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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 54

"An unexpected turn in the Worthington law suit against Draxar Incorporated sparked violence today as anti-mutant and anti-OZT groups clashed on the steps of the courthouse."

The statement from the television was enough to kill all conversation in the Guildmaster’s office. Rogue paused mid-sentence and turned toward the TV. The screen was filled with disjointed scenes of protestors screaming at each other across a ragged line of police officers in riot gear who were vainly trying to keep the groups separate. People on both sides of the line could be seen throwing bottles and other projectiles, along with punches. Rogue recognized the Friends of Humanity logo on several signs carried by the crowd, as well as the X-Men’s symbol done in the now-common red and black.

"You notice they’re not calling anyone pro-mutant," Mystique commented. "Just anti-OZT."

Beside her, Logan shrugged. "Don’t knock it. A month ago they wouldn’t have reported it at all." He looked over at Rogue, faint amusement in his eyes. "Trish Tilby ain’t my favorite person, but ya gotta give her credit fer takin’ on the entire journalistic establishment along with OZT." He nodded toward the TV. "The news organizations know they’ll lose whatever credibility they have left if they don’t start reportin’ the truth again."

On Mystique’s far side, Bishop shook his head. "What does it matter what the news reports if the government won’t act?" His expression was tight, his dark eyes haunted. It was an expression Rogue had grown used to seeing. "Journalists have no power."

The last member of their group, Marcus Black, chuckled lightly. "Maybe where you come from."

Before Bishop could respond, the scene on the television cut away to the news studio.

The face of a vaguely familiar-looking news anchor filled the screen. "Less than an hour ago, the District Attorney for New York County announced his intention to file larceny charges against several executive officers of Draxar Incorporated," he said. "Draxar is one of the defendants in Worthington Industries’ civil suit, along with the federal government, and is known to be closely associated with Operation: Zero Tolerance."

"Whoa." Rogue abandoned all thoughts of the fuel depot mission she and the others had been working on. "Larceny charges?" Excitement rose up inside her as she considered the implications. "That’s a felony."

"No, really?" Marcus deadpanned, which elicited chuckles from both Logan and Mystique. Rogue rolled her eyes, the corners of her mouth turning upward in a smile. The thief no doubt knew the definition of larceny better than she did.

On the television, the anchor’s face was replaced by a shot of Warren standing in front of a circle of reporters, all of whom had their microphones aimed expectantly at him. He was dressed in a double-breasted gray suit and had folded his wings such that they arched over his head, framing him in a halo of white feathers. His tie pin was a gold X inscribed in a circle.

"Warren Worthington, CEO of Worthington Industries, had this to say in response to the announcement," the anchor’s voice continued before being replaced by Warren’s clear tenor.

"I applaud the District Attorney for taking this step to begin addressing the egregious wrongs perpetrated on the people of this city by Draxar, Incorporated and Operation: Zero Tolerance," Warren said. "I will be working closely with the District Attorney’s office to provide whatever assistance I can to see to it that justice is done in this matter."

"What about the X-Men?" one of the reporters asked.

Warren smiled briefly. "I’m certain the District Attorney will be able to count on the X-Men’s full cooperation."

Rogue arched her brows speculatively. "Ah wonder what Scott’s gonna think about that." Scott, along with Remy and Bobby, had left for Four Freedoms Plaza several hours earlier. She glanced over at Logan, who shrugged, before returning her attention to the television.

"Mr. Worthington, are you disappointed that the District Attorney isn’t indicting these people for murder instead of just larceny?" another reporter asked.

Warren turned his attention to the reporter, his expression composed but highlighted with anger. "I am confident that the people responsible for the deaths of hundreds-perhaps thousands-of innocent people in the Prime Sentinels program will eventually be held responsible for their crimes." He widened his gaze to take in the entire group. "The District Attorney of New York has taken the first step, and he should be commended for it."

The scene cut back to the news studio. "In related news," the anchor said, "authorities have released the names of three missing persons who have positively been identified as Prime Sentinels." A stock footage image of downtown Los Angeles flashed up on the screen. Thin columns of smoke rose into the hazy air in a couple of places from fires burning somewhere in the city. Rogue wasn’t sure how long it had been since she’d seen an image of Los Angeles that didn’t look like a war zone.

