saga/title/fandom:Duty Calls: Death by Numbers (X-Men)
rating/genre: (PG-13) - action/adventure/drama
warnings: violence, adult situations
summary: This is a sequel to 'Duty Calls: Lifelines'. Jubilee and Logan receive a distress call that is not all it appears to be. Rated PG-13 for some naughty words.
comments/disclaimers: You don't have to read the first story to understand this one, although it would probably help. You can find it at www.wolverineandjubilee.com/ascian.htm Standard Disclaimers apply.
So, I'm stretched out on my bunk, looking out the port side window at the stars, when the call comes through on the ship--wide intercom.
"Hey Jubes----we've got trouble."
I let my mind stretch out beyond the hull of the ship, feeling around for any coalesced molecules in the vicinity. Nothing--not a shred of matter larger than space dust. I guess we've got other trouble. That's all good.
I slip off the bunk and hit the heated chrome floor at a run, leaving my quarters behind and following the curved corridor towards the command center. The ship is small--built to be manned by only two people--and I burst through the sliding door less than a minute after Wolvie calls me.
"Whas'up?" I ask, flinging myself into the control chair. The cushions instantly mold to my body, and my skin tingles as the sensors kick in. Only two people can sit in these chairs--anyone else who tries will get fried all crispy.
"Planetside distress call," Wolvie rumbles, his fingers darting over the navigational controls in front of him. "Just changed course--we should get there in about two hours."
Wolvie shakes his head. "Dunno. Don't think so, though. Sounds like these folks are getting pelted by something new."
I listen to the message. It's vocal--only, but the translator says that the language source is Ryberian, which means that we're headed towards the farthest edge of the 'Rim. Ryberians don't like to socialize much with other alien species--it's against their religion, or something. But I guess they make exceptions when their asses are on the line. Like Wolvie said, it's hard to tell just what we're getting ourselves into here. There's just a "please come we're dying and"--interject screams and the sounds of pulse shots--"we need your help."
Could be the Brood--kree, but I know what Wolvie means. There's something about the background sounds that just don't fit the profile. The pulse shots sound like they're hitting metal. Something big that echoes.
"Two hours, huh?"
"Think I should go and start warming up?"
Wolvie glances at me, his eyes dark and thoughtful. "Might not hurt."
Which means that it's better to be safe than sorry. Three years out here has taught us a lot, the most important lesson being that you don't underestimate any situation when you don't have all the facts. Never.
But sometimes it doesn't matter how much you prepare.
Some days are just born to be bad.
As we approach the planet, I put the ship on autopilot, with instructions to the computer to alert me if the scanners pick up any other vessels in the vicinity. So far, nothing. Which bugs the hell outta me, 'cause it just doesn't make sense. No one from the planet is responding to my hails, either. Either they're all dead down there, or something else is going on. And it's that something else that's got my skin crawling.
I head back to the weapons room. Jubilee's already there, slipping on her slick jacket. The Shi'ar have got great tech--heads, I'll give 'em that. The coat flows around her like regular material, but the surface will deflect full--on laser blasts and physical strikes.
"Any news?" she asks, punching in the code to release my cybernetic suit from the wall harness.
I shake my head, stepping backwards into the suit. I stretch out my arms, and the adamantium circuits begin to mold around my body. "You picking up anything?"
"Still too far away."
"Shit," I mutter, as the helmet comes down over my face. "I hate going in blind."
Jubilee doesn't say anything. Her eyes are just a little distant, which means that she's spaced out--literally--her mind ranging out beyond the ship, towards the planet we are quickly approaching. I let her be, and wait for the suit to make its final body adjustments. It's like a second skin now, this suit. I take a step, and the adamantium flows around my body like quicksilver.
"Got something," Jubilee announces, narrowing her eyes. "It's big--a ship--orbiting on the far side of the planet. As far as the surface," her voice trails off for a long moment. "There are some vehicles. At least three."
I don't bother asking if she can take them out. I know she can, but she needs to see them first. She won't strike blind--not since six months ago when she did just that and took out a ship that some refugees had hijacked in the middle of a battle. Thirty people, some of them children, dead and gone--turned into space dust with a thought. I know Jubilee--she'll be carrying that burden for the rest of her life. I wish I could shoulder it for her, but she wouldn't let me even if such a thing were possible.
