Hellfire Entertainment Group, Inc. (NYSE: HELL; LSE: HLFR) Founded as Hellfire, LLC by Rupert Frost in 1941, incorporated 1967. Currently the world's fourth-largest media conglomerate. Notable assets include Hellfire News cable network, Now Magazine, the Daily Globe, Dazzler Records, and the Christina R. Muir Clinic of Experimental Therapy. CEO: Sebastian Shaw. Directors' Board Chair: Emma Frost.
"Thank you, Dr. Frost," the girl answered without emotion, waiting until she was out of Emma's sight--although not, of course, her psionic awareness--to make a face to Robert and Marie, who held onto their laughter for as long as they could. What in the world have I ever done to the child? Emma thought with annoyance.
Perhaps she has watched your cable news, Charles thought back to her wryly.
Hardly my news, Emma answered as she dutifully smiled at Jean Grey on the way to Charles' office. Jean's response was about as enthusiastic as Katherine's. If I tried to impose a pro-mutant slant on Hellfire, I'd be voted off the board within minutes. You know that.
I do know, Emma, Charles' voice answered back to her in her head. And I understand. But perhaps we cannot blame Kitty if she does not.
Emma entered Charles' office without the superfluity of knocking. "Emma," he said to her in greeting as she entered, as if they hadn't been having a conversation for the last few minutes. "It's a pleasure to see you again. You're stunning as always." The compliment was a formality, nothing more, which for some reason managed to bother Emma.
"Thank you," she said, graciously, closing the door behind her. "I'd love to chat, Charles, but as you know my time is at a premium. What did you need to see me about that couldn't be done over the phone lines?"
Charles paused, pensive. "Not here," he said, surprising her, and wheeled his way out of the office. "Come with me." She followed him through the mansion's labyrinthine halls. When they reached Cerebero and entered, the mechanical voice welcoming them as they did, she suddenly began to understand. The device was made out of the same metallic alloys as Erik's Magneto helmet, which meant Charles must have been worried about someone telepathically eavesdropping.
"I doubt any of your students are skilled enough, or powerful enough, to be able to break though our shields," Emma noted. "So I'm assuming the problem is with a certain red-haired member of your faculty?"
Charles nodded. "I'm assuming you are familiar with the events at Liberty Island?" he asked. There was suspicion in his voice--she didn't need to see past his mental shields to know that he suspected her of bankrolling Erik's brotherhood. It was a reasonable suspicion; he knew she knew it is always a good idea to play both sides.
"I own the newspapers," Emma reminded him, not that he had forgotten. "I could hardly have missed it."
"Well, immediately before those events, it was necessary for Jean to use Cerebero. Ever since, Jean's powers have been . . . erratic."
"And you feel that the boosting of her telepathic abilities might have released the Phoenix?"
Charles looked away.
Emma didn't say anything. I would hate to say anything as common as "I told you so," she projected. But this eventuality was not totally unanticipated, Charles.
"I did what I felt needed to be done, Emma," Charles said, turning towards her but looking past her, still not making eye contact. "I would think you of all people would understand that."
"It is not your willingness to do what must be done which I am questioning," Emma responded, "but your ability to recognize what must be done."
"Emma, please," Charles said, finally looking her in the eye. "Let's not re-hash old arguments. I get enough of that when I visit Erik."
She nodded. "We can re-establish the telepathic blocks as a temporary measure," Emma answered. "But I can't promise how long they'll last before the Phoenix manages to break free again. It could be years; it could be days. But if it managed to escape its prison once, we have to assume it will be able to do so again. And again."
Charles just nodded.
"I'll call Moira and ask her to find someone to take on my patients at the clinic. She won't be happy, but she'll do it for your sake."
"Hellfire runs on fear and hate," she answered. "It doesn't need anyone at the helm to keep on functioning." She paused, looked back behind her. "There is another option, you know."
"There are many other options," Charles noted. "Were Erik here, he no doubt would point out the option of releasing the blocks completely and letting the Phoenix run free."
