Book IV: Coriolis Event

Keys to the Kingdom - Part 2

Jan 4
Washington

Lionel Luthor, Bruce Wayne, Tony Stark, and Warren Worthington were gathered in a private conference room on a fifth floor of one of outer buildings of the Washington Luthor Compound. The Capitol was clearly visible of in the distance. With a push of a button, the windows tinted and the room was plunged into darkness. A hologram sprang up in the middle of the room above the conference table

“Gentlemen,” Bruce said with a hint of mirth in his voice. “Our orbital research
laboratory is complete.” He motioned to it. “The engines came online three hours ago and it is moving from polar orbit to a high orbit as we speak.”

Tony pointed and asked, “Is that how it looks or how it is meant to appear? If that is what it actually looks like then I think we need a refund.”

The hologram showed something like the old International Space Station. It was
large, but modular and rather unimpressive. The hologram changed into a sleek
tower with three arms and a rather large profile.

“Does that suit your tastes better, Mr. Stark?” retorted Bruce with a smile. “We spent almost thirty billion dollars on that, trust me when I say that we got our money’s worth.”

Lionel laughed. “Good. I wouldn’t want to have to explain to my grandson Philip why we funded such a boondoggle.”

Warren cleared his throat and pointed. “What has U.S. Space Command said?”

“What we expected. They are not too happy with a privately funded research station in orbit, but they can’t do anything to it unless they feel it jeopardizes National Security.” Bruce slid a small packet of paper across the table to Warren. “That is the official response from NASA and the Department of Defense. My signature is all over that, but I will have to recuse myself from this matter in the future because I am about to become a statutory member of the National Security Council.”

“True,” Tony commented. “But having Lex as president should help. It will be difficult for Space Command to tell National Command Authority that it wants to blow up the President’s space station.”

Lionel chuckled for a second before turning to Bruce and no hint of amusement was left in his voice. “Were all the specifications met?”

Bruce sighed and shook his head. “The fusion generators are online and the
holographic projectors look seamlessly, but other ‘defensive’ modifications will have to be made now.”

“Not what I wanted to hear, but we will adapt,” responded Lionel. “Well, if you will excuse me, I have a full agenda and too little time. Gentlemen.” Lionel rose and left the room.

Tony clicked through the images of the space station. “Minerva is going to place
some of its armaments on the station?”

“Yes, but I don’t know what is being planned except that it is functional and mobile. I do know that the station will be defended and that’s all that matters in the end.”


The National Security Council met in the Situation Room. All the members stood up as President Trask entered. “At ease. What’s happening in Kazakhstan?”

Dr. Valerie Cooper pointed to one of the monitors. “Kazakhstan is still in chaos, sir. The remains of the Kazakhstani government dispute that the Russians were asked to help, but it’s a moot point since there are now Russian ground troops are in over half the country. The southern sections of the country are where the army has gathered. Less than a third is controlled by the rightful government. Russia holds about a quarter of the country, and that leaves the rest as an unruly mess.”

Gabriel Vance cleared his throat. “Sir, we have reports that it was fighting between the rebels and Russian troops near the oil fields near the Caspian Sea that started the war. The United Nations must get involved at some point, sir, but Kazakhstan is no longer the major flash point.”

Dr. Cooper rose and the monitor images shifted to the shores of the Black Sea. “We are seeing signs of unrest in Romania. SHIELD troops are still on the ground in the Carpathian Mountains, but we suspect Dr. Doom is responsible for a riot that occurred in Constanta.”

“The Council of Europe is meeting now to discuss the ramifications,” announced Greg Dixon. “I was on a call with the British earlier and there are worries about Russia’s recent moves into central Asia. Expect a call from the Prime Minister later. The Council’s foreign ministers are meeting now.”

“Why is the Council getting involved?” Trask folded his hands and frowned. “SHIELD has the authority to deal with Dr. Doom in Romania and they know it. Let them stew over Russia in Central Asia and leave Doom to us.”

Valerie shook her head. “We have no definitive proof that Doom was responsible for the riot, but there have been other ‘disturbances’ throughout Romania. If the trouble is a grass roots revolt, SHIELD has no authority to intervene. The Council is worried about spreading violence. Yugoslavia and Bulgaria have reported violence along their borders with Romania. Even the SHIELD presence in the Carpathian Mountains is not enough to deter Dr. Doom.”

“Then there’s nothing I can do at this time. SHIELD is there. The Europeans will have to handle this until Luthor takes office. I will not send any troops to that region under UN or anyone else’s control. As for Russia, arrange for a call between Pres. Kirov and myself soon. We need to make sure that they do not to take over Kazakhstan.” Trask rose and left.

Gabriel Vance frowned and pointed to the Russo-Kazakhstani border. “They still have two brigades of mechanized infantry on the border, but their paratroopers and ground units aren’t being backed up by their heavier guns yet. They may not be in there for the long haul.”

Dixon shrugged. “It doesn’t matter right now. I expect the Russian forces to move just prior to the Inauguration. Kirov has been signaling that Russian power was on the move. I am calling for a NATO’s ministers meeting because if Russia is becoming increasingly militaristic then the Baltic States are on their acquisitions list.”

Kazakhstan

Scimitar’s cigarette gave off a slight glow, but his dark face betrayed no emotions as Longshot walked up. “New orders; we are to proceed to Almaty and find the Prime Minister.”

Smoke came out of Scimitar’s lips as he spoke. “When?”

“We leave soon, but grabbing the Prime Minister is forbidden until we are told to do so. It’s a political thing.” Longshot leaned back and with a flick of a wrist sent a metal dart flying in the darkness. A wet gurgling sound came from the deep
shadows. “We must be careful not to be followed or seen. The rebellion is real and Moscow says that the Shadows will deal with them in due time.”

The broken cement of the alleyway created small echoes as Longshot retrieved his dart. A quick search of the man yielded no identification. Longshot examined him further. He opened the dead man’s trousers and frowned. “He’s circumcised, but doesn’t look Jewish, American most likely. We must tell Moscow that America has spies on the ground.” He pointed at the body and quickly told Scimitar, “Get rid of the evidence.”

A blast of energy incinerated the body and Scimitar lit up another cigarette to mask the smell of burnt human flesh. “I need a drink.”

Longshot nodded and they headed down the alley together. “You shall have your
drink and soon we will all have much more. Moscow has big plans. Tatiana won’t say exactly what, but I can tell that Kazakhstan is nothing compared to what is to come.”

Jan 6
New York

The boardroom of SHIELD was packed with the General Staff. Gyrich sat at the head of the table. General Nick Fury was on one of the monitors giving a briefing. “We have over three thousand soldiers on the ground in the Carpathians now. That is five times as many as we’ve had on the ground at any one time before!”

Amanda Waller shouted, “General, how soon before you find out if Doom is behind the recent unrest in the Balkans? Russia is carping about a near-invasion of the Balkans by SHIELD!”

“They’re ones to talk about invasions,” murmured Gen. Isling.

Gyrich silenced him with a wave of his hand. “General Fury, Dr. McNally wants a
report on the search patterns and progress of that search ASAP. We’ve been told that President-elect Luthor doesn’t want that many SHIELD troops on the ground unless we are going after Magneto. The Ultimates are being recalled to provide security for the Inauguration, as well, so you have a limited time to use them.”

“Tony Stark wants to attend a few galas I take it,” commented General Ross.
“Damned playboy playing at being a superhero.”

Waller raised an eyebrow, but nodded in agreement. “Protecting the nation is serious business and he’s an amateur. Half the Ultimates have other professions that they should tend to instead of trying to be superheroes.”

“If the two of you have finished groaning about superheroes, we still have business at hand,” barked Gyrich. “Fury, I want the Balkans stabilized and I want you to get two insertion teams into Kazakhstan as well. Damned if I’m going to let the Ruskies begin to play Empire again. Coordinate with Hardcastle about the Intel. Not a word of this to McNally or Cooper.”

Moscow

“Move a mechanized brigade south into the oil fields in five days. Tell them to set up antiaircraft defenses along the perimeter.” Vitaly Kirov smiled as he looked down at a large map of Central Asia. “Prepare to move the other two brigades into central Kazakhstan in ten days. I want to see how the Americans react to these moves.”

The Russian Foreign Minister frowned. “Sir, this move is too provocative. The
Americans will not accept such a large military force in Kazakhstan even if we have permission from what remains of their government.”

“I care not for what the Americans might do, Sergei. Power is only viable when used and American power has been waxing since they conquered China. Using power gained them much. We use what power we have to gain more. It is the nature of the world.”

“It is doubtful that President Luthor will refrain from taking action in response to this move,” warned the Minister. “Congress might demand action and he will have to do something.”

“You worry too much,” Vitaly waived the man out of the room. Tatiana strolled in
from her hidden office behind the bookshelves.

“Be careful about pushing for too much too soon,” she warned.

“We have the appearance of legality on our side -- America will be unable to do much against four brigades of Russian troops in Kazakhstan. But America does have SHIELD and that is a worry. SHIELD is their baby and nothing can break that damned treaty, but we can curb their power.” Vitaly thought for a moment. “Construct a plan for deploying Omega Red in someplace nasty that will force the Ultimates and SHIELD to forget Kazakhstan for awhile. He will make a very special inauguration gift for President Luthor.”

Jan 8
Washington

Lois Lane had hit the big time. Today she was making her first network appearance on one of D.C.’s premiere political round tables. The host was former White House reporter, Adam Klein, and her fellow guests were Snapper Carr of ABC News, Trish Tilby of CNN, and David Hyde of the New York Times. Heady company, indeed.

Lois pushed her nerves aside as she took her seat. A faceless technician made sure her microphone was connected and inconspicuous. Seconds later, someone called for quiet, then a woman with a clipboard signed a 4-3-2-1-countdown, and Klein launched right into the show.

“Welcome to Politics 101. First topic: A new Administration is set to take Washington by storm, but is a storm setting in on them before they even take office? Kazakhstan is a mess – is it a possible Russian power grab? -- the Mutant/Meta issue continues to rear its controversial head, and now political opponents are pointing out how weak Lex Luthor’s election was last November. Let’s get right to it. Lois, you have a long history with the Luthor people, how are they dealing with this?”

“Adam, they ignore reality better than anyone I’ve ever seen. Then again they have the ability to create their own reality so it’s a weird mix. I think Lex Luthor will care what people are saying because he has enough votes in the House and Senate to do pretty much anything he wants – at least until the next mid-term election.”

Snapper jumped in, “It’s not the carping that is going to handicap Luthor, but
international events. He’s super rich, but I don’t think Russia cares about that.
Russia holds almost half of Kazakhstan, and no one in Europe is buying the
diplomatic fiction they are peddling that they were invited.”

“Not only that, this is going to be seen as Luthor’s first test, both at home and
abroad,” added David Hyde. “I understand that the Transition team and the White House are at each others throats over some decisions. I’m not sure which ones, but things aren’t going smoothly there.”

Trish Tilby smiled and shook her head. “One thing that has to be mentioned though is how quickly Luthor is poised to recover on the domestic front. He has an incredible relationship with the Senate and House leadership. His party has majorities in both houses and he has a slate of legislation ready to go. Plus he has some serious weight in his Cabinet. Kane Miller as Secretary of State is major. He’s a leading scholar and a former diplomat. Very respected around the world. Brandon Manheim is a bit risky for Defense, but again a heavyweight in the field. He knows military affairs.”

“And then there is Bruce Wayne,” said Klein. “A close friend and fellow billionaire.
More importantly he is one of the most respected industrialists in America. Don’t
forget Ursula Gunn at Justice. She’s a former judge and governor, which gives her some major credibility.”

“Forming strategic alliances is one of Luthor’s strengths,” Lois tossed out. “But for the most part, those alliances tend to be entirely cosmetic. He’s surrounding himself with heavyweights, but just how much power is he really going to let them wield. Bruce Wayne is going to be deep in the president’s counsels, but how about the
others?”

“Luthor is insular, but brilliant.” Hyde shrugged. “The first month will be rough, but he is well-positioned to do well on the domestic front. However, international affairs can be a crap shoot in the best of times and with Russia’s Imperial ambitions rearing their head again, these are not the best of times.”


