Insert standard disclaimer here.  Thanks to all of you who've been reading and reviewing - and to all of you who are just reading.  Be warned - remember how I said things would get worse before they got better?  Well, they're getting worse.

Thanks to my beta, Sue Penkivech - oh and I blame her for the title of this chapter since it was her idea.  But hey, this thing could use a little comic relief right now and this is all it's likely to get for quite a while.


            Sergeant Eli Masters was not a happy man.  Yeah, they'd managed to take down the freak, but not before it took out nine of his men - one of whom would never be getting up again.  He finished tightening the straps on the thing's...hocks...with a particularly vicious jerk, satisfying himself that it wasn't going anywhere no matter what, then looked up as Williams came over at a trot. 

            "Sergeant, every time we try to move Newcombe he stops breathing.  What should we do?"

            The kid looked and sounded shell-shocked and was carefully keeping his sergeant between himself and the freak - not that Masters could really blame him.  Not after watching that thing go through the squad like some demon straight from hell - but it still irritated him to see it.  He forced himself to unclench his jaw and respond in his normal, clipped bark.

            "Then don't bloody move him!  How the hell hard is that to figure out?"

            "Yes Sergeant!  Sorry Sergeant!" the boy responded, voice quavering and face pale as he continued to eye the unconscious freak nervously. 

            "Now strap him back in and then get out there and help the Captain with the other casualties!"  Kid'd be no help dealing with the prisoners anyway.  He was obviously too damned scared of the freak to be of any use here, so he might as well be of some use to someone.  Masters' assessment was confirmed by the speed with which the boy made his escape.  Newcombe was securely strapped in in record time and Williams was on the other side of the partition hardly a heartbeat later, leaving Masters with only four of the thirteen men still on their feet after the thing's rampage.  Thirteen out of an original twenty - and two of them walking wounded - but that should be sufficient.

            "Escobar!" he barked to the man who'd helped him carry the thing back to its table.  "Get over to the control panel for those collars.  If one of the freaks so much as twitches, hit the switch."

            "Yes, Sergeant!"  The man's response was immediate and Masters watched as he moved with brisk efficiency - but no hint of undue haste - to his assigned post.  He could be relied on in a crunch.

            "Liu!  Edwards!  Rodriguez!  Keep an eye on the freaks and your weapons at the ready.  One of 'em moves, tranq it.  Don't worry about whether or not Escobar gets it with the collar."  He pointed at their respective targets as he spoke - giving Liu, as the best shot, both of the females to watch, at least for the moment. 

            "Yes Sergeant!"  Three voices rang out almost simultaneously and without hesitation, and he nodded in satisfaction at the prompt response.


            He turned his attention to where Escobar stood, grim-faced and ready, by the control panel for the freaks' restraint collars.

            "Which switch is for which collar?" the man asked.

            "Don't know.  Don't care," he replied, making no effort to mask the anger in his voice.  "One of 'em moves, shock 'em all.  It won't kill 'em."

            "Yes Sergeant!"  And Escobar's mouth twitched into a mirthless grin.

            With a snarl, Masters reached out and plucked the tranq dart from the blue demon's shoulder before turning his attention to the unconscious scientists on the two 'extra' tables.  It had, he reflected, taken all his self-control not to put the dart in the thing's face - like it had done to Wakefield.  Only the knowledge that its life was more important to the brass than his own and all his men's put together had kept the damn thing alive when he'd found out it had killed one his men.  He suspected that it probably wouldn't have fared nearly so well when the men had worked it over if they'd realized at the time that Wakefield was dead.  Just as well, too, because it would have been as much as their lives were worth had one of them gone too far and damaged it beyond usefulness or killed it.  As it was, he doubted that most of what they'd done to it would even be visible through its dark skin and pelt.

            As he turned towards the two incapacitated scientists, still senseless and strapped to the spare exam tables, Masters let his eyes drift briefly to where Newcombe sat.  Still slumped in the jumpseat Masters had found him in, the boy's breath was bubbling laboriously though his almost crushed windpipe - loudly enough to be heard even over the thrum of the props - and his face was pale and haggard.  At least he was unconscious.  Masters spared a moment to wonder bitterly if he would be joining Wakefield under a blanket in the main compartment before the flight was over.  God damned animal had a lot to answer for.

