———————- Danger Room ———————–

Two figures swept up the sides of the danger room walls. Weaving in and out of each others flight paths they performed a gut wrenching series of manoeuvres at break neck speeds. Climbing to the ceiling they began a dive which flowed into a complicated corkscrew movement. Warren Worthington III watched with his eagle sight as his two students finished their tricky task. Archangel was proud of his squad but as the two figures landed neatly in front of him a frown creased his face. “You can both wipe those smiles off your faces. Tell me why you can perform that sequence now but could not seem to manage it when you faced the Hellions two weeks ago?”

The smiles dropped off the two flyers and they shuffled their feet in embarrassment. “It was that skank Wind Dancer. She threw off Wing when we were going into the last stage with her jet streams” said an attractive looking brunette girl in a strong southern drawl.

“Ha!” exclaimed Wing, “Somehow Aero, I don’t think so. If anyone was thrown off it was you”. He jumped back out of the way as she aimed a playful punch at his arm.

“Well at least you know what the cause is. Now that I know, I can help you overcome it” said Warren rather ominously. “Next training session you are both going to perform that with random winds buffeting you until you learn to compensate”. This issued a groan from the pair and they walked off with Wing grumbling about how Melody should just have kept her mouth shut. He called over to the rest of his squad to warm down for a while before they hit the showers and then left the Danger Room.

“Thank God that’s over” said a tall boy with large white wings sprouting from his back, “He must have been really angry to train us that hard”.

“He hates losing to Mrs. Summers” said a pale looking girl leaning against the near wall, “Not sure why but he seems to have some sort of grudge with her”.

“Kim you know that’s just the gossip. Yeah he’s annoyed we lost but it would be the same if we lost to any other team” said a red winged boy standing beside her.

“Oh come on Icarus you know it’s true, Archangel gets so worked up and pushy every time we face the Hellions” replied Kim. “Humph” was the only reply he gave back.

Jay Guthrie watched as his squad walked toward the exit of the Danger Room. He felt his temper rising when he noticed his younger sister leaving hand in hand with Wing. He had protested strongly when they had decided to start dating but as usual she had ignored him and done it anyway. The next to leave was their squad leader. Icarus had put himself forward for leadership of the Defenders when he heard Melody was joining but Archangel had chosen Norman instead. Jay thought he knew why, Norman had come from a rich family and had acted superior from everyone else when he arrived. Jay supposed Warren saw a lot of himself in the arrogant young man and had decided to give him the position of responsibility. It had kind of back-fired though. Norman’s ego had grown even bigger when he was told the news and even took the codename Avatar which was supposed to mean Godlike or something.

Ghost and Nimbus were next out the door. Kimberly Gossard was nearly a complete mystery to Jay. None of the squad knew very much about her and she didn’t socialise with them much. Paul Byrne was nearly the complete opposite in terms of attitude. A very outgoing and forward young from Queens, New York, he had been arrested trying to sneak into a local convenience store and had used his powers on the police. The X-Men had been contacted and had taken the young man in on probationary terms. Since then he had developed into a well rounded young man and had become a great team member and friend to Jay.

“Hey Jay get a move on I don’t want to be late for my next class” yelled Paul breaking the winged mutant out of his reverie.

“Coming” he replied. He started to walk over toward the exit when the entire Danger Room began trembling. Flapping his wings he lifted off from the unstable ground and flew to the others who had done the same with their own powers. Kimberly’s legs had disappeared into a gassy mist and Paul has surrounded himself with his nimbus effect that lowered gravity’s effect on him. Avatar was using his wings to hover and both Aero and Wing were aloft further down the corridor.

“What the hell was that?” yelled Aero to the rest of the squad.

“Don’t know but I think we should find out” replied her brother. Just then the security warning siren began to blare and the Danger Room doors sealed themselves shut.

“Close call” said Avatar “we could have been stuck in there for ages”.

“We need to know what’s happening and what that shaking was” said Aero as she flew up to them. She noticed the worried look on her brother’s face and thought to herself that even though he is a bit of a boy scout he doesn’t usually get worried over nothing.

“The observatory” Jay said abruptly.

“What are you talking about” demanded Avatar.

“The Danger Room observatory, if we can get in there the computer is linked to all the defence systems of the mansion including the security cameras. My older sister Paige taught me a little about hacking so I think I could find out what is happening from there” Jay replied.

“Great plan Einstein but how exactly do we get in there. Those doors just security locked and that means that the observatory probably has as well” said Norman feeling annoyed at Jay for taking charge of the situation. Ever since they had opposed each other as squad leaders there had been a tension between them and Norman really envied the way Jay seemed to have this innate ability to command the attention of what was supposed to be his squad. Looking at him for his answer he saw Jay’s head move to look directly at Kim their team-mate called Ghost.

———————- Boathouse ———————–

“I’m tellin’ you all, that he has done a runner and can you blame him for having a bunch of losers like us representin’ him” came the angry tone of Roxy as she paced by the shore of the lake.

“No, he wouldn’t do that” came the desperate reply of a young girl sitting on the wooden pier outside the Xavier Estate boathouse. Words started appearing on her exposed skin as she let the depressing situation get to her.

“Pull your-self together Tattoo for God’s sake” replied the rocky skinned leader of the Marauders squadron, “Gambit didn’t even stick around to see how miserably we failed in the league this year. Some Marauders we are!”

