Author's note: Dear Lord this is a long one. Maybe you ought to jsut print this out...anyway, this is it, the last chapter to my blatantly offensive soapbox! Good luck!
Concluding Chapter: "War"
There was nothing but darkness. The sound of hurried footsteps echoed from the shadows, fading just a minute soon after they disappeared. "Hurry up!" barked a young woman. "I'm on it! I'm on it! I'm 'Surge', not 'generator'!" responded another. "I can't see where I'm- -" A loud explosion then cuts her off, forcing her down to the ground with a cry of shock. "It came from above." one of the girls declared in a frighteningly calm voice. "We need to get the system online, now!"
"Okay, okay! Let there be light!" the girl declared. The sound of electricity surging then streaked across the area, as one by one, the lights began to turn on. And soon enough, the familiar blue walls of the institute's sub-complex were visible once more.
"Thank you very much, Noriko." Celeste telepathically communicated, as the lights on the Cerebra chamber lit up to reveal the Three-in-One, their eyes lit white, with the rest of the student body's telepaths standing on hover disks behind them. "Now, let's get back to work."
Another loud explosion rocked the grounds, while an endless barrage of gunfire tore through the air like smoking shards or orange light. There were no other sounds that night, nothing but the Earth cracking and mortar exploding, shells falling and men screaming. Julian raised a telekinetic shield to avoid getting skewered by lead, making sure that its protection extended to the others who did not have the benefit of invulnerability. "Go! Go! Go! Tanks at the front! Air support, cut their ranks!" he ordered once more, allowing the students with enhanced strength and endurance to take the lead. Fifty students going against more than two-hundred soldiers. They had no time to change into uniforms, or ready themselves for the onslaught. No time to tell the people they love how they felt or that they missed them. From your heart fluttering with butterflies at the sight of a pretty face, to staring down the barrel of the gun, all in the span of hours. No time at all. Rockslide was the first to tear into the soldiers' frontlines, aided by the fact that he was composed entirely of granite, and near-invulnerable to most firearms. Hisako didn't take long to follow, as she pummeled wildly at the soldiers in her reach. It didn't take long for the rest of students to catch up in a clash that soon sent bodies flying.
"Push forward." Lilah ordered while she watched the battle from behind. Her men complied, as they fought back, using their rifles as melee weapons in close quarters, while reserving shells for when they had a clear shot. One of the students quickly leaned to her left in order to avoid getting her skull cracked against the butt of the rifle, immediately returning the favor by leaping up and slamming her knee up to her assailant's chin. She did no notice another soldier stopping and aiming from behind. But the telepaths did. "Duck!" Cady ordered from inside the Cerebra chamber, high-jacking the girl's mind and forcing her to crouch in order to avoid getting shot from behind. "Next time, just warn me!" the girl shouted, creating a sphere of energy and blasting the soldier with it straight through the chest before he could regain his bearings. A short distance away, Mercury was cutting through a swath of soldiers with bladed arms, fighting alongside her squad leader, Julian, who telekinetically pushed a soldier into a group of incoming ones. "Hey Cessily, want to try something new?" the Hellion asked, while using his telekinesis to return a volley of bullets to the men who fired them.
"You know me…" she dryly responded.
"Liquid up!" Julian instructed, while the red-haired young woman complied. "And make sure you're sharp…" he reminded, as he levitated Mercury and began to swirl her edged, liquid form around him like a whip, easily cutting down the men who surrounded them. He no longer wondered why, even at his young age, he already knew so much about violence. Overhead, the winged Josh Guthrie, Cannonball's younger brother, flew in circles, attempting to gain the soldiers' attention in order to give the students at the ground some room to breathe. He didn't dare fly too low, lest he be taken in by the weaving bullets that came his way. And as he made a quick turn, another student by the name of Samantha Holly, a young female composed of green fire, swept by him. "You okay, Icarus?" she half-yelled, half-asked, before firing a stream of green flames on the ground. Sofia Mantega, the Venezuelan born Wind Walker, flew after her, using lashes of wind in order to further spread the fires. It didn't take long for the both of them to construct what looked to be a hedge maze, composed of bright green flames, which helped divide the enemy army, and give the students a fighting chance by taking them on in close quarters.
"There's so many of them!" Quill yelled, who concurrently dove out of a volley of bullet's trajectory while throwing sharp spikes to disable some enemy soldiers. He quickly got on his knees and bent his upper torso backward, hurling five spikes at the enemies who came from behind. "They aren't staying down!" he then shouted, immediately throwing more spikes at a pair of incoming soldiers. Two more approached him at the side, quickly opening a controlled burst of gunfire, which the boy was not lucky enough to dodge.
"Rubbermaid, get him out of the field, now!" one of the telepaths ordered, remote-controlling the girl with the power of elasticity to come to the aid of the severely wounded student before the enemy soldiers could finish him off. "Elixir is waiting in the medical bay! Take him there!"
She stretched through the middle of a soldier's legs, keeping the wounded boy in her arms. And as the dead man turned to make sure that neither of the children got away, a pair of ice-cold blades sliced clean through his neck. X-23 growled at the sight of the green and black blood that sprayed from the man's open neck, before leaping forward to avoid a burst of gunfire from the rest of the soldiers there. With a shrill war cry, she landed on the chest of a soldier in front of her, and immediately bounced off of him before the force of her weight could make him topple over. With the bullets flying in an attempt to catch her, she turned to her left while in mid-air, now facing another soldier, and immediately brought her right claw down across his chest. Meanwhile, one of the military jeeps parked by the gates exploded into the air, thanks to a well-aimed ball of fire from Samantha. On the ground, a male student wielding a mystic sword was busy severing limbs from the school's attackers, backed by a young feral who was doing an equally impressive job of tearing the invaders apart. "These children are very impressive." remarked Lilah, watching the students work as a team in order to gain the upper hand in battle. "But still. One little mistake on their part…and it will be over. They can't keep this up forever."
