Me not half shares in Marvel or Potter.

Brief Announcement:

As all of you should know by now (except any new readers I have, hello) I use a poll here and over on pat a ron to decide what long and what short story I will be updating in any given month. A Third Path to the Future, took second place with 954 votes, coming in first on fanfic with 306 votes and taking in the rest over on pat a ron. I sincerely love the participation, and the fact that many of you have decided to give your support to my efforts.

However, I will not be putting up ATP in October's poll. There are a lot of scenes coming up in the next chapter that deal with politics, the Asgardians, and the Kindred - sort of in the foreground while the next few plots come to fruition in the foreground and I take care of several smalltime enemies. As such, and because RL sucks, I cannot promise to get a chapter of ATP out until myself and my Asatru editor Mordreek have worked those scenes out to our mutual satisfaction. You can be certain however I will update it again in December at the latest.

October poll should be up later tonight, look for it, and please vote!

I would also like to thank Guest… just Guest. Guest gave a review of the last chapter which pointed out a few mistakes I had made that had slipped through. Since that was the majority of his revies I used those points to make those corrections then deleted that portion. Sorry, but that is the way I deal with such. However some of the questions you had were not straightforward corrections, and I will address them below:

Side note, didn't the Inhumans live in the Himalayas prior to moving to the Moon? What are they doing in Atlantis? Which should be filled with "Merpeople":

They did, during the time they were controlled by Blackbolt's brother, whatever his name is, for a few years. And when did I say the Inhumans' name? Harry should know barely anything about them, since Reed is still keeping their secrets for now, since he's trying to get Blackbolt to come and meet Harry. Having Fuck all for luck, of course.

Homo mermanus is an offshoot of humanity, so not aliens as Dr. Strange thinks, and they settled in Atlantis in 8000 BCE, that's 2000y after it sank. Lemuria was founded in 7500 BCE. The Atlantians are worshippers of Neptune, the Lemurians of the Elder Demon God Set. Yes, the same Set as in the Conan Stories, rather than the Egyptian deity Seth, who took on the former's name due to the fearsome reputation it still had.

Hmm… Okay, color Strange with egg on his face for that one. I'll keep it, then maybe bring this misinformation up later for comedy reasons.

PLOT/CHARACTER ERROR:

*Behind Volstagg Skadi and Tyr leaned back, trusting to the ropes around their waists as they used their hands to quickly free their bows and arrows*

How exactly is Tyr using a bow, when he only has one hand, even in the Marvel-verse? (It's the same reason he can only lift 50T at present, he was stronger, when he still had both hands.)

Since Fenrir has no chain on him, I decided that Tyr has not yet lost his hand.

Also something you or your Asatru fact checker missed with Skadi*.

In Marvel, she's the daughter of Cul Borson aka The Serpent and plays a central role in the "Fear Itself" Storyline, when Daddy Dearest shows back up and is kinda pissed off at Odin, his younger brother, for overthrowing and sealing him away. Said sealing also removed him from the Ragnarok Cycle and possibly the control of Those Who sit in the Shadows. She herself was locked away in her own hammer, before possessing the Red Skull's daughter Sin.

(*: And yes, I'm aware that some speculate that Skadi, which has a masculine root name BTW, may have been a male deity originally and could possibly be another form of Uller.)

That is all in Marvel, so while Skadi might eventually be proven to be Cul's daughter, at the moment she has no knowledge of this, and she too is caught up in the machinations of the Shadows.

Also kinda surprised Hela didn't see the prank potential of sending Nanny to Valhalla. Chasing Thor around going: "Come on big boy, give Nanny a nice long hug." would be the exact type of prank Loki would've pulled before the Shadows got their mitts on him. After all, he DID manage to get Thor into a dress to be married off. Just more of the same.

While that would have been hilarious, the fact is Hela can no longer interact through her offices with the rest of the Asgardian realms, so there was no chance of this happening.

I would like to thank my trio of editors, Kathryn518, Michael, and Mordreek for their work on this chapter. You have Michael to thank for spotting many, many small mistakes and word choice issues, Kathryn518 for plot and flow problems, and Mordreek for character consistency and making Hela and the other Asgardians come to life.

Warning: world building and violence abound in this chapter. You have been warned!


ATP33 Drowning in Meetings

Or, I Didn't Mean That as a Complaint!

As Psylocke and Vanguard led their guests to the dining room, Harry allowed himself a brief sigh of irritation. "Now for the part I've been dreading. Mingling, ugh."

The meeting had broken up a few moments after the question-and-answer session, which had actually been far more extensive and informative than Harry had feared it would be after the first few nonsensical questions. Indeed, Harry felt that most of the military types and a goodly portion of the civilian types understood the severity of the threat facing them from space. That didn't mean that the civilians really understood how little their governments could do about it in the short term, or that they were any happier about his announcement, but it was certainly a step in the right direction.

Emma had planned for food and a few other smaller discussions to go over various bits of Kree doctrine and technology. Jean, Reed, and Carol would lead the technology discussions, while Nikolai and Mar'vel would talk about Kree military doctrine to anyone interested. The group of soldiers and politicians had allowed themselves to be led out into the main hall with something approaching gratefulness. I suppose food is always welcome after so many hours spent sitting and listening and doing absolutely nothing, Harry thought sardonically, rubbing his own empty stomach. He stood up and helped William to his feet.

"Oh come now, Harry. I would have thought the presentation sections were the worst bit. I'm actually looking forward to this part, though that could be because it's why you asked me to be here at all," Emma cut in drolly, while Jean sent a wordless wave of reassurance down their mental link.

With the others leading the tech and tactics discussions Emma, Psylocke, Magma, Colossus, and Harry were left to mingle, a task both men looked at as a chore rather than something to be embraced. Psylocke was rather neutral about the whole thing, hoping none of the men tried to flirt with her too much, while Magma was almost looking forward to it as much as Emma. As a daughter of a senator of Nova-Roma, Amora knew how to move in such gatherings and how important they were.

Still under her Diamond persona Emma directed the two of them with the ease of a woman born to high-class society, Harry found himself moving through the crowd, conferring with this group or that group in passing, doing what Emma called, "a preliminary test of the waters." She then elaborated quickly. "I'll then use that to help us narrow down what groups we need to work on and what others are thinking."

During this time Harry got to grips with the various separate issues facing him from several of the different countries. A few of them he and Emma were able to deal with right away.

Easiest to deal with was Israel after Colossus brought Harry's attention to them. They wanted his guarantee that he would make no action against their nation, nor open any dialogue with Palestine or any of their belligerent neighbors. That was easy for Harry to agree to, since he had long since made the decision not to sell anything, even in his Magical Minds guise, to nations that either condoned or allowed terrorist groups to exist within their environs. If that state of affairs changed, so to would his policy towards that particular country, but Harry did not see that happening anytime soon.

Germany, however, was a far more intricate problem. They wanted access to Magical Minds and Arc Technologies merchandise. But they hadn't yet met his demands on social reform, and while they could be a huge boon both for the fleet and for his workforce, they simply refused to do so. They also weren't actually as interested in Magical Minds' medicine as Harry had thought. Rather, they were insanely interested in buying Arc generators outright. Germany had long resented the fact that they were so dependent on other countries for their energy and gasoline, in particular Russia. Harry sympathized, but wasn't willing to bend on that issue.

However, with Emma coaching him telepathically he did slowly change his mind on that point. Not that he would sell them Arc reactors as he had to Britain with his initial testbed, but that he would sell power to them. Harry's company would lease some land in Germany and start work on building Arc reactors there to take over the energy grid slowly but surely. But it wouldn't be cheap for Germany.

It would be far cheaper than what they were using, but they would still be dependent on him for that energy. As for Magical Minds, there Harry demanded that he see some movement on Germany's part to meet his demands on the mutant equality front, either through subtle social reforms or laws, he didn't care which. "But that is a completely separate topic from the needs of the EDF we discussed earlier," he said, shaking his head.

"Ah, there we have another issue entirely," the German Federal minister of Economics and Energy, a woman named Andreas Kasselhoff, said. She looked at her fellow countryman for a moment before turning back to Harry. "The Deutsche Marine is not large enough to meet your initial manpower demand, let alone your long term goal. We have less than 20,000 trained personnel all told, and we have duties and obligations we have to meet. Perhaps we could come to some other kind of arrangement?"

Eventually Harry and Andreas hammered out an agreement to send noncoms, ratings, and officers for retraining. Germany would then wait until Harry came out into the open at the UN to make a formal agreement with him and start ramping up a recruitment drive for the EDF from the civilian population rather than the existing Deutsche that Germany could hopefully meet Harry's manpower demands with relative ease at that point, but until then the help Germany could give him was limited. Harry wasn't happy, but he agreed to wait for now since he knew many of the other nations would try to push for the same thing, and that Germany's navy was kept small for very good reasons, both internal and external.

Emma, however, took him to task somewhat after they left the Germans behind, moving back to one of the buffet tables. "You were rather hard on them, you know, Harry. You could've been a bit more diplomatic at the very least."

"You and I both know what the next Kree response is going to be, Emma. If an entire battle fleet comes in as intelligently as this last attack did, knowing what this last attack was able to send off, there is no chance that the defenses we have will be able to stop them. Not even with the time dilation cavern Kitty's working on. We need the manpower!" Harry retorted, his face creased in worry as he covered them with a muffliato.

"Everyone knows that, I think," the upper-class socialite soothed, stopping to take a tiny sip from a glass of orange juice. Why orange juice? she wondered, not for the first time in her life. It's always been alcohol, soda, and orange juice at events like these. Why orange juice at something happening this late in the day?

Shaking her head to get rid of that whimsical thought, Emma went on. "Psylocke, Phoenix, and I are in agreement that practically everyone in this room understands the nature of the threat, Harry. The soldiers in particular are giving off feelings of anger and helplessness. And all of them without fail want to buy in and sign up with us, even that German captain we just left."

She turned, leaning in to continue the conversation. "It was the numbers that have really stuck in everyone's minds, Harry. 1.2 billion sentients in a single fleet, with at least 34 fleets of similar size on the front with the Skrull and more on other fronts? Worse, remember that when Powers asked him, Rika admitted that the majority of the Kree and Skrull fleets are actually broken into hunting packs which operate behind enemy lines, while others are devoted to protecting against the same thing throughout Kree space.

"No, we have the military minds in the room on our side. You should also take it as a positive that nearly every nation sent a real policy maker here. Now we have to conduct business, stroke egos, meet with then one-on-one. Play the game, Harry, and we can walk out of here with everything we could logically expect to," Emma concluded in a soothing tone.

"Ughgh," Harry groaned theatrically, shaking his head. He could be political at times, but that didn't mean he had to like it. "I would've thought the numbers game—and why was it the number of sentients rather than the number of ships that sank in?—would have made sense to even politicians."

"Even the military minds sometimes have problems with the concept of the ship classes the Kree use I think," Emma said thoughtfully, rolling her eyes at Harry's overacting. "As for the politicians, their emotions and thinking are much more complicated. Hold on."

"Jean, what are you getting from your passive reading all of the politicians?"

Realizing what Emma was doing, Jean linked her mind with both her lovers for a moment. She had been listening to Carol argue about Gatling guns in comparison to something called Glochesters. Carol seemed to be losing the argument, and was happy about it, judging by the way her face was lighting up. "Can't talk long; I think this discussion is about to get interesting. Anyway, I'm reading a lot of fear from the politicians. But it's much more…existential, than the soldiers' and very few of them are giving off the same feeling of helplessness. I think they can't get their minds around the threat from space because it is so far out of their previous experience."

"Can you give me some more direction than that, love?" Harry asked a fond smile on his face as he felt Jean's interest. "I promise I won't bother you again."

"I'd say ignore the French," Jean said immediately. "Captain Chapel is on our side, but Ambassador Sirovna is firmly set against us. She's going to push to cut all of the funding to the committee already looking into the 'mutant question' now that she knows how deeply involved King William is with us. She's thinking it so hard I can't help but pick it up!"

"Are you telling me that that woman is making a decision like this based on that age-old issue between the French and the British! I'm all for patriotism, but that's crazy," Harry protested.

"No. Oh, neither of the French are happy that William was the first to jump on board and has been given so much power in future decision making…"

"He hasn't," Harry cut in quickly. "I mean, yes, I gave William a heads up on what I'd be wanting from the UK, but that's not the same thing as giving him or Powers authority over the Earth Defense Fleet. That's still going to be my baby."

"I know that, but they don't. They see a young man with a faint British accent speaking about an Earth Defense Fleet with the king of the United Kingdom sitting beside him," Jean replied

Emma nodded, taking over from Jean, having just skimmed the French ambassador's mind. "Sirvona apparently also lost at least one family member during World War II when William agreed went along with Churchill's decision to attack the Vichy fleet. For her it's a personal thing."

"Okay, so we can't do anything about that," Harry groaned. "Fine. Anyone else I need to worry about?"

"The Americans," Jean said blandly. She watched as the discussion between a Swedish representative, one of the noncoms from the UK, and Carol moved to the computer board, while Reed looked on in amusement before turning back to his own discussion. "I'm getting a distinct sense of disunity from them. I have no idea why but I'm not going to delve into their minds without a better reason than that. Anyway, I'll talk to you both later, loves."

"Whereas I just proved I have no such qualms," Emma quipped as Jean pulled her consciousness out of their link.

She looked at Harry, who shook his head. "No. They're not a clear and present danger to us, Emma. In fact, you shouldn't have even probed Sirvona like that. There's not enough of a reason there to do so."

Emma pouted, shaking her head. "You're far too moral for your own good, Harry, especially as a budding king."

Harry shrugged. "The rights of the individual are one of my country's main tenets. I can't then turn around and deprive someone else of the right of having his or her thoughts to himself without just cause."

"Well then, would you mind if I see what I can find out from the Americans the old-fashioned way?"

"Go to it, Emma," Harry said, the two of them moving out from the corner they had hidden in for their discussion. "I am going to talk to Steve for a bit, and then I think that Nick Fury wants to talk to me."

"Go have fun, Harry. I'll handle the Americans best as I can," Emma said, smiling lightly.

She watched as Harry purposefully made his way through the crowd to the group of people around Steve. This included military representatives from the world around, including most of the Americans—the military representatives, not the senators—who had moved to a corner. There were also a few politicians around Steve, but not many. Harry joined the discussion, clasping hands with Steve for a moment before turning to the others, one eyebrow rising in query as one of the Americans, a navy officer, shot out a question Emma couldn't hear from where she was currently located.

She turned away, making a beeline towards the Americans, her best fake smile plastered on her face. "Gentlemen. Not enjoying the party?"

Both Doom and William were also making the rounds through the crowds. William simply stood in one place and held court there, letting other people come to him as they would. Quite a large number of the politicians and the military rotated through that area, paying their respects to the king of the United Kingdom.

Doom did the same thing, though he had not sat down as William had been forced to, thanks to his advanced years. Yet for all his imposing nature, Doom did find himself quickly approached by the Polish and Finish civilian representatives.

At first the conversation between them had been dominated by questions about space, his opinion on the Kree as a scientist, and other things of that nature. But Doom had quickly sensed that they really wanted to talk about something else. And that they had come to him because his nation was closer to theirs, especially in the case of the Poles, than Harry's apparent seat of power or William's country.

Latveria had originally been a small country set on the borders between Serbia, Romania, and Hungary. Now, thanks to his taking over those countries once they had proved to be puppets of the Red Skull, it had grown quite dramatically to cover most of those countries as well as a large corner of the Ukraine.

He had not entered Poland, which did not have, to the best of his knowledge, any connection formal or otherwise to the Red Skull. They had, of course, been very leery about him at first, but when they realized that he had no interest in conquering their lands that had faded…slightly.

This had been helped by the fact that, beyond searing out the corruption of those governments with a cleansing flame, Doom had not instigated any massive social reforms or tried to change the countries he'd conquered overly much. His conquered lands were separate principalities now under Doom's auspices, retaining their own languages and laws, yet answerable to him. And with the goods from Latveria spreading out into them, Doom had actually opened up more jobs and education to all of them than they had previously. Yes, there was still a lot of bad blood towards Doom and his people simply because of the sheer number of poor foolish soldiers who had been ordered to fight his forces by their corrupt officials. But as the weeks went on and there were no reprisals or massacres or anything of that nature, that fell by the wayside.

Doom was a tyrant, for certain. Any and all real governmental power came from his word. There was no chance of him allowing democratic elections on the national scale. But he allowed them for district, city, and smaller municipalities. This gave the people just enough self-control over their lives that, coupled with the new roads, technologies, and jobs on the offering, he faced little opposition to his rule, and none of it was organized.

After finishing a discussion with the Polish representative about roads across their common borders, Doom looked at both him and the representative from Finland. The Finnish man was named Ian Modell, the famous general's nephew, while the Polish man was named Peter Hamilsan. "There is something you wish to say. I would prefer us to be candid with one another, gentlemen."

The two of them looked at one another, then across to where their military representatives were talking to Steve and Harry, with Steve using his hands to describe something in the air for a moment. "We would like your word that nothing that we say now will get back to our countrymen," Hamilsan said quietly.

Doom's eyebrows rose behind his mask, and he nodded slightly. "You have my word they won't learn about what you tell me from my lips." This should be interesting.

"We don't want them overreacting to the news, but Russia is making noises on their borders with us," Modell said. "It's very subtle, and they haven't actually moved troops into the area, but they are building up the logistics for a move into our country from St. Petersburg."

Before Doom could ask anything, Hamilsan went on. "They've been doing the same thing to us, except they're spreading out the buildup in several different cities. And with their advanced train system it won't take them long to move the actual troops into the area."

"I had known that they were building up on the border with Croatia, simply waiting for the government there to ask for aid, which they might well do," Doom acknowledged his gauntleted fingers twitching. "The Red Skull's fingers are deep into too many pies there, and my troops have reported entire regiments of Croatian troops acting on his orders to attack the portion of their country I have already taken."

"You haven't had any luck finding the Red Skull himself?"

"He uses doppelgängers, the well-tested cell system, and numerous other ways to hide himself," Doom said mildly, though his stare coming out of that mask was disconcerting to his listeners. "Each doppelgänger that we have found thought himself the real Red Skull; it was only their physical abilities that proved out the lie. If you have any way to find a super-soldier trained in espionage and with a massive terrorist organization at his beck and call, along with several decades to work with in a country whose entire government he now controls, pray, tell me now."

As the two men shivered and looked away, Doom went on much more agreeably. "We are attempting to find him. Now that the countries I have already annexed are able to once more look after themselves, I will be able to devote more of my personal time to the search. So it is only a matter of time until I find Herr Skull."

"What did he do to you that angered you?" Hamilsan asked quizzically. "We heard of the official announcement, but…"

"He stole something from me," Doom said, his voice now a sepulchral echo of rage. "It doesn't have much monetary value, but its value to me and to my mother is priceless. He also launched terrorist attacks into my country to cover the theft, killing several hundred of my citizens. And Doom is not the sort of ruler to let that stand."

His listeners both nodded, though the Finnish man was still looking a little questioning. But Doom redirected his curiosity for a moment as he asked, "Why would the Russians invade Finland again? They still control large swaths of the land you owned before World War II. Surely the rest of your country does not have any resources that would benefit them, unlike Croatia. If the Red Skull orders the Croatian government to ask for aid from Russia, it's very doubtful that Russia will leave again afterwards."

"We don't know," the Modell said. "All we know is what our spies are reporting."

Doom sensed the man wasn't quite being honest there, and he resolved to send a few of his robotic spies into the country to see what they could discern as soon as he could. Some newly discovered resource perhaps? A gold deposit, or something else? Regardless, it matters not at the moment.

"And you are talking to me because you want to form an alliance of some kind? Like I have with Mr. Potter," he went on very pointedly. Doom had made it clear throughout the evening that of all the world powers, only he and the United Kingdom had come out and already forged an alliance with Harry Potter, and only he had done so prior to this meeting. Yes, the Fantastic Four had done the same, but they didn't bring much to the alliance other than themselves. Which was a lot, admittedly, in Reed's case. Doom had to admit that his rival was almost as good as he was when it came to technology. But they didn't have any industrial or population base to call upon as he did.

"Not quite," Modell said, shaking his head. "Admittedly, we would like you to intercede on our behalf with Harry as well. All of Finland saw the light show from Storm's defense of the planet. We know the threat from space is real. But Russia is an old and very present threat, whereas the one in space is one we can barely conceptualize. We also simply can't meet his demands for people or material."

"Very well, I will intercede on your behalf on that," Doom said, waving one hand towards Betsy Braddock, or, as she was known in her current guise, Psylocke. "Are you capable of being your Lord's representative for a moment?"

Betsy nodded, looking at the politicians around Doom thoughtfully. "We thought we'd have issues from some of the smaller countries in meeting our demands." The purple-haired woman pulled out some packets of paper and handed them around. "These are the agreements for technically first world countries who can't meet the manpower requirements."

Doom looked at one of the papers briefly. Instead of trained military personnel, this called for trained technicians, welders, and miners. Certainly Finland would have an abundance of miners. Unless my thought about Russia being after a new resource is correct?

Yet he saw no hesitation when Modell nodded. "We can raise at least 5000 miners in a week from government-owned industries at the very least. More over time, though it will become difficult to keep up that level of recruitment from just governmental sources after three weeks. After that, we will have to create an open recruitment drive.

"As for the resources you want," Modell chuckled, looking at that. "Four-thousand tons of wood a month, plus another sixteen of pulp? Was that picked out for us especially?"

"There's no wood in space, and we have a major need for furniture and such like coming up soon," Psylocke replied coolly. That this would keep them from trying to harvest wood from the Savage Land was a bonus.

Poland was given a similar offer for coal and copper especially. There, though, Doom added his own demands. Poland would receive sensor equipment and a limited military alliance in return for supplying Latveria and the rest of Doom's countries with coal and natural gas for the next two years. If Russia did not invade in that time, they could renegotiate.

"And can we reach an agreement of like kind, Dr. Doom?" Modell asked, looking at Doom.

"Weapons and sensor equipment in return for twice the tonnage sent to you in mica." Doom replied promptly. "I also will need access to several of your ecological teams. Several of my new…acquisitions have badly damaged their original forests and ecology. I wish to bring them back."

"Mica?" Modell asked quizzically, but Doom was not forthcoming in more details. It was admittedly a useful ore, but Finland exported large amounts of mica already, so it wouldn't be that hard to meet Doom's requirements, though it might cut into the amount exported elsewhere.

"Shall I request a notary to come over here? We have a few nearby for this meeting. Trusted associates of Magical Minds," Psylocke interjected smoothly.

Doom looked at Hamilsan and Modell. Both of them nodded agreeably. "Yes, that will do nicely. I also believe this will call for a drink."

Unfortunately for Emma, her subtle questioning of the two American senators did not go nearly as well as everyone else's politicking. She had tried to draw them out about their individual feelings about Harry and what was going on, but had not gotten anywhere, the two older men playing the game nearly as well as she could and united against her .

It was almost with relief that Emma turned as she was addressed by one of the Indian representatives. With the two Indians stood the Swedish and Italian representatives, all six of them wanting to talk to Emma. The two American senators excused themselves, moving quickly towards one of the corners and grabbing some food as they went for further defense against any further attempt to pigeonhole them again.

Darn Harry and his sense of morality. Five seconds, five seconds and I could know what those two were thinking! Emma railed to herself before calming down. But where would that end, Emma? Harry was right. This is different from using it on someone you know is an enemy or a threat, and I no longer have to be so profligate in using my powers to get ahead. Let them be for now.

With that thought she turned her full attention on the Indian representative, a Shavri Numera. At her look, the man quickly explained why they were all there. "We can't meet the military requirement Mr. Potter's asking us to, despite the fact that all three of our governments have met the requirements to be given access to Magical Minds goods at a reduced price. Our navies just aren't large enough for us to absorb that large a hit to our manpower. Italy has the largest navy of us all, and even they won't be able to do that."

"Mr. Potter did mention that there were other ways of meeting that requirement, didn't he?" Emma said dryly, not showing any of her irritation at her real work being interrupted or of the closeness she and Harry enjoyed.

"But we do want to send people," the Indian said. "And I think my own country in particular has a lot we can offer in terms of labor if you can provide the education! We might not have seen the light show directly overhead, like other countries did," he said nodding towards the Swedish military representative and a woman from their defense department, "but we do know the threat is out there, and we acknowledge it."

"And you?" Emma asked looking at the Italians.

"We're not happy with the fact that this was opened up to the British first, but we're willing to look the other way on that issue. Yet my friend here is right. We won't be able to loan out 25,000 men. Hells, we only have thirty thousand or so under arms as it is. We can give him some dedicated naval officers trained in subs, we decommissioned a few of them about a month back, and their crews are well trained in such, so that should cut down on the retraining necessary. From there we can make up the difference by helping Mr. Potter's recruitment drive in our countries. Yet if we do that, we'd like a little consideration on his part."

"Consideration?" Emma asked, though she knew what this was going to be about.

"Arc reactors," the Indian said before the Italian could. "That's what we're all interested in, isn't it? The technology's been proven now in the UK, and I've seen the numbers it's saving the UK government. My government would like to jump on that bandwagon very, very much."

"All three of you are prepared to make deals for your governments?"

"We are," the Indian said promptly.

"Good. In that case, come this way gentlemen, and we will start to crunch some numbers," Emma said, her voice nearly gleeful. Beyond even making money, the art of the deal was something she truly enjoyed.

Elsewhere Harry had broken off from the group around Steve and moved toward where Fury was busy propping up a wall to one side of the main group. Nick was nursing a beer, and he raised an eyebrow at Harry, who was drinking what he knew was a sprite without any added alcohol. "Not partaking of your own liquor, Potter?"

"It's a sort of sign of solidarity," Harry said obliquely.

Nearby Jean and Reed led the group who had been talking tech into the main room, making a beeline for the food, and Harry had to hide a wince watching Jean piling mustard on top of some of the shrimp canards for some reason, as well as dipping one of the small finger sandwiches into the actual shrimp sauce.

From where she was now chomping down on the food hungrily, Jean felt Harry's eyes on her and turned. The two of them locked gazes for a brief moment, and Harry flooded their telepathic link with feelings of love and affection the moment she opened the connection.

She smiled, looking away, but responded in kind. Ever since spending so much time in the time dilation chamber Harry had become far more attentive towards her than before. She couldn't say he was more loving, because that would've been impossible, but he made it a point to search her out every chance he could and just shower her with affection, not having enjoyed being separated from Jean for the second time like that at all. She understood, even if she felt it was a bit too much at times.

Harry's attention was brought back to Fury as the super-spy and manager of spies said abruptly, "I have to apologize to you."

Harry looked at him quizzically. "About what?" Given the dislike the two of the held towards one another it could have been have been for any number of things, but Harry couldn't' think offhand any specific thing Fury would feel the need to apologize for just now.

"I still don't like how you're dealing with things. I think you should have been working with the systems already in place from the get go. But the Kree and the rest of space, I have to hand it to you. You were right about the level of the threat there."

"And if I had worked within the system, would I have done as much good? I don't think so, certainly not against the space-based threats. And as to my stance on the 'mutant question,' the entire world needed a kick in its ass on that issue, and I as a nominal outsider was quite prepared to provide it. I don't think I could've gotten away with that if I'd tried it your way, or even Charles's way. Playing a simple vigilante would not have given my voice the weight it needed," Harry replied.

"I just admitted you were right about the space issue Potter," Fury growled, before looking away. "I think you could've done a lot of good for the mutant question if you'd worked with, say, the UN, but I can understand why you didn't. How certain are you that we can't find some allies out there?" Fury asked, abruptly changing the topic. Apologizing was not a forte of his.

"Very." Harry said bluntly. "There isn't a real power out there that would be looking to ally with a nothing-planet like us. We could probably make some allies among the independents, but most of them are weaker than we are in many ways. I say again, we could fight a battle fleet if it came in stupid and bunched up. They couldn't have beaten off the last fleet we faced."

