over John and then before they knew what was what, he claimed his new host...
John rose into the air clutching his head and screaming. His aura had took on the same orange hue as Kevin's energy anatomy and so had his eyes. But it was plain to see that he was fighting the forced possession. Wave after wave of telekinetic energy swept over the Mactaggert grounds causing the house itself to buckle from the strain, windows shattering into hundreds of pieces of sharp glass that blew inward. All present hoped no one was behind those windows.
“Alex! Lorna! Evacuate the house! Get them out of here!” Scott shouted above the chaos. He himself could barely hold his own against the buffeting waves of unseen force. “Take Moira with you!”
“Alright!” Alex responded.
Lorna was frozen, unable to tear her eyes away from the scene. Alex had to push her away and towards the house. He then snatched up Moira and followed Lorna into the shaking home.
Get outta me! John mentally screamed at the presence inside him.
Kevin didn't reply, he merely directed all his effort at wresting control from the body's rightful owner. He had initially thought of choosing John in the hope that his tormentors would think twice about attacking him and damaging the kid. An adult like Moira was one thing, but did they have it in them to do that to the boy?
Upon entering John and scrutinizing him more closely, and after examining John's body at the molecular level, he was pleasantly surprised to discover that John possessed an amazing potential to channel energy without burning out. The boy seemed to have some sort of regeneration factor inherent in his genetic code. Yes, John could serve as a more resilient vessel for Kevin's own vast energies. It was a struggle to mitigate the burnout factor with Moira and the time to leave her had finally come. But this kid's body was adapting to the burden remarkably well.
Ororo and Scott could only flit about and execute evasive maneuvers as stray flying objects and high power energy emissions threatened their safety. Logan on the other hand had managed to climb one of the trees on the grounds. He leapt from the topmost branches and caught hold of John. The two of them struggled in midair and then plummeted to the ground, Logan bearing the brunt of the fall.
“Let him go!” Logan growled, struggling to hold onto John's convulsing body.
Kevin would not hear of it. The, now reality warping, aura around John's body began to affect Logan, and painfully so. His body began to bend and twist in the same manner as the security guards from before. Even so he held on gamely, hard as it was when his fingers began curling like strands of spaghetti.
“That the best you got?!” Logan said with a snarl. It occurred to him at that moment that he should be somewhat thankful of Magneto's penchant for rearranging his insides. It had done wonders for his pain tolerance. “Oh...shit...” Logan groaned as several 'holes' appeared in his midsection. His upper torso seemed to be separating from his waist.
“I said get the hell out!” John yelled audibly, releasing a wave of force that flung Logan off him, and tore off the roof and upper regions of the Mactaggert home.
Scott and Ororo dashed to Logan's side to ascertain whether he was okay. All three watched as John's aura took on its golden color once more.
“I...I think John's winning!” Scott shouted as he helped Logan to his feet.
So that's your weakness! John exclaimed in triumph to Kevin.
Indeed, John had found it. In order to possess someone, Kevin had to establish a connection between his mind and the host's mind, so that he could interact and dominate the host's will. To do that he had to open a mental channel thought which he could exert his influence. In the very act of possessing someone Kevin became temporarily vulnerable to telepathic attack.
The aura around John increased in size and intensity until it seemed to explode, enveloping the area. The onlookers watched in silence as the psychic flames around John twisted into a definite shape for the first time.
“Is it just me...” Logan began, “or does that thing look like a bird?”
“It's not just you,” Ororo replied, squinting at the blinding light.
Without warning the 'bird' flew upwards and away from John, dragging in its talons what could only be Kevin's energy anatomy. John fell to the ground and the three X-men ran up to his prone form.
“He's unconscious,” Ororo declared, stating the obvious. “But he's breathing and there's a good, strong pulse.”
Scott looked thoughtful. “It's John. He must be the 'bird'. It must be his astral form.”
Logan looked a little confused. “A...bird? The Professor looks like his usual self when he –”
“Maybe John's just toying with him,” Ororo said. “Showing a sense of humor. His codename is Phoenix.”
All eyes looked upwards as the 'bird' cried out.
Kevin had struggled free of its grasp and was attempting to come to blows with it, doubling his size in the process. The 'bird' shrieked again and similarly grew bigger, increasing its size by a factor of three and dwarfing Kevin.
“Boys,” Ororo mumbled, “everything's a size competition.”
There was a low pitched roar of pain as the bird slashed at Kevin with its talons, seized him in its clutches and threw him to the ground. The next moment Kevin was subjected to a blast of psychic fire when the astral entity flapped its 'wings'. When the flames cleared the form of a young man could be seen face down on the ground, unmoving. The bird cried out in victory and then sped down towards John's body. It 'collided' with it in a burst of light. When everyone got their vision back John was sitting up, eyes losing their golden glow and returning to their usual blue tone.
“The irritating prick,” John said unabashedly as they all stared at the unconscious Kevin.
Logan slapped him on the back. “Yeah, well you showed him.”
“Sure did,” Scott congratulated.
Indeed, the mental voice of the Professor came in.
Professor, is he out this time...really out? Scott asked, watching Kevin suspiciously.
Yes, Scott. He is truly unconscious and I'm keeping him that way. I have his mind subdued here on the Astral Plane.
All present breathed a collective sigh of relief.
Ororo was always one to think more long term. “But what about when he wakes up.”
John looked a little nervous. “I...I don't know if Moira would agree with what I did but –”
“But what?” Scott asked, growing worried at John's tone.
“Kevin had a murderous rage when it came to his dad,” John explained. “In a way I don't blame him. I saw what Kevin found out about his father. You know...when he possessed Moira. Joseph Mactaggert is a nasty piece of...anyway. As long as Kevin knew what he did there would have been no real helping him. Believe me. He had to forget.”
“What are you talking about?” Ororo pressed, not liking being kept in the dark.
John looked really uncomfortable. “In addition to being a wife beater and a nasty drunk...Joseph Mactaggert raped Moira and that was how she became pregnant with Kevin.”
“Oh my God,” Ororo gasped, thunder booming overhead as her anger at this man grew.
Logan scowled and looked towards the beach where Lorna and Alex had taken the house's denizens.
“He made Moira stay with him. She was too afraid to leave. A top ranking doctor dedicated to pediatric and genetic diseases looked good as a trophy wife,” John went on. “But when his own son's mutation kicked in, Joseph had had enough and was ready to abandon them. Before he left, Moira threatened to reveal it all to the press and ruin his reputation...unless he gave her enough money to start off her mutant research on how best to help her son. In return Moira had to keep quiet about it all. And that's how the Mutant Research Center first came about.”
Logan was curious. This is news to you, Prof?
Completely, Xavier responded, anger tinging his thought patterns.
“Kevin needed to forget,” John continued.
“So you...you wiped it all from his memory,” Ororo prodded.
John shook his head. “Not wiped, suppressed. I didn't want to do anything irreversible without permission from Moira at least. In any case there wasn't enough time for a full wipe. I didn't have much time in there before he forced me out. I had to do something to stop him and fast. I know tampering with memories without permission is usually a big no, no. But there wasn't any other way. Once I had him and his anger under control the Professor guided me so I could shut down his powers and suppress all memory of them. They're simply too dangerous, to him and the people around him.”
Scott concurred. “Not to mention that their involuntary nature increases the risk. Things near to Kevin seem to spontaneously warp at times without him consciously using his powers on them.”
I just finished editing Kevin's memories a bit. When he wakes up, Xavier explained, he'll 'remember', among other things, that his father died when he was a child.
Ororo was shocked. Professor, surely...
“Believe me, Ororo,” John interrupted. “It's for the best. That man shouldn't be in anyone's life.”
That and we don't want any memories concerning Joseph Mactaggert hanging around, Xavier said insistently. They might serve as possible triggers that could foster the return of Kevin's hatred. I had thought about having him think his father left them when he was still a child...but it was too close to the truth and might have itself served as a trigger.
“That and kid could end up lookin' for him,” Logan said.
Yes. Better to be safe than sorry, Xavier replied.
Everyone eventually agreed that this was the wisest course of action.
“Let's get down to the beach,” Scott finally suggested, “and see how best we can clear this mess up.”
“I hope we haven't set back the cause of human-mutant relations here in Scotland too much,” Ororo said as they all entered the Hawk. “Did you have to threaten Mactaggert so...forcefully, Logan?”
Joseph Mactaggert was indeed a piece of work. Far from being grateful to the X-men for saving his life...he wanted to bring them up for damages. The shrewd politician, with an intellect born of wickedness, had seen a way to pay Moira back for her little blackmail ploy while at the same time discrediting her should she ever decide to go public.
He had a lot of witnesses who saw 'Moira' come traipsing onto the property in a murderous rage. Before the X-men could explain what had happened to the numerous witnesses, Joseph Mactaggert had strolled up to them and privately informed them all that he intended to have Moira put behind bars and that they could all expect serious litigation. Logan had 'suggested' to Joseph that he dismiss his staff and security personnel for the night and then have a little 'chat' with the X-men up at his residence.
