The Avalon Project:
The Bloody Morning After

by Rebecca Teed

My story is set just after Chris Campbell's chapter one (Rubicon). If you haven't read that yet, all you need to know is that the Avalon Project's universe diverges from the Marvel one during the Age of Apocalypse story line. Blink is the only character in this story from the Age of Apocalypse, all the others are from Marvel-Prime. Mags is awakeand Avalon is gone, as are some of the Acolytes. Blink and Sabretooth have joined them. Thanks to Chris Campbell and Al Kehn for critical comments.

The usual disclaimer: all of these characters are copyright and TM Marvel comics. I'm only borrowing them and am not making one thin dime off this project.

The Avalon Project:
Chapter 2

We huddled behind a dune and looked at the vast bulk of Asteroid M off in the distance, lying in the sand, surrounded by Syrian troops, who were watching it as closely as they did the UN team inside it. Magneto had estimated that it was almost half a mile long, though most of that length was buried deep in the sand. The troops been there for months, ever since it had crashed to Earth. Its master had returned to power since then and been struck down again without showing any interest in it. They had spotlights trained on it, surrounding it as if they expected it to reach out and attack them. Well, they were only helping us by doing that, giving us a good look at our objective.

I pulled my cloak more tightly about myself and shivered. It hadn't occurred to me that deserts were cold at night, really cold. I started when a purple-gloved hand appeared in front of me, holding binoculars. I accepted them gingerly.

"Over there, Blink," Magneto told me. "You are to teleport to the open door. It's an airlock. Shut it from the inside and proceed towards your right."

A hundred meters to the right of the door was a huge hole in the side of the asteroid/space

station/whatever it was. That was going to be Exodus' problem. As far as I knew, Exodus couldn't just close the hole, but had to clear out the enemy and keep him out of that opening. However, this Exodus, like the one I remembered, seemed to have almost limitless psionic powers, a brown-skinned boy with eyes that glowed. This one was just crazy as a bedbug.
And the rest of them might be every bit as bad I told myself, and shivered again.

Magneto himself looked exhausted. He'd dropped us off last night, in Europe, I guess, in a castle, to patch ourselves up and get some rest. Amelia Voght and some others had gone to scout out the Asteroid and he'd gone somewhere else. He'd been back this morning to brief us, get us equipped and over here. He'd obviously only told us what he thought we'd needed to know, which wasn't a lot.

"Colossus and Sabretooth will be handling enemy personnel at your end," Magneto continued. Sabretooth chuckled.

"I want them alive," Magneto's voice grew cold. Listen to him, Creed I thought. This man is your last hope.

I'd heard Magneto briefing the other team, the Acolytes, just moments before. I looked around at them. There were eight of them, in red and purple uniforms, and they thought Magneto was a god. The youngest (I thought her name was "Skids") smiled back at me. They were to go into the asteroid with Exodus and to clean out any other troops that might be in there. It didn't sund like a fun job to me, but they were fanatics.

Colossus also grinned at me. He was huge and made of metal. I couldn't think of either him or Sabretooth as Acolytes, even though Colossus wore the uniform, because I remembered them, or rather people just like them, but somehow different, as Magneto's X-Men, my comrades back in a reality that no longer existed. Exodus I'd never understood anyway, and he'd been such a recent addition to the team...

"Are you ready?" Magneto asked. Rather than answer out loud, I pulled out my flashlight and switched it on, stepping between Colossus and Sabretooth. Out of the corner of my eye, I could see Amelia Voght, the Acolyte-in-chief, nodding as her team assembled. "Go!" Magneto barked. I called up a teleportal and pushed Sabretooth into it.


We landed on a gangway made of planks. Sabretooth dove towards the airlock. Behind me, I could hear gunfire and clanging noises as bullets ricocheted off Colossus, who had positioned himself between us and the guards.

I could see the muzzle of a gun swinging towards us in the dim airlock ahead, but Sabretooth was on top of him almost instantly. The soldier screamed and the gun went off as Colossus and I piled into the airlock behind Sabretooth. I moved immediately for the controls and shut the airlock as boots pounded up the gangway after us.

When I looked up, the other two were arguing, with the soldier lying on the floor between them. Colossus was shouting, "Creed! We are to take them alive!"

Sabretooth snickered. "This one had an accident. Fell down and broke his neck."

I pressed the right buttons to lock the door and avoided looking at the dead man as we left (he had a SHIELD uniform), with Colossus now in the lead. Back on my world, it was the other way around; Colossus had been a brute and Mr. Creed... had been a different person altogether.


The UN people had set up a generator and lights within the asteroid. As we crossed another corridor, I glimpsed a face, a boy no older than I, not wearing a uniform. He seemed to fade into a wall and vanished. "Colossus!" I called ahead, but there was more gunfire and clanging in front.

Colossus rushed up and grabbed the soldier who was shooting at him. After some thumps, he slung the unconscious soldier over his shoulder. "Their ordinance cannot hurt me," he called back, cheerfully. "So do not worry. We are almost there."

I bit my lip and followed him and Sabretooth to the hull rupture that Exodus had been sent to secure. Several of the Acolytes came in behind us, dragging bound people, some in SHIELD uniforms, some in lab coats and a few in suits, UN people.

That boy is too young to be with the UN I thought. And he had no uniform and no gun. And he's a mutant; it looked like he phased through that wall. I had to tell someone, but Sabretooth might just kill him.

Exodus was standing and looking through the hole at the outside, ignoring us. He had put up some sort of glowing forcefield, but they had stopped shooting at it. I went up to look outside with the others and saw an eerie glowing shape approach. It was Magneto, surrounded by his force field, with another glowing shape behind him, too far back to make out. I could hear the Syrians babbling at eachother in Syrian...? No, Arabic, Syrians speak Arabic. One of the well-dressed prisoners on our side of the hole started to shout back at them, but stopped when Amelia held her pistol to the back of his neck.

"I have disabled their weapons," Magneto called to us as he got closer. "They are preparing to retreat, so it would be best to return our prisoners now." The Acolytes started dumping the people they had captured out of the hole onto the sand outside. They seemed glad to go.

As Colossus pushed his prisoner outside, he glared at Sabretooth, who looked back blandly. "One of our... antagonists... suffered a mishap. He is dead." Colossus told Magneto.

Magneto raised his eyebrows and looked back at Sabretooth. "Surprisingly careless of you. Bring the body here. Quickly."

Sabretooth glared back at him and disappeared back down the corridor. I opened my mouth to tell Magneto about the boy I had seen, but he turned and gestured behind him. The glowing shape that had been following him floated through the hole and into the asteroid.

Within the force field were a couple of crates and three beautiful metal statues: a young woman in a long robe, a huge bald man with a beard, and a girl my age with a huge gun. All of them wore the uniforms of Acolytes and they were all kneeling with their heads bowed. I recognized the man, at least who had been in another reality. Delgado, a minion of Apocalypse. Oh no...

Magneto stepped through the hole and told two of the Acolytes, the Kleinstock twins, to grab the crates and to get them to the control room. "They were preparing to take these away. A good thing they waited this long." Magneto remarked. He scratched irritably at the thick white beard he had not had time to shave away.

Sabretooth returned, carrrying the dead man. I'd seen a lot of people die recently, but for some reason my gorge rose. Magneto nodded and pointed back to the hole. Sabretooth lifted his arms to pitch the body out, but Magneto growled, "Gently!"

As Sabretooth shoved the corpse outside, a pair of hands grabbed it from the other side and jerked it through. One of the Acolytes snickered and Colossus murmered, "A brave man." I wondered whether it had been a Syrian or a UN soldier and how he would feel when he realized that this one was dead.

Magneto gestured at the holed and the ceiling above us wriggled as material flowed down to form a new wall, sealing the hole. "Stations!" Magneto barked at us as he levitated the metal statues again. We headed back into the bowels of the asteroid.


The Acolytes had actually been trained to read and to use Magneto's equipment, so they swarmed over the consoles in the control room returning the components from the crates to their proper places and hooking certain systems to freshly charged-batteries. "Life support and artificial gravity will be operational once we get a real power source." Milan, another of the Acolytes, told Magneto, "And I'm establishing a local gravity field in here."

"Fine," he replied, "Then the rest of it can be repaired in orbit. And it will be, before anyone after us comes in with artillery heavy enough to harm us."

"Like what?" sneered Exodus. "What do the flatscans have..."

"The Avengers." Magneto snapped. "The Fantastic Four. That sort of thing. Not that it matters. The hull is now intact and we're leaving."

"Uh, before we go, boss," said Sabretooth. "You'll want to know... we've still got an intruder on board. Just one: male, young, scared, no gun. Not one of the soldiers."

Magneto furrowed his brow at this. "Milan, Carmella, Skids, there are intact anti-surveillance devices in that crate and batteries are here. Have them in place and operational as quickly as you can. Exodus, Rusty, Colossus, each of you escort one of them and don't go haring off after this intruder. You'll need to remember your zero-g training. The rest of you remain here with me and get the other systems operational."

Sabretooth shook his head impatiently, "Listen, Mags..."

"There's no time!" Magneto snapped at him. "I took us off the ground before we even entered this room and this asteroid must be cloaked before any pursuit of us can be readied! Go! Now!"

They left and I sat down as Magneto put the other Acolytes to work. Space sensors, jamming devices, artificial gravity... My Magneto, back in that other world, had never used those. We'd been fighting a ground war...

Magneto opened a cabinet and pulled something out of it. A bottle of whiskey I realized, and was shocked when he opened it and gulped some down. This guy really was different from the Magneto I had known... I realized that all the Acolytes were looking pointedly away from him.

It also occurred to me that this guy had picked up a vast quantity of iron, half a mile long, and chucked it into Earth orbit while he stood and argued with his underlings. That was well out of the range of the abilities of the Magneto I remembered. Still, I couldn't think of a damned thing I wouldn't give up at that moment to have my Magneto back.

He put the bottle back and walked over to the statues. He touched the face of the statue of the robed woman, and the silver color flowed away from his hand, to be replaced by the colors of ordinary flesh, hair and cloth. I stared in amazement. Her eyes opened and she cried out something in Spanish as she looked up.

"You're fine, Anne-Marie," Magneto told her, "We're safe, for the time being." He touched the other two statues and they also became living people again.

I shuddered as I recognized Delgado's harsh voice: "Where the hell...?"

The girl quickly stood and backed up, hoisting her gun and looking around her, her eyes bright and alert. "Where are the X-Men?"

