X-Men fan fiction
part 1: Gifted Students
Chapter 1: Homecoming
Chapter 2: Recharge
Chapter 3: Regenerate
Chapter4: Xavier's Decision
Chapter 5: X-Men in Training
Chapter6: Mission Fatigue
Chapter 7: New and Improved
Chapter 8: Fear Itself
Chapter 9: Through the Glass
Chapter 10: Mourning Glories
Chapter 11: Ghost Stories
Chapter 12: The Devil and Despair
Chapter 13: Spuytin Dyvil Falls
Chapter 14: Evil Spirits
Chapter 15: Heart Stone
Chapter 16: The Rubble O'r Our Sins
Chapter 17: Shadow Boxing
Chapter 18: House Rules
part 1: Gifted Students
New and Improved
Xavier Institute. Late Summer.
Hank paused in his tapping at the keyboard to glance over his shoulder when the door slid open behind him.
“Felicitations, Charles,” Hank greeted Professor Xavier before returning his attention to the display screen in front of him.
“Hello, Hank,” Xavier responded as he rolled into the Control and Observation Booth which overlooked the team training room. “How go the improvements?”
“Promising. I have programed analysis parameters and uploaded film footage from the previous month’s worth of training sessions. I would, however, like to run a simulation this afternoon using virtual counterparts in place of the team members before we actually test the program in the flesh.”
Xavier nodded. “That sounds like a prudent measure.” A moment passed as Xavier waited for Hank to go back to his program analysis.
“Something else on your mind, Hank?”
Hank turned to face Xavier. “I suppose there is. I’ve been reviewing film footage of our training sessions for several days.”
“And what would be your impression of said footage?”
“Most of the sessions are successful. Everyone has been improving individually and, in some cases, making significant forward strides.”
Xavier nodded knowingly. “But the same is not necessarily true collectively,” he acknowledged. “That continues to worry me as well.”
The remainder of that discussion was interrupted when Warren and Scott arrived, the two of them deep in discussion over plans for their ongoing exploration of the grounds. They were closely followed by Ororo and Jean.
Jean smiled brightly at Hank. “New uniform day?”
“They’re waiting for you in the locker rooms,” Hank replied. “If you each will kindly try yours on, I will meet you down in the Tactical Room to hear your feedback.”
As expected, Hank was waiting on the four of them when they stepped out of the locker rooms and into the tactical room, each of them looking at the others warily.
The new uniform consisted of a slate blue body suit. Worn over the body suit were equally close-fitting sleeveless yellow tops with matching yellow shorts. The shorts were trimmed with a belt featuring the X insignia in red. Protective boots and gloves, also in bright yellow, completed the uniforms.
“Are you sure you didn’t get the sizing a little wrong?” Scott asked.
“Slightly skintight, don’t you think, Hank?” Warren agreed.
“They leave very little to the imagination,” Ororo noted.
Ororo didn’t seem bothered by that fact any more than Warren did. Jean was wishing she had something to stand behind. She sat down in a chair, noticing that Scott had swiftly done the same (and she tried not to laugh at his unsuccessful efforts to tug the stubborn material in a crisp downward motion).
“It really is like a second skin, Hank,” Jean admitted, surprised by the way the close-fitting material had easily given way to her movement when she sat down and crossed her arms over her chest.
“That was my intent. I apologize for the resulting affront to modesty, but it was unavoidable. When we need to blend in, these uniforms (minus the boots and gloves) can easily be worn under street clothes. But more importantly, they will act as second skins which are fire retardant, resistant to puncture, and insulated from the elements.”
“Then I guess modesty is a reasonable sacrifice, given the benefits,” Scott conceded (though he still didn’t sound terribly pleased about it).
Jean flashed him a reassuring grin. He caught her eye and smiled back at her before blushing and swiftly looking away.
“My thoughts exactly,” Hank concluded. “These are only an early prototype, but I’ll have them ready for use in the next training session.”
“Very good, Hank,” said Xavier.
Jean lifted one foot to inspect the boot, then held up a gloved hand. “Not to be critical, Hank, but bright yellow seems a bit conspicuous.”
Hank chuckled. “Indubitably. I was thinking of how those we might help, especially young people, will judge us based upon our initial appearance. Dark colors would better serve us in stealth, but our intentions may be misinterpreted if we look like a gang of cat burglars.”
Jean nodded, stifling a giggle at that mental image. “Good point.”
“Are we all done here?” Scott asked, his voice once more going businesslike. Cyclops. “Warren and I have more work to do mapping the caverns.”
Hank gave a nod. “You are officially dismissed, and thank you for your cooperation.”
“Ororo, Jean? You two coming along on our little spelunking expedition?” Warren asked.
