Chapter 31
The Price of Freedom



Upon second reflection, Kevlar wasn't as bad as he first thought. Adam felt a little like a futuristic NASCAR racer with the tight, poly-mesh everything and the weight of the armour plates on his chest, back, arms and legs. The jock was a little itchy though. He cupped the very important bit of protection as tried to position it in a way that wouldn't pinch anything vital.

An older, fight-hardened man walked in exactly then. Smirking as he shed his own uniform, he said, "Still thinking with your dick, kid?"

Adam recognized the voice. "Scalphunter?"

His former cellmate nodded. "I figured they'd tap you. No one shoots up from recruitment to the third floor in as short a time as you said. It usually takes years."

"Lucky me," said Adam.

Scalphunter-- who was a real, live Indian complete with ponytail and chiselled cheekbones-- broke out into a knowing grin. "I know. Bitch of a hazing, wasn't it? Did you get the 'you are strong and evolutionarily fit' speech?"

"From Dr. Essex."

"The Big Boss himself?" Scalphunter whistled. "Shit, boy, what the hell are you packing in your genes?" Not waiting for an answer, he said, "Most of the time I think it's bullshit. There was a guy made of glass who got through the third floor. How's glass supposed to be strong?"

Adam shrugged.

"Then I realised; he's the target practice." Scalphunter shook his head. "Cold, huh?"

"What do I do know?" asked Adam.

"He hires us out, basically, to the highest bidder. Once a week, you jerk off in an insulated cup so the good doctor can make more vatrats. Between that and missions, you get to sit on your ass and wonder if you actually made it through the last mission or if you're actually a vatrat yourself."

Adam felt a little sick. "He actually does that?"

Scalphunter grinned again. "Come on. I'll show you the facilities."

During the walk around, Scalphunter pointed out all the equipment in the pockets which, granted, was not a lot.

"We're supposed to use our powers as much as possible," he said when Adam commented on it. "What's the point of using inferior weapons when we have superior powers, right?"

"Uh, right."

"This is our turf here. Only mutants. The guards and all the others stay in their own place." He grinned. "It keeps everything orderly, right?"

Their "turf" had showers, lockers, rooms, gyms and an honest to God hangar with a two planes and four helicopters. Scott would flip his head for some of the equipment. Several dozen other people in white uniforms nodded curtly as they passed by. Scalphunter motioned and two of the other mutants broke off from a larger group-- a skinny woman with green hair and Gav. Weird Gav. Gav who wasn't Gav.

"Cadre and Vertigo here are going to be your partners," said Scalphunter.


"They'll be with you all the time, day and night, and in most of your practices if not all."

"Is this like a buddy system?" asked Adam. "Like, so we don't get lost?"

Darkness darted through Scalphunter's face. "So you don't get lost. Yeah. Something like that."

Gav, who was calling himself Cadre, slung an arm around Adam's shoulders, grinning and squeezing him in a distinctly uncomfortable manner. "See? I knew we would be on the same team. We shall be glorious in battle."

"Totally." Catching a strange look between Cadre-- it was much easier to think of him as Cadre-- and Scalphunter, Adam boosted up the acting. He pressed himself flush against Cadre and laced his fingers behind the other boy's neck. "We will kick royal ass together, babe."

He kissed him and tried not to gag.


Even with his run-in with Worthington two days ago, Rogue's injury didn't truly hit home for Remy until the Danger Room practices. Disabling electronics just wasn't the same without her beside him. This whole damn business would be easier if she was around.

Remy activated the scrambler he'd attached to the Kaneshiro alarm system. Jubilee and Storm should have attached their scramblers too and activated them at the same time. With Shadowcat online through the Blackbird, the synchronized override should be enough to short out the second ring of defence.

Air conditioners and breathing peppered two seconds' worth of silence. Then, the alarms blared.

"Fuck." Remy squeezed his eyes shut. "Computer, pause program." The eardrum-shattering noise broke abruptly. "Rewind to thirty-five-point-oh-eight seconds."

The Storm and Jubilee bots re-traced their steps, herky-jerky and normally funny as hell but this was the seventh time through the secondary defences and the twelfth run altogether and he was just *not* getting any further on this goddamn stupid, motherfucking, shithouse of a fucking defence system! Christ!

