On the morning of the mission, Remy found himself in the medlab. Rogue lay as still as she had been all week, monitors beeping, IV in place. He didn't dare to touch her. Instead, Remy sat beside her bed, smoothing the wrinkles on the sheets, untucking and refolding the corners of the blanket into the mattress in a useless attempt at military precision. His breathing slowed to the metronomic beeps of the ECG machine.
A bentwood box sat at on nearby chair. Remy had bought it from an artisan up in Bella Coola, BC during a necessary red-eye flight from Slovenia to Seattle. The whole box was made out of one piece of wood steamed and fixed together then intricately carved with totem animals. He had no idea what it meant but he recognized artistic genius when he saw it and the young man with the scarred hands was bona fide. Remy regularly checked in with him to buy any more pieces; at the moment he owned two sculptures and another bentwood box that stood as high as his knee.
This one was special though. The artist told him that and Remy believed it because the first thing he put in it when he got home was a broken little Transformers action figure that Alex had never missed. He opened the box now and stared at the contents: a collectible car from Scott's office, one of Adam's car sketches and an MVP medal Alex won his last year of high school. On top of it all was the photograph Rogue pinched on her test day.
Remy turned it face down and closed the box. He traced the carvings with two fingers. The silky texture of the carvings showed how often he'd done just that except it wasn't in the middle of the night and he didn't have a tumbler full of bourbon in one hand although he could really use one right now.
Hissing a curse, he swiped the box off the side table and put it on the bed, tucked between Rogue's arm and side. He slid the back of his hand on her hip, eyes closed and throat clenching. He'd never gone anywhere without this box, not in all his jobs legal or otherwise.
Jesus, he had to get away now.
Roughly, Remy yanked his coat from the back of the chair and struggled into it as he headed for the door. The Popsicle-- Bobby-- ran his shoulder into him as he stalked past the entrance.
"Watch it, pedo," the younger man snarled.
Remy's arm shot out. In a second, he'd wedged Bobby against the wall, an elbow at his larynx while he twisted the kid's arm up past its natural rotation. "You can't say anything to me, boy."
Bobby looked like he wanted to say something back but his commelink beeped. The professor wanted to talk to him. Mustering up his best glare, Bobby headed for the elevator.
"Go on and run to you little fling, boy," Remy snarled into Bobby's ear. "When your balls grow bigger than peas, maybe, just maybe, you'll be worth wiping the shit off her shoes with."
Releasing the Popsicle, Remy let out a ragged breath as he went on his way. The little fucker'd been taking lessons with Worthington on low blows. Doing this job was looking to be a welcome escape.
In the lockers, he tucked his weapons in his jacket, trying not to stroke the leather; too many distractions there. His lockpick set was already in the right lower pocket; he looped blades through his belt, wrist, leg and ankle bands. Slipping a fingernail under the plastic, he unsealed two new decks, snuffled the cards and slipped them in a pair of chest pockets. His Guild colours hung on the adjacent hook. Black pants and a black, long-sleeved shirt both with a bright fuchsia lining. The material reflected laser and heat sensors, rendering the wearer invisible to most security devices. A half-mask attached to the shirt, keeping hair from his eyes and extending the sensor protection around the head. Releasing all the oxygen out of his lungs, Remy closed his eyes even as he reached for his uniform.
It was time to do a job.
A silent group boarded the Jet. Remy slid into his seat without the usual banter. He really didn't feel up to it right now, never did just before a job. In any case, his back luck prevailed and he was stuck beside Iceman and behind Angel for the flight. Whoop. Storm took co-pilot's seat beside Cyclops in the cabin. Wolverine strapped in beside Angel and the final rows held Colossus, Jubilee and Gav.
"We rendezvous with the Thieves in Virginia first," Storm said, "Remember: keep all personal talk to yourself. Address each other only by your call signs. Do not engage first; this is first and foremost covert-ops which means that if everything goes well, they won't even know we were there. Our job is to protect the Thieves and Adam Summers."
Scott waited for vocal affirmatives then continued. "ETA to Genosha is three hours including the rendezvous." His tone left no doubt in Remy's head that his brother was gone; only the X-Men drone called Cyclops was left.
As the Blackbird waited on the tarmac of a private airstrip, Scott pulled on a lightly armoured mask that resembled a balaclava. With his visor on, only his mouth and ears showed. The rest of team put on similar masks. Remy had suggested them to further decrease the chances of recognition. Scott disliked them; masks fostered distrust.
