Utopia, island home of the X-Men
located several miles out in San Francisco Bay

Y’know, I grew up in California. Los Angeles, specifically. I was a rich kid with rich parents. Had the best of everything; big house, tons of toys and games, a butler, the best education. If I wanted to go to the beach? I went to the beach. I wanted to date that blonde? I dated her. But as great as that was, I knew it was all because of my parents. Don’t get me wrong, I have the good looks and more than enough personality, but let’s face it – it was the money that made me. And despite the fact that I had that money, it was always my parents first. And that I hated. Until I left the house, everything I was I owed to them. Then I woke up after turning 16 and suddenly I could lift things with my mind. I was a mutant and that was all ME.

Fast-forward two years and here I am, back in California, although this time it’s San Francisco. Nice city, for the most part. I like the chaos of LA, but hey, I won’t complain about sunshine and beaches and a nice looking city. Even better, I live on a private island outside the law with all my friends, who, by the way, are X-MEN. Yeah, the premiere mutant super-heroes of the day. That’s us. I’ve come a long way from being just another rich kid with rich parents, huh?
“But Julian,” you ask. “It sounds like your life is perfect. Can it get any better?”

Oh, yes it can, and she is how. Behind me, the sound of feet sliding into the water cuts through the waves, catching my attention immediately. I don’t turn, choosing instead to just enjoy the sea water on my feet and let her come to me on her own. First rule of the Relationship: don’t let her know how badly you want her.

“How is the water?”

I turn, squinting in the light, and study Laura. It’s hard to believe that she’s half-Wolverine when you look at her, she’s so small. Her thin arms, legs, and waist. The long, jet black hair that the wind can’t get enough of. She has on boy shorts, a black-and-grey plaid design, with a bikini top over nice breasts. I’m normally one to kiss and tell all, but Laura…she’s special, so I’ll be light on the details.

“Better now that you’re here,” I reply, offering her a hand as she continues walking towards me. She takes it – God, her hands are so small and smooth – and blushes at me. Most of the others think Laura’s an ice queen, but I know that there’s more there. She just isn’t used to any of that emotional stuff. “I’m glad you came back.”

“I am glad as well,” Laura replies, wrapping her arm around mine. She stands there for a second, staring out towards the open ocean with me. I don’t like looking back at the city. I can’t remember why. Something…bad?…happened there. To me? Whatever. It doesn’t matter.
I like this better.

“Julian,” Laura starts, her voice quiet. “How are you holding my hand?”

I let out a concerned chuckle, twisting my head to toss my own hair out of my eyes. “Is this some kind of X-23 riddle? Or is it just a girl riddle?”

“I am serious Julian,” she says, taking a step away from me, detangling her arm. “How can you be holding my hand?” She gestures at our hands and I look. “You lost your hands, remember?” And sure as hell they’re gone.

Immediately the sky is gone, replaced by a sick pink color. Brackish, oil-slicked water clings to my feet as I back up, my hands gone up past the wrists. “Laura, what is this!?! What the fuck is this?!?”

“You lost your hands mutant,” Laura replies, her eyes glowing pink. Then her head begins to twitch and shake, like her neck is going to break. Her thin claws erupt from her hands and start to slash at her face! I step forward, reaching out to stop her, shouting, but another set of hands stop me. The hands pull at my stumps and Bastion erupts from Laura’s head! “I took them, remember! My armies of Nimrods are dedicated to destroying your filthy kind – and we’ll start with you!”
All at once, dozens, no, hundreds of Nimrods rise up from the ocean! Black and grey, with sick pink eyes, they all stare at me. I yank back on my hands, I’ve got to warn someone, but I can’t, he’s got them! I summon my telekinesis and a green glow envelops my body. “LET – ME – GO!” I shove away with all my strength and Bastion is literally torn to pieces. As he falls apart, scattering into the water and bouncing off of Nimrod-chassis I fall. Counter-balance is gone. Under the water I can hear the Nimrod’s footsteps, like boots of doom falling around me, and I choke.
Gasping for air, I push myself above water – and find a pair of feet before me. Cyclops and Frost stand above me. Their faces are blank, empty of concern. In their arms is a baby, naked, save for a tuft of firey red hair and a green blanket.

“Julian, hold them off!” Cyclops shouts, pointing at me. “We need to get Hope to safety!”

“We need her Julian,” Frost replies, her eyes half-lidded as she stares at me with – is that contempt? “Unlike you. Or your friends.” I feel something warm beside me and confused, I look. The hairy body of Nick – Wolf Cub – floats beside me. That warmth is his blood. With a start I shove the body away, only to bump into more – Icarus, Wither, Wallflower, more and more and more and it’s never ending. I come back around to Cyclops and Frost as I hear their splashing footsteps. “So be a good dear and keep those busy won’t you?”

“You can’t do this!” I shout, telekinetically lifting myself to my feet. “We believed in you! WE TRUSTED YOU! You were supposed to protect us!”

“I can’t protect you Julian, I have to protect Hope,” Cyclops says, not even bothering to turn around. “She is our future. So hold the line like a real X-Man would. If you do a good job and die at it, I’ll be sure to put up a statue for each of you.”

“The fuck?” I don’t know what this is. That isn’t Cyclops. And that isn’t Frost. And Hope didn’t come back a baby, she was like my age, and the others aren’t dead –

“They aren’t dead yet,” Hope suddenly says, appearing before me. She’s back to normal (?) now, a some-teen in a skin-tight jumpsuit. But that ain’t all. I can feel the power radiating off of her, like a weight on my chest and my soul. There’s something to her, like the most powerful attraction I ever felt but it isn’t me. I want to listen, I do listen, but deep inside I’m vomiting. “But they will be dead. You all will be. Only the X-Men get to keep on living – and my new mutants. You can be one of them Julian.” I want to be one of them. So bad my head hurts and blood runs from my nose, I want her now more than I have ever wanted a girl. Is that fire in her hair? I don’t care if it is, I want her. I want those flames around me, holding me, burning me until there’s nothing left. She offers me a hand. I almost take it. Her voice is the most powerful alcohol I’ve ever drank and I can’t take anymore. “You can be special Julian. I’ll let you.”

