Book IV: Coriolis Event

The Foundation Cracks - part 2

Aug 3
Kiev

The city and country were in chaos. Ukraine appealed to the European Union to help quell the upsurge in violence racking the nation, but Russia objected to external influence in Ukraine. Kiev was split in two, but the government was holding on as best as possible and it was enough to give the United Nations cause to open an emergency session of the Security Council.

Longshot did a series of acrobatic swings and flips to get from the roof of a seven story building to the ground. In the same motion of his landing he sent a blade flying and killed a Ukrainian soldier. Three other members of the Shadow Squad joined him near the Presidential Palace. “Moscow has had enough of this. We move now! Several units of Russian troops are moving on Kiev now, but we have to open the way for them.”

Scimitar used his brutal powers to rip through the barricades around the Palace. Longshot moved quickly to dispatch troops that were scattering. The other members did so as well. Screams of panic and fear were brutally silenced.

Longshot smiled as he approached the ruined, smoldering gates. He glanced at his watch and nodded at his troops. “Fall back. We’ve done our job. Now they have to do theirs.”

Florence

The leaders of Canada, France, Germany, Italy, Japan, Russia, the United Kingdom, and the United States were gathering in Florence for the annual G-8 Summit. Lex was staying at the estate of Warren Worthington III, who had a villa just outside Florence. His motorcade was en route to the site when Nancy McNally called.

“What’s happened in Ukraine?” Lex asked without preamble, knowing the situation there was the only thing that would garner a call from the Assistant to the President for National Security Affairs at this point prior to the summit.

“Sir, satellites detected several explosions around the presidential compound. Three quick passes from Talon aircraft show that no troops moved in following those explosions, but defenses around the compound are gone.”

Lex processed the information. His motorcade was arriving at the summit. “Nancy, I am going to have to end this at the moment, but I am inclined to believe that this looks like coordinated efforts from outside forces; forces like those being denied Ukraine by a big neighbor at the moment.”

“Yes, sir, our preliminary assessment is that Russia is highly involved.”

The car stopped and his agent was at the door. “Order SHIELD to make a few overt passes over Kiev. I want Russia to think we are going to Ukraine’s aid. Keep me informed.” He terminated the call and got out of his car. ‘It is time I met Kirov and took my measure of the man.’


The opening reception was a formal affair, but no reporters. Senior aides and translators were in abundance, but it was really a chance for Heads of Governments to meet and discuss world affairs frankly. Lex took his time talking to a number of people, but he knew where Vitaly Kirov was at every moment, and he already had his personal staff inquiring as to the identity of the attractive woman on his arm.

An opening presented itself and Lex moved to his right and nodded at Kirov, but did not offer his hand. “President Kirov, a pity it has taken us so long to talk.”

“President Luthor, the boy-king of America, a pleasure to meet you.” Kirov said with a slight sneer.

“Coming from a would-be Tsar, I’ll take that as a compliment,” Lex returned without missing a beat. “In fact I’ve heard Kiev is wide open for your troops to march in at any moment and declare Russian rule has returned.” Lex inclined his head slightly and projected a bit of his telepathic power to give more menace to his words.

Kirov’s mouth twitched before he smiled. “I cannot help it if the true blooded Russians in Ukraine wish to be governed by their brothers. What I don’t understand is why it is America’s concern.”

A small group had gathered around the tense exchange. Lex sensed, but did not acknowledge them. “First it was Kazakhstan and now it is Ukraine. Your rhetoric has been Imperialistic since you started your campaign for the presidency. A remarkable track record for a government that says it was helping. How much help are you providing the underground in Ukraine?”

“Moral support of course, Mr. President. Russia does not want her neighbors to become unstable. Instability has an annoying habit of spreading across borders and causing chaos. We have major social dislocation happening in central Asia and yet that doesn’t seem to concern the United States. That had a great impact on Kazakhstan and yet is ignored in the world media. Russia is not the enemy, Mr. President. We seek to maintain a stable, peaceful world.” Kirov smiled again and gestured his arms broadly.

“Then SHIELD will have no resistance from Russia as it investigates Kiev in the next few hours?” Lex returned Kirov’s smile. “Several energy discharges were detected earlier and they looked suspiciously like signatures associated with the appearance of mutant terrorists. Since the Brotherhood is wanted everywhere, we can’t leave any lead to go cold can we?”

Kirov nodded. “Russia is a whole hearted member of SHIELD and wants the Brotherhood stopped. We have no objection to this investigation. If you will excuse me; I told my Italian Ambassador I would have a dance with her.” Kirov nodded to the crowd and moved to another group.

Lex leaned back a little and Whitney came up to look at him. “You hit him pretty hard, Lex. He’s hiding something.”

“I know it. Do we know who his date is yet?”

“Andre says she’s linked to InterGang. And she’s leaving the room. We’ll find out if she makes any call or transmission from here and trace it. Kirov is up to something and it scares me.” Whitney smiled at several passing dignitaries.

Lex stared at Kirov and then looked around from British Prime Minister Tilden. “Keep all our unofficial channels open. I am about to make sure our closest ally is on board from some diplomatic heavy lifting.”

Washington

Vice President McKenna’s glance swept over the dozen staff members around the table in the White House Situation Room. He could tell they weren’t particularly happy that he’d exercised his statutory privilege of calling this meeting, but really didn’t care. This was his chance to probe for information. And weaknesses. “What is the current situation in Ukraine?”

An Air Force Colonel promptly replied, “We have confirmed multiple incursions from Russian border areas, but none of them appear to be military. Large scale movement of more than three thousand people, but no military vehicles that we can see, sir.”

McKenna nodded. “How many troops do we still have stationed in the theatre?”

“There is still a brigade and a half in Kazakhstan, but they are pulling out in the next two weeks.”

McKenna leaned back and frowned. “If we don’t act quickly, Russia will swallow another old Soviet satellite country.” He looked at the CIA representative. “What assessment do you have of this situation?”

“As we mentioned in the last National Security Council briefing, Mr. Vice President, there is evidence to support Russian involvement, but little that ties it to the Kremlin. We feel the best way to counter these moves is a counterinsurgency, but we have no assets on the ground to spark such a move. Our hands are tied.”

Standing, McKenna approached the display of Ukraine with several blips on it, many around the shared border with Russia. “Show me the areas in Central Asia and Africa with mass social dislocation.”

“Sir?” the colonel was puzzled, but quickly complied. Several maps changed and became animated with three years worth of data showing the movement of millions of people away from areas that climate change had rendered less than hospitable. “Last count CIA had was the movement of forty million people across borders in central Asia and Africa. It doesn’t take into account the movements inside nations like China, India, and Brazil.”

McKenna pointed to the monitor of Ukraine again and nodded. “However the mass dislocation hasn’t hit Europe yet. Obviously, there are factors in play in Asia and South America that aren’t in play in Europe as a whole. Something is very wrong and we need to find out what. Contact Dr. McNally and make sure those brigades don’t leave the theatre yet. Direct intervention is our best course of action, and we’ll need all the options we can get.”

The colonel nodded cautiously. “I’ll convey your recommendation to Dr. McNally.”

Florence

Vitaly Kirov left the reception as soon as it was feasible. He walked into his private suites and paced the floor until Tatiana to join him. “Damned American meddling fool!”

Tatiana was frowning. “Indeed he is. I’ve given the word to get our Shadow Squads out of Kiev, but SHIELD aircraft have been buzzing Kiev for hours. I’ve no idea what they know at this time.”

“The French and British think we are interfering with Ukraine and if Luthor has evidence of that then he will present it to the UN Security Council. Our vote will keep the Council from acting, but it grants NATO cover to engage us. I am tired of this. It is time for us to use InterGang for our ends. Arrange for a series of events to happen globally that will place Luthor off balance.”

“Can I use the new cloned forces?” Tatiana smiled wickedly as she leaned back. “The fun we could have while Luthor’s Administration runs in circles could be priceless.”

“InterGang hasn’t been busy of late. Get them moving and see if we can’t make life miserable for Luthor and at the same time expand Russia’s influence.”


Lex sat back in his chair and sipped his scotch slowly. Nancy McNally was sitting across from him. “McKenna’s idea for direct intervention… You can’t believe that invading the Ukraine is a good idea?”

“Frankly, I’m suspicious of any idea McKenna would put forth,” she said with a shrug, then pointed to the map. “He is right that we need more options, though. I suggest we place one or two Ultimates into Ukraine and see what they can find out. Even that is risky, though.”

“It would give us eyes on the ground to provide a real look at what’s really going on there.” Lex thought it over a moment, then then shook his head. “No. The risk is too great – I don’t think the Ultimates could get in and out undetected. They’re profile is just too high.”

“Then we’re just going to sit by and do nothing?”

“Postpone the troop withdrawal from Kazakhstan. That will give us some options.”

“Yes, sir.”

As soon as Nancy was gone, Lex buzzed Whitney in the adjacent suite. A moment later, Whitney joined them and Lex outlined their discussion.

Whitney shook his head. “I don’t like the fact that McKenna is calling briefings in your absence and trying to manipulate you into a corner to order an out-and-out invasion. That level of brashness makes me nervous.”

“I agree. He’s got something up his sleeve, but so do I,” Lex countered. “I want you to contact Chloe and get her and Peter into Ukraine as quickly as possible. He’s Russian and she’s a damned good reporter. Their analysis could be invaluable.”

Whitney gave a low whistle. “Are you sure about this?”

“Our options are few, Whitney, and I trust Chloe and Peter more than SHIELD and the CIA. What worries me most is the fact that the situation is so serious that Nancy would even consider deploying even a handful of Ultimates. We’re in dangerous territory, my love.”

Whitney managed a smile. “So what’s new?”

Aug 4
Boston

Philip and Hamilton were both tired of moving boxes. Their Secret Service agents were outside and their House protectors were directing the arrival of furniture. Clark was busy moving boxes too, but both Philip and Hamilton had to work since this was their house for the next few years.

“Man, how’d Peter get out of this?” griped Hamilton. “He said he’d help!”

Clark stared at his son and gave him a look that instantly shut Hamilton up. “Your father needed him and that is more important than protecting you from a little hard work.”

Philip sighed and kept moving boxes but yelped when something cold was placed against his neck. He turned, about to yell at his twin, when he saw it was his boyfriend. “Oh! What are you doing here? I didn’t expect you for another two days!”

Franklin smiled broadly and shrugged. “Dad got tired of me moping around the house so he told me I could come up here. He’s still not thrilled about this, but mom is on my side, as is Uncle Ben.”

Clark laughed as he approached Franklin to shake his hand. “Well, having the Thing on your side definitely works in your favor.”

Franklin blushed. “Actually, he was sick of me moping the most.”

Philip hugged Franklin and pulled him outside to grab more boxes. “We need to hurry so we can play some games. Hamilton has promised to destroy me in Legion Quest, but I can take him.”

The day went quickly with Franklin joining in to help. Clark smiled and blushed a little when he ‘caught’ Philip and Franklin kissing deeply in the kitchen. He shook his head and sighed. He grabbed his other son by the scruff and pulled him into a hug. “Now I want you guys to be on your best behavior. You be sure to not hassle those two too much about their relationship, okay?”

Hamilton nodded. “Actually, I’m a little jealous. Philip has Franklin and he’s his focus, meanwhile I’m his twin and feel a little left out sometimes.”

“Nothing is ever going to come between you and your brother. You two have a bond that is unbreakable, even when one of you is distracted. Just don’t let their relationship nudge you into rushing into something ill-advised. Okay?” Clark practically begged.

Hamilton rolled his eyes. “Don’t worry, Pop. I’m not that jealous.”

Clark laughed. //I’ll see you guys later.//

Aug 6
Los Angeles

The Los Angeles Times headlines blared “Cure for Cancer Not Hype” and it was all that Graydon Creed could do to keep from throwing something at a wall. Pictures of people descending on the Medical Center in Houston accompanied the article. “Fools, all of them are fools!” While reading the article he glanced at the TV and there was the president having a photo-op at the G8 Summit as it concluded.

Graydon picked up the phone and hit a button. His calls always got through to Rev. Stryker. “Bill, it appears as though the president is gaining ground. This will never do!”

“Indeed not, but to move quickly is to invite disaster as I’ve told you before. I think we can make this an issue, but only one step at a time.”

Graydon frowned before responding. “Our window of opportunity is not indefinite, but I’ll hold for now. I’ve got enough trouble with investigations from the Department of Justice into the riots in the spring.”

He ended the call and began thinking of all the possibilities. He lifted his phone again. “Morgan, it’s time we meet again. I’ll be in Phoenix in two days. The Diamondbacks are playing and we should see a game.”


Sweat poured off Steve Trevor’s face as he went through some maneuvers with young the latest batch of recruits to the Friends of Humanity’s so-called Freedom Squad. Orders directly from Graydon Creed had stepped up Trevor’s training efforts. The Friends’ humiliating failure against the Brotherhood in the Battle of Los Angeles had proved to Creed that their forces were too undisciplined.

The cyborg Reavers had firepower, but their number was sadly depleted -- there were only seven of them now. Creed was now determined to turn his followers into a crack paramilitary organization. He didn’t want to lose again, and he’d charged Steve Trevor with making sure it didn’t happen.

The warehouse was baking in the desert sun and the three dozen young men were soaking wet. “Again!” Steve yelled as he put them through the drill. “Move!”

He hadn’t had a chance to tell Gyrich what was happening here. Above all else, he was under orders not to get caught. He was sitting on some information SHIELD would love to have, but nothing that was earth shattering.

One thing that Steve didn’t know though was how many other boot camps like this one were being run around the country. Steve’s background made him a prime candidate for this work, but he was hardly alone. He also had no idea what the timeframe for any action was. Graydon had something in mind, and though Steve knew his value within the organization was growing, he still wasn’t part of the inner circle. He was a pawn moving towards becoming a knight, but still a pawn. That meant he was still expendable.

It was a state of being he was well accustomed to.

Aug 8
Washington

Henry Gyrich paced the Vice President’s office, waiting impatiently for McKenna to join him. Meeting on Capitol Hill was risky, but it had to be done in order to avoid communication intercepts. The president was still in Europe and would not be back from France and then Britain for another three days.

“Good afternoon, Director Gyrich,” said William McKenna as he walked into the room. “What can I do for you?”

Gyrich sat down and got right to the point. “It’s clear that Russia is making a series of highly imperialistic moves. We are limited in what we can do, but I’m not sure that the president is getting the best advice available. I’m all but frozen out, as are you. Dr. McNally is an academic. Valerie Cooper at the Pentagon reports to Secretary Manheim. We must find a way to influence policy that will hold the line against the growing Russian threat.”

“I’ll give it some thought.” McKenna promised, when in fact, he’d already given it considerable thought and had even tried to force the President’s hand. Unfortunately, Luthor hadn’t taken the bait, and at the moment McKenna had fewer options than usual. He leaned back in his chair and relaxed into a fishing expedition. “What is the status of our mutant hunt? Last I heard, Africa had yielded clues, but no mutants.”

“We recovered several computer hard drives that could prove invaluable, but the information we’re recovering is fragmented. We have an ace in the hole – a resource who can reconstruct the files, but using him is risky.”

“Him?” McKenna inquired.

Gyrich gave a small shake of his head. Scanner’s capture was strictly need to know, and McKenna didn’t qualify. He continued with his briefing, “We are moving ahead with plans to bolster our domestic forces. We’ve increased the security around Ryker’s Island in case someone wants to free the Rogues Gallery from their prison. Their particular brand of mayhem is something we do not need at the moment.”

“A warning then: tread carefully and trust no one. If Luthor were to find out about these dubious moves you’re making, he’d have you arrested for treason. You have highly placed friends in this shadow organization of yours, but even they won’t be able to help you if you get careless.” McKenna sighed and looked out the window. “I am at risk as well, but Luthor can’t fire me overtly.”

Gyrich nodded. “With stakes this high, risk is inevitable. We try to monitor his private security force, but it is difficult. The man has resources of a private nation unto his own.”

“And that is what makes him the most dangerous foe conceivable,” McKenna said. “Perhaps it’s time for you to infiltrate the Luthor family security forces. It would be interesting to see how they recruit.”

“Done.”

New York

Amanda Waller flipped through the pages of operational blueprints and diagrams. SHIELD had developed some ambitious plans for neutralizing mutants over the years, but this was beyond ambitious. What Generals Isling and Hardcastle were proposing was frightening, and Amanda didn’t frighten easily. The plan in front of her would de-throne the imperialistic House Luthor, but in a very real sense it was also the overthrowing of the U.S. government.

