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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 20

Remy stood in the midst of the chaos in the Guild’s communications center, eyes closed as he listened to the television coverage of events currently taking place in Los Angeles. Around him, the Guild members who had taken up responsibilities within the center babbled at each other and at Remy, voicing a hundred questions for which they had no answers. On the television monitors, breaking news programs described the horde of Prime Sentinels that had descended on the city, uprooting and destroying a group of mutants hidden there. The reports were using words like "secret organization" and "mutant terrorist cells", but Remy was very afraid that truth was something far worse.

Please don’ let dis be what I t’ink it is.

Though OZT did not officially control any aspect of the government of the United States, it was becoming painfully clear that Bastion was pulling all of the strings. The news was becoming more and more obviously censored. Every local and national television station currently showed coverage of the blitz on Los Angeles, but the extent of the damage could only be guessed at from a few clues. Even Trish Tilby sounded strained, as if the words she used were so grossly incorrect she was having trouble with her lines.

Beside Remy, a small phone began to beep. His gut clenched into a hard, cold knot. In the communications center, the discrete noise managed to pierce the din. The babble of voices fell away and Remy could feel the eyes of every person there turning toward him.

With a nonchalance he didn’t feel, Remy reached over and picked up the sleek handset. It was the Guildmaster’s private phone, a secure line that linked the Guild leaders. The handset itself was coded to Remy’s fingerprints and could not be used by anyone else.

"LeBeau," he said quietly.

"Are you watching the news, Remy?" Guildmaster Lotho sounded as grim as Remy had every heard him.


"Then you know that the Los Angeles Guild has been compromised."

Remy’s stomach twisted savagely as his worst fears were confirmed. "Oui." He grabbed control of his feelings and tried to concentrate. "How bad’s de damage?"

Lotho paused. "Bad. The Guild was particularly vulnerable because they didn’t have an underground complex to retreat to." If he condemned that branch of the Guild for its lack of preparation, he didn’t let it show in his voice. "They only had a few minutes’ warning before the Sentinels began their laser bombardment. They did manage to mislead the Sentinels to some degree and got two aircraft off the ground, but that’s all. As far as we can tell, the Guild has been completely destroyed. Some of the Clans may have managed to scatter, but they’re hunting mutants up and down the street. You can see that on the TV." He sighed, sounding incredibly weary. "I doubt that many will survive."

Adrenaline poured through Remy as his instinctive fight-or-flight reflex came to life. "How did Bastion find out ’bout de Guild? Are de ot’ers at risk?" He had ideas, plans for how to protect the Guild if OZT ever discovered the New York complex, but those were inadequate and he knew it.

"No, we don’t think the other Guilds have been compromised," Lotho answered. "They would have hit the other cities at the same time. Their assault method doesn’t lead me to believe they suspect our existence, either. Otherwise, they would have been trying to take prisoners for questioning."

Remy wanted to put the phone down, but couldn’t. The L.A. Guild had boasted more than five hundred thieves, with a Clan population matched only by New York. They were the newest, most aggressive of the American Guilds, and one of the most profitable.

An’ now dey’re all dead. It was hard to fathom.

"The two aircraft that made it out of L.A. are still in the air," Lotho said, drawing Remy out of his thoughts. "I’ve diverted them to New York."

"What?" Remy was caught off guard. "Why?"

Lotho’s tone turned sharp. "Because, of all of us, you’re the only one who saw this coming, Guildmaster, and New York is the most secure site because of it." He sighed softly. "It’ll take a miracle to get those planes down in one piece, but I trust that you can find me that miracle." He paused and lowered his voice. "Between the two, they have almost a hundred children on board, Remy. They were trying to at least get the kids out."

Remy caught the corner of the table to steady himself. His vision swam, filling with a scene from his nightmares-- torn and mangled bodies strewn across the floor of the Morlock tunnels, empty-eyed children whose only crime had been to belong to the band of underground dwellers. He took a deep breath, trying to steady himself. Never again. It was a promise he’d made to himself, a fierce oath that alone let him live with the guilt. Never again.

"I’ll get dem down," he told Lotho grimly.

