Future Pluperfect: Chapter 20


Textual Poaching Alert: Marvel owns everyone but Mirrin, although Social Services would have stripped custody long ago...

"Ororo! What a surprise." Kitty Pryde's image smiled on the vidscreen as she spoke. "I'm glad it's you."

"Is there a problem, Kitten?" Ororo let the subtle jibe at her being on monitor duty pass without comment. Routinely getting out of sitting in the small room covered with video equipment and surveillance technology was really her only temptation to abuse her role as team leader. It was unremitting boredom, especially for those who did not grow up tied by a tether to the nearest television set.

With some of the newer members, Ororo could periodically play upon her well-known case of claustrophobia - mentioning such in a tiny whisper to one of the newbies would invariably get an offer of taking over a shift or two, at least until Jean or one of the others ratted her out - but here, now, in a time of crisis and in a position of leadership over a team not her own...

"Problem?" Kitty considered. "Not really. It's just... there are some things that I don't understand about the robot that we got from the Kurioon. I was hoping that you could solve a few riddles for me."

Storm laughed. "Are you sure that you want me to help you out with anything to do with technology?"

"Something else, actually," Kitty elaborated. "What do you remember about the history of the Danger Room?"

An elegant white eyebrow arched. "The Danger Room? You know as much as I do, I expect. It was first designed with the abilities of the original team members in mind, but after the Sh'iar technology, it was much more adaptable. Why?"

"Are you sure that the Danger Room is all Sh'iar?" Kitty asked.

"The parts of it that are not of this world, yes, so far as I know," Ororo replied, tilting her head curiously. "Why?"

"There are just a few weird similarities between some of the robot parts and some of the circuitry in the Danger Room," Kitty explained. "If I knew for certain that it wasn't a coincidence, then maybe we could use that information to make some more effective weapons. We've broken the controls in the Danger Room enough times to build upon past experience there."

"Have you spoken to Forge? He certainly did enough tooling around in here while he was based with us," Storm replied. Ororo didn't want to think about that too much.

"He wasn't sure either," Kitty admitted with a frown. "All the hardware looked equally foreign to him, even if he could figure out how to make it all work. He said that at the time he wouldn't have known Sh'iar from Skrull from anything else that wasn't made by Radio Shack." Kitty sighed. "But he does agree that knowing that the Kurioon 'bots are of the same construction as at least part of the Danger Room would be a lot of help."

"However, the only people who can answer that question are not available right now," Ororo completed the thought aloud. She refused to consider the notion that their lack of availability would be anything but temporary. "I shall ask those who are in residence at present, but I am not sure whether they will be able to confirm anything."

The conversation continued for a few minutes more before it ended and Ororo was left feeling slightly melancholy as the video screen faded to black.

Ororo did not consider herself maternal, not in the same way Jean tended to be even before her trip to the future to raise the infant Nathan. The part of Ororo that missed Yukio the most found it wildly hysterical that she had no special affinity for teenagers even after her own chance to relive the adolescent experience. Ororo had taken no special shine to the New Mutants while both teams had been in residence together and had not made much of a fuss over Jubilee after the girl stole away with them to Australia.

It was this... lack... that made her feelings for Kitty all the more special. And a small part of Ororo, the part that had nothing to do with Yukio and everything to do with Forge, wondered if that wasn't the case because Kitty had gotten close before Ororo's shell hardened and made getting close impossible. Before the X-Men became her life instead of her life's work.

It was Ororo's own awareness of this lack that made the current mission all the more fraught - it was all about children, both of the flesh and of the spirit. Jean and Scott were off trying to save their son and they were aided in turn by the grown version of a child they had known well (Jean had privately confessed to Ororo that her initial affection for the child-Mirrin had come in part out of guilt for how she had treated her recently deceased almost-daughter Rachel.)

And then there was Samuel, simultaneously so young and so old and trying so hard not to feel the pain of losing two people whom he seemed to consider a set of surrogate parents. Scott had talked to Ororo about him months ago after a relatively extended visit by Cable had brought out a side of Samuel that the X-Men rarely saw. The rest of the team had noticed as well - what were they doing wrong that Samuel was so much more at ease with Cable, a man the rest of them went to great length to avoid, than with their own self-professed happy family?

