Issue Five, Volume One

"Falling Down"

Written by John Bush

Assistant Editor: Jason McDonald

Editor-in-Chief: David Ellis


Timothy Fitzgerald
Skullfire

La Lunatica

Henri Huang
Meanstreak

Krystalin Ogada

Sham

Victor Ten Eagles

Xi'an Chi Xan
Desert Ghost

Bloodhawk

Eddie Van Beethoven
Metalhead

Rosa

Shakti Haddad
Cerebra

Morphine Somers

Book



Xi’an knelt down in the bed of flowers where the back wall of the temple once stood. He recalled his experience yesterday with his doubles in a vast field of grass – even remembering it made him uncomfortable, even unwilling to continue his soul-searching.

He shook the doubts from his head, however, and folded his legs while taking a deep breath. He peered at the collapsed fragments of the wall, splintered and rotting on the ground, barely visible under the cover of flowers. Xi’an closed his eyes and allowed the scent to fill him – a soothing blend of wildflowers flirting with his nostrils, pushing out distracting thoughts, leaving behind only a tranquil silence.

When Xi’an opened his eyes, he was standing in the same field once more. Again, Xi’an could see his doubles – black and white. They stood with their backs to each other, some feet apart. His black-clad counterpart had his arms crossed, his white-clad twin had his hands clasped low across his lap. Xi’an crept towards them in the grass, slowly, watching their faces carefully. Both had their eyes closed, as though asleep. Slowly, step by step, Xi’an drew closer, breathing heavily, pulse racing.

“We can see you, you know,” the white-garbed Xi’an said calmly. Xi’an fell to his back in surprise, breathing still labored and difficult. Through small gasps for air, Xi’an managed to stammer out his question.

“Wh-who… are you?”

“You’re not quite ready for the answer to that,” the white twin said calmly, and the black-clad twin nodded his assent.

“You are far too weak,” the sinister looking double growled.

“Wh-what do you mean?” Xi’an asked, trying to control his breathing.

“You’ll find out when it’s time,” the calmer twin responded, waving a hand in Xi’an’s direction. Xi’an was swept away by a gust of wind.

His eyes were forced open as Xi’an lurched forward, a scream parting his lips. He felt a cold hand on his shoulder.

“What the hell was that?” Victor asked, squeezing Xi’an’s shoulder. Xi’an merely shook his head, grasping the dirt in front of him for dear life.


“Do you have a plan yet?”

“Shut up, Jack,” Henri mumbled, covering his eyes with his left hand. He was laid out on his bunk, right knee in the air. The cell was as dark as it had been since the previous night, when he had awoken there with the former Mr. Boone. One of them had not shut his mouth since that time. Henri was about to smack him.

“Well, you’re the one who just has to get back to Halo City, H. One would think you’d have been all over the big escape plan with that super-fast mutant brain of yours. Unless, of course, you’re slowing down in your old age?”

“I don’t age, Jack. Not at the normal rate, anyway.”

“…What?” Jack responded, after a short silence. For the first time, the smile was gone from his sinister, green face.

“Hyperaccelerated metabolism. Constantly repairing cellular damage, including that damage caused by aging. I looked into it when I noticed I hadn’t aged since freshman year. At this rate, I estimate I’ve got a natural lifespan of about five hundred years.”

“Five… hundred?”

“Yeah. Pretty sweet, huh?”

“Sweet. Yeah,” Jack responded coldly.


“…And if you ever turn those comms off again, I will rip your nervous systems from your bodies and feed them to you!” Shakti Haddad screamed at the two most mischievous X-Men who glanced nervously at each other. They sat in two leather armchairs in Shakti’s office, rubbing their feet on the white carpet.

“Can she actually do that?” Timothy Fitzgerald whispered to his girlfriend.

“I was about to ask you the same thing,” La Lunatica replied, “You’ve known her longer.”

“You think this is a joke?” Shakti interrupted sternly, slamming a fist on her desk. The two young mutants looked at their feet and mumbled their apologies.

