Future Pluperfect: Chapter 1
Oath, it's cold. Colder than the Canaanite palace. Flonq, colder than the palace food storehouse.
The woman stirred. Opening her eyes, she could see that she was sprawled, rather indelicately, atop a snowbank. It was enough to make her laugh out loud.
So that's what the stuff looks like. She struggled to her feet, her balance slightly off. I know it's natural for this time and place, but I still feel like I'm sitting in dessert.
The mental image of running around in a giant bowl of piyar, avoiding the berry syrup drooling down mounds of frozen spiced cream and dodging a steady rain of chopped nuts, sent her giggling anew and she had to sit down again.
So much for the vaunted Askani self-composure. A frown and then a deep breath and she was all business again. Time-ripping always did make me a little lightheaded.
Looking around, all she could see was white. As beautiful and exotic as it was, however, it did not lend itself to deciding in which direction she should go. She had been told that she would be arriving near one of the X-Men, but a quick glance around indicated that nobody at all was nearby.
If in doubt, meditate, she thought to herself as she sat back down on the snow in meditation pose. Focusing her thoughts inward, she stopped being aware of her corporeal self at all.
The astral plane in this time was much more colorful than the one she was used to, much more vibrant. In her own time, so much death and destruction had cast a dark pall over the plane itself, as if it were shrouded in shadow. Here, now, the shadow was gone and the colors were almost unspeakably bright and beautiful.
Her own aura, by nature the blue of the midnight sky, was a much more brilliant hue. As if it had been a cloudy night and the winds had come to clear the way for the moon, she mused before stopping herself. Concentrate, Mirrin. You don't have the time.
She felt her astral form take flight over the sea of color, shields in place to make sure she was neither disturbed nor detected. But search as she did, she did not find what she was looking for. You didn't expect him to be just sitting around and waiting for you, now did you?
After a time, the duration of which she would not hazard to guess, Mirrin's flight over the astral plane was suddenly rocked by a strong breeze. What the... Turning over her shoulder, she could see a dark shadow approach over the horizon.
It's like the shadow from there-and-then, she mused. But it's just starting out here-and-now. Transfixed, she watched as a finger of darkness moved closer, experimentally, only to be met by a pink flash and sent back to where the rest of the darkness lay lurking on the horizon. Another finger, broader than the first, edged forward a distance from the site of the first battle. It, too, was thrown back. But the light that met it was not pink, but instead a brilliant gold.
There you are!
Slowly, she turned herself so that she could fly in that direction. But she had not gotten very far when she suddenly shivered. All of a sudden, the astral plane disappeared and Mirrin found herself again sprawled on a snowbank.
But now instead of brilliant sunshine reflecting off the white, Mirrin could see only the last pink rays of dusk. And as a strong breeze picked up, she realized that the reason she had shivered on the astral plane was because she was freezing to death on the temporal one.
Great fore-thinking, you flonqing idiot, she thought furiously as she brushed the snow out of her hair. You were so confident that you could find Nathan and have him lead you to him that you didn't even come up with a contingency plan in case you didn't. Overconfidence had always been her weakness.
"Preparation is the key to survival," she spoke aloud, mimicking the voice of her first preceptor and ruing that she had forgotten that simple lesson. "Instinct is neither inherited nor inherent. It must be cultured and cultivated like a sapling so that it may grow strong as a tree. Only then will it provide shelter from the storm."
Mirrin pulled her cloak around her shoulders more tightly, but knew it was not going to do much good. Askani robes were meant for the desert-like conditions of there-and-then, and even then additional garments were needed for the coolness of night. Would it have hurt, Mother Askani, to have warned me to dress for the mission?
She wasn't expecting an answer and was not disappointed when she didn't get one. Wise superiors, much like Oracles, tended to keep silent when their chosen vehicles were besieged by the petty details of grand plans. She muttered and smiled mirthlessly. 'Generals do not care about the mud in foxholes,' I think is the way that would translate here-and-now.
Another shiver ripped through her body and Mirrin hopped up and down to rid herself of it. Not enough to sweat, silly girl, she chided.
I don't have the strength to go back to the astral plane and track down Nathan, she mused. But perhaps I have enough to find the nearest living being. Man or beast, it would mean warmth and food and shelter of some sort.
Closing her eyes, she reached out with her telepathy once more, staying within the temporal realm as she spread her thoughts out even further than before, working like a bat testing for echo. It took only a few moments before she got her first 'ping'. Teleporting in his - she could tell it was human and male - direction as soon as she figured out where he was, Mirrin let out a flood of the Askani battle language's most colorful curses as she stood over her 'savior', a man huddled in a ball, completely inappropriately dressed, shivering in the snow.
