Disclaimer etc: MutantX and its associated characters, locales, etc. are the copyrighted property of Tribune Entertainment (2001). My thanks to Tribune entertainment. This story, however, was written by me and took me quite awhile. Please don't use it on other Web sites without asking me. If you do ask me, I'll probably say yes. But I would appreciate being asked. ho gegrapha, gegrapha.
Summary: Various team members find themselves within Eckhart's grasp and must be freed.
Rating: PG. There's some descriptions of pain and evil natures I really don't think kids should be thinking about. But maybe I'm too old-fashioned. There's no sex, anyway. Sorry.
Timeline/Spoilers: There are very few explicit spoilers; this could happen at any point before the rising of Gabriel Ashlocke at the end of Season 1. There is two minor revelations from Adam's history which are technically from episode 121 and season two, and a few references to episodes early in Season 1, but I don't think they're the kind of thing that would ruin an episode from someone.
In case you're curious, this whole thing started from a "thought experiment" regarding the subdermal governors and how it would logically affect various characters, especially Shalimar and Brennan, and later grew into what you see before you. Feedback is ALWAYS welcome.
What One Can Do Alone
Shalimar struggled, kicked, and bit, but it was useless. Every movement engulfed her in new waves of pain, and her captors held her fast, easily warding off her feeble attempts to fight them.
She had never before realized how much of her strength, agility, and coordination was a result of her New Mutant DNA. It was galling, how easily she was subdued; a subdermal governor and a pair of handcuffs were all it took. Her body spasmed with pain every time she tried to draw on any part of her feral nature, but she could not do otherwise; her abilities were a part of her, as natural and instinctive as breathing. Finally, unable to escape and unable to withstand the pain of fighting any longer, she gave up, went limp, and allowed them to drag her away.
They had taken her by surprise. She was walking beneath a building's fire escape when a heavy and incredibly strong man dropped on her from above, knocking her to the pavement. The air left her lungs and, for one terrifying moment, she could not breathe. He had a governor insertion device in hand as he fell, and the governor was installed in her neck almost before she could process what had happened to her. After that, it was easy; men appeared from all sides, and, due to the effects of the device, it was child's play for them to hold her down while they cuffed her. She felt her ring pulled roughly from her finger. The lead agent, a tall, dark-haired, sunglassed man, tucked it into his pocket before her eyes, isolating her from her teammates with one small movement.
A ride in an unmarked van, up some stairs, through the doors, and they were inside Genomex. Elevators, corridors, gates and doors and they were in the interrogation room and she was bound to the notorious metal chair. It was small comfort, knowing that Brennan and Emma had both sat in that chair and escaped. She had little hope of a quick rescue; she had had no time to call for help and her comlink was deactivated; there was no way for her friends to trace her now. She was alone.
Suddenly, as the agents withdrew, images flashed into her mind - a hand grasping hers, firm ground beneath her feet. A feeling of reassurance washed over her. Emma was making contact.
Knowing that that Emma had a hard time contacting people wearing subdermal governors, Shalimar concentrated as hard as she could on the word "Genomex", and on an image of the room where she sat. Come help me! she cried silently. Another wave of reassurance embraced her, and then the feeling of Emma's presence faded, leaving Shalimar utterly alone.
It was unnerving, somehow, to be left alone like this. Shalimar was confused and alarmed, wondering why no one had yet arrived to interrogate her. She sat there, trying to ignore the pain, and trying even harder not to imagine what they might be waiting for, what they might be preparing to do to her.
Finally a man entered, but he did not speak to her or even seem to register her presence; no more than any other object in the room. He simply entered, produced a small pair of scissors, and, lifting a long lock of Shalimar's golden hair, snipped it off. Putting the hair into a little plastic bag, he left as silently as he had come, seemingly deaf to her protests and demands for information.
At first Shalimar could not fathom what they could possibly want with such a sample. Quickly, however, it dawned on her - they needed her DNA, and her hair was most plentiful and easily available. She sighed and slumped back in the chair, forcing her muscles again to relax. Come soon, Emma, she thought. Tell Adam. Come soon.
Mason Eckhart sat in his office, toying absently with the unadorned grey metal ring they had taken from the Feral New Mutant they'd brought in. He had seen such things before, but had never had the opportunity to examine one closely; they were the badges of the members of MutantX, and served as a communications tool and homing device. His scientists had examined it, and unfortunately had concluded that there was no way to track its signal to the MutantX Sanctuary, but it gave him an opportunity up till now out of his grasp - a direct communications link to Adam.
An orderly arrived with the plastic bag containing a lock of long blonde hair, and Eckhart took it carefully, lovingly, and wrapped the hair gently around the ring, twining it in and out. Immediately small designs etched into the metal became visible, and Eckhart knew it was activated.
Immediately a familiar voice spoke anxiously into the silence: Brennan Mulwray. "Shalimar! Shal, are you okay? Where are you?"
Then another voice, even more familiar, more loathed, cut in. Adam. "Shalimar, please respond. Where are you?"
Eckhart laughed quietly, and said, "Adam, so good to hear your voice."
There was a brief pause. "The pleasure's all yours, Mason," Adam responded finally.
"Sharp-tongued as ever, I see."
"Where is Shalimar?" Adam demanded.
"Your feral friend is safe here with me in Genomex, where she belongs, of course. She's relaxing in a cell right now, enjoying her new subdermal governor."
"Mason, if you hurt her..." Adam's voice was cold and dangerous.
"You'll do what, Adam? There's nothing you can really do to me, you know. You're an annoyance, granted, but that's all."
Over the comlink came only the sound of Adam's angry breathing as he waited for his former friend to proceed.
"Look, Adam, as much as I'm enjoying this conversation, I didn't call just to chat."
"What do you want, Mason?"
"I'd like to propose a trade. The girl really is nothing to me. As much as I'd like to have her as a GSAgent, I could never trust her if I freed her, and she isn't responding...well...to her subdermal governor. There's not even a lot I could learn from studying her; I have already several such ferals in stasis. But perhaps you'd be willing to sacrifice something to get her back."
"You sick son of a-" came another voice, one Eckhart had not yet heard, but he could easily guess who it was.
"Mister Kilmartin, as you are not a part of this discussion, I suggest you remain silent."
Adam must have made some signal, for the voice stopped, and Adam's returned. "What do you want, Mason? What's the trade?"
"It's very simple, really. I want you."
"You heard me, Adam. I want you to surrender yourself to the GSA."
"And if I do this, you'll let Shalimar go?"
"Of course. I give you my word."
"I want to talk to Shalimar."
"Don't you trust me, Adam?"
A pause. "You may have a point there. Wait." Eckhart strode to the interrogation room and placed the ring on Shalimar's finger.
"Adam?" she said, her voice laboured.
"Shalimar! Are you okay? Has he done anything to you?"
"Well, this governor isn't exactly a picnic in the park, but other than that I'm okay. Adam, whatever he wants you to do, don't do it. Don't do it, Adam! Don't listen!" Her speech turned to frantic cries as Mason pulled the ring from her finger and wrapped it again in her hair.
"Well, Adam? What's your answer? I'm waiting."
"I need time to talk to my team."
"You have one hour." Mason pulled the hair away from the ring and smiled widely. He had won. Certainly, the other mutants in Adam's little cabal would object, and Adam was sure to try something foolish - most likely sabotage - but it would assuredly fail; Adam could not know what he had in store for him. Oh yes, Mason thought. I've finally won.
Leaving Shalimar alone again, he went back to his office and pressed a button on his desk intercom. "Mr. Erikson."
"Here, sir," replied a distracted-sounding voice. "What can I do for you?"
"Is project GSDG-2 ready for implementation?"
"Well sir, the last touches were completed this morning. I'd like to test it one more time if I can before we put it into official use, but I'm confident it will work as planned."
"Excellent, Mr. Erikson. We'll test it thoroughly soon, and, as a reward for your hard work, I will expect you to insert the device personally."
There was a pause. "Sir, that's very generous, but really, I'd prefer -"
"I expect to see you in my office, ready with the device, at four o'clock. Sharp."
"Yes, sir." Eckhart cut the connection contemptuously. Scientists were always so squeamish.
Brennan and Jesse followed Adam determinedly down the main concourse.
"Adam, you can't do this," Brennan said. "Every time we've rescued anyone from Genomex we've had you to direct us. I don't know if we can save you without you."
"Well, aside from the fact that you seem to work on your self-confidence issues, Brennan, that's all right. I won't be requiring rescue from Genomex."
"Then you're not going?" Jesse asked hopefully.
"Jesse," Adam said, turning around briefly to look him in the eye, "however you accomplished that astounding leap o f logic, it is nonetheless inaccurate. I am going to Genomex, and I will not need rescuing."
"You get really sharp-tongued when you're impatient, you know that?" Jesse said, but Brennan cut him off.
"Adam, what the hell are you talking about?"
Adam finally stopped walking and turned to face them. "Brennan, where's the best place to access Genomex?"
"From inside Genomex."
"And what is the best place to sabotage Genomex?"
"As far away from the place as is humanly possible! Adam, he'll kill you!"
"I'm a big boy, fellas. I can take care of myself."
"You're a big boy, and they're a big, government-funded corporation headed by a psychopath with a grudge against you!"
"I've made my decision, and you can either support me in it or put yourselves in the underground, because you won't prevent me."
Emma appeared on the balcony across from them. She had not heard the conversation with Eckhart. "Prevent you from doing what?" she asked. "What's going on?"
"Eckhart wants to trade Shalimar for Adam," Jesse said in an almost accusatory tone, as if that were Adam's fault.
Emma gasped. "That's crazy! We need you, Adam."
"You need Shalimar, too - and, even more, Shalimar needs you. That subdermal governor has got to come out."
"What do you mean?" Jesse asked, alarmed.
"Look. You've all been subjected to the governors before - Brennan, when you were captured by the GSA before joining MutantX; Jesse, when you were dealing with the Russians; Emma on more than one occasion. You know how bad it can be - or you think you do. This is Shalimar's first exposure to the governor. Brennan, you wore yours the longest. Tell me, how does it work?"
"Well, if you try to use your mutant abilities when it's turned on it zaps you. Or if you do something wrong, it zaps you. If you look at Eckhart the wrong way, it zaps you."
"Describe the 'zap'."
Brennan looked uncomfortable, and, without seeming to notice what he was doing, rubbed at the back of his neck. "It's...pretty intense pain. For me it was in my stomach, but Thorne got it in the head. I think it might have something to do with the kind of mutancy."
"Now, I want you guys to think about Shalimar's mutancy," Adam said. "Her powers are not turned on or off like yours. They're a part of everything she does, and they're as instinctive as taking breath. They come out most strongly when she's excited or threatened, but really, the only thing she has true conscious control over is her visual abilities - the glow in her eyes."
