Book IV: Coriolis Event

The Foundation Cracks

June 12, 2017
Houston

The First Gentleman of the United States of America made his way out of the limo and into the main labs of Hermes Pharmaceuticals, a wholly owned subsidiary of Minerva Inc. Whitney Fordman was not there in the capacity of the First Gentleman though; his sister-in-law summoned him as a family matter. ‘Stephanie has never done anything like this,’ which is what made Whitney rearrange his schedule hastily to meet with her.

Stephanie Fordman was a doctor, researcher, and a professor. Her husband was Whitney’s second oldest brother, Sebastian, who was also a scientist. Stephanie and Sebastian were wealthy as a matter of their granted interests in LFK Ltd, but Whitney didn’t know Stephanie had any involvement with Hermes. He walked up to his sister-in-law and gave her a hug. “You rang?”

Her smiled dazzled him. She was practically glowing. “I flew down once I was informed of the news. Lionel of all people called me and put me on the plane. Whitney, it’s a miracle!”

“What’s a miracle?”

Stephanie pulled him into a hug and smiled again. “They did it! Hermes has a cure for Cancer!”

New York

The East Coast was in the middle of a searing heat wave. Temperatures were already in the triple digits and forecasters could see no relief in sight for at least a week. Lois Lane made her way down a sidewalk and tried to fool herself that the heat was a figment of her imagination. An accomplished jay walker, Lois made her way to the café where she was meeting a colleague.

“Hi, Lois!” Snapper Carr waved from the door of a delicatessen. He pulled her inside to keep the cooler air from escaping. “We missed the lunch rush.”

Lois scanned the still-crowded storefront and scoffed. “This place still looks packed!”

Snapper led her to the line and they traded small talk while waiting to order. After they’d received their orders they moved to the back of the dining room and sat down opposite each other. Lois took a bite out of her Rueben and sighed with contentment. “This is so good.”

“This Club isn’t so bad either.” Snapper winked at her and then stopped as he was lifting his pickle slice. “I’ve been looking into your request and I have to say that penetrating Luthor secrecy is a job for a counter intelligence agency. The kids have only gone to private school and those records aren’t public.”

“They’ve been able to hide everything behind a wall of money.” Lois set her sandwich down. “His poll numbers aren’t great, but they aren’t in the tank either. Going after his kids could help him more than hurt him.”

Snapper shrugged. “His poll numbers have been steady since he was elected. He’s hovering around fifty percent even with all this Magneto mess. Though word on the street is there is trouble between the First Gentleman and the President. It appears Mr. Fordman isn’t happy with his role.”

Lois scoffed. “He’s a pretty boy ex-jock; he should be so lucky to have this pampered life. He’s not as respected as his brothers. He’s probably dumb as a post, but spectacular in bed.” She smiled at Snapper. “He and the president have had a falling out before.”

“Yes, it was infamous and brief. However, this would be as high profile as it gets should the rumors prove to be true.” Snapper offered Lois his cookie which she declined. “I still have people looking into the Luthor boys, but their records are under lock and key. You of all people should know that Smallville is their refuge. Nothing damning escapes that town about the First Family.”

“You know, we still employ Jimmy Olsen and he apparently had a torrid affair with Lionel Luthor’s senior aide. AP employs Chloe Sullivan and she is very tight with the First Family. There might still be avenues through which to gain information.” Lois smiled as she bit into her cookie. “This is pretty good.”

“And how would we use them to gain the information we seek?” Snapper paused and looked around before continuing. “I’m not above placing a bribe or two, but if they do know something then I’m sure that House Luthor knows it too.”

Lois smiled again. “We never have to ask them. I’m sure the information is available where it is accessible.” She raised an eyebrow and smirked. “It’s a simple of question of finding out where.”

“Risky, but I’ll see what I can find out.” Snapper smiled as he stood up. “You owe me one.”


Two armed marines were standing guard outside the SHIELD main conference room to deter any who might wander in by accident. Inside, stacks of binders, folders, and paper covered the large conference table. Senior commanders as well as the senior civilian directors were conducting a post mortem on the events in Los Angeles and around the world.

General Thaddeus Ross, commanding general of SHIELD’s military components, cleared his throat. “What we have here is nothing short of a catastrophic failure of Intelligence.”

“I think that is an elementary way of assigning blame,” countered Brigadier General Wallace Kincaid, SHIELD’s Intelligence Director. “There were operational failures under Fury and Isling.”

“This sniping is not going to get us anywhere,” Henry Gyrich complained. As SHIELD’s Executive Director, he was the man who reported to the National Security Council. “Gen. Hardcastle’s research group has delivered to us the air carriers and those are priceless. Isling and Fury have had mixed results, but our enemies have proven resourceful.”

“However,” countered Amanda Waller, Deputy Director (SHIELD), “We need better Intel if we are to exterminate Magneto and his Brotherhood. We want results, Wallace.”

Gen. Kincaid’s face didn’t break from its normal mask of haughtiness and bored smugness. “We didn’t get a good read on Exodus’ escape from Los Angeles. We’ve replayed the encounter and figure that the Green Lantern’s death and resulting spike in radiation scrambled part of our sensor network. We have a vector on the reentry point, but South Africa is a large place.”

“Send an undercover squad to South Africa and see if we can get a lead on the Brotherhood.” Gyrich lifted a binder. His face was tight with anger. “This will go better than the wild goose chase we had last month up in Canada. This agency is beginning to suffer buyers’ remorse up on Capitol Hill. I’m due to meet with some of the president’s staunchest allies in the Senate next week. If my head rolls then so do all of yours!”

Kincaid nodded and slid a thin binder towards Gyrich and Waller. “Heads may well roll sooner than we think. Sec. Manheim is pushing to bring SHIELD under complete DOD control.”

“That’s impossible,” scoffed Gen. Ross. “The SHIELD Treaty created an international organization. Sec. Manheim can rail all he wants, but we are independent to a certain extent.”

Gyrich finished flipping through the small folder and tossed it back to Kincaid. “Do not think we are safe for a moment. Luthor can lay everything at our doorstep and be rid of us all. Results! We need results!”

Los Angeles

Kyle Rayner woke up in a sweat, shivering profusely. Peter Rasputin, his art mentor, had helped him get into a summer program at USC for graphic arts, but that piece of good fortune had somehow devolved into an endless nightmare. Wanting to soak in some of his favorite places in L.A. after having been in New York for so long, Kyle had been caught in the riot downtown. Just his luck to get caught in a war zone. ‘Next time Kyle, buy a postcard.

Still shivering, he pulled his legs close to his body and tried to get the images out of his mind. He’d seen the famous Green Lantern killed. He could still hear the scream and the sounds of flesh being torn at high speed. He could even recall how blood smelled in the air.

His dreams were vivid and haunting, not just a replay of what he’d witnessed, but more visceral. Every time he fell asleep, he dreamed that he was the Green Lantern. That the death was his own. Giving up on sleep, he climbed out of bed and headed for the bathroom. For a brief moment upon glimpsing his reflection, he could have sworn his eyes were glowing green.

‘”What the Hell is going on?”


Steve Trevor rolled his neck as he tried to loosen up the muscles. He was still recovering from the riot in downtown L.A. where he’d been smashed into a wall by a shockwave from one of the superhumans. He was a Lt. Col. in the US Marine Corps and undercover for SHIELD. However, the things that had happened while he was spying on the Friends of Humanity made him recoil at night. Now his name was Steve Wilson and in the name of getting in deeper with the anti-mutant organization, he’d blown up a lab and killed three people, his target, Dr. Barry Allen, included. He’d also learned that a teenager had been in the lab and had been blown clear. Didn’t know the kid’s name, didn’t want to, but at least it was one less stain on his soul.

It took a few moments to roll out of his lumpy twin-sized bed and stand up. The living quarters the Friends of Humanity had arranged for him and his fellow devotees were less than stellar. A flea bitten roach motel might have had more space than the current dingy cramped quarters he slept in. His six foot three inch frame felt confined in the narrow room, but it was out of the way and in a part of town where people could get lost with ease.

After his shower in the communal bathroom, he dressed in jeans and a t-shirt. He picked up his SIG-Sauer handgun and made his way downstairs. He was on time, but surprised to find that he was the last to arrive.

“Damned Wilson! You take longer to get ready than most women I know,” barked one of the other thugs that the Friends employed.

“Like you’ve had that many women,” Steve shot back. He shut up as one of Graydon Creed’s henchmen walked in.

“Listen up. We got our asses kicked downtown and we’re still pulling the pieces back together. Time to regroup and recover.” The man spat some of his chew into a Styrofoam cup. Tobacco juice dribbled down his chin until he wiped it with the back of a hand. “Creed wants to move some of you to different locations. Some of you are heading to Miami.”

Steve nodded when he took his assignment. It was a blank piece of paper. He looked up puzzled. “Mine’s blank.”

The man smiled a brown smile and shook his head. “Creed has special plans for you, Wilson. You’re staying in L.A.”

For Steve Trevor, the news was great for his assignment, but for Steve Wilson, the news made his heart rate increase. The chill that ran down his spine made him think of an old childhood refrain ‘Someone just walked on my grave.

Washington

It was late when Whitney made it back to the White House. After sleeping on the flight, he was still worn out, but the excitement of the morning had not faded. ‘There is a cure for cancer! We can beat this thing globally! We can restore hope!

He’d said nothing and Hermes was in lock down on the news. The light was still on in the presidential study and he walked up and knocked.

“It’s open!” came the response and Whitney walked into the cozy room.

He slid into the chair opposite Lex. “I have amazing news for you.” He held up his hand to stop a response and activated the jamming device to prevent any of the listening devices around them from picking up the conversation. “Hermes has something that needs to be announced ASAP.”

Lex arched an eyebrow and put down the folder he’d been reading. “You look insufferably pleased with yourself.” He grinned. “Don’t get me wrong, it’s a nice look on you, but what’s the announcement?”

“They have a cure for cancer.” Whitney smiled and waited for the reaction.

Lex stared for a moment and then rubbed his chin. “You’re not joking.”

“No.”

“My God! A real cure? Not some pie in the sky promise?”

“No. It’s real. They did limited trials on Stage 4 patients in Houston and the results are nothing short of amazing. They’re created a retrovirus that turns off the rapid cellular replication of cancer cells. Stops the cancer completely, with none of the damaging side effects of chemo or radiation. Stephanie calls it a Smart Bomb for the body.” Whitney explained some of the science he’d spent the day absorbing.

Lex was suitably impressed. “How long will it take to push it through trials to get FDA approval?”

“If we can keep it from becoming a political football, we could be looking at full-scale human trials within a matter of weeks. If those trials are as successful as the first, the treatment could be made available globally within the year.”

Lex frowned. “Political football.” He shook his head. “You can count on our enemies finding a way to put a negative spin on this. They’ll claim it’s a hoax that we’re perpetrating for political gain.”

“We’ve got the science on our side, and a cure. They won’t be able to cry hoax for very long.”

Lex came to his feet moved to the decanter of scotch on the credenza. “Whit, the treatment of cancer is a five-hundred billion dollar industry in this country. The opposition to our ‘cure’ will be insidious, obstructionist, and very, very real.”

Grinning, Whitney came to his feet and moved to Lex. “I’ve got nothing but time to fight them. I think the First Gentleman has found his cause, Lex.”

Lex smiled and took his lover in his arms. “Then I pity anyone who tries to stand in your way. Let’s do this right and make sure we catch everyone flat footed. We can’t lose.”

June 15
Moscow

Vitaly Kirov sat down with his senior Security staff and the ranking officials at the Defense Ministry. “How long before we control all of Kazakhstan?”

Olev Kimski, the deputy Defense Minister, shrugged. “The American presence in the south remains stationed and has given no sign of withdrawing. Iranian and other Muslim nations continue to press for a peacekeeping force to make sure Russian aggression is held in check.”

“It is of no consequence,” countered Kirov. “Our presence can’t be denied now and control is ours over a vast majority of Kazakhstan. We hold all the oil fields and that is what matters most.” He pushed a single sheet of paper across the table. “That is the amount of reserves we found there. It will increase Russian reserves by thirty-five percent.”

Kimski raise an eyebrow and smiled. “If we wanted to we could invade Iran and then close the Straits of Hormuz…”

“Effectively cutting off all oil supplies from the Gulf,” added another general. “It would take time to gather our strength for such an operation.”

Kirov raised his hand to silence to the gathered crowd. “First things, first. Ukraine is next of the list. I want it back in the Russian Empire. We will declare our greatness by taking Iran, but first we need Ukraine to secure that border. The world will tremble once we are done.”

Tatiana walked into the room after the Cabinet left. “How do you wish us to proceed?”

“Send Longshot and the Shadow Squads to Kiev. The Russian Underground awaits them. Ukraine will be ours in a matter of weeks.”

New York

Security was tight around the Metropolitan Opera House at the Lincoln Center for the Performing Arts. Society’s elite, including many of the Hellfire Club’s members and the First Family, would be in attendance for the command performance of “The Clash of Kings” the newest attempted take on King Arthur and Camelot. It had taken London by storm and now it was opening in New York. Secret Service agents were thick around the large Lincoln Center complex.

Limos bearing the Presidential Seal pulled up and the Secret Service moved quickly to open the doors. The lead limo held the President, First Gentleman, and Dr. Kent. The second limo carried Philip and his date, Franklin Richards, along with Hamilton and his date, Amber Thompson. Ben and Wes were also in the car, but neither decided to subject a friend to the ‘horrors’ of a night at the opera.

Cameras flashed by the dozens as they made their way towards the entrance. Ben smiled and waved at the cameras, giving all the Society pages fresh photos to update their Most Eligible Bachelor files with. Wes elbowed his brother in the ribs causing him to lose the smile for a moment. “What was that for?” Ben demanded.

“You’re not the World’s Most Eligible Bachelor!” Wes hissed. “You may think that that, but I’m the blond in the family and that makes me the most desirable one.”

Ben’s face opened in shock and then a small feral grin crossed his handsome features. “You’re so full of shit, Wes! You don’t want the burden of being Most Eligible; it doesn’t fit with your artistic persona.”

“ENOUGH!” barked Philip is a whispered yell. “Pop is going to kill you if you don’t stop acting like children! This is a Society function and you will behave!”

The younger twins got quiet and continued to wave for the Press. The President stopped and gathered his family around him for a quick Photo Op. It wasn’t lost on several reporters that Franklin Richards was allowed in the picture, but that Miss Thompson wasn’t.

Making their way inside, Lex paused to greet a number of well wishers and supporters as he headed for the box suite. Clark ducked into the box to avoid any small talk with people that annoyed him. Whitney played his role and waited for Lex to finish schmoozing.

Wes was flipping through the program taking in the gift left for him by the opera company. “This is the most complex music I’ve ever seen. I’ve no idea how they can play this and with a hidden choir as well.”

Franklin leaned across Philip to look at Wes’ goodie bag. “Man, someone really likes you; a signed music book as well as a signed photographic essay about the creation of this production, lucky dog.”

Ben rolled his eyes. “Someone is sucking up to the Second Most Eligible Bachelor in the country.”

“That would be you, Don Juan,” Hamilton interjected. “I’m number one until I’m engaged.” He shot a weak smile at Amber. “Don’t get your hopes up yet, this is our second date.”

She gave him the finger and turned to talk to Franklin.


Whitney moved around the assembled delegation and smiled as those members of the Society of Justice drifted into the room reserved for this meeting.

“It is still dangerous for us to meet openly,” Diana Prince announced as the doors closed. “UN Security still doesn’t know who was following me, but it is best if we continued to meet clandestinely.”

“We’re looking into it as well, Diana,” Lady Elizabeth Braddock answered. “However, this group’s resources aren’t completely pooled in a way to make such inquires openly.”

“I have Sean Cassidy of X-Corp examining security arrangements around New York, Ms. Prince. However, New York is a cesspool of intrigue under normal circumstances and these times are anything but normal,” intoned Charles Xavier. “The Mutant Research Institute has been forced to increase security twice over the last four months. Events are such that this may remain the case for some time.”

Oliver Queen cleared his throat. “The Friends of Humanity remain a threat that can’t be underestimated. The losses in the election have only given them an excuse to push violence as an ends to their means.”

“And then there is SHIELD,” Bruce said as he moved toward the center of the room. “Given the debacle in Los Angeles and their mandate, they will move to either scapegoat someone or something with more dire consequences.”

“We must focus on the events of Los Angeles and make sure that anti-mutant activism suffers as a result of those actions,” Betsy added. “It’s a rare opportunity to push the issue.”

“Someone died,” Whitney said flatly. “However we can tie the Reavers to the Friends and that opens up a whole new range of issues.”

“Indeed,” Bruce noted.

“They are a threat to global security,” Warren Worthington said as he shifted against a wall. “We have to confront them head on.”

