Future Pluperfect: Chapter 10


Telepathy wasn't necessary to sense the wave of surprise that shot around the War Room as Cyclops read off the list of the two teams for the mission.

#Jean, does Scott realize that he's put Rogue and Gambit on the same team?# Betsy managed to look casually bored as she sent the thought.

"...I realize that these are not our usual teams," Cyclops continued as if on cue, looking around the room. "But Cable feels, and I agree, that considering the power level of our opponent, an opponent we still don't know a lot about, we should be mindful of the talents of the group and split up accordingly. We didn't do so hot in the last two battles, so there's no reason not to change things."

Scott snuck a look at his son, just to make sure that Cable wasn't laughing out loud. Nathan had been somewhat less diplomatic when suggesting (demanding) a reorganization of the blue and gold teams. "Split up the telepaths, split up the flyers, make sure you've got someone who can actually shoot a gun on each side, and flonq the personality conflicts. You've coddled them long enough," had been Cable's precise words. Plus or minus a few flonqs, of course.

"You're letting me come along?" Alex asked from the far end of the table. He hadn't been on either of the teams for the two battles that had taken place since his arrival, instead being sentenced to double shifts in the Danger Room. It was an ignominy he hadn't suffered since his freshman year of high school, when he had been bounced down to the junior varsity football team. Nobody had said anything, but Alex was embarrassed. He had been battling Sentinels since before many in the room had figured out they were mutants, let alone that he was too old to be grounded by his brother.

"Forge's first shipment of weapons arrived this morning," Scott began after smirking at his brother. He held up a large rifle. "It takes both plasma cartridges as well as bullets, so you can shoot whatever you need at whatever you come across. The cartridges are non-standard, so make sure you don't pick up any old ones from the armory."

The rest of the briefing was short. Using Mirrin's program, Cable had run though a list of possible hit points and their likely order of targeting. Relevant parts of the list had been forwarded to superheroes all over the globe - Alpha Flight was still non-plussed about Mirrin and Gambit's adventures in Quebec while Sunfire had been his usual charming self during their (not) brief (enough) conversation - and the Fantastic Four had volunteered to handle the bulk of the non-Kurioon involved mayhem. Excalibur was already on the case and the Avengers, Hank had reported, would be available if needed, although they were heavily involved in their own crisis for the time being.

Storm's team was up first and had departed for Brazil in the Blackbird before Roberto Da Costa, X-Force's Sunspot and a native of the country, could contact the X-Men about joining the away team. Sam had been on monitor duty when he did ring in and failed to convince his friend that Cable would not appreciate him leaving his own team (currently en route to Alaska) to drop by because he wasn't sure the senior team could handle things.

"It's your funeral, Berto," Sam sighed as the comm.-link was abruptly terminated. "Of course, then Tab'll be free ta date again..."

"That's the power of positive thinkin' for ya," Wolverine chuckled from the doorway.

"Didn't realize you were back," Sam said as he turned around, knowing better than to try and tell Logan than he didn't mean what he said. Wolverine had stayed behind in Madripoor to check up on his personal interests there and hadn't been expected back for another few days.

"Viper's back to collectin' her duties," the short man replied with an indifferent shrug. "Figgered that was a sign that things were back to normal. Not like anyone'd be able to tell what Lowtown looked like cleaned up, anyhow."

"Been meanin' to ask you," Sam began thoughtfully. "How come the Harvesters stayed out of Hightown?"

"Rich folk ain't necessarily good at anythin' other than spendin' money," Logan answered, rolling his shoulders as one popped loudly. "Thieves, murderers, the usual Lowtown crowd, that's the sorta people I'd want if I was pickin' up an army."

"Makes sense, Ah guess."

Logan nodded and pulled out a cigar. He didn't light it, aware of the smoke detector Storm had hidden in the room. "So, what did I miss?"

"Cable reorganized the teams to cover the list he cranked out, Cyclops is goin' along with it, and we're to be ready to head out ta Lebanon in... eight hours."

"Cable reorganized the teams?" A snort. Despite everything, Wolverine respected Cable's battle instincts. It was just when Scott and Jean's favorite tin soldier decided that everyone else was an accessory that things got complicated.