“I prefer to remain above the ground, thank you,” Ororo replied.
“Jean?” Scott asked.
Jean only smiled as she and Ororo walked past. “Have fun storming the castle, boys.”
“Castle?” Ororo questioned.
“It’s a line from a movie.”
“Oh.” Ororo shook her head, her interest quickly fading.
“Nevermind,” Jean conceded.
“Ororo not a fan of movie trivia?” Warren asked Scott as they followed the girls out.
“She’s not generally a fan of uninterrupted hours spent sitting indoors,” Scott answered with a smile.
Warren laughed, nodding. “Ah, I can identify with that sentiment.”
“Well, it was a book first,” Jean began to explain to Ororo as they left the room. “It was one of my favorite childhood books, but there’s a movie too.”
Scott frowned. “Actually, Jean’s been asking me to go see that movie with her. Maybe we will, once things here slow down a bit,” he quickly clarified.
Warren laughed under his breath. “A lovely young lady wants you to see a movie with her, and you’re spending the afternoon mapping out cold, damp underground caverns?” Warren clapped a hand against Scott’s shoulder. “Scott, you may need to rethink your priorities.”
Scott and Warren headed out into the grounds while Hank and Xavier remained in the lower levels to continue their work on the training room. Meanwhile, Jean stopped by her room to grab the book in question before following Ororo up to the rooftop for some well-deserved free time. Over the last month, Ororo had completely remade the loft into living quarters for herself, and she had transformed the rooftop greenhouse and patio garden into lush greenscapes overflowing with beautiful plants and flowers.
By the time Jean and Ororo reached the rooftop and walked outside they could just see Scott and Warren disappearing into the forest on the far side of the lake. Jean watched them disappear from sight, but she didn’t need her eyes to follow their progress. She was familiar enough with all of their minds by now; keeping tabs on her teammates’ activities was no more difficult for Jean than it would have been with them all present in the same room at the same time. Then, all she had to do was listen to the room around herself, maybe take a look around from time to time. Now, all Jean had to do was remain aware of them mentally, and maybe reach out periodically for a closer glimpse of their minds.
Behind her, Ororo was humming an absent-minded tune, happily preoccupied as she inspected her garden. In the sub-basement Hank was contentedly puzzling through programing controls for a new training protocol. The professor was with him – Xavier was harder to read; Jean could always feel just enough of his presence and mood to know that nothing was seriously amiss with Xavier, but never his thoughts and emotions, not unless he wanted them to be known. Jean wondered if she might ever achieve that degree of control over her own mind.
Scott and Warren had reached the caverns and were chatting amiably as they progressed. Well, Warren was chatting, Scott was listening to his banter while systematically marking their progress through the caverns against a series of topographical maps. Warren was open, like the skies he loved so much; his mood was always easy to read, be it light and airy or dark and stormy. Scott was more closed off. He wasn’t closed consciously by training, like Xavier, but he was closed instinctively. He’d learned too early in life to downplay his emotions, keep his true thoughts and feelings tightly under wraps. Scott was always guarded. Guarded and focused. That focus meant Jean could most easily tell what he was doing, but the rest of it – the thoughts and motivations behind his actions, his feelings about everything that was happening around him – he pushed back into the shadowy background of his mind. Jean didn’t try to dig any deeper; without his permission, that would feel like an invasion of his privacy.
Jean frowned. She knew that she was making significant improvements. She was grateful for that, grateful that she could so easily keep tabs on the other’s activities. In this case, it meant she could easily raise an alarm and get help if Warren or Scott ran into any trouble during their exploration of the caverns. But sometimes she wondered if she was getting too used to this. In the beginning, what she was doing now had felt to her like an invasion of privacy. Was she getting better at not hearing too much, or was she just getting too used to hearing what she did hear?
Jean turned away from the grounds and settled herself into a comfortable chair, opening her book, but she paused to watch while Ororo conjured up a rain cloud, perfectly sized for watering, then methodically directed it throughout the garden. Hank had come up with a training program specifically tailored to help Ororo gain control over her rainmaking abilities, and she had been working with it on a daily basis for the past month in an attempt to master her fine control. As a result Ororo finally felt confident enough to employ those skills outside the training room without fear of creating a flash flood. Of course Ororo couldn’t resist dousing herself along the way with her little rain shower, causing Jean to laugh, but the rain cloud obediently dissipated before it reached Jean. Seeing Ororo’s improvement and her increasing confidence made Jean smile. All of their hard work really was paying off.
