Part Eight: CONCLUSION
"The things I suffered at the hands of those…of those…" Opa clenched his fists, his entire body tensing like a spring. Kurti scooted back a little on the overstuffed arm of the chair to avoid his grandfather's lashing tail.
"They told me I had been betrayed, that the Professor had given me up to them in exchange for backing on some policy vote. I do not remember which," Opa said. "They told me my holowatches had been tampered with at the source, by one of their operatives who had learned these devices were being used to shield physical mutants. They said they'd been designed to fail, and that the Professor had known this when he sent me out on my undercover mission."
"You didn't believe them, did you Opa?" Kurti asked.
Opa sighed and squeezed his bright eyes shut. "Kurti, I must admit to you, there was some part of me that did," he said. "And as the weeks of my torment stretched into months with no sign of rescue, that small part grew larger.
"But Opa, I don't get it," Kurti said. "What was Weapon X? Why did they want you?"
Opa looked away, his tail shuddering behind him. When he spoke again, his accented voice was choked and bitter.
"War," he said. "It has a way of condoning practices that, in peacetime, would be found entirely abhorrent. It desensitizes people, Kurti, causing many who would otherwise be honest and moral to become the devil's bedfellows. With so much death and destruction…cruelty becomes easier. You find ways to rationalize it."
"It's a way of making excuses," Opa said. "It starts with excuses of self-preservation: Oh, this man is one of the enemy, if we do not shoot him, this man will shoot us. This man is a mutant, we must defend ourselves; this man's powers could hurt us. Then it becomes a matter of blame: This man is one of the enemy, the enemy bombed this town. This man deserves to die. This man is a mutant, mutants burned my house, this man deserves to die. Very, very quickly, the distinctions between 'the enemy' and 'the man' blur. The man disappears, there is only The Enemy.
"The Enemy is not a person, it is an idea, and an idea has no humanity. It is a uniform, a skin color, a number, a specimen on a slab to be sliced open and gutted like an animal."
Opa closed his eyes again and leaned back in his chair, trembling all over as he strove to regain his composure.
"Weapon X had started out as a secret government-funded operation," he said. "Quite an old one too, from what I gather, dating back to before the Cold War. Possibly to before the Second World War. I do not know where its funding came from at the time of my capture, nor did I ever care to learn its history, but Logan knew everything about them. He had been their prisoner once too."
Kurti nodded, remembering pictures he'd seen of the Wolverine and his sharp metal claws.
Opa said, "The so-called scientists at the Weapon X base wanted to learn if there was a way to adapt the X-Gene for military purposes. A way to make an extract or a serum they could inject into their soldiers to give them mutant strength or speed or agility or what have you. They wanted me because I was not just a mutant, I was the son of a mutant. I had not just a single power or attribute, but many mutant adaptations. Yes," he snarled angrily, "Mr. Sinister was very happy to have me in his collection."
"Mr. Sinister?" Kurti asked.
"That traitor geneticist. Dr. Essex," Opa said, his golden eyes frighteningly dark. "After he trapped me in his laboratory, he gave me a drug to keep me unconscious and took me to some horrible damp base that was hidden beneath a lake. There, it was always dark, always cold. The tortures…the tortures were terrible. They, they doped me, kept me groggy, injected me with strange colored liquids that burned in my veins. There were others there, other mutants, prisoners like me, but I never saw them in all my time there. I only heard their screams.
"I had no way of seeing myself in that place. There were no mirrors. The only water I was allowed came from tubes, much like the tubes used for hamsters. The scientists treated me like an animal. They branded my arm with an identification number so they did not have to use my name, and they never once spoke to me, only to each other. But I knew they were changing me. My coloring became darker, my eyes and even my mouth began to give off a light of their own. It was a side effect of their experiments, their fumbling attempts to learn the source of my teleportation ability, my ability to cling to walls, to see in the dark, and to hide myself in shadows."
"How did you get away from them?" Kurti asked.