            Shaking his head to clear it of the lingering fog of adrenaline-induced rage, he shifted his attention to the task at hand.  He knew Greene had put him in charge of the...acquisitions...while he dealt with the casualties for a reason - so that he could place blame if the thing died.  Masters intended to make sure that didn't happen.  Both because he planned to keep his skin intact and because he was pretty damned sure that whatever the brass and the scientists had in store for the thing would be a hell of a lot worse than the quick escape of death.  That thought alone was bringing him considerable satisfaction.

            His grim chuckle was lost in the thunder of the engines as he turned to the two unconscious scientists and quickly assessed their injuries.  Making a decision, he stepped to Meier's side and gave the small man a rough shake, and to hell with his head wound.  When that produced no more than a muffled groan, he snapped the canteen from his belt and, after unscrewing the cap, dribbled a thin stream of water into the unconscious man's face.  The groan turned into a slurred protest and Meier's eyelids fluttered erratically before finally settling upon being open - barely and fixing blearily on Masters' face.

            "Wahuuut...?" Meier mumbled almost incoherently before his eyes abruptly widened in panic and he tried, unsuccessfully, to lever himself up into a sitting position, the table's restraints thwarting his feeble efforts.  "The demon!  It...ahhhh..."  He collapsed with a groan, eyes clenched against pain that Masters could easily imagine given the ugly bruise purpling almost the entire left side of the man's face.

            "We've got it restrained again," he informed the panicked scientist brusquely when he finally stopped moaning and slit his eyes open again.  "Now I need to know how to keep it - and the other three - out for the rest of the trip.  Without any more surprises - I don't have any more men to spare, Doctor."

            Meier made as if to nod in understanding but stopped with a groan.  At least the man was coherent enough to understand him, hopefully he was also articulate enough to give him the information he needed.

            "The...sedatives...are in...the refrig...eration unit...beneath...the...counter..." he almost whispered, and Masters strained to hear him over the drone of the engines.  " pre-measured...syringes...intra...muscular...injection is...sufficient...."

            Masters nodded in satisfaction and turned away, that was all he needed to know.  He wanted the thing drugged to the gills before anything else happened.  Maybe an extra dose for the other three wouldn't be a bad idea while he was at it either - just in case.

            "Wait!"  Masters turned automatically, both irritated and surprised by the sudden strength in the little man's voice as well as the tone of command.

            "Don't increase its dose," Meier ordered as soon as their eyes met.

            "What the hell do you mean don't increase its dose, you little fuckhead!"  Masters almost exploded at the sheer idiocy of the statement.  "The dose you fucking gave it was supposed to keep it out for at least four hours, and two fucking hours later it was going through my men like something straight from the pits of hell!"

            He made as if to turn on his heel and storm away, but was stopped again as Meier snapped out, "You'll kill it!"  He looked into the little man's fevered, oddly dilated eyes and let his disbelief show.

            "You will," Meier insisted, his voice weakening now, and his eyelids beginning to flutter.  "Drug it...more often...don't...increase...the dose....  If you...O.D. might...die...and you won't...outlive long...."

            Masters stared at the little man in consternation, his last words ringing in his ears with a force completely out of proportion to the strained whisper with which they'd been delivered.

            "Shit," he muttered under his breath as it became clear that Meier had expended what reserves he had and was well and truly down for the count now.  "Shit, shit, FUCK."

            He turned on his heel now, still snarling in irritation, and went to find the drugs in question.  Just what he needed - a tightrope to walk between killing it and it killing more of them.  _Shit. Shit.  Fuck fuck fuck FUCK!  God-damned freakin' mutie filth!_


            There were less than two hours left before they reached their destination - a decommissioned military base in southeast Panama, in the smuggler and guerrilla-infested jungle east of Yaviza, not far from the Darien Gap and the Colombian border.  Twelve hours gone in a fourteen hour flight and Eli Masters was still royally pissed off.  Newcombe's labored breathing had gotten on his nerves for the first six hours after the incident, but the four hours of relative quiet since the kid had finally breathed his last had been even more nerve-wracking.  Sure, kid had been a fuck-up, but still....