"The Thieves are on visual," said Storm.
Flicking a couple switches down, Scott opened the starboard forward door. Shadows clad in the same faintly reflective luon as Remy slipped through while the door was still lowering. Their faces were covered, too with eyewear that had to be more than just shades. Slender zippers traced the seams of their clothes and the dips of their muscles so that almost nothing bulged from the tight clothing. Beanies and do-rags covered their hair and half-masks, their cheeks and neck. Nineteen thieves boarded in total: five for the actual break-in, fourteen to serve as decoys.
The first Thief to enter swept the cabin. Her gaze stopped at Remy. "The great Gambit."
"Spat." Gambit nodded. "You come with the trust of the Guildmaster?"
Spat grinned toothily, cold and supercilious. "You all still that backward down south, Gambit?"
"We prefer to think of it as cultured." Gambit's answering grin was twice as cold. "Now tell me, do you come with the trust of the Guildmaster?"
"What if we don't?"
Faster than Scott could follow, Remy was out of his seat and at Spat's neck. He backhanded her then snatched her arm before she could fall back. Where his hand touched her, her suit began glowing bright violet. He didn't stop charging the suit even as he twisted her around into a headlock.
"Your Guildmaster may have pulled one over me," said Remy, his voice cold fire, "but I'm still a Ten-Left with all the honour and respect due the position--"
"Turn it off!" Spat yelped.
Remy squeezed harder on her neck. "Don't interrupt, you worthless little shit. I'm one of the best goddamn Lefts in the fucking continent so unless you're a Guildmaster or the Sultan of Brunei, you do not get to talk to me like that on a job, got it?"
Spat nodded frantically. Half of her suit was charged now. Scott wanted to step forward but instinct told him not to interfere. He motioned the X-Men to stand down.
Gambit glared at the rest of the Thieves, using his demon-like eyes to full advantage. "Anyone else have anything to say?"
"No sire," answered eighteen subdued Thieves.
"So Spat, do you come with the trust of the Guildmaster?"
"The trust and confidence, sire."
"To what capacity do you come?"
"We pledge our skills, our bodies and our lives to your use."
"Good." Spreading his fingers, Remy inhaled. As he did so, the glow slowly receded, tinting his fingernails orange. The temperature increased as the energy diffused into the air.
Angel started to speak but Scott held his hand up for quiet. "Everyone strap in, we're about to leave."
"Well. That was... special," Storm murmured as he took his place in the captain's seat. She glanced over her shoulder at him, face serene but with a silent question. Storm always kept her cool but for entirely different reasons than Scott. She was instinct to his logic. That's why they made good field partners.
Scott made a sound which basically summed up his feelings on the topic. Mainly that he was conflicted. While seeing Remy in control of this new factor was a relief, the way in which he posed his control was troubling. He'd always pictured Remy's activities as non-violent. Remy himself seemed very non-violent. But then again, Remy had done a few things the past week that changed Scott's opinion.
"We'll be fine," he told her.
Genosha materialized on the view screen in no time at all. A knot roughly the size and texture of an iceberg settled in Scott's stomach. Despite what he told Storm, something was going to go wrong horribly wrong. Jean called it his Cynic's Radar; the professor suggested a low-level tele-empathy reflected from Jean's link. All Scott knew was that the last time he felt like this, Striker had trapped him and the Professor in Magneto's cell.
"Touching down on our designated coordinates," Storm said.
Gav's specs and the blueprints from the Guild indicated a wide sensor range. Scott calculated that parking the Bird in Madagascar's waters would confuse them. Boats often travelled between the two islands; the X-Men and five of the Thieves boarded five local ones, their uniforms stored in backpacks. To everyone else, they were just another group of tourists enjoying an underwater swim. Once they were far away enough, the decoy Thieves materialised out of-- well, Scott had no idea where they came from. He'd have to ask Remy for that trick later on. After a quick change of suits, the decoys continued to swim around while the active team pointed their scuba-jets towards Genosha.
Scott's team reached one of Genosha's beaches in the estimated seven minutes. "Is everyone in position?"
"We're good here," said Wolverine, his voice only slightly blurred by the signal jammers on the island.
"We're also in position, Cyclops," said Storm.
"Good. You all know what to do. I'll see you in a few minutes."
If he'd put as much effort into his American History as he did into studying these security specs, Adam figured he wouldn't have had to take it twice.
"You're a little too obsessed with those," said Vertigo, peering over his shoulder.