The three of them noticed me and the Acolytes and fell silent. Voght, standing behind Magneto, cleared her throat. "Ah, sir, We've got the sensors online using that damned generator and... we're approaching our target."

Magneto turned back towards her. "I know. Blink, tell these three what has been going on. I have to take care of this."

The three former statues looked back at me. I wondered if maybe they couldn't tell me as much about what I'd gotten into as I could tell them...


"All I can tell you is my side of it, and that probably doesn't make much sense at all," I began. "I'm from another world, a parallel reality. I've been fighting alongside Magneto for years. He founded the X-Men to fight over Apocalypse, who'd taken over North America."

I noticed the look of glazed shock coming over the faces of my audience and quickly shifted ahead, "Well, I ended up here where none of that ever happened and found the X-Men with Professor Xavier, and my old friend... Sabretooth. At least, someone who looked just like him." Sabretooth waved and grinned from the console he was sitting on.

I took a deep breath and continued, "It was just too weird: some of these people I remembered as friends and others who had been enemies, so I... and Sabretooth bugged outa there... I should warn you, you guys have been out of it for a long time. By the time we made it to Avalon to find Magneto, he was in a coma, had been for months. The people who'd been chasing us caught up with us, and the X-Men too. Avalon was destroyed, but Magneto had woken up and we got out of there alive, well most of us..." The shock and the events of yesterday started to hit me and I was having trouble going on.

"What's Avalon?" asked the blue-haired girl, who had put her gun down.

"Who are these guys?" demanded Delgado, gesturing at the other Acolytes.

"Why was Lord Magnus in a coma?" asked Anne-Marie, looking very anxious.

"Well, Avalon was a space station, like this one, and there had been an earlier fight with the X-Men. Professor Xavier had..." A spate of cheering erupted from the Acolytes clustered around Magneto and some equipment.

I recognized Colossus' voice through the loudspeaker. "Yes, we can see it, and we're all suited up. Exodus and Milan are going across now..."

My audience got up and wandered over to the crowd at the radio station. "What's going on?" I demanded, a little crossly.

Magneto got up. "I was able to salvage a little of Avalon last night and put it into orbit. The solar collectors on those pieces are operational and should be able to provide full power to most of the asteroid," he explained smugly. I felt more annoyed than ever. "I'll be joining you immediately, Colossus," he told the radio microphone and headed out the door.

The next voice out of the loudspeaker was Milan's "We've got her hooked up! Hit the switches!" Anne-Marie reached out to one of the consoles and pressed something. I jumped as bright light filled the room, drowning out the dim light provided by our lanterns and the UN's lighting system.

"I've established artificial gravity across most of the asteroid," Anne- Marie told us. "It's broken in some sections, but I'll shut and seal the bulkheads on those."

"Great" I muttered, sitting down.

Sabretooth walked over to me. "Cheer up, kid," he said in a low voice. "They don't trust us worth a damn, partly 'cause they've just met us. They'll get over it."

I looked up, hopeful all of a sudden. "You mean, you'll stay here?"

Sabretooth sat beside me. "I don't see a better option. I've burned a lot of bridges behind me. I don't wanna go crawling back to the X-Men. Mags needs us, and he'll do right by us. Turns out that someone nasty has put a price on my head, and that'll get collected someday. I'd rather it be later than sooner."

Anne-Marie, ensconced at the controls, happily punched buttons. A screen on one of the walls lit up, showing a breathtaking scene of the outside of Asteroid M. I could make out Magento standing, protected by a glowing forcefield, and a couple of figures in hardsuits struggling with huge cables. The camera receded from the scene, presumably being let out on a tether, and two huge angular shapes came into view. Pieces of Avalon, I realized. There was the glowing form of Exodus floating nearby, presumably dragging them towards Asteroid M telekinetically. Magneto gestured as they got close enough, and a pseudopod extended from Asteroid M's surface towards one piece. The metal of the Asteroid and of the fragment melded together where they met. The camera kept moving out and out, until I could no longer make out the people. As the three units, the asteroid and the two fragments were pulled into their final configuration, the whole package looked like a giant butterfly, with the fragments as wings and Asteroid M as the body.

"At least our boy has learned to plan," Sabretooth mused, "There's a time to build and a time to fight if you really want to change anything for long."

I sat and looked at the image on the screen a little longer.

Amelia Voght walked up to us and said, "I'm going aboard one of the fragments. You and Sabretooth may want to come with me." So we got up and fell into step behind her.

"Why?" I demanded once we were out of the control room.

"The pieces of our last haven were not all that Magneto retrieved from the ocean." Voght replied cryptically, "And we've got some news of things that are happening on the planet below. Bad news."


We followed her up a spiral staircase into the almost familiar architecture of Avalon. He must have just built that staircase I thought, When he united the stations. We took a few more turns and entered an area labelled "Medical Center". Storm and Iceman were resting in two of the beds, heavily bandaged. "Hello." Storm managed weakly.

"How did you escape drowning?" asked Amelia.

"There was air trapped in the remains of Avalon," said Magneto from behind her.

Amelia spun around, looking indignant. Magneto ignored this and walked up to Storm's bed. "Fortunately, I had shielded the Medical Center heavily, so the equipment was largely intact. With it to tend them, I decided that they could wait for us up here."

"Yup," said Iceman from his bed. "You actually had us rooting for you, Maggie. If you hadn't made it up here, we'd almost be well in time to die when this thing's orbit decayed, and it fell out of the sky and burned up on re-entry."

"I have just told the Acolytes that you are under my protection," Magneto said, "But, just to make sure, I'm leaving Sabretooth to protect you." He grinned at the looks of consternation on their faces, and so did Sabretooth. "If you recall, some of the Acolytes have very little love for you..."

Iceman groaned and turned towards the wall, but Storm decided that she had better things to worry about. "I recorded the newscasts for you," she said to Magneto. He pulled up a chair and sat down, looking at her expectantly. Amelia sighed and leaned back against a wall.

Storm picked up the remote from beside her bed and poked at it until a screen on the wall across from her lit up.

"Trish Tilby reporting from Washington DC," chirped the reporter on the screen, "Trials have been scheduled for seven Senators and sixteen members of the House of Representatives. All of the Congressman indicted as members of the 'Mutant Underground' have been charged with conspiring to break Federal law, particularly those associated with Mutant Registration Act, various immigration laws, aiding and abetting criminals, and several acts of kidnapping. Charges have been brought up against people in various positions all over the country, but that list has not been released yet..."

The scene switched and Trish Tilby was walking backwards down a hallway, "Now we're going to speak to the man who first brought up these charges, Mr. Henry Gyrich of the National Security Agency." A door opened and a very weary-looking man with red hair in a crew-cut came out and did a double-take when he noticed the cameras. He looked as if he wanted to go back into the office he'd just left, but turned back towards Tilby.

"Mr. Gyrich, we understand that there have been some new developments in this case," said Trish, brightly.

"It's not my case," pleaded the red-haired man. "I have turned this investigation over to the Federal Bureau of Investigation."

"What were you doing when you were attacked this morning?"

Gyrich took a deep breath and faced the camera squarely, "As usual, every facet of my life is known to my good friends in the media! Well, let me make sure your facts are correct. My initial informant in the matter of the so-called 'Mutant Underground' claimed that he knew who had organized it and was running it. I was shocked to hear the name he gave, and further shocked when several of those indicted gave the same name. It was someone in whom I personally had placed a great deal of trust, and I... asked to serve the warrent for his arrest in person." He licked his lips and looked down. "I asked him to meet me in my office, here, as I have many times before on other matters. He came, of course, and I told him what he'd been charged with and why..."

Gyrich looked back at the camera again, "I'd been warned that he is a telepath. He... attacked me psichically. Trying to get control of my mind. I guess if he'd succeeded, he'd have been in a position to derail the investigation pretty thoroughly. Plant false information in my mind, that sort of thing. But I had prepared myself for this sort of thing. As of this morning, it's no longer classified information that the Soviets designed techniques to defend one's mind against such an attack. I've... charged him additionally with assault and he's on his way to the Vault now. The CATscan that was done on me a few hours ago shows the signature typical of someone who's been telepathically attacked." He rubbed at his eyes.

Both Magneto and Voght just sort of groaned at this news. Voght put her head in her hands. I just stood there, completely confused as to the importance of all of this.

Tilby asked the question that was driving me crazy at that moment, "So who is the telepath who assembled this conspiracy?" At least she wasn't smiling anymore.

"Charles Xavier," said Gyrich, staring at the camera again.

Storm switched the screen off with her remote control. "He never got to the Vault. The X-Men rescued him and ran away. The police have descended on the Massachusetts Academy and Charles' estate with warrents and mutant detection equipment. I think everyone got away, but only by the skin of their teeth. I think his accounts are frozen, at least the ones in the US."

Magneto nodded and Voght sighed deeply.

"Could make it difficult to return you two to the X-Men." Magneto commented dryly.

"What's going on?" I demanded. "Professor Xavier is some kind of criminal?"

"Not really," Storm answered, "Except insofar he was struggling against an unjust law. He had conspirators though, and one of those must have let him down. All of the misdemeanors he was guilty of were part of his efforts to protect mutants from their would-be oppressors and from the law that might deliver them into the hands of those oppressors, the Mutant Registration Act. In our timeline, mutants are hated and feared, but do not rule. So the US government attempts to control mutants within its borders, to make sure that they pose no danger..."

Voght spoke up, "That last thing Charles did, that was no misdemeanor. Attempting to mind-control and NSA official who was arresting him for other crimes..."

"Was foolish," Storm agreed. "Gyrich took him by surprise and Charles panicked."

"He's in a lot of trouble." That was as far as I had gotten.

Magneto stirred and pulled himself out of his chair. "We are all in a lot of trouble. I suspect that the backlash of this is going to hit a great many mutants less well-defended and less well-hidden than the X-Men are now, even with yesterday's casualties."

"Before you go," said Storm, "Watch this." She picked up her remote control and turned the screen on again.

It looked like more news. A brown-haired man with an ugly, snarling expression was all but shouting into a microphone: "We have only begun to scratch the surface of this conspiracy! The FBI says that all of the Mutant Underground conspirators in custody are human! Where are their mutant masters?! They're out there, I tell you. They say that the Underground was only to hide unregistered mutants, to move them around so they'd be hard to find. What did they need twenty-three Congressmen for, then?! That only includes the ones who knew what they were doing, not the ones who let Charles Xavier, advisor on mutant affairs, rewrite their very thoughts! He's not the only telepath they've got in place either! They're out there, until we can hunt them down and free ourselves of their influence!" The ranting man was gone and the screen read: "The preceding was a paid political announcement brought to you by the Friends of Humanity and the Graydon Creed for President committee."

