Beyond Top Secret
AN: Welcome to another special, one-shot of X-men Supreme. A new era of upheaval has taken hold in this fanfiction. The X-men are divided. X-Force has been formed. What does this mean for the future of X-men Supreme? Before I start exploring that future, here's another one-shot prelude that should set the stage for the conflict to come in X-men Supreme Volume 7. As Marvel once did with their Point One initiative, I'd like to create a comic that can help readers get into a series without worrying too much about recent continuity. Given the recent upheaval, it's a great time to jump into this fanfiction series.
This issue of X-men Supreme takes place after the events of X-men Supreme Volume 6: Liberation Decimation and before the beginning of X-men Supreme Volume 7. The Mutant Monitoring Initiative is taking shape and so is X-Force.
Disclaimer: I don't own X-men or any of the characters. Marvel and Disney own them. I make no money off of this. This is pure fan work that fits within the Fair Use clause. Please don't sue.
'These mean thoughts or psychic communication.'
As always, I urge everyone to take the time to post some feedback on this and every other entry of the X-men Supreme fanfiction series. Please send your reviews to me via email, post it on the fanfiction website, or post it on my X-men Supreme website. Either way is fine! I give you the first glimpse of the next area of X-men Supreme. Excelsior!
The X-men are united no more. A new divide has set in for Professor Charles Xavier and his gifted team of mutants. After years of fighting for peace and understanding in a world that hates and fears them, the course of mutant affairs declined to a point where drastic measures had to be taken. Those measures were laid out in the Mutant Monitoring Initiative. This bold plan to unite the X-men with the MSA triggered many mixed feelings throughout the team. Some of those feelings led to some of Xavier's most cherished students to leave the X-men.
Leading the opposition against the initiative is none other than one of Professor Xavier's most accomplished students, Scott Summers. Having left behind both his mentor and his girlfriend, the former X-leader has assembled a new team known as X-Force. This team seeks to oppose the Mutant Monitoring Initiative before it leads to irreparable damage. Since they have to live outside the law, they must make some careful, bittersweet preparations.
At the same time, Charles Xavier is moving forward with this initiative. A new institute is being constructed. A new partnership between the X-men and the government is taking shape. This partnership promises to open many doors and provide unparalleled resources. Part of this promise involves building trust. Professor Xavier has much to prove with his new partners. A great many opportunities with which to build such trust lay before him, but one in particular deals with highly-guarded secrets from the past.
Alaska – Remote Cabin
It had been a long time since Scott Summers visited Alaska. He had little affection for the state from which he had been born. There were too many painful memories associated with this region. Just being in a remote part of the unforgiving Alaskan wilderness brought back the smell of burning jet fuel. The former X-leader had to hide that discomfort. These were desperate times. Sacrifices had to be made if his new team of his was to succeed.
"How long do you think this will take, Scott?" asked Warren.
"Not long," he replied.
"You're about to contact your father, Scott. You're going to tell him zhat you've left zhe X-men for zhe life of a fugitive," Kurt pointed out, who followed close behind, "How can you possibly rush something like zhat?"
"My father was never one to dance around the details. When things were serious, he was concise and to the point. That's what I need to be if I'm going to break the news to him."
"Well however long it ends up being, make sure this is the only call you need to make," said Warren, "I rented this cabin with a Worthington credit card. We stay too long and my father will find out that we're not on vacation."
Scott's demeanor stiffened as he led Warren and Kurt to the top floor. They were using the cabin to gather their resources. Since Logan agreed to join the team, X-Force was getting everything they needed to oppose the Mutant Monitoring Initiative. They cashed in some favors from friends at Muir Island and Chandilar Enterprises, acquiring technology and materials with which they would build a new base.
They had no intention of making that base in Alaska so Domino, Warpath, Wolverine, and Emma Frost were already in the process of packing up their supplies. Outside, Warren had shipped in a series of unmarked storage crates. These crates would contain most of their supplies before they departed. But before that moment came, Scott needed to speak to his father.
This was as good a time as possible for him to reach out to an estranged father. Alex recently just disappeared, along with the rest of Genosha. Then the Mutant Monitoring Initiative happened. All this came on top of Jean going through a difficult period after the Phoenix Force went silent. Their relationship had already been strained as Cyclops started to openly question the Professor. Now it was on hiatus while this potential crisis played out.
It left Scott in a very difficult position emotionally and logistically. He was the leader of a new team and as such, he needed to set the recent past behind him for the sake of the near future.
"Go on and help the others load up the gear," said Scott as he reached the top floor, "I'll catch up after I'm done."
"Take your time, mein friend," said Kurt with a supporting gesture.
"And brace yourself," said Warren in a more cynical tone, "Fathers have a way of surprising you in all the wrong ways."
Scott acknowledged their remarks with a nod as they reached the door to the master bedroom. This was where they parted ways. Kurt and Warren turned around and left their leader to take care of this very personal matter. Scott entered the room and closed the door behind him. On the desk near the window, his laptop was already set up. He took a deep breath to prepare himself. This was not going to be an easy conversation.
"I hope you're wrong, Warren. God help me if I have to process any more surprises," sighed the X-leader.
Scott swallowed his anxiety and sat down in front of the desk. He then took out a special Shi'ar electronic device from his pocket. It was no bigger than a cell phone, but contained advanced alien hardware. Communicating across the vastness of space wasn't easy, but thankfully Shi'ar technology made it as simple as a simple video call. Upon connecting the device to his computer, it lit up and a special image formed on the screen.
"Are you there, son? Damn it, I thought I told Raza to fix this alien piece of shit!" grunted Corsair from the other end.
"It's fine, dad. I can hear you," said Scott as he made a few adjustments.
"Really? Then try and ignore that last remark. I'm…a little on edge. I've been kind of messed up since I got your message."
"That makes two of us. A lot has happened since we got back. And a lot more is going to happen as a result. It may mean I won't be able to chat with you for a while."
"I'm sure things on Earth are every bit as fucked up as they are here with the Shi'ar. Being part Empress Lilandra's Imperial Guard has been rough. The whole goddamn empire is being held together with scotch tape and spit. It's stressful, but it has also given me some time to think about what you said before you left."
"I've thought a lot about that too, Dad," said Scott, "But I'm afraid we'll have to table those issues for now. There's something much more serious at hand."
"I'm sorry, son. But I can't set this aside. Not anymore!"
"But…" began Scott.
"I don't want to play the old ignorance is bliss bullshit. I tried for years to forget about my life back on Earth. I damn near succeeded before you and the X-men showed up. If either of us is going to move forward with some semblance of sanity, we need to confront this."
Scott started to get a sinking feeling. The tone in his father's voice sounded like there was a secret that might end up being one of those unpleasant surprises that Warren mentioned. He never knew his father to avoid painful truths so it was useless to convince him otherwise. So with bated breath, Scott listened.
"This goes all the way back to the plane crash that separated us. There were circumstances that led up to it…circumstances your mother and I kept from you and Alex. You need to know what they entail because they may be a factor in the future."
"You already told me that the Shi'ar shot down our plane and abducted you and mom. What else did they do that I should worry about?" asked Scott.
"It's not what they did, son. It's what I did," said Corsair solemnly, "That fateful moment was a culmination of my own actions. I'm responsible for everything. I put you, your brother, and your mother through this shit. It didn't have to be this way and I held back the truth because you were so young."
"What truth? What did you keep from us?" demanded Scott.
Corsair was silent for a moment on the other line. He was clearly conflicted, showing the same stoic self-loathing that Scott had often seen in himself. Time and distance had left behind many secrets. Now might be their only chance to expose them once and for all.
"Before you left, you mentioned a name…Gabriel. I didn't understand at the time, but now I think I know what and who you were referring to."
"Gabriel…" said Scott, tensing at the mention of that name, "You knew about him?"
"Only to a point," said Corsair, "I had Raza do some digging on his end to confirm it. I now know the full story. His story is intrinsically tied with the story that led up to the plane crash. It goes back before you were born or before I married your mother. It all started with a woman named Claudine Renko."
Seattle, Washington – 30 Years Ago
Second Lieutenant Christopher Summers let out a content sigh as he slipped on his somewhat disheveled Air Force uniform. It was early in the morning, but he already had reason to be optimistic about this day. As an aspiring officer in the United States Air Force, there were a great many opportunities before him. It also helped that he woke up next to a beautiful, naked woman.
While he got dressed, an equally content sigh echoed from the bed. Claudine Renko emerged from under the sheets, still naked from the previous night when she convinced Lieutenant Summers to join her in her hotel room. He needed little convincing, but It wasn't the first time he took her up on such an offer.
In fact, it was becoming quite regular. That wouldn't have been a problem if there wasn't such an enormous conflict of interest. However, it also had the potential for mutual benefit.
"Do you ever dream of going into space, Christopher?" asked Claudine as she stretched out on the bed.
"You ask the strangest questions after sex, you know that?" said Lieutenant Summers as he buttoned up his uniform.
"It's not an unreasonable question. I am, after all, the founder and top research fellow of SWORD," she told him, "It's my job to contemplate the possibility of conflicts in space. Part of that job includes finding other people who take those possibilities seriously."
"If sleeping with people is your way of recruiting, then I think that's a pretty messed up policy," said Lieutenant Summers.
"Is that a complaint?"
"I didn't say it was messed up in a bad way. I just think this SWORD venture you helped set up has a long way to go. You have to admit a government agency that deals with space-born threats is kind of out there. Aren't the communists giving us enough trouble?"
"It may be that way now, but there's always a potential for change. Some of that potential isn't as outlandish as you think."
"Why? Do you know something that a typical test pilot doesn't?" questioned Lieutenant Summers, "Because you are way above my pay grade last I checked. We could both get into serious trouble if one of us starts spilling secrets."
"We could also help each other and I'm not just talking about what we do between the bed sheets," said Claudine in a suggestive tone.
Christopher Summers looked at this strange woman with a raised eyebrow. He dealt with ambitious men on a regular basis, but this woman trumped every one of them. She seemed dead serious, even as the bedsheets clung loosely to her naked body.
She hardly looked like a woman who graduated Magna Cum Laude from MIT and helped found SWORD. The military was still a man's world, but this woman had climbed the ranks behind the scene. Something about that appealed to the aspiring Lieutenant. It also left him very suspicious.
"I'm sorry, but when did this lurid affair turn into an offer?" he questioned.
"Don't be dense, Lieutenant. This affair is only as lurid as it is secondary," Claudine teased, "You're a strict man of discipline. That makes you a great soldier, much like your father. But I read up on your father. He wasn't so narrow-minded that he couldn't see the forest from the trees."
"General Phillip Summers is in a different league, Claudine. And I'll thank you to not compare me to the man when I'm still navigating the bureaucracy," said the Lieutenant in a stern tone.
"I'm not trying to play on your inferiority issues. You already told me you aspired to be more than a test pilot and therein lies the opportunity. Your father earned his reputation by finding a threat and dedicating his life to confronting it. And he succeeded. He severed the relationship between the government and Weapon X."
"That's not an easy path the duplicate. He was an accomplished officer. I'm just a test pilot who barely made it out of the Air Force Academy. I'm not exactly on anybody's short list to get involved in secretive government affairs."
"That's where you sell yourself short, Lieutenant. Your humility may be one of the finer qualities of the Summers flock. But I didn't sleep with you just because you've got a better head on your shoulders than most other ranked officers."
"I take it you didn't get a kick out of my cologne either," quipped Lieutenant Summers.
"Oh there are a long list of reasons why a woman of my standing would want to get in bed with you. The list of reasons for why I would make you a more lucrative offer is much shorter. But if you're serious about making a name for yourself, you would be wise to seize the opportunities that come your way."
Lieutenant Summers studied this woman harder and not just because she allowed the bed sheets to reveal much of her nude body. She was trying to lure him into this opportunity of hers and much to his dismay, it was working.
It wasn't just that she slept with him. She hinted that she could get him the kind of access that most test pilots only dreamed of. It sounded suspicious. His father often warned him about letting the gut and the brain clash. He also taught him that every great leap forward involved greater risk. Despite the many mixed messages he was getting from Claudine Renko, the aspiring Air Force pilot took a chance.
"I'll be late for my post if I stay for more than fifteen minutes," he told her, "That's how much time you have to go over this opportunity of yours."
"I won't even need ten," said Claudine with a seductive grin as she slipped out of bed, "First, I need to make a phone call to one of my top associate, Dr. Katherine Ann. She'll help me explain what SWORD is working on."
"Does she endorse your networking skills?" said Lieutenant Summers, who couldn't help but stare as the attractive woman got dressed.
"You'd be surprised," she said in a mischievous tone, "Although before we go any further, I must first warn you that what you're about to hear is extremely sensitive. Very few know the full extent of what SWORD deals with. As such, I hope you have what it takes because we don't have the luxury of being wrong."
Secret Military Installation – Present Day
Professor Charles Xavier had always had mixed feelings about the military. On most levels, he respected the institution as any patriotic citizen would. On others, he knew it was prone to a special kind of corruption. He had already seen examples of it in his encounters with Weapon X. He never doubted there weren't more unsavory secrets behind the walls of power. He just never had a means of confronting them until now.
"You almost look nervous, General," commented Professor Xavier as he stood with General Grimshaw in a secure elevator.
"Are you getting paranoid or am I projecting?" he asked.
"Can it be a little of both?" retorted Xavier.
"This facility has the best psychic dampening technology known to man. It would take an army of Charles Xavier's to pierce our defenses. So yes, it is an either/or scenario."
