Peter Corbeau sat in his quarters onboard Starcore One, trying to work out how many seconds remained before the first of July.
Across from him sat two of the station’s crew, Colonel Mikhail Kutuzov and Dr. Stephen Beckley, in a heated discussion about something or other.
“Look Dr. Corbeau,” Beckley was saying, “all I’m asking is to retask the array for a few tens of hours, to get the final data I need for the Edmund Project.” “With all due respect, Beckley,” Kutuzov said, his tone indicating anything but, “the administration allowed you onboard only as a courtesy to NASA. I refuse to allow your project to disrupt any of Starcore’s ongoing experiments or data-gathering efforts.”
It was something on the order of twenty-seven million, give or take three hundred thousand, Corbeau estimated. Twenty-seven million seconds before he’d be back on Earth, fishing the waters of the Caribbean from the deck of his yacht, the Dejah Thoris II. And in the meantime, he’d be busy playing chaperone to a group of quarreling schoolchildren. Or highly respected scientists. Sometimes he had difficulty deciding which.
It was his fault, ultimately. Not just that shifts on the UN-sponsored solar observatory ran the better part of a year, though he’d had a voice in that decision, as well. No, the whole Starcore operation itself could be laid at his feet. So when it came time to bemoan the fact that he would not be able to fish again for the better part of ten months, he had no one to blame but himself
He’d had two passions since childhood, linked in his mind: the sun and the sea. Peter had spent years studying the former, and devoted what little free time he had to enjoying the latter. But now his love of the one meant he was denied the other, and he couldn’t help but feel that was somehow unfair.
Peter was a scientist, after all. So how did he end up in management?
“Dr. Corbeau, I must insist,” Beckley said, and Peter found that he’d completely lost the thread of the discussion. He didn’t worry too much, though, since if there was one characteristic the two men before him shared, it was an inability to avoid endlessly repeating their own arguments.
Despite having initiated Project Starcore just so he could study the sun in ways that were impossible from Earth, Peter was now personally responsible for overseeing the work of a dozen men and women, scientists of different disciplines and nationalities, each a leader in their field. Collectively they held almost a dozen Nobel prizes, and any one of them could have retired comfortably on the patents generated by their work. And yet they still fought like kids in a schoolyard, jostling for access to the wide variety of monitoring equipment on the station, each with their own experiments to run and hypotheses to test.
And all Peter really wanted to do right now was fish. But that would have to wait until the first of July, another twenty-seven million seconds away.
Starcore had been Peter’s idea, his baby from the beginning, and he’d personally overseen the design of every inch of the Starcore One space station, garnering two Nobel prizes along the way. When the UN tapped him to act as director of Project Starcore, it came as a surprise to no one. And yet it wasn’t until strapping into the Starcore-Eagle-One shuttle, bound for his first tour of duty on the station, that it first occurred to Peter what he’d be giving up, leaving Earth for such long stretches of time.
He was a genius, sure, and had the paperwork to prove it, but too often he missed the blindingly obvious, even when it was staring him right in the face.
His comm pinged, interrupting whatever Kutuzov was about to say. With a sigh of gratitude, Peter toggled on the display, and the face of Talia Kruma filled the screen.
“Yes, Talia?” Peter said. “What is it?”
“Something pretty strange, Peter. A ship of unknown design has just popped up in our sensor data.”
Kruma glanced to one side, lips pursed. “It’s close.”
Peter was already on his feet and heading to the door. “I’ll be right there.”
Moments later, Corbeau was on the bridge, Beckley and Kutuzov at his heels.
“Well, Talia, what can you tell me?”
“That’s it,” Kruma said, pointing to the indistinct image displayed on the overhead monitors. The still was blurry and distorted, but the overall impression was of an immense ship of strange angles and proportions. “It appeared near the sun a bit over four minutes ago, and passed within a few thousand miles of Starcore One.”
Peter’s eyes widened. “That puts its velocity at a significant fraction of the speed of light.”
Kruma nodded. “We figure it at just over .75 c, Peter. And slowing. ”
“What’s its bearing?” Beckley asked, breathless. Kruma glanced over at Alexander Hilary, who was busy collating the most recent data at his station. Hilary looked up, face ashen, and said a single word: “Earth.”
“I don’t know, Cap’n. This seems like a real bad idea to me.”
