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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 43

Trish stood with her back to the tunnel door while Gambit and Bobby repeated the process to disarm the security measures. She’d deliberately placed her body to block the camera’s view of their actions. She suspected it was the only way she would get to keep the segment.

She kept her voice low as she aimed her words directly toward the camera lens. “We are now right outside the manufacturing center. Behind this door lies the heart of Operation: Zero Tolerance’s Prime Sentinels program.”

“Got it,” Bobby said quietly behind her. There was a brief rustle as the two men repacked their tools, and then both rose to their feet behind her.

Wolverine and Bishop moved forward, their weapons in their hands. Wolverine waved at Trish and her cameraman to get back.

Obediently, Trish edged along the wall as Eddie backed up, trying to stay in the frame but off to one side so the camera could focus on the door. Her stomach tied itself in knots as Gambit pulled the door open on Wolverine’s quick count. This is it.

Crouched low, Bishop and Wolverine swung out into the hallway in opposite directions, rifles held ready. After a moment, Wolverine gestured for the rest to join them.

Trish found herself in yet another plain, institutional hallway running perpendicular to the tunnel they’d just left. Directly ahead, glass windows laced with crosshatched reinforcing filaments looked in on a large square room that was lined floor-to-ceiling with rows of stainless steel drawers. A wider-than-standard door allowed access from the room on the far side. The floor was covered in white ceramic tiles and several metal gurneys sat at odd angles in the middle of the otherwise empty floor. It looked alarmingly like a morgue.

“What’s in there?” Trish asked Cyclops.

He shrugged. “No clue. We have structural plans for this area, but nothing about the interiors.” He met her gaze. “To a degree we’re now at your disposal, Ms. Tilby. Let us know what you want to see and we’ll try to make it happen.”

“Let’s start in there, then,” she said and nodded toward the room. The door lay directly across from the one they’d entered through, which would make the process of wheeling those gurneys from the tunnel into the room relatively simple.

Cyclops turned to Gambit. “Objections?”

Gambit shook his head. “Non. Might as well look. We’ve got t’ find de air returns anyway.”

He and Bobby made short work of the door, which had one of the ubiquitous black sensor pads beside it, and soon they were inside. Their footsteps echoed loudly on the tiles, making Trish wince.

With Eddie in tow, she walked over to the bank of burnished stainless steel drawers and reached for a random handle, only to have Cyclops slap her hand away.

“Don’t touch anything unless you’ve cleared it with them.” He nodded toward Bobby and Gambit, who had their heads together examining another of the drawers.

Trish rubbed the back of her hand, embarrassed by her slip. “Right. Sorry.”

Gathering her composure she turned to face the camera once again. “Well, we’re now inside.” She gestured to the bank of wide metal drawers. “This is the first room we’ve come to, and I don’t know if it’s more or less than I expected. Right now we’re waiting for confirmation that it’s safe to open these drawers without setting off any alarms.”

Out of the corner of her eye, she saw Gambit nod. “They’re clean,” he said. “Open anyt’ing y’ want.”

At that, Cyclops reached for the drawer Trish had chosen and pulled it open. It slid out in a scrabbling of ungreased ball bearings. Warm air washed over her, smelling faintly of disinfectant and urine. Trish stared, momentarily at a loss for words.

A body lay on the extending metal slab. It was a man, naked and nearly hairless. Both his head and his chest had been shaved clean. She’d known going in that she would find people in here—if OZT was making their sentinels out of ordinary citizens there would have to be—but it was still a shock to see.

She looked up at the camera, uncertain what to say. A voice in the back of her mind commented on how perfect the shot was—she and Cyclops standing side by side with the body laid out in front of them.

Cyclops reached out to lay two fingers against the man’s carotid artery.

“He’s alive,” he said, his voice tight. “Breathing is really slow—he must be sedated.”

“A drug-induced coma is most likely,” Hank said over the communication link.

“Can we wake him up?” Joseph asked. He stared at the man, his blue eyes filled with horror.