“Stop it,” My voice is quiet, burned by the sea water and blood, dry and cracked from the power of the flaming shape that surrounds Hope. “Stopit stopit stopit stopit, we were already special. We were gonna be X-Men. I was going to be an X-Man. The best. I didn’t need you then – ” That is when I look up, all of my need for her turned to black hatred. My telekinetic glow lights up and surrounds me, darkening, taking in all of the blood of my friends. I raise myself to my full height, lifting my artificial, block hands from the ocean. “And I DON’T NEED YOU NOW!” I lash out –

– And Julian’s hands go flying, slamming into the metal wall in front of him! One of them bursts against the wall, clattering to the ground in pieces, while the other bounces away dented and bent. From across the room, Ben Hamill – the mutant called Match – jolts out of bed, slinging fireblasts! Thankfully, the fire-proof bed-curtain that surrounds him – originally meant to just block the light of his head from keeping Julian awake – catches the flames.
Covered in sweat and panting, Julian looks around the room. No Laura. No Bastion. No Nimrods or crazy-Hope or anything else that’s weird. Just a sweaty teen who won’t admit he had a nightmare and a sleepy, spooked one.

The curtain jangles as Ben pulls it, revealing himself in just boxers. “Julian, what the fuck was that?!? It’s four in the fucking morning?!?”

“Sorry,” Julian replies, telekinetically grabbing a pair of clothes off the floor as he shuffles out of the bed. “Hands have a mind of their own, can’t do a thing with them.”

“I nearly lit the room on fire you jackass,” Ben mutters, pulling the curtain back into place. There’s a scrabbling noise as he lifts the gauntlet that didn’t shatter and tosses it back onto Julian’s side of the room. “And keep your hands out of my half of the room, I don’t want you touching my stuff.”

“Don’t worry Matchstick, I can’t pass on my cooties,” Julian replies bitterly as he gathers up the hands with his mind. “Hands’ve never touched my body.”

“There’s a mental picture I could have passed on,” Ben replies as he climbs back into bed. “Wake me up again Julian and I will set your bed on fire. I am not joking either. Bed. On fire.”

“Enjoy the company of my eternal screams then,” Julian replies, finally dressed and ready to leave. Before he does, Julian twists the winding-key on Ben’s alarm clock – moving it up an hour. “Sweet dreams firefly.”

The Infirmary,
later that morning

Julian ended up barely sleeping on the couch in the rec room, infomercials playing in the background. He would have continued dozing well into the afternoon if the voices of everyone else hadn’t woken him fully. Growling and shouting, he shoved his way clear of the room and made his way down to the Infirmary.

The Infirmary makes up the single largest space on the island. Broken up into several areas, one for each member of the X-Club, and then also into multiple floors, the general area is located on the ‘ground floor’ of Utopia. This is mainly for ease of access – if you’ve just had your hands disintegrated or an arm ripped off, no one wants to wait for an elevator ride. Aesthetically though, it’s also because this allows for large open windows that allow sunlight to spill into the room. While these are often shuttered closed, the sunlight helps brighten the overall mood, especially if you have to deal with Dr. Nemesis.
Thankfully for Julian’s already rotten mood though, Dr. Kavita Rao was the lead on his ‘hand’ situation.

Of Indian descent, Dr. Rao is a fairly good looking woman in her late thirties. Her long black hair is tied back in a bun, while thick black framed glasses rest on her nose. Street clothes hide underneath her lab coat. She turns as Julian enters the room, the door sliding open, an open folder in her hands. Sitting at a small metal table next to her is David Alleyne, the former mutant called Prodigy. No lab coat here, he’s just dressed in a button up shirt – rolled up sleeves – and jeans, and he nods at Julian as he approaches the table. “Good morning Mr. Keller,” Rao starts, her eyes already locking on his floating pile of broken hands. “I see you are continuing to have trouble with your new hands.”

“You broke them again?” David adds, clearly annoyed.

“Not my fault they can’t be flung against a metal wall,” Julian returns, letting the ‘hands’ drop onto the table. “Can you fix ‘em?”

“They aren’t terribly complicated to begin with, so of course I can fix them,” Rao claps the folder shut and moves to the hands, poking through them to examine the damage. “But if you’re just going to keep breaking them, I don’t really see the point.”

“The point is that I need something to scratch my ass with,” Julian replies, leaning against the table with one hip. As he does so, he scans the room, noting that he’s not the only person visiting today. “Looks like you guys are full-up today.”

You are deflecting young man.”

“And you aren’t fixing my hands,” Julian replies, stepping away from the doctor. “Just page me when they’re finished, right?” Then he moves on, angling for the far corner of the room. As he does, David follows him.

“Y’know Julian, I’ve actually been thinking about your hands. You might be able to create your own.”

Julian actually laughs out loud and stops. “David, I do believe that I’m smart, and I know that you’re smarter than me, so I know that you know that I’m not that smart. I can’t raise a plant much less grow two hands.”

“No, I’m not thinking cloning. I’m thinking of telekinetic projection. You know, like how Unuscione does? You remember her, from that Age of X thing?”

Julian’s eyes narrow as the memories flutter across his mind. The ‘Age of X’, as it’s been named in the X-Men’s reports, was a fictional reality that everyone on Utopia lived through thanks to a rather deranged young mutant. In that “place”, Julian had been one of the most powerful mutants left alive after humanity had turned on them; respected by his peers and essential for day-to-day life. He loved that – but he had also lost his arms up the shoulders. The experience had boosted his ability to control his telekinesis though, so he chose to keep the memories. Didn’t mean he loved them though. “I remember. And if you might recall, I don’t make things. I destroy things.”

“Just listen,” David adds, stopping Julian from leaving. “I believe that if you concentrate your powers, pushing out in the space at the end of your arms, you can generate something similar to hands. Psylocke can create a katana out of telekinesis, Unuscione can create forcefields. You’re one of the most powerful telekines left alive Julian, you can do this.”

“Tell you what Dave,” Julian starts, telekinetically lifting the other man up. “I’ll put ‘create hands out of nothing’ on the very top of my To Do list and you put ‘fixing my freaky robot hands’ on the top of yours. Then we can see who finishes first and the smart money – MY money – is on you. Cool? Cool.” Then he keeps on walking.
As he does, Julian passes by a young Asian girl with blue hair, Noriko Ashida, and gives her a nod. “What’s the biz Nori?”