"If you've been abandoned, lost, and left for dead as often as I have, you'd be obsessed too," said Adam truthfully. "I've figured three straight forward exits from this dorm and another for the four main hallways on this floor. The third floor is a little trickier but I think you meant for it to be that way. The second floor is kind of tricky but I found one way out. I'm still studying the first floor."
Vertigo chuckled. "Someone might get the wrong idea."
"Oh, it's probably the right idea," said Adam, "but for the wrong reasons. I'm not getting trapped in here again and neither will my teammates."
Cadre slid to his side on a backless stool. "We will never have a need to escape. All we want is provided by the doctor in exchange for our services."
"It's not about us escaping," Adam said. "It's about finding a way out if we get trapped in our own homebase. Look, if we get attacked.--"
"That was all a test, remember?"
"But it's a plah-- plow-- plausbile test," Adam said. "There's no such thing as a completely foolproof security system and one day people are going to try to break out or break in. When they do, they're going to destroy exits. It's a matter of simple logistics. I've looked over all the security logs and nothing we train for have any backup plans for being trapped in our own bunker. So I'm just making some."
Cadre bussed his cheek. "That is my lover. Always thinking ahead."
"You taught me to," said Adam. "I think one of the lessons in these tests is how to be extremely paranoid. Consider the lesson learned."
Shuffling her fingers in his hair, Vertigo said, "I think you're over-doing it even for us. Hey, Cadre, you want to spar?"
Cadre agreed of course; he'd gotten that much from the original Gav. Adam set back to the security system. Half-truths made the best lies; his brothers taught him that. The escape routes he'd shown would appease the rest of the merc crowd for a while, he hoped. The real deal was in memorising the blueprints. Near eidetic memory ran in his family but Adam never really put it to use until now. And maybe the occasional English course. That combined with his experience in car blueprints would-- he hoped-- help him figure out a real escape route for himself.
If this Gav wasn't the real Gav then the real Gav had gotten away. Or was dead but Adam refused to entertain that thought. The real Gav was the best fighter he'd ever seen. He'd've gotten away. And besides, they wouldn't go through this elaborate ruse if they hadn't wanted him to believe in the whole "superior creatures" garbage anyway. Which meant that Adam was something that Dr. Essex really wanted. And if Essex really wanted him, then he had a little more leeway than Gav and the rest of the Resistants had accounted for.
Hence the escape routes.
The mistake that he'd made the first time around, Adam realised, was in putting his trust in other people. He didn't want to know about everything because he hadn't wanted the responsibility of knowing everything. Look where that got him. This time around, he was in charge of himself and he knew he wasn't going to leave any blind spots. Besides, after everything he'd gone through, what other surprises could Essex pull?
Adam adjusted the collar on his uniform jacket. One of the teams had been flown off island for an assignment. Nothing certain had gone down the wire but Adam was pretty sure he'd see real action within the next couple of weeks. He wouldn't try anything this first time; they'd be expecting that. He'd be a good little merc for the next couple of assignments and eventually, when he'd gotten their trust and a better hold of the island, he'd try to escape.
Scalphunter reached over his shoulder to press a few buttons. "You missed something."
"The island itself is a natural defence system." He brought up a topographical map. "The south-western side is sheer cliff-face and we have people patrolling that area all the time. The port comes from the north but that's heavily guarded too. Only one way in and out of this place."
"What about aircraft?"
"We have antiaircraft."
Adam whistled. "Can you have something like that without the world knowing?"
"Half the things we fight in aren't covered in most news casts," said Scalphunter. "We don't register under anyone's radar."
"Says the folks who sign our cheques." Scalphunter patted his shoulder. "You're good kid, but you have a few more things to learn. You get a little too tunnel-visioned. Think holistically."
"Oh, just give me some time, old man. I'll surprise you."
All three groups met two miles from the village. Remy took a quick head count before they entered. Scott's plan was three-fold. First and most important was to rescue Adam. The second aided the first: disabling as many of the defence systems as possible. The third, partially optional section involved rescuing as many of the mutants from the first three floors as the jet could hold. Xavier contributed that part; Remy doubted it would happen and, he figured, so did Scott.
Coordinating with the team left in Madagascar and two others left at strategic points on the island, Remy and Spat cracked the alarm system long enough for them to enter. The first thousand yards or so of hallway were easy to navigate-- there were no branching hallways, stairs or hidden doors. Like a classic maze, the first fork was a doozy. Eight choices lay before them and, Remy knew from the blueprints, three of the eight led to guard barracks, one was a dead end, and the other end back up to the surface.
