TITLE: “More Human Than Human”
FANDOM: X-Men (Movieverse)
SUMMARY: “It’s called the Sentinel Mark I. And its purpose is to identify mutants and kill them. Indiscriminately.”
CHAPTER ONE: Ratfinks, Suicide Tanks and Cannibal Girls
CHAPTER TWO: Two-Lane Blacktop
CHAPTER THREE: How to Make a Monster
CHAPTER FOUR: The Devil's Rejects
CHAPTER FIVE: Killing Time
CHAPTER SIX: Girl on Fire
The GREAT AMERICAN NIGHTMARE
The GREAT AMERICAN NIGHTMARE
Elizabeth groaned as someone nudged her awake. “C’mon,” Logan said, not altogether ungently. “Time to get up.”
She opened a bleary eye wide enough to glare at him. The morning sun was blindingly bright and her head ached. “It’s too early, leave me alone.” She rolled over and covered her head with a pillow.
Logan grabbed the pillow away and swatted her with it. “No can do, the professor wants to see us.”
That got her attention. “Shit,” she said, sitting up and rubbing her eyes.
“Relax. It’s about those files you gave us.”
“How do you know?”
He tapped the side of his head. “Xavier express telegram. Now get dressed.”
They weren’t meeting in the professor’s study this time, but somewhere down in a sub-level that Elizabeth hadn’t even realized existed. As Logan escorted her through the labyrinth of reinforced steel corridors beneath the school she couldn’t help but wonder what other secrets Xavier was hiding down here.
The others were waiting for them in a sleek, modern conference room furnished with a Tazio Aniegre table, Herman Miller chairs, and an impressive array of flatscreen monitors covering one wall. Some of the monitors were tuned to national and international news broadcasts, some projected maps of different parts of the world, and some showed what appeared to be satellite imagery of various locations around the earth.
A furry blue mutant sat at the head of the table frowning at a laptop. Elizabeth recognized him at once. His name was Henry McCoy and he was a prominent scientist and pro-mutant activist who was always turning up on the news programs when they wanted someone to give the “mutant perspective” on an issue.
“What’s with the Grape Ape?” Logan asked, eying him warily. Elizabeth winced inwardly. The man really had a way of making friends.
McCoy looked up from his computer, gave Logan a perfunctory once-over and said, “How’s the Civil War going, General Burnside?”
She braced herself for Logan’s angry response, but he surprised her when his mouth twitched into a grin. “That’s a good one,” he said. “I like that.”
“Logan, Elizabeth, allow me to introduce Dr. Henry McCoy,” Xavier said. “Henry is an old and very dear friend of mine.”
“It’s an honor to meet you,” Elizabeth said, extending her hand.
McCoy stood up like a proper gentleman and grasped her hand in his large, furry one. “Believe me, Miss Braddock, the pleasure’s all mine,” he said, smiling warmly.
“Yeah, I’ll bet it is,” Logan mumbled, rolling his eyes as he dropped into a chair.
Scott gave Elizabeth an icy look as she took a seat beside Ororo. It was impressive how much enmity the man managed to convey with his eyes hidden behind those red-tinted sunglasses. At least Kurt had a kindly smile for her.
Xavier nodded across the length of the table at Dr. McCoy. “Now that we’re all here, why don’t you begin, Henry?”
“Of course,” McCoy said, pushing his glasses up the bridge of his flat, broad nose. “The professor called me here to take a look at the files that Miss Braddock acquired. I’ve been up most of the night studying them and I’ve only just begun to scratch the surface, but what I’ve discovered so far is deeply unsettling.” He tapped a key on his laptop and the largest monitor on the wall displayed a list of names with accompanying pictures. “The files are part of a government initiative known as Project Wideawake, a covert interdepartmental commission that was formed nearly a decade ago to deal with the so-called ‘mutant menace.’ Over the years its members have included representatives from every branch of government, including the Departments of Defense and Homeland Security, the FBI, the CIA, the NSA, several members of Congress, and at least one federal judge.”