“Nothing major,” Nori says, her arms crossing defensively as she waits next to a drawn curtain. The metal gauntlet’s that cover her forearms and hands ring with the contact. Behind the curtain, Julian can hear Dr. Nemesis and Magneto talking. “Getting a check-up. You okay?”

“Need to work on my handshake,” Julian replies, waving at her with a stump. “Catch ya later.” Then he’s gone, having nearly arrived at his destination. Shoved off into one corner of the room is a bed, separated from the rest by a large wall of dividers. Standing at the foot of the bed is the Three-in-One, the telepathic blonde princesses of the X-Men. They stand nearly five inches shorter than Julian, something that he’s always liked. As usual, they sport a rather classic schoolgirl outfit; blazer, white shirt underneath, dark tie, and thigh length skirts. Despite being the forbidden wet-dream of nearly every straight male on the island, the girls were strictly off-limits – by their own decree.
Not like that would stop Julian.

“Ladies,” he says, moving as if to slide his hands into his pockets, but he doesn’t have anything to slide. Instead, he shuffles awkwardly and then crosses his arms. “What brings you to the doctor’s office this fine morn?”

“Certainly not nightmares,” One of them – Julian can’t honestly tell which – replies, all three of them turning to glare at him simultaneously. “Although we too are concerned with the Phoenix and…Hope.”

“Damn,” Julian says, a bit put off by being read so easily. “You girls sure do know how to creep me out. I thought you had the Phoenix all sealed up inside your frozen hearts?”

“Our diamond hearts,” The farthest sister replies as all three rest a hand on their chests. “And not all that long ago, the Phoenix left us.”

“I didn’t think it could do that.”

“It’s a cosmic god, it can do as it likes. Any way we attempt to control or corral it is temporary at best,” The middle sister replies. “Weeks ago, it left us, and we do not know why. We are hoping that he might have a clue.”

Julian peeks around the curtain. The hospital bed is occupied by another teen, roughly the same age as Julian. This guy is a bit better built, although having been in a bed for so long is beginning to wear on his frame. A thick layer of peach fuzz has settled on his head and jawline. Only his arms and upper shoulders are visible and tattoos litter his body.
“Isn’t this that Ink guy? Santo was telling me that he isn’t even a mutant. What’s he doing – ”

Before he can finish, the door to the Infirmary slides open again. This time though, Rogue is the one who enters, a look of concern on her face. She crosses the room quickly, aiming for Julian. “I heard you were here. Everythin’ okay?”

Julian eyes her. “Best day of my life yet Rogue. What’s the deal? You weren’t this concerned for me when my freaking hands got melted off.”

“God I love talking to you. Just a bundle of sunshine. And that means you ain’t heard yet,” Rogue replies, carefully choosing her words. “Julian, we just got word from the city. There’s been accident. Your folks’re involved.”

Sarcasm and mirth drains from Julian’s face instantly. He blinks, taking this in and processing it. The last time he saw his parents, things didn’t end so well. But they were still his parents. And that meant something – if only to him.
He looks back at Rogue, his green glow surrounding him. “Where are they?”

“The San Francisco General Hospital and Trauma Center. C’mon, I can get a ‘bird fired up in five minutes and – ”

“Thanks, but no thanks,” Julian replies, pushing back Rogue and floating to the door. “I’m faster on my own.” Then, in a burst of telekinetic light, he’s gone.

David and Nori immediately lock eyes. “I’ll let the others know,” Nori says. She dashes to the door and, as it slides open, a slight charge fills the air around her. Then she pushes her storage of electrical energy into her body and erupts down the hall.
Meanwhile, David turns to Dr. Rao. “Can I? – ”

She nods, waving him off with a kind smile. “Go. If you can stand to be around him, then good for you. He’ll need his friends.”

“Thank you doctor,” David replies. Then he turns to Rogue. “You said something about getting a Blackbird fired up?”

As the pair leaves the room, the Cuckoos turn back to stare at the young man code-named Ink. “Are we concerned?” Irma asks telepathically, moving the conversation into their minds to prevent ease-dropping.

“Celeste is,” Phoebe replies. “Although only slightly.”

“Julian has his charms,” Celeste argues back, mentally shrugging. “It’s not as if we hate him.”

“True, but we do not like him either,” Irma replies. She nods at the body before him. “In any case, this is a much more pressing matter. The Phoenix has abandoned us and, according to the stray thoughts of Ms. Frost, chosen the girl-messiah Hope.”

“Unlikely,” Celeste says. “We have scanned Hope. The doctors have studied Hope. There is no trace of Phoenix in or around her. Other than Quentin Quire – “

“He who shall not be named.” Irma and Phoebe say simultaneously, a whisper of irritation in their voices.

“Or Rachel Grey –“

“Who is off planet,” Irma adds.

“There is only one other known Phoenix host left.” Celeste finishes. Mentally, she gestures at Ink. “And that is him.”

“But he never possessed the Phoenix,” Irma argues back. “Doctor McCoy’s notes were very succinct on that. The powers of his tattoo were just a facsimile.”

“Then we should be investigating the tattooist who gave him those powers, not this thing,” Irma replies with disgust. “He is human, he is a boy, and he should not be here.”

“I don’t know,” Celeste replies, a sliver of caution in her voice. “Can either of you see that?” She gestures at his face and the other two look as well.

“We see nothing,” Phoebe says as she and Irma turn to look at Celeste. “What do you see?”

“A…a faint glow, around his right eye,” Celeste replies, squinting. “It looks…like the Phoenix tattoo.”

Irma rolls her eyes. “When I look through your eyes, I do not see anything, so we don’t see anything. You’re imagining it.”

“The Phoenix chose me specifically as it’s host last time,” Celeste replies. “It’s possible that I am slightly more sensitive to it than you two.”

“All the more reason we should do this,” Phoebe says, nodding from her spot on the left hand side of the bed. “Dr. McCoy did point out in his reports that it is unclear where exactly the power from that copy either came from or went,” Phoebe adds, looking to her sisters. “He manifested Phoenix-level powers after receiving a tattoo from a new mutant. Ms. Frost saw the Phoenix’s shadow around Hope, whose arrival coincides with the creation of new mutants. Isn’t it possible that the mutant artist who did the tattooing tapped into the Phoenix energy? Somehow passed it on through the tattoo?”