She looked at Generals and frowned. “What are the chances of pulling this off? The level of coordination required is mind-boggling.”

Gen. Hardcastle nodded. “I know. Just the logistics of monitoring and controlling the movements of the Ultimates is more technically challenging than anything we’ve ever done. When push comes to shove, we can’t trust them to be on our side, which means taking them out has to be the first phase. To do that, we have to have them all together, in one place, at one time.”

“The element of surprise is critical,” Isling added. “But that, too, will be challenging since moving troops to these specific locations is going to raise questions. Setting up cover stories and readying the Sentinels will take time. But again, it can all be made to work.”

“If you had to give a guess, how long would it take to get this operation rolling and ready for a first strike from the word go?” Amanda asked.

Hardcastle and Isling traded looks and Isling shrugged. “Given the number of factors that have to be manipulated into exact alignment before we can pull the trigger, we’re estimating two weeks to deploy troops into a staging position that the can hold for a maximum of six weeks.”

“And once all the targets are maneuvered into position?”

“48 hours.”

Waller motioned to the plan on the table. “And this is the best way to carry out a first strike?”

“It’s the only way, Dr. Waller,” Gen Hardcastle responded. “We gamed a number of scenarios, but you saw the numbers and what we are up against. If the Ultimates rebel and the mutants unite, humans are finished. This plan is our best – maybe our only – hope to prevent that.”

Amanda nodded and sighed. “Thank you, gentlemen.” She watched them leave the room and sank back in her chair. “How did it come to this? I understand what the Founding Fathers meant now. Such a fine line between patriotism and treason.”

Phoenix

Chase Field was buzzing as the first place Arizona Diamondbacks ran out onto the field to do battle with the St. Louis Cardinals. Morgan Edge leaned back in his chair and nodded as Graydon Creed walked into the private suite. They were alone for the most part in a stadium with over forty thousand people cheering like mad.

“Nice accommodations, Morgan.” Creed sat down and had his personal steward bring him a beer. “The disaster in Los Angeles has done a great deal of damage to my group, but we are still standing.”

“You were careless and arrogant. The Rogues Gallery are in Ryker’s Island and your private militia proved useless against the Brotherhood. I lost some valuable contacts thanks to you.” Morgan arched an eye and frowned. “Losing was not part of our agreement.”

“No, it wasn’t, but now I’m in a rough position. Politically, my movement is growing quickly worldwide, but I am currently wounded and the buzzards are circling. However, I am not dead yet and I still have allies.” Creed leaned forward and looked out at the game. “I’d say that I’m down a few runs in the third inning, but there is still time to mount a rally.”

“And how do you plan to do that?” Edge stood up and went to grab a plate of food from the buffet in the suite. “Your resources are under scrutiny, Graydon, and that is enough to frighten off some of your best assets.”

“Good old fashion fear is how I plan for a rally. Give the people a something – or someone -- to fear, and anything is possible. And I am going to use you as well,” he added matter-of-factly. “We still have an arrangement.”

Shaking his head slightly, Morgan said, “No. We are going to renegotiate terms. I want something from you now. I helped you and it failed. My turn.”

“What do you want?”

The smile that Morgan Edge gave Graydon Creed was chilling. “Anarchy.”

Aug 10
Ukraine

Peter and Chloe crouched low. Signs of fighting were all over the landscape. Getting close to the capitol had been near impossible even with invisible shuttles and serious cloaking technology. The sporadic nature of the fights were too random to risk landing in the city. Peter and Chloe had landed forty miles west of Kiev. Making the trek on ground was very risky as well. Neither one of them felt they blended well, but they still moved to find out what was going on in Kiev.

“We need to take a break Peter! My feet are killing me!” Chloe whispered in Russian. Peter had asked Dr. Jean Grey to give Chloe a crash course in the language. Teaching languages by telepathy wasn’t easy, but not a problem for Dr. Grey. Chloe had complained of headaches for several days, but they had gotten better. Now she wished that she was in better shape.

“Quiet!” Peter scanned the road and nodded. “The way into Kiev appears open, but Intel suggests that there are snipers and other assorted militia in the area. We must be cautious.”


Peter opened the door to an abandoned townhouse in one of Kiev’s wealthier districts. The house appeared more or less intact, but the area was close to the battle zone. He set up the communications equipment while Chloe cleaned up and began getting reports from her PDA.

“Peter, we have a problem! Reuters is reporting that Kirov is threatening to move at least three brigades to the border. He says Russia can’t tolerate this kind of instability on its border.”

He finished setting up the equipment and then smiled at her. “According to these frequency scans those three brigades are already here.”

After a few minutes Peter came downstairs and pointed out a shattered window. “I’ve given Andre our location and told him things are far worse than they appeared.” A bomb explosion too close for comfort punctuated that statement. “We need to find out what is going on and get out of here!”

Miami

When Lana was irritated, she went shopping. At the moment, the shops along South Beach were her only consolation and it wasn’t nearly enough. Congress was in recess, and Pete was supposed to have joined her last night. They were scheduled to embark at 7 tonight on the Empress of the Ocean for a junket being paid for by something called The Vector Group. The least Pete could do is be on time.

The barely-clothed men and women on the wide thoroughfare made Lana blush with their lack of modesty. It was hot and she was dressed for comfort, but she could never walk around in a bikini all day.

A display of hats and scarves drew her into the extravagantly pillared Parthenon, and she made her way through displays of clothes and the array of artfully distressed columns, determined to choose the most expensive hat she could find. It was the least Pete owed her for standing her up.

Lana had just returned her charge card to her purse and was reaching for the elegant hatbox when the ground began to shake and the expanses of glass at the front of the store shattered. Glass and fixtures began raining down, faux columns teetered and fell. Lana was among the screaming patrons that pushed their panicked way out of the store, but there was no refuge on the street.

Lana could make no sense of the chaos. There were explosions, cars burning, screaming people fleeing some unseen force. In the stampede, Lana was somehow pushed back into the Parthenon’s pillared portico. Her head slammed into one of the trembling pillars and she stumbled, grabbing anything to help keep her on her feet, but the earth shook more violently, the street and sidewalk buckled in great waves, and the stone-façade of the Parthenon collapsed.

Burying Lana Lang Ross beneath two tons of ruined stone columns.

New York

General Ross barked rapidfire orders. “And move a medical unit to Miami as quickly as possible! I want to know what happened!”

A SHIELD analyst hurried up and handed him a report. “Sir, at least three hundred people are dead and thousands more are wounded. One of the survivors was able to give details to Miami PD. We’re confident it was the Brotherhood – most likely Avalanche.”

“I want a full briefing on the Brotherhood ASAP. Everything we know. Congressman Ross lost his wife and Vice President McKenna lost a nephew, as well. We need some results and we need them soon.” Ross pointed to live network coverage of the wreckage along South Beach. “That is unacceptable! We’re doing a piss poor job in protecting the American people!”

Washington

This is Elizabeth Vargas. Welcome to World News. We begin tonight with the horrific attack in Miami by the mutant known as Avalanche. Reporting live is Mike Scanlon.

“Elizabeth, the death toll from this attack is at least three hundred people and officials are quick to point out that it could go even higher. Miami and Florida officials are on the scene as are SHIELD investigators. What remains to be seen is what President Luthor plans to do about this.

Lex clicked off the TV and swiveled his chair to face Defense Secretary Brandon Manheim, Attorney General Ursula Gunn and Secretary of State Kane Miller.

The Attorney General took the bull by the horns. “We have a crisis of faith on our hands, Mr. President. The people are losing confidence that their government can handle the Brotherhood.”

“With good reason,” Lex snapped. “SHIELD has richly surpassed its own level of incompetence. Kane, I want you to start consultations with our allies to change SHIELD leadership. I can’t fire Gyrich without the support of the SHIELD Treaty signatories, but his days are numbered. Ursula, I want the FBI on this pronto. SHIELD has military investigators, but we need solid police work here. Brandon, get Special Forces away from SHIELD and begin using them to raid known terrorist havens. They don’t have to be mutant-related at the moment, but that would help.”

“I’m sure Prime Minister Tilden will be happy to remove Gyrich, but we may have to throw the Brits a bone,” Kane commented.

Lex nodded. “Do what you have to do, but get results. The longer the Brotherhood goes free, the worse things will get for everyone!”

Lex waited for them to leave before he pulled out a small device. Instantly, background noise faded and an instant later a hologram was in front of him. “Enrique, you are hereby ordered to use all the House resources to find the Brotherhood. Inform Clark and Whitney if any decisions above your pay grade are required.”

“Sir, if we have the opportunity to strike?” Enrique asked.

Pondering for a moment Lex sat back before answering. “Time is of the essence. I want a full summary of everything we know given to Whitney before he leaves Smallville. I also want additional security in Boston and Washington as soon as possible. Have Lisa increase funding for security. We have the cash flow to triple our forces without impacting any of our business models.”

Enrique looked stricken even in hologram form. “Do you want me to triple our forces?”

Lex cut him off. “No. A dozen additional persons should cover it for now. Get Andre to head up the search, he’s not too busy.” Lex knew well that his three security lieutenants were extremely busy. “This is a priority, make it happen.” He watched Enrique nod and killed the signal. ‘If you want something done right do it yourself.’ Lex silently thanked God that Congress was in its August Recess or he’d be in even more political hot water than he currently was.


Lex sat behind his desk in the Oval Office and waited for Henry Gyrich to make his appearance. He didn’t stand when Gyrich walked in, nor did he invite him to sit down. He left Gyrich to stand in front of his desk like third-grader who’d been called into the principal’s office. It was a testament to the level of power Gyrich thought he wielded that he didn’t seem the least bit intimidated.

Lex stared at the Director of SHIELD and waited several moments before speaking. “In what world does one man working for one organization fail time and time again, yet still keep his job?”

Gyrich started to speak, but Lex cut him off. “That was rhetorical, Mr. Gyrich. By any measure of performance, your leadership of SHIELD has been an abject failure. Your mission was to find, apprehend, or stop Magneto and the Brotherhood. Have you achieved even the smallest piece of that objective?”

“Sir, if I may…”

HAVE YOU ACHIEVED THAT OBJECTIVE?” Lex shouted. “Let me be as clear as I can be -- you and your staff are nothing but a waste of resources and time. If you were a publicity stunt, you’d be on a par with the New Coke. But you’re not a publicity stunt. You’re supposed to be this country’s first line of defense, but we are having disaster after disaster on your watch. Los Angeles and now Miami; what is SHIELD doing? Are you even trying to follow your mandate?”

Gyrich visibly bristled at the rebuke. “With all due respect, sir, if we are going to assign blame for these fiascos, then you need to look in the mirror. Your policy of appeasement set us on this path! In your rush to make sure that ‘Human Rights’ weren’t being violated, you emboldened the terrorists with your soft line!”

Lex smiled and his eyes narrowed. “Typical. Deflecting blame for your continued failures. You’ve been looking for Magneto for longer than I’ve been in office and I don’t see any results. You’ve botched assignment after assignment. How are you spending your funds and using your resources?”

“We follow our mandate and have been hunting mutant terrorists. And we’ve played vital roles in your continued geo-political failures in Central Asia. Need I remind you that you ordered SHIELD to help in Kazakhstan and Romania? It was you who ordered the Ultimates to tackle Victor von Doom, not I!”

“It is time to reevaluate the usefulness of SHIELD. I want a full detailing of all SHIELD actions in the last year. ALL of your actions; even the black ones. Now, get out.” Lex waved Gyrich out of the room and smiled. ‘Now we will see if you will give away some of SHIELD’s secrets in your haste and anger. What are you and your generals really doing down there in New York, Mr. Gyrich?

Aug 12
Moscow

President Kirov sat with his generals and looked at the current tactical maps of Ukraine.

“The eastern most part of Ukraine is in total upheaval. The Border is not stable,” stated one of the tactical officers. “We’ve increased the border guard and moved additional troops near there, but with so many troops still in Kazakhstan, we are stretched thin.”

“Destiny, and brotherhood, demands that we take action; move into eastern Ukraine and secure the border sections.” Kirov stated. “You have your orders.”

The room cleared and Tatiana came in. “The Shadow Squads are engaged in real fights in Kiev. The resistance is growing quickly.”

“Move a few of our allies into that area as well. I want Kiev under control soon. America is distracted at the moment and it could not happen at a better time.” Kirov smiled and gave Tatiana a brief back rub. “It is all coming together. We will rule the world soon and American will be powerless to stop us.”

Kiev

Peter moved quickly in the shadows as he and Chloe made a run for safety. The city was in chaos. Russian troops had crossed the border and reports of them moving rapidly towards Kiev had sent the resistance into a panic. Fighting had intensified and the city was now much more dangerous.

“We have to move!” Peter yelled as Chloe was still taking pictures of the dead lying in the street in the aftermath of another major skirmish.

She waved him off, but started moving towards him, still snapping pictures. “I have a job to do!”

“You can’t do it if you’re dead,” he retorted. “I promised Bobby I’d make sure you’d come home in one piece. If we don’t evacuate now, we may not be able to get out!”

She put the camera away and nodded. They quickly moved towards the river and headed along some side streets keeping the river in view. The rendezvous was set, but LFK security may not be able to hang around if the Russian Army got too close.

More explosions reverberated through the city and the last bridge crossing the Dnieper River collapsed. Peter shook his head. “They are trying to make it impossible for the Russians to pacify the city. We have to hurry!”

It took them five hours to travel ten miles, but they made it. The eastern side of Kiev was burning. People were trying to cross the river by swimming and many were dying in the effort. Peter had longed to help them, but anti-mutant hysteria was rising everywhere.

Andre greeted them and grabbed the case Chloe was carrying. “We need to hurry. Signal Intercepts have the lead column of Russian tanks almost inside Kiev. The Russian underground is killing everyone who resists now.”

They moved out towards a field and a shuttle decloaked. They climbed in and they took off. Chloe logged into the communications network. “Lex, things are far worse than you thought. We saw evidence of genocide.”

Aug 13
Smallville

The heat was sweltering as the citizens from ‘Old Smallville’ gathered to bury Lana Lang-Ross. Whitney walked in with Clark to pay their respects. Lex did not want to overshadow the funeral and opted to stay at the White House with national security as the excuse.

Philip and Hamilton were in Boston and had already sent their condolences to the Ross family. Ben and Wes were outside talking to residents before coming into the church. Lex had phoned Pete as soon as he heard the news.

The casket came into the church and Pete was walking behind it. April, his sister, walked beside him. Hymns were sung and prayers said. Old residents of the once sleepy town said good-bye to one of their own.

Whitney walked out of the church after the service and greeted several of the residents. Clark was talking to his old neighbors. Whitney saw Pete come out of the church and he moved to talk to him, but was intercepted by Mike. “Don’t man, he’s very upset.”

“Upset at what?” Whitney asked.

“He’s pissed at Lex for not going after mutants harder. He wants Registration back on the agenda. He blames Lex because this mutant was free.”

Whitney shook his head and walked away. He motioned to Clark and they left with the boys. //This is not good. Pete has been a loose cannon since he first ran for Congress. This has me worried. Lana and he had been there for each other for years and now…//

Clark nodded. //I’ll see if I can talk to him in a few days. He’s always been a hot head, but he’ll see reason once he calms down.//

August 16
New York

Snapper Carr looked up from his computer and took stock of the walls of his apartment, the sofa, the entertainment center, carpet, non-descript rental furniture… It was his home, but it shouldn’t have been. Prior to waking up at this desk thirty minutes ago with a blinding headache, Snapper’s last clear memory was entering a bar on the other side of the world in Algiers where he’d been following up an anonymous tip on the location of a secret enclave of the Brotherhood… He’d checked into his hotel, caught a dingy cab to the even dingier red-light district, found the bar, walked in, looked around, caught the eye of a stunning woman in a sapphire blue dress…

And woke up in his apartment staring at his computer. Although waking up wasn’t quite the right phrase. More like returning to consciousness.

His computer told him that three days had passed since the bar in Algiers, and that wasn’t the only thing his computer had for him. There was information here that hadn’t been there before he boarded the plane. Information that was political dynamite. Information that could bring the president a great deal of political heat.

