How I Saved the World from the X-Men

THE PITCH

It was not my idea to kill Professor Charles Xavier! My role in the affair has been blown entirely out of proportion! It was not me who shot him either, though to read the papers you would think I had been caught over him with a knife and fork, busily munching away on the remains of the late lamented gentleman. I wouldn't even have been involved if it hadn't been for Paul.

I had been working in the Middle East for the past three years. Despite a general prohibition on 'mutants' working in any of the Islamic countries, there were plenty of oil sheikhs and wealthy individuals willing to employ me. I was, and am, a sculptor of some talent. My fees are high, and my presence at parties, functions and generally idling my time around my employers premises was enough to significantly raise their profile in whatever social and political circles they cared to impress. In between times I was free to do as I wished. So long as I didn't poke my nose out of where I was working, and let no hint of my real job slip I could travel, enjoy the historic sights and even slip off home if the gap between duties was long enough.

It was on one of these trips that I met up with Paul. I'd known him pretty well from the days when we had worked together lobbying for anti-mutant discrimination laws in the twenties. Err...I mean the 'Genetic Equity Laws' to give them their proper title. After they got through I had gone into the business of finding a comfortable life for myself, but Paul couldn't let go. He was always working on some new cause. I hadn't seen him for a couple of years, but he was always good company, so when he rang me I was delighted to fly up to his place for the week.

Paul and I were watching the news. An airliner has crashed off Miami, rioting was sweeping Tokyo yet again, a woman had given birth to sextuplets and Professor Xavier was holding forth on the importance of his institute and his team of 'X-Men'. Apparently they had captured some crack-pot in Minnesota who was, through some kinetic talent, tossing large chunks of stone and concrete onto motorways - just as the rush hour traffic was building. This lunatic was captured in the act and had been subdued by Xavier's X-Men after a short fight. The T.V. station had acquired some amateur footage of the event which was pretty spectacular. Huge gouges of earth were visible as sudden flashes of light and flat-sounding booms overloaded the video's poor sound recording. The lunatic featured heavily. He was dressed in a flowing black costume and called himself 'The Stone Man'. The news anchor gushed her praise and thanks at Xavier so enthusiastically that he looked awkward and embarrassed, and would have started to stammer some answer if they hadn't cut him off in favour of the Sextuplets story.

This was when Paul suggested killing Xavier. He started off reasonably enough. 'What,' he said, 'has Xavier done for the mutant cause?'

'Well,' I said, 'he has a high profile. He has created a group of mutants who work together for the good of everyone, mutants and normals alike. He has stamped out the bad element among those with great powers. He wields great moral authority and is an example to the world of mutants doing good.'

I paused and looked sideways at Paul. 'And,' I grinned, 'he gets on TV so much he must be the most famous mutant in the world. You jealous?'

'Enough of the PR talk.' Paul was amused despite himself. 'What actual good does he do, apart from the publicity?'

'What are you getting at? Tell, Paul, or else!'

Paul leaned back in his chair. 'Xavier created the X-Men. Every year he takes in new young mutants with great talent. He trains them to utilise them fully. He bonds them together into units. He sends them out into the world to make use of them.'

I nodded. 'So what?'

'And every year,' he continued, 'several of these young mutants get badly injured or killed working for him. You saw on the news tonight. If that young guy in the green ever walks again, I'll be surprised.'

'He's hardly trying to hurt them deliberately,' I protested. 'That Stone Man guy was out of control. Someone had to stop him!'

'It is his style,' said Paul. 'Just think back over all the incidents the X-Men have been involved in. There are constant battles. The X-Men exist in a state of permanent warfare with the rest of mutantkind. At the first sign of trouble the X-Men get stuck in and fight. Xavier encourages the use of violence to settle disputes. That Stone Man could have been threatened or talked into surrendering, but no, the X-Men just rush at him all guns and talents blazing.'

Paul was really getting into his stride now and it was good stuff. Paul was a great public speaker and he was pulling out all the emotive stops. Whatever the hell had followed the news, neither of us remembered afterwards.

'It looks good on the TV, but think of the impression it gives to 'normals'. Mutants constantly involved in violence. Mutants destroying property, mutants burning each other, mutants acting in a high-handed and hot-headed fashion at all times.'

'Where do you now see in the news the real stories? The young men and women who work together with ordinary people in the fire service, the health service and in business. Instead, what we see is a group of violent mutants who group together in a clannish fashion and maraude about stamping their authority over any other mutants who dislike them!'