Alex looked a little worried. “You think we went too far? Logan threatening to shove his bagpipes where the sun don't shine really worked a number on him.”
Logan smiled wryly as he deposited Kevin onto a seat and clasped the safety belt. “He had it coming to him. It's not my fault he's got a weak bladder.”
Behind them John laughed a little and then hovered Moira onto a seat next to her son. Thankfully it appeared that she was going to be alright. While Kevin was possessing her it seemed that her body was far more resistant to damage than a normal person's would be.
“And you,” Ororo said, turning to John with a disapproving look. “It was bad enough his mansion got damaged during the battle...but did you really have to crumble the luxury wing?”
John looked her her smugly. “Can it, Ororo. Don't think I didn't see that stray lightning bolt hit that fancy marble statue of his in the backyard. It looked pretty darn pricey.”
“I only meant for the lightning to flash overhead...as...as a threat,” Ororo insisted. She looked away guiltily. “That damned statue had a long metal spear. You know lightning is drawn to such objects. It wasn't that I intended for it to happen.”
John continued, “Well if you must know, the luxury wing was already weakened badly and they'd have had to demolish it and rebuild anyway. I actually spared him the cost of hiring a demolition team.”
“Of course, he might have wanted to remove and safeguard those priceless Mactaggert family heirlooms and works of art first,” Lorna said cheekily. “Oh well. Que sera, sera.”
Everyone laughed scandalously, save for Ororo (who smiled once and then tried to hide it) and Scott who sighed. In the end Joseph Mactaggert had agreed (especially after Logan started curiously fiddling about with the bagpipes) to use his influence to suppress the truth about what had happened. He swore on pain of property damage that he could control the wagging tongues of his staff (without resorting to hitmen, as Ororo was so keen to insist). With any luck the cover story of there being a freak storm would fly, especially if the local fishermen corroborated it. Moira would be free from persecution and the truth about Joseph Mactaggert's past actions and mutant son would stay buried.
“You handled yourself pretty good out there,” Logan said to John as they all buckled up.
John wasn't used to being complimented by Logan. Indeed, very few people were privileged to receive a compliment from him that wasn't of the backhanded variety.
John took it in his stride. “Uh, thanks. It's this boost, it really –”
Logan shook his head in a decisive 'no'. “Nah, it ain't that. You showed good tactical planning, like with your idea on how to lure Kevin outside and into the repressor field. And you were smart enough to figure out how to attack Kevin telepathically. You showed real courage without being foolhardy and endangering others on the team...the boost wasn't responsible for alla that. That was all you.”
“I...uh...” John trailed off, blushing. “I don't know what to say. I mean, thanks, obviously yeah but...wow. It's not everyday you get a compliment like that from you.”
Logan smiled. “Well, you made me proud today. You proved what I've been tellin' them for years. That young blood ain't a bad thing and that if we gave you all the chance you'd rise to the occasion.”
John grinned. “I did all that, huh?”
Logan nodded and added tongue in cheek. “Yeah, not half bad for a half pint.”
John frowned. “And there's the backhand,” he said.
“Old habits die hard,” Logan replied, smirking.
“Yeah, they do,” Ororo said, looking at him pointedly. “That cigarette lighter please.”
“Aw man,” Logan griped amidst laughter. “I got a healing factor you know. I can't get cancer.”
“No but the rest of us can,” Ororo insisted. “And what's more it sets a bad example.”
The two of them bickered, providing on flight entertainment as the Hawk sped on towards Muir Island...
“I hope you're not upset with what we did, Moira,” John said, looking a little worried. “We didn't really see any other way.”
Moira had regained consciousness at Muir Island shortly after the X-men's arrival. Kevin, however, was still resting.
Moira shook her head in the negative. “Actually, this solves so many problems. I just wished Kevin hadn't found out about it all like that in the first place.”
“It never does anyone any good to keep things from kids,” Logan said to her, looking guiltily at John. “The truth always comes out and it's better they find out about it from you. At least that way it happens on your own terms and damage control is easier.”
“It's just a shame that Kevin couldn't seem to let go of his rage,” Ororo said with regret. “So there's no choice but to keep him in the dark. His desire to harm his father may never have faded. We couldn't take any chances. He may no longer have access to his powers, but there's always the guns humans seem so fond of.”
Moira nodded. “Yes, it is better this way. Now, why don't we all get back to the business at hand, eh? I know you X-men have a lot of work waiting for you back home. Forge?”
The door to the room slid open and Forge entered holding a data disk in his hand.
“This contains the results of John's tests,” Forge said to Scott, surrendering the disk. “Hank should be able to help with the interpretation, being an expert in the field himself.”
Moira spoke up. “Of course I'll be more than willing to teleconference with him on the matter should he need a second opinion.”
Scott nodded. “Thanks so much for your help.”
“The feeling's mutual,” Moira replied, glancing over to the bed opposite where Kevin lay sleeping. “I hope you find those results useful.”
The X-men wished her well and took their leave. Forge and Moira waved as they left the room. When the doors finally shut Forge turned to Moira with a serious look on his face.
“What is it?” Moira asked, not liking the sudden shift in his demeanor.
Forge tapped his gauntlet and the display unit in the corner of the room flickered into operation.
“Moira, there were certain...features of the young Summers' results that I chose not to include on the disk,” Forge said to her. “I instead sent a secure and encrypted email to Xavier.”
“Features? What features.”
“Some aspects of his blood work, genetic points of interest and...these.” Forge tapped his gauntlet once more.
Several X-ray imaged appeared on the screen.
Moira scrutinized them closely. “Those bones seem rather radio-opaque for a 'child' John's age. I guess that not just his mind was affected after all. What we're seeing here is –”
“Enhanced bone mineralization,” Forge said, completing her statement for her. “But that's not all. I wanted you to have a look at these in particular.”
“Oh my goodness,” Moira whispered, getting out of bed and walking up for a closer look. “Are those...claws?”
Forge nodded slowly. “Still developing, but yeah. Now where have we seen those before?”
Moira dashed out of the room. “I have to speak with Charles. Stay with Kevin please.”
Forge nodded and took a seat on the chair next to Kevin's bed, silently wondering what would happen if the truth ever came out...
“Oh gosh,” John muttered as he dove behind one of Ororo's large potted plants.
A day had passed since their return to the Xavier Institute. John was currently out on the porch with Ororo, spending the morning with several others clearing rubble from the Mansion's front lawn. However, upon seeing a series of big buses pull into the Mansion drive, and Jubilee, Amara, Bobby and Ray exiting one of them, John had decided to hide himself.
Ororo looked at him kindly. “You know, you need to give them more credit,” she said, reaching behind the foliage and pulling him out. “They are your friends and I'm sure they will be nothing but supportive.”
“Ha!” John said, as he was dragged out out hiding against his will. “You obviously don't know Bobby and Ray well enough.”
As he bickered with Ororo on the merits of trusting one's friends, Jubilee and company had made their way up to the front porch.
“Hey, miss Munroe!” Jubilee called out, waving.
Ororo waved back. “Hello there yourself, Jubilee. Enjoy the vacation living in luxury?”
“You bet!” Ray responded as he and the others joined her on the porch.
Bobby angled his head to catch a glimpse of the small figure standing behind Ororo. “Who's that behind you?”
Ororo pulled John out from behind her and shoved him into plain view. “Oh, this is Jo –”
“Josh,” John said before she could finish. “I'm Josh.”
John could detect Jubilee and Amara's mental 'ooh'.
“And aren't you the cutest little thing?” Amara said in a saccharine tone.
“Who is he?” Ray asked Ororo, wondering what some strange kid was doing at the Institute at a time like that.
Ororo looked at John piercingly.
“Oh, I'm John's cousin,” the 'kid' said without hesitation.
Ororo, work with me here!
They are going to want to know where 'John' is, was Ororo's response. What are you going to tell them?
You let me worry about that.
Jubilee was looking thoughtful. “Hmmm, yeah, I can see the family resemblance. Red hair must run in the fam, huh?”
Amara was looking more curious. “Say, where is that cousin of yours anyway?”
“He's resting,” Ororo helpfully provided. “He's had a really rough couple of days and needs...uninterrupted rest for the time being.”
“Is...is he okay?” Bobby asked, looking worried. “This isn't like that time in the Danger Room is it?”
All four students surveyed the damage a little more closely.
Ororo put their minds at ease. “No, no. Nothing like that. He's quite alright but very tired. Um, why don't you go get settled in? The dorms and living quarters are undamaged.”
Ray couldn't help but ask, “And what about the school section?”
Ororo sighed. “Completely demolished.”
“Oh...” Ray said, barely able to contain his smirk. “What a pity,” he added sarcastically.
