Part Three: "Show of Force"

Written by David Ellis

Based on Ultimate X-Men

"'Nightcrawler?'" Scott Summers asked, while flying a stealth bomber dubbed The Blackbird through the sky. "You want your codename to be 'Nightcrawler'? Correct me if I'm wrong, but isn't that a worm?"

"And I suppose 'Cyclops' is a logical codename," Kurt Wagner replied, arms folded. "Besides, you wanted to nickname me 'Demon'. I've been called that too many times in my life to be comfortable with it. Besides, my late girlfriend used to call me 'Nightcrawler'."

"Okay, fine, your choice," Cyclops relented, keeping his gaze on the sky ahead of them.

Marvel Girl looked over to Kurt and revealed in a stage whisper, "Scott didn't like 'Cyclops' at first, but I came up with it, and I talked him into using it."

"I heard that," Cyclops announced.

"Why do we HAVE codenames in the first place?" Kurt asked. "Is this a secret identity thing? I don't think a name change will disguise me."

"Something about 'rebaptisms' and 'posthumans' and whatnot," Iceman explained, while hard at work on his Game Boy. He appeared to be lost in it, but the others had figured out that Bobby Drake, the team's resident aspiring writer, liked to listen in on conversations while appearing oblivious. He consequently made his housemates paranoid, since Bobby rarely revealed anything he wrote. "So what's this about a girlfriend, Kurt?"

Kurt rolled his eyes, a gesture which was difficult to perceive given his lack of pupils, and replied simply, "I had one back in Germany. Her name was Amanda, and she perished with the rest of the circus."

Both Cyclops and Marvel Girl looked back to him. "Was she the other mutant the professor mentioned?" Jean asked. To Kurt's perplexed expression, she elaborated, "He said that there were two mutants at your circus when the Sentinels showed up. You were the only survivor. He didn't mention who the other one was."

Kurt pondered this. "I...I don't know if she was. I'd never seen any indications of that, though it's possible. It would explain why she accepted me more readily than anyone else." Kurt didn't voice another possibility: It could have been my unborn child.... He wasn't versed on the intricacies of the Cerebro system, and its inability to detect prenatal mutants, especially one less than a full term old.

"With that kind of emotional baggage," Storm observed, "you'll certainly fit in well with this crowd."

"Thanks...I think."

"Must be nice to've had a girlfriend," Iceman remarked. "I keep trying to get Big Pete here to hook me up, but he keeps refusing."

"I told you she's off limits, Drake," Colossus reiterated, annoyed that Bobby brought it up once again. Then, to Kurt, he explained: "My sister, Illyana. She's Bobby's age, and she still lives in Siberia with my parents and brothers. I made the mistake of showing him her picture, and he developed a crush. Now he won't stop bugging me about wanting to meet her. I refuse because I don't want my sister to live in a place like America."

Kurt absorbed this information with curiosity. "Is she a mutant?"

"Not to my knowledge. If she is, her mutant power hasn't manifested." Colossus cast a pointed glance at Cyclops. "However, Cyclops and Xavier both think she should be tested to make sure, but again, why expose her to the racism we mutants endure if it can be avoided? Nobody bothers mutants in Transbaikal. Let her be happy there." "He won't even let me have her address so I can write to her!" Bobby stated incredulously. "What's wrong with a pen pal?"

As Colossus and Iceman continued to argue, Wolverine turned his attention to Cyclops. "So what's the story, One-Eye? You got a little hot under the collar back in the briefing when you saw one of those X-Force people. Recognize one of 'em?"

Cyclops considered telling Wolverine to mind his own business, but thought better of it when he realized the X-Men would need to know who they're up against. After a pause, he answered, "the guy with the wings is Warren Worthington III, self-important heir to a huge fortune, or at least he was until plans changed. His mutancy had something to do with it, and he's apparently been bitter ever since. He was on the list of mutants Jean and I contacted when the Sentinel threat first arose. Long story short, he couldn't be bothered with us, and told us where to go, and in which handbasket to make the trip. How he got involved with X-Force, I don't know, but I imagine that he's a loose cannon even with them."

"Aren't you going to tell them about the fist fight you two got into?" Marvel Girl brought up, answered by a 'shut-up' glare by Cyclops.

This caused even Beast to look up from his technical manual. "Really? Our very own Cyclops was involved in a knuckle-duster with someone he was trying to recruit? Who won?"

"Can we drop it already?" Cyclops asked, fidgeting in his seat.

"He lost?" Storm guessed. "Daaaamn, I can't believe he lost!"

"I didn't lose!" Cyclops shouted. "Now let's drop the damn subject, already."

