Wading through the pipes and tubes that carpeted the floor of this truly deranged laboratory, a thought played over and over in Alex's brain. "Why hasn't anyone come after us?" he asked Adam.
His brother shrugged and kept checking the tanks for Remy.
"This doesn't worry you?"
"A little," said Adam. "But I figure, we get Remy and Scott, they blow shit up and we go hide out in the caves. The island's full of them."
"Great plan. Blow shit up. I thought you were a bad-ass merc now."
"Commentary from the guy who stole a guard's uniform and stumbled into the complex intending to fight an army of mutants and humans with two guns, four knives, and a pair of sais."
"And my arnis sticks."
"Oh yes. Foot long sticks. Smart."
"I suppose being a double agent to the mutant SS was just as smart."
"At least I had more training that you."
"I've been training my whole life."
"Tackling half-backs does not a boot camp make." Adam stopped. "Fuck."
Alex looked up at the giant glass canister. Remy floated in a transparent, iridescent gel with tubing and needles and a mask. "Motherfucking dickwads."
Adam could only nod. "They're using tranqs on him. It keeps us-- him-- them from moving around."
"It's a good thing they're not using bennies," said Alex.
"Not any more. They must've used those for the general dart guns. Remy got hit; him and Scott got trapped waiting for the medicine to kick in."
"Scott, you fucking hero." Alex moved over the panel and studied the display. "So what does this all mean?"
Adam shrugged. "I thought you'd know."
"Dude, I'm not an anaesthesiologist."
"You're better than me. You can pronounce asthelio--anasiotho--anastheso-- that word." Adam poked at the display. "That looks like a heart beat monitor. Like on TV."
"I'm really going to unhook Remy from a mutant-making machine according to your amazing television watching skills."
Adam shoved him. "Polemuncher."
With a deep exhalation, they stared at the monitor again.
"I say we grab a scientist," said Adam.
"Cool with me. I'm the bad cop."
"You were the bad cop last time. I wanna be the bad cop."
Smirking, Alex said, "Do you really think you'd pass as the bad cop?"
One pants-wetting (and subsequently unconscious) scientist later, Adam and Alex lifted a sopping wet Remy off the tank's platform and onto the laboratory floor. He was still out of it but at least the half dozen tubes were gone.
Alex slapped Remy's face. "Wakey-wakey, pretty boy."
Remy turned his head away, murmuring incomprehensible words. His right leg trembled, a reaction to the drugs, Alex assumed.
"He's not going to wake up any time soon. We should look for Scott," said Adam. "He might still be in the OR with Essex.
"What is your fucking hurry to get the Elders?" Alex demanded. "We'll be just as trapped ever if--"
"Because I'm scared!" Adam said, the words exploding out of him. "I've spent God knows how long in here and I know what they can do to me when they're mad and I'm scared, Alex. Okay? I don't care if that makes me a wimp but I'm petrified and I want all my brothers with me because-- I don't know, just because!"
Alex blinked. "Okay. I was just asking," he said. "I need my hands free to fight. You carry Remy. And get him some pants, dude."
Goo dripped from Remy's body, dampening Adam's uniform. Adam wrinkled his nose. Cold, sticky gross and it was going to take forever to dry to a comfortable level. Alex shucked the scientist's pants and worked them over Remy's unresponsive legs. As soon as he was decent, they dragged him out of there and into the corridor. Alex tried to ignore the throbbing in his shoulder. He should've packed more dope for it.
"Which way to the OR?" he asked.
"One floor down, a couple hallways and two floors up," Adam replied.
Ten minutes later, Alex's paranoia only increased. "We've left a slime trail and haven't bothered to hide. Where are the guards? The alarms?"
"I don't know. Let's just keep going."
"It's a trap. I know it's a trap."
"You're probably right but at least we'll have Scott so two of us four can blow shit up," said Adam.
"You're counting way too much on the Elders' ability to blow shit up." Alex smacked Remy's face again. "Come on, wake up, oh living munitions store. You heard the kid. You're our only hope, Obi-Wan."
To his surprise, Remy spat out a gob of goo. "Don't hit me no more," he said, the words slurred.
Beaming, Adam almost stopped walking. "Remy! You're awake!"
Remy squinted into Adam's face. "Hey, Blue. You're all right." His head lolled back. "I like this. This is peaches. My toes are talking. Hi, toes."
Alex exchanged a look with Adam.
"Toes!" Remy chirped.