The news anchor continued, "DNA testing of three sentinels killed during recent fighting in the city have positively identified them as Benito Alvarez, Chantelle Johnson and Raymond Davies." Three pictures appeared on the screen, obviously photographs of the missing people.

"Mr. Alvarez was reported missing nearly six months ago from his home in Long Beach, California." The view changed to show only the image of a thirty-something Hispanic man with buzzed hair and tattoos on his scalp and arms. "He had recently been released from prison after serving a three-year sentence for drug charges."

The woman’s picture appeared on the screen, replacing Alvarez’s. "Chantelle Johnson disappeared from her home in Philadelphia more than six years ago. The authorities who originally investigated her disappearance concluded that she had most likely run away. She was seventeen at the time."

"And finally," the news anchor said as the third image took over the screen, "Raymond Davies, 22, of Wenatchee, Washington disappeared after attending a Friends of Humanity rally in Portland fourteen months ago." The man in the image stood with a group of friends at some kind of sporting event. He wore a University of Washington sweatshirt and grinned at the camera as if he didn’t have a care in the world.

The scene switched once again to the news room. The anchor stared gravely into the camera. "In a release issued just a few minutes ago, Operation: Zero Tolerance denounced the DNA findings, claiming that the results are a fabrication by SHIELD and other renegade groups inside the U.S. government." The anchor glanced down at the desk in front of him before returning his attention to the camera. "The original identification of the three missing people was made by SHIELD but the FBI has also issued a written statement confirming the identifications."

"This brings the total number of identified sentinels to thirty-one. Increasingly, lawmakers and citizens are calling for the President to take action against OZT but the White House has remained ominously silent on the issue."

Logan uttered a caustic snort. "Like anybody still cares."

The news program shifted to international news then, and Rogue turned her attention back to the drawings in front of her with a renewed sense of purpose. They were making a difference.

A few minutes later, the door to the office opened to admit Jean. The red-haired X-woman waddled over to the desk and sank into one of the fronting chairs with a sigh of relief. She leaned back in the chair and rubbed her swollen stomach.

Logan watched her, concern written on his features. "You okay, Red?" he asked after a moment.

Jean gave him a small smile. "Just tired," she answered. She turned to Rogue. "Did Scott or Remy give you any idea when they expected to be back?"

The intensity hidden in her gaze made Rogue pause. She studied Jean more closely, taking note of the tightness around her eyes and the way she kept running one hand across her stomach.

"Not until tonight," Rogue answered, keeping her tone light.

Jean nodded jerkily as her face slowly emptied of color. She appeared to be holding her breath, and Rogue’s vague concern coalesced.

"Are ya havin’ contractions?" That was the most obvious possibility. The baby was due in just over a week.

Logan whipped around to stare at Jean, who nodded again. "Don’t worry, they’re still a long ways apart." Jean aimed the comment at Logan. "Hank said there was no reason to stay in the med center until the contractions get closer together."

Rogue bit back the instinct to rush over to the other woman’s side as if having a baby were some kind of crisis rather than a normal event.

"Do ya need anything, sugah?" she asked instead.

Jean shifted in her seat, wincing. "Just my husband."

Rogue smiled sympathetically. "Sorry Ah’d conjure him up for ya if ah could. But if ya want ah can send a message ta Reed Richards ta have the guys check in once they get there."

Jean gave her a genuine smile. "That would be great."

"Okay." Rogue reached for the phone.

"Remy, have I told you recently that you’re insane?" Scott gasped as he dug his fingers into a tiny crack in the sheer stone wall the three men were carefully making their way along. The only light came from the small lamps mounted on the left shoulder of his and Bobby’s uniforms and shed just enough illumination to allow Scott to look ahead for his next handhold. His shoulder muscles burned from the exertion and sweat trickled down his neck and back in a steady stream.

Several feet behind him, Remy chuckled. "Not f’ at least ten minutes," he answered. He didn’t sound particularly out of breath.

