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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 56

"Ladies and gentlemen, you are looking inside Four Freedoms Plaza, and three of these figures are X-Men." Bastion’s words seemed inordinately loud in the shocked silence that filled Four Freedoms Plaza.

"How are they imaging the interior of the building?" Johnny demanded after a moment. "They’re not supposed to be able to do that. We covered every inch of this place with that full-spectrum reflectant."

Remy barely heard him. A gut-level kind of terror gripped him, the primal run-or-die instinct that had saved his life time and again on the streets of New Orleans. That same instinct screamed at him now, like the sound of a thousand bees buzzing just below his hearing threshold. Adrenaline flooded his system, hot and tingling.

"We thought that would be sufficient," Reed answered Johnny, "but no one really knows the extent of Bastion’s technology."

"The question is why is he announcing it?" Ben rumbled, sounding vaguely worried. Still seated on the table next to him, Franklin looked up. Remy wasn’t very good at reading children’s heat signatures-their bodies tended to run warm compared to adults-but he thought the reaction was more curiosity than anything.

Ben reached down and tousled the boy’s hair.

Remy leaned toward Scott, his fingers flexing instinctively at his sides. "We need t’ get out o’ here now."

Scott nodded. "Yeah, that’s probably a good idea. Let’s hear Bastion out-"

"Now, Cyclops." The need to move-to run-had become a nearly unbearable pressure in the middle of his chest.

Sue’s head swiveled as she looked between her husband and Ben. "If Bastion knows the X-Men are here, he may send sentinels in after them," she said. "We need to make sure our defenses are set properly and be ready to repel them."

Remy couldn’t take it anymore. "Bobby," he said quietly.

Bobby turned toward him. "Yeah, boss?"


In the startled pause that followed, Remy did the only thing he could think of that was guaranteed to get everyone moving in an appropriate direction, hopefully in time to keep them all alive.

Darting forward, he scooped Franklin Richard up in his arms and sprinted for the railing that separated the lab from the vast empty space surrounding the launch vehicle.

"Remy, what are you doing?" Scott’s protest rose behind him.

Without pausing, Remy threw himself over the railing and out into the gap, curling protectively around the boy as they fell.

"Franklin!" The cry rose from both of the Richards.

In a corner of his mind, Remy was very pleased when Bobby was the first person over the railing after him. The young thief leapt off into empty space, arms spread as if he were parachuting rather than leaping suicidally into a four-hundred foot deep shaft. The depth of Bobby’s trust never ceased to amaze him.

Just behind Bobby, a brilliant wash of color announced Johnny’s transformation into the Human Torch. He sailed into the air, glowing like the hot center of a furnace. Some of his heat washed over the side of the rocket, illuminating a small, curving portion of the cylinder in Remy’s sight.

Franklin’s arms tightened fiercely around Remy’s neck. "Mr. Remy, you’re crazy!" he shouted over the rush of the air.

Remy nearly laughed at that. Despite the fact that they were falling, the further they travelled the safer he felt. "Don’ worry, petite," he told the boy. "Y’ parents ain’ gon’ let y’ die."

Above them, Reed Richards arched over the quickly receding railing, stretching down toward them like some kind of living rubber band. His heat signature rippled in a thoroughly unnatural, psychedelic fashion.

Sue followed her husband down the shaft. Remy could see the force fields that carried her, if barely, because of the heat they generated as a byproduct. They looked like fine, bright filaments floating in the air beneath her.

Then, with a roar like the end of the world the very top of the tower, well beyond Sue’s position, dissolved in a flash of heat so intense Remy had to shut his eyes. When he was able to look again, all he could see was a huge, seething ball of colors against which Sue’s and Bobby’s forms now looked like cool shadows. The air filled with the smell of fuel and scorched metal. An alarm inside the building began to wail.

Sue pointed and Johnny dove toward the bottom of the shaft, away from the brilliant explosion that enveloped the space above them. He snagged Bobby midair, turning them both upright in a move that was familiar to every member of every super-powered team on the planet.

At the same time, Remy felt Reed’s arms wrap around himself and Franklin like the coils of some strange, flat snake. But where a snake was hard to the touch-solid with muscle-Reed’s limbs felt softer. The closest thing Remy could think of was the taut, tremendously flexible surface of a trampoline.

Bungee-like, their fiercesome rate of descent began to slow and with Bobby and the Human Torch just a couple of seconds behind, Reed set them gently down on the floor of the shaft. Remy kept Franklin in his arms rather than setting him on the ground.