“Well, Frank, maybe if you didn’t drink away what little money you don’t lose at cards, you could scrape together enough to buy your own boat, and then you could make the decisions.”
The crewman shook his head ruefully, and left Aley-tys Forrester in the wheelhouse. It was her boat, and her decision, but the crew was clearly none too happy about it.
When Frank had gone, Paolo came in from the deck, carrying a steaming cup of coffee in either hand. Lee gratefully accepted one, her attention still on the far horizon.
“Frank’s an idiot, Lee, but he’s right about this. Let the Coast Guard take care of this mess. Nothin’ good’ll come of us sailing the Devil’s Triangle.”
Lee Forrester had known Paolo since she was a little girl. He and her father had been good friends, and when she’d blown her savings on buying the trawler right out of college, Paolo had been the first to sign on to her crew. He’d been onboard ever since, and he knew more about the sea than he could ever teach her. But despite Lee’s repeated insistence that there was nothing to the legends of the Bermuda Triangle other than the periodic eruption of methane hydrate deposits on the ocean floor, affecting the buoyancy of ships and the ability of planes to maintain lift, the old man refused to believe that these waters were anything but cursed.
“Heard and understood, Paolo,” Lee said, with a weary smile. “But my decision stands. We’ve radioed it in, but if there’s somebody left alive from that crash, we’ll be able to get to them long before anyone else can.”
Paolo shook his head, but kept silent, taking up his accustomed position at her side.
The trawler Arcadia was about five hundred miles off the east coast of Florida, and making its way steadily northeast, roughly in the direction of Bermuda. It had been a few hours since they’d seen the craft arcing overhead. Lee thought it might be some sort of NASA craft, or maybe an experimental airplane. Either way, it was coming in hot and fast, looking like it was going to crash into the ocean somewhere just over the horizon. Lee hadn’t needed to think about it too long before she ordered the men to haul in the nets, and headed at full steam toward the place the craft must have gone down.
The vapor trail lingering in the air led them like a beacon, and by midmorning the little atoll came into view. Lee didn’t have to check the charts to know where they were. She’d once washed ashore on that little strip of land, after being tossed overboard in a squall. One of her crew had dived in after her, for all the good it did either of them. The two of them had spent days on the atoll, unsure if they’d ever be rescued, until he appeared and they went from the frying pan into the fire.
“God preserve us,” Paolo said, his mouth drawn into a tight line, his gaze fixed on the shapes hulkingjust beyond the atoll.
Lee nodded, expression grim. As the Arcadia motored around the little island, the strange prominences of the city beyond came into view. The island was Julienne Cay. The city had no name, at least not one that Lee knew. All that she knew was that it was older than civilization, and had not been built by human hands. And the vapor trail they followed pointed directly at its heart.
Over the objections of the crew, Paolo included, Lee made landfall, mooring at the makeshift dock she’d used on her previous visits to the strange, unearthly city.
“Come on, you lunks,” Lee said, slinging her pack on her back “If there are any survivors, we’re not doing them any favors standing around here.”
There were four members of the crew besides Lee and Paolo, and they now gathered around Frank, their de facto spokesman in times of dispute. He was the one who typically brought any of their grievances to the captain, all of them invariably minor and easily settled, and though he’d never done more than win the crew a few more percent of the ship’s haul to split amongst themselves, he carried himself like a shop steward facing down the oppressive forces of big business.
“Look, Cap’n,” Frank said, squaring his shoulders and trying his best to look intimidating. “The guys ’n me have been talkin’ it over, and we’ve decided we’re stayin’ on the boat.”
“Is that so?” Lee asked sweetly.
Frank nodded. “Yeah, it is.”
“What are you afraid of, guys?” Lee asked “Bogeymen swimming up out of the triangle to drag you down to a watery grave?”
A couple of the younger crewmen exchanged worried glances, and Lee knew that was precisely what they were worried about.
“Well,” Lee said, nodding slowly. She stepped back into the wheelhouse, and stepped out holding a rifle, normally kept racked on the cabin wall. A Lee-Enfield .303 that her grandfather had brought back from the first World War, it was euphemistically called the “shark gun.” It had been used to shoot more than sharks in its day. Lee planted the rifle’s butt on her hip, her hand on the stock “Unless I’m very mistaken, this is the only firearm on the boat. And its coming with me. So you’ve got to ask yourselves. Do you feel safer inland with me and my rifle or here on the boat with Frank?”
