A tab or two of E would come in real handy right now. Adam shifted from one foot to the other, trying to find a way to cover his privates. Dignity, he heard Scott's voice echo in his head, whatever else, keep your dignity and you'll thrown them off.
Even when you're with a bunch of other naked people in a really high tech re-make of a B-movie?
Adam straightened. He lifted his chin, not because of the collar this time.
Dignity, he reminded himself. But with a little more fun.
A trio of workers made their way down the line: one with a gun, one with a tablet PC, and one with a small cart of instruments. They hemmed and hawed before Adam, consulting the incongruous little computer before the one with the cart whipped out a stethoscope.
"You going to warm that before you use it?" Adam asked him.
The scientist didn't acknowledge the words. He pressed the cool plastic circle to Adam's chest, listening intently.
"Guess not." He took a few deep breaths. "Boy, am I glad you came, doctor. I've been having these fiery pains shooting up my ass. Could you kiss it and--"
A rifle butt stopped his words. Quite painfully. Tears pricked his eyes.
Dignity. Scott didn't shout; he just turned the volume up.
Adam blinked away the tears. He spat out a gob of blood. "Gee whiz, I'm also gonna need a recommendation for a dentist."
This time, the gun slammed into his side. Air flew from his lungs.
"And I think... I've developed... asthma."
Seeing the guard raise his weapon again, Adam ducked into a ball.
Usually British accents got Adam extremely hot and bothered but this one made his dick invert. He did not want to mouth off to this guy. Hell, he didn't want to look up. Unfortunately, the rifle stock that had so recently been intimate with his stomach slid under his chin, lifting his face.
An expressionless mask stared back at him. The mask's mouth moved, almost like it was alive. "Which one is this?"
The scientist with the computer twiddled for a second. "CA-III-ASR3."
"ASR3? Really?" The mask smiled. Adam commanded himself not to piss his figurative pants. "But of course he is. I recognize his features." He pulled Adam up by the arm and he followed wordlessly. "How many times has he been harvested?"
"Twenty-eight times, sir. The last one ten hours ago."
Adam shivered as the mask walked around him. Dignity be damned, Scott. This guy is freaky!
"And have there been any successful combinations?"
"Oh, yes sir!" the scientist said elatedly. "Ninety-three percent of the combinations resulted in potentially viable zygotes which, I need not tell you, is far beyond the average. A few of them have spectra that can't even be charted should they pass the first stage."
"I did not expect anything less," said the mask. He stared at Adam's eyes. "How perfect," he murmured. "I predicted nothing less, of course, but this is just perfect."
Suddenly, he whipped around to address the scientist. "I specified that all subjects coded CA-III were to remain isolated and under high security for the first cycle. What is he doing with here?"
The scientists blinked, their lab coast shivering. Adam wished he could feel good about that but he was still intent to keeping his bladder from bursting. "W-We received no such order, sir."
"Now you have. This genotype is far too unique to be among the chaff. Take him to the third floor immediately. And send the results of his harvests to my office."
"Third floor? But, sir, he's only been here for--"
"Doctors, with a ninety-three percent success rate, do you really think we need further testing at this level?"
The scientists blinked at each other. "I suppose not, sir," said the one with the instruments.
"Good. Third floor. The first exercises should have just begun."
Proverbs and sayings had always fascinated Adam. Once, he tested the adage "out of the fat and into fire" because his Social Studies teacher was so fond of the saying. He took a chunk of back bacon and dropped it into a pan full of hot oil, watching as the square bubbled in the liquid. Then, with a pair of tongs, he dropped the bacon into the actual stove element. The bacon jetted out of the stove like a miniature comet, coming within inches of landing on Adam's arm before curling into a black speck on the counter in the time to took for him to remember to breathe again.
In other words, his jar was the fat and the third floor was the fire. If he could get out of the third floor as a smoking curl of meat, he'd consider himself lucky.
Below him were four large... well, "rooms" didn't adequately describe them. Scott told Adam about a Danger Room where he trained to save the world from certain destruction (well, Scott didn't put it exactly that way but Adam knew his brother enough to read between the lines). This was something like that. One environment had the sandy remains of a Greek ruin. Another took place in a deciduous forest with trees the size of jetliners. The third room took a page out of Indian Jones with spiked pits, dangling snakes, and bursts of flame. The last room was entirely underwater.
None of the duellers seemed to know that they had spectators in the transparent ceiling. Or if they did, it didn't matter since they were too busy trying not to die. Four winding lines of people waited behind four short balconies. One guard marched up and down the lines for every five people. The rest of the people in the line up all wore the same grey one suit as Alex and had the same collars banding their necks.
