War Crimes

by Morgan Lewis


Disclaimer: Wolverine and the X-men are property of Marvel. Mr. White is the property of Ade Capone and Star Comix.

Any and all feedback is, as always, welcome.


Prologue

1942: Allied controlled territory

Few rays of sunlight succeeded in penetrating the perpetual fog. Those few that didn・t bring enough heat to even warm the cold metal that barred the windows, much less the occupants inside. Instead they merely threw strange unnatural shadows across the dirt floor to the moth-eaten cots crowded into the tight dank space.

One of the cots seemed to scream in agony as it barely supported the weight of its occupant. Every so often a slight breeze would stir through the small cell, causing the decaying wood to creak dangerously. Yet, through it all, the man resting on the ancient structure never stirred more than the faint rasp of his breathing.

Across from the cots three men sat quietly on the dirt floor with their backs propped against the stone wall. A forth stood, staring restlessly out the window. The one standing was obviously the youngest of the five men currently residing in the cramped room. His face lacked the creases and scars of the other four. Moreover, his face still contained an innocence that the others had long since lost. His eyes were still open. And in that moment they reflected undisguised fear.

One of the men on the floor made a quick glance over to the still form on the cot them let out a low wheezing chuckle. ・What・s the matter boy? Last night go by to fast for ya・?・

The young man visibly flinched but continued to look steadfastly out the barred window. ・Thas・ right,・ The man slowly rose to one knee from the floor. An ugly grin split his face. ・They・ll be hear soon ・nuff boy. Crack o・ dawn. Good ol・ early morning execution.・ The other to men on the floor began to chuckle darkly.

・Ya・ goin・ die like a man boy?・ one of the other men said while he absentmindedly rubbed at his bandaged side. ・Or are ya・ goin・ ta・ piss in ya・ pants when they level them guns at ya・?・

The young man turned away from the window shaking wildly. The man with an ugly grin took that as his sign to continue. ・Ya・ got a sweetheart at home boy? She・s prob・ly asleep right now dreaming of her big war hero.・ The ugly grin parted briefly to release a cackle. ・Cept・, she don・t know the truth now does she?・

The young man continued to shake with his back turned towards his tormenters. ・Doesn・t know that her big brave boyfriend・s gonna・ be executed today fo・ neglect of duty. Doesn・t know that her big war hero let his entire regiment get turned ta・ hamburger ・cause he was busy getting・ his beauty sleep!・

The young man whirled around with tears steaming down his face. ・Just shut up!!・ he screamed shrilly.

The three men on the floor burst into raucous laughter. ・Was・ a・ matter little boy?・ the man feeling his bandages managed to wheeze. ・Did we scare you?・

・Just leave me alone!!・ The man-boy cried hysterically. ・Just shut your ugly vile faces and leave me alone!・ His voice cracked with each passing word.

The three men grinned wickedly. They had not thought that their words could cut so deeply. This was young fresh meat. The kind that was perfect to torment. They would be able to forget their own fears and loathings just for an instant while they tormented another. Later, their own demons would return to haunt them again. But, for the moment, they would forget their own pains to lash out at someone, anyone in spite and anger.

・That・s enough you lowlifes. You・ve already tormented the kid more than enough and it・s disturbing my beauty sleep,・ the deep growl that came from the cot was barely more than a whisper. But, it was still enough to give the three tormenters a moment of pause.

・No amount of beauty sleep is ever gonna・ help ya・ ugly mug Jonson,・ Ugly grin managed to reply after a few moments. ・Sides・ we havin・ a bit o・ fun here. Tha・s all.・

The form in the cot didn・t move an inch. Yet, somehow conveyed the sense of malevolence that had not been in the room a few seconds earlier. ・I said shut up and give the kid a break. I won・t ask nicely again.・

The three men grumbled darkly but settled back down against the wall without another word. A few more rays of sunlight managed to penetrate the small cell from the rising sun. The effect, however, was anything but pleasant. More dark shapes danced across the floor in an macabre ballet.

・It・s the truth though?・ the young man stared dully at the dirt floor.

・Pa was so proud to see me leave for Europe to fight the Nazis. What is he going to think of me now?・ The young man sank to the floor hugging himself tightly and shaking with sobs. ・What is he going to think now?・ For the next few moments the only sound inside the dark cell was that of a young man・s cries.

The young man・s sobs slowly faded into silence. Only to be replaced a few moments later by the sound of booted feet approaching the door. The young man tensed, but didn・t rise off the floor. The second seemed to drag for an eternity as the five inmates listened to the clanking sounds of the guard pulling the keys off of his belt. The metallic squeal of the lock turning sent a shiver even through the stoical resident of the cot. Wood creaked and metal shrieked to admit the jailing and to more soldiers dressed in their fatigues.

・Jonson,・ the jailer muttered blandly and the man on the cot raised his head in curiosity. ・These men are here to take you to see Commander Brennon.・ The indicated man gave no more expression than mild disinterest as he rose slowly from his cot to follow the two soldiers out into the hall. As soon as they were out of the earshot of a normal man, the would-be protector heard the three prisoners turn once again on their young prey. A nearly inaudible growl escaped from his clenched teeth. The poor boy was suffering enough as it was. You would think that even deserting scum like that would let the boy contemplate his last few moments in peace. They had learned quickly enough to keep their mouths shut when they had thought he was awake, after a few bloodied lips had convinced them.

The prisoner was quickly escorted through the near silent barracks. No one said a word, but their scents spoke more than loud enough for him. The two bootlickers, he had no doubt that they were bootlickers, escorting him fairly reeked of open disgust and high-handed superiority. Just because they could shove their noses far enough up some commanders butt to get pulled off of the open battlefield and serve as assistants they thought that they were better than those who tried to get off of the front lines in less orthodox manners.

One of the bootlickers gave him a rough shove to hurry him along and for a moment he consider snapping the boy・s neck. He quickly discarded the idea though. With his luck the slacker would probably turn out to be some Senator・s baby boy back in the states. Instead, they continued walking in silence until they reached the commander・s tent.

Once inside the tent the two soldiers saluted smartly. ・Private William Jonson from the brig as you ordered sir!・ one of them barked. The man sitting at the desk didn・t even look up from his papers. General Donith Brennon was not a man to show any trace of anticipation, but the prisoner could smell it on him. ・Thank you, and that will be all soldier.・ Brennon replied with a voice the shout disinterest. Still, the sharp scent of anticipation increased marginally as the two soldiers left the tent. He had yet to look up from his desk, to even aknowledge the fact that another man had entered the room. It was all part of the game, a game that the prisoner could not afford to loose.

After precisely three and a half minutes, the prisoner was certain that it was supposed to have seemed like an eternity to him, Brennon glanced up from his desktop and fixed the prisoner with a cold icy stare. ・I could and should order your execution,・ he said in a flat voice. The prisoner didn・t even bat an eye. The scent of anticipation was growing around the commander again. Brennon pulled sheet of paper off of his desk and displayed. ・This is the order for your death. All I need to do is sign it and there will be two bodies to bury this afternoon instead of just one.・

Still the prisoner gave no reaction and anger began to mix in with the scent of anticipation. ・I・ve heard some interesting things about you Private William Jonson.・ He stood and began pacing the inside of the small tent like an overconfident attorney addressing the jury. ・That is your name isn・t it.・ The prisoner didn・t respond. Brennon had the scent a of a hound on the trail of blood. He picked up a folder of papers and began leafing through them. ・After all, that is what it says here on your enlistment papers. William D. Jonson born Harold and Mary Blace Jonson of Mobile Alabama. Born and raised there according to this.・

The prisoner remained still and unflinching even when the General threw the folder at his chest, sending the papers scattering everywhere. His voice was nearly as smug as his scent. ・If you were going to lie about who you were you could have at least given yourself an accent that matches that growl of yours.・ The prisoner still offered no reaction and he could now sense anger as well as a touch of something that almost seemed like frustration enter into his scent. This man was most likely used to people he could intimidate easily. The General turned and slowly began pacing away from him. His voice turned casual almost conversational again. ・Despite the obvious lack of validity of your papers they might have gone unnoticed. Heaven knows these days that there are more than enough young fools falsifying their records and lying about their ages to get in to the war and fight the Nazis. Far to many to closely examine each and every one. It is quite possible that you could have gone unnoticed.・ Brennon paused to poor himself a glass of something dark and took a small sip before setting the glass back down. ・You had to keep drawing attention to yourself, though. Bad history of problems with authority, disobeying orders and the like.・ The General whirled to pin him with a glare that could have frozen the man where he stood. ・Finally, you went too far. Even your reputation of courage and valor in battle would be unable to save your hide after usurping command of your Battalion during a charge and then giving the order to retreat.・

・The commanding officer had taken leave of his senses. He was going to try to lead group of men, exhausted from three days of marching, in an insane charge across a mine field with a fresh set of enemy troops waiting to meet us on the other side of a ridge,・ the prisoner replied with no emotion in his voice save for a faint growl.

・The commanding officer had not taken leave of his sense until you knocked him out!・ Brennon screamed while tense veins bulged and danced across his forehead. All pretenses had evaporated now.

・I did what I felt was necessary and in the best interests of the Battalion,・ he replied without twitching a muscle.

・What you did caused the failure of an entire offensive effort,・ the commander・s neck looked as if it could quite possibly burst.

・The effort would have failed even with our dead bodies littering that field.・

The commander・s face seemed to catch fire it turned so read. He whirled decisively and stalked toward his desk. He grabbed a quill with such force it seemed as he meant to crush it with his bare hands. He held it poised over the death order prepared to sign. The smell of anger protruded from his every pore. Anger so intense that it could make a man forget himself for a moment. The prisoner decided that it was time to nudge that memory along.

・Go ahead, sign me to my death. I just wish I could be around to see you try to explain to your superiors why I・m in the ground instead of on the mission they want me on.・ Brennon・s pen froze and the red drained out of his face quicker than the prisoner had thought possible. He trembled slightly as he carefully set the quill back down.

・What do you know about the mission?・ Brennon・s voice was soft and slightly strangled.

The prisoner grinned smugly. His shot in the dark had hit true after all. The tables were going to turn now, whether this General liked it or not. ・I know that Generals like yourself don・t bother with condemned men like me. In normal circumstances you would have barely glanced at my death orders before signing them, much less talk to me in person.・ That and the fact that I can smell the eagerness and anticipation on you like a bad stench. The prisoner kept that thought to himself. ・Add in the fact that, as you have so aptly proved, I have no record. No one will miss me or even know that I am gone. I am also in a position where I can・t ask for a lot, which means that almost any deal you offer me is better than the one I face right now.・ The prisoner scratched his chin pensively. ・I imagine that this will be an extremely delicate operation and that after it・s completion, if I・m still alive I will be allowed to go my way.・ Not much of a chance of surviving anything they had cooked up for him.

Brennon sat down hard behind his desk, his mouth hung wide open. This man was obviously used to dealing with people who were either to stupid too figure things out or too intelligent to let on they had a clue, much less through it in his face. The prisoner decided to drive his point home while the man still appeared off guard. He leaned forward pinning the man with a gaze of his own. ・But, I・ll let you sign those papers before I agree to some suicide mission. Death by a firing squad and death by a sniper aren・t all that different to me.・

Brennon closed his mouth tightly. He grabbed his glass and drained it quickly. Fear had entered his scent on top of the amazement that was painted all over his face. Slowly both were replaced by a firm determination that bordered on stubbornness. ・You will agree to the terms of the agreement that I place before you soldier. You don・t have a great deal of choice.・

The prisoner returned his stare, equally stubborn. ・Tell me about this mission,・ he finally replied.

A scent of relief so strong that it momentarily filled the entire tent came from the commander. ・I can・t tell much. Even I haven・t received any real intelligence. I can tell you that it will be extremely delicate and extremely dangerous. You will be briefed upon your arrival in England. From there you will be deployed to where ever it is that they plan to send you.・

・Those aren・t many details,・ the prisoner stated darkly after a long pause.

Brennon casually walked to the front of his tent and threw back the flap. ・You do have other possibilities, should you choose them.・ The young boy, who had fallen asleep on guard duty could be made out in the distance. He had accepted a blind fold was now trembling so hard it seemed that his body might fly to pieces.

The prisoner turned his back and tried to ignore the roar of guns and a bloody cry that they violently drowned out. ・That wasn・t necessary. I know my alternatives.・

・Your choice, soldier?・

The prisoner let out a tired sigh. ・When do I need to leave?・ Brennon suddenly smelled so satisfied that the prisoner had to throttle the urge to punch him. ・Immediately. A transport is waiting for you now, in fact.・

・Kinda・ confident, weren・t we?・

Brennon・s smile contained no warmth at all. ・A good general should know the outcome of every battle before the first shot is fired.・

・You really are a fool if you truly believe that.・

・One more thing,・ irritation and a prickly smell of pride were entering into his scent now. ・These records of yours,・ he put as much contempt on that word as possible, ・will be conveniently misplaced. You will need a knew name and identity to avoid the possibility of being traced back.・ Brennon paused momentarily and grinned. ・What will you call yourself from this moment on?・

The prisoner bowed his head in thought for a moment. When he lifted his eyes again, they were as hard as steel. ・Call me Logan.・


Part 1

Upstate New York
Today

Leaves settled peacefully from gnarled and twisted oak trees onto the worn two-lane road. An early fall sun was shining through the maze of branches overhead to cast an intricate pattern of light across the ground. Not even the slightest breeze blew to disturb the carefully preserved scene. It truly seemed as if nature had managed to carve out a small peace of tranquility in at least one point of the world.

The tranquility was shattered so fast that none had time to mourn its passing as two high powered motor bikes screamed down the road leaving a wake of shattered silence and leaves thrown every which way by the suddenly changing air currents. The riders continued on their path, unaware, and perhaps even indifferent to the frustration they had caused nature by destroying one of her more rare, but unappreciated, scenes. Wolverine usually enjoyed a break-neck bike race as next as the next guy. Today, however, he just didn・t seem to have his heart in it. Wolverine glanced up about ten yards ahead of him were one young cocky Cajun was staring back at him challengingly. With the wind whipping about them at this speed it would have been impossible to shout a taunt between the two bikes, but Logan could see it written all across his face. What・s the matter old man, that arrogant smile seemed to shout.

On another day that same expression would have probably motivated him to action far more effectively than any other stimulant. No prize could ever compete with the joy of watching that cocky gambler eat crow. Today, however, too many dark and heavy thoughts rode on his mind to fully enjoy the sport at hand. He had dreamed dark dreams last night. Dreams that spoke of things that had happened to his so long ago that he had nearly forgotten, tried to forget them. Why did he have to remember them now? Logan twisted his head to the side to avoid an airborne twig as his bike continued to scream down the road at speed considerably less than sane. Wolverine glared at the back of the man ten yards in front of him. Gambit hadn・t been the only X-man to have several unpleasant surprised from the past return to haunt him. He had master the art while the Cajun was still at his mother・s breast. That was what worried him about the dreams. As irrational as it seemed, to anyone other than an X-man that is, he hated reexamining old memories, even in his sleep, for fear that it could some how conjure the thing in the flesh.

Logan snorted, a sound lost in the roar of his bike and the howl of the air. He was really being irrational now. Any and all people connected with those dark dreams were long since dead, some of them by his own hand. If there were any parts of his past that he was certain were buried for good it was those contained in these dreams.

Yet, despite all his own self-assurances, Logan・s mood remained black. Up ahead, Gambit gunned the powerful engine on his Ducati as he sped into a sharp turn at breakneck speed. Despite all his cockiness, Logan had to admit the boy could handled a bike mean enough to grind up just about any other fool who tried to ride it with surprising ease. Logan just hoped that there wasn・t another a Van around this turn. The Cajun had barely avoided a head-on with one a few miles back. No van was waiting for him this time, however, as he came out of the turn smoothly, his form perfect. The fool them had the chutzpa to whip his head back at his with flashy grin that yelled, I know that you couldn・t have caught that turn as cleanly as I did.

Logan had to grin in spite of himself. This young punk actually thought he could win this thing if he smiled hard enough. Psychological competition was almost as important as the physical aspect of the race, however the Cajun・s cocky presence wasn・t nearly enough to break the X-man・s concentration.

Logan leaned tightly into a turn as he decided that he actually did want to win this race after all. Not just for the evening・s drinks which were at stake, the Cajun could put down his weight in beer and that would cost, but for the chance to wipe that grin off of his face. Wolverine tightened his grip and gunned the engine as he came out of the sharp turn. He had managed to gain about three yards on Gambit and they only had about another four miles to go before they reached their destination.

The shorter man positioned his bike behind Gambit・s to capitalize on his slipstream. The Cajun was no longer wasting backward glances. The next section of road could be especially tricky if you didn・t give it your full attention. Logan smiled grimly. A sharp turn was coming soon and he could easily gain another five yards on the man ahead of him if he used it well. Of coarse, misjudging the turn could easily mean a fatal spill over a steep ravine onto the rocks below. Hesitation never even entered into Wolverine・s thoughts. Leaves and other debris floating in the air whipped past his face fast enough to draw blood as he accelerated into the turn. He leaned his bike so far that he was nearly parallel with the ground. For a few insane, exhilarating instants, death rode less than an inch from his cheek.

The blood was leaping through his veins, as he pulled his Harley out of the turn. He had gained another five yards on Gambit・s Ducati, just as he had planned. The finish line, Harry・s Hideaway, was now in sight and closing fast. He and Gambit were almost neck and neck now. They spared each other a quick glance between the two bikes. Red on black eyes met dark brown in a staring match that would have had any speculator nervously backing away from the two contestants. Suddenly, Gambit tossed back his head and let out a burst of laughter, the sounds of which were almost entirely sucked away by the wind. It was a laugh of defiance, an expression of his absolute disregard for life, responsibility, sanity, or anything else beyond that moment. Wolverine was almost surprised to find his own voice join the Cajun・s.


The sun was slowly disappearing behind the low hills in the distance. Shadows were beginning to darken underneath the varied buildings that dotted the landscape. One of those shadows shifted slightly, revealing for a brief moment the out line of a man before it was swallowed up by the dark once again. The man called himself Mr. White. It was a name that very few people had the money to know, much less employ.

He considered himself as independent acquisitions specialist. Anyone or anything could be purchased through him, if the price was right. His reputation demanded high prices all across the world. With a ninety-seven point four percent satisfaction rate you were free to name your price.

Mr. White pulled his coat closer and glared out across an open field at his target. He just hoped that this particular assignment wouldn・t end up in the minimal, but still existent two percent. He had heard of this man・s particular abilities and while he was completely certain that the vast majority of it was legend rather than fact he still believed that this would be one of his more difficult assignments. With luck, it would not be too much more difficult than that Cat Thief assignment had been for Ron Perelman. Mr. White raised his hand to his face as if to scratch his chin. Concealed in his glove was a miniature transmitter microphone. ・Star, update me on our positions,・ he spoke quietly.

・All operatives are in position. We are now waiting on are man to mark the target,・ came the soft reply through a near-invisible earpiece. ・Remember the orders. Wait until the two are separated. The Cajun means nothing to us. Our target is the short one,・ White paused for a moment. ・Where you able to confirm which bike belonged to our target?・ ・Our target owns the Harley-Davidson. The Cajun is riding the Ducati. The idiot almost ran right into me with it.・ ・They sighted you then. Will they suspect anything?・ the question was rhetorical. ・No, just another old van in need of a tune up.・ ・Good. Everyone look sharp. We begin the operation in three minutes.・ ・Confirmed, operation is go in three minutes.・ White switch off the microphone with a nearly imperceptible movement of his thumb. Everyone would need to perform at full efficiency for this assignment to be successful. There was no room for errors on this one. Mr. White smiled grimly. If anything, a ninety-seven point four percent success rate was an indication of a man who did not make errors.


Logan watched with detached interest as Gambit finished yet another bottle and then signaled to the barkeep to replace it with a full one before returning his concentration to the pool table in front of him. Maybe the man would get drunken enough that he could convince the Cajun that he had lost the race. They had been arguing over it ever since they had arrived. The finish had been close enough that they had finally decided to settle by some other competition. That was how they had ended up playing pool for the last two hours. They just kept trading off games, however, nothing decisive enough to declare a winner. Logan considered the odds of being able to convince his friend to decide it with an arm wrestling match.

Gambit gave Logan an arrogant grin as he popped the eight ball into a corner pocket without even looking. ・One t・ing fo・ sure, mon ami. The body t・ats go・n t・a pay for all t・is will be puttin・ out a lot o・ cash tonight.・

Wolverine snorted. That was an understatement. Between his healing factor and what ever it was that allowed Gambit to down mass quantities of alcohol and stay standing they had amassed a huge bill for who ever was paying tonight. That last game had put him up one again. ・Care to settle this like a man, Cajun?・

Gambit smelled heavily of alcohol and a mild strain of curiosity had just entered his scent. ・What you t・inkin・ bout?・

・We arm-wrestle for it. The loser takes the bill.・

It was Gambit・s turn to snort now. ・I don・ be t・at drunk yet Wolvie.・

Logan let out a short bark of a laugh. ・Ya, could fool me bub. What with all the beers that you・ve been downing.・ The thing was, despite the smell of alcohol on him, he didn・t really smell that drunk at all. Did this kid have a separate, specialized liver or something as part of his mutant physiology.

Logan sighed, a sound that seemed more like a snarl. ・Another game then?・

Gambit nodded as he went back to his bottle. He leaned casually against the table to wait as Logan collected and racked the various balls. This could very easily take all night. Neither one of them were losing their wits in the slightest. Logan was wondering if it was going to be dawn before a winner finally emerged.

Logan finished setting up the table and was getting ready to break when he noticed a sudden shift in Gambit・s scent. His facial expression and body poise hadn・t shifted a hair, but the man fairly reeked of surprise. Logan tilted his head slightly and followed his friend・s line of sight to find him looking at dark-haired man that had just entered from at the other end of the bar. It was clear from his fellow X-man・s scent that he knew the man and didn・t like seeing him here.

・Who・s yer friend Gumbo?・ Wolverine asked conversationally as he made his opening shot.

・No friend o・ mine,・ the Cajun could have been talking about the weather by the tone of his voice, but he smelled strongly of suspicion bordering on worry. ・Jus・ an associate t・at I knew some time ago.・ He paused to take another drink. ・T・ought he was dead.・

・Looks pretty lively ta・ me,・ Logan said casually as he sunk the three ball in a corner pocket. He drew heavily on his own bottle before continuing. ・Is he going to be eager to meet you again?・

・He don・ know t・at I know him.・ Logan raised an eyebrow at that, prompting Gambit to say, ・It be a long story, mon ami. Les・ just say that if he had any clue about how much I know about him he wouldn・ stop a・ not・in ta・ see me dead.・

・So, what do you think that this joker is up to, bub?・ Logan growled softly, as the seven ball barely missed falling into a side pocket.

・Maybe not・ing, maybe evert・in・,・ Gambit took his position behind the cue ball. ・Maybe he jus・ be here fo・ a beer an・ dinner.・

Gambit・s scent wasn・t giving away very much, other than a wariness for the man. ・Well, should we do something about this guy before he tries something?・ Logan began calculating how to get the man out of a public place so that they could deal with him privately.

The bitter smell of regret entered Gambit・s scent as dropped the ten ball. ・Can・ do anyt・in・ homme. Code o・ da・ t・ieves. Unless I know or see a body doin・ somet・in・ t・at can endanger my family o・ friends, o・ in violation o・ t・ief code, I got ta・ respect his privacy and let him be about his business.・

・I ain・t no thief and I don・t have to obey your codes,・ Logan・s growl implied his belief that he shouldn・t either.

Gambit botched his next shot and took a casual swig of his beer. ・Ya・ can take him by ya・self if ya・ got da desire, but I can・t help ya・ on t・is one.・ It was obvious from his scent and tone that Gambit would not want to try to take this guy by himself. ・Sides・, ot・er t・an my say-so, ya・ got not・in・ ta・ go on. No reason ta・ give Scott o・ de ot・er X-men fo・ why ya・ up and decided ta・ beat some guy ta・ a pulp.・

Logan bit down against his growing frustration. It was clear, for whatever his reasons were, that Gambit wanted nothing to do with the man and would probably let him do anything short of taking the entire bar hostage before he deemed it necessary to interfere. It wasn・t fear. There were a lot of different smells coming from Gambit right now, but fear wasn・t in it. It was as if he just preferred not to draw attention to himself from this man or anyone that might be associated with him. ・You・re seriously going to just let this guy go no matter what he has done in the past?・ Logan was struggling to keep the frustration out of his voice.

Gambit・s silence was the only response that he received. The silence grew to encompass both of them as the game continued on and eventually finished in Logan・s favor. Throughout the game Gambit pointedly refused to look back at the mysterious visitor. Logan didn・t look back at him much either, but he did stay alert of the man・s position, half-expecting him to pull out a gun or something. However, the man simply ordered a beer and a meal and quietly ate. When he finally left, half an hour after he had arrived, Logan didn・t know if he should be relieved or suspicious or indifferent, like the Cajun.

Only one thing was for certain. The two of them were not going to decide their bill over the pool table. They had now been at it for more than three hours. Logan looked out the window and estimated that it was about two in the morning. He had had enough for one night.

・Hey, Gumbo.・

・What homme,・ Gambit didn・t even look up from the cue ball. ・Do you want to decide the bill in another race back to the mansion?・ at Logan・s question a devilish smile appeared on the Cajun・s face. ・Ya・ t・ink ya・ can keep up wit・ me t・is time?・ Logan didn・t miss the arrogant challenge in his voice.

・I・ll try not to leave you to far behind me,・ Logan was in the mood for a challenge, especially an arrogant one. ・ I know how scared you are of the dark.・

・Let・s do it t・an.・ Gambit dropped his pool cue on the table and strode off to talk the barkeep into putting their bill on tab, no small fete, even for Gambit.

Logan drained the last of his beer and walked out the front door to were they had parked their bikes. A few seconds later, Gambit joined him with mischievous grin on his face.

・You put it on my tab, didn・t you?・

・If ya・ win homme,・ his tone of voice made that possibility seem ludicrous, ・I pay ya・ back.・ With no further words he cranked his bike into action. Logan was preparing to do the same when his nose suddenly caught an unfamiliar scent on his bike. It was as if some one else had been touching or handling his beloved Harley.

Logan・s thoughts were interrupted by the sound of Gambit・s tires pealing out on the asphalt. Logan cursed under his breath as he cranked his own bike. He was not going to let the Cajun get a good head start on him. The scent was probably from some person that had been admiring his bike and nothing more. Yet, as he spun his own tires to catch up with Gambit he couldn・t quite shake an uneasy feeling of being watched.


・Mr. White, they are on the way.・

White smiled grimly as he received the report through his ear piece. ・Good, has the target been marked?・

・Affirmative.・

・Good, meet us at the check point at 0400 hours,・ White didn・t wait for the response as he switched off the transmitter. Everything was in place. They would not fail.


Part 2

Upstate New York
Today

If there was any chance what-so-ever that anyone could have heard him, Logan would have unleashed a tide of profanities that would have caused even the worst bar scum to walk lightly. Only it wouldn・t be a common bar scum that he would have directed that tide at. No, the recipient of his wrath, if possible, would have been the cocky southern gumbo that was thirty yards in front of him right now and increasing his distance with every passing second.

Logan furiously gunned the throttle, but all he got was a grumble from the engine when he had been expecting a growl. He quickly checked the gas meter, which still read half full. What was the problem? It was as if someone had drained all the power out of his bike. Suddenly, he felt the engine cough and die on him.

As his bike rolled to a stop, Logan ceased to hold back the tide and every vulgar expression known to man in three languages came flowing out. He swore at his bike at the road and, most especially, at one beer guzzling X-man that was going to cost him a small fortune after this night. Why was it that fortune always seemed to smile on that thief?

Logan parked the bike on the shoulder of the road, giving it a kick for good measure, and dug around in his jacket for a cigar. He was certain that he had put one in there before he left for Harry・s Hide-a-way. With his luck so far tonight, it had probably fallen out somewhere already. Logan grunted in mild relief and surprise as his fingers closed around the sought-for item. Just then his grin faded into a sour grimace when his matchbox revealed only emptiness.

"Why couldn't I have had some sort of energy based powers?" he grumbled softly to himself. "The Cajun never has to ask for a light."

Logan decided to that he might as well have a closer look as his bike to see if he could spot a loose wire or nut or something that could account for his Harley's sudden demise. He squatted down next the bike and squinted at the block. The engine was still too hot to touch, so he contented himself with to examine to engine with the aid of only the moonlight. It didn't take him very long to figure out that he was getting nowhere. Logan was a man of many talents, but mutant night vision was not one of them.

He grumbled as he stood. There was only one option. He was going to have to walk the thing home. It was the not the way he had planned on finishing his night. Further complaining, however, was not going to be a great deal of help. Despite this fact, or maybe because of it, Logan continued to mutter darkly as he pushed his beloved, expensive, and, at the moment, utterly worthless bike down the darkened road.

Suddenly the hairs on the back of his neck stood on end. He caught, just for a moment, the scent of several people in a passing breeze. Normally he wouldn't have paid any mind to the fact that there were people in these woods. Even from the mansion he would sometimes catch the scents of campfires and people from as far a twenty miles away. The only thing that gave him pause in this instance was the type of scent that his nose was registering. The scents carried with them the smell of anticipation, focus, concentration, and the unmistakable scent of someone about to do violence. In short, these men were getting ready to attack him.

It was some well-honed warrior's instinct that made him dive to the ground and away from his bike. He heard a strange whistle as something zipped past his ear, barely missing his head. It wasn't a bullet. Logan knew what a bullet sounded like. It sounded more like some kind of dart, tipped with heaven knows what kind of drugs.

Logan had dived, rolled, and returned to his feet before his bike even finished falling to the ground with crash. He was now running a zig-zag pattern as fast as he could to the nearest cluster of trees. He had to get out of the open to someplace where he wasn't such an open target.

He heard another strange whistling sound and dived to the right. Unfortunately, he was to slow by an instant to avoid the projectile. He felt a brief sting as the needle penetrated the skin, then bone of his spine. The sting was then followed by a wave of pain so intense that he double into a ball from the shock of it. His heart seized in mid-beat and refused to restart. Incredible pressure, like a huge vice clamped down on his skull, squeezing until Logan would not have been surprised see his head crush on the asphalt. His body immediately went into convulsions after it dropped to the ground. Muscles and nerves refused to respond to his commands as they twitched and spazmed at a frenzied rate. After a few seconds his twitching stopped and Logan remained still on the cold hard road, dead as far as any doctor would be concerned.

Then, his healing factor kicked in.

Logan came screaming back into consciousness. His eyes bulged out of his head from the pain of it. Healing was usually more painful than actually receiving the injury. Logan tried to catch his breath as the pain slowly receded. That dart had been tipped with something truly nasty. If he was a normal man, he would have been dead in less than an instant. As it was, he felt like he was suffering from the worst hang-over in the history of the world.

As his senses returned, he heard the sound of heavy booted footsteps of several men running. He didn't recognize any of their scents. That meant that none of them would be expecting him to be alive right at this moment. The element of surprise was his now.

The first one reached and grabbed his shoulder to push him over onto his back. Logan felt the sharp comfortable pain as he extended his claws through the skin on the back of his hands. As he rolled over, his left arm whipped out. The claws tore through the tendons in his opponent's forearm, causing him to drop the high-powered hand-gun that he was carrying. Logan didn't pause to consider the man further. He didn't have any time to lose. In the same movement, he slashed wickedly at the calf of another one of his assailants. That man went screaming to the ground in agony.

The third and final man dropped back out of the range of Logan's claws. He whipped his sub-machine gun around to train it on Logan. The X-man was still fairly weak and disoriented from the poison, but he managed a clumsy dive towards his assailant・s mid-section. The two fell to the ground in a tangled heap as the gun shot off a burst of gunfire into the air. Before Logan could press his position, his assailant brought the butt of the gun down hard against Logan's jaw. Logan had already been seeing everything in double images. He grunted as stars now exploded in his vision.

His opponent shoved him away viciously and once again began to train his weapon on the X-man, while rising to one knee. Logan felt his fingers close around a large stone. Saying a quick prayer to a god that he sometimes convinced himself that he didn't believe in, Logan hurled the stone with all of his remaining strength. His vision was now so blurred that aiming was out of the question. He just threw and prayed.

Logan let out a sigh of relief as he heard a solid thud and promptly forgot about god now that he no longer needed him. The X-man stumbled groggily to his feet. He had to keep moving. There were still several other men out in the surrounding woods.

Suddenly blinding pain tore through his back. Logan went to his knees again, as bullets tore through lower gut. The man whose arm he had slashed had managed to pick his gun back up with his other good arm. Despite the blood spilling out of him, Logan lurched to his feet again. The only thought in his mind was making it to the edge of the woods that was just eight yards ahead of him. He was in no shape to take these guys on right now. He needed to give his healing factor a chance to repair some of the damage that had been done.

Bullets followed him into the dark trees, half of them impacting somewhere on his back and legs. Logan cursed silently. They were most likely wearing infrared equipment and his blood trail would lead them straight to him. The only thing he could do was put as much distance between him and them as possible and hope that he would be ready for them when they found him.


Mr. White walked silently across the asphalt toward the three men in various states of consciousness. Two other men followed at his back, both carrying long distance rifles slung over their shoulders. White sized up the situation rapidly and then flicked on his micro-transmitter.

・The target is heading Northeast from the road. All units converge on his position. Use your infrared goggles. He is bleeding and that should leave a nice trail to follow. Also, from this moment on out I want everyone using silencers. Too much noise has been made already.・ He hesitated a moment before adding, ・Use extreme measures. Lethal force is advised.・

Not that it would be lethal with this target apparently. When his present client had insisted that they use the methods that they were using, that poison dart could drop a rhino is two seconds, he had balked more than slightly. After all, the client had been equally insistent that the target be taken alive. White had finally just written him off as being more than slightly crazy. It wouldn・t have been the first time that he had worked for a nutcase. Now he was forced to reexamine his former assessment.

White had heard rumors and whispers about this Logan. The man had quite a reputation. Most bounty hunters declined having anything to do with him. White had been the fourth person that his client had contacted. White knew how to sort fact from fiction when it came to discussing stories, lies, and rumors that made up a person・s reputation. However, he had not considered that the part about the claws and being able to come back from the dead as truth. White hated it when he underestimated someone. It always proved costly.

White turned as two more men joined him the three of them on the road. Turning to the new arrivals he said, ・Clean up here and make sure that no traces are left behind. You,・ he indicated the men with the long-range rifles, ・follow me. We are going to have another go at it. And this time, I want you aiming for the heart. That way the venom will instantly spread throughout his entire system. We・ll see how fast he can recover from that.・

All five set to work, as white strode off determinedly. He had learned a hard lesson today. He would not underestimate this enemy again.


Logan tore through the thick underbrush, not really caring how much noise that he was making. Right now he was trying to achieve speed, not stealth. He could smell his pursuers, less than fifty paces behind him and closing fast. Logan・s vision was beginning to clear finally, but everything was still doubled.

Suddenly, a black-clad man crashed through the brush on his left. Logan immediately dove behind a tree, as the man emptied his clip in the x-man・s direction. Logan listened carefully for the click that signified that his new attacker had gone for another clip. Logan didn・t waste this particular opportunity. He rounded the tree and was on the man in a flash. It only took his assailant a moment to recover from his surprise. With a quick twist he managed to slip away from Wolverine・s grasp and backed up a few paces, drawing a wicked looking knife as he did. Logan feinted a few times, but the man held his defensive position.

Logan growled ferally, hoping that it would unnerve the other man just a bit. He was quickly running out of time. The X-man decided on a full attack and charged his enemy with every once of speed that he could muster. The black-clad man simply positioned him-self so that Logan would slam full-force onto the knife. Logan winced only slightly as he felt the knife cut cleanly through his skin and penetrate his liver. Logan brought his claws through in a clean cross that slashed right through the man・s kevlar vest.

The X-man stumbled away from the now dead body. He hated to kill. From his experience, it always came back to haunt you in some way or another. He braced himself as he yanked the knife out of his gut and then quickly put his hand over the gash to try to slow the flow of blood. This wasn・t working the way that he had wanted. He was supposed to be healing from wounds, not gaining new ones.

Logan, however, had no more time for introspection as another four shadowed forms came running through the brush behind him. Logan hit the ground, as a dozen or more bullets flew over his head. He carefully made his way along the ground, hoping that the mist and vegetation would give him enough cover to make it to something a little more substantial. The bullets were hitting closer and closer to him with each passing second.

Suddenly, the hail of lead ceased. Logan risked an upward glance to see that three new men had joined the group. Logan had to swallow a grunt of surprise as he recognized the foremost as Gambit・s friend from Harry・ Hide-a-Way. He was obviously the man in charge of this merry little party. The scent of those around him held a definite subordinate tint.

・You can・t escape,・ it was Gambit・s friend that was talking. He paused to wait for an answer that didn・t come before continuing. ・Surrender yourself to us and I can guarantee that the rest of your experience will be considerably more pleasant than it has been thus far.・ There was another four-second pause. ・This is a generous offer that I am normally not inclined to make.・ Again he waited for a response that didn・t come.

While his cohorts tensed and readied themselves for action the man sighed and actually gave off the scent of one resigned to a rather unpleasant task. Logan wasn・t fooled. Psychological games never worked very well against him. Mainly, because he was too crazy to be intimidated, even when he should have been.

・I would suggest that you take advantage of my unusual good humor and stand up slowly, with your hands where we can see them.・

・Go screw yourself!・ Logan finally growled back, his anger mounting. Suddenly, Logan realized his mistake. He must have lost so much blood that he was no longer thinking strait. He had just given away his position by foolishly responding to the other man・s taunts.

The mercenaries opened fire once again. This time, however, their shots didn・t fly over and around him, but struck home with destructive precision. Logan could feel his lungs being shredded to pieces by lead and his own bone fragments. Blood poured freely from dozens of wounds that now covered his body. He was having trouble keeping his head clear now. He had already lost so much blood that he felt light-headed. Darkness was closing in on him and he didn・t feel his body anymore.

The gunfire had stopped now, but Logan hardly noticed. He could sense the men advancing on him again, but was helpless to do anything about it. He opened his eyes to see the leader and another man with a high-powered rifle standing over him. Even in his present state, Logan could see the surprise clearly written on their faces.

・-He・s still alive-・

・-Not bloody human I tell you-・

・-Doesn・t matter-・

・-Didn・t get paid ・nuff for this one-・

・-He・s starting to move again-

・-Nash, but a dart in his heart-・

・-For all the bloody good that will do-・

Logan could see one of the shapes above him take something off of its shoulder and extend it towards him. He heard the sound of air rushing and then blackness engulfed him.


Remy had debated about it for almost eight minutes before he finally turned his bike around and began to back track the road in an attempt to find Wolverine. What had finally decided to matter for him was the fact that the other X-man was so honorable that he wouldn・t stoop to cheap tricks to win a bet. That was just one of the many differences between the two of them.

Gambit pulled over to the side of the road as his headlight illuminated the familiar outline of Wolverine・s Harley. He was slowly growing more and more suspicious. For a brief moment Remy let his sense of spatial awareness scan the surrounding area. However, all that he could pick up where the trees and if Logan was hiding somewhere in there not even he was likely to find the man if he didn・t want to be found.

Remy sighed as he walked over to Wolverine・s abandoned bike. Why was it that the x-men could never just have a normal quiet night out? It always seemed to involve getting attacked by the Juggernaut or being transported to the other end of the Galaxy or what not. Now Wolverine was missing in action or off on another one of his anx-ridden self-examination sessions. Still, he was curious as to why his fellow X-man would have just left his bike on the road like this. Maybe it was out of gas.

Following on that curiosity, Remy twisted off the gas cap to check if the bike was out of fuel. The smell that wafted up from the gas tank sent warning bell ringing in his head. Fuel drain, the substance had a scientific name, but he and anyone else who had ever used the stuff knew it better by its more common appellate. It was an interesting little chemical that when mix with any type of petroleum based product became undetectable to all but the most thorough examinations. The compound stayed dormant until the fuel was heated beyond a certain temperature. Then it began a series of chemical reactions the rendered the fuel as combustible as water. The engine would then flood, choke, and die. After it had reacted with the fuel it gave off a strong odor like rotted fruits. Terrorists loved the stuff. They enjoyed using it to bring down planes at major airports.

Remy frowned thoughtfully. Fuel drain was a well monitored substance and extremely hard to acquire. Remy only knew a handful of people that would have any kind of access to it. His frown turned into a scowl. One of those people was a certain Mr. White that he just happened to have spotted that night. That was too large of a coincidence.

Remy hurried back to his bike. He had to tell the rest of the X-men. Wolverine was in terrible danger.


Part 3

1942
England:

The man who called himself Logan viewed the area around him from his seat with no small amount of disdain. Here he was, prepared to join a team of crack soldiers in a highly sensitive covert action, and all that they had given them for training facilities was a burnt-out empty field with a few ragged tents set up in a haphazard fashion. From what he could tell, the field had apparently been part of a farm at one time or another. The burnt frames of what seemed to be a barn in the distance confirmed that hypothesis at least. However, German bombers had long since erased any traces of human habitation from the now desolate grounds. Even though it had happened years ago, the smell of death still assaulted his nostrils strongly.

・They・re really sparin・ no expense for us are they,・ Logan commented dryly to the soldier behind the wheel of the old worn-out transport jeep that they were riding in.

The soldier just shrugged and made a non-committal sound. More likely than not he had been instructed not to converse with his present passenger. They had both been in the vehicle together for over four hours now and the man had never said anything more than two word phrases. Even his scent bore a professionally indifferent attitude. The kind when a man really doesn・t want to remember you. It was that scent that got on his nerves more than the silence.

Logan grabbed his bag as the jeep slowed to a stop. He could already see a few other soldiers walking towards him, obviously the welcome committee. Logan turned to look at his travel companion as he jumped lightly out of the passenger seat. ・Thanks for the company,・ he commented sarcastically.

Neither the man・s scent or gaze faltered a fraction as he continued to stare directly in front of him. ・I have never met you, nor have you met me. I am completely unaware of the existence of this facility, or the personnel on these grounds. They don・t exist. Have a nice life.・ The man didn・t say another word as he put the vehicle in gear and pulled off in a cloud of dust and ash.

・Nice guy,・ Logan commented to himself as his eyes followed the dust trail for a few brief moments. He then put all thought of the other soldier away as he turned to face the approaching officers. Logan went rigged and brought his hand to his forehead in a sharp salute. ・Sergeant Logan Mathisen reporting for duty.・

The officer returned his salute. ・At ease soldier.・ The other man seemed to examine him from head to toe with just a flicker of his eyes. ・I・m Lieutenant Wilcox, and this,・ he indicated the other two men beside him, ・is Colonel Griffith and Baker. We will be your commanding officers until such time when it shall be declared to you otherwise.・

Logan took a moment of his own to examine the three men in front of him. Wilcox was a tall man with a hard unchanging face. He looked to be somewhere in his forties, but Logan could tell by his scent that he was only in his late thirties. The war had obviously aged him somewhat. However, despite a mostly bald head and slightly protruding gut the man retained all the force and power that he had obtained in the prime of his life. Logan found himself respecting the man already. The two Colonels were another matter. They both smelled and looked considerably younger. Griffith was a head taller than Baker, who was barely taller than Logan himself. Both men wore their hair short, in the standard military buzz style. Logan could tell clearly by scent and sight who it was that commanded here.

・Colonel Griffith will show you to your quarters,・ The Lieutenant・s voice interrupted Logan・s thought. ・After you have stowed your gear, report to meeting hall for debriefing.・

・Meeting hall, sir?・ Logan・s voice held more than a touch of amusement at hearing a tent referred to as ・the meeting hall・. ・And which tent would that be, sir?・

The Lieutenant eyed him stoically for a moment. Then he pointed to a small tent towards the other end of the field. ・In your quarters, you・ll find a Sergeant Brett Chancer. He・s your buddy.・

・Buddy?・

・For this mission, everyone in the company will work in a two man group. You will normally remain in contact with your field leader and stay under his command. However, due to the nature of the mission, at times the company will be deployed over vast areas and interaction between the entire group will not be possible. In those situations it will just be you with your buddy to watch your back.・ Wilcox didn・t wait to see if Logan had any more questions. ・Now stow your gear and get to the meeting hall.・

Logan nodded in understanding. The system made sense. Logan stooped to pick up his bag and fell in behind Colonel Griffith. As he walked he reflected over what he had already been told, which, was practically nothing. All he knew was that it would be an extremely difficult mission, one that would require some specialized training before they embarked, and that he would be a part of a team of nine other highly trained operatives. All in all, Logan was liking this mission less every second.

Griffith directed him to a small line of tents, which served as a makeshift barracks. ・This will be your assigned sleeping quarters, when you actually get to sleep.・ Logan raised a questioning eyebrow and the Colonel hurried to add. ・Don・t worry. You・ll be no good to us if you go crazy from sleep deprivation.・

Not exactly a comforting reassurance but Logan would have to be satisfied. ・If that is all, I will meet you at the debriefing hall in a few minutes.・ Griffith gave a sharp salute, which Logan returned before parting.

Logan poked his head inside the indicated tent for a brief assessment. It wasn・t as bad as he had been expecting. The dirt ground was fairly well packed down, so he didn・t have to worry about kicking up dust all the time. The four cots that lined the inside of the tent were in decent repair and each one had mattresses. The standard issue blankets looked like they had seen better days but were still surprisingly thick and warm. The air even smelled clean, a great blessing to his sensitive nose, instead of carrying the scents of urine and sweat.

Logan noticed a large man sitting on one of the cots in the process of shining his boots. He was tall and quite broad and wore his pale yellow hair shaved close to his head. The other man・s head rotated on a massively thick neck to look up at who had entered. A small grim smile played on his lips when their eves met.

・You must be Mathisen,・ the man stood and extended his hand, which Logan excepted. ・I・m Sergeant Brett Chancer, your buddy.・ That last part he said with a slight quirk to his lips.

・Nice to meet you,・ Logan mumbled as he made his way towards one of the cots.

・The one on the far end is yours,・ Chancer added as he turned back to his shoe polishing. ・Adams and Vanhorn have already claimed the other two.・

Logan grunted in acknowledgement as he tossed his bag on the appropriate cot. ・Lieutenant Wilcox said that there would be some sort of debriefing as soon as I got my stuff squared away.・ He glanced at Chancer trying to gauge some sort of reaction from him. ・Is that when we find out what this mission is all about?・

The man, however, simply continued brushing his boot. ・You know as much as I do.・ Appearing satisfied with the boot he set it down, picked up its companion and began brushing again. ・For all I know, they could be planning to send us to take out Hitler himself.・

Logan snorted at that, this war was complicated by far too many political factors to allow a solution as the one Chancer presented. To bad that they couldn・t just make a great big bomb or something to take everything out. Then again, Logan shuddered at the idea of any government with a weapon of that magnitude.

