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NATURE OR NURTURE: Opening Gambit
Bleep. Bleep. Bleep. Bleep. Bleepbleepbleepblee-
A slender hand flew out of the bed and delivered a deadly blow to the Felix
the Cat alarm clock's snooze button. Emma deLauro awoke as she always did,
with a cranky little groan. Good mornings were for movie stars who slept
in full makeup and masochistic early birds like Shalimar and Jesse. For a
moment, she let herself luxuriate in the last traces of her dream.
Brennan's taut, muscular body sliding over hers, skin against skin. His
lips trailing slowly down...
This time, Emma sent poor Felix crashing to the floor. She forced herself
to open her eyes, sit up and swing both long legs out of bed. Hissing as
her feet hit the cold floor, Emma made her way to the bathroom. She caught
sight of herself in the mirror and couldn't help but chuckle. Large
sections of her red hair had wound themselves into cowlicks at some point
during the night, and her normally pale face appeared almost ghostly in the
harsh glare of the bathroom light. "I look like a banshee," she muttered.
Throwing her reflection a half-smile, Emma stripped off her lucky t-shirt
and stepped into the shower.
Fifteen minutes later, wearing only a pair of her favorite "days of the
week" panties, she stood before her closet, pondering the age-old question
of what to wear. Hmm, perhaps black? Or ... black?
Since joining Mutant X over a year ago, Emma's wardrobe had become a sea of
dark colors (mostly black), because, as Shalimar once joked, "Bloodstains
are easier to hide on dark fabrics." Feeling defiant, Emma selected a fire
engine red top with a halter neck and a cream-colored linen skirt.
Bloodstains be damned.
As she was wriggling into her shirt, an achingly familiar face popped onto
her video screen. "Hey, Em, I-Jesus Christ woman! Put some clothes on!"
Blushing furiously, Emma yanked the top down over her chest. "Did you want
A lecherous smile was his only response.
Emma rolled her eyes. It was bad enough she was practically crippled with
lust for the man-did he have to encourage it? After fastening the halter
collar, she snatched the skirt off the hanger and slid into it. Finally
decent, she looked back at the screen. "Yes, Brennan?"
"Well, before you distracted me, I was going to let you know that Adam
wants us all in his office. Now."
Emma heaved a sigh. There went her laid-back morning. "I'll be down in a
sec. At least tell me you made coffee."
"No such luck. And Em?"
"Isn't it Wednesday?" The screen flicked off, leaving a blank wall.
What the...? Then she remembered. Emblazoned in red glitter across her
butt was the word "Saturday."
Emma strode into the office, an apple in one hand and a scalding cup of
coffee in the other. Shalimar, Jesse, Brennan, and Adam were all gathered
around a computer screen that showed a series of bio readouts. All of her
teammates were disturbed by whatever they were discussing, Adam most of
all. His worry bombarded Emma's mind, rolling over her in waves.
Adam was speaking. "... And the sample taken from the murder scene clearly
revealed mutated DNA from three different people."
Jesse examined the readout, his sharp eyes missing nothing. "Blood from
all three was found in the apartment?"
"Yes, but it's not conclusive." Adam hesitated. He appeared to want to
say something more, yet Emma sensed ... fear? Then he noticed her
presence. "Emma, glad you could join us. I want your take on this."
He turned to another computer and called up another report. "Last night, a
young mutant named Lily Cross was found in an alley with her throat
"Slashed? Adam, she was nearly decapitated," said Shalimar. She handed a
photo to Emma.
Emma looked at the picture and stifled a gasp. A woman lay sprawled in a
small pool of blood, curled in the fetal position. Her head lolled
grotesquely to one side, revealing a wide, arcing wound in her throat.
Emma guessed that her hair was blond. It was hard to tell, as it was
soaked with red. Tearing her eyes away from the gaping hole in the woman's
neck, Emma examined the rest of the woman's body. "She's missing a ring."
Emma laid the picture on the table and pointed at break in the tan on the
woman's right index finger.
"Looks like it didn't come off easy, either," Brennan commented. "See the
scrapes on her knuckle?"
