Written by David Ellis
"Will somebody tell this blue whatchamacallit to stay on his side of the couch?" Ororo Monroe bellowed, while shoving her new teammate, Kurt Wagner, off of her comfort zone. "I am NOT changing the channel!"
"And will someone please explain to the white-haired, brown-skinned fraulein," Kurt replied, waving his pointed, prehensile tail in Ororo's face, "that as fascinating as 'Ricki Lake' must be, there are other television shows on at this moment with much more cultural value. Like all of them."
"You just want to watch lame-ass cartoons," Ororo accused, grabbing Kurt's tail and using her inborn climate control ability to lower the tail's surface temerature to just below freezing.
Kurt yelped and leapt off the couch without even trying. "Verdammt, woman! What are you trying to do, give me frostbite?"
"That was unkind. And I'll have you know that cartoons are far more entertaining than daytime talk shows, which you are interested in watching for the sole purpose of feeling better than the humans."
"I AM better than those trailer-trash knuckle-draggers."
"I thought this school was supposed to teach interspecies tolerance, or are you flunking that class?"
Ororo glared daggers at him, her eyes glowing with energy. "Interspecies tolerance is the only thing keepin' me from toastin' your ass with a lightning bolt, ya--"
"Oh good," Hank McCoy muttered as he walks into the room, holding his forehead in an oversized hand, "Ororo's threatening someone's life again. For a moment there I thought I was in the wrong mansion." He sat on the sofa next to Ororo, who snuggled up to him. The two had become closer since Hank recovered from surgery several weeks before, and they'd already been on a date. The only ones who didn't admit to the two of them being an item were, of course, Ororo and Hank.
"Funny, Henry," Ororo smirked. "I was just schooling Kurt here on who rules the rec room."
"Forgive me for not bowing, my liege," Kurt remarked, defiant to the end. He knew he was tempting fate by angering a woman who could summon any form of weather phenomenon known to man, but for a former trapeze artist, tempting fate was old hat.
Ororo stuck out her tongue at him, which was unladylike but she didn't care, and turned to Hank. "See what I have to put up with?" She narrowed her brown eyes, studying Hank's pained face. "She did it to you again, didn't she?"
"'Fraid so," Hank grumbled.
"Did what?" Kurt asked gently, expecting Ororo to throw something at him for remaining in the room.
Hank looked up at Kurt with annoyance, not at him, but at his current troubles. "You ever had a really annoying song that you couldn't get out of your head? Well, Jean's new favorite way to end an argument in her favor is to telepathically plant one of those songs into her opponent's head. At full volume. I made the mistake on disagreeing with her on whether or not the Blackbird's cloaking system needed an upgrade."
"Which one is it this time?" Ororo queried, knowing exactly how it feels.
"'The Horse With No Name'. The song keeps looping in my head over and over and OVER."
"Harsh," Kurt responded, then looked to Ororo. "Has she done this to you?"
"Beethoven," Ororo frowned. "Bobby got disco, Logan got Backstreet Boys, and Scott was pumped full of country. The only two people in this mansion she hasn't done that to, 'sides herself, are the professor and you. She definitely won't do it to the prof, but your days are numbered."
"I feel blessed already," Kurt sighed as he turned and left the room.
As he traversed the main hall, he heard Scott Summers' unmistakable voice bellowing from the kitchen: "Who drank up all my chocolate milk?!"
Kurt shrugged and kept walking. It wasn't him; "Thou Shalt Stay Away From Cyclops' Chocolate Milk" was one of the first house rules explained to him upon arrival in the mansion, so he knew better.
"So tell me somethin'," the X-Man known as Wolverine mentioned to Kurt an hour later as he bench-pressed a three-hundred-pound barbell in the school's gymnasium.
Kurt continued performing a complicated martial arts pattern in the center of the gym, involving a series of high kicks, punches, blocks, and evades. "Hm?"
"Why didn't you teleport?"
Without slowing down or losing concentration in his routine, Kurt sent a knife-hand strike at the air and replied, "I don't understand."