"Creed?" I began.

Sabretooth nodded, still looking at the screen. "My son. The bastard. He's a throwback and determined to spend the rest of his life gettin' back at mutants, all of them."

"People are going to listen to this?" I felt a little sick.

Voght said hollowly, "He's running for President. Takes a lot of signatures and a lot of money. The Friends of Humanity are good for plenty of both."

"I have to go see what effects this... business is having down below." Magneto headed for the door. "Voght, I may need your help."

When I looked back at Storm, she was lying back down, obviously worn out. Iceman was already asleep, apparently had been for a while. Sabretooth fixed himself a sandwich and settled down to guard the two X- Men. I walked back to Asteroid M by myself.


I got back in time to listen to a "history lesson" with the Acolytes- who-had-been-statues. Colossus, who had turned from his metallic form to the more human one, and Exodus started out with an explanation of what had happened to Magneto between the time he had first offered to let the mutants of the world resettle on his space station, back when he'd had the first Acolytes on Asteroid M. The "lesson" quickly devolved into a raging, but informative argument, through the founding of the new Acolytes by the treacherous Cortez, the creation of Avalon and the repetition of the offer of haven, Magneto's defeat by Charles Xavier (using a maneuver similar to the one which had just gotten him into so much trouble!), and the horrible civil war in Genosha. Delgado kept trying to interrupt and ask questions, but the blue-haired girl, Anne-Marie and I just sat and watched. I was increasingly convinced that Exodus was a dangerous loonie. He'd have fit right in with Apocalypse's prelates in my old reality. Colossus, on the other hand...

"Exodus!" shouted Milan from a console, "And the rest of you! Get your butts to Airlock six! The Old Man is back and he's brought a lot of company. Anne-Marie, Voght is teleporting wounded to the infirmary, 'scuse me, 'Med Center'; you need to get over there." He'd certainly gotten over his reverence for Magneto, I noticed.

We jumped to our feet in alarm, but had to wait for the blue-haired girl to show us where Airlock 6 was. By the time we got there, people were streaming into the airlock: Asians with haggard expressions, some of them bruised and bandaged. They were people of all ages, most of them lightly dressed (some with straw hats), carrying what looked like their worldly possessions. One woman had a cage with two chickens with it. They stopped pouring in when they saw us, and stood and looked frightened.

Magneto pushed through the crowd from behind, a well-dressed Asian man with him. The well-dressed man addressed the crowd in English: "We are here and we are safe. Form into your evacuation groups now! Evacuation officers, determine that your groups are complete!"

I watched as the refugees rushed about. Apparently while we'd been catching up on things, there had been a riot near a major mutant enclave in Singapore. This leader, the Light, had been assembling refugees there for years. When the hysteria over mutants had started in the States, the Singapore government had used a portable Cerebro that had picked up the huge concentration of mutants at once. The locals had picked up on this and descended on their neighbors wrathfully, probably not even knowing why they were attacking these poor mutants.

"I knew you would come through!" The Light clapped Magneto on the shoulder. "I knew it could not get too bad before you returned, and that was exactly what happened."

Magneto just shook his head, "You don't know how close it was."

The Light smiled. "I was in Cambodia in '75. I know about 'close', believe me, just as you do."

They had been brought here in a delapidated sea-going warship. I could see it in a viewscreen in the airlock, held to the outside of Asteroid M by claws that had grown out of its side. Exodus had gone out another airlock to make sure that it was secure. We were going to need all the scrap iron we could get, apparently.

The blue-haired girl started to lead the evacuation groups to quarters that had been established for mutant refugees before Asteroid M had fallen to Earth. The Light explained that his people were already organized and trained for this move. A certain number would cook for the rest (I was very glad to hear about this), some would take on child care, and the rest were ready to go to work to maintain their new home. Magneto seemed obviously relieved about this; his Acolytes certainly did not seem ready for the task of actually caring for refugees once they got here.

This also seemed to have occurred to Magneto "Colossus, draw up a roster. We must get this station online, and we also have to pick up refugees as we learn of other enclaves being discovered. But some of us have got to get some rest, and I'm putting myself on that list before I fall over. You probably know the capabilities of the Acolytes as well as any of us. Set up three shifts. Give yourself charge of one, I'll take the next and Amelia should have the third. Good night." He staggered back towards the door leading deeper into the station.

The Light, the last of the Asians in the airlock, walked up to him. "Do not worry, my friend. I have some experience with this and will help your people with their organization and any more emergency evacuations we must arrange in the next few hours."

"Thank you," said Magneto, "That would be... most helpful."

Colossus looked at the Light warily, but nodded. "I would appreciate experienced assistance."

Magneto looked back at us, sighed and went on out.

"Blink, I'm putting you on this shift," Colossus told me, "The one that is starting right now. What would help most is if you would go find a map of the station layout and learn it and start teaching it to the others."

I headed for the control room, happy to have something to do. Milan and Skids were there, so asked them where I would find a map.

"You picked a good time to ask," chuckled Milan, "Now that we've finally got the mainframe booted up, we'll just print one out." He set about doing that.

"Uh, Blink, all those refugees that just came on board were Asians, weren't they?" Skids asked.

"Yes, they were."

Milan and I hurried over to her station. Skids was sitting in front of a bank of screens showing out put from random security cameras around Asteroid M. Many of them were dark, but one showed a paused image, the young, red-haired intruder I'd spotted a few hours ago, back when the asteroid was buried in the sand back in Syria. "That guy just followed Magneto into his quarters, through a closed door."

"Get ready to follow him!" I stared intently at the screen while the other two grabbed weapons and stepped close to me. It was safest to teleport only to places I'd actually been to, but an image would work too.

We jumped through the teleportal into the hallway shown by the screen. Milan hit the safety override to Magneto's door and he and Skids charged in, guns drawn. I followed with a javelin in my hand.

Magneto sat at the foot of his bed, wearing a bathrobe and holding a towel. The intruder stood in front of him, staring at us wide- eyed.

"The traitor!" shouted Milan. "Move away from him!"

The intruder turned back to Magneto "This is why I had to wait until they weren't around." To Milan he said, "I came her for protection, for a place to live, just like last time."

"Last time you sold us out!" snarled Milan. "You led the X-Men right to us! Exodus banished you to Earth; you have no right to be here."

Magneto looked at the intruder, "So you have a history."

The intruder swallowed. "I joined the Acolytes when Cortez refounded them. I overheard him admitting he'd... killed you. He pursued me and tried to kill me before I could tell the others. The X-Men saved me, so I brought them back to take revenge on Cortez."

"Putting your fellow Acolytes in danger, since they knew no better than to protect Cortez," Magneto observed.

"Yes, sir," said the intruder softly, looking at the floor.

Magneto sighed, "Well, I've forgiven various of your comrades, as much as I am able, for killing schoolchildren and elderly invalids in my name. You weren't visible in either of those escapades, so you might as well be forgiven, too. What's your name, boy?"

"Neo... I mean, Klaus,... sir,"

"Fine. Milan, tell the others he's back and not to be harmed. Now, please get the hell out of here and let me take my shower."

We led the new arrival away. I decided that this Magneto might not be anything like the one I remembered, but that he'd be good enough.

The Avalon Project
Chapter 3, Part I

Luis Milan:

I was sitting there in front of a workstation having my illusions shattered. Not all that unpleasant really, as I had grown considerably less dependent on them recently, and the truth looked a hell of a lot more interesting, and perhaps as encouraging, in a personal way.

I should have known something was funny all those months ago, when Cortez wanted me to write that biography. He only provided me with Magneto's journals from before his last attempt to take over the world, with that earthquake-inducer. At the time, I'd been an ardent fan of the well- intentioned megalomaniac who had written those journals, but even I had realized that he was a very different man from the somewhat wearier and more cynical Magneto who had turned himself over twice to be judged by the powers he'd tried to overthrow for years. I had hoped that Magnus himself would tell me what had changed, but I'd barely had time to introduce myself before Xavier and his hit squad had showed up. They'd left him as good as dead. Now he was back, but we were caught in a mad race to rescue as many mutants as we could and to make our home hidden and safe while those who would hunt us down were... otherwise occupied.

I'd found some of the answers I'd wanted even before Magneto had been reawakened by recent events. I found journals at his base in Antarctica covering the period between the fall of Asteroid M and the time he summoned us to join him. However, these raised even more questions than they answered. This Magnus was done with war, bent on building a new world rather than try to conquer the old one, but as the days progressed, his writing became more disjointed, more irrational. After several readings, I had some suspicion as to when this other change had begun and why, but I still had no proof. I felt I'd need to do something about it pretty soon.

After Magnus' return and the destruction of Avalon, we retreived Asteroid M, and I got the computers online again. All the files were intact, including the missing journals, and these answered my original questions as to why he'd changed his mind about conquering the world in the first place. It started on that island, when he had all his enemies laid at his feet, when he realized all it was going to cost him to take over the world was his soul, and that wasn't a price he wanted to pay. It made sense to me and was a wonderful story as well, with shades of Prospero in "The Tempest".

I'd just finished reading about the captain of the fishing boat, a flatscan, who had rescued Magnus after the destruction of an earlier edition of the asteroid base we currently occupied, when I heard the noise in the adjacent storeroom. I pulled out my sidearm and went charging in there. Magnus looked up from a crate of backup disks, looking even more haggard than he had a few hours before, when he'd finally gone to bed. He was still in his pajamas and bathrobe, his hair and beard mussed from sleep.

"Sorry, sir." I reholstered my weapon, embarrassed. "Um, can I help you with something?"

"I doubt it," he muttered, rubbing at his eyes. "I'm looking for some image files, but I... don't think they even exist."

I didn't know what to say to this for a moment. He closed the crate again, and kept rubbing at his face, wiping away tears, I realized. "Ah, sir. If you can tell me what you're looking for, I can set up searches on our computers and there are databases on Earth I can check..."

He shook his head. "There are no photographs of my wife and my daughte. I had some sketches of them, years ago, but I destroyed them because they were driving me crazy. I... never thought that the lack of them would be even worse."

"I could, ah, help you recreate those sketches from your memory." I offered.

