After a couple days of being in character, Adam was of the firm opinion that method actors had to be certifiable. He could barely stand being a sadistic low-life for seven days, how did they manage for weeks of filming? It was nuts. It had to be nuts. He was going nuts and that? Was probably the whole point.
He tugged at his uniform collar and sighed.
His partner for the day, George, craned his long purple neck to look at him. "Bored already, X-treme?"
"You've put down one holographic rebel force, you've put them all down," said Adam. "These collars are torture, dude! Real combat uniform can't be this uncomfortable."
"At least the suppression collars are pretty light," said George. "I remember the older version. At least two inches high and weighed a tonne. Try wearing that under a shirt and then fighting. They crapped out a lot, too. If you didn't get the setting right, you're throwing up by the end of the day if not out cold. The uniform collars are nothing."
"Thank God for plastic."
They went back to peering through their binoculars. "So, y'know, besides the constant threat of death by bombing, the possibility of vivisection and the crappily designed uniforms, how do you like being one of the chosen ones?" asked George.
"Be a merc, see the world," Adam said. "Considering I haven't actually seen any action other than the practice sessions, I have to say, it's going pretty damn good. My bed actually has a mattress, the food is kinda bland but there's a lot of it and I get to kick ass every day. It's like a video game come to life."
"When you do get out though." George sighed. "I'm telling you, kid, there's nothing like it. You just know, y'know? Going out there, bringing down the weak and unworthy, you really get a sense of your purpose in the world. It's exactly like the Essex says: we are the strong."
"Totally." Totally certifiable. This must be what a cult was like.
"We have visual." George pointed to the left. "See the smoke coming from the other side of the road?"
"I see it," said Adam. "Three convoys just like the specs said."
"Shall we do this?"
"Certainly. After you."
At least the uniforms let his body breathe. In the hot stickiness of the South American jungle, there was nothing worse than sweat gluing your clothes to your body. Adam slipped easily out of his perch on a rocky outcropping and raced George down the steep hillside. It was more like a cliff, really, with just enough of slope and greenery to negate the need for climbing ropes. They were to meet the convoy a mile from here and make sure their delivery didn't get anywhere. Nor could they allow any messengers to warn the rebels; that meant use all force.
Actually, all the assignments in his practice sessions so far used all force. He wasn't sure if there were any other options in this line of work.
George was basically made of tar. That was as far as Adam understood his power. He could understand why Essex chose him as a merc; he couldn't die. He'd seen the guy yank off his arm, spatter it against a tree then sort of... gather all the droplets back together to reform his arm. When George threw himself in front of the first convoy truck, Adam didn't bat an eye.
Huge blobs of George covered the windshield. The truck swerved, shouts leaked out from the windows. The truck immediately behind it tried to stop but only succeeded in ramming into the lead vehicle. The last truck stopped in time but with such a narrow road, he was essentially trapped.
It was Adam's turn.
His dad and brothers took him out to the shooting range for the first time when he was thirteen. It was kind of a family tradition. Alex taught him more than anybody else because he was in the area and he was naturally good at it. So when Adam told his superiors that he sucked at shooting, he was of course, lying. He purposefully missed vital organs, nicking muscle deep enough to access their bloodstream. With all the practice both in the pens and in the past week, Adam had become more and more aware of a sixth sense when it came to open wounds. It was almost like he could smell it but with the added tickle of carbonated drinks in the back of his mouth.
That subtle carbonated-penny smell emanated from all three trucks. Adam extended his arms, feeling the tiny, hot bubbles of energy in on his forehead and behind his eyes. "Burn."
The smell of scorched flesh soon overtook everything else. Adam's eyes stung. He blinked repeatedly, pulling harder on his powers. He felt the frantic energy from the people--the bodies, the targets; if he thought of them as people, he'd throw up-- leading up to his hands and up his arms then to his eyes. It curled around each fingers, tugging at his nail beds.
He blinked again.
Threads of energy twisted together, knocking his breath out. Adam stumbled back, his throat dry. George cackled in the background, the wet shlepping noise of his tar-like body joining in harmony.
"You are my type of fighter, X-treme!" He let out a whoop that would've done fifties westerns proud. "You chose your name right."
Adam grinned weakly. He had no idea what George was talking about. He just got slammed on his butt by his own power; how extreme was that? George lent him an arm up, gesturing at the wreckage at the same time. Bodies hung from the windows and half-open doors, their arms and legs twisted in a rictus of pain. Two of the bodies were practically mummified, their clothing ashes and tatters.
"You are one lean, mean destructive machine," said George.
Hokey lingo aside, with one brother literally fighting for mutant rights, another as a member of the an international crime ring and the third suspiciously obsessed with martial arts and weaponry, what if he really was?
"So how long do I have to keep my babysitters around?" asked Adam.