Snapper picked up the phone and dialed Lois’s cell, only to discover she was out of her service area. That meant she was out of the country, since the entire continental U.S. had been fully covered by cell service for more than a decade.

Hmmm… Where could she be? Knowing The Daily Planet wouldn’t just tell him where they’d sent one of their star reporters, it took a couple of bullying phone calls and a lot of subterfuge to finally get someone to tell him, “I’m sorry, Miss Lane is on assignment in Havana.”

Snapper groused an appropriate answer, then hung up the phone.

“What the hell is she doing in Havana?” he asked the four walls, and then went back to studying the information about prominent political supporters of Luthor’s.

Havana

Warm breezes blew through Havana as Lois Lane made her way along the alleys toward the location where she was supposed to meet a contact that would send her career into the stratosphere. Yesterday, Snapper Carr had left a cryptic but compelling message on her voice mail: “Hey, Ace. If you want an interview with the most Wanted man on the planet, be at the Blue Parrot Bar in Havana tomorrow night at 6. Source is reliable. I would scoop you, but I’m in Algiers on the trail of another big fish. Happy hunting.”

The most wanted man on the planet. Magneto.

The risk was unthinkable, but the rewards were worth it. Worth anything, actually. The big stories always made Lois’s blood sing in her veins. She was never more alive than when she was on the hunt, and she knew in her gut that this was going to be the story of her life.

“Don’t move Miss Lane or you will be dead before you can twitch.” Lois hadn’t seen or even sensed the man who was suddenly behind her, his breath hot on her cheek.

Lois stopped breathing and forced herself to relax. “Okay.”

“Good. Now you will walk down this alley to the end of the street and there you will get into a waiting taxi. You will be blindfolded by the other passenger. Music will play in your ears to keep you disoriented. Upon arrival at your destination, you will meet the man you have been seeking.”

Lois did as she was told and tried to keep her heart rate low as she sped to her unknown destination. The car stopped and she was led out still blindfolded. A hand on her arm kept her from stumbling, but it was still difficult to walk without sight. The blindfold was removed and it took her a few minutes to adjust to the light.

“So you are the famous Lois Lane. A reporter he trail of whatever story suits her fancy. I’ve read plenty about your views on the current American President. He’s no friend of ours, but neither is he our number one enemy. I hear you’ve been looking for Magneto…”

The woman across the room was beautiful, but clearly not who Lois had expected. She was dressed in a casual business suit and seemed irritatingly at ease. “Who are you?” Lois demanded.

“My name is Mystique.” Lois watched in stunned silence as the well-dressed woman melted into a reptilian blue creature clad in nothing but scales. Her glittering yellow eyes sent a shudder down Lois’s spine.

“You’re a mutant.”

“I’m a shapeshifter. I’m also Magneto’s first lieutenant.”

“Where is he?”

The blue creature laughed lightly. “Nowhere near here.”

Lois bristled. “I was told--”

“I know what you were told,” Mystique cut her off. “I sent you that message on Mr. Carr’s behalf. He and I had a little meeting in Algiers a few days ago – he didn’t have as much information about the first family as we’d hoped, but he’ll be very useful in the long run. You, on the other hand… Given your obsession with the Luthor-Fordman-Kent family, I expect your fertile brain to be chocked full of useful information.”

Lois wasn’t sure she’d ever been as terrified as she was at the moment, which only made her more aggressive, possibly even foolish. “Look, Bluebelle, I don’t know what you think I know, but I’m not in the habit of giving more information than I get. You want to know what I know, you’re going to have to come across with some useful information of your own.”

Mystique’s laugh sent a chill down Lois’s spine. “My dear Miss Lane, I am going to tell you nothing and you are going to tell me everything you know.” She snapped her fingers and a thin figure swathed in dark robes slithered out of the shadows on the edge of Lois’s peripheral vision. “My friends and I are going to probe every corner of your brain. When we’re done, you will remember nothing and we will know everything you know or ever knew about Lex Luthor, his lovers, and his four mysterious heirs. Magneto and I are betting that there’s a wealth of information up there that you weren’t allowed to print. Am I right?”

“Go to--,” the words faded away as though someone had snatched them out of her mouth and replaced them with a deep void that was pitch black and blindingly white. There was pain and a woman screaming in the distance, and some part of Lois that seemed very far away knew that the screams were her own.

New York

Diana Prince settled onto a park bench in Central Park; she was risking being late for a charity event at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, but after weeks of sweltering heat, the promise of a tropical storm approaching the Eastern Seaboard was washing the city in cool, refreshing air. Diana wanted to savor it.

She wasn’t the only one. The park was more crowded than usual, and though Diana was always alert for trouble, she was a bit started when a handsome, vaguely familiar man stopped abruptly, towering over her. “Excuse me, but aren’t you Diana Prince from the Office of the Special Representative for the Secretary General of the United Nations?”

“Yes,” she replied, making certain the man didn’t see that all of her defenses were now on full alert. “And you are?”

“Snapper Carr. I work for ABC News.”

Diana feigned a brilliant smile and stood, forcing the man to take a step back. “Of course you are! I didn’t recognize you without your camera crew, Mr. Carr.”

Snapper matched her brilliant smile and pulled a small recording device out of his pocket. “I’m traveling light today. May we sit down and have a chat?”

“I’m not fond of ambushes, Mr. Carr. And as it so happens, I’m late for a UNICEF benefit at the museum. Perhaps you could call my office and set up an interview.” Diana started down the wide sidewalk and Carr did a quick-step to put himself at her side.

“Well, yes, I could do that, but you’re here and I’m here, and this won’t take a minute. You see, I’m working on a piece about the president’s inner circle – an expose on a tightly organized group of very powerful people from a diverse set of institutions who have gone to great lengths to hide their association with both the President and with each other. Given all the secrecy, we think the American people have the right to know who has the president’s ear and how that influences the government.”

Diana felt a tightening in the pit of her stomach. He was talking about the Society. She smiled. “Palace intrigue – that ought to make your advertisers happy. I’m not sure what that has to do with me, though.”

“We know that several industrialists are part of this group. And some highly placed diplomats – American and European… It’s a diverse and impressive list – and your name is on it.” Carr held the recorder up to her. “Any comments?”

“Mr. Carr, I’m blessed to have friends in many circles, none of which are secret. Now, I apologize, but I am late. Good evening.” Diana quickened her pace, leaving Carr behind. She used her enhanced hearing to make sure he wasn’t following, but she was far from at ease when she finally pulled her credentials from her purse and entered the museum.

Not willing to let her alarm show, she accepted a glass of champagne from a passing waiter and made her way sociably through the gathering while searching for another member of the Society. No smile came to her face when she spotted Warren Worthington, but her relief was acute. She made it a point to drift in his direction.

“Hello Diana, how are you?” Warren asked as he walked up to her. “I love these gatherings so, I have a bet with Oliver Queen that…never mind.”

Diana arched an eyebrow and looked around before leaning closer to Warren. “We have a problem, Warren. A reporter just accused me of being a member of a secret organization bent on influencing the president.”

Warren’s eyes flickered, but he gave no other sign as a response to her statement. “Who was he and what did he say exactly?”

“An ABC News Investigative reporter named Snapper Carr.” Diana repeated the conversation nearly verbatim, pausing as a waiter passed by and resuming only when he was out of earshot. “This could constitute an emergency if we aren’t careful. Lex needs to be informed – ABC News hasn’t been especially hostile to the administration, but they could turn it into a political issue that would present no end of problems for Lex.”

“I agree. Unfortunately, this is above my pay grade,” he quipped. “You tell Betsy and Bruce. I’ll let Charles know and he can inform the rest of the Society with far greater ease.”

Diana nodded. “Thank goodness we’ve had a few open meetings since the election. That should allow us to claim this is nothing but political calculation, but there’s something more sinister at work here, Warren. I feel it.”

The White House

Lex was sitting in his office up in the Residence when he felt a presence, even though the room was completely empty. He laid aside the report he’d been reading, and nearly jumped out of his skin when the astral image of Charles Xavier appeared next to him on the divan.

//Pardon the interruption Mr. President, but there has been an incident with the Society and you must be informed quickly. Earlier this evening, Diana Prince had an unexpected meeting with reporter Snapper Carr. He mentioned the Society in veiled terms and asked for her comment.//

//How do they even know about the Society?// asked Lex.

//That is a question I cannot answer, Mr. President. Washington is a labyrinth of intrigue and you would know that better than I. I am contacting the Society as quickly and quietly as possible, but there are limits to my range and power. I dare not make contact too far from New York for fear of detection. Even this might register on some monitoring systems.//

//There is no helping that now. Thank you for letting me know. Please use all the resources of X-Corp to find out exactly what Carr knows and where his information came from. Not for the first time do I feel as though I am be moved in a direction without my consent.//

//Indeed, the winds are blowing us against our will. I contact you through either Dr. McCoy or Dr. Grey when I have anything of substance to report.//


Lex sat in the Situation Room as it was confirmed that Ukraine was under Russian control now. Admiral Keaton pointed to a map. “Kiev is under Russian control and they are moving to Control the entire eastern half of the country. Ukrainian resistance forces are gathering on the Polish and Romanian borders to fight back, but they are ceding the country with that tactic.”

Vice President McKenna asked, “Is there anything we can do overtly or covertly to help them? Russian Imperialist expansion must be halted.”

General Saavedra shook his head. “We have that brigade and a half still in Kazakhstan, but we have to move them out to Turkey – a force that size isn’t nearly enough to stop the Russians from taking the Ukraine. All of NATO would have to mobilize to stop Russia right now and they won’t.”

“And now Russia has two former satellite countries back in its fold. Belarus is already under puppet control and the other Muslim countries must feel as though they are next.” Lex looked at the map and then smiled. “Secretary Manheim, please redeploy all our forces in the theatre to Turkey. See if we can’t mix a few military advisors in with the Ukrainian regulars gathering on the Polish and Romanian borders.”

Defense Secretary Manheim nodded. “We may not be able to mobilize NATO, but a few ‘military advisors’ might be available.”

“Make it off the record, Kane,” Lex warned. “We need to see if we can’t bleed Russia of her ambition and momentum.”

Aug 18
Miami

Lois woke up with a pounding migraine, her last clear memory that of a man’s hot breath on her cheek issuing melodramatic warnings. A bag had gone over her head and after that, everything was a black void.

If there had been a rendezvous with Magneto, she didn’t remember it. What she’d said and done – and whatever had been do to her – was a complete blank. She didn’t even know where the hell she was, and considering the depth of the pain in her head, she didn’t really care.

A knock on the door sounded like thunder and she groaned, grabbing a pillow to muffle misery.

“Lois? Lois, open the door! It’s Snapper!”

Snapper. Snapper Carr. Who’d sent her to the Blue Parrot in Havana. Lois stumbled out of bed, groaning in misery.

The thunder roared through her head again. “Stop pounding! I’m coming, damn it!”

On the way to the door, she managed to identify her institutional surroundings as a seedy motel. Whoever had kidnapped her must have been on a limited budget.

She found the door and threw it open. “Where the hell am I?”

“Miami.” Snapper took the door out of her hand and grabbed Lois before she could fall on her face. He kicked the door shut and helped her back to the bed.

“How did I get here?”

“Haven’t got a clue, but I’m betting you have a killer headache. Don’t worry, it’ll go away in an day or two.”

Lois collapsed into a heap on the bed and tried to muster a coherent thought. “How did you know where to find me?”

“Someone left me a message and I came as fast as I could.”

Lois pushed herself up on one elbow and made a valiant attempt to focus on Snapper. “That wouldn’t be the same someone who tendered an invitation to meet Magneto in Havana, would it?”

“Huh?” Snapper frowned at her.

“The message you left me. On my voice mail. You said you had a source who had set up a meet with the most wanted man on the planet.”

Snapper pursed his lips. “You got a voice mail? From me.”

Lois dropped her head onto the pillow. “Yes.”

“You’re sure it was me?”

“YES!”

“Jeez. I wonder what else they made me do while I was out?” he muttered.

“What?”

He ignored the question. “I’ll bet you don’t remember if you met with Magneto or not, do you?” When Lois just shook her head and groaned, Snapper said, “Jeez, Lane. What have we stumbled into? The same thing happened to me in Algiers – I went for a meet and woke up three days later in New York. The only thing I had to show for it was a laptop full of priceless information.”

That tidbit of information pierced Lois’s misery. “What information?” she asked as she sat up and scanned the room for her belongings. Her laptop was on a table by the window and she made a beeline for it as Snapper told her, “There’s a group called the Society for Justice that reads like the Billionaire Boys Club. The Secretary of the Treasury is on it. And Clark Kent. And if Kent is involved…”

“Then the whole of House Luthor is, too.” Lois fired up her laptop and found a file folder with a jeweled icon, big as life, in the center of her desktop. She clicked on it eagerly, but nothing happened. She cursed and cajoled, but nothing she did would make the file surrender its treasures.

“Fuck!” She rubbed her temples and closed her computer in frustration. “I have no idea what happened and no idea what I learned!”

“Don’t worry, Lois. I know a really discreet hacker. If the file can be opened, he’ll get it done.”

Misery closed back in on Lois, but she managed to remain upright this time. “What else was in your computer? Who else is in this…what’s it called?

“Society for Justice. All I know so far is Kent, Wayne, Diana Prince of the UN, and Tony Stark, but that is enough to link all kinds of possibilities together. Of course, I have no idea what it all means. I did an informal interview with Ms. Prince -- she didn’t freak out but she didn’t exactly welcome me with open arms. I called her office and made an appointment for a follow up day after tomorrow.”

Lois sat quietly for a moment. “Who did this to us, Snapper? And why?”

“Well, considering the fact that you received a voice message from me while I was off in Never-Never Land, I’d say there are two choices: a mutant who’s into mind control, or somebody who has invented a high-tech super-secret thought-control, brainwashing machine.”

“Luthor,” Lois pronounced defiantly. “It had to be Luthor. They got wind of our investigation and wanted to know how much we’d learned.”

“Then why leave us the Society for Justice stuff?”

Lois frowned. “Red herring? They’re trying to lure us into a trap, maybe?”

Snapper thought it over and after a moment shook his head. “Naa. I don’t think so. I don’t know how they messed with our memories, but this smells like someone with a political agenda who’s out to smear the President.”

“Not mutants?”

Snapper shrugged. “Lex Luthor is the most pro-mutant politician on the planet. Why would any of them want us to bring him down?”

Lois rubbed her temples. “I don’t know, and frankly, I don’t care. The people elected Lex Luthor, but if the White House is being run by the Billionaire Boys Club, that has to be exposed.”

Snapper chuckled. “You know, Lois, I think Lex Luthor could cure cancer, pipe fresh water to all the deserts of the world, solve the economic woes of every third world nation, and bring about world peace and you’d still be determined to bring down his Empire of Evil.”

Lois glared at him. “Are you saying I lack impartiality?”

He raised his hands in mock surrender, “Hey, don’t shoot the messenger. I didn’t say I disapproved. In fact, this could be a helluva lot of fun. We’ll have my friend Louis tackle your computer and you can grill Secretary Wayne while I interview Ms. Prince.”

“Kill two birds with one stone.” Lois smiled. “I like it.”

Aug 22
New Orleans

The streets were heavy with humidity; everything was damp and the air didn’t move as the moon rose over the Crescent City. The smells of the river, lake and swamp mingled in the air along with the smells of the city’s famous restaurants. Irene Adler sniffed the air and shook her head. Her cane swept in front of her to make sure her step was sure. Blindness never impeded her, but others often mistook it as a weakness when actually it was a strength.

“They are coming,” she said to no one. There was no fear in her for she’d known this day was inevitable. Her mutant ability to predict the future had warned her that it would come to this. The probabilities narrowed as time compressed. She was wanted, but by two entities and they were coming now, but the time threads were conflicting. She knew only that it was pivotal which group took her. Nothing less than the entire future was at stake.

Known among mutants as Destiny, Irene’s abilities had been used by Magneto more than once. Was he the one so close by? Would he be the one to shape the future this time, or was it the other?

Destiny’s cane swept through a puddle as they advanced. In her mind’s eye she could see the men in dark uniforms moving closer. All the timelines now agreed, but she walked as oblivious to what was coming.

“Stop!” The voice in front of her failed to startle her.

She stopped and took a deep breath. The future opened up again and not much was good in the short term. It went dark after a year. Irene staggered, feeling truly blind for the first time in years, but she collected herself quickly. “I’ll go peacefully.”

