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

The Sentinel raised its right arm. Its hand was open and in the palm of its hand, blossoming like a flower, a hole was opening up. A clear tube, maybe glass or plastic, extended from within that space. The tip of the tube began to glow red.

Kitty jumped to one side as an answering red dot appeared on the wall behind her and, beneath the dot, the brickwork began to bubble and melt.

'Mutant entities to be eliminated,' the Sentinel intoned flatly. 'Proceeding with primary directive.'

'Run, Doctor!' Kitty yelled, hurling herself first at, then through the Sentinel.

This time, though, there was no hiss and crackle and shower of sparks. The Sentinel appeared completely unaffected by her phasing.

'This unit has adapted to mutant abilities,' the Sentinel explained. Its legs remained where there were while its torso rotated at the waist so that the robot could face Kitty. It readied the tube in its right hand.

A high-pitched screech, like a computer having a nervous breakdown, tore through the air. Kitty clamped her hands over her ears, but that did little to shield her from the noise.

'Step away from my friend,' the Doctor said.

He was advancing slowly towards the Sentinel. He was also holding a tube in his right hand, but his was grey and metallic and had a bulb at the top that Kitty suspected was the source of the screeching. Kitty was not the only one to be offended by the noise. The Sentinel was reeling, rotating round and round on the axis at its waist.

'Come over here, Kitty,' the Doctor said.

Kitty crawled over to him and the Doctor pulled her to his feet with his free hand.

Then the Sentinel has stopped spinning.

'This unit has adapted to new threat,' the Sentinel said. 'This unit has deactivated auditory receptors. Sonic attacks will no longer affect this unit.'

'Nobody like a show-off,' the Doctor complained, deactivating the noise.

The Sentinel trained its weaponry on them and fired.

And missed.

Kitty had squeezed the Doctor's hand and together they had plummeted into the ground beneath their feet. The Sentinel began pounding at the sidewalk, tearing it up until it had reached the subway tunnel below. Of the two mutants there was no sign, just the lights of the train disappearing into the distance.

* * *

'Let's see if we can find somewhere quieter,' Rachel said.

They had descended into the bowels of the mansion to escape from the chaos above. It had not taken long for the students confined to the school grounds to get cabin fever and it was not a pretty sight. Access to the levels below ground was restricted, which meant they should be quieter. Or so Mina and Rachel had believed.

Peter was in the training room. Mina still recognised him despite the fact that his body now seemed to be composed entirely of metal. By now, Mina could take such a transformation in her stride. A steel barrier had been erected halfway across the training area and Peter was hammering on the barrier with his fists, first one then the other, like a metronome. The metal sung out like a large bell as it buckled and distorted beneath each impact.

'Shouldn't we say something?' Mina asked as Rachel led her away.

Rachel shook her head.

'I think Peter needs to be alone right now.'

Mina considered.

'Peter. Isn't he the brother of one of the missing students?'

'Yep, that's right,' Rachel confirmed. 'Illyana's his kid sister.'

'I am sorry for him,' Mina said. 'And for you.'

'Me? Why me?'

'Didn't I hear that Kitty has also gone missing?' Mina said.

'Kitty's gone of with your friend the Doctor,' Rachel replied. 'I just hope they don't make things worse.'

'Worse?' Mina repeated. 'How?'

Rachel looked away.

'Don't ask.' She heaved open a heavy door. 'Let's go in here.'

It was like being inside a ball. The room was spherical, except for a flattened floor, the walls a smooth blue-grey. The furniture was the same washed-out blue and consisted of a bed, a table and two chairs. Rachel pulled the door closed and it fit so flush to the wall that Mina could barely make it out at all when shut.

'This is a meditation chamber,' Rachel explained. 'It's sound-proofed and it's also designed to filter out as much psionic chatter as possible.'

'Psionic chatter?'

'Everyone thinks too loud.' Rachel sat down. 'To a telepath there is always this background noise of people's stray thoughts. You can train yourself to ignore it, but it's always there. Except in a room like this.'

'So you must like it down here, then,' Mina suggested.

Rachel laughed.

'You think? Thing is, I've got so used to the noise that without it, the silence is a bit of a distraction.'

Mina pulled the other chair out from under the table and sat down opposite Rachel.

'Are you comfortable?' Rachel asked.

