Blue lights and alarms did not bode well in terms of a welcoming committee yet they greeted Scott and Warren as they touched down on the Helicarrier's broad deck. As if being carried wasn't annoying enough; Scott could never quite believe that someone as slim as Warren could hold that much weight aloft. The miracle of mutant physiology struck again.
"Worried?" Warren asked.
"Does Wolverine bathe?"
"That's a trick question."
Scott's reply was lost in a barrage of megaphone commands. "Arms up! Drop on the floor! Don't move!"
"How are we supposed to drop on the floor and not move?" asked Warren, spreading his wings as far as they would go.
"SHIELD and logic aren't exactly connected."
"Quiet! Identify yourselves!"
Scott rolled his eyes.
"At ease," Fury barked over the din. He clomped past the line of soldiers. Only in the light of the assault rifles did Scott see the discolouration on his cheek. With a few curt hand signals, he sent the small squad away, leaving the three of them in a small clearing.
"Bar fight, sir?" Scott asked, taking a rare, vicious pleasure at the idea of someone planting a firm one in Fury's face.
Fury chomped on his cigar like he wished it was Scott's spinal cord. "When this is over, we're re-negotiating the terms of our association."
Falling in line behind Fury, Scott and Warren followed him into the pulse of the commotion inside the Helicarrier. The walls muffled the roar of the jets; Scott shook the ringing from his ears as they walked through a brushed steel warren of passages. Fury explained the uproar along the way.
"I'm amazed he took this long," said Warren. "From what little I know of him, I thought he'd've gone two months ago having taken out half your crew."
Fury snorted. "Logan's good but he's not that good. The only way he could have escaped was if he had help."
The seed of dread in Scott's stomach grew to full blown oak within seconds. He knew what Fury was going to say next.
"We have your kids in lockdown. They're the only ones who had reason to help him."
"This is bull," Warren said, his voice icy. "You told us we could pick them up today and now you've got them on lockdown for supposedly helping someone they're trained to see as their teacher?"
"Those kids aren't hurt." Scott spoke with authority. Fury must know him enough to understand that Scott would repay Bobby and Jubilee' injuries on SHIELD. His temples throbbed with the force of his optic blasts.
Fury spun around, crowding Scott in the narrow hallways. "Our deal is the only thing keeping me from signing a official kill command. That and knowing that their training--" he flicked a glare at Warren-- "doesn't call for anything less. They're my kids now, too."
"They're never going to be your kids," said Scott, doing a little bit of crowding himself.
The kids' cell, partitioned in the back of the airship, buzzed blue light around the seams.
"I kept them together," said Fury. "They're good soldiers. Inventive. Know when to take an order."
Scott nodded, unwilling to take the scraggly olive branch.
The blue light winked out and the doors slid apart in six parts like a camera aperture. Bobby and Jubilee sprang apart much quicker, Bobby wiping his lips guiltily as Jubilee straightened her top.
"Cyclops!" Jubilee, never before at a loss for words, could only open and close her moth soundlessly after spitting out that one name.
This he didn't want to deal with. Better to leave it until they got home. "Leave us alone for a minute," Scott told Fury and Warren.
"The cell's bugged," Fury said.
Knowing Warren could watch out for them from outside, Scott had no qualms about the cell doors locking shut behind him. "Are you both okay?"
Jubilee traded nervous stares with Bobby. "Yeah, I guess."
"You haven't gotten hurt?" The chance of that happening in this organization was slim to none.
Again the two kids shared secretive looks. "Jubilee got hurt a month ago," Bobby revealed to Jubilee's protesting "I'm fine now!"
Taking a long, calming breath of recycled air, Scott asked, "What kind of hurt?"
Sullenly, Jubilee replied, "It was only a pipe bomb and I wasn't really hit by the bomb, just the fallout and they have Star Trek medicine here so it healed real quick. I can barely even feel it any more."
"She had thirteen staples in her stomach," Bobby countered with obvious agitation. "They had to cut off a piece of her small intestine and sew the two other pieces together."
"But I'm fine now."
"You still have to take medication!" Seeing her sulk, Bobby grabbed Jubilee's hand, stroking her palm with his thumb. "Don't be so stubborn. Cyclops is here; we don't have to worry about being SHIELD any more."
Scott might have heard Jubilee mutter, "Maybe I liked worrying about being SHIELD" but he chose to ignore it. One headache at a time. "What happened with Wolverine?"
