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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 28

Scott leaned his head back against the soft leather of the couch in Gambit’s office, eyes closed. It was nearly midnight and he was bone tired despite the short nap he’d managed to snatch that afternoon. He could hear the muted clinking of glass and ice from the corner of the room as Remy made drinks for them.

With a sigh, Scott sat forward and reached for the open laptop that sat on the coffee table in front of him. He opened a browser window and selected a site from the favorites list. A plain, no-frills web site appeared, with "FreedomNet" inscribed across the top in star spangled letters.

"Shall we see what Trish has to say about our latest mission?" he asked rhetorically.

Several weeks earlier, Trish Tilby had abdicated her position as a national news anchor for one of the big television stations and had started reporting for one of the upstart anti-OZT groups that had begun distributing uncensored news over the internet. Scott had not hesitated to pounce on the opportunity. Now, whenever the X-Men planned a mission, Scott--through Gambit and his thieves-- made sure Trish got a tip on where and when to be to get the scoop. It served two purposes: the first being to let people know that someone, somewhere was successfully fighting OZT, and the second, to let the X-Men claim responsibility for their actions. That was the only way to protect the Guild. If the X-Men claimed sole responsibility for the sabotage, then there was no reason for those in charge in the government to look for others who might be involved.

Remy settled on the couch next to him with a drink in either hand. He handed Scott’s whiskey to him and set his own scotch down on the table. In an unusual surrender to comfort, Remy had abandoned his jacket and tie earlier in the evening, and had rolled up the sleeves of his shirt, which made him seem a great deal more normal in Scott’s eyes. These days, Scott could hardly remember the unreliable wastrel he’d once believed Gambit to be.

Scott checked the FreedomNet page, but Trish’s midnight segment had not yet appeared. He took a sip of his drink. "You know, once this is all over with, I’m going to have to make some changes to the team rosters." Scott refused to entertain the idea that OZTs dominance might never end, and in the back of his mind he continued to plan for the day the world returned to something resembling normal.

Remy took a sip of his own drink, watching Scott curiously over the rim. "Why’s dat?"

Scott shrugged. "Rather than trying to make the Blue and Gold teams relatively equal in terms of power distribution like we’ve done in the past, I think it would make more sense to have one team that’s the core assault team, and one that’s a lot more... flexible in the roles they can fill." His lips quirked into a wry smile that Remy echoed. The X-Men had gotten a significant lesson recently in accomplishing their goals through alternate means. Scott couldn’t deny that, even with their powers restored, there would be times when reverting to those methods would be most effective.

Scott ran his hands through his hair. "Anyway, that second team should be yours." He gestured toward Remy.

To his surprise, Remy immediately shook his head. "Non."

"What do you mean?"

Remy frowned. "Y’ ain’t gon’ make me leader of anyt’ing for de X-Men. Sorry."

Scott regarded him quizzically. His first instinct, still, was to get angry at the flat refusal, but he knew Remy too well by now. He would have his reasons. Even if Scott didn’t agree with them, he would have them.

"All right. Why not?" he asked.

Remy swirled his drink, eliciting a musical tinkle of ice and glass. "Dere’s too many eyes on de X-Men." He raised the glass to his lips. "Assumin’ dere comes a day when de X-Men are operatin’ out of Xavier’s School for Gifted Youngsters again, I’m gon’ be de same person dere I’ve always been." He flashed his most irritating grin and Scott rolled his eyes. But, he had to admit he had a point. Remy wouldn’t want the kind of attention leading one of the teams would bring, regardless of how well he might do the job.

Scott wagged a warning finger at him. "Fine. But you’d better start showing up for morning practices, at least."

Remy chuckled, a wicked sound that made Scott think he was unlikely to get much cooperation on that one. He found himself grinning, too, despite his annoyance. He’d happily trade their present circumstances for one in which he had the luxury of waging a running battle of wills with Gambit over something as insignificant as morning practices.

Setting his drink aside, he refreshed the FreedomNet page and was rewarded when a new thumbnail image appeared on the screen. "Looks like they’ve posted Trish’s new segment," he said.

