Book IV: Coriolis Event

Keys to the Kingdom


November 2, 2016
Sydney

Biologically, Varian Parker was almost five years of age, but to anyone who did not know him he appeared to be fifteen. Medium height, thin to the point of fragility, and intensity were all things that would mark Varian. Ice blue eyes that burned with a cold light were his crowning feature. It was midday and his lessons were continuing. Dr. Essex was explaining human nature and for Varian it made no sense.

“Why does religion play such an important role in the world? History is marked with the fault lines of religious carnage and yet it continues.”

A smile played across Essex’s face before it faded back behind his stern visage.
“Religion is the subject of great debate among philosophers and has been for
centuries. It gives meaning to the masses, so there is comfort in their existence,
young master.” The screen in the room highlighted Israel on a map. “Take the Holy Land for instance; that land has seen war ravage it for tens of centuries and yet it is the birthplace of two of the three great Monotheistic religions. Jerusalem is probably the most sacred city on the planet and yet it is situated on a land bridge that fostered those wars. Thanks to religion an otherwise insignificant piece of land has been transformed into a battleground of the soul.”

“Strange that so much attachment is placed on useless land.” Varian frowned.
“You’ve taught me modern politics and I see how religion has been used to play
against the mutant issue. You’d think that modern people would know better.”

“People have not changed much over the centuries, Varian. They are cattle for the most part, easily led – nay, eager to be led -- with the right leverage and foresight.” Essex smiled again. “Religion can be used in many ways if one knows what levers and fulcrums to use. That is enough talk of religion, Varian. It is time for your science lessons.”

Metropolis

It is done!’ Andre Comeaux fingered the new lapel pin that was the new House
insignia. His signaled him as a House Lieutenant in the Security branch. The post-
election celebrations of the night before were giving way to the new reality of things this early morning. As soon as Lex Luthor had been declared the winner of the Presidential Election, Andre had moved into action to elevate security protocols on all of the family’s residential properties. The houses in Miami, San Francisco, Boulder, Houston, and Long Island had been vacated and sealed. Motion detectors provided surveillance and intrusions would be routed to local authorities immediately. It was part of the pact that the House Security had made with the Secret Service.

What the Secret Service didn’t know about was the network of secret safe houses across the U.S. and around the world controlled by the family but “owned” by other people. ‘Weyland-Yutani came in very handy after all,’ thought Andre as he walked through the deserted underground corridors that connected Minerva Plaza to Skylar Tower where the family penthouse was located. ‘I hope the Secret Service doesn’t know about these access tunnels. Evacuation points that no one knows about are a necessity. An old axiom I learned from DGSE; never leave your safety in the hands of the unknown!

He made it to the door that opened to a maintenance closet in the subbasement of Skylar Tower. It slid open with his palm print and a scan of his new lapel pin. His pin was the House crest in gold with three arrows behind it; two between the Gryphon and the Phoenix and one between the Unicorn and the Phoenix. Andre didn’t know how they did it, but each pin was coded to the individual and would not work with the new security systems for anyone but the assigned individual. Only one person had four arrows on his pin and that was Enrique De Santos, the House Majordomo. His pin was mostly golden, but the lightning bolt ‘S’ was silver inside the shield. Andre and his fellow security Lieutenants had gold pins with three arrows. People like Rachel Amsted-Smith, Senior Staff (Non-Security), had pins primarily of silver pins with gold inside the shield. The Aides-de-Camp, like Justin Daniels, had gold pins with two arrows.

He walked out of the closet and looked around to make sure he was not seen as he headed to the stairs that led to the secure elevator bank. The elevator opened with another security scan and soon he was on his way up to the family floors. Sleep had eluded him for much of the night, his mind reeling with knowledge of coming changes that were beyond anyone’s expectations. No longer was the House merely a Senatorial power, but now it was the House of the President. Spies on Chris’ network had already warned them to expect the Secret Service to demand more access. Andre had done what he could overnight to close off battlefronts for the Service to demand acquiescence in guarding the President’s family.

The elevator stopped and Andre got off to find Alan and Chris waiting for him. “I see that sleep eluded you as well.”

Alan handed Andre a cup of special brewed coffee. “I made it just the way you like it, dear.” Alan smiled. “This makes us even, sir.”

A smile crept across Andre’s face after he took a sip. “I am now in your debt, Mr. Owen.

Chris rolled his eyes and led them into the main Security room. He leaned against
the door once it was closed. “I have a meeting with Agent Millen in three hours to prepare for further Secret Service protection around the family. Lex will have a full detachment from now on. We will drop all but two of our guards – they’ll become Lex’s body men. The boys, Clark and Whitney still need to have their details worked out, but I have Lex’s permission to deny further intrusion into the boys’ world.”

Alan yawned. “The things from the storage floor are being moved to some secure
subbasement lockers. That floor is going to be where the Secret Service will set up their rooms in this building.”

“What happens to us?” asked Andre.

“Nothing, we will maintain our jobs and will help them to an extent. They are not
going to be allowed inside the Palace I’ve been told. Lex drew that line already.” Alan stretched. “The next few months will be tenser than those of the campaign. The Secret Service will be around for at least four years. We have to adjust.



Warm bodies next to his were the first thing Lex noticed as he woke up. The sun was rising, but it was not late yet. He’ hadn’t been in bed past sun rise in weeks. Slowly he stretched and the memories of last night flooded back to him; both the good and bad. The intense lovemaking had washed away months of stress, but they could not remove the memory of intense visions. Extricating himself from the heavy limbs of his lovers, Lex went to the bathroom to shower.

Why am I still having those visions? I was elected President of the United States and can safeguard the nation for the next four to eight years. It will be challenging, but I can change attitudes towards mutants. So why do these horrible scenes still plague me?

“Well, Mr. President, how do you feel this morning?” asked Whitney in a mock
reporters voice as he climbed into the shower. “Citizens want to know how you
celebrated your hard fought victory last night.”

Lex chuckled and let his hand run over Whit’s taunt ass. “I fucked my lovers all
night. The loss of sleep was well worth the pleasure.”

“All night is a bit of a stretch,” replied Clark as he climbed in the shower too.
“Though it was nice having you with us without a time pressure.” He winked and
then grabbed Lex’s ass. “How do you feel?”

Lex’s smile faltered for a second and then brightened. “Enjoying the moment as best I can. The hard part begins later today when Jeff heads to Washington to begin the Transition.”

Whit chuckled as he lathered up and then started soaping Lex. “Do you have any
clue who is going to serve where?”

“So far I know that Jeff will be White House Counsel when this is done, which means that the House needs to be restructured as well.” Lex smiled. “And you Mr. Fordman are being chosen to fix that problem.”

“Great. I have to play First Lady, Consort – whatever --and I have to pick a new
Warden of the Asylum. What does Clark get to do?” Whitney asked.

“I get to look hot, teach college kids, and save the world from environmental
meltdown, buddy.” Clark reached over and smacked Whit’s ass. “I consider that a fair trade."

Lex chuckled and kissed Whitney to silence a response. “Too bad the boys aren’t
grown up enough yet to assume some control of the House. Philip would make an
excellent Chief of Staff.”

“He’d make sure spending was under control, that’s for certain,” mumbled Clark.
“Okay, we have to get moving to get them back to Washington. Are you coming with us, Lex?”

“Of course, I will be in Washington until the end of November and then I will resign my Senate seat. I need to look at office space for the Transition and all of that good stuff.” Lex kissed both guys and walked out of the shower. “Hurry up. Otherwise you’ll look like wrinkled old men and I’ll ‘divorce’ both of you.”

Washington

Frank Craft walked slowly into the Oval Office where he sat down and waited for
President Trask to join him. There were few people on the planet who were offered this courtesy and it was expected for Craft. He kept his hands folded on his lap while he waited. The results from the day before had been as expected and slightly worse as well. A clear plurality of voters didn’t want Mutant/Meta Human Registration and balked at the Freedom Party platform, but the divisions in the nation were deeper than polling indicated. The Consortium’s influence was decidedly weaker than it had been, but Craft knew there was an ebb and flow of power.

“What can I do for you, Frank?” asked President Trask as he came into the Office. “I have a few days left to try to help you, but the sands of the hourglass are running short.”

“They are indeed, Mr. President. However, this is a social visit.” Craft sat back down after Trask sat behind the desk in the Oval Office. “What would you think of my approaching the new Vice President about the Consortium? Our influence on the Hill is steady, but it is in the Executive that we are losing the most.”

Trask considered the idea for a few moments. “McKenna, like all politicians, is
ambitious. If Luthor curtails McKenna’s ambition by shunting him aside, the new V.P. will be ripe for the picking -- you would be offering him something Luthor can’t; a path to power. But if he’s part of the inner circle of policy decisions, then you have nothing to offer him. Don’t push this too soon or else he might not appreciate the help.” A slow smile spread over Trask’s face. “Actually, your best move right now would be to place Luthor’s former protégé, Pete Ross, in positions of power in the House. He is both of the Majority party and a known skeptic of Luthor’s. His brother is still deep in the counsels of Luthor.”

“That’s being implemented as we speak. He’ll be joining the Rules Committee,
Government Oversight, and Appropriations. And he’ll become a member of the
Leadership as well. Those things combined will grant him authority inside the House and leverage of his own to influence events.” Craft leaned back and sighed. “Even with that move, our ability to manage events in the coming months is reduced. Gyrich will continue to run SHIELD and that is in our favor, but Luthor might try to remove him before too long.”

“He doesn’t have the strength to do that,” Trask noted. “He has no majority and the Senate, while still run by his friends, is too close for Luthor to do much without consensus. It will be interesting to see how much he tries to do without a true mandate.”

Nov 3

It was strange for the boys to be dropped off at school knowing that they were going to be sons of the President in a few weeks. Although they were accustomed to being scions of the super wealthy House Luthor, there was a change coming for them and they knew it. Already two new vehicles had been added to their motorcade to school.

“Man, I’m never going to be able to go out on a date now,” groused Ben. “How am I supposed to have fun when the Secret Service wants to stick me in a box?”

Wes rolled his eyes and reached to open the door to the limo, but it wouldn’t budge. “Hey! Some of us have to get to class!”

The door opened and a sunglass-clad agent was standing there. “You will not exit a vehicle until we let you; is that clear?”

Hamilton moved past Wes and sneered at the agent, “Listen, we’ve had the best
security in the world our whole lives, so we know for a fact that it’s possible for you guys to do your jobs without holding us up and annoying the crap out of us. Now, quit throwing your collective weight around and move so we can go to school.”

The stone-faced agent didn’t appear impressed or swayed. “Your previous security measures are irrelevant now. We will work on your end of the protection protocols after school today.” The agent stepped aside.

“Let’s not and say we did,” Philip quipped. “In light of my father’s new protection
law, the rules regarding Secret Service protection for the four of us are murky, at
best. In the unfortunate event that we’re stuck with you for the duration, please limit the contact to opening the doors and closing them.” He strolled on past without waiting for the agent to answer.

“Aw, come on Philip. Lighten up,” Wes cracked as he pulled is guitar case over his back. “We might actually like them if the Secret Service becomes the Silent
Chauffeur Service.” He straightened the glowering agent’s tie and smiled. “Have a good day.”

Four abreast, they moved up the walk toward the main building. “Silent Service, my ass,” Ben groused as soon as they were out of earshot. “Those guys are going to be death to my social life. Philip has Franklin and I fully expect Hamilton to create a female robot one day, so he’s taken care of, but me…man I’m shit out of luck!”

“I’ll have you know I like real girls, Bennett!” Hamilton countered. “I bet I get laid
before you do.”

Wes shook his head and chuckled. “I bet Philip does it first.”

“There is no race to see who does what first,” said Philip firmly. “This discussion isn’t conducive to civility. I fail to see why you’re worried, Ben. Both of your hands are functional and we all know you know how to use them.” Philip winked at his younger brother. “I’m running late. Later, dudes!”

“Dudes?” Wes burst out laughing. “Since he started dating Franklin, you gotta admit, he’s been in a much better mood."

Ben’s mouth was still hanging open and his face was slightly red. “Oh, he is going to get it later.”

“Sooner than you will since he has a boyfriend,” chimed in Hamilton. He gave Ben
an around-the-shoulder hug and turned to walk away. “See you guys at lunch.”

Ben sighed. “Man the universe shifted and now I’m the butt of all the jokes. Wes, I don’t think I’m going to like this much.”

“We all have to adjust. I’m late too; I have the acoustics room reserved so I can
practice.”

“My brother the Rock Star.”

//Not if The Parents have anything to say about it,// Wes lamented. The family wasn’t happy that Wes still had aspirations to be in a rock band – Lex was especially skeptical and Lionel’s disappointment was palpable. Wes was pained by their disapproval, but he was also proud of himself for sticking to his guns. //At least they support you in your athletic choices.//

Ben placed an arm across Wes’ shoulders and walked with him. //Hey, they love you and I know they are proud of your abilities. They know you have a talent they don’t. Hell, I think Dad is a little jealous when I’m playing ball because he misses it.//

//What was it that Uncle Jeff said once… “We see ourselves in our children and don’t want them to repeat our mistakes.” I just want to enjoy my music.//

Ben smiled. “Then go do your thing, bro. See you at lunch.”


Jeff Fordman sat in his newly acquired office approximately six blocks from the White House pouring over files for people who would help run the new Administration. Already on his fourth cup of coffee, he refilled his cup from the carafe on the corner of his desk. “This is going to be a nightmare. How are we going to fill over three thousand jobs?”

From the opposite side of the desk, Mike Ross chuckled and then yawned. “Well, we know I’m going to be Deputy White House Chief of Staff and you’ll be White House Counsel, so that’s a start.”

“Great. Two down and two thousand-nine hundred-ninety-eight to go,” mocked April as she sat another stack of folders on the desk. “No, ninety-seven. Bruce is going to be Secretary of the Treasury.”

“And Nancy McNally is National Security Advisor. Dr. Valerie Cooper will be Deputy Secretary of Defense, but those are not going to fill out the Cabinet.”

Mike shrugged and opened another file. “I still need to find someone to be our boss. I have no idea who we will tap to be Chief of Staff.” Mike cleared his throat and sighed again. “I don’t trust how quickly the Friends of Humanity accepted Lex as the rightfully elected president. I know there has to be more to this story than what we’ve seen.”