Scott resisted the impulse to shake his head. Remy, he had discovered on this brutally long and difficult trek, possessed an unparalleled degree of muscle strength. It had nothing to do with mutant physiology, either, but was simply the result of a lifetime’s worth of extreme physical labor. If Scott had stopped to think about what it would require to be the kind of acrobat Remy was, he would have recognized it long ago.

At the front of the group, Bobby was also breathing heavily, though Scott got the feeling the young mutant had long since accepted the amount of pain this level of physical exertion entailed and didn’t waste his energy resenting it.

Scott looked up. Twin rock walls rose over his head, seeming to lean toward each other as they disappeared into the darkness beyond the reach of his lamp. The sheer face they worked their way along formed one side of an immense crack in the bedrock beneath New York City. The gap was only about five feet wide at its widest, but it extended hundreds of feet into the earth and was nearly two miles long.

They’d started their journey in the subway tunnels-first moving along the tracks and then ducking into the smaller maintenance shafts. From there, they’d removed a steel plate bolted to the stone wall that covered an opening barely large enough to crawl through, which gave onto this massive subterranean crevasse.

"How did you find this, anyway?" Scott asked. Talking helped distract him from the growing pain in his shoulders and the raw skin on his knuckles and fingertips. They hadn’t yet reached the OZT cordon around the Baxter building, so there was no need to remain silent.

"A website f’ radical cave explorers, if y’d believe," Remy answered. "An’ from there de U.S. Geological Survey."

"Subway train," Bobby warned them suddenly. "Ten seconds." Part of his job on this trip was to keep track of the subway schedule.

Scott quickly secured his grip and leaned into the stone face. A growing rumble, felt through the rock as much as heard, filled the air around them. Scott held on as the train thundered by fifty feet over their heads. The vibration rattled his teeth and threatened to shake him off of his precarious perch.

He breathed a silent sigh of relief once it had passed.

"De next rest point’s just ahead," Remy said quietly. There was a note of sympathy in his voice that should have seemed condescending but somehow wasn’t. Scott wasn’t quite sure why.

He didn’t have much attention to devote to puzzling it out, though, so he shelved the question for another time. Instead, he concentrated on making it the last few yards to where a narrow ledge jutted out of the stone, bridging the gap between the opposing faces of the cleft. He clambered onto the ledge and, with a small groan, lowered himself until he was sitting with his back to the rock and his toes a relatively safe two feet from the drop off.

An arm’s reach away, Bobby unslung the pack he was carrying. Setting it down on the ground at his feet, he spent a minute stretching then knelt to dig a pair of water bottles out of the pack. He handed one to Scott and took a long drink from the second.

Scott gratefully downed about a third of the bottle, then capped it and set it aside. He dug his fingers into the muscles of his calf. He was going to be in big trouble if his legs started cramping.

"’Bout a quarter mile left." Remy sank into a crouch next to Scott. He glanced at him from under his eyebrows. "Y’ gon’ make it?"

Scott grimaced. "Do I have a choice?" He leaned his head back for a moment before straightening. "I don’t think all of the X-Men are going to be able to make this climb." Jean came to mind immediately, as did Sam. Neither would be able to develop the kind of conditioning necessary in the given time frame. Jean had been out of combat operations for nine months and Sam was only just getting back on his feet after his injury.

Remy shrugged. "Probably not, but it’s de only way in wit’out fightin’ our way through a bunch o’ sentinels."

Scott sighed and switched to massaging his other calf. The city of New York sat atop a veritable maze of tunnels and substructures. Subway tunnels, maintenance shafts, corridors for power and water lines, basements, storm sewers and prohibition-era smugglers’ tunnels formed a whole other city underneath the ground. OZT knew this as well and had installed a sophisticated security system in the area around the Baxter building, which it augmented with heavy patrols. Remy could take care of the electronic security measures, but there were simply too many sentinels for them to sneak past.

Their current path bypassed all but the innermost ring of OZT’s cordon and would dump them in an old sub-basement where the defunct oil heaters for the Baxter building still sat. The building had been erected shortly after the close of World War II when fuel oil heating was the norm. A later renovation had switched the building to a more modern gas heat system but no one had done more than cap the lines leading to the old heaters.