The tears started to run down his face in earnest. "No," he said softly, "They're gone. I can't remember them. I dreamt of them again, of Anya's death, the last time I saw Magda, only I couldn't see them, just hear the screams and know exactly what was happening, but I couldn't see them..." He mopped at his face.

I nodded, embarrassed. I knew what he was talking about. According to his journals, he'd relived that incident many times in his dreams. But he had seemed to have a pretty good visual memory. I'd found a number of his sketches in his files, both on paper and on disk. "Gone, sir?"

"I'm missing a lot of memories. Aftereffects of the psychic attack Charles put me down with all those months ago." He caught a look at my appalled expression and smiled wryly, "Not to worry, Milan. I don't seem to have lost any technical information or recent memories. Just... personal things. That don't matter... right now. And I'm afraid you can't do without me at the moment even if I were completely senile."

"Wouldn't dream of it, sir," I said, weakly. Then, "Sorry to hear about this, sir. We thought you were completely recovered. Perhaps they'll come back to you."

He shook his head slowly. "Brain damage doesn't heal. I'll just count myself lucky that I didn't lose anything essential. What has changed since I went to bed?"

"Exodus got us an iceteroid. We're melting and filtering it right now to fill up the water tanks. And we're going to need them. We've got a horde of refugees up here now. Over a thousand at the last count. Work crews are getting the rest of the living space habitable, but it will take a week or more. There isn't all that much of it left."

He sighed. "How are the food stores holding up? I don't know what's become of them since before I rounded you up, then Charles came... and that was months ago."

I had some good news on that account. "We kept on adding to them, sir. They're stored in Antarctica, and we've got people down there too. The teleporters are online again, so we can move stuff back and forth very easily."

Magneto nodded. "I was afraid we'd fill to capacity. Any idea where these people have all come from?"

I whisked my datapad from my belt. "I've been taking it down as they've come in, sir. Point of origin, approximate numbers, where they've been housed since..."

Magnus took the datapad and looked over it. He was clearly exhausted, but too overwrought to go back to bed in his current state. If getting back to work would clear his mind, I was more than willing to let him go to it.


Charles Xavier:

The vivid scenery of the Carpathians unfolded around me as I drove along the mountain road in a red convertable, the one I'd always wanted but never got around to having except in dreams. I'd never been there myself of course; these were another man's memories. "Stolen" was not the word to describe them, "borrowed", perhaps, or better yet, "shared" with a friend whose companionship I needed now more than ever.

Once I made it to the top of the ridge, the valley spread out below me and I could see my destination ahead of me, a quaint little village with smoke coming from the chimneys. I drove into the outskirts and pulled over outside an isolated little shack with a vegetable garden and a long woodpile. I'd been inside that shack, seen its single, sparsely-furnished room. How could he remember that wretched little hovel so fondly? Nevertheless, it was his, and if he wanted it, he could have it.

As if on cue, a tall figure came around the corner of the building. As soon as he saw me, Magnus dropped his axe and rushed up to greet me, smiling broadly. I couldn't help smiling back. He looked healthy and happy, as well he should. I had buried all memories of the tragedies that had happened later in his life, after he'd left Czechoslovakia, and while I was at it, I had spruced up the memory in which he was living. There was nothing I could do to erase or soften the recollections of his years at Auschwitz; I wanted him content, not anesthetized.

Some of my troubles in the waking world must have shown on my face, because Magnus became concerned as he approached me. "You look worried, Charles. Is something wrong?"

"Trouble back home. But there isn't anything I can do about it at this moment, so I thought I'd stop by the village and see how things are."

He managed a smile, "Well enough, Charles, as usual."

I tensed immediately. He was lying, but how could it be? What could be troubling him here? And I sensed that he was only trying not to add to my troubles...

"Magnus," I said firmly, "You are perturbed, and not over my problems. Is something wrong here in the village?"

Magnus held on to that weak smile and shook his head. "No, everything's fine here, Charles. Just... a little strange. Has something happened to your family back in America?"

I sighed. "I'm afraid so." Close enough to the truth as to make no difference.

His face fell at this. "I suppose you'll have to return home, then?" he asked, unhappily. My heart warmed. At this time, I doubted that even the X-Men would have missed me if I were to disappear from their midst.

"It shan't be for long," I assured him. "You'll hardly know I was gone." The last statement was, in fact completely true. But I was not going to be sidetracked. "Magnus, what's going on here that's 'strange'?"

Magnus let his lips and looked at me uncertainly, "Well, it's nothing I can show you. It's just... the weather's odd. I've been collecting wood, for the winter, as I always do at this time of year, but winter... hasn't come. And it should have, a long time ago! I never manage to scrounge up this much wood in a summer."

I cursed myself silently, for letting him build up his stores, not realizing that they also served him as a calendar, something I did not want him to have in this refuge of eternal summer.

He went on, "There never seems to be any work for me, yet there's plenty of food around. I can't figure out how Magda can buy things if I'm not working." I stared at him, desolate. Magnus' dreaming mind should not be capable of making these deductions; he was supposed to simply accept his surroundings...

"What really frightens me..." he stared back at me, intensely and anxiously. "I'm worried... about Anya. Something terrible is going to happen to her, soon. I've never had a presentiment like this before. This isn't just Romany superstition, Charles. I know..." His voice was shaking.

"Oh, I believe you, my friend." And with that, I forced the scenery to shift and pushed his memories of the last setting and of our conversation deep into his subconscious, where, I now realized, they might not stay as they should. Magnus' mind was attempting to leave its dream state, to become conscious. Should it succeed, the results would be disastrous, as he was currently housed within my own mind. This was _not_ what I needed to be dealing with right now.

We stood in the driveway of my own home in Westchester, New York, whose real-world counterpart I would probably never see again, as it had recently been seized by the United States government. Time to start this conversation over again.

"So, how are the New Mutants coming along?" I asked him.

He looked a little shaken for a moment, as if he did not know where he was. "Very well, Charles, but I'm worried. They've been restless since the X-Men... died. They keep wanting to go out on their own to play superhero. I'm just afraid they'll try it and that something's going to happen..."

I shut my eyes and groaned inwardly, not even wanting to think about what was going on back in the real world. Dammit! Why wouldn't he just live in the past I'd rebuilt for him, where he was happy, and safe, and harmless? Why did he struggle so to remember the horrors that had been and that were to come?

"Professor! Professor! Wake up!" I started in my chair, opening my eyes. I was awake, back on that weird Carribbean island where we'd defeated Magneto so long ago, the last time he'd tried to take over the world. Now, it was our last refuge, a base that the US Government did not know of and could not find, for it wasn't on any map. Rogue and Wolverine stood in front of me.

"There's a boat coming to the island," Rogue told me breathlessly, "Usin' Bishop's scarf for a flag."

"I thank you for the good news." It certainly had been a while since I'd had some. I pulled myself completely upright in my wheelchair and started rolling towards the door. Rogue and Wolverine followed me. I couldn't go to the dock itself, as that involved a long flight of stairs, but I could see the approaching ship. I reached out telepathically. There were only two people on board: Bishop and Captain Forrester. I was delighted that he'd actually managed to find her in port and that she'd agreed to ferry him here. I had considered sending Rogue back to collect him, but that would have been very risky. I waited patiently for them to dock and to climb up the stairs.

Bishop greeted us as brusquely as ever and launched right into his report. "Gambit will rejoin us once he has finished checking out Lila Cheney's facilities. She, Cable and Mr. Sinister have all offered to take us in." Wolverine and I chuckled at that last. Bishop continued, "I'll admit Sinister's people were very efficient about cleaning out that Brood nest in New York. Radio news was not available on Captain Forrester's ship, so I probably know less than you about the number and status of the other nests, and how the other superhero teams fare against them.

"Archangel was indeed captured by the government, but probably for the best. They have taken him to their medical facilities and Captain America says his condition has stabilized."

I sighed in relief when I heard that.

"Excuse me, Professor," Forrester began. "I hadn't heard any of this earlier. What does the government want with Archangel?"

She hadn't been listening to the radio. Perhaps if she had, she'd have been less willing to help us. Well, it was too late now, and I felt that we owed her the truth. "It's on my account, Captain. I'm afraid that I became a wanted man yesterday. One of my operations, an underground lobby, among other things, on behalf of mutants, was infiltrated and exposed. Gyrich, our old foe in the NSA, has convinced the Justice Department that it constitutes a plot to overthrow the whole government and instate mutant rule or some nonsense such as that."

"Give him a break, Chuck. The government hadn't accused anyone, not even you, of anything but misdemeanors until you freaked and tried to brainblast Gyrich."

I turned to glare at Wolverine. When I turned back to Captain Forrester, I didn't need telepathy to tell me that she was absolutely appalled. And perhaps, a small nagging voice inside of me remarked, she was right to be.

Wolverine cleared his throat. "We can't stay here forever. Jean's dyin', and I'm not even sure we can move her. We're gonna need help to save her."

"What's the matter with Jean?" Forrester asked in a small voice.

"The night before last," I told her, "The X-Men were lured into a trap by a group of Brood who had incubated in the bodies of certain of our enemies. Scott, Jean and Archangel were hurt, and four others died, Storm among them."

Forrester's eyes filled with tears. She had met Storm, helped her and the others defeat Magneto here, and they'd gotten on quite well.

"Only two dead, Charlie. While you were asleep, we got a comm call from Storm. Mags went back to pick up the pieces of Avalon, get 'em back into orbit, and he rescued her and Iceman. He buried the others. She says he put Asteroid M back into space too, and they've got pretty good medical facilities."

My relief at hearing that Storm and Iceman were alive almost balanced out my horror at hearing that Avalon was back up there, and inhabited by God-only-knows-what...

Forrester stared at me. I realized belatedly that she was suffering from shock. We had simply dumped too much on her at once. She spoke one word: "Magneto?"

I pressed my lips together, composing words, but Wolverine jumped in at this point. "That was where the Brood lured us, Avalon. He got woken up during the battle and came in on our side. Good thing too."

"He was asleep?" Forrester looked back at me, confused.

Rogue finally burst out, "Professor, if Storm called us from there, the Acolytes are gonna figure out where we are pretty soon. And people need us back in the States to fight the Brood. We've gotta hook up with Cable or Lila, find out if either of them have decent medical facilities."

Wolverine growled and shook his head. "Lila might be able to move Jean, but I know that Cable lost most of his tech-stuff recently. Listen, tell Maggie to get down here and pick up Jean. We know both his Antarctic base and Asteroid M have good med facilities. If Storm's all right, Jean will be. Us, he won't like, so we'd better tell him and be gone."

