Without a pair of scissors within range of convenient reach, most teenagers would grumble before getting up and trudging around until they found a cutting utensil. Most teenagers are also inherently lazy to a certain degree, however, and Bobby was no exception. But thanks to a genetic quirk, he had another option most other teenagers didn't have. Raising his hand up to stare at it, it took only a miniscule amount of concentration to form three razor-sharp claws of ice between his knuckles. He smiled in personal amusement at his private joke before carefully slicing away the top of the package he had received. After recalling the ice back into his body before it melted and made a mess, he lifted the box top off and raised his brows in surprise to see a shiny, brand-new HD radio resting inside.
"Bobby?" a feminine voice with a deep southern drawl called his attention. "You get a package?"
Bobby Drake tore his eyes away from the beautiful yet mysterious machine to look at the only this in the world even more beautiful and mysterious: his girlfriend, known primarily as Rogue. "Yeah. The letter says I won some sort of raffle, but I don't remember ever entering any radio contest."
Rogue walked in and took a glance into the box, pulling a wayward lock of white hair back behind her ears. "Wow. Y'don't usually see stuff this expensive given away in raffles. Especially forgettable raffles."
"I know. It's weird."
There was a twinkle of humor in Rogue's eyes as she looked up at him. "'Weird' can be pretty relative 'round here," she pointed out. "Now c'mon. Logan has a Danger Room session planned in fifteen minutes, and y'know what he does when you're late."
Bobby groaned, suddenly feeling the bruises from his last training session once again. They had long ago faded, but the psychological trauma was still there, down to the bone. "Now I think I know why you gave up being a mutant."
"That was just a bonus," Rogue said before leaning in to kiss him. "Now that's the real reason why. Go get 'em, sugar."
Bobby smiled before reluctantly leaving his room. Uneasy being in a boy's bedroom without him around, Rogue soon followed him out, but not before taking on last look at the high-tech device.
X X X
Finally, the stinking meat-sacks had left. Rogue had no concept of just how high-tech the radio was, for it wasn't a radio at all. It trembled slightly before seeming to collapse, the outer shell splitting up and folding away to reveal a contorted little robot, which scuttled off the bed and unfolded until it stood about the size of a short human. Four mechanical eyes on the alien head winked to illuminate bright red before turning about in all directions to scan the room. A small anti-gravity device that had allowed the robot to mimic the approximate weight of a real radio shut off suddenly, causing his feet to sink into the wooden floor and leave small depressions. The robot sputtered curses in an inhuman language with a scratchy voice before activating a communicator in his arm. [Rumble here. I'm in. Proceeding to the subterranean chamber.] was the basic gist of what it said.
Folding up into as small a size as the little robot could manage, it climbed up the old walls of the mansion and cautiously began to scuttle towards the nearest lift that could take it to the "hidden" level underground, where this particular breed of humans trained for combat. Starscream had cautioned Rumble to be wary around these humans, because they were supposedly more powerful than the normal versions of their species. Reports were that a couple of them could even transform—now that was something he would have liked to see. But such curiosity would have to wait until they had this miserable planet conquered and the surviving humans penned up for study by the more scientifically-minded of his own species, the Decepticons.
Finally Rumble managed to get inside the lift and decipher which button lead to the sub-basement. Down there the walls, floor and ceiling were all metal, more like his home planet of Cybertron than the organically-grown and harvested planks that lined the upper levels. Rumble missed his home, but he could never be able to go back now thanks to the meddling of other humans who had aided his enemies, the Autobots. And to add insult to injury, they had slain his own brother, Frenzy, in combat. For that, the whole species would pay… someday. The Decepticons just needed time to prepare and plan, and they needed to be more familiar with the humans and their abilities.
At the end of the main hallway lay what Rumble sought, a thick door leading to a supercomputer that contained files on every detectable super-human, or "mutant," as they were called. It would take him lunar-cycles to weld through the door, which would leave opportunity for the mutants to detect him—many times over. That was unacceptable. Deciding to take a more subtle approach, he stepped up to the retinal scanner and transformed his ram into a small interface, which he promptly stabbed into the glass and fed it the data it needed to unlock and open the door for him. "Welcome, professor," a pre-recorded message greeted him, to which he answered back with a triumphant exclamation in his own language. Tentatively, he began walking down the platform, wary for any booby-traps the mutants might have laid. It was unlikely, but this far into the mission, this close to success, he did not want to risk failure and end up like his brother before he could avenge him.