"Then I guess I am getting paranoid. You don't hold that against me, do you?"
"If I did, I'd be a hypocrite. Wherever there's power, there's always secrets. Paranoia is healthy as far as I'm concerned. Now that you're an official associate of the United States Government, you'll be privy to certain secrets that even powerful minds aren't equipped to handle. That's why I'll need you to be extra paranoid for what I'm about to show you."
His tone was more serious than usual. It didn't sit well with Xavier for a moment, but he was in no position to turn back. The Mutant Monitoring Initiative was already in place. His X-men and the MSA were constructing a new Xavier Institute in Washington DC. He should have been with them, helping to rebuild a new home for this bold new world that they had entered. But in order to solidify the Mutant Monitoring Initiative, he had to establish a support network with the authorities.
That included meeting with senators, ambassadors, and foreign leaders to describe how this new initiative would work. Another part of that network involved establishing trust and that was what led him to this impromptu field trip.
It came about very suddenly. During a normal meeting with President Kelly, he and General Grimshaw went off the record to inform Professor Xavier that they needed a favor from him. That favor involved traveling with General Grimshaw aboard a highly secure military jet. He had to sit in a sealed area so he couldn't see where they were going. They even had psychic dampeners in the jet so he couldn't pick up on any thoughts as well. After about a five-hour flight, the jet landed.
When Xavier emerged, he found that the jet was already in a large hanger of sorts. Within this hanger were numerous squads of masked MPs. Grimshaw told him they wore masks so that nobody could identify one another. It helped demonstrate that this was a place where very important secrets were kept.
After being escorted from the jet by the MPs, Professor Xavier joined General Grimshaw in a secure elevator shaft. Once inside, General Grimshaw used a biometrics scanner to activate the lift. For the next five minutes, they descended deep into the Earth. As they descended, Professor Xavier's curiosity grew. He was prepared for any number of revelations. Given his new status with the authorities, he had to manage his reaction carefully.
"Just out of curiosity, have ever hear of Kenneth Arnold?" asked the General, his tone shifting somewhat.
"Can't say that I have. Should I?" Xavier replied.
"Only if you subscribe to crazy government conspiracies," said Grimshaw, "Kenneth Arnold was highly regarded Air Force pilot. Back in 1947, he began the modern UFO phenomenon when he coined the term 'flying saucer.' Shortly after his story broke, the Roswell affair took it to another level."
"Is that the affair that involved the crash of an alien spaceship?" asked Professor Xavier.
"Among other things," the General conceded, "It was a case study in a PR fiasco. A lot of reputations were dragged through the mud. A lot of valuable government resources were wasted. All because something so outrageous led people to believe that their government was hiding the truth."
"And were you?" Xavier questioned, "Was it really a weather balloon or a secret military experiment, as they say?"
"Don't be dense, Xavier. We've had this conversation before. This time we have to take it a step further. I know that you and your X-men have been in contact with aliens. I suspect that contact may be more extensive than the incident on Genosha."
"Now you're the one that sounds paranoid, General."
"That doesn't mean that I'm wrong. But I didn't bring you here to bust your balls about what you may or may not have encountered. I brought you here so that I can show you what we've encountered. Moreover, I hope that you can provide some fresh insight because we've been at a dead end for over fifty years."
The elevator finally stopped and the doors opened. From here, General Grimshaw led Charles Xavier through a short tunnel that connected to a vast research area. As soon as they emerged, they encountered an imposing yet awe-inspiring sight. Professor Xavier was not as astonished as he probably should have been, but his suspicions were definitely heightened.
"Is that what I think it is?" said Professor Xavier distantly.
"That depends," said General Grimshaw.
"On what precisely?"
"If you have to ask, then we're in worse shape than I thought."
The Professor navigated through a swarm of masked scientists wearing special clean suits towards the central area of the lab. In a large dome-enclosed area, a damaged alien spacecraft dominated facility. It was as if this entire complex was built around this one feature.
It wouldn't be an unreasonable layout either. The ship was quite large. It bore a distinct disk-shape that was about 300 feet in diameter and consisted mostly of an exotic metal. It also bore a number of distinct etchings along the outer surface that were not unlike the etchings within Warlock technology. As Xavier looked closer, he noticed more distinct similarities.
'Another Shi'ar spacecraft? Crashed and retrieved by the government? I remember seeing this type of craft during the X-men's exploits on Chandilar. If the circumstances are even remotely similar to the vessel we found on Genosha, then the danger can only be greater!"
As Xavier gazed over the alien ship, two figures emerged from the crowd of masked researchers. Unlike everyone else in the lab, they didn't care about concealing their identities. Abigail Brand of SWORD was already well-known by everyone involved in this operation. Captain Jack Freeman, who walked with her, was equally known for less scrupulous reasons. When they joined General Grimshaw, they were just as curious to hear Professor Xavier's response.
"Did I miss anything?" asked Agent Brand, "Should I regret giving this walking political fiasco a security clearance?"
"Don't throw a tantrum just yet, Agent Brand. Let the man work," coaxed General Grimshaw.
"This better pay off. I already feel sick to my stomach giving your errand boy here a free tour of this place…which doesn't officially exist, mind you," she grumbled.
"I may not know much about aliens outside of Star Trek, but I'm still a Green Beret," Captain Jack Freeman pointed out, "I would have been detained by people way meaner than you if they didn't think I could handle this."
"Don't give me any ideas, Captain. I've been sitting on this hunk of space junk since I took over. It's older than either of us and it has the potential to throw society as we know it into tailspin."
"All the more reason to give Charles Xavier a chance. I have a feeling he may be able to fill in a few blanks," said General Grimshaw in a more confident tone.
All eyes were on Xavier now. He ignored the looks he got from the masked researchers. He could sense without his telepathy that they were very interested in what he had to say about this alien relic. He spent a good five minutes just walking around the ship, taking in the design and the symbols. From them, he was able to surmise a tentative explanation.
"This is quite a vessel. I wish you had allowed Hank McCoy to accompany us. He would be able articulate the details better than me," said the Professor distantly.
"I don't care about details. We're still working on the basics for this thing," said Agent Brand, "Hell, there are compartments that we can't even get to because the materials in this thing make diamonds look like mud."
"So can I reasonably conclude that the story of Roswell was more nefarious than the authorities led on?" retorted Xavier.
"Make any conclusion you want. All you need to know is that this thing crashed. We retrieved it. And we found no bodies on board," said General Grimshaw.
"So at least that alien autopsy crap was a hoax. That's probably for the better," said Captain Freeman.
"It might have made things easier if it were. We've been trying to decipher the who, what, where, when, and why for decades with no luck," the General went on, "If your piss poor poker face is any indication, then I gather you've seen something like this before."
"I'll leave you to make your own conclusions about what I've seen. I'll only say that I'm familiar with the circumstances," said Professor Xavier, choosing his words carefully as he stepped back from the ship, "Before I can even begin to offer the answers, we must first be sure we're asking the right questions."
"I'm really not in the mood for riddles, Xavier. You know I do have the authority to lock you in a room and pester you until you start giving straight answers right?" said Agent Brand impatiently.
"So much for being diplomatic," muttered Captain Freeman.
"You can't expect straight answers when your approach to this matter is inherently flawed," retorted the Professor.
"Why? What's so flawed about it?" asked General Grimshaw intently.
"From what I gather, you and your people are simply asking who sent this ship, how does it work, and why would they be interested in our world. Those are not unreasonable questions, but they still make assumptions that are simply wrong."
Professor Xavier walked around the ship once more and stopped at what appeared to be the front. This area seemed to have the most damage. It was likely the damage that brought the ship down to begin with. Recalling his experience with the Shi'ar, he saw a new piece to a puzzle that had yet to be solved.
"The mere existence of this ship answers one vital question while posing another," Xavier went on, "First and foremost, it proves that mankind is not alone in this universe. There are intelligent beings throughout the universe and those beings know we're here. Furthermore, they have the capability of traveling here whenever they please."
"That's exactly what has makes this ship one of the most closely guarded secrets in the world," General Grimshaw pointed out, "We don't need people knowing that there's a potential threat from outside this world that we don't understand."
"Is that all it is to you, General? A threat?" questioned Xavier.
"Are you saying it's unreasonable to assume an advanced civilization wouldn't take kindly to us primitive humans?" said Agent Brand, "Us? The same civilization that gave birth to the pet rock, cat videos and spray cheese in a can?"
"I don't think you're giving the human race enough credit," retorted Xavier, "Regardless of how aliens view humanity, it still doesn't answer a very pertinent question. Why haven't these aliens made their presence known? Why aren't they showing up in droves to either conquer us or make friends with us? They clearly have the means. They clearly aren't ignoring us either."
"So then what could it be? Are the aliens just lazy?" shrugged Captain Freeman.
Professor Xavier remained fixated on the damaged portion of the ship. Once again, he had to be careful with his words. He couldn't let the authorities know of his full experience with the Shi'ar. It might complicate a situation that was already unstable to begin with. Yet this was a chance to earn the trust of some valuable allies. Drawing on his Shi'ar experience, he offered them his informed perspective.
"Perhaps there's another possibility," said Xavier in a more cryptic tone, "What if these aliens are afraid of us?"
"That's a pretty big what if, Xavier," scoffed Agent Brand, "SWORD employs a lot of smart people and I can hear them laughing you out of the room for something like that."
"But does it not fit what you've observed?" retorted the Professor, "Think about it for more than a minute or so. These aliens know we're here. They show up only sparingly and when they do, the circumstances are usually dire. This ship clearly suffered a major malfunction. The ship on Genosha, which I'm assuming your people also knew about, suffered something similar. It's as if Earth is a cosmic Bermuda Triangle. Alien vessels pass by, but they go out of their way to avoid it. What other reason besides fear could compel such reluctance?"
"Why would advanced aliens that can build star ships need to fear anything? Wouldn't evolution do a way with that?" questioned Captain Freeman.
"Life, for all it's diversity, still operates on a few fundamental rules. Fear is an emotion that derives itself from the same self-preservation mechanisms that we see at work on the cellular level. It's not unreasonable to surmise that those same rules apply to alien environments. In fact, they may be more like us than we think. They may have the same fear of something they don't understand."
"That would be pretty compelling if it turned out to be true," said General Grimshaw with a new intrigue, "It might even work to our advantage if we ever end up confronting these aliens."
"Or perhaps it's more dire than that," said Xavier ominously, "Perhaps they understand something about our world that we haven't yet grasped...something so dangerous that it has kept them from making contact of any kind. It may seem like baseless speculation, but based on what we see, is it not a distinct possibility?"
Agent Brand, Captain Freeman, and General Grimshaw exchanged glances. Agent Brand was clearly inclined to scoff at such a notion. This time, however, she took a moment to think.
It helped that Professor Xavier wasn't being too subtle. They could all tell from the tone in his voice that he knew more than he let on. He was trying to tell them without being overt what he knew. It wasn't the straight answer they desired, but it conveyed the necessary message.
Regardless of whether or not his words resonated, Professor Xavier continued studying the ship. As he looked closer at the damaged portion of the hull, his curiosity intensified. This ship still had a story to tell.
"I'm sure that'll make for an interesting report," said Agent Brand, "The notion that Earth is just too scary for advanced alien civilizations."
"But if you're right..." began General Grimshaw.
"The implications would be quite troubling, I know," said Xavier, "I wish there was a way of confirming this notion. I doubt this ship contains all the answers. However, it may offer some needed insight."
"Well if we're asking the right questions as you say, then what's the next step?" asked Agent Brand impatiently, "We've put every inch of this thing under a microscope. What can you find that we haven't?"
Professor Xavier paused for a moment. He turned his attention away from the ship and back towards Agent Brand and General Grimshaw. Having scrutinized this ship with his eyes, he was certain that there was indeed something that decades of research had missed. In order to uncover these unknowns, he would have to test the trust of his new associates.
"Actually, there is something you could do," he told them.
"Ooh boy, something tells me nobody is gonna like this," muttered Captain Freeman under his breath.
"What is it, Professor?" asked General Grimshaw intently.
"Turn off the psychic dampening fields," said Xavier, "Let me use my telepathy to search for any traces of sentience aboard the ship."
"You want us to lower our defenses on one of the most classified facilities on the face of the planet? And for what? So you can play mind games with a piece of space junk?" scoffed Agent Brand, "I could list the many reasons I'm not comfortable with that, but I prefer not to."
"You trusted me enough to show me this ship. If you really want to uncover the secrets within this alien vessel, then you'll need to trust me even more."
"Nobody here is saying you're not trustworthy, Xavier," said General Grimshaw.
"Speak for yourself," muttered Agent Brand.
"But this is a very sensitive project on top of some very disturbing secrets," the General explained, ignoring Agent Brand's remark, "Give us more than a few reasons to take a chance like this."
"Try and think in terms of advanced alien technology," Professor Xavier retorted, "The natural progress of any technology tends to sentience. It has to be in order to manage the complexities of such technology. If it's sentient, then a good psychic should be able to interact with it. Unless you have another means of interfacing with alien technology, my telepathy is your best bet."
It was another compelling argument with unavoidable logic. Agent Brand was still reluctant to allow the world's most powerful mind to reign freely inside such a sensitive facility. At the same time, both she and General Grimshaw needed to learn more about this alien ship. They had been at a dead end for too long. If they were to have any hope of unlocking the secrets of this alien craft, they would have to take a chance.
"I'll go talk to our tech guys. We'll see what we can set up," said Agent Brand flatly as she turned around and followed some MPs to one of the offices.
