It's Not What You Know...
Part Four - Aces High
The mailman came by at the usual
time while Julia was making an effort to wash her car. Jimmy had
been nagging her that a Lotus Esprit shouldn't resemble a off-road
buggy. So it's a little dusty, she thought as she sprayed the
"Hi. Just leave it on the doorstep, please."
He nodded and dropped a bundle of flyers on the mat. "I need a signature on this one."
Curiosity aroused, she opened the
registered letter. It was, for all intents and purposes, a
glorified party invitation. The South American Nations Coalition
was holding another obnoxiously formal event in the United
Nations building. The advocates of Operation: Zero Tolerance
would present in an effort to sway the representatives into
joining the international efforts. She tapped the card
thoughtfully. Dom will probably want to know about this, she
thought as she went inside to change.
When she arrived at the mansion,
Roberto and Domino were already discussing the invitation he had
"You got one too?" Roberto asked as he waved his card at her. The Brazilian Embassy had sent one 'in courtesy to your family's importance to the economic future of our country'. A little note from Helena had been attached. 'Please tell your friend that we have a long reach too'.
"Sure. I'm technically on staff." said Julia.
"Both of you can bring a guest." Domino mused. "Hmm. Okay, Roberto, I hope you like older women. Raven is going to be your date."
"What?" Roberto asked. "I mean, no offense to her but why? I thought I could ask Terry to accompany me."
"She's good at this kind of intelligence work and she can look like someone who would make a nice match for you." Domino explained. "Julia, why don't you go tell 'Star that he's going to have wear a monkey suit again?"
"I'll try to break it to him gently." Julia smiled.
Roberto looked faintly envious. "She gets to go with someone she likes and I don't. It's not fair."
He knew complaining wasn't going to get him anywhere but he wasn't in a hurry to ask Raven out.
"Life isn't fair." Domino informed him.
Julia found him watching television.
It was some subtitled action movie that seemed to involve a good
deal of athletic jumping around on the part of the hero.
"Looking for pointers?" She asked.
Shatterstar smiled. "I am thinking I should contact the director and offer my services as an instructor. This warrior is poorly trained. What brings you here? I had not expected to see you today."
"I'm going to a party and I'd like you to be my date." She told him as she sat down on the sofa.
"Here, read this."
He scanned the invitation then looked up again.
"I would be pleased to accompany you to this event. Is this not the same function that Roberto will be attending?"
"It is and he's going with Raven." She said. "This is a formal event so I'm sorry to say you have to wear a tuxedo again."
"A minor complaint. It is not sufficient to discourage me." He said.
She smiled and hugged him. "Thank you."
"You are welcome." He said. "Will you stay and watch the rest of this with me?"
"Sure, I'm not on a schedule."
She looked at him questioningly when he kept his arm wrapped around her waist.
"I don't wish for you to fall." He said by way of explanation. He had admitted to himself that he enjoyed any opportunity he had to be physically close to her and was quietly resolved to make the most of any such opportunities.
"Off the sofa?"
"Oh. Okay. If it's a safety issue then I really can't argue."
She shifted around until she was comfortable. She ended up curled up to him. My, this is nice, she thought. I really shouldn't be enjoying this. Oh why not. Guilty pleasure de jour. She didn't have clue as to the plot but they spent most of it critiquing the techniques of the actors so her absolute lack of understanding as to their supposed motivation didn't make any difference.
Downstairs in the communications
room, Raven was trying to find any sign of Rogue since she had
left the mansion. The foolish girl gets the jitters about
something she's seen in that Cajun's head and she takes off
without a word to anyone, she fumed. When did she become such a
fainting violet? I raised her better than that. She turned around
as she heard the door open.
"Oh. Hmm. I had hoped Forge was bringing down a snack." She said with a smile. "What can I do for you, young man?"
Roberto sighed. "Raven, I've been told by Domino to ask if you'd do me the honour of accompanying me to an event of the Brazilian Embassy."
That got her attention. "Why, Roberto. I'm touched. Would the invitation be that card you're holding?"
"Yes. It's five days from today." He said as he gave her the card.
She read the card and smiled. The reason for his invitation was very interesting. I'll have to remember that this boy has more influence than I'd normally suspect. She considered what shape to use then shifted.
"What do think of this?" She asked.
Roberto blinked at the young blonde woman in a gold evening gown. "You look lovely."
She dimpled prettily. "Thank you. I'll fix the details closer to the date. Anyone else going?"
"Julia and 'Star. She received an invite too."
"She's an attaché of the Argentine Embassy."
Raven perked up. "Is that right? And here I thought she was another of Cable's waifs."
Five days later.
The valet stepped up to their
borrowed Rolls Royce and held the door as they got out. They were
all dressed past the nines, well into the fifteens. Raven
adjusted the folds of her gown as the others got out of the car.
She had decided to shift only her shape since it would be easier
over a long period of time rather then try to keep track of all
the details of her outfit. Both Julia and Roberto looked
perfectly comfortable in their finery, which combined was
probably worth the same as a small car. Shatterstar was
marginally more content with the new design that Roberto had
selected for him. He still lodged several complaints against the
necessity of a tie. The only consolation was that, given the
various cultures that would be represented, wearing a sword was
perfectly acceptable. Unlike the others who had affected
ridiculously ornate sheaths and decorative hilts, he was carrying
a real blade.
They cruised around, occasionally
making meaningless small talk with members of the Brazilian
Embassy. Raven was more than at home charming the various attachés
and member of the ambassador's staff. Roberto bowed gracefully
out of the conversation went fetch them something to drink. He
spotted Julia and Shatterstar listening with feigned interest to
one of the Zero Tolerance advocates as he expounded to a circle
"...so you see, mutants do
pose a serious and real threat to humans." Ted finished. He
looked around at his audience. Most of them had noncommittal
expressions but he really didn't think he'd get any obvious
support from professional diplomats.
"Interesting philosophy." The Argentine ambassador mused. "Yet mutants are in fact the next stage of evolution, aren't they? Punctuated evolution, I believe it's called. Isn't it futile to fight nature?"
"No! I mean, no. They're not true humans."
"Oh? So what of their parents and extended family? Will Zero Tolerance apply to them as well?"
Ted hesitated. This was a sticky issue even for them. "No, not unless they're also mutants."
"What is the policy on persons such as Captain America?" One of the women asked. "He's not technically a mutant but he's no longer truly human either."
"Captain America has done a great service to our country and should be respected for that." He said smoothly.
"Hmm. So what if a mutant has done such service?" She asked. "Several members of the Avengers are mutants."
"We would ask that they no longer serve."
"Good news!" The Chilean ambassador cheered. "I'll have my aide draft a letter tomorrow. We'll have to come up with some enticement for them to move to our country. What do you suppose would work? Money? Land? Titles?"
"All of the above." One of the men laughed.
Ted stiffened in disgust. "You can't be serious."