            He ground his teeth in barely controlled fury as he checked his watch again.  They'd figured, through careful observation, that the freak needed to be sedated every one and three quarter hours, and he checked the clock obsessively as the time for its next dose drew near.  Just twenty more minutes to go until it was due for the next one.  He'd made sure to put the needle in the exact same spot ever time - with a vicious jab and twist for good measure.  It wasn't much, but it was all the vengeance he could exact for the time being.  The other three seemed fine with the four hour schedule originally planned for, and should be out until well after arrival, as they'd all been dosed less than fifteen minutes ago.

            The freak though...the freak was going to be a bit of a problem now.  No one had anticipated the need for vast quantities of extra sedative and, though some far-sighted soul had actually proved a significant surplus, they had run out with the last syringe-full he'd administered to the big male.  Almost two hours to go until they reached their destination, only twenty minutes before the animal needed its next dose of sedative and not a drop left on the plane...unless you counted the large supply of tranquilizer darts in their arsenal.

            Masters smiled humorlessly as he hefted his tranq pistol, his eyes not moving from the freak's limp form as he chuckled darkly and ran a finger lovingly across the pistol's cool barrel.  It was going to pain him no end, having to shoot the thing every twenty minutes for the rest of the flight.  The only question to consider was whether he should continue hitting the freak in the same spot he'd been using for the injections...or maybe pick a new place to focus the pain.  It might be unconscious now, after all, but they were going to have to wake it up eventually, and he wanted to make sure it woke up with a little something to remember him by...for now.


            The small room was silent save for the steady, subdued beep of the assorted monitors lining the stark metal walls.  The room's lone occupant lay silent and still, the rhythmic rise and fall of its chest the only sign of life.  The deep blue of its fur stood out dramatically against the pristine white of the sheet covering it from the waist down and its now close-cropped hair gave its narrow features a gaunt, almost emaciated look.

            With a shake of his head, Edward Havel jerked his gaze away from the one-way mirror separating his office from the exam room where his latest test subject now lay.  It had been a long two days of almost constant testing, his only assistance provided by low-level techs thanks to the very creature he now had trouble keeping his eyes off of.  How had such a thing managed to survive so long?  And, more amazingly, remain hidden?  The question, like so many others about the thing, gnawed at him. 

            With a soft sigh of exasperation he returned his attention to the mountains of data he now had to correlate and make some sense of before they could bring the subject out of sedation and begin the next round of testing.  Tomorrow, he hoped.  But only if he could 'crunch' this data before then. 

            He ran a hand through his thinning hair in irritation.  This wasn't supposed to fall to him.  It was Arensen's job to make the first pass analysis of the raw data. 

            His eyes ached with the strain caused by staring at the computer screen for the last six hours as he reviewed data from PET scans, CT scans, functional and standard MRIs, hyper and hypo perfusion SPECT scans, Magnetic Resonance Spectroscopy, dye contrast and nerve conduction studies - not to mention the basics of measurements, X-rays, urinalysis, blood, tissue, fecal, even semen samples.  Everything was here.  Two days worth of constant effort assembled before him, and now he waded through it; extracting base-line information on metabolic processes, brain chemistry, physiognomy....  Comparing and contrasting it to similar data available for humans as well as the numerous mutants he had subjected to the same rigorous testing over the years.  All of them would provide invaluable data on the differences between mutants and humans and, when combined with results from the same tests conducted on the subject when conscious and again when attempting to activate its powers, would contribute immeasurably to his research on the detection, prediction, enhancement, control and, perhaps someday, creation of mutation.