Harry sighed, running one hand through his hair. "There's no one out there that would be willing to even view us as a semi-independent satrapy. The closest are the Shi'ar, but they are elitist, and if their ruling class suddenly decides we shouldn't have any rights, the rest of their nation will mostly enforce that belief. There was one rumor Mar'vel shared that the Shi'ar had actually wiped out a sentient species because one of their governors had tried to eat them and found them incredibly tasty. That is how screwed up space is."

"What would it take me to get some SHIELD involvement in the EDF?" Fury asked, looking a little pale at that rumor.

"It depends what you mean by that."

"Oversight. A separate group, answerable to you when it comes to space-based threats, but more importantly to make certain that the people you're taking on are all above board."

"No. If you want to have SHIELD agents working with us, that's fine, but they will be working for me. I'm not going to have them answer to two masters. As for everyone else who signs up with me or is seconded to the EDF, same rules apply. No one will be taking back designs or examples of actual technology to be used in battle against terrestrial threats. The EDF will defend Earth from exterior threats. The EDF's place will never be to play politics or take sides."

"I understand that, and it'll make my job easier at least. Will you at least give me a heads-up on when you're going to appear at the UN?"

"I mean to show up there in about a week's time. I'm waiting for Storm to recover, and we are still considering how to go about doing it." Harry replied.

"Understood," Fury muttered. The two men looked at one another for a moment, wondering where to take the conversation, before deciding to just end it there. They would never get along, and frankly at this point was it really necessary for them to? At least they both knew they could inhabit the same planet without becoming enemies, at least.

And besides, Fury thought as he turned away from Harry. It isn't as if I don't already have plans in place to stop Potter if he goes rogue. Tony Stark's Ultron project for one, and the other little surprises I have him and Pym working on.

Soon after Harry left Nick behind, the meeting reformed, with Harry once more taking center stage as everyone moved back into the meeting room. This final portion didn't really cover anything important in terms of the politics or the logistics aspects, but it did cover more of the strategy and long-term plans Harry had that he was willing to share. "Essentially, we're going to keep repairing and or rebuilding the ships we've taken. All combined, they are a decent defense force, which can see off any normal sized attack up to a battle fleet. With Fortress Mars, we can probably stop even a battle fleet if, as I keep saying, it comes in stupid. We cannot assume it will, hence my demands to all your governments."

"Point of order, Mr. Potter," said one of the Americans, whose name Harry blanked on for a moment. "Fortress Mars? Did I hear a capital there?"

"My people called it that, and they are the ones who died during this last battle, so yes, it is now Fortress Mars. And by the time are finished with it, the Red Planet will live up to that appellation," Harry replied, a thin, cold smile flickering across his face.

"You've lost people?" Fury asked, frowning. "You hadn't mentioned that earlier."

"Eighty-seven dead in that last attack, more in the attack previous. Their families received full pension and explanations as to how their loved ones died. Astonishingly, none of the Navy personnel attempted to break the secrecy clause. I wonder why?" Harry said, his smile fading on his last words.

"You're talking about defense only. In fact, all we've talked about this entire meeting is defense," said one of the British naval men, frowning as he looked over to the Americans, who nodded, understanding his point. "Defense is nice, but how can we hit back?"

"I have some ideas. Unfortunately most of them rely on logistics and infrastructure that we don't have yet. I also think that striking back at the Kree in any way that can be traced back to us or which uses our new technology would be stupid in the extreme until we are ready to land a telling blow," Harry warned.

Doom nodded. "One thing history should've taught us all is that introducing new technology to warfare piecemeal is to dare your opponents to find a way to counter it. I have a few ideas of my own that I will be testing on my ship, but I refuse to share them with anyone who has not signed up and joined the defense initiative."

"Exactly," Harry said with a nod towards Dr. Doom, not acknowledging the emphasis Doom had put on that one word, though more than one of his listeners winced, reminded once more that Dr. Doom had access to spaceships. "I have a lot of ideas on how to go on the attack, but you're going to have to actually pony up to hear them."

There was a lot of groaning at that. However, Admiral Whittaker held up his hand. "In that case it's a good thing I brought a duffel bag with me and that I'm retired. Where can I sign up, Mr. Potter?"

After the laughter at that ended and Harry had accepted, Reed stood up. "There is one more point we need to talk about, a short and long-term advantage that we have. Dr. Doom just hit on it. Our tech is still rising, not just our industrial base, but our technology. The Ravens, for example."

From here he put up the image of a Raven as it was being designed currently on the computer screen behind them.

After he explained what they were, several of the Air Force officers in the room gasped, and one of them said reverently, "You have developed jet fighters for space!"

"They are the more urban equivalent of a PT boat, or perhaps cutters. Not actual starfighters, considering they need three or four people to operate depending on the version. But yes, we have them. We are also developing technologies to make certain that our pilots survive, which I'm sure you're all ecstatic about," Reed quipped. "We are continually adding to our technology, while the Kree have reached a plateau."

Harry looked over at Mar'vel, who stood up and began to explain how stagnant Kree technology had been for at least as long as he had been alive. No new technology had been added to the fleet, no new strategies, little in the way of even advancements in how to ease logistical requirements or bolster the economy.

One of the American politicians rolled his eyes. "So if we hold off for, what, a hundred years, two hundred years, we'll possibly be at technological parity? Lovely."

Harry glared at the man for a moment but didn't answer, continuing the meeting from there for roughly another hour before it ended, with Psylocke and the other Custodes on hand leading the delegates out. Harry leaned back in his chair, looking over at Doom and William. "Well that went…well?"

"Quite well, yes, if they really were all able to make binding agreements for their governments as they said, which is by no means certain. Though you will have to watch out for the Americans," Reed warned.

"And the French," William replied, shaking his head. "I honestly don't know how the French government will react to today's revelations. I had not considered how negatively they viewed me personally, let alone my nation."

"Anyone else I should be on the lookout for?"

Doom thought for a moment, then shook his head. "Psylocke will no doubt give you a report about what she overheard from the Swedish and Finnish delegates. Other than that, I believe it is time for me to return to my own nation. Until next time, Potter." With that and without any further warning, Doom disappeared.

"Did he just use a technological version of teleportation?" Harry asked aloud.

"Yes, yes he did," Reed said, frowning before clicking his fingers. "Of course, his armor! Doom doesn't need a teleportation grid on this end or any exterior power source. He carries it in the armor itself."

"Smart, and it's just like Doom to make certain we know he can do that."

"Well, Admiral Whittaker is going to be seen to by Nikolai later. We'll house him in the Magical Minds building for now, though I'll move him to Fortress Mars tomorrow along with you and your group, Admiral Powers," Harry said, looking over at the British contingent who were all waiting for their king. "Until then, I bid you all good night."

"And with that, I believe it's our cue to leave, Admiral. If you could help an old man out to his car?" William asked, tottering to his feet.

Jean and Emma had left with the delegates, only to return from behind the rest of the group, dressed to the nines for an evening out, and William had realized they were no longer wanted here. Reed noticed the same thing and left with Banner, the Thing, and Mar'vel, leaving Harry and his ladies to celebrate the success of this meeting together.

OOOOOOO

"And thus I greet you, you who will become part of the New World Order!" As the rest of the crowd around them cheered, Mystique, Irene, and Morph carefully did the same, while inside each of them were lost in their own thoughts. The two shape changers looked at Destiny who was standing between them, the two of them having pushed the crowd slightly back so that the obviously older woman could have some personal space, not that it was very difficult given her apparent age and the crowd's surprising respect for that.

"That was interesting," Destiny said, her voice lost in the tumult of the group of forty or so mutant youths all around them. "Did you notice his tone and words?"

They weren't all from Cairo, of course, but Mystique felt that they might have been gathered from Egypt and possibly its neighboring countries. She had certainly detected some Libyan and Sudanese accents. Although "gathered" might not be the best word to use. Perhaps "culled" would be better? Since all of them have mutant powers which can enhance their combat ability. Odd how that seems to have worked out, hmm?

"I did," Mystique said aloud, her own voice as low as her lover's. With the noise the crowd was making it was unlikely they would be overheard, but she wasn't about to take any chances. "It was familiar, though I can't place..."

"I can. Imagine him with a normal white skin tone, blond hair, and blue eyes. While also possibly wearing an SS uniform of a major..."

Mystique controlled her physical reaction to that with the ease of a lifetime's worth spent in espionage, but it was very difficult. "Essex!? How, how is he still so young looking?! I knew he was a mutant, of course, but is that his power? The ability to not age?"

Morph looked at them quizzically, but Mystique shook her head slightly and gently guided Destiny through the crowd towards the door to the auditorium. The speaker hadn't been here in person; he had been displayed on a large computer screen at the front of the room. That probably meant that this base was a simple gathering center, not even a logistics base for this Mutant Liberation Front that Essex was leading. It looked as if Morph and I are going to be here for a long while.

They were met at the door by Riptide, who smilingly gestured the trio to follow him. "You three are the newest influx we've had, so some ground rules and I'm afraid a bit of sad information for you all. This is a semi-military outfit. We're here to fight for mutant rights and Irene, I am sorry to say, but you're little too old for that kind of thing. And your power doesn't seem to have any long term application we can use. Do you think that if you return home you'll get in trouble with anyone or anyone will notice that these two love birds didn't return with you?"

Irene shook her head, while beside her Morph chuckled, putting an arm around Mystique's shoulder as they too shook their heads. "No. We were in Cairo to look for jobs as a exercise instructor in my wife's case, and in construction for me."

"Indeed. I can simply tell anyone who is curious about it that they found jobs and decided to move in immediately," Irene concurred, turning bland eyes on Morph before looking back at Riptide. "I can even set up some moving trucks to ship their clothing and furniture. That should do as cover, shouldn't it? How likely is it that someone will be looking for them, anyway?"

"Not very, and that should do nicely, yes," Riptide said, smiling politely. "If you want you can have a meal in the commissary before we show you the way back to the surface. From there you'll have to make your way back to your hotel on your own, though given where our base is in relation to your hotel that shouldn't be too hard, especially since its broad daylight out now. We can even give you a disguise."

"I'd prefer to walk her back to our hotel ourselves, but I guess even that would be dangerous?" Mystique asked, reaching out to grip her 'mother's' hand.

"You two are going to be too busy training after breakfast, I'm afraid," Riptide said, laughing lightly, though Mystique noted that there was little humor in his eyes, and despite his attitude it was clear he was giving them an order. "You both have good instincts, and your powers are decent in terms of combat application, but you need a lot more training than you already have before you really join the MLF. Best to start now."

Mystique nodded, but couldn't stop herself from thinking: How strange that liberation in this case means subjugation of normal humans rather than simply fighting for our own freedoms and lives. First Magneto, now Sinister or Essex, whichever is his real name. The maestro might change, but the music stays the same.

True to his word, Riptide showed them first where their room was, then where the commissary was. Morph thanked him heartily for getting the 'married couple' a room with a single king sized bed rather than two cots, while Mystique smiled, ignoring the desire to slice the overacting Morph with difficulty. Irene smirking at her from one side was definitely not helping her self-control.

After that Riptide led them to the underground base's commissary, where the three of them had a decently sized, if rather bland, meal. There, once again, Morph made a point of being affectionate towards Mystique, though he did so now in a more subtle, publicly acceptable manner, carrying her meal, sitting close beside her, and touching her hand occasionally as they ate. It was good acting, Mystique had to admit, but she couldn't actually approve of it, even if it meant she wouldn't have to deal with any of the other men here coming on to her.

Not with Irene right there smirking occasionally at her, knowing that Irene would be leaving soon and that it would be some time before they saw one another again. After having had nearly eight months together, that irritated Mystique more than it should, even though she knew it was better for Irene's safety, especially if they had just begun to spy on the very man that had made them run off all those months ago, leaving Magneto's Brotherhood.

Once they finished eating Mystique helped Destiny find a new disguise, and Riptide showed the three of them up out of the hidden base that the MLF used in Cairo. They passed three mutants there who all nodded to Riptide, while a fourth stood nearby listening to a headset.

After a moment he nodded. "Okay. Sensor detects no one nearby. Head towards the entrance; I'll lower the illusion for a moment to let you out."

"Do you have the directions to your hotel?" Riptide asked solicitously, though again there was something about his eyes that gave the words the lie.

"I do." Irene bit her lip for a moment, then asked hesitantly. "But, but is there any way I can further help the cause? Any bank account I can exchange money to?"

"We have your contact information. If we can set something up which can't be traced by the governments of the world, we'll get in touch with you. But that is a tall order," Riptide warned, something like regret coming into his eyes as he looked at the old woman in front of him.

"Understood," Irene said with a sigh. "Good luck to you all, and I hope to see the day that mutants take their rightful place on top of the evolutionary food chain!"

Riptide nodded as the other mutants around them cheered at her words. He then gestured her out of the tunnel leading into their secret headquarters. The tunnel was in part of a park set near the outskirts of Cairo, but the actual base itself was below a nearby apartment block which had been a site of a fight between rival gangs years ago and been condemned since. The police and every other official thought that only squatters lived there, and hadn't noticed that anyone sent to investigate tended to disappear or be turned aside somehow. It was also, as Riptide had said, actually quite close to the original hotel that Mystique, Morph, and Destiny had been using during their stay in the city.

Without a backwards glance Irene made her way through the park out into the city proper, slowly making her way towards the hotel. Even as she walked, however, her powers were reaching out, delving into her own personal future. Even as old as she was, Irene could still see her own place in the future for up to a week without straining herself. She blinked in bemused shock for a moment before very carefully concealing any further reaction to what she had felt coming towards her in the future.

A bomb inside my room? Really? How...plebian. I would've thought they would've gone for a clean assassination: some poison in my food, perhaps, or a knife in the dark. But I suppose they could blame the attack on anti-mutant groups if they want to rouse my friends' ire further against normal humans and think they would believe it. Or simply blame religious fanatics for attacking a woman not wearing a hijab or any number of other reasons. In this cit you're rather spoilt for choice, frankly. The methodology still bothers me, however. It seems... seems rushed somehow. Sloppier then I would have thought this group would be.

Irene soon entered the hotel, nodding politely at the concierge who didn't look up from her computer work beyond a bare moment to smile at her. Irene entered an empty elevator a moment later. Luckily this hotel did not have cameras in their elevators, or she would've had to disable them before she did what she actually did next, which was to pull out a super-thin cell phone and holding it to her ear. "This is Destiny. Requesting immediate extraction."

A few moments later the elevator opened on a floor three floors below hers, only there was no one there to the visible eye. This state of affairs continued until the elevator doors closed, and Harry came out from under his invisibility cloak. His black hair looked even more disheveled than usual, and his eyes were rather bloodshot, as if he hadn't had much sleep the night before, though the number of hickies Irene saw around his neck told her that it had been in a good cause. "Good morning, Irene. Did you and the others have an interesting time?"

"Quite interesting. Moth and Mystique are now ensconced in the MLF. But this isn't their main base, so don't think about going in guns blazing just yet," Irene warned.

"Wouldn't dream of it. Your paramour knows she can reach out to us if she needs it, and there's a backup team nearby." So saying, Harry pulled out another object he had been dragging along underneath the cloak, its feet and his both covered by a Muffilatio.

Destiny blinked, pouting a little as she stared at a doppelgänger of herself. Do I really look like that? So, so wrinkled? It's a wonder Mystique still puts up with me. "I realized that they would be lifelike, but that lifelike?"

"I wish I could take the credit for this one, but I can't, since a simulacrum I'd create wouldn't be able to take any damage and retain its form. But Reed does good work," Harry said with a shrug. "Anything you need to tell me now before we get out of here?"

"The mutant that might be the leader of this group is ageless, or at least has not aged since World War II and is going by the name Mr. Sinister. He preaches mutant superiority as we already knew, but beyond that I have no concrete information," Destiny said with a shrug. "They're very compartmentalized and very security conscious."

"They should be," Harry replied grimly. "If I find their main base I'm going to come down on it like a sack of bunker busters."

"That's a new one," Destiny replied dryly.

"Bricks are too weak and too small to describe what I will do to them," Harry said with a shrug. "You want me to program this flesh-bot to just walk to your room, open your door, and what?"

"Flesh-bot? Reed does know what that sounds like, doesn't he?" Destiny asked weakly.

"He will when Susan hears him refer to them as such. I actually want to be around when he does," Harry laughed, before repeating his question.

Rolling her eyes at Harry's sense of humor, Irene said, "Yes, but then have it start getting undressed for a bath, I think. That is one luxury that they did not allow us since they recruited us. After that, the…robot, I refuse to call it a flesh-bot, should probably go sit in front of the TV to watch some TV for a few moments. That will put it at the optimum position for it to be utterly destroyed by the explosion I have foreseen in my future. But we're certain that this robot will fool people?"

"Read created this simulacrum to match the ones AIM has been apparently using to cover its kidnapping of scientists the world over, so we should be fine. Don't ask me how it works, though. While I might be a decent engineer, this thing is beyond me."

When the door opened next the simulacrum walked out, following its new orders. Behind it the door closed once more on an empty elevator, yet it continued to rise towards the roof until Harry teleported himself and Destiny directly to Camelot, having used Ororo's method of teleportation to travel to the city and to depart.

For a few moments the simulacrum continued on its way, opening the door and entering the room. However when it went to start changing to go into the bath, the explosion that Destiny had predicted went off, immolating the room and the simulacrum. Its burned remains would be found in a few hours as a Muslim terrorist group claimed responsibility for it.

OOOOOOO

Eager to start putting together the next wave of expansion to the EDF, Harry, Jean, Carol, and Nikolai met the two admirals and the other UK officers and noncoms who had been ordered to join the EDF later that morning. After having spent a night with Jean and Emma, Harry was somewhat surprised that Admiral Powers had already put together a small staff, consisting of six more officers to go with the four noncoms and captain who had been involved in the meeting the day before.

Powers introduced them, but their names didn't register so much as their specialties: logistics, communication, training, and research. There were three logistics officers, all of whom recognized Admiral Whittaker, who was more famous for his work in that area then for his field work, and one man from each of the other specialties.

Harry had them all sign the non-disclosure agreements, though as he put it, "Those won't really matter soon, given what we're going to tell the UN. But some of the things we can do will remain a secret even after that, and we still want to control what other information gets out as much as we can."

He waited for a time until they had all signed, then led the group through Magical Minds. Entering his office, Harry gestured to what looked like a normal door set into the wall. "If you will follow Phoenix through, gentlemen?"

Shrugging, the men did so, only to find themselves blinking, somewhat disoriented for some reason on the other side. The men found themselves in what looked like a long hallway dominated by what looked like several free-standing stone doorways.

Whittaker looked around for a moment, his engineer's background coming to the fore suddenly. "This room can't possibly be on the same level of the MM building as the office we were just in. Not unless I got turned around or half the offices we passed on the way are fake?"

"Not a bad try, Admiral, but not quite. What you just used was part of our transport system," Jean replied, once more in her Phoenix guise and feeling remarkably mellow after an excellent date last night with Harry and Emma. Emma wasn't part of this meeting, having volunteered to watch Ororo for the morning, both since due to the time difference between Scotland and New York she had no meetings of her own, and because she had pulled something during the aforementioned excellent date.

Shaking her head to clear it of such thoughts, Jean continued her explanation. "Each of these doorways leads to another one of our holdings or those of our allies. This one at the far end, however, is the only one you're going to be able to use. All the others are locked. No offense, but while we trust you, we all still have secrets from one another."

Some of the Brits looked a little affronted by that, but Harry spoke before anyone else could. "Only a few of those secrets even peripherally touch on the EDF in terms of logistical bases and research departments. The rest have to deal with the Custodes and our planetary-based enterprises. For instance, one of them leads to Avalon Academy, the secret school the British press have been wondering about ever since the young princess Modell was removed from her private school after the attempted kidnapping on her."

That mollified all of them, and they followed Harry and Phoenix to the runic doorway. This one was a permanent connection to Fortress Mars. The other end had to be recharged by Harry once a week, but it was faster and easier to travel to Mars in this manner than relying on the house-elves or Harry's own ability to apparate there. Harry could do so, but among the house-elves only Cory had been able to do the same thing from Babylon. The others had to work in groups to get there, but because they had their own magical cores were fine once they were there.

"I will warn you, this time you'll feel quite a bit more disorientation than you did coming here from Magical Minds," Harry cautioned. "I would recommend you speak up now if you had a large or greasy breakfast."

Even though they now looked apprehensive, the officers and noncoms all stepped forward bravely, crossing the threshold of the runic doorway one after another.

Harry quickly followed Whitaker and Powers and held them by their arms as they shuddered, their legs feeling like jelly underneath them. One or two of the others actually did fall to their knees for a moment, but most of the officers and noncoms bore up under the odd sensation easily.

One of them caught Harry's questioning look, and he chuckled. "Lifetime spent on the ocean in all sorts of weather, Mr. Potter. Your first real blow will either toughen your stomach or drum you out of the navy. Besides, half of us here are flyboys."

It had been a long time since Powers had flown his own plane or Whittaker had strode a deck, and they were much older than the others to boot. Yet even so they recovered quickly and looked around them in surprise at the size of the cavernous hanger bay. "This is the entrance to Fortress Mars. Needless to say we can't bring anything too large through the doorways, but we've got several of the captured ships working as tugs at present bringing in supplies. But if you think this is interesting, we'll have to stop by the observation deck."

The officers willingly followed Harry, and the group picked up Carol and Dr. Banner as they travelled through the fortress. Carol took over most of the discussion then, having come to be regarded as the commander of Fortress Mars somewhere along the line. Under her direction the group entered an elevator and proceeded to ascend around forty stories up.

"Of course this isn't even a tenth of the total height of Olympus Mons even now, but we decided to build down and out for the most part early on, working from the designs Harry and Phoenix had come up with for a rudimentary base." The elevator doors opened, leading them directly out into a square room whose entire outer wall was dominated by glass, letting the newcomers look out onto the landscape of the red planet beyond. "But we couldn't stop ourselves from creating this little gem."

Mars would never be gorgeous like a living planet could be especially after Harry had glassed it during his fight with Thanos. But there was something astonishingly beautiful about its blasted, seared majesty, coupled with the certain knowledge that they were now on another planet, that took the watcher's breath away. Harry and the others waited for the newcomers to get over their surprise before ushering them back into the elevator.

Soon they were ensconced in a conference room built to one side of Fortress Mars's command center. It was connected to the command center's numerous computers, though many of them were still offline. At least the orbital sensors were working, as was the computer screen in the conference room.

Whitaker was the first one to comment on this, shaking his head. "The overall design is good from what we've seen, but this fortress is nowhere near combat ready."

"Needs must when the battle comes to you. As for making it combat effective, I'm grateful you and these gentlemen are here, Admiral," Harry retorted. "The purpose of this meeting is to get you all up to speed on what you'll be working on, and what type of servicemen and women we're looking for. We also will be discussing some of the rules of the EDF which differ from most militaries. Shall we get down to it?"

The logistics aspect of that discussion went easily enough. Harry, joined by Sage halfway through the meeting and by Carol when it came to Fortress Mars itself, explained things to the satisfaction of their listeners. Harry was well pleased by the team Powers had put together. They asked insightful questions and listened to the answers, had a good head for numbers, and Whittaker in particular seemed to have a grasp of the engineering aspect of the work continuing on Fortress Mars and with the captured fleets. He, Carol, and Jean nearly went off on a tangent at that point, but Harry called them back.

Harry brought the conference back on point by working with the computer for a moment, bringing up the images of a few of the ships. "We're going to use the Hellion and these other two ships, which we've decided to call Buckler and Countershock, as training vessels. Max crew complement for the Hellion is 750 men, max for the battleship Buckler is 4,000, Countershock falls between them at 2,500. We've looked at ways to cut down on that through more automation, but it's an ongoing process that keeps getting pushed back. However, far smaller crews can pilot and look after the ships outside of combat ops. In terms of training sailors, those ships will be yours, Admiral Powers, along eventually with Warspite once it's operational."

Powers nodded, looking over the information on the ships closely. "Will we be based on the ships for training or here on Fortress Mars?"

"That is up to you," Harry replied bluntly. "I'd recommend the training cadre you will have to create first live on the ships for a time. There are a lot of things that you just don't realize about being in space if you don't live in zero-G for a while. Carol here has put together the start of that training. Nikolai, however, has handled the other side of things, the training of our marine force."

"Marine force? You mean ship boarding and defense, right?" one of the noncoms asked.

"Indeed," Nikolai said as he stood, and he began to briefly describe the training he, Scott, and Carol had put together over the last few days. Most of it had come from him and Carol, though Scott had thought up a lot of the tactics they used in the actual fights. "We will have a formal training regimen for you to look over by the end of the day, but we are also holding a training session this afternoon if you'd like to join us."

"But what we need even more than that are workers: dock men, welders, riveters, electricians, engineers, boilermen! We'd also like more ship designers, but the, I suppose you'd call it the blue collar workforce is the most necessary aspect right now," Harry interjected. Even after Kitty finished her work on the time dilation cavern that would be the case. "Besides, they can work on the captured ships and get to know them all first hand as well as get valuable experience in zero-G."

"When do you envision us building our own capital ship designs?" asked one of the new officers, a middle-aged man with a handlebar mustache that did nothing for him named Durham, though Harry couldn't remember his first name.

"Carol?" Harry asked, looking at Carol and Jean.

Carol too turned to Jean who shrugged her shoulders. "Our reverse engineering has proceeded apace, and we have looked at a lot of the Kree ships at this point. We could start designing capital ships now if we weren't stuck on the defensive and had any resources to actually build the things. As of this moment though, we don't have the resources or people to devote to that project, nor really the incentive. We have more captured ships than we can crew at this point, and will for months.

"Mind you," Jean went on, looking over at Carol who nodded firmly, knowing where the redhead was going with this. "We will want to as soon as we can. Reed told you how the Kree and maybe the other big powers out there have reached a tech threshold. We think that's carried over into ship designs. We have a lot of ideas we'd really like to follow up on."

She looked up sharply at Dr. Banner, her empathy-based telepathy picking up a sudden spike of something from him. "Dr. Banner, is there something you want to tell us?"

Bruce twitched at that, his eyes narrowing and staying silent. But as Harry joined Jean in looking at him, he looked away, speaking up with manifest reluctance. "I have been looking at the Kree sensor equipment and I have possibly developed a series of countervailing systems which could be used to block them at anything but close range."

Looking at Bruce closely, Harry had no need of Jean's telepathic prod to want to question this statement. "And when were you planning to share this?"

Bruce flared up with anger at that so much that Harry readied a tickling spell in an effort to try and calm him down. "Recall, Potter, that you are keeping me prisoner against my will! I work with you on sufferance, nothing more."

"Recall, Bruce, that you are working with us to make up for the deaths you caused as the Hulk!" Harry retorted. "While Thanos might have controlled you, it was your hubris that put you in the position where you could be targeted by him. Work with us whole-heartedly, and you at least will be allowed visitors. If not you can lose such privileges."

After a moment Bruce looked away, nodding, guilt flashing across his face for a moment.

"What will my duties be, sir? As soon as I am up to speed, I mean?" Admiral Powers asked respectfully, if awkwardly. It felt odd to be saying sir to someone not affiliated with his country's government, and the moment was rather awkward as well.

Harry didn't notice this, smirking at the other man. "We'll get you up to speed right quick, trust me, though to you it won't seem quick at all. As for your duties, you'll be in charge of organizing and running the day-to-day repairs and the fitting of the ships, the logistics of the training cadres, and the housing for the military types as well as their unit organization. Sage, another one of my employees, has a lot of that already organized, but she won't be the one actually running things, and if you look through it and see things you want to change, that will be fine. While Sage is doing a fantastic job organizing, she just doesn't have enough time to actually lead."