Elizabeth studied the list up on the screen. She recognized the names of several prominent government officials, including one particularly oily politician who’d tried unsuccessfully to flirt with her at a fundraiser a few years ago.
“Stryker,” Logan muttered beside her. “Why aren’t I surprised he was part of this?”
Xavier nodded, frowning slightly. “Yes, it appears Col. Stryker was an active member of the commission, as well our late friend Senator Kelly.”
“Initially,” McCoy continued, “the commission seems to have focused on developing contingency plans against a number of perceived mutant threats. Mutant-proof security measures, strategies for defending against various kinds of mutant attacks, that sort of thing. More recently, however, the initiative’s agenda has taken a decidedly more ominous tack, and it’s begun to pursue anti-mutant offensive measures.”
“You mean like the weapon Betts saw?” Logan asked, leaning back in his chair. “It’s the real deal, then?”
“I am afraid it’s very real,” Dr. McCoy said. He tapped on his laptop again and a series of complicated technical diagrams appeared on the monitor. “It’s called the Sentinel Mark I. And its purpose is to identify mutants and kill them. Indiscriminately.”
For a moment no one said anything, they all just sat there in a collectively stunned silence. Ororo was the first to speak, her face set in hard lines. “Identify us how?”
Personally, Elizabeth was a little more concerned with the indiscriminate killing part, but Ororo’s question was probably an important one, as well.
Dr. McCoy took off his glasses and wiped them with a handkerchief he pulled from his pocket. His expression was grim. “It’s equipped with complex biological sensors capable of not only detecting mutant powers in active use at a distance, but also performing a DNA scan at a range of up to 500 meters that can identify an individual carrying the mutant gene, even if it’s dormant.”
“My God,” Scott said.
There was another silence as everyone absorbed the ramifications of what they’d just heard. Some mutants, like Kurt and Dr. McCoy, obviously didn’t have the option of hiding what they were. But for for those who did, keeping their true nature a secret was the only way they were allowed to live a normal, peaceful life. Elizabeth had learned the hard way just how precious that anonymity was after it had been stripped from her.
“I can’t make heads or tails of that technical mumbo jumbo,” Logan said, waving his hand vaguely at the screen. “What’s this thing look like, exactly? Some kind of gun?”
“No,” McCoy said. “It is most definitely not a gun.” The picture on the monitor changed, the schematics spinning and coming together into a three-dimensional rendering.
Elizabeth stared at it in disbelief. Beside her, she heard Logan suck in a sharp breath. “Jesus,” he said.
“As designed, the Sentinel is a cybernetic humanoid tactical assault machine equipped with an adaptive, open-ended strategic programming system for autonomous deployment,” Dr. McCoy explained.
“I’m sorry,” Kurt said, his brow furrowed, “but I do not know what any of that means.”
“I think giant death robot pretty much sums it up,” McCoy said wryly. “It was designed by Dr. Boliver Trask, an anthropologist and cyberneticist working with Shaw Industries.” A picture of a white-haired scientist appeared on the screen, along with several newspaper articles.
Scott frowned at the screen. “I’ve heard that name somewhere before.”
“I’m not surprised,” Xavier said. “Dr. Trask made quite a name for himself a few years ago when he published a series of articles on the mutant threat. He believes that all mutants are part of a global conspiracy with only one goal: to rule the earth and enslave humanity.”
Logan raised one eyebrow. “So he’s a wackjob.”
McCoy smiled thinly. “Nutty as a rat turd in a peanut butter factory. But he’s also a brilliant scientist. The Sentinel has a titanium reinforced superstructure that renders it impervious to blasts up to 400 kJ—roughly the equivalent of an anti-tank grenade—and it’s armed with a high-energy plasma cannon and an inorganic matter disintegrator. It’s also equipped with thrusters for limited flight capabilities.”