Again, the two silently consulted each other before responding. "We didn't do anything to make the alarm go off," said Jubilee, Her careful wording didn't slip past Scott.
"That's good enough for me," he said. "I'll see what I can do to get you out of the hold."
"You can help bring Wolverine back," Fury said as soon as Scott stepped out of the cell.
Lifting a sunny blond brow superciliously, Warren said, "SHIELD needs amateurs to help them take in one man?"
"He put eleven of my guys out of commission; having you two tag along might make up for that."
"No deal," said Cyclops. "Logan's staff at Xavier's. Under our current contract, that protects him from SHIELD arrest. He never should've been taken."
Fury shook his head. "Under the papers you filed, Logan Jones is Xavier's staff not James Logan."
"It's a sad day when you're manoeuvring on technicalities."
"I owe my life to technicalities, son. You bet your sweet ass I'm gonna use it."
Scott crossed his arms. "I think you're forgetting exactly what you're going to lose if you piss us off."
"I'm really not." Fury slapped an attaché into Scott's hands. "You remember the initial army we wanted you to look into? Well, in your absence, a team which included your kids infiltrated the camp."
"Is that where Jubilee's stomach got torn open by debris?"
"Actually, yes." He pulled out his cigar only to wedge it in the other side of his mouth. "They did such a great job, I might not need your help any more. Pity, since I just got some pretty interesting information on a biotech company owned by the country of Genosha."
One of Scott's hands squeezed into a fist. He knew what Fury wanted him to say. He knew it and he hated it but, as always seemed to be the case, his family came before him. "Where do you want me, sir?"
To his credit, Fury didn't show satisfaction outwardly. "Follow me. You gotta suit up and grab a weapon. You--" he nodded at Warren, "-- can stay here with the kids if you want."
"I'm coming with Cyclops," said Warren.
"Not fuckin' likely," said Fury.
Scott shook his head as well. "You're not officially Xavier's staff; you're not under the contract. They're under no obligation to help you out if you're in trouble."
"Worthington Engineering helped build this airship," said Fury. "I think we can spare a couple minutes to save his lily ass if we need to."
Warren began protesting but Scott crossed his arms, pulling rank. "Angel, stay behind and look after Iceman and Jubilee."
His wings snapping closed, Warren nodded. "Whatever you say, Cyclops."
Fury opened a panel in the wall to reveal a small cache of weapons. He waved down three passing SHIELD agents who halted immediately. "Epsilon's waiting for drop off in bay two. Grab a weapon and meet them there."
"I come armed," said Scott.
"I'm not going to explain bulletless bodies to the council."
Picking up a handgun with barely disguised reluctance, Scott pocketed an extra magazine of ammo.
"Do you know how to use that thing?" Fury asked.
"Would I take it if I didn't?" Scott threw back. Passing SHIELD members froze in mid-march, probably waiting for Fury to kick his ass. Scott just kept walking. "Give me thirty minutes, keep your people away from my team and you'll see Wolverine."
Jubilee's eyes widened to dinner plates. "Cyclops, you aren't gonna really give him up, are you?"
Scott didn't answer her. "I want those documents on the Genoshan company in my hands as soon as I hand him over."
"Son, you give us the Wolverine back, preferably gift-wrapped in a dozen little boxes and we'll flip the earth around to find your kid brother."
Now, even Bobby paused uncertainly. "Cyclops?"
"Stay with Angel," Scott told Bobby. "Don't do anything stupid."
"Don't worry, Gamma Gaze," said Warren under his breath. Whispering, he added, "You've officially used up all the stupid we packed up."
The chopper flew low over the forest canopy, dipping to the right at Scott's command. He gripped the nylon straps hanging from the roof of the chopper, his eyes trained on the portable monitor tracking Logan's cuff. He didn't know if Logan could grow a leg back but that's what it would take to get rid of SHIELD's tracking cuff. According to Fury, it wasn't made of solid adamantium but threads of the stuff wove through the casing. At the very least, it would take him a long time to saw through.
There. They were right on top of him. Scott yanked at the first guy on his team, Epsilon-1. The agent gave him a thumbs up, secured his parachute and jumped out. The three others jumped out behind him; Scott dove out last. They'd land a couple yards ahead of Logan's current course, not that he'd keep going in the direction. He'd probably veered off as soon as he heard the chopper stand still. Scott was relying on that.