"You!" His armed escort pulled a redheaded guy out of the closest line. "State your registration number."
"GA-V-DRA7," Red replied.
"Well, GA-V-DRA7, this is CA-III-ASR3. He's starting exercises today." The guard thumped Adam on the back and he didn't bother to be gentle. "Show him the ropes. If you cheat, we'll know."
"I do not cheat," the redhead said stiffly.
Snorting doubtfully, the guards walked away. Adam's hands rose to his collar, hoping it would loosen the lump in his throat. It was loose enough for a finger to wedge through. The sleek metal had no catches that he could feel, smooth except for three buttons just over his jugular.
"There's no way to remove the inhibition collars," GA-V-Whatever said, seeing Adam's gesture. "You won't die if you try to remove it but you'll wish you did."
"What happens?" Adam had to ask.
In reply, the pointed to a woman in one of the exercise rooms. A guard stood over her, pressing a button on his belt, his expression bland as she writhed like, well, like a piece of bacon in hot oil.
"The rules are simple," said GA-V-Whatever. He pointed down at the Indiana Jones room. "You have twenty minutes to find your opponent before they find you. If they do not destroy you first, you have three rounds to destroy them."
"Yes." His expression bland, the redhead continued. "Once you have destroyed your opponent, you return to the training grounds and--"
"Wait, wait, wait, I'm still stuck on the destroy part." Adam wiped beads of sweat from his upper lip. "What do you mean by 'destroy'?"
The redhead stared at him like he was wrong in the head. "You must render them incapable of continuing."
"And we do this how?"
"By any means necessary, of course."
"Of course." Adam's stomach rolled. Curling into a little charcoal ball looked good right around now.
Logan knew he'd been in Xavier's too long when he didn't wait for repeated carpooling requests before giving in. Heck, this time he thought it was a good idea. After SHIELD picked him up from the designated point, there'd be nobody to take the bike. While it would be fun to needle One-Eye-- needling seemed to bring the best out in the guy-- Logan had just spent a lot of time and money modifying the bike up. He also wasn't so far gone that the prospect of spending twenty minutes in a car with four teenagers out on a daypass filled him with glee.
"Just drop me off at the turnpike," Logan said then repeated the instruction at a higher volume.
"I know!" Bobby yelled good-naturedly. "I heard you the
Piotr kindly turned the music down a notch. Literally just a notch. He was the only one with a driver's license and he knew it. Thankfully, he was polite enough to offer Logan the keys first. "Would you like to drive first?"
"Yup." Logan snagged the keys, unfettered by the same good manners.
Two false starts and one fill-up later, Logan and the big silver minivan-- Christ, he was driving a minivan!-- rumbled down the freeway, the kids blessedly knocked out by a combination of Johnny Cash and Kenny Loggins. Logan whistled. Yep, nothing like proper music to soothe the savage teenager.
"How long before we get to the City?" whispered Jubilee. "My brains are oozing out of my ears."
"Bleah," was all Piotr could muster.
Bobby and Rogue leaned against each other, fast asleep.
An extensive search of the main building failed to turn up any living creature except for staff, new and old.
"I think I saw a few kids head for the rose garden," said David Semple, one of the new teachers, as he poked around his new classroom.
Scott smiled his thanks. Cutting through the observatory, he made his way to the southeastern side of the grounds where Ororo and a small group of botanical enthusiasts had turned three pathetic little rose stalks into a veritable Eden. Sure enough, a crowd of children stood in the middle of the walkway, their faces angled up toward the roof.
Scott knew exactly what they were looking at.
"Hello, Teresa." The young girl squeaked and jumped up, hands clasped over her mouth.
"Hello, Mr. Summers," she said, uncupping her mouth just enough to let her voice through.
"Is my brother on the roof?"
"Yes, Mr. Summers."
"Is he on his head, hands, elbows, or any other body part excluding his feet?"
"Yes, Mr. Summers."
"Will you let me know as soon as he falls off and breaks his idiot neck?"
Teresa's eyes widened. "Yes, Mr. Summers."
"Thank you, Teresa." He ruffled her hair and leaned down. "By the way, you got the highest mark in the algebra quiz. Congratulations."
All residents now accounted for, Scott returned to the sub-basement to continue his research. He logged in twenty whole minutes of searching when an ear-shattering "Cyclops!" filled the room. Scott felt his entire spine freeze, then, just as quickly, unlock as it always did after that first rush of adrenaline. "Cyclops, it's Rogue! We need backup right now."
