Crusade, Part I
“Look around you,” he said, his voice filled with the perfect confidence of one who knows he does God’s will. The crowd filled the auditorium, many bearing signs proclaiming their opposition to the devil’s children. ‘No mutants,’ one proclaimed, ‘Their extinction is the will of God!’ read another. “And know that this is but a handful of God’s children, those who have heard the call, and will do his will upon the Earth!”
The crowd roared. The preacher in his black suit had never felt so powerful. His deep, sonorous voice rolled out across the crowd, and united in zeal, they cried out in agreement, “Praise Jesus! Hallelujah!”
“The Lord watched as the seeds of Satan gained strength and claimed our world,” the preacher said. “He patiently waited for his children to rise up and fight the forces of evil... but we did nothing. And Eden fell.”
“Have mercy, oh Lord!” a woman cried out.
A man nearby followed a moment later with, “Lord God, forgive us our inaction!”
“Now God has given us one last chance to make right what we’ve allowed to go so very wrong. Now you must decide what you will do. Do you stand with God and with those children of God you see around you to end Satan’s reign, or do you turn your back on the Lord once again? For there can be do doubt that the Day of Judgment is at hand!”
Power. It filled the room. Filled the preacher. The holy spirit power was in him now, and in the crowd. They cried out for their salvation, and he would give it to them. If God was on their side, who could stand against them? Mutants? How laughable.
He smiled as only one whose conscience is utterly clean can smile. God had spoken, and William Stryker would be the instrument of his vengeance.
A New World in my View
by P.H. Wise
A New X-Men Crossover Fanfic
Chapter 06: Crusade, Part I
Disclaimer: The DC Universe and its associated characters is the property of DC comics. The Marvel Universe and its associated characters is the property of Marvel Entertainment LLC. Buffy the Vampire Slayer is Joss Whedon's baby. Some dialogue from this chapter comes from ‘New X-Men’ #23 and #25. Marvel owns that, too.
“Um, hi. I’m Karen.” It was funny how easily that lie came to her now. She didn’t even hesitate anymore. Emma Frost had called her in to introduce her to the new squad of X-Men that she was going to be training with in the immediate future, and it was awkward. Most of the girls in the squad were the ones who had been gossiping about her in the cafeteria a few weeks back. ...and that had been when people started singing, ‘Sunshine on her shoulders gives her happies,’ to the tune of the John Denver song. The boys she had seen around, but had never actually been introduced to.
“What’s your code name?” Noriko asked.
“What’s your power?” one of the boys asked almost at the same time.
Several of the girls turned red with embarrassment.
“I...” Karen looked to Kara, who stood at her side albeit invisible to the rest of the team, then to Emma.
“Power Girl,” Kara said, as if it were obvious.
“Ms. Starr has the ability to absorb solar radiation and to use it to supercharge her physical capabilities,” Emma said. “The potential applications of this power are quite extensive, but for practical purposes, she is extremely strong, tough, and fast, can fly, possesses a healing factor, and can release concentrated blasts of heat.” Her gaze flickered to Kara for a split second before moving back to the new X-Men. “She will be operating with the code name, ‘Power Girl.’”
The same girls who had blushed stared wide-eyed.
“... Oh,” said Noriko.
Emma didn’t quite smirk. “I suppose you expecting something else, Ms. Ashida?”
Noriko blushed deeply. “... No, Ms. Frost.”
“Good. Now why don’t you introduce yourselves?”
“I’m Josh,” said a boy with golden skin. “Code name: Elixir.”
“Laura,” said an intense looking girl with long, dark hair. The others waited for her to give her code name. She didn’t give one.
“She’s X-23,” Josh said.
Laura didn’t deny it.
“Name’s Santo,” said the boy made of rock. “But my code name is Rockslide.”
“Julian,” said another boy. “Call me Hellion, though, or I’ll kick your ass.” That last he delivered with a grin and a wink.
“Cessily,” said the girl with mercury skin. “Code name: Mercury.”
The girl in the full length hijab spoke last. “My name is Sooraya,” she said, not projecting her voice. “If it pleases you, you may call me Dust.”
“Um,” Karen began awkwardly. What does one say in a situation like this? “Nice to meet you all?”
