Chapter Eleven -- "With Enemies Like These..."
Nightcrawler was getting worried. They were losing their
chance to press the attack on Nimrod; the Sentinels were adapting
too quickly. Wolverine's optical disruptor had proven useless
on the Sentinels; the metal shredder was only marginally useful.
He and Colossus had teamed up and eliminated one of the killing
Xavier melted another wall of rock, and Cyclops' optic blasts
hurled the slag at a Sentinel, clogging the cannon its hand
had become. Fortress slashed at it with a razor the size of
a car windshield, cutting it in half, but a blast from its
eyes knocked him across the garden; he still didn't dodge
very well. Toad's battery weapon worked if their armor was
pierced, though, and that Sentinel was quickly eliminated.
That left three very active killing machines. Nightcrawler
suddenly realized that one of them was drawing a bead on Cyclops,
who was too far from cover. Fortress was still recovering,
Colossus was busy, Toad and Xavier weren't effective against
Kurt teleported rapidly, and then BAMFed Cyclops away just
ahead of a powerful laser burst. It was easier here; the rock
had a strong natural magnetic field. And that gave him an
While Scott recovered, Nightcrawler grabbed a branch from
a shattered tree. When Rogue had battled Nimrod before, she
had absorbed half the X-Men's powers, including Kurt's. She
had used them in a way that Kurt had seldom done -- teleporting
part of Nimrod. The strain had been incredible, she'd
told him later. Even if Kurt felt up to it, it had been used
before, and was therefore too dangerous to try again.
So he did the reverse. He sighted the distance, then fighting
his instincts, BAMF! he was six feet in the air, a foot and
a half behind the nearest Sentinel. The branch was seven feet
long, however ... and was embedded in the robot.
The resulting damage was severe. Something inside exploded,
and sparks flew from several joints. A garbled SQUARK came
out of the robot's "voicebox" as it fell to the
The problem was, Kurt didn't feel much better. He hurt all
over; he very nearly hadn't materialized at all. He fell clumsily
and couldn't find the energy to move. The remaining Sentinels
were quick to take advantage of this. Some vile derivative
of ball lightning streaked across the garden and exploded
inches from him. A huge shock went through him and he passed
Nimrod emerged from the galley, repaired and gleaming. He
had lost some short-term memories but they were being reconstructed
from his datalink with the other machines. He resumed planning
a means to neutralize the long-range teleporter, at the same
time choosing targets for the current skirmish.
Beta team had retreated from engineering, and were fighting
a running battle, heading toward the garden, Alpha team, and
Nimrod. They'd only accounted for one more Sentinel, and the
remaining four were chasing them like hounds on the hunt.
Unus led the way, with Magneto and Rachel covering from the
rear. Rachel tried not to worry too much about Shadowcat;
she could sense Kitty's fear as she barely kept ahead of the
robot chasing her. Their main hope now was that the viruses
would kick in soon.
Storm fired the EMP weapon at the door ahead, and Rogue easily
slid the now-unlocked hatch open. Unus leaped after them and
Magneto and Phoenix slipped through, one maintaining a shield
while the other slammed the door closed and sealed it.
Shadowcat emerged from a bulkhead in front of them, glad
to rejoin the team. But her pursuer smashed through the wall
immediately after her, and Beta team had to focus their efforts
on the new threat. Kitty grabbed Storm, phasing her into intangibility
in the hope it would protect them.
Magneto and Rachel smashed at the robot with whatever was
handy, trying to breach the armor so that one of the weapons
could do some damage. They could hear their pursuers banging
on the door behind them, tearing it down.
Wolverine fired quickly at Nimrod, but the disruptor had
no obvious effect. Xavier's induction gun, on tight focus
and full power, evaporated the floor beneath the hovering
Sentinel, engulfing it in a cloud of white-hot debris and
buying them a few seconds. Professor X realized his weapon
was almost out of charge.
Colossus threw a discarded robot arm at one Sentinel, and
Cyclops gave it a boost with an optic blast. It bowled the
robot over but didn't damage it. Fortress had put up a reflective
shield and was bouncing energy pulses back at the remaining
Lila appeared, summoned to evacuate Nightcrawler. Nimrod
took the opportunity; a strange distortion seemed to ripple
through the air between them. She screamed and fell to her
knees. Toad fired his gun at Nimrod with no effect.
Then the viruses kicked in. The Sentinels all over the base
froze. At first the mutants couldn't believe it; then Greg
let out a whoop of joy. He wrapped his opponent in a tube
of force and crushed it.
Inside Nimrod, a little-used system was invoked. Dubbed the
Ramsey Protocol, it had been designed by a mutant who had
been captured and brainwashed in 2003. It had taken him years
of work, but it could protect against almost any type of malicious
code. The attacking programs were quickly identified, isolated,
analyzed, and eliminated. One subroutine was deemed useful
and quickly incorporated into Nimrod's own software.
The recovery came too late; a shaken Lila had teleported
away with Kurt. But all the mutants felt something close to
despair when the robots suddenly began moving again.
