Future Pluperfect: Chapter 27
"So this is how the rest of the world lives," Bobby Drake mused aloud.
The two had settled down along the wall perpendicular to the one they had laid most of the team again. It gave them an unfortunately clear view of Cable's T-O virus running unchecked, but there was no other close place to sit. The sun was not quite overhead - Alex had figured it to be about two in the afternoon - and they had put themselves in the spot that would be the next to fall into shadow.
"Huh?" Alex didn't bother to turn his head. Instead, he picked at the wrist of his uniform. He really, really hated long sleeves.
"This whole heat sickness thing," Bobby continued, wiping his damp brow with the back of his forearm. "It's all new to me. Well, not completely new. It's just been a while since puberty and all. I know sweat glands change then and stuff, but still."
Alex looked at him like he had just proclaimed his undying love for Charo, but said nothing and then turned his head to face the others.
It looked like a demented slumber party, Alex mused to himself as he watched the unmoving tableau before him. Jean leaning on Scott, Domino and Mirrin on either side of Sam... "Poor kid. Shame he's not awake to see this."
Bobby leaned forward to look past Alex at the tableau and then chuckled. "A Kodak moment, definitely. Question is whether he'd die of embarrassment or die of bliss."
"First one, then the other," Alex replied. "He'd bust a blood vessel somewhere in between."
Silence fell between them and Alex had just closed his eyes - not to sleep, but to take a moment away from the scene before him - when Bobby started making noises of discomfort.
"I thought these things were supposed to keep us cool," Bobby groused.
"They're insulated," Alex answered, not opening his eyes.
"Well, that could mean keeping things cool as well as keeping things warm," Bobby protested. "Jean uses a thermos to keep her iced tea cold."
"It depends on what you put inside them, right?" Alex asked a little testily. "Hot things stay hot, cold things stay cold. Right now, you're overheated."
"You're looking kind of pinkish yourself there, bud," Bobby said slyly. "I didn't think Summerses sunburned."
"I'm not sunburning," Alex said a little crossly. "I'm just processing cosmic radiation a little differently than usual right now."
"You're sunburning," Bobby repeated sagely.
"You're getting very close to leaving me the last conscious person here." Caught between wanting to sit still and think and knowing that he should be doing something towards making good an escape, Alex knew it was only a matter of time before he snapped at Bobby.
"Well, now that someone's coming to, I'd hate to put them back under again," Bobby trailed off, pointing limply with one hand at Mirrin, who was beginning to stir.
Alex hopped up to check on her, ignoring Bobby's snort of amusement and not caring whether he just thought it was eagerness for someone else to talk to or not. Not that Alex had, in hindsight, been that subtle and while Bobby was good at playing stupid, he really wasn't. He wasn't playing at being annoying as hell, but that was a different matter.
"Hey," he said gently, reaching for Mirrin's shoulder as she overcompensated for sitting upright and started to tilt the other way. "Apart from the obvious, are you all right?"
Mirrin muttered something in a language Alex knew he wasn't supposed to understand. Having shifted forward from her carefully chosen shaded spot, she blinked a few times before realizing that the only way out of the direct sunlight was either to tilt into Alex's shadow or drape herself across Sam (she opted for the former).
"It's not the first time I've been on the wrong end of the psionic elastic band," she said with a note of bitterness.
Alex chuckled in spite of himself and her. "Maybe that's why you're the first one up."
Mirrin looked around. "That's not the only reason," she said sadly as she struggled to her feet, accepting Alex's hand to steady herself. "Although there's no real reason for Cyclops to still be out."
Feeling comfortable in his assumption that he'd given Alex the necessary moment to not only curtail his murderous impulses (Alex really was too easy to irritate) but also to attempt to charm Mirrin, Bobby came over to the pair. "We weren't sure what to do," he admitted.
Mirrin walked slowly over to where the unconscious Cyclops was leaning against the wall and crouched down next to him. She clapped her hands loudly next to his ear and nearly fell backwards as he stirred and his reflexes put him into a defensive position.