Some rolled their eyes. Some smiled. Emma’s expression changed not at all. It was the strangest thing, though. There, in that room, just for a moment, Karen felt... accepted.
“You have an hour,” Emma said, “And then I expect you all to meet me in the Danger Room. Karen, stay a moment.”
The others filed out, some looking back at her, some not.
Karen looked to Emma.
“I’ve been discussing your training with Kara,” Emma said. Karen’s blinked in surprise, but Emma didn’t stop. “While we each agree that your control has vastly improved, we do have some concerns. Some of the children you will be training with are no more durable than an ordinary human. Can I trust you not to cause them harm?”
The weight of Emma’s statement took a few seconds to sink in, and then Karen felt like she’d been kicked in the chest. She met Emma’s gaze. “... I won’t hurt them,” she said.
Emma held her gaze for a long moment, and when Karen didn't’ look away, Emma nodded. “I believe you.” A faint glimmer of a smile. “Which brings me to the other matter Kara and I have been discussing...”
She produced a small remote control and pressed a button. A closet door slid open, revealing a mannequin with Karen’s proportions dressed in a skin tight white and blue jumpsuit. “It occurred to me that if you are to be training with the team, you are in need of a uniform. I had this altered for you: its previous owner no longer needs it.”
Karen ruthlessly quashed her initial reaction: one of injured masculinity and not wanting to be seen in something like that. Emma was making a gesture, and once she got past that initial knee-jerk response, she smiled a genuine smile. “Thank you, Miss Frost,” she said, and meant it.
“Go. I’ll see you in the Danger Room in one hour, Power Girl.”
Karen took the uniform and left, and Kara followed on her heels.
William Stryker knelt in prayer. He was alone, with naught but him and the altar and the presence of the Lord. “I thank thee, oh God, for the gifts thou hast given me,” he said, speaking as if to an audience - and so he was; the man had never learned to pray but that it were a performance; his was a style of prayer that played at speaking to an audience of One, but the one he performed for was himself. “For thy help and thy comfort, I give thee thanks. For the purifiers who do thy will, I give thee thanks. Praise be to God.”
He had received a new vision: in order to secure the bounties of paradise for his people, another needed to die. God had told him so, and William Stryker was not one to question the will of God. Not when it was spoken so clearly. The question of murder never entered into it, not now, and not when he had ordered his purifiers to bomb the bus carrying those children away from the Xavier estate: he possessed the indwelling of the Holy Spirit. The laws of man could never stand before the laws of God; God would judge, and when that time came, William knew that he would be found as one washed in the blood of the lamb.
“Oh Lord God, thee alone we acknowledge as God and King, thee we invoke as our helper. From thee we have obtained our victories, through thee, conquered our enemies. Thee we thank for past favors, from thee we hope for future favors. Lord God, I beseech thee, and pray that thou long preserve to us, unharmed and victorious, our God-loving sons. Amen.”
He rose to his feet.
Laurie Collins, child of the devil, must die if the Lord’s children are to flourish. She looked like any other pretty girl, but Stryker wasn’t fooled. He knew that his conflict was not against flesh and blood, but against the powers and principalities of the air.
Laurie Collins would be dead by sundown. God’s will be done.
The training session wasn’t going well.
“This is a simple exercise,” Emma had said. “All you have to do is knock Colossus down.”
Easier said than done. Particularly when Colossus was a 7’5” tall, well, colossus, made entirely out of some form of bizarre, flexible, organic steel, and who weighed about as much as Karen did. Add on top of that a stupid level of competence in hand to hand combat, and you’ve got a problem for even an entire team of trainees.
“Clumsy,” Colossus said, evading Rockslide’s attack and slamming him into the floor hard enough to knock him senseless. Elixir rushed up behind him and struck him on the back of the head with part of a steel girder. Colossus barely noticed. “There are eight of you,” he said, picking up Elixir and casting him aside. “Work as one.”
Surge made her attack next, and all it amounted to was Mercury and X-23 each getting a blast of her own lightning to the face as Colossus redirected her hands in mid discharge. He released Nori and stepped back.
“You’re running out of team mates,” Colossus said.
