Book IV: Coriolis Event

A Knife in the Dark

Dec 21, 2017
Washington

Zach Kent was sprawled across the bed in his room at the frat house, an open but mostly ignored text book within reading distance. Theoretical calculus was going to be the death of him. Still, he had to pass if he wanted to maintain his very desirable living conditions.

Convincing Clark to allow him to live in the frat house had been like pulling teeth, but Zach wanted to be one of the guys more than anything. There was very little about him or his family that was normal, so he was determined to make the most of whatever Average Joe experiences he could get by with.

At the moment, most of his frat brothers and an assortment of guests of the female persuasion were downstairs glued to the television. From the snippets he could hear, something insane, violent, or stupid was happening somewhere in the country, but Zach refused to be concerned until somebody told him it was time to be concerned. Given who his family was, he could drive himself crazy if he got his boxers in a bunch every time some Chicken Little news anchor screamed “The sky is falling.”

He was totally unprepared, then, when The Keeper materialized beside the bed
without any warning just as his bracelet toned and a signal rang in his head.

“Dude! How about a little warning?” he snapped as he jumped to his feet, his heart slamming into his throat. “Don’t scare me like that!”

//There is little time for pleasantries, Kon-El. We are under a House-wide alert and you must leave immediately. Mobs have begun targeting members of the House and there is concern that you may be in danger.”

Zach snatched up his backpack and began throwing a change of clothes into it.
“Targeted? Who?”

//Your nephews and Franklin Richards are being evacuated from Boston even now.//

Zach scowled at the Keeper. “Are they okay?”

//That is undetermined at this time. There are hundreds of people marching toward the townhouse. The Secret Service and local law enforcement are in a panic.//

“Shit! Is Clark on the way to Boston?”

//No. He’s at the White House Residence.//

Damn. Zach knew what that meant – Clark was virtually a prisoner there, trapped by the intense security that locked down around the President and his family at the first sign of trouble. Having Superman caught on radar or security tapes zipping away from the White House would be a disaster. But so was an attack on Philip and Hamilton.

In a split second, Zach made a drastic choice. “Get my armor ready, I’m going after them.”

//Sir, you cannot. You cannot place yourself in danger.//

“Clark can’t get them without arousing suspicions. We have no choice and I’m not
about to leave Hamilton and Philip’s safety in somebody else’s hands when mine are perfectly free!” He wiggled his fingers dramatically. “Now give me my damned
armor!”

In a matter of moments, Zach was attired in full Kryptonian Battle Armor identical to Clark’s. “Give me a full vector to the guys as I’m en route. I’ll be there in three
minutes – give or take a nanosecond.”

//They are being evacuated by ground transport, but mobs are closing in. There are communications that appear to have a plan to intercept them in transport.//

Lifting off, he juked towards the northeast and Boston. He broke the sound barrier over Maryland and then hit Mach 2 just as he hit New Jersey. The air rushed by him and he powered all his will into getting to his nephews as fast as possible.

Boston

“Hold on!” screamed the driver as his evasive maneuvers threw the boys around the back seat like scrambled eggs.

//Fuck! They’re after us!// Philip projected. He heard another crash behind them as the rioters took out both of their chase SUVs.

“Get down, sir!” the agent commanded when Philip came off the floor, but Philip
refused to comply.

They were coming up fast on an intersection; the freeway entrance was a few
hundred yards beyond. Philip saw the next thirty seconds as clearly as if they were past, not future.

//Franklin, help me!// he demanded, sending him the vision of the semi-tractor
trailer truck that was about to broadside them as it pummel through the intersection.

Acting on instinct, Franklin threw a viscous bubble of energy in front of the semi,
slowing it as Philip used every ounce of mental energy he possessed to accelerate their SUV through the intersection and onto the freeway.

“What the hell?” The agent behind the wheel gasped as control of the vehicle came back into his hands, but he didn’t look back and he didn’t challenge the good fortune that had allowed them to narrowly miss being hit by a semi. He had bigger problems to worry about. Three of their four support vehicles were gone and the rioting in Boston was making protecting the President’s sons close to impossible.

Suddenly the car was airborne, rapidly gaining altitude as the freeway on-ramp –
and their pursuers -- dropped away below them.

“What the hell?” yelled the driver.

Philip held his hand up to silence any questions Hamilton or Franklin might have had. “What’s happening? What did you do?” he demanded of the driver, though he knew very well the driver had nothing to do with their rescue.

“I didn’t do anything!” the freaked-out driver shouted.

Philip feigned a frown as he looked out the window, but he could see the emergency evac helipad in the distance and knew they were in good hands. “Perhaps the Ultimates have come to the rescue.”

Franklin extended his mind and reached out to see who was there. //It’s your Uncle
Zach!!//

Hamilton threw a confused look at Franklin. //Zach?//

//Yes!// Franklin was thrown against Hamilton and Philip as their SUV began an
abrupt descent. A second later they were scrambled again when the vehicle was
dumped unceremoniously on the tarmac. //Crap! Uncle Zach definitely needs flying lessons!//

Hamilton managed a grin for his brother. //Naa… His flying’s okay. It’s his landings
that we need to give him hell about!//

The boys were still trying to right themselves when the door was ripped open and a cadre of Secret Service men began hauling them from the car in full EVAC mode. “MOVE! MOVE!” yelled one of the agents as they were herded to the waiting helicopter.

New York

“Mr. Gyrich, we’re receiving reports of multiple sonic booms over the Eastern
seaboard, but we’ve detected nothing airborne.”

Henry Gyrich nodded and turned to another analyst. “Can you map the reports?”

“Sir, they appear to be heading northeast.”

“Get me traffic cameras in Boston. I’ll bet my next paycheck that Superman is
moving on Boston. Though how he knows the Luthor kids are under duress is an
interesting question.”

Images from traffic cameras in the vicinity of the Luthor townhouse in Boston flashed in rapid succession until a blurry image of a black SUV lifting off and taking flight was caught. “Enhance that image. Get me as much detail as possible.”

The piece of digital footage was slowed down and dissected into close-ups until an image appeared of a man in black armor beneath the airborne vehicle filled the
screen.

“You’re right, sir. Superman,” one of the analysts pronounced.

Buy Gyrich shook his head. He leaned forward, frowning. “I’m not so sure. Pull up
our inventory of Superman images and compare.” It took a few moments for the
computer to spit out a comparison. Gyrich read for a moment and his frown
deepened. “They’re not the same person.”

Waller frowned. “We have two Superman entities? That could pose a problem.”

Gyrich glared at her. “You think?”

Washington

Helicopters buzzed overhead as Lex gazed out the windows that led to the Truman Balcony, forcing himself to remain still and focused. His boys were under attack and he was insane with worry, but the country was also under attack and he couldn’t afford to do anything rash. There was too much at stake. The federal district was shut down as thousands of protesters streamed in from Virginia, Maryland, West Virginia, and Pennsylvania.

“Sir, we are preparing to evacuate you to Camp David. Marine One will be here
soon.”

Lex turned to Dan McConnelly, his senior Secret Service agent and shook his head. “No, the president remains at the White House at times of national crisis. I stay.”

Whitney stood up from the couch and nodded at the agent. “How many police and other security personnel are deployed around here right now?”

“The Secretary of Defense is mobilizing the Marine Barracks here and moving in
additional support from Quantico. More than 500 Marines will be around the Mall
shortly, sir.”

“Lex, bravado is one thing, but your safety must come first.” Whitney moved toward him. “If the Secret Service orders you to move, then you will.”

“Our sons aren’t safe right now. I stay.”

“And putting yourself in danger is going to help them, how?”

A flash of something that looked like anger but was born of frustration passed across Lex’s face, directed like a dagger at Whitney, but he controlled it quickly. “I don’t --”

McConnelly put his finger in his ear and nodded. “Sir, Hamilton and Philip are in the air on en route to Camp David. We need to go.”

Lex turned and shook his head. “No, I will stay and watch the protests up close. I will bear witness to the rage of the nation. I will not shrink from my responsibilities. Whitney, take Ben and Wes to Camp David and I’ll join you in a few days.” He turned his back on the room, staring out the window again.

Whitney moved behind Lex and slipped his arms around him. “Clark will see that all
the boys get safely to Camp David. If you’re staying, I’m staying.”

Lex hesitated a moment, then nodded. This connection, and his connection to Clark, was solid, at least. Constant, true, dependable. His strength in an insane world.


Marines were deployed across the National Mall. The White House was cordoned off from protesters as they yelled their fury at the government. The coming of night hadn’t dampened their rage, but the rioting was mostly under control. For the moment. Lex closed his eyes and watched with his mind’s eye as the mob hurled stones, waved blunt instruments, and yelled epitaphs at the police denying them close proximity to the object of their hatred; the President of the United States.

“Boys are all at Camp David, Lex. We should go as well,” Whitney said quietly.

“No, not tonight. More fuel has been thrown on the fire and Graydon Creed and his ilk are howling for blood. They won’t be happy until it is mine. I fear this was the Rubicon and nothing can be put back together.”

“The nation has had periods of unrest before, Lex. The nation will survive. Somehow, it will survive.”

Lex sighed and turned to look at Whitney. “I am one step away from declaring
martial law. Curfews have been declared in every major city in the country. A sizable portion of the country is ready to take up arms against their brothers. A fire has been set to the fuse and the nation is on a course to blow up.”

“Then find a way to stop it.”

“HOW!? Every road I see leads to blood. Yeats was right, the Center cannot hold.”

Dec 22
Camp David

Lex walked quietly toward the cabin that held his oldest sons and their guest. He’d left the White House around three in the morning and had not slept. Much of his rage over the assassination of Rev. Stryker had settled into a seething anger. The person responsible was in custody in Houston, but Lex had no doubt that being Texas, the assassin was a dead man. He however had more important things to do. The sun was just beginning to give the glow of false dawn. He nodded at the Secret Service agent and the door to the cabin was opened. As he suspected, Philip was sitting on the couch instead of being in bed.

“Have you slept yet?”

Philip looked up at his father and shook his head. “No.” He stared for a moment and noticed how aged his father seemed in such a short period of time since assuming the presidency. “Have you?”

“No.” Lex sat down near Philip and pulled his son into a fierce embrace. Philip
resisted for a moment before yielding and hugged his father back tightly. “I love you guys so much. I don’t say it enough.”

Philip leaned back and wiped his eyes. “You don’t have to; you took this lousy job to keep us safe.”

“I don’t think I’m doing a very good job at the moment,” Lex said with a bitter laugh. “Your brother, he’s sleeping?”

“Like a log, as is Franklin. I can’t though. All I can see is death, war, destruction on the horizon.”

“I’d give anything if I could tell you you’re wrong.”

That didn’t seem to require a response, so Philip asked, “Have you seen Pop? He’s
beating himself up because he was trapped at the White House and couldn’t
superspeed to our rescue.”

Lex almost smiled. “I completely understand. What’s the use of having super powers – or holding the most powerful office on the planet – if you can’t keep your children safe? Philip--”

“We’re fine, Dad. Pissed as hell ready to kick some serious ass, but fine. All of us,” Philip assured him. He reached out and squeezed his father’s shoulder. “Go get some sleep. We lived through the night.”

“How sad that that one thing is supposed to make it all better; we lived through the night.”

Philip gave a half grin. “We take what we can get.”

Lex stood and moved toward the door, but stopped short of it. He turned back to his eldest son and studied him for a long moment.

Philip frowned. “What?”

“I was just trying to figure out when you became a man and how I missed it.”

Philip tried not to let the sudden burst of pride that swelled I his chest show too
much. “I think it was right about the time the peasants with torches showed up on my doorstep.” His smile was grim. “I’m going to make those responsible pay,
Father.”

“We all will,” Lex promised, hoping it was a promise he could keep.

Dec 23
Moscow

Nathaniel Essex slipped into the Kremlin with his new security clearances and walked quietly toward the presidential offices. Nine Russian officials were slated for replacement clones in the coming days. Already, part of the Russian Military
Command Staff had been replaced. ‘Everything is moving into place; soon the world will know a new reality.

He made it to a briefing room where current military operations were monitored.
Tensions in the Caspian Basin were rising, which played further into Damien’s plans. Iran sat to the south and with it the key to a permanent warm water port for Russia and strategic control of the world’s petroleum reserves.

“The Americans are fully withdrawn from Kazakhstan and we expect they will be
back out of the region soon. They are being recalled to their Homeland for security reasons.”

“Our Intelligence puts it at better than even odds that America will have a civil war within a year.”

Essex smiled again and left. ‘All the pieces are in motion. If America is paralyzed by internal issues then all the better. It is only a question of when I should make my move.

Houston

Wade Wilson was locked in manacles, his face bloody from the superfluous beating his captors had inflicted on him as they locked him up, but he was already healing. He had said nothing since his capture. No one had come to see him since his incarceration, which told him that he’d been set up and his family was probably dead already.

“Ah, the man of the hour!”

Wilson looked up and then down again.

Gen. Isling sat down across from him and dismissed the guards. “You certainly
stirred up the hornets’ nest. Shooting a preacher in Texas in broad daylight, now
that is something I can admire. Stupid, but damned if you don’t have a set on you. Care to explain why you did it?”

Wilson kept his head down and remained silent.

“Good!” Isling exclaimed. “I like a man of few words. You realize, of course, that I
could throw you to the wolves or drop you down a deep dark hole, do just about any damned thing I pleased with you.”

Wilson saw no reason not to at least nod.

“And given how fond of the death penalty they are here in the great state of Texas, even your most optimistic expectation would normally lead you into a coffin.”

Normally? Wilson perked up. What was this asshole getting at? “Does it matter that I was set up?” he asked.

Isling grinned. “Nope. That was obvious the moment you were apprehended. The
police were waiting for you before you even fired your weapon. I’d say there is
probably a price on your head – you’ll be lucky if we can keep the mob from tearing you limb from limb on your way to the courthouse.” Isling paused and stared at him in the eye. “Or…”

“Or?”

“I’ve got a get-out-of-jail-for-a-price card that beats the hell out of your current
options of death or death.”

“What do I have to do?”

“You ever heard the old Army recruiting slogan, Be all that you can be?”

“Yes,” he said hesitantly, suspiciously.

Isling sat back and smiled. “You’re about to find out just what that really means.”

Dec 25
Sydney

Varian tried to look out the windows, but his security detail refused to let him near them. He was stuck in the middle of the back seat of a limo with no idea where they were headed. All he’d been told was that his father was going to meet him there, wherever “there” was. They pulled into an underground parking garage and he waited for his men to let him out.

When he finally escaped, he stood by the limo impatiently. His father’s limo pulled up beside him. “Where are we?” he demanded as soon as Damien emerged.

Damien patted his son on the shoulder. “The Prime Minister has a surprise for us -- a little ‘sport’ for his supporters. You and I will be comfortably ensconced in a private VIP box for this event.”

“What event?” Varian pressed.

“A Christmas Day ‘thank you’ to Freedom Party members around the world.”