"Is that a yes or a no, Agent Brand?" asked Professor Xavier.
"Don't push it," warned General Grimshaw, "That's the closest you'll ever get to a polite response from Abigail Brand."
"And unless you want to see what she's like when she's really pissed off, you better pray that this stunt of yours works," said Captain Freeman, "Trust me when I say you don't want to be on this woman's shit list."
The Professor didn't contest the Green Beret's assessment. He also didn't let it discourage him. He had psychically interfaced with a Shi'ar vessel once before. This one looked similar so he was confident that he could do it again.
Along with that confidence was a touch of uncertainty. The first vessel he encountered contained many dire messages that served as a prelude to the X-men's struggle against D'ken. This vessel could contain something every bit as bad, if not worse. Human/mutant affairs were difficult enough to fathom. Alien affairs were something else entirely. The human race clearly wasn't ready for it.
White Sands Missile Range, New Mexico – 30 Years Ago
"Aliens? Are you shitting me?" scoffed an unimpressed Christopher Summers.
"It's no joke, I assure you. And I would appreciate it if you dialed back the profanity," said a bemused Claudine Renko.
"I'm sorry, but you have to admit that it's pretty goddamn ridiculous!"
"Trust me, it won't seem nearly as ridiculous when you see the kind of aircraft what you'll be flying. Although calling them aircrafts would be inappropriate."
Lieutenant Summers studied Claudine's demeanor closely and not just because she was wore a blouse that was several sizes too small. He agreed to go along with this endeavor of hers. It had already required that he spend a month getting a very special kind of security clearance that only a handful of people ever obtained. His suspicions had been heightened and upon arriving in New Mexico with a small contingent of high ranking Air Force officers, she dropped this on him. The aspiring soldier resisted the urge to question this information.
He continued to follow Claudine as she escorted him and the officers through one of the larger hangers on the base. It also happened to be the most secure. There were no windows and the roofs were camouflaged. Even the interior was heavily reinforced. Certain sections were cut off from others. Every aircraft that was parked inside had been covered by a large white sheet. Everything was either locked down or heavily guarded.
The MPs and even a few scientists had to wear masks, presumably so no one could implicate anyone else. It was a very different environment from what Lieutenant Summers was used to, but this was the kind of action he trained for. There was no going back now.
"Now that you have clearance, we can stop being so coy," said a high ranking Air Force Colonel, "Miss Renko here was telling the truth. What you're about to see is the result of alien technology."
"I hope you understand how sensitive that makes this operation, Lieutenant. We're dealing with secrets that have some pretty damning ramifications. We need to know that you can handle the responsibility," said another high ranking Colonel from the Navy.
"Oh I can handle it, sir," said Lieutenant Summers in a more serious tone, "I may not have graduated with top honors at the Air Force Academy, but I dare you find someone who is as competent in a cockpit."
"Your record speaks for itself in that respect. We need a pilot like you in order to continue the next phase of our project," said the top Corporal in charge of this base, "I understand you were near the top of Ms. Renko prohibitively short list."
"I guess you could say that's accurate," said Lieutenant Summers, who struggled to keep a straight face while Claudine shot him a coy grin.
"Then I think it goes without saying that our work here is of supreme importance," said the Corporal, "It's impossible to overstate the potential of this technology. The ship we recovered in New Mexico was a stubborn little beast, but I like to think our people have caught up with it. We've extracted what we can in terms of knowledge. Now we're finally ready to turn that knowledge into something we can test."
By now Claudine had led them to the back part of the hanger that was cut off from every other part. This was where the MPs backed off because they were not cleared to enter. Lieutenant Summers waited with baited breath as Claudine used her security card and entered a ten-digit access code into a secure panel. Once entered, the heavy doors that looked big enough to haul a sizable aircraft through opened.
"You're about to be part of untold history, Lieutenant Summers," said Claudine as she led him and the officers through the heavy doors, "You will be the first man to fly an aircraft with technology that is not of this world. Your role in this endeavor and those that follow will lay the course for your career."
With these encouraging words, the aspiring pilot soon found himself in secluded area where a group of masked researchers were working on an exotic aircraft that had a very other worldly appearance.
It was only slightly bigger than an F-18. It had a triangular shape except the edges were rounded. It also had a dark metallic skin that looked very different from any material ever used in an aircraft. There was also a distinct humming noise reverberating from the engine area. It didn't sound like a jet. It sounded like something much more advanced.
"Damn," was all Christopher Summers could manage.
"That's what I said the first time I saw it as well," said the Colonel of the Air Force.
"Don't get too enamored. It's only a prototype," said Claudine, "We call it the XR-1A. We hope it'll be the first in a new generation of aircraft that will take this country through the battlefield and beyond."
"Prototypes are usually look better than they fly," said Lieutenant Summers, "What kind of tricks can this baby of yours do?"
"A more accurate question may be what can't this baby do," came a new voice, "I can say without reservation that the list is quite short."
The aspiring pilot turned towards his right where he saw another beautiful woman emerge from behind one of the hydraulic controls. Unlike the other researchers, she wasn't wearing a mask. She was wearing an Air Force uniform that was typical of those involved in administration or research. It wasn't quite as gaudy as Claudine's attire, but she still caught Lieutenant Summer's attention in a significant way.
"Glad you could join us, Doctor," said the Colonel of the Air Force.
"Doctor? You guys are really going out of your way to employ smart, beautiful women," said Lieutenant Summers.
"I hope you're not getting fresh on us, Major Summers. Despite your disciplined demeanor, I don't think you're taking this seriously," said the woman.
"I meant no disrespect. I'm actually somewhat used to seeing women outrank me," he assured, earning him a look from Claudine, "I promise you'll find my other qualities more commendable, Miss..."
"Katherine Ann," said the woman in a tone that sounded as tough as any man, "Doctor Katherine Ann if we're to be official. Miss Renko recruited me from Cal Tech right out of college. I've been working on this project ever since and for all our sake, I hope you can handle it."
"Give me the low-down on how this alien gizmo works and I promise she'll be in good hands," said the aspiring pilot confidently.
Dr. Ann managed a slight smile, a rare gesture for anyone in this line of work. Lieutenant Summers maintained his poise as he gazed over the aircraft. This was the opportunity of a lifetime. He was going to fly in a plane forged from alien technology. The astonishing possibilities far outweighed the danger. In an already secretive world who knows what other alien secrets they would uncover?
Secret Military Installation – Present Day
The activity around the alien ship was livelier than it had been in decades. Finally, they were doing an experiment that could yield some meaningful results. Such excitement was tapered by extreme caution.
As soon as Agent Brand gave the orders, every researcher cleared out from the central area. A few engineers and technicians stayed behind to hook up monitoring equipment. Once everything was set up, they retreated behind a series of heavy blast doors. Many crowded around the small windows so they could see. If this experiment worked, then nobody wanted to miss the results.
"We're just about ready, Agent Brand," said the top engineer, "The lab area is clear and we're ready to lower the psychic dampeners on your order."
"Is the facility sealed on every other end?" asked Agent Brand as she looked out over the research area.
"We're officially in lockdown," said her chief security officer, "It's already raising a few red flags at the Pentagon. I don't think they'll appreciate us not clearing this experiment beforehand."
"I'll handle anyone whose feathers get ruffled. Just make sure that we don't have a repeat of what happened on Genosha," said General Grimshaw.
"For the record, I'm still in a position to detain the X-men over that affair," Agent Brand reminded, "Xavier better not give me a reason to execute that authority."
"I know this goes against your nature, Agent Brand. But cut the good Professor some slack. He's putting himself in a very dangerous position. You may not respect his vision, but you have to respect the man's bravado."
Agent Brand remained skeptical. There were way too many ways that this could backfire. She and General Grimshaw stood behind several inches of concussion proof glass on the main observation deck, which stood two and a half stories above the main level. It allowed them to completely monitor the activity below. Charles Xavier was almost ready and the time had come to see if he could be as valuable as they hoped.
Within the main research area, Xavier stood about ten feet away from the alien ship. Behind him and surrounding the perimeter were two squads of masked MPs. They all had their weapons drawn in preparation for any unforeseen threats. Captain Freeman stood with them, acting as the squad leader for this bold experiment. Having never been a science buff, he maintained a strict sense of indifference to this ordeal.
"Are all these guns really necessary?" questioned Professor Xavier, "I get the impression that nobody here trusts me and given recent events, I find that troubling."
"I doubt it's just you, Xavier. It's the alien ship that's the real x-factor here," said Captain Freeman, "I'm pretty sure that everyone here has seen the movie Independence Day."
"Which movie was that again?"
"The one where guns came in handy when unruly aliens were in a confined space. If you're lucky, they won't be necessary."
"I try not to rely on luck in my line of work," said Xavier, "I just worry that expecting the worst does little to help the odds."
Captain Freeman signaled the MPs to assume a fire-ready position. Professor Xavier wasn't going to convince him or anyone to relax their guard when alien threats were involved. Given his experience with the Shi'ar, that may not be an unreasonable approach.
He remained poised under these unfriendly circumstances as he waited for the go-ahead from Agent Brand. After a final check from Captain Freeman to ensure that the lab was sealed and all non-MPs were behind sealed doors, he signaled the observation deck.
"Are you ready down there, Professor? Last chance for a bathroom break or second thoughts," said Agent Brand through a speaker system.
"I'm ready if you're willing," said Professor Xavier confidently.
"Then good luck and for all our sake, don't make me regret this," said Agent Brand in her usual coarse tone, "Lowering the psychic dampeners in 5...4...3...2...1."
There was a slight flicker from the lights as the facility's elaborate psychic defenses were disabled. Professor Xavier picked up on it almost immediately. He sensed the barriers preventing his mind from utilizing his telepathy weaken. It created tension throughout the lab, knowing that the world's most powerful psychic was now unhindered.
Xavier made no effort to alleviate those concerns. His sole focus was the alien ship. Now that he could use his powers, he could begin the experiment.
"It's just as I suspected. There is indeed a psychic signature emulating from this ship," said the Professor as he cautiously approached the vessel.
"Does that mean there's something alive in there? If so, it would be good to know if it was bulletproof," said Captain Freeman.
"I've yet to determine if it's the ship's inhabitants or the ship itself," he said, "I'll need to probe a little harder to uncover the truth."
Under the careful watch of many, Professor Xavier placed one hand on the ship and the other on his temple. He closed his eyes and began a psychic probe. He was immediately struck by the level of psychic clutter. The damage to the ship seemed to extend to the sentience. It was as if it had been wounded on both a psychic and physical level. That damage led Xavier through a system that was still intact. As he began to access it, this ship that had been dormant for over 50 years became active.
"Agent Brand, we're detecting some significant energy readings from the ship," said a SWORD researcher that was monitoring the experiment.
"We have working eyes last I checked. Tell us something a first-grader can't readily observe," said Agent Brand.
"Our instruments can't make sense of it yet, but Xavier definitely flipped a switch of sorts," said another female SWORD researcher, "You know those computer-like components that we could never get to work? Well apparently, they're working now."
"They're doing more than just working," said one of the SWORD technicians in a nervous tone, "They appear to be rebooting the ship!"
Excitement quickly turned to tension as the activity from the ship grew more ominous. Lights along the edges activated. They flickered at first, indicating that the systems on the ship weren't fully intact.
Along with the lights came the distinct hum of the ship's power source. It was a source that the researchers had never been able to understand and the energy it radiated defied what their instruments could detect. While Captain Freeman and the MPs remained vigilant, Professor Xavier remained focused. He continued focusing his powers for nearly ten minutes, trying to reach whatever sentience was within this ship.
Then the activity took an unexpected turn. As the lights along the rim of the craft continued to flicker, the exotic propulsion system along the bottom of the ship was activated. It didn't appear to be by design either. Three distinct hemispheres erupted in a burst of yellow light. This caused ship to levitate slightly and sway.
At this point Xavier had to halt his probe and step back. From the looks of it, the ship was malfunctioning in major way.
"Oh no…this is exactly what I'd hoped to avoid!" the Professor dreaded.
"Whatever you did, you better undo it!" warned Captain Freeman as he stood beside him apprehensively.
"That's exactly what the ship is trying to do! It appears to be more damaged than I anticipated!"
"What did you expect? We already told you this thing crashed!"
"I'm not talking about the damage done by the crash."
"You mean crashing doesn't do enough damage to alien technology?" exclaimed the mutant soldier.
"From what I sensed, this ship was damaged before it crashed."
Captain Freeman felt that sinking feeling that every soldier experienced just before a battle broke out. He and Professor Xavier continued to back away from the hovering ship. The rest of the MPs nervously held their ground, gripping their guns more intently than before. Something was clearly wrong with this ship and they were right in the crossfire.
Up in the observation deck, General Grimshaw and Agent Brand shared their trepidation. Many of the researchers were either watching in amazement or scrambling to make sense of the data. Professor Xavier had definitely stumbled onto something and it was clearly very volatile.
"What the hell is going on down there?!" exclaimed Agent Brand, "Somebody tell me something smart or I'll start making assumptions!"
"Uh...well remember that energy we mentioned earlier?" said one of the researchers, "Well apparently, the ship had some kind of system that could stabilize it."
"Do I need to give a damn about the nuts and bolts?" she asked.
"All you really need to know is that system is malfunctioning," said another SWORD technician, "And it isn't a result of the crash either. These systems are failing internally!"
"So what does that mean for us?" asked General Grimshaw, concerned about the well being of Xavier and the MPs.
