A Test of Power
Chapter 1
Chapter 2
Chapter 3
Chapter 4
Chapter 5
Chapter 6

This story is still in progress.

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Stars and Garters

Chapter 3

Men of war have long known that warriors must often abandon
those verities they defend: peace, human kindness, love...
for they hold no meaning to the enemy. And so to win, do we
become what we despise, and despise what we become?


The blustery and frigid winter day could only partially dispel the fetid odor that emanated from the Bethpage landfill. Neither the smell nor the landfill itself were remarkable for Long Island. Even though environmental politics and recycling were in vogue, a few operating facilities still remained. Their eventual promised closing would make a wonderful political platform for a savvy local politician seeking office. In an otherwise completely flat landscape, these manmade mountains were actually the highest points on the island and, if one were so inclined, offered an excellent view of both the Atlantic Ocean and Manhattan. What distinguished this waste facility from all the others was not discernable from ground level but was located approximately two hundred and fifty feet below the surface.

Eight-hundred thousand years ago, a vast alien underground complex was left here by the Celestials, a space-fairing race of giants as old and mysterious as the universe itself. This enormous complex contained a virtual treasure trove of seemingly abandoned technology -- technology that was so beyond the current standard it might be confused with magic.

During the thousands of years that the complex had been on Earth, only two of its natives had physically ever set foot inside the structure. At first glance, to say these individuals were aliens might be closer to the truth than to classify them as human. Although both were born of this earth, they in no way resembled what would be considered the norm for human beings, but were of a superior breed of human: namely, mutants. But to classify one of the occupants of this complex as simply a mutant would be a grievous error.

The irony of a base located under tons of human garbage and refuse was not lost on the present owner and operator of this stronghold. When he had first found this abandoned Celestial monitoring station over four hundred years ago and converted it for his own personal use, even he could not have forecasted that the acres of land above the base would be used to bury the waste of hundreds of thousands of human beings. But he soon came to realize that layer upon layer of waste composed of every conceivable material, all covered by layers of specialized sand, was the best and most maintenance-free camouflage possible. In addition, with the methane gas byproduct burned off by the decaying garbage, even advanced thermal imaging satellites would see nothing out of the ordinary. He considered this his most important and secure facility.

Amidst a room littered with other worldly machines and advanced technology, the immense stone throne that occupied the corner of the dimly lit room was strangely out of place. The throne itself was the only human comfort, if one considered a cold, granular stone chair thousands of years old a comfort. It was more of a personal item and had nothing to do with physical comfort at all. Apocalypse had placed and positioned the 20-ton rock-hewn throne in this very room himself.

The origin of this throne and the identity of its fabricators would have solved a centuries-old archeological enigma. One of the most ancient tombs, if not the most ancient, the Temple of Hatsheput was found by Howard Carter in 1902 completely intact and undisturbed. Carter fully expected to find Amenhotep I and his two sons inside the gigantic structure. But the sealed tomb and sarcophagi were empty and no record was ever found to account for this mystery. Their bodies were never mummified and prepared to facilitate their journey into the afterlife befitting their position. Instead, if the truth were known, they were left to rot out in the open sands, food for the desert carrion.

In 1353 BC, Apocalypse had chosen three individuals to carve his throne, not for their skill in stone cutting, but as punishment. Amenhotep, one of the first pharaohs of the 18th Dynasty, and his two children had been given this honor. Amenhotep and his sons had labored at the base of the Theban Peak, called el-Qurna by the natives, for over a year. Upon completion of this task and without a single word, Apocalypse easily lifted the ponderous rock and brought it crashing down on his royal slaves. Their emaciated bodies were crushed, mercifully ending their year of hellish servitude.

The pharaoh and his sons had also been told to carve their names into the base of the stone. What they were mercifully unaware of was that after their death, Apocalypse had pulverized some of their remains by grinding their skulls into each of the respective hieroglyphics that represented their names. This was all done in the presence of Apocalypse's millennium-old slave Ozymandias. Whether it was meant to serve as an example or just a cruel whim of Apocalypse, Ozymandias did not know. But his present position of servitude after thousands of years was a testament to Apocalypse's intense dislike of men born into power or wealth, as well as the complete obedience he managed to instill.