~He won,~ Marvel Girl sent telepathically to the others, ~but he had to get his teeth fixed afterward.~

Cyclops heard random snickers, Ororo snorting coffee out of her nose, and Bobby losing a life on his Game Boy Color. He glared through ruby quartz once again at Jean. "You told them about the teeth."

Jean nodded.

"I know where you live." To the team at large, he announced, "All right, people, we've reached Detroit."

Iceman interpreted this as an opportunity to startle his teammates. "'Detroit, WHAT! Detroit, WHAT! Detroit, baby!'" He paused for effect, as the other X-Men shot him murderous looks. "What? I've always wanted to say that!"

"No," Beast corrected, "just since Eminem made that music video. I should convince the professor to ground you off of MTV."

"Please tell me I'm adopted," Nightcrawler groaned.


"We got the right address," Wolverine informed the X-Men as he sniffed around the interior of an abandoned factory ahead of the group. "People were here not too long ago. They pulled out in a hurry, though. Took all their equipment too."

"So the professor's information was accurate," Marvel Girl observed, "just not up-to-date."

"He's a telepathic school principal, not a conspiracy theorist," Colossus pointed out. "These people strike me as well organized, and pretty good at covering their tracks. The only reason Xavier knows about them at all is because they want him to. So if they're going to expose themselves to us at all--"

His words were lost as a loud electrical hum infiltrated the factory, followed by a large sphere of electromagnetic energy at the center. The X-Men backed up cautiously from it, ready to use their powers for fight or flight if necessary.

Nine figures emerged from the sphere, before it contracted into the body of a blonde woman in the center of the group. She, like the rest of her team, wore a black ops uniform the X-Men recognized as belonging to X-Force. However, she was one of two X-Force members the X-Men didn't recognize; the other was a smaller woman with a catlike appearance, right down to the golden brown fur, tail, claws, and fangs.

"We're glad you could join us," the woman in front greeted. Cyclops' team recognized her as Domino, the team leader and markswoman. She was easy to recognize, as her pale ivory skin contrasted greatly with her raven hair and black oval spot circling her left eye. As unlikely as this physical mutation looked, her all-business demeanor more than compensated for it.

"We were in the neighborhood," Cyclops quipped. The X-Men were promptly introduced to the rest of X-Force: Cannonball, a lanky blonde teen who wore a World War II-era leather bomber jacket and aviator goggles, had the ability to project controlled bursts of kinetic energy through his legs, which granted him projectile-like flight. Meltdown, a short blonde girl who bore an unsettling resemblance to 80s-era Madonna, could form spheres of energy that she could detonate at will. Thunderbird, a large embittered Apache male, provided the team's strength and speed. Siryn, a temperamental red-haired Irish girl, possessed the ability to project virtually any vocal frequency imaginable, often with devastating results. Rictor, a Hispanic male car thief, was a human earthquake. Locus, the female teleporter who brought X-Force here, could lock onto any bio-signature as an achor for her power. Feral, the catlike woman, watched the X-Men the same way an undomesticated feline might study a hamster in a cage.

However, the X-Force member who most caught the X-Men's collective attention was Warren Worthington. "Archangel?" Cyclops asked with a raised eyebrow hidden by his visor. I thought you were codenamed 'Angel'."

"So I changed my mind," Warren replied, rustling his feathers in annoyance. "What's the matter, Red-Eye? Disappointed to find out your professor's data isn't completely up-to-date?"

"Not really," Cyclops replied. "I'm amused to find out how much of a hypocrite you are. You turned down the X-Men on the grounds that you weren't 'a joiner'."

Warren took a step forward. "'Hypocrite'? You want to rephrase that?"

"That's enough, Archangel," Domino reprimanded. "This is why I wanted you to stay behind. This isn't a grade-school playground."

"Kind of a downer, really," Storm mumbled to Colossus and Beast. "I'd've loved to see Cyclops and Wings get pulled to the principal's office by their ears."

Warren glared at Domino, then backed off reluctantly. "You sure this mission requires their help?"

This made Wolverine's eyes narrow. "We being drafted for somethin'? If you want an assist from us, why not just call us, instead of going through the trouble of subtly attracting our attention?"

Domino ignored his second question. "Does the name Bolivar Trask ring a bell?"

The X-Men froze. "The Sentinel creator?" Jean asked. "What about him?"

"Turns out he didn't abandon the Sentinel Project when the President did," Cannonball replied, his Kentuck accent noticeable. "He took his idea elsewhere, and got funding from another group: The Friends of Humanity. They've been workin' fast an' furious to make another army of 'em."

Kurt felt his breath leave him at the mention of Sentinels and the Friends of Humanity. He gritted his teeth. " is that possible? I thought the Friends were against those robots." Only days before, he had been informed of that by an FoH member who'd threatened him at gunpoint.