'I confess I'm a little nervous,' Mina said.

'You'll be fine,' Rachel replied. 'Just remember, whatever we find in there, it's just a memory. It can't hurt you.'

Mina nodded.

'Now, take my hands,' Rachel instructed, reaching towards Mina, palms upward. 'And relax.'

'That's easy for you to say.'

Mina took a deep breath and then clasped Rachel's hands in hers.

And then she was someplace else.

* * *

'What more can I say about this violent and unprovoked attack on our campaign headquarters?' Ashley Campbell asked. 'I think the images speak volumes.'

'They do indeed,' Xavier said softly as he studied the images playing across the TV screen. Campbell was standing on the steps leading up to what remained of his headquarters, while delivering a brief statement to the assembled reporters.

'Doctor,' Xavier continued, 'what have you done?'

'I know there are still many of you out there who question my policies on the mutant question,' Campbell continued, 'but I ask you all to just look behind me. Look at what the mutants have wrought and I am certain you will find yourselves asking whether or not my proposals go far enough!'

The picture cut to a reporter, the wind toying playfully with his hair.

'Ashley Campbell reacting to the assault on his campaign headquarters by mutant terrorists,' the reporter said unnecessarily. 'We asked Governor Grayson for her comments on the event and her office issued at brief statement condemning the action, but declining to make any further comment at this time. Now back to you in the studio.'

'Turn it off, Kurt,' Xavier said, massaging his forehead with his fingertips.

'Professor?' Kurt asked, rising from his chair.

'I said turn it off,' Xavier repeated harshly. 'I'm sorry, Kurt,' he added hastily. 'I didn't mean to shout at you.'

'It's quite all right, professor,' Kurt said as he turned off the television. 'You must be under tremendous strain.'

'Must I?' Xavier asked. 'It seems to me that we have just lost the battle so I might as well stop fighting and relax.'

'Surely you do not mean that,' Kurt said.

Xavier shrugged.

'Campbell wanted to show that mutants were a threat,' he said. 'We gave him his evidence on a silver platter.'

'But…'

Whatever Kurt had been about to say was cut off by the ringing of the phone. Xavier lifted the handset.

'Xavier's School for Gifted Youngsters,' he said. 'Professor Charles Xavier speaking…I see…Of course. In understand…I'll see you shortly.'

Xavier hung up the phone and turned to Kurt.

'That was Kim Grayson,' Xavier explained. 'She's on her way here.'

* * *

Mina coughed. Her throat was filled with ash. Something was wrong.

The sky was filled with clouds of black smoke. The smoke blotted out the sun and the stars so Mina was unable to tell if it was day or night. What little light there was came from the occasional flickering streetlight, but most of these had been vandalised and no longer provided any illumination. The windows of buildings had also been smashed and graffiti scrawled across the bricks. Glass crunched underfoot as Mina walked.

Wherever she was, this was not one of her memories.

Where was Rachel? Other than the howling wind, Mina seemed to be alone. She was about to call out, to ask for help, but then she thought better of it. Perhaps it would be best if she did not draw attention to herself. The issue was taken out of her hands, however, as a roar joined the wind's banshee wail. A dark carriage was approaching her from the air, held aloft by a rotating blade like a falling sycamore seed. A bright light shone from underneath this conveyance, creating a white circle on the ground that drove away the shadows and stripped away hiding places.

Then the light was above her, pinning her to the ground like a needle holding a moth secure in its display case. The carriage began to descend and the noise it made was now so loud that Mina had to clamp her hands over her ears. A door opened in the side of the carriage and Mina saw men leaning out, men dressed in black with green lights for eyes. And they had guns.

Mina ran, her feet slipping on the uneven ground. She could hear the men shouting after her, but their exact words were muddied by the rumbling of their vehicle. Then they gave up on words. Bullets ricocheted off the ground near her feet as Mina scrambled down a short slope. She needed to find cover, somewhere their airborne carriage could not go, so she ducked inside one of the buildings. It was just a shell, any signs of habitation having long since been removed, but there were still walls to shelter behind and that would have to be enough.

She crouched low, her heart thundering within her chest. Every breath she took sounded like rough sandpaper running over wood. They would find her, Mina knew. She could not hide from them forever. She could only hope that Rachel would find her before they did.