Steve Wilson folded himself into the shadows and waited. Security was lax and
making his way into the bowels of the structure hadn’t been particularly difficult.
There were signs of recent construction and massive electrical upgrades in the old garage that had once serviced a recently demolished shopping mall. Parking took up the first two descending levels; heavily fortified walls had been built into the third level, and the lowest level had been converted into some sort of arena…

Finding a hiding place between levels three and four hadn’t been much of a problem, and now Steve was watching a growing crowd stream into the arena. Ugly laughter echoed through the cavernous spaces.

Since Australia fell to the Freedom Party, low level mutants – mostly Deltas and
Gammas -- had been rounded up by the dozens. If the rumors Steve had been
hearing in the bars were true, something nasty was about to go down. The Prime
Minister had invited several hundred loyal party members to tonight’s event, and
Steve had a sick feeling in his gut that things were about to go from bad to worse.

His two assignments – covert operative for SHIELD and his assignment to assess
Damien Parker for Graydon Creed – were overlapping tonight. Parker and his son
had already arrived and been escorted someplace separate from the other guests.

“The PM thinks he can make a few million on this operation. People the world over
will pay through the teeth for a brand new sport like this.”

“Fight to the death.” The second man chuckled. “Can’t wait to see who makes it to round two.”

Steve didn’t recognize either man that passed near him on their way to the arena, but it wasn’t the first time he’d heard similar sentiments expressed tonight.

A loud clank and grinding sound captured Steve’s attention and he maneuvered his way toward the noise. What he saw was entirely expected. It made him sick.

Mutants were being roughly prodded and, in some cases, dragged, out of holding
pens on level three and herded down to the arena.

Revolted, Steve wanted to flee, but he knew he couldn’t. ‘Is this what we’ve come to? Using mutants for sport? God help us.


Damien glanced at his watch and frowned. Fifteen mutants were dead and according to the Internet traffic reports, viewership was climbing with every bloody fatality. The world was loving watching scaly-skinned monsters and snaggle-toothed freaks go after each other like half-baked gladiators in a concrete coliseum.

There were still seven of them doing battle, but there was no one in the arena with any particularly spectacular powers, of course. Powerful Alpha and Beta level mutants were not only harder to detect and capture, they would be much too hard for their human masters to control in this gladiatorial environment. For the time being, the world would have to be content with watching otherwise powerless freaks tear each limb from bloody limb.

A jumbotron flashed the name ELECTRO as a mutant with enormous hands that
could spit low-voltage electricity shocked a small, green woman more lizard than
human into submission.

Essex approached Damien, bending to whisper in his ear, but Damien waved him off, engrossed in the action. “Wait, wait…”

The green mutant convulsed into a ball, screaming. Electro backed off, hands still
extended, but his ability to electrocute was obviously limited to only a few feet, and the torture stopped.

A chorus of boos echoed through the subterranean cavern until the heavily armed
guards corralled Electro and forced him to do what he’d been brought there to do: Kill or die.

As the girl’s death scream faded, Damien nodded to Essex. “What is it?”

“Sir, the Russians are going to the Gulf. It will start in one week.”

“They have the strength to do this?” Damien asked, but before Essex could answer, a mutant with claws for hands pounced on Electro’s back and began tearing him to shreds. Whooping with delight, Damien and Varian both came to their feet, applauding. Father and son gave each other a high-five and dropped back into their seats.

Damien gave Essex an expectant look, as though he’d been derelict in his duty not answering the question.

“The Islamic Republic of Arabia will not come to their aid. They will fall within days
and the Americans are now so distracted they will be powerless to do anything.”

Damien smiled and nodded. “Things are moving quickly. Keep me informed.”

Smallville

Snow was falling lightly across the Palace’s vast gardens. Philip looked out from one of the fourth floor reading rooms and watched it begin to accumulate.
Absentmindedly, he stroked the head of one of the fralics; Menkaure who wanted to make sure Philip was okay. He and Hamilton had taken their last finals from Camp David before coming here. Returning to Harvard for the coming term was up in the air, as were so many things.

Centering his thoughts, he could feel his family scattered throughout the Palace. This was the one place that no one would dare try to get to them. In the time it would take to breach the outer walls, House Security could mount a defense that could repel any invader. ‘And we could be safe behind the walls as well.

“Are you hiding?”

Philip turned and smiled at his grandfather. “No, sir, just enjoying the view. If I
wanted to hide I might have used one of the towers.”

“Indeed. You are, however, avoiding the subject at hand,” Lionel mentioned. “You’ve not said anything about Boston since your rescue.”

“I asked if our house and guardians were safe. Isn’t that enough?”

Lionel sighed and moved closer to his grandson. “You have every right to be
frightened, Philip. That is not a weakness.”

Tension across his shoulders made him stand even straighter as he ground out,
“Grandfather, what I’m feeling… It’s beyond fear.”

“You’re angry.”

“I’m enraged.”

Lionel chuckled. Philip’s control was formidable, no doubt about that. “Remind me to be in Romania whenever you decide to let that rage off its leash.”

Philip didn’t smile. “Something has changed, Grandfather. I could feel it as we were attacked. The future…”

“Yes?” Lionel prompted.

“Bleak is too weak a word. Sometimes it feels as though the future isn’t out there. That’s what frightens me.”

“That’s only because – until now – others have been controlling your future, Philip. Your fathers and I, your uncles… all of those we’ve gathered around us … We’ve fought long and hard to hold the wolves at bay, but they are howling at the gates now, nipping at your heels, and your frustration at your impotence blinds you to anything but the wolves.”

“And the gate,” Philip added, amazed at how well his grandfather knew him.

He shouldn’t have been surprised, but he was when Lionel told him, “I know that you and Hamilton have been formulating plans – wheels within wheels, if I know your minds as well as I think I do… It’s time to move them closer to fruition.”

Philip gave his grandfather a speculative sidelong glance. “Has Father sanctioned this little discussion?” he asked.

Lionel shook his head. “Your father is responsible for the entire Nation, Philip. His
first loyalty and concern will always be the family, but every decision he makes must be examined from too many angles. Philip, when the time comes, you mustn’t hesitate. You have to make the choices, the hard choices, that have to be made to ensure the family’s survival.”

“What if I choose wrong?”

Lionel shook his head. “You won’t. Just don’t let fear cause you to hesitate. Reflect on what happened in this last attack and formulate your response so that you’re ready for the next time, because this was but a foreshadowing of things to come.” Lionel tapped his grandson’s shoulder. “You are the one who can save us.”

Philip managed a nod. “Then I need resources. And complete access to all House
Intelligence reports.”

Lionel didn’t bother to suppress his smile. “Don’t insult my intelligence, Philip. There isn’t a security system anywhere in House Luthor that your brother or Elsa hasn’t hacked.”

Philip’s smile matched his grandfather’s. “Yes, but it’s so inconvenient having to
cover our tracks. Get me clearance. Please,” he added hastily to take the arrogance out of his command.

“I’ll do even better than that,” Lionel promised. “You and Hamilton will join the
Threat Assessment conference this afternoon. It’s past time you had a say in the
future of this family.”

Lionel left him at the window and Philip turned his gaze outward again. A year ago
he would have been overwhelmed with pride at his grandfather’s confidence in him.

Now, he just felt overwhelmed with dread.

He felt more than heard Hamilton’s voice in his head. //Sorry, bro. Fear is a luxury
we don’t have. Get your head out of your ass and let’s get to work.//


Zach paced inside the Library where Enrique had informed him he was to wait. After the rescue, he had returned to Georgetown and then fled back to Metropolis. He hadn’t had a chance to see Clark, or the President for that matter. He’d saved his nephews and he’d do it again, but that didn’t mean there wasn’t going to be H-E-Double-Hockey-Sticks to pay for it.

He was only a little relieved when it was Whitney who joined him. “Hello, sir.”

“Sir?” Whitney chuckled. “I never thought I’d see you this nervous, Zach. You must be expecting the Spanish Inquisition.”

“No, just a rampaging older brother.” Zach stared down at his feet.

“You saved Philip and Hamilton at a time when Clark’s hands were tied. Rushing
headlong to Boston as you did was reckless, but considering how little time you had to make a decision…”

“I did what I had to do,” Zach said, trying to sound confident but fearing he only
sounded defensive.

“And for that you will be getting even more to do,” Clark announced as he walked in, smiling at his brother.

“Oh, great. Chores. Thank God you don’t live on a farm any more.”

“Save the smart-ass, wiseguy. Don’t think I couldn’t find some cows for you to milk if I had to,” Clark quipped, but his grin faded as he approached Zach. Still, Zach was relieved not to see any anger when his brother told him, “You opened a really big can of worms by impersonating me to save the boys, but that can’t be helped. They come first. Truth be told, I was about ten seconds away from breaking the sound barrier myself, to hell with White House security.” Clark put his hands on Zach’s shoulders. “Thank you.”

Zach ducked his head and cleared the sudden lump from his throat. “Any time.”

“Now for the kicker.” Clark smiled broadly, “The reward for a job well done is more
work.”

Zach groaned but didn’t comment.

“We’re going to get you set up with more combat training. The House has been
working up a new threat assessment and formulating some more…aggressive
responses. You want a piece of that action?” Clark asked.

Zach grinned. “Oh, yeah. Deal me in.”


Enrique de Santos turned again to the final summary of the last section of the 80
page report. As the House Majordomo, his work was never-ending. As the only
member of the House who had been in Houston when the rioting started, it had
taken Enrique nearly three days to escape the city, but he was safely back in the
palace at Smallville. Just in time for the Security and Intelligence Threat Assessment that had been commissioned after the attack on the family.

“Is there any good news in this?” he asked bleakly without looking up.

Chris Smith shook his head. “Not one bit.”

“Can we make something up?” he joked, then threw his hands up in surrender.
“Fine, let’s go to the conference room so the president can chew my ass off.”

Enrique, Chris, Andre and Alan Owen made their way to the main conference room of the palace. Whitney, Clark, Lex, Lionel, Jeff, Nick, Lisa, and Tristan were chatting as they waited for Enrique and the senior security staff. Enrique noted that for the first time Philip and Hamilton had been included in the security briefing. He counted that a good thing since there was no question that the near-debacle in Boston would be brought up. The major thrust of the meeting, though, was to lay out the global threat that was growing daily.

“Welcome, gentlemen,” Lex said as they filed into the room. “You look as though
you’re walking to the gallows.”

Enrique took a seat and managed a weak smile. “We feel fortunate that the family isn’t in the habit of shooting the messenger, sir.”

“That bad?” Tristan asked.

“Regrettably, yes, sir,” Chris replied.

“Let’s get it over with.” Whitney said, and Enrique began.

“Assessing the current global environment, all House Intelligence agents and
subsequent parent agencies predict the probability of an American Civil war at 95% with the next twelve months. When that happens, Russia will proclaim itself an empire and begin an immediate – and bloody – expansion.

“Also within the next 12 months, fifty countries are expected to be completely
destabilized by mass migration, famine, and mutant issues. Global climate issues
now predict a food shortfall of fifteen to twenty percent in the next three years. Food shortages will further destabilize all economic activity in the next five years.”

“Wow,” Hamilton muttered under her breath. “If all your meetings are this cheerful, I may just skip the next one. Is there any good news?”

Enrique responded cautiously, “With respect to House issues and security, the safe house network is up and we have the codes for the Mutant Underground, as well. X-Corp is working to maintain open avenues in and out of eighty countries.”

“That is good news,” Tristan told him. “How many endangered mutants have we
moved to safety?”

“Exact numbers are hard to come by, but we’re quickly escalating from dozens a
month toward hundreds,” Enrique replied. “Unfortunately, of the 80 countries in the network, thirty are subject to the risk assessment regarding food shortages. That factor alone places those safe houses and avenues in jeopardy.”

“What about security and escape avenues for the boys?” Lex asked a trifle
impatiently. “Their so-called escape from that mob in Boston was a farce. We knew that allowing them to live outside The Palace in Smallville or the Resort in
Georgetown was going to pose a risk, but this is unacceptable.”

Chris fielded that question. “We’ve been working with Clark to formulate new threat responses for the family’s safety, especially the boys, but you must realize, sir, that any significant change is going to require eliminating the Secret Service from the security profile altogether. All they know is duck, cover, and get the hell out of Dodge. This last incident proved that we can’t protect the boys if we’re limited to such low-tech solutions.”

“Amen,” Philip and Hamilton said as one.

Alan cleared his throat uncomfortably, feeling obliged to play the devil’s advocate. “But that comes with a serious risk of exposing some of our more…covert technology.”

Lex slammed his hand on the table and came to his feet. “Fuck the risk! What good is any of this--” he gestured wildly at the technology that surrounded them “—if my sons are dead?”

The shock and silence that engulfed the table was profound. Of the fourteen people in the room, only a handful had ever seen the controlled, contained Lex Luthor so angry. Whitney reached out and placed his hand on Lex’s forearm, but it was Philip who broke the silence.

“Father, we’re fine. Hamilton, Franklin and I – we’re not powerless, you know.”

Lex brought his anger under control and slid back behind the cold mask that usually served him much better than it had today. “None of us are powerless, Philip,” Lex said softly, reasonably, as he resumed his seat. “But we’re all hamstrained by the secrets we’re forced to protect.” He looked directly at Chris. “I know I speak for Whitney and Clark as well when I tell you that the linchpin of our new security policy is: Protect the boys at any cost. We’ll deal with the fallout afterwards, but in the future, no resource of House Luthor will be spared to protect Philip, Hamilton, Ben and Wes. Is that understood?”

“No, sir,” Chris replied.

Lex looked like he’d been hit with I two-by-four. “I beg your pardon? What was
unclear about my instructions?”

“The scope, sir,” Chris answered promptly. “If we’re taking off the gloves and doing security right – to hell with the Secret Service – our measures need to apply to the whole family. Whitney, Lionel, the Fordmans… everyone, sir. Including you, inside the White House and out.”

“Agreed,” Whitney declared before Lex think of a reason to argue.

“Whitney, Lex, Lionel, the boys… What about me?” Clark asked with such feigned
self-pity that everyone cracked up. “Don’t I count?”

Andre chuckled. “How do you say, ‘You’re on your own, Big Guy’ in Kryptonian?” he asked and everyone laughed again.

There was a smattering of chatter that lightened the mood before Lex looked at the major domo and got back to business. “Go on, Enrique. I know we’ve only scratched the surface.”

Enrique nodded and continued his depressing assessment of the global geopolitical threats facing them both abroad and at home, concluding with, “And of course, the Friends of Humanity and its Freedom Party now represent the single greatest threat to political stability outside of climate issues. They are also the greatest actor in facilitating the predicted civil war. As such, the recommendation of the security services is the full scale assault on both the Friends and the Freedom Party. Such a campaign should be both economic and military.”

Enrique closed the cover on the summary and folded his hands on top of the report.

Everyone around the table began talking at once, but Philip remained silent. Lionel
watched him for a moment. “What do you think, Philip?”

The room went quiet and all eyes turned him. Philip leaned back and rubbed his chin in a manner that evoked both Lionel and Lex. Had the mood not been so grave, many would have commented on just how much of a Luthor Philip was.