"Not all of the Friends are in support of this," Domino said, noticing the rising hostility in the blue X-Man's voice. "However, they ones who do support it are the highest-up in the hierarchy. Where they got the funding for this project is unknown, but what we do know is that quite a few people in the government are looking the other way."

Cyclops was skeptical. "So you want us to help you fight a new legion of Sentinels, huh? You're telling me your own team wouldn't be able to handle it? What's the catch?"

Meltdown shrugged. "You guys have your skills; we have ours."

"What she means is," Domino translated, "you X-Men have experience in fighting the Sentinels as a group. You defeated an entire invasion force of them in D.C. not too long ago. Our group is more espionage-oriented. While you confront the Sentinels, we'll take care of the people responsible."

"You're saying we're cannon fodder," Storm corrected, "while you guys go off and play spy-games. Yeah, sounds real fair."

"What, you're sayin' you can't handle it?" Thunderbird taunted. Siryn elbowed him.

Wolverine looked at him with a dangerous glare. "No, we said it's chicken-shit to dump your workload on us, when you can just as easily do it. Or are you telling us you can't handle it?"

"There ain't nothin' I can't handle," Thunderbird shouted, grabbing at the collar of Wolverine's jacket with a large hand, "including you, little man!"

Wolverine caught his wrist and twisted, his adamantium-laced grip threatening to break bones. "Yeah, keep it up, Chief, and I'll decorate this factory with you and that prison stench you're carrying around."

The other members of both teams moved toward them to break up the fight, but upon hearing the word "Chief" uttered, they decided this wasn't wise, especially when Thunderbird bodyslammed Wolverine into a wall. "Don't EVER call me Chief!" Thunderbird shouted, his free hand squeezing Wolverine's throat.

A trio of nine-inch bladelike claws sprang from between Wolverine's knuckles, pointing at the Apache's brow. He grinned, as Thunderbird's reaction was just as he'd hoped.

"THAT'S ENOUGH, BOTH OF YE!" a feminine voice shouted, accompanied by an echo which rang off of the walls and antiquated equipment, and penetrated the two fighters' marrows. Thunderbird and Wolverine suddenly found themselves more concerned with hearing loss than macho displays of pride.

"Thank you, Siryn," Domino mumbled, cleaning an ear out with her finger. "I think.... Anyway, the plan is that some of our team will help yours, X-Men, in defeating the Sentinels. Thunderbird, Meltdown, Rictor, and Cannonball are best-suited to fight the Sentinels with you. The rest of us will take the fight to the Friends of Humanity."

Cyclops' eyes narrowed. Domino was definitely up to something. "What about Siryn? Her voice could come in pretty handy in scrambling the robots' systems. Mind letting us in on your end of the plan?"

"No time," Domino declared. "We have someplace to be right now." She nodded to Locus, who moved toward the cluster consisting of Domino, Feral, Archangel, and Siryn. Locus formed another electromagnetic teleport field around that group, and smiled at Cyclops. "And you have Sentinels to take care of."

Cyclops looked from Domino to the four X-Force members who were ordered to stay behind. They seemed to be ready for action, and looked as if they knew something the X-Men didn't. This worried Scott. He quickly broadcasted the thought, Marvel Girl, you listening?

~Loud and clear, Scott,~ Jean's telepathic voice replied in his head. She'd received more of Cyclops' message than just the verbal. ~I'll give Kurt the message.~

Hurry, they're about to vanish!

Nightcrawler had apparently gotten the message, because he vanished in a cloud of brimstone, and reappeared in the midst of the teleporting X-Forcers, kicking Archangel from behind and sending the winged mutant out of the sphere's radius. Before Domino's group could react, Locus' teleport field vanished in a flash of light, taking its occupants with it.

Archangel groggily rose to a kneeling position, scowling up at the X-Men. "What the hell was that for?"

"I hate surprises," Cyclops informed him, striding toward him. "You people know a lot more about what's going on than we do, and it pisses me off that you're not willing to share the information. Now talk! What's about to happen?"

Archangel stood up, staring directly at Cyclops, his posture reminiscient of a very territorial bird of prey. "Sentinels, that's what. The new wave of those things have been created and launched. We thought we had enough time to take out Trask and the FoH people before they could complete the Sentinels, but we were too late. So rather than have them scour the nation looking for mutants, we decided to make ourselves a target and have them come after us."

"Make the X-Men a target, you mean," Marvel Girl corrected. "You set us up!"

"You were going to be a target anyway, girl," Rictor told her. "They know about your little school for gifted mutants; that's on their list. We at least managed to arrange it so that they'd come here first. You should be thanking us."

A surprise roundhouse kick from Storm struck Rictor in the jaw and sent him reeling. "You're welcome."