He landed, legs still cycling, just past a small waterfall. The current whipped his chute downstream; Scott zapped the straps off with his optic blasts. The three SHIELD agents were already on the move, coursing into the woods in a standard capture formation. Scott only felt the slightest twinge of guilt as he watched them fall into their own trap.
Epsilon-3, who'd gone east by northeast, disappeared in a shuffle of branches. Epsilon-2 and 1 opened fire into the offending bush but Logan was already long gone. Cocking his head to one side, Scott let his peripheral vision take over, slowing scanning for strange movements even as bullets ripped through defenceless foliage.
He braced his legs, took aim and fired five times in quick succession. Then again a few yards to the right. The Epsilons got the general idea, splitting up around Scott's target area. Epsilon-1 got as far as the thickest tree trunk before Logan reached out to ram him into the tree.
Epsilon-2 all but emptied his magazine in Logan's direction but he was too fast. Logan dove for his legs, whipping out one arm to slice the gun into four neat pieces. Grunting with Logan's weight, Epsilon-2 rolled on his back and kicked out, batting Logan away. Logan arced backwards, falling against a thick tree trunk with a sharp exhalation. He righted himself immediately and took a fighting stance.
"You really think you can turn me in, Cyclops?"
Scott kept his hand on his firearm. "I promised."
"I don't even remember what they want me for," said Logan. "Half the things on that rap sheet-- I'd have to be some sort of psycho to pull off. And be at least fifty years old."
"Healing factors are great for wrinkles and grey hairs."
Snarling, Logan leap out, claws extended. Scott dodged easily, firing three bullets into his arms, keeping those lethal claws away. Behind Logan, shaking his dizziness away, Epsilon-2 went up on a crouch and aimed his second firearm at Logan's head.
Bits of Logan splattered on Scott's visor. He caught the other mutant neatly, staggering a little with the unexpected weight of the adamantium.
"Call Fury," he told the SHIELD agent. "Hurry, before he heals."
"He can heal from a bullet to the head?"
"Do you really want to find out?"
Nodding, Epsilon-2 activated his microphone. The optic blast hit him so suddenly, he didn't even see it.
Scott made sure the SHIELD agent wasn't hurt too badly then he went through the agent's pockets, coming up with a thumb-sized digital key before returning to Logan's unconscious body. The entry wound was already closing up; he needed to do this quickly. Turning Logan on his back, Scott pressed the muzzle of the gun against Logan's shoulder and fired three shots in close proximity to each other. Logan's metal-encased skeleton peered through shattered muscles and tendons. Before the ends of Logan's flesh knitted together, he pressed the digital key into the cut.
Logan came to with a sudden deep intake of air. His arm snapped up, nearly throwing Scott off.
"Take it easy," Scott said as though he were changing a light bulb instead of knuckling through blood.
Glaring at him in accusation, Logan said, "You shot me!"
"Several times," said Scott. "You'll get better."
"Concentrate. You have to heal around this key instead of expelling it." Scott gritted his teeth and pushed the digital key further into the open bullet wound until it thunked against bone. "When you get back to the Helicarrier, just cut it out, get out of the cell and find your way back to the school. As long as you're on campus, SHIELD can't touch you."
Logan grunted, his nostrils flaring as his body protested against the intrusion. "You're enjoying this."
"Not at all." But the corners of Scott's mouth tilted up.
"What are you gonna do about that guy?" Logan jerked his chin at the Epsilon-2.
"Hopefully, he's got a concussion and won't remember the last couple minutes. You woke up, threw me off and knocked him out before I subdued you again."
Rolling his eyes, Logan said, "Can't I just come down with a bad case of the shits at the wrong time? It's a lot better than being caught by you. Twice."
"I could implant this up your--"
At certain points of a research project, Alex got into what his friends called the "Batcave Mode." His world telescoped into the material, the laptop and the click-click-click of his brain turning ideas over. This was why he loved working in Hank's lab, or rather, an alcove in Hank's lab. Academic enthusiasm permeated through every wall.
His real homework lay upstairs in his room, still stuffed in its bag. The grades would have to wait another semester; the horizon shimmered with a breakthrough. Literally. Liberal applications of blue-tac held up print outs and photographs, interspersed with post-it notes and marked with highlighters, a madman's wallpapers. Only Alex could have made sense of the complete mess but even he was stumped. This jigsaw puzzle didn't want to fit together.