Another blast rocked the building, this one lower. Sue raised her hands and a wide, curving shield appeared above her head. The waves of heat and force boiled against it without penetrating. With screeches and groans of tearing metal, pieces of the rocket and probably the building as well fell inward to crash against the shield.

"Elevator going down!" Remy heard Ben’s shout and looked up as the final member of the Four leapt off the edge with Scott in his massive arms. He dropped like the rock he was, landing at the bottom of the shaft with enough force to pulverize the cement beneath his feet with a sound like a volley of gunshots.

In all defiance of gravity Reed’s form contracted, drawing his lower half down the shaft until he stood, once again human-sized and -shaped, next to Remy. He held out his arms and Remy wordlessly transferred Franklin to him.

"I can’t hold this much longer!" Sue yelled from above them. She was hunched over mid-air, her posture mimicking the strain of maintaining her force shield.

"Ben, bust us a route out of here," Scott said as the other man set him on his feet. "Get us into the sewers or subway tunnels or whatever."

Nodding, Ben lumbered forward and slammed his fist into what Remy presumed was a wall. The Fantastic Four had changed the structural layout significantly from the drawing he had memorized, leaving him without adequate references. He heard the crack of thin cement shattering. Scott urgently motioned them forward.

Bobby caught Remy’s elbow, helping him stumble through the debris from Ben’s demolition. Following Richards, they staggered into a cooler space which Remy guessed was still part of the building’s substructure. Ben had already reached the far side of the room and was pounding his fists into the next wall which sounded far thicker than the previous one.

Remy heard Sue shriek from somewhere behind and above them.

Johnny had remained at the bottom of the shaft, ready to help his sister. He stuck his head through the hole Ben had made.

"The whole building’s coming down!" he shouted and waved in Ben’s direction. "Hurry! I’m going back for Sue." He turned and rocketed up the shaft, out of sight.

A moment later the entire building began to vibrate and a freight train roar filled the air. It grew louder with every passing second, drowning out the sounds as Ben broke through the second wall. The Thing plowed through the opening with the rest of them directly behind him. Water splashed beneath Remy’s feet as he stumbled forward, twisting his ankle painfully on the uneven pieces of cement that littered the ground. The air around him lightened as it warmed, and he could feel a growing heat against his back as the explosion raced to overtake them.

He staggered on, limping as Bobby dragged him forward after the others. They turned a corner, out of the direct path of the blast, and Remy instinctively threw himself to the ground. Screaming and growling, the main wave of flame raced past them, shoving a cloud of searing dust before it. The heated air scalded Remy’s lungs and the tender tissues inside his nose. He buried his face in the crook of his arm, desperately hoping they weren’t going to end up being cooked alive.

He’d barely had time to form the thought, though, when the air began to cool. In seconds the temperature had dropped to a normal underground temperature, and the air turned its usually murky color. Remy looked up to see Johnny standing at the mouth of whatever tunnel they’d turned into, his flame-licked form unusually bright as he absorbed the heat into himself. Sue crouched on the ground next to his feet, her weight braced on one hand. She looked exhausted.

Coughing on the now-cool dust that hung heavy in the air, Remy climbed slowly to his feet. Around him the others did the same. The Richards huddled around Franklin for a moment, checking him for injury, but the boy appeared to have come through unscathed. The air around them echoed with the groans of settling debris from the ruined building.

Scott ran a hand through his hair. "That was a little too close," he said after a moment.

Gingerly Remy tested his ankle. It hurt, but held his weight. "Next time y’ take me seriously when I say ’now’, eh?" he asked, keeping his tone light.

Reed looked up. "We’d better keep moving. I doubt this area is structurally sound anymore."

Scott nodded. "Remy, what’s our best route out of here?"

Remy grimaced. "I don’ know where we are, mon ami." Other than beneath and vaguely west of the building, which wasn’t going to help them much. "Until I get some kind o’ reference point t’ work from, I’m pretty much lost."

"Great." Scott shook his head.

Ben gestured down their current tunnel. "I vote this way," he rumbled. "We’ve only got two choices, and this one has probably suffered the least damage."

Scott looked toward Reed as if silently gathering the other man’s opinion.

"Okay. That works for me," Scott said after a second. He gestured for Ben to head in that direction. "You’d better take the point. There are sentinels down here."