Powers nodded thoughtfully, and asked several questions that Harry fielded easily enough. Whittaker joined in, and was informed he'd be in charge of the same sort of thing for Fortress Mars. There, however, most of the work force would be droids or civilians, so he wouldn't have as much military-style authority. Harry also informed them of the power structure among his people. Harry and his ladies were at the top. You could argue if you thought you had more information, but they were to be obeyed. Dr. Doom too. If he gave an order he should be listened to, just like Reed or the Thing, whose inclusion was a bit of a surprise. When it came to military matters, Carol, Nikolai, and Scott were also to be listened to, but could be overruled, though the individual who did so would have to back that up in front of Harry.

When the two admirals were satisfied, one of the noncoms from the other night spoke up. His name was Ernest Macready, and he spoke with a Scottish brogue which put Harry in mind of the Gryffindor Quidditch captain from his old dimension for some reason. "You said there are some rules that will be different for the EDF sir?" heasked. "If ya could just give us a bit of a heads up on that, I'd appreciate it, seeing as me and my fellow noncoms're going to be the ones enforcing those regs."

"Most of them are additions, and they deal with safety issues. I shouldn't have to say it, but space is a cold stone bitch, and it has hundreds of ways to kill you if you don't take precautions. We've been able to keep our injuries from accident and mishap to a minimum, but we can't assume that will continue when we are introducing so many thousands of people into the training program at once."

Harry waited until all of the noncoms had nodded at that, wanting to drive the point home. Telling a family that their father, son, daughter, or in one case, mother had died in a battle to defend Earth was one thing. Harry had yet to have to tell a family that their loved one had died in an accident, and wanted to keep it that way for as long as possible. "I'll let Carol explain all that to you later today. Needless to say, if she says to do something, you do it. I expect you to work closely with her on this score."

"That will be a delight indeed," the Scotsman said, bowing in Carol's direction, causing her to snort and roll her eyes. "Anything else?"

"Yes, there is one more thing. As I don't like thinking of myself as a hypocrite, the normal regulation about fraternization in the ranks is not going to be enforced among the EDF." Harry held up a hand as more than one of his listeners tried to protest. "I realize that regulation is in place for a very good reason, and if anyone plays favorites or is caught trying to coerce sex out of one of their junior officers or soldiers they will be done. I will either send them back to their parent military or deal with the issue myself."

Something about the way he said those words made more than one sailor there think of people made to walk the plank for some reason. "Further, any fraternization should take place off duty," Harry went on. "But as I said, I can't allow myself, the Custodes, and my civilian workforce to act in one way and then try to enforce a more stringent rule for the EDF as a whole. It just won't work."

Harry waited a beat, then gestured to Carol who took over the meeting from there.

OOOOOOO

At the same time this cordial meeting was going on, another meeting was taking place back on Earth that was far more vociferous in tone.

"Who the fuck does this Guardian think he is, dictating terms to America!" the President of the United States Ian Johnson roared, pacing the room where he was meeting with the two senators who had taken part in the meeting, General Murphy, and Fury. They had interviewed the others who had gone, save the turncoat Admiral Whitaker, but none of them had anything really important to add to the discussion at that point.

Once more Nick Fury found himself in the uncomfortably new position of havingto defend Potter's actions. "He is the only one in the game, as he told us in no uncertain terms during the meeting, Mr. President."

"He's also the one that that has led this escalation between us and the Kree. If he and the Fantastic Four had let well enough alone, the Sentry that had first appeared would have taken their prisoner back and that would've been the end of it," Senator McGuire of Texas said sharply.

"No, it wouldn't have," his fellow, the senator for Pennsylvania, disagreed. "Mar'vel and that nurse they called in, Una, I think her name was? Those two and their other witnesses made it very clear; the Hellion's captain was going to bombard the planet whatever happened with Mar'vel. The Fantastic Four and Guardian saved a lot of lives taking that ship."

Fury nodded agreement while watching McGuire out of the corner of his eye as the other man tried to get around the security spell or whatever it was that Potter had put on them all. Nothing happened, his mouth opening and closing, his hand still twitching from his attempt to write out the fact that Harry Potter was Guardian. I wonder if he'll keep trying until he loses his voice entirely. Hmmf, might make this meeting go more smoothly if he did. Even so, it's interesting to see that spell activate in person. Magic's powerful stuff.

"Do we have any recourse but to give in to his demands?" Fury asked, his eyes twitching over to the NSA director, who had been brought into this meeting for some reason. "As director of SHIELD I don't know of any, so if we do it would be a surprise."

"It's supposed to be your place to find solutions to problems like this, Fury!" the president roared, but Fury looked at him disdainfully before looking over at the Pennsylvanian native whose name was Jeffery Robertson.

That worthy sighed loudly. "I stayed up half the damn night and the entire trip back thinking about this, and I am still not certain how the American public would react to the idea of us loaning out troops, especially that many, to another group besides the UN. But if we want to be a part of this, I think we need to go in whole hog. If the Brits are the first to free up officers to serve with Potter to organize things, then America has to be the first to meet the full manpower requirement, and then some. We can do that easily enough."

America did, after all, have the largest and most powerful navy in the world at some three hundred thousand souls, with only the British coming close in terms of power, if not in size. "But I can tell you this, whatever doubts we might face about starting to shunt that manpower around now from the Senate and possibly the public if they learn of it, none of the public will concern themselves about Americans serving under Guardian once his meeting with the UN is concluded," Robertson said dryly.

Fury chuckled, knowing exactly how popular Harry Potter, as owner of Magical Minds, was in both America and in many other countries. Despite the fact that he still couldn't sell his medicine in America because America hadn't yet cleared it for distribution, his stance on free access to his medicines for veterans who could make it to the UK, the number of jobs he offered, and the pay scale for them had made him exceptionally popular in the public eye. And for some reason PNN had showed him in a positive light from the beginning, giving him a shield against CBS and NBC who didn't like him for various reasons. Fury supposed that made sense, since Potter and Seville were both supposedly part of the Hellfire Club, something he had discovered while ripping Buckman Enterprises and Shaw Industries to pieces for their part in the creation of the Sentinel Program.

"That's all well and good, but Guardian still isn't a known entity," Johnson said, now slouching into his chair, his somewhat tantrum like explosion over with for the moment as he returned to his normal despondent state. With only another year in office and not having made his position on the mutant issue clear one way or the other, plus all of the rest which had occurred: the Sentinels, the Hulk, the Abomination, the Hulkbusters, and several other disasters, his tenure as president had effectively ended months ago. He was now a figurehead, a lame duck whose own party would not follow him. He had some respect in the economic circles, but that was all.

"America needs to be in the lead in this, I agree with that. If Guardian is an American citizen, could we use that?" he asked, looking at the others.

"No, I don't think so. He's not from around here, as you might say," McGuire replied ,recovering from his attempt to bull his way through the magic protecting Potter's identity. He leaned back in his own chair, his eyes far away even as he replied the president's point. "There is a way forward though. We could take over through sheer manpower eventually, Robertson's right on what. The more people we order to sign up for the Earth Defense Force, the larger our voice in its running will be, until eventually we can simply set Guardian and his policies aside."

Fury and Robertson shared a look, but said nothing. It wouldn't work, but if it got more Americans into the EDF and defending Earth from the Kree and other threats out there, who cared?

"That sounds doable, so long as the Chinese don't join up with him," the president replied dourly, not noticing the look the other two men shared. "I still don't like dealing with a complete unknown like this, like he's an equal, but we can work with him for now, I suppose."

"And of course some of the people we assign will be agents. A shotgun approach might be best, Mr. President, not just in number, but type," said the chief of the NSA, nodding to himself as he made plans to plant agents in the men and women assigned to join up with the EDF. "Try deep cover agents, hypnotized agents, agents who have entire personas embedded into their minds only activated through a single code, or others with embedded scanning equipment who don't know anything about it."

"All of which SHIELD has tried already to get a spy into Guardian's faction. It hasn't worked," Fury cut in, rolling his one remaining eye at the man's idiocy. "We do know our business, Lester."

Lester Lighter, who hated his first name, glared at his fellow director angrily. "We don't know until we try. Besides, whatever security Guardian has used in the past will surely strain to accommodate so many newcomers at once."

"Do it," the president ordered, ending the argument before the two senators or the strangely silent general could choose sides. "We'll go forward with the idea of taking over via manpower, but I want agents in place to move against Potter the moment he shows himself to be a threat to America or if the opportunity arises to take over the EDF entirely. No other power in the world can be trusted to be the world's policeman!"

Fury, the general, and Robertson looked at one another unhappily, but they nodded their heads, obeying his order. Fury would anyway, what the senator would do was anyone's guess, though he had been included in the meeting with the understanding he could not share what occurred without the president's say so. Plus there were also Potter's magical protections to consider.

Despite that, Fury left feeling somewhat satisfied about how it had gone. He agreed with the president that they needed some eyes on the EDF, just as he had long thought he needed eyes on Potter himself. It hadn't worked out that way, but then again Potter hadn't proven himself a threat. A powerful individual with unknown abilities, but not a threat. Remember that, Fury. There is a fucking difference. You can plan, but you can't move against him unless he proves himself a threat.

To say that watching Potter's people defend Earth from the Kree had a profound effect on Fury was an understatement. So too had talking to his friends Rogers and Dugan. Both of them had pointed out that maybe Fury was jumping at shadows a little too much, and they both trusted Potter too. That counted for a lot now that Fury had begun to second guess himself on this point.

He wasn't jumping at shadows a moment later, however. Coming to his car, Nick used a remote to unlock the door, something that had yet to become common on the civilian market, but which had become wide spread among special service agents. As he did so, he faintly heard a click underneath the normal beep.

Instincts honed from a lifetime in espionage had Fury diving backwards behind a nearby car just as his van exploded, covering the area with shrapnel, some of which impacted his back and the side of his face, hurling him away. Even so, Fury slammed his hand down on his phone, activating his emergency beacon before blacking out from the pain.

OOOOOOO

"So the big man's all right, then?" Tony asked, leaning back in his chair. "That's not what the rumor mill's saying. I heard at least five people saying he was dead just walking from the hangar hay up to here."

"He'll live, but he is in critical condition. How the hell he was able to even activate his emergency beacon I don't know, but I've gotten used to the boss being tougher than stone," Dugan said with a chuckle, shaking his head. Currently he sat at Fury's desk, but found it an uncomfortable fit, which made him glad Nick would return to duty. Soon, if he had anything to say about it, which he did.

"Maybe, but stone can crack. Is there any clue as to what the attack was about?" Steve asked seriously, sitting down next to Tony and rolling his eyes at Stark's laid back attitude.

"There was a report the day after that space battle that the Red Skull might be activating sleeper agents the world over," Dugan replied, noting Steve stiffening at the name of his nemesis. "We assume one of them was involved because we can't figure out anything else. It was a very professional job. No evidence left behind, no pictures of anyone being near the car despite the area being both patrolled and under constant video surveillance. Hells, we don't even know why or how it exploded with such force! I have Pym down there examining the debris now. Hopefully he'll find something."

Stark huffed a little at that, but nodded. When it came to explosives at least, Henry Pym was a little better than he was he was, and Tony was man enough to admit it.

"So why haven't you quashed the rumors that Fury's dying?" asked Steve shrewdly.

"Because his location is completely secret at the moment to anyone not involved with SHIELD, and this attempted assassination has all the earmarks of an inside job. I want to see if anyone else tries for Nick, then nab and break them," Dum-Dum said coldly.

Nearby Hawkeye nodded, touching his bow meaningfully.

It turned out, though, that no one tried to attack Fury further. Realizing this, Dugan used his magic mirror to call in Harry a few days later. After a few minutes spent ragging on Duggan good-naturedly Harry came by to heal him via the healing spells Ororo had taught him several weeks ago. Harry had gotten a lot of experience using those spells after the battle above Mars. And this time he didn't even have to talk to Fury, the man being sedated at the time.

OOOOOOO

Harry was holding Jean in a one armed hug as they exited into the Hall of Doors after their meeting with Powers, where he took a moment to once again kiss the redhead tenderly on the lips. Jean returned the gesture eagerly but eventually they exited the room out into the rest of the Castle. From there they went up to check in on Ororo, finding her still unconscious of fourse. Although it might have just been Jean's imagination, but she thought that Ororo's color looked quite a bit better today.

That makes sense. The reports about weird weather systems have been decreasing dramatically with every day that passes, the storm fronts up north in particular. That one weatherman from CBS looked fit to tearing his hair out about it this morning, Jean thought, hiding a chuckle as she sat down next to her friend/lover's unconscious form.

Emma was quite happy to see them and stood up quickly. "I have three meetings I need to get to this afternoon, two of which deal with making moves against Osborne, so are rather important, I'm afraid to say. I can't even stay for lunch if I'm to get the first one in time."

"Remember, in two day's time I'm going to be meeting with the representatives of my workforce," Harry warned. "I'd like you or Jean there, which means someone will be have to be here to watch over Ororo."

"We can get the kids to do it, Harry," Jean said with a smile as she took Ororo's hand. "They sometimes sneak up here to look at Ororo anyway."

Harry nodded, smiling at the idea of the kids. "I actually have time for a lengthy lunch break, so I'm going to go see what they're up to."

"And you have that meeting with the Mandarin in Vietnam this afternoon?" Emma asked, though her tone made it more of a prod to make certain Harry didn't forget.

"Yep. Should be quite 'interesting', possibly in the Chinese curse meaning of the term," Harry said dryly.

Jean rolled her eyes then settled back into the chair. As Harry left, Jean began to talk quietly to Ororo. "You're missing out, Ororo. I'm beginning to get those weird cravings that pregnant women are supposed to get. The only problem is I think that having a magical husband sort of defeats the purpose of having those cravings in the first place. He could just conjure up everything, and it won't even have any calories! How the heck is he supposed to prove his undying devotion to me if he can just conjure food from the air! Mind you, not having to deal with morning sickness thanks to a few of the female house elves knowing how to make a potion to get rid of it is beyond compare."

It could have been her imagination, but for just a moment Jean thought she saw Ororo's lips twitch into a smile.

While Jean was having her one-sided conversation with Ororo, Harry had escorted Emma down to the Hall of Doors, given her a kiss for good luck, and then headed further down to the dining hall. There he found almost the entire castle present save for Hela and Shiang Chi. Harry knew that Hela had wanted to get some unarmed combat training today, so supposed that their training had gone over time.

Putting that thought to one side for now, Harry moved into the hall. Coming to a table, he gently pushed Melody and Illyana to either side, sitting down between them. "Budge over there. You've got one hungry wizard here."

After giving out hugs to the two girls and head pats to the other kids, Harry allowed himself to drift for a bit on the happy chatter all around him. The kids' discussion centered on what they were learning in the form of a group language arts project, a fantasy story they had to write along with the fact the teachers were trying to organize another field trip. This time it was going to be a historical field trip to Athens, and then from there to Paris for a trip to the museums.

Harry shook his head, looking at Ms. Brown. "Do it the other way around. The trip to Paris is a day trip, all well and good. But the trip down to Athens should be an overnight thing. Buy a hotel down there for the night, hit up the tourists things in the morning, then head to…Anavaissos, I think it is. And spend the rest of the day there."

That idea brought a cheer from the kids, and Ms. Brown rolled her eyes while Harry went on. "In fact if you put it off until after the UN meeting, myself and the ladies might actually be able to join you."

"That would be a help," another teacher said with a laugh. "I can't imagine that the beaches near Athens would be as well organized or as friendly to large groups of kids as that Althing was."

"I've heard this Althing mentioned before, though I understand that you went there in part to gather information?" Hela said, thumping down to one side of the table. Gone was her normal immaculate appearance. She looked sweaty, her black as night hair matted to her face and mask, and she moved as if she was in some pain.

Even so, Hela was very aware of her surroundings, and when Illyana tried to subtly point a finger at her she waved the younger girl off. "None of that, Illyana. While I enjoy your attempts to prank me and my reprisals against said, you have to be in the right mood for it. I've been told a good prank has to not only make the audience laugh, but the individual it has been perpetrated upon. If it does not, then the prank must serve a purpose beyond humor, or else become malicious in nature."

Illyana nodded thoughtfully, the color changing spell she had been building up fading from her mind. "That makes sense."

Then she looked over at the young, white-haired boy sitting across from her, kicking him under the table. "Besides, our friend here has something to say."

Harry looked at the young boy kindly. They had not been able to spend as much time as Harry could have wished together, but he had still gotten a decent enough appraisal of the kid's character while watching him interact with everyone else. "Yes?"

"I've chosen a name, Einzahl. It means singular. I, I might be this Magneto man's clone, but I don't know him, and I'm not him. I'm not some kind of remnant or second chance! I'm my own person!" the boy said with a shout.

"You are your own deeds, not that of the person who created you for his own purposes," Hela agreed, reaching over to fondly ruffle the boy's hair. She generally wasn't very good with children. It wasn't something she'd ever had practice with; children's souls were a slightly different matter. But she had enjoyed getting to know the majority of the children living in Camelot since her arrival. Hela wasn't certain she'd deal so very well with all children, and there were a few of the newcomers who had been brought in recently by Wendy and her teams that grated on her. But they were in the minority.

"I approve too. In fact, I'm glad to hear that you have decided to cast off any connection to Eric. He was in many ways a great man, but a terrible man too," Harry said, thinking about what Ollivander had once said about Voldemort. Magneto might not have been Riddle's brand of evil, and his cause might have been just at one point, but his actions in the pursuance of that goal were undoubtedly evil.

As the kids returned to their own conversation, Harry addressed the question Hela had asked when she sat down. "Yes, we did go to the Althing to gather information, but it was also a lot of fun, and everyone liked how well organized it was and just how much stuff there was to do. It was a mix of a park, a sports competition, and a Viking themed historical re-inaction."

"Perhaps we should organize a trip to he other one in Norway you said was going on to coincide with the American one ending," Ms. Brown said thoughtfully, exchanging a glance with the other teachers and the principal of Avalon. "As you know, we have a series of tests coming up in language arts, mathematics, and social studies, our equivalent of the standardized tests for the UK."

Harry nodded, understanding what that meant. The fact that most of the students were scoring well above the normal percentile was a mark in Avalon's favor, but they still had to have a standardized set of tests which could then transfer over into the larger educational realm.

"Going to another Althing like that would be a fantastic treat, but if we do that we shouldn't also do the trip down to the beach," another teacher cautioned. "We want to reward the students, not spoil them."

"I suppose that's true," Harry said, frowning thoughtfully, though his first inclination was to give all the kids anything they wanted, something he knew was his reaction to the chance to make things right vicariously for what he went through growing up. "How about we push the beach idea back to Halloween. Say, in October? That'll allow us to use it as a present for the next round of testing, won't it? And if we do that, we might be able to also book an entire beach somewhere. Then we can bring in the families of some of my workers, the X-Men, and some of the parents too."

There weren't many actual parents around, but the few that were had become all the more precious. Ms. Brown and the other teachers had made it a point to communicate with them, especially with Kitty's parents. The elder Prydes had stepped into the role of parents for a lot of the kids, and Harry could see them even now talking to a few of them at a nearby table, working with them on some of their homework. Both of them had left their old jobs behind to make a full time commitment to the school and the kids here, and Harry truly appreciated it, as did their daughter.

"I too would like to go to an Althing. It sounds like a fantastic amount of fun," Hela said with a chuckle. "And what better way to see for my own eyes what our followers believe then to mingle with them in person like that? Seeing them in action after that ugly business in America did not sate my curiosity on that point. Their deeds were good but it has only sharpened my interest into who they are as a people"

Harry looked over at the teachers who all nodded, though the principal interjected a word of caution. "I will need some more money to book a beach like that. I presume we'll make it an overnight trip? The budget we're working for doesn't have any space for something so extravagant."

"We'll also have to make certain about security at the site, just in case. As for money, I'll have Cory drop off one of my credit cards to you when you get around to booking it."

The conversation continued from there for a time, with all of them catching up together. Harry decidedly kept the conversation on the light side of things despite Hela's efforts to draw him out on the meeting the other day and how it went.

Eventually Harry stood up, shaking his head as he glanced up at the clock set up above the main doors. "I, unfortunately, have to go. Hela, would you care to walk with me upstairs for a moment?"

Hela did so, having finished her own meal, and was eagerly looking forward to taking a bath. The private bath, or rather the adult's only bath, was a thing of wonder to her, making her own hall's copper bath and even her bathing area look small in comparison. And the shampoos and soaps humans have created, they are truly divine!

"Apologies for not answering your questions in there," Harry said as they ascended the stairs. "I wanted a small break from thinking about all of the many different balls I'm currently juggling."

"Ah, but you are such a magnificent jongleur, I mean, juggler" Hela quipped, a smile on her lips, her eyes twinkling with amusement behind her half-mask. "But I am truly curious in how that meeting went. You declared yourself to the representatives of the world's major powers, how they reacted to your efforts and requirements is of great interest to me."

"Would you like to see it from our perspective? I know you've shot down the idea of looking at our memories of our interactions with you, but the pensieve can be a useful tool. I was planning to do the same thing for Ororo when she wakes up," Harry said, the last few words coming out more tartly than he had hoped. He wasn't enjoying the feeling of being helpless to do something for his first love of this world and it was getting harder to keep under control.

"She is doing what she feels is best for the world, Harry Potter. Do not denigrate that sacrifice," Hela said sternly but not unkindly, able to empathize with the loathing of feeling helpless more than most others could. "You're not the only one suffering here either."

"I know I'm not, and I know she is, but that doesn't make it any easier," Harry muttered, in a manly display of discontent, which wasn't a pout no matter what anyone else said.

The two of them stopped for a moment then hearing a noise behind them. Turning, they saw Garm once more hauling the reluctant Rahne out to go hunting with him by the scruff of her shirt like she was a disobedient puppy, complete with sad expression and big tearful eyes. This time the Scottish lass had actually tried to bolt up the stairs, only to be grabbed by the back of her shirt and pulled back with ease amid gruffly amused chuckles from the guardian beast.

Seeing the two of them at the top of the stairs, Rahne shouted out, "Help me, Mr. Potter! He keeps on trying to get me in touch with my wolf side, but I…"

"I agreed with him, Rahne," Harry interrupted, his voice kind and comforting. He shook his head once at Garm, who narrowed his eyes in what was clearly a scowl despite his mouth being 'full', before letting the girl go to stand on her own feet. "You can't keep running from a portion of yourself. It's no different than Shiang Chi training you physically; you need to train yourself mentally and to an extent emotionally. Don't let the fear of the beast conquer you, Rahne," he said, whispering words into her ear as he pulled the young girl into a brief hug even as she stiffened at the unexpected touch. "You're better than that."

Rahne's body eventually relaxed, and she nodded hesitantly. But the young girl still wore a hangdog expression as she followed Garm out the door.

Hela nodded approval at what she had just seen, then turned back to their earlier conversation. "As to viewing your memories of it, that will be acceptable, I suppose. Tonight?"

"Yes," Harry smiled at her winningly. "And after that, perhaps you would care to join Jean and I for dinner?"

Hela smiled, eagerly in turn. "I would dearly like that."

Harry paused on the sixth floor, watching Hela walk off toward the communal baths, his eyes trailing down her form for a moment before he was interrupted by the sight of Dr. Druid stumbling towards him from his lab. The sight made Harry frown, thinking about how often he had seen the other man around the castle, coming up with a bare few minutes here and there over the last few weeks.

With that in mind Harry moved toward Dr. Druid, taking the older man by the elbow as he seemed to stumble. But before Harry could say anything Dr. Druid turned and grabbed Harry by the shoulders. "I've done it!"

"That's great Doctor. Done what exactly?" Harry asked, a little worried now by how sleepless Dr. Druid looked given his bloodshot eyes and trembling limbs.

"I did it, I solved it," Dr. Druid said again, almost letting out a manic chuckle for a moment before getting control of himself. "I did it. You told us once about how you wouldn't be able to produce Veritaserum here because some of the ingredients were made from bits of magical animals from your home universe, which our world doesn't have."

Harry nodded, his eyes beginning to gleam. If this was going where he thought it was…

"Well, I've been working on finding out ways to replace those ingredients. And I finally did it! I tested the serum on myself and had one of the house-elves ask me questions, and it worked!" Dr. Druid nearly shouted into Harry's face, his normal self-control long gone buried under lack of sleep and living off coffee or some other form of caffeine.

"That's excellent Dr., I will be happy to see your notes on the matter in the future. That could be a major boon to both our bank account and the future in general. I also have to applaud your ability to stay on task with everything that's been going on recently, I'll be sure to add a bonus for your work."

"What's been going on?" Dr. Druid asked, cocking his head and nearly causing Harry to stumble as he turned to stare at the ball man in frank astonishment.

Leaving Dr. Druid in his quarters, Harry headed up to take a shower, ignoring the wistful thought that he wished Jean could join him for a moment. I know where that'd lead, and I certainly don't have time for it. With a sigh, Harry set such thoughts aside, getting changed into a suit and teleporting up to Babylon after giving Jean one more kiss for the road. From there he adjusted the asteroid fortress's place in orbit to over Vietnam and flew down from there, enjoying the breeze and the sights until he arrived at Hoi An.

Walking through the same town that he and the X-Men had visited those many months ago made him shake his head in wonder. My God, it's only been, what, five months barely? How much has changed!

He was broken out of his reverie when he saw his target setting in an open café, his hands folded in front of him, his eyes closed as if he was meditating. Though Harry had never seen him in person before, Harry recognized the Mandarin instantly from numerous security files he had read, thanks to Banshee and his Interpol connections as well as Sir Dennis's work in setting up this meeting.

The Mandarin was a middle-aged man with coal black hair lying straight down his back to a little below his shoulders and a high widow's peak. He had a somewhat austere looking face and a short, immaculately cared for goatee. He had long powerful fingers and for some reason nails done up like claws, which Harry could see as they were folded in his lap at the present moment. Harry wondered why, then remembered that Dennis had mentioned that the Mandarin liked to affect the style of an ancient Chinese nobleman, and in ancient times the Chinese noblemen sometimes had their nails done like that during times of peace.

On each finger was a single ring, each of them a different color of metal. They were all simple in design, but Harry could feel the power off them even from several dozen yards away. It didn't feel quite like what he would call magic, or if it was it was from a school of magic he was unfamiliar with. He also couldn't get a read from one or two of them at all, indicating that they were either something other than magical, or somehow hiding their presence from his senses.

Harry idly wondered what the effect would be if he asked for a handshake and let his magic draining power loose on those rings, but decided against it. The Chinese did not shake hands during meetings like this, and frankly, while the Mandarin was a criminal, he was a criminal with sharply defined rules. He was more of a Chinese patriot than anything else, and as such, Harry could work with him.

With that in mind Harry wordlessly sat across from the other man, leaning back and steepling his own fingers together as he looked at him.

The Mandarin's eyes had opened as he sat down, and the two of them stared at one another for a short time. Then the Mandarin spoke in Putonghua. "Would you have tea with me?"

Harry nodded his head slightly, and the Mandarin waved one bejeweled hand in the air. A server quickly appeared carrying a small ornate pot of tea which she sat down on a small burner on the table, then delicately poured two small cups of tea before bowing as she retreated just as quietly as she had arrived.

The two men took the cups, nodded their heads politely to the retreating server, and sipped lightly before looking up at one another again. There was silence once more, the two of them feeling one another out for a few moments.

"Normally an individual of your station would not deign to meet with such as I like this. Do I not have a bad reputation in the West, especially in America? A criminal overlord they call me in the news, I believe," the Mandarin said delicately, setting the cup down in front of him to once again look at Harry. "And yet you were the one who initially reached out to me. Curious."

"I take a very pragmatic view on crime," Harry replied in the same language, causing the Mandarin's eyes to narrow for a moment. "Crime will always be with us, so it is best to simply mitigate the damage it can do to the innocent. If you peddled drugs, especially to teenagers or young children, we would not be having this conversation. If you reveled in murder or rape, we would not be having this conversation. You're not above killing, of course, but you don't seem to take any pleasure in it. And while you do deal in drugs, I think and my analysts agree that you do so to only the rich, and you also keep other crimelords out of China."