Remy filled two cards with a low level charge and drew out his bo. "I'll take point."
"No, Wolverine-- dammit, Gambit!" He'd already moved into position before Scott could negate the action. A few seconds later, Wolverine turned the corner, grinning and claws extended, with Gav help in front of him like a shield. "Someone told me to cover your dumb ass."
He smirked. "Point clear," he said. "Forward."
"Gambit!" Scott started to cancel the order but Wolverine beat him to it.
"Shit, kid, let me second you before you move."
"It's clear," Remy said.
"Follow the goddamned protocol or I'm taking you off point and sending you back in the jet. Shit, you have me talking like Cyclops."
Jubilee might have giggled but it was difficult to tell through the radios. Angel's arrogant "This is going well" came through loud and clear, though.
"Forward," Wolverine said pointedly shoving Gav in Remy's way.
At the designated location, the team split into three. Scott, Remy, and two Thieves continued forward as the main break-in group. Storm led her team-- consisting of Angel, Colossus and anther pair of Thieves-- down the west corridor while Wolverine took Iceman, Jubilee, Gav and the last Thief east. From this point on, they operated in radio silence unless absolutely necessary, meaning not until the shit hit the fan. Which, considering the intricacy of the security system, had pretty good odds of happening. The two splinter teams had to coordinate their anti-defence activities with Remy's team. Wolverine's group was also in charge of locating and freeing Adam.
Remy stayed at point, scanning for incoming ten paces ahead of the team while Scott took the rear. Hearing footsteps ahead, he signalled "hide" before pressing up against the wall. A swipe with the bo at the ankles and swift grab of their collars downed a pair of guards. Remy slammed his knee into one guard's head, Scott took out the other one by pinching his carotid arteries. After gently lowering the guards and taking their weapons and walkies, they continued down the hall.
The second Thief wore an eye-piece that detected cameras. Every few minutes, he'd motion to Remy who would take a piece of wire from his coat, charge it and send it shooting into the camera lens. It was temporary-- a backup cam booted up after three minutes, but it was enough to time to get them down the hall with minimal detection.
The one factor unspecified by both Gav, SHIELD, and the Hellfire Club was the number of guards in total. Remy had counted at least thirty topside; Gav described at least another thirty involved in his fight out. Providing there were no overlaps, they were looking at a hundred guards, well-trained if not elite. With the size of this place, the number of barracks and the connections it supposedly had, Remy wouldn't be surprised if the numbers were closer to three hundred.
Holding his bo parallel to his body, Remy used a mirror to look around the corner. Empty. He waved the team forward. Not more than a yard into the corridor, a pair of guards appeared out of an unseen doorway. Remy swiftly brought out his bo, knocking on guard out. Still using that momentum, he vaulted over the first guard's prone body to smash his heel up the jaw of the second guard. A sharp poke in the proper pressure point and he would be out cold for a few hours. Remy spun on his heel and applied the same pressure on the first guard. Smooth, quiet, simple.
He bowed. Scott's mouth ticked-- he was either fighting to frown or smile. Remy didn't care. Adrenaline streamed through his veins now. The mission was starting to get fun.
When Alex finished reciting the final verse of "Unforgiven II", he wriggled out of his hiding place. Normally, hiding in the landing gear was as comfortable and safe as slitting your wrists and sleeping in a crocodile tank but Alex had a screwdriver and a modified panel. As soon as the landing gear folded up, he'd dislodged that panel then shimmied into a storage space in the main hull where he'd stayed, cramped, for the rest of the flight. Thank God for Mach speeds.
He stuck his head out of the cabinet. Hearing only the sound of waves against the hull-- since when were Blackbirds amphibious?-- Alex crawled onto the passenger cabin proper, dragging an equipment bag with him. It contained one Kevlar uniform almost to size, a SIG Saur and an MK 23 with a crapload of magazines, a dive knife, two SOG knives, a pup knife, a pair of arnis sticks plus his very favourite sais. God bless the ridiculously easy gun laws in New York and his mother for giving him a blond, blue-eyed face of innocence. For added cool, he'd also tucked a multi-plier scavenged from the hangar's toolbox.
After taking a quick review of the island's terrain from the jet's computers, Alex looked out at the ocean. It was going to be a hell of a swim. The wound in his shoulder was bound to act up. In many of his competitions, people used freezing to keep going after an injury. Good thing he used it a couple times in high school; he recognised the name in the Blackbird's medicine supply. One jab should do it.