by Jason McDonald
Assistant Editor: Jason McDonald
Editor-in-Chief: David Ellis
Eddie Van Beethoven
Xi'an Chi Xan
A large stone figure floated in the darkness. He sat, motionless, in the center of his prison. Inactive vidscreens orbited in a loose sphere around him; the dull light they provided, not enough even to illuminate the walls of his zero-g silo, hurt his eyes. He was not afforded even a single light bulb, in stark contrast to his days in Kingston. There, though his job was perhaps less fulfilling, he was at least allowed to enjoy the warmth of the sun from his pit. He laughed sullenly; never did he think he would actually miss the days of predicting dog race winners and counting cards in back room poker games. Here, instead, millions of world market info feeds were pumped through his brain every minute; and he did not forget a detail from any of them. As if he could forget anything. That, of course, was the problem with a memory like his, so acute calling it photographic would have been an insult; he remembered everything. Every second spent floating in a finite void, knowing full well that escape was impossible; knowing that even if he could find a way out of his tower, his own traitorous body would weigh him down too much to even step out the door. Book scowled to himself bitterly for the millionth time; he had realized long ago that even if he were liberated from Quetzalcoatl Corp, he would still be the prisoner of his own massive self. That needed to change. And he would have to be the one to change it.
Slowly, deliberately, his eyelids parted, causing a vidscreen to blink to life in front of him. Breathing the sigh of the weary, his story began.
Book, Personal Journal Entry 12039.19
Today marks the first step in my journey towards independence. Even now, the X-Men approach Quetzalcoatl Corp.’s main office. They ditched their vehicle, the Experience, several miles off in a hidden cavern near a maintenance duct leading to Quetzalcoatl’s subway systems. Doubtless, this duct is how they plan to gain access to the complex; indeed, I would not act otherwise myself. In this respect, then, The X-Men have simultaneously lived up to their reputation for efficiency and reinforced my faith in my own ability to predict the actions of Halo City’s new Protectorate. In less than one hour they will free me and cart me off to Halo City, the last bastion of hope for many mutants. Indeed, it will prove to be my salvation as well. All of my plans depend upon my residence in that city, but I have every confidence that the X-Men can conquer any resistance that Quetzalcoatl Corp. can muster. Ah, the X-Men… how they intrigue me. How such a group of people could come together puzzles even me.
I suppose it all started with their founder; Xi’an Chi Xan, a mutant whose right hand heals any wound and whose left accelerates decay. It’s almost too easy to draw the comparison between his powers and personality, but it is there nonetheless; he has been known to fluctuate between two personas; I shall call them the savior and the sadist. He began as a member of the outlaw gang, The Lawless. After an attempt was made on his life, he traveled to Vietnam in 2096, where he spent the next three years. He returned to the United States a changed man, preaching brotherhood and unity to the disenfranchised; including decreds, degens, and especially mutants. He formed his band of X-Men in an event he called “The Gathering.” A cliched title, perhaps, but no less effective. After an intense psychic attack by an agent of the Theatre of Pain, he went off the deep end, causing him to revert to his crueler persona. While under the influence of his sadistic side, he actually joined the Theatre, and was well on his way to becoming a Controller (a regional official) when the X-Men, specifically Cerebra, tipped the scales of his inner conflict back towards the savior persona. He has spent his time since then at work in a church, healing the sick and injured of Halo City as penance for crimes committed while under the influence of the Theatre. He has renounced any official membership in Halo City’s new protectorate, but his former teammates refuse to give up on him entirely. His savior persona controls him now, but who knows what the future holds? The left hand may yet win him over.