He tapped the image and watched as the file loaded. Eventually, the screen was taken over by a picture of Trish Tilby. The picture quality was fair, but without the benefit of studio lighting and makeup artists, Trish seemed both paler and less put-together than she’d been as an anchor. She held a microphone in one hand, and her gaze roved the area around her, only returning to the camera for brief periods as she spoke.

"Hello, America," she said. "I’m standing in the middle of an ordinary suburban neighborhood on the outskirts of New York right now." She gestured toward the two upper middle-class houses that were visible in the backdrop. "Behind me, past the edge of this neighborhood, is an industrial park controlled by Operation Zero Tolerance. Several times a day, Prime Sentinels can be seen landing there to refuel." The camera shifted over Trish’s shoulder, focusing on the gap between the houses. Behind them, the land sloped down into a broad valley where the fueling depot could be seen, laid out exactly like the schematics Scott had stared at for so many hours. Briefly, the scene cut away to show a stock footage-like view of the depot, with a dozen Prime Sentinels lowering themselves into the center of the complex.

The scene disappeared and the camera refocused on Trish. "Now, I don’t know exactly what’s going to happen here, but I received a communique from the X-Men earlier today, so I suspect we will be finding out shortly. As most of you are aware, the X-Men, despite having lost their mutant powers, have dared to defy Operation Zero Tolerance here in the New York area. Other groups in other parts of the country and around the world have also been fighting back, but none with such undeniable--" She cut off as the first of the fuel bunkers detonated. Trish ducked, instinctively raising her arms to protect her head as a massive pillar of orange flame roared into the sky behind her. The second followed mere moments afterward, and then the last three went up simultaneously. For a second there was only the continuous deafening rumble of the explosion, but then Scott heard someone behind camera whooping in unrestrained glee.

Scott grinned. "Wow, that was more impressive than I thought." When the bunkers had gone up, he’d been too busy running to look behind him.

Trish had turned to watch the explosions, but now returned her attention to the camera. "Well, there you have it," she told them with a smile. "Yet another victory for the X-Men, and for all of us citizens of this great country-- and another defeat for OZT. This is Trish Tilby reporting." The screen blanked for less than a second, and the image that replaced it was once again Trish, but this time seated on a stool in front of a plain beige curtain. Scott knew she and her film crew stayed on the move to avoid arrest and detention by OZT’s forces, so she had no set to film in front of.

"In other news," she said, "protesters gathered on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial this past weekend to demand that the President and Congress put a stop to the Prime Sentinels program and OZT." Trish’s visage disappeared, replaced by a scene of the mall in Washington D.C. A sea of people surrounded the Lincoln Memorial, carrying signs and yelling slogans as they milled about. The film was of lower quality than the previous clip and jerked badly, as if someone were carrying a hand-held recorder as they walked through the crowd. Scott saw signs reading "Land of the FREE, home of the brave" and "No more OZT" and even flags with the Nazi’s black swastika and OZT printed across it.

"Bastion’s plan is starting to backfire on him," Scott commented. He had to work to push down the excitement that wanted to rise up from his gut. It would be easy to start believing their eventual victory was assured just because average Americans were getting angry enough to protest OZT.

The footage of the protest continued as Trish’s overlaid voice described the event. At one point, Scott saw a sign move across the screen, carried by a person in the crowd. It startled him so much that his hands automatically went to the laptop’s touch pad. He stopped the newscast and rewound it so he could catch another glimpse of the placard.

"What is it?" Remy asked beside him. He couldn’t see any of the images, only hear the footage and Trish’s descriptions.

"Someone was carrying a sign--" Scott found the appropriate place and restarted the playback. "There." He spotted it again, focusing solely on the short-lived image to make sure he’d read it right. He had. Something bright and hot and hopeful sprang to life in his chest.

"It says ’Mutants have rights too’," he told Remy.

"Y’ kidding." The other man was skeptical.

Scott shook his head. "I don’t think I’d believe it if I hadn’t just seen it for myself." His mind began to race through the possibilities. Was it even remotely possible that Bastion’s plan to destroy mutants could instead give birth to the one thing mutants had never had? In the past, even the mention of mutant rights had been enough to kill a politician’s career in its tracks. Now, though... Scott stroked his chin, lost in thought.

"Don’ like it when you go all quiet like dat, mon ami," Remy commented sourly.