Hank’s voice echoed solemnly in their ears. “Without knowing the drugs being used to keep him comatose—no. But even if we knew that and had the proper counter agents on hand, the process would take hours.”

Shaking herself into motion, Trish backed up and yanked on the next drawer in line. It slid open to reveal another body, similar to the first. The third one held a woman.

“Are you getting this?” she asked her camera man in a voice that didn’t sound like her own.

“Yeah,” Eddie answered. He sounded as strange as she did.

“I don’t see any scars.” Wolverine came up beside them, his expression carefully guarded.

Cyclops looked down at the comatose people. “No. This is probably just a staging area.” He stepped back. “Let’s go. There’s nothing we can do for them here.”

Trish looked into the camera once again. “If anyone watching this broadcast can identify any of these people, please let us know. There’s a link to my email on the FreedomNet site.” A thought struck her. “And call your local law enforcement agency. Let them know that OZT is holding someone you know prisoner here in their Virginia plant.”

Nodding to Cyclops, she stepped away. With expressions of regret, the X-Men slid the drawers closed. Cyclops gestured for Gambit and Bobby to take them through the door at the back of the room. Trish agreed with his choice. The door had obviously been designed to take the gurneys through, and following the bodies was probably the fastest way to get to where they wanted to go.

The next room looked like something out of a modern-day Frankenstein movie. Trish hunched her shoulders, suppressing a shiver. This room, too, was lined with the same white ceramic tiles and filled with a tangle of laboratory paraphernalia. Three doors led from the room, one on each wall.

Trish found a spot near the middle of the room where Eddie could capture both her and most of the equipment arrayed around her.

“This room lies directly beyond the one where those people lie comatose—imprisoned by OZT and destined for what can only be described as a horrendous fate.”

She gestured to the tangle of glass and stainless steel nearby. “Here you can clearly see four bays, each approximately the right size to wheel a gurney into.” Each bay was lined with an identical set of equipment, the most notable of which was a pair of tall, clear glass tanks.

Trish pointed to the tanks. “I have no idea what these substances might be.” One of each pair was filled with a transparent liquid that could easily have been water or saline. The other contained a viscous substance that reminded her strongly of poppy seed salad dressing. It was a dirty yellow in color and contained streaks of black that appeared to be made of many tiny granules in suspension.

She gestured for Eddie to focus in on the yellow fluid. “But that doesn’t look like anything I’d want to have injected into my arm.” She pointed to the tray of phlebotomy equipment sat ready beside each pair of tanks, sealed in the sterile bags she recognized from other hospital stories she’d done. She saw several large gauge needles along with an array of smaller ones, cotton balls, gauze and bandages.

A folded, dog-eared piece of paper lay on top of one of the trays, and curious, Trish went to examine it.

“There’s an air return,” Bobby said as she was reaching for the paper. He indicated a large grille set into the wall on their left at floor level. Around Trish, the rest of the X-Men spread out, examining the room and its contents.

Bobby knelt and began removing the screws holding the vent in place. Gambit sank into a crouch nearby, setting his pack on the floor in front of him. He pulled out four complex-looking metallic disks, each about the size of a small dessert plate, but thicker. After a quick examination which, Trish noted, he did entirely by touch, he tucked all four into a couple of pockets on the front of his uniform that looked like they’d been designed for just that purpose.

Trish picked up the piece of paper she’d spied and unfolded it. Her stomach twisted savagely as she read. One of the technicians who used this room had written himself a set of instructions, including a couple of hand-drawn diagrams showing the proper injection sites for the various substances they were using.

“Cyclops, come look at this.” She motioned him over then held the paper up for the camera. In terms of evidence, it was pure gold. “This room is where they introduce the nannites. It looks like they inject them both into the blood stream and directly into the spinal column.” Turning the paper around again she traced the diagrams with a finger, trying to puzzle out the names of the various pharmaceuticals from the technician’s abbreviations.

