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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
Chapter 21
Chapter 22
Chapter 23
Chapter 24
Chapter 25
Chapter 26
Chapter 27
Chapter 28
Chapter 29
Chapter 30
Chapter 31
Chapter 32
Chapter 33
Chapter 34
Chapter 35
Chapter 36
Chapter 37
Chapter 38
Chapter 39
Chapter 40
Chapter 41
Chapter 42
Chapter 43
Chapter 44
Chapter 45
Chapter 46
Chapter 47
Chapter 48
Chapter 49
Chapter 50
Chapter 51
Chapter 52
Chapter 53
Chapter 54
Chapter 55
Chapter 56
Chapter 57
Chapter 58
Chapter 59
Chapter 60
Chapter 61
Chapter 62
Chapter 63
Chapter 64


Written by Valerie Jones
Last updated: 05/10/2010 11:31:24 PM

Chapter 14

Remy closed his eyes, glad to rest for a moment though he would never have admitted to being even the slightest bit tired. It had been a strange few weeks for the twelve-year-old. He remained deeply uncertain about this LeBeau man, despite the kindness he’d shown Remy so far-- or perhaps because of it. Nothing was free on the streets, but for the life of him, Remy couldn’t figure out what this man wanted from him. Little things like wearing the clothes LeBeau brought him and brushing his hair were simple enough. And he could endure the endless corrections about how to stand and how to behave at Misseur LeBeau’s table and how to eat with the knife and fork that were so much less efficient than his fingers... He heaved a sigh he hoped couldn’t be heard by the two men on the other side of the door. But this reading...

Remy was well aware that the hundreds of signs that lined the streets of New Orleans meant something. In fact, he knew them all on sight and a bunch of other words as well. But it was downright baffling that LeBeau wanted to break each of the words up into pieces and give different names to all of the parts.

“Pere, are y’ sure y’ wan’ t’ continue wit’ dis?” The slightly muffled voice from the other side of the door belonged to Henri. He was LeBeau’s oldest son, and the only other member of the household that did more than simply tolerate Remy’s presence.

“O’ course I do, Henri. He’ll get it eventually.”

Henri barked a laugh. “Oui, if y’ pound his thick head against de wall enough times, he prob’ly will.” He sobered abruptly. “But what’re y’ tryin’ t’ accomplish here, eh? Y’ keep tellin’ me dis boy’s special-- different-- but he’s half-grown already an’ as wild as dey come. What good he gon’ be t’ de Guild if y’ can’ even teach him de most basic t’ings?”

Remy’s hands closed unconsciously into fists at the flood of information. Different? Special? How? Why? What ‘things’? What did these people really want? A hard knot of fear tightened his gut. His instincts screamed at him to run now while he had the chance. But instead he remained frozen in his place outside the door, waiting for LeBeau’s answer.

LeBeau’s chuckle was hardly reassuring. “Do y’ know what our resident gutter snipe did yesterday?” There was a short pause. “He managed t’ sneak an entire handful o’ Miss Adelle’s treats, right out from under her nose.”

Remy’s mouth began to water at the memory. He liked Miss Adelle, the family’s cook. She was a big, cheerful woman and though she didn’t seem to like him particularly, her absolutely wonderful food more than made up for that. He’d never tasted anything like her molasses treats. He’d been more than a little angry when she limited him to only one of the sweet, sticky candies. She’d rapped him smartly across the knuckles with her wooden ladle when he tried to take another one despite her warning, and that was when he’d decided that he would have to get a little sneakier if he wanted any more of them.

“I watched him, Henri.” LeBeau continued with his story. Remy found it strange that he seemed so pleased. He was also dismayed to think that the man had been watching him. Remy had not had even a suspicion that he was there, and that was a little scary. LeBeau was the quietest man he’d ever met.

“He sat in de corner o’ de kitchen, sulkin’, but what he was really doin’ was watchin’ Adelle. She was busy fixin’ de dinner, so she didn’ notice dat he was timin’ her.” There was a significant pause. “He only had a five second window, but he was across de room, got what he wanted an’ was out de door. No excess motion. No wasted time. Adelle jus’ stood dere wit’ her back turned. She never heard a t’ing.”

“So de boy c’n steal a few candies.” Henri didn’t sound pleased like his father, and the fact that they knew what he’d done made Remy nervous. Still, LeBeau was happy with him, and his word was law in the house. No one would do anything to him that LeBeau didn’t approve of.

“De boy made a pinch, Henri.” LeBeau sounded like he was trying to impress something on his son, but Remy couldn’t quite follow his meaning. “A blindingly simple one t’ be sure, but a pinch none de less. De mind is dere. So are de instincts. He jus’ needs t’ be taught.”

“But taught how t’ read, Pere? An’ how t’ use a fork? By de time dis boy’s ready t’ apprentice, he’ll be grown. De apprentices his age are startin’ t’ learn circuits an’ chemistry. How can he ever keep up?”