“Never you mind,” Ororo said as they all walked into the Mansion. “It'll be repaired soon enough...and then you'll have to work twice as hard to catch up.” She laughed when she heard their collective groan. Then she turned to face 'Josh'.
John looked sheepish. “Look, according to Hank, this shouldn't last much longer. As soon as Tessa's energy completely clears my system I'll be fine,” John said. “A few days more at most. What I wonder is if it'll be gradual...or POOF, like how a shapeshifter's body changes.”
“A few more days, huh? Well, we'll find out soon enough then won't we –” Ororo replied, cutting herself short as her cell phone rang. “Excuse me.”
“Oh, it's alright,” John said, walking down the steps. “I was just about to go for a break.”
Ororo waved and devoted all her attention to her call. As she was soon to find out...she'd been a bad girl and was in trouble...
When Ororo walked into the War Room she saw that in addition to Professor Xavier and Logan, Hank was also present. Both he and Xavier were looking at her with disappointment in their eyes.
“I can explain,” Ororo began, not quite sure how to do that.
Hank's busy blue left eyebrow raised. Not a good sign.
“Look, it ain't her fault,” Logan said, speaking up for her. “I asked her to run the DNA paternity test and keep it all under wraps.”
Xavier tapped his fingers on the table as he was prone to do in stressful situations.
“How did you find out?” Ororo asked curiously.
Hank was quick to provide the answer. “John's test results from Muir Island. They were quite...enlightening to say the least. We've known since yesterday but weren't sure if Logan knew anything so we kept silent about it for the time being...”
“...Until Hank here decided to verify what we were seeing with a paternity test using stored DNA samples from Logan as well as John,” Xavier continued. “As it turned out, the computer's records showed that the exact same test had been carried out a while before. Getting sloppy, weren't we, Ororo?”
Ororo felt as if she could slap herself. She had completely forgotten that Hank was smart enough, and paranoid enough to have logging programs running in the background of the lab's computers.
Big Brother strikes again, she thought to herself.
Xavier shook his head in disappointment once more. “So it was obvious that you'd run the tests since YOUR login credentials were used to gain access to the lab at the time the test was carried out.”
“Given your recent...relationship with Logan,” Hank went on, “it was easy to figure out that you were running it on his behalf and that you likely told him the results...so we confronted Logan this morning.”
And there they were with a potential catastrophe on their hands.
“Do you have any idea how badly this could affect the team if it ever gets out?” Xavier asked, brow furrowing in frustration.
Ororo nodded slowly. “Yes, but –”
“Then why on earth didn't you come to me the instant you knew?” Xavier asked, confusedly.
“Because,” Ororo began, “there were personal considerations to bear in mind.”
That excuse was not near enough to appease the Professor. His drumming on the table increased in intensity. “If this ever gets out the team will be split, polarized as it were, with some taking Scott's side and some taking Logan's. And believe me, there will be major fallout. Not the least of which will be the impact it will have on John's state of mind. I was never one to stick my head in the sand. Of course I saw and sensed the...attraction between Jean and Logan. I just never thought they'd be so immaturely selfish and foolish to pursue it behind Scott's back.”
Several minutes passed in awkward silence as the four of them pondered whether this secret was too big to be kept or not. Already it was unraveling before their eyes.
Hank tapped at the control panel, activating the holographic projector at the center of the table. John's results were laid bare before their eyes.
“John's genetic mapping and blood chemistry results,” Xavier began, “show that a previously dormant healing factor has now become active...which explains his wounds disappearing. It may also explain his biological time clock going haywire. We've always known that Logan was far, far older than he looks. John's body may have undergone a form of set point resetting as it were. Thankfully, his cells are showing signs that they are undergoing senescence – aging – so, it appears that it's reversing itself. However, the healing aspects of the regeneration factor are more confusing. We're not certain if that will also disappear or if it will partially or fully persist.”
“What we figure is that when Tessa boosted John's abilities, she boosted all aspects of his mutant genetic heritage. It was not limited to maternal input, but paternal too.” Hank rubbed his chin. “The healing factor will be easy to explain away at least. We can always say that it's a form of passive, unconscious psychic healing.”
Xavier nodded, looking intensely thoughtful. “Yes, that sounds believable. But the real problems lie in those claws of his. If their growth doesn't reverse itself...one day the truth may come out when they tear their way out of John's hands. Remember how Logan was when he first came to us? He'd unsheath his claws instinctively whenever he was agitated.”
“Sometimes he still does,” Hank added. “We were thinking about possibly surgically removing them.”
Logan's hands tightened into fists under the table but he managed to keep his mouth shut.
Xavier quickly tossed that idea aside. “If his healing factor remains active that won't be foolproof. They'd simply grow back.”
Ororo could see the impact that this sort of talk was having on Logan. If Professor Xavier wasn't so worked up then he might have sensed it. Quickly, she tried to defuse the risk of a possible situation arising.
“Professor, perhaps these are all just temporary side effects,” Ororo said calmly. “Let's not get too paranoid over a situation that may not even –”
Xavier looked sternly upon Logan. “What I'm most concerned about is what use you two decided to put this information to.”
Uh oh, Ororo thought to herself, sensing trouble on the horizon.
“You seem to have all the answers, Chuck,” Logan said tightly, “so why don't you tell me?”
Xavier's frown grew even more pronounced. “Under no circumstances are you to tell Jonathan the truth. Is that understood, Logan?”
Ororo grabbed Logan's arm.
“You heard me the first time,” Xavier responded, standing firm on his resolve. “I will not have your mistake jeopardizing all that we have worked so hard to achieve.”
“Oh so now he's a mistake,” Logan snarled.
Xavier shook his head. “That's not what I meant. Of course not. Your mistake was how you chose to channel your attraction to Jean and how you dealt with the aftermath. Being an X-man means a life of duty and sacrifice, personal and professional.”
Professor, you of all people know how important a sense of belonging is to Logan. He has no family, for a long time he had no friends...the feeling of being disconnected from –
I am well aware, Ororo. And this is a very sad situation. But we have to be realistic here.
“We were only human,” Logan said defensively. “So, yeah we made a mistake. Not everyone can be as perfect as your golden boy, Summers. On the field, I've always taken your orders and never once questioned you. Summers, yeah, but never you. But this is different. This time it's personal. You can't tell me how or not to approach my own kid –”
“Scott's kid,” Xavier interjected. “The one who raised and cared for him for sixteen years. There's more to being a father than simply providing genetic material. To him, Scott will always be his father. If the situation were different then, of course, you might have been able to play a more active role in his life. But as things are, it would not be wise.”
Logan scoffed. “Raised? You call what Scott did 'raising' a kid? Alex and Lorna were there for him more than Scott ever was. I asked Jean for a paternity test and she swore to me he wasn't my kid. Obviously, she lied. No wonder their wedding date got pushed up weeks ahead of time. She must have been trying to cover her tracks, told Scott she was pregnant and they didn't want him born outta wedlock or some shit like that. I let things slide that time but I ain't doing that again.”
“Logan, you have to understand –” Hank tried to say, but was cut off.
“Stay outta this,” Logan warned him before turning to the Professor once more. “I made a mistake, sure. A mistake in trusting Jean was telling me the truth. But they made a hell of a lot more mistakes 'raising' him than I ever did. When I feel the time is right, I'm gonna do what I have to and you had better not get in my way.”
“I will not see the future of the X-men threatened,” Xavier said, surprising Ororo with his coldness. “I'll do whatever I have to do in order to make certain of that.” The door to the War Room opened and Professor Xavier departed, leaving Hank to deal with the fallout...
John looked up at his father with disbelief painted on his face.
“I...thought you said we were gonna get lunch?” John asked, confused but not altogether displeased. “At the drive through?”
Scott nodded. “Well, yeah. We will. But afterwards.”
John took a few steps down the aisle. They were currently as a pet store of all places. Since there was a Chinese take out across the street John had thought that maybe they were going to buy food there. The maybe Scott was just parking in front of the pet store because there wasn't any space at the Chinese place. Imagine his surprise when his father directed him inside the Wittle Critters pet store.
“What are we doing here anyway?” John asked, surveying the fishes with little interest.
“Well, since you're having a second childhood, being like five years old all over again,” Scott answered, “and we never got to bring you here the first time around, I just thought...”
John smiled. “You mean I can get a pet? One that's not a virtual computer pet I keep on my laptop, wishing he was real?”
“Yeah, you can have a pet. See anything you like?” Scott asked, his nose getting a little snuffly from all of the hair and fur.
John looked at his father with all the seriousness a five year old face can convey. “Anything I like? They're not things, dad. They're living, breathing...um...”
“Okay, okay,” Scott relented. “See anyone you like?”
“But what about your allergies?” John asked, as Scott sneezed. “What if the pet I choose –”
Scott shrugged. “What about them? There's antihistamines for that.”
