Scott dipped his chocolate biscotti into the steaming cup of coffee. He held it in there for longer than necessary, waiting for the bitter liquid to soften the bread. He closed his eyes and leaned back into his chair as he bit into it. The chocolate was heaven compared to the gruel they’d been living off of.
“I don’t know how you manage to look so calm,” Kitty said.
Scott looked at the young woman sitting across from him at the café table. She was wearing a high-collared coat and had her hair bundled under a hat that was overkill for the late-summer morning.
“Relax,” Scott said. “Get yourself a treat. I know you haven’t liked living in the Morlock Tunnels, so enjoy the sweets and sunrise while they last.”
“It only takes one Sentinel flying by or someone recognizing us. Then I’ll be spending my mornings with your skanky girlfriend and everyone else in a Negative Zone prison.”
“Then you’ll wish you’d gotten a treat when you had the chance. And don’t talk about Emma like that. We’re in this together.” Scott took a long sip of his coffee then offered her a piece of his biscotti.
“I’m not hungry,” Kitty murmured as she slouched back in her seat. She turned her face away as car rolled by.
Scott put down his coffee and looked around. The side streets of New York were still mostly empty this early on a Sunday morning. This was about as safe as it got for them these days. It was a bad sign that Kitty, a normally level-headed young woman, was so on edge. The constant fight for survival was wearing on all of them. He needed to do something to boost morale. It would help if this mission went well.
An old Hyundai sedan pulled up to the curb and a young Hispanic man hopped out while leaving the engine running. He had a stack of The Daily Buggle’s Sunday Edition under his arm, and he knelt down at a newsstand and started working the lock.
“May I?” Scott asked as he leaned in his seat stretched out a dollar bill. The man pocketed the bill and handed Scott a newspaper. The headline read Presidential Order: No Habeas Corpus for Mutants
“It’s real a shame,” the man said as Scott looked over the article.
“You think the President’s overstepping his bounds on this one?” Scott asked.
“No, not that. I used to have these arguments about mutant rights with my father. He’d always make these really racist claims that mutants were going to kill us all. It’s a shame that I had to admit he was right. Real egg on my face, you know?”
Scott nodded. “I can see how that would be a problem.”
A delivery van for a local produce store turned a corner and started driving their way. Scott tucked the paper under his arm, tapped Kitty’s shoulder for attention and took a final sip from his coffee. He dropped a few bills onto the table for a tip and walked away as Kitty followed behind him. “You might want to get clear,” Scott said to the newspaper man as he passed by. The man looked up in confusion, but didn’t move.
Scott stepped into the street about thirty feet from the delivery van and raised his glasses. A crimson beam of force smashed into the van, slamming it to a sudden stop that caused the back wheels to lift off the ground. The engine crashed back into the cab as it tipped up, killing the driver. Another second of sustained fire disintegrated the van’s exterior and revealed the heavily shielded container hidden in the back.
A humanoid robot unfolded itself from a perch above of the container. It stood about six feet tall and might have once been human, but its skin had been replaced with thick blue and purple plating. Its head swiveled and its glowing eyes locked onto them. It was a Prime Sentinel, a particularly deadly variant that had first appeared several years back. Their production facilities had supposedly been destroyed by SHIELD, but this one looked new and even more advanced. In the old days they’d be as good as dead. The Sentinel would already have Scott and Kitty identified and have readied defensive and offensive counter-measures tailored to their powers.
Except that didn’t matter now. He wasn’t just Cyclops the mutant, he was Qwa’ha Xahn to Illyria, and she had promised that nothing could stand against him. He hadn’t understood at the time, but he did now. Scott’s optic blast punched through the Sentinel’s energy shield and cleaved the machine in half with a single burst. It crumpled the ground and didn’t move again.
Kitty was still behind him and she was furiously glancing across the skyline. “Are there any more?” she asked.
“Probably going to be a lot more. Now let’s keep moving.”
Kitty hurried towards the container and phased the top half of her body through it. A moment later she pulled back out with Wolverine hanging off her shoulder.