The crew looked to one another, and with a ripple of shrugs prepared to follow Lee inland.
“How about you, Frank?” Lee said, stepping up onto the ship’s railing, and then vaulting to the dock a few feet away. “You coming along, or are you going to stay on the boat all by your lonesome?”
“I’m cornin’,” Frank said reluctantly, glancing up at the strangely shaped towers of the city. “But I still say this is a bad idea.”
Following Lee’s lead, the crew made their way through the labyrinthine concourses of the city, moving through narrow passages and across broad avenues, under the gaze of towering statues depicting unearthly, inhuman creatures. At the feet of many of these enormous monsters were sculpted human figures, lounging in submissive poses in various states of undress. The crew walked in silence, unsettled by the strangeness surrounding them.
At last they found the craft, parked in the middle of a broad plaza without a scratch on it.
“What the devil is that?” Paolo said.
“Whatever it is,” Lee said, looking at the odd angles and unsettling protuberances of the vessel, “it isn’t local.”
“Cap’n?” Frank said uneasily, pointing at the strange figures issuing from the craft’s open hatch, who began to advance on them menacingly.
“Frank,” Lee said, unslinging the shark gun from her shoulder, “I’m beginning to think you might have been right after all.”
More of the strange figures were in view now, and some of them had taken to the air, shouting at Lee and her crew in an alien, guttural language.
“Captain?” one of the younger crew said plaintively. “What are we ... ?”
“Quiet, Joe,” Lee said, and tossed the rifle to Paolo, who trained it on the nearest of the figures. She then slung her pack from her back and grabbed the satellite phone from the side pocket.
“Lee?” Paolo said, warily. “These folks don’t seem too friendly, I don’t think”
Lee finished punching in the number, and held the phone up to her ear. “Come on, come on, pick up, damn it!”
“Cap’n? A little help, here?”
“I’m working on it, Frank,” Lee said, and then heard the click on the other end of the line. “Oh, Scott, thank god you’re ..
“Thank you for calling Xavier’s School for Gifted Youngsters,” came the voice on the other end of the line. “I’m afraid we’re not able to take your call at this time, but if you’ll leave your name and a brief message after the beep...”
This wasn’t the slums, or the war-torn streets of some distant city, or a savage and distant land. This was Manhattan, Park Avenue to be precise, somewhere in the upper seventies. Kitty Pryde knew it as one of the swankiest neighborhoods in the city, perhaps even the world, but on this moonless night, the streets strangely empty of vehicles and pedestrians alike, the shadows pooling under every awning and around every door, she felt an inescapable sense of menace.
For the moment, it seemed that the world consisted of nothing but Kitty and the buildings towering on either side. But she knew that was too good to last.
As if in response to her thoughts, a pair of street thugs emerged from the shadows. They looked like rejects from The Warriors or a Street Fighter arcade game, one of them done up like a B-movie Indian with Mohawk, face paint, and feathers, the other in a battered top hat and tattered tails.
The Mohawk carried a hunting knife, whose blade glinted dully in the low light, while the top hat swung a Louisville Slugger like a batter approaching the plate.
“How do, Chicken Little?” said the Mohawk in a rasping voice. “Ready to have some fun?”
“What’s the matter?” Kitty asked, crossing her arms over her chest. “You guys get lost on the way to a Village People tribute?”
‘You hear that, Robbo?” the Mohawk said to the top hat. “Chicken Little thinks she’s a comedian.”
Robbo, the top hat, snickered like a dutiful sidekick but said nothing.
Kitty sighed, and shook her head. “That doesn’t even make any sense, you know. Chicken Little? Since when have I worried about the sky falling?”
“Oh,” the Mohawk said, dramatically, “it’s gonna fall.”
Kitty rolled her eyes. ‘You need to work on the script a bit. If this is the best you can do, well, it’s just embarrassing.” She motioned to the two street thugs. “Come on, let’s get this over with.”
As the pair advanced, menacingly, Kitty sized up her options. Ninjitsu? she wondered. No, she thought with a smile. Krav maga.