Logan looked up as another two men entered the tent. The first one glanced at him briefly then looked over at Chancer. ・Hey Chancer, how long are you going to sit there and brush those stupid boots. No matter how pretty and shiny they look, they will never make up for your ugly face.・

Chancer glared at the other man and Logan could smell the tension between the two. ・I prefer to find useful things to do with my time Vanhorn, instead of bragging about stories and conspiracies that no one believes.・

Vanhorn・s face darkened and Logan could smell the anger coming off of him in waves. ・Just like a stupid sheep to the slaughter, never once looking at the truth right in front of you.・

At this time the other man moved to intervene. ・Stand down, both of you. We don・t have time for another one of you childish arguments right now.・ He paused a moment while both men continued to eye each other with barely contained wrath. ・Besides, right now we all need to assemble for our first debriefing.・

Logan could still smell the anger and tension between the two men but they didn・t say another word to each other. Vanhorn simply turned and walked out of the tent. A few moments later Chancer left the tent as well, but headed in an entirely different direction.

The other man that had entered with Vanhorn sighed as he sat down on his cot. ・The three of us arrived in the same transport and for some reason those two immediately took a disliking to each other. I had to listen to them the entire trip.・ He shook his head with an exasperated grunt. Then looked back at Logan. ・Name・s Mclenn, Steve Mclenn.・

Logan accepted the man・s outstretched hand. ・Logan Mathisen.・ Logan took a moment to examine the other man. He was about as tall as Chancer, but not nearly as broad. He definitely had more of a lean build to him. His hair was dark and though he wore it short, it wasn・t nearly as short as Vanhorn and Chancer・s had been.

・Well Mathisen,・ Mclenn said standing back up, ・Why don・t we find out what this is all about.・

・Sounds good to me,・ Logan agreed as he followed Mclenn out of the tent.

By the time they arrived at the Briefing Tent, most of the other soldiers were already assembled. Mclenn pointed each one of them out to him and told him their names. ・That・s Lawrence Hopps,・ Mclenn indicated a tall gangly looking soldier with dark hair and eyes. ・He・ll be our Field Commander.・ Mclenn indicated another soldier that was barely taller than Logan. ・That・s Rick Adams, he・s Vanhorn・s assigned partner and pretty much the only one who can stand listening to all of his conspiracy tales. Next we have Ryan Shipper, Rungo George, Gabriel Lander,・ Mclenn paused a moment before adding, ・Don・t ever mention anything about long-hairs around him or you・ll spend the next two hours listening to him talk about his girlfriend, Shyla.・ Logan nodded his head in agreement. ・And, last but not least, Robert Venuti.・

Logan nodded at the head count. He was going to have to know these men well. More likely than not they were going to be dying together. The entire company of soldiers went to rigid attention as Wilcox entered the room followed by Baker and Griffith.

・At ease,・ the Lieutenant said after he had taken his place behind a large desk. ・First off, I would like to commend each one of you. This team is composed of only the best of the best. If you・re here it means that you are a part of the top of what the military has to offer.・ The Lieutenant paused for a moment to let the statement sink in. ・As such, you will have to prove yourselves during your next two months here. You will be submitted to a demanding training routine that will very likely test the limits of your physical endurance. But, without this training, it is unlikely that you will be able to survive to complete the mission that lays before you.・

A slight murmur ran through the line at that comment and Logan could smell curiosity mixed with apprehension wafting up from the soldiers. The Lieutenant waited a moment for the murmuring to cease before continuing. ・Colonel Griffith will be your morning instructor. From o-four-hundred hours until twelve-hundred hours, your butts are his.・ If possible, Griffith straightened slightly at the comment. The man was already stiff enough that he seemed to be made of wood. ・Colonel Baker will be your nighttime instructor.・ Baker shot them a wicked grin. ・From twelve-hundred hours to twenty-two hundred hours you belong to him.・

・Now,・ the Lieutenant surveyed the room, seeming to weigh every one of them, ・I will debrief you on the mission objectives.・ He turned to Griffith, ・Lights Colonel.・

As Griffith snuffed the few flickering lanterns that dotted the room, Baker set up some sort of projector from the other corner of the tent. A large image appeared on the tent wall next to where Wilcox stood. It appeared to be a map of some sort.

・Before the Nazi party came to party in Germany, and a good deal of Europe, a great deal of immigrants who, sensing the changing climate, left for America in search of tolerance and freedom. Among these immigrants were several scientist and physicist who have proven most helpful to our cause.・ Wilcox paused before continuing. ・However, not all of these scientist were so fortunate, and now many of them are in forced labor camps and some are even lending the aid of there minds to the enemy.・

Wilcox indicated a point on the map before continuing. ・Our intelligence has managed to locate a small group of these scientist here, just north of Italy. They are currently involved in a project which, if successful, would be disasterous to the Allies.・ He turned to pin them all with an iron glare. ・These men are your objectives.・

The Lieutenant let that sink in a little before he continued. ・For now, that is all that I can tell you. You will be further debriefed on the successful completion of your training.・

Surprised murmurs met that statement. Inwardly, Logan groaned. The mission was everything that he feared it would be. An incursion into hostile territory to recover who knew how many hostages from an enemy fortress.

・But sir,・ that was Hopps that was speaking now, ・can you even tell us anything about the mode of extraction for the hostages?・

Wilcox eyed Hopps carefully before responding. ・This is not an extraction mission soldier.・ His voice was as cold as ice. ・It・s an search and destroy.・


Part 4

Clouds had been gathering outside for quite some time now. They bore the promise of a spectacular storm within a few hours. Storms meant strong winds and in this the northeast section of Italy where the frigid bora winds had developed into legend those winds could mean a lot of things in and of themselves. For the man who studied the spectacle of nature with a detached interest from his study window the message was not wasted. Man could play at ruling the elements all he wanted, but he was not and never would be the master.

The man allowed a smile, but no warmth, touch his lips. It was fitting, in a way, that the weather would choose such a day as this to unleash its violence. A storm of another making had been building for quite sometime and today would see its long overdue release as well. And the portents of this storm, complete destruction, or complete vindication. There could be no middle ground.

The man allowed his attention to shift from the forces outside to the faint reflection that stared at him from the glass. Eyes that glowed with an unnatural power met his own in the dark glass. Deep ugly scars made a criss-cross pattern over the left side of his face, extending from his jaw to just below his eye. The man brought his right hand to his face to feel the scars briefly. He could have rid himself of their presence long ago, but they had served him well over several years as a focus for his determination and a reminder of his rage. Once the storm had broken he would remove the scar. But, until then, they were too valuable to him.

The man sensed one of his servants moving down the hall towards the study. He sensed the man's movements and, to his surprise, fear. It was the later that always confused him when he sensed it in his servants. The average man would have a great deal to fear from one such as him, but didn't these fools realize that as his servants they were immortal, superior, and thus had nothing to fear. It was a reverie for another time as the servant entered the study. It was obvious that he had a message to deliver and equally obvious that he was reluctant to deliver it.

"Master Fallon," the servant said after some time, "I have just received an update from Mr. White."

"Yes?"

The man paused again. He was clearly agitated, more so than usual today. "Mr. White respectfully asks that an additional thirty percent be added to his fee as he encountered unforeseen expenses."

The man called Fallon wasn't sure if he felt amused contempt for Mr. White's pathetic antics or outraged at his open defiance. Money, however, was not a great issue to him. "Very well Professor Bressan. Give the man his worthless money. Just ensure that we receive our "purchase" in prime condition."

"Very well sir. Mr. White's jet should reach Monfalcone in about fifteen minutes. However," more nervous hesitation, by the heavens something had taken the man today, "if the storm does not abate, it could be another two hours before they could effect a landing."

An ironic grunt escaped Fallon's lips. Yes, man could play at being the ruler all he wanted. "I understand Bressan." He turned to stare at the other man for a brief moment, a cold smile on his face. "I have waited over fifty years for my vengeance. I can wait a few more hours."

Fallon turned to his contemplation of the window once again, effectively dismissing the other man. Bressan, however, waited on. Finally, after a long uncomfortable silence Fallon spoke. "What is it Bressan?"

Bressan seemed to gather his courage. For when he spoke this time, it was with resolve. "When this matter is complete, will you finally release us to our rest?"

Fallon turned and looked at the man in open shock. "Release you? Is that how you see this? As imprisonment?"

"How should we see it master?"

"As a gift," Fallon's tone hardened as his amazement faded to anger. "A gift for which any other man would gladly give his most precious possessions."

"We never asked for your gift, master."

"But it was given none-the-less," Fallon's anger was building slowly. Didn't these men understand what he had done for them? "And one day you shall thank me for it. For now, I want to hear nothing more mentioned in conjunction with the subject. Is that understood?"

"Perfectly, master," Bressan responded coolly. "By your leave." Fallon ignored the faint mocking tone and nodded his head in dismissal. Bressan quickly exited the study to leave him to his quiet contemplation once again.

The clouds continued to darken and gather outside the window. Fallon smiled once again. Soon, very soon, the storm would break, and all in its path would be destroyed.


Logan slowly pulled himself out of a drug-induced sleep. His head still throbbed and his entire body still hurt, but he could feel that his wounds had healed. That was always one of the down points of his healing factor. He couldn't even take an aspirin for pain because his mutant power would just counter-act it. There was never anything to do but sit back and suffer until his body finished mending itself.

Logan opened his eyes slowly and winced as fluorescent lights penetrated them. The area around him smelled sterile, almost like a hospital, but not quite. He could also feel movement, as if they were in a plane or some sort of vehicle. He was also able to make out five or six men scurrying about their tasks. Logan attempted to move, only to find that he was strapped in place by some sort of restraining gear. Two huge metal cylinders encased his hands and held him upright. Two more cylinders encased his legs below the knees and were embedded in the floor.

One of the men suddenly noticed that he was awake and signaled to the others around him. There was brief scurry of activity and then the group of men parted as the dark-haired man that Gambit had spotted in the bar stepped forward.

The man eyed Logan for a moment as if he was some sort of mounted animal taken down in a safari outing. "I definitely earned my pay on you, my friend."

Logan couldn't help the low growl that escaped his throat. The man smelled so pleased with himself. Logan felt the almost over-whelming urge to deflate his ego a bit by taking a bite out of it. "I'd be real scared if I was you bub. I'm the proverbial hot potato, and you're about ta' get yer' hands burnt."

The man's scent didn't change a fraction and, if anything, his smile became even smugger. "Not to worry, my feral friend. I won't be keeping you for very long. My hands are quite important to my line of work and I can't afford to have them burnt."

"Don't think that gettin rid of me is that easy. I always come back ta' bite when least expected," the man seemed unimpressed. So, Logan decided to up the stakes a little bit. "Two, maybe three days tops, and the X-men are going to be all over you."

The man turned away and began to walk off. His scent was still laced with confidence. "Your mutant friends don't even have the slightest clue as to where they need to began looking for you."

"That's not what the Cajun said. He recognized you from the bar," The man whirled around at that. His scent was now filled with apprehension and surprise. "Didn't do anything because of his stupid thieves code and ya' didn't seem to be up ta' anything."

Logan leveled a cool gaze at the other man. "The boy can be pretty stupid at times, but how long do you think its goin' ta' take him ta' put two an' two together?"

The man studied him for a moment longer, his face and scent like steel. Then, abruptly, both changed as a grin broke out on his face and relief in his scent. "You bluff well Logan. But your hand is still empty. I know it and you know it."

Logan smiled grimly. "Just keep thinkin' that, bub. It'll make it all the more satisfyin' when I hand your lungs back to ya'."

The man waved his hand dismissivelly. "Enough of this nonsense. We will be landing soon and I want to make the transaction as swiftly an smoothly as possible." As he walked off he shot back over his shoulder, "If he gives you any trouble, use more sedative on him."

As much as he hated to admit it, even to himself, the man was right. Right now his hand was empty. His only real options were to wait and see what it was that his mysterious captures wanted and hope that the X-men were somehow going to figure out what had happened and track him down again. Logan sighed. They weren't the best options, but they were all that he had for right now.

Logan felt the plane that they were in drop and slow down. By the feel of the motion, it was some sort of vertical take-off and landing craft. There weren't any windows in the area where he was being held prisoner. So, he had no clue as to where he could be at the present moment. The only thing that he knew was that there was a large storm brewing outside the plane. He could smell it.

The X-man felt the telltale bump that said the craft was settling on its landing gear. He heard the engines' hum soften as the throttle was cut back. Apparently they had reached their destination. Where ever that was. Logan tested his restraints briefly to avoid attracting the attention of the guard. They were solid. The metal wasn't an adimantium ally but seeing as his claws weren't either, they were more than sufficient to hold him.

The door to the cargo bay swung open and two of the mercenaries immediately jumped through the opening and out of his line of sight. Logan could hear the sounds of booted feet making its way towards the plane. He strained his ears to hear the words exchanged between the men and managed to catch a fraction.

"...see you managed to make it back in one piece..."

"...Still think you guys have a death wish wanting to mess with this guy..."

"...had some experience in dealing with him in the past..."

"...do you have the money..."

"...right here, but we want to see the merchandise first..."

"...fine, he's in here, but be careful..."

"...still afraid of the guy even in chains..."

"...you didn't see him out there...he is psycho...you got our extra thirty percent, right..."

"...relax, your money's right here...you can go out and blow it all on long-hairs..."

Logan froze. It couldn't be. But that expression, the scent he could now detect, and the sight of the man that followed it all confirmed the impossible to him. "Mclenn," Logan whispered hoarsely.

Mclenn grinned broadly as he stepped into the cargo bay. "Miss me sweaty?" This wasn't possible. Mclenn had been dead for more than fifty years. But here he was. The same soldier that Logan had fought along side in World War II and not a day older from that time. He was even wearing the same military fatigues that they had used on that fateful mission together.

"You're dead," Logan gasped.

"Oh, really?" Logan had to keep his eyes from bulging as Vanhorn stepped in behind Mclenn. "The government told you that, didn't they. And you trusted them, didn't you. Well, I guess that you would, seeing as it was you that left us behind to die now wasn't it?"

"No," This was too much. Logan shook his head as if that could dislodge something from his sight and hearing which was causing them to go haywire like this. His head was pounding now and for the first time in a long time, Logan felt fear.

"Logan Logan Logan," Mclenn was talking again now. "Come on now. It's not that bad. Don't you remember all the good times we had together?" Logan looked up at Mclenn, his mind racing. "That reminds me, I owe you something."

Without further warning Mclenn threw a vicious left jab to Logan's cheek. The X-man tried to roll with the punch as much as possible, but he felt a cheek bone fracture painfully. Mclenn then reached out and grabbed a handful of Logan's hair.

"And what is with this hair Logan? Did you misplace your standard issue scissors and razor? This can't be a regulation cut." Mclenn's grip tightened painfully. "But, you know what they say..." Mclenn's hand forced his upper body down while his knee drove hard into Logan's chest. Logan gasped as he heard and felt ribs snapping. "...when you break regulations, you only hurt yourself."

"That's enough," Vanhorn's harsh voice cracked like a whip. "We'll have time for fun and games later, when the others are here."

"Others," Logan managed to gasp between coughing and spitting blood.

"That's right, Loganator," Mclenn had that big grin on his face again. "Chancer, Hopps, Venuti, the whole gang is back together again." Mclenn's face became suddenly grim. "Everyone you let die."

"So, this is all about vengeance then?" His ribs had already managed to knit back in place, but his chest still felt like it was on fire.

Mclenn gave a short bark of laughter. "No Logan, this is about justice."

Logan just stared back at him. "You see Logan," Vanhorn was talking now. "You did some very nasty thing. Things that would be considered illegal in any court despite the WarTime circumstances. But the government covered the whole thing up, they always do, and you got off Scott-free." Vanhorn's scent was full of rage even though his face showed no emotion. "Well, the governments lies stop here and now. The truth if finally going to come out."

"Gentlemen, this is truly a touching reunion," Vanhorn and Mclenn's head whipped around to see Gambit's friend walking towards them, "but if you will simply give me the money, I will give you the prisoner and you can continue this moving scene in a more suitable location."

Mclenn nodded to Vanhorn who placed a large briefcase on a nearby table. The Briefcase opened to reveal neat rows of bill in various currencies. "Mr. White, Thirty-million in various European and American currencies. Plus, an extra three million for your difficulties and unforeseen expenses."

Logan barked a ragged laugh, "Kid, you didn't do your homework very well. Clan Toshidan has had a price of forty million in any currency ya want for the past two years. They ripped ya' kid." Logan continued to let out a ragged mocking laugh.

Mr. White just stared at him for a moment. His face was cool calm, but his scent revealed a war of conflicting emotions. Finally he turned to Mclenn and Vanhorn. "Do you mind?" He said indicating Logan.

Mclenn smiled in return. "Be my guest."

"Thank you," and with that Mr. White drew a small handgun equipped with a silencer out of his coat. He leveled the gun at Logan's throat and pulled the trigger.

Logan reeled back from the force of the blast as the bullet tore its way through his esophagus. Blood filled his throat and he found that he could not breathe. His healing factor immediately went into action to repair the damage, but he was already blacking out due to lack of air. The last thing he heard as he dropped into blackness was the sounds of White's voice saying. "You know, that was kind of fun."


The gravel crunched under Scott Summers booted foot and Scott cursed himself silently for making so much noise. For the past year he had been observing the way that Psylocke and Gambit walked without making noise and had been incorporating what he had learned from observation into his own skills. As always, he had been a fast and able learner, but even now it was more natural to him to use a bold straight-forward gait, walking more on the heal instead of the ball of the foot.

Scott shifted his balance slightly and continued walking, gratified that he was now making no discernible noised. He let his gaze pass over the scene in front of him once again, hoping to find some detail that he had missed the previous times. Hank and Bishop were deployed out in the forest were the trail of Logan's blood had lead them. Gambit was by the side of the road, carefully dusting Logan's Harley for fingerprints and otherwise inspecting it for clues. Jean stood by his side, physically anyway. Her mind was spread out across a thirty meter radius searching desperately for some clue to Logan's location.

Scott gave his wife's hand a quick squeeze to reassure her. She smiled back at him in way that showed she understood that it was to reassure himself as much as her. Just the physical touch of her hand seemed to give him strength. At times he didn't know how he would have survived the many hardships in his life without this wonderful women's support. He had definitely married above himself.

Out of the corner of his eye he saw Gambit stand and begin moving towards them. He gave Jean's hand one last squeeze and turned to face the other X-man. "Find anything?"

Gambit's eyes didn't quite meet his own. "Non. It be a slick job. Who ever be de body t'at did t'is is a professional."

Scott tried to keep his growing concern in check, knowing that it would feed back to Jean and cause her to worry even more. Ever since Gambit had arrived at the mansion early this morning with the news that Logan was in some sort of dire circumstances everyone had been on edge. The one gratifying aspect of the entire situation had been the quick and decisive way that the X-men had responded to the emergency. Scott smiled sadly, Xavier would have been proud. Psylocke, Storm, and Cannonball had immediately started a search using Cerebro to scan for Logan's genetic signature. He, Jean, Bishop, and Hank had followed Gambit back to the spot were Logan's Harley had been left. They had found signs of some sort of a struggle but, unfortunately, little else. For all they knew, Logan very easily could have escaped his would-be captors and was now licking his wounds is some bar with a long-necked bottle for company.

Scott's thoughts were interrupted by a rustling sound in the woods that eventually formed into Hank and Bishop. He waited for the two of them to reach him before he asked the question to which he already knew the answer. "Do you know which way he went?"

The ever stoic Bishop simply shook his head. It was Hank who elaborated. "The trail continued on for about a mile. Then there seems to have been some sort of struggle. We found tracks of at least six or seven men converging on his trail." Hank shot a hesitant glance at Jean before continuing. "The area was pretty badly chewed up. Whoever they were, they were packing a lot of ordinance. And we found another one of these." He displayed a wicked looking dart. "It to is tipped with a rather nasty fast-acting neuro-toxin. The kind that acts faster than nerve endings can send messages. It kills normal people before they know that they've been hit. Just slightly less toxic than those cigars he favors."

Scott smiled grimly at Hank's attempt at humor. "Logan is many things. Normal is not one of them."

"That, of coarse, is a matter of documented fact," Beast grinned back wearily. "However, this kind of a poison dangerous, if not lethal even to a man of Logan's unique abilities. In conjunction with the amount of lead they obviously put in him it could be enough to bring him down."

Scott closed his eyes tightly to fight down his rising emotions. He couldn't accept the idea that Logan was dead. The man always found a way to survive, always.

"Scott?" He could hear the concern in his wife's voice and as he opened his eyes he could see the unshed tears glistening in her eyes.

Grab a hold of yourself man, he berated himself silently. He was no good to the team like this. He turned back to Gambit. "Are you sure that you didn't here gunfire or something?"

Gambit Just shook his head. "Non, when ya' right on top of a one-t'ousand cc engine wit' de t'rottle wide open, its kinda' hard to here anyt'ing else."

"After the struggle, all the separate trails scatter, they double-over, make false trails, and in general make it impossible to track anything." Hank hung his head. "These guys are good. They didn't leave us anything to go on."

Silence hung in the air for a moment before Gambit finally spoke hesitantly. "Non, t'ey left us one good t'ing to go on."

Everyone listened in stunned silence while Gambit described his encounter with Mr. White that evening and then proceeded to relate a great deal of information about the man. Scott had to restrain himself from berating Gambit for not taking actions to restrain such an obviously dangerous man. Well, what was done was done. Right now they needed solutions and pointing fingers wasn't going to help them any in that regard.

Stunned silence met the end of Gambit's speech. "Gambit, do you think that you can locate this Mr. White?" Scott finally said.

"Oui," came the reply. "Wouldn't have mentioned it if I didn't t'ink I could."

"Good, let's get back to the mansion and regroup. We have work to do." Scott just hoped that they were going to be in time to help Logan.


Part 5

The North Adriatic Sea
1942

Logan shifted once again in a vain attempt to find a comfortable position. After a few moments of restless movement, he settled down, resigned to his continued discomfort. In the dim light that filtered in from a few cracks in the overhead, he could see that his teammates weren't faring much better than he. Vanhorn was absentmindedly stroking his gun while a grim scent, laced with the stench of sweat and dirt leaked from his body. The same scent was reflected in every other member of the team.

Logan heard a shuffling sound next to him and knew that it was Chancer. Logan could only shake his head as he watched the man sleep peacefully. Of all of them, Chancer could drop off into a peacefully slumber the easiest and quickest. The conditions didn't seem to matter either. Whether it was a bed, transport vehicle, or even a makeshift spot in the trenches, he could be out in less than a minute and often was. It was a talent that had gotten him into trouble several times with Griffith and Baker.

Logan leaned his head back against the cool metal wall, closed his eyes, and tried not to groan at the memory of his time with those two. Griffith hadn't seemed to have a single human trait and had drivenly as coldly as an unfeeling machine. Baker, on the other hand, had been a twisted little psychopath who seemed to feed on the pain and suffering of others. Logan had wondered idly a few times if there job had been to make their lifes such a living hell that they would view death with a degree of welcome.

The scenarios that they had been forced to run had been far from conforting as well. Most involved them being heavily outnumbered and poorly supplied as well. And in more than half of them, everyone had been killed before the objective had been completed. Even the scenerios that they had successfully completed had destroyed over half of the team. The message had been obvious to them all. Most, if not all, of the team was going to die.

The sound of footsteps above him pulled Logan out of his reverie. He heard the sounds of a few voices, muted somewhat by the foot of steel and would between them, going back in forth in rapid Sicilian dialect. The crew of the ship was made up of a group of Sicilians that had all imigrated to the States over ten years ago. They had been dug up for this mission and Logan was highly dubious of them. He didn't question their loyalty, their hatred of Mussolini was greater than his own, it was their competence that raised his eyebrow on occasion. They could speak their own dialect, but George spoke better Italion than they did. Logan shook his head as if to attempt to dislodge his worries. There was no point in worrying about something that he couldn't control.

Logan sensed movement off to his left which resolved itself into Hopps. He was standing now, but with a slight slump as the cargo area of the boat wasn't large enough to accomadate his tall frame. Logan bit back a quick smile. Hopps, Mclenn, and Chancer, the tallest three of them, had been hunched over the entire voyage. It was one of the few times in his life that Logan was grateful for the fact that he was short.

"Mathison, wake up Chancer," Hopps sounded like he was getting ready for one of his little pep-talks. "We need to reveiw our mission objectives."

Logan elbowed Chancer, who gave a small grunt and groggily opened his eyes. Once that Hopps was satisfied that he had everyone's attention he continued "Alright everyone. In a few more hours we will arrive at Monfalcone harbor. We're timed to arrive around nineteen-hundred hours, right when they will be closing down for the night. This is were we rely on the laziness of the average Italion soldier. They can't let our friends unload their shipment of lumber until the boat has been thoroughly searched. Of coarse, searching a boat like this will take a good hour or two. Most of them will be fairly eager to get back home for the night, so they will probably let us dock but not unload."

"That's what we're hoping fer anyway," Logan growled darkly.

Hopps paused for a second to pin him with a glare. "Yes, that's what we're hoping for. Then we just wait until twenty-four hundred hours and then slip out. Logan and Chancer will be on point, Vanhorn and Adams will bring up the rear."

Hopps gave them a look that said they had better listen to what he said next if nothing else. "We want a clean operation at this point. That means a zero body count. No guards disappear, no one gets suspicious." Hopps face then broke into one of his characteristic goofy grins. "You all know that we'll have plenty of opportunities to get our hands dirty later."

Logan snorted. That was an understatement if he ever heard one. They would be getting not only there hands but every other part of their body messy in this operation. Logan looked back up as Hopps continued. "Remember, the rendevoux location is the farmhouse that is aproximately three miles northwest of the city. Once we're all shoreside, we meet up there."

Logan tried not to show that the rheturic was getting on his nerves. They had been over this battle plan five times in the last two days. Every anomoly and contingency had already been taken into account. Every stradegy and technique had been discussed. In short, everything that you could talk about, they had talked about. Hopps, however, like every nervous and slightly underconfident leader, wanted to reasure himself with another recap. Logan had to admit, Hopps was an interesting choice for a field captain. One moment he would be riding them into the ground about not performing up to what he beleived they were capable of and the next moment he would throw his hands in the air in exasperation and say something about how he never wanted to be the field captain anyway and couldn't care less if their guts ended up decorating the fields.

Some of the others had questioned his ability as a field captain during their two months of training. Chancer secretly thought that he would have been the better choose and thought that no one knew what he thought. Vanhorn had struck sparks with him a few times as well, thought that was probably just because of Vanhorn's basic dislike of authority. Of course, Logan also thought, of all of them, he wouldn't have chosen another one of them to be the field captain. Hopps was the only one of them that had the true makings of a leader.

Logan's belief had been confirmed their second week in training. Some German Planes had broken through Allied defenses and had done a bombing raid over their campsite. Several men had been killed and Chancer had even been wounded. One sight had remained in Logan's mind above all others, however. While everyone else ran for cover, Hopps had merely stood, unruffled, in the middle of the field staring at the sky in defiance while the bombs exploded around him. In that moment, Logan had seen the markings of a true leader. One who would lead them, with himself at the forefront, down the very jaws of hell without flinching. It was then that Logan knew that they had picked the right man for the job.

The boat's sudden sway brought Logan's mind back to the present. He glanced around the cargo area again at the men who would probably die by his side in the next forty-eight hours. Their scents were hard, sharp, and determined. There was not even a hint of self-pity that his nose could detect. Logan glanced back down at his black military boots. They could all have been so much more if circumstances had just been different. If they hadn't screwed up and been sent on a suicide mission.

Logan closed his eyes and tried to get some rest. If only things had been different.


Darkness had already fallen by the time they reached Monfalcone harbor. There were still several people out and about. Logan's sensitive ears could pick out the sounds of indistinct chatter. He couldn't understand a word of it however.

"George', ya hear anything," Venuti whispered. George was the only one of them that understood and spoke Italian.

George held up his hand for silence as his brow knitted in concentration. After a moment, he let out a small frutrated sigh. "No, they're speaking the local dialect, Friuli or something. It's not close enough to Italian that I can make out what they're saying."

Hopps grunted but said nothing. They all knew that this was one of the more potentially disasterous points of the mission. A wrong move at this point could end the entire party right then and there. Thus, everyone was riding a little on edge.

The boat jarred as it brushed against the dock and then settled into place. There were footsteps, booted footsteps, heading towards the boat now. No one had to tell them who those footsteps belonged to. The steps finally came to a halt just by the side of the boat.

"Che nave e' questa'? Chi siete?" that was definately the voice of an officer in the military.

"Salve signori, cosa vi possiamo fare?" that was one of their Sicilian friends.

"Da dove venite? Cosa avete portato?"

"Beh, veniama dalla Sicilia.."

"Potrei indovinare quello dalla puzza. Cosa fate qua terroni?"

George suddenly winced and began chanting quietly, "Please, don't react, just ignore it, don't get mad, don't react, please don't call him a polentone..."

After what seemed like an eternity of silence the Sicilian finally replied, "Beh, abbiamo degli ordini. Siamo stati inpiegati di portare un muchio di legno qua a Monfalcone."

"Lasciami vedere quei ordini," came the reply.

Everyone looked expectantly at George. "They want to see his orders. They seem to be believing it so far," came the cautious reply.

Everyone tensed as they listened to the footsteps of one of the Sicilians taking the work orders to the officers. Those orders had been supplied by one of the more expensive contacts that the American government had with the the Mafia. He just hoped that all of the money that they paid for those false papers would be worth it. They were about to find out if they had been set up or if Mussolini had really begun to fall out of favor with the powers that be in Italy.

There were a few more moments of tense silence, then, finally, "Beh, stiamo per chiudere signori. Dovrete aspettare finche domani mattina di scaricare." That was followed by the sound of protesting Sicilian voices. George just slumped back in his seat and closed his eyes, visibly relaxed.

"They believed it," after a moment his eyes opened to give them a look of triumph. "They told our friends that they would have to wait until morning to unload, just as we planned. Right now they're arguing with the officials like any Sicilian would do so as not to look suspicious."

The tension seemed to evaporate out of the room. Logan could literally smell relief poring out of the other nine men. The plan, no matter how crazy it seemed, was working. The seeds of hope started grow a little inside each one of them. After all, they had made it through one critical point with no difficulties what-so-ever. Who was to say that the rest of the mission wouldn't go as smoothly. Maybe they would survive this suicide mission. Logan could almost see the wedding details form in Landen's mind as the man, for the first time, allowed himself to beleive that he would come back to his girl alive. Fate, however, had other plans in mind.

The Sicilians' protests were slowly fading, when one of them made a fatal error. "Non era cosi quando Io fece il mio servizio militare. Durante quei giorni, se un nave arrivaste anche dopo che fincantiere fu chiuso, avremmo dovuto cercarla lo stesso. Non avremmo supportare pigroni come tu. Avremmo..." The Sicilian cut off suddenly as he realized his mistake. George suddenly went ridged and a scent of fear and tension washed out from him.

George swore softly to himself. "We are in serious trouble."

"Why? What happened?" Hopps hissed.

George turned and looked at them, his eyes now filled with disbelief and terror. "He used tu form."

"What?!" that came from Venuti.

"It's the familiar form used between friends and family, Sicilians use it almost without thinking," George hurried to explain. "The thing is, Mussilini passed some crazy law that made it illegal to use anything but the respect form, voi. Its one of those laws that no one obeys unless they think they might get caught. But no one that has been living in Italy for the past four years would ever make the mistake of giving it to a soldier."

"Unless, they have been living outside of Italy while the law was in effect, and thus weren't use to it yet," Logan continued the thought as everything began to click. "And why would some one like that want to come up to Northern Italy on orders from the Italian government?"

"Exactly," George replied. He took a deep breath before saying, "Hopps, our cover is blown."

Hopps scent seemed to firm decisively. "Then we are going to carve an exit out of here." He turned to look at Logan and Chancer. "You two are still the point men. That means that you secure the door so the rest of us can get through. Once everyone is through, close up and follow in behind." He now stared at Landen and Mclenn. "You two will have to provide cover fire for us once we get on deck. Wait for Chancer and Mathison to fall in and then join up with us. If anyone gets seperated, remember the rendevous point."

Everyone nodded and began to prepare for the coming confrontation. Logan unharnessed his wrifle and took up position beside the door with Chancer. This whole operation was suddenly becoming a whole lot messier than any of them had expected. Logan settled down as he listened to the sounds of booted feet now covering the entire ship. The Sicilians were protesting agian, probably denying involvement with them as fast as their tongues could wag. The booted footsteps were coming closer now. He could smell the soldiers to whom they belonged. They were full of anticipation and bloodlust.They were almost at the hatch now. Logan glanced over at Chancer, who nodded in return.

In one quick motion, Logan threw open the cargo bay door, slamming it into the soldier that happened to be on the other side. In a flash, he and Chancer were through the door, both unleashing a spray of bullets. Several soldiers fell to the ground as the bullets tore thought their chests and heads. The remaining ones retreated back up the stairs while others still took cover behind the stacks of lumber that had been placed in the ship as part of its disguise.

Logan and Chancer both quickly took position behind lumber stacks as they continued to fire at the four or five remaining soldiers. Logan managed to spare a quick gesture to Hopps, signaling for them to go ahead and head for the deck. Hopps complied and soon the other eight, with Mclenn and Landen in the lead, were racing for the stairs, while he and Chancer provided cover fire.

There was a small explosion in front of him, sending wood chips flying past his face. One made a nasty gash above his right cheek. Logan shifted his grip on his gun so he could bring one hand to cover his face. The Italian soldiers were pinned, but they needed to get out of here before their enemies had time to regroup.

"Chancer!" Logan yelled over the din of gunfire. "Go, I'll cover, then close in!"

Chancer nodded and was off. Logan raised his gun to take a few more shots at the remaining soldiers, then he was off as well. Bullets zipped around him as he raced for the stair well. He felt a hot stab of pain as one of the shots grazed his arm. He didn't have to look to know that blood was already oozing from the gash. The stair were in front of him now and he just needed to make it a few more feet. A little pain wasn't going to stop him now.

On the deck he found Mclenn, Landen, and Chancer providing cover fire as the other six teammates managed to race off onto the docks. The bodies of their Sicilian allies littered the deck along with the bodies of German and Italian soldiers. He could hear more gunfire in the distance, and assumed that they were encountering resistance as well. Logan quickly joined the fray, taking out a soldier that had been aiming for Hopps head as he retreated. Logan heard more shots and turned to see another dozen soldiers in a dead run for the ship.

"Mclenn!" He called to the closest teammate. "We aren't going to be able to get out the way Hopps and the others got out!" Logan indicated the newly arriving troups with a gesture of his hand.

Mclenn nodded as he brought down another Italian. "Then we take the back door!" Mclenn took another couple of shots then made a running dive over the boat rail into the water. Landen only hesitated for a few seconds before following suite.

Logan looked over at Chancer, who was trying desperately to keep half a dozen soldiers pinned down on the fore-deck. "Let's move it Chancer!" he called out to the other man. Chancer took the hint and after one last burst from his gun, both men were running for the ship's rail. The enemy was really opening it up now as hot lead and death whirled around and past them.

They were only a few feet from the rail when the innevitable happened. Chancer was right in front of him, thus, Logan had a front-row view as three bullets simultanously struck his back and proceeded to tear out the front of his chest. Chancer stumbled, then fell to one knee, his blood foaming out of his own mouth. He looked down dumbly at his own ruined body, not quite comprehending that he was dead. His wrifle fell from his now numb fingers as his body finished slumping to the deck floor.

Logan didn't have the time to stay and mourn his team-mate's demise. With a running sprint, he dove over the edge of the rail and into the frigid waters below.


Logan padded quietly through the underbrush, making little if any noise. There wasn't any moon that night and the entire stretch of woodland was plunged into an almost impenetrable darkness. Logan continued to make his way along cautiously, knowing that at that moment there were more than a dozen men in close proximity that were searching for him. He could hear and smell enemy soldiers scouring the entire area. A couple had come fairly close to finding him a few times. He had stayed calm and, more importantly, still and thus, hadn't been detected, as of yet.

Logan crouched and held his position once again as he heard rustling sounds up in front of him. He tested the air to try to catch their scent, but unfortunately they were downwind of him and he couldn't really catch anything. Moving as quietly as he possibly could, Logan inched his way forward, slowly closing in on the sound. It was here, in the woods, that Logan truly felt in his element. He could sense the movement of then insects and animal life around him. He instinctively could feel his way through thick underbrush avoiding all of the dry leaves and twigs that would crack or snap, giving away his postion.

He heard the noise again, slightly off to his left this time, and moved into a position were he could catch the scent of his prey. He sniffed the air, straining his senses as far as he could to pick up every possible fragrance of the surrounding woods. An impish grin crossed his face as he recognized the two men that he had been tracking. Still moving with the silent ease of a predator, Logan moved forward into a small clearing to find Mclenn and Landen.

Landen wirled around with his wrifle raised as soon as he became aware of someone else in the clearing. Mclenn tensed but remained crouched on the ground.

"Easy easy, Landen. Its just me," Logan said soothingly.

Landen relaxed and lowered his gun as he recognized the intruder. The sweet smell of relief was coming off the man in waves. "Mathison, you made it. We though that you and Chancer... Well, you're here now, is Chancer with you?"

Logan shook his head sadly. "Chancer didn't make it off the boat."

From the ground were he was crouched, Mclenn swore softly. "Should have known it would have been Chancer who was the first to go. He always wanted to be first at everything else." Mclenn still hadn't made any move to rise and Logan was beginnning to wonder if the other man was injured.

"What happened to you Mclenn?"

Mclenn let out a soft sigh. "Stepped on a weak spot on a log, or something. It caved in and I can't get my foot free from it." Logan walked over to where the man was crouched to have a closer look. Mclenn's foot was jammed tightly in the crack of an old rotted log. It was going to take a few seconds to get it loose.

While Logan worked, Landen filled him in on what had happened to them in the past hour. After they had escaped from the ship they had quickly found each other again on the shore, just North of the city. Ever since then they had been dodging soldiers and trying to make their way to the rendevous point with Hopps and the others, which was pretty much what Logan had been doing as well. About ten minutes ago they had wandered into this clearing and Mclenn had made a wrong step that had led to his current predicament.

"Let's just hope that the others have fared a little bit better than we have," Logan grunted as he continued to work at pulling free Mclenn's foot. He almost had it, he just needed Mclenn to stay still for another couple of seconds.

"Do you think they made it?" Landen's scent and tone projected concern.

"We have to go on the assumption that they did. Otherwise, we're all that's left of the team. And I really don't want to take the citadel with just the three of us."

Fear entered Landen's scent at that prospect. "I don't even want to think about..."

Landen was interupted by the sounds of shuffling off to his left. This time Logan was in perfect position to catch there scent and nearly winced as his nose confirmed his fears. Turning to Landen he said, "Go quickly, me and Mclenn will catch up with you in a couple of minutes."

"But..."

"Go, now," Logan hissed.

Landen hesitated a few more seconds then began moving rapidly through the brush. In a few moments, he had disappearred from Logan's line of vision. With Landen gone, he hurriedly turned back to freeing Mclenn's trapped foot. He only needed a few more seconds.

"You go as well," Mclenn whispered. "There's no sense in both of us dying here."

"Just shut up and stay still for another five seconds," Logan growled in return. He could hear the soldiers slowly closing in on their position.

"Go!" Mclenn said a little bit more emphatically. When Logan didn't respond he grabbed the shorter man and shoved him away.

"What are you doing, Mclenn? I've almost got you loose."

"Go!" Mclenn repeated as he shoved at Logan again.

Logan was rapidly growing more frustrated and those soldiers were getting closer. "Mclenn, you're not leaving me any other choice here."

"Well, then get out of here before..." the rest of Mclenn's words were cut off as Logan's fist connected solidly with Mclenn's jaw. Mclenn fell back on the ground, slightly dazed. Logan immidiately went back to work on Mclenn's foot and in another three seconds had him free. Mclenn was still seeing stars, Logan threw the heavier man over his shoulders and took off in a dead run.

As they ran into the night Logan thought he heard Mclenn wisper, "Logan, I owe you for this."


Part 6

Denver, Colorado
Present

Mr. White slumbered peacefully, confident in his eighth floor penthouse appartment. It was not really his home, a man of his position could never afford to tie himself down in one place as a permenent base of operations. It did, however, have a security system to rival that of the white house. Motion sensors, heat detector, lazer sensors, each armed with a nasty little surprise for any would-be intruder, covered the entire building in a protective cocoon. This system was, in turn, complemented by one of the most highly trained platoon of professional soldiers that money could buy. It was the kind of lodgings where one could rest easy, knowing that he would never be disturbed by unforeseen circumstances.

"Time ta' wake up sleepin' beauty," White tensed both at the sound of the voice and feel of a cold metal barrel being pressed into his head above his right ear. White slowly opened his eyes to regard an odd gathering of men and women standing in a semi-circle around his bed. The light was dim, thus, he couldn't really make out much beyond their darkened silhouettes. There were three of them, four if you counted the one that was out of his line of vision but was making his presence known none-the-less with the continued pressure of the cool metal on his head.

"Who are you? What do you want?" he managed to say calmly. He had been in tough spots like this before and not showing panic always contributed somewhat to preventing complete disaster. His visitors had the definite edge right now. He would only be able to reclaim it for himself once again if he was able to at least but forth the demeanor of controlled calm.

The man standing directly in front of his bead chuckled darkly. "I don' t'ink dat you be de one ta' be askin' questions right now." It was probably White's imagination, but he could almost swear that he had seen a glimmer of red light in the other man's eyes while he spoke. "Ya' be a hard man ta' find Mr. White. I had ta' look up some of my ol' friends an' call in a bunch of favors ta' locate ya'."

"Look," White made a brief attempt to sit up and felt the pressure of the gun barrel increase on the side of his head. "If it's money you came for, the safe is behind the Rembrant in the hall study. There is aproximately eighty-five-thousand in..."

There was no mistaking the wicked red flare of energy from the strangers eyes this time. "I did't go ta da' trouble of bustin' into ya' little fortress here for a pitiful eighty-t'ousand."

"If that is not sufficient, then there is some exceptional jewelry in the top drawer of my dresser over there by the wall."

"Shutup and listen," came the booming reply from the man holding the gun to his head. "We didn't come here for money." A slow sick suspicion was beginning to wash through Mr. White as to who these people might be. That supision was confirmed when the figure at the foot of his bed stepped forward. A few rays of moonlight filtered through the skylight to catch and illuminate his features breifly.

It took every ounce of self-control that White possessed to prevent his face from giving off any expression other than ignorant confusion. He recognized this man. It was Logan's companion from the bar. The fact that he had been able to track him here could only mean that Logan had not been bluffing when he claimed that this man knew him. But, if this man knew him, that would mean... White cut off the thought savagely before it could fully form. "Who are you?" he tried his best to make his voice sound confused.

The demon-eyed man was ignoring him however as he turned back towards the female figure in the shadows. "Well, what's de verdict?"

The figure responded in a low sultry voice tinged with an english accent. "He recognized you even though he is to hide the fact. He knows you as the man that was at the bar with Logan, the night of Logan's capture." The voice paused before continuing in a more grim tone, "He is our man."

White knew that his eyes must have been bulging out of his head. The woman had known what he was thinking! He was going to have to keep his thoughts in control or he could quickly find himself in a very compromising situation.

The fourth figure, which had been silent until this moment, finally spoke. "Two nights ago you accosted one of our teammates." The voice was cold and hard, not unlike that of an overzelous principal that had just caught some boys smoking in the bathroom. "We want to know were he is now, what your interests in him are, and what the address of the closest hospital is, because you will need it if anything has happened to Logan."

Mr. White just stared at them with his mouth gaping freely now. His mind was desperately racing to catch up. At the same time, he was also trying to keep his mind as clear as possible as the shadowy woman could apparently read his thoughts. His thoughts continued to fly in a disorganized jumble as tried to decide what to do next.

Demon eyes was still staring at him with that grin. It was obvious that he was thouroughly enjoying this confrontation, almost as if it were some sort of payback. "Tell us were our short little friend be an' meebee ya' don' loose too many vital organs."

Considering the given set of circumstances, White did the most rational thing. He lied. "I don't know where he is."

Demon eyes' grin slowly faded into a grim expression. "Don' even need de resident telepat' ta' tell me t'at one ain't true." His strange red on black eyes were now practically glowing with an unearthly power. He nodded to the man standing behind White.

White felt the pressure of the gun muzzle leave his head for a brief moment before a large strong hand siezed him firmly around the neck. White was then dragged unceremoniously to the center of his bedroom. The large black man that now held him in his iron grip drew a wicked looking sidearm and shoved it right against his nose. "Listen," the man boomed, " we're only going to ask nicely one more time. Then we are going to let that lady over there run loose in your head until we find what we want. Is that understood?"

White nodded his head as much as possible. The other three figures had all begun to gather around him once again. His mind was still racing desperately. Then, inspiration hit him. He let his thoughts wonder to the computer console next to his desk.

"He's thinking about something on the computer," the woman declared.

The man that sounded like a principal stepped towards him, giving Mr. White his first clear view of the man. Once again, he bit down his surprise at the sight. He looked normal enough, except for a large metal visor that he wore over his eyes. What kind of people had he gotten himself invoved with this time?

"What's on the computer?" it was a demand more than a question.

With the gun pressing harder and harder against his nose, the incentive to talk was growing. "It's a local database. It has files of my transactions, overhead cost, etc."

"Sounds like a good place ta' start lookin', homme," in two quick strides, demon eyes was seated at the console, booting up the computer. After a few seconds he turned around to pin him with a glare from those unholy eyes of his. "The password. Now."

Those glowing red eyes were trying to dig holes through his head again and, strangely enough, White suddenly felt and incredibly strong desire to tell this man anything that he wanted to know. With raw discipline he crushed the urge down and glared back at those demon eyes defiantly. Those eyes studied him briefly, then seemed to reach a decision, though not without some level of dissappointment. "Scan 'im."

"I don't need to," the shadowy woman replied in a wrather clipped tone. "He is projecting the password loud enough that I could hear it if I was asleep." She stepped over to the computer and the soft light from the humming monitor afforded him his first look at her. White nearly did a double-take. The voice had had a definate English precision and inflection to it, but this woman was obviously oreintal. More-over, her hair was a deep shade of purple and she had a large red tattoo that passed over her left eye.

"I really t'ink we should scan him before we do anyt'ing," demon eyes was saying.

"If we can get into his system there is no need to," the visored man replied. "We can simply download the nessassary files via our computer uplink."

"Still would be a better idea ta' scan t'e guys brain real quick."

The Visored man met demon eyes stare without even flinching. "We don't go violating other people's minds when there is a viable alternative." There was no doubt to White as to who commanded this little group.

The two men glared at each other for a few more seconds before demon eyes finally backed down. After he moved away from the computer, the oriental/British woman placed herself in front of the keyboard and typed in the eight letter password.

White tried to not let his relief enter his mind too much as his sensitive ears caught the quiet whir of five force beam projectors locking on their targets. Demon eyes, however, must have heard the noise that no one should have even known about.