            He let his gaze drift back to the strange, inhuman creature in the room beyond, eyes narrowed and lips pulled tight in an exasperated grimace.  If it hadn't brutally assaulted Meier and Arensen he wouldn't be in this situation, after all, and he would have had the staff to begin the testing sequence on at least two of the other subjects as well.  Of course, the thing had actually managed to kill two of the soldiers sent to capture and guard it, but that didn't impact his work and thus was of no concern to him. 

            _Though_, he rubbed absently at his neck as the thought occurred to him, _they probably deserved whatever it did to them, considering how spectacularly they failed to supervise it or to protect the non-combatants in their care._ 

            He took a few slow, deep breaths and pushed his anger at the subject away, refocusing it where it belonged - on the bunglers who had failed to keep it under control.  After all, he couldn't really blame the creature.  Just one look was sufficient to establish that it was nothing if not a predator.  One couldn't very well blame a predator for being vicious and aggressive.  It had simply been mishandled, and that wouldn't happen again.

            He turned back to the bank of computers on his desk, adjusting his glasses and changing screens as he prepared a complex analysis of the creature's resting metabolism.  He had just begun to run computations when the sound of his office door sliding quietly open distracted him from his data.  .

            "I said I was not to be disturbed this evening," he snarled, not bothering to look at the interloper.

            "Yes, so I was told."

            Havel's eyes widened as he spun to face his 'boss', though his features were still set in aggravation at the interruption. 

            "What the hell do you want Whitmore?" he asked, only somewhat less gruffly than before.  "I have work to do here."  God, he didn't need this interruption.  You'd think, after all these years, that the man would understand how much he hated to be disturbed when he was doing work-ups on a new acquisition.

            "I'm going to be busting my ass all night as it is," he continued, "just to get this data analyzed in time to bring it 'round and start the next series of tests in the morning.  I can't believe the retrieval team actually let the thing attack Meier and Arensen.  Do you have any idea how much more time this all takes without competent assistants?  I should have been able to run at least two of the other three simultaneously, but no...."  He looked again through the one-way glass and his voice trailed off wearily before he stood, stretching the kinks out of his hunched shoulders and spine before adjusting the crumpled white lab coat he wore and running a hand absently over two days growth of beard.

            "I wouldn't push yourself too hard if I were you, Havel.  You'll have plenty of time to analyze your data before you put it through any more tests," Whitmore replied flatly, prompting Havel to return his attention to the other man's face.  The lines around his dark eyes seemed even more pronounced than usual and he looked...tired.  Tired and angry.

            "What is it Felix?" he asked, letting his eyes narrow as he regarded his superior.  "What do you mean I'll have 'plenty of time'?  Do you have any idea how much - "

            "I meant what I said," Whitmore interrupted.  "There will be no further testing on the creature until further notice."

            "No further testing?  What the hell do you mean by -"

            "Edward, will you shut the hell up and let me finish what I'm saying?  Then you can go back to poking at your numbers and graphs."  He hadn't raised his voice, had barely changed his tone, but something in it reminded Edward Havel exactly where his bread was buttered.

            "My apologies," he muttered grudgingly, following Whitmore's gaze back into the adjoining room.  Where the creature was no longer alone.  "Wait!  What the hell are they doing?" he growled at the sight of two techs methodically disconnecting heart and brain wave monitors, removing its IV and catheter.  He was halfway to the door without thinking and would have been through it and wreaking havoc in the room beyond were it not for the large hand that descended heavily on his shoulder, freezing him in place.

            "The schedule had to be moved up Edward," his superior informed him gruffly.  "We don't have time to piss around with tests and analyses anymore, especially not with this one." 

            There was, he realized, no arguing with that particular tone of voice.  Felix Whitmore might be a relatively low-ranking officer in the organization as a whole, but in anything to do with mutant acquisition, research or breeding - and especially within the walls of _this_ facility - he was _the_ final authority, at least to those beneath him.

            He pulled his shoulders back, resisting the urge to let them slump in irritation and defeat.  "And would you care to tell me just what has happened to essentially negate the entire purpose of this facility?" he asked, his voice cold and his face stony.  What the fuck could the man mean?  'Piss around with tests...?'  His research was the only reason he was here, the only reason this whole facility - and Whitmore's whole program - even existed.