"He's high," said Alex, deadpan.
"Pterodactyls with béarnaise sauce, baby," Remy said, slurring less but also decreasing in coherence. "All of you. All of you. Totally. Toes."
Adam whimpered. "I changed my mind. We are so dead."
Alex' jaw hutted out. "Screw changing your mind. I did not come here, all Governatored out, losing my very favourite sai and splattered in eyeball juice to die. We're going to get out. We just have to visualise it."
"We're going to visualise ourselves out of the complex."
"Something like that."
Adam snorted. "You're higher than Remy."
"Ain't no one higher than me, baby," said Remy. "I am so high... soooo high, I can... I can... think. Of the stars. The stars are wishing. Wishing. And hoping. And thinking. And praying, doo-be-doo-be-dooooo."
"So. Dead," Adam repeated.
"Shut up and visualise."
The final corridor to the OR was empty. Guns armed, Alex eyed any nooks and crannies as best he could visually, straining to hear the tell-tale shuffling of hidden guards.
"Let's just go," said Adam. "I can't stand all this suspense."
"You're not visualising properly."
"I'm visualising not getting dead. I think that's the best you're going to pull out of me until I get the insanity thing down."
"Damn right the Fire Marshall wanna shut us down," sang Remy, "Get us out so someone can gun us down."
"Remind me to tell Remy never to start a rap career." Sighing, Alex stood. He checked the magazines on his guns and secured his blades. "Let's do this."
"We should do a power walk," said Adam, hitching Remy higher on his shoulders. "Every last stand needs a power walk."
Silence, all the way down to the nondescript white double-doors. Alex nudged at it with his toe. It creaked open, spilling bright, white light into the already well-lit hallway.
"Here goes," Alex muttered. He kicked the door wide open, his weapons at the ready.
Five people crowded around the operating table, one of them in white scrubs, the rest in the ubiquitous avocado green. They all looked up at the intrusion. The man in the white pulled his mask down.
Alex's injured arm stiffened. "Milbury?"
"Essex," corrected Adam.
"Goose," Remy contributed.
Milbury--Essex-- whoever-- dismissed his attendants with a nod. They quietly rushed out a side exit. Essex folded his hands at his waist. "I've been expecting you."
"We kind of guessed." Alex's finger eased over the trigger. "Close him up and let us go."
Essex smiled. It was the creepiest thing Alex had ever seen. "You must be bright enough to recognize that you don't have the upper hand here, Alex. At this very moment, there are twenty guards behind that door. Twenty more are at the two other exits to this room. The elevators have been shut down. The whole compound has been alerted to your presence ever since you disabled Vertigo and Cadre. We were simply waiting for you to find us." He tapped his collar. "Adam's uniform has a tracking device."
"Whatever," said Alex. "I'm plenty bright enough to recognize that I can shoot your crazy head off. I could say something about how I'm mean when I'm hungry but I already used that line."
"I don't want to hurt you or your brothers," said Essex.
"Truly, I don't. I consider the four of you more precious than gold."
"Why us?" asked Alex.
"I have already explained my reasons to your brother," said Essex, inclining his head towards Adam.
"Super-mutants," said Adam. "Truly creepy stalker activities. Except he told me that I was the only one and now that I've discovered the lie, I might need to talk to Dr. Phil about my issues. Oh yeah, something about taking over the world. "
"If he's the Brain, who's Pinky?" Alex asked.
"I like pink," said Remy. "Mmm-hmm, good."
Essex started to unfold his hands but Alex took a step forward. "You do not move without my say so. How far along the surgery is he?"
"We're almost through," said Essex. "His peritoneum is closed; all that remains to be done is to stitch the abdominal muscles and skin together."
"Okay, then you do that and we'll be on our way."
"I don't think so." Essex turned his head to the monitors above Scott. "In a few seconds, Scott will awaken in great pain. It would behove you all to remain here until he recovers. I don't know what would happen should he not receive proper medication. Infection. Inflammation. The shock of the pain alone could kill him."
On cue, Scott let out a gasp. His arms and legs pulled against its restraints. Pain carved lines into his face; Alex couldn't look away. Reholstering one of his guns, he used his injured arm to steady the weapon. He shot more accurately that way.
"We're not staying here to be your guinea pigs," he said.
A mockery of concern fixed itself on Essex's face. "X-treme, did you tell your brother nothing of my intentions?"
"We were a little busy kicking ass and taking names; it slipped my mind," said Adam.