"I can hear you, Rogue. Report."
"Some people just attacked us," she said. "They hit Jubilee and Bobby. Logan went to get them but he made Pe-- Colossus and me go back to the van and drive away."
"Good," said Scott. "How long before you get back?"
"We're not going to go and help them?"
"You aren't," Scott said implacably. "Storm and I will engage them."
"No, Rogue, you don't have enough combat-experience and Colossus doesn't have long-range powers. Besides, I need you both to return so we can get details." As an afterthought, he added, "Logan can take care of them, don't worry."
It was a mutinous Rogue that clambered into the Blackbird thirty minutes later. Piotr nearly twisted his seatbelt buckle into scrap as he secured himself. If Rogue had the strength, she would have done the same.
Up in the cockpit, Storm locked into Logan's cell phone as well as Bobby and Jubilee's commelinks. "They're heading for the coast," she said.
Cyclops pulled the jet to a tight turn, sending Piotr clanging against the side of the cabin. The armrest he used to steady himself buckled under his hand.
"Do you see anything on the cameras?" Cyclops asked Storm.
She shook her head. "But I wait." Her brow wrinkled. "I'm picking up something on radar." Studying the readings more closely, she added, "It's in the same coordinates as the trainees' commelinks."
"What is it?" asked Rogue.
"I don't know. But it's big."
Cyclops inclined his head at the windshield. "As big as that?"
An airship of massive proportions bobbed into view. It was nothing less than a football field on propellers if football fields were gunmetal grey, had cannons every five feet, and were patrolled by large Kevlar-decked men wielding machine guns.
"What is that?" asked Piotr.
Cyclops's visor flashed. "That's the SHIELD Helicarrier."
The radio pinged. Cyclops and Storm exchanged puzzled looks. Who had this frequency except for Logan and the kids?
"Attention, Blackbird," said a perfectly forgettable voice. "You are on restricted airspace. Fall back five hundred feet and state your purpose."
Storm pressed the reply button. "This is the Blackbird. We are not aware of any restrictions over this airspace."
"Consider yourself warned then, Blackbird. We repeat, fall back five hundred feet and state your purpose."
"We have registered three individuals onboard your ship that belong to us," said Storm. "We would like to confirm their presence."
"We do not relinquish the identities of the persons in our ship without the proper authorities." Forgettable voice or not, the speaker was too smug. "I must repeat, fall back five hundred feet or we will be forced to take offensive action."
Clouds rumbled over the two aircrafts.
Cyclops flipped his mike on. "Helicarrier, this is the captain of the Blackbird. Patch me to Fury."
The other side went silent in surprise, Cyclops hoped. "Do you have the password for that line, Blackbird?"
"Sure thing, Helicarrier. Leave channel eight open for my transmission." He flipped down a small keyboard and typed out a series of seemingly unrelated numbers and Cyrillic letters.
After a second, the forgettable voice said rather sulkily, "Transferring you to Gen. Fury, sir."
"That's nice," said Cyclops. "Are they going to land any time soon? This jet doesn't do hover."
"Why don't we land on the Helicarrier?" asked Rogue. "They've got a lot of space."
Storm shook her head firmly. "I would rather crash than allow this plane to touch anything that belongs to SHIELD"
"Now, Storm, be nice." Cyclops smiled and it was anything but friendly. "Who knows what they'll do to poor helpless Logan if we aren't polite." He pulled the controls slightly to the left to maintain the wide orbit around the other aircraft.
The radio snapped on. "This is Fury. That you in the Blackbird, Cyclops?"
"Yessir, General. We seem to be meeting more often than our scheduled bi-annual updates, sir."
"What are you doing in my airspace, Cyclops?"
"You have three of my people, General. We've followed their transmitters to the Helicarrier and I have two witnesses that say your people attacked them just half an hour ago."
Fury let out a barking laugh. "Damn, boy, whoever you have doing your tech, I want him on my payroll."
"I'm afraid that's impossible, sir. Our techie is afraid of heights and the Helicarrier never touches down." Cyclops made another turn, this one a lazy barrel roll along the length of the larger aircraft. "Please confirm the presence of my people on your ship and give us their ETA."
"Three people, huh?" Fury's cigar chewing featured briefly on the radio. "Well, we picked up Logan and two kids just past Mount Pleasant half an hour ago."
"That's them!" Rogue said, lunging against her seatbelt. "That's where we were."
Cyclops nodded but put his hand up for silence. "Excellent. So if you'll just drop them off right where you found them, we'll all be on our way."
"I'm afraid I can't do that."
