[1] [2] [3] [4] [5] [6] [7] [8] [9] [10] [11] Ongoing...
 
Episode Three

'You'll have to do better than that,' Rachel shouted as telekinetically yanked a boulder off of the ground and used it to shield herself from Sam.

Seeing the obstruction, Sam swerved upwards, flying towards the ceiling of the arena and past the observation platform where the Doctor was watching proceedings.

He frowned.

'You don't approve, do you?' Xavier deduced.

'They're practising to use their powers in combat,' the Doctor said.

Below, Illyana teleported into view in front of Danielle. She thrust out her arm and stuck the disc strapped to Dani's chest.

A siren sounded.

'A confirmed kill,' Kurt said into the microphone. He was sitting near to the Doctor, monitoring the situation. 'Well done, Illyana. Dani, you're out of the game.'

With a wave to the observers above, Dani jogged out of the arena and headed for the showers.

'I thought you were trying to help these children,' the Doctor continued, 'not turn them into your own private army.'

'Is that what you think this is?' Xavier asked.

'It certainly looks that way,' the Doctor replied.

Xavier sighed.

'I have to know that these children can defend themselves,' he explained.

'This is your great solution,' the Doctor mocked. 'To meet violence with more violence. Forgive me if I'm somewhat less than impressed.'

'Doctor,' Kurt interjected, 'I don't think you understand.'

'Oh, I understand all too well,' the Doctor said. 'You're supposed to be the next stage in evolution, more advanced than human beings, but you're still no better than Neanderthals, solving all your problems with the strength of your fists. You should be trying to educate, trying to reach peaceful solutions not escalating the conflict.'

'Doctor,' Kurt said, 'when the professor found me I was about to be burned at the stake by an angry mob. I wish I could have reasoned with them, but do you think they would have listened to me. I mean, look at me, Doctor. Can you really blame them.'

Kurt stared defiantly up at the Doctor, his eyes blazing, his indigo fur bristling. He looked ever inch a demon given form and substance.

The Doctor was unrepentant.

'I blame anyone who uses force to solve problems,' he said. 'As if humanity didn't have enough weapons already, now they're breeding them.'

'Like it or not, sometimes force is the only answer,' Xavier insisted.

'I won't accept that,' the Doctor replied, then added softly, 'I can't.'

Xavier turned away.

'Kurt,' he said, 'call a halt to today's session, would you. And ask Rachel to meet us in the rose garden.'

* * *

'So, what did he say?'

Illyana was waiting for Sam outside of the changing rooms.

'You did ask him, didn't you?' she persisted.

'Didn't have to,' Sam replied. He was still drying his hair. 'The professor picked the thought right out of my mind.'

'And?'

'No.'

'No?' Illyana repeated. 'That was it? No?'

'No student is to leave the school grounds,' Sam explained, draping the towel across his shoulders, 'and certainly not for Christmas shopping.'

'But didn't you explain about Lila?'

'I did,' Sam assured her, 'and the professor is officially sympathetic.'

'But no?'

'No.'

'But that's not fair,' Illyana protested, pouting. 'We couldn't have known Lila was going to be here.'

'Hey, you don't need to convince me,' Sam said defensively.

'We can't not get her something,' Illyana continued. 'Not after she's come all that way.'

'It's not like we have a choice,' Sam pointed out.

Illyana chewed thoughtfully on her lower lip.

'Maybe we do,' she said at last.

* * *

The Doctor sat with his back to the ornamental fountain as he ran his thumb over the petals of a white rose.

'I used to have a rose garden,' he said. 'It may still exists somewhere, but I haven't been there in a very long time. I shudder to think what shape it's in.'

'Some things need a constant care and attention,' Xavier remarked. 'I've been building this up since I inherited the mansion from my parents. There are no quick fixes to gardening, just a lot of patience.'

'That probably explains why I'm no good at it,' the Doctor replied.

'Here comes Rachel,' Xavier said, looking passed the Doctor.

'You, er, wanted to see me, Professor,' Rachel said, nervously brushing a stray lock of red hair back over her ear. She was bundled in a jacket and scarf to protect her from the cold.

'Have a seat,' Xavier offered. Rachel sat down on a stone bench. 'The Doctor claims to be a time traveller. I thought it might be a benefit if he were to hear your story.'

