There was a particular intonation to the words "Scott, help" that was stung every nerve in the body. Scott hated the desperation and absolutely loathed the way his stomach knotted and his lungs stopped working for all of three seconds before years of training numbed it all down.
"I'm here, Remy," he said. He held the phone firmly although he really couldn't feel his fingers. "What's up?"
Static-- please let that be static-- interrupted Remy's words. "I'm thinking it looks like a helicopter, three Hummers, and a whole frickin' platoon of black ops."
"Right beside me." Remy hissed an oath. "She's kinda... hurt. I think she broke a few fingers."
"Stay on the phone; I've got to lock onto your location."
"You see a whole lot of booms in the middle of Nevada and that's us."
The jet hummed in the hangar, prepped for what was supposed to be a practice run for Storm and Piotr. "Would you like me to come?" asked Storm.
Scott shook his head. "We're just going to retrieve. Besides, I want to kick Remy's ass myself." He turned to look for Hank. The older man bounced up the ladder with a backpack of medical goodness.
"Ready to roll, fearless leader," Hank said cheerfully.
"Good. Get everyone settled so-- Logan, what are you doing?" Scott demanded as Logan marched into the jet.
"Same as you," he said. "I'm going to kick that little twerp's ass."
"That little twerp is my brother and no one kicks his ass except me," said Scott. "I have blood claim and I can do it better."
Logan marched right back down and shoved a callused finger into Scott's face. "Well, he got Marie hurt. I shoulda known better than to leave her with someone like him. If she's bleeding, One-Eye, I'm coming after you too so you'd better--"
"As amusing as it is to listen to this, I believe time is of the essence," said Hank lightly. "I believe I've checked everything, Scott. We can go as soon as you've strapped into the pilot's seat."
The jet broke the laws of physics to get to Nevada. The booms were thankfully absent if not the remains. It was too dark to see the land clearly but clouds of dust and smoke rose up to fog the windshield. Desert dust thickened as they closed into Remy's commelink signal. They were staying in one place which meant they were safely hidden. Or unconscious. Or had dropped the commelink. But Remy would never drop anything on purpose so Scott set his jaw firm and coursed through the sky.
"Send off a reply beacon," he told Hank. "I have to land in the canyons."
If Remy figured out how to accept a reply beacon, he'd be able to follow it back to the jet. Rogue also knew about the commelink's functions so she'd be able to interpret if she was conscious. Just in case, Scott and Logan suited up and made their way to the small town.
In the end, it wasn't necessary. Remy and Rogue met them at the outskirts of the town, a mile away from the local necking park. After the adrenaline of the distress signal and the flight, the clean retrieval left Scott humming with excess emotions.
"Hi, Cyclops," said Rogue, her smile wobbly. "I think we made real progress."
He wished he could say something in reply but Scott could only focus on the way she cradled her left hand. The fingers were definitely broken; a bulky roll bandage tented over what he assumed was a protruding bone.
"Get in the jet," Scott snapped. "We don't have much time."
Rogue's eyes widened but she hustled away. Remy threw him a glare which Scott returned. He didn't care right now if they were all pissed off at him. He wanted to get them medical attention and safe in the mansion ASAP if he had to knock them on the head and lug their unconscious bodies into the Blackbird.
Logan's growls punctuated the jet's small cabin, filling the space from the cockpit to the mini-clinic where Hank McCoy gently examined Rogue's injury. Rogue had nearly chewed her lower lip off trying not to scream. Her broken fingers trembled in anticipation of more pain.
"I'm just going to put some local anaesthetic," said Hank, his voice a soothing purr. "Look away or close your eyes if you want; you'll just feel a little sting."
Logan instantly appeared at her side, shouldering Remy away. The younger man's eyes flashed but he backed off, shoulders thrown back as he tapped a cigarette out of a pocket and wedged it at a corner of his mouth. Seeing that he wasn't needed, he walked stiff-legged to the cockpit and slid into the co-pilot's chair.
"What the hell happened?" asked Scott as soon as Remy strapped his belt on.
"We hit a little snag in the recon," Remy said.
"What kind of recon includes explosives?" Logan snarled the question.
Remy drew a card out of a sleeve pocket and tore a corner off, charging it between his fore and middle finger until it incinerated into a flash of magenta, yellow and orange.
Rogue plucked at the sleeve of his uniform. "Logan, please, it's okay. It's just part of the mission." She tried for an indifferent shrug but grimaced when the movement shot pain down to her left hand.