“You mean it’s a giant flying death robot?” Logan said. “Terrific.”
“If they manage to complete a working prototype, it will be the most technologically advanced killing machine in existence,” Dr. McCoy said darkly.
Kurt crossed himself, muttering under his breath. Beside her, Elizabeth could feel the tension radiating from Logan; every muscle in his body was taut with anger and his hands were clenched into fists at his sides. She shifted uncomfortably in her seat. Magneto had intended to set this abomination loose on Washington, D.C., and she’d very nearly helped deliver it to him. Not that she was any more comfortable with the U.S. government possessing one of these things. Even designing such a monstrosity was an act of genocide as far as she was concerned.
Scott leaned forward and placed his palms flat on the table. The muscles in his jaw were taut with barely-suppressed anger. “All right,” he said quietly. “So what are we going to do about it?”
“Mortimer altered the schematics,” Elizabeth said. “They’ll never get their prototype to work.”
“Perhaps,” Xavier said thoughtfully. “But in this case I’d feel more comfortable with some additional insurance. A catastrophic natural disaster ought to do the trick.” He looked pointedly at Ororo.
“A tornado?” she suggested. “I can level the whole complex to the ground.”
“Yes, but let’s be certain it looks natural. I don’t want any meteorologists scratching their heads over freak weather patterns.”
“That’s swell,” Logan said. “But what do the rest of us get to destroy? Because I really wanna destroy something.”
Xavier turned a stern eye on Logan. “The rest of us are going to keep our heads down for the time being. The last thing we need is the government suspecting any more mutants of launching terrorist attacks.”
Scott’s head snapped up. “So we’re just supposed to forget that they tried to invent a weapon to kill us all?”
“I’m not suggesting we forget anything.” Xavier’s tone was sharp, like a parent reprimanding a child, and it seemed to provoke Scott.
“This is way beyond the Mutant Registration Act,” he shot back. “They’ve created a weapon explicitly designed to exterminate us. If that’s not an act of war, I don’t know what is. We need to fight back.”
Xavier was unmoved. “And prove that all their fears of us are well-placed? Exactly how will that help the mutant cause?”
“I can’t believe I’m about to agree with four-eyes,” Logan cut in, “but if they can design this thing once, they can do it again. What are we gonna do about the next one? Sit back and wait for it to come after us? That ain’t exactly my style.”
“Nor is it mine,” Xavier said coldly.
McCoy shifted uneasily. “As much as I’d like to blow the entire Department of Defense off the face of the earth right now, I’m afraid the professor’s right. If we go on the offensive the government will only feel justified in waging war against us. They’ll redouble their efforts and the rest of the country will cheer them on.”
“Then we’ll redouble ours!” Scott said. “We have to show them we’re not going to stand idly by while they plot our extermination.”
“That sounds an awful lot like something Magneto would say,” Elizabeth observed quietly.
Scott rounded on her angrily, but before he could reply Professor Xavier intervened: “I understand your anger, Scott, and believe me, I share it. But engaging in a war with humankind is not the answer. Such a course would almost certainly result in mass extinctions on both sides. There can be no winner in such a conflict, which is exactly what Magneto, blinded by his own megalomania, has always failed to grasp.”
Scott stared at Xavier for a moment, then his shoulders slumped and he nodded in resignation. “You’re right. I’m sorry.”
“We’re all understandably upset by this information,” Xavier said. “And believe me I have no intention of sitting on my hands. Henry has already agreed to stay on and start working on methods of counteracting the Sentinel technology. But our first priority must be ensuring this prototype never sees the light of day.”
“I’ll leave after dark,” Ororo said. “Take out the complex when it’s most likely to be empty.”
“Elizabeth,” Xavier turned to address her, “I’d appreciate it if you’d go with Storm so you can show her exactly where this so-called NASA facility is located.”
“Of course,” Elizabeth replied. She’d be more than happy to see that whole place flattened into rubble.
