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

A white feather fluttered down from the sky. Warm air rising from the city's streets buoyed it up to some degree, but gravity was patient and untiring and, eventually, the feather landed. It came to a stop in the lap of a little girl called Raquel who was sitting on the steps outside her apartment building. She was watching a snowball fight in the street between some of the girls who lived in her neighbourhood. Raquel knew better than to ask if she could join in. She was short and plump (not fat, her mother insisted) and did not wear the right sort of clothes to be admitted to their gang. So Raquel sat on the step and watched them and was surprised when the feather landed in her lap because nothing interesting ever happened to her.

She looked up and her jaw dropped.

Silhouetted against the watery light of the winter sun was a man, a man with wings that beat slowly as she watched.

'Mommy, Mommy,' Raquel called out, 'come see this.'

'What is it, sweetie?' Raquel's mother asked. She had her back to the street as she locked the front door.

'There's an angel, Mommy,' Raquel insisted, pointing with one mittened hand. 'A real live angel.'

'I don't see anything,' Raquel's mother said, squinting in the light. 'You're not making up stories again, are you?'

'No, I'm not,' Raquel replied, hurt. She strained to see her angel, but he was gone. Back up to heaven, Raquel assumed.

'There was an angel,' Raquel said, pouting.

'If you say so, sweetie,' Raquel's mother sighed.

Then she took Raquel's hand in hers and walked the little girl to the car.

* * *

Raquel was wrong. Her angel had retreated heavenward, but he was a long way from heaven. Warren Worthington III beat his wings forcefully and threw himself into a loop-the-loop above the clouds and away from prying eyes. He chided himself for flying where people could see him, but the girl had looked so alone and Warren knew what that could be like.

He banked right and began heading home. His usually revelled in any opportunity to fly, but the incident - and the memories it had given rise to - had tainted his pleasure. It was time to get back to work. He had an office on the top floor of the building, as close to the sky as possible. The windows were open, just the way he had left them. Folding his wings so that he could fit through the gap, he fell gently into the room, his bare feet alighting on soft carpet.

He was not alone.

'How did you get in here?' he demanded.

He spread his wings wide. No point in hiding what he was now.

'I told your assistant that I was an old friend,' the taller of the two intruders replied as he got up from his seat. 'Long time no see, Warren.'

'Scott?'

Warren crossed the room in a couple of strides and threw his arms around Scott Summers. Now that he had time to think, Warren was amazed that he had not recognised his friend straight away. Scott squirmed, uncomfortable with the intimacy, and Warren released him.

'How's Maddy?' Warren asked. 'And Nathan?'

'They're fine,' Scott assured him, but Warren picked up on the hesitancy in his voice.

'Something you want to talk about?' he pried.

Scott shook his head and Warren did not press the issue. He had got involved in Scott's love life once before and that had not ended well for either of them.

'If you two have finished catching up,' the other visitor growled, 'maybe we can get down to business.'

Warren turned his attention to the other man and his expression hardened.

'Logan,' he said coldly. 'What's he doing here.'

'Helping me,' Scott said, interposing himself between the two men.

Warren glared at him.

'I know Xavier has a soft spot for that psycho,' he said, 'but I thought you had standards, Scott.'

'Anytime you wanna make something of it, bird-boy,' Logan snarled.

'Enough!' Scott snapped. 'We need to be together on this.'

'No way, Scott,' Warren replied. 'I'm sorry, but I quit the school because Xavier let him in and I don't feel any differently now.'

'At least hear me out,' Scott pleaded. 'For old times' sake.'

Warren scowled.

'Fine. Make yourselves at home.' He picked up a towel from the back of a chair and headed towards the en-suite facilities. 'I'm taking a shower. All of a sudden I feel unclean.'

* * *

'So, do we have a plan at all?' Kitty asked as the struggled through the busy street. Well, she struggled. The Doctor seemed to flow effortlessly through the crowds of last-minute shoppers, but whatever gaps he found had closed up by the time Kitty got there.