Remy’s mind was whirling. He still didn’t understand what LeBeau had in mind for him, but it was beginning to sound like a long-term thing. It also sounded like Henri didn’t think he could do whatever it was. Somewhere deep inside that assessment angered him, but on the surface it barely fazed him. A gutter rat was a gutter rat, after all. Life was a matter of staying alive and finding enough to eat. Remy had never spent much time considering anything beyond that.

“I’ll make y’ a wager,” LeBeau said, sounding smug. “I get three months t’ teach him t’ read. Not jus’ his name or anyt’ing like dat, but t’ really read. If I’m successful, y’ agree t’ stand wit’ me when I adopt de boy, an’ y’ agree t’ help me teach him.”

Adopt? Remy thought dazedly. As in a real family? A last name? Dat kind of ‘adopt’?

“An’ if y’ can’ teach him, Pere?” Henri still sounded skeptical.

Remy found himself holding his breath. His heart was pounding in his chest for no reason he could define, except that he’d never thought about having a family for real. That was just a dream, a happy story to tell the little ones to help them fall asleep when their stomachs were painfully empty.

LeBeau sighed softly. “If I can’ teach him... I’ll send him back t’ de street. Wit’out y’ support, de Council c’n outvote me on dat.”

Henri uttered a snort, but after a moment he acquiesced. “Very well. I agree, Pere.”

There was a shuffle of bodies moving, then Remy heard the sound of a door opening and closing and he guessed that Henri had left by one of the other doors to the room.

“Remy, come here.”

Remy jumped a foot at the sudden command from inside. Heart pounding in terror, he turned instinctively to run, but something stopped him and he instead found himself going to the door and creeping cautiously into the room. LeBeau sat in one of the beautiful chairs that populated his house, his legs crossed and his hands folded calmly in his lap. He did not seem the least surprised to discover Remy eavesdropping outside the door. In fact, he was smiling.

“Did y’ hear, Remy?”

“Did I hear what, Misseur?” Remy was pretty good at playing innocent. He had long ago discovered that having big blue eyes was an asset, and had cultivated an angelic face to go with them. Women were almost sure to fall for it. Men were a little less certain...

“Don’ try dat game wit’ me, boy.” LeBeau’s voice was sharp.

Remy dropped the pretense. “Oui, Misseur.” LeBeau continued to stare at him. “I heard y’.” Remy steeled himself for whatever the man might have in mind as punishment for listening in on his conversation.

Instead, LeBeau only nodded. “Good.”

Good? Remy couldn’t help the surprise that showed on his face.

LeBeau’s smile turned wry. “Oui, chile. Now y’ understand de stakes an’ what it’ll take f’ y’ t’ stay here.”

Remy stared at him in confusion. Stay? The word swam around in his brain until it collided with ‘adopt’ and he was stunned to realize that this man was really offering him the impossible. His stomach tried to turn itself inside out as he considered the concept, but hope was far too painful a thing for him to want to encourage it. He’d learned that lesson well.

His eyes narrowed. “Stay here? Why should I?” he asked LeBeau with as much belligerence as he could muster.

LeBeau’s smile died. He pinned Remy with a solemn, intimidating stare. “Because dis is prob’ly de only chance y’ gon’ get t’ get off de street, boy. Y’ got what it takes. I wouldn’ have brought y’ here if y’ didn’.”

Remy eyed him suspiciously. In his experience, the only way to get off the street was to find yourself a sugar daddy, and he didn’t have any intention of paying his way out like that.

LeBeau seemed to know what he was thinking. “Do y’ know what I do f’ a livin’, Remy?” he asked quietly.

Remy shook his head, suddenly uncertain.

LeBeau’s eyebrows twitched. “I’m a professional t’ief. An’ I’m givin’ y’ de chance t’ learn de craft.” His stare was uncompromising. “I’ll take y’ in as m’ own blood an’ teach y’ everyt’ing I know. Y’ never gon’ have t’ worry ‘bout where y’ next meal be comin’ from o’ what kind o’ danger might be sneakin’ up on y’ in de dark. De Guild looks after its own. An’ when y’ grown-- if y’ become de t’ief I t’ink y c’n-- dere’s no limit t’ what y’ could do o’ where y’ could go.”

Spellbound by the images LeBeau was creating for him, Remy barely managed to stutter the question that hovered in the forefront of his mind. “W-what do I have t’ do?”

LeBeau smiled warmly, his intensity vanishing. “Right now, all y’ have t’ do is learn t’ read.”

Remy LeBeau took a deep breath as he let go of the memories. I hate Braille, he thought sourly. It was almost useless to him as a thief, but the prospect of not being able to read was more than enough motivation for him to start resurrecting his limited knowledge. It was strange, perhaps, but the conceptual breakthrough of understanding what Jean Luc had been trying to teach him was almost like a rebirth. If Remy were ever asked to point to the specific time and place where his entire life had changed, that would be it. That was the moment that his life on the streets ended and his future began. Everything he was today he owed in some way to Jean Luc LeBeau, and was hinged on that first, crucial understanding.

