Chapter Sixty One
Chapter Sixty One
General Nick Fury blinked his one good eye and did his best to keep his mind focused on the topographical map laid out in on the table in front of him. Most of its surface was marked with blue and red X’s. The blue were his people. The red were Franks’ people.
There was a lot of red and not a lot of blue, and those red he’d marked down were only the ones his recon teams had managed to report back. With Franks’ precog power, he could be letting Fury see a tiny fraction of his people. He could have double these numbers. Triple. There was no way of knowing.
That’s what really got him. That’s what he really hated. He’d been playing the spy game for decades now, and he was the best. He wasn’t being arrogant. He was just the best. No one knew all the things he knew. No one kept all the balls in the air at the same time the way he did. No one knew which palms to grease, which hearts to stop, and which third-world dictators to supply with next-gen weapons technology. Not like he did.
But this whole exercise had been one giant fuck-up from the word go, and it was all because of Franks. And it wasn’t because Franks’ was any better than him. He wasn’t smarter. He wasn’t more clever. He didn’t have the right people in the right places or the wrong people in the bad places.
No. He was just a cheater.
How the hell do you spy on someone who could see the future?
Hell, they didn’t even know how far into the future he could see. This wasn’t like with Parker. They’d managed to lock down his precog “spider-sense” down to around a few hundred milliseconds. It was enough to warn the kid when they were tailing him, but not enough to warn the him when they were dissecting his entire life from behind the scenes.
But Franks? He had no idea. The guy could be seeing a hundred years into the future, or he could be seeing a couple of seconds. Safe bet was he was somewhere in between, but despite all of his efforts, he hadn’t managed to figure Franks out.
The plan tomorrow was stupid. He should be embarrassed even for bringing it up, but it was the only plan he could think of. If Franks’ could see all the angles, then all Fury could do was hope to overwhelm him with sheer numbers. He was going to throw every single asset he had at Franks and hope he came up lucky.
That thought scared him more than anything else. Lucky? In this place?
He’d read the reports. They were sitting smack-dab on top of a dimensional breach to Hell. Luck was most definitely not going to go their way. After all, he’d already lost two of his big guns. Jean Grey and Thor, both down for the count. He’d been counting on Thor to pull out some divine miracle at the last second. Call down the Rainbow Road and get Odin to send a lightning bolt up Franks’ ass. Anything. Something.
So much for that.
Fury sighed and started drawing more red X’s. Wonderland Subjects. Slayers. Giant Men. Whatever local crazies Franks had managed to recruit from this idiotic Gateway Cult they had here. Mages, maybe? Vampires? Demons?
Christ, what had he gotten himself into? He was a soldier. He was a spy. Mutants and super-terrorism he could handle. Even Franks and the other subjects he could deal with. But what the hell was he supposed to do about vampires and demons?
“Tell me you need some killin’ done,” someone said from behind him.
Fury spun towards the voice, drawing his sidearm as he did so. He exhaled angrily when he looked down the sight of his gun and saw Logan leaning against the doorframe. There weren’t too many people that could sneak up on Nick Fury. It really pissed him off that Logan was one of them.
“Jumpy,” Logan said. “Ain’tcha?”
“What do you want, Logan? I’m busy.”
“Told ya. I want somethin’ ta kill. Gettin’ antsy just waitin’ around here.”
Fury holstered his pistol before he glanced at his watch. “We’re heading out in eight hours. Wait until then.”
“I said I wanna kill somethin’. Not get killed myself.”
Fury fixed Logan with a piercing expression. “You got something you want to say?”
“Yeah. This smells. The whole thing. Last time we went after him he took us down easy. Now we’re just going to do it again?”
“Our forces were split last time,” Fury said.
Logan held up one finger after another as he spoke, “Thor. Cyke. Buf— The blonde chick. Jean. That’s four major players right there that we don’t got. Not to mention Stark’s suit’s so beat up he can hardly get inside of it. What’s that leave? You, me, Cap, Pete, Xander, the redheaded witch, a couple of their Slayers, and Hawkeye? Excuse me if I ain’t about to bet the farm on us.”
Fury turned away from Logan and looked back to his collection of blue and red X’s. “Their Slayers are good. You saw what one of them did to Cap.”
“I saw what she
did to Cap. She don’t count. I always thought the kid was bullshitting us about her, but he wasn’t. But the rest of those girls? They got the strength, but they don’t got the will.”
“I wouldn’t say that,” a different voice said. Both Fury and Logan turned quickly. Logan’s claws popped free and Fury’s pistol was drawn once more. Steve Rogers stood in the hallway, arms crossed as he eyed the two of them.
Captain America. The other guy who could always sneak up on him.
“How the hell didn’t I smell you?” Logan growled as his claws retracted.
“It’s called soap,” Steve said. “You should try it sometime.”
“Yeah, real funny. Shouldn’t you be out gettin’ yer tail kicked in by a little girl? Oh, wait. Already did that, didn’t ya?”
Steve ignored Logan’s jabs. He was always much better at that than Fury was. “Logan’s right. Most of those girls are too new to be much help to us. I don’t think it’s an accident that Franks only captured experienced Slayers. He wanted the best ones he could get on his side. Most of the ones we have here? They’re all new recruits. Three months at the most.”