Remy rose with fluid ease and stepped over to where Bobby stood with his hands on his hips, staring out into the darkness ahead. He clapped the younger man on the shoulder and said something to him. Before long, laughter floated up between them.

Scott struggled to his feet, wincing as his body protested. He understood now how the friendship between the two had become so strong and no longer resented it.

Remy looked over at Scott as he approached. "Ready?" he asked.

Scott forced himself to nod. He glanced at Bobby, taking in the resolute lines of the other man’s expression. Bobby obviously wasn’t looking forward to another climb any more than he was.

Scott looked at him askance. "And you volunteered to do this for a living?"

Bobby flashed him a grin and shrugged. "The money’s good."

The comment took Scott by surprise. He didn’t often think of Bobby living the high life off of the proceeds of his new profession.

He crossed his arms. "So how much does an entry-level thief make?" He split his attention between the two men.

Remy started to chuckle.

"What?" Scott asked. He hadn’t intended the question to be funny.

Remy shook his head, strange eyes dancing. "Mais, dere’s no tellin’ what’s gon’ come out o’ y’ mouth any more." He grinned his familiar, irritating grin.

Bobby glanced at Remy, his expression amused, then returned his attention to Scott. "The Guild gets fifty percent of value or thirty-five percent of commission. The rest is mine," he answered Scott’s original question.

Scott digested that as Bobby moved to the far edge of the narrow shelf. In the dim light, he watched as Bobby chalked his hands and then stepped out onto the rock wall. Stomach tightening, Scott moved to follow him.

Just one more stretch, he reminded himself.

"So this is... my software?" Jubilee looked up from the computer screen with its multiple windows filled with endless lines of text.

Louis nodded. "A portion of it." He glanced over his shoulder at Colonel Fury, who stood behind the two of them, hands clasped behind his back. Fury simply raised his eyebrows.

Jubilee hunched her shoulders. "And this tells you how the sentinel made me open the door?" Telling Colonel Fury about that had been one of the most terrifying things she’d ever done in her life, but she simply couldn’t hide it. Not when OZT had some way of making her do things against her will.

"Actually, yes." With a final look at Fury, he turned his attention to her. "It took a while, but I finally found it." He called up another window on the computer, this one a diagram filled with boxes of various sizes, circles and triangles, all joined by a spider web of interconnecting lines.

"This is a model of your command and control software," he said. Picking up a pen from the table beside him, he used it to point to a large box in the upper left hand corner of the diagram. "This block is the master scheduler. It monitors all the other processes and assigns priority based on a variety of inputs." He tapped each of the larger boxes on the screen, naming them as he went. "This is input signal synthesis, health and system status, weapons control, ground navigation, flight navigation, flight controls and propulsion, communication, output signal synthesis and, finally, the nannite command interface." He glanced up at Fury once again. "These are just the components that appear to be running right now. They’re a fairly small subset of the total logic. The rest appears to still be inert."

Jubilee found the description overwhelming, but one thing stood out to her. "Wait. Flight controls? Does that mean I can fly?"

Louis nodded. "If you can figure out how to actively command those functions like you did with your weapons system, then yes, probably. The boosters are built into your calves and feet much like the cannons in your arms. Control is done via vectored thrust." He smiled briefly. "The control algorithms are incredibly complex. They have to be to handle individual motion of the legs as well as the fact that the thrust axis is so far away from the center of gravity."

Jubilee just blinked at the description which she didn’t entirely follow.

"Speaking of her weapons system..." Fury stared at Louis. "Can you explain how she’s able to tell the sentinel components to do anything? It’s been my understanding that once a sentinel’s software becomes active, the human brain no longer has any control."

Louis nodded. "In the regular sentinels that’s true. They’re either on or off. Once the command to transform is given, everything comes online and the sentinel takes complete control of the body." He glanced at Jubilee. "Dr. Reyes tells me that the process destroys all of the brain except what’s needed to maintain autonomous functions like heartbeat and breathing, and the parts that do things like regulate the creation of enzymes and that send out impulses to the muscles. Then the neural net is grafted into that remaining portion of the brain, allowing it to control the body’s physical functions." He shook his head. "The technology is really pretty astounding."