The Doctor spun to face her, walking backwards as fast as he had been walking forwards and yet still not upsetting the crowds. The Santa hat on his head looked ready to fall off, however. He had brought them both hats from a street vendor, but Kitty had refused to wear hers, stuffing it instead in her pocket. The Doctor's crestfallen look had almost swayed her, but she could be stubborn when she wanted to be.

'Of course we have a plan,' the Doctor insisted, looking hurt. 'We find out where your friends are being held and we rescue them.'

Kitty sighed. 'And how are we going to do that?'

'Ah, yes.' The Doctor's face crumpled. Then he brightened again. 'Still, one step at a time and all that.'

Kitty shook her head. The Doctor's omnipresent enthusiasm was great in small doses, but it started to wear thin after a while.

'What we need,' the Doctor was saying, 'is to find one of those Sentinels. Then we can follow it home.'

He beamed, apparently pleased with his logic.

'And what do we do when the Sentinel tries to kill us?' Kitty asked pointedly.

The Doctor pouted. 'It's just an idea…'

'Well, I guess it is better than anything I can come up with,' Kitty consoled him. 'So where do we find a Sentinel?'

'That's the spirit,' the Doctor said. 'Now, the Sentinels are supposed to be made by Vaughan Industries so that seems like a good place to start. All we need now is an address.'

* * *

Twenty minutes later, the Doctor was sitting in front of a terminal in an Internet café, his enthusiasm all but evaporated.

'An address, I said. Just one.'

Perched on the desk, Kitty tilted her head so that she could look at the list of names scrolling up the screen. Vaughan Industries, it turned out, was not a small company. Their own portfolio of premises was impressive enough, but when you started taking into account their subsidiaries and their suppliers…well, the list was very long indeed.

'Can't we narrow it down a bit?' Kitty asked. 'Okay, a lot?'

'Given time,' the Doctor muttered, 'and if we had a better idea of what we were looking for. Somehow I doubt a Google search for 'mutant-killing robot' will help us much.'

'Point,' Kitty conceded. 'So I guess we just start paying each of these places a visit until we hit on the right one.'

'But that would take too long,' the Doctor complained. 'Every minute we waste is another minute these people can do who-knows-what to your friends. No, there must be an easier way. There just has to be.'

'It doesn't help that Sebastian Vaughan is such a recluse,' Kitty added, taking the mouse from the Doctor and following a couple of links. 'No one had seen him in public for months prior to this election campaign.'

'That's it!'

The Doctor jumped to his feet, tipping his chair over in the process. Kitty's face burned as the other people in the café turned to stare at them. The Doctor carried on oblivious.

'Vaughan's been appearing with…what's his name, what's his name…'

'Campbell,' Kitty supplied. 'Ashley Campbell.'

'Ashley Campbell. That's it!' the Doctor crowed triumphantly. 'And I'll wager he has only one campaign headquarters. What say we pay Mr Campbell a little visit, hm?'

Satisfied, the Doctor sat back down. Unfortunately, the chair was no longer where he had left it.

* * *

Warren winced as he tightened the straps that bound his folded wings behind his back. Scott was watching him carefully, wanting to step in, but holding himself back. He had seen Warren do this before and knew how important it was to him.

Logan had not.

'What's the torture device for?' he asked around his cigar. 'You got a masochistic streak we should know about?'

Warren had asked Logan not to smoke. Logan had ignored him. For one happy moment, Warren had considered having security hurl Logan out of the window, but no ordinary security person was going to be able to make Logan do anything he did not want to. Warren might hate the guy, but he knew better than to underestimate his enemies. It was the kind of thinking his father had instilled in him in preparation for him inheriting his company.

An inheritance that came way too early, Warren mused. It was odd. H and his father had fought often when he was alive and Warren had, loudly, wished his father dead on many occasions. Now that he was gone, however, Warren felt that a piece of himself had been buried along with him.

He dragged his attention back to Logan's question.

'The straps mean I can wear a jacket over my wings,' he explained.

