Bastion strode onto the small stage, the platform barely
visible from the press gallery amidst the sea of cameras and
other recording equipment. Even so, his tall, powerfully-built
frame stood out behind the podium, his demeanour almost eerily
calm in contrast to the frenzied knot of reporters surrounding
him. He stood, patiently waiting for the noise to die down.
Once it had, he paused for a beat, then began to speak.
"Ladies and gentlemen of the press, I am here to address
reports of the disruption of a commuter flight over the state
of Colorado -- and to make an announcement.
"First, you may have heard rumours of mutant involvement
in the Colorado incident -- and I officially confirm that
rumour has, in this case, proved correct. In fact, I further
state and confirm that flight 869 was the intended target
of a mutant terrorist attack."
Chaos erupted from the floor as questions were shouted toward
him. He said nothing, but raised a hand, gesturing for silence.
As the din faded, he resumed his speech.
"However -- I also confirm that the attack failed. Through
the intervention of Prime Sentinels -- our first line of defense
against the mutant threat -- not only are all the passengers
of flight 869 safe ... but the mutant criminals responsible
have all been apprehended. They are being detained at a secure
holding facility, and will be punished to the furthest extent
of the law.
"That is all I will say about the Colorado incident
for now -- and brings me to my announcement."
Silence reigned in the room in anticipation of his words,
broken only by the low, mechanical sounds of recording devices.
"Over the last few months, we have covertly implemented
a wide-scale deployment of Prime Sentinels throughout the
nation as the first part of a public defence plan against
any possible mutant threats. The Colorado incident may be
considered our first major triumph with this plan -- Operation
Zero Tolerance. Under the directives programmed into every
Prime Sentinel, any mutant threatening any human will immediately
be arrested and detained. Should a mutant resist lawful arrest,
he or she will be treated as any fugitive who is armed and
dangerous, and will be captured by any means necessary --
including, if mandated, the use of deadly force.
"Ordinary humans will no longer be threatened with impunity
by criminals with mutant powers. Mutants threatening public
safety will cease to be a hazard for innocent people. Those
are our directives, and Zero Tolerance will meet them from
this day forward. Ladies and gentlemen, that is my announcement.
I will take no questions at this time."
With that, he nodded brusquely to the assembled journalists
and left the stage, ignoring the pandemonium of shouts behind
True, he was taking a chance that by deflecting inquiries
now, some naive idealist in the throng behind him would begin
asking questions -- but there would be no time for any well-intentioned
but ill-conceived investigation to begin in earnest before
his program was complete. And once it was, there would be
no serious opposition -- not once it was revealed that he
had safeguarded the future of mankind. Certainly, there would
be some disagreement -- that was the nature of free will in
man -- but those who disagreed with his solution would be
arguing from emotion, not logic. In the end, that kind of
dissension would simply dissipate on its own, once the success
of Zero Tolerance was a demonstrable fact.
And Zero Tolerance would succeed.
There would be pockets of mutant resistance of course --
but with very few exceptions, known mutant groups lacked both
resources and organization. That was one of the reasons his
first priority in implementing his program had been to eliminate
the X-Men from the equation -- they were the one known group
that possessed an abundance of both those things.
As for any other existing groups, without either resources
or organization, they would easily be rooted out and dealt
... and they would share the X-Men's fate.
Once Zero Tolerance was a successful fait accompli in the
United States, other nations would look upon its success favorably,
and the program could simply be expanded.
He supposed some humans would find it rather darkly amusing
that the very mutants whose existence had threatened the genetic
continuance of humanity, would in fact guarantee its future.
He cared nothing about irony -- he cared about results.
First, he would return to base -- and then, he would fulfill
Even before Gambit had succeeded in contacting Storm, the
eight spacefarers had been monitoring the planet's newscasts.
After such a long absence, the returning X-Men and Trish Tilby
were anxious to learn the current state of affairs on their
home planet. If an urgent situation was already in progress,
the last thing they had wanted to do was fly in blind -- they
had had enough of that on Chandilar.
Now, their anxiety was fuelled not by the unknown, but what
they had discovered.
After Remy had passed on all he had been able to learn from
Ororo, he had tried to contact the remaining captured X-Men.
Cannonball was still a little groggy, though none the worse
for wear, but had been unable to tell them much more than
Storm had. Scott and Jean were still out cold, and while Remy
could sense their presence in the Force, they were effectively
incommunicado. And as for Logan ...
Remy couldn't find a trace of him.
The five mutants were trying not to think about what that
meant -- they had no time to spare for mourning now.
If they had entertained any doubts of that, the newscast
winding down on the monitor dispelled them.
"...take no questions at this time."
As the figure of Bastion left the stage, his departing image
was quickly replaced on screen by the station anchorman.
"Operation Zero Tolerance -- public safety versus personal
freedom, tonight at six ..."
Quietly, Beast rose and turned off the monitor, turning to
face the others around the table.
An unknown ship with a mysterious agenda in lunar orbit above
their planet; genetic martial law in their own country; their
friends prisoner -- the situation was even worse than they
had imagined it to be.
And it was up to eight weary, burnt-out wanderers to do something
Bishop sat straight-backed, his eyes haunted. The X-Man from
the future was still staring at the now-blank monitor, momentarily
lost in some horrific, private memory. He was the first to
speak, his voice bleak, but determined.