Beta team had nearly reached the garden. When the Sentinels
had seized up, they'd quickly destroyed the one blocking their
way and moved on to help take out Nimrod. They had a small
head start on the robots chasing them that was rapidly diminishing.
"Through here!" Unus called, grabbing a door latch.
"We're almost there!" he cried as he turned it.
The explosion wasn't large, but it shredded his pressure
suit and sent him tumbling into Storm and Shadowcat. Unus
was unconscious and bloody; only his field had kept him alive.
"A trap!" Magneto shouted; he was appalled that
his station had been so perverted.
Lila needed a lot of courage to return for Unus, but she
retrieved him as the remainder of Beta team hurried down the
last corridor toward the garden, the clang of Sentinel footsteps
growing louder all the time.
Fortress slashed at Nimrod with a long blade of force, but
it halted inches from his shining surface, held back by a
screen of energy. A neutral particle beam took Greg in the
chest and sent him crashing through a wall.
Wolverine had dropped the disruptor; it just didn't work
anymore. The metal-shredder tore apart a stanchion next to
Nimrod but brought no other result. Xavier's induction gun
was almost totally drained; with its last charge he softened
the floor under the Sentinel fighting Colossus, disturbing
its balance. Peter landed a powerful blow but didn't breach
In desperation, Cyclops tried to buy some time. Telepathically
warning the others, he turned his blasts full-force against
the transparent ceiling. A hole the size of a truck opened
Hurricane winds suddenly tore through the garden; tons of
debris sucked out into the void. Nimrod was unmoved; the mutants
clung to the ground. Colossus' opponent was sucked upward,
but grabbed onto a pole and brought a blaster around to face
Xavier. He saw it, but couldn't let go of the roots he held,
or he'd be sucked into space. In the roar of the wind, no
one could hear the cannon charging up.
Toad had always had things tough. An ugly child in an orphanage,
he'd been teased and beaten regularly. Misclassified as retarded,
it had taken years for him to realize he was of normal intelligence,
perhaps a bit more. He'd followed Magneto because he was a
strong leader, and seemed to promise a way to strike back
against those who'd wronged him.
Rachel's vision of the future had rocked him to the core.
Even knowing what Magneto had gone through, even after what
had happened to him, he'd never fully believed that something
like that could really happen. He'd realized that even at
their worst, his tormenters had never tried to kill him; he
had received their contempt, but never their hatred, nor the
businesslike efficiency of true evil.
He decided that he could not hide behind those kinds of illusions
anymore. The threat was real, and horrible, and direct. It
was with only mild surprise that he found himself leaping
across the garden, effortlessly compensating for the howling
winds. He bounced up to the ceiling, and using the full power
of his superhumanly strong legs, diverted the cannon blast
Nimrod was hurled backward, but the other Sentinel simply
turned its head toward Toad and its eyes lashed out with power.
Toad was dead before he hit the ground. The winds were dying
as the air on the station was exhausted.
"Whaddaya know," Logan murmured as he stood up
to press the attack, "the frog was a prince after all."
It was a brief but fitting epitaph.
Beta team sprang from the control room, powers flaring and
guns blazing. The Sentinel that had killed Toad succumbed
to the combined might of Storm's EMP weapon, Unus's fiber
gun, and Rachel's telekinesis. Magneto hurled a blast of electricity
at Nimrod, but the robot merely absorbed it as he stood.
Fortress had emerged from the wall and swooped towards Nimrod.
His field was strongest close to his body; he wanted to see
what a full-power uppercut would do to the vicious thing.
Nimrod judged angles and readied his counterstrike.
Greg's blow rocked Nimrod back, but he was able to fire his
weapon. The exotic particle beam he used was a compromise;
in order to breach the protective field, it wasn't optimally
composed to do damage to human flesh. It tore through Greg's
shield like a fire hose through a spiderweb, but it only punched
a hole through his abdomen the size of a quarter.
Fortress faltered, agony ripping through him. A blast of
ball lighting exploded before him, throwing him back a dozen
feet and shattering his helmet. His field repelled much of
the charge, but weakened as he was, some still got through.
Rogue screamed, "NO!" and threw the steel rod she
held at Nimrod; it actually dented his casing. The other mutants
launched their own attacks, trying to eliminate Nimrod before
the other Sentinels arrived.
She dived down, pulling Greg away from the battle. She "heard"
Xavier summoning Lila again, and Lila's reluctant assent.
The teleporter appeared next to Greg, who was pale where he
wasn't burned. Blood leaked from both his stomach and back
Not able to stop herself, she grabbed onto Greg at the same
time Lila did. All three vanished before Nimrod, the target
of several attacks, could strike.
"What are you doing here!" Lila cried in the lab
at Asteroid N. "You've got to get back!" She stared
at the girl, torn between returning to the battle and finishing
the first aid for Unus. Kurt lay bandaged in a corner.