They had been his father's idea. The world could not know that Warren Worthington II's son was a mutant. No one ever came out and said it, but Warren knew that his father's concern had more to do with protecting his own reputation than protecting his son from an angry, bigoted mob. So the best - or rather, the most expensive - doctors were called in to examine the younger Worthington's wings and come up with a way to hide them. And on some days, Warren was even able to convince himself that the illusion was worth the pain.

He finished adjusting the straps and started to shrug his way, cautiously, into a fresh silk shirt.

'Hurts, does it?' Logan asked.

'Like you wouldn't believe,' Warren snapped back.

'I can believe quite a lot,' Logan replied, 'and I'm guessing a blue blood like you feels pain that little bit more easily than the rest of us.'

The temperature in the room fell by several degrees.

'Logan,' Scott warned. But he was watching Warren, keeping an eye on the fury threatening to burst out of his old friend at any moment.

'I have had to put up with this every day for since I turned thirteen and my wings became too large to conceal by normal means,' Warren said, his voice so level it was frightening. 'Pain and I go back a very long way.'

Scott looked from Logan to Warren and back again. Then he took a step back and sat down.

'I'll just sit this one out,' he said. 'Leave you two to settle your differences in your own way.'

'I thought we needed his help?' Logan said to Scott, not taking his eyes from Warren.

'I do,' Scott agreed casually, 'but, if I have to, I can probably get by without yours.'

There was a beat while Scott's words sank in.

'You really think feathers can take me?' Logan asked.

Scott folded his arms and smiled.

'You're crazy,' Logan growled. 'Both of you.'

But he backed down and, just like that, the tension seeped away through the carpet.

'Got anything to drink around here?' he muttered.

'There's mineral water in the fridge.' Logan scowled. 'And there's a bottle of single malt in the cabinet for visitors. Help yourself.'

Logan retrieved the bottle and a glass and poured himself a generous measure. He swirled the liquid around the glass.

'What I don't get,' he said, 'is why you bother? Seems like there's bird in your brain as well as the rest of you.'

'People don't react kindly to mutants,' Warren replied, knotting his tie, 'or hadn't you noticed?'

'Guess I asked for that,' Logan conceded, downing his whiskey in one go, 'but what I meant was, why don't you just run your empire from up here. You've got e-mail and phone. If you don't meet anyone face to face they'll never know what you are.'

Warren retrieved his suit jacket.

'It's not as simple as that,' he explained. 'Yes, I could run my firm without ever leaving this room, but I wouldn't be running it well. It's not so much a case of face-to-face dealings being necessary as being preferable. I don't just want to be a businessman, I want to be a good businessman, the sort of businessman my father wanted me to be, and to do that I guess I have to wear the harness.'

Logan's eyes narrowed as he studied the other man.

'Admiring my sartorial taste?' Warren asked, straightening his cuffs. 'I could recommend a good tailor. He'll make even you look presentable.'

'Just trying to work out whether I've underestimated you, Worthington,' Logan admitted.

'I might take that as a compliment,' Warren replied, 'if I actually cared what you thought.' He turned to Scott. 'Now, what was it you wanted my help with?'

'You'll have seen it on the news,' Scott explained. 'Five of the students were kidnapped yesterday.'

'I saw,' Warren said. 'I assume Xavier's mounting a rescue.'

'Nope,' Logan responded. 'Charley's confined everyone to barracks.'

'Except you,' Warren commented.

'I quit the team,' Scott said. 'I'm a free agent.'

'Who'd have thought you'd be the one to betray Xavier,' Warren mused.

'He's not always right,' Scott said simply. 'We found that out the hard way.'

Warren nodded sombrely.

'Hey,' Logan interrupted, 'is there something I'm missing here?'

'Later,' Scott told him.

'What can I do to help?' Warren asked. 'Juts tell me you don't want us to charge in there like the three musketeers. I'm too recognisable a figure.'

'I understand, Warren,' Scott said. 'I know you hate getting caught up in mutant affairs, but I wouldn't have come to you if it wasn't important.'

'Don't worry about it, Scott,' Warren assured him. 'Those kids are in danger. That kind of outweighs my selfish desire to keep out of politics.'

'We need you help to find out where they're being held,' Scott explained. 'Logan and I can take it from there.'

