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Claremont era
"Fortress Around Your Heart"

Fortress around Your Heart

Author's Notes
Chapter 1: Dramatis Personae
Chapter 2: We All Have Our Separate Battles...
Chapter 3: Tell Me Why
Chapter 4: Setting Parameters
Chapter 5: Approaching Storm
Chapter 6: Basic Training
Chapter 7: A Very Important Date
Chapter 8: Nice from Far, but Far from Nice
Chapter 9: Guest Account
Chapter 10: The Battle for Asteroid M
Chapter 11: With Enemies Like These...
Chapter 12: Denouement

Chapter Three - "Tell Me Why"

Phoenix was near panic. Her telekinesis didn't affect Nimrod directly. Her telepathic abilities were even less effective on a robot. There wasn't anywhere else to flee to, and she was running out of projectiles to fling. She'd tossed most of a parking lot at the vicious thing and she now had a good start on a junkyard scattered around.

The robot had been trying out various weapons, methodically, looking for weaknesses. He seemed to have hit upon some kind of sonic weapon that she had a hard time fighting. The shriek made it nearly impossible to think - and since her powers were psychic in nature, that was very bad.

Suddenly Nimrod paused in his assault. He turned bright red, and looked off to the left. An instant later, an optic blast splashed harmlessly across his chest. Rachel was both relieved and afraid to see her teammates arriving. She knew something of what Nimrod was capable of, and she feared for all their lives.

She saw the stranger, and wondered for a moment - but she was still fighting off the sonic scream, and couldn't spare much attention.

Colossus was tossing a lamp-post at the robot, and Rogue was also looking for something to throw. Cyclops kept trying different spots on Nimrod, to no obvious effect. She didn't see Shadowcat, and she hoped that meant she was sneaking up on the robot, and not ... not...

She redoubled her telekinetic assault on the robot, but they weren't having enough of an effect - a scratch on his armor was all they'd managed.

Storm turned to the stranger. She had realized as he carried them that he was younger; perhaps in his very early twenties. "He's learned from our previous battle, and from the other Sentinels. We need to come up with something new." She wished they hadn't left Wolverine and Nightcrawler behind at the mansion.

He was silent for a second. "I've got an idea. Gimme just a minute." Then he flew off between some buildings. Storm wondered for a moment if he was fleeing. There wasn't much time; Nimrod was visibly regrouping, and picking targets for a counterattack. She thought furiously; there should be an electrical main close by ... if they could divert that power ... She wished again, not for the last time, that she hadn't been stripped of her powers to control the weather.

Suddenly she spotted the stranger in the sky. He was very high up, and there was something... it looked like a giant ring around him, like heat distortion. What could he be doing? she wondered.

Then there was no question about what he was doing. The ring had become a mirrored disk, hundreds of yards across, a bit concave. And it was reflecting the sun ... at Nimrod.

Nimrod had once seen children using a magnifying glass on some insects in the Barrio. He now knew just what those insects had felt like. The light wasn't coherent like a laser, but that made it worse. He was built to withstand lasers. His sensors reported that his outer armor was vaporizing. An optic blast shattered his now-vulnerable hand.

He pondered for several thousandths of a second. Even the allies he'd constructed hadn't been enough. He was back to facing several enemies at once, and now there was this new factor.

There was a sizzling, crackling 'ZAP!', and Nimrod was gone.

The X-Men took stock. Everyone seemed to be okay, at least at first glance. Rachel rejoiced inwardly to see Kitty rising up from the ground under the parking lot. In the future, Kate had been her friend and mentor. Rachel hadn't admitted it to anyone here, but she'd been brainwashed in the future, used to hunt other mutants. In a very real sense, Kate had saved (would save?) her soul.

Sirens were wailing in the distance, getting closer, as the newcomer landed next to the group. "Where the heck did he go?"

Storm answered again. "Whenever we're close to defeating him, he runs away. And he can repair himself from almost any amount of damage. We're going to have to find a way to defeat him permanently, or soon he'll be unstoppable."

Kitty broke in. "Those Sentinels with him. Did anyone notice anything strange about them?"

"They were fast. And they didn't blather about how they were doing. I've never seen ones like that before." Cyclops was concerned.

"I have." Rachel's comment silenced the group for a moment. Rachel hadn't shared many specifics with them, but they knew that the future she had come from would have been a nice vacation spot for Hitler. If there would be more Sentinels like those...