“What are our military assets as compared to the Friends?”

Alan Owen fielded the question. “We can only marshal eighty total bodyguards and another hundred or so of the Midnight Guard. That doesn’t count the Mutant
Underground contingencies that X-Corp and the Xavier Institute have gamed out. We have a major advantage in weaponry and then there are the war-bots that Hamilton built.”

Andre chimed in, “Our defenses are excellent, but our enemies know where to find
us for the most part. The ways of escape are only good if we can achieve an opening to escape.”

“Then the course of action is one where we can achieve a level of counter surprise,” Philip replied. “We can’t move first, or what we would fight for is lost. We are the ones who want stability and for us to initiate a civil war is unconscionable. However, we can’t be subject to our enemies’ timetables. Therefore our plans must be full of counter moves that delay their momentum and allow us to counter strike.”

Philip smiled and leaned forward, “We need to use Russia as a weapon against the
Freedom Party. And our knowledge of the inner workings of InterGang can be used to our advantage, as well.”

Chris sat back and frowned. “I’m not sure I follow?”

“We can’t act in ways that would visible, but there are other actors out there that can be leveraged to do our bidding, even if they don’t know they’re doing so.” Philip smiled again, “We must leave no fingerprints on anything that moves against the Friends from now on. It must be either a state actor, like Russia or our good friends at SHIELD, or a criminal element, like InterGang.”

Lionel nodded. “Clever. See what we can come up with in the short term gentlemen. Time is of the essence.”

Dec 31
Gotham City

New Year’s Eve wasn’t one of Bruce’s favorite holidays, but it was one that had the most social obligations. He’d cross the river into New York later, dine and dance with other Hellfire Club members and pretend that he was having fun.

Fun…not much chance for that in the future.’ He went down to the subbasement level of Wayne Manor and entered his other life. ‘Batman almost doesn’t exist anymore, so busy trying to fix the country.’ Today he was going to play with his toys and forget about Washington and the Treasury Department.

Sitting down at the computer console, Bruce logged in and started reviewing files he hadn’t had a chance to look at since Halloween. Alfred had left tea for him and Bruce sipped a cup of Betsy’s favorite. Slowly he sank into his alter ego and reveled in its freedom.

That’s odd.’ Bruce looked at the access logs and found a full scale file dump of some protected folders. Over the course of several minutes, his blood pressure rose and his heart sank.

“Oh my God, someone got into the old Smallville files.” Included in the stolen data
was everything he’d learned about Clark, Lex, and Whitney when he’d been obsessed with learning the Luthor family secrets. The data included the results of testing Lex’s unusual DNA structure.

He searched further and was only marginally relieved to find that the files were
copied but not breached. “The encryption should hold for a while; enough time to
track it down and kill it before the files are breached.”


Dick Grayson trudged down to Bruce’s cave, not at all happy that his plan to spend New Year’s Eve in Times Square might be compromised. The complaint died on his lips as soon as he saw Bruce’s expression. “You called, Boss?”

“We’ve had a security breach. Someone accessed the computer and copied a bank of encrypted files.”

“Someone got past the firewalls? The absolutely unbreachable, double-whammy
triple-decker no-fucking-way-anyone-gets-into-Batman’s-computer firewall?”

The attempt to lighten the situation met with an even stonier face than usual.
“There’s no evidence the firewall was breached, but the system was accessed.”

Now that was truly alarming. “You mean someone got in here?! Into the Bat cave?”

Bruce shook his head. “There’s no evidence of an intruder, either.”

Dick tilted his head and suggested, “Poltergeists? Harry Houdini? Mice with—“

“This is nothing to joke about, Dick,” Bruce said sternly, turning to the computer
console. “It’s vital that we figure out where this information went and I don’t have the time to track down the culprit, so I’m tasking it to you.”

Dick’s New Year’s Eve went out the window, and he figured he’d better not make any plans for Valentine’s Day, St Pat’s, or the 4th of July. Christmas wasn’t looking too good, either. He slumped against the console. “Okay. Show me where to start and I’ll find out who hacked your computer without going through the firewall or the front door.”

Bruce nodded and took a deep breath. “Good. I’m counting on you, Dick. The things on that disk are potentially explosive. Once you’ve found the culprit, if you can’t recover the files then I want you to insert this tape worm into their system to hunt down the information and destroy it. I should have years ago.”

“What’s on it?” Dick asked, knowing how unlikely he was to have his curiosity
satisfied.

He was right. Bruce shook his head. “That’s not something I can discuss, but if it’s fallen into the wrong hands…”

He left the ‘if’ hanging there, but he didn’t need to say more. Dick could tell it was going to be very, very bad for the good guys.

Ciudad Juarez, Mexico

Bolivar Trask looked across the ‘river’ into the United States. SHIELD had relocated his research center across the border where it was safe from prying eyes in Washington. The entire Sentinel Project, codenamed Operation Wide-Awake, was nearing completion. The Mark IIs and Mark IV’s were fully running and the Mark VIs were almost complete.

“Shouldn’t you be working?”

Trask turned and waved off General Wallace Kincaid. “I work all the time. As we are approaching the end of the project, a little reflection is called for. Sad really when I think about it.”

“No need to be sad, Dr. Trask. There’s still plenty of work to be done -- we need you to finish the neural inhibitor so that we can neutralize the mutants once we capture them.”

Trask sighed heavily. Sometimes he felt like he was beating his head against a brick wall with these people. “Once again you’ve set your expectations on the high side, General. We only know that we can track lower level mutants and inhibit them. We have no idea if it will work on a Beta, much less an Alpha.”

“You always underestimate your results, Doctor. The charm of your modesty is
wearing thin,” Kincaid snarled. “We need the inhibitor ASAP. The situation in the US is becoming severe.”

“How soon do you need them? The individual inhibitors will take months, but larger fields should be ready in six to eight weeks.” Trask wiped his brow and shrugged. “Not much more I can do than that.”

Kincaid tapped the railing and sighed. “As long as it isn’t much further than that. You are one of the last components in SHIELD’s solution to the Meta-Human problem. We need those Inhibitors so that when we do find Magneto we can neutralize him.”

“I thought SHIELD was going to kill him,” Trask replied, surprised by this change.

“There’s no benefit to killing him in battle and making him a martyr. No, he gets a
public execution with the planet watching as he is helpless to stop his own death. THAT is how SHIELD ends the mutant problem. All we need is you and Magneto.”

Russo-Iranian Border

It started at sunset and in less than an hour the entire Caspian Sea beachfront was swarming with Russian troops invading Iran from the north. Down south along the Persian Gulf, Russian Naval vessels were interdicting Iranian ships laden with oil and other goods.

United States Intelligence services began waking up Watch Officers in the middle of the day. Satellite imagery, infrared, showed a massive movement of personnel into the Iranian theatre.

Dr. Nancy McNally was briefed by the CIA and concluded the United States could do nothing about now blatant Russian aggression. She lifted her phone, “Mr. President, it has begun. Russia is moving on Iran.”

Jan 2, 2018
New York

Secretary of State Kane Miller sat in the United Nations Security Council emergency session and gritted his teeth in a diplomatic fashion. The Russian Ambassador was explaining the ‘threat’ that the Iranians presented along the Caspian Sea.

The Chinese Ambassador interrupted the Russian, “We have heard this before, Mr. Ambassador and it is as implausible now as it was then. The Americans have proof that your invasion of Ukraine was manufactured.”

“The Americans are lying in order to change the terms of the debate away from their own internal problems. They are a dying empire, devoid of influence and power,” the Foreign Minister stated coolly. “They are a toothless old tiger, growling to keep the vultures at bay.”

“As opposed to a country trying to recapture glory that never existed,” riposted the British Ambassador.

“You of all people should be wary of the dangers that radicals present. London was a sign of things to come.” The Russian smiled and shrugged.

“Is that a threat, Mr. Ambassador,” asked Secretary Miller.

“A statement, Mr. Secretary, one that all of the Western powers should heed; the United Kingdom is in ruins, France and Germany are panicked, and the United States faces a second civil war, I’d say my warning was late.”

“Your aggression against your neighbors must be stopped!”

“Russia will provide stability in the new world order. The West’s time is over. Russia must step in and fill the vacuum.”

Washington

Philip sat down and smiled at Kelly Ling and Jackson King. He’d briefed his Uncle
Tristan and grandfather on his plans: Tristan had laughed and shook his head, but
Lionel had beamed with pride. Now it was just a matter of bringing the legal team on board. “Thank you for seeing me.”

Kelly smiled at him. “We were intrigued when your grandfather told us you had
something fun for us to sink our teeth into. Since you’ve never asked us for anything before, we’re thinking you must have cooked up something quite special. Now how can we help you?”

“I’d like you to set up a private LLC and start buying up coal-fired power plants -- using my personal funds, of course. Start picking off the ones with the worst
environmental records -- I think you’ll find they’re the most financially-distressed,” he told them. He handed them a thin folder. “These would be a good starting point, I believe.

Jack accepted the folder, but barely glanced at the short list inside. Thin frown lines appeared between his brows. “And once we have them?”

“Take them offline, of course.”

Kelly was smiling. “For the good of the environment.”

Philip smiled too. Kelly knew very well his idea had damned little to do with
environmental issues. “If that’s how you want to look at it.”

Jack cleared his throat. “And as it just so happens, the power void created by the coal-plant closures will increase the number of companies that need to buy power from Minerva.”

“Precisely.” Philip smiled.

Jack looked dubious. “That’s dangerously close to being price manipulation, Philip.
Which, as you know, is illegal.”

“As Kelly pointed out, it is an environmentally friendly policy set by the use of
market principles.” Philip shrugged. “I can hardly be faulted if, in a year or two, my LLC comes out ahead or provides me with an enormous tax break.”

“And what will you do with a network of decaying power plants?” Kelly asked.

Philip tented his hands thoughtfully. “I have some ideas about that, but you’ll just
have to wait and see.”


Ursula Gunn, the Attorney General, clicked off the TV and threw her hands up in the air. “This is all over the Internet and our best computer scientists have no idea where it originated. It’s fueling hate crimes across the country, Mr. President.”

“Mutants forced to kill mutants for sport.” Lex was disgusted. “Bruce, money has to be changing hands on this thing -- get your team to scrutinize monetary transactions and see if these sadists left any bread crumbs. This aired Christmas Day, correct?”

“Yes,” Ursula answered.

Bruce saw where Lex was going and nodded. “End of year transactions have
patterns. We will look for anything outside the norm.”

“This is the sort of thing that makes matters worse! Magneto will want to make an example of someone and then whoever is doing this will go for bigger thrills.” Lex clenched his hands into a fist and groaned. “This is not what we need!”

“I’ll get Jason Wyngard on it. He’s done this type of thing before.”

Los Angeles

Steve Wilson marched down the hall to Graydon Creed’s office. The assignment in
Houston was done, as was his recon mission in Sydney; now he wanted some better action. His actual assignment as a mole for SHIELD had almost gotten him killed in the London bombing and sent an innocent man to his probable death by killing one of America’s leading anti-mutant figures, the Rev. William Stryker.

Pausing for a moment, he straightened his back and walked into the office of the
man behind the current mayhem across the country, president of the Friends of
Humanity, Graydon Creed. “Mr. Creed, what’s next?”

Creed turned and smiled at his new consigliore. “Steve, sit. We need to talk about our next project…”

“What would that be sir?”

“The noose must be tightened around the president. His oldest sons escaped
capture, putting everyone on alert, so much so that the Secret Service details
around the children have been replaced by House Luthor security. This must be
stretching their resources thin -- his youngest may still be vulnerable.”

“Washington is in lock down.” Steve mentioned. “Getting to the kids there will be
virtually impossible.”

“But the youngest twins won’t be in Washington much longer. They are returning to school for the new term.” Creed handed a folder to Steve. “Here are some families that also have sons at St. Albans. A few of them have sympathies with us. I’m sure you can make use of them.”

Steve flipped through the file, nodding. “I think I could find this useful.”

Washington
Jan 10

The sky was dark and dreary, the air heavy with the scent of coming snow. The
winds were cold as Ben and Wes made their way across the Commons of St. Albans. The family had debated long and hard about allowing them to return to school, but the boys had been persuasive in their arguments that they need to graduate and move to the next level. Philip and Hamilton were in Washington and awaiting word if they could return to Boston.

“This weather sucks,” Ben announced as he made his way to the front of the school. “We’ve been cooped up for nearly a month, and for our first day of freedom we get a snow storm.”

“Relative freedom,” Wes corrected. There were no House security personnel in his
direct line of sight, but he had not a doubt that they were there.

“I hear you, brother,” Ben muttered, then was forced to come to a stop at the wide double doors when a group of fellow seniors blocked their path.

“Just so you two know, no one wants to be seen with you,” David Martindale, the
apparent ringleader, sneered.

“And yet here you are,” Ben quipped, his sarcasm tinged with a bit of surprise,
“Practically posting for a photo op.”

Martindale scowled at him. “Your dad is a mutant lover and you two are, too.”

Ben threw a puzzled frown at his brother. “Wes, did you ask Davey-boy what he
thinks about us?”

Wes shook his head. “Nope.”

“Huh. I wonder where he got the impression that we give a rat’s ass about his
opinion?”

Martindale and one of the other boys took a threatening step closer and Ben laughed out loud. “Man, you must be the stupidest fuck who ever got admitted to this school.” Ben hooked a thumb over his shoulder at the security agents who had appeared from nowhere and were closing in fast. “You see what’s coming up on your ass? I got the posse from hell backing me up and you wanna start something?”

The seniors backed off. “Your goon squad can’t be everywhere, you pansy-ass
mutant lover. Watch yourself,” Martindale warned and disappeared back through the doors into the rotunda of the great hall.

Ben and Wes looked at each other.

“Pansy-ass?” Wes queried.

“Who writes that guy’s dialogue?” Ben muttered, laughing as he turned and waved off security. “It’s cool, guys! Just a little pissing contest to start the new year out right.”

Both boys laughed and entered the school.

San Francisco

Andre Comeaux finished his glass of wine. “Not bad for American, but it is not
French.”

“Snob,” countered Holly Jones with a smile. “I didn’t come here to be insulted. In
fact, I shouldn’t be here at all. I’m on vacation, but that doesn’t mean I’m not being monitored.”

“SHIELD is watching I’m sure, but as you said, you’re on vacation.”

“So this is a purely…recreational encounter?”

Andre smiled and leaned forward. “There need be nothing pure about it, if you’re so inclined, but I was also hoping you might share with me what the FBI knows about Australia that isn’t official.”

“So much for the flirting and playful banter,” Holly muttered under her breath. Andre Comeaux was extraordinarily attractive, but they both knew their sexual innuendo was all talk. There were a lot of empty rooms upstairs in the hotel, but she wouldn’t be sharing one with Andre tonight. More’s the pity.