"Down!" The scene seemed to go into slow motion as he made a diving tackle at the visored man and the woman. Before either one could even fully register his cry they both found themselves flat on their backs as twin bolts of energy sizzled above their heads.

The black man, however, was not as fortunate. A beam of energy lanced into his head at the base of his skull. With a barely audible grunt, the man fell to one knee and released his grip around White's neck. The man shound have been dead now, but this was all the invitation that White needed. His hand whipped out like a snake to knock the gun out of the man's hand. His knee flashed out and connected solidly with the man's ribs.

"Bishop!" the visored man cried as he rose to his feet.

Time had returned to normal now and demon eyes and his two companions were already up and running in his direction agian. White wasted no time. In one fluid movement he disengaged himself from the black man and dove over his bed just as a beam of red energy cut a swath through his pillows. The defensive force beam projectors launched a second volley, causing his attackers to scatter once again.

White cursed silently to himself as he crawled across the floor of his penthouse, carefully keeping his bed between him and his assailents. First Logan and now this. He vowed that from this point on he was only dealing with people that actually died when you did something lethal to them. After what seemed like an eternity, White finally reached his dresser. Frantically, he reached out and yanked open the bottom drawer. Inside was contained a small high-powered handgun and one of his communications microphones.

He would have to move fast now. He could already sense the three remaining figures regrouping and redirecting their attacts at the force beam projectors. Hopefully all the money he invested in those things would actually pay off. All they had to do was buy him a couple of minutes.

White flicked on the receiver, "All units! Ship the books! Ship the books!" The sound of a small explosion made him whip his head back around in time to see one of the force beam projectors go up in smoke and flame. Whoever these people were, they were good. Their attacks were coordinated and organized. Now there were only four force beams left. He couldn't waste anymore time if he wanted to get out of this one alive.

White flipped off the safety on his hand gun as he moved to a crouched position. After waiting for a few moment, an opportunity presented itself. The demon-eyed stranger was moving towards the large black man, who was still on the gound. The other two intruders were concentrating completely on disabling the remaining force beems. Without another moment of hesitation, White was up and running for the double glass doors that led to the balcony. The visored man noticed him as he was fleeing and began to move to intercept him. White raised his gun and fired off four shots, which sent the visored man diving to the ground. A beam of energy lanced out of the man's visor and struck the glass doors directly over White's head, shattering them. White simply ducked his head, covering it with both hands and door into the broken remains of the door.

The already damaged doors collapsed under his sudden impact, allowing him to spill out onto the balcony. The balcony was still wet from recent rains, something he hadn't counted on, thus his body slid across the slick marble until he slammed forcefully against the balcony wall. The breath was knocked of of him, shards of glass were digging into his arms and legs, but fortunately he had managed to keep his head protected. All aspects considered, this was not one of his better days.

The sound of more explosions from inside his penthouse alerted him that another force beam projector had been destroyed. Only three remained now. White managed to pull himself back to his feet desperately hoping that they would be enough. White checked his watch quickly. It had been just under a minute since he had issued the evacuation order, and the extraction unit's best time thus far was two minutes and twenty-five seconds. White silently hoped that tonight they would set a new record.

Metal screamed and protested as another force beam met a firery demise. These intruders were removing them more quickly now. White seriously doubted that he had another minute and twenty-five seconds. He turned from the balcony wall and ran to the fire-escape and immidiately began to climb. He had only made it one story when he heard the last two force beam projectors explode almost simultaneusly. A second later he heard running footsteps as his pursuers gave chase once again.

"Up there!" White heard one of them call as they arrived on the balcony. White didn't even bother looking back. He just kept moving as fast as his legs would carry him. Once again he cursed himself for underestimating his enemy. This time it could prove more costly than it every had before. He should have known that there was more to this Operation Falconmount then he had been led to believe.

White's head whipped around as the sound of helicopter blades signalled his salvation. He glanced down at his watch, which indicated that only an additional fifty-eight seconds had passed. White smiled grimly. They had chosen a good night to set a new record.

White glanced briefly at his pursuers to better gage their distance from him. The closest one was demon eyes and he was closing fast, his red eyes blazing. If White was not who he was, he would have found those eyes intimidating. He turned bact to see a ladder extend from the helicopter as it approached the building. White squeezed of the remaining round at demon eyes to buy him some more time, then discarded the weapon. The ladder was close enough to the building for an attempt. It was now or never.

He stepped onto the railing and lauched himself at the ladder, just as demon eyes reached his landing. White felt a surge of triumph as his fingers closed around the bottom rung. With its cargo now collected, the helicopter wasted no time what-so-ever in making its exit. As they flew away from the building White's eyes met briefly with the red and black ones of his pursuer. White allowed a smug smile to cross his face and mouthed the words, I win, as he disappeared into the night.


Betsy Braddock was trying her best to keep her temper in check as she tended to the injuried of a teammate who wanted no medical attention and was thus being less than cooperative. "Bishop, hold still so I can make sure that you haven't sustained a concussion."

"I assure you that I am fine, Psylocke," came the unhappy reply. "I was able to absorb off most of the energy from the force beam, so it did no serious damage."

"Listen, Bishop, if it had been anyone else, they probably would be dead by now, with their brains decorating the interior of this penthouse. But even with your mutant ability, this is still a serious wound and needs to be dealt with properly."

She could tell that Bishop was about to protest further when Gambit cut in from where he was seated in front of the computer. "Relax Bets, de pup's head be t'ick enough an' I can understand his desire for people not ta' go messin' wit' his head when he don't want t'em ta'."

Betsy scowled at Gambit's stab at her univited probe into his head. The two of them had never been what you could call best of friends, but ever since that particular incident, he had shown open animosity despite her attempts at friendship. She had even admitted to him that what she had done had probably been wrong. Why couldn't he just get over it?

Gambit's word, however, did have a positive effect on Bishop at least. The man actually began cooperating, probably in an attempt to show that he was nothing like Gambit. Betsy caught Gambit's eye quickly and he flashed her a quick grin. Betsy just shook her head. The man took a perverse pleasure in finding and pushing people's buttons. She had to admit, though, he was good at it.

Cyclops returned back into the room after making a sweep of the hall. He turned to Gambit who was taking a deep pull from a lighted cigarette. "Have you found anything?"

Gambit shook his head as he snuffed the cigarette. "Non, de password t'at he gave us was some kinda' security failsafe. It was supposed ta' look like it was de real t'ing while it activated some secret security systems t'en deleted all de files."

Psylocke watched as Cyclops deflated a little at the news. "And we fell for it."

"Tol' ya' t'at we should have done a mind scan," Gambit's voice was filled with an "I told you so" tone that grated on Betsy's nerves.

"What we should have done," Betsy responded acidly, "was keep quiet about what our powers were. You tipped our hand by letting this Mr. White know that I was a telepath. You of all people should know better than that."

She saw Gambit's features darken as his eyes blazed dangerously. Cyclops quickly moved to stop an arguement. "Listen people, pointing fingers and assigning blame isn't going to get us anywhere. Let's concentrate on the the answer now instead of the problem." After a tense moment of silence Cyclops continued. "Gambit, do you think that you could locate this Mr. White, or one of his associates again?"

Gambit's eyes still blazed, but he was took the hint to change the subject. "Non, by now White's gone underground ta' one of his safehouses."

"How is that different from what he had here?" Cyclops asked curiously.

"Here, he wanted ta' be found, by employers dat is," Gambit explained. "While he was here he was in contact wit' a lot o' different people who knew how to contact and find him if t'ey wanted him ta' do a job. Now, if he follows his standard motifs, he'll break contact wit' everyone and hide out till de heat dies down."

"And how long is that?"

"'Bout six mont's,"

Cyclops grunted in frustration at the response and began pacing the room once again. It was't necessary for any of them to say that they couldn't afford to wait six months. Betsy's mind raced desperately, trying to remember all of the impressions that she had gathered from the man's mind that might have been some sort of an indication of Logan's current location.

"Cyclops," as she spoke everyone in the room focased on her, "there may be one other option available to us. Just before White made his escape onto the Helicopter I sensed something from him. Just a phrased actuall, but I believe that it was in conjunction with Logan. It was something called, Operation Falconmount."

She felt Bishop stiffen as the words left her mouth. "Operation Falconmount, are you certain Psylocke?" He was staring at her intently now.

"What be t'is operation Falconmount?" Gambit queried.

"It was, will be a government funded project to create supersoldiers as a line of defense against mutants." Bishop looked somewhat bewildered as he explained. "In my time the project failed as it was destroyed by the Eastern Mutant Coalition. The thing that I don't understand, is that the project shouldn't exist for another twenty to twenty-five years."

"What else do you know about this Operation Falconmount?" Cyclops was worried now and trying to hide it. It was something that you couldn't hide from a telepath however.

"Not much I'm afraid. Most information on the project was destroyed."

An uneasy silence rested over the settled over the room before Gambit finally broke it. "Well, if it be a government project, t'ere's only one place we can go ta' get de info t'at we want."


Part 7

Italy, forty miles Northwest of Udine
Today

The place hadn・t changed much in the past fifty years, Logan thought dismally as he studied the stone walls of his cell. He could hear a large storm building steadily, the sounds of thunder muted slightly through those walls. A part of him still rebelled, thinking that it wasn・t possible for this citadel to still be standing. Two years after Operation Monfalcone the structure had been destroyed in a bombing run by allied planes. Logan had seen the ruins of the once forbidding walls himself. Of course, he thought bitterly, if this mysterious enemy of his could bring his old teammates back from the dead after fifty years, rebuilding an old fort wasn・t going to be all that much more difficult.

Logan tested his bonds once again, more from habit than any real belief that he would be able to break free from them. Whoever his enemy was, the man knew his the limits of his strength and other abilities. The manacle that encased his hands kept his wrists bent forward at almost right angles to his forearms. Because his claws retracted into his forearms he needed to hands forward, with his wrists unbent to extend them. Being trussed up like this had effectively dismissed one of his more visual weapons. Logan just hoped that they would underestimate him now that he was deprived of one of his primary weapons.

Logan・s head perked up as he heard the distinctive sounds of steps echoing in the hallway. Someone had finally been sent to get him. Good, now maybe he could find out what this was all about and who had arranged this little reunion between him and his old teammates. Maybe this was all some sort of sick plot by Mr. Sinister. The X-men didn・t really know the extent of the man・s influences and capabilities, but Logan wouldn・t doubt that the man had it in his power to bring his current situation to past. Why the twisted geneticist would take interest in tormenting Logan was quite beyond the X-man, however.

Logan lifted his head at the sound of the large metal door opening, its hinges screaming in protest. He saw Adams, Chancer, and Hopps step inside the cell. Logan was still half expecting someone with a sick sense of humor to jump out and yell, surprise, you・re on totally hidden video, or something every time he saw these guys. No one presented themselves, however, other then these three very resentful former companions. He could smell their anger and hate that he couldn・t understand coming off of them in waves. Whoever had brought them back must have played with their minds as well.

・Well, Logan,・ Hopps had that big goofy grin on his face, but it had a somewhat sinister twist to it now, ・it・s good to see you again. I see you・ve filled out a little there buddy. Isn・t puberty great?・

・Cut the crap, Hopps,・ this whole game was beginning to really wear on his nerves. ・What is this all about? Are you the one responsible for all of this? What are you trying prove here?・

Logan could tell that Hopps・s amusement hadn・t abated in the least. ・Who me?・ That goofy grin took on an expression of mock surprise. ・I・m just here for the ride. I never was very good at orchestrating big get-togethers. Never had the initiative I・m afraid. After all, it takes an incredible amount of self-discipline to pull yourself out of your own grave and go hunting after someone who has betrayed you as much you betrayed me.・

Logan knew that his confusion was written plainly on his face, but he didn・t care. ・I never betrayed you Hopps. If you think that your brain must have decayed a whole lot more then you think during your time as a corpse.・

Hopps scent suddenly shifted from amused and detached to cold and hard. He pivoted sharply as he drove his fist into Logan・s midsection. Logan let out a soft grunt and doubled-over as much as his restraints would permit. He managed to catch his breath and bring his head back up to stare Hopps in the eyes. His former field commander・s blue iris・s burned with a barely checked fury, punctuated by a sudden crack of thunder in the distance. ・My brain is functioning quite well Logan. I remember clearly the night in the barn. I trusted you. And you swore to me that you would get the team out alive if anything happened to me.・ A look of betrayal and loss entered those eyes now. ・I left them in your hands and you turned your back on them, abandoned them to die. If that is not betrayal then what is?!・ With each passing word his voice increased in volume until the last part was practically screamed.

Logan gritted his teeth in anger. It was all true, in a sense, but twisted and distorted. ・That・s not how it happened and you know it.・

・Oh really Logan,・ Adams was slowly stroking his knife handle, ・Well, that・s funny, because that・s how I remember it as well. And I was able to see the whole thing through to its bloody end, unlike Chancer here who decided to check out on us at the first chance.・

Chancer・s face darkened as the blood flowed to his cheeks. ・I was the first one that you abandoned Logan. Too bad no one else was there at the time or they might have known then what type of soldier you really were. You never did tell them, did you. How you didn・t even spare a backward glance for me as you dove for the water to save you own hide.・

・You were already dead!・

・And how did you know that!・ Chancer bellowed back. ・You never even spared me a second glance. If you had even cared you might have been able to save me.・

・What are you talking about? You had just had your chest blown out, you were gone before you even fell to the deck. There is no way at all that you would have survived.・ These twisted and distorted truths were beginning make him angry. He had felt more than enough guilt for what had happened to them. More than a couple of sleepless nights wondering if he could have done something different to save a few more of them. But he was not the abandoning traitor that they were trying to make him out to be.

・If there・s no way that I could have survived, then how do you explain the fact that I・m standing in front of you right now?・ There was a scent of smugness mingled with Chancer・s anger. The kind of smugness of someone who knows something incredible important when you don・t even have a clue.

・That・s a good question Chancer,・ Logan was tired of this song and dance. It was time to try the direct approach. ・Why don・t you answer that one for me?・

Hopps・s goofy grin was back in place as he placed a placating hand on Chancer・s shoulder. ・All in good time my friend. All in good time. Right now, we have to go. We wouldn・t want you to be late for your big day in court.・

・Court?・

With an exaggerated gesture, Hopps pulled a sheaf of papers from his coat. Holding them in front of him he began to read. ・Logan Mathison. You are hereby called to stand trial for crimes committed against humanity during wartime conditions. You will stand trial by your peers. The trial is to be conducted by the blah, blah, blah, blah, more legal stuff. The good stuff was all in the first line.・ With that Hopps folded the papers and shoved them back in his coat.

Logan let out a strained laugh at the absurdity of it all. ・Are you serious? Your putting me on trial for something that happened over fifty years ago?・

Hopps expression told him that he was indeed serious. ・Justice is patient and knows no time Logan. Your justice has been delayed far too long. Now it is time for you to face up for what you have done.・

Logan was unable to protest further as Chancer and Adams moved to release his manacles from the wall. They both worked in concert to keep him subdued as his hands were again secured behind his back. Within moments, he was ready to go face his trial. He had no illusions about his opportunities of actually getting a hearing that was anything more than a farce of the legal system. His only hope was that of discovering who was behind this whole mess and why. Resolutely, Logan marched to the beat of the an imaginary execution drum that no one else could hear.


The man called Fallon knelt quietly, almost reverently before the two large stone biers in front of him. Both were ornately decorated, with intricate patterns carved gracefully into the massive stonework. The one to the left was slightly smaller and had a more masculine flavor to the ingrain patterns. The one to the right was obviously the resting place for a woman, and one that had been very beautiful if any trust was to be given to the angelic face carved into the stone surface. These two biers were the centerpieces of the otherwise barren room. Despite its barrenness, the room was well lit, with torches lining the walls and a huge chandelier that displayed hundreds of candles.

For the most part, these details completely escaped Fallon・s notice. As always, his attention was completely riveted on the carved angelic face that adorned the stone bier in front of him. He felt an errant tear trickle down the scarred portion of his face, catching in every crag and crevice as it made its journey. The artisan that he had commissioned to carve these tombs had been highly skilled indeed. The face before him was almost exactly as he remembered her face to be, before it became tight and stretched by the pain of bone cancer. In life he could have gladly spent an entire day gazing at the gentle contours of her face and have considered it a day well spent. With her death, he had spent countless hours here in the tomb, staring at the stone visage and remembering the warmth of her smile. The man called Fallon felt another tear leak from the corner of his eye and made no move to stop it.

Rising to his feet, Fallon stepped forward to gently caress the stone face with his outstretched hand as he would a lover. ・Soon, Lauren, soon. The man who kept you from me is here now. The one who destroyed our hopes and dreams of a happy life together is once again in my grasp.・ He pulled his hand away as a wave of bitterness washed through him. Spinning on his heal he began pacing away from the bier. ・I am so sorry that I didn・t kill him before, when I had the opportunity.・ Fallon・s steps halted as his shoulders slumped in defeat. ・If I had known the damage that he would cause, the hopes that he would destroy for us...・ Fallon shook his head in despair, unable to complete the sentence. He resumed his pacing, now returning to the bier.

・I was such a fool back then. I always believed that I was completely in control. Even after you became sick, I still believed...・ Once again, Fallon was unable to continue as his voice cracked. He halted his steps directly in front of the angelic visage to compose himself. After a few moments he continued ・But no matter. He is in my grasp once again. And this time, he will not escape justice. He will be punished for the crimes that he has committed. I will see to it personally.・

Approaching the final resting-place of his wife, then man called Fallon withdrew a single long-stem rose from his coat and laid it gently on the tomb. ・I promise you, Lauren. He will never hurt another person the way that he hurt us.・

Turning from the larger tomb Fallon directed his steps towards the smaller of the two. ・I need you to look after your mother Jimmy. I know that I・ve told you a thousand times that I should be joining you two soon, but it looks like there is still a lot for me to do here for now.・ Fallon gently placed a hand on the tomb. ・But when I finish what I have to do today, most of the things that I need to do will be finished.・ Fallon allowed a warm smile to cross his features. ・So be a good boy for your mother. Your daddy will be home soon.・

Fallon turned to leave the rooms, his footsteps echoing loudly on the stone floor. At the doors he turned to cast one last longing gaze across the room and happened to notice that a group of torches on the far wall had been extinguished. Fallon frowned slightly. He would have to speak firmly with the servants. Jimmy was terrified of the dark and the boy was not going to suffer anymore on the account of the incompetence of others. Filing the mental note away Fallon stepped through the doors to be greeted by Bressan.

・Is everything in readiness?・ Fallon accepted the cloak that Bressan placed over his shoulders.

・Yes master. The man, Logan, awaits you in the judgment chamber.・

・And his former companions?・

・They too await you, master.・

Fallon nodded, satisfied. ・See too it that you and your companions are also prepared to perform your duties.・

・Yes master,・ Bressan bowed slightly and turned to leave, once Fallon had dismissed him.

・One other thing Bressan.・

・Yes master,・ Bressan turned to face him again from across the hall.

・Some torches have gone out in the tomb room. I want them relit and I want the person responsible for letting them go out in my office after the trial.・


They had brought him to some type of centralized chamber with highly vaulted ceilings and low hanging chandeliers that Logan only vaguely recognized. It seemed to him that he remembered hearing in one of their debriefings that the citadel had originally been constructed in the early fourteen hundreds by some noble family. His only other time in the Citadel hadn・t really given him much of an opportunity for sightseeing, but he was fairly certain that this was one of the chambers that the remains of the team had hidden after they had been ambushed. Of coarse, it could have easily been some other room as well. At the moment, his mind was not one hundred percent certain of any of his memories.

The room had been modified to double as a makeshift courtroom. Logan was seated in front of a small wooden desk that had a match sitting a few feet to the side. He was still trussed up in his bonds that prevented him from extending his claws and was strapped into a large steel chair, which was somewhat reminiscent of an electric chair. There was even a stand for the Judge, which he noted was still empty, with the witness box next to it. He idly wondered which, if any, of his former teammates would be selected to defend him in this farce. Most of them were gathered inside the room with him, with the exception of Shipper and Adams. Logan once again found himself staring at his former teammates in complete disbelief. From the moment that Gambit・s associate had delivered him to this place, he felt like he was trapped is some weird surrealistic nightmare. He still half-expected to simply wake up in his bed in a cold sweat any minute now.

His sensitive ears picked up the sound of foot steps in the chamber on the other side of the great door that was located next to the Judge・s stand. The door opened to admit Adams and Shipper, the former taking position by the door and the latter moving to join him at the table. Shipper was wearing his usual somber smile that never quite reached his sad eyes. His ears were slightly tinged red and Logan recalled that, once over a hand of poker, that Shipper had admitted that when he became extremely exited or angry, his ears would often flush red. Logan couldn・t really tell which was the case right now as Shipper・s scent was a mass of conflicting emotions.

・We all agreed that I should be your defensive attorney,・ he stated simply as he joined Logan at the table. ・Every one of them wanted to be the prosecuting attorney so they finally had to draw straws to decide it.・ Shipper shrugged his shoulders slightly. ・Venuti won.・

Logan growled, ・Did you lose or something? Is that why you were stuck defending me?・

Shipper shook his head. ・I told you, Logan. We mutually decided that of all of us, I would be the best one to act in your defense as I have the least reason to hate you. You will receive a completely fair, just, and non-biased trial to determine your verdict.・ Shipper paused for a moment, then added, ・Then, we are going to take you outside, severely beat you, and hang you from the highest tree we can find.・

Logan would have laughed at the absurdity of the statement if it weren・t all too real. Whatever the reasons, his former comrades seemed dead serious about seeing this through to its deadly end. Logan was still trying to understand why they were doing it though. It made no sense what-so-ever for them to wish vengeance on him. He had done no less and no more than any of the others. The only difference was that he had managed to survive. Of coarse, he thought ruefully, that no longer seemed to be the case. His comrades were just as alive as he was now. Thus, it was doubly baffling as to why they would pursue this blood debt when the source of their contention was the fact that they had been allowed to die in the first place. Logan would have shrugged if he weren・t immobilized.

The other thing that bothered him was the fact that he could sense something seriously wrong with his former teammates, other than the fact that they had come back from bloody deaths after fifty years and were intent on utterly destroying a man that they had once called friend. It was as if there was something hollow about them, he didn・t know how else to describe it. At first he had clung to the wild hope that they were somehow being controlled mentally. That hope, however, was dashed quickly by their scents. They were enjoying the torment and torture far too much for mind-control. Smells of vindication and satisfaction rolled off of them with every hurled fist or insult. For another instant he considered the possibly that maybe they were just impostors, perhaps some design hatched by dept. K to knock him off balance and thus bring him under control once again. That theory was also abandoned. These people knew too much, remembered to many things, had too many of the small idiosyncrasies, to be impostors. Yet, despite these evidences, they still didn・t seem completely real either.

Logan・s reverie was once again interrupted by the sound of more footsteps approaching the chamber. He stared eagerly towards the door where the sound was increasing. All of former members of Operation Monfalcone were already here in the room with him. Whoever was arriving now was most likely the orchestrater of his present trial, and the key to this entire puzzle. At the sound of the footsteps, most everyone in the room went to attention, another signal of an approaching superior.

The door creaked open and Logan found himself studying the man who stood at the entrance to the ・courtroom・. He was a tall man, with a poise and posture that bespoke authority. If Logan were to venture a guess, he would say that the man appeared to be somewhere in his early forties, but his face also seemed to bear an ageless aspect to it. His head and face were both shaved clean, a fact that only emphasized the hard lines of his face. The features seemed vaguely familiar, as was the man・s scent, but a crisscross pattern of ugly scars covered nearly the entire left portion of his face, making it nearly impossible to identify. Logan attempted more to match the scent with a memory. However, his mind refused to reveal anything more than vague premonitions of having tested that scent once before. Too much time had passed, and too many people had screwed around in his head for him to be able to clearly recall were he knew that scent from.

Adams, apparently playing the part of the bailiff, stepped forward and announced. ・All arise. The honorable Judge Fallon is now presiding.・

This Fallon, as he called himself, proceeded to the Judge・s box, while all other members of the court, except Logan, stood in attention. When Fallon seated himself, so did the other, Shipper delivering a painful elbow to his ribs as he did so. ・You are supposed to arise and show respect for a Judge.・

Logan grunted painfully. ・And how exactly do I do that in my present circumstances?・ His voice was thick with contempt.

・Even restrained, as you are, your manner should reflect respect for your superior, not the contempt that even now is so plainly written on your face.・

Logan merely ground his teeth in frustration. He knew, that no matter what he did, they would find offense. He could smell the anticipation, like a pack of rabid wolves, waiting to fall upon wounded prey, on every one of them. He didn・t even know why they were bothering with the trial. They could barely restrain their desires of bloodshed. Maybe this was supposed to be some sort of sick foreplay for them.

・The court will now come to order,・ Fallon・s imperious tone echoed hollowly in the large chamber. His eyes narrowed in on Logan, and the X-man could smell a bitter sense of malevolence from him the dwarfed his other captures angers. ・This is case number one for this court. Humanity verses Logan Mathison AKA Wolverine, AKA Private Jonson, AKA Weapon X.・ Fallon・s eyes continued to bore holes in him while an ironic smile touched only his lips. ・Did I miss any important ones.・

Logan grinned back defiantly, ・A lot of people have also called me that mangy bastard, but, I never really cared much for that name.・

Shipper moved to strike him again, but Fallon raised restraining hand. ・The cur・s defiance will be dealt with soon enough.・ Bitter regret tinged the air around Shipper, but he complied with Fallon・s orders. Fallon nodded and continued. ・You are to be tried for crimes committed against your fellow man during War Time conditions. Namely, the wholesale slaughter of innocents, the betrayal of your Ideals and teammates, and, most importantly,・ Fallon・s eyes glazed over with barely contained fury, ・the willful destruction of materials needed for the emergency medical care of millions of lives.・ His tone dropped to nearly a whisper. ・My wife and son included.・

・What is this garbage,・ Logan couldn・t keep the outrage out of his voice. ・I don・t even know who you are or what you want. But, I never was involved in the wholesale slaughter of innocents.・

This time Fallon didn・t restrain Shipper as he struck the shorter man across the mouth. ・You will address Judge Fallon with respect.・ He ordered.

Logan shook his head slightly to clear the black specks in his vision. When those specks had finally retreated, he turned to glare at Fallon once again. ・If you wanna kill me, then go ahead and do it. But don・t make any pretentious claims at this mockery being justice.・

・Oh, but it is Justice Logan.・ Fallon whispered quietly. ・How does the defendant plea?・ He added in a more vaunted tone.

Shipper smiled as he began. ・My client wishes to plead...・

・Not guilty!・ Logan finished firmly. Shipper glared at him, but Fallon merely smiled in amused speculation.

・Very well, the prosecution may call to the stand its first witness,・ Venuti grinned wickedly at Fallon・s invitation.

・The prosecution calls to the stand, Professor, Hans Bressan.・

Logan didn・t know why he was even amazed anymore, he had already seen more than his fair share of dead men resurrected today. Despite all of this, his jaw still dropped slightly as he watched the indicated man walk forward to the stand. Logan knew the face well, its pleading visage had haunted his dreams several times in the past. It was always pleading, begging to be spared, to be allowed to live. For, Logan had been his executioner.


Part 8

Two Miles North of Monfalcone
1942

The sun was just beginning to crest the horizon, slowly dispelling the oppressive darkness that had reigned for the great portion of the night. It continued to creep along, illuminating the outlines of the jagged mountains in the distance. The soil up in those hills was still a rich dark red, stained in the blood of all the troops that died there in the War that was supposed to end all wars. Logan snorted ruefully at that assessment. If only the people that had come up with that title could see the mess that they were making of this world now. Why was that human nature always sought to set new standards, even in areas where everyone was much better off with the older ones.

Logan, however had no time for such musings on the psychological nature of man. He had never really been all that interested in what it was that made a man tick, just how to take him down if he got in your way and provided a threat. Less eloquent, but certainly more effective in given circumstances. Right now was on of those circumstances.

Logan was currently, slithering through a patch of overgrown grass and weeds on his belly. He could smell Mclenn and Landen, each on deployed east and west of him respectively. Their target was a lone Nazi soldier, who had apparently gotten lost from the rest of his platoon. He certainly looked lost anyway. He was constantly scanning around and calling out for his comrades in German and he smelled confused and uncertain. Unfortunately, for him, he was also blocking the only available pass that lead to their rendezvous point with the rest of the team. If they were to backtrack and find another way it would take several hours. And with the sun rising, bringing more and more light every minute, several hours were not among their current luxuries. Once it was full daylight, they wouldn・t have enough coverage to hide themselves well.

The trick was taking him out before he could give off some sort of an alarm. The were indistinct Reponses to his calls coming from the forest. Logan could tell by the faintness of their scents that It would be a while before they would actually find each other as it was, but something like a rifle discharge or a bloody scream would probably motivate them to come running a whole lot faster. That was why Logan had carefully position himself directly behind the soldier without ever letting him know that he was there. As he drew his knife, Logan almost felt sorry for the poor soldier. After all, the guy was just in the wrong place at the wrong time.

Logan waited as the soldier called one last time, then he attacked. The German barely had time to even react to the sound of rustling grass behind him before Logan had plunged the blade into the back of his neck and out through the front of his throat. The man tried to scream, but it just came out as a muted gurgle as blood bubbled up in his throat to pour out through his mouth and nose. He slowly fell to his knees and continued to thrash around for a few moments, in death throes. His movements slowed, then eventually stilled. Logan just shook his head as he bent to retrieve his knife.

As he stood the stocky man heard rustling behind him that resolved into Mclenn and Landen. They both smelled considerably relieved that he had been able to quietly dispose of the enemy soldier. Logan was certain that if one of them had been forced to do it that they would also have a faint smell of disgust on them as well. Taking an opponent out with a rifle from a distance was one thing. Feeling the life drain out of them in your own hands was quite another. The only people that that type of killing didn・t disgust were wrong in the head.

・About how far away do you think those other soldiers are?・ Mclenn was shading his eyes as he looked towards the approaching sun.

Logan shrugged. ・Far enough. We・ll have enough time to hide the body and get trough the pass before anyone of them makes it over this way.・

Mclenn nodded, then signaled to Landen to grab the feet of the soldier・s body while he hoisted him under his arms. Together, the two drug his body over to a shallow trench, overgrown with grass and weeds and heaved the body into it. They spent a few moments afterwards arranging the grass so that it would more effectively conceal the corpse. For his own part, Logan just kept his distance from the cadaver. The smell of death was already setting in and that always weighed unpleasantly heavily in his nostrils.

As Mclenn and Landen rejoined him, they set off down the pass again. As the sun was casting more and more light with each passing second, they were often forced to the side of the rode to find adequate cover against someone sighting them from the ridged walls. Their progress was slow, and it seemed like an eternity before they finally reached the other end of the pass, which opened up on acre after acre of abandoned farmland.

Mclenn whistled softly. ・Adams would go nuts for this. He・s a farmer himself. It・s one of the few things that he talks about with passion.・

Logan was well aquatinted with Adams・s love of working the earth. They had spent many a night awake in bed talking about simple pleasures, such being able to stay in bed until the sun rose in the morning. Adams had always inevitably returned to talking about farming. That or his plans to find and marry a Hollywood movie star after the war. But even that tied back in as he planned on them living on the biggest farm in California.

・Adams will go nuts for this,・ Logan corrected. ・He・s not dead. Not yet.・

・Right,・ Mclenn replied wistfully.

Landen was also wistfully surveying the wide-open territory. ・It・s so beautiful. I・d almost be tempted to come back here myself, after the war is over and Sherry and I have gotten married that is.・

Mclenn leaned over to Logan and whispered softly, ・Long-hair brooding alert.・

Logan grinned in spite of himself. ・How many kids were you planning on having again, Landen?・

・Oh, at least five or six,・ Landen・s face took on a speculative look. ・Maybe seven. Depends on how the economy・s doing when we get back.・

・What about the wife?・ Mclenn was grinning now as well. ・She might want to have a say in it as well.・

Landen waved his hand dismissively. ・I・m not worried. Sherry loves kids and always told me that she wanted a big family.・

・Well, she might change her mind after the first...・ Mclenn cut off suddenly as the sound of muffled voices filtered in from around the other side of the pass opening.

Logan cursed silently to himself as they dropped and disappeared into the undergrowth. The voices were located upwind of their present location. Thus, he hadn・t been able to catch their scent in advance. He was going to have to be more careful about this sort of thing if he wanted to get out of this mission alive. They couldn・t afford any more mistakes. The ones that they had made already had already proven very costly.

Logan readied his rifle and strained his senses to attempt to pick out the sent of the intruders, and thus make a guess at their numbers. They were still too far upwind for him to get their scents and the muffled voices hadn・t been loud enough for them to determine what language it was. Plus, after the initial warning, there had been no further sounds from the new arrivals. Logan just hoped that they weren・t being quiet because they were now aware of his, and the other two soldier・s presence.

The three of them just waited there silently for another two minutes until they heard a the sound of movement once again. Logan could tell by the sound that only one person was moving toward them right now. If there were others in the group, they were probably waiting farther back to provide cover fire. Logan signaled silently to Mclenn and Landen. The sound was slowly making its way towards Landen・s position and they would probably need to deal with the threat as quickly and quietly as possible. Landen nodded and drew his knife.

The sound was still around the other side of the rock outcropping, but approaching quickly. Logan watch Landen tense, ready to pounce. The sound stopped for a brief moment, as if its owner were checking around brief. Then their visitor began moving towards them again. As the figure rounded the corner, a sudden shift in the air currents brought his scent directly to Logan・s nose.

・Landen! Wait!・ Logan leapt to his feat calling to Landen an instant too late. Landen collided, full force with Shipper and the two tumbled forward onto the ground. Shipper, who had been caught completely off-guard, still hadn・t identified his assailant and was struggling back frantically. Mclenn and Logan both rushed to separate the two soldiers. Out of the corner of his eye, Logan noticed Venuti also running towards them.

・Hey, hey, hey!・ Mclenn shouted as he hauled Shipper off of Landen. ・It・s us, the good guys.・

Logan was busy pulling Landen away, being careful to avoid the knife. After both had been able to calm back down, Logan began the questions. ・Where・s everybody else?・

Shipper took a couple of deep steadying breaths. ・They・re about a quarter mile back at an old abandoned barn.・

・The two of us were sent out on patrol while there was still enough darkness for cover to see if we would run into any of you guys.・ Venuti added as he arrived.

・What・s the plan then?・ Landen replace his knife in its sheath.

Venuti shrugged. ・Same plan, we meet back up and continue the operation. The fact that we had a lousy start doesn・t change anything.・

Shipper rose back to his feet. ・Except the fact that now they know we・re out here.・

Mclenn smiled grimly, ・Just adds to the challenge.・


・We lost Vanhorn,・ Logan could smell the regret and loss coming off of Adams in waves. ・Right after we got off of the dock. Me and him were bringing up the rearguard. Then, it was if Vanhorn just lost it. He refused to fall back, just kept firing at the advancing lines,・ Adams had to pause for moment before continuing. ・We had to leave him behind. Right as we were leaving, I saw him take a bullet in the head.・

Hopps just continued to stare silently off into the darkening night skies while Adams related the details of Vanhorn・s demise. Logan didn・t know what to say. Vanhorn had always been kind of a pain, but no field commander likes to have to order one of his men left behind. It was something that Logan himself hoped that he would never be forced to do.

After their encounter with Venuti and Shipper, the five soldiers had returned to the barn where the others had been hiding out. For the most part, the had spent the entire day hiding out in rotted old haystacks, trying to get as much sleep as possible. As night began to fall again, they had all become a little bit more bold, wandering around to barn grounds. A small group of them, Logan included, had even found an old wooden crate and was currently using it as a makeshift table for a game of poker. An old bag of rusty nails had been located and they had employed them as proxies for their future pay. Considering their current circumstances, none of them felt all that hesitant about betting heavily.

・Yeah, it・s a real shame,・ George muttered as he examined his own cards. ・I never pictured him as being the first one to eat a bullet.・

Logan considered his hand and decided to draw another card. ・He wasn・t. Chancer was killed on the deck of the ship before Vanhorn was shot.・

・That one wasn・t much of surprise,・ Adams added a couple of rusty nails to the center of the table. ・I thought that he wasn・t going to make it through the two months in England at times.・

Logan looked at his cards once again. He had the two of hearts, ten of spades, queen of clubs, Jack of diamonds, and three of diamonds. It was probably the worst had that he had drawn all night. On top of that, he could tell by Adams and Shipper・s scents that they both were quite confident in the cards that they had received. Logan growled softly and threw down his hand in frustration, ・I・m out.・

Venuti looked at his hand then glanced at Shipper, who was wearing a perfect poker face. He studied the soldier for a moment, looking for something that no one else could see, then placed his own hand on the table. ・I・m out. And I would suggest that you fold as well Adams.・

Logan could smell the surprised curiosity from Adams as well as the indignation from Shipper as they both stared at Venuti. ・Why do you say that?・

Venuti smiled at Shipper and leaned back against the wall. ・Should I tell them, or do you want to Shipper?・

・You slime,・ Shipper sputtered, ・That was supposed to stay between you and me.・

Venuti chuckled richly. ・Something like this is too good to keep to myself. Now I can give them my version, or you can tell them and try to salvage this one a little bit.・

Shipper seemed to struggle with the decision a little before he finally reluctantly muttered, ・Sometimes... when I・m excited... my ears... turn red.・

All for sets of eyes around the crate were immediately drawn to his ears, which were indeed flushed a dark pink. After a second of silence, both George and Adams simultaneously threw down their hands and stated simply, ・I・m out.・

Shipper grunted in frustration as the other four dissolved into laughter. The pot that he pulled in was considerably smaller than any other the other pots that had been won so far that night. After collecting the rusty nails he turned and pinned Venuti with a death glare. ・I should tell them about what happened at your sister・s wedding for that.・

Venuti・s smirk only deepened. ・It would probably only raise their current opinion of me.・

・Okay, Juicy gossip,・ George declared in an eager voice. ・Let・s air out all the dirty laundry.・

Shipper smiled before continuing. ・He picked a fight with the groom at the reception. They ended up destroying the cake too, if I remember correctly.・

Venuti・s expression and scent displayed no regret in the slightest. ・I was just trying to convey my concern that he live up to his duties of cherishing my sister like the princess she is.・

・Remind me never to marry into your family Venuti,・ Adams said. ・I already had one princess for a girlfriend and she didn・t even stay with me past my first week at boot camp.・

・Your girl friend left you your first week of boot camp?・ George sounded a little incredulous, but smelled amused.

・Worse, she got engaged to one of my old rivals my first week of boot camp. The first warning that I got was a wedding announcement,・ Logan winced while everyone else dissolved into laughter again. Adams began dealing the cards again. ・Ya・ know, it・s just like the good book says, I find more bitter than death, the woman.・

・The Bible doesn・t say that,・ George retorted.

・Yeah it does.・

・Where?・

・Somewhere in the Old Testament, okay. Are you in or not this hand?・

George smelled as if he wanted to keep the argument going but simply motioned for Adams to deal the cards. Logan, however, had lost enough to suit him for one night. When Adams moved to deal him a card Logan held up his hand. ・I・m going to sit this one out guys. I・m tired of giving all of my hard earned money to Venuti.・

Venuti just grinned in response, ・It・s not my fault that you・re any easy read.・ Logan just shook his head and stood to leave, the voices from the card game fading behind him as he walked.

・Are you in for another five Adams?・

・How do Shipper・s ears look?・

・Like a baby・s bottom.・

・I・m in.・

・I will get you back for that Venuti.・

Logan noticed that Hopps was no longer standing by the barn window. He could tell by the trail of his scent that the man had gone outside to be alone. Logan snorted ruefully. The guy was probably tearing himself apart for the losses of Vanhorn and Chancer. Logan could understand and even empathize with Hopps right now. Heaven knew, that he had felt more than his fair share of responsibility for not being able to do more for Chancer. It didn・t seemed to matter that he rationally knew that the circumstances were well beyond his control. That didn・t stop him from rehashing it continually in his mind in an attempt to find something that he could have done differently.

After a moment of consideration, Logan decided to join Hopps outside the barn in the night. He found the other man leaning against the far side, staring off into the fading sunset. His scent was cold and filled with anger and guilt. Logan silently took his place next to him and watched the last crimson rays of light fade out behind the mountains.

・We never take time ta・ notice the simple things like this anymore,・ Logan finally ventured. ・This war・s been so ugly for so long, I think that we have even stopped trying to look for things that aren・t ugly.・ Hopps still wasn・t responding. ・I guess it・s just too easy to get caught up in brooding about things that we can・t control.・

・I lost two of my men yesterday at a confrontation that should have never happened.・ Hopps・s gaze stayed locked on the fading sun. The smell of loss was heavy in his scent now. ・If I couldn・t even get this team through the easiest point of the entire operation, what chance do any of us have of surviving once things become truly difficult?・

Logan was silent for a moment before responding. ・Hopps, both you and I know that everyone of us is nothing more than walking hamburger in this mission. Command probably didn・t even count on us getting this far. Their philosophy the entire time was, if you can complete the operation , great, if not, at least we don・t have to deal with you anymore.・

・That・s not entirely true, but, yeah, I know,・ Hopps finally looked away from the sun to meet Logan・s gaze. ・I heard what you did for Mclenn and Landen.・

・I didn・t do anything for Mclenn and Landen...・

・That・s not what I heard. I heard that you took charge in a difficult situation and saved Mclenn・s life,・ Hopps・s tone gave no room for argument.

Logan shrugged. ・I just did what anyone would have done.・

Hopps turned his head back to the sun and closed his eyes as he leaned back against the barn. ・I have a favor to ask of you, Mathison.・

Logan nodded. ・Anything.・

Hopps took a deep breath. ・This mission is going to get a whole lot bloodier before it・s over.・ His scent smelled resigned now. ・If anything happens to me, I want you to promise me that you will get as many of us out alive as possible.・

Logan shook his head. ・Look you・re probably talking to the wrong guy.・

・No!・ Hopps・s gaze had snapped back on him again, his scent determined and ungiving. ・I know a little about your story, Mathison. I heard how you punched out that commander because he was about to lead a regiment on a suicide charge.・

Logan glared back, equally ungiving. ・Do you have any idea what yer asking of me?・

Hopps nodded and his trademark goofy grin blossomed on his face, breaking the tension. ・That・s why I・m asking you, Mathison.・

Logan looked away for a moment. He didn・t want this responsibility. He didn・t want to have to lead this team if Hopps caught a bullet. A thousand different thoughts whirled back and forth in his head. Finally, he reached his decision. Turning back to Hopps he extended his hand. Hopps accepted it with a firm grip.

・Ya・ got yerself a promise Hopps.・


Part 9

Washington D.C.
Today

Elizabeth Braddock had to grudgingly admit, she was impressed. For the last half-hour she had been through some of the most intricate and complete security that she had ever seen. Although she could not admittedly recall a great deal about security layouts, Kwannon had dealt with high level security several times and knew how to recognized quality. However, it was not the level of security that demanded respect, after all this was the Pentagon. It was the ease with which her present companion had taken them flawlessly through it that made her once again revise her opinion of the man. Gambit had a tendency of making her do that.

He was currently hanging in an inverted position disabling what appeared to be the electronics for a tension detector system. Elizabeth tried to remain as patient as possible, but they had been in this ventilation duct for the past half-hour and she was rapidly tiring of the confined quarters. She once again railed against fate which had cast her as the only X-man that Gambit would even consider taking along with him on the present data retrieval mission. She, as well as everyone else had been fully expecting an explosive confrontation when Scott had insisted that Gambit could not simply break into the Pentagon without some form of back-up. Gambit had fumed and stormed out of the war room for that matter. However, he returned fifteen minutes later saying that he would take her as back up and no one else. Betsy was certain that hers was not the only jaw that dropped at his impromptu statement. He had given no explanation for his decision other than the snide comment that he didn't think anyone else on the team was capable of keeping up with him without giving him or her away.

*Okay Betts, I be t'rough here. Le's get movin' on.* Betsy nearly jumped as his thoughts interrupted her reverie. That had been another unexpected contingency. From the onset, Gambit had insisted on forming a low-level link that would permit them to communicate telepathically. Considering his distrust for telepaths in general, and her in particular, to say that she had been unprepared for such a development would be quite the understatement. Gambit had simply shrugged it off saying that they would need to communicate without making any noise. He didn't have the patience or time or, as she suspected, the desire to teach her the complex system of gestures that he generally used. Thus, telepathic communication had won out by default.

Gambit was busying himself removing the ventilation and paneling. They now had an unobstructed view into the central vault area, as Gambit defined it. She waited for a few moments, but when he made no move to enter she sent a questioning thought his way. *What are you waiting for?*

*Shh,* he hushed her mentally. *De guards are makin' t'eir rounds. I'm timin' t'em to get an idea of how much time we'll have when we get inside.*

Betsy could no longer restrain her curiosity. *How did you know how to best all of that security? Don't tell me the thief・s guild has the plans and layouts for the security to the Pentagon. It just doesn't seem like their style. It would draw too much attention to them.*

For a few long moments silence was her only reply and she thought that he would just ignore her question. *I learned it from de' best.* He turned to flash her an amused grin. *Israeli Intelligence. 'Bout four or five years ago they set up an exercise with the U.S. A team of t'eir best was suppose TA' slip in and out while de' staff was on full alert.* The amusement in his grin was unmistakable now. *Ten minutes into de drill de Pentagon was contacted by de Israeli and toll' tat de team was already finished wit' de exercise an de' staff hadn't even known.*

Betsy shook her head and smiled as the implications set in. *I'll wager that the Security Council was furious at being shown up like is such a way.*

*Le's just say t'at more t'en a few people were transferred to manning radar stations in de middle of remote places like Alaska.* An odd sensation was feeding through the link and it took Betsy a few minutes to realize that it was a type of mental laughter. Betsy suddenly felt the urge to giggle in response. The absurdity of the situation suddenly struck her. Here she was, attempting to break into to the pentagon, circumventing some of the most advanced security technology in the world, and right now the biggest risk they faced was the threat of giving away their position because she broke-down and started laughing.

She didn・t have to look at Gambit to know that he still wore an amused expression. After all, she could still feel his laughter through their link. She just hoped that it was at his own remark rather than her near slip-up. That hope was dashed with his next thought. *I got busted t・at way once myself. Was wit・ my frier・, Henri, doin・ a bank job. He got some dust up his nose and almost sneezed. He managed t・ hold it in but made such a funny lookin・ face t・at I just busted up. Unfortunately, t・ere happened t・ be a security guard right under us at de time.*

Betsy colored slightly. There were times when she wished he was considerably less observant. But at least the humor of the situation had not been lost on him in the slightest. This was the closest thing that either one of them had experienced to camaraderie since her uninvited mind probe. She was more than willing to endure a little embarrassment as opposed to the customary belligerent attitude that she usually received from Gambit.