The Mohawk attacked first, swinging the hunting knife down in a wide arm, the blade toward the ground. Kitty responded instantly with a simultaneous block and strike, punching the Mohawk in the throat with the heel of her palm, grabbing hold of his wrist with her other hand. As the Mohawk pulled away, Kitty kept her hold on the knife. A brief tug-of-war ensued, ended quickly with a knee to the Mohawk’s groin. As he staggered backward, moaning, Kitty sent the knife flying off into the darkness, end over end, finally landing with a clatter some yards away, well out of reach.
The top hat came next, swinging the bat like a club. Kitty ducked under the swing, knocking his arm aside with her left elbow, then went in close with a shovel hook with her right, fist held palm up, elbow tucked down by her ribs, the force of motion coming from her hips. The short-range punch caught the top hat in the soft tissue just beneath the ribcage on his left side, knocking the wind from him. Then, as the top hat reeled, she swung around and followed the body shot with a head shot that caught the top hat in the side of the face.
Kitty kicked the bat away as the top hat dropped to the pavement, just as the Mohawk regained his composure. She set her feet, arms held lightly to either side, and smiled sweetly at him. “Ready for another go?”
The Mohawk looked at his friend, moaning semiconscious on the sidewalk and without another word turned and ran.
Kitty shrugged, and started to head up the avenue in the opposite direction. Logan would have been proud. She hadn’t even had to use her phasing powers.
“This is too easy,” she said to the empty air. “I was expecting something a bit tougher.”
Just then, a hulking metal figure rounded the comer of 71st Street, blocking her path. It was roughly manshaped, but towered over her, taller than the two street thugs combined.
“Okay,” Kitty said, whistling appreciatively. “That’s tougher.”
Kitty’s first thought was that it was some sort of robot. A bit cliched, perhaps, but more of a credible
threat than the Village People rejects of a moment before.
No, she thought, seeing the very human eyes in the faceplate, high overhead. It’s a powered combat suit, like Iron Man on steroids.
As the towering figure of yellow metal approached, Kitty recognized the design. It was a Mandroid, tech originally developed by Tony Stark for SHIELD, but since fallen into the hands of any number of well-funded criminal masterminds and megalomaniacs bent on world domination. But who the suit’s owner might be was of much less concern to Kitty at the moment than what its operator might be planning.
Okay, Kitty thought, dancing backward as the Mandroid slowly advanced, if this model is anything like the ones I studied, it’ll be made of vanadium steel, with a laser cannon mounted on its left arm, a power claw of some kind on the right.
How well the armaments would be employed, of course, depended largely on the skills of the operator inside, but even a complete novice could be ruthlessly effective in a rig like that.
Kitty phased as the laser cannon sent a gout of coherent light right at her, and though the beam passed harmlessly through her phased molecules, she could still feel the heat of its passage. It felt like stepping out of an air-conditioned plane into a hot desert summer, and Kitty didn’t like to imagine what the full intensity of the beam would do to her if she weren’t phased.
The Mandroid didn’t give her a chance to counter, but swung the power claw at her in a vicious arc. Kitty remained phased, nonchalantly waiting for the arm to pass through her. But just as the metal of the suit’s claw passed through her phased molecules, Kitty winced, feeling as if she’d just been kicked in the head. Spots danced in her vision, and the worst migraine she’d felt in ages flared up behind her eyes.
Kitty staggered back, suddenly solid.
That is not vanadium steel, she thought ruefully. No, whatever the suit was made of, it was something so dense that it sat at the outer range of her ability to phase through it.
The migraine was just beginning to fade, her vision clearing, when Kitty saw the power claw coming back around for another swipe. Still disoriented, she just managed to duck, the arm whistling only inches overhead. In no rush to feel the sensation of phasing through that again, she rushed forward, crouched low, and slipped between the powerful legs of the combat suit and out the other side.
The Mandroid wheeled around as Kitty danced out of reach, trying to formulate a plan. She could continue to phase through its laser bolts indefinitely, but whenever the Mandroid closed the distance between them she was going to run the risk of another kick to the head.
I’ll be lucky to handle another one or two phases through that muck, at best. And that’s if I only have to contend with an arm or leg. If I have to phase through the bulk of the suit, I’ll probably end up unconscious on the ground in seconds.
Her only hope was to knock the suit out of commission with her next phase. Unless she was extraordinarily unlucky, the electronics driving the Mandroid would be vulnerable to her ability to disrupt any electrical system she phased through. Her phased molecules acted like a miniature, localized electromagnetic pulse, and if she could get a hand into the suit’s power source, she could immobilize it.