"Oh but I am." The ambassador smiled. "These are powerful people, boy. It's wiser to court them than to fight them."
After the dinner, Bastion made his
speech about the dangers of mutants and the need for
international control. He entertained a few questions afterwards
then left the room to polite applause.
Julia watched Bastion defend his
arguments. He was understandably frustrated with most of his
audience's persistence in seeing mutant powers as rare and
valuable gifts. Not everybody is a terrified, hateful bigot, she
thought as she considered if any of the spells she knew would be
of any use. An influence spell? She wondered. No, we'd have to
want him to do something definite. Too bad we can't just shoot
him where he stands. His death might slow down his organization
but it wouldn't eliminate it. She glanced at Shatterstar. He was
watching the man with a faint frown. He felt her gaze and looked
"We must find the others. He is not real." He whispered.
"He's what?" Raven asked.
Her young, somewhat vapid appearance conflicted with the hard
intelligence that flashed behind her eyes.
"I could not sense any life in him." Shatterstar explained again. "He is not alive."
"Obscure talents come in handy." Roberto remarked. "Okay, he's fake. What now?"
"What about his flunkies?" Julia asked as she observed two of Bastion's personal assistants stay behind and circulate with the other advocates.
"I am not sure about one of them." said Shatterstar hesitantly. "The one with the blue jacket."
Raven studied the man in question. "Roberto, let's go be friendly. I want to know what these people are if they're not standard issue."
"As my lady commands." Roberto held out his arm to her and they strolled over.
Raven smiled politely. "Well,
it's been wonderful to meet you but I simply must have some fresh
air. It's so warm in here."
The man nodded but he was watching her and Roberto closely. "It's been my pleasure."
Roberto held the door open for her
and they went outside. "What did you think?"
"He's been lobotomized." Raven decided. "I had the distinct impression that he wasn't all there."
"Maybe he was overcome by your beauty." He said suavely. Even if this was Mystique it wasn't reason not to complement her. He really did think this shape was attractive. She's blue, he reminded himself.
She raised an eyebrow. "Are you always this charming?"
"I certainly try." He smiled.
Then he noticed the man step out onto the balcony and come towards them. "But it might be the truth. He's followed you."
Shatterstar tilted his head. "Strange.
I thought I heard Roberto calling for assistance."
Julia surveyed the room. "You might have. They're both missing. Didn't they go outside?"
"Yes, I believe so."
They went out onto the balcony
overlooking the courtyard. The area was empty except for the two
"Where did they wander off to?" She mused out loud.
He stopped. Now he was outside, the characteristic sound of energy weapons being fired were clear.
"Yes, I definitely hear sounds of a fight close to us."
She nodded. "Better get ready for one then."
Shatterstar blinked when she pulled
a gun from the holster she was wearing under her skirt. She had
fastened the holster quite high on her leg. Why are you staring?
He asked himself.
Julia smiled as she smoothed her dress down. "Sorry, didn't mean to look like an exhibitionist but there's not many options in an outfit like this."
"Ah. Be assured it is certainly an aesthetically pleasing spectacle." He recovered.
She blushed faintly. He's been hanging around Roberto for sure, she thought.
"Oh. Shall we go see what's bothering the others?"
He leaned over the parapet. "There. Za's vid! They are being attacked by a robotic creature!" He eyed the distance to the ground below. "Can you jump from this height?"
"Sure." She said as she hopped over the railing in a swirl of fabric. She landed on her feet with a muffled curse.
He jumped down and landed beside her. "What is wrong?"
"I'll never try that in high heels again." She announced as she flicked the safety off on her gun.
"I am grateful that male dress is more sensible on this world." He commented as he drew his sword.
Raven had been knocked down by the
blast from the thing's hand. Roberto was in his energy-covered
form and was firing back with his flares. It seemed resistant but
the attack was having an effect.
Julia stepped in front of it as it
moved towards Raven again. The gun that she had was effective but
it was projecting a small energy shield that absorbed most of the
shots. Roberto moved away from her in an effort to distract the
thing but it kept both of them at bay. It did not notice the
sword-carrying figure behind it. Shatterstar swung the blade in a
tight arc and beheaded it before it could register him as a
"It's good to know traditional methods are still effective." He commented as he watched the head roll for a few feet.
Raven sat up goggily. "Damned thing."
"I'm with you." Roberto agreed as he extended a gentlemanly hand to help her up. "It said it was a Sentinel. But I don't get it. It was human then it wasn't."
"It had the ability to conceal itself? That is not welcome news." Shatterstar remarked.
Julia prodded the body experimentally. "Why don't we take it as a souvenir?"
"I think we will." Raven agreed. "We should have something to show for our little outing."
Their prize was the subject of much
speculation and morbid curiosity by the residents of the mansion
when they returned. Predictably, Forge and Doctor McCoy had the
specimen on an autopsy table within a few minutes of their
arrival. Their attempts to shoo the spectators away were met
limited success until everyone had a look.
The next morning, they held another
meeting in the briefing room. After everyone had settled in,
Forge stood with the results of the autopsy.
"The Sentinel unit that we examined was a human infused with nanotechnology." He began. "From what the mission team reported, we summarize that this was a sleeper unit that was disguised as a regular human until it came into contact with a mutant. The programming would then take over and transform the unit from human to Sentinel."
"What kind of weapon systems are we looking at?" Cable asked intently.
"A variable strength plasma blast as the primary with a small projectile system as backup. Heavy sensory and communications capabilities which leads us to think these units are meant to work as coordinated assault teams. The one we have downstairs wasn't fitted for flight or teleportation."
"We have the entry-level model." Tabitha smirked.
"That could be more correct than you know." Forge said seriously. "A lot of that nanotech is the same technology that made Nimrod possible."
Shatterstar frowned. "The scientists who created that creature swore to destroy their work."
"They did but they didn't have exclusive control over the project." said Cable. "The fact that the technology is showing up again is proof of that."
"'Star, you're sure that Bastion isn't living creature?" Forge asked.
Shatterstar nodded. "I am certain."
"I think we've just found out what happened to Master Mold." He stated. "It fits everything we have on Bastion. He turned up after the X-Men went through the Siege Perilous and has knowledge about advanced Sentinel technology that simply isn't possible for someone from this time period. If you recall, Master Mold went through as well after it had merged with Nimrod."
"I think this is more than a little disturbing. He looks completely human." Warren commented.
"So? Whatever magic the Siege Perilous placed on all of you scatter your team all over to world was more than enough to create the illusion of a living person over a machine." Julia pointed out.
Domino tapped a control built into the table and the large display on the wall came to life. "We've been able to find out more about our mystery man. He has control of the Prospero Clinic in New Mexico. Its claim to fame is that anybody who goes in for treatment of any type of physical problem can be cured."
"I'll bet I know how they're being cured." said Roberto. "He's turning them into Sentinels."