Jean returned her attention to her book while Ororo took a seat opposite Jean. There was nothing more pressing for Ororo than to inhale the soothing smell of wet earth and enjoy the warmth of the morning sun as it dried her cooling rain. Jean grinned at that knowledge, despite a tinge of envy that she couldn’t entirely quiet. Her grin was fleeting. For Jean, life felt more pressing. Even though she was proud of what her teammates were accomplishing, and proud of her own accomplishments as well, Jean still couldn’t help feeling dismayed by the direction their summer had taken. She still tended to retreat into her studies, or into the pages of a good book, whenever given the chance. Yes, all of their hard work really was paying off... but where was that payoff taking them?
If Jean felt a bit envious of Ororo as she pursued mastery over Storm’s powers, the opposite was true of Scott. Not too long ago, Xavier had implored her to be patient with Cyclops. That was easier said than done. Scott had always been independent and driven, but nothing compared to the Scott of the last two months. Nothing compared to Cyclops. Now it was more like he was obsessed, obsessed with getting the most from himself and from the team in their training sessions, and obsessed with the goings on in the Institute’s lower levels. Anytime they weren’t actively training, Scott was working closely with the professor, Hank, and Warren in development of the Institute’s more clandestine aspects, like today’s exploration of this network of caverns underlying the grounds.
Xavier had assigned Jean the task of team communications. Usually that meant keeping close mental tabs on Cyclops, relaying his orders and reporting to him the rest of the team’s progress in carrying out those orders. Sometimes Jean thought she spent more time monitoring Cyclops than anything else. And even though she saw him every single day, she still missed him... she missed Scott, anyway. She missed that shy, quiet guy who never laid all his cards on the table, the one she and Ororo had spent months getting to know their first semester here, the one who drove her a little crazy sometimes because he was so damn self-contained. Sometimes she couldn’t help seeing that “fearless leader” attitude of Scott’s as the embodiment of all her troubles. And she resented the change in him even more than she resented the unwelcome shift her own life had taken.
Beneath the grounds of the Xavier Institute, Scott stood at the intersection of several caverns he and Warren had been in the process of mapping. Warren was doing most of the actual exploration. Scott was acting cartographer. In this environment, Scott’s red-tinted color spectrum was of less help than Warren’s super-acute eyesight. Though Scott’s flawless sense of direction did help compensate for his lacking eyesight, and his visor was proving useful for occasional widening or reshaping of tight twists and turns. On the whole, Scott had to confess, it was a pleasant change to be using their powers for something more mundane than daily combat and mission training.
Warren was also taking this opportunity to work on his indoor flight skills. He didn’t mind the challenges provided by cramped conditions inside many of the caverns so long as the exploration didn’t require him to remain cooped up inside for too long.
Scott moved aside as Warren blew through, out into the bright daylight at Scott’s back. This place marked the point where the largest series of caverns converged and then emptied out over a very steep rock ledge at the far north-west corner of the grounds. The expanse had once formed a massive waterfall, before these underground drainage routes had been blocked off, long ago, when Breakstone Lake had first been formed.
“Ahh, that’s better.” Warren hovered in mid-air for a full minute, gratefully expanding his massive wings to full wingspan with each flap.
Scott returned his attention to the maps while Warren was enjoying a short break. Each day Scott and Warren returned to the mansion with new readings for Hank to analyze, and Hank had eagerly begun brainstorming plans and potential uses for the various caverns. Many were large enough to use as tunnels: a means to discretely transport people or supplies in and out of the mansion, and some were large enough to use as transport tunnels for vehicles as well.
Xavier and Hank were still debating the merits of opening some of the caves adjacent the lake in order to restore the waterfall. That action would add an undeniable layer of security to any of the dry routes operating behind the waterfall. Additionally, Hank wanted to expand quite a few of the dry routes and completely converge several others.
“Is it safe, blasting down there, so close to the Institute?” Scott had asked.
Hank had given him an amused look. “I have a very controlled blast in mind.”
Scott had stammered over his objection for a moment before finally finding his voice. “I’m not a demolition crew, Hank.” Sure, he had played around with using his optic blasts to expand their path in places, blasting the occasional protruding stone or collapsed rock into a fine powder. But he had no desire to actually prove Hank’s theory that his optic blasts were, in fact, capable of punching holes clear through mountains. Scott shuddered. The truth of the matter was, he didn’t like being so bluntly reminded of own destructive capabilities. Over the past few months, studying leadership and strategy, he had begun to think of himself as a builder, a problem-solver. His visor allowed him take the deadly, uncontrolled power of his optic blasts and use it as a fine tool, precise and controlled. He didn’t want to go back to fearing his own raw power, or worse, having others fear it – and eventually fear him as a result.
