taking off for the rear wall myself, I dashed around to see what was
happening at the front gate. It had been blown in so that black iron
hung twisted on the hinges. Yet across the gateway, the explosion's
fire now roared out of control, forming a barrier more effective than
the metal. Allerdyce. "Good thinking, John," I said for the
professor to relay. "Keep them back as long as you can, but don't
drain yourself completely." Then I headed for the rear as more
lightning came down out of the sky. Off to the left - the direction
in which I'd sent Elk River - I heard someone screaming in abject
terror from one of her psychic arrow-bolts. "Storm," I
called, "when John can't hold the gate any more, send in the rain
- hard downpour. Let them try to drive in mud."
I'd reached visual range of the
back wall of the estate and the infrared sensors in my visor showed me
shapes near the top, working to cut through the electric fencing that
I'd put up. A few tight-beam shots from my visor ended that, and
without damaging the wire. I heard them hit the ground on the other
side. They didn't try again immediately. I moved on, finding Drake by
his infrared signature - one much lower than anyone else's would
have been. He'd iced the top sections of the wall for a good three
hundred yards and was working his way back towards the gate. Even if
the invaders did get the wire cut, they'd have a hard time scaling
that. "Good job," I told him. "Ice the whole of it, if
you can. I'll police your section and mine." Then I headed back
to check on Elk River. They were doing good, my kids. They were
thinking on their feet, thinking of things I hadn't - Allerdyce at
the gate, and now Drake with the walls.
Soldiers were trying to scale
the wall again at the same place I'd shot them down before. How the
hell long could we keep this up? Knock them down and they came right
back. They weren't going to pack up and go away like the helicopters.
This was an all-out assault, and they obviously didn't care what the
neighbors' thought. They were here tonight to take us, or kill us
trying, and tomorrow there would be lies for the media. Was this what
the men at the Alamo had felt, holed up in their fort in Texas? Or the
Jews in the Warsaw Ghetto Uprising, or the members of the American
Indian Movement at Wounded Knee, surrounded by FBI and US Marshals?
What do you do when you know you
can't win? It was just a matter of time before they wore us down and
carted us off. Dammit, the professor could have reprogrammed their
minds and sent them merrily on their way back to whatever rock they'd
crawled out from under. It would have been hard on him, but he could
have done it.
And I knew he wouldn't, not even
to save himself. Not even to save us. He believed too strongly that
there were some lines you didn't cross, no matter what. In his heart,
he was still a Quaker. But I wasn't Charles, and I didn't have the
same lines. I loved him still, admired him. But I no longer adhered
entirely to his ideals. I'd been hurt too much, lost too much. As I'd
told Ororo over two months ago, the old Cyclops had died in Baltimore.
I'd become someone else, someone I wasn't sure I liked - he was a
ruthless bastard. But he was going to save his kids.
Reaching up, I got hold of the
little Xs on the collar of my jacket and ripped them off, dropped them
on the ground. Then turning up the dial on my visor, I punched holes
straight through the soldiers on the wall. The sons of bitches weren't
going to get up again this time.
I moved on to find Dani. She had
her own methods of troop control: psychic bolts and mirages. Fire ran
along the top of the wall, glowing blue-white hot. It wasn't real, but
the troops below didn't know that. Phantom fire glow reflected off her
face. "How tired are you?" I asked her.
"Not tired at all. I can
keep this up a while, just can't extend it very far. And if they
figure it out, I may have to retreat."
"Do what you need to do.
But Dani - don't let them take you." I didn't waant to tell her
about the ova harvesting, yet it bothered me to have any of the girls
out here at all, even one as tough as Dani. It wasn't that the boys
weren't in danger, but the idea of faceless men turning our girls into
egg banks for insane experiments pushed me past rage into something
Now, Dani just said, "They
won't take me. I'll scare them so bad, they'll shit themselves."
Grinning, I left her. If we got
out of this alive, she'd make a potential leader.
In my head, the professor
relayed Logan's warning: Allerdyce is running out of steam, kid.
Jubilee and Sharra are ready to give 'em a light show, but I don't
know how long that'll keep 'em back.
I looked off towards the front.
From what I could see, the fires were indeed much lower. "On my
mark, tell John to cut the fires and head back to the mansion," I
said in reply. "He can catch his breath with Kitty, and Peter can
take his place for the moment. I think we've reached a point that we
can't keep the troops out any longer. But I want to control their
point of entry."
I heard a scraping sound behind
me at the wall and glanced about. More climbers. They joined their
fellows on the ground on the other side. "They're not making any
real concerted effort back here," I added. "Mostly trying to
keep us off balance. On second thought, send Peter back here to take
my place. I'm coming to the front. Storm, can you hear me?"
am here, Cyclops.
"When Jubilee and Neal
start the Fourth of July, I want you to strike the vans with
lightning. By then, I'll be in range to blast them, too. And Storm,
don't forget the rain. Dani that means you may have to come up with
"Beast? How are you
Ready and waiting, Fearless
I snorted. "Fire at will as
soon as the vehicles are in range, but then I want you and Kurt off
the roof. Remember our surprise?"
"When you see it, get down
to Kitty, so she can phase you into the basement if necessary. Kurt
And Allerdyce, if I send him
back there? Logan's voice.
"I need John still. I just
want him to rest for a bit. I'll let him know what to do. Here comes
Phase Two, people. John - NOW!"
I was already sprinting back
across the lawn. I could see Rasputin coming this way, his body
gun-metal gray in the dark. The fires at the gate whooshed out,
leaving startled silence. Then I could hear the enemy shouting orders,
clear in the night air, and the caravan started forward.