Since Xi’an has given up leadership of the X-Men following his defection from the Theatre of Pain, leadership of the team has passed to young Timothy Fitzgerald, or Skullfire, when he’s in the field. He was gifted with the ability to absorb, amplify and channel an enormous amount of bioelectric energy. He was the last of the X-Men to attend the Gathering, and initially was the most reserved. After a meeting with La Lunatica, an agent of the Theatre of Pain, his wild side was unleashed, and he has become more and more outgoing ever since. Recently, he may have been pushed completely over the edge by his “death” and subsequent “rebirth” at the hands of the Graverobber. If only he knew the real circumstances behind his “miraculous” resurrection, he may never have become the wild child he is now. Hmph. I see that he is currently involved in a game of chicken with an oncoming train; a foolish gambit, to be sure, but Mr. Huang will rescue him before- oh, there he comes now, right at the last second, predictably enough. The X-Men do enjoy their dramatic timing, and I must admit, it does make for a good show. It’s time to get back to the task at hand, though. Unfortunately, due to his days as a drifter, it has been… difficult to obtain information on Fitzgerald’s past. However, I have pieced together enough clues to know that during the initial manifestation of his powers, he was responsible for the death of his then-girlfriend, Keiko. The guilt he carries over that incident, perhaps, I can use to my advantage. Hmm? No! An incoming message from Chairman Belize; just what I didn’t need. I suppose I shall have to interrupt my dictation to put his feeble mind at ease.
“Book! Where in blazes are the market overviews I requested? I meet with the Stark-Fujikawa representatives in an hour. I need those reports.”
Chairman Belize’s angry visage appeared on a vidscreen behind Book. The latter did not appreciate the interruption, but the electric experience that usually awaited those who disappointed the Chairman, while not a direct threat to his plans, was certainly something the stony figure had grown fond of avoiding. His best bet was to hope that, just this once, the esteemed Chairman would leave well enough alone.
“I do not feel well,” he responded, keeping his back to the chairman.
“You try my patience, Book. The medtechs say you are in perfect health.”
“It is my soul that aches. I live my life as a prisoner.”
“You live in a protected environment, designed for your own well-being. All the resources of the corporation are at your disposal. You have more here than you ever did in that hovel in Kingston.”
“Except my freedom,” Book snapped back. Instantly, he regretted his loss of control. He couldn’t afford to let his emotions betray him now, not when his emancipation was so close. Chairman Belize was silent for a second before he responded.
“This conversation bores me. Finish those reports. You have an hour.”
“No…,” Book refused hesitantly; perhaps he could, just this once, cause the chairman to grant him a respite. He should have known better than to hope for anything in this hell. The chairman’s face disappeared from the vidscreen; it was replaced by a spark of energy, accompanied by a fizzling noise which progressed into a full-blown roar as the spark grew into a burst of energy. The red-orange bolt thundered towards the stony figure, wrapping itself around him. Pain coursed through every nerve in Book’s body; his pain escaped his body in the form of a horrific scream as Belize’s voice boomed in the enclosed cell.
“Have you forgotten to whom you speak, Book? I am Javier Belize, descendant of the Toltec kings who ruled this land, long before Cortez! I command the power of Quetzalcoatl, the plumed serpent god of the morning and evening star!”
“No… the pain… stop, please…,” Book pleaded, wishing for some release, no matter how small.
“You owe me everything. Without me, you would still be rotting in a cage in Kingston, working for that penny-ante gambler who had no idea of your true potential. Imagine squandering one of the world’s most brilliant minds on dog-racing statistics. You should bow down and thank me for lifting you up out of that ghetto.”
“I’m… sorry, Belize. I’ll get you the data you want. Please don’t hurt me anymore…,” he pleaded, simultaneously relieved when the pain ended, and indignant that one who acknowledged his brilliance should treat him as an inferior in the first place. He wanted to scream at the top of his lungs how angry he was; how he would always be better than Belize and all the worms in the outside world who squandered their lives and their bodies and their freedom without ever realizing what they had in the first place; how he would rise above them and conquer them all and show them what it meant to be helpless, to be trapped. Instead, he kept his head bowed and remained silent. Belize merely looked at his rocky prisoner in contempt before ending his transmission. His point had been made. Book fought back tears of anger and pain as he turned his attention once more to his journal. Taking what solace he could in knowing beyond a shadow of a doubt (for he had planned it that way) that Belize would not interrupt him again before his emancipation, the rock-skinned prisoner continued his report with renewed vigor.