'Do I have to?' Rachel asked uncomfortably.

'Would you prefer me to tell it?' Xavier asked. Rachel nodded. 'Very well, but you must correct me if I'm wrong.' He turned to the Doctor. 'Rachel believes that she comes from twenty years into our future.'

'Really?' The Doctor leaned forward with interest. 'Excuse me,' he said to Rachel, 'this is going to sound terribly forward of me, but do you mind if I take your hand?'

'Um, okay.'

Rachel ran one hand through her short red hair while extending the other, tentatively, towards the Doctor. He took her small hand in both of his.

She snatched her hand back sharply.

The Doctor arched and eyebrow. Rachel looked away.

'Your hands are cold,' she mumbled.

'This I know,' the Doctor agreed. 'I have a lower body temperature than that of a human. But that's not what startled you, is it?'

'Rachel?' Xavier prompted.

'It was like an electric shock,' Rachel admitted reluctantly, 'only not. It's hard to explain.'

'Let me make it easier for you,' the Doctor offered. 'Travellers in time tend to pick up energy, a bit like static electricity. You know that trick where you run a comb through your hair and then you can use the comb to pick up balloons? Or is that just me? Well, time travellers are like that comb. The more they travel in time, the more that energy builds up on them and when two time travellers meet…well, I suppose you could say that they short each other out. Like we just did.'

'So you're saying that Rachel has definitely travelled in time,' Xavier deduced.

'Undoubtedly,' the Doctor confirmed, 'and recently too. You haven't been here more than a couple of months, have you?'

Rachel shook her head.

'Any longer and the energy would have dissipated naturally,' the Doctor explained.

'Fascinating,' Xavier remarked.

'Isn't it just?' the Doctor replied, beaming. 'Now, you were going to tell me a story, weren't you? I'm sitting comfortably if you're ready to begin.'

Xavier folded his hands.

'Rachel comes from the future and the not too distant future at that,' he began. 'In that future it would appear that my dream of peaceful coexistence between humans and mutants has failed utterly. Mutants are treated as second-class citizens, herded into camps and penned behind wire fences.'

'And you were kept in one of these camps?' the Doctor asked Rachel.

She shook her head.

'No. I…'

'You don't have to answer, Rachel,' the professor told her.

'It's okay,' Rachel said. 'No, I wasn't kept in a camp. They used my telepathy to hunt down other mutants. I was nothing more than a mutant bloodhound.'

The Doctor made a steeple with his fingers.

'But how did they maintain order?' he asked. 'How do you control a population who all have parahuman abilities?'

'That's what the Sentinels were for,' Xavier explained.

'Sentinels,' the Doctor repeated. 'Like that robot that attacked us yesterday?'

'Not quite,' Rachel corrected.

'But that's just the prototype,' Xavier continued. 'Imagine what they might be like with another twenty years of development.'

'So you think this might be the beginning of the end,' the Doctor deduced.

'I hope and pray not.'

Xavier looked past the Doctor to the naked branches of a tree. A robin perched among them, singing cheerfully.

'At the moment, we're caught between two political forces,' Xavier said. 'Both are using the mutant issue to try and win votes and I'm throwing my support behind the one that supports us in the hope that Campbell's side - the one that's developing these Sentinels - never gets in to power.'

'In my experience,' the Doctor remarked, 'I find it best not to trust politicians.'

'I couldn't agree more,' Xavier replied, 'but what choice do I have?'

'Doctor!' Mina called. She was shivering, her breath misting in front of her, as she hurried across the garden with Doug in tow.

Professor Xavier rolled his chair over to meet her.

'You must be Mrs Harker,' he said, extending a hand in greeting. 'It's a pleasure to meet you. I'm Professor Charles Xavier. I trust Doug has already shown you my school.'

'Yes, it's a fascinating place, professor,' Mina replied. 'Please, call me Mina.'

'In that case, you must call me Charles. Won't you join us?'

Mina sat down.

'So,' Charles asked, 'has Doug been answering all of your questions.'

'Douglas has been most helpful,' Mina replied, 'haven't you?'

Doug looked away, blushing, and Rachel hid a smirk behind her hand.