Though Scott had initially objected to Hank’s suggestion, he had finally conceded. As distasteful as he found it, Hank’s blunt assessment was a correct one. Scott’s optic blasts were infinitely more controlled than any other kind of blast. So Scott had agreed, given assurances that Hank would let him thoroughly test himself with training simulations before trying it for real. Since coming to that agreement, Scott had begun chipping away at various rock formations throughout the caverns with his visor, collecting samples for density and composition analysis. That much, at least, he was comfortable with. It reminded him a bit of shooting pool with his optic blasts. A test of precision and fine control: he had to use just enough force to chip away a small bit of rock without doing any damage to the underlying rock bed.
So he’d bagged and cataloged samples for Hank to analyze (and later use to recreate those same properties in simulation). That part bored Scott thoroughly; he wasn’t remotely interested in geological study, but Hank pointed out that it would be a necessary skill regardless of his interest level. Sooner or later he would need to understand rock and soil density, as well as the structure and composition of various elements, both natural and man-made, in order for Scott to know what he was blasting, how much force it could safely absorb, and how it would respond to the impact of his optic blasts. That was something else Scott had never considered, but Hank was right; he usually was.
In the lower levels of the Xavier Institute, Professor Xavier was watching his X-Men participate in something of a train wreck. Jean struggled to use her telekinesis in conjunction with her telepathy, Hank could be found hanging back from the fray, often coming to rescue of his teammates, but when on the offensive he frequently failed to use sufficient force in his attacks, Storm was likely to make matters worse rather than better with her wind and rain-making abilities, Warren’s reckless, headstrong approach created chaos and confusion among his teammates, and Scott failed to organize his team into anything resembling a coordinated attack, relying instead on his optic blasts to knock down threats in a point and shoot fashion, with no cohesive strategy. In short, the simulation laid their collective faults brutally bare. The team was quickly defeated in run after run, picked apart as a group, or on a one-by-one basis. The computer simulation always won.
“Well, I suppose that was a success?” Hank offered, his voice dripping with skepticism.
Xavier wasn’t so worried. “I think you’ve created a valuable training tool, Hank, enormously useful for hard, factual analysis. But the program discounts the human element, specifically the ability to adapt and to improve with time. There were many incidents our virtual team encountered which would never have repeated themselves again in real life as they did in the simulation.” Xavier smiled. “The program doesn’t take into account lessons learned through failure, but only sees the failure.”
“To be honest, Charles, I’m still a little worried.”
“Understandably,” Xavier conceded. “But I stand by my assessment. The new program will test the team, as intended, but the flesh and blood X-Men will outperform their simulated counterparts. Let’s not forget the great progress that has already been made.
“Jean’s interaction with Scott as team co-leader is helping her to develop confidence in her telepathic abilities, as well as giving her proper motivation in the use of her telekinesis. Scott is no longer the overbearing one-man-team he was in initial sessions. Perhaps he still tends to take too much on himself, but he is learning to lead the others instead of just setting them with orders. And he is learning to set the rest of the team with orders that they can carry out, individually, and as part of a carefully coordinated overall strategy. Yourself, Ororo, and Warren – all of you are gaining rapidly in confidence, strength, and precision, learning to properly use your abilities to the precise degree that they are needed.
“I have the fullest confidence in you all. Win or lose, you will be equal to the challenge.”
Hank gave a slight nod of acknowledgment. “I hope you are correct, Charles.”
“Either way, the program is a success. The team will train on it tomorrow.”
“Then we learn if the team is a success.”
The following day the team was on its way to meet Professor Xavier in the Tactical Room. Scott paused, something catching his eye as they walked the halls deep underneath the Xavier Institute. Above the training room doors a sign had been newly affixed: Danger. Authorized Personnel Only!
“So, Hank,” Scott nodded toward the sign. “What sort of danger is your training room going to throw at us today?” he asked, a hint of challenge in his voice.
“Ah,” Hank responded eagerly. “I am most anxious to tell you all about it. Follow me.”
The team proceeded into the Tactical Room where Hank gave them a briefing on what they could expect from their new and improved training program.
“The room is now equipped with programed knowledge detailing the team’s individual and collective traits, much the same knowledge that any enemy familiar with the team would have. As a result, we can expect the room to present a much more focused attack.”
“And what does that mean exactly, Hank?” Warren questioned.
“Well, for starters, the room will no longer throw random obstacles at us, so to speak. The room will instead act in a far more reasoned manner.”
“Reasoned?” Scott asked.
“Yes,” Hank answered, smiling proudly. “It has studied us, analyzed our strengths and weaknesses, and, just like any worthy opponent, it will use that data to formulate and carry out an effective attack. Furthermore, it will continue to learn and to further adapt over time as it continues to see us in action.”
Scott nodded thoughtfully. “Then we should start by reviewing that same information.”
Hank concurred. “I have progress reports prepared from all of our training sessions to date.”