“Politics is a zero-sum game to many people,” Jeff responded. “It’s folly to assume that the knives aren’t being sharpened for Lex already, here and around the nation. But given this stack of work, I can see how hard it will be to keep any perspective on such subjects in the coming months. We need to make sure we have someone looking out for the big picture because I’m going to be snowed under with paperwork.”

“Yet another person to hire,” lamented Mike. “You aren’t making this any easier, you know?”

“No one said it would be easy, but the pay could damned well be better.”


Access is the 'Currency of the Realm' in Washington, D.C., and the people who were gathered at the LFK Resort had that currency in spades when the members of the Billionaire Boys Club gathered openly for the first time to celebrate their joint victory. While Lex had been the point man, all the members had contributed time, money, and ideas toward getting Lex elected. Warren Worthington, Tony Stark, Janet Van Dyne, Oliver Queen, and Emma Frost were among the first members, but they had been joined by Sebastian Shaw, Benjamin Hartley, Brandon Manheim, and several others. The prime member was Bruce Wayne and he considered Lex’s victory to be partly his as well.

Bruce raised a glass and the assembled did as well. “To the president-elect; may he be a shining light guiding the nation through trying times.”

Lex smiled and nodded. “Thank you, my friends, for the support and early boost you gave my campaign. The hard part has now begun in earnest. Tomorrow I will begin the first round of nominations for my Cabinet, but do want to make one public from the beginning. Bruce Wayne will be my Secretary of the Treasury.” Cheers went up from the assembled group. Lex smiled and waved for them to settle down. “He’s one of my closest friends and has been supportive in most ofmy endeavors since we met back at Eton. Now I know many of you are wondering which of you is getting that all important appointment as Ambassador to the tropical island of your choice, but those will have to wait until after the big hitters have been chosen. Katherine Tyers is already leaking to the Press that Gregory Vandeaver is going to be White House Chief of Staff.”

Murmurs rippled through the crowd and Lex allowed them a moment of surprise
before motioning for them to settle down. “He is a powerful member of the House
and the former Attorney General of a swing state. Consider this securing my flank early and hopefully increasing my influence in Congress at the same time.”

More drinks were served and smaller clusters of people mingled and laughed. Now
that the election was over and the result to their liking, the atmosphere was
positively jovial. Emma moved next to Bruce and guided him to a corner. “As
Secretary of the Treasury, you should elevate Jason Wyngard to be your Deputy.”

Bruce leaned forward and inclined his head a bit. “Why is that?”

“You’re a man known for having all kinds of knowledge. Jason has…skills that could be invaluable to you.” Emma smiled and shifted her eyes to scan the room. //Ask Elizabeth about Mr. Wyngard some time and see what she has to say.//

Long training kept Bruce’s mouth from falling open at Emma’s open display of her
mutant ability. He’d known for a long time that Emma Frost was an ‘Alpha’ level
mutant and suspected her of being a high order telepath, but the egregious display floored him. “I’ll ask Betsy about it when she returns from London.”

Bruce allowed Emma to move off to discuss other matters with various people while he placed a stuffed jalapeño in his mouth absently as he mulled over the implications of this new revelation. Elizabeth was in London getting new instructions from Whitehall; he was more anxious now than ever for her to get back.

She had revealed her own mutant gift as a high order telepath a few months after they start dating. She had hinted that she knew far more than she could ever discuss because of privacy issues, and Bruce had been forced to let it slide. Given the importance of their mandate now, letting things slide didn’t seem like a viable option any longer.

“Not very sociable of you to be hiding, Mr. Secretary,” said Lionel with a smile.

“I’m not the Treasury Secretary yet,” countered Bruce. “You must feel like the king of the hill today, Lionel.”

“It has the pleasure of being a novel experience, Bruce. I am the father of the
President-elect and another generation is waiting in the wings to do things that have never been imagined.” Lionel’s eyes sparkled with mirth. “It is a good day.”

Bruce raised his glass toward Lionel. “Let’s hope there are more to come.”

Nov 4

The limo rolled to a stop at the Receiving Entrance of the White House. The outgoing president’s Chief of Staff was waiting for him and greeted Lex as he exited the limo. Lex extended his hand to Dick Simons and smiled.

“Senator, welcome to the White House.”

“Thank you. Jeff Fordman told me that your transition meeting went very well.
Hopefully it can be a smooth period for the nation.”

Simons inclined his head. “I hope so as well.” He quickly led Luthor through the
White House halls and to the Oval office. President Trask was waiting for them as
they walked in. “Senator, Mr. President.” With that he left them alone.

“Lex, congratulations again on your election.” Trask offered his hand and then
motioned Lex toward one of the couches. Trask sat opposite him. “The nation has a serious crisis on its hands and you will have to step up to calm the waters.”

“I will do everything I can to make sure that we survive the times. The mutant issue must be downplayed in favor of more pressing issues in my mind.”

Trask shrugged. “It is your country to lead in a few weeks and you will have to make choices that affect the whole nation. I can offer advice, but we don’t see eye-to-eye on many issues.”

“I would hate to see things become more unstable because you and I failed to make the Transition a smooth one. The false rumors being spread by anti-mutant groups, for example…” He let his voice trail off and Trask picked up his cue.

“Oh, I agree. The idea that Super humans may have influenced the election sounds like sour grapes to me.” Trask smiled for a moment. “I can tell you that this office is a target of much intrigue. I’ve found that most of it is complete lies, but the nation is full of conspiracy theorists. They can take the most innocent of things and spin them into a tale of wickedness that would even have made that famous Witch blanche.”

Chuckling, Lex leaned back and pretended to relax. “I need to know about SHIELD and any capabilities it might have that I won’t be told.”

Trask smiled and nodded his head.


“He never answered the question directly, Whitney.” Lex sipped his tea and sighed. “I wish you’d been there with that ‘truth sense’ you have. I’ve been told that the FBI has a small group of psychics and is trying to find ways of creating more. Their new ‘Psy-Corps’ would detect if I tried to pry with my mind. Betsy has been giving me some lessons, but the campaign messed those up completely.”

Clark frowned and stretched his legs out in front of him. “So he denied that SHIELD has anything beyond what you already know? How much do you know?”

“I’ve not been given my full briefing yet. Walter Hagel, Trask’s Deputy NSA, has to get Nancy McNally up to speed. After that, she can get me up to the President’s level of access. The fact that she serves on advisory boards for National Security and Defense Policy makes it much easier.” Lex rubbed his temples for a moment. “Well, Whitney, who is going to head the House now that I am stealing Jeff?”

“Wait a second, you just said that Trask is hiding information about SHIELD and you switch topics like a jackrabbit. This SHIELD thing is ominous.”

Clark nodded. “I’ll see what I can find out from information you have about SHIELD as you get it.”

“NO! Not yet,” Lex stood up and started pacing. “SHIELD is an unknown for us right now. I think the Society needs to investigate more than just you, Clark. You have to have a detail now and if you keep disappearing, things will get hairy.”

“I don’t want a detail, Lex.” Clark crossed his arms and frowned.

Whitney chuckled briefly. “I get a full detail, then you have to have one for
appearance sake.”

Lex waved them off. “Anyway, who is going to run the family?”

“I’m going to get Lisa to manage the Household accounts from Metropolis. Nick is
moving out here with Jeff so he was out of the running. We’re getting thin on the bench, Lex.”

“I know, but there isn’t much we can do about that until the boys and Elsa grow up.” Lex rubbed his scalp for a second and shrugged. “We still have to make plans for the move to the White House as well as all the Inauguration stuff.”

“Why don’t we let our moms handle some of that planning, Lex?” Clark suggested.
“Your Dad also needs to be more than Chairman Emeritus of Minerva. What depth we do have will have to be used.”

Nov 6
Los Angeles

Graydon Creed was smiling. Headlines of newspapers across the country were asking if superheroes had interfered polling places, influencing the outcome of the election. The Los Angeles Times had a picture of the so-called Superman with the headline, “Undue Influence?” A few whispers in the right ears and people were suddenly examining the impact of Heroes patrolling the skies and grounds of major cities to ‘keep the peace.’ As he sipped his coffee, Creed couldn’t help but laugh at how easy it was to manipulate public opinion. Unfortunately, even with Senator Luthor being supported by several Ultimates publicly, his election was viewed as legitimate.

“His choice of Gregory Vandeaver has complicated matters greatly,” said Danielle
Patrice. A former Republican operative in the Vice President’s office, she was one of the aides that had helped the Freedom Party do so well in the election. “We will have a presence on the Hill, but Vandeaver was a member of the Leadership and Luthor’s picking him is a clear signal he is going to be working closely with Congress.”

“That simply means we can crucify Luthor in 2018 and his majorities will die with his popularity. These headlines already sow the seeds of doubt. Right-wing radio is suggesting that our honest poll watchers were intimidated by the superhumans and it was they who made the voters cast their ballots against the Freedom Party.”

“We’ll need more than rumors and partisan talk from your lackeys to affect
Congressional power, Mr. Creed. Luthor is very close friends with Senators Adkins, Kennedy, Trent, Christiansen, and Ling—the Majority Whip and powerful committee Chairs. The soon-to-be President is in a position to accomplish a great deal in a short period of time.”

Graydon sat back and frowned. “We will make sure that the rumors and innuendo
cause some political fallout and I will see what else we can do to make sure that
Luthor is distracted. He can’t focus on everything at once.”

A smile wisped across Danielle’s lips. “Very true. More than one presidency has failed because too many events telescoped on top of each other and the administration moved right when it should have gone left. That is the nature of the office and the world. Luthor may be intelligent and wealthy, but in the end he is only one man.”

Nov 12
Moscow

Vitaly Kirov was scowling as his security staff left the room and his personal aide, Tatiana, came in after them. “The news from Kazakhstan is not good,” Vitaly
informed her. “Their security services have begun rounding up more people
suspected of being mutants and have ordered their borders closed. A border control regiment of troops has moved within three kilometers of the border.”

“That is troubling in the extreme.” Tatiana sat down and crossed her legs. “It forces us to commit troops into Kazakhstan’s sphere of influence and the United Nations never looks kindly on such actions.”

“Precisely.”

Tatiana smiled. “Fortunately, three battalions of those new troops you requested are in place. The Shadow Squads are trained and ready to follow Longshot’s plan.”

Vitaly accepted the news with a slight nod, as though he had expected nothing less. “The situation in the Balkans warrants more attention,” he told her, adding, “Dr. Doom has been spotted and there have been reports of violence in Romania.”

Tatiana rolled her eyes. “I know he was here and was not arrested. Don’t tell me you didn’t know about his plans, Vitaly. Having the Balkans in turmoil serves your
interests in one way or another.”

He shrugged and poured a cup of hot tea, neither denying or confirming her
assumption. “I want you to increase surveillance of InterGang, especially in the
United States. I don’t trust Morgan Edge. His operations aren’t nearly as integrated as the rest of InterGang’s.”

“I’ll see to it as soon as I can.” She paused as though carefully considering her next words, then told Vitaly, “I share your vision of Russian greatness, but be careful how you push to achieve it. The Balkans are dangerous and NATO will intervene if they must. Much of your plan requires stealth and excellent timing, but the Balkans are a powder keg that could blow us all up.”

“I understand, but I know what I am doing, darling. Doom is of no concern; it is
Australia that we must continue to watch. Essex is intrigued by Varian Parker. If I were superstitious, I would call Damien’s son an Abomination or Demon Childe;
however, I am not. Still, he bears watching and Essex has been on the scene too long to be objective. The super clone project is vital to Russia’s future.”

Tatiana nodded. “I know. The troops from that project are amazing. Longshot has examined them in mock combat and was impressed. They should overrun
Kazakhstan with ease.”

“Excellent.” Vitaly picked up a folder and handed it to her. “Those are the people who need reminding about who runs this land.” He smiled and then kissed her on the cheek. “You are the Ice Queen, my dear, go and sow fear in the proper places.”

Nov 17
San Diego

Winds blew onto the coast at near gale force -- something that Morgan Edge had not been expecting from his visit to the lovely city of San Diego. The plan to go sailing that morning was no longer in play and Meteorologists across the nation had started wondering about the formation of a low pressure system 200 miles to the southwest of San Diego that was responsible for the high winds. His view of the ocean was unobstructed and the waves were crashing against the shore with more force than he ever recalled seeing.

Vacations were not his normal routine, but he had need of one. InterGang required much of his time now and his own people reported an increase in the number of Russian mobsters in the Denver area. ‘Knew that would happen sooner or later. Vitaly never trusted me and I don’t trust him. However, he has more resources than I do.’

Morgan pulled on a sweater as he headed to the door. A check in the mirror made sure his hair was still in perfect form. Once at the elevator, he nodded at his discreet security to let them know he was on his way to the restaurant. When the elevator stopped at the ground floor, Morgan exited and headed across the ornate lobby to the restaurant. As he approached the doors, a man fell into step with him, catching Morgan unawares.

“Mr. Edge, I was hoping to have a word,” Graydon Creed said.

Morgan hid his frown and waved off the security men who had surged forward at the unexpected approach of Creed. “What can I do for you, Mr. Creed?”

Graydon motioned towards the restaurant. Edge scowled, but followed him into the dining area. Graydon smile as they were seated. “You are not an easy man to locate, Mr. Edge. I have a proposition for you.”

“That would be?”

“You’re a man reputed to have a great deal of knowledge and many contacts that are less than official.” Graydon smiled before continuing. “In fact, a number of my associates say that you are a man who can get things…things that aren’t available through normal channels.”

Morgan leaned back and shrugged. “I don’t know what you’re talking about.”

“InterGang.”

The word hung in the air for a few moments before Edge leaned forward, his elbows resting on the table. “Rumors and innuendo.”

“Not according to my contacts in Los Angeles, who tell me that InterGang is
connected to every black market activity in the United States and around the world.” Graydon smiled and leaned forward. “I would like to see if I can use those contacts to my advantage.”

“If InterGang existed, which I am not confirming, why would you need such help in your line of work?”

Graydon looked around a second before meeting Edge’s gaze. “The Pro Human
movement isn’t limited to the United States. The Friends of Humanity is growing
across the planet and some of these men are going to take up arms to defend the human race. As such, ways to get weapons and soldiers to other places on the planet is very necessary. Ways that can’t be easily traced, if you catch my drift.”