Logan glared at him, then slugged him in the shoulder “What the hell took you so long?”
“Sorry, old man. Been a little busy.”
“Illyria’s gone. Isn’t she?”
Scott hung his head. “I lost her. We all lost her. But that doesn’t mean we’ve forgotten her. Her last command was to conquer this world for her, and I intend to keep it. We’ll do as she says, whether she’s here or not.”
“Tall order. And the others?” Logan said.
“SHIELD has most of us. There’s just a few of us left free.”
“This isn’t the time or place to talk about this, guys,” Kitty said. “This spot’s going to be swarming with Sentinels in about thirty more seconds, and I’d rather not be here when it happens.”
Scott and Logan each took one of Kitty’s hands and they disappeared as they sunk into the ground.
Tony Stark awoke naked and confused in a strange place. This wasn’t the first time this had happened, and he had a well-practiced system in place for these circumstances. Step one involved identifying the person or people involved in last night’s activities. Step two changed depending on whether his company was a super villain, hero, blue-skinned space babe, celebrity starlet or supermodel. Step three always involved a hasty retreat.
Except he wasn’t making it past step one this time. There was no one else here. Tony lay alone on a small metal cot in a sterile room that was a cross between a surgical room and a mechanic’s garage. The cot was part of a Stark Industries Computer Automated Surgeon (SICAS), model 107c, and he could hear the familiar hum of a nearby arc reactor. That probably meant that he’d built this place. It wasn’t surprising that he didn’t recognize it—Tony had multiple safe houses built by autonomous manufacturing robots scattered around the world. He had their locations stashed in an encrypted database somewhere in his head.
In the old days he would have had to find a terminal for an update, but the modern Iron Man Armor was integrated into every part of his body and interfaced with every major organ from his brain to his bladder. He ran through his body’s maintenance logs in his head as he sat on the cot. Major head trauma had led to a cascade failure through several critical systems. His armor had undergone self-repairs until it had reached a level where it could extract his body to this safe house. The SICAS had taken over from there and spent the next eleven weeks doing tissue regeneration and replacing any body parts that were too far gone. Apparently 3% of his frontal lobe had been replaced with synthetic neurons, particularly in the area responsible for impulse control. Well, at least he wouldn’t miss those.
Must have been one hell of a kick to the head. He couldn’t remember the fight, but that wasn’t surprising. Short term memory wasn’t backed up. The last major events he could remember were AIM attacking Chicago, Faith from another dimension showing up and a budget meeting with Senator Robson. He rated all those as equally likely to lead to his death.
Tony scratched his bare butt, connected his brain to the Internet and started downloading his missed TV shows. He browsed YouTube as he waited for The Walking Dead and found that he’d been given a state funeral. He watched his own funeral for a bit, got bored and then found a better version that someone had remixed with The Imperial March from Star Wars.
His stomach growled and Tony wandered away from the medical room. The safe house was hidden below a typical three-bedroom ranch-style home. He made his way to the kitchen, ignored the super spy eating cereal at his kitchen table, and started digging through his pantry. “Are you eating the only box of fruit loops?”
“Put some clothes on, then we’ll talk,” Nick Fury growled back at Tony.
“Absolutely not,” Tony said as he turned around to face Nick. “Two things: First, this is my super-secret safe house. No one in the entire world is supposed to know about it. If I can’t be naked here then I’m giving up and going right back to being dead. Second, you’re eating my fruit loops. Do you know the logistics involved in keeping a super-secret safe house stocked with fresh food? I go through a lot of trouble because coming back from the dead gives me the munchies. And every bit of my food you eat means less for me. I wanted those fruit loops.”
“There’s enough to share.” Nick shook the box and the brightly colored sugar rings rustled against their packaging.
“No.” Tony slouched down in the seat across from Nick. “You already opened the box. I don’t want it now.”
“You’re a queer little man, ain’t you?” Nick asked as he glared at Tony with his one good eye.