“INTERPOL has some underground information about the political opposition being
arrested in Australia,” Holly told him. “A few of their ministers were out of the
country at the time of the coup, and all of them have filed for political asylum in
whatever country they happened to be in at the time. It’s creating headaches for
everyone. Kane Miller at State is trying to handle this quietly, but the Freedom Party allies everywhere are trying to block the term asylum.” She sipped her Chardonnay. “On a similar note, I think several of our field offices here have been covering for Friends activity. There have been a few times that field agents have been just a hair late in acting to prevent violence against mutants. Nothing that can be proven, but it’s a pattern of behavior that needs looking into.”

“Institutional indifference, I don’t miss it. By the way, what happened to the shooter in Houston?”

Holly frowned. “He seems to have vanished.”

Jan 15
Stockholm

Jean Grey and Emma Frost waited outside the windswept and freezing oceanfront
cafe for contact from Sean Cassidy who had been charged with quietly “detaining” the Latvian and Lithuanian leaders of the Freedom Party. X-Corp was conducting the mission under duress, but Whitney Fordman had been adamant; this had to be done, and done soon.

“Charles is against this. To use our powers in this way…” Jean could not finish the
statement.

“The enemy of my enemy is my friend. We have no choice but to see if we can set our enemies at each other’s throats.” Emma nodded as Sean made his way to the observation pier.

//We’ve got them, but they will be missed soon. You have twenty minutes.//

Emma and Jean followed Sean to a waiting car. It was a quick drive to a warehouse and they disembarked. The two telepaths moved in front of one of the men. Emma reached out and touched the Latvian’s head while Jean did the same to the Lithuanian. Emma smiled, “Relax, you won’t feel a thing.”

Twenty minutes later, Sean was gone with both men. Within days, the Freedom
Party would be violently protesting Russia’s mutant policy, and in the process
creating one hell of a mess for Graydon Creed to clean up. It was time to change the terms of the fight.

Emma pulled out her PDA. ‘The rabbits are on the loose.

Gotham

It had taken two weeks of painstaking research, but Dick had finally nailed down one solid fact – a mutant shapeshifter had gained access to Wayne Manor, made her way into the cave, and onto Batman’s main computer.

Now all he had to do was figure out who the shapeshifter was. And where she’d
taken the data. And whether she’d decrypted it. And figure out how to get the data away from her… His prospects for Christmas weren’t getting any better.

The first thread he’d unraveled was figuring out when the unauthorized access had occurred. Once he had that information he’d been able to scour footage from the manor’s two dozen security cameras and obtained a fleeting glimpse of a blue-skinned humanoid captured by a security camera as a dim reflection off of a glass case. The next clue was the one Dick was proudest of – the image of a mouse caught on an exterior security camera. And the final nail in the shapeshifter’s circumstantial coffin was another reflection of a woman – this time fully human -- on the south slope of the manor.

No way it would hold up in court, but the time stamps on all three images had him
convinced they were looking for a mutant.

The key to identifying the woman now was the closed circuit television system the flowed through the city. Traffic cameras, bank ATMs, the subway… The city was a veritable treasure trove of images, and Dick was running a facial recognition program across the whole system, comparing those faces against that final image. It was going to take several computing cycles, but Dick figured he’d get a list of partial matches within the hour. He stared at the image he’d pulled from the remote camera the nearest entrance point to the Batcave. ‘Amazing that can almost pull images from a reflection in a pool of water from space. There is no place to hide now-a-days.

While the software did its, thing, Dick leaned back, propped his feet on the console and opened his favorite superhero comic book.

Two hours later, the disembodied barely-recognizable-as-female computer told him, “Facial Recognition program complete. Probability of match, 97.68%.”

“Bingo. Display locations.”

Three times the target was seen entering a known access point to SHIELD
headquarters in New York. Dick covertly accessed a Top Secret databank in the DOD until he came up with a name: Raven Darkholm. Three keystrokes later, he had her home address and her personnel file. ‘What were you doing here and does SHIELD know you can shapeshift?

Jan 23
Washington

Lex sat back and stared at the television. Underground feeds from St. Petersburg, Vilnius, Minsk, and Novgorod were showing massive unrest as Freedom Party rallies protested Russian involvement with mutants. How the underground Freedom Party had the images of those Russian special units from the invasion of Ukraine was something Lex didn’t want to ponder at the moment.

“Russian imperial ambitions may be taking a hit, Mr. President,” Nancy McNally
stated as she walked into the Oval Office. “Vitaly Kirov has ordered troops toward St. Petersburg. Iran may be able to revolt and so might Ukraine and Kazakhstan if we could provide them some support.”

The images of rioting and smoke from several cities in the Russian sphere of
influence made Lex grin slightly. Whitney’s idea had been brilliant and X-Corp’s
execution flawless. Of course there was no way Nancy McNally could ever be told of the maneuver. “No, we had nothing to do with this and we have our hands full as it is. Let the Freedom Party and Russia go toe-to-toe for a bit.”

What I wouldn’t give to be a fly on the wall in Graydon Creed’s office right now.

New York

Satellite imagery depicting scenes of chaos in Russia filled several of SHIELD’s
monitors. “I’d offer to break out the popcorn, but who do we root for?” asked
Amanda Waller.

“Good question,” replied Gyrich. “Both of them need to have their momentum
slowed, so how about a nice long drawn out stalemate. We can order takeout.”

General Isling walked in and motioned for Gyrich to follow him into a private
conference room. “Wilson has been debriefed and also been hit with a few
posthypnotic suggestions. He’s a fighting machine and I’m ready to use him.”

“We’ll use him when we take down Darkholm. I want that to go smoothly. Justice has been asking about him. Make sure no one can recognize him when this goes down.”

Isling nodded. “When are going to do it?”

“The timing has to be right and we needed the right personnel. One down and one to go.”


Dick crossed the Hudson into New York when he’d heard that hostilities had broken out between the Freedom party and Russia. SHIELD, and just about everyone else, would be distracted. He was still a student and expected to maintain that image even though Bruce had him covering for Batman in Gotham in Dick’s alter ego of Nightwing.

He pulled his motorcycle to a stop across the street from the brownstone that Raven Darkholm called home. ‘Mighty nice place on a government salary.’ He went around back and quickly disabled the alarm system. He found her study and a government issued laptop. ‘The first step is the easiest.’ With ease he hacked her password and went into the BIOS. Making sure he covered his tracks completely, he opened a window into the computer’s basic programming. Fifteen minutes later he was out of the townhouse and back on the street. He quickly ran a remote access program and got a positive lock.

Now for phase two of the plan. How the hell am I going to get into SHIELD?

Los Angeles

“What the FUCK were they thinking! Who gave the order to start shit in Russia?”
Creed slammed his fist down on his desk. He turned to his nearest aide. “Find out
what is going on over there! And get me Morgan Edge! I need to see if he can pull a fucking rabbit out of his hat!”

Creed turned and stared at the feed. In Vilnius, the Freedom Party was now engaged in exchanging gun fire with the Lithuanian security forces. Several buildings were burning. The same was going on in several cities. “This was not on the agenda!”

Jan 24
Sydney

Damien Parker was having difficulty believing what he was seeing. Russian forces
fighting Freedom Party protestors? Absurd!

For Damien, this was two of his pawns going at it and that had never been on his
agenda. He controlled Australia because he controlled the Freedom Party in
Australia. He controlled Russia because he controlled Vitaly Kirov. Plans to take over the Freedom party worldwide were in the works, but they may have taken a hit.

Victoria sauntered into the room, belting her robe. Damien had been up for hours,
but she was only just rising. “What is it this time, my darling? Is the world ending
again?” she asked with an indolent yawn.

“The Freedom Party is having riots in Russia and some of its neighbors!”

That woke her up. “How rude! And inconvenient. What the hell does Creed think he’s doing? Creed is a zealot with an insane agenda, but this serves no purpose.”

Damien shook his head. “I’m not sure this is Creed’s doing. One of my spies in their headquarters reported he went into a fine rage a few hours ago, about the time these reports started coming out of Russia. But if he didn’t instigate this, who did?”

“Spontaneous combustion?” Victoria suggested lightly.

Damien scowled at her. “On a half-dozen separate fronts? No, this was planned, and it must be stopped!

She considered that for a moment and then shrugged. “Perhaps it is best to let this play out as it will. If you try to control too much, then you may be exposed as the puppet master before you want that to happen.”

“I need Russia in a position of strength when I go after House Luthor!”

“As long as you have them then, you can get House Luthor, but if you expose Kirov to discovery, then Russia will not be ours. Let this play out. It may work to your advantage.”

Damien stared at her hard, “How can this be good for us?”

“We don’t control the full Freedom party and this may limit them in the short term. If he is running scared, he’ll be an easier target for you to acquire. All you have to do is be patient.”

Jan 31
New York

Bruce had instructed Dick to keep his cleanup operation strictly internal, so Dick was completely on his own; otherwise he’d have gotten the Wonder twins involved and maybe Elsa, too, to hack the crap out of SHIELD just to piss them off. However, he knew that SHIELD and the Luthors could barely stand each other and he need to keep what he was about to do to limited to as few people as possible – namely himself. The murky water of the Hudson River and his very low profile hid his approach from sonar and visible detection.

He knew from his diagnostics that Raven Darkholm had run her home laptop several times and had remoted into SHIELD three times, which had spread Dick’s little tapeworm inside SHIELD. So far, so good. Now it had to be activated

He disconnected from the small aqua pod he’d used to propel himself across the
river. SHEILD headquarters was fifty feet away through multiple layers of concrete, steel, and other types of shielding his small computer could not hope to penetrate.

Fortunately, he had a small robotic computer that Wayne Tech had dreamed up. He placed it near a power tunnel and watched as the three inch robot motored into the murky darkness and disappeared. ‘Now I have to wait again.

Twenty minutes went by when he got detection – the robot had connected to not one, but two data lines. Dick quickly accessed the lines and moved into SHIELD communications. He knew he was leaving a trace, no way he could avoid it, but when SHIELD backtracked the trace it would lead straight to Raven Darkholm. But there was no way they would ever detect the tape work.

It took about 30 seconds to find and activate it. He ran several file searches over
SHIELD activity in the last three years to make the tape worm move quickly. The
firewalls could not engage because he was behind them. Now if the data that had
been stolen from Bruce was activated, the tape worm would eat it before it could be used.

Bruce had better be happy with this!

Metropolis

Tristan and Lionel looked over the numbers. Tristan pointed to a specific set. “Our income from Vulcan Energy is about as expected.”

“How about the cancer trials? After the incident in Houston I don’t know where we stand.”

Tristan clicked on a file and moved it to one of the large monitors. “People are still flocking to Houston seeking a cure. All we need is for Lex to get Congress to open up the process and we can start to heal them.”

Lionel frowned. “I’ll see if we have any magic wands lying around and get right on
that.”

Washington

Raven Darkholm sat with her friend Val Cooper at a nice Georgetown Bistro. Val
wiped the corners of her mouth and sighed. “I miss this. Everything feels like it’s
teetering on the edge.”

“I hate feeling like this could be the last time we see each other in a peaceful
setting.” Raven brushed her hair back. “The world has shifted and is shifting. Where we end up is unknown.”

Val leaned forward. “Leave SHIELD, come back to DARPA. Gyrich is an ass who will get everyone under him killed before he admits he’s wrong.”

Raven shook her head. “The action is at SHIELD right now, not DARPA and I’m a
researcher. Thanks for the offer though. Anything I need to know?”

“I shouldn’t tell you this, but Holly and I have been watching Gyrich and SHIELD for a few months. Since the incident at Eagle Lake they’ve been moving more and more people from facility to facility. We don’t know what he’s up to, but those movements don’t make any sense.”

A thrill of anticipation coursed through Raven. If SHIELD was moving its mutant
“assets,” this could be the perfect chance for Magneto to finally free Scanner. She hid her excitement with an easy smile and a shrug. “Who knows what Gyrich is up to? It could be anything.”

Magneto must be informed. Scanner must be freed!

Feb 6
White Sands, New Mexico

Jamison Brand hated being out in the middle of nowhere. However, Gyrich had
tasked him to come here and remove one of SHIELD’s greatest assets to a safer
place. “Fucking Magneto and the fucking leak – if they hadn’t gotten to Eagle Lake I’d be home watching St. John’s kick UCLA’s ass!”

He was heading with his caravan towards White Sands missile range and the SHIELD installation built into the nearby mountains. He had two hundred soldiers with him. ‘Gyrich thinks this place doesn’t have the strength to hold out if Magneto attacks – Who does?

The sun was setting and they would move the prisoner under the cover of night to the facility in Mexico. The sentinels were there and that was the only place Gyrich thought that Scanner could be held. ‘If he wants to expose his secret weapon so soon!

A flash illuminated the sky from the east. “MOVE!” Brand barked out. “This is Brand on SHIELD frequency two three five. We have unknown forces to the east of White Sands. Repeat unknowns to the east of White Sands!”

New York

“Confirm we have Exodus signature near White Sands!” yelled one of the Operations officers.

“Move Luxor towards Brand’s position as quickly as possible.” Gyrich hit a button on the console. “Get the Ultimates to New Mexico. See if the President’s drinking
buddies can stop Magneto.”

“Sir, Luxor has launched four flights of Talon strike fighters. ETA, three minutes!”

“Inform Col Brand that the Talons are coming in weapons hot. He’d better find
cover.”

White Sands

Brand ordered his caravan to pull off the road and prepare to hit Magneto and his
Brotherhood as they approached the SHIELD facility. “Everybody down, Talons are one minute out!”

Magneto floated towards the main entrance with several of his lackeys flying support or being carried on a platform suspended in the air by Magneto’s awesome might. Brand ducked as streaks of light impacted the area around Magneto. The air was bright with light and full of heat.

Brand came up and saw Magneto still in the air, but none of his followers were
around him. A flash broke Brand’s vision for a moment and he recognized Exodus
floating near Magneto. Exodus raised his arms and energy lances flew towards the area the approaching Talons would come from. In the distance, explosions told Brand that at least some of the Talons had been hit.

“This is Brand. What’s our status?”

“Col Brand, Talon flights have been intercepted. Ultimates are en route. ETA…” The communications were interrupted as a massive bolt of lighting filled the cloudless sky. Thor, the self styled God of Thunder stood in the middle of fused glass sand. The Ultimates had arrived with him.

“Check that, they’re here.” Brand gathered his weapons and got on his com set for his troops. “Move to secure the facility. Let the big boys go at it. We have a different job to do.”

Washington

It was like watching a video game except in real life instead of computer generated. Multiple feeds were coming from White Sands as the Ultimates tangled with Magneto and his Brotherhood. Lex leaned back in the Situation Room and said nothing, only gripping his chair every so often.

“How many did Magneto bring with him?”

“We estimate the Brotherhood totals twenty to twenty five, Mr. President,”
responded Dr. McNally. “It’s difficult to get an accurate read.”

“Two dozen mutants against seven Ultimates that were available for transport with Thor. Those are not good odds even if you have Thor, Iron Man, Captain America, and Wonderman there.”

“The air carrier Luxor is in position to support.”