Thunderbird charged at Storm, but Beast intercepted him by balancing himself on one oversized hand, and planting both feet in Thunderbird's face. Thunderbird crashed into a collection of barrels nearby.

Cyclops barely raised his arms in time to guard his face from Archangel's knees, which Warren thrust at him from a hovering position. Cyclops lost his balance and fell backward, rolling into a crouched stance with his finger resting readily on his visor's trigger button. A press of the button would release beams of red-hued concussive energy from his eyes. He didn't want to have to use it, however. "We don't need this fight right now," he shouted. "Everyone calm down!"

Nobody listened.

Storm summoned a gust of wind that carried Archangel at full-force into a wall, where Iceman pinned him into place with a thick layer of ice.

Thunderbird got up, and faced off against both Beast and Wolverine, while Colossus busied himself with Meltdown. To her credit, the blonde girl's explosive energy spheres managed to make dents in Colossus' armored body. Unfortunately for her, they only served to anger him. He stood up, brushing at his burning leather uniform and jacket, and strode toward her. Meltdown threw three more energy globes at him, but Colossus shrugged them off. Even through her Ray-Bans, Meltdown's dear-in-headlights eyes were visible, and she bolted for the door. On her way there, she slipped on a melting patch of ice created by Iceman, and shouted a very creative expletive on the way down

. Thunderbird lowered his stance, fists clenched. "C'mon, I'll take both of you!"

Beast sighed. "Another poor guy with more guts than brains. Typical."

Wolverine grinned, springing the claws on his left hand to match those on his right. "This is gonna be fun."

~Can we STOP with the senseless testosterone party, please?~ Marvel Girl broadcasted telepathically to all involved. Her words were somewhat contradicted by her actions, which consisted of restraining Cannonball telekinetically. ~If these guys are right, we have bigger problems to worry about than team spirit!~

Both teams calmed down. "She's right," Cyclops agreed. "We should focus on dealing with the Sentinels."

Iceman, who helped Meltdown off the floor, glanced out a nearby window and saw twelve lights in the night sky, racing toward them. "Uh, Cyclops...? They're kind of already here."

Cyclops swore under his breath and turned to Cannonball's team. "All right. We're going to have to work together on this. If any of you aren't wishing Domino had taken you with her on her little away team, you should be. But you're needed here. Can I count on you?"

They nodded. Everyone except for:

"Archangel? You with us too?"

Warren scowled at Cyclops and looked away. "Yeah, fine, I guess..."

Cyclops smiled faintly, then used his optic beam to cut Warren out of the ice barrier. "Good. Then here's the plan..."


"THAT'S your plan?" Nightcrawler replied to Domino incredulously as they stood on the rooftop of a building overlooking Bolivar Trask's penthouse suite. "You want the fraulein here," he indicated Siryn, who had him pinned against the wall, her pistol to his neck, "to sing Trask to death?"

"Pretty much," Domino nodded. "Though all it'll take is one note. Bolivar Trask is prone to chronic migraines, which he takes plenty of medication for. With the right frequency, Siryn could quite easily disrupt his inner ear and brain fluid. His death would be blamed on a migraine."

"But that's..." Kurt thought for a moment. "Why are you explaining this to me?"

"He doesn't get it, does he?" Locus scoffed.

"He's even dumber than he looks," Feral snickered, twitching her tail and showing her fangs.

"You threw a wrench into the plan when you teleported here with us instead of Archangel," Domino explained. "Luckily, what we've observed of your power makes you well-suited to fill his role."

Kurt sighed. "I was afraid of that. What role might that be? Wacky next-door neighbor?"

This actually got a laugh out of Domino. "Siryn needs someone to transport her to the balcony outside Trask's apartment. Angel was supposed to carry her, but you can teleport her just as easily. Or was I mistaken when I saw you disappear from the crowd of X-Men and reappear behind Angel in the same instant?"

"What if I refuse?"

"Believe me," Siryn whispered, pressing the gun barrel even harder against his adam's apple. "Ye don't have a choice." She paused. "But even if you did, would you want to refuse? Bolivar created the Sentinels, or have you forgotten? The same robots who destroyed your circus and everyone in it."

Kurt's gaze strengthened as he stared at Siryn. "How did you know..."

Domino shrugged. "How many other blue circus mutants can there be? We'd heard about the incident which orphaned you. We kept track of your movements. We were going to recruit you, but Xavier got to you first, and we were inspired to include the X-Men on our Sentinel strike. But the point remains that sitting across the street, talking on his cel phone, is the man who took your family away from you. He made the machines. He was even stopped briefly when the president decided to go PC on the mutant population. But he had a backup plan. He's bound and determined to hunt mutantkind with those robots. The slaughter of over a hundred innocent mutants is on his head, and you're going to pass up the opportunity to put him out of his misery?"

