Disclaimer: None of the characters mentioned in this story belong to me. They are all owned
by Marvel Entertainment Group. Neither am I making any money off this.
Feedback and flames are welcome.
I shouldn't have come. It's foolish to risk it all today, of all days.
And besides... it always depresses me. You always depress me. Ten
years. Ten years it's been. They did you justice, you know. In death,
if not in life. I am no art critic but this statue was brilliantly
crafted. Pity it's in white. I told them it should be in blood red,
but they didn't listen. Didn't want to. Yet, that young kid - well he
was young then, anyway - he did all right by you. Everyone says so. As
if you're alive and ready to jump off the pedestal and lead us any
moment. I'm not sure why he made you young... Yes, he did you
And yet it's dead. It's dead to me. The beautiful lines of
the face, the long hair flowing in the breeze as if it was silk and
not marble. Dead. Dead to me. Dead to anyone who knew you, seen you,
Ten years. A decade. A decade of putting my mind back together. Of
building a mask. It seems so massive now, what we've… what _I've_
done. So big. Looking back I am impressed at myself, you know.
An illusion, of course. We just took it day by day. Piece by piece. And
now we're ready. Well... we were ready a while ago but I guess I've
grown timid with age. Kept fussing. Almost put it off for too long...
but that's all right. It will work. Everything is in place.
Magda Square. I remember when you dedicated it, you know. Typical of
you... Naming the center of your city for someone who feared you.
Rooting a constant reminder of someone who couldn't accept you for who
you were at the very heart of your dominion. A man of passion, you always were. That's why we followed you, that why we fought for you. That's why we loved you.
That's why this stone idol is just that to me - a dead stone. There is no fire in its eyes. There is no passion running like a current of electricity through its veins. Still... it's very pretty.
They wanted to nix the monument altogether but didn't dare after we took to the streets. So they gave it to us. Threw us a bone. Our democratic government...
Patted themselves on the back for their clever maneuver and then
renamed the square. Unanimously, they voted 'Aye.' Unanimously... even
HIM. So now you stand in the middle of Freedom Plaza. What fools. As
if mere words could erase your memory. As if street names mattered.
They were thorough though. Only the City renames the same. Ironic in a
way. It has survived it all. Genengeneers. The Revolution. The War. The
Hammer Bay, the city of blood and broken dreams.
Are you weeping? No... Damn. It's raining again. A decade. It's been a
decade. I fell tired. So much done. So much left to do. It was hard,
you know. Sitting by, playing dead as around me everything fell apart.
As the country we built slid into the gray horror of poverty and
illiteracy. We, we who once made the world tremble. It was hard. And I
did nothing. We all did nothing. They moved fast. Their "peacekeepers"
flooded the streets and before we even buried you they installed their
puppets. The democratic government indeed. The brought back the
flatscans and re-enfranchised them. And we, the poor fools, unused to
their games. We protested by not voting. How they must have laughed.
It's still the same you know. In ten years practically not one face
had changed on that Cabinet. Democracy... They will learn.
A decade. It's been a decade. ten years since they came and murdered ur hope and promise, in this very place. I've waited ten years, Erik.
I have to go now. It should be starting soon...
The lamp light shone bleakly through the closed curtains. The music
carried faintly, just loud enough to be tantalizingly unidentifiable.
The evening shadows moved in a slow macabre waltz as the slight wind
danced carelessly through the branches of the ancient oak. The tree
protested, the noise of the leaves and branches striking each other
filling the night, almost blocking out everything else. Almost. The
music in the house appeared to reach the crescendo, as close to two
dozen darkly-garbed figures crossed the yard melting into the shadows,
their snub-nosed machine guns unerringly covering the door and the
windows of the modest house on a hillside in the Hammer Bay environs.
"Adam? What's up with you? What's taking so long?"
"Coming, Jean. Coming. Dieu... I swear you are such a child sometimes."
Jean Paul Beaubier grinned lazily, burrowing deeper into the blankets,
the light sheen of sweat on his shoulders merrily reflecting the
candlelight. "Hey, it's my birthday. It's your turn to cook. And I'm starved."
"You're always starved!"
"Not always. Mostly after sex... After good sex."
"I'm kidding, I am kidding. Drink your wine, I'll be right there.
Needs just a little more salt..."
Northstar shook his head ruefully and lazily reached for the
beautifully crafted goblet to his right. He savoured the sugary sweet
taste, frowning a bit as for a second the wine seemed to leave a
strangely sticky and metallic taste in his mouth. The feeling passed and
he shifted restlessly, turning the cup carefully by its stem, admiring
the intricate metalwork. The goblet has been a gift from Adam for
their 4-year anniversary. Jean-Paul shook his head again, this time at
himself. More and more lately he found himself making time to
disappear into the Old Quebec and just... walk. At a certain point he
would outrun the reach of the throngs of gaping tourists and sometimes
he'd find some really beautiful things. Who'd have guessed that he of
all people would develop a weakness for antiquing. He had always tried
so hard to avoid becoming a gay stereotype. Too hard at times,
perhaps. A lot had changed since he met Adam of course. Adam Burke...
he let the name roll leisurely off his tongue, feeling a warm, goofy
smile spreading across his face. "Hey! Chef Boyardee? What are you
spitting a boar in there? C'mo... agh... uggh... oh.. Ada... Adam...."
As soon as he saw him re-enter the bedroom, Jean knew it. Superspeed
that was his gift screamed the signs at him and the pieces fell into
place. The throat-raking cough ripped through him again and he
convulsed, feeling his stomach contracting. Adam.. that man with the
face of his lover stood motionlessly in the frame of the door, those
familiar blue eyes lacking any sign of life as they took in his agony.
The forgotten goblet rolled of the bed, thudding dully as it hit the
carpet, leaving wet bloody smears on the linen. Oh God, it hurt.. it
hurt so much... And he... he couldn't feel his speed any more.. Oh
Jesus.. He needed to... needed to get up... get up... get to the
window. Fly... he needed to fly... everything would be all right once
he was flying...
His vision lost focus somewhere along the way and he whimpered as
another jolt of pain lanced through him. He felt more than saw the
presence next to him and the warm kiss on his mouth. It seemed to last
for eternity. It seemed to last but a second.
Adam straightened looking dispassionately at the body curled into a
fetal position on the bed. Calmly he collected the stained bed-linen
and threw it into the bag. The goblet followed. He disappeared into
the kitchen again and came back a second later with the dishrag. All
evidence, all prints were to be extinguished, Control was very clear
about it. The rest of Alpha Flight would be able to produce photos of
him of course, but faces could be changed. He paused at the door
giving the body one last glance. It scared him still that somewhere
inside him there was a virus. He knew it was safe. Knew it consciously
that it was tailored specifically for the man now laying dead on the
bed. Knew that it had to be activated by a specific catalyst to become
active and he could feel the antidote rushing through his blood but
Paradoxically it excited him. He WAS Death. He WAS the agent
of Fate. The lips of the man who had called himself Adam Burke for the
last 8 years quirked in a proud smile as he looked on to the corpse of
Jean-Paul Beaubier. He wondered suddenly at the brief twinge deep
inside of himself. Was he a different man, was it a different time
could he have loved Northstar…? Burke narrowed his eyes disgustedly -
it mattered not. He was who he was. One of the privileged few - a
Neophyte. His was the privilege to carry the burden. His was the
reward of honoring the great man.
He stepped into the lobby, softly closing the door behind himself,
whispering the words to himself. He was almost positive that Northstar
heard them before he died, but in the end it was irrelevant.
"She threw you out again, then?"