The problem was that the suit’s power source was bound to be in some protected area, somewhere inside the chest carapace, and she was likely to have only one shot at this.
Sure, she thought, lips pursed. A piece of cake.
Kitty tried to think back and remember the schematics she’d studied. The models the X-Men faced years ago had been Stark Industries Mark I and Mark II Man-droids. The one she was facing now was a different design entirely, but seemed to be built on the same basic principles.
Engineers usually don’t reinvent the wheel. It’s easier to evolve a design from one model to the next. That’s why cars almost always have their engine in the front and the trunk in the back. If a design works, why change it? So if this one is built on the same lines as the earlier model Mandroids, its power supply is probably in the same place. Right?
Unless, of course, Kitty realized with a grimace, the engineer had decided to get creative. There was always the chance that this was the Volkswagen Beetle of Mandroids, with its power supply squirreled away somewhere screwy, and nothing but a roomy storage space where the power supply logically should be.
So which was it? Simply this year’s model, or a new design entirely? If the former, Kitty’s play would work. If the latter, well...
I hope my friends remember me fondly.
Kitty crouched low, and waited until the Mandroid lunged at her. At the last possible moment she leapt into the air, legs out to either side, and planted her hands palms down on the Mandroid’s forearm, using it like a pommel horse and going into a handstand. Kitty breathed a silent prayer as the Mandroid responded just as expected, swinging its claw upward. Kitty folded her arms for a brief instant, like springs soaking up kinetic energy, and then pushed off, letting the combined momentum carry her upward, doing a tuck and roll in midair that would make Stevie Hunter proud and landing gracelessly on the Mandroid’s broad shoulders.
“Here goes nothing,” Kitty said, and thrust her phased arm straight down into the back of the Mandroid carapace.
With a sputtering sound and a sudden smell of ozone the Mandroid shuddered once and then went still as a statue.
A blinding headache lancing through her skull, Kitty was barely able to remain phased long enough to pull her arm back out of the Mandroid before going solid, and then slipping unceremoniously down to the ground. She managed to keep her feet beneath her, just barely, and rubbed the bridge of her nose, waiting for the spots in front of her eyes to fade and the ice pick in her frontal lobe to dissipate.
“Ouch,” Kitty said, rubbing her temples. “I’m not in a hurry to try that again.”
The only answer was a deep, reverberating thud. Then another, and another, and another. Sounding like footsteps, but impossibly loud, and getting louder.
Kitty turned, and looked up 70th Street toward Madison Avenue.
A trio of Sentinels were emerging from the direction of Central Park Purple and gray human-shaped robots, designed to hunt and eradicate the “mutant menace,” stood a dozen stories tall, yellow eyes glaring in their expressionless faces, arms outstretched menacingly.
From the immobile mouth on the face of the lead Sentinel issued a strange, inhuman voice.
"Mutant, you are advised to surrender or face immediate termination. This is your only warning.”
“Aw, come on, Doug!” Kitty yelled, hands on her hips. “Are you kidding me? Why not just toss in Galac-tus, too, and complete the set?”
The Sentinels were less than half a block away, their hands raised, palms forward, weapons no doubt trained on Kitty and ready to extinguish her life.
And then everything was gone.
All of it, the city, the street, the buildings, the Sentinels. Only Kitty remained, standing in an immense, featureless room of glittering steel. Where the Mandroid had stood was now an oversized humaniform practice dummy of the same featureless steel as the surrounding walls, ceiling, and floor, its holographic cloak now disabled.
Through the window of reinforced transparent aluminum, set high on the wall overhead, Kitty could see the smirking face of Doug Ramsey in the control room.
“Aw, come on, Pryde. Don’t feel up to a little challenge?”
Kitty shook her head and stepped forward, lifting her foot as though to put it on a step. The fact that there was no stairway there, just empty air, didn’t stop her from slowly ascending, air-walking gradually higher, step by step. It was another interesting side effect of her phasing abilities, one that had taken a while to get the hang of. She often felt like Wile E. Coyote from the Road Runner cartoons when air-walking, and preferred to keep from looking down, for fear that the sudden discovery that there was nothing beneath her but empty air might send her falling to the ground far below.
“Doug, have I ever told you about the first time I was in the Danger Room?”