That was when the rain came
It made mud fast; I found myself
sliding and almost went down. At the gate, Jubilee and Sharra had cut
loose with explosives and plasma bursts while Storm followed with
spears of lightning. Yet they were still trying simply to scare them,
refrained from striking the vehicles. That wasn't going to be good
enough. Scrambling for balance, I got into range and hit the engines
of the lead vans with a full optic blast. Two exploded, troops and
That was the professor. I tuned
him out. He could read my reasons out of my head. I aimed for a third
van, hit it, but the troops had already bailed from all remaining
vehicles. They had their objective - entry into the grounds - and
they scattered like black roaches.
I had a few roach bombs ready.
"Logan, get your kids clear, outside the walls. Quickly!"
Things were becoming uncontrollable, fast. The invaders fired - at
me, back towards the gate where Jubilee and Sharra had been, and up
into the air at Storm. Yet they weren't aiming to kill. Bullet spray
came low, directed at my legs. I was sure their orders were clear:
wound or contain, and capture. As with our knowledge of the grounds,
that gave us the advantage as long as we were willing to use it. I
was; I'd set my visor to full power. Running for the fountain's
concealment, I heard Jubilee shouting in the distance. "Storm,
get the hell out of the air!"
My order came too late. Over our
heads, she screamed and plummeted out of the sky. Lightning exploded
in random bursts, as dangerous to us as to the troops. The rain
I'm on it, Cyclops!
Beast's voice. Kurt, take over! I could see Hank's dark form
practically throw itself over the edge of the mansion roof and down
the side faster than a body had a right to move. Soldiers fired at him
but couldn't hope to catch him. They were also running for the place
where Storm had crashed. I shot at them to block their way, sending
gouts of earth up in their faces, even while preparing to set off the
mines. Now that they'd distracted us nicely, some men had returned to
the remaining vehicles, which began to move towards the mansion once
more. From the roof, Kurt fired at them, but without much success.
They were armored against bullets.
"Stay away from the
road," I warned everyone, via the professor.
I flicked back the first of four
safety covers on the detonator I'd been wearing on my belt. Such a
light press of my thumb, to set off the beginning of Armageddon.
All along the road, mines blew,
and a few set out randomly in the lawn. Half the remaining vehicles
went up - one van and two of the cars. A few soldiers were caught as
well. There was much shouting.
muttered. Flicking back the second safety, I pressed that button and
air sirens started in the stable, screaming out into the night. A few
minutes later, shadows burst through the stable doors. "Watch out
for the horses." And I grinned.
I've reached Storm, Beast
sent. Her arm is broken from the fall and she's unconscious, but
the bullet wound is minor. It only grazed her hip. She'll be fine.
"Get her below. Get to the
mansion and get below with Kitty and Kurt. Dani, Bobby, Piotr?"
Here, each said.
"Abandon your posts and
scatter. I mean it. Piotr, punch through the wall and get them out.
Run until no one's chasing you, then work back to the pre-arranged
Sir? From Dani.
He is alive, Scott. He's
"They need to get off the
I shall relay the message.
"Stay below, Charles. Keep
everybody below and get John out of the building." The remaining
troops had already reached the mansion. I saw one kick in the door.
Others broke out windows and climbed through. Had Beast gotten back in
time with Ro? "They've got men in the building. I don't know
where Hank is, but Kurt and Kitty are in there and they need to get
I will be certain that they
do so, but what else are you planning - ?
"I don't have time to
explain," I interrupted. "Let me know when everyone is
underground and secure. . . ." I trailed off because I saw
something new that scared the hell out of me.
Figures were emerging from the
remains of the burning vehicles. Three of them.
I sense them. Be careful,
Cyclops. This is what Walter Skinner warned us of. And there may be
The three figures were black all
over from burning, but it didn't seem to stop them. Triggering my
visor, I blasted one to pieces. Little pieces. But before I could turn
to a second, a shadow-figure had leapt on him from behind and they
went rolling in the dirt. Light from fires all around flashed off
The third had almost reached me.
I readjusted my aim, but never got a chance to fire. The figure was
blown off its feet by a plasma burst from Neal Sharra. I could hear
Neal screaming as he seared the figure over and over with balls of
plasma. "You killed her! You killed her, you son of a
Trusting Logan to deal with his
own opponent, I raced for Neal, who'd lost complete control. There was
nothing left of the third figure but wind-scattered ash and metal
slag, yet he continued to blast away at full intensity. I grabbed him
from behind - where he couldn't take me out by accident - and
shouted, "Storm's fine! Cut it out, Neal! Storm's alive!"
The plasma bursts stopped and he
seized up, then started shaking all over, collapsing to his knees.
"It's not Ms. Munroe!" he wept. "They killed
I knelt beside him.
"Jubilee?" I turned at the sound of feet. Logan. We seemed
to be the only ones still on the lawn. "Jubilee?" I asked
He shook his head. "They
hit her in the leg and caught her. She panicked before I could get to
her, and suicided. Took three of the bastards with her. I put her body
where no one can find it."
I'd told them not to let
themselves be taken, and they'd all seen what I'd come back looking
like. This was my own damn fault. They were just kids. Of course she'd
over-reacted. "Charles, you didn't tell me!"
No, I didn't, came back
the simple answer.
You had other things to worry
"How many more?"
Kitty, also. I'm sorry.