"Right on the money." She agreed. "From what we dug out about his Zero Tolerance project, they've taken over the old Hulkbuster base. We can assume that the fully robotic Sentinels are being manufactured there as well as housing their central command."
"Okay, we've got the most advanced mutant-hunting unit ever created turning people into Sentinels and running an international campaign to eliminate all mutants." Scott summarized. "What are we going to do about it?"
Wade waited patiently in his rented
room. He had tracked his target to a low quality motel and
decided to make his move there. Some cash, an image inducer and a
box of decent beer was all he needed to get close enough to put
his plan into motion. This is not my idea of a fun Saturday night,
he thought as he finished the last bottle. I can't believe this
place doesn't have satellite TV. But hey, things are looking up.
Nobody has tried to kill me this week, I've found my ticket to a
cure and the Doc isn't nearly as flaky as Killebrew. Scary enough
to get entire spandex teams running the other way but not a quack.
Ooh, time's up, he thought as he picked up his pack.
He stepped out to the musty
smelling hallway. Nice place, he thought as he crept towards his
target's room. Real classy joint. He opened the door and looked
inside. The gas canister had done its work and his target was
passed out on the bed. He moved over to her and snapped the
collar around her neck. Next came the ankle and wrist cuffs and
the gag. He packed her carefully into the body bag. The Doc said
alive and intact, he thought. I am not screwing this up. He
switched on his teleporter and they vanished.
"I don't see why I can't go."
Adam sulked as X-Force lifted off. "I know how to use a gun."
"Somebody has to stay and watch the fort." said Domino absently. Four of the X-Men would be staying behind plus Raven and Adam. The rest of them would be joining the kids at a later stage in the mission. Scott, Jean and Warren had their hands full running the Xavier Foundation in Charles' absence as well as their own projects. They couldn't really drop everything for a mission that the others should be able to handle. Hank was speaking at a major medical conference and they needed the good press more than they needed The Beast in combat.
There was muttering of Shi'ar vulgarities in response but she ignored them. What she didn't add was that if the mission went completely sour they would need somebody held in reserve to pull them out.
Prospero, New Mexico
Julia gazed down at the target as
they approached. Prospero was formerly a gold rush city which had
retained dependence on mineral resources. Besides the clinic, the
major industry was the marginally successful copper mine a few
miles to the north. The clinic itself was situated at the far end
of the town and was conspicuously modern against the backdrop of
historical buildings. The residents must have been thrilled that
a major project had chosen their city, she thought. It meant jobs,
federal money and a reason for visitors to come. We're not going
to be popular if we announce that we're here to shut it down.
In the cockpit, the scanning
equipment beeped for attention.
"Shucks." said Sam. "Guys, according to this thing, almost a fifth of the people in that town have Sentinel parts in them. That doesn't include who's hiding in the clinic proper either."
"Wonderful. They'll think we're trying to murder their friends and family if we just attack them." said Terry. She tapped a nail thoughtfully on the console. "We should try and lure them out first. They'll follow us if they detect we're mutants."
"We should have gotten the X-Men to come along." Tabitha smirked. "They'd make great bait."
"Why donnae we?" Terry smiled. "They should be ready to leave the mansion by now. We can ask that they just come out a little sooner and help us out."
"Ugh. You realize we'll have to deal with them saying we asked for their help?" Roberto asked.
There was a pause while they considered that disturbing possibility.
"No, don't ask them." Julia advised. "Call them up and report the situation. They're the sort to volunteer to help out and then that'll still put Terry and Sam in charge since we got here first."
"Ooh, that's good." said Terry admiringly. "Ye can call, Sam. Ye sound so innocent."
"Ah'm trying to fix that but it's darn hard work." said Sam as he turned to the communications array.
The cloaked PACRAT landed behind
the clinic three-quarters of a mile away. Since the cloaking
field of their ship extended for a dozen feet beyond the hull,
Roberto lowered the ramp and they had look outside.
"This terrain makes for an easy approach to the enemy base." said Shatterstar as he surveyed the dry flat ground.
"Why anyone would want to build a town at the bottom of a ravine?" Risque asked. "Look at those cliffs. You'd need mountain climbing gear to get out of here."
"It's rather the reverse of building a castle at the top of a hill." said Julia. "Silly buggers."
"Damn, it's hot." Josh complained. "I'm staying inside. Close the door before the air conditioner blows a fuse."
No-one was interested in counting the pebbles in the time they had to wait until the X-Men were scheduled to arrive so they retreated back inside.
"Full house." Kenton
proclaimed as he laid his cards on the makeshift table.
Risque, Jimmy and Terry made various noises of discontent as he scooped up their chips.
"Kids, I was in the service for ten years. You learn how to play poker or die trying." He explained.
"That would certainly be incentive to master that game." said Shatterstar without looking up from his book.
Sam prodded Josh on the shoulder. "Do you think Ah could borrow one of them regular cameras?"
"Sure." Josh said. He opened one of the cases and rummaged around. He held out a small, comparatively simple unit with a built-in lens. "Auto-focus and there's a roll of colour film loaded. You can keep it."
"Thanks a bunch." Sam smiled.
He moved casually across the aisle from Shatterstar and quickly snapped three pictures.
"What?" Shatterstar asked, bewildered at the activity.
"Ah wanted to get a shot of you reading and her sleeping on your lap." Sam explained with a grin.
Shatterstar looked down at Julia's quiet form. "I hope for your sake she finds this idea amusing."
"Looks like the X-Men are here."
Roberto remarked as he pulled his headphones off. Outside, only
the puff of dust rising indicated anything had happened. On the
panels in front of him, the outline of the Blackbird was clearly
"Oh joy." Terry commented.
Julia raised an eyebrow when the
other team emerged. Havoc was still leading the team although
Storm had joined them. Iceman came out on an ice-slide with
Polaris and Psylocke following behind him.
"We're on a search and destroy mission. Why the hell are they dressed for a costume party?"
"Uh, that's kinda how they always look when they go on missions." Tabitha confided. "They had their blue and yellow outfits but not many of them really went for it."
"Sheesh." said Julia. "And you can quote me on that."
"I'll remember that." Kenton grinned as he fastened his flack jacket. "Better go say 'hi' since I want to get them on film."
Somewhere over the North Atlantic.
The SHIELD helicarrier was possibly
one of the most sophisticated military strongholds in the world.
But despite the comfortable quarters for its crew, the recreation
complex and the armed security it afforded, the most important
feature at this particular moment was the soundproofing of the
director's office. George Washington Bridge was the newly-installed
head of SHIELD and right now he was having a conference with two
wanted mercenaries and one mutant inventor.
Forge idly designed various
headphones and noise reduction devices in his mind while Cable,
Bridge and Domino yelled at each other. They had managed to
concur that yes, Bastion was a threat; yes, SHIELD should do
something about his genocidal agenda; yes, Operation: Zero
Tolerance was a threat to international security. Now it was the
small matter of them agreeing what to do. Bridge hadn't taken the
news of X-Force's strike plans well. Domino had more than a few
things to say about his idea to present their information to the
UN Security Council before taking any action. Cable had outright
refused to recall X-Force back to base and had his own opinions
on the effectiveness of SHIELD troops.