“I believe we’re reaching with that,” Irma adds, crossing her arms. “A very good fake is still a fake.”

“Copies can surpass the original though,” Celeste says, eyeing her sister. “We are living proof of that.”

“Copies can also coexist with the original,” Phoebe adds with a nod. “But if the Phoenix grew tired of our imprisoning of it, if it found an escape hole through him, where better to hide than here? Even before his coma, he had little mind to work with. Now, without that mind taking up space – ”

“It could be hiding in plain sight.” Celeste finishes the thought.

Phoebe adds a smile to her nod now. “Hiding in plain sight. The Phoenix did not leave Earth, we’re confident we would have sensed that. But if it isn’t gone, then it must be somewhere near, and we need to find it, if only to confirm it’s freedom and, hopefully, purpose.”

“Because if it really intends to choose Hope,” Celeste starts, the sisters mood darkening. “We will need to watch her.”

“I hope not. Bad enough to be the children of Frost, but to inherit her grudge against gingers?” Irma sighs, then stretches her hands out to Celeste and Phoebe. “We’re agreed then. Let’s get this over with quickly. The less time spent in this one’s mind, the better.”

The Three-in-One reach out their hands, linking themselves physically, and then focus their powers. They blink, then open their eyes, their pupils vanishing in a display of power. Their blonde hair begins to float unconsciously and then their minds are gone, diving into the body of Eric Gitter – the human X-Man named Ink.

And the Phoenix tattoo – burnt out after Ink’s last display of power – glows a bright orange.

San Francisco General Hospital and Trauma Center

The general hustle and bustle of life at the San Francisco General Hospital had been doing just fine that morning. Patients came and went, doctors and nurses examined and explained and did their best to make it another hour on another cup of coffee. The arrival of Julian at the front door, glowing bright green, anxious, and demanding had startled everyone. San Francisco had largely acclimated to its new mutant protectors and population, but the X-Men also did their best to stay out of the way. A young man showing up and demanding answers was not uncommon, but when magazines, chairs, tables, pens, and nurses started to float in the air, things got a little tense.

That said, the arrival of Rockslide, Anole, Mercury, and Surge by way of Pixie’s teleportation spell does little to help settle the nerves. Rockslide, six feet tall and all blocky rocks, is an intimidating sight. Despite being rather well dressed, Anole’s green skin and over-sized right arm – complete with bulky scales and spikes – catches everyone’s attention. Mercury’s silver skin is dazzling in the hospital lights, setting off the bright red of her hair and t-shirt, while Pixie’s wings flutter and blink rapidly. Surge is the most normal of them all, her only strange feature the midnight blue hair and metal gauntlets.

The rent-a-cop that had been placed in the lobby after Julian’s arrival draws his taser and fires, the two prongs sticking in Rockslide’s hoodie. They discharge, having done nothing.

“Dude, you really just tazed me? In a hospital? How unsafe is that?”

“I got it Santo,” Surge says, knowing that her electrical powers would keep her from being shocked. She flicks off the prongs and turns to Anole. “Vic, can you find out where we’re going?”

“I don’t like this already,” Mercury replies, staring at a doctor who walks past very quickly. “Last time I ran into a doctor, he pulled pieces off of me.” She crosses her arms. “I know this isn’t the same kind of deal, but I think white lab coats are officially off my turn-ons list.

“Don’t worry Cess!” Pixie replies, wrapping an arm around her friends shoulder. “I’m sure I can find you a doctor that’ll turn that around.”

“I’m willing to play doctor anytime,” Santo volunteers, earning him a smack from Mercury. He just chuckles. “I don’t mind the rough stuff either.”

“I’d say keep in it in your pants,” Surge says, turning to Victor as he returns. “But you don’t have anything to keep in anymore. So ha. Where’re we headed?”

Victor points to the ceiling. “We’re going up.”

Upstairs

When Julian’s friends finally reach the proper floor – a difficult task when one of their members is six feet tall and made of stone – the sight of Julian by his mother’s side keeps them from saying anything.

The room is fairly large, meant for convalescing. A large window sits on the opposite wall, the blinds shuttered. A chair sits next to the bed, just in front of the bed table. A silenced TV hangs on the wall to the left. Framed pictures of flowers and landscapes rest on the wall, stereotypical in that hospital way. Medical devices rest on the side of the bed nearest the door, to the right of Julian, who sits in the only other chair in the room.

Lying in the bed itself is Mrs. Keller. She lies still, her chest rising up and down beneath the just-off-green hospital blanket. Her head is wrapped in bandages, covering her right eye entirely. Bruising and swelling can be made out even from the doorway. Her hands, also wrapped and bandaged, lie on the bed, and it’s at the one closest to him that Julian stares.

He doesn’t turn when he speaks.

“S’car accident. She, ah…she and dad’re in town for some, ah, some business thing. Standard stuff, no big deal. S’what they do. Dad had, he’d already gotten out of the limo, was on the phone, yelling at some guy about something. Then a car, just some God damn idiot, drives right into the side of the limo. Right into my mom. Driver got away, j-just up and left his car. No one saw anything. But my mom…” His voice, breaking throughout the story, finally gives out, and he swallows a sob. Mercury quietly enters the room, finally breaking the barrier that was in the doorway, and hugs Julian from the side. His eyes had never left his mother’s hand until then, when he holds up the stumps that are his arms.

“I can’t even hold her hand Cess. Can’t do anything.”

“It’s okay,” Cessily replies quietly. “It’s okay Julian. We just, we’re so sorry.”

Behind him, Victor quietly rests a hand on Julian’s shoulder. Surge and Pixie move to the foot of the bed, that awkward hospital feeling settling over the group. The fact that Julian, as proud a mutant as you could find, was hurting didn’t help. Julian didn’t cry. That just wasn’t something he did. Not after M-Day, not after the Purifiers killed his friends, not after Sofia left, not when he was stabbed in the chest by Lady Deathstrike, not when X-23 left Utopia, not even when Julian had lost his hands, did he cry. It hurt, but it never got to him.