"Well, Cyclops is sayin' that it was 'a suggestion' and that he thinks it's a good idea and all," Sam explained with a knowing expression, his eyes glimmering with amusement. "But Ah think it's all Cable's idea and Cyclops is jus' sharing credit so that nobody raises a ruckus. The teams look a little X-Forcy."

Logan chuckled around his cigar. "And how's that?"

"You're glad they're watchin' your back, but you'd kill'em if you had to spend an hour's downtime together," Sam elaborated. "Cable's not as big on matchin' personalities as Cyclops is. He figures we'll stop bickerin' when they start shootin' at us."

Logan nodded in agreement, then sniffed. "Betts is in with Cerebro?"

"Ah think so. Mirrin's been meanin' to try it out, but Ah think she's off with Cyclops somewhere."

"That one doesn't need any boost/ I'm goin' to crash for a few. I'll see you in eight."

"Yes, sir."

"I told you not to call me that," Logan called over his shoulder.

"Yes, sir, you did."

Growling about the youth today, Logan wandered upstairs to his quarters. He made sure to let Cyclops know that he'd be tagging along come morning.

***

"They come up for air yet?" Pete Wisdom didn't even break stride as he walked through the kitchen, sniffed the contents of the coffee pot, picked up his keys, and headed for the door.

Brian Braddock and Kitty Pryde had spent the entire morning playing with the carcass of the Harvester they had brought back from France. Actually, Kitty had spent most of the previous week with the robot as well, leaving Wisdom to make crude remarks about mechanical replacements for services he could provide. Piotr had blanched and fled the room at one point in Wisdom's repartee, leaving Kitty with no choice but to chastise Wisdom for rubbing salt into wounds. She hadn't bought his somewhat-less-than-heartfelt apology. It had been witty repartee, damned it.

"Nope," Meggan replied as she looked up from a nature magazine. "If you're going for a coffee, please bring back some fruit?"

"Since when did I become a bloody grocer," he asked somewhat rhetorically. Meggan knew he'd do it. Pryde had used very small words (and other teaching aids) in her explanation of why living with others meant doing for others. "What're ye reading?" Being polite was another trait Kitty was trying to foster. And he liked the rewards he'd get for being polite. Were Pryde ever to come up from the tech lab.

"They have a lovely pictorial on tigers," Meggan answered brightly as she waved at the magazine. Despite the fact that Brian had gotten her the subscription precisely because there were more pictures than words, she probably could have gone through the accompanying article, if pressed. It was not like the old days, when she'd leave pictogram notes on the "while you were out" pad.

Wisdom grunted - he'd performed the minimum required social niceties and was free to go.

He had not yet returned when Kitty and Brian finally did come upstairs from the tech lab.

"Any luck?"

"That thing makes Widget look like something a three-year-old built with an Erector set," Kitty sighed as she sat down heavily at the table. "I wish I could get some info from Cable on some of the technology it uses..."

"I can try McCoy," Brian offered, leaning against the refrigerator. "They've had one of these toys for a while now."

"Hank's a brilliant geneticist," Kitty replied frowning, "but hardware is my thing. If I can't get anywhere, I doubt he'd have gotten any further."

"But he's bosom buddies with Cable's Mum and Pop," Brian replied with a crooked grin. "All we have to do is get him to get them to get their too-secretive son to cough up a few files."

"You're somewhat severely overestimating Nathan Christopher's sense of filial piety," Kurt Wagner retorted with a wry grin as he joined the group, sitting down at the table next to Kitty.

"Can't hurt," Brian maintained.

"Yes, yes it can," Kitty shook her head, remembering all too clearly. "I'm going off to see if Lockheed still remembers who I am and then I'm going to work out. I need to clear my head."

After Kitty left, Brian sat down in the chair she had been occupying. "The robot's bloody impossible to figure out," he confided. "I've been playing with transistors since I was a tyke and I've never seen a transmitter that looks like that one's."

"Wasn't there something in those files we got from Westchester about the transmitter?" Kurt asked. It had been a while since he had looked over that material.

"They transmit a radio signal that a telepath can, with training, recognize," Piotr Rasputin confirmed as he came in through the kitchen door dressed in running clothes. "Mirrin was able to show Jean, but Elisabeth..."