The basement always smelled a little bit like mold, Scott thought. Despite the new smells of gunpowder, oil, metal and nylon that now characterized the dank space, the underlying smell of flourishing mildew remained. It made his nose itch whenever he noticed it. Currently, the basement was full as the X-Men practiced. Sparring mats took up one corner of the cement room, while an obstacle course had taken over the target range. Storm’s team worked their way through the course, practicing squad tactics and pausing occasionally to discuss how adapt their old techniques to the current circumstances. Scott sat off to the side, observing while he cleaned his rifle. A small radio sat beside him, playing news coverage of the Sentinels’ attack on Los Angeles.

What I wouldn’t give to have even half of the equipment we had at the mansion, he thought grimly. Jean was upstairs with the remaining members of the team, watching the coverage on the television, but there was absolutely nothing the X-Men could do about it. Scott ground his teeth in silent frustration. He hated feeling helpless.

On the practice floor, Storm had split her group into squads led by Logan and Rogue. The two groups covered each other as they advanced through the obstacles, following a path marked for them by Bobby, who held the vanguard position. Scott frowned unhappily. Storm had adjusted to the knowledge of Bobby’s chosen... profession, if one could call it that... much more quickly than he’d expected. Scott was still struggling with it. It was one thing to find out that Gambit was so much more than he appeared. In a bizarre way, that was almost good news, despite the questions it raised. But Bobby-- Scott shook his head. He just couldn’t understand how anyone who didn’t have to could choose to become a thief.

Scott watched the squads advance for a few more moments, his attention focused on the young blond haired man that crept through the shadows, his movements confident and professional. He sighed. Even more disturbing, perhaps, than Bobby choosing to follow Gambit to the Thieves guild, was the effect it had had on him.

Or maybe I just resent the fact that in less than two years Gambit managed to do more with him than I did in the eight previous ones. Bobby’s development had always been a source of concern both for himself and the Professor. It rankled that Gambit-- with all his street-smart arrogance and hatred of authority-- had waltzed in, dragged Bobby into every dark alley and shady deal he could find, and had somehow managed to give the young man exactly what he needed. Something that neither Scott nor the Professor had ever been able to give him.

The general commotion in the basement came to an abrupt halt as the trapdoor in the corner swung upward and Gambit climbed through. Even Scott was taken aback, his earlier train of thought scattering. The Cajun’s angular face was set in a grim mask that did little to cover the desperation lurking behind it. Scott recognized the expression, but had never seen it on Remy’s face before. Every danger instinct he possessed came alive in that instant and he jumped to his feet, rifle in hand.

"What is it, Gambit?" he demanded.

Remy stared at him for a single instant, his expression torn. Then the expression disappeared completely. "I need de Blackbird an’ a good pilot." Despite the composure he wore on his face, his voice was ragged.

The X-Men gathered around them curiously as Scott digested the statement. He cocked his head, baffled rather than angry at the sudden demand. "The Blackbird? What for?"

Beside Storm, Bobby watched Gambit with an expression of horror. "Remy, what’s happened?"

Remy’s gaze snapped from Scott to the young thief, then returned. "Y’ been watchin’ de news?" he asked Scott.

Scott nodded. There was only one event that he could be referring to. "Los Angeles."

Remy’s lips thinned as his gaze moved to Bobby’s once more. "Dat’s de L.A. Guild dey been huntin’ down an’ murderin’." Bobby paled at his words and Remy shook his head. "Dere two airplanes on dere way here, wit’ de only survivors." He looked back at Scott. "I need some kind o’ air coverage t’ get dem on de ground safely, an’ de Blackbird’s de only option I’ve got."

Scott noticed the words Remy was using with interest. I need, he’d said, not the Guild needs. But that thought was quickly buried by others. "That’s a big risk. We can’t afford to lose the Blackbird." Or the X-Men flying it. His conscience twinged even as he said the words. The X-Men were supposed to protect those who couldn’t protect themselves from people like Bastion, no matter who they were... and no matter what the cost.

Remy, apparently, had similar thoughts. His red eyes sparked dangerously, even without their eerie mutant glow. "I ain’ askin’ y’ t’ put de X-Men at risk f’ t’ieves, Cyclops." His voice was angry. "De Guild takes care o’ dere own." Remy stopped abruptly, his voice breaking on the last word. Scott stared in surprise as the other man’s flat mask shattered.