Harry paused, cocking his head thoughtfully. "Is it true, by the way, that you executed a general Coy Manh recently?"

The Mandarin raised a black eyebrow at that. "You are well-informed," he said somewhat admiringly. "Yes, he had decided to muscle in on my operations in China and actually brought a large number of mercenary groups to do the muscling. They're gone now, as is he. Such conflicts will always be with us, in particular since the lawless city state of Madrippoor is off of the Chinese coast."

"And it serves you and your government just as well as it serves other governments in the world, having a place with where there are no laws in which they can conduct business freely like that," Harry replied dryly.

"Indeed."

The two men fell silent for a bit, and then it was Harry's turn to speak, bringing the conversation to one of the reasons he was here. "I am interested in purchasing those anti-smog devices you have developed. I will, of course, probably have to redesign the packaging, but I think I can reach markets with them that you cannot. I am also interested in…opening up further inroads into the Chinese markets. As a businessman, you could advise me on this."

When Harry said 'advise' he gave the word a particular slant. The Mandarin translated that to mean he would be acting as either a local ally or consultant and would be paid for the service.

"You want more than that now, however, as does my government. Northern China was able to see the light show that one of your Custodes put on to defend this planet from an extraterrestrial threat," the Mandarin said calmly. "It caused quite a bit of concern, and then there was Susan Richards's little interview. It told much, but revealed little. Little about your plans going forward, little about what you really faced, it gave an outline to this threat but gave no true understanding."

"How connected are you with the Chinese government?" Harry asked. He waved his hand slightly, causing the Mandarin to tense until a large portfolio appeared in his hand.

The Mandarin's eyes, however, widened in appreciation. "Sleight-of-hand, Mr. Potter?" he drawled, amused.

Harry nodded. The movement of his hand had actually been to cover his other hand dropping down to his waist where he had pulled the portfolio out from his moleskin pouch. "Sharp eyes you have."

The Mandarin looked down on the portfolio for a moment, noticing that the name on the portfolio was the Kree Threat, and scoffed slightly. "Is that a copy of the information sent to the United Nations after the second space assault?"

"It's an updated version, but on the discs are actual copies of our sensor data from this latest battle." The discs did not contain anything anyone could use to reverse engineer the technology involved. Jean and Sage had gone over it with a fine-toothed comb to make certain of that. It would, however, show the threat, what they had done to combat it, and some data about Fortress Mars.

The Mandarin made no effort to take the portfolio, instead leaning back in his chair once more. "What are your plans?"

"A coalition of the worthy," Harry smirked. "Generally speaking, anyway, to serve under me as commander-in-chief. Every man or woman who is seconded to the Earth Defense Force will serve for five years, during which time they will follow my orders as their commander-in-chief as they would an order from their own nations' governments. I intend to build the Earth Defense Force into both offense and defense given time. If a first or second world country is unable to meet my demands in terms of manpower or materiel, they will no longer be protected if it comes down to prioritizing what parts of Earth to defend. Priority will be given to those nations who have decided to pony up in the only way they can to help defend themselves, then those countries who cannot, and last those countries who have chosen not to."

"That sounds imminently sensible. No true nation should expect to be defended by another without some form of recompense, after all," the Mandarin approved. "Yet how can we actually hurt the Kree? From my reading of the portfolio the UN already has, they are too large a threat for us to truly hurt."

"That's true, but hurting them can also enrich us."

"And so the mystery of how you have space-based ships is solved," the Mandarin replied with a chuckle, leaning back once more. He pulled at his goatee, then nodded slowly. "In any event, the government has asked me to discuss with you what they would need to do in order to join this 'coalition of the willing,' as you put it.

"In your opinion how hard would it be to get the Chinese government and society to buy into the social reforms that I am pushing as Harry Potter, owner of Magical Minds?" Harry asked quickly.

"We would not do so via laws and ordinances as other nations have. We would see to it on a societal level: a word whispered here, a mention there, a public program of welcoming our mutant friends and denouncing violence against them, while coming down hard on any vigilante-ism on either side. We've already begun that last. Chaos such as that sparks is not a pleasant thing for China to contemplate. Indeed, that process has already begun. It is a slow one, of course, given that there have been tragedies on both sides, including one mutant going up like an atom bomb when his power was discovered, but we are making progress."

That this allowed the Party to induct mutants whose gifts could be useful into the military or government was something else entirely.

Harry nodded reluctantly at that, though he too understood what the Party was doing. Still, that was a problem for down the line, and at least whis way the mutants in question were being trained and treated as well as the normal soldiers were. Again, pragmatism rather than pushing for a one hundred percent solution had to be followed. With that in mind, Harry explained the three levels of cooperation he wanted to see.

Listening closely, the Mandarin nodded thoughtfully. "We will have no issue meeting the manpower requirements. The emphasis on Navy personnel may become a bottleneck in a few years as we tend to pride ourselves on our army, but we can still meet the initial requirements easily. Your overall plan of having that many of our troops under arms could be an issue eventually, but then again, there we come back to the fact that you're asking for naval personnel, not army," he said almost as if to himself before nodding sharply. "Very well. While the Party members will no doubt wish to meet with you in person once you have come out into the open, they will agree to these conditions, I feel. But in that spirit, I have two people I would like to introduce you to."

The Mandarin held up a few fingers and two young Chinese, a man and a woman, came out from inside the café. They were both wiry of build and of middle height. They also looked enough alike that Harry pegged them as twins the moment they came into sight.

"These are Lisen Ko and Riang Ko. They are twins recently of the PLN, though both were also trained to become part of the Party's space program before it was abandoned in light of the Fantastic Four's folly. Riang was a captain of a frigate, and Lisen had just made lieutenant commander on a cruiser. They have recently come into my employ after an…embarrassing moment in their naval careers. Their mutant ability is a kind of limited telepathy between the two of them, along with the ability to see what the other is seeing instantly. They can even record what one sees through the eyes of the other. I would like you to employ them in some fashion."

"I can think of numerous ways I could use their mutant abilities, but is that what they want?" Harry asked, directing his words to the two twins.

"What we want is to get out of China," said the twins as one, before the young man, Riang, took a step forward. "We pissed off some very high level people, who were after my twin and my abilities to use for their own gains. We refused."

"Such personal honor does them credit, thoughts it does not fit in with the Party First ideology of China. They were under an incredible amount of pressure to conform to their superior's wishes, and at one point that pressure turned decidedly ugly. Their father, however, had done a significant favor for me past, and I agreed to remove them from the Party's influence."

And win points with me at the same time, Harry thought, but he was too pragmatic to make a point of it. The Mandarin was right. Harry could employ them. A captain and a lieutenant commander who had experience running their own ships? Oh yes, he'd take that. "You realize you will be under suspicion for a time until you prove yourself?" Harry asked, looking at the twins intently. "That kind of ability, coupled with my current desire to keep as much of my space-based programs under wraps as I can… You have to understand that's a big concern."

"We understand, and we'll be willing to accede to any security requirements. We are naval officers; we refuse to be put out to pasture. We are not spies! Or at least, we do not wish to be used as such," Lisen said, moving to stand beside her brother.

"Very well. Then if you will wait there for a moment, I'll take you with me now. I'll introduce you to your superior officers, and they'll slot you into the training cadres." With that dealt with, Harry turned back to the Mandarin, his face going cold and serious. "This brings up a point that I wish you to pass along to the Council. I fully understand that you and every other nation will try to slip in some spies. That's fine. I don't like how the game is played, but I will at least acknowledge that I can't honestly expect you to stop playing it."

Harry tapped the glass of tea in front of them, which shattered at his touch then reformed an instant later, the tea not having had enough time to pour out. "However, that is where my indulgence ends. If anyone is caught actually attempting to steal technology, is caught trying to return technology to the world as a whole to use it to bolster their armies, I will have them deported. But if anyone tries to steal a ship, or make trouble in any way larger than simple spying, I will see them as mutinying in a time of war and execute them on the spot. No matter who they are or how many there are. Do you understand me?"

The Mandarin's teacup paused halfway to his mouth as he watched Harry's little demonstration, and his eyes sharpened as Harry spoke. That is either a sign that Potter understands my nation very well, or is simply a statement of purpose that is rather terrifying. I wonder which it is?

In China the individuals really didn't matter to those in power. It was the Party above all, and all too often people as individuals simply didn't factor into the Party line. It was the welfare and the expansion of the state that was important. But a statement like that would get people's attention for certain.

"I will do so," he said mildly. "Now, about my anti-smog devices…"

OOOOOOO

That evening, after a full day of exercising with their new acquaintances, Mystique slowly slid out of the bed she and Morph had to share, a small device in one hand flashing green as she swept it around the room. The device had two LEDs on it, one of which was glowing green to her surprise, and the other was blank at present. Whatever else, the MLF at least allowed the rooms of their recruits to remain free of bugs, which she would not have assumed given how security conscious they were elsewhere. The other would have lit up if she could have gotten a radio signal out without being noticed.

Behind her Morph swiftly shifted his body to have two heads poking up out of the bedding. The second head quickly morphed to look like Mystique's current persona while she worked with her device. Once she was finished, Mystique nodded at him, and he nodded back, as she swiftly shifted her body into that of Riptide. They'd spent a lot of time around him during the day, and Mystique now had a handle on his mannerisms and accent enough to fool anyone who didn't know the man intimately.

And given his attitude and the fact I'm currently one of only two women here, I don't think I need to know what he looks like under his clothing. Mystique thought, the flash of humor going across her brain like a lightning bolt on the surface of her cold professionalism as she moved to the door.

Exiting the room, Mystique moved towards the meeting hall, nodding to a few of the MLF she knew Riptide was somewhat more respectful towards than the others, who all nodded back as she passed them. None showed the confusion they would have if they had seen Riptide elsewhere in the base, which she had assumed would be the case. Riptide and Scalphunter were definitely the leaders here, but they weren't locals by any means and no doubt had special quarters elsewhere, separated from the rubes.

Nearing a grate high on a wall, Mystique glanced down into one hand, seeing the red light on the device in her hand before moving on. No visible cameras, but possibly hidden cameras or more likely listening devices. Damn. She continued on her way, eventually coming into the commissary, where the device finally glowed green. Makes sense. Too large a space, and far too open. Still, it had that grate in one of the corners...

So thinking, 'Riptide' entered the kitchen, grabbing a midnight snack, which would be the cover for anyone who was looking at the possible hidden cameras, before reentering the commissary. She paused then, listening to some voices from out in the hallway, waiting until they moved away before moving swiftly to the grate she had noticed earlier that day. Pulling out a screwdriver from a small pouch that Potter had given her hidden under several levels of magic, she undid the grate, then shifted into the body of a skinny but tall boy she had seen once before, pulling herself up into the grate and lifting the grate after her.

Redoing the grate's screws from the inside was hard, but Mystique was able to do so via another shapeshift. After that she took the form of a small girl, the better to move through the shafts, and then, her device strapped to one shoulder now, moved through the ducts.

It took her at least an hour of silent, nervous movement through the ducts before she found a portion of the base where she could send out a signal without being noticed, or worse, overheard. It was right by the exterior entrance to the base's air intake, a massive heavy grate none of Mystique's shapes she could take inside the ducts could have moved.

She smiled at that, a grim little smile that looked really out of place on her current form, before she pulled out another device from her hidden pouch. The team had been given two means of communication. One was a radio device, used for normal check-ins. The other was a magic mirror, to be used only when she needed to call for immediate extraction. Harry and Dennis both feared that whoever was behind the MLF knew about Harry's magic, and wanted to keep its use as secret as possible.

So it was the radio Mystique used now. "This is agent M. Backup team, do you read?"

"We read you, M," said the voice of Anne Marie Cortez. She, Neophyte, and Banshee had been assigned as backup for Mystique and Morph. If they needed to be extracted, this team would head in immediately, while Mystique called in further backup from the Custodes via her mirror. They too were in Cairo, but unlike Mystique and Morph they were posing as normal humans rather than mutants.

"Did Destiny get extracted?" Mystique asked, eager to get that out of the way immediately.

"She is fine and back at the castle," Anne Marie replied. "How are you two holding up?"

"The training isn't all that hard in comparison to what I've done in the past, and they don't seem to have any way to tell what our real mutant powers are, which is good. But Morph, between making semi-serious passes at me, commented on how alike this MLF is with the brotherhood, and I want you to make certain that you and the big boss know this might be a long-term operation. This place is only one of their recruitment centers; it's not a main base of any kind," Mystique warned.

"Understood," Anne-Marie replied, sounding little amused. "This isn't my first time round the bend, M, and you know it."

"I know that about you. I just want to make sure that the big boss isn't getting antsy or thinking of coming in, guns blazing. The MLF is so compartmentalized I doubt even a mental scan would get us any closer to their boss or any of their other bases."

"I'll pass that on. Honestly, I think he will be happy to know he won't have anything to do on this front for a while. I got the distinct impression when we talked after he extracted Destiny that he had enough on his plate already," Anne-Marie replied.

"True that. Did Destiny give you the details on our recruiters?" Mystique asked.

"Yes. I recognized Riptide from her report. He used to work for Magneto, then betrayed him for a share of some kind of bank robbery or something like that. It was a few years ago, and I only ever heard about it through my brother. But the thing is…" Anne-Marie hesitated, then went on. "Fabian reported, or at least I thought he said, that…Eric…killed him for that, since his betrayal had led to a pogrom against a few mutants in the city the robbery occurred in."

"If he did, he didn't do a very good job of it," Mystique quipped, wondering what that could mean. "You might want to have Sir Dennis look into that bank robbery if you can remember any details. I also have numerous other local members whose names and descriptions I'd like to pass on now. After this, we probably won't be able to contact you again for a while."

"Understood. We're ready to record here."

Mystique nodded and began to describe what she had seen of the numerous mutants here. She trusted that Destiny had already given a description of Mr. Sinister, however, so did not mention him or the speech he had given via computer. Eventually she finished and signed off, heading back to her room without running into any further issues.

There she got into bed as Morph slowly shifted back into just his own current persona, and then put one arm around her waist, whispering "Darling, I don't suppose you're up for…"

He was silenced by an elbow in the stomach, and Mystique rolled her eyes, rolling away from him in the bed as much as she could. This was going to be a long mission, she could tell.

OOOOOOO

The attack on Fury was but the first such terrorist attack that the world saw over the next five days. Some of these were suicide attacks. Men and women with bombs strapped to them shouting slogans straight from Hitler's Mein Kampf, blowing themselves up in crowds here or there with no rhyme or reason. Others were surgical in nature like the attack on Fury, though Dugan was not pleased that said attack hadn't been followed up on.

Some of these attacks were ineffective, stopped by local police or anti-terrorist forces warned of someone suddenly acting unusually out of character. Others took their nations completely by surprise, despite the fact that the various secret services of the world had been warned by MI6 to be on the lookout. The UK itself saw several terrorist attacks, but thanks to the warning Harry had passed on they were prepared for them, though it didn't stop the death toll from rising to over three hundred people dead or wounded.

Thanks to Harry's warning, however, the world governments had been prepared for this. Acting as one for once, they all touted these attacks as the last gasps of an organized terrorist group that SHIELD had been hammering, not willing to acknowledge that Dr. Doom had played a large role in slowly strangling HYDRA.

Or rather, America and a lot of the democracies of the world did not. Many of Doom's neighbors, on the other hand, praised his actions, as he had loaned some of them some Doom Bots to combat suicide attackers, and because of that had saved numerous lives. That this in turn had allowed him to stop several such in his own conquered territories was a bonus.

But such attacks could not always be stopped. There was literally no way that an open society could protect against suicide attacks, and sleeper agents were even worse. A bomb was planted on Broadway in New York, and it would have killed thousands if not for Spiderman somehow finding the thing and tossing it into the air before it could go off. With his aid the police had even found the perpetrator and actually arrested him.

Other places were not nearly so lucky. Fort Lauderdale, for some reason, was targeted by three different suicide bombers, one of whom blew up a high school full of students, killing hundreds. It was the worst of the attacks on American soil by far.

Other attacks the world over, however, were even worse. One of them exploded a bomb in Paris, badly damaging one of the Eiffel Tower's legs almost to the point where people were afraid the entire thing might come down. Harry slipped Lorna in on the fly that night to help repair the thing, though the French had still made no move to open back door discussions with Harry yet.

Other French cities were also blasted. Belgium saw seven attacks, Norway four, Greece and Italy several. Dennis kept reporting them whenever Harry woke up, and it made for grim reading. The death toll the world over was now in the thousands, and yet the public and the governments in question had reacted well to it for the most part, clamping down as hard as they could, and sharing the news about what was going on.

At the same time, Doom launched his assault into Ukraine, his army rolling forward over any resistance as his Doom Bots went before him, searching for the Red Skull himself, with the nations of the world, even the democracies, cheering him on. The only nation that didn't share in this was Russia, and their subtle moves on the borders of Poland and Ukraine continued apace. Whether or not they were going to try to defend the Red Skull or simply take advantage of his puppet governments collapsing was up in the air.

Doom had also moved in enough anti-air artillery, his own version, to keep any planes on the ground. The Red Skull was not going to escape the country unless he fled entirely into Russia, which was doubtful in the extreme. Whatever their own plans for Croatia after this, Russia had even more reason to hate (though hate was such a small word) the Red Skull than most.

Harry had Thomas Wallace announce that Magical Minds would be willing to pay for the medical expenses of anyone injured in such attacks gratis at any hospital in any nation that it was supplying with its brand of medicine. It was a sign of largess that won Harry and his corporation still more points in the public eye.

Nor was all the violence going on that week coming from the Red Skull's efforts. There were clashes the world over between the Friends of Humanity, the group Harry now knew called itself the Mutant Liberation Front, and actual pro-equality groups along with police. The UK saw several and the Netherlands more, though there the pro-equality groups had quickly ascended into the most powerful position. The idea of blood gifts was taking hold faster and faster there like a rising tide.

With the number of people who had guns in America, the clashes there were shorter, yet sharper, and far bloodier than in most other places, though they didn't actually see as many deaths there between the various groups as they did in South America, Africa, or the Middle East. The police clamped down hard on any violence, having had just about enough of this shit from the various groups, in a sign of nationwide solidarity that was actually surprising...

The X-Men were in action during that time, Scott leading them in several actions to rescue mutants from abuse or assault. And the extraction teams, now led openly by Wendy, were at work constantly. The students dorms in Gryffindor tower were slowly filling up, and Laynia had formally moved out and into the mansion in New York, which took in several other mutants whose powers did not lend themselves to combat or anything else useful. This included the two mutants that Ororo had rescued along with Douglas Ramsey. They would now go to school with the expanded X-Men, covered by the same illusion that Kurt used.

Yet despite all that, Harry and the Custodes were not actually involved as a group in any of these clashes. Colossus and the others became involved in helping the retrieval team in small groups, but they weren't fielded as a team against any dangerous threat during that time.

And Harry, Jean, Emma and even Hela were kept busy elsewhere. Hela's work in the Savage Land continued, fostering more connections and friendships with the tribes there while at the same time seeing to her duties as Goddess of Niflheim via Garm as needed. She also worked with Amara in creating a new set of rules and guidelines in what she called the Speaker's Hall.

It wouldn't actually be used for some time, but it would allow people to bring up grievances directly to Harry or his representatives, bypassing the elected councilmen/women if need be and ensuring that bureaucracy could not create a wall of red tape to separate Harry from his people in this new realm. Hela believed it would get a lot of use until the laws of the country had been filled out enough, and possibly even after. Hela like many of her people believed that laws were meant to be a measure to protect the people they followed them and a privilege to be able to call on, and that required 'feedback' as the term apparently was known, to ensure that was made a reality.

Emma threw herself into planning a full on economic and computer based assault against Osborn. This was a quiet war of acquisitions, money moving here and there, and the very rare outright computer assault, but Emma was fully involved in it to the extent that she rarely showed up in the castle during that time.

With the ban on her going out in missions firmly in place and now even agreeing with it, Jean stayed mostly in the castle watching over Ororo with the help of the kids. She handled what she could on the educational side of things, helping there as she knew Ororo would have been; handled meetings with a few designers at Saab; and worked via her computer with the designers in space, going over what they were learning from the ships as teams worked on them.

For Harry this time was spent in meetings upon meetings. He met with Sage about her handing over power to Admiral Powers in terms of the organization of the ongoing work in space. He met with Admiral Powers, discussing issues there. He met with the Hellfire Club's members where he brokered agreements through which he would be given access to various work crews to come in to create roads and put down wiring and plumbing and such like in the Savage Land. The agreements on that were a little difficult to write up given that Harry didn't want the teams to know where the Savage Land was, but the transportation would be simple enough given that they had captured the submarine Magneto had been using to ferry in supplies.

He also met with Kitty, which as a much more pleasant meeting.

Looking at her hard work, Harry slowly walked every inch of the massive cavern with a fine-toothed comb, looking at each rune in turn and how they interacted. With time dilation arrays any mistake could be quite literally disastrous, and this was the largest project Kitty had ever worked on.

Eventually he moved back to where Kitty stood by the brand-new metal door leading into the massive cavern. "Good work," he said, pulling her into a brief hug and ruffling her bushy hair for a moment. "In fact, I'd go so far as to say excellent work. I don't see any area here I need to correct. How long did it take you?"

"You don't want to know," Kitty said, chuckling and pushing him back lightly. "Let's just say if you were paying me an hourly wage I'd've been doing overtime on it, and leave it at that. Both me and Polaris, along with Wanda. They were a major help configuring the whole cavern, and, as you can see, they were also helpful in gathering a lot of raw material," Kitty said, gesturing to a mass of ingots and raw ore stacked along one side of the large corridor leading into the far larger cavern.

Through their efforts Wanda and Polaris had been able to pull a lot of iron and other ores out of the rock that the cavern had previously been, while also configuring the cavern's walls into a solid mass that made concrete look weak in comparison. Indeed, Wanda was going to be doing the same thing to the rest of the tunnels and inner workings of the fortress. Harry had been ecstatic with that idea, and had offered her the same amount of pay he was giving Lorna for her work.

"You might want to do something with Alex, though. I think he's feeling a little left out given how much time Lorna has been spending here on Fortress Mars with us," Kitty said warningly, shaking her head.

"I'll pass that on to Scott. If Alex is willing to follow Scott's orders he can join the X-Men. He's certainly got the personal training and experience needed. Not quite up to the X-Men's team standard, but close enough." Harry said, clapping his hands once, the sound thundering in the massive cavern, "Now, let's activate this bad boy."

"Um, I'll just be out there," Kitty said hurriedly, shaking her head and backpedaling toward the doors. "I've looked over the arithmatic equations to power this thing, and they are way out of my range."

"That's what I'm here for. Just call me a magical battery," Harry replied, walking with her for a moment.

"Oh, is that what Ororo and the others call you?" Kitty quipped, before ducking out the door before Harry could retaliate.

Rolling his eyes, Harry moved over to plant his hands against the wall at a very specific spot by the door. Here several runes were worked into an even more intricate pattern then the rest of the runic array, around two larger 'intake' runes. Setting his hands down on them, Harry channeled his power into the array, powering it up slowly but surely. Magical light began to glimmer in the array in a spiraling pattern out from his hands.

It took over an hour, the power slowly moving out to cover the entire array in vari-colored light. The power versus area ratio of any expansion runic array was difficult, but the time dilation arrays took that example to an even higher level, and it was actually exhausting even for Harry. It was like trying to teleport from Earth out to Pluto and back several times, which made no sense to Harry's mind when he thought of it later. But he decided that it was simply down to the whole moving time thing and decided to not investigate it further at this time.

Wiping sweat from his eyes, Harry moved over to the door, opening it to find that Kitty had already called for several dozen of the worker drones, lining them up against one wall directly across from the piles of ore. Harry nodded at her, then looked at the group of robots. "Verbal command: You are to build a factory within the environment beyond this door to create further worker droids via the designs implanted in your memories of your own forms. When you are finished, you will call for resupply and be supplied further with more material to feed into the factory."

Thinking about it for a moment, Harry went on, a faint smirk on his face now. "You are to ignore any internal dysfunction between your internal clocks' sense of time and the time of the computer of this fortress. Further, you are to be aware of a light over the doors. If that light goes out, halt work and call for me. Do you understand these orders and can comply with them?"

One of the worker drones was marked by a red slash of paint across its chest, indicating that it was one of the slightly more intelligent droids that had been designated the leader type when Dr. Doom had first introduced them. That, and it was the only type of worker droid that had a voice-box.

"We cannot comply completely," it said in its robotic tone. "There are aspects of our construction that we do not have designs for. Further, we are not purposed to build the smaller, more…colloquialism…fiddly bits of a factory that can create further worker droids."

"Build what you can, then request human aid. However, do not allow any humans into this segment of space until you get an okay from me. There are…call it safety concerns there," Harry ordered.

"We understand and will comply," the droid replied, before leading the rest of the droids into piling into the ore and carrying it into the massive cavern without another word. Harry stood for a moment watching them work before turning to look at Kitty. "Now, let's get you back to Camelot. I think you've earned yourself some time off before school starts."

Kitty blinked, then nodded, her internal balance coming back on line after a bit. "Right, the real world. Don't suppose you could see your way to simply ignoring the fact that I don't finish high school and just hire me full time now, could you?"

"Not a bit, luv. You're going to finish high school and smash records just like we know you can, and then you're going to take college courses online and finish that too! So say your parents and Ororo. I am not nearly brave enough to face that triumvirate when it is united on such as this."

Kitty laughed and linked her arm with Harry, the two of them disappearing an instant later with the crack of apparition.

Harry also met with the new X class, if somewhat accidentally. He had teleported to the mansion to speak to Charles for a few moments on what he had thought was a sensitive subject before he and Emma had to head into New York for, yes, another meeting in New York with Paris Seville.

Having started to date Dr. Doom, Paris had begun to push for at best a neutral and even sometimes a positive outlook on Doom's activities. This was easier to do now with the Red Skull having begun his terror campaign.

She had also begun to paint the Custodes and Magical Minds in a positive light. Admittedly, in Harry's case this was a lot easier for the public to swallow, given that Magical Minds didn't have any negative history, but the Red Skull's recent activities the world over had actually helped in reinventing Dr. Doom's public image. Many people on the street and in power had begun to think that he had attempted to nip the Super-Nazi's terrorist attacks in the bud, but simply hadn't been able to find the man while seeing to the recovery of the nations the Red Skull used as pawns. There was no basis in fact for that belief, but that hasn't stopped people from making the connection.

Harry, however, had wanted to stop by and talk to Charles about an offer he had made the man while they were in the time dilation room. He had asked then if Charles wanted him to try and repair Charles's legs. Charles had told him that he had to think about it, having lived with his legs as they were for so long.

"I still have not decided, Harry. I have had my legs examined by some of the best doctors in the world. Even Steven looked at them, and he could not make me walk. I am not saying you could not heal my legs," Charles said, his voice a gusty sigh. "I am saying that something else is keeping me from walking. Some psychological issue that I have not been able to overcome."

Seeing both Harry and Emma's surprise at that idea, Charles changed the subject, unwilling to dwell on this further. "In any event, I have had progress elsewhere. Ms. Steed should be near to waking up soon, though if she will truly have all her faculties I cannot say at this time. Lorna and Wanda have both worked through the last vestiges of their self-control issues, and Alex is no longer psychologically dependent on Lorna, which makes for a much more healthy relationship."

"And Roberto Dacosta?" Harry asked.

"There, I am afraid, I have only begun work." Charles quirked his bald head from side to side, chuckling quietly. "I only have so much time in any given day, Harry, and before you ask, no, I will not let you set up a time dilation room in the mansion. Scott would not be able to stop himself from abusing it until someone truly hurt themselves, and I am still suffering from headaches occasionally from our time there."