“That’s an immunosuppressive,” she said, tapping one name. She wasn’t certain what the others might be.

Cyclops took the paper when she offered it, his gaze narrowing as he scanned its contents. “Beast will want to see this,” he said eventually and handed it back to her.

Nodding, Trish folded the paper up and tucked it into a pocket on her cargo pants. Her heart hammered in her chest, a combination of nerves and excitement.

Cyclops turned toward the far side of the room where Gambit now lay on the ground on his back, head and shoulders inside the air return shaft. Trish momentarily wished she’d been paying more attention. The shaft couldn’t have been more than about two feet by three, and she wasn’t entirely certain how he’d managed to squeeze his shoulders into such a narrow space.

“Is that going to work?” Cyclops asked the other man.

“Should,” came the muffled response.

Cyclops glanced at his watch. “We need to get the clock started as soon as possible.”

Gambit didn’t answer. Instead, he slithered deeper inside the vent, making remarkably little noise.

Trish watched until his toes had disappeared, then looked up at Cyclops. “What clock?”

The X-Men’s field leader gave her a piercing stare. “We don’t dare go very far inside this place until the sentinels have been dealt with.” He nodded toward the far wall and the vent Gambit had disappeared into. “He’s going to place gas canisters in one of the central air exchanges that will release a neuro-paralyzing agent and hopefully disable anything in this place with nannites inside it.”

Trish absorbed that with interest, wondering if Hank had been the one to develop the paralyzing agent for them. Except that Bobby had said he no longer had a lab.

She pursed her lips as she looked up at Cyclops. “So who created the neuro-paralyzer for you?”

His expression turned wary. “That’s classified.”

Trish raised an eyebrow. “Classified as in government, or classified as in you don’t want to tell me?” SHIELD had moved in to protect Warren Worthington. Could the government be quietly supporting the X-Men in other ways? She wasn’t certain what such a paradigm shift might mean in the long term but it was most definitely newsworthy.

Unfortunately, Cyclops’ only response was a flat stare and Trish swallowed a surge of frustration.

“Yo, Cyke.” Wolverine stood beside one of the doors that led out of the room. This one was located in the wall opposite the one with the vent. Unlike the door at the back of the room, which was oversized to accommodate the gurneys, the two doors on either side of the room were of ordinary width. “It don’t look like there’s any security on these doors.” He indicated the door he stood by, as well as the identical one opposite it. “I’d like ta take a look on the far side while we’re waitin’.”

Cyclops cocked his head, considering, and then nodded. “Get Iceman to verify the doors are clean. And take Bishop with you.” He turned to Storm, who had quietly been going through the contents of the various cabinets and storage containers in the room.

“Anything?” he asked her.

She shook her head. “No, nothing.”

Cyclops sighed, looking vaguely disappointed. “Okay, then why don’t you and Psylocke take the other side.”

Storm acknowledged him with a graceful nod, and she and the other woman headed toward the appropriate door.

“What was she looking for?” Trish wanted to know.

Cyclops didn’t look at her. “Records. Anything with names or dates on it that might help identify the people OZT has done this to.”

Trish just nodded. Such information would be the mother lode. Legal action could be based on something like that—criminal charges of a severity to render Worthington’s civil suit superfluous.

Cyclops raised his gaze toward the ceiling. “Status, Gambit?”

Over the communication link, she heard the other man grunt. “Workin’ on it.” He sounded out of breath.

“How much longer?”


Trish saw Cyclops’ lips thin. “Could you be more specific?” he asked sharply.

“Sure t’ing, Cyke.” When Gambit’s voice came back across the link, it was filled with biting sarcasm. “Let me jus’ stop a minute an’ look at m’ watch.”

For a moment Cyclops’ expression darkened like he was going to get truly angry, but then the expression gave way. “Fine. Just let me know as soon as those canisters are set.” He reached up to pinch the bridge of his nose.

Gambit didn’t answer.