“How did you--” The SHIELD agent stopped when she cut him off with, “I can see the future, young man. God help us all.” And then she was stunned and the world went black.

Aug 27
Washington

It was ironic. So many things came across the desk of Dr. Valerie Cooper, Deputy Secretary of Defense, that she rarely had time to process everything and yet she felt woefully uninformed because she had less access to Intelligence than when she’d been National Security Advisor. Still, she did her best to keep her finger on the pulse of investigations and anomalies. The one she found that morning pulled her up short.

Puzzled, she got up from her desk and went to the Ladies room, pondering her options. When she returned she called an old friend.

“Holly, this is Val. Are you free for lunch?”


Dr. Cooper sat down across from FBI Director Holly Jones and sighed. “I am so sorry to be late. Getting into town from Arlington was murder. How are you?”

Holly smiled. “I understand. I hate it when I have to go down to Quantico for whatever reason. I’m fine. So, what’s up?”

Valerie looked around and tapped the table. “I have a feeling that we may be under surveillance.”

“I can guarantee that I am,” Holly stated flatly. “The FBI is such a hot bed of political machinations that I can barely keep up with who is aligned with who. It’s scary, Val. So what’s up?”

“A SHIELD Special Ops team was dispatched to New Orleans a few days ago -- a Special Ops force was tasked to go down there. I can’t find a reason in any Intelligence report, so I’m naturally curious about what’s going on. Unfortunately, I can’t look into it without it turning into a big deal. I thought maybe the FBI could poke around without raising any eyebrows.”

“I’ll see what I can do, but it may not be as deep as you might like. The president is on a rampage to find Magneto and bring him to justice. Every agency is being tasked to the search.” Holly thought it over a moment. “Tell you what, I’ll send Chet to New Orleans and see what he can sniff out.”

Valerie nodded. “That’ll have to do. I want to know what that team was up to.”

New York

SHIELD headquarters was not the ideal place to keep a prisoner, but it was one of a precious few locations equipped with the psychic dampeners that helped thwart telepaths. Henry didn’t want to tip off The Brotherhood that SHIELD had their precious prophet. He opened the secure room and sat down in the chair opposite the older woman. “So you are the famous Destiny.”

“I don’t know about famous, but I am called Destiny by some, Mr. Gyrich.”

Henry paused for a second and then moved closer to her. “How did you know my name?”

“Do you think you are unknown? You’ve served a president and are the director of SHIELD. Many times I’ve seen you in the streams of Time. You are an actor, as are we all. The role you will play in the future is fast coming to fruition, Mr. Gyrich.”

“What exactly do you see?” Gyrich asked, ignoring the door that opened behind him. One of SHIELD’s telepaths, Heather Douglas, aka Moondragon, joined him.

Destiny turned and smiled at Moondragon. “And so things play out even further. Welcome, Ms. Douglas. Mr. Gyrich, the future weaves itself from the actions of people as they occur. Those actions can lead to probabilities and possibilities. Events loom in the distance, like a thunderstorm. I can see many things, but should I speak of them, then I alter the very fabric of what I see. The Oracle must remain as neutral as possible. Prescience is dangerous in neutral hands and deadly when it has an agenda.”

“Then why do the mutants refer to you as their prophet?!” demanded Gyrich. “What do you tell them?!”

“I told them everything that they have heard before; that hope is coming. That to give in to despair is to lose that hope. I told them nothing of events because the threads shift with every action. Your actions in bringing me here have already sent new threads of Time into different directions.” She reached to take a sip of water from her glass. Once she put it down she turned to smile at Gyrich. “You want answers, but if I give you answers then they are no longer valid. You want certainty where none exists. Time is motion, Mr. Gyrich, and no answer can capture that motion.”

He smiled and leaned closer to Destiny. “Then tell me about Franklin Richards.”

She gasped and recoiled from the question. She weighed the repercussions of answering his questions and finally said cautiously, “He is tied to the fate of mutantkind. There is no way to explain this except to say that his fate impacts that of every mutant across the planet. For good or ill, I cannot say. Storms gather in the future, Mr. Gyrich. Many threads are merging or failing. Soon Time will exist from moment to moment with no view of what lies beyond. Storms gather and each action brings it closer. Bringing me here has set off another chain of events. The storm is still there and growing.”

Gyrich turned to Moondragon and frowned. “I want to know what she knows. Don’t do any permanent damage, but I want to know everything about Magneto, Franklin Richards, and the Brotherhood!” He got up and left the room.

Destiny turned to Moondragon and nodded. “Peer into my mind and know what I know.”


Diana Prince sat down in her office and motioned for Snapper Carr to join her. “Are you ready?” She had agreed to be interviewed, but only on paper, not by television.

“You’re too pretty not to let me place you on television, Ms. Prince,” Snapper said in a blatant attempt to change her mind about the camera.

“I enjoy having a low profile that allows me to stroll through Central Park unaccosted. Well, most days,” she added dryly, pulling back on her jet black hair. “Shall we begin?”

Snapper shrugged and then turned on his recorder. “Ms. Prince, are you associated with a group known as the Society for Justice?”

“I know of a Society for Peace and Justice, but I am not a member.” She stared him in the eye while she answered the question.

“How are you affiliated with Oliver Queen? According to my sources, his tax records show that he donates a great deal of money to charitable causes, but the money vanishes.” Snapper looked up from his notes as he waited for her response.

Diana shrugged expressively. “Oliver Queen is a casual acquaintance, but I have no idea where his money goes.”

“What about Bruce Wayne?”

“What about him?”

“Are you and the Secretary of the Treasury involved in a secret society?

Diana laughed lightly. “Mr. Carr, why don’t I cut to the chase? I know a host of wealthy, influential individuals and count many of them my friends. As a diplomat and socialite descended from Greek aristocracy, I have access to the highest social circles. I am a member of the exclusive Hellfire Club in London, and through that organization I rub elbows with Bruce Wayne, Lex Luthor, Tony Stark, and a host of others from the New York branch of the Club.” She smiled at him and leaned forward a bit. “Don’t quote me on this, but billionaires really do have the nicest toys.”

“So you’re saying that you know nothing about mutant undergrounds or safe-house networks?” Snapper asked with a touch of exasperation.

“Not in any modern sense, but I know of underground movements from the past as well as safe-house networks. What are you getting at?”

Snapper waived her off. “Nothing. Thank you for your time, Ms. Prince.”

“You’re quite welcome, Mr. Carr.” Diana rose and escorted him to the door, then crossed the room to join Dr. Jean Gray in the office next door. “What does he know?” Diana asked.

“Nothing with any certainty… He has facts – the existence of the Society, a list of members, mostly just what you heard – but it’s information that was given to him by a source that’s unknown to him. He has no idea if the information he has is real or fake, so he’s searching for validation. Here’s what concerns me, Diana – he’s determined to prove that his information is real, so he’s going to dig until he’s exhausted every possibility.”

“That is disturbing,” Diana agreed.

“And there’s one other major issue… He has a partner.”

“Who?”

“Lois Lane. Together they are going to go after every lead they can find.” Jean shook her head slowly. “Also, there’s evidence of some kind of psychic interference in his mind, but it’s different from anything I’ve seen before.”

“Someone has set them on this path then. Interesting.”

The White House

Secretary of State Kane Miller was a born diplomat. An academic with familial ties to the Founding of the Republic, Kane was the definition of a patrician, born of privilege, attending all the right schools, and having all the right contacts, he was a man who understood diplomacy and was a heavyweight among heavyweights in the Luthor cabinet. The situation with Russia was something beyond his control and his options in dealing with it were limited.

It was very rare that he requested a meeting with the president, but for this one he needed to do it face to face. The trip from the State Department took little time and he entered the White House at the diplomatic entrance. He nodded to senior staff as he made his way to the Oval Office.

The president’s executive secretary, Cynthia Hunt, greeted him as he walked up. “He’s expecting you Mr. Secretary, please go right in.”

He walked in and stopped a few paces inside the door. “Mr. President,” he offered as he walked inside.

Lex smiled and motioned for him to sit down. “Mr. Secretary…, this is a rare pleasure. What can I do for you?”

“Mr. President, I have every confidence in Secretary Manheim, but the complexity of the situation in the Ukraine is making dependable assessments difficult, if not impossible. Clarity has never been more important than at this moment.”

“I couldn’t agree more,” Lex allowed. “And I’ve never known you to delineate a problem without a solution to address it.

Kane nodded. “As I think you know, my son is with Marine Special Forces.. If his unit could be deployed to the insurgent fight in Ukraine, we could get an unimpeachable assessment of the true situation.” Kane kept his gaze fixed on President Luthor’s. “Russia is moving towards dangerous belligerence and we must know what is going on.”

“Deploying Graham’s unit with no fanfare would be dicey at best. Being your son makes him high profile; it would surely catch attention at the DOD.” Lex rubbed his chin for a moment. “I’ll consider it because it is a good idea, but I can’t promise anything. I’ve only met Graham once, but Clark has met him and talked with him at length. We were both impressed.”

“Yes, Graham informed me of Dr. Kent’s visit.” Kane chuckled, “Graham was both amused and shocked.”

Lex rose and extended his hand to the diplomat. “I’ll have Dr. McNally begin to look into this. Thank you, Kane.”


An hour later, Lex relayed Miller’s request to Nancy McNally. “Kane wants to send covert Marines to Ukraine. The vice president has suggested, and we approved, military advisors to that area already. Do we dare escalate with the potential for our direct involvement to be uncovered?”

“It would have to be done in small groups, and we’d need sufficient Intel assets on the ground to verify that our troops are safe from detection.”

“If we send in a battalion of Marines, how much impact would that have?”
“We can turn some Marines into ‘advisors’ and let them funnel weapons into Ukraine, but that’s the extent of what we can do. We have to insulate this office from any direct knowledge.”

“Get with CIA and DOD; I want this in motion as soon as possible. There must be some weapons that have been tasked for other insurgencies that can suddenly ‘get lost’.”

Nancy McNally smiled and shrugged. “I have no idea what you’re talking about.”

Aug 30
New Orleans

FBI Assistant Director Chet Desmond felt like an idiot, walking the streets of New Orleans looking for something without actually knowing what it was he was looking for. His assignment had been given to him verbally by the FBI Director herself. “Get to New Orleans and find out what’s going on,” Holly had directed.

“Going on with what or whom?” Chet had asked, hoping for a little clarification.

“You’ll know it when you see it,” Holly had replied. “Just don’t leave any fingerprints. If anyone asks, you’re wrapping up loose ends on the Thibideaux Kidnapping.”

“While in reality…?”

“You’ll know it when you see it,” she repeated.

Could you be a little more vague? Chet had wanted to grouse, but held his tongue. He’d hightailed it to New Orleans knowing only that he was looking for something out of place in a city where the normal was abnormal.

Using a terminal in an Internet café, he’d been able to search local news and blogs, and had even been able to conduct searches of Homeland Security’s recent Internet chat room surveillance without leaving any trace. The only moderately interesting thing he’d heard about New Orleans were some overblown rumors about the mysterious disappearance of a supposedly powerful psychic. Chet hadn’t thought much of it until he’d come across a similar rumor in a chat room haunted by government conspiracy theory goofballs.

Piecing together the few threads he’d been able to weave together, he made his way to the warehouse district along the river.

“Are you one of them?”

Chet whirled and found himself face-to-face with an elderly homeless man. “Am I one of who?”

The man coughed and then pointed at the street down the alley. “One of the men that came and took her.”

Bingo. “Who did they take?”

“They came in out of the night and took her. The people knew she had the Sight and left her alone. But the men in black came and took her. Blind though she was she could see and knew they came for her. Powerful she is.”

“What was her name?” Chet was excited and scared at the same time.

“Go to the Quarter and one of the voodoo priestesses can tell you. The one they took, all them priestesses down there know about her. They can tell you more. But things changing…can feel it. Her gone, darkness falls.”

Chet moved away from the man and hurried to the Quarter. He had a contact there who could plug him into the Voodoo underground, but that turned out to be unnecessary. The Voodoo found him.

“You seek Destiny,” said an ancient black woman as he passed the entrance to an alley. She was enthroned on a rickety chair, and acrid tobacco smoke from her pipe circled her head like a dingy halo.

Chet stopped and shook his head. “You are mistaken, Mama. I’m not looking to have my fortune read.”

“Maybe so, maybe not, but it is Destiny you seek,” she countered. “That one is a seer of rare power. She has been taken by men with dark agendas.” The woman inhaled on her pipe. “Many of us here could feel it when her mind’s eye was loose. Time was her map. The bones speak of terrible things now that she is taken.”

Chet knelt beside her. As if conjured, the innocent clouds that had been gathering overhead turned the sky dark and thunder roared in the distance. “Who took her? Who is she?”

“How many times must I tell you, Mr. Policeman. She is Destiny. Her friends call her Irene and she’s missing to them. You can follow her now, Mr. Policeman. Those who took her though, they know who she is and what she can do.”

“When did they take her?”

“A week, maybe more.” She shook her head. “Bad things happen when people act in bad faith, Mr. Policeman. Storms are a brewing and Destiny knew that too. Find her quickly, or we are all doomed. Go now, go.” Putting one hand on Chet’s shoulder, she used him like a cane to rise, and then, taking her chair with her, disappeared into the alley.

Chet hurried back to his car and called the New Orleans PD to request a missing persons report. It didn’t take long to get the list. He had his lead and now it was a matter of figuring out exactly who took her.

Washington

Holly Jones sat down and nodded as Val Cooper joined her. Old friends that they were, this meeting would go unnoticed or written off by any observers. They ordered and chatted until the first course had been served. Holly sipped her soup and smiled at Val. “I have news.”

“Concerning New Orleans?” Val took a bite out of her spring roll and tried hard to suppress her anticipation.

“It seems an elderly woman with the gift of prescience was kidnapped while that Special Ops team was there.” Holly paused to survey the restaurant. “According to Chet, the mystics down there are spooked. They knew her and they’re afraid of what this means.”

“Black ops to kidnap psychic mutants. I’ve not seen anything that could possibly be related in any Intelligence report from any agency. Something buried this deep can only mean that Gyrich is behind it,” Val hissed. “SHIELD was a good idea, but the whole damned agency is turning into the proverbial loose cannon.”

“How can you confirm whether they have the woman?” Holly asked while glancing around again.

“I still talk to Raven Darkholm all the time. I’ll ask her to check on it. She’s in a position to find out.”

Sept 2
Sydney, Australia

Gavin Lee was the head of the Freedom Party of Australia and sat in the Cabinet. Both positions gave him power, but together they had allowed him to leverage his political power to such magnitude that the government would fall without his support. He considered it his personal mission in life to keep the Prime Minister’s feet to the fire on the mutant issue.

“Brewster, I want—“

“Excuse me, sir,” his secretary poked her head in the door, interrupting the staff meeting. “If you don’t leave now, you will be late for the gala at the Opera House. The limo is waiting.”

“All right, all right,” he waved her off and rose to collect his suit jacket. “Ride with me, Brewster, Congrove. We’ll continue this in the car.”

His aides, who were never far from his side, made their way with him to a waiting car. Lee got in and was stunned to see someone sitting across from him. “Who are you?”

Damien smiled at Gavin. “I’m one of your biggest supporters and I’m here to give you a career boost.”

“Make an appointment. And get out of my limo,” Gavin barked. He reached for the door, but when the locks clicked, his irritation surged into alarm.

Damien tisk, tisked, “Not your limo, Gavin. And you’re no longer in a position to give orders.”

“What? Where—?” Lee looked out the window and saw his two aides being pushed into another car.

“Don’t worry, Tweedledum and Tweedledee won’t feel a thing. Nor will you.”

Gavin devolved into pure panic, but he managed to control his voice enough to demand, “What do you want? What are you going to do with us?”

“As a thank you for your excellent service, Minister, I’m going to show you a certain amount of hospitality while I put my extraordinary plan into place, and then, when I’m sure everything is functioning smoothly, I’ll probably kill you. In fact, I will almost certainly kill you. But don’t worry. Gavin Lee will continue to be of enormous service to his government, the world, and, of course, me.”

And then Gavin’s world went dark.


Interior Minister Gavin Lee arrived late at the Opera House, disoriented, feeling as though he’d just awakened from a long, drugged sleep, though he had no memory of sleeping, nor of what had happened to make him miss the walk down the red carpet.