Emma nodded furiously, gesturing to one hand which held a pair of high quality sunglasses, white, of course. "Exactly. I do not want to be involved in that kind of thing again, Potter. In fact, I'd refuse whatever we were working on or discussing. I have had migraines several times since then that almost completely shut me down until they faded, and no amount of medicine helps. Worse, I even had Una and Dr. Druid look at me yesterday, and neither could find anything wrong."

"I know, Emma, and I wasn't going to offer. You're not the only ones complaining of headaches; Piotr and the others are too, occasionally, though Piotr and Amara are strangely enough able to work through them, while Sage is nearly as susceptible as you are. I looked at them when they first brought it to my attention and found nothing I could discern as wrong, or else I would already have offered to try and heal you both."

As the two telepaths nodded at that, relaxing noticeably (migraines were serious business to telepaths), Harry frowned in thought, remembering the 'discussion' he had with Banner a few days ago. "I'm afraid I'm going to ask you to start work with Dr. Banner as soon as you finish with Ms. Steed. We can keep Sunspot under with that Draught of Living Death I gave him, but we need Banner's brain power working for us in full rather than under protest, as he puts it."

Charles winced. "I, I will agree with that notion, I suppose. I don't like it, but I do agree with your priorities." A year ago he wouldn't have, but then the Kree hadn't launched planetary assaults at that point.

As the three of them finished talking and began to exit Charles's office, they heard Scott's voice from the entrance hall. He stood there with a new group of teens, while James Proudstar alias Thunderbird, sat on the staircase leading up, his eyes hard and evaluating. He shot to his feet as Harry came out of the professor's office, nearly saluting for a moment as he did so.

Scott turned nodding his head respectfully to Harry, being slightly more formal at the moment than he normally would have been in front of the newcomers. "Mr. Potter, how are you today?"

"Scott. Are these your fresh meat?" Harry asked, a playful smile flitting across his face as he looked at the group.

"I don't like that label," one of the girls said, popping a large bubble of bubblegum and chewing noisily. "It makes us sound like we're either joining a military or a sorority. I don't like either idea."

Harry looked over at Scott, nodding his head slightly to indicate that Scott should handle this.

Scott turned back to the girl. "You're here because you want to learn how to control your powers. If that's all you want, that's all you'll get out of it. If, however, you want to help defend the rights of other mutants, then you will indeed be joining a sort of military group. We're not soldiers. We don't have a lot of spit and polish, we don't salute, but we do have rules and obligations. Your mutant gifts gave you power. We're going to show you how to use them responsibly."

The girl, who Harry recognized as the one called Boom-Boom, scowled angrily, one of her hands beginning to light up for a moment. "That sounded like it was sent my way!"

"It wasn't," said James, moving to stand beside his commander. "And if you finish creating that bomb I'm going to put you through the wall!"

The girl twitched and seemed to be thinking about doing it anyway, but Scott diffused the situation quickly. "Enough," he said simply, and James backed down. He looked at the girl thoughtfully then shook his head. "I know about all of your pasts, good and bad. But you're here rather than still out on the street trying to use your powers. That means deep down you don't want to use your powers like that, you want to find a cause worth your talents, or perhaps you have a dream worth living for?"

The girl twitched again, but the power gathering around her hand dissipated and she nodded once.

Scott smile warmed at that and he patted her on the shoulder. "Don't worry, we don't hold your pasts against you. That line was actually for everyone here not just you. We've all had a time or two when we were younger or just growing into our powers where we used them without thinking, or we thought they made us better than the people around us. We X-Men have learned that that doesn't make it so. It is what we use our powers for that truly matters."

"I just want to be clear on this," the second girl, who Harry recognized as Jubilee, said. "We can try this X-thing out, right? Try out for the team, and if we decide we don't actually like fighting we can back out later?"

"Yes, your participation is up to you up to a point," Scott replied. "We have an older member named Kitty Pryde who decided that blood and violence wasn't for her. She has since gone on to not only use her powers, but her mind to help our cause. You don't even have to do that. So long as we are certain you can control your powers and know when not to use them, you're welcome here."

"So, in terms of demerits or whatever, are we on some kind of three strike system or something?" said one of the two boys, a snowball suddenly appearing in his hand, flicking over his fingers and up into the air before he caught it. This was Bobby, or Iceman as he was known.

"No," Scott said together with Charles, but Scott gestured to Charles to continue. "Good afternoon, children. In answer to your question, Bobby, if we were on some kind of three strike system several of our members would not be here any longer. Their penchant for pranks alone would have made me think twice about keeping them around."

One of the other boys, a tall handsome young man with blond hair and more of a patrician appearance, had been looking at Emma Frost intently, and she finally rolled her eyes, stepping fully around Harry. "Yes, Worthington? Do you have something to say?"

"I thought I recognized you. Emma Frost, right? We've met a few times," Warren said, gliding around Scott and James and bowing grandly from the waist. "It's enchanting to see you here."

"Yes, and each time we've met you flirted with me, and each time I put you down as bluntly as possible." She looped an arm around one of Harry's, and leaned her head against his shoulder. "If you are going to start down that path again, I hate to break it to you, but I'm already taken."

Harry chuckled and took his cue, putting an arm around her waist.

To his credit Warren quickly backed off, holding up his hands pacifically. "Oh, I wouldn't dream of it. I was just curious. I never thought you were the joining type."

"It depends on what position I'd take when I joined. As it is, I joined the top," Emma retorted.

"If you head upstairs you'll each find rooms. Boys and girls have separate rooms of course. Get your stuff stowed, then come back down here," Scott ordered, once more taking charge of the meeting. "Today we won't be doing much, but I would like to get a handle on the control you currently have over your powers and your physical fitness and introduce you to your teammates: James, his brother, and Sam Guthrie. After that, Professor Xavier will talk to you for a bit about the rules around here in terms of education and how you have to keep your rooms and such like. I handle the X-Men stuff, the professor handles everything else. Understood?"

"Great. Exercise," Boom-Boom muttered sarcastically, bumping her thigh against Jubilee's who nodded agreement. Despite that, the two of them willingly followed the two boys up the steps.

Chuckling at their attitudes, Charles turned his chair around, entering his office once more. This left Harry and Emma alone with Scott and James.

Harry nodded at them. "Good to see the two of you getting along, though I'm sorry we haven't been able to talk lately, Scott. I understand your pure combat missions have slowed down while retrieval missions have gone up? Have you been working with Wendy on that? Would maybe setting up another X-team specializing in that make sense?"

"Wendy and I have already started talking about that. Or rather she, me, and Rogue have. At least, some of their conversations are on that topic…" Scott finished hesitantly. "Sometimes they just stop talking and giggle when I come into the room."

"Run," said both of the other men in the room, after which they looked at one another as Emma rolled her eyes. Harry went on. "When women giggle like that, and especially if they stop and look at you when you enter the room, that is a danger sign."

They all stood for a few minutes talking until the youngsters came back. At that point Emma and Harry headed down to the garage, where he pulled out his Huayra and they set off.

Behind them, Scott looked at James and said dryly, "So, should we throw these kids against your brother for a few hours, or just make than try to tag Nightcrawler? I don't want their spirits broken, just a little humiliated so they know how much more work they have to do in the future…"

OOOOOOO

Harry also, of course, met with the worker representatives, but unfortunately neither Jean nor Hela could join them. Jean was dealing with a few pregnancy pains, and Hela was watching Ororo.

"Okay," he said, sitting down quickly as he looked at the four of them. "Just to be clear on this, you all talked to me the last time, and we all assumed that I would be or had already begun the process of creating my own…call it a colony at this point, but a colony without any home country sponsoring it. Are we still all on the same page there? Have you made certain that everyone else who signed the original petition agrees with that interpretation?"

"There were a few that didn't. They want to know what they can do to help protect their families in the future, and an even hundred aren't interested in completely transferring their allegiance. But for the most part, well, the attacks from space have been very fucking dramatic, and a lot of us have been following what's been going on around the Earth lately."

"Still more just want to be involved in humanity spreading to the stars," said Jacque enthusiastically. "The entire science division, all of their families, and at least half of the miners are interested in eventually living in space. That's basically all they can talk about."

"All right," Harry said with a nod, while to his side Emma shuddered a little, the very idea disturbing her. Babylon and even Fortress Mars were all right, but to actually live in space?

"In that case, this is the Magna Carta, I suppose, for my country." Harry went on, holding out copies to them all. "It's far more limited in scope than the Bill of Rights at the moment, and the lawyers are still going over the wording. But this covers all of your rights and responsibilities under my flag, as well as giving an overview of what I would expect. You have to remember, however, that my nation is going to shoulder a lot of the responsibility for defense of the Earth. We may even institute a mandatory draft in the future."

Terrence barked a laugh, while the others looked over the document. "I know a few of my deadbeat cousins who we could cheerfully push into that kind of thing."

"Look it over," Harry requested, his voice just short of an order as he leaned back in his chair, waiting. He and Emma immediately began their own telepathic discussion, wondering about a few of the weirder concepts Carol had passed on from the quickly expanding design and planning teams. Now that Admiral Powers, Whitaker, and their teams were gaining ground, Carol was now only working with the training teams for the most part, but still routinely acted as 'Chief KISSer,' as one wag put it. "Keep it simple stupid," was a phrase scientists and design teams did not naturally follow. It was well known that Carol had Harry's ear, so her opinion was always listened to.

The four across from them continued their discussion, muttering under their breath here and there to one another as they got to this or that law. Harry thought he detected some doubt on the gun laws thing, but not as much as he would've feared. Apparently there was already some concern, as Hela had pointed out, that mutants would be given preferential treatment under Harry's rule. The fact that unpowered humans would have some way of protecting themselves physically seemed to offset that, and the fact that everyone with a gun license would need to submit to training on it along with registering their weapons took a lot of the initial shock out of their responses.

There was even more consternation at how harsh some of his penalties for lawbreaking were, but that subsided swiftly enough without his or Emma being asked any questions. At one point Marissa Coraline spoke up, looking over at Harry. "And you say we will elect our own officials to become part of a council? Will this be like a cabinet position, or do you envision it to be a senatorial position?"

"A cabinet position," Emma replied for them both.

Harry continued. "I intend to have as few actual laws as possible, and rely on social pressures to truly keep the peace for at least a while. That is open to long-term changes, but for now the rights of the individual is paramount, and I would be against any changes there.

"I also want it understood, however, that I am the one in charge, period. I…am…king," Harry said quietly. "I am open to discussion and happy to hand over responsibility of a lot of day to day things in terms of the running of my country. Outside of morality, in many cases I will cheerfully bow to the words of others whose expertise in one area or another outstrips mine. But when it comes to making laws and setting policy, my word is the final one heard."

That shut them all up for a moment, but they nodded and turned back to their work. Another point made them all look up at Harry. "Wait, so you're going to offer free education up to the college level?"

Harry smiled, a soft, tender smile that had nothing to do with the room around him while Emma chuckled, leaning back in her chair. "My lady Storm has already put in place an educational system up to the middle school level that can handle any number of students. Enlarging it to include the high school level is also in the cards in the near future, though at present we are still using the… call it the base template that is used in the UK for the moment. We have technology and resources that no school in the world has access to, and that has gained us an amazing return from the students in question. So yes, free education." Harry made no mention of the role Pinoptes had begun to assume there. It would come out of course, but not for a while yet.

The taxes portion didn't seem to bother them at all, which was good, though the fact that there were no unemployment benefits did seem to bother all four of them for a while. At that point Jacque and Shusooque took out pads of paper and wrote that down along with a few other points.

Harry wondered why that point had begun the note-taking process, but shrugged his shoulders internally before returning to his telepathic discussion with Emma. As he had told them, this Magna Carta wasn't exactly set in stone. There were some issues he wouldn't budge on, but that wasn't one of them. He had just felt at the time that people should look to their own selves or other public institutions rather than a government institution for aid.

For a few moments the four of them worked on the pad of paper, organizing it into something or other that Harry couldn't see from where he was sitting. Eventually they all nodded, and Jacque spoke up. "All right, I think we've looked through this enough for now. We'll share it with the rest of our people, but does this mean that you already have a place where we could move our families to?"

"No, I won't have that for another few months. I'm actually building it now, but I want you to know this just in case any of your family members were in the construction business or even city planning and want to be involved. I've already contracted several companies for the work, but there's always room for more."

He held up a hand as two of them made to speak. "However, remember that they will be going through a Trust Me array before arriving at the place where they'll be working. If they don't pass that, I would not be in favor of bringing them in until after everything has been set up. And even then, we might have to look at them more closely if they prove untrustworthy."

"Do these Trust Me arrays stop people from being the sort to commit crimes?" asked Marissa questioningly.

"No, they just imply that I can trust someone to not spy on me or have ulterior motives for working for me. There is no runic array they can look deeper into the mind of an individual than that. To do so I would have to abrogate their rights as an individual, and I won't do that without just cause," Harry replied.

"Is that what this line means: that if someone is accused of a crime, they will be swiftly questioned and then released? You wrote a word here we didn't recognize," Jacque said.

"I have a truth serum," Harry replied. "Once someone has been given it they will answer any questions given to them. They will have to agree to the questioning, of course. If they don't, however, that too can be a sign of guilt, and they can be given it unwillingly afterwards. But if they are proven innocent no onus will be placed upon them. That innocence will be as public as the questioning was in the first place."

"That's interesting and is going to take some getting used to. The idea of justice being so quick and so certain… Yeah, that's going to be a major game changer in terms of law and order."

"But it doesn't allow for the use of any kind of jury," said Terrence thoughtfully. "No judgment of our peers."

"The lower courts do," Harry replied. "Veritaserum will only be used in cases of rape or murder."

"That is understood," Shusooque said with a nod. "But what about gray areas, for instance vehicular manslaughter or crimes committed under the influence?"

"If they're under the influence while they do a crime they lose all rights as an individual and will be expelled from my country. Same goes with someone murdering or raping someone else while under the influence of alcohol or drugs. Though in that case, I will execute them on the spot," Harry said bluntly. "Having a car and using it is a privilege, not a right."

All four of his listeners twitched at that, and he went on calmly. "They chose to take those drugs, they chose to drink. If they can't handle it, they should know that already. If someone wants to get drunk every night, it is not my place to stop them up to the point they impact someone else. They get drunk, and sleep it off after a cab home? No problem. They get drunk and get behind a car wheel? Problem. They go home and beat up a significant other or children? Problem."

His four listeners all winced at that, but set it aside for now. "We've got enough here, I suppose, to share, though I think the harshness of these rules will put some people off."

Harry shrugged his shoulders. "I understood that when we wrote them up. But freedom doesn't mean the freedom to take other people's rights away. It means that you have to live with the consequences of your actions…or pay for them, as the case may be."

The meeting went on from there for a about half an hour, touching on things like government grants, when and how they would be able to move in this space, and whether Harry would help smaller groups set up their own tiny colonies. Harry cautioned them that all of this would take time and industrial capacity they didn't have yet, but the meeting went well overall. They were still leery about the harshness of some of Harry's laws, but overall Harry felt that they had understood and respected his points and agreed with most of them.

OOOOOOO

And so the week went until Friday, with meetings upon meetings upon meetings broken up with only short moments with the kids at mealtimes or his ladies in the late evening. This by now included Hela. Yes, they were still courting, but Harry had no doubt anymore about what he wanted to happen between them. It was just a matter of time and getting the other girls to realize that they too had come to care deeply for the Asgardian goddess, even Emma, thanks to the extensive amount of time they had spent together. That, and convincing Hela of the fact too, he supposed.

Harry groaned as he rolled out of bed, looking over to where Jean was still sleeping blissfully. And was that a faint smile on her face that hadn't been there a moment ago? "Are you laughing at my misery, Jean?" he asked darkly.

"One of us has to laugh, Harry, lest we all cry," she said with a chuckle.

"I'm drowning in meetings, and you are laughing at my misery. My horror is now complete," Harry said, shaking his head as he pushed his way out of the bed. He paused for a moment by Ororo's bed, reaching down to tenderly stroke a finger down the side of her face before scowling. "When was the last report we got of any weird weather systems?"

"There were two late last night, but they died down quickly. She should wake up any day now, I think. Today or tomorrow for certain," Jean replied, also looking at Ororo.

"I still don't understand why she couldn't have woken up and then done this in small lots," Harry grumbled.

Jean smiled, but didn't decide to go over that old ground once again head on, saying instead, "I think it pretty dramatic looking at a category six hurricane bearing down on Florida suddenly dissipating into a normal squall within four hours a few days ago, Harry. I think it comes down to simply being able to feel and concentrate on the whole planet at the same time. Maybe if she was fully conscious she wouldn't have been able to and would have missed some of the weather patterns she's taken care of this way?"

"Or maybe Gaia was using this time to bolster her reserves and help out somehow." Harry allowed himself a few seconds of grumbling before shaking his head, looking over at Jean. "I just don't like feeling helpless to help her. It's not a good feeling."

"I know, Harry," Jean said with a sigh, though she also knew that for Harry it was far worse. He had, after all, spent months apart from both her and Ororo in the time dilation chamber, and Ororo's still comatose form ate at him.

With that in mind she brusquely changed the subject. "What meetings do you have today?"

"Oh well, let's see!" Harry replied mock-brightly. "I have one meeting with Carol and a few scientists who want to talk to me about a design they've come up with, then a meeting with Admiral Powers, then back down here for a meeting with Ms. Brown and the other teachers. After that I need to go and re-power Fortress Mars's time dilation cavern, then I want to look at the Forge. I want to see if we can further expand it. After that…"

"Enough!" Jean said with a laugh. "Enough! Geez, me, I only have a few meetings today. Admittedly, they'll be longer, but they'll be simpler than yours."

"Simpler for you, love," Harry said with a laugh, leaning over to give her a kiss. Jean, however, did not relinquish her arms around him, pulling him down lightly on top of her, where Harry pushed himself up upright quickly, one hand tenderly going to the growing bump in her stomach as he sat on her legs. For a moment they simply smiled at one another, Jean's hands gently resting on his on her stomach as they felt the lives within that they had created.

Then, with a sigh, Harry pushed himself to his feet. "Have to get going. If I could I'd stop to spend the entire day here, I think."

"Me too," Jean replied with a laugh, rolling out of bed. She did so much more slowly than she would normally have, still not used to her bulging stomach and how it affected her. "And I'm only entering the second trimester now. Wait until I hit the third! Then I'll be a flocking blimp!"

She hadn't realized she had said that last out loud until Harry replied. "But you'll still be gorgeous, Jean; never doubt that."

Jean blushed but laughed, pushing his shoulder gently to make him start moving again. "Away with you, flatterer! I'm going to go down and use the adults only baths. I prefer bathing these days." She stopped, capturing Harry's emerald eyes with her own jade ones, the love they shared visible there as their telepathic bond literally throbbed with love. "See you for lunch?"

"I can hope so," Harry said with a chuckle, giving her another kiss on the cheek before turning and entering the bath.

After a very quick breakfast of a bagel and orange juice on the go, Harry found himself up in the control center of Babylon looking at Carol and a few scientists from her designs teams. A few of them were new faces, and Carol had to introduce them. "This is Nathan Demsky, formerly of General Dynamics in America, and Barbara DeMolay, formerly of LCS. Next to them is Giorgi Luvorski. Giorgi is one of Doom's men."

"I could tell from his uniform, thanks," Harry replied dryly, causing a chuckle from the man himself. He was of medium height and build, with brown hair and a large, well-cared for build over a uniform of dark green with iron colored shoulder plates, the uniform of Doom's army. That army might have been smaller than most of the great powers, but Doom's science and industry made it very dangerous, and their men were, to a man, devoted to Doom and Latveria.

That devotion was somewhat suspect to Harry, hence why he had drawn the line at the men and women of that army joining the actual EDF. Still, he had no misgivings about having them involved in the research and development programs, so long as they had signed the usual paperwork. And if Giorgi hadn't, he wouldn't be here. "So, what did you want to talk to me about?"

"We've come up with a design for an automated defense platform we think will be able to defend Earth from further missile attacks or other long range assaults from things like mass-driven asteroids. That's one area which we know we can't really defend against as completely as we'd like at this point, as you know, and Admiral Powers, Sage, and I assigned Nathan to lead this group in looking into that problem."

"We think we figured out a way to deal with the issue," Nathan took over as Carol inputted some commands into the computer. A second later a 3-D image popped up out of a flattened sphere set into the center of the floor. The design was a strange dodecahedron with pointy bits, which as Harry watched split open to show the innards to one side, while the other side flipped around to show the exterior, which began to enlarge quickly.

The exterior picture showed around a dozen gun emplacements pointing in every direction, with small arcs of fire delineated from each one. Harry recognized the weapon system as a gauss rifle, the same one that Jean had developed for the team. This version was larger but Harry noted that it was also built for rapid fire rather than single shot. "Each of these would fire out six rounds with each pull of the trigger, as it were," Nathan explained. "Of course, against a ship of any actual size they'd be next than useless. Even if it didn't have its shields up, its outer armor would deflect or break up the pieces of these rounds easily. These rail guns are too small. Better, they'll burn up in any kind of atmosphere, just in case they fire back at Earth and miss, so we don't need to worry about any detritus. And the Kree missiles aren't that heavily armored."

"All right, so you've come up with an antimissile weapon, that's fine. How are you going to find the damn things?" Harry asked, frowning. Jean and Pinoptes had both been very clear that finding the missiles after they started to coast had been far more difficult than actually killing them. Jean had set kilometers of space on fire in an attempt to destroy as many of them as possible simply because they couldn't find single missiles easily.

"These stations will be packed with a lot of different sensor equipment, including the short range gravitics that proved our best bet against the missiles in that last bombardment," Nathan replied calmly.

"They'll also be equipped with Mr. Fantastic's Teleptronic Communications System, which will allow for real-time control and direction," Barbara interjected, her French accent reminding Harry strongly of Fleur and the first French ambassador to the UK he had met months ago.

"Barbara helped design the computer systems which will be running those systems," Nathan explained, before waving a hand at Giorgi. "But there is another system as well that Giorgi developed: a low-range EMP blast, which the platforms can release in waves around them. The platforms, of course, are hardened against it. We've run some tests, and while the missile's internal computers won't be affected by the EMP blast, their ECM, in particular the film they use to cover their actual structure, will falter for a time underneath its impact."

"I like it," Harry said, nodding to all three. "But I still have a few questions. First, how big are these platforms, and how much territory can they cover. Second, have you decided on a name for these platforms? And third and possibly most important, have you worked out how long would it take to create them? Will the Forge 2 be able to handle the build on its own?"

"That's part of the problem," Carol said, wincing as she took over for the team. "We're envisioning putting these in place in waves. The first wave will only have twelve, set equidistantly around the Earth. But for full protection, we estimate we'd need at least forty-eight of them."

The image in the hologram changed once more; the image, now of the space around Earth, updating in waves as Carol spoke. After a moment Harry winced at how little coverage the first two waves would really give.

Carol hurried on. "Forge 2 can, however, handle creating them on its own. They are only about as big across as two Ravens and about as tall as one. But that's because the majority of their computational power will be coming through the TCS, which let us cut down on the internal size needed."

"Pinoptes, these'll be your eyes. Can you handle them?" Harry asked, turning to the main screen which everyone had begun to use for politeness sake as the 'face' of Pinoptes, despite his actual core being part of the computer set underneath the floor.

"I can handle up to twenty-four such platforms at all times while also handling our larger sensor grid at the moment," Pinoptes said, his image popping up on the screen. Pinoptes had designed it himself, a craggy, aged face with several eyes set around the head above a kindly expression and a long beard. "However, as the sensor grid expands my ability to concentrate on both will diminish. This does not include my ongoing work with the educational system, of course."

"Yes, let's assume that you won't be handling anything on the educational front if we come under attack again," Harry said dryly.

"Agreed. But as I said, anything beyond twenty-four platforms and our current sensor equipment would force me to hand over actually detecting the missiles outside of the sensors these platforms contain to another system. This could be another AI or a dedicated computer program, but we do not have a another program that could handle the computational power necessary at present," Pinoptes warned. "The computer systems of the Death Bringer, tentative name Warspite, and Planet Crusher, Kree designation Demolisher, could handle some of it, but not all. I would recommend possibly looking into either expanding my own computational power, or creating a dedicated supercomputer for this purpose."

"I'll talk to Reed about expanding your abilities, I think," Harry said after a moment's thought. "We'll see what he says about that and whether or not it's doable at all. Although if it is, you might have to go off-line for a time while we transfer you into a new computer station. And…hmm…maybe moving you entirely to Fortress Mars might be a good idea at that point."

"Understood, and I have to admit to some existential angst about the concept. But I will comply," Pinoptes replied formally.

"So, back to my other questions. What are we calling these things and how long do they take to build?" Harry asked looking at Carol.

"We're calling them the Verdun class defense platform," the Frenchwoman said softly.

It took Harry a second to get the reference then he nodded. "Ils ne passeront pas, they shall not pass. I like it," Harry intoned softly, but his eyes were sharp as he looked at Carol.

That worthy winced slightly. "We've worked it out with Whitaker and Sage, and building even three of these defense platforms will take approximately seventy-four percent of our ready resources in terms of machined steel and electronics from other tasks."

Harry nodded, but couldn't help wincing himself. Their capacity was growing, but slowly. "If we make those three platforms, how far back will that push us on rebuilding Fortress Mars and everything else?"

The factory for the new robots wasn't even online yet, but it would be soon. After that Harry would have a lot more industrial capacity to throw at problems, and with Lorna and Wanda on the job he was also slowly gathering a lot of raw materials, even large amounts of gold, which was a very good thing considering how much he was spending at this point. The girls got a bounty for any such find, but even so from his last estimates Harry was sitting on as much gold as Russia, China, and the US had backing their economies combined. Of course, he was keeping that a secret for now. No need to destroy the global economy.

But finished goods, especially electronics, took time, and most of that kind of components came from Earth. While his connections with the Hellfire Club had begun to funnel large amounts of electronic components and other materials into his factories, that amount was a trickle in comparison to the needs on hand.

"As Dr. Doom is footing the bill for much of the work being done on rebuilding the Gravitic Trap Device, the rest of the fortress will be set back only a bare few weeks," Carol said, pulling out some papers and scanning them quickly. "The work on repairing the captured ships, however, will be set back even further. Admiral Powers ordered our people to prioritize completing the work on as many as we could regardless of class, which has helped, but not much."

Harry winced, but after a moment's frowning thought, nodded. "Something might happen soon to change that equation, but you're right for now. Still, my command stands. I'll want these Verdun platforms built and in place as soon as possible. As much as I hate to say it, we might consider that a political imperative. Ugh, I feel dirty now." He let the scientists chuckle for a time before he asked, "Was that all?"

Carol indicated that it was, and the meeting broke up quickly. Moments later, Harry was in Fortress Mars meeting with Admiral Powers. "You had a strategic point you wanted to talk about?"

The older man nodded. "I've been getting up to speed as quickly as I can on the various sensor equipment, our opponent's abilities, our own situation, and Admiral Whittaker and I have found a somewhat disturbing problem. What is to stop the Kree from jumping in and firing off some missiles as they did last time or somehow creating a long-range asteroid-based attack? Just randomly grabbing junk from the Oort Cloud and sending it on a collision course with Earth?"

"We can detect any group as it comes out of hyperspace, and if the group is big enough we can even detect the hyperspace wake as we did with the last attack. But the trap system won't be back online anytime soon, so we can't control where they come out in hyperspace," Harry replied, thinking. "I was more worried about close in attacks, but that's a good point. But none of their small ships have missile systems, so they'd have to rely on that kind of mass driver-like attacks. We can defend against them easily enough given our gravitic-based sensors if they are of any size, but you're right, a long range shotgun sort of assault might be very bad."

"Hence my concern," Powers replied. "Worse, what if they both spread out such attacks on Earth while also launching a attack on our fleet in Mars orbit? We don't have enough ships online yet to defend the entire scrap fleet."