In the meantime, Bobby had apparently given his okay to the two groups getting ready to move through the doors on the sides of the room. Trish dithered for a moment then motioned for Eddie to follow her toward Wolverine and Bishop.

The two men went through the door in a practiced rush, weapons ready. Trish followed more slowly and found herself in a somewhat barren-looking room. A row of deep stainless steel sinks lined one wall. A table pushed up against the opposite wall held three squat devices that looked a bit like toaster ovens. She identified them as autoclaves after a moment. Two additional doors led out of the room—one directly across from where Trish had entered and the other to her right. She was beginning to think the place was laid out like a giant warren.

“Sterilization room,” Wolverine said, his tone brusque. “Not gonna find anything useful in here.”

Feeling vaguely disappointed, Trish had to agree. They returned to the room with the nannites, only to find Cyclops standing in the open doorway on the far side. He gestured to Trish when he saw her. His gaze had gone hard.

“You’re going to want to see this, Ms. Tilby.”

Trish hurried over with Eddie on her heels. Cyclops held the door for them as she and Eddie stepped cautiously inside.

The room contained a giant walk-in freezer. Storm had the door open and condensation billowed out around her. The cold air struck Trish as she approached, making her shiver, but she forgot all such mundane concerns as soon as she got close enough to see the interior of the freezer.

It was full of bodies. Dead bodies. They were wrapped in clear plastic and stacked haphazardly against the walls and on long shelves on either side of a narrow center aisle. Psylocke crouched next to one such pile, brushing frost from the plastic sheets to better see through them.

“I don’t know if you can see this,” Trish told the camera. She knelt down next to Psylocke, pointing toward the pile. “These are corpses.” She stopped there, and instead listened as Psylocke described the condition of the bodies to Hank.

“It’s quite possible that the introduction of nannites to the system is more traumatic than we had been led to believe,” Hank responded after a moment. “OZT’s use of immunosuppression drugs would point to the likelihood that the body would naturally view the nannites as an invasion of foreign entities and respond accordingly.” He paused, and Trish could imagine him adjusting his glasses. “At least until they had overtaken the immune system itself.”

“Do you know what killed them?” Trish found herself asking.

“Anaphylactic shock would be my first guess,” Hank answered. “It is an aggressive immune reaction.”

Trish repeated his answer for the camera then looked around. “This many?”

“Possibly,” Hank sounded disturbed. “Or they were discarded as sentinel candidates for some other reason and OZT had no further use for them.”

Trish bit her lip, feeling ill. She stared at the bodies. “How could this be happening and no one notice all these people going missing?” she demanded.

None of the X-Men had an answer for her. The silence that followed was so complete that Trish jumped when Gambit’s voice rang in her ear.

“Canisters are set an’ I’m on m’ way back down.”

“Acknowledged,” Cyclops answered. He looked at his watch.

The X-Men quietly made their way back into the lab room. Eddie paused to check the camera lens—making sure the change in temperature hadn’t fogged it—and then made another sweep of the interior of the freezer, pausing to zoom in on some of the bodies. Trish waited for him at the door and followed him back to the others once he was done.

Gambit was just sliding out of the vent when she entered the room. Bobby offered a hand to the other man to help him to his feet, which he accepted. Trish noted the tremor of fatigue that ran through Gambit’s muscles at the action. Letting go of Bobby, he shook himself, all loose-limbed, and then did a few quick stretches. The dressing Wolverine had put on the gash in his arm had soaked through, though he didn’t seem to notice. His knuckles, too, were bloodied, and Trish wondered just how difficult his climb through the air ducts had been.

“All right, everyone.” With an indecipherable glance at Gambit, Cyclops moved to the front of the group. “We’ve got approximately twenty minutes before the paralyzer takes full effect, so let’s take things slow.”

“We movin’ forward?” Wolverine asked.

Cyclops nodded. “Cautiously. We still don’t know exactly how far away the sentinels can sense us.”

Bishop and Wolverine took the lead once again as they moved into the next room. Gambit, she noted, had developed a slight limp. It was barely visible—just a hitch in his otherwise fluid gait.

