The morning was cold and crisp. There were enough clouds in the sky to lend artistic beauty to the sunrise, but not enough to obscure the wild colors of dawn. This, Ororo ensured. If they were going to see their strange allies off, they would be doing it under the best conditions she could manage.
Though the morning was beautiful, there was another, more sobering reason for their timing. The spy satellites that watched the estate would not be overhead at this hour of the day. Bad enough that the talons had come here in such force, but to see so many massed on Xavier's lawn would invite more government scrutiny than even the professor could avoid.
Only Scott and Isidro stayed inside, their wounds preventing them from leaving their beds. The rest of the school, including Hank, turned out on the lawn to watch. Kotoko stood near his commander, a slightly larger and older-looking talon by the name of Ushkut. As Xavier made mental contact with Ushkut, once again his subconscious chose a race based on the name, in this case a middle-aged man of Middle-Eastern descent. Unlike Kotoko, Ushkut's mental image was straight, 100%, career soldier. He gave Xavier the impression of being a so-called "mustang", an officer who worked his way through the ranks as opposed to separate training.
"It's a shame you and your government structure seem to be at odds," Ushkut told him. "Your people are obviously advanced enough to figure out our technology. It would be a good alliance. What I wouldn't give to have beings like you fighting alongside of us." Ushkut pointed to Piotr. "Especially him. I wouldn't have believed he could stand under a grav tank if I didn't see it myself. That would have smashed any one of us to a pulp. You're sure you don't have any more like him you can spare?"
Xavier smiled. "I'm afraid not, Ushkut. Piotr is one of a kind, as are we all."
As they communicated, Hank came up to Kotoko with a footlocker in his arms. He set it down and opened it. Inside was a solar powered radio/CD player, dozens of CDs, an unabridged Webster's Dictionary, hardback copies of Gray's Anatomy, Crichton's hard science fiction classic The Andromeda Strain, Jim Lovell's Lost Moon, and a host of other books on flora, fauna, and ecology. He lifted up the CD player and a CD.
"Now, most of these are readings of books," he said. "Do you know how to read English?"
Kotoko gave one click, then two, then one.
"Ahh, I see," Hank said, nodding. "You're still figuring it out?" One click. "This may help. This book--" he lifted Andromeda Strain "-- is read on this disc. Here's how it works."
While Hank was instructing Kotoko in the proper use of a CD boom box, several of the talon troops had moved over to a paved section of the estate. To the fascination of the students, they started going through what could best be described as drill routines, walking in lock step, flipping up and rolling, and leaping over one another.
"I hope their behavior isn't too distracting," Ushkut thought with concern. "When we found out there were kids here…." He paused and shifted two of his limbs. "Well, a lot of my people have been fighting for years, and they miss their families. Even if these are alien children, they're still children."
Xavier nodded, watching the talon soldiers perform their routines. "I hope they will be able to see their own children soon."
"Thanks to you people, it's a lot closer now. The King's Own lost a lot in that battle, on both sides of the wormhole. We intercepted a few panicky transmissions from them about how the natives knew they were coming and set up a defense. When they saw us come over the hills, they assumed this was one of our strongholds instead. If they were desperate before, they've got to be running scared now. I think you just cut months off of this war, if not years."
The soft strains of Mozart drifted through the air. Kotoko had quickly mastered the use of the CD player, and was trying out different discs. He swiftly attracted an audience of the remaining talons. His dozens of mouths clicked and hissed away. The player looked so small under his massive limb, like a doll's toy in an adult's hands, and yet he had no trouble manipulating its controls.
Some of the more courageous students were taking turns riding on top of the talons as they raced each other. "Alien piggy-back rides", they called them. Other were content to be entertained by just watching. Only Regis stood apart from the crowd, his arms clutched tightly around his chest.
Kurt walked up and dropped into a crouch next to him. "With that coat on , I don't think you're that cold."
The boy didn't answer right away, but he did move a little closer to Kurt.