Edge ran a hand along his chin and shrugged. “If there was an InterGang, then you know its services would not come cheap. Activities like the ones you describe always require money to make sure that loopholes are open.”

“Money is no object. I’m sure an arrangement could be made that would be equitable for all parties.”

Morgan nodded again. “Then I’ll see if I can find out if InterGang is for real –- for a modest finder’s fee, of course.”

“Done,” replied Graydon.


Night fell across the West Coast and Morgan Edge finished reading a lightning fast background check on Graydon Creed. ‘A true viper if I’ve ever seen one, and an effective one.’ Edge placed the folder down and lit a cigar. He waved to an associate who was sitting in the room. “He has possibilities and could be useful down the line. Let him sweat out this contact for a bit before we make an overture.”

He exhaled and smiled. ‘Allies with potential global reach should be nurtured, but not trusted. This could be very interesting.

Nov 21
New York

Bolivar Trask walked into SHIELD Headquarters under heavy security escort that
stayed with him all the way down to the private conference room deep in the
underground heart of covert organization. Trask’s briefcase was full of material
concerning Wide Awake that no one had access to save him, and SHIELD was taking no chances with his security.

“Ah! The Wizard of West Virginia!” Amanda Waller said brightly, rising to shake his hand and escort him to his place at the conference table. Trask’s escort melted
away. “It’s a pleasure to see you again, Dr. Trask.”

“Amanda, the pleasure is all mine,” Trask answered.

“Touching,” dripped Henry Gyrich as he walked in with Generals Pierre Hardcastle
and Jerrod Isling. “This briefing is restricted to only those persons present in this
room. Gen. Ross has been briefed, but was summoned to Washington to meet our newly-elected President.”

“Then let’s get right to it.” Bolivar snapped open his briefcase. “Project Wide Awake has made tremendous strides in the last few years. The test of the Mark II version of the Sentinel that was conducted earlier this year confirmed that they can be launched from ballistic missile subs with no problem. Forty of the Mark IIs have already been built and deployed in three subs. Naturally, the crews have no idea they are carrying Sentinels instead of ICBMs.

“In addition, eighty fully operational Mark IVs are already in the field. Fours are taller and have major improvements in weaponry, but they must be based on land.” Trask reached into his briefcase and pulled out a map. “We have two bases in the U.S., one in Canada, and a fourth one in Mexico. We have one base almost finished in the South Pacific, but as you know, my father refused permission to forward deploy Sentinels outside of North America.”

“Yes, he wanted them for American purposes only,” mentioned Gyrich. “I had a
report that mentioned yet another Sentinel version?”

“The Mark VI, which will be fully deployed over the next year. We will have two
hundred of them. The Six is faster, more nimble, and packs a massive punch for
weaponry. They are smaller than the Fours and more lethal, but also more
expensive. We don’t think a sea launch is good for them so they will remain land
based as well.”

“That is a good number of Sentinels, Dr. Trask. Why so many?” asked Isling.

“To secure a nation full of mutants in the shortest possible time, General. All of our computer scenarios indicate that it will take more than two dozen Sentinels to secure any large urban area.”

Hardcastle smiled. “Dr. Trask, I have some information for you that you will find to your liking. We have seven brigades of troops that can augment your Sentinels with ease. That does not include regular military units that can be used if Martial Law is declared.”

Trask accepted the news without apparent surprise. “If you can provide me with
specifics of your troop capabilities, I will revise my computer models accordingly. We just launched a new satellite in geo-synchronous orbit over the United States that will allow us to constantly monitor concentrations of mutants. With that, we can direct Sentinels to those areas if Wide Awake is ever allowed to go operational.” Trask smiled. “Early monitoring indicates that the BosWash Corridor is loaded with Mutants, by the way.” The BosWash – the Boston-Washington Megalopolis -- was the metropolitan area that spread from southern Maine to southern Virginia. It held Boston, New Haven, New York, Gotham City, Philadelphia, Baltimore, Washington D.C., and Richmond. This corridor held over seventy million citizens and was the financial heart of the nation. “We estimate that more than one hundred thousand mutants reside in the Corridor. Obviously, your additional troops make securing such a vast area easier.”

“Dr. Trask, how long would it take to secure the United States without using any
troops?” Waller asked.

“Our simulations project that the Sentinels would take up to a week to secure the continental United States. We anticipate that there would be wide spread resistance, but that it would be unorganized and ultimately ineffective.” Trask held up a hand. “However, we did game out a scenario where the Ultimates rebelled and fought the Sentinels. We figure that Manhattan would be forty percent destroyed in such an event. That scenario though has the Sentinels achieving full control after three weeks.”

Hardcastle barked, “In that scenario how many of the Ultimates rebelled?”

Trask pulled out a binder and quickly flipped through a few pages. “In the worst
scenario, the Fantastic Four rebelled along with Iron Man, Hercules, Ms. Marvel,
Thor, Wasp, Captain America, and the Black Knight. That scenario was the three
week campaign with massive destruction up and down the Eastern Seaboard.”

Waller leaned forward and shook her head. “That is not even half of the Ultimates available roster.”

“I know, but further modeling simply is not possible because of all the variables. The worst to model is the Hulk.” Trask shrugged. “The Ultimates would pose a serious problem if Wide Awake ever went active and they united against it.”

“Did your model take into account the Brotherhood or others like the so-called
‘Superman’?” asked Isling.

Trask shook his head. “The Sentinels were designed to take out the Brotherhood and as such that was necessary for this model. The group of mutants called the X-Men, which we’ve seen only twice, has a pronounced lack of data to game out. As for the likes of Green Lantern and Superman…well, their impact is harder to determine. The Lantern appears limited by his artifact, but the Superman is a different story. We think we have a way of neutralizing him, but can’t be sure.”

“That will be all, Dr. Trask,” commented Gyrich. “Leave the information we need.
Your flight to Mexico has been arranged for next week.” All conversation stopped
until Trask left the room. “This is ominous. I want new models created taking into account the full power of the Ultimates and the other superhumans against our special brigades and Sentinels.”

Waller coughed. “Contingency plans aside, Gyrich; what are you planning?”

“The profile of Luthor will be finished by the beginning of December, according to Dr. Crane, and he wants to present it to us in person. One thing we must acknowledge is the composition of Luthor’s friends. Iron Man and Wasp are major players in the Ultimates and they are the incoming President’s friends. If SHIELD gave an order that the President did not support, whose orders would they follow? SHIELD’s or Luthor’s? Much of the future rests in the hands of a man that we know little about!”

Hardcastle nodded. “My Oath is to the Constitution, not to the sitting president and as such I will follow my Oath. Wide Awake is the key to protecting the Constitution and the American way of life. SHIELD is the perfect organization to make sure that everything goes right.”

Nov 24 –Thanksgiving
Smallville

“Man! We own the team, how come we can’t be in Dallas to see the Praetorians
play?” asked Ben. “That would have been cool!”

“Because then you would have missed out on Thanksgiving dinner with your family, young man,” countered Martha. “I’m not getting any younger and I like to spend holidays the old fashioned way.”

Clark draped an arm across his mother’s shoulders and gave her a gentle squeeze. “And that is why holidays will always be spent here.”

The full family was gathered in Smallville. Bruce, Betsy, and Dick were in
attendance, as were Sue, Reed, and Franklin Richards. Philip could not stop smiling despite the amused heckling of Franklin’s uncle, Johnny. Zach was there chatting with ‘the Human Torch’ and discussing the best places to go in New York to pick up women.

“Our uncles seem to have a great deal in common,” offered Franklin to Hamilton and Philip. “Some of which are not to our advantage. Those two are pranksters.”

Ben and Elsa walked up, each carrying a small plate of finger foods. Ben finished
chewing before warning them, “Wes is staking out the crab puffs, so if you want any you’d better get moving.”

The boys took off like a shot to the table of snacks that had been set up off the Den. Peter was there talking to Wes and neither were eating. Franklin paused for a moment. “Ben just said you were eating all the crab puffs, Wes.”

“There are no crab puffs. He’s just being obnoxious because he wanted to go to
Susan Rome’s for Thanksgiving or to the game in Dallas.” Wes handed Franklin a
small plate. “However there are some nice meatballs, lettuce wraps, and some other stuff that is yummy.”

“None of this is very traditional,” commented Franklin.

“Don’t worry, the actual meal is as traditional as they come,” answered Peter. “But given that dinner is at least another three hours away and there are many teenagers present, having snacks available is a good thing.”

Across the room, Bruce was sitting with Jeff and Clark. “I’ve already made a number of courtesy calls to the Senate. There is some grumbling about how close I am to Lex, but my background should be sufficient to assure my confirmation.”

“Lex is going to be succeeded in the Senate by Eliot Armstrong,” Clark noted. “He’ll have support across the state and he’s a known quantity. So that’s vote you can count on.”

Jeff held up his hand. “Mike will be running some of the Congressional Liaison stuff out of his office, but Vandeaver will call most of those shots. The truth is, we are still trying to figure out all the lines of access to Lex. There is so much to get in place and so little time. We won’t be in office for another seven weeks, but already the Press is talking about the first 100 Days. He’s taking more heat for appointing Senator Manheim’s twin brother to be Secretary of Defense.”

“Brandon knows Defense issues like the back of his hand.” Bruce gave a slight shrug. “The Press seems to be turning adversarial already. The questions about the super humans and the election are becoming sharper.” He smiled at Betsy as she walked up. “Your promotion is certainly well deserved.”

She sat on the arm of Bruce’s chair. “Deputy Chief of Mission; I like that very much, but I’m not sure it would have happened had Lex not been elected.” Betsy lifted her wine glass and smiled. “But a promotion is a promotion. Though it is unofficial as of yet.”

Clark chuckled. “Whitney still thinks being First Gentleman is a major demotion and waste of time.”

“We are still trying to figure out how we can work him into the power structure, but he can’t run his companies anymore – he has to resign from all those Boards,” Jeff said. “He’s not a happy camper.”

Bruce inclined his head. “Lex is not legally married and as such many of the ethics rules can’t be forced on Whitney.”

“We’ve discussed that at length,” Jeff admitted, “and we decided it’s a fight we can’t afford to take on. The press would make a mountain out of a mole hill, and there are other battles that must take precedence.”

“Granted.” Bruce’s lips formed into a rare smile. “But I would truly enjoy being a fly on the wall the day Whitney has to pick out china patterns and re-decorate the Lincoln bedroom.”


Early in the evening they sat down to a Thanksgiving dinner that was typical of the family in every way, from the excellent food and wine to the eloquent toasts and the genial chaos of conversation and laughter.

After the full array of desserts had been unveiled and liberally sampled, the
teenagers headed upstairs. Elsa and Dick were talking about music with Zach.
Johnny Storm tagged along and kept mentioning that he knew Allison Blaire.

Bobby Drake dropped onto a sofa. “Peter and I know Allison as well, Johnny.”

“In the biblical sense?” Johnny asked.

Peter laughed and patted Bobby on the back. “I think we all know the answer to that question.” Peter smiled at Wes and gave the youngest Luthor scion a shoulder squeeze. “Kyle tells me that you two have become regular IM and email buddies. He has shared some of your music with me. You have a great talent.”

Wes rolled his eyes. “Thanks. Are you going to tell me that I’m wasting it on Rock music?”

“No, it is good that you are working on stuff you like.” Peter smiled again. “Wes, you are young and have a far different life than most kids. You can work on the type of stuff you really like and not worry about the bills getting paid. Your parents may not understand why you like what you do, but they will respond to the passion you bring to your music. Trust in that.”

“I can do that. Thanks.” Wes moved off and tackled an unsuspecting Ben. “That was for earlier!”

Philip shook his head and went back to playing a game with Hamilton and Franklin.
Elsa giggled and sighed. “You two are so adorable together.”

Franklin grinned sheepishly. “Thanks, I think.”

“Don’t you have something else to do, Elsa? I’m sure Hamilton has any number of
projects that would keep you busy for weeks,” Philip said with a teasing smile.

“Long-term projects are out of the question,” she replied. “I’m going with grandma to Manhattan next week to do some shopping. Katlan is meeting us and will introduce me to some designers. I have to get some gowns for the Inaugural Balls and for the Winter Ball as well.”

Hamilton sighed and stretched. “I am so glad I’m a guy. I only need one tuxedo.”

“Actually,” Peter chimed in, “I have been told that you four will be getting a tux for the Christmas Ball and a different one for the Inaugurals.”

“Great.” Philip winked at Franklin. “I look good in a tux.”

Nov 30
Chicago

Graydon Creed sat down and looked at the Chicago’s mostly-rebuilt Magnificent Mile. The upscale restaurant was not his first choice of meeting place, but it would have to do. He waited for Morgan Edge to take a seat. “Thank you for joining me.”

“I have the information you requested, but it will cost you a great deal.”

Creed leaned forward. “Money is no object.”

“This payment is not all about money, Mr. Creed.” Edge waited for the waiter to
leave before continuing, “Your organization has global reach, which is why you went looking for InterGang. I want to use some of your contacts as a spy network. I need to know some things and can’t use my own network, Mr. Creed.”

“How much will your services cost me if I agree to let you have access to my
information pipeline?”

“We will do it on an as needed basis and the price is subject to change depending on the cargo and destination.”

Creed nodded. “As long as the deal is equitable.”

“It will be, Mr. Creed. It will be unusual, but it will benefit us both greatly.”

Dec 4
New York

Dr. Jonathan Crane made his way to SHIELD Headquarters from an obscure entrance in an alley across the street. It was an emergency exit, but also an entrance used when certain visitors needed to bypass the photographic security utilized at the main entrance. Dr. Crane was a highly respected psychiatrist and profiler who worked with the FBI and Arkham Asylum. Two of his books were required reading in forensic psychiatry.

The elevator stopped and he was escorted through several halls and was quite lost by the time a door opened to the SHIELD boardroom. Several people were already seated when he was shown to his chair. “Good morning, everyone.”

Henry Gyrich leaned back and frowned at the smarmy psychiatrist. “Do you have
analysis that we requested, Dr. Crane?” he asked without preamble.

Crane pushed his glasses back up his nose and removed a small data card from his briefcase. Printed, the report contained on the card would have taken an inch of paper. He slid the card toward Amanda Waller, who dutifully passed it on to Gyrich as the doctor began, “I have the profile of Senator Luthor as requested, but I feel compelled to warn you again that there is a larger margin for error in my analysis than I am comfortable with. My profile is based entirely on public records, second hand accounts and observation. At no time have I met the man.”