“WHAT AM I SUPPOSED TO DO?!”
“You are the team’s leader, Surge. This is your burden. If you don’t find a way to win, your friends will die.”
Karen charged. Colossus saw her coming, but wasn’t quite able to evade her blow. He took it to the chest, but while he didn’t have time to evade, he did have time to set himself. His feet lost traction on the floor, but he did not fall: he slid across the floor and impacted the far wall.
Thinking she had an opening, Karen zoomed in after him, aiming to grab him by the leg and throw him while he was recovering from the impact.
...but apparently, he hadn’t needed to recover. He was ready for her, and when she flew down to deliver her coup de grace, he seized her by the shoulders and pulled her down sharply even as he brought his knee up to meet her her abdomen directly on top of her thoracic diaphragm.
It HURT, and it blasted the air out of her lungs. Down she went, struggling to breathe.
A minute later, it was over.
“This exercise is over,” Emma said. “And you are all dead.”
And then Elixir pulled his stunt, hit Colossus with a steel girder after he’d shifted back to human form, and got kicked off the team.
Karen sighed, picking absently at her uniform. Not long after, she began the long walk from the danger room back upstairs. She passed Celeste on the way, and though she smiled and said hello, the girl seemed to stiffen at the sight of her, and left without saying a word.
She frowned, not entirely sure what that had been about. After a few moments worry that she might have done something to offend Celeste, she dismissed it from her mind, deciding, ‘I may be a girl now, but I still don’t understand women.’
Dawn broke the following morning, filling the sky with light and glory, but in the room shared by Surge and the newly dubbed Power Girl, no sign of it could be seen. Their alarms went off at the same time. 7:30 AM. This time, Karen didn’t keep sleeping. This time, she clambered out of bed and staggered into the bathroom.
“Xander,” Kara called, “Don’t forget to...”
Karen grimaced. “Yeah, yeah, I know.”
“Know what?” Nori asked, only just stirring in her bed, rubbing her eyes sleepily.
Karen ignored her. After the gossiping Nori had done, she wasn’t prepared to forgive her just yet. Especially with some people STILL singing ‘that song.’ She’d asked for and had been given shaving supplies, and today, in the bath, she was going to give it a shot. ...she was trying not to think about it too much.
She stepped in and settled down, lathered up her right leg, set the razor against her skin, and started to pull it upwards. There was a sound like tearing metal. A moment later, bits of razor-blade tumbled into the bathwater.
Karen stared. “... Uh... Kara?”
Kara sighed. “I was kind of hoping you hadn’t powered up enough for that to be a problem.”
“Well, obviously, it’s a problem!”
There came a knock on the door, followed by Nori’s voice. “Karen? You OK in there?”
“I’M FINE!” she yelled back. “EVERYTHING’S FINE!”
“OK,” Kara said, “There’s another way to do it, but you’re not going to like it.”
“I’m not going to like it more than I’m not going to like shaving your legs in the first place? Because I gotta say, my dislike of that activity is already making want to start with the destructo-boy here!”
“Girl,” Kara replied.
“Whatever. Still waiting.”
“Right. So it’s like this: you have to use your heat vision.”
There was a pause, and then Noriko asked, “... is there someone in there with you?”
Another pause. “I’m getting a teacher.”
Karen grimaced. “Damnit. Fine! You want me to use my heat vision, I’ll use my heat vision!” And with that, she let loose with a huge blast of heat over her entire lower body, and while its area of effect did include her legs, it also included a more... sensitive area.
Karen’s ensuing scream of pain nearly shook the building.
“Are you sure you don’t want to go to the infirmary?” Noriko asked. They were walking down the hallway behind a mortified looking Kitty Pryde, who had come running at the sound of screams only to discover... the situation was what it was.
Karen walked stiffly. Very stiffly. Very, very stiffly. Some areas had been hit harder than others. ...and she was walking with first degree burns. “I’m. Fine.” she said through gritted teeth. As it turned out, she was more than capable of hurting herself with her own powers if she wasn’t careful.
“That has to be beyond painful. Come on, Karen. They’ll probably have an ointment or something...”
Kitty was trying not to cringe at the thought.