*Anyway,* Gambits thoughts assumed a more business-like tone. *Most o・ what we been doin・ is based on de notes t・at I happen to have in my possession o・ t・at break-in. I had t・ make a few modifications. De Israeli team wasn・t tryin・ t・ make it into de central vault like we are.*

*So how are you planning on accomplishing that little feat?*

Another arrogant smile bloomed on his face. *I・m not on the top ten list of people t・at ya・ don・t want t・ mess wit・ for not・in, chere.*

There was something about the way his mind conveyed that particular message that chilled her. It was very much akin to the chill that she had felt right after he had first come out of his kiss-induced coma.

The Kwannon part of her realized that it was the type of feeling experienced when in the company of cold-blooded killers. Betsy consciously shoved that line of thought away. Right now she and Gambit were on the same team. And despite what-ever personnel reservations that she might harbor, team-mates needed to trust each other. However, at the same time, she knew that letting her guard down around this man would be potentially fatal.

Gambit was busy pulling equipment out of one of the two duffel bags that they had brought along. This one contained mostly harnesses, black nylon ropes, and a complex lever and pulley system. He also pulled out what appeared to be a small harpoon gun and a small electronic box. The thief immediately went to work setting up the pulley system and strapping himself into to the harness. When he was finished, he handed her the electronic box.

*Listen Bets,* Betsy hoped that he hadn・t sensed the shift in her attitude towards him. If he had , he wasn・t showing it. *Dis・ grate ain・t positioned directly over de computer terminal t・at I need t・ access. Ya・ need t・ lower me down, gentle like, till I be almost even wit・ de keyboard. De floor・s pressure sensitive so I can・t just walk across it. I goin・ have t・ use t・is.* He indicated the harpoon gun in his hand. *It・s mounted wit・ a suction cup. Once I fire off de line, I can reel it in and pull myself right over to de computer.*

Betsy nodded. It sounded like a feasible plan of action. *Now, here・s de hard part. De room also has an decibel meter. An・, unfortunately, t・is lil・ dart gun makes more den enough noise t・ set it off.* Betsy could certainly see how that could present a problem.

*T・at・s were you come in.* Gambit indicated the electronic device that he had just handed her. *T・at t・ing is programmed t・ send a static surge t・rough de system, somet・ing dat will just look like a blip on de screen. It should last for ・bout one second. T・at will be ・nuff time for me t・ shoot de line out wit・out trippin・ some alarms.* His stare intensified considerably. *You have t・ press de button de instant I pull de trigger or we get busted.*

She nodded again to show that she understood. Gambit seemed satisfied and turned back to the black dufflebag. The last piece of equipment that he pulled out was a bit of a surprise to her. It appeared to a type of latex hood equipped with breathing apparatus. He donned the hood, which completely covered his face, and connect the hose running from the breathing apparatus into some opening on the inside of his shirt.

He must have noticed her confused expression. *De room also be temperature controlled at sixty-nine degrees. De suit is heat insulated, but my breat・ would still be warm ・nuff t・ give me away. An I hate havin・ t・ hold my breat・ for long periods of time.*

*How long does that tank last for?*

Gambit thought for a second before replying. *・Bout t・ree minutes. Five if I breat・e real shallow like.*

Betsy tried not to look dubious at his assessment. She just hoped that three minutes would be enough time. Gambit was once again busying himself above the grate opening. This time it look like he was using a set of miniature mirrors to deflect the laser beam grid below the grate opening. After a few moments of tinkering, he finally managed to create a gap about two and a half feet in diameter. Satisfied, he finished setting up the rope and pulley gears and then hooked the cords in to his harness.

*You don・t really think that you can fit through that? Do you?*

He responded by handing her the ropes after he had run them through the pulley. *Gonna・ find out right quick Betsy. Remember, gentle like.* Betsy suppressed another dubious look as Gambit switch on his air supply to his oxygen tank., then positioned himself over the grate. Betsy slowly began to let out the line as smoothly as possible. As Gambit lowered, he fluidity contorted himself until he was able to just barely slide through the gap in the laser grid. Betsy let a mental sigh of relief as he passed through without touching any of the beams. That was one obstacle down, only another dozen to go.

She continued to lower Gambit until he was just even with the computer keyboard, as he had requested. The terminal that they needed to access was still a good three feet out of his reach. That, of coarse, was why he had brought the harpoon gun. Drawing it smoothly, he took aim for the wall directly behind the computer.

*Ready Bets?*

Betsy adjusted her grip on the electronic device. *Ready Gambit.*

*On t・ree. One, two, t・ree.*

The exact moment that she pressed the button on the device, she heard a soft pop that she knew was the sound of the harpoon discharging. A split second later she heard a soft thud as the suction cup impacted on the wall. For a moment neither one of them so much as breathed. After a few seconds Betsy ventured cautiously, *Did it work?*

*I don・t see no guards chere.*

She let out a breath that she didn・t know that she had been holding.

*Then let・s finish this before the guards do catch on.*

*No rushes, chere. T・ere be plenty of time.* An amused smugness had entered into his thoughts again.

*Five minutes is not plenty of time as far as I・m concerned.*

*It is when my air is only goin・ t・ last for anot・er two.* Was his response as he activated the switch to slowly real his dangling body over to the computer terminal. After a moment, he was in position over the keyboard, suspended by the two separate lines.

Betsy watched as he hooked the harpoon gun to his harness to free up both hands. He went to work, furiously entering in codes, his hands moving in a blur. He had claimed that he had been able to retrieve all the necessary codes from an old acquaintance of his. He had certainly paid enough for them. She still remembered Scott balking slightly at the price tag attached to that particular bit of information when Gambit had brought it home. She wondered if he had secretly considered just storming the place and taking the data by force rather than pay such an astronomical figure.

Gambit・s hands were still moving at a furious pace. Betsy was getting worried. The guards would be coming back in about three minutes and it had taken them nearly two and a half minutes to get him into his present position. Apparently, the codes had been authentic, because he was now removing specialized high-compression disk from his front pocket. He entered the disk into one of the drives and waited for a few moments. A second later, the disk was ejected as he claimed it. Betsy allowed a brief smile to cross her features. They had pulled it off. Now all that remained was to get out of here.

Gambit retrieved the harpoon gun from his belt and slowly let the line feed back out. A small gesture of his hand was all the encouragement that she needed to begin reeling him up again. Just as he was about to reach the laser grid he gestured for her to stop again.

*Need t・ reel de・ harpoon line back in.* As he sent her this thought, the harpoon line disconnected from the suction cup, swinging outward slightly now that it was no longer anchored in place, and began to retract into the gun. *Gonna・ have t・ leave de suction cup behind so t・ey・ll figure out real quick t・at somebody・s been in here.* She may have imagined it, but seemed as if his thoughts were becoming somewhat strained. He must have exhausted himself more than he thought he would. Time was running out now. They only had seconds before the guards returned. She tried to keep the desperation out of her thoughts.

*Hurry up Gambit. We don・t have much time.*

*Doin・ m・ best, chere.* There was no mistaking the strain in his mental voice this time. He slowly contorted his body so as to barely fit through the gap and Betsy finished hauling him in.

The moment that he was back inside the shaft, he immediately went to work on the laser grid, restoring it to it・s former pattern. That completed, he placed the grid back in place just as a guard entered the room. He gave the room a cursory glance, completely missing the suction cup, and exited once again. Betsy gave another mental sigh of relief. The man・s inattention had just bought them some more time.

She turned to see Gambit almost frantically removing his headgear. When he finally managed to get the mask off he settled against the shaft wall, breathing heavily, eyes closed. The pieces slowly fell into place as she watched him practically gulp in the air, except he was making barely more noise than a person breathing normally.

*How long ago did your air run out Gambit?*

His chest continued to rise and fall more deeply than normal, but his breathing was slowing down now. *・Bout two minutes ago.* His eyes opened slowly, glowing eerily in the darkness. *Not the longest t・at I・ve had t・ do, but still not t・at much fun.*

Betsy studied him for a moment longer. *Well, we have what we need. Why don・t we leave before the idiot sees the suction cup and blows the whistle on us.*

He flashed her a grin that she might have considered charming, if it were not also so infuriating. *Right behind y・ chere.*


Scott Summers was doing his best not to let his frustrations get the better of him. For the past two hours, they had been checking though the data that Gambit and Psylocke had managed to obtain, looking for any type of information on a super-soldier project with the code name Falconmount or anything remotely close to what Bishop had described to them. Thus far, they had found some rather disturbing plans for a sentinel project, orders for a strategic redeployment of a group of nuclear warheads to better defend against the mutant threat, and a couple of secret arms deals with third world countries that had adopted a more aggressive stance on the mutant issue. However, they had been unable to find anything on a super-soldier project beyond ancient data on the creation of Captain America.

Scott slumped in his chair, resting his chin on his left hand. Beside him, Beast let out a sigh of equal frustration as he snagged yet another lit cigarette from Gambits hand and snuffed it on the counter. Gambit glared at the furry doctor, but merely drew another cigarette from his coat pocket. With a touch of his finger, the tip turned red, then orange. He made a show out of taking a deep contented drag, then blew the smoke in Hank・s direction. Henry, for his part, simply sat there, waiting for the next moment that Gambit would let his guard drop for a few seconds so that he could swipe his cigarette again. No words were ever exchanged. It was part of an on-going battle that the two had been engaged in as long as Scott could remember.

・You know, fearless leader,・ As Hank spoke he made a grab for Gambit・s cigarette. Gambit was prepared this time and managed to move his hand out of the way. ・It could be that we are proverbially barking up the wrong tree.・

Scott was slowly massaging a tense spot between his brows. ・How so?・

・All that are time displaced X-man has been able to tell us is that it is a project designed to create supersoldiers to deal with the perceived mutant threat. He was not aware if the same project might have embraced other facets besides mutant control.・

Bishop, who was standing behind Scott pause for a moment, then replied, ・That・s about right.・

Hank continued. ・And if the project, as he states, is not supposed to exist for another twenty years, it is quite possible that the project simply has not evolved into a super-soldier slash mutant extermination hybrid as of yet.・

Scott pulled his glassed off of his face, ensuring that his eyes were closed, and used a cloth rag to clean some dirt off of the lenses. ・That is very likely possibility. Seeing as we don・t really have anything else to check on, I・d say go for it.・ Scott nodded his head in satisfaction as he placed his glasses back on. He could see much more clearly now.

・You know,・ Beast said ruefully as he grabbed at Gambit・s cigarette, this time successfully, ・I use to try to get Xavier to say ・Make it so・ at times like these.・ His eyes glazed over momentarily at the memory, giving Gambit the opportunity he needed to swipe his cigarette back before Henry snuffed it. ・One time he even did it and even stolid old Bishop had to laugh at that one.・ His eyes twinkle mischievously as they those of the mutant in question. ・Of course, seeing how Xavier isn・t here, and I was never able to get you to do a Warf impression before...・

・No,・ the black man replied simply.

Hank shrugged and turned back to his computer, snagging Gambit・s cigarette and quickly snuffing it this time. ・Well, were do we start then?・

Scott stood, stretching as he did, and walked over to stand behind Hank・s chair. Looking at the choices on the screen he randomly selected one that seemed somewhat promising. ・Try compounds, Hank. Maybe they are using some sort of a prison compound so that they can test this supersoldier thing on the inmates.・

・Aye aye, fearless leader,・ Hank blithely ignored Gambit as he lit up another cigarette. ・Just out of curiosity, can you do a good Riker impression?・

Beast used the mouse to highlight compounds. However, just as he was about to select the item, he made another grab for Gambit・s cigarette, this one unsuccessful, and ended up selecting covert operations instead. Once again, Scott was forced to keep his frustration in check. He really didn・t mind this little game that Gambit and Beast played, so long as it didn・t interfere with their work. Beast realized what he had done and was about to back out to the previous menu, when Gambit laid a restraining hand on his arm.

・Wait one moment, mon ami,・ Gambit was gazing intently at the screen. Scott・s curiosity was piqued now. ・What is it Gambit.・

・T・is,・ He was indicating a file marked, Operation Monfalcone.

・What is so important about that, ・ Scott was genuinely confused. The file was dated before the end of the second world war.

・I only know a lil・ bit of Italian. Mainly ・cause its close t・ French,・ Gambit was so involved in his current thought that he didn・t even notice Henry swipe his cigarette from his fingers. ・But, I do know t・at Monfalcone means Falconmount.・

Scott just shook his head. ・But that file is over fifty years old. How could it possibly be relevant to what we are looking for?・

・Beats me, mon ami. Why don・t y・ open it an・ we can find out?・ Gambit moved to take another drag from his cigarette, realized that it was gone, and glared darkly at Henry once again.

・Optimal idea, a quick perusal could reveal much,・ Beast・s actions match his words as he opened the file and rapidly began scanning its contents.

・Let・s see. Operation Monfalcone, named such because the entry point of the incursion was at the port city of Monfalcone. Objectives, the assassination of scientists rumored to be involved in a...・ Beast paused, then turned his chair to face them all. ・...in a Nazi super-soldier project.・

Scott felt his eyebrows rising as the implications set in. A fifty year old Nazi super-soldier project revitalized. The prospect chilled him to the bone. It was Bishop, however, that reacted the most.

・Those traitors!・ He thundered. When he suddenly found himself the center of attention he continued to explain. ・In my future, all research acquired by the Nazi concentration camps is banned by international treaty. This is a clear violation of that treaty.・

・But why ban the knowledge if it could potentially save...・

Bishop closed his eyes painfully. ・Beast, you don・t know everything that those sick butchers discovered and documented. No one in this time does. The government keeps a tight lock on it. Suffice to say that they discovered some very unorthodox methods of torture and execution.・

A heavy silence reigned momentarily before Cyclops continued. ・If this really is some old Nazi super-soldier project revitalized, we could have some serious problems here. But how do we know that this Operation Falconmount and Operation Monfalcone are even connected to Logan?・

・Scott, I think that you should have a look at this.・ Hank was staring intently at the monitor in front of him. It was the roster of the soldiers that had been sent on the mission. One name stood out and demanded their attention. Logan Mathison.


Part 10

Dusk
Forty Miles North of Udine

He hadn't spoken a word for the last half-hour. His silence was not due in any part to a lack of prompting from his captors, however. On the contrary, they had done everything within their capacity to elicit some type of a response from him during the proceedings. Logan's ribs still burned from the repeated beatings that he had received at their hands.

In his mind, he screamed in defiance of the reality that was being paraded before him, yet his voice remained silent. Hardly moving, he staredstraight ahead as each "victim" took the stand and condemned him as theirmurderer. As one after another pointed to him as the man who ended their lives. Still, he refused to acknowledge even one of these accusations. He hardly acknowledged that there was anything going on around him at all.

He could smell their growing anger and frustration at his apparent apathy, which only served to strengthen his resolve. This was a battle of wills that he had no intention of losing. He knew he couldn't afford to make that mistake. However, as if to express the outrage he himself would not, thunder continued to crack and roll with fury outside the building.

"That will be all Professor Klapiz." Venuti was busy dismissing another one of the witnesses that had just finished giving testimony of another of Logan's heinous crimes.

"Does the defense wish to cross-examine?"

Logan didn't need his enhanced senses to catch the amused irony inherent in the man's statement. He hasn't tried to cross-examine anyone so far. Why should he start now? Logan wanted to growl, but maintained his silence instead.

"The defense declines," Shipper responded, equally amused.

True to Logan's expectations, the man had not made even a vague attempt to defend him. He had simply sat behind his desk through the entire proceeding smelling sharply of vindication.

"Very well," Venuti continued, "As our final witness, the prosecution calls to the stand the defendant, Logan Mathison." A peal of thunder responded to the ominous statement yet Logan made no moves to respond himself as his chair was moved to the witness box by Adams and Vanhorn.

Venuti was pacing back and forth with the scent of a predator. He stopped and sat down staring at Logan. Then he brought his hands together, interlacing the fingers, and rested his chin on them as if in deep thought. Logan almost barked a laugh at the show that Venuti was making as if he was trying to decide how to proceed. Wolverine could tell from the man's scent that he knew exactly what was about to happen.

Venuti pinned Logan with a glare over his folded hands. "Logan Mathison, would you please describe, in your own words, the events surrounding the period of time from February six to February twelve nineteen forty-two?"

Logan lifted his head to stare Venuti defiantly in the eyes, and maintained his silence. Venuti simply waited, his rage scent growing stronger and stronger with each passing second. A nervous muscle began to twitch in his right cheek as the veins stood out in stark relief on his neck. Through it all, Logan's gaze never faltered and his silence never broke.

"I repeat," Venuti had risen and was stalking towards him now, his voice rising with each step.

"Will you describe the events surrounding the second week of February, Nineteen forty-two?!" Venuti was close enough that spittle flew from his lips to land on Logan's face. Logan didn't flinch nor did he break eye-contact with Venuti.

They remained there, in tense silence, for several moments, and Logan fully expected another beating to come in response to his continued silence. He could feel Fallon watching. Could smell his pleased scent at the scene before him, but Logan refused to give them the added satisfaction of his participation in this farce no matter what kind of pain they dished out for him. He wasn't going to play their game. It gained him nothing and only increased their enjoyment of this little revenge party.

Venuti suddenly spun on his heal. His scent changing abruptly from near rage to amused satisfaction. Logan had to struggle to keep the look of surprise out of his features. An apprehensive dread was slowly entering his mind. Venuti had obviously decided to change tactics, but what was he going to do now?

"Perhaps I should rephrase the question. Be a little bit more specific." Venuti was resting his chin on his hands again. "Please describe to the court what it felt like as you ruthlessly executed fifteen civilians in cold blood."

Inwardly, Logan was relieved at the high-handed tacit. Venuti wasn't as smart as he thought. He wasn't about to rise to that bait either. He had done what he had been ordered to do. Yes, he had/still hated himself for doing it. Every moment had been agony as he stared into those terrified eyes and pulled the trigger. Somewhere deep inside of him he had known that those men were not the enemy. Many of them had been there against their will, forced into violating many of their own ethical standards to serve the Nazi cause. In some of their eyes, he had even found relief when he had ended it for them, but war was that way.. He couldn't go back and change what was nor what he was required to do to stop it.

As silence once again filled the room, Logan could smell the tension mounting, not only from Venuti, but also from Fallon. After a few precious seconds ticked by, Venuti continued.

"Did you even enjoy it on some level? Did that kind of senseless slaughter appeal to your animal instincts?"

Venuti was looking at him in open disgust now. "Did you feel the urge to just drop your gun and finish the job using your bare hands and teeth to truly revel in the blood?"

Despite himself, Logan's features darkened, but he still refused to respond. This whole proceeding was becoming more and more confusing. He could smell anger and disgust from every one of his teammates over the execution of the fifteen scientists. Their judgment both angered and wounded him. All of them had been sent there to assassinate those men. Admittedly, he hadn't felt completely right about it even then, but they, of all people, didn't have the right to judge him. He had only done what they had been sent there to do. What they would have done. It made no sense for them to hate him for being successful in that particular aspect of the mission and, at the same time, also hate him for having failed in others.

Venuti studied him closely for a moment. He must have decided that it was time to try another approach. His next question caught Logan completely off-guard. "Would you like to describe how you felt as you looked into the eyes of your dying teammates, and then turned your back on them to save your own hide?"

Out of shock this time, Logan didn't respond, and Venuti took that as his cue to continue. "Perhaps you would like to tell us about the smell of their blood as it mingled with sewage. You do have a good nose, don't you? It must have been an almost overpowering scent to you."

Logan couldn't restrain the mild look of confusion that crossed his face. He had never told any of his former teammates about his enhanced senses. How had they found out?

The slip was slight. As quickly as the expression crossed his face, it was gone again. But Venuti had seen it. His scent nearly screamed victory at having scored a hit.

"So you do remember what it smelled like?" acid dripped from his tone. "The pungent smell of blood gushing from the teammates that you were supposed to be guarding. The equally powerful stench of death as their lifeless bodies fell into the murky waters. The bitter scent of fear and despair coming from your comrades when they realized that you weren't coming back for them."

Venuti's grin was growing wider and wider as he watched the rage and confusion grow on Logan's face. How had this man been able to describe the scene so well? He hadn't even been there. How could he have known that the smell of despair was so bitter without ever having enhanced senses of his own? Logan felt a growl rising in the back of his throat.

Venuti's face and scent suddenly turned grim. His next question was spoken in a tone as hard and ungiving as tempered steel. "How long did the scent of betrayal linger in your nose as you fled like a coward through those tunnels?"

Something inside of Logan suddenly snapped. "We were set up!" he roared, lunging futility against his bonds. He also knew that he was probably playing into their hands but had ceased to care at this point.

"From the beginning the whole operation was rigged! That was the smell of the betrayal that lingered in my nose, not my own! The knowledge that we had been sold out by one of our own commanders!"

They all wore grins of satisfaction now and Logan knew that he had lost. This entire farce was just to see how far they could provoke him, and he had let them win. He could smell the scent of triumph and vindication coming from Fallon, mingled with the scents of anger and smugness from his former teammates.

"Well Venuti," Logan knew that his next words weren't going to improve his situation, but that fact didn't stop him. "As long as yer assigning blame ta me, why haven't ya gone ahead and blamed me for yer own death? I've heard ya yell and scream all about their deaths, but ya haven't said boo about yer own."

Venuti's expression was carefully neutral, but he smelled strongly of anger and for some reason, confusion. "What do you mean?"

Logan barked a laugh which served to further enrage Venuti. "Oh come on. That's an easy one ta blame me for. Hell, I even blamed myself for it." He met Venuti's gaze once again and could see uncertainty in those eyes. "I practically told General Heiner to blow yer brains out."

Venuti blinked and reeled back in shock. For a brief moment anger warred with confusion on his face and in his scent. Then, anger won out and with a wordless cry Venuti lunged at him. Restrained as he was, Logan could offer no resistance as blow after blow rained down on his face and chest. No one else moved to interfere as Venuti continued to howl in harmony with the crashing thunder. In fact, Logan could smell the approval from all of them as they casually watched Venuti's fists pummel him.

The beating lasted for a few minutes more, then stopped abruptly. Logan gingerly raised his head to pear through the one eye that wasn't swelling shut. Blood leaked out of a badly broken nose to join another rivulet trailing from a busted lip. His ribs ached painfully were a few more had been fractured. Logan gritted his teeth to prevent a grunt of pain from escaping his lips.

The scent of rage was slowly draining out of Venuti as he regained his composure, though the confusion remained,. Logan still half-expected the man to leap back on him any second. Instead, he simply turned to face Fallon and stated. "Nothing further your honor. The prosecution rests."

Logan almost let out a sigh of relief as Venuti turned on his heel and returned to his desk. That relief was tempered, however, by his own confusion.

*What had just happened?* Venuti had reacted as if that was the first time he had ever been told of his own demise. How was it that these people could remember the most intimate details of his own mind, his thoughts and emotions, but didn't even seem to have basic knowledge of other pivotal events they were actually involved in. This strange combination of ignorance and knowledge served to accentuate Logan's earlier premonitions of his teammates being hollow.

"Does the defense wish to cross-examine?" Logan didn't even know why Fallon continued to ask.

"No your honor." Logan bit down another laugh, wincing as it jarred his damaged ribs.

"Does the defense have anything to add?" Logan looked expectantly at Shipper. Logan's wounds were healing quickly now, and he could almost see through both eyes again. Did the man intend to prolong this mockery or was he just going to end it here and now.

"No your honor, the defense rests." Apparently, Shipper was opting for the latter.

"In that case, I move to..."

"The defense calls Robert Adams to the stand," Stunned silence greeted Logan's last minute statement. He knew that it was a long shot, but he desperately wanted to find some kind of an answers to his questions if nothing else. And as he didn't imagine that this Fallon character was going to be exactly forthcoming which left him with precious few options.

His former teammates all glared at him with open animosity, and Logan fully expected his request to be ignored. However to his surprise, Fallon smelled intrigued and more than a little curious. "Granted," he finally responded, and Logan let out a sigh of both shock and relief.

George and Hopper moved his chair out of the way while Adams situated himself on the stand. Logan could smell the suspicion coming off of the other man like a bad stench. He probably wasn't going to have much luck with direct questions. Thus, if he wanted his answers, he was going to have to be more subtle and crafty.

Logan drew a deep breath as he faced the man that he had once called friend. "Sergeant Adams, could you please describe the events of yer own death?"

Logan saw the other man stiffen visibly at the question while his scent turned cold. "Certainly," came the even response. "It happened in the sewage tunnels underneath this very citadel." Adam's gaze was bitter as he glared at Logan. "After you abandoned the others to be cut down by enemy fire, you watched me take bullet in the back like it meant nothing to you."

Logan grimaced. That part was true, if a little bit warped by the other man's perception. His theory about his former teammates not being able to clearly remember their own deaths had now been proven wrong. Perhaps, he should try a slightly different slant.

"What about Vanhorn. Do ya remember how he died?"

Adams seemed to be a little bit confused by this line of questioning, but it did not dim his anger any. "Of coarse I remember. He died on the docks when we were trying to escape from the cargo ship."

Logan's mind whirled furiously. Death in general didn't seem to cause any specific lack in memory for him either. Maybe it was just a case unique to Venuti. Still, there had to be something there for him to find.

"Ya ever had a girlfriend, Adams?" this question completely took the other man off-guard. Just the way Logan had hoped that it would.

Adams paused, considering his words carefully before finally responding. "Yes."

"What happened to her?"

"She left me," bitterness echoed in his words as anger re-entered his scent. "While I was at boot camp."

Logan smiled grimly. Hopefully making Adams angry would put him off-balance enough to make a few mistakes. "Yeah, real shame. What was her name, again?"

Logan had expected belligerence in response to his question, instead he received a blank confused stare. Adam's eyes blinked as he searched for an answer. "...Sherry...I think..."

"Sherry, was Landen's girlfriend, bub." Sherry had been a nickname actually. Her real name had been Shyla, but Landen always called her Sherry. "If yer gonna lie, ya could at least use some imagination."

Adam's face hardened as the barb struck home. "Her name was Sherry. The name was popular at the time and a lot of girls had it."

Logan smiled smugly. "Yeah, sure. Whatever you say, bub." It was time for him to press his position. "What color was her hair?"

Adam's face was reflecting confusion again. Logan wasn't about to let up. "Or her eyes? When was the first time that ya kissed her, held hands. Do ya at least remember the guy that stole her from ya"

Adams was practically reeling on the stand now. Confusion and denial raged across his face. "These are basic questions bub. Ya want ta tell me why you don't know the answers?"

Logan could smell the impatience growing on Fallon. He knew that he would have to do something fast before the man ended everything. This might be his only chance.

"What about the rest of you?" Logans voice rang out in the room and was accented by a clap of lightning. "How many memories are the rest of you missing? How many of you can't remember yer families. See what ya actually have in yer heads besides memories from that mission, and you'll probably find that its pretty damn shallow."

"Enough!" Fallon's voice rang through the chamber. He pinned Logan with a glare that would have made a lesser man wither. "Intriguing defense tactic and well executed. My compliments." Fallon's voice actually did have a touch of respect. "But then, you always were skilled at negotiating when your back was to the wall. It changes nothing, however."

Logan tried to fight down a growing sense of dread as Fallon arose in imperious majesty. "Logan Mathison, this court finds you guilty of all charges."

Logan's temper snapped as his small victory was summarily discarded. He wondered why Fallon bothered to listen to it at all since his mind had obviously been made up from the start. If not for the information gained, he would have felt cheated. "Ya didn't have ta deliberate very long on that one, boob. Obviously ya never planned to put a lot of thought into it."

"Silence!" Fallon thundered.

Logan glared back at Fallon in impotent fury. "Ya' gonna' at least tell me who ya' are, how I know you, and why yer so pissed off at me?"

Dark thunderclouds that dwarfed the ones raging outside warred on Fallon's face. So much hate was rolling off of him now that it made Logan want to plug his nose. Whoever this man was, he obviously believed that Logan had done him a great injustice. Logan had rarely smelled hatred that intense from anyone. It was on a level such that Logan seriously questioned this man's sanity. No one could hate that intensely for that long and keep his head on straight.

When Fallon finally responded, his tone was brittle. "Some in the course of history have foolishly endeavored to claim that ignorance is bliss. They could not be more incorrect. Ignorance can be, quite possibly, one of the greatest punishments inflicted on another human being." Fallon was slowly seating himself again. "Thus Logan, ignorance, which you have already allowed to blind your mind, will be a part of your punishment as well. It is only fitting."

Logan's brow knitted in frustration. Why was it that he had to have a tormentor with a poetic sense of justice. That was the one thing that he actually appreciated about Sabretooth. No complex self-righteous judgmental crap. He forced himself to look at Fallon once again. "Ya said part. What's the rest?"

Fallon's smile was a brittle as his tone had been. "You have been convicted of a capital offense. There is only one punishment available."

Logan summoned an impudent smile. "Geez, if ya just planned ta kill me, ya could have told me at the beginning of all of this, and I could have taken a nap."

"Oh no, Logan. It's not that simple." Venuti's voice broke in. "You see, for a hardened criminal such as yourself, ordinary death just isn't good enough."

Logan felt the hairs rising on the back of his neck as Venuti continued.

"You, my friend, and I use that term loosely, require a more specialized form of execution."

Hopps now joined them at Logan's left side. "And with that handy healing factor of yours, we are going to be free to let our imaginations run wild."

Logan gritted his teeth. He had faced torture before. Some of the meanest in the world had done their worst to him, and he was still reasonably sane and healthy. He didn't believe that this Fallon could ever top that things that the Genoshans had done to him. That didn't mean he was looking forward to it, though.

"And to start things off, there is something that I have been wanting to do for a long time."

The statement came from Vanhorn, who now joined the tight circle around him. "You remember how much of a big hunter I was back home?" As he spoke, Vanhorn withdrew a wicked six inch blade.

"I once nailed a twelve point buck. You wouldn't believe how nice that thing looked mounted on my wall."

Vanhorn was advancing on him now, his wicked grin reflecting on the surface of the blade. "Well, you're considerably smaller, and you only have six points as opposed to twelve," Vanhorn paused to let the implications sink in. "But I intend to have those six points so I can mount them as well. Its always important to have memories of your best hunts."

Logan had no way of defending himself as Vanhorn slammed the blade into his forearm and began carving up flesh. The other eight soon joined in. Each doing their own part in the gruesome task. Outside the citadel the storm continued in all of its fury. Peals of thunder accompanied by the sounds of howls from within.


Part 11

1942

Fifteen Miles Northwest of Monfalcone

Logan stalked silently through the grass alongside Adams, trying to make as little noise as possible. Hopps had officially assigned the two of them as partners seeing as both of their respective partners had recently been eliminated. Other than the fact that it was precipitated by the death of two of their teammates, the present arrangement suited Logan just fine. During training, he had gotten along way better with Adams than he ever had with Chancer.

Another big plus was the fact that Adams knew how to effectively move through heavy foliage without making any noticeable tracks. Most likely the result of Adams having grown up on the farm and spending a lot of time out in the woods. Most of the others were all city boys.

Their combined stealth was the primary reason that he and Adams were also given point duty. Presently, they were using those skills to quickly and quietly crawl under a rough section of bramble.

Ahead of them, Logan could see that the sun had already crested the jagged horizon. The increasing daylight meant that they had to exercise even more caution. Especially when you considered the fact that common sense would tell you there had to be probably half a dozen platoons deployed to search for them by now.

It had been a combination of skill and luck that had allowed them to evade the roaming soldiers thus far. However, the closer they got to their target, the more and more soldiers that they would have to circumvent.

"Hey Logan," Adams whispered quietly, "he won't admit it, but I'll lay you three to one odds that Hopps had us lost out here."

Logan almost snorted at the assessment. Hopps was a good leader, but he didn't have the greatest sense of direction in the world. Coupled with the fact that Allied intelligence hadn't been able to give them an exact location on this citadel that they were supposed to be attacking, they had been wandering somewhat aimlessly for the past two days. Of course, Logan had to admit, he doubted that anyone of them could really have done much better given the circumstances. They had been given nearly a thirty square mile swath to search.

"Yeah, we're probably not any closer to that citadel today than we were yesterday," Logan replied softly as he snaked around a brittle twig. "It's not like Wilcox was a great help in giving us the location though."

"That's an understatement," Adams grumbled. "Sometimes I wonder how serious they were about us completing this mission."

Logan could commiserate with that sentiment. "I know. I know."

"No, I'm serious."

Logan could tell from the man's scent that he was thinking about something that was obviously disturbing him. Logan halted his movements to look at the other soldier.

"What do ya mean?"

Adams sighed softly as he pushed his way carefully around some brambles. "I don't pretend to understand all of George's explanation about a familiar form and respectful form or the law that states that all Italians have to use respectful form." Adams shook his head before continuing. "But it just didn't seem to me that it should have been enough to give us away. Maybe it would have raise a few eyebrows and earned those Sicilians some fines or something like... like..." Adams trailed off hopelessly.

"But it shouldn't have been enough for them to figure out that we were on board."

Logan finished for him. A corner of his mind had been tugging at the same thoughts for a time. However, between trying to survive from one minute to the next and concentrating on the completion of the mission, he really hadn't had the time to dedicate a great deal of thought to the subject.

"It's almost as if they were waiting for us and just didn't know which ship we were coming in on." Suspicion and dread were rolling off Adams now as he considered the implications of his statement.

Logan just shook his head. "Do ya know what yer suggesting?"

Adams nodded glumly, "Maybe I was just around Vanhorn for too long, all of his government conspiracies have started to rub off on me a little. It's just that..." He met Logan's eyes and his expression hardened.

"Logan, there was another platoon waiting to ambush us on that dock. That's when Vanhorn lost it."

Logan took a deep breath and exhaled slowly. If what Adams was suggesting was true, it easily destroyed any chances of their surviving this mission. However, as much as he wanted to, Logan couldn't completely dismiss the idea. And he was certain that every one of his teammates had also secretly been asking themselves the same questions. The problem was, they were questions to which he had no ready answers.

"I don't know, Adams," He finally responded. "I just don't know." They sat there, in silence for another moment before he added. "But I do know that just sitting here asking questions that we don't have any answers for isn't going to get us an closer to that citadel."

Adams hesitated for a moment then decided to allow the matter to drop for the moment. Right then, they both had more pressing matters with which to concern themselves. They needed to finish scouting out the area and report back so the rest of the team could move on. Hopps had said that he wanted to find some place to make camp soon and it was their job to find a reasonably secure location.

Once out of the heavy ground covering, they continued their measured walk, senses completely alert. They had gone about another twenty meters when an errant breeze suddenly brought a warning scent to Logan's sensitive nose. He placed his hand on Adams' arm, in a universal signal, then indicated the crest of a small hill thirty meters to their left. Adams simply nodded in understanding. In their time together he had become accustomed to the shorter man's seemingly uncanny ability to detect enemy troops even at great distances and now just accepted it as a highly developed sixth sense. Together both men again dropped silently to the ground and began to slither towards the crest of the hill.

From the rise, the area opened up into a low valley walled in on both sides by jagged rock faces. Logan immediately spotted the enemy forces, which were situated about a mile and half away from their present location. A quick count revealed approximately two enemy vehicles and thirty soldiers. Curiosity and confusion filtered through Logan's mind. Why would this many troops be gathered in one area?

Beside him Adams silently drew a pair of binoculars from his pack and began to intently study the scene. "Looks like...thirty troops... all well armed... can't figure out what the jeeps are for though." Adams handed his binoculars to Logan, a speculative expression on his face. "It doesn't look like they are searching for us. Just waiting. But for what?"

Logan accepted the binoculars without response. He had no clue as to why this many troops were just waiting in a location like this. Being in the valley definitely put them at a tactical disadvantage if they were planning on engaging enemy forces. Logan peered through the lens at the forces below. He knew from experience that his range of vision was far better than that of a normal man's, but at this distance even he couldn't make out the individual details of the enemy troops. They did indeed appear to be waiting. However, Logan couldn't even begin to fathom why.

"We'll have to slant our course a little bit more east, but we should be able to avoid them fairly easily." Adams whispered nonchalantly. After all, this was what they had been doing all day.

"I'm not so sure," was Logan's reply. "That's too many troops for just one unit. More likely, its several different units meeting to coordinate or something." Logan laid the binoculars down in the damp grass as his mind whirred with different possibilities. "Whenever they finish whatever it is that they're here to do, they'll probably split into several different directions. We need to stay long enough to find where each group will go when they finish here."

Adams nodded in agreement with the logic of Logan's proposal and both men settled in to wait. Logan used the opportunity to study the German soldiers more closely and review what he knew thus far about their present mission. They still didn't know exactly what kind of project the Nazis were working on. The only response that had been given them was that it could have potentially devastating ramifications on the war if successful. Judging from the amount of effort that the Nazis were using to keep it protected, Logan certainly believed that part of their information was correct and surely knowing more would have made this much easier. Logan idly wondered why Allied intelligence hadn't selected an option that would have yielded a greater chance of success if this project was truly such a great danger.

Adams interrupted his reverie by indicating a flurry of activity on the far side of the troops. "I think that this is what they are waiting for."

Logan was inclined to agree. The murmur of activity slowly spread throughout the entire gathering. Logan raised the binoculars to his face for a better view. One group of soldiers was unloading something from the one of the Jeeps, but he couldn't tell what it was. In the distance he could hear the faint rumble of another vehicle approaching.

All of the soldiers gathered snapped to attention at the new arrival. Whoever this guy was, he must have had a pretty high rank. Logan focused the binoculars on the three figures in the approaching jeep trying to make out features. The old jeep pulled around a large tree stump before grinding to a halt. Almost immediately afterwards, a man stepped down from it and spoke something to the troops that put them at ease.

"Well I'll be..." Logan muttered softly as he recognized the new arrival. "It looks like fortune may have dealt us a lucky hand after all."

"What is it?" Adams asked as Logan handed the binoculars back to him. Logan waited until Adams had a moment to focus on the new group.

"Unless I'm mistaken, that's General Heiner. The photos that they showed us during briefing were pretty old, but he is still recognizable. According to Allied intelligence, this is the guy in charge of the entire project. In fact, his elimination is even a secondary objective."

Adams scent turned cold as his features hardened. "Well, that's one thing that we can take care of right now." The man began to reach for his gun.

"Hold on," Logan laid a retraining hand on Adams' arm. "Let's think this through." Adams hesitated, and Logan took that as his incentive to continue. "If we take him out now, we still haven't really accomplished our main objective. They'll just find someone else to head up the project. The key is finding and eliminating the scientists."

Adams reluctantly released his hold on the gun. "I'm listening."

"This guy is in charge of everything. He oversees the operation personally. I'll bet that the only reason that he is out here is to beef up security a little." Logan could see that Adams was beginning to understand now. "As soon as he's done here, he'll head straight back to the citadel and that Jeep will leave a perfect trail for us to follow."

"We could kill him anyway. The driver would probably head back to the citadel even without him," Adams suggested.

"Yeah, but if we shoot him now, we are going to spend at least the next three hours avoiding scouting parties from these guys as they try to find were that bullet came from," Logan explained. "By the time that we could get back here to the clearing, all three of those jeeps would be gone and we wouldn't know which trail to follow." Logan scratched his chin in thought. "The trail would probably be cold by then to."

Adams smelled of bitter disappointment but nodded his head in agreement. He continued staring intently at the General with something akin to wistfulness.

"Hey something's going on down there. I don't think this is just him checking out the surrounding patrols." Adams adjusted his grip on the binoculars and grunted in frustration. "They're carrying something over to him from the other trucks, but I can't make out what it is."

"Let me. I've got better vision,"

Adams grunted in protest, but didn't argue as Logan snatched the binoculars away from him. In a few seconds he was focused on the General and the men hauling the large bundles.

There were two bundles. Both wrapped in some type of coarse cloth. Thus, Logan still had no clue as to what they possibly could be as each were dropped in front of Heiner.

At a signal from Heiner, the cloth was thrown back on both bundles and Logan nearly gasped in surprise. The lifeless eyes of Chancer and Vanhorn met Heiner's own probing gaze. Logan shifted his line of vision to the General to see what his reaction would be. Heiner studied the bodies for a bit longer then nodded in satisfaction. He shouted orders to two of his men, who immediately recovered the bodies, then proceeded to load them into the back of Heiner's Jeep. He continued shouting more orders that Logan could only guess at, but he had a sick feeling in the pit of his stomach. He numbly allowed the binoculars to fall from his hands as his mind reeled from what he had just seen.

"What? What was it?" Adams eagerly snatched the binoculars and strained to catch a glimpse of Heiner as he boarded his Jeep to depart.

"The bundles they were carrying," Logan whispered hoarsely. "they were Chancer and Vanhorn."

Adams' scent became bitter and pungent with anger and resentment.

"They'll probably give the bodies to those scientists to carve up."

Logan could feel his own anger growing to replace the numbness. "Adams, answer me this. Why would the General in command of a Nazi research project come out here to retrieve a couple of bodies of American soldiers?"

Adams stared back at him, resentment fading to be replaced by confusion. "I don't know. Why?"

Logan tried to keep his voice from becoming a growl. "He was there to identify the bodies."

Adams' face drained of color as he realized what Logan was saying. "You mean... that he..."

"He knew that we were coming. He probably even has photos of us if he is trying to confirm the identity of the bodies," Logan's eyes narrowed angrily. "We've been set up."


"So that's it, huh," Hopps was pacing angrily back and forth. "Well boys, we just want you to infiltrate deep into enemy territory, attempt an incursion into a heavily guarded fortress and assassinate fifteen civilians." There was such bitterness in his voice.

"Oh, and were not going to tell you this, but just to make things even more interesting, we're going to go ahead and tell the enemy that you're coming so they can make sure that they have everything ready for you."

Hopps stopped abruptly and began to tremble in suppressed rage. "Those bastards." His trembling increased until he could no longer contain himself. "Those bastards!!" he howled hoarsely as he slammed his fist into a nearby tree.

"Too bad Vanhorn isn't still here." George grumbled darkly. "He would just love to tell us how he knew this was coming."

The others had been equally shocked and angered by the news when he and Adams had returned. Mclenn and Landen were just registering shock disbelief thus far, but Hopps had gotten well beyond that stage. However, if Logan were going to lay odds on Hopps chances of being able to physically destroy the tree that he was currently pounding on, they would probably go in favor of the tree.

Logan stepped forward and seized Hopps fist before he could strike another blow. His hand was already bruised and bloody. "Let it go Hopps. It ain't worth it."

Hopps stared back at him darkly and jerked his hand free savagely. For a moment, Logan wondered if he intended to resume pummeling the tree. Self-control returned, however, as Hopps continued his pacing. Logan let out a pent-up sigh of frustration. Every one of them was attempting to come to grips with the betrayal privately. Most of them felt anger, bitterness, confusion, but most of all, frustration. Frustration, because they didn't know who to blame for the betrayal. It could have been Wilcox, tactical command. Or maybe even Allied intelligence had set them up. There was no one person that they could assign the focus of their hate.

"So, what do we do now?" Logan noted that Shipper's ears were flushed darkly as he spoke. Apparently that happened when he was angry.

"I'll tell you what we do." George declared. "We make our way back to a port. Preferably one that isn't heavily guarded. Then we steal a boat..."

"George," Hopps began tiredly.

"...And we get out of here. That's what we do."

Hopps dropped heavily onto a stump looking suddenly old. "George, none of us are sailors. We wouldn't even make it out of the Adriatic."

"We could head North." Venuti suggested. "Try and make our way out through France."

Logan just shook his head. "We don't have enough supplies ta last us that long."

A heavy silence blanketed the group for the next few minutes. "We could just head to the extraction point and wait until our ride shows up," Adams finally blurted with a level of desperation.

George snorted. "If they were planning on selling us out like this, then I wouldn't place much hope on an extraction."

"I don't know." Landen interjected. "Call me the trusting type, but I don't think that this whole mission was just a set up."

"Why is that?" Logan asked.

"Because it wouldn't make any sense for it to be." Landen gestured emphatically with his hands. "I mean, think about it. Why go to the trouble of gathering a group of soldiers, training them for two months, and supplying them with tactical information just to send us to an execution. I don't know how much of an ego that you guys have, but I know that I'm not important enough to go to all of this trouble to kill."

"He's right." Logan agreed. "If they had wanted me dead, they could have just executed me with no questions asked. There was no need for an entire charade."

"So what does this mean to us?" George still didn't sound or smell entirely convinced.

"It means that there was probably only one localized leak in intelligence as opposed to the whole thing," Landen replied. "And if the whole mission isn't a set up, then there should still be an extraction at the designated site for us."

"There's still no point," Hopps muttered from where he sat. "What do you think they're going to do with us when we show up at that extraction point after having aborted the mission?"

"Well, they'll... they'll..." Landen stammered.

"I don't know about the rest of you," Hopps rose slowly from his seat, "but my pardon was contingent on the successful completion of this mission. If I show up without having seen this thing through to the end, its back to the brig for me."

Logan watched as this thought took hold in all of their minds. All of them had been facing prison time, and a couple of them were even facing possible death sentences when they had been forced into this operation. Returning to a fate like that wasn't really an attractive option. A heavy scent of despair began to permeate the air.

Finally, Logan broke the silence. "Well, this may sound insane, but we could complete the mission."

"What!?" George yelped in shock. The others wore twin expressions of incredulity. "Are you crazy?"

"Look." Logan hurried to explain. "If it only is one person like Landen said, then they'll probably be expecting us to use the original plan to break into the citadel."

"Which means that they'll have all of their forces concentrated on the north ridge." Hopps completed the thought.

"Right."

The citadel itself was situated on the side of a small mountain with the north side placed right on top of the cliff-face. The original plan had been to scale the cliff-face during the night and thus gain access to the less heavily guarded north side.

"So all we have ta do is find another way ta get inside. They'll already have all of their forces deployed to the north face leaving them wide open to an attack from another source."

Silence reigned for a few moments as they all considered the possibilities. Finally George broke the silence. "I may know of another way inside."

All focused their attention on him as he continued. "This citadel was built in the mid-fourteen-hundreds. If it follows standard design for the time, the dungeons would have been built to partially flood during high rains and act as a type of drainage system. From the dungeons, the flood water drains out with the sewage into underground grottos."

George scratched his chin speculatively.

"I imagine that there is an entire system of underground streams and tunnels carved into that mountain. With a compass and a healthy dose of luck, we might be able to find an underground entrance."

"So we go through the sewers and come up in the dungeons," Venuti's voice dripped with sarcasm. "That sounds like it will give us a really good tactical position."

"Those old dungeons are dark and moldy and probably rarely used anymore," George countered. "I doubt that anyone even thinks to go down there."

Hopps seemed to be thinking deeply. "Adams, Mathison, do you think you can find the trail of Heiner's jeep and follow it back to the citadel?"

Logan nodded in reply. "Yeah, after the group broke up we made sure that we knew which trail was his. It's probably a little faded now, but I think that we could still follow it back to the source."

Hopps nodded in satisfaction then continued. "Well then, the big question now is: ... What do we want to do?" He stared at all of them waiting for a response. He knew, of course, that they really didn't have much of a choice. They had never really had a choice in any of this.


Part 12

The Present
Forty Miles North of Udine

The spectacular storm had finally calmed somewhat. The turbulent clouds that had born the brunt of the electrical display continued in their path eastward. Even the winds were dying down leaving in their wake only endless torrents of rain.