"I gotta remember, Wolvie," she told me that night, when the tears got so bad I couldn't see past them to her eyes. "Gotta remember that killing can' t be so easy for me. That there's a price if it is."
Words I had been wanting--needing--to hear. And if you ask me, her new cautiousness is worth the extra bit of risk if it means that she doesn't lose the heart of her.
I tap into the ship's computers, and a flood of information drops down in front of my eyes. The sensors still haven't picked up the orbiting vessel that Jubilee has ferreted out, and I can't find anything about the surface of the planet.
"Someone's blocking us," I growl, shutting off the information feed.
Jubilee slips on her gloves, and approaches the specially made harness attached to my back. I stoop down, and she straps herself in, the adamantium circuits banding around her until only her upper body is free. The suit enhances my size and height, and in it, I'd guess I'm around ten feet tall. A real giant. Big enough for Jubilee to stretch out full length--back pressed against my own, the bottoms of her feet stopping just above my ass.
The original design of the suit had me going solo, and it wasn't until we got to the 'Rim that we realized that we needed something a little different. Jubilee, as powerful as she is, was too much of an easy target on the ground.
"I need to protect your back, kid," I remember telling her.
"Well okay," she said. And we thought--heck, why not literally? The Shi'ar were nice about the modifications--although I know they thought we were out of our minds. Until they saw the finished product. Last I heard, they're making this baby the new standard for any Peacekeeping teams that want the suit.
"Snug?" I ask. It's just habit. I already know what the answer will be.
"As a bug in a rug," she quips.
It takes us nearly half an hour to land. The auto--pilot is doing all of the work, and I keep myself tapped into the main computers, scanning for danger. Nothing. Even when we get the vid screen going with a shot of the Ryberian settlements, there is nothing but debris. No people, no sparks of pulse fire. It's dead out there. No sign of those vehicles that Jubilee picked up, either.
"They're out there, Wolvie. I can feel them in my head."
"Must be cloaked," I mutter. The ship groans around us, and I brace for the slight impact of landing. I barely feel it this time, and then the airlocks begin to hiss as the shield goes down and the doors slide open. Gritty sunlight streams into the hold, and I step out onto the planet's surface. We've landed near the settlement the distress call was sent from, but I don' t see anyone. Which is probably bad news.
"Shields up," I command, as I walk away from the ship. We both hear the instant, answering hum.
"Looking good from this side," Jubilee says, and I know she means both the shields and the territory behind me. No enemies. Not yet.
"Beginning to approach. One of them is closer than the others. And it's big."
'Hold on," I warn. "I'm going to make a run for the settlement. We need to find out if there's anyone still alive on this planet."
Gears shift--can't explain it better than that--and then I'm flying across the ground, feeling like a damn Ferrari. Jubilee tells me that from her vantage point, it's like being on the back end of a runaway train.
God, I love this suit.
I run a mile in less than thirty seconds, my legs a blur as I stream through the rocky terrain and down a short gully into the outskirts of the settlement.
"I've got movement inside the building ahead of you. Feels subterranean."
"Think they all went underground?"
"Can't tell. It's hard for me to get a fix on how many are down there. All that stuff in-between us and them is screwing up my head."
I follow her directions. The building itself is your typical energy saving dome, with plenty of windows to let in natural light. The inside is a shambles. Looks like it was a lab, but whoever went through here tore the place up good. The air reeks of chemicals, but the suit's computer doesn't flash any danger lights. Breathing in here won't kill us then, but it ain't gonna be pleasant, that's for sure.
"They're below us, Wolvie. You better hurry--that vehicle is coming."
It takes me a minute to find the trap door. Underneath there is just a dark hole. No stairs, ladder, or rope. I shine a light into the darkness and catch a glimpse of eyes.
"We're Peacekeepers!" I shout.
The titters I hear below don't sound relieved. "Go away!" someone orders. "You'll lead them right to us."
"Who the fuck are you hiding from?" I hate rude aliens.
Jubilee stirs. "Uh, Wolvie? That vehicle just reached the outskirts of the settlement. Maybe we should go check it out. We might get more answers."