            "The _purpose_ of this facility, you might recall, is to create tools and weapons _Doctor_," Whitmore responded, his expression equally hard.  "We have not, thus far, succeeded to the Organization's satisfaction in that mission.  Thus, our budget and staff are being _significantly_ reduced until such time as we can prove our usefulness to the Organization and its goals...or until such time as we are judged incapable of doing so and our program is eliminated entirely."

            They had remained standing thus far, but as Whitmore's words sank in, Havel turned and dropped limply into the chair he had so recently vacated.  A quick glance up confirmed that the techs had finished unhooking the mutant from all the monitoring equipment and were now wheeling it from the room.  Havel simply watched numbly, not looking at Whitmore as he sank into the chair next to him - the one Meier usually used.

            "So, what the hell's going on, then?" he asked in an almost conversational tone.  "Don't the idiots running this show realize that I can't provide them with these 'weapons' they want so badly without sufficient research?  Do they think it's a matter of just adding water and 'voila', instant tool?  And besides," he continued, voice still calm, "what about the power-converters we've been warehousing for the last year and a half?  What is Scourge, if not a weapon?  Or Touchstone?  What do they expect?"

            It seemed almost unreal at this point.  He'd been waiting for literally months to get his hands on this one.  Anticipating the chance to examine an almost fully grown example of such catastrophic mutation, not to mention the unique nature of its purported powers.  And now this....  He looked away from the empty exam room and met Whitmore's eyes, waiting for his answer.

            "The 'idiots running the show' as you so...aptly...put it, my friend, do not see the long-term benefits of understanding and controlling mutants.  They simply want results.  Now.  They are tired of waiting."  He looked away as he spoke, staring fixedly into some unseen distance, but Havel could read his frustration without the need to see his expression.  It dripped from every word he spoke. 

            "They have invested considerable funds in our enterprise over the last five years and," he continued, "in return, they want to see tools they can put to use immediately.  Not a handful of walking artillery and flame-throwers which will only be of use two years or more down the line, when it is time to create a public perception of danger and threat.  Not a mentally unstable organic torture device or a third-rate tame telepath.  They want something that can be put into the field NOW, in a way that will significantly advance the organization's long-term plans.  _That_ is what they feel their investment in our little operation here should have purchased and _that_ is exactly what we are going to give them.  We have been given six months," he paused and finally turned to meet Havel's eyes again.  "We will present them with a weapon like no other in three."

            Havel had absolutely no doubt that the older man meant every word.  His program and his reputation within the Organization were riding on it, and he obviously had no intention of sacrificing either.  The only question remaining was, "How, exactly, are you planning on accomplishing this miraculous feat?"  His expertise was in studying and analyzing the creatures, after all, not in breaking, training or using them.  He had absolutely no idea how one would make practical use of the creature's powers - and frankly, didn't really care beyond how it would affect his ability to continue his life's work.  His concern was understanding, manipulating, even augmenting them - for no other reason than to satisfy his insatiable desire to know.  Practicalities were beneath him.

            "It's quite simple Havel," and the man cocked an eyebrow jauntily at him, his previous irritation apparently forgotten in his enthusiasm for his plan.  "There's absolutely no place the creature can't go with no more effort than a thought.  It disappears in shadows.  It even clings to walls."  His voice had become eager and his eyes were almost burning as he spoke.  "Can you even begin to imagine a better skill-set for an assassin or a thief?  It's possibly even a bonus that it looks like some kind of demon straight from hell."

            Whitmore stood up now and began pacing restlessly as he continued to speak.  "It's a shame that we don't have time for all the base-line tests you'd like to run Edward.  It would be useful for comparison once we begin augmentation, but we simply can't afford to waste time at this point.  Our budget's been somewhat precarious for the past six months - you've noticed the staff reductions, you've certainly complained about them enough.  But this, this should solve our problems.  A few days in sensory deprivation and then we'll let Scourge work it over.  And don't worry, once its training starts, you can resume some testing as the schedule allows.  We will need to understand the limits of its abilities after all.