Wolverine’s low growl set the hairs on the back of Trish’s neck to prickling. She ducked into the next room, tensed in anticipation, and found herself in a hospital ward. Two rows of beds lined the room, about half filled with patients. Familiar-looking racks sat by each bed, hung with bags of saline, and a small screen mounted over each showed heart traces and the like. The sheer normalness of the scene was enough to make Trish’s skin crawl.

“Okay, this place is seriously starting to creep me out,” Bobby said in an undertone.

Cyclops moved over to one of the occupied beds. “I guess these are the ones that survived the nannites.” His hands twitched as if he wanted to reach out to the comatose man in the bed and then slowly closed into fists.

He glanced back at his team, his gaze hooded. “Let’s keep moving.”

Eddie paused to film each of the sleeping patients. They’d do a voice over, Trish decided, once again asking for anyone who could identify these people to send the information in. But for now, she just wanted to move forward and not look too closely at the still forms.

The door at the far end of the room let out onto a broad hallway running perpendicular to their current path. Pairs of swinging doors marched down the far side of the hall, each with large windows cut into them at eye-height.

Wolverine and Bishop quickly scouted down to the ends of the hall, glancing into each of the rooms they passed as they did so. Apparently seeing no one, they returned.

“They’re surgical theatres,” Wolverine said. Something in his voice made Trish take a second look at him. She had never seen the small man portray much emotion—his repertoire seemed to consist only of dangerous and angry—but she would swear she saw something like fear lurking in the depths of his denim-colored eyes. Though if even half of what she’d heard about the Weapon X program was true, she couldn’t blame him. This place had to bring back some things he’d rather not remember.

Cyclops simply nodded. “We expected as much.” Grim lines bracketed his mouth. “Let’s keep going.”

Rogue wandered the periphery of the tower, restlessly scanning the installation grounds. Nothing moved outside. The sporadic conversation of her teammates echoed in her ear, their voices reassuring despite the grim topic. Her mind kept flashing back to those terrifying moments of silence, not knowing whether Remy was alive or dead. The idea that it might simply end with so many, many things left unresolved had left her trembling and shaken.

It wasn’t even about the argument they’d had the day before. That had been trivial, stupid. No, it was the deeper questions that ate at her—the ones she was afraid to hear the answers to. The ones she knew she needed answers to if she and Remy were going to have any chance of being happy in whatever time they had together.

After double checking to make sure her communicator was muted, she turned toward her mother. “Can ah ask ya somethin’?” she began hesitantly.

Mystique didn’t look up from where she studied the grounds through her rifle sight, but Rogue saw her eyebrows flicker. “Of course.”

Rogue chewed on her bottom lip, but then forced herself to go on. “What was it like when you an’ Remy were… together?”

If the question surprised Mystique, she gave no sign. She didn’t move, and her pupilless gaze remained steady through the sight. “In what way?”

Rogue hunched her shoulders, her stomach churning. “Ah don’t know. What did ya like ta do together? How long did it last?” She bit her lip. “Was it… serious?”

Mystique straightened abruptly. She turned toward Rogue, her expression sharpening. “I’m sorry, my dear. Did I somehow give you the impression Remy and I had a relationship?”

Anger stirred in Rogue’s gut. “Y’all were sleepin’ together. What would you call it?”

“Sex,” Mystique said reasonably.

Rogue fought to keep her emotions off her face. She couldn’t let her mother see how much that one word hurt. But, strangely, Mystique didn’t press her advantage. Instead she set her rifle aside and turned to face Rogue fully, her expression once again neutral.

“Maybe I should explain a few things,” she said, gesturing for Rogue to come sit beside her.

Uncertain what to make of her mother’s uncharacteristic expansiveness, Rogue nevertheless crossed the room and seated herself on the edge of the counter a few feet from Mystique. She couldn’t stand to face her directly, so she kept her attention focused outside the tower on the empty night landscape.