"That's not the real Magneto." I reminded them. "I doubt he's Brood, but we don't know who he is or what his agenda is. I don't trust him."

Forrester looked back up, still shaken. "How do you know?"

I gritted my teeth, "Because I killed him with a telepathic attack on Avalon, months ago, just before Exodus attacked Genosha. I burned out his mind. He did not 'wake up". Someone or something is using his body to masquerade as Magneto, to control his power base. He's dead, I know, because I made sure, as only I can."

Forrester stared at me, disbelieving. Rogue looked away. Wolverine seemed amused. They all believed me, much to my self-disgust, that I would actually murder the man who'd been my best friend, occasionally my ally. And I might have, were I a little weaker, without any other options available. I don't know if I could have brought myself to actually do it... that way. Or if I could have continued... with that on my conscience. Indeed, if I had, why should I bother, if there were nothing to make me a better man, my cause a better cause than his? As it was, the price I payed was a terrible one, Logan's injuries, the trust of certain of my students... And I'd left Magnus' body, a menace even when empty, an inspiration to his monstrous followers, Exodus and the Acolytes. And now inhabited by... something that walked and talked enough like my mad friend that it had convinced Magnus' Acolytes and my own X-Men that it was the real Magneto... But it wasn't. I and only I knew what became of the real Magneto and he wasn't on Asteroid M.

Tears starting from Forrester's eyes. "You people are crazy!"

Gambit's voice behind me made me jump, "Charles, why you make this pretty lady cry?"

I wheeled to face him. Lila stood next to him; she must have teleported him here.

"Pack up, X-Men," she cried gaily, "Time to get moving!"

"We are not yet committed," I told her angrily, "To joining forces with you."

"She's got room for us, X-Force doesn't," said Gambit.

"How 'bout a good hospital?" demanded Wolverine.

"Umm, for humans? I don't think so. But I could teleport people to a hospital in New York or California." Lila offered.

Wolverine sighed. "Up to you, Chuck. But I think Mags has better stuff, and Jeannie would rather wake up there than in the Vault."

I sent Wolverine and the others to secure what we'd been able to bring over in the Blackbird, while I went to our makeshift infirmary. Captain Forrester followed me. Jean was still comatose, but Scott was awake. While he exchanged greetings with the captain, I examined her and found her condition just as Wolverine had described it. Without better medical treatment, she was not going to pull through. Specifically, she needed the kind of advanced medical treatment now available to us only on Muir Island or Asteroid M. I tried to raise Muir Island on the comm equipment, but only reached the messaging service.

Behind me, I could hear the remaining X-Men entering the room and talking to each other.

Scott called out to me, "Professor, I'm willing to go along with Wolverine's plan. But if Jean goes to Asteroid M, I'm going with her. There's not much I can do to help you with the Brood right now anyway."

I was fresh out of other options. "Wolverine, this was originally Magneto's comm equipment. I suspect it's got the address for Asteroid M saved somewhere in here. Kindly arrange matters." He trotted over to it and set about the business.

"You better be long gone b'fore Maggie gets here," Gambit reminded me.

"That is the plan. I take it that the Blackbird is packed and ready to go?"

In the background, I could here Wolverine: "Take me t'yer leader, Bub." As he waited, Wolverine looked back up at us. "I'll stay and make sure Jean gets treated right."

"Don't be a fool!" I barked. "If that Magneto is anything like the real thing, he has it in for you as much as he does for me and he'll kill you as soon as look at you. Scott, I think he'll be willing to overlook, but you..."

"I'll stay," said Captain Forrester softly.

We stared at her, dumbfounded. "It should be alright," Scott argued. "Magneto has been at large for 48 hours and hasn't attacked any humans."

"But remember how he threatened at Illyana's funeral," I began, remembering that this Magneto wasn't, couldn't be the same man.

Wolverine spoke into the commlink behind me, "You planning to kill me?" I realized he had put on earphones so we could not hear Magneto's response. Then, "I want to see you die, but I need Jeannie to live. I'll be long gone by the time you get here anyways. I'll give yer regards to Charlie."

I looked down at Jean's limp form and wished for another alternative. Scott and Lee seemed content in their choice, and I could think of no fair way to keep them from going through with it.


Luis Milan:

Several of us went with Magnus when he answered the X-Men's call. I was motivated mostly by curiosity because I'd seen so much about that eldritch island in Magneto's records. I think, however, that Exodus, among others, wanted an opportunity to take revenge for all the defeats and setbacks we and our leader had suffered at the hands of the X-Men, as if there were any point. Magnus left me no time for sight-seeing, striding right into the nearest building as soon as Exodus teleported us in. I managed to stay right behind Magnus. I recognized the two bedridden figures as soon as we entered the infirmary, even without their costumes: Jean Summers, alias Phoenix, and her husband Scott Summers, Cyclops, both of whom looked to be in pretty rough shape. Cyclops looked up at us stoically as we walked in. A blond woman in ordinary, even shabby, clothing rather than a superhero uniform got up from a chair beside his bed. I didn't recognize her until Magneto named her for me.

"Lee!" The obvious delight in Magnus' face and voice didn't elicit quite the right response from her. She actually backed up a couple of steps, fear evident on her face. I choked back my horror as I started to realize where this would lead. This Forrester woman was the last person Magnus should have anything to with right now, a weakness he could not afford.

Delgado wandered up to Phoenix' bedside and clenched his fists. He suggested, "You want I should put 'em out of our misery now, boss?"

"No," Magneto said bluntly. "Exodus, can you teleport them back to the Medical Center safely?"

Exodus grinned, walked between the two beds, and snapped his fingers. He and the patients vanished.

Forrester sighed, obviously relieved that Magnus didn't intend to allow the lot of them to be killed. I prayed that he would realize that it was now time to leave.

No such luck. "Well, Captain, are you satisfied that your friends are in good hands, or do you wish to return to Asteroid M with us and see for yourself?" he asked, his voice calmer, but hopeful.

Forrester folded her arms around herself as if chilled and nodded, her face set. "I'd like to go with you... to make sure they're alright." As we left the building, she seemed reluctant to walk near him, until she noticed the hostility on the faces of several of the Acolytes when they looked at her.

I had to talk to someone about this problem, and Rasputin and Voght were too busy running the station. I'd have to alert them about the situation later. Scanner had been level-headed enough during the period when Magnus had lain unconscious, while we'd accepted the rule of that idiot, Exodus, and she was also a telepath. Klaus, the neophyte, was certainly an idiot, but unlikely to talk to the wrong people. Also, he might be sympathetic to Forrester, a perspective that might prove useful.

Magnus lifted us back to the station, and, as he walked towards the Medical Center with Forrester, I returned to my post in the Central Operations Room. Anne-Marie was off-shift, so it was deserted. I paged Scanner and Klaus and had them join me there.

"You're wondering why I've gathered you all here..." Klaus prompted me. Smartass kid.

I silenced him with a glare, not something I can do to many people. "You saw the woman that entered with Magnus?"

Scanner shrugged. "Another mutant? One of the X-Men?"

"No, she's a human woman, the captain of a fishing boat," I explained. "To make a long story short, some years ago, she saved Magneto's life and stole his heart, just before he took up with the X-Men. In fact, she may have convinced him to do so."

Scanner leaned forward, fascinated. Gossip often has that effect on people, especially gossip about a figure as remote and powerful as Magnus. Klaus, however, just grinned broadly. What did that wretched kid know?

"She dumped him after he left the Xavier's Mansion, even though he thought the X-Men were dead and his students had abandoned him. She was afraid he'd get in the way of her 'normal life'. He was still moping about her when he met our erstwhile leader, that treacherous bastard, Fabian Cortez. When Magnus saw her just now, he threw himself at her. She's only here to make sure the X-Men are settled, then she'll be gone again. You can see where this is going, can't you? He's going to have his heart broken all over again, be humiliated, by a human. He can't afford this right now, not here, with the situation we're dealing with now..."

"Where did you find this out?" Scanner demanded.

"He keeps a journal, remember? Cortez only showed us stuff from the old days, back when Magnus thought the way Cortez did. I read about Forrester in later stuff, on the mainframe in Antarctica and the one here."

Klaus whistled, annoying me further.

"Um," Scanner began. "His, ah, change of heart, how bad was it? If he's gone Xavier's route, I can see real trouble cropping up soon... Just what _does_ he think anyway?"

My jaw tightened. We were, in fact, a bunch of damned fools, signing on as the fanatic followers of a man of whom we all knew little, and who was turning out to be, perhaps, as confused as we...

"I had a sign!" Klaus exclaimed. "You remember, Luis, back at the Mont St. Francis, when I left. I'd overheard Cortez plotting with that weird master of his, but he found out that I'd seen him. He tried to kill me but I escaped and I was rescued by a human fisherwoman. His elite guard killed her...

"And then you sold us all out to the X-Men instead of telling us what was going on!" I finished for him. "Good thinking, Klaus!"

He had the good grace to look somewhat abashed by this.

"What do you want us to do about this?" Scanner asked. "What can we do?"

"He knows what he's doing," Klaus said smugly.

I put my face in my hands and sighed.

"Perhaps," he added hopefully, "She's realized that she should return to him."

"It's more tangled than that," I told them, choosing my words with care. "Before the Acolytes ever formed, Magnus had... publicly backed off on his views that humanity had to be conquered, suppressed so that mutants could survive. The views that Cortez founded the Acolytes to uphold. The journals of Magnus that Cortez had me publicize... had been selected carefully to support Cortez' view of what Magnus thought. I think that Cortez tried to kill Magneto for the same reason, so that Magnus would not say anything that Cortez found... too moderate."

"But when he brought us here, he seemed determined not to give the humans any quarter..." Scanner began.

"Oh, he had his doubts," I interrupted. "But the conqueror always won out. But, remember, who reminded him, corrected him, every time he stopped to question what was happening... again, after all those years of... his new... less aggressive stance?"

"Exodus!" yelped Klaus. I glared at him again. He was right, of course, even though he hadn't been there.

I nodded. "Magnus said in his recent journals that he didn't think that the world-conquest thing was going to work, and that it wouldn't be worth the resulting horrors even if it did have a chance. But when he found Exodus, after a while, he found himself entertaining the idea again, and some even weirder ones. Terrible stuff, destruction for no purpose. He actually said he wasn't sure why and it was starting to really bother him. Scanner, could you tell if Exodus was... pushing him telepathically? I'm just not that sensitive and wasn't paying enough attention at the time."