Seeing this side of Julian almost feels…wrong.

Back at the doorway, Rockslide – who literally couldn’t fit into the room – says “Dude, we can find that guy.”

“Santo,” Surge starts.

“No, f’real,” He replies, crossing his arms. “We’ve got mad X-Men skills. Telepaths and hunters and freaking Wolverine. He can probably just smell the car and we find the guy and punch him a few times. No problem.”

“You’re not doing anything,” A man’s voice suddenly comes from behind Santo. The big rockpile turns, revealing Julian’s father. A very handsome man, Mr. Keller is still dressed in his business clothes, minus the jacket. His shirt is ruffled and creased after a long night of worry. Bags rest under his eyes and a fine layer of stubble hug his jawline, accenting his strong good looks. A cup of coffee, which he had left the room to get, is in one hand. He glares at Santo and the others as he enters the room. Julian stands. “None of you are. I already have people looking into the accident and we don’t need any kids screwing around in it.”

“Why didn’t you call me?” Julian asks as his father shoves past Pixie and Surge, moving to the opposite side of the bed. “Why didn’t you tell me this happened? Why did I have to hear about this from Rogue and an evening news report?!?”

“I didn’t think it was any of your business.” Mr. Keller replies, his voice hard and empty. He sets down his coffee and then does the same, taking his wife’s hand. “I thought our relationship was clear after our last encounter.”

“Our relationship?!? SHE’S MY MOTHER!” Julian shouts, stepping towards the bed. “What if she had died Dad, would you have called me then? Would you have said ANYTHING?!?”

“YOU are the one who abandoned our family Julian! YOU are the one who wanted to go to mutant school, to screw around with your powers and stick your nose into problems that aren’t your concern!” Mr. Keller argues back, standing back up. “We told you that we cannot have you making problems for us Julian and that means distance. That means you run around with your little mutant friends and us growns-up will deal with the real life problems.”

“Oh, I’m sorry that I’m a mutant, wish I hadn’t made that decision. OH WAIT, I DIDN’T. I’m trying to learn to control my powers, to HELP PEOPLE, and you’re gonna what, divorce me from the family for that?”

“And you’ve done such an excellent job controlling your powers,” Mr. Keller replies. “Which X-Man are you? How many lives have you saved since you went back to them? You had a perfectly good future with us Julian and you tossed it aside – YOU tossed the family aside – for your freaky powers and – ”

The argument is quickly lost when the exterior wall suddenly explodes into the room! The blinds, now torn and broken, go flying through the air. The window shatters into millions of pieces of razor sharp glass, while the plaster on the walls bursts into chunks and dust. All of this would have been thrown onto the room’s occupants if it wasn’t for a wall of solid green energy that springs to life! The telekinetic wall stops most of the debris, save for some dust that moves through on the wind, putting everyone into coughing fits. The wall drops as Julian struggles to breath and check on his mother – nothing got to her. A strange sound fills the air, a powerful humming, and suddenly heavy boots land on the glass and debris.

“I’ll admit,” the new arrival starts as he calmly walks into the room. “That I’m new to the whole “driving” thing. Probably why I wasn’t able to kill dear ole mommy over there. But I’m pretty darn good with explosives, so why aren’t you dead daddy dearest?”

The dust clears, revealing a very odd figure. Tall and generally thin, the…thing appears to be made of gray cables of some kind, held together by purple armor at the forearms, the calves, the chest, and the shoulders. The face is obscured by the armor, leaving only two red glass orbs staring out. A rather large plasma rifle is held in his hands, aimed generally towards Mr. Keller. “OOOOHHHHH,” the creature says, nodding as it finally sees Julian and the others. “I didn’t realize the man of the hour would be here himself! Hi Julian! My name is Peter and very very soon, we’ll be brothers and everything will be better. Isn’t that nice?”

“I barely like what family I’ve got, thanks,” Julian replies, staring at Peter. “What the hell are you supposed to be?”

Peter sighs. “I always have to explain. Every time. Oh well,” he shrugs, then aims his rifle at Julian’s father. “Nanny calls me the Orphan Maker and if you’ll give me five minutes, I can solve that pesky family problem. Trust me, our family is so much nicer! Then we can be best brothers forevers!” And with that,
The Orphan Maker pulls the trigger.

Julian Keller is an alpha-level telekinetic. Even in the world of the X-Men, this is not a mutation seen all that often, and as such, Julian currently has no teachers to show him the way. Since having his own mental ‘safeties’ taken off, as well having spent a lifetime in the Age of X “reality”, Julian’s skills are at their all-time best. He doesn’t know this. He doesn’t understand this. But a few weeks back, it saved the life of an innocent when she was attacked by an Omega Sentinel. This time it saves his father.

Julian reaches out telekinetically, literally as fast as he can think it, and disperses the plasma blast. The bright red light bursts away, as if struck by a wall, blasting away parts of the wall, ceiling, and floor. The Orphan Maker is taken aback, never expecting the target to WANT their parents, and pauses for just a second to react. In that time, Julian has already lifted himself into the air, surrounded by glowing green energy, and he launches himself into the armored man! Screaming, Julian plunges out of the broken room and aims for the street below.

“What the hell was that?!?” Mr. Keller asks, confused, scared, and doing his best not to look it.

“A problem,” Surge replies as she, Cessily, and Victor cross the room. The three of them watch as Hellion and the Orphan Maker slam into the road below. Car alarms start screaming up and down the street, pedestrians scatter, and the concrete buckles down as Hellion presses into it with all the force he can muster. The vibrations literally rattle the building.

Then Surge looks up, noting the source of the humming from earlier. A large, egg-shaped ship hovers above the hospital. Small lights and the thin lines of plates can be seen from here, running along the skin of the ship. A small exit chute – where the Orphan Maker must have exited from – sticks out on the side. As Surge takes in the ridiculous sight, five more armored forms drop from the ship. Jetpacks catch them in mid-air and then the five bodies angle themselves towards the hospital room.

“Make that prob-lems,” Surge adds, turning to look over the room, her eyes wide. Despite the rather tumultuous life that being a mutant has forced upon Noriko, it had been a long time since she was in the field. In fact, the last time she had led her teammates, Julian ended up spitted on a cyborg’s taloned fingers.