Apocalypse's booming voice suddenly issued from the shadows reverberating off the walls. He leaned forward on the throne scanning his surroundings, his cold luminous eyes matching the unearthly glow that emanated from the alien machines. "I will no longer permit you to observe me clandestinely Watcher. Show yourself, Uatu, or I will expel you from my home."

The twenty-foot form of Uatu materialized just to the right of Apocalypse, suspended ten feet above the floor. A large bulbous head completely out of proportion with an extremely slight body, the Watcher resembled more of a caricature of a human being than an alien. Clothed in flowing white robes reminiscent of members of the ancient Roman Senate, the Watcher spoke in a quiet voice that was almost effeminate. His docile temperament and gentle mannerisms belied a being of enormous cosmic might and resources. "You were able to detect my presence before I allowed it ... impressive. Have you recently discovered a new piece of pilfered Celestial technology or has your unique mutant physiology manifested a new ability?"

"I am a newborn babe in comparison to you and your venerable race of observers." Apocalypse emphasized the word observers, his voice thick with disgust. "Use your great powers of observation and tell me."

Uatu ignored the sarcasm. Apocalypse had made it very clear during one of their many past encounters that he despised apathy and inaction. To Apocalypse, the entire race of Watchers represented everything that he loathed and considered weak. "You believe that you now have the means to not only bar me from observing you, but to forcibly remove me?"

"You have always been a source of interest to me, Uatu. That, and only that is why I tolerate your presence. Rest assured, should my tolerance waver, you will have an answer to your question," Apocalypse said, eyes narrowing. "You are here to impart some information and observe my reaction no doubt," Apocalypse said brusquely.

"Impart? No. I only wish to observe your reaction to information that you are already in possession of. Sinister has begun in earnest to move against you."

Apocalypse smiled. "Of course."

"And this brings you some measure of pleasure?" Uatu had an open look of curiosity on his normally expressionless face. "I have been witness to some of the most devious and conspiratorial minds in human history. Sinister should not be underestimated. His exposure to Celestial science has allowed him to leap so far ahead of even the most brilliant minds on your planet. There is no telling what he may yet achieve. His brilliance may prove to be your undoing."

"He is precisely what I expect him to be. I freed his mind and body from the shackles of convention and time. He was chosen for his genius and strength of will. His exposure to Celestial technology was carefully orchestrated and achieved the results I desired. And should he usurp me, so be it. That is the natural order of things."

"Exactly what are the results you desire?" The Watcher asked his question in an unusually pointed manner, revealing that he had devoted a great deal of thought to the subject. "There are mysteries that surround you that even I have been unable to discern ... and that should be impossible, which in itself is another mystery. Your barbaric and primitive nature defined by your predilection for public violence is all that you have allowed your enemies to see. Your ideas and goals are regarded as simplistic, no different than the countless tyrants that your world seems to produce in abundance. I contend that they are anything but simplistic. Your objectives while hardly benign, are not as desultory as they seem to be."

Apocalypse regarded Uatu for several moments before responding, his voice sounding like the rumbling of a dormant volcano that was slowly coming to life. "What other questions about me plague you, Watcher?"

Uatu also paused for several moments before responding, choosing his words carefully. Apocalypse rarely spoke a length about his plans, let alone entertained questions. "At any time during the course of human history you could have easily subjugated the entire world's populace without any effort, yet you have not. Even to someone who is not native to this world and based on your martial philosophy, this has always seemed incongruous. It is, unfortunately, not the way of your kind. And to now struggle for dominance in the present when there are vastly greater forces that can be brought to bear against you is sheer insanity. What better way to control the survival of the fittest philosophy that you profess to adhere to with you as humanity's sole ruler? Why let history unfold the way it has? Why allow people and resources to be wasted on imaginary border disputes, provincialism, or petty squabbles? Why allow scientific pursuits and ideas to be squelched by ruthless dictators, religious zealots and ideological fools?