"But the doc zapped my transformation logic so that couldn’t happen to me." Jubilee suppressed a cold shiver at the thought.

Louis nodded. "Right. In your case, what seems to be happening is that you’re somehow commanding the nannites to graft individual control system inputs and outputs into the appropriate places in your brain." At her baffled expression, he added, "That means you’re running the sentinel software but only using the parts of it you want to. The control logic now has your brain-your mind-included in its forward path so you retain control."

"Which brings us back to the original question," Fury said with a scowl. "She obviously doesn’t have total control, so how did OZT manage to take her over?" He shifted his gaze to Jubilee, his scowl deepening. "And is it likely to happen again?"

Louis turned back to the computer screen. "Bear with me. This may take some explaining." At their nods, he moved the computer’s cursor over to the first large block in the diagram. "This is the input signal processing algorithm." He clicked on the block, which opened up a new window filled with another tangled web of shapes and lines. To Jubilee it looked like what you might get if you turned an angry two-year-old loose with an Etch-o-sketch.

"All right. This algorithm serves two main purposes." Louis moved the mouse cursor around the screen as he talked, though Jubilee wasn’t sure if he were trying to point things out or was just keeping his hands busy. "The first is to insure that erroneous data isn’t passed on to the other functions. For example, if a position sensor goes bad and starts telling the software it’s in Jersey City instead of New York, then suddenly it’s going to try to start navigating off a map of Jersey City and will end up getting very, very lost. There are redundant copies of all the inputs so if one sensor starts saying ’Hey, I’m in Jersey City’ and the others all say ’Hey, I’m in New York’, the bad information can be voted out." He paused. "That’s a gross simplification, but you get the idea."

Jubilee nodded and saw Colonel Fury echo her.

"The second purpose of this algorithm," Louis continued, "is to tell the rest of the software which inputs to listen to under various conditions. For example, when it’s on the ground, the input signal management tells the software not to listen to any of the commands coming out of the flight controls module because they’re useless unless it’s in the air."

His tone turned solemn. "Now, what happened to you, Jubilee, is that there is a section of this input signal synthesis algorithm that basically says ’when I receive this code, bypass all the normal command paths and feed the received signals directly into the output signal paths, skipping all the logic in between’, which, by the way, also bypasses your brain."

"An override code, then," Fury commented before Jubilee could find her voice.

Louis nodded. "Yes. There’s actually a look up table with a variety of different responses for different codes."

Fury’s expression sharpened. "What kind of responses?"

Louis glanced uncertainly at Jubilee. "Everything from a ’return to base’ command to self-destruct," he finally answered.

Jubilee’s stomach twisted into a nauseated little knot inside her. "Self-destruct? How?"

Louis shrugged. "Allie and Dr. Reyes are still trying to figure that out. The nannites use a very basic machine code -like language and they function in swarms, so no single nannite actually has the whole instruction written to it. Allie and the doc have to piece the instruction together by looking at thousands of individuals and then modeling how those individuals will behave as a group while carrying out their commands. The only reason we know as much as we do is because the look up table in your software was annotated with comments labeling each of the entries." He flashed a sardonic grin. "Well-documented code is a rare and beautiful thing."

Colonel Fury didn’t acknowledge the attempt at levity. "So what do we do about it?" he asked instead.

Louis glanced up at the colonel but then turned to face Jubilee as he answered. The small gesture tightened her throat and made swallowing impossible. Too many people talked about her like she wasn’t really there-like she wasn’t a real person any more. Even Colonel Fury did it, though he, at least, was dismissive toward everyone and not just her.

"At the moment, you seem to be able to refuse transmissions from other sentinels," Louis told her, "and if you don’t receive an override code, you’re not going to react to it." He straightened in his seat, his expression resolute. "However, we have no guarantee there isn’t some buried bit of code in there that will allow OZT to transmit a signal you can’t block, so the only reliable solution will be to rewrite this section of code and either break the input path to the table or change the table values."

Jubilee felt the first stirrings of hope. "That sounds simple enough."

He frowned. "In theory."

"What does that mean?" She bounced one heel on the floor in a nervous jitter.