Their voices must have penetrated through Scott's brain because he turned his head. His eyes were brown, Alex realised. He'd forgotten. Everyone always said that he looked like Dad and Scott looked like Mom except they switched colouring. Scott had huge brown eyes with ridiculously long eyelashes.
"It's the rescue team, Scotty," Alex said. His voice was steady. Good.
"How'd you... get here?"
"I caught a taxi. The charge was ridiculous. Give us a few minutes and we're going bye-bye to Dr. Frankenstein."
"The last thing I want to do is destroy my Omegas," Essex said with a tone a parent would use on a bratty kid.
"First we're guinea pigs, now we're omelettes." Alex clicked his tongue. "I'm not feeling the love here, Franky-baby."
"Omegas," Essex corrected him. "Currently, mutants are categorised according to destructive capabilities: Class 1's are very simple physical mutations, Class 2's have more serious anatomical or physiological mutations including those that allow for low-level psionic powers. Energy-converters begin at Class 3 and the levels increase from there, culminating in Class 5's who could, theoretically, destroy a city. However, the current taxonomy doesn't account for multiple mutations."
"Not possible," said Scott, his words slurring.
"You are wrong." Essex smiled. Alex got goosebumps. "You yourself are the very definition of an Omega, a mutant with at least two Class 5 mutations."
Scott shook his head.
"Don't fear the reaper," said Remy. "Snap back to reality, baby rabbit."
"According to my sources," Essex continued, "Scott Summers has two Class 5 powers, one Class 3 and three Class 1's. You, Adam, have two Class 5's, two Class 3's and one Class 2. Remy seems to have two Class 5's and three Class 1's."
"Shucks, looks like I'm the odd one out again," said Alex only half-jokingly.
"Don't be too sure," said Essex. "Your powers could be latent as Adam's were before I induced the manifestation."
"Here I thought the tubes were just for pissing and shitting," said Adam.
"I have studied your DNA from a childhood sample. You have nearly immeasurable energy capabilities as well as the potential of interdimensional travel like all your brothers."
"You keep sweet-talking me like that and I might think you want to get in my pants," said Alex.
"He does," Adam said. "Just not the way you think."
"Kinky." To hell with this monologue. They didn't have any time left. Alex whipped out his other gun and gave Essex everything he had left. The doctor didn't have time to move; each bullet met its target.
He didn't fall. Or bleed. Or even let out a pained squeak.
Alex lowered his guns in disbelief. Essex shed his hole-ridden lab coat, folding it with precise movements before setting it on the counter behind him. The clothes he wore underneath were also ruined but the flesh beneath it was white and unmarked.
"Reaper," Remy repeated. "He gon' take you to bad, baaaad ju-ju, hommes. Plenty bad. With beignets."
"Thank you, peanut gallery," Alex said. "This just shitcakes with a side of shitsauce."
"Are you quite finished?" Essex inquired politely.
"Nope," said Adam. "I still have to wet my pants. Gimme another couple seconds and the snake will be well and truly strained."
"Your reactions in the face of acute danger are fascinating," said Essex. "I wonder if it is a result of environmental factors or an underlying genetic predisposition, perhaps an adrenal defect."
"I'm thinking stupidity myself," said Alex.
"He was talking about you, too," Adam said, shifting Remy up straighter.
"Like hell he was. Twerp."
"I hope it's environmental," Essex said in an undertone. "Admit defeat, Alex. This is all inevitable. With all four of you in my possession, the dream of an ultimate human race, stronger and more powerful than anything ever seen, is on the cusp of discovery. You can herald it in willingly or no; I have no preference either way."
Those twenty guards burst through the door, half aiming tranquilizer guns at Remy, the other half with rifles pointed at him and Adam. Adam gulped, looking to him for a solution. For the first time, everyone actually depended on him to solve the problem and Alex had a feeling he was going to let them all down.
He closed his eyes. Stress burned a path all the way to the back of his skull. Sweat popped out of his skin, suddenly drenching his shirt and dripping into his eyes.
"Alex." He barely heard Adam. "Alex, look at Scott."
Scott had gone into convulsions. The tendons in his neck strained and his chin trembled with the effort not to scream.
"The pain must be excruciating now," said Essex. "If you do not permit me to finish surgery, he will die of shock." He folded his hands in front of him, serene despite the pronouncement.
"You've tracked us for years," said Alex. "You're not going to just let Scott die."