Vice President-elect William McKenna turned off the television and scowled. Not one of the Sunday talk shows had mentioned him. The names of most of the senior Cabinet members and White House staff had been thrown around liberally, but of the incoming VP, the former governor of a major state and a rising power in the party, there hadn’t been so much as a whisper. Lois Lane’s comment about Luthor’s unwillingness to share power was jangling across McKenna’s nerves.

“Governor, Mr. Craft is here to see you.”

McKenna motioned Frank Craft in and was surprised to see Pete Ross with him.
“Gentlemen, to what do I owe this pleasure?”

Craft sat down and motioned for Ross to sit down as well. “You are in the unique
position of being the future vice president of the United States -- a position once referred to as being worth less than a warm pitcher of spit.”

McKenna forced a congenial laugh at the old reference because he knew it was all too true. “The weakest defined office in the nation.”

“But since it is an office and that has some power,” joined in Pete Ross. “You will be a statutory member of a number of committees and councils. With a little help here and there, real influence could be yours. Influence is power in Washington. It only takes a little to get a lot.”

McKenna was intrigued. He smiled and sat back. “I’m waiting for the catch. There’s always one in the end.”

Frank Craft nodded. “A price for sure, but nothing too great and not at this time. You have nothing to give. However, in the future there will be an invoice for collection. Pete here knows how it works. It’s working out well for him.”

“Yes, you’re part of the House leadership now aren’t you? I would have expected
that from one of Luthor’s protégés?” McKenna noted the scowl. It was a handy
reminder about the folly of making assumptions in Washington. “But then again I
don’t know much about Lex Luthor. I’m just his vice president.”

“Lex is complex. He won’t give you what you want, William. You’ll have to carve your own niche around here. Craft and his friends can help. I can help, but you have to want our help.”

McKenna hesitated for a second before responding. “Let me think about it.”

“Fair enough,” Craft answered. “However, this is not an open ended invitation. You’ll have to decide soon.”


“I swear, Lois Lane is the fucking Queen Bitch of the Universe!” yelled Philip. “She hates Papa so much that she bad mouths him everywhere!”

“My, oh, my. And I thought I was the one with a rep for having a temper,” Ben
clucked without looking up from his game controller. Hamilton was beside him,
equally engrossed. Their hands were moving almost too fast to see. “Dude, if Dad or Pop heard you use that kind of language, you’d be grounded in nothing flat.” He chuckled. “And if Grandpa Lionel heard you, you’d be disinherited, so cuss away! More cash for me!”

Philip regained control of his temper and gathered up the newspaper he’d scattered in his rare fit of pique. “I have a stratospheric IQ and my language skills make your pitiful vocabulary sound positively pre-pubescent, Bennett. If I want to pepper my dialogue with a few well-chosen invectives, I think I’ve earned that right.”

“Ooh, la-di-dah. Listen to the Lord Marshal.”

“You’re just jealous.” One of the throw pillows on the floor in front of the game
console suddenly took flight and smacked Ben in the face. “Twerp.”

The interruption was enough to give Hamilton the edge he needed. “Gotcha! That’s three games to zip!”

“SON OF A BITCH!” yelled Ben, hurling the pillow in Philip’s direction. “No fair. Philip distracted me!”

Hamilton giggled and slapped Ben’s leg. “Don’t sweat it, Twerp. You’d have lost even without Philip’s Magical Missile Launch. My superior reflexes are no match for yours.”

“Screw you,” Ben said grumpily, his glare sweeping both his older brothers.

Philip arched an imperious eyebrow at Hamilton. “Now that was an intelligent,
delightfully-crafted rejoinder, wouldn’t you agree, Ham-old-boy.”

“Oh, indubitably.” Hamilton threw an expansive arm over Ben’s slumped shoulders. “I wouldn’t be surprised if any minute now cousin Betsy calls up and says King Charles wants our little brother to be Britain’s new poet laureate.”

“Double screw you.”

“And the rhetoric just keeps flowing!” Philip exclaimed.

Ben came up off the sofa in fighting form. “Okay, that’s it! Down to the gym. I
challenge both of you!”

Wes walked in jamming to an otherwise unheard song playing in his earbud. “Ben,
seriously, you are ruining my groove. Chill out, Dude.”

“Glad you’re here, Bro. You’re just in time to help me give Master Phil here a good thrashing.”

Wes flopped over the arm of an overstuffed chair. “Don’t sweat it, Bro. Philip’s going to get his comeuppance without any help from either one of us.”

Philip put down his newspaper. “What does that mean?”

He wiggled his fair eyebrows. “As I was leaving the Music Room I saw Dad and Papa arguing. Your name was mentioned more than once before Pop heard me breathing and threw me out. Man, it sucks having Superman for a dad sometimes.”

Philip frowned. “My name? What did I do?”

“Ohhh, Mr. Perfect is in trouble. The world is ending.” Another pillow went sailing in Ben’s direction, but he smacked it away. “Don’t worry, man. You can’t have done anything wrong because you never do anything wrong. Well. You did call Lois Lane a bitch—“

“An effing bitch” Hamilton reminded him.

“Yeah. An effing bitch, but that doesn’t count.”

Wes removed his earbud and feigned astonishment. “Philip used the ‘f’ word? No
wonder our dads are pissed. The sky may open up and swallow us whole at any
minute.”

“Oh, shut up,” Philip groused. “This is serious.”

Hamilton rolled his eyes. “Whoa, Philip. Put on the brakes. Before you start worrying yourself into an ulcer, why don’t you ask Dad?”

“Good advice, Hamilton,” Clark said cheerfully as he strolled into the game room.
“Asking would be the right course of action, but in this case we’ll spare him the
trouble. Philip, you’re going with your dad and father to Metropolis next week to
attend the Minerva Board meeting and then a session of the LFK Board of
Governors.”

Philip stood. “Me, sir?”

“Yes, you, sir.” Lex and Whitney joined them. “Your Pop hates the meetings, so
you’re going to take his place among the Governors.”

“You’ll only be a visitor at the Board meeting, of course,” Whit added.

Lex sat down next to Hamilton. “We figured you’d be bored to death and might blow up the meeting rooms, Hamilton. As for you two, I don’t think you’re old enough to want to deal with these issues yet.”

“Damned right,” muttered Ben which earned him a glare from Clark.

Lex chuckled. “A number of things need to be decided at these two meetings and I want Philip to hear the Minerva meeting and to participate in the LFK one.”

Wes clapped Philip on his back. “Better you than me, bud.”

Philip’s eyes were wide as he hugged Lex. “This is great! Can’t wait to actually see what it’s like. Will grandpa be attending?”

Lex chuckled again. “Yes, he will be there and yes, you can sit next to him. Just
remember that you’re not a corporate raider yet and that you have no vote in either setting.”

Whitney ruffled Wes’ hair and then headed back towards the door. “Come on guys, its dinner time.” Everyone not already standing scrambled up and started toward the door.

Clark stopped Philip by dropping a hand on his shoulder. “And we’ll deal with the ‘f’ word later.”

Jan 13
New York

SHIELD Headquarters was in chaos as alarms blared and lights flashed. “THREAT
DETECTION – THREAT DETECTION – OMEGA RED – THREAT DETECTION”

“Shut that damned thing off,” yelled General Ross. “Where is the creature located and can we get a team there to capture him?”

“Sir, Omega Red is in Hungry and moving toward the Ukrainian-Romanian border.
NATO troops have engaged, but failed to apprehend him.” A map was placed on one of the central monitors. “He will reach the border in one hour.”

“Fury, this is Ross, redeploy your forced to stop Omega Red. Try not to break
containment on Doom, but for now Red is the primary threat.”

Gen. Fury appeared on one of the screens and nodded. “Understood. Can I recall the Ultimates for this job?”

“Negative. The Ultimates will remain stateside until after the Inauguration. Ross
out.”

Washington

President Trask sat behind his desk in the Oval Office and sighed. “Can we make it two more weeks without the world blowing up? Because my legacy rests on the idea that we survived my term. Hell can swallow the planet after Luthor takes office for all I care, because then he’ll get the blame!”

Secretary Vance shrugged. “SHIELD is dealing with the Omega Red situation so we don’t have to worry about that. And I’m confident that all parts of Operation Wide-Awake have been hidden from the incoming Administration.”

Trask nodded and then reached into his desk to pull out a small folder. He handed the contents of that folder to Gabriel Vance. “Send that to New York and make sure it is hand delivered to Gyrich. It’s an Executive Order with a Finding that automatically places Space Command’s Orbital Defense Platforms under SHIELD’s operational control in an emergency.”

“Define emergency?” queried Vance.

“The Finding defines an emergency as anything the SHIELD Director says is an
emergency. The National Security Council then has seventy two hours to
retroactively confirm the Director’s use of the OPDs.” Trask tapped his desk. “It’s the best I can do to give SHIELD the authority to act that Luthor might be unlikely to authorize.”

“Does Valerie Cooper know about this? She’s moving from your White House to
Luthor’s Defense Department.”

Trask smiled. “I made sure that one of her deputies handled this very quietly. I don’t want Luthor catching wind of this and yanking this authority away.”

“Wise. Mr. President, I must say that it is the official estimate of the Defense
Intelligence Agency that Russia has invaded Kazakhstan. Omega Red
notwithstanding, we believe that this constitutes a threat to planetary stability of an immediate nature.”

Trask pressed a button on his phone. “Mrs. Cotton, please contact the Transition Office and inform Mr. Luthor that I need to see him. It is a matter of some urgency.” He killed the intercom switch. Turning to Vance, he frowned. “Bring me the plans you have to deal with this.”

“Sir, you should know that CIA and the Europeans don’t necessarily agree with DIA’s conclusions. I stand by them though. I think it’s definitive that Russia is making a power play.”


Lex walked into the Oval Office with Nancy McNally and Gregory Vandeaver following him. “Mr. President,” said Lex in greeting Winston Trask.

“Mr. Luthor, Dr. McNally, Mr. Vandeaver, thank you for coming. Dr. Cooper will join us in a moment. I thought you should all be brought up to speed on the latest developments in Kazakhstan.”

“Which are?” asked Dr. McNally. At that moment Dr. Valerie Cooper walked in
frowning.

“Hello everyone, sorry I’m late. I can answer your question, Nancy. DIA thinks that Russia invaded Kazakhstan and wants to respond to this change in the status quo. The problem is that CIA and our Allies are not convinced this is true. CIA thinks that it might be an invasion of convenience, but not a real military incursion.”

“I summoned you here because my response is dependent on the Defense
Department’s plans for this contingency.”

Lex shook his head. “It would be a mistake to start moving troops half way around the world before you have everyone on the same page. The news networks are covering the threat of the renegade Omega Red and the threat of such mad Meta humans. Kazakhstan is a mess, but I will not be pushed into confrontation with Russia based only on the DIA assessment.”

“Some things can’t wait two weeks, Luthor,” countered Trask.

“Some things should have been handled a month ago, Winston,” answered Lex. “Be warned that this course of action will be publicly opposed by me and by the Senate. And if Russia and the United States come to blows in Central Asia, it will be referred to as Trask’s War.”

Valerie cleared her throat. “There are diplomatic options still on the table; we can use those while the last weeks of this Administration wind down. At least then all avenues of pursuit are still open. That does mean that the DCM in Moscow needs to be brought up to speed.”

Nancy nodded. “I know the Russian Foreign Minister and can place a private call to him. Much of this needs to be done in a low key manor.”

Trask stood up. “This is a bad idea, but I’m the lame duck. I’ll have Greg Dixon see if he can’t get some Europeans to talk to Moscow about having so many troops in Kazakhstan right now.”

Lex nodded. “Thank you and thank you for informing us of these developments.”
They exchanged a handshake and Lex departed. He waited to say anything until he and his team were back in the limo. “Nancy, make sure that Trask doesn’t do
anything to make things difficult for us. Gregory, call Valerie later and see what else she thinks. She’s in a rare position to be moving from the outgoing to incoming Administrations.”

“Yes, sir” were the responses to his directive. Lex stared ahead for a moment and then turned back to Vandeaver. “Inform Kane Miller as well, he’s going to have a crisis on his hands if this isn’t handled right.”