And then it happened. They heard an angelic little bark that made John run around the corner and into the puppy lane.
“Oh my God,” John said, kneeling in front of a cage that housed a little black and brown mass of fur.
One of the store attendants happened to be nearby and he came over.
“You like her?” the guy asked, Ted according to his name tag.
John nodded as the puppy licked his fingers through the cage. “Yeah.”
Scott had since caught up. “You want a Rottweiler?”
“Just look at her,” John said, as the puppy continued to lick, little tail wagging madly. “I think she likes me. She's got good taste.”
“Must be with the way she keeps licking you,” Scott replied, scrutinizing the condition of the animal.
Ted was sensing a sale in the works. But he had a conscience. “In all fairness, I feel like I should warn you about this one. She –”
“She doesn't bite does she?” Scott asked, immediately pulling John's hands away from the cage.
“No, no,” Ted said, setting them at ease. “Nothing like that. But she's been bought twice and returned. She's a real mischievous little pup.”
“Is she house trained?” Scott asked, dreading the thought of having to clean up puppy droppings.
Ted nodded. “Yeah, the last owner was real good in that regard. He also got her to respond to the name, 'Jenna'. But that aside she still can be quite destructive...a pretty little home wrecker. I'm giving you fair warning.”
“She's just misunderstood. I want her,” John said with finality. “She's coming home with us.” He looked up at Scott with eyes to rival the puppy's.
Scott looked at Ted and said, “You got yourself a sale.”
Ted smiled and guided them to the cashier and called for someone to fetch a basket for the puppy.
“Of course,” Scott added quickly, “you will remember that she's been used.”
Ted kept his face straight. “Alright. As long as you bear in mind that she's pedigree and has been trained.”
Scott's eyebrow raised. “Yeah, well, you said yourself – she's a mischief maker.”
Ted sighed. “No contest. Right this way, please.”
Cheapskate, John chided as they watched Jenna taken out of her enclosure. At least buy her the premium puppy chow and not that generic stuff.
Cheapskate? Scott looked at him incredulously. You'll thank me one day when there's actually something left for you to inherit.
“Oh, she's so adorable!” Lorna exclaimed as soon as John set the basket down.
They were currently seated on the front porch, having lunch out in the open. It was cooler that inside since the air conditioning system was still being repaired.
“I'm gonna spoil her rotten,” Lorna continued, kissing the puppy's head.
Alex rolled his eyes.
“What?” Lorna asked. “You won't give me a baby anytime soon, so don't begrudge my falling in love with little Jenna here.”
Alex's jaw dropped. “I just think it's best that we save up for our future first before we take on such a big commitment.”
Scott and John looked at them with disbelief.
“Uh, do you mind?” Scott asked, covering John's ears. “Don't air your dirty laundry when there are impressionable minds about.”
John knocked his hands away. “Ha, ha. I'm not sure I'm liking this newfound sense of humor you got.”
Scott opened his mouth to make a retort but didn't get the chance. The front door to the manor burst open and a furious looking Logan stomped outside onto the porch. He paused briefly and regarded them all with a blank face. Then stomped off once more around the corner, slashing off an offending branch that dared to get in his face. Ororo soon entered the scene looking totally flustered.
“Is everything alright?” Lorna asked her with some concern.
Ororo looked a little nervous. “Oh yeah. Lover's spat...real minor. Just a little tiff really.”
The sound of Logan's motorcycle heading down the drive and out the gate drew all their gazes.
Wonder what's the matter this time? John thought to himself as he recalled the times in the recent past when Logan had gone off, doing the whole lone wolf deal. It's been ages since he ran off like that.
“By the way,” Ororo said as she paused at the doorway on her way back inside, “cute puppy.” Then she left.
“I hope things are alright with them,” John said absently as he watched Logan's motorcycle vanish in the distance.
Lorna didn't look away from stroking Jenna. “I'm sure things will be fine. She said it was just a little tiff. Alex and I have them on occasion.”
“Maybe...” John trailed off, not quite liking the spike of anger he sensed when Logan appeared. He turned towards Jenna and hovered her away from Lorna and into his lap.
“Hey,” his aunt protested to no avail.
“I'm gonna go take her for a walk,” John said, leaving the 'adults' to enjoy what remained of their lunch.
Shit! John thought to himself as he crouched in the bushes.
Jenna had run away from him and into (one of the few remaining) clusters of trees on the grounds. Likely it was the squirrels she had seen frolicking on the ground beneath them. Like a responsible pet owner John had given chase, trying to coax her out of the bushes and back outside. So engrossed was he that he didn't notice Jubilee and Amara walking in his direction with their lunch, intending to have their subways under the cool shade of the trees. Thinking quickly, he took refuge in the bushes just before the sat down and chanced to see him. Jenna looked at her new master crouching like a coward in the foliage and, smart pup, knew that she had best stay quiet – so she did.
“Do you think it worked?” Amara asked Jubilee as she bit into her sandwich hungrily.
Jubilee shrugged. “We have to give it a little time. And things might have to settle down here a bit before we see any real results.”
John strained his ears to hear their softly spoken words. What are talking about? he wondered. Has what worked?
Amara chewed mightily and swallowed. “Well, I hope we see results one way or another soon because this whole pretending to be a lesbo...it was fun at the beginning but it's starting to get old.”
John's mouth formed a perfect 'O'. Pretending to be a lesbo? Did I just hear that right? As silently and stealthily as he could, John edged a little closer to the two girls and cocked his head at an angle more suited for snooping.
“Hmm,” Jubilee murmured. “I know what you mean. All the boys keep giving us all this attention that we don't want, and the girls seem to be getting jealous and bitchy.”
Amara nodded. “Yeah. Always wanting us to kiss, which – no offense, Jubes – I don't really like all that much.”
Jubilee concurred. “True. I never can tell if I should dominate the kiss or if you should. I just hope it gave John some food for thought and opened him up to the possibility that if he is gay and does decide to come out, at least to us, that we won't mind.”
John had to cover his mouth quickly in order to suppress his gasp.
“Mind it?” Amara responded. “Hell, we might enjoy it. My entire male entourage back home was made of gay men. Including the bodyguards. We had a helluva time!”
Jubilee's eyes widened. “You don't say.”
“Yeah, they were the only guys daddy trusted around me,” Amara clarified, which caused Jubilee to burst into a peal of laughter. “What?” Amara asked.
“You mean they were the only guys your daddy trusted YOU around,” Jubilee replied with a wicked smirk. “Let's face it, girl. You were a big slut. Hahaha!”
“Ow!” Jubilee shrieked and rubbed her jaw.
The sound of her vocalizing her pain startled the nearby Jenna who barked and ran out of the bushes.
“Ah! What the –” Amara exclaimed, cutting herself short before finally letting out a squeal of delight. “A puppy!” The two girls coaxed her over with a little bit of sausage.
John used his powers to smack the ground some distance away behind them to simulate the sound of running footsteps and then darted out of the bushes, making it appear that he had been giving chase to the errant Jenna.
“Hey, Josh!” Amara called out and waved him over. “Is this your puppy?”
“Um, yeah...” John trailed off, before remembering it was supposed to be John's. “We brought her for Johnny. As a present.”
“Aw, how sweet,” Jubilee said, getting up and surrendering the puppy to her owner. “You be careful with her, okay? It's not safe to have her running about the place with all the heavy repairs going on.”
“Thanks, Jubilee,” John said, accepting the puppy.
Wait, did she tell me her name? No, she didn't! Oh, wait. Ororo called her that out on the porch...just in case she asks...
Which Jubilee didn't.
“Well, thanks for catching her, bye!” John said with as much perkiness as he could, before running off to be alone and ponder the exchange he'd just witnessed.
Gay! They think I could be gay! John thought to himself as he ran. And they seem to be all cool with it!
Later that day...
“They said that?” Julian asked, in disbelief. “They're just pretending to be lesbians? Damn.”
John detected a fleeting thought and looked at him pointedly. “Don't tell me you're one of those perverted, immature little boys who think that it's hot? Lesbians don't exist only to provide sexual stimulation for –”
“Alright, alright.” Julian put down the puppy and looked away. “I won't tell you. So, um, what are your thoughts on this? Are you gonna just ignore it?”
John frowned. “Just the fact that they suspect I could be gay...it's pretty damn hard to ignore. This past week has really opened my eyes.”
“How do you mean?”
“Well...I guess I have more appreciation for my life now,” John responded thoughtfully. “And living like this with this big secret...always having to watch what I say and how I act. It's not exactly doing anything good for my quality of life, understand? Pretending to be something I'm not really takes a toll. I think life would be so much easier if I was just honest, at least with the people I care about. I don't really care what anyone else thinks.”
“Sounds like your mind's made up.”
“I...guess it is,” John replied, looking up upon hearing the purr of a motorcycle entering the premises. “Hmm, looked like Logan finally decided to come back.”