'I am a little overwhelmed, though, I must admit,' Mina continued.

'How so?'

'Well, it's all these strange and wondrous abilities you seem to possess,' Mina explained. 'I find it a trifle difficult to credit the human form with possessing the capacity for such talents.'

'Even after all you've seen here?' Xavier asked.

'Oh, I'm well aware how easily the human senses can be deceived,' Mina said, 'and given the difficulty in reconciling what I see with what I know…'

'You think this is all smoke and mirrors,' Xavier concluded. 'That would be some trick.'

'I confess that the thought had crossed my mind,' Mina admitted, 'but equally I cannot see how such a deception might be accomplished.'

'So you've reached the boundary between experience and enlightenment,' the Doctor said, 'between what you know and what you've yet to learn.'

'Doctor,' Mina began, 'I know you mean well, but I would appreciate not being patronised.'

'Sorry,' said the Doctor, looking suitably chastened, 'but it's difficult for me, you see. From my point of view, all of these mysteries have been resolved, but from the perspective of the nineteenth century science you're used to - or even of the science of today - there's still so much left to learn. I envy you that, you know, your opportunity to discover all of these things for the first time.'

'So if there is an explanation,' Mina said, 'perhaps you wouldn't mind telling the ignorant humans what it is?'

'Sorry,' the Doctor apologised. 'Was I being patronising again?'

'Rather,' Mina confirmed.

'Right. I shall have to watch that.'

Mina cleared her throat.

'An explanation?' she prompted.

'Well, telepathy and telekinesis are easy,' the Doctor replied.

'So you're not going to tell us how it's done,' Mina replied.

'I can't give you all the answers,' the Doctor insisted. 'Some things you're just going to have to work out for yourself.'

('You're right,' Rachel whispered to Mina. 'He is patronising, isn't he?')

'Suffice it to say,' the Doctor continued, 'that the majority of the brains capabilities remain a mystery. There is so much in that head of yours that you don't appear to use.'

('He says the sweetest things, too,' Mina whispered back.)

'How difficult is it to accept that some of that capacity might hold the secret to unlocking innate extrasensory powers?' the Doctor asked. 'Many authorities of the twentieth century accepted telepathy as a theoretical possibility even if they were unable to prove its existence.

'And what of flight? Take a look at that robin over there. You're happy to accept that that can fly. How difficult is it to imagine the same mechanics applied to a human being. Granted it would take more substantial physiological changes than simply growing wings, but it's hardly outside the realm of plausibility, is it?'

'Okay, perhaps, just perhaps, I can accept that,' Mina said, folding her arms, 'but how exactly do you explain the ability to instantaneously transport oneself from one place to another.'

'Well, ah…'

'We prefer the term 'teleport',' Xavier interrupted, 'and I think I have an explanation. Kurt and Illyana, our resident teleporters, are able to open a doorway to a parallel dimension. Now, in such a dimension there is no reason to believe that the same physical laws would apply as can be found in our own. Thus, within that dimension, they are able to travel much faster, possibly even fold space and time.'

'You're positing the existence of a realm which breaks all known physical laws,' the Doctor mused, 'which makes all scientific debate of the issue pretty meaningless. But do carry on.'

'Thank you,' Xavier said, 'you're so kind. As I was saying, Kurt and Illyana are able to enter and exit this dimension at will. Kurt retains now memory of the experience, but Illyana, curiously, seems able to perceive this other realm. She's even given it a name: Limbo.'

'I remember,' Mina said, shuddering as she recalled her brief teleportation experience. 'It was a vision of hell itself if ever I have seen one.'

'It really is nothing to concern yourself with,' Xavier assured her. 'It's merely you minds way of rationalising an environment the human body doesn't have the senses to perceive properly. Limbo is perfectly harmless.'

'Possibly,' the Doctor murmured.

'You disagree?' Xavier asked.

'No, no,' the Doctor replied, 'just wondering.'

'Wondering what?'

'Wondering what Illyana makes of it all.'

'Illyana is prone to flights of fancy,' Xavier replied. 'You know what teenagers are like.'

'Not really, no,' the Doctor admitted. 'My experience is that I fail to understand them at all.'

'Regardless,' Xavier insisted, 'there is no evidence that this other realm is in any way dangerous.'