Scott came back to himself with a start. "What?"

Remy uttered a snort. "Uh huh. Put de grand plans f’ stormin’ de White House or whatnot away, Fearless. We got more than enough on our plates as it is."

Scott grimaced, chagrined. He had been letting his imagination run away with him, though he hadn’t actually been thinking of paying the President a visit. He sighed as reality returned, heavy as a lead weight resting between his shoulder blades. He picked up his drink. "Politics is an entirely self-serving entity. I guess if enough people take up the cause of mutant rights, we’ll have champions coming out of the woodwork without us doing a thing."

Remy nodded. "F’ now, de best t’ing we can do is t’ keep bloodying Bastion’s nose." He tipped his head toward the laptop where Trish continued to detail events from around the country. "An’ makin’ sure Ms. Tilby broadcasts it t’ the world."

Scott raised his glass in a silent salute. "I guess I can drink to that."

Jubilee crawled away from the burning wreckage of the ship, her breath coming in ragged gasps. One leg was a twisted mess of raw flesh and shattered bone. She dragged that leg behind her as she crawled toward the shelter of the nearest building. Someone would come to investigate the crash. She had to disappear before they got there, or OZT would find her. So she forced herself to keep moving despite the searing pain in her chest where the restraints had cut into her, and the total agony of her ruined leg.

Just make it into the building, she told herself. That’s one step closer to Wolverine. For a while she allowed herself to fantasize that Wolvie was, in fact, waiting just inside for her with his scratchy, rumbling voice and strong hands. She would even be grateful to smell his nasty cigar-breath.

The fantasy lasted until she reached the edge of the loading dock adjoining the building. A set of cement stairs on each end of the dock led up to its surface, where a series of rolling doors, like metal garage doors, marched down the side of the building.

Faintly, Jubilee heard sirens. Frantic, she started up the shallow flight of stairs, but the pain in her leg from trying to lever herself upward was enough to choke the breath out of her. Even so, she tried to climb, until her vision whited out and her arms shook too badly to hold her weight up. She simply couldn’t go any farther. She sagged against the stairs and laid her head down. The rough cement pressed against her cheek, but she hardly felt it.

The sound of sirens grew into a deafening wail. A fire truck and a police car pulled up a short distance from the wreckage, their lights flashing. The sirens abruptly cut out as the two vehicles came to a stop, and Jubilee breathed a sigh of relief. Men poured out of the vehicles, moving about in the familiar purposeful chaos of first responders.

Don’t see me, she begged them silently. Please don’t see me.

She wasn’t that lucky. “Hey, I got one over here!” she heard one of the men shout, and then footsteps crunched hurriedly across the pavement toward her. A man in yellow firefighters’ overalls and a blue FDNY t-shirt bent over her, medic’s kit in one hand.

“Honey, can you hear me?” he asked. Jubilee felt his fingers at her throat, checking her pulse. “My name’s Mike. I’m with the fire department. You’re going to be all right.” He set down his kit and opened it.

“Don’t take me back there,” Jubilee begged him. Her voice barely rose above a whisper. “Please, don’t take me back.”

Mike paused to look at her. “Don’t take you back where, honey?”

Jubilee didn’t answer. She was too afraid to name OZT, as if the label might give Bastion ownership of her once again.

A second fireman jogged over and knelt beside Jubilee. “I called for a bus,” he told Mike. He was a severe-looking man, all straight lines and sharp angles, but when his gaze fell on Jubilee, he smiled a genuine smile. “Can you tell me your name?” he asked. His eyes were as blue as Logan’s.

“Jubilation,” she rasped before she could stop herself. “Jubilation Lee.”

“Well, Jubilation, that’s a pretty name,” the blue-eyed man said. “Were you flying that aircraft over there?” he nodded toward the burning wreck, which the other firemen had begun spraying with water from a hose.

Jubilee didn’t answer. If they knew she’d been in the shuttle, they’d realize where she’d come from. At least they seemed to think it was an airplane rather than a spacecraft. She felt gentle fingers exploring her injuries.

The blue-eyed man leaned down to stare directly into her face, his expression intense. “Jubilation, this is very important. Was there anyone else aboard the plane when it crashed?”