"One could argue that the conditions of war, want, conflict and strife are necessary ingredients for the maturation of most successful species. While this is sadly true, you, Apocalypse, were uniquely in a position and have the power to create this state yet improve upon it a thousand fold.

"For the physical traits that you so value, you could have forcibly bred the strong as you deemed appropriate; primitive genetic manipulation by ensuring that only the most fit bred with the most fit. You could have easily created the fighting and the accompanying harsh environments that you hold are the forge of the mighty, all the while maintaining enough control to eliminate the waste of open warfare. Think of how throughout your history scientists and visionaries were imprisoned or killed because of religious or political beliefs. Throughout your lifetime you witnessed weak and cowardly men by any standards, in positions of power actively stunting the growth of your race. Yet you chose to sit idly and observe what transpired. Where were you, Apocalypse, and why did you not see fit to 'cull the weak from the strong'?" Actual emotion had crept into the Uatu's voice.

"You have clear knowledge of future realities where you have attained complete power in the manner you currently advocate. In all those realities your world is on the brink of complete collapse, your race on the precipice of total extinction. This is the condition that you believe will allow humanity to compete with other more technologically advanced races and spread among the stars?"

Uatu continued, not even pausing to allow Apocalypse, if he were so inclined, to answer any of his questions. "The Celestial technology that you possess and have jealously hoarded for centuries could have been shared with the greatest minds throughout your history. Think of where mankind would be today, technologically, if you had gathered these minds together, allowing them to study and share in the utilization of these future marvels. The S'hiar and the Skrulls would be technological children in comparison. Yet you have done nothing to protect against the very aliens that you claim are a threat."

Apocalypse's face was like granite, expressionless. Yet Uatu could somehow tell that he had Apocalypse's attention and that he was listening intently.

"Another mystery that has perplexed me is how you were first able to gain entrance to a sentient Celestial device. (1) I am the only individual on this planet, perhaps even within a thousand light-years, who possesses any knowledge pertaining to automated Celestial tools. Are you aware that it is impossible for any species other than the Celestials to access and operate any of their devices? Certainly a prudent precaution because the results could be catastrophic. My own race has similar safeguards against any of our technology falling into the hands of any of the more primitive races. Failure to have adequate safeguards in place would be an equivalent transgression to direct interference with an alien culture. The Celestials are even more judicious concerning their technology. Even I would be unable to utilize their technology, forcibly or otherwise. Accidental possession or operation of any their equipment would bring about an immediate response from the Celestials themselves. Yet here you sit in an abandoned Celestial monitoring station using technology that is forbidden to any race other than the Celestials. You operated 'Ship' for centuries completely unhampered. And even more puzzling: your ability to operate devices well beyond even the most learned individuals in you scientific community ... devices constructed to respond only to the mental signature of a Celestial ... devices suited to aliens thousands of feet tall. Yet some of the devices I see before me have some how been tailored to suit your needs. What you have accomplished is categorically impossible. Despite your impressive prowess in several areas, you have absolutely no aptitude for any of the scientific disciplines. That is why you chose Sinister to aid you due to your own extremely limited capability in that area."

Uatu expected an invective. He hoped for one, which spoke of his desperation. He knew that Apocalypse would not answer any questions directly but thought if he could trigger an uncontrolled emotional response, it might reveal something.