"Kitty?" Oh, God in
heaven. My little math genius. Kitty, who didn't have a vicious bone
in her body. "What about Hank and Ro?"
Kitty phased Beast and Storm
through, one at a time. They are here, safe. Then she returned to find
Kurt, and her mental signature disappeared.
They must have gotten her from
behind when she wasn't looking to know to phase. "Sons of
bitches. Did Kurt make it?"
Yes. He teleported in only a
minute after Kitty had left to find him. He never saw her.
I looked back at the mansion,
tensed my jaw. They were going to pay for this. "Logan, get Neal
to safety off grounds. I'm going to find John "
I didn't get any further. With a
hiss, three gas canisters exploded around our feet. We'd been
careless. "Tear gas!" Logan yelled, even as I felt the
pepper sting on my exposed skin.
Yet against me, tear gas was the
best possible tactical error. "Close your eyes!" I quit
breathing, grabbed Neal and Logan, and ran. My visor seals to my face
to contain the force of my blasts so as long as I wasn't taking in
fumes, I could see. Out in open air still windy and damp from rain,
the gas dissipated rapidly. I was coughing a little, but otherwise,
fine. I made for a line of bushes, practically flung the other two
through the branches, and spun to start firing back in the direction
from which the canisters had come - took out three trees and some
ambushers in one sweep. Logan coughed heavily behind me, but his
healing factor had taken over. It was Neal who was in trouble. We had
no water to wash out his eyes and sinuses. He'd curled into a ball,
coughing and choking and rubbing at his face. Logan tried to calm him
down but to no avail. The remaining ambushers were firing at us once
more, still not aiming to hit but trying to pin us in one place until
they could ready more chemical weapons. "Logan - " I
"I know, kid," he
said. "If they hit us again, we're in trouble. You get away if
It was the wrong thing to say in
front of Neal. I turned back to fire at the troops even as Neal jerked
himself up and sprinted out from our cover, hands extended and plasma
exploding at crazy angles, doing no good whatsoever because he
couldn't see at what he was aiming.
They are just kids - Jubilee,
Neal . . . . And there's no way to know how people will
react under fire until you put them there. The Danger Room isn't a
real combat situation. I grabbed for Neal -- missed. The troops might
be trying to capture, not kill us, but solar plasma was more than
they'd bargained for. And Beast's vest couldn't save him from their
him fall, I let loose, taking out trimmed bushes, birch trees, a
decorative bench, and troops. Then Logan and I ran to Neal, dropping
down beside him and rolling him over. He was dead, dark eyes staring,
blood trickling out of his mouth. "With Kitty, that makes
three," Logan said.
"Goddammit!" I felt
the tears start behind my visor and blinked them back. I couldn't
afford to cry. "What the hell kind of leader am I if I can't even
stop one kid from panicking? I lost Jean! I got us captured! Now I've
lost Jubilee, Kitty, and Neal!" My control teetered on edge and I
shivered hard, wrapped arms around myself and hung on tight as if I
might fly apart otherwise. I was having trouble breathing, my chest
felt as if a great metal band were crushing it. I whispered, "I
just kill people, I just kill people - "
Logan grabbed my arms and shook
me, and I could feel the professor inside my head, trying to calm me
down. I fought them both, Logan physically and Charles mentally. They
fought back. "Snap out of it!" Logan was shouting.
"Come on, kid, snap out of it. We need you."
"Leave me alone! I just get
"Like hell! We need you,
dammit! I need you; I can't do this alone. I haven't got your gift for
tactics." Then his head jerked up, nostrils flaring. "The
choppers are back." I heard them myself a few seconds later. And
no one now to stop them from landing. They would bring more troops.
"There's nothing we can
do," I said, and at that moment, I really believed it.
He yanked me close, put his face
right in mine. "So you're just gonna give up? You are
right, then! You're no kind of leader if you give up!" And he
shoved me backwards. I landed on my ass. "I'm going after the
The fall knocked me out of my
self-pity, and I glanced towards the mansion. I did still have some
tricks left, and to quote Yogi Berra, It ain't over till it's over.
There were no troops outside that I could see, though there might be
men around back. It was time to end this. "Logan, don't go."
He looked back at me. "This is it. Phase Three." I pulled
myself together and stood up, took a breath. I still felt jittery and
weak from adrenaline-induced panic, but it was passing.
"Most of their men are in
the building. They'll have discovered by now that there's no one
there. I don't want them guessing where we went. The sub-basement's
best protection is ignorance of its existence. Scout the yard to be
sure there are no witnesses when the backup arrives, then go after
Drake and the rest. Meet them at the rendezvous. You'll need Piotr to
help you dig out the basement eventually, but don't try until you can
be certain that no one is watching."
"What're you going to
"Find John, then give them
nothing left to look for." Mentally, I clamped down hard in a way
that Jean had taught me to do, to shield my thoughts for a second
and hoped Charles' attention was divided enough just now that he
wouldn't notice. There were some advantages to having lived so long
with telepaths. "Remember what I told you about Masada?"
Logan just stared at me a
moment, then offered a hand. I gripped it. "That sounds more like
you, kid. Good luck and give 'em hell. I'll see you at the
rendezvous." And he was gone, fading into the trees like the
animal he almost is. A predator with the soul of a man.
"Good bye, Logan."
I went after John then, using
the professor's telepathy and my infrared sensors to lead me to him. I
ran across a horse on the way, one of the mares, and smacked her hard
on the flank to make her bolt. Maybe she'd find her way to a
neighbor's stable. When I finally located John, he'd hidden among
underbrush in the wild scrub near the northwest wall. His face was
scared but resolute. Like Dani, he's a tough kid. "How's
Bobby?" he asked as soon as I dropped down beside him.