Sighing, Remy closed the Braille tutorial he had kept and pushed it away. When he’d discovered that losing his powers would also cost him his sight, he’d made an effort to learn the language, but he had never honestly expected to lose his powers in a non-combat situation. Now it bothered him deeply that he couldn’t read the technical briefs the Guild had recovered on the Prime Sentinels, just like it bothered him that he couldn’t access his email. Not just because it was frustrating and inconvenient. No, if he were truly honest with himself he would have to admit that the loss of that skill terrified him in some deep corner of his heart. He knew it was ridiculous to think he would end up back on the street. Losing his powers hadn’t wiped out one iota of the knowledge or intelligence resident in his head, and those were the things that mattered. But he was still disturbed.

The shrill ring of his cell phone startled him out of his thoughts. Remy had taken to leaving it on whenever he was in his room at the mansion, just to make himself a little more accessible.


“Remy, we have a problem.” Dyson sounded perturbed, which was an unusual event. Remy’s general sense of unease coalesced into a tiny shiver of apprehension.

“What is it?”

“Xavier’s accounts have been raided. They didn’t even trip my alarms on the personal estate, so I didn’t know about it until they started into the school money. The personal stuff is gone and I’m sitting here watching the school’s accounts drain away as we speak.”

Remy sat up in his chair, biting his lip to restrain the instinctive panic reaction. If Bastion had found them, it was more likely that he would attack the mansion first, not the bank accounts.

“Do y’ know who’s doin’ it? C’n y’ stop dem?”

“No and no.” Dyson paused. “Remy, whoever this is has a lot of power behind them. The FCC codes just locked up when these guys came in. I’m paralyzed. There’s not a thing I can do to salvage anything from the Xavier Institute.”

“What about de rest?” Losing Xavier’s money was a blow, but a more of an inconvenience than anything else. The Shi’ar equipment and Cerebro were the real treasures, and those would require a physical assault if someone wanted to get them.

“You’re safe, as far as I can tell. I haven’t seen any signs that our thugee friends here have been sniffing around any of your accounts. Worthington Industries is a different story, though. There are plenty of ties between it and Xavier.”

“Y’ t’ink dey’ll go after Worthington next?” Remy found himself drumming his fingers on the desktop and forced himself to stop.

“I do. I-- Hang on.” Dyson muttered under his breath at something taking place on his end.

In the midst of the tense silence, Remy’s communicator beeped. He answered it with a growing sense of impending disaster. The X-Men had a unique relationship with the phenomenon of coincidence. Whatever this was, it was almost guaranteed to be worse than the financial disaster Dyson had brought him.

“All X-Men report to the War Room now.” That was Scott and he sounded more uptight than usual. Remy felt his stomach sink.

He acknowledged the command then turned back to the cell phone. “Dyson, I hate t’ do dis to y’, but I’ve got t’ go.”

“What?” He could almost hear Dyson shaking his head. “Wait. What do you want me to do about Worthington? They’re making some forays into the corporate security protocols already.”

Remy grabbed his duster, juggling the phone as he put it on. “Dey gon’ get t’ Worthington’s money?”

“Fifteen minutes, tops.”

Remy muttered a string of curses under his breath. It was hard enough to juggle being a thief and an X-Man. It was impossible for him to do both at the same time. “What c’n y’ do t’ stop dem?”

Dyson laughed. “Me? Nothing. The only way to save that money is to drain it out ourselves before they get there and hope I can hide it fast enough and well enough that they can’t find it again.”

Remy picked up his bo staff with his free hand and walked out of his room. “So do it.”

Dyson made an annoyed sound. “I can’t, Remy. I can’t get through the security any faster than these guys are doing it. I told you, these are pros.”

Remy took the stairs down to the main floor of the mansion, but then paused at the bottom. The cellular transmission would be cut off as soon as he went below ground level because of the heavy blast shielding that helped protect the lower levels from an above ground strike.

“So what c’n we do?”

“Well, if you’ve got a magic wand that’ll grant me access to Worthington Industries’ core, that would help.”

Realization struck Remy and he began to chuckle. “I c’n go one better dan dat. Hang on, Dyson. I’m gon’ transfer y’ t’ a different system here. De line’ll be blank f’ a bit, but when I come back, I’ll have y’ access ready.”

“Right.” Dyson didn’t sound entirely convinced. “The clock’s down to about twelve minutes.”

“Got it.” Remy let the hand that still held the phone fall to his side, too far away to pick up his words as he addressed Cerebro and instructed the computer to transfer his cellular call to the mansion’s phone system and route it to the War Room. That done, he folded up the phone and pocketed it, then turned and headed back up the stairs.