"Warren, sugah, ya gotta get out of the buildin’." Rogue leaned her weight on one hand and held the phone to her ear with the other. She couldn’t do anything about the tears that blurred her vision or the way her voice shook, but there were still people’s lives at risk. She couldn’t give in to the hysterical fury that made her want to smash anything she could get her hands on. "Bastion’s got some kind a space-based weapon. He just-" She swallowed hard. "He just blew up Four Freedoms."

"I know, Rogue. We saw it, too." Warren sounded harried and out of breath. "We’re evacuating the building now." A babble of voices filled the background. Rogue thought she heard Elisabeth shouting something in the distance as well as a cultured voice making some kind of announcement over a loudspeaker.

"We’ve got a problem, though," Warren continued. "There are sentinels circling the building, probably more down on the street." He paused to give instructions to someone on his end, the voices muffled. "I’m going to send my employees out at street level anyway-getting everyone out has to be the first priority-but if you can get Colonel Fury to put some bodies on the street here, it’d make me feel a lot better about their chances."

Rogue cursed under her breath. Warren had always been their middle man to make sure SHIELD never had any direct contact with the Guild. She had no idea how she would get word of any kind to Fury.

She nodded anyway. "We’ll see what we can do. What about you an’ Psylocke?"

"My Benz is in the parking garage. It’s got some horses under the hood, so we’re going to make a break for it."

Rogue bit her lip. "Ya can’t outrun sentinels, sugah."

His tone hardened. "They’re going to come gunning for us no matter what we do, Rogue. You know that. At least this way we’ll be able to draw them away from WI."

She clamped down on the instinctive desire to argue with him. They were X-Men. It was the right thing to do.

"Good luck," she said instead.

A brief smile lit his voice. "If we make it through this, we’ll be coming back to you."

Rogue looked up, across the desk into Jean’s bright, red-rimmed eyes. "Ya always welcome here, sugah." A new thought crossed her mind. "Where’s Jubilee?"

"She went to see Dr. Reyes yesterday. She should still be there, as far as I know."

"Okay, sugah."

Warren’s tone turned businesslike once again. "We’re headed into the stairwell now. I’m going to lose the signal in just a minute."

Rogue looked back down at the desktop. "Be careful, both of you." A new, smaller knot of fear lodged in her heart next to the giant one that had formed when the Baxter building collapsed.

"We will. Good-bye, Rogue." The line went dead with a hollow click and an echo of digital static.

Slowly Rogue took the phone away from her ear and set the handset down on the desk. She took one deep breath and then another before turning to face the mixed group of thieves and X-Men that surrounded her. Storm had arrived a few minutes earlier with Bishop on her heels. Both were in uniform and the sight of the red X emblazoned on each bolstered her.

Rogue straightened her shoulders. "Warren an’ Betsy are gonna head back here if they can get free of the sentinels around Worthington," she told them then turned her focus toward Ororo. "He asked us ta get Fury ta send troops into Manhattan. He’s worried about OZT attackin’ his employees."

Ororo’s blue eyes narrowed at the implication. She gestured toward the television. "People are pouring into the streets, afraid their own buildings will be the next target." The news footage alternated between shots of the massive column of dust and smoke where Four Freedoms Plaza had so recently stood and aerial views of the nearby streets which were now clogged with people. "Warren’s employees should be able to lose themselves in the crowd."

"Do you think Bastion will destroy Worthington Industries next?" Marcus asked. He was pale but his gaze and his voice remained steady. By unspoken accord, none of the thieves had yet voiced any kind of acknowledgment that their Guildmaster might very well be buried under a thousand tons of rubble.

"The fact that he hasn’t already done so probably means he can’t re-task the satellite before its orbit carries it out of position," Bishop said. "He’ll have to wait for the next pass."

He received a round of surprised looks at the analysis.

"Ya know somethin’ about orbital mechanics, Bishop?" Logan asked in a deceptively mild voice.

Bishop shrugged, his expression sardonic. "I know ’something’ about a lot of things, Logan. My father was a firm believer in education." He glanced at the other man then away as if he couldn’t hold the Canuck’s gaze any longer than that.

Rogue’s heart gave a little twinge. It was easy to forget that Bishop had strong ties of his own to Remy, twisted as they might be.

Before she could continue that train of thought, though, the phone rang. That wasn’t a terribly unusual event in and of itself, but the techs in the Guild’s communication center never put a call through if the Guildmaster wasn’t in his office.