“I’m going, too,” Scott said, giving her a look that said he clearly didn’t trust her to do even this simple task.
“And me,” Logan said, frowning at Scott.
“If you don’t mind, I’d like to come along as well,” Dr. McCoy said. “I’d very much like to lay eyes this complex for myself. And it’s been a while since I’ve gone for a ride in the old Blackbird.”
“Very well,” Xavier said, nodding.
“I’ll go prep the jet,” Ororo said, standing up. “Hank, you want to help me? If you still remember how, that is.”
He smiled at her. “Considering I built the thing, I think I may have some vague recollection in my cobwebby old brain.”
“Elizabeth,” Xavier said. “A word before you go?”
She froze, halfway out of her seat. It had obviously been too much to hope that Xavier would simply overlook the incident last night. She sank back into her chair with a feeling of impending doom while the others filed out. Logan was the last to leave, and he threw her an encouraging nod as he backed out of the room, closing the door behind him.
“I suppose this is about last night,” she said, turning to meet Xavier’s gaze.
“What happened last night?” he asked benignly.
“Let’s not play games. You obviously know what happened.”
“I do, but I’m interested to hear your version of the story.”
Which meant he’d heard Scott’s version already. Hardly surprising, the man had probably gone running to Xavier at the crack of dawn to complain about her. She shrugged. “I was having a nightmare and I suppose I projected it. I didn’t even realize I was doing it.”
He steepled his fingers and regarded her gravely. “Has anything like that ever happened before?”
She shook her head. “No, never. And then when Logan tried to wake me up, he startled me and I ...” She trailed off, too ashamed to say the words aloud.
“You lashed out in fear,” he finished for her.
“Yes.” She paused, remembering how pale Logan had looked, and how far she’d flung him, just with the force of her fear. “I could have hurt him.”
“But you didn’t, not seriously, anyway.”
“What about the children?” she asked. “Did it affect any of them?”
“No, you weren’t projecting strongly enough to reach that far.”
“But I could have.”
“It’s possible, yes. Next time you might.”
She nodded solemnly. “I can leave as soon as my things get here.”
He raised his eyebrows. “Why would you do that?”
“Because Scott’s right, I’m dangerous. It’s like you said yesterday, my powers are unpredictable. Next time I could seriously hurt someone.”
“Which is exactly why I’d prefer to have you here, where there are people who understand what you’re going through and can help you, rather than out there on your own, where you’re likely to be met with fear and misapprehension. None of this is your fault, Elizabeth. Your whole life has been turned upside down, you’ve been betrayed by people you trusted, forced to flee for your life, and violently attacked. Anyone would show signs of stress under the circumstances.”
No matter what Logan had said, she still couldn’t quite bring herself to trust the professor. He was altogether too kindly, too benevolent. He seemed too good to be true. She’d let her guard down once with Wanda and Pietro because she’d wanted so badly to believe they were her friends. She wouldn’t be making that mistake again.
“What if I want to leave?” she asked.
“I would advise you very strongly against it,” Xavier replied. “Unless you want to risk hurting more people, and possibly even yourself. I’m also not entirely convinced the Brotherhood is through with you. Magneto has been known to nurture a grudge for a very long time.”
“You’re saying I have no choice?”
“I won’t hold you here against your will, if that’s what you’re implying. I feel quite certain, however, that you know what you have to do.”
The thought that Sabretooth might still be out there hunting her sent a chill down her spine. She didn’t entirely trust Xavier, but she was fairly certain she’d rather take her chances with him than face Magneto again. “You really believe you can teach me to control my powers?” she asked.
“I am certain of it,” he said. “And I promise to be no more intrusive than absolutely necessary to help you.”
Elizabeth nodded. “All right. I’ll stay.”
For the time being, anyway. Just long enough to learn what she needed from Xavier. Once she had enough control over her own powers to protect herself she wouldn’t need this place anymore.
She wouldn’t need anyone, then.
TO BE CONTINUED ...