"Vertigo and Cadre. Don't get me wrong, Cadre's fun and all but I think I've proven that I'm not going to make a break for it." He kicked debris out of the way; they had to confirm the kills no matter how mutilated the bodies looked. "I'd rather not have my boyfriend as my jailer."
"Aw, they're not your jailers, mate."
"Dude, give me some brains. They're guards."
George rose, wiping his hands on his pants. "Everybody gets them the first month. I'm sure you can get some time off for good behaviour considering one of your partners is your, uh, your... y'know... fella."
Amazing. Killing a fleet of soldiers and George didn't blink. The idea of boy-on-boy and the man blushed. If tar could blush. Maybe he should rethink his codename, Adam reflected, something that would strike fear in the hearts of homophobes everywhere. Gayboi. The Rainbow Warrior. Lord HotBuns.
"I'm not falling for that," Adam said. "One minute, I'm sexing up Cadre for free time, the next, I'm back in the pens for bad behaviour. No thank you. I can stick it out."
After all, the better behaved he was, the greater the chance he'd have to going on a mission. Battle zone or not, outside was outside and he intended to go there
The professor's telepathic link was a great solution to their wiring problem. The Guilds could detect any bugs they could have hooked up to Alex during contact by virtue of the electronic scanners at the door of the bar, the portable detectors they had on hand and pure observational training. As far as Remy knew, the Guilds didn't have anything that could detect telepathy. No one did except the X-Men.
Experiencing the meeting through Alex's senses, Remy gauged the scenario. The bar was comfortably full, the servers busy but unharrassed and with enough talk to blanket the room in white noise. Each table stood far enough to discourage eavesdropping unless you really tried and the thick cushioning absorbed the rest of the sound. Muted Top 40 filtered through the lulls in conversation. Alex's Jack and Coke sat nearly untouched on his left hand side as agreed with the Guild contact. He'd been there for twenty minutes with no word.
Alex's thoughts filtered through Xavier. I think they know something's up.
No, Remy replied. It's part of the test to see how willing you are to jump through their hoops.
Even as he spoke, an average looking guy of average height wearing an average suit slipped into the chair across from Alex. "Sorry to keep you waiting. I couldn't get a cab and the one I did get must've been fresh out of driving school." He stuck his hand out. "I'm the Courier."
Alex took it. "If you treat all your clients like this, Mr. Courier, I'm amazed you're making money."
"Again, my apologies. I'll have a glass of your Australian cabernet sauvignon," the Courier told a passing server. "And whatever tapas you think will go with that wine. Do you want something?"
"Yeah." Alex slid his watery hardball over. "Bourbon." He held up his thumb and forefinger to shot how much. "Hopefully we'll be finished our business by the time I'm done."
"You're impatient, Mr. Donnelly."
"All aspects of my business are done ASAP, Mr. Courier. You and your... company had best keep that in mind if you want my money."
"As you wish." Courier put a phone out on the table between them. "Why don't you tell me what you want stolen?"
"First, how do I know you won't just take the information and go?" Alex demanded.
"We have a reputation to uphold," said Courier. "If we did that, we wouldn't have any clients left. I assure you that we've always delivered. Surely the person who recommended us told you that."
Sound sceptical, Remy told Alex. If you make it a hard buy, he'll get hooked.
Alex adjusted his tone. "They did. But this is a high stakes proposition, not mere objects."
"Tell me about it."
With Remy's help, Alex talked. The plan agreed on a truncated version of the truth: there was someone in a facility in Genosha that they needed to get out by any means necessary. It involved bioengineering, genetic engineering and may be funded by various governments, legally recognized and not. There were people available to do the actual retrieval but breaking, entering and, most importantly, escaping was up to the Guild.
"What if a firefight breaks out?" asked Courier. "My company doesn't specialise in that."
"As I understand it, a firefight would greatly decrease your cut," said Alex. "I just want you to get my people in and out of this facility."
"It's a big job. Let me talk to my superiors about it and we'll see what we can do. If you'll just wait a moment." Courier stood and waved a server over. "Please, order whatever you want. We can pick up the bill on this one whether or not we take the offer. It's a very interesting one; we haven't had one of those in ages."
He departed, leaving Alex with a too-perky server who insisted on a dessert. Well, how did that go?
He's going to talk to the Guildmaster about it, Remy said. Probably haggle for a higher price. If it's anything over four million, turn it down. If it's under, sound eager.
Dude, at the price they're charging for alcohol, I'm ready to turn the drinks down. Are they distilling it themselves in the back or something?
Courier returned before Remy could answer. "My superior is intrigued, Mr. Donnelly. We'll take your offer for three and a half million dollars."
"That's pricey but worth it," said Alex. "You're hired."