"The other day, just before we found you...hrrrgh...when you had those bigoted rednecks all around you with a gun to your head...hggghhh...why didn't you just teleport outta there? The professor says you can do that, and I saw it when you got your cross back." He set the barbell back on the weight bench, and sat up. Wolverine refused to have a spotter when he lifted weights.
Kurt stopped the pattern, and looked at Wolverine. He thought for a moment before he answered, "Several reasons, actually: First, teleportation is not easy to do. Willing myself to instantly vanish from one place and reappear in another taxes me just as much as if I had made the trip on foot. I had teleported already in an attempt to escape them earlier that day, but they caught up with me.
"Second, we were in the middle of a forest. There was nothing around for miles. I didn't know the area, so if I'd teleported away, I'd have just found myself in the middle of more woods, with even less idea where I was. Chances were excellent that I could have found myself occupying the same space as a tree, which would not have been healthy.
"And third, I was more than capable of taking care of those fools singlehandedly, which, as you saw, I did. They needed to be taught a lesson, and I was more than happy to play the role of teacher." Kurt shrugged and resumed the pattern, starting over at the beginning.
Wolverine stood up, wiping his sweaty neck with a towel. "There's a fourth reason you ain't tellin' me, isn't there, bub?"
"Of course not," responded Kurt, as he launched a side kick at the ribs of an imaginary opponent.
"Yeah, right. Bet there's somethin' else. Bet it has to do with that cross you're always wearin.'"
Kurt stopped and glared daggers at Logan. "As a matter of fact, Herr Wolverine, my last reason has everything to do with this cross. It was given to me when I turned sixteen by Amanda, one of my friends in der jahrmarkt, the circus. We grew up together, and she was the first person who accepted my appearance unconditionally. I grew to love her, and we shared a kiss on the trapeze platform."
Kurt stared sadly at the tiny cross on his necklace, which Xavier had provided a new chain for after the previous one was unceremoniously ripped from his neck. "Then she gave me this cross. That was last year.
"Then...more recently, the circus had saved enough money to tour in America, so we went, completely unaware of the...situation with mutants here in the States. Just before our last performace, Amanda revealed to me that...that she was pregnant with my child. It was both a happy revelation and a sad one, because that would mean she would have to give up the high wire and trapeze for a few months, which was anathemas to her."
Kurt suddenly clenched the cross in his fist so tightly it threatened to draw blood. "Then...then...in the middle of our performace, the robots arrived."
"The Sentinels?" Wolverine asked, absorbed in the story.
"Yes...whatever you call them. Those heartless machines ripped the big top to shreds trying to catch me. I had done an excellent job in evading their energy beams, but in the process, at least ten people were killed by stray blasts.
"I was determined that Amanda would not be one of them, especially now that she carried my child. I reached her, and teleported us both out of the tent. Unfortunately, that was the first time I had tried that trick with the added mass of another person. We both found ourselves seriously hurt by the attempt, and Amanda more than myself. The robots surrounded us and opened fire. We were too slow in moving."
Kurt clenched his eyes shut as tears flowed unabated down his dark-blue-skinned cheeks. "The energy beam grazed my arm, but Amanda? Amanda was torn apart by it."
Kurt's voice began to rise. "I lashed out at the robots, forgetting my injuries. I grabbed a tree branch and teleported it into that fucking machine's skull! I repeated the trick with the other two, but in my rage, I had neglected to realize where one of them was falling. It crushed the entire big top."
Kurt took a deep, cleansing breath. "Ironic, is it not, that those robots had arrived with the intention of killing only me, but by the end of the night, I was the only member of my circus they didn't kill?" He let go of the cross, and watched it swing back and forth on it chain, tapping against his chest. "This is the only thing I have left of my life. Well, that and the martial arts I learned from the lion tamer."
"Oh yeah...that's Kung Fu, right?"
"And a bit of capoeira."
"Oh...mind showin' me some o'that one of these days?"
"Certainly. On one condition."
"You tell me a little bit about your past."
"Not a chance, elf." Wolverine tossed the towel aside, and exited the gym, leaving Kurt to grin pleasantly.