She heard footsteps approaching and she stopped breathing altogether, doing her level best to disappear. She could hear something sniffing the air, as if searching for her by scent. Had her pursuers brought dogs? Despite a voice screaming in her mind to stay still, Mina risked peeking out into the other room.

Rachel was looking directly at her. Mina sagged with relief, but then her mind was able to take in the rest of the tableau. Mina was on all fours and a metal collar was clamped around her throat. A chain led from that collar to one of the men with lights for eyes. The man had a gun pointed at Mina. The man took three brisk strides across the room and then kicked Mina in the stomach. Stars burst in front of her eyes as she curled up into a ball on the floor.

'Mutie scum,' the man spat. 'The camp's too good for your sort.'

He raised the gun.

'Ellis!' another voice shouted from outside. 'Hurry up and get her ready for transport.'

'Looks like your lucky day,' the man with the gun told Mina. Then he kicked her in the head and everything went black.

* * *

'Kim,' Xavier said. 'What an unexpected pleasure.'

'I doubt that,' Grayson said as she strode in from the cold. 'Can we talk in your office?'

'Of course. Kurt, would you take the governor's coat?'

Grayson recoiled as the blue-furred demon reached out to her. She recovered quickly, but both Kurt and Xavier had picked up on it.

'I'm glad we know where everyone stands,' Xavier said.

'Charles, I…' Grayson began.

'There's no need, Kim,' Xavier said. 'This was always an alliance of convenience, let's not insult one another by pretending otherwise. Now, we have a lot of work to do.'

Xavier headed off across the wooden floor towards his office, leaving Grayson to either hurry after him or be left behind.

Kurt watched her go and, when she disappeared from sight, turned and walked outside into the snow.

'Penny for them?' Ororo asked, she was standing in the shadow of an oak, watching over a group of students taking advantage of the weather.

'I doubt they are worth so much,' Kurt replied. 'Just the usual prejudice I seem to find wherever I turn.'

'Except here,' Ororo pointed out.

'That is true,' Kurt agreed, 'but I cannot hide within these walls forever. That is no way to live.'

'And that's why Xavier is working to change things,' Ororo said, 'because we shouldn't have to hide ourselves away and live in fear.'

'And how is he to accomplish this miracle, Ororo?' Kurt asked. 'By making deals with bigots? It leaves a bitter taste in my mouth. Perhaps the Doctor was right, after all.'

'If you believe that, Kurt, then why are you still here?'

'I do not know, Ororo,' Kurt replied, 'and that troubles me. I want to speak to the professor about my concerns, but every time I approach him I decide to put it off until another time.'

Ororo shook her head.

'Sound to me like your just nervous,' she said.

'Perhaps,' Kurt agreed, 'but I was an acrobat with the Munich Circus for years and never once backed out from a performance, so why am I afflicted with such trepidation now, I wonder.'

'If you ask me, Kurt, that Doctor has shaken us all a bit too much,' Ororo said. 'It would be best for everyone if we just put him behind us.'

'And Sam and Dani and the others?' Kurt retorted. 'Should we just put them behind us as well? Listen to what you are saying, Ororo. How can you justify such thoughts?'

'Professor Xavier is doing what's best,' Ororo insisted. 'I truly believe that.'

'As do I,' Kurt replied. 'I just wish I could reconcile that belief with all my others.'

* * *

'Drink this.'

Mina sat up slowly and took the chipped mug from her companion. Gingerly, she sipped at the brackish water. It hurt to swallow, but with each drop of liquid it became that little bit easier.

'Thank you,' she croaked.

'Don't,' the other woman said. 'Don't thank me.'

She walked back across the room and then slumped down against the wall, her knees tucked under her chin and her wavy brown hair falling down to hide her face.

'Why not?' Mina asked. 'They - whoever they are - can lock us up and take away our freedom, but they haven't deprived us of basic civility.'

'It's not that,' the other woman said. 'It's just that I can't understand why any mutant would want to prolong their life if they didn't have to. And I don't understand why I can't stop myself helping people regardless. Damn it, Charles, what did you turn me into?'

As she cursed, she started to rock back and forth, banging her forehead against her knees. Mina darted forward, concerned that she might hurt herself.

'Don't do that,' she said, putting her hand on the other woman's shoulders and applying just enough force to hold her in place. 'It's all right. It's going to be all right.'