“Okay, ground rules,” Tony said. “I don’t care if you’re a hundred-some years old. I don’t care if you grew up in a different time. You can’t say that someone. Not even if they’re naked. It’s harassment. That’s why you’re now listing ‘international fugitive’ on your IRS forms instead of ‘Director of SHIELD’.”
Nick laughed at him. “You are behind. You’re not in charge of SHIELD anymore. Norman Osborn steamrolled over Hill and took the position before your body was even cold. Welcome to the fugitive club, Tony Stark.”
Tony shrugged. “Fine, Osborn can take over my budget meetings with Senator Robson. I still have the Avengers. I’ve got Stark Industries.”
“Nope. Killed and nationalized respectively,” Fury said.
Tony leaned forward and his voice was now very serious. “What do you mean killed?”
“Your boys butted heads with the X-Men. Nearly full causalities. Ares, Sentry and Wonder Man are confirmed dead. You too, incidentally”
“I don’t count—I had contingency plans for being dead. And you just listed three other people where ‘death’ is not an applicable concept.”
Nicked shrugged. “That’s what happened. Ms. Marvel is in rehabilitation. It’ll be a while until she’s back in the field, if ever. Wasp made it out okay. Black Widow is still officially listed as MIA, but we think she’s dead too.”
“Don’t feed me that,” Tony said. “Where’s Natasha?”
“Why would I know that? I’m not in charge of SHIELD anymore.”
“You’d know because for my entire tenure as Director of SHIELD Natasha had been slipping encrypted mission reports to you under the email address firstname.lastname@example.org. Shall I check whether you two are still using it? Maybe you’ve moved on to your backup address of email@example.com? Want to take a guess as to whether I have your encryption keys?”
“Stop,” Nick held up his hand. “Fine, Natasha is still alive. She’s doing some work for me, but you don’t need the specifics. Things are too delicate for you to go smashing through everything right now.”
Tony rubbed his hands over his face. He was seriously tempted to hit the snooze button and going back to being dead for another couple months. “What’s the full story?”
Fury dropped a thick dossier on the table. Tony just glanced through the first few pages. “How about you summarize for me?”
Nick told him about an ‘Old One’ known as Illyria taking control of the entire mutant race and using the X-Men to attack The Avengers. The Old One had eventually been killed, but its death hadn’t freed the mutants. Most had been captured after the battle and were being held by Reed Richards, but Cyclops escaped with a few others and was leading a resistance movement.
“Okay, the details sound bad, but give me the executive summary. How deep are we?”
“Reed Richard’s little boy is still under Illyria’s control.”
Tony bit his lower lip. Things really were bad, and not just because Franklin Richards was a powerful reality-warping mutant. Reed Richards would literally move heaven and hell for his son—and that wasn’t a misuse of the word literally. If Dr. Richards hadn’t found a cure in three months then it was probably impossible. That meant there were things out there powerful enough to permanently brainwash an entire race.
“Richards is doing what he can, but the Fantastic Four is one of the few major superhero teams left standing at this point. He’s doing what he can to oppose Osborn, keep down the normal threats, and research a cure for the mutants, but he’s being pulled in too many directions. That’s where you’re going to come in.”
“And join the Fantastic Four?” Tony asked. “No way. All due respect to Reed Richards, but I could never work for the man. He makes me look like an idiot.”
“I want you to go to the dimension Illyria came from. We need to know more about her.”
“Can’t I work for the Fantastic Four instead?”
“This thing turned an entire race into its slaves. Anything that powerful attracts attention from the wrong crowd. We know Dr. Doom’s somehow involved, but we don’t know the specifics—he’s been acting even crazier than usual. We can’t get surprised by this again. We need to know what we’re up against.”
“Okay, but why me? I could do a lot of good here.”
“Richards wanted to go himself, he’d do anything to find a cure for that kid of his, but I convinced him that he’s too valuable to lose. You, on the other hand, are already lost. No one knows you’re alive, and if try to poke your head up Osborn will just have it shot off. You’re a free card.”