For a moment no one moved, but then Rogue tentatively reached out and picked up the hand set.


"Guildmistress, Guildmaster Lotho is calling from Chicago." The tech’s voice was crisp and clear, giving no outward sign of the turmoil churning just beneath the Guild’s surface.

"Thank you." Rogue cleared her throat self-consciously as she waited for the call to be connected. She remembered only a few scattered moments from her one conversation with the leader of the American Guilds, but she still felt intimidated.

A moment later Lotho’s voice came on the line. "Hello, Rogue." He sounded as grim as she expected.

"Sir." She moistened her lips. "What can ah do for ya?"

"You can answer a few questions for me, though the fact that you’re picking up the phone, I suppose, answers the first one." He paused, his voice falling. "Who were the other two X-Men?"

Rogue cut her gaze toward Jean. "Cyclops an’ Iceman." She sniffed, fighting to keep her composure.

Lotho cursed under his breath. "Is there any chance they’re still alive?"

"Yes, sir." Rogue wished she could sound more certain. "The Fantastic Four have their powers. They’re more than capable of survivin’ a building collapse."

"All right." Lotho released his breath in a sigh, sounding tired. "We’ll just have to hope, then." His tone turned businesslike. "I’m actually making this call on Cable’s behalf, and he, in turn, is facilitating a request from SHIELD."

Rogue blinked in surprise. She knew the Chicago Guild had taken X-Force under their protective wing but they really hadn’t gotten a sense of how close Lotho had allowed the two groups to get.

She forced her wandering thoughts into line. "We appreciate it, sir. Our normal line of communication with SHIELD is down." The others were all watching her curiously, so she switched the call over to speaker and laid the hand set back down on the desk.

"Patch SHIELD in," she heard Lotho instruct someone on the other end. There was a general shuffle of motion common to teleconferences and a series of electronic pops and then Nick Fury’s voice filled the line.

"Fury here," he growled. "Who am I talking to?"

"Cable and Domino from X-Force," Cable supplied immediately.

"An’ we’ve got Storm, Rogue, Bishop, Phoenix, Wolverine an’ Mystique from the X-Men," Rogue added. She made no mention of the thieves listening in and was fairly certain Cable knew better than to do so also.

"Who’s in charge of the X-Men now?" Fury asked and Rogue guessed that Cable had already passed on the identities of the three X-Men inside Four Freedoms Plaza.

Storm raised her chin. "I am, Colonel."

"Very well. As you’re all aware, Bastion has upped the ante significantly by attacking the Fantastic Four." He paused and Rogue could imagine his scowl. "This isn’t just a mutant thing any more."

Ororo leaned forward, her expression intent. "This was never just a mutant thing, Colonel. Bastion threatens the most basic freedoms of every man, woman and child in this country and on this planet." She glanced up at the gathered group. "We were merely the first targets."

"Nevertheless," Fury continued, "since Bastion has made clear his intentions to subjugate all of humanity, the President now feels it is necessary to bring the full might of the military to bear against him."

Hot anger made Rogue’s chest tighten and she saw similar expression reflected around the room. "Wait a minute. Are ya sayin’ that as long as it was only mutants getting’ attacked the President figured it was okay ta keep the military out of it?" she demanded.

"No, Rogue." Fury’s voice was full of tired patience. "As long as Bastion was willing to keep this weapon out of play, the President couldn’t risk provoking its use." He paused to let her absorb that. "The Administration regrets that it meant leaving mutants to their own devices but there were larger issues at stake."

Rogue chewed unhappily on his statement. She didn’t like it, but she could imagine how Bastion could have used his weapon to blackmail the President. All he’d have to do is threaten to start blowing up sports stadiums, shopping malls, office buildings... maybe government buildings and national monuments. And she doubted any government entity had the ability to prime and launch a spacecraft before Bastion could destroy it with his satellite. Most governments were notoriously bad at keeping secrets.

That didn’t make her feel any better about how mutants had been treated, however.

Logan made a disgusted noise. "So yer still the government’s lapdog after all, eh Fury?"

Rogue could nearly hear Fury grinding his teeth. "I do my job, Wolverine. Nothing more."

"So what did ya want ta tell the X-Men, Colonel?" Rogue injected quickly before the conversation degenerated.

