Chapter Six: Dinner Conversation

Prelate Astrovik took Summers to his private dining area after he had changed. His boots had been replaced with a new pair, his golden armor had been scrubbed and polished, and he had been provided a new black shirt. The presence of sleeves was strangely off-putting, but the clothing was clean and he was bathed.
The room was several more floors up and unsurprisingly large. There were a variety of tables scattered around the room; a small, intimate square one, a soft-edged rounded table, a long table for group eating. All were clean and polished and, as they entered the room, servant-humans were just finishing setting a medium-sized rectangular one. Behind the tables, tall glass windows reach from floor to ceiling, interrupted by thick metal supports. Warm lights are set into the ceiling, although most of them are either dimmed or out, leaving the table that they are walking to well lit. Bioengineered plants are set about the room, providing color. To the right is the kitchen, a pair of swinging doors leading in. On either side of the door are shifting holograms of beautiful vistas, none of them still in existence.
One of the humans waits next to the table, dressed in well-pressed clothes. As Astrovik gestures him towards the kitchen, Summers takes a moment to study the humans. They are in good shape, healthy and well-fed. It would seem that Astrovik isn’t abusing them, although clearly he isn’t afraid of making them work. That might not be a bad thing. Keeping humans as servant was keeping them alive – and making them work forced them to earn their place. Was this Astrovik helping them? Or was this Astrovik using them as tools? It was common in the Empire for Elites to keep a few serving-humans on hand – it was an incredible status symbol.

“Please,” Astrovik gestures at the wooden chair that Summers had been standing by.

Summers nods and sits. “I’m surprised that you allow humans in the Citadel.”

“I know, I know. They could be spies! They all have a knife behind their back and they’re not afraid to use it!” Vance chuckles as he overacts his lines. “They pose no threat Scott, I assure you. Ah, excellent,” A female human sets two short glasses down on the table and pours a dark liquor into them, her face always downturned. She steps back without a word and returns to the kitchen. Vance raises his glass to Scott. “To the survivors.”

Scott returns the toast. “To the survivors.” He sips at the liquid, knowing that he’ll need his faculties. Then he sets the glass back down on the table, training his one red eye on it.

“Alright Scott,” Vance says, setting his glass off to the side for it to be refilled. “A-Island. It’s all over the ‘nets. Petros is the only one of us to take a trip there and he says that the island is gone. How in the High Lord’s name did you get out?”

The story comes easily to Summers’ mind. He had spent the trip to Cain composing this particular version of events, even though the lying bothered him. He honestly liked Vance. Summers had been the one who inducted him into the Empire’s military. They had gone on missions together, fought and killed for each other. Back then, Vance had been an earnest young man, full of potential and dreams. Now though? Summers wanted to believe that Vance had kept his…youthfulness. But Apocalypse didn’t reward dreamers and Vance had advanced to the rank of prelate all on his own.

It had to be done.

“I think that it started when my father left.”

Vance, who had been leaning one elbow on the table, sits back as his plate of food is set before him. Roasted meat and savory vegetables for Astrovik, a pristine white bowl of soup for Summers, it’s wonderful smell wafting up on the steam. Summers’ stomach clenches desperately, but he holds back. He may have been starving, but he had to sell this first.
As Vance nods, a blue glow surrounds his silverware, slicing into the meat. “I had heard that Horseman Sinister had abandoned the city, but I didn’t think that they held any weight. Your father has been with Apocalypse for centuries, he was his oldest ally.”

“Sinister might have worked alongside Apocalypse, but they were never really allies. My father’s dream was to change the world, to make it into – into – into Perfection. Or as close as genework would allow. But Apocalypse never understood that. He wanted to burn the world down, my father wanted to fix it. The lives sacrificed were necessary, he told me at the beginning. But somewhere along the line, it changed for him. There was no sense in it anymore,” Summers turns to the soup now, savoring his spoonful. “It’s why he pushed for the Kelly Pact.”

“Mm,” Vance nods while he chews. “As if that would last.”

Summers watches Astrovik as he eats. “That was really the first sign that things were changing. With Sinister gone, Apocalypse put me in charge of the Pens – ”

Vance chuckles at this. “I bet Alex loved that.”

“ – and things seemed to be going well,” Summers scowls at Vance. Had even Vance seen Alex’s hidden jealousy? “Until she showed up.”

“And she was?”

Summers grabs his glass of whiskey and downs the glass. “Jean Grey.”

Vance pauses, forced to look at Summers. His eyes dart over to the bottle of whiskey and it floats into the air, pouring his fellow prelate another. “The infamous rebel, Jean Grey? Former X-Man and the reason you lost your eye? She came to the Pens?”

Summers lifts the glass, but doesn’t drink. “Left Weapon X’s side to give me a warning.”

Laugh explodes out of Vance, who shakes his head vigorously. “I can’t – I can’t – I can only imagine the look on his face when she left him. And to go back to the Pens! Why in the High Lord’s name would she do that? What was the warning about?”

“That the Human High Council had finished their preparations. They were launching their fleet – NOW – and were going to bomb A-Island into a nuclear crater,” Summers sips at the drink, relishing the burn. “I only had a few hours to react.”

“Those damn bastards,” Vance says, almost under his breath. “I guess that Horseman Rasputin’s trip to London didn’t work out too well then. But wait, wait. When she was captured, Horseman Sinister did all kinds of experiments on Grey, correct? And you took off the hand of her lover, who was coming to rescue her. And those rebels have been fighting the High Lord since the earliest days of the Ascension; in fact, I remember fighting Grey myself once. Why would she give any kind of warning to you? If anything, I think she would have kissed the first bomb and pushed the damn button.”