"Perhaps you could use your telepathy to subdue them, Ms. Graham." Her chauffeur, Simon, suggested, standing protectively beside her.
"I need to reserve my energies for Cerebra, Simon….but you're right…these kids in the field maybe protected by the telepaths inside, but I don't think the ones hiding in the mansion are…"
"This isn't right." Beckah whispered, as she sat with her arms hugging her knees. Even from there, they could hear the ground cracking wide open. The Danger Room, now free of all Shi'ar technology thanks to the X-Men's recent encounter with it's rogue form, was filled to the brim with nervous students. Even some of those who agreed to defend the institute were forced to stay with the ones who didn't, since only the upperclassmen who successfully endured their squad training were permitted to battle above. It made for some very tense quarters, as most of the other students have already began arguing with each other about what was right and what was wrong. "This isn't right!" Beckah repeated, this time leaning closer to the student beside her in order to get his attention. Chris looked up with a startled expression. There were still red marks streaked across his neck, the remainder of his attempt to take his own life just hours ago. Beckah noticed them, but chose to ignore them out of politeness.
"…hey, aren't you…?" the young woman narrowed her eyes, recognizing that the student beside him was the 'charity-case' that her best friend Cady had referred to earlier on.
"…yes?" the young man asked with a slight stutter on his person, clearly not too comfortable with the art of dialogue. "Can I help you?"
"No…no, I was just saying that…this is really dumb."
"What is?" Chris questioned, still wondering why someone was actually speaking with him.
"We shouldn't be fighting them! They're giving us this…this amazing gift, and all we have to do is sit back and watch them do it!"
"…but we are sitting back and watching them do it…" Chris muttered, pointing out that none of them have done anything to help, or oppose Lilah's army.
"I lost my dad to the stupid war on terror."
"…I'm sorry…" Chris slowly answered, not at all experienced with handing out condolences.
"He should have been…if the people outside say they can put a stop to these pointless wars…then, then what's so bad about it?"
"…" Chris lowered his head, not entirely sure of what his stand on the situation is.
"We should help them." Beckah declared with a resolute expression on her face.
Outside/-at the same time-
'We should help them." Lilah held her hand to the air, her eyes closed, mouthing the Beckah's words with a sly smile. "We should help them." She repeated, before opening her eyes just in time to find a stray bullet seconds away from putting a hole through the middle of her eyes. A sudden blur saved her from instant death. "Thank you, Simon." Lilah muttered, as her eyes trailed to her chauffeur, who effortlessly caught the bullet with his fingers before it could hit Lilah. "My pleasure, Ms. Graham." He politely replied, before casually throwing the bullet away.
"I know you're itching for a good fight, Simon. But let's reserve our sadistic tendencies for the right time, shall we?" reminded Lilah, who now sat with crossed legs on top of the hood of a transport jeep.
"Of course, Ms. Graham."
"What are you doing?" Hill asked as she leaned on the open doorway. The glaring light from the corridor outside bathed her figure in shadow, a seemingly perfect match for her less than sunny disposition.
"I'm doing what's right." Fury dryly retorted, as he shoved a full clip into his silver Desert Eagle. He then holstered it into his utility strap before taking a swig from the glass of wine on his desk.
"Your morality stance is so…full of shit." The woman shot back, before casually entering the co-director's office. He did not notice her give a quick glance to the glass he was drinking from, before she spoke once again. "We both know that what you're doing isn't because of right or wrong…you just want the X-Men to be so thankful for your help that the next time you ask them for a favor, you'll be sure that they won't be able to refuse."
"At least I don't get down on my knees and service people for what I need." Fury dryly retorted.
"You step out of this Helicarrier, and you'll be disgraced from S.H.I.E.L.D, Colonel." Hill then threatened, catching the old man's attention.
"And how do you work that out?"
"The continuous use of Government resources for your own private agendas? Interfering with matters that have no relation to S.H.I.E.L.D.? Going out on missions without the backing of the U.N.? Or perhaps never knowing when old horses like yourself have outlived your usefulness? Take a pick."
"I pick the middle one." Fury shot back, flipping her off with his right hand while taking out a small combat knife from his disk with the left. Hill shook her head. "Have you heard of the G.S.J. co-director?" Fury then asked. Hill nodded. "Government Sanctioned Jihad. And this matters, why exactly, Nick?"
"Apparently, some of the douche-bags in the executive branch have revived this project. You remember what it does right? It's the United States' very own little terrorist farm. Some sick fucks are paid to raise Middle-Eastern men and women to carry out acts of terrorism on our, and on foreign soil. We hire terrorists to bomb our own cities so we can blame it on somebody else. So we can tell the world that it is our right."
"Is this conversation leading anywhere? Or are you just trying to impress me with things I already know?"
"Did you know that five weeks ago, four women from the G.R.S. camp volunteered for genetic modification?" Fury asked, receiving only dead silence from the woman as response. "Because I sure as hell didn't." continued Fury, who now carried a distinct tone of agitation in his voice. "And to make things even better, these women were experimented on with the Rosetta parasites that S.H.I.E.L.D. has been culturing for decades. Do you remember what the Rosetta strain does? It can reanimate dead hosts, or give them extreme mutations should they be implanted when still alive. And those women were very much alive. So tell me, co-director…how does the G.R.S., a highly secretive branch of the shadow administration, get its hands on code white S.H.I.E.L.D. tech?"
"…you don't have proof of any of this."
"Don't bullshit me, woman. The Black Widow has been trailing the X-Men for the past three hours. Those women were G.R.S! And they were infected by Rosetta! Or maybe you should have a talk with a certain General Major Karl Messer who we intercepted leaving Karbala half an hour ago?"
"Are you accusing me of anything, colonel?" Hill asked, stepping up just to prove that she wasn't intimidated of him in the slightest.
"Of course not." Fury retorted, slinging a small bag over his shoulder. "But if I do find out that you're connected to this…"
"…this is for your own good, Nick." Hill whispered, before turning around and stepping away. Her cryptic words were enough to pique the co-director's interest. Outside, Hill took out a small remote from her belt, and pressed a button on it. It only took a second before she heard the man in the room fall to the floor.