“Duly noted,” Waller chimed in impatiently, adding with a touch of sarcasm, “No one will think the less of you if you’re wrong. Now what have you learned?”

“President-elect Lex Luthor is a driven man. Most politicians are,” he added quickly, “but Luthor’s ambition exceeds any I have ever encountered. I don’t believe the presidency will be enough.”

“Explain,” Gyrich tersely.

“Lex Luthor was barely out of his teens when, in collaboration with Bruce Wayne, he founded what quickly became the world’s foremost corporation. Minerva Inc. is worth over a trillion dollars and Luthor’s family holds almost a majority of its stock. Add in the behemoth of North American Imperial Bank, which the family created, and you have a second major global institution under Luthor control. We know that their family holding company, LFK, Ltd, has vast private holdings as well. That accumulation of wealth and the power that attends it would be more than enough for most men, but not Lex Luthor, who ran for and won a Senate seat at the age of thirty. Now at thirty-six, he is about to become the most powerful man in the world. Assuming a successful re-election in four years, he will – at the ripe old age of 44 – be forced to face the question: What is there after this?”

“That is also the question we have called upon you to answer, Dr. Crane!” Waller
said impatiently. “You’re giving us nothing but a rehash of information already known to us with no educated guesses as to what it portends for the future. I have yet to see anything in this so-called profile that indicates where Luthor’s obvious ambition is going to lead us!”

Crane regarded her with a patience that bordered on condescension. “What I am
attempting to bring to mind for you is the concept of how limiting a presidency will be for one such as Luthor. His palace dominates the Kansas prairie. Metropolis is his fiefdom. The evidence suggests that Luthor thinks big. His presidency will be full of big ideas and massive changes. However, when one examines his pattern of action one is struck by the lack of limits Luthor shows. Minerva technology has dominated the last decade in ways that are almost incomprehensible. Innovative and authoritarian are two of the qualities I assign to him.”

“That is a disturbing concoction, Dr. Crane,” commented Gen Ross.

“Indeed it is sir, because there is a level of ruthlessness that pervades everything
I’ve seen. Despite a few rumors, there is no evidence of overt ‘hardball’ tactics, but instinct suggests that he didn’t achieve all this success without cracking a few skulls. Which brings us back to the driving force; his father. Lionel Luthor is a feared man on Wall Street; a tycoon in his own right. The man’s methods – and his family’s – have been documented in some Classified information I was given via SHIELD. That family had a river of dirty money flowing through it. Sen. Luthor took control of the family fortune by blackmailing his own father and exiling him to what was little more than a comfortable prison. Think about that for a second.”

“We know all of this already, Dr. Crane!” yelled Gyrich. “Tell us something we don’t know.”

Crane wiped his forehead with a handkerchief and then spoke slowly. “I am laying out avenues for you to pursue. The man has two lovers; why? I would make the case that he takes what he can and the rules be damned. THAT is what should frighten you the most. He has shown no hesitation to defy societal norms for his own pleasure or ends. Power is something he is accustomed to wielding. All of this creates an image of a man without limits.”

Gyrich tapped the table with the data disk. “Anything else you care to tell us before we read the full evaluation?”

Crane frowned. “You need to keep in mind that a person who’s family has been
physically and violently attacked several times will be hyper-vigilant against any
future attack, very aggressive in its preventative measures, and quite possibly
deadly in its response. It’s a heightened paranoia that I can easily imagine is playing out in the President-elect.”

“So we’re dealing with a powerful man who has few limits and a paranoid streak.
Great,” sighed Dr. Waller. “Thank you Dr. Crane. We’ll call you if we need you. This has been a Classified meeting.”

After Dr. Crane left, Henry Gyrich turned to the assembled Council. “What other
news do we have?”

General Isling motioned to a monitor. “For all his verbosity, Crane may have nailed it on the head. All of Luthor’s staff are wearing a new House Luthor insignia that
appears to include a ranking system. The lapel pins are different for most of the
senior staff. This one is a photo from Justin Daniels and the other is from Alan Owen. We’re trying to figure out exactly what they represent.”

Waller folded her hands. “You don’t typically see rank insignia outside of martial
organizations. I don’t like the look of this.”

“Agreed,” said Gyrich. “General Ross, I want to see new plans in place using Wide Awake to gain control over the country in an emergency. I need to talk to some other people about these changes.”

“Sir,” interjected Gen Hardcastle. “Permission to increase surveillance on House
Luthor’s non-presidential staff?”

“Denied, for now. We will revisit this after he is sworn in though.”

December 7
Astana, Kazakhstan


Kirill looked down from his vantage point on top of an old five-story brick building
and frowned. His infiltration teams were set. Tatiana’s instructions were clear, but he had on-the-ground knowledge that would allow him to change plans as needed to meet his objective. Two members of his team were already under the building setting charges. He had another team staking out the Presidential Palace, which was little more than a large house with a big lawn.

Slipping down the side of the building until landing in some standing brackish water, Kirill made his way down the filthy alley as silently as possible. Avoiding more puddles became a necessity. ‘A few more hours until show time.

An explosion knocked him to the ground and a second concussion wave flattened
him again before he’d even managed to get to his knees. “What the hell?” Activating his COM link, he tried to reach his team, but found the signals were jammed. “Fuck!”

The sounds of automatic gunfire echoed across the city. Kirill moved quickly toward his rendezvous point. Blaring sirens made it difficult to concentrate. Kirill stumbled into the back alley and was relieved to see that most of his team had made it.

“Our communications are down!” yelled Scimitar, a Tartan mutant with powerful
energy blasts.

“I know,” replied Kirill. “We must keep our objective. And find out what is going on. This could work to our advantage if we know what is happening.”

Another explosion rocked the city. Kirill leaned against the building for support. One of his team members, a shapeshifter, came running up. “Sir, the national television is saying rebels are trying to overthrow the government. Martial Law has been declared.”

A wicked smile gleamed across Kirill’s face. “We put our plans into motion. This is the perfect cover.”


The first insertion team detonated charges under the Presidential Palace an hour
before dawn. The second team attacked the Ministry of Justice as those charges blew. The shapeshifter, Cloak, was monitoring all the communications that she could get access to. It was tough since many frequencies were being jammed.

“The Military is reporting that the president has been evacuated from the city.
Military forces are moving across the country. The city is in chaos.”

“Excellent. Send a message to Moscow: ‘Kazakhstan is broken.’” Kirill laughed as he ordered his second squad to attack military positions covertly. “Tatiana could not have asked for a better result.”

December 8
New York

Bruce walked into the Office of the United Nations Special Representative Diana
Prince and surreptitiously checked the outer office to see if he’d been followed. This was a dangerous meeting, but not quite as dangerous since the election. He did have business with Ms. Prince, but it was not the stated itinerary that was foremost on his mind.

Taking the seat Ms. Prince’s receptionist directed him to, he checked his email and found more disconcerting messages regarding Kazakhstan, but it was an email from Wayne Tech that captured his attention. Before he could read it more thoroughly though, he was escorted inside the office. Diana greeted him and he shook her regal hand. “Thank you for seeing on such short notice.”

She motioned for him to sit. “I wasn’t surprised to hear from you, but I’m afraid I
have nothing to report. My Office had no observers in Kazakhstan and I haven’t
received a report from The Office of the High Commissioner for Refugees yet. He had observers on the ground there, but we’re not sure what happened to them.”

“I was afraid of this. The only people in a position to know anything are SHIELD and X-Corp.” Bruce sighed and leaned back in his chair. “Unfortunately, X-Corp hasn’t heard a word from its Central Asian Office in over a week and SHIELD isn’t exactly being forthcoming with the new administration.”

Diana nodded. “I was in contact with Sean Cassidy last week before he left for China. He was going to try to cross the border with a caravan of Humanitarian Relief Workers. I haven’t heard from him since, and Prof. Xavier has been unavailable for the past few days. Dr. Grey can only tell me that X-Corp is looking into the matter.”

Bruce’s frown turned into a scowl. “I’ve contacted Hank McCoy as well and he said they have no information to share at this point. He did tell me that he is talking to Hank Pym of the Ultimates and trying to get an informal investigation inside Kazakhstan. However, the Ultimates are spread thin right now with patrols in the Balkans and their duties here.”

“The situation is not good. I’ll be at the Winter Ball with Lord Braddock and hope to talk to the President-elect. There is disturbing information out of the Balkans that hasn’t been published yet. I am thinking of calling in House Luthor’s friend, Chloe Sullivan, to see if she can go to Romania and investigate off the record.”

“What are you hearing?” Bruce leaned forward and placed a hand on her desk. “The Ultimates are in the region still and I’ve heard nothing to indicate new trouble.”

“The Ultimates are widely perceived as an American organization and not trusted. I have contacts in the area and the people are whispering some things that the
Senator needs to hear. Word has it that Victor Von Doom is amassing an army and is ready to retake Latveria.” Diana spread her hands and shrugged. “If SHIELD knows this and hasn’t informed Lex, then there are more issues than the Society of Justice has suspected.”

Bruce nodded. “Indeed. This is troubling because we have heard nothing and Hank McCoy would not hesitate to share this information.” Bruce looked up for a moment and then met Diana’s eyes. “I think it’s time the society had a meeting. The Winter Ball will provide the perfect cover.”

Washington

Nancy McNally strode across the Transition offices with a purpose. Cynthia opened the door to Lex’s office without a word and Nancy frowned as she stared down at Lex. “We have a problem, sir.”

“If you are going to say Kazakhstan, please don’t. It will ruin the day.” Lex looked up from a stack of briefing books and frowned. “The look on your faces says it all. What is the news?”

“Sir, the Russians are nervous from all the recent activity in Kazakhstan and they’ve moved three additional mechanized battalions to the border. DIA and CIA think that Kazakhstan no longer has a functioning government. The capital is in chaos and the United Nations has asked all NGOs to leave the country. SHIELD no longer had a presence in the country so we have only intercepts to give us data.”

Lex rubbed his chin briefly. “What is Trask going to do about this?”

“That’s the issue; what can he do? If the Russian Army moves into Kazakhstan then we have an incursion into sovereign territory that has an imperialist history. America would be forced to do something. The issue is how will Trask’s actions affect you when you take office in two months?”

“I would prefer not to have American troops on the ground in Central Asia when I
take office, nor do I want Russia expanding her borders at the same time.” Lex
leaned back and sighed. “Talk to Dr. Cooper and see what she is going to advise
Trask. Make sure that you talk to Gabriel Vance as well. The situation in Kazakhstan cannot be allowed to spiral out of control.”

“I’ll have Brandon Manheim join me as well.” Nancy placed a small folder on Lex’s
desk. “Those are the current deployments of Russian troops. I’ll pick those up in a few minutes. I need to speak to Gregory and brief him as well.”

New York

The screens around the room were constantly being updated, but one now showed the outline of Central Asia and was magnified. Henry Gyrich and several of SHIELD’s top analysts were awaiting the latest satellite photos and intercepts to figure out what the real situation was on the ground.

“We can place an insertion team in Southern Kazakhstan inside six hours and then we might know more about the nation’s stability,” chimed Gen. Hardcastle.

“No, use the CIA operatives in the field to see what is going on,” countered Gyrich.

“CIA says they have no assets in Central Asia that can be moved to Kazakhstan
without blowing their cover. We need some type of human asset in there or we
might as well be flying blind,” added Amanda Waller.

The map of the border shifted as three more red vehicles moved onto the border
from the Russian side. Nine of vehicles flashed along the border before becoming red like all the other unit markers.

“They have two brigades at the border near Orsk now,” noted Gen. Isling. “We must alert Secretary Vance and Dr. Cooper that border tensions will rise in the next few hours. I think we need to think about this in a global context. If Russia invades, how will the Chinese people respond?”

“China’s government is now democratically elected, Isling, and they are our puppet for for the time being. They have no teeth since we took them out. However, given all the tensions in the region and President Kirov’s decidedly imperialist bent, we must not rule out Russia annexing Kazakhstan. If they do, then the United States will respond,” Gyrich said.

“What of SHIELD then?” asked Gen Wallace.

“We may be an international organization, but we are mainly American in nature. If we are called to stop Russia we will, but our main mission is to deal with Super
Human terrorism. The regular army and marines will have to take the lead.”

December 10
Winter Ball

Towering pillars of ice greeted people at the entrance gates as they crossed onto the Washington Estate of House Luthor. The whole campus was blanketed in the illusion of a winter wonderland. White lights outlined the tops of the towers and those in turn were reflected off the crystal spires. All the trees that lined the streets of the campus and sidewalks were decorated with twinkling lights.

Holographic Choirs of Angels serenaded guests with Christmas carols as they entered the main reception hall. The ballroom and the side rooms were also decked out like a winter wonderland. Christmas trees throughout the public rooms were decorated in various themes; all of them fit the décor of a Winter Wonderland.

Zach led his date, Amanda Harris, through the sculpted ice columns, to the dance floor. Her red hair and model-beautiful body made her a hit on the social circuit. She was the daughter of an old blue blood family from her mother’s side and her father’s family was big in Southern politics. Those ingredients also made getting a date with her tough.

“You come from such an unusual family, Zach,” Amanda drawled in her slight
Southern accent. “Though being as wealthy as you are, exceptions can be made.”

Zach rolled his eyes and said nothing. He’d lost a bet with one of the buddies he’d made since coming to Washington. The date was not his idea and her family didn’t care for Lex being president. ‘Those guys are always getting me in trouble. Man, I owe Ronnie for this one.’ He smiled at Amanda while he started dancing to some boring waltz. “Yeah, this is a unique environment, but I wouldn’t change it for the world.”

His back ramrod straight, Philip was sitting at table watching Ben and Hamilton
escort their dates onto the dance floor. At a nearby table, Wes was sitting with Peter, Bobby, and Chloe, eating his weight in food. He’d begged off finding a date as ‘too much trouble’ and their parents had accepted that. No one had asked Philip about a date – it had just been assumed that he would be there with Franklin, but in truth, Philip had never actually asked Franklin to be his date. They were both there, but they weren’t together, and though it was entirely Philip’s fault, he found himself growing more furious by the minute at the sight of Franklin dancing with Felicity McCann, the daughter of one of the dignitaries who’d been invited.