            "And you still have the others, so your research is not to be totally derailed.  The little one - the one that walks through things - should be quite useful as well to the Organization as well, of course.  But you can keep it for now, I don't have time or personnel to spare for her training at the moment.  Once we've proven our value with the demon I should have both the time and money to break and train that one at leisure."

            Havel nodded in silent agreement.  He understood the difficulty of Whitmore's position under the circumstances and the necessity of moving things along with this particular subject.  At least the others weren't affected, but it did rankle that he was losing access to the most remarkable specimen to come into his hands in almost two decades of mutant research.  But it couldn't be helped.  Must make the best of a bad situation, after all.  He'd been in worse. 

            Whitmore was standing to leave as he spoke, but Havel didn't bother to rise to see him out.  His mind was already running over plans and alternatives.  Deciding which of the other subjects to begin the sequence on.  The redhead perhaps.  She was listed as a telekinetic in the profile they'd assembled on her, but Touchstone's brief dip into each subjects mind when they'd first been brought in had yielded the unexpected information that she was likely a relatively powerful telepath.  Of course, that analysis must be taken with a grain of salt, considering it was offered by a telepath of such dramatically limited gifts.  In any case, analysis of her brain patterns should be most interesting.         

            "Oh, and Havel," the other man's voice broke into his thoughts and he looked up in irritation.  Why on earth hadn't he left yet?

            "It would probably be best if you moved on to the redhead next.  Get your base-line studies out of the way so that we can dispose of it.  No point paying to feed or contain it any longer than necessary, after all - budget, you know.  The man's tone was bland and conversational and Havel had to pause for a moment as he processed the import of the words.

            "Dispose of it?" he asked in consternation.  "What on earth do you mean -"

            "Just what I said," Whitmore interrupted, and one bushy eyebrow crept up in faint surprise.  "Surely you're not squeamish about putting one of them down if necessary?  You've certainly burned through enough of them in the last five years.  And really, what point is there in keeping it once you've gotten your baseline?  Touchstone was quite clear that it is an alpha level telepath, and you know the policy on those.  It's of no use - either practical or scientific - if it can never be allowed out of its restraint collar.  It's a shame really.  The telekinesis could have been quite useful."  He trailed off for a moment, obviously contemplating the loss of what could have been a valuable asset to the Organization.  "In any case," he resumed abruptly, his voice brisk again, "you can, of course, vivisect it when you're done."

            Whitmore was right, of course.  He realized that now that he thought about it logically.  They had learned through painful experience that it was simply too risky to try and manipulate high level telepaths.  If you well and truly broke them, they were of no real use, but if you didn't you were never truly safe from them.  The only way to safely hold a telepath was to keep it collared at all times, and under those circumstances the subject would be of no real use to his research.  Not once he had completed the base-line testing anyway.

            But Havel was a scientist, and it went against his nature to waste such a valuable, and scarce, resource.  While vivisection was, of course, the final useful contribution that all subjects would eventually make to the program, the sheer waste of sending a young, healthy female...of prime reproductive the table was intolerable.  And, he realized with a flash of inspiration, totally unnecessary. 

            "Wait," he called at Whitmore's back as he made to exit.  "Wait.  It would be a waste to dispose of the telepath," he announced firmly.  He held up a hand at the skeptical look his superior shot him and continued.  "Just hear me out.  I'm sure you'll agree once you've heard my reasons."

            Whitmore eyed him for a moment, his doubt still evident, but finally nodded.  "Fine, go on."

            "Yes, she is useless for direct research and she has no practical value as a tool or a weapon.  But for breeding, man.  Just imagine if she breeds true."

            He paused and studied Whitmore for a moment, trying to see if the man had caught on to the beauty of his idea.  From the non-plussed look on his face, he determined that he hadn't.  "If she breeds true," Whitmore finally interjected, his voice dripping sarcasm, "we will be stuck disposing of another useless alpha level telepath."