'No. No, you don't understand,' the woman insisted. 'It's not going to be all right. We thought it was. Even when everything was going to hell, we thought we could change things. But you can't fight the inevitable, can you? You can't stand up to Death.'

'Death?' Mina said. 'You mean they're going to kill us? But if that's so, then why haven't they done so already.'

'Public executions,' the woman explained. 'Televised extermination. Bread and circuses for the twenty-first century.'

'But why?'

The woman laughed, harsh and raw.

'Because we were born,' she said.

Mina looked around the room. It was square and grey with a single door. There was a hatch near the top of the door that looked as if it might serve as a window, but the hatch had been closed and Mina could see no way of opening it from this side. There was a smattering of furniture - a table, a chair and two bunk-beds - all bolted to the floor, and there was a sink attached to the wall opposite the door. Light came from a bulb, swinging from the ceiling, and from a small window. The window was right at the top of the wall, too high for Mina to see out of from down here.

'Who are you?' Mina asked her companion. 'My name is Mina, what's yours?'

'Katherine Pryde.'

Mina's eyes widened.

'Pryde? As in Kitty Pryde?'

'Been a long time since anyone called me that,' Katherine said.

Mina stood up and started to pace.

'You can walk through walls, can't you?'

Katherine tilted her head to one side.

'I seem to recall I could walk through anything.'

'Than why are you still here?'

Katherine shrugged.

'Where else would I go?'

'Somewhere other than here?' Mina suggested. 'Somewhere where people are not trying to kill you?'

'It's a nice idea,' Katherine replied. 'Shame it doesn't exist.'

'What do you mean?' Mina crouched down again so that she could look Katherine in the eye. 'I don't understand. I don't know where I am or what I'm doing here or why people are trying to kill me. Could you explain it to me because I don't see why we just don't walk out of here and go looking for help.'

'We were the help,' Katherine said. 'Then they caught us. Here, take a look out of the outside.'

Katherine stood up and linked her hands to form a stirrup. Nervously, Mina placed one foot in the cupped hands and hauled herself up until her eyes were level with the small window. The glass was yellow and grimy, but Mina could still make out the courtyard below. She could see prisoners, all dressed in matching grey overalls, all milling about with heads bowed, spirits broken. Watching over them were armed guards, but they were not what caught Mina's attention. Instead she focussed on the robots.

'Sentinel's,' she breathed as she climbed down out of Katherine's arms. 'But there are so many of them.'

'Mass production,' Katherine said, 'by will of the people.'

'I don't believe it,' Mina replied. 'I can't believe that anyone would actually want this.'

'Why not?' Katherine asked. 'They were afraid of us. They still are, though I don't see why anymore. The mutant menace had to be stopped, stopped by whatever means necessary.'

'But this…this is horrible. Can't they see that not all mutants are a threat? People are different. It doesn't make sense to be scared of a whole race.'

'It's not about what makes sense, Mina. It's about what makes you feel safe at night. We're monsters. At least, that's how we were portrayed on TV.'

'But couldn't you put your own case across? Argue your point of view.'

Katherine shook her head.

'We tried, Mina. We really tried. But why run a story about a mutant peace statement when you can run the one about the mutant kid who killed his own family just because he started to excrete acid from his skin when he hit puberty.

'They voted the mutant haters into government and they passed laws against mutants. We're not human, you see, so we don't have any constitutional rights to breach. They rounded us up and put us in camps. Anyone suspected of being a mutant or a mutant sympathiser could be detained without trial as an enemy of the state. Some of us resisted, those of us who could. The sad truth is that most mutations are a curse rather than a blessing and these monsters had no way of fighting back when the men with guns knocked down their doors. And against those of us that could fight back, they released the Sentinels and the Hounds.'

'I know what Sentinels are,' Mina said, 'but what are the Hounds?'

'Telepaths,' Katherine replied, 'trained to track mutants in return for a stay of execution. They're treated no better than animals, but to some, to many, it's preferable to dying.'

'Is that what happened to Rachel?'

'Poor kid,' Katherine agreed. 'She's one of the best. Commandant Nimrod's personal favourite.'

'How can she do it?' Mina asked. 'How can she betray you like that?'