That could be me,' he reminded himself. 'I could be dancing with him, but…I can’t dance.

The rationalization was totally bogus, of course. Over the years, dancing lessons of all sorts had been a part of their regimen of fencing, gymnastics, and self-defense training. He refused to examine his lame excuse too closely, though. It was easier to be pissed off than to confront the real reason he had yet to acknowledge publicly that he had a relationship.

His heart slammed against his ribcage when Felicity placed a kiss on Franklin’s lips, and Philip had to count to ten three times before he could breathe normally. His calm, however, was short lived; as soon as the music stopped, another teenage girl claimed Franklin and started dancing.

Get your hands off my boyfriend!’ Philip wanted to shout, but he didn’t. Instead, he bolted to his feet and strode off to find a drink to cool his rising fury that Franklin was looking too damned much like he was enjoying himself!


Betsy and Bruce were in the center of the dance floor as he effortless led them
through a leisurely foxtrot. Betsy smiled up at him wistfully. “You’re more taciturn
than usual tonight, my love. Would you care to tell me why? You didn’t seem this
distracted in the limo.”

He didn’t deny her assessment. “The rumor mill is buzzing about your promotion.
We’ve been here less than an hour and I’ve already heard three comments about
ruffled feathers in the diplomatic community because Whitehall is making you
Deputy Chief of Mission.”

Betsy laughed lightly. “Sour grapes. They’re just envious of my relationship with the President-Elect.” She slanted a sly glance at him. “And with the new Treasury Secretary.”

Bruce didn’t looked charmed. “Precisely. Our relationship seems to be getting more complicated instead of less so.”

Betsy’s smile faded. “Are you saying you want me to turn down the promotion?”

“Of course not.” He didn’t sound as convincing as Betsy would have liked.

Betsy stopped dancing. “Bruce, what’s bothering you? Granted, our relationship is complicated, and our new positions will make it more so, but we’ve been a couple for years. No one can possibly make an issue out of that, particularly since we’re not married, nor even living together.”

“Exactly,” Bruce said, easing her back into step with the music.

She looked at him, a little breathless and a lot astonished. “Why, Mr. Wayne. Was that a proposal?”

“No,” he said sternly, but an instant later the hard angles of his face softened. “Only a sentimental wish that the world was a little less complicated. It’s the small things that tend to ignite the biggest firestorms. I’m sure that the media will be picking up on your promotion soon enough and making an issue of our relationship.”

The music shifted to something less rhythmic and Bruce led them off the floor with his hand still at Betsy’s waist. “Let them report what they like,” Betsy said cavalierly, then lowered her voice to a husky whisper. “If they think I’m giving up my handsome dark knight, they’ve got another think coming.”

As they approached their places at the head table, Clark intercepted them and
whisked Betsy off to the dance floor. Whitney joined Bruce and told him, “Everyone has been informed about the meeting. We’ve prepared a room on the third floor in the East Tower. Lex and I will stay here to keep the focus on the party while Clark meets with the Society.”

Bruce pulled his gaze away from Betsy and didn’t care for the look of concern on
Whitney’s face. “What’s bothering you?”

Whitney shrugged as though he couldn’t really name the problem. “Hard to explain. The closer we get to Lex’s inauguration, the more complicated the world becomes. Would I sound egomaniacally paranoid if I confessed that some of it seems deliberately directed at Lex?”

Bruce’s smile was one of his enigmatic best. “I may be the wrong person to ask.
There are some who would tell you that my whole life has been built on a foundation of paranoia.”

Whitney chuckled politely before telling Bruce, “The events in Kazakhstan are very troubling. Russia’s moves and the violence there are making the Transition
particularly tense. What concerns me most, though, are the repeated testimonies
that the superhumans some how made people change their votes when nothing
could be further from the truth. It’s the Friends of Humanity who were guilty of
blatant voter intimidation.”

“Lex needs to let Congress investigate the charges against the superhumans openly and reasonably. He has nothing to hide – no one in his camp instructed the superheroes to change people’s votes.” Bruce rubbed his chin and leaned back in his chair. “This long drawn out discussion about the vote is devised to be a subtle attack on Lex’s legitimacy as president. The vote totals and Electoral College are far too great to change, but it creates doubt in the back of the peoples’ minds. The question becomes; to what end is this being done?”

“Precisely. There’s an agenda being pursued here, and the rumors about election
tampering are only the tip of the iceberg,” Whitney predicted and Bruce didn’t
challenge his assessment. Whitney sipped from his wine glass and looked out at the dance floor. “I see Diana is dancing with your brother-in-law.”

Bruce frowned. “Careful, friend. You’re treading on thin ice.”

Whitney looked at him, confused. “Sorry. I didn’t realize matrimony jokes were off limits. Is Betsy pressuring you?” he asked with a touch of astonishment.

“No.” Bruce downed the last of his wine and stood. “Quite the contrary, actually.”

“Really?” Whitney rose, smiling. “Well, I never expected to hear that confession
tonight.”

Bruce huffed irritably. “Yes, well, I never expected to confess that, either. If you and your consorts can arrange to simplify the world so I can marry the woman I love, I’ll be very grateful to you all.”

Whitney chuckled. “We’ll work on it.”


Lionel whisked his fiancée around the dance floor and smiled at everyone’s warm
greeting. Katlan Anderson was beautiful and brilliant, a combination Lionel had
always found invigorating. “How are you enjoying the evening, my dear?”

“This place is as stunning as it usually is – it’s the center of the universe as we know it.” Katlan smiled and then placed a soft kiss on his mouth. “Thank you for making me a part of it.”

“The pleasure is all mine,” Lionel replied gallantly, then teased, “But don’t tell me
you’re not looking forward to your trip to New York next week. You have the same bug that Elsa has contracted of late – shopping.”

“I admit it. I love to shop – I don’t know of a designer who doesn’t – and in this
case, I have an excellent excuse. I am going the make Elsa Fordman the most
fashionable young lady of her age. And do it all on her father’s inexhaustible dime.”

“I’ll be sure to warn Tristan.” Lionel nodded to the Drs. Fordman as they swept by them during the waltz. Lionel chuckled as he noted Ben dancing with his date,
completely unintimidated by the waltz steps. “I see that Bennett is every bit the lady killer his parents feared.”

“I could have told you that. His good looks and family name would be enough for him to get any girl he wanted, but when you factor in the challenge of his ‘bad boy’ personality… Deadly.” Katlan chuckled. “I heard his lovely date informing him that she expected him to dance with her and only her tonight.”

Lionel chuckled. “Well, well… It will be interesting to see whether he’s willing to allow her to believe she’s brought him to heel.”

“You don’t think he has been brought to heel?”

“Not a chance,” Lionel said with a laugh.

“What about Philip?” Katlan asked, inclining her head toward the table where Philip was sitting alone. “He’s looking especially aloof tonight. I thought you told me he was enamored of Franklin Richards.”

Lionel’s smile faded and when the waltz ended just then, he took the opportunity to lead them off the dance floor. “I’m not sure ‘enamored’ is an adequate word,” Lionel told her, gesturing imperiously to a waiter who was carrying a tray of champagne flutes.

“Philip has confided in you about his romantic interests? I knew you two were close, but that is impressive.”

“Not exactly,” Lionel corrected, handing Katlan a glass of champagne. “But I know my grandson. He feels things more deeply than anyone – even his parents – understand.”

“That’s because he keeps himself under such tight control,” Katlan ventured.

“Quite true, and whether learned it by example or inherited it genetically, that trait is very much my fault.” As they sipped champagne, Lionel’s gaze moved speculatively from his solitary grandson to the dance floor, and back again.

“Excuse me, my dear,” he said finally. “I believe an intervention is necessary to avert imminent explosion.”

“Explosion?” Katlan queried lightly, but Lionel was already gone.


As the waiter passed by, Philip knew he shouldn’t reach for that third glass of
champagne, but no one seemed to paying any attention, and if adults could use
alcohol as an anesthetic, he damned well could too. Franklin had passed from shyly enjoying the attention being lavished on him to openly flirting with any airhead that even got close to him. Every so often, Philip would see his so-called boyfriend glance in his direction, then trot off with a teenage debutant as though he didn’t give a rat’s hind-end that Philip was over here dying.

“I don’t think your parents would approve and I’m certain the press would crucify the President-Elect for condoning underage drinking.”

Philip smoothly retracted his hand and allowed the tray of champagne flutes to pass. He made sure he was completely composed as he turned to face his grandfather. “Sorry, sir.”

“You are, indeed.”

The implied censure surprised Philip. “I beg your pardon, Grandfather?”

“You’ve been sulking like a spurned suitor all evening. It’s beneath you, not to
mention incomprehensible. Have you and Franklin quarreled?”

Philip wasn’t sure that was any of his grandfather’s business, but he couldn’t be so disrespectful as to say so. “No, sir.”

“Then why haven’t you put an end to the poor boy’s misery?”

His misery?” Philip said incredulously.

“Certainly. Anyone can see he’s hoping you’ll rescue him from that pool of boy-crazy piranhas. Why don’t you?”

“Because I can’t dance, and I have no desire to embarrass Papa by making a fool of myself.”

“Really?” Philip knew he deserved the derisive tone in Lionel’s voice. “I know for a
fact that your dancing skills are more than adequate. Are you sure it’s not your own embarrassment you’re worried about?”

“No, sir!”

“Lie to me if you like, Philip, that is your right on an issue this personal, but never lie to yourself.” Laying one hand gently on his grandson’s shoulder, Lionel led them to a private corner, speaking softly as he continued, “You have lived your young life attempting to control everything around you, Philip – yourself, most of all. I have often praised your cool, analytical intellect, and with good reason.”

Philip’s spine straightened even more, if that was possible. “Yes, sir. Thank you.”

His grandfather’s weathered face hinted at a ghost of a sympathetic smile. “It’s not hard to imagine that affection and, um…” he paused, looking for the right word, finally settling on, “…desire are testing the control of which you are so proud.”

Philip’s face flamed and he gaped at his grandfather, stunned, embarrassed, and
secretly grateful that there was someone in his life who knew him so well. “This is not an issue of control, Grandfather,” he managed to deny.

Lionel sighed. “Well, perhaps I’m wrong. Perhaps your feelings for Mr. Richards are more trivial than I had previously imagined.”

“No, sir! Nothing could be further from the truth! But…”

Lionel tilted his head to one side. “But what?”

Philip hesitated. “But no one sees that, grandfather, and perception is…” His voice trailed off.

Lionel nodded, finally understanding. “Ah. I see. Brothers have been known to tease each other mercilessly about matters of attraction and romance, the family makes jokes about Bennett’s obsession with the fair sex, and the tabloid press routinely ridicules Zachary’s penchant for conquest. All of which leads you to fear being the butt of jokes about teenagers with crushes.”

“Something like that,” Philip admitted reluctantly. “I don’t care about Ben’s ribbing, but Franklin isn’t…he isn’t…”

Lionel nodded. “He isn’t a teenage crush and you don’t want to be denigrated as a silly schoolboy in love.”

Philip looked away, uncomfortable with his grandfather’s recognition of the problem. He managed a nod.

“I’m sorry, Philip. I’m afraid I can’t help you with this issue. You are a teenager, and despite your other sterling qualities -- including a penchant for maturing with astonishing speed -- you are destined to be perceived as a teenager for some little while yet. I can offer only one insight that you might fight useful: Regardless of your age, there is no shame in wanting something, my boy, only in failing to act. Decide what you want. Weigh the cost of obtaining it against consequences of living without it. If the rewards outweigh the risks, then take what you want and let the world be damned. You are a Luthor, a Fordman, and a Kent. There is no weakness in you, Philip. Embrace your convictions. Take what you want. I promise that once you are at peace with who you are, no one will dare laugh at you.”


In the East Tower, Clark took a final survey of the third floor corridor and let go of a breath he’d been holding. He stepped into the room, closed the double doors, and gave Oliver Queen and the others assembled a half smile.

“Thank you all for agreeing to meet. This is the best we could do on such short
notice, but the Society needs to discuss recent events and an in-person meeting is always better than risking any other form of communication. Bruce.”

Bruce nodded and set his wine glass on a polished oval table that sat against the wall. “Our time is limited so I’ll come right to the point: Kazakhstan is the tipping
point in the Mutant/Meta situation. That government is nonexistent for all intents and purposes and the nation is in chaos.”

Warren Worthington frowned. “We haven’t heard anything from our guy in the
region. I think a rescue mission is in the works, but I can’t verify that.”

“The United Nations High Commission for Refugees is setting up camps across the border in the South. Russia refuses to allow them to set up on the northern border, but Kirov’s government hasn’t given a reason.”

Tony Stark raised an eyebrow. “I think we can assume that they’re denying access because of the recent flare ups on that border. They don’t want that instability inside Russia.”

“How unstable can things be when they have two full Motorized Divisions stationed along the border already? Really hard to get a humanitarian aid camp near a military camp,” noted Oliver. “Who knows what they are really planning?”

“We’ll find out,” Clark said. “It needs to be done soon.”

“Yes.” Bruce moved away from the wall toward the center of the room. “We need to send a discrete team for Recon only. And it can’t be any of us. Something about this whole thing bothers me.”

“What?” asked Janet Van Dyne.

“Technically Kazakhstan was a democracy, but in reality it’s a dictatorship. The
government there fell too fast. Something had to happen that weakened the
government for all this to happen in a matter of days.”

“I see what you’re getting at.” Diana shifted in her chair. “When I was there a few months ago that place was complete under control—look at how easy it was for them to find and lock away their mutant population.” She raised an eyebrow and shook her head. He eyes met Bruce’s and they nodded. “Something – or someone – destabilized them.”

“Russia,” Bruce said. “Something makes me think Russia is more involved in this
than it appears.”

Clark glanced at his watch. “We need to get moving or people will begin missing us. I’ll brief Lex. He won’t like this at all.”


It took a while for his grandfather’s speech to sink in. Philip rolled the words around in his head and let them settle in his gut. Lionel hadn’t been giving him carte blanche to storm Franklin like William the Conqueror did England; it wasn’t a license to put an end to hormonal surges that were straining the limits of his control, no matter how much he’d denied the urges to his grandfather. No, Lionel’s pep talk had been about something deeper and more enduring.

He hadn’t really been saying “take what you want.” He was saying, “own up to
wanting it.”