"And myself and the rest of the Custodes would have to prioritize defending Earth. I presume, however, that you have a solution for this problem?"

"I don't want our ships to stay 'in dock' like they are. I want the ones that have power moving as constantly as they can. I realize we don't have that much fuel for them just yet, but there are places we can stash the salvage ships." Admiral Powers began to press some buttons on the computer in front of them, and then pointed to Saturn's rings, and a few other areas in the system. One of them was dangerously close to the sun, but before Harry could question what he was doing Powers explained.

"These are areas where even gravitic-based sensor equipment could not find something the size of a ship without coming closer."

"And you want to hide the damaged ships there," Harry stated.

"I also want to strip the damaged ships of all the fuel we have and concentrate the fuel on Buckler, Hellion, and the other four least damaged battleships you and your people took in this last fight. That'll give us enough fuel to run those ships for several months of maneuvers. That way we're never in one place long enough for them to launch an attack on us, and we're always moving so we can respond to any assault. While the Custodes can deal with the actual asteroids or what-have-you sent towards Earth, we can deal with the ships that launched them."

"Agreed. In fact, I'd like those ships under cover as quickly as you can get them. We initially moved the scrap ships we had at the time to Mars orbit to draw fire, but if you think they won't be necessary in that role for a time I'll agree to it."

Powers nodded and stood up. "That was the only suggestion I had at present, at least, the only real suggestion I have that we can actually act on. I can't wait until our industrial capacity gets better. Whitaker is also complaining about it, but he's used to the American logistical system. This is like going from feast to famine. But we will need some help moving those ships."

Harry nodded, and he, Stephen Strange, and Johnny Storm spent the next few hours moving the damaged ships. At the same time workers and droids siphoned off fuel from their injured fellows to the three training vessels and four of the other ships. Concurrently, four of the damaged battleships taken in the last battle received below-skeleton crews from the trained men and women and the training cadres. All of those ships had been damaged to various degrees, but they were still combat capable, and for now they began to use tractor beams to tow the future Warspite and Rika's former command ship to their hiding places.

For Harry this was an unexciting little break from the endless, endless meetings. Afterward, however, Harry once more found himself down at Magical Minds headquarters, this time meeting with a few of the think tanks. The meeting took several hours, by which time he was then hungry and feeling rather drained, but he had a free window of thirty minutes to meet with Jean and the others.

Deciding to spend this precious time with Jean alone, Harry appeared in the headmaster's chambers, where he asked Jean to join him and Cory to grab them something to eat. When she joined him, Jean shook her head, moving to massage Harry's shoulders. "Harry, you look so drained it's not even funny."

"Truer words were never spoken, Jean. I am literally drowning in meetings! Who knew that meetings like this could drain me so badly? At this point I would dearly like some excitement."

Even as Harry said that he had no way of knowing that the violence which had been rocking the world occasionally over the past week was about to hit a crescendo…

OOOOOOO

Mary Jane smiled, shaking hands and generally glad handing as the small public announcement in the main hospital of Malaga, Spain finished. She had been sent here by Sage and her immediate superior to meet and publicly unveil the first shipment of Magical Minds medicine to Spain, the first Spain had seen. They had just recently finished putting laws into place that would guarantee mutants equal rights, though it remained to be seen if they would be enforced, something MJ had subtly pointed out during what was only the second public announcement she had ever given, a task made all the more nerve-wracking considering one of her role models was in attendance.

"That wasn't bad," Paris said as the two women exited the room, heading towards an elevator to move toward the hospital's roof. Paris had a helicopter there waiting for them. The owner of PNN had a house in the city here, and the city was the center for her few European holdings. They had, however, come under attack recently because of some serious graft at the lower managerial level, and she had come to see that issue taken care of, as well as personally see to the welfare of a few of her workers who had been caught in one of the suicide attacks launched by the Red Skull's mind-wiped minions.

"But you need to work on your projection some more. Also, stop trying to dress down. I understand you wanted to come off as business-like, but don't allow that to cover your femininity." The older woman's words were somewhat critical, but not overly so, merely giving advice. "Your speech, on the other hand, was very well done. My hat's off to you or whoever wrote it."

"Um, th, that was me," MJ said, hissing internally as she stuttered. "I, I thought the speech Mr. Wallace wrote was a little too critical, so I rewrote it. The Spanish people are very…emotional, so I thought to play to that, but I thought dressing to impress would have given the wrong message."

"There's a middle ground…" Paris was interrupted by a shout from a male nurse pushing a gurney down the hallway towards the elevator. He was accompanied by several more, who were currently working on the individual on the gurney, the identity or gender of whom neither woman could discern. Seeing this Paris quickly reached out, halting the elevator doors from closing.

Her bodyguard, a tall, powerfully built man who would not have been out of place in the Secret Service, twitched at her side. But he didn't say anything, and the four nurses quickly moved towards them.

Mary Jane saw a flash of metal or something from under the gurney's blanket, and then there was a thud from next to her as the bodyguard's body flew back under the impact of several dozen bullets. Throwing herself to the side, she barely dodged some more bullets coming her way. To the other side of her bodyguard, Paris too ducked behind the door of the elevator, having the presence of mind to slam her hand on the emergency button.

Both women reached for small hidden guns set in the small of their backs, having a brief moment to grimace at one another before firing at the incoming men. The man on the gurney rolled off of it as the other men with him ducked or dodged the return fire. But, besides the gurney itself, there wasn't much cover beyond one doorway, and two of them fell.

The other two, now ensconced behind the overturned gurney and in the doorway, began to fire back with handguns. Luckily, they didn't seem to have anything heavier.

"Kidnappers or terrorists?" MJ asked, almost conversationally. After having seen what she thought were human cameramen attack with high powered energy weapons built into their arms, she wasn't going to lose her cool about something like this. Scream later, fight now. That's the way.

"Not kidnappers. They don't have any equipment to capture us, unless they belong to a particularly low tech group for one reason or another," Paris replied in a slightly more high pitched tone, while in the background the alarm from the elevator abruptly cut out. The lights of the hallway also went out, and Paris cursed. "Just great!"

Looking around, Paris pulled her bodyguard's body toward her, wincing as several bullets nearly took her in the arm. But she was able to get at the dead man's belt, pulling out his heavier pistol and a walkie-talkie, which she quickly turned on. The static it emitted was not helpful. Paris then cursed luridly before hurling it away. "Dead. I don't suppose you have a way to contact anyone?" Paris had no idea if MJ was in on the big secret with Potter, but wasn't about to assume one way or another.

"I have an emergency beacon but I have no idea if it will actually get through whatever is jamming your communications!" MJ replied, while still firing down the hallway. Red emergency lights had come on, but even so actually hitting one of their remaining attackers was probably beyond her at this point. "We'll just have to somehow dig in, conserve our ammunition, and wait."

OOOOOOO

Sage was, as usual, just as busy as Potter or any of the other higher ups. She was currently going over some paperwork, looking over agreements Harry had reached with other Hellfire Club members, reading the news that was coming out of the Ukraine, and going over Dennis's reports as well as the raw data his spy ring was generating. Thanks to her mutant powers, Sage had a superhuman ability to interact with and memorize information, just like a supercomputer, to a degree that even an AI would have trouble matching.

Her fingers flying quickly over her keyboard, Sage barely paused more than an eye-blink as the screen flickered. Opening several programs, Sage began to direct the MM headquarters building's network defenses against a sudden, almost overwhelming cyber-attack. But there was something strange about the data coming in. It was almost as if…

Sage again did not hesitate. Her mental powers gave her perfect control of her body, and this allowed her to push away from the computer and turn that push into a back bending flip away. The screen glowed white for an instant, the white spreading to the rest of her computer as something like hands made of pure computer data reached out toward her former position.

A second later the computer melted, and there was a loud buzzing sound followed by the fire alarm going on for a brief second before falling silent. The power didn't go out, but Sage wondered if that was really a good thing considering the ongoing cyber-attack.

With that thought, Sage raced for the door and out, eager to find another computer to regain some control of the situation. At the same time she pulled out a cell-phone connected to the building internal communications system. "Security, be aware we are experiencing a powerful cyber-attack at the moment. Logic would dictate that we be ready for a physical assault as well."

She was answered quickly, yet from the background she heard the sound of something exploding nearby and the shattering of glass. "You're a little late, miss!" the guard on duty in the reception area shouted, before cutting the connection.

Given the defenses in the building at that point, Sage was unconcerned about any physical attack. The cyber-assault worried her far more, and she raced forward, wondering who was behind this.

OOOOOOO

Emma Frost frowned as the Sandman suddenly reared up in front of her between her and the crowd of workers in front of the newest Frost Pharmaceuticals factory. This was supposed to be a nice little break from her ongoing campaign against Osborn and his holdings, a meet and greet and a discussion amongst the company which she had thought of as hers before her father's 'untimely' death. "What are you!?"

"Get down, miss!" shouted another one of her bodyguards, having seen the same thing Sandman had, a glowing red circle appearing on the door into the factory. That portion of the door suddenly exploded inwards in red hot shrapnel, killing dozens of her people as several super-powered types charged through.

First was a man Emma recognized from the news as Electro, a green and yellow clad supervillain who could fire electrical blasts much like Wendy's, only more powerful and less controlled. With him was another electric-attack using criminal named Shocker, who used a battle suit to create the same sort of attacks.

Next came an individual she had only seen recently appearing in the news, a green skinned creature flying through on a large, bat-winged glider and dressed in purple. The pundits had named this one the Goblin for obvious reasons.

Underneath the Goblin's hover board charged two more superpowered criminals. One was almost as green as the goblin, thanks to his suit, which consisted of green colored armor and a massive tail tipped with a scorpion's sting, hence that man's name in the news. The other was a relative unknown to Emma, though his face looked familiar, even if his backpack, which consisted of several long, prehensile tentacles, did not.

The last individual through the door was a tall man with albino skin and short cropped black hair over a square face. Emma didn't recognize him at all, though the Sandman did somehow given his shout, audible to Emma even over the sound of her bodyguards opening fire on the interlopers. "Tombstone!"

"Sandy!" the man said gleefully. "So the rumors are true; you really have gone straight. Well, whatever. There might still be a place for you alongside the Sinister Six. Hah, we could change it to Sinister Seven, and it'll still scan! Just hand over Emma Frost and no one else needs to get hurt. She's stepped on the wrong toes and needs to learn her place!"

"Fuck you and the horse you rode in on, Tombstone! I ain't ever been a career criminal! I ain't ever been like you!" Sandman shouted, surging forward on a wave of sand and fury and slamming into the front runners of the so-named Sinister six, hurling Scorpion back with a mace of hardened sand even as his body absorbed the electrical assaults of the other two without any apparent damage.

While her bodyguards were armed with the best weapons Cold Steel, or even Harry, could provide, they hadn't brought any of their heavier toys, leaving them behind in the cars for the most part. They were armed with handguns, and they just didn't have enough penetrating power to get though the armor of most of the attackers. Even Tombstone, who wasn't wearing any armor, seemed immune, and the man with the octopus tentacles simply batted their bullets aside.

Hiding behind Sandman's bulk, Emma pushed one hand into her pocket, tapping out an emergency code on the small communication mirror there and shouting at her bodyguards at the same time. "Get the workers out of here! Fall back towards the inner entrance!"

At the same time she lashed out with her telepathic powers, giving no visible sign of doing anything but pulling out an odd-looking weapon. Instead, she used one of her bodyguards' firing on their attackers as cover. As his eyes locked on one target then another, her power lashed out, targeting that individual.

Pain lanced through Shocker's and the Goblin's heads, sending the Goblin careening into the floor as Shocker fell to his knees, his hands going to his head. The tentacle using man, however, shrugged off the pain, and Tombstone just grit his teeth and powered through the pain. "Whatever the fuck that is it ain't enough to stop Tombstone!"

Three of her six man security team were down by this point, but the other two unpowered bodyguards had pulled back successfully, and thanks to her telepathic powers the attack had slowed enough for them and the surviving civilians to reach the door leading further into the complex. "Sandman, fall back! We don't want to get separated!"

"Right!" Sandman said, leaving the two electricity using attackers engulfed in sand, while Scorpion charged forward. Changing his main body to the solidity of concrete, Sandman moved his consciousness down to the mass of sand that had previous constituted his feet, quickly retreating toward Emma just in time to block a pumpkin shaped bomb from a recovering Green Goblin.

The two of them retreated out the door into the rest of the complex while the bodyguards raced on, eager to get to their cars and the toys within. Emma took a brief moment to throw an illusion of a heavy Gatling gun set into the corridor into the attackers' minds, causing them to flinch back and allowing the two of them to gain some more distance. "Keep going straight up here. We'll exit out into a small park used for workers to get some exercise. That'll give you enough ammo for your transformations and lead us away from the others."

OOOOOOO

Nor were Harry's people the only ones under attack. A major assault was launched on the Vault by over a dozen mutants who tore through the outer defenses of the USA's premier super-powered prison in an attempt to free the numerous prisoners within. Doom's country faced several severe terrorist attacks in newly captured territories, while Doom himself assaulted the Red Skull's final hiding place.

Blowing open the bunker's entrance, Doom strode inside, dealing with several men and women who foolishly tried to assault him. Then he began to walk down the dark, dank corridor leading further into the bunker. It was obvious that this place was built to see its occupant through a war, not for leisure or even long term residence, and Doom felt his lips twist into a sneer underneath his mask.

"A true rat in his hole, that is what you have become," Doom said aloud, his voice booming out around him off the stone. "Your vast empire of terror smashed. Your name, a byword for vile insanity. Tell me, was it worth it, Herr Skull?"

Doom had not been prepared for a reply, but he was still unsurprised when the Red Skull deigned to do so anyway. The man really was a narcissist. "Ever since you appeared on the scene I had been studying you, Dr. Doom. I thought I knew you. Yet your reaction to my stealing those baubles from you shows you are as emotional and illogical as the rest of the human race. That is what humanity has always needed and will always need: strong masters, to bend them to the proper will. You know this. You assumed the place of mastery yourself, did you not?"

"I am King of Latveria," Doom said, his voice deep and guttural as he stalked forward, his suit's computers scanning the walls, ceilings, and floor for traps. He continued to walk forward as several pits opened up in front of him, walking on the air over them, ignoring the hail of bullets and summoning up a shield to block several dozen energy bolt bolts. Does every terrorist group have their own energy weapon these days? "You are nothing but a pretender, a thief in the night, a sycophant who clings to a belief system so reviled that is a byword for evil. You are no master. To use your own analogy, you are a true wolf to the sheep rather than the shepherd. We are nothing alike."

"Well, the world needs its wolves, after all, to thin out the herd, if nothing else. If we had perhaps solved the Jewish problem during the Fuhrer's reign, you and I would not have fallen into such disunity." The voice coming from hidden speakers sounded almost whimsical, but there was a hard edge of the true believer in it.

"Hitler persecuted Romani too, so I rather assume we would have," Doom said dryly. "But our current problem is much more personal than that. You stole from me. You killed my subjects. You persecuted a war of terror against my people. For all this, you will die."

Doom had been making his way forward as the two of them spoke, and now came to a slightly open area, a defensive point which had been recently cleared out. In the center of this area stood the Red Skull himself. He was taller than most of his doppelgängers, and far broader in the shoulders. Indeed, both his stance and his presence would remind someone who had seen Steve Rogers, as Doom had, of the good captain. It was as if everything about Steve Rogers that made him Captain America, physically, anyway, was there in the Red Skull.

But as for everything else, the feel of the man was inverted to the point of mockery. Where Steve gave off a feeling of bluff honesty and camaraderie, the Red Skull stood arrogantly, his entire manner screaming that he felt he was above anyone else in his presence. Also offsetting was a haunting, almost fearsome appearance thanks to his features.

"You have fought your way to me, and thus proven yourself despite your overemotional reason for doing so," the Red Skull said, sipping from a glass of wine as he stared at Doom who had paused in the doorway into the defense zone, the computer in his suit as well as his own senses reaching out, searching for traps. "It is not too late. Join me, and with my resources around the globe, your technology, the territories you have conquered, we could rebuild the Third Reich! Put aside your frail emotions, Doctor. Grasp your own ambition with both hands!"

"I already have," Doom said, chuckling quietly, the sound making the Red Skull start and glare at him for some reason, though at the laughter or his tone, Doom knew not. "I have enough territory now to feed my personal ambition and more besides open to me in the future. An entire…frontier, one might say, though I doubt it is truly the final one."

With that Doom stepped forward, an energy shield blinking into life around him as he did so, the nose and mouth partitions closing up quickly as crystal-clear glass slid into place over his eyes. A second later Doom was hit by some kind of gas in the face, but it did nothing. His suit analyzed it as some form of acid, mixed with an updated version of mustard gas.

It was very nasty stuff, but utterly useless against Doom's protections. A second later his suit blew the gas away via a blast of compressed air from both arms and shoulders. Doom then strode forward towards the Red Skull. "I wonder… I know why you are called the Red Skull, of course, as anyone who looks at you would. But I wonder, if I peel away your skin, will your bones be the same color? I have long intended to use your skull as a glass, but the color would certainly make it a better conversation piece."

"If you want my head, Herr Doctor," the Red Skull said, pulling a large pistol from his belt as well as a sword from behind him. The edge was thin, and Doom's computer warned him it was a monomolecular blade, and the Red Skull moved it through the air with skill. "Then I suggest you come and take it."

"My dear Red Skull, that was the point of this entire campaign! Never let it be said that Doom is unafraid of getting his hands dirty." With that the two men charged, and the battle was joined.

OOOOOOO

But the most serious assault came not on Harry or his allies, but on SHIELD, and more specifically its helicarrier.

"All right people, talk to me!" Fury said as he slid into his command chair on the bridge of the helicarrier. He scowled at the sheer number of red dots appearing everywhere on the massive world map that dominated one entire wall of the bridge, continually being updating through legal and illegal means. Just because SHIELD had no actual jurisdiction in most countries didn't mean he was prepared to not at least have some idea of what was going on there.

"Reports are coming in from all over, sir. Europe, Canada, America, most of South America, every friendly security agency is reporting a sudden uptick in cyber-assaults! Several dozen infrastructure computers are being targeted: governments, credit card companies, everything! We've got the ECW teams working on trying to track it down, but it's so widespread were having a lot of difficulty pinpointing the point of origin, especially since not all of it, indeed most of it, could not have come over the Internet," one of his people reported, turning and coming to attention. "We're safe for now, but how long that will remain the case, I don't know."

"Is there any indication there's going to be a follow on physical assault somewhere?" Fury asked intently.

"Nothing on SHIELD property. We don't even know if it's directed at us or to someone else," replied the same technician as before, still standing ramrod straight as all around him his people worked furiously to decipher what was going on. "There have been a number of attacks on government buildings here and there, and we've been requested to send aid to a few where laser and plasma-based weaponry are being reported."

Nick scowled, thinking hard. "All right, send a few field squads out, but do so sparingly. Hawkeye," he said turning to Clint, who was standing nearby. "Get the Avengers together. All of them!"

"You think we're going to have a target after this?"

"I don't know, but something's telling me we need the full team on hand. I want them locked and loaded and in the landing bay, just in case. Now move!"

Hawkeye's reply was to turn around and spring towards the exit, already pulling out a walkie-talkie. Getting the team together at such short notice was difficult, but not impossible.

To his surprise Tony Stark arrived quickly, having taken the opportunity to escape an argument with Pepper. She had apparently followed the money trail to a few of his…projects which he had begun with Nick Fury's consent, and thought them foolish in the extreme. He tended to sort of agree with that statement. Not that he thought that the project itself was foolish, but rather the reason why Fury thought it was necessary: to have an army of robots able to fight Potter and his group on an even footing. Tony went along with it, however, because he wanted to remove the human element from war altogether eventually, not just for America but for every other nation in the world.

Steve was already aboard the helicarrier along with Natasha. In fact, if Clint didn't know better, he could have sworn the two of them had been flirting when he came into the room. Or at least Natasha had been flirting with Steve. What that meant in the long term or if Steve even knew what was going on, Clint couldn't tell.

Pulling Dr. Pym away from his work was a chore and a half, but eventually Giant Man joined them, along with Hawkeye's own semi-protégé Avalanche. They then waited there in the loading bay as team after team of SHIELD agents went out over the next hour or so to help douse this or that point of violence.

Back on the bridge, Nick was slowly painting a picture of what was really going on, but what that picture was about he didn't now. "Why are they so spread out? Surely there isn't something in all those locations that call for an attack like this." He muttered, looking at the map. Further, how are they doing this? AIM's a broken force. HYDRA is dying, most of its heads now gone with the Red Skull facing Doom's troops. Who does that leave with the resources to carry out attacks like this?

Moments later Fury received at least part of the answer to his concerns. One of the techs sitting to one side of the helicarrier's massive bridge began to work at her console, unnoticed by anyone.

Then something changed on the screen which showed a schematic of the helicarrier. There should've been a few lines of blue and green around it, but they disappeared as the chief pilot watched in horror. "Sir! Shields are down! Energy, sensor and everything!"

"Not good!" Fury muttered, already calling up the Avengers while also beginning to bring up exterior cameras, assuming they were under some kind of exterior attack. Then he paused. "Wait, does that mean the teleportation shield is down as well?" Once Reed had developed that bit of technology, Stark and Pym had been able to figure out a way to do the same thing.

"Yes sir! I don't how it all of it fell, though. It's almost like…like someone turned it off!"

At that Nick's eye was not the only one who turned towards the suddenly quaking woman at the control center for the shields. It was only now that her neighbors looked up from their own work, and immediately the techs gasped at the sight of her face, reeling back in horror.

Blood was streaming down from her eyes and nose and mouth, and she had begun to rock in place. She then stood up preternaturally quickly, hand dropping to a sidearm that most SHIELD agents carried even here in the helicarrier, only for Nick to shoot it out of her hand.

She turned to him, her eyes glassy and unseeing under all the blood. "Too late! Too late, Fury!" she shrilled in a voice not quite her own. "Hail AIM, hail MODOK!"

With that sentence there was a loud crack of displaced air, and a massive group of yellow clad troopers with very high-tech guns appeared. But they were not what drew Fury's attention, no. That was given to the individual standing in the middle of the formation.

The creature lounged in some kind of hover chair, its arms and legs atrophied to almost the point of uselessness. In contrast, his head was massive. At least half or perhaps more of his total body weight was concentrated in the being's head. He waved his hand, and a blast of some kind of power ratcheted out from him, knocking people unconscious left and right as his own men opened fire.

Fury had sent most of his attack groups out, and the Avengers were down in the hangar bay waiting to be deployed. This left him with only the staff of the bridge, none of whom had heavy weapons, and only about a third had combat training at all. Despite that, they put up a decent enough fight, downing several of the attackers before still more teleported in as the strange being moved over towards the computer. "Fall back!" Fury bellowed as he lost six men within a few seconds of that second batch of enemies arriving. "Fall back! Wait for the Avengers to show up!"

By this point the grotesque being had reached one of the computer stations and was typing away with a speed that Fury could barely follow. A second later, he pressed his thumb to the USB port, uploading a program somehow into the system. The lights flickered, and Fury almost felt the entire helicarrier shake for a moment, then a robotic voice came on over the speakers, saying a line out of his worst possible nightmare. "Powering up Ultron project; removing the safety interlocks. Full AI awakening in two hours. Anti-Guardian robotic corps online. Awaiting command."

"The command," the creature said, "is given." His fingers moved again over the console even as Fury tried to jump towards his own command console. There were a series of overrides there which he could use to lock down the entire bridge if he could just…

He winced as an energy bolt took him high in the chest, hurling him backwards to land among his people near the doorway. Only the advanced armor he kept on under his clothing at all times saved his life. Two of his people grabbed him and pulled him along despite his protests.

The last thing he saw as the doors closed was the creature, laughing wildly. "Ah, Nick Fury. You and your paranoia. And yet like all humans you did not take that paranoia to its logical conclusion! And now, now you have given me the keys to not only AIM's resurgence, but its dominance!"

"All hail MODOK!" shouted the yellow clad AIM soldiers. "All hail MODOK!"

At several hidden facilities all around America, computers began to wake up, sending power up commands to lines of dormant robots. These droids were based around the Iron Man suit: same offensive firepower, same general look. But they were large, as large as the Hulk, and had initially been designed to go toe to toe with the big green monster or anything of similar throw weight, a redesign of power armor developed by Thunderbolt Ross's anti-Hulk army. And there were hundreds of them.

On the helicarrier alone there were forty, all of them coming on line within seconds of the command being given. Elsewhere it would take a little while for them to start moving, but once they did, they would answer to MODOK's orders, believing him to be the temporary commander of SHIELD, as they waited for Ultron to come online.

That was Ultron's purpose: to control the army of droids that had been built to defend the world if the Custodes went rogue. No one, not even a genius like Reed or Tony, could handle the input from so many sources, could control so many robots at once. Give them general orders and set them loose, yes, but use them like a true, organized military unit, no. A dedicated AI could.

Luckily for Nick and his bridge crew, the Avengers were on the ball and had heard the same announcements. Immediately Tony had rocketed out of the hangar bay towards the bridge, followed quickly by the others. "What is the Ultron project?!" Steve shouted, racing alongside Natasha and Hawkeye, easily outstripping them for a moment to catch up with Tony while the Giant Man lumbered behind them.

"It's a project! A, A combat AI that…"

"God dammit!" Steve shouted, nearly pausing his run before he remembered himself. "I thought you and Nick stopped that project!"

"We lied," Tony said simply. "We thought, admittedly for different reasons, that it was a good idea to keep it going. But if whoever is behind this attack somehow corrupts the base data file and turns Ultron to their own purposes…"

"Are we just dealing with the computer program here, or.."

"Just a program?" Tony shouted, shaking his head in his armor. Ahead of them automated defenses came online, trying to stop their forward progress, but he blew them out of these walls or ceilings without even slowing. "Ultron isn't just a program; he is a fully artificial life form, the next evolution of my own aide, Jarvis! It is also supposed to be housed in the best and most advanced robot I could personally ever create!"

"Dr. Pym, did you know anything about this?"

"I had a hand in helping to redesign the Hulkbusters. I thought they were supposed to be used against the Hulk or similarly weighted enemies, just in case we couldn't have handled them on our own. I never heard about this Ultron program," Pym said grimly. "Trust me, if I had, I would've put a stop to it."

Steve looked over his shoulder at Giant Man, who couldn't grow to his full height here in the corridors of the helicarrier, but still seemed to be a little too tall for them at the moment. There were very few things the two of them saw eye to eye on, but Steve was willing to take his word on this one. "When this is all over, Tony, you and I are going to have a talk. Scratch that; you, me, and Nick!" he said grimly

Then the first of the Hulkbusters appeared on the scene, and there was no more time to talk.

OOOOOOO

Not five minutes after bemoaning his lot in life at present Harry looked up from laughing at a joke Jean had just told him to find Hela entering the headmaster's quarters at a dead run. "Harry, Jean, you need to get down to the main Hall. Dennis says it's an emergency, and from what I can make out from that holographic display device, I believe he's correct."

Harry blinked, looked at Hela, then up at the ceiling and shouted "God dammit, that was not a request!"

As the three of them raced down the stairs towards the dining hall, Jean explained why Harry had shouted that, and Hela actually laughed gaily for a moment shaking her head as they continued to race on. "I would've thought that someone with your experience, and as a Fate Touched you would understand never to use such phrases! They are like begging old One eye to test you, especially for one such as you so loved by the Three Norns for what you give them to record!"

"I knowwww," Harry moaned, sliding to a halt in front of the doors and flinging them open. He found the entire Custodes Mundi already assembled, including Wyatt and Carol, coming down from on high at Dennis's request. Both of them were already kitted out in their armor, as were the rest of the Custodes in their combat gear. The only one missing was Banshee still on station with the team backing up Mystique and Morph.