Scott Summers paced a short track across the head of the large table that occupied the War Room as he waited for the last few X-Men to arrive. His stomach was twisted into a tight knot of fear and adrenaline, even though he did not yet know what the crisis was. It was enough to read the expression in Logan’s eyes.

Logan sat near the head of the table, his stance calm but his appearance disturbing. Scott often forgot the Canadian’s age because his healing factor kept him eternally young, but now there were streaks of silver in the dark hair and a few more lines in the grim face. As more time passed without his powers, Scott knew, Logan’s body would eventually catch up to his eighty plus years of age. Beyond that, Logan was covered in blood, much of which was old enough to have dried and crusted, and he looked like he hadn’t had a bath or a minute of sleep since leaving the mansion almost a week earlier. But at least the blood didn’t appear to be Logan’s for the most part.

Scott mentally shook his head. At another time, the evidence decorating Logan’s shirt would have angered him. Today he was simply glad it was the enemy and not his own that had been hurt, and a small part of him felt shamed by the callous thought.

Storm entered the room then, accompanied by Sam and Bishop. That left only three of their members absent. Beast had escorted Rogue to the table and then gone to check on Warren, so he would be a little later than the others. Gambit could be anywhere, though at least he’d answered the summons.

Storm greeted Logan with a relieved smile as she settled in her customary place at the table.

“What has happened?” she asked Logan, her posture as casual as his. A deep furrow between her brows was the only visible sign of her concern.

Logan’s gaze swept the table, as if he were deciding whether to answer or to wait for the last few X-Men to arrive, but then he shrugged and leaned forward. He split his attention between Ororo and Scott, and Scott felt a tiny chill of apprehension. Usually, Logan talked to the team as a whole when he had information to give, but when the threat was immediate his military training tended to kick in. The fact that he focused solely on the two leaders of the X-Men gave Scott a glimpse of how serious Logan considered the situation to be.

“Found out a couple o’ things,” Logan said, his gravely voice rougher than usual. “The first is that there’s a full-scale political war brewin’ over Zero Tolerance, an’ the X-Men are on the agenda fer both sides.” He met Scott’s gaze for a moment, the blue eyes hard and sad. Scott was certain he already knew about Jubilee, but his voice gave nothing away.

“I ran inta Val Cooper. She had some interestin’ things ta say, off the record.” He leaned back in his seat. “Accordin’ ta her, there were a couple o’ factions inside OZT that were vyin’ fer control o’ the operation. Graydon Creed was the golden boy up until Mystique shot ‘im an’ gave Bastion’s clique the upper hand. Bad news is that most folks in the OZT camp think Bastion arranged that.”

“Mystique would nevah support OZT!” Rogue’s green eyes flashed angrily.

“Not on purpose,” Logan returned and Rogue’s gaze narrowed. “So it was either an unlucky coincidence or Bastion was canny enough ta dupe her inta it.”

Rogue sat back with a pensive frown, cradling her injured hand in its sling. “Mah momma’s a lot o’ things, Logan, but she ain’t stupid.”

“Never said she was, darlin’.” Logan’s grim expression didn’t waver. “But if Bastion did somehow provoke her inta attackin’ Creed, he’s a lot more dangerous than anyone’s givin’ him credit fer.”

Scott found himself growing impatient with the exchange. He didn’t know Mystique very well and didn’t like what little he did know of her. Debating the reasons behind her involvement with OZT did not strike him as being of particular importance at the moment. Whether she had acted knowingly or in ignorance did nothing to change the fact that they now had Bastion to deal with.

“So who’s opposing Bastion?” Scott asked. That was the important issue. If mutants could find some kind of ally in the political arena, it would be a significant step towards regaining their powers without violence.

Logan snorted. “Don’t get too excited, Cyke. Senator Kelly’s taken up Creed’s banner.”

“Kelly?” Scott felt a wash of dismay. Robert Kelly was one of mutantkind’s most uncompromising opponents. He was the man who had invented the Sentinels, and a strong political voice in the anti-mutant camp.

“Why would Kelly go against Bastion?” Bobby crossed his arms, his expression surprisingly intent. “I’d think they’d be best buds right about now.”

“No, Robert.” Ororo shook her head. “Kelly may hate mutants, but our destruction is not his ultimate goal.” She pursed her lips as if her thoughts were coalescing even as she began to voice them. “Operation: Zero Tolerance is a springboard into the Presidency. That is his goal.”

Logan nodded in agreement. “Right. He’s takin’ the moderate position an’ portrayin’ Bastion as a dangerous radical that don’t care if he kills his friends as long as he gets his enemies.” He paused. “From what I’ve been hearin’, that ain’t too far from the truth.”

Scott picked up immediately on the things that were left unspoken. “What do you mean?”