The lockpick set in his hand charged, purple-orange. Remy threw it to the far wall before it could explode in his hand. A wall shattered, the explosion barely masking the alarms.

Remy smacked his head against the nearest wall. "Fuckmook."

"I'm sorry for interrupting," Piotr said from all the available speakers. "The professor wants me to do a couple of fixes to the room."

"I ain't done yet."

"He wants to have a meeting with you anyway."

Sighing, Remy asked the computer to save the program before closing it all down. Picking up a folio of notes, he headed for the council room. He was getting real sick of that place. Too many stiff-jawed glares across the table when a good punch would've done as well.

Xavier and Scott had their heads together over the three-dimensional mapper which depicted a comma-shaped island. Gaveedra stood on the other end, pointing out a spot at the north-eastern region of the island.

"There were a lot of food crates there," Gaveedra was saying. "I remember the smell."

"Tell me again how you got off that island," Scott said.

The kid held his temper well, observed Remy as he slid into a seat. Only the professor acknowledged his entrance but Scott knew he came in; Remy could tell by the way his forehead crinkled.

"I have told you five times already," said Gaveedra, aggrieved.

"I want to make sure you didn't miss any details," said Scott.

"Or that I tell the same story as before."

"That too."

The mapper zoomed out to show a bit of the main African continent. "After I escaped from the main building, I ran into the woods. We were to meet out contact at that north-eastern region by nightfall."

"What time was it when you actually stepped outside the building?"

"I do not know for certain but the sun cast a fair shadow so I assume it was after noon."

"Why wait so long to get a hold of your contact? Weren't you afraid of getting caught especially with the place as heavily guarded as you say it was."

"Precisely because of that fact," said Gaveedra. "Domino said--"

"Domino, the resistance leader," Scott clarified.

"Yes, the only Domino that I know." The kid almost snapped. There was a desperate tension in his shoulders that Remy could empathise with all too well. Scott had a way of talking to you when you did something wrong that made you feel the guilt, no matter how innocent you really were. "She said that because we had just escaped, the coast would be the first to be fortified. Waiting until nightfall allowed us the cover of darkness and perhaps less alert guards."

Xavier nodded encouragingly and Gaveedra continued with monotonous weariness. "I arrived at the meeting point by myself. I do not know what happened to the rest of the Resistants but our contact was there as promised. He hid me in a shipment of weapons to the mainland--"

"Did you get a good look at your contact?"

"Only that he was African and the others referred to him as 'my lord'. And that those arms would certainly not be delivered to the intended party in the proper shape. I do not know much else."

"What kind of weapons were they?" asked Xavier.

"I do not know for certain," said Gaveedra. "but I know the Doctor is a genetic engineer, not a mechanical one. The boat only took me as far as Madagascar--" he pronounced each syllable with difficulty-- "which had an airplane that flew me to the United States."

"Just like that?" said Scott.

"Domino implied that these were friends from before her capture," Gaveedra said.

Remy had some of his own questions. "How did she get word out to those friends?"

"I do not know."

"Who are her friends?" asked Scott.

"I do not know."

"What was the plan once you were all out?" Remy asked.

"I do not know!" Gaveedra smashed his fist through the mapper, disrupting the greyscale Genosha. "You ask questions of a mere weapon. I have only ever been a weapon, a tool, never the one with true information. Vatrats, sticks, outsiders-- we all worked together to gain freedom but the rules stayed the same. There were the weapons and the wielders. It is even so out here; I am still a tool to whom you will disclose nothing." Pointing at the re-constituted island, he asked, "Do you think I want to return to that? To the pens and the vats, knowing that should I reach the heights of existence, my only reward was to die for someone else's war?"

"We don't think of you that way," said Xavier soothingly.

"Do you not? What is this place if not a pen and those upstairs if not tools?"

Xavier's shoulders went stiff for a second. "I'm sorry if you've been made to feel that way. We've been searching so urgently for Adam that we may seem brusque. I assure you that once this is over, we won't hold you here. You can truly be free."

Remy snorted. "Free to wander around the world totally clueless? He'll be dead in a week."

Scott finally turned his attention to him "What do you have to contribute, Remy?"