"Thank God for nanotech." The woman muttered, before exiting the corridor, and locking it behind her.
"We can't keep this up!" Cady shouted with an exhausted tone, while maneuvering one of the students out of harm's way. The telepath beside her, a young woman with no eyes and the name Blindfold, also looked to be in despair. "This is hopeless…" she muttered. "The pawns are climbing back to the board…and the titans haven't even come to join the war…"
"Vince is flat lining! I can't pull him out of it!" cried a female telepath.
"Yes you can! Concentrate!" Celeste shrieked. "Fire every synapse in his brain of you have to, just don't let him lose consciousness!"
"It would help if we had a helmet too!" one of the telepaths shouted back, referring to the amplifier helmet that the Stepford Cuckoo had on.
"Maybe we can argue some more after we're all dead!" another telepath yelled. "Teleporter to section five, now! Get Jillian out of there!"
Outside/-at the same time-
"Bullet's out!" Mark shouted, throwing the bloodied piece of metal to the ground. It landed beside the bodies of three other students who were still recovering from their injuries. A female student was busy tending to their needs. "Okay, okay…" Elixir took a deep breath as he placed his hands over Quill's shattered shin. He imagined the cells in the young man's body regenerating faster and faster, which they did, healing the entry wound immediately. "Abracadabra…" A flash of light then flared by Mark's side, signaling the appearance of one of the teleporters. He carried the bloody body of another student, and gently laid her down on the ground, before teleporting away once again. "Christ…neck wound…" Elixir mumbled as he knelt beside the unconscious girl.
"Didn't go deep…probably hit her at an angle…" Mark observed while keeping his hands over her neck.
"As long as it didn't nick her carotid artery, she'll be fine." Elixir reassured, to himself more than anyone, as he began to work on healing the young girl.
"I should be out there…" muttered Mark, turning his attention to the battlefield. The crumpled walls of the institute gave them cover, but even from there, he could still see the explosions flare and bullets race across the sky. The screaming was unbearable.
"What are you going to do? Kill them with your fade away?" Elixir sarcastically retorted, taking his hands off of the girl as her wounds were already closed. "I mean, your powers aren't exactly useful against people who, according to your girlfriend, are already dead…" he further remarked, while he held the girl's head up for Mark to take off his jacket and fold it underneath. He had a sleeveless black shirt on, one which showed a tattoo of Mindee's name emblazoned on his exposed arm.
"Still pissed I beat you at basketball?" asked Mark, with a smirk on his face.
"You didn't beat me, I allowed myself to lose." Elixir replied.
"Well, if I live through this, then you can have a rematch." Mark then said, as he got on both feet.
"Mark, what the hell are- -"
"See you, man." Mark whispered, ignoring Elixir's protests, and charging into the battlefield with the rest of the students. Rubbermaid sped past him, obviously carrying another wounded student back to Elixir's care. It didn't take long before the voice of his friend calling him back was drowned by a cacophony of gunfire. Across the field, Lilah watched the proceedings below the mansion with a telepathic eye. She knew that the coordination the students displayed, their seeming omniscience in the field as they turned from blind spot to blind spot without even the cue of sound from an enemy soldier, were all thanks to the telepaths inside the Cerebra chamber. And with their eyes fervently watching the field, not one them noticed the troubles rising from elsewhere.
"Now, Simon." Lilah ordered, finally unleashing her guard onto the battlefield. Rockslide, who up to this point had no problems dealing with the soldiers, was the first to notice him. Not that it mattered, as Simon effortlessly rammed him with a powerful shoulder tackle, going straight through the young mutant.
"Santo!" Julian cried in a panic, as he watched the pieces of his friend fly about.
Simon took a moment to dust himself off, and then half-turned to make sure that his employer was alright. "Go on." Lilah instructed, still watching from a safe distance. She was now encircled by a cadre of soldiers, ensuring her safety, while relying on Simon to clear a way for them into the ruins of the Georgian manor across the front lawn. "Yes ma'am." Simon responded, only to come across Hisako, a young, Japanese girl with an armor composed of pure energy, coming his way. "…!" she quickly clubbed him on top of the head with both hands, clearly not holding back after seeing what he did to Rockslide just a few moments ago. Not relenting for a second, she then cracked her armored fist against the agent's jaw. Starting with her left, and then following up with a powerful right. But no matter how many blows she landed, Simon was still planted firmly on his feet. "Die!" Hisako shrieked, ready to strike once more. Simon chuckled. Before Hisako fist could connect to him once more, Simon retaliated with a quick hook of his own. His movement was so fast, that Hisako literally didn't even see what hit her, before everything went black. Another student rushed at Simon from the side, swinging a mystical sword aimed right for the man's neck. Too slow. Simon didn't even need to look at the young man's direction to catch the blade with his bare hand. The student looked on in shock as smoke began to swelter from the man's palm.
"Pathetic." he muttered, clenching his fist tight in order to dissipate the student's weapon. He then grabbed the young man by the neck, and easily snapped it without so much as a hint of remorse. Behind him, a squad of soldiers planted what looked like a drilling machine into the soil, latching it to the ground with small spikes, before activating a lever on its side, and then taking a step back. Light blue energy slowly began to focus beneath what looked like the barrel of a cannon, situated at the middle of the machine and aimed right at the ground. Three squads of soldiers then positioned themselves around the machine, their rifles at the ready. "No one gets close to the machine." Lilah sternly instructed, to which Simon nodded in response. The barrel of the machine began to spin, as bright, orange energy began to gather around it's base.
"What do you mean 'help them'? Are you insane?" Laurie yelled, trying to knock some sense into Beckah, who had already joined the other students who preferred Lilah's proposition over the alternative. Beckah in turn, wasn't shy about yelling back. It wasn't a stretch to say that the Danger Room was just as volatile as the battleground over its head.