'It's a matter of survival. She's doing all she can to stay alive. When you're a mutant, you don't have a whole lot of options.'

The door opened and a guard marched in.

'You two,' he barked. 'On your feet. Now!'

'Guess it's finally time,' Katherine said.

'Time for what?' Mina asked, though the weight in her stomach warned her that she already knew the answer.

'Time to die,' Katherine replied. 'You know, after all this waiting, it's almost a relief.'

* * *

'We're dead in the water, Charles.'

Kim Grayson was standing at the window, her forehead resting against the cool glass.

'Would you like some tea, Kim?' Xavier asked. 'I'll be sure to have one of the human-looking students prepare it for you.'

'Okay, you've made your point,' Grayson snapped. 'I overreacted back there. If it makes you feel better, I'll go back out there and apologise to…to…'

'His name's Kurt,' Xavier said, 'and that won't be necessary. An apology is only of value if you mean it and we both know you views on mutants.'

'I'm not in favour of killing them, if that's what you're implying,' Grayson said. 'Nor of putting them in camps. They just make me...uncomfortable, that's all.'

'It's quite understandable, Kim,' Xavier assured her. 'I pity your reaction, but I don't blame you for it. It's human nature, though I do wonder how your political career will fare once you start having to kiss mutant babies.'

Grayson turned away from the window and looked down at Xavier.

'What political career, Charles. After today's fiasco, I'm finished.'

Xavier raised an eyebrow.

'I never took you for the quitting type, Kim.'

'Well maybe I'm just smart enough to know when I'm beaten,' Grayson replied.

She slumped tiredly into an empty chair. Xavier pressed a button on the phone on his desk.

'Marie, could you bring in some tea for my guest and I,' Xavier said. 'Earl Grey, if we've still got any.'

He turned to Grayson.

'I find tea soothing,' he explained. 'I think you could use some.'

'Thank.'

'You know, you could always turn against us,' Xavier suggested. 'If the people are in favour of anti-mutant legislation perhaps you should come out in favour of it as well.'

'Charles, we've just had this discussion,' Grayson said. 'I'm not a mutant-hater, whatever you may think.'

'I wasn't talking about your personal beliefs, Kim,' Xavier replied. 'I'm talking about politics. Publicly supporting mutants at the present moment is political suicide.'

'You could be right, Charles, and I'd be lying if I said I hadn't thought about it, but the truth is that if I change my position now, I'll just be saying that Campbell was right all along. At least this way I can still claim to have principles.'

'Then I guess we'll just have to find a way to win together, won't we?'

Xavier smiled and Grayson could not help smiling back.

'We haven't got a hope, you know,' she said.

'There's always hope,' Xavier insisted. 'We can't afford to lose this fight, Kim. The future of an entire species depends on us.'

'Aren't you being a little melodramatic?' Grayson said.

'Am I?' Xavier replied.

There was a knock on the door and Marie entered the study carrying a tray of tea things.

'Thank you, Marie,' Xavier said. 'Just leave them on the desk, would you.'

Marie complied, shooting Grayson a venomous glance before leaving.

'She doesn't like me much,' Grayson remarked.

'You called her a terrorist,' Xavier said as he poured the tea. 'People tend to remember little details like that. Milk or lemon?'

* * *

'How are the going to…' Mina trailed off, swallowing to clear the lump in her throat. 'How do they intend to kill us?'

'Decapitation,' Katherine replied. 'Mutants with healing factors can survive most other forms of execution, but removing the head tends to do it for everyone.'

They were sitting on wooden benches in the back of the truck that was taking them to their place of execution. They weren't the only people scheduled to die today and Mina could see several others, some human in appearance and some less so, huddled together in grief. Some were going to their fate in stoic silence, others were crying and wailing to wake the dead.

'You seem surprisingly calm about things,' Mina whispered to Katherine.

'I've been a prisoner for years,' she explained. 'For even longer before that I had to watch the world I once loved spiral down into this hell on earth. Honestly, I'll be glad when it's all over.'

The truck stuttered to a halt and the prisoners were herded out. Mina raised a hand to shield her eyes from the sunlight. Up ahead was a raised dais on which sat some form of guillotine. Mina counted five spaces to rest heads while they waited for the blade. How frequent were these executions that they could not do them one at a time?

