Future Pluperfect: Chapter 26


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

This time, there was no whistling.

Dawnsilk walked behind Havok and Iceman, plasma weapon aimed at their backs as they marched with their hands on their heads. Behind her, the six Kurioon soldiers each carried a fallen X-Man.

The walk was not very long and not very far, which was just as well as the one time Bobby had to remove his hands from his head to keep his balance after stumbling, he had nearly gotten shot for the effort. Back through the woods and into the rocky area where they had first teleported - where they had first realized that it was a trap.

Bobby looked around furtively, trying to see if there was anything around that could have, in hindsight, tipped them off about what would follow.

Of course, that implied that Bobby himself could figure out what had happened. Or what was happening.

Dawnsilk was obviously someone from Cable's and Mirrin's past, Bobby felt safe in assuming this as he began his mental checklist of the facts. She seemed to know who Scott was - at least that's what had to be the likely explanation behind the 'grandson' comment - and that would mean she probably knew who Jean was, although that wasn't really an issue right now.

What else did he know, Bobby mused as he felt the business end of a plasma rifle poke into his back and direct him off towards a part of the island they had not previously traversed. He knew that Dawnsilk really didn't like Mirrin. Cable she seemed to be more interested in doing away with for personal survival reasons - the single most popular reason for doing away with any Summers - although Bobby was sure there was something grudge-related there as well. He really wished he had been around to pay more attention to the whole Tyler mess.

They marched on, towards a small grouping of trees that was deceptively thick in terms of leaf coverage. On the other side sat a large pit that looked like an empty swimming pool.

"Get in," Dawnsilk said and jabbed Bobby in the back. He looked over his shoulder and was rewarded with another poke. "Now."

Watching Alex out of the corner of his eyes, Bobby crouched to lower himself in. He was rewarded by nearly losing his balance as one of the soldiers marched up behind him and dumped Jean in over him, the way Hank used to do at the pool behind the mansion back when they were all kids and the Professor had given them some time off. Except this time the pool was empty and, factoring in the height of the Kurioon soldier, Jean had at least a fifteen-foot drop.

Instinctively, Bobby tried to build a snow mattress to cushion her fall. But nothing happened and Jean came to ground with a dull thud, her limp body rebounding slightly and gaining an eerie momentary animation before coming to rest in an awkward heap.

"Inhibitor field," Dawnsilk explained cheerfully as Bobby landed awkwardly next to Jean at the bottom of the pit. He had to bunny-hop to avoid falling over onto her and ended up instead on his rear. Alex, who was on his feet a short distance away, seemed content to leave Jean to Bobby and was trying to catch the others as they were tossed into the pit.

Making Alex's task more difficult was the fact that the soldiers were not depositing their cargo in sequence. With Bobby left to drag the bodies away from where they had fallen, Alex managed to break Cyclops's fall and caught Mirrin. But gravity's effect on Cable's bulk was best avoided and, when faced with trying to stand under either Cannonball or Domino, Alex had to choose practicality over chivalry as Sam was being dangled head-first and had no blast-field to protect him from a neck injury.

"I'll be back," Dawnsilk said as she stood at the lip of the pit. "I'd say don't try to escape, but you will anyway and I'd rather not have to start the... punishments... for failing to listen to instructions so early on. The soldiers will be waiting for you at the conclusion of your climb up."

With that, she disappeared.

Bobby looked at Alex, who was trying to re-arrange the unconscious against the wall that was already falling into shadow as the sun progressed across the sky.

"This wasn't part of the plan, I'm guessing."

Alex didn't stop what he was doing. "No, I'm pretty sure it wasn't."

"What really concerns me," Bobby replied, coming over to where Alex had stationed Domino and Sam against the wall, "Is that they didn't leave us a chamber pot. The only thing more embarrassing about having to pee in public is having to do it against a dirt wall. It leaves a mark."