Well not this time.

“They’ve got fliers,” Surge starts, turning to Pixie. “Which means you’re our first line of defense. Get out there and keep them moving, keep them busy.”

“But I could go to Utopia – ” Pixie starts, thumbing towards the bay.

“And during that time these guys could overwhelm us and the Keller’s are dead!” Surge argues back. “Not this time! Get out there!” Pixie flies past, her wings fluttering almost noiselessly, and she takes to the sky. “Rockslide, Anole, you’re on guard duty. Santo, watch the hallway, Victor you have the room. See if you can call Utopia, get us some X-Men here. Mercury, we’re going to head up and try to cut these guys off.”

Rockslide stands up straight and salutes. “Ma’am yes ma’am! Order me around all you like.”

“How are you going to get up there?” Anole asks as Surge looks towards the wall, examining the structural beam that the Orphan Maker exposed. Mercury comes up next to her.

“And what about Julian? We can’t just leave him down there.”

Surge looks towards the ground, where Hellion and the Orphan Maker are exchanging blows. “I think Julian’s got this,” she replies, reaching out a hand towards the beam. Surge lets a small burst of electricity out, charging the beam, and as she shifts her own charge, she can feel the beam push against her. She smiles and turns to Mercury. “As for us, arms around my neck sister. I’ve got a new trick.”

Since Magneto had come to Utopia, he and Surge had been working on her powers. Well, more like Magneto made suggestions and Nori ignored him because he’s MAGNETO THE TERRORIST. But, she grudgingly had to admit, he might have maybe had a point when he brought up the fact that she had stopped working with her powers. Truth be told, once the original school was destroyed, there just didn’t seem to be a point. A normal life had moved beyond Noriko then and she had just accepted that.

This idea was all Mags’. His own powers work through magnetism, i.e. the attraction of a positively and negatively charged object. By controlling which type of charge she emitted, it should be possible for Nori to fly like Magneto does – by charging the energy immediately around her to match the energy of whatever she’s near. Nori wasn’t quite ready to throw herself off a building yet, but charging like for like and using the structural beam to “pull” herself along it? THAT she could do – and holy hell did she like it.

Mercury’s arms stretch as the pair of girls streak up the side of the building, a constant stream of electricity flowing between Surge and the beam. Surge’s hair whips back in Mercury’s face, the red-head screaming at the top of her lungs. Strapped to her back by a mercury-tendril is the Orphan Maker’s plasma rifle.

“Here they come!” Surge shouts, magnetizing herself to the building with a hand and a foot. Mercury hands fold together, locking around Surge’s upper body, as two new arms form and grasp the rifle. “Make sure not to hit Megan! She might be annoying, but she isn’t that bad.” She shouts, fighting to be heard over the wind at this height.

“You just make sure not to lose your grip,” Mercury replies, aiming as best she can with the sightless weapon. Then she and Surge open fir; one slinging plasma, the other firing off crackling bolts of electricity.

Surprisingly, Pixie had a fairly easy time with the first Orphan Maker she ran into. While the suit of armor was basically the same design, this one was colored blue, and perhaps a bit shorter. Pixie summoned up her Souldagger and essentially just ran into the figure before they could open fire. The dagger pierced through the plasma rifle that the Orphan Maker used to block the stab, but did little else. Yanking back, freeing the weapon, Pixie moves into a spin and her booted-foot collides with the Maker’s face mask. Disoriented, the Maker continues to spiral down, but at an erratic pace. Meanwhile, the other Maker’s had locked onto Pixie and a steady stream of plasma rained down upon her. She dives and swirls, trying a few times to get the Maker’s to fire on each other, but they don’t fall for that one.

“Look at this!” One of the Maker’s shouts to it’s fellows, this one a deep green color. “They’ve got -”

“Their own fairy! Only she ain’t just a fairy!” Another one, this one wearing red armor, replies, strafing at Pixie as she dodges. “She thumped on Toodles bad! No way I’m – ”

Green finishes the thought. “I’m letting her go!”

“Aw, c’mon you two,” The orange colored Maker starts, diving down to kick at Pixie really quickly. He backs away instantly as she slashes at him, but his pack makes him too fast. “We need a Tinkerbell of our own! You know Peter’d want her!”

“Well I’m not interested in any Peter!” Pixie shouts back, charging in on Orange armor. As side effect of the Souldagger – which literally contains a portion of Pixie’s soul – was that it unleashed her darker side. Her Age of X experience had only furthered this mindset along thanks to a lifetime spent as the monstrous Nightmare. As she attacks, growing more and more frustrated, anger starts to take over Pixie’s mind and, before she knows it, she’s attacking Orange Armor almost blindly. It’s this distraction that allows Brown Armor to swoop up from below, slamming his shoulder into her stomach! A burst of pixie dust from her wings explodes from them as she reels from the blow, fighting for breath.

“Can’t allow any girls,” Brown armor replies jovially, “Much too smart for the Lost Boys! Now, if you knew the secret password,” He continues on, an armored hand wrapped around Pixie’s neck. “That’d be a different story. Do you know the password?”

Struggling for breath, and struggling against Brown’s grip, Pixie smiles. “HGK – ah – please?”

Brown laughs, pushing his plasma rifle up against Pixie’s stomach. “Nope! The password was “password!” I told you no one would guess it Nibs!”

“Did not!” Nibs, the orange Maker, shouts back, hovering close. “Now c’mon Slightly, either finish her off or put her in a cage. Nanny gave us a job t’do and we’re wasting time!”

“’kay.” Slightly shrugs, turning back to stare at Pixie with his inhuman eyes. “Sorry Ms. Bell, but Nanny didn’t say anythin’ about any girl mutants. Best of luck.” Pixie closes her eyes, her legs striking out wildly at Slightly, and braces for the shot. But plasma fire bursts against Slightly’s back, the pain and shock forcing him to release Pixie! Coughing, the girl drops back, making sure to pull away from the Lost Boys returning fire. Streaks of lighting stab through the sky, not connecting, but definitely disrupting the Boys flight patterns.

“More girls!” Twin One, the green armored Maker, shouts. “Nanny only said – “

“We’d be dealing with a boy mutant!” Twin Two replies, the red one. “What’s with all the girls?”