Jubilee wanted to say yes, so they would leave her alone to go looking for other survivors, but then if they got hurt, it would be her fault. An X-Man wouldn’t risk their lives like that, she thought. Slowly, she shook her head.

“All right,” the blue-eyed man said with another smile. “You’re doing just fine, Jubilation.”

The two firemen fitted a brace around her neck, and then began strapping her onto a flat, hard board. As the first strap began to tighten, Jubilee panicked. With a shriek of pure terror, she surged off the board and onto the steps, fighting to haul herself upward, away from them.

Immediately, big, strong arms caught her, wrapped her up. “Whoa! Easy, there, honey.” She heard Mike’s voice in her ear. “You’re okay. No one’s going to hurt you now. I promise.”

The burst of adrenaline energy drained out of Jubilee as quickly as it had come. She wanted to struggle-- to kick and scratch-- anything to make them let go of her, but she just didn’t have the strength. Instead, she began to cry.

She didn’t resist as they carried her down the steps and away from the wreckage. They set her down with a tiny jolt that nevertheless felt like someone was driving steel pins into her leg. She cried out in pain, and immediately one of the firemen stroked her hair in a comforting gesture.

“Mike, take a look at this.” The note of alarm in the blue-eyed man’s voice made Jubilee’s insides go cold with terror. The hand left her hair.

Jubilee lifted her head to look down her body toward where the two were leaning over her leg, their expressions intent.

“What is that?” Mike asked incredulously. “A fungus?” He used one gloved hand to prod a spot on her leg, and to Jubilee’s surprise, she barely felt it.

The blue-eyed man shook his head as a new siren picked up in the distance. “I’ve seen this before. They’re nannites.” He shook his head sadly. “No wonder she’s terrified.” He pointed to a different place on her leg. “See the metal bracer there where it attaches to the knee? This is Sentinels tech.”

Sentinels? The word spun sickeningly through Jubilee’s mind. Is that what they did to me?

The wailing siren resolved itself into an ambulance. It halted next to the police car, and the siren mercifully cut out. The EMTs jumped out and fetched their gurney from the back, which they brought over to where Jubilee lay.

The blue-eyed fireman immediately caught the senior EMT by the arm. “Take this one to O-MOM,” he commanded. “There’s a Doc Reyes there. Make sure she goes to Reyes and nobody else.”

The EMT nodded, taken aback. “Sure thing, buddy.”

Jubilee began to lose track as the two EMTs cut apart her prison jumper and began to apply bandages to her wounds. The world around her took on an oddly two-dimensional quality and began to waver. Sounds dulled, acquiring strange echoes until she could no longer understand what the men were saying. After a bit she forgot why she cared. She was vaguely aware as they loaded her into the back of the ambulance, and after that, nothing.

Remy woke to the sound of someone banging on his door. He groaned as his head began to throb in time to the noise. He had no idea what time it was--he rarely did, since he couldn’t read clocks anymore--but he knew he couldn’t have been sleeping for more than an hour or so by the way he felt.

I swear, de complex better be on fire, he thought uncharitably toward whoever was out there. There were precious few people who would dare to disturb the Guildmaster in his own quarters, and those that would, had the sense not to wake him over trivialities.

Feeling the first stirrings of alarm, he sat up and fished a pair of jeans out from beneath the bed. Inside the Guild complex he never wore anything besides a suit unless he was going to work out, but in the privacy of his personal suite he still preferred more casual clothes.

Barefoot and shirtless, Remy padded to the door and threw it open. “What is it?”

Bobby stood outside the door. Remy could see the other man’s heart racing, and his own warning instincts came alive. Bobby was not the kind to panic over something little.

“Remy, we’ve got big problems,” Bobby said, his voice low and fierce. He held something in one hand that he waved in Remy’s general direction. From the sound, Remy guessed it was a piece of paper.

“What is dat?” Remy forced himself to keep his cool. He leaned one shoulder against the door jamb and nodded toward the paper.

“It’s a copy of a photograph.” Frustration colored the other man’s voice. “Someone found out about you and Rogue.”

The bottom dropped out of Remy’s stomach. He reeled, fighting nausea as one of his worst fears was abruptly realized. “How many people know?” he asked, the taste of bile rising in the back of his throat.