"Dose planes ’re full o’ children, Scott."

Children. The bottom dropped out of Scott’s stomach as he stared at Gambit. Similar feelings reflected on the faces of the X-Men around them. Somehow, in imagining Remy’s guild, he’d always thought of thieves only. Dark men who broke the law without concern for the rights or property of others. He’d never imagined families, never imagined children.

For a moment, he wondered if Gambit could be making that part up, manipulating him through his conscience. He wouldn’t put it past the Cajun, if for no other reason than he’d lied to them before when he thought there was a good enough reason.

Scott made his decision. He couldn’t ignore the need, but that didn’t mean he had to take Gambit’s word without testing its truthfulness. He nodded sharply. "All right, Gambit, you’ve got the Blackbird-- and me to fly it."

Gambit’s gaze flickered in surprise that shaded into approval. But, there was little argument that Scott was the best pilot they had.

Scott turned to the gathered X-Men, his expression grim. Time for that test. "Rogue, you’re my co-pilot," he told her. She understood the Blackbird’s systems better than most, and was a capable pilot. But more importantly, he knew Remy would never agree to risk her life without a very good reason.

Startled, Rogue nodded.

Scott turned back to Gambit, gauging his reaction. All he saw was a flash of dismay, quickly hidden as the thief nodded again. Scott kept his reaction to himself. Looks like he was telling the truth. Strangely, that made Scott feel better, and with his doubts resolved, the intense focus that was his hallmark came to life. Everything that needed to happen in order to get the Blackbird into the air scrolled through his mind. He automatically began juggling pieces to make the most efficient use of their time and resources.

"What about the rest of us?" Logan asked, his arms crossed over his chest.

Gambit shook his head. "Y’ can’ do much on de ground ’gainst Sentinels. If we can get dose planes down, de Guild c’n take care o’ gettin’ de kids out."

Logan scowled at him. "Ya ought ta take all the help ya c’n get, Gumbo."

"De X-Men can’ disappear like t’ieves can," Remy answered. "We ain’ plannin’ t’ fight. Jus’ snatch an’ run. Anyt’ing else be suicide."

Scott was forced to agree with the logic and saw Logan give Remy a begrudging nod. "What’s our time frame?" Scott asked.

The Cajun paused for several seconds as if referencing an internal clock the rest of them couldn’t see. "Forty-three minutes."

Who are these people? Scott thought as he turned the cloaked Blackbird to make an arcing pass across the makeshift landing strip the thieves had chosen. The landing site was simply a street, four lanes wide, that ran between two rows of office buildings. The late night traffic was sparse but present, and he worried briefly about the chances that some innocent motorist might get hurt. Two of the tallest buildings flanking the runway had significant activity on their roofs as people worked feverishly to finish assembling two high-density laser anti-aircraft cannon.

What are thieves doing with that kind of artillery, anyway? Scott shook his head. He wasn’t certain why they were bringing the airplanes into the heart of the city. It seemed to him that it would be safer to choose a more open landing site. The narrow tunnel between buildings would take both skill and luck to navigate, and that was without Sentinels. But maybe they felt they could disappear more easily in the dense city center.

"Rogue, where are they?" He made a quick visual sweep of the flight instruments. Everything was green, but they were burning precious fuel.

Beside him, Rogue kept her attention focused on the displays. "No sign yet, sugah. The Sentinels ’re still on their regular patrol routes." She glanced out the window for a moment as they circled and shook her head. "That’s quite the professional operation they’ve got goin’ down there." Her voice had a reflective quality that Scott had rarely heard. "Whoevah’s in charge knows what they’re doin’."

Surprised by the analysis, Scott nonetheless had to agree. The two anti-aircraft emplacements had nearly unlimited fields of fire and could cover the entire length of the street from aerial assault. The cannon were heavy enough to damage Sentinels, possibly even bring them down. Remy had assured him that the people manning them knew about the Blackbird and that it would splash as a friendly on their targeting screens once he dropped the cloaking field. Scott could only hope he was right.

Rogue straightened abruptly in her seat. "Got ’em, Cyke. Two bogeys comin’ in on heading one-one-zero. Sentinels are breakin’ off to take a look." She touched several keys on her instrument panel. "Let’s see if we can identify ’em."