“Reports?” Warren stifled a groan and leaned back in his chair, bored by the very thought. “It’s like being back in the Worthington Industries boardroom.”
Scott ignored his lack of enthusiasm. “Excellent, Hank.”
Hank handed the reports out to everyone.
“Don’t worry,” Scott said to the rest of the room, noting that the rest of his teammates didn’t look much more enthusiastic than Warren did, “we won’t have to do on-the-spot prep. for every session.” And with that concession, Hank and Scott began the analysis.
Unlike their first briefing session two months earlier, today the team was letting Scott lead: make decisions, enact plans. The others, including Xavier, himself, were in contributing roles. Scott went through the reports methodically, pouring over them point by point, breaking down strengths and weaknesses from the team’s performances and the room’s capabilities alike, gradually piecing together and drawing up an offensive for today’s session, like they were going up against a live enemy.
Ororo and Jean listened attentively and contributed occasionally. Warren mostly lounged lazily throughout, waiting for it to be over. Charles Xavier took it all in, occasionally making note of improvements made and noting places where more needed to be made... but it was clear that Scott was acting field commander now.
Cyclops saved his final instructions until they were all geared up and gathered outside the training room. “Here’s what we’re gonna do, team. I’ll clear the way past any immediate threats. Clear and hold. The rest of you are going on the offensive to attack the room. Focus on the sensors first; if it can’t see us, it can’t evaluate us and it can’t attack us. Storm, obscure the sensors or knock them out. Jean, use your powers to the same end. We have to assume the sensors will be well-placed and well-defended. Beast, Angel, your job will be locating them and drawing out their defenses.”
“A game of chicken; it’s good you’re not trying to hide us,” Warren quipped.
Scott spared him a grin then continued his assessment confidently. “I want everybody working from their strengths. Beast, Angel, we’re gonna need your speed, strength, maneuverability. Storm, Jean, you give us versatility, being able to attack from any position, across any distance. I can provide you all with long range and tactical support. Together, we’re going to take this room apart, piece by piece.
“Alright?” Scott looked around at his team, taking in their nods and ready expressions. Then he turned toward the doors, giving one more appraising glance at the Danger sign hanging over their heads.
“Moment of truth, my friends,” Hank murmured.
Scott gave a nod. “Let’s see what ‘danger’ this room has in store for us,” he agreed.
Hank smiled at his team leader’s ready confidence. “Step inside the Danger Room, O’ Fearless Leader, and see for yourself.”
Scott gave a slight shake of his head and shot Jean a look that said, “You see what you’ve started?”
She only grinned back at him, an innocent expression on her face.
Coming from Jean, Scott didn’t take the “fearless leader” moniker seriously. He knew it was just Jean messing with him. She still believed he took all of this – and especially himself as Cyclops – too seriously. But none of them would deny that his skills were greatly improved. Hank’s use of the moniker acknowledged that Scott was developing an effective leadership style, and that his team had gained confidence in Cyclops’s ability to lead them. Scott placed a finger to the communication console beside the door.
“Ready when you are, Professor.” The Danger Room was in session and Cyclops was all business.
Up in the Control and Observation Booth, Xavier moved into position and punched in a series of commands that would activate the new training protocol.
“You may enter when ready, Cyclops.” They were confident but not overconfident. The team was ready for this new challenge. “Good luck, my X-Men.”
Cyclops nodded. “All right, X-Men– This is it. You know your jobs. Everybody stay sharp and execute.” He opened the doors and stepped across the threshold. “After me.” Then Cyclops was in the lead and on the offensive: optic blasts flashed out to meet the first round of incoming threats at the speed of scarlet light while his team moved to carry out their offensive.
It was obvious from the start that the room was no longer just throwing things at them randomly; this was a much more focused attack. Taking out the sensors was easier said than done. Angel and Beast were able to quickly locate and disable a few before the room began to focus more attacks on the two of them, seemingly understanding their objective. After that, the room started using its holographic capabilities to disguise the sensors. Then Angel and Beast were playing defense: waiting for the room to attack, then trying to draw out that attack while the rest of the team worked to simultaneously defeat the attack and disable the launch mechanism behind the attack. Cyclops was able to target a few of the launch embankments but the bulk of his concentration was occupied with shooting down any projectiles that did launch, covering his teammates while they continued working to disable the room.
Storm had generated a wall of angry looking thunderheads in hopes of obscuring the room’s sensors. It responded by spotlighting her. Jean squinted against the blinding light that broke through Storm’s clouds. Jean could no longer see her teammates through the intense swath of light, but she could still sense their minds. The room took advantage of their momentary lack of sight to launch another round of projectiles against them. Jean stopped one in mid-air before it could hit Storm. Storm reached out a hand and the now-stationary projectile was shorted out by a controlled burst of lightning. Beast darted in to disable the launcher, scaling two stories up with deceptive quickness and ease. He reached blindly into the seemingly solid wall and pulled out the launcher, ripping it cleanly out of its invisible embankment– then he was suddenly dropping like a stone toward the floor. His hand and foot-holds had retracted back into the solid wall.