“Just… just get out of my office. And keep those comms on. It’s bad enough that Henri bugged out on us. We don’t need you two dropping off the radar too,” Shakti finished, exasperated. She dropped into her black leather chair, letting one arm dangle over one side, and rubbing her forehead with the other. Tim and Luna rose to their feet and shuffled out the door.

Minutes later, the pair had retreated to their living quarters, one floor up from the office level of the Protectorate Wing. Timothy slumped into the red leather couch set in the middle of the living room, while Luna leaned on the back, arms folded.

“I never would have let her talk to me like that if I wasn’t so damned hung over,” the albino amazon grumbled.

“Yeah… I can’t remember, did we have a good time last night?” Tim asked.

“Probably. But who does Shakti think she is, talking down to us like that? Like we’re not members of this team, too? Aren’t you supposed to be the leader now, anyway? I’ll bet Henri doesn’t take that much crap when he gets back.”

“Chill, babe. She’s just a little stressed. I’ll bet Henri gets it waaaaaaay worse than we did. He’s the one that’s supposed to be doing all her work, remember? Besides – I’ve let the leader thing slide for a while now. Wasn’t for me.”

“Why are you taking this so casually?”

“Ever since the… ah… incident with the Graverobber, I’ve felt a little… I dunno, freer than ever before. Like, a lot of things that used to bother me just don’t anymore. I feel like I’m just… above it all.”

“So, what, you’re God now?”

Tim grinned widely.

“Pretty close.”


“So you say you found a lead on your friend?” Eddie said, rubbing the back of his neck and yawning. The metal giant stretched his arms out, and stared at the sun rising over Halo City’s walls. The excited young girl in front of him grabbed his wrist and pulled him towards the street. The Protectorate Wing of the Halo City Council Building loomed large behind them. Eddie stomped slowly down the steps leading out the front door and to the sidewalk.

“Yes!” Sham said, exasperated, “Now hurry it up, before the trail gets cold!”

“I’m glad you came to get me and all, but if it was that urgent, why didn’t you just call me? I could have met you while you did some recon, or something,” Eddie said, walking with her.

Sham bit her lower lip, flashing back to a series of run-down bars and dirty back alleys, shady-looking men and worn-out women. Frankly, she had come for Eddie because her knuckles were getting raw, and she needed new gloves, and while she was there, she had to change her clothes. The blood stains were getting too visible; informants had been running away before she could approach them.

“I needed some muscle,” Sham said finally, “This next place looked a little more… dangerous than where I had been investigating. I didn’t think a few tricky illusions would get them to talk.”

“Oh,” Eddie responded, picking up his pace, “Do we have any other mode of transportation?”

“We’ll flag down a cab if we see one, but we need to get moving. I don’t want these guys to get away,” she said, moving a little faster.

“Wait up!” Eddie said, “’M still a little groggy. It’s pretty early, and we were up late last night – did you even go to sleep?”

Sham didn’t respond. She was already half a block away, motioning emphatically for Eddie to hurry up. Eddie grumbled, wishing she had given him time for his coffee.


“Cover your ears,” Henri said, breaking a long silence, “I have an idea.”

“OK,” Jack said quietly, staring intently at Henri’s face. Henri reached down and undid the clasps on his boots. Sliding them off, he turned to Halloween Jack.

“Why so quiet, all of a sudden? You’re creeping me out,” the mutant speedster said. Jack waved a thin, green hand dismissively.

“Quiet? Moi? Perish the thought,” he said, puffing out his chest, “I am merely being… pensive. Completely different.”

“Right, well, cover your ears.”

“Why?”

“I’m going to blow the door off with the force of a sonic boom,” Henri said, laying back on the floor.

“I thought you didn’t make the sonic booms when you run?”

“Oh, I got around it a while ago,” Henri said, pointing to the boots, “The big, thick part around the ankles and lower calf? They’re shock absorbers – absorb the force and sound of the boom.”

“Ah, so by taking them off…”

“I should be able to get my feet going fast enough to blast the door right off its hinges. Or so I’m hoping.”

“Wouldn’t that just splatter your feet?”

“I don’t think so – if I can stop a few millimeters short, the force should be enough to get us out of here.”

“Do you think your feet have enough mass to produce the force necessary to cave the door?”

“Depends on how thick the door is.”