He paused for breath and I jumped in.

'So what's your solution, Paul? The networks are hardly going to ditch their love affair with the X-Men for some dreary guys selling sportswear, or rescuing cats from tall trees, even if they levitate naked to do it.'

'Thatís another thing,' he steamrollered on with his argument. 'Look at what they bloody wear! Would you be seen dead in the sort of costumes that Xavier makes those guys go out to work in? I mean, it's like watching professional wrestling. It's degrading and disgusting. Who can have respect for the sort of people who do that?'

I coughed, and thought about what was in one of my suitcases. My Ice King costume with pure white ice leggings and sheer hat went down a storm at Cairo parties.

'I quite agree,' I said. 'It is appalling.'

'That's it, dammit,' said Paul. 'That man Xavier has got to go!'

'Go?' I echoed.

'Yes, the sooner Professor Xavier is dead the better.'

I gulped.

'You can do it,' he said. 'I've seen you do it with insects, freeze their blood or whatever the hell you do.'

I winced. 'Crystallisation of the H2O inside body cells can certainly cause severe degradation in the performance of organisms, and is possibly feasible with my talents, but I would never contemplate abusing my abilities like that on mammals, which can feel pain.'

'Donít give me that crap,' he barked. 'I saw what happened to that dog of Jim's that bit you that day.'

'That dog never liked me,' I protested.

'It probably had some kind of crude precognosis,' laughed Paul, 'of the day when you were going to blow its head off and smear little bits of its liver all over the garden.'

Paul has always liked to exaggerate his stories. It makes him a good lobbyist.

Jim has often remarked on how well his roses grew that year, despite his forgetting to put any fertiliser on them.

THE SHOT

Paul and I agreed that the best way of assassinating Professor Charles Xavier was to simply break into his house. We had read up about all the security, but Paul figured I could handle almost all of it. He had managed to get hold of a plan of the grounds from a few years back. A rise on the north side of the grounds meant that the approach there would be the easiest. It was also the closest, but Paul vetoed it.

'It is too obvious. All his security will be concentrated there. It's the obvious direction to hit the place from. We'll break in round the eastern side and walk up along the road itself.'

I concurred.

We hired a car in Alabama and drove through the day, timing our trip to arrive near the place at around 4am local time. We drove up along a back road to within five miles of the place and then put the car off the road in amongst some bushes. It was pretty easy to see, but only if you were looking for it. We wanted to be able to leave in a hurry, and if we needed to hide badly one small car wasn't going to save us.

The night air was cold and got into my limbs. The chill and the lateness of the hour made me tetchy and untalkative as we trudged over the hill towards the Xavier place. The grass was long and wet and the walk was not pleasant. Even the insects were quiet without the moon to keep them awake. Thick clouds were rolling down from the south and beginning to blot out the stars. If we weren't quick we might get stranded without enough light to make out which way to go. Paul would be all right if that happened, but I would be screwed. If nerves made me quiet, Paul was the other way inclined.

'Shouldnít you be immune to the cold?' he was laughing at me, but I couldnít find it in myself to rise to the bait, so after a while he gave up on the teasing and just walked along beside me whistling from time to time to show his high spirits.

After a fair while, though it didn't seem that long to me, my nerves were already playing tricks with my perception, we came in sight of the fence and crouched down in the grass.

'There,' I said and pointed to where a tiny stream ran through the fence and right into the estate.

We walked right up next to it and waited. From here we could look down on the house itself. It was a large building, originally a mock-Georgian design, though it had been heavily renovated and modified recently. There were no lights coming from any of the windows. In the darkness it seemed abandoned and eerie as if we had somehow stumbled on a recently deserted haunted house. Paul nudged me, and I got to work.

Closing my eyes, I felt the flow along the fence. It was gentle. 'Not electrified,' I whispered, 'only alarmed.'

'Good.'

Cautiously I lent into the flow, I followed the eddies and whirls of the current and followed them back to the source. It was a long way away. Somewhere inside the house itself, deep underground an electronic monitor waited for the current to stop. A sleepless watchdog, it waited for us. Carefully I reached out to it and eased at it. Mentally stroking its brow I soothed it, drained it and drew its energy out of it. Gently I waited, feeding on the flow until it stopped. I paused. This was the moment of truth. Was there something I had missed? The alarm did not go off. I relaxed a little and gave the thumbs up to Paul.

Despite the electronic trickery employed in the fence it was quite easy to climb and we clambered over in half a minute. We were in. To the left of us a slick black ribbon of tarmac marked the road wending up from the main entrance and we trotted down the slope towards it.