Kurt thought about this. He said nothing for a full minute. "All right," he conceded finally. "I'll do it. He has much to answer for, starting with the murder of my soulmate and unborn child."


"Little help here?" Archangel requested into his headset comm. He was putting his manouverability to the test by evading energy beams from three Sentinels. "I'd like to keep by feathers uncharred, thank you very much!" A Sentinel stepped in front of him and grabbed at him with an enormous metal hand.

A wave of cryonic energy encased the Sentinel in a foot-thick coccoon of ice. "Jesus, Archie," Iceman replied over the commlink, "you're starting to sound like Beast over here!"

"I heard that," Beast declared as he cartwheeled over the body of a fallen Sentinel. "But according to our fearless leader, we're supposed to provide these toy soldiers with moving targets on which to waste their fire. So quit complaining and have fun, Angel."

Warren swooped low to allow Cyclops to pick off a Sentinel with an optic blast. "Cyclops is YOUR fearless leader, not mine. And it's 'Archangel', not 'Angel'!"

"So you're really not David Boreanaz?" Colossus quipped as he knocked a Sentinel off-balance, setting it up for Meltdown to blow huge holes in it. "I for one am disillusioned." He smiled at Archangel's voice telling him to shut up, then turned to Wolverine. "You ready?"

Wolverine readied his claws. "Yeah, just go easy on the jacket."

Colossus grabbed Wolverine, and hurled him at high speed toward the Sentinels. "One Fastball Special comin' up!" Wolverine landed on a Sentinel's shoulder and dug his claws into the robot's neck, exposing interior wiring. His claws performed only minimal damage, but it made enough to distract the Sentinel, whose stomach was plowed through by Cannonball while Wolverine jumped off.

"Fastball special?" Archangel asked as he caught Wolverine in midair. "That has to be the stupidest name for an attack I've ever heard!" He found that carrying the clawed mutant was harder was more work than he expected. "Urfff! What have you been eating? You're heavier than you look!"

"Could either be the bacon,"Wolverine answered slyly, "or the adamantium lining my bones. Now put me down, flyboy; I hate heights!"

Archangel obliged, unceremoniously dropping Wolverine from a height of fifty feet. Luckily, Marvel Girl telekinetically slowed his fall until Wolverine hovered twenty feet above the ground. "Nice job, Jeannie," Wolverine growled, "but the idea was to put me on the GROUND!"

"Gripe, gripe, gripe," Marvel Girl replied. "I wanna borrow your services for a second." Before Wolverine could shape another protest, he was launched telekinetically well over the speed limit at a Sentinel, claws forward. His angle of attack slit open the robot's neck, severing internal circuits and wiring quickly. The Sentinel was then exposed to barrage of optic blasts and lightning bolts.

The lightning bolts were delivered by Storm, who chuckled at Jean's treatment of Wolverine. "Told you she only wanted you for your body," she cracked as Wolverine finally landed near her. Wolverine just grumbled. "Looks like that's it, Cyclops," Storm shouted over to the group leader.

"I doubt it, Storm," Cyclops observed gravely. "We started out with twelve Sentinels. We've only defeated seven of them."

"Then, uh, what happened to the other five?" Iceman asked.

"They high-tailed once they saw what we were doing to the seven," Thunderbird bragged, holding and inspecting a Sentinel arm which he'd ripped out of its shoulder socket.

"Don't pat yourself on the back with that thing just yet," Cyclops warned. "The rest probably strategically retreated during the confusion, and are regrouping for another attack."

"Yeah, right, One-Eye; they're machines! They can't think."

"No, but they're programmed with enough A.I. to devise battle strategies based on observation."

Thunderbird strode toward Cyclops. He hated being contradicted as much as Cyclops did, so a conversation between the two was something to be avoided. "Then if you're sure they're gonna attack us again, where the hell are they? Huge robots don't just vanish, ain't it?"

Cyclops was momentarily jarred from his train of thought by Thunderbird's grammar use. He recovered quickly with, "no, which is why it'd be a good idea to open those beady eyes of yours and LOOK!"

"Can it, Summers," Wolverine barked. "You're right; they're still around. I can hear their engines and hydraulics. Sounds like they're coming from--"

A huge tremor shook the parking lot, and the mutants turned to face the factory in time to see it being ripped from its foundation by the remaining five Sentinels, which were relying on teamwork. They activated their foot-mounted jet thrusters, and lifted the colossal structure upward two-hundred feet into the air. It became immediately clear to the mutants that they were about to be squashed like roaches under a falling telephone book.

Even worse, the remains of the seven downed robots surrounded them, and made escape difficult. They certainly tried anyway.