"We're this close! This close to World War Three!" one of the students from the other end of the room shouted. "Are we seriously going to wait for it to happen?"
"This isn't the way!" a female student protested, even though her boyfriend was clearly trying to prevent her from getting involved.
"Well what is? We've talked about changing the world for the better! And this is it! This is our chance!"
"Listen to yourselves! Don't you see what you're becoming? Where are we? The junior totalitarian club?"
"Everyone just stop arguing!" Laurie yelled. "I have half the mind to just turn you all into manic-depressives!" she further threatened. But before she could even think about actually using her pheromone-based powers to ease the situation, she suddenly received a fist across her jaw.
"No." Beckah grimly responded, while the rest of the students watched in shock.
"Bitch!" one of Laurie's friends shrieked, before jumping Beckah from behind. Sooraya screamed for them to remain calm, only to receive a ferocious concussive blast from behind, knocking her out. It didn't take long before the rest of the students began to join in the fray, pulling no punches as they started using their powers against each other.
"Down!" Mark yelled to a female student, as he jumped a soldier who was about to grab her from behind. The moment that they both hit the ground, the young man immediately rolled forward, delivering a quick elbow to a soldier at his front. He then slanted to his left as he got up, kicking the barrel of a soldier's rifle upwards, turned a full three-sixty, and then the slammed the back of his fist against the man's jaw. The girl covered him from behind, taking care of the soldiers in her way with a couple of well-aimed plasma-knives.
"What is that thing?" the girl asked, still out of breath, while pointing at the machine that was continuously firing concentrated photons into the ground. "Is that a laser?"
Mark delivered a quick one-eighty that nearly took a soldier's head off, before turning to see what his fellow student was pointing at. "Oh…fuck…" he muttered, his eyes widening in horror as he realized what the machine was there for. "They're digging…" Mark looked to the ground, and then to the machine once more. "They're going to dig their way to Cerebra!"
"Just focus on staying alive, Mark." Mindee whispered, both vocally and telepathically. She had half the mind to force him to stay out of the battlefield entirely, but she knew he'd never forgive her if she did.
"Are they serious? They're actually going to dig their way down here?" one of the male telepaths asked, clearly in a state of dread. The rest of the telepaths soon joined in his alarm.
"Well, they aren't here yet." Phoebe quickly retorted. "The moment they're through, we incapacitate Cerebra, then head to the Danger Room…"
"I can feel it…" Blindfold commented. "…I feel the house breaking apart…"
"Not now, Blindfold!" Cady snapped, sick of her fellow telepath's cryptic utterances. "Watch out for Evan!"
"Wait…the house is…" The Three –in-One exchanged worried glances with each other while they spoke in unison. "…whose keeping an eye on the other students?"
Xavier Institute, Sub-Complex/19:08
Noriko rushed to the Danger Room, worried about the racket going on inside. With her powers spent from re-charging the entire sub-complex after Lilah's EMP went off, she honestly had no idea what to do in case there was trouble inside. Nonetheless, she came. The institute had a way of turning people into heroes. She stopped in front of the Danger Room's gargantuan double-doors, never noticing how menacing it looked if you didn't know what lied behind. Another scream made her jump. "Okay…" she uttered to herself, ignoring her pounding heartbeat. With the last of her strength, she generated a small bolt of electricity, and fired it at the keycard panel beside the door. It was only then that she heard the faint voice of the telepaths, as if catching up from behind a corner, telling her not to open the door. Too late.
"Oh God…" uttered Noriko, her mouth hanging open at the sight of the students in an all out war with each other., with a lot of the younger ones were already knocked unconscious by the upperclassmen. And in the place of bright, young faces, were masks of frenzied savages. Noriko stumbled back. These were not her friends. These were not the children she knew. And in that moment of horror, there was nothing of the strong, courageous young woman that the X-Men knew. In her place was a little girl, muttering the only word that crossed her mind. "Help." A sudden orb of bright yellow energy then struck her right in the stomach, silencing her immediately.
"What is happening?" a telepath screamed, clearly hysterical over the sight of the battle in the Danger Room. "Oh my God…look at what they- -"
"Keep quiet!" Celeste scolded, trying her best to maintain order in the chamber.
"They're going to come here! We have to stop them!" screamed Cady. "God, their minds are a mess!"
"We can't calm them down, and watch out for the guys on the field at the same time!" one of them shouted back. "We have to tell everyone up on the lawn to fall back!"
"No. The last thing we need is for them to just end up fighting with the other students here." The Three-in-One commented. "If the soldiers catch up with us whole we're busy throwing plasma bolts at each other, then we're as good as dead."
"So what do we do? Wait for them to- -"
"Wait…is that…?" the Three-in-One looked up, prompting the others to follow.
Mark shouted in anger as he swung the butt of an empty rifle across a soldier's jaw, nearly breaking the weapon in half. "They're pulling back!" he then yelled, taking note of the soldiers who began to escape the grounds of the institute. "Get out of our school!" a student yelled, in clear jubilation, as the students pushed the soldiers further back. Exclamations of triumph began to overwhelm the sound of energy bursting and electricity crackling. Lilah shook her head. At the same time, the airborne mutant who was composed of green fire had taken it upon herself to try and bring Simon down, swooping down and throwing a ball of fire in his direction each chance she could. She knew that as long as she remained out of his reach, then she would be fine. And with that cold comfort, she dove down again, firing another volley that managed to force Simon to the ground. "Strike!" she yelled with pride, as she got up once again, and readied another ball of flame.
But before Samantha could deliver anymore damage to the man below, a soft sparkle caught the corner of her eye. A sparkle that brought immeasurable hope to her heart. It was the light from a turbine. "Is that…?" she squinted her eyes; her spirit lifting at the thought of the X-Jet headed their way. Their nightmare would be over. They would win. "…!" but as quick as it came, the joy in her heart was soon replaced by an overwhelming sense of trepidation. More lights. More turbines. "Oh my God!" the young woman turned to the students on the field, others still busy pushing the soldiers back, others already in joyous celebration. And as a thousand thoughts raced across her head, about how it wasn't fair, about how they were already winning, she took a deep breath, and shouted at the top of her lungs.