Fury was silent for a short moment as if collecting himself. "Brigadier General Adam Byers, U.S. Army, is the man the President has chosen to lead the offensive against Bastion and OZT." Rogue didn’t recognize the name, but she hadn’t really expected to. Most of the X-Men’s dealings with U.S. military forces had been from the opposite end of the gun barrel. Exchanging names had never been high on the list of priorities for either side.

Fury went on. "Byers is one of the smart ones. The President made a good choice putting him in charge. However, the General has been adamant all along that New York is probably the worst possible place to try to mount an offensive."

Rogue’s stomach began to sink as she listened. Across the table, she saw Wolverine’s eyes narrow dangerously.

"The current plan," Fury told them, "calls for the focus of the conflict to be centered on Washington D.C. The city is already being evacuated. Critical government functions were transferred to secure locations months ago."

Rogue heard a brief shuffle from Fury’s end before he continued. "SHIELD is also being recalled to the DC area," he said. He sounded grim now.

The sinking sensation in Rogue’s stomach turned into an all out free fall.

"Does that mean we can no longer expect any support from SHIELD here in New York, Colonel?" Storm asked. Her voice was calm, but anger snapped in her blue cat’s eyes.

"The President is hoping you will be willing to step down your operation against OZT in order to let him focus his efforts on Washington," Fury replied.

Several exclamations of disgust met his words. Logan slammed his palm down on the table and then turned away, obviously struggling to keep his temper.

"We’ve been the only ones standin’ in Bastion’s way all this time," Logan growled. "If the President or anybody else thinks we’re gonna step back just because they’ve finally decided ta join the fight, they’ve got another thing comin’." Over the phone they could hear Cable muttering something similar.

Ororo reached over to lay a hand on his shoulder. Her expression was one that was usually accompanied by howling wind and deafening crashes of thunder, but her voice remained calm. "Colonel, please convey to the President our deepest regret, but we will not stand down while Bastion’s forces remain in control of our city and our world. We will continue to fight-to our dying breaths if necessary-to see Bastion defeated and his suppression field destroyed."

Rogue bit her lip. It was possible the X-Men had begun paying that price already.

There was a short pause. Then, "I told him you would say something like that," Fury answered Storm, sounding oddly pleased.

"What’s gonna happen ta Doc Reyes and her people?" Logan asked before Rogue could properly digest Fury’s reaction.

Fury’s businesslike tone returned. "I intend to keep my command center in Westchester, at least for the time being. The site is secure and close enough to DC by air to support operations there. I see no reason why the scientists can’t continue their work uninterrupted."

"An’ Jubilee?" Rogue asked.

Fury’s voice turned diffident. "My superiors don’t know she’s here and I see no reason to inform them."

The X-Men exchanged glances at that and Rogue’s opinion of Colonel Fury rose a notch.

All the parties were silent for several moments. Rogue had just begun to cast about for some way to close out the conversation when Marcus grabbed her arm.

"Look!" he hissed and pointed toward the television.

Rogue turned, her heart squeezing painfully tight as she took in the image of the Human Torch rising above the level of the rooftops. The nearest sentinel banked sharply toward him, lasers firing, but the Torch released a bright ball of fire that streaked toward the sentinel, enveloping it in white-hot flames. The sentinel’s flight turned into an uncontrolled nosedive. It impacted the corner of a tall brownstone building and cartwheeled away in a shower of dislodged bricks, disappearing from the camera’s field of view.

The scene captured by the camera wobbled as the invisible operator swung it around and downward. A small slice of street came into view between two buildings, and in it, the remaining members of the Fantastic Four and three black-clad figures could clearly be seen climbing out of a manhole cover to stand, alive and well, in the center of the street.

"Much better," Ben declared as heaved himself through the narrow opening and climbed up onto the street. "Now we’ve got some room to rumble." He smacked one fist into the other palm.

Reed nodded. "Yes. Open air will give us far more freedom to exercise our powers." He gestured to Johnny, who shot up into the hazy air.

A nearby sentinel immediately swung around and began firing on him, but the Torch released a fireball from his hands that promptly knocked the sentinel out of the sky. It slammed into the corner of the building next to them and then fell, bricks raining down along with its burning body.

Scott grabbed Remy’s arm and dragged him back, away from the impact zone. Bricks shattered on the sidewalk where they’d just been with a sound like breaking pottery. The sentinel hit a little further away, its body still burning. The smell rolled over them, making Scott cough.

Sue’s shield winked into existence around them in a bubble that encompassed both her and Franklin. Mercifully it blunted the stench of the burning body.