Just my flonqing luck. I thought the story of the fool who uses a kilap leaf to shield himself from acid rain was only a fable.
It may not be part of the mission, but she couldn't just leave him there to die. Not when the whole reason she had come back was to prevent death. Reaching into his mind to pick out the man's native language, Mirrin was surprised to see the foundations of some rather substantial mental shields. They were down now, the fellow's energies being needed for survival, but she could see that they would be quite formidable when they were active.
She could also see that he was indeed the follower of Xavier she had been sent to meet. She knew his story, more or less, and knew who he could become in one of several possible futures.
#Hola?# She asked gently in his mind and then reeled backwards as her presence was slammed by the reactivated shields. "Un amie," she gasped, her arm extended in a defensive posture as she looked up at the man who now stood above her, red-and-black eyes blazing. "Je suis un amie!"
"Je ne l'ai aucun," Gambit spat back, anger and grief giving him strength, although his voice was hoarse from exposure to the elements. "So who are you, den?"
"Someone who needs your help," Mirrin breathed out.
"Can't help no one anymore," he half-shrugged, half-sagged. "'Specially out 'ere. Not unless you jus' wanted to make sure you didn't die alone."
Mirrin smiled a wolf-smile. "Wrong, ami."
"Hein?" He sat (collapsed) next to her on the ground.
"Think of the mansion," she told him. "Et nous serons là."
"An' who says I want to be dere?" Gambit asked with a raised eyebrow. Or that they want me there, he asked to himself.
But he didn't get a chance to say anything more aloud. Mirrin had caught enough of a glimpse of his memories when she had mentioned Xavier's estate. She took a firm grasp of his arms and closed her eyes to concentrate. When he opened his mouth to protest, all that came out was a soundless scream as the world suddenly blurred around him.
Gambit opened his eyes slowly. They were in the mansion's living room and his mysterious companion was collapsing onto a nearby couch. Looking around to see if anyone had seen them, he noticed that the lights were off and the place was silent. He also noticed that there was no stink of brimstone and sulfur, the tell-tale marks of Nightcrawler's teleportations. Of course, Kurt would have killed us both had he tried to 'port from Antarctica.
"Nous sommes ici? Do you know where we are?" Mirrin asked in a whisper, hands to her throbbing temples. Teleportation in this here-and-now was a lot harder than in her native time, that much was for certain.
He nodded. "Dere's nobody home, or nobody awake," he whispered back. Gambit had no idea what time it was here in Westchester. Looking around for the grandfather clock that should have been against the wall, Gambit found nothing. Now that he looked around, the place looked different, as if it had been ransacked. "Or nobody alive."
Mirrin furrowed her brow and concentrated. "There are some others present," she said after a pause. "But a reunion can wait until later. After we have found sustenance and warm clothes. Are you wounded?"
Only in the heart and soul, Gambit thought to himself. Outwardly, he shook his head. Mirrin looked skeptical, but nodded.
Gambit was used to sneaking around the mansion, usually when he'd come home late after an evening in town and not want to disturb sleeping teammates. As such, the combination of his thief's skills and his familiarity with the mansion had given rise to the ability to get from the door to his room without making a sound.
But now, now he didn't feel like a kid sneaking past his parents after curfew, the way he used to as he would creep by Jean and Scott's bedroom door. Now he felt like a thief skulking through someone else's home, an unwanted and unexpected visitor looking for precious things to take. Instead of the thrill of getting away with breaking house rules (not that there were any, it was more that if Summers didn't know when you had gotten in, he couldn't use it against you in the Danger Room), all he felt was the acute despair of seeing all that he had lost. Shoe's on the other foot, hmm, Remy?
Gambit turned around to see where the woman was and nearly bumped into her. That was another point of discomfort - who was she? His instincts told him that she meant no harm, but his instincts had been half-frozen (like the rest of him had been) when she had appeared. Sinister himself probably would have looked harmless had he been carrying a warm coat.
Sinister. What if she was one of Sinister's minion, sent to him as a Trojan horse to bring into the mansion and destroy it from within? Gambit fought back the bile rising in his throat has he suddenly wondered if he hadn't just betrayed the X-Men (again) through his own naïveté and selfishness.
#Your self-flagellation is completely unnecessary,# Gambit heard dimly in his head. She was speaking to him telepathically, but she was doing so in a fashion that kept her at a distance from his mental shields. #I apologize for adding to your already considerable worries. I am not here to hurt, but to help. And you may call me Askani.#
He nodded quickly - this was neither time nor place to carry out this discussion - and turned back forward and went up the stairs slowly praying that nobody was walking around on the second floor. Nobody was.