"She did not! I left!"
"Riiight. Well, you can crash on my sofa, till Sophie's back. So you
better solve your marital issues in 4 days, Vinnie, 'k?"
Vincent Caparelli glared briefly at his partner but kept his peace.
Pete was a pain in the ass, but until Maria cooled off, that sofa
would come in really handy. He sighed and wiped his forehead. With the
gas and utility prices hitting all time high, the AC became a rarely
affordable luxury for the NYPD, and for a man with Vinnie's... girth,
that proved to be somewhat of a trial. Not to mention the fact that as
usual the heat was making everyone in the City nuts. Crazy maniacs
were popping up all over. Robberies were up. The Punisher came out
from his retirement again. One didn't even have to look far for the
proof, the station was practically deserted, only skeleton crew
manning it. And the natives, i.e. the prisoners, were getting restless....
Detective Caparelli was rudely jerked from his meandering by his
partner's exclamation of surprise.
"Hold on a second, lemme finish... Daaaayaaam."
"Check this out."
Pete gestured with his right hand, pressing the button and increasing the volume of the battered Panasonic in the corner. "... and while the
police have declined to comment at the present time, anonymous sources
confirm that the body belongs to one of the prominent members of
New York community..."
The shrill ring of the old-fashioned dial phone drowned out the rest
of the sentence, Vinnie spat disgustedly and picked it up, keeping his
eyes on the screen, "Hellhole. Damned Soul #32 speaking."
"Yo, Rico. What's up?"
"Is Ratface there by any chance?"
"Kowalski? Nah. Just us, me and Pete, couple of others and the
"I been trying to get a hold of him for 20 fucking minutes, man.
Didn't you hear what happened?"
"The thing on TV? So?"
"What are you fuckin' kidding me? Do you know who that is that got offed?"
"Some teacher, right?"
"Some teach.. Unbelievable... It's Hector Rendoza, estupido!"
"Rendoza... Rendoza.. Hmm.. Hey, Pete where do I know the name Rendoza from?"
"Umm... didn't we bust him last summer for possession?"
"Madre de Dios... THE Hector Rendoza! The Wraith!"
"The mutie politico? Oh shit.... You think it's The Mangler again?"
"Nah, this ain't no psycho slice and dice. This was professional. A
message. They fucking skinned the poor bastard. Took off his head too.
Then laid it out all nice and neat on his desk. Lindsey is trying to
calm the kids now. I think two are in shock or something... "
"Mayor is gonna be pissed..."
"Tell me about... Oh shit! Oh shit, I gotta go! Cap-!"
Vincent frowned at the receiver as the voice cut off abruptly.
Shrugging he hung up and turn around, "Weirdo-freak."
"He was looking for Kowalski. They can't find him. Hey did you know
that who the big corpse of the day is? The freaking Wraith, of all
people! And Rico is saying it looks like a message or something..."
Vinnie paused in mid-sentence looking puzzled expression at his
partner. Who in turn suddenly went stiff. "What?"
"Get yer piece. We gotta go."
Familiar with the tone in which the statement was delivered, Vinnie
held his patience until they were in the car. Then he inquired into
the matter with his usual tact and subtlety, "Where in the holy fuck
are we going?"
"Kowalski is watching The Brickhouse today."
"Fuck. Fuck-fuck-fuck. Fuckety-fuck on a fucking tricycle."
"Watch your language, Pike!"
"Oh, put a sock in it, chiefie." Shooting the man kneeling next to him
a challenging glare, Pike turned away. "Fuck!"
"Some reverses were to be expected. The plan was sound..." The pale
man in the black business suit shifted, reloading his submachine gun
mechanically. His face showing nothing except a slight embarrassment.
"Oh yeah? At what point exactly did we decide that plan should include
20 percent causalities in the first 3 minutes? Huh?! No? Then shut the
fuck up, Ascet!"
"Watch your mouth, Pike! I'm still the lance chief."
In the room across the hall another trio of the armed men exchanged a
wry look. Ascet's rebuke was interrupted by a woman's snort
reverberating through the headphones of the assault team, "Kids, kids,
if you haven't noticed we are getting a little bit slaughtered here.
Can we postpone the pissing contests? Just for couple of seconds?"
"I caaaaaaan hear youuuuuu." The singsong baritone carried easily
through the demolished expanse of the once opulent house. The mocking
challenge was punctuated by a sharp burst of a semi-automatic. The
hollow point bullets tore easily through the wall and smashed into the
"What's that I hear? Hurts, don't it? I bet it hurts. Come on you
slimy sons of bitches! Mess with Paulie Provenzano? Up in my own
house?! I'll bust you up!"
Pike snarled softly, dragging Ascet behind the up-turned couch. He
tapped the communicator, reloading his own gun, one-handed, "All
right, chief is down. Change of plan. Torch?"
"I'm good to go. Barb is here too, but his com is busted."
"Right. All right... All right.. Shit. All right. Here how this is
gonna go, then..."
The silence that followed Pike's whispered strategy was telling, weighing heavily between the men. Tank, the short redhead whose forcefield shimmered like a pale blue flame about him, spoke first, "Well this is crazy... but assuming that it works, how we getting outta here? No way Jumper has the strength to take us all... with Ascet dead."
Pike smiled humorlessly, "In case you haven't noticed there're a bit
less of us now. Well within Jumper's limit, if we shorten the
distance. Anything else?"
"Gonna be tricky with density control..." Tank pursed his lips,
whistling soundlessly. His comment simply an observation, while he was
already working out the solution, "I never compressed it that much.
Doable though. Yeah."
"Well you better not screw up the timing, 'cos ... you know..."
"Yo, you might wanna hurry up. New York's finest are aiming to be
here in less than ten minutes. All of them, from what I can tell." On
the surface Jumper's voice appeared to be of the same lightly
bantering, needling tone, but to those who knew her the worry was as
clear as if it had been shouted in their ears.
"All right. All right.. I'll take the point - we need to get Tank and
Torch into visual range. Barb... do you fucking best, awight?"
"No-" Pike started at the weak protest and looked down.
Ascet gritted his teeth, his left arm vainly trying to hold his side
together. "I'll lead you out." The wet racking cough swallowed the
rest, but Ascet's glare remained steady. As the cough subsided he
dragged himself stubbornly to the wall, ignoring Provenzano's
continuing stream of curses and bullets. Keeping his eyes on Pike,
Ascet propped himself up, "C'mon."
After a momentary pause, Pike nodded suddenly and pulled him up,
shoving a gun into the slack fingers as Ascet draped his other hand
around his neck. Picking up his own modified Uzi, Pike barked a harsh
command into the com. As they neared the door, Pike grinned thinly,
"You know, I never liked you, Ignatio. You just don't know how to
relax and have a good time."
Ascet laughed harshly, inky blood bubbling in the corner of his mouth. His eyes, normally cool and calculating, now alive and burning with a holy fire, "Magnus lives!"
As they spilled into the corridor Pike whispered, almost soundlessly,
"Fuck the dead man. This for you, Spanish."
Ignatio Alvarez died on his third step toward the bedroom, the bullets
from Provenzano's twin guns tearing mercilessly into his chest. Or at
least that how it should have happened. Paulie Provenzano AKA Omerta
AKA The Brickhouse would have sworn on his life that he emptied a good
half of his both guns' clips into the crazy motherfucker, but the guy
still kept coming, firing his toy pistol or whatever that was. And his friends behind him.