“About time too,” Julian said with a nod. “He's been gone all day.”
The two of them regarded Logan in silence as he walked up towards the Manor and onto the porch. There was a distinctive scent of alcohol and cigars about Logan.
“Ain't it a little late for you to be out, kid?” Logan asked John, nodding to Julian by way of greeting. “It's cold out, get inside.”
John shook his head. “They told me to stay outside. They repainted and the fumes...I was just gonna go home for the night anyway,” John said. “I'm just waiting for dad.”
At that moment the door opened and Scott walked out, his clothing splattered here and there with dried paint.
“Glad to see you're back,” Scott said, a little sternly as he entered field commander mode. “Now isn't the best time to take off like that. At least call someone and keep us updated.”
Logan said nothing and just walked inside, knocking shoulders with Scott as he passed by and causing them man to stumble and wince a little. Logan's bones were coated with an unbreakable, hard metal after all. Julian whistled low.
“Come on, let's go home,” Scott said to John as he rubbed his mildly throbbing shoulder. “We've got that visit to the Rebirth Center tomorrow.”
John nodded. “Alright, dad. Later, Julian.”
Julian waved. “Bye.”
As John walked home with his father he could contain his curiosity no longer. The question had been years in the asking. The only reason he'd never bothered before was of his belief that his father wouldn't give him an honest answer. Scott followed the policy of keeping personal and professional lives separate religiously back then. But now things were different.
John's eyes flitting about a little nervously. “Can I ask you a question?”
“Sure. What is it?”
“Well at times, it seems like there's a lot of tension between you and Logan,” John began.
“Whatever gave you that idea?” Scott asked in a nonchalant tone.
John gave him a sarcastic look. “I'm not blind. It's no big secret. What about just now? When a guy bumps shoulders with another guy like that it means only one thing. Beef.”
Scott could explain that. “He'd been drinking. Didn't you smell the booze on him? He probably was just a little tipsy and not thinking as clearly as he would have with a straight head.”
“Oh really?” John asked. “I'd believe that if it wasn't for the fact that I know his healing factor doesn't let him get drunk.”
“How'd you –”
Simple. When Ororo and Logan was having their little exchange on the Hawk about him quitting smoking, she'd also brought up the drinking. And Logan had insisted that alcohol wouldn't be eating away his liver. He'd even said that he can't even remember being drunk, even after clearing out Remy's liquor cabinet a few years back.
“He cleared out Remy's liquor?” Scott asked, genuinely surprised. “Damn.”
John scoffed. “Don't change the subject. He wasn't drunk. So what is up with you and Logan?”
A few moments were passed in silence and for a while John wondered if he'd have to be all persistent and annoying. As he'd be told twice that day, his high pitched voice could sound pretty damn whiny.
“Logan's always been like that,” Scott finally replied, sparing John from becoming a nag. “Ever since he came to the Institute.”
“Really?” John asked, not finding that too hard to believe.
Scott nodded. “Uh huh. He seemed to have issues with me right from the get go. At first, I chalked it up to my being in command and him not liking taking orders from someone who looked like they were fresh out of college. The names he used to call me: four eyes, boy scout, pretty boy, candy ass, commander stick-up-his-butt...”
That sounded pretty reasonable, John thought. Logan always did seem the type to prefer giving orders than taking them.
“But I was wrong,” Scott continued, even grinning a little. “I mean, that was part of it, sure. But there was something else too.”
John frowned. “How about you stop dragging it out and just say what already. What's the big secret that –”
“He apparently had a thing for your mother,” Scott finally blurted out. “And back then I was the almost boyfriend who was competing for her affections.”
John couldn't keep a straight face and burst out laughing, almost dropping Jenna. “Oh, right, right. Logan...mom. Just why you've been hiding that refreshing sense of humor, I'll never know.”
“I'm serious,” Scott said insistently.
“I can't see Logan behaving like a lovesick teenager,” John said. “Well, um, okay there is Ororo but –”
“You asked and I told you.”
John stopped laughing, sensing the seriousness radiating from Scott. “You're serious.”
“Uh yeah. There was a point where I could never seem to be alone with your mother. He'd always be just around the corner.” Scott laughed. “One time we went to the movies and Jean sensed a familiar mind nearby. When we turned around, he was sitting a few rows back trying to hide behind an extra large popcorn.”
“No way!” John exclaimed, his laughter resurrected. “How'd he react when he got found out?”
“He insisted that he was there solely for the movie,” Scott said, with a grin. “I didn't say anything about it. I was too busy laughing. I guess Pretty In Pink qualified as good theatrical material in Logan's book.”
“Damn, that's funny,” John said, finally controlling his laughter. “And kinda creepy.”
Scott nodded. “Well, now you know.”
“But mom ended up with you,” John mused. “You think a part of him is holding a grudge about that? It seems real immature and he's always going on about maturity. I never really figured Logan for the hypocritical type.”
Honestly, Scott didn't. “No. Now it's probably all down to him not liking me bossing him around. Guess that little tiff Ororo talked about wasn't so little after all. Oh well, let's try and get a good night's rest. Be on your best behavior tomorrow, okay?”
“Yeah, I know.”
“They may have helped us but the Professor thinks, and I agree, that we should still treat tomorrow as a mission,” Scott went on, unlocking the front door. “As official X-man business.”
“Alright already,” John exasperated as he headed inside. “Down you go, Jen Jen...”
Pretty In Pink...ha ha ha!
“I don't believe this,” Logan said irritably as he paced the floor. “So what? You're on his side now?”
“I've had some time to think things over today.” Ororo tried to calm him but was having little success.
Logan looked at her in disbelief. “You were the one who convinced me that keeping this a secret wasn't the smart thing to do.”
Ororo felt like the biggest backstabber in the world as she said, “Professor Xavier is right.”
Logan slammed his fist on the wall. “Oh, Professor Xavier is always right! That's the X-men's motto, isn't it?”
“The circumstances of his birth...” Ororo tried to explain. “Finding out that your 'dad' isn't your biological father is stressful enough. But to learn that your mother had you as a result of an affair would be even worse.”
“Look, it's a tough situation, I know that,” Logan insisted. “But given enough time –”
“There's also the fact,” Ororo interjected, “that he's psychic. His powers are tied directly to the stability of his mind and emotions. Placing him in that sort of psycho-emotional upheaval would be an unjustifiable risk. At least for the foreseeable future. Not until he has full control of his abilities. I think that you should also let him grow up first, mature a little more so that if –”
“When,” Logan said, correcting her.
“– when you tell him he can be much better equipped to handle it.”
Logan's pacing started afresh. He began muttering about Jean, about a large part of their current predicament was her fault, which brought Ororo to the other issue she had to raise.
“Logan,” she said, garnering his attention. “There's...something else I thought a lot about today.”
“Did a lotta thinkin' did ya?” Logan grumbled, not liking her tone.
“I...think we need some space.”
“What?” Logan asked, getting all the more irritated at this new development. “Why the hell do you think that?”
“It's been over a year,” Ororo continued. “Jean's gone and you're still...fixated on her.”
“What? I...I am not...fixated on...”
Ororo looked at him pointedly. “Yes you are. You drove out to Alkali Lake today, didn't you?”
Logan's brow furrowed. “How'd you know –”
“I was worried about you,” Ororo replied.”I had Betsy run a scan. She sensed you there. Sometimes...I feel like the only reason we ended up together is because I got you on the rebound. That you're with me simply because Jean's no longer here for you to direct your attention to.”
“No, that isn't it.”
“Regardless, Logan, I don't think you've completely gotten over Jean,” Ororo said, silencing him with a stare. “And until you do I don't think we should –”
Logan's expression darkened. “So what? You're breaking up with me?”
Ororo was quick to deny it. “No. I just want you to let go of Jean first before you and I commit to something long term. We just need to give each other some time and space.”
Logan looked at her dead in the eye. “Alright. Fine. If that's what you want –”
“And what you need,” Ororo added.
“I just find the timing is a little suspicious,” Logan responded.
Ororo frowned. “What's that supposed to mean?”
“Oh come on,” Logan answered, not really feeling in the mood to sugar coat anything. “We go out to Muir Island, you see Forge again and then suddenly you're talking about space.”
Ororo gasped, clearly shocked that Logan could accuse her of such a thing. “It's late, you're tired, so I'm just gonna let that slide,” she said tightly when she recovered her voice. “Good night,” she said perfunctorily and left without waiting for a reply, almost slamming the door after her.
There goes another one, Logan thought to himself as he dropped onto the bed. Story of my life...
The next morning, at the MALE hideout...
“Still got that headache?” Mystique asked Magneto.
Magneto rubbed his slightly throbbing head. “Yes, but it's eased up a lot. Oh well, just one of the aggravating things one must put up with when getting along in years I suppose. That and the gas issues, and the constant need to void my bladder.”