"Beg your pardon, sir, but why the hell not?" Cyclops' voice hardened.
"James Logan is a priority one target for SHIELD," said Fury. "Until we can determine his intentions, we can't release him or his associates."
"General, the Professor talked to you about Logan," said Cyclops, his voice gone quiet with rage. "We had an agreement."
"We did," Fury conceded. "But that agreement only goes as far as your property. We found him outside."
"Then let us have the kids!"
"My hands are tied, Cyclops. I don't call all the shots in SHIELD; I just lead the battalions." Fury added in gruffer tone. "I'll see what I can do about releasing them ASAP."
"I want daily updates on their condition," said Cyclops, pointedly eschewing the "sir." "Nothing better happen to them."
Fury growled. "Is that a threat, Cyclops?"
"You damn well know it's a promise. Cyclops, out."
This place had no bathrooms. That shouldn't have come as a surprise to Adam since he still had a tube stuck in an unspeakable orifice but there was still an inherent wrongness to being in line on the way to some cracked up ultimate fighting contest and having to do the pee-pee dance. If at all possible, Adam didn't want to go to his doom with literally crap in his pants.
The rest of the prisoners shuffled forward, eyed trained on the glass floor. In contrast, Adam watched the line-ups. In the time it took for him to get to the front of the line up, he'd noted three types of prisoners. The first, his category, were the scared pissless. They looked at other prisoners, the ceiling, the guards, the doors-- everything except the floor where their goal lay.
The second group comprised of the keeners. Red--GA-V-DEFGH-Whatever-- was definitely in this category. If they weren't shadow-boxing, they watched the fights with as much passion as the most ardent of spots fans.
The unreadables made up the last group. They weren't scared; or if they were, they didn't show it at all. Nor did they seem excited by the prospect of beating the ever-loving crap out of someone else. They probably lined up like this in the motor vehicles department, at Disneyland, on their wedding day...
Every few rounds, the fighting rings changed. The Indiana Jones room went through a Mexican marketplace phase and a skeevy backalley phase before the present moonscape blebbed. Whoever designed the fighting rings must have been a hard-core gamer before signing up to mess with muties.
The good news was 'destroy' didn't mean kill. The bad news was it actually meant anything up to that point. Adam really didn't need to see someone exit via a stretcher knowing that he was next in line. And he really didn't need the guard to shove him down the Ladder of Certain Doom just so some scientists, who really needed to hop out from behind their gaming consoles and get a life, wanted him to play a part in a life-sized version of Tekken.
"I don't even know how to activate my powers," Adam muttered as he descended. "I supposed I could always ask the other guy to grope my crotch but, what a minute!, the other guy is a human hurricane who throws shiruken! Might be a little hard to get cuddly."
As soon as his foot hit the floor, the ladder zipped up and Adam was alone on the pretend moon. A rush of emotion climbed up from his stomach to his extremities; not fear strangely but anger. After a second's reflection, he realised he was really friggin' pissed off at his brothers. Scott was a leather-clad liberator who regularly flew in and saved mutants from big bad human tormentors! Remy was a master thief and had gangster connections. Adam could out-shoot, out-stab and generally out-kick-ass any passing SEAL but between the three of them they couldn't find one frickin huge laboratory with at least a thousand prisoners, maybe a fifty staff, and a private army?
His collar beeped. A quick rush of dizziness went through him, like when he got up too quickly after a long nap. He gave an experimental jump. Gravity worked here. Dust settled as quickly as it puffed up. It was the dust that warned him about his opponent.
Clouds of dust enclosed him, got into his eyes and blinded him. Adam swore. This was how the guy managed to whip everyone in this scene; he threw dust in their faces and when they were stumbling around, he'd shoot them full of shiruken.
He dropped on his belly and covered his head. He so wasn't trained for this. If it had been a drag race to the death, he'd be a bit more confident. But fighting? Not so much.
"Okay, so there's something about eyes," he muttered to himself for the lack of anything else to do while waiting for a couple pointy stars to embed themselves in his flesh. "Makes sense. Scott's powers are in his eyes. Remy's eyes are all weird. He was it was like flexing a muscle in his head; he thought about things exploding and things exploded. "So I have to think about the human hurricane over there turning into barbeque and..."
Adam closed his eyes and thought so hard he nearly lost his breath.
The dust storm showed no signs of stopping.
"Not good, not good, not good." Adam crawled on his belly, away from what he thought was the source.
Except it wasn't because he was staring at the source's bare toes.
Because Adam closed his eyes again, he never saw the heel that connected with the side of his head and knocked him out.