"Sentinels! They've got Sentinels!"
"There they are…the titans have come…" Blindfold spoke softly, as the image of a dozen Sentinels approaching the institute was burning into their minds. The other telepaths on the other hand, simply could not find the words. Cady had covered her mouth with both hands, as she began to shake her head in misery, while another student fell on his knees with the same expression of despair washed over his face.
"…Alright…pull back…" murmured the Three-in-One. "The sub-complex should give us enough protection, everyone, everyone pull- -" The sound of the double-doors opening interrupted the telepaths from their stratagem. With their attention fixed on the Sentinels, they never noticed the mob that had gathered outside. The telepaths had little time to react, as the bloodthirsty students streamed down the bridge, screaming and shouting that they should hand Cerebra over to the woman outside. Cady screamed as a pair of male students jumped onto the hover disk that she and Blindfold stood on, one of the pair actually managing the leap, while the other slipping and then hanging on to its edge. "No, get off, get off!" the telepath pleaded, as the student began to wrestle her violently. Blindfold, for her part, attempted to pull the young man off of her fellow telepath, only to earn herself the back of his elbow right on the nose. Cady screamed for the man to stop, all in vain, as he threw Cady off of the hover disk, sending her plummeting to the bottom of the Cerebra chamber with a sickening crack that split her skull wide open.
The students on the field had now retreated into the remains of the institute's main building, using the broken walls for cover, while at the same time taking the moment to regroup. They started numbering at fifty, but now, after the initial battle, their number has been whittled down in half, though thanks to Rubbermaid, Elixir, and the teleporters, none of the casualties were actual fatalities. Though there were a lot of close calls. Not to mention a couple more still on the line. "How's Rockslide?" Elixir asked, referring to the Hellion squad member who was just literally turned into his namesake. Julian gave him an exasperated look, and a thumb up along with it. Rockslide was still unconscious, but if it had not been for Julian using his telekinesis to put him back together, then he wouldn't be with them at all.
"Samantha's still freaked…" a male student whispered, as he held onto the trembling young woman, who was now out of her fiery form. No one knew what the Sentinels had nearly accomplished if the X-Men hadn't saved her, but nonetheless, the mere sight of the steel giants was enough to make her recall everything she ever lost. And the truth was, she lost too much.
"It'll be at least two minutes before those things touch down." Mercury remarked.
"We need a game plan." Sofia declared, keeping her mind on the goal no matter how exhausted she was. Her eyes connected with Julian's, and they shared a moment of tender silence before breaking off.
"Maybe if we get Sooraya…"
"Mindee!" Mark suddenly cried, gripping the sides of his head in clear anguish. The other students practically jumped in surprise; surprise which was soon replaced by concern, as they rushed to Mark's side. He couldn't hear them asking him what was wrong, or what had happened. All he knew was that the psychic rapport he shared with the girl he loved was now frying his brain, as he felt every torturous blow that she was receiving from below.
Time seemed to slow down as more students rampaged into Cerebra. Some of them spilled over the sides of the bridge, joining the others they threw off with a loud thud. Their minds were practically broken. Incoherent. Crazed. A group of young men were manhandling the three sisters, throwing them onto each other, and beating them with quick jabs when they could. While others took the chance to do much worse than beat on them. The sisters were in too much pain to mount a reprisal, and much too weak to fend their violators off. Some of the other children were already cheering. Another loud crack, this time, from a fist that connected to the back of Phoebe's head, finally knocked her out of consciousness. A girl pulled on Celeste's hair, while a pair of boys began to move their hands all over her body. Mindee was in tears. "Mark…" she thought painfully, while she found herself pushed to the ground, the soles of leather shoes stomping her down. But even through the hurting that her body endured, the image of the boy she loved kept her strong. Kept her alive. His eyes. His smile. His embrace. Mindee closed her eyes, relishing in Mark's image, until it was consumed by fire. "It is time." came the voice of another, cold and heartless, as her entire body began to shake. "Mark!" she cried one more time, before her entire body was consumed by a blinding blaze.
Mark screamed in pure agony, while the image of an endless inferno made invaded his mind. Julian was trying to shake him out of it, while the rest desperately called for him to fight it. All to no avail. The flames were spreading. Over nations, over continents, until the entire planet was consumed by its hunger. Then it came. The body of the raptor. The face of the Phoenix. Meanwhile, by the middle of the lawn, the laser drill let out a low hum, as the energy that it was firing began to diminish. "It broke through!" a soldier yelled, as his brothers in arms began work on unfastening the machine from the ground. "It broke through!" a soldier repeated, stopping as he noticed Lilah covering her face with both her hands. "Ms. Graham?" Simon approached her with an expression of worry on his usually stone-cold face.
"I'm alright, I'm alright." She then immediately defended, though the stain of blood from her nose seemed to suggest otherwise. Still, Simon knew that it in his line of work; it was never a good thing to pry. The soldiers had already taken the machine away, leaving behind a large, gaping hole that could easily be jumped into. At the same time, the sound of engines humming grew louder. A strong gust of wind blew their way, and for a moment, the moonlight was blocked by their presence. The Sentinels have landed.
"Mark…" slowly echoed a young man's voice. "Mark…wake up…" he repeated, urging Mark into consciousness. And there was nothing that greeted him except a heavy blanket of white. "Huh?" Mark immediately pushed himself up, wondering what exactly it was he pushed up against, as there was nothing above, beside, or below him, but an endless expanse of white space.
"Dude, seriously…you're way tougher than this." The voice remarked, prompting Mark to turn to the direction from whence it came. A young man's silhouette greeted him, and with it, a feeling of peacefulness that he had not felt since he was a child. "…Derrick?"
"Hey." He greeted, while doing a quick wave with his right hand.