"I listened," Opa said. "We prisoners may not have been able to see each other, but that did not mean we could not communicate. Over time, we developed a system of tapping on pipes, on the bars and stones of our cells, on anything that could make a sound that would carry. Using this system, and with the aid of a powerful telepath named Ginniyeh, we were able to keep each others' spirits up in that awful place. Ginniyeh was a very angry young woman. Her power was the ability to tell truth from lies, and to re-grow any part of her body that had been damaged, which made her very valuable to those so-called scientists. But when they took her eyes…." Opa shook his head. "Those, she found she could not repair."
Kurti gasped. "Wait, you mean they blinded her?"
Opa shuddered hard and levered himself off his chair. "I should not be telling you this," he said. "These things are not for children to hear."
"No, Opa, please," Kurti said, jumping up and taking the old man's hand. "You already told me this much. It'll be worse if you don't finish."
Kurti could see it took his grandfather a great deal of effort, but after some hesitation the old man shuffled back to his chair and sank down into it. Kurti sat on the carpet by his feet.
"Perhaps it was because she was blind. Perhaps it was because she never spoke aloud," Opa said quietly. "But one day, after her session with the scientists was done, the guards forgot to lock Ginniyeh's cell. That night, she came to me. She'd seen into the guards' minds, and she knew a way out that would not trigger alarms. It was a small, back passage the guards used when they needed to smoke. She didn't want to use it herself, but she wanted me to get out. She chose me because I could teleport, and because she believed if I could find my friends, the X-Men I still believed I could trust, I would return to free the rest of the prisoners and shed light on what was being done there."
"Did it work?" Kurti asked. "Did you get out?"
Opa pursed his lips, his eyes distant with memory. "I found the passage Ginniyeh had shown me in my mind, and I made my way out into a warm, fresh-smelling world of stars and trees and a breeze I had not felt in more than a year," he said. "But there were perimeter guards and a helicopter that circled the base on a regular schedule. My teleporting had always been a smoky affair, but now I discovered that, after what those monsters had done to me, it swirled and glowed like fire in the night. I was spotted by the helicopter and the guards opened fire on me. Unable to teleport to safety, I stole an all terrain vehicle and tried to outrun them all. I was shot, here, in the shoulder, but I kept going until I reached a terribly high cliff. There, my pursuers thought they had me trapped, but I reached down inside myself and 'ported to the bottom of the chasm below, vehicle and all. Down there, I hid in the underbrush until morning, when my 'porting would be less visible. Then I followed the river until I stumbled across a road, and from there I very gradually made my way back to the X-Men, keeping out of sight as best I could until I was finally home."
"So, the X-Men didn't rescue you?" Kurti said. "You had to rescue yourself?"
Opa leaned his head back and sighed. "I learned later, from Scott, that they had found where I was being held and were planning to rescue me. I just beat them to it," he said, his voice edged with bitterness. "We did go back and free the others. We destroyed that base completely, using the lake to flood it out. I was awarded a medal for valor and for being wounded in combat. I was promoted, and for a while the media spoke of me as a hero. But I did not feel like a hero. So much had changed in the time I'd been trapped there. The war had changed. I'd changed. And it was a very long time after that before I began to feel like I could trust the X-Men again. Especially Professor Xavier. Mostly, I stuck with Wolverine. We had something in common now. And Dr. McCoy started me on genetic therapy treatments to undo most of what those Weapon X monsters had done to me."
He sighed and lowered his eyes, his voice becoming thick and a little raspy. "Alice had been horrified to see me like that, a midnight demon with eyes and a throat that burned sulfur yellow. It was the first time I had ever seen that look of fear on her face, and it tore me up inside like nothing I had experienced before. I could not bring myself to talk with her about that, though, or what I had been through, and so we fought instead. It was row after bitter row, until we could no longer look at each other without the anger boiling up. And then, in November, when my recovery leave was over, I was promoted to Lt. Colonel and assigned to service in Britain. I left just before Thanksgiving, without even telling her good bye."
"That's so awful," Kurti said. "Was she really mad?"
"Worse," Opa said. "By that point, she was happy to see me go. Almost as happy as I was to leave. She even began to see someone else, a normal human she'd been working with while on assignment in California."