"Everybody scatter!" Cyclops shouted, though it was rather useless to give the others an order which they were already following. "Those who can fly, carry those who can't!"

Cannonball took off with Rictor and Thunderbird; Angel grabbed Storm and Cyclops; Marvel Girl levitated herself and Wolverine; Beast and Colossus hopped and climbed their way out of the robotic junkyard because they were too heavy to carry. Meltdown, on the other hand, thought it was an excellent idea to stay and fight.

"Meltdown, what are you doing?" Cannonball shouted to her. Was she crazy?

"Got it covered, hon," Meltdown replied, charging up two explosive spheres, expanding their sizes until they were larger than basketballs.

Marvel Girl deposited Wolverine clear, then turned to focus on Meltdown, summoning her telekinesis to retreive the X-Forcer who decided to stay and fight.

Cyclops, now on the ground, saw that the Sentinels were ready to drop the building, so he aimed at the boot jets of the one furthest from him in the cluster. Timing this carefully, he pressed the button on his visor to open the ruby quartz lens all the way. He opened his eyes as widely as possible, and let loose a crimson explosion of concussive energy, of which he had to tense his neck muscles to keep control. The energy beams merged into one, as always, and divested the Sentinel of its feet below the ankles.

The sudden loss of one of the supporting thrusters shifted the weight of the building just as the Sentinels prepared to release it. They dropped the building, but at a different angle than they'd planned. The building fell swiftly toward the site where it once stood, missing the mutants by a wide margin.

Meltdown was a little perturbed that her plan had been sidelined, but she decided that as dramatic and spectacular as detonating the falling building was, it was probably a suicide mission. She heard Cyclops ordering the team's energy protectors to hit the Sentinels with everything they've got, now that the robbots were in a tight cluster. She hurled the spheres upward at the robots, and was thankful the spheres weighed almost nothing at all; otherwise they wouldn't have made the distance between her and the robots.

By the time the spheres reached the Sentinels, Storm's gale-force winds held them in place, as her lightning bolts and Jean's telekinetic pulses tore into them. Meltdown's contributions were icing on the cake, and the five robots went up in a massive explosion that elicited a few jokes about Fourth of July from the mutants below.


"Tabitha?" Cannonball shouted to Meltdown.


"You might want t'get over here with the rest of us. The robot parts are starting to rain down."

"Oh yeah. Good point." Meltdown scampered over to the rest of the mutants as they watched pieces of charred Sentinel clatter on the pavement.

"That was fun," Thunderbird observed, catching his breath. His X-Force teammates nodded in agreement, as did a few of the X-Men.

With the usual exception of Cyclops. "Yeah, but fun's over. Mind telling us where the rest of your team went?"

"I don't have to tell you nothing," Thunderbird retorted, fists clenched. He wondered how many of these X-Men people were going to piss him off today.

Cannonball put a hand on Thunderbird's shoulder. Cyclops found it oddly comforting that he wasn't the only leader who had to put up with hot-headed teammates. "We've dragged the X-Men this far into what we've been doing," Cannonball told Thunderbird, "we might as well tell them everything. They have a teammate there, remember?"

"Whose fault was that?" Thunderbird pointed out. "Not ours."

"Your right, it was my idea," Cyclops agreed. "And it seems to me that Nightcrawler is exactly where he should be."


~I sincerely hope, Kurt, that you're not about to do what your thoughts are broadcasting.~

Professor Charles Xavier could feel Kurt's irritation at the former's telepathic question. He scratched his cat affectionately behind the ear as he sat in his study, keeping psionic tabs on his newest student's progress. ~That all depends,~ Kurt replied rather shortly, ~on what I'm broadcasting.~

~You're broadcasting an acute need for revenge, and I can't help but notice the rather creative thoughts flitting around in your mind about what precisely you'll do to Mr. Trask once you get your hands on him. I have to say I'm disappointed.~

The professor received as a reply an expletive in German, but he passed it off as the trademark defensiveness of someone unaccustomed to communicating telepathically. Now that Xavier thought about it, he knew of very few people who didn't mind Xavier's mental presence.

He felt Kurt collect his thoughts more presentably, and respond, ~Are you also picking up a complete unwillingless to take a life or go through with Domino's little plan? If so, that's exactly what I'm feeling. I have to admit that giving Trask a detailed piece of my mind is tempting, and Lord knows he deserves it, but right now I need a plan to keep everyone alive. For that, I need Cyclops.~

~Cyclops? I could certainly come up with something if need--~

~Perhaps, but I trust Scott more, and he's better at strategy.~

This genuinely caught Charles by surprise. The tawny-colored feline stirred from his nap, and looked lazily up at Charles, who glided his hand across the cat's forehead. Xavier looked at the cat, named Thoreau, perhaps the only nonhumanoid mutant Xavier was aware of. Thoreau not only possessed the ability to generate massive amounts of bioelectricity when angered, but near-human intelligence and self-awareness as well. He could only communicate with Charles telepathically, but his existence cause Charles to investigate mutations in the animal world more closely.