"I don't think she likes Cable's friend very much. It's a Braddock thing - Betsy can be hard to teach when she's being stubborn," her twin brother replied blithely, eyes catching with Meggan's. The faerie's expression was one of eloquent understatement.

"Anyway, if we could figure out a way to tap that radio connection," Brian continued. "We might have a heads-up. Presuming we could figure out how to convert that signal into something we could read..."

"Things would be so much easier if we had a resident telepath," Meggan mused, closing the magazine. "They've got four in Westchester now. 'Tis a bit gluttonous..."

"'Tis also a bit necessary," Nightcrawler replied. "Personality conflicts being what they are, Jean is probably the only one of the four who is on speaking terms with everyone."

"No family exists that is not occasionally plagued by conflict," Piotr replied mildly.

"Yes, but Xavier family conflict is made all the more fascinating by the potential for the use of deadly force at the dinner table," Brian cracked.

"Family that fights together stays together," Pete Wisdom's voice piped up from outside the kitchen door. The man appeared a moment later. "Right, Petey?"

***

Eight hours, Sam had said. Eight hours should have still been early morning, but late enough so that there should have been plenty of light coming through Logan's window when the alarm sounded. There was only darkness, however.

"Apologies for forcing you to be greeted by the rosy fingers of dawn," Beast's voice sounded over the intercom. "But our guests have arrived early in Lebanon. Up and at them, boys and girls."

"Those ain't the rosy fingers I wanna be wakin' up to," Gambit could be heard grumbling on the way to the bathroom.

"Beast's jus' quotin' Homer," Sam tried to point out, but the loud yawn took away from the impression of erudition, as did his tripping over the bottom of the doorjamb. "Magneto made us read him," he said as he cracked his jaw loudly.

"Yawn like dat... Thought you were a farm boy, up wit' de roosters," Gambit teased as he pushed through from behind him.

"Livin' here in civilization made me lazy," Sam yawned again for emphasis and shrugged.

"Unless you wanna buy the farm, get outta the way," Logan growled as he joined the two.

Ten minutes later, the team was assembled in the hangar. Mirrin was still in the armory, but came out presently stuffing a bag of something into the pouch lashed to her left thigh.

"Take this, Gambit," she ordered, tossing him an identical bag.

"C-4?" The Cajun looked surprised, but dropped the plastic explosive into the pocket of his trench coat.

"It is well-suited to your powers," she explained cursorily. The team had gotten used to Mirrin's utter lack of humor in battle situations and Remy wasn't put off by the brusque tone. "It'll do more damage than your cards."

The flight would be a long one, so the briefing took place once cruising altitude had been reached.

Sometime later, Cyclops walked back from the cockpit waving a notebook. "Mirrin, can you look at this please? It looks like Cable spent the return flight from Brazil scribbling notes, but I can't read them."

"Ah can read his handwritin', sir," Cannonball offered. It had taken much practice and Cable had not been amused when he had found Tabitha's Big Bad Boss Decoder Wheel, but Domino (actually, it had been Vanessa) had thought it funny enough to keep them from the extra training sessions assigned as punishment. The real Domino would've found it funny, too, though. Had Cable not incinerated it.

"It's not in English," Cyclops explained with a frown, turning the open page upside down. "At least I don't think it is."

Mirrin took the notebook and skimmed the first few lines. "If it eases your mind, Nathan's handwriting isn't very legible in Askani, either." She went back to her seat with the notebook, reading intently.

"Why'd he write everythin' down in a language none of us knew?" Rogue asked aloud.

"The notes are filled with references to battles in my own time," Mirrin explained without looking up. "Events I would need to interpret for you. My command of written English is fragmentary at best, so it is preferable that Nathan communicate with me in a language in which I am at least comfortably fluent."

"You can't read English?" Psylocke asked, surprised by her own curiosity. "But you speak it almost perfectly."

"All I have learned in this time is to speak a more... contemporary version of the Olde English the Askani spoke," Mirrin replied, putting her finger on the line of text she was reading and then looking up. "And as I spent very little time with them as it was, I had no need to learn something so unnecessary as its written form. In hindsight, I should have... acquired literacy from Gambit upon my arrival here-and-now, but we had other more pressing issues at the time."