On the pilot’s heads up display, Scott could see two blips that represented the distant aircraft and the larger splashes that marked the Sentinels. Adrenaline tingled through his veins as he turned the Blackbird on an intercept course and accelerated. They closed on the Sentinels with frightening speed, reaching them just as the first Sentinel opened fire. Scott decloaked the Bird and returned fire, cutting between the approaching Sentinels and the two business jets, and thanking Lilandra over and over again in his mind for the matchless performance the Shi’ar technology gave them.

Scott arced the Blackbird up and over the Sentinels, fighting to breathe through the g-forces that shoved against his chest. He rolled out, lining up on another Sentinel as he did so. He pressed the firing button, noticing at the same time that the trailing airplane of the two had a thick billow of smoke coming out of one engine. It was still on course, though, and Scott silently wished the pilot luck.

Bright red beams lanced out of the Blackbird’s underbelly, striking the Sentinel full on, staggering it. Shrill alarms began to wail in the cockpit as several other Sentinels locked onto them and Scott jinked wildly to evade the laser barrage. Twisting through the air, the Blackbird pulled away unharmed as the sky behind them lit up as the Sentinels came in range of the anti-aircraft guns.

Rogue’s face was pale as they rolled into a steep turn to bring them back into the fray. Below, the two business jets cut between the long row of buildings, losing both altitude and speed as they came in to land. At rooftop level, lasers crisscrossed the gap, creating a protective net that captured the Sentinels’ fire.

"Uh oh, sugah. They’re goin’ after the guns now." As Rogue spoke, two of the Sentinels dropped into a hover, their laser bombardment concentrated on the rooftops where the thieves maintained their counter fire.

Scott tried to target the nearer of the two, but couldn’t hold his position as three additional Sentinels barreled toward them. "They’re coming from everywhere!" he snarled as he threw the Blackbird into a steep climb to escape the forming trap. Seven Sentinel icons now swarmed on his display, with more arriving every few minutes.

"South gun emplacement destroyed," Rogue informed him, her tone flat. Scott didn’t need her to tell him that the men who had been manning the cannon were dead. As they came around again, he could see the pillar of flames rising from the top of the building. The wreckage of a Prime Sentinel tumbled from the sky, trailing smoke. Scott felt a wash of grim satisfaction. They’d taken one of the enemy with them, at least.

Scott advanced the throttles to make a strafing run of the line of Sentinels pursuing the two airplanes toward their landing site. The lead airplane was already on the ground, its engine noise a muted roar that echoed between the buildings as it poured on reverse thrust for braking. The second, smaller jet was just above and behind it, wavering slightly as the pilot struggled to land with only one engine.

Then several things happened at once. The Blackbird sliced across the space in front of the advancing Sentinels, spraying laser beams as the second gun emplacement exploded behind them in a ball of flames that engulfed the entire top of the building. In the sudden emptiness, one of the least damaged Sentinels opened fire on the business jets.

"No!" Rogue’s strangled cry was his only warning as the beams speared the wing of the smaller jet, shredding it. The suddenly destabilized airplane wheeled sharply and slammed into the face of one of the office buildings, exploding into flames. A wall of fire and smoke briefly hid the other jet from view.

Scott was filled with a nameless fury. He pulled hard on the controls, bringing the Blackbird around in a high-g loop that made the edges of his vision flicker and dove back toward the Sentinels, hammering them with his lasers. Return fire from the Sentinels slammed into the Blackbird’s shields, making the plane shudder.

An unfamiliar voice crackled across Scott’s headset. "Break off, Blackbird." Whoever it was was breathing heavily, as if he were running at the same time. "I repeat, break off. We’re pulling back. We got everyone we could." Even through the static and electrical noise, Scott could hear the suppressed anguish in the man’s voice.

The voice paused for a moment, then came back, full of raw sincerity. "I don’t know who you are, but thank you. We couldn’t have saved any of them without your help."

Scott looked over at Rogue and saw her mouth form a strained smile that matched his own feelings perfectly.

"You’re welcome," he told the unknown thief as he rolled the Blackbird into a turn, aiming for a break between two of the hovering Sentinels. "Blackbird, out." And with that he switched the cloaking field back on as they ducked between the machines and made a break for home.


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