“You make me feel so loved,” Tony said.
“A lot more time has passed in that dimension. For us it’s been months since this all started. For them it’s been years. Richard’s probes have identified a person of interest. We want you to make contact.” He flipped the dossier back open and slid it across the table.
At first Tony thought he was an older man, given the gray scattered through his hair and worn wrinkles around his eye, but the bio information said he was only thirty eight. An eye patch covered his left eye, the same one as Fury, and his bloodshot right eye was glaring at whoever had snapped the picture. He stood in an office setting, definitely executive level, with a half-full whiskey glass in his hand. He was a big guy, and he filled out his ridiculously expensive suit, but his tie hung loose around his neck and the top three buttons of his shirt were open. Even through the single picture Tony could recognize the signs of an alcoholic.
“He runs the Watchers Council. It’s a group of super powered girls called slayers. You might remember Faith. They’re the top of the food chain over there.”
Tony studied the picture for a few more moments. “Well, Xander Harris, here I come.”
Buffy braced her legs against the ship’s floor as she struggled against Colossus. The mutant held her from behind with his steel arms wrapped around her like thick cords. He was stronger than her, but he couldn’t have weighed more than six-hundred pounds, and she could lift that. She strained her legs and managed to drag him a foot or so across the floor. Colossus kicked the back of her knee. She stumbled forward and he dropped his leg over her own. Buffy bucked against his grip, but he had her pinned tight. She had to get away from him. Her new friends were being mind-controlled and she had to save them.
“You fight fate, slayer. You will not win.” The Old One knelt down and looked her eye-to-eye, her blue skin glowing in the ship’s lights.
“I always win,” Buffy countered as she kept struggling against Colossus “Maybe not now, and maybe not today, but I promise that I will beat you.”
“Your body will be my ship of war, slayer.”
“Choke on it.”
The Old One leaned in close and breathed on her. Buffy hadn’t been expecting the blast of air, and she wheezed as a burning sensation filled her lungs. She started coughing, trying to drive the foreign substance out, but it was spreading quickly. It moved outwards from her lungs, through her heart and into her limbs. It was an immense pressure weighing down on her. Her muscles tightened and twisted against each other. She spasmed in Colossus’ grip as everything went dark.
Buffy watched from high above as the Old One consumed her soul. Its spirit form was an immense spider with eight long legs that wrapped around the infinite expanse of her soul. Its venom pumped through her, burning and consuming as it went. She struggled and kicked against it, but its merciless squeeze kept tightening.
Willow was there. Her eyes were black and her hair burned through with dark magic. She screamed in fury as she released an arc of fiery magic into the Old One. It exploded against the spider and sent it reeling back, giving Buffy’s soul a brief moment of relief. As the spider stumbled the spell wrapped itself back around Buffy’s soul, forming a protective cocoon.
Buffy watched this from a distance with a resigned acceptance. Willow was too late, and too consumed in her dark magic to change this fate. Buffy was being destroyed, and this was only prolonging the experience. There was a time in her life when she would have welcomed the coming oblivion, but not now. She wanted to watch Dawn grow up. She wanted to lounge through long summer days with her friends back home. She wanted to save her new friends from this terrible beast.
The spider leapt back onto the cocoon that encased her soul. Its legs dug in and pulled. The spell fought back. It stretched and struggled as it tried to protect Buffy, but the Old One was far too strong. The spell snapped with a burst that peppered energy fragments through her soul.
And in this disaster Buffy found an opportunity. As Willow’s spell exploded against her soul it knocked a small piece loose from the infinite whole. Buffy reached out and caught that small sliver of her soul as it fell free. The spider ignored her. It wanted a meal to fuel its rebirth, and it sunk its teeth back into her withering soul.
Buffy walked away as she held the small sliver in her cupped hands. Her soul was infinite, but infinite was a magic number and even a small fraction of infinite can be just as large and burn just as bright as the whole it came from. This sliver of her soul was her second chance. It was her opportunity for another shot at the world. Buffy knew what she had to do with it.