Bobby pursed his lips as Mirrin looked up at him with an arched eyebrow. "Well, I guess we coulda tried that," he admitted ruefully.
Alex snickered and Bobby frowned at him. "Well, what stopped you from doing it?"
"What's going on?" Cyclops asked, cutting off the banter. He pushed himself up off the wall and stood up slowly. Taking off his visor, he looked around at his fallen teammates. He crouched back down to wipe a drop of blood that was slowly sliding down the side of Jean's cheek. Watching his wife for a moment, he then turned and looked up at Mirrin.
"Who is Dawnsilk and how do we stop her?"
"Once upon a time she was Clan Chosen," Mirrin answered calmly. "And we stop her either by giving her Dayspring or killing her."
"Why does that always seem to be the answer?" Iceman asked with a disgusted snort as he stood back so that Cyclops could move past him. "Well, we've come this far. It'd be a shame to waste all that effort just to turn him over now."
"It's all going to be a moot point if we don't do something for him," Cyclops replied, carefully eying their surroundings before returning his attention to the trio standing. "What did she do to him?" he asked, gesturing with his chin at his son.
Cable's arm was now barely recognizable. It had split into threads, tentacles almost, a little claw-like in some places and knife-like in others. His shoulder was enlarged, swollen and misshapen with spikes emerging and receding in no regular pattern. His face was still mostly untouched, except for the eye that was glowing a sickly yellow-green, and it was pinched in pain even as he was nowhere close to regaining consciousness.
"Years ago, Tyler forced a neural link with Dawnsilk," Mirrin explained. "It was a trap, a means to hurt Nathan in the soul and not the body. Kill one or the other - execute his son or have him murder his clanmate. Nathan... found a third option. We thought the damage was restricted to 'Silk's speech and emotion centers, but now, if she's come to this... It doesn't matter. She is as Tyler was. Corrupted. We can't make the same mistake twice and be undone by wasted mercy."
"She formed a link with Cable and made you break it," Alex mused, mentally switching back into his 'Havok' mindset. "Did you do the same damage?"
"I don't know," Mirrin admitted, looking past Iceman to Cable. "I wasn't there when Tyler hurt 'Silk... I don't know how to explain things. I tried to do the opposite of what Dayspring said he did with Tyler. Without my telepathy, I can't tell how bad the damage is or if it's repairable."
"What about everyone else?" Iceman asked, starting and then stopping pacing. "Can we just shake them awake?"
"No," Mirrin replied, losing the vagueness in her expression. "Dawnsilk didn't just knock them out. She... unplugged them. They're comatose, not just unconscious. Easy enough to fix."
"Take heart in the little things, I guess," Iceman replied with a frown. "So now that there are four of us, do we want to work on a plan to get out?"
Cyclops seemed to be staring off into empty space as Iceman and Havok filled him and Mirrin in on everything that had gone on, including their little foray to the top of their pit prison, but he snapped back to attention as soon as Iceman finished talking.
"We'll try the same thing again," he said after a moment. "Havok, you've got the most surefire means of eliminating the guards - I've only got the one concussive beam and we don't know if freezing them will work. Deep fry the soldiers and Mirrin, you'll take his back and get everyone conscious again. We can take out the inhibitor field and put Cable back together and then we'll work on getting out of here. Doable?"
"Will Dawnsilk be waiting for us at the top?" Havok asked even as he nodded. "She blew out all our mental shields before. We don't know if she's still doing it."
"One way to find out," Mirrin replied with a shrug as she adjusted her boot. "Stupid woman. She knows I carry this," she muttered, pulling out and then replacing the hilt of a small knife.
"You weren't the responsible one on Clan Chosen field trips, were you?" Iceman asked as he moved over to the spot below where he thought the safest exit point might be.
"On a three-count," Cyclops told Iceman as he put his visor back on, taking one last look around at a fully colored world.