He noticed a lull in the noise and
returned his attention to the discussion. "Now that everyone's
done screaming, what have you agreed on?"
Cable shot a glare at Forge that was blithely ignored. The inventor had the infuriating ability to be sensible when regular people should be losing their tempers.
Domino sipped her now cold coffee and grimaced. "Well? Are you in or out?"
Bridge blew out his breath in a resigned hiss. It saved a lot of effort on the part of his agents to have all the intelligence work already done. "Okay, we'll help you bring Bastion down. But we get full cooperation. No hidden agendas. No hiding evidence. No abducting witnesses."
"You got it, GW." Cable agreed. He held out hand. "It's good to be working with you again."
"Don't make me regret this, Nate."
Getting into the clinic was the
fairly straightforward matter of walking in the front doors and
waving their guns around. The regular human staff and patients
were only too happy to leave the crazy terrorists alone.
"Check it out. There's a
defense shield for this place." said Tabitha from the
security guard's station.
"Turn it on, Tabs. We might as well lock everyone out until we're done." said Sam.
"Yeah, but we're locking some Sentinels in with us." She noted. "Look, they show up on the map."
They crowded around to have a look.
"Two levels above ground and three under with restricted access." Marcella mused aloud. "And twenty cyborgs defending the whole thing."
"That mean two each." said Jimmy.
"A fair distribution." said Shatterstar, looking anticipatory.
"You can have mine." Josh muttered.
He nodded. "Thank you."
Julia turned at the movement she
could see out of the corner of her eye.
"Dibs." She called as she opened fire on first of the cyborgs approaching from the doctor's offices.
The Sentinel evidently didn't have any kind of standing energy shield as her three consecutive shots removed its head and most of its chest.
Tabitha hopped over the station. "I get the next one!"
Her quick volley of explosive plasma took out the second cyborg and most of the surrounding corridor.
"Who's going to keep a count?" Risque asked with a grin. "Tabs and Julia are both down one."
"Not too tough." Tabitha decided. "They look like robots so they can't get the drop on us. Forge said if we don't give them time to figure us out then they're dead meat."
"Where's the rest of them?" Roberto asked, leaning over to have a look at the map.
"All over the place and they're moving too." said Terry.
"So are we, big deal." Jimmy shrugged. "Let's get rolling, people."
"Company," Tabitha called
as a Sentinel emerged from the lift. They scattered to each side
of the hallway as it started firing at them.
"I'll do this one." said Risque.
She focused on the approaching Sentinel and tried to use her power. She frowned as she felt it bounce off the organic portions of the cyborg. Little more juice, she decided. Then,
"Oh gross." Tabitha
"Yeah." Jimmy agreed.
The Sentinel's inorganic elements
had imploded but the process had completely shredded the organic
components inside it. The cyborg now resembled an unfortunate
individual who had been put through a food processor with a load
of miscellaneous electronic parts.
"That is not pretty."
"Man, I think I'll just shoot them like everybody else." said Risque.
"It's a good thing we ain't eaten yet." Sam muttered as they edged around the remains.
At his New York hideout, Wade
fussed as Weasel activated the tracer unit that was hidden in
Terry's belt. He had called the mansion looking for her but all
he got was some new kid saying she was away with the team again.
No other information was forthcoming and his only other source of
X-info, de Santos, had also left town.
"Stop pacing." Weasel snapped. "You're making me nervous."
"Tough patooties." said Wade. "Anything yet?"
"Just a second...yeah. Okay, she's in New Mexico." He declared as he tapped the map on the computer screen. "Right there."
"Hell, there goes my plans for a stunning romantic dinner date and mega points. What's she doing in the middle of frigging nowhere?"
"From what I can figure? She's at Prospero." Weasel shrugged. "There's a high-tech clinic there."
"Yeah? What are they into?"
"Miracles. If you believe their ads they can fix anything: quadriplegics, blindness, deafness, you name it."
"Sounds too good to be true." Wade said knowingly. "Who's running the joint? Mother Teresa?"
"Nah, some guy named Bastion." Weasel paused. "He's into that anti-mutant thing. Zero Happiness or whatever."
Wade stared at the screen silently for a few moments.
"We got teleporter coordinates for the town." Weasel said nonchalantly when he figured his friend had enough time to think. "And two of the long-distance units are already to go."
"Gimme." Wade said without hesitation.
"Come out, come out wherever
you are." Julia called softly. There were two more cyborgs
lurking around somewhere since both teams had accounted for eight.
"I don't think they will respond to entreaties." Shatterstar smiled.
"You never know until you try." She said as they pushed open the double doors at the end of the hallway. "Oh gods."
"Fekt." He muttered.
The long room was filled with transparent cocoons hanging from the ceiling in neat rows. Inside, they could make out figures in a slowly swirling gel.
"They don't look like they're disabled in any way." Julia commented.
Shatterstar examined the containers. "This resembles a type of suspended animation."
"Stasis?" She said. "Of course, they don't have the facilities to convert everybody at once so they have to put some on hold."
"We should mark this room." He said. "Perhaps these people can be freed once we have dealt with the enemy."
"I knew we should have brought spray paint." She mused.
"An unfortunate oversight." He agreed. "We will have to improvise."
He was carving an 'X' on one of the doors when Marcella, Terry and Roberto came around the corner.
"Tagging the walls?" Roberto asked with a grin.
"Yes. Marcella, you will wish to see the contents of that room." said Shatterstar. "We believe we have found the people that have been reported missing from the area."
Roberto and Terry looked in at the
"Danar." He muttered.
"Aye." She agreed before backing out again. "I donnae think I need to see the rest."
Marcella cursed but didn't hesitate to start exploring. "I'm going to do a walk though. This is important."
"We'll be outside." said Roberto.
On the third level down, they met
up with Sam's team. They were waiting outside of the lift, in
front of a pair of armored doors.
"We have to choose door number one, huh?" Roberto asked.
It didn't take any effort for them to punch their way through. Lockpicks weren't necessary when one had overwhelming brute force on one's side. An unexpected benefit of their heavy-handed approach was that the last two Sentinels that were waiting for them on the other side of the doors were taken out at the same time.
"Oh mah god." said Sam as they spilled into the room beyond.
Since they were underground the
room extended much farther that the clinic's outside dimensions
would have suggested. It was a high-tech medical facility crossed
with a factory. Cylinders were lined up on a conveyer belt
assembly that ended in bank of upright cylinders against the
farthest wall away from them. There were dozens of people in the
cylinders in various stages of conversion.
Mass production, Jimmy thought.
