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Chapter 1
Chapter 2
Chapter 3
Chapter 4
Chapter 5
Chapter 6
Chapter 7
Chapter 8
Chapter 9
Chapter 10
Chapter 11
Chapter 12
Chapter 13
Chapter 14
Chapter 15
Chapter 16
Chapter 17
Chapter 18
Chapter 19
Chapter 20

Faith and Dreams - REVIEW THIS STORY

Written by Valerie Jones
Last updated: 04/26/2007 02:10:47 AM

Chapter 11

Charles folded his hands carefully atop his hoverchair as the X-Men gathered around him stilled. They were all there this afternoon, waiting like himself for an even that could, quite possibly, change their lives forever. Even Gambit had insisted on joining them, though Hank had allowed it only after extracting a most solemn promise that Remy would not move from his chair without assistance.

Dana Scully was with them as well. She was seated next to Jean, and Charles was once again amazed by how easily she seemed to be integrating into their group. The X-Men were so tightly knit that the addition of any new person always seemed to cause a period of readjustment for the entire team. And Dana was not the kind of person Charles expected to be accepted so easily. Perhaps it was prejudicial to think that, because she was human and a government agent, she could not become an X-Man. But the ideals-and the idealism-that fueled the X-Men seemed to reside in her heart as well, no matter how hard she tried to hide it.

Charles focused on the T.V. It was starting. The image was of a standard briefing room, brightly lit by the camera lights. Val Cooper stood behind the podium with the members of X-Factor arrayed behind her. Charles was cautiously pleased. The CNN commentator was going through some background information on the mutant group and some of their well-known actions, his presentation surprisingly unbiased.

But perhaps his bosses just arenít sure which way to jump yet. Once they knew what X-Factor had to say, their treatment of the group might degrade. Respect from the media was a rare thing for mutants.

Charles had been disappointed when the United Nations had refused X-Factorís request to speak to the combined representatives. That would have been a far better forum for this than a simple press conference. However, since the news that theyíd made the request had leaked out the day before, there was a higher-than-normal interest from the media, which worked to their benefit.

Val Cooper raised a hand and the reporters quieted by degrees.

"Iím sure youíre all eager to get started," she said as the flash bulbs began to go off. "So I wonít waste any time."

"As you are no doubt aware, I-on behalf of the leaders of X-Factor-petitioned the United Nations for a hearing before their representatives. That petition has been refused, but the matter we wished to discuss with them is of such vital importance that we will make our appeal this way."

Charles nodded in unconscious encouragement. Val had them already. Her calm demeanor and grave voice had the attention of everyone in the room riveted to her.

"Can we dim the lights?" she asked someone off camera. The bright lights that illuminated her winked out as she picked up a remote from the podium and pressed a button. The screen behind and to one side of her was immediately lit with a still image from the Shiíar transmitter. A three-dimensional line drawing of the Earth was surrounded by a cloud of symbols that Charles had recently become very familiar with. They had debated removing the military satellites from the image, but then decided that their presence would lend credibility to their claims once the picture was analyzed.

Val glanced back at the screen then returned her attention to her audience. "This information is approximately twenty-four hours old. As you can see, we have company." She picked up a red light pen and aimed the pinpoint beam at the screen. "These yellow and green symbols are satellites currently in orbit." She moved the pointer across several of the icons. "These scattered groups are primarily GPS and NAVSTAR, along with classified military satellites." A murmur of surprise ran through the assembled reporters, which Val blithely ignored as she indicated a larger blue icon. "The Mir space station. And over there," she tapped a second blue icon, "Earth OP 1."

"What are the red ones?" asked a voice from the crowd.

A smile flickered across Valís face at the opportune question. "That," she answered, "is why weíre here."

The murmur in the room intensified as the flash bulbs went off in brilliant staccato. Val waited quietly, her hands folded on the podium, until the reporters grew silent.

"The red icons," she said into the stillness, "are ships currently parked in orbit around Earth."

"What kind of ships?"