Pardon the interruption; but, among other things, it did confirm something very important. Belize doesn’t realize that the X-Men are here, which indicates that events are falling into place exactly as I knew they would . It’s almost too easy, really. Takes all the fun out of it. Anyway, where was I? Ah yes, young Mr. Fitzgerald’s tragic experience with his former, in both senses of the word, girlfriend. Speaking of Timothy’s girlfriends, I should move on to his current significant other, La Lunatica. Originally an agent of the Theatre of Pain, La Lunatica, or Luna, to most, is endowed with super strength and a degree of invulnerability. She also has the gift of being able to psionically draw out and feed off of the pain and fear of others; it was this ability which attracted the Theatre’s attention. They used her to force their victims to recall their most traumatic and painful experiences, which they recorded to sell off to the bored rich. This power, however, is not entirely at her command. She is something of a “psionic vampire”; using her power has become as much a drug to her as it has the voyeuristic patrons of the Theatre. I can easily exploit this fact once I figure out how to deny her access to traumatized individuals to feed off of, which, admittedly, could be next to impossible in Halo City. Nevertheless, if anyone can do it, it would have to be someone of my mental capacity. Her meeting with the X-Men spurred many of their early adventures, including the radical changes in the personalities of both Skullfire and Xi’an. Upon Timothy’s insistence, she was allowed into the group, but many members still have some reservations about her presence.
The enigmatic Bloodhawk has perhaps the greatest reservations about Luna; he was the first among the X-Men to witness her talents. No, I suppose that is incorrect; Bloodhawk has never officially joined the X-Men, though he has aided them from time to time. He will perhaps join later; it makes no difference to me, really. His genetic gifts will pose no threat to me, but should be listed for the sake of completeness; he can change form at will from a normal human body to a red, scaly, winged form, complete with razor-like talons and enhanced strength. He almost never assumes his human form, which makes sense to me; why would anyone choose to be trapped in a small, helpless body? His scaled hide affords him some armor, as well. Though it’s not an official “power”, it’s been said that the months he spends in his conspicuously-devoid-of-a-shower desert home have given rise to quite a powerful aroma. I shall remember to respect his personal space when and if we meet. He first made the news for his eco-terrorist attacks on corporations and large cities in the Nevada desert. His connections to Halo City are tenuous at best, but I should not discount him from the equation entirely; his motives with the X-Men are a mystery even to me at this time. Though his gifts are marginal, he is a cunning enough adversary to be troublesome; I shall keep a close eye on him. After all, one has to wonder where exactly a man like Bloodhawk gets his hands on so many explosives.
Krystalin Ogada is the other oft-underestimated X-Man; many think little of her ability to crystallize molecules in the air around her. Many, however, do not know she was fully trained in many forms of hand to hand combat by her father’s Soldiers of the Panther, a disciplined, militaristic order devoted to the Wakandan hero the Black Panther that places a high emphasis on martial prowess, during her childhood in Oakland, or that she has proven herself to be rather resourceful with her crystalline manipulations, despite their relatively minor magnitude. Many regard her frail appearance and indecisiveness in her personal life as a sign that she has no resolve; again they would be proven wrong. During the early days of the team, she and Henri Huang did all of the legwork, during which time she proved her valor and worth in combat situations many times over. She has since cut most ties with her former home in Oakland, and has rededicated herself to the X-Men. Like Bloodhawk, her genetic gifts will soon mean nothing to me, but her combat experience and creativity may make her difficult to deal with.