Logan shrugged. “Creed’s original plan was ta use the satellites ta neutralize mutants so they could be rounded up, categorized, marked an’ released. Most of ‘em, anyway. Our names were on a list o’ folks who needed ta die resistin’ the new order, but most mutants would’ve been tossed back out inta society.”

“Valerie told you that?” Scott didn’t know which was worse. The plan itself or the idea that Valerie might have known about it and not seen fit to warn them. Out of the corner of his eye he saw Bishop pale, making the black M tattooed across his face stand out in sharp relief.

“No, she don’t have a clue ‘bout that part,” Logan answered. “I got that from an’ old contact o’ mine.”

Storm’s expression slid from distressed to angry. “Such marking of mutants would be the first step toward creating a second class of citizen.” Her pupils narrowed, catlike. “A legal slave race.”

Her words struck Bishop more forcibly than if she had turned around and slapped him. The giant man reared to his feet, his face twisted with horror. “I warned you!” His gaze swept across them, both accusing and guilty. “But you wouldn’t listen! This is the beginning of the war that destroyed the X-Men and created my world!”

Storm reached up to place a hand on his arm but he shook her off. “I am not overreacting,” he told her flatly. “And I am not paranoid.” He continued to stare at Storm for a moment before turning to Scott. “You cannot possibly look at the events taking place all around us and not realize where these things will lead. If we do not somehow stop Bastion you are all going to die, and this entire way of life--“ He made a sweeping gesture that took in the larger world outside the mansion, “is going to die with you!”

Scott couldn’t break away from the other man’s gaze. There was a kind of horrible certainty in his eyes that compelled attention. For Bishop, he realized suddenly, the events occurring all around them were not a frightening present. They were a fixed past, the heart-rending destruction of his world that he was being forced to experience firsthand. The realization made Bishop’s horror entirely too understandable and for the first time Scott found himself feeling sympathy for the time lost man.

“We’re not going to let that happen, Bishop,” Scott told the other man with such certainty that he almost surprised himself. But to Scott, the things that Bishop described from his own time were inconceivable. He simply could not believe that the Professor’s dream could fail that horribly. On some level he understood that it was true in Bishop’s future. That it was fact. But for him, it could never be more than a possible future. A future the X-Men would somehow find a way to avoid.

Storm once again laid her hand on Bishop’s arm. This time he didn’t pull away. Scott turned to Logan.

“Is that what Bastion is doing?” He watched Logan closely in the hope that his expression would give away some hint that the news was going to get better, not worse.

Logan drew a breath that he let out in a rush, and Scott’s heart sank. “No. Unless they’ve got special programmin’, the Prime Sentinels have kill on sight instructions.”


“That’s insane!”

“We have heard nothing like that!”

The general clamor of surprise and outrage died out after a moment as the X-Men waited for Logan to expand his statement.

The tense silence shattered as Cerebro chimed, indicating an incoming call. Frowning, Scott checked the display, noting that it was an audio signal only and from an unrecognized number. He glanced over at Logan who shook his head lightly.

Still reeling internally, Scott accepted the call. “Who is this?” he demanded of the faceless caller.

The voice that came back to him, amplified by the room’s sound system, was colored with surprise. “I could ask you the same thing. LeBeau put me on hold. Is he there?”

On hold? Gambit? The sudden intrusion was like a dash of ice water. Scott’s thoughts switched tracks without registering the magnitude of the jump.

What in the world is Gambit doing using the mansion’s tactical communication lines for personal business? Scott felt a burst of anger at the Cajun’s typical recklessness.

“No, he’s not here,” he snapped. “What is this about?”

“Sorry. Privileged information.”

Scott was about to open his mouth for a heated retort when the door to the War Room slid open on an argument in progress. Heads turned that direction, as startled by the sudden change as Scott.

“All I’m sayin’ is call y’ people! Dey tell y’ exactly de same t’ing.” Gambit and Angel stood in the doorway, glaring at each other while Beast watched them warily from behind.

Angel brushed past Gambit and walked into the room, his stride stiff both from anger and the weight of his wings. “My security staff would have called me if there was a problem.”

Gambit gave him a disgusted look. “No dey won’. Dey gon’ try t’ handle it demselves. Dey won’ call y’ until it’s too late.”

“Remy, is that you?” Belatedly, Scott realized that he still had the unknown caller on the open line.

Remy glanced over at Scott, apparently unsurprised by the new voice. “Oui. Y’ got a camera on y’ phone, Dyson?”

Scott absently filed the name away as Dyson answered. “Yes.”

“Turn it on.”

Dyson did, apparently, and the large projection screen filled with the image of a man in his mid-thirties, with short sandy-blonde hair and a matching goatee. He wore small round glasses with gold rims and he struck Scott with his air of competence. Dyson looked the X-Men over with interest, but quickly centered on Gambit.

Gambit smiled grimly without ever looking directly at the screen and motioned toward Warren. “Dyson, meet Warren Worthington III. Warren, dis is Dyson. He’s de one watchin’ dese folks dat’re goin’ after y’ company.”