Bobby shook his head. “It’s all over the Guild. Why do you think I’m pounding on your door at 2:00am? You’ve got to get a jump on this thing. Come morning, it’s going to explode.”

Remy didn’t get a chance to respond as the door on the far side of his office swung open.

“I’m afraid it’s already too late for that,” Chess LaSalle said, his voice hard with real anger. Artur, Tom O’Shane and Adrian Tyre stood behind him. Remy read disappointment and anger from all of them save Adrian, whose heat signature glowed with satisfaction.

Remy held on to his composure by pure force of will. But inside, he was raging. It had to have been Adrian. The man was just too smug not to have had a hand in it. Remy had no idea what exactly was in the photo Bobby held. He knew it couldn’t be too risqué, but it was obviously enough to expose his lie, and now everything he had worked so hard to build was going to collapse for the sake of a single secret.

Bobby stepped back, out of the way, as the four men approached Remy.

“You had an obligation to tell us about your relationship with this woman, Guildmaster.” Artur’s soft voice held a note of betrayal that cut Remy deeply. No matter how hard he worked or how much he sacrificed, it was always the things he couldn’t afford to admit that people judged him on.

Remy gathered his wits. He felt acutely underdressed standing there in nothing but a pair of ratty jeans, unprepared to face their accusations, but he didn’t have any choice.

“I know,” he answered Artur. “It was hard enough t’ convince de council an’ de Guild t’ ally wit’ de X-Men as it was.” As he spoke, the remaining members of the council entered the room. Some, Remy was certain from the way they moved, had been gotten out of bed as recently as himself. He turned his attention back to Artur. “If y’d known about Rogue, dere’s no way de X-Men would have been allowed into the complex.”

“And that justifies lying to this council, not to mention every single member of the Guild and clans?” Adrian’s voice reeked of wounded sincerity.

Remy didn’t look at Adrian, but instead kept his attention on Chess and Artur. If he couldn’t win them over, he was truly sunk. “I omitted a very inconvenient fact,” he qualified. “Because de alliance wit’ de X-Men was too important t’ risk.” He resisted the urge to run his hands through his hair in pure frustration. “De relationship ended de moment de X-Men set foot inside de complex.”

Adrian cocked his head. “Oh, I’m certain you were smart enough not to take her to your bed here, but I very much doubt the relationship is over.” The nameless colors that made up his face twitched in a way that made Remy suspect he was smiling-- or smirking, more like.

“What makes you say that?” Chess asked before Remy could come up with a response.

Adrian turned to look at the other council members. “Surely the council has noticed how Rogue has been positioning herself within the clans. She’s already involved in two-thirds of the responsibilities normally taken up by the Guildmistress.”

Remy nearly burst out laughing at that, but managed to contain it to a pained snort. “Whatever Rogue has gotten involved in,” he explained when the council members all looked at him, “it’s because she wants t’ help people, not ‘cause she’s tryin’ t’ position herself f’ anyt’ing. She’s not dat conniving.” He forbore mentioning the fact that Rogue hated the Guild and had made it clear she didn’t want to have anything to do with it once OZT was gone. It certainly wouldn’t help his case. And the implied insult to the Guild would only make things worse.

“So you say,” Adrian answered smoothly. “But I don’t think your word is going to be sufficient this time.”

Remy’s eyes narrowed. He itched to simply reach out and kill the man where he stood, but he knew that was a stupid, selfish impulse. Instead, he shifted against the doorframe and crossed his arms. “What kind o’ proof are y’ lookin’ for, Adrian? De X-Men came here in de hopes o’ bein’ able t’ find a real way t’ fight Bastion an’ OZT. Their actions speak for dem.”

If possible, Adrian’s tone became even more smug. “It’s your actions that concern me, Guildmaster.”

Chess held up a hand to forestall Adrian before he could say anything more, but his gaze remained on Remy. “This can’t be ignored, Guildmaster.”

Remy bit back a sigh. “What are y’ planning t’ do?”

Chess looked at the men around him. “The council will meet tomorrow to discuss it.” His tone hardened. He started to turn his wheelchair away. “We’ll let you know what we decide.”


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