'And how precisely would you measure such evidence,' the Doctor queried, 'given that your 'other realm' defies all known physical laws?'

Xavier ignored him.

'Do you have any other questions I can help you with?' he asked Mina.

'Just one,' Mina responded. 'Am I the only one who thinks it's freezing out here?'

Xavier smiled.

'Perhaps it would be best if we all returned inside,' he agreed and he began propelling his chair back towards the main school building.

'Professor! Professor!'

A small brunette was pounding up the path towards them, a long blue scarf trailing behind her.

Xavier stopped and waited for her to reach him.

'Kitty,' he asked, 'what is it?'

She was bent double, hands on her thighs, gasping for air.

'Deep breaths,' the Doctor suggested. 'That tends to work best.'

'I just remembered,' she panted. 'I've got my dance lesson this afternoon.'

'And?' Xavier prompted.

'And you said we couldn't leave campus,' Kitty replied.

'That's correct,' Xavier confirmed, 'and I'll tell you what I told Sam earlier. I'm not prepared to put any of my charges at risk. Until this Sentinel problem has passed, I cannot allow you to put yourself in harm's way. You'll just have to phone Miss Hunter and tell her that you can't make it.'

'But, professor…'

'What if I were to accompany her?' the Doctor suggested. 'Mina and I are stuck here until my TARDIS completes its self-repair cycle and I'd like to help out if I may.'

'Well, I don't know,' Xavier said, scratching his chin.

'I haven't survived this long by taking any unnecessary risks,' the Doctor pointed out. 'I give you my word I'll bring her back safe and sound.'

'Well, Kitty, what do you say?' Xavier asked her.

Kitty practically jumped for joy.

* * *

A platform had been erected in the square the night before. Folding chairs had been arranged in rank and file in from of it and reporters now perched on them, huddled in heavy coats. An awning hung above them, to protect against the - thankfully non-existent - rain.

'Bloody stupid idea,' one reporter grumbled. 'Holding a press conference outside in December.'

'Campbell's not doing himself any favours with a stunt like this,' his colleague agreed.

To the west of the square a crowd had gathered. Many carried placards with slogans such as 'God Hates Muties!', 'Humans First!' and 'The only GOOD MUTANT is a DEAD MUTANT'. A blue line of policemen held them back.

There was a similar situation on the opposite side of the square, only here the banners read 'Stand up for Mutant Rights!', 'Mutants are people too' and 'Two Eyes GOOD, Three Eyes BETTER!'.

'Ugly looking lot, aren't they?' the first reporter said, glancing nervously from side to side.

'Makes me wonder if we wouldn't be better supporting one of the fringe candidates,' his colleague replied. 'You know, the ones with the sensible policies.'

At this point, Ashley Campbell himself climbed on to the stage. There was polite applause from those in seats accompanied by bigger roars from the crowds on either side of the square. Campbell blinked repeatedly as he was assailed by the light of dozens of cameras snapping away at him.

'Thank you all for coming,' Campbell shouted when things had calmed down somewhat.

He took a booklet from the lectern and held it up in his right hand.

'This is what I came to talk to you about,' he continued. 'My manifesto. My personal commitment to the people of the city. To you guys.'

'How long do you think this is going to go on for?' the reporter whispered.

'As I say, that's what I came to talk to you about,' Campbell said, 'but that's not really what you're interested in, is it? That's not what you want to hear. No, you want to hear about my stance on the mutant issue. Well, this is my position. I think mutants are tragic individuals, suffering a terrible curse. But, intentionally or otherwise, they are dangerous. And I won't allow a minority to pose a threat to the vast majority made up of perfectly innocent Americans!'

'And just how to you hope to do that,' someone shouted.

'Good question,' Campbell called back. 'A very good question. I hope that most mutants will give themselves up willingly, but, like many of you, I'm a realist, and I accept that there is going to be resistance. But I am prepared to meet that. And to show you how, allow me to introduce Sebastian Vaughan, head of Vaughan Industries and a close personal friend.'

'Let's not push it, Ashley,' Vaughan muttered as he hobbled on to the stage with the help of his cane.