In a distant corner of his mind, Logan wondered if that meant that the dungeon area was flooding again. It was an errant thought. One that passed fleetingly over his consciousness before his entire mind was once again consumed by an overwhelming wave of pain.

He reflexively curled into a tighter ball against the pain and waited for the wave to slowly pass. In a few moments, the sharp stabs did began to ebb slightly, leaving the aching and tender feeling he had come to expect. His entire body screamed in agony continually, begging for some kind of relief. His torso and legs still throbbed unmercifully though most of his broken bones had managed to knit once again. His head felt like it was stuffed with iron spikes that jarred painfully against one another every time that he moved it.

All these pains, however, were only minor discomforts when compared to the agony that radiated outward from his arms.

They had simply been numb for the longest time. At first, that had actually worried him. He knew that serious nerve damage had been inflicted when Vanhorn and the others had physically torn his bone claws out of his forearms. For a time, he had wondered if even his healing factor had been overwhelmed by the shear amount of damage that had been done to him.

Fortunately, or maybe unfortunately, the numbness eventually faded only to be replaced by a near paralyzing fire shooting up and down each limb. It felt as if hot pokers had been shoved into his arms, crunching bone and slashing tendons, then exploding to embed the still burning fragments deep into delicate nerve endings. It was a pain that radiated outward from his arms until he could almost feel it throughout his entire frame.

Once again, Logan had to remind himself that the pain meant that he was healing.

Using slow movements, he gently uncurled from the fetal position and managed a half-reclined posture. When his former teammates had finished with their torments, they had simply dragged him back to the holding chamber not even bothering with restraints. They obviously considered him more than manageable in his present state and didn・t deem it necessary to use more than a simple room to contain him. Logan just hoped that they weren・t right. Right now he felt more like curling up into a ball again rather than trying to make an attempt at escape.

Still, he hoped to have one last wild card up his sleeve. His current captures had known about his healing factor as well as his other capabilities. They had done their homework well. The manacles had been perfect to counteract his claws, the repeated beatings were undoubtedly tools to keep his healing factor occupied, and the entire complex had been sprayed with an extremely pungent pepper spray to interfere with his heightened sense of smell. The precautions had been well thought out. However, they were all somewhat dated.

Ever since he had lost his adamantium in that fateful battle with Magneto, Logan had undergone several physical and sometimes disturbing changes. As far as he knew, Moira Mactaggert and Professor Xavier were the only people that had ever documented and kept files on these changes to his system.

If his present captures had access to those particular files they would have known that the pepper spray in use was no longer sufficient to block his sense of smell, that the beating weren・t coming regularly enough to keep him in a weakened condition, and the claws that they had forcefully removed were already likely regrowing.

That fact had been a mild surprise even to Logan. It would still be a great deal of time before he would be able to consider them a viable weapon, but they were slowly regenerating. Certainly, it was a small advantage to say the least; however, it was the only one he had left and would have to suffice. Logan didn・t allow himself to consider the alternative.

At that moment, another wave of nausea and pain chose to strike, forcing him back onto the cold stone floor from where he had been kneeling. Thankfully, the waves were gradually becoming less in frequency and intensity. For Logan, they couldn・t pass quickly enough because not long after his ears detected the heavy sound of boots striking the stone floor in the hall.

The individual wasn・t close enough for Logan to get his specific scent, but he could tell from the sound of the steps that it was Hopps, Mclenn, or Chancer. The footsteps sounded far too heavy for any of the others.

Logan drew a deep breath as the steps approached. He was going to have to be a convincing actor if he intended to pull this off. Saying a quick prayer, he started to tremble and breathe erratically. The footsteps in the hall stopped in front of the cell door as his captor unlatched the small window and peered inside, probably to hurl insults and torments at him. Logan had the other man・s scent now. It was Mclenn, and he reeked of that continuous mixture of hatred, satisfaction, and vindication.

・Hey, Logan,・ he started mockingly, ・I・m just making the customary courtesy call to make sure that everything is satisfactory with your arrangements. You know how we pride ourselves in guest satisfaction.・ Logan didn・t respond. He just continued to tremble violently, while taking only shallow frantic breaths.

Mclenn・s scent remained mostly unchanged, but now a small hint of uncertainty entered into the mix. However, his tone remained taunting.

・You know Mathison, I・m getting the distinct impression that you・re not enjoying your stay with us.・

The X-man failed to respond once again. His trembling was now approaching the level of convulsions.

The uncertainty was growing in Mclenn・s scent and was newly joined by anger. ・Listen, Mathison, I・m not falling for your crap. So you better just stop it right now.・

Again, Logan・s continued convulsing was the only response.

・Logan! I・m warning you!・ The sharp smell of uncertainty was full blown now. Logan heard him swear violently then take off down the hall, his steps echoing heavily though the stone.

Logan allowed a brief smile to pass his features. He was certainly no thespian, but apparently he was good enough. Now, the hard part was about to come. So much of his plan, not that he could really even call it a plan, still relied on luck and the idea of them continuing to underestimate his healing factor. So much could easily go wrong.

Logan・s head jerked towards the door slightly as the sounds of three sets of running footsteps grew louder. Mclenn had found someone quickly. They must have been in the same general area or something. He could now pick up the three scents, Mclenn・s and two others that he recognized as scientists from the trial. Logan・s hopes soared. Mclenn hadn・t brought any of the other soldiers with him.

Logan resumed his convulsions as he heard the ancient lock mechanism turn and the door open, rusted hinges protesting the entire time. The three men entered the room cautiously.

Once they reached him, Logan could see that Mclenn was armed. A Heckler and Koch MP5 submachine gun hung from a shoulder strap at his side and he had drawn a 9mm Beretta, which was currently leveled at Logan・s head. The scientists hesitated awaiting some kind of signal from the soldier. The four of them remained fixed in that position for what seemed like an eternity to Logan.

Finally, Mclenn broke the silence.

・Fallon doesn・t want him to die yet. He still has other plans for him. I don・t care what kind of condition he is in just make sure that he stays alive.・

The scientists took that as their cue and moved swiftly forward just as Mclenn added. ・And remember to be sure that you never step or move between him and me.・

Logan cursed mentally. Mclenn wasn・t completely fooled. He was still playing it safe; holding back with his gun steadily trained on Logan. The scientists knelt on either side of him and began their examination. They were especially cautious to stay well out of the line of fire.

・His heart rate is weak and erratic.・

That was a little trick that he had picked up from an old friend in Japan some ten years ago.

The other scientist thumbed back one of his eyelids to shine a pocket light in his eye. ・His pupils are dilated.・

・We may have to give him a stimulant injection to make his heart start pumping again.・

Mclenn simply nodded. ・Do it.・

One of the doctors moved away slightly and began rummaging through a small black bag that he had brought with him. From that bag, the man withdrew a syringe and a bottle filled with a pale yellow liquid. The needle was inserted into the tip of the bottle and with a pull on the plunger, the syringe filled with the pale fluid. The scientists tapped it slightly, bringing a few drops to the tip of the needle and ensuring that there were no air bubbles, then moved to place the syringe at the junction between Logan・s neck and shoulder.

For a brief moment, while moving into position, the doctor accidentally placed himself between Logan and Mclenn・s gun. It was only for an instant, but it was all the time that Logan needed. His hand snaked out and slapped the syringe from the man・s hand. He completed the motion by delivering a backhand slap, which stunned the scientist and knocked him to the floor.

Mclenn was howling for the men to get out of the way, but Logan was simply too fast for them. In his next movement he grabbed the other doctor in a choke hold and positioned the scientist in front of him to block any shots from Mclenn. Mclenn had both hands gripped tightly on his 9mm Beretta, desperately looking for a shot.

Out of the corner of his eye Logan saw the scientist that he had struck regain his feet and begin to move towards them. Thinking quickly, Logan snatched the syringe off of the ground were it had fallen and shoved it into the man・s torso as he charged them. The scientist・s eyes went wide in shock then in horror as Logan jammed down on the plunger, pumping all of the fluid into the other man・s body.

Apparently what could be considered a safe dosage for him was positively lethal to anyone else. His opponent immediately dropped to the ground with an inarticulate cry and began to convulse.

Mclenn howled in rage as the scientist fell to the ground and opened fire on Logan and the remaining doctor. Logan felt the man stiffen in his arms in pain, then go completely limp as three bullets impacted in his chest and face.

Those bullets were striking closer and closer to Logan now as holding the limp scientist was dragging him down. He needed to do something and quick.

In one smooth movement, he dropped the scientist and rolled. He retrieved the syringe from the other scientist・s slowly quivering frame and hurled it directly at Mclenn・s left hand. The throw had the desired effect as Mclenn yelped in pain and reflexively dropped his weapon. Logan saw his chance and quickly disengaged himself from his protective stance behind the now still corpse. Stumbling to his feet, he closed in on Mclenn as quickly as his weakened body would permit.

Mclenn yanked the syringe from his wrist using his right hand, then whipped his MP5 submachine gun up from his side to target Logan. The taller man was only a split second too slow.

Logan slammed into him full force, knocking the muzzle of the gun vertically where it sent a spray of machine gun fire into the stone ceiling. Logan could feel the chips of stone and mortar rain down on them as they both tumbled through the door frame of his cell, smacking the partially open door as they fell.

Logan landed on top of his opponent and attempted to wrestle the submachine gun away from him. The MP5, however, was still hooked to a strap that wrapped over Mclenn・s left shoulder. Still in possession of the weapon, Mclenn was able to thwart the opportunity of Logan・s momentary distraction and slammed his elbow directly into the smaller man・s face.

Logan felt his head snap backward at the blow but managed to maintain his grip on the gun. Mclenn followed through, heaving Logan off of his body; then trying to pin the him to the floor. Logan barely managed to escape being pinned as both men struggled to their feet, still locked in a tug-of-war over the submachine gun.

Logan suddenly changed his grip on the weapon and used the leverage to slam Mclenn into the stone wall. Grimly, he grinned with satisfaction as he heard the air escape from Mclenn・s lungs in a whoosh. The victory was short-lived, however, as Mclenn drove his knee into Logan・s unprotected abdomen, causing him to retreat backwards.

This fight was taking too long. He needed to finish grappling with Mclenn and move on before the others arrived to end this little party. Mclenn charged him again looking to capitalize of the previous blow. Logan ducked and used the man・s momentum to finally wrench the sub-machine gun from his hands. With another quick twist he had the shoulder strap wrapped tightly around Mclenn・s neck.

Mclenn clawed desperately at the strap as Logan continued to apply pressure to both the strap and Mclenn・s neck. His arms burned in agony, but he didn・t let up until he heard the confirming snap in Mclenn・s neck. Logan hesitantly backed away as he watched the body of his one-time teammate slowly sink to the ground. Logan・s own knees gave out on him as the enormity of what he had just done flooded his mind. He stared numbly at the now still form of Mclenn and felt the urge to retch as his eyes took in the horrified death mask that now covered Mclenn・s face. Idly, Logan wondered if the man would rise from the dead again right in front of him.

・It wasn・t really Mclenn,・ he whispered repeatedly to himself. ・It wasn・t really him.・

A few more times and he might even start believing it. With a groan, he forced himself to his feet once again. He was positive that their struggle hadn・t gone unnoticed, and it was only a matter of time before others arrived.

He quickly untangled the shoulder strap from Mclenn・s neck and retrieved some spare cartridges for the weapon. Moving swiftly now, he returned to the cell to collect the 9mm Beretta that Mclenn had dropped during the onset of their struggle. Without his claws, he was going to need every offensive weapon that he could find. The X-Man checked the clip to find that Mclenn had shot off half of it. There weren・t any cartridges for the Beretta on Mclenn・s body either.

Logan sighed. It wasn・t much, but it would have to do.

He shoved the handgun into the waistband of his jeans and tossed the strap of the sub-machine gun over his shoulder before re-entering the hall. The most viable option for him right now was to make it down into the sewer system and then escape into the underground maze of grottos. He just hoped that from that point, he would eventually be able to find his way out. Those caves went on for miles and miles.

Logan began moving down the hall at the pace of a slow jog. His entire frame ached with every painful step, but he maintained his self-imposed pace. It was just fast enough to outrun anyone that might have been trying to follow his trail, and just slow enough that he would have some small amount of reaction time if some one was waiting for him around the next corner.

However, he hadn・t counted on a wave of pain hitting him at that moment. It wasn・t nearly as intense as the ones that he had suffered while in his cell, but it was enough to cause him to halt and lean against the wall, oblivious to his surroundings for a moment.

When awareness returned, the first thing that he noticed were the sounds of loud cries and running footsteps in front of him. The next thing that he became aware of was the scent of Chancer, Vanhorn, and Adams, who were currently charging in his direction. And the third thing that he became aware of was the roar of three automatic weapons leading to the whistle of bullets and chips of mortar flying past his face.

Logan ducked back around the corner as the three men let out another burst of gunfire. He began a mad dash back down the hallway in the direction that he had come from. Just then, his eyes caught a side hall that he hadn・t noticed before. He managed to stop his momentum and head down it just as another hail of bullets was sent chasing after him. He quickly scanned his new location and found that he must have entered into some sort of landing for the stairs A railing was on his right while a couple of small tables decorated with candelabras rested to his left. In front of him, beyond the tables, he spotted a stairwell but didn・t even waste time with the stairs.

With a running bound, he cleared the railing just as the entire hall seemed to explode around him in a conflagration of flaming wood chips, mortar and stone fragments. Behind him, the tables seemed to disintegrate under the combine firepower of the three soldiers currently chasing him.

Logan fell the twenty plus feet and landed with a painful grunt, immediately going down on his hands and knees. The sound of running footsteps on the landing above him reminded the X-Man that he didn・t have time now to worry about his pain.

Forcing himself back into action, Logan rolled out of the center of the floor to underneath the landing from which he had just jumped. Bullets scarred the place where he had been only moments before. He pulled himself back to his feet and took stock of his situation now that he was momentarily out of their line of fire. He knew that they weren・t going to try his method of descending to the lower lever, so that gave him a few seconds to decide where he wanted to go from here.

・Did we get him?・ a voice, probably Chancer・s, called out after the spray of bullets had ceased.

・Don・t think so.・

Logan heard a click, which he assumed was the sound of one of them changing to a new clip. ・He slid out from sight under the landing. Let・s take it nice and slow. Vanhorn, you・re on point. Me and Chancer will cover.・

Logan glanced down the next corridor and nearly gave a start as he recognized it as the chamber that led to the lower level dungeons. Finally a little luck.

Logan glanced back up to the stairs were the sound of booted steps signaled the imminent arrival of his captors. He began to slowly work his way to the corridor entrance, keeping to the shadows as much as possible.

He tried to gage the distance between the three soldiers and himself. He knew that he didn・t have a great deal of time left. He settled back into a crouch beside a large stone pillar. Ten feet of open space still separated him and the corridor, and he was pretty sure that they would be down the stairs before he was across the distance. Unless he slowed them down.

Vanhorn came into view first. Logan lifted the MP5 to his shoulder and set it on single shot. His angle on the other man was lousy, and he hadn・t seriously used a gun in a combat situation in years. These combined factors weren・t going to make it an easy shot but Logan slowly lined up the crosshairs.

However, just as he was about to pull the trigger, Vanhorn spotted him. ・There he is!・ Vanhorn cried as he brought to bear his own gun, an M-16 that Logan easily identified at this range.

Logan wasn・t a man to hesitate. He squeezed off a shot and watched only for a split second to see Vanhorn recoil, clutching his bleeding shoulder where the bullet had nicked him. Then Logan was off, sprinting as fast as his legs would take him.

Behind him he could here Vanhorn yelling that he was fine and to just worry about the target. However, the other two men hovered over Vanhorn long enough to buy Logan the time he needed. The X-Man breathed a sigh of relief as he reached the entrance to the corridor. Already the sounds of his pursuers were distant although still continuous.

He knew that it was only a momentary reprise. He still needed to make good his escape, and this was his best chance. He ran for all he was worth. Two halls and another flight of stairs later, he was standing before the door to the dungeon area. It was locked, but a few solid kicks soon convinced the old wooden frame to splinter and remove itself along with the the door from his path.

Logan descended down another set of stairs. These ones roughhewn, and slick with mold and water, but he still took them at a break neck pace.

He was somewhat surprised when he plunged into already chest-high waters as he entered the darkened sublevels. He knew that it was raining heavily outside, but it seemed that the waters shouldn・t have reached this level yet.

Logan shook his head to discard the errant thought as he waded through the darkened chambers.

What did it matter how high the flood waters were?

He quickly navigated to the point were he remembered entering the citadel over fifty years ago. He knew that up ahead he would find the sewage drainage system that would allow him to reach the underground caves. From there, it would be nearly impossible for his captors to locate him. With a little luck, they would spend nearly a week searching those caves before they finally realized that he was long gone. However, fate, it seemed, had other plans. When he reached the sewage drain, he found that it had been completely sealed up. Logan swore silently to himself.

No wonder the floodwater・s so high. he thought. *It doesn・t have anyway to drain out.* Then another terrifying thought struck him. I・m pinned down in here.

As if to confirm that fear, Logan・s sensitive nose suddenly caught the scents of Chancer, Vanhorn, and Adams, who had just entered the dungeon area. The trio hesitantly descended into the murky waters and began systematically searching the dark recesses of the dungeon using maglights mounted on the barrels of their weapons.

Logan could see that Chancer had taken point, while Vanhorn had fallen back with Adams and was still favoring his left shoulder.

・We know you・re down here Logan,・ Adams called out tauntingly. ・We also know that you・re trapped. The drains have all been sealed off. So, why don・t you make this easier on yourself and just come out?・

Logan sank slowly down until only his eyes remained above the waterline. In the dark shadows of the prison walls, he was virtually invisible. He wasn・t about to make the mistake of giving away his position by responding to the taunts this time. That mistake was what had placed him here in the first place.

・Come on Logan.・ Chancer sounded almost exasperated. ・It・s just a matter of time until we find you. You know that.・

Logan briefly considered the possibility of being able to sneak by them and return into the higher levels of the citadel, but he quickly discarded the idea when he noticed that Adams was deliberately holding back to guard the entrance against that contingency. He would need to find some other alternative or he would be forced to fight his way out of this dead end.

Chancer was slowly but surely closing in on his position. Logan ducked his head completely under the surface of the water for a moment as Chancer shined a search beam in his direction. When the X-Man resurfaced a few moments later he found Chancer only five meters away, but turned in the other direction.

Looking at Chancer again and specifically noting the variety of weaponry the man had brought along just to stop him or hurt him with, another idea slowly began to form in Logan・ mind. It was risky, but it was also his only chance. Logan would have snorted in irony if not for his current situation.

Gonna take a chance on Chancer.

Logan used his hand to disturb the surface of the water, nothing big, just enough to attract Chancer・s attention.

・That you Logan?・

Logan once again ducked under the surface to avoid Chancer・s probe. Under the surface all sounds were muted and garbled, but he could still make out Chancer as the large man slowly began to move in his direction. Logan silently prayed for the luck of the Cajun for once in his life as his opponent continued to approach.

The soldier was moving cautiously, pausing every two or three steps to check the area and watch for an ambush. Logan just hoped that the man didn・t take too long. Even with a mutant healing factor, he couldn・t hold his breath indefinitely.

The seconds ticked by slowly and Logan・s lungs began to burn from lack of oxygen. Come on Chancer he thought desperately. Get over here. Moment after tortuous moment passed while Chancer continued to inch his way forward. When he finally arrived just a yard away from the Canadian・s position, Logan knew that it was time to act.

Logan lunged at Chancer with every ounce of speed he possessed. He would have to move quickly for his plan to have any possibility of success.

The assault rifle with its mounted flashlight was the first thing that Logan knocked out of a very surprised Chancer・s hands. In a flash, Logan pinned the man・s arm behind his back, placing stress on all the crucial joints. As Chancer cursed and struggled, his other hand snaked to the weapons belt he had eyed before. There, it retrieved a hand grenade.

Adams and Vanhorn had both heard the sounds of the struggle and had begun to open fire; the sound of gunfire ringing disproportionately loudly through the subterranean levels. The light-beams from their mounted flashlights desperately roamed the tunnel, searching for them. Fortunately, they hadn・t been able to pin down the exact location yet, something that Logan knew would change rather quickly, and the bullets continued to harmlessly cut the surface of the water.

Logan brought the grenade to his mouth and used his teeth to pull the pin. He released the lever and shoved the grenade into the slime-encrusted surface in back of him.

Logan tightened his grip on Chancer・s arm as he spun the man around. Using his last reserves of strength, Logan managed to grapple the man between him and the grenade just before it exploded. Chancer・s final scream was cut off abruptly by the roar of the explosion that echoed through the dungeon. The man・s body had absorbed the brunt of the impact and even, in a small way, redirected some of the force back at the wall.

Logan didn・t know whether to laugh or cry. His plan had worked. The seal placed on the drainage system had been destroyed in the blast and now the flood waters were forming a whirlpool as they rushed to the opening. Logan knew that he didn・t have nearly enough strength to fight the current, thus, he just let it pull him into its embrace as he and the body of a man that had died fifty years ago were drawn into its murky depths.


Part 13

Forty miles north of Udine
1942

Logan knew that his skeptic stare was being mirrored on the faces of his fellow teammates. That stare was currently directed at the entrance to a rather dark and confining tunnel or, as he would have called it, a hole in the ground. George had insisted that this particular opening, which they had located just two miles south of the citadel, was their best option of finding the underground grottos and thus, the entrance into the dungeons. However, as Logan considered the dark abyss in front of them, he idly wondered if they wouldn't be better off attempting to scale the north ridge even with the Nazi soldiers waiting for them.

"Did I ever mention that I hate tight enclosed spaces?" Landen was nervously digging in the dirt with a stick.

"Only about forty times," Mclenn responded, shrugging.

"Are we even sure that this thing will lead us into citadel?" Venuti questioned.

The sharp smell of irritation increased marginally around George as he glared at Venuti.

"Do you want to try taking the north ridge instead?"

Venuti shrugged. "I'm not sure either option is going to get us anywhere."

They had already spent the last two and a half hours searching for some sort of entrance into the network of underground grottos beneath the citadel. It was a task that had been slowed considerably by the fact that they were constantly being forced to maneuver around, dodge, and in some cases, even eliminate patrolling enemy soldiers. The idea that the narrow dark opening in the ground before them was the result of those past two hours of searching was not sitting well with any of them.

"But seriously," Venuti continued. "Is this tunnel even headed in the right direction?"

George consulted his compass again before replying. "From our present position, the citadel has a bearing of nine point twenty-three degrees."

He pointed at the tunnel with the compass for emphasis. "From what I can see, this tunnel is running at about eight point sixteen degrees north." The soldier shrugged. "It's not exactly parallel to the line that we want to walk but it should be close enough. Once the tunnel opens up into the underground grottos, we should have more freedom to set our own bearings."

Logan could tell that Venuti was still highly dubious. Of course, Logan was as well. They all knew that an error of just a few degrees could completely throw them off course and leave them lost in the tunnels for days. And that was a mishap that they just couldn't afford if they wanted to be able to make the extraction point on time. In the present circumstances maybe just wasn't good enough.

"We could always double back and check for another entrance," Landen suggested hopefully. "Preferably one that is a little bit less constrictive. After all, if someone caught us in there," he indicated the narrow passageway, "we wouldn't be in the best position defensively."

Logan would have been more inclined to agree with Landen two hours ago before they had arrived at the base of the mount were the citadel rested. The entire perimeter was surrounded by troops who were diligently patrolling the area. The longer that they were in the open, the more nervous Logan became. Their luck could only hold for so long. It was just a matter of time before one of those patrols ran into them. Thus, even the prospects of the dark cave before him seemed preferable than engaging in a fire-fight against an enemy that out-numbered them by at least three to one.

Logan suddenly stiffened as he caught the scent of an enemy patrol.

His gut tightened when he realized that their presence had been masked by the heavy smell of pine in the immediate area. The troops had been able to get fairly close to the group without the Canadian detecting them. Logan cursed silently when he realized that their scent was growing stronger, meaning their present course would likely lead them to intercept him and his teammates.

"Hopps," he hissed quietly, "if yer gonna' make a decision, ya' had better make it fast." Logan silently indicated the direction of the approaching troops. "We've got company."

Everyone immediately hushed and dropped into defensive crouches at Logan's statement. A few moments later, the soft sound of boots crunching pine-needles filtered through the trees. Logan strained his senses until he could make out eight individuals. Using his hands he quickly flashed the number to Hopps who was chewing on his bottom lip in contemplation. Logan could almost see the wheels turning in the man's head as he calculated the probable loss that they would suffer if they engaged the troops. The man shook his head, apparently reaching a decision.

"Listen," Hopps's voice cut in, indicating the cave with his left hand, "This is the only, and I mean only, option that we have available to us. We trust George to get us through the caves and into the citadel."

Hopps stared at them a moment longer, waiting for any further objections. The smell of uncertainty was thick in the air but no one ventured any further complaints. After all, there wasn't really anything further to say.

When everyone seemed to agree, Hopps turned back to George. "All right buddy. You and I are on point until you can get us into the citadel."

He turned to Venuti and Shipper then. "You two close it in behind us. I want everyone to stay alert, and stay quiet. We are running silent from this moment on."

Logan nodded in agreement, as did the others.

All eight quickly followed George and Hopps though the dank opening, filing silently into the darkness. After traveling ten meters, Venuti and Shipper broke off to watch the entrance of the cave and ensure that they would not be pursued.

Hopps had set a fairly easy pace at first. He probably wanted to make it easier for Shipper and Venuti to close in once they were finished with their recon.

The group continued for another two minutes before Hopps called them to a halt. By this point, the darkness of the tunnel had become so complete that Logan couldn't see more than two feet in front of him. He was navigating more by sound and smell now. They sat, huddled in the dark silence for nearly a minute before Hopps finally gave the order to light some torches.

 Despite the makeshift torches that each one of them carried, a dried branch with a kerosene soaked rag fashioned around on end, the darkness of the tunnel nearly drowned them in its oppressiveness.

The torches seemed to cast shadows across the cave rather than actually bring real light to the recesses. Logan's vision was better than most, and even he could barely make out the vague outlines of stalactites and stalagmites just outside of the illuminated area around them. Once again, Logan silently prayed that the orientation skills of George were better than that of their field commander.

A few minutes later, the soft scuffling of boots alerted Logan to the presence of Venuti and Shipper as they closed in. The entire group watched them expectantly until Shipper finally replied. "They poked around the entrance of the tunnel. I guess that they didn't find anything too interesting because they moved on after only a few seconds."

The sweet smell of relief filled the cave as a collective sigh escaped from each of their mouths. The fear that the patrol would followed them forcing a confrontation in the tunnels had almost been palatable. Now that they were certain of their immediate safety, everyone was able to relax considerably.

Hopps nodded in silent satisfaction and motioned the two new arrivals to fall in. Then he turned to George, signaling him to move on.


As they continued to descend into the ever-increasing darkness, Logan tried to estimate their location in relation to the citadel. The path that they were following was headed in a generally northward direction, which is were they wanted to go. However, it could easily change direction with the next bend in the tunnel taking them miles off course.

The line stopped as they reached the first juncture of caves. Logan could see through the dim shadows that George was consulting his compass apparently trying to decide which tunnel would lead them in the more correct bearing. After a few minutes of private consultation with Hopps, he settled on the tunnel to the right. Logan just hoped that it was the right choice.


Logan tried not to groan as he sat on the ground resting his back against a large stalagmite. With few exceptions, the rest of the team was currently in similar positions. Hopps had called for a rest after hours of fruitless wandering had still failed to lead them to the dungeons of the citadel. The continued darkness and oppressive constrictiveness of the caverns were beginning to have their effect on the team. Tension was running high and morale was down. Logan sighed in exhaustion. The two were not a good combination.

He could hear Hopps and George conversing quietly while they both studied alternately: the compass and the junction of caverns around them.

As fate would have it, George's first choice had not been the best one. The cavern had slowly begun to curve eastward until George had finally resigned himself to backtracking and taking the other branch. The experience had, unfortunately, set a precedence. They had been forced to back track on four other occasions since that first wrong turn, and, if Logan wasn't mistaken, it looked as if Hopps and George were currently debating on a fifth.

Logan leaned his head against the stalagmite and closed his eyes. He attempted to dislodge his present worries from his mind for just a moment and allow the tension to drain out of his body. Piece by tiny piece, he could feel himself relaxing, lulled into a meditative state by the gentle sounds of the cavern.

He could hear the faint scraping of a group of bats from somewhere deep within the grotto. Beyond that, there was the continued musical chirping of countless swarms of crickets, locust and other insect life.

Logan felt a little bit more relaxed as he now pushed his senses farther, trying to make out the sounds from every part of the surrounding caverns. He could hear the soft breathing of his companions as they rested in the tunnel, as well as a rhythmic scratching sound that he assumed was Venuti sharpening a knife.

There was another sound that was fairly close by. In fact, it sounded like it was just past them about thirty meters away down the next tunnel. It was just far enough away that he had to really concentrate to pick it up. He stained to comfirm what he was hearing.

It was the sound of water, a smooth rippling sound as it glided lightly over the rocky cavern floor.

Logan's eyes snapped open. "Hopps," he hissed silently.

The field commander looked up from his discussion with George. "What is it Mathison?"

Logan came quickly to his feet. "I can hear a stream. It's about thirty meters in that direction." Logan indicated the tunnel with a pointed gesture. "It's possible that the water could be the run-off from their sewer drain."

Hopps rubbed his chin in a speculative expression. But, it was George who responded. "You can't be serious. That tunnel would lead us nearly seventy degrees off course."

Logan could see that their conversation was beginning to draw the attention of the rest of the team. "I know that it's a long shot. After all, most of these tunnels were created by underground rivers. But our other option is to continue vaguely wandering northward, which hasn't been incredibly successful thus far."

George looked fully prepared to protest further. Hopps, however, laid a restraining hand on him before glancing back at Logan. "I can't hear any stream. Are you sure that it's there."

Logan nodded in response.

Indecision battled on Hopps face for a brief moment more. "Okay Mathison, you and Adams are on point now. Get us to the stream, and we'll see what we can find from there."

Finding the stream wasn't the hard part. It was exactly were Logan had said it would be. Within five minutes of moving out, they were walking along-side its length.

Logan could still smell the reluctance from George, even though the man hadn't voiced any further doubts. If he were to be completely honest with himself, Logan couldn't really fault the man for doubting this idea. Even though the stream slanted sharply Northward not far from where they started following it, their present course still would not lead to the citadel. Logan just hoped that the path would continue to curve in the right direction.

As they walked, Logan reviewed their current plan in his head. Most of it was based on the assumption that the majority of the citadel's forces would be garrisoned on the north ridge awaiting their imminent arrival. George had assured them that the old dungeons would be so completely dilapidated that he doubted that they would even meet their first troops until the higher levels, and when they did run into that first group, they hoped to be able to take them as quickly and quietly as possible. From that point on they would pretty much have to play it by ear.

After awhile, Logan noticed that the sounds of rushing water increasing up ahead, as well as the stench of sewage. He did some quick calculations and estimated that they had walked nearly eight-hundred meters along-side the stream. If George's navigation was correct, the citadel should still have been another three-hundred meters further into the caverns; however, as they turned the corner, the increased smell unmistakably identified the area as a sewer.

Logan directed a questioning gaze at George, who shrugged and replied, "I might have been off by a little. No one's perfect."

Hopps smiled in pure relief, an emotion that was mirrored in the scents of the others. "Okay, douse those torches."

In response, the cavern was immediately engulfed in darkness.

"Let's make this as clean as possible. Logan, you and Adams are still on point. You'll lead us into the dungeon area." Hopps then turned to stare at Shipper and Venuti. "You two stay here and make sure that our retreat isn't cut off for now. When we have secured the lower levels, I'll send someone with orders to have you fall in."

Logan felt the tension go up a notch as everyone received their orders. They all knew that this was the point of no return. From here on out no quarter could be given. They knew that it was statistically impossible for all of them to survive and logically impossible for any of them to survive. Unfortunately, their choices had all been made long ago.

Logan and Adams slowly made their way out into the fetid sewage tunnels. Sluggish water sucked at their legs as they slowly proceeded through the dank and smelly passageway. The smell was so strong that Logan was unable to make out the scents of his teammates who followed only ten yards behind him. Only the soft sloshing sounds of boots cutting though sewage allowed him to stay alert of their presence.

They had to battle the small current to continue moving forward. The water pulled insistently at them, and the stench soon became so overwhelming to Logan's sensitive nose that he began to allow his mind to wander in order to distract himself from it. As usual, his thoughts homed in directly on one concept. *Who was it that turned traitor on us?*

The question had haunted him ever since he had seen Heiner staring into the lifeless eyes of his former companions. The possibilities were seemingly endless. It could have been Wilcox, Griffith, Baker, or anyone else who had known about the operation. It may have even been someone that Logan had never met. The fact of not knowing "the who" was the most terrifying aspect on the entire situation.

Since they had no clue who had sold them out, they also had no idea how much information on their mission their enemy possessed. Logan knew from his observation of General Heiner that, at the minimum, the man knew the number of remaining soldiers in their group.

A sudden sickening thought occurred to him. In their briefing, neither Wilcox or any of the other colonels had ever mentioned the grottos as a viable alternative. That fact didn't mean that the idea had never been considered at any point in the planning of the operation though. Depending on how high up the traitor was, he could have given information not only on the planned assault, but any possible alternative assaults, including a underground excursion.

Logan's thoughts were interrupted by Adams gently nudging his arm, then indicating a stone tunnel to his left. Logan nodded as the two of them entered into the tunnel, flashing a hold formation signal to the others as they did so. At the end of the tunnel, there was a steel grate set into the mortar. Through the grate, Logan could make out the dark flooded features of the citadel's dungeon.

Adams withdrew a set of chisels from his belt pouch and together they went to work on the grate covering. In five minutes they had managed to dislodge the metal bars from the entrance of the tunnel.

Logan dropped quietly into the waste-high waters, letting his senses reach out across the dungeon area. The smell of raw sewage was still far too strong for him to be able to make out anything beyond his own scent; however, the faint moonlight that filtered through the rare stone openings revealed nothing to the eye of a sinister nature. His ears also could pick up no discernible unexpected sounds. Nothing save that of trickling water and his own team.

Yet despite these reassurances, the hair on the back of his neck was standing on end. It wasn't a sensation that he could label, but something that just didn't feel right.

Adams was giving him a questioning look to which Logan simply shook his head. He was probably just suffering from too much tension. The last thing that the team needed now was to jump at imagined shadows. Logan turned back to the tunnel to give the signal for the others to move out.

He and Adams took their places on either side of the entrance as the other four soldiers filed into the room and immediately began setting up in a defensive position. Hopps indicated a set of stone steps which led to a large door and hopefully the rest of the citadel.

They were about to begin moving towards the steps, when the door suddenly flew open and light flooded the room blinding them all. Logan reflexively threw a hand in front of his face as his eyes desperately tried to adjust to the sudden change. His blood turned cold when he could finally make out a group of dark figures silhouetted by the harsh light.

"Drop your weapons," a voice with a heavy German accent commanded.

Logan's gaze darted to Hopps, whose hard face gave away no expression.

When he failed to respond the voice repeated. "Drop your weapons and surrender, or we will open fire."

The seconds ticked by in tense silence, and Logan felt his anger rising. The turncoat's betrayal had apparently been complete. Logan slowly raised his head to glare at those shadowy figures and felt his hate grow. How could one of their own have done this to them? How had he been able to justify the lives of ten men against the reward he had received for his treachery?

Logan could hear the voice issuing orders to surrender again and, suddenly, something inside of him snapped. His mind knew rationally that these men were not directly responsibly for their betrayal. However their present involvement was enough to cause all of Logan's frustrated unfocused rage to suddenly grab hold in that terrible moment. With an almost bestial cry, Logan raised his rifle and began firing at his enemy.

The result was instantaneous. The entire dungeon area suddenly exploded with the deafening sounds of gunfire. Hopps immediately started shouting orders for his men to regroup, but nothing could be heard over the roar of the guns. To Logan's eyes, the entire scene seemed to slow down into a surrealistic parody of life. The smell of sewage was suddenly overcome by that of gunpowder and blood.

Logan watched in detached horror as Hopps toppled forward into the dark waters, his chest a ruined patchwork of flesh and bone. George was the next to fall, cut down from behind as he desperately splashed through the flooded chamber in an attempt to reach the sewer grate. The image of blood gurgling out of his mouth as his body stiffened against the pain, then went limp burned itself into Logan's mind.

The scene was slowly returning to real time, and with it, sanity was returning to Logan's frenzied mind. He quickly assessed the situation. They had already lost two men, and would likely be turned into hamburger if they stayed here much longer. Logan didn't know if he cold bear that guilt on his conscience. He had been the one to provoke this slaughter by firing the first shot.

Pausing after releasing a round of bullets, Logan turned to Adams and practically howled to be heard over the roar of the bullets.

"Adams! We've got ta' get out of here!"

Adams' only reply was to continue firing desperately almost maniacally at the enemy. Logan then realized that he was trying to provide cover fire for Landen and Mclenn.

However his lone coverage wasn't nearly enough. Landen's rifle tumbled from his numb fingers to splash down in the water. Mclenn gave an enraged cry as Landen collapsed to his knees, dark red blood flowing freely from gaping wounds in his chest. Landen raced to his fallen comrade's side and quickly propped the man back up. They continued moving towards the grate, until Mclenn's left leg was cut out from underneath him. Logan watched in utter hopelessness as both men tumbled back into the murky waters.

Logan grabbed Adams by the shoulder and began to haul the man behind him through the grate opening. Adams struggled back howling repeatedly.

"Wait Mathison! They're not dead yet! They're not dead!"

Logan knew that they weren't dead, and he hated himself intensely for turning his back on them. However, there wasn't anything he could do for his fallen teammates as they continued to struggle weakly through the muddy water. It was only a matter of seconds before a German bullet would cease their struggles for good. Logan simply bit back the bile he felt rising in his own throat and continued to drag Adams behind him.

"No!" Adams screamed as he wrenched himself free of Logan's grasp. He raced back down the tunnel intent on doing something, anything for the remaining teammates.

"Adams! No!" Logan howled desperately chasing after the man.

He reached out and managed to grab the sleeve of the man's uniform. An instant later, a German bullet impacted in the one-time farmer's throat.

Adams' blood splattered on Logan's face as he numbly watched his friend slide from the tunnel entrance and pitch forward into the red stained waters below.

Logan was given no time to mourn, though, as another round of gunfire sounded, and one of the bullets slammed into his shoulder. The impact knocked him off of his feet and onto his back.

Momentarily dazed, Logan couldn't stop himself as he slid backwards along the angled plane of the tunnel and was dropped into the fetid sewer waters on the other side. Logan could feel the blood leaking from his shoulder and idly wondered if it was now his turn to die. The tunnels, however, held no answers as the currents swept his limp body into their dark recesses.


Part 14

Ten minutes outside of Monfalcone
Today

Silence had reigned in the cabin of the X-Men's Blackbird for the greater part of the journey. None of its four occupants had really felt a great desire to engage in conversation and were thus employed in their own private distractions. Scott supposed that he should probably say something in an attempt to break the tense silence, but just couldn't find any words that didn't sound hollow and empty to his own ears. Instead, he just studied his companions and tried to imagine what each of them might be feeling and how it would affect them on their present mission.

Bishop's face was set in a stoic expression as always while he meticulously cleaned and oiled every part of his gun. Scott couldn't really guess what the larger man was thinking at the moment. He had been rather insistent about coming on the mission and had practically throttled Henry when the Beast had hesitated to give him active status after examining his wounds. Surprisingly, it had been Gambit that had defused that particular situation by convincing Beast that this was in all likely-hood only a recon mission and quite possibly a wild goose chase.

Scott frowned marginally as he studied the time displaced X-Man. They had been unable to elicit any more explanations from him on the events that had lead to all Nazi-related research being banned in his future. All he had chosen to add was the fact that all governments had agreed on it by mutual consent and that violation was considered a capital offense.

Scott couldn't understand completely the demons that drove Bishop, but he knew what the man's priorities would be. Bishop's first objective would be to the complete eradication of operation Falconmount. Logan would be an after-thought.

Scott turned his attention to the next occupant and knew that Betsy Braddock's priorities were the complete reverse of Bishop's. She was currently seated cross-legged on the floor of the cabin in what appeared to be some type of meditative state. Scott almost shrugged. He didn't know much about meditation, it wasn't really his style. However, if it helped the telepathic ninja focus more fully on their assignment, he was completely in favor of its use.

Even with all of the her current changes that had left most of the team mystified, Scott still felt that he knew and could depend on Betsy more than anyone else in the cabin. Her motives in coming were simple. Like him, she was here to help a friend who was in a great deal of danger. And like him, she would fight with the ferocity of lion to see that friend safely home. Scott almost smiled with a sense of reassurance. Betsy, if anyone, could be counted on.

The smile quickly turned sour as Scott let his attention focus on the final member of their squad. Gambit, enigmatic as ever, slumped lazily in his chair with one leg carelessly hooked over the arm rest. He wore a nonchalant expression as he absently shuffled a deck of cards in his hand.  

Scott knew from years of experience that the man performed that particular ritual before every mission as preparation to help him get a better feel for the weight and balance of the deck. However Gambit still managed to do it with such an air of mild disinterest that it was exasperating to a team leader that demanded to see total concentration from each of his group.

Of the three X-Men currently accompanying him, Gambit's motives were the biggest mystery. Scott supposed that in some part, he felt responsible for Logan's current predicament and therefore felt obligated to help the man out. He could remember once having heard the Cajun comment that he was a man who always paid his debts, even when the price was much higher than he had ever wanted to pay. To Scott, it seemed like a noble characteristic, but Gambit had sounded almost bitter when he had made the statement. Scott surmised that his presence on this mission was only another debt to be fulfilled. The X-Man leader just wished that he could be sure that fact would be enough to keep Gambit focused on the task at hand.

With nothing else to occupy his immediate attention, Scott allowed his gaze to scan over the computer readout. At their current speed and altitude, they would be passing over the city of Monfalcone within six minutes. From that point on, their direction was less than certain.

The files that they had obtained from the Pentagon had been less than specific in indicating the location of this mysterious citadel. It had given them a general description of the terrain surrounding the location which they had fed into Cerebro's geographic database. The end result had been nearly a dozen locations within a thirty mile radius. Somehow Scott just knew that they would end up checking every last location before he would allow himself or the team to return without Logan.

Then, of course, there was the matter of what exactly they were supposed to do once they actually found the sight of the old citadel.

According to some follow up reports on Operation Monfalcone, the citadel had been completely destroyed in an unrelated bombing run nearly two years later. It was very likely that the only thing that they would find, if they found anything at all, would be an impressive fifty year old pile of rubble.

Scott wasn't exactly sure what kind of a trail he was supposed to find in old historic ruins. However, it was the only lead in their possession at the moment, and they would follow it until it exhausted itself or something better turned up.

"Ya' know, it's real interesting'," Scott snapped out of his reverie at the sound of Gambit's voice. "We always seem ta find out about anot'er one of Wolverine's past enemies right after dat enemy comes ta mess around wit' him and involve de rest of us as well."

Bishop's face darkened as he stared at Gambit. "Wolverine is a soldier. When a soldier does his job well, he will have alot of enemies Lebeau. It is a natural consequence of life."

"'Less dat soldier just leaves dem all behind him in de future, neh?"

Scott was surprised to hear a faint tone of bitterness in Gambit's voice. "Unfortunately for dose of us dat live in dis century, dat ain't really an option."

For a moment, Scott wondered if he would need to step between the two men as Bishop's expression turned to one of thunder. Of all the X-Men, Gambit seemed to be the only one that could consistently anger the normally stoic Bishop. Scott had thought that Gambit being absolved of being the traitor to the X-Men would have cleared up any lingering animosity between the two men. However, for his own reason's, Bishop still seemed to harbor a great deal of anger and resentment for the Cajun. And Gambit seemed to revel in provoking that resentment as often as he could.

When Bishop finally responded, his voice was level and as cold as ice.

"I never chose to come into your world Lebeau. In this century or any other."

"Den makin' my life miserable must just be one of de unexpected perks, eh?" Gambit responded flippantly. Bishop's faced darkened again at his words, and Gambit blithely ignored the man's death glare.

*If looks could kill...* Scott thought ruefully. "That's enough you two. Wolverine's past is not the issue here. We need to stay focused on the mission."

Bishop's face gave away no visible reaction, but Scott was almost certain that a hot flash of shame burned through the man as he turned his attention back to his gun. The time displaced X-Man considered it a sign of weakness to allow his emotions to control his words or actions, especially in a potential combat situation. It undoubtedly galled him to no end that the Cajun always knew exactly what to say to provoke the him to anger. Scott supposed that that was why Gambit did it. The man could be incredibly petty at times.

"Dat's just de point," Gambit responded with a lazy drawl. "No matter how many skeletons come out of de closet for Wolverine, his past is never de issue."

Scott wasn't sure what exactly he was supposed to make of that cryptic message. Maybe Gambit was just trying to make a subtle stab at them over the fact that he was the least trusted. However, that type of complaining just wasn't consistent with Gambit's personality. He always seemed so aloof about his membership in the X-men. It seemed to matter to Gambit so little that Scott wondered why the thief had even stayed with them as long as he had.

Scott shook his head slightly to dislodge the thoughts. They were matters that could wait for another time to be addressed more fully. A soft beep from the Blackbird's console informed him that they were approaching Monfalcone. Scott looked up as the city came into view.

By any standard, Monfalcone was small. The downtown area consisted of only a handful of cobblestone streets. And, from his present view anyway, the most notable feature was a small bell tower that tilted at a slight angle next to an old Cathedral.

*I still don't understand why they make such a big deal of the one in Pisa.* Scott thought ruefully. Almost every tower in Italy has a slant to it. I'd be more impressed by one that was actually straight. Jean probably would have accused him of having no appreciation for the arts for that thought.

A large shipyard dominated one side of the city. It was obviously the main reason that Monfalcone had ever even advanced beyond village status.

A large, though run-down, section of the town was built up around that area. There were currently two large commercial cruisers under construction in the harbor. Scott blinked his eyes and did a double take as he examined the ships again. It appeared that the smaller of the two cruisers was crooked, with the last fifty meters of the ship bent at a slight angle.

Crooked ships, crooked towers, Scott shook his head. Must be an Italian thing.

"Okay," Scott began once he had set a holding pattern into the ship's navigational computer. "We have a couple of options that I want to run by everyone."

He appeared to have all of their attention. "Everyone here knows that the files weren't able to give us an exact location of the citadel's ruins. The best that it could give us was some general land formations in the area where the citadel was situated. We ran those formations through Cerebro, and it spat out about a dozen possible locations.

"Our first option is to search each of these locations manually, one by one," Scott tried to keep a sour expression off of his face. He really hoped to avoid such a time consuming option. "Our other option is to initiate a scan of the different locations, using the ship's sensors and uplinking them with Cerebro to analyze any data. The latter would undoubtably be quicker, but could prove to be less thorough."

