When Scott first proposed the mission to Charles, he’d encountered some skepticism. Not for the idea of it, just the tactics. Most particularly, the staffing. “Why you?” Charles had asked. “I don’t think you’re the man for this mission.”
They were seated by the fireplace in Charles’s office – Scott on the couch, Charles in his chair next to it. He had wheeled over from his spot behind the desk, abandoning the physics exams he had been correcting when Scott entered.
“Whom do you want to send – Jean?”
Charles had chuckled at that. “Well, she might get better results.”
Scott considered that, not sure if Charles was completely joking. “No doubt he’d agree to anything she asked him to do. And you’re right – he’ll likely be disinclined to go along with any plan I suggest.” Charles nodded, and Scott continued. “On the other hand, if I ask him and he agrees, we can be assured it’s not because he likes me. It would be because of the mission itself. If it’s Jean asking, well, it might just be a way to build good will.” He had almost said “a way to get into her pants” but had corrected himself just in time. Well, in time not to say it out loud.
“Is everything okay between you and Jean?” Charles had asked, voice full of concern, eyes probing.
“We’re fine.” Scott had replied, mind closing down, eyes as always hidden. “I just want to do this one myself.” He quickly changed the topic. “What about travel? How should I go?”
“Well, the Blackbird would be the fastest, but there are the obvious problems.”
“Yeah, like where do I put it when I get there?” He mused on that for a few seconds. “It’s pretty remote territory. There should be somewhere I can land where no one goes very often. We did invest all that extra effort and money in vertical landing, after all.”
Charles shook his head. “That’s not the problem, I don’t think. You can definitely land it, and I’m sure we can find a secluded spot that you can leave the jet for as long as you need to be there. As you say, we’re talking remote areas. But once you’ve parked the Blackbird, what do you do then? How do you get around?"
“Yes, that’s a problem. If I fly by commercial carrier, there’s nothing to hide and I can rent a car once I arrive. Maybe we should do it that way.”
Charles shook his head. “I don’t know. We do have something to hide that way. Not the Blackbird, but you. We know you’re in the Feds’ mutant database – they didn’t need the Mutant Registration Act to get information on the X-Men. We have to assume they’ll be tracking your movements if you buy a ticket, not to mention when they scan your passport at the border. I don’t want any official record of this.”
“You’re right. We need to figure out a way to do this unnoticed.” Scott leaned forward and pulled a small remote out of the coffee table drawer. He pressed a couple of buttons and a screen descended from the ceiling and lit up. He reached back in the same drawer and pulled out a keyboard and started typing. “See, what about here?” he said, as a topographic map appeared on the screen. He identified a proposed landing spot with the laser pointer in the remote. “It’s provincial park land but it’s not used much, particularly this time of year. I don’t think this stretch is patrolled often and we can camouflage the Blackbird for flyovers. I can hike out to this road over here,” the pointer tracking his proposed path. “It’s a truck route – I’ll hitch a ride into the next town and rent a car there.”
“Maybe.” Charles looked at the screen, musing, then at Scott. “What’s the cover story? Why are you hitching a ride on a deserted stretch of highway?”
Scott thought for a moment. “Camping and got lost? No, I might get asked about the rest of my party. How about car broke down on a side road?”
“Yes, that could work. You get a ride into the next town, supposedly to get your car towed and repaired, and then the trucker is gone and you’re there renting a car. And going after Logan.”
“How long is he staying in one place?”
“Not long, and his movements aren’t predictable.” Charles thought about that. “That’s another reason to take the Blackbird. I’ll keep watching him with Cerebro, but the quicker you get to where I last saw him, the easier it will be to locate him.” Charles shook his head. “I wish I felt more confident of your ability to persuade him, though.”
“I’ll be my most charming.”
“Somehow I don’t think that’s going to work on him.” They both laughed at that.
Even moving as fast as he could and with frequent input from Charles, it took several days for Scott to locate Logan. Scott didn’t think Logan realized he was after him, but he wasn’t sure. Every time Scott got close, Logan would hit the road again. He was living in a camper mostly – as old and decrepit as the previous one. Doing odd jobs, cash only, in a variety of small northern settlements. But when Scott finally caught up to him, he was back to cage fighting.
The fights were set up as part of an itinerant carnival, the subject of some controversy as Scott discovered chatting with the garrulous desk clerk at the Drifter’s Hotel in nearby La Ronge. Some of the residents of La Ronge – at just under 4,000 residents, the largest community in northern Saskatchewan – were none too pleased with the entertainment offered, and that was even before the fights were advertised. Even without the fighting, carnivals were looked on as full of sketchy characters. Carnival freak shows (Scott wondered how many of the “freaks” were fakes and how many were actually mutants), games of chance, and so on had an unsavory air about them. Many residents worried that this kind of entertainment and that kind of entertainer were not befitting the upright image this former fur trading post was working on developing. But the carnival was on private land and didn’t require a permit. The mayor told the Chamber of Commerce representatives that Wally Jenkins wasn’t breaking any laws by hosting the carnival, rough and unsightly as it was. And there seemed to be plenty of people in the area, both in La Ronge itself and in the neighboring community of Air Ronge and the reserve as well, who wanted rough and unsightly. And were willing to pay to get it.