“Ooh… this should be fun,” Jack said, morphing his hands into covers for his ears, forming a tight seal with the skin on his head, “Ready when you are, Hank!”

“You don’t have to yell.”

“What?”

Henri shook his head, and plugged his fingers into his ears. He began kicking his legs back and forth. Within seconds, he felt about up to speed. A fraction of a second later, he felt tremendous pressure underfoot. The force rocketed Henri across the floor, slamming him shoulder first into the back wall.

“Jammit! That hurts!” Henri screamed, grabbing his shoulder. Jack was already on the floor, holding his sides. His cackle echoed across the cell walls. Henri glanced at the door – it had caved in near where his foot hit, but it was still on its hinges.

“Good show, H! Great! I loved it! Let’s do it again! AHAHAHA!” Jack laughed, rolling on the floor. Henri grumbled, crawling across the room to the door. It had caved a little more than he had thought at first – there was a six-inch space between the door and the frame, at about door handle level.

“Jack? Can your new morphing abilities make you thinner?” Henri asked.

“As a pencil, Hank,” Jack finished, wiping tears from his eyes, “You want me to squeeze through that hole and bust us out, big guy?”

“Yeah.”

“Can do,” Jack said proudly, constricting his body and sliding out. Henri could hear Jack fumble around in the darkness for a few seconds, then a silence. After a few seconds, he could hear the sound of fingers hitting a keypad, followed by a beep. The door cracked open, before Jack threw it aside, revealing himself in all his grandeur. He had switched his tattered rags for a more kingly dress – purple robes and cape, bejeweled crown, scepter, the works.

“Who’s the king, baby?” he said, baring his long, thin teeth in a sinister smile.

“If I say you, can we get out of here?”

“Why, Henri, whatever would make you say that about modest ol’ Jack?”

Henri rolled his eyes.


“Ladies and gentlemen; welcome,” Morphine Somers said, throwing open his arms. In the meeting room laid out before him, five mutants and various shapes and sizes gathered around the table. A dwarfish man clad in black leather sat in the chair nearest Morphine on the right, across from the midget sat a young brunette whose head ticked to the right every few seconds. A monstrous-looking girl sat on the center of the table, her wolf-like features highlighted by the desert sun shining through the window. In the far back of the room, what appeared to be a trash-heap in human form sat chewing on the butt of a shotgun. None of them paid the green-haired Somers any heed. Book’s stony figure hovered on his anti-grav chair, smirking behind his new ally’s back.

“You have all been gathered here for a specific purpose. You’re all very good at what you do, and I’d like to hire you for just that. You will be paid incredibly well, I assure you, and given full pardon for your past… indiscretions. Unfortunately, I will require you to begin work immediately,” Morphine continued, undeterred. The rest of the room’s occupants looked around the table at each other.

“How many zeroes?” the dwarf asked. The rest of the room nodded its assent. Morphine sighed, and slid a small datapad over to the man. Immediately, the little person’s eyebrows shot up in surprise.

“I’ll do it,” he said, passing the datapad along. Each of the women had a similar reaction, with the nervous young woman adding, “You’re a very pretty hog, you are.” Morphine shot Book an inquisitive glance, to which the man of rock flashed a reassuring smile. When the heap at the end of the table received the pad, he smiled rows of jagged metal teeth, and tossed it into his mouth.

“I’m in,” the monstrosity said in a gravelly growl, chewing slowly. Morphine’s sinister grin spread from ear to ear.

“God to hear, my friends,” he said, “We’ll be starting later this afternoon. Help yourselves to whatever amenities you find in your assigned rooms. If you find something missing, feel free to call the front desk and ask for it. I’ll be around to get you all when it’s time to go.”

The four newcomers quickly vacated the room, leaving only Morphine and Book, who turned to face each other.

“And what of our fifth man, Book? Has he arrived yet?”

“He’ll be here before the big debut. Believe me – the deal we offered, he could not refuse.”

“Excellent. I look forward to meeting him.”

“I’m sure the X-Men will be happy to see him again as well.”

“Heh. I certainly hope so.”

Both mutants smiled knowingly as they made for the door themselves.