'Ladies and gentlemen,' Ashley said, 'like many of you I am deeply concerned by the mutant question. As many of you no doubt already know, I don't have any children of my own, but every morning, as I'm driven from my apartment to my office, we drive past a school and I watch these young people running about and kicking a ball and just having a good time. And I think to myself just how easy it would be for a mutant walk through the wall into that school and hurt those kids. Or for a mutant to vaporise them with laser beams shot from his eyes. Or for a mutant to tear those little bodies apart with his teeth and his claws.

'And those thoughts disgust me, ladies and gentlemen.'

Vaughan paused and took a sip from a glass of water.

'Forgive me,' he continued. 'I don't normally go off like that.

'Now, I know that many of you have similar fears, but what can you do about it. Well, that's the difference between you and I, you see, because I, with the full resources of my company behind me, I am in a position to make a difference. My company has been working tirelessly to develop a solution to this problem and I am proud to announce that, at long last, we have succeeded.

'Ladies and gentlemen, may I present The Sentinel!'

And Vaughan tilted back his head and looked up into the sky.

And the reporters on their folding seats imitated him, squinting in the bright sunlight.

And the crowds around the square, both mutant lovers and haters, looked up and saw a tiny black shape slowly descending, getting closer and larger, and many began to shout and point.

And at the back of the press pack, Ororo and Marie both watched the figure. Alone among the crowd, they knew what it was, what it represented, and it filled them with dread.

The robot, its descent checked by rockets built into its boots, came to rest next to Vaughan.

For a long moment there was silence as the spectators took in the Sentinel's skull-like mask, the silver armour and the weapons that bristled across the seven-foot tall robot.

Campbell stepped forward.

'Ladies and gentlemen, may I present my administration's response to the mutant question,' he began, 'and humanity's defence against the mutant menace. I give you…The Sentinel.'

And the crowd went wild.

The police were overwhelmed as the protestors on either side of the square surged forward as if in response to some prearranged signal.

Then the fighting started.

* * *

'We should do something,' Campbell said as he watched in horror as the square erupted into violence.

Vaughan raised a hand.

'No, leave them be, Ashley,' he said. 'Let this serve as an example of exactly the kind of thing you want to prevent. Think of the opinion polls.'

'I guess,' Campbell said hesitantly. 'I just don't like seeing people get hurt, that's all.'

Vaughan laughed.

'And you call yourself a politician.'

* * *

Ororo and Marie crouched down between the rows of seats to avoid the improvised missiles being thrown overhead.

'This is crazy,' Marie said. She had a thick southern accent. 'We should do something.'

'I am,' Ororo said as her eyes clouded over with milky whiteness.

Dark clouds began to gather in the sky above them. Very dark clouds. Thunder cracked and rumbled, echoing through the streets.

And then the hail began to fall.

Great big golf ball sized chunks of ice hurtled from the sky. They tore to shreds the awning set up over the square.

After less than a minute of this form of pelting, the fight went out of the rioters and they ran for cover.

Soon Ororo and Marie were alone in the square, kneeling in a small patch of dray ground, hail falling on all sides.

Alone, that is, except for the Sentinel.

'Unregistered mutant life-signs detected,' it grated. 'Proceeding with termination.'

Ororo and Marie dove out of the way as the robot opened fire on their position.

Still lying on her back, Marie lifted up one of the folding chairs and used her superior strength to bend the metal frame, straightening it out until she had formed a javelin. Then she sat up and hurled the weapon in a single movement. The javelin passed through the Sentinel's chest, coming to a halt with its point protruding from the robot's back.

But still the Sentinel continued to advance.

'What does it take to kill this thing?' Marie asked in disbelief.

'Let us find out,' Ororo replied, her eyes clouding over again. There was a crack of thunder and a lightning bolt shot from the heavens and struck the end of Marie's javelin. Blue-white electric arcs crackled across the Sentinel's body and it juddered and shook as if it were having a seizure.

Then the shaking stopped and the Sentinel continued to advance.

'Any more bight ideas?' Marie asked, ''cos Ah think we're just making him mad.'

'Run,' Ororo shouted.

They ran.

As they left the square a black car pulled up in front of them. The rear door swung open.

'Get in,' the driver ordered.

'Well?' Marie asked Ororo.