“Yes, but how?” asked Diana. “Our knowledge of the inner workings of the Friends is limited. We need to infiltrate them in order for any operation to be effective.”

Charles Xavier nodded. “We must have a clear course of action and the President of the United States must not know about this.”

Agreement came from all corners of the room. Whitney nodded. “Then I will step out and return to the party. If I need to know something I trust I will be informed?”

Betsy smiled, “Of course you will.”

As Whitney stepped out Bruce nodded to Tony Stark. Tony shook his head. “Betsy has a point when it comes to pooling our resources. X-Corp was a good start, but it doesn’t go far enough for all the Society’s needs. Studying the Friends is a primary point. We have no way to coordinate such activities and make sure we know about them.”

Charles cleared his throat. “Perhaps X-Corp can be of further help. We’ve developed the Mutant Underground as a way to rescue teens from dangerous places. The protocols are in place to get many places in a short amount of time and I don’t see why we couldn’t us them to get people into needed areas.”

Oliver frowned. “While I appreciate the offer, the Underground is there for rescue operations. I don’t think we should jeopardize that mission by using it as a spy network.”

“If it comes to the Underground being our only option then we have to use it,” Warren argued. “We may not like it, but we have to place all options on the table.”

Bruce, Tony, and Diana shared a quick look and all nodded in agreement. Charles tapped a panel on his wheelchair. “In the meantime we must communicate more effectively and optimize our resources.”

“We need to use X-Corp in a way that is easy, but secure for us,” Bruce noted.

“I’ll come up with something,” Oliver replied. “Give me two weeks.”


The thundering chorus was concluding and Wes leapt out of his chair to lead an equally thundering applause. “That was simply magnificent. Everyone should see this opera.”

“I’ll admit that I’m impressed,” Ben said as he stood up to add his applause to the rest of the audience’s.

Franklin draped an arm across Philip’s shoulders and gave him a kiss on the cheek. It was the most open sign of affection either one of them had displayed that evening. “Thanks for the invitation. I hope to see more of you once you’re at Harvard.”

Clark cleared his throat. “You can spend more time together if his grades don’t suffer. He’s there to learn, not play...” He paused for a second and shook his head. “He’s there to learn.”

Philip’s eyes lit up and he winked at Franklin. “I’m up for all kinds of learning experiences.”

Clark turned and walked away muttering, “I did not just hear that.”

Washington

The Vice President stared out of his house at the Naval Observatory and tapped the side of the window to a beat only he knew. The meeting he’d arranged was one long in coming, but nerves still jangled in his stomach. ‘Loyalty is something earned and he’s earned none.

William McKenna, former two term governor of Florida, and current Vice President turned to greet the man who walked into the private study. Frank Craft was a man of mystery and power. His Consortium had held significant sway over American political affairs for decades culminating in Winston Rockefeller Trask’s Presidency. Now he was the key is gaining relevance for William McKenna.

The door opened and Frank Craft was ushered inside. McKenna nodded and motioned to a sofa and took the chair opposite it. “Thank you for coming on such short notice.”

“My pleasure Mr. Vice President. How may I be of service?”

“Is your offer still on the table? These first few months in office have been an eye-opening experience and I don’t like what I see.”

Craft nodded sagely. “I understand and the offer is still on the table. Many of the policy initiatives have been given to key Cabinet Secretaries and not your office. I’ve heard that Luthor wanted to chair National Science Foundation meetings instead of letting that remain in your portfolio.”

McKenna scowled and then shrugged. “Vandeaver talked him out of it considering how stretched our dear president is at the moment.”

“A wise move on his part. Luthor seems the type that would succumb to overreach at an early stage, he’s lucky that Vandeaver is such a pro.” Craft looked down at his hands and then at McKenna. “I am not comfortable telling you everything at this point, but you’re in. Make arrangements to come to my West Virginia home in two weeks. Dinner will be at six and you can meet several of my associates. I promise that this will be educational.”

McKenna nodded. “I think I can arrange for dinner in two weeks.”

North Atlantic

Hovering several thousand feet above the ocean and a few hundred miles off the coast of Newfoundland; the air carrier Luxor hosted the commanders and civilian directors of SHIELD.

Henry Gyrich sat at the head of the conference table. Every member was flipping through the thick binder that held a long awaited report. He cleared his throat. “I trust everyone has had some time to look through this assessment?”

“How were these conclusions reached, Gyrich?” demanded General Hardcastle.

“To be honest, we used a variety of movie studios and game developers because of their ability to generate a variety of scenarios for their games and movies. We farmed out different aspects of the project and we pulled it all together in-house.”

Amanda Waller sat back in her chair and shook her head slowly. “How much credence do you assign to this?”

Dr. John Denning cleared his throat and started speaking before Gyrich had the chance. “Credence is not what we should be thinking about Amanda. This document is a blueprint for SHIELD to follow.”

“What this document says, Dr. Denning is that SHIELD cannot win a war with the superhumans and mutants simultaneously! We are in a no win situation.” Waller sat back and scowled at the national security expert.

Retired General Sam Thames tapped the table and smiled at Waller. “If you read the deeper subtext of this document then you see there is a way to prevail if war was to come.”

“Thank you, Sam; I was going to get to that before we had histrionics.” Gyrich stood up and went to a monitor and pointed. “The report that you are reading does offer a few sobering conclusions, but nothing that we didn’t already have in the back of our minds.

“If SHIELD was to go to war with the mutants and the Ultimates followed orders then SHIELD prevails after a long struggle. Therein lays the conundrum. As Dr. Trask mentioned back in November, scenarios where the Ultimates do revolt are not in SHIELD’s favor. We undertook the arduous task of modeling what happened if the full contingent of Ultimates rebelled.”

On the screens around the room came up several animated battle sequences all featuring different superheroes. Gyrich pointed to one that showed Superman. “The hardest to define in these simulations was Superman. The upper limits and source of his abilities is unknown. We’ve extrapolated that the source of his power is that armor and it links to possible mutant abilities. Pure guess work, but drawn from inferences over the past several years of seeing him in action.”

Waller pointed to a monitor with Thor and the Hulk. “What do we do about the Ultimates?”

“I was coming to that, Amanda,” Gyrich chided. “In every scenario, but one SHIELD lost. The only one that allowed for victory was the one where SHIELD used a total First Strike option.” He let that sink in for a moment before continuing. “What I mean by ‘total’ is a surprise that takes out the Ultimates and moves the Sentinels into major American cities within hours.”

Everyone in the room sat back as scenarios continued to play on the various monitors. Gen. Ross spoke up first. “Achieving this is politically unviable. President Luthor would trust the Ultimates before he would trust us.”

Gyrich nodded. “Very true and unfortunate, but the safety of the nation is more important than a president’s wishes.”

“We walk a fine line here, Henry,” warned Denning. “What you are saying can be viewed as treason.”

Waller cleared her throat and pointed at the monitors. “We are under siege now by forces we can’t control or hope to win against! Look at this report! Project Wide-Awake, our seven special brigades, and our own military units can’t be deployed fast enough to offset the full scale rebellion of the mutant and meta-human population. If the Ultimates and other superheroes should join that rebellion then SHIELD falls that much sooner!”

“We begin with Intelligence that knows where the Ultimates are at all times,” Gen. Kincaid said quietly. “It must be a surgical strike and it has to be fast. If we miss then the Ultimates are against us and even with our forces where we need them we could lose.”

“Gentlemen and lady, this report is a blueprint, but it needs details and real operational pieces to make it work. We may never need it, but we have it if it all comes down to it. You have two months to pull together everything into a functional plan. Everything depends on this – everything.”

June 17
Smallville

Hamilton was deeply engrossed reading lines of code. The Information Technology staff was designing new defenses for the House computer systems, and Hamilton was assisting.

The attack three months ago still preyed on Hamilton’s mind. ‘How did they know where to attack us and how did they randomize the points so quickly? I know there was a mind on the other end, I felt it.’

Proving it, however, was proving virtually impossible, and that bothered his scientific mind to no end. The logistician in him knew that everything could be quantified and explained, and yet he’d seen things that seemed inexplicable. His own life, for example… He was one of four children whose DNA was the product of a sexual union between an alien father from a long-dead planet, a billionaire father who was now the President of the United States, and a third father who was more or less ordinary – if handsome, brilliant, athletic empaths could be considered ordinary.

Inexplicable? Not according to The Keeper, but it was improbable at the least. And yet it was fact.

It was also fact — in Hamilton’s mind, at least – that despite any evidence to the contrary, his own kidnapping included, his family was invincible. They had advanced technology and powers that could only be described as supra, but the attack on their technology, the very foundation of his family’s superiority and wealth, bothered Hamilton. No, not bothered. That was too mild a word. It challenged the very core of his belief in himself and his family. It drove him to find out how the unsuccessful attack was engineered, to reveal the mind behind that attack.

'They… it…he had one chance to take us down. He won’t get another one.

His mind was deep inside the code when Philip sat down next to him and opened the book he’d been engrossed in for the last two days. Philip was immersing himself in the life of Alexander the Great, and Hamilton wondered if Franklin was beginning to get the feeling he was being groomed for the role of Hephaistion. There was no question that Philip was looking for ways to trump Alexander’s achievements in conquering the world before he was twenty-one. Grandpa Lionel often told us that Papa thought he was Alexander, but he’s one generation too soon. Philip is going to make history.

The brothers sat in companionable silence; each absorbed in his own pursuits, and yet somehow connected. Hamilton didn’t miss a line of code when his thoughts reached out to his brother. “What do you think is going to happen, Philip?”

Philip put down his book and frowned. “Newton’s First Law extends well beyond the realm of physics, Hamilton -- for every action there is an equal and opposite reaction. Look at politics or markets and you can see causality in them. Our family has a great deal of power and influence over, not just this nation, but the world. Yet it is that very power that has engendered a considerable amount of fear directed at the heart of this family.” He paused and stared at his twin and dropped his voice. “I honestly don’t know what is going to happen, Hamilton, and it’s impossible to plan strategies when there are too many unknown variables.”

Hamilton nodded. “I think we need to start thinking about the worst that could happen and plan accordingly.”

Philip nodded. “I’ve been thinking along those lines myself. And since no plan survives the first engagement, our contingencies must be flexible.”

Hamilton’s nerves settled a bit. He was good at pulling apart complexities, and Philip was pure strategic genius, like his hero, Alexander. He smiled and felt it. “So when do we start?”

“We just did,” answered Philip with a smile.

June 22
Brussels

‘Diplomatic Immunity has its advantages,’ Bruce Wayne chuckled to himself as the limo whisked him straight to the United States Embassy in Brussels. The G-8 finance ministers were meeting and then the NATO finance ministers were slated to have a rare meeting to discuss Aid packages in light of war in Central Asia and the Balkans.

“I’m not sure I want to thank you for making me tag along yet, Bruce,” muttered Dick Grayson. “I could be down in Costa Rica having a great time.”

“We all have to do things that are required of us and this is one of yours. In fact after dinner I believe that you are heading to Moscow to meet with some friends from school?”

“By friends you mean classmates from a class you forced me to take on comparative cultures, then the answer is yes.” Dick tugged on his tie and looked up at Bruce. “Though the chance to get away from you for three days is nice.”

Bruce walked to his waiting limo and waved at the assembled press. He was one of the wealthiest persons on the planet and had made the cover of several magazines dubbing him the ‘Sexiest Man Alive” though his personal favorite was the title of a Forbes cover declaring him “Man of Mystery.” As Treasury Secretary he was the nation’s finance minister and the chief architect of financial policy. Lex Luthor trusted him to move the nation’s finances in the right direction.

The NATO ministers were meeting to discuss how to rebuild the ravaged areas of Bulgaria and Romania. The heavy debt burden the United States was carrying wasn’t going to allow much flexibility to help, Bruce had already managed to cut two hundred billion from the proposed budget over the next three years without changing tax policy. ‘The American people aren’t going to like what they see next year, but there is no room at the inn for everyone anymore.

As the landscape whizzed by he listened discreetly while Dick talked to Elsa on the phone. He was of two minds about how close they were, but refused to voice any of his thoughts. ‘Dick will have to deal with the consequences of whatever he chooses. Though I can’t blame him for being interested because Elsa has grown into a lovely young woman, but she is very young still.

He turned his mind back to other problems. ‘The Friends of Humanity are too organized and funded to take lightly. The events in Los Angeles showed us just how organized they are. However, the group used in Los Angeles had weaponry remarkably similar to that used in Kazakhstan. Far more is going on than is apparent and yet I am now bound to this job.’ He smiled and glanced at Dick. ‘However, he isn’t fettered to a job and he’ll have to be my eyes and ears when I am as limited as I am now.

South Africa

Major Brett Black pulled his jacket tighter as the cold winds swept across the plain. His team was on the ground looking for signs of the Brotherhood and the open plain held the highest concentration of radiation that was associated with Exodus. No one knew SHIELD was in the area. Instead Black’s team was disguised as an archeological field team from Duke University.

Two teams composed of six soldiers each fanned out and began using equipment disguised for the supposed academic purpose. However, their ground penetrating radar was far more sophisticated than anyone would suspect.

Major Black walked in a slow circle and tried to line up GPS coordinates that an aerial survey had figured was a good place to look for Exodus. So far nothing was leading to any clues.

“Sir!” called a Lieutenant as he ran up to the Major. “We found…something that looks like a possible lead.”

Black followed his soldier to a small gully that drained the plain when it rained. His Geiger counter registered a brief spike before settling down again to nominal levels. He checked the levels again and found that there was no spike. “What is going on?”

The Lieutenant pointed down and handed Black a printout. “There’s something down there and it isn’t part of the normal rock type. Whatever is down there is weird.”

“Thanks, Jason. I’ll call Duke and report these findings. We’ll need a bigger field expedition if we are going to dig that deep.” Black walked away and quickly keyed in a signal for a Priority transmission to SHIELD Headquarters. South Africa was about to get invaded.

June 23
Moscow

Dick scowled as he adjusted his night vision goggles. He was Bruce’s protégé in more than one way. He learned of Bruce’s alter ego about three years ago and demanded that his surrogate father train him. After two grueling years, he was able to go out on his first patrol and he did well. He’d gone out instead of the Batman who was busy leading his alter-ego life. Now, Dick Grayson had an alter ego as well, Nightwing.

His boss had him out in Moscow looking for specific information and he could get it in his Nightwing persona. Batman was stuck in Brussels for now with the Finance Ministers meeting. Dick peered towards the Russian Intelligence Service building and did a quick infrared scan. It was late and the group of students he was touring with was already ‘asleep’ in the hotel. Dick wasn’t due to arrive until the morning and had a limited amount of time to find what he needed.

A quick swing across the buildings and he landed on the roof of the Intelligence Services Building. An electronics scan quickly gave him what type of systems he was up against. Two quick flicks of his wrist sent small micro-transmitters to opposite corners of the roof. He keyed in a few codes and soon those signals were being fed a loop of repeating signals instead of new input. Dick smiled as he jimmied the lock and walked down the darkened stairwell.

‘Where are the cameras?’ He scanned the area visually and electronically and found a video sensor at the bottom of the landing. ‘Idiots! They expect people to try to go to the roof, but not come in from the roof.’ Another wrist flick and the video input was set to ignore Dick as he entered the top floor.

It was late, but that didn’t mean someone might come back to work for a strange reason. He moved quickly and quietly. Long training with Bruce told him to expect the unexpected. A terminal with the information he required was on this floor and only behind a single locked door. The schematics that he’d been given by Bruce had to be accurate otherwise Bruce wouldn’t have given them to him. Dick found the door and quickly picked the deadbolt and doorknob.

The computer terminal was against the wall and Dick stopped before he walked into the room. A small aerosol canister reveled infra red lights along the baseboards. ‘Damned!’ With a quick leap and a tuck he landed on the desk and didn’t knock anything onto the floor. ‘That was close.’

A few seconds later he was accessing the computer and pulling all the file directories and remote IP addresses. Bruce wanted a way to remote access the system. Dick pulled the files he needed and installed the virus Bruce wanted in the system.

It took a few moments and a bit of luck, but Dick made it back on the roof and left with his mission accomplished. ‘Now I can get some sleep. Can’t wait for the tour of St. Basil’s tomorrow.

June 26
South Africa

Air Carrier Luxor was hovering off the coast of South Africa and receiving remote telemetry from the field units on the Highvald Plain. General Isling was waiting for a high speed low level pass from the three Talon stealth aircraft. Their instrumentation was far superior to the field teams and would give a 4-D composite of the area in question.

“Thirty seconds, General, before sensor sweep.”

Isling ignored the technician and stared at the monitors. The three craft were almost invisible to the naked eye as they swept down across the target zone. The field team was dealing with all the dust the Talons kicked up, but that was the lone mark that they had been there. Isling watched a new monitor as the data was transmitted and reassembled on the Luxor.

“Sir, we have it. Feeding it to your station now.”