Jesse looked horrified. "But that means her governor -"
"Exactly." Adam nodded and looked them each in the eyes. "Shalimar has to be in constant, terrible pain, every moment she wears that governor. And, aside from how much suffering that means, the nervous system is just not designed to handle that mind of constant, artificially-induced pain. The mind can protect itself against natural pain, even large amounts of it; eventually you lose consciousness. But the governors are designed to circumvent that natural protection. There could be permanent nerve damage - and, if it goes on long enough, Shalimar could go insane."
There was a moment's silence while they digested this. Then Brennan broke out again, saying, "There has to be a better way. Why don't we just go in and get her? I can deactivate her governor."
Adam shook his head. "There's no time, Brennan. We've wasted too much time already discussing it. And, as I said before, this is an opportunity for me to get inside Genomex and, hopefully, do some damage."
"How're you going to get out?" Jesse asked. "You won't let us rescue you."
"Let me worry about that. If I need help, I'll contact you." His three teammates exchanged glances, but they knew arguing further would be futile; Adam's mind was made up. "Now, Brennan, I'll need you to fly me there in the Double Helix and be ready to take charge of Shalimar when she's released. Be ready for anything. I don't trust Mason to keep his word."
Jesse protested. "Why Brennan? Adam, Shalimar and I..."
Adam sighed and put a hand on the younger man's shoulder, silencing him. "I know how close you and Shalimar are, Jesse, and I can only imagine how worried you are. But I need you here. Plus, Brennan can deactivate the governor immediately, and his powers are suited to fighting at a distance, should it come to that." Jesse looked angry, but subsided.
Adam looked next to Emma. "Emma, you know how to remove a governor; have the lab ready for Shalimar when they get here."
Emma looked alarmed. "Oh, no, Adam. I couldn't - there are so many nerves there - I'd be terrified of making a mistake."
"Well, do what you can, and between you, make sure that it is at least deactivated and that it can never be reactivated. I'll do the rest when I get back. Now, let's get this over with."
Exactly one hour after the moment Eckhart had set the deadline, Adam arrived at Genomex with a small suitcase in one hand, and Brennan at his back.
Eckhart, flanked by GSAgents on either side, came out to meet him, followed by two other Agents half guarding, half supporting a haggard Shalimar between them. She moved carefully, like a very old woman crossing an icy street. Brennan suddenly realized how sensible Adam's decision not to bring Jesse had been; Jesse and Shalimar were very close, and seeing her like this he could very well have struck out at the GSAgents in rage. Brennan himself was having a hard time holding himself in check, and Adam's eyes were like flint.
"I'm here, Mason," Adam said.
"So I see," Eckhart answered, his velvet voice rich with triumph. "I knew you would come." He nodded cordially to Brennan. "Mr. Mulwray." Brennan nodded, but did not otherwise respond. "I suppose it's too much to hope that you are here to join with the GSA," Eckhart continued. "We could use an agent of your abilities. The offer is still open."
"In your dreams."
"Suit yourself, but you really should give it some thought. With your leader returned to Genomex" - Eckhart looked Adam in the eyes for a moment - "where he belongs," here he paused for effect, then returned his attention to Brennan, "If I'm not mistaken, you're out of a job." Brennan shook his head, but did not reply.
"Brennan is here to bring Shalimar home. Let her go and we'll get this over with. I'm here. Your terms are met."
Eckhart nodded coldly and motioned to his agents to bring Shalimar forward.
Adam stepped up and placed his hands on Shalimar's shoulders. "How are you holding up?" he asked quietly.
She shook her head and lifted her tear-stained face to his. "Adam...you shouldn't have come. You shouldn't have come!" she whispered.
"Hush, now. It will all be over soon," Adam soothed. Then he released her shoulders and, giving her a little gently push toward Brennan, went to stand with the GSAgents, who stood waiting to receive him, tasers at the ready. Shalimar stumbled towards Brennan, who immediately strode forward and picked her up in his arms. With no more said, they went their separate ways: Adam with Eckhart and the guards into Genomex; Brennan, carrying Shalimar, back to the Double Helix.
As soon as they were out of sight of Genomex, Brennan deactivated Shalimar's subdermal governor with a small jolt from his forefinger, and immediately she began to cry.
Brennan hurriedly knelt down beside her, his forehead creased in worry. "Shalimar, what's wrong? Didn't it work? Are you in pain?"
She shook her head. "Just the opposite. It's just...I've been fighting it so hard...and now...I don't have to fight anymore. I can let go."
Brennan enfolded her in a gentle hug, pressing his cheek to her hair - not just to comfort her, but to hide the fact that his eyes, too, were filling with tears. "It's okay, Shal. It's all over. It's all over now."
Adam sat at forced ease in a chair in Eckhart's office GSAgents standing mutely to either side. Eckhart himself was nowhere to be seen; he had left them at the door to the office, claiming business to attend to. So Adam sat, and waited.
One of the guards turned his head away for a moment, and Adam caught sight of a subdermal governor peeking through his close-cropped hair.
"So what's your mutancy?" Adam asked him. The man looked down at him, then exchanged a glance with his partner. The partner shrugged. The agent reached out his hand towards Adam, and closed his eyes.
At first, nothing seemed to be happening; but then Adam began to notice how heavy he was feeling; his feet felt as though they were made of lead; his head fell forward, and he could not have raised his arms to save his life.
"Gravity…manipulation," he said with an effort. The guard nodded and withdrew his hand, and immediately Adam felt the pressure begin to lessen.
"Exactly," the guard said.
"That must be very useful in your profession," Adam observed, breathing deeply.
Silence again fell. Adam, seeking to distract his mind, looked around the room. His gaze finally stopped on the collection of medical laser devices in one corner which had kept Eckhart alive since Incident X. Adam shook his head sadly, for a moment remembering Mason as he had been when Adam first met him: young, handsome, idealistic. Back then that velvet voice had held warmth, not hatred, and hope, rather than self-loathing.
He opened his mouth to ask the other guard about his powers, if he had any, but closed it again immediately as the door opened and Eckhart himself came in, followed by two more guards and an uncomfortable-looking man in a white lab coat. He was carrying a device which looked familiar, but which Adam couldn't immediately identify.
"Adam, this is Mr. Erikson, head of development in our bioelectronics department," Eckhart said, waving a hand at the nervous-looking man. Adam nodded, and though he maintained a passive exterior, he felt a twist of fear in his stomach. For at the mention of bioelectronics he had recognized the device in the man's hand. It had been modified, but it was plainly a governor inserter.
"What are you going to do, Mason?" Adam demanded, unable to keep a note of alarm from creeping into his voice.
"I?" Eckhart's voice held a smile. "I am going to watch. Mr. Erikson, on the other hand, is going to inject you with a subdermal governor, specially designed for your system. It works much like the normal governors in most respects, with punishment circuitry locking into your nervous system, but it has some rather delightful modifications, developed specifically for you.
"The first is an experimental psychic shield, which will prevent you from being contacted mind-to-mind by a psionic – we wouldn't want that lovely de Lauro girl nosing in, now would we? The next is a tether function. As a researcher for the GSA, you will have no cause to leave the compound, and so, should you wander more than three meters from the walls, you will find yourself…exceedingly uncomfortable."
Adam moved as though to rise from the chair, but the guards on either side of him maintained an iron grip on his shoulders.
"Hold him," Eckhart instructed the guards, sounding almost bored, and the two agents who had just entered moved to assist the other two in holding Adam immobile in the chair, forcing his head down, exposing the back of his neck. Adam began to struggle wildly against the hands that held him, but it was useless. "Struggling will not help, you know. You might want to brace yourself: I'm told the insertion is quite painful."
Adam felt something cold and hard at the back of his neck. A shrill, ascending whine filled the room. Suddenly a burst of pressure and pain lit a fire from his neck to all parts of his body. He gasped hard, despite his earlier resolution not to allow Eckhart the satisfaction of witnessing his pain. A moment of intense pain, and then it was gone, leaving only a throbbing at the nape of his neck as his tissues protested this violation.
"See, that wasn't so bad, was it?" Eckhart asked as the guards released him to sag back into the chair. Erikson looked like he was going to be sick.
"Oh, and, one more thing," Eckhart said, laughing quietly. "How silly of me to forget. The other modification. As you are no doubt aware, the normal sub-dermal governor can be deactivated by a small, focused jolt of electricity – such as your young Mr. Mulwray produces. Yours has been specially manufactured to be insulated against such an attempt."
Adam assumed his most unrevealing expression, attempting to hide the fact that his entire plan was crumbling around him.
His old enemy continued, "You see, Adam, the pains to which we have gone to welcome you home, and to assure that you will feel…secure…here. I trust there will not be any unpleasantness." Adam said nothing, but simply shook his head tiredly. "Well then, I will ask Mr. Burke here," here the guard who had given Adam the demonstration nodded, "to show you to your room. As much as I am enjoying this conversation, I am, after all, a very busy man. You have today to get settled in, but you will be expected in the main lab promptly at eight tomorrow morning."
"One thing, Mason," Adam said, standing slowly. Eckhart, who had turned to his computer screen, looked up again. "What exactly are your plans for me? You can't honestly believe I'll work for you."
"Oh, yes, I can, Adam. I can indeed. I do not expect you to like it, but I am quite assured that you will work for us – and to the very best of your ability. You underestimate what your subdermal governor can do. If you are smart – as I know you are – you wont make us demonstrate it. You'll be given your first assignment tomorrow. Mr. Burke?"
Emma shook her head in exasperation and closed her eyes. "I can't do it. There's something blocking me."
"What could be blocking you?" Jesse asked. "Could it be the distance?"
"No, no, I've contacted people in Genomex lots of times, and I'm sure that's where he is. No, it's like there's some kind of barrier between us. I can feel that he's there, but I can't get through to him." Her voice caught as she finished, and Brennan put an arm around her shoulder.
"It's okay. We'll find another way. Remember, Adam chose to do this. He doesn't want a rescue attempt yet, remember? We just need to trust him to contact us." Brennan did not sound particularly convincing, and it was obvious that he was reassuring himself as much as anyone else.
"How's Shalimar doing?" Jesse asked, filling the growing silence.
"She's sleeping," Emma said. "We gave her a sedative. The rest will give her mind and body a chance to heal."
"Will you be able to take out the governor?" Brennan asked.
"I don't know," Emma asked. "I'm afraid to try. I can take off the external apparatus, yes, but the internal elements, where it meshes with the nervous system…it's so delicate, and so complicated. I could wind up paralyzing her – or worse. I think it's better to wait until Adam comes back."
"So what do we do until then?"
Brennan shrugged. We wait. We watch for any sign from him. We continue with the underground as much as we can without him. It's all we can do. I, for one, am going to have dinner."
He got up and wandered off toward the kitchen, leaving the others sitting there, staring gloomily into the pool.