Scottdecided not to mention the fact that they would probably end up doing both anyway. They didn't have any other leads to follow.

Apparently, Bishop had already reached that conclusion. "We should began with the scan. We can then be better prepared with a knowledge of what is waiting for us when we begin our manual search."

Scott tried not to groan. This was going to be a very long day.

"Right. Any objections?" If there were, no one offered them. "Okay, lets get this show on the road." Scott turned to the computer console and quickly typed in the sequence to initiate the scan.

"I know dat nobody wants ta ask de question," all eyes turned to Gambit, who had pocketed his deck of cards in favor of a cigarette, "but what we gonna' do if dis lead don' turn up not'in?"

Scott didn't really want to think about that possibility right now.

"We don't need to consider that option until we've exhausted all the ones we have."

Scott pinned the Cajun with a meaningful glare. "Unless you want to try to locate your friend Mr. White again." Gambit returned his glare darkly but remained silent.

A few more seconds passed in tense silence until a soft beep announced that the ship's sensor array had completed its scan of the indicated areas. Scott looked over the results, which were listed in order of percentage of conformity with the pre-established search perimeters. Scott's jaw dropped when he his eyes caught sight of the first one.

Gambit must have sensed his amazement and quickly walked over to view the monitor from over Scott's left shoulder.

"Dis shouldn't be possible," the thief breathed softly. "De files said dat de entire structure had been destroyed. Dere shouldn't be anyt'ing here but a pile o' rubble at best."

Scott clamped his mouth shut forcibly as Betsy and Bishop arrived to view the results as well.

"Well then," He said with a crooked smile. The day seemed to be looking up somewhat. "I guess that answers our question of where to start looking."


Fallon was not a man to let his emotions control him. He firmly believed that a level of detachment needed to be maintained at all times or one's own judgment and thus, actions could no longer be trusted. These were convictions which he held firm and dear. Yet his hands tightened even further around the neck of the soldier called Adams while he forced the man to his knees.

"Would you care to explain to me again, Sergeant Adams, how exactly the prisoner managed to escape?"

Fallon could see his companions shuffle nervously in the background but none of them moved to interfere as he continued choking the life out of their teammate. "He... he faked some sort of ... seizure...Mclenn found him...brought in Klapiz... and Zucon... took them by surprise..managed to kill them and take... Mclenn's guns..."

Fallon sighed in disgust and tossed the soldier on the floor before he lost consciousness. He tried to calm himself. Right now he couldn't afford to have any more of his soldiers killed. "What happened then?"

There was a nervous silence before someone in the group, Vanhorn he believed the man was called, spoke up.

"Adams, Chancer, and I heard the sounds of the struggle and moved to investigate. We found him in the hall and proceeded to pursue him. He managed to evade us wounding me in the process." Vanhorn indicated his bandaged shoulder, "Then he arrived in the lower level dungeons. Presumably to attempt escape through the drainage system."

Fallon glared dangerously at Professor Bressan, who met his glare with a mildly disinterested gaze. "Those drains were ordered sealed."

"They were sealed." was the simple response.

"Then what happened?!" Fallon realized that he was shouting and once again forced himself to stay calm.

Vanhorn was quick to respond this time. "While searching for him in the flooded dungeon area, the prisoner was able to acquire a grenade from Private Chancer. He used the grenade to blast open the seal on the drain and was consequently pulled through by the backed up flood-water."

Fallon carefully clasped his hands behind his back and began pacing. "So, what are our casualties as of now?"

Hopps spoke up this time. "Two soldiers: Mclenn and Chancer, and two civilians: Zucon and Klapiz."

"What are the fugitive's resources?"

Hopps hesitated before responding. "We're not sure exactly, he did manage to take Mclenn's weapons. But we don't know if he..."

"Estimate," Fallon's voice cracked like a whip.

Hopps sighed. "At highest estimates, he is armed with a Heckler and Kock MP5 submachinegun, a 9mm Beretta sidearm, and a M-16 assault rifle, with a combined total of one-hundred -twenty-eight rounds of ammunition."

Another hot flash of anger surged through Fallon and before he realized it, he was suspending Hopps in the air by the man's throat. "Your men were supposed to be keeping him sufficiently subdued so that he would have been incapable of something like this!"

"Actually, they were."

Fallon nearly dropped Hopps in surprise at the sound of Bressan's voice. Instead, he simply lowered the man to the ground.

"Explain."

"Well," Bressan said while polishing his glasses, "according the data which your sources have supplied for the past several years, the amount of damage inflicted on him should have been more than enough to exceed his healing threshold." The scientist paused for a moment to place the glassed back on his face. "Obviously, those statistics are now outdated for some reason."

Fallon began to pace back and forth agitatedly again. "All right Commander Hopps, form a search party. I want every inch of the woods surrounding the citadel swept clean until he is found. Deploy your men..."

Fallon's voice was interrupted by the sound of an alarm klaxon. Vanhorn immediately ran to the nearest computer terminal to identify the security breach.

"Approaching aircraft. It looks like a modified Blackbird. ETA in ten minutes."

Fallon's face creased thoughtfully. "Perhaps one of our government sponsors is growing a little impatient with the project's apparent lack of results."

He had planned to string the several governments that were currently funding him along for another twenty or so years before he actually gave them anything substantial.

"No sir, I don't believe so," Vanhorn's knuckles went white as he gripped the edges of the terminal. "It's consistent with the description of the X-Men's Blackbird."

A pregnant silence hung in the room for a full twenty seconds before Fallon broke it by unexpectedly throwing his head back in the air in laughter. He knew that the other men were staring at him in surprise with a small amount of trepidation, but he didn't care. They couldn't possibly understand.

Once again fate was going to great lengths to teach him that even the greatest of designs were subject to her dominion. Men could play at dominating the world all they wanted. Eventually they would be shown the foolishness of their ways. Even the most careful of preparations could be carelessly swept aside by elements beyond human control.

After a moment, Fallon finally reigned in his laughter. His plans were crumbling in before his eyes; however, he knew that the true mark of a champion was the ability to play with the blows that fate dealt you.

"Adams, Vanhorn," The two men snapped to attention at his command. "Patrol the perimeter and locate the prisoner."

Fallon hesitated only slightly before issuing his next command. "Lethal force is approved. I want him dead. Use mercury-filled rounds if necessary."

Fallon had to swallow a bitter taste of disappointment as the two men left the room. There were so many things that would have to be left unfinished now. He had truly hoped to have at least two days with the man before he would have allowed him to die. Now project Falconmount would undoubtedly be placed years behind schedule because of the day's events. There just wasn't any alternative unfortunately. His resources were already spread too thin to even reconstruct the bodies of Mclenn, Chancer, Klapiz, and Zucon.

Turning to the rest of his assemble team, he stated simply, "Come, we have to be prepared for the arrival of our new guests."


Rain continued to poor down from the skies in relentless torrents that completely drenched the landscape, washing rivers of muddy water down the mountainside. Puddles collected at the base of each rocky outcrop as streams fed into the low areas. Even the thickest groups of trees were unable to provide shelter as fat raindrops slipped through the leafy canopy to splash down on the saturated ground.

Logan couldn't have been more pleased with the present weather conditions. It would be difficult to near impossible to track him through the current downpour. His trail faded behind him only seconds after he passed through. With a little craft on his part, a few false trails and backtracking, he would be able to ensure that his current pursuers wouldn't know were to begin looking for him until he was half-way back to Westchester.

Logan grinned at the thought of his captures scrambling to clear out of the citadel before the full wrath of the X-Men descended upon them.

After the currents had sucked him and Chancer's body down the drainage tunnels, they had been unceremoniously dumped in the same stream that Logan and his teammate had followed into the citadel over fifty years ago. This time Logan had only needed to follow it in reverse.

He had checked Chancer's body briefly, in the hopes of claiming some more offensive weaponry. Unfortunately the larger man's assault rifle had been lost in the current and the ammunition cartridges that he was carrying were too large a caliber for Logan's submachinegun.

On the plus side though, the lack of extra ammunition hadn't become a factor and his sense of smell was a lot more advanced now then it had been fifty years ago. He had been able to simply follow the underground scents of the earth and vegetation that swirled in complex air currents until it lead him to an opening. The entire process had only taken ten to fifteen minutes.

Logan had plunged into the woods where he was completely in his element and the weather had even favored him with conditions that would be adverse to any tracker.

Yes, his luck was definitely taking a turn for the better. His body was even healing more rapidly with every passing moment. The waves of dizziness and nausea had all but faded. Every one of his superficial wounds had finished healing and closing.

Even his claws had managed to grow back to about half of their original size. They weren't anywhere near the strength that they would have to be for him to actually be able to use them as weapons, but now Logan was still able to look at the entire situation philosophically.

Logan began to calculate the amount of time that it would take him to reach the nearest town. He knew that Fallon would probably expect him to go to Monfalcone and would guard that route the most heavily.

Another option would be to try and make it down to Udine despite the fact that it was nearly forty miles away. No, the best choice would be to direct himself towards one of the small communities between Monfalcone and Gorizia.

His mind decided, Logan set off on his path when fate suddenly decided that it had been making things far to easy for him.

Logan recognized the distinctive roar of the engines as it passed over his head. He knew the sound of the X-Men Blackbird like he knew the sound of his own heart, but he still quickly darted to an opening in the forest so that his eyes could confirm the fact for him.

Logan's heart sank as he saw that the jet's trajectory was taking it directly to the citadel.

He dropped back to the cover of the trees with a growl. "Looks like the Cajun was able ta' track me down through his friend after all. Too bad his timing's lousy."

A part of him said not to worry. After all, the X-Men had faced far worse villains than Fallon. Surely they would prove to be more than a match for Logan's persecutors.

Another part of his screamed that the X-Men had no idea what they were heading into.

In the end, his latter part won out, and Logan reluctantly began to retrace his steps to the citadel. It appeared that he was going to have to see this thing through to its finish.


Part 15

Forty miles north of Udine
Today

The continued downpour of rain still showed no sign of abating any time soon. It splattered off of the now slick gray stone that formed the large central courtyard of the citadel. Bishop fought down a stab of irritation at the reduced visibility that it would cause. An enemy would easily be able to come within thirty feet of him undetected.

The time displaced man quickly scanned the area, noting all the possible locations that could be used as defensive positions. His sharp eye was able to quickly spot seven different areas that could hide an enemy force.

Behind him Cyclops was walking down the Blackbird's extended ramp, his boots clanking against the metal and making far more noise than Bishop would have thought prudent in their current circumstances. LeBeau stood at his side, casually drawing on a cigarette and embarrassingly aloof of his surroundings. Surely the man realized that at any moment they could be forced into a military engagement. Psylocke stood a few paces in front of him. By all appearances, she was the only one on alert and apparently ready for an armed conflict that the others refused to acknowledge as a possibility.

However, her current position left her so completely exposed to a sniper shot from one of courtyard walls that he had to restrain the urge to drag her back over to the cover of the Blackbird.

Bishop nearly sighed in exasperation. It had been a painful experience for him to let go of his conceptions of the legends and accept the reality of the actual people beside whom he now struggled. It had taken him a considerable amount of time before he had been able to stand in the presence of Cyclops without feeling in complete awe of the man.

Even more time had passed before he had been able to bring himself to critique anything that the man did. Now he had to stop himself from constantly censuring the X-man leader for his lack of attention to security details. Besides, Cyclops normally just responded by saying that he was being overly paranoid. Bishop still didn't understand how a mandatory x-ray scan and frisk for all incoming guests at the mansion could be considered paranoid especially considering some of the company that LeBeau brought home with him.

Bishop checked the action on his energy rifle once again as Cyclops joined the group and began to address them. "Okay, I just finished talking with Hank. He's gone through Historical Preservation Society databases, government restoration archives, and community improvement records and hasn't found any documents of plans for the restoration of this edifice. Even the Pentagon database hasn't said anything about it." He paused for a moment to allow the implications to register.

"This whole situation just keeps getting more and more mysterious. Now it's time to start finding the clues to put this puzzle together."

Bishop nodded in agreement at Cyclops's assessment. Knowledge was always a powerful asset in any combat situation.

"Okay people, we don't know what we will be coming against here. So we will proceed to investigate operating on an omega protocol status,"

Bishop once again had to reign in his temper when he saw LeBeau roll his eyes at the X-Men commander's orders. If Cyclops had noticed the man's reaction he gave no sign.

"Betsy, what kind of telepathic reading can you give us of the place?"

Bishop watched as Psylocke closed her eyes in concentration. When she opened her eyes a few moments later, they reflected confusion and frustration.

"There appears to be some type of..." she floundered for a word for a few minutes before finally settling on.. "interference. It's as if thousands and thousands of tiny voices are all yelling for attention at the same time. They are blocking out my ability to hear anything beyond them." Something akin to a wry smile crossed her face.

"Its like a room full of little children all screaming for you to play with them thus preventing you from being able to have a conversation on the telephone."

Bishop nearly did a double take when he saw her expression. How could she possibly consider the negation of her telepathic scan humorous. It showed just how powerful their enemy was. Cyclops, at least, seemed to understand the gravity of the situation.

"If some presence here has the ability to block you telepathically, then we may being dealing with an entity more powerful than we originally conceived." His face assumed a stony expression. "All right, lets move out. Gambit, Psylocke, take the point, knight rook formation."

If there was one aspect of the X-Men team leader that Bishop had never questioned, it was his capacity as field commander. The man had at his command a powerful tactical mind whose equal Bishop had not yet found.

He also possessed the uncanny ability to completely analyze any scenario and its possible ramifications nearly instantaneously. In Bishop's future, books upon books had been written analyzing some of his more prominent battles. Scholars were still studying the strategies he had employed on Muir Island.

The four X-Men quickly took their positions and moved forward into the heavy downpour. LeBeau, despite his earlier aloofness, now moved from shadow to shadow with his characteristic fluid grace that made Bishop envious.

*Why had the man been given so many gifts just to throw them away in a meaningless life of self-gratification and debauchery?*

Even though Bishop was now convinced that LeBeau was not the traitor that he had thought him to be, Gambit still exhibited several of the Witness's tendencies that, left unchecked, would lead to him becoming one of the most ruthless criminal masterminds in the twenty-first century. Bishop was intent on preventing that eventuality.

The four man formation continued it's measured progress forward until it reached the first stone stairway that led into the central hall. Thus far they had been unable to detect any enemy presence. However, instincts honed by years of combat screamed that were walking into an ambush.

Bishop made another scan of the surrounding area, trying to locate something that would justify his premonition. Shaking his head in frustration, Bishop followed the others as they began to mount the stairs.

Bishop's uneasiness only intensified as he entered into the main hall.

The area was poorly lit providing a myriad of possibilities for an ambush party. Bishop withdrew a set of infra-red goggles from his utility belt and placed them over his eyes.

The entire hallway now reflected only a cold dark shade of red. There were no warm bodies waiting around the corners or in the shadows for them unless the enemy's soldiers were the same temperature as the walls.

Bishop frowned marginally at the possibility. As their enemy had already demonstrated himself capable of blocking telepathic scans, the X-Man couldn't rule out the possibility of him being able to hide from other forms of scans.

"Betsy," the warm shape that was Cyclops whispered, "are you able to pick anything up now?"

Though Bishop was unable to detect anything beyond her heat patterns, he was certain that she was wearing an expression of concentration as she replied.

"The voices are still drowning out almost everything. However, in the background, I can barely make out a few mental impressions, definitely human in nature."

"Can you pick anything up from them?"

The warm image shook her head slightly. "No. Their thoughts are still being drowned out by all of the psionic babble in the area. However, they do seem to be waiting for something."

"Well den, we best not keep dem waitin' too long," Gambit's heat image flickered oddly as he began charging several cards.

Bishop nearly snorted in amusement at LeBeau's impulsive nature. It was a far cry from the Witness's cold, calculated, and methodical methods. However, seeing as no further options were presenting themselves, they continued down the dark hallway.

Bishop nearly gasped in shock when they rounded the corner though.

A dull glowing red trail illuminated the floor before them. Bishop knelt and quickly removed his goggles to confirm his suspicions with his own eyes. A thin nearly dried trail of blood made a erratic pattern across the floor. The remaining warmth had allowed him to easily see it with the goggles.

Bishop could tell from the trail that whoever had left the blood had been fleeing. The blood was occasionally smeared by what appeared to be boot prints. The prints likely had belonged to the pursuers. The question was, had Logan been the one fleeing, or had he been one of the pursuers?

Cyclops was also on one knee gravely examine the blood stains. "I see two maybe three different boot patterns." He gave an exasperated sigh.

"More mysteries, and we still don't even have the first clue to answer the ones that we already have."

Psylocke returned from the other end of the hall where she had followed the trail.

"The blood appears to run off into the lower levels. There are a great deal of bullet casings and significant signs of destruction along with it."

"Wolvie always did know how t' t'row a party," LeBeau chuckled richly.

Bishop took a deep breath as he rose to his feet. He began to replace his goggles on his face, hoping that his irritation didn't show.

*Why did LeBeau always have to have such a casual, even flippant attitude about the life of his teammates.*

When the goggles settled in place he noticed that the air currents seemed a little different, fractionally warmer for some reason. Bishop was about to dismiss it out of hand when he noticed that the warm streams that indicated the breathing of his companions had grown heavier.

Bishop then noticed, with growing trepidation that the heaviness of his own breathing had increased somewhat, even though they had not, as of yet, engaged in any physical exertion.

"Cyclops," Bishop didn't bother to mask the concern in his voice, "something isn't right. I suggest that we return to the Blackbird immediately."

The X-Man leader turned his head to Bishop, "What?" The man's tone was completely confused as he looked around the hall trying to locate the source of Bishop's distress.

"I think that we are being ambushed sir."

"Bishop, you had better have a good explanation for..." Scott began to rise from his kneeling position, when his legs suddenly gave out, dropping him back to the floor. The man's breathing had now become a deep gasp.

A sudden wave of understanding struck the former XSE officer. "The oxygen is being removed from the air! We need to get out of here!"

Gambit and Psylocke reacted instantly to his warning quickly dashing back towards the entrance from which they had arrived. The two hadn't even made it half-way down the hall before both of them collapsed into a pile.

Bishop knelt and drew Cyclops arm around his back to support the X-Men leader. He could feel his lungs burning as he slowly rose to his feet. Now going completely on force of will, the time displaced X-Man slowly began his tired trek down the hall. He completed a full three steps before he too collapsed into a dark oblivion.


Logan hardly noticed the muddy brown rivulets of water that streamed down from limp strands of hair. The only attention that they had received in the past five minutes was a careless shrug of his head to toss the saturated hair out of his face.

At the moment, Logan's concentration was focused in its entirety on the large stone structure in front of him. He had seen the Blackbird land there over fifteen minutes ago, and the longer that it remained in there the more nervous and edgy that Logan became.

He shifted his position slightly to relieve pressure on his cramped legs. The X-Man was currently positioned behind an old rotted log, that overlooked a mud-puddle almost large enough to be considered a pond.

Fungal growths and a thin layer of soil cover on the length of the log had provided sufficient cover for him to observe the citadel without any real worry of being discovered. Right now his major worries were with what was happening inside the place not outside.

Logan momentarily considered the possibility that Fallon may have just decided to evacuate the facility after his escape. It certainly didn't make sense for him to remain behind and stage a defensive effort when his supposed whole purpose for being there had already departed. Of course, Logan had to admit that he had never completely understood Fallon's motives. Then there was the fact that the man was obviously less than sane.

Once again, Logan tried to puzzle why Fallon had orchestrated this entire event. He knew that, for his own personnel reasons, Fallon had wanted to hurt him as much as possible, physically and emotionally.

Logan had to give him credit. He had certainly done a fairly good job of it. Memories and old wounds that he had long thought buried and behind him had been brought back to the surface and reopened. Logan had almost forgotten the bitter taste of the betrayal that he had endured so many years ago.

Though pushed to the back of his mind, the painful emotions had not been dimmed with the passing of time. After all, he never had discovered who it was that had betrayed them.

Logan's mind suddenly dismissed his reverie as he heard the faint wet snap of a twig some twenty meters to his left. He carefully raised the MP5 to firing position and crept slowly around the log to investigate.

Beyond the next rise he found Vanhorn and Adams slowly and carefully making their way down a slope slippery with mud. Both were armed with M-16 assault rifles and Magnum .45 sidearms.

Logan was almost surprised by what he smelled from them. The unmistakable scent of single-minded bloodlust in preparation for a kill wafted from the men and made his nose itch. They no longer wanted to torment him.

As luck would have it, they were headed directly for his position, and the X-Man briefly considered his options. He could simply retreat southward and allow the two soldiers to pass him by. He was now in his element and doubted that either one of the two men would be able to track him successfully.

The idea was tempting, but it didn't really solve any of his problems. It would just delay them a little.

Logan discarded the idea as the two men continued to move towards him. His eyes narrowed fractionally. The only alternative was an armed confrontation which Logan wasn't sure if he wanted or not.

He had been able to justify killing Chancer and Mclenn as acts of self-defense and survival. This would be a hunt pure and simple. The prey would be people that he had once considered among his closest friends. Would he be able to look into their eyes and pull the trigger knowing that they were just pawns in Fallon's sick little game?

*Ya could do it fifty years ago to a group of scientists, why not now?*

The cold thought brought little consolation to Logan's tattered conscience.

Logan had seen a spot twenty meters back that he knew would serve perfectly as an ambush site. Vanhorn and Adams's current course would take them directly through the small mud pond that had been below his former position. From there, he had seen an low overhanging ridge that had been covered with more than enough tall grass to provide a suitable hiding place. They would be in a tactically weak location while he would be firing on them from an elevated position.

His mind set, Logan quietly dropped back and moved to take his position on the overhanging ridge. He tried not to think too much about what he was about to do and continued repeating the chant in his head. *It's not really them. It's not really Adams and Vanhorn.*

The phrase became a mantra to him. Yet, despite his efforts, he still hadn't been able to convince himself of it.

Logan waited a few minutes for the two soldiers to come into view once again. They paused for a moment at the edge of the small mud pond and after a moment of waiting, Logan was convinced that they would choose another path.

So he decided to give them some incentive. The X-Man dug around in the soft mud before him until he found a small smooth stone about an inch in diameter. He waited until their backs were turned away from him and then lobbed the stone into a small patch of ferns on the other side of the mud pond from them.

Both men instantly whirled around, their guns trained on the origin of the sound. After a few seconds, Adams called out, "Come on out Mathison. Don't make this any more difficult than it has to be."

The two men began to cautiously creep across the muddied water. Logan held in a sigh of relief. In just moments they would both be in the perfect position for a shot.

"Come on Logan," Vanhorn was calling out now. "You can't get away. Come on out, and we can finish this nice and clean like."

Logan ignored them and continued to silently chant his mantra. They were almost in position now. Logan slowly raised his gun and targeted the back of Adams's head.

*It's not Adams. Just pull the trigger. It's not really him. Just pull the damn trigger.*

The mental litany failed however as his finger refused to apply any further pressure. Logan knew that it was stupid. He knew that they would gladly kill him if he didn't remove them first. He knew this and a thousand other reasons why he should just pull the trigger and finish it. Unfortunately, he also knew that he could never shoot a friend in the back without giving them some sort of a chance to surrender first.

Logan rose smoothly from the grass and forcefully flipped off the safety on the submachine gun with a loud click. The action had the desired effect as both Adams and Vanhorn froze with their backs to him.

"That's right bub. I've got a bead drawn on both of ya'. So, why don't ya' just set those pretty little guns on the ground nice and slow."

Both hesitated a moment before complying, and Logan could smell the scent of speculation coming from each as they tried to calculate whether or not he could actually take them both. Then slowly, both unshouldered their weapons and laid them gently on the bank on the pond.

"Good, now the sidearms. Still takin' it nice and slow."

Logan watched carefully as they both slowly unholstered their magnums, then paused to look at each other. "Hey, no talking. Drop those guns now."

Neither man responded or made any further move to drop the weapons.

"I'm warning you. Don't try ta' jerk me around."

Suddenly both men began to spin around, bringing their weapons to bear as they did so. Before they could even make a quarter turn, Logan pressed down on the trigger, and was rewarded with a thunk as the MP5 jammed.

Adams and Vanhorn both froze for a split second before grinning wickedly and opening fire. Logan barely had a moment to throw himself back down the bluff before it literally exploded underneath him.

Logan cursed his luck as he continued to roll down the slope, his clothes steaming from the heat of the explosion. After he and Chancer had been sucked down the sewage tunnels, he had stupidly never even once thought to clean the submachine gun. It really shouldn't have been that much of a surprise that it would be jammed after being dragged though all that water, mud, and sewage.

As Logan rolled to a stop, he took a moment to get his bearing and scented the wind. He nearly winced at the acrid smell of smoke that wafted from the bluff.

*Mercury filled bullets, huh. Guess they really are done playing with me."

With mercury filled rounds you were doubly screwed. For one: they exploded on impact, and two: if you managed to survive the detonation you would just die a few seconds later of mercury poisoning.

Because of his healing factor, Logan knew he could survive having a couple of them pumped into him. But, if they unloaded an entire clip on him, he could be in serious trouble.

Logan quickly leapt to his feet and took off running pulling free Mclenn's Berretta as he ran. It had been in the waistband of his pants during his little swim and had thus been partially insulated from the water. Also, the firing mechanism was less complex; thus, there was less that could jam.

Unfortunately, he only had one clip for the gun and it was already half empty. Logan was just certain that this would be an experience that he would laugh at years from now. If he was still alive.

He ducked around a tree just as a piece of bark exploded off it from a bullet impact. The sound of machine-gun fire informed him that both men had retrieved their assault rifles. Apparently though, only the Magnums were loaded with the mercury rounds.

The area around him was being chewed up pretty thoroughly as he passed through, but there were no further explosions symptomatic of the explosive rounds.

Spinning around Logan fired off a group of shots in an attempt to disorganize the two soldiers then dove underneath some low-hanging branches to roll to a stop behind a thick clump of bushes. He ducked and covered his head as the entire area was sprayed with rounds of gunfire.

Logan looked behind him and found a small enclave made from the roots of a large tree. He rolled into the opening, hoping that it would provide sufficient protection.

Adams and Vanhorn continued to coat the entire area with their weapons apparently determined to flush him out or destroy everything in order to ensure his death. Several bullets sunk deeply into the roots surrounding him, but only a few actually found their way to his body.

They kept it up for nearly a full minute before the sound of gunfire finally ended. Logan cautiously took his head out from under the protective cradle of his arms to stare at the approaching soldiers. Both were moving warily through the area they had just torn up. Guns raised and ready.

Logan checked his Beretta and nearly swore when he saw that he only had two bullets left. Each shot would have to hit its target.

Adams was slowly creeping over to where Logan was concealed. The muzzle on his M-16 slowly prodding the remaining vegetation in front of him.

Now was his chance. Logan slid out of the small enclosure and launched himself at Adams. The man didn't see him until it was far too late. In a split second, he had the man disarmed and in a headlock with the Berretta pressed to the side of his head.

"Drop it Vanhorn! And I mean it this time!"

Vanhorn spun around at the sound of Logan's voice. His eyes went wide, and he began to broadcast a scent of incredulity as he looked at Logan holding Adams.

"Don't think that I won't do it. I left ya to die once before. Don't think I won't hesitate ta' kill ya' myself."

Logan put all the bitterness in his frame into that statement. These were supposed to be his friends. How could they have forced him into a situation like this?

"So you admit it now?" Vanhorn's face turned from indecisive to hard.

"Oh sure, why not?" Sarcasm dripped from every word. Logan knew that he was probably not helping the situation but had ceased to care.

"An' while we're at it, why don't I just take the blame for the bullet that splattered yer brains out too? After all, it probably came from the ship. Right?"

Logan wasn't prepared for the sudden look of confusion that crossed Vanhorn's features.

"I don't remember were the bullet came from," he whispered to himself.

The unusual reaction momentarily distracted Logan and that was all the time that Adams needed. The soldier slammed his elbow into the Logan's ribcage causing the X-Man to release him from the chokehold. Adams quickly followed though by sweeping Logan's feet out from under him, sending him tumbling to the ground.

Caught off-guard and falling, Logan took careful aim knowing that he was now going to have to make those last two shots count. He slammed into the ground the same instant that he pulled the trigger.

The bullet struck Vanhorn's left leg causing the man to howl in pain, and thankfully, just as Logan had hoped, Vanhorn then screamed in fury and unleashed a volley of machine-gun fire before he let reason set in.

"Vanhorn! No!" were Adams's final words as he was filled with as many rounds as Logan.

"Last shot," Logan whispered though bloody lips.

The second bullet impacted between Vanhorn's eyes snapping his head backwards. As the man sunk to the ground, he wore an oddly surprised expression. Logan had no time to consider that though as new pain set in from his body starting to mend itself of the multiple wounds.

A part of him cursed his mutant ability that would not allow him to die like a normal man. His body always mended well on the outside while still leaving raw open wounds on the inside that would never heal.

Logan watched as the small puddles of water around him began to turn pink with his companion's blood.

*It wasn't really them. It wasn't really them. It wasn't really them."

Logan took up his own private mantra again.

He repeated it until nightfall.


Part 16

Forty Miles North of Udine
1942

His awareness returned to him in increments. He first became aware of a floating sensation, as if his body was suspended on a cloud and was currently drifting through a wide expanse of space. The next thing that he noticed was the smell. The acrid smell of spent bullet casings, the pungent stench of raw sewage, and the hot stingy scent of freshly spilt blood. All these various odors penetrated his sensitive nose, dully at first, but then with growing intensity.

But the most telling was that the next sensation that returned to him was one of pain.

Logan groaned dully and attempted to orient himself. He slowly opened his eyes to take in the tunnel surrounding him. In the distance, he could hear the scuffling sounds of German troops, undoubtedly sent to retrieve his body. The sounds were still quite distant and indistinct meaning that he probably had about ten to fifteen minutes before they found him and finished the job that they started back in the dungeon.

Sore muscles screamed in protest as Logan pulled himself out of the moving water and onto the bank. His shoulder were the bullet had impacted felt like it was on fire. Despite how it much it still hurt however, Logan knew that by now the wound had probably already closed. In another hour only an ugly gash would be left were the bullet had struck him as he tended to heal internally first before all the exterior signs of the injury were gone. By tomorrow though, all signs of the wound would be erased.

Logan shook his head slightly. This strange ability to heal from any wound at such an accelerated rate still seemed incredibly unreal to him. Even his heightened senses hadn't made him feel as much as a freak as this mysterious power did. After all, his heightened senses had seemed so natural when they first began to surface that he had assumed it was a normal characteristic possessed by all members of the human race. It had been somewhat of a shock to him to discover differently.

His healing ability, however, had been another story entirely. He had seen more than enough death and suffering to know that it wasn't natural for him to be able to recover from a bullet wound in a week that could permanently disable any other man. He had also learned, albeit the hard way, to guard the secret of his powers closely. Even his current teammates knew nothing about his capabilities.

The thought of his companions sent a wave of sorrow and guilt crashing through his entire frame. So strong it nearly overwhelmed him. How could he have been so stupid to have fired that first shot? He should have known that he was only inviting a massacre.

As his teammates were cut down around him, all he had been able to think of was getting him and Adams out of there. The wave of bitterness and self-loathing surged. Adams might still be alive if he hadn't been such a coward.

No! He told himself forcefully, trying desperately to bite back the overwhelming sense of shame that he felt rising the back of his throat.

*There was nothing I could do for any of them. Adams killed himself when he refused to follow me down the tunnel.*

He repeated the thought forcefully. Unfortunately, it did nothing to relieve the overwhelming feeling of loss and guilt.

Logan's head snapped up at attention putting his guilt aside for the moment as he heard the sloshing sound of someone moving through water toward him from the opposite direction.

These sewers were practically mazes in and of themselves. A group of German soldiers could have easily come around from a different direction. The stench of the place was overwhelming his ability to scent out his enemies before they arrived so they might have no problem slipping around him and catching him off-guard.

Logan scrambled for his rifle only to find that he had lost it in the sewage. Cursing silently, he withdrew his knife from his belt and settled into the shadows to await the arrival of his enemies. They may very well kill him today, but he was going to drag a couple of them down to hell along with him. His grip shifted and tightened on the knife handle as the shadows of the soldiers rounded the corner and came into view.

Logan sighed as relief so powerful it was almost painful settled into his heart. Venuti and Shipper slowly approached him, their rifles carefully poised for an engagement. The relief was then replaced by a profound sense of sorrow as his mind forcefully compared the present scene to the one almost a week ago when Venuti and Shipper had found him, Mclenn, and Landen. He had briefly mistaken them for the enemy then as well. Only this time, there was no barn or rendezvous point were the rest of the team was waiting. This time, they were truly alone.

Logan stepped from the shadows slowly, making sure to keep his hands where Venuti and Shipper could see them easily.

"Over here guys."

The two men whirled around, their guns raised, then relaxed when they saw who it was.

"Logan," Venuti said somewhat breathlessly, "we heard gunshots. What happened?"

Logan sensed a tremor of fear enter into the man's scent as he looked around the tunnel. "Where are the others?"

Logan bowed his head as a huge weight settled on his shoulders.

"They're dead Venuti."

Logan didn't have to look at them to know that both men now wore twin expressions of sick fear and loss. It was Shipper that managed to overcome his amazement first. "How?"

"We were ambushed in the dungeons," Logan suddenly felt a great deal older than he really was. "I think that the dungeon might have been an alternative route once considered fer the incursion. That info was probably sold along with the rest of it."

The two men both paled at the importance of his words. Logan sank down against the wall momentarily overwhelmed. They had been beaten. That was all there was to it. They had given it their very best shot, had fought against incredible odds, had given up blood, sweat, and the lives of seven of their companions, and they had been soundly beaten by one treacherous enemy. One that they would never be able to face.

"So," Logan opened his eyes to see both Venuti and Shipper staring at him expectantly. "What do we do now."

Here he was, injured, on the verge of exhaustion, wanting nothing more than to close his eyes and sink back into oblivion before he was overwhelmed by the enormity of the situation, and these men were staring at him as if he was their only hope of salvation in the world.

Logan bit back a laugh and simply responded "I don't know. Why ask me?"

Shipper shrugged. "Hopps told us that if anything happened to him, you were in charge."

Logan leaned his head back against the wall and closed his eyes as a wave of resentment swept through him Of course. That damn stupid promise. He had been a fool to make a promise like that to Hopps. However, he had managed to convince himself that it would never come to this. He would have found the irony humorous if it wasn't currently choking him with its bitterness.

Logan opened his eyes to find that the two men were still looking at him expectantly. He took a deep breath of resignation and rose slowly to his feet. The first thing that they needed to worry about was getting out of the tunnels.

He could hear the sounds of the search in the distance. By now, he was certain that the enemy would have sent an organized search party down into the tunnels to flush them out. Patrols had undoubtedly also been dispatched to scout out the area near the citadel to ensure that they wouldn't be able to escape into the surrounding woods. Those search parties would have been bad enough, but with his wounds still healing and them being short on supplies, it was going to be near impossible to just get out of the area alive.

He couldn't let them know that though. He hoped he was projecting a decisive enough looking manner to keep the two calm, or they would have no chance at all to escape.

"Okay, there are German soldiers currently scouring the tunnels looking fer my body and any other American troops. We're going ta havta' sneak our way out of here as quietly as possible, make our way back inta' the grottos, and back outside the citadel from there."

Both men nodded in understanding as Logan took the lead of their small group. They needed to move quickly. The sound of German soldiers was growing closer. It was echoing though the tunnels in a way that he couldn't determine from where it was coming, and the smell of sewage kept his effective range of scent to just under six meters. Two of their best warning signs had been overpowered which effectively rendered his abilities useless to give them advance notice of an enemy patrol nearby.

Logan quickly shoved his concerns into the back of his mind as he moved determinedly through the tunnel. He may have lost Adams and the rest of the team, but he was not about to lose Venuti and Shipper.

The group continued stealthily down though the tunnels, alert at every turn and corner. Venuti and Shipper both kept their guns trained in front of them while Logan held his knife close to his side ready for a possible confrontation.

Plans whirled , were considered, and discarded in his head as they continued their measured progress. Things could get tricky if they ran into any resistance. Given the circumstances, Logan tried to calculate how many soldiers that they could reasonably defeat.

Logan came to a sudden stop as a group of echoes resolved themselves into a sound from directly ahead of them. With a sharp downward gesture, Logan ordered the other two men to drop below the surface of the water. They complied and Logan soon joined them, letting himself drift over to were the shadows were darkest.

If there were several soldiers, they would just sit tight and let them pass. However, if there were only one or two... the train of thought trailed off as Logan's mind began to calculate a new set of possibilities.

In the dim light, Logan saw the outlines of two German soldiers as they slowly made their way down the tunnel. Logan flashed the number to Venuti and Shipper who nodded in return. He drew his knife, and gestured towards the two arriving soldiers. Both of his companions seemed to understand as they both pulled their knives in preparation as well.

Surprisingly, the attack went far better than he had planned. These men had obviously been sent to retrieve a simple corpse and had no idea what they were headed into. Logan managed to slit his man's throat before the soldier could even scream. Venuti and Shipper, meanwhile, were equally efficient in dealing with their man. A few moments later, they were pulling the two bodies over to a side tunnel where they proceeded to search them.

While engaged in their task, Venuti gave a sudden short bark of laughter. When the other's looked at him questioningly, Venuti explained.

"I was just thinking. Right now, I'd bet that the north ridge doesn't have a soul watching it," he shrugged. "I just seemed kind of ironic. That's all."

Logan was about to nod his head in agreement when a his mind suddenly grabbed hold of a new idea and refused to let go. He almost shook his head. The plan was foolish, poorly planned, and completely unrealistic. Which meant, of course, that he was going to at least try to make it work.

"Venuti, Shipper," the two men glanced up from their work at the sound of his voice, "finish up with these guys then take your clothes off."

The looks on their faces were priceless.


Logan was doing his best imitation of what he imagined a corpse to be as Venuti drug him by the collar of his coat across the stone floor of the citadel. Both men were dressed in the uniforms taken from the dead German soldiers.

For being such a foolhardy plan, it was working fairly well so far. No one had challenged them as Venuti and Shipper returned to the dungeon area with Logan's inert form. They had been allowed to pass with a gesture and barked order that none of them understood but assumed meant something along the lines of "put him with the other bodies.

Even though they had no clue about the layout of the facility, it was simple to discover where the rest of their companions had been taken. All they had to do was follow the trail of blood left on the stone floor where their bodies had been dragged away. The hardest part of this whole scheme would undoubtedly come when they found their companions and would have to control their expressions. Any reaction beyond cold indifference could alert their enemies or make them suspicious.

Logan held in his grunts as he was drug up another set of stairs, his head striking every third step. No matter what his discomfort, he would have to hold his silence. Dead men didn't make any noise. So instead, he tried to pay attention to where they were going doing his best to memorize every detail of the route for future reference.

His sense of direction told him that the wall facing the north ridge was somewhere farther up on his left side. They would need to always stay aware of its position in order for the plan to work.

As the three men cleared the final stairs, Venuti and Shipper scanned both ways down the hall before ducking into a side room with Logan in tow. Once they had entered, Shipper quietly closed the door behind them.

Logan took a moment to stretch and examine the room in which they were located. It was large, supported by thick stone columns and, at the moment, mostly empty. It appeared to be some type of storage area, but obviously it had been a while since this particular out-post had received supplies. Logan nodded in satisfaction. It would be a good place to conceal themselves while he went over the details of the plan with them.

The Canadian listened carefully for a moment to ensure that no one was in the hall.

"Okay, here's the plan. If our luck continues to hold the way it has so far, we should be able ta' just waltz right into the area where they're keepin' the bodies."

Logan braced himself for the next part. He knew that it would not be to their liking.

"What ya' need ta' do is just dump my body off with the others, then head to the wall facing the north ridge as quickly as ya' can without raisin' any suspicion. I'll try ta' reach ya' if I can."

"But Mathison..." Shipper started to protest.

"No buts," Logan cut the man off sharply. "Enough people have seen ya' draggin' my carcass around that they'll start gettin' real suspicious if they suddenly come up one body short. So don't argue on this one."

He could smell the reluctance from Venuti and Shipper both, but they didn't voice any further objections.

Logan took a deep breath before continuing. "I'll be takin' two of those German pistols with me, in case I need ta' fight my way out. I'll also have this," Logan reached into his shirt and withdrew a grenade.

"If I run into too much trouble and can't reach ya', the grenade will signal to ya' to just go on without me."

Logan put the grenade back in his shirt where it would remain concealed from any casual search of his person. The two German pistols were nestled in the small of his back, also out of sight of casual observation.

"The blast will also create a distraction, maybe buy ya' some more time."

The air turned bitter with regret as they realized what he was saying. In all likelihood, his was a suicide run to give them the time they would need to escape. Logan summoned all of his courage and smiled fiercely at his companions.

"Don't go soft on me guys. Someone had got ta' make it back ta' tell command that there's a mole in their intelligence network. Someone has to warn them about how we were sold out."

The three men each exchanged long silent glances before Venuti finally said. "Mathison, it had been an honor to serve by you." Shipper nodded as well, his ears burning a fierce red.

A few seconds later, the three men had returned to the hallway and were once again following the trail of blood. It led them around another two corners before arriving at a large stone doorway. At their arrival, Logan heard a voice address them in German and indicate an area out of Logan's line of view, probably telling them to deposit his body with the others.

Venuti and Shipper assumed as much as well, for he was drug through the entrance and deposited on top of a pile of cold bodies.

Logan tried not to gag as the smell of death penetrated his nostrils. He gritted his teeth silently and began to hum a tune in his mind for distraction.

*Don't think about!* His mind screamed. *Just don't think about it!*

He needed to give Shipper and Venuti at least another ten minutes before he attempted anything. In desperation, he tried to focus on the other scents coming from the room where he now resided.

His keen sense could smell the sweat of fifteen or so men who were laboring in the tight confines. The pungent odor of sheep-marrow candle added its own peculiar twist to the air. However, it was the scent of sulfur and chemicals that made Logan snap open his eyes when he felt it was safe to do so.

Logan stared around himself in open disbelief. The soldiers had brought the bodies of him and his companions to a laboratory. Logan gave his head a small shake, wondering why he had been brought there when he noticed the body of Mclenn laid out on one of the examination tables with three scientist-types huddled over the still form. Logan felt his anger began to rise. Obviously, even, or maybe only, dead bodies were being used for the citadel's experiments.

Logan made a brief count and noted that there were fifteen men in the room, all of them seemingly lab-coated scientists. Most of the soldiers must have been deployed in a perimeter search for any remaining enemies.

They would regret this lapse in their security. Logan knew that he probably didn't have the greatest odds of getting out of his present circumstances alive, but if he had to die, he would now die completing his mission.

Logan slowly rose to his feet, drawing out the two German pistols as he did so. Moving quietly, he positioned himself directly behind the closest scientist, raised the gun, and calmly blew the man's brains out.

The explosive retort rang out ominously in the cramped area and was then followed by an almost eerie silence as the other scientist stared at him in shock and disbelief. Then, all hell broke loose.

Logan simply placed himself in front of the doorway, knowing that it was the only exit, and that his prey would have no other means of escape. He raised both weapons and began picking off the frightened men at his leisure. It's more like slaughtering cattle than anything else he thought bitterly. A few would fall at his feet in a begging gesture. Mercy written in their eyes, and sick fear riding in their scents. Logan merely crushed down anything that he felt inside until coldness filled him as he continued pulling the trigger.

Almost all had fallen now save one or two that were still hiding in the corners of the room, and one who didn't cower away. He leaned heavily on one of the tables not more than five feet in front of Logan. The man wore a heavy, saddened expression, yet his scent indicated relief.

Logan's confusion only deepened as the man stared at him with those sad yet relieved eyes, then bared his chest to Logan's gun. The soldier in Logan closed his eyes and pulled the trigger. When he open his eyes, it was to see the man lying on the ground in a pool of his own blood with an oddly content look on his face. Logan tried to ignore him and moved to finish the job.

The remaining scientists put up no further struggle as he ended their lives as well. Logan just felt cold and empty inside. The feeling was accompanied by a certainty that these men had been pawns forced into labor by powers beyond their control. He was sick and nauseated now, in this room that was filled with the scent of blood that he had spilt. Hanging his head in defeat, the mission had been accomplished and.

As Logan lifted his head, his eyes met the lifeless stare of Mclenn. Logan felt another wave of sorrow pulse through him. He slowly walked over to the body and gently laying his hand over the man's face, closed his sightless eyes. "Sorry I couldn't be there for ya' buddy."

Unbelievably, there was no sound of German soldiers running to investigate the gun shots. Obviously they assumed this area to be completely secure and were far way searching for the last members of his group. Logan couldn't help but be bitter that only now luck had decided to join his side.

Logan stared emptily at the room for a few moments more before snapping into decisive action. He needed to ensure that whatever it was these scientists had been working on never would be used by Nazi Germany. He withdrew the grenade from his shirt and was about to pull the pin.

At the last minute he stopped himself. Venuti and Shipper would both probably need another couple of minutes before he set off the grenade. Logan glanced around the room until his eyes settled on the still burning candles. He moved quickly to retrieve one off of the table were it rested.

Logan then picked out a heavy table that was covered entirely with test tubes and chemicals. Surely something in all of that mess had to be flammable. Ducking underneath it, he searched until he found a large gap between two stones in the floor. Once he had located the gap, he carefully moved the table until one of the legs rested directly behind gap. Next, Logan quickly broke off the top half of the candle and jammed it into the space. Then he wedged the grenade between the candle and the table leg, pinning the release handle in place even after he had removed the pin.

Logan stood back up collecting his other weapons as he went his way. If he had estimated correctly, it would take approximately ten minutes for the candle to burn down and release the grenade. Logan just hoped that ten minutes would be enough. When that grenade went, it was going to bring the entire citadel down on them.

He broke into a slow jog as he left the laboratory. There wasn't any time to lose and any second could be his last if he ran into enemy opposition.

Mentally readying himself, Logan kept both of his weapons at his side and proceeded cautiously at each turn. However, nothing could have prepared him for the sight that greeted him when he rounded the next corner.

General Heiner was standing in the hall with a detachment of five soldiers. Kneeling in front of him, with guns trained on their heads, were Venuti and Shipper. Heiner's voice was cold and hard as he said.

"Herr Mathison, won't you please join us?"


Part 17

Forty Miles North of Udine
The Present

The hallway torches flickered briefly as Fallon strode past them, a strong determined aspect to his gate. Outside, darkness had finally fallen in its entirety. Neither Adams nor Vanhorn had returned or reported in from their patrols in over two hours. Fallon was not foolish or naive enough to simply believe them to still be alive. Nor was he foolish enough to attempt to send another group of men to hunt down the obstinate X-man who, even now, refused to lay down and die.

When Adams and Vanhorn had failed to report, Fallon knew that it was time to revise his strategies. Logan was obviously in his element in the forested area. It would be a fool's errand to try to deal with him on those terms especially with the resources the man had now likely acquired. That was why Fallon had decided that since he could obviously not allow himself to be drawn out to Logan's battleground, he would have to draw Logan back into his. Fortunately, Fallon had the perfect baitwith which to accomplish such a task.