'That's your cunning plan?' Logan spat out. 'How's flyboy supposed to know where to find them? Is he a closet anti-mutant sympathiser or something.'

Warren smiled thinly.

'Something like that,' he said. 'Vaughan Industries is a large company, but even they can't do everything. The contract out work to various other businesses, buy in parts from other suppliers, that sort of thing.'

'And I'm guessing that one of those other businesses is yours,' Scott said.

'More than likely,' Warren admitted.

'And this helps us how?' Logan demanded.

'If you want to build mutant-hunting robots and hold mutants prisoner then you're going to need some pretty specialised equipment,' Warren replied, 'some of which my organisation can supply. And somewhere there's going to be a paper trail we can follow to find out where it's being delivered.'

'And that will be where the kids are,' Scott concluded.

'More than likely,' Warren agreed. He checked his watch. 'Listen, I've got to go to a meeting. I'll get some of my people to look into this for you - quietly - and get back to you as soon as I can. In the meantime, make yourselves at home.'

'Thanks, Warren,' Scott said, 'I really appreciate this.'

Warren turned to leave.

'Hey, wings,' Logan called as Warren put his hand on the door, 'are you telling me you supplied the parts that helped build those Sentinel things.'

'Yes,' Warren said, not looking back.

'So you're helping to hunt down your own kind,' Logan continued, twisting the knife. 'Doesn't that make you just as bad as Vaughan?'

'It was a business arrangement,' Warren snapped. 'A good one. And I'm a good businessman.'

'You're a mutant,' Logan pointed out.

'I'm a human being,' Warren shot back as he stormed out of the office.

'Could have fooled me,' Logan muttered as the door slammed shut.

* * *

'I don't know whether to be horrified or delighted,' the Doctor confessed.

'How do you mean?' Kitty asked.

'Well, with all these people around it should be easy for us to move about unnoticed,' the Doctor explained, 'but if all of them really are supporters of Campbell's politics…'

'Then we've already lost,' Kitty concluded.

The Doctor shook his head.

'Don't think like that,' he admonished her. 'We're here to find your friends, not engage in a political debate. Come on.'

He dived into the throng and Kitty followed in his wake.

The room was decked out like a child's birthday party, with ribbons and banners and rosettes all proclaiming Campbell's greatness. It turned Kitty's stomach.

'Hello dear,' a blue-rinsed woman said, grabbing her by the arm. Her smile was friendly, but her grip was like a vice.

'Have you signed the book?' she asked.

'Book?' Kitty repeated, searching for the Doctor out of the corner of her eye.

'Here,' the woman replied, shoving an A4 book into Kitty's hands. It's to show your intention to vote for Ashley Campbell. The woman handed her a pen. 'Well, go on then.'

Seeing no escape, Kitty hastily scrawled something unintelligible at the bottom of the page. The woman beamed and pinned a button to Kitty's jacket before moving on to terrorise some other poor unfortunate.

'Making new friends,' the Doctor asked, his Santa hat at a jaunty angle.

'Where have you been,' Kitty demanded hotly.

The Doctor looked abashed.

'Around,' he said.

'Can we go now,' Kitty pleaded.

'Go?' The Doctor repeated. 'But it's just starting to get interesting. Look over there.'

Kitty followed the line of his finger. Standing like a statue in the corner was a Sentinel.

'What if it notices us?' Kitty hissed to the Doctor.

'It's deactivated,' the Doctor assured her. 'I think. Now, I'm just going to pop over there and take a quick look at it. Why don't you mingle and see what you can find out by from the people here.'

'Doctor,' Kitty replied, 'I can't stand the people here. Why don't I go and look at the robot while you talk to them?'

The Doctor looked sceptical for a moment then said, 'All right then,' before disappearing back into the crowd.

Suppressing a shudder, Kitty went to have a closer look at the Sentinel.

* * *

'So, what's the story?' Logan asked. He was sprawled in one of the chairs enjoying the company of the bottle of whiskey.

'I'm sorry?' Scott replied. He was admiring the view from the windows, one hand holding a small, unopened bottle of mineral water.