“I think we’ve passed this door a few times, Hank,” Halloween Jack said as he walked backwards down the Synge Casino sub-basement hallway. Henri Huang rubbed his forehead.

“No, we’ve just got to find the – there,” Henri said, pointing to a door, “Stairs. We’ll go the main level and find a back door somewhere.”

“Good plan. Security’s probably not looking for us, or anything.”

“Yeah, well, it’s not like you’ve had any brilliant schemes to get us out of here. Then again, it’s your fault I’m stuck here, so I probably wouldn’t have gone along with whatever you had said anyway.”

Henri pushed open the door and looked up the stairwell.

“It looks clear, Jack,” he said, “You want to go up first, or should I?”

“You go ahead. Put those lightning fast reflexes to work.”

Henri shook his head and zoomed up the stairs until he saw a door marked “lobby.” He opened it just a hair, and peeked out – it led to what looked like an empty supply closet. He stepped out cautiously, in case the door had blocked another presence. Seeing that it was clear, he looked back into the staircase. Halloween Jack had transformed into a crow and flown himself all the way up. He landed in the closet, transforming back into himself.

Henri grabbed a nearby janitor’s uniform and began putting it on over his clothes. He scrunched down his headdress and hoped his gauntlets and boots didn’t stick out so much as to give him away.

“Jack, change into a janitor or something. We don’t want to get killed on the way out because someone noticed a green guy.”

Jack nodded, his skin rearranging into a blue jumpsuit that matched Henri’s. His skin was tinted dark. Henri opened the door to the closet, and the pair walked into the hall. The floor outside was crowded with tourists and regular security, but no one seemed to notice as Henri and Jack made their way to the back of the building. Jack noticed a fire exit, and motioned for Henri to follow. The X-Man did so, and the duo shoved open the door. The fire alarm sounded behind them.

“We’ll go around front and get lost in the crowd,” Henri said, barely audible over the blare of alarms behind him.

“Or you’ll stay right there and get a bullet in the head,” a familiar voice called from behind.

“Hey, Henri! It’s our old playmates the Rat Pack!” Jack said, shifting t his default form.

“I know. We don’t have time for them,” Henri said, going into hyper speed. Before anyone could blink, the Rat Pack was on the ground with a few new bumps on their collective heads.

“Why didn’t you just do that to start with?” Jack asked, “It would have saved us a lot of time escaping if you’d done that when you arrived.”

“I figured they’d take me to wherever they were holding you,” Henri replied, “And I didn’t want to spend a lot of time looking.”

“It’s not that hard to find me, Hank.”

“It’s far too hard to lose you…”


“What is this? It tastes like piss,” Tim growled, leaning back in the booth.

Luna shrugged at him from across the table, waving smoke from her eyes. She looked around the rest of the bar; pieces of the wall were cracked or had fallen away around fist prints and blaster burns. It was the type of place Luna was used to, but she was surprised by how well Tim had adjusted to it.

“You wanna get out of here?” she asked, “Smoke’s bugging my eyes.”

“It’s fine,” he said, “Besides, I’ve been pounding back this liver-poison all night and I’m not even buzzed yet.”

“You haven’t been able to get drunk since… forever,” Luna responded.

“Since the Graverobber thing, yeah,” he said thoughtfully, “Must have screwed me up more than I thought. I’ll have Shakti check me out when we go back to the building.”

“Speaking of Shakti, are you still draining the batteries in our communicators?”

“Yeah, we’re off the radar. I’ll recharge them again when we leave.”

“Good,” she said, leaning back into the booth. She turned to the bar to motion for a drink, but instead a large group of men approaching the table from behind caught her eye. They stopped in front of Tim and Luna’s booth – six of them, all 6 feet tall or better, broad shoulders. They were obviously used to a fight. Luna could see concealed blasters on at least four of them. She guessed the other two were packing as well, but they were blocked by some of the others.

“You got a problem with the drinks here, pretty-boy?” the lead thug said in a rough voice.

“Not really – I just prefer my drinks with a bigger kick,” Tim said with a smirk. He folded his arms across his chest and winked at Luna. She knew what he was going to try next. She just shook her head.