Once he realized that deep down in his gut, the rest of the evening was easy.

“Excuse me, Felicity,” he said, stepping between the pert blond who was making a beeline for Franklin as he came off the dance floor with Stacy Ludwig.

“Philip! Hi! I’m –uh--” Felicity was flushed and stammering, but Philip didn’t care to examine why.

“Sorry, but Franklin’s dance card is filled for the rest of the evening.”

The blond frowned. “Dance card?”

“It’s a historical reference; I won’t bore you its origins.” Philip met Franklin head on. “May we talk?”

“I thought you’d never ask.”

“Come on. Let’s get out of here.”

Wordlessly, Philip led Franklin out of the public rooms up to an observation tower.
Music from the ballroom floated up ethereally and holograms around the estate
created the illusion that it was a clear, starlit night but did nothing to diminish the temperature, which was hovering around freezing.

“Too cold?” Philip asked.

Franklin shivered a little, but shook his head. “No. Just looking at you tends to raise my body temperature.”

Philip felt a lurch in his own body temp and he fought the urge to close the distance that was separating them. “Why were you dancing with Felicity and her clique?”

Franklin shrugged. “They kept asking, and I didn’t have any better offers.”

Philip scowled. “You could have asked me, you know.”

Franklin shook his head. “No, I couldn’t. Kissing you in your bedroom and flirting
around your family isn’t the same as us dancing in public. You’re the son of the
president-elect. If you want to let the public know that you have a boyfriend, that’s got to be your decision, not mine.”

“I have three fathers, Franklin. Being gay isn’t really an issue.” //I think our special communication skills would get us in a lot more trouble// he added ruefully.

“So you don’t mind if people know we’re together?”

“Of course not,” Philip answered firmly.

Franklin grinned. “When did you decide that?”

Philip grinned too. “About the time I decided I was going to knock Felicity McCann’s teeth down her throat if she kissed you one more time.” Franklin’s recent growth spurt placed him a little under two inches shorter than Philip. He placed a hand on his friend’s shoulder and gave it a slight squeeze. “May I have this dance?”

Franklin nodded. Taking Philip’s hand, they slowly moved together in time to the
music. “You are such a liar, Philip. You dance well.”

//Not as well as I would like. I need practice for the Inaugural Balls that are coming up.// Philip paused. “Will you go with me to the Balls? I really don’t want to go by myself.”

“Are you asking me on a date? A real, honest-to-goodness date?” Franklin’s eyes
sparkled with mischief.

Philip laughed. “Well, I’m not going to buy you a corsage, but yeah. A real date. We have to make the circuit of I-don’t-know-how-many parties.”

Franklin placed a hand on Philip’s shoulder and smiled. “Well, we’ve established that you do look really good in a tux, so I guess I could stand being seen with you. I especially like the idea of staking my claim to you so none of those big Marine escorts get the idea that you’re single.” He winked and blushed at the same time.

Philip laughed and the tension that had been building all evening evaporated. “Sorry about not dancing earlier. I should have, but those girls were swarming you and…”

“All they wanted to talk about was you,” Franklin said quickly. “They know that we’re friends and they wanted my advice on the best way to hit on you.” Franklin laughed again. “They said you are beautiful, but intimidating.”

“I’m not intimidating; I’m just me.”

“Philip, you are the most in control guy I know. Brilliant, beautiful, athletic, and
powerful, you are an amazing combination of skills and gifts. The fact that you can be glacial at times makes you hard to approach.” Franklin kissed his cheek. “I rather like you though.”

The comment went straight through Philip and he was reminded of his grandfather’s admonition about taking what he wanted.

He settled for a kiss that ended far short of where he really wanted to go.


Hamilton and Ben said good night to their dates and rode home silently in the limo. The evening had been fun, but short to them.

“Philip and Franklin disappeared early,” Hamilton said with a smile on his face.

Ben rolled his eyes. “I don’t want to think about that because – eww! I did see Wes dance with Danielle Spencer, Mike’s sister. Who knew he could dance?”

“He’s one of us, Ben, he can do anything. Though I think she was far more interested in him than he was her. I heard Stacy Ludwig saying that the DC debs have a bet going to see who can snag a date with Philip to some fancy ball in the Spring.”

Ben laughed so hard he started coughing. “Date a deb? Philip?” he barely managed to get out of his mouth before he started laughing again. “They don’t know Philip very well do they?”

Hamilton chuckled, too. “No, I don’t think they do. If they did, they’d figure out that Philip is so into Franklin he can’t see half the seniors at our school lusting after him.”

That statement sobered Ben. “Really? I never noticed.”

“Okay, a bit of an overstatement, but not by much. I can name a dozen seniors who would love to ask Philip out right now. They know about Franklin though and some wonder what Philip sees in the young Mr. Richards.”

“You mean besides the blond hair, blue eyes, world class mind, and family ties?” Ben sniggered, “None of them know Philip very well if they think he’s shallow like us.”

“I am not shallow!” protested Hamilton.

“You only wanted to go with Jana because she had big tits, Hamilton. Don’t lie to
me.”

Hamilton sighed. “Fine, I can be shallow. Philip though, I think everything about him is deep. I mean I build stuff to avoid certain things like chores, but everything with him is a chess move.”

//How are his powers progressing?//

//NOT HERE even telepathically! I don’t trust Washington as safe, Ben. Remind Wes of this as well. We are not safe anywhere other than Smallville.//

The limo pulled into the underground parking garage and the boys sat in silence until the heavy doors closed and the garage became still. Hamilton patted Ben’s shoulder. “Sorry for yelling.”

“No problem, I know you did it because you care.”

Dec 11
Moscow

Tatiana pulled her hair back and listened as the reports came from the Kazakhstani border. “Vitaly, the situation is more unstable than we thought. The entire northern sections of the Kazakhstan are in chaos. Several towns are burning.”

“Damned, this faster than expected and going too soon.” Vitaly Kirov leaned back
and rubbed his chin. “Have Dimitri join me in a few minutes. I need you to make
sure your Shadow Squads are up to this task. Hold off on Kiev for now.”

“Kirill knows what he is doing. They have located the Vice President and the Prime Minister, but have not seized them yet. They are in southern Kazakhstan and may cross the border into exile if things get worse.”

“No,” barked Vitaly. “Make sure that your squads stop them from leaving
Kazakhstan. I need them for the second phase. I can’t have three Motorized Brigades and four Infantry brigades crossing the border without a call for aid. Otherwise it will look like an invasion.”

Tatiana scratched her head and sighed. “I thought we were going to invade.”

“It is easier to assume control in chaos my dear, but if it looks like we are helping to restore order for the rightful government – so much the better. We simply never have to give control back to them.”

“Ah. Very clever. I will make sure that their government doesn’t leave the country and that Dimitri sees you as soon as possible.” She saluted him and walked out of his ornate office. ‘Be careful, things are moving beyond our ability to control them.

Russo - Kazakhstani Border

The Russian Shadow Squad under the nominal command of Scimitar moved into the town of Oral. Many of the buildings were in disrepair and the city was in turmoil. Oral was in the western part of Kazakhstan close to the Russian border.

What was left of the military in the region was based in this city. The Border guards as well as the civil defense forces had fallen back to Oral to try to restore order. However the chaos in Astana had spread everywhere. Scimitar walked through a burned out building and smiled. “This area is ripe to fall. Move to attack the barracks in twenty minutes. Leave the communications bunker for last. Those are our orders.”

As dusk began to creep across the city, Scimitar’s troops moved quickly thru the
deserted alley ways. The citizens that were left in the city avoided night as if that alone would keep trouble away from them. Night has always been a time of terror for humans; perception became warped and sounds magnified. Night was also the best time for psychological warfare.

There was a ‘Beta’ level telepath in Scimitar’s group and as night fell, she began
using her powers to play on the fears of the security forces in the barracks. Slowly, Mystere wove her web of fear for the Army. Soon gunfire erupted from the barracks and men came pouring out from multiple points.

Scimitar smiled and nodded to his squad as they moved to take out the disoriented and frightened troops. Scimitar strode over and waited until a transmission left the communications room and then he destroyed it. He leveled two more buildings before he ordered his squad out of Oral.

Dec 12
Washington

Lex stood in the middle of his Senate office and frowned. Boxes were everywhere as he was resigning the Senate at the end of the year. The flat panel televisions were on as staffers continued to monitor the news. Lex was making sure his office was packed. “Cynthia, please make sure that all my photos go in one box and are shipped to the transition office. I don’t want them getting lost in the White House.”

Cynthia Hunt was making the transition from Senator Luthor’s executive secretary to President Luthor’s executive secretary. “I’m already on it sir. The electronic labels will be attached as I inventory the contents of each box. Alan Owen said that your stuff was to be labeled specifically and that he would see to it. All the staffers who are moving with us to the White House will have their stuff either to take home for three weeks or into storage.”

“Efficient as always. I should know better by now.”

“You should, but you are such a micromanager.” Cynthia winked and motioned for Whitney and Bruce to come into the cluttered office. “I’ll shut the door. Do you need anything, gentlemen?”

“No thank you, Cynthia,” declined Whitney. She departed and he faced Lex. “We
have to do something and now.”

“I heard from Nancy McNally and there is nothing she can add that national news
programs are stating about Kazakhstan.” Bruce leaned back and checked the door before continuing. “I think you need to use all your resources to find out what’s happening over there.”

Lex nodded. “That has already been addressed. I’m not sure what additional light will be shed, but a ground view is something we need at this time.”

Whitney rubbed his forehead. “How soon?”

“We should have information inside of twenty-four hours.” Lex paused briefly before continuing. “I told them not to do anything other than observe. I want no
fingerprints left in the region.”

New York

Anne leaned back in her seat as the stretch limo crawled down 5th Ave toward the Manhattan penthouse. “Martha, have you heard anything else from the Inaugural Committee about the Prairie Ball?”

“Nothing except they want Lex to arrive there first. They don’t expect the boys to attend since the Palladium Ball is the big hit with the youngsters.” Martha
smiled at Elsa. “Has your father okayed Dick taking you to the Ball?”

Elsa rolled her eyes. “If by ‘okayed’ you mean that he is trying to think of ways to lock me in a tower for the next twenty years then, yes, he has.”

Lisa patted Elsa’s shoulder and chuckled. “Your father means well, he’s just having a hard time dealing with you becoming a young lady.”

“He still has Michele!” exclaimed Elsa. “She’s not yet five so he still has a little girl.”

Anne gave her granddaughter a hug. “Darling, all fathers of daughters act like this. Give it time and he’ll behave better or I’ll treat him like a teenager again.”

Martha chuckled. “Well, I hope Katlan has some things for us to look at once we get to the penthouse. Looking at ball gowns and the like will be a welcome distraction from the real world.”

“All too true,” agreed Lisa. “Elsa, darling, Katlan is designing your ball gown, but she does have a few things for the earlier events for you to look at.”

“Just remember Dick needs at least a week to be able to coordinate his tux. I don’t want to clash on Uncle Lex’s big night.”

Los Angeles

Graydon Creed put down a folder full of information he’d been able to gather about the mysterious InterGang and he had come to an equitable agreement with Morgan Edge. That didn’t translate into trust though. ‘Russia and InterGang seem highly connected. The rumors of when and how it was founded seem true for the most part.’

The Friends of Humanity had allies in many places and no few of them were
politically connected. Gathering information of the type Graydon required had been easier than he expected and faster as well. But the puzzle was more intricate than he expected and the picture far from clear.

I think it’s time that I see what I can find out for myself. The Reavers have had time off and Kazakhstan is the perfect place for them to do some snooping. They had success there in the past and maybe they can learn something vital for the future.

Dec 17
Astana, Kazakhstan

Andre Comeaux walked slowly through a burned out section of the capital of
Kazakhstan. He’d been on the scene for three hours and nothing good had been seen yet. With him were two squads of special troops. They’d come in the newest shuttle which was more like a high velocity armored troop transport. In total there were fifteen of them in the city. Andre was perched in a bombed out warehouse with two members of the technical staff and twelve soldiers. The soldiers were out scouting while the tech guys tried to hack into whatever communications-information systems they could get their hands on.

Thanks to the Second Protocol and the nanotechnology that saved the soldiers’ lives, they had all gained increased higher brain functions. After three years of intense training and computer programming via the nanotech link, those soldiers could now take on the most elite squads on the planet and win with adaptive tactics, even if hampered by inferior firepower. However, inferior firepower was not much of a concern: Fielded with Kryptonian armor and some of Ares’ most powerful weapons, the soldiers were known as the Midnight Guard inside House Luthor.

Andre’s visor began cycling through the views from several of the Guard as they
explored the city. Again technology offered them an advantage as cloaking
technology rendered the Guard invisible. Digital displays from each of the Guard was relayed to Andre’s combat system and displayed for him.

“Sir, we have a few transmissions here in the capital, but much of the activity seems near the southern border.” The tech checked something and frowned. “I see other traffic that we need to analyze. That will take some time.”

Clicking his comm-link, Andre contacted the field leader. “Locate any remaining
government officials in the city. That is now highest priority.”

Three hours after the order had been given; Andre knew that the government was no longer in the city. The military was in command, but only nominally.

“Sir,” said one of the techs. “The president is in Almaty. We have some
communications traffic that is not Kazakhstani in origin though. We think the
Russians have a presence in the country already.”

Andre hit his link again. “Fall back to the shuttle. We dust off in fifteen.” He turned to a tech and sighed. “Figure out where we need to look in Almaty. I need answers, not more questions.”

Washington

A hologram of Andre floated in the middle of Lex’s office. “We cannot ascertain the location of the vice president or prime minister at this time. There is heavy evidence of battles in the capital and here in Almaty. The military holds the south, but the northern and western parts of the nation are in chaos.”

Clark rubbed his mouth for a second. “And you have some evidence of Russian
involvement?”

“Nothing that would be classified as definitive. We did note the massive build up of military units along the border. I would even state that some of those units are over the border.”

Lex nodded. “Put any equipment we might need for long term monitoring into place. As soon as that is done, evacuate the area. I don’t want you in harm’s way or risking detection any longer than absolutely necessary.”

“Understood. I should tell you, sir, that we’ve seen evidence that some of the battle damage was created by Meta Humans or Mutants.”