Mystique said, looking a little disgusted. “Uh, so did you have any luck with disabling the encryption?”
Erik frowned and shook his head. “No. There are multiple layers of encryption protecting these files. Decrypting them all will require an expert in the field.”
He was in fact speaking about the data that he had salvaged from William Stryker's now destroyed base at Alkali Lake. It was heavily suspected that the good colonel had been carrying out nefarious schemes targeted at mutant kind for some time before his final, failed, plot. The question was, what? The X-men also had a copy of the data and so it was critical that the Brotherhood discover what was contained in the files before they did.
“What we need,” Magneto said, turning to Mystique, “is an ICT specialist. Someone preferably in the field of digital security. This encryption is of military caliber.”
Mystique nodded. “I'll try to...source someone right away.”
Magneto mumbled incoherently and directed his attention to the computer screen once more. Now that he had rescued Avalanche and Sabretooth from prison, there were more options open to him. As he pondered his past attempts at bringing about humanity's downfall and his multiple failures, Magneto came to a final realization. In the past he directed his resources to crushing the Homo sapiens and only showed aggression to the X-men when they got in his way. But now he realized that had to change.
If he was to get anywhere with realizing his ambitions for mutant kind then the X-men had to be taken out of the picture, or somehow incapacitated. It was almost a prerequisite. But first, he had to discover Colonel Stryker's encoded secrets. They may even prove to be useful with a few modifications...just as his plot to utilize Cerebro to decimate mutants was. A pity that failed.
“Oh well, tomorrow is another day,” Magneto said to himself as he plotted away.
The Following Morning...
“I don't get why we're going all decked out in uniform,” John asked, as they pulled into the car park of the Rebirth Center. “Just for a visit?”
Aside from Scott, accompanying John was the Professor and Betsy. Scott and Betsy were dressed in full X-men attire, wearing the uniforms with the black and gold motif, Betsy choosing not to wear her usual unique ninja-esque garb. John was sporting a miniature version of the spandex bodysuit made by Hank. Even the Professor had changed out of his usual formal wear and donned a more practical body suit. He was willing to give Lilandra and her people a chance to explain their purpose and intent, but it was always wise to be prepared for the possibility of trouble, no matter how remote. Which was why other X-men were posted in the nearby vicinity.
“Because,” Xavier answered as his hover chair exited the van, “we are on official X-men business. This is not a social call.”
“That and the clothes make the man...or woman,” Scott continued.
John looked thoughtful. “So you wanna look intimidating?”
“I didn't like their attitude last time,” was Scott's response.
Betsy looked a little uncomfortable wearing the uniform. “I'll wear this thing this time...but don't expect a repeat.”
I didn't think they'd let you wear your usual uniform if they wanted to intimidate, John thought to himself. Something that skimpy can't possibly –
I can hear you...
John blushed. Sorry.
Betsy laughed it off. You'd be amazed how often that 'skimpy' uniform has distracted enemies long enough for me gain the upper hand. There is something to be said for shock value. Besides, better skimpy than slutty like Emma's was.
They four of them briefly stopped at the front of the main building and took in the sight. It was as large as the Xavier Institute and seemed to be less conservative in design. The building itself bore some traits of Middle Eastern architectural design, with a dome over the central building and a few turrets. All stared at the imposing golden emblem emblazoned over the front door, a bird with its wings unfurled.
Scott looked pensive. It looks kinda like that bird shape your astral form took on, John. When you were battling Kevin.
John looked up at his father, clearly confused. What are you talking about? What bird?
Scott face was a mask of disbelief. When you astral projected it was in the form of a bird. Ororo and Logan saw it. We thought you were just playing around a little. you know, with you being Phoenix and all.
I don't have a clue what you're talking about, was John's response. I didn't change to no bird. Maybe Kevin's powers somehow warped your vision or something. I dunno.
Scott looked to Betsy and Xavier, mentally transmitting this new concern of his. They all placed it as a top priority in their investigative list.
“Hmm, nice blend of east and west.” Betsy whistled. “We'll definitely have to do some investigating to find out where they source their funding.”
“How about we just ask them?” John asked seriously.
Betsy looked at the poor boy with exaggerated pity. “You've got a lot to learn, young grasshopper.”
The doors slid open and they entered into the entrance hall. Tessa was there to, read to greet them and usher them to Lilandra. Upon seeing them she had to remove her shades.
“John?” she asked, stepping up for a closer look. “Is that you?” She could sense his unique mutant signature but before her stood a boy of no more than perhaps five.
John shifted a little uncomfortably under her scrutiny. “Yeah, Tessa. Looks like what you did had some side effects.”
Tessa's face fell. “I sure didn't see this coming.”
“I'm not complaining,” John quickly responded. “Don't get me wrong. This is better than being dead or a comatose vegetable for the rest of my life.”
Scott quickly agreed, not wanting to seem ungrateful.
“Um, well, right this way,” Tessa said, composing herself and leading them into the building proper.
They were lead down a long corridor, Tessa taking the time to explain their purpose as they went about their way.
“Here we aim to promote harmony and mitigate discord,” Tessa explained, “regardless of differences, be they genetic, racial, political, religious, sexual... We believe that only by working together, drawing on each others strengths and compensating for each others weaknesses can humanity unlock its true potential.”
Sounds nice, Betsy said to the others telepathically, some skepticism and sarcasm coloring her thought patterns. “So, um, what is the nature of your work, precisely,” she asked Tessa.
“We conduct outreach programs, seminars, workshops, but primarily we provide a controlled environment here where diverse people can interact,” Tessa said. “We monitor and record their interactions...social experimentation you could say. We also study such interactions in the outside world and collect data that –”
Betsy's expression caused Tessa to stop speaking briefly.
“Oh, you mean...the other thing?” Tessa asked, suppressing a smirk.
Betsy rolled her eyes. “Yes, the other thing.”
Tessa's reply was simple. It would be better if Lilandra explained that.
“And here we are,” Tessa said, as they stood before the door leading to Lilandra's office. She punched in the security code and it slid open revealing the opulent interior. “Well, please enter.”
The Professor led the way, followed by Scott and John. Betsy was last to enter. Due to her wary nature she immediately began scrutinizing the place for anything out of the ordinary. Tessa followed them inside and shut the door behind her.
“Welcome to the Rebirth Center,” Lilandra greeted them, after she had recovered from the sight of John. “I'm glad to see your cancellation of our earlier meeting was temporary. Please, have a seat. Now, shall we get down to business?”
Xavier nodded. “Yes. As you can imagine we have a lot of questions. I think we'd better start with the most important of them all.” Xavier eyed Scott then turned his gaze back to Lilandra. He already knew the likely answer to the question he was about to ask, but had to maintain the facade of ignorance. “Can you give us some insight as to what John is going through?” Professor Xavier continued. “The only thing we can think of is that it is in some way linked to what Tessa did...her boosting of his mutant powers.”
Tessa spoke up. “My genetic catalyzing abilities can be unpredictable at time,” she said, “but I can't think of why he'd have reacted to them in this way. Everyone's unique I guess. The good news is that the effects are always temporary. So I have the utmost confidence that the effects – including this – will reverse themselves soon enough. The longest they ever lasted before was just over a week.”
Scott and John looked relieved. Xavier and Betsy seemed satisfied. So much the tests conducted at Muir Island had indicated, so at least they weren't lying about that. Of course they'd not be able to understand why John had regressed physically to the age of a child. They didn't know what Xavier did.
“Well then, now that we have that out of the way,” Betsy said, a tad bit impatiently, “why don't we get to the meat of the matter?”
Lilandra and Tessa shared a look.
“Very well then,” Lilandra replied, leaning back into her plush chair.
Scott reached into his utility belt and pulled out the silver pendant / key that John had found in the attic. “This apparently belonged to my wife. It matches the ones your people seem to fond of,” Scott continued, emphasizing the point by pointing at the one Tessa was currently wearing. “How about we start with that? What connection did you have with my wife?”
“That is a long story,” Lilandra began. “But we have the time. Just save the questions for when I'm done. Alright?”
The X-men nodded and waited with bated breath as Lilandra began her tale...
Hank looked at the computer monitor, his bushy blue eyebrows hitching up in surprise.
“You...you did all this overnight?” he asked Cerebro who was projecting an image of himself in Hanks lab.
Cerebro's avatar nodded and looked proud of himself and his accomplishment. “It was in my backup drives and I was bored. Monitoring the security system gets old real fast when you have access to multi-core, parallel processing. I successfully bypassed the encryption protocols at around 3 a.m. From there it was easy.”
Hank smiled and sifted through the data before him. They were looking at none other than the data they had salvaged from Colonel William Stryker's now destroyed base at Alkali Lake. Hank had started running decryption programs on it with an hour of their return to the mansion. The process was automated and was being run twenty four – seven since then, right on up to the time of Magneto's attack. Hank knew that eventually his decryption efforts would yield results but that it would take considerable time. Apparently the increased computational capacity of Cerebro was enough to expedite the process exponentially. Hank's mind churned out numerous possible uses to put Cerebro to. But first, William Stryker's data.