Somewhere between his shtick as official team jester and the unavoidable fact that he was one of the most experienced X-Men whether he liked it or not, Bobby was aware of the fact that his cheerful abrogation of any leadership responsibilities only went as far as was convenient. Everyone knew that Bobby was only playing clueless, but they went along with it because to do otherwise was to admit that every joke had a purpose. At his most maudlin, Bobby occasionally wondered when his entire personality had been subjugated to the team's need for a pressure valve and his own personal need for a coping mechanism.

"We can always dig a hole," Alex, another king of the inappropriately timed observation, replied. Instead of reminding Bobby that they had other things to worry about, like surviving, he simply handed him the utility belt that had caught on his hand when he had tried to slow Cannonball's descent.

Bobby looked at the belt and shook it slightly. Things in the various pockets rattled around, but none escaped the snapped covers. He'd let Sam open it when he woke up. Whenever that would be. Getting your brain turned off by a telepath wasn't like getting knocked out with a well-aimed crack to the head. If your switch was turned off, it had to be turned on again, Bobby imagined.

"I'm gonna need your help moving Cable," Alex said as he stood up out of his crouch.

Bobby nodded and dropped the belt in Sam's lap. "I'm all for leaving him where he is," he said as they approached. Cable's sheer mass had indented the ground under where his hip had landed.

"Yeah, well, I'm his uncle and all," Alex replied, pushing Cable's shoulder so that the man lay on his back. Suddenly, he jumped back with a yelp.

"What?" Bobby asked from where he was uncrossing Cable's ankles.

"The inhibitor field is blocking his ability to hold back the virus," Alex explained with a mildly disgusted frown. "I wasn't prepared for the rolling, bubbling metal skin."

"That's going to be a problem, isn't it?" Bobby asked rhetorically as he walked over to stand by Cable's shoulder on the opposite side from Alex, all sense of whimsy-in-chaos gone. The creep of the techno-organic virus was slow, but the already-affected areas were quite actively reverting to what was probably their natural form. "Especially since even if we can wake Jean up, her telekinesis isn't going to be working, either."

"Well, let's get him out of the sun at any rate," Alex said by way of agreement. "I don't know if heat makes it worse, but it certainly isn't making it better."

With great effort, they dragged Cable back to the wall to rest near the others. They kept him a little apart, not sure of how much of a risk to the others the T-O might become while it remained unchecked.

Slightly drained from the effort, the two men slumped against the wall.

"We should try to take a look at what's going on at the surface," Alex said after a moment.

"Without getting our heads blown off in the process," Bobby replied.

"Dawnsilk almost invited us to do so," Alex said, standing up and seemingly looking for a spot that might have some handholds. "She's not worried that we'll actually escape."

Bobby stood up next to him. "I don't get her. I'm tempted to say she's not taking us seriously, but let's face it, we're the ones stuck in the pit."

"Mirrin seemed a little... not confused, but a little surprised," Alex confirmed. "The Dawnsilk she knew wasn't this arrogant, I think."

"Well, maybe that will be her undoing," Bobby suggested hopefully. "It won't be the first time. That's gotta be on the top ten of the Evil Overlord checklist. Right after not having buttons marked 'Danger, do not press' and explaining to your captive arch-enemy why you need to do your dastardly plan... which come to think of it, I'm willing to bet that she did to Mirrin and Cable. This seemingly hopeless situation might get a lot less so once one of them wakes up."

"Maybe," Alex agreed as he tried to climb up the wall. "But if we don't get one of them up soon, we're going to have a completely different set of problems - starting with my rapidly morphing nephew."

The Kurioon soldiers who had dug the pit had obviously known what they were doing - or were at least being controlled by someone who was. The walls sloped slightly inward, like a flask, using gravity to make scaling the wall was almost impossible. Alex got about two feet off the ground before the angle of inclination combined with the sandy quality of the soil forced him to drop back down. "I think we're going to have to boost one of us up to the top."

"So, how are we deciding who is giving who a lift up?" Bobby asked with a nod. "Rock-paper-scissors? Odds-and-evens?"

 "I'll boost you," Alex replied. "You're smaller and I'm stronger."

"Definitely a man who knows his way around a compliment," Bobby snorted as he followed Alex to the side of the pit where they had been dumped in. He put his foot on the step made by Alex's clasped hands.