“Bigger kick – heh, you hear that, Bruno? He wants a bigger ‘kick,’” the lead thug said to a large, green-scaled man behind him.

“I got a ‘kick’ for him,” Bruno said, pulling out a blaster and pointing it at Tim.

“Awesome. I was afraid tonight was going to be boring,” Tim smiled, charging his right fist, “Round one, boys. You ready?”

He was answered by the sound of six safeties switching off. Outside, passers-by dove for cover at the sound of blasters firing and walls shattering. Several people tried to call for the Protectorate, but the line was dead.


“That’s the building over there,” Sham said, pointing around the corner. Eddie poked his head around, seeing the three-story, concrete building for the first time.

“You’re sure he’s in there?” Eddie asked, hiding himself in the alley again. Sham rolled her eyes back.

“Welllllll… not quite. That there is a Red Market slaughterhouse –”

“Red Market!? Sham, this is too big for the two of us –”

“Eddie, please! We have to go in quietly or they’ll just tear the whole thing down!”

“Yeah but – wait, how do you know that?”

“Well, I… that’s not really important right now. What is important, is that I know the Red Market took him, and I know they’re in that building. Please, Eddie, Quiver was the first friend I ever made.”

She looked at him with wide, innocent eyes. He glared back angrily for a second, not happy with the situation. Finally, he just shook his head.

“All right. But when this is over, I want the whole story from you.”

“Deal.”

Sham cast an illusion around herself and Eddie. She refracted the light around them, making them functionally invisible. They crossed the street, and passed the two buildings between them and their target. Once there, they darted down an alleyway adjacent to the Red Market slaughterhouse. There was a single door leading in, with a single light overhead. They crept up to it, and Sham let down their cover.

“Smash it in,” she said.

“What happened to ‘We have to be quiet’?” he asked suspiciously. She put an irritated look on her face.

“That was just for the approach. I can’t cloak more than two people – takes too much concentration to do that and walk. We’re past their surveillance, now. Now we just charge in and take them before they have a chance to get organized,” she explained hurriedly.

“And where did you learn about all this?”

“I’ll tell you later. Now, we need to get moving,” she said, motioning toward the door. Eddie narrowed his eyes, unsure now what to think of his comrade. He shifted his body to an ultra-light vibranium alloy and kicked in the door. Instantly, alarms went off. Sham pushed past him.

“I’ll go invisible and take the right, you go left and cause all the havoc you can. I’ll help you out when I get my info,” Sham said shortly before vanishing from sight. Eddie, confused, went the way he was told, but reached for his communicator. He was almost certain he’d need to call the rest of the team.

“What the - ? It’s gone!” he exclaimed, finding that his back pocket was empty.

“And soon you will be too, mutie!” a voice called from above. Looking up, he noticed a pair of boots dropping right onto his face. He heard the bones inside the boots snap as they made contact with his forehead. The attacker yelped and rolled around on the ground in pain. Eddie heard reinforcements coming from around the corner.

“Well, you guys are Red Market, all right. No mistaking that insignia,” Eddie quipped, “Maybe you could give yourselves some of those brains you keep stealing, though. Maybe it would help your decision-making skills, like, ‘don’t drop ten feet onto a guy made of vibranium.’ That would be a good lesson for you to learn.”

“Get him!” came the reply.

“Me and my big mouth,” Eddie sigh, balling his fists.


“Tim and Luna are off the radar again,” Shakti said sourly. Krys placed a cup of coffee on Shakti’s desk and took a seat.

“I take it we’re mad at them?” Krys joked, trying to inject some small degree of levity into the situation. It didn’t work.

“This isn’t funny.”

“I guess not,” Krys said, taking a sip, “You all right?”

“I’m fine – just a little tense from all the stuff that’s happening around here. This Protectorate thing is falling apart all around us. People are running off, trying to do their solo things, and that used to be fine. We never had an agenda set in stone, or a roster, but we can’t do things that way anymore. We have a home; a place where we all need to be. Sometimes I think I’m the only one that understands that,” Shakti half-yelled, before calming down, “I’m sorry. Things are hard for me right now.”

“Yeah, I know. How’s your father?”