Louis breathed a soft sigh and leaned back in his chair. He tossed his pen down on the desk where it rolled in a broad circle until it fetched up against the edge of the keyboard. "Sentinels weren’t designed to have their software updated. There’s no mechanism for uploading new code."

Jubilee digested that with a sinking sense of dismay. "Does that mean there’s nothing you can do?" she finally asked.

Louis gave her an evaluating look. "There’s nothing we can do." He gestured to himself and Colonel Fury. "But you’ve been rewiring your sentinel half recently, so maybe there’s something you can do about it." His mouth curled into a thin smile. "Personally, I think you’ve probably turned into a whole lot more than Bastion expected or he would have thought twice about setting you free."

Fury turned to stare at Jubilee, who had to fight not to fidget under his piercing gaze. Louis’ analysis made something warm and bright bubble up inside her even as it terrified her. Unconsciously she wrapped her arms around herself, fingers tracing the fresh scars that marked the outsides of her arms where the laser canons emerged.

She looked up at Colonel Fury and then over at Louis. "I guess... I’m ready to try." She shrugged. "I just don’t know what to do."

She thought she saw approval flicker in the colonel’s gaze.

Louis smiled encouragingly. "Well, like everything else we’ve done, it’ll be a process of experimentation. But, I do have some ideas for where to start."

Bastion looked up as Bill Green walked into his office, a thin manila folder clenched in one hand.

"You were right, sir," Bill said without preamble, tossing the folder down on the desk in front of Bastion.

Bastion kept his expression still as he pulled the folder toward himself and flipped it open. The folder contained several glossy images and a single typed page with the OZT logo at the top.

"About what?" he asked. The top image was obviously from a thermal scan, full of vague shapes in bright, computer-generated rainbows hues. He picked out several human forms, their outlines overlapping and indistinct.

Bill gestured to the top image. "We just received a priority message from the spotters stationed at Four Freedoms Plaza. There are three unknown people inside the building right now with the Fantastic Four."

Bastion looked up sharply. He’d ordered twenty-four hour surveillance of the Baxter building not long after contracting the hit on the X-Man, Gambit, neither of which had produced any immediate fruit, much to his frustration.

"Right now?"

"As of twenty minutes ago, sir."

"Who are they?" Bastion spread the thermal images out on his desk. He quickly identified Sue Richards and her son in one image and Ben Grimm in another. Their shapes and sizes were unmistakable. The remaining five people were all of fairly normal human build-probably all male, but he couldn’t say for certain beyond that.

Bill crossed his arms over his chest. "Unknown, sir. We still can’t see into the building." A couple of months earlier, the Fantastic Four had gone through and coated all of the windows and much of the structure in the building with some kind of reflective material. The coating reflected nearly all useful wavelengths, from visible light all the way up to x-rays, making it impossible to see inside with anything but a thermal imager. And even then they’d had to tweak the imaging software significantly before they’d gotten any usable returns.

Bastion resisted the desire to close his hands into fists as a dark anger filled him. He’d been willing to leave the Fantastic Four alone provided they stayed inside their home base and didn’t interfere in his campaign against mutants. But rather than respect the limits he’d set they seemed intent on defying him at every turn. They needed to be punished like the disobedient children they were.

"It almost has to be the X-Men," Bill said, snapping him out of his thoughts. "If Gambit is who we think he is, they’d probably be able to get inside."

Bastion looked back at the images, his thoughts suddenly turning with possibilities. If those were three X-Men in the building, it presented him with a unique opportunity to demonstrate to all of humanity that he would not tolerate any more interference in his mission. There was some risk to it, of course, which was why he’d held off as long as he had. But maybe now the time had come.

Nodding subconsciously, he made his decision. "Get the broadcast equipment ready," he told Bill, "and send a message to each of the human governments. I’m going to hold a press conference in thirty minutes and I want the whole world to be listening."

Bill straightened, his expression betraying traces of surprise. "Yes, sir." He turned and hurried out.

Bastion looked back down at the scattered photos in front of him. Reaching out, he picked up the clearest image of the five unidentified figures. "I have been patient long enough," he said quietly.

Then, with a dismissive flick of his wrist he tossed the picture back down on the desk and turned away.


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