Lex shook his head. “Given the place where this is happening I can’t say I’m
surprised. Finish up and head home. I want you back in the air and fully cloaked
ASAP.”

New York

“Sir, the latest Recon photos show Russian forces moving slowly into western
Kazakhstan. We have Signal Intercepts that indicate Russian paratroopers are being readied in Samara. From what we’ve heard, it could be as little as two battalions to as much as two brigades.”

Henry Gyrich turned from his desk in the middle of SHIELD’s Operations Center. He stared at the officer manning the Intel desk. Gyrich pointed at the map of
Kazakhstan and spat, “That is a hell of a difference when three full brigades are
already on the border. Paratroopers deployed in brigade force could allow Russia
control of all of western Kazakhstan in a matter of hours. I want to know how many paratroopers Russia is preparing in Samara!”

“It doesn’t matter, Mr. Gyrich,” intoned General Wallace Kincaid as he walked up a few steps to join Gyrich on the central desk of the large center. “We learned that Russia is offering to help quell the violence in Kazakhstan. However there has been no response, as of yet, from the government.”

“I was unaware that Kazakhstan had a government right now,” Gyrich replied. “What else do you know?”

Wallace smiled. He picked up a pointer and the display moved closer to a section on the central-western Russo-Kazakhstani border. A small area magnified a live picture of a caravan of dark, unmarked vans and SUVs careening along a dirt road from the Ural Mountains towards the steppes in Kazakhstan. If they maintained their path, they would be in the capital of Astana in a matter of hours. “Does that look like a Russian military unit to you?”

“No. What is that?” Gyrich leaned forward and frowned. “It’s nowhere near where Russian forces are amassing!”

Wallace arched an eyebrow and smiled again. “Yes, isn’t that interesting. It would seem that an unmarked caravan is moving at great speed from the Russian Urals
towards Astana. We only detected this group in the last hour and a half. I’m
guessing the Russians don’t know about it.”

“And why is that?” Gyrich asked.

Wallace tapped a button and the screen changed and zoomed in on a ramshackle collection buildings that were typical of Russo- Kazakhstan border crossings. “This is where the caravan crossed the border,” Wallace informed them. Another tap and the image zoomed in close enough to see bodies littering the crossing. Another tap and you could see the blood. “We’ve observed no movement since the caravan crossed. Unless Vitaly Kirov had his own people murdered as a ruse, I would say there is another element loose in Central Asia.”

“For fucks sake!” Gyrich lifted a phone. “Isling, this is Gyrich. I want assets on the ground in Kazakhstan in twelve hours. Find out what the fuck is going on! I’ll have Ambassador Fromm deal with the Security Council!” He turned to Wallace and sneered. “As for you, I want a full scale Intelligence Assessment on Kazakhstan in fourteen hours. I want no surprises!”

Dec 19
Moscow

“What the HELL is happening down there!” yelled President Kirov. “Last we heard
from Scimitar and Longshot, Astana was empty and secure!”

Tatiana nodded. “And it was, but Scimitar and Longshot are now in southern
Kazakhstan. All of the Shadow squads are down there now. They left some local
contacts and bribed units in the capital. The city is practically abandoned. We don’t know where this new faction came from but the city is in chaos again.”

“CNN is reporting gunfire and explosions in Astana! The rebels who started all this were supposed to be repressed!” Kirov picked up a glass from his desk and hurled it at a wall. “Tatiana, this is a disaster! Things were supposed to remain calm so that Russian troops could cross with little fanfare! If the rebels are active again, they will not like Russian troops in their country!”

“I will see to it that Scimitar returns to Astana and corrects the problem.” Tatiana bowed at Kirov. “Forgive me for this lapse in judgment.”

“Do not make the same mistake twice, my dear. You are useful, but even queens are expendable in Chess.” Vitaly waved her out of his office. ‘The time table might have to be adjusted for a successful outcome.

Smallville

“Russian troops have moved across the border in force. All of western Kazakhstan is under Russian control, including all the oil facilities along the Caspian Sea. It is
unclear whether the Kazakhstani government requested such actions, but the
Russian Defense Minister says that is what happened!” The image of Nancy McNally blurred on the flat panel screen in one of the conference rooms. “I’ve talked to Val Cooper and have been told that Russia is delaying the UN Security Council from meeting. Ambassador Fromm is trying to get the Council to meet and Secretary of State Greg Dixon is talking with the British and Chinese to get Russia to the Council as well.”

Lex nodded. “Is there anything I can do from here?”

“No sir, not at the moment,” Nancy replied, tactfully not reminding him that it would be several more weeks before he actually had the authority to take action regarding any crisis. “Trask is assembling the National Security Council to examine options, but if Kazakhstan did request Russian help then our hands are tied.”

“Understood. Get back to me when you know more, Nancy.” Lex killed the line and sighed. He turned to the rest of the room and watched as cloaking field vanished. The House security staff and a few of its senior members became visible. “What do you think?”

“Our knowledge from Andre’s mission is limited, but it’s possible that Russia has
permission to be there,” responded Alan Owen.

“Highly unlikely,” responded Lionel. “The current government in Moscow is
expansionist and has deep Imperial ambitions. Vitaly Kirov is a demagogue and the unstable political situation in Kazakhstan offers the perfect opening for him to
expand Russia’s power and influence – particularly if he has been subtly helping the instability along.”

Clark turned to Chris and asked, “Is there anything new from our sources in
Kazakhstan?”

“No and we’re watching this very carefully.” Chris switched the monitor to images from the orbital sensor network. “We’ve seen major movement all along the Caspian Sea and towards the Aral Sea. But we recorded a major battle near Astana last night despite the fact that there are no Russian troops near Astana. No transmissions of any kind went out until we intercepted a brief encrypted data burst just at dawn. It was aimed at a commercial satellite, but we have no idea who it was meant for. We’re still working on the decryption”

Lex stood up. “I’m concerned about Kazakhstan, but there are other pressing issues on my plate, as well. Chris, you, Alan, and Andre are tasked to deal with
Kazakhstan; just keep someone informed. My father is probably the best bet.” Lex headed towards the door and paused. “I don’t mean to belittle what is happening in Central Asia, but I can’t focus on one problem only right now.”

Clark nodded and smiled. “We understand. We’ll keep an eye on it for you.”


Wes and Ben raced each other in the swimming pool. Across from them Hamilton
and Philip lifted weights while Peter and Zach played a game of basketball. The
underground gym complex rarely saw as much use as it was getting now that the family was home for the holidays.

A victorious Ben climbed out of the pool followed closely by Wes. “All right, who’s
next?” Ben crowed. “Wes, do you think it’s time to show our older brothers who’s the strongest.”

THWAP!

“OUCH!” Ben bellowed and Elsa cackled as she reeled in the towel she’d snapped
against Ben’s backside.

“I think Zach would claim he’s the strongest,” Elsa informed him jauntily as she
made her way on toward the diving board. “And Hamilton could still take you in any fair fight, and I think I just proved who’s got the goods when it comes to stealth.”

“You mean, sneak attack,” Ben grumbled, rubbing his stinging butt.

Elsa gracefully ascended the ladder to the dive platform. “Sore loser!”

“And I can take Hamilton easy. He’s a string bean while I am all muscles!” Ben flexed his arms and pumped out his chest. For a boy who was physically around twelve, his physique was more mature than that showing Ben to be around sixteen. “Bring him on! Hamilton’s toast!”

Wes started whistling, but didn’t say anything as a sweaty Hamilton emerged from the weight room with Philip right behind him.

“Are you shooting your mouth off again, Ben?” Hamilton asked, using his towel to
snap at Ben’s ass. It connected lightly, but still made an impressive noise in the
enclosed space.

“Not you too! That hurt!” Ben lunged at Hamilton and they both fell into the pool.
The wrestling match kept changing as one boy was able to get the other in a head lock, then slip free. Philip and Wes cheered from the edge of the pool while Dick shook his head and joined Elsa in actually swimming.

“ENOUGH!” Peter’s voice stopped all the noise. His friendly persona and calm
demeanor masked the raw power of his physique, but he could be frighteningly
imposing when he needed to be. Zach, standing next to him, was dwarfed by the tall mutant. “Out of the pool, both of you! You’re old enough to know better!”

Ben and Hamilton started speaking at the same time, but shut up when Peter raised his hand in the universal mode of Stop. “I don’t want to hear it. I don’t mind you wrestling on the mats or in the play room, but not in the pool or lake.” Peter turned and patted Zach on the shoulder. “You still haven’t beaten me.”

“Dude, you are so cruising for an ass whipping.” Zach punched Peter in the arm as they headed back to the basketball court.

Hamilton rounded on Ben and smiled. “You still didn’t beat me.”

Ben fumed for a second and then smiled. “Just wait, Hamilton, I’ll get you soon
enough.”

Philip rolled his eyes and headed back to the weight room. “Hey, Dick, you going to swim all day or are you going to get in that lifting you said you needed?”

Dick climbed out of the pool and shook the water off his body. “Give me a sec and I’ll be there.”

Wes ran up to Ben and smacked him in the head. “Your mouth is going to get you in trouble one of these days.”

Ben smiled and laughed. “I always try to back up my trash talk. Don’t worry, I’ll get Hamilton when he least expects it.”

Dec 24
Sydney

The beginning is the most dangerous time of all. Move too soon and failure is likely; move too late and the opportunity is gone. Such is the nature of risk and reward.’ Damien Parker frowned as he read the headlines from around the world. ‘Timing is everything and I have no idea if I am on the right track. Plans within plans and all of it could come tumbling down with a single wrong move.’

Australia was a large continent/country whose main population centers were on the coasts; it was Damien’s dream to bring it under his control and from there begin to build the empire he felt he deserved. His rightful place had been denied him by his genetic father, and his half-brother Lionel Luthor had never given him a chance to shine. Damien had long ago decided to take what was rightfully his. Much of the world presumed he was dead and that worked to his advantage. However, his ‘resurrection’ and subsequent power grab had to be timed perfectly.

With the world focusing on Central Asia, now would be a good time to assume
control, but I only have three brigades here and ordinance is a concern.
’ Damien
shut down his PDA and walked to the window. Sunrise was his favorite time of day. Possibilities seemed endless at dawn. ‘The infiltration of InterGang is only half complete. Accelerating that project risks its exposure! Vitaly must not find out, or Varian and I are as good as dead.

As the sun rose higher over the horizon, Damien’s mood stilled and calm began to
restore itself. ‘InterGang is but the first step and that process is underway. Next is to get my special clones into their proper places so that traps can be sprung. Doing this properly will take time, but improve the chances for success. The beginning is dangerous. For now though I’ll not pull the trigger. Varian is too young still to lead, but once he is ready, all bets are off.

Dec 26
Smallville

Philip walked into his grandfather’s outer office and nodded at Justin. “He wanted to see me?”

“He’s expecting you Philip, go right in.”

Philip walked into the well-appointed office and smiled at his grandfather. “How may I be of service to you?”

Lionel chuckled and motioned for Philip to take a seat. “We have a family
conundrum, Philip, and I am going to start offering solutions. It seems that we are running out of hands to operate all of our holdings. Your Uncle Jeff is moving to the White House soon and your Aunt Lisa has agreed to take over as the Operations Director for LFK. Regrettably, that position is not something she wants to do and neither do I really.”

Philip’s already-straight spine stiffened as he leaned forward, “Sir—“

Lionel shook his head, but his smile was the essence of self-satisfaction. “You are too young to assume this mantle, yet, Philip,” he said, waiving at his grandson to relax. “But it won’t be long before this job falls to you, and as such, it is time for your education to broaden.” Lionel lifted up a binder about seven inches thick with two hands and showed it to his grandson. “Accounts receivable for fiscal year 2015 for all of LFK.” He lifted a smaller binder only two inches thick. “This is for the House only. It includes expenditures for all members of the House including transfers to Trust accounts. It shows the expense from each property, and the income from various holdings assigned to each property.”

Philip’s eyes grew wider as he heard his grandfather explain the binders. “May I at least look at them, sir?”

Lionel nodded. “You may have the House expense report, but the full LFK report will remain with me. I want you to become familiar with the House assets and liabilities during your last semester in high school, my dear boy. This is the beginning; I am grooming you to take your proper place in the family hierarchy after college.”

“Thank you, Grandfather.” Philip flipped through the smaller binder, skimming
ledgers and scanning reports. One in particular caught his eye and he gasped,
“You’ve got to be kidding me! We spend that much money on personal expenses!”
He flipped through the book and looked at the historical charts. “That is an obscene amount of money, Grandfather! This has to stop! How on earth do we spend that much annually? The clothing expense alone would make our critics jump for joy. This is decadence!”

Lionel cleared his throat. “Expenses are a bit high, they always are…”

Philip cut him off. “We need to be on a budget!” He noted his grandfather’s frown and dropped his head slightly. “Sorry.”

“As I was saying; expenses are always high in wealthy families because a certain
lifestyle is expected. The numbers you see there are aggregates of total family
spending and they come out of a master account. We settle that account quarterly and we know who is spending what.”

Rapidly flipping through the book, Philip found the break outs and chuckled. “I see that designer suits cost a small fortune.” He smiled at his grandfather. “I suppose that looking good is part of projecting a certain image.”

“It is indeed and never forget that, son.” Lionel smiled again. “That is why you and your brothers are fitted every year with new suits. You must dress a specific way to create illusions. This is a very wealthy family and we must present ourselves well. Bennett and Weston would prefer to dress like ragamuffins, but they aren’t allowed to because of image.”

“Yeah, Ben complains that when his jeans finally get ratty and his t-shirts get the way he wants them that they get taken away and he’s not allowed to buy pre-frayed items.”

Lionel shook his head. “Why anyone would spend good money on clothes that look like they should be thrown away is beyond me. Anyway, Philip, I want you to begin to grasp the complexities of House management. It is your future and I think you are well suited for this role.”

Philip stood up and crossed behind the desk and gave his grandfather a hug. “Thank you. I’m honored that you think I can do this.”

“My dear boy, this will be the least of your concerns after college – a mere
afterthought. You and your brothers have much more to do than manage the
House.” Lionel hugged Philip again. “Off you go and don’t waste all of your Winter
Break looking those over. You can have some fun.”

Philip smiled. “Franklin is still here and he won’t let me get immersed in this too
deeply.”

“I trust all is well between you and your handsome young friend?”

He nodded. “Yes, sir. Thanks to you.”