Scanner stared back at me, fear starting to show on her face. "I... I'm not sure. Exodus is a telepath and his aura is so... loud that I can't really tell if he's actually using his powers or not unless I'm actually watching and I... have been afraid to watch him too closely; he might notice..."

"What's to stop him from doing it again?" I demanded. "We might just succeed this time, if our fearless leader doesn't make any major strategic errors, but if Exodus can impose his own pathetic plans on Magnus..."

Scanner shook her head. "I think Exodus is not going to have an easy time of it anymore. Magneto's mindshields are different since he's come to, much stronger, not surprising after he survived and recovered from that telepathic attack. I've heard of that sort of thing happening under similar circumstances. The mind instinctively responds to the abuse it's taken. He still leaks emotions and surface thoughts, but that's just the way he is. I'm not even sure I could 'send' thought messages to him, unless he were watching for them and let them in, and I'm a pretty powerful telepath. It would be very hard to influence him without trying to break his shields completely, which is certainly beyond my power, and he would notice."

I felt relief wash over me and hoped she was right, that it would be enough. I all but jumped out of my skin when I heard the door 'whoosh' open.

"Excuse me, I was told that I could make a phone call from here." Speaking of the devil, that would be Captain Forrester. She walked in alone, surprisingly calm given that she was surrounded by the enemies of the X-Men and people who had killed far more than their share of ordinary humans like herself.

"I... think that can be arranged," I told her, my throat suddenly dry. Scanner and Klaus looked back at me uncertainly. True enough, we could tap into the telecommunications satellites easily enough and I could keep it untraceable. A couple of minutes of work, and I had it set up.

She was talking to someone in southeastern Florida, area code 305, I noted. She didn't ask us to leave, so we just sat and watched her. Sure enough, she was calling her crew. "Carlos, you and Ron charter a boat and go to the island. Yeah, that island, the weird one. Get the Arcadia back to Shark Bay, and get it ready for our next trip." She paused and whatever the guy on the other end told her made her bite her lip and shut her eyes. She took a deep breath before she answered him, "No, I don't know what to tell you to tell them. How's this: tell them everything you know. And if I'm not back by Thursday, go without me." She hung up, without giving him a chance to protest. "I must be out of my mind," she told us.

"Them?" I prompted, shamelessly.

She sighed and sat down, rubbing at her eyes, "The FBI. Has something to do with the X-Men, I think."

"Maybe it has to do with Magnus," suggested Klaus. "They may have found out he's back. Maybe they wanted to use you as a hostage..."

I pulled one leg back to kick him under the table, but stopped myself. Good God, if he was right, we could not let her leave...

"I think the US government has known about my... connection with him since back when he joined up with the X-Men." Lee Forrester was starting to look like she was out of her depth again.

My conscience began to twinge painfully at this point. "Ah, tensions have increased since then," I explained. "The last couple of times he announced his plans, the UN or someone that big sicced special orbital hardware on him. Almost as if they like his idea of filling his space station with refugee mutants even less than they liked his idea of taking over the world."

"Or they've just had time to organize themselves against him," remarked Scanner, softly.

Forrester shook her head. "I don't know anything about any of this. Guess I'll have to start looking this stuff up." She stared despondantly back at the handset she'd used to make the phone call.

"Didn't the X-Men tell you about everything?" Klaus asked.

"No, I didn't want to know; I thought that my ignorance would protect me. I'm starting to learn better," she admitted.

I thought it best not to comment on this.

"Ah... one more thing. Is there any way I could use e-mail from here?" She was starting to look kind of anxious.

"Whom do you need to contact? I could enable you to telnet an account Earthside or set up an account for you here..."

Her shoulders slumped as if in defeat. "I don't have the address and was hoping you would, but I don't even know if he can access his account anymore. I just wanted to let Charles Xavier know that this really is Magnus, not some imposter. I don't know if it would help him at all, but I think he ought to know and to stop spreading rumors to the contrary."

I realized I was sitting there with my mouth open. "He... what... he's telling people..."

"He's wrong!" snapped Scanner. "Listen, I'm a telepath, I know. His mental signature was... influenced by Xavier's attack, but it's him. I knew him just long enough before the attack to be sure of that."

Lee Forrester sighed again. "Yeah. Well, for the record, I think you're right. I don't think anyone in the world can act well enough to get down all of his eccentricities. He started to give me a tour of this... of your space station, reminded me a lot of the tour he gave me of his crazy earthquake machine complex, just before he offered to run the world for everyone..." She shook her head again, smiling this time. "Some things never do change."

I made a note to myself to think of something to do about this woman. Her political naivite was almost as bad as Klaus'. I was starting to develop a creeping suspicion, the kind you get after reading enough of a person's journals, that Magneto himself was no better.

"I'll see if I can locate an address and fire off a message," I offered, "But I suspect the U.S. government already has the computer in Westchester. I'll see if he has an account on any commercial service, but if I can find out about it, I bet that the government can as well."

"Thanks for trying," Lee said.

A tapping sound filled the air. I realized that the station had a public address system and that someone was trying to use it. "Attention!" said a man's voice. I recognized it as the Light's. "I am announcing a celebratory dinner, hosted by those of us rescued from the Singapore enclave, in appreciation of our new country. Asteroid M was liberated from the surface of the Earth just 24 hours ago! Everyone is invited to attend the dinner, which is being held in Auditorium C, section 4, starting in fifteen minutes."

"Guess I'd better go drag him away from whatever he's doing and make sure he gets fed," Lee remarked, presumably about Magneto, and wandered out the way she had come.

I looked back at Klaus. "Guess we'll leave you in charge here, kid"

"No, wait!" protested Klaus, far too late.

"Someone's got to monitor the sensors and take incoming messages. Here," I flipped on a TV screen, set to CNN, "Keep an eye on the news, and let us know if any major mutant enclaves need rescuing. C'mon, Scanner." We were out the door before he could even splutter one more syllable.
The Avalon Project, Chapter 3, Part II

The Avalon Project
Chapter 3, Part II

Luis Milan:

We joined in the queue being served dinner by smiling Asians. Looking over my shoulder, I could see Lee Forrester and Magnus coming into the auditorium. I pulled Scanner aside once our plates had been filled. We waited until Magnus had obtained his supper, then went and sat at his table. A number of others had sone the same thing, or simply picked their plates up and joined us from other tables. Most of them were movers and shakers from the various mutant contingents that we'd spent the past twenty-four hours rescuing. One of these movers was the Light, the leader of the Asian contingent. I didn't recognize any of the Palestinians; I suppose I was elsewhere when they'd been brought on board. The most noticeable people in the Dallas contingent were the ones in the uniform jackets marking them as members of the vigilante group Cry Wolf. I wondered which parts of their reputation were true and which weren't; but I suspected that they were at least as rough a bunch as the Acolytes.

"I take it that you had an enjoyable tour of this facility?" the Light asked Lee Forrester in a pleasant tone of voice. Magneto looked up from his meal and glared at the Light, but the Light didn't seem to notice. He continued, "And I hope you have seen enough of us aboard here to be able to tell your people below that the mutants of Avalon represent no great threat to the human race, battered refugees that we are?"

"Uh, my 'people below'? D'you mean the X-Men or the government? I'm not really in touch with any of them..." Lee looked back at him, perplexed.

The Light bared his teeth in a smile. "Your people, humanity, as opposed to mutantkind. When you return home, you will be in a position to talk to the media, to tell them what you saw."

"Ah... I'm not going to be able to return anytime too soon. The police are looking for me to try and get to the X-Men, and it isn't going to take much digging for them to find my connection to Magnus. And the Mutant Underground investigation could turn into a witch-hunt pretty easily. I really don't want to end up being detained for months without charges just so the police and the government can try and find out what I know. So..." She looked back at Magnus. He nodded to her and she went on: "Guess I'm going to be staying here until things calm down."

Converstation had died out at the tables around us, and people at them were craning over to listen to this exchange. I'd finished half my meal and not really tasted any of it and it wasn't even all that bland... I could begin to see where this was leading...

The Light's face became grim. "Magnus, isn't there anywhere on Earth where you can shelter her? There are going to be a number of human refugees who will want to sneak aboard, let alone infiltrators, and I'm told that resources are at a bit of a premium right now. They should be reserved for mutants..."

Magneto shook his head, "There's no reason for me to pack Lee off. There are already a fair number of humans aboard, and they're settling here with everyone else."

The Light's jaw dropped at this.

Magneto stared back at him calmly. "I didn't try and break up families when I brought mutant refugees here. Many of our mutant refugees are children, whose human parents rescued them and brought them here. Didn't you know that the Dallas enclave started out as a support group for the parents who had mutant children? As for the rest, many have human spouses, children or siblings, not to mention parents."

"Um, it's true," Carmella Unuscione piped up from the other end of the table, looking at the Light. "The Singapore enclave is the only all-mutant group. But the Dallas group is almost one-half human and the rest are in between."

"It's not that intractable a problem," Exodus told Magnus cheerfully. "I can sort them out and bring the humans back right after dinner." The Light did not seem even a bit cheered, and I saw several faces around the table scowling. I sighed inside, wishing that this debate could have waited a day or two, because I was pretty sure that once it began, it never would end, even if we were to live on Avalon forever.

"No," Magneto told Exodus flatly, as I had expected he would. "I'm not going to try and break up families. Right and wrong aside, I don't know who could take care of all the mutant children we've got. Moreover, some of these humans are indispensible professionals. Two of our three physicians are human, and I say that they stay."

Exodus stared back uncomprehendingly. "Then why build this place? What's the point?"

Oh, give it up, kid, I thought wearily. Time for Life 101 later; there are some real issues that people need to worry about right now and this isn't one of them...

Magnus explained, more patiently than he ought, "I built this place so that mutants could be safe, isolated from a world where bigoted humans are an overwhelming majority. The humans who are up here aren't in a position to make trouble even they wanted to. Telepaths are looking among people who haven't been part of enclaves for years already for infiltrators: Brood, minions of Apocalypse and Sinister, Hydra agents, and the spies from human governments. This is as safe as it gets, even if that isn't saying very much."

"This tolerance isn't necessary, Magnus!" the Light argued. "I had everyone seeking to join my community screened and only admitted mutants, wasting nothing upon those who were already part of the mainstream. We could always find parents to adopt mutant babies, and many older children were happy enough to leave their birth families for a community that could protect them!"