Hank poked his head through the wall, his fur standing on end in perturbation. "I've just finished running that DNA sample Remy gave you," he said.
"Thanks," said Alex. Remy had dropped a small cooler with six vials of stuff six days ago, citing the Guild as a source before flitting off with Rogue again to do God only knew what types of larceny. "Let me help you match it up in the database."
"No. I've done that as well." His voice sounded strange.
"Whose is it?" Alex asked immediately. "It's Adam's, isn't it?"
"Not Adam," Hank replied. "I think I'd best show you just to make sure I haven't gone mad."
Mystified, Alex followed him out into the medlab where DNA electropherograms and band sequences spilled out of the printer. Picking up one end of the paper roll, he perused the contents. Wiggle, wiggle, spike, spike, wiggle. Very informative.
"Look at this." Hank shoved a few more readouts under Alex's nose. "The top page is the DNA sample you gave me."
"And the others?" But Alex had already spotted the names underneath it. Summers, Scott. He flipped the page. Summers, Remy. Summers, Alex. He'd given Hank a buccal sample the other day. The last one was Summers, Christopher. "Unfreaky translation, please?"
Snatching the top and the bottom readouts, Hank superimposed them and held them out to the light. "It matches exactly," he said. "Alex, the sample from the Guilds is your father's DNA. Specifically, they're from his gametes."
An up-check reflex shook his throat. "Why would the Thieves' Guild have a sample of my dad's sp-spe-sprah--" His tongue refused to form the word. "His DNA?"
"More importantly, why would the companies you're researching have a sample of your dad's DNA. And where did they get it?"
"Not to mentioned when."
"When I can answer. These samples are well preserved but some degradation is still visible. I estimate that they are twenty to thirty years old."
"That is just all types of wrong." Alex stared at the readouts. Something about the coloured stripes in the DNA sequence tapped this memory; he had to bring up an image of the walls of his workroom. "Hang on." Readout in hand, he ran to the room. Where was it, where was it, where was-- there! "Galton, Davenport and Associates; I tracked them down through Remy's FBI file."
Hank, who'd followed close, peered at the two images. "What does this company purportedly do?"
"It's apparently a European investment firm." Flipping through the pinned papers, he added, "I remember something kind of funny about their accounts. It's always exactly on budget, has been since its inception."
"Curious. Most businesses report a loss in the first three years."
"They some had losses, but it follows the pattern too well. It's like someone put these numbers through a program." Alex finally found the right stack. "Here. It hasn't increased or decreased in size, it's still run by the same twenty people. The website was nice. There was a connection to..." He scanned the wall again. "French private citizen named Genevieve Darceneaux, a freelance jewel thief. The Guilds had to move some of her merchandise which apparently came from the vaults of a GDA. exec. She helped herself to a bit more of the cut than they agreed on which didn't please the Guilds too much. This is a record of what the Guild was supposed to trade the jewels for." Alex tapped another section of the wall. "Food and survival supplies for a staff of three hundred to an import-export company in Genosha. Where the hell is Genosha?" Distractedly, asking the question to himself more than Hank, Alex dove back into his laptop.
Briefly removing and cleaning his glasses, Hank said, "As entertained as I am, the convolutions in this plot are such that were Brad Pitt and George Clooney to pop in with Inspector Poirot fast on their heels, I would not at all be surprised. To answer your question, Genosha is an island off the coast of Madagascar. It was recently on the news for a heretofore unknown lemur species. Also a brilliant source of vanilla."
Alex blinked at him and Hank shrugged.
"Lemurs are quite interesting in terms of evolutionary biology," said Hank. "Separated from Africa around the time of the great dinosaur extinction, they represent one of the oldest primate forms. Keeping their habitats has become a priority especially since these islands are so specialised. I'm surprised that there are such companies in Genosha; as far as I know, they are a primarily agricultural country."
"Okay, so Genosha." Alex hopped around desk then curled around his laptop. "Come on, sweet thing. Tell Daddy everything he needs to know."
One of Hank's brows cocked up. "Should I leave you and the laptop alone?"
"Probably. It's gonna get kinky soon; I'm gonna go Boolean."
"My oh my. If you need further aid in cybertronic inequity and lasciviousness, I'll be in my office wondering what in heaven's name your father put in his Wheaties to produce such singular children."