“Let up on her Roxy, she’s just upset like the rest of us. Just cause she don’t have a soul as hard as her body” said a small elephantine boy wearing a baseball cap. Reuben hated the way that their team leader thought about nothing else than making her squad the best on the campus. She was the only person on the squad that was considering applying for X-Men membership when her studies were finished. Tattoo was content to go on and do what she had watched her mother do for years, become a tattoo artist. She certainly had the skills. Reuben himself wanted nothing more than to set out and travel a bit. He had never known who his parents were and came to the Xavier Estate when the orphanage he was at had kicked him out when his mutation manifested. His elephant features caused a near panic in his dorm room before they had security remove him. He had spent a year on the streets before finding a home and acceptance here at the mansion. He had been picked by Gambit for his squad along with Bling, their leader and Tattoo.

It had only been a half a year before they got three other members. There was the odd little man that only went by the name Gloom. Looking like some sort of Star Wars extra the fellow was actually quite amiable if a bit quiet. Slick was sitting playing his guitar exuding his usual effortless charm. Even knowing that it was his mutant powers at work Reuben still genuinely liked the guy. He had been jealous of his relationship with Tattoo when the young man had joined the team but eventually realised that Tattoo would never feel the same way about him as she did about Slick. He enjoyed her friendship regardless. The final addition to his squad was the massive, hulking Onyxx. Reuben had been terrified of Sidney Green when he first met him and had avoided him for the first few weeks he was on the squad. That ended when Gambit casually reminded him of the way he had been treated by the orphanage. After that Reuben made an effort to get to know the goliath. Thinking about what Onyxx might want to do when he graduated he decided that Sidney would be happy just smashing things.

“Tantra you know as well as I do that we are not the real reason Gambit left. We should be out there trying to find him not lying around the lake sun-bathing” replied Bling.

Tantra realised that she had been ranting for some time and that he had zoned out for most of it. He looked over at Gloom who shook his head to show he understood how he was feeling.

Slick got up from his guitar and came over and wrapped his arms around Tattoo. “Hey sweetness why don’t we head to the canteen, I’ve got a craving for some ice-cream”.

“Ice-cream!” yelled Bling “Our squad leader is missing and you’re talking about getting ice-cream”.

“Hey Roxy, chill, if anyone is going to find Gambit it ain’t gonna be us. Besides the X-Men probably got someone on it, like his girlfriend Rogue perhaps” Slick retorted with a smirk. He knew Bling had a crush on Gambit and got easily wound up at the mention of his lover and fellow X-Man Rogue.

“Slick I swear to God, don’t even go there” she screamed.

“Look, you’re just pissed that we came bottom of the league again and that you didn’t get your chance to shine. You don’t see the rest of us getting so angry”. After that Slick got up and started walking away from the jetty.

“Yeah, well that just means I’m the only one out of you lot that have any ambition” Roxy called after him.

Reuben was about to tell Roxy that just because they didn’t want to be X-Men did not mean that they had no goals of their own. The words were on the tip of his tongue when he was suddenly blinded by a sudden flash. The whole world had suddenly gone white. He felt a tingling in his eyeballs and the after image that was left by the flash began to fade. When he could see he realised that Gloom was using his powers to reverse the effect on their eyes. Looking around Tantra suddenly wished he hadn’t bothered. Its funny he thought to himself I never really considered I could die this way.

The huge blast wave raced over the Lake carrying water and debris with it. It smashed into the jetty tearing it to pieces before racing onward to the mansion building behind it. Bling heaved a large chunk of timber off her legs and stood up. Checking herself she had sustained little damage thanks to her rocky body and wondered if the others had been so lucky. Looking toward the mansion she realised they had not. The first body she encountered was that of Tantra. Bling fell to her knees beside the small elephant boy and surprisingly found she was weeping. She had never been that close to Reuben but he was a Marauder and that meant something to her. Looking up she saw that Onyxx was still standing probably for the same reasons she was. He bent over and picked something off the ground. From the distance it looked like a bunch of rags but as Sidney got closer she realised that it was the sodden form of Gloom.

“Is he Ok?” she asked. The rocky giant just shook his head then let Gloom’s body fall to the ground.
“Oh my God, quick where are the others” she said as she scrambled up and away from her dead team-mates. Onyxx pointed to the ruins of the jetty and they ran over to it. Tattoo was in among all the rubble parts of her phased and other parts not. She was bleeding quite badly from a head wound. Bling again knelt down and held her head in her lap. “Tats can you hear me? Are you Ok? Phase the rest of you out so we can get you to help. Please Tats be Ok” she said beginning to cry.
“Roxy….” came the injured girl’s voice barely more than a whisper.

“Tattoo you’re Ok” came the relieved reply.

“Roxy…… is Slick Ok?” came her ragged voice again.

“I… I…I don’t….” she began but stopped when she felt Onyxx place his hand on her shoulder. She followed his gaze and her eyes found what he was staring at. Not two metres away was the body of her fourth team member Slick. He wasn’t moving and there was blood all around him. Roxy looked down at Tattoo again and noted that her eyes were beginning to become glazed over.

“He is fine babe, just fine” she said. Tattoo must have heard as a smile spread over her face and then she went slack dying in Roxy’s arms. The young mutant leader couldn’t take this, in the space of three minutes she had lost more than half her squad. She began wailing and screaming at Tattoo to wake up until Onyxx lifted her away from the body. It was then she started to here a strange noise fill the air. Looking skyward she saw sentinels pouring over the estate walls. She looked to Onyxx and with grim determination in her eyes and then marched toward them.