Continuing direction from part 12a/12....
"Fence check. Cleared?"
"Cleared hot, Cyclops. Continue."
"We are clear for take-off. ETA, forty five minutes. All go
Scott was using cryptic language that Jean had never heard from him
before �- probably because the rest of the team wouldn't have known
what he was talking about. But the man in the co-pilot seat beside
him had taught it to him in the first place. Jean watched them move
together through pre-flight check as if they'd been doing it all
their lives, though this was the first time. She wondered how often
Scott had done this in his dreams . . . and how often Christopher
Overhead, the basketball court began to slide back as swivel turbofan
engines -� Jean only knew what they were called because Scott yakked
about them incessantly -� roared into full spin. Slowly, Scott took
up the plane. A textbook liftoff, and Jean looked around at the rest
strapped into seats. Every spot was taken, and some sat on the bench
at the rear. She was surprised they'd let her tag along at all, but
the professor had come down on her side. A telepath and doctor might
prove essential, even if she'd been forbidden to put herself in any
physical danger. Reasonably. She wouldn't risk her son.
Logan appeared a bit anxious, but he hated to fly; and relegated as
she was to a second-row seat, Ororo didn't look much better. It
wasn't that she cared so much about being co-pilot, but she hated
enclosed places and the plane felt more enclosed without the viewport
in front of her. EJ was still trying to get used to his uniform,
which the professor must have had commissioned as soon as he'd agreed
to stay. God knew, the man would never fit into any of Scott's
uniforms. He was working out the creaking stiffness of new leather
in the jacket arms and shoulders, and Grace was doing something
similar with the fingers of her gloves. She seemed remarkably calm,
but like Jean, she wasn't likely to see combat. As she was fond of
saying, she preferred to heal bruises, not to give them. Jean did,
too; but if someone were shooting at her, she didn't mind knocking a
few heads together, telekinetically.
It was the final member, dressed in an old uniform dredged out of
storage, who seemed the most nervous of all. Francesco Placido.
From the moment Xavier had called them from the dining hall, he'd
insisted on tagging along, although he hadn't been an X-Man for four
years. "This is the pivotal moment, the pivotal event. I am
coming," he'd said, and that was that.
The pivotal moment that might stop or start a global crisis. Seven
X-Men and one retired USAF colonel off to save the world.
"Stranger things have happened," Chris Summers had remarked on their
way to the plane.
"Perform a slip to lose altitude."
"Dad -� I didn't start flying yesterday."
"Okay, okay. I'll shut up."
Jean grinned behind her hand. Christopher Summers -� Corsair, to
give him his pilot's call sign -� had been a backseat driver all the
way to Nebraska and Jean suspected that Scott seriously regretted
taking him at all. So much for the joys father-son first-time
As soon as the plane was down and settled in an obscure field on
Winnebago land, they dropped the hatch and waited for Rogue to arrive
in Grace's car. She'd given them the landing site, apparently
suggested by her charge. Nothing like a native guide to say where
they might hide several tons of Blackbird. In the air, especially at
night, it was almost invisible with its radar-reflective skin, but on
the ground, it was hard to hide. Coming off the ramp, Scott
muttered, "Everyone remember where we parked."
"You watch way too much 'Star Trek,' man," EJ told him. "Too bad you
can't scare us up a convenient cloaking device."
"That's a bit outside current technology," Colonel Summers replied.
"Now where is this girl who's supposed to meet us?"
Even as he asked, they could hear the approach of a car, rumbling
over rough road, and caught the glare of headlights cutting through
moonless dark, glancing off an imperfect cover of snow. Then Rogue
was pulling up to park, and she and the boy hopped out. She ran
right to Grace and threw herself into the Indian woman's arms. That
certainly surprised Logan. The rest of them gathered around to hear
her story, which poured out like a waterfall of words. But she was
just a trainee on her first mission. What should have been simple
routine had turned out anything but when her two teammates had
decided to disobey Logan's direct order and play detective.
Three days ago, after spending a week in Omaha convincing the parents
of the boy -� whose name was Thurston -� to let him come with them,
the three junior X-Men had headed north up I-29 to I-90, instead of
taking I-80 due east. The ostensible reason had been so that
Thurston could bid farewell to his relatives on the reservation, but
Rogue had later discovered the real reason was so that Warren could
attempt to bribe information about the Koinonia compound out of white
locals. He'd foolishly thought enough greenbacks would buy him
compliance, and hadn't figured on the insularity of mid-western small
towns and their suspicion of strangers with too much money. With
Thurston's help to make the proper introductions, John had gotten a
bit further among the boys on the res. But not far enough. They
simply hadn't *known* much, except that members of Koinonia still
passed time beating up on Indians if they couldn't find enough
mutants. The Indians were closer, and in greater numbers.
Yesterday afternoon, John and Warren had decided that they weren't
finding out enough to suit them �- or at least, not enough to get
forgiveness for doing exactly what they'd been told not to do -� and
had decided on a middle of the night excursion, after swearing Rogue
to silence. But that was the last the girl had heard from them.