Beast’s fingers left great gouge marks in the wall as he scrambled for fresh purchase, then even the gouge marks vanished. The wall under his fingers was no more than a holographic projection, given mass and density by force fields. Deactivation of the force fields left Beast grasping at nothing more than thin air that had been manipulated into solid form by the Danger Room.
Jean spared a glance in his direction only to see Cyclops, barking orders, trying to turn the tide back in their favor. In this case his orders were unnecessary. The rest of the team had immediately rushed toward Beast. Angel was already on a high-speed areal intercept course, and Jean had been using her powers from the moment Beast had lost his hold, trying to slow his descent. But her efforts were having no effect. The room knew their strengths and weaknesses, and it was learning, adjusting, predicting their future actions as it continued to fight them. Beast wasn’t just falling blindly. The room was in full control of his descent.
Cyclops! Jean relayed that thought just as Angel swooped down, ready to snatch Hank out of the air. But an instant before Angel could make contact multiple projectiles slammed into him, knocking Angel into the wall. Tentacles emerged behind him, capturing and holding him fast, his wings pinned in place, immobilized. Cyclops managed to get off a few shots, trying to disengage the tentacles without hitting his teammate, but the team skidded to a stop only to watch helplessly as Angel was swallowed up by the solid wall behind him. Angel screamed in shock. An instant later Hank gave an equally startled cry as he was swept out of their reach as well, disappearing through a section of floor that appeared to collapsed in on itself... only to rematerialize an instant later.
“Jean, what just happened to them? Are they okay?” Cyclops demanded.
“They’re unharmed, just a bit shaken up.” Mentally, she was able to share more information directly with Cyclops and Storm: The room’s holographic technology captured Angel and Beast in a force field, which it then used to phase them into an inactive section of the room. “Essentially, there are false walls and false floors, generated by force fields, disguised by holograms. Once the room pulls someone out–”
“They can’t get back to us,” Cyclops surmised.
“The room means to eliminate us, one by one,” Storm concurred.
Jean nodded. She had felt it all happen from their perspectives, like something out of a horror film, a terrifying sensation of being trapped. Pulled, against your will, into the unknown. Unable to return to your previous reality. She shuddered. There wasn’t time to dwell any further on the hows and whys. Storm narrowly avoided the next attack by creating a windburst strong enough to pick herself up and toss herself aside. She was barely able to escape before the Danger Room collapsed the floor beneath her feet. It followed up by trying to capture her with tentacles, the same way it had Warren. Jean moved toward Storm, trying to push back the tentacles with her telekinesis. Cyclops used his optic blasts, trying to sever them at the base.
For a surreal moment, everything seemed to move in slow motion. There was a roaring sensation in Jean’s ears. She felt like she was completely losing her grip on reality. It was hard to focus, hard to think. They’d lost Warren, lost Hank... not Ororo too! It felt like the floor had turned to quicksand, gluing her feet in place. Her ankles. Moving up her shins!
Glued helplessly to the spot... like with Annie.... Wait. That wasn’t right. She was trapped by the room, the same way Hank and Warren had been, not frozen in shock like with Annie. Jean shook her head against the burst of intensely remembered emotion. Was there some sort of psychological element to the room’s attack as well? She had to focus all of her attention in the present. It was hard enough just to keep herself from sinking through the damn floor!
“Jean!” Cyclops took a step toward her then pulled up short.
“Wait!” Jean realized it too. He had to be careful where he moved. The room wasn’t just attacking them. It was herding them into position to trap them. Only a fraction of a second, one wrong step, that was all it took for the room to take full advantage. Jean was already immobilized. “I can’t move my legs.”
Cyclops fired several shots at the floor surrounding Jean, but to no effect. Just like the others had been, she was trapped by a force field, which was disguised by one of the room’s holographic false floors. While Jean was fighting telekinetically to free herself from the force field’s grip, the room was creating the illusion that she was falling through the floor.
“You can’t help me, Cyclops! Help Storm!” Jean bit out at him angrily. Her reaction was partly fueled by her own feelings of helplessness, but in that moment all of her old frustrations had come rushing back with a vengeance. She was looking at her best friend... and it wasn’t that she couldn’t see Scott anymore (like before, when she had lost her temper with him and momentarily lost sight of Scott, seeing only Cyclops). At this moment, she actually couldn’t stand the sight of him.