“That’s absolutely the last thing I want to talk about right now.”

Krys smiled apologetically and took a sip of coffee. Shakti grabbed her cup and took a quick sip.

“Is this decaf?” Shakti asked, eyeing the cup in her hand.

“It’s whatever was in the pot. I put in plenty of sugar, like you asked.”

“Hmm.”

Shakti went back to her computer, sipping from her coffee every few minutes.

“I wish we had the money to hire a secretary,” Shakti said after a minute, “Someone whose only job was to wade through the bureaucracy.”

“We could submit that as part of our new budget,” Krys offered.

“That doesn’t go up for vote for another six months.”

“Oh.”

A buzzing sound from Shakti’s computer caught both women’s attention.

“That’s the alert,” Shakti said, and, after tapping a few keys, “There’s something going on near the council assembly room!”

Both women strained to look at the monitor. They could see twelve armed men storming the assembly area; they were well-armed and armored. They moved as a unit, forcing all of the council members and members of the press to the ground.

“Let’s go,” Shakti said, “I’ve sent out an all-purpose alert. Hopefully Tim and Luna will get the message. Eddie and Sham will probably be here as fast as they can.”

Krys nodded her head.


Two men stood on either side of the door. Both were armed with variable-radius blaster rifles, wearing tactical armor.

“Crystal shards won’t get through that armor,” Krys whispered, “We’ll have to get in close and take them down before they call their friends.

Shakti nodded from her position. Both women crouched behind large potted plants in the lobby leading up to the assembly room. The large double doors were shut.

“I’ll take the one on the right, you go left,” Shakti said. Krys nodded, forming an extra-dense crystal rod in each hand. She flipped over the plant, landing a few feet in front of the guard. Before he could react, she broke one rod across his face. The other, she smashed over his head.

The second guard raised his rifle. Before he could fire, Shakti had a hand on his elbow. A shock to his nervous system sent him crumbling to the ground.

The doors flew open; eight guns were trained directly on the two X-Men. They opened fire.

Krys erected a crystal wall as fast as she could; it stopped some of the blasts, but not all. Concentrated energy beams tore through her right shoulder and left calf.

Shakti dove out of the line of sight from inside the door, but not before taking a shot in her left thigh.

The attackers advanced from the room; rifles at the ready. Krys formed a shield on one arm, another rod in the other. Shakti tried to get to her feet; she could only stand on her right leg.

“Picking on women, eh? That’s just bad manners,” a snide, but familiar voice called from the front of the lobby. A thin, green-haired man stood confidently in the middle of the lobby entrance. Four of the invaders trained their guns on the newcomer.

“Morphine?” Shakti said, astonished, “What are you doing here?”

“Your job – with a few friends, of course,” Morphine said, snapping his fingers. As he did this, a wolf-like woman dropped from the second-floor. Upon impact, she split into two, and the lycanthropic women took a guard each.

The remaining attackers turned their guns to the newcomer. A thin line of heat energy scorched the air, connecting with two of the attackers’ blaster rifles. They turned to see a dwarf dressed all in black smirking at them.

As the men who still had guns turned to face the dwarf, a young woman rushed past Morphine, screaming all the way. She plowed into the intruders, knocking them all backwards. She screamed again as she charged after them; but her exuberance proved her undoing. The two guards still in the assembly room had tossed frag grenades under her feet. She went flying back out of the assembly room.

The remaining guards charged out of the room, joined by three of the men knocked aside by the screaming woman. What looked like a large heap of trash dropped from the ceiling, crushing four. The remaining invader turned towards the sound of the crash.

“What the hell is that?” he yelled, dropping his rifle in surprise.

“My teammate,” a cruel, metallic voice taunted from behind. The man did not get a chance to turn around before two metal fists made paste of his skull and its contents.

“Jumkpile?!” Shakti yelled, nursing her leg, “What are you doing here?”

“Your job,” Junkpile replied, smirking. Morphine stepped into the center of the lobby, proudly accepting the applause from the hostages emerging from the assembly room.

Shakti knew nothing good would come next.


TO BE CONTINUED

Previous Issue: "Digging up the Past"

Next Issue: "Winners and Losers"