"It wasn't in my plan, no," said Essex. "However, if there is no other choice, I can still harvest enough specimens from a dead body to satisfy my experiments for years. Harvest from CA-III-ASR3 has yielded in over three million viable gametes with test fertilizations averaging at ninety percent. Should you and the remaining brother require putting down, I'm certain I could do the same." He shrugged. "I doubt I will have to resort to that; you certainly value your brothers alive much more than I do."
Alex's hands shook with heat. The BP monitor's tempo sped up even further. Scott was so pale on the operating table. The pressure in Alex chest built up until he had to gasp for breath. His heartbeat pounded in his skull, adding to the burn.
A wrinkle appeared on Essex's brow. "The ambient temperature appears to have increased. Interesting."
Those were the last words Alex heard before heat exploded throughout his body and the world faded into whiteness.
Low-pitched ringing vibrated through Adam's braincase. He pressed the balls of his hands against his ears. The ringing didn't stop. He opened his eyes to the remains of a war zone. Burnt husks lay all around him, blackened and still smoking. The walls barely stood; what he thought was dust was actually dirt raining down from a hole at least thirty feet up. As he reached out for balance, his hand came down on Remy's bare leg. Shreds of cloth were all that was left of Remy's stolen pants. Only when Adam rolled over to a crouch and look over at Remy did he realise that his older brother was coughing.
"Are you okay?" Adam asked but he couldn't hear his own voice. He shook his head; the ringing softened. "Are you okay?" he asked again. Then, more practically: "Are you sober?"
Remy, splayed on his side, could only dip his chin before falling into another fit of hacking. With a pained grunt, Adam got to his hands and knees, pieces of his uniform falling off his back. The explosion had blown him and Remy through the hallway. Bodies and furniture in various states of carbonisation surrounded them.
"Scott and Alex." Remy finally managed to gasp out. "Still in there."
"Hang on. Can you breathe okay?"
Remy nodded. "Sober. Breathing. Go, go."
"See, I can't believe you when you're not so much ordering me as you are coughing up a hairball."
Remy grabbed his arm and yanked him to eye level. "Go. And put on... clothes."
Adam darted a look down his bare navel. "You too."
Using a miraculously whole wall for support, Adam dragged himself to his feet. Not only were his clothes burned off but his boots were gone, too; he winced as he poked a melted chunk of rubber stuck to the bottom of his foot. That was going to hurt. Limping through the carnage, he tried to locate the OR but there was too much damage. Smoke still lingered thick, making his eyes water and keeping his field of view to two feet maximum. Ash blackened the halls on one side; maybe that would help him track down ground zero.
He ignored all skeleton-shaped charcoal poking out of the wreckage.
As he went further, the smoke grew so dark that he didn't find Alex so much as trip over him.
"Oof!" Adam held onto Alex's back to keep upright.
His brother barely acknowledged him. Cold sweat covered his back but he felt hot to the touch.
"Alex?" Crouching down, Adam tugged at Alex's shoulder. "Hey, dude. Snap out of it."
Alex just shivered.
"Hey, Alex. Alex?" Adam pulled his arm back and punched his brother in the jaw.
"Fucking ow!" Alex roared, unrolling from his foetal position. "What was that for?"
"You were all catatonic," said Adam. "I had to do something."
"Okay, you've got to stop using big words 'cause it's freaking me right out. You don't use big words. That's fucked." He scanned the area. "Where's everyone else?"
"I left Remy back there. You were closest to Scott when everything blew up."
"What exactly blew up?"
Adam tilted his to one side. "You did."
Alex took that news reasonably well. "Dude. Okay, well you go grab Remy. I'll look for Scott. Let's meet here and decide what to do from there."
"We should stick together," said Adam. "At least Remy's conscious; you might need help with Scott. He kind of had his insides out before the explosion."
Wrinkling his nose, Alex shoved him lightly. "Could you not put it that way?"
"I joke because the alternative is peeing my pants."
"You're not wearing pants."
"Then I guess that means peeing on you since you're the one I'm looking at right now."
They stumbled through more debris before Alex spotted the operating table turned on its side. Scott's unmistakable feet-- narrow with wide, splayed toes-- stuck out from underneath it. Between him and them were chunks of cement and steaming metal.
"Please don't be dead," Adam murmured as they carefully prised as much of the wreckage as they could.
"He's not dead," said Alex.
"If you say anything about visualising again, I swear to God, I will beat you."