Lionel suspected he had little to do with it, but he was proud that Philip would honor him by saying so. “Good. Now, go have some fun.”

Dec 27
Washington

Henry Gyrich walked into the Transition offices and waited for his meeting. Nancy McNally walked up and escorted him into President-elect Luthor’s office. Gyrich kept his spine stiff and refused to show the man any deference. ‘I respect the Office, but not the man.’

“Mr. Gyrich, thank you for coming to see me. I want a full update on SHIELD’s
activities.” Luthor leaned back in his chair and nodded. “I want to start with Magneto and then move onto current plans and other operations.”

“With respect to Magneto, the man is very difficult to track. We have a full team and an entire sensor network attuned to magnetic disturbances. We caught wind of him as he attacked those camps in Kazakhstan last year, but forward deployment of troops was a problem that we are about to overcome.” Gyrich paused for a moment. “In a few days we will test a very expensive and very powerful weapon system. SHIELD will be able to increase our global stance and Magneto won’t be able to be that far ahead of us any longer.”

Dr. McNally looked over at Gyrich and tapped his chair. “Is this the aerial carrier
you’re talking about? I thought that project was behind schedule.”

“Thanks to Stark International’s new engine design and Wayne Tech’s power system we were able to get it to work. Theoretically. The first real test is slated before the end of the year.”

Lex nodded. “How closely do you work with NSA to search for Magneto and the
Brotherhood through communications networks?”

“We have access to NSA files and so use them from time to time. We use all our
allied Intelligence Services as they relate to the mutant question. Magneto isn’t the only threat to national and world security. His Brotherhood was able to do a great deal of damage during the Olympics, if you recall.”

“Not all mutants are terrorists, Mr. Gyrich. Painting them all with the same brush is a mistake that will drive them into the Brotherhood’s arms.” Lex paused for a moment. “Are you trying to antagonize them?”

Gyrich flinched at the words and then recovered. “I am doing what my mandate calls for, sir. We now have control over Ryker’s Island Super Max Prison. It has been modified to hold just about any mutant or dangerous creature. Rogue Meta Humans fall under our charter as well, sir.”

“Define rogue,” Lex said coldly.

“That is still in the works, Mr. President-elect. The current Administration has not given us a clear definition and most likely it will fall to your Justice Department to provide that guidance.” Gyrich glanced at his watch and frowned. “I’m afraid that I have another appointment soon, sir.”

“Of course, Mr. Gyrich. If I have any further questions I’ll have Dr. McNally call you.”

Lex offered his hand and Gyrich walked out of the room. As he made his way out of the building he was met by his bodyguards. Amanda Waller was waiting for him in the car. “McNally will be our contact in the White House. Direct access is being denied.”

Waller nodded. “I told you that this would be the case. He wants to put his own
lackeys in SHIELD. I give it a year, eighteen months tops, before he finds a way to serve our heads up on a platter.”

“We need to find a way to delay that from happening. A high profile capture would be nice.” Gyrich sat back and exhaled. “I don’t trust him, Amanda.”

“No, Luthor is the single most unknown high profile man in the modern age. We
must beware of him at all costs.”

Dec 31
New York

Amanda Waller, Henry Gyrich, Samuel Thames, Thad Ross, and John Denning all
stood in the center of the Operations Room as SHIELD tested its latest weapon – an aerial aircraft carrier named Luxor. Its fighter wing was made up of forty all-purpose attack aircraft. A priceless piece of machinery, Luxor would serve as the airborne radar platform and was integral to SHIELD’s long term plans for securing the globe.

Waller turned to one of the officers on duty and smiled. “Colonel West, what is the Luxor’s current cruising speed right now?”

“Dr. Waller, the air carriers can go up to 450mph, but cruise around 380mph. We
haven’t fully tested the carriers’ hull strength after extensive flight time at those
maximum speeds.” Colonel West pointed to a schematic display. “The carriers
though have shown they can take a punch as well as deliver one. They have all the firepower of an Aegis cruiser with the full function of a naval aircraft carrier. Their mobility is unmatched.”

Denning nodded as flight operations began and the fighter crews began taking off. “Beautiful! With three of these in operation, SHIELD’s mission becomes much easier. Two divisions of troops plus these strategic weapons – wonderful!”

Gyrich nodded. “And that does not include Isling’s or Fury’s troops. SHIELD is about to truly embark on its role as protector of the planet. Nothing will harm America or any peace loving nation.”

“Yes, America is on the rise again,” added Thames. “We just have to make sure that a Luthor Presidency doesn’t ruin everything.”

“He’s not invincible,” Waller noted. “He’s human and that just means we have to find his weakness.”

“In good time,” Gyrich added. “For now we celebrate SHIELD’s increased strength. Lex Luthor is a worry for next year.”

Jan 1, 2017
Cape Town, South Africa

Martin Ver Kerk scanned the ships docked at the port and frowned. Summer was
brutal in Cape Town and this one looked to be one of the worst ever. Regardless of the heat, Martin made his way to the docks approaching a pier that was under the management of a Union of Latin America firm. After the fall of the Cartel, the black market operations out of the Union had fallen dramatically, but InterGang still was able to get its supplies from the ULA just at a higher cost. Martin motioned to one of his associates to open a cargo container before local customs officials began going through the ship yards.

It was a holiday around the world and that is what made getting this cargo so
important. Martin followed orders as he was told and it had been explained that
getting this shipment out of Cape Town and on a private plane bound for Somalia was vital. The locks were unsealed and the doors opened. Martin’s mouth twitched when he saw, what could be called, hi-tech coffins, twelve of them, in the container.

“Move, get those unloaded now.” Martin yelled as he moved closer to one of them. It was a Plexiglas of some kind that let him peer inside at the body of a young female. Lights blinked. “We have a time limit, people, move.” He checked and all twelve had people in them. One of them didn’t look quite human, but the case was not crystal clear. He didn’t know their final destination, but he knew that Somalia was a drop off point for cargo heading either to Russia or to Southeast Asia. ‘We traffic in anything for a profit, but for this my fee just went up.

Smallville

Clark, Lex, and Whitney were in the observation room looking down at a large
reinforced three story room. Buried deep under the estate, the large cavern carved from dense stone was not directly under the palace, but was close enough for easy access. Additional metal and electronic reinforcements made it the perfect place to test the boys and Zach for their developing abilities.

The purpose of the exercise was to see how the four brothers would coordinate an attack against Zach, whose abilities were far more developed.

Clark hit a comm button. “Okay, boys. You have your objectives. Sorry, Zach, but you’re on your own this time.”

“No sweat, Bro,” Zach called out, pivoting right and then left as his nephews took up flanking positions around him. “These guys are easy pickins’.”

“Don’t count on it, Unc,” Ben quipped, flashing the observation deck a thumbs up.

Zach left the floor and hovered in the center of the room. “Okay, come at me!” Zach yelled.

All of the boys had telepathy and telekinesis to varying degrees, but Philip and
Hamilton’s mental abilities were stronger because of their age. None of the observing fathers were surprised when impulsive Ben acted first, hurling some loose metal pieces at Zach with his telekinetic abilities. Philip’s frown was clear and Ben’s face contorted as they argued mentally. Hamilton pointed too late to warn them about Zach’s counter attack.

Philip used his mind to enhance his physical strength and was able to jump out of the way in time. Ben stood his ground as Zach charged. The impact was loud and Ben went flying in one direction and Zach in another. Wes ran to check on Ben. Zach was shaking his head as Philip and Hamilton attacked in unison. Philip placed Zach in a body bind while Hamilton tried to put him to sleep. It almost worked but Zach used his powers to make the whole room shake. Philip lost his concentration for a moment and Zach broke free from the bind. He flew towards Hamilton rapidly, but Hamilton vanished.

From the observation room, the Triad saw Hamilton vanish and Ben get up at the
same moment. Ben shrugged off Wes and glowed for a second he leaped and tackled Zach from behind. Hamilton reappeared next to Wes as Philip came running to join them. Zach threw Ben off but was soon hit with a combined telekinetic punch from three of the boys. Each boy’s power magnified the others so the punch was exponentially stronger than it would have been ordinarily. Zach was thrown into a wall with a resounding THUD and fell into a heap at the base of the wall. Ben went running towards him and placed him in a head lock.

“Say it!” Ben yelled. “Say UNCLE, Uncle!”

Zach croaked out an ‘Uncle’ and Ben let him go.

“Enough,” called out Clark. He made his way down to the floor along with the rest of the Triad. “That was informative.” He walked over to Zach and helped his brother up. “You okay?”

“Yeah, just need to clear my head. That was a major punch I took.” Zach leaned on Clark and stared at his nephews. “I won’t underestimate you when you’re together that’s for sure.”

Cir’n D’or appeared and bowed to Clark and the adults. He smiled at the boys. //I am very surprised at the variety of skills displayed earlier. Kon-El is very much in the full Kryptonian mode except his telekinetic powers are something Kal-El does not possess. Kal-El’s strength and speed though are far superior. As for the boys; their mental discipline needs work, but their abilities are beginning to show.//

Lex stepped forward and placed his hand on Hamilton’s shoulder. “How did you
disappear?”

“I’ve been thinking about higher mathematics and folding space. I simply moved
without moving.” Hamilton smiled and then blushed. “It helped that I was in a dead panic.”

The hologram nodded at them. //Yes, it does help because you tapped deep
reservoirs of energy to move the distance you did. To move beyond this room is
simply beyond your power, but your mind’s ability to grasp such concepts and
execute them is nothing short of remarkable. Still, I don’t think teleportation is
where your aptitudes lie. As for you Master Weston, you allowed Bennett to recover and amplified the telekinetic attack on you uncle. Also a remarkable feat.//

Whitney walked over to Philip and ruffled his sweaty hair. “Nice jump there. But you hesitated a bit more than once, why?”

“I can see things when I concentrate. It’s not the future really, I call it the ‘Now.’
When I look inward I can see events happening randomly, but they are all happening within a one to two minute span as far as I can tell. I was trying to concentrate and see how Zach would react one way or another and use that to my advantage. Knowing his move allows me to maximize my move.” Philip wiped his forehead and sighed. “It was hard and didn’t really work. Defending myself and trying to coordinate our efforts made it a waste of time frankly.”

Wes chuckled. “Ben, next time don’t go off the handle so soon. Philip was trying to get us to act as one and you just attacked.”

“He wanted to distract Zach and keep him off balance. My approach worked better!” Ben protested.

“From whose perspective, young man?” asked Clark. “Zach nailed you pretty good
and your brother’s defensive shield didn’t keep even half the impact from hurting
you.”

Wes’ mouth dropped open. “You saw that?”

Whitney nodded. “We saw you extend a field around Ben, but it only kept Ben from being smashed to bits. Zach, you might want to dial down the force you use, at least until they are fifteen. Ben, you showed glimpses of super strength, but you aren’t your father and thus invulnerable.”

“None of you are invulnerable, that includes you, Zach.” Lex folded his arms across his chest. “We will find ways for your skills to improve. Brute force was not the answer Ben. You need to learn the value of patience.”

“Come on guys, time to get ready to go. School starts up again tomorrow and we
still have lots to do before your father becomes president.” Clark reached over and messed up Ben’s hair. “And you -- I’ll be sure to teach you how to take a punch. I have a feeling that you are going to do a lot of leaping before you look.”

Part two

 

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Cast - Photo Gallery

Click for Photo/Bio
Keys to the Kingdom
Varian Parker
Inherit the Wind
Nathaniel Adams
Dinah Lance
Kyle Rayner
Trish Tilby
Katherine Tyers
Martin Essex
Kyrill Olev
Swords & Shields
Bruce Banner
Clint Barton
Nicholas Fury
Pierre Hardcastle
Jerrod Isling
Zachary Kent
Wallace Kincaid
Diana Prince
Tatiana
Steve Trevor
Amanda Waller
Dane Whitman
Witness to a Warning
Brian Braddock
Snapper Carr
Frank Craft
Hal Jordan
Selina Kyle
Nancy McNally
Jake Olsen
Steve Rogers
Victor VonDoom
Runaways & Results
Cynthia Hunt
Katlan Anderson
Frosts & Failures
Lady Elizabeth Braddock
Joseph Christensen
Andre Comeaux
Graydon Creed
Dabney Donovan
Morgan Edge
Franklin Richards
Angela Ling
Jared McConnell
Andrew Price
Peter Rasputin
William Stryker
Bolivar Trask
Tributes & Trials
Mary-Alice Adkins
Bryan Armitage
Holly Jones
Patrick Kennedy
Jackson King
Kelly Ling
April Ross
Winston R.Trask
Simon Trent
Leaders, Legends & Lore
Bennett Andrew LFK
Weston Graham LFK
Ivan Acevedo
Rachel Amstead
Aaron Boone
Adam Chase
Valerie Cooper
Justin Daniels
Raven Darkholm
Bobby Drake
Nigel Eason
Emma Frost
Richard Grayson
Vitaly Kirov
Lois Lane
Eric Lensherr
Jimmy Olsen
Donald Pierce
Oliver Queen
Michael Ross
Sebastian Shaw
Maxwell Smith
Anthony Stark
Janet VanDyne
Perry White
Warren Worthington III
Jason Wyngard
Raids, Assaults, Revels
Philip Jonathan LFK
Hamilton Ian LFK
Dr. Stephanie Fordman
Pursuits & Milestones
Brian Corbeau
Reflections & Mirrors
Chet Desmond
Lisa Fordman
Gabriel Vance
Destinies & Darkness
Dimitri Kartov
Alan Owen
Knights, Bishops & Rooks
Enrique DeSantos
Henry Gyrich
Senator Robert Kelly
Shadows in Spring
Christian Smith
Echoes of the Past
General Sam Thames
Shern Phipps
Scores & Solutions
Stephen Hamiltion
Nathan Daniels
Battlements & Barricades
Tristan Fordman
Nick Brady
Damien Parker
Dominic Haynes (Senatori)
Repercussions&Achievements
Lionel Luthor
Anne Fordman
David Fordman
Sebastian Fordman
Jeff Fordman
Bruce Wayne
Plans, Detours, Goals:
Chloe Sullivan
Lana Lang
Clark Kent
Whitney Fordman
Lex Luthor
Jonathan Kent
Martha Kent
Pete Ross
Victoria Hardwick
Maps
Romania
Kazakhstan