Isling’s mouth dropped open as he saw a series of null areas in the rock strata. There was no way to tell what was actually there except that it was unnatural. “I want a full detailed map of this entire plateau! Something is down there and I need to know what it is! I don’t care if we have to dig up all of South Africa, I want to know what these areas are!”

June 28
New York

Chloe Sullivan was multitasking as she usually did when she was working on an article. She was a serious investigative journalist and had heard rumors that she was up for a few awards. Her connections didn’t hurt much either. Currently she was on a conference call with an editor and publisher about her book on travelling the world and always getting into trouble.

“No, the Kazakhstan experiences need to have more than one chapter since that really plays into current events as well. Hold a sec.” Chloe paused as she clicked her PDA to see a new email message that came through with a high importance flag.

She scrolled through the message and started to reply when she noticed a guy staring at her from the corner of the intersection. Manhattan was busy and full of people on the street so she paid no attention to the man’s looks.

“I’m back. No we need to make sure that Vicky Vale’s photos can be included because the two of us did all that work together and words needed the images to make the impact they did!” She kept walking and was about to hail a cab when she saw that man out of the corner of her eye again. She frowned, but moved too late when she noticed him reach for her purse. A knock to the head sent her sprawling and she lost consciousness.

West Virginia

The vice president climbed out of his limo and walked up the steps to an old plantation style house. This was a well known retreat in Washington; spending an evening here wasn’t going to raise any eyebrows. The doors were opened by a tuxedoed staff member and McKenna followed him into a Parlor for drinks.

Frank Craft shook the vice president’s hand and walked him around the room. “Sir, you know Pete Ross already. This is retired General Sam Thames. This is Dr. Taylor King, of Hadden Industries; Porter Fields, of Goldman Sachs; Shea Hildebrandt, of Walter, Carver, and Litsch; and last but not least, Henry Gyrich, of SHIELD.”

McKenna shook each of their hands and when he got to Gyrich he smiled. “So, you are a member of this group?”

“I have worked with Mr. Craft for a number of years. He was introduced to me by President Trask.” Gyrich smiled. “You should know that this is not all the executive membership. These are the people that are allowed to be visible, ‘at the club’ so to speak.”

“Of course, every organization must have secrets. I assume the only one who knows all of yours is Mr. Craft,” countered McKenna smoothly.

“Actually, Mr. Vice President, I know most everything, but not quite all. There are some operational secrets that even I do not know and can’t for safety’s sake. This organization was founded in the aftermath of World War II to safeguard the United States and it has done so for seventy years. Its roots are deep and strong.”

McKenna nodded and was soon immersed in conversation with several members. When dinner was announced, they made their way into the ornate dining room, where McKenna was treated as the guest of honor. Gyrich cleared his throat after the first course was removed. “Mr. Vice President, if I may be so bold, what do you think of our President?”

A pause hung in the air for a full minute before the Vice President responded. “I find him fascinating as an individual. Lex Luthor is dynamic, charismatic, and brilliant, but a true leader he isn’t. His vision of the future is one of strife and conflict. His dealing with the mutant situation has inflamed the population and we could be heading towards a conflict without resolution.”

Gen Thames spoke up for the first time. “Do you think he’s up to the job of president? Can he make the calls that need to be made?”

“No, he’s a bit sentimental about some things. He’s wedded to the Mutant issue far too much. He sees registration as an all or nothing concept. He doesn’t understand how beneficial it would be for a significant portion of the population to know that the Mutants were cooperating.” McKenna shrugged and leaned back in his chair. “I think he’s blind to the dangers confronting the nation. I mean, he has a handle on a lot of the fiscal stuff, but the real pulse of the nation – he doesn’t get that.”

Frank Craft nodded and hid a smile behind his napkin as he pretended to wipe his mouth. “I think we do understand each other very well, sir.”

New York

Bobby Drake ran into the lobby of Incarnate Word Hospital and searched for the way to get to the Emergency area. Making a beeline for the reception desk he panted, “I’m here for Chloe Sullivan?”

The nurse looked up and quickly typed in the name. “And you are?”

“I’m Bobby Drake,” he huffed out.

“Mr. Drake, if you’ll wait a moment, a nurse will take you back to room 14.” The nurse turned away and went back to paper work.

Bobby moved over a few feet and waited for what felt like an eternity for a nurse to grab him. He was ushered through a maze of gurneys, corridors, and rushing doctors. He found the place and sighed with relief when he saw Chloe awake, if bandaged. “Hi.”

Chloe offered a soft smile and winced when she did. There was a large gauze pad above her left eye and one arm was in a cast. “Hi, yourself.” She tried to stand up, but leaned back in bed. “A little help here!”

“Should you be getting out of bed?” Bobby asked with some trepidation. He knew that she was stubborn and didn’t want her moving unless it was authorized.

“She’s to be released,” said a nurse as she walked in. Under her breath she muttered, “and not a moment too soon.”

Bobby chuckled and helped Chloe get dressed. “What happened?”

“I was mugged. I think.”

“You think? You’re not certain?”

“Well, the police think it was a mugging, but I’m not so sure.”

“Why not?”

“What self-respecting mugger leaves a purse full of cash and only takes a Palm 99?”

“He took your cell phone?”

“With all my datafiles.”

Metropolis

The apartment building had been new a decade ago and Jimmy would never have been able to afford it then, but now it was a run-of-the-mill complex. Deep in thought about the exhibition of his photos that were going on display at a local art gallery, he stepped off the elevator and shifted his camera bag to the other shoulder. The exhibition was a real feather in his cap, but any excitement or satisfaction he might have felt was muted by the fact that he had no one to share it with. Since his demotion at the Planet he was something of a pariah, and he hadn’t had a relationship since he’d broken up with Justin two and a half years ago. Rather than making him happy, the Gallery showing was bringing home just how deeply he’d cut himself off from everyone and everything.

Absentmindedly, he came to his front door and as he touched the key to the lock, the door swung open.

Cautiously, he stepped inside, his gaze scanning from right to left. Nothing was out of place, but his heart was racing from the gush of adrenalin that had flooded his veins. Phone in hand, he dashed into his office and found the room had been ransacked. His first flush of relief that his computer was still in tact and obviously functioning was followed quickly by the realization that he hadn’t left it on when he’d gone to work this morning. Someone had turned it on, and it didn’t take long for Jimmy to come to the realization that his entire hard drive had been copied.

But why?


Justin Daniels walked up to the door with his heart in his throat. He still felt horrible for all the fallout Jimmy had taken after their relationship had become public, but he’d done as Jimmy had asked and stayed away.

That’s why the frantic phone call he’d received 30 minutes ago had been so alarming; Justin knew that Jimmy would not have called if it hadn’t been vital.

His knuckles barely touched the door when it flew open. Justin’s drew a quick, involuntary breath at the sight of his former lover. “Hi.”

“Thank God you came!” Jimmy pulled Justin into a hug and then backed off. “I didn’t know who to call. Someone broke in and copied my computer files. They trashed my office, but as far as I can tell, nothing is missing.”

Justin ignored the stirrings of his body and called up every scrap of professionalism he could muster. “Are you working on a story that might—“

“No,” Jimmy cut him off as he led the way into his office. “I haven’t had a decent assignment since… Well, not for a long time, let’s say. I can’t imagine what anyone could have been looking for unless they were on a fishing expedition because of, you know…”

“You’re connection to me and House Luthor,” Justin finished the sentence for him when it trailed off.

Jimmy nodded. “That’s why I thought I should call you.”

Justin examined the room and then pulled out his Pocket PC. He connected it to Jimmy’s computer, then phoned House tech support and explained what he wanted.

“Standby, Mr. Daniels: we have you online and are accessing Mr. Olsen’s computer.” There was a long pause, and Justin tried hard not to fidget in the uncomfortable silence. Jimmy apparently found the silence unnerving, too, because he stepped out of the room.

Justin was more disappointed than relieved. It seemed an eternity before the tech finally came back on the line and told him, “The full registry was copied, including a number of files relating to the House, but the data is old and known. Security threat is deemed minimal. We are installing trace software into his system and are going to upload matching to several known ISPs for possible leads into who did this. Leave your PC connected—we’ll call you back as soon as we’re done. Ten minutes, tops.” The line went dead.

Ten minutes. He wasn’t going to hide out in the office. He stepped into the living room and found Jimmy coming out of the efficiency kitchen with two mugs that Justin knew would be filled with Earl Gray tea.

“Thanks.” Justin smiled, relaxing a little. Jimmy couldn’t hate him too much if he was willing to be this hospitable. He explained what he’d learned from the House back-trace and what was happening now. “I’m sorry if this break-in had anything to do with the House. How are things going…besides the breaking-and-entering, I mean?”

Jimmy shrugged. “I have a gallery showing at The Loop in a few days. A few of the pictures are already pre-sold.”

“That’s great! You deserve the success.” Justin plopped down on the couch and Jimmy perched cautiously a few feet away. Justin took it as another good sign when Jimmy sat, too, choosing the sofa instead of one chairs a safer distance away. “Are you… is there any one in your life?” Justin asked, trying to sound nonchalant.

Jimmy looked away and shrugged. “Life has been a roller coaster for the last few years.” He paused before sighing loudly. “No, there is no one in my life since you. No one measures up.”

With a quick move, Justin pulled Jimmy into a tight hug and kissed his cheek. “I’m sorry that I made a mess of your life. I would undo all of it if I could.”

Jimmy tightened the hug and then pulled out of the embrace. “Not your fault, not all of it. I wish I could go back and unsay things I said, but…”

“Time heals some wounds Jim,” Justin carded a few fingers through Jimmy’s messy hair. “I still love you.”

Melting into the unexpected closeness, Jimmy placed his head on Justin’s shoulder. “I never stopped loving you.” He pulled Justin closer and kissed him deeply. “I’m sorry.”

Justin smiled and kissed him again. “Apology accepted.”

June 29
Metropolis

Perry White felt the change in the air of the press room before he saw anything, but then they came into view and he silently cursed. He knew the two people walking his way and wondered what happened to warrant a visit from the Luthor family lawyers.

Jackson King and Kelly Ling smiled as they made their way to the office of the Editor-in-Chief. Jack opened the door and Kelly went in first. She offered her hand, “Good morning, Mr. White. I’m Kelly Ling and this is Jack King…”

“I know who you are,” Perry said as he cut her off. “What brings you here today?”

“This is more of a social visit than anything else, Mr. White,” responded Jack trying to keep the atmosphere light. “One of your employees was vandalized last night and we were concerned.”

Perry leaned forward. “Vandalized? Who?”

“Jimmy Olsen.” Kelly sat down without being offered a chair. “A person or persons unknown broke into his apartment, trashed his office as though searching for something, and made a copy of his computer hard drive.”

Perry didn’t like being blind-sided like this, but considering how low on the totem pole Olsen had fallen, he wasn’t surprised that the kid hadn’t come running to him with the news of a break in. But that begged the question… “How the hell could House Luthor know this before the Daily Planet?”

“Since the purpose of the raid seemed to be information and Olsen isn’t currently working on anything of a sensitive nature, he called Justin Daniels.”

Perry’s frown turned to a deep scowl. “Olsen and Daniels—“

“Severed their relationship after it came out that the Planet had sent Olsen to Smallville to spy on the Luthor family,” Jack said mildly.

Perry ignored the implication that he had pimped out the young reporter. “Any information Olsen had in his computer had to be ancient history – notes and photos from a story that was published years ago.”

“Quite true,” Kelly confirmed.

“Then what are you really doing here? Why does the theft of some worthless information warrant a visit by two of Luthor’s biggest guns?”

“Another associate of our House was attacked last night in New York and as with Olsen, the purpose appears to be the collection of information about House Luthor. The similarity has raised internal alarms.” Jack sighed and shrugged. “We don’t know what’s happening and that’s an admission we don’t like to make. However, we wanted you to know that we’re on guard now.”

“Is that a threat?” Perry demanded.

“Why would it be Mr. White?” Kelly countered.

“It sounds as though you’re insinuating the Daily Planet had something to do with these thefts.”

“Not at all,” Kelly said calmly. “But you do have a reporter who has built a career on her obsession with the Luthor family. You might want to warn her that someone is targeting media figures with a connection to the House.”

“How magnanimous of you.”

Kelly treated the sarcasm as a genuine compliment. “Think nothing of it.” She stood and nodded to Jack. “We will be in touch if we find out more information, Mr. White. Have a good day.”

Neither of the two lawyers spoke until they were out of the building. Jack hit a number on his phone and got Enrique de Santos. “We’ve planted the bait and now we’ll see if we can find an ant trail.”

June 30
Sydney

Aerial reconnaissance photos of a small chain of Greek Islands were strewn across Damien’s desk. Several photos were of the coastline taken from fishing trawlers. Damien needed this heist to go off perfectly and to plant the seeds of destruction inside House Luthor.

Victoria moved a few photos around but said nothing as Damien stared at enlargements of detailed satellite images. A few minutes passed and Victoria cleared her throat. “What are the chances that this succeeds, Damien?”

His eyes darted from the maps to his wife in a brief flicker and then back to the map. “Planning must be precise, but we know that this is where Katlan Anderson wants to honeymoon. We already see the additional personnel arriving and with those clues can map out a brilliant plan to take Lionel Luthor down.”

“Your son is antsy for the master plan to be placed in motion, Damien. You’ve raised him to believe in his own destiny and he wants it as all five-year-olds want something.”

Damien looked up and scowled. “He isn’t five, Victoria. He’s a true teenager and ready to claim his rightful place. The beginning is here,” he pointed to the map. “The trap is being set. And once the exchange is made, we can penetrate their defenses and take everything. Their empire will be ours.”

South Africa

Several oil exploration companies were setting up shop on the Highvald Plain. SHIELD had leaked the findings of its aerial mission to a few analysts and the result was a wildcat exploration that the South African government was only too happy to exploit for its own profit.

Lt. Col Jamison Brand was dressed like other people on the crew of Royal Dutch Shell contingent that was examining places to drill. The government had allocated sites for exploration based on ‘contributions’ to the Ministry of Interior, which controlled all natural resources in South Africa. Thanks to SHIELD, Brand’s group was going to explore the null area that was the largest. In all SHIELD has getting several corporations to fund this wild goose chase and no one would be the wiser.

The readings on the sonar systems used by the companies showed the null areas to be possible large deposits of oil or natural gas, but SHIELD knew better. ‘All we need to know is what is down there. If it is a hiding place for the Brotherhood, so much the better.’

New York

Bruce Wayne sat down at the posh restaurant, Dulorn, with Emma Frost, Betsy Braddock, and Oliver Queen. They were soon joined by Warren Worthington and Diana Prince.

“Meeting in so obvious a spot is sure to raise suspicions. I’m not sure this is a good idea,” intoned Bruce. “We know that SHIELD suspects something about us.”

“Which is exactly why we should adopt a ‘Hide in Plain Sight’ strategy,” countered Oliver. “We’ve been doing this all wrong. We’re all major figures in the East Coast social circuit – we see each other at events and are known to be friends. Not being seen in public is much more suspicious than an occasional lunch among casual acquaintances.”

Diana smiled. “I like it. Deception works sometimes, but open deception is much better. Not only that, but our enemies will be confused by our change in tactics.”

Warren shrugged and then nodded. “I’ll go along with this to a point. However, I do want it noted that we take our fate in our own hands by doing this. Charles and Jean aren’t so sure this is wise.”

“Wisdom is in the eye of the beholder, Warren,” said Tony Stark as he and Janet Van Dyne joined the exclusive group. “Besides Charles is used to hiding in the shadows and for good reason. We, however, aren’t required to do so any longer. We won and there’s no need to skulk around like misbehaving children.”

“I agree,” Betsy chimed in. “It’s refreshing to actually enjoy our get-togethers. Not that mansions and amazing lofts aren’t nice, but New York dining is so much fun,” commented Betsy. “Though how is the Society doing to meet our goals?”

“We’re working closely with X-Corp to establish the mutant underground and the Mutant Policy Institute to make sure that there is a public arm working to lobby Congress.” Oliver smiled for a second. “However, as for the actual Society becoming public…I’m not sure that would serve our best interests.”

Bruce shook his head. “It would not serve our interests or the president’s either. The Society members can meet openly, but the organization must remain cloaked, otherwise all the conspiracy theorists will come crawling out of the woodwork.” He threw Betsy a soft smile before continuing. “Our combined wealth, industrial, and financial influence is enough to make people wary. Couple that with our ties to the White House and many people would panic. I think it would be best for the Society remain discreet.”

“I agree,” Warren stated. “But we need to make sure X-Corp is a public entity even though some of her activities will remain hidden. The underground needs to be top secret.”

Diana nodded. “We can keep parts of our activities hidden and still achieve our objectives.”

July 8
Washington, D.C.