"And to think that I lost Lorna to you," he added as Alex boosted him up.

Bobby could hear Alex muttering something obscene in reply, but his attention was now on holding on to the edge of the pit and kicking himself footholds in the dirt wall of their prison.

Bobby felt like a kid sneaking over to the dessert table at Thanksgiving as he slowly inched his head above the level of the ground. He was able to keep a relatively low profile and thanked genetics for a granting him a low forehead and the salt-water sea for flattening his hair against his scalp.

Dawnsilk was right; the six Kurioon soldiers were standing evenly spaced around the perimeter of the pit, about three meters back from the edge. Bobby looked around for the borders of the inhibitor field; they had to be closer than the soldiers were else Dawnsilk would be unable to control her own troops. Bobby thought he saw what might be a spike in the ground and was trying to find a matching one when a plasma bolt whizzed close enough over his head to hear the buzz as it passed.

"Get down if they're shooting at you," Alex called from below.

"No kidding," Bobby replied and dropped down to the ground.

"Well?" Alex asked once Bobby had come to his feet again.

"I got good news and bad news."

***

"What's the problem, mon ami?" Gambit asked Colossus as he built up the energy charge in his hands and transferred it to the wall of the cloning-tank house. "You look a little blue for an homme on the winning side."

They heard the telltale click of the primary power generator's fuse blowing. At that moment, Wolverine stuck his claws into the smooth metal skin of the structure and tore; suddenly withdrawing a heartbeat before a second click - the sound of the backup generator kicking in - was audible. Gambit and Wolverine repeated the process twice more until Wolverine got far enough to peel a section of the skin away and reveal the part of the unit's guts that Shadowcat had suspected to be the secondary generator.

"I don't know whether it is suspicion that things are going too easily," Colossus answered with a sigh as he waited for Wolverine to slice through wires and switches. Until that point, all he could do was hold the flashlight. "Or disappointment at my own cynicism."

Damage done, Wolverine sheathed his claws with a 'Snikt' and stepped back so that Colossus could lift the newly-unattached generator out of its housing. Removal was important, they had realized, after the Beast had nearly been fried dismantling a thought-to-be-disengaged unit. The makers of the structure had created several redundant connectors. Almost anything could go wrong and the power would still be accessible... so long as the unit was where it was supposed to be.

"Nothin' wrong with being cautious," Wolverine replied with a shrug after Colossus had put down the generator.

"Da, but," Colossus trailed off sadly.

"Don't you be gettin' thoughts 'bout leaving again," Gambit warned, waggling his index finger at the larger man. "Your last time-out cost us a fortune in repairs."

Wolverine was about to add a rude comment about the mating habits of certain Acolytes when he the scent in the air changed and he knew before he followed Colossus's line of sight that the man was thinking about what he had lost that could never be repaired. Shadowcat was a few yards away, standing with Rogue and Psylocke next to the just-disemboweled energy center of another cyborg production station.

"Sun'll be comin' up soon," Wolverine muttered, looking around. Experience told him that distracting Piotr was the only way to go - telling him not to brood was generally a pointless activity. "Better make sure we're close to finished by then."

"If we gotta march back to the plane under a desert sun," Gambit began as he walked up to the other men and tapped his folded sunglasses for effect, "Gon' be an unhappy ride home." He made a noise indicating a foul smell, then cackled cheerfully.

"Smelled worse. Been worse," Wolverine said as the three began walking across the compound to the last undamaged station (Storm, Nightcrawler, and Beast having made up the third demolition team) in order to repeat the process.

"Six o'clock and all is well," Archangel's voice came over the team's headsets. With no real purpose to serve on the ground as one of the teams dismantling the compound ("Not superhumanly strong, not in possession of energy-based powers, and you're not hapless enough with mechanics to be useful. It's a good think you're cute else we might've left you at home," Psylocke had said), he was flying high, slow circles and using his superior eyesight to watch for any visitors. "I'm going to the plane to pick up the charges."

"I do not think my unease will abate until we have taken leave of this place," Storm said as she held the flashlights over the removed generator so that the Beast could examine his nemesis, as he had taken to referring to it since he had nearly been electrocuted on the first attempt.