Please! Paulie once survived a direct hit from a Mark II grenade
launcher. He was fucking indestructible! He was The Brickhouse! The
first non-Sicilian who would make Capo di tutti Capi one day! Paulie
grinned as the bullets shredded his shirt and trained his guns on the
others, as the pointman slumped to the floor, his gun thudding to the
floor, his eyes empty of life. Provenzano bared his teeth in a savage
snarl of victory. Their human shield gone, these sons of bitches were
so much dog meat.
He laughed out loud as the hurricane of flame erupted from the hands
of one of the assailants and enveloped him. Not bothering to shield
his eyes, he fired aiming from memory as his vision became hopelessly
obscured. "I am Paulie Provenzano, you sorry scum-suckers! I don't
fucking go down!"
The next command was unintelligible to Paulie in the roar of fire, but
a moment later he could have sworn he saw a faint blue shimmer.
'There is still no sign that the target realizes how close the hunters
were. Still...' The black gloved hand reached out and pressed the
com-unit, the soft whisper carrying through the radio and the quiet
Genoshan night to the rest of the team poised to strike, "This is Cat
1. Be careful, remember this is no ordinary Crow we're dealing with
here. Watch for the booby traps."
Tam Anderson, the once and again Chief Magistrate of Genosha sighed
and chopped her hand shortly, racing through the yard just as the
masked soldiers of the President's Own broke down the door of Johanna
"I'm telling you it doesn't make a lick of sense."
"Does to me. I mean everyone knows he and that Rendoza-mutie were
tight. So they got to him first as a warning to Paulie. Simple."
"Bull. If that was a warning to Provenzano, why did they move on The
Brickhouse so fast? Didn't even give him the chance to get the
message. And why wasn't he ready at all? It this was a warning, that
means either they were moving on his turf or vice versa, and either
way it wouldn't be a surprise to him."
"Damn, Pete. Why you always got to complicate things? So the Wraith
was a message to the rest of Provenzano's boys, not to get fresh once
they took the boss out. And he wasn't ready. 'cos he was an arrogant
pissant who though he could take everyone on. Simple. Clear. Obvio-oo-ous."
Vinnie sighed in resigned frustration and was about to extrapolate on
the virtues of the Occam's razor when his partner's attention was
diverted by a familiar slouching figure. "Well?"
Shapiro shrugged fatalistically, " 's gonna be hard. The fire took
down most of the evidence. What's Kowalski saying?"
"Mostly he's trying remember the number of the bus that hit him. You
mean there's zilch? Like, nothing at all?"
"Well, let me put it to you this way - the only piece of evidence we
have more or less intact is The Brickhouse himself."
"Noooo! You gotta be kidding me?! He survived again?!"
"What? Heh! Nah, not hardly. Nope, Paulie's lucky streak has come to
an abrupt and much deserved end. It's freaky tho'... Come with me."
Waving Vinnie down to wait, Pete carefully followed the forensic's
lead, as the latter nimbly hopped his way through the still smoking
shambles of the house. "I'll tell you one thing, Winifred - this
wasn't pretty. True to form, Paulie didn't go quietly into the night.
But damn... I wish I knew who put together this little operation.
There're about two dozen bodies inside, tough boys - I believe you'll
recognize a couple of old friends once the dentals match up. Looks as
if at least a third were 'done' outside though and then thrown in.
Lookouts, my guess would be... or they were until someone decided that
they were about a head too tall for their perfect height. Gonna be fun
matching them up, tell you that right now."
"Agh... You're sick, Sol."
"Suck it up. Ok, here we go - tell me what you see."
Pete shouldered one of the photographers aside and squinted,
thoughtfully rubbing the side of his nose. "A dead scumbag?"
"Ha. Ha. Yeah, you're hilarious."
Peter shrugged modestly, "I thought it was funny. Okay, lessee..." The
body, presumably Provenzano's, was lying face down in the remnants of
the doorframe. Shielding his eyes from the camera flashes, Pete
harrumphed thoughtfully as he noticed the spent clips and bullets
shrewd across the floor. His frown deepened suddenly, "This is where
the fire started, innit? Right here."
Shapiro shrugged, motioning for him to go on.
"Yeah. Damn this is creepy, look not a mark on him but there is fuck
all left of his clothes. Flame-thrower?" Winifred suddenly shook his
head, forestalling Shapiro's answer, "Nah, that's not it... what is
this about, then?"
Solomon grinned, "Noticed finally, eh? C'mon, Detective. Detect."
Pete fished out a pen from his packet and squatted down, carefully
brushing some of the ashes away, until a definite pattern started to
emerge, "Whatta hell... It's an even circle. And the fire was a lot
hotter here too, look at that..."
Shapiro nodded, his eyes also on a circle of the blackened floor in
the middle of which Provenzano's corpse sprawled, "Ayep. Freaky, like
I said. Now check out the venerable deceased."
Pete looked up briefly, "They're done, then? I can move him?"
"Knock yourself out."
Fighting the inevitable onset of nausea, Winifred moved closer to the
corpse. Unnervingly the skin still felt warm and pliant, not dead at
all. Carefully Pete grasped the chin and brushed the hair away to look
at the face. The nausea forgotten at the telltale blue tinge of skin,
he looked back at Shapiro, "Suffocation?"
"You got it. I'm telling you, it looks like someone lit a freaking
fire under his ass and then clamped a jar on him."
Leyu put down the sheaf of paper and sighed tiredly. It was really
unfair, she thought. She was only twenty five! When Shiro was her age
he did NOT have to read the freakishly boring production reports. All
he had to do was fly around and shoot plasma bolts at super villains.
Just like him to take the easy way out. She pinched the bridge of her
nose and took a deep breath, before stretching, in as much as the
airplane seat would allow. She really should review the report a
couple of more times, she knew. But... There was only so many times
one could read 113 pages of mind bogglingly DULL collection of numbers
before one would decide to finally give into one's homicidal urges.
Her glance fell on the magazine laying in the next seat and she
narrowed her eyes at the familiar, garishly garbed figure on the
"Brother dear. Shiro Yoshida. Sunfire. Suuuuuuure. He gets to pose for
the Times and play a symbol of the Japan's newfound economic
prosperity. And what does his poor little overworked, strapping and
beautiful SINGLE young sister gets to do? Why visit the picturesque
Sakhalin Island of course and freeze her buns off. Grrr."
The quiet chuckle behind her, prompted Leyu to turn her glare on the
second passenger of the jet. "What are you laughing about? You get to
freeze right with me."
The young woman, once known as Pyre, narrowed her eyes still further,
"I don't see why I need you along anyway, old man. If there is
trouble, you're just going to get in my way."
The grin lurking in the corner of her mouth robbed the words of their
sting. Leyu had followed her famous brother's footsteps into the
career of a super heroine when she was just a teenager. With the
powers of the sun itself at her control, she would present, and did,
when time called for it, a formidable opponent to any villain, super
or otherwise who would be foolish enough to try her. She knew better then to write off the quiet, balding, non-descriptive man behind her, however. No one in the Yoshida clan was _that_ foolish.
Jon Lee might have been his real name. Most probably not, but it was equally probable that he wore it much longer than the name he was given at birth. Certainly for the quarter of the century that Leyu knew him. Unlike the name might suggest, Jon wasn't Chinese, he was native to Hokkaido. More native than most, actually.
Leyu grinned, not many would agree once they would take a good long look at the pale redhead, towering at an impressive 6'3. His eyes, slanted and dark were perhaps the only feature that would prevent him passing for a Viking that had somehow stepped through the uncountable eons. In fact he was Ainu. One of the last in his clan and forever indebted to Yoshida. He never explained why exactly, but his loyalty was unquestioned. Nor was his skill. The big frame deceived some as to his astonishing quickness. And even Logan was reputed to say that he had rarely met Jon's equal with a kendo sword.