The door to the room that had once been his was locked and Gambit bit back a curse. He had no tools on him - anything he had been carrying had been kinetically charged for warmth back in the Antarctic. Looking over at the table underneath the mirror across from Drake's room, he remembered that there should be at least a screwdriver in the top drawer. Even better, there were three bobby pins and a pen, the table and drawers functioning as a catch-all storing place for anything that was found on the floor nearby. Idly, he noticed that the emerald earring for which Rogue had nearly turned the house inside out while searching was there as well.
Once inside his quarters, Gambit nearly tripped on boxes that had been stacked near the door. The room was obviously being used for storage, a fact that amused him in a perverse way. He turned around at the sound of the door closing gently.
"They are not anticipating your return anytime soon," Mirrin observed dryly.
"Dey left me to die," Gambit replied with an indifference he did not feel. "Should feel lucky dey didn't put someone else in 'ere."
Mirrin shook her head sadly as she picked up the heavy blanket folded at the foot of the bed and wrapped it tightly around herself. #He wraps himself up in his guilt in the same way. Much as Nathan does, I suppose. Self-loathing as both companion and containment, to both fetter and set free.# She wondered if she had the time or the energy to save this soul as well.
The air was warm here, far warmer than the freezing cold they had been in, but her bones still ached from the chill. She saw Gambit standing by a shattered mirror holding something. Walking a few steps towards him, she could see him holding a similarly shattered picture frame and could feel the grief coming off of her companion in strong waves.
"Go get some clothes, hmm?" She closed the distance between them and put her still-cold hand on his arm. He put down the picture, face down, and nodded silently. Mirrin could feel his eyes on her as he went to the drawers across the room, so she resisted the urge to pick up the picture and instead returned to the bed. She found a spot not taken up by boxes and bags and sat down, willing herself to warm up.
Considering how emotionally bruised Remy seemed to be, Mirrin regretted having to keep up her formal persona. Her role within the sisterhood had allowed - indeed had been created to deal with - her own free-spiritedness. As such, she had rarely needed to put on the cold mask of austerity for which the Sisterhood was (in)famous. That she had to use it now, when it so clearly needed to be discarded...
"'Ere." Mirrin was startled out of her reverie by Gambit, who held out a sweatshirt and sweatpants. "'Til yours dry."
She nodded in thanks, then in amusement as he turned around so that she could change. The material felt foreign to Mirrin's skin - softer and more luxurious than the synthetics that all but the richest wore - but she did feel warmer almost immediately.
"D'you want to risk de kitchen?" Gambit asked.
"No risk," she answered, wiggling her fingers around her head to indicate telepathy. "We can go unnoticed."
"Telepaths 'round here," he said with a frown. "Dey won't notice you messing wit' dere heads?"
Mirrin smiled mirthlessly. "No."
"Well, let's go see what's in de fridge, hein?" Gambit matched her cold smile.
The pair went out into the hallway and were almost to the stairs when Bobby Drake opened his door and walked into the hall. Gambit froze and looked at Mirrin, who indicated that they should flatten themselves against the wall. Sure enough, the X-man known as Iceman never acknowledged their presence as he walked by and then proceeded down the stairs as if he were alone. Gambit stared at Mirrin and she shrugged.
#He sees us,# she spoke in his head. #He just doesn't realize it.#
Gambit shrugged - he'd seen enough head games over the years - and continued down the stairs. Thankfully, Drake hadn't turned right to go towards the kitchen, instead heading left in the general direction of rooms that functioned as an entertainment centers.
Judging by the state of the kitchen, it was between lunchtime and dinner. The dishwasher was running and a large stockpot was on the stove. Looking inside, Gambit saw chicken noodle soup cooling - it was obviously Joseph's turn to cook. Opening up the refrigerator confirmed it - there were the remains of the potato casserole Joseph invariably made when cooking for a full house.
Mirrin had found two large mugs on the counter and scooped soup directly from the pot with them as Gambit cut two large slices out of the casserole. They drank the still-warm soup greedily, not bothering to heat it up further.
#Careful,# Mirrin warned. #Your stomach has grown accustomed to being empty.#
Gambit nodded reluctantly - he'd gotten close to starving enough times before and knew the complications. He ate his piece of the casserole carefully, wrapping most of it up in plastic to be eaten later.
The went back up to Gambit's room then, not wanting to risk any further chance meetings.
Gambit turned to his partner in crime as soon as the door was closed. "Now what?"