Kurt crept along the branches of an oak tree, nearly invisible in the moonlight as his long toes gripped the bark tightly. It was midnight, and Kurt, a nocturnal mutant by nature, was on the prowl.
On the prowl for what, he wasn't certain. He didn't hunt any animals, though he always enjoyed seeing how close he could get to one before it sensed him. He couldn't find any suitable animals this night, figuring that he was new enough to the forest outside the mansion that the local wildlife would stay away from him. By contrast, he was so well-known to the animals in the German forests that he often wondered if they missed his presence. Such was the life of Kurt Wagner, walking in both the animal and the human worlds, but really belonging to neither.
Kurt looked over to the mansion, one such haven for humans. Or mutants, whatever. He was outside the east wing, which housed the student living quarters, including his own room. The windows revealed that the lights in Hank's, Piotr's, and Bobby's rooms were on. He guessed Hank was reading or surfing the Internet, and Bobby was playing a video game. Scott was probably in the Danger Room or Viewing Room, honing his skills as an X-Man.
Upon peering over to Piotr's room, he discovered that Piotr was at an easel, sketching out a picture. Under Xavier's roof, his innate artistic talent, which had been largely neglected during Piotr's tenure as a Russian Mafia enforcer, grew and flourished.
Piotr cast frequent glances away from the paper to Ororo, who was standing in the center of the room, wearing a regal black African gown that was almost transparent. Her long white hair was no longer tied up in a ponytail, and Kurt thought it had a vastly different effect on her appearance. Storm, the sarcastic ex-street thief, actually looked like an exotic African goddess! Kurt never thought he'd see the day.
Jean and Wolverine were awake as well, Kurt noticed, even though the lights were off in their rooms. Kurt made the mistake of peering through the window with his sensitive vision. His jaw dropped and he almost fell out of the tree. He reeeally didn't need to see what those two were up to (though it seemed that the two had obviously reconciled their differences).
Of course, nobody needed to see what he was doing, either, since he always went about his nightly jaunts without clothing, which always got in the way. Still, he decided to at least wear black boxer shorts this night, should he be spotted.
Kurt leapt from tree to tree, until he came upon a thin creek that the forest's ecosystem depended on. He saw a figure standing near it, deep in thought. He quickly identified the figure as Scott, fully-garbed in his X-Men uniform, and made no noise to keep from being seen.
Scott looked depressed, lost in thought. Kurt didn't know him very well, but he didn't fail to notice the tension between the X-Men's leader and the rest of his team whenever Scott walked into a room. Kurt had heard that Cyclops, the first of Xavier's students, had recently joined the Brotherhood, a mutant terrorist group led by the infamous Magneto, for two weeks. Cyclops had become disillusioned with Xavier's dream of peaceful coexistence between humans and mutants after the near-death of Beast on one of their missions, and left the team to see what Magneto's side of the fence was like. Cyclops enjoyed life in the Brotherhood even less, and soon returned to the X-Men, after warning them about Magneto's impending attack on Washington D.C.
However, Kurt learned, the X-Men didn't welcome Scott back into the fold as readily as Xavier did. In their eyes, he betrayed them by walking out when they needed his leadership the most. Ororo was of course the most vocal about this. Scott's longtime friendship with Jean Grey was also compromised, since another main reason for Cyclops' departure was jealousy over her newfound relationship with Wolverine, whom Scott disliked with a passion.
Kurt was fascinated by this, and concerned about Scott. He didn't quite understand everything Scott had been through, but he recognized how alone the man was. He saw a lot of himself in Cyclops, and he wondered if he should start a conversation, or leave him be.
The first syllable of Xavier's telepathic message nearly caused Kurt to fall out of the tree. This made Scott aware of Kurt's presence. Kurt spent the remainder of his message trying to calm his breathing and heartbeat. If he remained an X-Man to his dying day, he thought, he would never get used to that.
He conjured a mental image of his bedroom, and teleported to it, disappearing a cloud of brimstone before Scott could say anything.
"Kurt, we're waiting on you," Jean "Marvel Girl" Grey shouted, gazing up the ramp in the Viewing Room, a renovated auditorium, at a closed door.