"Where did they come from?"

"Are they dangerous?"

"Who do they belong to?"

Val waited for the babble of excited questions to die away before answering. "We donít know for certain."

Charles glanced over at Dana, curious to see her response. The argument over whether to give out details of the Racthízai had raged for several hours after the decision to announce had been made. Surprisingly, the F.B.I agent had come down solidly behind Valerie on that score, maintaining that giving out that kind of detailed information at this stage would do more harm than good.

Dana was nodding unconsciously, her lips slightly pursed as she concentrated on the press conference.

"Excuse me, Ms. Cooper," the familiar voice of one of Charlesí least favorite reporters brought his attention back to the TV. "Are you trying to tell us that there are aliens up there?"

Valís lips thinned slightly. "Itís possible," she told him. "We donít know for certain just what is up there."

"Aw címon. Little green men?" Charles wondered if he was intentionally trying to antagonize her, or if he was just irritating by nature. "Isnít it more likely that this is some kind of new military anti-mutant weapon, and you and your friends are just trying to blow smoke while you try to take them out?"

To her credit, Val didnít react, though behind her Lornaís eyes narrowed to angry slits. The gathered reporters muttered speculatively as Val considered her reply.

"The mutant community is offering cooperation, Mr. Talon." She spoke slowly, as if she were uncertain of his ability to grasp the concept. Then she turned her attention to the room at large.

"These visitors, whoever they are and whatever their intentions, are a matter best addressed by the governments of Earth. The members of X-Factor have already volunteered their abilities in support of whatever course of action is chosen by the authorities, and we have sent requests to both the Avengers and Excalibur asking for their cooperation as well."

"That seems a little premature, doesnít it?" asked a woman in the front row. "Or is there more that youíre not telling us?"

Charles frowned. That was a dangerous question, but Val didnít seem perturbed. "I donít know anything more than what Iíve shown you. I wish I did. Then, we might have some idea whether our visitors are friendly or not."

That sparked a new round of babble, and a whole host of repetitive questions that were tossed at Val. Charles tuned it out after a moment. Val had said everything theyíd agreed she would, and didnít seem to be having any trouble pleading ignorance on the rest of it. All that remained to be seen was how the governments would respond.

The X-Men stirred and began to move around as Val made a few final comments and stepped away from the podium.

"So much for the easy part," Scott commented, his thoughts obviously running parallel to Charlesí.

"Indeed." Charles kept part of his mind on Scott, but his gaze tracked Dana as she walked over to check on Remy. The slight doctor settled into a comfortable crouch next to his chair, then reached up to lay her hand against his cheek. Apparently satisfied, she nodded and began asking him a set of generic how-do-you-feel questions that Remy answered with unusual tolerance.

Charles hadnít mentioned his concerns to anyone yet, but he was increasingly distraught by the young manís amiability. On the surface, everything seemed to be going well. He was healing rapidly, to the point that Hank had begun counting down the remaining days that he believed he would be able to keep him in the infirmary. But, though his outward behavior was the same as always, the expression in his eyes had grown very hard. It was an understandable reaction to torture, but Charles was left wondering what was now festering in the guarded places in his mind. And how bad the explosion was likely to be when he finally let it out.

Scott followed his gaze and frowned lightly. Heís not coping as well as heíd like us to believe, is he?

No, not really.

Scott picked up his drink, the carefully casual motion betraying his unease more clearly than any expression. Jean hasnít said much, but I think sheís eating herself up with guilt.

Charles suppressed a sigh. That was another area of concern. What did she tell you?

Only that they didnít have to let themselves be captured. Remy wanted to fight their way out and Jean talked him out of it.

Charles glanced briefly at Scott. He didnít want to make their silent conversation too obvious, but he needed to see the other manís face. What do you think?

Scott met his gaze, his determination clear even through the opaque red glasses. Under most circumstances, it would have been the right call.

And Jean had no way of knowing that this would be an exception.

I know that. Jean knows that. He shrugged minusculely. It just doesnít change how she feels.