Apocalypse's eyes glowed like molten ingots of white-hot steel. "You seek to uncover a conspiracy where none exists." His voice remained low but contained a menacing intensity like the sound of distant rolling thunder of an impending storm. "My contempt for your ilk is readily apparent. I have concealed nothing about my agenda. You and the rest of the alien filth pervade this planet like a disease. Skrulls, S'hiar, Kree, even your lifeless race seek to control or dominate humanity in one form or another. They are inferiors ... you are inferior and will fail. I would reduce this planet to a smoldering cinder before I allow you or anyone else dictate its future. My goal is an evolutionary necessity, to elevate the natural inhabitants of this world ... to put humanity on an equal ground with the myriad of older races of this galaxy. Only through superior strength will we be allowed to dictate and govern our ultimate destiny. If it is at the expense of another individual, a thousand, or an entire race, so be it. You well know that without my intervention, this world would have fallen prey to invaders several times. I simply seek to insure that my race survives, no more, no less. I will guide its ascendance as I always have. And should I have discovered a means to aid me in this endeavor, only a fool would choose to ignore it ... or share it.

"Over time, I have come to understand you and your fellow Watchers. You are now acting outside the bounds of your code of beliefs. Have you not sworn a pledge of noninterference? Is this not the credo that governs every individual of your race?" Apocalypse's tone was both mocking and threatening.

"Tyrants are usually quite adept at putting forth specious arguments, but you have not provided any answers to my questions," Uatu said calmly. "Although there is a ring of truth in much of what you say, I believe it is part of a much grander conspiracy whose scope I am only now beginning to discern. I also recognize your considerate reminder of my sworn oath as nothing more couched threat. You may think of me as weak Apocalypse, but I no longer fear exposure to the fellow members of my race. To a small extent, any of the interlocutions you and I have had over the course of many centuries has been a violation of that oath. But this transgression among many is necessary due to the gravity of the threat I believe you pose. I could never convince my close-minded brethren that a single human is as dangerous as I believe ... nor convince them to even consider any action." Uatu's expression was strangely one of regret and sadness.

With that, Uatu withdrew to his base on the moon. He had only revealed a small measure of what he knew to Apocalypse in order to first gauge his response. Uatu had often wondered what Apocalypse would say if he knew that he had dedicated many years and an entire laboratory to the study of him. Not only did he study Apocalypse's agenda and machinations to determine his objective, but his mutation as well.

Uatu had observed humanity for countless generations. Mutants were possibly the next step in mankind's evolution but had only recently come into being. They were of great interest to him, complex almost beyond understanding and unique in the entire known universe.

Humanity's knowledge of mutantkind was limited and tainted with prejudices and misconceptions. Contrary to popular belief, all of Earth's mutants were able to tap into psionic energy to varying degrees. Not only telepaths, but energy manipulators, shapechangers, -- all mutants utilized psionic energy. Some mutants were able to store this mutant energy, for want of a better term, more proficiently or in greater quantities. Others were able to access it faster and deliver it in greater quantities. The reasons varied and could be attributed to many factors: skill, willpower, physiology or psychology. Human beings were such a complex amalgam of feedback systems: neurochemical responses driven by genes switched on in their brains determining behavior, and vice versa. Even Uatu had been unable to completely categorize all the different reasons behind the manifestation of various abilities. But psionic energy was always present and used directly or employed as means to control other energy. Scott Summers's absorption of solar energy and its safe use could only be accomplished and facilitated by the presence of psionic energy. The mutant Storm controlled an enormous amount of psionic energy in order to change complex factors and dynamics to bring about almost instantaneous weather changes. Yet none of these mutants registered as traditional psions because psionic energy had many forms, the differences too subtle for humanity to yet recognize. The source of the energy was also extremely difficult to identify. Uatu himself had only been able to determine the source about half a century ago.

Even among mutants, Apocalypse was an extraordinary being. His mutation, to Uatu, was a thing of wonder. Apocalypse had repeatedly stated to his enemies that he had the ability to control every molecule in his body. While this was true, his basic mutant ability went far beyond just the control of his molecular structure and extended to his own atomic and even sub-atomic structure. This single facet of his numerous abilities, gave Apocalypse both tremendous offensive and defensive capabilities and access to enormous energies. Precise control of every atom that made up his being allowed Apocalypse to increase his bodies density to unparalleled levels. Strengthening and weakening molecular bonds, bonds between atoms, even bonds between sub-atomic particles; Apocalypse could make himself completely invulnerable to any weapon. His seemingly metallic outer shell was nothing more than a reflection of this ability. He could change his own bodies material properties in seconds ... transmutation of elements, adopting any substances atomic structure ... substances so unyielding and dense that they could never exist naturally.