"You're…" Mark furrowed his brows as he attempted to draw closer to his best friend, though each step he made seemed to make no difference, as the distance remained the same.
"Come on…like death is the end?" Derrick joked, even though it was clear that there was still a pang of regret in his voice. Nonetheless, he still smiled, because it was too long since he last saw the man he loved.
"What are you...?"
"The battle's far from over. You need to be strong. For her."
"…Mindee? Mindee, is she…?"
"She's beyond death now. That's why…you have to wake up."
"Wake up!" Mark sat up, surprising Elixir, who was watching over him in the process.
"Hey, you're back!" Julian exclaimed, as looks of relief began to wash over the students' faces. "I was about to lead us all into certain death. Wanna' come with?" the Hellion then asked, pointing his thumb at the Sentinels who were now hovering on the front lawn. X-23 was on top off a broken wall, watching the Sentinels silently.
"Something's wrong. Downstairs." muttered Mark, as though he was still trying to regain footing.
"No kidding. Something's wrong everywhere." Icarus added, while keeping an arm over Samantha who had already calmed down thanks to the modulations of his angelic voice.
"The guys locked down the doors to the sub-complex after us, and the comm.-lines are down... we can't get back the way we went out." Sofia reminded. "…and that obnoxious looking woman already has a head start…" she then said, pointing at the hole that Lilah and Simon ha disappeared into.
"Then that's where I'm going." Mark resolutely announced, prompting the other students to trade worried looks.
"Anyone wanna' say something before we get our asses killed?" Rockslide asked in a hoarse voice, not five minutes back into consciousness, and already cracking jokes. Julian smiled and gave his friend a pat on the back, while the others exchanged comforting glances with each other.
"I'm going to die a virgin." volunteered one of the female students with a nervous giggle.
"I cheated on my midterm exam…and I still failed." another one declared, prompting the others to chuckle.
"…canceling Angel was the stupidest thing WB ever did." Rubbermaid proclaimed, to a resounding cheer of agreement from his fellow students. Mark shook his head, laughing softly, almost as if death wasn't literally at their doorstep. And with smiles on their faces, they stood, New Mutants and Hellions, Corsairs and Paragons, each one knowing that even if this were to be their last moments on Earth, there was no better way to go, than besides the people they held dear. Julian took a moment to wrap his hand around Sofia's own, flashing her a sweet smile that could melt anyone's heart. "How about a battle cry?" he asked, to which the young woman eagerly nodded. "Alright." she whispered, tightening her hold on Julian's hand. Julian nodded back, as he and Sofia took to the air, with a deep breath, and a finger pointed at their enemy, he shouted at the top of his lungs. "X-Men! For freedom! Let's bring it on!"
And so they soldiered forward. And they wore the name of their teachers proud. The Sentinels were quick to acknowledge their presence, as their dead eyes lit up like crimson lights. The rain pounded, the winds blew, and the Earth trembled, for it was time the final battle had begun. Bright lights of each color tore through the darkness, as both sides began throwing everything they could at each other, from bolts of energy to telekinetic assaults. And even though most of them simply slid off the Sentinels' armor, the students knew that they did not have the same privilege. Mark rolled out of the way of an incoming beam from the palm of a Sentinel, rushing in between its legs and towards the opening that was in the ground. Rubbermaid stretched behind him, keeping her eyes on the three squads of soldiers who were protecting the entryway with drawn rifles. "Hey, shoot me!" Mark yelled as he sprinted up to the troops. It didn't take much coaxing for the to oblige, as they all opened fire on the young man, who stopped in his tracks.
"Got it!" the Rubbermaid shouted, though with clear strain, stretching across Mark like a protective barrier, and catching all the bullets with her elastic body. Stretching herself further, she then quickly allowed her body to dense, sending the bullets flying back at the soldiers.
"You okay?" Mark asked, to which the Rubbermaid quickly nodded her head. With a clearing now available, Mark wasted no time diving into the hole, while the rest of the students kept the Sentinels at bay. Another beam of energy was fired in his direction, narrowly missing him as he disappeared into the tear. The fissure itself was cut clean, with the laser burning through the soil and the roots, which allowed for a relatively unscathed descent. Though to be honest, it wasn't as much the fall, as it was the landing that worried him the most. It only took five seconds before he hit the ground below, breaking his ankle in the process. With the adrenaline still rushing, he didn't even notice the pain swell, as he quickly got to his feet, and raced towards Cerebra. "Be okay, be okay, be okay, be okay…" he repeated in his head, as he picked up speed. He had lost his connection to the Stepfords, and he knew that whenever a psychic rapport is broken, nothing good could ever come out of it. Without slowing for a second, Mark turned the corner, and the sight he beheld shocked him so much that he lost balance, and slid to the floor.
"Jesus…" he whispered under his breath, as the sight of the unconscious students wrenched his soul. Aside from the bruises they suffered, blood had also trickled down their open eyes and noses. A psychic attack. "No!" Mark yelled, pulling himself up and then rushing across the sea of lifeless bodies, trying his best to ignore how they seemed to look up to him, as if in some silent condemnation. Another quick turn led him to the corridor that highlighted Cerebra. The doors were wide open. And even from there, he could see both Lilah and Simon inside. As it was with the corridors he had just passed, the bodies of motionless children were scattered inside, their bleeding eyes also wide open. But the three sisters weren't there. "No!" he yelled, charging inside with no fear of consequence or safety. "Get the hell away from that machine!"
"Simon?" Lilah didn't even turn to acknowledge the young man's existence, opting instead for Simon to make sure that he did not pose as a nuisance to her goal.