His voice echoed through the speakers hidden in the walls around her, but the shake of his head was a slight, understated motion. “No, I don’t think so. Why?” “Well, it was just the standard first-timer test, just like all the New Mutants had to do on their first days— present company excluded. All I had to do was walk from one side of the room to the other. I don’t think I’d ever been so scared in my life, even after being kidnapped by the Hellfire Club and all of that crazy. So I squeezed my eyes shut and just put one foot in front of the other. And you know what happened?”
Kitty was now only a few steps away from the control room, her eyes fixed on her destination, and not on the hard steel floor dozens of feet below.
“No, what?” Doug said.
“Nothing,” Kitty answered with a smile. “I just kept walking. I didn’t even realize I was phasing through tentacles, and projectiles, and force beams, and all kinds of nastiness Professor Xavier had cooked up.”
Kitty was now in arm’s reach of the control room window. She stepped through, feeling the slightest whisper on her exposed skin as her molecules phased through those of the transparent aluminum.
“Of course,” Kitty added with a sigh, “then I was knocked unconscious by a psionic bolt, and spent the next few hours in a coma in someone else’s body while an alternate version of me from the future of a parallel time line used mine to try to stop World War III, but that’s a whole different story.”
“Heck” Doug said, leaning back and lacing his fingers behind his head, feet propped up on the Danger Room’s control panel. “I’d be lucky just to make it through the front door.”
“Yeah,” Kitty said, dropping into the chair beside him wearily. “I guess the ability to translate any language and talk to computers isn’t all that handy when dealing with evil mutants or giant robots.”
“I’ll just have to get by on my good looks.” Doug smiled.
“Well, good luck with that.” Kitty punched him lightly in the arm. “I wouldn’t count on the next mutant you meet succumbing to your boyish charms, though.” “Um, excuse me?” came a cultured voice from behind them.
Kitty looked to see a stunning woman with purple hair standing in the entrance to the control room. It was
Betsy Braddock former British fashion model, telepath, and newcomer to the Xavier mansion.
“On the other hand,” Kitty said in a low voice, shooting Doug a sly look
“B-Betsy,” Doug said, jumping awkwardly to his feet. “What . . . what can I . . . ?” He stopped, and glanced at Kitty nervously. “You didn’t just . . .” He looked back to Betsy. “Did you?”
Betsy regarded Doug for a moment, a slight smile on her full lips, and shook her head. “I’m certain I didn’t, whatever it was.”
“What can we do for you, Betsy, is what the boy wonder here is trying to say,” Kitty said dryly.
“Yes, well, it appears that someone is waiting at the front door. Or so it would appear on the monitors in the corridor. I’d have gone and answered it myself but...” A slight blush rose on Betsy’s cheeks. “But to be perfectly frank I couldn’t find my way back to the lift, and I’ve been stuck in this bloody subbasement all morning!”
“No problem,” Kitty said, standing. “That’ll probably be Scott at the door, and I need to talk to him myself anyway.” She strode toward the door, but paused as she came abreast of Betsy and glanced back at Doug. “Hey, Ramsey, why don’t you give Ms. Braddock a full tour of the mansion. I’m sure she’d appreciate the attention.” As Kitty walked out, Doug gave Betsy a sheepish grin, looking like a kid at a middle school dance trying to work up the courage to approach a girl.
I don’t know who to pity more, Kitty thought, heading up the corridor toward the elevator. Him or her.
Scott Summers stood at the front door of the Xavier mansion, scowling, eyes narrowed behind the thick ruby quartz lenses of his glasses. He felt uncomfortably like an outsider, like a door-to-door salesman, not like someone who’d lived his entire adult life and almost half his childhood inside these walls. It’d only been a short time since he’d left, but it already seemed a lifetime ago.
Scott remembered the first time he stood on this doorstep, the day that Charles Xavier had invited him to be the first X-Man, and given him the code name Cyclops. It sometimes felt as though he’d spent his every waking moment these last years wearing that uniform, answering to that name. And now who was he? This would be the first time since he was a teenager that he’d be entering the mansion as anything but the leader of the X-Men.
So he wasn’t an X-Man anymore. What of it? He and the others, the founders—Hank, Bobby, Warren, and Jean—-they had lives of their own these days, and plans that kept them busy in Manhattan and elsewhere. Scott tried not to look back, tried to put his past behind him.
Besides, in a very real sense, the mansion wasn’t the place he remembered. Not anymore.