X X X
Sweaty, hot, and tired, the X-Man (Woman?) named Kitty Pride but given the sobriquet "Shadowcat" plodded out of the Danger Room. Fortunately all the dirt smudged along her face and clinging to her suit was just as holographic as the rest of the scenario that she and the rest of her team had been "killed" in, so it shimmered out of existence as soon as she escaped the room's influence. Still, she looked forward to getting out of her stiff black costume and into a cold, cold shower. She was so exhausted that she almost didn't notice the door to Cerebro wide open. Still, it was hard not to notice it, and a frown formed on her face at the deviation from the norm. That door had not been opened since the Professor died. A knot formed in her throat at the sight, but she felt compelled to take a look inside. She half-expected to see a ghost when she peered inside… not a skeletal robot. Eyes widened at the strange sight, followed by her mouth—which promptly let out a squeak. The robot swiveled around and stared at her… and she stared back. Both stared at each other, unsure of what to expect yet reluctant to disturb the strange stalemate.
Fortunately (or unfortunately, depending on how she looked at it), the stalemate was broken by Wolverine, who was still in a foul mood from the botched training session. He came running up behind her, claws already bared, but even he stopped in surprise at the sight before them. "What the…?" his voice sounded like sandpaper, grating into the silence.
X X X
Rumble almost lost it when he was discovered. The data streaming into his processor was startling enough… some of these mutants wielded some real power. Laser emission… weather control… invulnerability… even (and this was the most unsettling) manipulation of metal. They could be a real problem if not dealt with quickly. Any human as engrossed as he was would have missed the small gasp of surprise, not a robot with sensitive audio-sensors such as his. He whirled around and found, to his horror, one of these mutant warriors staring at him. What great power did this one wield, he wondered? Would it be able to smash him with just the blink of the skin over its gelatinous optic-sensory orb? Would it disable him with a sonic attack? Right now it seemed too surprised to attack, and he didn't want to do anything to provoke it. Perhaps if he just stood still long enough it would forget him or lose interest and wander away?
Such was not his luck, however. Another one, larger and hairier, came up behind it. For a second he, too, seemed surprised, but from the looks of it he was older and more seasoned in the ways of warfare. Metal claws shimmered in the dim light as he slowly began raising his arms, but Rumble decided not to give it the chance to attack first. Yanking his arm from the data port, he leapt up onto the console and ejected a pair of razor disks at each mutant. He made a noise of surprise as the passed right through the small female. Fortunately the larger one had no such immunity to the laws of physics, and red lubricants spewed from his torso where the disks embedded themselves. One would have been enough to down a normal human if hit in that exact same spot, much the disks only seemed to make this one angry. "Uh-oh," Rumble muttered as the disks fell out of the human and the wounds disappeared. In a moment the only sign that his shots had ever hit were in the punctures in the mutant's clothes.
"Shadowcat, get the others!" the hairy one yelled as it charged towards him. "Whatever it is, we can't let it escape!"
That was all Rumble needed to hear. Disengaging his interface with the primitive computer, he signaled for an emergency pickup and prepared to fight his way out by replacing his right hand with a machine gun, for what good it would do. The hairy mutant leapt towards him. Rather than wasting ammo Rumble leapt upwards himself, flipping over his attacker's back. With only the girl between him and the exit, Rumble charged forward, not expecting someone who can phase through matter to be much of an obstacle. Fortunately, she sidestepped out of his way, but kept an arm extended in his path. Rather than impacting, though, it phased right through him, causing pain and then limpness in his left arm. What had she done to him? Thankfully his legs were still operational, and he used them to maintain his escape. His vocal processors also remained unaffected, which he used to screech out a sequence of Cybertronian expletives.
X X X
Usually the halls of the sub-basement were eerily quiet, adding to the constricting claustrophobia of the room. Warren Worthington III usually hated being down here. Even though it was brightly lit and clean the complex reminded him of a coffin. He needed wide open spaces and blue skies, where he could stretch his wings and be free. He'd hid what he was for most of his life; that was one of the reasons why he'd come to Xavier's in the first place. Training underground seemed like a backwards step to him, but at least now he had friends who were like him.
"Hey, Angel," a sapphire condensation-covered figure sang out before morphing back into a more human appearance. "Thanks for the assist back there. We make a pretty good team, even if we technically did die and fail utterly."
Angel grinned. "Glad to help, 'Iceman.'" He still wasn't used to referring to everybody by their code names. Sometimes it sucked to be the new guy.
He sighed before activating the door, preparing himself both mentally—and physically, by folding his massive white wings behind his back so they could fit through the round that led back out to the subterranean hallways. Instead of the usual silence, however, the door rolled back to reveal pandemonium. At first there was only shouting, both Kitty's screams and some other voice—something inhuman. Then a silvery figure rushed past them, heading for the elevator.
"Guys! Catch that… thing!" Kitty almost didn't get their attention, but her words seemed obvious as their training began to kick in. Out of the corner of his eye, Warren saw ice spread rapidly across the floor, coating it and making it slick. The robot slipped and crashed down on its back, causing a loud crack to resonate through the hallway as it hit the ice.