"We aren't entirely sure, but if I were to make an educated guess…I would say that when Xavier activated that reboot we mentioned, the system crashed," explained another senior researcher as best he could, "Based on these readings, it loosely resembles a computer that was crippled by a virus trying to boot up."
"So the ship is crippled. Big deal," Agent Brand surmised, "So why does it look like a busted up Chevy with a blown out engine?"
"That's where the data gets disturbing, I'm afraid," the senior researcher continued, "You know those compartments we couldn't open? Well, I don't think they were meant to be opened. The damage to the system didn't seem to originate from the crash. It came from those compartments!"
"So then what the hell could be in those compartments?" pondered General Grimshaw.
"I don't know, but if Xavier is right then it may be the reason this ship crashed!"
The possibilities were too disturbing to contemplate. Luckily or unluckily, they wouldn't have to. As they continued watching the scene unfold, they heard a series of loud clangs from inside the ship. They were so loud and forceful that they caused dents to form in the hull of the ship. Something was definitely trying to escape.
"Ooh boy, I don't like the sound of that!" groaned Captain Freeman.
"There's something alive on this ship! Something that's been asleep for over 50 years!" gasped Professor Xavier as he continued picking up psychic signals.
"I'm guessing it's cranky. I'm guessing it's also something we'll need to shoot," grunted the Green Beret as he signaled the MPs to fall back.
The tension escalated as the clanging noise inside the ship intensified. At one point a crack started to form along the hull. This crack quickly grew around one of the semi-spherical thrusters along the bottom of the ship. In a powerful burst, the thruster was shattered and the whole ship fluttered in mid-air. It was like a helicopter that had lost one of its rotors. Then from the hole, a terrifying creature emerged.
"Ahh! My hibernation has finally ended! I warned those fools they could never imprison a Queen of the almighty Brood!"
"It…speaks English?" said Captain Freeman in confusion.
"That's not as surprising as I wish it were," dreaded Professor Xavier as he and everyone else in the lab took in this creature.
This being was as alien as it was horrifying. It bore an imposing insectoid appearance, complete with with a dark brown complexion that resembled an exoskeleton. It was bi-pedal, standing on two hind legs in addition to possessing fly-like wings and a tail that resembled a scorpion.
This imposing body was perfectly complimented by an equally nightmarish face. The creature had a large triangular cranium that dominated a face with two large yellowish eyes and a mouth lined with fanged teeth. It was like an amalgamation of every horrifying trait humans had ever imagined for an alien and if its hissing gaze was any indication, it did not come in peace.
The Brood Queen seethed with a primal-like hunger as it stretched its legs and flexed its wings. It had been a long, arduous trip. It had reached its destination much later than expected, but from what it had been told, it was a world ripe with potential broodlings. Best of all, every other space-faring race was too cowardly to stop them.
"If you understand what I'm saying, please know that we mean you no harm," coaxed Professor Xavier, who was now behind the line of MPs with Captain Freeman.
"You humans are as pitiful as I expected. No harm, you say? I come from a civilization that thieves on the suffering of others!" the Brood Queen proclaimed.
"I've heard enough! Shoot it!" ordered Captain Freeman.
The MPs readily obeyed the order. Taking aim with their M-16 assault rifles, they opened fire on the alien creature. The Brood Queen scoffed at their attack. Using her hard exoskeleton to protect itself, the creature deflected the incoming bullets.
Before they could concentrate too much firepower, the Brood Queen used her insectoid wings to take to the air. Since the ceiling on this facility was pretty high, the imposing creature had plenty of space to work with. As she avoided the incoming bullets, she prepared to even the odds.
"In the name of the Great Mother, this world shall belong to the Brood!"
While flying at high speeds, the Brood Queen opened up a special compartment on her abdomen to reveal a collection of baseball-sized eggs. Upon releasing these eggs, they started glowing and guided themselves via unseen forces to the bewildered MPs below. They never had a chance to avoid them. In an instant, the eggs forced their way into over half the MPs. As soon as they took hold, these unfortunate men underwent a horrific transformation.
"AHHHHHHH! GET IT OFF! GET IT..."
"YES! THE QUEEN! SHE'S CALLING ME!"
One-by-one, each MP's body morphed into a grotesque resemblance of the Brood Queen. Their muscles bulged before forming scale-like plates over their skin. Their teeth turned to fangs and their limbs became jagged and arched like that of an insect. Their face also underwent a transformation with their eyes becoming yellow and insect-like to resemble that of the Brood Queen.
They even sprouted wings on their back. A few even took to the air, holding onto their guns in the process. With the efficiency of a hive, the MPs surrounded the Brood Queen and turned their guns on the MPs that hadn't been transformed.
"Shit! This just went from Independence Day to Night of the Living Dead!" groaned Captain Freeman.
"Unfortunately, I've seen that movie," said Professor Xavier, "I think these are worse than zombies. I'm sensing a hive mind between them! They're like drones in an ant colony!"
"Does that mean we shoot them?" asked one of the MPs, who was hesitant to fire on his comrades.
"Fall back and we'll figure that out!" barked the Green Beret.
The remaining MPs eagerly retreated and took cover behind various pieces of lab equipment. Captain Freeman stayed close to Professor Xavier, protecting him as he continued to perform psychic scans in a frantic search for answers. It didn't seem like there was much mystery anymore. This alien monster's intentions were clear. It wanted to make this whole planet her new colony.
"What is thy bidding, my queen?" asked one of the Brood drones to the queen.
"Exterminate these pests while I recover some necessary materials," said the Brood Queen as she re-entered the ship, "I must make contact with the Great Mother! She must know the crimes that have been committed against us!"
Central Nevada Desert – 29 Years Ago
"Yaahoooooo! I'm loving this latest prototype!" exclaimed an overly enthusiastic Christopher Summers.
"Try and taper your excitement, Liutenant. You said that about the last one, remember?"said the less enthusiastic voice of Dr. Katherine Ann.
"Oh come on! You gotta have a little excitement when you're on a mission. It makes the successes that much sweeter and your resolve that much stronger."
It was astonishing to imagine anyone sending such a message from over 100,000 feet at speeds approaching Mach 4. This was unknown territory for a fighter pilot, yet Lieutenant Christopher Summers handled it with the same bravado that had made him such an asset to this research. He could not only handle these prototypes that had been reverse engineered from alien technology. He could operate them with uncanny efficiency.
This was certainly a welcome outcome for his superiors on the ground. Many of the high-ranking officers watching the first flight of the XR-13B were already drooling over the prospect of having an aircraft like this in combat. For Dr. Ann and Claudine Renko, it was another step towards fully realizing this amazing technology.
"I think the lieutenant's enthusiasm just landed us another round of funding," grinned Claudine as she observed the expressions on the officers' faces.
"I know that always makes your day," said Dr. Ann, who was primarily focused on the hard data of this test, "Perhaps we can use that funding to do a more in depth analysis of certain alien components. My team and I think it would help a great deal if we could extract some software to go along with the hardware."
"Who needs software when the hardware is serving our needs so readily?" scoffed Claudine.
"Well from a strictly scientific standpoint, it'll help if we actually understand the physics of these prototypes. We're essentially crossing our fingers and hoping this stuff won't blow up."
"And so far it hasn't. I'd rather not waste resources on pointless activities. You know as well as I do that no one has been able to extract anything from those alien computers."
"All the more reason for a fresh approach," reasoned Dr. Ann.
"That may make sense to those with doctorates in applies science, but for administrators like myself I must focus on the nuts and bolts rather than the instruction manuals."
"That may only put Lieutenant Summers in more danger. Don't you think we owe it to him to…"
"He knew what he was getting into when he signed up," said Claudine indifferently, "The only thing we owe him is more toys for him to test."
Dr. Ann had to restrain herself from voicing further outrage. Miss Renko wasn't going to be dissuaded. She was too enamored with the prospects of impressing more high ranking officers that would open the door to more funding. Despite all the unknowns in dealing with alien technology, she wanted to move forward and the authorities weren't going to stop her.
"Well I think I speak for everyone when I say I'm impressed," said a mid-ranking General from the Pentagon.
"I'm more than impressed," said a Captain from the Air Force, "One year in and you've already created a jet that flies higher and faster than the SR-71."
"This is an entirely new game, gentlemen. The old records and limits no longer apply," said Claudine proudly, "This is just a sample of what we can do. Give us another few years and you'll have something you can fly into a battlefield."
"Just out of curiosity, what would it take to get us something in just one year?" asked an Admiral from the Navy.
"Well I suppose we could expedite the next round of prototypes, but that would require more than double our current resources," said Claudine coyly, making it painfully apparent what she was getting at.
"Hell, I'll triple it if that's what's necessary," said the mid-ranking General, "I'll even cash in a few favors to get the ball rolling. Just get us something we can throw at the communists!"
Claudine smiled triumphantly. It looked like she would get exactly what she wanted yet again. While she shook hands with the officers, Dr. Ann kept a watchful eye on Lieutenant Summers through via radar and video feeds. He still looked like he was having a blast flying these planes. The danger didn't bother him. It was part of his mission and he was not in a position to turn away no matter how dangerous it got.
"I think we're done for today, Lieutenant. We've got the results we need. Go ahead and begin the landing protocols," said Dr. Ann over the communication link.
"Too bad. I was just getting warmed up," replied the Lieutenant, "Guess that means you and I will have to make up for it later. Maybe over drinks?"
"Get back here safely and I won't even tell Miss Renko," she said, doing her best to hide her reservations.
"You're a doll, Katherine!"
This time Dr. Ann couldn't stop herself from smiling. Lieutenant Summers was a bold man. That was probably why he had these occassional flings with Claudine Renko. For all she knew, those flings were part of the deal. It was how she controlled him and others around her.
This kind of control put her and the brave Lieutenant in danger. Even if he was willing to put his life in that much danger, she cared about him enough to want to protect him. At the moment it looked like nobody else could.
Secret Military Installation – Present Time
"PROTECT THE QUEEN! SERVE THE COLONY!"
The Brood Queen's drones were fighting an impossible battle. They were trapped in a research lab buried deep beneath the surface of the Earth. The entire facility had already been locked down and there were still plenty of non-drone MPs armed with assault rifles. Their chances for survival were essentially zero.
Yet none of that mattered to them. They blindly fired back at their former comrades, protecting the ship so that their queen could act. From up in the observation deck, the situation seemed to deteriorate by the second.
"Well this has turned into a hell of a nightmare," said General Grimshaw, "Does that thing really think it can escape?"
"That's not happening on my watch," said Agent Brand as she turned towards the officers on hand, "Make sure every blast door at every level is sealed! Nothing comes in or out unless I say so! Got it?"
"We're already at level five lockdown, ma'am," said the Corporal in charge of security, "I've got all my men manning the doors leading into the lab. That thing isn't getting out!"
"That assumes it even plans to go through the doors. Because I get the sense that it actually does think it can escape," reasoned General Grimshaw.
"If you have any ideas, I'm all ears, General," said Agent Brand with growing frustration, "Our boys look overmatched down there! I sure hope Xavier has another trick up his sleeve because as it stands, this is all his fault!"
While the tension in the observation deck escalated, Professor Xavier and Captain Freeman hid behind an oversized materials scanner. Every MP that hadn't been turned into a drone remained hidden as well. They weren't returning any fire. Some were already wounded, but there didn't appear to be anything serious just yet.
That was likely to change at the rate the drones were attacking. The situation was clearly overwhelming. They trained for many threats, but they had never trained for this.
"What are our orders, Captain? Do we shoot back?" asked one of the MPs nervously.
"Stand your ground!" Captain Freeman ordered, "They're firing blind. Let them run out of bullets before firing back."
"That's giving them exactly what they want, Captain," said Professor Xavier over the sound of gunfire, "They're functioning as a collective! They're willing to sacrifice themselves for the sake of their queen!"
"Then we might as well oblige them," said Captain Freeman as he adapted his body to be more durable, "Unless you have a way of freeing those men from their control, we need to make a move!"
"Just taking them down won't help. We need to get into that ship and to this Brood Queen. I suspect she has the answers we're looking for. She knows why this ship is here and what it can do."
"Are you asking me to cover your ass while you run unarmed into an alien ship?" questioned the Green Beret.
"I'm aware of how foolish it sounds. Are you willing to give me a chance or not?"
Professor Xavier's credibility was already fragile. He was the one who unleashed this monstrosity with his psychic probing. Now he was demanding even more trust to clean up this mess. It seemed utterly absurd. It was also the only plan anyone had at the moment. It left Captain Freeman and the beleaguered MPs with limited options.
While they contemplated their next move, the attacking drones emptied what was left of their guns. Once they were out of bullets, they flexed their wings and took to the air. They spread out all over the lab, seeking out anything that could threaten their queen. As Captain Freeman saw them coming, he made his decision.
"All MPs provide cover fire for myself and Xavier!" barked Captain Freeman.
"Affirmative!" said one of the MPs as he signaled the others, "But move fast before-ARGH!"
That was all he could get out. Before the MP squad leader could raise his gun, one of the Brood drones flew in and used its tail to sting him in the torso. The scorpion-like stinger went right through him. Between the wound and the poison within the tail, the MP was dead before he hit the ground. It offered an ominous hint of what they were up against.
"FOR THE QUEEN!" they all proclaimed in perfect unison.
"Oh that can't be a good sign," groaned Captain Freeman.
The Brood drones showed that they were more determined. Only about half of the remaining MPs were able to get into position and open fire. The other half were stung or subdued from above.