But when he’d gotten Kitty’s call, he knew he couldn’t refuse. Even though the X-Men weren’t his team anymore, and the mansion not his home, he would always answer when they called.
So why weren’t they answering the door?
As if in response, the knob turned, and the door swung open. Kitty Pryde, face flushed and hair in disarray, stood on the other side.
“I thought it’d be you!” Kitty said, breathless. She tilted her head to one side, looking at him quizzically. “Why didn’t you just come in?”
Scott just held up his key, his eyebrow raised. “You changed the locks?”
Kitty smiled, somewhat sheepishly. “Ah. Well, don’t take it personally. It was Tom Corsi’s idea, to cycle all the security systems once a month. With the number of doppelgangers and alien shape-shifters and mind-controlled zombies we get around here, we figured it couldn’t hurt to try.”
Scott realized that the long silence that followed suggested that Kitty was waiting for some kind of response. He nodded, and when that failed to get the desired reaction, gestured toward the door. “Can I come in?” “Oh,” Kitty said, eyes widening. She stepped to one side, and added apologetically, “Of course, sorry about that.”
When Scott was through, Kitty closed the door behind him, then set off across the foyer toward the headmaster’s office.
Scott remembered that once upon a time he’d kidded himself that Xavier might one day hand the school down to him, if circumstances ever demanded. But when the time came, and Xavier chose a successor, Scott wasn’t it. Really, if he was honest with himself that was probably the biggest reason that Scott had left in the first place. They were someone else’s X-Men now.
“Anyway,” Kitty was saying, “like I said on the phone, just about everybody is still on their way back from visiting Moira and Sean on Muir Island. Logan’s somewhere around here, and all of the New Mutants are all out west visiting Danielle Moonstar’s parents. All except Doug Ramsey, of course, who’s busy following Betsy Braddock around like a lovesick puppy. It’s kind of cute, in a sickeningly icky sort of way.”
“You said there was some kind of message?” Scott said impatiently.
“Right, the message,” Kitty said. “It came in when I was in the shower, and Logan was taking a nap, so the machine picked it up.”
“A nap?” Scott smirked.
“So sue me, Cyke,” Logan said, coming around the comer, his flannel shirt open to the waist, a beer in one hand and an unlit cigar in the other. “I gotta get my beauty sleep, don’t I?”
“Logan,” Scott said simply by way of greeting. Taking a long slug of his beer, Logan shouldered past Scott and into the headmaster’s office. He collapsed unceremoniously into the leather swivel chair, propping his feet up on the desk
“Here it is,” Kitty said, and punched the replay button on the answering machine.
The voice message was fragmentary, and laced with static, but the breathless voice was immediately recognizable. She was clearly under stress, but not yet panicking.
“Scott? Or . . . it’s Lee. We’re here . . . triangle . . . There’s some . . . UFO . . . and these . . . others . . . coming closer ... Help!!”
“Lee.” Scott closed his eyes behind his ruby quartz glasses, his hands curled into fists at his sides.
“I figure ‘Lee’ to be Magneto’s old squeeze,” Logan said casually. “But I can’t make heads or tails of the rest ofit.”
“Scott,” Kitty said, concern written on her features. “Does that make any kind of sense to you?”
“Yes,” Scott said, his tone grim.
“Well, what does it mean?”
‘Yeah, Cyke, spill it.”
“It means,” Scott answered, his mouth drawn into a thin line, “that I need to borrow a plane.”
A short while later, the Blackbird was halfway to Bermuda. A Lockheed RS-150 modified with Shi’ar technology, the X-Men’s private spy plane was cruising somewhere around Mach 4, and would reach the waters of the Sargasso Sea in only a matter of minutes.
Kitty looked out the window at the sapphire blue waters racing far beneath them. Scott was beside her at the controls. Behind them, Logan sprawled across two passenger seats, his cowboy hat tilted forward, almost completely covering his eyes.
Logan hadn’t said a word since they’d boarded, and Kitty was sure he was asleep, but then he surprised her by breaking the silence.
“You know, Cyke, you seem awfully hot and bothered over a call from Mags’s ex-girl.” Logan reached up a single finger and tilted his cowboy hat back fractionally, looking up under his brows at the back of Scott’s head. “Am I wrong in thinking maybe the two of you had a little something on the side?”
“Logan!” Kitty snapped, wheeling around in her chair.