"A whole shitload of headaches same as everyone else. My first guess was right; even if this place didn't have guards, we couldn't break in and out cleanly by ourselves. Whoever this Doctor's selling his super-soldiers to, they're paying top price."

"What's your suggestion?"

This was going to hurt. "I need help. We need to get people from the Guilds in."

"I thought that would be the case. I've made allowances in the plan for extra bodies. Just make sure the Guilds get as little information as possible, I'm open to that angle. The last thing we need is to get your gangsters involved in the biological weapons trade." He rubbed his chin. "Is there any other option?"

"Tanks. Lots of them. Filled with nitro-glycerine and dropped from the air."

"It cannot be that impossible," said Gaveedra. "We were few and disorganised but we freed ourselves."

"True," said Remy. "That means the intel you got me is wrong--"

"It is not!"

"-- or they *let* you escape."

Gaveedra reared back. Remy saw the gears working in his head, just under the red fuzz of hair on his head. Baring his teeth, he whipped around and slammed his fist on the table, sending an arc of energy dancing over the shiny surface.

Scott kept his eyes on the mapper. Remy picked at his fingernails. Only Xavier watched Gaveedra directly.

"No others escaped," the kid said monotonously. "I left them with the hope of returning only to find that perhaps the Doctor *wants* me to return."

"There goes our element of surprise," said Remy half under his breath.

Pinching his chin, Scott reached for Remy's folio. "It looks like they've got all the advantages." He flipped through the note-scribbled photocopies, holding up a piece of paper every few seconds then discarding it for another. "Remy, get a hold of your contact at the Guilds. How much for this job?"

"Something like this-- overseas, high complexity and probability of failure, lots of manpower and hand-greasing-- we're looking at seven digits minimum. I'd charge four mill if this file came to me."

"Four *million* dollars?" That was as close Scott ever came to squawking. "Where the hell are we going to come up with four million dollars?"

"It's not all profit," said Remy. "I'd lose at least half on materials and bribes then forty percent of what's left goes to the Guild."

"So you'd *only* earn a million dollars; that's a *lot* more reasonable."

"We should also get someone else to act as contact," Remy continued. "A job's a job but storing information's a good habit to form in this area."

"What would make a good contact?"

"No one that they can tie easily to the school or to us. No obvious mutants. No one that has a criminal record or, preferably, any record at all in the papers. No one that'll break if things go according to plan."

"That leaves out any of the X-Men." Scott clicked around on the computer. "It would take too long to get someone from Muir Island and besides, they'd all have conspicuous accents."

"I believe we can raise close to a million dollars to help if we sell some of the cars, a few pieces of artwork and some stocks," said Xavier. "Perhaps I can also speak with Lord Braddock about a loan."

Scott shook his head. "Professor, you don't have to--"

"Yeah, he does," said Remy. "All that money coming out of one place is going to leave a mark. You need to get it from lots of difference places. I can fork over maybe another half a mill without the Guild raising an eyebrow."

The lines bracketing Scott's mouth deepened for a moment. "Okay, so we have one and a half million dollars. That's still only half."

"I'll fund the rest." Warren walked in carrying a leather laptop case.

"Daddy and Mommy won't notice two million missing from their gold-plated billfolds?" asked Remy.

Scott and Warren ignored him. "Warren, you don't have to do this," said Scott. "They could trace it."

"There are assets I can liquidate without answering to my parents or the company," Warren said. He slipped his laptop out of its bag. Remy couldn't see the screen but he could tell by the angle of Scott's eyebrows that he was probably seeing a hell of a lot of triple zeroes on a bank statement. "Plus, I can take a couple hundred from various international businesses under Worthington Enterprises. Small numbers from a wide area, just like you want, right Remy?"

Remy allowed himself to smirk. "You know about skimming. My estimation of you's gone... well, not up but you're obviously a little less stupid than you look."

"What if they ask for more than four million dollars?" asked Gav.

Bright kid. "They won't," lied Remy.

"The only question that remains is our choice of a contact person," said Xavier.

Alex walked in, wringing grease from his fingers with a rag. "Scott, dude, you've got to tell me what the hell you did with the hydraulics on that plane 'cause the chassis looks like Frankenplane under--- uh... what?"

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