"You're still frightened?" Kurt asked softly. Regis nodded, and Kurt continued, "Why?"
"They scared the shit out of me!" Regis whispered loudly. Kurt fixed him with a stern glare, and Regis hastily amended his statement. "They scared the daylights out of me, okay? Just two days ago I had one of those things jump out of the woods and grab me. There were these plates and spiky things underneath and it hurt, okay?"
His voice cracked with those last few words. Kurt put his hands on Regis' shoulders and positioned him in front. When he spoke, his words went softly into Regis' ear, meant for and heard by him alone.
"And so, because one of that race was cruel, they are all cruel?"
Regis looked down, silent.
"Regis, do not fall into the same trap as Magneto has fallen. Do not fall into the same trap as Senator Kelly fell into. Do not lump others together like that. Especially when there is so much evidence that they are not the same." Kurt gestured to the "talon races" going on in front of them. "If those were men, playing with the others, would you still fear them?"
"No…," Regis confessed softly.
Kurt patted Regis on his shoulders. "Forgive, Regis. You will find life so much easier if you can learn to do that."
"My main concern is that we have yet to find those of my race who were involved," Xavier told Ushkut. "If they're still an active organization, and they still have access to faulty versions of your portal technology, this may just be the beginning of a protracted hunt on our side."
"I don't think the King's Own will take advantage of another wormhole again, but there's plenty of other problems that could arise," Ushkut admitted. "If the situation was different, we would be happy to help you hunt this organization down. As is, we just can't afford to let up on the King yet."
Xavier could feel Ushkut's attention shift to Kotoko and the "care package" they had given him. "Since we're exchanging gifts, I have something for you, Xavier. I imagine I might get in trouble for doing this, but I'd rather beg forgiveness than miss my chance because I waited for permission."
He extended an arm and presented Xavier with a strange device. It looked vaguely like a 1960s-era curling iron. As Xavier watched with his mental eye, Ushkut held the device in his hand and activated it by squeezing the handle in his fist.
"This is a transdimensional beacon," he stated. "It works on a frequency I doubt your science would even pick up. You'll know it's working because of the light on the end. While we can communicate through it, I'm afraid we won't be able to really talk until we can figure out some sort of device to replicate your tonal structures. Kotoko intends to work on that while in convalescence. With your playback device, he'll have a much easier time of it." His mental form smiled. "Your stuff will keep that boy happy for weeks. He's hoping to come back here for a deeper study, once this is all over."
"I can't speak for my government, but we would welcome him here," Xavier said. "I wish I could guarantee his safety should he return...."
"There are never any guarantees, Teacher Xavier," Ushkut finished for him. "Scouts accept the risk, or they wouldn't be Scouts. You wouldn't be the first aliens we've contacted with precarious political situations, and I'm sure you won't be the last. In any case, I find you can learn more about a culture by living with a minority than with the power structure. Your assistance would be welcome."
Ushkut's body made a quick, snapping movement of his front limb, extending diagonally down to the ground. His mental image stood up straight and saluted.
"I'm afraid we must be going," he said. "We're due to rendezvous with the main force soon. I hope when we next meet, it will be under more peaceful circumstances."
Ushkut made a loud cacophony of clicks, whistling hisses, and a single roar. Those talons around Kotoko hastened to their leader's side. Kotoko himself quickly put everything back in the footlocker, then thanked Henry by way of extended arms before picking up his prize and joining the ranks. The soldiers playing with the students stopped and gently set the children down before swiftly leaping into formation with their brethren. Their parting pops and hisses to the students were likely forms of goodbye. All the talon soldiers stood together, so tightly their limbs overlapped, as Ushkut opened the white portal. As one, the platoon of talons and their commander extended their front limb in perfect, snapping, downward salute, then marched into the shimmering rift. In seconds they were gone, leaving only pressed spots in the lawn to mark where they had been.
Xavier looked down at the transdimensional beacon in his hand. And though he would enjoy speaking with and learning from Kotoko again, he prayed that he would not have to use the beacon any time soon.