Look how efficient it is. Line them up, splice some Meccano parts
on and you've got yourself one mutant-hunting Sentinel that looks
just like a regular human. Then when you're done, you pack them
up and ship them away.
"It's like looking at some twisted assembly line." He said out loud.
Sam glanced up. "That's 'cause it is. And we're here to stop it."
They spread out around the room
while Marcella and Josh got their footage.
"Guys, this place is live." said Risque as she looked down at one of the subjects. "There's lots of those nanotech ants that Forge told us about on this one."
Tabitha leaned over the indicated cylinder for a look. Tiny red microscopic robots were removing bits of the man's flesh and replacing it with commuter components.
"That's creepy." Tabitha shivered. "Looks like he's being nibbled away by bugs."
"They are present on this person also." Shatterstar noted from a cylinder a few paces away.
"Who wants to open the packing crates at the back?" Roberto asked.
They looked at the lines of sealed cylinders. The completed Sentinels resembled a selection from a wax museum.
"Let's bide a mite on those." Terry advised. "We donnae really want to activate them by accident."
Julia looked down at a young man
who had been a quadruple amputee. The mechanical frames of his
new limbs had been implanted, giving him an disconcertingly semi-skeletal
appearance. I can see why you would want the chance to walk again
but the price is so high, she thought. But then, is this any
different that those who make magical bargains to secure some
benefit? Not really. I suppose human nature doesn't ever change.
We just find new ways of getting what we want.
Sam moved to the control panels.
"Ah think if we disconnect this place from the computer core
it should be enough to shut them down. Them little bugs are
getting their instructions from somewhere."
"We'll have to shut down their life support too." said Terry quietly.
"Ah know." He nodded.
Julia came up. "Did you want me to do it?"
"Do ye mind?" Terry asked.
"No, but you'll have tell me what buttons to push." She confessed.
They walked her through the process and watched as the lights died over each of the units.
"Ah hate this." said Sam. "Ah don't feel like a hero now."
"I don't think you're supposed to for things like this." Julia sighed. Not exactly my proudest moment, she thought. Killing a batch of mechanicalized invalids. Hooray for the modern age.
"We gotta take out all this
stuff or they could just start it up again after we leave."
"In other words, let's trash the joint." said Tabitha as she blasted the control panels with her bombs.
Marcella and Josh stood at the back
of the room while X-Force did what it did best: wanton wholesale
"I don't ever want these guys to come after us." said Josh as the far cylinders were pulverized by a force wave. Heaps of imploded machinery lay strewn around and what wasn't smashed, exploded or carved up was melted beyond recognition.
Marcella nodded absently. I was Tabs' age when I enlisted, she remembered. I wanted to fight but I never felt ready to take on the world. Dom said most of these kids have been doing this since before they were old enough to drive a car. So, when regular kids are worrying about college fees and dating, they're doing assault strikes on paramilitary installations. What will they be by the time they're my age or Cable's?
Leaving Marcella and Josh to hold
the newly-secured clinic, they went outside to see how the senior
team was fairing.
Julia stopped as she took in the
sight of the X-Men fighting a cluster of the Sentinels in the
"Gods, I thought the idea was to lure them out of the area so the plebes don't have to see this."
"Yer still new to superheroing." Terry smirked. "It's nae as dramatic if people donnae watch us defeat the baddies."
"I'm not a superhero." She stated firmly. "I'm an assassin. We have more sense."
"Yer probably right. Okay, let's make sure the civilians don't get in the way." Terry ordered. "Everybody spread out and tell people to stay inside and not get involved. We'll do that."
They spread out and began
encouraging the spectators to keep out of the way while they
assisted the X-Men neutralize the Sentinels that were at large.
This was met with varying amounts of success and catcalls.
"What are you people doing?!"
A woman asked.
"We're trying to fight them Sentinels, ma'am." said Sam politely. "If y'all could stay inside, we'd be much obliged."
The woman slammed the door shut in response.
"I guess she got the message." said Tabitha.
Risque paused as she heard Storm
calling out to three Sentinels that were shooting at her. The
wind that was whipping around made it hard to hear. Are those
instructions for us? She wondered.
"James? What's she saying?"
"'You misbegotten wretches are no match for the awesome power of nature.'" Jimmy repeated straight-faced.
"What?" She asked. "Forget it."
They opened fire on the Sentinels and the X-woman landed as the bodies fell.
"Thank you for you assistance, children." said Storm graciously.
"No problem." Risque smiled. "But you know, if you just wack them we could blow this place a lot sooner."
On their designated street, Roberto
flew up quickly behind a Sentinel that was moving towards the
town square to join the crowd.
He grabbed its arm and heaved it backwards into the air. "Catch!"
Shatterstar didn't hesitate and sliced up the flailing cyborg as it arced towards him. The remains convulsed for a few moments but it failed to present any further threat.
"You dropped it." said Roberto.
"Find another so I may practice."
Julia noticed a flash of purple
hair go around the corner a few streets over. Psylocke? She
wondered. What's she doing still running about? She glanced
around. One of the buildings had a fire escape ladder. Might as
well get a good view, she thought as she jumped for the lowest
rung and climbed up.
"Guys? I'm tagging after Psylocke." She said into her headset.
"Got you." Terry replied. "We're meeting back at the clinic."
"Okay." She said as she ran across the rooftops in search of the errant X-woman.
Betsy dodged the next energy bolt
and darted down a side street. The Sentinels followed her and the
next bolt burnt a wide path down her leg. She hissed in pain then
jumped backwards as her pursuers were blown apart from behind. A
male figure in a black and red costume holding a large gun in
each hand was revealed as the cyborgs collapsed
"They take a lickin' and fall over dead. Not too catchy a slogan but it's truth in advertising." The man commented. "Have you seen a cute little Irish redhead fly by? I spotted the spandex and figured you might have carpooled."
Betsy stood as straight as she could with her injured leg. "Who might you be?"
"Only the most dashing, debonair, mercenary in town." He said charmingly.
"But we're in a small town in the middle of nowhere so the standard isn't that high." Julia commented from overhead. "Hi, Wa-I mean, Deadpool."
"What you doing up there? Come down and be friendly." Wade said.
She jumped down. "I'm always friendly, regardless of my altitude. Are you all right, Psylocke? Why'd you run off without backup?"
Betsy gave her an icy look. "I don't normally request assistance."
Wade snorted but didn't say anything for a change.
Julia sighed. Gods, save me from heroes. "We're regrouping at the clinic since we're almost done here."
Betsy turned to indicated direction and Wade got a good look at the rest of her uniform.
"Holy shinola! She's butt-naked!" He gasped.
"No gawking at the ninja." Julia admonished.
"Ninja? The termites are recruiting centerfolds?" Wade leered. "Which month are you?"
Betsy didn't deign to answer him as she headed to meet the others.
"Now look what you've done. You hurt her feelings." Julia snickered as they followed at a discreet distance. "By the way, watch your back. She's a telepath and from what Terry tells me her favorite method is to nail someone from behind."