No shit. I kick the trap door closed, cutting off the other, frivolous demands that are beginning to lift out of the subterranean darkness that the Ryberians have hidden themselves in. I'm beginning to think that there's more to their whole isolationism bit than what I had previously thought. It ain't religious. They're such ungrateful bastards, no one else in the 'Rim wants to be friends with them.
Still, it's a little strange that there aren't any bodies lying out on the street. From the sound of the distress call, the Ryberians were getting slaughtered. But I just don't see or smell any signs of that sort of thing.
There's a rumbling in the air--the taste of electricity--and I figure it must be this vehicle that Jubilee's been tracking in her head.
"Just get me close enough and I'll take out the engine and weapons," she says.
Can do. I slip around the buildings, towards the sounds of the approaching vehicle. When I do finally get to see it, I'm impressed. The damn thing is larger than our ship, and built like that old tank in Star Wars--the one those little fellows on the desert planet drove around. I turn slightly, so Jubilee can get a good look. She whistles appreciatively.
"Cool. I need one of those."
"Parking would be a bitch."
"But just think about how much fun driving it would be."
"I'd rather have my old Harley."
"Good point. Nothing like the classics."
Unless you're in space. But I don't get a chance to continue the conversation. The vehicle's wheels suddenly disappear, and the damn thing falls about ten feet to the ground, causing a minor earthquake.
"Power signatures emanating from the front."
"On it," Jubilee mutters, stretching out her hands. Her fingers dance--like she's drawing shapes in the air--and the thin cannons just beginning to emerge from the hull disintegrate before my eyes. Their dusty remains flutter to the ground.
"I need to get you a magic wand for Christmas."
"It better have glitter on it--and I want sound effects, too."
"Deal." I slip gears, and take off towards the broken vehicle, using a round about path that keeps the buildings and terrain between us and it.
"Movement," Jubilee informs me, twisting her head so that she can watch the vehicle.
"Not any more, but they're spreading out."
As I soon learn, 'they' are an unfamiliar species of alien--long and gangly, triple limbed. There's about five of them, and as I finally leave cover and approach, they hold their ground. No weapons--none that I can see, anyway. They smell like old leather.
I hope the translator works on these fellows. I don't feel like pictionary.
"Why the fuck are you here?" I growl. "And what the hell do you want?"
"Smooth, Wolvie," Jubilee mutters.
But these aliens--they don't say a word. They just stare, and in all this silence the taste of electricity grows stronger and stronger until I can feel the air crackling with it. And those aliens just keep staring, like they're going to drag me down with the weight of their eyes. And damned if they aren't doing it, too. My limbs feel heavy, like the connections aren't working right. My suit is breaking down, and I'm still locked inside of it. I'm trapped. These aliens know it, too. I recognize the look of triumph in their eyes. They may not be human, but some things don't change, no matter what end of the galaxy you live on. Anger flares white hot in my gut.
"They've done something to the air!" she shouts. "I can't differentiate their molecules!"
"Just throw something in their direction then!"
And she does. Oh God, she does.
Molecules don't have personalities. They don't talk or smile or wear little signs that say, "I belong to Wolverine" or "I'm a bad molecule--disintegrate me, please."
If I can't see what I'm blasting, I have to rely on my instincts--on a sense of mass and velocity, and the correlation between the physical objects I know of that behave in the same way as what I see in my head. It's tricky business, but I've only made one mistake in all the time I ever blasted blind. But what a mistake.
Mistakes aren't supposed to leave innocent blood on your hands. But mine did.
And after I follow Wolvie's orders, I think that it has happened again. Except this time the blood belongs to my very best friend, the one person I would be hard pressed to live without.
Throw something in their direction. The problem is, even though I can see the aliens, their molecules have lost distinction. In my head, they look the same as everything else, and while I aim by sight, the real focus for the final blow always comes from the place inside my mind that can track these things. So my eyes are open, but I'm shooting blind all over again. Shooting blind and desperate. Bad combination.