Andre, Chris, and Alan sat down in the Security office and pulled out the final plans. Alan rubbed his forehead and sipped his fourth cup of coffee for the day. “The Phoenix is already en route to Gibraltar. Lionel, Katlan, and their entourage will meet them there and then sail to Ios, arriving three days after the wedding.” He looked at Andre. “What’s the status on the advance team?”

“The advance team is in place and has declared the island secure,” Andre announced. “They will remain in place until the Phoenix arrives and hands off security to Justin’s team. For the record, I must tell you that I am not happy with the arrangements per se. I’d rather Mr. and Mrs. Luthor stayed on the Phoenix, which is far more secure than the villa.”

“Mrs. Luthor wants to honeymoon in Greece and she shall,” Chris said flatly. “Mr. Luthor’s standard security team of nine will maintain a presence on the island, and the Phoenix will be anchored just off shore. It will be up to Justin to make adjustments in the deployments as needed.”

“Are we sure we want to give him operational control of Mr. Luthor’s security?” Andre asked. “He’s very good, but this is a huge responsibility for anyone to undertake.”

“Mr. Luthor has full confidence in Justin, and with Philip and Hamilton moving to Boston after the wedding, we’re spread thin.” Alan scrubbed a hand through his hair. “We all trained Justin. Now it’s time to trust him.”

Andre and Chris both nodded in agreement and the security review continued.


The tailor raised Ben’s right arm straight out to shoulder height and made three swift chalk marks on the tuxedo pattern. When he lowered the arm, a pin pierced his armpit and Ben yelped.

“Sorry, sir,” the tailor murmured and made a quick adjustment.

“Somebody tell me again why I have to get stuck with pins once a month? How many tuxedos does one man need, anyway?”

“It isn’t a question of quantity but quality,” Anne replied. “If you’d stop growing then this would not be an issue, Bennett.” Her gaze swept from Ben to his three siblings who were lounging in various stages of the fitting process. “Frankly, I’ll be glad when all of you stop growing, since you already tower over me.”

Wes leaned over and gave his grandmother a hug. “We’ll always be your little boys.”

“Hey, speak for yourself. Not so little,” Ben said as he flexed his biceps. “I’m all man.”

Lex entered the boys’ common room, gave Ben an affectionate shove off the measuring stool, and climbed on. “My dear son, you aren’t even close to being a man.” He winked at Wes and gave Ben a smile. “Your dad is a man, but you have a ways to go before you’re full grown.”

“Hey, I was there first, papa,” whined Ben. “Some one might think being president has gone to your head.”

“Oh, he thought he was the most important person around long before this, son,” laughed Clark as he came in and took a seat to wait his turn. “Cutting in line is something he’s always excelled at.”

“Presidents don’t wait in line,” Lex informed them pleasantly. “Haven’t you seen my motorcade? They close highways down for me.”

Forgetting about the pins, Ben made a big production of yawning as he tossed his lanky frame into a chair next to Clark. “Holy Porcupine!” he howled, and everyone in the room who wasn’t bleeding cracked up.


Whitney sat in his office in the East Wing of the White House with his closest associates and political advisors. “We need to manage this carefully. I’m having a few of Lex’s allies briefed on the finding for the launch of the national initiative.”

Alice Mitchell, one of the president’s pollsters, cleared her throat. “We have two small field polls out that include generic questions on cancer, but I think we can assume that a cure for cancer will be a huge windfall politically.”

“This isn’t about politics, Alice. Don’t anyone lose sight of that! This is about helping humanity overcome a scourge that kills millions yearly,” Whitney stated fiercely. “I know there are political calculations that have to be taken into consideration, but we want this couched in terms of health news, not political news.”

“That is a little naïve, Mr. Fordman,” said Keith Broder, another of the political pollsters. “Everything this family touches is political and has been for some time now. While this is great news and will certainly increase the president’s popularity, there will be unexpected backlash. Some will see this as a boondoggle for Minerva and others as a publicity stunt. And you can count on our political enemies in Congress doing everything in their power to slow down the FDA approval of the protocol.”

“Perception may color some views of this announcement, but the overwhelming evidence is simply too great to ignore: a huge change in human history is before us,” Whitney argued. “I want a plan in place to sell this to the American people and the world. This benefits everyone and if we have the public behind us, even our enemies won’t be able to slow this down.”

Several heads nodded and Whitney’s Chief of Staff, Yolanda Jackson, spoke up, “That may be true, but we’re not there yet. This won’t be easy and we can’t count on our friends to help, but we’ll do our best.”


“Is this really necessary?” Hamilton asked for the fourth time. “Why can’t we just have Katlan pick all the furniture for us and be done with it?”

“Because it’s our house, Hamilton, and I don’t want it reflecting tastes that aren’t young, hip, and modern,” Philip retorted.

Peter rolled his eyes and continued on with them as they entered their sixth store in search of décor for the new townhouse. “Has it ever occurred to either of you that you aren’t going to have the hip house? Most college kids decorate with whatever they can find cheaply or that serves a party function. Neither of you has to worry about that.”

Philip huffed and then replied, “While we aren’t typical college students, we do want the new place to reflect some idea of ‘us.’”

“Does this ‘us’ reflect both our House attendants and Secret Service cordon?” Hamilton quipped. “Because with both those lines of defense I don’t see us entertaining much.”

“Don’t forget you have to pick up the wedding gifts for your grandfather,” Peter interjected, hoping to divert the argument, but Philip wasn’t easily diverted.

“We can at least attempt to have a sense of style,” he countered. “And besides, we have a number of friends at Harvard and no small few at Yale who are already quite familiar with our excess baggage. I think we can count on a fairly active social life.”

Hamilton frowned. “Let’s just find some stuff and get this over with. I have enough to worry about without adding a social life to the mix.”

July 9
South Africa

Lt. Col. Jamison Brand felt the tremors before he saw the explosion at the ‘drill’ site. Flames shot out of the well hole and high into the air. He knew instantly it wasn’t a blow out of an oil well, but something far more sinister. There was no oil where they were drilling--that was merely a SHIELD ruse; instead they might have found exactly what they were looking for.

The ground shuddered again and men who had been running fell to their knees as the ground shifted in violent upheavals.

“Colonel Brand, this is Luxor, we’re registering a Magnitude 5.2 earthquake in your vicinity.”

Brand watched as several people came out of the explosion zone and the alarms began to blare across the communications network that there was a mutant detection. “We’re under attack!” was all Brand managed to say before his comm lines cut out.

In moments, three strike aircraft came streaking in from the Luxor and fired on the mutants’ position. Satellites that had been tasked for geosynchronous orbit over South Africa were recording all the telemetry for SHIELD.

Brand found shelter and watched as his few troops counter-attacked. His computer was still linked to the satellite system and he was able to see that four known members of the Brotherhood were present. Then, as suddenly as they had appeared, they were gone. He was still hooked into the network when he saw that they had a perfect reading of Exodus’ teleportation signature. Now it was only a matter of tracking where it went.

New York

“We have Exodus’ reentry point somewhere in the Sahara Desert,” announced General Kincaid.

Gyrich smiled and watched as satellites mapped out the area that had Exodus returned to. “General Isling, prepare a comprehensive recon of the area with intent to immediately hit it with a full scale assault.” He smiled at Gen. Ross. “We have them.”

“I learned a long time ago not to count my chickens until the eggs hatched. Even then, count the chickens twice.”

An aide ran up to Gyrich and handed him a printout. He smiled and pointed to one of the main screens in the room. A map of the Sahara zoomed in on an area in southern Algeria.

“Sir, the mountains in that region make it hard to pinpoint exactly where Exodus returned, but we can place him in a ten mile radius of the Ahaggar Mountains. The problem arises…”

Gyrich cut him off. “Algeria is not a SHIELD signatory, but we can work with them if they know Magneto may be hiding in their southern highlands. I’ll get clearance. You tighten the noose.”

July 10
South Africa

“Have I ever mentioned that I hate rappelling?” asked Jamison Brand of no one in particular. Several Army Rangers were already lower than him and exploring the null areas that had been detected weeks ago. The quick flight of the Brotherhood allowed Brand to explore more openly. The drilling crews were gone and now a true SHIELD outpost was above.

“Colonel, we detect no life signs,” came the report from the scouting party below.

Brand continued his decent and started unhooking the cables once his feet hit the floor. Night-vision goggles were put in place and he pulled out his M-19 with mounted light. “Report!”

“Sir, the area is abandoned, but they left in a hurry. There’s a great deal of equipment around here.”

Brand moved quickly through the cavernous halls into areas that appeared to be work labs. He stopped in a room with several computer banks. ‘I’ll bet these were Scanner’s.’ “Begin preparing all of this for transport; I want this ready in two hours.”

He stepped off a few feet and dialed in a code on his comm link. “Sir, this is Brand; we’re bringing in a haul of computers. These may have everything we want.”

July 11
Houston

The report on the latest trial showed that the Stage 4 cancer patients were in complete remission. All of them. Elated, Stephanie Fordman jotted a few notes and handed a piece of paper to her Aide-de-Camp, Russ Lind. “Send that over secure lines to Whitney. Things are ready for him to proceed.”

Doing her best to maintain a professional demeanor, she continued her rounds, checking charts twice just to reassure herself it was real. Her colleagues on the research staff seemed to be performing the same reality check.

“This is a miracle, Dr. Fordman,” one of the doctors enthused.

“Yes,” Stephanie replied, “it is. Now if we can just get it out to the public quickly. We can save so many lives with Melanivol. We just need to make it available.”

“It’s a shame it only works for Stage 3 and Stage 4 patients.”

Stephanie nodded. The treatment was too strong for smaller carcinomas. It inhibited some of the cellular replication that the body needed. “One miracle at a time, okay? We can’t prevent cancer yet, but now we can destroy it out once it has begun to be a major threat to a body. For early treatment we’ll focus on other options.”

Metropolis

From the Vulcan Energy control room, Tristan watched as the fusion reactors in North Dakota came online. “Power output levels?”

“We’ll maintain forty percent capacity this week, slowly building to ninety percent by Labor Day. We can begin selling energy on the open market by the end of the month.”

“And how long before the second reactor is up and running?” Tristan looked at his nails before turning his gaze on the engineer.

“We anticipate the second reactor will be online by Labor Day and delivering full power by Halloween, sir.”

Tristan hit a button on his phone and was quickly connected. “This is Fordman; I want our power being sold on the open market by Labor Day, and I want it discounted by twenty percent to all other sources.” He was about to drive the markets nuts and give consumers a huge boon. Most of all he was about to make a ton of money for Minerva.

July 13
Ahaggar Mountains, Algeria

Four Talon strike aircraft off the air carrier Luxor vectored their approach from the south. “This is Talon One, confirm time to target.”

“Talon One, this is JSTAR. Confirm range at five hundred nautical, ETA two minutes. Go to Stealth Mode. Raptor flights time to target, one minute.”

The heads-up display in the cockpit was designed to show any and all obstacles on the Talon approach vector. There were none. Telemetry from the JSTAR flight controllers and satellite imagery showed a clear deck, which allowed the Talons to drop to about thirty feet above ground for their approach.

From the north, three Raptor flights advanced on the target. The twelve fighter jets hit their positions and received confirmation to engage. An instant later, twenty-four missiles streaked toward their target. Large plumes of black smoke and fire filled the air.

“Talon, Raptors have softened the target; engage with bunker-buster missiles.”

The Talons accelerated and locked on the burning area. Three large ordinance missiles flew through the air and soon impacted in three different areas.

“Talon One, this is Luxor, we have seismic readings confirming impact. Return to base.”

Aerial photos of the target area showed that a mountain had collapsed as had been designed. Now a satellite was tasked to watch the area for the next few days before a ground force could check out the rubble.

July 15
White House

It was the toughest invitation in ‘Official Washington,’ harder to get than even Super Bowl tickets. The elite of the elite were gathering to witness the marriage of Lionel Luthor to Katlan Anderson in the East Wing of the White House. It was a command performance for the worlds most well connected, and the queue of limos stretched around Lafayette Park as the guests arrived for the ‘Wedding of the Century.’

Hamilton, Ben and Wes were assigned to greet the guests, but no one could possibly have mistaken the three handsome, impeccably tuxedoed brothers for ushers. “Welcome, Your Highness,” Wes said solemnly to the Prince of Wales as he entered the White House.

“Greetings, Your Excellency, Madame Navarre,” Hamilton said, nodding in turn to the United Nations Secretary General, Etienne Navarre, and his wife.

Navarre cast an eye over the three young men. “The infamous Luthor-Fordman-Kent boys,” he said in his heavily accented English. “I thought that there were four of you.”

Hamilton smiled graciously. “My brother, Philip drew the short straw,” he explained, and when Navarre frowned, he explained. “He’s in the wedding party.”

“Ah.” Navarre smiled and moved on. “I shall look forward to meeting him later, then.”

The never-ending procession continued…

Friends of the Family gathered at the Residence. Katlan and her family were staying across the street at Blair House. Most of the family guests were at the ‘Resort,’ a few minutes down the street, but a completely different world from this one.


The guests rose in unison as the organists struck up “Here Comes the Bride.” Her luminous white dress sparkling with diamonds, Katlan Anderson walked down the aisle on her uncle’s arm. The East Wing of the White House was resplendent in the wedding colors of silver and gold.

On the dais with Lex beside him as best man and Philip in a progression of six groomsmen, Lionel Luthor watched his magnificent bride stroll toward him. He really was a very lucky man, he reflected with a dignified smile – and Katlan was lucky too. They were going to have a splendid life together.

Her uncle handed Kat wordlessly to Lionel, and the couple turned to the celebrant, the Cardinal Archbishop of Washington, D. C. He began the service with a prayer, invited the congregation to be seated, and launched into the traditional ceremony.

“Dearly beloved, we are gathered here today to witness this Holy Rite of Matrimony. It is a union of love that we witness in the eyes of God and the State…”

Hymns were sung, prayers said, vows exchanged and then, “You may kiss the bride,” the cardinal said. Lionel leaned over and kissed Katlan in front of the world’s elite.


The reception was in full swing and Jason Wyngard was reveling in his invitation to this event. He was Bruce Wayne’s senior aide at Treasury, but that alone didn’t meet the requirement for an invitation to this soiree. However, the ace up his sleeve in garnering this invitation was his membership in the Hellfire Club. All those attributes combined gained him this most exclusive invitation.

“Mr. Wyngard, it’s been a long time.”

Jason whirled and managed to keep his hands at his side. Mystique was in the White House clad in her favorite ‘role’ of Raven Darkholm.

“What are you doing here?!” Jason spat. “How did you get in?”

Mystique smiled and shrugged. “Valerie Cooper wanted a friend with her and I fit that bill. I wonder how you got here though.”

“I’m a senior member of the Treasury and a valued asset to the Administration.” Jason put down his champagne flute and moved closer to the wall to keep their conversation from being overheard. “What do you want?”

“I’m stuck at SHIELD for now and my avenues for accessing information are limited. Magneto’s Brotherhood was attacked twice in Africa in the last few days. I need to know what you know.”

Jason swallowed hard. “I don’t know anything about an attack. I do know that he’s a top priority for President Luthor.”

“Any fool knows that!” Mystique looked around, then placed her had near Jason’s throat. “You have several masters Wyngard, but none is as strong as Magneto. If you value your life, you’ll find out what Luthor is planning.”

“I would think you’d know more about that since you are inside SHIELD now!” Jason countered. “Don’t contact me in public again!” He straightened his tie and smiled at her. “I will see what I can find out, though. The last thing we need is Magneto rampaging across the globe.”


Graham Miller rarely complained about being Kane Miller’s son; the advantages usually outweighed the negatives. He wasn’t quite sure which category the wedding of the century fell into, but he was here anyway, dressed in his formal Marine attire and trying to hide in plain sight. The furor over his dance with Philip Luthor had fallen off the tabloid radar map as other scandals swirled through social circles. However, in this setting he was feeling a little out of place. He’d met a number of these people before, but his father was now Secretary of State and that meant that he was related to a Very Important Person.

“You look like you could use a drink.”

Graham turned and smiled at Zach Kent. “I could, but I‘m on my best behavior here at the White House. How are you?”

“Bored out of my skull.” Zach rolled his eyes and sighed. “This is a convention for the wealthy and boring. I’d pay the band to jazz up the music, but I don’t have the cash to counter Lionel’s bankroll.” Zach motioned for Graham to follow him. “There’s no point holding up the wall when you can come over here and be bored with the rest of the hip set. Philip will be happy to see you.”

“And his boyfriend even more so,” Graham muttered as he followed.

Ben was chatting up a socialite’s daughter, but made an escape when he saw Zach. “Man can we ‘port yet because this blows.”

Peter Rasputin was less than two feet away and cleared his throat. “Your grandfather expects you to remain here until the cake is cut and the final toasts are said.”
Graham laughed at Ben’s hangdog expression. “We all have to get used to this at one time or another,” he told Ben. “However, it helps when you’re deployed elsewhere a lot.”