Magneto rose to his feet and snarled into the Light's face, "I know how you ran things in Singapore! You threw people into the street if they were 'impure' enough to have human children. You kidnapped mutant children if their human parents wouldn't sell them to you! Well, I will not do things here that way! I can't! The humans here have already abandoned their homes and their hiding places. The vengeful humans on the world below will imprison them or even slaughter them for 'betraying their race' if they were to return. I didn't risk my neck to defend some abstract nonsense like "genetic purity"! I'm here and I built this place to shelter real people in need! They're here now and no one will drive them away! None of them! So, forget your purge! It isn't going to happen here!"

The Light had leaned as far back in his chair as he could go and held up his hands placatingly.

But behind Magneto, Exodus stood up. "No!" protested Exodus. "You didn't always think that..." Horrified, I watched astral tendrils reach from Exodus to tear at Magnus' shields, invisible to all but the telepaths among us.

"You damned fool! How dare you?" cried the Light.

As he turned, Magnus swept an arm back, bowling Exodus off his feet. Exodus scrambled away, the crowd parting around him. Lee grabbed Magneto's other arm and hung on. I doubt she slowed him much, nor did she even succeed in discouraging him. Carmella and Colossus pulled her away.

Before Magnus could reach Exodus, three people in Cry Wolf jackets piled on top of Exodus. He didn't even struggle. Magneto approached, his hands cleched into fists. I felt faint relief. Now they all knew, especially Magnus, just what kind of subtle menace Exodus was, why this place had been a madhouse for so long before Magneto's most recent reawakening. And no- one had even gotten killed... yet. Exodus whimpered: "I was trying to help, don't you understand?"

The snarl hadn't left Magneto's face. "You and the others like you, 'helping' me help them, to serve their damned purposes, destroy my own work, my own dream..."

I couldn't decide whether I wanted Magnus to kill Exodus, to get rid of him, or if I didn't. I mean... watching anyone be killed, even a near-omnipotent idiot, is a very depressing experience...

"You're the one who should be banished," Magneto remarked. He seemed a little calmer than he had been a moment before, but I was pretty certain it wasn't Exodus' doing, or anyone other than Magnus' this time. "I know you can protect yourself from the bigots down there. But then I'd have to worry about them and everyone around them, because I know how dangerous you are."

Exodus whimpered again, but I couldn't make out any words.

"No, you can stay. Here, where I can keep an eye on you... Get back to your quarters and stay there."

The Texans let Exodus up and he bolted for the door. The rest of dinner was uneventful, thank God.


Luis Milan:

As usual, the madness began just as dinner ended. Silly me, I had returned to Central Ops, just in time to receive the call that started the trouble all over again. I strongly debated telling the guy to go to hell, that I'd give Magnus a written message to call him back, but... well... Charles Xavier is an intimidating character and one of the few who Magnus might actually want to talk to. So I punched in the comm code for Magnus' quarters. When he answered the call, he did leave visual on, so I didn't think that I'd interrupted anything, even though Lee Forrester was in the room with him. I quelled my curiosity and told him, "There's a Dr. Charles Xavier who wants to talk to you, sir. Shall I put him through?"

Sure enough, he did. I just transferred the call and had just logged into the computer when Lee Forrester came storming into Central Ops. "Magneto's gone after Xavier. One of them's going to need rescuing. How do we get off this ball of space junk?"

"Huh?" I started. "Where are they?"

"Charles is on that island, and Magnus is on his way there. Charles called to bait him there: told him he thought he was an imposter, wanted to know what he'd done with the real Magnus, said he was gonna tell the media that someone was impersonating Magneto. And Magnus has been feeling pretty bellicose since dinner..."

As soon as she stopped to take a breath, I asked, "Why the hell would Charles Xavier want Magneto to come after him? Especially after what he's done! He must be nuts!"

"Could be," Lee remarked. "But he'll be dead if Magnus gets ahold of him. This sounds like a trap. What's the fastest way to get down there?"

I bit my lip. There was one mutant with an impressive teleportation capability and enough firepower to foil most traps, even those built to take Magneto. But I wasn't sure I wanted to go anywhere near Exodus right now, let alone give him a reason to leave his quarters and to start messing around with the rest of the world again.


Charles Xavier:

As I brought my wheelchair towards the edge of a cliff overlooking the ocean, I scanned the island to make sure that the X-Men were really gone. It had pleased me greatly that they hated to leave me here, but they actually believed me when I insisted that it was necessary for me to return here. I simply failed to tell them what I planned to confront... They were eager to join the battle against the Brood. If even one nest survived the next few weeks, the whole world might be doomed. In the meantime, I had to deal with what I had created, an empty and exceptionally powerful host body for whatever was now impersonating Magneto.

The rest of Magnus was enough to make sure that I couldn't focus on any other task in any case. Even now, I could hear his thoughts among my own. He wasn't going to stay asleep much longer, and I dared not even let him dream any more. The only option left to me was to undo what I had done at such a terrible cost; I had to restore him to his own body. Then what? Just let him try and take his revenge on everyone and everything for what he'd suffered and whatever he imagines he's suffered? Let guilty and understandably frightened people, or just ruthless ones who find him an inconvenience, tear him to pieces? What of those in the crossfire between Magnus and everyone he wants a piece of and everyone who wants a piece of him...

No matter. It was too late now and I'd only managed to make things worse. I didn't even know what was coming for me as I forced the wheelchair uphill. There was no way I could guarantee I'd be successful, that either I or the mental template I held captive (barely) would survive this, or that I could restore Magnus to his own brain so that mine would be left in peace.

I wished for a moment that I could speak to Magnus and prepare him to help me in the psychic battle against the entity now possessing his body, but I did not dare, for awake and sufficiently irate, Magnus might choose to be more of a threat to me than to the entity. I'd just have to hope that he'd cooperate instinctively when it was time.

As I got to the top of the cliff, I realized that I would not have to wait. I could see a glowing shape flying towards me, apparently alone. I fell, carefully, from my wheelchair to the ground and sat up. Yes, the flying shape was approaching and quickly. I shoved the wheelchair over the cliff. I wanted him to have to close with me, and I could not afford to be sitting in a metal deathtrap before that.

As the glowing shape landed in front of me, I reached out telepathically to gauge my opponent. My heart sank as I did so, all I could see from an astral perspective were shields like black glass, overflowing with its fury. Physically, it was Magnus, though it had a white beard that I could never imagine the real Magnus tolerating.

It was time for my last resort: "Magnus, wake up!" My perceptions became even more confusing. Overlying my astral perception of the attacker and my more ordinary (but no less frightening) view of the purple-and-red armored figure approaching me at a run, was a vision of the real Magnus, the one I'd dragged out of his own body all those months ago and sheltered in my dreams: clean-shaven, wide-eyed with bewilderment, in his shirt-sleeves. I showed him the world as seen through my eyes, now dominated by his approaching physical counterpart.

"What?!" was the only response he could manage. If I'd had the time, I would have covered my eyes and groaned.

"You're not helping, Magnus," I chided, my thoughts very calm (I must have been in shock). "There's someone in your body, masquerading as you, and he's come to kill both of us now..." The stranger had reached me and grabbed me by the throat. Desperate, I slammed my psyche, and Magnus', my Magnus', against the stranger's shields and bounced off. Almost hysterical, I tried again... and this time, he just let us in...

That was when things started getting really strange. I found myself standing in front of a burning wooden building. It was evening, and there was a crowd standing around me, jabbering in Russian. Some of them were looking at the building. Others were looking at some sort of commotion nearby. I found Magnus at the center of the commotion. Some sort of policemen were holding him down while others were beating him. I realized where I was; another of Magnus' memories, in fact of the event that had finally made such a misanthropic monster of him.

At least in the dreamworld, I could walk and run. I leapt upon the nearest policeman and knocked him down. The others turned to face me. "Magnus!" I screamed, "Your daughter! Go to her!" He stared at me open-mouthed for only a second or two, blood still trickling from his forehead. I knocked away the other two policemen as they came for me, reminding myself that this was only a dream, even if it wasn't mine alone. Magnus turned back to the building and began to glow. He rose into the air and floated up to one of its windows, where I could barely see him.

A moment later, the building, the crowd, and the police faded away. Magnus stood in front of me, wearing his red-and-purple armor and helmet, holding a young girl in his arms. I looked around, but our surroundings were grey and misty and I could not see anyone else.

"Where is the other?" I demanded. "Who inhabited your body when I took your mind out of it?"

Another voice replied: "There was no-one else. The bits and pieces of Magneto that were left inside his own brain weren't enough to be a functioning personality. But, I was sent to rebuild the template telepathically, to implant enough memories and raw information to keep him functional. I had to restart all the higher-order processes and hope that enough original elements of his personality remained to pull it all together, to keep him sane. It wouldn't have lasted forever; I'm glad you did the right thing and brought the rest of him back." The speaker had materialized out of the mist, a young woman in a business suit.

The child faded from Magnus arms. He demanded: "Who the hell are you?"

She smiled. "My name's Holly Encarres. You saw me very briefly up on Avalon, during the Brood fight, when I did everything I just told you and then woke you up. I had to do this to get you to save the world. Yes, I work for Malcolm Encarres. No, I didn't plant anything in your brain for the sole purpose of controlling you. I tried to give you memories that would be as true as possible to the original, even when I wished otherwise. I know you don't believe me. These professional ethics can really be a pain at times, but you have a right to know what I did."

"What are you doing here now?!" Magnus roared at her.

She sighed and raised her hands, as if to placate him. "I'm really just another mental emplate. The real Holly disengaged from your mind when she was done and hasn't gone back since. I was just left here to explain things when you were ready, and I've done everything I had to do now." She faded away just as the child had.

Magnus turned back to me, as belligerent as he'd been to the woman, "Charles, why did you do that to me?"

"I tried to save you from yourself," I told him indignantly, realizing as I spoke just how hollow those words sounded.

They must have taken him by surprise, though, because his reaction was a half-laugh, half- gasp: "What was the worst that could have happened? The weapons on station are modified to be most effective at short range. I hadn't set myself up to try and conquer the world again. And I would have recognized Exodus' tampering before long. None of it was likely to have made me any more effective a threat to you in the long run."

Before I could retort, I could sense some kind of shock ripple through the grey mist. Suddenly, I was in my own body again, sitting on the bare rock at Magnus' feet. There were people behind me. I looked back over my shoulder at Exodus, Milan, and the redoubtable Captain Forrester, who rushed up to Magnus and grabbed his arm. "What's going on here? Are you all right?"