Mystique brushed absently at a smudge on her uniform. “I took Raven Darkholme’s identity because, at the time, I needed someplace safe to hide for a while where I could make some contacts in the intelligence community.”

“You killed her—the real Raven.” The knowledge was a little pit of dismay somewhere deep inside Rogue.

Mystique nodded. “Indeed. But taking over her life required that I not change anything for a while, to avoid drawing attention. So I had to wear her yuppie suits, and attend her horrid dancercize classes—” She shuddered in mock disgust, but then a slow smile spread across her face. “And it meant keeping her pretty boy toy.”

Keeping a firm grip on her emotions, Rogue raised an eyebrow. “Ah hope ya never called Remy that ta his face.”

Mystique laughed merrily. “Ah, my dear. I have to admit I made a few… assumptions… where he was concerned. He was so painfully young, and that face…” She shook her head, her expression quirking with sly humor. “Imagine my surprise when I discovered he could actually use multi-syllabic words without hurting himself.”

Rogue nearly stuttered a laugh and had to clear her throat to cover her reaction. Strangely, the pain inside her had begun to ease a little. She looked down at her hands.

“Remy told me ya would have killed him if ya’d guessed he knew ya weren’t the original Raven.”

Mystique’s eyebrows arched sharply. “Oh, so you two have talked about this.”

She nodded. “A little.”

Mystique’s expression cleared. “Well, as you can see, there’s really not much to tell. I was interested in not being discovered. He was interested in staying alive.” She shrugged. “Not to mention wheedling a few Pentagon contracts out of me—or Raven, if you prefer—in the process. It was never personal.”

She cocked her head. “Really, dear, did you honestly think I was a threat to your relationship?”

Scott Summers walked a short ways ahead of his team, his boots echoing hollowly on the metal floor. Around him, transformed prime sentinels stood frozen and Scott imagined it was hatred he saw burning in their white eyes. There had to be several hundred of them arrayed in neat rows in the cavernous room. These weren’t the ones that passed as ordinary people. Instead, they were dressed in dark, uniform-like jumpsuits, and each had a shock of spiky, pure white hair.

Scott wasn’t sure what prompted him to tempt fate by walking between the still forms. Maybe he just needed to prove to himself that he could—that OZT’s most dangerous weapons couldn’t intimidate him.

Three stories above him, large, round industrial lights hung from metal frames that stretched the entire width of the room. The room was so massive, however, that it seemed to swallow the light, leaving the floor surprisingly dim. A section of the ceiling was clear of lights and looked like it might slide apart to allow the sentinels to fly out.

“Are you sure that’s safe?” he heard Trish ask from behind him.

“The sentinels are programmed to kill mutants on sight,” Scott answered over his shoulder. “The only reason these haven’t moved is because they can’t.” Without direction from their micro-computers, whose commands were carried by the nannites, the sentinels could do nothing.

Slowly, the X-Men fanned out behind him. Distantly, he was aware of Trish speaking to the camera, her voice crisp and professional as she described this last stop on their journey. They had seen the evolution of the sentinels from human being to these, and soon the rest of the world would share their horrible knowledge.

A short ways away, Wolverine’s claws emerged with their familiar snikt sound.

“Beast, what’s the best way ta kill these things?” Logan asked.

Scott turned sharply. “That’s not why we’re here,” he reminded the other man. Not that the idea didn’t have merit. The more sentinels they could destroy, the fewer would patrol the skies. But this was just a drop in the bucket. OZT cranked sentinels out at a frightening rate. Even small towns were starting to report sentinels on patrol along their highways and main streets.

Wolverine’s expression didn’t change. “We’ve got eight minutes before we have ta get out o’ here. Might as well take out as many as we can.”

“As long as the nannites are paralyzed, the sentinels cannot heal.” Beast’s deep bass echoed in their ears. “Anything that kills the body within our eight-minute window will work.” He paused then added diffidently, “Slitting their throats would probably be the most efficient.”