This happy family has shown to be less than so, Ororo mused as she scanned the news bulletins. The tumult with Remy had yet to settle down completely; the Kurioon only postponed that time of healing. Mirrin, although a temporary guest, was in the same precarious position - treated as an equal until any slight breeze exposed every misgiving real or imagined. It was beyond Ororo's fathoming to have anything other than total trust in one's teammates. Their very lives were on the line.

A crash from the hallway interrupted any further attempts at analysis. Turning in her seat, Ororo looked out the open door - her one concession to her claustrophobia - and saw a non-plussed Rogue standing with a pile of packages of paper in one arm and scattered packages of same at her feet. One of the packages had broken open and papers were floating gently down the hallway on the air-conditioned breeze.

"It's a good thing Ah got semi-invulnerable toes," Rogue said as she looked at the mess on the floor. "Those things are heavy. Ya think ya can spare a little breeze to help me catch those wanderers, 'Ro?"

"Of course," she answered. With a wave of her fingers, a small eddy of air brought the papers back towards Rogue.

"Thanks," the other woman said as she crouched down to pick up the sheets.

"You are welcome. While you are here, Rogue, I have a question for you," Storm began. "What do you know of the technology used in the Danger Room?"

"The Danger Room? It's Xavier and Forge and Kitty doing whatever they did with the Sh'iar technology, right?"

"That is what I thought as well," Storm concurred. "But Kitty seems to think that there might be a connection between the Danger Room circuitry and the Kurioon robots."

"Ah dunno," Rogue replied after a pause to consider. She stood up. "Ah don't remember ever hearin' about it being anything else. Of course, Ah don't remember payin' too much attention to all those discussions, either. Maybe Hank knows."

"I would like to ask everyone, but," she waved her arm in the general direction of the bank of monitors.

"No way!" Rogue cried with a gleeful cackle. "Ah am not fallin' for that. Ah'll go and find people. You can just stay there and suffer."

"It would have been a shame not to try," Ororo replied, taking her defeat with grace.

Finding Hank McCoy was easy, all Rogue had to do was barge into the lab. But Hank couldn't remember anything of use from his time with the X-Men and admitted that much could have happened while he was a member of the Avengers.

The other original member of the X-Men, Warren Worthington, was similarly stumped. He had spent more time away from the mansion than in it over the past several years and had an admittedly limited understanding of things technological under any circumstances.

Psylocke and Wolverine were using the Danger Room when Rogue went to look for them, so she just left a note on the door. She wasn't expecting much from them, though.

Finally, while it would have been easier to not ask him and say she did, Rogue went in search of Remy.

In the weeks since his return, Rogue had eventually been forced to consider her own actions in Antarctica. All in all, she was okay with what she had done inside the citadel. It was what happened after she had dropped Remy in the snow and told her teammates that he had died that was still hard to come to terms with.

Being an X-Man may mean never having to say you're sorry, but it does mean following through on your promises. Right before I kissed him, I promised him unconditional love. And even if I didn't promise to *like* him unconditionally...

Upstairs in her bedroom, locked away in a jewelry box, was a cassette tape. Five days after they had fled Antarctica, Rogue had returned by herself. To this day, she wasn't sure if she had gone back to save Remy if he was still alive or just to make sure that in fact he wasn't. She had found no trace of the man either way, but instead had found the tape recorder - probably originally intended to record the 'trial' - next to a broken-apart piece of machinery. There had been blood on the machine parts and chewed wires. A half-remembered rant of Marrow's on eating plastic to survive had let Rogue draw her own conclusions about why Remy had pried open the machine casing.

Rogue had grabbed the tape recorder and fled, intending to use the tape - she knew without listening to it that it was a recording Remy had made - as a private torture, to be taken out and used to remind herself of what she had done. Rogue knew that she had not only broken a promise, but in doing so she had treated the man she supposedly loved even worse than an enemy. Carol Danvers had gotten better handling.

The tape remained unlistened to. When Rogue had gotten back to Westchester, Remy was alive and in relatively good shape. Disturbingly good shape for someone who had been left shirtless and bleeding to freeze to death. And all of Rogue's plans to drown herself in remorse for what she had done had evaporated in a flash of anger that Remy not only proved her a liar, but also didn't have the good grace to die so that Rogue could properly wallow in her guilt.

Much of that anger (at Remy or at herself, Rogue wasn't sure) had since been expended on Joseph - whose histrionics concerning Rogue's 'abandonment' of him were making her even more uncomfortable about what she herself must have sounded like at points - but Rogue had yet to decide on a course of action for dealing with Remy.