Adam sat on the cot, unable to stop fingering the skin surrounding the implant in his neck. The "room" Burke had led him to was little more than a jail cell, with four blank grey walls punctuated here and there by a bookshelf (empty), or light switch. The door (locked, of course) was of heavy grey metal, probably steel, and had a tiny window about chest-high, which provided Adam with a fascinating view of another grey wall across the passageway. The room was furnished with a utilitarian cot, a small dresser, which now contained the few changes of clothes he'd brought with him, and a wooden desk and chair. A tiny door in one corner led to a perfunctory bathroom.
All it's missing, he thought cynically to himself, is a welcome mat and a framed cross-stitch saying "home sweet home".
Lying back on the cot he began to think through his escape plan. It was in a shambles. Adam cursed his own oversight; he should have been aware that Eckhart was working on a governor for non-mutants. Even though he had seen no sign of it, he should have guessed; it was a natural next step. Now Brennan could not release him from the governor, he was incommunicado, and he could not leave the building. In short, he was on his own.
Very well, he thought, I've been on my own before. All I need is a plan. And I can't make a plan until I know where I stand. So I watch. And wait. And hope to God the others have the sense to get out of Sanctuary.
The next morning, the throbbing in Adam's neck had mostly subsided, and he arose and was ready to go well before the door was opened and a young GSAgent stuck his head in.
"Ready to go?" he asked.
Adam, who had been meditating cross-legged on the cot, unfolded himself and stood up. "Lead the way," he said.
As they walked, Adam cast surreptitious glances at the guard. He had a nagging feeling that he recognized the boy, but he could not place him. Finally, just before they reached the doorway into the lab, Adam snapped his fingers and stopped walking.
"Eric Llewellyn," he said.
The young man stopped in his tracks and turned to face him. "How do you know my name?"
"I remember you. And your parents…Steve and Joanne."
"How do you know that?"
"Well, you're a child of Genomex yourself, you know. I remember when your parents first brought you here as a baby; your breathing was very poor, and you were dying of lack of oxygen. We introduced DNA from plant matter so that you might be able to photosynthesize and use the oxygen produced as a side effect of the process."
"So it was you who changed me?"
"I and a team of specialists, yes."
The man looked away, and they began walking again. "You know, I don't know whether to shake your hand or punch you in the gut."
Adam smiled wryly. "I get that reaction a lot. I'm curious, Eric. What effect did it have? What power did it give you, I mean?"
The younger man looked down at him. "You know, I'm really not supposed to talk to you like this." Adam waited. "But it gave me the power to control oxygen absorption, in myself and in others. I can cause a person to suffocate to the point of unconsciousness or to absorb so much oxygen that they get giddy."
Adam thought about it. "That must have any number of strategic uses," he said finally, echoing the comment he'd made to Burke the day before.
"Yes, it is. Now, we're late, and they're expecting you." Llewellyn steered him into the lab, ending the conversation.
Upon entering the lab, Adam was struck by the familiarity of the place. Aside from the faces and the updated computer technology, almost nothing had changed since his defection. He brutally repressed the feeling of homecoming which welled up in him despite his best efforts to ignore it, and he forced himself to remember that, no matter how much the lab looked the same, the use to which it was being put changed it forever. Genomex would never be home again.
As soon as they entered, all eyes were on them. Adam didn't recognize most of the researchers there, and those he did he knew from their reputations and brief contacts at conferences. They were distinguished scientists, all, but he had never worked with any of them before.
A man Adam didn't recognize left his workstation to greet him. "Dr. Kane!" he said in a polished Oxford accent. "It's so good to meet you at last. I've been following your work for years."
"That's very good to hear, Doctor…?"
"Oh, how careless of me. Allow me to make some introductions. I am Dr. Partridge, head of psionic and neurologic mutancy research. You'll be working with me, for the most part; your close association with a telempath and your psionic shield make you uniquely qualified. And our head of Feral and physiokinetic research, Dr. Padme…."
He went around the room, and Adam dutifully memorized the list of names (most of which he recognized from his monitoring of Genomex computers), but he was not truly paying attention. Psionic research…that had great potential. If he could persuade a telepath to contact Emma for him, it might just be possible to –
"And finally, I believe you've already met Dr. Erikson, head of bioelectronic development."
Adam's eyes went flat and he nodded civilly. "Dr. Erikson," he said, slightly emphasizing the title.
"Mr. Eckhart doesn't really recognize titles. None of us really mind," Partridge explained. Looking around the room as Partridge said this, however, Adam could tell from the poorly-concealed reactions that some of them very much did mind, and filed the information away for future reference. Scientists, he thought. Like all academics: vain as peacocks.
After the introductions, Partridge brought him over to an empty writing desk and started searching through the drawers of his own workstation, which stood nearby.
"Your first assignment here will be to compile the experimental data we've been gathering in the last few weeks and to become acquainted with our most recent research. I know it's rather below your level of expertise," he apologized, "but it will help you to get up to speed on what we've been working on here."
Adam refrained from explaining that he was probably more "up to speed" than Partridge himself due to Sanctuary's eavesdropping on Genomex systems. They didn't need to know about that. And yet, he thought, fingering his governor implant, maybe there is more to learn. He was looking forward to it, actually; given access to Genomex research computers, perhaps he would have an opportunity to plant a message….It was a small chance his team would see it and understand, but it was a chance nonetheless.
"It will have to be done the old-fashioned way, I'm afraid," Partridge continued. Adam looked up to see a thick sheaf of computer printouts in Partridge's hands.
"My orders are clear – you're not to have access to any Genomex computer connected to the network, so until our requisition for an independent computer – we're thinking a laptop, so that you can work at night if you want – comes through, I'm afraid it is pencil and paper for awhile." The man looked sincere in his apology.
Adam sighed and took the papers. "I can't say I'm surprised," he said. He sat down, picked up a pen, and looked at the stack of paper in front of him.
It was going to be a long day.
"Brennan, I've tried as hard as I can!" Emma said, wearily massaging her temples. "He's not unconscious or dead. He's just…unreachable. It's like there's a wall around him; I know he's behind it, but I can't see him or touch him."
Brennan slammed his fist against the wall in impotent fury. "Dammit, there's gotta be something we can do!"
"He said he had a plan, didn't he?" Jesse said, his tone diplomatic. "Maybe we just need to give him time. Wait until he contacts us."
"But he didn't plan on being psychically incommunicado, did he?" Brennan asked. Why wouldn't they act? "Face it, any plan that he made has got to be screwed, or he'd be out of there by now."
"We don't know that. You know, Adam's got an opportunity to do some real damage at Genomex, but he'll need time. To do real mischief, he'll need access to a computer, right? It'll be days at least before they let him near one. We've got to be patient."
They looked over to see Shalimar, hair tousled from sleep and dark circles under her eyes, leaning against the doorway into the lab. Brennan resisted the urge to run over to her and support her, knowing she wouldn't appreciate it. She looked so frail, it tore his heart.
"Shalimar, you shouldn't be up. You have to rest," Emma said.
"I couldn't sleep, and I heard you talking. Jesse's right. I've known Adam longer than any of you. He can take care of himself. We have to trust him now."
"So what do we do in the meantime?" Brennan pressed. "We can't just sit here and do nothing."
"We do what we always do. Move new mutants into the underground, protect them from Genomex goons. And especially, now more than ever, we watch the Genomex computers for any sign Adam might be trying to communicate with us," Jesse said.
"I think we need to be extra careful with the safehouses we use – maybe even start a new one if we can," Shalimar said, sitting down slowly. "There's no way Eckhart won't interrogate him."
"Good point, Shal," Jesse agreed.
Brennan nodded, still unsatisfied. He agreed that they were making sense, but he didn't have to like it. "Okay. We'll give him some time. I'll take the Double Helix and start setting up a new interim safehouse."
"I'll come with you," Shalimar said.
"Not till you're feeling better. You can't fight like this. When you've rested some more, call me, and I'll come and get you." Brennan got up to go.
"Emma and I can monitor the Genomex systems, right, Em?" Jesse said.
"Yeah, of course."
Brennan smiled slightly as he picked up his jacket. "So, who does that leave to cook supper?"
Three days after arriving at Genomex, Adam was brought into the interrogation room again and seated in the same chair Shalimar had occupied only days before. Though uneasy, Adam was also somewhat relieved as his hands were bound fast to the chair arms; he had been expecting this from the start, and that it was finally beginning meant that it would not be long before it was over. He only hoped that he would have he strength he needed to keep his secrets hidden.
As soon as Adam had been secured, Eckhart entered, toying absently with an SDG controller.
"Hello, Adam. I trust you're settling in well."
"You ought to talk to your cooks, Mason – the food here's terrible."
Eckhart favoured him with a thin-lipped smile. "I'm so sorry to hear that. Now, Adam, I think we need to have a little chat. You obviously know what I've been up to since you left Genomex, but you haven't told me any details yet about Mutant X."
"If you just want to chat, Mason, I don't think you'll be needing that," Adam said, looking pointedly at the SDG controller in Eckhart's hand.
The white-haired man stopped pacing and leaned over to look straight into Adam's eyes, his manner serious. "That much depends on you. Now, I want the locations of all the safehouses and the codes necessary to access the computers without triggering the self-destruct. I want the location of Sanctuary and all information pertinent to gaining access. And I want to know the personal weaknesses of Mulwray, Fox, Kilmartin, and de Lauro."
Adam threw back his head and laughed. "Why, Mason, you've developed a sense of humour. I'd never have thought it possible. Do you honestly believe that, after giving myself up to free Shalimar, I'll just hand you everything you need to capture not only her, but my whole team? Not to mention the means to destroy everything I've worked for? Not a chance!"
Eckhart sat down. "I can't say I'm surprised to hear that. Everyone resists at first. Now, Mr. Partridge tells me that you've been doing a fine job so far, and none of my people have been able to find any signs of sabotage. And so, you have yet to learn first hand just what your governor can do. You never tested it on yourself, did you, when you designed it? Of course not. Perhaps I should show you."
Suddenly his thumb came down on a button on the controller, and pain exploded behind Adam's eyes, flashing to every extremity of his body. He jerked against the bonds that held him and grunted slightly, gripping the arms of the chair until his knuckles turned white.
Then, as quickly as it had come, the pain subsided, and Adam was left gasping in its wake.
"I should probably mention," Mason said in a clipped tone, "that that was the lowest setting."
When Adam had his breath again, he looked Eckhart in the eye again, and said, "You can do whatever you wan to me. I'm not going to give you that information."
"Perhaps you didn't fully understand. Perhaps another demonstration will change your mind. This is the next setting."
This time Adam had time to brace himself, and, though the pain was worse, he was ready for it. When the wave of pain receded, Adam said nothing, but stared defiantly at his nemesis.
Mason's eyes shone from behind the black glasses. Adam glared back.
Wave after wave of pain engulfed him, but still he said nothing, biting back the cries that tried to escape his lips.