"Yeah, like not freezin' t'death," Gambit muttered with a half-chuckle. He wasn't sure whether or not he actually found it funny.

"Just as well, we're not too sure the Cajun can read," Wolverine grunted, trying to keep the mood from turning taciturn. There was no point in holding a guilt-fest on the way to a battle. Remy seemed to pick up on the thought and Wolverine extended a claw in warning when Gambit charged a card in (mock?) protest.

"Save it for the bad guys, boys," Rogue interrupted.

"Mirrin, let me know when you're done reading," Cyclops said before he returned to the cockpit. Once he was back to the pilot's seat, he pulled up his mental shields and tried to remember recent history as Slym Dayspring had known it.

Mirrin's story was getting more confusing by the detail. He and Jean had already privately discussed the... strangeness of seeing Mirrin so much younger than Nathan when it should really have been only a few years. It was not a big leap to realize that she had come back in time from an earlier point in time than Nathan had - especially considering Nathan's odd reaction to seeing her - but there were other confusing aspects. Like how Mirrin could spend any time among the Askani... Rachel had brought him and Jean forward in time years before Mirrin had been born and even as Nathan had indicated that the Askani were not destroyed during that cataclysmic battle, Mirrin's unit was from nowhere near Ebonshire - were she born today, she'd probably be Turkish - and the Dayspring Unit had met up with her clan only after years of traveling away from the Askani base.

Jean had relayed Hank's concern that Mirrin might be working for something other than Nathan's best interest. But while there was nothing in the young woman's conduct that would lend substance to the accusation, Scott couldn't shake the nagging concern that he was overlooking something. A concern that Nathan's increasingly obvious attempts to avoid the mansion were not dismissing.

A noise from the body of the plane took Scott out of his musings, but it was only Betsy dropping the plastic cup she had been drinking out of.

The rest of the team alternately dozed, wandered around the plane, or watched Mirrin scribble notes in the margins of Cable's notebook. It was a long flight even in the Blackbird and the hours passed slowly.

Finally, after Cyclops had come back from the cockpit again, Mirrin spoke up.

"The unit found in Brazil is of a similar type to the one some of us encountered in Madripoor," Mirrin began, looked down over the notes she had taken on the top page. "And that for some reason, the soldiers seem to be more affected by plasma weaponry than they are in our own time. Dayspring suspects the differing contents of the air may be a factor, but that is not important here... Out of the individuals kidnapped before the massacres began, how many telepaths were among their number?"

"One," Gambit answered. "Car bomb in Geneva. Why?"

Mirrin nodded. "He says that the soldiers encountered in Brazil seem a little too intelligent for low-level dog soldiers."

"Too intelligent how?" Cyclops asked cautiously.

"Colorless shouldn't have reacted as they did against the battle tactic Dayspring used," Mirrin elaborated, tapping the notebook with her pencil. "They are cannon fodder. Well armed cannon fodder, but cannon fodder nonetheless. You have all seen them in action."

"And a few of us have the wounds to prove it," Psylocke retorted dryly. "If that's cannon fodder, I'd hate to see what the rest of the Kurioon color spectrum looks like."

"And may the Bright Lady assure that you never do," Mirrin spoke with such solemnity that Psylocke couldn't help but shiver. "Whoever was controlling the soldiers in Brazil should not have been able to try the counterattack used unless there was advance information."

"Did they telepathically picking up the battle plans?"

"That is one of the two possibilities," Mirrin agreed. "The plan could have been taken from any of the group once it was imparted, not necessarily from its originator. Nathan would have known if someone was picking his brain, but a headblind person might not have."

"And the other possibility?" Gambit really didn't want to know. He recognized Mirrin's expression, the one where she had two types of news: bad and worse.

"The other is that whoever is leading the Kurioon is familiar with the battle strategy of the Clan Chosen."

"Is that a reasonable possibility?" Cyclops asked.

"It is. I do not know who I was sent back to chase," Mirrin allowed. "Or even from when they have come. If it were a Canaanite soldier, some sort of tactical preparation would be inevitable as they are not a careless group. If it one of the minion of Apocalypse, then our odds improve as the Tomorrow Walker's pets tend to share in their master's abundant self-confidence without sharing in his awesome power."