“Doesn’t matter!” Nibs shouts, swirling through the ozone charged air. “Make Julian an orphan, that’s the order and that’s what we’ll do! Just buy Toodles the time! He just made it!”

Inside

Toodles, the blue armored Orphan Maker, lands clumsily, his head still ringing from Pixie’s kick. A pair of security guards had joined Anole and Rockslide and were even now assisting a doctor in moving Mrs. Keller. Rockslide, still stuck in the hallway, laughs at Toodles as he straightens up. “Hey buddy! You don’t look so tough without your big bad gun huh? Why’n’t you come over and try a REAL fight!”

“I always have the worst luck,” Toodles replies, spreading his arms. As he does so, they grew armor that surrounds him comes to life, generating large plasma blasters. “Wasn’t s’posed to be me doing the shootin’! I always have to shoot people!” The blasters whine as they charge and Rockslide, cursing loudly as doctors try to shuffle through the filled doorway, pulls up an arm and fires off his fist! The boulder collides with Toodles, knocking him to the left, but that just brings his right arm around for a clear shot at the Kellers.

Thankfully, Anole – waiting in camouflage – suddenly drops from the ceiling and knocks Toodles’ arm down. The powerful blast bursts through the floor, but Anole presses the attack, allowing his stronger right arm to handle the hitting. With a final blow, he knocks Toodles back.

“Y’know man, you don’t have to shoot people,” Anole says, panting slightly. “You could just, I dunno, go read a book or something.”

“Sorry, but Nanny says I have to shoot people, so I have to. I’m going to be a good boy for Nanny. We all will. She loves us y’know,” Toodles replies, standing back up as more blasters appear in his armor.

“Can I get some love, cuz I would love one of those suits. They are freakin’ AWESOME,” Rockslide says.

“SANTO!” Anole shouts, turning his attention away from Toodles for just a moment.

Toodles opens fire again.

Below

At first, Hellion’s telekinetic blows had appeared to do some damage to the Orphan Maker. There were spider-web fine cracks in almost all of his armor – which was amazing, considering that Hellion’s TK pounding had punched them nearly ten feet into the street. But the more Hellion used his TK on Peter, the faster Peter’s armor was able to react to it and soon, the blows didn’t even register. Angry at his father, angry at this man, angry at his life, Hellion doesn’t even notice.
Until Peter’s head slams into his own.

The blow is just enough to stun him, the pain like a wall at the front of his mind. Peter follows that up with a right hook that unseats Hellion, knocking him into the packed earth. As Hellion struggles to put his mind back together, Peter stands, aims one plasma-gun-hand at the other boy, and leans against the wall. “It’s…it’s okay Julian,” Peter starts. “Brothers fight all the time. Me and Slightly got into it the other day and Nanny had to – ”

“I’M NOT YOUR BROTHER!” Hellion lashes out, streaks of green energy streaking towards the Orphan Maker. They connect and splash off like water, barely pushing Peter back.

“But you will be!” Peter continues, unfazed by the attack. “That’s the best part! We aren’t limited by mommy’s or daddy’s Julian – anyone can become our brother or sister! You’ll get your own awesome suit, but you’ll have to share a bedroom. I don’t mind it, really, but Toodles wets the bed sometimes and then he starts crying and it’s just SO ANNOYING.”

Hellion just stares at the other man, confused and annoyed. “What are you even talking about? You make no fucking sense!” A plasma blast slams into him then, bouncing off his TK field, but shoving him against the wall.

“No swears! Nanny says we can’t swear!” Peter shouts at a little too loudly as he walks over to Julian. He whispers. “Not that I mind – but Nanny’ll spank you for sure if you talk like that.”

“Is that so?” Hellion replies in his own whisper voice. “Hey, I got a question. Your suit, it like, reacts to my powers, right?”

Peter nods emphatically, finally connecting with his new brother. “It takes a minute, but ya. Pretty b.a., right?”

“Oh, yeah. You’re fucking awesome.”

Peter stands up as he shoves his plasma gun into Julian’s face. “NO SWEARS!”

Suddenly the walls slide in, shaped by Hellion’s telekinesis, and they slam into the Orphan Maker. The armor takes most of the damage, but it’s enough to break Peter’s concentration. His plasma gun melts away as Julian adds on the pressure. “Y’know what Pete? I have had a BAD fucking year. I’ve tried to just deal with it and put it away and move on and y’know why? Cuz that’s what my parents did,” As he talks, Julian doesn’t notice that he’s raising his right arm, a green glow beginning to emanate from the end of it. “Mom made a bad business deal? Fire someone’s work force, sell off that company and move on. Dad was caught diddling the maid? Replace her and hire a new one. Kid turns out to be a mutant? Send him off to school and forget about him. If you have a problem – fix it.
“It’s just hitting me. People with power use that power to fix their problems. Humans, like my folks, use money. You, crazy guy that you are, use crazy guns and an ugly suit. And mutants should use their powers. It’s only right. So I’m standing here,” Julian’s doesn’t notice the solid green arm that extends from his flesh one, the hand extending in a crushing grip. Already the force he had been exerting would have killed a regular person. As it was, the Orphan Maker was having trouble breathing. “And it occurs to me. I have a problem. You. Trying to kill my parents,” He increases the pressure. “And I have the power…to solve you,” More pressure. Several of the seals on the Maker’s suit burst, forcing out a sickly pink fluid. “So give me one good reason why I shouldn’t.”

“Because X-Men don’t kill.”

Julian turns, honestly caught off guard. Standing behind him is Rogue, an ungloved hand extended towards him. Behind her are David, Nori, and Cessily, who appear to have just climbed down the hole. Movement forces Julian to look up and he can see the rest of his class at the top of the hole – Victor, Santo, Soraya, Megan, Gentle, and that creepy new kid, Greymalkin. Everyone is staring at him, eyes wide, and self-consciousness suddenly floods Julian’s mind. But he kicks that aside, too hurt and angry to self-examine. He tosses his long black hair out of his face and stares down Rogue.

“Then it’s a good thing I never graduated.”

“Put him down Julian,” Noriko orders, her voice steady. “He’s beaten. They all are. Your parents are safe, Megan moved them.”