"I got you." Wade nodded. "I gotta say that's the most naked ninja I've ever seen."
"She's a kunoichi. They're into the seduce and stab approach." She explained.
"I tried that but it didn't really work for me." He confided. " I had to settle for the shoot, stab and maim method."
The sudden vision of Deadpool in a purple thong bathing suit presented itself for consideration. Julia doubled over, laughing helplessly.
Wade grabbed her arm and tugged her along. "Yeah, yeah. Come on."
They found Tabitha, Shatterstar,
Jimmy and Risque waiting in the clinic's front lobby. They had
accidentally broken open the vending machines and were relaxing
slightly with their newly-liberated sodas and candy.
"Hiya, kids." Wade said. "Where's the rest of your spandex set?"
"Out with the X-Men seeing what's still twitching." said Tabitha.
"Not to say I'm not pleased to see you but what are you doing here?" Julia asked him.
"I was bored sitting at home all by myself." Wade said almost truthfully.
Shatterstar nodded approvingly. "We welcome your assistance in this."
"How'd you find us?" Tabitha asked. "You got a homing beacon on Terry or something?"
Wade blinked under his mask. That was a lucky guess, he told himself. Don't tip your hand.
"Mercs know about tracking."
Tabitha shrugged. "Don't doubt it. Hey Psylocke, you okay with that? Looks like killer road rash."
Betsy waved negligently. "Mere pain will not affect me."
At this point a very practical ex-Air Force major wandered in from her explorations of the offices.
"An infected wound can knock you for six pretty damn quick." Marcella pointed out. She dug around in her pack for the small medikit. She eventually held out a roll of bandages. "Here. It won't match your uniform but what the hell."
"There's no need, I assure you." She smiled.
Marcella paused. She knew the type. They were usually greenhorn kids who had something to prove. Then she shrugged. All of these people had been in the field long enough to know better. Maybe she's got that super healing. "Suit yourself."
Tabitha pointed out the window.
"Hey, Deadpool. Check it out."
Wade looked up as Terry came in a high speed with a gun in one hand and rifle slung around her neck.
"Total babe sighted at twelve o'clock! Ahoogah!" He announced as he hurried outside.
"You're all class." Julia laughed.
"Sakes! What are ye doing here?" Terry exclaimed happily. She all but landed on him and hugged him tightly.
"Getting the fast-healing stuffing squished out of me." Wade managed.
Sam and Roberto landed a moment later.
"We figure we got them all." Sam reported. "We're just waiting for the X-Men to get back now."
"Guys, we're gonna get tarred and feathered if we hang around for much longer." said Roberto as he snagged a chocolate bar from the pile on the table. "The people out there are not happy we've trashed this place and the X-Men wasted a lot of buildings during the fight."
"They know why we're here, right?" Risque asked.
"Yeah, they know. And they know that the reason there's Sentinels at all is because of mutants." said Roberto. "It's our fault either way."
The PACRAT and the Blackbird landed
in front of the Hulkbuster base. The flat, bare landscape didn't
make sneaking up on their target possible so they decided not to
bother even trying.
"We've gotten confirmation
that SHIELD forces will be arriving to back us up." Havoc
announced as the groups milled around. "The problem is that
they won't be here for another five hours."
"That figures." Jimmy muttered.
"Ya'll want to wait or secure the place now?" Sam asked.
"No," Havoc decided. "We'll give them too much time to set up defenses if we wait."
A few paces away, Julia stared critically at their target. Given the amount of radar and other scanning devices on the roof, she had the distinct impression they were staring back.
"They're already holed up in a fortress. It can't get much harder than it already is."
"Did I hear him say SHIELD?" Wade asked. "Julia, aren't you wanted by those yo-yo's? I know I am."
"Yes. I guess we'll have to stay low key, Wilson. That's all." She smiled. "Although, your outfit is a dead giveaway."
He looked down at his costume. "It's supposed to be. This little number is patented, trademarked, copyrighted and registered."
"And on sale at Wal-Mart." Julia finished with a grin.
"It is not! Stop mocking the merc." He said with as much of a glare as he could manage with his mask on.
"Okay, I'm done for now anyway." She laughed as she wandered over to where the rest of their team was waiting in the comparative cool of the PACRAT.
Terry smiled but the main point still bothered her. "Wade, I donnae want some keen soul trying to arrest ye during the fight."
"That makes you and me both, Red." He agreed. "How about you bow out early and come back to the Big Apple with me?"
She just looked at him.
"Yeah, okay. I knew that wasn't gonna fly." He muttered.
Terry put her arms around him. "It was very sweet of ye to come out to see how I was doing but ye don't have to feel obligated to fight our battles with us."
Wade jogged up and tapped Julia on
the shoulder. "I'm gonna skip this rumble. If the soldier-boys
find me hanging around you guys, you're gonna have to answer a
lot of questions. I hope those X-persons aren't calling you by
that nickname that Fury gave you."
She shook her head. "No, I won't answer to it. I don't show up on mutant scanners so they can't prove anything. If anybody sees anything I'll pass it off as low-level telekinesis." She waved as he teleported away.
"We've got incoming!"
Roberto sent over their headsets.
Julia focused on the incoming squadron of Sentinels. The force wave arced into the sky and smashed the cyborgs into fragments as they hit the leading edge.
"You were holding back." Shatterstar observed. "That did not surpass the speed of sound."
"I'm not keen on using enough power to leave an energy signature with SHIELD scheduled to show up. They still want to have a word with me about a few things." She explained.
"Ah. I had forgotten about their interest in you." He nodded. "I will certainly not allow them take you away."
"They'd never be able to take me alive." She smiled.
"What the hell was that?" Havoc sent.
"Just me, Mister Summers. De Santos." Julia replied.
"Oh. Okay, you can cover us while we take care of the outer defenses then." He sent back.
"You got it."
"Everybody else, we might as well go in the front door. Flyers, get into the air and take out the guns at the top the walls."
Julia stayed back with the camera
crew as the teams attacked. Nine more Sentinel squadrons came out
to meet an identical fate as the first as they waited for the
perimeter to be breached. She staggered slightly as the last rain
of debris began to fall. There were spots dancing in front of her
eyes from using her power at that level repeatedly.
"Gods, I think I should stop for now." She said as she slumped to the ground.
"Are you okay?" Josh asked.
"Yeah." Julia murmured. Is the landscape spinning or is it just me? She wondered.
"There aren't any more of the rocket robots coming so maybe that's it." He offered.
"Okay, we're in!" Havoc said over the headsets. "Remember: we want Bastion alive if possible but don't hesitate to shoot."
"Hey, look up." Marcella
pointed. "I think SHIELD is early."
Overhead, a large ship that resembled their PACRAT's larger brother came into view and hovered over their target. About two dozen small projectiles launched from the craft and landed in a rough circle around the building. The ship landed beside the Blackbird and two dozen SHIELD stormtroopers filed out. They were followed by three familiar figures.