Finally, what seemed hours later, the pain stopped, and Eckhart stood up. "I can't say I'm surprised at you're resistance. Frankly, I would have been disappointed if you gave in so soon. But I don't have time to play this game all day. You, however, fortunately have all the time in the world." He pressed a button on his desk intercom and the guards reentered. Eckhart gave the controller to one of them and turned back to Adam, where he sat gasping in the interrogation chair, drenched with sweat. "Allow me to explain. Mr. Burton here is going to take this controller and hook it into a randomizing program – in fact, if I remember correctly, you wrote some of the code for the base program yourself. You will receive bursts of pain of random length and intensity at random intervals until you are ready to cooperate with me. I've even arranged for a special padded cell for you, so that you will have no pesky distractions." His voice grew softer. "Just the pain," he continued, "and the anticipation of pain, not knowing when the next one will come, or how bad it will be…." Mason smiled again, his eyes gleaming. "I'm told that, in similar experiments, the subjects have all either broken or gone mad. But either way, I will get that information."
"You bastard. You-"
"If, on the other hand," Eckhart continued over Adam's protests, "if you choose to give me what I need, you can go beck to working with Partridge in research, do what you love best, maybe even help your friends to acclimatize when they arrive. Will you tell me?"
Adam's eyes burned coldly with unmasked fury. "Go to hell!"
Eckhart made a sharp motion to the guards, saying, "Take him away." He turned to go, but then stopped and addressed Adam once more. "Just remember: you have the power to make it stop at any time. Just say the word."
Then he was gone, and Adam was quickly marched through the hallways to a featureless, padded room, forced into a straitjacket, and left there, utterly alone. The first spasm hit just as the door clanged shut.
"It's been almost a week and there's no sign from Adam that I can recognize in any of Genomex's computer systems. I've analyzed everything! All of Sanctuary's computers are working on it constantly." Jesse ran his fingers through his hair, the dark circles under his eyes making him look much older than he really was.
"And there hasn't been even a sniff of GSA activity at any of the safehouses," Brennan added.
"Oh, my God, guys, what if they..." Shalimar began, then stopped herself.
"What if they what?" Jesse said.
Emma, sensing what Shalimar didn't want to say aloud, put a comforting hand on her friend's knee. "He is alive, Shal. I can sense that much. Believe me, I would know if he died."
"All the safehouses have been put on hold other than the new one, the one Adam doesn't know about yet," Brennan said. "But I've been thinking, what about Sanctuary itself?"
"What do you mean?" Emma said.
"Well, the reason we're closing safehouses is because we know that Adam will be interrogated, right? That is, if he hasn't already been. If you were Eckhart, wouldn't one of your first questions be, 'Where's the Mutant X headquarters?'"
"You're right," Jesse agreed. "We can't stay here any longer."
"But if we're not here, how can we watch for a signal from Adam?" Emma said. "We have to be here if he calls."
Brennan looked to Jesse. "Can you set up a remote link to the Sanctuary computers?"
"Not a very effective one. I'd have to automate the search a lot more than I have already, and I don't want to do that if I don't have to. Our computers are better than almost any in the world, but they're not intuitive. Plus, anyone who accessed Sanctuary computers would be able to trace the link right to us."
"So at least one person has to stay," Emma said.
"That's me," Shalimar spoke up immediately.
"No way, Shalimar. You've only just recovered --" Jesse began.
"I mean it. I'd be the one they'd be least able to use if they captured me. Put a governor in me and I'm no good to anybody."
"Except as a hostage," Jesse responded. "I'll stay. I know the Sanctuary systems better than anyone but Adam."
"Which is exactly why you shouldn't fall into their hands," Emma pointed out, and the others nodded. "I'll stay. If I get captured, I'll still be able to communicate with you guys."
"And lead them right to us," Brennan added.
"I would never - "
"You wouldn't want to. None of us would ever voluntarily help the GSA. But God knows what kind of drugs and stuff Eckhart's got. You wouldn't be able to help yourself. No. I'll stay. I'm the only one of us who can turn off his own subdermal governor and fight at a distance. I don't know enough about the systems to be of any real help to them. I'm the only logical choice."
The others exchanged glances, protesting weakly, but could find no convincing argument against what he was saying.
"Then it's settled. You guys should get going. And whatever you do, don't let me know where you are. What I don't know, I can't tell."
There was a brief silence, and then Shalimar smiled wanly.
"What?" Brennan asked.
"With no one else here, now you'll have to cook for yourself."
Eckhart studied the security monitor, growing ever more frustrated by the picture there. Adam sat in the exact centre of the room. His clothes were filthy where he'd soiled himself, as Eckhart had forbidden him the use of proper facilities or a change of clothes. But his face was serene as he sat in lotus position, meditating as he had been for days. When a spasm came one could observe him tense slightly, but only if it was a high-intensity setting. He moved only to eat and to stretch out once in awhile to sleep, though he seldom got more than an hour or two at a time.
"Well?" Eckhart demanded of the woman staring over his shoulder.
"He's strong." He gave her a withering look. "I'm sorry, but you can't help but admire a man who can hold up to that."
"Will he break?"
She studied the screen a moment later, adjusting the picture to look closely at his face, his posture, his eyes. "Yes," she said finally. "He will. But not for a long time. It could be another week, or more. And by then, Mutant X will have moved and any information he has will be useless."
"What are our options?"
"I say it's time to go with my original suggestion and use the drugs. On a lesser man I'd suggest hypnotism or other forms of mental manipulation, but I doubt he would be susceptible."
"Do you have everything you need?"
"I'll have him brought up to the interrogation room."
"Tell your men to hose him off first," she said, wrinkling her nose. "He looks like he stinks."
An hour later, Adam sat again in the interrogation chair, struggling wildly as a professional-looking woman forced a needle into his arm.
"What is that?" he demanded angrily.
"It's something new we've been developing recently. A combination of a number of more traditional compounds," the woman answered. Adam recognized her from his hacks into Genomex personnel records as the head of Eckhart's intelligence.
"I needn't bother with an ingredient list. No need to worry; it won't hurt. It will simply make you very, very eager to talk to us." Eckhart entered and stood beside her.
Adam's heart sank in his breast. By his original plan, he would have been safely back in Sanctuary by now, champagne in hand as he watched the collapse of the Genomex computer systems. Now he was about to betray them all to the enemy.
"I won't give you my team, Mason," he snarled.
"Yes, as a matter of fact, you will. You have no choice in the matter. You might as well accept the idea." Eckhart sounded almost bored, but his eyes burned with eagerness.
"Give the drug a few minutes to take effect," the woman said, withdrawing the needle and pressing a small cotton ball to Adam's skin.
Adam could feel his thoughts scattering, an unnatural euphoria rising in him. He tried desperately to fight it, to meditate, to keep his mind under his own control, but it was a losing battle. With his last coherent thought, he sent up a prayer that his team had had the presence of mind to protect themselves and Sanctuary from what he knew.
"Now, Adam," Eckhart said. "Tell me about Sanctuary..."
It was the day after the members of MutantX had finished securing all of the databases with new codes, the day after everyone but Brennan had left Sanctuary, that the GSA came.
Brennan was sitting, bored out of his skull, sitting in front of a computer screen playing chess with a fourteen-year-old. He made his move, chuckling softly to himself. He almost had the kid right where he wanted him.
The screen went dark, and in red the word "CHECKMATE" began to flash.
Brennan heard a footstep, and before he could react he felt a blast of pressurized water hit him.
He was up in an instant and fighting for his life, but for every GSAgent who fell to the floor, two more were getting closer and closer. He pulled at his innermost reserves and lashed out with electricity, but several of the Agents had come prepared with water canisters on their backs, and he felt his electricity fading within him with each blast. He could not see properly and he could not find footing. He lashed out with his fist and felt it hit skin; he kicked wildly and felt his foot dig deeply into a soft abdomen. He leapt back, struggling to avoid the jets of water, grasping arms, and crackling tasers of the agents who pursued him, forcing him backward down the concourse of Sanctuary. He kicked, hit, jumped, tripped, and each time saw a man go down, but moments later, that same man would be up again. He was almost spent.
Suddenly, in the midst of the attack, it occurred to him that they had come to Sanctuary with enough men (or so they thought) to subdue four highly-trained mutants, and had found only one, alone and weaponless, bereft even of his own special abilities to defend himself. He had no chance. He finally had to admit to himself that it was better now to save his strength than to go down in an unwinnable fight.
He kicked an agent in the wrist, sending a taser flying, lifted his ring finger to his mouth, and tersely informed his teammates that he was going to be captured and the GSA now held Sanctuary. Then he leapt back from the battle one more time and, raising his hands in a gesture of submission, shouted between panting breaths, "Okay, okay! Enough."
It took all his willpower not to struggle and fight as his arms were jerked behind his back and cuffed there, and a governor inserter pressed to his neck. He did not admit defeat easily, especially to himself. Blackness and pain took him for a moment and he staggered forward as the governor was inserted, but then his eyes cleared and he was forced to go along with the Agents, who were already half-pushing, half-dragging him back to their helicopter for transport back to Genomex.
As they went, Brennan could hear an agent behind him reporting in.
"Mr. Eckhart, Dawson here. We have secured Sanctuary."
"Excellent," the familiar voice replied. "And Mutant X?"
"There was only the one here, sir, and he's been subdued. We're bringing him in. It's Mulwray."
"Superb. The others can wait. The status of your men?"
"Mulwray took down fifteen before surrendering, sir, but they'll be okay - mostly just bruises."
"You say he surrendered?" the voice sounded thoughtful, and slightly surprised.
"We did have him completely surrounded, sir."
"Make sure you keep his hands bound at all times - behind his back. Good work, Dawson. Eckhart out."
Brennan felt oddly vindicated by the exchange. At least he had gotten fifteen of them. Not bad for an unarmed man caught alone and surprised. He hoped they would be sore for weeks.
Jesse, Emma, and Shalimar exchanged a frightened glance as Brennan's curt message came through.
"Oh, my God. Brennan," Shalimar breathed.
"Looks like we got out just in time," Jesse said. "Emma, can you connect with Brennan?"
"I'll try." Emma's eyes defocused for a moment, then snapped up to stare intently at a spot far distant, beyond the walls, straight towards Sanctuary.
Images began to flood through her mind: a helicopter; a thunderstorm; encroaching darkness; and, most powerful, the image of Brennan struggling, bound in chains. Feelings of captivity and fear.
Emma, sensing she wouldn't be able to hold the connection long, projected feelings of encouragement and support to him, then looked up again at her remaining teammates. "He's frightened, and they've injected him with a subdermal governor. They're putting him on a helicopter...Oh, he's so angry; he's hard to read..." She thought a little more, then looked up at them. "Sorry. That's all I can get. The governor makes it very hard."
"Keep trying, Em," Jesse said. "See if you can find out where they're taking him."
"I'll try, but he's really not giving me much."
"Jesse, look at this," Shalimar said, pointing to the screen which displayed their monitor of Sanctuary's main computer systems.
"They're hacking into everything. Look at that - they have Adam's security codes. Man, I'm glad we were prepared for them - this could have been the end of everything."