Harry looked at Sir Dennis and the others who were crowded around the display at one end of the dining all, noting the absence of any of the other students and teenagers with approval. "All right, talk to me."

They all began to talk at once, and Harry held up a hand quickly. "Dennis, you talk," he ordered as he strode forward to stand beside the spymaster.

Dennis quickly began to explain everything that was going on. He started by talking about how the Fantastic Four's Baxter Building had gone on lockdown for some reason about an hour ago. Young Franklin and his mother had arrived at the castle, the pregnant woman cursing up a storm and talking about a meeting going wrong, but refused to go into any details. This told Harry that Reed had at least followed up his request to meet with the Inhumans, but what would come from that meeting he didn't know.

From there Dennis talked about the ongoing attacks going on worldwide from his perspective. "There is also some movement from the helicarrier that's very odd. It's moving out of American territory down towards Cuba of all places, and we're getting reports from elsewhere in America as well: the Vault and these Stark Industries complexes. I tried contacting Dugan, but he didn't answer."

Looking at the map and seeing what Dennis was talking about, Harry plotted the points. First he found where Emma was currently engaged with the this Sinister Six group, then where Mary Jane Watson and Paris Seville were currently under fire, and of course the Magical Minds headquarters. After that he looked at America and the dozens of reports coming in from there, his eyes drifting to the helicarrier.

Taking it all in, Harry felt a sinking feeling hit him. So what one enemy could never do by design, several could do out of chance. Still, there's a reason why we've been training a lot of our people in small unit tactics. Now is a perfect time to split up the team, I think. Spread out, yes, but in a controlled manner. "All right, let's organize this a bit by order of importance, from least to greatest. Mary Jane is facing what looks to be normal enemies, correct?"

When Dennis nodded, Harry went on decisively. "In that case, Coyote, you handle that. Extract Paris and Mary Jane from whatever they've wandered into; take out with extreme prejudice anyone who is attempting to get in your way."

Wendy and the retrieval team stood nearby, and she spoke up now running one hand through her blue hair. "We have all of the magic carpets here. One of them could get Wyatt down there."

Harry nodded thanks to her, and Coyote quickly exited the room, already heading to where the flying carpets were stored.

"Danielle, Betsy, you two head to help out Emma. Prioritize making certain that no other bystanders get hurt. From what Dennis reported, too many deaths have already occurred there"

Dani nodded brusquely. "We'll take the doorway to Emma's mansion, pick up Firestar on the way, and then take a magic carpet to wherever she is."

While Harry was talking, Dennis was still working the computer's holographic projection and had just brought up a series of newsfeeds from outside the complexes where the so-called Hulkbusters had been stored. Police units and even National Guard had been moved into the area, but were not slowing them down overmuch.

Seeing that, Harry bumped the priority of figuring out what was going on in America to number one. "Jean, head to Magical Minds to help the wounded and help Sage do whatever she needs to turn back this cyber-attack!"

Harry then held up a communicator as Jean nodded, leaning in for a kiss. She knew her time as a real field agent was gone, but she was very thankful that Harry was allowing her to take part in handling this assault even so.

Harry kissed her back, but broke off as the other side of his communicator beeped. "Cyclops, is your team ready?"

"We're already heading into the Vault, Guardian," Cyclops replied brusquely. "What's our rules of engagement?"

"I don't know," Harry said honestly. "You know more about the inmates of the Vault at this point that I do. Use your best discretion, I think. Unless, is Moses Magnum still there?"

"Yes, from last reports. He is still awaiting trial for his acts of terrorism."

Harry growled, making a note to prioritize selling Veritaserum the moment he could after following Dr. Druid's formula. The wheels of justice moved too damn slowly! "Okay, use your own discretion plus this one order: I do not want Moses Magnum to get out of there. Do whatever you need to do to prevent that, and if you know of any others of an equal level of vileness..."

"Understood," Scott said grimly.

"Magma, Husk, Vanguard, head to the main complex where these robots are appearing," Harry ordered. That left Harry, Colossus, and Hela. "You two will come with me. We're going to help the Avengers out, I think. Cut off the head, and hopefully this madness dies."

With that in mind, Harry pulled out his communication mirror, and connected it to the one he had given Steve Rogers. "Steve?"

OOOOOOO

Steve felt the vibration of the mirror in his belt pouch, and had just ducked underneath a blow from one of the Hulkbusters which would've smashed him through a wall. His shield came up, deflecting another punch upwards, his limbs groaning under the power of the thing as he kicked off the floor, flipping up and around using the shield as a one-handed springboard to bring his feet up into the robot's face.

It didn't really seem to faze it, but when he turned, bringing his shield down onto the robot's head, he blinded it just long enough for Clint to get in position to put an arrow through its eye when he pulled the shield away. "Avalanche, now!"

Avalanche nodded and knelt down, his power rippling out into the floor of the hallway, upending and tossing some of their attackers this way and that. Giant Man closed, ripping off heads here and there as Tony blasted away at his own creations. Natasha and Hawkeye did what they could, targeting weak points, but the Hulkbusters didn't have many of those, and fighting them was a little bit out of their weight class, really.

Falling back slightly, Steve pulled the communication mirror out from his belt, shouting into it. "I'm a little busy, Harry!"

"I figured that," Harry said dryly. "Do you know what else is going on around the world right now, or even just in America?"

"If this is something to do with giant robots designed to go toe to toe with the Hulk causing chaos, we know a bit. We're under attack by AIM. They've got this creature named MODOK. It's leading their assault and has taken control of the helicarrier's bridge. We've lost at least half of the crew so far to our own God damn weapons!"

"If it took over by a virus, this MODOK might've been involved in an attack on Magical Minds too," Harry mused, "but regardless, we'd like to come in. Can you give me your coordinates?"

"Negative," Steve said. "Like I said, we've lost control of the helicarrier. I have no idea where we are!"

"Dammit," Harry muttered. Storm's method of teleportation was far more advanced than Harry's own personal one, but it did have limitations. Trying to teleport into a moving vehicle, no matter how large the vehicle, while it was in the air? That was well out of its comfort zone. "All right, I'm going to send Hedwig to you with a message. Just touch the message and let her stay somewhere safe for moment. That'll give me enough of a view to know where to jump."

"And that doesn't sound strange at all!" Steve quipped, raising his shield to block an energy bolt from one of the Hulkbusters. "Whatever gets you here soonest, Potter!"

A moment later, a gorgeous snowy owl appeared out of nowhere above Steve's head, alighting on one of the downed Hulkbusters for a moment, looking around curiously and somewhat disapprovingly, Steve thought, at the amount of chaos. By this point the Avengers had linked up with Nick and what remained of the bridge crew of the helicarrier, bolstered by a few other SHIELD operatives that they had run into on the way. There weren't many of them, and many of their bodies were now lying tossed around the corridor, broken and shattered.

"Sorry about the mess," Steve said somewhat self-consciously for some reason, reaching out to take the message from her. How Steve knew it was a female owl he didn't know and didn't want to know.

The owl hooted once, then began to look around far more seriously, scanning slowly from one side of the corridor down to the other, before winging herself upwards into the air and disappearing silently. "What the heck was that?" Tony asked, having seen the owl disappear from out of the corner of his eye.

"I think that was Harry's familiar or something," Steve said with a shrug. "He's on his way."

Nick winced, hoping that Harry would be willing to at the very least put off the discussion about what the Ultron project and the Hulkbusters were for until after this cluster-fuck was finished. He knew, however, that once they did talk, he would lose whatever ground he had gained with Harry during that meeting.

OOOOOOO

Harry, Piotr and Hela appeared in the segment of hallway that Hedwig had scouted out for them. Hela stumbled somewhat on landing, then sent a sneer towards Harry as she stood up, trying to regain her wounded dignity. "You truly do need to figure out a smoother method of teleportation Guardian. That was somewhat unpleasant." So saying Hela pulled her sword from its sheath at her side, the buckler on her arm enlarging several feet into the metal girded shield the followers of old had made famous.

"I'll make it priority oh… around twenty years down the line when I might have a free afternoon to do so," Guardian replied dryly before gesturing down the hallway towards where the sounds of a battle could be heard. "For now, I think it is time to charge to the sound of the drums."

With Colossus in the lead the three of them charged forward, coming up on the battle from the rear of the action. Natasha and Hawkeye, standing at the back of the battle and taking cover in a few doorways heard them coming. But Hawkeye recognized Guardian and Colossus, though not the woman with them and grinned beneath his mask. "Incoming friendlies!"

As he raced forward Harry took a moment to look at the robots the Avengers were currently fighting. They were large, the same height as Colossus, but wider in the shoulders, with a low-slung, forward jutting head that looked almost grotesque, as if it was supposed to scare. Their arms were massively bulked up with armor, as was the rest of their form, but the forearms were especially so, with hydraulic pistons visible between armor plates. They didn't seem to have any long range weapons, which given how strong they were, was probably a good thing.

"Make way!" Colossus shouted, building up speed into a charge towards where two of the robots were trying, without much noticeable success, to pin Captain America against the wall.

The Super soldier saw him coming and rather than dodging the punch thrown at him as he leaped out of the way of another, took it on his shield. Angling the shield in just the correct manner the blow flung him down the corridor rather than break his arm, freeing the area for Colossus.

Colossus slammed into the two robotic monsters like a runaway train, piling one into the other and continuing on, one hand grabbing a metallic shoulder as he began to rain down blows as fast and as hard as he could for a second. An instant after the robots had stopped his momentum he flipped up and over the robot he had a handle on, pulling the arm up and around before tearing the appendage out of its shoulder socket, smashing it into the face of the second.

For their part, Harry and Hela had also announced their presence in no uncertain manner. Hela charged forward, deftly blocking one blow from a robot with her shield, carrying it to one side and then lashing out with her blade, slicing through the thing's neck with difficulty. A second tried to grab her from the side, but she turned into its reach, ducking under one arm while blasting its leg off with a spell launched from her shield hand before returning to a ready stance as if performing a choreographed dance.

Guardian however stayed back, launching spells downfield at a group of robots around someone he recognized as the Giant Man, Dr. Pym. The creator of the medical beds had been battered nearly black and blue by the robots but was still fighting hard, two broken robots scattered around his feet. Now more joined them as Guardian's bombarda and cutting spells shattered them all. Whatever defense their armor provided them did not extent to magic, and seconds later the engagement ended for now.

From one side of the hall they were in Iron Man, Fury and several SHIELD troopers moved down another corridor toward them, carrying several wounded with them as behind them a grenade went off. The grenade shattered the roof of the hallway, bringin it crashing down and blocking the hallway entirely.

When Guardian looked his way, Fury shrugged. "We didn't want to be flanked, and besides this is my fucking helacarrier, if anyone's going to fucking wreck it, it'll be me!"

Guardian snorted, but kept looking at Fury and Iron Man coldly. "Funny, considering this seems to be your fuck-ups doing the wrecking already."

For his part though Tony seemed remarkably immune to the other super-hero's glare. He bowed grandly to Hela, an odd sight in his armor. "I don't believe we have been introduced my lady. I'm Tony, or when I'm in uniform Iron Man. May I have the pleasure of knowing who I am addressing?"

Hela looked at the man in the armored suit coldly before turning to look at Guardian. "No, no you may not."

"Ouch, why the cold shoulder my dear?" Tony asked, before a loud growl from Fury made him turn to Guardian and Fury. Nearby, Cap gathered the rest of his team, while Colossus moved forward to join Giant Man at the supposed front of their advance along with Avalanche. "Ah, um, right… this is going to be somewhat awkward…"

"Oh and why would that be?" Harry said silkily, doing a near perfect Snape impression that would have sent many of his old friends running, and made Sirius try an impromptu 'Snape spirit banishment' spell to save his godson. "Could it be because you had to call in backup from the man you had planned to use these robots against? Or are we dealing with some other threat you accidentally created out of a sense of hubris and false pride?"

Nearby Hela's lips twitched trying to form a smile before she tamped it down. For some reason watching Harry go all cold and sarcastic was appealing to her. And watching him put it to use against the rather boorish man in the armor added to that immensely after said boor's poor showing.

"Well hell. If you know that then I don't see why we need to talk about it further right now…" Tony huffed, moving to turn back but stopped in his movement by Colossus resting a large metallic hand on his shoulder.

"Partly right, though I will not forget." Harry glared from Fury to Stark, nodding his head once to Colossus, who nodded back, releasing Tony after taking the time to grip his shoulder so hard Tony's computer warned him of the pressure. The big Russian might not have understood all the implications of what Harry had said or even heard about how Harry knew these robots had been built to fight him. But he was more than intelligent enough to realize who was to blame for the current crisis.

After holding his glare on both men for a long moment Harry went on. "For now, we need to know what we're dealing with here. How did this… MODOK? How did this MODOK get onto the helacarrier, how did it know about your projects, and what exactly is the extent of the damage. How bad can this get?"

As he spoke, Harry gestured to several of the SHIELD agents to bring the wounded over to him. He began to use the same healing spells he had used to get Fury back on his feet days ago, but his attention was still on Fury and Stark.

Nick scowled, but realizing that he had to eat some crow answered as well he could. "The Hulkbuster program was initially started by General Thunderbolt Ross. His men designed the robots initially as powered suits, but Tony was the one who figured out how to actually power them, and removed the human component."

"That's why I agreed with Nick on creating the ULTRON program and it's physical components in the first place," Tony said, his voice now far more serious. "I want to remove the human element from war as much as possible."

"Fool," Hela muttered, shaking her head as Colossus held up a hand indicating they had attackers incoming. "It is human nature to seek conflict, war is simply a part of that. And if you remove the human element as you put it, then humanity will forget how terrible war truly is. Not to mention how easily it has proven for these machines to be as unreliable as you are."

Tony might have responded to that barb, though Harry had no idea how, but a large group of AIM troops and four Hulkbuster robots rumbled down the corridor towards them saving Stark from having to attempt it. Guardian and Hela immediately moved to back the two strong men up, while Captain America bounced up and off the corridor's ceiling to bypass the droids in the lead.

The narrow confines of the corridor slowly opened as the Hulkbusters, Colossus and the others smashed into and through walls, opening the passage into the rooms set to either side or just tearing through the innards of the ship in the melee. Luckily there was nothing important to the helacarrier's ability to remain in the air in this section, but the battle was a tough one, the Hulkbusters putting up a better fight this time. Four SHIELD operatives died, and Natasha found herself sporting a broken leg and several ribs for a few seconds before Harry began to do the rounds.

Hela ripped her blade out of the chest of one of the AIM troopers, frowning thoughtfully before she reached down and tore off the odd yellow helmet thing. She had never seen armor like this nor anything else before, so had no idea what it was.

But the body underneath was decidedly not human. It might have begun as a human, but there were metal patches on its face, and one of its eyes had been replaced by what looked like some kind of technological device. Hela had no idea what it could be; she was not used to average human technology, let alone whatever this was. What she did understand was that these 'AIM' persons had done to themselves would make harden reavers shudder.

Moving to her side Harry did the same, kneeling to look at the face of another downed AIM trooper nearby. "Well, that answers the question of how AIM is able to field so many of these troopers of theirs even now when they've lost most of their holdings. They suborn them." He looked over at Pym and Tony. "You two are the tech people, any way to correct this, or undue it?"

Dr. Henry Pym shook his head after a bare second's perusal. "No. Remove the cybernetics and the man would become brain dead instantly. And besides, I doubt these people have been alive as we understand the term since they were implanted with these things. They are merely a more organic version of these Hulkbuster robots at this point."

Shaking his head sadly at that, Harry turned to look at Fury. "You were saying something about the ULTRON program, what is that?"

Tony winced inside his helmet but answered anyway, while Nick was silent, closing the eyes of one of his men. "The ULTRON program was designed to create, call it a general unit for the Hulbuster army, stronger faster, better, the greatest robotic body our technology can currently create, with a lot of… interesting bits and pieces added in. But ULTRON itself is a program, separate from its shell, an Artificial Intelligence which we were designing to be the equivalent of a perfect general, a soldier and leader built to safeguard humanity and lead the Hulkbusters against any and all threats."

"Fool and fool twice over," Hela drawled, shaking her head angrily at Stark's hubris, her long black hair swishing enticingly to Harry even here amidst the carnage. "I would have thought even a thrice-named fool would know that creating life is never easy! And to create something like that, to limit it in such a way without thinking how it might grow? Added to that, your determination to see your own race dependent on machines such as this for their defense makes, that enters the realm of madness. Which is not even considering how this MODOK could twist this artificial life of yours in the womb."

"Luckily the system has several hundred different programs protecting it, as well as an entirely separate system." Fury interjected before Tony could respond. "MODOK could start the activation process, but he couldn't finish it except in the actual activation chamber, and the robot's energy core would need to be at full power before the AI comes online. That will take at least an hour."

"Then I suggest we get moving!" Guardian growled, shaking his head. "But don't think we're nearly done talking about this Stark, you either Fury."

"Guardian, after this I doubt SHIELD is going to ever recover. Whatever you are going to say to me isn't going to hurt nearly as much as that knowledge does, trust me." Fury replied.

Harry didn't answer, realizing the truth of that statement, though it still left Tony to his tender mercies later on. He exchanged a glance with Steve, and the two of them got their troops moving. Hawkeye took the time to sidle up to Guardian. "Don't suppose you have any weapons on you for Black Widow and me do you?"

OOOOOOO

Coyote had by far the easiest job of the Custodes that day. Barely had he arrived that he had dealt with the attackers. He had a harder time getting MJ to agree to leave than anything else. The stubborn redhead wanted to stay and make certain anyone injured during the attempted terrorist assault was taken care of.

By the time he was finally able to get her to leave with Paris in her helicopter, Jean had cleared out the attackers physically assaulting the Magical Mind's headquarters. However she found herself somewhat helpless to aid Sage. The instant Sage had seen her, the woman had barked out, "Stay away from the computers!"

Jean, in her Phoenix guise and under the same illusion spells as she had worn during the meeting to hide her pregnancy, blinked in surprise. "Why? I might not be the best programmer but I can at least help you control the firewalls."

"That's not the problem!" Sage grimaced, her hands flying over the fifth computer she had used since this attack began. "I've gotten a handle on most of the attack, though it was much tougher than it should have been, almost like I was fighting against someone as smart as Doom or Reed Richards. But I had the home-field advantage, as it were, and I eventually was able to cut the corrupted connection to a minimum. But…"

Sage pushed herself back as two hands made out of computer data somehow suddenly extended from the computer towards her. Jean lashed out at the odd constructs immediately with her telekinetic powers, but her attack didn't find anything actually physical to hit. Instead the computer behind the hand shattered under her assault. "Oops, sorry, but what was that!"

"Not a problem, and that is what I was talking about. Unless you think you can move fast enough given your condition to dodge those hands, I don't want you anywhere near the computers. And before you ask, I don't know if any of the spells on you or your own shield would do anything to them!" So saying, Sage moved to the next computer. The two of them were in the room devoted to the finance department at the moment, so there were plenty of computers, but Jean noticed that half of them were already slagged.

"This is like I am fighting an individual in the computer data. Someone who is literally living in the computer, not an AI. A program like that would always have a central core program I could find and combat. This doesn't, and the individual isn't nearly as logical in his approach," Sage said, her fingers once more flying over the computer so fast that the clicking of the keyboard sounded like a Gatling gun. "Virus attacks work like blows against him somewhat, and the emergency firewall was able to keep him out during the initial assault, but I am having a devil of a time keeping whoever it is out of the system now."

"Do you think it's a mutant power then?" Jean asked, flinging up a shield between Sage and the computer as Sage once more dodged back from the hands. She tried another attack, this time igniting the air around the hands with her telepathic powers. Neither the shield nor the fire worked, though whoever was controlling those hands still flinched at the sudden attack, retreating into the data network.

"Yes. Now it's just a matter of who wears out first, his ability to remain in that data-form, or me and my body," Sage replied.

"What happens if we just shut down the central power?" Jean asked.

Sage paused in sitting down, then groaned and smacked her forehead. "Of course! That will either force him to retreat to the Internet or trap him within the computers. But we won't know which until we power the system back up," she cautioned.

"Better that than to keep fighting like this. Now, let's see if we can at least try to capture him." So saying, Jean dropped a communication mirror beside Sage, then left hurriedly, heading down to the power plant in the building's basement, keeping well away from anything electronic as much as she could.

Once she was in place, Jean shut down all power going to the first floor before backing away quickly from the control station. After that she continued, shutting down power to each floor in turn as she tried to herd the attacker, or at least limit where he could be. Sage kept in contact with her during that time, and eventually she reported, "All right, whoever it is seems to have retreated to the Internet. I am shutting down all external connections now."

The communication mirror fell silent for a moment, then Sage was back on. "Done. I'm going to get the computer maintenance team in here now. We'll need to clear each computer in the building then the whole integrated data net before we open that connection again."

"Ouch, that's going to be a pain," Jean commiserated. "Did you figure out where this attack came from?"

"Attacks, plural. The main cyber-assault came in from America somewhere, the other I couldn't trace, but the malware assault attacked our guest too. Since that attack slowed his progress down enough for me to start attacking him, I doubt they came from the same source," Sage replied. "Now I don't think we need you here, so unless you want to drudge with me for a bit…"

"No, no. I know when I'm not needed," Jean replied, chuckling as she came up from the basement. Several security guards moved past her down to the generator room. "I'll head back and see what I can do to help against the rest of this crisis."

Sage blinked, turning her attention back to the mirror for a moment even as she continued to walk down the stairs to meet the security and tech people on the first floor. "Crisis?"

OOOOOOO

Battling their way through the helacarrier to the place Tony called the incubation room was hard going, but with the Custodes there in force, they did reasonable well for a time until they began to be flanked. They also began to see attacks coming in from behind, and their progress slowed to a near crawl. "Where the hell are all of these Hulkbusters coming from? Did you have this many stored on the helacarrier?" Harry groused.

He really didn't want to start flinging blame right now. But every damn time more of those robots appeared it was getting harder to resist the urge especially since he knew that Fury and Stark had created this robot army at least in part to fight Harry and his people.

"No." Nick shook his head quickly. "We only had about forty on hand here, more to experiment and run tests on than to use in real combat. The rest have to be coming from the various Stark Industries complexes they were built on. Hopefully that means they aren't causing too much havoc out there."

Harry said nothing, not even telling the Avengers he had sent a few of the others to see if they could at least corral the robot army. "So this MODOK is able to bring them in from there and throw it at us. I thought that only this Ultron would have the ability to control these robots."

"MODOK's mental abilities are no doubt even larger than his brain's sheer size would suggest," Pym opined. "But you can tell that even he is straining to generate enough computational power to control these robots in large numbers. When they come at us in smaller groups the Hulkbusters noticeably fight better. Thankfully quantity does not equal quality for MODOK at least for now."

"They didn't in that last fight," Hela objected. "At least, not as far as I could tell."

"Your standards are a little higher than most mortals' milady," Harry replied, laughing quietly.

Hela shot him a look, deliberately tossing her hair back as stood proudly, locking eyes with him. "Should they not be?"

"Oh, undoubtedly," Harry murmured, losing himself in those eyes for a moment.

"My worry is how many of these AIM troops we've been dealing with." Steve interjected, rolling his eyes mentally at what even he could tell was flirting. "Only Guardian and Lady Hela's magic are keeping us going at this point, and we've been slowed too damn much on top of that. Remember we're working under a time table people!"

While they were somewhat limited by the fragility of the combat environment, Harry and Hela had let loose as often as they could with magical attacks, destroying whole attacking groups at a time as Avalanche did to dump the Hulkbusters on their asses. But at the moment they were moving around the most important part of the ship in terms of keeping in the air, so they had been forced to fall back on their small to medium scale spells and Avalanche was unable to safely use his own ability.

Just then, Dennis contacted Guardian. "Guardian, this is Spymaster. We have a situation. I don't know if you know this, but the robots we saw in the news, they…"

"I know, they're being funneled towards the helicarrier. How many do we have incoming?"

"Yes they are, and not as many as there might have been. The Navy and Air Force are doing what they can to destroy as many of them as they can in the air, yet it's hard going. But that's not the point. The point is that around a hundred or more just peeled off from the… Shit!"

Harry paused in his forward progress and Hela and the Custodes moved to join them with the Avengers and few remaining SHIELD agents creating a cordon around them. "Dennis, what's wrong?"

"That group of droids was just joined by another, and they are now breaking into squads attacking the jet fighters which had been attacking their fellows and the Navy and Coast Guard ships that were firing on them before. We also just lost the feed from the NSA drone I was piggybacking. But just before we did, I saw that first group that moved heading back toward Florida. Wait one… need to find another… damn it, where the hell did the FF disappear to at a time like this!"

"Can't be helped. Now calm down and tell me what is happening." Harry ordered.

"They are heading toward Disney World," Dennis said bluntly. "That group doesn't seem to be attacking anything in its way, but given that target and the fact everything that can fight them in the area already is, they really don't need to."

"Shiiiit…." Guardian murmured, then exchanged a glance with Steve. "Change of plans."

Steve nodded resolutely. "We need to also take MODOK out now, not after we stop the activation process."

"I'll take on this MODOK fellow, Colossus with me. Hela will provide the rest of you with a magical attack." Harry decided looking over at Hela, hoping she wouldn't argue with him on this one. From the flash in those brilliant eyes of hers behind her half-mask she wanted to, but did not, merely nodding her head even as said eyes promised a…discussion later that Harry knew would be heated to say the least. Whew!

"We'll also send Hawkeye with you I think," Fury said moving to stand beside Harry. "And me, that thing took over my own damn bridge, if we're going to challenge him now, I want to be a part of it!"

"Fine, let's get moving," Harry growled, gesturing Nick to start guiding them forward.

OOOOOOO

Jean bit her lip, biting back a curse with difficulty as her stomach turned into knots in a response that had nothing to do with her pregnancy. Amara, Paige, and Nikolai were doing a magnificent job, and Harry's decision to pull Sam Guthrie off the X-men to help had paid off hugely. Only a few of the robots had gotten out of the Stark Industries complex they had been stored in once the trio of Custodes had arrived, but they had also had to evacuate the complex.

While the robots were not attacking the civilians or anything else outside the complex, they had been hunting down and killing the people inside the factory. Jean had no idea how many had died before the robots had begun to break out of the factory and head to the helicarrier, but thought that it had to be in the low hundreds. Hell, even now the trio was still finding random people hiding out here and there.

But what made Jean bite her lip was the sudden change in the robots actions which Dennis had just reported to Harry. But while she agreed with Harry's actions in the helicarrier, that did nothing to stop the robotic rampage going on. And Amara had just called in requesting further backup at the root of the problem, where the Hulkbusters were digging in and even activating some of the factory in order to build more of themselves. FUCK!

This put Jean in the position of making a choice between two evils. Try to solve the somewhat secondary root of the problem, or try to defend Florida from their rampage. No freaking choice at all, really.

"I'm going to head to Florida, Dennis. We need to deal with that group of shit stain robots! When Emma finishes up with that Sinister Six, reroute Dani's team to help Amara's and get Coyote down there as soon as possible too. Don't pull the X-men out of the battle in the Vault until Scott contacts you. Stopping those criminals from escaping is just as important in the long run as dealing with the rest of this fucking debacle!" Jean ordered, not looking away from the now live news feeds from various news crews in Florida recording the Hulkbusters doing strafing runs on the ground and the dogfight occurring in the air above them.

The Air Force and the Navy were doing what they could, but the Hulkbusters were armored better than tanks, and many of them had long range weapons comparable to Iron Man or even heavier. Several dozen jets had been downed, and at least a few destroyers which had been on patrol in the gulf on training missions had been sunk. But they had kept the civilian casualties down to a minimum up till now.