Jan 15
Baia Mare, Romania

Explosions rocked the hillside, throwing debris high in the air. “This is Trevor, watch where you drop those damned bombs! My men are on the ground here!” Lt. Col. Steve Trevor III was commanding the SHIELD ground assault to capture or kill Omega Red.

“This is the Luxor Flight Operations, Col. Trevor. We are redirecting aerial fighter
protection. However, we’ve been informed that if Omega Red heads into the city we cannot provide ordinance support.”

“Shit!” Trevor said to no one. He hit his comm link. “This is Trevor, keep Red from reaching that town or else it will be a long fucking night!” Another explosion rocked the hillside. “The hell was that?”

A corporal came running up. His face was covered in dirt and sweat. “Sir, the front lines are now using anti-tank weapons to try to bring down Omega Red.”

Trevor nodded and moved toward a waiting armored Hummer to take him closer to the engagement. A quick directive had more of his crack troops move in with the newer ‘heavier’ weapons that Dr. Raven Darkholm had designed for SHIELD. Three high velocity concussion grenades were launched and the resulting blast deafened everyone within several hundred feet of the explosion. Trevor was trying to reestablish communications and clear his head at the same time.

A sergeant ran up and banged on his window. Trevor got out of his armored
transport in time to avoid it getting smashed by an enraged Meta Human. The steel-looking skin of Omega Red was scorched and parts of it were missing. One of his tentacles was damaged and hanging limp on the ground. Col. Trevor shoved the sergeant away as Red threw a truck in Steve’s direction.

Seconds later, two energy blasts nailed Omega Red from the side and sent him
tumbling into a burning vehicle. Three more concussion grenades went screaming
into the wreckage, sending debris exploding in all directions. Trevor was not ready and again his head was ringing from the effects. He looked out in time to see two of the new plasma rifles also pummeling what was left of the wreckage.

A major came running up to Trevor as well as a medic. Something was placed under his nose and Steve realized he was bleeding. The major was giving a report, but Steve couldn’t hear a word of it. Finally the officer took a scrap of paper from his pocket and scribbled, ‘Got him. Alive, but knocked out.’ Trevor nodded and the major rushed away.


Steve woke up in the infirmary and groaned as he tried to sit up.

“Not so fast there, Colonel.”

It took a moment for Steve to focus on the owner of the voice, but when he did, he blushed. “General Fury, what brings you here?”

“Making sure that you will recover your hearing and full brain capacity. We had a lot of casualties because of the multitude of concussion grenades. I can’t have one of my best men down at the same time.’ The general stood up and motioned for the nurse to leave the Infirmary. “We caught the son of a bitch and I’m going to have Moondragon probe his mind in a few days.”

Steve shook his head and trued to stand, but General Fury’s hand prevented him
from moving much. “I should help.”

“You’re lucky you can remember the English language right now, Steve. You are on bed rest for the next week and then we’ll see about returning you to active duty. I’m going to allow you to read mission briefings, but you are stay in bed and do as the doctors’ order. Do you understand soldier?”

“Yes, sir!”

Jan 18
Washington

Katherine Tyers tried to calm the Press Corp, but to no avail. Gregory Vandeaver and Mike Ross had warned her it was going to be a rough news day. Secretary of State -Designee Kane Miller had announced that he was appointing Dr. Douglas Ramsey to be Undersecretary of State for Political Affairs. The reason for the firestorm was that Dr. Ramsey was a mutant. His powers though were one of the most practical, if unspectacular, gifts ever. Douglas Ramsey was a linguist who could comprehend any language, written or spoken, and speak any language fluently. He was a natural diplomat and Kane Miller wanted him in the State Department.

“Does President-elect Luthor expect to have issues with Dr. Ramsey’s appointment,” shouted Lois Lane.

“As I said at the beginning, Dr. Miller asked the president-elect about Dr. Ramsey
and it was agreed that he was qualified for the position because of his graduate
work, his background in diplomacy, and his linguistic skills. Dr. Miller is of the
opinion that a person who can converse fluently with anyone on the planet might be useful in the Diplomatic Corps.”

The edge of mild sarcasm in her voice seemed lost on the press corp. “What about nations that don’t like mutants? Isn’t having a senior diplomat who is a mutant going to be a problem?” called out Trish Tilby.

“Trish, the U.S. diplomatic corps has been dealing with societal prejudices against every imaginable minority for decades. This is no different than nations who oppress women having to deal with the very capable females who have served as Secretary of State. They will have to deal with it.” Katherine took a deep breath before continuing. “There will always be people who aren’t happy with something a government does. On this issue, President-elect Luthor knew there would be a level of discord, but he campaigned against mutant discrimination and is putting that practice into policy.”

“Where is Lex Luthor today? The Secret Service has his schedule marked, personal?”

“He’s in Metropolis for meetings, using the time between elected offices to get his personal affairs in order.” Katherine smiled and pointed to another reporter. The questions on mutants and Doug Ramsey kept flying.

Metropolis

The limo ride from the family’s private airport to downtown Metropolis was never
very long. This time the motorcade whizzed by at top speed. Philip leaned back and listened as the adults chatted. Bruce had hitched a ride with them so he was in the limo as well. Philip knew Warren Worthington was meeting them here as was Tony Stark. Uncles Jeff and Nick were there along with his Dad, Papa, and Grandfather. “I thought you resigned your Board seat, Papa. How can you attend this meeting?”

Lionel and Bruce chuckled. Whitney patted Philip’s leg. “We never removed your
father from his seat; we simply placed his vote in absentia. He resigned as Chairman and CEO, but his seat is still there. We just have to move to reopen that seat and your father is on the board again. The fact that he is the largest shareholder helps.”

Lex winked at Philip. “My seat will go in absentia again after this meeting. It is my hope that you will be able to take my seat during the latter half of my presidency.”

“Yes, sir!” Philip couldn’t even begin to hide the smile his Papa’s confidence in him
brought to his face. A sternly cleared throat behind him brought hid down to reality, though, as everyone’s attention turned to Bruce. “Making that known today would be unwise. Whitney’s seat will remain his, but Jeff’s will have to be placed in absentia as well. My seat is being replaced by Lucius Fox from Wayne Industries. There is no way for the family to loose control of the company because of how the shares are held, but the Board is going to be without some of its strongest members. Doing this now places Philip in a tenuous position of having no influence or authority. Best to let these board members think he’s doing some ‘visit you father’s job’ thing. His ability in the future depends on people taking him seriously. Announcing him now weakens him later.”

Lex rubbed his chin and said, “Interesting.”

Lionel moved the discussion forward. “Nick, Tristan, and I will be able to hold the fort or at least move many things to proxy votes,” noted Lionel. “Our proxies still make forty-five percent of the company. Other than Wayne Industries’ five percent, there is no block larger than two percent. We can win almost anything. Though adding Anthony Stark and Warren Worthington to the Board will be a headache.”

Whitney shook his head. “I can still make the most important meetings. I only
resigned from North American Imperial because I sat on most of their committees. Here I’m just a voting member with no direct oversights.”

Philip scratched his head. “Is that the justification for keeping your seat? Seems like politically thin ice to me.”

Lionel laughed again. “Ah my dear boy, you make me proud. It is very strong legal ice, but woefully thin political ice. However, we have to have your dad in his seat. Losing Jeff and Bruce is tough. Tristan, Nicholas, and I can control the Board for the most part, but our power voting block is gone. Until you, your brothers, and cousins are available to join us, our iron control is weakened.”

“We are bringing in Lord Braddock as well,” commented Nick and anticipated Philip’s comment. “Yes, I know – that makes three outsiders we’re bringing in, but they are our friends. There are no openly hostile factions on the Board.”

“At this time,” Bruce noted. “There was never an opportunity to test the efficacy of the Luthor control. Eight solid votes holding a near majority of shares was enough to make anyone wary of confronting the throne. That voting bloc is now five; Tristan, Nick, Lisa, Lionel, and Whitney. And Whitney will be unavailable for lots of meetings, so that bloc is essentially four.”

The motorcade pulled into the underground parking garage of Minerva Plaza. The
Secret Service started opening doors and the party climbed out of the numerous
cars. Justin Daniels ran up and fell into stride next to Lionel. “Sir, the Board is
assembled and the agenda is set. Mr. Fordman – Tristan -- will call the meeting to order. First item on the agenda to be motioned is Senator Luthor’s seat.”

Lionel took the electronic notepad from Justin and signed something. “Make sure that there is an extra seat near me for Philip.” Justin nodded and walked away. Lionel motioned for Philip to walk beside him. “Your presence in this meeting will be unexpected. I know you read the internals for LFK, but Minerva is just as
complicated. We invited Stark, Worthington, and Braddock to the Board for a variety of reasons. We have business arrangements with Worthington and Stark as we do with Wayne. Braddock is your second cousin.”

They paused as they came to the elevator bank. Secret Service agents had the doors to two of the shafts open. Philip climbed into the car with Lionel, Jeff, and Nick. Lionel patted Philip’s shoulder. “As I was saying, your presence today is twofold. One is simply to expose you to your potential future. The other…”

Jeff interrupted and winked at Philip. “The other is to remind the Board members
that there is another generation destined to take the helm of Minerva. Any potential power plays will have that knowledge placed squarely before them. Despite Bruce’s reservations, having you here is a good thing.”

Philip looked at Lionel with a single eyebrow arched. Lionel gave him a subtle nod.
“Plots within plots, my dear boy. You need to learn about this and the sooner, the better. I need your eyes and ears at this meeting; a fresh perspective. You will see things that I’ve long since let fall into the background.”

The doors opened to the lobby of the executive floor. It was ornate with an open three floor plan. His father and dad were greeting people. Bruce was chatting with Lord Braddock. Philip turned when a hand grasped his shoulder. He smiled at Tony Stark. “Hello, Mr. Stark.”

“Greetings, Philip. I must say I’m shocked to see you here. I imagine I won’t be the only one.” He winked at the teenager. “Is it only you or will your brothers be joining you?”

Philip started to tell the truth – that his brothers would rather eat Peruvian dung
worms than deal with anything related to business, but then he recalled his reason for being here. “My brothers and I didn’t want to overwhelm the board,” he said confidentially. “So we flipped a coin and I won.”

Tony laughed. “Let’s hope you still feel like the winner after you’ve sat through all the boring reports that have to be ploughed through at a board meeting.”

He moved on and Lionel clapped a hand on Philip’s shoulder. “Well played, my boy,” he intoned, sotto voce. “Very well played indeed.”

Lionel moved on and Philip followed him as everyone began taking their seats. I can do this, he thought, beginning his study of the room like a soldier surveying the battlefield. I can play this game and be everything Grandfather needs me to be.

From anyone else, the sentiment might have sounded like pure unadulterated ego, but they didn’t call Philip ‘The General’ for nothing.

Washington

Hamilton joined Ben and Wes at their usual table in the cafeteria. The salad on
Hamilton’s tray held little appeal for him. “Man, now I wish I had gone with Philip.
Not much fun here without him.”

Ben punched Hamilton in his shoulder lightly. “You two are going to go to different colleges in a few months -- what are you going to do without your wingman then?”

Hamilton’s ongoing panic over the issue surfaced for a moment. Philip was headed for Harvard, but the clear choice for Hamilton was M.I.T. “Dad’s going to have to get us a place convenient to both campuses. That’s all there is to it.”

Wes started laughing at Hamilton’s obvious insecurity over the idea of being
separated from his twin, but Ben frowned at him. “What are you laughing at? Don’t even think about trying to go to a college where I can’t be close. Even when I get married you had better be real close!”

Wes stopped laughing and gave Ben a shoulder squeeze. “Yeah, okay, I’m sorry for laughing Hamilton. I didn’t think about it from that perspective. I forget that we need each other close.”

Josh Wheaton and Jake Spencer sat down next the guys and smiled. The rest of their friends drifted in as they got their lunches. Josh smiled ran a hand through his dark hair. “So where is Prince Philip today? Jake was sad all day without his favorite crush to stare at in Philosophy.”

Jake shot Josh the finger. “Asshole! Where is Phil anyway?”