The drones showed little mercy, using their insect-like hands and fang-like teeth to rip into the MPs. They ruthlessly clawed and bit off large chunks of flesh, mortally wounding the men before they could even fight back. If that weren't disturbing enough, the drones seem to enjoy causing them pain. It was as if doing so made them stronger.
Despite the carnage, the rest of MPs found their way towards Captain Freeman and Professor Xavier. Once they had a clear sight of them and the ship, they opened fire with their M-16s. Waves of bullets filled the room. It forced the brood drones to scatter.
Most only damaged or grazed the rough exoskeleton that now covered their bodies. Some struck them in the eyes and neck, which had some tender tissue that was vulnerable. Only a couple brood drones were wounded, causing them to crash to the floor. But it did little to dissuade their attack.
"Aim for the head and neck!" yelled one of the MPs, "Watch out for the stinger on the-AHHH!"
"YOU DO NOT DEFY THE QUEEN!" seethed a wounded drone that flew in and used its tail to impale the MP in the back.
The shower of bullets only moderately disrupted their attack. The Brood drones kept coming, picking off several more MPs. Only five drones fell as a result of the attack. It wouldn't be long before the MPs ran out of bullets. From that point, it would only be a matter of time before the drones picked them off. This meant Captain Freeman and Professor Xavier had to make their move.
"Looks like this is all the cover we can hope for, Professor," said the Green Beret.
"It'll have to be enough," said Xavier, still focused on the ship, "Can you protect me long enough so I can reach the ship?"
"Depends on how lucky you are."
"I prefer to make my own luck. I trust you to make yours."
The Professor didn't give Captain Freeman a chance to argue with him. Without hesitation, he ran out from behind the scanner and sprinted towards the alien ship. The Green Beret had no choice but to follow him. Having already adapted his body to become more durable, he prepared to test his luck along with Xavier's.
"THEY'RE GOING FOR THE QUEEN! STOP THEM!" yelled the remaining Brood drones.
The battle escalated as more bullets flew and the Brood drones sought to protect their queen. Captain Freeman absorbed several stray rounds as he followed Professor Xavier past a series of desks and over a large table.
Five Brood drones went after them, turning their attention away from the MPs and focusing the most pressing threat to their colony. Three of them took bullets from the MPs, wounding their wings and causing them to crash into nearby equipment. One tried to use it's stinger to strike Xavier. Captain Freeman shoved him out of the way so that it ended up going into power conduit instead, which electrocuted the drone.
"AHHHHHH! MY QUEEN!" the drone cried out.
"Extra crispy! It's a good look for you," taunted Captain Freeman.
Xavier quickly regained his balance and composure. Already short of breath, he resumed his sprint towards the alien ship. He didn't dare look back, trusting that Captain Freeman and the remaining MPs would be able to cover him. He did not see the one remaining drone locked in on him and prepared to attack.
"DIE INSIGNIFICANT PEST!" yelled the drone.
The creature seethed with blood lust as it closed in on its target. It was within a few feet from Xavier when Captain Freeman leaped in from the side and tackled the creature to the ground. Feeling only a light graze from the Brood drone's clawed hands, Professor Xavier stopped just outside the entrance to the ship.
While catching his breath again, he looked back to see Captain Freeman tumbling on the floor with the Brood drone. The creature quickly fought back, slashing and jawing at the Green Beret. His adaptive body allowed him to endure the blows. He made sure Xavier didn't have to endure them as well by pulling the creature into a choke hold.
"Don't waste your time gawking, Xavier! Get in that damn ship and stop this clusterfuck already!" grunted Captain Freeman.
"YOU CAN NOT STOP THE BROOD! OUR COLONY SHALL CONSUME YOUR WORLD!" seethed the Brood drone.
"And your face shall absorb the floor!"
Captain Freeman used his strength and leverage to repeatedly pound the drone's face on the hard metal floor. It kept the creature subdued, giving Charles Xavier the opening he needed to enter the ship. Sensing more danger with each passing second, he ran inside in search of the Brood Queen.
'Thank you, Captain Freeman. This mess was not mine to make, but I will clean it up. Whatever has made Earth a proverbial dead zone to aliens like the Shi'ar is clearly more complicated than expected. Perhaps this Brood Queen is among the few who truly understand it.'
Central Nevada Desert – 28 Years Ago
"Mayday! Mayday! I've got engine failure, power failure, and several other types of failure I don't have time to list!" said the urgent voice of Lieutenant Summers over a radio, "I'm descending rapidly! Preparing to eject!"
"Don't quit on me yet, Lieutenant!" barked an angry Claudine Renko from the back of a helicopter, "That's a $350-million-dollar prototype! Try and land it in the lake bed! Don't let it crash!"
"This is not the time for penny pinching, Miss Renko! You heard what our engineers said! The engine core ruptured! There's no way he can land that thing before it fails!" exclaimed a very worried Dr. Katherine Ann.
"He'll find a way! He always finds a way! We need that jet intact!" seethed Claudine.
"With all due respect, Miss Renko. You've gambled way too much on this test and I'm starting to think you're low on chips," said an irate Air Force Colonel that was sitting in the front seat.
The desert sun over the Nevada test range felt hotter than usual for Claudine. After two years of successful tests, her luck caught up to her. This was supposed to be a routine test of their XR-47C prototype. This latest aircraft was built around a similar frame as the SR-71, except this one had alien technology to power it.
Dr. Ann had warned her that the exotic energy core that was still poorly understood by their engineers was unstable. She pushed ahead with the test flight anyways because she wanted to impress the officers that had unexpectedly dropped by. It might very well end up being her biggest mistake to date.
Claudine, Dr. Ann, and the Colonel looked up anxiously in the cloudless sky above them. They were all riding in a helicopter that was flying at top speed towards the target site. As soon as they got word that something had gone horribly wrong, Dr. Ann took charge and insisted they drive out to scene of the chaos. They followed a signal from the crippled XR-47 to the area where it looked like it would crash. They were so close now that they could see the aircraft plummeting towards a dry lake bed in a tailspin.
There was still no sign that Lieutenant Summers had bailed out. The aircraft was getting dangerously close to the ground. If it fell too low, then ejecting would not be impossible. Claudine watched intently, hoping that the Lieutenant that she had placed so much trust in would save her jet and her career. Dr. Ann watched just as intently, except she was more worried about the man than she was the jet.
The next few seconds were tense. Then as the blue flames looked poised to consume the whole aircraft, they saw a distinct flare from the cockpit area. The Lieutenant had ejected just in time. The XR-47C crashed and exploded in a dazzling burst of blue flames mere moments later.
"Christopher..." said Dr. Ann in a breathless relief.
"Damn him," said Claudine in a reaction that was almost the complete opposite.
The helicopter rapidly descended towards the crash site. It landed about a mile or so from the flaming wreckage. Once they were on the ground, Dr. Ann and Claudine ran out of the aircraft with the Colonel following close behind. For a moment they just watched the wreckage of this exotic aircraft burn. Then they noticed a red parachute descending from above.
"Christopher!" exclaimed Dr. Ann, the jet and its failure now a secondary concern.
Running full speed in her heels and lab coat, Dr. Ann caught up with the bewildered pilot as he landed roughly about a mile from the wreckage. He was dazed and overwhelmed. Then when Dr. Ann threw her arms around him and kissed him passionately on the lips, his daze turned to pleasant shock.
"Whoa...is that the reward you give every pilot when he crashes a plane?" said a flabbergasted Christopher Summers.
"Shut up, soldier. You scared me," she said in an emotional tone.
"So I wasn't crazy to think you cared about me more than your experiment?"
"Shut up and kiss me again."
Being a disciplined soldier, Lieutenant Christopher Summers knew better than to question such an order. Despite the heat of the sun and the flames of the burning prototype, he kissed Dr. Ann again. This time he did it with more passion. It took a plane crash to make certain unsaid feelings official, but it was worth it.
However, Claudine Renko did not share that sentiment. As she and the Colonel caught up, she expressed an outrage that went beyond the crash.
"You pathetic excuse for a man! Do you have any idea what you've just done to this project? Or to me for that matter?" she roared.
"Go easy on the heat stroke, Miss Renko," coaxed the Lieutenant, "All I did was follow protocol. For both the plane and for you…if by you that means us."
Spare me the excuses, Lieutenant!" spat Claudine, "I trusted you with my prototypes and so much more than that. And this is how you repay me?"
"What were you expected, Miss Renko? That he die for your precious prototype?" retorted Dr. Ann, "I warned you about the energy core. My whole team warned you. I've been telling you from day one that we needed to know more about this technology before we used it. This is what happens you work with science that's beyond our understanding."
"Don't you dare play the ignorance card, Doctor! You and your army of overpaid eggheads are supposed work around that! I should reprimand the both of you for insubordination!"
"You don't have that authority anywhere outside your own little world, Miss Renko. From what I've just seen, you've abused that authority to an egregious extreme," said the Colonel in a stern tone as he caught up with Claudine.
The enraged woman fell silent. She continued to fume as the Colonel walked out in front of her, as if to defend Lieutenant Summers and Dr. Ann. He was clearly upset about the failed experiment as well, but placed the blame on a very different source.
"We've given you plenty to work with, Ms. Renko. More than you deserve," the Colonel went on, "We let you head up this project because you were ambitious, bold, and focused. You've since exchanged all that for outright arrogance. When you expect your people work around something as daunting as alien physics, then it's no longer their fault. It's yours!"
"But Colonel, we've been able to do so much with this technology!" said Claudine in a near desperate tone, "We're so close to..."
"I don't want to hear it anymore, Ms. Renko! There's enough arrogance in the military as it stands," said the Colonel, holding his hand up to silence her, "As far as I'm concerned, this test of yours succeeded in only one way. It proved Dr. Ann right. We're not ready for this technology. We need to understand what we're dealing with before we turn it into a weapon of any kind."
"Fine! We'll work on understanding our next prototype before we fly it," said Claudine in exasperation.
"I'm sorry, but perhaps I'm being too subtle," said the Colonel in a more serious tone, "There's not going to be another prototype. It's not enough that you make unreasonable demands on the people you work with. You're far to willing to sacrifice good soldiers like Lieutenant Summers to get what you want. That may work in the Soviet Union, but it won't work here!"
Now Claudine was picking up on the subtext of his tone. Her outrage turned to shock. All the while, Lieutenant Summers and Dr. Ann watched on with only marginal remorse.
"Is that how it's going to be, Colonel? You're going to fire me over this one test?" she said bitterly.
"Because of your clearance and your status with SWORD, firing may be too harsh. Regardless, you can expect serious consequences for your actions, Claudine," said the Colonel.
"But what about my research? You can't just stop something this important!" she exclaimed.
"Oh our research on alien technology will continue. You just won't have a role in it. We trusted you and you abused that trust. You have no one to blame but yourself. And unless you want to make it worse, you'll shut up and accept responsibility."
Claudine's lips quivered with a mix of anger and bitterness. The Colonel's message was clear. She did not have the authority to continue on her own accord. This project that she had so much in was no longer hers to command. In an instant, her world came crashing down as spectacularly as their latest prototype.
It didn't help that Dr. Ann was still holding hands with Lieutenant Summers. Not only was she losing her project. She was losing a partner and in more ways than one, it semed.
With resentment burning in her eyes, she turned around stormed back towards the helicopter. She still felt their eyes on her. They reeked of mistrust and pity. She could care less about how they felt. Her life was officially in ruin and was bound to get more complicated. As she stood just outside the helicopter, she looked down and placed a hand over her abdomen.
'I thought you were better than this, Christopher. Apparently, I was wrong. I won't let your failure corrupt my child.'
Inside Alien Ship – Present Time
The universe was an infinitely chaotic place. Yet in its vastness, there was an inescapable danger that all life had to confront. No matter how advanced a civilization may be or how adaptive a lifeform may become, they were at the mercy of the resources available to them.
The most common approach was for individuals to cooperate and work together to utilize those resources. A second approach was to use war and forcibly take the resources that others had utilized. Both were horribly inefficient. That's why the Brood preferred the third method.
Having successfully produced drones, the Brood Queen made her way through the crashed Shi'ar vessel and arrived at the main control room. The systems had been vacant for quite some time, but they were still functional. That meant she could override whatever emergency protocols her captor had implemented. With it, the Brood would be able to succeed where the Shi'ar failed. They would conquer this pitiful planet.
"This planet is as inane as the Great Mother suspected. It was hardly worth learning their languages," scoffed the Brood Queen as she accessed the ship's security interface, "The Shi'ar picked a pathetic location with which to bury their darkest secrets. I look forward to seeing their horror when those secrets become the Brood's greatest weapon!"
The damage to the craft was extensive. The main computer in the cockpit was mostly unusable. The flight controls were shot and the anti-gravity drive was damaged beyond repair.
That didn't matter though. The Brood Queen wasn't expecting to fly out in this hunk of junk. She just needed to retrieve what was rightfully hers. To do this she used the main security console to bring up an image of the ship. That image was largely jumbled, but the Brood Queen was still able to access what she needed. Using the knowledge it usurped from the pilot of the doomed craft, she accessed the other sealed compartment on the ship.
"Ah! There it is," she said triumphantly, "Now it's only a matter of..."
But just as she was about to open the compartment, a new image came up on the holographic screen. This one was also distorted, but the Brood Queen quickly recognized it. The image was that of a tall Shi'ar dressed in a mysterious cloak. It was the same Shi'ar that captured her. The angry creature seethed at such a sight. Even in death, this fool mocked her.