"All bark, no bite," Wolverine muttered. "But even a barking dog doesn't starve."

"Huh?" Rogue raised an eyebrow.

"Stryfe, Tyler, and Sinsear, to name a few," Cannonball spoke up. "Just 'cause they're crazy doesn't mean they ain't dangerous."

"What does this mean for us now?" Cyclops asked.

"Nothing really," Mirrin replied with a shrug. "Keep your mental shields tight, perhaps, but it is too soon to try and draw any conclusions. Neither option is especially... appealing, so if we are able to pass the events in Brazil off as mere coincidence, so much the better."

A half hour or so later, the group was strapped in for the descent into Lebanon. The landing was uneventful and the group stepped out into the early evening breezes of the Al Biqa valley. The Blackbird was effectively hidden by trees and crops.

"Not what Ah expected at all," Rogue said as she looked around. "Somehow Ah thought we'd be landin' in the middle of 'Arabian Nights'."

"So beautiful now, but in two millennia it will be called the Saldiq and be dotted with charnel pits," Mirrin spoke under her breath, but loud enough for Wolverine to hear her sadness.

The group began the march towards the market town a couple of kilometers down the road.

"We're too late," Wolverine announced. "I can smell it."

"What do you sense?" Mirrin asked as the metal ribbons on her bracelets extended over her hands. The bracelets, it had been explained, were a variation on Nathan's psimitar, the ribbons were both for protection and improved aim. The effect, then, was that Mirrin was armed with a thought, the way Havok or Colossus might be.

"Blood, motor oil, the locals were fried to death," he described as he inhaled deeply. To his over-sensitive nose, the air was sweet with cooked flesh. Plasma weapons tended to braise, but this was more of a broil... "High temperature, whatever it was. More powerful than anything we're carryin'."

"Want me to fly ahead, Cyke?" Rogue asked.

"Take Cannonball with you and don't engage anyone," he replied.

The rest of the group was close enough to smell the first scents of the carnage when the pair returned.

"Not as many people as Slovenia," Cannonball reported with a shudder. "But just as gory. Rogue and Ah disobeyed orders, Sir. We shot the last of the Harvesters we saw."

"Nobody left, nothing to save," Rogue confirmed flatly.

The rest of the march to the town was done in silence save for a few muttered curses in various languages.

Once there, the rubble was still smoking as they passed through what had been the market square, bloody carcasses and unharmed wandering animals adding to the macabre feeling. The group stopped.

"Let's take a look around," Cyclops half-sighed, his disappointment clearly echoed in his words. "Pick up anything interesting and we'll see if it won't help us do better next time."

"Unacceptable," Mirrin muttered to herself. "Not acceptable at all."

"What are you going to do about it?" Psylocke asked, irritated. Even if she had been 'encouraged' to keep an open mind about the new arrival, the British telepath had just about had it with the Askani's attitude. It was like having Cable in stereo and one was bad enough.

"We are going to fix this," Mirrin spoke evenly.

"How?" Gambit raised an eyebrow.

"The same way we did in Quebec," she answered, looking around on the horizon. "I believe the expression here-and-now is 'to get a do-over'."

"We're gonna time-rip," Cannonball realized aloud.

"More or less."

Cyclops stood silent for a long moment as the others murmured about the idea of time travel. Finally he cleared his throat. "We have time to work out a plan, then. I want to get as many details of our little reenactment down before we go back. Cannonball and Rogue, go airborne and trace the Kurioon's paths of ingress and egress. If we can't cut them down at the pass, we can at least thin them out before they hit town. Psylocke and Wolverine, see if you can't figure out whether the civilians had a chance to hide, and if so, where. Gambit, come with Mirrin and me. Between the three of us we should be able to find some defendable ground positions."

There were no protests as the group, still a little numb from the scenery, moved into action.

Cannonball let Rogue take off first and then blasted off close behind. "Ah can't see anything 'round the trees," Rogue groused. "We'd've had an easier time of it in the desert."

"Let's look away from the trees," Cannonball suggested. "These robots can't climb mountains, so maybe they don't like trees any better. They had to stick to the roads in most of the places we've found 'em."