Twenty yards from the road we stopped again. Between us and the flower beds that lay next to the road the ground was oddly raised. The summer had been hot that year and the earth had contracted with the heat. But there, just in front of us the ground had remained high, leaving a noticeable bump. The grass that grew there was the colour of straw. The roots could have little space to go down for water.

'Pressure sensor.'

Again I spoke nicely to the electronics and we moved on. The road was a relief after the uneven ground of the hillside. We made quick progress up towards the house. Perhaps it had a pleasant aspect by daylight, but both of us I think felt the strength of the forbidding brickwork that faced us. The huge size of the place was quite daunting in itself. Television pictures simply don't do justice to the physical presence of things.

'Well, at least we only have to search the ground floor,' remarked Paul, recovering his cheerful mood of earlier on.

Around the side of the house, to the side of a large bay window a small side door marked our point of access. Placing my hand firmly against the lock I drew what little heat there was out of the metal bolt inside it. I drew again sharply, and a noticeable shiver of air scuttled around us. Leaning against the door I gave it a strong heave and it gave way. The bolt had cracked in the lock.

In retrospect perhaps it was a little easy, but at the time I thought I was really achieving something. We had got inside the building and Paul was just saying where we should search first when the voice started up from the corner of the room.

'I am here, Mr Arkanis. There is no need to search for me. I knew you were coming.' In the same instant the lights came on and we stood there like dazed rabbits. We knew that voice. It was Professor Xavier himself.

I turned in shock and saw Xavier sitting there fully dressed in his wheelchair. The contrast between his urbane air and our terrified reaction would have been comical if anyone else had been there to see, which thank God, there wasn't. He was alone.

'You subverted my security measures very effectively,' he stated. 'If it wasn't for my gift I should have been caught sound asleep. To what do I owe the honour of being burgled?'

'We have very important news for you, Mr Xavier, Sir,' began Paul. 'We couldnít risk our approach to you being detected.'

For a moment I thought Xavier would buy it, but he just glared at Paul. 'I can see in your mind you come to murder me Mr Arkanis.'

This was his mistake. If he had gone along with Paulís gambit we would have sat there until his X-Men reached us. Swiftly he tapped a key on the laptop in front of him and announced, 'I have the two assassins with me here in the south lounge.'

This was when I went for him. I blew a blast of cold air along the wall towards him, frosting and marking the wall as it went. But just before it touched him I felt a massive blow on the side of my head and fell to the floor. My perception went fuzzy and I'm not entirely sure of the sequence of what happened next. Blood dripped down all over me and flew around my face getting into my eyes. The roar of Paul's .45 clashed with the sudden blaring of alarms in the distance and the cry of 'X-Men, X-Men' raised in the next room.

Paul grabbed me and shook me hard. 'Let's go! Let's go!'

Roughly he hauled me back towards the door, kicking it open and pushing me out in front of him back onto the lawn outside the house. We ran, the two of us, desperately up the hill. My legs seemed made of jelly and Paul's grip was bruising my arm as he strained to pull me along with him.

'What happened?' I said plaintively. 'There was blood, was I hit?'

'Donít talk!' he gasped. 'Just run.'

As we ran on I risked a glance behind us. A large group of forms had spilled out of the house behind us. Many of them were just milling around, but several were pursuing us. All across the building, lights were winking on and all around us the alarm of the fence was screaming. It must have started up again somehow when whatever it was happened to me. Well, no point in shutting it up again now. The noise might even help us escape in the confusion. Most of the pursuing shapes were a good hundred yards behind, but one of them was less than half that and it was gaining rapidly. It was moving with an odd bounding gait, animal like in ferocity and energy.

'Paul, we've got to stop running. One of them is catching up.'

'I won't leave you,' he shouted. 'It is my fault we're here and you got injured.'

'I'm okay,' I insisted. 'You leave, I can think straight again now. If you don't leave I might accidentally blast you as we fight. We have more chance separately.'

I stopped running and turned about. The bounding form was nearly on us. Behind me I heard the slight flutter as Paul obeyed my wishes. He would escape under the cover of darkness, and I was free to unleash my full powers. It has been a long time since I did that. I need to be on my own, and well away from people, to do it safely. Even Paul, who saw the unfortunate canine incident doesnít realise what I can do if Iím pushed.