'Just because I act like a thug doesn't mean I'm an idiot, Summers,' Logan told him. 'You and Worthington know something about Xavier so spill it.'

'He's fallible,' Scott said simply.

Logan grunted.

'Like that's news,' he said. 'No one's perfect, but he's still,' - he made air-quotes with his fingers - 'the most powerful mutant mind on the planet.'

'No,' Scott said. 'He isn't.'

Logan raised an eyebrow.

'Thank about it,' Scott continued. 'If he's that powerful, why didn't he stop us leaving the mansion and disobeying his orders? He must have known what we were planning, right?'

'That's easy,' Logan replied, filling his glass. 'Charley's got moral scruples. He doesn't play with people's heads.'

'Are you so sure of that?' Scott asked. 'You think he wouldn't if he thought the ends justified the means? How do you think he manages to keep control of all those mutants and all those conflicting personalities?'

'You're suggesting he brainwashes everyone?' Logan laughed, but it sounded hollow.

'Why do you think he doesn't just make everyone think that mutants and humans should live in harmony?' Scott persisted. 'Because it's morally wrong or because it's physically impossible?'

'That's a pretty wild story,' Logan said. 'Where do you get your ideas?'

'Xavier told me,' Scott replied. He paused. 'You sure you really want to hear all this?'

Logan shrugged. 'It's not like I'm going anywhere.'

Scott sat down on the edge of the desk.

'I was just a kid back when I first met the professor,' Scott began. 'My parents had been killed in a plane crash. There was only one parachute and…' He paused, opened the bottle of mineral water and took a sip. 'Anyway, I ended up bounced from orphanage to foster care and back again. The last guy I ended up with found out I was a mutant and started seeing dollar signs. He figured I could help him and his buddies break into a bank vault and I was too scared of him to fight back. If it hadn't been for the professor…well, I don't like to think of where I might have ended up.'

He took another drink.

'Go on,' Logan prompted.

'Sorry,' Scott said. 'There aren't many people I've told this story to. I don't even know why I'm telling you to be honest.'

'Look, Summers…Scott,' Logan said, 'if this is too painful for you then that's okay. I don't need to hear this.'

'No, it's okay,' Scott replied. 'It was a long time ago. Seems like another lifetime.

'So, the professor found me and took me back to his school and together we set about gathering others like me. Warren, Bobby and Hank. And Jean. Even amongst the misfits, I never seemed to fit in. The others would flirt and joke around, but I'd always be the one sitting in the corner, watching from a distance. I used to think it was me, that there was something in the way I was that kept me separate, but now I wonder if the professor had always planned it that way. When he was away from the school, it seemed only natural that I should run things in his absence and that only distanced me from the others even more.

'He was grooming me, you see. Xavier wanted me to take over from him when he was gone.'

'I'm still having trouble believing Charley's that manipulative,' Logan confessed.

'I would too,' Scott agreed, 'if he hadn't told me himself.

'The professor has a way of making us all feel as if we owe him something. Maybe that's because we all do. How many of our lives would really have been better if the professor hadn't got involved. How did he find you?'

'I was conscripted into the Canadian military,' Logan replied. 'They saw me as a weapon they could use. Charley gave me a way out.'

'And conscripted you into his army instead,' Scott said. 'Interesting, isn't it?'

Logan scowled.

'Don't take it the wrong way,' Scott continued. 'I honestly believe that the professor works from the best of motives. I even agree with most of his actions. Let me explain.

'About the same time the professor recruited you, he recruited Kurt and Ororo and Peter. We, his original students, had all graduated by then and were only staying at the school as a favour to the professor. But we were getting restless and, with the influx of new blood, we felt we had the chance to leave. Only Xavier didn't want to let me go. So he invited me into his office for a chat and told me everything.

'Xavier has a dream. He wants a world where mutants and humans can live in harmony. But he's not stupid, he knows how difficult that's going to be to achieve, so he cheats. He will do whatever it takes to achieve his aim. It's an obsession to him, but I'm not sure that's a bad thing. Someone should be fighting for mutant rights and if not the professor then who?'