Ororo looked from the car to the advancing Sentinel and then back to the car.

'In,' she said before diving inside.

* * *

Nathan Christopher Summers gurgled happily as his father made shadow puppets that danced across the wall.

'Why do they all look like bunny rabbits?' Madelyne asked. 'And deformed bunny rabbits at that?'

'If you can do better, be my guest,' Scott replied, looking up at his wife. She sat down next to him on the bed.

'Are you okay, honey?' she asked. 'It's just that you've so…'

'So?'

'I don't know,' Madelyne admitted sulkily. 'But whatever it is that's how you seem.'

Scott smiled.

'Guess I'll just have to take you word for it,' he said.

The smile faded.

'There,' Madelyne said, suddenly pouncing. 'You're doing it again.'

'Doing what again?' Scott asked, lifting Nathan up in his arms as the baby squirmed in his lap and tried to dive on to the floor.

Madelyne cocked her head to one side and concentrated.

'What?' Scott asked.

'I'm thinking,' Madelyne shot back petulantly.

'You look like you're in pain.'

Madelyne stuck her tongue out at him.

'For that, you get to hold the baby,' Scott said, handing over Nathan who was trying in vain to grab hold of his father's nose.

'You just don't appreciate how much sexier a man can look when he's holding a baby,' Madelyne said, gently rocking Nathan.

'Now that you come to mention it,' Scott mused, 'no, I don't.'

'I've seen the way all the girls here have been following you around,' Madelyne commented.

'They're just after Nathan,' Scott replied. 'I think we're making them all broody.'

'That's it,' Madelyne exclaimed. 'That's what you were doing. Brooding.'

'I was?' Scott asked.

'Yes.'

'Are you sure?'

'Yes.'

'Oh.'

'Oh? Is that all you've got to say?' Madelyne asked. 'I worry about you, you know.'

'There's nothing to worry about,' Scott insisted.

'Scott?'

'Yes?'

'Don't lie. You're not very good at it.'

'Ah.'

'Well?'

'You're not going to leave this alone, are you,' Scott deduced.

'No,' Madelyne agreed. After a long silence, she added, 'So?'

'I'm just…well, I guess I'm concerned, that's all,' Scott admitted. 'And it feels like I'm being cut out of the loop.'

'How so?' Madelyne asked.

'Oh, it's just something Kurt said,' Scott said, 'about me not being part of the team anymore.'

'Well, he's right, you're not,' Madelyne replied. 'But that was your choice, remember.'

'I know,' Scott agreed. 'After Jean died, well, I guess it put a lot of things in perspective. I realised that I didn't want to spend all of my life fighting. I wanted a future and it was a future I had to make for myself.'

'So what's changed?' Madelyne asked.

'Nothing,' Scott said. 'But just because I left doesn't mean I stopped caring. I still believe in the dream just as much as I ever did. I want to help, but they won't let me.'

'And is that such a bad thing?' Madelyne said. 'You've got a family now. Maybe we need you.'

'I know,' Scott replied. 'It's just that I worry about them. They were my family for a long time, too.'

'And we're lucky to still have them,' Madelyne agreed. 'If only for the times Kitty agrees to baby-sit.'

'Things have changed so much, though, since when I was in charge,' Scott continued. 'Back then mutants were an urban legend and we could operate with a degree of anonymity. Now everything's so public. It's a different world.'

'Then maybe it's a good thing different people are running the show,' Madelyne says. 'It's their world now.'

'Maybe you're right,' Scott conceded sceptically.

'I know I'm right,' Madelyne said. 'They know you want to help and if they need you they'll ask. Let's just be glad they don't feel the need.

'Please?'

* * *

Loud rock music thumped through the room Illyana shared with Kitty.

'Could we turn that down a bit?' Sam asked over the noise.

'You don't want to be overheard, do you?' Illyana said. She was lying on her bed, fingers drumming on the wall in time to the music.

'Well, no, I guess not,' Sam admitted.

'Then it stays on,' Illyana replied simply.

Rahne Sinclair, curled up on a beanbag, winced at an obscene lyric in the song.

'Should ye really be listening to such stuff?' she asked worriedly, her words laced with a Scots accent.