"He's safe. How are you
feeling, John? Up to a last show?"
"Good." This was the
part I'd been hiding even from the professor, and with a half-formed
mental apology, raised my shields permanently. There were no more
orders to give, no reason to maintain a link, and I didn't want
Charles to know what I planned next. He wouldn't approve, but he
couldn't spare the effort to force my mind, even if he would have.
The choppers had arrived,
setting down on the lawn and the mansion roof. Unclipping the
detonator from my belt again, I flipped open the third safety of four.
"Now listen. What I'm about to ask of you is unfair, John, and
you have every right to tell me to go jump in the lake." I tried
to catch his eyes, but like so many, he wasn't sure where to look
through my visor, focused on my nose instead.
"What do you need me to
"If anyone manages to make
it out of the mansion alive, I want you to make sure the fire swallows
him. No one escapes. Got that?"
He stared at me and swallowed.
"I - Mr. Summers, are you sure?"
John isn't as apathetic as he
sometimes wants to appear. "I told you it was unfair. Tell me now
if you can't do it."
He swallowed again, but then his
jaw hardened. "They killed Jubes and Kitty." He didn't know
yet about Neal. "I can do it, sir."
I laid a hand on his shoulder,
couldn't say, 'Good.' so I said, "Remember: I gave you this
order; it's on my conscience. When you're sure there's no one left, I
want you out of here. Make for the rendezvous point. Logan will
I glanced behind me, at the two
helicopters on the lawn. The other two were on the roof, and the
troops mostly inside the house. Good. Here was my own little twist on
Odysseus' Trojan Horse. I hit the third button, whispered, "I'm
Explosions went off one after
the other in staccato bursts. All over the mansion, windows blew out,
scattering glass and streamers of flame on the lawn. Fire roared
skyward, consuming old oak and mahogany; there was a lot of wood to
ignite. Terrible and beautiful. That was my home, and I was burning it
to the ground. God forgive me. I doubted the rest would be able to.
Christ - " John whispered beside me.
"Remember what I
said," I told him and left the concealing shadow of wild scrub to
begin walking forward. There were still the choppers on the lawn.
Palming the detonator, I raised my hands over my head in apparent
Allerdyce hissed behind me. I ignored him and hoped he had the good
sense to stay hidden. I thought he did. Drake would have come after
me. Allerdyce was more pragmatic.
All I needed to do was get near
enough to the choppers. Then this would all be over. Strangely, I
wasn't afraid. I just hoped the pain was quick. Men ran forward,
rifles at ready but not coming near me. They must have known who I was
and what I could do. There were ten of them with sights trained on me.
Kevlar couldn't stop that much concentrated fire and I kept my hands
up, away from my visor. No sense in spooking them. With the mansion
burning two hundred yards away, it was like a scene from Dante, cast
all in red and black. Fitting. Let the damned take out the devil.
I heard them then. More
helicopters. And weapons fire. Had they found Logan despite all his
training? Three more helicopters, in fact. Damn. I looked up along
with everyone else on the lawn to see where they were shooting. But it
wasn't at the ground at all.
Spotlights caught wide white
wings spreading sixteen feet from tip to tip against a storm-black
sky. Gabriel descending. Our Angel. Warren Worthington.
That fucking idiot! Who
was guarding the other kids?
He was evading the choppers
easily. They couldn't hope to catch him any more than they could catch
a falcon. He led them on a merry chase right over the burning mansion,
probably hoping for a backdraft to suck one in.
And then I saw what I wouldn't
have believed, if I hadn't been looking right at it.
The flames rose up and up like a
living being, like some great bird twenty times the size of Warren -
a phoenix made of fire, with the face of a woman and the beak of a
bird. She plucked a chopper right out of the sky, consuming it in a
fireball burst that seemed only to add to her immense power. And then
John could shape fire sometimes,
but nothing like that. The Firebird screamed again and beat her
wings, sending the two remaining choppers spinning out of control as
effectively as any wind Storm could have raised. One crashed into the
trees outside the wall, and the other went into a death spiral down
into the mansion itself. I could feel the heat from her fire-wind all
the way out where we were standing around on the lawn.
"Holy fuck. What in hell is
that?" I heard one of the soldiers mutter.
"I'd like to know the same
thing," I replied.
And it was while everyone was
distracted and gaping at the Firebird, that I felt a sudden rush of
much cooler air wash over me, and then I was being lifted right off
the ground at dizzying speed. A few soldiers recovered enough to shoot
upward, but they were too startled to aim. Hand free, I adjusted my
visor to fire back rather more effectively. "Warren, dammit!
Put me down!"
And it was Warren, of course.
His relative strength to his size is the same as a bird of prey's
an easy thing to forget when looking at him. "Like hell I
will!" he was yelling in my ear. "What did you think you
"Protecting our people!
What in hell are you doing? Who's watching the kids in
"Sean and Moira took off
with them as soon as you called. I headed here."
"Put me down and get the
fuck back there! I have explosives in my jacket. It's the only
way to end this, once and for all! They have to think we're all
screamed into the teeth of the wind. "You jackass!" But he
headed back toward the choppers. The Firebird was still raging over
the burning mansion and tiny figures ran about on the lawn below us.
Some shot at us. A few shot - illogically - at the Firebird.
"Take the jacket off and drop it on a chopper," Warren
"That won't be enough -
"It'll have to be enough!