Buffy awoke to a chocking sensation. She couldn’t breathe! There was fluid in her lungs and she flailed violently against a glass cage as she tried to spit it out. The liquid was everywhere, and it burned her eyes and skin. Then something gave way beneath her and she was falling. She landed on her hands and knees as putrid green liquid splashed around her and drained through an iron grate in the floor. She shivered as her panicked hands tried to brush the burning substance off her naked body, and then she retched a blob of liquid out of her stomach. She forced her eyes open.
A pair of charcoal black boots stood in front of her, and she looked up to see Mr. Sinister staring down at her with cold disinterest. Where? Why? She remembered being in the memory-sucking machine, and now she was here.
Mr. Sinister kicked his foot hard into Buffy’s stomach and she doubled over. “Clone #23 is awake and responding to external stimuli,” he seemed to be dictating to the room as he wandered away. “I’m continuing the current series of experiments with a 7% Scott Summers gene mix with a 93% Buffy Summers. That seems to be the minimum for a stable X-Gene to take hold, but reproducing the slayer remains troublesome. Working around magic makes the science difficult, but I do enjoy the challenge.”
Buffy slowly climbed to her feet. Her leg muscles were sore and strained under her own weight. Sinister had his back turned, and she pawed at a piece of machinery, trying to break off something sharp.
“Containment please,” Mr. Sinister said without turning around.
An energy field sprang up around Buffy, and when she touched it a sharp jolt knocked her back down. The glow of the field surrounded her on all sides, limiting her to a few feet of space.
Sinister started typing at a keyboard as he spoke. “I’m hoping continued mutagenesis of the individual genes will reveal something, though I admit I’m just taking shots in the dark. It would be disappointing if these experiments just produced a typical mutant. There’s potential for so much more.”
Sinister switched on a machine that made the ground hum and Buffy’s teeth rattle. A computer started to beep and he turned to stare at her.
Buffy’s hands moved to cover her nudity. She swore that she’d find a way to kill this guy.
“Interesting. Quantum Probabilities around you are not fitting into the expected curves. A common sign of magic. Is this the slayer hybrid I’ve been looking for?”
Buffy glared at him without speaking.
Sinister picked up a rusty iron rod and knelt in front of her. An angry electrical spark danced across it. “What do we have? What can it do? Perhaps stress tests are in order. Now show us something exciting, Buffy Summers.”Fin
Two years and it’s finally done! Yeah!
As many of you know, we write for two reasons: because we have a story we want to tell, and because we’re whores for feedback. So forgive me while I whore myself. If you liked this story, then how about dropping a review or even a rec? All I’m asking is 150,000 or so words of mine in exchange for 15 or so of yours. I’m a grown man, and yet every new review is a shrieking thrill like a ten year old girl finding a live pony under her Christmas Tree. So please, feed your starving whore.
Thanks to everyone who’s reviewed so far—this story wouldn’t have been completed without you guys.
And this story certainly has more to be written. Current plans are for a trilogy, with one story focusing on the continued adventures of Faith and Xander, and another finishing up with Buffy and Willow. It may be a little while in coming, so I’ll leave you with some highlights:
- Faith and Thor sitting in a tree, K-I-S-S-I-N-G (okay, no promises on the kissing, but I guarantee trees).
- Xander, Tony Stark and the Pale Man go cruising for girls.
- Buffy and the X-Men staring in Days of Future Past.
- Dr. Willow Von Doom versus an army of Old Ones (I know, that one isn’t a fair fight. Poor little Old Ones).
First, however, I’m going to take a break from this series and work some shorter stories. I feel like I’ve got to practice some tighter and shorter writing before tackling the sequels. I don’t think I could spend two years on a story again. Stay tuned!
Finally, special thanks to Meneldur, who beta read this story. Unfortunately, he’s growing busy. If anyone’s interested in beta’ing future stories and acting as a sounding board/editor then drop me a line. And like all whores, I’m always willing to reciprocate.