They knelt on one knee. Iceman had Mirrin and Cyclops leaned back as if to verify his calculations of the necessary angle before cupping his hands so Havok could rest his foot in them.
Whereas earlier Havok had only given Iceman enough of a lift to just peer over the edge without getting shot, this time the purpose was to get as far as could be gotten. Cyclops nodded to Iceman once.
Three seconds later, Mirrin and Havok were flying over the edge of the pit. They dropped immediately into a tuck and rolled alongside each other until they could feel their respective mutations reactivate and the first plasma bolts screamed over them.
Havok's hands were glowing before he even stood up and he took a heartbeat to find his targets before he let loose. There were only four soldiers instead of six standing over the pit and aiming their weapons straight at him.
"Mirrin, where are the others?" he called out to the woman standing behind him as he followed the trajectories of the weapons being fired at him back to their sources with his plasma blasts. The bolts being fired at him had no chance to connect as they were demolished by the greater waves he was producing and the soldiers themselves were simply seared in half.
"Found them," she replied as a pair of plasma bolts hit the shield she was generating from her wrist weapons.
Havok turned and fired again, taking out the other two - both guarding the path they had taken here, he noticed. Mirrin ducked and spun away from in front of him, taking aim and firing at one of the spikes in the ground that powered the inhibitor field.
"The other one is over there," she said as Havok jogged over to her. Mirrin brought the heel of her boot down hard on the smoking remains of the tiny generator.
Havok was halfway around the pit before he realized that Mirrin hadn't pointed, but instead had just flashed the mental image in his head. Out of the corner of his eye, he could see movement down in the pit as the others were slowly coming to.
Mirrin walked over to him after he had finished melting the generator. "Whatever Dawnsilk used to disable our mental shields, she's not doing it now."
"Can you teleport us out of here? Is that bubble still in place?"
Mirrin furrowed her brow for a moment and then shook her head. "No. The bubble is still there."
Havok was about to ask another question when he heard Phoenix gasp.
They both moved to the lip of the pit. Havok kept his back to the others as he looked around for any approaching soldiers.
"What happened to him?" Phoenix asked in horrified wonder as she cupped Cable's chin in her hand. She had already beaten back the T-O virus to the point that Cable had a recognizable arm again, even if his brow was still creased in pain.
Havok spared a look down at Mirrin as she narrowed her eyes, presumably looking at the psionic damage, then frowned.
"Flonq," she muttered. She looked up at Havok. "Dawnsilk's psionic imprint is all over him. The damage is fixable, bad but fixable. But the neural link isn't broken."
"How do we - you - break it?"
"Kill her and hope he survives," Mirrin replied flatly.
"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.
At least two-dozen Kurioon soldiers were drawing up into formation not a hundred meters away from where they were standing. With the sunrise already over and the light coming from fully behind the soldiers, it was a blinding, daunting sight.
"If I told you that they weren't there before," Archangel began as the X-Men spread out away from the hole, "Would you believe me?"
"It's either that or we need to fit you for glasses," Shadowcat replied.
"Well, Storm," Psylocke said with surprising calm, "Whenever you've got a plan, do let us know."
"Why aren't they firing at us?" Nightcrawler asked curiously.
"Because they have yet to fill out their ranks," Colossus replied. The tallest of the group, he could most easily see the rows of Kurioon soldiers growing.
"Methinks we've destroyed the wrong part of the facility," the Beast said.
"Well, just 'cause they're standin' there looking stupid," Rogue began, rising into the air a few feet. "Don't mean we have to. Let's do somethin'!"
"What, chère?" Gambit asked. "They ain't gonna go down like bowlin' pins."
"Nightcrawler," Storm called over her shoulder as a strong wind began to pick up. "Can you teleport away those who cannot fly? I fear that we are in no position to engage the enemy as we are."
He didn't even need to look around. "Nein. There are too many of us." The plane was already nearly at the maximum distance he could teleport himself, let alone the other six ground-bound team members.