Shalimar fell back in her chair. "I can't believe that Adam would give us up like that."
"I doubt if he had a choice, Shal."
"But Adam's strong. No torture they could have thought up would have broken him."
"But what about drugs? Adam may be brilliant, but he's human. He's not proof against them. I'm just glad that he resisted as long as he did."
Emma suddenly gasped, interrupting them.
"What's wrong?" Shalimar asked.
"It's all going dark - I think they drugged him."
"Then he's on his own," Jesse said. "And it's up to us to help the both of them."
When Brennan's eyes opened and attained focus, they found another pair of eyes staring straight into them: brown, familiar, and full of guilt and concern. Adam's eyes.
At first, still confused by the drugs in his system, Brennan thought he must be in Sanctuary, in the lab. But something was wrong - he was sitting upright, and he couldn't move his hands. And something about the light was different He blinked - no change. Then Adam moved back, and vaguely he heard him say, "I think he's coming around."
But far more important to his immediate attention was the man Adam was speaking to, revealed as Adam stepped back. The moment Brennan saw that head of white hair he returned to his senses and remembered what had happened.
"Adam - " he said, his mouth dry and sticky-feeling from the aftereffects of the drugs. "Are you all right?"
"As well as can be expected, under the circumstances. What about you? How are you feeling?"
"Been better." The more the drug faded, and the more awake Brennan became, the more his various bruises and tired muscles began to demand his attention.
Eckhart stepped forward. "Mr. Mulwray," he said with a dead smile. "I can't tell you how happy I am to have you back here at Genomex."
"I'm sure you are," Brennan said. "Your invitation was hard to resist." Even as he said it, he knew his sarcasm was wasted. It was a weak shot, he felt, but it would suffice.
"I have been eager to...speak with you and your friends for some time," Eckhart said. "I had hoped to see them here, too, but I'm afraid they did not receive their 'invitations'. Perhaps they've changed their address?"
Brennan laughed bitterly and, playing along, said, "Yeah. They said Sanctuary was too drafty."
"And their forwarding address?" Eckhart's tone was dangerous, belying the almost playfulness of his words.
Brennan shrugged his shoulders, as much as he was able. "Didn't leave one."
Eckhart stepped closer and looked down into Brennan's eyes. His face was calm, but his eyes were burning coldly. "I don't have time for games, Mr. Mulwray, and, let me assure you, your insolence will not be tolerated here. Now, you are going to tell me the locations of Kilmartin, Fox, and de Lauro. Now."
"Even if I knew, you don't honestly think I would tell you, do you? I thought even you were smarter than that."
Eckhart held up a controller for a subdermal governor. "You remember this, don't you, Mr. Mulwray? I didn't think I would need to remind you."
"You can do whatever you want to me, Eckhart. I don't know where they are."
Eckhart pressed the button, and Brennan groaned, his body wanting to double over, to clutch his stomach with both arms, but restrained by the cuffs holding him to the chair. Two agents Brennan had not noticed before stepped out of the shadows and held Adam, livid with rage, back.
When the wave of pain passed, and he had caught his breath, Brennan repeated, "I don't know where they are." Another wave of pain, even more severe, lanced through him. "I told them not to tell me!" he said, almost shouting.
My men tell me the Sanctuary computers have been rendered useless. What did you do to them?"
"Jesse wiped them. What, did you think we were just going to hand ourselves to you?" Brennan was really angry now. "Give us credit for a little common sense."
"How did you know we were coming?"
"When Adam didn't come back, we took precautions. Face it, Eckhart; they're out of your reach now."
Eckhart let out an angry breath through his nose and stalked angrily across the room. Standing nearby, looking drawn but relieved, Adam looked on.
"Contact them," Eckhart said suddenly.
Brennan looked down and realized for the first time that his communicator ring was still in place. "What?"
"Contact your friends and tell them that it's safe to return to Sanctuary."
"No?" Eckhart pronounced the word wonderingly, as though he had never heard it before. His eyebrows rose.
Brennan shook his head. "No. I won't do that."
"I will not repeat myself, Mr. Mulwray. You have ten seconds either to give me the whereabouts of your comrades or to contact them for me. Ten...nine...eight..." Brennan simply regarded him, coldly angry, and as Mason counted down, their eyes locked. "Three...two...one. Fine then. You give me no choice." Suddenly Eckhart lifted his other hand, revealing a second controller and, pointing it at Adam, pressed the button.
Immediately Adam convulsed, falling against the wall, clutching a nearby chair for support, not wishing to fall to the floor, knowing somehow that, if he did, it would be too much for Brennan and anything he did know, he would give.
But Brennan was outraged now, his former anger seeming but a minor annoyance in comparison. The chair rocked as his body heaved furiously, trying to tear itself forcibly from its bonds. "Stop it, Eckhart!" he demanded. "This is between you and me!"
"On the contrary, Mr. Mulwray. Adam is the one who brought you into all this, the one who brought you to Mutant X in the first place." Eckhart released the button and Adam's frame collapsed against the wall again; where before his body had been taut and strained, it was now limp and, ever so slightly, shuddering.
"If it weren't for you, Mason," Adam said, his voice haggard, "Mutant X wouldn't exist."
Brennan could not help but feel betrayed by these words. All that they had built, the team that they had become, all the good they had done - all this would have been nothing without this madman?
"That's not true, Adam," Eckhart countered. "If not me, there would still be another. Humanity would never stand the existence of these mutant anomalies among them for long - not once they learned what they could do." He turned back to Brennan "I'm losing patience, Mr. Mulwray," he said, and pressed the button of Adam's controller again. This time, the two agents stepped forward to take Adam's arms and hold him up.
Brennan couldn't look away, and the anger built inside him. "Look, I told you, I sent them out and TOLD them not to et me know where they were. I'm not telling you because I can't!"
Eckhart just held his thumb down on the button and waited. Adam writhed silently.
"Stop! there's nothing I can give you." Still Eckhart waited.
An expression of rage-born determination replaced the alarm on Brennan's face, and suddenly two small balls of electricity flew from his hands, one hitting Eckhart in the stomach, the other the controller in his hand, causing him to drop it like a writhing snake.
Simultaneously several things happened. Adam gasped and sagged to the floor, the GSAgents easing him to his knees. Brennan let forth a yell of pain, his head flung back. And Eckhart picked up the controller and strode from the room, pausing for a moment only to speak with the agents waiting outside. They immediately entered and began to pull them away to separate cells.
As the restraints were unlocked Brennan pushed himself up out of the chair somewhat stiffly, refusing to be pulled, and met Adam's eyes. They were deeply tired and troubled, but Brennan saw there in that brief glance a spark of unfathomable intelligence and inexhaustible determination, communicating support, compassion, encouragement - and guilt. Then they were pulled apart and marched away to their respective cells.
As soon as Brennan was alone he began to wriggle, manoeuvering his way on to the floor. His wrists, cuffed behind him, ached from the pressure as he squirmed and pulled until at last both legs were through the circle of his arms and his hand were in front of him. Immediately he reached up and, bracing himself for the pain, sent a spark shooting into his subdermal governor. A bomb of pain exploded in his stomach for a split second, then faded. Grunting, he stood up and, for good measure, held his hands up before him, generating an electrical field between them. No pain.
Satisfied, he threw himself down on the narrow cot and stared at the ceiling. Sleep was slow in coming.
Emma's eyes refocused and she turned to face Jesse and Shalimar. "I still can't reach Adam at all," she said tiredly, "but I think Brennan just turned off his governor. One moment all I was receiving were visions of captivity, anger, and fear, and then there was this flash of white, and those visions were gone. The anger is still there, and a lot of worry about us and Adam, but the influence of the governor is gone."
Shalimar sighed with relief, and Jesse put a hand on Emma's shoulder and squeezed. "Well, that's something, anyway," he said. "Could you get any kind of fix on his location within Genomex?"
"No. Just a grey room. No windows."
"Well, that narrows it down a little, anyway." Jesse turned to the computer. "Computer, display blueprints, Genomex genetic research facility." There was a soft beep, and a three-dimensional schematic of the Genomex floor plans sprang to life in the air above the panel. "Highlight all windowless rooms in red." Red patches began to cover the map. Jesse concentrated for a moment. "Exclude the main lab, interrogation room, stasis pd storage areas and all administrative and research offices, as well as all utility and supply closets." Red patches began to disappear.
"Exclude all restrooms," Shalimar added, and several more patches disappeared.
"Good thinking," Jesse said, then turned again to Emma. "Did you get any feel for how big the room was?"
She concentrated, and her eyes defocused for a moment. "It's small," she said. "Brennan feels very closed in there. He's lying down and his head and feet are close to the walls."
"It can't be any bigger than 7 feet long, then," Shalimar said. Jesse keyed in a command and several large patches disappeared.
"Look there," Emma said. "There's a whole block of rooms listed as patient isolation rooms. They're close to the lab and interrogation rooms, and it says here that they were designed for the 'isolation and confinement of violent and/or quarantined patients'."
"Sounds promising," Shalimar said.
"Good work, you guys," Jesse said. "I don't know about you guys, but I'm going to go try to get some sleep. Tomorrow's going to be a full day, I think." He saved the schematic and cleared the display.
"Why? What do you have planned?" Shalimar asked, standing and stretching like a cat.
"I think it's high time we paid Eckhart a visit and told him it's time for Adam and Brennan to come on home, don't you?"
Brennan awoke to a strange tapping sound, coming from the wall beside him. It was irregular, but seemed to contain a pattern nonetheless. He listened to it for a few moments before he finally placed it: Morse code. He struggled to remember back to what he had learned as a young boy, fascinated with electromagnetic waves and short-wave radios. The pattern started to repeat and mentally he decoded it:
Quickly he raised his hand and, using the band of his handcuffs, tapped back:
There was a slight pause, and then the tapping resumed.
Brennan smiled. Of course that would be Adam's first concern.
He waited. NOT BAD came the response. Brennan thought for a moment.
NO MORE SDG, he tapped. Adam's response was quick.
GOOD MINE NOT SO EASY
CLARIFY, Brennan sent.
ADDITIONS MIND BLOCK NO EMMA INSULATED NO YOU TETHER NO ESCAPE
Brennan thought about this. THATS BAD, he sent finally. BUT GOOD HOPE FELT EMMA THEY COME SOON.
There was a long pause. Then Adam returned. LEAVE ME IF MUST.
Brennan's response was immediate. NO. B READY. DON'T GIVE UP WHAT NEED FREE YOU?
TOOLS OR EXTRACTOR
SIT TIGHT WE DO BEST FOR YOU
SAVE SELVES FIRST
Brennan grinned and his heart filled with affection for his leader. NO MX WITHOUT ADAM NO MX ONLY GSA WHY SAVE SELF? There was another, longer pause, and Brennan began to think Adam had gone to bed. Then another tap came.