            "Don't you see?" Havel replied, his exasperation at the older man's lack of imagination only thinly veiled.  "Why are alpha level telepaths useless?" he asked rhetorically.  "Because we can neither trust nor completely control them.  But what if we raised one from the cradle?"  His voice was strong now, enthusiastic and confident as he imagined all the possibilities of watching such a power emerge.  Of augmenting and studying it from the beginning.  It would be fascinating.

            "Our problems arose because we were dealing with subjects who knew and remembered another life.  Who believed that they had alternatives and were entitled to more.  Take that away and just imagine the tool at your disposal."

            He watched Whitmore closely for his reaction, straining to determine if the other man agreed with, or even followed, his logic.  Whitmore was not a stupid man, far from it, but he was ruthless, single-minded and driven.  This program was his life, and nothing within his control would be allowed to interfere with its chances for success. 

            Really, though, this shouldn't be too great a stretch.  He'd been promised a breeding program from the beginning.  It was even in the official title of the facility - Mutant Research, Training and Breeding.  Its development had simply been stymied by the fact that they had not previously had in their possession a fertile female of suitable age.  While Touchstone was certainly old enough, she was, unfortunately, infertile.  The next oldest female in the pens was just past thirteen and, while technically fertile, was entirely too young to be safely bred.

            Whitmore stood silent for a long moment, his face unreadable, and Havel found that he was holding his breath.  "Which one would you breed her to?" he finally asked, his voice conveying an odd mix of interest and continued skepticism.

            Havel's mind raced as he realized that his answer to the question was likely to make or break his chance of salvaging the girl and beginning his long-awaited breeding program.  Which pairing was most likely to appeal to the program Director?  Which potential combination of powers would have the best chance of seizing his interest?  Of course, there was no guarantee that mutant offspring would inherit any powers directly from either parent.  To his knowledge, no second gen breeding had ever been studied.  But there was no reason to inform Whitmore of that little detail. 

            He had been through his entire list of available males and was starting through again when it came to him.  Perfection.  A cross that Whitmore wouldn't be able to pass up.  He might not be a scientist after all, but he, like Havel, was more than capable of thinking in the long term.

            "The teleporter," he announced, meeting Whitmore's eyes with perfect confidence.  "Imagine the possibilities of a thief and assassin not only capable of going anywhere with a thought, but capable of plucking it's destination directly from an adversary's mind."

            He saw the slow dawn of comprehension in Whitmore's eyes and smiled in triumph.  She was his.  He would finally have his breeding program - as well as another example of the creature's odd physiognomy to study from conception through manifestation and beyond. 

            "Your suggestion has much...promise," Whitmore announced, his voice low and rich with satisfaction.  He stared at Havel for a moment longer, eyes narrowed with calculation before he spoke again.  "I believe that this could even be worked beneficially into the demon's training."  He chuckled mirthlessly then, and his eyes were shining with malice when he met Havel's gaze.  "Oh yes, this does have promise."

            He turned for the door, still laughing low in his throat.  "You may keep your toy Havel.  Just do make sure that it's collared at all times.  Oh, and you may keep it in the research wing when you are done with its testing.  No sense returning it to the pens when it's not to be trained, and you will doubtless want to monitor it closely.  Oh, and let me know when it's in heat and I'll...make arrangements for it to be serviced - if it works into the demon's training schedule of course."

            "Of course," Havel murmured as the door slid closed behind the other man, already engrossed by plans and calculations.  He was, of course, still disappointed that he wouldn't get to do the detailed study he had anticipated on the....  Demon, had Whitmore called it?  Yes, demon.  How appropriate, really.

            In any case, he was extremely pleased with the consolation prize he had managed to salvage from the situation.  Yes, extremely pleased and, not surprisingly, he really wasn't the least bit tired any more.  If only he could manage to get the little brunette into his breeding stable too - it would, after all, be good to have two of them for purposes of comparison - but that was probably too much to hope for considering Whitmore's assessment of her potential value as a weapon.  He'd just have to plan for a second breeding of the redhead.  Yes.  But to a different male or the same one again?  That would be a difficult call, but he'd have time to worry about it later.