Warren half expected the fragile-looking machine to fall apart on impact, but when it began scrambling to get back up he himself sprang to action. He didn't know exactly what he could do to fit a nasty-looking robot like that, but he couldn't just sit back and let the others do all the work. "Stay down!" he yelled as he kicked it with his boot.
"Kid, no!" Logan yelled as he ran out of the room at the end of the hall. One clawed hand motioned toward the punctures in his costume, and by the time Warren realized his mistake it was too late. Something round and sharp flew up out of the robot, slicing right through his wing. He staggered back and screamed in shock before the pain even had a chance to register. Was this what being an X-man was all about?
X X X
The Wolverine was not having a good day. First, someone had eaten the last of his jerky, the good stuff that he'd been saving for breakfast. No one had owned up to it, of course, because they all valued having intact limbs. Then he'd gotten a pike though the groin in the Danger Room session—any injuries in that general vicinity always put him into a foul mood. And to top it off, the kids had gotten sloppy this time around, botching the mission. Now some mechanical thingamajig was making a joke out of them. By now Logan was so uptight that he couldn't retract his claws even if he tried. He would definitely need a beer when this day was over with. Or three or four. And a cigar.
He growled ferociously as he saw the new kid, Warren, go down and clutch his wounded wing. The sight of smell of blood set off something feral in Wolverine. These kids may have botched things, but they were still "his" kids—and nobody messed with them but him. This invader—whoever or whatever it was—was going to regret ever being built, let alone messing with the X-men. He ran as fast as he could, muscles growing taught as adrenaline coursed through his veins. Red filled his vision, and his arms drew back for a stabbing gesture. Unfortunately, the thing was in the elevator before he could even reach it, and instead of hitting robot, his claws instead dug into the firmly shut doors.
Logan snarled in rage. Suddenly, the lights went dim and an alarm began to blare. "What's going on!?" he yelled, turning back to look at the kids scattered down the hall.
"The robot initiated some sort of timed lockdown," Kitty answered as her fingers pounded into a control panel. "I can't get the doors open."
The kids all jumped as Logan let out another roar of frustration and shot his claws into the wall again. Computers. He hated computers. "Get Angel to the medical room," he ordered Drake, gesturing with his claws as he spoke. "Pride, do whatever it takes. Take the whole damn computer apart if you have to—just get us out of here." He looked up, imagining the mansion above them. "Looks like it's gonna be up to Storm to take care of things," he reluctantly muttered. He didn't like being left out of a fight. It only made him angrier.
X X X
Meanwhile, another machine appearing to be an F-22 Raptor circled above the venerable building at an altitude ordinary Raptors could not achieve, high out of eyesight's reach. It began to sharp decent, however, when a single transmission less then a millisecond in duration caught its attention. The jet was in fact the disguise of Starscream, who would soon be the supreme, undisputed leader of the Decepticons if his plans worked out. The largest of hurtles—Megatron—was now out of the way, but with minions like Rumble, though, Starscream began to wonder if things would ever work out for him. The runt was as incompetent as his brother, perhaps more so, and it was only a matter of time before he shared Frenzy's fate. Starscream was amazed he had gotten this far.
Farther, farther down he descended, increasing in speed until he ripped through the sound barrier and created a sonic boom. It announced his presence to the mutants inhabiting the stronghold, but the time for subtlety had passed long ago. Half the young beings screamed in horror, expecting a jet to explode right on top of them. In truth, that would probably have been preferential, for Starscream was without mercy. Instead of slamming a nosecone into the ground, Starscream transformed midair, and landed on his feet. "Pathetic," he hissed as he launched a missile into a cluster of mutants, incinerating them instantly.
One rather sizeable male seemed unafraid, though, and began advancing on him. Amused, Starscream plucked him up between his sharp claws. "You call yourself super-humans?" he asked in the native language. "How laughable." The human said nothing, but actions spoke louder than words. Suddenly the human began to feel harder and heavier, as metal armor grew over and replaced the soft pink skin. "A human transformer… interesting," he observed, but his interest quickly turned into pain as the human dug its puny fingers into his claws and somehow bent them back, freeing itself. "Aaah! You little…!"
Starscream didn't have time to finish that sentence before a bolt of lightning came out of nowhere and hit him square in the chest, knocking him back. "Who did that!?" he demanded unnecessarily.
A dark-skinned female came forward unshyly, her eyes glowing white with raw power. "I did," she proclaimed, then stretched her hand forward. "And in case you don't believe me…" Another lightning bolt came from her outstretching fingers, frying some minor internal circuitry and leaving an ugly scorch mark right bellow the other one.