He made it through the evening, but was glad to be home when the driver dropped him at his door. As though in a fog, he made his way inside, and was shocked to see a man in the foyer, waiting for him. Gavin felt sure he should muster some indignation or even alarm, but he could locate neither. “Who are you?”

“I am Dr. Essex and I am here to finish your transfer.”

“Tran--“ Gavin froze as flashes of light were directed at his eyes. Images race through his mind.

“You and your aides will have the flu for the next few days. Once you have absorbed the memories and personalities of your progenitors, you will be Minister Lee in every way, with no memory of this transfer, but you will belong to us. You and Congrove and Brewster. When we need you, you will respond like dogs to their masters.”

Essex stopped the process and pushed the near catatonic Minister to a sofa. “You will be fine in a few days. We will call you soon enough.”

New York

Gyrich looked through the infirmary window at Moondragon, who had been reduced to a gibbering idiot. “What the Hell is wrong with her?” he demanded of the medic on duty.

“We’re not sure yet. She keeps mumbling the same thing over and over again.” He handed Gyrich a tablet that contained a transcript of Moondragon’s ravings.

It all runs together. All things end. The end of time has come. All threads come to the darkness. It all runs together. Nothing will survive. Luthor, Richards, the lion will come and all will end.

Gyrich waved the tablet in the man’s face. “This is all she’s been saying?”

“Sir, she screams every so often about a fiery end, but that’s it.”

He looked at the timeline of Moondragon’s complaints and he dropped the tablet. He hurried out and called the Psy-Ops group. “Under no circumstances do you let anyone probe Destiny’s mind again. It will drive the telepaths mad.”


As soon as she read the transcript, Amanda Waller ordered Henry to join her in the infirmary. “Destiny needs to be terminated, Henry,” she said without preamble the moment he appeared.

“I agree, but not yet. For the moment, I need her alive to see if we are on the right track. I want to know if she can pinpoint Magneto.” Gyrich frowned as Moondragon went through another spate of gibberish. “Maybe we need to bring Destiny here and see if she can help Moondragon make sense of what she’s seeing.”

“That sounds dangerous.” Waller paused, considering, and then nodded. “But sometimes what caused the problem can fix the problem.”

Gyrich lifted a phone and within minutes Destiny was wheeled near the infirmary. He nodded at the two technicians and moved to the observation window.

Destiny gazed at Heather Douglas with sightless eyes and frowned. “Child is lost in the streams of time. Swept by the winds of probability and lost without an anchor.” She reached out her hands and took hold of Moondragon’s.

Dual voices echoed in the room, Time is becoming blind. The seas are turning to blood. All will be lost to darkness before the light can return. Shattered, all will be shattered. Despair and sorrow will reign.

Moondragon blinked, wrenching her hands from Destiny’s, but a veil of sanity seemed to gather over her. “How…? How can you stand it? The visions, the horror?”

“The eye can see much or little. All or nothing, child. I warned that man that all was moving towards the darkness. The lines are falling aside now and few ways out exist. Fewer still are the ways to avoid the blackness. Soon I will be blind in all sense of the word. Time is going to shatter.”

Moondragon leaned forward and grabbed hold of her chair to keep from falling. “Who is responsible? Who will start this catastrophe?”

“It’s not the first shot that matters, but the last person standing who will determine our fate. Lord Magneto knows this and that is why he hides. Many faces hide in the mists. They are becoming clearer by the day, but the roads become fewer.”

Sept 5
Metropolis

“Vulcan Energy began selling power on the open grid to consumers today. Their new fusion power plants are fully online and distributing clean power. Other energy and power companies are complaining that they’re at a competitive disadvantage because the parent company of Vulcan Energy, Minerva Inc has the deepest pockets on the planet and can sell energy at a discounted cost.

Tristan turned off the news and swiveled to face his media relations group and public relations staff. “We knew there would be complaints like this, but make sure this story spins on the idea of super-clean power from renewable resources. I don’t want the story to be that we are undercutting prices unfairly.”

Simon Johns, the president of Minerva, nodded. “Our long term strategy is to clean up the environment and save the planet. Make sure we compare our energy to coal fired generators. Leave the business model questions alone or the whole thing gets lost in gobbledygook.”

The assembled group broke up after a few more talking points were discussed and Tristan waited until his door was closed. He clicked a button on his desk and soon was staring at his younger brother in holographic form. “Good morning, Whitney. Vulcan power is now on the market and we estimate we’ll be pulling in several million dollars in revenue a day before too long.”

“Thanks for the heads up. I’m going to be on Capitol Hill today and all this week and I’m sure the Republicans will find a way to politicize what should be a day for rejoicing.” Whitney shook his head. “You know the world’s gone mad when you can be characterized as greedy monsters for curing cancer and providing cheap, environmentally friendly energy.”

Tristan’s smile faded. He wasn’t sure when he’d seen Whitney look so discouraged. “Don’t let the bastards get to you, brother. We’re holding all the cards.”

“Not all of them, Tristan. Not nearly all of them.”

Washington

Whitney dropped the line and rubbed his temples. Yolanda Jackson walked in and smiled. “Are you ready for your first meeting today?”

Nodding, Whitney grabbed his dossier. “I’m meeting Congressman Evans at ten and Congresswoman Riali at eleven.”

Robert Evans chaired the House Sub-committee on Health and Congresswoman Riali was the ranking member on the Health Sub-committee. They were important players on health care matters in Congress and anything that the White House hoped to achieve would have to get their support.

“The Sub-committee is scheduled to meet at two. That’s when you’ll begin testimony concerning the Cancer Protocol. Dr. Fordman will be up there tomorrow while you meet with the Speaker and the Senate Majority Leader.” Yolanda nodded and handed Whitney a small sheet of paper. “It’s a cheat sheet with every member of the committee’s name and areas of expertise.”

“Thanks. Okay, I’m off to see if I can woo Congress.”


The House Subcommittee on Health was part of the House Committee on Energy and Commerce. The House Committee on Energy and Commerce has developed what is arguably the broadest (non-tax-oriented) jurisdiction of any Congressional committee. It maintains principal responsibility for legislative oversight relating to telecommunications, consumer protection, food and drug safety, public health, air quality and environmental health, the supply and delivery of energy, and interstate and foreign commerce in general. It was for this reason that Whitney was dealing with members of the Sub-committee on Health and in general the Committee on Energy and Commerce.

Whitney sat down at the conference table in the middle of the hearing room and faced the Sub-committee. He was sworn and nodded when Congressman Evans thanked him for appearing. Evans then turned the first question over to the ranking Democrat on the committee, Congresswoman Kira Sellers of Colorado.

“Mr. Fordman, I’ve never been a fan of coincidence, but today it seems appropriate to make notice of one. You appear before us to discuss a Cure for Cancer the same day that your family company begins selling power to the American people. While this is the Health Sub-committee, it would be remiss not to mention this is the Energy and Commerce Committee as well. Minerva’s accumulation of power, no pun intended, is becoming staggering.”

“Congresswoman, I am not currently seated on Minerva’s Board of Directors and cannot speak for the company. I do know that many years of research and development went into both projects. These breakthrough events have the ability to be transformational…”

Whitney was cut off before he could continue. “Yes, Mr. Fordman, but transforming into what exactly? We are looking at a company with so many advanced technologies that is threatens to become a monopoly on a frightening number of fronts. It appears that the gateway to the future is through Minerva’s doors – at a price of course.”

Whitney leaned back and spoke with one of his advisors. After a few moments he leaned into his microphone and said, “Mr. Chairman, I’m here to discuss Cancer and a treatment for it. If the full Committee on Energy and Commerce wishes to discuss broader matters, then I would have to refer them to Minerva for answers.”

“Mr. Fordman,” replied Chairman Evans, “this sub-committee’s purview is health and I will direct the congresswoman to limit her inquires to that scope, but you must understand the broader implications of our inquiry. There are troubling aspects to the concentration of power inside that company and while you may not be a current director you are still a major shareholder.”


Jeff Fordman watched from his Office of the White House Counsel and shook his head. The committee was going after his baby brother with a vengeance. He looked up and yelled at his assistant, “Is the President available?”

After a few moments the answer came, “Yes, sir, the president is available. He’s expecting you now.”

Jeff made a beeline for the Oval Office and nodded to Cynthia Hunt, the president’s executive secretary. “Good afternoon, Mr. President.”

“Is it really, Jeff? Have you seen the circus on Capitol Hill?” Lex stared at the television on the far wall. “And the grilling started with Democrats. Lord knows what the GOP will say when they get rolling!”

“Now how can you call this a cure for cancer when you admit that the process or drug only works on Stage 3 and 4 carcinomas? To say that this is a cure is misleading at best and fraudulent at worst."

Lex pointed at the TV and frowned. “See? Get Tristan on a plane tonight with more experts and start getting every reputable researcher in the country on every news program in the air. I will not have this go down because people are playing politics with it.”

“I’ll get with Yolanda Jackson and see if we can’t come up with a way to spin this against Congress.”

On the TV, looking calm and confident, Whitney was finally allowed to respond to the Republican congressman’s diatribe. "Sir, I’d like to refer you to the very precise wording of our initial announcement. The President was very clear that this is not a cure for cancer. I don’t think Minerva can be blamed for what the media and the public choose to call the Protocol.

Jeff smiled. “Well, I still see the quarterback in my little brother. They haven’t fazed him.”

“No, and they won’t either. They are getting in their shots right now, but Whitney’s going to run them over soon enough. Let’s just make sure we give him plenty of traction, okay?”

Sept 6
London

Lady Elizabeth Braddock rubbed her temples but couldn’t reach the headache generated by endless meetings concerning British diplomatic efforts in the coming months. The drive in from Heathrow had been tense -- there was anti-mutant graffiti everywhere; worse than anything Elizabeth had ever seen. Prime Minister Tilden was holding his majority by the slimmest of margins, but neither the Tories nor the Friends of Humanity seemed ready to challenge the ruling party for control of the Commons.

Though she was an aristocrat, she was trusted by the Government to make decisions and to keep Whitehall informed of the happenings in the United States. However, the sentiment in the Isles was forcing the Prime Minister’s hand and with the change of governments in France and Germany, Britain was more isolated in the European Union and the Council of Europe on mutant affairs.

Lord Carlisle, the Foreign Minister, tapped the conference table to bring order to the room. “As representatives of His Majesty’s government we must try to deal with changes in policy. The European Parliament now has a plurality that opposes mutant rights and as such we are in a terrible negotiating position. Elections in Spain and Italy will soon determine if we are alone among the great powers that affirm mutant rights. To each of you; do what you can behind the scenes to maintain calm. There is a hysteria sweeping the world and we must stand in its path or else be swept away.”


Dr. Douglas Ramsey walked along the Thames, just outside Parliament. He was a senior American diplomat and a known mutant. His power was the innate ability to understand languages, be they machine or human, and speak them as well. It was a singular practical gift and unremarkable as well. He was a human Rosetta Stone, and hated for it.

“You look lost, Doug,” Betsy said as she walked up next to him. “Lord North mentioned you were here, but never said why.”

“Stopping off to make sure that Prime Minister Tilden is still backing some initiatives in the North Atlantic Council.” Doug looked around and then spoke softly. “We are worried that Europe is moving too quickly and we need to make sure that America gets heard.”

//Be careful, Douglas, you are a known mutant and a high profile target. You should not be out here alone.// “His Majesty’s government will do all we can to support the United States, but the Prime Minister could have the question called at any point. I’ve warned the president not to push too hard or else he may be without any allies.”

“We are in a dilemma as you know. We must stand firm, but doing so may cost us what allies we have left. If Spain and Italy move to coalition governments with anti-mutant components then all that is left is Britain.” Doug sighed, “Instead of stopping or slowing the hysteria it seems as though Lex Luthor’s election pushed it further. Even the Los Angeles incident has done nothing to slow the Friends of Humanity.”

“Fear is a powerful motivator and it is being used to move humanity towards a confrontation that no one can win.” Betsy shook her head and then shrugged. “Enough of this. You have time for tea and I know just the place. Brussels will still be there this evening.”

New York

Raven Darkholm smiled as she passed colleagues in the hallways, but inside she was alternately seething and panicking over Val Cooper’s news that a seer had been abducted from New Orleans. Until today, she’d been frustrated by her inability to report anything of importance to Magneto; she’d made no progress in finding the mutant computer expert, Scanner and her only success, her operation to weaken the Luthor Presidency through media figures, was marginal at best.

But today…failure this time was unthinkable. Destiny was Mystique’s long time friend and she was now on a personal mission to find and save her.

She shape-shifted and assumed the form of a coworker on this level. Time was of the essence. The holding area was the one place she could not get camera access. In her search for Scanner, she’d come down here, but he wasn’t being kept there. Now she was about to search again in the hope of finding Mystique, or at least a clue to her whereabouts. When she got down there she was surprised to see one of the holding cells in use. A quick peek inside shocked her. Moondragon, the most powerful member of SHIELD Psy-Ops was locked inside.

“I hear the shadow of your thoughts, you should not be here,” came out the bleary voice. “I’ve seen you in her mind before. She tracks you, but we cannot. If Gyrich knew of your duplicity you’d be dead.”

“What are you talking about?” Mystique hid her panic in this disguise, but she could not flee without knowing everything that Moondragon could tell her.

“You are the lieutenant of Magneto and a spy in SHIELD, a mutant of high rank, but so important to the future. Time is so fluid, but you are in the streams clear as day.” She shook her head. “Lost, so lost in the knowledge of the future. I can’t see it like I did, but what I did see terrifies me. Key logs and jams, Mystique. I am no longer trusted, lost as I am in the streams of Time, but I am grounded at times again. You must not get caught or else things will be far worse. Your friend, she is not here, but there is a facility in Canada that may have her. Research facility called Eagle Lake.”

Mystique turned without another word. She knew of Eagle Lake because it was part of her research division, but it was a little used facility. ‘If that facility is being used then I must go in secret. And I must let Magneto warn that we are in grave danger.’

Washington

Whitney shook his head as he recounted the events of the day to Lex and Clark. “We’re in a world of hurt on the Hill right now. Congress seems disinclined to listen and more inclined to attack at the moment.”

Lex shrugged, “I received more bad news today. Bruce came by and the financial forecasts are dismal. We have to find ways to cut spending and raise revenues or we’re wide open to currency manipulation. Rebuilding in Miami and Chicago has been an unexpected drain as well as increased expenses on such things as the Los Angeles riots.”

“The PR on this is terrible,” Clark added. “I can just see our enemies shouting, ‘America goes broke while Luthor profits.’ Talk about a political nightmare.”

“Tristan and Minerva are moving to launch a PR counter assault on Congress as we speak. The news from Houston speaks to desperation for Hope and ending that terrible disease.” Whitney sighed and shook his head. “The battles that we’re going to have to fight over this are far greater than I expected.”

“We knew there’s be some resistance, love, but you’re right that not to this degree.” Lex rubbed his temples. “I am getting tired of feeling one step behind the curve in dealing with so many issues.”

Clark whispered, “We have resources and I think it’s time we used them to the fullest extent possible.”

Lex nodded, but warned, “Caution is still required. We have reporters looking into the Society. We know that the Secret Service may be compromised. It is what we don’t know that should frighten us the most,” Lex stated. “However, we must act or else all will be lost. Do what you can and see what we are up against.”

Sept 10
Boston

Zach drove up to his nephews’ townhouse and rolled his eyes. There was a guardhouse on the front lawn and Secret Service everywhere. He waited in the drive as two of the agents came walking up.

“Good afternoon, Mr. Kent, we weren’t expecting you,” one said as he opened Zach’s door. “The gentlemen are inside.”

“Thanks.” Zach gave a jaunty salutesaid as he saluted the agent. ‘The last thing Philip and Hamilton needs is this kind of treatment. They could be in for the worst college experience ever.’ He walked right into the house and nodded at the House security agents that guarded the guys. “Yo, Philip! Hamilton! Where are you guys?”

Philip walked out of the kitchen and moved to give his uncle a bear hug. “Hey Uncle Zach! What brings you to Boston?”

Franklin and Hamilton walked in and gave Zach hugs as well. Zach smiled and ruffled Hamilton’s shaggy hair. “I wanted to make sure you were getting settled in. And to make sure that the word ‘fun’ had not been banned from the house.”

Hamilton smiled. “Fun is being had already. I’ve had three dates since I got here.”