"I don't care," Kurt replied on the other side of the door. "I feel like a dumkopf in this outfit. Tight black leather...how do you people stand it day after day?"
"Practice," Cyclops shouted up to him. "Now get that blue wagging tail down here, or we're leaving without you."
"Okay. See you when you get back."
Cyclops grumbled, obviously debating whether or not to zap Kurt through the door. Storm put a hand on his arm, smiling mischeivously. "I'll fix him, Cyke."
The X-Men heard a loud clap of thunder that sounded as if it were out in the hall with Kurt, followed by a loud "Bamf!", at which point Kurt materialized, dropping into the large room, white as a sheet.
Piotr Rasputin held out a hand to Kurt offering to help the teleporter up after the latter had hit the floor. "Glad you could join us, Mister Wagner," he chuckled. Kurt waited two minutes for the laughter to die down before he accepted the hand up.
Like the others, he wore a black leather sleeveless bodysuit with gold belt accessories. Unlike the others, his uniform possessed a hole for his tail, and black fingerless gloves specifically made for Kurt's hands, which only had two fingers and a thumb on each. Kurt thought he looked ridiculous. "Do I have to wear this?"
"And now you're complaining about the uniform," Iceman observed. "Congratulations, you're now an official X-Man. All applicants must undergo the prerequisite complaining."
"Don't look at me," Xavier shrugged. "The uniforms were Cyclops' idea, or the design was at least." He caught a stray thought from Kurt to the tune of, 'Now I know whose chocolate milk to spike'. "If we may return to business, these fine gentlemen..." He pressed a button on his console, and a holographic image of seven uniformed mutants resolved into view above the X-Men. "...are Domino, Cannonball, Meltdown, Siryn, Thunderbird, Angel, and Rictor, known as X-Force. Don't let the name fool you, however: they have formed without my consent or approval."
"So they're trying to copy us?" Colossus asked. "Why? So they can frame us? Or cash in on our name...or what?"
"I believe, Colossus, that they have been inspired by us to act as a proactive mutant strike force against humans. Our actions against the Sentinels have shown other mutants that it's possible to stand up to the racism commonly leveled against our kind. For many, we have become a source of inspiration."
"But these guys are taking liberties with that inspiration," Cyclops surmised, crimson gaze locked on the holographic images. He recognized Angel, the blonde male with huge raptorlike wings growing from his back, as Warren Worthington, a spoiled rich guy who had rejected Cyclops' and Marvel Girl's offer to join the X-Men. It seemed that Worthington had found a cause to be a part of after all.
"Precisely, Cyclops," Xavier nodded. "While their mode of costuming and other aesthetics are modeled after us, their methods are more reminiscient of the Brotherhood."
"What do they do, bomb people?" Wolverine asked. He himself was a former member of the Brotherhood, an assassin sent by Magneto to infiltrate the X-Men and kill Xavier. However, along the way he had a change of heart (which the X-Men still debate) which led him to adopt Xavier's cause and turn against Magneto. He figured this made him the resident expert on terrorism. "And if so, why haven't we heard about 'em sooner?"
"We have, Wolverine," Xavier responded, then began quoting headlines. "'Government Factory Destroyed, Mutants Suspected'. 'Anti-Mutant Activists Found Slain'. 'Friends of Humanity Warn of Mutant Uprising'. Viewed individually, these articles could be chalked up to anti-mutant hysteria. Viewed altogether, they are surprisingly accurate in hinting at X-Force's rise. Even so, it took me quite a while to even come to the conclusion that this group did exist.
"As for their methods, these young men and women will apparently do whatever it takes to accomplish their mission parameters. They are just as likely to use thermite and automatic weapons as they are to use their inborn mutant gifts."
Xavier pauses to let this sink in, then concludes, "The have operated in secret thus far. Unfortunately, the pattern of their attacks thus far as led me to believe that the time is soon approaching when they will make themselves known, and when that happens, everything we've worked so hard to obtain thus far will be lost."
"Great," Iceman mumbled. "So much for my weekend plans...not that I had any."
TO BE CONCLUDED