Storm's wind blew from behind the X-Men and while they could feel the sand hitting their backs, the greatest force focused on the soldiers. The Kurioon troops were lined up in neat rows, guns across their chests, as sand swirled around their legs.
"How much time do you think buryin' them is going to get us?" Wolverine asked as he watched the sand fly like snow in a blizzard.
"Hopefully enough," Storm shouted back over the howling winds as she rose into the sky. Rain clouds were collecting over the soldiers and the sand that was now up to their waists was turning into muddy grit. "Start running!"
The group turned to flee, but barely got over the first large dune when a hailstorm of plasma bolts from behind them drove all of them except Rogue and Archangel face-first into the sand. The other two rose into the air, turning to face their attackers and Rogue took off in the direction the Kurioon were coming from before anyone could call her back.
"The original ones are still stuck," Archangel called down, "But the new ones are closing fast!"
"New ones?" Shadowcat asked in disgust as she stood back up. She was still phased and any blasts would pass right through her.
"It makes sense," Colossus said as he rolled onto his side and let Psylocke up. She had been on the far end of their group as they ran and he had tackled her as the plasma bolts had started to rain down. Mindful of his weight, he had made sure she was not directly beneath him as they fell. "Where have all of the soldiers they have been making been hiding? We haven't killed them all."
"They buried them in a bunker in the desert," Psylocke spat as she rose quickly to her feet. "There are a bevy of bad mummy jokes that go with that."
"Let's go people," Wolverine growled. "Or else they're going to have to dig us up like mummies."
They began to run once more, this time mindful of the chase.
Nightcrawler mixed running, leaping, and teleporting as he made his way over the sand. There weren't many times when he regretted going barefoot, but this was starting to be one of them. The sand wasn't that warm yet, but it was beginning to chafe the pads a little.
But the discomfort in his toes was secondary, Nightcrawler muttered to himself as he teleported over a large dune, compared to the distinct lack of weapons at his disposal. They were all carrying the modified plasma rifles that had first been used in Brazil the other week, but Forge had warned them that they would soon be ineffective against the improving Kurioon stock and, even if they weren't, ten X-Men weren't going to bunker down and try to shoot at an approaching battalion of super-soldiers.
Apart from the rifles, however, there was not much else on hand to be used than their own mutations.
While it was true that there had been very little tonnage packed aboard the mini-jet because they were already carrying more people than there were seats, the truth of the matter was that there wasn't much they could have packed. In addition to observing the tenets of non-violence put forth by Charles Xavier, Excalibur, as befitted the official super-hero team of a nation that did not arm its police, was not well stocked in terms of firepower. They had brought some of the explosive Moira had in storage, but that was all gone now.
Storm drew up another wind to attempt to slow the soldiers down, but could see that it wasn't doing much and stopped rather than continue to alter the atmosphere. As she had learned during her youth as a 'goddess', Storm knew that deserts were deceptively complicated environments. Too much abuse would have great effects and while they were currently a great distance from even the smallest village (and here Storm sent up a prayer that the Kurioon had left it, wherever it was, in peace), any great effects would almost certainly include taking away what little rains would fall and replacing them with more scorching breezes.
"Would raining on them help?" Archangel called over to her from nearby, shaking Storm out of her reverie.
"It would just make the sand easier to run on," she replied. "And they appear to be especially well-suited to the environment as it is."
"Cable and Mirrin spoke of acid rain and poisonous waters," Psylocke said into her headset. "It stands to reason that deserts are a more common occurrence."
"A pyrokinetic would be real useful just about now," Shadowcat grumbled as she ran near Psylocke. "Let's see them run on glass."
"Is it just me, or are those near-misses becoming progressively less near-miss and much closer to near-hits?" The Beast asked to nobody in particular as he slid down a dune and narrowly avoided landing on a suddenly appearing Nightcrawler. "With all of the sand in my fur, I feel like a stuffed toy left in a sandbox and not a dashing, debonair mutant-about-town."