Cyclops suppressed a curse. He didn’t like it, but Jean was right. The generator mechanism for the force field was likely positioned directly under the floor; he couldn’t fire on it without harming Jean. But maybe he could still help Storm. She had created an ice storm, trying to freeze up the mechanical systems of the tentacles that had wrapped themselves around her wrists and ankles. A smirk crossed his face. Perfect. “Storm, don’t move.”
She couldn’t if she tried, but her panic receded a bit as Cyclops’s command helped bring Ororo’s focus back to the present. This wasn’t the narrow streets of Cairo. She was no longer a child thief trying to evade angry crime victims, brutal police, and mob justice. He fired his optic blasts time and again, knocking back the tentacles with enough brute force to crush the cold-weakened metal against the wall, disabling them one by one.
“Cyclops– Look out!”
He should have known his offensive would shift the room’s focus directly to him. But Cyclops wasn’t thinking about himself; he’d already turned his attention back to Jean’s predicament. Only seconds away from disabling the final tentacle that had Storm’s foot captured, he was thinking maybe Storm’s trick with the cold could help them knock out power to Jean’s restraints. Before he could complete the last shot he felt a force field latch onto his right foot. Cyclops muttered a curse. It was only a partial grip, not enough to capture and eliminate him, but enough to momentarily immobilize him.
Cyclops looked down, his hand moving toward his visor as he calculated the shot he hoped would free him. He fully expected the room to try to immobilize his hands next, preferably before he could get the shot off. He couldn’t afford to hesitate. Only a second passed between Storm’s warning shout and the flash of a warning image from Jean’s mind. That warning matched the look of utter horror on Storm’s face. She ducked for cover as Cyclops’s head snapped back. He never saw the tentacle that took his visor.
He reacted on instinct, dropping his head, eyes tightly shut to avoid inflicting any further damage, trying not to let himself think about what was already done.... Cyclops threw himself to the ground, hoping his instincts were right and he was throwing himself clear of the nearest force field, not into it. For a split second Scott remembered Winters (yelling at him that he was worthless, pathetic, ungrateful). Then Scott was pushing him away. The Bogarts lay buried in the rubble. Everything went dark after that. He was blind. He was worse than worthless. He was dangerous! Scott curled in on himself, eyes tightly shut.
Storm ducked for cover as the uncontrolled burst of energy from Cyclops’s optic blast ravaged the wall above her, laying bare the underlying scaffolding and packed concrete that made up the room’s heavily reinforced structure, raining down chunks of concrete and warped sections of plate metal, now nothing more than pulverized debris. Jean was able to deflect most of it, forming a telekinetic umbrella above Storm’s head, letting the heavy debris fall uselessly alongside her until it lay framing the sections of exposed scaffolding that surrounded her. Jean’s mental link remained open between the three of them. At the moment it was a shared sense of terror.
Jean felt it like a physical blow that was nearly heart-stopping when Cyclops went down. Almost instantaneously, Jean was reaching out to his mind. She knew she was overreaching, and part of her wanted to pull back– but she couldn’t do that. She wasn’t willing to leave him alone in his own head now. He was terrified, not by his own helplessness or even the danger he was potentially in; Cyclops was terrified of the danger he now presented to everyone around him, unable to control his optic blasts except through his own blindness.
That was unacceptable. It was Storm who first took action, circling the winds around them faster and faster. Jean could no longer see Storm through the wind and flying debris. She couldn’t see Cyclops either, except through his mind; he had dropped out of her line of sight when the room had taken his visor, instinctively curling in on himself in order to protect the rest of them. In a fraction of a second, everything she so hated was gone; he was her best friend again. No more arrogant, obnoxious, overconfident, demanding– Cyclops. Just Scott. But Scott as she had never seen him before. Scott, unable to control his mutation.
The summer after his mutation had manifested, Scott had lived like this for months. Alone in the dark. He hated blindness intensely, and Scott loathed himself with the same intensity for being useless to them now. But given a choice, he made himself blind all over again – blind, helpless, hopeless – he still chose that over the possibility of doing any one of them harm. Only now, without his visor, Scott was the one exposed; he placed himself in harm’s way in order to protect them, and that was completely unacceptable.
The room could keep her from moving; it couldn’t keep her from thinking! Jean reached out to his mind again, determined, deliberate. For the moment Scott was blind, but he wasn’t helpless or hopeless, and he wasn’t captured. None of them were. This wasn’t over – not yet. Jean wasn’t going to let him forget that.
Scott! It’s okay!
Jean. Ororo! Scott abruptly remembered where he was. A moment ago he had been blasting the tentacles that had ensnared her; Ororo had shifted her own focus away from that danger because she had known he was covering her. He didn’t know what had happened after that. Ororo and Jean had both tried to warn him, but had he reacted quickly enough after that tentacle took his visor?! Had anyone been hit before he could close his eyes? Was anyone hurt now?