"And yet Erik is not here," Emma pointed out. "I am, and we are completely agreed that unleashing the Phoenix is not an option. The question is, what are you prepared to see happen in order to make sure she is not released?"
. . .
Jean Grey sat down across from Emma Frost. The two women had never really gotten along, despite the fact--or, indeed, perhaps because of it--that it had pretty much been the Frost family billions that had allowed the school to operate in those early years, back when it was just her and Scott and Ororo taught by Erik and the professor. It grated on Jean to once again be relying on Frost generosity--as if the very term were not itself an oxymoron.
She kept these thoughts locked in her head, of course, behind her strongest mental shields. Not that she doubted that Emma used her telepathy responsibly, but--well, who was she kidding? Of course Jean doubted that Emma used her telepathy responsibly. After all, it was Emma Frost.
Emma leaned back in her chair, cracked her knuckles. "Okay, let do this. Let me in, Jean." Jean weakened her shields just enough to let Emma in a small amount, keeping most of her thoughts and feeling guarded behind her barriers. "Your memories of what you had for breakfast are all so very fascinating," Emma observed, "but for what I need to do we're going to have go quite a bit deeper than that. I need you to open your mind to me, Jean. All of it."
Jean frowned, left her barriers exactly where they were.
"Let me guess," said Emma. "You don't like me, you don't trust me, and you think I'm full of myself. But you know, I really could not care less what you think of me. Don't shield me from your thoughts for my sake, love; I guarantee that whatever it is you have inside your head, I have seen worse. Now would you please let me in?"
Reluctantly, grudgingly, for the professor's sake but certainly not for Emma's, Jean dropped her shields and let the unwelcome presence of Emma Frost into her mind.
. . .
Emma Frost stood on a marble chessboard and peered across it at Jean Grey. Between the two women stood two ranks of pawns--a row of black pawns in front of Jean, and a row of white pawns in front of Emma. Each was flanked by an assemblage of rooks, knights, and bishops whose arrangements made it clear that despite her unconscious seizing upon the metaphor, Jean had absolutely had no idea how to play chess.
Their location, Emma knew, was the result of the telepathic blocks she and Charles had placed in Jean's mind so many years ago. The game of chess represented the forces of order in her mind which held the chaotic Phoenix in check--forces which were, according to Charles, perhaps no longer quite up to the task.
"Um, what now?" asked Jean, looking around at the chess pieces which surrounded them.
"You have me playing white, love," Emma pointed out, although more than likely Jean had no concept what that signified. "That means I get to go first."
She surveyed the mad arrangement of pieces on the board, planning her first move--chess was a game which bored her, but one nonetheless at which she held some skill, even able to hold her own against more devoted enthusiasts like Charles or Erik--then decided to stop worrying about it. Jean didn't know how to play in any case (how a telepath of all things who spent most of her life in the company of Charles and Erik could fail to acquire the skill mystified Emma, but there it was), and Emma's goal here was to insert chaos into the dreamscape, not to play by the rules, if she was to ever make her way past the telepathic blocks. With a thought, an act of will, the entire rank of white pawns flew forward en masse and came into contact with Jean's pawns. The result was like matter touching antimatter; both sets of pawns instantly vanished even as the chessboard shook violently.
As if suddenly released, the other chess pieces began moving on their own accord, annihilating each other in a mutual slaughter until the chessboard was empty for Emma and Jean. "Stalemate, I suppose," Emma as she walked across the bare marble to Jean. She looked at the other woman. "That is certainly an . . . interesting ensemble you have on there," she noted, as Jean was dressed in a rather revealing black leather dominatrix's outfit.
Jean looked down at herself and blushed. "You're wearing pretty much the same thing," she pointed out, feebly. It was true, of course; Emma was dressed in almost exactly the same outfit as Jean, only in white rather than black.
"But it wasn't my unconscious mind who picked out our clothing," Emma pointed. "Whatever I may happen to be wearing, it is because there is a part of you that wanted me to be wearing it--a fact which, frankly, I gladly would have gone without learning."