"What is that?" The sharp question jerked Charlesí attention away from the psionic conversation. Dana was still crouched beside Remyís chair, but now she was staring at the television.

"It is a Sentinel," Ororo supplied from behind her.

Dana continued to stare at the screen, where file footage of the Sentinels program was being run as a backdrop to an ongoing conversation between commentators. "Itís as big as a building." There was a faint note of protest in her voice.

"But not quite as smart." Grinning, Bobby dropped back into his seat on the couch, a plate bearing several pieces of pizza in his hand.

"The Sentinels program is one of several contingency plans that the U.S. government has developed to deal with the mutant threat, should it ever become necessary," Charles told her.

He was pleased when she didnít ask what the "mutant threat" was. "Have they ever been used?"

Around them, the X-Men traded looks. "On a few occasions," Charles replied cautiously.

Dana glanced around the room, absorbing the sudden atmosphere of things left unspoken. Then she turned back to Charles, one eyebrow cocked in an unmistakable request.

"Most oí the times weíve tangled with the Sentinels, itís been because they were sent ta capture or kill us, darliní." Logan stood behind the couch, his forearms resting on the padded back.

Curiosity and annoyance warred in her expression. "Why?"

Logan grinned. "Because weíre the X-Men. Everybody from the C.I.A on down has orders ta arrest us on sight."

Danaís gaze circled the room as she digested that. She met Jeanís eyes for a moment, and then her expression lightened with amusement. "I guess that explains the codenames and silly costumes."

There was a moment of startled silence, then Logan threw back his head and laughed, followed by several of the others.

Bobby grinned at her from the couch. "Welcome to the land of spandex."

It took only five hours to get a response. In that interval, Charles received no less than fourteen phone calls from various agencies, both governmental and media. In his public role as an expert on mutant relations, he was asked a wide variety of questions, none of which, thankfully, had anything to do with the possible source of the data Valerie had displayed. The television had been taken over by news coverage of the conference, interviews with every available public figure, and a host of wildly speculative theories as to who might be visiting Earth, and why.

"Charles, come quickly." Ororo leaned around the edge of the doorway. "The President is going to speak."

Charlesí gut tightened in anticipation as he followed Ororo back to the den. Their timing was perfect, as the President was just stepping up behind the podium that bore his seal of office. He gripped the sides of the podium and focused on his audience. The room was silent except for the whir of camera lenses.

"Ladies and Gentlemen." He nodded toward the cameras, including the entire watching population with the gesture. "Today had certainly been a day of revelation." He straightened, and Charles was surprised by how tired the man looked. He didnít think it would be obvious to most, but a telepath was a master of reading body language, and the Presidentís entire stance betrayed his tension.

"Today, perhaps for the first time, we, as a planet, have been faced with the possibility of a formal meeting with another sentient race. After Ms. Cooperís announcement earlier," he nodded toward Valerie, who stood to the side of the stage, "the first priority of not only the U.S., but also the other governments of Earth, was to verify the presence of these visitors."

Charles realized he was gripping the hand rails of his chair so tightly that his fingers were beginning to ache. He forced himself to let go and folded his hands in his lap.

"At four thirty-two p.m. Eastern Standard time, the first satellite with imaging capability moved into a position from which it could observe the orbiting vehicles. The Israeli government was kind enough to share those images with us, along with the other NATO nations. An hour later, Earth Orbiting Platform 1 was able to retract several of its solar arrays to provide the astronauts on board with a direct line of sight. Their observations have confirmed the images from the Israeli satellite." The President turned to look behind him as the projection screen lit with a photo image of the Earth as seen from low orbit. The haze of the atmosphere blurred the mixed blues, greens and brown, and beyond the curve of the planet, the stars were clearly visible. The only thing Charles could see that didnít seem right was that there was nothing else in the picture. Nowhere did he see a single orbiting vessel of any kind.

"As you can see," the President continued over the low murmuring of the gathered reporters, "there are no ships in orbit around Earth."


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