But courses of action could hold, for now. Personal issues could wait until this Kurioon crisis had passed. Remy would hold. Because right now Rogue needed to find Gambit.

She found him (but in jeans and a t-shirt, Gambit looked a lot more like Remy) dozing underneath an issue of an architectural design magazine in the east study. The magazine covered his face, but his hair glinted in the afternoon sunlight and he was stretched out such that Rogue couldn't help but think of a cat.

"That's a face to wake up to, neh?" Remy asked no one in particular as he blinked away the sleep from his eyes. Then he seemed to realize that Rogue may not want compliments from him and looked abashed for all of half a heartbeat.

"Got a question for ya, sleepyhead," Rogue began cheerfully, determined not to be rattled. "Two, actually."

"Shoot. Not literally," Remy said as he sat up, stretched out his legs and curled his toes. He knew Rogue was thawing on him a little, but he didn't want to push it.

Rogue ignored the smooth motions of Remy stretching and proceeded to explain the situation regarding the Danger Room and Kitty Pryde's suspicions with her eyes focused somewhere over his left shoulder. "Got any ideas?" she asked when she had finished.

"Saw Cable look real comfortable the one time I was in the Control Room with him, mais... wait a second. The building's security system. It's the same stuff, ouais? Mirrin passed right through the sensors like they weren't on. Cable's broken in a few times too, je pense...," Gambit thought aloud.

"The security's coded to both of them, though, isn't it?" Rogue asked. She knew that look on Remy's face. It was the look he got when he was visualizing a plan in his head.

"Now, yeah, but she visited a few times 'fore then. Asked her 'bout it once, she said she'd tell me later. Never was a later," he said as he stood up. "C'mon. Let's go see 'bout that security breach."

Before Remy could leave the room, Rogue cleared her throat. "Mah second question," she began, waving the magazine. "Since when you interested in architecture?"

"It's got pretty pictures." Remy smiled charmingly. "Been reading it since I was a pup."

"It's also got the details on their construction," Rogue corrected as she flipped through the magazine. "And how safe they are against break-ins."

"Told you, been readin' it since I was a pup," Remy repeated, this time accompanied by a shrug. Architecture magazines were the textbooks of the Thieves' Guild.

Rogue pursed her lips in disgust, but said nothing as she followed him out. Part of her was disappointed in Remy for wanting to keep up with the latest 'trade news' and the rest of her was busy pointing out that she really didn't have the right to an opinion anymore. As usual, Rogue ignored all of the voices in her head and ran to catch up.

***

"How much time do you want to leave us?" Cyclops asked as the team assembled outside the Blackbird. Night had fallen and the stars shone brightly in the sky. Any other time, for any other reason, Cyclops might have spared a moment to appreciate the view.

The plane had been brought in for a landing on an island just south of the Torres Islands, nobody wanting to risk triggering any alarms. Just because the plane could get through the shield set up by the Kurioon didn't mean that it should do so.

"We can only narrow down the estimate for their arrival time to after nine the previous evening and an hour before their time of death," Mirrin replied as she checked the contents of her pack. "Considering that we don't know where they went on the island once they arrived, I'd like to keep it as close to their arrival as possible."

"Can you just pop us back to nine o'clock?" Havok asked as he watched Iceman kneel down by a tide pool illuminated by a moonbeam. "It can't be that easy. Although you did spend a goodly time memorizing that star map." Way back in his dim memories of archeology classes, Alex vaguely remembered that the Babylonians could tell time at night by the stars' position. Or was it Egyptians who could do that?

"I'm more worried about what will happen once we get there-and-then," Mirrin answered. "We know that they landed undisturbed, but how long they remained so is a mystery. I'd rather not have to fight more than we have to considering that we are basically unarmed." There were a few plasma rifles and the guns they had been carrying since Lebanon, but Mirrin didn't think either would do much good. The plastic explosives they carried would not be sufficient to take down a Kurioon nest on their own.

"Cable's not going to be too cheerful about us telling him to turn the boat around and go back home," Iceman pointed out as he stood up, confident in his complete inability to recognize what sort of fish was swimming about in the puddle. "We could lie in wait for him, then tie him down long enough for you to teleport him back home... But Cyke's looking at me like I've grown three heads, so I'm assuming that we're at least going to poke around once we get him and Domino safe, right?"