"Yes ma'am." The chauffeur responded, before suddenly dashing toward Mark, who had just stepped into the room. It only took a second for Simon to close the gap between them, purposely slowing down so that Mark had the time to realize the certainty of a brutal death. His mistake. Caught in surprise, Mark instinctively extended his arms, unleashing his mutant power and setting forth a brilliant light. Simon could only gasp as he felt the light surge through his body. Lilah too gazed in wide-eyed awe, feeling the mystical energy that came from the young man. It was brighter than anything she had ever seen, but curiously not at all blinding. A light-blue figure, looking like a naked puppet, was being unceremoniously pushed out of Simon's body. "No!" Mark yelled, turning his power off, a little too late, as the blue figure that resembled the shape of a man dissipated along with the bright light. Simon crumpled to the ground, his soul ripped from the shell that remained. "…" Mark got on all fours, and began to vomit, his mystic ability taking too great a toll on his body. "What…the…hell?" asked Lilah, pushing back a strand of hair caught in her eye. With the threat the student posed much more apparent, Lilah knew she had to take measures into her own hands. With a mad glint in her eye, she stretched her telepathy, digging into the young man's mind. To no effect.
"…get…away…from that…machine…" Mark reiterated, wiping his mouth and then slowly getting back on his feet. Lilah narrowed her eyes, a little startled to realize that something kept her target immune to telepathy. "You're going…going to pay for what you did here…" he then said, referring to the students by his feet. Lilah realized this, and shook her head.
"This wasn't my doing, boy."
"This isn't my doing. But if you don't want to see this happening to anyone else, then I suggest you step back, and allow me to continue."
"…" Mark licked his lips, still trying to regain his breath. "…no."
"Don't be stupid. I'm saving the world! Can't you see that?"
"…stop this." Mark uttered.
"Open your eyes! With Cerebra…with this…this godsend, I can free the world. I can dismantle every nuclear weapon, pull back troops from foreign lands…I can make sure that children like you never suffer through another World War!" Lilah argued, clearly growing impatient. "No more unequal treatment. No more religious division. No more- -"
"No." Mark answered again, with a conviction that betrayed his weakened body.
"Excuse me?" Lilah asked.
"…what gives you the right to do any of this?" Mark then asked, taking a step closer to the frustrated woman. "Tell me. What right?"
"Don't belittle me, boy. I've been through every war you could imagine- -"
"I mean, are you dense? What you're doing…going through all these lengths, for what? You're going to force people to do something against their will! That's not a gift! It's terrorism! No matter what it is, it's terrorism!"
"How dare you- -"
"Look around! Look around! Is this what freedom really costs? You're going to build your new world on the blood of sixteen year-olds? You have no right! Don't you see that? You have no right!"
Chris opened his eyes. With his back still firmly pressed against the corner wall, he finally saw what had become of the students who, in their frenzied state, had attempted to beat him, quite possibly to death. There was a trail of bodies leading up to him, the nearest only an inch away, arms outstretched as if in an attempt to reach the frightened young man.
"It's our differences that make us human! It's our… our achievements…"
Julian swerved as he flew through the air, avoiding a Sentinel's death ray by just an inch. "Go to hell!" he then screamed, focusing his energies in order to attack the giant machination with the telekinetic equivalent of a wrecking ball. At the same time, from below, X-23 stabbed at it from behind the knees, their combined effort resulting in the downfall of the mechanical monstrosity.
Samantha shrieked at the top of her lungs as she poured an endless stream of fire right into the face of a Sentinel. It was rage which now fuelled her, rage which made her strong. Yet, it was also rage which blinded her to the fact that another Sentinel had her on its sights. "Die! Die! Die!" she screamed, as the Sentinel she was burning staggered back. She did not hear Icarus' calling her name. Too late. A beam of focused energy tore into her from behind, killing her instantly.
"…it's the way that…that even though things seem so bleak…"
"Samantha!" Icarus flew towards the Sentinel with his fists outstretched. Without thought or hesitation, he crashed both of his arms into the Sentinel's eye, shattering his bones in the process, but doing damage to gargantuan machine nonetheless. Icarus screamed in pain, and before he could even adjust, he felt the back of its palm crack into his body, knocking him out, and sending him plummeting down. "I've got him!" Rubbermaid yelled, stretching herself in order to catch the winged mutant in time.
A sudden blast then blew both Rubbermaid and the unconscious Icarus away, and even though it was not a direct hit, it was enough to send the young girl dangerously close to the brink. Another Sentinel drew closer, reaching out its palm, and firing a thermal blast in order to finish the job. It was only the timely self-sacrifice of Rockslide that saved both mutants' lives, as he threw himself on top of them in order to take the brunt of the Sentinel's attack. His agonized scream was gut-wrenching.
"…we still find the strength to hang in there…"
A sudden barrage of automatic gunfire then tore into the Sentinel's face, freeing the three mutants from the brink of death. With his last remaining strength, Santo looked up, and for the first time that evening, the rain had stopped, and the dark clouds have parted, revealing a dazzling full moon, and a ray of hope at its center. It was the blackbird. The X-Men were home at last. "Hank, keep firing." Cyclops instructed, pure fury seeping from his voice. "Tanks, toughen up! Let's show these sons of a bitches who they're really messing with!"
"…and before you know it…"
The Sentinels quickly turned and fired at the X-Jet, all of which proved useless as the Beast outmaneuvered each beam, before returning fire with a volley of gunfire and missiles, which promptly took out the midsections of two more Sentinels. "Julian. Get everyone back." Emma telepathically instructed, as Hank sped the X-Jet right across the Sentinels, opening the hatch at the bottom of the plane as he did. Colossus, Shadowcat, and the Wolverine jumped out, each one latching on to a Sentinel, and decimating them from thereon without a second thought.
"…everything's all right again."
Henry pulled the Blackbird with a quick turn, continuing its barrage of armor-piercing rounds on the other sentinels. Back on the ground, Hisako, who was back in her armored form, hurled a feral X-23 right to another Sentinel's guts, nearly sending her through and through. At the same time, Sofia flew overhead, generating concentrated funnels of wind to slice across the Sentinel's metal face. One of the mechanical abominations focused its optic blast on the Windwalker, only to find its head turn uncontrollably to the direction of another Sentinel, skewering it instead. Julian smiled at the result of his handiwork.
"That there's still hope after all."
