“This is our prerogative — humanity, compassion, peace, acceptance.”
There was a smattering of applause, though not nearly as much as there once had been. In fact, the entire auditorium was emptier than usual. No throngs of reporters looking to bombard them with questions — even negative ones. No curious visitors just eager to take a look around the campus’ secrets and expanses.
But by god there were plenty of mutants.
Physical mutates, telepaths, pyrokinetics. They had turned up in droves and droves. Some of them were children, some were adults, but the majority of them were teenagers, the in-between stage where the X-gene seemed to make itself most prevalent. All had just developed their powers. Most of them were terrified.
“Processing’s been a real pain in the ass,” mumbled Bobby Drake — codename: Iceman — as the applause for Headmistress Pryde died down. He was leaning over slightly in his chair, eying the crowd, his voice kept low so that the only person who could hear him was Jo. “There’s a huge influx of people who want to enrol. As if this is the place that’ll keep them safe—we’re pariahs, man.”
Frenzy only responded via a curt nod, keeping her own eyes focused on Kitty. It was an address to the people, meant to assuage any fears that the X-Men had been corrupted. The conference had been championed by Captain America himself, determined to set things right once and for all. The battle for the Phoenix left many legacies shattered, the reputation of the X-Men amongst them.
“It is our hope—our wish—that you stand by us through these trying times as we reestablish ourselves. As we work on doing the right thing.”
Another brief smattering of applause, though it was becoming apparent that the primary audience were the existing X-Men, sitting in two uniform rows behind the podium. A scan of the audience told Joanna all she needed to know: people were here to see if something would go wrong. Attention was waning. Even the reporters couldn’t be bothered to report on such a thing. Three cameras from three separate news stations were rolling, and that was their best chance at finding an audience. There were a few eager faces, but they were few and far between. Mutantkind had lost the war. The Avengers had won it.
“They’ve had Shan doing all this enrolment stuff — and Paige, and Hank, and Bets,” Bobby continued humming at her, clearly uncaring that his audience was more apathetic than the one for the press conference. “They’re saying we’re going from thirty-odd students to like over one hundred again. Plus there’s even more demand.” He paused, voice growing concerned. “People are afraid.”
“They have reason to be,” Joanna finally answered.
Before them, Kitty remained at the podium, steeling herself against a barrage of questions — What about Scott Summers? Where is he now? Are the X-Men standing alongside the actions of the Phoenix Five? How can we trust you when your kind did that?
She was pushed aside by Steve Rogers, who seemed more than willing to answer the questions for her. They battled for possession of the microphone, though Kitty gave way as she realized it was doing more harm than good when she spoke.
“Why should they be afraid of us?” Bobby asked, still mostly talking to himself. “We did nothing wrong. It’s Scott that should—”
“They made a mistake.”
“They almost destroyed everything.”
“I never said we should forgive them.”
As the conversation grew more heated, Joanna turned her head slightly to realize that their voices had been raising. At the podium, Kitty and Steve had turned back to see the commotion, brows arched, neither particularly impressed by the display. Bobby had gone red in the face, casting his eyes downward sheepishly. “You kids finished?” Captain America asked — God, how she hated to feel berated by somebody like him. But Frenzy only nodded. Insubordination wasn’t her operative anymore. “Good.” He turned back to the crowd. “Now, as I was saying—yes, locating Scott Summers and the Phoenix Five is the primary objective of the Avengers at present, and Miss Pryde here has assured me that the X-Men will be doing everything in their power to locate their ex-teammates and see justice brought to them.”
She stopped listening then, and focused her attention on the crowd. Crossing one leg stiffly over the other, she scanned over the faces. Apathetic, untrusting, distracted, all of them.
How was she supposed to convince them to forget hate and fear? How had she even once believed this to be a good idea? The Prodigal X-Men … it had been her idea, something she had brought up out of desperation. It was never her place to assert dominance over another species. She had no interest in the beliefs of humans, for much of her life asserting herself to be infinitely superior to them.
Responsibility accompanies power. That was where mutantkind had fumbled. They had turned a blind eye to corruption and despair for too long. Yes, they had come around — she had come around — but it was too late in the eyes of the innocents. They hadn’t done enough when they could have done it all.
They would have to work, and dig, and pry back the respect her people so rightfully deserved. And with God as her witness, Joanna Cargill fully intended to be the one to bring it to them.
“—And now, leader of a newly formed squadron, X-Men member Frenzy.”
Kitty stepped aside as Joanna got to her feet. Lumbering steps brought her to the podium, accompanied by a dismal round of applause. There was some mumbling as she took to the stage, likely those recognizing her from herpast.
They learned to forgive Magneto, she reminded herself. They will forgive me, as the X-Men have.
The claps died down without much pomp and circumstance, leaving her at the mercy of the audience. She had a speech prepared — where was it? A quick glance over her shoulders, Joanna caught the eye of Shadowcat, who offered an encouraging smile. Craning her neck even further, she saw the loose piece of paper with her scrawled handwriting sitting on the edge of her seat. Cursing herself quietly, she thought better of delaying the progression of the event — the course of the evening had already been seemingly dictated. She could see it in their eyes. The dull, emotionless stares. The anger and resentment behind some of their masks.
“Good evening,” she said instead, voice calm. “My name is Joanna Cargill. Frenzy.” She paused, waiting. It wasn’t like her to get nervous under pressure, and she wasn’t nervous. She was anxious. There was a fine, minute difference between the two. If things messed up, it would all be on her shoulders. “I want to talk to you about mutants for a sec’.” Another pause. “I hope you don’t mind.”
She could just feel the tension emanating from Kitty Pryde.
“For the past, what, twenty, thirty, forty years, we have been hunted. We have been feared. I am not going to lie to you and say that we didn’t deserve some of it. There were bad amongst us.” Correction. “There are bad amongst us. All of us. Human and mutant alike. But we want to change that. Fix that. The Phoenix Force is gone. But we’re here to stay.”
Tension in the room could be cut with a knife.
“I’m not here to make excuses—to excuse what was done. What I am here to do is to try and make things better.”
A voice cut in over her. Joanna started, crooking her head to the right. One of the reports seemed to have finally woken up. “How do you expect to do that? You’ve got Scott Summers, your leader, on the run. You’re missing Frost, Namor, and both Rasputins. You’re shattered, divided, and now you’re exposed as just a bunch of screw ups. How in the hell do you think you can make this better?”
Murmurs of dissent fell over the group. The human half of the congregation seemed to agree wholeheartedly with the man from the paper, while the mutants — and certainly the X-Men positioned behind Joanna — kept mum. There was still more tension. From her peripheries, Frenzy saw Kitty get up, inching her way closer to the stage.
But she spoke faster than the headmistress could walk.
“We come to you as the prodigal son,” she said, quoting a bible story she remembered so vividly from her childhood, of the boy who lived to excess, only to return home broken, wanting nothing but the forgiveness of a father. “We have lost the man that made the X-Men a trusted group. Charles Xavier was a father to many of the people behind me. A long-time adversary to others. But in the end, his message, his vision, his hope… it guided us to the path of the right. I cannot speak for all the mutants on Earth, but I speak not just for myself now, but for all the X-Men, past, present, and future when I say this.”
Joanna could feel Kitty right behind her, inches from the microphone, but she seemed to have stopped, waiting to hear what she would say next.
“We will not stop until you’ve come to trust us again. Until we have rebuild the damage caused by the Phoenix. We will no longer stand by and let external forces shape our world and society,” she said finally, taking in a short breath of air. “I’m sorry for what has happened, but I promise you I will make it better.”