In the mansion, Remy straightened out of his nervous slump. He saw Xavier do the opposite, easing his grip on his arm-rests. "What now?" Xavier asked him.
"Now we wait."
Ms. Manners' call came a couple hours later than Remy expected. "Someone has hired us to break into the very same company whose blueprints you acquired last week," said Courier in lieu of a greeting.
"What a coincidence."
"We don't believe in coincidences, only in pre-emptive political manoeuvres. What's the connection between your blueprints and this new client, Gambit?"
"Call it a recommendation," said Remy. "They came to me first about the job and when I saw how complicated it was going to be, I told them it'd cost extra."
Courier made a disbelieving noise. "What do you know about the muscle they're bringing in? Are they from the other Guilds?"
Among the Thieves, "the other Guilds" referred to the Assassins, the Mercenaries and the Transporters. He didn't know the last time a Transporter did anything but drive or pilot and the Mercenaries were too small and rife with internal competition to be much of bother. However, the Assassins and the Thieves had a long, bloody history for reasons that made Remy's head ache.
"They're all freelancers," he said. "I had a hell of a time convincing them to do business with our corporation; they wouldn't call in any others."
This time, Courier's throat-clearing had a more positive note. "Get down here with your sheets as soon as possible. I told them we'd be ready by the end of the week."
"The end of the week? They're kind of impatient."
"They're paying good money. The contact didn't even blink when we named the price. Still, it's going to take a fleet to plan this out."
"I got most of it down. All it needs is manpower."
"Don't get too cocky, Gambit. You may have a lot of cred under your belt but you're new blood around here. Ms. Manners isn't going to fall for a pretty face," added Courier just in case Remy didn't catch the insult.
"Yeah, screw you too," he mumbled.
"What was that?"
"It's a pleasure talking to you," Remy lied cleanly. He hung up before Courier could go in with any of his own retorts.
The little fart. As if he actually had a position in the Guilds. Ms Manners' over-rated coffee boy was going to learn a lot about hierarchy once he got--
Remy took a deep breath.
Save the seething anger for another target.
Warren turned the corner. Yeah, he'd do.
"Dad used to do this," Scott told the scarf in his hand. "He used to talk to Mom's picture all the time when he was drunk. I'm not drunk but I'm talking to a scarf. So who's crazier?"
He let his head fall into his hands. The silk caught in the stiff hairs of his five o'clock shadow. Really, the stubble was all he could get even after a week of not shaving. Like his tan, his beard ran the way of his maternal grandmother's family. All for the best really; the last thing he needed was to develop his dad's psychosomatic facial hair growth as well as his habit of talking to dead people.
"I miss you so fucking much." He sighed, lifted his head and gathered the scarf into fistfuls of wrinkles. "I can't... think without you to--"
A knock sounded.
Scott jumped to his feet, quickly checking his cheeks for tell-tale wetness. The optic beams didn't burn the tears away, they just sprayed them into a fine mist at the bottom of his glasses. "Come in."
Warren stuck his head in. "Ororo wants to see you. She's practicing the air to sea manoeuvres with the kids and she wants a second pair of eyes to help choose the ones who'll come with us to the island. And after that, you need to brief Kelly, David and Narda on the schedule while we're away. Also, Remy confirmed that his people are on board; we should have a solid plan by the end of the week."
"Not in those exact words."
"I may have paraphrased for a general audience."
"I'll be right there." Casually, he dropped Jean's scarf on the bed and pretended to riffle around his desk, searching for the courage to just talk. "Hey, Warren, wait a sec."
Feathers brushed against maple as Warren turned around, both blond eyebrows arched.
"I'm a shithead," Scott said quickly. "Jean always used to translate for me and I don't know how to communicate like a human any more so anything I say under stress, you have to know that I don't mean it."
The corners of Warren's lips turned up. "Are we having a bonding moment, Gamma Gaze?"
"Something like that."
"Apology accepted." He cocked his head to one side. "A friend of mine keeps telling me that kid brothers are always bratty and running off at the mouth."
"Yeah. Damn them." The lead strap around Scott's chest loosened. Then he shook his head. "See that thing that I just did? That was communication. Why can't I do that with Remy and the others?"
"You used words with greater than two syllables."
He held his hands up. "Sorry. It's a knee-jerk reaction. If there's one answer to that question, there wouldn't be so many rich shrinks." Slapping Scott's back, he said, "Come on, Summers, your kingdom awaits."
"Yeah, and legions of adoring subjects." Stretching out the kinks in his back, Scott let out a gusty sigh. "Do you remember how many rescues we did last month?"
"And how many missions did I do for SHIELD the past three months?"
"So I suck at finding my brother why?"
"Most of your students weren't hidden in a top-secret, mad scientist island."
"Right. I think we should hire a career counsellor for the school just to make sure they don't become X-Men."
"One mountain at a time, Mohammed."