"Greetings. If you're watching this, then something has gone horribly wrong and I am dead. By decree, my fellow Madri insisted that I record this message, both in the human language of English and several other dialects. This message must be heard by all, especially the insidious monsters we decided to ally ourselves with."
"You are no ally! You never were!" roared the Brood Queen.
She lashed out at the image, which only served to distort it further. The message it conveyed continued none-the-less.
"The Madri have been outlaws for generations. Our own people despise us. Every other race pitys us. We are beyond caring. We've all taken a vow to atone for the sins of the Shi'ar's bloody past. What we did on Earth so long ago incurred many deep wounds. Yet the Madri feel those wounds aren't deep enough. The menace from Earth that we unleashed will one day return and finish what it started. Yet we show no remorse for what we've done. From the perspective of Chandilar, everything is justified if it builds the strength of the Shi'ar Empire. We, however, believe that the only way to save our people is to repent."
The hologram shifted for a moment. There was also some noise in the background. It looked as though this message was recorded under duress. It must have been when the ship became damaged. This faithful Shi'ar didn't seem to care that he was about to die.
"The Shi'ar haven't suffered enough. It is only through blood sacrifice that we may appease the menace that Earth is destined to unleash. That is why the Madri have risked our lives to abduct a queen of the hated Brood. Thanks to a special spore that our Madri scientists have engineered, we will have control over their unstoppable bloodlust. This queen and her offspring will spread all over the Shi'ar Empire, bringing death and suffering to billions. It is a high price to pay, but one that must be paid. My time is short. The spore is in my possession. The Imperial Guard tried to chase me. They damaged my ship, but I know they'll never follow me to Earth. It is only there where I can carry out this unholy mission. Should I fail, I've taken precautions to ensure these pestilent beasts don't deepen our wounds."
The Brood Queen had heard enough. She lashed out at the holographic image again while trying to overwrite the protocol. This message wasn't just a confession. This pest was mocking the whole colony.
"Pitiful dung of a Broodling! You stole that spore from the Great Mother!" she shouted at the image, "You dare use our most sacred relics for your laughable endeavor? You will return it and the Shi'ar will suffer for their sacrilege!"
"I think that's exactly what he wants," came a new voice.
The Brood Queen turned around to see Charles Xavier standing at the entrance to the cockpit. He was out of breath and completely alone. The Brood Queen glared at the frail man with predatory intent. Even though much of her rage was focused on the Shi'ar, she had plenty to spare for measly beings such as this.
"You...your kind is more foolish than I thought," scoffed the Brood Queen.
"I would agree that we're immature, but we're not so foolish that we're incapable of understanding," said Professor Xavier, "I heard the whole thing. It confirms what I sensed. You were a victim in this affair from the beginning."
"The Brood are never victims! We are the scavengers of the ashes that pitiful races like yours leave behind! We absorb and collect others so that they may join our glorious colony!"
"We here on Earth have a more accurate description of such beings. We call them parasites. Creatures that draw strength by draining others, often painfully. I sense your kind celebrates that role. You have no remorse for the suffering you cause."
"Remorse is a poor human construction! It will lead to your undoing! Just as it did that pitiful Madri!" roared the Brood Queen.
"And your own bloodlust will be your undoing as well," Xavier retorted, "That Madri you speak of was going to use you. Everything that you as a species value would have been turned into a simple tool. That's the flaw of all parasites. Their own nature makes them easy to manipulate."
This human was spitting in the face of every Brood in the universe. The Brood Queen should have kept working on the console to open the compartment so she could find her ticket out of this pit. However, she could spare a moment to rip this human to shreds.
"YOUR VOICE SICKENS ME, HUMAN! I WILL TURN YOU INTO SNACKS FOR MY BROODLINGS!"
The Brood Queen flexed her wings and stinger in preparation for her attack. She let out a horrifying screech that filled the cockpit as she lunged towards Charles Xavier. For reasons she didn't care to contemplate, he didn't even move. He just kept standing in the middle of the door, staring her down with his focused glare.
When she reached him and slashed at his head with her clawed hands, she was only further enraged to discover that she had just attacked an illusion. This human, like the Madri before him, had tricked her.
'I believe this proves my point. You may be a menacing creature that has terrorized the cosmos, but your mind is still basic and basic minds are the easiest to deceive.'
Professor Xavier's telepathic voice only further enraged the Brood Queen. As she turned around, she saw a whole hoard of Charles Xavier's filling the cockpit. It left disoriented and confused. Yet she could still sense that the man was presence. That meant there was still something to slaughter.
"ERRRR! ILLUSION OR NO ILLUSION! I WILL FEAST ON YOUR FLESH!"
"Bon appetit," all the Xavier's replied in unison with a taunting leer.
The Brood Queen let out a terrifying screech as it tore into the army of illusions. Using her stinger and claws, she slashed and stung all that were in her way. The illusions disappeared upon impact, seeming to disintegrate upon impact. They didn't make it easy for her either. They scattered and surrounded her, creating more in the process. This further disoriented her, allowing the real Charles Xavier to slip past her and get to work.
'That should keep her busy. At least she was nice enough to get the computer working. Maybe now I can find out about this spore the Madri spoke of. Perhaps they can finally shed light on what they find so threatening about Earth.'
Xavier worked feverishly on the computer, ignoring the menacing roars of the Brood Queen. The image of the Madri had grown more jumbled. There was definitely more message, but the systems were too damaged. He couldn't get the rest to play.
It didn't help that the Brood Queen was damaging other components of the ship while fighting off his illusions. The holograms and the electronics flickered violently as a result. He didn't have much time to uncover these secrets and there was no guarantee that doing so would help him stop this creature.
After a few tense minutes, the Brood Queen was running out of illusions to eviscerate. Her insect-like senses were able to narrow down the source of this deception. Xavier could feel her presence looming drawing closer. With sweat pouring down his head, he tried accessing another part of the Shi'ar computer.
This brought up a new database that contained more information on the Brood and what the Madri were hoping to do with them. As he poured over this data, he made a stunning revelation.
"Good heavens…Hank, what I wouldn't give to see your reaction to this," said Professor Xavier in a daze.
"I can sense you, human!" seethed the Brood Queen as she fought off the last of the illusions, "I will enjoy dining on your bones!"
Upon tracing the source of the telepathic deception, the imposing creature pounced on its waiting prey. Despite his daze, Professor Xavier sensed it coming and quickly jumped to the side. He narrowly avoided her stinger, but the computer system that was so vital did not. The stinger drove right into the hologram of the Madri, triggering sparks and flares that briefly filled the cockpit.
"No! The data!" exclaimed Professor Xavier.
"Data should be the least of your worries!" taunted the Brood Queen as the sparks flew, "Now you will the the first of your kind to..."
The Brood Queen was unexpectedly silenced when another burst of sparks triggered something else. The compartment that the creature had been so intent on accessing finally opened. It was located at the front of the cockpit just to the right of where the pilot sat.
It was small, no larger than a typical utility closet. As soon as it opened, it revealed a ghastly sight. The same alien Madri that had broadcast the message came tumbling out. He was long dead, his body mostly decomposed. But that wasn't what caught the Brood Queen's attention. What drew her in was the small container he was holding.
"Ha! It appears you may have done me a favor, human!" laughed the Brood Queen, "Perhaps I'll only lightly grind your bones into a paste before eating them!"
"I have a feeling you'll be disappointed in more ways than one," said Xavier cryptically.
"You would be wise to heed what mercy I offer!" said the creature as she slithered over to the body, "The spore this pesky Shi'ar took is my ticket off this feeble planet and the key to your planet's destruction!"
Despite this threat, Professor Xavier didn't attempt to stop the Brood Queen. He just returned to his feet and watched with a slight grin as the creature grabbed the container and tossed the decayed body aside. She was practically foaming at the mouth as she held it. Then when she opened it, she was greeted by a horrific sight.
"EMPTY?" the creature cried.
"You heard what the Madri said. He took precautions," Xavier reminded, "Whatever he did with that spore, he made sure it wasn't on this ship if and when you were released."
"THAT INSOLENT PEST! THAT SPORE CONTAINED KNOWLEDGE GATHERED FROM ALL THROUGHOUT OUR COLONY! HOW COULD HE POSSIBLY HIDE IT FROM OUR GAZE?"
"Maybe he didn't," said the Professor, "Maybe he also underestimated humanity's ability to utilize alien technology."
Olympia, Washington – 27 Years Ago
"Claudine! Claudine, let us in! We need to talk!" said the urgent voice of Christopher Summers.
"Please, Miss Renko," said an equally urgent Dr. Ann, "You can't afford to shut us out anymore. All of SWORD is coming after you. They say you have something that belongs to them. If you don't give it back, they'll hunt you down!"
"We can help you, but only if you let us!" added Christopher.
They had been banging on the door of Claudine Renko's office for the past twenty minutes. Yet still, they received no response. It put Dr. Katherine Ann and the recently promoted Major Christopher Summers in an awkward position.
A year ago, Claudine lost her position with SWORD. Since then, her career had become mired in failure. While Major Summers and Dr. Ann moved forward with more traditional careers in the Air Force, Claudine became more reclusive. Officially, she took on an administrative role with SWORD. That was just a fancy way of them not wanting to let her go so she could sell her secrets to their enemies. After a while, this became too much for her.
About an hour ago, Major Summers discovered that Claudine had been illegally accessing SWORD databases. That alone was grounds for treason. The NSA had already notified the Pentagon. Claudine was a target now and he took it upon himself to get to her first. Despite her many faults, she helped make him who he was. Even though he was involved with Dr. Ann now, he still cared about Claudine. He cared enough to start kicking on her door when she refused to respond.
"Damn it, Claudine! I'm sorry, okay? Is that what you want me to say?" Major Summers exclaimed, "I'm sorry I wasn't good enough to save that prototype. I'm sorry you took the blame. I'm sorry you lost your project."
"Chris..." said Dr. Ann, trying to settle him down.
"Just talk to me!" he said in a more desperate tone, "Why are you doing this? Why are you throwing everything away?"
In a last burst of frustration, he kicked the door again. This time it was enough to break the lock. With a mix of surprise and anxiety, Major Summers opened the door and entered Claudine's office. Dr. Ann followed close behind. As soon as they entered, they encountered a ghastly sight.
"Claudine?" said Major Summers in confusion.
"My God…" gasped Dr. Ann.
She was sitting motionless in the chair behind her desk. She was sitting slumped over, her skin pail and her mouth hanging open. What stood out most was her eyes. They didn't look human anymore. They were yellow and insect-like. They were also completely devoid of life. It looked like she had been in the same position for days.
"Is she dead?" asked Major Summers warily.
"I…honestly don't know," said Dr. Ann as she waved her hands in front of Claudine's face, "But I think she left us a clue of sorts."
Dr. Ann and Major Summers turned to her desk where there was a basketball sized blackish object right in front of her. The object had yellow circuit-like marks. It was the same shade of yellow as Claudine's eyes, indicating a clear connection. They looked at Claudine for a moment and then back towards the object.
"What the hell is it?" wondered Major Summers.
"It looks like a seed," said Dr. Ann as she analyzed it closely.
"Well whatever it is, I think Claudine used it wrong. I've never seen anything like it."
"I have. At least to some degree. This actually answers a few burning questions I've always had about Miss Renko."
Major Summers remained cautious while Dr. Ann picked up the object. It glowed a bit brighter as she held it, giving the seed-like object a distinct alien glow. Dr. Ann saw in it a great many possibilities. She also saw a very apparent danger.
"She had a better feel for alien technology than most," she mused, "It's what helped her found SWORD. It's what helped her build our prototypes. I always wondered where she gained this insight. There were rumors that her father was involved in an operation to retrieve a crashed alien space ship. There were far more credible rumors that the government didn't secure everything from that crash."
"How would you know about this?" asked Major Summers curiously.
"When I was in college, I interned at Chandilar Enterprise. The Neramani family deals with exotic technology that might as well be alien. I was among the select few who got to work with it. That's probably why Claudine recruited me."
"So it wasn't because you look good in a lab coat."
"But I doubt she understood this technology," Dr. Ann surmised, "This must be what she's been keeping from the Pentagon. She must think this is her best leverage."
"That still doesn't explain why she ended up lobotomized," said Major Summers.
"Somehow I think that process is best left unexplained."
It seemed Claudine's ambition had gotten the better of her once more. She couldn't resist tapping into a power that she didn't understand. As Dr. Ann and Major Summers continued to scrutinize this alien relic, Claudine's lifeless body twitched. It was as if she sensed their presence and was trying to tell her something.
"Hnn...gkk," was all she got out.
"Claudine…she's not dead!" exclaimed Major Summers.
"But she's still in a lot of trouble. It'll only be worse if they find her and this thing with her."
"Oh no. I see where this is going," groaned the Major.
"Come on, Chris! Look at her! She may not be our closest friend, but she's the one that brought us into this secret world."
"That doesn't mean we owe her anything."
"She brought us together. Doesn't that count for something?" she asked in a more serious tone.
Major Summer's disciplined demeanor faltered. When Dr. Ann looked at him with those longing eyes, it rendered his many soldier instincts frozen. At first, she was just a breath of fresh air from Claudine, but she quickly became so much more.
As a result, their connection to Claudine was inescapable. Major Summers had nothing with which to counter that notion. His gaze remained fixated on Claudine while Dr. Ann kept staring at the alien seed.
"There's another logistical aspect to helping her," said Dr. Ann, "Claudine was clearly onto something. It was dangerous enough to put her in a coma. I'd rather not contemplate what it would do to others if they tried to unlock it."