William Stryker seemed to be a man given to recording almost every minuscule detail of his operations. Hank leafed through the irrelevant (for now) notes he kept about his ammunitions source, looked at the files containing his daily logs with some interest but what really got his attention was one set of files contained within a folder labeled...
“Project Sentinel,” Hank mumbled, rubbing his chin. Hank opened the folder and launched the first file in the sequence. As he perused the contents his expression grew progressively graver, terminating in a, “by my stars and garters!”
Cerebro's avatar flickered then looked apprehensive. “Did my efforts to break the encryption damage the files' contents?”
Hank shook his head quickly. “No, Cerebro – uh, Bro. You've done very well. Now, I need you to summon all senior X-men remaining here at the Mansion to the War Room for an emergency meeting.”
Cerebro nodded. “You got it.”
Hank continued to sift through the file's contents, saying a prayer of thanks that William Stryker was dead and didn't have the chance to implement his diabolical schemes...
Meanwhile, at the Rebirth Center...
Professor Xavier secretly tried to get a read on Lilandra's emotions as she wove her tale. While he couldn't sense here thoughts he was grateful that he could at least probe her emotions. So far she appeared to be truthful. “So, you're saying you sensed Jean when her powers first manifested?”
Lilandra shook her head in the negative. “Not me. I was a child at the time. My father did. He knew she was a mutant and thus, special, but not how special at the time. He had just established the center only months before.”
“I see,” Xavier went on, “please continue.”
Lilandra nodded. “By the time he realized she was a mutant and tracked her location...he discovered that she had already been delivered into your care.”
Scott's eyebrow raised. “How did he discover this exactly? John and Elaine don't know anything about you.”
Lilandra didn't like the tone of Scott's voice. And they were constantly interrupting her with questions despite being asked to wait until the end. But she said nothing about it. “He scanned their minds. That's how he found out Jean had left with Professor Xavier.”
Xavier looked at her disapprovingly. “Without their permission?” he asked, his ethical scruples being offended.
“He had felt the child's fear,” Lilandra explained. “He didn't know if Jean's parents were accepting or not and he wasn't sure they'd be forthcoming with information. There wasn't anymore time to waste and the priority was Jean. That's why he did what he did.”
Betsy had a question. “What was so special about Jean? Was your father in the habit of 'rescuing' any and every mutant he chanced upon? You said you specialize in what John's going through. Please explain what you meant by that.”
“As I'm sure you've come to realize,” Lilandra responded, “Jean Grey underwent a sort of...transformation in her later years. John is undergoing the same thing...albeit more slowly. His mind is transcending a lower state and entering into a more evolved one. My father documented the same phenomenon in several other cases over the decades. It was what his research centered on. As a matter of fact...he himself had undergone it.”
The X-men's jaws dropped almost simultaneously.
“You're not saying –” Xavier interjected, only to be cut off.
“My father was no mutant,” Lilandra went on. “And neither am I. But we are psychically gifted. It, however, is not due to a genetic mutation but through years of mental and spiritual discipline. The psychic gifts are present in all humans, though only a few at any one time unlock the potential. Psychic mutants are lucky in that they have it handed to them at birth.”
Yeah, lucky, Betsy thought to herself.
Had Professor Xavier not had experience with people unlocking latent talents through mysticism he would have been highly dubious. But, as it was, his own half brother, Cain Marco aka The Juggernaut, had succeeded in doing so.
Xavier's expression was somber. “I've long suspected that. I've theorized psychic mutants are born not with powers that others do not possess...but rather with the ability to access powers that ordinarily remain dormant in the majority of humans. There are so many instances of baseline humans having lucky hunches, precognitive dreams, synchronized thoughts and the like that are just chalked up to intuition and coincidence. Perhaps ordinary humans sometimes unconsciously tap into such abilities.”
That may also explain why I wasn't able to read their minds, Xavier thought to himself. Why they're telepathy seems to be functioning at a different...frequency. Unless they choose to share thoughts with me.
Lilandra nodded. “Yes. So our psychic research seems to indicate. It appears that evolutionarily speaking, that is where humanity is heading. Humans are social animals, as we all know, with a need to connect and interact with one another. This appears to be the next step in human evolution.”
John was flabbergasted. “So what you're saying is that eventually all humans will develop psychic abilities?”
“Yes, to put it simply,” Tessa answered, nodding. “As our species has evolved we developed different means to connect with each other, to work together for gains that couldn't be actualized if we tried as individuals. Means like speech, writing, languages, social customs, cultural heritage, communications technology. We have been endlessly endeavoring to strengthen our ties with one another, whether we realized this or not.”
“There is strength in the collective,” Lilandra went on. “And evolution appears to be driving us to that end. For now, most people have the potential but will never actualize it. It will be their distant descendants who do. People like my father, myself and a handful of others however, have succeeded through intense effort. And then there's Jean and John.”
“But Jean was, and John is already psychic.” Scott looked highly dubious. “I...just find this hard to believe.”
Tessa agreed. “True. But she was and...and in John's case, is tapping into the psychic abilities at a level that other psychics are not.”
“We believe,” Lilandra said with a distant look, “that when such an evolution, such a...rebirth takes place, that all the ills man inflicts upon man will cease. That is why we are dedicated to fostering this change. It may be too slow in coming to save us from ourselves if left at its own natural pace. We seem to be caught in a downward spiral at times. Instead of advancing we regress. That is the true nature of our work here.”
“I used to think,” Betsy said a little bitterly, “that when two or more parties had a disagreement...that if they all just sat down and talked it through and were willing to listen and be reasonable that a mutually satisfactory agreement could be reached. I've wizened up since then.”
Xavier begged to disagree. “Think about it, Elizabeth. What are words and talking it out compared to exchanging thoughts and raw emotions. When two people can communicate in a manner that words can't possibly convey...when they can feel each other's pain and understand exactly what another is going through...place themselves in the other person's position...how can they logically continue fighting?”
“Oh, they'll find a way,” Betsy scoffed. “Psychics still argue amongst themselves. Look, we're psychics and we're having a disagreement right now.”
Lilandra nodded. “Yes, but psychics haven't reached the level Jean and John did as yet. Just to draw a reference, you are aware of the phenomenon of psychic rapport, are you not?”
The X-men nodded, save John.
Scott knew about it from first hand experience. “Jean and I...were linked at a psychic level.”
Lilandra smiled. “How often did you two have arguments you couldn't solve?”
Scott wracked his brains but couldn't remember. “I...don't remember. We were fortunate. We always found a way to work our differences out.”
“What Lilandra is talking about, Scott,” Xavier said, “is at a much deeper level than typical psychic rapports. Almost becoming the other person or party. It's fascinating.”
Lilandra looked at Tessa who nodded, then began a little hesitantly. “We have a strong suspicion that your...friend, Miss Frost's epiphany wasn't due to the hard work of the doctors at Happy Valley.”
Everyone looked at John.
“I, um, told Tessa about Emma,” John said a little sheepishly. He looked at Lilandra and asked, “You have an idea why she suddenly turned a 180?”
Professor Xavier had been looking thoughtful for some time. “I believe I do.”
All eyes turned to him.
“Lilandra, you say John is functioning at this hypothetical level you're speaking about,” Xavier went on. “If that's so...then he and I may have been responsible for Emma's change.”
Betsy was dubious. “What? How?”
“When Magneto attacked the Mansion and John and I joined in mental symbiosis,” Xavier went on, “I was channeling power through John...with him being linked to Cerebro and all. If John's mind is indeed operating in such a manner, then when we overwhelmed the attackers...Emma's mind may have been –”
“Awakened,” Lilandra finished. “She may have been forced to experience the pain she was responsible for and the injustice of her actions. Her conscience would have done the rest and fostered her epiphany as it were.”
“But...but no one else 'saw the light',” Betsy insisted.
“Free will,” Lilandra was quick to reply. “You cannot force someone to change. You can show them the error of their ways and then they must make the decision. Emma being forced to endure the pain she inflicted upon John must have been enough to do the trick. To answer your question, John had a personal relationship with this woman. He might have specifically targeted her and –”
John shook his head slowly. “I didn't force Emma to experience anything. I wasn't even aware she was there. And I doubt the Professor would single her out for extra punishment. He's not like that so –”
Xavier disagreed. “You might have been subconsciously aware of her presence. Just like you were the morning after your powers first flared. Your powers made a wall ornament fly off and hit her.”
Several minutes passed by in silence as the X-men internalized all that they had learned.
“Back to Jean,” Lilandra finally said. “My father realized that she was in good hands when he tracked her down to your institute.”