Ben rubbed his chin for a moment. “Hmmm… That might be worth considering… The Marines might be just the trick to getting out of this stuff, and women do love a man in a uniform.” Everyone laughed.

Philip walked over to Graham and pulled him to Peter. “Graham, this is the guy I mentioned to you. Peter Rasputin meet Graham Miller.”

Peter and Graham shook hands and smiled. “Nice to meet you,” they both said at the same time. At that moment the music stopped and Lex rose to address the assembled group.

“I beg your indulgence for a moment,” he said quietly, but it carried across the State Dining Room. “It is not very often that The White House celebrates a wedding. I believe it was the Nixon Administration that last had one and let’s pray my Administration concludes better than his.” The gathered laughed.

“I want to wish my father a great deal of happiness. Katlan is an amazing woman and I am proud to welcome her to our family. Dad, you have been an immeasurable influence on my life. May all your hopes and dreams come true.”

The guests applauded and Lex hugged his father. Lionel smiled and took a sip from his glass. “I believe that there is nothing else to do, but to cut the cake.”

A throat was cleared from behind Philip, Graham, and Peter. Philip smiled brilliantly as he turned and pulled Franklin forward. “Graham, I’d like you to meet Franklin Richards.”

Franklin’s eyes twinkled mischievously, “The infamous boyfriend finally meets the ‘other’ man.” He offered Graham his hand. “Nice to finally meet you.”

Several chuckles from that group caused Graham to smile warmly at Franklin as he too joined in the mirth. “The pleasure is all mine. You are both very lucky.”

Philip smiled and placed his arm across Franklin’s shoulders. “I like to think I am. Though if you play your cards right,” his eyes flickered towards Peter briefly, “you might be too.”

Across the room, Hamilton stepped up to one of the four champagne fountains that flowed through the room and filled two glasses.

“Aren’t you a little young?”

Hamilton glanced to his left and found Tony Stark, who seemed, as usual, just on the verge of inebriation. “I won’t tell if you won’t, sir,” Hamilton replied amiably.

“You’re Hamilton the Genius, right?”

The question surprised him. Stark had been a frequent guest at the Palace for years, but he’d never made any effort to differentiate between Hamilton and his brothers. The closest he’d gotten to actually addressing them by name was the weekend he’d called them John, Paul, George, and Ringo. “Well, I am Hamilton, sir, but technically all of us have astronomical IQs. I’m the smartest, though.”

“I thought so. Your dad tells me you’re building a robot.”

“Which one?”

Stark frowned. “Which robot?”

“Which Dad.”

He took a sip from his highball glass. “Cute, hotrod. Pick one.”

Hamilton grinned. “Probably the Prez. He’s especially proud of having spawned a Super Geek who’s experimenting in robotics.”

“Very cool,” Stark pronounced. “So, A.I.?”

“Of course.”

“Integrated?”

Hamilton shrugged. “What’s the point, otherwise?”

“Any chance I can see where you’re going?”

There was a time when a younger Hamilton would have been thrilled with prospect of sharing advanced robotics theory with the billionaire genius, but Hamilton was long past the theoretical stage. Still, this was Ironman.

“Sure,” Hamilton told him. “Next time you’re at the house...”

“I’ll look forward to it, Ringo,” Stark said with a grin and ambled off.

Philip appeared at Hamilton’s side. “Did I hear Ironman ask to see your robots?”
Hamilton nodded. “Yep.”

Philip raised one dark eyebrow. “And you agreed to show him?”

Another nod. “Yep.” Hamilton paused. “But I didn’t say which bots I’d show him. Remember R2DToot?”

Philip laughed. “The little squat bot that farted every time it moved?”

Hamilton grinned. “Think Stark will be impressed?”

July 16
Kiev, Ukraine

Longshot and his Shadow Squad moved through the old city toward the rendezvous point where they were to make contact with the Russian underground. Tensions in the Russian ‘Old Imperial Zone’ were running high. American troops were still in southern Kazakhstan, but they were slowly withdrawing. As American forces withdrew, tensions grew greater in Kiev and the rest of Ukraine. For years the Russians living in Ukraine openly called for political reunion with the ‘Mother’ country. Native Ukrainians could see signs of increasing Russian belligerence as precursors of their own fall. All of this served Longshot and his troops well.

“Tatiana told us to get ready and be prepared. I’m not sure what’s going to happen,” Longshot informed his team. They waited near the night club district, not far from the areas of new wealth along the Dnieper River. Scimitar put out his acrid smelling cigarette and leaned against a damp wall. Humidity from the river hung over the city like a blanket.

“What are we waiting for?” hissed Scourge, a young new member of the Squad.
Longshot nodded his head in the direction of an approaching person. He moved quickly and offered his hand. “Marat?”

The man nodded. “We need to get moving. The police keep this area under tight watch.” Marat moved quickly and the Squad followed. They moved away from the river areas and into an industrial zone from the Soviet era. Much of it was not in use and offered great hiding places. “We are here.”

Longshot looked around and was satisfied they wouldn’t be seen here. “So, what can we do for you?”

“I’m told you can bring back Russian rule. If so, then you can help me a great deal.” Marat pointed toward an area that had been an assembly zone for some kind of product. Three old style tanks were there. “We’ve cleaned them up and they are ready to go, but they are not enough to take the city, much less the country.”

“How many men do you have?” asked Longshot. “If you have enough then those tanks will be for show only.”

Marat smiled. “We have almost three thousand ready to start the revolution.”

“That’s enough.”

July 17
White House

Whitney and an array of smartly dressed but mostly-unknown professionals lined the dais as Lex stepped up to the podium and motioned for the assembled White House Press Corps to be seated. The buzz of anticipation fell to a hush as Lex began, “It is not often that a person can say knowingly and with all honesty: This is an historic moment, but I can in good conscience make that claim today.

“As you well-know, cancer is a disease that has touched everyone in this country. It takes lives, destroys families, and decimates economies both personal and national. Over the years, trillions of dollars have been spent on treatment of cancer in all its forms. More trillions have been spent on research to find a cure.

“Today, I am thrilled to be able to tell you that the years of research have finally paid off. There is now a life-saving treatment for Stage Three and Stage Four cancers of all varieties. No one need ever die of this disease again.”

There was a sharp, stunned intake of breath among the press corps, followed by an immediate surge of questions – too many for Lex to hear let alone answer. He gestured for those who had come out of their seats to sit back down, and finally got enough silence to continue, “Open trials on what is being called the Melanivol Protocol begin later this month at the University of Texas M.D. Anderson Cancer Research Center as directed under the National Cancer Act of 1971.”

“Where did this miracle cure come from?” the Washington Post correspondent called out.

“While I agree that this is miraculous, I want to be very careful with the terminology we use here today,” Lex replied. He gestured toward those flanking him. “I’ll let the doctors and scientists explain more in depth, but the Melanivol Protocol is a treatment that has proven in early clinical trials to be 100% effective in eradicating Stage Three and Stage Four cancers. It does not prevent cancer – that’s a miracle we’re still working on. But we can treat it and eliminate it, so in that sense, this is a cure cancer.”

“But where did it come from?”

“The medical research division of Minerva; Hermes Pharmaceuticals,” Lex replied.

“Your company?” someone else asked in a voice dripping with sarcasm.

“One of the Luthor family holdings from which I removed myself when I began my election campaign,” Lex replied carefully. “Although I’m proud to say this has been one of the family’s most important projects. Hermes Pharmaceuticals has produced several leading edge drugs and contributed vast arrays of research to medical science since its founding. It is not important that my company is responsible, but the big picture is what must be focused upon.

“Whitney Luthor-Fordman-Kent has shepherded the Melanivol Protocol Project through all of its research trials up to this point, and he will continue that role, stewarding the Protocol through Congress and into the public sphere. This is a bold new day, but it is only one day. We still have to get the drug through trials and out to the hospitals -- with all due speed, hopefully. Now, I’m going to turn this press conference over to the Whitney, who will introduce you to the team that developed the Melanivol Protocol. Whitney…”

Whitney stepped up to the microphone, and the deluge of questions that swamped him as the press corps came to its feet threw his prepared remarks completely out the window.

It was a long afternoon.



Whitney hit the mute button on his remote control, silencing yet another skeptical pundit on CNN. The press conference had ended hours ago, and the media coverage had not been what he’d hoped. He sank back into his office chair in the East Wing and massaged his temples. “Well, that could have gone better,” he decreed with a touch of bitterness.

His senior political aide, Yolanda Jackson, shrugged. “We knew the announcement would be greeted with a measure of skepticism, but I have to admit I didn’t expect quite this much cynicism in the immediate wake of the announcement. The media so far seems to be regarding the protocol as a band-aid instead of a cure.”

“And those are the charitable ones,” Whitney countered, “It’s unsettling that the first round of responses have been this critical. We’re being accused of giving false hope or worse.”

“In this case though, the people screaming the loudest will be eating the biggest slices of crow once the public trials prove the cure is the real thing, “ Yolanda said with a smile. “Just remember that you have to be gracious once they apologize for being wrong.”

July 18
Greek Isles

The dock at Ios’ private pier was well-organized chaos as the Phoenix disgorged its complement of security and staff in preparation for embarkation of Lionel and his new bride. Lionel’s personal security force – a complement of eight -- were the first off the ship. They would relieve the advance team and take up their duties. All of them had been to Ios before, but this would be the leanest security force any of them had experienced here since there were only two members of the House in residence.

As security slid into place, ship’s stewards began transporting luggage up to the villa under the watchful eye of Lionel and Katlan’s personal staff of six. Provisions were off loaded, and finally, Lionel escorted his new bride off the yacht and into the gleaming white convertible that was waiting for them. Lionel insisted on driving, naturally.

Justin Daniels watched them drive off, then returned to the ship’s security office where all available telemetry registered into the security profile of the island. The island was populated by House Luthor alone, but it was far from deserted. Aside from the palatial villa at the center of the island, there were a bevy of support buildings for the staff, security, supplies, and maintenance. Merchants and contractors from nearby islands had been coming and going for weeks, readying the island for the bride and groom under the watchful eye of Justin’s on-site security team, but despite all the preparations, Justin was still bothered by the lack of protection the island offered. It was beautiful, but small and hilly. The rocky terrain and two winding roads from pier to villa made it important to keep a constant lookout.

Two aerial drones circled the island, providing constant updates on the shoreline. The drones were cloaked, which gave Justin a small sense of security. He didn’t like being so near the Middle East, but that argument had fallen on deaf ears. Katlan had wanted a Greek Isle honeymoon, and Lionel hadn’t been about to deny his new bride anything she wanted. And of course, no one was going to deny Lionel Luthor, either.

Justin glanced at Monitor 3 as the convertible pulled up to the villa. “The Honeymooners have arrived,” the leader of team one announced as Lionel and Katlan disappeared through the carved double-doors on the expansive veranda.

“Copy that,” Justin acknowledged. He turned his attention to Monitor 1, which displayed an image of the pier. Three trucks slid single-file from the Phoenix cargo hold. “Garvin, take the south route to the villa,” he instructed and received an acknowledgement from the lead vehicle.

Justin tapped a key to pull up another bank of monitors. Pleasure craft of an alarming variety skimmed by the island in the crowded Aegean Sea. They seemed oblivious to the presence of the Luthor entourage, but Justin wasn’t reassured. Three large schooners caught his attention. “Do we have the registry on those schooners?” he asked no one in particular, but got a prompt answer, “Working on that now, sir. One is a fishing rental from Ahkanos.”

“Templeton just came aboard,” someone else informed him, referring to the leader of the advance team. He would officially abdicate his responsibility to Justin momentarily and head back to D.C. to with his team to help with the impending move of Philip and Hamilton.

“Get him on up here,” Justin replied, not taking his eyes off the monitors. “I want a final report before he and his people leave. And pull two speed boats out to patrol the waters. We’re way too exposed for my tastes.”


Damien tried to keep his heart rate from spiking as he watched the palatial yacht pull alongside its pier. Local merchants and suppliers had been co-opted prior to the Luthor arrival, providing Damien with everything he needed to create a swift, surgical strike on House Luthor Med. Despite the best efforts of the House, Damien had people on the ground ready to make sure there were plenty of surprises in store for Lionel.

“Your day of reckoning is at hand, brother.”

Damien’s schooner tacked starboard, heading into slightly deeper waters as speed boats began making runs around the island. Damien could not prevent his laugh from becoming audible. “You’ve got to be kidding me! Is this the best that the vaunted House Luthor can do in their defense?”

He looked at the sonar graph of the area around the island and smiled. A surplus submarine Damien had picked up from the Indian Navy for a very good price was waiting in a small underwater ridge off the western coast of the island. Half of his men, all of them of the super clone variety, were on that sub awaiting the appointed hour.

“Sir, the Phoenix is leaving its pier.”

Damien watched with pleasure as the massive ship took up anchor nearly a mile off store, stranding Lionel and his bride on the small island. “See? It is as if the Gods were smiling upon us this day.” He grabbed a red marker and circled the hill that held the villa on a topographic map. “And so falls the king. Soon the rest of the House will follow.”

Houston

Dr. Stephanie Fordman looked at the bank of security monitors that showed the crush of people that grew larger every day trying to get into trials for the new cure for cancer. The news of a cure and that only University of Texas M.D. Anderson Cancer Center in Houston was going to have the drug until the FDA allowed it to go to broader testing had people descending on Houston in droves.

Stephanie’s office had been flooded from calls from other cancer treatment centers across the country and around the world. “We underestimated the number of people who would volunteer for the human trials,” she said her associates.

“No, we didn’t. We underestimated the speed with which people would fly to Houston.” Dr. Sherry Langley had been a senior researcher on this project for four years. It was her baby.

Houston Police were out in force trying to keep order. The Texas Medical Center was the densest conglomeration of hospitals, medical research facilities, and medical teaching facilities in the world and it was swarmed by people trying to get a place in line.

“We know this will work. I just wish President Luthor could waive regulations and allow us to bring the drug to full scale usage right away,” Sherry said.

“He couldn’t even if didn’t own the company. He has to follow the rules because his enemies and the portion of the health care industry that’s makes its fortune treating cancer are going to do everything they can to kill this program. Lex has to let this play out.”

July 19
Greek Isles

It was a little after four in the morning when Damien’s fishing trawler glided across the water less than a mile from the island where Lionel Luthor was sleeping. The submarine with thirty of his special troops originally designed for Russian President Vitaly Kirov was now moving into a cove that offered some protection as they surfaced. In the dockside warehouse where supplies from the Phoenix had been unloaded, seven of Damien’s agents were waiting for the signal to strike.

Through his binoculars, Damien watched three bright, thin streaks of light from an antitank missile as they flew toward separate targets – two headed toward the Phoenix, but Damien stayed focused on the guardhouse gate that sat halfway between the dock and the villa on the highest peak of the island. The explosion broke the peace of the late night, illuminating the hillside in the ensuing fire.

It was all going according to plan. Nine fishing trawlers were in blockade formation around the island. One yacht and two small trawlers were in position to intercept the Phoenix. Evacuation routes from the island were closed off. Antiaircraft missiles were ready to take out the ship’s helicopter; it would never get near the island if it attempted a rescue. Lionel was going to be Damien’s captive. For a time, at least. And when the Luthor scion was eventually “rescued,” the clone Damien had been grooming would be unleashed on House Luthor and no one would be the wiser.

The brilliance of it was almost more than Damien could bear. Finally. Genius would have its reward.

And its revenge.


The blare of klaxons jolted Justin awake but he barely had time to register the emergency call on his comm before two explosions to port rocked the Phoenix, nearly throwing him to the floor.

He grabbed the com badge off the bedside table. “Report!” he bellowed as he drew on a pair of pants and grabbed his shirt from the foot of the bed.

“The island is under attack,” came the reply from the war room. “The gatehouse has been taken out by an antitank missile and we’re starting to record small arms fire.”

“The villa?” Justin was already sprinting toward the war room.

“Being surrounded,” Mike Compton replied. “I don’t know where the hell they all came from. Must have been a sub off Coral Cove.”

Justin burst into the war room and headed straight for the Situation Well where holograms generated by the cloaked drones were displaying movement all over the island. In a glance, he assessed the blob of red dots that showed enemy heat signatures, at least a dozen of which were moving at top foot speed up the hill to the villa. The Phoenix rocked again as another attack hit the hull.

“It was a trap.” Justin stabbed a comlink that broadcast his next command through the ship and directly to his security force on the island. “Implement Sierra Bravo Delta. Repeat. Sierra Bravo Delta.” He switched channels. “Smallville, this is Phoenix; we are under attack. Engage telemetry scan from all available sources and pipe it into my sit-well, stat!”