“The interesting thing is that they were with three different women,” Philip interjected. “Though I could swear one was older than Pop.”

Hamilton gave Philip a dirty look and then beamed at Zach. “Being away from the parents has been great. Though Dad claims that Ms. Rachel may come up here to chaperone for a few days a week if we don’t behave.”

Zach looked around the house and nodded. “Not bad considering the rumors that Peter was spreading about the décor.”

“Peter was mad because we didn’t take many of his decorating suggestions,” Hamilton said as he threw himself across a sofa. “Grandma was adamant that we have a formal sitting area, but we won in the end.”

Zach looked around and then motioned for his nephews to sit closely. “I want you guys to be alert at all times. After what happened to Lionel this summer, and the new outbreak of mutant violence, you guys need to be careful. I know you think you can take care of yourselves, but you need to stay alert.”

Philip and Hamilton nodded. Franklin sighed, “We know that things aren’t going well. Even in this supposed liberal city, there is a powerful anti-mutant sentiment. I can almost taste it in the background.”

“Be careful and don’t trust anyone except House members.” Zach stood up and stretched. “Okay, let’s go grab some food!”

The four of them walked into a Chinese restaurant not far from the Charles River. The evening was still warm and they were all dressed in shorts. They would have appeared to be normal good-looking teenage guys if not for the protective detail that followed them around. Zach rolled his eyes. “Dudes, this is like having a full scale army around you.”

“And they have all the humor of a prison warden,” quipped Hamilton. “But they do get us where we need to be in a short amount of time.”

Franklin smiled as he took a seat with a plate full of food. “It’s just nice not to be in total seclusion. You think your family is overprotective -- mine is nuts about it.”

Zach winked. “So Philip, are you and Franklin sharing a bed yet? I have two hundred dollars that you are and Ben swears you’re not.”

Philip looked at Zach in horror, while Hamilton laughed. “They maintain the illusion of separate rooms, but they walk out of the same one every morning.”

“Hamilton!” sputtered Philip while Franklin blushed a deep red.

“What? It’s the truth. And besides, Ben deserves to lose money for betting against you.”

Eagle Lake

The sky was dark with clouds, a front coming down as the seasons changed, but the weather didn’t bother Mystique. The valley below held an old dam and its crystal clear lake of water. This facility was old compared to many of the ones that SHIELD used and she had learned little about it save that it was a human weapons instillation.

Assuming the form of a random hiker, she made her way down the slope of the mountain and towards the dam. All her senses were extended to their maximum to pick up if she was being observed. The area looked abandoned, but she could tell there were relatively fresh tire tracks on the soft dirt. Moving to a quiet place, she morphed into a bird and did a quick circle of the area.

The area appeared deserted, but her heightened instincts told her that there was recent and ongoing activity in the area. It took her a bit, but she found an access hatch that was hidden in the side of a rock outcropping near the lake shore. She was invisible to electronic measures and was able to slip inside with ease.

Her knowledge of the layout was limited and the threat of detection made her cautious and nervous. As she moved quickly down halls, she kept listening for approaching footfalls. Finally she came to a computer and was able to pull up a base schematic.

She found the detention level and quickly moved in that direction. Every fiber of her being was tense as she went deeper into the complex. A whisper greeted her as she came to just outside the cell. “Raven, you cannot free me.”

Mystique stopped and looked inside. Her friend was sitting on a cot, frail, and disheveled, but not quite broken. “I’ve got to get you out of here!”

“No, I’m almost blind now. Time is falling apart. I do know that if I leave with you, hell will break loose. I must stay. Gyrich still thinks he needs me and I’ll live for awhile yet. We may yet see this through together, but that is far from certain.”

“But, if you stay, Magneto is sure to come after SHIELD. He must be told that they have you. I can’t not tell him.”

A sad sigh came from the cell. “I know, but to leave, escape, would be worse. We’re talking a game of inches, but in those few steps hope may remain. I must stay and you must go.”

Mystique paused for a moment. “I must know; do you see what effect my plan is having on the future?”

A small chuckle came from the cell. “Using journalists for your own ends? Trying to find a way to give mutants help from the highest circles of power is admirable, but blackmail never works. You sow more seeds into this coming chaos, but I can’t see what they will do in the storm. Now, go. Time is pressing. Soon a tower will fall and with it the foundations of this world will be shaken.”

Mystique nodded. “I will see you safe again. I promise that. And Gyrich will pay for this insult.” She took off before she could hear a response.

Sept 12
New York

Kyle walked around the Xavier Institute and shook his head. His tour guides were one of the teachers, Scott Summers, and his mentor, Peter Rasputin. He had recovered from his incident in Smallville, and was now here.

“We know you aren’t a mutant, Kyle, but Prof. Xavier can help you deal with your new found gifts. It’s the same principle as if you were a mutant,” Scott said as they came to Charles Xavier’s office. “He’ll be with you in a minute.”

Kyle waited and then went into the office once the door opened. He stretched out to shake the offered hand. “Thank you for your time.”

“Kyle, when one of my students requests my help, I have to honor that request. In this case though, I do not think there will be any problems.” Charles leaned back in his wheelchair. “I want you tell me your story of how much you remember concerning these new powers. I’m a telepath and will monitor your thoughts for hidden clues.”

“I was in Los Angeles going to see an art exhibit. I hadn’t been back there in years. I was caught up in that riot and witnessed the Green Lantern get killed. I remember screaming and I think our eyes met, but there was an explosion of light and next thing I knew my head was splitting and I was scrambling to get away.”

Prof. Xavier nodded his head. “There are several things I see in your memory that you can’t. You were chosen, Kyle, but why or how, remains a mystery. As such you must allow your mind to embrace your gift. Once you do, we will be able to help you achieve your potential.”

Washington

Ben threw himself across the couch of their common room while Wes was doing homework at a desk. “Wes, I hate to admit it, but I miss them. Not so much Philip being bossy, but just them being here.”

“Yeah, but we have to start making up our minds where we’re going to be next fall.” Wes twirled his pen like a drumstick for a moment. “I really don’t want to go to Harvard or live in Boston. I’d like to go to USC or UCLA, but that’s out of the question as well.”

Ben shot up at the mention of Los Angeles schools. “You’re right that LA is out of the question. I don’t want to live there! What about New York?”

“Like they will let me go to Juilliard,” scoffed Wes.

Ben smiled widely. “Go to Columbia with me and take some classes at Juilliard. As America’s Most Eligible Bachelor, I feel that I should grace New York with my presence during my college years.”

Wes broke up laughing. “Are you serious? Man, your ego is out of control! Hamilton is next up on the Most Eligible Bachelor list and you still have Dick, Bruce, Warren, and Tony all not married yet. You’re in a long line of people before you’re number one.”

“Whatever. Elsa will take Dick off the market as soon as she can. Tony and Janet Van Dyne are a long time item, Betsy and Bruce are practically married already. Now Warren and Oliver Queen might be competition, but my bankroll will surpass theirs soon enough.” He gave Wes another one of his killer grins.

Wes raised a finger and matched that devilish smile. “You forgot Zach, and he’s got you beat in the sexy category.”

Ben tried to counter, opening his mouth to say something and then stopped. “Well, shit. Okay. How about Columbia?”

Sept 15
Los Angeles

Steve Wilson left his trainees and hurried down a hallway toward the meeting room where he’d been summoned. He knew his cell was going up for something big, but he had no idea what. He was shocked to find Graydon Creed waiting for him in the room.

“Steve, good to see you again.” Graydon offered his hand and motioned for him to sit down. “You’re doing a fantastic job with your cell. In fact I gave them the weekend to go do some stuff, but I need you for a special assignment.”

“Anything you’d like, boss.” Steve kept his voice neutral, but excitement surged through him at the possibility that he might finally be allowed to glimpse the broader plans of the Friends of Humanity.

“I need you to go to London and hook up with the group there. They need guidance of the sort that you can give them. The Brits are still in the mutant loving column and they need to be reminded that real humans still run the show.”

“When do I leave and who will I meet?” Steve was prepared to be gone with a day or two.

“You will sail out of the Port of Los Angeles on a freighter bound for Bangkok. Once there you will find out the rest of your itinerary. It will be at least three weeks before you will be in London. If I were you, I’d get ready to catch up on my reading.”

New York

Amanda Waller was sipping her afternoon tea when Col. Jamison Brand came waltzing into her office. “What do I owe the pleasure, Jamison?”

“I’ve been on a duty rotation and had to audit security logs, very boring until I found a few things that didn’t add up.” He handed her a data disc and a few pieces of paper. “There is a pattern of ID access that doesn’t line up with terminals or dates. They are random and done at varied points, but at least five have occurred in the last year. We have an issue.”

Waller looked over the data and frowned. “Do you have any idea what is behind this? I mean any clue as to who or why?”

“I’m a suspicious man by nature and this strikes me as too out of the ordinary to be anything other than a security compromise. The problem is how random these events were and the odd variety of access achieved. This could be a case of a looking for a needle in a haystack.”

“Start with the last breach and begin looking at all the odd security occurrences since then. That might help narrow down the possibilities or we may find nothing. But the most recent may still have fresh fingerprints.”

Sept 16
Melbourne, Australia

The Freedom Party of Australia was holding a rally for mutant registration, with the vote set for Parliament in a week. From a pulpit-like platform in the Central Plaza, Gavin Lee’s voice boomed through loud speakers, railing against the evil mutants and promising that the wrath that God would soon be visited upon the world for their continued blight. Oratory was one of Lee’s strong suits, and he was whipping an estimated three thousand supporters into a very satisfying frenzy.

What wasn’t so satisfying, though, was the counter demonstration that seemed to be gathering across the street, too close for comfort and growing closer. It was rare that anyone openly defended mutants in anything other than broad legal terms, but for a group to rally so publicly, in direct view of an anti-mutant rally that was easily two thousand strong…that was unheard of.

Without breaking from his speech, Gavin glanced at his security detail and saw that they, too, had noticed the demonstrators.

“We must know who and what that they are and can do!” his voice boomed out. “Parliament must and will bow to this, the will of the Australian people!”

The crowd roared its approval, but it wasn’t enough to drown out the voice that suddenly seemed to be everywhere – not just in the air, but inside Gavin’s head and the head of every Freedom Party member on the grounds.

“Stupid flatscans! You are no longer the top dog on this planet. We’re not going to cower in fear of you mongrels any longer! We are homo superior, and your time has come to an end!”

That was all it took for all Hell to break loose in the plaza.

Gavin was grabbed by security, and before he even realized what was happening he been thrown into his car and whisked away. He twisted in time to see his chase car burst in flames. Explosions shattered building windows, pelting the car with shards of glass.

Panic swept through Gavin like the wildfires that seemed to be coming from everywhere and nowhere. “Get me the hell out of here!” he screamed at his driver. Another explosion ripped the pavement behind them.

“Sir, get down!” One of his men shoved him into the floor. “There is debris all over the place. I’ve got to get you to safety.”

‘There is no safety any longer. Mutants will get bolder and bolder. The time to fight is now!

Sydney

Damien could not believe the images coming from Melbourne. A battle royale had broken out in the streets, leaving hundreds of people injured and at least 20 dead on both sides of clash between the Friends of Humanity and a contingent of mutants and mutant-lovers. As backlash, anti-mutant rioting was breaking out across the country.

Though the timing was a little premature, he couldn’t have wished for a better turn of events. “This is it, Victoria. Gavin will be Prime Minister soon, and through him I shall rule Australia,” he crowed to his wife.

“Be careful, Damien. You’ve seen other plans turn to shit recently. These things have a way of playing out badly when you act rashly. Let Gavin and his people handle this.” She moved closer to him and then whispered, “Then you can move Gavin to do your bidding as he was made to do. I think it is past time we replaced a few members of InterGang.”

Damien began pacing, muting the news from CNN International. “You’re right. We must accelerate the move on InterGang. Much of the cargo is in place, but if we act now we must be prepared to capture the biggest prize of all – Vitaly Kirov.”

“Vitaly and Tatiana are occupied with the conflict in Ukraine. We should be able to take control and they will never know it.”

“Yes, that is possible, but it will be close, with no margin for error. We must take out the Asian Syndicate first. They have the most gateways into Russia and the easiest network to conquer.” Damien frowned for a second and then found some plans in his desk. “All deliveries are in place and awaiting the word.”

Victoria draped her arms across Damien’s shoulders. “Time is of the essence, my love. Australia is ripe for the picking. We need the Asian Network of InterGang to really take a step towards power. Do it Damien! Give the word!”

The list was in Damien’s hand; Ojeida Tanaka of Japan, Lee Peng Tung of China, Khalid Hamzir of Central Asian Ops, those were the three that had to be replaced first. Mohamed Al-Almin and Martin Ver Kerk would be next. That would leave only Morgan Edge and Vitaly Kirov of InterGang’s Central Committee left to be dealt with. Damien nodded at Victoria. “The word is given.”

Washington
Oval Office


“Mr. President,” started Kane Miller, “I’ve just gotten off the phone with our Ambassador in Canberra. They expect the ruling party to fall tomorrow. The Prime Minister is going to resign and the Freedom Party will almost assuredly seek the post or demand new elections.”

Lex rubbed his temples and looked at Nancy McNally. “What the hell is this going to do for the global situation?”

Nancy looked back at Kane and he shrugged, motioning for her to speak. “Mr. President, we think these events will precipitate more riots and more attacks on mutants. Magneto and the Brotherhood won’t let those assaults go unanswered. This could be a dark turning point.”

Standing up, Lex looked out of the windows behind his desk. “I am beginning to feel like Lincoln before the Civil War. If have almost no options, and the ones that exist invite disaster. Nancy, call a meeting of the deputy principles of the National Security Council and get me a plan. You have forty-eight hours.”

“Sir, it may take more time than that. NSA, CIA, SHIELD, and DIA all will have different scenarios that are simply in conflict. We’ll try to integrate all the different points of view and come up with a draft of a Finding, but that takes time. White Papers can take weeks or months and a Finding, which is what you want, can take just as long.”

“We don’t have weeks or months, Nancy. If Magneto retaliates, we may not even have hours.”

“I realize that, Mr. President, but it will take at least ten days to get what you want.”

Sept 19
Tokyo

Yuri Tanaka finished his workout with his katana blade and wiped at the sweat on his brow. The warning two months ago from Christian Smith about threats to House Luthor and ways of escape had moved Yuri to an almost paranoid state of alert. He’d know Chris for years, had been recruited by him back when he was part of Shearn Phipps outfit. Back then Yuri had been with Naicho, an approximate equivalent of the CIA. Now, he was a security specialist for several corporations – including the Imperial Government.

He made his way to a warehouse that served as a staging area and distribution center for the illegal activities of his cousin Ojeida Tanaka, one of the biggest gangsters in Japan. For the last few days, Yuri had been hearing rumors of foreigners who had arrived and were hanging around some old cargo that had been kept separate on special orders from Ojeida himself. It was rare that his cousin involved himself in petty affairs, which suggested that something out of the ordinary was happening, but things that were out of the ordinary always intrigued Yuri.

Making his way across Tokyo in the dead of night was easy and he arrived in record time. Not wanting to reveal that he was around, he parked out of the way and went the rest of the way on foot. Quickly dealing with the locked door, he made his unauthorized way into the building. He knew the layout, but didn’t want to be detected. He used a special listening device to eavesdrop on conversations going on down the hall.

“Word from above is that this cargo is to be moved in three days.”

“Mr. Tanaka doesn’t want to take any chances. He said this was specially delivered by his boss.”

Ojeida’s boss?’ Yuri thought. Ojeida Tanaka was the top dog in Tokyo, but globally… The pieces clicked into place. ‘OH! This must be InterGang. So, the plot thickens.

“Another shipment is due in a few days and then they all move out to Russia. We only have to keep it secure until then.”

A door slid open and Yuri ducked further into the shadows. He couldn’t see anything, but his hearing was still perfect.

A deeply accented voice that Yuri couldn’t place, spoke in Japanese, “That large crate goes to Mr. Tanaka’s house. It must be done now. The other three crates will remain here. When the new shipment arrives they will go to Beijing.”

Yuri retraced his steps and exited the building. He pulled a disc from his jacket and flicked it at the truck that was waiting to receive the cargo. He rapidly made his way to his car and remote activated the disc. ‘Chris and his people will be able to spy on Ojeida with this. He’s big in InterGang and if they are up to something then that is very bad news.