If you think I'm going to let you play the martyr, forget it! You'll
break Charles' heart, you bloody cold son of a bitch!"
I thought about struggling - I
could probably free myself if I caught him off guard - but the fall
might kill me before I could set off the bombs in my jacket, and it
would be too far away to do any good in any case. Not to mention that
fighting me would distract Warren from dodging our enemy's fire, and
could get him killed.
He was still yelling at me,
"Get the freakin' jacket off, damn you!" and for
once, I did as Warren said. It was a trick with his arms braced across
my chest, holding me fast. But I managed and he swooped low over one
of the choppers so I could let go of black leather. It fell onto one
of the floppy blades. The troops were still shooting at us, but none
thought to remove the jacket. It was just a jacket.
I slipped the safety off and hit
the fourth button, triggering seven tiny bombs that I'd sewn into my
jacket lining. Behind us, a great ball of fire bloomed outwards,
consuming the chopper.
Warren was climbing altitude at
a frightful pace and behind us, I could hear the blades start on the
second chopper. They were coming after us. Shivering in the freezing
wind of our speed and swallowing my nausea, I tried to make my mouth
function. "Get behind the Firebird!" Whatever it was,
whoever was controlling it, the apparition seemed to be on our side.
And if this was John, that boy and I were going to have a
little chat later about concealing abilities.
Warren took my advice and aimed
for the mansion, the helicopter following. I just hoped my hunch was
right and the seemingly sentient fire didn't consume us as cheerfully
as she had the choppers.
She didn't. One wing dipped down
to let us zip past through black billowing smoke, then raised up again
to block the chopper. It was insanely hot up here, the oxygen thin,
and the fire's sucking pull of air was almost too much for Warren to
fight. I was sweating like a pig and Warren's arms around me were
slick. I hoped he didn't lose his grip as he beat his wings furiously.
Too much of this and we'd be cooked well done, but there was no-where
else to go. The helicopter had veered off to circle around, trying to
get us from another direction. This pilot was no fool; he wasn't
getting near the bird. I could hear a second set of engines, too.
Damn. More back up. Did these people have no end of resources?
Of course not. This was the
government, or as close as made no difference.
The chopper had swung wide,
coming back in from the south, where Ororo's gardens and the maze had
been. Both were on fire now. Warren was climbing once more, trying to
get above the chopper's bullet spray and the sucking heat of the fire
- and trying to lure the pilot back within striking range of the
Firebird. But it wasn't working. He stayed put and the bird screamed
in frustration, then tried to reach out with her beak to snag him, but
he danced his chopper away. Damn, that guy was good. Or gal. Storm
would tell me not to assume.
A sudden hooded shadow rose up
from behind the chopper like a striking cobra. Black Habu.
The Blackbird, my mistress.
A missile turret opened and
orange fire streaked out towards the helicopter. Caught between
Firebird and Blackbird, the pilot didn't have a prayer. The missile
struck, there was a second's pause, then the chopper exploded in a
shower of twisting metal and tempered glass. Warren managed to turn to
protect me, but no way could he protect all of sixteen feet of wings,
not and stay aloft. I heard him scream and the world wrenched as
shrapnel tore through his right wing.
Then we were falling towards the
burning mansion. "Warren!"
"Sorry, Scott," I
heard him breathe past clenched teeth. We continued to plunge down as
he tried valiantly to lift us despite his shredded wing.
us fall, the Firebird screamed once again and lifted herself to spread
wings and . . . tip them. Just so. Powerful hot currents knocked us
end over end, singeing us good but tossing us well free of the mansion
fire, towards the back lawn where the few remaining soldiers weren't.
Warren tried to break the fall, but there was no way to soften it. We
hit hard. I heard one of his wings snap and he cried out yet again. I
was lucky I hadn't broken anything or gotten knocked silly. I must
have rolled twenty feet and had barely picked myself up when the few
remaining troops came tearing around the south edge of mansion. As
soon as they saw us, they opened fire.
I shot back in a full force,
wide-beam sweep. It blew them all to hell.
More shadows were coming around
the north edge; my hand went back to my visor. "Don't
shoot!" screamed a high, male voice.
Bobby Drake? What the fuck was
he doing here? I recognized the others, then. Dani and Piotr, and St.
John with Logan at the rear. They pounded up as I moved back to where
Warren lay writhing on the grass. Dani was limping on what was
probably a twisted ankle, but she didn't make a sound. That stoic
Plains training. Nonetheless, she looked grateful to collapse to the
ground. The Blackbird was setting down behind us all. "I thought
I ordered you to head for the rendezvous!" I snapped at Logan as
I helped Warren sit up a little and get off his wounded wing.
"And let you have all the
fun? Forget it," Logan replied. He looked almost cheerful,
Drake and Allerdyce had
collapsed beside me, too, panting, their silhouettes dark against the
mansion fire - which had finally starting to burn down. It was just
a fire now. No ethereal phoenix to be seen. "John," I said,
"was that bird yours?"
"No, sir. I couldn't
possibly do that. Maybe some day, but not now. Not even close."
His eyes were wide. John actually awed by something. "You
can't imagine the kind of control and power that bird would have
Which was what I'd thought. Did
one of the other kids have gifts we didn't know about, or were we
getting help from unknown quarters? I remembered the woman's face I'd
seen in the fire. It had looked almost like Jean. Yet she'd never had
that kind of raw strength. Control, yes, but not that kind of
Scott, the professor's
voice in my head. I was no longer shielding against him because there
was no reason to. Jean had enormous reserves of power into which
she had only begun to tap, he told me, reserves that I had to
lock away from her when she was a child, because she wasn't able to
"Are you saying that Jean
was the Firebird?" I asked aloud, and all around me, faces went
blank with shock. Even wounded Warren raised his head.