Scott was beginning to get an inkling of what the argument about, but it seemed ludicrous to think that Gambit was meddling in an apparent takeover attempt on Worthington Industries. Somewhere, he was certain, there must be something he’d missed that would make sense of Gambit’s involvement, but for the moment all he could think was that this was horrible timing for a personal crisis in light of what Logan had been telling them.

As Scott sorted through his thoughts, Dyson’s professional air solidified. He nodded to Warren in terse greeting and was met with a flat stare.

“Mr. Worthington, here’s the short version,” Dyson began, his words clipped and efficient. “An unidentified person or group is making a hostile raid on Worthington Industries’ corporate accounts and other holdings. I estimate it will take them another six to eight minutes to break through the security protocols and begin siphoning off the liquid assets.” He paused as if to let the import of his words sink in. “Your security people don’t stand a chance of stopping them. I can’t stop them either. But if you’ll give me access to your core, I may be able to play a variation of the shell game with those accounts and keep these people from getting to them.”

Warren crossed his arms, his expression a mix of anger, concern and disbelief. “Why should I believe you?” Two steps away, Gambit rolled his eyes.

Dyson, however, was unperturbed. “I represent my client’s interests to the best of my abilities,” he answered with a nod in Gambit’s direction. “In this case, my client has asked me to intervene on your behalf. I don’t know the reasons why, nor do I care. You’ll have to ask him, but that will take precious time that, to be honest, you really don’t have.”

Dyson’s gaze flicked to Gambit and Scott wasn’t sure if he should be pleased, angry or downright mortified that the Cajun X-Man was the ‘client’ Dyson was referring to.

“Five minutes,” Dyson added succinctly.

In response, Logan rose to his feet. He speared Gambit with a single unrevealing glance before turning to Angel.

“Give ‘im whatever he needs, Worthington, an’ cut him loose. We’ve got bigger problems ta deal with right now.” The scratchy growl of his voice brooked no argument.

Angel’s gaze narrowed as he considered, while on the large screen, Dyson’s expression furrowed as if he were chasing a stray thought.

“Do I know you?” he asked Logan.

Logan glanced up at the screen, annoyed. “Doubt it,” he growled.

Dyson continued to stare at him for a moment, and then something clicked in his mind. His face lit with a small “Ah,” of recognition. “That’s who you are. The golden boy of Landau, Luckman and Lake. I knew you looked familiar.”

Logan’s expression went from annoyed to dangerous in a heartbeat. Scott had to throttle the desire to break in and demand an explanation from one of them.

“What d’ you know about Landau, Luckman and Lake?” Logan demanded.

Dyson shrugged. “I’ve done some contracts for them. Interdimensional finance is fun work, if you can get it.” The blond man didn’t smile but Scott was fairly certain he was making a joke.

Without pausing, Dyson looked back to Angel. “Four minutes.”

Warren turned to stare at Gambit for a bare moment, then walked over and picked up a handset and spoke with someone on the other end. Scott didn’t try to listen in, or to follow the complex business-speak. Instead, he found himself staring at Gambit as well, trying to figure out what he should be seeing. Hank’s comments from the day before kept floating through his mind, but he just couldn’t quite put it all together.

Angel finished his conversation and put the handset back down in the receiver when Dyson began to nod. “Thank you, Mr. Worthington.” Then he turned his attention to something in front of him. “I’ll see what I can do.” He glanced up momentarily. “Remy, I’ll call you.”

Gambit nodded. “M’ personal line.”


Logan reached over and hit the disconnect switch in front of Scott.

“Wait!” Warren reached instinctively toward Logan, but the older man held out a hand.

“Forget it, Warren. I won’t pretend ta know where Gumbo dug that guy up, but he’s a professional. He’ll take care o’ yer company if anyone can, an’ like I said, ya’ve got bigger problems ta worry about right now.”

Like a switch being thrown, Scott’s mind snapped back to the earlier conversation. His feeling of apprehension returned in full. “What kind of problems, Wolverine?”

Logan cocked his head. “That was the second thing I was gonna tell ya. OZT’s got a bead on the X-Men. This thing with Worthington Industries just confirms it.” He turned to Gambit as if a thought had suddenly occurred to him. “Did they get ta Xavier’s estate, too?”

Gambit nodded. “Drained.”

Scott’s alarm at the fact that Gambit seemed to know an inordinate amount about the financial status of the X-Men was immediately drowned out by a new realization.

“Then OZT is on its way here.” The conclusion was liberating in a way. Here, at least, was a threat Scott knew how to deal with. “How long?”

Logan shrugged. “Eighty minutes, give or take. They launched the team from Langley.”

Scott had never been in the espionage business, but he’d been a soldier long enough to know that that meant C.I.A assassins, most likely. And for once that was a frightening prospect. Without their powers, he wasn’t certain they had the skills to match a team with that kind of training and weaponry. However, he needed more information before he could make any kind of rational decision.