Halfway across the world in Kansas it was 8:00 pm. Senior security staff were still on duty and they were too well trained to so much as blink before bursting into action. “Copy, Phoenix, we are engaging full satellite telemetry. Feed to Phoenix being routed now. We are registering several vessels in your immediate vicinity.”

The holographic detail in the Situation Well went from vague translucent blobs to solid images in full Technicolor as Justin replied, “Phoenix has been hit, but we’re not taking water at this time. Evac routes by sea are compromised.” Justin watched as more red dots – heat signatures of the invasion force -- emerged from the far side of the island. More were moving up from the dockside, and he didn’t even try to count the ships that were closing in on the island and on the Phoenix.

“Fuck.”

He had a security staff of five here on the Phoenix, nine on the island, ten unarmed staff members in the villa, and the father of the most powerful man on the planet pinned up in the bridal suite no doubt wondering what the hell was happening and cursing up a blue-streak.

They were definitely overmatched.

For the moment.

“Request backup, Smallville.”

Alan Owen’s voice came over the line, “Roger, Phoenix. Initiating the Secondary Protocol.”


What the bloody hell is going on?” Lionel bellow to no one in particular, sword-cane unsheathed and clad only in a pair of russet silk pajama bottoms as he looked out the French windows at the conflagration below.

“Lionel, please come away from the balcony,” Katlan instructed with deceptive calm. She was hastily changing out of her diaphanous penoir and into something more practical, but really, what did one wear to an armed invasion? “If they have weapons capable of taking out the guardhouse, they can probably locate the window you’re standing in.”

“But my island is on fire,” he informed her, reaching for his robe. Moonlight and the red-gold glow of the flames down the hill were the only illumination in the room. A dim but distinct rat-a-tat-tat of automatic weapons fire punctuated the darkness. “Where the bloody hell is my security team?”

“They were on their way when you first inquired sixty seconds ago.” Katlan slid her feet into her most comfortable running shoes. “Although I believe Mr. Jeffers and his men like to call themselves Alpha One at times like this,” she reminded him.

Lionel tapped his bracelet impatiently. “Jeffers, report!”

The reply was almost immediate. “Mr. Luthor, Sierra Bravo Delta – authenticate.”

Lionel furrowed his brow. Sierra Bravo Delta was the second highest House code, indicating imminent danger to the life of Lionel Luthor.

The idea that his security team might not be up to the task of repelling whatever force had taken out the guardhouse finally began to sink in. Clearly, being awakened from a sound sleep after a night of vigorous lovemaking had dulled his senses far more than he’d imagined possible. He gave the required response to authenticate his identity and assure them he was under no immediate duress. “Responding Zulu Beta Gamma.”

“Affirmative, sir. Please stand by for air evac, ETA five minutes.”

“Lionel, please.”

He turned to find Katlan beside him holding out a pair of trousers and a shirt.

“As delightfully swashbuckling as that ensemble is, I think these and a pair of loafers would be more appropriate to the situation,” she told him.

The tremor in her voice betrayed her fear, but the irony in her light tone spoke volumes about her strength. Lionel hadn’t thought it was possible to love his bride more, but he found he was wrong. He reached out and gently placed his hands on her shoulders. “Don’t worry, Kat. We’ll be all right.”

As if to make a liar out of him, an explosion rocked the building. “Perhaps I should get dressed.” He did so hastily while Katlan rummaged through the dark closet for a suitable pair of shoes.

Washington
The White House

“I understand Stephanie’s cancer center is being overrun by trial volunteers,” Bruce commented as he absently waved off the sommelier, who quietly moved on to the President, who made no effort to discourage him from pouring the exquisite red wine. The remains of dinner in the residence had been cleared, and Lex, Bruce, Clark and Whitney were enjoying a marvelously quiet evening. The world wasn’t falling apart, the cure for cancer was beginning to generate worldwide excitement, and SHIELD had a lead on Magneto or at least the Brotherhood.

It was a moment too good to last, though.

“Yes,” Whitney answered. “Hope and fear are powerful motivators. Steph—“

Whitney stopped abruptly and all four men turned when Jeff Fordman burst in without preamble and announced, “Sierra Bravo Delta.”

The code-words for Lionel and his party in danger. Similar codes like that were used for individuals or parties under duress: it was the second highest security level the House had in place; the only one higher was a House-wide threat.

Clark started to spring to his feet, but a quick hand from Whitney stopped him. “Let me get the facts,” Whit said as Lex demanded, “Get him out of there NOW.” Whitney flipped open his PDA, quickly assessed the situation and told Lex, “Secondary Protocol initiated.”

Bruce leaned forward and asked quietly, “Could someone clue me in?”

Lex lifted a finger and then activated a privacy circle before explaining. “Dad is under attack in Greece. House security is responding.”

Bruce raised an eyebrow. “With the Secondary Protocol? Is this their first deployment?”

Clark nodded. “We’ve never really used the Midnight Guard outside of training scenarios. How long?” he asked Whitney.

Whitney looked again at his PDA. “Three minutes until Ios.”

Clark shook his head. “I could be there—“

“No,” Lex cut him off. “Not until we understand more about what’s happening. For all we know, this could be the precursor of a broader attack. No. We wait…”

Greece

Justin watched as red dots swarmed the villa. The Phoenix was moving at top speed to break the blockade around the island. He’d used two drones to pinpoint the threats to Phoenix and they were now burning wrecks. The anti-aircraft missiles being fired at them made sending his helicopter after Lionel impossible. His men on the island were down to five. “Shit, they need to hurry!”


Two more explosions rocked the villa and the gunfire was getting closer. The sky was ablaze with streaks of missiles, and Lionel had never felt more impotent in his life. Katlan jumped and Lionel instinctively shoved her behind him as three guards burst into the bedroom.

“It’s about damned time,” Lionel snapped. “What the hell is going on?”

Jeffers and his men surrounding the principals and got them quickly on the move as he explained, “Sir, we are taking heavy fire. I have two men down and one missing, presumed lost. The island is surrounded and the Phoenix is also under attack. We have to get you to the air evac point.”

“In case Justin hasn’t noticed, our enemy seems to have enough airborne artillery to take down Air Force One,” Lionel said he and Katlan were hustled down some stairs. “You can’t be suggesting that the Phoenix helicopter—“

“No, sir. We have cloaked support coming in with the Secondary Protocol.”

Lionel let that sink in and felt somewhat reassured, but not much. Two guards were in front while one trailed. After another turn they were down another short series of steps. Lionel knew they were about to pass through the wine cellar and out a passage that led past the garden. Communication lines burst quickly. “Unknowns on the grounds! The Villa wall has been breached!”

“Shit!” spat the lead guard. “Turn around. The grounds are compromised. We’ll take up a defensive position in the cellar until help gets here.” He looked at his watch. “ETA, two minutes.”


Damien could barely contain his glee as he listened to the limited chatter of his troops. Resistance had been far more organized and heavier than he expected. The quick loss of the boats attacking the Phoenix had been a surprise, but it was still on the way in. He had fifteen minutes to get his prize and get away.

The report that they were about to enter the villa sent his heart racing. He was about to start the path to glory. Flashes of light came seemingly from nowhere and three of his trawlers were suddenly on fire. Deafening sonic booms echoed across the sea and reverberated back across narrow straights. Three aircraft of unknown configuration appeared out of nowhere, hovering over the island, decimating his fleet. His people fired missiles in response, but all exploded before impacting their targets. “What the fuck?!”

Chatter quickly grew agitated. On the opposite side of the villa from the docks, one of the aircraft used Vertical Take-off and Landing technology to park on the island. Damien’s troops rushed to contain that treat, but the Phoenix was on the way to the pier with little opposition now that the blocked had been broken. His containment plan was shattered.

“Get people to cover the docks keep them from rendezvousing with the Phoenix. Get Lionel out on the sub!”



Lionel listened to the firefight growing ever closer. “Sir, the Midnight Guard just touched down, but they are going to have to fight through the enemy to reach us.”

“Midnight Guard?” Katlan asked. She’d been quiet till now, taking instructions with uncharacteristic docility, but this demanded an explanation. “What’s the Midnight Guard, Lionel?”

Lionel quietly explained, “Several years ago, enemies of the House tried to create an army of genetically engineered mutants. We foiled their plan, rescued the mutants who were little more than unstable robots and were able to use nanotechnology to restore their higher brain functions. They’ve been trained as an elite army of super-soldiers. There’s nothing like them anywhere on earth. They’re known in House security parlance as the Secondary Protocol.”

“Is that why you’ve been so remarkably calm? Because you knew they were on the way?”

Lionel slipped on arm around her. “My dear, I am anything but calm. But you have been remarkably brave.”

Katlan managed a wistful smile. “I married a man who has never been caught without an ace up his sleeve.”

“But this is far more than you bargained for, my dear.”

Katlan laid her head on his shoulder. “You warned me.”

“And you chose the dangerous path anyway.”

She raised her head and looked at him. “I love you. What other choice did I have?”

Lionel tilted his head to meet her lips, but the kiss was interrupted by the appearance of a hologram that flickered with light in the dark room. “Dad, you just have to complicate my evenings, don’t you?”

“Compared to all the headaches you gave me in your youth, this hardly counts as more than a minor inconvenience.”

Lex chuckled. “Dad, Justin has determined that getting you out by boat or shuttle is too risky. You and Katlan stand by for emergency teleport.”

“What do you mean ‘Emergency tele--?” Lionel’s words faded and the whole world turned upside down for a second and then he and Katlan found themselves in a brightly lit metallic environment. “Where the hell…?” He reached for Katlan’s hand.

Lex appeared again in holographic form. “Welcome to the Watchtower, Dad. Sorry to be so abrupt, but this was the nearest destination that we could be sure of a clean transport.”

Lionel walked to the door and it opened. The room beyond was a large control room with a long bay of windows that showed Earth displayed against an infinite starfield.

“Oh, my God,” Katlan whispered as she joined him at the window.

Lionel smiled at her. “Well, you’ve always enjoyed a room with a view,” he quipped.

Katlan tsk, tsked. “Lionel, Lionel… Why didn’t you tell me I had the option of a honeymoon in space?”


Justin lobbed a concussion grenade onto the docks and watched as people came out running. His men from the Phoenix moved quickly to retake the docks. He had word that Lionel was already out of harm’s way and that allowed Justin to unleash the fury of the gods on the attackers. The Secondary Protocol was part of that fury.

It gave House Luthor a small private super army that no one could match. And now a dozen members of the Midnight Guard were inflicting pain on the attackers. Justin’s orders were to keep one or two alive for questioning. The rest could meet their Maker.


Damien’s boat was coasting off the coast on the far side of the island, but not part of the flotilla blockade. Daylight was not far off and he ordered his boat to move off. The attempt to take Lionel was going to end in failure. House Luthor had reinforcements close at hand and they had superior firepower. His troops were fighting and loosing, which was not supposed to be possible.

“Get me out of here.”

Several million dollars and months of preparation down the drain. Damien was angry and frustrated, but not deterred. ‘House Luthor will have to be taken down in an old fashioned war. They will fall.

Smallville

Alan Owen stared over the secure line to Washington and frowned at his compatriots, Chris Smith and Andre Comeaux. None of them were comfortable being in Smallville while the action was in the Aegean. “Justin arranged things as best he could, but considering the sophistication of that assault, the island had to be compromised long before Justin put his security plan in place.”

Chris nodded. “He has taken three prisoners and the sensor network is pulling all data from the area as we speak.”

“What about containment?” Andre asked. To avoid having to answer questions about the family’s advanced technology, it was standard protocol to do whatever was necessary to keep events like this as private as possible.

“Hollography units have been deployed to camouflauge the worst of the damage and security is so tight there now that an iguana couldn’t get on or off the island without Justin knowing about it,” Chris replied. “No one’s going to see the real damage, and if they do, we’ve got that covered. The press secretary will lead the morning briefing of the press corp with a story about a fire in the building being used to store fireworks for the fireworks display that had been planned for the honeymooning couples’ final night on the island.”

Andre grinned – the first smile anyone had cracked in hours. “I didn’t know any fireworks had been planned outside of the bridal suite.”

Chris smiled too. “When she heard the cover story, Katlan was irritated that she hadn’t thought of a fireworks display for real.”

Alan was in no mood to see the humor in anything yet. “Obviously we can’t suppress eyewitness accounts from passing fishing vessels or pleasure craft, but the fireworks explosion should cover us. Unless someone had a satellite tasked immediately over Greece last night, we should be able to keep rumors of an attack on the island to just that – rumors.”

Chris looked at Andre and asked, “When do the prisoners arrive?”

“ETA two hours. Justin’s preliminary interrogation suggests that none of them have any idea who was calling the shots.”

“But they’ll know something that will put us on the trail of whoever planned this,” Chris replied. “The President wants to know who’s to blame and he’s magnanimously given us 24 hours to suss out the mastermind.”

Andre chuckled. “Oh, well. 24 hours. I thought we were going to be under pressure.”

“The President will accept our answers when we get them,” Alan said dryly.

“My money is on that Friends of Humanity militia group, The Reavers,” Andre offered.

Alan shook his head. “Too brazen, even for them.”

“Obviously not The Brotherhood,” Chris intoned. “There’s no evidence of any mutant powers being used.”

“SHIELD?” This from Andre.

“Possibly,” Alan allowed, “but SHIELD could bring a lot more firepower to bear. And why go after Lionel?”

“Leverage against the President?” Chris suggested.

“Or they saw an opportunity to extract family secrets,” Andre provided. “It’s not often any member of the House is this exposed. Someone was taking advantage of a golden opportunity – and Lionel is certainly a primo target.”

Alan was scowling. “I’m more concerned than ever about our ability to protect the family, especially with the boys’ impending move to Boston.”

“We cannot stop that event,” noted Andre. “Philip and Hamilton are leaving, and any change to their plans would ignite a flurry of questions in the Media that the president will wish to avoid. We must maintain as if nothing has happened.”

Alan tapped his fingers on the desk for a few minutes and then spoke quietly. “Chris, find a way to beef up our intelligence on the Secret Service. There is an unknown threat, we are spread too thin, and I don’t trust anyone.”

“The Secondary Protocol got us out of the mess in Greece, but the Midnight Guard needs to be placed more on the Eastern Seaboard for easier access to Washington and Boston.” Andre rubbed his chin for a moment. “They are very limited in number, but a dozen in Washington and a half dozen in Boston should do it. We can use the Weyland-Yutani safe-house network to house them.”

“They would make good guardians of that network and it would mean we have better safety in Washington and Boston. We should deploy a few in Metropolis as well. Evacuation points to be maintained for all the House points.” Alan took a deep breath and massaged his temples.

Chris cleared his throat again and frowned. “I only see one problem with this plan.” He paused for a moment and got his partners undivided attention. “It seems as though we are trapping ourselves in Smallville. We need to set up a remote base and make sure that our enemies waste time trying to get here and we’ll be long gone.”


In the boys’ game room, all eyes were on Philip as he came out of his second trance that evening. The first had come hours earlier. When he had sensed Lionel’s panic, he tapped into the connection, seeing very little of any substance, but feeling his grandfather’s fear and experiencing enormous pride at the strength of will and courage that that carried his grandfather through the danger. Philip hoped that when the time came for him to be tested (and he had no doubt that time would come), he would have the same fortitude.

In this trance, though, Philip sensed very little and knew the danger had passed. For now. He shook off the lethargy and nodded at Hamilton. “It’s over. Grandpa is safe—though he feels very far away. I can’t explain it. But I’m not sensing any immediate threats to the family.”

Ben, who’d been laying on the floor feigning a lack of concern, rolled onto his stomach and began doing push-ups. “Do you know who attacked us?”

“No, I don’t,” answered Philip. “I get images, but they’re rarely clear. I can piece things together sometimes—enough to know that it was a mess in Greece, but the attack failed. Someone sent a great deal of firepower after Grandpa.”

Wes settled back in the recliner. “That can be traced with some effort. Whatever was used can be tracked to some point of origin.”

“I agree,” said Hamilton. “I’ll get what I can from the Internet first and then I’ll see if the FBI knows anything.”

Wes frowned. “I don’t think Alan would appreciate you mentioning this to the FBI.”

“Who said I was going to mention anything?” Hamilton wiggled his thick, fair eyebrows. “With the FBI, a one-way flow of information is always preferable.”

“We could just ask our fathers to tell us what happened,” Wes suggested.

As one, all three of his brothers hooted with laughter. “Oh, yeah, that’ll work,” Ben said, “And when you spot those flying pigs coming in for a landing, be sure to let me know cause I wanna watch.”

Wes tried not to laugh as he protested, “It could happen!”

Philip leaned over and ruffled his youngest brother’s spiky blond hair. “That’s what we love most about you, Weston. Your unflappable optimism and abject naivety.”

Ben flopped over and came to his twin’s defense. “Tell him to take his abject naivety and shove it up his ass, Wes.”