I am saying that I do not
know what Jean might have become capable of. Had she lived.
And that was the catch, of
course. Jean was dead. It couldn't have been Jean.
In potential, Charles
went on, Jean was a stronger psi than I am. He'd never told us
that. I cannot say if that apparition was Jean. Nor can I say it
wasn't. Yet it felt somehow . . . familiar.
I thought of the ghost in my bed
two weeks ago. Jesus H. Christ. What had she become?
Hank was running up, Storm
trailing with her arm bound and braced. Despite her injury, she must
have played co-pilot. "More troops may be on the way," Hank
said, expertly running hands over Warren to check him for further
broken bones before scooping him up. "We must get to safety
quickly." But we didn't get a chance to move before more soldiers
fired at us from the cover of the west trees. I fired back as Storm
whipped up winds and Dani Elk River pulled her bow from her shoulders,
knocking a glowing bolt that she had drawn out of the very air with
the power of her own psionic gifts. She let it fly, and had more luck
than I did. She doesn't have to see her target to hit it, just be able
to feel her opponent's mind. There were screams and a man came bolting
out from cover, followed by two more. One carried something. A body.
We dashed across the lawn to surround them and take their weapons as
Hank carried Warren back to the Blackbird with Dani limping beside
him. We didn't have much time. Released from Dani's control, and
unarmed, the men raised hands in surrender. Logan recovered the body.
"It's Kitty," he said,
jerked his head around to meet my eyes. "She's alive! I think
they just knocked her out when she wasn't looking."
That would have been the only
way to capture her. And it also explained why the professor had lost
mental contact with her; his powers were too extended at the moment to
read an unconscious mind. I glared at the three waiting on the lawn.
Looking at my face, or Logan's, I'm sure they realized they were dead
men, but one held out his hands to me anyway, desperate. "I have
two little girls at home. Please! If you have any kids of your own,
you know . . . . Please!"
"I have a whole school full
of kids to protect, you son of a bitch." I raised my hand to my
Bobby grabbed my arm and
wrenched it down. "Scott, what are you doing?"
"He's doing what he has to
do, Drake," Logan said. "Let him go."
"We can't let them
live," I explained. "It needs to look like we suicided
rather than be taken. If they think we're alive, they'll never stop
looking for us. These three know we're alive."
The man had quit pleading, but
now dropped his head and started to weep. His shoulders shook up and
down. I remembered weeping hopelessly like that for Jubilee and Neal
not half an hour ago. "So you're just going to kill them?"
Bobby asked me, mouth twisting and eyes darkening as he looked at me.
I don't ever want to see that particular expression of betrayal again
on a young man's face. I remembered what he'd said to me when I'd been
healing in the basement. 'You taught us how to act right,
Scott.' And every claim I'd ever had to honor shattered into a million
pieces as Bobby Drake - my little brother in every way but blood -
turned his back on me. For the first time, I felt well and truly
ashamed. How many people had I killed since Baltimore?
There are always
alternatives, whispered through my mind. It wasn't Charles' voice,
just my own reviving conscience. That man was crying for his children
like I'd cried for mine. And I made my choice. Maybe I wasn't Charles.
But I wasn't Magneto, either. And for once, I was going to make
Charles do it my way.
"Wait, Bobby." I
closed my eyes so I could concentrate on putting every ounce of force
behind my mental demand. I wasn't going to let the professor turn me
down. We've captured three men out here, Charles. I need you to
wipe their memories. Or I'm going to have to kill them.
There was silence in my mind; I
could sense his resistance. But he could sense, just as clearly, that
I wasn't bluffing. This was a battle of wills. I'm not asking you
to wipe their memories of everything - only of this night. Don't
make me kill them. Please, Charles.
The resistance eased. Very
well. And I felt the sudden absence of his mind as he withdrew to
focus his attention on the three men. His touch is so light, you
forget it's there until he pulls out. All of us blinked and wobbled a
little, as if regaining our balance.
"Get back to the
'bird," I ordered as the three men collapsed, unconscious, into
the grass. The professor still wasn't back in my head. It would take
him a bit to recover from the exertion.
We boarded the Blackbird and I
settled into my pilot seat - Hank was looking after Warren - when
the almost-forgotten communicators on our wrists squawked loudly and
spit out Rogue's panicked voice. "Mr. Summers! Mr. Summers! There
are men in the basement! Or things! Or something! They're attacking
"Son of a bitch!" I
yelled and shot a glance at Logan beside me in the co-pilot's seat.
"How in hell did they get into the sub-basement? We left them in
pieces! Even if they do regenerate, can they do it that
"Who said it was those same
three?" Logan snapped, already half out of his seat and headed
for the hatch. "We have to get down there."
he didn't make it any further than three steps before the very ground
shook beneath our feet and sent sprawling anyone on the plane who
wasn't strapped down. "What the hell!" Allerdyce snapped.
"This isn't fucking California!"
"And that was not an
earthquake," Hank replied. "That was an explosion in the
I'd already yanked my straps
free and shot out of my seat to run to Kitty. "Wake-up!" I
shook her. "We need you, little sprite!" More tremors rocked
the plane. Storm was struggling forward to the co-pilot's seat. To
Hank I said, "I'm taking Logan, John, and Bobby. And Kitty if I
can wake her. You've got Storm, Warren, Piotr, and Dani. Get the 'bird
up in the air, away from here. If you see more choppers or troops
approaching, stop them before they get here." To Piotr - who
looked ready to protest - I said, "You go with them. We might
need someone able to punch his way into the sub-basement."