Lex waved off that bit of information. “You don’t send a knife when you need a
sledgehammer to do the job.”

White Sands

Tony Stark fired two more repulsar blasts. “We need back-up!” He moved as quickly as his Iron Man suit could carry him away from the flying mutant Kleinstock triplets. “I’m good, but four-to-one ratios are not good in a fight!”

Thor’s hammer went flying between Tony and his pursuers to nail Exodus in the
chest. “Your running commentary is making my ears bleed, Stark.”

Hawkeye danced out of the way of Rampage and fired off two more explosive
arrows. Black Widow and Tigra were in hand-to-hand combat with several of Magneto’s shock troops.

“This is Cap, all SHIELD personnel, plan Delta Bravo Alpha!” he yelled over the
SHIELD frequency.

In moments several of the troops in Brand’s caravan moved in squads on the left
flank of the Brotherhood while several dozen troops came flying in via jet packs from Luxor to move on the left flank.

Captain America lifted his shield and yelled, “Attack!”

The Ultimates regrouped and moved to join flanking groups. Brand’s group was
defending the front of the SHIELD facility while the combined SHIELD-Ultimates
group attacked from the flank.

Arclight stepped up and sent multiple waves of energy as she flattened the left
flanking force. Avalanche used his power to flatten the right flanking force. Those still
in the air were pummeled by energy blasts from the Klienstocks and Exodus.

Thor and Wonderman got up and moved near Captain America. “Got a Plan B?”


Gyrich watched several monitors at once trying to determine the scope of the battle. “What assets do we have in the area that can assist?”

“A second group of Ultimates headed by the Black Knight and Wasp are fifteen
minutes out,” responded the Comm officer.

Waller shook her head, “This could be over in two.”

“Sir, we have several more mutant signatures converging on the installation. Hard to determine the number, but we register a few alphas among them.”

Rubbing his chin Gyrich nodded. “Let’s see how bad this could be. Stand by to launch Operation Wide-Awake.”

Waller grabbed Gyrich’s shoulder and spun him towards her. “Henry, there is no way you are doing that now. We lose all surprise if we do that and we have a great dealing of explaining to do to the President!”

Gyrich was about to respond when another officer yelled, “Look!”


Jamison Brand rubbed his forehead and tried to clear the dust from his eyes. Blinking several times, he could see a green glow and rubbed his eyes harder. In front of him several hexagons, brilliant clear green panels, began to build one on another to form a wall. A geodesics type dome soon surrounded the SHIELD installation. He looked up and floating down was the Green Lantern. “I thought you were dead?”

Kyle Raynor, garbed in a green costume and his eyes covered by a mask, shrugged. “And I would have thought you would have figured out how to take Magneto down by now.”

Brand scowled but said nothing.

Magneto moved towards the SHIELD facility. A green energy field engulfed it. He
raised his arms to prepare to attack it when a brilliant red energy beam nailed him in the back. Magneto turned as his Brotherhood was engaged from a new force. He watched as someone flew into the sky and suddenly a monsoon was engulfing the area. “Regroup! We have company. The mutant traitor X-Men are here!”

Colossus ran through the ground forces followed by other X-Men. Winds of hurricane intensity howled over the battlefield as lighting illuminated the area. Torrential rain made it difficult to stand.

Thor smiled as he watched the weather-witch named Storm pummel the
Brotherhood. “Not bad.” He rose in the area and when right after Magneto. The
Green Lantern was holding the facility safe so Thor swung his hammer and sent it at Magneto with the power of a thunderbolt behind it. Magneto moved a tank in the way to cause the hammer to expend its force on the tank instead of Magneto.

Jean Grey moved forward with three mutants protecting her. She gathered her might
and sent two telekinetic bolts at the master of Magnetism. In the blink of an eye,
Nightcrawler, a mutant with the ability to teleport, appeared over Magneto and took his helmet. Jean Grey sent a mind bolt at him and Magneto screamed as his brain felt seized between two locomotives traveling at full speed.

“Lord Magneto!” screamed Exodus. He was too far from Magneto to get to him and too many enemies were between them. “I will rescue you!” Exodus gathered the Brotherhood and vanished.

Captain America moved forward and grabbed a syringe from a medic bag. He jabbed it into Magneto. “That will keep him out for a few hours. Send word to the President, we have Magneto!”

Washington

Nancy McNally smiled broadly as the monitors showed a scene none thought they
would see. “We have Magneto in custody.”

Lex nodded and turned to Attorney General Gunn, “Please inform Mr. Gyrich that the mutants who assisted in capturing the known terrorist, Magneto, were operating under the jurisdiction of the Justice Department as emergency deputized Marshals.”

Ursula Gunn smiled and nodded. “He won’t like that.”

“They won this battle, not him. I don’t much care what Mr. Gyrich likes or doesn’t
like.”

New York

“Yes, Madam Attorney General. SHIELD will not pursue the mutants in question.
Indeed, we do need to thank them for their invaluable aid in apprehending Magneto.” Gyrich choked out the words as he said them. He hung up the phone. “I want Magneto in a plastic cage before he wakes, and then I want to know every secret the man has ever had.”

“And the other group of mutants?” asked Waller.

“Find them. A few of them joined the Fantastic Four in defending this building a few years ago. I want to know everything about them. We may need to include them in our little surprise scenarios.”

She paused and pointed at the monitor bank. “Henry, this is a good day.”

“Yes, but it doesn’t change the underlying problems the country faces. One threat is eliminated, but more remain.”

Feb 7
Washington

“My fellow Americans, as you have no doubt heard by now, the United States has the terrorist Magneto in custody. SHIELD, the Ultimates, and a group of mutants known as the X-Men combined to take down the Brotherhood and capture Magneto.

“It was an act of extraordinary courage on their part. Mutants have been reviled by many across this nation and around the world and yet this group chose to fight for justice and peace. They chose to unite against a madman and see that he pays for his crimes.

“This is a shining example of what we all share; our values to live in peace and work together for the common good. Hate has done nothing but destroy across the world and take lives of people who were only different. And yet it is in that difference that the strength arose to fight and beat the embodiment of evil.

“I encourage all of you to take a deep breath and understand that the threat of
Magneto has been contained. A new day dawns and I hope a new day for all of us to look at one another with new eyes. Take a moment and think about what we have in common. It is a new day and I for one am going sit back and smile. Much must be done to rebuild bonds, ties, and lives, but today on this day we have much to be grateful for.

“As the sunsets across the country I hope that tomorrow all of us will wake with
hope renewed and see the world with new eyes. Thank you and good night.”

New York

SHIELD was silent as the President finished his speech. Morale was high from the
fact that Magneto was in custody, but there was a tinge of bitterness in it as well since SHIELD was not the one who had captured him.

Henry Gyrich and Amanda Waller met with the senior military staff of SHIELD.
Jamison Brand, who had led the investigation into the security leak that had
uncovered Raven Darkholm, was brought and Gyrich motioned him to a chair.

“We’re ready to move on our mole, Mr. Brand. With Magneto in custody we can take the initiative and go after his associates. What do you need to take out Raven Darkholm?”

“Take her out permanently, or capture her?”

“I want her in custody. Ms. Darkholm may be the key to handing some of them to us on a plate.” Gyrich paused for a second and then motioned toward the doors. “The President is being celebrated out there. We have to hurry while we have the cover of our victory to achieve even greater goals.”

“We have to be careful,” cautioned Waller. “The Justice Department is going to
handle the case and they are taking custody of Magneto in a week.”

Gyrich nodded. “Brand, I want Darkholm in chains by the end of the week. I want
her mind opened up and I want to use what she and Magneto know to find any and all of their associates. Justice doesn’t need to know about this.”

Feb 10
New York

Frank Craft waited for Gyrich to join him. While the news of the week was very good
it also placed him in several dangerous positions.

“Mr. Craft, as always a pleasure to see you again.”

“We have come to a difficult point in the affairs of our country, Mr. Gyrich. Snap
public opinion polls have given Luthor a significant bump. I imagine that polls over
the next few days will reflect this changing political landscape.” Craft stirred his tea in his china cup after adding a hint of sugar. “You figure largely in several of the Consortium’s plans, but in order to make sure the nation remains stable and
governable, I need greater access to the resources The Consortium has helped you acquire.”

Gyrich frowned. “I’m not following you, sir.”

“We’ve made contact with Graydon Creed and his Freedom thugs thanks to the
moles you have inserted. We must control that force, but it is in danger of being
marginalized by recent events. The public only reacts when frightened and then they can be controlled.”

“Now I see. We know that Creed’s thugs were behind the devastation in London and the actions in Russia. Those zealots are barely contained, but they do make for good shock troops.”

“Gyrich, we need to come up with a new boogeyman. And we need it sooner rather than later. The more time that President Luthor has to bask in this victory the weaker our collective position becomes. Your head is not safe either.”

“I have the perfect person in mind. We have Stryker’s assassin and he’s a mutant. He just might do what we need done.”

Los Angeles

Graydon Creed felt like a deflated balloon. The biggest rallying cry for the Friends of Humanity and the Freedom Party was Magneto and now the Boogeyman was in
custody. The Freedom Party was still engaged in combat with troops across Eastern Europe. Russia had banned the Party and was arresting known members, accusing them of sedition.

“Dining on ashes?” asked Morgan Edge as he walked in. “It doesn’t become your
normally televangelistic personality.”

“The anger of the people may be assuaged with the President’s Magneto coup. The hard core believers will continue to follow, but those who were only scared of the big bad creature – they are happy tonight. That cripples political power and influence.”

Edge shrugged. “You need to go back on the offensive now that Magneto is no longer out there. Without Magneto to drive fear, why not force Luthor to confront Registration again? Couldn’t hurt.”

“I’ve tried to intimidate the First Family through surrogates, but that is proving
ineffective. They’re surrounded by the Secret Service and their own bodyguards.”
Creed scowled. “There have to be ways to unsettle Luthor.”

Edge smiled. “All you need is an infiltrator in the Secret Service.”

“We have a few sympathizers, but they are on counterfeit detail.”

“How much would it be worth to you if I told you I have more than one in the First Family detail?”

Creed felt the balloon inflating. “Tell me more.”

Feb 14
New York

Raven Darkholm walked into townhouse and flicked on the light switch. Nothing.
There was no power.

Sensing movement, she moved quickly but not quick enough. The taser that zapped her chest sent her into screams of excruciating pain and she fell to the ground.

Jamison Brand walked into the room and nodded to the soldier who was controlling the taser. “Put the new mutant restraints on her and take her to SHIELD. Tear her place apart. I want to know everything she’s been hiding. We’ll let the Psy-Corps look inside her mind.”


Mystique slowly regained consciousness and realized that she was strapped down to a table. She couldn’t move anything, panic flooded her body and mind.

“Nerve induction, you can’t feel a thing. For a shapeshifter it has the ability to keep you looking like your natural scaly blue self.” Henry Gyrich walked up and peered down at her. “I’m not going to bother to ask you any questions. Instead, Ms. Darkholm, I’m going to let my telepaths peer into your mind. And frankly I don’t care if they leave you a drooling idiot or not.”

Three members of SHIELD’s Psy-Corps walked in. Their eyes were hidden by
sunglasses. Panic again flooded Mystique’s body, but she could not so much a move a finger.

She silently screamed as her mind was assailed from three directions at once. As
strong as her mental discipline was, it was no match for the combined effort of the Psy-Corps. She’d concentrate to keep one person out only to sense another person attacking her mental defenses. Bit by bit she could feel her psychic walls crumbling under the weighted assault. She screamed as the walls fell and her mind was wide open. It was akin to mental rape as they ruthlessly plundered every corner of her psyche.

The three agents spent four hours sifting through Mystique’s mind. When they left tears rolled down her cheeks; never before had she felt this naked and vulnerable. They knew almost everything she did. Only her innermost thoughts, hidden behind walls built by someone else had been safe. It was there that she was able to see some of what they were doing. Most importantly it was from this hidden point that she would recover and plot her revenge.

Feb 18
Morgantown, West Virginia

Gyrich pulled up to the abandoned factory in his bland government issued sedan. It was nondescript and blended well into the old town scenery. This was as far from SHIELD as he could be and still be able to get back quickly if necessary. He entered the old factory and went down a flight of stairs into the very well lit and immaculate underground area. Inside a containment area was the mutant captured from Houston.

“So you are Wade Wilson, the one who ignited a firestorm. I have to hand it to you, I couldn’t stand Stryker and you took the sonofabitch out. Bravo! But, I know Isling has had conversations with you before about being all you can be. And we’ve certainly been helping you in that regard.”

Wade Wilson no longer looked as he had when captured. The meteor formula used
by USAMRIID had been injected into his body, further mutating him. His mouth had been sown closed and now his body gained its energy directly from the sun and other background cosmic radiation. He looked like a menace. The containment unit had a dampening field that keep Wilson, now known as Deadpool, in place.

Gyrich raised his hand. “No, don’t say anything. You are about to be the star
attraction in the next round of the Mutant Menace. You’ve got teleportation skills
now. And you are going to attack the White House at the next Cabinet meeting.
President Luthor is to survive, but if you killed a few of his secretaries, that would be perfect.”

Feb 21
Washington

Wes and Ben grunted a half-hearted ‘good morning’ as they walked into the kitchen for breakfast. Neither of them was very communicative.

“And a cheery good morning to you, too!” Whitney chirped with exaggerated
enthusiasm. He handed them both a glass of juice. “How does it feel to be officially teenagers? I can’t believe you’re thirteen. It feels like just yesterday we were having to change your diapers.”

“DAD! It feels like it did yesterday except we have one less day to come to a decision about where we are going to college. If Father had his way we’d be heading to a monastery,” Ben whined as we grabbed a chocolate chip cookie.

“That is not breakfast young man and you’d be safer, or the female population would be safer, if you were cloistered.”

Wes chuckled, “Can he go someplace where they take vows of silence too?”

Ben shot Wes the finger when Whitney wasn’t looking.

“Boys, get ready to go. And Happy Birthday. We’ll celebrate when we can gather the family and your brothers can get away from school.”

Feb 27
Washington

Cabinet Secretaries entered the White House through various entrances. The mood of the nation had been much lighter since the capture of Magneto. The Justice Department, in conjunction with other nations, was preparing a prosecution of Magneto. Intense negotiations about the venue were taking place at the highest levels. A blind lawyer named Matt Murdock was defending Magneto. Even those machinations though could not keep the feeling of relief from permeating every aspect of American, even global, life.

Lex walked into the Cabinet Room and everyone stood up. He motioned for them to sit. “I hope everyone is well today. Bruce, what is the current economic picture?”

Bruce nodded and three screens in the room soon showed graphs and economic
activity projections. “Tax revenues appear to be higher than anticipated by fifteen percent. People seem to be spending money and with several urban cores undergoing reconstruction we have areas of vast economic expansion. Secretary
Manheim’s three year plans for reductions coupled with increases in revenue means we might be able to balance the budget.” Murmurs of approval began to rise, but Bruce held up his hand and warned, “Before anyone gets starry-eyed, I said might.”