Magnus did look odd with the beard, I reflected. But it might not be all bad to see him return to normal, whatever normal constituted for Magnus, given recent circumstances.

"What did you do to him?" Lee snapped at Magnus looking back at me. "Where's his wheelchair?"

"I did nothing to him," Magnus told her grimly. "He threw his own damned chair over the cliff before I got here. I don't think he trusts me." He folded his arms and looked down at me with a perfectly straight face.

"Ah... sir, are you planning to bring him back with us?" asked Milan. I realized that Exodus, standing beside him, had said and done nothing since he'd arrived and wondered just what he was up to.

"I could just hand him back to his government," Magnus speculated, "and he could see just what kind of a fair trial he would get..."

I refused to be baited. I folded my arms in imitation of him. "I haven't any immediate plans," I informed him.

Magnus unfolded his arms and shrugged. "The prospect of dealing with Gyrich's thugs makes me rather ill. I don't see why you should be my problem, Charles. Why don't I just leave you here and hope you go away again? You have your own wretched life to get back to, and I want nothing to do with it."

I shrugged as well. "I'll probably be here when you return here, and I suspect you will if you're actually trying to build a colony in space again. Ports and hiding places on Earth will prove handy. Unfortunately, I've got no ride off here. I've ordered the X-Men not to return so that they will be allowed to cooperate with the other super-teams in fighting the Brood. I refuse to be a liability to them."

"Fine!" Exodus finally piped up. "Let us see how long you last here! I'm ready to go back to the station now." He looked hopefully back at Magnus; Milan choked back a laugh beside him.

"I thought you needed doctors," Lee reminded Magnus. "And he'll make a decent counterweight for the Light on certain issues..." I could almost hear Magnus' teeth grind from where I sat.

"Very well," he growled. "You'll stay with the rest of the refugees, Charles, and you're not getting any privileges above and beyond the least of them. And you're bloody well going to earn your keep..."

I just let him go on talking. Given what had become of my other options, this would be more than acceptable. There would be all sorts of new challenges and opportunities aboard the space colony, and I was eager to go and have a look at them.

The Avalon Project: Chapter 4: Copperhead Road

The Avalon Project:
Chapter 4: Copperhead Road

Jean Grey:

"Students, I have gathered you here to... discuss the results of your last combat-training exercise." The Professor went on from there, but I wasn't really listening. I was almost sick with relief. I had been afraid that there would be another mission, and that it might go wrong... But we weren't going out there after all. We stood in a circle in the Danger Room, the four boys, the Professor, and me. It was empty; all the obstacles were retracted into the walls, the ceiling, and the floor, although the Professor gestured to their various locations as he mentioned specific maneuvers.

Something odd caught my eye; there was someone in the observation booth: a dark woman with long hair, just sitting in a chair watching us, no, watching me. I looked away; the Professor and the boys seemed not to have noticed. I drew a breath to warn them, but a voice inside my head assured me: "Don't bother. They won't see me. Not because I don't want them to, but because you don't. It would rather defeat the purpose, wouldn't it?"

I started. That accented voice, clearly telepathic, cut through my shields as if they weren't even there. I looked back up. She didn't seem to have moved, just staring back at me. "Excuse me," I muttered to the boys and the Professor, then turned and rushed out of the room. I stopped in the hallway outside, vaguely wondering where I could go to hide and wondering how long I would have to wait there for the dark woman to go away.

"I can't wait here forever," she told me, "And neither can you. You've got to face reality sometime, and to do that you must leave here." She had some kind of accent that projected even into her mental voice, which seemed oddly clear to me. My defenses were no good against her... I knew that if I couldn't shield myself against her, I couldn't hide from her. I had to run away, but I didn't dare leave the mansion. "I am where you last saw me," the voice continued, admitting a little impatience, "I have been here several times in the last few days, to see if you were ready. You are, and so it is time to finish this."

I waited several minutes, but the voice said no more. There were only two places I could go, and I wasn't ready to leave the mansion yet, no matter what she said. So I walked down the hall, climbed the stairs, and entered the observation booth.

As I came in, she sat in the same chair, facing me rather than the window, through which I could see the Professor and the others. She looked younger than she sounded, Hispanic maybe, and very calm.

"What do you want?" I asked, my voice shaking.

She replied telepathically: "I was asked, indirectly, to help you by your husband, Scott."

"He's not my husband yet!" I pointed out the window to the group in the Danger Room, who seemed oblivious to us. Tears were starting to choke me. "Listen, I'm not ready yet; I can't..."

She sighed. "You are as ready as you are going to be, and that is ready enough. You know that this place is not real, these... images-of -people are not real. Just you and I are real, and all those things you do not wish to face. I have brought you news that your husband is alive. Is that not encouragement enough?"

I took a deep breath and pulled myself back together, "Yes, I'm glad... I'm glad Scott's alright. But can't I wait just a few more days before I have to go back out there? Look, don't tell me that I'm needed out there. I might just make things worse. I've done it before and I'm not ready..."

"I can tell you that are not needed for any 'mission' with the X-Men, indeed your body is badly damaged enough that you would not be of much use on such a thing. But you need to return to consciousness to assist in your own recovery, and your husband could use your encouragement and company at this time."

The tears I had just forced under control started to stream down my face, "Oh, thank God! I was afraid that it would go wrong again and be a nightmare like the last one, or a mistake like that other time..."

"It is time to go," the dark woman told me. "You know what to do." And then she was gone.

I nodded at her empty seat, wiping my face. I sat down in another chair, and concentrated, then I was in the mansion's front hallway, facing the door. I opened it, and Scott jumped up from the step, where he'd been sitting, turning towards me. Another man who was sitting beside him, just looked up and around at me. There was a red wolf's head on the back of his jacket.

I forgot everything for a moment as I kissed Scott. He babbled for a few moments about my being back, being alright... We just held each other for a few moments.

"If you're ready to go..." Scott looked over at the seated man. "John, can you take us the rest of the way back?"

The seated man nodded and a black crack formed and widened in the blue sky above us, but I was ready for it when the imaginary world I had inhabited for the last few days finished tearing itself apart.

I was lying in a hospital bed in some sort of high-tech clinic, but not the familiar facilities of the mansion or of Muir Island. Scott and the stranger, John, were sitting next to my bed. The dark woman was nowhere around. Scott was in a wheelchair, I realized.

"Um, where are we?" I asked, feeling almost sorry that I was awake.

"On a space station, made out of pieces of Avalon and of Asteroid M," Scott said with surprising calm. "I'm afraid we are Magneto's guests, but so are Storm and the Professor. The government found out about the Professor and the mansion. We're wanted for questioning, and the government would have caught us if we had stayed on Earth."

I didn't feel surprised to hear this. Was this the truth I'd been afraid to wake up to? "What's Magneto doing?"

Scott licked his lips, "Actually, nothing I really disapprove of, for the change. He's gone through with his plan to establish a mutant colony in Earth orbit, and that's keeping him pretty busy right now. There's a pogrom against mutants going on right now, a really serious one, and getting mutants out of there seems like the only viable plan we've got in the short term."

I looked over at John, who was watching us. His shields reminded me that he was also a telepath. There was another wolf's head on the breast of his jacket. I recognized the emblem this time: Cry Wolf. They were vigilantes, really nasty ones. They hunted down gay-bashers, child molesters, rapists, wife-beaters, that sort of thing, and killed them.

John looked steadily back at me. He had sharp features, short grey hair, and cold blue eyes that could easily be a killer's. I shivered and looked away. "What about the Acolytes? And Exodus?" I asked Scott.

"Mostly behaving themselves, for the moment," Scott remarked glibly. "The worst of them died in the fight with the Brood. And Magneto seems to have gotten Exodus under control..."

The memory of that last mission, and the battle with the Brood, struck me full force and I gasped. The bullets flying out of nowhere, tearing me apart. And then Scott!

He was holding me, shaking me. "I'm sorry! I'm sorry!" he repeated. When I felt like I could breathe again, he went on: "I guess you may know: Hank and Betsy died, but they're really dead; the Brood didn't get them... transform them. Warren... will live, but the government has him. The others are still down there. Gambit's leading the X-Men now, I hear... We'll see how long Wolverine puts up with that." Tears were starting to trickle from under his ruby- quartz glasses.

Things had really, really changed. I realized, without probing, that Scott's physical therapist had told him that he would never walk again, that he would be in that wheelchair for the rest of his life. Like the Professor. Oh, the joys of a permanent psychic link. Perhaps that was how I had learned of the other things I didn't want to know about right now, such as Hank's and Betsy's deaths, and the things Scott was waiting to tell me.

He was waiting until we were both feeling better before he said anything about the fact that Sabretooth was on board and on the loose, and that Sabretooth was trying to get Scott to convince Magneto to make him a lieutenant, because Scott was Magneto's right-hand man these days. And Scott didn't know quite how to explain that he was disturbed by Professor Xavier's political activities aboard the station and was considering moving away from him.

Scott was right, all this and more would have to wait. I simply couldn't bear to think of it all at once, and I knew perfectly well that none of it would go away before I could get to it.

A voice spoke from behind Scott's shoulder. "Perhaps I should get Henry. She'll need to meet him."

"Er, thanks, John," Scott said, sitting back up and gingerly reaching under his glasses to wipe his eyes.

So we waited, and a few minutes later, a black man with bright eyes and a wide smile walked into the alcove where my bed was. "I'm Henry Johnson," he announced as he shook my hand, "I'm Scott's physical therapist, and yours too, now. And we've got a lot of work ahead of us! I'm glad you made it out of there, before you could deteriorate much further." He was also, I learned without effort when I shook his hand, a normal human, not a mutant, and John Steele's boyfriend. The cold, scary John Steele that I didn't want to be in the same room with. I just nodded.

"Dr. Xavier will be relieved to hear that you finally woke up on your own!" Henry added. "You managed to block him and John out of your mind while you were in that coma." I just nodded and wondered who I could ask about the dark woman.

"Excuse me, sir! Excuse me!" I could hear a woman's voice coming from outside my alcove. Another figure rounded the corner. It took me a moment to recognize him with the beard and the civilian clothes.

"Magneto, we're not quite ready to admit visitors..." Henry began.

Magneto smiled down at me, ignoring him. "Mrs. Summers, I'm happy to see that you are starting to recover."

To Be Continued...

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