'So he brainwashes us into becoming good little soldiers?' Logan remarked.

'Not quite,' Scott said. 'The professor is supposed to be the most powerful mutant mind on the planet. It's a rumour he started himself. It's a con, to make us think that, no matter how hopeless the mission sounds, we might have a fighting chance. We stop second guessing him. So no, he doesn't brainwash us, but he does use his powers to nudge us in the right direction.'

'What he believes is the right direction,' Logan corrected. 'What I want to know is why didn't he force you to stay, rather than open up to you like that. I mean, I get that he's not as powerful as all that, but he can still alter one mind, can't he?'

'Yes, he can,' Scott agreed, 'but there was a problem. Jean.'

'Jeannie?'

'She wanted me to leave with her,' Scott explained, 'and, entirely involuntarily, she was using her own psychic powers to influence my decision.'

'So they cancelled each other out,' Logan deduced.

'They cancelled each other out,' Scott confirmed. 'Jean had always been a problem for the professor. He had helped her develop her gifts as a small child so she was an obvious choice for his school when she grew older. Unfortunately for the professor, no one could have predicted that, out of all the men at the school, she would be attracted to the solitary misfit.'

'You.'

'Me. She and Warren had a thing going for a while, but she kept coming back to me.'

'So that explains the tension between you and Worthington,' Logan said. 'You got the girl he was after. I know what that feels like.'

'That's…part of it,' Scott conceded. 'The point is that Jean was luring me away from the school and so was a threat to the professor so, with nothing left to lose, he put all his cards on the table to see how I would react.'

'So you turned your back on Jeannie and stayed with the professor,' Logan said. 'I've said it before - you're a dick.'

'Possibly,' Scott conceded with a wry smile, 'but I really did believe in the professor's dream back then. I still do. And it's important that there are people willing to fight for it.'

'But if you feel that way,' Logan pointed out, 'then why did you quit?'

'Because Jean died,' Scott replied, 'and I hold Xavier responsible.'

* * *

'So tell me,' the Doctor began, 'why should I vote for you?'

'Well, um…' The young man sitting behind the desk tried not to be too obvious about looking around for help as the stranger in fancy dress loomed over him.

'Come on,' the Doctor encouraged. 'Win me over to your point of view.'

'Well, er, have you read our manifesto?' the young man, whose name was Tim, suggested, handing the Doctor a booklet. The Doctor flicked through it and handed it back.

'There's a typo on page three,' he said. 'Now, what I'm really interested in is your stance on the mutant issue.'

'My what on the what?' Tim asked feebly. Why oh why couldn't someone come and bail him out?

The Doctor sighed and pressed his fingertips down on the table between himself and Tim.

'You're against mutants, am I right?' he said patiently.

'Well, sure I am,' Tim agreed. 'It isn't right. They're dangerous and they need to be locked up. The shouldn't just come into our lives and steal our jobs and our women.'

Tim knew what that was like. He had been a mechanic, back in his home town. That was before Gavin had waltzed into town. Gavin did not outwardly look like a mutant, but he could move really fast. When Jeff, the guy who ran the garage where Tim worked, saw how fast Gavin could get the job down, he realised that he didn't need his less productive staff any more. Staff like Tim.

Of course, Tim might have been willing to let that one go. He was good at his job - at least he thought he was - and he was confident he could find work somewhere else with people who were prepared to appreciate him. But that was before he saw Clara in Gavin's arms. Tim had been casing Clara since high school. She was, to him, everything a woman should be, except for the fact that she never spared him a second glance. But she was giving Gavin more than just a glance. A whole lot more. It was disgusting, that's what it was, and something snapped inside Tim.

He picked a fight with Gavin that night at the bar, just as soon as he had enough drinks to bolster his courage. The freak didn't even bother to use his speed to defend himself, like he figured Tim wasn't worth the effort. Well, Tim had shown him. Gavin work up the next morning in a hospital bed. Tim awoke in a police cell, which just went to show how skewed the laws in this country were and why they needed people like Ashley Campbell.