Lex smiled. “Heaven forefend that anyone become carried away by optimism.
Secretary Wayne is—“

Whatever Lex had been about to say was cut short when the doors burst open and Secret Service agents burst into the room. “Sir! We’re under attack!” Dan
McConnelly shouted as his agents fanned out, some pushing Cabinet secretaries to the ground while Lex’s personal guard swarmed toward him. They were still several yards away when they were suddenly scattered like bowling pins by an assailant moving too fast to be seen.

An instant later, a figured morphed in the center of the table in front of Lex – a
bulked-up monstrosity with wild eyes and scars where his mouth should have been. His gun moved to fire on Secretary Manheim, but a laptop hit him in the head. Bruce’s aim had been spot on. Lex pulled a pen from his suitcoat pocket, aimed it and fired at the intruder. The high intensity laser nailed the figure in the back. He turned and fired at Lex, but the bullet impacted a force field covering Lex. Several Secret Service members fired. The assassin was hit several times, but vanished before he could be apprehended.

The sudden silence was deafening.

“Is everyone alright?” Lex asked. He looked around and nodded at the Homeland
Security Secretary. “Go and find out what happened. Report back ASAP. Everyone else, we finish the meeting.”


Bruce entered his office after the chaos of the Cabinet meeting. ‘The least boring
meeting ever. I wonder if we can arrange that kind of fun every time?

Jason Wyngard was waiting for Bruce when he entered. “Mr. Secretary, I have some news for you.”

“What have you learned?”

“Sir, I’ve followed a lot of the money trails for the Friends of Humanity and some of it travels back to known institutions that are less than reputable on the international level. I’ve been able to correlate known InterGang activity, but there have been some recent transfers from entities that have been dormant since the nineteen sixties and seventies.”

Bruce frowned and then nodded. “Give me that list and do not let anyone know what you are doing. Follow the InterGang money for now. I think Justice would be very interested in what you turn up.”

March 1
New York

The information that SHIELD obtained from Mystique was frustratingly fragmented. Such was the result of a psychic examination with an unwilling subject -- nothing was ever linear. Moreover, the data that they gathered from Mystique’s computers was corrupted and so were all the SHIELD computers. A tapeworm had infected everything. Scanner was now onsite trying to reconstruct the data, but that would take time.

One thing was clear from the fragmented data – Mystique had learned something
damaging on Bruce Wayne, and Bruce Wayne, in turn, knew something even more
damaging about Lex Luthor. Mystique had unearthed secrets that she believed had enormous value. The exact nature of those secrets, though, had so far eluded SHIELD. But there was more than one way to unearth secrets.

Gyrich watched his monitors as his team crossed the Hudson to Gotham City. Their ETA to Wayne Manor was less than five minutes. Gyrich wanted to know what Wayne was up to and what Wayne might know. Broken computer files and psychic images were not enough evidence to convince people that the plan to remove Lex Luthor from office was just, but Gyrich had a feeling he had a smoking gun within his grasp.

The attack on the White House had been downplayed by Katherine Tyers, the Press Secretary, much to Gyrich’s annoyance. There had been no fatalities, but the technology that Luthor had so deftly displayed had been awe-inspiring to the Secret Service. ‘The President has a fully functional personal body shield. That is
impressive. And disturbing.

The plan to reignite fear in the population had only ignited such passion in those that were already protesting. Most of the nation heard the news and simply shrugged. ‘As soon as Scanner knows something, we’ll be ready to act..

A tech ran to Gyrich holding a print out. “Sir, Scanner has located a possible place for the Wayne information files. They’re in a junkyard.”

“Abort and prepare to be redeployed. New mission location.” Gyrich read the printout again. “This had better be right or I’m plugging Scanner into a toaster.”

March 3
Gotham City

Jamison Brand stared out over an abandoned storage yard. Hundreds of derelict
cargo containers were stacked around the weed infested place, providing camouflage for three points of entry into a hidden underground facility. Brand figured that this was the best place he’d ever seen to hide a secret hiding place. “That would be the point of course,” he muttered to himself. Scanner had been able locate this place in the jumble of information he was still untangling. The techs that were helping pegged recovery of the data at less than twenty percent. But in that twenty percent was a chance at the whole enchilada.

“All three teams are in position, Colonel.”

Brand gave the signal and the teams moved into different zones to breach the
underground facility. The entry points were not close to each other, at least half a mile from each other. Ground support was scattered and no air support was allowed because of the nature of this raid.

“Team One has entered the main floor!”

Brand waited for the signal that they were online with the SHIELD mainframe. They would then penetrate any possible computer security that was in place.

“Sir, Team Two is taking fire!”

“What?”

“Team Three is also under heavy fire. We don’t know the point of origin.” The ground shook with slow roll. “Sir, there has been an underground explosion. Team One is offline. They were online with SHIELD for twenty seconds.”

A series of explosions dotted the landscape of the container field. “FALL BACK!”
yelled Brand. “Get everyone out!”

More explosions rocked the ground and containers began falling all over the place.
Brand ran from his isolated command center on the edge of the yard. A massive
explosion lifted him off his feet and threw him twenty yards. Huge plums of smoke
rose from the ground. Brand groaned and passed out.


Amanda Waller looked down into the medical unit as they brought in the survivors of the raid on one of Bruce Wayne’s storage sites. “How long will he be in surgery?”

“Hard to tell, ma’am. He has some internal bleeding and multiple breaks to his right leg and a fracture in his left forearm.”

Waller nodded and left. She walked into Gyrich’s office and pointed across the river. “Did we get anything out of that raid?”

“Scanner was able to use his limited time to get the file structure keys. He has
reassembled what data he could from Mystique’s corrupted data dump. We have a limited view of some very secret files of Wayne’s. It will take time to see what we have, but I think we have our smoking gun.”

Washington

Bruce got off the phone with Alfred. He speed dialed and waited for Dick to answer. “Dick, the storage site was hit, but Alfred informs me that no information has been taken. Recon and report back to me. Those SHIELD bastards are about to take it in the teeth.”

The offsite facility was a complete loss, but it was designed to self destruct if
unauthorized entry was gained. The catch being the destruction happened one and a half minutes after entry was gained.

The media was calling it a gas leak coupled with some old hazardous chemicals that we abandoned on the site. The result had been a spectacular light show and
fireworks display that people on both sides of the river had been able to witness.

Gotham City

Dick knew that his old access to SHIELD was no longer valid, but he was at a loss for how to proceed. ‘Breaking in would be bad, but we need to see if they got anything.’ He pulled up the remote servers that monitored security and cross checked what Alfred had viewed. The file dump they pulled had nothing in it. “They got a pile of nothing. Bruce will be happy to know that SHIELD just attacked him and got a big zilch for it. Now to plot payback.”

March 8
Washington

Lex sat in the Mural Room with Bruce and Attorney General Ursula Gunn. FBI
Director Holly Jones and Deputy Treasury Secretary Jason Wyngard sat in the
background. Lex cleared his throat and motioned to the piles of paper and data files. “I appreciate the politically sensitive nature of this case, Ursula, but as Attorney General this is your call.”

“Treasury stands ready to assist in this case as well. I can’t wait to see Graydon
Creed’s face when he learns he’s the target of a major money laundering
investigation.” Bruce smirked and sat back. “Jason, are we still tracking the money flows?”

Jason looked around and then nodded at Bruce. “Yes, sir, we’re monitoring all the
money pipelines we’ve identified. We need Justice to get the Court Orders in order to have all those assets frozen.”

“This has to be kept as tightly wrapped as possible,” Holly stated flatly. “This
investigation has tracked international activity going back as much as two years, but we haven’t even let Interpol know yet.”

Ursula sat back and nodded at Lex. “You’re going to get a lot of heat over this, Mr. President. Creed and the Friends of Humanity have very loud allies. But as you said, this is my call. I just wanted to let you know that it’s going to be very messy.”

“Madam Attorney General, justice must be blind in pursuit of the law. Just be sure
that you have all the ‘I’s’ dotted and the ‘T’s’ crossed. Far too much is at stake for a technicality to get in the way.”

Ursula stood and nodded. “Of course, Mr. President, everything will proceed under
the rules of evidence and with warrants. Nothing will be overlooked.”

March 11
Los Angeles

The headquarters of the Friends of Humanity was a scene of mayhem and chaos.
Federal authorities from several agencies were all over the place seizing computers and interviewing employees.

Steve Wilson had returned from another overseas trip and walked into a hornets
nest. “What’s going on?”

A nondescript officer from one of the alphabet agencies walked over and tapped him on the shoulder. “Who’re you?”

“Name’s Wilson. Steve Wilson and again, what’s gong on?”

The officer held a finger to his earpiece and didn’t answer right away. “Yes, Sir. Mr. Wilson if you will accompany me. You are on the list of people to be interviewed. The FBI would like a word.”


Chet Desmond sat in the make shift joint operation headquarters for the multi-
agency sting operation. He stood when Steve Wilson was brought in for questioning. He motioned for the man to sit. “Mr. Wilson, you have been informed of your Rights. This interview is being recorded and there are four witnesses here as well. Please state your name for the record.”

“Steve Wilson.”

“And what do you do for the Friends of Humanity?”

“Janitorial work.”

Chet laughed despite himself. “Really? Your passport records show an awful lot of
activity for a man on a custodian’s salary. You got off a plane from Melbourne only ten hours ago.”

Steve shrugged. “I get good bargains.”

“What exactly do you clean up for the Friends of Humanity?” Chet asked shrewdly.

Chet and Steve went back and forth for two hours before Chet ordered Steve
detained for the next three days. He had that long to see what they could dig up on him and several other ‘janitorial’ members of the Friends of Humanity.

Denver

Morgan Edge watched the TV reports from across the country and many from around the world as Friends of Humanity assets were seized in relation to illegal trafficking of drugs, weapons, and people. The underground mutant-on-mutant fight clubs had been traced by the gambling and now even he was not safe. Treasury had been more thorough than anyone had thought they could be.

“Sir, Moscow is on the line. They want an assessment of InterGang’s risk in the
Western Hemisphere. They need to know what to move and when.”

Edge waved the man off. “Tell Moscow that they need to sit tight on this one. Any money that moves suddenly will set off alarm bells in Washington and place even more of our money at risk.”

He turned back to the TV and saw the image of Graydon Creed being taken into
custody. ‘The world is going insane. Creed and his followers will see this as all
political. Meanwhile, my assets are diminished and I need to lay low. If they connect me to Creed, I’m done, as well.

March 13
Boston

Philip frowned at the hologram of his grandfather in Smallville. “This is not what I
had in mind by State actors! The Justice Department is pretty much going to be
considered doing Father’s dirty work!”

“What is being done has been in the works for several months and nothing could be done to interfere with the Justice Department.” Lionel motioned for Philip to calm down. “This has the effect of hurting the Freedom Party globally.”

“And conveys the impression that Father is going after political enemies. The politics of this are a mess!”

“It may look bad, but it also inspires fear in our enemies’ minds, Philip. Fear can be a useful tool.”

Philip sighed. “Only if the fear can be leveraged properly. This only feeds our
enemies’ paranoia and makes true many of the rumors we’ve heard after the fact.
This doesn’t feel right, Grandfather. I think it could prove to be a mistake.”

“What’s done is done. Continue to make your plans with Hamilton.”

“Yes, sir.” Philip signed off the holographic network and sat back in his chair.
//Hamilton, accelerate your combat integration programs. We may need the
interface sooner than I thought.//

//I’ve got partial integration done. You can interface with three warbots at once
now.//

//I’ll need to control a whole army of warbots before we are done. Things are getter dicier.//

March 16
Washington

Vice President McKenna sat at the head of the table. Pete Ross, Karl Brooks, Alan
Moore sat in from the House and Adam Chase, Lynn Carter, and Daniel Price sat for the Senate. Henry Gyrich and Prior Channing were in attendance for national security input.

In front of them was a print-out of a DNA analysis SHIELD had reconstructed from data gathered by a mutant infiltrator named Mystique. The original source of the data, they had been told, came from Treasury Secretary Bruce Wayne.

The data was complicated, but Pete understood exactly what the lab report meant. He knew he shouldn’t have been surprised, but he was. “When did Wayne do this analysis?” he asked.

Gyrich replied, “Fifteen years ago, as near as we can tell.”

Brooks threw his copy of the paper onto the table. “Gobbeldy-gook. That the hell
does it mean? Are you saying this proves the President of the United States is a
mutant?”

McKenna, who’d been briefed yesterday and had had almost a full 24 hours to come to grips with what they’d learned, shook his head. “Not a mutant,” he replied. “Mutants have the same genetic make-up as the rest of us, it’s just that some of the chromosomes that are dormant in normal humans have mutated and become active, giving mutants varying degrees of power.”

“Whereas Lex Luthor’s DNA,” Gyrich interjected, “Contains nucleotides made up of
two heretofore unknown base pairs.”

“So…” Brooks still wasn’t getting it.

McKenna sighed impatiently. “So Lex Luthor, according to this--” He waved the
paper. “—is an alien.”

“Holy shit,” Brooks muttered. The rest of the room erupted into chaos with everyone trying to talk at once, and it took McKenna several minutes to bring the discussion under control. Even then, it took another thirty minutes of hashing and re-hashing the “evidence” to get the group to the point that he felt they could make a rational decision.

“Gentlemen, we’ve known since before Luthor was elected that his pro-mutant
agenda is a danger to our way of life, but if the President is under the influence of an extraterrestrial power, our country…this whole planet is at risk!”

“We’re being set up for an alien invasion?” Price asked.

Gyrich lifted the DNA report. “I’d say the invasion has already occurred. Not it’s just a question of stopping it before we find ourselves living in the Global Dictatorship of Lex Luthor.”

The Vice President let the ensuing silence settle over the room before he stood. “We have to all be clear on this, Gentlemen. Any course of action we undertake must be done with the full knowledge that should we fail we will be tried for Treason. But, I assert that failure to do anything in light of the evidence means we have failed to uphold our oaths of office.”

Pete cleared his throat. “I’ve known that family for a long time. Lex Luthor is a threat to the fundamental foundation of democracy. He must be removed from office.”

“There is no way to remove him via constitutional mechanisms,” Rep. Moore said.
“He is still popular enough in the land and strong enough in the House to put up a
huge fight. We could not even venture a whip count without there being a huge
public relations debacle.”

Gyrich shook his head. “This can’t begin in Congress. SHIELD has a plan in place, but it will need political support after the fact,” Gyrich said. “Pieces are moving into place as we speak, but the window of opportunity is very small.”

Channing nodded. “It’s all very complicated – the plan has several distinct but
concurrent phases that all have to go like clockwork, but it will allow us to move
against the president and take him into custody before he can muster
any…extraterrestrial or para-human support.”

“What are you charging him with?” demanded Sen. Chase.

“Sedition, but there are other things we are looking into,” Gyrich added.

McKenna cleared his throat. “Our legal ground is murky, but the moral imperative is clear. There is no other choice. Given that the Justice Department is now cracking down on anti-mutant organizations and those that disagree with Luthor, we must move quickly to save the country.”