He smiled at that thought. They had been able to capture the X-Men with unexpected ease. Unexpected because it had not been until the last possible moment that he had thought to use the nanytes in such a creative manner. Slowly drawing the oxygen from the confined area until the X-Men, completely unaware of what was happening until it was far too late, collapsed from lack of air. He was fortunate that they had not brought the one called Storm with them. She undoubtedly would have detected such a maneuver and, in all likelihood, would have been capable of preventing it.

Fallon's smile grew fractionally. That had been the second unexpected and useful application that he had discovered for the nanytes that day. The first being the ability to limit a telepath's range. Hidden surveillance equipment had recorded the remarks of the telepath. Psylocke, he believed she was called. Now that he thought about it, it made perfect sense that the addition of literally billions of sentient entities would prevent any telepath from being able to concentrate on any one mind when all the others screamed for attention.

There was also the fact that he and his men had not been trying to attract attention as the nanytes had been doing making it even more difficult for the X-Woman to track them.

With the X-Men's threat of interference removed, Fallon was able to alter his plans back to what he had originally intended. It was very likely that Adams and Vanhorn had been unsuccessful in their task, and now he had a chance to take Logan alive once again. With the X-Men as his bargaining piece, he was certain that Logan would be forced to cooperate in the completion of the project that he had tried to destroy fifty years ago.

The soldiers, Venuti and Shipper, both snapped to attention as Fallon turned the corner. Fallon quickly put them at ease with a wave of his hand.

"Have you take the appropriate measures to ensure that our guests are comfortable?"

Shipper nodded. "We gave the woman enough sedative to keep her unconscious for the next five hours as per your orders sir."

Fallon nodded. They didn't have the facilities to restrain a telepathic opponent so the only solution was to keep her unconscious.

"And the others?"

"They have awakened now sir. We deactivated the control panel on the visor of the one called Cyclops so that he is unable to open the visor and fire any blasts. The one called Gambit has been placed in special arm restraints that keep his hands from touching anything and charging it into a potential weapon. As for the one called Bishop," Venuti shrugged, "his hands are chained into one of the support pillars. If he tries to fire off any bio-energy blasts, he will just bring down the room and kill them all. Plus Hopps, George, and Landen are all in there ready to put a bullet in any one of them if they try anything."

Fallon nodded in satisfaction. "Good. I wish to speak with our guests and would hate to think that our accommodations were inadequate."

Fallon saw a faint flush of shame burn in the man's cheeks.

"No sir. We have them fully secured, sir. Enter at your leisure."

Fallon was pleased but his good humor vanished almost instantly when he entered the room. Three defiant glares were immediately directed at him from the prisoners. In that moment, Fallon knew that he would have to move quickly. For these men, even left as they were, would not stay prisoners for long.

He had not beaten them; merely bought some time. If it were not for the fact that he needed them alive to draw Logan back into the open, he would have quickly ordered their execution for precaution's sake.

Despite his change in mood, Fallon placed an oily smile on his face as he greeted his prisoners taking a moment to examine each one. The Asian woman, Psylocke, hung limply in her restraints, still unconscious as a result of his scientist's wonderful narcotics.

Next to her, the X-Man leader, Cyclops, hung stiffly in his own manacle, suspended some two feet above the floor. The activation light on his visor was dull, proof that it had been rendered inoperative. Yet the man still carried a poise and defiance that made Fallon extremely wary of him, even restrained.

Next to him was the large black man, Bishop. He was the only one of the four that was not suspended above the ground. Both of his arms were secured behind his back, sunk into a stone pillar up to the elbow. The man glared at him with a look of pure violence on his face. Fallon ensured that he stood clear of the man.

The fourth and final prisoner hung in place quietly, his face a perfect poker mask revealing nothing. The restraints that held him were quite different from the other's. Nothing encased the man's hands. Rather an iron band had been clamped around his forearm just below the elbow. Metal bars fused it to other iron bands fastened around his biceps. The restraints kept his forearms bent foreword with his hands out away from his body and anything else. Fallon was fairly certain that it was not a very comfortable position.

"Who are you?" the question was more of a demand from the visored man.

Fallon's lips thinned into a hard line as he regarded the prisoner.

"I don't believe that you are in any position to make demands of me young man." Then he reconsidered for a moment and shrugged. It would do no harm. "You may call me Fallon."

"Is that your real name?" that question came from the tattooed black man and was delivered in much the same fashion as Cyclops's query.

His annoyance was slowly reaching the levels of anger with these people. Curiosity, however, convinced him to keep his temper in check. Even with his reliable sources, Fallon had been unable to discover more than vague rumors as to the origin of this Bishop. A fact that had made him curious but had never really concerned him as his target had always been Logan. Now would be an excellent time to satisfy that lingering curiosity.

"My true name, as you call it, would mean nothing to you," Fallon responded after a long pause.

"What about Logan?" the man pressed. "Would the name mean anything to him? Is that why you brought him here?"

Fallon took several deep calming breaths before responding. "Perhaps we can arrange for an exchange of information if that's what you want?"

The man's features were still as hard as stone, but Fallon could see the spark of curiosity in his eyes. "What do you have in mind?" The large man responded slowly.

Fallon smiled. "I am a man who is greatly interested in studying men of stature." Appealing to the man's ego probably wasn't going to get him anywhere, but one could never know for sure. "It is a ...hobby of mine to follow the paths of such men."

"You want to know were I come from," Bishop's voice was flat.

Fallon nodded. Bishop merely smiled and replied, "My origin would probably be as meaningless to you as your name would be to us."

Fallon sighed. Even his curiosity was not enough to give him the patience to deal with such open belligerence. The man could die a mystery for all he cared. Besides, it was quite obvious that Bishop would not cooperate and thus would never willingly reveal the information that Fallon desired.

Fallon turned on his heel and was about to stalk away when the man stopped him cold with one single phrase.

"Why don't you tell me about Operation Falconmount?"

Fallon stopped dead in his tracks and whirled to pin Bishop with an icy glare. Gambit, seeing the effect that it had on him, decided to push it one step further. "O' if y' like. Ya' can tell us about a little mission fifty years ago called Operation Monfalcone."

Only a handful of people on the Earth knew anything about Operation Falconmount. And even they didn't know anything about Operation Monfalcone, much less the true nature of the entire project. However, if these people already knew this much, which no one on the planet save himself should have known, then there was no telling what other knowledge they might possess.

Curiosity hadn't been enough to calm his temper, but survival of his dream was. "Why don't you tell me? Tell me what you know, and I'll tell you if you are right or not."

"First tell us how the two are related, and how they involve Logan," Cyclops responded.

Fallon stared at them for a long time before suddenly throwing his head back in laughter. They looked at him in confusion, but Fallon didn't care. They didn't understand, could never understand. The irony of it all, the utter bitter irony was so intense that he couldn't help but laugh. Here they were, his prisoners, completely in his control, and yet, once again fate, destiny, or perhaps an omniscient supreme being was once again showing him just how little control he truly possessed.

Fallon continued to giggle as his mirth subsided. "Why they have everything and nothing to do with each other. Absolutely nothing, and absolutely everything."

They were staring at him as if he were some deranged madman now, but it didn't matter. Neither did the amount of knowledge that they possessed. For it would soon die with them. No, the only thing that mattered right now was finding Logan. And for that, he would need the aid of one of these X-Men, preferably a more docile one.

"Hopps, Landen," the two soldiers snapped to attention at the sound of his voice. "Please escort the young lady into the hall and deliver her into the care of Venuti and Shipper."

The two men hurried to comply despite a protest from the leader of their little mutant group. Satisfied, Fallon took one last look over the remaining prisoners thinking of how valuable they would be to him once he had killed them then reconstructed their minds and bodies as his servants and turning on his heel, left.


Remy Lebeau was generally not what he considered a patient man. He blamed part of the fact on his mutant heritage. The strange and unique demands of his metabolism which allowed him to produce his trademark biokinetic charge kept him constantly on the move. It was a primal need that kept him instinctively wandering around late into the night in search of action and thrills when any sane person would already be home in bed. He always knew that he would have to find an understanding wife if he ever married again to put up with him and his vagabond ways. In fact, Remy was often surprised that he had been able to master the instinctive urge and stayed with the X-Men as long as he had.

However, despite all of these factors, mutagenic and otherwise, when Remy Lebeau needed to, he could wait with the patience of the mountains. Which was what he was doing at that moment.

He again glanced at the soldiers left to guard them and decided that they were still far too tense and wary for him to try anything as of yet. He needed them to be relaxed and have dropped their defenses a little bit. Otherwise, when he made his first move, they might simply respond in their agitated states by executing him and the other X-Men in the room. For now, he needed to wait some more.

Still, it was an extremely frustrating situation. Just because he could be patient didn't mean that he enjoyed it. In normal circumstances he wouldn't have had to wait. He would have simply attempted to charm the guards using his enigmatic empathic abilities the moment that he regained consciousness. That is were it not for unforeseen factors.

The same "interference" that had blocked Psylocke's earlier telepathic probe was also playing havoc with his abilities as well. He still had them. They just felt greatly muted.

Remy sighed and shifted his weight slightly trying to get the circulation to return to his arms. His restraints were effective if not very comfortable. With his hands immobilized as they were, he couldn't even attempt to pick the lock. And, of course, the soldiers standing over him would have shot him dead at his first attempt even if he could have reached the restraints. Remy almost felt a stab of professional respect for this man called Fallon. The man had done his job of studying them and planning well.

After a some moments more, Remy glanced back up at the nearest guard letting his empathic senses wash over the man once again. He was still somewhat tense, but Gambit decided that they just couldn't afford to wait any longer.

"So, what zactly did de little furball do t' ya' ta' piss ya' off so much?"

The man glanced back at him malevolently but refused to respond. Remy pressed on.

"Hey, I know dat de guy can be a real pain in de ass at times, believe me. Just de ot'er night he tried ta' cheat me out of a full night o' drinks even t'ough I won fair and square."

The guard chuckled slightly at that comment. "Mathison always was a lousy gambler."

Gambit chuckled right along with him then turned his head to address the others before continuing.

"Dat's true enough. Plus, de man never does know when ta' admit he's wrong."

The three men nodded their heads emphatically at that statement. Remy nearly smiled in satisfaction. He almost had them.

"Dat's probably all t'is whole t'ing is about, heh?" the Cajun continued, pushing his empathic powers. "Ol' Wolvie probably had some unpaid debts, and ya' just wanted t' collect." Remy shrugged as best he could in his present circumstances. "I can respect dat. If I had known it be somet'ing as simple as dat, I probably wouldn't have bothered comin' all de way out here."

Remy ignored the shocked stare from Cyclops and the openly belligerent glare from Bishop and plodded on.

"I got no interest meddlin' in ya' business. Ya' claim seems legitimate enough ta' me. Who am I ta' interfere?"

He had the attention of all three men now. Each had acquired a slightly glazed look to their eyes.

Remy knew that it was time to make his move. He cut his eyes briefly to Cyclops and with a subtle nod of his head indicated the guard standing closest to the X-Man leader. To Cyke's eternal credit, he seemed to understand what Remy was planning. The Cajun gambler then turned his attention back to the guards focusing on the one nearest to him.

"Hey, mon ami," he was really pushing the limits of his powers now. "I be dyin' for a cigarette. Ya' got one?"

The man's expression cleared momentarily and settled into suspicion. For a brief instant, Gambit wondered if he hadn't pushed to far to fast. However, the lapse soon passed and the soldier began rummaging around in his pockets until he retrieved a small pack. Pulling out a single cigarette, the man walked over to where Gambit hung suspended against the wall. The soldier hesitated a second more before reaching out and placing the cigarette in Remy's lips.

"T'anks, mon ami," he mumbled around the cigarette.

The soldier started rummaging through his pockets again. "Need a light?"

"No t'anks." As he spoke, the cigarette began to glow a dark lurid pink, "Got my own."

Before the guard could even think to react, Remy turned his head and spit the now energized cigarette at Cyclops. It struck the joint of the X-Man leader's visor, and flashed in a small explosion of metal and tobacco. The end that was no longer held in place to his uniform slid down uncovering Cyclops's right eye.

The guard in front of Remy looked as if he was beginning to come out of his dazed state as Cyclops's optic blast struck the guard next to him. Remy didn't waste any time in reacting. Before the man could raise his weapon, a Heckler and Koch MP5, the Cajun heaved his body and wrapped his legs around the man's neck. Another heave sent the man crashing into the nearby wall throwing off his aim. Automatic gunfire rang out inside the cell but thankfully, hit no one. Remy slammed the man into the wall again, and this time, he let his gun drop to the floor with a clatter.

Remy sensed that the third and final soldier had finally come out of his stupor as well and was raising his gun to fire on Cyclops. "Cyke! Eleven o'clock!"

The X-Man leader's head cut leftward sharply leaving a trail of destruction as his optic beam sliced though walls, doors, and even a support beam. Finally, it reached the soldier; laying him flat out on his back before he could fire. Remy breathed a sigh of relief that was quickly cut short when he heard an ominous creaking from overhead.

"Close ya' eyes Cyke! Close ya' eyes!" He yelled hoarsely. Cyclops had already done so even before Remy's desperate warning; however, the damage had been done. With an awful groan, the ceiling gave out in the area where Cyclops had cut through the support beam. Tons of stone and mortar came crashing down around them. Gambit winced as a particularly large chunk came to a shuddering rest just inches from his face.

Closing his eyes, Gambit braced for the blow that never came. A few seconds later, the crashing sounds ceased and Remy warily opened his eyes again. He coughed on the dust and debris that now floated in moats in the air. He reached out with his senses, trying to locate the others; however, there was just too much debris floating around and interfering with his abilities for him to be able to sense anything.

Remy looked down at the limp form that he still held in a death lock with his legs and realized that the man was now dead. Coughing again, he disengaged himself form the corpse before calling out to the others.

"Bishop, Cyclops? Ya' okay?"

From out of the dust cloud, he heard Cyclops's coughing reply. "Define okay, and I'll get back to you on that."

"I am without injury," came Bishop's terse reply. "Lebeau, that was a foolhardy maneuver. It could have gotten us all killed."

"Yeah, ya' welcome Bishop," Remy replied as flippantly as possible.

Cyclops coughed again. "Well, now that we have managed to overpower our captures. We need to get out of here as quickly as possible."

Gambit was inclined to agree. However, he didn't see any immediate solutions. His present restraints would take a while to undo. He would probably end up having to pick the lock with his feet, which took considerably longer than more conventional methods. He was just about to begin the laborious process of removing his metal boots without his hands when Bishop's large form suddenly appeared in front of him from out of the dust and debris.

Remy knew that the amazement must have been obvious on his face.

"How?"

Something very close to a grin passed over Bishop's features. "Don't be so surprised Lebeau. After all, you raised me."


After hours of relentless torrents, the rain had finally passed along with the rest of the storm. Overhead, the clouds were just beginning to break apart in the darkening sky. The moon was alternatively visible then obscured as the great clouds continued on their long patient course. The aftermath of the storm had left the ground saturated, filled to bursting with water that collected in near stagnant pools.

Logan carefully made his way though the darkened landscape. His senses seemed prenaturally sharp in the darkening twilight. The passing storm had left the entire landscape with a clean fresh scent that, under normal circumstances, Logan would have taken a few moments to enjoy. Today, however, was not a day of normal circumstances. Thus Logan ignored the musty scents of earth and nature as he continued skirting the perimeter of the citadel.

The Blackbird had landed in the structure well over three hours ago. Though Logan tried not to worry, his concern and a dreadful certainty were growing with each passing moment. If the X-men had encountered and defeated Fallon's forces, Logan was certain that he would have seen one of them searching the surrounding area for further clues. And if Fallon and his men had simply evacuated, the X-men should have finished their search hours ago. Either way, the Blackbird should not have been resting idly by if things were alright with the team.

"Mathison!" Logan flinched at the sound of a voice amplified by though some type of megaphone. "Logan Mathison, we have something that I believe belongs to you."

Logan slowly crept through the damp vegetation until he had a clear view of the front gate of the citadel. Fallon stood on the stone walkway, next to what looked like a public address system. However, it was the sight of Venuti and Shipper and what they held that made his blood run cold.

Venuti prodded Betsy Braddock's limp form forward and Logan had a moment of relief as he could tell from the rise and fall of her chest that she was simply unconscious and not critically wounded.

Then Logan's eyes narrowed as he saw the twelve gauge shotgun that Venuti held poised at the base of her skull. The barrel of the shotgun was tied securely to her neck by a long length of cord. Venuti's hand was similarly secured to the handle of the gun with another length of rope.

They weren't taking any chances. Logan knew that even if he had the use of his claws, he would be unable to cut the cords and separate her from Venuti before he pulled the trigger.

"That's right Logan," Fallon was continuing now. "One of your precious X-Men allies. You wouldn't believe how easy it actually was to capture them. I didn't even have one casualty."

Logan wasn't certain whether or not he believed that statement, but the man sounded sincere enough. Either he was telling the truth, or his warped mind believed that he was telling the truth. Logan preferred to believe the latter, but could not afford to complete discredit the former. He still didn't know everything about this man's capabilities.

"Surrender yourself now, and she and her companions will be spared,"

Fallon's face hardened making his scar dance lividly on his face.

"Refuse to cooperate, and I will slaughter them like cattle."

Logan growled softly in frustration as his mind forcefully compared the scene before him to one he had faced with Venuti and Shipper over fifty years ago. Once again, Logan was being forced to chose who would live and who would die. He wondered briefly if Fallon had intentionally brought these two men to specifically to remind him of the past experience.

The man seemed to know everything about those fateful events. Yet why it was that Venuti, who was there, seemed to have no knowledge of the matter?

"I will count to ten, Mathison." Fallon's amplified voice interrupted his reverie. "Then after I have killed this one, I will fetch another one to be slaughtered. I will kill as many as it takes to flush you out Mathison."

The X-Man felt his scowl deepen. He suspected that Fallon would eventually just kill him and the rest of the X-Men in his control anyway, but that was a vague future, and right now all Logan could see was the harsh present. The certainty that Fallon would indeed kill Elizabeth right now just to get to him.

"One!" Fallon's harsh voice called out. Once again, Logan was painfully reminded of an eerily similar no win scenario.

"Two!" The X-Man rose to his feet. He knew that he had no real choice in the matter.

"Three..." Fallon trailed off with a satisfied smile as his eyes met Logan's. Logan glared in return and slowly crossed the distance between them.

"That is quite close enough," Fallon said when he had come within twenty meters of the man.

Logan nodded in Betsy's direction. "Let her go. Cut the straps loose."

Fallon actually laughed in return. "Now Mathison, why would I do a stupid thing like that?"

In response, Logan whipped one of the M-16's to a firing position and trained it on Fallon's head. Shipper was quick to level his gun at Logan.

"Now, now, now. There is no need for that."

Logan had to give the man credit. He wasn't the least bit concerned even with an assault rifle aimed at his head.

"Simply put down your weapons, surrender yourself, and I promise you that Miss Braddock will live to see another day."

They stood there, unmoving for almost a full minute, before Logan finally responded by dropping the two assault rifles to the ground. Next, the two Magnum .45's joined them on the stone walkway.

"Is that everything?" Fallon queried. Logan nodded in response. "Good, then step away from the weapons and lie on the ground with your arms spread."

Logan slowly complied walking out ten feet from the pile of guns before lowering himself to the hard cold stone and placing his hands on the ground in front of him. In a flash, Shipper was on him pulling his arms behind his back and restraining them with a third length of rope. When he finished, Shipper rose dragging Logan to his feet as well and prodded him forward to join the others.

Fallon wore a satisfied expression and the smug smell of victory emanated from his every pore. "Now Mathison, I shall keep my word; though not in the manner you were expecting."

Logan looked on in confusion as Venuti cut loose the straps that held Betsy bound to the shotgun. Without the support she slumped heavily to the ground.

Venuti then turned a questioning gaze to Fallon, who merely nodded in approval. Realization set in and Logan barely had time to scream in defiance as Venuti coldly shove the barrel into her abdomen and pulled the trigger.


Part 18

Forty Miles North of Udine
The Present

Fortunately, the Blackbird had not been disturbed. It still rested in the now darkened courtyard the same as it had been when they had left it there nearly three hours ago. All systems were intact and none of the aircraft's security measures had been breached. Apparently Fallon had never had any interest in the capabilities of the X-Men's technology.

A fact for which Scott was grateful. The thought of Forge's Shi'ar enhanced ingenuity in the hands of a desperate madman such as Fallon obviously was didn't appeal greatly to the X-Man leader.

Of course, the idea of two of his team-mates in the hands of that same lunatic wasn't all that comforting either. And given the choice, he would have gladly traded the blackbird for the safe return of Logan and Elizabeth. Unfortunately, their options were not quite that simple. Which was why they had returned to the blackbird the moment that Bishop had finished freeing them from their bonds, and they had been able to find their way back to the courtyard. Scott desperately needed to advise the other X-men of their current situation and possibly call for reinforcements.

Scott's nerves were already on edge when he sat down at the communication's console. His condition was not greatly aided when the screen flickered on to the very worried countenance of Storm. Scott could see that there was a tightness at the corner of her eyes that bordered on near panic. He knew that his message was not going to aid in soothing her concerns ... nor his.

"Scott, I've been trying to contact you for the past hour."

Scott belatedly noted that the unanswered incoming message counter was now in the double digits.

"What has happened? Is everyone all right?"

Scott let out a pent-up sigh. "Gambit, Bishop, and myself are all fine. As for Betsy and Logan..." he floundered for a moment before continuing. "We believe that they are both being held captive by an enemy of unknown power."

Scott had expected to see a look of increased concern cross his co-commander's face. Instead he received a look of dread certainty and conformation.

"Then you have confirmed that Logan is being held at that site?"

"We haven't had visual conformation as of yet," Scott felt his own concern rising as he detected an heavy sadness in the woman's eyes and voice. "But, Fallon, as he calls himself, has all but said that he has Logan in his possession."

Scott noted the way she curtly nodded at his assessment. Something was obviously bothering Storm, and Scott could see that she was debating on whether or not would be a good moment to tell him.

"Storm, what's wrong?"

She hesitated a moment longer before responding. "Warren is in the infirmary. It happened about ten minutes ago. One moment he was calmly discussing stock market options with Bobby, and the next moment he fell to the ground clutching his head and screaming in agony."

Scott felt his stomach clench into a tight knot. Warren was one of his oldest and closest friends. The thought of losing him was like a blow to the gut.

"Is he going to be all right?"

Storm nodded. "Hank has him stabilized now and has assured me that he should fully recover, physically at least," the X-Woman paused for a moment as an errant tear leaked from the corner of her eye.

"Psychologically, he's just not sure. Hank says that the bond Warren and Betsy share was the cause of the seizure." Her voice finally broke. "Scott, we believe that Betsy is dead."

Scott leaned back in his chair completely overwhelmed and at a loss for words. At first, the concept was too unreal, too alien, for his mind too accept. He had been with Psylocke on countless missions, many of which had been against a much deadlier foe than the one they now faced. The idea of her being dead now just didn't seem possible.

A slow persistent sensation of guilt began to settle in his gut. A team member had died under his command, and he hadn't even discovered it on his own. The X-Man leader slumped in his seat in defeat.

"Scott?" the sound of Ororo's worried voice snapped him from his reverie.

"I'm fine," he quickly assured her even though he wasn't sure of his statement.

Scott quickly rose to his feet. If this Fallon had been willing to kill Betsy, then they needed to retrieve Logan as quickly as possible and safely retreat for the moment. When back-up arrived, they could proceed with a further more in-depth investigation.

"Prepare and send an assault team of no more then six members for back up. Use your own discretion in selecting the team members. We are on an alert status. They may end up walking into the middle of a firefight when they arrive."

"What are you going to do?"

Scott didn't like the answer any more than she did. "Gambit, Bishop, and I are going to make a quick scout of the area in an attempt to locate and recover Logan and Betsy. Once that is accomplished, we will retreat to a secure location by means of the Blackbird and await the arrival of reinforcements."

Storm looked hesitant, but nodded her approval. "I'll dispatch a back-up team now. Good luck Scott."

The screen flickered off as Storm broke the connection leaving Scott to consider their current options. He still couldn't accept the idea that Betsy was actually dead. He knew that he wouldn't be completely convinced no matter what Hank said until he was able to see the body with his own eyes. Scott wondered idly if even that event would convince him of the reality of the situation.

Scott walked down the ramp of the Blackbird to find Gambit and Bishop where they had been standing watch against the possibility of another attack. Both men looked at him expectantly as he approached.

"Storm is sending a back-up group right now. But its going to take a while for them to get here. Until then, it's going to be up to us to locate Psylocke and Wolverine."

Bishop and Gambit nodded. They hadn't really expected anything more.

"There's something else," he was hesitant about the next part, but they needed to know. "Psylocke may be dead. If she is, don't worry about recovering the body now."

Scott knew that his voice must have sounded cold as he spoke, but he couldn't do anything about it. "Our concerns for now are to retrieve the living members of the team and get out of here as quickly as possible. If necessary, when back-up arrives, we will be able to recover any bodies then."

Neither man reacted visibly to the news of Betsy's demise. Both had the common trait of rarely letting any emotion show through to their face, but Scott liked to believe that each was disturbed by the message.

Unfortunately, right now they didn't have the time to indulge themselves in sorrow and self-pity. At least one of their teammates was still alive and currently in the custody of a deadly enemy. If necessary, there would be plenty of time for mourning later.


Logan had resisted the urge to charge Fallon even with his hands bound behind him, and do his best to end the miserable creature's life. He hadn't resisted the urge out of any noble X-Man sentiment that both Xavier and Cyclops had tried to pound into him. Nor had he resisted the urge because of any of his own moral compulsions regarding vengeance. No, the only thing that stayed his hand was the fact that he knew that Fallon was planning something. And Logan wanted to know what that was.

It was for this reason, and this reason alone, that Logan allowed him self to be prodded forward by Venuti's shotgun as they marched down the halls of the citadel.

Logan felt the bitterness rise in his throat as he stared over at Shipper, who was carrying Betsy's limp form. Blinding rage clouded his vision for a moment, and Logan had to fight intensely to suppress his desires for revenge. Looking at these men, who had once been his friends, who had once fought and bled alongside him, Logan had almost been surprised when he realized that with Betsy's death, he had ceased to feel any loyalty to them any longer.

Even after days of mental and physical abuse, he had been unable to truly consider these men his enemies. They had just been pawns, controlled by forces more powerful than themselves, acting against their own will. Now, all such illusions had been completely stripped form him

Fallon continued leading them through the different corridors of the keep. It only took Logan a few moments to realize where the man was taking them. Logan remembered the way well, Fallon was headed toward the laboratory where the X-Man had been forced to execute the scientist all those years ago.

For a moment, Logan wondered if Fallon wished simply to try to torment him for his past crimes once again. Logan quickly dismissed the notion. Fallon's scent was purposeful, not vindictive. Whatever the man's intentions were, he was not interested in prolonging Logan's torment at the moment.

"Ah, here we are," Fallon announced as they approached the stone entrance to the small room. He tossed a wicked grin at Logan.

"You'll notice that I've made some modification. However, I do believe that the room is recognizable enough to bring back a few memories."

The "few modifications" remark was somewhat of an understatement. Fifty years ago the room had been furnished simply with a few tables filled with test tubes, beakers, and other strange chemicals. The test tubes, beakers and chemicals were still present, but that was the only similarity. A large mainframe computer dominated the entire end of a once blank wall. The sheep marrow candles had been replaced by an intricate overhead lighting system. A thermostat on one end of the room indicated a constant temperature of sixty-eight point three degrees. The sight in front of him was a far cry from the one that had greeted him fifty years before.

"Yeah," he growled sardonically, "looks like ya' been busy. Am I supposed ta' be impressed?"

Fallon's smile was tight, and his scent carried a hint of irritation.

"Logan, the only reason that I am showing you any of this is because you played such a large role in its near destruction and, ironically, its rise to what it is today."

He smelled extremely satisfied with himself as he continued his explanations.

"In fact, once I gained control of this project, I even renamed it Operation Falconmount in honor of the part that Operation Monfalcone played in its development."

Logan simply snorted, "I don't know what ya' been smokin', bub." He gestured at the room with a broad sweep of his head. "I had no part in the rise of this."

Fallon smiled, truly amused now. "Oh Logan, if only you knew," He began to pace the room examining the contents of several of the test-tubes as he went.

"Did they ever tell you what the true nature of this project was when they sent you to destroy it?"

Logan wasn't sure where exactly this current line of conversation was headed, or if it was a trick. Therefore, so he answered warily.

"Somethin' ta' do with creatin' the perfect soldier if I remember correctly."

Fallon's laughter was completely genuine if a little less than sane.

"Of course, of course. We military types could never see any application for a new discovery beyond that of having another weapon."

When his laughter finally subsided he turned to pin Logan with an intense glare.

"Even the governments that fund me now can't see my offer as anything beyond a line of defense against the mutant threat. Their lack of vision amuses me almost as much as it annoys me. But no, Operation Falconmount is so much more than a simple super-soldier project."

Fallon crossed rapidly to a table were he carefully withdrew a glass case. Inside the glass case Logan could see an ancient parchment. So old that if it was exposed to the outside atmosphere it would probably crumble. Fallon absentmindedly stroke the glass covering as he spoke.

"Operation Falconmount goes back much farther than the Nazis and World War II. It's origins lie near the very beginning of recorded history."

Fallon continued to gaze at the ancient parchment lost in his own account.

"The ancient alchemists had a quest. They desired to be able to refine the coarse and abundant materials of the world into the more refined and valuable substance called gold by chemical processes. Their quest was both a failure and a success. Though they never did discover the magic process that they sought, their work did lay the foundation for that later sciences of chemistry, botany, biology, and others."

Fallon seemed to come back to himself and glanced at Logan over the glass structure.

"So little is known of what these men might have actually discovered. This," he indicated the parchment, "was discovered in the vaults of an ancient Cathedral in the city of Aquileia at the onset of the second world war. No one was ever able to discern its origins, but it contains theorems and formulas that no one at that time had even conceived could be possible."

Fallon's eyes shone fervently now. The scent of excitement was so strong in the air that Logan wanted to plug his nose.

"Those ancient alchemists had somehow discovered what we with our great technology are still bumbling around with. The secret of immortality."

Logan shook his head. "Yer crazy, bub."

Fallon's scent changed so suddenly and violently that Logan half-expected the man to attack him. Logan suppressed a shiver. Fallon's mood shifts were always lightning quick and were set off at the least provocation. This man definitely was not operating with a full deck.

"Crazy am I?" Fallon's tone was dangerously soft. "Then Logan, if I am just a mad lunatic, how do you explain the presence of your comrades returned after their deaths fifty years ago?" A twisted smile lit up Fallon's face as he continued.

"And Logan, if I truly am mad, how will you explain the restoration to life of your X-Man companion."

Logan didn't have a chance to ask what he meant before Fallon gave a sharp gesture to Shipper and Venuti. Venuti responded by shoving Logan onto a stool next to one of the tables filled with test-tubes. At the same time, Shipper drug Psylocke's body to an empty table where he plumped it down on the surface. Fallon meanwhile busied himself with a hypodermic needle and a small group of glass tubes.

Fallon smiled at Logan as he advanced on him. "Do you remember the first thing that they did to you after you had been captured by General Heiner?"

A sick feeling began to wash over him. "Yeah, they wanted blood samples. But they never did tell me why."

"Oh, it's quite simple really," Fallon said absentmindedly as he prodded Logan's arm for a vein. Venuti was standing close by to restrain him.

"The serum that they were trying to develop acts in concert with human blood, only human blood. It doesn't appear to have any effect on animals for some reason."

Fallon nodded in satisfaction as he found the vein for which he had been searching and plunged the needle in. After a few seconds, Logan could see the tubes begin to fill one by one with the dark red liquid.

"You see," Fallon said turning his back as he walked to another table and sorely tempted Logan to take a cheap shot even with Venuti standing over him. "The serum is based on the concept of nanytes, microscopic machines composed of atoms. Yet each one having a sentient awareness. When combined with blood cells, it modifies those cells into new more advanced, intelligent organisms. Think of it, blood cells that would be capable of thinking, problem-solving, and could almost instantly repair damage done to the host organism."

"But the applications extend beyond that. The modified blood cells are then capable of repairing cellular tissue, damaged by illness or trauma, on a molecular level. Sickness would become a thing of the past," Fallon's voice was rising in passion as he spoke. "Aids would be rendered harmless, cancer could be cured completely in a matter of moments with a single treatment."

Fallon smiled ironically. "Even the dreaded legacy virus would fall before such medical treatments."

Logan had to fight to keep his mouth from falling open. If even a fraction of what Fallon was saying was true, it could mean a great deal to him and the rest of the mutant race. However, he just couldn't quite bring himself to believe this madman's claims. If he truly was capable of doing everything that he claimed, then why had he only implemented his plan on such a small scale?

"It's a nice story, bub."

Logan decided that provocation was probably his best bet to shake loose some more information. After all, he thought sardonically, why change technique now when it has worked so well for him so far?

Logan grinned insolently. "I'm just not sure that I buy it. If yer really capable of doin' all this wonderful stuff, then why did ya' only bring back fifteen scientists and my old buddies?"

A sudden thought struck him. "Why didn't ya' ever bring back yer wife and kid?"

Logan watched as Fallon's face became a mass of thunderclouds.

"My motives are not to be questioned by one such as yourself." His eyes nearly glowed with an insane rage. "You could never even begin to fathom my purposes."

"Ya' got that right, bub."

Fallon snorted, but appeared to accept Logan's comment at face value and. continued on. "The scientists that Nazi Germany had assigned to this project were extremely close to reaching a break-though. Given a few more months they may have perfected the formula. However, the serum that they had developed never did reach an active status."

Fallon paused thoughtfully picked up a test-tube to examine its contents. "The nanytes were dormant in the serum that they had managed to create. It had been combined with blood samples from hundreds of donors; all with the same result, failure." Fallon positioned the test-tube back in its place with a sigh.

"They realized that they needed a catalyst, an activating agent to animate the dormant nanytes."

Logan felt a sense of dread slowly crawl over him as the pieces of the puzzle began to fit together in his head. "My blood. The healing factor in my blood."

Fallon nodded with an expression that said he was somewhat surprised that Logan had managed to figure it out on his own. "Yes, your blood. The unique mutagenetic structures inherent to your blood were enough of a catalyst to bring the nanytes out of dormancy to full activity. The nanytes then modified your blood cells into the finished serum, capable of saving, or even restoring life."

"Or turning a normal man inta' an unstoppable killin' machine," Logan nearly spat. "Don't give me any crap about noble intentions. I've already been the subject of an experiment of "noble intentions" that was designed ta' make me the ultimate weapon. I don't care what ya' say, the Nazis had no intention of improvin' the quality of life. They just wanted ta' breed the perfect soldier fer' conquerin' the world."

For a brief instant, Fallon's face became somber. His scent now smelled very tired for some reason.

"You do not understand. The project was within my control. It would have never been misused in such a way. We would have kept the serum out of the Nazi's hands. It was designed to help, not hurt, the human race."

The instant passed and Fallon's hardened mask slid back into place. His scent became bitter as he continued.

"After your interference the project was canceled for a time. The fools didn't realize that though you had killed the scientists, you had also left the answer to the complex puzzle in your wake. After the war, I purchased the remains of what was considered a dead and unsalvageable project from a German government that was so desperate for money, they probably would have even sold me plans for the nuclear bomb had it been in their power."

The bitterness in his scent increased marginally tinged now by sorrow.

"By the time that I was able to perfect the serum and test it on myself, my wife and son were already two years dead. It was too late for them."

"That still doesn't answer the question bub..."

"Enough," Fallon cut him off. "We waste too much time with your pathetic games. Once I have obtained enough of your blood samples to manufacture an indefinite amount of the serum, I shall have no more use for you." The wicked smile returned to his face. "I am sure that your friends will be able to see to you after that." He indicated Venuti and Shipper. "For now, however, I must see to your companion."

Logan nearly growled in frustration. He was so close to understanding, but some of the pieces still just didn't fit into place. He watched with detached interest as Fallon retrieved a small vial of Logan's blood and mixed it with a small amount of dark gray fluid which he assumed was the nanyte serum. Logan found it somewhat odd that the serum didn't seem to change the color or the viscosity of his blood. Fallon seemed satisfied and loaded the mixture into a hypodermic needle.

Turning to Logan, his face broke into a hardened smile once again. His scent indicated that he was quite pleased with himself. "I don't even have to worry about matching blood types. The modified cells can quickly adapt to any blood."

Logan didn't want to let himself get too hopeful that the man really intended to bring Betsy back.

"Why are ya' doin' this fer her Fallon? And don't tell me that it's out of yer sense o' honor about keepin' yer promise to me that she would live if I surrendered myself."

Fallon paused for a moment considering whether or not to respond to Logan's question. "If you really must know, I need to test the serum on her."

"I thought that ya' already tested it on yerself?"

Fallon sighed as if he was trying to explain a complex concept to a child.

"The serum that I had to test on myself was not in infinite supply. After bringing back the fifteen scientists and your former comrades, I just did not have enough left to continue my experiment. Unfortunately, I never was able to completely reconstruct Professor Bressan's notes."

"Why didn't ya' just ask Bressan when ya' brought him back?"

Fallon simply ignored him as he continued his narrative. "However, as luck would have it, a few years ago a brilliant young scientist in New York by the name of Jim Khanaz unearthed some of the old formulas and was hair's breath away from unraveling the mystery himself when he was "tragically" murdered by a motorcycle gang. His notes survived him thankfully, and I was able to procure a copy of them with the excellent aid of Mr. White."

Fallon moved over to Betsy' body and poised the needle above her neck.

"In a sense, this is not the same serum that I used on myself some forty-five years ago. I need to ensure that it will work as effectively as the original."

A wry smile crossed Fallon's features. "And in the case of Ms. Braddock, who hasn't even been dead long enough for decomposition to set in, I won't have to reconstruct her mind as I was forced to do with your companions."

The pieces of the puzzle suddenly clicked together in Logan's head with a clarity that astounded him. He stared at Fallon in such open amazement that the man had inadvertently given him the answer that he barely noticed as the man completed giving Betsy the injection.

"That's why ya' never brought them back isn't it," Logan said with a soft certainty.

Fallon's head snapped up, his eyes narrowing. "What are you talking about."

"That's why ya' never tried ta' bring yer family back once they were dead."

It was so painfully obvious to him now. "Ya' may be able to repair and reconstruct their bodies. But ya' had no way to rebuild the complexities of the human mind and spirit. All ya' could do was try ta' remake imitations based on yer own impressions and memories. But no matter what ya' did, they would still only be one dimensional cutouts of the originals."

Fallon's scent was sliding toward rage again. Logan, however, had ceased to care and plunged onward.

"I should have figured it out when Adams, Venuti and Vanhorn all couldn't remember basic events in their lives. Ya' obviously didn't have access ta' those memories when ya' rebuilt them."

Logan shook his head. No wonder the scientist had been of no use to him in reconstructing the serum. "Just out of curiosity, where did ya' get the memories that you do have fer' them?..." Logan' voice trailed off as his eyes passed over containers of his own blood.

"That's right," Fallon continued for him. "The neural energy given off by your brain to the blood that brought it oxygen. The brain often leaves psionic impressions on blood. It's one of the reasons that telepaths can feel so many negative emotions floating around at a murder scene."

Logan felt himself begin to tremble with barely suppressed rage. "Ya' sick hypocrite. Ya' talk about these grand ideals, the betterment of mankind and such. But for the last fifty years, all ya' have done is create hollow paper soldiers ta' satisfy yer own petty sense of vindication."

Fallon's anger snapped. "This is for the betterment of mankind! You are the sick animal, a remorseless murderer who has been allowed to plague society for more than half a century! Justice demands that you pay for the crimes that you have committed and be prevented from slaughtering innocents again!"

Logan was more than a little fed up with this man's twisted perspective of justice. "If I'm the remorseless killer, ya' wanna' tell me how many people that ya' ended up killing with that stuff before ya' were able ta' perfect it?"

The man's face went white in rage. Logan could smell an anger so intense on him that Wolverine had no misconceptions about what the man intended as he stalked determinedly towards the bound X-Man. So complete was Fallon's rage, that Logan could even smell nervousness and concern coming from the two soldiers standing over him. It was obvious that Fallon no longer intended to leave him to the guards as his final fate. The man had every intention of killing him with his own hands.

Logan, however, had other ideas.

As Fallon approached him, Logan leapt from his stool towards Fallon. As he dove forward, he brought both of his arms from behind his back in a large sweeping motion. Fallon's minimal surprise at seeing that his bonds had been severed was nothing compared the shock that entered his scent when Logan extended his newly re-grown claws and caught Fallon's torso in a cross-slash.

Logan lifted the still stunned man slightly in the air on his claws and brought Fallon's scarred face to his own.

"Ya' said I was a remorseless killer." Logan bit off every word harshly. "Well just remember in yer dyin' seconds then that I'm the best there is at what I do."

Logan spun quickly and tossed Fallon's body on the completely stunned Shipper. Venuti had finally managed to recover from his own shock and moved to raise his shot-gun to fire. Logan didn't even give him time to pull the trigger.

One slash of his claws sent the shotgun to the ground. Venuti's severed hand still clutching the stock. The second slash opened Venuti's throat and sent him crashing backwards over a table of chemicals.

Logan turned his attention back to Shipper who was now struggling to disengage himself from the bleeding Fallon. As he lunged to his feet, Logan grabbed him roughly by the collar of his shirt and sent the man flying over another table before crashing into the far wall. Shipper slid to the ground with a sickening thud and remained still.

Logan coldly examined the room as his claws slid back into his hands with a snikt. After fifty years, it appeared that this chapter of his life had finally been closed. Logan just wished that the cost hadn't been so high.

It was funny in a sense. He still didn't even know who Fallon was, or why the man had hated him so much. Still, it was a mystery that he was more than willing to leave buried. He already had more than enough answers to suit him.

Suddenly, he heard a painful gasp come from the table on which Psylocke's body was resting. The X-Man whipped his head around in shock, irrational hope welling up inside him. He tried not to let that hope overcome reasonable thinking as he practically ran to Psylocke's side.

Logan blinked his eyes at the sight that met him. He closed his eyes again, yet upon opening them, the sight stayed the same.

"Betsy, are ya okay?" he asked nearly choking on his own voice.

The ninja's eyes fluttered briefly, and she groaned in pain again. "I am alive, Logan. Other than that, I cannot say much."

It was a miracle. She breathed steadily, very much alive. Logan nearly shouted for joy wanting to pinch himself in disbelief. But, as impossible as it should be, the wounds in her abdomen were gone. The flesh natural and healthy looking where parts of her uniform had been blown away.

As incredible as it seemed, Fallon's serum had actually worked.

Logan's smile nearly split his face. "Well, that's more that I had hoped for, girlie. Now, let's go find the others and..."

Logan's words were cut off by Psylocke's sudden scream. She tossed her head back in pain as blood flowed freely from her nose and ears. Logan looked on desperately frantically trying to think of something to do.

As Psylocke collapsed into an unconscious state as the blood suddenly stopped its mass exodus from her ears and nose.

Logan watched in abstract horror as the blood flowed across the stone floor and traveled directly towards Fallon's rising body. It was then that Logan noticed that blood was also flowing from the bodies of Shipper and Venuti. These two streams also converged on Fallon's form and began entering it though his mouth, ears and nose.

As Fallon rose, his skin began to twist, contort, and reform itself over again as if it were made of clay. His clothes shredded off of him leaving only his nude form as his body continued its macabre display. His lids slowly pulled back to reveal white pupil-less eyes that gazed at him with an intensity that was discomforting to even a man of Logan's courage.

Even the man's voice had taken on a more ominous tone as he spoke.

"Foolish, foolish man. Did you truly believe that you could kill me that easily? Did you really believe that you could ever be a threat to me?"

When Logan didn't respond, the Fallon creature thrust his left arm forward. The arm grew and extended until it struck Logan in the chest, throwing him backward and pinning him against the wall. The thing that held him merely chuckled. What ever this creature was, it smelled of blood and death so strongly that Logan could make out no other scent.

"The outcome of any confrontation is never guaranteed, Logan," Fallon's voice cracked like a whip. "We must always expect the unexpected. Learn to adapt to unplanned contingencies. You, of all people, should know this, Logan. After all, you taught it to me."

Logan pushed futility against the fleshy bond which held him pinned.

"Who are you, Fallon!?" He cried in frustration. "Where have I met you?! Why do you hate me!? What did I do to you?!" He howled.

Fallon's face contorted into an unnatural smile. "Yes, I suppose that the time for facades is past."

The X-Man was about to scream his agreement when Fallon's face suddenly seemed to melt into a featureless blank. Logan stared in amazement, then sick certainty, as a face without scars slowly emerged that he fully recognized.

"Brennon," he whispered softly.


Part 19

Forty mile north of Udine
1942

Logan watched General Heiner stalk the confines of the laboratory with a growing sense of triumph at the man's obvious dismay and anger. At times, he had to fight to suppress a smirk of satisfaction before it had time to fully bloom on his face. Given Heiner's current state, it would not be wise to attempt further provocation.

After Logan had surrendered himself, the three captives had been bound and taken back to the laboratory to find the scene now before them.

At first, the German soldiers had registered shock then anger as their glares had turned to focus on Logan. He was somewhat surprised that they had not killed him at that moment.

Venuti and Shipper had both been quite surprised as well, but he could also smell the heavy scent of vindication on them. When weighed against what they had already paid to attain it, it was a small victory, but a victory none-the-less. Each savored the moment of satisfaction knowing it was mostly likely all they would have.

It was fleeting at best. Logan's shoulder still stung slightly from where a syringe had been forcefully injected to remove a blood sample. The sample had been taken from him and his two remaining companions almost immediately after their capture and before they had been taken to the lab.

He hadn't quite figured out why the Germans were so interested in his, or anyone's blood, but his gut instinct told him that it wasn't something that he wanted to see unleashed on the world. As a soldier, he had heard too many rumors of the atrocities committed by Nazi scientists and doctors.

He continued to twist his wrists trying discretely to work them free as the strong cords bit into them. Logan risked another glance at Heiner from where he was kneeled on the floor with his two companions.

The man had displayed rage when they had entered the lab to find the dead bodies. However, a growing scent of complacency was developing about him. He had ordered every one of the bodies checked even though Logan doubted Heiner had any illusions about what would be found.

Now the man had obviously accepted the deaths and was focusing on a way to deal with it. For a moment, Logan wondered if they had actually been successful in their mission. Even without the scientists, Logan was convinced that Heiner's level-headed and analytic approach might yet yield him the desired results despite this setback.

No wonder Allied intelligence had made him a secondary objective. Heiner finished pacing another lap then leaned back against one of the tables. His head swivelled to pin them with a dangerously hard glare.