Logan cupped her head in his gloved hands. "The hell it is."
"I'll handle this, Logan." Scott didn't turn but his voice was implacable. "Remy, what the hell kind of recon involves explosives?"
"It got a little complicated," said Remy. "But you should've seen the place we were at! The security system was nearly as good as the kind I set up here especially once we got inside--"
"Inside?" Scott glared at him. "You weren't supposed to go inside anything without checking with me first."
"I been doing recons long before you started the Leather Squad, Four-Eyes."
"This isn't you usual gig, smart ass. You actually have to think of other people."
They didn't speak again until they reached the school's sub-basements where the staff and junior X-Men had already assembled. The only reason for an empty seat in the council room was Wolverine's agitation. Too many shadows flickered through his mind, roused by what he'd seen so far.
Remy headed straight for the A/V to hook up his equipment. In a few keystrokes, starkly clinical pictures flipped through three screens while one other screen played a dark, choppy video. Freezers full of specimen jars, shelves of body parts floating in preservation liquid, automated machines injecting blue-green liquid into thousands of trays, DNA arrays... all crisply labelled. White tag, black ink, Times New Roman font in twelve point, seven characters in each label.
The entire staff sat in the council room at two tables facing the front. Cyclops preferred his usual place, standing just to the left of the screens, hands laced behind his back. He didn't move throughout Remy's presentation.
"We got sixty-three pictures between us before we got sick," said Remy, finishing his brief. "It was like someone threw me on a roller coaster without asking me. Everything just twisted. We decided to get out of there before we damaged anything or set of another alarm."
"I've never seen a laboratory like this," said Hank. His eyes were glued to the TV screens, paradoxically repulsed and captivated by the scientific treasure chest. "Even in my wildest dreams, I could never imagine having this much equipment."
"Could this be government-funded?" asked Cyclops.
Wolverine's claws whooshed out and clicked in place.
Hank's brows gathered to a wrinkled V. "I wish I could say no but considering Wolverine's past, I can't be sure. No one private citizen could fund this, that's certain. Perhaps a conglomeration of interested parties..." He faded off, muttering about cycling probe technology and the cost of thermal cyclers.
"We also brought this back." Rogue pushed a thick collar to
the middle of the table with her left hand. A make-shift cast cradled
her broken fingers; she had refused to go to the medlab until after the
"I was the--" Rogue started but Remy interrupted her.
"I thought it would help us figure these guys out," he said. "I'd gone through the trouble of breaking in; I might as well take something. It could help."
"It could lead them straight to us," said Warren.
"You know anything about pulling a job?" Without waiting for an answer, Remy said dismissively, "Didn't think so. Go straighten your hair."
Bobby hid his face in his hands. Even he knew this was a bad time for humour.
"The labels on the tanks are coded." Remy continued the brief, fast-forwarding the slideshow half a dozen pictures to the labels' close-ups. "I managed to photograph some hardcopy files but I don't know how far we'd get cracking it."
"What are these?" Storm traced a circle around a dark blob in the third photograph.
Rogue's jaw stiffened. "They're foetuses. Frozen foetuses. I'm guessing they're about four months along."
The arm of Piotr's chair crumpled in his fist. He was red from embarrassment or anger; Rogue guessed the latter.
"Kelsey did not have a proliferation of dots," said Hank. "It could be that Adam used to be there but has since been moved to a different facility."
Warren's voice was carefully calm. "Maybe it's for stem cell research."
"Underground with foot-thick doors, armed guards, and space-age chemistry sets?" Remy said blandly. "There's a reason why they hold telethons for funding."
"How's your brother involved in this?" asked Bobby. "I mean, that's the reason Rogue and Remy went there, right? Do you think he's been kidnapped like... before? I mean, like with us?"
Xavier wheeled further from the screens to address the table, his gaze fixing particularly on the junior X-Men. "I've done a secondary scan of the area. It's strange; I can sense a trail of sorts, like a shadow imprint of Adam's biosignature but not as definite as before."
"So he got moved," said Wolverine. "Maybe these folks got jittery after the break-in."
"In one day?" Jubilee looked sceptical.
Kelly spoke up for the first time since coming in. "If the hardware is any indication, these people would have the money, manpower, and equipment to do that in an hour." She stood and walked to the screens. "Can you flip back about twenty pictures? Thanks. See these hinges here? Those are really basic modular connections. Snap it in; snap it off. With enough man-power, they could move everything in a day. It's all the rage in European design."
