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Authors: Christopher Golden

Tags: #Adventure, #X-Men, #Mutant, #Science Fiction & Fantasy, #Science Fiction, #Comics & Graphic Novels, #Contemporary, #Literature & Fiction


BOOK: Sanctuary
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— Mutant Empire —

Book II


by Christoper Golden

Scanned, Edited & Proofread

by Dhevi

Ver 1.4


cott Summers stood in the cockpit of the
and watched his father with growing dismay. Even as they had escaped through an Imperial stargate, the ship had been crippled in its battle with an armada of Shi'ar star cruisers. Now the
was dead, adrift near Earth's sun. Auxiliary power and life support systems were the only thing between the ship's passengers and the fatal vacuum of space.

As his fellow Starjammers, Raza and Ch'od, worked furiously to repair the hyperburn engines in the rear of the ship, Major Christopher Summers, known as Corsair, attempted to get their communications rig up and running. Watching his father work, Scott admired the man's hope, dignity, and courage. Corsair's brow furrowed in concentration, then his right hand slipped and his knuckles rapped on the comm board. He swore, and set right back to work.

Scott looked out at the vastness of space that stretched before them. One side of the viewport was lit up with blinding peripheral sunlight, but Scott could still see the field of sable and stars to the other side. He could not help but wonder if the infinite dark beyond the viewport would soon become a crypt to hold nearly all that remained of the Summers family.

If they didn't make it, there would be no funeral, no grave, no marker of any kind that would enable people to know they had existed, had lived and died. Though he'd done his best to stave it off, doubt was beginning to creep up on him. More than that. It was threatening to overwhelm him. The realization unnerved him.

As Cyclops, the leader of the X-Men, Scott had been in more tight spots, close calls, and rough scrapes than any five career soldiers. But there had nearly always been the possibility of retreat, if it came to that.

There was no retreat here. If they were lucky, they would live. If not, they would die. A chillingly simple formula.

Slowly, however, Scott began to realize that his growing fear was not for his own life. He had regrets, certainly. Though he had never been overzealous in showing his passions, those whom he loved were aware of his feelings. That was vital. But there was so much more to life, and death. There were those left behind on Earth who would mourn him, and he grieved for their loss in advance.

The worst of it, however, was that there were far too many people he cared about on board the
, sharing his fate: Corsair, Raza, Ch'od, and the fourth Starjammer, his father's lover Hepzibah, who was injured in their battle on Hala, the Kree homeworld. That would be hard enough. But there were four other X-Men on board as well. Rogue, who always made him smile, was tending to the injured Gambit. Warren Worthington, whose field name was Archangel, was one of Scott's oldest friends in the world.

Then there was Jean Grey. Scott had loved her from the moment, all those years earlier, when he had first seen her standing in the foyer of Charles Xavier's mansion. To his neverending astonishment, she had loved him in return, and still did. They were part of a greater family, a group of Earth-born mutants fighting for harmony between their race and humanity. They gave of themselves every day as X-Men, to the dream of their mentor Charles Xavier, and to each other. They had risked their lives on a quest to rescue his father from execution. And they had succeeded.

But if the cost was an ignoble death while lost in space, and grieving loved ones on Earth who would never really know what happened to them ... it was too great. The others had come because they cared for him, and now they would all die because of it. Because of him. As Cyclops, the leader of the X-Men, they looked to him for answers. He wasn't about to let them down.

"Scott?" Corsair asked quietly. "What is it, son?"

Scott turned toward his father, taking a deep, cleansing breath, and then he chuckled. He thought about telling Corsair about the weight of space and hopelessness that had pressed down on him, about his fears, and his new determination to see them through this, no matter what. But he didn't. They just never had that kind of relationship.

"Nothing," he finally answered. "Just trying to figure out if we have some kind of alternate power source."

"Not unless you want to hang your head out the loading bay and use your optic beams to give us some momentum," Corsair laughed. "Your head would explode after the first millisecond or so, but at least we'd be pointed in the right direction."

Scott pretended to think about it, then declined. He shared a laugh with his father that cleared the last cobweb of trepidation from his mind. That was for the best. He needed all his wits about him, now more than ever.

"How's it coming with the comm-rig?" he asked.

Corsair grimaced, then stood, brushing himself off.

"It's totally fried," he answered glumly. "We could be here for months, if we lived that long, and never fix it. If we're going to get home, we're going to have to do it on our own." Then his eyes widened, and he tilted his head slightly as he said, "Unless ... "

"Unless?" Scott asked.

Corsair leaned over the communications board that he had dismantled and rummaged around in its guts for a moment.

"Yes," he said, almost to himself, "I think it might work."

He pressed his lips tightly together as he spliced two charred wires together.

"What is it?" Scott persisted. "Have you fixed it?"

"No," Corsair said finally, looking up with a wry grin. "But at least I've got the emergency call beacon going. There isn't much interstellar travel in this sector other than would-be world conquerors, but you never know. Maybe we'll get lucky."

"Better than nothing, I suppose," Scott answered.

"I'm going to go back and look in on the others. Are you through here?"