He trained all Yoshida heirs himself. There were stories about Jon;
there were stories about him as long as Leyu could remember. Dark
rumors floating around the compound, broken shards of conversations in
the ball rooms of Oyabans. She got up the bravery to ask him once, but
he just bowed to her in a strange, shallow way and disappeared.
Eventually she pieced it together as much as she was able. The sort of
tale she would never expect. Something out of a tragic fairy tale.
Honor and love, blood and sacrifice.
A samurai in love with the lady of his lord...
Father knew of course. But had never shown it. Never shown any concern
that situation might progress into impropriety. And as he was wont to
do, he was proven right...
Her train of thought faltered and she frowned, as yet again heat
fogged her head. Shaking it off, she reached for the report and froze
in momentary panic and disbelief as she realized that her hand was
trembling and a slow sliver of fire was winding its way down her arm.
"I'm here." The solid, quietly competent voice reassured her, as
always. Jon was here. He wouldn't let anything happen to her. The
thought calmed her and she forcefully blocked everything else, draping
brittle calm over herself.
"Jon. The pills. It's happening again."
She fought back involuntary snarl of helplessness. Her powers had not
defied her control for the better part of 13 years, but now as then, she was terrified. Years of justified self-confidence and iron discipline were washed away by the memories of merciless tongues of fire streaking from her hand toward her brother. Uncontrollable. Unstoppable.
But Jon was there then. Jon was here now. Everything would be all
right. "The pills. Please, hurry."
"I'm sorry, sparrow."
The words hit her hard and bit deep, even before their meaning
registered. It was the tone. The deep, dark, self-cursing sorrow
dripping as thick oil...
Jon Lee looked into the terrified eyes of the young woman he thought
of as his own daughter and forbade himself from weeping. He did not
deserve the luxury.
"I'm so sorry, little one. They have Aisha..."
She could feel the build up, the terrible energies battering at her
from the inside. In her mind the image came, unbidden of an all
consuming fireball hurtling itself at her. Unstoppable. Uncontrollable.
The last vestiges of control and self-discipline fled, and the
terrified girl whom none of her family would recognize as the their
'Wildfire' turned for the succor to the man that killed her.
As a thermonuclear flower blossomed above the Sea of Japan, many would swear that its echo was asking forgiveness.
"New York New York, New York New York - it's wonderful town..."
"Yeah, so nice they named it twice. And you can't sing worth shit,
Rack. Get on with it."
The golden-haired man with the face of an angel smiled easily at the
surly rebuke, not sparing his attention from his work, "Now, now,
Victor. A man should take pride in his work. Take the time to do it
thoroughly. Enjoy it."
His partner muttered something inaudible and turned away. Perhaps to
conceal the fact that his hands were shaking. Victor Chernov
considered himself a good Genoshan and a loyal Neophyte but... Rack
was in a class of his own. And as Pike put it so eloquently once, that
class was "a sick sadistic sociopath."
The whistling sound behind him culminating in a wet 'thwock' and a
gagged sob of pain proved a little more than he could take. "I'll go
check on the guy."
"Do. And inform his royal majesty that I shall turn my attention to
him momentarily." Rack smiled at the woman in front of him, still
ignoring Victor, "That is, if he survives that long of course." He
grinned, enjoying the look of burning hatred in the blue eyes. This
was a great day. "You know I really must compliment you on your place.
Did you hire a decorator? Great taste. Great. Of course, you had the
money, obviously. Tell me something? Why is it that you came back
again? Not that I'm complaining, you understand. It would have
been... difficult to make this appointment if you'd stayed on... what
is it...? Ah yes - Mojoworld. That's a really silly name, by the way."
Raising one eyebrow Rack awaited an answer with evident curiosity.
After several moments he smiled genially, "Oh, I'm so silly. Of
course, you can't answer." His eyes ran over the gagged and bound
form, tied to a chair, several welts harshly evident on pale skin and
the ugly mess of blood and skin in place of the right ear. "Well, Ms.
Blair, let us get serious."
The handsome face assumed a worried aspect suddenly, "I did mention that this is all a courtesy of the Neophytes, correct? Magneto lives and all that? Yes, good. Of course, to tell you the truth..." he kneeled pressing his lips close to Dazzler's left earlobe, "...I'd have done this anyway. Pity you can't scream for me."
Alison Blair, one-time disco sensation, one-time superhero, one-time
rebel and one-time queen closed her eyes. It seemed so surreal. So...
wrong. The pain of her clumsily amputated ear had deadened somewhat,
receding to a dull droning ache that flared to a piercing staccato
only if she moved. A lock of graying hair slid across her face without
her noticing it. Her mind seemed to be retreating by the second into
During the first moments of the attack and capture, it had
calculated feverishly the options of defense and escape but the energy
had seemed to ebb away. Ever since she had seen Longshot go down in a
crumpled bleeding heap, his leg broken in at least two places and God
only knows what else from the beating as he collapsed. Mercifully, he
seemed to have lost consciousness at one point and they dragged him
out, into the kitchen. Ironically it was she who was the main target
this time, it appeared. After all the wars. After 7 assassination
attempts and countless coups it was Magneto who would kill them...
from beyond the grave.
Something sharp and jagged pierced her leg just below the knew and through the red haze of pain she dimly heard that by-now familiar gentle tone talking. She tuned him out, the quick shallow breaths escaping her in rapid succession as the sudden fleeting feeling of cold forewarned her of another blade slicing into her shoulder. A small reprieve before the sharp cracking noise, as her finger became the center of her world, pulsating with pain and sending the tendrils of agony through her brain.
And then another. And another, too fast for her mind to take. As the blackness of shock enveloped her, she only had time to thank God that they didn't bring the children.
Victor sighed, the drops of cold water streaming down his face, his
will straining to block his imagination as it extrapolated quite
graphically on the hushed noises coming faintly from the main room.
"Fucking excellent. Of all the people, I get stuck with a bloody
psycho. Just great. Just fucking marvelous." He reached to shut the
faucet off when the corpse behind him spoke.
"Where... is... my... wife?"
"Holy Magnus! Jeez!" Chernov didn't even notice that due to the
clumsily placed hand, as he was feverishly backing away, he was now
drenched in water. His hands shook noticeably when he pointed at the
bloody object in the corner of the room, barely recognizable as a
human being, much less the Persona Royale.
"You're dead, man! I just checked your friggin' pulse a second ago!" A
thin white line widened slowly to split the crimson wreck of the face.
It might have been defined as a smile. Who knows, perhaps cobras smile
too. The faint, faltering flash coming from the remains of the left
eye settled unerringly on Victor's face. "I'm lucky like that. Where
is my wife?"
The initial shock fleeing, Victor glanced toward the main room
involuntarily, looking away quickly. "I'm sorry, man. Wasn't supposed
to be like that..."
Longshot closed his eyes, trying to block out the worst of the pain.
The scraping sensation... make that sensations... damn at least three
ribs gone. And on the left side too. One wrong move and it would go
into the heart... Pure luck it didn't already. Yeah. Luck.
God of all the days to leave Shatterstar and the rest of the Guard behind.
He opened his eyes again, just in time to see the kid wince and turn
away from the door. 'Can't move. Can't fight. Ali is in there...
think, you dumb... No anger. Concentrate.'
"Neophytes, right? That's what you said? Magneto Youth." He could
actually feel his life flowing slowly away from him, drop by drop.
Never thought he'd die like that.