"Oh good." Julia said as she stood up. "Cable, his gun, Domino and Forge."
"You count his gun as a separate person?" Marcella asked she checked the charge on her plasma rifle.
"Look at the size of the thing. It rates pet status, at least." Julia opined.
Since subtly had been thrown to the
wind, they decided that just destroying every Sentinel they saw
would be a good a plan as any. The teleport scramblers that had
been deployed would keep anyone inside the base from making a
quick getaway. The stormtroopers were there to provide cover and
to make sure that one, the camera crew was guarded, and two,
Bastion didn't get away. Bridge's superiors might not have
believed that he was actually Nimrod but they knew they had a
problem on their hands if the source of the Prime Sentinels
became public. The main contingent of troops was still scheduled
to arrive to take care of the situation at Prospero and conduct
the investigation at the base.
Risque focused her power on two of
the approaching Sentinels. They looked different than the ones at
Prospero and imploded without any trouble.
"Hey! These ones are one hundred percent robot!" She announced over the headsets.
"Is that good news or bad?" Roberto asked as he flared one of the robots. Unlike the cyborg versions, these had standing energy shields so any attack they tried had to first overcome the defenses before actually damaging the unit.
"It'll have to be the brute force approach." said Cable.
Havoc let loose a blast of plasma. "Works for me. Can you sense any other people but us in here?"
He paused. "Yes. I'm getting the impressions from over thirty people. We can assume they're some of Bastion's supporters."
The platoon leader stepped forward. The tag on his uniform said 'Mitchell'. "My men will take care of any, uh, regular targets. They'll have to be placed under arrest."
"Okay." Cable agreed. ~Everybody listen up. Leave the non-Sentinels to SHIELD~
Mitchell blinked at the broadcasted thought. "Damn. That's better than our comm units."
Sam and Terry had agreed that they
were going to get their team to Bastion first. The command core
was at the bottom of base, ten levels underground. It was just a
matter of locating the point they identified that could give them
a relatively clear path to their target. A combination of Tabitha's
timebombs, Sam's blast field and Risque's implosion ability gave
them an express route straight down through the floors. They
settled into a fairly workable pattern of punching their way
through, fighting off whatever automated or human defenses were
on the next level, then dropping through the next hole.
At the tenth level down, they
landed and spread out. Terry took care of the security cameras
with a well-focused scream. They regrouped at the floor-to-ceiling
armored doors that separated their small landing site from the
rest of the level.
"End of the line." Julia observed as she looked around.
"So where's this Bastion dude?" Asked Risque as she tapped the door. "Avon calling, buddy. Open up."
"He is likely cowering in fear." Shatterstar sneered.
"We've reached the command core." Tabitha announced over her headset. She heard some fuzzy noises over the unit so maybe they were getting their transmission back.
"I thought for sure the X-Men would get down here first." Jimmy commented.
Roberto shook his head. "Nah, we're way more destructive than they are. They have to work at it."
"Aye, we have a natural advantage." Terry smirked. "Sam, me boyo, ye want to have the honour of smashing the doors in?"
Sam roared by in his blast field. "Don't mind if I do."
Bastion gazed at them with no sign
of alarm. The well-dressed stately man didn't look like any kind
of threat. There wasn't one ruffled white hair on his head and he
was standing calmly beside some display screens showing the rest
of their forces approaching their position by the more
conventional means of lifts and stairs.
"So, you think you have won?"
Julia decided to make a preemptive strike and pinned the man to the wall with a force wave. He didn't make any sound of discomfort, which worried her.
"Guys, he's a lot heavier than he looks." She said cautiously.
Sam and Terry glanced at each other.
"I donnae like it." She murmured. "If he's really Nimrod we could be in a lot of trouble."
Julia blinked as she felt him start to resist her force wave. "Uh, people? Now would be a good time to blast him one. He's starting to fight back and it's taking a lot of power to keep him pinned."
Roberto lashed out with a flare. It dissipated around the man. "Dios. That was enough to melt down a freight car."
"He's shielded." Sam muttered. "Nimrod was supposed to be real resistant to mutant powers."
Julia hissed as he resisted further. She added even more force and the wall behind him started to fracture.
"Shit." said Risque. "Nobody could stand that much power." She tried to implode him but she felt nothing but organic matter so her power had no effect. "Mine isn't working, guys."
Shatterstar moved closer. "Should we risk freeing him and trying one of my blades? Not a fatal blow but one to weaken him?"
"Try it now." said Julia. "It'll feel like the blade's being pulled forward but that's all."
He looked at Sam, who nodded. He swung the blade and planted it in Bastion's gut. He didn't bleed or seem bothered by the strike.
"Fekt." Shatterstar muttered as he pulled the sword free. There were no signs that it had even touched the man. "If we needed further proof that this is not a true living creature then I think we have it."
"How long can ye keep him there?" Terry asked.
"An hour maybe." said Julia. Bastion began to really struggle. "Or maybe a little less."
He uncurled one hand and released a blast of energy at her. It caught her full in the chest and she went flying across the room. He dropped to the floor and glared at them.
"What the hell was that?" Terry exclaimed. "'Star, go see about Julia. We'll cover ye."
The camera crew came running in. It
had taken all their skill to ditch their SHIELD bodyguards to
follow the team down the makeshift rabbit hole.
Marcella quickly turned on her collar mike again. "This man is Bastion. Well-known in political circles, he has been the driving force behind Operation: Zero Tolerance..."
Josh had his own videocam running. "Hey, Bastion! You want to make a statement about what your plans are?"
The response was an energy beam fired at them with no uncertainty as to the intent. They dove out of the way but kept the cameras rolling.
"The press is not your enemy!" Josh called.
"You displayed some metahuman ability there." said Marcella with flawless poise dispite the situation. "Are you in fact a mutant or are you a product of some super soldier program?"
"I am neither." said Bastion with icy calm.
"I smell revelations here." Kenton commented as he focused on their subject.
"You are humans that have mistakenly cast your lot with these products of the twisted mutant gene pool." said Bastion. "You were there when the clinic was destroyed and those who were undergoing the glorious transformation into Prime Sentinels were terminated by these mutants."
"Explain how you can call the manipulation, abduction and effective murder of over two hundred people by your clinic's processes as glorious." Marcella demanded. "If you're trying to defend humans then you have some explaining to do."
He gave her a disturbingly compassionate look. "What I have done, what I will do, is for the benefit of you and your children yet to be. The only way for Sentinels to protect humans is to be humans. Our sublimation of the flesh will ensure your survival."
His features took on a frozen cast and hardened as they watched.
"Is it just me or is he looking pinker?" Risque asked as she edged out from her cover.
"Aye." Terry agreed. "Why is he nae moving?"