“Copy that,” Logan said. Raising his claws, he moved purposefully toward the sentinel nearest him.

Scott almost stopped him. The idea revolted him at some deep, fundamental level. He knew these things were no longer people—that it would not technically be murder to kill them. But something about their defenselessness ticked at him, evoking his pity.

A faint, high-pitched whine was the only warning they had. Scott caught a glimpse of motion high up on the nearest wall as a small iris opened and the nose of some kind of weapon emerged. All around the room, additional gun ports repeated the action.

“Get down!” Scott shouted. He spun toward his team, frantically waving them back as the laser cannons opened fire. The door they’d come through sliced shut in a hiss of pneumatics, closing off their escape route.

Instinctively, Scott ducked behind the nearest sentinel. The X-Men scattered, diving for the ground. The cannons tracked their motion, invisible beams stitching black scars across the metal floor and sending up gouts of acrid smoke in their wake. Hapless sentinels collapsed as the lasers cut through them.

Trish Tilby shrieked in pain and fell to her knees. She curled up in a fetal ball, still screaming.

“Bobby, blow de charges!” Gambit yelled. He remained on his feet, dancing between the sentinels as multiple laser cannons tracked him. He could see the beams, Scott realized, and was making himself a target to draw as much of the fire as he could.

Bobby scrambled away from the bloodied hulk of a fallen sentinel and the wisps of smoke marching across the floor toward him. “But the secondaries—”

Gambit paused for the barest of moments. “Do what I tell you, t’ief!" he snarled and darted away from the deadly rain of lasers.

The sentinel Scott crouched behind lurched, its head disintegrating in a red spray. He dove away. “Abort!” he yelled into his communicator. “They know we’re here. Rogue, Cannonball, Mystique, get out of there!”

He heard their acknowledgments over the comm link as Bobby dug into one of the pockets of his uniform and emerged with a small remote, which he immediately detonated.

A second later the lights went out, plunging the room into total darkness, and the high-pitched whine of the cycling lasers suddenly cut out. In the abrupt silence that followed, Scott distinctly heard the cannons spin down.

Scott had time to draw a single, deep breath before a violent, multi-directional rumble shook the building. Explosions, he identified it instinctively.

“What did you do?” Scott demanded in the general direction Gambit had been moving. He could see nothing in the absolute blackness.

“We put explosive charges on the power conduits on our way in.” Gambit sounded eerily calm. From the direction of his voice, Scott thought he saw two faint points of red.

Scott marshaled his scattered thoughts. He could still hear Trish whimpering, but he couldn’t deal with her quite yet. The team came first. “What about backup power?”

“Took out primary and auxiliary,” Gambit answered. “De power’s not comin’ back up any time soon.”

Scott climbed to his feet. “Okay, then our first priority is to get out of here. Give me status—who’s hurt?”

A bright star of light appeared as Bobby turned on a small lamp attached to the shoulder of his uniform. In the illumination it shed, Scott located each of his team, verifying for himself that they were all still alive. Wolverine knelt beside Trish, holding one of her wrists in a tight grip as her cameraman braced her from behind. Blood covered what remained of her left hand. It looked like a laser beam had sheared away about three-quarters of it, leaving only her thumb and a portion of her index finger. Trish shook violently, very obviously in shock.

“Looks like she’s the only one,” Logan said. His voice was grim. “The laser cauterized most of this. She’ll be okay for a little while.”

Scott turned to Remy, his stomach twisting. “Gambit, let’s get this door open again.” He gestured toward the door behind them.

“Won’ do any good,” Gambit responded as he approached. “As soon as we cut de power, de secondary systems kicked in.” He moved oddly, Scott noted, as if he were testing each step, uncertain what gruesome obstacles might be in his path.

Gambit gave him a keen stare. “Those explosions y’ heard were de tunnels collapsin’.”

Dismay hit Scott like a blow. “Are you saying we’re trapped in here?”

He nodded. “An’ we’ve got about six minutes before de rest o’ de sentinels wake up.”


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