“He’s in Metropolis, loverboy,” answered Ben. “I have to warn you though; Philip is head over heels for Franklin Richards. It’s like love or something disgusting like
that.”

Josh frowned. “Are you disgusted because Philip’s gay?”

Ben broke out laughing. It took a moment for him to catch his breath. “No way! It’s disgusting the way they act around each other. Took forever for them to move to where they are and now…UGH!”

The guys laughed and Jake sighed. “I should’ve known that a guy like Philip would be taken. Mr. Perfect is always unavailable.”

Hamilton consoled Jake with a pat on the arm. “I’d help you get my brother except I really like Franklin. And trust me when I tell you, Philip is not perfect.”

Metropolis

Seventeen men and women made up the Board of Directors for the world’s
wealthiest corporation. Those were the voting members and there were, at any given time, up to a dozen advisory members with no voting rights. The Boardroom was full as everyone who could attend this meeting, was in attendance. Philip shook the hands of everyone he met, very few for the first time. Executives from Minerva were also in attendance, but some were not even advisory members; they simply had items to present on the agenda.

Philip took the seat behind and between his father and grandfather. Lex was sitting at the head of the conference table. Lionel was on his left and Tristan on his right. The rest of the voting members took seats wherever they wished. None of them were surprised to see Lex, but Philip knew they were very surprised to see him.

Lionel leaned back and Philip leaned closer. “Philip, be sure to pay attention to body language and nonverbal communication. I want to hear you and your Dad compare notes after the meeting.” Lionel patted Philip’s shoulder before turning his attention back to the table.

Tristan stood up. “For one session only, Alexander Luthor’s seat will not be in
absentia
. He is the Senior Chairman Emeritus and as such will chair this meeting. So moved.”

Bruce raised a hand and said quickly, “Seconded.”

A vote was quickly taken and Lex assumed control of the meeting. “The second item on the agenda is placing Jefferson Fordman’s seat in absentia until such time as he reclaims it. Wayne Enterprises is replacing Mr. Wayne with Lucius Fox. We welcome Lord Brian Braddock to this Board…”

Philip stopped listening to his father and started looking at the men and women in the room. He knew all of the actual board members and all but three of the advisory members. He was still a bit shocked that Bill Ross was not listed as a key ally on the Board. The Ross family was still close to his, but he was puzzled.

“We will set the dividend payment at $1.70 a share,” Tristan said as he read off his notes. “At the same time we’ll be taking a one-time charge of fifty cents a share for internal restructuring costs and IRS changes for retirement plans. By taking this action now, we will save in excess of one hundred billion dollars over the next four years.”

Philip split his attention between what his uncle was saying and how the people in the room reacted. ‘We hold tens of millions of shares in Minerva, which is going to add up for us quickly.’ That thought did not linger long as he noted frowns on the faces of some of the directors. He knew how many of them were shareholders, but none of them had nearly the number of shares that his family held. Still, he was struck by a few subtle indications of hostility as his Uncle Jeff started talking about changing the revenue streams from the new fusion reactors that were being built to provide electrical power for North America. Jeff wanted to spin them off and away from Minerva as soon as possible. The new company would issue stock in its own name and stand independent of Minerva.

“We would lose billions off the R&D as well as the construction. That company could never repay that amount of money to us!” shouted James Beck. His seat represented the interests of the institutional investors from Wall Street. Even the combined power of Wall Street could not net a working plurality. The major Investment Banks, Insurance Companies, and Brokerage Houses barely held twenty percent of Minerva’s stock. Split between fifteen different companies, that meant it had taken massive coordination to get the one seat that Beck held.

“We are in the envious but admittedly precarious position of moving the nation to a more secure power supply,” responded Lex. “Without this divestiture, Minerva will be generating a revenue stream that competes directly with all Public Utilities. Think about how that will play when I am in the White House. People will be paying the company founded by the President of the United States for their power! Minerva must spin off this subsidiary - at least on paper. The Federal Energy Regulatory Commission is neutral on this issue, but I can tell you that the States aren’t happy.”

The room had been full of whispers during Beck’s outburst, but slowly quieted as Lex answered. Now silence had the floor. Philip glanced around the room and wished he dared try to read the minds of the people in the room. A small laugh shattered the silence and Philip was shocked to see that it was James Beck.

“We spin it off and buy back the stock?” he asked.

Lionel answered, “No, we announce the intention of divesting and begin the process, but it will remain a partially spun off subsidiary. The power contracts will be processed as they normally would and this Board will provide little direct oversight.”

“So it remains in Minerva’s hand, but has the illusion of independence?” Tony Stark inquired.

Tristan nodded. “We’ve sunk over thirty billion into this project and we are going to recover our expenditures. We might have to wait though before building a plant in Europe.”

Philip shifted again and schooled his features into the neutral mask his father and
grandfather taught him. Everything at the Board seemed weird to him. The way they talked to his family was different than he’d expected, but he could not place his finger on why. The realization of just how much wealth flowed from Minerva into his family coffers made his head spin. ‘And to think that Minerva is only one leg of the tripod of LFK wealth. We’re fucking loaded!

What impressed him about that, of course, was what it meant in terms of power, not the cash.

Jan 19
Sydney

Damien laughed as he read the news first thing in the morning. Victoria and Varian stared at him, but Damien continued to laugh. Finally he wiped away a few tears and sighed. “It appears as though Lex Luthor has decided to commit political suicide before he’s even in office.” He folded the paper and handed it to his son. “He’s all but driving the opposition into fits of hysteria. He’s making a mutant named Doug Ramsey a sub-cabinet member. In the State Department no less!”

Varian looked up and smiled. “Dr. Essex or Dr. Corbeau would comment about
opportunity knocking. Though I fail to see how this does anything to benefit us.”

Victoria rolled her eyes. “My darling son, things have been in motion since before
you were born. You are part of plans that have been brewing since the beginning of the century. Though revenge has been brewing long before that. “ She gave Damien a cold look as she ruffled Varian’s long locks. “However, most plots involve your own moves and change according to the actions of your enemy.”

“And this information will be used to adjust our plans, son. It is all a matter of how to do so.” Damien chuckled and shook his head. “I think I know a way to exploit this and make it huge!”

Jan 22
Astana, Kazakhstan


Gen. Pierre Hardcastle looked around at the bombed out city and spat, disgusted at the situation. “Yes, Mr. Director, I’ll see to it that we have Intel on Kazakhstan,” he muttered, mimicking himself. “Didn’t fucking mean I wanted to come to this shit hole in person.” He had two battalions on the ground with him. The carrier was over Western China. Still it would take the fighters a few minutes to provide aerial support if the Russians didn’t take kindly to SHIELD being on the ground.

“Sir, negative on the reports that Magneto was spotted in the area. Must have been a computer malfunction.”

Hardcastle scowled, but nodded. “Expand the search. I want to be certain that the bastard isn’t close,” he commanded, waiving off the communications officer. He felt not a speck of guilt about sending the man on a wild goose chase. The computer “intel” that Magneto was in the area was a fiction created to justify their presence to the Russians. 'It’s well within our charter to be here if we have a lead on Magneto,’ he rationalized as he continued his quiet walk.

A major walked up and gave him a small pocket PC. “Sir, there is heavy biometric
radiation in several places. We can’t say for certain whether it was Magneto, but
there was serious mutant activity of some sort here.”

“Fuck!” Hardcastle stormed towards the communications area. “Contact Luxor and have another survey team sent down to Almaty too for additional tests. I want to know what the hell is going on!”

Groom Lake, Nevada

Henry Gyrich was a man who was not used to being in the dark. He’d been the
National Security Advisor for years with the highest clearance in the government. He knew things that were known to less than a handful of people. He was the Director of SHIELD and with that came a whole new level of secrets. But now he was in the dark and it didn’t suit him well. Not at all.

He followed his guide down a labyrinth of corridors and descending levels under the desert. “How far are you going, major?”

“Sir, the containment facility is fifteen levels down and more than two miles in
distance from the main elevator shaft to the surface. Every precaution we could take, we’ve taken.”

“Precaution for what?” demanded Gyrich.

“You have to see it to believe it.”

They came to the end of a ramped corridor. The major swiped a key card through a reader, then entered a code on the adjacent panel. Slowly a huge vault door was revealed as it pulled back. Lights flickers on inside the room and Gyrich again followed his guide. Inside was a room sealed in transparent steel. Gyrich’s heart rate nearly doubled when he saw what was in there? “The Hell is that?!”

The major hit a button on a command console and a close up image came up. “That sir, is a true blue space alien. We’ve no idea where he came from, but he’s alive and in stasis. He’ll be SHIELD’s problem from now on.”

Gyrich stared at the blue alien with a long face and a humanoid build. He arms were shackled above his head and his feet encased in some device. “I want his file before I leave. I want to know what you know!”

Washington

Dinner was held in the formal dining room on the first floor for a change instead of the smaller dining room on the second. Guests from across the country had come in for the long Martin Luthor Day weekend and for the Inauguration the following morning.

Numerous boxes and personal items were being assembled for transport to the
White House in the morning. Now, many guests were gathering, glad that the day they’d fought hard for was finally here.

Whitney sighed and smiled at the antics of his extended family. His niece was flirting as always with Bruce’s adopted son. His brother-in-law was trying to one up Peter, and then there were his own sons. The suits for the swearing in ceremony were already laid out and the tuxedos for the balls were hanging in the closets. Everything appeared ready for the major changes coming the following day, but as an Empath, Whitney knew that anxiety was running high in the house. ‘So much will change at noon tomorrow. Everything will change.

Clark walked up and slid a comforting arm around Whitney’s waist. “You are
worrying enough for all of us. Come and join us for our last night of freedom for at least four years.”

Whitney chuckled. “How can I resist such a reassuring invitation?”

Clark grinned and pressed a lingering, reassuring kiss to his lover’s lips. “Some
things won’t ever change,” he promised. “Come on.”

Clark led Whitney to the third floor den where friends and family were gathered. The teenagers were visible in the second floor playroom, but it also gave them the privacy to have fun. The future Secretary of the Treasury was busy chatting with the future president. It was a normal scene except for the undercurrent of nervous tension that thrummed through Whitney like the plucked strings of a guitar. The two of them moved to sit near Tony Stark and Janet Van Dyne.

Janet leaned over and chuckled lightly. “So is anyone going to get any sleep
tonight?”

Clark shrugged. “The President-elect and First Gentleman are going to Blair House in a few hours and Lex learned how to sleep anywhere thanks to his campaign.”


Franklin shifted and would not sit still. Ben finally had enough. “Dude, do you have ants in your pants or what?”

Blushing, Franklin stammered, “Getting nervous about tomorrow. Katherine Tyers
told me I’m expected to dance with Philip at the Palladium Ball.”

“Yeah well, get over it and sit still,” groused Ben. “We are all going to be on display tomorrow. At least we don’t have to go to Blair House tonight.”

“The bright side is we don’t have school tomorrow or Tuesday,” added Wes. “We can have all the fun we want at the Palladium!”

Zach cleared his throat behind his nephews and tapped Wes on the shoulder. “My brother has already threatened me and Peter with permanent body damage if you guys so much as think about drinking.” He reached over and patted Ben’s head. “So kill all thoughts of getting drunk and accept that your total alcohol consumption will be the champagne toast when your father arrives at your ball.”

Dick was laughing on another couch when a pillow went flying at his head. Zach
pointed and him. “Bruce told me the same rules apply to you as well.”

“Well shit!” cursed Ben and Dick at the same time.

Philip chuckled and pulled Franklin to his feet. “Don’t worry about the dancing; they will be watching me or them, but you will simply be photographed. Welcome to my world.”

Franklin rolled his eyes, “Hel-lo!” He pointed to his own chest. “Son of two members of the Fantastic Four and everyone thinks I’m a mutant. I think I’m already a charter member of your world.”

“Oh, yeah.” Philip blushed and then kissed Franklin quickly. “Sorry.” A pillow went
flying at his head. “BEN!”

Ben shrugged and pointed at Dick. Dick tried to look innocent, but failed. Philip
glared for a moment and Franklin picked up the pillow and smacked Ben in the head. “That is for thinking about hitting me with the pillow.”