Logan could see the wheels turning behind those eyes. After a few moments of consideration, Heiner obviously reached some sort of conclusion and barked out an order to the other eight Nazi soldiers around him. The soldiers hesitated, but when the harsh command came again, they quickly rose to retreat from the room leaving Logan, Shipper and Venuti alone with Heiner and one other soldier.

As the last soldier passed through the doorway, Heiner withdrew a pack of cigarettes from his pocket. Pulling a battered old lighter from his other pocket, Heiner lit a single cigarette and took a long contented drag. He withdrew the cigarette from his lips and stared at it curiously as he breathed the smoke out.

"Dr. Klapiz was conducting experiments to try to prove that these things could lead to serious health problems later in life." His thick German accent gave an odd ring to the English words as he spoke. "I personally thought that it was a waste of time, but one never can tell with these things."

Heiner placed the cigarette back in his mouth to take another pull. "Now, I guess that we'll never know," his gaze hardened on Logan, smelling strongly of rage again. "Will we?"

Logan allowed his face to betray no reaction as Heiner pushed off from the table and began to slowly walk towards them. The rage was slowly fading from his scent to be replaced with the stingy smell of contempt.

"Before I allow the three of you to die, I want you to know what exactly you have destroyed here. I want you to understand the far-reaching consequences of your actions."

"I'd say we destroyed yer' little sick attempt at creatin' the perfect soldier," Logan growled flippantly. "Don't expect me ta' cry over that."

Heiner's eyes narrowed dangerously as his scent grew acrid with anger once again. A slight gesture of his head was all the instruction that the remaining German soldier needed to bring the butt of his rifle down swiftly into Logan's face. Logan allowed himself a mere grunt of pain as he was sent toppling to the floor. He could taste the blood in his mouth from a split lip, but made no move to spit it out.

Heiner watched for a few moments then signaled the guard with another inclination of his head to drag Logan back to his knees. He could smell the anger and indignation from Venuti and Shipper at his treatment; however, more than anything else, he could smell their resignation. Both seemed to have come to grips with the idea that they were going to die. They didn't know about the grenade that Logan had hidden under the far table.

Heiner was shaking his head and smelling strongly of superiority.

"Such ignorance. But why should I expect anything differently from an American? Yours has always been a confused misguided culture." He paused a moment before adding, "I should have known that my agreement with your... superiors could not function properly."

Logan's teeth ground together in anger as Venuti and Shipper began to give of strong scents of disbelief mingled with righteous anger. They had suspected, theorized, maybe deep inside they had even already known, but to have Heiner blatantly admit the betrayal to them still left a hollow cold spot in their stomachs. True conformation didn't make the betrayal any easier to accept.

"Who?" The single word came out in a harsh whisper.

Heiner simply ignored the question and continued on. "The agreement that I had arranged with your superior called for an equal share of the eventual discovery. He, as his part, was to keep the project protected from Nazi and Allied interference."

He must have noted their surprise at that statement because he quickly added. "You see, I don't plan on letting the results of this research project fall into the hands of the Third Reich. They wouldn't know what to do with it besides create a weapon."

"And what exactly is it supposed to be used for?" was Venuti's harsh question.

Heiner smiled indulgently.

"It is a medical discovery that we seek. A revolutionary new process of treating illnesses and injury. That is the terrible secret weapon that your allies fear so greatly. That is what you were sent to destroy."

Logan nearly snorted. "Sorry, bub. Don't buy it. Ya' don't guard a medical facility as heavily as ya' have been guardin' this citadel. There's more ta' this whole thing than what yer tellin' us."

The general's scent reflected his rapidly diminishing patience. "Oh, there is more. Much more. However, you'll just have to ask the answers you seek from your eternal maker once that I've sent you to meet him."

Heiner began to walk away from them before turning to face Logan once again. "For now, I need two warm bodies as I attempt to reconstruct the work that you have interrupted." Heiner grinned wickedly as his gazed settled maliciously on them. "As you can see, we have an extra that needs to be disposed of. After all, we do have costs to think about."

Logan stiffened slightly as Heiner signaled to the German soldier to unholster a pistol. Logan's mind raced desperately. He just needed to be able to stall Heiner for another couple of minutes. Heiner, however, had taken on a definite scent of finality. He seemed to be done toying with them.

Heiner considered between the three of them briefly before turning to Logan and saying. "One is as good as the other to me. Why don't you choose who will die, Herr Mathison?"

Logan snorted in contempt. "Yer crazy."

Heiner's scent took on a suddenly sharp edge as his eyes narrowed on Logan. "I am quite sane Herr Logan. And you will choose. Even if you have to choose by your silence."

Before Logan could ask what that particular cryptic statement was supposed to mean, Heiner barked some instructions to the German guard who nodded and trained his gun on Shipper's head. Heiner turned to face Logan again with a cold, amused expression on his face. Logan could smell the deadly certainty of violence in his scent and nearly growled in return.

"I will count to ten, Herr Mathison," Heiner began. "If you say nothing, if you refuse to respond, when I reach ten, Shipper's brains will no longer reside in his skull."

Logan almost shouted in protest, but Heiner cut him off.

"On the other hand, if you say anything, grunt, sneeze, breath too heavily, I will order my guard to kill Venuti."

Logan met Heiner's eyes and saw the man's certainty in the depths of them. Logan could just stare at him in dismay. He jerked his head over to risk a glance at his companions. Venuti and Shipper both looked fairly horrified by Heiner's statement. It wasn't the idea of execution that bothered them so much as the idea that one of their own would be forced into the role of deciding who was to die. Shipper began to sweat as the guard trained his gun ever closer.

Logan turned his stare back towards Heiner eyes wide and his head shaking in denial. Heiner merely smiled and began his count.

"One."

Logan's mind raced desperately. He wanted to growl in frustration but didn't dare because that would be a death sentence to Venuti.

"Two."

Logan stared helplessly between Venuti and Shipper. He didn't know what to do. His instincts screamed to be patient and do nothing while waiting for a better opportunity. Unfortunately, he didn't have that kind of time.

"Three."

Logan risked a quick glance to were he had concealed the grenade earlier that day. He knew that there wasn't much time left before the pin would be released. As far as he was concerned, that exact moment would have been the perfect time.

"Four."

He could see that Shipper was tensing now, preparing himself for the impact of the bullet.

"Five."

Logan squeezed his eyes shut tightly trying to block out the scene in an attempt to think of a solution. *There has ta' be a way out.* he thought desperately. *There just has ta' be.*

"Six."

He had yet to experience a stroke of inspiration. Dozens of possible scenarios ran through his mind, each one failing to accomplish its intent.

"Seven."

Logan opened his eyes to stare back at Heiner. He found no pity no mercy what-so-ever in his enemies eyes. The man merely smiled wickedly and continued.

"Eight."

Shipper and Venuti both were sweating profusely now. The scent of their fear was thick and heavy in the air. Shipper had closed his eyes and was now trembling furiously biting his lower lip to keep from crying out.

"Nine."

A calm clarity settled into Logan's thoughts as he realized what he would have to do.

"Ten."

Before the guard could pull the trigger, Logan threw himself at Shipper, knocking the man backwards and to the ground. Heiner had said that only two were needed alive, and Logan preferred going out this way to rotting in a prison cell. He heard the sharp crack of the gun's retort and felt a piercing pain in his shoulder that threw him to the ground. Logan couldn't help the ragged groan that escaped his lips as his broken body impacted painfully on the hard stone.

He could feel Heiner watching him, considering, before saying, "An interesting solution, Herr Mathison. A pity for you that you survived it. Otherwise, things might have been different. As it is, you have made your choice."

As the realization of his words sank in, Logan weakly lifted his head eyes staring in horror. "No," he whispered feebly then more forcefully, "No!"

Heiner simply ignored him, calmly walked over to where Venuti was kneeling, drew his own gun, and blew the man's brains out of the back of his head. Logan stared numbly as Venuti's body slumped to the floor and began to twitch not quite aware of the fact that it was dead.

Logan let his head drop back down onto the floor in defeat. Already he could feel a painful twitch in his shoulder that told him it was mending; however, he barely even noticed it.

He almost laughed at the irony of it all. The only reason that he had ever even accepted this mission was because he was trying to dodge a death sentence. Logan had no illusions that he could expect anything different from Heiner. Maybe the man planned on keeping them alive for now, but he knew that their deaths would soon follow.

Just at that moment, while his mind was riding the edge of defeat, he heard the sounds of his salvation. It came in the form of a barely audible click as the lever on a grenade was released.

Summoning his most insolent smile, Logan rose back to his knees and turned to face Heiner.

"General Heiner do ya' like ta' race?"

Heiner looked at him with open contempt. He probably believed that Logan had finally gone insane.

"What are you babbling about?"

Logan had to control the urge to laugh in the man's face. "I just thought that I'd offer ta' race ya' all the way ta' hell."

Before Heiner could respond, the table behind him erupted in a gout of fire throwing him forward and across the room. The impact of the concussion also threw Logan backwards until a wall halted any further progression. The blast covered him with debris and table fragments but fortunately didn't do any further damage to his body.

Logan shook his head in an attempt to clear the stars from his line of vision. He then took a brief glance around the room to take stock of the situation. Shipper was lying next to him unconscious and moaning as a thin trickle of blood ran from a nasty gash on his forehead. The German soldier who had been standing with Heiner hadn't been so fortunate. A flying piece of scrap metal had caught him in the back of the neck, partially decapitating him. Logan didn't see Heiner anywhere, but assumed that the man was probably still alive.

The explosion had not gone unnoticed, however. Even now, he could hear the sounds of troops arriving to investigate what had happened. Logan knew that he would have to move quickly if he wanted to take advantage of his present situation. He scanned the area nearby until his eyes settled on a small but sharp splinter of metal.

Logan quickly scooted over to it as fast as his protesting body would allow him. He twisted his back to the scrap of metal to give his bound hands the access that they needed. To say it was an awkward position would have been a great understatement; however, necessity is always a great incentive and motivation. Thus, within a few moments, Logan pulled himself to his feet massaging his raw but free wrists.

His muscles still protesting, Logan turned and sprinted for the laboratory door. He could here and smell the arriving troops as he slammed the door shut and threw the bolt into place. Seconds after it was secured a loud forceful pounding began against the heavy wood. Hopefully, the nature of chemicals generally kept in this room would keep them from just blasting the door open with their guns.

Logan leaned wearily against a stone wall. He wasn't exactly sure if he had accomplished anything other than buying them a few minutes. There wasn't really anyway out of the laboratory except through the windows and that was accompanied by a fifteen meter drop onto a jagged slope.

He could try to take Heiner, if he was still alive, as a hostage and demand their way out. Of course, there was the problem that he didn't speak German and thus, would be unable to make any understandable demands.

Logan's thought process was interrupted by another groan from Shipper as the man fought his way back to consciousness. He quickly covered the ground lying between them to reach his friend's side. Shipper's eyes fluttered open briefly, then closed again as he released another groan of pain.

Logan retrieved the metal shard and used it to sever the bonds restraining his comrade.

"Shipper, are ya' gonna' be all right buddy?"

Shipper grunted sourly as Logan helped him to his feet.

"I was wondering what you had done with that grenade."

Logan smiled fiercely in return. "A wise man once taught me ta' always keep an ace up yer' sleeve."

"Didn't seem to help you very much with poker," Shipper grinned wryly. "I almost suggested that you start cheating just to even the odds out a little bit."

Logan mock-growled in return then turned serious.

"I'm afraid that we don't have many options available ta' us right now."

Logan gestured towards the door that was beginning to creak ominously under the current barrage.

"They're not gonna' stay out much longer. And we don't have another exit out o' this room."

"The window..." Shipper began.

Logan shook his head. "It's more than a fifteen meter drop onta' rough terrain. I don't think we could handle a fall like that."

The wooden door behind them partially splintered as the latest blow pounded against it. Shipper turned to face Logan.

"I don't think that we have much of a choice."

Logan nodded grimly and the two began their slow trek towards the window supporting each other with every step. When they reached the opening, Logan used the same piece of scrap metal to break out the glass of the window pane.

Once there was a space large enough for them to pass through, Logan pushed his head out to look downward into the darkness. His lips and eyes narrowed fractionally at the sight. He didn't see any way that they, in their present condition, could jump that great a distance and still successfully escape into the woods.

Despite all of these factors, Logan was about to make a try of it when his senses alerted him an instant too late of Heiner's approach. As Logan spun around, he heard a gunshot then saw Shipper collapse into a small pile, blood leaking from a hole in the side of his head. Logan lifted his gaze from his fallen comrade to stare at his killer.

Heiner stood with almost all of his weight on one leg. The arm that did not hold the gun steadily trained on him was clutched closely to his side. His face was a mass of ugly bruises and cuts imbedded with fragments of glass, wood, and metal. His scent smelled strongly of pain, anger, and wrath. All of it was underlined by a firm scent of disgust.

"Foolish, foolish, foolish," he murmured softly. "Even now you attempt to destroy that which you cannot understand. Do you have any clue how much your actions today have cost the world? Do you know how many countless thousands will be forced to continue suffering because of what you have done?!? Can you even began to imagine?!?" The man's voice had risen to fevered pitch as he spoke.

Logan observed the man calmly. Heiner was obviously badly injured and his gun hand was beginning to waver a little. All he needed to do was keep the general off balance.

"Did ya' really think that yer' contact was playing straight with ya'? He was probably just playing ya' for time and information until he could send us in ta' finish up the job."

Logan was making this up as he went along, but it was having the desired effect on Heiner. The man stiffened visibly. His gun wavering even more now. Logan smelled the quick burst of doubt and anger that came from the man before his scent turned cold again.

"No matter," he whispered harshly. "It ends here and now."

The gun slowly raised and for a brief moment, Logan saw that he was at the end of his life. That moment never came as Heiner collapsed to one knee with a cry of pain. As he fell to the ground, Logan saw the dark stain on across his vest.

Logan didn't need any more persuasion. He quickly turned to the window knowing that this course of action could just as easily end his life as Heiner's gun; however, his decision had already been made for him. Closing his eyes, Logan stepped out into the darkness.


Part 20

Forty miles north of Udine
Today

A dark sense of dread and certainty was growing in the pit of Logan's stomach and spreading slowly outwards. His eyes didn't want to completely accept the sight that was before him even though he had seen many strange and terrible things during his years as an X-Man. However, he had not been sufficiently jaded by his time fighting for Xavier's dream that when an old World War II general that he had known and thought to be long dead was re-animated in the form of a howling beast-like creature that now held him pinned to a wall, it didn't disturb him just a little. There were some things that even being an X-Man couldn't prepare you for.

"Brennon." he said again, this time in complete confusion. "Why? Why did you do all of this?"

The creature's voice no longer even sounded remotely human. "Because you ruined everything for which I had worked and struggled. Because you cost me the life of my wife and child."

Logan felt his anger rising slowly as the implications of the Fallon's words slowly set in. "It was you," his voice grated harshly, "wasn't it? You were the traitor that sold us out. That set us up ta' die!"

Almost of their own accord, Logan's claws slid out of their sheathes with a snikt. He angrily brought both sets slashing down at the fleshy extension pinned against his chest. Fallon let out a howl of pain as Logan's claws sunk into the skin. The "arm" quickly retreated backwards dropping Logan painfully to the ground.

Logan scrambled back to his feet and met Fallon/Brennon's gaze. The man's flesh had ceased to boil and shift and with his arm back to a normal proportion he seemed almost human again. His scent, however, was anything but human.

Brennon's eyes flickered briefly towards Betsy's unconscious form, and Logan knew he only had a moment to react before the thing struck.

He quickly retracted his claws and, with a running dive, managed to snatch her body from the table before it was impaled by a scythe-shaped fleshy extension. Logan didn't quite understand how the creature's limbs could have the strength of tempered steel when they were made of flesh, but that it was not a line of thought that he had the luxury to follow at the present moment. He quickly ducked to avoid the now ruined table ,as Brennon hurled it at him with a howl.

Logan scooped up Betsy in his arms and took off running for the exit as quickly as his legs would carry him. He could hear that her breathing was weak but thankfully steady. He needed to get her out of here and to a place where she could receive medical attention and be out of additional harm's way. Right now he had no desire to fight a being of unknown strength, such as Brennon was, with a downed comrade in the middle of the battlefield.

He was half-way to the door when Logan felt something like cords wrap around his ankles and jerk backwards. The X-Man toppled forward, Betsy spilling from his arms as he fell. He watched helplessly as her body stuck the ground and slid to a stop directly in front of the laboratory door.

Logan knew that at the present moment, with the recent trauma, her health was not the best. He just hoped that the fall didn't cause any further damage. Especially since his options to help her were diminishing fast as he found himself being pulled rapidly backwards.

His speed increased until he was lifted from the ground. Then he was released and sent spinning wildly through the air. He crashed painfully into a table filled with test tubes, beakers, and other chemical apparatus. The glass shattered and the table collapsed under his sudden impact dropping him onto the floor amid a pile of ruined equipment.

He struggled back to his feet desperately and glared at Brennon just in time to see two fleshy tendrils resettle into the clay-like surface of the creature's chest. Logan belatedly realized that those two tendrils had been the cords that had wrapped themselves around his legs. Logan shook his head in amazement. There seemed to be no limit Brennon's reach.

"Impressive. Yer' still gonna' try ta' convince me that this isn't supposed ta' be some sort o' weapon but is really just for the betterment of the human race?" Logan's said sardonically while slowly extending his claws.

"I am the embodiment of what the human race can achieve," the creature's strange warped voice responded. "As a mutant, you are merely another example of this process. I don't really see how you of all people can attempt to criticize what I have accomplished."

"I can when ya' sold out me and my entire team fer this ideal o' yers," Logan growled in reply.

The two were warily pacing each other now feinting occasionally looking for weaknesses. Brennon's cold hollow gaze settled on him again.

"I was merely protecting the interest of humanity. Did you honestly believe a man like Heiner would have allowed the results of that project to fall into the hands of a man like Hitler?" He shook his head dismissive. "No, Heiner knew that his findings needed to be used for the benefit of all humanity. That is why he contacted me."

Logan's eyes narrowed fractional as the pieces slowly began to fit together in his head. Heiner had mentioned a contact among their superiors with whom he had been collaborating. Obviously their arrangement had existed long before Operation Monfalcone had ever come into being.

Brennon continued. "Heiner had agreed to allow the results of the project become the windfall of the United States government with the promise of immunity for him and others involved in the project."

Logan was still eyeing the other man warily, looking for a lapse in his defenses. "Then why didn't he just defect with the scientists before me and Operation Monfalcone were ever sent in?"

"Because, the allied forces could have never provided conditions equal to the ones that the Nazis had established for the experimentation of the serum."

"What do ya' mean?" Logan demanded suspiciously.

Brennon laughed humorously. "America's moral and ethical standards have for the most part always been placed far too high in the medical field of research to accomplish what Heiner sought. The Nazis provided a more liberal atmosphere in which to conduct his research."

Logan simply stared at the other man in disgust. "You mean the Nazi War Camps."

Logan shook his head in amazement. "And though, as an Allied general, ya' couldn't officially condone such measures, ya' saw nothing wrong with reaping the benefits of that research once you had tangible results ta' present ta' the American government."

"And everyone involved would have mutually benefited from the arrangement," Brennon finished for him. "Everything was going smoothly until an allied intelligence gathering mission accidentally stumbled on to some transcripts of the project. They insisted on sending an assault team to dismantle the project. At that point, I only had one option left."

Logan felt his anger mounting more each second. "So the power ta' bring people back from the grave as soulless hollow zombies justifies sellin' out yer own country not ta' mention the lives o' all the innocents that those sick butchers sacrificed ta' research the stuff?" He spit in contempt. "Yer one sick son of a bitch."

Brennon's eyes narrowed in rage as he lashed out at Logan. As his arms extended towards the X-Man, his fingers elongated into sharpened talons. Logan ducked and rolled out from underneath the grasping nails slashing at them with his own claws as he came to his feet. Brennon howled in rage and pain.

"You dare condemn me Logan!" his voice raged. "You whose hands are stained with the blood of countless innocents! You who would take any measure even that of abandoning your own teammates to ensure your own survival! How dare you attempt to judge me!"

Brennon's arms shifted into the shape of scythes again and came crashing down to the spot were Logan was standing. Logan simply leapt over Brennon's elongated limbs somersaulting through the air as he did so. He lashed out with a wicked kick, fueled by the momentum from his flip, to his opponent's head. Brennon grunted in pain, as he toppled backwards into another table filled with chemicals. He eyed Logan grimly as he retracted his arms to normal length and pulled himself back to his feet.

"Ya' got a lot o' anger inside o' ya', Brennon," Logan observed. "Too bad none of it's really yers."

Brennon eyed him suspiciously as they continued to circle each other.

"What are you talking about?"

Logan smiled. "I should have figured it out during yer so called trial. Ironically it was you that finally gave me the clue that I needed."

"And what would that be," Brennon responded with exaggerated nonchalance.

"My blood," Logan could detect a tinge of curiosity in Brennon's scent now. It was the first human smell the man had emitted since his transformation.

"It never made sense why my former buddies would hate me so much unless you had seriously messed with their heads."

"Your friends, as you call them, hated you because you abandoned them, left them to die," Brennon punctuated his statement with a vicious left slash which Logan managed to evade.

"Close, but not quite." Logan was referring both to Brennon's statement and attack.

"Ya' see, when they took my blood sample, I wasn't all that happy with myself. I was feeling massive amounts of guilt and self-loathing for the things that I had been forced ta' do. In the time since then, I've managed ta' come ta' terms with what happened and stopped beatin' myself over the head with it."

Logan could see Brennon's eyes narrowing warily. The man obviously didn't like where this line of reason was going.

"But, if ya' based the personalities of my friends on my own perceptions, that sense of shame, guilt, and belief that I needed ta' be punished would have transferred ta' them in the form of vengeance and vindictiveness."

Logan could smell a growing sense of doubt and fear coming from Brennon now.

"The only difference bein' that since the feelings were never really their emotions, only ones transplanted inta' their heads, there was never the possibility for resolution o' all that anger for them or you. It never was able ta' dim. Just fester and grow fer some forty odd years." Logan grinned grimly. "And other people say that they're their own worst enemy. Bub, they got nothin' on me."

"You're grasping at threads, Logan," Brennon hissed.

"Am I now?" Logan's grin widened marginally. "Cause, you ain't immune either. Yer gonna' have ta' ask yerself how much of yer desire ta' punish and judge me is really based on any sense of personnel justice, or how much was just my own desire ta' punish myself."

"No!" Brennon howled as he attacked Logan once again. Logan barely managed to leap backwards, sidestepping Brennon's outstretched talons as he spun out of the way.

"Lies! All lies!!"

Brennon was thrashing around wildly now clearly put off balance. Logan decided that it was time to put him away.

"Ya' know, its kinda' funny. When we first met, it was you pullin' my strings, forcin' me ta' sign up fer a suicide mission or face an early mornin' execution."

Brennon's face had an almost haunted look to it now.

"But fer the last forty years now, you've been dancin' ta' the tune that I've been playin' inside o' yer head without ya' even knowin' it."

In that moment, Logan knew intimately the expression Brennon wore on his face. It was the expression of a man who had come to discover that the last half of his life has been a vain and pointless parody. It was the expression of a man who was coming to the realization that everything that he had known to be true was actually a lie. However, most importantly, it was the expression of a man who had, for one moment, completely dropped his guard.

Howling with his own inner rage, Logan threw himself savagely at one of the few men that had been just as twisted and deceived in his life as Wolverine had been in his own.


Scott had never really liked castles or anything that remotely resembled them. It was partially for this reason, that Scott was particularly uncomfortable at the present moment while they continued their desperate search for Logan.

After having received the dire news concerning Betsy at the Blackbird, they had set out to search the citadel once again in a knight, bishop, rook pattern. Surprisingly, the order to assume that particular position was only met by one joking comment from Gambit. He must have actually been somewhat concerned about the present situation.

Gambit had taken the knight position. He was the best at recon as well as edging Bishop out when it came to hand to hand combat. Remy also had the shortest range of all three of them with his powers. He may have had a throwing arm that could make Brett Farve green with envy, but at more than sixty yards, his accuracy decreased by half.

Bishop had taken the position of Bishop, amid a few rolled eyes and the previously mentioned joking comment from Gambit. He was minus his usual high-energy assault rifle but was making do with a M-16 that he had picked up off on of the guards after their escape. Fortunately, his one or two stored bio-energy blasts had the range and the distance to adequately cover Gambit from a dropped back position.

Cyclops had been left with the rook position seeing how he had the best range and accuracy with his optic blast of all three of them. It was a lot more difficult to miss when all one had to do was focus one's gaze on an object and open up a visor.

Scott reflexively stroked the small trigger in the palm of his hand. Fallon and his men had been able to deactivate the receiver in his visor that picked up his brainwave activity and allowed him to control the visor with his mind. Gambit had damaged it beyond repair with his little cigarette stunt. So now, with the main receiver out of commission, he had been forced to go to the back-up, a hand-held remote unit. It wasn't quite as responsive as his primary but functioned admirably for a back-up.

Once again, the group had returned to the spot were they had initially found the trail of blood that they assumed had belonged to Logan. Only, this time, they had all brought emergency breathing apparatus from the Blackbird in case Fallon tried his little trick with the oxygen levels in the room again.

The blood trail had still been there when they arrived again and a quick sample analysis confirmed that it was indeed Logan's blood. The only question that faced them now was were to go from there.

The blood from the trail had just barely been warm when they had first arrived. Now, after several hours of incarceration, the blood had completely cooled and dried.

Scott looked up from the trail as Gambit came back into his line of sight. The Cajun simply shrugged at his questioning stare.

"Don' know what ta' tell ya', mon ami. De trail leads off inta' some type of dungeon. Impossible ta' follow it from dere cause de whole place be flooded."

"Dere be one ot'er t'ing," Gambit added. "Somebody blew a whole out o' de wall down dere. Leads inta' some kinda' sewer drains. De blast was recent too. Maybe four, five hours."

Scott absently ran a hand through his hair in thought. A nagging suspicion was beginning to grow in the back of his head. Turning to his other teammate, he asked, "What do you make of it Bishop?"

As usual, Bishop considered his words solemnly before responding. "It would almost appear that Wolverine had initiated an escape. With our present evidence, it is impossible to determine whether or not that initiative was successful. However, we might want to consider the idea that Psylocke was taken as a form of bait to recapture Wolverine, if indeed, he did manage to liberate himself."

Scott nodded in agreement. He had been thinking more-or-less along those lines.

"And apparently, Fallon would have no qualms about executing one of Logan's friends if Logan had refused to cooperate with his demands."

A cold block of ice settle into the pit of his stomach as he spoke those words. If Logan truly had managed to escape before their arrival, then Betsy's death would weigh even more heavily on his conscience.

"All right, people," Scott quickly shoved his guilt back into a dark corner of his mind, "this trail obviously isn't going to get us any closer to finding Logan or Betsy. And as we can't even confirm that Logan is still even here or that Betsy is alive. I can't let us continue to take unnecessary risks by staying here."

It was a tough call to make, but they couldn't confirm that Logan was here and Scott couldn't risk losing any more teammates on a potential wild goose chase.

"We'll return to the Blackbird and fly to a secure location until Storm can arrive with back-up."

Scott carefully monitored the reactions of the two men to his statement. Bishop's face was hard and unreadable as always, but he nodded his head marginally in consent. He may not have completely agreed, but the XSE officer understood tactical logic and was willing to follow Scott's order even if he didn't much care for the idea of leaving two teammates and Operation Falconmount behind.

Gambit, unfortunately, was another matter.

"Go ahead an' go den," the Cajun stated flippantly while spinning on his heal. "Me an' Logan an' Psylocke see if we can find any food in dis place while ya' guys are out waitin' for Stormy."

Scott repressed a sigh. He had truly hoped to avoid any confrontations with Gambit during this mission. Something that tended to happen on a regular basis. All X-men team leaders, even Storm who was probably the Cajun's closest friend on the team, had their clashes with Gambit while on missions. Though improving, Gambit had never been very good about taking orders especially when the order concerned the risk factor involved in an assignment. Scott supposed that it was a character trait symptomatic of a person that had simply lived too much of their lives with nothing to lose. Scott might have developed the same trait after the loss of his parents had it not been for the responsibility of looking after Alex before his brother was adopted.

Scott opened his mouth to call Gambit down when he was interrupted by a strange sound like that of rushing water. All three of them turned just in time to see what appeared to be a large puddle of blood streaming towards them. The blood seemed to almost be a living thing as it flowed around the stunned X-Men and continued on its hurried journey.

A shocked silence reigned over the three mutants until Gambit finally ventured, "Lemme' guess. Blood don' normally do dat."

With that statement, Gambit took off in a sprint in the same direction the blood had gone.

"Gambit! Wait!" Scott called out.

But Gambit had already rounded the corner. Scott let out a deep sigh and mentally cursed the X-man for his impetuous nature.

Turning to Bishop, he said, "Well, we can't let him get too far ahead of us. There's no telling what he'll run into."


Logan could see that this was quickly becoming a contest of endurance. He had managed to get his claws into Brennon just about as many times as Brennon had been able to land a blow on him. Both had manage to open wounds on their opponent that had bled, clotted, sealed and healed themselves in a matter of seconds only to be re-opened again. Somewhere in his mind, Logan knew that even with his healing factor he would not be able to continue this conflict indefinitely. He just hoped that the same held true for Brennon and his nanytes.

Logan ducked underneath another of Brennon's savage attacks and attempted to dodge inside the man's guard. He had learned early on in the fight that he needed to stay as close to Brennon as possible to take away the man's advantage in reach.

The down side of such a tactic was the fact that Brennon didn't seem limited to merely using his appendages for attacks. His chest would ripple like clay, sending out tendrils of flesh that Logan would have to defend against in addition to the talons.

A sweep of his claws sent a handful of those tendril tumbling to the floor as Logan slashed at Brennon's unprotected right flank. He followed through with a wicked right cross that sent Brennon tumbling backwards over another table of chemicals. The man quickly found his feet again, and Logan watched as the two sets of diagonal slashmarks closed on his chest.

Brennon' grin was evil and insane. "I can heal just as quickly as you can, Logan. We can continue this dance for as long as you like."

Logan dropped back away from the man to catch his breath quickly.

"Why do ya' keep doin' this, Brennon? Ya've been manipulated all these years. Why continue it?"

Brennon merely laughed. "That hate kept me alive for all these years. It gave me purpose. It gave me direction. It gave me a reason to keep on living. It is as integrally a part of me as the nannyte blood cells that now coarse through my veins. Do you think that I can just throw it away like last week's paper because you tell me that it isn't really mine?!"

Brennon howled like a beast as he lashed out at Logan again. A rolling dive pulled him out of harm's way as the table behind him shattered into splinters under Brennon's assault. Logan had been afraid of this. Brennon had already been driven too thoroughly insane by fifty years of unrelenting hate and anger. Logan's revelation to him probably had just pushed him further toward that dark abyss.

Logan took a moment to take stock of each of their conditions. Despite each combatants healing capabilities, the battle had taken its toll on both of them. Logan was moving much more sluggishly than he had been on the onset of the conflict. Brennon had also lost some of his speed, and his wounds were no longer closing as rapidly. A few still remained open now though the bleeding had stopped.

The X-Man was about to begin another attack run when he was suddenly distracted by the sound of rushing water. Logan turned his head to see a dark red pool of blood seep underneath the laboratory door and quickly cross the floor to Brennon. Brennon sighed in pleasure as the blood rose from the floor like a living thing to envelope his entire frame. It was slowly absorbed through the pores in his skin, healing and revitalizing whatever parts that it touched.

Shock had caused Logan to stop short, and he had missed a possible opportunity while Brennon was absorbing the blood. Logan now stared in dismay as the last of the blood seeped into Fallon's body. The man seemed completely revitalized, as if he hadn't been fighting a desperate and bloody battle for the last twenty minutes.

The X-Man slowly dropped back, knowing that in his current weakened condition, he would be unable to defeat a revitalized Brennon on his own.

"Surprised, Logan?" Brennon laughed cruelly. "You shouldn't be. You're the one that always talked about expecting the unexpected." Brennon lashed out as he spoke, his reflexes lightning quick once again.

Logan's sluggish movements were incapable of evading his grasp as Brennon's elongated claws wrapped around him digging painfully into his chest and arms. Brennon squeezed experimentally crushing the breath from Logan's lungs.

Brennon slowly drew him to his face once Logan's struggles had weakened. Logan hung suspended some two feet off of the ground with his nose two inches from touching Brennon's.

"The positions a little bit reversed now, aren't they, Logan?" Brennon's smile was so large that Logan wondered idly if a normal human would be capable of extending the corners of his lips that far outward. "Now I'm hanging your soon to be dead carcass in the air on my claws."

Just keep talkin', bub, Logan hoped silently. He only had one chance left to him now. From the onset of their fight, Brennon had seemed almost unkillable. Logan, however, was willing to bet his life that there was at least one thing that even Brennon couldn't survive.

Brennon had wrapped his other elongated hand around Logan, and the two hands had merged into one cage of flesh to restrain him.

"No witty lines to spout at me now Logan? Perhaps something else about how you're the best there is at what you do." he taunted.

The cage of flesh tightened suddenly, and Logan could feel a handful of ribs crack painfully. Brennon cackled gleefully at his pain.

"Well Logan, what you will do now is die."

"Brennon!" he growled painfully, "ya' know what yer problem always was?"

As he spoke, he the claws on his right hand cut their confinement.

"Always were too damn overconfident. It made it a lot easier ta' play possum fifty years ago, an' it's no different today."

He claws slashed upwards tearing through the fleshy restraints. The arc of the claws continued until they met the soft skin at the junction of Brennon's neck and shoulder. Logan grunted a little as he felt the momentary resistance of bone, then his claws tore free again leaving an arcing spray of blood in their wake.

Brennon's body slumped to the ground releasing Logan as it crumpled. The X-Man saw the head roll to a stop just a few feet from the rest of the body. Already tendrils of flesh reached out blindly from the body searching for the missing appendage. A few managed to locate the head and began to draw it back.

"Oh no ya' don't."

Logan quickly scooped up the head pulling it loose from the tendrils that had already managed to re-attach themselves. He held it up to look into its cold blank eyes. There was no way that he was letting Brennon come back again.

"If dis be a private moment tween you an' de head," Logan whirled around at the sound of a familiar Cajun accent. "I can always come back later."

Gambit was leaning casually against the now open door frame cocky and arrogant looking as ever. He glanced at Betsy with an odd gaze but seemed to be satisfied that she was fine. Logan didn't have the composure at the moment to wonder what the Cajun might be able to see or feel.

"Yer a little late, Gumbo."

"Ain't my fault dat I can't leave ya' alone for more dan two minutes wit'out ya' gettin' into trouble." Gambit shrugged nonchalantly.

Logan snorted dismissively. He would have time for friendly banter later. Right now, he had more important things to take care of.

"Gambit charge one o' yer cards with as much juice as ya' can put in it." Logan's gaze was hard and uncompromising.

The two X-Men stood there for a moment simply staring at each other. Gambit seemed to understand the intent behind Logan's glare. Despite this fact, or perhaps, because of it, he reached into his ever-present trenchcoat and withdrew a single card. In a few seconds, the card glowed so brightly that it was almost painful for Logan to look at it.

Using his fingers, Logan managed to pry open Brennon's clenched mouth. Gambit didn't need any further instruction as he silently jammed the lurid card behind the man's tongue. Logan clamped the man's jaw shut and, with a mighty heave, threw the severed head though the window shattering out a small section of the glass as he did so.

A split second later, the resulting explosion blew out the rest of the glass sending it in a showering cascade over the two X-Men. Neither one moved to cover themselves as they simply gazed intently out the window into the dark night sky. The surreal silence was interrupted a few moments later by the sounds of running footsteps as Bishop, then Scott, rounded the corner.

"Logan," Scott started breathlessly, "are you okay?'

"No, not really," he whispered softly.

A soft groan from the other side of the room prevented any further conversation. Betsy Braddock was struggling to regain consciousness again though it may have been better for her to delay the attempt for a while. Scott quickly rushed over to her side and initiated a check of her vital signs. The sweet scent of relief rolled off of the X-Man team leader as he managed to find a pulse.

"Storm had told us that she may have been killed." Scott explained.

"She was."

The smells of shock and surprise greeted his simple statement, but Logan didn't feel like explaining right now.

Shaking his head he said, "Let's just get out of here Cyke. I'm ready ta' put this place behind me fer good."

Without another word of explanation, Logan slowly stalked out of the room. After only a moment's hesitation, the other X-Men followed.


Epilogue

Forty Miles North of Udine
1945

The wind howled mournfully through the canyon in the fading afternoon sunlight. It continued its journey through the rocky crevices and stirred noisily through the thick branches of the remaining trees. The wind continued right up a solitary ridge where it seemed to pause respectively at the burnt-out ruins of what had appeared to be a large castle before hurrying on its way.

A lone man stood silently on the lip of the ridge respectfully regarding the fallen building. The same wind tugged impishly at his loose clothing and hair that he had allowed to grow out in the past three years. The man scratch his jaw behind his ear experimentally still getting use to the idea of having sideburns thick enough to cover most of his cheek.

The man who called himself Logan let his hand drop limply back to his side. He wasn't exactly sure why he had even come back here after all this time. He wasn't sure what he has expected to find here. The sight of the rubble where the once proud citadel had stood surprised and even disturbed him at first. However, he had been able to quickly overcome his feelings and had even decided that, in a certain sense, it was better this way. The past could truly be buried behind him now.

Logan closed his eyes as the memory of that night three years ago swept over him. He could still remember the strange mix of relief and disappointment that he had felt when he realized that he had survived the fall intact. Not only had he survived, but his injuries had been minimal and had healed with their customary promptness. Only two days later, he had not even felt a twinge from even the worst of his injuries, so completely they had healed. That fact alone had made evading the roaming German patrols much easier.

Afterwards he had opted to not move towards the extraction point. Logan had known that he could never be as trusting as Landen. He just hoped that he wasn't becoming as paranoid as Vanhorn. However, after the little tidbits that Heiner had revealed to them, Logan just didn't feel like going back to a command that could easily have been responsible for the death of his entire company.

He had headed northward instead just as Venuti had suggested that they should. Logan had to fight another battle with starvation before he finally found an old abandoned French barn with a crop left lying in the field. Most of it had already rotted but enough had stayed good for Logan to fill his belly a couple of times. He had also found a change of clothing at that barn. Running around Nazi controlled territory in American soldier fatigues was not a healthy occupation.

From there he had moved to the larger cities in France eventually hooking up with the underground French Resistance.

When he had first met up with them, he had decided to continue using the name Logan which had begun to grow on him a little bit. He had, however, decided to drop the name Mathison as it reminded him too much of his fallen comrades. He had stayed in France running errands and sabotaging German forces whenever possible until the Allied forces finally managed to punch their way through the German line in 1944.

As more and more cities were liberated by the Allied forces, Logan had decided that his work was officially finished with the French Resistance and had decided to move on to other ventures. For some reason, an irresistible force had drawn him back to this spot the moment that he had been free from those other responsibilities.

Logan supposed that in some sense, he had come to pay his last respects to his fallen comrades. He knew that in all likelihood their remains were no longer kept here. But that didn't change the fact that he still felt that this would be the most appropriate place to put his inner demons to rest. It had taken many sleepless nights, but he had finally managed to come to terms with the events of three years ago. Now it was time to take the final step in putting the past behind him. It was time to say good-bye to his friends.

"I wish ya guys could have seen this day," he mused out loud. "Hitler's been beaten like a dog, and we've got the Japs on the run in the Pacific. The war is all but finished. All that's left is cleanin' everything up."

Logan smiled ruefully as he could almost what imagine all of their reactions to his statement would be; from Vanhorn's silent smug "I knew that they would end it this way. The whole thing was arranged from the beginning" look to Hopps's relieved "Thank heaven that it's finally over" grin. He felt a sharp twinge in his chest as he mentally reviewed each of their faces.

Logan took one last lonesome gaze over the windswept valley before turning on his heel to walk away. He sighed in contentment as he slowly made his way down the rocky path. He had found the peace that he had so desperately sought for the past three years and in the most unlikely of places. Logan found himself grinning unaccountably.


The Present: Upstate New York

Logan was in what could be charitably referred to as a dismally foul mood. Even the cool breeze and warm, sunny sky above him could do nothing to alleviate his current disposition. The moment he had finished debriefing the other X-Men on what exactly had happened, minus a few details, he had retreated immediately to the woods outside of the mansion and to solitude.

Betsy, fortunately was going to be all right with time. That fact alone was one of the few consolations of the entire experience. The last thing that Logan needed was the death of another team member on his conscience. All she needed was rest and sufficient time for her body to finish mending itself. The latter wouldn't take too long as Brennon's nannytes had already done most of the work for her.

Beast, as expected, had been fascinated by the concept of the modified nannyte blood cells and had set off to examine the citadel with Bobby, Sam, and Ororo the moment that the briefing had finished. Logan wished the mutant luck, but was uncertain about what he would find in the remains. Brennon had somehow programmed the nannytes to respond to his mental commands so that he could control them. When Brennon's mind had been destroyed, it had left the nannytes without a master. By now, they had probably scattered themselves halfway across Europe.

Unfortunately, Beast probably wouldn't have much luck reconstructing Brennon's work either. He and Logan had been quite thorough in their destruction of the lab during their conflict.

Logan felt a twinge of guilt about that fact. Brennon had said that those formulas might have been capable of curing the legacy virus. If that much was true, Logan could be responsible for the deaths of thousand upon thousands of other mutants who would never be treated.

He shook his head savagely to dislodge that thought. He couldn't let a guilt complex set in. That was what Brennon had wanted.

Logan's black revelry was suddenly broken, and his head suddenly snapped up as he caught the scent of one of his fellow X-Men moving towards him.

He groaned silently to himself. In the six hours that he had been out here, Jean, Scott, and even Jubilee, who they had drug out from the academy, had attempted to coax him out of his sulking. Logan had responded by politely and not so politely turning them away explaining that at the moment, he just wanted to be left alone. Now it appeared the Cajun was being sent to give it a try.

Logan could already tell that this would definitely be one of his less polite reactions.

Gambit breezed into the secluded wooded area with his customary cocky swagger. He was absently fiddling with a cigarette that he hadn't yet lit. Logan decided that he would skip all pretenses as he dropped out of the tree branches and landed in front of the Cajun with a snarl.

"Get out, Gumbo," he growled, baring his teeth. "My head's still on straight, and I don't want any company. So leave while ya' can still walk."

Gambit merely glanced over him completely unfazed by his belligerent manner and calmly lit the cigarette. "Not goin' anywhere, homme. Not till I deliver my message."

Logan felt his hackles rising. Couldn't this kid take a hint? Of all the X-Men Gambit should have understood his need for solitude the most. The Cajun had spent his fair share of time brooding on the roof.

"Listen, Gumbo. Ya' can tell Scott ta' take his message and shove..."

Logan trailed off when he saw Gambit shake his head.

"Well then, tell Jean..." again Gambit shook his head dismissive.

Logan was really beginning to get tired of this guessing game.

"All right then, who is your message from?" Logan tried to put as much disdain into his voice as possible.

Gambit calmly blew out a puff of smoke before responding. "Harry."

"Harry?"

The Cajun nodded as he took another drag on his cigarette.

"He says dat if ya' don't pay off ya' tab by de end o' de week, he's never gonna' sell ya' another beer again."

With that, Gambit calmly turned on his heal and began to walk off.

It only took a few moments for the implications of Gambit's message to sink in. When they did Logan felt a low roar build in his throat as he took off in pursuit of the Cajun. A few seconds later he had caught his fellow X-Man and was suppressing the urge to throttle him as they argued.

"Ya' can't be serious," Logan began. "There ain't no way ya' can fairly say that I should pay that tab!"

"It's plenty fair," Gambit responded in a voice that said he wasn't going to budge and inch. "I beat ya' back ta' the mansion by two days. Dat be a pretty decisive victory ta' me."

"In case ya' hadn't noticed, I was abducted by a group of blood thirsty mercenaries who were workin' for an old enemy of mine!" Logan knew that before long the other X-Men would probably hear their argument.

"So what," Gambit replied callously. "I don' remember any clause about blood t'irsty mercs bein' in de bet. Just whoever made it back t' de mansion first." Gambit shrugged unapologetically. "Next time ya' have ta' remember ta' make dat one o' de conditions. Ya' know I got my fair share o' enemies ta' worry bout."

Logan stared at the taller man with a death glare. "You can't be serious."

"Hey, dis is de X-men," Gambit replied with that cocky grin of his. "It's not like dis sort o' t'ing be unprecedented."

The two men engaged in a staring contest for a few more minutes before Logan finally turned and stalked away. He was just about to enter back into the woods when the Cajun's voice stopped him.

"Ya' care ta' make it double or not'in Wolvie?"

Logan whirled to glare back at Gambit.

"What do ya' mean, Gumbo?"

"We brought ya' bike back, and Hank cleaned all the fuel drain out o' it," Gambit was wearing that arrogant grin again, and he smelled just like an overconfident pup. "Wanna' see if ya' can keep up wit' me dis time?"

Logan restrained the urge to gut his fellow teammate. *Why that snot-nosed little.....*

After a few moments, when he had managed to get a grip on his temper again, he stared back at the Cajun with a hard evil smile of his own.

"All right Gumbo, I'll go on a little bike ride with ya'."

For the first time in the conversation, Gambit seemed a little bit taken off guard by Logan's demeanor. He quickly recovered, however, and soon that trademark grin of his was back in place. Gesturing grandly, he said. "After ya' M'sieur."

Logan shook his head as they began moving towards the garage. Just as they had almost reached it, Warren put his head out the X-mansion window staring at them in open disbelief. Gambit merely grinned back at him and called out.

"Dat's right, Warren. I managed ta' drag him out o' de woods. Ya' owe me dat nice little BMW coupe of yours."

A sour expression crossed Warren's face as he pulled his head back in the window. Gambit was smiling widely and smelling strongly of triumph.

Logan growled. He'd been scammed. Not near as much as Warren though which almost made it worth it. Warren should have learned better by now. Never bet with a professional gambler. Then, of course, exactly what was *he* doing here again?

He suddenly glanced at the Cajun shrewdly. The words manipulative little cockroach jumped to mind, but behind the kid's smugness, Logan have always smell the concern too. The Cajun cared about his friends even if Gambit wouldn't admit that part even to himself.

Once again, Logan was amazed at what an innate understanding of human nature the kid had. You'd think since he'd fallen for more than one of Gambit's cons himself that he would permanently get the hint.

But being mildly impressed didn't mean he had to like being tricked or used even when it was out of concern and maybe in his best interest. Logan darn well intended to wipe that smirk off of the boy's face very soon to remind him just who was the best at what they did around here.

Logan truly grinned with a light heart for the first time since this all started. Gambit was going to earn that BMW. He would make sure of it.

FINE

Note-the full story of Jim Khanaz is contained in Lazarus Ledd #2 Seeing how its not really available in the United States, if anyone wants a synopsis just e-mail me.


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