"Huh?" Victor turned back, his stomach turning again at the image. His
mind helpfully replaying the memory of himself hitting Longshot in the
face while the former X-Man was down. Suddenly he caught up to the question, "Yeah. That's right."
"He'd never stand for it you know." Faintly surprised at how calm
he felt, Longshot raised his head to capture the eyes of the Neophyte,
"I knew him, you know. Magneto. Not well - we were enemies after all -
but... He'd never stand for this. Not this." Which is a dirty lie of
course. Lensherr was never a man to let ethics stand in the way of a
crusade. If he'd thought a little torture would serve the cause...
Victor dragged a hand through his hair, letting his eyes once again
slide toward the room, "He isn't gonna rape her, you know...." He
cursed himself as soon the words left his mouth. Yeah, good going Vic.
That makes everything just peachy.
The sudden loud snap and a wordless howl of unimaginable pain threw
his head toward the room, his hand instinctively going for the gun. He
even took a small hesitant step toward the studio when once again the
noise behind him made him whirl. Toward the most frightening vision of
his entire life.
Supporting himself with his right hand, two fingers out of his three
bent in a sickeningly wrong angle, Longshot was dragging himself
toward him, his other hand stretched out like a hungry claw, seemingly
reaching for Victor's throat. He never made it of course, the death
rattle heralding the inevitable only inches away from the wall. The
light over his eye faded slowly like the setting sun. As the King's
head hit the tiles, Victor suddenly realized that Longshot hadn't been
coming for him. He'd been struggling towards the door to the studio.
"Ah, you decided to come back, I see. Excellent. Excellent. I'll make
a man out of you yet, little Vicky. Now be a good boy and bring me
some ice." Rack smiled amiably at Chernov, absently wiping his hands
on Dazzler's hair.
"I don't think so, Franz."
The smile never wavered but it suddenly no longer reached the eyes.
But for the first time Victor was actually un-afraid. In fact, he felt
nothing at all, as Rack came to his feet slowly, letting Dazzler's
hair go. The singer's head lolled listlessly, her eyes empty of
reason, empty of anything but simple animal pain.
Chernov's eyes tracked the motion for the briefest of moments before
coming back to fix on his partner. That second was all that Rack
needed to start the change. He always morphed fast, Victor thought
with the same cold detachment that seemed to grip him ever since
Longshot's lifeless eyes looked into his soul.
All his life he hated his 'gift.' All his life he had accepted other
mutants for what they were - just people., people who could do more.
But never himself. Just a simple physiological mistake. Defective
endorphin receptors... So mundane for the flatscans. So simple,
meaning just a little bit less pleasure. Meaning just a touch less
enjoyment. But he was not a flatscan.
As the Rack lunged, still morphing in midair, the arsenal of the
omnimorph endless, Victor Chernov never even attempted going for his gun.
He was not norm. He was Homo Sapiens Superior. He was Neophyte. He was
He was a neuropath.
And the God had given him the gift of pain.
The Agony smiled coldly into the Rack's snarl and set his brain on fire.
Anderson sighed and cursed silently, dragging down her goggles, "Damn.
She must have been tipped off. Damnitalltohell! I told him! If he'd
only signed the warrant and moved on them last week..." Suddenly
realizing that her troops were listening to her and nodding, Tam
scowled at them. "Well, what the hell are you standing around for?
Search the place! Shit." Spitting disgustedly she looked down at the
book laying under the still burning lamp, reading the outlined passage
under her breath, "... it is a grave mistake to believe that the death
of a Man will kill the State in every scenario. Quite the opposite is
often true in our times where the force of the personality is
magnified by the modern means of communication. The Cult and the
Legend tend to survive and even if the reins of state do change hands,
it is frequently simply a prelude to the war for the soul of the
people. Regrettably often the unilateral purges of the opposing faction
are the only solution. Perhaps the most ill-considered political
decision of recent history was to allow the emergence of Cargill's
Socialist-Conservative party in Genosha, legitimizing her views and
policies..." Anderson's scowl darkened and she turned the book over
squinting at the worn cover to make out the title. 'Modern Khanates:
One-Man States, Italy to Genosha.' by Trevor A. Whipper."
The gag came out hard and messily. The small spark of life that
entered Dazzler's eyes when Rack collapsed on the floor, howling
and clutching his head, grew. Her right hand twitched involuntarily as
she carefully wet her lips. Cautiously probing the edges of the broken
tooth with her tongue. Concentrating on that one sharp little pain to
drown out the rest. "Where is my husband?"
The sudden utter lack of emotion on Victor's face apparently was
answer enough as Dazzler closed her eyes, tears sliding slowly down
the bloody cheek, leaving a pinkish trail. She raised her head
sluggishly at a faint clicking noise and her lips moved into a strange smile.
"I'm sorry." Chernov's words seemed to remain hanging in the empty
studio for the long time after the silenced shot united the First
Couple of Mojoworld.
Katu grinned wolfishly as he sighted. The line of fire was perfect. His
Grin widened, turning into much more feral expression. The faint rustling noise to his right drew his attention and he nodded to Scanner, returning his attention back to the scope almost immediately. 'It was almost unnecessary with these', he thought with a satisfied chuckle, forcefully refraining himself from patting the Arquebuse. The Latverians had finally came through. Three of these... they wouldn't even leave cinders.
He shifted the cannon a bit, even his prodigious strength straining
under the weight, and grinned again as the familiar face swam into his
field of vision. Jo was right. They did send her.
No, the scopes were not necessary, but he wanted to be sure all the
same: "Magnus lives. Say good night, Chief Anderson."
"Fuck." Victor kicked the doorframe, for the first time allowing the
rage to surface. "Dammit, I can't fucking believe this!" He looked
around for the hundredth time, the smell of the spilt alcohol heavy in
the air. And still no sign of Rack's body. "Fuck! All right... Screw
it." Shaking his head, Chernov snarled silently and dropped the
matchstick on the pair of bodies at his feet, the blue flame spreading
quickly. He paused there for a second, watching the fire spread,
before leaving the apartment.
Rack laughed harshly as he finally saw the light. The crawl out of the
studio and to the elevator was hell. Every second he had expected
Chernov to put a bullet into the back of his head. But... here he was.
Just steps away from freedom. Just feet from the alley's mouth. He
froze suddenly as he heard voices. Loud. Arguing over something. The
huge shadow plunged the alley into the darkness for a second and then
he saw a winged woman take flight. He moved cautiously only to freeze
again when another figure silhouetted against the light. A man. Dark
haired and immaculately dressed, lighting a cigarette, watching the
woman leave with inscrutable expression. A man with sunglasses and a
long over-coat thrown carelessly across one arm. A perfect victim...
"Sir.. Sir... help me. Please. I've..." Rack coughed, only partly
feigned, as the man approached him, "I've been mugged. Please....
Don't worry!" Hastily raising his hand, the Neophyte propped himself
against the wall, presenting a picture of helplessness. He motioned
self-effacingly toward his legs, still curved inversely and distinctly
lupine, "I am not going to hurt you, I swear. I just need help." 'Come
on... come on.. closer, you...'
"Of course you do." The voice sounded strange somehow, but Rack
ignored the nagging voice of instinct as the man finally moved once
more, approaching him. Just a few paces off he stopped again, slowly
taking off the sunglasses.
The black-on-black eyes fixed the Neophyte, the latter's muscles
suddenly frozen. No control even for a scream as something in the stranger's right hand glinted in the stray sunray and he smiled genially, "They call me The Mangler... and don't you look good enough to eat."
"You all right?"
"I'll take that as a yes, then."
"Shit! Ow! Damnit!"