“I was not…” the protest died on his lips has Franklin tapped his temple. Ben sighed. “Yeah, okay, but you aren’t supposed to read people’s minds.”

Franklin laughed. “I didn’t have to. I know you.”

Ben grumbled, but was quiet. Peter walked over and pulled Ben into a full hug.
“Everyone is always picking on you.”

“Yeah,” agreed Ben. “They don’t know perfection when they see it.”

Elsa rolled her eyes and asked Hamilton, “How do you live with him?”

Hamilton shrugged. “We can’t kill him so we cope.”


Monday, January 23
Inauguration Day

Winter was in full swing as Lex left Blair House with Whitney at his side. It was clear, but very cold: Perfect weather for the start of a new era in American politics. The Secret Service was out in full force as Lex was set to become the 46th President of the United States. His own aides were waiting for him as he walked down the covered steps to have a quick breakfast with Winston Trask and then they would head to the Capitol for Lex’s taking the Oath of Office.

//A penny for your thoughts?// Whitney asked as they climbed in the back of the limo for the very short trip over to the White House. //Everything will be fine.//

Lex gave him a small smile and nodded. “This is everything and nothing like I expected. The culmination of my father’s dreams and my own ambition to reach this one point and suddenly I’m finding I can’t savor the moment.”

“Perhaps psychology would have been a better use of my talents instead of finance,” quipped Whitney while intertwining his fingers with Lex’s. “This was never a dream of mine, not even a blip on the radar. I’m just along for the ride.” He smiled and squeezed Lex’s hand. “And what a ride it is. Victory at your age is an incredible achievement. Tonight when we are dancing at a ball, take the time to enjoy this one moment. The world will be there tomorrow. Russia and Kazakhstan will wait for a few hours. This is your moment, my love. Enjoy it.”


Clark guided his sons down the front steps and into the limos that were flanked by the family’s Secret Service detail. Clark nodded at the lead agent. “Has Lex left for the Capitol yet?”

“No sir, the President and President-elect are just now leaving the Oval.” Clark nodded and continued down the steps. Part of the family was already at the Capitol. Nick and Jeff had gone to witness William McKenna being sworn in as Vice President. Bruce came down the steps with Betsy being trailed by other members of the Household. The boys came down last and Clark’s heart stopped for a split second. Philip and Hamilton looked stunningly mature in their tailored suits. Their features were slightly hidden by sunglasses, but they radiated maturity. Their younger brothers, for all their lack of that maturity, still gave off a sense of power that made Clark swallow hard. ‘God, this is happening too soon. They aren’t ready for this!

The cold whipped through the front courtyard prompting the boys to pull their loose overcoats tighter. Lionel beckoned the boys to hurry and the personal aides to the boys pointed them to the right car. The motorcade was going to be several cars long with all the family members and dignitaries staying at the Resort.

Clark climbed into the lead limo with Lionel, Katlan, Anne, Lucas, and Martha. The second car had Tristan, Lisa, Sebastian, Stephanie, and Michele. The third held the boys, Zach, Peter, and Franklin. The fourth car was carrying Bruce, Dick, the Richards, Elsa, and Betsy. And those were just the actual household members and their guests, not the supporting staff. Justin and the Aides-de-Camp were riding in armored Hummers. Clark waited for the police escort to get moving to relax.

“Son, you are too stressed. Relax, everything will be okay today,” said Martha as she patted her son’s hand. “The boys look fantastic.”

Anne nodded. “They are so big. I’d say they were mature, but Ben and Wes were having another play swordfight in the Den this morning. I’m glad they are still kids at heart. So much is expected of them.”

“As Lex said, ‘To those that are given much; much is expected.’ They will be fine.” Lionel smiled. “Though I’d be happier if they listened to Philip more often.”

“Siblings don’t always listen to each other out of rivalry sometimes,” mentioned Anne. “Still the boys do very well with each other. Besides, Ben is good for Philip. He can’t get his way in everything.” Her eyes twinkled as she said that.

The motorcade slowed they approached the Capitol. Clark got out first and moved up the steps, then waited for the rest of the family to exit their vehicles so they could enter the grand building together. A State Department Protocol Officer met him at the top of the stairs.

“Dr. Kent, if you and your sons will follow me first, another officer will lead the rest your entourage to the main stage for the ceremony. The President Elect and First Gentleman will meet you in the Rotunda. The Greeting Committees of the House and Senate are also there.”

Clark shook his head slowly and motioned for the guys to hurry up. “Can we skip the Rotunda part and go right to the main platform?”

“Sorry sir, the President’s immediate family comes in after he walks out. There is limited space and it sets up a better photo op as well.”

Philip walked up with his sibs in tow. They started walking down the main hall towards the Rotunda. Hamilton and Ben were whispering softly while Wes moved up next to him. “Papa is about to be President. Hard to believe.”

“Yeah and he’ll have his hands full. We need to be sure not to add to his worries.” Philip patted his brother’s shoulder. “How come you didn’t invite Kyle to be your date? I mean not like ‘date’ date, but as someone to hang with tonight?”

“You’re asking me this now? Philip your timing is terrible!” Wes avoided the question and gave a small wave as his father and dad appeared in the Rotunda. “Look at all these people. I hope we don’t get introduced because I’ll never remember all their names.”

Ben came up and whispered in his twin’s ear, “Don’t worry about it. They think we are dumb kids. They don’t take us seriously and Grandpa Lionel always says that is a huge strategic mistake.”

“I believe that my days on this Earth are now numbered!” Lionel said with a laugh. “I have been quoted by Bennett Andrew Luthor-Fordman-Kent. He is correct though, Weston; they will see you as only children, even those who have met you a few times. You should learn from Philip’s example how to use that to the family’s advantage.”

Ben rolled his eyes, but Wes gave a pious, “Yes, sir. We always strive to learn from the example Philip sets.”

Lionel’s mild frown suggested that he didn’t know whether to take Wes seriously or not, but applause from the huge crowd gathered in front of the Capitol made conversation difficult. Lionel patted Philip’s back as he and the rest of the Household went to take their places outside. The boys waited as the Members of Congress went out to their places as well. Whitney and Clark stood on opposite ends of the boys while Lex chatted with the Speaker of the House, Vice President McKenna, and the President Pro Tempore. The Chief Justice was also standing there talking with the Leadership.

The Marine Band struck up ‘God Bless America’ and the Vice President was led outside followed by the Congressional Leadership. Finally Lex went out with the Chief Justice. The First Family followed and took their places a few feet from the ceremony. The band finished playing one song and went into “The Star Bangled Banner” while the party at the podium got fully settled. The opening invocation was said by one the nation’s most prominent Clergymen.

The Chief Justice stood on the right side of the podium and Lex the left. A hush went over the crowd as the Chief Justice told Lex to repeat after him. “I, Alexander Joseph Luthor, do solemnly swear that I will faithfully execute the office of President of the United States, and will to the best of my ability, preserve, protect and defend the Constitution of the United States.”

The Chief Justice shook his hand and the Marine Band struck up “Hail to the Chief” as Lex moved to take the podium. The cheering crowd was partially drowned out by the twenty-one gun salute being delivered. Lex took a deep breath and waved to crowd.

“My Fellow Americans thank you for choosing to chart a new course for this great nation of ours. Today marks the beginning of a new era, an era of dynamic change and a glowing future for all of us.”

“There are challenges a plenty waiting for us to confront and that we will, but we must not give into our fear that we cannot overcome these obstacles. As Franklin Roosevelt told America during the Depression and World War II, the only thing we have to fear is fear itself. That holds true now as it did then.”

“We are a blessed nation. We are blessed with diversity and freedom. One should not hinder the other. It is our differences which makes us so great. We are a nation of immigrants. We all came from someplace else and we now call America home. There have been great periods of intolerance that swept the nation and once again we confront that challenge. This time though it is not xenophobia, racism, or homophobia that we must confront but a fear that anyone might be different.”

“Anyone might be different: it strikes at the very heart of our security. It makes parents worry about children. It makes friends suspicious of each other. Any why? It is fear! We must confront our fear. Mutants are among us, but they are not as pervasive as some fear mongers would have you believe. The scourge of Magneto is a grave threat, but he is only one man. And he is a man, but a man who has an agenda can be a monster as well.”

“We must look to the future, not heavy with worry, but with the knowledge that if we face our fears then the clouds on the horizon signal not a coming storm, but are instead a gentle spring rain. Signs of doom are always there to see for those who would see nothing else! It is here and now that we must turn the tide and confront our demons that would have us turn against one another. Nature is always changing and we must acknowledge that failing to change means that we stagnate and wither.”

“There are more challenges facing us than our fear of our fellow citizens. Change is on the march across the world and it is not all for the better. Energy needs will continue to confront us as we move forward and as much as we change, we are still dependent on energy for our lifestyle. But it is the push by some nations seeking to reclaim an Imperial past that has us worried. Domination by one country over another by force is wrong and this government will not stand for it. Freedom must shine where it can. The Right of Self Determination cannot be denied. Great Powers are seeking to play the game that led to the First World War”

“There will be challenges ahead of us, but we will succeed because we are Americans. We are optimistic by nature. There is nothing so great that we can’t meet it and move on to different challenges. We are Americans. We believe that we can do anything we try. We are Americans; we come from across the world. We must be an example for the world in dealing with energy issues, mutant rights, and with global climate change.”

“This is a promise; my government will seek solutions rather than play politics as usual. There are too many issues which require attention to try to play the blame game. Time is short, but we can meet those challenges and prepare for those that we don’t yet know.”

“This is my call for Americans to work for solutions instead of seeking blame. We are the United States of America. United we stand, divided we fall. Our greatness is us, our hope is us, and the future is in our hands. We must seize this opportunity to make a bright future for all of us!”

“Thank you! God Bless you and God Bless America!”

The crowd roared with applause and the band struck up more music as Lex waved to the crowd. The Members of Congress and assembled dignitaries also clapped for the new President. Lex waved and took in his moment of ascension to the most powerful man on the planet.

New York

‘From the weapons design director of DARPA to working for fucking Gyrich at SHIELD! Oh how the mighty have fallen.’ Raven Darkholm clicked off the Inauguration. The commentators were rambling about the Congressional luncheon and then how the Senate would meet to confirm the president’s nominees to the Cabinet. Raven’s friends were on the list for quick voice votes. Val Cooper was about to be Deputy Defense Secretary and Holly Jones was being elevated to FBI Director. ‘I got moved before he came into office for some reason. Gyrich would never let me leave. Something must be going on because the weapons program here is already top notch.

She moved around her lab and lifted various files to see the current assessments of weapon programs. Still her assignment was not without benefit. Her access was not at the highest level, but she was able to spy on some of the things that SHIELD was doing. It had not been a shock when she found out that Scanner was under SHIELD control, but she had no clue where to find him.

One thing that did worry her was a project called Destiny. The overview was vague about experiments with manipulating the future. That frightened her. She knew a mutant Destiny and if SHIELD was after her then things could get very bad. Destiny never saw the true future, but mere probabilities until all the choices ran out and by then any future knowledge was too late to do any good. ‘What good is a five second warning?

However, she knew Gyrich and if he got his hands on Destiny then probabilities would not matter. He would use his knowledge and consequences be damned. ‘Magneto must be warned, but how? If I am compromised then the entire Brotherhood could be discovered!

Los Angeles

As a beggar I come to this man; bereft of all power and a most of all my influence. And lo the mighty shall fall from the heights!’ Frank Craft made his way down the hall of the offices of The Friends of Humanity. The Consortium's influence was gone now that President Trask was out of office. Vice President McKenna had not answered him yet and Luthor’s hold on Congress was greater than Craft could combat at the moment.

But a man with Craft’s connections could still garner a meeting with one such as Creed. He was shown into the office and greeted Creed warmly.

“I must admit, Mr. Craft, that this meeting is unexpected. You and your group were considered to be a rumor on Capitol Hill when I was an aide.” Creed handed Craft a drink and sat back down. “What brings you to Los Angeles?”