Two additional airborne sentinels rounded the corner of a nearby skyscraper. One flew at Johnny while the other aimed straight for the X-Men, its lasers flashing. The bolts dug long furrows in the street and sent chunks of asphalt flying in all directions. Scott flinched as the lasers ricocheted off the shield.

As the sentinel strafed them, Reed stretched upward to wrap himself around its body, dragging it downward. As soon as it came within reach Ben snagged it. He slammed it down on the street and pounded one massive fist into its head. Blood splattered him.

Scott saw the mixture of shock and revulsion that crossed Ben’s face and guessed he hadn’t really registered that the sentinels wore human bodies. Ben hesitated, fist raised, and stared down at the sentinel.

"Hit it again, Ben," Scott told him. "You’ve got to destroy all the electronics in its head or it can regenerate." The image of cutting that first sentinel’s throat at the final assembly plant flashed to life before his eyes. He sympathized with Ben’s horror, but it didn’t change anything.

Ben gave him an uncertain glance but nodded and turned back to the sentinel. He flexed his fingers and then hit the sentinel again, twisting his fist until they could hear his knuckled grinding against the pavement.

Above them, Johnny and the other sentinel engaged in an aerial dogfight that sent laser beams and explosive bolts of fire in every direction as they wheeled and dodged.

Bobby watched them longingly. "Man, I wish I had my powers."

His stomach sinking, Scott glanced over at Remy. The thief wore a grim expression that made Scott think his mind was moving in a direction similar to his own.

The Cajun shook his head disapprovingly. "No sense wastin’ y’ time wishin’ f’ somet’ing y’ can’ have," he told Bobby. "Good way t’ get y’self killed."

Bobby immediately returned his attention to ground level, his expression disappearing behind the professional mask Scott had seen emerging more and more often.

It saddened him to see, but Remy was right. Getting their powers back seemed farther away than ever now. He looked over his shoulder to where a thickening haze hid any details of the destroyed Baxter building. Dense gray smoke spewed upward from where the building had stood, testifying to the fire that still burned somewhere in the rubble.

Their chance at getting into space had gone down with the building. The death of hope felt like a huge black gulf inside him. Bastion might not even know what kind of victory he’d won today, but Scott was very afraid he’d just sealed mutant-kind’s fate.

Pushing despair away, he turned to the other two. "We need to get underground as soon as we can." The warren of passages around Four Freedoms Plaza didn’t connect with any of the tunnels leading to a Guild entrance.

Remy nodded. "Where are we?"

"Fifth Avenue," Bobby answered promptly. "Somewhere around 46th Street. I can see Rockefeller Plaza."

"Bien. South, den. Toward de library."

Scott didn’t get a chance to reply as four of the CATs loped around the nearest corner. The opened fire as soon as they spied the X-Men. Scott saw Sue grit her teeth as the laser storm pounded their protective bubble. Ben and Reed both dove out of the way then turned to attack the CATs.

"Let’s start moving south then," Scott said. "The Fantastic Four are pinned down as long as they have to protect us."

Ben charged the first of the CATs, bringing both fists down on its back and crushing the titanium alloy chassis like so much tissue paper. Then he hoisted the bent creature up by one leg and snapped the laser cannons from its shoulders, tossing them away.

At that, one of the other CATs shifted the focus of its fire from the X-Men to Ben. The laser burst struck him full in the chest, knocking him backwards off his feet. His impact made the ground jump. Ben lay still for a moment and then heaved himself to a sitting position, shaking his head as if to clear it.

Reed had taken the opposite approach. Stretching his body into a long, narrow coil he darted and looped around the CATs, evading their fire. He was managing to keep at least one and sometimes two of the metal beasts occupied, hopefully long enough for Ben to smash the third.

A loud mechanical clanking made Scott look behind him. He stared in dismay as a pair of tanks rolled toward them up Fifth Avenue surrounded by what looked like OZT shock troops. There were at least thirty of them and they were all sentinels. They’d been outfitted with high-tech body armor, it looked like, and their arm cannons were already extended. A contingent of perhaps a dozen CATs followed the tank and behind those came a line of light cavalry vehicles with what Scott guessed were human soldiers.

"Heads up!" he yelled toward the Fantastic Four.

Scott glanced upward in the hopes that Johnny might be able to come to their rescue but he caught only a glimpse of the Human Torch as he zoomed in a wide loop around the top of the Waldorf Astoria with three sentinels hot on his tail.