ALL DAY IN PSI LAB
Psilab? Brennan thought he had misinterpreted, but then understood. Adam would be in the Psionics lab all day. He wondered how Adam could know, but didn't think it important enough to ask about it.
As he turned away from the wall he felt Emma's familiar light touch on his mind again. He greeted her mentally, concentrating on feelings of welcome, and she returned it, sending him the feeling of a warm hug.
Suddenly he found himself wanting to turn around, examine the door, and remember everything he could about the passageways which had brought him here. He felt he urgently needed to remember. Understanding what Emma was doing, he complied, carefully examining the room in all detail, then sitting and concentrating on his memories of the route here from the interrogation room.
He sent her the image of Adam in the next cell, then an image of her using tools to deactivate Adam's governor.
Questioning, Emma sent an image of Brennan using his powers on the governor, but almost simultaneously he sent back images of electrical tape, rubber-soled shoes, and a large shield constructed entirely of rubber. In the same way he informed her of the other problems with Adam's governor (visions of a leash around Adam's neck leading to Eckhart's fist, and Adam behind a wall with Emma on the other side).
Emma digested this, then gave Brennan another reassuring mental hug, and was gone. Brennan rolled over and, at peace now more than any night that week, fell into a deep sleep.
The next day Brennan was awakened by the sensation of strong hands lifting him to his feet, and a bored-sounding voice saying, "Rise and shine, Sparky."
Disoriented, Brennan struck out instinctively, his hands - still cuffed in front of him - flying up to hit the one who had spoken in the chin. Brennan's legs found purchase and he surged to his feet. The guard jumped back, a hand on his chin, but his partner was thinking quickly and within seconds his taser was against Brennan's abdomen. Even so it took two strong shocks before Brennan relented.
"Next time," he gasped, clutching his stomach even as they took firm hold of his arms again, "just shake my shoulders or shout my name, okay?"
"So where we going?" he asked, allowing them to lead him through the corridors.
"Boss wants you in the lab," growled the one whom he had hit.
"What, no breakfast?"
The other guard laughed, sounding almost friendly. "Considering what they call breakfast around here, count yourself lucky to be missing it. Plus, no one ever gets to eat on day one."
Brennan slowed down, and would have stopped were they not still holding his arms. "Wait a minute. Day one of what?"
The guards exchanged a glance, and the friendly one laughed again, though this time it sounded forced. "Don't you know?"
"If I did, would I be asking?"
"Day one of conditioning."
"Conditioning," Brennan repeated.
The other guard nodded, still rubbing his chin. "You've been drafted to the GSA, Sparky, and after day one, you can never go back."
"Hold on now, what are talking about?" Brennan was beginning to feel very bad about this.
Again, the guards exchanged glances. "I shouldn't tell you any more. You'll find out soon enough. Suffice it to say, GSA training is very thorough."
He didn't have the opportunity to ask any more questions; within moments they were turning a corner into a small laboratory, an offshoot of the main lab. Brennan was ready with a hundred things to say to Eckhart - but he wasn't there. Instead, he found himself surrounded by busy-looking men and women with clipboards and white lab coats.
Quickly and efficiently, despite his struggles, he was stripped of his shirt and installed in an exam chair much like that in Adam's lab in Sanctuary, but with restraints securely fastened, his wrists turned up. A powerful lamp shone down on him, making it difficult to see the men moving back and forth around him. A soft hand affixed to his forehead and chest electrodes with shiny thin wires leading from them. He felt the warm flicker of a scanning beam over his body, and panic began to rise in him.
Suddenly, amidst the glare, he saw a nurse approaching him with a loaded syringe in one hand, and he decided he had to act. This had gone far enough. He had not wanted to reveal yet the state of his governor, but once they started putting drugs in his system...
He concentrated, and a bolt of energy flew from one bound hand to hit the syringe in the girl's hand, sending it flying across the room.
"His governor's offline!" he heard a voice say. He struck out again, blindly, and was satisfied to hear a tray and several metallic-sounding instruments clatter to the floor and a man yell with pain.
"Controller's not working! He must have shorted it out," another voice called.
"Damn straight," Brennan muttered, and shot a third time, hoping to hit a computer or other piece of sensitive equipment. He didn't have a chance to find out if it worked or not; unseen hands from behind him were holding a rubber mask over his mouth and nose, and he caught a scent of something somehow sweet and bitter at the same time.
"No!" he said, twisting and turning his head, vainly trying to get away from the tranquilizing gas. "No!"
But the hands were strong, and Brennan could not simply cease breathing. It was not long before he was weak enough for the hands to pull the mask's elastic around his head, securing it in place, a thin elastic band defeating the man who had beaten countless GSAgents to the ground and mastered electricity.
He did not lose consciousness, but was powerless to move under his own power, and his own special abilities felt as far away as the moon.
He lay there and watched as the nurse approached again, drew a blood sample, and glided off. He could only gasp and groan as his governor was removed and a new one installed.
Come on, guys, he prayed. It's now or never.
Jesse phased out of Brennan's empty cell to rejoin Emma and Shalimar in the corridor. "Nothing," he reported. "No Brennan, no Adam. Both beds have been slept in, though. Can you sense Brennan, Emma?" Emma looked away for a long moment. Jesse and Shalimar watched the corridors warily.
When Emma returned to herself, she looked worried. "His governor's back," she said, "and his mind is kind of hazy. He's awake, but he can't move his body. Something bad's happening, and I think he's been drugged."
"Can you find him? Sense his direction?" Jesse pressed. Emma nodded. "Well then, let's go!"
When they reached the lab the sight filled them with horror, both on behalf of their friend and because each felt it could be them in that chair.
A young woman was wheeling an IV stand over to the table where Brennan lay, while two men in lab coats discussed the readings on a monitor screen, and several other people milled about at various tasks.
"What are they planning?" Shalimar whispered. "What are they doing to him?"
Emma just shook her head, looking worried, and Jesse looked on, indecision in his eyes. "Okay," he said finally. "Emma, how many people can you influence at a time?"
"I've never tried more than one," she replied.
"Okay. I want you to choose someone in that room and make them freak out; something big, so that everyone will turn to look. Shalimar and I will take out anyone not immediately distracted and get Brennan out of there. Okay? Our first priority is to get our hands on his governor controller and get that mask off him."
"Where will we take him once we've got him?" Emma asked.
Jesse thought for a moment. "Back to his cell," he decided.
"Why? Isn't that doing the GSA's work for them?"
"We'll need a private place for Brennan to lie down until he can walk on his own, and until we can figure out what's been done to him. No one will look there - the place they're trying to bring him back to. And the door is closed and locked - reasonably, why would he lock himself in?"
Shalimar nodded. "Okay."
"Everyone ready?" Jesse asked.
Suddenly one of the doctors at the far end of the room from Brennan started to scream, and began frantically hitting himself all over. Immediately everyone turned to look at him. He looked around him wildly, fixed his eyes on one of the head doctors, and attacked him, crying, "They're on you too!"
Confusion erupted. The nurse abandoned the IV stand, the doctors their monitors. Jesse and Shalimar ran in, Jesse tearing the mask from Brennan's face as Shalimar scooped up the controller from the counter near the monitors. They began undoing his restraints.
Despite the distraction, it was only seconds before they were noticed, and doctors and nurses converged on them, grabbing their arms and shoulders, trying to pull them away from Brennan. They were no match for three trained members of Mutant X. In less than a minute enough lab-coated bodies were groaning on the floor that the rest mutely backed away, and, Jesse and Shalimar each taking one of Brennan's arms over a shoulder to support him, they raced from the room, aware as they left of voices calling in the alarm.
Returning to the cell area, Jesse opened Brennan's door (it opened to an authorized handprint, and it had been a simple hacking job to add his to the list), and they eased Brennan down onto the cot. His eyes were open and focused, but he could still barely move.
"Now to find Adam," Jesse said. "Any ideas?"
"Well, we know he's not in his cell," Emma said. "Damn this mind block!"
"Psionic lab," Brennan slurred.
"What?" Jesse said, looking down at his friend in surprise.
"Adam. Psionics lab," Brennan repeated slowly, enunciating each sound as clearly as he could.
"Well, that answers that question. Emma, stay with Brennan, okay? Shalimar and I will go for Adam."
Shalimar gave Brennan's hand a squeeze as Jesse phased through the door to open it from the other side. Then Emma and Brennan were left alone to wait.
"Well," Emma said. "Keep breathing deeply. It should help to get the gas out of your system. Can you turn your head? I want to get at your governor."
Surprisingly, Brennan gave his body a mighty heave and actually turned over onto his side, exposing the governor in his neck. The area around the implant was red and angry-looking, encrusted with dried blood. The extraction of the old governor, followed so quickly by the insertion of the new one, had left a mess. Carefully she used the tools she had brought with her to permanently deactivate the implant and bit her lip, struggling to hold back tears. It killed her to see her friend suffering so much.
"There," she said at last. "All done. Do you think you can sit up?"
Again, Brennan did not answer, but with Emma's help he awkwardly pushed himself up to a sitting position, failing the first few tries because of the weakness of his still mostly paralyzed limbs. He leaned against the wall and looked at her for a long time, his expression unreadable.
"Thanks," he said finally.
"Here." She offered him a hand. "Let's see if we can get you standing by the time they get back."
He shook his head. "I can't yet." Already his speech was clearer, almost normal, his movements less forced and deliberate.
Emma shook her head and grabbed his hand. "You just don't think you can. Come on. I'll help you." Mentally she broadcasted encouragement and insistence. She helped him to his feet, then almost fell down under his weight as he overbalanced and she had to catch him. For a moment, they stood clutching each other, and their eyes met.
For a long time they stood there, the attraction that had drawn them together in the bar the first time they'd met returning suddenly, strongly, palpably.
Emma was first to break the contact, stepping back, averting her eyes, and saying, "The more you move around, the sooner you'll be back to your old self. Come on, see if you can walk a bit."
Before long there were footsteps in the corridor, and Brennan said, "Emma?"
"Thanks - for being with me these past few days."
She smiled. "Hey, what are friends for?"
Brennan looked up again just in time to see Jesse's phased head poke through the door, look around, then disappear again. A moment later the door opened and Jesse, Shalimar, and Adam entered.
"Looking good, Brennan," Shalimar said. "How're you doing?"
"Still a little shaky," he said, his speech by now quite normal again, "but better. How about you, Adam?"
"I'm fine. Bloody sick of this subdermal governor. But fine."
"Here, Adam," Emma said, holding up the instruments. "Let me see it."
Adam went over to stand before her and, as she did, Jesse said, "Good thinking, Emma. Once that's done, we should get moving. Emma, will you keep helping Brennan along?" Seeing Brennan's eyebrow rising, he added hastily, "If he needs it, of course. Shalimar, if you'll stick by Adam, we'll be back to the Double Helix in no time."
"And what's your job, oh fearless leader?" Brennan asked, slightly bemused by Jesse's take-charge attitude.