Since none of them had thought to set a definitive end to the
mission, Rogue hadn't been sure how long to wait before calling the
mansion. That she should have called the minute those two idiots had
hared off on their own was immediately impressed on her by a furious
Logan, but it was a little late for 'should have's.
Armed with information from Rogue and the boy, Scott, his father and
Logan cobbled together a quick plan. At least Rogue had chosen a
landing place at the eastern edge of the Winnebago res, not far from
the Koinonia compound. It lay just across the field, over a state
highway at the boundary of res land, through a creek, and past an
electric fence. "We split up," Scott said. "Logan and Frank, you
come in from the south; Logan can cut through the fence. Dad, you
and Ro go north and she can fly you over. EJ and I will head due
west. Jean, you, Rogue, Grace and Thurston stay with the plane
unless I call for you. We're not making any assaults until we scout
it out. Clear? Radio silence unless something's life or death. I
don't care how secure we may think our transmissions are, the people
in that compound are probably paranoid to the nth degree and if
they've caught our boys sneaking around, they'll be on high alert."
They hammered out a few more details, including a rendezvous, then
took off, leaving Jean and Grace on the ramp to wait. The two women
said nothing, just stood together facing west, wrapped up in thermal
blankets against the winter chill.
It was exactly fifty-two minutes later that Jean received a mental
call from Scott �- no radio. His 'voice' was tight and full of rage.
*Jean, get Grace in the SUV and get over to me, ASAP. Leave Rogue
and the boy with the jet. They don't need to see this. And call in
the other teams, if you can reach them. Tell them to converge on my
position. I've found Warren.*
Fearing what, exactly, he'd found, Jean grabbed her jump bag, slung
it in the SUV and explained Scott's orders to Grace and Rogue as she
moved. In the car, she and Grace had to go around the long way, and
almost got lost. It took them half an hour. Finally parking the
vehicle by the side of the road, they clambered over the half-frozen
creek �- not easy for Jean with her bag -� and then climbed up
towards a chain-link fence that Scott had cut through with his optic
blasts. Metal had curled in from the force of it. "Careful of
gopher holes," Grace whispered to Jean as they made their way along
the edge of the field towards that place where Jean could feel Scott
waiting. Grace moved a little ahead of her, not depending on her for
direction. Apparently, the Indian woman had some kind of bond with
Scott, too, and Jean suppressed a spike of jealousy. This wasn't the
place for it, and well past the time.
Coming nearer to Scott's position, Jean could see people bunched
together around what looked like a cross. "My god," Grace breathed,
"what have they done? He's just -� " She broke off and started
running. Jean tried to keep up, but her boots weren't made for this
terrain and she came trailing in several seconds after Grace.
They'd cut Warren down and laid him out flat on his back �-
-� which they could do because the sons of bitches had cut off his
wings, cauterizing the stumps. The wings themselves were still nailed
to the bar of the cross, spray-painted black with a big red "Mutie
Demon" written on them, one word per wing.
"Goddamn," Jean hissed.
Grace was already working over Warren so he had to be alive, and Jean
knelt beside him on the other side, checking his vital stats. Weak.
Very, very weak. He must have lost a tremendous amount of blood in
the amputation -� which she was sure hadn't been done with
anesthesia. Jean started to drop into synch with Grace, but she
heard Logan hiss, "Someone's approaching � across the field."
Immediately, Scott, Ororo, EJ, Chris Summers, and Logan took up
defensive, protective stances around Grace, Jean, and Frank, too.
"Now," Frank was muttering. "It comes now." He had both his palms
pressed against his temples and his face was all scrunched up as if
he were in agony.
Still on her knees, Jean looked between Scott and EJ at the lone
figure staggering across the field. He stopped about fifty feet
away. "Who are you?" he called. "Who's there?" It was too dark for
him to see more than their shadows, or for them to make him out
either, but Jean recognized his voice.
John Proudstar. "Is he alone?" Scott whispered to her. "Can you
sense anyone else in ambush?"
Jean reached out, but found nothing aside from a terrified and
hurting John. "He's alone," she replied.
"Come on, John," Scott called out to him. "It's us. We've come to
take you home." And Scott switched on his flashlight, raising the
beam to John's bruised and battered face.
Before anyone could move, Frank exploded to his feet and ran out
between the line of X-Men and John Proudstar. "NO!" he shouted.
"That's *HIM.* That's the boy in my vision!"
"Frank, what are you talking about?" Scott said. "That's John
Proudstar. He's one of us �- one of our new trainees."
"And if you touch him, he will kill you."
"That's fucking ridiculous -� " Logan began, but John's voice cut him
"He's right. I can't get near you. I overheard what they said about
me. Cougar hearing. Cougar strength and cougar senses. They didn't
count on that. I am carrying some plague they call Legacy. It was
created to kill mutants. If I get too near any of you, you'll catch
it from me."
Whew! It's done at last!!!
Feedback is doted upon . . . even if it's just to throw tomatoes at
me for the cliffhanger. <g> minisinoo@...
Yes, obviously, there's a third story planned: IN THE SPIRIT OF
CRAZY HORSE. No, I don't know when it will be written. I have a
couple other projects I must finish first.
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