Mirrin sat down on the bed to think. Her original plan had been just to talk to Nathan directly. No need to be any more like Sanctity than absolutely necessary. But she knew better than most just how intractable the man could be, especially when his personal well-being was in question. So perhaps an indirect approach might be better. Especially since an opportunity had just presented itself so nicely.
"Maintenant, we depart and you shall make your own entrance."
Gambit just stared at her. "You 'xpect me to walk 'round de block and den come back and ring de doorbell and say 'Gambit's home!'?"
"I expect you to go further than that, mais pourquoi pas?"
"Where're you gonna be?"
"And how'm I supposed to explain how I got back from Antarctica?"
Mirrin allowed a beatific smile and repeated one of her favorite sayings. Gambit started at her blankly until she translated. "Creativity is the heir of necessity. Mendacity is the bastard pretender to the throne."
"Dat's Askani philosophy?" He wrenched an eyebrow.
"Of a sort." Tetherblood has a delightful way with words, Mirrin mused and then grew serious. "'There is a middle path between veracity and falsehood and the wise know when that is the most direct route to the goal' is the more official doctrine. Without claiming to be wise, I suggest that be the road we choose."
"You ain't gonna come wit' me and you ain't gonna let me tell 'em the truth. Not telling the truth is exactly how I ended up in the Antarctic in the first place."
"You can tell them if you'd like," Mirrin replied with a shrug. "That you got rescued by a benevolent individual."
Gambit frowned and his eyes flashed red and black. "De reason I didn't tell the whole truth about the Morlocks and the reason I got punished for it was because I wasn't smart 'nough to ask questions before I did someone's bidding. I don't plan on making dat mistake twice, hein?
"I want to know 'xactly what you are hoping to make me do. Now. And if I don't like it, you might as well dump me back in the snowbank. I won't betray the X-Men again. Especially for someone I don't know and who could be working for an enemy."
"Stab your eyes, you flonqing idiot, they betrayed you," Mirrin mumbled angrily and in English. Looking up, she could see the surprise in Gambit's eyes. He had heard her. She met his glance and held it. "In my own here-and-now, acceptance into a clan means automatic acceptance of past sins. Your life begins anew when you swear loyalty and you are never judged on what transpired beforehand."
"Je le comprends," Gambit looked down as he answered. "But I didn't come 'ere wit' a clean slate. I didn't give them all the information before they had to choose."
"What is, is. There is but one past and many futures, so those who refuse to trade the one for the many deserve the destruction that they bring down upon themselves," Mirrin said, then shook her head. "But we are not here to sit in judgment of philosophy."
"You were gonna tell me 'bout what you want me to do in return for you rescuin' me," Gambit prompted.
Mirrin nodded and pulled the medallion out from under her clothes. "As I said before, you may call me Askani. You obviously know what that means. I come from Cable's time. I need to keep an eye on the Askani'Son and I want you to help me."
"You work for Rachel?" Mirrin nodded (it was close enough to the truth) and Gambit looked flatly at her. "You want me to spy."
"Plus ou moins," Mirrin agreed.
"Why don't you do it yourself? Why me?"
Mirrin laughed bitterly. "For someone who can act so similarly to him, you don't know Cable very well, do you? If I tell him that his life is at risk, he'll laugh at me. If I tell him not to do something because it's going to get him killed, he'll try it before I can turn my back. Nathan is a very large, very strong three-year-old. Don't let the plasma rifle fool you. It's his baby blanket."
"So you want me to brave de plasma rifle and tell 'im not to do whatever it is you don't want 'im to do?" Gambit looked skeptical.
"No, I don't want anyone telling him what he should or should not be doing. He has enough people in his life doing that. I just want to make sure he doesn't get any unusually bad ideas on his own. I may need you to run a few errands to make sure that he doesn't." #Just color me brown and call me Blaquesmith,# Mirrin added to herself.
"I knew there was a catch."
"I'm not going to ask you to endanger yourself," Mirrin assured. "At least not yet. I can assure you that you'll be better off here than in Antarctica."
"Which brings us back to th'original question - how do I jus' show up on the doorstep?"
"As I said, you are a thief and thieves always carry around a spare set of truths. You'll figure it out. I would take you to your home town and let you come back on your own, but we don't have the time."
"Where will you be? How will I contact you?"
"Around. And I'll contact you." She sat up with a noise in the hallway. "Someone out there senses something...There's someone sniffing outside the door."
Gambit paused and listened. "Wolverine."
Mirrin cursed in Askani. #Are you ready to leave?#
#I need a mental picture of someplace near here where we won't be noticed appearing.# Mirrin looked out the window. #Can you picture the corner of the grounds?#
Before Gambit could nod, he felt the world shimmer once more.