"I told you. I told you so. Did I or didn't I tell you?"
"Oh shut up." Angelo said disgustedly, deftly ripping the bandage with
his teeth and tying it off.
Jubilee didn't appear to have noticed the glare and continued on,
almost trembling with suppressed energy, "I called it way back. I knew
we couldn't trust that bitch!"
"You said that about every new member."
"And I was always right! Well... almost."
"Quiet." As always Emma didn't need to raise her voice, even Jubilee
subsided with the last mutter dying under her breath.
"All right. Angelo.. you look fine. Mr. Thomas -"
"I'm all right, Ms. Frost." Everett stood, gingerly leaning against
the doorframe, carefully supporting his right hand with his left.
"I am sure you are. Franklin - escort Mr. Thomas to the medlab, if you would."
"Yes'm." Franklin grinned at Everett slyly, some color finally coming
back to his face, "C'mon, old man."
As Everett squinted - a pained expression, and protested that he was at his peak age, the White Queen turned her gaze toward the small figure huddling in the corner, looking detachedly toward the window. Frost's lips thinned imperceptibly and her eyes grew hard. "Now."
Angelo drew back, his instincts perceiving the threat from the slender
blonde woman beside him much faster than his conscious mind could
register it. He almost jumped as the elbow jabbed him under the ribs
in, by now, all too familiar gesture, "Look who's finally here."
Holding back a somewhat cutting remark, Angelo settled for imperiously
ignoring Jubilee's whisper and simply nodding as the small room filled
up with the rest of the team. He even grinned a little as his mind
paused appreciatively on the leather uniform on Paige. Jono and Sean
were wearing those too, but in Angelo's private personal opinion Paige
had much better legs. As for Monet...
/Don't even think about it./
Sean was the last to step through the door. Noiselessly, surprisingly
so for a man of his mass. His face, pulled into a worried frown, made
seemed shockingly old by the array of lines and the unhealthy-looking
skin. The relapses of alcoholism, although long since behind him, had
left their mark on the former Interpol agent. Angelo realized with a
sudden shock that Sean was pushing sixty... Which of course meant that
/Don't even think about it./
...looking exactly as if she was still 18.
Throwing Angelo a warning, half-amused glance Emma turned to the field
co-leader of the West Coast X-Men, "Monet, the shields are still a
problem. In tandem, tag blue-3 on my mark please."
The two telepaths grew immobile with unnerving abruptness, letting
their minds free. Moving cautiously as to not to disturb them, Angelo
tapped Sean on the shoulder, "How's everyone?"
Giving the telepaths one last worried glance, Sean half-turned and
lowered his voice, "Pretty good. Considering. The kids are excited but
nothing more - Artie and Leech will put them back to sleep. And the
upperclassmen..." Sean trailed off and Angelo winced in understanding.
Most of the older students at the Academy were quite old enough to
remember the Pogroms. Most of them had ended up here because of them,
in fact. So he could very well imagine their reaction at the sudden
disturbance in the middle of the night. "They gonna be all right?"
"Yeah. I think. Bedlam, Marrow and Proudstar are handling it."
Both fell silent again, watching the three silent figures before them,
vainly trying to guess what was happening. Of course it could have
been much worse. Much worse. Skin brushed his bandage absently, his
eyes once again coming back to the miserable figure in the corner. To
look at her, Alessa appeared to be totally unaware or indifferent of
two very powerful telepaths attempting to force their way into her
mind. She remained motionless, her eyes fixed on the paling sky
outside, small bitter tears trailing down her cheeks.
They should have taken more precautions, dammit. Should have known
better by now. Angelo squinted unhappily: Emma had in fact wanted to
make a deeper scan, risking the permanent psychological damage. He'd
overruled her then, one of the rare moments he exercised the right.
But that was the right choice... or he had thought so at the time.
Alessa was a telekenetic, not a psion. Emma herself stipulated that
the most probable cause for the shields of such strength would be
trauma. Self-inflicted memory block. Too clumsy and too strong to be
anything else. Damn, What the hell was taking them so long?
He scratched at the bandage again irritably. They were so freaking
"Can say that again."
Angelo raised a quizzical eyebrow at Sean, belatedly realizing that he'd
thought aloud. Sean continued, still in hushed tones, "If Franklin and
Olga hadn't picked today to sneak off to neck. If she'd set the bomb
just a minute earlier. If she'd picked southern wall for the
getaway - kaboom."
Angelo winced again. A stupid reaction, which Sean picked up on long ago, he was sure of it. Just as he was sure that Cassidy was baiting him, right now. They'd had the discussion already and nothing had changed.
He knew it was irrational, but Skin still felt responsible for the
Academy. He'd gotten them back together and into this mess after all.
All those years ago. Paige was still thinking that he did it for some
Dream or lofty goal. He snorted softly. Still kidding herself. He did
it for the same reason they all came back, eventually. Just as he
couldn't go back to the barrio again, neither could they just
disappear, blend back into their past lives. They'd outgrown them.
Became a part of something greater. And once you'd tasted that... He
snorted again. 'Growing philosophical in my old age. Split chance
prevented fifty corpses from ending up on my tab and I am woolgathering.'
As if to echo his thoughts Jubilee sniffed loudly, "What's taking so
damn long? C'mon!"
Monet's head whipped to the side suddenly, life flowing back into her
eyes and a horrified look swiftly following, "No! Emma, get out!"
Time slowed suddenly. Alessa finally moved, her head turning so
slowly, so very slowly. The green eyes, found Angelo's and he drowned
in them, noticing only absently as Monet started toward the teke and
stumbled, clutching her head. As Jono screamed silently. It took only
seconds of course, but to Skin it was an eternity. He couldn't look
away. Nothing else mattered suddenly but those eyes. So very green. So
very sad. Still weeping those small, bitter tears... "I failed him. I
failed... I wasn't strong enough... I'm so sorry."
As the neurobomb splintered the astral plane, forever obliterating the
mind of Alessa Carlisle, Angelo could feel nothing but cold and sure
dread as Emma's psi-pulse had time to reach them before she collapsed
in a boneless heap on the floor.
His whisper did not even leave his lips before Paige's horrified eyes
found his: "Sam..."
"What do you think?"
"Oooh. You're not s'posed to..."
"Here. Chocolate chip. Mmmmmm. Taaasteeeee. MMMMmmmm."
"Here's the spoon. Who's your favorite uncle?"
"Why, you li'l... here, careful, don't spill any on the dress...
Logan?! All right, all right - who is your second favorite uncle?"
"... that's just sick. Sick and wrong. But you're young yet,
eventually you'll grow out of it. Grow faster! Anyway... Who is your
third favorite uncle? The one and only who intrepidly braved the
barren wilderness of the kitchen and brought back the sweet, sugary,
chocolate chip-y spoils of war?"
"You are! Unca Bobby!"
"Damn straight. Unca Bobby is da man. Eat your ice-cream and tell me
how wonderful I am."
"What? Why not?"
"Can't have 'scream 'fore breakfast. Dad told me so. Spoils appetite."
"Ellie, mi amiga, lemme tell you a little secret. Never listen to your
Dad. Ever. That's the key to long and happy life - eat much ice-cream and ignore your Dad. Trust me."
"We gonna get in trouble."
"God. I knew nothing good would come of letting your parents take over
your bringing up. Who's the adult here?"
"Oh, that's very funny. Hilarious. Lemme put it to you another way -
who is bigger?"
"We still gonna get in trouble. Daddy won't like this."
"Just eat it. Everything is gonna be fine. Trust me. Your Dad doesn't
have a clue."