“How many?” he asked Logan. For example, a standard four man team, even of elite assassins, would be simple to repel with the resources they had.

Logan’s eyebrows twitched in the equivalent of a shrug. “Don’t know fer sure. Twenty, twenty-five would be my guess.”

Scott chewed on his lip. That was a full blown assault team, then, which meant covert ops in addition to assassins. The X-Men weren’t going to get any slack from Bastion. These were likely to be the best the U.S. government could field.

“Now will you agree that we must evacuate the mansion?” Bishop remained standing, his arms crossed and the muscles in his chest flexing rhythmically in response to his emotions.

“The mansion is well equipped to defend us,” Storm interjected. “And we are not helpless simply because we have lost our powers.”

Logan shook his head. “We’d be sittin’ ducks fer whatever Bastion wants ta throw at us.”

“We’ve faced worse odds before and won, Logan.” Warren stepped up beside Storm.

“Yes, we have.” Jean climbed slowly to her feet. “But what would we be defending if we stayed here? A house and a bunch of equipment?” She swept her gaze around the room. “Or our reputations? If Bastion knows that this is the home of the X-Men, I don’t think he’ll stop until he has what he wants, which is-- “

“Our collective heads on a platter, I presume,” Beast interrupted with a frown. “However, if that were his intention, I would expect him to dispatch Sentinels to deal with us, not mere men.”

There was a momentary silence as the X-Men considered his statement. Scott wasn’t certain he agreed with Hank’s logic, though he didn’t have an immediate counter argument. The truth was that he was just plain leery of being trapped in the mansion while trying to fight off a vastly larger enemy. It was a tactical blunder of the worst kind.

“Ah hate ta burst ya bubble, Hank,” Rogue’s slow drawl brought Scott out of his thoughts. “But Bastion’s sendin’ an infiltration force f’ good reason. He obviously knows we got security here, an’ his supply o’ Sentinels is limited. ‘Least right now it is.” She shrugged. “The Sentinels won’t show up ‘til our defenses are neutralized.”

Her analysis earned her a round of surprised looks. Even Scott was startled, though he’d known Rogue long enough to realize she knew a thing or two about tactics. In years past he had seriously considered training her for team command, but her interest in such things had dwindled radically since that time and he’d never gotten around to suggesting it.

“If we abandon the mansion, we will be turning its contents over to Bastion.” Joseph looked acutely uncomfortable as the X-Men focused on him, but he forged onward. “There are things here that you have been unwilling to show me because of my past, and I am a mutant. I would think you would want Bastion to see them even less.”

That started a round of discussion that Scott cut off with a wave. “Sorry, folks. We don’t have time for this.” He glanced at Logan as he organized his thoughts. “We are going to have to evacuate. Bastion has too many resources for us to be able to win a decisive victory and we can’t afford to get pinned down here.” He shook his head. “We’re going to have to stay mobile if we want to be able to take on Zero Tolerance on our terms.”

He paused a moment to survey their expressions. They seemed to agree with him, or at least were willing to abide by his decision. “However,” he continued, “Joseph’s point is extremely valid. We can’t let the Shi’ar technology or Cerebro fall into Bastion’s hands.” And we simply don’t have time to move any of it. If we don’t get out now, we may not get another chance.

Scott leaned forward, bracing his elbows on the table. “So, right now what I need from all of you is a list of everything we have to destroy to keep Bastion from gaining an advantage by invading the mansion.” He ticked one point off on his fingers. “Cerebro is obviously at the top of the list, and it already has a self-destruct mechanism. We can take the data with us. Jean--“ He turned to his wife. “When was the last backup made?”

She frowned. “First of the month.”

Scott nodded. “So we’ll lose a couple weeks worth of data, but that can’t be helped.” He turned back to the group. “What’s next?”

“The nuclear reactor that powers our systems is primarily a Shi’ar device.” Hank tapped his claws lightly against the arm of his chair.

Scott blinked at him, surprised despite himself. That hadn’t even crossed his mind, and it made for some unpleasant possibilities.

“How long to shut it down?”

Hank gave him a worried frown. “At least forty-five minutes. Probably an hour.”

Scott’s pulse quickened. That was pretty close to their deadline. “Then you’d better get started,” he told Hank with a good deal more composure than he felt.

“So what’s to keep Bastion from firing the reactor back up if he gets to it?” Bobby asked as Hank rose from his seat.

Hank shook his head. “We’ll have to find a way to destroy the control systems and the reactor chamber. Otherwise, I will be forced to create an internal meltdown, which will leak a fair amount of radiation.”

Gambit flashed a grin that seemed out of place in the grim atmosphere. “Don’ do dat, Hank. If y’ need t’ blow de systems, I c’n help dere.” A single playing card turned lazily through his fingers.