“A new Administration is now running Washington. One that is very direct in its views and one that views me as the opposition.” Craft sipped his drink before setting it down. “Your influence is stronger than the Media gives you credit. I have some influence in higher circles than you, but you have the ground muscle.”

“To what end? Do you have an agenda right now that must be done?” Creed shook his head and sighed. “My best political operatives tell me that Vandeaver will be able to get much through the House at Luthor’s behest and Luthor himself can marshal the Senate to his needs at any time. What good is your and my influence?”

Craft sat back and gave a small smile. “Events on the ground drive a presidency. I don’t share your hatred of mutants, but I do think they represent a dangerous and unstable element of society. The mutant killings have subsided, domestically, for the past few months. That could reignite at anytime. Magneto was a plague on Trask’s house and then there is the situation in the Balkans and Kazakhstan. We must be prepared to use these events to hammer Luthor. Power is a zero-sum game, Creed. You either have it or you don’t. A president is never without some power, but it can be reduced and ultimately broken.”

“Why do you care so much?” asked Creed.

“My organization has been protecting America since World War II. Luthor’s views are a threat. Besides, power for power’s sake is not something foreign to you.” Craft smiled broadly. “Luthor threatens stability and that isn’t something I can abide.”

“That I can understand. Mr. Craft, I think we can come to some form of agreement.” Creed lifted is glass in a toast. “Now all we need is an opportunity.”

“We’ll know it when we see it.” Craft saluted Creed and smiled again. “To our new alliance, may it be very fruitful for both of us.”

Washington

Fireworks exploded over the Washington Mall as the Inaugural celebrations continued. Whitney smiled as his sons walked down the steps towards the waiting limos. Their dates had arrived earlier and were also getting in the first caravan to the Palladium Ball. They had all come back to the White House to change and from there head to the various balls for the evening.

Whitney motioned for Eric Abbott to join him. “Have Peter and Zach left the Resort yet?”

Eric talked into his comm link for a moment and then nodded. “Sir, their car is arriving at Palladium now. They will greet the guys there and escort them inside. Jack King is taking overall command there.”

“Did Jack lose a bet or something?” laughed Whitney. “I would not have wished that duty on anyone!”

“He, April, and Kelly had a poker game to see who would get the honor of being senior Aide-de-Camp watching the guys. Jack isn’t a good poker player.”

“We already knew that.” Whitney chuckled as he made sure his sons were presentable. “You guys clean up very well.” He shook the hands of Ben, Wes, and Hamilton’s dates. He gave Franklin a clap on the shoulder, and though his glance swept all of his sons, his gaze ultimately landed on Ben as he said, “We’ll see you in three or so hours. Have fun and make sure you don’t embarrass your father.”

“Why are you looking at me?” Ben exclaimed with more humor than pique. “Grandpa Lionel, Nana, and Granna have all told us the same thing, as did Miss Rachel, and they all said it looking at me! Pay no attention to them,” he told his date as he placed his hand on her lower back and guided her to the waiting car. “I’m not dangerous, just misunderstood.”

“That’s too bad,” Ben’s date said with a flirtatious giggle as she slid into the limo. “I like dangerous.”

“Deadly! I’m positively deadly!” Ben exclaimed, ducking onto the seat beside her. “Just ask any of my body guards and they’ll tell you about the time I…”

Cracking up, Whitney was sorry to see the limo door shut on whatever outrageous whopper Ben was about to tell. “What’s so funny?” Clark asked as he joined Whitney at the curb.

“Two guesses.”

“One will do it. Ben?”

“Yep.” The motorcade left the White House headed for the Palladium Ball Bash. “We need to get moving too if we are going to be at the Prairie Ball on time.”


The evening progressed quickly for the guys once they arrived at the Palladium Ball. Several of America’s biggest bands were playing that night. All of the guys walked in with dates on their arms. Philip led the way with Franklin followed by Hamilton and Ben with their girlfriends. Wes was taking a friend of the family. After them came Elsa on Dick Grayson’s arm. Zach was already at the Ball with his date. Milo’s Revenge finished playing as the opening act. This Ball was the toughest ticket to get and all of the elite youth of America wanted to attend. The Who’s Who of American twenty-somethings were in attendance as were a few teenagers. The youngest in attendance were the Luthor boys.

Philip walked in and started greeting people he’d met over the years at St. Albans as well as those from Washington Society gatherings. He introduced Franklin to them while his brothers did the same with their dates. The music started up again as Frankenstein’s Ghost took the stage and began to let it loose. Pounding drum beats filled the Ballroom while heavy guitar rifts started to get the crowd moving.

“Come on, you promised me a dance,” Franklin tugged on Philip’s jacket lightly. “I know we’re supposed to behave, but we can do a little grinding.”

Philip blushed but followed Franklin to the dance floor. The music took on a heavy dance flavor as the song went on. Soon both of them were moving with the music and dancing closely, oblivious to their surroundings. Every so often a hand would move to touch the other, but they managed to remain separate by the thinnest of margins. The music shifted to one the band’s signature hits and the dance floor grew much more crowded. Philip and Franklin started sweating with all the body heat gathered around them. The press of people made it hard to keep away from each other and it wasn’t long before Philip had to grab Franklin’s hand and pull him off the overcrowded dance floor or get caught doing something that would get them both in a lot of hot water.

Wes was sitting at their table laughing with his friend when Philip and Franklin stumbled back. “Dude, you are so making the national tabloids. You two looked like you were having sex out there.” Wes paused and then started laughing again. “And you look like it now as well.”

His date, Brittany Roberts, laughed as well. “You two are flushed. You look hot and I don’t mean in the sweaty-sense, either!”

Philip was about to say something when Jack and Peter walked up. He opened his mouth, but Jack cut him off. “We can expect dirty dancing photos of you and Franklin to begin appearing on the Internet within the hour –God help us if anyone got streaming video! I’ve already called your uncle to let him know.”

“We didn’t-"

Jack waved him to silence. “You didn’t do anything but have fun, so go back and have some more. Just be ready for the firestorm.”

“Great, Papa is going to kill me,” Philip said, sulking, but he didn’t object when Franklin started rubbing his back. “That feels good.”

Peter cleared his throat. “While I know you two didn’t do anything wrong on the dance floor, I don’t think giving people a show right now is the best thing either.”

Franklin blushed realizing that Philip was practically in his lap. “Sorry,” he muttered.

“Go dance. I see Zach and his date are giving you a run for top honors in the Couple Taking Up the Least Space Contest.”


Jeff took the phone call from Jack King and sighed. ‘At least that Ball is going well. This is our third and I’ve had to stop myself from yawning at all of them.’ He walked over to Clark and Whitney and gave them a quick run-down. Clark rolled his eyes and Whitney chuckled. Sensing the bemusement of his partners, Lex extricated himself from a group of Mid Atlantic supporters and joined his lovers. He was briefed on the events at Palladium.

“Well, I don’t think anyone could say they’re not having fun,” Whitney commented mildly.

“Someone please make sure Philip doesn’t become suicidal over the publicity. If this is the worst thing he ever does in public, then he’ll qualify for sainthood.”

//Oh, this is only the beginning of our tabloid woes,// Clark predicted.

//Just keep Ben away from my prep school press clippings,// Lex advised, smiling as he turned to greet Senator Adkins. “Mary Alice, a pleasure as always.”

“A dance, Mr. President?” she asked, offering her arm. He accepted and they strolled to the dance floor for a mellow tango. “Congratulations again, Lex. You are the right man at the right time. The nation needs you.”

“The nation needs all of us to act as adults and in the nation’s best interest. Though with a significant portion of the nation refusing to deal with me it will be difficult.”

She nodded and led them off the dance floor. “You are the president now and your friends in the Senate will follow your lead. I must remind you, though, that many of us have to defend our seats as well. We can hang with you on a lot of things, but self-preservation is also something we have a deep instinct for.”

He laughed and nodded. “I have that political instinct, as well. If you will excuse me, I have to make another round and then head to another Ball.”

She smiled again and nodded. “Remember that you have friends, but you have to know who they are.”


Solar Storm was in the middle of their set when Lex arrived at the Palladium Ball flanked by his full cadre. The roar of cheers and applause for the new Commander in Chief drown out the band, which quickly wound down, and Lex made his way to the stage where he shook the band members’ hands and greeted other bands that came from back stage to meet the youngest elected president ever. Eventually Lex made his way to the microphone and waved to the crowd. HBO was carrying the Ball live on its primary channel, but went live on several news feeds for his address.

“I thank you all for coming, and heartfelt thanks to the bands playing here. I know my sons have been looking forward to this event for weeks. Even I appreciate Frankenstein’s Ghost for their subversive and lyrical brilliance. Though Solar Storm here is a bit more my speed. They remind me of old school Metallica.”

“This event is to honor and acknowledge the participation of America’s youth in the political process. Voting is a right that should not be taken for granted and it all too often is. End of lecture. Thank you again. As president I will make sure all the voices of America are heard. As the father of four teenagers, your segment will have an equal shot at my ear. Let the fun continue!”

Lex made his way off the stage and onto the crowded floor of the ballroom. He shook hands with many of the college students until Whitney pulled him into a dance.

“We’ve danced at every other Ball and we’ll dance at this one. Maybe we should give the tabloids a picture to make them forget about Philip and Franklin.” Whitney leered and then gave Lex a deep kiss. Whitney pulled back and went back to dancing.

//You are an evil, evil, man!// Lex smiled and then swooped Elsa into a dance. “You’re safer to dance with than your uncle.”

“You’re better than dancing with dad. He’s giving me the third degree about Dick.” She kept dancing while Lex looked at his niece’s ball gown. It was elegant, tight fitting, open backed, single strapped, and expensive. She smiled at him. “Katlan had this designed for me. Said it was very modern American princess-like. I agreed. Mom thought my figure would work with it, so here we are.”

Lex stepped back and noticed that in her high heels, Elsa was nearly his height. “You are a stunningly beautiful woman, my dear.”

She blushed and then moved back to dance. “I think I gave dad a heart attack when he saw this on me earlier. Mom says he was in denial at the other balls, but freaked when he saw me with Dick.”

“He’s a father and if I had a daughter as beautiful and…exuberant as you, I’d act the same way.” He hugged her. “Give him some slack and it will be fine. At least Dick is a good guy and knows the family well. Don’t worry about it too much.”

Ben and his date moved close followed by Hamilton and his date. Lex moved off the floor with Whitney near him and they laughed as their sons all started dancing up a storm to the latest band, Tarot Escapade.

“We have one last ball, Lex. Our Midnight Ball.” Whitney motioned for Philip and smiled as his very sweaty son came up to him. “You look a mess. We’re heading to the final ball. We expect you guys to come to this one, since we’re hosting it. The guests just started arriving, so you can stay here another twenty minutes, then you have to head directly to the Museum. The toast to your father is at midnight sharp.”

Philip nodded. “We’ll be there in time. We have to drop dates off and stuff.”

Lex turned back from a group of supporters and winked at Philip. “Arrangements have been made already.”


Fireworks illuminated the skies above the resort and the House standard blew in the cold wind. Guests milled about in the sculptured gardens that had only evergreens still alive. Holograms provided the illusion of ice-covered flowers. Multiple doors to the museum and library were open, allowing all the guests to see the spectacular display as the bell began tolling midnight.

“To my son,” rang out Lionel as he lifted his glass. “Our friend and the President of the United States!” Hearty ‘hears, hears’ rang out from the crowd as the fireworks continued to explode and the bells tolled.

Philip and Franklin were huddled together, as were many of the guests. The air was freezing, but the night was magical with possibilities. Philip clapped when his father finished his brief remarks, and as the finale of fireworks exploded overhead, he pulled Franklin even closer for a kiss.

“Apparently, the great heir of the Luthor Empire has taken his mate.”

Philip tensed at the mocking tone and whirled toward Vice President McKenna and his senior aide. Philip reached for Franklin’s hand. “Mr. Vice President, this is Franklin Richards. Franklin, this is William McKenna,” he said with strained politeness.

“I know who Franklin Richards is and I know that you two are quite close. Palladium will be on everyone’s mind for a few days.” McKenna chuckled. “Not the ideal way of starting off an Administration, but we can play it off as youthful indiscretions.”