Scott checked out the carnival, including the cage fighting, two nights running, planning his approach. On the third night he took action.
Logan’s first opponent that night was approximately twice his size and had a cocky, overconfident look Scott was sure would disappear quickly. The promoter knew what was coming, too. He quickly lined up a second opponent, who stripped from the waist up and waited outside the ring as the first fight began.
Scott hadn’t been surprised by the fighting itself. Charles had told him about Logan’s previous cage-fighting and predicted that he might go back to it. Scott was surprised, though, by Logan’s showmanship, and impressed too. Logan affected a nonchalance at the start of each fight, sitting in the corner, back to his opponent and the crowd, even as the promoter gave his opening pitch. He only turned around when his opponent was almost upon him. Then he’d stand up slowly, almost lazily, giving no clue as to his speed and quick reflexes.
The fighting was no holds barred. There were no restrictions whatsoever except that it was bare hands, no weapons. Of course Logan was holding six shiny and deadly weapons in his bare hands, but no one but Scott knew that and Logan wasn’t letting on. His strategy was clearly to get the opponent to hit him, and hit him where it was going to do major damage – to the other guy. No soft tissue, bone. Bone covered in adamantium. The huge thuggish man who was first up tonight obliged, striking a hard blow to Logan’s jaw. The look of surprise mingled with pain when he connected, and the then useless right hand by his side made it clear to Scott that Logan had broken the man’s hand with his own punch. Logan’s opponent, however, seemed dazed and puzzled by what had happened.
And that’s when the nonchalance ended. As had happened the previous nights, after the first blow Logan appeared to become enraged, much to the delight of the blood-thirsty crowd. He started throwing punches in return – to the belly, and then all over his head. When the man was on the floor, clearly unconscious, Logan moved to stomp on him. Scott edged close to the ring in time to see the promoter grab Logan, and to hear him say, “I don’t care if you spend the rest of your life in prison but you kill him and they close me down. That I care about.”
Scott accosted the promoter as he exited the ring after the start of the next fight. “I’ll go up against him next,” he said.
“Yeah?” The promoter looked at him, considering. “You look kind of skinny to take him on.” Scott took off his shirt, revealing a more muscular appearance than was evident in clothes. The promoter shrugged. “Okay, it’s your funeral. You know the rules?”
“There are no rules.”
“That’s right. Them’s the rules. You get five hundred bucks if you can knock him out.”
“Nobody’s knocking him out. Nobody’s lasting more than five minutes.”
“Your choice, take it or leave it.”
“How about $100 if I can keep it going for fifteen minutes?” The promoter seemed to be thinking about the proposition. “I won’t do it if I don’t get anything out of it. And look, the crowd’s getting bored with watching a fight that never gets started.” Scott gestured to the cage. “Speaking of which, you’d better stop him from killing that one.”
The promoter jumped up to intervene, but called back to Scott to say, “You’re on.”
The last opponent was removed from the cage quickly and Logan was back on a stool, facing away as Scott climbed into the cage. “Lose the glasses,” the promoter said, reaching for them.
“I can’t; I’m blind without them.”
“He’ll knock ‘em off you.”
“Then I’ll fight blind after he does. But I’ll start off seeing.” The promoter shrugged and went back to drumming up enthusiasm for the next fight.
Scott didn’t have much of an advantage over Logan’s previous opponents but he had some. He knew about the adamantium, so he knew to only go for soft tissue. And he had the element of surprise. When Logan looked up, Scott was almost on him. And while Logan’s mouth was open, yelling “You?!” Scott punched him as hard as he could in the pit of the stomach. Logan doubled over in pain and surprise.
Not for long, though, and his rage as he went after Scott was clearly not just showmanship. Logan was smaller, but stronger and heavier, the metal in him adding great weight and force. Still, rage mixed with surprise doesn’t make for good tactical thinking, and tactical thinking was always Scott’s strong suit, anyway. Scott managed to avoid a number of blows by anticipating Logan’s actions. Knowing how to use Logan’s weight against him, Scott was able to throw him into the cage wall. The crowd cheered. Logan was, of course, up and back in the fray almost immediately. This time a punch connected, a glancing blow on Scott’s jaw as he tried to get out of the way. Strong enough to knock out at least one tooth. Scott spat it out. And then another blow, strong enough to knock his glasses off. “Did I last the fifteen minutes?” he wondered as he quickly shut his eyes, surrendering to darkness before his eyes could do any damage. And then there were a couple more blows and a kick and the darkness took over his brain, too.