Jean pursed her lips but only asked, "Now what are we supposed to do, Emma?"
Emma looked around. The chessboard seemed to stretch on in all directions as far as the eye could see. "If you don't know where you are going, any road will get you there," she quoted. "And we're in your mind, Jean. Lead on, Black Queen."
Emma didn't know what she expected to find as she followed Jean beyond the horizon of the chessboard--a talking egg, maybe, or perhaps the frumious bandersnatch--and so was rather disappointed when they found themselves back in Charles' mansion, in one of the classrooms.
"There you are," said Katherine, who was busy playing pat-a-cake with Mindee Cuckoo. "They all wanted to invoke the five-minute rule, but I wouldn't let them."
Jean blinked at the girl. "You're not in my telepathy class, Kitty," she said, uncertainly.
"This is sex ed, Dr. Grey," Robert Drake chimed in from the back of the classroom. "You and Dr. Frost promised to demonstrate."
Emma simply cocked an eyebrow, but innerly was triumphant. Jean's id, her fears and fantasies, were beginning to assert themselves with a vengeance--and without very much subtlety, Emma noted.
As if recognizing what Emma was thinking--although Emma's shields were all very much in place, which meant that Jean just had a rather guilty conscience--Jean insisted, "I do not want to have sex with you."
Emma glanced down at her astral projection. "This outfit you have me in, not to mention this whole rather outlandish scenario, seems to suggest otherwise."
All three of the Cuckoos glanced at their wristwatches. "We have ethics in twenty minutes with the Professor, Dr. Grey," Celeste said. "Would you mind beginning the demonstration?"
"Apparently we have an expectant audience, Jean," Emma said as she began to unfasten the absurd bondage gear Jean had dreamt her into. "Are you really going to disappoint them?"
"These are just fantasies, Jean. Idle, innocent fantasies. Remember, in the real world, you're not doing anything wrong. You're just imagining doing something wrong. Nobody can fault you for that, can they?" Emma asked. "Do you really think Scott never fantasizes about me, Jean?"
"I wouldn't know," Jean said, a treble in her voice. "I'm an ethical telepath."
"That's what Charles tells himself, too," Emma answered as she removed her corset. Emma could see the signs that Jean's resistance was weakening--the dreamscape around them, instead of being rich with detail, had become more and more faded and insubstantial. "Besides, Scott isn't a telepath. Who's going to tell him?"
Jean leaned forward for the kiss and, even before their lips met, the Phoenix was free.
. . .
At one moment, the Phoenix seemed to be an identical copy of Jean, but then in the next, without any seeming change, its features were Emma's. Its hair was a vibrant red, redder than Jean's even, and its eyes blazed with red fire.
Jean looked from the Phoenix to Emma and quickly back to the Phoenix. "Hello, Jean," it said, stepping toward Jean with a sexualized swing of the hips that Jean Grey simply was not capable of. "Did you miss me?"
Jean's eyes were firmly fixed on the Phoenix now; the classroom scene dropped out completely, leaving the three figures floating in empty space.
"You can't hide from me, Jean," the Phoenix said. "I know what you want. I am what you want. And now, with me free, you are going to be able to take it." The outcome was never in doubt, of course, and Jean leaned in once again for another kiss, everything else forgotten.
Another act of will by Emma, and both Jean and the Phoenix were encircled by a group of white pawns. The Phoenix let out a hideous cry, an awful banshee-shriek as it rebelled against its cage. Jean simply looked at Emma from behind the pawns, her expression denoting sorrow more than anger.
"Check," said Emma and would, were it not for Charles, have made it mate.
. . .
Emma looked at the unconscious form of Jean Grey in front of her. "She'll wake up in a couple of hours, remembering nothing. Scott probably won't even be able to tell the difference." Not that that is saying much.
"Did you really have to trap so much of her in with the Phoenix?" Charles asked, watching as his former student laid in front of him. "The idea was to allow her to enjoy her humanity, not to lock it away."
"Humanity?" Emma asked. "In case you have forgotten, Charles, Jean is not human. None of us are."