Disclaimer: I don't own any characters except Irbis and several innocent short-lived bystanders; everything else is Marvel's only.

1. The Walking "Get-Me" Sign

The clouds covered the entire sky, but they didn't seem to threaten any rain. They were just there, helping to create a suffocating atmosphere. However, Irbis ignored the humid heat while running vigorously through her boss's backyard.

She had always enjoyed running, feeling the wind hit her face. She could almost forget about everything else. Of course she hadn't run for real for two years now, ever since finishing high-school. There were no gymnastics or physical education classes at the university, and she would not be caught dead seen running or jogging all on her own. Hell, she wouldn't be caught dead seen running with other people: you didn't just go running like that in her town. It would have been plain weird. That was also why she was running under the cover of the trees, away from any prying eyes.

So she missed her high-school physical education classes where she excelled in the running: she was faster than any other girl, faster than even most boys in her class. Had she wanted it, her teacher had once said, she might have had a future as an athlete. Of course, she would never have chosen that path. She liked to run, not to race; and people all around her didn't understand that she did it for her personal pleasure, not competition.

Irbis reached the back of the house and glanced at her watch. Fifty-three minutes. She sighed. It was a pity she couldn't be running on proper ground: there was no way she could truly develop her speed (and did she love running at full speed!) while running on forest ground. She had to be always careful not to trip, not to hurt herself; she couldn't go in a straight line either, always avoiding tree trunks and bushes. Still, she was getting more used to this 'track'. In little more than a week, she had improved over fifteen minutes.

She got back to the house and to a shower. Since she couldn't stay in bed for long, she just took advantage of the cooler temperatures of the early morning to do her running and general exercises. Then she just had to do an overall dusting and vacuum-cleaning of some rooms and get everything ready for the day. She usually had all her chores done well before lunch time, and then she just went out. It was her weekday routine. Saturdays were dedicated to a deeper cleaning, including windows and shutters and moving furniture out of its place; Sundays were chore-free. Just playing on Mister Creed's piano. Another personal pleasure people just failed to understand, always talking about concerts and public performances.

Irbis locked the front door and got into her car. Her white mini-van, which Creed had given her. Boy, did she hate that car! It particularly annoyed her the bad performance when going up a hill, or the fact that she couldn't do the gear-shifting as it was all automatic, or that it didn't have much manoeuvrability. But, hey, it was better than no car at all. She sped down Lily Lane, taking advantage of the fact that the area was practically deserted at that hour. It took her fifteen minutes to get to the University's Library. It was there she spent most of her days, slowly going through History books or books about mutants with the help of an English-Portuguese dictionary.

She had only just discovered the University Library, but already most librarians knew Maria Irbis. She always arrived late in the morning, very quiet and discreet; then she did her research, found the books on the shelves and sat in a solitary corner table, as far away from anyone else as possible. She always ate her home made lunch in the park, close to the building. Then she spent the rest of the afternoon in the same solitary corner. Exactly at 5, she always got up and left. She was always very nice and polite: she smiled to everyone she talked to, she always said good-morning or good-afternoon to anyone she passed by, and often commented on the weather or other casual topic when she had to ask for the librarians' help.

Amidst the librarians she was seen as a nice nerd, although solitary and friendless; her nose always tucked in a book or computer screen; always walking decidedly when aiming at a specific place, always stuttering when talking to someone; her clothes neat and discreet.

That day wasn't any different. At five, as usual, she closed her books and left, saying goodbye to the security guard at the library's entrance with the usual polite smile. The man always responded warmly, as most people simply ignored him. He watched her leave for the car park at her usual fast pace, holding her notebooks with both arms. Ten minutes later, the security guard frowned. For the last few days, he had seen her white van pass by on the road a couple of minutes after she left the building. He quickly reached for his radio.

"Hey, Tony. This is Matt; come in."

"Yeah, Matt. Go ahead."

"You're at the car park?"

"No. But I'm finishing the park round, so I'm just a few feet away. Something wrong?"

"Do me a favour. Look for a white van. The owner should be there: a Caucasoid woman, probably Hispanic; about 5 feet and 3 inches tall; around 18."

"Copy that."

Matt Hoatzin kept his eyes on the road ahead of him, still waiting to see the van speed by. Five minutes later, his colleague called him on the radio.

"Matt, Tony here."

"Go ahead."

"I'm with the van. Can't see your woman nowhere, but I found some notebooks on the ground, a couple of feet from the vehicle. You're thinking she's been kidnapped?"

"Looks that way to me. I'll contact the Wausau Police Department myself."