"We've got to stop it now, before it goes any further..."
The other X-Men knew his fear -- that after all they had
been through, all they had done -- the apocalyptic future
from whence he had come would still come to pass.
"Clearly ... but where to begin? What we need is a plan..."
Hank began, then Rogue interrupted impatiently.
"So let's get plannin'."
"You have some ideas?" Joseph asked, his voice
"Ah do, at that -- but Ah think I'm gonna need Nomi's
help foh the first of 'em."
"Then you'll have it," the Jedi replied, "What
do you need me to do?"
"Well, the way Ah see it, the first thing we've gotta
do is figure out jus' which problem we're going to tackle
first," Rogue explained. "An' ta do that we need
ta know jus' what that big ol' ship's up to."
"And how do you propose to discover this?" Beast
"We don' need to 'discover' it, " Rogue replied
darkly, "on 'count of Ah think I already know -- I jus'
Gambit's eyes widened in sudden understanding.
"From when we were on de station?" he asked quietly.
Rogue nodded again, wrapping her arms about herself as if
to ward off a sudden chill.
"When they ... absorbed me ... it was like Ah was connected
to all o' their plans. An' when ya freed me, it broke the
connection -- but Ah'm sure the information's still in mah
Rogue gave the Jedi a weak smile.
"What Ah need ya to do is go in an' find it."
It doesn't seem ... right, somehow ...
The young, bald girl thought silently as she watched the
young mutant being loaded into a transport pod.
The black-haired teenager was free of the VR helmet and restraining
suit, but her situation had hardly improved.
Fully conscious, her limbs twitched weakly as she was lowered
into the thick, near-transparent, casket-like container, then
stilled. The white-coated technicians waited a few moments
longer to be sure the paralytic agent had taken full effect,
then went to work. Her inhibitor collar was carefully removed,
then her clothing was methodically cut away from her body
as she lay unmoving, her eyes open, unable to do anything
but watch in outraged horror. Once they had finished, the
lid of the container was lowered into place, the hiss of air
as the seal was completed audible from where Daria stood.
Then, a valve was opened, and the colourless, breathable
narcotic gel rapidly filled the container, serving the dual
purpose of sedating its cargo and protecting it from physical
damage during transport.
Are they really so different? And if they aren't, how
can we justify anything we're doing here?
As she watched the pod being transferred, Daria sensed a
presence behind her, and she turned to face her creator. Bastion
stood watching the operation, casting his eye over each procedure
as it was executed.
"You have exceeded projected performance levels -- congratulations,"
"Thank you, sir," she replied automatically.
"As more mutants are collected, your skills will be
in greater demand. With your success here, your operating
parameters will be taken as the prototype for future units.
As such, you will be key to the successful implementation
of the program."
"Sir...?" she began hesitantly.
"That's an honour, sir -- I know that. And I know what
the consequences of failure are ... but in handing them over
like this, don't we risk our main objective? I mean, in effect,
we're contributing to another danger, aren't we?"
"It may seem so -- but no. As you have said, the preservation
of humanity is paramount -- this program remains our best
option. Even without the Phalanx threat, culling would have
been necessary. Mutants are an aberration which must be eliminated
for the protection of the species -- as the Phalanx must be.
We have the leverage to control that threat, but not the other
-- but that leverage also gives us the power to control both.
And so we shall."
Bastion looked at her approvingly.
"I am very pleased that you processed that logic yourself.
Perhaps in time you will improve upon the program even further."
"Thank you, sir."
With that, Bastion left her, and Daria stood gazing at the
rows of pods.
They're so human ...
Deep in the bowels of the Hulkbuster base, two men set aside
their burden and sighed wearily as they stood before the door
of the little-used room.
"Think we've got room?" the first asked.
"If we don't, we can always make room -- the runt's
dead. Who cares if the body's in pieces before it gets burnt?"
"Good point -- but if that's what it comes down to,
I'm volunteering you for the job. I just cleaned these boots."
"Gee, thanks -- nice to know your uniform comes before
your friends," the second man said, and his companion
"It's a nice uniform," he replied with mock dignity,
as he keyed in the access code.
After a moment's delay, the doors opened with a soft hiss,
and the two men dragged the body inside.
"Looks like finding room isn't going to be a problem
after all -- they must have run an extra cycle this week,
what with the labs going overtime. Nothing in here but that
"Good -- one less thing to worry about. Might as well
dump him on it -- if there's anything else to come down, might
as well make sure we can move around without any problems."
"There probably will be, too -- after all, there's the
other four that came in with him."
With one man on either side, they picked up the dead man,
and moved to where the table stood.
"Nah -- I gather they're part of the project. He would've
been too," the first man said with a grunt, nodding to
the body as they placed it on the table, "but things
didn't work out as planned. They've already moved one down
to the surgery."
His companion shrugged. "Same difference, isn't it?"
he began, then frowned.
"Hey -- they left the collar on him. Got a key? Those
things cost the taxpayers enough as it is, might as well save
'em a little money -- and besides, he sure doesn't need it
The key was produced, and the collar removed. Once that had
been done, the two left the room, chatting amicably.
And with the damping field of the collar removed, slowly,
the cells in the body began to change.
Continued in Chapter
" To win one hundred victories of one
hundred battles is not the acme of skill: to subdue the enemy
without fighting is the acme of skill. " -- Sun-Tzu,
The Art of War
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