Jean– is everybody alright?!
Scott! Jean breathed a sigh of relief. He was back in the present. His mind raced desperately with fear and horror, but this time it was logical. All his worry was focused outward, and his emotions were a fierce blend of defiance and determination. She allowed herself a proud smile. This was far from over. The three of them weren’t giving up. No. Not helpless or hopeless.
We’re alright. She tried to move, pushing down against the floor with all the telekinetic force she could muster, but the damn floor was still trying to pull her under, rendering all of her efforts to free herself useless. Just– pinned down.
Jean provided Cyclops with a view of the chaos surrounding them, and shared with him her insight into Storm’s mind. Storm had created a cyclone around her two immobilized teammates, placing them in the eye of the hurricane, trying to defend them from further attack. Sections of the walls were stripping away around her, like fall leaves in the wind, leaving scaffolding exposed and further weakening the already stressed metal. Like the rest of them, Storm was immobilized (one remaining tentacle held stubbornly to her left ankle) but not yet out of play; she refused to give up.
“Storm?” Cyclops called out over the winds.
“I’m alright.” She kept fighting, kept raining hail and wind down on the attacking room. “Get yourselves free. My winds will cover you.”
“Then we get you free!” Jean promised. “Cyclops, I can help,” Jean called to him next. “When I tell you to, open your eyes.”
“No! That is not an option!”
“I’ll show you–”
“Absolutely not– Jean–” Before she could press him again, he countered, “I need you to reach my visor.” Without it, I’m useless to you.
Her anger flared. She had to bite back the knee-jerk response to insist he was not useless. She was already working on his request. It meant stretching her telekinesis even further but– “I think I can get it to you.” Her control slipped just as she got a grip on the visor, enough to wiggle the damn thing. Jean cried out in frustration, having to concentrate harder just to keep herself from falling the rest of the way through the floor. That quicksand feeling slid all the way up to her waist before she could catch herself again.
I’ve... almost... got it.... “Oh no. Cyclops!”
He saw it from her viewpoint. The room was targeting him again.
Cyclops suppressed a curse and scrambled for cover, only to remember that his foot remained trapped, held tight to the floor. He cursed again, more viciously, mad at himself this time for not taking Jean up on her earlier offer to help him free himself. He was a sitting duck now. Any attempt to get to his visor, and the room would attack him. It would force him into position to eliminate him... leaving Jean and Storm alone in here. Not acceptable.
Jean couldn’t describe the feeling of galvanizing rage that overcame her, watching the room target Cyclops who, without his visor, had no means of self-defense.
No! Jean reacted instinctively – with all the force of an electromagnetic explosion. In one blow she knocked out the sensors targeting Cyclops and the tentacles holding Storm. There was a massive crash. The entire room gave a shudder, temporarily losing power before a backup generator kicked in. Storm’s winds died away. Cyclops’s foot came free. His visor clattered to the floor nearby.
“Jean!” He called out, alarmed, as he heard the crash. “Answer me!” His foot free, Cyclops crawled in her direction.
Jean gasped as she dropped into the floor, before jolting to a sudden stop. Cyclops lunged blindly to grab for her... but her feet simply connected with solid floor. All the artificial constructs fell away as the emergency generator kicked in. No more holograms, no more tentacles, no more projectiles. Only a series of hidden force field generators and trap doors: launch positions for previously unseen attacks of all sorts.
“Here,” Jean responded, gathering herself enough to reestablish her telekinetic grip on Cyclops’s visor, which then easily pressed itself into his hand.
“Thanks.” He quickly sat up to pull the visor on, then opened his eyes to evaluate the situation.
Cyclops’s fingers remained ready at the dial on his visor as Jean telekinetically levitated herself out of the force field generator access trench she found herself standing in. Cyclops then slowly got to his feet, but before he could offer Jean a hand she had already pulled herself across the access trench and set her feet back on solid floor – proving to herself that she could do it, finally having beaten the room’s attempt to capture her.
Cyclops had fully expected the attack to resume once the room came back online. Instead, it was eerily quiet. Cyclops and Jean looked around themselves, puzzled.
“Storm?” Cyclops called. Why has everything stopped?
“Storm’s in trouble!” Jean answered his unspoken question.
Cyclops pivoted on the spot, instantaneously calculating the shot that would free her, but Storm was no longer restrained, not by the room’s previous attack. Nor had there been any new attack.
The combined stresses of Cyclops’s optic blasts, Storm’s winds, and Jean’s psychic pulse had caused a portion of the Danger Room to collapse. Storm was nowhere in sight.
So Let it Be Written Publishing © 2004