"Mmm. That's what Unca Logan says too."
"Does he now?" The reaction provoked by the question was decidedly at
odds with the mild tone in which it was delivered. Robert Drake AKA the
Iceman froze with a spoon inches from his lips, the chocolate chip
balanced precariously on a top of a very big scoop. He raised an
eyebrow cautiously at the 6-year old girl sitting before him and asked
somewhat plaintively, "That wasn't you talking right now, was it?"
Ellie shook her head somberly and licked the spoon.
Bobby sighed and regarded his own spoon with deeply felt regret,
"Didn't think so." Chuckling nervously he raised his voice slightly,
"Ummm... before I turn around, could you do me a favor and tell me who
"Well, you know the echo in this attic.. And it's vital for me to know
whether it makes any sense for me to make the break for the window.
Good intelligence is half the battle you know. My great and forgiving
friend who also happens to be the greatest tactical genius of all
time told me that."
"You are dead man, Bobby."
"You'll never take me alive!" With a speed worthy of an Olympic
athlete, Bobby sprang to his feet and wheeled around brandishing his
spoon, "I have a dairy product and I'm not afraid to use it!"
Scott Summers smiled thinly and dangerously at his teammate, "You're
a dead man. You're cornered. Your morale is low and your lines of
retreat are cut. And if you persist, I shall call the wrath of Storm
on you. Base villain, you have but one option...."
Bobby's eyes lit up with a faint hope, "I have an option? One that
doesn't involve dying horribly?"
Cyclops' smile grew a little wider and Bobby, puzzled, followed his
gaze as Scott looked at his 6-year old offspring, who remained
seraphically calm during the exchange, sitting crosslegged on the
dusty attic floor.
Logan 'Ellie' Summers raised her eyes at Bobby and smiled
beatifically, gesturing her spoon. "Bribe the Daddy."
Deftly snatching the bowl from the box serving as the makeshift table,
Scott dropped on the floor next to his daughter and dipped his index
finger inside, "That's right. Bribe the Daddy."
Bobby looked upon his fast emptying bowl forlornly. He sighed and
looked down on the spoon he was still holding. He sighed again and
licked the remaining ice-cream dejectedly. "I hate you, Summers. Move over."
"Well where are they? I swear, if they don't show up soon, Ororo is
going to do something drastically permanent to Hank."
Logan shrugged philosophically and turned the newspaper over, "He
deserves it. Never try to help a woman cooking breakfast."
Sam opened his mouth to rebuff, then thought better of it. "All right.
Maybe. But I need my coffee! BOOOOOBBBBY!"
Logan winced, "Damn, boy. Unclench." Sam glared at him and Logan hid
his grin behind the newspaper. Personally he had no sympathy for
Guthrie. The schedule was out for everyone to see and everyone knew
that 'Ro made a grand production when it was her turn to cook. Even if
Drake wasn't late as usual it'd still be a while before the table was
ready. Besides... "Drake ain't the only one missing. Where's Cyke?"
"Getting himself into trouble." Jean's threat was belied by the
suppressed laughter. Logan raised an eyebrow at her, but she just
shook her head, her eyes slightly unfocussed as always when she used
"She's just mad that he doesn't want to share." Alex added helpfully.
Logan transferred his silent query at the Pick, but the former Morlock
refused to elaborate farther.
"I'm with the kid." Rogue bit down on an apple and swallowed in
evident disgust. "I'm hungry as all hell."
Sam nodded decisively, "I say we take matters into our own hands."
"Have fun storming the kitchen."
"You hush up, Alex."
The telepath grinned, the ivory white teeth contrasting against the
dark purple skin, and winked at Barbara. The latter smiled shyly in
return but remained silent. Logan shook his head, almost
Both Alex and Babs were relative newcomers. In fact, Alex had joined the team last but he seemed to fit in almost effortlessly, while Barrage still remained somewhat aloof. He chuckled softly. She reminded him of Gambit in an odd way, of how he was during his early days. Of course the Cajun always hid behind charm, Babs was just shy. Painfully so. Still something was similar... maybe that was why Remy was the one who seemed to get closer to her than the rest.
The chuckle died and he stopped himself before he looked. He knew what
he'd see in any case. The lanky figure reclining easily in the
arm-chair, watching the argument amusedly through the half-lidded
eyes, one leg thrown over the arm-rest. Hard to believe that the leg
wasn't real. Logan shrugged faintly, harder for him perhaps than for
everyone else. For months after Chicago and 'bonding' of the Shi'ar
prosthetic, he was on edge around Gambit. Simply because the smell
coming of him was… wrong. Not right. That mechanical smell of
not-quite-metal meshing unnaturally with Remy's. As if the faint aroma
of death persisted in clinging to the X-Man.
"Well.. When do we eat? I'm starving!" Bobby inquired cheerfully,
striding through the room with all the nonchalance of a cat.
The pause brought on by his statement did not last long and neither
did his nonchalance as Sam lunged for him with murder in his eyes.
Drake's inevitable messy demise was, in Logan's opinion, prevented
solely by Hank's declaration of breakfast being ready. Still, it was
probably wise that Bobby decided to sit himself on the far end of the
table. The rest of the X-Men joined them in the kitchen quickly enough
after that, those not brought down by the aroma of pancakes, corralled
by Jean. Logan relaxed, enjoying the meal and the friendly clamor.
Usually he preferred to get the breakfast quickly over with but there
was something about today... 'Maybe I'm feeling my mortality', he
thought with a chuckle. He caught Storm laughing silently as Bobby and
Da Costa loudly made bets on who was going to demolish their pancake
first, Ellie or Mike, Alex's and Rogue's kid.
"Ha! I win. Pay up, Da Costa."
"What?! What are you talking about? What about the syrup? She didn't
finish the syrup. You lose, Amerrrican! Take it like a man."
"Why... You, sir, are a cheat! A cheat and a scoundrel!"
"You dare? Dawns at pistol!"
"Pistols at dawn, you moron."
"That's what I said. This is a matter of honor now."
Bobby waved his fork airily, 'accidentally' dropping a piece of
pancake down Roberto's shirt, "My seconds shall call your seconds.
We'll do lunch."
"You two bozos aren't turning the Danger Room in the arena for your
demented games again." Amelia Voght threw Roberto a warning look on
her way to the stove. "Not a word, Da Costa. Not a single word."
Roberto shut up.
For a short while anyway. As Drake baited him back into the argument
again, Logan made his way closer to Voght just in time to hear her
whispered answer to Summers's question.
"No, of course he isn't fine, Scott! It's his third stroke, for god's sake!"
The frustration was clearly not directed at Cyke, Logan thought. The
Professor continued in his steadfast refusal to start the
NV-treatments and Amelia's helpless anger was starting to show. It
wasn't easy for any of them to see the Professor's own telepathy
killing him by inches, but hardest on her in many ways. He caught
Scott's eyes and the latter shook his head as Voght leaned into his
chest, her own shoulders shaking.
Nodding, Logan turned away. Perhaps this was what Amelia needed. He
frowned suddenly, "Where's Bish?"
"He's running the security check. Again."
Bishop scowled at the computer screen, tapping the keys in a rapid
succession. "Damn it."
Bishop sighed pushed the keyboard away. "You could say that. What do
you want, LeBeau?"
Gambit raised his eyebrows, "Well, I _was_ going to give you these
pancakes and a cup of coffee which I thoughtfully saved from the horde
downstairs, but if that's the way you're going to be..."
Bishop's eyes narrowed and Remy shook his head resignedly, "I accept
your apology, homme. Here." Sliding the tray to Bishop, he leaned
forward to look at the screen, "What's bothering you? You've been
disappearing here for the last week."