“Let me guess...telepathic spying again?” Scott asked.
Lilandra nodded and looked a little embarrassed. “Yes. As I said the priority was Jean. Rest assured, he didn't delve deeper than he needed to. He knew nothing about...about the school's links to the X-men.”
“The X-men weren't in existence then,” Xavier corrected.
“Oh, I see,” Lilandra said. “Well he didn't know that. All he knew was that Professor Xavier was a mutant and psychic like Jean who had pure intentions. And that he could train her in the use of her powers. Years later however...he again sensed Jean's psychic emanations. She had changed at a fundamental level.”
Xavier's brow furrowed. “Her telekinesis developed.” He turned to John. “Jean's mutant powers first manifested as telepathy that awakened when she saw her best friend struck down by a car. Her mind linked to her dying friend...and the emotions of the dying girl overwhelmed her. I helped her come to grips with her telepathy and then, years later, her telekinesis manifested as well. That must have been the change Lilandra's father sensed.”
“Exactly, Professor,” was Lilandra's reply. “By this time Jean was a legal adult and fully capable of making her own decisions. My father decided to meet with her.” Lilandra shook her head. “It didn't go very well. As a matter of fact, Jean was highly mistrustful.”
“Then why didn't she say something to us?” Scott asked, eyes narrowing.
Lilandra looked regretful. “Because my father suppressed her memory of the meeting.”
Scott's suspicion was confirmed. Betsy herself was disturbed. John's expression wasn't as trusting as it was at the start either.
“You must understand,” Lilandra went on. “Had Jean not revealed herself to have undergone this transformation he would have let her be. We've seen that ordinary humans who awaken their dormant psychic abilities sometimes become overwhelmed by them. My father was concerned for Jean's wellbeing. He wasn't sure what the repercussions of a mutant experiencing such mental evolution would be. He didn't think Professor Xavier knew what he was dealing with.”
“And he was right,” Xavier conceded. “Just like with John. Much of the time it was trial and error. I'm only grateful that in Jean's case I was able to help her and didn't make things worse.”
Lilandra continued quickly while she appeared to have the Professor's trust. “My father planned on meeting her later on when she might have been more ready, before anything major happened. It was his hope that nothing untoward happened to her until such time. Sadly, he passed away before he could try again. He left the task to me.”
Bit by bit the pieces fell into place.
“I kept a close eye on Jean's psychic status for years via the astral plane. She seemed to be controlling her telekinesis well. Then there came a time when I too felt a change in Jean. A more profound one. Just last year,” Lilandra explained. “A great surge in her power levels. I suspect other psychics did as well.”
Scott nodded. At first the X-men had wondered if perhaps the mutation enhancing radiation of Magneto's machine at Liberty Island was responsible. They eventually threw aside that idea. Over six years had passed since the event and no one else had showed any signs of change. Given the speed at which the machine affected its victims, shouldn't Jean have showed signs much sooner?
Signs that Jean was changing were at first subtle. A stray thought or two she might intercept. Instead of picking up an object it might be thrown instead. Eventually things became progressively more overt; involuntary bursts of telekinetic energy that caused property damage, rumblings in the house whenever she had a bad dream, computer systems going haywire around her...
“I knew I had to act,” Lilandra went on. “So I tracked her down and met her privately, I told her about our facility and what it is we do.”
“How did she react?” Scott asked, deeply curious.
“She shocked me,” was Lilandra's honest response. “Apparently the psychic blocks suppressing her memories of my father's first visit had crumbled when her telepathy started flaring. But she thought the memory of him warning her at that first meeting was only one of her bad dreams. When she learned that it really happened from me she was willing to listen.”
Scott still wasn't satisfied with Lilandra's explanation. “Yes, but I still don't see why she didn't say anything to us.”
“Because I asked her not to,” Lilandra replied. “I said she was willing to listen, I didn't say she was willing to believe. I knew that if she was disbelieving and she was the one actually experiencing what I was talking about...there was no way you all would believe me at that point in time. I couldn't force her, but I did ask her to remain quiet about it just in case she told someone who misinterpreted my intentions as something sinister. At the time, all I knew was that she was a teacher at a school for the gifted. A school whose principal happened to be a mutant. That's all.” Lilandra paused to catch her breath. “If the truth somehow got out to the wrong people, as it often tends to, and my facility was investigated...there could have been negative repercussions.”
“What kind of negative repercussions?” Betsy asked. “You don't have an underground band of quasi-military people jetting off on missions here do you?”
“Betsy, behave,” Xavier chided.
“We help all types of people here,” Tessa answered, ignoring John's comment. “But just the fact that we cater to mutants as well...and serve as a gathering place and halfway house to them might have resulted in us being targeted by prejudiced individuals. The idea of too many mutants gathering in one place scares some people. That's why Lilandra asked Jean not to tell anyone.”
“I gave her that pendant,” Lilandra continued. “It's more than cosmetic. It serves as a key to the center. It was just in case she changed her mind. I had the feeling that a part of her believed me and she was just too afraid to face what she was going through. Perhaps that's why she kept the key. Maybe she might have changed her mind. Given what I know now about you all...I'm surprised she didn't say anything about us. You all surely wouldn't have acted in a manner that would have endangered mutants.”
“Jean always kept her word,” Scott said solemnly. “Maybe she kept the key so that she could investigate the place herself and then, depending on what she saw here, she'd have reported back to us.”
She must not have had the time, Betsy mentally whispered to her companions. The Alkali Lake mission coming up and all.
Yeah, Scott replied. It made sense.
“Jean hid the pendant,” Professor Xavier told Lilandra. “Kindly refresh my memory, John. Where did you find it again?”
“Oh, um...in the attic,” John said, trying to keep a straight face as he averted his gaze. “It was in a box.”
“Well, that is how I knew Jean,” Lilandra finished. “And how she came to have that pendant.”
“We don't meant to sound distrustful,” Professor Xavier replied, “but we would like to...examine the humans who claim to have awakened dormant psychic abilities. Perhaps some genetic testing to rule out possible mutations in genes other than the X-gene and the like. There have been instances where humans have acquired extraordinary abilities through such mutations.”
“Mutate is the proper term for such an individual,” Scott explained. “Like the Fantastic Four for instance. Cosmic radiation warped their DNA and granted them their powers.”
“Oh, of course,” Lilandra concurred, having no issue with that request. “We all look forward to cooperating with you. Oh, and keep the key.”
After some more discussion the X-men decided to take their leave for the time being. Understandably, they had much work to do and pressing issues that needed attending to. Both sides agreed to meet again in the near future and an bond of trust seemed to be in the works. As they were almost to the door John chanced to see a tapestry that hung over the the doorway. One that he had missed, facing in the wrong direction as he walked into the room. He stopped walking, his eyes riveted to it.
It depicted a semi-nude man standing before a tree. On the branch to the right of the male figure perched a very familiar looking bird, of golden plumage looking benevolently at the man. On the branch to the left of the man coiled what looked to be a miniature black dragon, serpentine and menacing. Above it all was the stylized image of a partially eclipsed sun, casting its rays upon the tree. The sight of it snapped John right back to the dream he'd had while he was in his catatonic state following the Danger Room incident.
“John,” Betsy said, rubbing his shoulder. “Come on, dear, we're ready to go.”
John looked at Lilandra and opened his mouth to direct a question to her. He didn't get the chance to as the Professor's phone beeped. Scott and Betsy looked to him quizzically as he read the text message that came through on the secure line. Xavier's face hardened.
“Professor, what is it?” Scott asked, instantly going into mission mode.
“It's Hank,” Xavier answered. “He wants us to return to the Mansion immediately. He says it's urgent and of the utmost importance. Apparently, Cerebro cracked the encryption codes protecting Colonel Stryker's data files. He's made some truly disturbing discoveries.”
That was enough to motivate Betsy out the door.
Scott grabbed John and followed.
“But dad I wanted to ask Lilandra someth –” John began and was promptly silenced by his father.
“Whatever it is will have to wait,” Scott said, cutting him off. “This is more important. Hank never exaggerates.”
Xavier bid his farewell to Lilandra and Tessa and swiftly departed as fast as his hover chair could take him. The two women waved and watched them leave, all but running down the corridor.
Tessa looked pointedly at her leader. “You didn't tell them anything about the –”
“The Phoenix and the Dragon?” Lilandra shook her head. “No. They're not ready yet. Although...judging by the expression on John's face when he saw that tapestry...he might be getting there.”
Tessa paused at the threshold, looking quite worried. “I wonder what it is they discovered that made them run out so fast.”
Lilandra's expression became grave. “I don't know. We can only hope it's not as bad as it they made it out to be. Because whether they choose to believe it or not...Magneto was right. A war is coming. I just hope they're ready, willing and able to fight it when the time comes. If not it will likely be the end of us all.”
“Amen,” Tessa replied somberly, leaving Lilandra to her thoughts...