Apocalypse also used his control over his own sub-atomic structure to release incomparable energies and could direct it wherever he chose. Apocalypse could literally create a controlled fission or fusion reaction just by utilizing and forfeiting a small portion of his own mass.

Earth's scientists had only relatively recently uncovered the hidden power of the atom. They had discovered this first through physics and mathematics, and then through dangerous experimentation.

Nuclear fission occurs when the nuclei of certain isotopes of very heavy elements, isotopes of Earth elements such as uranium and plutonium capture neutrons. The nuclei of these isotopes are just barely stable and the addition of a small amount of energy to one by an outside neutron will cause it to split promptly into two roughly equal pieces, with the release of a great deal of energy and several new neutrons. With Apocalypse's ability, he was able to do just that and produce a brief self-sustained reaction ... an energy beam of devastating proportions.

Uatu was quite certain that Apocalypse didn't even possess the most rudimentary knowledge concerning nuclear fission. But just as primitive man or even an animal need not understand electrochemical responses and nerve synapses in order to move -- Apocalypse didn't need to understand how he could break bonds between sub-atomic particles to generate and control great energies.

Uatu had observed Apocalypse closely, utilizing the most sophisticated devices available to his race's science. No known device could mimic Apocalypse's control of sub-atomic particles or attain the level of efficiency with which he was able to deliver the energy. Apocalypse's control concerning the strength of the beam was uncanny. He could vary the intensity and never came close to utilizing the upper limits of this ability. He normally chose to stun or incapacitate any foe, many times tempering his blows. Uatu knew that this had nothing to do with any concern for humans or mutants. He believed that Apocalypse did not wish to exhibit the level of power and control that he had attained.

The full extent and monstrous consequences of another of Apocalypse's mutant abilities was only known to Uatu. During the X-Men's recent encounter with another delusional mutant bent on world domination, a small portion of Apocalypse's heinous acts were revealed to a certain few, the enormity of the atrocity almost too incredible for the mutant team to believe. Through a series of seemingly unrelated events, Genesis, the adopted son of Nathan Dayspring, had stumbled across a revival crèche of Apocalypse. There he found hundreds of thousands of human beings in Celestial stasis containers that were inexplicably modified to channel their life forces into Apocalypse. (2) Some of the humans had been in stasis for centuries, in a state of non-life, slowly being leeched of everything that gave them life. The life-energy he absorbed had little to do with Apocalypse's immortality. It served only one purpose: to grant him more power.

This life-energy or cosmic energy was part of the fundamental make-up of every living creature in the universe. Humanity's theologians called it the soul, while mathematicians decribed it with a fledgling theory called Quantum Chromodynamics. This theory proported to explain the relationship of strong nuclear forces. But to humanity's present level of understanding, the theory was mathematically intractable and makes few predictions that can be compared to experimental evidence. This was again due to the fact that humanity was incapable of measuring the existence of very short-lived particles with certain resonances, namely life-energy.

But only very few beings contained this energy in significant quantities to allow them to manipulate matter and energy as easily as any simple creature of flesh and blood could manipulate an appendage. Both his race and the Celestials had this ability. The "World Devourer" Galactus also had this ability but existed at at even higher plane of reality, requiring him to continuously replenish his life-energy. But all these beings were ancient even by Apocalypse's standards, and had evolved as a race over millions of years, or in the case of Galactus had preexisted this universe. Somehow Apocalypse had discovered that he could somehow absorb and store this life-energy in his body ... and utilize it when required. (3) Over many centuries and at the expense of countless living beings, Apocalypse had greatly added to his own considerable power.