"So what are we going to do? Keep Claudine's secret for her?" questioned Major Summers, "The same secret that's already gotten her in a world of trouble?"
"We have a responsibility here, Chris. We were part of this from the beginning. We need to see it through. This is the kind of thing that could affect future generations. Don't we have a duty to protect those generations?"
Major Summers looked back towards Dr. Ann, who still had those pleading eyes. There was no way around them. His duty prescribed one course of action. His instincts prescribed another. And his father always taught him that when duty and instinct collided, a good soldier always went with his instinct. So with an exasperated sigh, Major Summers made a fateful decision.
"I'll call the Colonel back at the base," he said, "I'll tell him we found Claudine, but it looks like she took one too many prescription pills. He'll probably be so relieved that he won't remember that the nurse that does autopsies owes us several favors."
"Thank you, Chris," said Dr. Ann with a smile, "I'll get in touch with my old friends at Chandilar as well. They should be able to help us unlock this thing in a quiet, controlled manner."
"That doesn't mean it won't blow up in our face," he reminded her.
"I know," she said solemnly, "I would understand completely if you decide it's not worth risking your career."
"And leave you to face it alone? Sorry, Katherine, but I just can't do that. I care too much about you and what we've been through. Like it or not, you're stuck with me."
"I wouldn't have it any other way."
Major Summers and Dr. Ann shared a warm smile. This alien endeavor had bonded them in ways neither of them expected. That bond had proved vital. They needed to trust each other as they carried out this fateful act. Claudine had sent them down a dangerous path. It was up to Major Summers and Dr. Ann to make sure others didn't walk that path.
Having made their decision, Dr. Ann worked quickly to conceal the alien seed in a box next to Claudine's desk. While she worked swiftly, Major Summers stood over Claudine's prone body with many mixed feelings. He repositioned her so that it looked like a real overdose. He then went to close her eyes so that no one would see the mysterious yellow hue that looked so alien. As he did this, he heard a nearly inaudible mumble.
"My life...my dream...my son. All pests now. Every one of them…pests."
"What was that, Chris? Did she say something?" asked Dr. Ann, still focusing on the alien relic.
Major Summers paused for a moment as he looked into the eyes of this woman that was responsible for his current status as a soldier. This woman was so arrogant and brash, yet he had also shared some passionate moments with her. The mention of her having a son left him with an anxious feeling.
Was this just meaningless ramblings? Or was there an element of truth to it? With a heavy heart, he closed Claudine Renko's eyes and decided to leave these questions unanswered.
"No. She didn't say anything," said Major Summers stoically, "Come on. We had better hurry. That seed thing your holding is bound to attract all kinds of trouble."
Alien Ship – Present Time
The heart of every Brood and their broodlings was connected in ways that spanned the universe. Everything they did was done in the name of the colony and the Great Mother. Every success was shared and so was every failure.
However, the Great Mother often singled out those that were responsible for such failure. She would make sure that any creature that played a role in such failure, be they a queen or a drone, would bear the shame for the entire colony. Such shame was overwhelming, even for the most hardened of Brood. Having lost the spore and allowing herself to be used by the Shi'ar, the Brood Queen's once menacing demeanor became as frail as any prey.
"Great Mother…I've failed you!" the queen cried as she clung to the empty box, "Please, grant me your mercy! Do not shame me before the colony!"
She spoke as though the Empress was in the same room. Professor Xavier listened with morbid fascination. This terrifying creature that was so ruthless to every other race was deeply emotional. Her will to propagate the Brood colony was shattered. The very notion that she failed her Empress caused her physical pain.
"It would seem we both failed," said Professor Xavier, now no longer using his telepathy to cast illusions, "What we both sought was never on this ship to begin with. The Madri saw to that."
"Silence, pest!" spat the Brood Queen, "I may not be able to colonize your world, but I can still ensure that you share my shame!"
"That seems to be a theme for the Brood," Xavier commented, sounding completely unthreatened by her remarks, "You share a hive mind. You draw on each others' strength and share in the failure. It's more than just a connection. It's a vital function for your species."
"ENOUGH!" bellowed the Brood Queen, "YOU ARE AN UNRULY PEST! YOU WILL NOT ESCAPE YOUR FATE WITH COWARDLY WORDS!"
"I wasn't try to talk my way out of your wrath. I was just giving you a fair warning. In addition to being vulnerable to deception, a hive mind like yours has another vulnerability. One that will end this before you can spread this shame of yours."
The Brood Queen let out a menacing hiss as it prepared to attack Professor Xavier. His words were clearly lost on her. As a result, Xavier offered her no further warnings. Using his telepathy once more, he sent a message to General Grimshaw.
'General, is the lab still secure?'
'It's about time you got in touch, Xavier. The lab is turning into a blood bath. We're running out of MPs and these insect/zombie things are giving Captain Freeman all he can handle!'
'Well then it's time we end it. Tell me, can you and Agent Brand still access the main systems from the observation deck?'
'Yes, although they're being run by people who are badly in need of clean underwear.'
'Then tell them to turn the psychic dampeners back on. That should save any remaining undergarments.'
General Grimshaw didn't ask for an explanation. Xavier sensed they were desperate enough to trust his word. So with only a touch of anxiety, he trusted them as well. He had nowhere to run and he was in no condition to escape this creature's wrath. He managed to hide those fears as he stared down the imposing Brood Queen. She threw away the empty container and flexed her wings in a threatening gesture.
"THE SHI'AR WERE RIGHT! THIS WORLD IS CURSED!" roared the Brood Queen, "THIS WORLD BRINGS NOTHING BUT DEATH AND SORROW TO THOSE WHO DARE SEEK IT! FOR THE GOOD OF THE UNIVERSE, YOU AND YOUR KIND MUST DIE!"
Armed with her talon-like claws and stinger, the Brood Queen charged towards the lone human with murderous rage. There was no illusion to fight off this time. She was utterly focused on ripping this human to shreds. But before she could reach him, she was struck by an attack of a very different kind.
It was preluded with an ominous hum that echoed from throughout the lab. This hum signaled that the psychic dampeners had been activated. All psychic activity was once again cut off. This included the Brood Queen's connection to her drones and the Great Mother. She had been in a cocoon state before when the Madri had trapped her. Now in her conscious form, the resulting pain had a devastating effect.
"NOOOOOO! GREAT MOTHER! MY SISTERS! I...I CANNOT FEEL YOU ANYMORE!" the Brood Queen cried out as she fell to the floor.
"For what it's worth, I'm sorry it has to be like this," said Professor Xavier, showing uncanny sympathy for this creature.
"SPARE ME...YOUR PITY!"
"You may not be able to see it, but an entire species that shares a psychic collective has the potential to do so much good. Perhaps one day it can. Until then, we lowly pests will continue to guard this cursed world of ours."
The Brood Queen let out another round of high-pitched hisses. Her entire body started to whither. Her exoskeleton turned gray and started to flake away like dried leaves. Her tail fell off and her insect-like legs crumbled.
As she whithered, a mysterious yellow substance started seeping from her eyes. They looked like tears. This menacing creature was consumed with sorrow as it drew its last breath, crumbling into a dust-like shell within less than five minutes. As horrifying as the Brood Queen was, her sadness in the midst of such failure was all too human.
'There goes any chance we had at uncovering more secrets. Perhaps even Agent Brand will agree now that some secrets are best left undiscovered.'
Secret Military Installation – Later
"You always have to leave your mark. Don't you, Xavier?" commented a bemused General Grimshaw.
"It's not intentional, I assure you," said an equally bemused Professor Xavier.
"I believe you. I also believe you have an uncanny knack for dealing with extreme situations. This may not have been the best way to test our new partnership, but I would say the results speak for themselves."
Professor Xavier smiled as he stood with General Grimshaw in the main lab area where much of the chaos had unfolded. That chaos had since settled for the most part. As soon as the psychic shielding had been reactivated, the Brood attack ceased. The Brood queen was now just a lifeless shell, all of which had been hauled away in special biohazard containers. The MPs that had been turned into drones were somewhat more fortunate.
Once the queen died, they let out similar pained hisses and fell unconscious. While they were out, the eggs inside them decayed and their transformation was reversed. It took a few hours, but they looked human again. Some endured some fairly serious wounds. Those that regained consciousness showed signs of some fairly significant mental wounds. Yet it looked like they would make a full physical recover.
The same could not be said for the MPs that hadn't been transformed. In addition to the stretchers that carried some to the infirmary, there were body bags taking some to the morgue. It was a grim reminder that uncovering secrets came at a price.
These secrets opened the door to new mysteries for Professor Xavier and the authorities. As he and General Grimshaw watched various SWORD operatives clean up the area, Agent Brand caught up with them. She had been coordinating with her associates back in Washington. If her mood were any indication, these mysteries did not sit well.
"Well this has been one fun clusterfuck," said Agent Brand in her usual coarse tone, "Seven dead MPs. And of the twenty-five that turned into walking horror movies, no fewer than fifteen of them will have permanent scars for the rest of their lives."
"It could've been worse, Agent Brand. Much worse," argued Professor Xavier.
"You may be right about that, Xavier. But this alien shit storm is going to make SWORD's job that much harder. You have any idea how stupid we're going to sound when we tell the higher ups that there was a killer alien bug a rotting alien corpse in this ship for over 50 years?"
"Like the Professor so wisely stated, it could've been worse," argued General Grimshaw.
"I hope you're not taking sides, General. We're supposed to be on the same team here," said Agent Brand with a hint of frustration.
"Speak for yourself," came another voice, "I think you're the one that needs a reminder here, Agent Brand."
Agent Brand turned around to see Captain Jack Freeman approaching. He was among the MPs being treated for wounds incurred during the battle against the Brood drones. He sustained plenty of punishment, so much so that most of his uniform had been ripped to shreds. His adaptive body protected him. It also allowed him to see what Agent Brand apparently missed.
"Hold it, Captain!" said the female nurse that had been treating him, "I still need to check your…"
"I'm fine, nurse. It's your boss here that seems to be ill," said Captain Freeman as he casually brushed aside the nurse's treatment.
"You had best be mindful of your rank, Captain," said Agent Brand sternly.
"I could say the same about your responsibilities, Agent," quipped the Green Beret in a tone that few dared to use in Brand's presence, "Unlike you, I wasn't huddled in the observation deck when this shit unfolded. I was down here with Professor Xavier and the MPs. I saw how they acted in the face of the worst alien threat outside Roland Emmerich movies."
"Yes, I'm aware of and appreciate your sacrifice," said Agent Brand, rolling her eyes, "That's not why I'm pissed."
"Well whatever your reason, I can safely assume it's a bad one," said the Green Beret, "You're worried about how SWORD is going to look to your buddies back in DC? Well maybe this will help your report. We asked for Charles Xavier's help in unlocking this alien gizmo and he delivered. When it blew up in our face, we trusted him to fix it. I threw myself at those ugly ass drones so he could do what he needed to do. As far as I'm concerned, that's a good sign for the Mutant Monitoring Initiative. It shows we can trust this man."
Agent Brand fell silent. Professor Xavier and General Grimshaw were silent as well. Xavier was somewhat surprised to hear Captain Freeman defend him like this. Mere hours ago, he was among his vocal critics. Now he was an ardent supporter. Being a soldier, coming through in the heat of conflict went a long way in terms of building trust. Xavier seemed to prove himself by showing through strength and valor that the Green Beret's trust was not misplaced.
It left Agent Brand in an awkward position. On paper, Charles Xavier did everything they asked of him. He helped them unlock the secrets of this alien ship and then dealt with the repercussions. He had no control over the chaos that the creature inside unleashed. She had no one to blame except for SWORD's insatiable demand for the truth.
"You're putting me in an awkward position here," said Agent Brand, "The higher ups are going to be more paranoid than ever. If there are more of these creatures out there, then that's another threat on a list that's already bloated."
"We'll deal with them as they come, Agent Brand. That's all we can do," said General Grimshaw.
"And if you also share the Captain's view, I'll be here to help," added Professor Xavier.
"I appreciate that, Xavier. But I think there's only so much of your help that SWORD can handle at the moment."
Agent Brand didn't offer an apology or any further praise to the Professor. She just nodded, as if to acknowledge his contribution. Then she turned away and continued working with her team.
They had a lot of work to do now that new parts of the alien ship had been unlocked. Xavier and the General had their own challenges as well and it was probably best that they not get in each others' way.
"You had best cherish this moment, Professor. That's the closet semblance of a thank you you'll ever get from Abigail Brand," said General Grimshaw.
"I'll be sure to commit it to memory," said the Professor with a slight sigh.
"Take comfort in the knowledge that you won't be working with her unless aliens start buzzing over the White House," said Captain Freeman, "You'll be stuck with guys like me instead."
"I'm okay with that, Captain," said Xavier with a light smile.
"So am I."
It was official now. Charles Xavier had earned the trust and respect of Captain Freeman, General Grimshaw, and anyone else that doubted his commitment to the Mutant Monitoring Initiative. That kind of trust went a long way in ambitious endeavors. They were going to need it if they were to make this partnership work. Despite having to defeat an alien parasitic bug, the initiative was off to a promising start.
As the three men pondered the future of this bold new endeavor, the final round of bio-hazard workers emerged from the alien ship. They were carrying a special enclosed containment unit that resembled a coffin of sorts. Inside was the mostly decayed body of the Madri that Xavier had uncovered.
There was a great deal of fascination around this being, much more so than the menacing Brood. This lone alien apparently knew why the Shi'ar were so afraid of Earth. Since the alien was dead and his message was destroyed, such knowledge would remain unknown.