Lips thin, he looked away but
"Charles," I said
under my breath, "What's going on down there?"
I got no reply.
Kitty was starting to stir.
"Come on, Kitty Pryde," I said, slapping her lightly.
Her eyes fluttered open.
"Mr. Summers? Cyclops?"
"We need you." More
explosions under our feet. What in hell was happening down there?
"We need to get into the sub-basement. They're under attack down
She could feel the tremors now
herself and nodded, letting Piotr help her sit up. I hoped she didn't
have a concussion, but her pupils appeared normal. "Out of the
plane," I said to the ones I'd tagged for rescue operations.
Logan picked Kitty up to carry her, letting her conserve her strength.
We were a hundred paces away when the 'bird lifted off behind us and
shot away. The ground convulsed twice more before we reached the
remains of the mansion, and I still wasn't getting any response to my
mental queries. The professor must be too preoccupied to answer.
The mansion was a brick shell
now with a few fires going still and the scattered wreckage of a
chopper. "Can you put out the fires, John?" Instead of
wasting breath to answer, he closed his eyes and stretched out his
hands. He doesn't need to do that, but it helps him focus. One by one,
he took control and doused the burning. I looked at Bobby then.
"We need a path. Don't cool it all, just enough for us to
pass." He nodded and extended his hand, sent an icy mist forward
and led us through, froze the walls to keep charcoal timbers from
falling in on us as we moved past. There were no more explosions under
our feet, but I kept waiting for another to happen. I didn't see an
obvious breach in the mansion floor, but it was impossible to see
everything. When we reached the place where the hidden elevator had
been, I told Logan, "Trash it until it doesn't look like an
elevator shaft any more." I couldn't be sure the secret of the
sub-basement wasn't past concealing, but there was no sense in leaving
extra clues. He set down Kitty to do as I ordered.
I turned to her. "Can you
take Logan and I down at once?"
She shook her head. "Not
without maybe phasing one of you half into the rock."
Before I could even say, 'Then
take me first,' Logan stepped forward to grab her hand. "Let's
go, darlin'." He glared at me to shut me up, but I didn't argue.
He was better at hand-to-hand.
They phased; we waited. It was
only a minute before Kitty crawled back up through the floor, but it
was a long minute. "There's nobody down there," she said and
reached for my hand. I barely had time to breathe before she was
pulling me through.
All I could think in those few
seconds of passage was that Storm, conscious, could never do this. It
was like being encased in stone. I couldn't feel, see, hear, smell or
even breathe. I wasn't sure I existed. I wanted to scream but couldn't
open my mouth. Then we were through and falling to the floor in the
dim glow of emergency lights. "Main breakers are out, and maybe
the generator," Logan said by way of greeting. He was crouched
down, claws extended, waiting. "Nobody close by." A hundred
yards further down the corridor, the metal wall had been breached and
rock had fallen in, closing it off almost completely. I found myself
wishing for Rasputin. Kitty had gone back for the boys.
you smell anything?" I asked Logan.
"Lots of burning. Air's
going bad fast without the ventilation system. John's gotta put out
those fires as soon as he gets here."
I nodded. "Agreed. After
that, we head for Cerebro. If the invaders reached the basement,
everyone was to hide in there. It's the most secure place in the
It was Bobby, though, who Kitty
brought through next, and we had to wait on John. As soon as he was
down, Logan barked, "Fires. Out. Now."
He closed his eyes and
concentrated, while I sent Kitty to phase through the stone blockage,
see how far it extended and what was on the other side. "Be
careful," I told her.
She was gone for ten breaths
before reappearing. "There's nobody on the other side. The walls
are all charred and it's almost black - most of the emergency lights
"But no one's there?"
"No one's there."
"Back up," I told the
rest, and blasted through the rock. We went on.
It was hot on the other side and
smoke hung low, choking us. Bobby did what he could for the air,
crystallizing smoke into cold ash. It fell and crunched under the
passage of our feet in the unnatural silence of absent generators. A
few emergency lights were humming, but that was all. The fighting was
clearly over, and I feared what we would find. We reached the turn
leading from Cerebro and the lab. This had been the heart of it; I
could smell the iron tang of blood and charred flesh, and held up a
hand to the kids. "Stay here." Logan nodded faintly in
approval. God knew what would be waiting around the corner. We took it
together, his claws out, my hand at my visor - prepared for
But nothing shot or jumped at
us. What was waiting was worse; I had to swallow back bile. Poor Rogue
sat right in the middle of it - alive but her face blank in a mask
of shock; the lights were on, but no one was home.
Logan disregarded everything to
make straight for her as I stepped back and spoke to the three kids
waiting around the corner. "Stay there. That's an order."
They nodded. I don't think they really wanted to see. I picked my way
then over rubble and bodies, some of ours, two of theirs. Those two
were stretched out flat to either side of Rogue, and I began to have
an inkling of what had finally stopped them.
They'd been prepared to
regenerate after anything but the absolute death of Rogue's mutant
touch. She'd simply absorbed them.
"Logan," I said, low.
"Be very careful. They're inside her."
"I know. But Marie's still
in there, too. She's fighting them - aren't you, kid? You can fight
them. I know you can. Come back to me, sweet Marie. Absolutely Sweet
Marie - I'll make One-Eye sing you Dylan."