"My my, cursing, Jean? It must be serious if you are even thinking of heading out given how far along you are." The low melodic tone brought Jean out of her current fugue like an axe through butter, and she turned, her jade eyes going wide as she saw Ororo walking through the hallway towards her and the others, while behind her Illyana and Melody followed, looking quite pleased with themselves.

Ororo had a bit of bed head, and she was walking somewhat gingerly, as if her legs were a little wobbly under her. But other than that she seemed no worse for having spent more than a week in what amounted to a self-imposed coma. She was even wearing her combat suit, complete with panja ring on her hand and… Is that a circlet on her head, or… Jean blinked, and the image of a circlet on her friend's head disappeared, replaced by her normal headdress.

That was the last conscious thought Jean had for a moment. She could not remember actually telling her legs to move, but she was suddenly throwing her arms around her older lover, kissing Ororo hard on her very willing lips, their bodies pressing so close together it was like they were trying to fuse into one being. It took her a few seconds to regain control of herself, aided by the uncontrollable giggling of the two girls and Dennis's pointed cough, but eventually Jean was able to pull herself back under control. "God, Ororo, but I've missed you!"

"Yes, I got that impression, my dear," Ororo replied, leaning her forehead against Jean's and laughing quietly. "I don't quite know how to describe what I was doing, but Gaea was able to tell me a bit about what was going on out in the real world while I was under. Though this crisis is new."

That brought Jean fully back to earth, and she nodded, pulling back further to turn away, looking at the holographic projection. "Um, right. Back to work. Have to warn you though, Ororo, Harry's probably going to steal you away for a few days. To me only a little under two weeks have passed. For him, it's been months since he last spoke to you. The whole lonely vigil thing also did not help us as much as we hoped."

Ignoring Ororo's questioning look about that point, Jean quickly filled Ororo in and then looked at her closely. "Are you? That is…are you back to one hundred percent? Because I think they need us both in the field for this, even with..." Jean trailed off, gesturing down to her stomach. "I have so many dang protective magics on me I should be clanging like a suit of armor, but even so…"

Ororo looked and thought for a moment, then nodded. "My body might not be at one hundred percent yet, but my powers both magical and weather based are good to go. Is Amara still reporting that they are finding more people in the factory?"

"Yes, they are," Dennis replied quickly, staring at the news.

"Very well. I will head to back Amara's team up. My magical area of control spells will allow me to remove anyone from the area. Once that is done, Magma and I will be able to deal with the factory. You…" Ororo hesitated, reaching down to gently rest a hand on Jean's stomach. "You are correct. We need to get involved in the fight over Florida as well, but, but be careful! Please?"

Jean nodded, feeling her eyes tearing up at the amount of loving worry in Ororo's voice. "I will." The two women stared at one another for a few seconds, before turning and racing for the door, stopping only as Ororo began her incantation, stopping just long enough to address Jean before the redhead could fly off. "Oh, and Jean, I think this is an appropriate time to show off, hmm?"

Looking back at Ororo, Jean saw her friend's eyes already turning silver even as she sent a smile Jean's way. She laughed, nodded, and flew out of the main doors of the castle, her telekinetic power flaring around her into a familiar shape.

OOOOOOO

Heading up to the bridge took them a while, but the move seemed to have taken MODOK by surprise. The fact they had to move through a large portion of the ship they had already fought their way through, and thus wrecked, destroying any security cameras, also played a factor.

They did run into several guard posts, but they were manned by AIM troops, which didn't even slow the four men down. Indeed, Harry was now in such a rush he simply wiped out each group with a single overpowered bombarda or cutting spell. He did so so quickly the others didn't even have time to fire, not even Hawkeye.

The group paused outside the doors heading into the bridge in the center of another former guard position. Colossus moved to stand in front of the doors, with Harry right behind him, Nick and Hawkeye to either side. Harry counted to three under his breath, and Colossus brought his fists forward to slam into the steel doors. Durable they might have been, but they didn't stand up to that blow, and the doors were flung inward, smashing into several more AIM troopers.

Behind Colossus, the others charged forward. Hawkeye went right, firing his rifle as quickly as he could pull the trigger while he slid into cover behind the stairs leading up slightly to the observation deck at the back of the bridge. While he didn't like rifles as much as bows, he could still use them nearly as well as his preferred weapon.

To the other side Nick rolled underneath a few of the nearest stations which had been overturned and wrecked by his and his people's earlier retreat. He fired with none of Hawkeye's speed or flare, but he was actually in a better position to see MODOK and his response to their attack.

A blast of what looked like a telekinetic assault but not quite lashed out, sending Colossus flying like a giant metal bullet, slamming him through the far wall. Thankfully that wall led along the helicarrier's length rather than out into the air beyond. But even that was scant comfort as Nick saw an energy barrier appear around MODOK, blocking Harry's attacks.

That was the last thing Nick saw as another blast came his way and Nick was forced to dodge, the attack clipping his head and sending him crashing backwards unconscious and possibly dead. Hawkeye was similarly dealt with, but Harry blocked a similar attack, a magical shield able to block the telekinetic assault or whatever it was.

"Hmm. I would say it is an honor to be in your presence, Guardian, but I would be lying. Or should I say, Mr. Potter? You have some strange so-called magical construct protecting your name, but with my vast intellect I was able to still make that logical connection regardless." MODOK's voice was odd, sounding almost childlike but not quite, deeper in tone and very adult in its words.

There was also a mad glint in the creature's eyes as he looked at Harry. "I must admit to a large amount of intellectual interest in magic, but to see it being used in person is something else altogether."

Harry didn't reply verbally, instead opting to let his magic do that talking, sending chains of spells at MODOK. The creature's shields held against physical assaults as he and his few remained men attacked Harry in turn. The other troopers, however, were fooled by a series of illusions and misdirection spells to fire at one another and even at MODOK himself. This didn't seem to bother MODOK, who kept talking calmly. Even sound or light based assaults couldn't get through his telekinetic shields, or at least not before he pulled something out from a bag at his side.

It was a statuette of some kind, a woman, Harry thought, judging from the brief glimpse he could glimpse before sudden and near overwhelming pain enveloped him from head to toe. It wasn't a mental assault or even a physical one. Rather, it was a magical spell of some sort, but the effect and the medium it attacked him by, Harry had never heard of or even considered anything like it.

My God! It's like the magic in my body is, is rebelling or something! Harry thought, going to one knee. "Wh, wha…"

"Hmm, interesting. My tests with the so-called Voodoo Doctor that AIM captured weeks ago showed that this was effective against magic users, but it is always good to have a second data set to correlate with," MODOK mused. Then he lashed out with a psionic assault which hurled Harry back against the far wall, crushing him against it rather than through it as a similar assault had done against Colossus.

Harry grunted, trying to pour more of his magical power into the Magia Erebea spell to try and break the attack's grip on him. He had to stop after a bare second, however, biting back a scream as the feeling of his own body rebelling against him redoubled. What the fuck is going on!?

"You might be wondering what is occurring to your body, Harry Potter, and while it is most illogical, I find I feel some satisfaction in sharing their fate with my victims," MODOK intoned, letting loose a wet chuckle for a moment. "You see, Potter, this is a blessed item of the Catholic church, some ancient relic or other called Lilith's Bane. What powers it I do not know, though I speculate it is some faith-based magic or other. Regardless, no magical individual or being can use their powers when in its presence, not internally or externally."

MODOK's chuckle became a giggle, one whose insanity was apparent to any listener, though at the moment there was only Harry to see. Colossus had been smashed aside, and though Harry didn't know it, he had yet to return because he had been ambushed by over a dozen Hulkbusters. Hawkeye and Fury were unconscious or dead, Harry couldn't tell. "Yet you haven't screamed yet. Voodoo or whatever his real name was began to scream quickly."

Blinking his eyes against the agony blasting through his body, Harry wondered where the hell that little item had come from. He also made a mental note to see if the Roman Church had other such items, and how many they had lost over the years. If I get out of this, anyway.

"That is my favorite part of this, you see," MODOK went on, moving closer to Harry. "While I greatly enjoy taking away my toys' strengths, turning what makes them special against them, making them merely human, I must have those screams. They tell me I am doing my job appropriately."

Another telepathic assault began, the air around Harry suddenly becoming so hot it was like being thrust into a fire, then so cold it felt as if he had been dipped in liquid nitrogen. MODOK 'tsked,' seeing Harry still hanging there, his crysis suit still in place. While Harry might not be able to use any active magic, his suit was still being powered and protected by the runic arrays worked into it. "Fascinating."

With a gesture from his small, undersized arm, Harry found his limbs stretching out to either side while the thing, the small statuette, was floated towards him, touching his chest, which caused Harry to jolt as if someone had just used a defibrillator on him. Harry could feel his mutant power try to reach out in order to drain the damn thing, only for the attempt to backfire, the pain, the feeling of his magic rebelling against him, redoubling. It was like his very atoms were trying to come apart at the seams.

"Scream for me, Potter. You have no magic now. No, you're just a normal human in a silly suit, just like that pathetic Stark, just like Rogers would be if you took away his serum. There is nothing you have now that makes you special, so scream! Scream and I will end your pain," MODOK coaxed.

Harry convulsed, his teeth gritted so hard he drew blood under his mask, but the only noise that escaped for a moment was an unending grunt. But Harry wasn't a stranger to pain, and he eventually got used to the agony coursing through his body. MODOK tried to redouble the telekinetic assault currently stretching Harry as if he was trying to rip his limbs off, but still Harry didn't scream. Instead, his grunt began to change into a strained chuckle.

This sound brought MODOK up short, and he moved the statue away from Harry for a moment, staring at him with his wide eyes set into that massive, overdeveloped head. "What in the name of science are you chuckling about, Potter? Unless…" He smiled widely. "Unless the pain has broken your mind to the extent your brain is interpreting the pain as pleasure?

"I, I'm chuckling because, I know why you wanted to do this to me, why you wanted to, to make me normal, as you put it," Harry said, gasping a few times against the pain still coursing through his body. Even without using magic in its presence the Blessing, and it could only be a Blessing, even if Harry had never read or considered a Blessing like Lilith's Bane, was still effecting his body.

MODOK snorted. "Then please enlighten me as to what foolish crackpot idea your puny, un-augmented mind has come up with."

"You, you're jealous!" Harry gasped out, opening his eyes to stare at MODOK, grinning behind his mask, the words flowing fast and furious as he tried to lash out in the only way he could. "You're jealous, because while I can be forced to be normal like this, as you put it, you can't be. I, I could walk out like this, and be, be normal. A normal human being able to interact with the rest of society. You though, whatever was done on you, or to you, you can't. You'll always be like that, and that sets you apart just as much as you think your 'vast intelligence' sets you above the rest of us."

For a moment MODOK was silent, staring at Harry, then he smiled a slow, sadistic smile. "While you might not have screamed for me yet, by the time I am through with you, Harry Potter, you will have no more screams to give."

OOOOOOO

Omega level mutant. It was a simple enough phrase, but very few people understood what it really meant. Even after the light show in the North and the amount of theories bruited about what it had been which marked the advent of the title being used among the public, few truly comprehended the term's meaning. By the end of this day all the world, and in particular America, would understand. They would understand and thank whatever god (or goddess) they believed in that many of these mutants were on the side of the angels.

Thanks to her magical method of teleportation, Ororo arrived at her target location before Jean could fly to Florida. She appeared out of nowhere in the center of a parking lot which looked as if it had been home to a herd of rampaging bull elephants. Cars and several Hulkbusters were flung every which way, along with the bodies of two security guards who were armed and armored more like special forces than the normal rent-a-cops. It hadn't saved them, of course.

"Storm, over here!" Magma shouted, skidding around a corner. Despite being in her tectonic energy form, the relief and joy in her voice was audible as she saw the older woman. "Damn glad to see you!"

"Good to be here. Now, let me get to work, and you can fill me in on the specifics of the battle." So saying, Storm knelt down to the asphalt, placing her hands on the ground as she began to call up her magical energies. Invisible to most people's senses a ring of magical energy spread out in every direction from her, slowly encompassing the entire factory complex and several hundred yards in every direction beyond.

With her eyes closed and still listening to Magma's report with one part of her mind, Ororo reached out with her magic, and as she had many times before began to teleport people out of the danger zone. Scared people hidden in dozens of places around the complex found themselves suddenly appearing out beyond the line of trucks and jeeps of the National Guard units which had responded to this crisis.

The instant the last of them fell on his rear, Ororo stood up, looking over at Magma. "Husk and Cannonball are to the east side as you reported, but Vanguard has fallen back to the back exit and is moving to join the National Guard unit there. They have brought up bazookas and seem to be holding that entrance, but given the Hulkbusters can fly, that is immaterial. Have you tested the ground here? Can you bury this place?"

"I can," Magma replied, her back straightening as she threw back the weariness she had been feeling. The Hulkbusters were damn tough, and she had been forced to raise the heat of her magma balls to an even higher degree than normal to burn through their armor. Vanguard's gauss rifle had proven a better weapon in a way, so long as he could keep the range open, but his plasma rifle was utterly useless unless he could target the robots' optics. Paige could handle one or two of the Hulkbusters at a time, but the Hulkbusters had begun to fight them in groups of five or more, while more of their fellows had pushed through the factory or up into the sky and away.

"It won't be fast—there isn't any natural fissure or anything nearby—but I can bring up a magma flow easily. Controlling it and then cutting it off, making certain it won't be able to open again in the future, will be the tough part. But if you want me to bury this place under lava, I can do it."

"Start the process now." Storm quickly knelt, reconnecting with her area of control spell, and a dozen large golems made of asphalt and the metal of the wrecked cars around them formed. Then Husk and Vanguard appeared. "Protect her," Storm ordered, her now solid white eyes narrowing as she saw several more Hulkbusters burst out from the inside of the factory and up into the air. Tracer rounds followed them from outside of the complex, but few hit, and none of the Hulkbusters slowed their ascent. "I will deal with the Hulkbusters in the air."

With that Ororo rocketed into the air, a billow of near tornado force blowing her up between one eye-blink and the next, far faster than she normally moved in the air. Cannonball saw her coming and turned his angle of attack slightly, having smashed through one of the Hulkbusters at speed. So long as he could keep his speed up the Hulkbusters couldn't touch him, but they were just maneuverable enough that he could only get one, or maybe one and a half with every strafing run. "Storm! What are your orders, ma'am?"

"Stay back," Ororo ordered, reaching out with her mutant power now. She felt a brief twinge in her mind as she did so, but it wasn't painful, rather it was like a limb recovering from having been asleep for a time. "I will handle this."

Around fifty of the Hulkbusters were in the air and near enough for their optics to pick up the new threat. Below, dozens, perhaps hundreds of cameramen trying to cover the action from behind the protective line of National Guardsmen and vehicles turned their cameras up as well. Many of the Hulkbusters turned, racing towards the new target, having seen and realized the nature of the threat with their limited on-board computational powers.

It didn't matter. Storm reached out with her power and the wind roared. Dozens of small, localized tornadoes formed under her gaze, tearing the Hulkbusters they targeted apart. The air around others froze to a level not seen outside of the South Pole. Their armor was no protection against that, their circuitry freezing and shutting down, turning them into falling bits of metal. Around the complex a wall of wind appeared, shredding or turning aside the Hulkbusters in the air, while at the same time what few helicopters or jets that were in the air nearby were gently pushed away.

Then the walls of air slowly contracted as Ororo and Cannonball flew higher and higher above the complex, the air growing colder as water condensed out of the air, droplets of water freezing and then moving so fast they struck with such force even the Hulkbusters could feel it, especially given how brittle their armor became. Soon the circle of tornado force changed into an actual tornado roaring not on, but over the complex, touching nothing made of man except the Hulkbusters. None survived the experience.

It was a show of control and power that would have taken Harry or anyone else who truly understood what she was doing aback. But even Magma couldn't quite understand the level of control, of sheer artistry Ororo exhibited in that moment.

As the wall of air dissipated, what every watcher understood was the power of it. Over a hundred Hulkbusters, enough firepower to lay waste to an army core and then some, magnificent examples of human technology in their way, had been utterly removed from the world, leaving mere scraps and rubble behind to patter down in a rain of debris.

At the same time this had occurred, Magma's power had gone to work. The ground shook, shivered, and split open here and there around the complex, and magma poured out, slowly burning and burying the complex. It took longer than Ororo's show, and her friends and their magical allies did have to protect Magma from several Hulkbusters, but within minutes of Storm's attack halting the complex was practically buried under a mountain of slowly cooling magma, bunched up here and there around the former buildings.

And yet again, none of the fury of nature had spread. Only the Stark Industries complex was buried under the magma; none of it escaped. Even the fumes from the multiple tiny eruptions were carried up and away from the surrounding city.

Ororo smiled, her eyes still silver as she slowly floated down to join her fellows, hearing some cheering here and there, though most of the watchers had been stunned into silence. Later on, Ororo knew that the awe this show of force had gathered would possibly turn to fear in many, but she hoped the care that she and Amara had shown would offset that. Right now, however, she and the rest of the Custodes still had a job to do.

Yet as awe-inspiring as Storm's sudden arrival had been, Phoenix matched it.

OOOOOOO

Captain Conrad Knighton, call-sign Knight (of course), yanked hard on the stick of his F-18. This pulled his jet up into a tight arc, dodging a blast of gunfire by the skin of his teeth coming from one of the freaking hundreds of robots that someone had built and now had lost control of. His wingman launched his last missile at that particular robot, smashing the thing back in the air and cracking its carapace slightly, but doing no real damage. "Fuck! If I ever find out who fucking okayed the building of a fucking droid army I am going to drop a fucking bunker buster on their fucking house!"

"Roger that," his copilot muttered in the seat behind him, grimacing as he too launched his last missile at the same target his wingman had hit before glancing up and cursing. "Phantom, you've got three coming up on your tail!"

Phantom, Knight's wingman, tried desperately to shake the giant robots while two other jets went in for a strafing run on them. But their bullets simply bounced off the heavy armor of their target like rain, doing no damage.

Suddenly another robot reared up out of the air right in front of Knight, and he had to turn his attention to his own survival. Yet the robot had gotten too close somehow. Knighton saw this, and just as quickly he realized that he, his copilot, and his wingmen were about to die.

Then there was heat and force. But when Conrad Knighton blinked, he realized he was still in his plane, still trying to flip his plane into a barrel roll away from the robot that should have already ended his life.

Said robot was gone, its entire body burned to ash by a flame so hot it more resembled that of the sun than anything humans could create. "What…"

A massive bird of fire had appeared on the battlefield, its wings miles long, and its claws the size of Knight's jet as it stooped into the battlefield. For a moment that was all he could he could see, then as his eyes adjusted behind his helmet, Knight saw the form in the center of the, the phoenix. He could think of no other word that could describe what he was seeing.

In the center of the phoenix was a woman, that was all Conrad could tell, her form indistinct and almost shivering in his eyes, though what was causing the effect he didn't know. As he watched, his eyes wide, she seemed to reach out, and blasts of some kind of power reached out, slamming into more than a dozen of the robots he and his people had been fighting. When the waves of force faded, the robots were just gone, nothing remaining but some greasy smoke.

Another gesture and several shields of some kind suddenly popped into existence over the city below them, and then around several of their jets. Even several pilots who had time to eject found themselves protected by smaller shields as they began to descend under their parachutes.

The robots turned to attack this new target, but the phoenix's wing seemed to flap, coming back to guard the woman in the center of its form, and their energy blasts dissipated doing no damage. The wings then spread out, washing over the attacking robots, and again they simply ceased to be. The woman then turned her attention down on those who had not yet turned in her direction. The phoenix shrunk only slightly, before the woman stooped down, a ragged cry of a hunting hawk somehow reverberating out in the air. The Phoenix flew over Florida, the massive bird, symbol of death and rebirth, visible to the naked eye by thousands of souls down below.

"Hail Mary full of grace, our Lord is with thee…" Conrad heard his copilot mutter, and found he agreed with the sentiment. If something like that wasn't a sign from on high, he had no idea what could be.

OOOOOOO

Colossus had attempted to get back to the helicarrier's bridge, only to find himself continually faced with a group of Hulkbusters who were not so interested in defeating him as leading him astray or slowing him down. Every attempt to get around or through them was stymied, and he eventually resorted to actually punching his way out of the massive carrier.

Once on the surface, he made his way forward, but it was slow going, and again he was faced with a few Hulkbusters following him out. They continually got in his way, using magnetic clamps on their feet to stay put and trying to dislodge Colossus to send him flying out into the air. It was not a pleasant time, and more than once Colossus nearly lost his grip, but he refused to give up.

With Hawkeye buried and Nick possibly dead, this left Harry, unable to use his magic, alone to face MODOK's tender mercies.

He had no idea how long his torture went on, but Harry knew his ribs had been cracked. His intestines felt like someone had shoved hundreds of needles into them, and his breath was coming so raggedly that one of his lungs must have been perforated. His throat and limbs felt as if someone had torn out his tendons.

Yet he still hadn't screamed. He had bit through his own lip, and he knew that his crysis suit's internal defenses had faded badly, but his suit was still on him, the psionic unable to rip it off Harry's body. And he still hadn't given MODOK the satisfaction of making him scream. Call it bloody-minded stubbornness, call it pride or foolishness, Harry refused to give in. And his mind was still working, his body still responding, though he had gone limp in the psionic grip of the sadistic super-genius.

MODOK finally sighed, backing away slightly in his hover chair. "Bah, this is a waste of time. Your brain must have been affected when your magic was forced back in on itself. Sad. I would have liked to keep you around and somewhat cognizant to see me conquer the world, but I suppose even a genius such as I cannot have everything."

A loud beeping noise came from behind him, and he was about to turn away when Harry let his head fall forward, coughing. The only word that MODOK could hear was "pain," and he sighed before using his telekinetic power to pull Harry towards him. The psionic grip around Harry slackened, acting now more like a grip around Harry's body, letting his limbs fall loose and, MODOK thought, uselessly, as Harry was turned so that he hung in the air like a powerless puppet.

Yet even as he did this, MODOK had turned his entire attention to the source of the beep. The Avengers had finally broken through the defenses around the Ultron incubation chamber, but they were too slow. MODOK had diverted all his troops to that area along with the majority of his remaining Hulkbuster robots, fighting a delaying action more than anything else.

There were also the doors of the chamber and the fact it was so deep into the engines of the helicarrier, having prevented them from entering for too long. Even the strongest of them could barely move those doors, and Hela, who MODOK had no knowledge of prior to this, couldn't use her more powerful spells for fear of the damage she could do to the surrounding engines.

MODOK wanted to cackle, but refrained. Yes, his original troops had died nearly to a man, but they had won. The robots SHIELD had built, the AI Ultron, and his own massive intellect would allow him to conquer the world. First the rest of the so-called Custodes and their allies, then America. With American industrial capacity under his command and the threat of the nation's nuclear arsenal, he could spread out from there, with his first target being whatever it was that Potter had created in terms of orbital infrastructure.

He still had the presence of mind to taunt Potter, however, who he had come to hate the moment he had realized what the so-called hero was. "Yes, Potter? Did you finally have something to say?"

Harry didn't say anything, however. He let his actions do the talking. His fist flashed out as fast as he could in a punch, slamming into one of MODOK's eyes. At the same time his other hand grabbed what hair was on MODOK's massive distended head, holding him in place as the genetically altered super brain screamed in sudden and unused-to pain.

"I said, 'Pain is an old friend!'" Harry growled through bleeding and bitten through lips as MODOK lost control of his telepathic grip. Agony flared once more through Harry as he fell onto MODOK's hovering form but he still kicked out, sending the small figurine MODOK had been holding in one of his near-useless hands flying. The touch of the thing sent another spasm of pain searing through his body, but Harry fought through it, pummeling MODOK as hard and fast as his limbs could move.

MODOK had been created to be a genius beyond all geniuses, his genes manipulated and changed in such a way that he was so far removed from normal humanity as to be a separate species, almost. His mind, though twisted and insane in the truest sense of the words, was far, far more capable than any genius who had come before him, even Richards or Doom, giving him a form of telepathy and telekinesis which he could use to great effect, including creating energy shields of strength and breath to stand up to Harry's medium or even some of his heavy spells.

But he didn't have any actual added physical durability in comparison to a normal human. Indeed, just by looking at him you could tell his body had been left to atrophy. And unlike Harry, who had grown up knowing pain and becoming very familiar with it over his lifetime, MODOK had never felt the sensation he so loved seeing on others.

He panicked, trying to twist his chair this and that way, unable to even concentrate his vast mental powers enough to grab Harry and fling him away. He felt one of his eyes actually pop under a blow from Harry, and a shoulder broke under a kick before he was able to throw the weakened Harry off him. "AHH, ahh! How dare you, how dare you, you pathetic…! I…will kill you!"

Harry didn't bother speaking again. Ignoring his battered body, Harry grabbed up a piece of metal debris from a railing which had separated two of the sectors of the bridge. Twisting around he hurled it as hard as he could, and watched as MODOK tried to throw up the shield which had initially stymied his magical attacks. He then hurled several other bits of debris after the first, an attempt to activate the runic array on his hand or even physically accessing his mokeskin pouch causing the pain from before to redouble.

Still reeling from the pain, MODOK's concentration failed, the shield only stopping the initial makeshift spear, not the others. As MODOK screamed in more shock, then pain, under the hail of random debris, Harry grabbed up a pistol, emptying it at MODOK. Again the genetically modified genius's shield flared up, but a few of the bullets got through, impacting his side, legs, and the hover chair, which immediately lost power. Harry shambled forward quickly, still firing.

Even as MODOK's body crashed to the floor, he was lashing out once more with his telepathic powers. The statuette, Lilith's Bane, raced out and touched Harry. He watched with his one remaining eye as Harry's body jerked like he had just touched a live wire. "Fall!"

But Harry didn't fall. His footsteps didn't even falter while he turned, smashing the statuette to pieces with a makeshift club taken from a metal chair. As MODOK stared at this apparition before him, Harry spoke. "Your, your powers don't define you, MODOK. Your actions do. I am not dependent on my powers; they are just a part of me, just like a hand or a foot. It is will that truly matters, MODOK!"

With that, Harry fell forward, bringing the club down. MODOK's shield again flared under his desperate mental command, but Harry pulled his handgun up again, emptying a second clip into the shield and it faltered. MODOK tried to shout something, tried possibly to even plead for his life, but Harry brought his club down with all the force he could. MODOK's overlarge skull shattered under the blow, along with the brain beneath it.

MODOK's body spasmed, then fell still as Harry went to his knees, falling forward onto his face. He reached up with a shaking hand to pull his mask off his face. He breathed in deeply of the smoke filled air of the bridge, grateful not to be smelling or even tasting his own blood after so long being literally tortured by the mad MODOK.

With the statue shattered, its Blessing faded swiftly, and Harry could feel his magic once again beginning to act as it should, healing him. But his reserves were so low it would take a long while, and Harry gasped as he pushed himself once more to his feet.

Harry didn't get far before a large metallic arm caught him, pulling Harry to his feet easily. "You look terrible, tovarishch. Please, lean on me."

Harry looked up thankfully at Colossus and nodded, leaning against the younger man as they moved over to where Nick and Hawkeye lay under the rubble of the observation deck. They still had work to do.

End Chapter


I realize that this is sort of ending on a cliffhanger, but I decided to end the chapter here for two reasons: one, the scene I wanted to end the chapter with just didn't, wasn't very… good. It also has Hela front and center, and I prefer to have even combat scenes dealing with Asgardians looked over by Mordreek.

As for the rest of the chapter, yay world building! - We won't have much except in the background for the next few chapters; they will be action and character interaction driven.

Harry suddenly running into another method to attack him that bypasses his magic: I have been hinting for several chapters that Blessings are major mojo. I also decided that I wanted Harry to face a threat that would force him to fall back on merely human abilities; just letting him fling around magic isn't always fun. But now Harry knows about this weakness and can start training his body more, and even come up with ways to get around someone canceling out his magic, which might be important down the line. And let's face it, lately Harry's been letting his combat abilities slide.