"Well, there's one road into town and one out, and Ah think Wolverine woulda known if we'd been walking in their tracks," Rogue called back. "Let's try the other option."

The pair flew towards the gravel road that led in the opposite direction from the one they had arrived.

"They probably came this way," Rogue called over as she crouched down upon landing. "The gravel's all even. No wheels, just a lot of feet."

Nearby, Cannonball nodded - Cumberland, Kentucky had enough dirt paths that he understood the significance of the gradient of the road. "Now we just gotta find out where they started from."

The pair took to the air once more, flying low to better pick up anything out of the ordinary.

Back in the town, Psylocke and Wolverine wandered among the rubble.

Most of the town had been involved in the ill-fated defense, judging by the locations of the corpses and the fact that nobody had been found in their beds, unlike in the Ukraine and other Kurioon ports of call. In the end, though, it hadn't mattered and Psylocke was disgusted by her own surging pessimism.

"Did you find something?" She called over to her partner, who was sifting through the remains of a partially collapsed building across the way from the one she was surveying.

Fertile valley or not, the sunset was bringing with it markedly cooler temperatures and Wolverine could feel more clearly the contrast between the air and the warmth of the bodies he stood over. Belatedly realizing that Psylocke had asked a question that required an answer, he grunted ambiguously.

Psylocke flipped over the remains of a door, the noise of the wood falling back onto stone echoed in the quiet. To a telepath, the silence was doubly eerie; there was normally no such thing as calm on the astral plane. Even in rural areas, there was telepathic noise to be felt buzzing in the background. And for Betsy Braddock, lover of big cities and their night life, the fact that the only minds brushing up against her mental shields were the familiar psyches belonging to her teammates was as much disconcerting as the blood-spattered bricks she was currently standing on. Probably more, she thought to herself.

"Stay there," Wolverine finally called back. "I'm almost finished."

"What's there that you don't think I should see?"

"This is where they tried to hide the kids," he answered back simply after he emerged from the rickety doorway a couple of yards away. He could hear the aggression in Psylocke's voice, but Betsy had apologized for getting 'snippy' enough times in Australia (and after) for him to recognize it as a sign of her inner disturbance and not any irritation with him.

Still vividly remembering the Ukrainian girl, Psylocke nodded and turned back to the wreckage she had merely taken a glance at while waiting for Wolverine to re-appear. Something glinted in the light of her flashlight as she scanned the periphery of the destroyed building. Moving closer, she saw it was a knife, a kitchen knife. Kicking away the rubble near the handle, Psylocke saw a bloodied hand. Pushing more of the rubble away, the hand led to an arm, to a body. It was an old woman, her body badly broken and showing scars from where the Harvesters had done their job. Psylocke took a deep breath and stepped back.

"I know I shouldn't feel anything," she spoke quietly, knowing Wolverine was close enough behind her that he would hear, "that if all goes according to plan, she'll never end up like this, nobody in this town will end up like this. If Mirrin can bring us back in time, they'll never even know what might have happened.

"But what about everyone else? Why does this town get a do-over when nobody else did? What about that village in the Ukraine... or Belize, or Madripoor, or Chile, or Slovenia... Why not them?"

"Because no matter what we do to fight it, Betts, life's a bitch," Wolverine answered from right behind her. "No matter how big the guns or how good the time traveler, life's a bitch and she wins in the end. I did her dirty work for a while, I know. So does Wings."

"So why try, then?"

"There's a lotta people that don't," he replied conversationally, shrugging even as he gestured for them to move down the street. She followed and they looked through collapsed buildings and piles of rubble. "Their loss. The trick is to realize that it doesn't matter who wins in the end. It's the fight that counts. For that, and for that only, Apocalypse is probably right, even if he goes 'bout it the wrong way."

"It really is a game, then," Psylocke laughed bitterly. "Arcade, the Beyonder, the Phoenix Entity, even Roma... we're pawns after all."

"Not pawns, players. Pawns don't fight back," he growled as the claws came out with a Snikt! "And I always fight back. So do you."

Betsy Braddock, codename Psylocke, survivor of body-swapping, brain-washing, the onset of her telepathy and the loss of her eyes, the discovery of her otherworldly origins and the decimation of her family, could do nothing but nod.