The air lights up all around us, a glare so bright it's like staring at a piece of polished metal that is reflecting the sun straight into your cornea. Heat blasts my face--the air is sucked from my lungs, and as I claw at my throat and mouth, fighting to breath, I feel myself falling--only I can 't fall unless Wolvie falls, but Wolvie never falls down unless he's hurt bad--
And I forget trying to breath. I start screaming his name, but there's no air to scream into, and I choke. Choke until darkness covers up my vision, blocking out the light--the burning light that I have created.
When I come to, I don't know where I am. Only, I'm stretched out on my back--really stretched out, with nothing surrounding me, and my head is cushioned on something soft and warm.
"Jeez, darlin'." I hear a familiar voice mutter. "Next time I tell you to do something, you don't have to listen to me."
I can't help it--there's moisture in my eyes, and when I open them, the tears escape and roll down my temples into my hair. "I'll try to remember that next time, Wolvie."
He looks awful. The suit is gone, but his skin is red and raw. What's more, all of the hair is gone from his body. All of it. His chest, his head. As though everything has been burned away. He sees the look in my eyes and shakes his head.
"I'm fine," he tells me, in the same low, gruff voice I've always found comforting. "Can't say the same for the rest of this area, but I'll live and you'll live. That's what matters."
"You were burned--"
"That stunt you pulled gave off a lot of heat, darlin'. I'm just glad it didn't seem to affect you."
I try to sit up, and he helps me, wrapping his arm around my shoulders. My head is pounding, but I try to ignore the pain. I've got to see what I've done. But when I do, it's almost too much.
Everything is gone. Everything as far as my eyes can see. We are sitting in the middle of a deep crater. The ground is black--charred and hard. The aliens are gone, as is their vehicle. The rocks, fauna--gone, too. I wonder about the settlement, and realize that the crater is big enough to have swallowed that, as well. The Ryberians.
"What have I done?"
Wolvie turns my head so that I am looking directly into his eyes. "You did what you had to do, Jubes. Ain't no use worrying about the extras."
"--are probably still alive. They were hiding underground, don't forget."
That possibility is comforting, and Wolvie and I both stagger to our feet. His suit is lying on the ground a short distance away. The cybernetics are black and twisted. He won't be able to use the darn thing again until we can find someone to fix it.
"Guess this means we've got some shore leave coming, doesn't it."
Wolvie grunts, which I understand to be a yes. I tug at his hand to distract him from the ruins of his suit. "Come on, Wolvie. Let's go find the Ryberians."
And we do find them, still huddled underground. And after we find them, the truth comes out.
And I stop feeling bad about destroying their settlement.
The alien vessel has left orbit by the time we reach our ship--which, thankfully, was outside Jubilee's blast radius. The other vehicles that have been rolling around on the planet are gone, too.
"I can't believe they set us up!"
I glance over at Jubilee. She's in her control seat, feet propped up on the weapon's panel. She's staring furiously out the port side window.
"Makes sense to me," I tell her, fighting the urge to run my fingers through hair that isn't there. "They lure us here, and in return those bastards leave them alone. I just want to know why the Telubrians were willing to go to so much trouble to get us."
Telubrians--I roll the name around in my mouth, tasting it like I would a scent. Oh yeah. Payback's a bitch--which they're going to find out if I ever catch up to them. I pat Jubilee's hand. "You gonna be okay, darlin'?"
"What? Oh, yeah. No prob, Wolvie. I just nearly killed you today, that's all."
"There ain't a person in this galaxy who hasn't tried to kill me at least once. At least with you it was an accident."
Jubilee swats at my arm, and I fight off a grin. Don't need to tell her how glad I am that she's still alive. When I first came to down in that crater, I thought she was a goner. Her breathing shallow, her skin cold and pale. But Jubilee survived. Just like me. And thank God for that.
We take off, ready and happy to leave the planet and the Ryberians behind. We're going to report this to the Shi'ar and the Peacekeeper's council, and if Jubes and I have it our way, this settlement may never receive help again. Sure as hell not from us.
From above, the crater looks like a giant hand has scooped it out. I can even see the marks that imaginary fingers might have made. Jubilee's fingers. I point them out to her, and her eyes darken.
"I've got a lot to learn, Wolvie," she murmurs.
"We both do," I tell her. "But we've got time, and we've got each other."
And that'll just have to do.
home prior chapter fiction gateway