"We need to be certain that he's in there," Cyclops said. "The last thing we need is another failed mission. We should take a more in-depth investigation of this facility."
"If it's still around," said Remy, looking doubtful. "I'm beginning to think the vertigo we felt coming out was some kind of alarm."
"What kind of alarm makes you sick?" asked Logan.
"Theoretically, you're describing a sonic weapon," said Hank, "but engineering such a machine is still beyond current technology. It would have to either function at infrasound, below nineteen hertz. A sperm whale sends infrasound pulses to stun giant squids and there have been documented cases of people seeing visions or feeling nauseated when around machines which generate frequencies of eighteen to nineteen hertz. However, I do not believe you have anything to worry about until such weapons can be tuned to ten hertz and below. That frequency purportedly ruptures internal organs if loud enough." He rubbed his chin.
"All organs present and accounted for," said Remy.
"Except maybe your lungs," Warren said just loudly enough for his seatmates to hear.
The snicker Bobby held in check made a bid for freedom.
"What did you feel before the vertigo started?" Hank asked. "Rippling in your vision or cold sensations down your spine, perhaps?"
"The place... the facility was already cold," said Rogue. "But there wasn't really any kind of warning. Just... one minute we were fine and the next, I'd've given everything for some Gravol." She rubbed her scratched cheek absentmindedly.
Xavier settled back on his chair. "Very well then. I'll see what my contacts know--"
"We don't got time for your fucking contacts!" Remy exclaimed, smacking the table near Xavier. "If Adam's in there, if they're doing to him what they're doing to those things--"
"Remy!" Cyclops' voice was as sharp as a slap. "This isn't the appropriate time or place."
"I don't see a better one coming up."
"We're not going to help Adam-- if he is part of this situation-- by going in half-cocked." One brow lifted sardonically and his shoulders visibly relaxed. "That's what got you in trouble this time around. You should have--"
"If he's a part--" Remy forced a chuckle. "Everything I got screams that this is all sorts of messed up and you're talking about having half a cock? Christ on a--"
Cyclops began again, pitching his voice louder. "You should have contacted us as soon as you had some suspicions of--"
"-- cocktail, Scotty, that's just spineless! I thought you--"
"-- irregular activity, but no! You had to barge in--"
"-- had a little something in your sac but--"
"-- like some goddamned Bruce Willis wanna-be! Do you even--"
"-- obviously, Xavier sucked it out--"
"-- care that Rogue's hurt, or is she just collateral--"
"-- along with his high-class ho-bag--"
"You shut up about Jean!" roared Cyclops.
"I was talking about Worthington," said Remy slyly.
A red beam blazed through the room, forcing everyone to dive for the floor. Remy jumped out the way, throwing a handful of charged cards. Cyclops stepped aside, disintegrating the small missiles easily but as he did so, Remy slid over the table. With a casual kick and flip, he should have thrown Cyclops on his back but Cyclops proved too fast. He caught Remy's ankle and yanked him off the table, positioning his fist under Remy's jaw. Remy caught the fist, spun and twisted Cyclops' arm into an awkward angle.
Cyclops hit Remy's arm with an optic beam. As soon as Remy's hold loosened, he jabbed an elbow into his thigh. Grabbing a fistful of Scott's sweater, Remy concentrated on charging.
That is enough! The professor reached into their minds, forcing them apart. Like badly made marrionettes, Remy and Cyclops stalked to opposite ends of the council table and plopped down on the chairs. I will speak with both of you later. Aloud, he said, "For now, we must come to a decision."
"Fine. I vote we go now." Remy met everyone's eyes, everyone who hadn't developed an inordinate fascination with brushed steel flooring.
Rogue, her lower lip chewed red, lifted her uninjured hand. The tight line of Remy's mouth eased slightly.
"I think it would be best to wait for more information," said Warren.
"I agree," said Storm. She tried to catch Remy's attention, to soften her decision with a sympathetic expression but Remy was glaring at his brother with enough force to match an optic beam. "No more than a week, of course, but it would be nice to prevent any more accidents."
"Good, two to one for waiting." Warren's wings flared as he walked to Cyclops' side. "Anyone else?"
There was an uncomfortable clearing of throats. Slowly, every hand rose. Xavier sighed, pressing two fingers against his throbbing temples.
Jerkily, Remy flipped his shades on and stalked out of the room. Throwing a pleading look at Wolverine, Rogue slipped out of her chair and followed him.