Wes shrugged. “Naa… There’s no point. Franklin’s going to get here tomorrow and Philip would have too much fun sending him in to retrieve it.”

Philip threw a pillow in retribution and there was a brief period of good-natured roughhousing that quickly fell into companionable silence as they each dwelled on the events of the evening. It was Wes who finally broke the silence, “You know, we could ask the Keeper to see what he can find out. He has access to all kinds of information and some of it we may not even think about being related to our House.”

Philip smiled and nodded as well. “Great idea! We’ll wait until our guests leave next week and then we’ll ask him. This might be opening a can of worms we don’t want to make public.”


Security arrangements didn’t appear any different as Philip and the boys awaited the arrival of their friends for a ten day visit to Smallville. It was the perfect place to hide out and just have fun. Franklin, Dick, Elsa, and Kyle were coming and that made the brief summer vacation worthwhile.

Elsa arrived first with her little sister and two of her sisters’ friends. Martha took charge of the young ones and Elsa hurried upstairs to the game room. Her heels clicked on the marble floor as she entered. Hamilton received her first huge hug. “I think I’ve worked out the problem with your glider!”

Hamilton shushed her. “Elsa, please! Secrecy if of the utmost importance in delicate work like mine.”

“Oh, screw secrecy. You just want to make a grand show out of everything. Now, do you want my help or not?” she teased, but Hamilton was already ushering her toward his room. They still collaborated on most of his projects and Hamilton was thankful that her interest in fashion hadn’t dulled her extremely sharp mind.

Dick arrived with Franklin in on one of Mr. Fantastic’s creations, the Fansti-Car. Franklin loved flying it, even though it drove his mother insane. Dick was begging to get to fly it back to New York when Philip sauntered out to meet them on the steps of the palace. No one had to know he’d run most of the way from the game room as soon as Franklin had touched his mind about the same time the Fansti-Car touched down.

“Hey guys!” Philip said. “You get here okay?”

Dick grinned ear to ear. “Man, that is a great machine! I’ve got to see if Bruce can get me one!”

Franklin skipped a couple of steps to get to Philip and give him a hug. “How are you?”

“Better now that you are here.”

Franklin’s smile faded. “What’s wrong?” he asked quietly, sensing the hum of Philip’s anger that was leftover from the night before.

//There was an attack on the family last night. Grandfather and Katlan. They’re fine. I’ll explain later.//

Franklin nodded and they joined the others.

July 20
New York

General Wallace Kincaid smiled at General Pierre Hardcastle with a feral gleam in his eyes. “The White House morning briefing reported a fireworks munitions accident near the Luthor villa last night, but local television and radio stations in Greece are claiming there was a great deal of gunfire in addition to rockets and explosions.”

Hardcastle rubbed his jaw for a moment or two. “There was a brief period of silence around the President’s party at the White House last night, then everything resumed as normal.”

“What kind of silence?”

“Total dead space. The normal ambient hum just disappeared, as though the President had suddenly winked out of existence.”

“The president is using that technology of his again and more than just those damned dampeners.” Kincaid pointed to a monitor and several satellite images flashed over the Aegean Sea. “We can see that there were explosions of some kind, but none of our satellites were tasked over the Aegean last night. We’ve got two birds looking now, but there are no signs of any battle having taken place.”

“We know better than to ask the Ultimates to drop by and see what might have happened. Luthor would know in a flash.” Hardcastle leaned back and shrugged. “Have NSA pull all the audio in that region and see if there might be cell phone chatter that gives us a clue.”

Kincaid looked at another folder and frowned. “Our mission to the Ahagger Mountains hasn’t turned up any bodies, but we found caverns similar to those we found in South Africa. Some of their equipment was abandoned in haste, so we came close to getting someone, but until we analyze the equipment we won’t now who.”

Hardcastle nodded and put his copy of the report down. “I’m tired of playing cat and mouse. It’s time to go on the offensive.”

“How?”

“The mutant Destiny… We know they value her above all others. I think it’s time that we find this mutant and force Magneto to come to us.”

“Let’s put Isling in charge of that little project. Without Gyrich’s knowledge. If Isling fails, it’s only his head that will roll. Ross can fire him and we’re in the clear. But if he succeeds, then we all win.” Kincaid smiled again. “Just a thought.”

“And a damned good one,” Hardcastle decreed. “Make it happen.”

Los Angeles

Graydon Creed put down the LA Times and looked over at his breakfast companion, the Rev. William Stryker. “It appears that the White House is preparing to launch an all out push for this supposed Cure for Cancer. The political power he stands to gain from this could elevate him to God-like status within certain segments of society.”

“That cannot be allowed to happen! Luthor is an evil man bent on ruling the world. I wouldn’t be surprised if that so-called cure was merely a device for more sinister goals.” Stryker wiped his mouth and frowned. “Who knows what the cost of that cure will be for people?”

Creed was silent for several minutes while he stared out the window. “What if the cure is really a retrovirus set to turn normal humans into mutants? Or a genetic tag that allows people to be tracked wherever they go? Who knows what Luthor’s scientists have been planning for when he came to power?”

“Indeed,” agreed Stryker. “I’m sure our followers would not be happy to hear that Luthor is using his Cure to cover up more sinister plans for world domination. All that power in one man’s hands... Unthinkable.”

“And all that gratitude,” continued Graydon. “Yes, I think it is time to expose Luthor’s plans and see if we can’t rescue the nation at the same time.”

July 21
Smallville

Philip did a final, spectacular somersault on the rings and nailed a perfect landing just as Franklin entered the cavernous gymnasium clad in dry swim trunks with a towel draped around his neck.

“Show off,” his boyfriend teased. “You sensed me coming.”

Philip grabbed a towel and wiped his face. A fine sheen of perspiration covered his skin and his white leotard clung to every line of his legs and torso. Despite the exercise, he was barely winded. “Did it work? Are you impressed?”

Franklin’s pale gaze swept Philip from damp hair to stirrupped foot and he grinned shyly. “Always.”

“Good.” Adrenalin still coursing from his workout, Philip pulled Franklin in for a long, deep kiss, and as their bodies responded appropriately, Philip half-stumbled, half-guided them across the floor until they collided with the pummel horse. Franklin was pinned with nowhere to go – not that he wanted to – and after several minutes of increasingly frantic kisses, Philip spun him around, plastering his body against the smaller, slightly-more-fragile young man. “I think we need to talk about our sleeping arrangements in Boston…” His voice was husky with need.

Franklin blushed, but that didn’t deter him from taking Philip’s hand and guiding it down to his erection. //You do this to me and you’re going to make me wait till Boston?// he asked incredulously.

Philip’s chuckle reverberated through Franklin’s body. “I’ll close the-“ he started, but before he could perform the mental action, before the words were even out, the doors on both sides of the room slammed shut and bolted, and the bay of windows that overlooked the Olympic-size pool next door turned opaque.

“The gymnasium will look empty if anyone goes in for a swim,” Franklin said, turning in Philip’s arms without allowing a sliver of space to separate them.

Philip’s slid his hand into the waistband of Franklin’s swim trunks and fisted his lover’s fully engorged cock. His lips and tongue played with Franklin’s ear as he whispered, “Can you maintain the illusion while we’re doing it?”

//It may slip a little when you do this to me// Franklin reached out to Philip’s mind and planted a full-sensory image of exactly what he wanted Philip to do to him.

The image and the psychic connection almost made Philip come right then, but he took control of himself and Franklin both, and the illusion Franklin had created did, indeed, vanish when Philip fulfilled his request.

Fortunately, there was no one next door in the pool at the time.


//Your powers are growing,// Philip projected with a wicked grin an hour later as they floated lightly in the deep end of the pool. Their soul-stirring sex had been followed by a playful swim that had turned into an all-out contest Franklin won by a full stroke. Philip was a gifted athlete, but Franklin was part fish.

//Maintaining intensity is still a problem for me,// Franklin replied.

Philip grinned. //You couldn’t prove it by me.// He kissed Franklin hard, then pushed away to prevent anything from starting to build again. Philip knew as surely as he knew anything that Franklin Richards was a part of his soul, connected to him in a measure so powerful he wasn’t sure even his psychically-connected fathers could have understood it. It was a source of strength, but sometimes it was also scary, like those rare occasions when they were having sex and their telepathic gifts merged…

The magnitude of it was sometimes more than Philip could handle, but it also provided him a thrilling glimpse into the power that he and Franklin could wield if they could merge their minds outside of sex, harness it, control it…

It was a level of power that was intoxicating. And attainable. And maybe even dangerous.

That didn’t stop Philip from wanting it.

//I’m told the power will get stronger as I get older, but now I can have powerful bursts of energy, but I just can’t hold it.// Franklin was saying when Philip forced his thoughts back to their conversation.

Philip nodded at him. //I know what you mean. No one seems to know how strong my brothers and I will be, but Pop has started testing us once a quarter.// He grinned. //Just what I want, more tests.//

“Have you heard that my Dad is lining up people to go to Congress in September to testify in favor of the Cure for Cancer? May not be his area of expertise, but he knows lots of people.”

“That’s good news.”

“Yes.” //Now tell me about this attack on your grandfather.//

July 23
Sydney

Varian listened in the hall as his father ranted at the top of his lungs about his failed plan to replace Lionel Luthor with a programmable clone.

“I tell you Victoria, that House is cursed and blessed at the same time. There was no way for them to marshal aid that quickly! The ships that came were simply amazing! With that kind of technology, it will be impossible to defeat them by any means other than pure power!”

“What did you expect Damien? Lex and his mighty House are pushing the boundaries of knowledge and human capabilities everyday. Did you expect them not have a few tricks up their sleeves? How short sighted of you, Damien!”

Varian loved his mother. Her tone was laced with venom at his father’s rashness. She was the only human Varian knew – other than himself – who didn’t quake in the face of his father’s rages.

“The attempt had to be made and Lionel doesn’t leave the protective comforts of the United States often. This was the one chance to make the switch. Instead, I shall accelerate my plans for destabilizing Australia and Russia. We must move quickly or Kirov will be beyond our reach as well.”

Varian smiled as his father outlined the changes in the plan. The path to power was riddled with potential disasters, but the ultimate goal was worth any risk. He had only to wait until the time was ripe and he would seize the destiny that his father had been plotting for decades.

Victoria cleared her throat. “The last shipment will arrive in the Crimea in three weeks. I suggest that we move on InterGang then, or we will find ourselves out in the cold.”

Smallville

“We’ve learned very little from the prisoners, Mr. President,” intoned Enrique, getting the meeting between the triumvirate and security heads off to a start. They were all seated at the sleek, curved console that framed the Well in the Security briefing room. “We’ve thought about asking for a telepath, but given what we’ve learned about the prisoners…”

Clark leaned forward. “What is that?”

Andre manipulated his panel on the console and a hologram sprang to 3-dimensional life in the center of the well. “The three prisoners knew nothing. Their weaponry was standard black market Russian junk.”

“Just hired muscle, then,” Whitney observed.

“Clones.”

“Clones?” Lex asked quickly. “I thought cloning technology was very limited and not fully up to humans yet. I know we can do it, but for someone else to do this…it’s disturbing.”

“Sir, there is another thing,” Alan added. “The DNA is mutant in origin, but these men show no overt powers that we could find. And their cellular structure seemed stable.”

“Disturbing and worrying,” Whitney commented. “Who has access to this type of technology and the ability to field that type of resource against us?”

Chris spoke up finally, “We don’t have an answer to that sir, but we are going to take extra steps to increase House security. We have to keep this quiet though or the Secret Service will catch a clue.”

Lex swiveled his chair away from the conference table for a few minutes deep in thought. He could hear a few whispered comments back and forth between the gathered men. So many different talents and skills were present at the table and he’d need all of them. He turned back and looked at Chris. “Your friends in various places; could you be so kind as to call upon them to see what they may know…and warn them that things are getting dicey.”

Chris swallowed and nodded. “The international part of the Weyland-Yutani safe house network needs guardians and I’ve not turned that fully over to X-Corp. I’ll give them safe passage if they need it. They need to know that we’re on full alert here anyway.”

Andre leaned forward and rubbed his mouth for a second. “Several of them could lose their lives if we aren’t careful. Many are in dangerous positions within governments or powerful organizations.”

“Yes, we have a few that left government employ for more lucrative jobs, but still have all their contacts. The network is in place and gives us what we need for the most part. I’ve got highly placed contacts in the FBI and CIA as well as the UN and EU. I’ll see what they can all come up with on the Lionel front and begin sharing the intel among them for leads. I fear the time for compartmentalizing may be coming to end.”

Whitney sighed, “As Ben Franklin said, ‘We must hang together, gentlemen...else, we shall most assuredly hang separately.’ And he is right. Do what you have to Chris. We’re running out options and, I think, time.”


Aside from being cute-as-a-button and marginally precocious, Michele Fordman was the quintessential six year old female. She loved frilly dresses, stuffed animals, tea parties, and hugs. Today, it was frilly dresses and tea with the friends who had accompanied her to the palace. Something seemed to be missing, though, so she scurried off to her cousins’ old playroom, which was now referred to as the Common Room. She opened a cavernous closet and picked up Wes’ old panda, which was nearly as tall as she was, and toted him to the high tea that she was hosting. Then, she returned for an even larger playmate. Grabbing Teddy by one threadbare ear, she dragged him out of the closet and into the hall.

“Hey, Munchkin!” Ben called out as he came around the corner with Wes, Hamilton and Dick. “Where are you going with Teddy?”

“We’re having tea and he’s thirsty,” Michele said with a very serious look on her face. “He wanted to come.”

Ben stood there for a second and very nearly winced when Michelle shifted her grip to the bear’s other ear and resumed dragging him down the hall. “Okay,” Ben said weakly, then stronger. “Have fun.”

“Are you upset that she has Teddy?” Wes asked quietly.

“Who me? You gotta be kidding! Don’t be silly.”

The other three moved on, and Ben said suddenly, “Hey, you guys don’t happen to know where Franklin is, do you?”

“He was downstairs in the Master Library last time I saw him,” Hamilton said.

“Great. Listen, you guys go on and I’ll catch up in a few minutes. I need to ask Franklin about, uh, a surprise. For Philip.”

Wes stopped and looked at his twin. “What surprise?”

Ben looked at him, exasperated. “It wouldn’t be a surprise if I told you.”

“I thought you said it was a surprise for Philip.”

If looks could have killed, Wes would have been pushing up daisies. //LET IT GO, WILL YOU?//

//Jeez, no need to shout// Wes replied. “Come on guys. Let’s leave Ben to his plotting.” The three went on to the Common Room and Ben dashed downstairs.

“Hey, Franklin!” he said boisterously, patting the young man vigorously on the back.

“Ben…” Franklin said cautiously. “What’s up?”

“I was just wondering… kind of thinking of making a bet with Wes, but, you know, wondering… Can you plant thoughts in people’s heads?”

“I’m not supposed to, but I do have that kind of control.” Franklin rubbed his chin and stared at Ben for a moment.

“Show me,” Ben demanded flatly.

//Why?//

“Well, I don’t want to bet on something unless I know it’s a sure thing. So I need you to prove you can do it. Something small, on an easy target, like Michele, for instance. Maybe you could just plant an idea in her head…”

“Your cousin? What idea?”

Ben shrugged nonchalantly and made a great show of thinking it over. “I don’t know…maybe, plant something like it’s time for a nap. Alone. Or, give her the idea to go find the Fralicks and play with them. See, no biggie.”

Franklin shook his head. “You know, Ben, one of the advantages of telepathy is a built-in lie detector, and you’re setting off what Uncle Thing would call The Bullshit Meter.”

Ben frowned and let out in a slight whisper. “Michele stole Teddy and she’s about this close-“ he held his thumb and forefinger an inch apart “—to ripping him limb from limb.”

Franklin’s eyebrows met his hairline for a moment, and unfortunately for Ben, Philip chose that moment to join them. “Michelle stole Teddy? Oh, No! Poor widdle Ben. He wuv his teddy bear so!”

“Knock it off!” Ben demanded, lunging at his brother, and Franklin sat at the library table shaking his head as the two brothers rolled around on the floor in an old fashioned sibling wrestling match.

“I’m so glad I’m an only child,” he muttered and went back to his research.

July 27
Kiev

A week and a half had passed since Longshot and his Shadow Squad had made contact with the Russian Resistance. Longshot didn’t trust them to pull their weight, but it would not matter. Over the course of the last decade Russian Intelligence Services had been infiltrating Ukraine’s government and military. Border incidents had been trumped up to force Ukraine to pull back its troops from the border with Russia. Ukraine was a growing and prospering nation, but its proximity to Russia was the cause for great concern.

The Resistance had membership and arms, which meant that they were mere shock troops to Longshot. The more confusion that could be sown the better for his Shadow Squads. His small band was waiting in the old industrial warehouse that had held tanks until three days ago. Those old rust buckets had been moved and now were in position to launch a change in the political order.