The reason became clear. Bastion's form blurred and grew more than a foot while they watched. He lost his statesman-like appearance and assumed an armored form. His midsection was now composed of visible cables and his limbs were entirely metallic. When the blurring faded, only his face remained even partially the same but his eyes were solid glowing yellow. Around his now-helmeted features, the triangular shape of solid metal ran from his neck to his shoulders.
"Foda-se. He turns into a huge armored mutant-killing machine but he's still got the damn goatee." Roberto muttered.
Julia sat up with some help from
Shatterstar. She could feel the beginnings of a sizable lump on
the back of her head. I'll have to find time to do a healing
spell later, she thought.
"Ow." She looked down at the slightly scorched front of her armor. "Could have been ugly there."
"That would have been a fatal strike had your power not been of sufficient strength to counteract the majority of the beam." He noted.
"Happiness is physics." She agreed. She noticed Bastion's appearance. "Gods. That's a new look for him."
Sam flew over. "You all right? We gotta keep him down here until Forge and the rest show up. He's says he's working on some new gadget."
"Then I guess I can indulge in a little retaliation." She smiled as she stood up. "Oh Mister Bastion? Back at you!" She called as she hit him with a force wave. She wasn't trying to be delicate and he smashed through the wall and landed on the floor in the room beyond.
Jimmy ran over to the new hole in the wall and looked in. Some kind of computer room with masses of equipment everywhere. Bastion had, not surprisingly, gotten up. He looked dented but the damage was repaired in only a few moments.
"He's still live." He announced.
"So are we." said Terry as she flew by. "And we're mad, too."
Cable and Domino led their team of
troops into the command core, followed by the X-Men. The rest
were out securing the rest of the base and seeking anything of
interest that they missed on the way in. They looked around at
the sounds of fighting then noticed the large hole in one of the
Cable poked his head in. "Yeah. There they are."
"Ah, kids." said Domino as she raised her guns.
X-Force was fighting Bastion and
they were having limited success even with their combined power.
Now that he had shifted into his fully artificial form, Risque
had taken out one of his hands and Julia had managed to nearly
sever one of his legs. However, he was repairing most of the
damage as quickly as they inflicted it. All of the team showed
signs of being hit by the energy beams he was firing. The three
reporters were guarding their cameras with their lives as they
added what covering fire they could.
Tabitha looked over at the arrivals.
"The only time I'll ever be happy to see the X-Men. Hit the
"I have to agree." Shatterstar commented as he leapt over Bastion to slash at his head with his swords.
"You vulgar language is not
necessary." Storm chided just as Havoc yelled. "You got
The X-Men added their powers to the
attack and the stormtroopers open fire. Bastion slowed down under
the barrage and he wasn't firing back with the same strength.
"I need more time. I have to make a few more changes." Forge muttered as he worked.
~On my signal, everybody hit him with everything you have~ Cable broadcast.
They looked over then spread into a rough large circle around their target.
Forge raised his newest weapon. It had been one of Cable's guns in its history but now it had so many additions and adjustments it more closely resembled a section from a mechanical animal's digestive system.
Bastion froze briefly as he tried to compute and deal with their simultaneous assault. Forge fired and white lightning played rapidly over the armored form. Then, without a word, Bastion fell over.
The two teams and their backup
troopers regarded the fallen body with varying amounts of
surprise and disbelief.
"I want one of those." One of the SHIELD troopers declared in the sudden silence.
"Damn." said Risque. "What happened?"
"I scrambled his neural net." said Forge. "It's just a shell now."
"Hon, anything?" Havoc asked.
Polaris concentrated on the inert form. "I can sense a low level electromagnetic field but nothing nearly as active as when he was moving around. I can still fry the circuitry if we want to be sure he can't get up again."
Domino turned to Mitchell. "Did you have a problem with that?"
"Hell, no." The lieutenant said. "I'm not carting this thing on my ship and risk having it come back to life on us. If the reporters there have got everything on film then we'll base our report on that."
Polaris nodded and raised her hands. The body glowed then sparked and hissed as she overloaded its components. She kept going until the room was filled with now-welcome smell of burning electronics.
"Sunspot, melt it down. Make sure it's slag when you're done." Cable ordered.
"Got you." said Roberto.
The main contingent of SHIELD
troops finally arrived. They put a group of technicians at Domino
and Forge's disposal while the rest occupied themselves clearing
debris and moving the Sentinels up to the ground level for
Down in the command core, the
technicians were working to repair the damage to the systems that
had been caused by the fight. The first thing to come back on
line was the Sentinel monitors for North America.
"Eighteen hundred and seventy-two
active Prime Sentinel units have been deployed." Domino read.
"Looks like the fully cybernetic ones were being held back
to guard this place."
"We can have complete recall in twenty-one hours." Forge noted. "Once they're in range we can transmit the self-destruct codes."
She nodded. "Do it. We can't afford to have them running loose."
"Okay, team. We're going to
have to stay in the area for a least one more day." Cable
told them as they waited outside the base. "There's a
division of troops at Prospero right now so you have the choice
of camping here or going back into town."
The good people of Prospero weren't
too happy at their return but the influx of SHIELD troops and the
growing numbers media personnel made for a mini-economic boom
that went a long way in soothing local feeling.
The camera crew was quick to get
their footage approved and edited for broadcast. With all the
name players in the news business starting to arrive, they needed
to get their exclusive on the air. In a form of veteran's
camaraderie, Mitchell and his men gave their interviews with
Marcella and Josh first.
Late afternoon the next day, X-Force
stood on the roof of the Hulkbuster base and looked down the
assembled ranks of Sentinels. The X-Men had flown back to
Westchester when the main wave of reporters had arrived.
The Sentinels had their human appearances in place so they resembled an eerily silent and unnaturally orderly group of regular civilians. Below, the news crews were being kept under control by a group of SHIELD troops as Lieutenant Mitchell explained the methods that the Zero Tolerance organization was willing to employ to further their goals.
At the command core, Marcella and Kenton were filming as Forge and a few of his borrowed technicians prepared. Josh was out taking still shots of the event, reporting on the reporters.
"...because we cannot find a method of reversing the technology infusion process that was inflicted on these people, we have no choice but to neutralize them." Mitchell finished.
Forge activated the control panels. "What we have done is force the transformation that would have normally occurred when each unit encountered a person with the signature mutant genetic code."
The news crews on the surface were beside themselves to comment as the silent crowd transformed into rows of robotic killing machines. The live satellite broadcasts that they were using instantly beamed the images around the globe.
"The truth will out." Domino murmured.
The self-destruct was triggered and the Prime Sentinels were destroyed. The observers were silent as nearly nineteen hundred bodies fell to the ground.
"Death by remote control."
Shatterstar embraced her as the watched the horde of media people begin to walk among the bodies.
"It is not honourable but it is a merciful ending for them."
"I guess we won, huh?" Sam asked quietly.
Cable looked over. "We won the battle. We still have to win the war."
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