Over centuries, perhaps millions of individuals had fallen to this horrific fate because of Apocalypse's discovery. Not one, but several of these crèches existed in different locations around the globe where Apocalypse could go to replenish or supplement his own energies. Over the last few centuries, Apocalypse's power had grown to such proportions that not even several of the most powerful of Earth's mutants could hope to stand against him. His ability to absorb and store life-energy gave him his greatest advantage against any potential foe. It was this energy coupled with his mutant energy, and the energy he could liberate by breaking the atomic bonds of his own physical body, that made him unique even among mutants.

It was Uatu's belief that Apocalypse learned of his ability to absorb life-energy from other living beings on Ship. Uatu's monitoring equipment had been unable to actually view what had transpired while Apocalypse was on the Celestial ship. While this was not unusual due to the myriad of screening and defensive devices any Celestial ship contained, Ship had been damaged and most all of its primary systems shut down. Uatu should have been able to observe Apocalypse on Ship but could not. Another mystery. In addition, a distress signal that was immediately activated when Ship had crash-landed went unheeded by the Celestials and ceased to operate shortly after its activation.

It had always struck Uatu as odd that in many ways he understood Apocalypse better than Apocalypse's mutant enemies. He certainly had an advantage because of his technology to observe Apocalypse for many years, but Uatu was still an alien. While human beings knew relatively little about Apocalypse's mutation, it was common belief that everything 'mechanical' was taken from the Celestials. It was believed that Apocalypse encased himself in some form of bio-organic armor -- Celestial armor fashioned by Ship. Nothing could be further from the truth. There was one thing that Uatu was certain of after observing Apocalypse for countless centuries: Apocalypse truly believed that in a personal challenge of strength or power, there was no nobility in an unfair contest. To defeat an enemy with anything other than his own natural mutant ability or strength would be dishonorable. The use of any type of weapon, let alone armor to protect himself would be an anathema to him.

He had exhausted all but one possibility that might assuage Apocalypse from his course of action. He had already done enough to irrevocably damn him in the eyes of his brethren. He would be executed should he be found out. Uatu would be the first and only member of his race ever to suffer this fate. Although it was not shame or his death he feared ... but failure.

Uatu represented a considerable threat to his ultimate plans. He had known that any exposure to Uatu over the centuries while dangerous, had also been of inestimable value. Uatu had concluded what any fool would once they had determined he was not insane. Over many centuries, he had carefully buried lies within truths to conceal his primary objective. Uatu might have outlived his usefulness. Could he kill a Watcher? Certainly a worthy challenge of his might, or a foolhardy one. Although a part of him relished the thought of an open confrontation, guile was a more appropriate course of action.

He smiled. I might even impress you with my cunning, Nathaniel, Apocalypse thought. And Uatu was correct ... Sinister was indeed a formidable adversary. Over the last two centuries Sinister had attempted to kill him several times and had come rather close to succeeding. He had almost chosen too well, he mused. Even now an apparatus that was attuned to Sinister's bio-signature indicated that he had just departed Genosha.

"You see Highborn, Sinister seeks to recruit Magneto to his cause," Apocalypse rumbled. "No doubt he will be successful. Magnus has great power but is weak in other ways. Sinister will have found a way to make him do his bidding.

"Together, they could present a formidable opposition, Master." The deference was always clear and distinct whenever Ozymandias addressed Apocalypse.

"Indeed. Sinister's attempt to rally mutant opposition against me is no more than a feint. Even Xavier's brood is not foolish enough to blindly trust Sinister. They have no idea of his true plans ... but neither do I," Apocalypse said sounding mildly pleased. "He is the first true test of my fitness to survive in many centuries. He believes our goals conflict and will not rest until I am dead."

"Would my death please you, Ozymandias?" Apocalypse asked, looking down at Ozymandias.

"I..." Even after thousands of years, Ozymandias wilted under the direct gaze of his master.

"You need not contemplate such an occurrence ... ever," Apocalypse quietly thundered.

Continued in Chapter Four.

[1]X-Force #37
[2]Wolverine #100 - Did anyone but me wonder where these people came from and why the X-Men did nothing to help them?
[3]X-Factor #67 - Apocalypse's ability to drain life essences first revealed.