The meeting broke and McKenna left with Gyrich and Channing to meet with Frank Craft. It was a short drive from the Senate to the Vice Presidential Residence. Craft was waiting for them in the reception room. McKenna nodded and sat. “We are moving forward. The word is given.”

“Creed is free on bond, but all his assets are frozen. We will need his help to secure the peace once this starts,” Craft said.

“Luthor has weakened a piece of our support, but we still have the advantage. Two of his detail are on our side. They will arrest him for us once the operation is under way. The FBI will be placing the Cabinet Secretaries under house arrest. The deputies will be the ones to sign the letter removing Luthor from power. Once that is done, Creed will be free to aid us.”

Gyrich frowned. “There are too many things that can go wrong on that end.
Congress could still get cold feet after the fact. Luthor was a senator!”

He was cut off by McKenna. “No one in Congress will lift a finger to support Luthor once this DNA report is made public. There isn’t an elected official in this country who would dare come out in favor of an alien from another planet.”

“You’re giving this to the media?” Craft asked.

McKenna nodded. “That’s Phase One. It should take us about two weeks to fit the final pieces into place and then Wayne’s DNA analysis will fall very quietly into the hands of one of the most reputable news sources in the country. We give the media just enough time to spread the word, then we move. We need some legitimacy or else we are guilty of the very thing we are trying to prevent.” He looked at Gyrich. “Now, give the order. We have a limited window once this is motion. The clock is now ticking.”

March 20
Dallas

Steve Wilson waited in the train yard for a few cars to be decoupled. Those boxes held what he was to pick up. Creed had gotten him out of jail and now he was back to work. He was in violation of his bond agreement, but this was more important. Those instructions came from his real boss, Henry Gyrich. It appeared as though his assignments were converging.

The sun was setting and he found what he was looking for. He and a few guys with their pick-up trucks quickly off loaded the cargo and were on there way. All he knew was that several of these deliveries were being made across the country. He had another pick up to make in five days. Something big was brewing.

His phone rang. “Wilson.” The number was one he knew that Creed used.

“Mr. Wilson, you’re to be in Washington with your cargo by March 30th. You’ll be
briefed then.”

Used to sudden orders, Steven went back to work and started planning how to get to Washington without being detected in three days’ time.

March 25
Washington

Snapper Carr was sitting in the backroom of a major Washington hotspot. As far as covert meetings went, this was the best cover meeting ever. “Do I get a lap dance out of this as well?”

Amanda Waller raised an eyebrow and waved the comment away. “We are not here for you to indulge in your frat boy fantasies. What I am giving to you is being given to two other news agencies. This information is to be embargoed until after midnight pacific time on Sunday morning. The Times and Post will be reporting on it, and as the country’s leading wire reporter, you will be leading with it.”

Carr leaned forward, “What is it that that I’m reporting?”

“Your friend Lane is going to love this, but she can’t know until after the embargo is broken. We want this to be a shock to the Powers that Be.”

“What are you talking about?!”

Waller gave him a tight smile and handed him the encrypted time-locked data
crystal. “Let’s just say that President Luthor is not what he appears to be.” She stood and walked towards the exit. “I look forward to reading your article Sunday
morning.”

Looking over the small information file, Carr frowned. He knew that Waller was a
major player in SHIELD and that she never would have come out from the shadows unless this was big. ‘What game are you playing, Lady?

March 30 - Good Friday
Metropolis: The Penthouse

Philip walked from his bedroom straight to the penthouse kitchen for a cup of coffee. Nightmares had swarmed his sleep until a gentle touch from Franklin had driven them away, providing him with a few hours of blissfully peaceful sleep. He was still exhausted, though. Slowly he began to run through techniques to loosen his muscles and to center his mind for the day.

“Do our parents know that you and Franklin share a bed?” Ben asked as he began
loading his cup of coffee with sugar and cream. “Because if so, then I want a few
sleepovers too.”

Philip arched an eyebrow as another spoonful, then yet another went into Ben’s cup. “Would you like some coffee with your sugar and cream?” Philip ignored Ben’s
question knowing full well that his and Franklin’s relationship was acknowledged by all pertinent parties.

“No, I’m good. You okay?”

Philip gave Ben a slight smile, touched that his sarcastic brother was truly
concerned. “I’m fine, just preoccupied.”

Wes came in yawning. He moved like a zombie as he made a cup of coffee that
looked far more like coffee than did Ben’s. “Ready for our morning workout?”

“Are you even awake? You like the thing from Night of the Living Dead.”

“I can still out lift and out swim you!” Wes yawned again and started stretching
copying the movements that Philip had done earlier.

The banter continued as more of the teenage set arrived in the kitchen for their
morning doses of caffeine. Peter was supposedly in charge, but he allowed the boys to do as they please, within reason.

Escaping the crowded kitchen, Philip walked to one of the floor to ceiling windows in the cavernous living room and gazed out at the horizon. Arms came around him from behind and he leaned back into Franklin’s warmth. “I don’t need to be a telepath to know something is bothering you.”

“In my dream last night all I could hear was the voice of an old woman saying We’ve reached the Nexus; Darkness falls. I feel as though something is ending, Franklin, and we’re going to have to grow up even faster than we have already. I am not so much scared for myself, but for everyone else.” He pointed out at a storm approaching from the north. A clear line of dark clouds of a late northern cold front coming across the plains was filling the view behind downtown Metropolis. “Mother Nature is at work as well. It seems somehow fitting that across the world people are in church reenacting the Stations of the Cross and the Crucifixion of Christ.” He shook his head. “I’m sorry my thoughts are all over the place this morning

“Perhaps we should focus on the now and enjoy it. What comes tomorrow will come regardless of whether we wish it too or not. For now, try to let yourself enjoy what we have in front of us.”

Philip turned around and smiled at Franklin. He kissed him. “Perhaps it is time to
show my younger siblings that I can still kick their asses.”

Franklin grinned. “At what game?”

Philip shrugged. “Any one they care to name.”

April 1 – Easter
New York: SHIELD Command HQ
5:00am

Gyrich nodded at Waller. Generals Ross, Isling, Hardcastle, and Kincaid looked at
each other before nodding as well. “Then we are committed,” Gyrich said.

“We are,” Ross answered. “Many are asking this morning if this some sort of April’s Fool’s Joke. The president is an alien.”

“Regardless if the public perceives it to be a joke, we know it’s not,” Waller
countered. “We must be committed.

“Go,” said Ross. “May God forgive us if we’re wrong.”

“We will take Luthor into custody as well as his family. They’re ready in Metropolis
and Washington. A full assault on their home in Smallville is ready, as well.”

Metropolis: The Penthouse
8:00am

“Some Easter break this is turning out to be,” whined Ben.

Wes angrily balled up the front page of the morning paper. “How? How do they know that Father has alien DNA?” He threw the wadded paper across the penthouse’s cavernous living room, but Hamilton calmly reached up and swatted it over Ben, who batted it to Zach.

“He’ll have to take blood tests to clear his name,” Ben said as the paper continued sailing unerringly around the room. There was no joy in the game, but Dick, Elsa, Franklin, Kyle, Zach, and Peter all took their turns keeping the damaging newsprint in the air until Philip finally hauled it in.

“You know that can’t happen, Ben. We can only hope that the press puts it on a par with UFOs and Elvis sightings.”

They stared at each other glumly. Hamilton finally cleared his throat. “Come on, its still a holiday weekend and all three of our parental units are in D.C. Why don’t we get dressed and go out to a restaurant for breakfast? We own several that are open.”

Peter shook his head. “I don’t think that’s a good idea, Hamilton. With this hitting the news, even here in your own city it would be best to keep a low profile. I doubt the Secret Service would let you leave anyway.”

Elsa stood. “We’ll eat here,” she decreed, starting for the kitchen.

Ben lurched to his feet. “You’re not cooking, are you?”

Elsa frowned at him over her shoulder. “Yeah. Why not?”

“You can’t cook,” Ben reminded her. “Last time you tried to boil water we almost had to call out the fire department.”

“That is SO not true!” Elsa fired back. “You’re just jealous because you’re only
culinary skill consists of opening packages of Hostess Twinkies.”

“Yuck!”

The bickering cousins disappeared into the kitchen and the others looked at each
other. “Somebody should go referee,” Hamilton commented mildly.

“Referee, hell,” Wes said, coming to his feet. “Somebody should go cook. Ben’s right, Elsa may be the next Albert Einstein, but Wolfgang Puck, she ain’t.”

The others shook off their lethargy and followed Wes into the kitchen, pretending an enthusiasm none of them felt.

Hamilton and Philip brought up the rear.

//It’s starting.// Philip projected to his brother.

//Yes, but what?//

//I’m not sure, but we’d better be ready.//


Tristan got in the back of the limo with his mother and wife. “We will be at Mass for an hour and hopefully we won’t be bombarded by questions. This is going to get very ugly.”

Anne nodded. “Given the political climate, this is the worst possible news for Lex.
We’ll be caught in the crossfire as well.”

“As with everything in this family, we take the good with the bad,” Lisa commented. “Come, we need to get to Mass and get home.”

New York: SHIELD HQ
10:25am

Henry Gyrich watched numerous monitors. The live feed from Space Command held his interest most. One of the Orbital Defense Platforms was moving into position.

“Three minutes sir,” one of the technical officers announced.

Gyrich turned to look at other stations. “Sit rep?” Everything had to go at once or else the prey might get away.

“All the pieces are in place. Two minutes sir.”

He nodded, “The order is given. Fire when ready!”

Washington: The White House
10:28am

The Residential floor of the White House was silent. The Sunday morning news shows were being brutal as they reported the bombshell breaking across the country that morning. Everyone from the House Minority leader to Lois Lane was weighing in with an opinion on what it meant to have a President with alien DNA sitting in the White House. When Lex had had all he could stand, he made his way from his sitting room to his private office, and was deep in thought behind his desk when his brother-in-law walked in and gave a half smile.

“Mr. President, good morning, sir.”

“Is it, Jeff?”

Clark came in right behind Jeff and tossed a copy of the New York Times onto the
desk. “Lex, what happens now?” he asked.

“I wish I knew, Clark.”

“Where did this so-called evidence come from?” Jeff asked.

“I wish I knew that, as well. All anyone seems to have is a DNA analysis with my
name on it.”

“Then we should have plausible deniability—“

“Only if I take a blood test and prove it’s a fabrication, and we both know--”

“Quiet,” Clark raised a hand to stop all conversation as he extended his super-
hearing. “Shit, something is wrong. We have to go.” He hit his bracelet and said
something in Kryptonian.

“Go?” Lex demanded.

“Lex, they’re coming to arrest you!”

Metropolis: The Penthouse
9:30am

The smell of burned biscuits had almost but not quite been cleared out by the
ventilation system, but Zach was munching on one that Elsa hadn’t charred too badly as he surveyed the beautiful Metropolis skyline. It was a gorgeous day, the sky a clear, cloudless blue, and light streamed into the cavernous living room, which was bounded on two sides by floor to ceiling windows. Zach was in no mood to enjoy it. Everyone was on edge, Philip and Hamilton most of all. But Zach had as much reason – maybe more – to be as scared as they were. If a witch hunt for alien DNA was about to start sweeping the nation, he was going to be one of the first lined up to be burned at the stake.

He scarfed the last bite of scorched biscuit. Good thing Kryptonians are char-proof, he thought sardonically. Unfortunately, his nephews couldn’t say the same thing.Most everyone was still in the kitchen, but Ben and Wes had managed to escape cleanup duty.

“Why don’t we go down to the gym and shoot some hoops?” Ben suggested as they came into the living area.

“We’ve got enough here for shirts-and-skins if we can get everybody on board,” Wes replied. “Uncle Zach, you in?”

Zach started to turn, but then he heard it… The rotors of helicopters, close. Too
close, considering that the whole area around Luthor Plaza and the penthouse
especially were a no-fly-zone!

“Boys—“ He started a warning and suddenly three copters appeared in a chevron
attack formation, rising toward the top of the 60-story building. The closest was
bringing the barrel of a .50 caliber machine gun to bear on the living room windows.

“SHIT!” Ben screamed and both boys dove behind a sofa just as Zach shouted
“DUCK!!!”

Bullets blazed through the living room and another set of windows were blown out as gunfire came from the north.

In his head, he heard Clark speaking something Kryptonian and yelled, “Now he tells me! Boys, stay down!” he commanded as he sprang up and sprinted to one of the walls. “Open!” A weapons rack appeared. He grabbed a small handgun and a shoulder mounted rail gun. He whirled and pointed the rail gun at one of the copters. “Surprise!”


Lionel was exiting his limo at the fashionable Lennox Restaurant for Easter Brunch, when he saw the flashes of light near the penthouse. He froze, hardly daring to believe it could be an attack, but Justin’s reflexes didn’t make allowances for surprise.

His head of security grabbed him and shoved him back into the car, shouting “MOVE! MOVE!” to the driver as three black, government-issue vehicles closed in and tried to cut them off.

Lionel tried to sit up, but Justin was holding him down.

“Stay down, sir! We have attack signals all over the place, and we’re being
surrounded!”

“The boys are at the penthouse!” Lionel yelled.

“STAY DOWN!” Justin slammed the door and pulled out his gun. Six men on foot
wearing nondescript dark suits and carrying automatic weapons opened fire on the armored limo as it lurched away from the curb. Justin slit a window just enough to return fire, but he and Lionel were jolted hard when one of the government cars hit them broadside.

This isn’t good.’ Justin’s thought was definitely an understatement.

Lionel rolled to the floor, activated a panel beneath one of the seats, and extracted what looked like a tiny-but-lethal rocket launcher.

“Uh, sir…” Justin began, but Lionel silenced him with a shake of his head. He popped a grenade-sized sonic bomb into the launcher and commanded, “Roll down the window, Mr. Daniels. I’m going to show you how a Luthor does damage control.”

New York: Fifth Avenue off Central Park

Diana walked towards Tony Stark’s mansion which also served as the unofficial
headquarters for the Ultimates. They were gathering for an Easter brunch and it was a lovely day, not a cloud in the sky. ‘The news about President Luthor will be the focus of all conversation, I’m sure.’

A piercing whine pulled her from her thoughts. She barely managed to look up as a streak of light impacted two blocks from her. A moment later she was thrown from her feet and a deafening roar filled her ears. A second streak of light flew down and the ground trembled again. She gathered herself and ran towards the crater that was Tony Stark’s mansion. “NO!”

The White House

Gunfire rang below and three Secret Service agents with weapons trained on Lex
burst into Lex’s private office. Nothing but a blur of motion, Clark took out all three agents in under a second. “Jeff, get Lex out of here! I’ll clear the corridor.”

He was gone in a flash. Jeff grabbed Lex, but he wrenched away. “Not without
Whitney! He was in the media room!”

“I’m here!” Whitney came in huffing and with a large gash on his arm. “There are
attack signals all over the place. Communications are a mess, but I managed to get an alert out to Philip. Someone is storming the Resort, but they’re trying to get a shuttle with the Midnight Guard off the ground. We’ve got to get to the portico off the South Lawn and set up a defense until the Guard gets here!”