Krystalin’s partner in crime, Henri Huang, is another wildcard. Originally a prospect in Alchemax’s scientific training program, he answered Xi’an’s invitation to join the X-Men and became Meanstreak. With the help of his former roommate and friend, Jordan Boone, he escaped the Alchemax corporation, which he had been trapped in for some time. His mutant ability of super-speed made him ideally suited to the lightning strikes preferred by the X-Men in their early days, and therefore he was partnered with Krystalin to be the X-Men’s away team. During this time, their friendship, or perhaps more, was deeply cemented. Recently, however, the two have begun to drift away from each other, but that seems to be the case with the entire team.
Another of Henri’s weaknesses involves his… acquaintance with Jordan Boone, also known as the enigmatic Halloween Jack. Jack, however, requires a file all his own to discuss. It will suffice to mention here that he is a shape-changer in constant competition with Huang, and that he will most likely not be an impediment to my plans, due to the fact that he seems much more interested in playing with his “Virtual Unreality Engine” which has wrought so much havoc in the city of Las Vegas. Though I do wish he would at least make an appearance in Halo City; he seems like such fun.
The newest X-Man, Sham, comes as something of a surprise to me. Gifted with the ability to create illusions, she joined the team after escaping from a Red Market facility with them. She is young and excitable, and therefore probably not a real problem for me. Her illusions are infantile at best, and she has virtually no field experience. Little more is known of her, due to her degen status. I have no clue as to why she would be admitted to the X-Men in the first place, especially now that they occupy their new Protectorate status, but there she is. I can’t help but feel that I’m overlooking something about the girl, but the harder I look, the less I find. I shall keep a loose eye on her in the future, though I don’t know what I am looking for.
Eddie Van Beethoven, known better as Metalhead, was, until recently, an estranged member of the team. After being infected by a mutagenic virus by Breakdown, leader of the Freakshow, his body was transformed beyond recognition. He decided to stay with the Freakshow, feeling that he fit in more with them than his former teammates, as well as for the solace he found in the arms of Rosa, Breakdown’s sister. Rosa has since given birth to her son, Joaquin, and Eddie has adopted the role of father for this youngster. The Freakshow is currently en route to Halo City, and Eddie will soon be reunited with his friends. I suspect that, upon his arrival in Halo City, which I predict to be approximately one hour from now, he will officially rejoin the team, but I have many doubts that he will stay for long. The Freakshow is a mobile troupe, as well as Rosa’s family. It would not surprise me at all if Eddie were to choose to stay with them if Rosa moves on. This would be a great help to my plans, as Eddie’s ability to turn his skin to a bio-organic form of any metal he’s ever touched make him a rather formidable opponent, especially considering the list of metals he has come into contact with; adamantium lanxide, vibranium, titanium; and these are just the ones that have been officially documented. Who knows what manner of exotic materials he has come in contact with? And God help me if he actually figures out just how far Breakdown’s virus has transformed his genetic gifts. I dare not reveal them even here; already I will have to take more of a chance than I would feel comfortable with by expanding Skullfire’s knowledge of his powers in order to defeat Chairman Belize. I shall have to… induce the Freakshow to leave the city, and take Rosa with them; willingly or not.
But then there is possibly the most formidable obstacle to my plans; the final member of the X-Men; Shakti Haddad, AKA Cerebra. She was born with the ability to manipulate the central nervous system of others, and as an extension of these manipulations, she can detect mutant abilities in others. Her powers, while they will be extremely troublesome to me, are not what make her so dangerous. Her most dangerous asset is her position as the center of the X-Men. She inspires both loyalty and trust in her fellow Protectorate members. If anyone can hold them together enough to stand against me, it will be her. Luckily, however, she is not without easily exploitable weaknesses. She is the only daughter of Zail “The Butcher” Haddad, a former leader in the Red Market. Zail has recently fallen into a coma following an encounter with the Graverobber, and Shakti has played the vigilant daughter, arranging for him to be kept on life support. Of course, the public would not stand for a man such as Zail Haddad to be kept alive on their dime, so the official reports all say he is dead. It will be easy to turn her father’s situation against her, but not without a little help.