"So, what are you telling me, then?" Kurti asked. "That you guys broke up?"
"I suppose we did," Opa said. "It was more than a year before I saw her again. But by then, things had changed for both of us."
Opa smiled a little. "I found a place for myself in Britain," he said. "A place where I belonged, where I was useful and my talents, not just as a mutant, but as a person were respected. It had been a very long time since I'd felt needed, like I was a real part of something larger than myself. There, my team again became my family. With them, I was not 'the teleporter,' I was Kurt Wagner. And in the end, I think that is what healed me."
"What do you mean?" asked Kurti.
"When I first arrived in Britain, I was assigned to work with a man called Captain Britain," the old man said. "He was a very famous war hero, and he lived in a lighthouse off the coast of England, not too far from London, with his long-time girlfriend, an empathic metamorph named Meggan. Our task was to work together to organize a new X-Man-like organization in Europe, an organization that would work closely with UNIT and MI-6 to seek out and stop mutant terrorists. I was quite intimidated by the idea. I had never done these administrative things, and Captain Britain was a super big-shot. But I soon learned this famous hero had a terrible, terrible weakness."
"What was it?"
"Captain Britain was a drunk," Opa said. "An angry drunk. I remember when we first met, I had to teleport him into the freezing sea to sober him up. Because of his addiction, all the responsibility for the creation of our new team fell to me. There was so much to do, I had little time for the self-pity and doubt that had overcome me since my escape. I saw I was not so badly off after all, and that there were many others who—like the Captain and poor, neglected Meggan—needed the help and support only I and this new team could provide. Meggan and I ended up doing the organization and recruiting work, while Brian mainly sulked and raged at us. We got him sorted in the end, though, and when it came time to elect a leader, even he cast a vote for me. Only time he showed any gratitude to me for setting him on the road to recovery." Opa smiled. "He and Meggan were married that March, and on Boxing Day—the day after Christmas—their twins, Samuel and Eliza, were born.
"By this time our new team, which we named Excalibur, was up and running. Dr. MacTaggert and Kitty Pryde had joined us in February, and Professor Alistaire Stuart had transferred over from UNIT in September. His sister, Alysdane, chose to stay with the UN, and later became a Brigadier and head of her own team, called W.H.O.—the Weird Happenings Organization. Our two teams often worked closely together after the war. Then there was Rahne Sinclair, Pete Wisdom, Piotr Rasputin. Even Logan stayed a few months. I think he wanted to keep an eye on me. But I was busy and I was needed and I'd finally gotten my confidence back. For the first time since the war began, I felt I was where I belonged. Logan sensed that, I think. That's why I am certain it is no coincidence that less than a month after he returned to New York, Alice put in an application to transfer to my team."
"What did you think of that?" Kurti asked.
"I didn't know what to think," Opa said. "In fact, initially, I turned her down. But she showed up at the Lighthouse anyway. Things were awkward at first. Very awkward. But once we started talking, we found we just couldn't stop. All the anger, all the fights we'd had after my escape from Weapon X, it all seemed so very far away, like it had all happened to two different people.
"I won't say our relationship went back to the way it had been before the war. We were both older now, she was thirty, I was thirty-two, and we now had baggage. We'd both seen and done things we'd never be able to undo or unsee. It was different. But in many ways, it was better. Wartime has a way of bringing into focus what's really important. We each knew who we were now as individuals and as adults, and we had clearer ideas of what we wanted from our lives together. That July, the official treaty to end the war was signed in Geneva, Switzerland. One month later to the day, on August 7, your Grandma Alice and I married on the grounds of Braddock Manor, with the smell of summer flowers and sea spray filling the air. And at the reception, the two of us danced as we'd done on our first date, so many years before, to the tune of Buddy Holly's True Love Ways."
Kurti sighed, picturing the scene in his mind: his Grandma and his Opa, both young and happy and dancing in the sun. But then a thought occurred to him that blotted out the happy scene.
"Opa," he said, apparently interrupting the old man's own warm thoughts, "you said the war ended in July. But wasn't Doomsday in December?"