Whitney picked up a gun from a fallen agent and moved to take point. He pointed at his brother as he ran in. “Arm yourself. Marines are on their way. They are taking cabinet members at their homes!” Jeff grabbed another gun and Lex took the third as the three men ran for the door. “Let’s go!”

“Wait!” Lex commanded as he pulled a small disc from his suit coat pocket. He threw it at the ceiling and instantly the lights winked off throughout the entire building. Not even backup power would work.

“What the hell is that?” Jeff asked.

“Pulse dampening field. This will jam their communications in the White House, and within fifteen minutes it will have a three mile radius under a full blackout.” He nodded at Whitney, “Now we can go.”

Metropolis

The explosion of the attack helicopter shattered the last remaining window in the
penthouse. As Zach recharged the rail for another blast, Franklin appeared from
seemingly out of nowhere, raised his arms, and sent the other two copters into wild spins.

“What the Hell is going on?!” yelled Ben, popping up from behind the sofa. Wind
howled through the living room as the family and their friends converged. “Those
were attack helicopters!”

Philip pulled out his PDA and scrolled quickly. “Shit. We need to get out and now!
The White House is under attack, too. They’re trying to arrest Father!” He dashed to the weapons locker. The first thing he grabbed was the communications ear piece that would put him in touch with command central in Smallville. As long as The Palace was still standing, it would be the hub from which everything was coordinated.

Another blast shook the entire tower, this time from above. Plaster rained down on them and klaxons began blaring fire alarms.

“Fuck! That was the helipad! They must have taken out the Hyperdyne shuttles on the roof!” Zach streaked to the other window, aimed and took out the fourth
chopper.

“Where’s your Secret Service detail?” Elsa demanded, pulling her hair back, getting ready for action.

“Locked out downstairs, or trapped an elevator if they were coming up to join the
attack,” Hamilton told them. “I put the building on lockdown when the first blast hit.”

“They’re in the security elevators, two floors down,” Zach told them. “I can hear
them shouting orders and trying to find a way out.”

“You think the Secret Service are part of it?” Franklin asked.

“I’m sure of it,” Philip replied, tossing his youngest brother a mini-launcher.

Ben snagged it out of reflex, but made a face. “I don’t want this pussy sonic
boomer,” he groused, tossing it on to Hamilton. “Give me the other rail gun.”

Wes ran back into the room with clothes in his arms and flung them at Ben and Kyle. “We need more than shorts and t-shirts. What’s the plan, General?”

“We have to assume that last blast took out both the shuttles. That leaves us with the escape route down in the bunkers. Unlock our private elevator, Ham,” Philip instructed and Hamilton made it happen. “Just make sure you don’t release the Secret Service. And trigger the other weapons stores, now! Everybody, get locked and loaded—and don’t forget your body shields. There should be enough here for all of us. If they don’t succeed in taking Father, they’ll try to use the rest of us as leverage to get him to turn himself in. We’re not going to let that happen!”

Peter, Kyle, Elsa, and Dick dashed off to the other weapons lockers.

The four brothers looked at each other. Communicating without words, without
thoughts, even, their fear for their fathers, their determination, their solidarity.

Franklin stepped to Philip’s side. “We’re ready, General. Get us out of here.”

Philip nodded as all the fears and uncertainties he’d been grappling with these last months melted away. He felt as though he’d been preparing for this all his life.

“Let’s go.”

Smallville: The Palace

Enrique ran at full speed into the War Room. “Move the House to Level One! Give me a report!”

“Sir, we are reading attack orders against the White House and the Resort. Philip
reports that the Metropolis penthouse is taking direct fire. No casualties—they’re
mobilizing to the bunkers -- and we have military aircraft vectoring towards us.”

“How many?”

“Two flights, eight aircraft total.”

“Sir! We’re reading a signature from one of the Orbital Defense Platforms! US Space Command just activated an ultra-sonic.”

“Target?” Chris demanded.

There was an interminable pause before the tech reported, “New York. Central
Park… 70th and 5th Avenue.”

Enrique could barely breathe. “They’re taking out the Ultimates,” he murmured. He had no choice. “Treat all incoming aircraft as hostile. Get two shuttles to Washington, and activate the Metropolis detachment of the Midnight Guard. STAT!”

“What about Space Command?” Chris asked.

“They’ll never get a fix on the Palace, there’s too much distortion.”

“But if they start taking potshots, hoping to get lucky—“

“Then SHIELD will be picking the debris from all six Orbital Platforms off the moon!”

Metropolis

“We need to get down to the subbasement and get out of here!” Philip yelled over the alarms and the winds whipping the room.

Peter and Franklin were standing next to each other and speaking with an astral
projection of Charles Xavier. //The Ultimates have been hit by a space-based weapon and we don’t know if they survived. The damage in New York is as if it was hit with a middling earthquake.//

//Charles, I have to get everyone here to safety. Is the safe house network open?//

//For now Peter, but SHIELD is behind this and Vice President McKenna is supporting these actions as best we can tell. This is an all-out military coup against the government, and it appears that their anti-mutant technology is far more advanced that we realized. They are trying rather successfully to disturb long range telepathic communication. We are evacuating the mansion and going into hiding. We will get word to you through X-Corp. Do not reveal yourselves to be mutants at all costs. Our enemies are seizing power.//

Franklin nodded and Charles vanished. “The Secret Service is climbing out of the
elevator cars through the roof access panels. We need to leave.”

Kyle moved to the elevators where the Secret Service was trying to escape and used his ring to weld the doors shut. “That should give us some time.”

Philip led the way down the hall and into the media room. “Ham, is there a
welcoming party down on the second subbasement level?” The huge digital theatre screen was disappearing into the ceiling, revealing a set of doors to the private elevator that even the secret service wasn’t aware of.

Hamilton hit a few keys. “Agents are swarming the area trying to storm the building. They’re going to cut power soon. The reinforced parking gates will keep them out for a little bit, but it will take us some time to get clear of the tunnels.”

The ten of them boarded the elevator with very little room to spare and began their descent. Power went out after a few floors. Hamilton sighed and quickly routed backup power and the elevator continued down. “They really are amateurs.”

“They also out number us by several factors,” Elsa countered, “So don’t get cocky.” She pulled a body shield pack from her pocket and tapped her bracelet twice to activate it.

“Bad news, they’ve breached the garage gates. We may have a fight if they find our point of exit.” Hamilton typed a few commands and frowned.

Philip nodded. “Once these elevator doors open, its thirty feet to our tunnel entrance and part of that is exposed by a door to the actual garage. Kyle, you and Peter will lead. Dick, you and Zach take the rear. Franklin, if worst comes to worst, you can use your powers to save us.”

“But, Prof. X said…”

“Yes, I know, but SHIELD –- and even the media -- has been speculating that you’re a mutant for years. Franklin Richards outing himself as a mutant ranks right up there with Dog Bites Man, not news to anyone. If it comes to it, don’t hesitate.”

Smallville

Out of nowhere the Keeper appeared. A Hologram of the world appeared In the
middle of the room and he pointed to the United States and several objects
spreading out across the country. //I count more than one hundred fifty of these
objects. They are heading to major population centers. They appear to be a type of hunter-seeker. Their weaponry is very advanced and they can detect so called
mutants.//

Enrique’s eyes widened. “How soon until those get to Metropolis?” he pointed to a
cluster of dots heading towards the center of the country.

//Three minutes.//

“Sir, those aircraft have dropped altitude and are in attack formation.”

“Disable them, don’t let them near us. How soon until we get the president?”

“Four minutes until they reach the White House. The Resort is secured, but we have many injured.”

“Begin evacuating the Resort. Once it is clear, activate the shields, that ought to
scare fucking SHIELD to death.” He punched open the encrypted communication line to the Penthouse. “Philip, you need to get secure in two minutes. Something big and nasty is heading your way!”

The Penthouse

“Understood, Enrique! We’re on the move. Damn it, that complicates things.”

“What?” Wes demanded to know. Only Philip had a direct audio with to the Palace, although Hamilton did have full computer access.

“We have one-and-a-half minutes from the time these doors open to get into the
tunnels and into the secure network.”

“Or what?” Ben asked.

“We get hit with some big and nasty.”

“Any chance he’s referring to a lap dancer named Bertha? Hey!”

Philip reached over and took the rail gun from Ben and handed it to Peter. He took the plasma rifle from Peter and handed it to Ben. “More firepower up front.

“Philip, agents are on the exit level,” Hamilton warned. “It’s going to be a fight.”

“How many?”

“Twenty heat signatures. Maybe more. They’re clumped together, coming down
fast.”

“Ingress to our escape tunnel?” Elsa asked.

“Left 20 degrees after you come off the elevator. I’m not triggering the door to open until we’re almost on it. Everybody get ready! 3 – 2 – 1!” Hamilton counted down and the elevator doors slid open on cue. Peter and Kyle were out first, with everyone right on their heels. The space outside the elevator was part of a cavernous garage staging area large enough for six limos to park or pick up the family. There were doors to three conventional elevators, two barred ramps up to the street level and two down to more parking. “They’re ten feet from the street ramp. RUN!”

They veered left and were half way across the staging area when a blast took out the grid covering the street ramp. Shrapnel flew everywhere, but without breaking stride, Franklin threw out a surge of energy that blew the debris back up the ramp.

“Halt, you are under arrest!” Two warning shots were fired as a dozen secret service agents and as many local uniformed policemen swarmed into the tunnel. Hamilton triggered the door to the secret access tunnel and several of their attackers opened fire.

Zach whirled, running backwards as he brought the rail gun to bear on the tunnel,
but Franklin shouted, “No, Zach! Too much!” He stopped, turned, and with the barest hint of movement crushed their firearms. All of them. And to add insult to that barest of injury, he projected his thoughts into their heads. //That could have been your skulls, gentlemen. Count yourselves lucky.//

His diversion was enough for the other nine to make it through the door.

“Franklin, get in here! Now!” Philip screamed at him, but before the words were out of his mouth, Franklin was beside him.

Hamilton sealed the door and Elsa sagged against the wall. “That wasn’t so bad.”

“Yeah,” Dick agreed. “After those attack helicopters up top, I was expecting
something with a little more fire pow—“

Something between bomb blast and an earthquake shook the tunnel, opening tiny
fissures in the ceiling and raining concrete dust down on them.

“Fuck, what was that?!?” Wes exclaimed.

“My money’s on Bertha,” Ben retorted.

Philip brushed past them, taking the lead. “Come on. We’ve got to move.” He broke into a jog and the others followed suit as he told them, “We’ve still got nearly a mile of tunnel to get through to reach the bunker. They’ll be after us as soon as they can get a jackhammer in here to drill into this tunnel.” Another deep, rumbling roll shook the tunnel and more cement dust came down.

“Jackhammer, like hell!” Hamilton gulped. “Guys, I don’t know what Enrique’s Big
Bad Nasties are, but I’m reading five of them and they’re ripping up the garage to
get us.”

“Run!”

Washington

As Whitney, Jeff and Lex hit the stairwell; Clark joined them from below, prepared to lead them from the darkened White House. “I managed to block their access to the second floor without being detected, but once we reach the main level I may have to clear the way.”

“No! No superpowers!” countered Lex as they scrambled down the stairs. “Nothing they can detect. If we reveal what we are, we prove that their accusations are true and lend legitimacy to this act of high treason. This is a military coup against the duly elected President of the United States. We can’t give them any ammunition to use against us once the smoke clears.”

The House members that served at the White House converged on the president and his detail. Together they hit the main floor, expecting resistance, but heavy gunfire from the South Lawn gave them hope that help had arrived. They ran down the wide corridor toward the South Portico.

“Midnight Guard from the Resort,” Clark confirmed when he reached the door first.

“The marines are almost here!” Jeff moved up and activated his body shield. He fired and took out two Agents coming from behind.There were only a handful of Guard, but they were dispatching the Secret Service with ease.

“Shuttles should be here any second!” Whitney announced.

Dreams from years ago hit Lex with the force of a freight train. “Where is Bruce? Did they get him?” His entire Cabinet was being seized. The government had fallen. “Find out as soon as possible so we can regroup!”


Steve Wilson led his group of heavily armed militia towards the White House as they crossed from Alexandria into the District. The convoy of trucks and Hummers was a signal of victory. Steve knew that the marines were coming up from the Naval Yards and were securing the area around the Capitol first. SHIELD troops had hit the Luthor Residence first and the Secret Service the White House.

“We are taking heavy fire at the White House. President Luthor has not been
secured! Repeat: The target is NOT secured. The Raid on the Luthor Residence has been repelled!” Steve listened in on the radio chatter and swore. “Split into two groups. Unit A, head to the other side of the Capitol and storm the Luthor Residence. Burn it to the ground! Second unit, to the White House!”

They took off faster than the victory march they assumed it to be.


The hyperdyne shuttles came down hot and hard, disgorging more Midnight Guard. They laid down suppressing fire on the Marines and Secret Service agents who suddenly found themselves being hit from two sides.

The presidential group ran to the closest shuttle, taking fire the whole way.
Whitney’s body shield deflected several hits, but he never broke stride. Guardsmen kept up the suppression fire until everyone was on board what officially became Air Force One.

Lex raced straight to the cockpit as the shuttle began lifting off. “Where are the
boys?” he demanded. “Enrique! I want a full re--” His voice failed when he saw the two huge hunks of metal that left deep craters as they smashed onto the South Lawn. One of the monstrosities opened fire on the other two shuttles that were trying to take off while the second unit began bombarding Air Force One.

“What are those? Clark! Get up here! Look at this!” The hyperdyne’s shields repulsed the energy beams, and when the flashes subsided, Lex finally got a good look.

“Weaponized robots.”

“Yes,” Clark agreed. “Enrique, are you seeing this?”

From Smallville, Enrique replied over the communications net, “Yes, sir. We’re
tracking 150 of them across the country.”

“How the hell did SHIELD—"

“Enrique, what about the boys?” Whitney demanded from the door.

“Sir, we don’t know. They escaped the first wave and are trying to get to the bunker, but five of those things just bored into One Luthor Plaza. We’re registering significant seismic shocks and we’ve lost communications with Philip.”

HALT, PRESIDENT LUTHOR! YOU ARE UNDER ARREST! SURRENDER NOW!”
came from one of the large robots.

“Like Hell I will! Enrique! We are now renegade! Prepare for a counter strike! Repeat: Counter Strike!”

Clark grabbed Lex to steady him as the shuttle banked sharply and accelerated,
leaving Washington behind.

Lex grimly shook off Clark’s hand left the cockpit. ‘SHIELD and whoever is pulling
their strings achieved their surprise, but I live and am free. That’s going to prove to be a fatal mistake.


TBC

 


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Disclaimer information: Don't own them, just have fun with them.
Each story may contain or does contain explicit NC-17 material. You have been warned.

Author's Notes:
A special thanks to my writing partner, Beresfordlane who pushes me until things get accomplished.


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