Sept 21
Tokyo

Dr. Brian Corbeau walked to the door of Ojeida Tanaka and knocked politely. As he did, three of his special soldiers were moving into the house from other points. Tanaka’s security guards had already been incapacitated, but only two of them were going to be replaced. Dr. Corbeau smiled as the door swung open. He was shocked to see that it was Tanaka himself.

“Who are you and what do you want?”

Corbeau reached out and delivered a mild neurotoxin that quickly immobilized Tanaka. Two men waiting in the shadows behind him came running up and grabbed Tanaka, moving him into the house.

“Where is the cargo box?”

Quickly they moved to the storage area and the box was opened revealing a clone storage container. Corbeau moved to it and keyed in a sequence. In seconds it came to life. He motioned for his men to bring him Tanaka. Silently he attached probes to Tanaka’s head, and the computers in the container began a rapid neuro-sequencing of Tanaka’s brain.

The process ran for several minutes. Corbeau looked at the monitors and motioned to one of his associates. “Make sure that none of the others wake up. The two henchmen that need replacing, move them to the car and take them to the warehouse. We’ll meet you there as soon as we’re done here.”

Two hours later, Corbeau walked out of the warehouse and lifted his phone. “Damien, this is Brian. Tokyo is lovely this time of year; thank you for the recommendation. I’ll be heading to Hong Kong soon and I hope it is just as wonderful. Tell Varian that I picked up those items he requested. I’ll get the others in Hong Kong to add to his collection.”

Sevastopol, Crimea, Ukraine

Graham Miller and his entirely unofficial team of six arrived in port and moved down the plank towards a group of men waiting for them. Cargo was going to offloaded and placed in the shipyard for distribution after dark. He eyed the mostly empty docks not far from his position. The Ukrainian Navy had moved out and blockaded the few Russian vessels when open hostilities broke out.

The Vice President had moved for more open support and there was plenty of American muscle was across the Black Sea in Turkey and more still Greece, but President Luthor had too many irons in the fire to risk a more open confrontation by putting a large contingent here. NATO forces were still in the Balkans, but those governments were in political turmoil at the moment. Graham and a few other groups of ‘advisors’ were the only viable option at the moment short of total war.

“Break out the goods and we’ll meet our hosts in a few minutes.” He watched with approval as another ship began unloading the other half of their supplies. None of the equipment was very modern, but it was all serviceable. That’s what counted most right now in this fight.

“Sir, our contact is here.”

Graham nodded at his fellow Marine and shook the resistance fighter’s hand. “How soon can we get this stuff to the front?”

“As long as the roads off the peninsula aren’t blocked, we can do this in three days.”

“Good. We have a lot of work to do and no time to do it in.”

Sept 24
Hong Kong

Corbeau ripped off his latex gloves and motioned for two of his associates to remove the newly processed clone into Lee Peng Tung’s bedroom. The slumped form of the real Mr. Lee was lifted and placed in the now empty container.

“Move it to the docks and see to it that it is returned to Sydney. We may need him in the future.”

He walked out of the house and toward the car that slid into place to receive him. He lifted his phone. “Damien, Corbeau here. I’ve had a lovely vacation and the packages will be sent separately due to their size. I’ll be home in two days. My best to Varian.”

Two of InterGang’s top people are now under our control. Before long we will go after the King, but Damien is in for a surprise if he thinks he’ll be on top.’

Boston

Philip and Hamilton were in a special room of their townhouse built for absolute privacy looking at holographic displays of their family gathered in council from across the country. They knew they were being seen in holographic form in similar rooms in Smallville, Metropolis, and Washington.

“Australian elections are set for two weeks,” Enrique stated. “The ranch has been shut down entirely since the great drought. We have one condo in Sydney, but no major assets to leverage economic incentives with.”

“We could close down all of Minerva’s medical and scientific initiatives there,” Tristan suggested. “That would certainly create leverage.”

Nick nodded, “We could use the family reserves to move against their currency. Within weeks, we could reduce their economic standing to rubble.”

“Moving that openly would leave us open for all kinds of counterattacks,” Lisa said. “Besides, neither Lex nor Whitney would approve of that kind of move.”

Philip shook his head. “I disagree, Aunt Lisa.” All the heads in the council turned toward Philip and Hamilton. They had been placed in this forum upon graduation, but had never voiced any opinion openly, until now. Their comments were always given in private and off the record. “Tactically, the best move would be for Minerva to ‘punish’ Australia for its choices and then, with that news breaking, LFK and Marauder should move out of Australian dollars. The move would be couched in terms of following ideals and also serve as an unannounced warning to all others. Father’s hands would be clean, but it would send a clear message that Lex Luthor has a real ace up his sleeve in the actions we can take as a House.”

Lionel nodded, “Astutely put, Philip, but in this case it might be best if we did not come to the aid of your father. We can punish Australia, but not in one stroke and not too soon. Lex has many things in the air and we cannot make our moves an open issue at this time.”

//I agree with grandfather, Philip// Hamilton chimed in privately. //Big bold moves are great, but if this backfires, then Father is mortally wounded politically and we are damaged as well.//

Philip rubbed his chin. He was itching to get into the game and make a mark, but he wasn’t a hot head. “I’ll support a cautious course of action at this time, but please understand that caution seems to only delay the actual need to act. Chess pieces are moving as we discuss this and I can sense our danger growing. Australia is an opening gambit for the Friends of Humanity. If we fail to check them soon then nothing we can do to support father will help.”

“Philip, we are with you on that,” Nick commented. “But to make choices of this magnitude without the president’s knowledge or consent could be devastating. And he cannot legally know what we are planning.”

“I think Hamilton and I need to head to Washington soon. The Praetorians are going to play the Redskins in three weeks are they not?” Philip smiled and gave his grandfather a wink. “A little father-son bonding time can’t be denied, can it Hamilton?”

Hamilton laughed, “Indeed not.”

New York

Kyle awoke sweating, his clothes and bed sheets soaked, but the dream this time was clear.

You were chosen Kyle Raynor, to be a member of the Green Lantern Corps. Your mental strength, your judgment, and imagination will serve you well. Take this ring and accept this power. When you are ready, the ring will be yours.

Kyle opened his closed hand and in his palm was an emerald-colored ring. He slipped it on his right hand and felt the power surge through him. He jumped out of bed, threw on some workout clothes, and made his way to the Danger Room. He didn’t activate any of the systems, just went into the large room to test the ring to see if he could recall any of the instructions from his dream.

Concentration is the key. The power of the ring will allow you to do almost anything. Flight, protection, creation…all these things are possible with sufficient concentration.

He walked to the center of the room and focused as he’d been learning over the last few weeks. Prof. Xavier helped him delve into memory and also into controlling the surges of energy he’d been feeling. Kyle stopped and realized he was no longer feeling those surges. He only felt the power of the ring. Taking a deep breath, he focused his mind and thought of flying. When he opened his eyes, he was halfway to the ceiling. “Oh My God! I’m flying!” Just like that his concentration broke and he fell twenty feet with a thud. “Ouch!”

“That’s why we have supervised visits in here, Kyle.” Dr Grey was looking down at him with Scott Summers by her side. He offered Kyle and hand up and shook his head. “Though it seems like you are finally making progress.”

Kyle rubbed his ass and then his head. “Yeah, but whoever said progress was painless was full of shit.”

Sept 30
Karachi

Martin Essex laughed. It had been all too easy to get to Khalid Hamzir. The man was a pig and his vices lured him into the trap. He could not help but taunt the bound man under him. “For a man of your reputation, it was too easy.” Essex tugged off the electrodes attached to the real man’s head. He slapped him to get his full attention. “A man your age and with your religious background shouldn’t be into underage boys. What would the imans think?”

The man struggled some more, but Essex backhanded him. “You are brought so low, by your vices.” He motioned for his men to get moving. The sleeping clone was removed from his cylinder and the real Hamzir was placed in it.

“Goodbye, Khalid. We won’t be speaking again.” The cylinder closed and the real Hamzir was placed in stasis. “Put him in bed and get everything in place.” He lifted his phone and called Sydney. “Karachi is a cess pool. However, it does have some lovely gardens. I was able to plant a few seeds in one of them. I’m told it will yield lovely fruit.”

Oct 2
Canberra

Gavin Lee stood before his supporters and waved a victory sign to them. The cheering crowds started to calm as Gavin spoke. “As the new largest party in Australia, I have been asked to form a government! As Prime Minister, things are going to change. Humanity stands at the brink of the abyss and I shall not let Australia fall!”

Damien stood to the side of the crowded hall and rolled his eyes. He spotted the American, Graydon Creed, on the stage and smiled even wider. ‘I’ve got two politicians lined up to be my puppets and all of InterGang will soon be under my control, but Creed could be a gold mine. America is the one place I’ve not made any plans other than destroying the Luthors.

“Don’t even think about it, Damien,” cautioned Victoria as she walked up. “I see you staring at Creed as though he were the last meal of a dying man. We’ve enough on our plates as it is without borrowing trouble. Australia is ours and soon our resources will be unlimited. Don’t mess this up!”

The lure of the prize of the leader of the Friends of Humanity was strong, but he knew Victoria was right. The timetable was already moving too fast for his taste, but events were forcing his hand. Still, he had three of the heads of InterGang under him now. Two more were planned this month. There was a council meeting planned in early December in Dubai. He would be there and he would assume full control then.

Washington

The news from Australia was expected, but that did not lessen its impact. Kane Miller shook his head at Lex. “A democratic nation-state has allowed its citizens to express their will through the ballot box. We disagree with the result, but we must honor them, sir.”

“Mr. Secretary… Kane,” started Nancy McNally, “That may be what we’re required to say in public, but this is a huge blow on several levels. If the Freedom Party there adopts the Mutant Registration Act, then all hell could break loose. We have Italy and Spain to worry about as well.”

Lex looked away from the monitor and shook his head. “The devil you know is better than the one you don’t. Get me the Russian Ambassador. Kirov is no mutant lover, but he’s also no lover of the Freedom Party. He’s an imperialist autocrat, but one with a hell of a lot of influence. We need to trade Ukraine and Kazakhstan for his help in stopping the Freedom Party.”

Kane and Nancy jumped to their feet. “Mr. President!” they shouted at once. Kane started first, “We have spent weeks moving to isolate Kirov and the Russians in the European theatre, sir. We have given military aid to forces in both nations. For us to now accept Russian Imperial ambitions would destroy our credibility.”

“Sir, I know this is not something we desire, but we can’t send mixed messages. These are two separate issues. Global security amid imperial adventures and issues affecting human rights shouldn’t get mixed together.” Nancy held up her hands to stop Lex before he started. “I know that the mutant issue impacts global security. But we can’t now trade one for the other or we will lose both.”

Lex frowned and watched as Gavin Lee declared victory. “I need my threat assessment. I need courses of action that are clear. I need that Presidential Finding!”

Nancy sighed. “We can’t agree in the National Security Council Deputy Principles meeting. None of the conclusions are close to the same page. All our experts and all our knowledge and we can’t even agree on what we are trying to discuss.”

“Mr. President, as the Secretary of State it is my duty to counsel you on foreign affairs. We cannot allow Russia to continue her expansion even with a quid pro quo understanding on the mutant issues. You would look like Chamberlain at Munich if you made such a move.”

Lex pondered this and looked the monitor again with Gavin Lee celebrating his victory. “The world is going to hell and there is nothing I can do that won’t make things worse.”


Ben ran up and jumped on Wes in the hallway of school. They were both heading to the locker room to get ready for football practice. The school was buzzing with news of Australia’s election results. “Man, are you ready for the game this weekend?”

“Look Mr. Quarterback, I’m always ready to lay a hit on someone. You remember that the next time you call me kid brother!” Wes winked at him and they marched into the locker room laughing.

//Hi guys!//

Both Wes and Ben started at the sudden voice in their heads, but long training kept them from breaking stride. Neither recognized the ‘voice.’ //Who is this?// asked Ben.

//Sorry, this is Franklin. Philip can’t reach you from here, but I can. He will be sending you an encrypted message tonight and wanted to make sure you checked the House network. I gotta go, it’s dangerous to keep this up for long. Later, dudes!//

Neither of the twins mentioned the conversation until they walked into the resort, dead tired after practice. Wes yawned, “I’ll see what Philip has to say, but the fact that he used the encrypted network is a bit ominous.” He quickly logged in and found the message.

Guys, be warned that my dreams have taken a darker turn. Over Thanksgiving and Christmas I think it would be best if we devoted increased time trying to hone our skills. Australia is but the tip of the iceberg. Miss you guys, Philip.’

Ben read and was quiet for a few moments. “Who knew he’d miss us.”

“Ben! Did you read what he was trying to tell us? He’s worried and if he’s getting these impressions then we need to be worried as well.”

“Yeah well, I’ll worry when I worry. Until then I have homework and a call to make to Danielle.”

Oct 5
London

Steve Wilson walked along the Thames and stared across the mighty river at Parliament. It seemed like an eternity since he had managed to get Gyrich information that may be of some use, and the further up he moved in the Friends of Humanity organization the worse he felt about this assignment.

He’d been shipped across Asia and Europe like cargo, and the most important thing he’d learned along the way was the astonishing amount of black market arms that were in transit around the world. He doubted SHIELD had a clue how much weaponry was on the march. That worried him almost as much as the plans FOH had for the future.

The victory in Australia had emboldened the Friends and their Freedom Party wing. There was no way to guess what they might feel capable of planning here in London. Creed wanted him here, but for what? What were they planning?

“There you are you lousy Yank!” Steve turned and concealed his frown as the local head of FOH came up to him. “We need you to get us ready for the fireworks!”

Steve pulled himself away from the railing and nodded at the hooligan next to him. “Just remember we kicked your ass and then saved it twice you damned Limey!” Steve growled. “Now, what are we up to?”

“Damned arrogant Yank!” the man muttered under his breath. “We’ll take the tube and head to the flat. I’ll tell you everything once we’re safe.”

The trip had taken forty five minutes. The flat was a shack of a place with numerous health code violations. Steve felt like he’d need at least three showers to feel clean from being here. He took a folding chair and waited.

“The others will meet us here and then we’ll head to the warehouse after dark. Can’t be too careful getting so close. We’ll punish Tilden and his wankers for being bloody mutie lovers!”

Another two hours passed before Steve found himself in a dimly lit warehouse. There were about a dozen people there. He was introduced as the Yank from LA. Steve was still tired from being on the go for weeks and his irritation was rising. “Okay, why am I here? If I’m going to train you in combat then I need to start that program tomorrow, but something tells me this is different.”

The leader nodded. “Aye, mate, you’re not here to train us in combat, but to help us with demolitions. We’ll tell you more as we get closer, but for now, we need you as an explosives expert. We’re going to take down a building.”

Steve faked boredom and asked, “Which building?”

“This is ‘need to know’ and you don’t yet. You’ll get specifics the closer we get to show time.”

Oct 7
Dnepropetrovsk, Ukraine

Graham moved through some of the buildings in the city which was now the center of the rebellion against Russian rule. The city sat in the middle of Ukraine and on the Dnieper River further south than Kiev. It was a strategic point; Graham had managed to convince the underground that if they could hold here then Russia would not be able to take the country.

Three other teams of advisors were running around the countryside delivering arms from convoys from Romania and the Black Sea. Russian troops were being turned back in the western part of the country, but Kiev was under their control and thus, symbolically, so was the country. Graham moved along the river’s edge and waited to cross the bridge.

“We need to make sure we are in good defensive positions before winter hits. The longer this takes the Ruskies to assume control the more they won’t want it.”

“Da,” agreed the underground leader. “A counteroffensive is being planned for the end of the month. We hit them everywhere and see if we can’t make them pay for being here.”

Graham shook his head and sighed. “That’s great in theory, but you have less than fifteen thousand troops under this rebellion. The regular army is all but gone or in hiding. What you’re planning could be suicide.”

“We are trying to free our homeland. Would you not lay down your life if it meant that your family and friends would be free?”

It didn’t take him any time at all to respond. “What can I do to help?”

Oct 12
New York

Henry Gyrich continued to look over all the information related to Magneto and the Brotherhood. Since his shouting match with the president, he’d been on the outs having to relay all information through the National Security Advisor. He’d had that job once before and he didn’t think much of the current occupant. Nancy McNally was an academic and he couldn’t stand those on his best days.

“What has you in such a foul mood?” asked Amanda Waller. “I’ve got something that may just get you in a better mood.”