"I'm more than content to focus on more Earthly matters from here on out, but I have a feeling we're far from done with alien affairs," said General Grimshaw.
"You're usually right, sir. So I'm not going to hope that fate will cut us some slack," sighed Captain Freeman.
"You said that alien took precautions, Xavier. What kind of precautions do you think we're dealing with here?" asked General Grimshaw.
"I wish I knew, General. On the other hand, we might sleep easier at night not knowing," Xavier replied.
"Could it have something to do with what was supposed to be in that empty container?" he speculated as some researchers confiscated the container, "That crazy bug seemed to think it was very important."
"I don't doubt that it was. However, I don't think we know the full story. There are still circumstances surrounding this crash that I wasn't able to uncover. This Madri as he called himself seemed to ardently believe that something from Earth was going to destroy his world…something powerful that we may have to confront at some point."
"Too bad our guest had to die before he could get into specifics," said Captain Freeman.
"There will likely be other chances. For all we know, the contents of that container are still out there."
"For all we know, somebody found it and would rather not share the horrors," added General Grimshaw.
"Whatever the case, we have all the more incentive to make the Mutant Monitoring Initiative work," said Professor Xavier with renewed confidence, "While we may not be ready to confront whatever horrors may be beyond our world, we can be certain that we only stand a chance at overcoming them if we work together."
Anchorage, Alaska – 16 Years Ago
Every parent had responsibilities for their children. Chief among them was protecting them from an unforgiving world. That responsibility was difficult enough. When other worlds got involved, even the most loving parent could be easily overwhelmed.
"My God…this is it. This is what we're up against," said a dazed Katherine Ann Summers.
"No wonder Claudine was so driven," said an equally astonished Christopher Summers, "This is big! This is big in a way that goes way beyond aliens!"
"And for all we know, we just put ourselves in the crossfire."
Her voice was laced with dread and fear. Not just for the implications of this discovery, but the danger it posed for them and their family. Christopher and Katherine Summers had built a stable if not comfortable life together.
After escaping the shadow of Claudine Renko, they established themselves as respected and less secretive officers in the United States Military. Christopher became a highly regarded pilot in the Air Force. Katherine became involved in more traditional aerospace research. In the midst of it all, they got married and had two beautiful sons. They were a family, but they couldn't escape the secrets of their past and now it was catching up to them in a major way.
Despite the danger, Katerine continued to study the alien seed in a secret lab she built in the basement of her home. Thanks to her contacts at Chandilar, she slowly uncovered the nature of this artifact.
Her first discovery was that this thing wasn't a seed. It was more of a spore. It acted as a sort of bio-computer core, storing and protecting information that had been collected by whatever alien race had created it. Around this spore was a strange blackish-gold shell that seemed to interface with the spore. With hardware from Chandilar, Katherine was able to use that interface as a computer drive to extract the information.
There was a lot to sift through. Most of it simply described these alien beings, the Shi'ar and the Brood. A good deal of it wasn't in English either, but these aliens seem to know about Earth so some of was translated. It wasn't until recently that she discovered something astonishing…something that made keeping this relic a secret no longer an option.
"You were right, Chris. I was a fool. I never should have taken this thing in the first place," said Katherine as her emotions took hold.
"Better you than anyone else," said Major Summers as he embraced his hysterical wife.
"Look at it, Chris! It knows what we just saw! It's probably sending out a signal of sorts! Someone or something is going to come for it eventually!"
"Then we need to be ready," said Major Summers, maintaining the disciplined demeanor of a soldier.
"I'm not as worried about us as I am our boys. We can't let them get caught up in this!"
"They won't. I promise," he said strongly.
Christopher and Katherine Summers were staring at a ticking time bomb. Katherine had been using a new kind of computer interface from Chandilar to unlock information in the spore that had been heavily guarded. As soon as she did so, the spore reacted.
The yellow streaks on its skin started pulsating dark red. Along with this display came a string of holographic images. These images depicted destruction so horrific that the thought of it affecting their children was too much to bear.
"Cover the spore and hide your tools," said Major Summers as he quickly surmised a plan, "I'm going to make a call to the base. I set us up with some people we can trust and we'll fly out in my plane tomorrow."
"But who can we trust?" asked Katherine.
"I have a friend of a friend in Washington. An up and coming officer named Nathan Grimshaw," he told her, "He would have been good friends with my father. If anyone can help us and protect us, it's him."
"What about Scott and Alex?"
"They'll come with us. They won't leave our sight. We got into this as a family. We'll get through this as a family."
He sounded so confident. It was part of what made him such a great soldier. Katherine could tell his mind was already analyzing the possibilities. She remained fixated by the sight of the pulsating spore and the danger it could bring. All those horrific images it displayed were still fresh in her mind. Even after Christopher covered it with a blanket, she stood frozen in place. Then a soft voice from upstairs broke her from her frail state.
"Mommy? Daddy?" said the tired voice of young Scott Summers, "What's going on? I heard someone shouting."
Katherine turned around to see her son walking down the stairs to the basement. Scott was a curious child who didn't shy away from danger. He knew he wasn't supposed to be down here. Yet in their hysterical state, they forgot to lock the door.
However, it didn't upset her. If anything, it encouraged her. When she saw the eyes of her boy, her fear gave way to strength.
"Everything's okay, Scott. Your mother and I were just making plans," said Christopher in a calmer tone.
"Plans? What plans?" asked the boy curiously.
"We're going on a little trip. We're going to meet up with some friends of daddy's," said Katherine, forcing a smile so that her son wouldn't worry, "It was going to be a surprise, but I guess the surprise is ruined."
"Oh…I'm sorry, mommy," said Scott sadly.
"Don't be sorry, sweetie. It's okay," she said as she knelt down to hug him, "Now go tell Alex the news. Start packing and get a good night sleep. We'll be leaving in the morning. Can you do that?"
The young boy smiled, which helped invigorate both Katherine and Christopher.
"Yes, Mommy. I can do it," said Scott with the confidence of a soldier.
"That's my little soldier. Now run along," said Christopher as he urged his son back up the stairs, "Your mother and I have work to do. We'll explain everything tomorrow. I promise."
Like a good son, Scott trusted his parents and ran off. It allowed Katherine and Christopher to let out a sigh of relief. It also subjected them to a wave of guilt.
Scott and Alex were so young. They brought them into this world with the full knowledge that they would have to lie to them. It wore heavy on their hearts. It also gave them more incentive to protect them in any way they could.
"We should get moving," said Katherine, trying to hide her tears as she went back to concealing the spore.
"I'm worried for them too," said Christopher, offering a comforting gesture to his wife.
"It's not just worry," she said as she stuffed the spore into a special metal box, "We've been keeping secrets from them all their lives. How can we possibly keep the promises we make when we end up lying to them like this?"
"We can start by keeping the promises we just made them. We can't undo the past, but we can do our part in the future. We owe it to them and ourselves to see this through."
Alaska – Present Time
Scott Summers hadn't said much since his father began talking. His expression didn't change much as he told him about Claudine, his mother's work, and that fateful night before the plane crash.
It was a lot to take in. His father was basically telling him that he had been born into a world of secrets. Those secrets led to that fateful night when a plane crash destroyed the world they knew. Now it seemed as though that world had been doomed from the beginning.
At this point, Corsair had to stop. His voice had become strained in wake of these difficult memories. Through his tough demeanor, the broken man that had lost everything overshadowed the hardened space pirate. A heavy silence lingered between the two men. Within that silence, the full weight of these secrets sank in.
"You never kept that promise, did you? You never had the chance," said Scott, finally breaking the silence.
"Do you hate me for it?" said Corsair over the communication line, "Your mother and I kept that spore. We alerted D'ken when we activated it. That's what led them to attack our plane. That's what tore us apart."
"Would me hating you make you feel better?" quipped Scott.
"It would certainly inject a little justice to this fucked up universe."
"Well then I guess the universe will have to do without. You were doing your duty. You were doing what you thought was right. I'm in no position to argue against that…in more ways than one."
"It's still not an excuse. I couldn't save you and Alex. I couldn't save your mother. I took on this mission. I thought I could handle it. I was wrong. I also thought every part of my life on Earth had been destroyed. I was wrong about that too…in more ways than one."
Another round of awkwardness came over them. Scott could see the shame in his father's eyes even through his computer screen. In addition to revealing the circumstances surrounding the plane crash, he also revealed the truth about Gabriel Summers. It was a secret he didn't even know he had been keeping.
"So you didn't know about me and Alex anymore than you knew about Gabriel?" asked Scott.
"It was always in the back of my mind. Claudine Renko and I were…close a number of times before your mother and I got serious. She's the kind of woman who was adept at keeping secrets. So it's not too surprising that she kept another son from me."
"Is there any chance she's still out there? Is she even alive?"
"That's where Raza's fact checking hit a dead end. He was able to find out that Claudine gave birth to a son named Gabriel and that son is most likely mine. He failed to uncover anything about what might have happened to her."
"I'll bet Gabriel knows," said Scott, "He has a lot of hate for us and for you. I've always assumed that it was because of Sinister's influence. Now I think he may have other reasons."
"They're probably valid on some levels," said Corsair with a deep sigh, "I'm sure our paths will cross at some point. I don't intend to avoid it."
"Me neither. And I can convince Alex if I need to. When I told him you were alive, that changed things. Hopefully, for the better."
"That remains to be seen. I've taken on a lot of baggage in my years with the Starjammers. You and Alex are full-grown men. Gabriel is something even worse. I'm really not in a position to make a difference in your lives. You're already poised for great things, especially now. And now that you know the truth, nothing will hold you back."
Corsair's tone shifted from one of sorrow to one of pride. Through a computer screen and light years of space, he looked upon his son with a kind of love that every father cherishes. Scott was clearly in a vulnerable position. He had the past and the present pulling him in multiple directions. As a father who hadn't been there for much of his son's life, the least he could do was free him of such burdens.
"Is that why you're telling me all this now?" asked Scott in a more emotional tone.
"You're embarking on a bold, risky endeavor with too many unknowns to contemplate. Take it from an old man that took too many risks for his own good. Be careful. But above all, be stronger than I was. You'll have a better chance at saving the people you love."
"You've given me a lot to think about, dad," said the young man in a conflicted tone, "This was supposed to be a simple warning to let you know that I would be MIA for a while."
"Well it has to be more than that now," said Corsair strongly, "Our family has a habit of keeping secrets for all the right reasons, but making too damn many excuses to avoid them. Now you know about our family. You know about Claudine and Gabriel. You know the mistakes I made and how much I regret them."
"But what am I supposed to do with it?" he asked intently.
"That's not up to me, son. You've grown into a strong, honorable man that is willing to do the right thing…even if it happens to be the hardest. I'm not telling this because I need to get it off my chest. I'm telling you this because I trust you, Scott. I'm confident that when the time comes, you'll know what to do."
Scott Summers and his disciplined demeanor faltered once more. It wasn't enough for Corsair to drop these revelations on him. He had to place upon him the responsibility to see this through and not have it destroy him like it nearly did his father. It seemed so daunting, yet the burden of this knowledge didn't necessarily feel like a burden. Knowing what he knew now, Scott had a firmer grip on the past. That made the future he was about to confront with X-Force a bit less imposing.
Through the computer screen, Scott and Corsair shared a meaningful glance. They said everything that needed to be said. The secrets and the sentiment behind them resonated clearly. For a father and son, it was liberating. For Scott, it was a badly needed bit of encouragement before he embarked on this profound venture.
"Thanks, dad. I'll be sure to make you proud," said Scott with a smile.
"I already am, son," said Corsair, "You have your mission. I have mine. Eventually they'll intersect. When that day comes, we can make up for lost time."
"I look forward to that day," said Scott, "Take care of yourself, dad."
"In our line of work, we can't make any promises. So why don't we just agree to soldier on and leave it at that?"
The two men shared a good laugh before the transmission finally ended. It left Scott with a surreal sense of purpose. He had a profound task before him. The calm before the storm was about to end. The true scope of what he and X-Force set out to do would soon take shape. Now as the words of his father reverberated, he felt he could move forward with a new level of confidence.
Armed with new confidence, Scott shut down his laptop and exited the cabin. Outside, the rest of the team had just finished loading up the crates. All of X-Forces materials and resources were in place. Logan, Warren, Kurt, Emma, James, and Domino were now relying on him to get them through this daunting endeavor.
"There you are, One-Eye! What took so damn long? You encrypt your porno stash or something?" asked Logan.
"I take it from Logan's overly-sober demeanor that we're all set," said Scott half-jokingly.
"I also take it from your ever so slightly-relaxed demeanor that it went well?" replied Kurt in a more friendly tone.
"We said everything we needed to say and then some," affirmed Scott, "I'm ready."
"Good, because we don't need family dramas hounding us any further," said Warren as he checked the last crate, "From here on out, X-Force is officially under the radar and in the crosshairs."
"You almost sound scared," teased Emma.
"We should be scared. It's better than being arrogant, that's for sure," said Scott as he took charge, "This is sure to be a long, arduous mission with more unknowns than we can imagine. The risks are big, but the rewards are bigger. We can't lose sight of what we're trying to accomplish and who we're trying to protect. And under my watch, I promise that we won't."
Having made his promise, X-Force was ready as well. From here on out, they were in this until the bitter end. They had a mission and a leader they could trust. Now that leader was no longer shackled by old burdens of the past. Like so many Summers before him, Scott was a soldier. The time had come for him to carry out his own mission.