This, of course, is where Morphine Somers comes in. The man is an open book to me; I have dealt with his kind all my life. He wants power; pure and simple. He doesn’t care how he gets it, which makes him the perfect pawn in my plan. Though with the recent establishment of the Halo City Council he has lost the authority he once had as Doom’s appointed governor, he already schemes to regain a measure of it. His plans coincide with mine, up to a point, and with a little manipulation, he can easily be coerced into doing a great deal of my work for me. His power of superannuation, or the ability to age an individual or object thousands of years or more in mere seconds, is negligible to me at this point, as he will be out of the picture long before he can make any use of it.
The fledgling council will also provide no problems for me; they are too busy squabbling amongst themselves to have any effect even in their own city. Each councilman is almost a direct psychological copy of Mister Somers; arrogant, power-hungry, and selfish. They’ll do nothing unless they think it will directly benefit their image, or at the very least detract from any of their comrades. They shall be little more than amusement on the six o’clock news, as far as I’m concerned. It’s enough to make me wonder how mankind made it to this point without someone like me to guide it. I guess it just goes to show that anything is possible.
The city itself, however, may have more surprises in store. If my sources are correct, I should have all the resources I require to bring my plans to fruition and more. However, the dangers of Halo City are as numerous as the advantages; several of the lower classes live in the same filth they experienced in the human cities, which drives them to the same desperation they felt in their former homes. There is no telling what lengths they may go to in order to escape their condition. I cannot predict their behavior, so they may turn into a problem for me. By the same coin, however, I may be able to turn their desperation to my advantage at some point. Promises of a better life, however hollow they may be, can be a powerful bargaining chip, especially for the downtrodden classes. Otherwise, Halo City holds few surprises to me; and that is my ultimate advantage. I have had years to plan my escape as well as the rest of my future; my plans cannot fail. This has been my only solace throughout the years, and may well be the only thing to keep me going in the coming months. Well, that, and the fact that the X-Men won’t know what hit them.
He smiled as he reread the final sentence. Seldom did he find occasion to do so within his seemingly infinite prison. That would change, however. Soon, he would never be able to stop. A small video screen popped up in front of his eyes once more; the X-men had arrived at the main compound of Quetzalcoatl Corp. Soon, they would free him from the grasp of the megacorp. His only regret in the whole affair? That the task of wiping that smug look off of Chairman Belize’s face would fall to another; young Timothy Fitzgerald, to be precise. In preparation for the arrival of the X-Men, he closed all active vidscreens and began downloading his files to a secret remote server; they would come in handy soon enough. His smile still spread across his face, he watched as the download bar completed right as the sound of a door being unlatched tickled his hearing. He turned around as the door opened for the first time in years, flooding the room in light. Though it burned a little to do so, he basked in it, staring longingly towards it; the light at the end of the tunnel he had been chasing all the long years of his imprisonment. The rush of fresh air cascading through the doorway could not be felt through his rocky skin, but the soft tissue of his eyeballs welcomed it gratefully. His thoughts turned bitter as he realized that he would never even have seen the light or felt the wind without help, but even then just their presence calmed him. He knew that soon he would take all he felt now for granted like everyone else, so for now he relished the opportunity to feel relief at something that no one else could appreciate as he did. That would have to be enough. He took control of his mind in order to more properly greet his new guests.
“I’ve been expecting you. Thank you so much for your timely response to my call. I am Book.”
To be continued in X-Men 2099UGR #1.
2099: NEW YEAR'S EVE SPECIAL (Next Week): Check out multiple short stories on various 2099UGR characters, including a humorous Christmas tale starring none other than the X-Men of 2099! And then be back here February 2006 for the phenomenal FIRST ISSUE of X-MEN 2099UGR!