Opa tensed a little. "It was," he said. "You see, Kurti, by the end of the war, the political situation had become very complicated. This had not been a war between states and nations. It had been a war of race, a war of economics, and a war of ideas. There were not two sides to this war, but many factions, some larger than others and each with its own goals and ideologies that crossed borders, cultures, and languages. The war was ended by the groups that still recognized the UN and the World Court as legitimate organizations. But there were many smaller, radicalized groups that refused to accept the peace treaty as binding because they refused to acknowledge the UN's authority. One of these groups was the one I had been sent to infiltrate years before—the League for Genetic Purity."
"The ones who wanted to destroy the world so their super-pure clones could take over?" Kurti asked.
Opa nodded. "They and the threat they posed did not disappear just because I was no longer assigned to spy on them," he said. "Despite her ill informed views, Captain Saunders was a clever and dedicated soldier, and there were many in the group like her. That is what made them so dangerous. The LGP and similar factions believed it would be better if the world ended right there and then rather than give flawed humanity yet another chance to rebuild, then screw things up. And they had the people who could pull it off."
"But Opa, how did you know what they were planning?" Kurti asked. "I mean, everyone knows it was Excalibur that stopped Doomsday. Well, Excalibur and the X-Men too. That's why IX-MO was founded and why we have a World Government now. But how did you do it?"
"It was our job, Kurti. To track and stop terrorists," Opa said. "The LGP was one of the largest anti-mutant terrorist groups still active, and we kept very close tabs on their activities and their contacts. When word came that they had actually succeeded in creating a cloned human, I knew they would already have a plan in the works for Doomsday. We worked as quickly as we could, tracing their funding and their supply lines, trying to figure out exactly what shape this Doomsday would take. We learned they had gotten their hands on a disused military satellite, and that they were adapting it to spread deadly radiation over wide areas. The problem was, now that the war was over, the various world governments were no longer interested in providing our relatively small, predominantly mutant X-Men organizations with the support we needed to stop these lunatics before they managed to shoot their satellite into space. UNIT and MI-6 were busy with Reconstruction in Asia, so it was only us. Fortunately, we had Forge. He and his team of engineers adapted one of our aircraft into a sort of self-propelled space shuttle. Storm and I were chosen to pilot the craft—me because of my reflexes and spatial perception and Storm because, if necessary, she might be able to use her power over the elements to deflect at least some of the radiation the satellite could emit.
"The LGP wasn't about to just let us destroy their satellite without a fight, of course," Opa said. "They had set up quite a defense net around the thing. It took everything I had to avoid becoming a frozen piece of space debris. Unfortunately, while we were fighting for our lives, the LGP managed to initiate their radiation beam. Storm and I destroyed the satellite only a few minutes later, but the effects of that beam were still devastating."
"Yeah," Kurti nodded somberly. "Everyone in that whole area around the UN building in New York where they shot got wiped out."
"That was the cruel genius of the LGP's plan," Opa said. "Their beam killed the people, but left the buildings and the technology intact. For their clones to use later, I suppose, although without anyone around to teach them I'm sure I don't know how the clones were supposed to learn how to use it all."
Kurti nodded again. "So, that's how IX-MO got to be so important, then?" he asked. "Because they had to fill in for the UN?"
"Not exactly fill in," Opa said. "Our new International X-Men Organization helped to rebuild the UN, which in turn sped up the process of forming a truly representative world-wide government. We started IX-MO branches in every world-region, working to gain the support of local leaders and help even the poorest, most rural communities see themselves as an important voice in the new world state. We'd expected a great deal of resistance, particularly from businesses and richer areas that would not wish to take on the burdens of aiding poorer areas. But Doomsday had really shaken people. Images of what had happened in New York stayed in the media for years afterward. Because the UN had been the focus of the attack, there was barely a nation on Earth that had not lost a representative. This was taken as a warning, that we couldn't let ourselves fall back into our old, selfish ways. The only way to truly prevent a real Doomsday would be to put aside the territorialism of the past and forge new identities as nations within a larger, global state. The men and women who had died in the attack became international martyrs, and Doomsday became a global day of remembrance."