"They're pourin' out of the ground like the Pied Piper was leading 'em out," Rogue called out as she flew up to the group. "Gotta be a hundred at least, probably more. And they're closin' fast."
"It's still another two klicks to the plane," Wolverine told Storm over his headset. "And I don't like our odds of gettin' the mini-jet off the ground untouched."
"Rogue," Gambit called over to her. "Go to the plane and grab the fuel tanks."
"What?" Rogue asked, swooping down low so that she didn't have to shout. "And how're we gonna get outta here? Only three of us fly and Ah can't carry everyone."
"If we don't do something," Gambit replied evenly, "You're not gonna have to carry anyone."
"I see where he's goin'," Wolverine said with a gruff nod. "Go, Rogue. We'll figure out what to do later."
Rogue flew off shaking her head.
"You are going to make Shadowcat's pyrokinetic?" Colossus called over to Wolverine, his voice beginning to show the strain of his carrying a half-ton of organic steel through a sprint in the rapidly warming desert. "Why do I get the feeling that we are going to have to walk home?"
The group didn't stop running until Rogue returned carrying the two huge tanks.
"Ah suppose we're usin' this as lighter fluid," she said from her hover.
At Wolverine's nod, she handed one of the tanks to Colossus and ripped open a large hole in the other one she was carrying. A few minutes later, she returned empty handed and retrieved the second tank.
"Archangel," Gambit called out, gesturing to the winged man once Storm announced that Rogue was on her way back and the soldiers were drawing closer. "Gonna need a lift," he said, producing a card. "Can't just drop a match on 'em from here."
Archangel obliged and scooped Gambit up underneath his arms.
"Damn," Gambit hissed as they flew towards the encroaching army. "Closer than I thought." He fiddled with his headset. "Stormy, get everyone down. This backyard barbecue's gonna be a little too close to the house."
"Should we start from the rear, then?" Archangel asked in his ear.
"Need to stop the ones closest to the team," Gambit replied, resisting the urge to shake his head.
Archangel flew them towards the front of the fast-moving unit, changing his grip on his passenger to a more secure one. Under any other circumstance, it would be an uncomfortable intimacy for the two men, one the accuser and the other the accused. Warren fully realized that this was entirely his own fault and wondered what sort of misfiring synapse in his brain caused him to come to self-revelatory conclusions at the worst possible moment.
Gambit pulled out a card and charged it. "Hold on to me," he murmured. If he had any idea of what was going on in the other man's mind, he gave no indication. "Paul Prud'homme is the only one who t'inks cookin' Cajun means burnin' to a crisp."
He flicked the card downward and gripped the arm that came around his torso as Archangel took off straight up into the sky.
The noise wasn't as bad as Gambit thought it would be. Louder than when he had to restart the pilot light on the stove back at the mansion, but not as loud as the exploding plastique he had tossed earlier.
The hot wind came a second later and he noticed how Archangel spread his wings to ride the current, directing their flight rather than fighting it. It was graceful, far more so than any flight he had ever been on with Rogue. Perhaps it had to do with when and how they learned to fly, he mused.
The wind died down as quickly as it had come and Archangel swooped them down through the smoke.
"Well," Gambit said, trying not to cough on the thick, acrid smoke. "See anything? Take a moment now, don' want you makin' any mistakes like last time."
"It takes a confident man to poke fun at the only person standing between himself and a long fall into a twisted heap of char and metal," the Beast's voice came through their headset. "But do speak up, Warren. Was your Kurioon flambé a roasting success?"
A gentle breeze, obviously from Storm, cleared the air a little bit and the scene below became clear. The immolation had been successful and what had been an onrushing army was now a smoking, sprawl of twisted metal and dark blotches that were probably new-made glass.
"That would be a... yes," Archangel replied, sounding quite surprised.
"Bien," Gambit half-coughed. "Let's go back to the others, then. I like you, Archangel, but not dis much."