~Well?~ Kurt's telepathic voice asked, rather impatiently. ~Siryn's in position, and Trask is in sight. She's about ready to sing him a rather fatal lullabye.~

~All right. I'll patch him through.~


Kurt continued to keep watch from his vantage point on the balcony. He soon felt another telepathic voice float into his head. ~Nightcrawler, it's Cyclops. The professor told me what happened, and that you--~

--Need a brilliant strategy to stop Trask from dying, no matter how much I fantasize otherwise. I can think on my feet, but my specialty is self-defense, not offense. Suggest away.

~Okay, let me think a sec--~

We don't have a second.

~Yeah, I know, just--okay, I have an idea....~

Upon hearing Scott's plan, Kurt found it difficult to keep a straight face. A chuckle escaped his lips, and Siryn turned to him in annoyance. "Sorry," he apologized, and waited until Siryn returned her attention to Trask who was about to down another pill. Kurt let his gaze rest on Siryn's rather shapely posterior.

Acting on Cyclops' suggestion, he reached out and pinched it.

Siryn's planned sonic frequency would have been audibly only to stray animals. Instead, her rather surprised shriek shattered every glass object in earshot, pulverized brick and mortar, ripped through formica paneling, and brought a very prominent roboticist to his knees, bleeding at the ears. By the time the last tiny glass shard tinkled to the floor, Trask's apartment looked like it was visited by a wrecking ball instead of soundwaves.

Siryn wheeled around and backhanded Nightcrawler. "What the hell do ye think ye're doin', ye little blue pervert?! Ye ruined my shot!" She pointed at Trask. "And he's still alive!"

"That was the plan."

"Domino's plan was to--"

"I know exactly what her plan was," Nightcrawler shot back through gritted teeth. "I didn't say I was acting on her plan. As much as I'd like to kill him myself, it's simply not right. We have to be better than him."

"Tell that to all the mutants who died thanks to him," Siryn seethed, "and all of 'em who will die as long as he's alive!" She punctuated her sentence with a high kick aimed at Kurt's chin. Her foot instead passed through a cloud of brimstone, and she whipped around to find Nightcrawler reappearing inside the apartment. Kurt confronted a cluster of FoH guards, who piled into the den to investigate the explosively loud noise barely a minute earlier.

The guards drew their weapons, but Nightcrawler made himself a frustratingly difficult target to hit, bouncing around in their midst, and administering kicks and finger-strikes anywhere an opening presented itself. Siryn was tempted to join the fight, but she found herself simply watching the blue mutant in action, accomplishing acrobatic feats she had only seen in "The Matrix". At one point, Kurt ran up the side of a wall, then flipped sideways to fling out both legs and deck random guards. His tail snaked out to the chandelier, and he used his momentum to swing himself across the room. As impressively as Kurt was handling himself, Siryn realized there were more guards entering the room. She sent a focused sonic scream at them to disable them, then notified Domino's group over commlink to move in. Domino informed her that they were on their way.

By now, Kurt was surrounded, and had managed to take a few punches and kicks in random places. A guard slammed the butt of his rifle between Kurt's shoulder blades, stunning him. On his way down to the floor, Kurt noticed something peculiar: Trask was gone.

He vaguely heard a sonic scream rattle his bones and send the thugs sprawling, but his concentration was on the retreating figured glimpsed outside the doorway. He rose to his ebows, and pulled his knees under him. He vanished in another explosion of brimstone.


Trask staggered to his car, fumbling for his keys. It had been a long fevered trek to the parking garage, and the severe case of nausea Trask was fighting made the distance between his apartment and his car seem much longer and more painful than usual. His hearing was nearly gone as a result of the sonic assault, and his equilibrium had been bollixed very efficiently. Trask had to stop three times to catch his breath and keep from throwing up, but finally he reached his Mercedes, wanting to put as much distance between himself and those loathsome mutants as possible. He of course carried a few blueprints and floppy disks of Sentinel schematics. No way were the mutants going to get a hold of them.

He pressed the button on his keychain to deactivate the alarm system, and unlocked the door. He suddenly became aware of an odd stench he couldn't place, but had been lingering in the air since he arrived. Smelled like sulphur or...

"What's the American phrase? Oh, I call 'shotgun'."

Trask froze as the voice made itself known in the echoing garage. The voice had a noticeable German accent. His mind raced. His eyes darted around. "Magneto?"