"It depends on what he knows," Cyclops said. "If he's just here on a hunch, then yeah, we tie them up and take them home. If it's something we can handle, then..."

"We're assuming a certain individual is going to be a lot more forthcoming about his plans than he normally is, aren't we," Iceman observed to no one in particular.

"If Jean can't crack through his shields, I can," Mirrin pointed out nonchalantly.

"You can't just drill into someone's head like that," Iceman retorted somewhat indignantly, not sure whether Mirrin was joking or not and suspecting the latter. "Well, maybe you can. But you shouldn't. Bad manners and all."

"Dyin' for no good reason is worse manners. 'Sides, it's not like Cable hasn't done the same," Cannonball muttered loud enough to be heard, drawing a surprised look from Havok and Iceman. Just when he was about to look abashed, he could have sworn Mirrin winked at him.

"Why don't we save the ethics discussion for when the situation stops becoming theoretical, hmm?" Jean asked as she descended the stairs from the plane and activated the security lockdown measures. "We have a long road to travel before then."

Despite Cyclops' concern that Mirrin would tire herself out before she had to bring them back in time, the Askani insisted that she could teleport the group to Cable and Domino's hidden boat. Cyclops acquiesced after not too much discussion and, were he honest with himself, he was a little relieved that he wouldn't have to pass by the site of his son's death. It was bad enough reliving Jean's memories, but the shudder of revulsion that had gone through Sam when he and Mirrin had given their report on their surveillance mission...

A moment after linking hands, they were there. Jean and Mirrin verified that they were alone for the time being, so the group headed into the nearby trees to get a feel for the area. Mirrin and Cannonball pointed out some of the features that they had noticed during daylight.
 
An hour later, satisfied that the lay of the land was no longer unfamiliar, the group trudged back out to where the boat was hidden. Linking up once more, Mirrin made the air shimmer.

"We're here? Well, we're here, but are we when?" Iceman asked after he got his bearings. Maybe you had to be used to teleporting, he mused. Out of all the X-Men, he figured he was one of the least exposed to it. Cannonball, on the other hand, seemed like an old pro. Cyclops and Jean were cool as ever and even Havok was doing a pretty good impression of not being seasick.

"The boat's gone. We're early, at least," Cannonball observed. "Hopefully only a few hours so."

"The tide's going out," Havok pointed to the water that shone barely in the moonlight. "We can probably hide behind those rocks where the boat was until they come. It'll keep us out of sight from the trees and we know that any guards didn't come out onto the beach."

"Is there enough space for six?" Cyclops asked Jean, who was closest to the rocks.

"I can arrange that," she announced after a closer inspection. The sound of wet sand hitting more wet sand followed and after a moment, Jean re-emerged. "One dugout ready for habitation."

"Before we bunker down," Cyclops said, "Havok, you and Cannonball set up remote motion and heat sensors to give us some advance notice should the Kurioon send any soldiers our way. We can leave the receiver here; it won't be visible in the dark," he finished as he dug the legs of the remote sensor's base into the sand.

"Heat sensors," Iceman mused. "We're going to stick out like a sore thumb here - the fish may not be as quiet down here, but they're still cold. The rocks won't shield us completely. Anybody have any objections to hunkering down in an igloo?"

"Good idea, actually," Cyclops agreed. "Make sure you fix the top so..."

"Cyke. This is me here," Iceman pointed out with no small amount of exasperation. "I've been building igloos since my voice started to crack. I learned to compensate for heat years ago; how else could Hank and I barbeque inside..."

The comment got him a withering look from Cyclops, but no further construction suggestions.

The almost-cave wasn't going to be roomy - the rock formation just wasn't wide enough - but it was acceptably between cozy and cramped and that would do for the time being.

Once the group settled in, Cannonball and Mirrin had eased the crush by sitting outside the lip of the frosted dugout, but Iceman changed spots with Mirrin an hour into their vigil after Cannonball noticed that her teeth were chattering and she was now half-squashed between Havok and Jean and gingerly trying to avoid contact with the icy walls.

One of the least glamorous parts of stakeouts was the waiting, Iceman mused as he made himself comfortable in the spot Mirrin had vacated and checked to make sure that the ice was still of the proper depth. It was the part that the cop shows always skipped past - hours passed during a single commercial break or else the cops got unreasonably lucky and just stumbled across their perp.