And I would sing her Dylan, too.
She'd saved us all. But where are you tonight, Sweet
Marie?.... Not too many can be like you, fortunately....
To live outside the law, you must be honest. I know that you
always say that you agree.
made myself look around then at the rest of it. John Proudstar wasn't
far from Rogue, his lower body crushed under a collapsing wall. Lots
of blood. He hadn't died easy. Further up the hall, not far from the
bend beyond which the kids waited, Pietro Maximoff had been ripped
apart. His legs lay in a different spot from his torso and his
intestines had spilled between, glistening even redder under red
lights. How they'd managed to catch him, I had no idea. I'd thought
only Pietro could catch Pietro in motion. I knelt and closed his eyes.
Magneto had sent his children to Charles to be protected, taught, and
Charles had accepted that charge long before he and Erik had become
enemies. You don't visit the sins of the father on the sons, and Erik
had never asked for them back. He'd trusted us to protect them better
than he could. How were we going to tell him that he'd lost his only
son? I only hoped Wanda was still alive.
But it was at the back of the
hall, up against Cerebro's door, that I found the worst of it. I
dropped to my knees and touched the still, smooth skull, half buried
under the bulk of Fred Dukes, who must have attempted to shield him at
the last. I couldn't see a mark on him, but he was dead nonetheless.
Charles Francis Xavier. The man
who'd saved my life, made me who I was, taught me everything of value.
In bitterness and spite, I'd said he wasn't my father, but if that
were true, why did I feel like Chicken Little under a falling sky? And
why hadn't I felt him die?
I bit my hand to keep from
sobbing, and heard a moan at my elbow. Fred, "the little
blob" as some of the other kids had unkindly dubbed him because
of his weight. He was still alive. His fat was his mutation; it made
him nearly invulnerable. Nearly. His skull was a different matter, if
hit hard enough. And it had been hit hard enough. He might still be
alive, but not for much longer. He'd heard my feet, and the sound of
my breath drawn in. "Is somebody there?" he whispered. Near
death and severely dehydrated from blood loss, he'd gone blind.
"It's me, Fred," I
said, kneeling down and stroking the hair back from his brow. It stuck
to my hand but I kept stroking anyway, focusing on his face to keep
from looking at Charles. "Can you tell me what happened?"
"I don't remember a
lot," he whispered, voice cracking. I wished I had some water to
give him. "It happened so fast. There were men down here, and
then it all just happened so fast."
"Where are the rest of the
students?" There weren't enough bodies here to account for
everyone in the basement.
"They're with Mr. Placido,
I glanced up. The door was still
sealed, if dented badly; they must be alive in there. But why in hell
hadn't Charles gone with them? Why had he exposed himself?
Of course I knew why. He
wouldn't leave the kids out here to face their attackers alone. He
must have thought he could control these inhuman things with
his mind. He'd been wrong.
Fred was talking again, his
voice growing more distant. "John Proudstar went down first
because they set off a grenade to make the steel wall fall and block
off Cerebro, before Frank could get us inside. John held it up long
enough, but it must have been too heavy even for him. Rogue went to
pull him out but it was no use. He told her to absorb him so she could
have his strength. So she did, and stayed out here with us."
He stopped and I thought him
gone because his blind eyes had slipped closed, but he continued,
"After that, I don't remember. The professor was trying to
control the creatures, but he couldn't. He said their minds weren't
like human minds. Explosions kept going off. They were trying to pin
us in. Pietro caught as many grenades as he could before they landed,
and threw them back out into the other corridor, but one blew up in
So that was what had finally
caught the quicksilver, his own miscalculation, just as John had
miscalculated how heavy the wall was. But I don't think either would
have made another choice.
"I don't remember anything
else, Mr. Summers. The wall here blew out and I threw myself on the
professor. A rock must have hit my head." In fact, a rock had
half smashed his skull; I wondered if he realized he was dying.
"Will the professor be okay?" he asked. It was so plaintive.
"The professor will be
fine," I lied. Or maybe it wasn't a lie. Maybe it was better that
he hadn't survived the destruction of his home, his dream. "You
did good, Fred. Rest now."
He nodded and, his story told,
relaxed. I stroked his hair until I felt his body shudder; his breath
rattled in his throat, then stopped. I was the only one still
breathing in the hall. Logan had taken Marie back with the other
three. Rising up out of the devastation and wiping my bloody hand on
my jeans, I went to the door of Cerebro, with its battered, dented X.
Ironically, the retina-scan computer had escaped destruction, but I
was the one adult at the mansion it couldn't read. Pulling out a
little retracting tray, I laid my hand - the one with Fred's blood
- down on it and let it read my palm print.
The doors slid apart to reveal
Francesco, twelve kids, and three of the staff who'd stayed behind
with us, including Frank's mother, Valeria the cook. Frank was holding
a nearly hysterical Ilyana Rasputin on his lap. "It's over,"
I said, took a breath, and finished, "The professor is
And then I started crying.
As all comics people know, Jean died in X-Men 100/101only to
resurrect as the Phoenix. I've altered that, and borrowed a page from Sequoia's
Risen, because her interpretation of Phoenix as an aspect
of Jean's own power that the professor had walled off not an cosmic
entity who stole Jean's physical form seems a lot less silly. But
in my story, Jean is still dead. She's not coming back in a
real, permanent physical form as she did in the comics. Oh, and
Kitty's original code name was Sprite, not Shadowcat.