Karen glared. “... Stop. Talking. Please.”
The physical damage, thankfully, was only temporary. Five minutes exposing herself to sunlight and the pain began to recede. Another minute and it was gone, and the only damage remaining was the damage to her pride.
Unfortunate shaving incidents aside, today was something special for the students at the Xavier Institute for Higher Learning. Today was field trip day.
Before the arrival of the Sentinels and the establishment of the mutant refugee camp on the premises, they’d been allowed to come and go as they pleased. Since then, well, Karen didn’t know all the details, but she’d heard that the O*N*E people wanted to have them all tagged before any of them would be let out. Supposedly, the refugees actually had the tags implanted, but the X-Men were not willing to allow the same for their students. Each group would have an adult chaperone. No one would be allowed to go off on their own. The chaperone would be carrying a comm-link which the O*N*E people could track the location of, and would allow them to call for help if they needed it.
Karen’s group consisted of herself, a blonde girl she hadn’t met yet named Laurie Collins, Josh - the guy who’d gotten himself kicked off the training squad, Sooraya, Noriko, and a black kid Karen hadn’t met named David Alleyne. They’d pulled Piotr Rasputin - Colossus - as their chaperone.
By the time they’d been allowed onto the bus, Karen was feeling more uncomfortable than not. Perhaps being swathed from head to toe in form-concealing clothing that left nothing exposed to sunlight had something to do with it - Emma hadn’t been particularly happy when she’d learned that Karen had intentionally let herself be exposed to sunlight earlier that day, even if it was to heal painful blisters, and was taking no chances on the field trip. A thin, rust-coloured turtleneck sweater over a long sleeved shirt. Faded blue jeans. Boots. A toboggan hat that covered her ears. Emma had even made her wear long underwear under it all, though no observer would be able to tell. For the first time since she’d first been exposed to sunlight in this new world, Karen felt uncomfortably warm.
So here she was, sitting in the back of a school bus across from the other girl prone to wearing ultra-concealing clothing - Sooraya, in her abaya, with a niqab covering her face. Completely different styles of dress. Comparable amounts of skin left showing.
“Hey,” Karen said, sounding miserable.
“... Hey,” Sooraya replied a bit uncertainly.
The bus began to move, and Karen looked down as her ever more sensitive hearing picked up shouting from across the compound.
“This is bullshit!” A man with an eye-patch yelled. “You tag us like fucking DOGS if we want to see the outside, and those damned brats at the Xavier school get to saunter on out on a field trip without a problem?!”
“We won’t stand for this!” shouted a mutant who resembled nothing so much as a skeleton shrouded in flames.
Karen looked up just in time to meet the gaze of an angry mutant who resembled nothing so much as a humanoid elephant, flipping the bird to the entire bus. “FUCK YOU, X-BRATS!” he shouted, and this time Karen was not the only one who heard: most of those on the bus turned to look. He was not alone. A dozen mutants had gathered, and were now being held back by a line of soldiers in battle armor carrying rifles.
The bus rumbled on.
“So,” Karen said. She and Sooraya were following the rest of the group through the local shopping mall. Neither was particularly comfortable with the situation, albeit for different reasons. People were staring. They knew that these were students from Xavier’s. A few made uncomplimentary comments under their breath.
Karen heard them all.
“So,” Sooraya said.
“You come here much?”
Sooraya shook her head.
An uncomfortable silence ensued.
“So,” Karen tried again, “Wearing a burqa, what’s the what?”
Sooraya gave Karen an irritated look. “It is not a burqa. It is an abaya. I wear it with the niqab as a sign of my submission to Allah.”
“... Ah,” Karen said.
A second uncomfortable silence ensued.
Karen gave up soon after, leaving Sooraya to bring up the tail of the group by herself. She had no idea how to relate to the other girl, and she’d never been religious herself. Not when she was Xander, certainly not now. Which wasn’t to say she was necessarily an atheist, just that... well, religion wasn’t a part of her life at all. Never had been. Even when he started helping Buffy, they’d used crosses and holy water, sure, but those were tools and weapons, not, well... She shook her head.
The black kid spoke up, then. “You’re Karen, right? I don’t think we’ve met.”