Jesse held up a palm computer with a glowing map on the screen. "I'm the navigator."
Emma made one final adjustment, then pronounced Adam free.
"Everyone ready?" Jesse asked.
"Ready, chief," Adam said.
Jesse phased through the wall and opened the door. "Then let's go."
Quickly and silently they wreathed their way through dim, seldom-used corridors, pausing only when it became necessary to neutralize a guard or two. Finally they reached the outer door and passed through into the sunlight. As they raced towards the cloaked Double Helix the door guards caught sight of them and ran to bar their way.
They had almost reached their goal when Brennan felt arms grasp his shoulders, pulling him to the ground. Still a trifle unsteady, he fell hard, unable to break his fall properly. In an instant Shalimar was there, pulling the offending guard off of him, and Brennan looked up to see another, taser in hand, running up behind her. Without stopping to think, he threw up his arm and, concentrating every bit of his will, focused a stream of electricity straight at the man, over Shalimar's shoulder. He fell to the ground, stunned.
"Thanks," he panted as she knocked the first guard to the ground with a strong kick to the chin.
"Thanks yourself," she said, nodding at the fallen second guard, and together they followed the others to the Double Helix and left Genomex behind them, on their way to the new safe house, one Genomex would not find.
It was ever a point of pride among them that not one of the guards they encountered in the rescue effort had a chance to call in an alarm.
The next day, every member of the team slept late, and when at last they gathered in the common room of the safe house, the table was set for breakfast and Adam began passing out pancakes.
"You're looking chipper," Jesse said, bemused.
Adam smiled as he passed around a jug of syrup. "Let's just say a night's sleep without that governor waking me up did me a world of good."
"I'm not complaining," Brennan said around a mouthful of pancake. "These are good. We've got to rescue that man more often."
"Hey, who rescued whom?" Emma said good-naturedly.
"By getting yourself captured and nearly turned into a GSAgent?" Jesse said with mock severity.
"Hey, he was just in that chair for his beauty treatment, right Brennan?" Shalimar teased.
"Taking care of your skin is very important," he responded blandly.
"We wouldn't have found Adam in the Psionics lab if it weren't for Brennan," Shalimar said.
Adam cut in. "No, no, it was a team effort, and you guys did an excellent job. We needed each one of your contributions, and you came together like you'd been working together for years. I'm proud of you."
They ate in silence after that, only speaking when it became necessary to ask for the sugar to be passed or coffee poured, content just to be in each other's company, knowing they were safe again.
Then, when the table had been cleared and the dishwasher was humming in the background, the mood turned serious. They had done an informal briefing the previous night, filling each other in on what had happened when the group was split up, but there was one subject no one had brought up beyond the necessary facts; it was too soon after the victory to contemplate an all-but-impossible task.
"Eckhart holds Sanctuary," Adam said finally, "and we need to get it back."
"But what good is retaking Sanctuary now? They know where it is, what equipment it has, its layout….Is it safe for us to go back there?" Emma said, so quickly that it was clear she had been giving the question some thought.
"Sanctuary is our home. Besides, all of our equipment is there and, frankly, we don't have the money to start over. Without Sanctuary, we might as well go into the underground ourselves, because in order to keep doing what Mutant X does, we need that place and what it contains."
Brennan jumped in. "Plus, my Walt Whitman collection is in there, and I'll be damned if I let Eckhart have it."
Shalimar laughed delightedly and her eyes shone, eager to be on the offensive again.
"True," Adam continued, with a tolerant glance in their direction, "the location is compromised. But we can change our security codes, alter the holographic cloak around the island, and change the GPS coordinates in the Genomex computers so that they'll have a hard time finding us again, even if they know the general area. What's most important is that we regain possession. Sanctuary is designed as a fortress, and retaking it won't be easy."
"We're five against a small army," Jesse said dryly. "How could we lose?"
"All is not lost," Adam said. "We just need a plan. Now, I have good news and bad news."
The four mutants looked at him with renewed interest – and wariness.
"The good news is that there is a backdoor of sorts built into the Sanctuary system, carefully hidden, and controlled by an independent computer system. All we need is a speedboat and some climbing equipment."
"That's fantastic!" Emma said, grinning.
"What's the bad news?" asked Brennan.
"The bad news is that you, Shalimar, and I will be keeping our governors – and Jesse and Emma are going to get some too."
"Wait just a minute here –" Jesse began, at the same time as Emma said, "No way. there's no way I'm letting anyone put one of those in my neck again."
"Hear me out. They'll be permanently deactivated – duds. When Brennan had shorted out his governor they had to remove it to put in a new one, right? So as long as we have an SDG implanted, we're not vulnerable to them. So, at least until we have Sanctuary back, the governors stay."
"Do they have to be real?" Jesse said, fingering the skin at the back of his neck and wincing as he touched the old scar. "Couldn't you just stick on a fake or something? They really hurt."
"Aw, don't be such a wimp," Emma teased, but her heart was not in it. She did not look very happy with the idea either.
"I'm sorry, guys, but even if a fake were effective, we don't have the means."
"What about the real governors?" Brennan asked. "Do we have the means for them?"
Adam nodded. "Every safehouse is equipped with an insertion device and several recharges for emergency use. I thought you knew about that."
"What kind of emergency could require one of those?" Shalimar asked, shuddering.
"Do you remember Ashley Elliot, the young new mutant whose need for electricity was out of control?"
"How could I forget?" Brennan said darkly.
"And what if a new mutant spy from Genomex or another rival organization attempted to infiltrate the underground? But we're getting too far afield here." Adam cleared the dishes off the table to reveal the holographic display controls. He pressed some buttons, and a detailed map of Sanctuary appeared floating in the air before them. They examined it for a moment in silence.
"Hey, you have a bigger closet than me," Jesse said flippantly to Brennan.
"Focus, Jesse," Adam said, smiling. He pointed to a tiny glowing dot on the northern side of the map.
"This is the backdoor. It is heavily alarmed and well hidden, both from within and without, and I have to warn you, it's not easy to reach. We'll have to go by speedboat and disembark on the southwestern shore of the island, then trek overland to the northern face."
"Hold on, Adam. The whole northern side of the island almost is one sheer cliff," Brennan said. "I've hiked out there."
"Exactly. there's a narrow path, deliberately concealed, which leads to the base of the cliff. We climb up ten meters or so and there's a narrow ledge and what looks just more blank cliff wall – but in actuality, it's a holographic projection concealing the back door. I alone have the codes to disable the alarm."
"This is like some bizarre combination of the Guns of Naverone and the Hobbit," Emma said.
Adam grinned and nodded. "But we don't have time to wait for Durin's Day," he said. "Jesse, you did a great job on the computers, but if we give them enough time, they will break through and find all of our files – and the secondary systems."
"What secondary system?" Jesse asked.
"It's a concealed backup system, independent of the primary, where the most sensitive and important data are stored, in case of catastrophe."
"Why didn't you tell me about them before?"
"What you don't know, you can't reveal under questioning." Jesse opened his mouth to respond, but Adam kept going. "I don't think they got anything out of me about that system, but the longer they remain in possession of Sanctuary, the closer they come to finding it, and with it the locations of every new mutant in the underground, and the entire new mutant database."
"What are we waiting around here for, then?" Brennan said, pushing back his chair and jumping to his feet. "Let's go take back our home."
Shalimar went to gather climbing equipment as Adam left to arrange the speedboat, which left Brennan, Emma, and Jesse alone in the common area of the safe house, looking uneasily at one another.
Brennan opened the emergency kit and picked up the governor inserter reluctantly, feeling its weight on more than just the physical level. Emma and Jesse eyed him unhappily. Brennan hated having to cause his friends pain, especially Emma, but he saw the sense of Adam's argument. He looked at them. They looked at him. No one spoke.
Finally Brennan pulled a chair out from the table and set it in front of him, saying, "Come on, you two. I don't like this any more than you do, but it's gotta be done, so we might as well get it over with."
Jesse and Emma exchanged a glance. Finally Jesse stepped forward and sat down.
"Just for the record," he said as he bowed his head and braced himself. "I hate this idea."
"Ready?" Brennan asked, positioning the device. Jesse nodded slightly and gripped the arms of the chair. "One…two…three."
Jesse's knuckles turned white, and he grunted deep in his throat as the implant went in. Brennan lifted the inserter away and, after a few deep breaths, Jesse stood up, motioning to Emma.
"Your turn," he said. Emma swallowed, bit her lip, sat down, and only barely gasped as her governor went in.
"Sorry, guys," Brennan said again, putting down the inserter with distaste. "Man, I never thought I'd be on the other end of one of these things."
Shalimar, her arms full of equipment, poked her head into the room. "All done?" she asked. They nodded, and Emma stood up. "Well, then, let's get moving."
They landed on a secluded strip of sand, not big enough properly to be called a beach, as night fell on the island. The boat trip had been long, as they had had to drive far out beyond and around the island so as not to be seen by the shoreward-looking security systems.
The strand was narrow and rocky, and, just as Adam had said, a narrow path, nearly overgrown, led from the sandy clearing into the surrounding trees, slowly climbing and winding toward the northern side of the island. As dusk deepened, it was almost invisible.
"I'm not sure about this, Adam," Emma said. "There's barely even a moon. What if we lose the paths in the dark? We could be lost for hours."
"Looks like we've got to take the risk," Brennan said, looking at the map which gleamed faintly on the screen of his palm computer. "If I read this right, it should take us most of the night just to get to the northern face. Then, around dawn, we climb the cliff face up to the back door. We'll get inside just in time to attack right after the guards change shifts."
"Assuming they follow Genomex procedure," Jesse added.
"Are we going to be able to do this, you guys?" Shalimar spoke up. 'I mean, I know we all got a pretty good sleep last night, but after a hike and a climb, will we be in fighting condition? I don't think I will be."
"You make a good point," Adam said, shrugging his pack more comfortably on his shoulders. "But it's imperative we get out of the open and inside. Once we're within Sanctuary we can find a hiding place to rest. We'll wait until after the next guard shift takes over, the evening crew, before we make our move. Agreed?" They nodded and, following Adam, set off into the trees.
One by one the stars appeared as they marched, gradually emerging to form their summer constellations between the tree-tops. Adam paid them no heed, his eyes intent on the flashlight-illumined path before him, but the others could not help but glance upward now and again; despite their growing fatigue, they still found themselves slowing as their eyes rose to the sky above them.
"Man," Jesse remarked, breaking the long silence. "It's a long time since I got to look at the stars like this."
"They're beautiful, aren't they?" Brennan said behind him. "We never really saw them much when I was growing up. The city lights were too bright, and we didn't go out much at night."
"Come on, guys," Adam called softly. "We've still got a ways to go."
Finally, just as the sky was beginning to brighten in the eastern sky, the trees ended and they found themselves staring at a high cliff wall, flat and impassive. Brennan looked at it consideringly, and the thought popped into his mind that the wall looked as though it were deliberately ignoring them. It was impassive, smugly choosing not to acknowledge their puny presence. Brennan shook his head, stared at it for a moment, and muttered, "I really need to get some sleep."