“Magneto’s head?” he countered.

She placed several reconnaissance photos in front of him. It took him a few minutes to recognize the area. “Is that the Luthor villa in the Aegean Sea?”

She nodded. “Yes, but the funny thing is, there was a nasty storm that blew through about two weeks ago and it did some significant damage to surrounding islands. But according to these images, nothing changed on their island. Not so much as a fallen tree limb.”

He looked closer. Pulling out his magnifying glass he began to look at details and his head shot up. “These are identical! The time stamps are different, but they’re the same!”

“I’ve gone back and looked. There are variations since fall began, but they’re subtle. My guess is that they’re using some of those holograms they are famous for. It’s one thing to use them to decorate a house for a party, but it’s another if they can use them outside to cover up anything they want.”

The implication crashed over him like a tidal wave. “Is there any signature on that island to indicate that holograms are in use?”

She shook her head. “Not that we can detect yet, but we’re looking. If we find it, we’ll start looking for that signature everywhere.”

“House Luthor can hide anything in wants in plain sight. It has organized itself along martial lines. It controls the world’s largest company. It claims to have a cure for cancer. It’s now selling power on the open market from a super clean energy source. It controls the world’s largest bank. Its technology borders on the fantastic.” Gyrich paused for a moment.

“The head of that House is our boss and we know nothing about him,” added Amanda. “He’s got friends enough to protect him Congress, and if it comes to force, he has the Ultimates in his corner, as we’ve discussed before.”

“But there is no smoking gun, Amanda. We’ve got lots of pieces and nothing to tie it together. Our suspicions are nothing if we go to trial for Treason. And yet, everything I see tells me he, and his family, are a fundamental threat to this nation.” Gyrich ran a hand over his face. “We’ve come up with plans to neutralize mutants if it ever comes to it. But, we need to make plans to deal with House Luthor as well. They can hide anywhere it seems.”

“Yes, but we’ll find out their secrets and then we’ll know all their hiding places,” she said with a grin on her face. “However, that is not the priority. We need to find the Brotherhood and take down Magneto.”

“Yes, or it will be my head served on a platter.”

Boston

Snapper Carr waited and waited. He’d had two junior reporters lurking around Harvard and MIT for weeks trying to figure out a pattern to the Luthor boys’ schedule. The Secret Service and the family body guards did an excellent job of varying their transport schedule, but there had to be a pattern to their course load. He’d had them tailed onto their respective campuses, but close surveillance was proving too dicey.

An interview with either or both of them would be a journalistic gold mine, but he risked more than just the president’s wrath. It was a situation that called for a careful cost-benefits analysis. But the time was right. He had a mini-camera on him and he started jogging along the sidewalk. Ahead of him were, not only Philip and Hamilton Luthor, but Franklin Richards as well.

He could see the discreet cordon of body guards all around; he’d have to be quick. “Hi, my name is Snapper Carr and I’d like to ask you a few questions.”

The three boys stopped and stared at him for a moment. “I know who you are. My father arranged for the press not to interfere with us while we are at school. You should go before the Secret Service decides you are an imminent threat,” Philip responded.

Snapper smiled. “A threat to you three? Franklin Richards is most likely a powerful mutant and your martial skills are legendary at St. Albans.” He shifted and noticed the henchmen moving quickly. “What is it like to be part of the most powerful organization in the world?”

Hamilton backed up and soon the Secret Service agents were on top of Snapper. “Wait!” he screamed. “I’m with the Press. The world wants to know about you two and even you Franklin!”

Before he knew it, he was in a car on his way to the police station. “Don’t a get a phone call?”

The officer in front shook his head. “We can hold you for seventy-two hours before charging you with anything. If I know Special Agent Madsen, he’s calling Washington to find out what they want to do with you.”

Snapper sighed and prayed they didn’t find the remote hook up for his transmission. He’d stuck it on a car so they could not find it on him. Not much of an interview, but it was a start.


“Dad, we’re fine. He was just a reporter,” Hamilton argued with Whitney via hologram. “We were walking back from lunch. We always vary our paths and times.”

“Apparently not enough!” Whitney snapped.

Philip threw his hands in the air. “He barely got a question out! Stop over reacting!”

“We are not over reacting, Philip! A reporter got near enough to you to ask questions. If it had been a gunman or another kidnapper, then what would you have done?” Whitney looked apoplectic.

“I would have killed him,” Philip said bluntly.

“Oh, that’s very reassuring!”

“He was no threat!” Philip countered. “In fact I was curious as to what he thought he was going to accomplish. His question about us belonging to powerful organization was perplexing.”

Hamilton nodded. “Dad, please calm down. I know there are some additional security measures that you wish to take and I think those can be good at this time.” He shrugged at his twin. Philip rolled his eyes.

“I’ll have Alan up there tomorrow to implement round two. I want you guys in vehicles for all traveling from now on!” The hologram vanished.

Franklin walked up and handed Philip and Hamilton cups of hot chocolate. “What did he mean by organization? You are part of a family.”

Philip sipped his drink and then frowned. “I don’t know, but I really don’t like the sound of it.”

Washington

Clark sat in the Residence watching Whitney and Lex pace. “Would you two sit down? Nothing happened! And the Secret Service was right there. I want to know what got into ABC News, sending a reporter to question them in the street!”

“According to Katherine, ABC knew nothing about Mr. Carr’s actions. They are livid and may fire him.” Whitney shrugged. “How long are they going to hold him?”

“He will be released in the morning,” Lex answered. “We can’t keep him locked up forever and ABC would get testy if he stayed the full seventy-two hours without cause.”

“You know,” Clark started. “I’d expect this from Lois Lane, but from anyone else it’s odd.”

“This is the same reporter that accused Diana Prince of being a member of the Society for Justice,” Lex reminded them. “Now he’s accusing our sons of belonging to a powerful organization. Carr is still fishing for confirmation of the Society’s existence.”

Whitney and Clark exchanged worried glances, then Whitney said, “I’ll have Jack and Kelly see about getting a restraining order placed on Carr and maybe Lane in case she gets any bright ideas.” Whitney smiled for a moment. “Did you know that Philip yelled at me? He’s beginning to push his boundaries.”

Lex sighed. “I’m not sure what is worse; the world falling apart or having four sons grow up at the same time.”

Canberra

Damien walked into the Prime Minister’s office and nodded at Mr. Lee. “Apples and oranges make for a delightful pie.” Damien watched as the Prime Minister went rigid, sliding into a trance. “You will bring Mutant Registration before Parliament in the next few days. You will pass it as it currently sits on your desk. You will create a National Task Force charged with implementing the measures. Once you create it, I will give you a list of people who will be deputized to be on that Task Force as well as a list of people who are suspected mutants.”

“Yes sir, Mutant Registration and a National Task Force.”

“On Halloween Night, we will carry out Plan A. Are we clear?”

“Yes.”

Damien smiled. “Water flowing down a mountain never becomes a lake.” He watched as Gavin returned to normal. “Any plans for Halloween?”

“Mr. Parker, you know my schedule is always on the move. Though I do think my wife wants to go to a Party.”

“They have great ones in Sydney.” Damien turned to leave and tried to hide the smile on his face. ‘Halloween will not be soon forgotten.

Oct 13
Capitol Hill

“I know why Lex sent you, Whitney, but the Senate is not inclined to take much action at this moment,” Mary Alice Adkins said quietly. “The fact is Jared McConnell will do nothing until Lex moves on mutant issues away from his blanket policy of doing nothing. While the Cure for Cancer is a huge issue, for him it is about surviving the challenge he faces next year.”

Simon Trent waved her off. “The president must understand that in light of what happened in Miami, the polls have moved against him. Many people are afraid of this Cure that you’re touting. Conservative columnists have moved against it as a point of political pride rather than one of humanitarian achievement.”

“Adam Chase will not force McConnell to send the bill down to committee.” Angela Ling sighed and slouched back in her chair. “I wish I could help, but the caucus is divided. If I were you I would beg the Speaker to move the issue in the House. If the bill were to come from the House then Adam would have to do something. The president still has influence, but he has to break the logjam here on the Hill.”

Whitney stood and looked at Patrick Kennedy and Elliot Armstrong for support, but both shrugged. “Thank you for your honest assessment. Trials in their limited form still are ongoing in Houston. We had hoped to move them out to broad testing across the country, but it appears that is up to the House. I do have a meeting with the Speaker later this week. Anyway, we hope to see you at the Resort for the Halloween bash.”

Mary Alice stood and shook Whitney’s hand. “Of course we will be there. It’s the best party of the year.” She paused and sighed again. “No one said this would be easy. Remind the president of that when you see him. He still has friends here, but we’re just as vulnerable to political pressure as he is. We’ll help when we can.”


Lex sat behind his desk and motioned for Attorney General Ursula Gunn and FBI Director Holly Jones to have a seat. “It is not my job to interfere with criminal investigations, but I want a status update of the inquiry in the battle of Los Angeles.”

“The US Attorney there is still gathering all the evidence. He has a Grand jury ready to convene at the end of the month, but we aren’t sure what to expect.” Ursula tapped her knee. “I see little chance for a conviction for anyone other than the Rogues Gallery.”

“We are looking into financial links into the Rogues, but that’s a stretch, Mr. President. They aren’t talking and many of their dealings were off shore and in cash. Our options are limited.”

“What of Graydon Creed and the Reavers? Is the US Attorney in LA looking into him?” Lex was getting tired of Creed and his political nine lives.

Ursula scoffed. “Nothing will be done to him until there is more than video that links him to the Reavers. The man is a hero to so many people in the country, sir, that to arrest him is akin to sending reinforcements to Ft. Sumter. You would start the second American Civil War with that one act.”

Lex knew it; he’d had plenty of time to think about it. Bruce, Emma, Tony, Nick, Jeff, and of course Clark and Whitney had all told him of the dangers that the Friends posed and how those risks were growing daily. “I want you both to know that Justice will be done when that smoking gun is uncovered. I know it exists. Regardless of how much of a hero people may think him; I will not have the rule of law destroyed by a charismatic charlatan.”

“And that’s fine, but until we have a case it is best that we do nothing. The more freedom we give him the more rope he’ll hang himself with,” Ursula said. She stood up as did Holly. “Thank you, Mr. President.”

Lex nodded and turned back to face the window. ‘Do I take matters into my own hands through the Society? Would Bruce and Tony object to having Creed taken off stage to a remote location? Clark would do it if I begged him, but I’ve crossed ethical lines in his eyes already. Creed needs to go, but how?

Boston

The plans had been put on hold for two months to see how things went in Boston, but a minor security breach with the idiot from ABC News had the Triad up in arms. Alan Owen understood and was now getting the two apartments near the townhouse ready. Six members of the Midnight Guard were being stationed here. Alan watched as they went about setting up the apartment to their needs.

“Sir, we will rotate so that one of us is always awake.” ‘Bob’ said as he dropped a box on the floor. “As long as we have pizza, it will be fine here.”

Alan shook his head and walked away. The Guard were still developing individual personalities and were learning to use their down time for things other than training. ‘Stephanie will have a fit if she finds out that they are developing a taste for pizza.’ Holding a long conversation was still awkward, but they could pass in regular society now after years of work. As fighters, Alan didn’t want to go up against them, but as people…they were still working on it. ‘God bless Zach and his patience. He actually made them all understand movies and get to like video games. He understood that they were more like kids than adults and now they are kind of like teenagers. Thank goodness they still obey orders.’

“Sir, we are done here and team two is done was well. You said not to talk to the regular guardians. Why?”

“They know you are here, but we don’t want the Secret Service to know. They have people watching those men all the time. If you spoke to one then they may learn of your presence. You guys are the surprise cavalry if they ever need it

Oct 15
Washington

It was like a royal box at the opera only it was a private suite at FedEx Field where the Washington Redskins were hosting the Metropolis Praetorians. Ben and Wes were sitting up front with Franklin and Hamilton while Philip was sitting down in the lounge area waiting for his father. Whitney and Clark were already sitting behind the guys, but the president was running late.

The door opened by a Secret Service agent and Lex walked in. “I swear it’s a production going to the bathroom, getting across town is a nightmare. Hi guys.”

Lex made the rounds, greeting everyone and collecting hugs from his sons. He ordered a Scotch from the steward and settled next to Philip in the lounge.

“Not interested in the game,” Lex asked him.

“More interested in conversation, sir.”

Lex smiled at him. “Converse away.”

“I’m concerned, Father,” Philip said gravely. “Events conspire against you, and though there have been discussions among the family, I believe there are things that others feel reluctant to broach with you. Whereas I am a minor and you are my legal guardian, I feel I can speak more freely.”

Lex leaned back in his chair. The pride he felt for his eldest was visible. He could see himself in Philip, and so much more. “I hope you will never do less, Philip. I respect and value your opinions and viewpoints. Please, continue.”

“In Council recently we discussed overt measures that we as a family and House could undertake to make your life easier: namely to punish Australia for her political choices. My recommended course of action was placed on the backburner as too risky and possibly fatal to your presidency. I will abide by that decision, of course, but the genie is almost out of the bottle and won’t be put back in if we let this get out of hand.”

“You’re showing true glimpses of wisdom, Philip, and I appreciate it. I would like nothing more than to use a private show of force against the Freedom Party, but I cannot. As an elected official I must honor the choices of Australia’s electorate no matter how much I despise their collective decision.”

Lex paused and accepted his Scotch from the tray proffered by the steward. He swirled it for a second and then sipped it. “Hmmm… You’d think they’d have a better selection on hand for the suite owners,” he murmured as he set the glass aside.

“If I were a person with certain attributes for strategic thinking and planning I would be thinking and planning and developing contingencies for every possibility, no matter how remote. I’d do that now, if I were him.” He gave his oldest a pointed look. “Such planning would need to be very private, and the number of persons who knew of my plans would be very limited.”

Philip nodded. “I understand. Some of that has been underway for a few months.” He smiled at his father’s arched eyebrow. “Grandfather has always taught me to never be without a contingency plan. Or two.”

Lex chuckled. “I’m glad you are paying close attention to his lessons. He has always had much to teach, but his methods with you seem to have improved greatly over his methods with me. However, my son, we must be very careful in this. I am the President of the United States, and as such my freedom has been greatly limited. A true irony. We will discuss this again at Thanksgiving. Okay?”

“Excellent, father,” Philip smiled. “Now, what are you wearing to the Halloween Ball?”

Up at the front of the suite, Hamilton leaned back in his seat to watch the action. Ben nudged him and smiled, “So, Bro, how is MIT? You find a girlfriend yet?”

“School is excellent and no I don’t have a girlfriend. I happen to be dating three different girls right now.” Hamilton smiled broadly to his brother but winced when he was cuffed upside his head. He turned to look at his dad, “What was that for?”

Whitney gave him a pointed look. “You should not be dating several girls at once. They, and you, deserve better than that.”

“Aren’t you the parent who said ‘don’t get serious’?”

“There’s a difference between serious and callous,” Whitney countered. “Three girls at once is ridiculous.”

“Yeah,” Ben chimed in, “You have to share!” He too received a whap on the head. “Hey!”

The Praetorians’ won the game, but Philip was too distracted to give more than a half-hearted victory whoop with his brothers. The boys said a hasty goodbye to Lex and Whitney, knowing they would all be together at the Resort for dinner the next day.

“Where were you tonight, brother?” Hamilton asked as soon as they were back in their suite at the Resort. “What did Father say when you told him about the family meeting?”

“He encouraged me to use my ability to create complex paradigms to build contingency plans.”

Hamilton cackled with glee. “Wow. Talk about stroking your ego. Just try to keep it under control, will you?”

“I’m always under control,” Philip said stiffly. “And I’m always planning. You know that.”

Hamilton snagged two soft drinks from their ‘dry’ wet bar and handed one to his brother. They settled onto the sofa. “So what kind of contingencies are you going to build?”

“For starters, I’m going to focus on the rise and fall of the Friends of Humanity. They’ve successfully toppled one government – if they can spread their venom across Europe, we’ll have Mutant Registration in this country before the end of Father’s first term.” //If that happens, this family is toast,// he added silently.

//Amen.//

“I’m working on plans to stop them in their tracks by any means necessary… financially, politically, militarily…”

“And if all those plans fail?”

“There’s always The Ultimate Solution.”

Hamilton frowned. Philip sounded entirely too nonchalant. “What’s that?”

Philip shrugged. “The Luthors take over the world.”

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