Franklin squeezed Philip’s hand and pulled him back a step. “Nice to meet you sir. We have to go find something to drink.” He pulled Philip again and headed up the steps to the large building. “Come on!”

They walked down a hall until they came to a wall. Philip touched something and a hand plate appeared. After his palm was read and his code verified, a door appeared and he led Franklin in. He waited for the door to shut before heading down the corridor. As he walked, he hit his lapel pin. “This is Philip. Franklin and I are headed back to the residence.”

“This is Ops; we have you and a guest moving from the party to Access Tower 2. All security measures will be dropped as you move towards the main building. Anything else I can help you with young master?”

Philip shook his head. “No, thanks though Max.” He closed the channel and another door appeared in front of them. They climbed the stairs and were soon moving across a bridge that connected the museum and gardens to the walled estate. The heavy doors parted for them as the got within five feet. The doors that shut behind them cut them off from overt surveillance and Philip finally felt free to demand, “Why did you pull me away from McKenna?”

“Hello, telepath here. You were broadcasting your anger so strongly that it nearly knocked me over, but McKenna wasn’t worth the effort. You’re only a high school senior. No one is going to care what happened tonight!” Franklin grabbed his hand and continued their march the residence area. “I get the feeling you’re pissed at me.”

Philip stopped and shook his head. “I’m not pissed at you. I’m angry that I can’t defend myself against men like that. I know what he was insinuating, Franklin.”

“What was he insinuating, Philip? All I got from him was amusement that we were huddled together so closely. I liked that by the way.”

Franklin’s change of direction threw Philip for a moment. He smiled and sighed. “McKenna has no power here and he was happy to get in an insult on the president’s son. He’s right though. I’m going to be the poster boy for bad behavior this week.”

Franklin sighed this time. “We did nothing wrong. Now, if we were found naked in your bed, that might put you in contention for the Bad Behavior Poster Boy.” He arched his eyebrows and smiled.

Blood rushed from Philip’s brain to his nether regions. “Do you…you mean?”

Winking, Franklin headed toward Philip’s room. Philip stood there a second, digesting Franklin’s suggestion, then took off after him.


As soon as the fireworks ended, Hamilton, Ben, and Wes headed back to their floor. All of them were yawning. Ben had already stripped off his jacket, tie, vest, and had his shirt open. Wes simply had his tie in his hand while Hamilton was still fully dressed.

“If Philip saw you, Ben, he’d have a fit.” Hamilton shook his head. “You’re a mess.”

“After tonight, I don’t think Philip’s going to have any room to criticize. He took off with Franklin while the fireworks were still going on and I really don’t want to know what the big hurry was.” Ben made a face and gagging noises.

Wes giggled. “I think they’re cute together. You give Philip too much of a hard time, Ben.”

“Whatever! Philip is the golden boy of the family and everyone at school thinks he’s great. I mean he’s an okay brother – majorly bossy, but okay.” Ben shrugged. “If he did have sex with Franklin then ewww!”

Hamilton rolled his eyes and waited for the heavy doors to seal off the upper tower access point before speaking. “Dude, leave his relationship with Franklin alone. They are still getting used to dating.”

Ben shrugged. “For a general, he sure is a wimp at this love stuff.”


Lex leaned back against the headboard as Clark’s mouth worked its magic. He’d decided to stay the night and start sleeping at the White House tomorrow night. He relaxed further as Whit’s mouth started working his nipples. “It’s good to be the king,” he murmured.

//King of what?// asked Clark. Clark nipped Lex in a sensitive spot to stop any reply. //I’m the prince here…//

“Oh brother…” whispered Whitney. “If this is going to be a pissing contest then I’ll go sleep in another room.”

Lex reached out and pulled Whit into a soul shattering kiss. //Oh no you don’t. You’re the knight in shining armor and he’s supposed to rescue me against alien invaders. OUCH!//

//Alien what?// Clark asked innocently. He continued his sucking without further comment.

Silence settled in the room except for the occasional moan or groan. The heat of the room built and sweat flowed as the three lovers sought release and were granted it. Whitney rolled away and wiped the sweat from his brow. “So when do we christen the White House in similar fashion?”

Lex chuckled and Clark started to snore. “Well, the President and the First Gentleman are going to be awfully busy, but that does bring up an interesting question of protocol… Does servicing the President go through your social secretary, or mine?”

For an answer, Lex got a resounding smack of Whitney’s pillow before they settled into a comfortable embrace and joined Clark in slumber.

Jan 24

Clark made his way to the boys’ floor already knowing that something was different. Franklin’s bed had not been slept in, but House Security showed that he was on the floor. Dr. Reed Richards had a meeting at the National Science Foundation with National Science Advisor Ray Palmer and Dr. Hank McCoy. Susan Richards was out with Lisa, Anne, and his Mom. Clark had an idea where he would find Franklin. Zach had company in his room, but he hadn’t expected Philip to have company.

The door to Philip’s room opened and Franklin and Philip walked out and almost into Clark. Philip smiled. “Morning, Pop.”

Clark chuckled and sighed. “Good morning, Franklin…Philip. Franklin, your parents have gone out this morning. Philip, your brothers aren’t up yet so why don’t you two grab breakfast. Your father has left for the White House. Your dad wants to talk to you about last night.” Clark smiled inwardly at getting some payback on Whitney.

Philip gulped. “Is he mad?”

Clark shook his head. “Mad isn’t in the realm of possibility. Concerned is closer to the neighborhood, but that’s not really accurate either.” Clark squeezed Philip’s shoulder. “Go see your Dad.”

Philip and Franklin headed toward the breakfast nook. “I’m sorry about this,” Philip said quietly. “Between security tracking, and parents with empathic vibrations, it’s kind of hard to have any privacy.”

“It’s okay, Philip,” Franklin said, shooting him a shy, slanted look. “I’m not ashamed of what we did.”

Philip smiled one of his rare, brilliant smiles. “Me neither.” He stopped and proved it with a kiss, then they moved on, rounding the corner to find Whitney sitting at the counter seemingly engrossed in the Wall Street Journal. “Did you have fun last night?”

“I…yeah dad, we did,” answered Philip. “Those are some amazing bands.”

Whitney looked up from the paper. “Have some breakfast. I have a feeling you both worked up an appetite.” Both boys blushed. “All I want to know is if you both are okay this morning. I don’t need specifics, but I know things changed last night.”

Franklin’s blush deepened and he cleared his throat. “It was…a nice step for us to take, but it wasn’t a leap either, sir.”

Whitney gave them an encouraging smile. “Nicely put, Franklin. I’m not upset. You’re both mature young men, but I don’t want you rushing into anything either. In fact, strongly encourage you to step back and create a little space between you.” He raised his hand to stop objections. “I’m not saying you need to break up or that you can’t see each other. It’s obviously that your relationship has plenty of potential, but you’re young. You both need to experience life before allowing your feelings to develop the type of intensity I sense from you at times.”

“So you want us to be together, but see other people?” asked Franklin, frowning. “I’m confused.”

“I didn’t mean to confuse you. I want you, now that you’ve taken a step forward, to take a step back. This isn’t punishment, but a way for you both to see if what you really want is each other. You’ve been friends for a long time and that’s very important. You’ve only been boyfriends for a few months. A small break may be difficult, but it won’t be the end of the world. Consider this semester a possible break and then you can see where you stand when Philip graduates.” Whitney patted them both on the back. “Ultimately, it’s up to you.”


The Oval Office was exactly as Lex wanted it. Pictures of his family lined the credenza behind his desk while three pen projectors were set on his desk to deliver him all the information he needed. He sat down and he pulled off the top briefing folder when Nancy McNally and Greg Vandeaver walked into the room.

“Mr. President, we need you in the Situation Room at once,” Vandeaver said.

“Kazakhstan?”

McNally shook her head, “No sir, this is about Romania.”

They made their way down to the sub-basement and went right in. Secretaries Miller (State), Wayne (Treasury), and Manheim (Defense) were there, as were the Joint Chiefs and the Intelligence services. “At ease,” Lex said as he sat down.

“We have reports that Dr. Doom has an army hiding in the Carpathian Mountains. SHIELD has been on site, but conditions are very bad in that area during winter. SHIELD had to redeploy out of the mountains and into two bases. CIA thinks Doom is planning a campaign in the snow, which is especially bad because SHIELD is not combat-rated for winter fighting.” Nancy pointed to a few overhead shots. “We’re seeing movements that are unusual for people during the winter months. Signal intercepts are scrambled and NSA can’t read them…yet.”

“What are our options?” asked Lex.

Sec. Manheim pointed to Sec. Miller and nodded as he stated, “We urge NATO to deploy troops near Romania. Norway and Iceland have winter combat-ready troops. The Danes, Dutch, and Germans might also be able to help out. Our first moves should be diplomatic.”

“Having to rely on NATO to deploy the forces needed to stop a Doom incursion isn’t going to give us a strong hand to deal from.” Sec. Miller pointed to the military aide and a series of photos came up on the monitors. “It appears that the world is attempting to test the new American President.”

Lex looked at the images and frowned. “What am I looking at specifically?”

“Satellite images of Iranian naval forces amassing. We have Signal intercepts that indicate they are planning on crossing the Persian Gulf. The Islamic Republic of Arabia is not capable of repelling an invasion.” Nancy motioned for several more images to be displayed. “We have reason to believe Iran will make its move in less than forty-eight hours.”

“While America’s energy needs are not fully dependent on Persian Gulf oil, a war in that region will send prices into orbit and that will have economic shock waves,” Sec. Wayne commented. “The main Arabian oil field is not far from the Gulf and the offshore transfer terminal is vulnerable. The Iranians can hold the oil hostage.”

“Get me Gyrich now.” Lex waited until Henry Gyrich’s face appeared on a screen. Gyrich greeted him, but Lex cut him off. “Henry, redeploy the Luxor from Western China to north of Iran. Prepare to move another one of your air carriers to the region as well. Overall command will be given to Admiral Kimmel.”

Gyrich took a moment before nodding. “Yes, Mr. President.” His image vanished.

“Move two carrier battle groups to the Gulf at best possible speed,” Lex directed. “Sec. Miller, contact the NATO Foreign Ministers and tell them that the United States has to try to keep the world economy from being disrupted and that their help with Dr. Doom in Romania would be much appreciated. Bruce, it’s up to you to calm the markets and prevent oil futures from getting out of hand.” Lex stood up and nodded. “Kane, contact President Kirov and tell him that I am not in the mood to deal with his illegal actions at the moment. He has two weeks to get his ass out of Kazakhstan.”

A smile ghosted around Kane’s thin lips. “Should I couch that sentiment in carefully-crafted diplomatic terms or quote you word for word?”

“I don’t care, so long as he gets the message that he doesn’t want to see what the new face of America looks like when it gets pissed off.”

Jan 25
Astana

The crunch of gravel under his heels annoyed Longshot, but this was as quiet as he could walk. ‘This is a nightmare. Tatiana wants us to find a hidden Prime Minister for some political reason. I could if I were in the right city and not this blown up worthless piece of land.’ The sunset only increased the deep cold around the city. Scimitar followed behind him as they made for the rendezvous point. “I want out of this nasty country and enjoy a nice fire at home.”

“Home for us is a dank sewer that has been dried out. At least the air here isn’t stale,” countered Scimitar.

Silence returned as they walked through the quiet, broken streets. Finally they came to the bombed out shell of the Intercontinental Hotel. It had once been a gleaming tower of glass and steel at the heart of the city, now it was little more than a skeleton. The lush gardens that had framed the hotel were torn up and ruined as well.

“Took you both long enough to get here!’ Tatiana emerged from behind the rubble of a fallen wall. “This city is not secure and we can’t leave it open to rebel counter attack again. There are some high powered operatives here that must be found and killed. I want the Shadows to do it and quickly. Other plans are on hold until Astana and Kazakhstan are under firm Russian control.” She handed Longshot a small envelope. “Time is essential!”

New York

“Luthor is going to decimate this agency!” Amanda Waller clattered down the stairs to the main conference room. Col. Trevor was right behind her. “Luxor and Excalibur are being deployed to the Middle East when we have issues in Kazakhstan and Romania. We are a specialty agency and he has us playing traffic cop!” She slammed her book on the table.