It was no less boring for superheroes. Normally, even he could appreciate the companionable silences that went along with waiting for something somewhere. But in this case Bobby was quite sure that any long silence would be an open invitation for someone to start brooding. Most likely Scott, and they needed him at his most sharp.

Mirrin, probably inadvertently, had provided the necessary distraction for the first hour. Maybe not inadvertently, Bobby corrected himself, since she had been trained as a soldier and probably understood the delicacies of morale better than most even just by virtue of being a telepath. Regardless of her motivations, Mirrin passed the hour by pretending that she wasn't freezing cold from sitting next to an igloo and instead getting Sam to point out the various constellations (that were invisible in her own time's polluted night sky) to her. Sam wasn't much for stargazing and needed the others to help him out. Scott and Alex had proven fairly adept at both identifying constellations and describing where they would be in the Southern Hemisphere's sky.

But Bobby knew he couldn't be that subtle. Or maybe just not that kind of subtle. His kind of distraction was the more pedestrian kind, all the more effective because it was all the less obvious for it being out in the open. And good old Alex had just left him an opening he could drive a Chevy through.

"Oh my god, look, Cannonball," Bobby stage-whispered, poking his younger teammate - who had seemingly been hypnotized by the play of the moon on the gently waved water - and gestured behind them. "It's a Summers love nest."

"Ah dunno Iceman," was the cautioning reply. Sam really wasn't sure he wanted to be Bobby's sidekick if Bobby was going to be picking on Scott and Jean just about now. "Ah learned never to poke fun at people who are naturally armed while your back is to them." He didn't turn around, instead taking another deep breath of the ocean air. Between the water and the moon and the air that smelled of salt and sand (and nothing like dead bodies), it was almost enough to calm him down, if not enough to make him forget why he was here.

"You learned that from Cable. Who is, for your information, a Summers," Iceman pointed out helpfully. He could feel Sam slipping into the sort of mood that invited deep reflection, which in the X-Men's case meant angst. "That makes it tainted information."
 
Giving in to both Bobby and the temptation that he had been studiously trying to ignore in favor of the tide, Sam snuck a look over his shoulder. He was rewarded by seeing Alex with his arms cautiously around Mirrin, who had her knees drawn up to her chest and was trying not to lean her head too heavily into the crook of Alex's neck as he generated gentle plasma waves to warm her up. Alex looked concerned, Sam decided, but whether it was for Mirrin's comfort or for his own life should Mirrin get the wrong idea about his actions, Sam wasn't sure. It was an oddly affectionate tableau; Mirrin and Alex provided a sort of mirror image to Jean and Scott, who had somehow managed to make not-quite-cuddling look completely platonic.

"Ah dunno," Sam repeated as he turned back to Bobby. "Seein' as right now, all three Summers men have got a lady to attend to and the two of us are sittin' out here with each other."

A murmur of protest came from behind them and Sam wasn't sure who had made it.

"You've got the better of the deal," Bobby replied. "Think about it - ruthless warrior from the future, formerly evil cosmic avatar - hi, Jean - and probably homicidal mercenary. I'd go with me any day."

"And how often do you do just that?" Jean asked dryly from the comfort of Scott's loose embrace.

"Play nice," Havok chided without rancor.

"Hey, I spent formative years as the only girl on campus. That's akin to being raised by wolves," Jean said, ignoring the murmur of protest from her husband.

Alex shook his head sadly. "And I used to wonder what I was missing." Looking down at the young woman in his arms, he tried not to shift and he desperately hoped that his mental shields were holding. Of course, if Ororo's gentle teasing over the past few weeks was any indication, then it really didn't matter if he was keeping his thoughts about Mirrin to himself. "You okay down there?"

Mirrin nodded into his shoulder. "I don't know why I'm so affected by the cold. I've been through worse in my own time. This one, too."

"You're tired and you're stressed and we haven't eaten in hours and there's no adrenaline high to distract you," he reasoned, arms reflexively tightening when Mirrin shuddered. Embarrassed, he loosened them immediately and wished he could risk turning up his plasma heat any more than it was. But that would defeat the purpose of the igloo, not to mention possibly hurting Mirrin. "When we get home, you should finally swallow your pride and get into the Sh'iar fabricator for a new uniform. They're insulated."

"Probably," she agreed reluctantly.