The tanks opened fire, the staccato cracks of their discharges echoing back and forth between the buildings that lined the street with a sound like thunder. Both shells shrieked toward the X-Men, exploding on impact with Sue’s shield. Sue screamed.

The explosion blinded Scott. He was picked up and thrown backward like a rag doll, tumbling helplessly. Heat washed over him, tainted with the sharp tang of the propellant exhaust. He hit the pavement hard, skidding several feet before coming to a stop.

For a moment all he could do was breathe. His ears rang as if someone had stuck his head in a metal bucket and pounded the side of it with a tire iron. He started violently when someone reached down to shake him.

Remy’s face swam into view when he opened his eyes. He was caked in a layer of light-colored dust and blood ran down the side of the other man’s face from a cut on his scalp.

"Wake up, Scott." His demeanor was as calm as ever, but real fear flickered in the depths of his eyes. "Sue’s in a bad way an’ I’m out o’ ideas."

Remy afraid was enough to jolt Scott to full wakefulness. He sat up abruptly, which made his head throb, and looked around.

For a moment all he could do was stare. Sue had definitely protected them from the worst of the blast. Both of the buildings on either side of the street had been badly damaged. Their outer walls were missing in places, allowing Scott to see into the interior of offices and hallways. Pieces of paper fell from the sky like giant snowflakes and inside the ruined buildings electrical cables sparked. He could hear shouts and screaming and knew people inside the buildings had been injured.

A short ways away, Sue knelt on the street with Franklin protectively clutched to her. Her eyes were squeezed shut and tears tracked down her face, leaving trails in dust that covered her. Bobby knelt beside her, one hand on her back as if he’d been talking to her, but now he simply stared at the approaching tanks.

Scott turned, searching for Ben and Reed. They remained a ways up the street, still engaged with the original set of CATs, which must have gotten reinforcements. Three lay crumpled on the street while the two members of the Fantastic Four battled another three.

He turned toward the tanks. They only had another moment before they fired again and he wasn’t certain if Sue would be able to take another hit like that.

Motion near the tops of the buildings caught his attention. A pair of fighters dropped down between the skyscrapers, flying single file through the narrow canyon. They carried racks of munitions under each wing which looked like they’d been designed to be dropped rather than fired.

Scott saw the lead fighter release its munitions over the OZT force just as the two tanks fired again. Helplessly, Scott could do nothing besides flatten himself on the ground in and hope that Sue could take one more hit.

This is what it’s like to be human, he thought in the moment before the shells detonated. No wonder they hate us.

The second set of explosions was worse than the first. The world shuddered, filling with fire that somehow didn’t get quite close enough to burn. The street heaved and buckled beneath him from the forces diverted by Sue’s shield, tossing him into the air. He felt the sting as tiny bits of shrapnel penetrated his armor.

He hit the ground and rolled, eventually coming to rest on his stomach. Smoke and dust filled the air, making it hard to breathe. Coughing he pushed himself up onto his hands and knees and the straightened.

The tanks had been reduced to twisted mounds of metal that belched smoke from the rents in their armor. The CATs, too, looked like children’s toys that had been stomped on and tossed away. Very little remained of the human sentinels. Scott saw blood on the street and here and there a scorched body part.

Nauseated, he turned away. Remy was already climbing to his feet. He wasn’t putting any weight on his bad leg, Scott noted.

A little further away, Bobby was checking Franklin over for injuries before moving on to Sue, who looked unconscious. The young X-Man had a couple of gashes across the back of his uniform that oozed blood, but otherwise he seemed all right. As he watched, Reed and Ben appeared through the smoke and gathered around the three.

Scott shoved himself to his feet and went to join them.

"We gotta get you X-Men off the street," Ben said as he watched Reed examine his wife. "OZT’s gonna throw everything they got at you until you disappear."

Scott nodded. "SHIELD just bought us a little time." He turned to Remy, who limped slowly toward them. "Where do we need to go?"

"Subway tunnels," Remy answered. "Fifth Avenue station. We can disappear from there."

Scott turned back to Ben. "Just get us to the subway."

"We can do that," Reed said, lifting Sue in his arms. "And then we’ll see if we can get in contact with Colonel Fury. I’m sure we can be of use to SHIELD."

Ben reached down to pick up Franklin and together the group began moving south along the ruined remains of Fifth Avenue.


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