Cameras ringed the site, ready to broadcast their final moments to the viewers at home. How many people were watching now, Mina wondered.

The guards began making their way through the group of prisoners, pulling out the first five victims. One guard put his hand on Katherine's shoulder.

'No!' Mina grabbed hold of Katherine's hand.

'It's all right, Mina,' Katherine said, pulling herself free. 'Might as well get this over with.'

'It's not all right!' Tears stung at Mina's eyes. 'They're going to kill you.'

'I know.' Katherine reached beneath the collar of her overalls and withdrew a gold Star of David on a chain. 'I'm not afraid of dying. It's time.'

Slowly, deliberately, Katherine mounted the steps up to the dais. She dropped to her knees in front of the guillotine and placed her neck in the grove worn in the wood. Another four prisoners lined up alongside her. Most put up more resistance and had to be dragged into position by the guards. One was so violent that he was clubbed into unconsciousness and then draped limply over the guillotine.

The executioner raised his hand.

'By the power vested in my by God and the people, I pronounce you guilty of crimes against humanity. You have engaged in terrorism and attempted genocide and for that we have but one punishment.'

'Death!' The voice was loud and artificial. Mina turned to see a Sentinel standing behind her.

'Death!' another Sentinel agreed.

'Death!' a third Sentinel confirmed.

The executioner's arm fell.

'No!' Mina screamed. She started to run forward, but two guards grabbed hold of her and dragged her back.

The blade sliced cleanly through the necks of its victim's and Katherine's head bounced one, twice, three times across the dais before coming to rest in the trough prepared for just that purpose.

* * *

Xavier sipped his tea.

'We can't let Campbell win the election,' he said. 'If he does the consequences will be disastrous.'

'We're not letting him do anything,' Grayson replied, 'but we've run out of cards to play. The public is convinced that mutants are a very real threat and Campbell is offering to protect them from that threat.'

'Then we need to show the public that mutants aren't dangerous.'

'Mutants are dangerous, Charles,' Grayson replied.

'You know what I mean,' Xavier retorted.

'I do,' Grayson said, 'but it's not me you have to convince.'

'It's ludicrous,' Xavier said. 'If someone suggested rounding up all the Blacks or all the Jews and exterminating them they wouldn't be allowed to stand, let alone get this level of support.'

'People have been doing just that for centuries,' Grayson pointed out.

'Perhaps if I went on television,' Xavier suggested, 'put the other side of the mutant case across. Maybe people would sit up and listen then.'

'You've tried it before,' Grayson replied. 'It helps, but not nearly enough to claw back the ground we've lost. You may be an expect on mutants, Charles, but the unpleasant truth is that most people don't want to listen to you.'

'There must be something we can do!' Xavier slammed his fist down on his desk and the tea things jumped.

'There is something,' Grayson began slowly, 'but you're not going to like it.'

Xavier frowned.

'I'm listening.'

'The public may not listen to experts or scientists or politicians, Charles,' Grayson said, 'but they love their celebrities.'

'You suggested this idea to Ororo, Kim,' Xavier said. 'She told you no.'

'I'm not asking Ororo, Charles,' Grayson replied. 'I'm asking you.'

She leaned forward in her chair.

'At least think about it,' she said. 'Seventy four per cent of the general public thinks an actor playing the part of the President does a better job than the real thing! Look at the glossies and the tabloids. It's all about celeb-watching. People wear the same clothes as their favourite celebrities, go on the same crazy diets. And they listen to what these people are saying. Mr and Mrs Joe Average aspire to be these people. If a known celebrity came out as a mutant then everyone would want to be one. Mutancy would be the new black.'

'It's a nice idea,' Xavier replied, 'but has it occurred to you that, rather than idolising this celebrity, people are much more likely to want to lynch him? Why else do you think people keep quiet about being mutants?'

'It's a risk we have to take, Charles.'

'No!' Xavier shouted. 'No, it is not. I will not betray people who have put their trust in me.'

'And what about all those other mutants, Charles,' Grayson asked, 'all the students at this school, for example, who look up to you? Are you prepared to betray them?'

'Of course not, but…'

'But that's exactly what you're doing.' Grayson jumped to her feet and loomed over Xavier. 'You said it yourself, if Campbell wins then they are finished. We have to get back into this race by whatever means necessary.'

'No,' Xavier insisted. 'There has to be another way.'