Bobby started out of his chair but froze on his feet, his need to be with Rogue warring with his desire for professionalism. Piotr patted his shoulder and forced him down whispering, "Later," in his ear.
Rogue peered down the halls. Hearing the shush of the elevators doors, she rushed in that direction and pressed the call button frantically. Remy was nowhere in sight when she reached the ground floor. She finally found him on a bench in the reflection pool, charging bits of gravel and throwing them in. Small showers of water rippled out at the pool. Every few seconds, he flicked ash from his cigarette onto the slate edging.
"Hey," she said softly, tugging at her gloves.
He tipped his chin at her but kept skipping rocks. She sat beside him on the bench, contemplating the way the sky broke into pieces on the water.
"We can work twice as hard as soon as they come up with more information," she said when he crushed his cigarette butt on the bench. "Make up for lost time."
"You're a sweet thing," he said, bemused. One corner of his mouth curling up into a reluctant smile, he lifted her hand to his lips. "Go on and hug your boyfriend before he tries to beat me up."
Rogue glanced towards the school to see Bobby framed against the French doors. She stood but looked back down at Remy, chewing on her lip. "I'll talk to you later, okay?"
"Sure thing, Sugarplum." His eyes flickered uncertainly to her cast before he winked.
Scott passed Rogue and a perturbed Bobby on his way out to see Remy. He strode to the bench Remy had claimed and stood over him, arms crossed. "I need to speak with you privately."
"You got me confused with one of your students, Scotty."
Remy pointedly flicked his cigarette on Scott's shoe. "When I'm ready."
"You're ready now." No one, not even Remy, argued with Scott when he used that tone of voice. They went, not into Scott's office, but in Xavier's which had a lock and soundproof walls. Scott headed for the windows behind the imposing oak desk, his body tilting as if to lean against the grills but he held himself stiff at the last minute.
"What do you think you were doing bringing Rogue inside that facility?"
Remy slid on top of the desk and rooted in his pocket for his cigarettes only to have Scott nip it from his hand.
"There's no smoking here."
"If you're going to give me Lecture No. 3028, you could at least gimme something for my oral fixation." He snatched the pack back.
Almost snarling, Scott yanked the pitifully crushed cigarettes back, the plastic and paper handful shedding dried tobacco leaves on the area rug. "Shut up with the sex for five minutes and tell me why you thought it would be all right to drag a seventeen-year-old with zilch experience into a hostile environment."
"Me?" Remy shoved Scott away with three fingers, hard, just over the collarbone where it would hurt. "I'm not the one training them to be part of the Vigilante Fetishists. You were the one who told me to take one of them."
"To recon the area! Breaking and entering is not reconnaissance!"
"Excuse me for wanting to get more information more quickly," said Remy. "Or did you forget that there's another seventeen-year-old who might possibly be in one of those jars?"
"I'm sure that throwing a green trainee in there would have gotten us real far," Scott said. The desk stood between them now though they both leaned over it, ready to fly at each other as soon as the last straw dropped on this particular camel. "I'm not training them to be fighters; I'm training them to protect themselves. I have a responsibility for the well-being of the students in this school and--"
"What about your responsibility to your brother?"
"Stop making this just about Adam."
"Stop trying to ignore that it is!"
"Yeah, you are!"
"No, I'm--" Scott squeezed the bridge of his nose between two fingers. "I'm not going to get involved into another round of juvenile mudslinging with you."
"Yeah, there's news." Remy threw open the door.
Scott smacked it back closed. "We're not done talking."
"What, you want to spend more time with your brother when you got a whole school full of other worthier subjects in the house?"
"Cry me a fucking river." Scott rolled his eyes. "Every time you know you're wrong, you always fall back to cheap emotional appeals."
"Scotty, I got no idea what you're talking about." Remy raised his hands up but the sneer on his face belied the peaceful gesture. "I'm just getting out of your hair just like you want. Let me know when you feel you can condescend to interact with me and the rest of your real family. Maybe I can schedule you in for a quick lunch between meetings, hein?"
But he had left, closing the door with a quiet but final click. Visibly shaking with the effort, Scott resisted the urge to throw a book. He really wanted to destroy something. The window was looking good. He even lifted a heavy volume from the Professor's desk, his fingers going white at the knuckles with the strength of his grip. But he put it down, wiped a nonexistent layer of dust on the cover and walked away.