"No, but you go ahead," Corsair waved his son on. "I'm going to see if the navigational computers are in any better shape than the comm-rig. I don't want to drain what little auxiliary power we have, but it would be good to keep some kind of flight path to Earth logged in, just in case we actually do repair the warp drive, or even the hyperburners.:

"Sounds sensible to me," Scott answered. He took a last look at his father, deep in concentration again, and realized that he had never seen Corsair more serious. Even when he was a boy, and Major Christopher Summers was one of America's greatest test pilots. Those times were long ago, but there were moments, looking at his father, when they were fresh as yesterday.

• • •

Archangel hated to be confined. No matter that there was plenty of room for them all in the main cabin of the
. The simple knowledge that he could not spread his bio-metallic wings and take to the air was stifling. When he considered that there was no air beyond the ship's hull in which to soar, the atmosphere became oppressive.

Even as a boy, Warren Worthington III had been a little claustrophobic. Not enough to affect his life, merely enough to unnerve him in cramped quarters, or bustling crowds. When he had reached puberty, and his original, natural wings had quickly grown from his back, he had at first been repulsed. But he quickly realized that his wings gave him freedom, that flight provided an ecstasy which was the complete antithesis of his claustrophobia.

The wings were a mutation, of course. All of the X-Men were mutants,
homo superior
, the next stage in human evolution. They were made so by an unknown variable, an x-factor, in their genetic constitution. Mutants were like snowflakes, the x-factor never creating the same variant mutation twice, save for rare cases when genetic heritage played a role.

The greatest scientific minds on Earth had never been able to discover precisely what influenced the x-factor, what defined a specific mutation. His own, angelic wings, had been in his genetic makeup from conception. While he had once believed the wings were a response to his need for freedom, Warren had realized that it was more likely that his claustrophobia was an awareness, on a cellular level, that he was not meant to be confined. That he was meant to soar the blue skies, above the world.

Though his natural wings had been mutilated and amputated, and replaced with the deadly bio-metallic, razor-feathered appendages that now sprouted from his back, he still felt that urge. Confinement aboard the dead spacecraft gnawed at him. His muscles tensed, unable to relax, and Warren began to wonder exactly what the real symptoms of "cabin fever" were.

The cabin was still pressurized, they still had artificial gravity, but his body felt lighter, and chilly. He wondered if that was the first sign that the life support systems were going to give out.

"Jesus," he hissed under his breath. "Get a grip, man."

He stood and began to pace the cabin. Rogue sat on the edge. of her seat next to a medi-slab, upon which Gambit lay unconscious. The Cajun had been electrocuted in battle with the Shi' ar Imperial Guard, and they had not yet been able to ascertain the extent of his injuries. He was still out like a light though, and Warren figured that could only be bad. Jean Grey was on the other side of the medi-slab, her hand on Gambit's pallid forehead. Her eyes were closed as she psi-scanned him, and Warren envied her calm.

He breathed deeply, methodically, and pushed the suffocating atmosphere of the ship from his mind. After a moment, he stepped to where Rogue kept her vigil. It had been no secret amongst the X-Men that she and Gambit had been semi-involved for some time, but Warren had always wondered how serious it was. The terror, pain, and nausea visible on her face revealed that her feelings were very serious indeed.

"How is he?" Warren asked, as he slid into the seat next to Rogue.

She looked up, a little lost at first. Or maybe shellshocked, Warren thought. Then Rogue smiled, grateful for the question, and the respite from the silence, and the worry.

"Hi, Warren," she said in a library whisper, her southern belle accent even raspier than usual "Remy's okay, as far as we can tell Jean's scannin' him again, seein' if she can find anything else wrong. He needs medical attention, that's for sure. But if we can't get movin' again, it ain't gonna matter one little bit."

She leaned against the wall behind her and pushed her hands up through her auburn hair, and the white skunk-streak that ran through it. They were only friends, no doubt, but at that moment Warren could not help but notice how tragically beautiful she was. Rogue was a good, strong, decent woman. Once, she had been terribly misguided, trapped in her fear and the manipulations of others. Warren refused to believe that she had come out of all of that, that he had overcome his emotions regarding his own transformation, that they had all come so far together, only to die in the middle of nowhere. But it looked like Rogue needed a bit of reassurance.

"Listen, lady," Warren began, "the Starjammers have been in tighter spots than this. So have the X-Men. Before we start panicking, why don't we see what Ch'od and Raza have to say about the hyperburn engines? Besides, we've got enough to worry about just making sure Gambit and Hepzibah are okay."

Rogue looked at the prone form of Gambit, then glanced over at where Hepzibah slept soundly. Raza had sedated her in order to facilitate her recuperation, and Warren was surprised at how peaceful she looked, despite the bloody bandages over the wound on her arm.

."Yer right," Rogue agreed. "I just feel so damn useless."

"Tell me about it," Warren said. "But don't worry, I've a feeling we'll get our turn. We always do."

There was silence for a moment, then Jean opened her eyes abruptly and turned to them.

"Well?" Rogue asked.

"There doesn't seem to be any lasting damage," Jean said. "Still, we've got to keep an eye on him. His heart has taken an incredible strain, and it isn't out of the realm of possibility for him to have cardiac failure at this point."

"A heart attack?" Warren asked, astonished.

"I'm not saying it's going to happen," Jean answered, her green eyes intense. "Only that it's possible. We've got to watch him."

BOOK: Sanctuary
12.65Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub

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