'Well, I'm listening, Charles,' Grayson said. 'What's your great solution. If you can come up with a better plan then I'm all for it, but this is all we've got.'

Xavier opened his mouth to reply, but the words would not come. He didn't have any answers.

'I know what I'm asking is difficult for you,' Grayson said, 'but by betraying one mutant, you'll be saving all of the others. Isn't that worth bending your principles a little?'

She leaned in closer, whispering in his ear.

'I only need a name, Charles. I'll do the rest. Just give me a name.'

* * *

'Let go of me!'

Mina fought against the guards, but they overpowered her, wrestling her to the damp ground. The guards bound her wrists and ankles and then picked her up and carried her up to the dais.

'You can't do this to me,' Mina protested. 'You don't have the right.'

'You're a mutant,' one of the guards said. 'That gives us the right.'

'Don't waste your breath on her,' the other guard said. 'It isn't fair to expect her to understand what's happening. Her brain's not wired the same way as ours.'

'I understand perfectly,' Mina said. 'You want to behead me!'

'I'm sorry, miss,' the first guard replied, 'but it's for your own good.'

'Are you insane?' Mina demanded. 'How can my death be for my own good?'

The guards were trying to force her to her knees so Mina went rigid, fighting them. The second guard kicked her legs out from under her and she fell. Neither guard attempted to catch her and she hit the ground hard. They tipped her head forward so that her neck was beneath the blade and then they bound her in place.

'Think about what you're doing,' Mina shouted. 'This is murder. You can dress it up as theatrically as you like to make yourselves feel better, but it's still murder.'

'It's not murder,' the second guard replied. 'It's survival.'

'Look, miss,' the first guard said uncomfortably, 'I don't like this any more than you do.'

'I highly doubt that,' Mina retorted.

'We're just doing God's work,' the first guard continued. 'Man was made in God's image, right, so where's that leave mutants. If you've been created by the Devil than this will purify you and save your soul so that you can get into Heaven.'

'And what if we're God's children, too?' Mina asked. 'Have you thought of that? Maybe we've all be made in God's image.'

The second guard slammed the sole of his boot into the side of Mina's face and her head spun.

'No way was I made in the same image as any stinking mutie,' he said.

The world was spinning and there were tears in her eyes. Mina blinked repeatedly to try to clear her vision. The executioner, dress head to toe in black, towered over her. The three Sentinels's watched her from a distance, ready to pronounce the one and only sentence. And at the feet of the Sentinel's was another figure, crouched down on all fours, her red hair shining like a beacon.

'Rachel,' Mina moaned.

She spat blood onto the stone in front of her.

'Rachel!' she yelled. 'Help me! Please!'

The executioner raised his hand.

'By the power vested in my by God and the people, I pronounce you guilty of crimes against humanity. You have engaged in terrorism and attempted genocide and for that we have but one punishment.'

'What crimes?' Mina asked. 'I haven't done anything.'

'You were born,' the executioner said. 'That is enough.'

He turned to face the Sentinels.

'What say you?'

'Death!'

* * *

'I can't,' Xavier protested weakly.

'How many mutants are there, do you think?' Grayson asked. 'A thousand? Ten thousand? A million? More? All I'm asking is for the name of one of them so that we can save all the others. Surely it's worth the sacrifice.'

'I made a promise to help all mutants,' Xavier said. 'How can I betray them now?'

'How can you not?' Grayson replied. 'Look, if you can't bring yourself to say it, why not just write it down?'

She put a clean sheet of paper on the desk in front of Xavier and handed him a fountain pen. He weighed it in his hand.

'Is this all it takes to betray a friend?' Xavier asked. 'For Judas it was just a kiss. You would think, if there was a Supreme Being, he'd make it harder somehow.'

Then he began to write.

* * *

'Death!' the first Sentinel declared.

'Rachel!' Mina shouted. 'Please!'

'Death!' the second Sentinel agreed.

Rachel looked up and met Mina's eyes.

'Death!' the third Sentinel echoed.

'Help me!' Mina begged. 'You brought me here, Rachel. I don't know how and I don't know why, but you have to help me get out of here.'

A tear rolled slowly down Rachel's cheek.

The executioner dropped his arm.

'No!' Mina screamed.

The blade fell…

 

 
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