'Yes, quite,' the Doctor was saying, 'but how do you intend to go about it?'

'Like I said,' Tim said. 'We find them and we lock them up. I don't mean like a prison, but they need to be kept with their own kind, away from the rest of us. They can have their own schools and bars and bowling alleys, but they just won't be the ones we go to, like they won't be welcome in ours.'

'Yes, that all sounds very…noble,' the Doctor agreed, 'but how are you going to separate out the mutants. I mean, I've heard that some of them look just like us.'

'That's true,' Tim spat.

'Isn't it just,' the Doctor replied. He leaned closer and then said in a whisper, 'How do you know I'm not one, hm?'

Tim scooted back as if bitten and the Doctor laughed.

'That's not funny,' Tim snapped.

The Doctor stopped laughing and his face darkened.

'No,' he said sombrely, 'I don't suppose it is.'

* * *

Warren was sleepwalking his way through the meeting and he knew it. After passionately defending the importance of face-to-face dealings to Logan, he was now giving them far less attention than they deserved. But Warren was troubled and, no matter how hard he tried, he could not clear his head.

Logan had accused him of being a traitor to his own species and the truth was that Warren was not sure he was so very wrong.

He had not asked to be a mutant, had not asked to grow those great white wings behind his shoulder blades. All he wanted, all he had ever wanted, was to live a normal life. That had been his dream even before his wings had sprouted, when he had watched the local kids kicking a ball about in the street. His parents did not want him associating with people like that they said. He was not one of them. He was different, special. He was meant for better things. The words had sounded hollow to his six year-old ears. Now at least he could appreciate the irony. He wondered if his parents had reflected on their statements when he started growing feathers. He was certainly different now, but was he really better?

Warren drew the meeting to a close. They had, at least, reached an agreement on some of the items under discussion and Warren promised to arrange a meeting for next week to settle the rest. Having escaped, Warren went in search of Ricky Seagle, to whom he had assigned the task of tracking down Sebastian Vaughan.

'Any luck?' Warren asked as he stuck his head around the door of Ryan's office.

'Have you any idea how much data I had to trawl through to find this for you?' Ryan complained, spinning round in his swivel chair.

'Sorry,' Warren apologised. Ryan had originally wanted to delegate the task to one of his admin people, but Warren had insisted he do it himself. He wanted as few people as possible caught up in this.

'Hey, you're the boss,' Ryan conceded. 'Anyway, I think I've found the place your looking for.'

He reached behind him and scooped a sheet of paper from the printer. Then taking a biro from behind his ear, he circled an address.

'You sure about this?' Warren asked.

'Well, that's where all the parts are going,' Ryan said. 'Unless Vaughan's having everything moved elsewhere once it arrives…'

'Thanks for this, Ryan,' Warren said.

He turned to leave, but paused in the doorway.

'Something else?' Ryan asked.

'Do you think we should be doing business with him?' Warren asked. 'Vaughan I mean.'

'Developing a sense of ethics finally, are we?' Ryan joked.

Warren scowled.

'Sorry,' Ryan said. 'Honestly? In an ideal world, I wouldn't want to have anything to do with Sebastian Vaughan. However, I want to be able to support my wife and kids more.'

Warren nodded thoughtfully.

'Thanks for your help,' he said.

'Hey, anytime,' Ryan told him. 'Just remember this next time you're handing out a raise.'

The elevator doors slid shut softly behind Warren and he barely noticed the slightly lurch as it began its speedy assent. He was focussed on the paper in his hands. All he had to do was hand it over and that would be the end of it. He could tell himself that he had done his bit to help while still keeping resolutely to the sidelines. He could have his cake and eat it too. But wasn't that what Xavier had tried to do?

He closes his eyes and he is back on top of that butte in New Mexico, no one but him and Jean Grey for miles. Even across the years his mind can still bring the scent of her perfume wafting back to him. He recalls the softness of her skin as he took her hands in his and confessed his love to her. Oh sure, so he'd done that sort of thing before, but this time it was different. This time he was sure that his outpouring of raw emotion would win her over at long last.