“No,” Scott answered, glancing back at the diminutive
Canadian. “Logan’s right. Lee and I were... involved.” Kitty gaped at him. “When?!”
Scott? Two-timing with Magneto's girlfriend?!
Kitty’d met Lee Forrester only once or twice, and only at Magneto’s side. Lee had always seemed a bit shy and standoffish, though Kitty could tell there was real iron in her. She’d initially thought that she might be some kind of mutaphobe, but quickly dismissed the idea. No one with a pathological fear or hatred of mutants could be in a romantic relationship with Magneto. That would be like a white supremacist snuggling up with Malcolm X. Still, there was something about the way Lee carried herself that suggested that, while she might have been the mistress of her domain at sea, when elbow to elbow with people who shot lasers from their eyes or had claws that popped out of their knuckles, she felt a little out of her depth.
“It was before she ever met Magneto,” Scott explained, his voice sounding far away. “It was shortly after Phoenix died on the moon. I was ...” He paused for a moment, swallowing hard. “I needed to take some time away. I roamed around for a while, and eventually ended up down in Florida. Joined the crew of a fishing boat out of Shark Bay, and got to know her captain pretty well.” “And that was Lee?” Kitty asked.
“Sole owner and operator,” Scott said, sounding more than a little proud. “She’d turned her back on a life of ease to work for a living, instead, and I don’t think I’ve ever met a more resourceful, strong woman. Well, we got to be friends, and then maybe a little more than friends. One night Lee was washed overboard during a freak squall, and I dove in after her. We kept afloat, but only barely, and then we ended up washing ashore on a little atoll in the middle of the Bermuda Triangle.”
“And then Mags entered the picture,” Logan said, his voice low but level, “\feah, I remember that day, alright.” Scott glanced back at Logan, but only nodded. Then he turned to Kitty and continued. “Magneto just... he just raised up this strange, deserted city from the bottom of the ocean, a mile off the shore of the atoll, and used it as his base for a while, trying to terrorize the nations of the world into recognizing his authority.” He paused, then said, “You remember the city, don’t you, Kitty? We stayed their briefly, a few years back.”
“Oh,” Kitty said sarcastically, “you mean that strange alien city in the middle of the Bermuda Triangle. I thought you were talking about some other alien city.” She treated Scott to her most withering stare. “My mistake.” Scott smiled slightly, and shrugged. “That’s right, of course,” he said, apologetically. ‘You were with us on that mission, weren’t you? I’m sorry, Kitty, I sometimes forget just how long you’ve been with us—” Scott paused, and then added quickly, “With the X-Men, I mean. I still think of you as the ‘new kid,’ but you’ve been around for years.”
“And there’s a lot more ‘new kids,’ these days,” Kitty said. “One whole wing of the mansion is full of them.” “Heck,” Logan put in, “feels like Rogue just got here yesterday, but she’s an old campaigner by now.”
“It must be some strange inverse of dog years or something,” Kitty said. “Except that it’s not seven for every one, but the other way around.”
“Time flies when you’re busy saving the world,” Scott said.
In the passenger seats behind them, Logan began to chuckle loudly
“What?” Kitty asked.
“Yes, Logan,” Scott said, glancing back over his shoulder. “What’s so funny?”
‘You and Mags,” Logan said, still chuckling. “The same woman took a liking to both of you?”
‘Yeah?” Scott’s eyes narrowed behind his ruby quartz glasses. “What about it?”
“Well,” Logan said, pulling the brim of his hat down over his eyes and crossing his arms over his chest, “there’s just no accounting for taste, now, is there?” Scott was about to answer, his teeth bared, when a ping from the instrumentation caught Kitty’s attention.
“Hey, you guys,” Kitty said, leaning over and studying the digital readout. “I’ve located the GPS transponder of Lee’s ship, the Arcadia. It’s anchored about a mile off the shore of something called Julienne Cay.” “Gripes,” muttered Logan under his breath. “What?” Kitty said, looking from Scott to Logan and back.
“Remember that atoll I was telling you about?” Scott said, his hands tightening on the controls. “That’s Julienne Cay.”
“So that means ...” Kitty said, realization dawning. “That means that Lee’s in that alien city.”
“Her message said something about ‘others,’” Kitty said. “But I thought the city was deserted.”
Behind her, Logan said simply, “Not anymore.”