“So long as this creep is breathing,” Julian turns, glaring at the sticky mess that is the Orphan Maker. “They’ll never be safe.”

“And if you do this, neither will you,” Rogue says, still ready to move on him. “I’ve been there Julian, I’ve used my powers to get what I want. It might not seem like it now, but it doesn’t help. Five years from now you’ll be standing where I am, watching another dumb kid make the same mistake, praying you coulda stopped yourself from doing it.”

“Julian, c’mon,” He recognizes Cessily, a half-laugh punctuating the ‘c’mon’. “Let’s just get out of here. Remember, you came here to visit your mom. Let’s go do that, huh?” He can feel her cold, metallic hand come to a rest on his shoulder. The touch seems to drain the energy from him and suddenly he’s more tired than angry. With a casual wave of his TK-hand, Julian tosses the blocks away and the Orphan Maker falls to the ground with a limp splatting sound.

He can barely hear Rogue’s muttered “Oh thank God.” And then she’s past him, checking on the Orphan Maker. David and Nori and Cessily crowd in around him, their voices too much to get into his brain.

“ – you see those hands? I told you that you could – ”

“ – remembered that these guys came after Trance, so he figured – ”

“ – it’ll be okay Julian, I promise, we can – ”

With a gentle TK nudge, he pushes them back a bit. Then he lifts himself into the air, aiming for Pixie. “Let’s go.”

St. Francis Memorial Hospital

When Julian had arrived at the hospital room where his mother was being kept, his father immediately launched into angry questions. Julian didn’t answer any of them. He picked his father up like a child with his telekinesis, moved him out of the room, and held a TK field up in place of the door.
Naturally, Pixie went back for the other students. David – who automatically took charge, since Rogue had to stay with the Orphan Maker’s body – explained what had happened. This was actually the second attack on one of the class’ extended family; the Orphan Maker and Nanny had targeted Trance’s family a few weeks back. Suspecting that this could have been the same thing, David gathered up the students who were willing to help and they took a Blackbird to the scene. The additional forces enabled Pixie to break off and teleport the Keller’s to safety – although the rest of the Lost Boys returned to Nanny’s egg ship.

Mr. Keller rubs his hands over his eyes and lets out a long, powerful sigh. He leans back against the wall that his chair sits against. “I knew it. I knew it. The second he got those powers I knew that it would backfire on us.”

Julian, who had been quietly watching his mother, turns an ear.

“Bad enough that he was born a mutant – no offense – and bad enough that he went to mutant school instead of something that’s actually useful, but now we nearly died? Just because he’s a mutant? Better that he had died in that bus explosion – ”

Julian’s TK door vanishes.

“Or had lost his powers on M-Day – ”

He exits the room, TK-hands glowing, and grabs his father by the collar. “Don’t like that I’m a mutant Dad?” Julian asks, his hands shifting so that they heft Mr. Keller by the throat. “Don’t like my powers? Well how’d you like them wrapped around your THROAT?” Immediately Rockslide and Gentle are on Julian, pulling him back. Mr. Keller coughs, fighting for breath.

“You little monster!”

“I just nearly killed a guy to save you and Mom! I could have died! My friends could have died! But you’re out here blaming me – ”

“Someone needs to be held responsible for this mess!” Julian’s father shouts back. “We can’t have you destroying everything we worked for Julian, everything we have, just because you’ve got damaged DNA! It was bad enough when you were just making us look like fools. Now we’re nearly being killed!”

Julian shrugs off his friends. “BUT I SAVED YOU!”

“Well you won’t have to anymore,” Mr. Keller replies, forcing himself to calm down. He unrolls his shirt sleeves, trying to regain a semblance of self-control. “This is too much and I won’t stand for it. First thing tomorrow, I will disown you Julian and we are moving on. We will change our names and you won’t hear from us again. You’re just…too dangerous.”

Those words hit Julian like a blow to the gut. The color drains out of his face and he shakes his head a bit. “You can’t…what’ll happen to me?”

“I don’t know,” Mr. Keller replies, unable to look his youngest son in the eyes. “And after what happened today, I really don’t care.”

A million words run through Julian’s mind, a million actions. His mouth moves, but says nothing. His head shakes, his feet walk back and forth, but he does nothing. Finally, with a sneer and a shake of his head, Julian just turns away. “Fuck you.” As he leaves, the rest of the students follow him out, a few of them glaring at Mr. Keller as they leave. Santo goes so far as to flick him off. Noriko hangs back for a second, her metal covered hands shoved in her pants pocket.

“I know something about shitty dads,” Nori says quietly, staring at the floor. “And you are right at the top of the list.”

“Just get out of my sight, all of you. Leave my wife and I alone, for Gods sake.”

Nori nods. “Okay,” She turns to leave, but pauses for a second. She looks over her shoulder, her eyes meeting Mr. Keller’s. “You just…you might wanna pray that those Orphan Makers don’t come for you again. Cuz I don’t think you’ll have much luck on your own.”

Outside

As Nori rejoins the rest of the group, who surround Pixie, David turns to Julian. “I’m sorry.”

Julian shrugs, his TK hands shoved in his pockets. “He was always an asshole.”

David nods, not knowing what to say. Then he gestures at the others. “I think it’s time we went back to the island.”

“Yeah, you should,” Julian replies. “Tell Summers and Frost I’ll be by tomorrow for my stuff.”

“What? What are you talking about?”

“I’m not going back there,” Julian says with a shake of his head. “That place hasn’t been for me for a long time. Just…I dunno. I’m feeling lone wolf-y.”

“I don’t think that now is really the time – “

“David, thanks for today, but if you try to talk me into going back there, I will smack you like a red-headed step-child.” Julian brandishes one of his hands. “I just need some time.”

Finally David nods. “You know where we’ll be.” He moves to the rest of the group and dodges their questions as best he’s able. In a burst of pink light, Pixie teleports them back to Utopia.

Hefting himself into the air, Julian moves up and up and up, the hospital – and everything in it – slowly fading into obscurity. For a moment he just enjoys the wind and the sea air, closing his eyes and breathing deeply. When he opens them, he stares out over the Golden Gate Bridge and into the Marin Headlands.