X X X
By now Rumble had forgotten all about the concept of stealth. He scrambled down the hallways toward the exit, where his ride home was waiting. He scrambled along the floors, the walls, even the ceiling, knocking over obstacles and sometimes clambering over the fleshlings themselves. A couple tried to stop him, but he merely avoided their attacks and pressed on. He wanted out of this freaky place.
The noise of battle exploded outside, coupled with Starscream doing what he was named for. The would-be supreme commander was not as tough as he imagined himself to be. He would never be the unchallengeable dictator that Megatron had been, but he was good enough for Rumble, so long as he got them out of here functioning. The diminutive Decepticon crashed through a window, only to find his leader lying on his skit-plate, at the mercy of a rather powerful-looking female. Rumble was not the bravest of Cons but he knew that sometimes one had to face their fears or face termination.
"Diiiiie!" he screeched before firing a volley of disks at the female. Most missed, knocked off course by the vortex of wind keeping her aloft, but one grazed her arm and seemed to disrupted her control over the elements. She went down, impacting the ground hard enough to knock her out. Rumble didn't care to stick around long enough to finish the job, however. Instead he ran over to his commander's side and kicked his leg. "[Let's go let's go let's go!]" he begged in Cybertronian.
Starscream looked at him in annoyance but fortunately he didn't look like he wanted to argue. A wave of relief surged through Rumble, until he noticed another look on Starscream's face. "[There's one of them behind me, isn't there?]" he asked, afraid to turn around and see for himself.
"[Yes,]" Starscream answered rather unnecessarily, just as Frenzy felt hard metallic fingers wrap around his head and squeeze.
Then everything went dark.
X X X
Starscream watched as the armored mutant seemed to attack out of nowhere and crash Rumble's head, killing him instantly. He would have done something to stop him, but his whole body still felt numb from the female's attacks. Now this whole ordeal was for nothing. Oh yeah, and he'd lost a soldier as well… but it was only Rumble. No big loss there.
Seeing no more reason to stick around, Starscream got back up shakily and kicked the armored mutant away before transforming and taking off. Now he would have to find some other means of gathering the information he needed to conquer this planet and destroy Optimus Prime. He wouldn't give up until he was successful or destroyed, but it seemed like once again the cosmos had decided not to give him a break.
X X X
"So, Furball… Any idea what that thing is?" Wolverine asked, sipping on his ice-cold beer before looking back the robot's remains. The beer helped him to relax, but it was the humorous sight of a blue-furred creature wearing a white lab coat and bifocals that put him in a downright good mood. Fortunately for them, "Hank" McCoy had been able to get away from the diplomatic machinations in the U.N. long enough to spend some time at his alma matter and help them out with the cleanup. According to Storm, no one else was qualified to determine where the robot had come from.
Speaking of the X-men's leader, Ororo shot him a look at the use of Logan's less-than-gracious nickname for McCoy. She didn't realize that any animosity formed during their first encounters had been destroyed during their first (and last) battle together, back on Alcatraz Island. Both held a mutual respect for each other, though they would never admit it.
"Unfortunately, I do," the Beast's rumbling voice betrayed a hint of worry. "You heard about the military experiment that went awry in Nevada?"
Ororo shook her head. "A little. What about it?"
"That was a government cover-up," Beast said, not surprising Logan in the slightest. Since when did the government ever tell its people the whole truth about anything? "What I'm about to tell you is strictly classified. I'm not even supposed to know, but the President took me aside and shared the information with me anyway, in case we ever had another… encounter. What really happened there was a clash between two extraterrestrial forces. Two factions of mechanical aliens have infiltrated Earth and brought their war to our planet, and we'd thought the more malevolent of the two had been defeated. Apparently…" Beast looked back down at the robot. "We were mistaken. They're still out there somewhere, and probably preparing for another attack."
"But what do they want with us?" Logan asked.
McCoy shrugged. "Perhaps nothing. Perhaps they only wanted to know what we were capable of. Knowing your enemy is rule one of warfare. In any event, I suggest completely rebooting Cerebro now and installing the backup software, even if… no one's using it. I've seen what these things are capable of, computer-wise."
"What about this other faction?" Storm asked. "You said there were two of them, and the less violent one won out?"
"With our help, yes. A boy who was connected to the incident says they only want to live in peace on our world now that their planet is uninhabitable."
"How do we know we can trust them?" Logan demanded before taking another sip of his bear to keep his temper at bay—not that it was working very well.
McCoy merely shook his head. "We don't. After the incident, they went back into hiding as fast as they could. The government is tracking two of them, but we may never know their real intentions."
"Great," Wolverine sneered. "Now we have to worry about alien robots smashing down out doors in addition to paranoid humans and fanatic mutants? Just… great."
"We should be ready in case they attempt this again," Storm advised.
"You know…" Beast spoke up, "For all their power, they are not invincible. And who knows, perhaps the day will come when we are forced to take a side in this war. And when that day comes, we need to be ready."