"Run the Danger Room security protocol," Bishop replied somewhat
testily and bit into his pancake.
Shrugging Remy shouldered him unceremoniously from the chair and typed
in the password. Several minutes later Bishop snorted in satisfaction
as Gambit was frowning and chewing on the pen. "Something isn't right here...."
"Where are you, Grimjack? Cut that out and tell me - did you figure
out what's wrong yet?"
"No. Well, not exactly... I got an idea - here, look at this... I've been thinking about asking Kitty or Forge to come down and take a look."
"Nonsense. We are a couple of very smart... well one of us is a very
smart man. We'll get this in no time. Ok let's see... Uh-hah… This is
the problem right here, see. This file is way too big…"
Bishop was loath to admit it, but the truth was that Gambit _was_ much
more proficient with Shi'ar programming language and with his
help the work moved much faster. It was only twenty minutes later that
Remy exclaimed excitedly.
"Got it. See… Merde, this is well done. It's a some sort of
multi-sequenced program piggybacking on a security check program. Very
well written too..."
"And we didn't notice it because..."
"Nobody runs a security check on a security check."
Bishop forced his way to the machine, "What is it doing?"
Remy frowned and tapped his lip with the remnants of a pen,
thoughtfully scanning the data streaming across the monitor, "Well
it's accelerating..." He paused suddenly, his eyes widening, "No. It's
not accelerating, it's -"
Bishop wheeled around, his fists glowing with energy.
Barbara smiled gently, her normally reserved face shining. Carefully,
lovingly, she set down the two small, lifeless bodies. "It's better
this way. They did not suffe..."
She did not finish. She did not have time as the locks of blond hair
fell away revealing the familiar brown eyes. Ellie's eyes. Still open
as if she was just pausing... her arm carelessly thrown over Mike's shoulders.
With inarticulate roar of rage and pain Bishop fired.
The sound of the weapon's discharge and whatever explanation Barbara
tried to whisper to Remy, as half her chest disappeared., was drowned out by the larger explosion that rocked the Westchester countryside.
Time. Finally it's time. It doesn't feel real. I've taken this walk a
thousand times and every time I dreamt of this day. And it's here. Finally.
The rain is letting up. Almost over in fact, just the slow ugly drizzle now.
On the day they killed you, it was sunny. Ten years. A decade. An eternity.
Out of the corner of my eyes I see them. Silent shadows separating
themselves from the darkness and falling in step behind me. Black and
quiet, wordlessly sure of their place. Like a wolf pack lining up for
a final stretch of a long hunt. Like... hah.. like Crows indeed. I
still remember the day vividly. The last time all of us were
together. All the Acolytes. It was beautiful, Old Man. Beautiful. All
of us decked out in black, teleporting to our seats in Parliament on
the day they passed the Markie Bill. I thought HE would explode when
Cortez smiled at him and said we were in mourning for the freedom of
Genosha. Yeah. That was the last time.
Cortez is dead now. For sure this time. Exodus too. Had to put them
down myself. They wanted to move too soon, would have buried us all. I wish they'd lived to see this day. Or rather night.... It's been a
long time, but now it's over. The sun is setting over the remnants of the day, the past is over.
I still can't believe it worked, you know. I knew it should have, but never really thought it would. We got them. Got 'em all. Only one team
hasn't checked in yet. That worries me a bit, I had some doubts about
that one from the beginning. I know, I know - a bit late in the game
to start being squeamish, eh? So what that none of them were there?
Generation X. The West Coast X-Men. The X-Men. It's all the same. They
took our future from us and now it's our turn. Nits make lice, have to
break eggs... and I will deal with a few more ghosts haunting my nights.
Here we are. At the very gates of the Tower. And we're in. Just like
that. What fool HE is, after all. He demobilized 3/4 of the army, the
rest were ours by the end of HIS first term. And he never suspected.
His Service proved to be difficult, but in the end... the bloody
stains on Katu's hands speak for themselves.
Soon. I can taste the moment coming. The corridor seems to stretch out
forever and I can feel my mind start wandering again as the tension
behind me starts to build into almost palpable, pulsating mass. They
all waited for this. Almost mutinied when I forbade any of them to
head the strikes. To Hell with it. I learned my lessons. Ah... This is
the room. You remember? This is where you pinned the sigil on me and
said I was to be the one carry the challenge to the flatscans. I was
to personify the New Genosha to the world. Damn, I was proud. And
scared. But then I was still young. Still a warrior.
No. Not any more. When they drugged me and electrocuted me under
Pentagon - I was still a soldier then. My honor would see me through.
When the mind-witch came and broke my mind and bent my will - I was
still a warrior. Screaming and rending deep inside, caged in my own
head. But my oath would see me through. In the middle of Magda Square,
when Logan killed you and I stood by, ready to protect him - that's
when I changed. Not a warrior any more. Not a soldier. A politico, a
terrorist, a subversive, a revolutionary - whatever was necessary to
do the job. No luxuries of honor. All for today.
Today we reap the fruits. I'd give it all to be the one to pull the trigger on the Nest. To be there when that traitor-bitch Voght died screaming. To squeeze my hands around the neck of Grey and show her... show her... I would give it all for that - once.
I guess I was wrong. Not everything has changed. Duty still comes
first. Above all.
Senyaka is the first through the doors. The rest of us step through the
splintering remnants and into the bedroom. He's awake and is half
erect, the opened book laying close by. The wife starts to scream but
stifles it when he squeezes her hand. He knows. I can see the
understanding flood his eyes, their flicker as he considers the only
option that might still save him.
I waited for this. So long. It's such a small gesture and yet he
registers the movement almost immediately, his brain taking in the
small doll and its implications almost immediately. He raises his eyes
and looks at me. "Is she alive?"
She gasps, finally realizing what the toy means, but I ignore her,
focusing on him, tuning out Kleinstocks' short cold laughter, the
movement of others. I debate it for a moment as I look into those
strangely calm and resigned eyes. "Yes."
He nods shortly and subtly his posture changes, his back a little
straighter, his eyes a little harder. He's ready.
What am I doing here? What? As we wait, the GRA loyalists are taking
up the key positions. The Coup is a success. By morning all of the
island will be in our hands. By tomorrow the units 'loaned' as
Peacekeepers for the Madagascar intervention will arrive. There is
nothing substantial to connect us to the Neophyte strikes. Nothing to
warrant an intervention by NATO or the UN or the Eastern Alliance. We won. We've already won.
So what am I doing here? He's not a bad man. He was a bad politician.
He never saw us coming. He was a collaborator. He was a figurehead and
a puppet and a symbol for all I hate.
He did his best. He tried to build a coalition government. He tried to
stop our slide into a third World backwater.
Why do I stand here holding a gun and his life in my hands?
Why does he deserve death?
I ignore the uncertain murmur starting behind me, my eyes still glued
to his. They squint suddenly and waver and for a split second I see
the same question enter them as he looks at me.
And then suddenly I know the answer.
"You were his son."
12 years later...
God it hurts... Damn. And my own fault too. Lousy security. Sliding into predictable patterns... I really thought after Madripoor no one would dare. Well - I'm sure Katu will make them pay for this.
I'm screwed though... God, it hurts.
Jubilation Lee leaned over Paige Guthrie's shoulder and looked
dispassionately into the eyes of the woman she had hunted for the last
decade. A slender string of multicolored flame ran down her arm and
started licking the jacket of the Butcher of Boston.
"Time to die, Cargill. The X-Men live."