“Why are you upset Amanda?” Gyrich asked. “The president is being more aggressive than I ever would have thought possible—impressively so. Kane Miller is laying down the law on Kazakhstan to the Russians. NATO has moved a combined Nordic brigade near the Romanian border and we have placed enough fire power in range of Iran to send them back into the Stone Age. We may need to reassess our file on Luthor.”

Gen. Ross coughed. “Your smarmy psychiatrist Crane was useless! I see no need to go through that expense or aggravation again!” He sighed and pointed at Trevor. “You are going to be assigned to the Joint Operations Directorate at the Pentagon in the next two weeks. You will send General Hardcastle updates regularly as he specifies.”

Trevor nodded and left the room. Gyrich leaned back and frowned. “We have few regular troops in reserve. I’m thankful that Luthor got NATO to help in the Balkans. I can pull Excalibur to do double duty in the East Med, but that’s not good in the long term.”

“Luthor shouldn’t be using SHIELD like this!” Waller shouted. “Has DOD done anything to try to help other than send the fucking Navy to the Persian Gulf?”

General Isling nodded and smiled. “We aren’t supposed to know, but Space Command has moved Orbital Defense Platform V into position to support any operation in the Gulf. In fact, it is on stand-by right now and tasked to nail anything hostile leaving Iran.”

Gyrich rubbed his chin. “Luthor is acting aggressively and thinking in broader strategic terms than I thought possible. We need a spy in the White House ASAP. Waller, that is your top priority.”


Diana Prince smiled as Betsy Braddock and Emma Frost walked into the living room of a friend’s borrowed luxury apartment. She served them a beverage and then sat down. “Thank you both for coming. It seems as though the Society will have to return to operating in secret for the time being.”

Betsy shrugged. “It’s hard to have a meeting with the Secret Service guarding many of our key members.”

“That’s not entirely what I meant,” countered Diana. “I’m being followed. I know this because my protection group caught someone trailing me. I ordered them to see if they could find out who he was working for, but it was for naught. NYPD found the man dead a day later.”

“The person following you was killed?” Emma sat back and tapped her fingers on the arm rest of her chair. “That’s not something I would expect from a government agency – they’re too concerned about the waste. Clearly, this is someone deep in the shadows. What’s going on with Kazakhstan?”

“X-Corp has received a report from Sean Cassidy, whose convoy was attacked in Southern Kazakhstan. He’s recovering from his ordeal. The country is a mess and there is an attack rebellion going on against the Russians. But there were signs that didn’t make sense.” Diana shrugged and handed each of them a data chip. “Xavier said he’d look into it further through X-Corp and I’ll take him at his word.”

“I’ll see if my contacts in London can tell me who is following whom here in New York.” Betsy paused and looked around. “Are you sure this place is safe?”

“Yes, it’s registered to a French family who are currently living in Australia, but in actuality it is owned by a friend of mine who is a very private man.” Diana smiled and then laughed. “I never thought I would get caught up in spy games.”

Emma and Betsy joined her in a good laugh. Betsy sighed and ran a hand through her hair. “Being involved with Bruce has given me a feel for the clandestine though. The man takes privacy to a whole new level.”

Emma flashed Diana a wry smile. “We thought things would be easier with Lex in office, but his enemies appear to be bolder.”

“No,” Betsy said. “They are more desperate. Lex is in a position to accomplish things they don’t like. Though why they would follow Diana is puzzling.”

“My office has been looking into rumors of human trafficking. We’d heard that a container ship in Manila was found to have five human bodies in some kind of hi-tech coffin. The whole thing was covered up and I’ve been on it ever since. I suspect this is linked to missing mutants in various parts of the world, but I can’t prove anything.”

“This could be ominous if mutants are being treated like cattle.” Emma shuddered and stood up. “I think X-Corp needs to examine this closely. I can’t contact Xavier directly.”

Betsy nodded. “I can talk to him without raising too many eyebrows and it will limit Diana’s contact as well.” She pointed at Diana and said, “You be careful. This feels nasty whatever it is. Emma, you watch your back as well. I have a feeling that those perceived to be Luthor allies are in for a rough time.”

Jan 30
Astana

Automatic gunfire echoed through the broken city and cement dust rose in the air to obscure sight. Scimitar coughed to clear the dust from his mouth. “When are the troops going to arrive to clean out the city?”

Longshot waved him off and returned fire from his high caliber automatic rifle. “Knock out that wall and force them to move towards Holocaust. He’ll take them down with his plasma waves!” He stood up and moved quickly to another clump of debris to attack the areas were the gunfire was originating.

Scimitar focused his might on the wall and caused it to crumble into the road. More dust and debris filled the air. For good measure he let loose two more energy waves into the area to force their attackers to relocate. Longshot fired as well and then executed a series of spins and jumps to navigate over the debris. Scimitar followed the leader, but climbing the pile was harder for him.

“Holocaust says nothing came his way. Something is not right.” Longshot scanned the area and frowned. He came up to a small burnt pile of rubble and found the remains of a mounted automatic gun. “We’ve been had!” He hit is comm link and contacted his full team. “Search everywhere! It’s a trap! Look tight!” Longshot crouched and had his weapon at the ready. “Why are we here?”

“Because Tatiana ordered us here,” answered Scimitar.

“No fool, why were we lured here? This area is useless!”

“Longshot!” The comm link chirped then the blast wave and echo reached them. “The convoy of troops was just hit. I don’t know how many are alive, but the convoy is in flames.” A thick column of smoke was now visibly rising from across town.

“Now we know why we were lured here,” Longshot stated. “Let’s see if we can salvage anything.”

Atlanta

Rain pelted the downtown area as Frank Craft stared at the bleak view from his hotel room at the Peachtree Hotel. The world was drifting and he felt as though he, too, had lost his moorings. ‘Power so long held is now gone. We should never have tried to rule directly through Trask. Now our power and influence is at a nadir and all could be lost.’ A knock at the door broke his train of thought. He moved across the room and opened it without hesitation.

“It’s good to see you again Mr. Gyrich.” Craft stepped aside to let Gyrich into the room.

“You called and I came, Mr. Craft. I owe you a great deal and will never forget that, sir.” He moved to the living area and sat down. “How can I be of service?”

“The Consortium has never been this weak outside of an Administration before. We gained influence throughout FDR’s term and have remained a force since. Now we are beggars at the door and at the worst possible point to be this dumb.” Frank sat down and leaned back. “Besides you and Sam Thames, the only other member of the Consortium that is well-placed in the new administration is Jason Wyngard.”

“That is very unfortunate,” Gyrich said with all sincerity.

“Indeed. You may not like what I am going to propose, Henry.”

“You never make a move without thinking it through carefully,” Gyrich said. “You know how deeply I respect that. What do you need?”

“Allies. Political allies with muscle, but who can be manipulated with relative ease.” Craft smiled and looked Gyrich in the eye. “Any thoughts?”

Henry realized where Craft was going. “The Friends of Humanity?”

“Precisely. I met with Graydon Creed and came to an amicable agreement.”

Henry didn’t ask for details of the agreement, but warned, “They’ve never struck me as much more than a one trick pony. Creed is a master political manipulator, but he comes across as blind to larger issues.”

“To him there is no larger issue than saving the human race, but he can be manipulated. No question about it, but he has secrets that concern me.”

“What do you need from me?” Gyrich asked.

Craft stood up and paced thoughtfully toward the ugly view out the hotel window. “I need you to spy on him – find out what those secrets are so they don’t come back and bite us in the posterior. And I believe the effort would be enormously valuable to you. Think what a great human intelligence asset the Friends would be. They have members in seventy countries across the globe. That’s nothing to sneeze at. If you can infiltrate his organization, a spy or two could get you information outside of official government channels. Do you trust the people Luthor will put in place to run Intelligence?”

“I don’t trust Luthor’s people to keep me in the loop,” Gyrich answered. “I do need information. Information that could be garnered outside of my own official Intelligence directorate if necessary. An infiltration will take some doing and some money as well.”

Craft smiled. “The Consortium is weak in influence at the moment, but not in assets. I can get you as much as you need to run clandestine operations. Will you do it?”

Gyrich offered his hand and shook Craft’s. “You’re my real boss, Frank. Just say when and where and I’ll make sure that SHIELD backs you up. Anything to make sure this nation isn’t destroyed by men who claim superior knowledge yet lack any moral fortitude. How soon shall we begin?”

“Yesterday, Henry. Time is already running short.”

New York

Franklin Richards walked out of his room in the famed Baxter Building and ambled toward his classroom. Except for the classes he took every few weeks at the Xavier Institute, Franklin was home-schooled, but he was having a hard time concentrating on his lessons this week. Everything had been off since his night with Philip. ‘It was fun and exciting, but I don’t understand why he’s backed so far off. He liked it! I liked it too! So what’s wrong?’ He would have given anything for someone to talk to, but there was no way he could discuss it with his parents, and he was certain his Uncle Johnny would laugh his ass off if he knew.

He entered his classroom and went to the work station. His current assignment from his father and Dr. McCoy was to theorize about how his powers might be able to alter reality at a sub-atomic level. The inhibitors that Prof. Xavier had him on kept his power levels from getting out of control, but didn’t prevent them from growing as he matured. Sitting down, he focused on the mathematics of the problem and scribbled down several equations. A pile of discarded attempts grew near the waste basket.

“Shit!” Concentration on the project was beyond him. He slipped into a light trance and reached for the most familiar mind he knew, Philip Luthor’s.

//Hey, can I talk to you a second?//

//I’m in class right now, Franklin. Talking to you and paying attention in my Ethics class can be a strain.//

Franklin ignored the rebuff and gave Philip a mental hug. //I needed to say hello and give you a hug. I can’t concentrate.//

//That makes two of us.// Humor colored Philip’s response. //Are you okay? You sound really…off.//

//I kinda want to know what is going on with us. No --// He corrected himself, //I really want to know what is going on with us. I liked having sex with you, Philip, but the mind-to-mind part was the best.//

Franklin sensed a moment of hesitation before Philip answered, //Yes.//

//You didn’t think so?//

A burst of humor again. //Well, the sex part was pretty damned good. I didn’t expect --//

//What?//

More hesitation, then, a small flush of embarrassment, then the admission, //I didn’t expect there to be such a difference between jacking off and being with someone. Being with you.//

Understanding tumbled into place and Franklin suddenly realized why Philip had been keeping his distance. //You want to take your Dad’s advice, don’t you?// Franklin asked, wishing he could conceal his disappointment, but knowing that wasn’t possible. //About taking a break from each other.//

Philip ducked the issue, //Dad could’ve blown a fuse about us sleeping together, but he didn’t.//

//No, instead he makes us try to be mature about the situation. Talk about harsh!//

Mental laughter rang across their link. //He keeps giving me knowing winks and it’s driving me crazy. Papa is too busy running the country to notice and Pop is hard to read. But having Dad on my wavelength is really weird.//

Franklin gave Philip a mental kiss. //I know he can’t sense that. You could call me, you know. Or IM me.//

Frustration welled from Philip, but it was quickly quelled. //Franklin, I understand what dad was trying to say in his crass way; we need to be sure. And I need to show my parents that what you and I have isn’t some teenage romance.//

Franklin did his best to project supportiveness. //Okay. We’ll keep our distance from each other. If you want to go out with one of the guys hotly pursing you I’ll understand. Although you should probably warn him that your soulmate will be plaguing his nightmares.//

That earned another laugh from Philip, but what allowed Franklin to finally relax was the sudden surge of joy he’d felt when he used the word “soulmate.”

//I might go to one of the famous senior parties with someone, but if I go out with someone then you have to ask someone out too. So long as he understands that if he lays one hand on you, I will plot a revenge that will be the stuff of legends.//

//Deal.//

//Gotta go, Dr. Riley called on me and I have no idea what he asked. Later, dude!//

Franklin dropped the link, his mood was somewhat improved. “Okay. Who can I ask out on a date that will make Philip jealous and at the same time not get me into too much trouble?” He shrugged and tackled his homework again.

Part 3


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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