And slowly, gently, Jean had stripped away the lies and allowed him to see clearly and the ambrosia of love had turned to ash in Warren's mouth as he realised the magnitude of the betrayal.

He stepped out of the elevator and into his office. Both Scott and Logan got up when they saw him.

'Did you get it?' Scott asked.

Warren handed him the paper.

'Now all we have to do is get inside,' Logan muttered.

Warren cleared his throat.

'Leave that to me,' he said. 'I'm coming with you.'

* * *

Kitty shivered. The last time she had seen one of those robots she had been too busy to be frightened. She had been too preoccupied with the whole business of staying alive to really consider what was going on. This Sentinel stood completely immobile, no more threatening than a suit of armour in a museum, yet just the sight of it was twisting Kitty's stomach in knots. No, not the sight of it, Kitty decided, though with the skull-shaped face it was scary enough. Rather, it was what it represented. This machine had been created to kill mutants. It served no other purpose. And that meant that somewhere out there were people who felt that building machines for the sole-purpose of killing people, people like Kitty, was a good idea.

Kitty glanced over her shoulder, glancing suspiciously at the people behind her. All these people wanted to vote for Ashley Campbell, wanted to vote in a man who would unleash more of these…these things upon her and her kind. And for what? Kitty had never hurt anybody…well, excluding those people whose toes she had stepped on in dance class. She wished she were back at the school, sitting in her room and sharing a joke with Illyana. But Illyana would not be there and that thought gave her the strength to continue.

She turned her attention back to the Sentinel. She was not entirely sure what she was looking for. The Doctor seemed to think that they could use the Sentinel to find out where her friends were being held, but she doubted it kept an address book. Maybe there was a manufacturer's mark on it somewhere or maybe just a stamp saying 'Made in Taiwan'. She leaned in closer for a better look, resting a hand against the Sentinel's casing. She had expected it to be cool and metallic, but instead it felt warm, like plastic. And it was humming. She looked up and saw red lights glowing from deep within the robots eye sockets.

'Doctor,' she called out warily.

'Mutant life-form detected,' the Sentinel announced in its hollow monotone. 'Proceeding with containment.'

'Doctor!' Kitty screamed.

The Doctor whirled were he stood and took in Kitty's plight in an instant.

'Kitty, get down!' he shouted.

Kitty did not get down. If she did so that would put the Doctor in the thing's line of fire so instead she dived forward, straight at it. She recalled disorientating the other Sentinel at the Stock Exchange so she phased as she fell, passing right through the robot. She could hear the electronics pop and crackle as she did so, saw the sparks fly as the Sentinel froze in place.

For a moment so did everyone else.

Then the panic started.

Cries of 'mutant' and 'freak' echoed about the room. Some brave souls started towards Kitty, intending to deal with her themselves, but they were swept away by the majority of people sweeping towards the exits. Still phased, Kitty hurried ghost-like though the crowd. Several people screamed as she walked through them, but Kitty did not care. She only stopped when she reached the Doctor.

'I thought you said it was deactivated?' Kitty demanded, struggling to be heard over the din.

'So I made a slight miscalculation,' the Doctor protested. 'It happens. Now, we'd better get out of here while we still can. That robot isn't going to stay dormant for very long.'

'Take a deep breath and hold on to me,' Kitty told him, offering him her hand.

The Doctor blinked, then did as he was told.

'Mutant threat-level revised in response to hostile action,' the Sentinel said as it began to move again. Adjusting protocols accordingly.'

Kitty did not wait to find out what that meant. Instead, she ran straight at the wall, dragging the Doctor behind her. She felt a slight pressure as she approached the wall and then she was through and in the street outside.

She released the Doctor's hand. He was beaming from ear to ear.

'That was incredible,' he said. 'And that sensation as we passed through the wall? Not unlike static electricity.' A thought struck him and his hands shot to his head. 'My hair's not standing on end is it?'

There was a rumbling behind them and the wall of the building exploded outwards, forcing them to dive for cover.

The Sentinel strode through the rubble.

'Proceeding with termination,' it announced.

 

 
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