Rogue ignored her, tearing off her helmet, kneeling by Fortress,
tears threatening to burst forth. "C'mon, sugar, don't
you die on me!" she called.
Greg opened his eyes. "I don't think I have a lot of
choice," he said weakly.
"Don't talk like that! You're gonna be just fine."
She tried to keep hysteria out of her voice.
He choked, a little blood leaking from the corner of his
mouth. "Wish we could've..." He coughed. "...had
that third date."
"Please. Don't die. Please." Despair welled up
"C'mere. Last request..." he said, almost inaudibly.
She leaned down, and pressed her lips to his. The only present
he could give washed into her; he'd suppressed his field.
What they had wasn't love, not exactly. Two weeks, a couple
of dates; this is not enough time to fix a lasting relationship,
no matter what the movies and storybooks say. Friendship they
had, and attraction. These were seeds that could, in time,
grow into love.
But few people on Earth were ever as intimately connected
as Rogue and Fortress became then. She saw his memories, his
personality, his self -- and he saw hers. They knew each other,
and found they could forgive each other's faults and weaknesses,
and appreciate their strengths and potential. They knew that,
in time, they would have been lovers in a true sense.
Crying softly, Rogue felt his powers coursing through her.
Her skin had turned reflective; she looked like a quicksilver
statue. There was simply no doubt in her mind about what to
do next. She stood and turned to Lila. "You'd best get
them off that rock. Y'all ain't gonna want to be around when
Ah get there."
She effortlessly ripped the hunk of adamantium from its clamp
on the workbench. Not bothering to put her helmet back on,
she stepped out of the airlock.
Lila stared after her for a moment, then concentrated for
her teleport to the station. Mirrored as she had been, her
eyes were impossible to read, but the tone in Rogue's voice
brooked no disagreement.
The situation was desperate when Lila appeared. Nimrod was
hosing energy blasts across the chamber, devastatingly powerful.
The four remaining Sentinels had arrived, pinning the mutants
in a crossfire. None of the weapons seemed to do any good
Wolverine was under one of the Sentinels, about to be crushed
by a descending foot. Magneto called, <<Go limp!>>
across the psi-link the telepaths maintained. Logan did; an
instant later, he understood why.
Magneto was magnetically animating his metal skeleton, wielding
his claws with a strength far beyond Wolverine's own. The
robot's boot was quickly shredded, and an instant later its
chest was open.
Lila grabbed Xavier, projecting what she'd seen into his
mind. He summoned the team. Rachel telekinetically pulled
the mutants together, and Lila beamed them away, barely ahead
of Nimrod's distortion ray.
Perhaps it was the same mysterious factor that had amplified
Ms. Marvel's powers when Rogue absorbed them. Or possibly
Fortress' powers and Ms. Marvel's worked together in synergy.
Then again, some mutants had, in extreme situations, displayed
powers far beyond their normal limits -- not unlike the "hysterical
strength" some humans exhibited in a crisis. The first
Phoenix, driven mad, had destroyed a star. Storm, pressed
beyond endurance, had generated a hurricane the size of a
continent. And Rogue was in more pain, was more angry and
in more despair than she'd imagined possible.
Whatever the reasons, it was well that her chosen weapon
was made of adamantium. Nothing else could have withstood
the stress as she launched herself toward Asteroid M at well
over ten thousand gravities of acceleration, seventh-sense
guiding her aim.
Nimrod wasn't worried, not precisely. But, despite the effort
he'd gone through to purge himself of emotion, he was concerned.
The mutants had fled too quickly. They would have lost, of
course, but all his profiles suggested they would not accept
that. Or at least, there was a 97.3561% probability that they
would not realize it so soon. Yet they had retreated.
The probability was 99.9934% that they would not give up,
even after realizing the futility of their struggle. Therefore,
they must have engineered some type of threat. All of the
existing systems were operating correctly, or being repaired,
to a 99.9988% probability -- they had not been substantially
damaged. Therefore, the invaders must have left something
But they couldn't have left anything behind. Like
the other Sentinels, he was hooked into every sensor, every
system on the entire base. If anything was left behind, he
would know. There were a few items -- a discarded weapon,
exhaled gases, some blood, scraps of costume and pressure
suit. Nothing that could threaten the base.
He flew through the hole in the roof and put himself in orbit
around the asteroid about a thousand feet out, searching for
anything out of place. Then, something streaked by
the rock at an impossible speed, just barely avoiding a collision.
His sensors couldn't identify it -- they had almost missed
In another disturbing display of feeling, of emotions he
should not have, he suddenly knew what was meant by the phrase
"dawning horror." Nimrod spun around, faster than
any human could have followed, bringing up his strongest force
Twelve pounds of adamantium slammed into him at almost 40%
of the speed of light. Three microseconds later, it struck
By the time the mutants could get their telescopes focused,
there was very little left of either the base or Nimrod but
a rapidly-expanding cloud of superheated plasma, with a few
elementary particles thrown in for seasoning.
Concluded in Chapter
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