For starters the bounding menace was getting far too close. I drew the water from in front of his face and froze a plate sized lump of ice from moisture in the air. His head made contact with a reassuring thud and down he went. He lay still and didnít move a muscle. The temperature across the whole hillside dropped with a palpable shock by a good 20 degrees. I raised my hand at the forms that were following the bounding menace and pointed at them.

They took the hint for a moment and halted. Sadly, they were X-Men and trained to fight. They regrouped and continued towards me more slowly. A couple of them moved around to the sides hoping to encircle me. A large shape far below seemed to rise up from the roof of the house below and circle in from the air above. It was difficult to see against the clouds, but I knew who it was, and it boded badly for my escape. Wings beat feet in a foot race any day.

I pointed to the right of the X-Men, and drew a line with my hand across in front of them. The temperature fell again, and much more sharply. They had to be feeling this. Mist rose out of the earth in front of them and froze solid. A wall of ice formed across the hillside. Thin at first and then thicker and thicker.

And still the temperature dropped.

One of them pointed back at me. A stream of fire burst on my wall and began to eat into it from below. A laser light gleamed and glanced off from the left. As quickly as it had been formed the wall was failing. My plans to escape were being further reduced by the moment. The clouds which had earlier dimmed the night stars were suddenly racing away leaving me without cover of any kind, even if I were to reach the relative safety of the hills outside the grounds. Someone was reaching up high and racing the clouds away to give their colleagues light to kill by.

And still the temperature dropped.

Despair filled me and I sat on the grass. What had been planned as a quick and smooth assassination was shortly going to be a sorry massacre of the kind I had so despised on the T.V. news I had watched with Paul. Unfortunately for the X-Men my powers go far beyond a bit of extra muscle power.

And still the temperature dropped.

Deep in the solar system there are planets other than earth. Cold planets, where mere ice is nothing special. Places where liquid carbon and hydrogen lakes lie quietly. Places where mankind will never be able to dwell. In extreme cold oxygen will cease to be gaseous. People die well before this point is reached of course, but I think I am making my point. The only way that I can survive myself is by drawing on all the energy I am taking from around me and leaving before even that dissipates.

The temperature dropped again. It was racing now. The figures moving towards me had slowed again further. Their movements had become jerky and stilted. The alarms and the lights from the house died again suddenly.

And still the temperature dropped. I dropped my eyes. There were faint cracking noises from below.

I stood up and turned around. I walked up the hillside. There was no hurry now.

An hour later I reached the car. The false dawn was creeping over the horizon. The car didnít start for another two hours until the sun had revived it enough to crank the engine into motion.

LATER

I read in the papers later that most of the X-Men survived. It was only the ones who were closest who died. Many of the people who had stayed down near the house had managed to form some kind of protective bubble around themselves until it was safe to come out. I felt glad that someone had had the presence of mind to think of it, though.

Naturally Xavier became a martyr and more popular than ever. It seems that he had felled me with some kind of mental blow which had left me unable to think straight. Happily for me, Paul had taken the opportunity to plug him before the X-Men arrived.

The house itself has become a kind of shrine. I hear they have a kind of commercial operation there to cope with the number of tourists and pilgrims who visit all year around. In Xavierís day the estate was strictly out of bounds, but the house has been abandoned by the X-Men now. I guess the memories were hard to take.

The incident played both ways in the media. On the one hand there was immense sympathy for the X-Men themselves. On the other the fear that people feel for mutants has grown and acts of racist assault have also increased. The government was pressured to take action, and after a board of enquiry the X-Men organisation was taken over and subsumed into the Defence Department. The cowboy mutant outfits and the independent freelancers, the mutant corporations and the X-Men institute itself are all under government control now. There will be no more Ďfree-lance justiceí and vigilante superheroís acting above the law. The fancy costumes have gone. The X-Men themselves started wearing black formal wear very shortly after the incident and it seems to have caught on. There are no more public T.V. battles.

Paul did well for himself out of it. As one of the people publicly opposed to the way the X-Men had operated as a law unto themselves he was one of those appointed to the investigating panel of the enquiry. His incisive judgement that the ex-X-man with a grudge had come back alone to wreak retribution stands today as the official verdict. He may well be appointed to the mooted post of Secretary for Mutant Affairs if it is created as planned. He will do the job well if he gets it.

And as for me? Well hell, I know I was set up, but hey, Iím famous now. Iím living anonymously on a small Pacific island with a regular blackmail cheque from a very influential guy. An old friend, yíknow. He warns me every so often of how the hunt for me is going, but Iím not really worried. None of the hunters really want to find me that badly *G*.


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