"We became one of the IX-MO branches," Opa said. "Our region was the European Union. But we were never as politically oriented as, say, Scott's X-Men team in New York or Storm's in Africa. Our specialty remained counter-terrorism."
"And now you're a hero to everyone in town," Kurti said proudly. "Opa?"
"Are you sad my Daddy didn't want to join Excalibur like Auntie Marti, or become an MI-6 agent like Auntie Ingrid?"
Opa blinked. "Why do you ask me that, Kurti?" he said. "Of course I am not sad. Not everyone is suited for the life of an X-Man. It is more of a calling than a job, and there are many burnouts. I am proud that your father realized that about himself early on and followed his talents rather than any expectations others may have held for him. It was brave of him to go out and make his own path. I love him a great deal, Kurti."
"And me?" Kurti asked.
"Yes, mein Kind," Opa said, squeezing the boy's hand as Kurti climbed up onto his lap. "I love you too. Very much."
"Do you think I could join Excalibur someday?"
"You will have to work harder at math if you want to pass the entrance exam," Opa warned. "There is more to counter-terrorism and tracking supervillains than fancy aircraft and training exercises, you know."
Kurti groaned a little and leaned his head against his grandfather's shoulder. "I guess I could do that," he said. "If it means I can grow up to be like you."
Opa chuckled and held the boy close. "Thank you for that, Kurti," he said. "But I will be happy for you to grow up to be like you. My own sweet boy."
The old man kissed his grandson soundly on the forehead, then set him down on the floor and rose from the chair. "Now, Liebling, it is time for bed. I have told you my story as you asked, so I expect no argument."
"OK, OK, I'll go," Kurti said. "But…"
"What is it, Kurti?"
"But what about you, Opa?" he asked.
Opa smiled. "It is past my bedtime too," he said. "I think I'll just grab a cup of tea and—"
"No, I don't mean that," Kurti said. "I mean…"
Opa frowned at his grandson's frustration and held out a hand to him. "Come here, Kurti," he said. "Tell me what is bothering you."
Kurti shuffled slowly toward his grandfather, then rushed forward and grabbed him in a hug.
"I love you, Opa," he muffled into the old man's stomach. "I don't want you to be sad and all alone."
"But I'm not alone, Kurti," Opa said, stroking the boy's soft curls. "I have you, and your father and mother are coming tomorrow—"
"Only for a week, though," Kurti said. "And then we have to go home. And then what will you do, Opa?"
Opa smiled softly, deeply touched by the boy's concern. "I will be all right, Liebling," he said, raising his grandson's chin so he could look him in the eye. "It is true that I have been feeling alone since Alice…" He swallowed and shook his head. "But no more of that. Telling this story, our story, it has made me think more of her, of what she wanted for me. And she would not have wanted me to sit here in the dark. I think, when you have gone home, I will go to see my old friend Logan. And then, when the holidays come around, perhaps I will come to visit you at your home."
"You really would, Opa?" Kurti asked.
Opa smiled. "If there is one thing my years as an X-Man has taught me, it is that it is always best to be where you are needed," he said. "Having a purpose is what keeps you fighting. And you give me a purpose, Kurti. You and your father and your mother and your Aunt Marta and Aunt Ingrid. As long as I have all of you, I will never be alone. Here," he placed a hand over his heart, "where it matters." His smile softened. "And I can thank your Grandma for that too."
Kurti burrowed his head in Opa's side. "Opa?" he asked.
"Will you tell me a story?"
Opa laughed. "What will it be this time, then?" he asked. "Another tale of Excalibur?"
"No," Kurti shook his head. "I'm done with the real stuff for a while. I want a story sort of story, with pirates and swords and action and things!"
"Ach!" Opa exclaimed happily, leading his grandson to the hallway. "Then I have just the tale for you! Have I yet told you the story of brave Dr. Peter Blood? He was an Irish doctor who was sold into slavery by King James II, only to throw off his chains and rise to became the greatest, most feared pirate in all the Caribbean…"
Thanks for reading, and for your reviews! Until next time! :)