“Her bleeding heart. Jean was only in the Pens for a few days, but it had a severe impact on her. Her powers made her especially sensitive to the inmate’s pain and suffering as well. Apocalypse may have needed to die and maybe so did every other mutant on that island – but not those people. They didn’t deserve death after all their suffering.”

“Sounds like putting a dog out of its misery to me,” Vance shrugs again, causing Summers to bristle.

“In any case, I didn’t have a lot of time. And Jean was right, really – those people didn’t deserve to die, either at the hands of the High Council or the High Lord. While I was trying to figure out how to save them all, the Citadel came under attack. I don’t know if it was the High Council or the X-Men or another group of rebels, I didn’t have the time to look into it. But in all the chaos, Apocalypse ordered my brother to clean the Pens out,” Summers finishes his glass. “And he gladly took up the task.”

“Of course he did. If the High Lord told Alex to lick his ass, he would have brushed his teeth first,” Vance replies. “But why kill the inmates? The High Council would do it themselves with the bombs.”

“I think the answer is the reason my father left,” Summers says as he studies the warping light in his glass. “Because that’s just what Apocalypse did. He never wanted equality for mutants Vance. He didn’t even want mutantkind in charge. Apocalypse just wanted everyone but him dead. To be the last one standing on the pile of bodies,” Summers holds up the glass. “ ‘Survival of the Fittest’. It wasn’t a…a motto or an anthem for us to gather around. Or a call to arms for the rightful inheritors of Earth. It was his mantra,” Summers sighs and sets the glass down. “It was only ever meant for him.”

Whatever laughter there had been in Vance’s eyes is gone. He is sitting back in his plush chair, his plate only half empty, and he’s watching Summers carefully. Noticing this, Summers rubs a hand over his good eye. “So. There I am, trying to organize the mass evacuation of nearly a thousand people – who are sick or injured or weak – next to the infamous rebel queen herself with the Citadel falling around us and my brother trying to kill me,” He lets his red eye gaze at Vance. “Forgive me if I skip the finer details.”

Vance gestures with his hand that he won’t ask.

“So we get to one of the bridges, Jean and I, and we’re leading the people out. For a moment I thought that we might pull this off. We were there Vance, we were there. But then I heard the whistling,” He shakes his head here, the sound actually running through his mind. “And that was the bombs. I don’t know how many the Council had, but there must have been dozens. So Jean throws up a shield, like I’ve never seen before, and the bombs are stopped, grabbed in mid-air. One more bullet dodged. One more chance to make it out of this alive.
“And then Alex – because I wouldn’t kill him, I couldn’t – appeared out of nowhere and blasted Jean in the back. I defended myself, but I just – I didn’t do well. I lost it. With Jean gone, those bombs were falling again. All of us could have made it, all of us would be alive right now, if his damn jealousy hadn’t – ” Summers stops here, pulling his temper back. He breathes once before continuing. “So he killed Jean. Nearly killed me. But you know our powers don’t work on each other. I blacked out and when I came to – ” Summers sighs. “There was Weapon X, cradling Jean’s body.”

“If you don’t mind,” Vance asks gently. “What happened to Alex?”

Summers exhales sharply as he says “Weapon X.”

Vance’s eyebrows move up and down, understanding Summers’ meaning perfectly.

“There wasn’t any time left after that. The screaming of the bombs was everywhere. I blasted a hole into the sewer system and then I escaped. I don’t know if I thought I would make it. I didn’t have a plan. I just – I couldn’t stay there.”

“Of course not,” Vance says with a slow nod. “What happened to Weapon X? Did he follow you at all?”

Summers shakes his head in the negative. “Last I saw him; he was huddled over Jean’s body. I’m assuming he’s atomic ash now.”

“Unlikely,” Vance says derisively, his head resting on one hand. “So you were there. How…likely…is it that the High Lord is actually dead?”

“As likely as anyone else,” Summers shrugs at this. “If Apocalypse had made it, I think you would know by now. He would have been on the systems, bragging about survival of the fittest and rubbing the High Council’s nose in it.”

“Well,” Vance says gingerly. “I don’t know if you’ll be happy to know it or not, but the Bedlam brothers did make it out,” Summers raises his eyebrows at this. “They were picked up by Prelate Petros a day after the bombing. That’s when he discovered that A-Island is gone.”

“I don’t know what happened,” Summers snatches the bottle of whiskey as he stands. “But yes, the island is gone. There was some kind of storm the engulfed the whole thing and when it passed, the island was gone. There’s just nothing there.”

“That,” Vance finishes his glass of whiskey. “Is certainly a lot to take in. The High Lord really is dead.”

“Unless this is all some horribly complex plan of his, yes, I believe so,” Summers says as he gazes out the nearest window. “That’s the other reason I came here Vance.”

Vance’s eyes widen at that. “And just what would that reason be?”

“The Horsemen are either dead or scattered. The prelates think that they are in competition with each other and have no idea what’s really happened.  And I,” he takes a swig from the bottle. “Am tired of living in his hellhole. I want to fix this mess and I’ll need a second in command I can trust,” He turns his one eye towards Vance, the red glow cutting through the darkness.

“Is that you?”

In the next Age After: Surprises at the Tomb. Arguments of the future. A struggle to work through.