            Closing the files on the demon's testing for the moment, he pulled up the redhead's initial work-up and began planning the course of her testing.  Then a room would need to be prepared, there was a good sized one just down the hall from the creche.  He'd need to brush up on his gynecological and obstetrical skills.  Make arrangements to have the other two subjects brought out of sedation and readied for testing.  Good God, could Meier and Arensen have been incapacitated at a more inconvenient time? 


            The silence was so complete that it was almost deafening.  No sound but his own labored breathing punctuated by intermittent gasps of pain.  Oh dear God he hurt.  He shifted restlessly, trying to find some comfort for his aching body on the hard, cold surface beneath him. 

            He knew there was something wrong.  He hurt, literally, everywhere.  He was lying face down on a surface that felt like nothing so much as concrete, especially where his battered face ground into its rough surface.  He was cold and...naked?  And disoriented in a way so profound that it clawed at his gut and set his shattered nerves afire.  It was all wrong.  He knew it, but his brain couldn't seem to piece it all together - and he wasn't sure he wanted to....

            Finally, though, through the haze of pain and confusion, fragments of nightmare and memory drifted back to him.  Kitty dropping by the road.  The drone of engines.  The terror of awakening naked, drugged and bound.  Anger.  Fear.  Pain. Rage.  Pain.  Blackness.  Pain. 

            Oh God.  He hadn't gotten away.  He hadn't gotten her - gotten them - away.  Oh God.  He was afraid to open his eyes.  Afraid to move.  Afraid to see what his failure had brought him to.

            He didn't know how long it was before he finally forced his eyes open to...darkness.  Darkness so thick and absolute that the only light was the muted glow provided by his own eyes.  Even Logan would have been blind in this, but Hank had long ago ceased to wonder at the fact that Kurt need no light to see and simply added it to the long list of things that he would likely never understand. 

            Kurt almost wished he were as blind as anyone else.  Would the walls, perhaps, not close in on him so if he couldn't actually see that the room he was in was, in reality, a metal box no more than six feet on a side?  Still no sound but the hiss of his breath through his teeth and his grunt of pain as he levered himself laboriously to hands and knees, his hocks pressed up against the wall behind him.  He looked around, panic rising as he did so. 

            No windows.  No door.  No light.  No hope.  No.

            He lurched awkwardly to his feet, tail lashing and leaning heavily on the wall for support as he did so, and felt the ceiling pressing down on him even as the walls closed in.  He could touch it without so much as stretching out his arm.  He reached a hand up to run through his hair nervously - and stopped, frozen, as it settled on inch-long stubble punctuated by four completely bald patches...about the right size and shape for sensor pads.

            His breath came in panicked gasps and his tail ceased lashing, instead wrapping tightly around his leg.  No!  This could not be happening.  He rubbed weakly at his arms, not sure if he was cold because of the temperature or because of his fear - and stopped again as his fingers ran across more shaved his left elbow, the back of his right hand..... 

            Frantically now, he ran his hands across his chest and belly.  More shaved patches.  A low moan escaped him as his trembling fingers found a small, straight incision, neatly stitched, low on his left side. 

            No.  NO.

            He threw himself at a wall, ignoring the flares of pain everywhere as he did so.  Ignoring the dull, metallic thud of his flesh connecting with unyielding metal.


            This couldn't have happened.  He couldn't be here.  He couldn't!


            He didn't notice when he found his voice.  Didn't notice when his protests shifted to inarticulate moans of terror and pain.  Hardly noticed anything at all as the pain and fear rose and crescendoed until they filled every inch of the blackness both within and without.  Until blackness merged with blackness and, thankfully, he knew no more...for a time.


            "Sir?"  The radio on Felix Whitmore's desk crackled into life. 


            "It woke up sir."


            "An' it threw itself at the walls an' howled until it knocked itself out, sir.  Should we go in and check on it?"

            "No.  That won't be necessary.  It seems a sturdy enough creature.  Let me know what happens when it wakes up next."

            "Yes, sir."

            In the silence that followed, Whitmore folded his hands before him on his desk and smiled.