From the entry to the igloo, Bobby watched as the four occupants fell into a contemplative silence. It wasn't a brooding silence, so he let it be. Instead, he turned forward again and watched some birds float in the water. He didn't feel the need to check his watch, so he had no idea how long he had been watching the birds sleep when something caught the corner of his eye.

"Cannonball, you see something on the horizon?" he asked as he pointed.

Squinting, Cannonball finally shook his head. "Ah can't tell. We have binoculars, right?"

"Here they are," Cyclops said as he disentangled himself from Jean to fish them out of his pack.

"Well," Iceman finally sighed after a couple of minutes fiddling with the infrared sensor on the binoculars. "That still doesn't answer my question about how he keeps his solid metal hide from sinking such a rickety little boat, but it's them. You can pick up the glow of his eye with this thing."

The occupants of the igloo all sat up. The time for peace and rest had passed.

"That's good, 'cuz the remote heat sensor's pickin' up something behind us," Cannonball reported as he squinted to see which of the display's lights were starting to dance. "Ah don't think it's an animal."

"I guess this answers the question about how long Cable and Domino were on the loose before they were captured," Cyclops ground out as he tried to shift into a kneeling position in the suddenly way-too-small dugout. "Iceman, how far out are they and what's their ETA?"

"A kilometer, I'd guess," Iceman reported. "Maybe a little more. The wake from the boat is gone. It looks like Cable's cut engines and he's moving them in telekinetically."

#I can't reach him,# Jean said to Cyclops over their telepathic link as she worked with Mirrin to set up a group-wide connection. Silence had just become golden. #He's got Domino and himself hidden in a psionic shield. I'm bouncing off.#

Cannonball pulled a small mirror out of his utility belt and angled it. "Ah'm counting at least a dozen somethings right by the treeline," he announced out loud before feeling the pin-prick that was Phoenix attaching a telepathic tether. There could be more, but I can't see that well. They're in from the edge of the trees a few feet, but they're not doing anything else to hide themselves.

*We can't bring them in unawares,* Havok said to Cyclops as he waited for Mirrin to move away enough for him to move into a crouch. *Either Mirrin or Cannonball are going to have to go out to them and warn them. We could agree to meet up in a new place, but I have no idea what's defensible around here.*

Mirrin opened up her pack and attached the plasma pistol she had taken from Nathan's hideout to the holster on her thigh. Splaying her fingers, she watched as the metal bands from her bracelets stretched to cover the backs of her hands and then wiggled her fingers. Looking up, she saw that Havok was watching her hands in rapt fascination.

*One of the other islands,* Cyclops replied after considering the other options. *We have to fall back until we're all on the same page. We also should figure out whether that Kurioon squad is out there because of us, because of Cable and Domino, or just out on a normal patrol.*

#A dozen is too many to be a normal patrol,# Mirrin said. #They're here either because they've picked us up or because they've got Dayspring on visual. He knows how to avoid tripping their alarms along the border.#

Jean moved to join Cannonball and Iceman outside the igloo. There was very little space hidden by the rocks that was not taken up by the igloo and she motioned for the other three to stay inside until they were ready to move.

*Do you have any reference points on any of the other islands?* Cyclops asked Mirrin. *You can 'port us there and Cannonball can fly out to Cable and lead them to us.*

But Mirrin shook her head in response. #I've not been to any of the other islands.#

*I have,* Cannonball spoke up. *Take one from me,* he told Mirrin, not wanting to think about how many times today he had gone back and forth between hating this woman and trusting her enough to raid his memories. He felt the gentle touch that he now knew was Mirrin parting his shields.

#I have one,# Mirrin said after a moment. #The south coast of the nearest island. Stay in contact with me and I'll lead you to us.#

*You're going to be a target from the moment you take off,* Cyclops warned Cannonball. *We don't know what they've got so we don't know if your blast field will protect you. If there's a problem, you tell Mirrin and she'll grab you three. No heroics and don't let Cable convince you otherwise. I don't care if he knows what we're up against. Understood?*

*Yes, sir,* he confirmed as he pulled his goggles out of his utility belt.

*Havok, you and Jean set up a decoy so that Cannonball's got a chance of getting out of range of their weaponry,* Cyclops continued. *We've got a few grenades; Jean, you float them out in the opposite direction of where Cannonball's headed and Havok, you'll light them up. Okay?*

#Okay,# Jean answered for the both of them. She crept forward a few inches to see how far out she could hold the grenades while still allowing Alex a clear shot at them.