"It's a trifle peculiar," the Beast agreed as he stood up. There was nothing to be gained in the near-darkness. They planned to take one of the generators home to play with and there was no point in wasting time at the moment. "But perhaps, as has been speculated, we are simple beneficiaries of a multitude of times and places and a decided lack of importance."

"It is but shallow comfort," Nightcrawler mused as he looked around and saw that the first phase of their plan was almost complete. "That we are being given such an advantage at the cost of our friends' well-being. It would be worse, probably, if we were just sitting around, but even making our hay, as the expression goes, as our friends must struggle in a time and place inaccessible to us..."

"With a little luck, they'll all be sittin' at home drinkin' Wolverine's beer when we show up," Rogue said as she approached, Psylocke and Shadowcat in her wake. "Y'all ready for Part Two?"

If mutant powers were the key to getting past the initial security measures - the group had stopped sounding so skeptical of Shadowcat's suggestion once her solutions had proven immediately successful - then it was reasoned that the greatest damage could also be done with another staple in the X-Men's repertoire, blowing things up.

"Archangel will be here in two minutes," Psylocke announced after a telepathic query.

Thirty minutes later, the charges were placed and the group was trudging through the dunes to a point they hoped would be out of shrapnel range. There hadn't been much room in the mini-jet for substantial weapon supplies to be brought along, but with the rough nature of the mission already known, Excalibur could provide a reasonably well-tailored manifest. Expecting building demolition, a modest amount of highly concentrated explosive had been brought along as well as remote detonators.

"Here's hopin' that those double-wides are less indestructible on the inside than the outside," Rogue said as she waited for Shadowcat to set off the detonators.

Storm and Gambit had directed the setting of the charges. As thieves, they had the best sense for interior architecture (the best way, therefore to maximize damage) and their mutant powers gave them a chemist's knowledge of flammability and explosiveness that helped, the group hoped, rig all of the opened cyborg production stations into prospective infernos.

Now, as the sun was beginning to make its way over the horizon, it was time to put theory into practice.

Storm waited until the explosion-generated sandstorm was almost upon them before summoning a breeze that would keep them untouched. When the greatest of the fires seemed to have died down, the group headed back to see the damage they had wrought.

The smoke burned eyes, nose, and lungs as they drew closer and finally Storm summoned a shower to clear it away, opting to accept the end of the burning process in return for being able to work in comfort.

"Well," Psylocke chuckled as she looked around at the nearly razed compound. "It's good to know that the X-Men haven't lost their touch. You can still always tell where we've been."

"Let's take a last look 'round and then get outta here," Wolverine grunted. "It's a long ride home and we still don't have any food."

"I'm sure we can pick up a shish-kebab on the way back," Shadowcat replied with a grin as she followed Rogue and Nightcrawler over to one of the steaming shells of what had once been the sand-colored buildings.

Without even as much as a grunt of effort, Rogue pushed over the husk and it fell with a screech of bending metal.

"Vas ist?" Nightcrawler asked in clear surprise, pointing down at something only the three of them could see.

The others came running. Soon all ten were looking down at the smooth metal plate lying in the sand. It was easily one meter by two in diameter and there looked to be faint line running diagonally across it.

"Perhaps it's a basement," Colossus suggested. "For storage."

"One way to find out," Shadowcat said with a shrug as she turned herself intangible and knelt in the sand at its edge. First she stuck her arm through, waving it around before withdrawing it. The same click of returning power from before sounded as she did so. She then ducked her head in, but came up quickly. "It's too dark. I think I see stairs, but..."

"Move over," Wolverine said as he extended his claws.

Everyone took a few steps back and, walking in a crouch around the perimeter, he cut through the door with ease. It fell into the darkness, hit something, and then slid down what were now seen to be stairs.

"Shall we?" Psylocke asked.

"I think we better take care of somethin' else first," Gambit said slowly from the rear. "Hey, Archangel, how'd you miss this on your fly-by?"

The group turned almost as one.

"Oh, shit," Shadowcat whispered.

***


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