Lilah took a deep breath, clearly in some deep thought, as she watched the young man speak from the heart. She lowered her head. She had to admit that it was so long before she met someone as true to what he felt as the young man who now stood in front of her. But moreover, he reminded her of someone she lost. Of the reason why she was there in the first place.
"We…we exist because we stumble down…" Mark continued, trying his best to reach the woman with his words. "…but we live because we know how to pull ourselves back up. If you take that away…take that away, no matter for what reason, then you aren't left with people. You're left with shells. I, I want to see…I want all this war and terror shit to end as much as you do, but I know… I know that even if there may not be an easy way…there's still a right way. And what you're trying to do…it's just not right."
"…" Lilah lowered her head for a moment. "…you sanctimonious brat."
"…" Mark looked at her with a defeated expression.
"We've passed the point of no return." she took her Luger out of her blazer, and promptly aimed it at the young man. "Freedom always has a price. Freedom is always built on bloodshed. I…I will be hated for the rest of my life… and I will spend an eternity in hell for all of this…but it's the price to pay for ensuring that the world will no longer be wallowing in sin. My damnation will bring about perfect harmony for the rest of mankind. I'm giving people the gift of freedom. And you can't stop me."
"Tell me…is it still freedom if you force it on someone?"
"…they'll never know." Lilah responded, cocking the gun in her hand, and ready to pull the trigger. Mark tensed, knowing full well that he didn't have enough energy to snatch up her soul like he did her bodyguard. "I'm sorry." whispered Lilah, unable to hide the quiver in her voice. Mark closed his eyes, much too exhausted to even attempt to dodge the bullet. Lila took a deep breath, ready to finish the job, until a sudden thought crossed her mind. A thought that she so desperately tried to push back. "He's just like him…just like my little boy…"
With Mark's eyes still shut, he never saw the woman begin to tremble, and slowly, slowly lower her gun. "…my beautiful baby boy…" Lilah held back her tears. Both of their hearts were now beating faster and faster, as their fates hung on a thin line. A woman reaching twilight who had seen so much, facing down a young man who chooses to look at the brighter side of life. Lilah shook her head, and dropped the gun. That was when she felt two invisible hands forcefully shove her off the side of the bridge. She let out a cry of shock, one that soon escalated into a scream of fear, as she fell plummeted to the bottom of Cerebra. Mark opened his eyes, and rushed to the edge of the platform, just in time to see the woman landing on her head, and twisting it all the way around. She died instantly. "Are you okay?" came a young man's voice from behind him. It was Chris.
"…" Mark stared at him at first, before shaking his head and turning his attention to one of the downed students. "We still have work to do." he then muttered, lifting the student up with both hands. Chris nodded, and followed Mark's lead.
The Next Day/09:00 hours
"How are the kids?" Kitty asked, while adding some modifications to a panel beneath the Cerebra mainframe. Emma put the amplifier helmet on, and began to test around. "Aside from losing Cady, Alan, Steve and Samantha? And the lawsuits we'll undoubtedly be hearing? Broken bones seem to cover the worst of it…though removing the psychic lock we found the students in did take away five hours of my life that I could never get back. Did you know those kids were awake the whole time? They were just paralyzed…huh; my frequencies are aligned to the thoughts of codfish…astounding."
"Healers have been crying all day." Kitty then commented. "Some of the kids are still at each other's throats after what happened in the danger room…how about now?" she asked, tuning in a dial by an oscilloscope. "See anything?"
"Wait, yes, there…we've locked to the Omega levels." Emma held onto the amplifier helmet, as waves of light blue sparks began to emanate form her forehead. It took awhile for her to scan the Earth's surface, looking for any signs or sightings of their target. "…no, they're not there."
"Maybe we should just wait outside and watch the sky for giant firebirds…" Kitty suggested, wiping the sweat off of her forehead. "I mean, the Phoenix always find her way back to the mansion."
"…well until that day comes…" Emma sighed and shook her head. "You know… Katherine…I don't think I've thanked you yet."
"…for what? For exposing the institute to danger? Or for risking the team in some wild goose chase that- -"
"You saved my life, Katherine. Twice. I know that you don't…won't…trust me. Ever. But nonetheless, I'm still very glad that I have you watching my back when I need it."
"Now, should my compliments reach the ears of others, I will deny it vehemently, understood?"
Mark leaned back, raised his hands over his head, and landed a perfect three-point shot that slid down the ring. The basketball then fell to the ground with a soft thud, as it bounced back his way. "…" Mark shambled towards the ball, picked it up, and then proceeded to return to the three-point-margin. He's been at it for three hours already. His connection to his missing girlfriend was now dead, and the thought of losing another person he loved so much was nothing short of unbearable. Once again he began to dribble the ball, slowly, as if in some way hoping that Mindee would just turn up right on time for him to land another shot. A fool's hope for whatever it was. "…" Mark leaned back, and raised his hands over his head. The school siren blared. It was the signal for a meeting in the school auditorium, obviously regarding the events of last night. Mark threw the shot. Three points. "You coming?" Julian called from the bench. He's been sitting there silently for almost two hours now, watching his friend lose himself further and further into despair. Mark shook his head, as he shambled once more to the ball. He could hear Julian telling him to take care, but he was still so out of it that it barely even registered. He felt nothing except the weight on his heart. Mark then went back to the three-point margin, and began to dribble. Waiting. Waiting. Until he threw the ball to the ground with a frustrated scream. It rolled off into the grass. Julian looked back at his friend with pitying eyes, watching someone who was once so full of life, now reduced to a husk. This is what they fought for. And how beautiful it was.
Author's note: Will there be a sequel? Of course! Never mind the fact that this story has fewer reviews than there are pygmy shrews! Anyway, thanks for you who have stood by with the story from beginning to end. It's been fun writing it, and I don't think I can ever do a finale like this ever again. Hurts to type, hurts to read. Anyway, this took longer than I expected, and my stubborn refusal to allow for my stories to exceed ten chapters surely shows. Again, thanks for the time of day you spent on this. TTFN!