"If you both don't... shut up, I'll beat... you all," came Scott's voice from under the table, jagged and faint but still unbelievably comforting.
They got that table out of there in record time. Scott had his eyes clenched shut, his arms wrapped protectively around his middle. "What exploded?"
"I did," said Alex.
"Welcome to the ranks of the weird, Alexander Summers." Alex snorted back a laugh. "I thought... I heard Adam. Is he okay?"
"Am I okay?" Adam choked back a hysterical chuckle. "You have a hole in your stomach and you're asking if I'm okay"
"Yes. Are you okay?"
Adam's fists clenched. "I'm fine, Scott. I'm fine."
"It's not right that you're awake right now," said Alex. He pinched Scott's toes. "Can you feel this?"
"Yes. Ouch," Scott said. "Help me up. Where's Remy."
"No way in hell you're getting up," said Adam. "Or have you forgotten that Essex was jibbling about your insides scant minutes ago?"
Scott's forehead wrinkled. "'Scant minutes ago?' Alex, are you sure he's not a clone?"
"I'm thinking it's that or they tortured him by making him watch endless episodes of Gilmore Girls." Bracing an arm around Scott's back, he helped him sit.
Scott grimaced, breathing heavily through his nose. "Monsters. Is there nothing they won't stoop to?"
"I hate you both so very, very much," said Adam.
"We really shouldn't be moving you," Alex said. "I don't know what kind of damage the explosion put on your spine and moving you is only going to increase the bleeding."
"We don't have much choice," said Scott. "Just pack it with as many bandages as we can find and let's get out of here before the roof caves in. Are you sure Remy's all right?"
"He was breathing and coherent," said Adam. "I didn't check him for injuries but he didn't move around much."
Between himself and Alex, they used a two-hand seat carry to move Scott through the debris. The smoke had thinned considerably, a blessing considering Scott's weight and their own weariness. The walk back to Remy didn't feel as long. If only Scott wasn't leaving a line of blood behind them. If only Remy actually been there when they arrived.
"Oh fuck." Adam gulped.
"Are you sure this is the place?" asked Scott.
"You know I never get lost," said Adam. "I'm sure I left him here. Remy! Remy, get your ass back here! Remy!"
From a few yards to the east came Remy's voice. "Shush, pup. I can hear fine now." He limped into view, hugging his right arm to his chest. Clothes and boots hung from the crook of left arm. "Was getting bored waiting for you dopes. Figured I'd get us a few things." He straightened his uninjured arm, dropping the clothes on the floor. His expression twisted as his injured limb lost its support.
"What's wrong?" asked Scott, hearing his quick, pain inhalation.
"Broke my arm bad," said Remy. "I'd show you where the bone's sticking out but I'm afraid I'd crap my pants."
"You're not wearing pants," Alex said. Then he cocked his head to one side. "Wow, that was déja vu all over again."
"If I think about it, I'd guess my leg's broken too but I don't want to dwell on the negatives. Pants for everyone, shoes so we don't get cut. Sorry, Adam, you can't cover your skinny chest with anything."
With careful manoeuvring, Alex and Adam set Scott back on the floor. They dressed quickly, helping Remy with his clothing when it was obvious he couldn't without hurting himself. For once there was no teasing.
"We need blankets and more stuff to bandage Scott with," said Alex as he tied his shoelaces. "We have lots of stuff we can use as handholds for a stretcher but no cloth."
"That way is less damaged," Remy said, pointing behind him. "But the alarm's working, too. I heard it coming from far away. They'll be coming that way soon to see the damage." He turned to Adam. "You know a good way to get out?"
Adam pointed up to the hole thirty feet above them.
"I should stop expecting this to be easy."
The alarms rang closer.
"How are we going to deal with that?" Adam asked.
Scott started to get up, a hand pressed to his temple. "I can feel my blasts coming back. Maybe I can--"
"Let me take care of it," said Remy.
Remy looked around. "Grab stuff. Rocks, wood, metal, anything. I charge 'em; you all toss 'em."
"It's a plan," said Scott
Scott held out a hand. "Do you have enough energy to charge things?"
"Sure," said Remy blithely.
"You lie like a rug."
"I got more energy than you," Remy said. "Meantime, the troops are coming so we don't got any choices left, do we?"
"Threats about beatings. Snarking. Vulgar insults. I really, really feel like I'm home," Adam declared. "It's touching. I might cry."