'Oh, don't be such a baby, Rahne,' Illyana protested. 'I doubt any of us here have anything to fear from a little ungodly music. Ooh scary.'

Rahne frowned, but said nothing.

'Leave her alone, Illyana,' Doug said. 'She's not done anything to you.'

'Yeah, sure,' Illyana muttered. 'Whatever.'

'So, why are we all here?' Dani was sitting on the swivel chair in front of Kitty's PC.

Sam cleared his throat nervously.

'Illyana and I want to run an idea by you,' he said.

'It's about Lila, isn't it?' Dani replied.

'How did you..?'

Doug laughed.

'Oh, come on, Sam,' he joked. 'It's not like you've talked about anything else since you learned she was coming.'

'Am I that bad?' Sam asked, going crimson to the tips of his ears.

'You betcha, farmboy,' Dani said.

'I think it's kind of sweet,' Rahne added.

'Well, I think…' Illyana began.

'Nobody cares, Illyana,' Doug said before she could finish.

She pulled a face at him.

'Anyway, Illyana and I think we've got a way to get us back into town,' Sam continued. 'If you're all up for it, that is.'

'Hang on a minute,' Doug interrupted, turning to Illyana. 'If you're not into Sam and Lila, why are you helping him out?'

'I though you didn't care, dictionary boy,' Illyana replied.

'Bite me.'

'You wish.'

'Children,' Dani scolded.

'Sorry, chief,' Doug said.

Illyana just yawned.

'Anyway, what's this idea of yours, Illyana?' Dani asked.

'I thought the professor told us we couldnae leave the grounds?' Rahne said, then added hurriedly, 'Sorry, I didnae meant to interrupt.'

'Yes, we grounded, Rahne,' Illyana responded with forced patience. 'That's why we're planning how to sneak out, doofus!'

'Hey!' Doug protested. 'That wasn't fair.'

'Oh, come on!'

Doug put an arm around Rahne.

'She didn’t mean it, Rahne,' he said.

'No, she didn't,' Dani agreed, locking eyes with Illyana, 'and she's going to apologise, right now.'

'Says who,' Illyana retorted.

'Says me,' Dani replied calmly.

'You don't scare me,' Illyana said.

Dani said nothing, but continued to match the other girl's stare.

'Oh, all right, I give up,' Illyana said finally, flinging her hands into the air. 'I'm sorry, Rahne. Happy now?'

'I just nae think t'is right we should disobey the professor's orders so,' Rahne said.

'I'm not entirely keen on the idea either, Rahne,' Dani told her, 'but let's hear them out first, okay?'

'You're so kind,' Illyana said.

'Just get on with it,' Doug said. 'You're boring me.'

'Bet you hear that all the time, huh, Dougie.'

'Illyana,' Dani warned.

'Okay, okay,' Illyana said. 'Well, it's easy, really. So easy I'm surprised none of you big brains thought of it. All I've got to do is 'port us to the station. We get a ride into Manhattan there.'

'It might work,' Dani mused.

'Of course it will,' Sam insisted.

'What if someone notices we're missing?' Rahne asked.

'We won't be gone that long,' Illyana told her, 'and it's not as if they keep us under twenty-four hour surveillance. They'll never even know we've been gone.'

'I don't know…' Dani said.

'Oh come on, chief,' Sam pleaded. 'Please. For me. For Lila.'

'It's not as if we're going to be in any danger,' Illyana added. 'I mean, we can all handle ourselves in a fight. Well, except for Doug over there.'

'I get by just fine,' Doug protested.

'Yeah, and when was the last time they let you into the Danger Room?' Illyana asked.

'Yeah, well I'll show you,' Doug retorted. 'Count me in.'

'What about you, Rahne?' Dani asked. 'You don't have to go if you don't want to. No one's going to force you into anything.'

Illyana opened her mouth to say something, but slammed it shut when Dani turned her gaze on her.

'I'll go,' Rahne said quietly. 'We're a team and that means we stick together, right?'

'Good girl,' Doug enthused.

'Rahne's got a point,' Dani said. 'If we're going to do this we do it as a group and we watch each other's backs. And if I don't like anything - anything at all - we come straight back here. Got it?'

The other four nodded.

'Okay,' Dani said with a smile, 'so when do we start?'

 

 
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