Meanwhile, at the other end of the village, Cyclops stood in front of one of the few undamaged buildings and called up. "Well?"

The wind had picked up as the sun had fallen and it now whistled through the rubble carrying the stench of death and carnage. Cyclops was doing his best to not to dwell on the way the he tended to focus on the sweet smell of cooked meat to distract him from the nauseating stink of blood, bile, and excrement. On some primitive level, he supposed it was a kind of coping mechanism. But it was still roasted human flesh, and the very thought that he was seeking that smell out - even if it was only to cover the too-strong odor of raw fecal matter - repulsed him.

"Depends what you want to use dis for," Gambit's voice was heard before he leaned out the second story window. "It's no good for offense; the Harvesters never got this far. Defense... peut-être. It's sturdy, but dere ain't enough windows for look-outs."

"We can hide the young and infirm here," Mirrin suggested from where she was standing, off to the side and facing what was probably the remains of the village school. "We don't want them in the way. The further away from the epicenter, the better off they shall be."

"Pity we don't know what the rest of the town looks like when it's not flat," Gambit frowned as he exited the building and dusted off his shoulders. "There may be a better hidey-hole somewhere else." Hide-and-seek. Used to play that with my brother, once upon a time. Except back then, loser had to sneak past Tante while she made dinner and make off with the cookie jar. This go-'round, loser has to end up fried like a side of pork at a Mardi Gras picnic.

"It's a chance we'll have to take," Cyclops agreed, frowning. "What are you looking at, Mirrin?"

"I don't think it's anything," the Askani replied, shaking her head and turning back towards the two men. "It looks like a charnel tally, but I can't imagine why one would be here."

"A tally? As in what Apocalypse..." Cyclops didn't need to finish the thought.

"That's why I don't think it is that," Mirrin finished.

"Nobody 'splain anything to me, dat's okay," Gambit said as he walked over to where Mirrin had crouched and ran a bare finger over the scratches on the wall.

"In Mirrin and Cable's future, when Apocalypse's troops had... cleaned out a village, they would put up a sign with the date and number of casualties, sort of an "Apocalypse Was Here" kinda thing," Cyclops frowned. "It was meant both for administrative purposes - there were Censuses of the Dead - and as a warning for anyone else. The time it took to kill everyone in the village was also recorded for posterity."

"Well, don't have to worry 'bout that here," Gambit said, dusting off his knees as he stood up. "This is just some kid keeping track of marbles." He held out his hand, three tiny glass balls resting in the palm. After a moment, he pocketed them. No such thing as too much artillery and glass charged nicely.

The three moved on until Mirrin stopped at a truck parked next to a wall. The pickup was dusty and dented, but otherwise intact.

"Can you make this run?" She turned to Gambit.

"Hotwired m'first before I was big enough to see over the steering wheel," Gambit replied. Hopping into the cab, he disappeared under the dash. It was a moment before the motor was running quietly.

"Leave it running and stand back," Mirrin told him.

"What are you doing?" Cyclops asked as Gambit joined him in walking across the street.

"Testing a theory," she responded as ran over to them. Turning, she raised her rifle toward the car. A shot rang out, puncturing the driver's side door. More importantly, the engine stilled for a long beat, then continued again with a wheeze, and then stopped.

"And the hypothesis was?" Gambit asked with raised eyebrow. It didn't matter that he had known Mirrin (the adult version, at least) longer than anyone other than Cable. Sometimes, he just couldn't imagine where she got some of her ideas.

"In rifle mode," Mirrin began, holding up the gun, "It fires an electromagnetic pulse ahead of the bullet. I doubt that it is strong enough to permanently disable a cyborg, but it ought to provide some benefit."

"How'd you figure that out?" Cyclops looked over his own rifle. There were no markings that indicated that the gun fired anything other than bullets or plasma charges and if Forge had said anything about an electromagnetic pulse, Hank certainly hadn't passed the information on.

"The chamber that houses the bullets is too big for the size of the clip we're using," she replied with a casual shrug. "From what I have seen, Forge's inventions are remarkable for their efficiency. It stood to reason that there was something else. I just wanted to know what it was before I used it."

"Oh." Cyclops shook his head as the three moved on. "I wonder why Forge didn't say anything..."



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