“Yeah,” Logan said. It amazed Fury how Logan could be insulting Cap one second and then use him as backup in the next. “See? Like I said. Can’t count on any of ‘em now that blondie’s down.”
“I didn’t say that,” Steve said. “I said most. There’s still Faith.”
“The girl with the van,” Logan said, a hint of skepticism in his voice.
“We can count on her. She knows what she’s doing.”
Logan snorted. “How do you know? This one kick your ass too?”
“I talked with her.”
Logan rolled his eyes and looked back to Fury. “Whatever. Maybe the golden boy here says we got one more body on our side, but that don’t change things. We’re outgunned, Nick.”
“You want to run, Logan?” Fury asked. “Is that it?”
“I want a real damn plan. Hell, why don’t we send a small group in the way me and Buffy got in there last time, while we keep the main force distractin’ ‘em up top? We could get in behind ‘em, maybe take out their facility and any reinforcements before closin’ in behind ‘em.”
“Franks is a precog, Logan. He’ll see it coming.”
“He didn’t see it coming last time. We waltzed right in there and took that girl right out from under him. I don’t know what you’re all so damned afraid of. He’s nothin’.”
“He had snipers waiting for us last time,” Steve said. “Not to mention a team of Giant Men and a dozen gunmen. He nearly killed Thor, and that was without Brute backing him up. We can’t afford to risk splitting up again. If he does know what we’re doing, then we’d be walking right into a trap.”
“Which we could be doin’ anyway,” Logan said through gritted teeth. “So what the hell’s the point of any of this?”
“The point is we’re playing the best odds we can get,” Fury replied. He continued on, raising his voice before Logan could cut him off. “And I don’t care if you think we can do better. This is my operation, and this is how we’re playing it. We don’t all have unbreakable bones, Logan. I know the risks here. This is our best option. If we had another, we’d use it.”
“The General’s right,” Steve said. “This is it.”
“Big surprise, Captain America agrees with the General,” Logan said, scoffing.
“I agree with him because it makes sense,” Steve replied. “It’s the only real plan there is.”
“Yeah, well maybe it wouldn’ta been, if Fury here wouldn’ta wiped the kid’s brain.”
Fury pushed away from the table and got to his feet. He glared at Logan as he took a few steps in his direction. “Is that what this is about? If you’ve got something to say about what I did, Logan, then say it.”
“Fine,” Logan said, lip curling as he glared back at Fury. “This is your damn fault. If you secretive bastards had just let him go instead of rippin’ apart his mind first, then we’d know exactly what Franks and his people could do. We’d have a heavy hitter worth me and Cap combined, and we wouldn’t be wasting our goddamn time getting into a pissing contest with little blonde girls!”
“I don’t have to explain myself to you,” Steve said calmly.
“Neither do I,” Fury echoed.
“Of course not,” Logan snarled. “Just doin’ what you had ta do, right? And how’d that all work out? Oh, that’s right. It’s got Jean starin’ up at nothin’ while some goddamn stone tries to drag her down into Hell.”
“You want to blame me for everything that’s gone wrong since we got here, Logan? Fine. You do that. Just make sure that when we head out, you follow the orders I give you. Clear?”
Logan stared back into Fury’s eye. His upper lip was curled and he was breathing heavily through his nose.
“You’re lucky I like you, Fury. Damned lu—”
Logan stiffened slightly and looked up.
“What is it?” Steve asked.
“Chopper,” Logan said in a quiet tone. His claws extended and he raced past Steve and down the hallway. To his credit, Captain America allowed barely a heartbeat to go by before he was running after him.
Nick Fury watched them go, then turned back to the table and looked at his complicated map of red and blue X’s. He picked up the map and examined the various scenarios he’d drawn out there. Then he tore the entire thing in half.
“God,” he said as he checked his sidearm to be sure it was full up on ammo. “Please let me be the one to kill this precog motherfucker.”
The Phoenix screamed out through the cosmos. It was a screeching cry of fury and pain. It was a powerful scream of resistance, denying the power that sought to claim her. Death was clawing at the Phoenix, and it seemed that this time she could not rise from it.
She screamed from one corner to the universe to the other, but there was no one to hear her. There was no mind powerful enough to hear her cry. There was no mind powerful enough to extend assistance. There was nothing in the cosmos that could help her. It was not even her cosmos. It was not her universe. It was not her reality.
And yet she was the Phoenix force. She was the life beyond life and the death beyond death. She was that which was always to be. She was the guardian of galaxies, the shaper of time, and the force of creation. She screamed. Louder and louder, stronger and stronger, she screamed against the walls of the universe that sought to drag her down into nothingness. She screamed until all there was of her mind was a scream. She screamed until even the Phoenix lost sight of who she was, what she was, where she was, or what she would ever be.
She screamed as the mouth of Hell called for her.
She screamed until even the Phoenix was exhausted, and there was only Jean Grey, clinging desperately to the mind of Scott Summers, clinging desperately to life, and clinging desperately to the only hope she had.
She screamed until she had no more energy left. She screamed until she was silent.
There was silence. There was nothing. There was only Death. Her scream had gone unnoticed. She knew she was going to die.
“Help me,” Jean whispered. The sound that was not a sound floated out into the universe. It was slow, calm, and breezelike as it wafted lazily into reality. It slid past stars, through nebula, and around planets. It floated across galaxies and through the voids in between. It touched the edge of reality.
And then it slipped through.