Karen looked his way. Tall. Glasses. Built like a linebacker. Smile on his face. “Hey, yeah, I guess we haven’t. You’re...” she trailed off. She drew a blank on his name. She’d been told it once before, but it just wasn’t coming to her.
“David,” he said.
“Hey,” Karen said, her voice growing cheerful, “Nice to meet you. Guess I’ll ask what everyone always asks: what’s your power?”
David’s face fell, and yet another awkward silence descended, this time shared by the whole group as they stared at Karen and David for a moment.
David forced a smile. “Guess you hadn’t heard. I lost my power on M-Day.”
Karen felt a growing sense of embarrassment which quickly moved on into mortification. “For I am Karen, queen of the cretins. May all lesser cretins bow before me.” That, at least, drew a laugh from David, which made Karen feel better about reusing a joke. “OK, we’re young and we’re in a mall, I say we go dump huge amounts of disposable income into items of dubious utility!”
“Sounds like a plan,” Laurie said with forced cheer. But it got them moving, and soon they were indulging in that grand ritual of the American experience which united young and old, from sea to shining sea: consumption. It wasn’t much, and maybe it wasn’t even healthy, but it took their minds off their troubles and let them laugh and pretend to be normal teenagers for a few hours, and maybe that enough.
Two hours later, Colossus informed them via their communicators that it was time to go. They were all to meet up at the food court, and from there they would proceed back to the bus to return to Xavier’s. It was now late afternoon, and the shadows outside were lengthening.
Karen came walking back towards the food court with Laurie and Josh. Each of them had an orange smoothie in hand, and Josh and Laurie were laughing. “You can’t be serious,” Josh said.
“Why would I lie? Inviso-girl locks us in the basement with the gas on, and then tries to take her revenge on Cordelia...” Karen paused, “You know, it’s funnier to talk about it than it was to live through it.”
Laurie shook her head incredulously. “I thought MY old school was bad,” she murmured.
“Weren’t you home schooled?” Josh asked.
Laurie gave Josh an annoyed look. “For your information, I went to public school. Things sucked for me beyond the telling of it before my powers woke up.” A pause. “And they they still sucked, but in a different way.”
Karen nodded. “Giles used to say that we were ‘dreadfully mistaken if we thought the only purpose of high school was to instill a capacity for suffering,’ but that’s still what my money’s on.”
“Hey,” Josh said, “Looks like we're the first ones here.” He looked around, and took a sip of his smoothie. “Oh wait, there's Mr. Rasputin.” He waved to Colossus, who nodded back as he made his way towards the three students.
“I trust you have enjoyed yourselves?” Colossus asked.
“Hey, I'm always up for some mall prowling,” Karen said. A pause. “That sounded creepier than I meant it.”
None of the three knew that at that moment, from the second story window of the building across the street from the mall and with a clear line of fire to the food court, Matthew Risman - one of Stryker’s Purifiers - had Laurie in his sights, his high powered sniper rifle ready to fire. His finger eased onto the trigger as he settled the cross-hairs onto her heart.
He exhaled as he gently squeezed the trigger.
The bullet flew true, its sound dampened by the suppressor mounted to the rifle’s barrel.
Karen saw the muzzle flash, and immediately her Kryptonian brain went into overdrive, processing information at speeds an order of magnitude higher than it had been even an instant before. She saw the bullet. Saw its trajectory intersecting Laurie’s heart. Saw that nobody else could do a damn thing. Saw that even with her speed, while she might have time to get in the way, she wouldn’t have time to reach out, grab Laurie, and pull her out of the way without ripping the girl’s arm off in the process - an injury that would likely prove just as lethal as any bullet. Her heart began to race, her palms became slick with sweat.
Moving with super-speed, she stepped in front of the path of the bullet.
Time seemed to resume its normal flow. Karen’s chest erupted in a blaze of agony as a depleted uranium slug impacted against her collarbone.
Blood spurted onto the floor.
She was falling. Someone was screaming. She couldn’t tell if it was her.
“MR. RASPUTIN!” someone screamed.
Distantly, she heard a second shot, and then a third.
The world faded, and all she knew was darkness, and a vast, terrible silence.End Chapter 06