*Iceman, put up a wall so that we have some freedom of movement out there. Mirrin, make sure you don't lose Cannonball and stay with me. Let's go, people.*

The ice wall was easily two meters tall and incorporated enough sand to be assured that both infrared and heat sensors would be affected. Jean floated the grenades out to three separate points, each further away from the group than the last, and gave a command simultaneously to both Havok and Cannonball. As the first grenade exploded, Cannonball took off in the opposite direction and was out to sea before the second and third clusters exploded.

As soon as the last grenade went off, the five remaining X-Men gathered around Mirrin and the group disappeared.

***

Domino went over their weapons more to keep herself busy than anything else. Nate was using his telekinesis to steer the boat and he was using his telepathy to shield them from the Kurioon and it was simple survival skills on Domino's part to keep herself from distracting him.

The weapons check didn't take long. They had their main plasma guns, a backup for each of them, and some spare cartridges. Other than that, it was all plastics and a couple of signal disruptors. Nate was sure that nothing else they had access to would be of any use. While it was one thing for the X-Men not to be in a position to adequately arm themselves, it was another thing entirely if Nate couldn't find anything of use in his own stash of weapons. It wasn't a comforting feeling.

They had been gone from New York for two days, all of which had been spent in traveling most of the way around the globe. Domino wasn't sure where Nate had gotten the information that had led him to this tropical paradise-cum-holocaust birthplace, but she knew where he hadn't. When Domino had asked if they were going to contact Mirrin before they left, Nate had curtly replied that she didn't need to know everything that they were doing.

Twenty years of experience in dealing with Nathan had convinced Domino that there was nothing positive to be gained by pointing out to him that he couldn't very well demand that people not keep secrets from him when he persisted in doing the exact same thing.

She kept repeating that to herself whenever her inner voice - the annoying one posing as her long-dead conscience, the one that had kept her with X-Force for longer than she would have liked - pointed out that perhaps she was just enjoying it a little too much that Nate still trusted her more than he trusted Mirrin. The voice also told her that perhaps Nate just trusted her to believe his rather loose interpretations of the truth more than Mirrin would.

"Let me have the night-viewers?" Domino asked Cable, preferring a sudden dunking into the water rather than listening to her inner voice any further. "I want to see where you're driving us."

It took Domino a few minutes to fiddle with the binoculars. She knew better than to put them to her eyes right away; the difference in correction for each of Nathan's eyes on account of his T-O meant that impatience in re-adjusting the viewers would do nothing but assure a headache.

Reasonably sure that the binoculars were now safe, Domino raised them to her own eyes and looked for the coast. Her vision was caught by something in motion, something moving too slowly to be a night-flying bird. She trained the binoculars on the object and switched to heat-sensors. Nothing. Nothing living, at any rate. But whatever it was, it was moving too slowly and too smoothly to be jet-powered. It was almost as if it were being moved telekinetically...

"Cut your engines, Nate," Domino ordered abruptly. "We've got a problem."

"The boat stilled in the water. "What is it?"

"There's something over there moving like it shouldn't. Not a bird and not a plane and it doesn't register on the heat-scan," she explained.

"I can drop our shield to take a look," Cable considered. "But if it's not..."

Whatever Cable was going to say was drowned out by the not-that-distant noise of an explosion. Then another. And just when Cable and Domino exchanged shocked expressions, a third.

"The party's starting without us. Which is odd, considering that you promised that it was going to be a party of two," Domino said with some sarcasm as she double-checked that she had re-sealed all of the waterproof seals on their weapons cache. Just in case Nate's foolproof information turned out to be a little less than foolproof. Just in case they had to swim.

There was another explosion and at the shore, Cable could see the distinctive flash of plasma weapons being discharged in darkness. "The Kurioon soldiers are shooting at something. At whatever those explosions were... They stopped shooting. Domino, give me the binoculars." He held out his hand blindly, but when Domino didn't hand them over, he turned. She still had them up to her eyes and was watching something in the opposite direction of the explosions. "Dom?"

"What the fuck?" she asked, utter bewilderment coloring her voice.

"What is it?"

"Cannonball."

"A cannonball?" Cable asked in confusion. What would the Kurioon be doing with a cannon on an otherwise uninhabited island?

"Not a cannonball, Nate. Sam. Our Cannonball."

***


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