Scott threw him a sharp look. “This is hardly the time for jokes, Gambit.”

The other man returned his gaze evenly, his smile unwavering. “Who’s jokin’?”

Scott stared at him, debating how hard to push. They didn’t have time for a contest of wills, and they certainly didn’t have time for any of Gambit’s foolishness.

“What did ya have in mind, Cajun?” Logan asked before Scott could decide how to respond.

Gambit shrugged. “C-4. We gon’ need most of it f’ de house, but dere’s a little extra.”

Scott’s thoughts jerked to a halt as his words sank in, but Rogue beat him to a response.

“Whoa, sugah. Ya want ta blow up the mansion?” She had both hands on her hips, her expression openly disbelieving.

“Y’ got a better way t’ hide de fact dat we blowin’ up all de stuff underneath de mansion?” he shot back. Scott was forced to admit he had a point. A set of underground explosions wasn’t going to do anything but alert Bastion to the fact that there was something hidden there, and the debris from the house would effectively hide any evidence of an underground complex.

Gambit shrugged lightly, his expression giving nothing away. “De first time I saw dis house, it was flat. Can’ see as it’s a big t’ing, chere.”

“So where’d ya get the plastique, Gumbo?” Logan interjected as the couple stared at each other.

Gambit’s expression flickered, then disappeared. “Bought it.”

Bought it? Scott echoed silently. From whom and with what?

Logan didn’t seem to share his curiosity. He simply nodded as if that was sufficient explanation for him.

Storm cocked her head, regarding Gambit with a thoughtful expression. “It seems you have been preparing for this day, Remy.” There was a wealth of unspoken questions in her voice.

If possible, Gambit’s expression became even more guarded. “Seemed like a good idea, Stormy.”

For once, Storm ignored the nickname. Scott took it as an indicator of just how strange their situation had become. He looked up at Hank. “Go, Hank.”

Hank nodded and left. Scott turned back to the X-Men. “What else?” He found his gaze lingering on Gambit, curious and apprehensive. The man had been making contingency plans. Not only that, but he’d carried through on those plans to the point of having the means to enact them ready and waiting. It was so completely out of character that Scott wasn’t sure what to think. Gambit was the type that didn’t make lunch plans because it was too much of a commitment.

“The Blackbirds.” Storm’s words jerked Scott out of his reflection.

Scott nodded, quickly re-centering his thoughts. “Right. The A bird is still at Muir with Excalibur, and we’ll take the B when we leave.” They didn’t often loan out their Blackbirds, but a small altercation several weeks earlier had left Excalibur without air transportation. He was especially grateful now that they’d decided to give them the airplane, since the British team had been able to use it when they rescued Siryn.

“What about the medlab?” Bobby asked. “It’s got a bunch of Shi’ar equipment.”

Scott surpressed a groan. “The Legacy research.” There was no telling what they would lose with the destruction of Hank’s equipment. He looked at Bobby. “Talk to Hank. Find out what he needs to keep and pack it up. He should have backups for all of his electronic files.” He glanced briefly at Gambit. “We’ll have to borrow a little more of that plastique.”

Where would we be right now without that particular bit of foresight? Scott asked himself ruefully. Though they had limited stores of grenades and a few highly combustible liquids available to them, they would have been hard pressed to devise a dependable means of sabotaging their equipment in the time available. Plastique was exactly what they needed if they were going to keep Bastion from gaining anything useful from the mansion.

Bobby nodded and rose to his feet. “I’m on it.”

Scott surveyed the X-Men as Bobby retreated. “Anything else?”

He was met with silence and shrugs. No one offered any additions to the list, nor could Scott think of anything that they had missed. After several moments, Scott drew a deep breath.

“All right, duty assignments.” He glanced at his watch. “We have approximately seventy minutes left. Bishop, Psylocke, you’re on security patrol. I want to know if our visitors decide to show up early.”

Bishop nodded sharply and rose. Psylocke fingered the hilt of her katana as she followed him.

Scott went on. “Jean, you’ve got Cerebro.” Jean nodded tersely.

He turned to Sam. “Cannonball, take Joseph with you and start loading the portable weapons and equipment onto the Blackbird. Storm, you and Rogue have Blackbird prep.”

The two women shared glances. Ororo nodded. Scott turned to the other side of the table.

“Angel, go with Jean. Before she shuts Cerebro down, we need to send a message to Muir Island letting them know that we’re abandoning the mansion. I’ll leave it to you to work out the security measures. Logan and Gambit-- “ Scott suppressed a sigh. “You two get to wire the house. Coordinate with Hank and Jean on the final timing.” A final thought occurred to him. “We’re going to need to be able to remote detonate from the Blackbird.”

Logan nodded. “Shouldn’t be a problem.”

Scott mentally ran through his plan once more, then, satisfied, pushed himself back from the table. “Then let’s get to it, people.”


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