After a brief rest and a meal at the foot of the cliff they unpacked their gear and began the ascent, Adam in the lead. Emma had the hardest climb of any of them, having very little climbing experience, whereas Shalimar seemed almost to leap up the cliff face, finding sure purchase on the smallest hand-and foot-holds. It was she who first reached the ledge. She clambered up and looked around.
"There's nothing here, Adam," she said.
"Feel along the rock. The entry is small, but it's there." A few pebbles rained down as she walked along the ledge, and the others kept climbing.
Suddenly her head popped out from the wall above, looking down at them. "I found it!" she said, smiling.
"Good work," Adam grunted as he pulled himself higher. "Why don't you have a look around just inside the door and see if you can find us a good hiding place. I've already disabled the alarm through our uplink." She disappeared again.
One by one the team members pulled themselves up onto the ledge, wiped the perspiration from their faces, and vanished into the rock wall, until they were all finally back within Sanctuary.
The other side of the doorway was a new world; trees and stone became wires and computer screens. Adam moved immediately to one of the screens, Jesse close behind.
"It looks like they haven't found the secondary system yet, thank God," Adam said, heaving a sigh of relief, "but they are getting dangerously close to breaking the codes into the primary system. Another few days and they'll have it."
"I used a 1028-bit encryption key. No one could break that," Jesse said disbelievingly.
"What one man- or computer - can encode, another can decode. Nothing is infallible. Come on. We all need to get some sleep before we go any further. Shalimar, did you find anything?'
"Yeah. Around that corner, two doors down, there's an empty room. Kinda dusty - looks like it's not used for anything. No guards anywhere so far."
"Doubtless they looked around, found nothing useful, and went back to the more important areas. This back door and whole area of Sanctuary was designed with that in mind," Adam said. "Good work. Now, let's go get some sleep. I'll stay on watch first."
Shalimar's hiding place was exactly what she had said - an empty room. Dust covered the floor and bare walls, and the overhead light did not work. Exhausted, they curled up as best they could on the dirty floor and almost immediately drifted into sleep. Adam sat near the doorway, bright eyes thoughtful.
Jesse was the first to wake, and he found Adam still on watch. He looked tired, but his eyes were shining softly in the dim room. Jesse felt he could almost see the wheels of his thought turning.
"Hey, Adam," he said softly as he went to sit beside his father-figure. "Didn't you sleep at all?"
Adam shook his head. "There'll be time for that later. I needed to do some thinking, some calculations. This is going to be very tricky - we need to be sure we do everything exactly right."
"Want me to do some recon? See what exactly we're up against?"
"Think you can manage it without being seen? If you're captured - or even spotted - they'll know we're here."
"We'd lose the element of surprise."
"And bring the entire combined might of Genomex down on us."
"I can manage it. If I see someone coming, I can always slip through a wall."
"Slip into the wall as much as you can, okay? You don't know what's on the other side."
"You got it. I'll be back in half an hour."
When Jesse returned, the others were waking and eating the food they had carried with them. They ate it all, knowing that by the end of the day they'd either be masters of their own kitchen once more, or in the hands of the GSA, in which case they'd have more to worry about than just their next meal.
"There are at least thirty agents here that I saw, plus four or five others, some kind of techs or investigators it looks like, two women and two or three men searching the place. The women were on the computers in the main concourse, and the men were searching the bedrooms. I'm not sure of the number exactly; I might have seen the same man twice. I only got to see the back of his head before I had to get out of there."
"Anyone in the lab?" Adam said.
"Not that I saw."
"Let's make that our first goal, then. It's the most defensible area, due to its quarantine walls and other functions."
"Don't those same functions make it an ideal trap?" Emma said.
"Only if you don't know the proper codes, and we do. Once we have the lab, we have access to both computer systems, some food and a stock of tools and chemicals that might be adaptable as weapons if necessary."
"I think after that we should try to get control of the dojo - we can throw up forcefields around it and confine captured guards in there, or maybe use the hologram projectors as a diversion," Brennan said.
"I agree. But first the lab. Work as quickly as you can. If those GSAgents get a chance to call home to Eckhart we'll have his reinforcements to deal with, and until we can change the access codes again the door is open to them. That will be my job, as soon as we take the lab, to get those codes changed and take away all GSA access to Sanctuary systems. Keep your comlinks open. I want to know what's going on."
"We should split up," Brennan began, but Adam held up a hand, saying, "No. Stick together. I think we've learned from this whole misadventure just what one man can do alone."
They exchanged grins, and, rising to their feet, prepared to meet the enemy, anticipation rising in their chests.
"This is our Sanctuary," Adam said, looking them each in the eye in turn with pride and confidence. "This is our home. Now let's go reclaim it."
The battle was fierce and immediate. As soon as they exited the short hallway into the more frequented areas of Sanctuary, they were spotted, and the fighting began. Neither side was pulling any punches. This was not simply a matter of knocking down the foe to allow time to escape; they were fighting to incapacitate, to put the opponent on the ground in such a way that he would not get up again for some time.
Brennan, Jesse, and Shalimar were on the offensive, taking down agents left and right to allow Adam and Emma a chance to get through to the lab. Emma walked woodenly, like an automaton, Adam guiding her. Her eyes were unfocussed - or rather, focused on a point far distant. Fights began to break out among the enemy, and the agents guarding the lab abandoned their posts to fight one another.
Brennan shot out a foot in a high kick and felt it connect with jawbone. An agent went down. They were into the main concourse now. Whipping around, he hurled a sizzling coil of electricity over Shalimar's head as she dropped into a crouch, and another agent fell, stunned.
Jesse was fighting hand-to-hand, periodically phasing out to allow a foe's momentum to cause him to overbalance, and making himself so massive he flickered red, so that punches and kicks rebounded with the sound of cracking bones.
It was Shalimar who first grabbed the taser from a fallen agent and turned it against them, sending pulses through metal railings and living flesh indiscriminately even as she flew from one assailant to the next with catlike agility. Jesse noticed and picked up a taser too.
Adam and Emma reached the lab quickly and sealed themselves in. Emma abandoned the minds of the agents and began searching through the pharmacopoeia for anything that might be useful, while Adam headed straight for the nearest computer console, tapping in commands and codes faster than the eye could follow, his expression and bearing intent.
The number of agents on the floor was rising, but more were now arriving from other areas of Sanctuary, having heard the commotion, and Brennan, Shalimar, and Jesse were tiring. Even with the captured tasers they were reaching the end of their strength.
Jesse phased and a wide-swung punch soared through him to hit an agent behind. But as he phased back in again, he failed to see the kick that agent was aiming, and it caught him full in the small of the back. He sprawled on his face, gasping as the air left his lungs. A heavy foot planted itself on his back. He felt panic rise in him as he saw a governor inserter in the man's hand - he had been attempting to come up behind Jesse all along.
The agent roughly turned Jesse's head to expose the back of the neck. "What the hell?" the man cried, and in that instant he thanked Adam for forcing the governor on him.
Suddenly the weight was gone from his back and he pushed himself up just in time to see Brennan take the man out with one classic hit to the jaw.
"Thanks, man," Jesse said, and Brennan had time only to nod in reply before returning to the fight.
Suddenly Adam's voice rang over the din through their com rings. "Jesse, Brennan, Shalimar, make your way back to the lab if you can."
"Got it," Jesse responded, and slowly the three began to retreat, discarding their tasers - long since drained of power - and moving bit by bit back to the lab. When they finally reached it, at least fifteen agents were still on their feet and in pursuit.
When all five Mutant X team members were safely inside the lab and the agents reaching for their radios, Adam said, "Now, Emma."
Emma turned a knob on a hastily-built contraption of tanks and hoses standing in one corner, and a faint hissing sound immediately began in the ventilation draft.
"What's going on?" Jesse panted.
"Watch," Adam said. The lab's transparent walls were now lined with angry GSAgents.
A radio dropped from an agent's hand as he raised it to his mouth, and he looked down at it in surprise. Another agent took a step forward - then fell to one knee as his leg buckled beneath him.
"Gas!" one of the agents cried, trying to cover his mouth and nose with the fabric of his uniform, but he realized too late, and his hand dropped nervelessly to his side.
"What is that stuff?" Brennan asked, watching incredulously.
"Same thing they were using on you when we found you," Emma answered, smirking. "And, thanks to the lovely quarantine systems, the lab's ventilation is completely independent of the rest of Sanctuary, so we can watch and laugh."
"We got them," Shalimar said, watching in disbelief as two more agents fell bonelessly to the floor. "I can't believe it. We actually got them."
"But what do we do with them now?" Jesse asked. "We can't just keep them here unconscious forever."
"They're not unconscious," Brennan muttered. "They're fully aware."
Adam glanced at him, but answered Jesse's question. "For now we'll confine them in the dojo, and keep the gas flowing in there. Later we'll load them into the Double Helix and fly them back to the mainland."
"Where on the mainland?"
Adam grinned mischievously. "Your choice. I'm thinking we should probably divest them of their wallets and weapons and ID, and set them free in various cities around the continent. Hopefully it will take them awhile to get back to Genomex."
"I like it," Shalimar grinned.
"You said most of them," Brennan said, not smiling. "Who are we keeping?"
"There are new mutants among those agents," Adam said. "And I want to study the conditioning process they're put through. Maybe we could reverse it. They may have knowledge we can use."
Brennan shook his head, unconvinced. "I don't know. They said when they were bringing me down to the lab that after day one of conditioning, you can never go back. What if it's irreversible?"
"Well, then, I guess we'll have no choice but to let them go. But not before we at least give it a try."
"Are we safe here now?" Shalimar asked.
"As safe as we've ever been. I've changed all the access codes and walled off the computers from outside access. I'll create a new holographic cloak for the island as well. All we have left is to hack into the Genomex computers and change all references to our location. Think you're up to that, Jesse?"
"I'm always up for a little Genomex-hacking."
Adam turned the knob to turn off the gas flow. The hall outside the lab was littered with prone agents. "Before you go back out there," he said slowly, "I want to...apologize."
"For what?" Shalimar said.
"For thinking I could handle Genomex on my own. In my pride I forgot why I had assembled you guys in the first place - why I - why we created MutantX. What we're up against no one can fight alone, and I think we can see from the consequences the magnitude of my mistake. And I kept information from you that you had a right - and a need - to know. I suppose even I have to work on learning how to trust again."
"Don't beat yourself up about it, Adam," Brennan said, slapping him on the back. "I think we all learned something from this."
Brennan's face was absolutely expressionless, but his eyes twinkled. "That I should never, ever, be allowed to do the cooking for the team. Yuck!"
Adam seemed confused, but the rest of the team broke out in laughter.
Comments, questions, constructive criticism, and creamed corn are always welcome at ierneATexciteDOTcom