Rogue had been quiet during the whole exchange, staring at the young man in the torn clothing. Many conflicting thoughts and emotions chased themselves through her mind.

The sirens were getting closer. "Thanks again for your help," Cyclops told the stranger. "We probably should get going. Would you like to come with us? I think there's a few things we could talk about."

"Uh, maybe later. I've really got to get back before ... well, I've really got to go." He actually looked rather shy.

"Could we arrange to meet later? We'd love to..." Storm began. Cyclops shot her a look. She calmly looked back.

He paused. "All right. Uh, Saturday, ten a.m., is that all right? In front of the Empire State Building?"

"Fine," Cyclops replied. The sirens were very close now. "Wait, how will we know you?"

Another nervous pause. "I'll look for you. Who should I look for?"

"Ah'll do it!" Rogue jumped in impulsively. Slightly abashed, she continued, "Ah mean, it's easy for me to get there, and..."

"Okay, cool," the stranger broke in. "Those cops have got to be around the corner. See you this weekend!" He shot off into the sky, very fast.

The rest of the X-Men broke for a subway entrance. If they could get down to the Morlock tunnels, they'd avoid a hassle with the police.

While Rachel was telekinetically carrying the most of team back to the mansion (Rogue had gone on ahead, being able to fly much faster) she used her psi-powers to link up the team in an impromptu conference to share notes about the recent battle. The rush of air made talking impractical anyway.

<<Who was that guy? He really did a number on Nimrod.>> Rachel had already related her difficulties in battling the armored robot.

<<I don't know for sure,>> Scott replied, <<but I saw him take out our Sentinel in a couple of seconds.>> A mental movie played for the others, showing them what he'd seen.

<<Apparently a new, powerful mutant. It helped that he'd never fought those Sentinels or Nimrod before,>> Kitty mused. <<Did you see how he spooked Rogue? She was really flipped out.>>

<<I saw that as well,>> Storm thought. <<I had the impression he met her first. Apparently he dealt with her Sentinel, too.>> She passed on the short conversation they'd had. <<What could upset her so?>>

<<I couldn't psi-scan him very well.>> Rachel felt the group's disapproval for invading another's mind without permission. She didn't let them see that it was almost second nature to her. That was one of the least nasty habits she'd picked up, just surviving in her native time. <<It felt strange, like there was something muffling his mind.>> She shared the sensation with her teammates.

<<Like looking through dirty glass, or maybe fog,>> Peter tried to put it into words. The artist in him was already trying to figure out a way to paint it.

Kitty chimed in, <<Apparently whatever makes him invulnerable also helps block psychic contact, too. That would explain why he's never shown up on our long-range Cerebro scans. Assuming he is a mutant.>>

<<I could get at emotions,>> Rachel "said". <<He really was trying to help us. He was more scared than I expected - he almost didn't agree to meet Rogue.>>

<<What about Nimrod's new Sentinels?>> Scott interrupted. <<I'm really not looking forward to facing them again. Where did he find them?>>

All minds "turned" to Rachel. <<I don't know. They were like the Sentinels from my time. Little differences, a bit larger, slower. Not quite as strong. But the same basic design.>>

Kitty's mind was racing. <<Maybe he didn't find them. Maybe he built them. You told us Nimrod was new, experimental. Maybe he couldn't duplicate himself with the technology available today. (Thank goodness.) So he did the best he could with the parts he could make.>>

<<That makes sense,>> Scott agreed. <<It doesn't give us much to go on for our next battle, though.>>

None of the group had anything to add.

Greg swooped down onto the balcony of their motel room, ripping off his ski mask. He slipped inside, grateful to see his friends were still out getting lunch. He tore off his clothes, which hadn't survived the battle very well. He quickly got a new outfit on, and packed his shredded clothing at the bottom of his bag.

He'd seen the flashes of energy outside the window just as Steve had proposed lunch. Greg had lied and said he wasn't hungry, and the others had gone to the pizza place at the corner. Not really knowing why, he'd quickly disguised himself as best he could and set out.

Greg walked down the stairs, headed for the pizza joint. He could say he'd changed his mind. On the way, he tried to sort out his thoughts.

He'd met the X-Men! The battle had been ... exhilarating, but he wasn't sure it had been the wisest thing to do. He knew he'd been lucky, like before. And that woman ... she was gorgeous (they all were) but why had she freaked out? And why had she stared at him like that?

And did he really want to come back on Saturday?


Continued in Chapter 4


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