His phone chirped and he quickly answered it. “Yes?”

Tatiana’s voice rang through clearly. “You are to move in three days. Other things may happen by then to influence events, but three days is the word. Good luck.”

Longshot closed his phone and nodded at Scimitar. “We have work to do.”

July 28
Smallville

It was barely dawn when Whitney began touring the Palace to check the status of preparations for Lex’s birthday tomorrow. It was his first as president and Whitney wanted it to be special. Lex would leave for the G-8 Summit in Florence, Italy, the morning after his party. It was the beginning of an intense travel schedule that would culminate with the departure of Hamilton and Philip to Boston and college life. Whitney didn’t want to ponder that too soon.

He was lost in his thought when the Keeper appeared before him. //Sir, there is something unusual happening on the estate. I am having difficulty pinpointing it.//

Memory of the recent events in Greece generated a panic in Whitney that was soul-deep. “What kind of event?”

//A cosmic radiation event, persistent, but low-grade. It comes and goes, but it is building as we speak.//

“Find it! Now!”


The sun was barely over the horizon and no one was stirring in the guest wing of the Palace when Kyle awoke again, sweating, his pulse pounding from another dream about Green Lantern. He’d been having them regularly since he witnessed the superhero’s horrible death, but lately the dreams had changed. He was no longer just reliving Lantern’s demise; he was the Green Lantern.

Stumbling into the bathroom, he splashed water on his face and looked in the mirror to discover his eyes were glowing green, just like in the dream. He wiped his face with a towel and squeezed his eyes closed as he tried to convince himself he was imagining things, or still dreaming, or maybe just plain losing his mind. But when he opened his eyes and met his own gaze in the mirror again, his eyes were still glowing, still green…

“What is happening to me?”

His head was buzzing and there was a pressure that he’d never felt before. Stumbling blindly, instinctively, as though moving could somehow let him escape the growing pressure, he made his way out of his room, down the stairs and into the garden. The pain grew with every step and finally he fell to his knees and cradled his head. All he could hear was blood pounding in his skull. Green light engulfed him and it pierced his brain even though his eyes were screwed tight. He screamed as the energy burst around him and he collapsed.


//Sir, the event is concentrated in the garden just outside the guest wing. Energy is unstable and building!// The Keeper vanished in a flash.

Whitney took off running. He hit the door to that garden at a full run and witnessed the green flash of light as Kyle fell in a heap on one of the walkways. The Keeper was standing next to Kyle as Whitney ran up.

“What was that?” Whitney knelt to check on the young man.

//Sir, the energy signature matches that of the Green Lantern. If required to speculate, I would say that young Mr. Raynor is showing all the signs of a undergoing a conversion to the Lantern Corps.//

Whitney stood and shook his head. “I thought the Green Lantern died.”

//The Green Lantern Corps has existed for millennia. The corpsman assigned to Earth died, but they are replaced as needed. Apparently Mr. Raynor has been chosen.//

“Why him?”

//I don’t know what their criteria of selection is, sir. The Corps is only slightly know to the Kryptonians.//

“I’ll get him to the infirmary and see what we can do for him. He sounded horrible. Personally, I think the Lantern Corps needs to re-examine their recruitment methods.”


Kyle awoke in a strange room with Peter sitting on one side of the bed and Wes another. Though there was no medical equipment attached to his body, a screen over his head seemed to be displaying his vital signs. Even viewed upside down, they looked a lot more normal than Kyle felt. His head was still pounding and he was slightly nauseous, but at least he no longer felt as though his brain was being split in two. He tried to sit up, but the world went spinning so he lay back down.

“Good to see you awake,” Peter said as he leaned over and tucked in the sheet that had been dislodged. “You gave us quite a fright.”

“If you were feeling bad, all you had to do is say something,” Wes said with something of a pout in his voice.

“I felt fine until this morning,” Kyle tried to defend himself, but lacked the energy to place much effort into it. “Now I feel like I’ve been run over by a bus. Twice.”

“Dad found you in the garden in your boxer-briefs and he had Aunt Stephanie examine you long distance.”

“What did she find?”

Wes quirked one eyebrow skeptically, “You think they’d tell me? What were you doing outside so early?”

Kyle moved his head gently from side-to-side, afraid that too much movement would bring back the pain. “I don’t remember.” That wasn’t quite true – the moments before the world went black were a blank to him, but he vividly remembered the world engulfing him in green.

“Well, don’t worry about it. They’re going to do some tests. Poke and prod you some, see if they can figure out what’s going on.” Peter frowned and handed Kyle a glass and a few pills. “Take these. Stephanie prescribed them. We’re supposed to let you get some sleep, but if you need anything push the call button.”

“That’s okay,” Wes spoke up. “I’ll sit here until he falls asleep.”

Kyle managed a smile for him. “Thanks.”

Peter hid a knowing grin and left them alone.

July 29
Smallville

Lex blew the candles out on his cake as friends and family looked on. “I can always count on all of you to make this day lively.” The cake was decorated in dark chocolate and the candles had been specially made to look like bones. “I assure you that the White House will not be the death of me.”

Clark chuckled and produced a small box. “The older you get, the more difficult it is to find a present for you. What do you give the man who has everything – including nuclear launch codes and a key to the Chief Executive Wash Room?”

Everyone laughed as Lex accepted a small box and a kiss from his husband. “Thank you.” He pulled off the bow and wrapping, then frowned quizzically as he pulled out a small, glowing crystalline rock unlike any he’d ever seen. “What is it?”

“A new paperweight,” Clark smiled broadly. “It’s a nearly-burned out Kryptonian power gem. Normally they give up all their energy, but this one has enough to glow for the next three decades or so. There’s not enough energy in it to register on any kind of power-detector, but it will shimmer and will change colors as the day progresses.”

Lex nodded and smiled. “Like a cross between a Mood Ring and a sundial. Very nice. It will be interesting to see how people react to it in the Oval Office. Thank you.”

Aug 1
Kiev

Two of the bridges that crossed the Dnieper River fell in a series of explosions that rocked the late night. Sirens blared across the now bisected city. Only one bridge remained, effectively cutting the city in two. More explosions illuminated the skies near the government center.

Longshot stood on a rooftop several blocks from the fighting and watched as the Russian Underground attacked government forces that weren’t prepared. He nodded at his pal, Scimitar. “Russian Intelligence had infiltrated the Ukrainian Intelligence groups years ago. They had no idea that a Russian Underground existed in Kiev. They thought it was only along the eastern border.”

“When do we get to move, Kyril?” asked Scimitar, He was anxious to get into the fight now that it started.

“Patience. Even with all the deception, we have to wait to see how effective the government’s response will be. We will be the move to their counter move.” Longshot smiled and winked, “Besides, I’m told that there is something special in the works. We only need to stay around to make sure the government falls.”

Several more explosions punctuated the night and glass could be heard shattering all over the city. The old tanks were rumbling near the river and firing at predetermined points. The wail of sirens competed with explosions for dominance in the night. Longshot peered across the river and flicked his cigarette in the direction of the river. “We will know soon enough if we planned well enough.”

Smallville

Kyle stared out at the lake, studying the sparkling patterns made on the water by the setting sun. Part of him wanted to capture the beauty of the day’s end, but part of him wondered if his world was ending as well. It had been three days since the attack – that’s how he thought of it, as an attack, and since no one could explain it he was free to label it any way he chose. Dr. Fordman had flown in from Texas to give him a battery of tests, but it had taken 24 hours for Kyle to get up the courage to tell her about his bizarre dreams and the unsettling aspects that had been chasing him into his waking hours since the death of Green Lantern. She’d made him repeat the incidents to Whitney, and although there’d been a lot of whispered conversations going on around him, no one had actually talked to Kyle.

It was starting to piss him off. He was safe in the lair of the most powerful family in the world, people with mind-blowing technology and well-known sympathies to mutants and meta-humans and freaks of all shapes and forms, but no one seemed inclined to help him understand out what the hell was happening to him.

“I don’t blame you for being pissed off, Kyle.”

Startled, Kyle sprang to his feet and turned to find Whitney a few yards behind him.

“Sorry. Didn’t mean to surprise you,” Whitney said, approaching. “Sit, sit.”

Kyle felt a little embarrassed, wondering how Whitney had known what he was feeling. These people didn’t owe him anything. He didn’t have the right to expect anything. He suddenly felt like an ungrateful bum.

Whitney dropped onto the bank and motioned for Kyle to join him. “You have to be incredibly frustrated. Confused… So are we.”

Kyle understood instinctively that this was his chance to get answers. If there were any. “What’s happening to me, sir?”

“What do you think is happening?” Whitney countered.

Kyle looked away and fixed his gaze on the sunset. “The light that attacked me… It was like the energy bubble that Green Lantern used to generate.”

“Yes. That’s what it reminded me of, too.”

“And in the dreams, I’ve got a ring and powers and I can manipulate the energy without even thinking. But…”

“But what?” Whitney prodded.

“But those are only dreams. Aren’t they?”

Whitney gave a little shake of his head. “What happened to you in the garden wasn’t a dream, Kyle. And I don’t think the glowing green eyes you saw in the mirror were a dream, either.”

Kyle took a deep breath. “Am I being possessed by the ghost of the Green Lantern?”

Whitney tried hard not to smile. “I don’t think so, Kyle.”

“But you do know something you’re not telling me, don’t you?”

“Not a lot, but some,” he admitted. “We know that your body is undergoing some type of transformation.”

“Like a mutant?” Kyle said, unable to hide his alarm.

“No, no,” Whitney reassured him. “You’re giving off a low-level energy signature almost identical to that of the Green Lantern.”

“Am I…” he didn’t even know how to form the words, but he finally got out what he’d been thinking all along. “Am I becoming Green Lantern? Or like him?”

“We think it’s a definite possibility you’re being groomed by the Lantern Corps as their planetary emissary.”

“Jeez.” It was what he’d been thinking, but putting it out there was something entirely different. Somehow it makes the impossible, possible. The unreal, real. “What if I don’t want to be a superhero? I’m an artist, not a warrior.”

Whitney shrugged. “Some people seek power; some have it thrust upon them. When that happens, our only choice is how we use that power.”

Kyle nodded and tried to think about his choices, but they were too overwhelming. It was easier to think of the immediate future. “What do I do now, sir? I mean, do I just go about my business and wait for the next wave of green light to come and knock me down? That’s going to make me real popular at the Frat house.”

Whitney grinned. “We have an idea for solving that problem. You’ve been offered a scholarship to an outstanding school where you can continue your education.”

“But the nightmares, the green light – “

Whitney’s grin became a smile. “Don’t worry, Kyle. Where you’re going, nobody’s going to think twice about a glowing green light. You’re going to fit right in.”

Air Force One

Lex was reading over the briefing materials as it was announced that they had just passed over Newfoundland on their way to Paris for a meeting with the French President before heading to Florence for the G8 Summit. Whitney was somewhere playing cards with the staff while Lex tried to catch up on the endless reams of paperwork.

There was a perfunctory knock on the door and Nancy McNally walked into his office. She handed him a small slip of paper. “It appears that CIA and NSA had this pegged in analysis five. Kiev is experiencing massive unrest and Russian troops are moving closer to the border.”

CIA and NSA had been tracking Russian signal intercepts and had been trying to match what they heard with what they saw. The first three analyses showed Russian moves on the Baltic or possibly taking Iran, but Ukraine and Belarus were key options. Lex had figured Ukraine was simply a matter of time and he was right. “How do you suggest we play this?” he asked her.

“I say let Kane Miller do some heavy lifting for us first and when you get to Florence, you politely suggest to Kirov that he back the hell off. Of course, you’ll need President Barnier and Prime Minister Tilden’s support on this.” Nancy smiled briefly and then said, “Kirov is pushing too hard and too fast for the Europeans to be happy. All you have to do is make sure Kane is tough. Tilden, Barnier, and German Chancellor Schmidt may do all the work for you.”

Lex leaned back again and shrugged. “Then we have Kane lay the ground work and all I have to do is smile. Also, inform Gyrich to move Excalibur over the Black Sea and see how Kirov likes that.”

Nancy chuckled. “A little show of force never hurt a thing.”

Aug 2
Smallville

“Where are we going?” Kyle asked as Peter led him through the East Garden and along a path Kyle had never noticed before.

“It’s a surprise. Be patient.” Peter said with an enigmatic smile.

“Oh, great. Just what I need in my life. Another surprise.”

“You’ll like this one, I promise.” Peter threw an arm across Kyle’s shoulder as they moved into a grove of trees. “I have a pretty good idea what you’re dealing with, Kyle. Well…in a broader sense, at least. I remember when my powers first began to manifest – it was frightening.”

“Yeah,” Kyle mumbled in agreement.

“Don’t worry. We’ll all be here to help, Kyle. I’m the big brother you never wanted. And Wes thinks the world of you. Whitney and Clark, too. The most important thing to remember is that you aren’t in this alone.”

Kyle sighed and nodded. “Guess I need to get used to being hunted as well.”

“None of us can see the future, but you’re not alone.” Peter hugged him again. “Life has changed, but you are still Kyle Raynor; artist, comedian, performer, and all around good guy. Remember that as you come into these powers; you are still who you were two months ago and two years ago.”

They emerged from the grove a dozen yards away from a lonely tower. Peter opened a hidden door at the base and took Kyle down a series of steps, through rough-hewn corridors, and more steps. Kyle was lost in the labyrinth, but Peter obviously knew where they were going. They finally emerged into a huge cavern. It looked as natural as the day God carved out the earth, but Kyle suspected the Luthor-Fordman-Kent clan had made some modifications. “Where are we?”

Clark emerged from a passage that Kyle would have sworn wasn’t there a moment before. “This is our hidden training area, Kyle,” Clark told him. “It’s completely shielded. You can exhibit pretty much any kind of power down here without fear of being detected.”

“Wow. Cool,” Kyle said, wondering what kind of power Clark exercised down here. He knew better than to push his luck by asking, though. “I really appreciate it, but so far my only power is having really freaky nightmares.”

“True,” Clark allowed, “but that shouldn’t keep you from training. Peter is going to be your mentor, and there are others at Professor Xavier’s school who can help you develop skills that will come in handy if you do begin to exhibit powers.”

“What’s most important is that you understand you’re not alone,” Peter told him. “You have friends.”

Kyle knew they meant it. They were investing a lot of trust in him just by letting him know this place existed. They talked for a few more minutes, then Clark and Whitney left Kyle in Peter’s capable hands.

“This place is massive,” Kyle said when they were gone. “I wonder what surprises exist here?”

Peter laughed and cuffed Kyle on the back of the head. “Very subtle. Don’t it push, kid.” He tapped his wrist. “Until you get one of these bracelets, you don’t get let into the cool club.”

New York

Raven Darkholm was working in her lab as usual, but the files she was accessing were well above her security clearance. Since her visit to the White House for the Luthor Wedding she’d been on edge. Though she couldn’t have explained why, everything in her past had trained her to pay attention to her instincts. Information was the only weapon she had against the mounting fear that the noose was tightening around Magneto’s neck.

She had cautiously but systematically purloined security IDs and passwords from colleagues in every department, which gave her access to almost every security level in the building – and beyond. That made hiding her trail possible, but it was dangerous to use any of the stolen identities from her work station. She had little choice, though, since SHIELD was getting closer to the Brotherhood and by extension, Magneto.

The information she found on the Society for Justice was interesting and she downloaded it to a secure drive. A chunk of Luthor pals, Ultimate multimillionaires, and goody-goody ‘Uncle Tom’ mutants were the main members. The Xavier School was also involved, but getting to Xavier would be difficult under ideal circumstances; that campus had four psychics on the grounds and Mystique’s abilities could only hamper telepathy, not completely evade it. Infiltrating the campus would be easy, but evading detection by uber psychics Jean Grey and Charles Xavier was too dangerous to risk.

The information SHIELD had collected on the Society did point her in several interesting directions that were well worth exploiting. Most members were wealthy and very connected. There was a good chance that their secrets could be used as blackmail against the President to keep Magneto from being captured, or if SHIELD got him, executed. There were other matters that SHIELD had going as well, but she could only do so much. For now, Raven had her hands full trying to figure out what SHIELD was doing and how to keep the Brotherhood one step ahead.

The index of the membership of the Society didn’t lend itself to easy targets at first glance. “Diana Prince or Oliver Queen; one of them should be easier than the rest to crack. Which one though?”

Alarms went off and she logged off her computer and quickly checked her PDA for alerts. “AIR CARRIERS EXCALIBUR AND EXCELSIOR deploying to Black Sea. All SHIELD operations are now at level 2.”

She frowned and put her PDA down. ‘I have to hurry and use this time to figure out what else is going on. Most of SHIELD is busy doing other things. I’ll have a few days window and that is it.


Part 2

 


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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.


Notes: A special thanks to Beresfordlane for putting up with me. This is as much hers as mine.

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