The voice burst into surprised laughter, revelling in the absurdity of the question. "Heavens, no. He's less handsome. Believe me, you wish I were Magneto." The voice was suddenly closer, seemingly right behind Trask.

He spun around to face a dark grinning face devoid of pupils. "Guten tagh," the figure hissed.

Fireworks erupted across Trask's vision, and only when he felt cold hard cement slam into his shoulder did he realize he'd just been punched. He didn't even see the mutant's arm move. He looked up and around, trying to locate the mutant, who had disappeared. He raised himself painfully into a sitting position, then scanned the room 360 degrees. No sign of the mutant. He stood up slowly, afraid to guess how much his landing had damaged his shoulder. He could still feel the mutant's presence. "I know you're still here, demon! Show yourself! Or are you too afraid to meet me face-to-face, instead of hit-and-run?"

The mutant came out of nowhere and slammed a foot into his ribs, sending him into the door of his car. Trask finally got a good look at the mutant, and was both repulsed and amazed by the physical extent of the creature's genetic mutation: blue skin, yellow eyes, oddly-shaped hands, and a tail. He was dressed like one of the X-Men. "'Afraid'?" the mutant practically screamed. "This coming from a man who sends robots to slaughter an entire race? You talk to me about cowardice, and try to exterminate innocent people simply because they're born different, and because a few of them might be terrorists. There is no excuse for that kind of evil."

"Self defense..." Trask breathed. "Your kind exists to wipe us out."

Again, Trask found himself on the receiving end of what had to be a kick, so fast there was no preamble, simply a strike. "And your kind exists to wipe out any thing that's inconvenient. Nature, mutants, other, less-fortunate's all the same. Perhaps X-Force is right: perhaps there's only one solution for you."

Trask tried to meet his gaze, but found it quite difficult for a variety of reasons. "So kill me and get it over with."

The mutant thought on it for a moment. "I guess I could; there are any number of ways I could do it. Crushed windpipe, hard kick to solar plexus, broken neck, nose driven into brain...maybe all three and more; what do you think? Your choice."

Trask stuttered.

"Nah," the mutant shrugged dismissively. "Not devious enough. I do have an idea what to do with you, but first I want to ask if you remember a certain circus your robots invaded."

Trask looked away.

"Do you? Answer me."


"So you remember the scores of normal human bystanders who were crushed in the incident, all in an attempt to kill two lowly mutants. Was it worth it?"

"It was ... it was a disaster," Trask whispered. "That shouldn't have happened. I mourned their deaths."

"That's funny; so did I. They were my friends, my family, my audience. They bore me no ill will, and come to think of it, neither did the robots. They just acted on programming. I don't even blame the robots anymore. But you? How can you possibly live with yourself?"

Trask kept silent.

"That's what I thought. Professor?" The mutant seemed to be suddenly talking to someone else.

~I am here, Kurt.~

"Remember that one trick Jean is fond of, with the music?"

~Oh yes. Do you have anything specific in mind for him?~

Barely thirty seconds later, X-Force arrived to find Trask writhing on the ground, holding his ears. Nightcrawler stood over him, quite amused as Trask ranted and raved, "make it stop! Please!"

Nightcrawler smiled at Domino. "Shhh. He's listening to a rather rousing song in his head. As loud as possible. With any luck, he'll be hearing it for the rest of his life."

Domino was curious. "And...what's he listening to, exactly?"

"Yodeling. It sucks to be him."


Kurt climbed his way to the top of the platform, and looked down down up at the big top tent above him, and down at at the main ring and audience below him.

The audience was cheering for him.

He smiled as he surveyed the lack of net. Just as he liked it. As far as he was concerned, safety nets went out with training wheels and baby teeth.

He stood at the precipice, holding his hand out on both sides theatrically. He really didn't need to do this for balance, as his tail automatically provided all the balance he ever needed, but he was a showman.

The trapeze hung at an unusually remote distance from where he stood, awaiting his arrival. No ordinary human could make the jump. Which was exactly why he treasured it.

He knew that this was all an illusion. He knew that he was actually standing at the center of the mansion's Danger Room, experiencing the simulation via a virtual reality helmet. He knew that the dizzying height and faint breeze were programmed into the simulation, and that all laws of physics and gravity he was aware of were artificial in this environment. Beast had made it as close as humanly possible to what Kurt would experience on a trapeze platform.

But he didn't care. It had been months since the last time he had performed under a big top. Months since he had taunted the pull of gravity. Months since he'd held Amanda in his arms.

He was going to enjoy this for all he was worth.

He felt the heat of the spotlight on him. His eyes were tightly closed, both to prepare himself mentally, and to keep out the bright light on his sensitive nocturnal eyes.

He bent his knees slightly...

...and leapt.


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