"No one found the ring in the apartment?" asked Jesse, his eyes shifting
between the photo and bio readouts.
Adam shook his head. "No, nothing." He glanced at the photo again, his
expression shuttered. "I knew Lily Cross from my time at Genomex. She
possessed the rare talent for thermal manipulation, both internally and
externally. She could lower her body temperature down to sub-zero or raise
it to levels that would kill anyone else. She could project her ability to
any room she occupied. It took tremendous concentration and stamina, but,
from an early age, Lily was very good at what she did."
Whatever inner demons had been bothering Adam before were positively eating
at him now. Emma clenched her hands around the desktop, determined to see
where this whole thing was going before she began to ask questions.
"Lily was working for a government weapons' program code-named Icarus.
She, along with several other recruits furnished by the good folks at
Genomex, worked to create a series of long-range weapons capable of
wreaking small-scale havoc-just enough damage to de-stabilize a
His dark brows drawn together in a fierce frown, Brennan nodded toward the
photo of the murdered woman. "So, she could have been killed to keep from
leaking to the public about this. Or she could have been murdered by any
victim of the weapons she created."
"Or," added Jesse, "she could have been killed by the father of her child.
She was pregnant." He pointed at a small indicator on the screen that was
clearly blinking positive.
Adam's head whipped around to scan the bio readout. Again, Emma caught
surges of very un-Adamlike sentiments. Shock. Self-deprecation. Fear.
Even desperation. The rest of the team watched him carefully. Even they
knew that Adam would normally never, ever overlook something so obvious.
Emma took a sip of coffee to steady herself, regretting it at once. The
coffee was tepid, and all of the sugar had sunk to the bottom. She needed
a refill. And she needed to get the hell out of the office before Adam's
growing panic overwhelmed her mind. Before she could open her mouth to
propose a plan of action, Brennan chimed in, "Why don't Shal and I go take
a look at Lily's apartment? Jesse and Emma can go to the police station
and see what evidence they've got on the murder."
For once, Emma was too distracted to be annoyed when Brennan partnered
himself with Shalimar. She needed to get away from Adam. Besides, taking
Brennan to a police station was always a fifty-fifty proposition; he hated
cops with a passion.
Adam was still staring at the bio readouts. "Sure. Fine."
As the team filtered into the hall outside the office, Shalimar looked at
Emma, her brown eyes full of questions. After the door slid shut, she
asked, "So, what's up with Adam? He was as jittery as a girl on prom
Emma shrugged. "I don't know. He was uncomfortable talking about Lily,
but he really didn't want to talk about the Icarus Project." She took a
bite of apple. "More precisely, his anxiety spiked when he mentioned
Genomex's involvement with Icarus."
"Christ, even I could have told you that. As I said, the man was just
plain jittery." Shalimar looped her arm through Emma's and started walking
toward the hangar. "Don't worry too much about it, Em." She glanced at
Emma's outfit. "Nice skirt. Hope you don't plan on keeping it white."
Shalimar was, of course, in her usual "business" attire, namely leather
pants, a camouflage crop top and pair of boots with heels so high that they
made Emma's feet ache with sympathy pains. "You know me: a slave to
fashion. Though I swear, one of these days, I'm going to chuck it all and
just roll out of here in sweats and a hoodie."
Behind them, Brennan laughed. "Yeah, and on that momentous day, Jesse and
I will celebrate your liberation from fashion bondage by streaking
Sanctuary. Not going to happen, sweetheart."
"Anything's possible, Bren," Emma threw back, giving Brennan and Jesse a
mocking once over. "Especially if I'd get to see both of your cute butts
sprinting through Adam's office."
They were at the Double Helix. As he watched Emma settle into her seat in
the back, Brennan's dark eyes narrowed threateningly. "Fair's fair, I
suppose. After all, I've already seen your goods once today..."
Seeing the flush creeping up Emma's fair skin, Brennan's glower melted in a
knee-weakening smile. Shalimar gave an amused snort. Jesse just shook his
head in disgust, strapped himself into his seat and fired up the engine.
It was going to be a long day.