|Mon, 18 Oct 1999
D Benway <firstname.lastname@example.org>
The Chosen Ones
This story is not intended for children of any age. It contains descriptions of human behaviour which many might find distressing. You have been warned.
The characters belong to Marvel. The story is my own, and copyright to me. Many thanks for the editorial assistance of Tina S and Luba K. Other stories are archived at the website of Luba.
The Chosen Ones
Part 7 of 12
Matters Come To A Head
He walked up the library stairs, dreaming of emeralds. It was almost seven, and they were due to meet in Sam's Latin tutorial in the tiny study room under the roof of the turret. He walked through the reading room, past dozens of suburban kids who were training for their GMATs half a decade before they would take them. All that effort, just to win the union card of the new aristocracy.
As he passed the reference room, he stopped and found an empty cubicle. Sitting in the quiet, he decided that perhaps he had the right to be forgiven. After all, he would be a part of that aristocracy, no matter what he did. Kitty had come to him as he was too paralysed by despair to rise from his bed, and she had forgiven him for running. She had told him that everything would be all right, and that the moment of liberation was at hand, more or less. She had held him while he cried like a baby, and then she had told him of the plan. He hadn't taken much of it in. He wasn't sure if he could manage what she wanted him to do, but he knew that if he played his part well, he could at least forgive himself. He had forgotten entirely to ask about where Ray would fit into the plan.
He looked at his watch, and found that he still had two minutes to make it. He walked calmly up the old cast iron stairs to the top floor of the stacks, then along the old glass floors to the tiny staircase that led to the tower room. They were both waiting for him, early as usual.
"Where's Illyana?" he asked, to break the silence.
"She's coming," said Kitty. "Timeslips, you know?"
Sam looked at him uneasily. It wasn't something they usually discussed in the open.
"Part of the new Compact with Frost," she said. "No more surveillance."
She opened up a palmtop computer on which the controls for the school's security system were displayed.
"We've got open access to the security system now," she said. "All the mikes and cameras in here are off. We're free to discuss the new Compact. I told her that nothing was on unless we all agreed to it."
"We being?" asked Sam.
"We three and Yana," she said. "I turned Frost, and I think we can trust her."
"To do what?" asked Sam.
"To turn this into a haven instead of a prison," she said. "To end the predation. To keep Xavier's dream alive."
"You're turning the Prof's dream over to her?" said Sam. "To the woman you called a shit-eating baby-raper?"
"There's more to her than that," said Kitty, flushing.
He remembered those eyes, those lips, that body. The white leather. He went very cold.
"Kitty, this place is a little bit of hell on earth, and she's the temptress," said Sam with more than a hint of menace in his voice. "What did she tempt you with?"
"Sam, she's not the devil, she's a human being," she said. "Yeah, she's completely fucked in the head, but she's vulnerable. It's just a question of getting her pointed in the right direction. I'm going to watch her every step of the way."
"To where? What-"
Sam stopped in mid-sentence as Illyana ported into the room. She was dressed in a pure white shift that was almost indistinguishable from her skin. She had the medallion around her neck, outside rather than hidden away as it usually was. It glowed with tiny red tongues of flame, radiating out from its edges. It hadn't done that before. The others were staring too. Illyana was swaying, as if drunk. She didn't say anything at all.
"Yana?" asked Kitty in a small voice.
Illyana had a leather bag in her hand. She upended it over the table. Something that had once been round fell out, and landed on the table on one of its flattened sides. One green eye stared up at the ceiling, unseeing. Some of the red hair remained, where it hadn't been torn away. The bloody imprints of the clawed talon that had torn it off the body were deeply impressed upon it.
He wondered who said it. It could have been anyone but the Devil. He could not move. Her head was his world, or the end of it.
"No," whispered Kitty. Sam made strange sounds as he gagged.
"You asked me to take care of the problem," said Illyana in a perfect little girl's voice, straight off a TV commercial. "I took care of it. She can't interfere with Kitty's plan now."
He looked up at Kitty's face for a moment, but what he saw there frightened him so much that he looked back at the head. He didn't dare look at Illyana.
"That's not what I meant," whispered Kitty. "Oh God, tell me this is some sort of joke. Please."
Illyana said nothing, and that was how they were able to hear the footsteps coming up the stairs. Four heads turned to look at the door. Illyana could have cast a spell to hold it closed. She did not move. Kitty or Sam could have walked to the door and locked it. Neither of them moved. The footsteps came to a stop on the landing outside. No-one moved. No-one breathed.
There was a slight click as a hand came to rest on the doorknob. He lunged forwards and swept the head up in his hands. As the door opened, he dropped it into his lap. It fell out, rolling heavily down his legs and hitting the floor almost without a sound. Carpeting.
"Mr. Wilson," choked Sam.
The man who stood there was one of the English teachers, the one who had made an un-natural proposition to Sam. Wilson had a flask in his hand, open.
"Er, just came up here for a quiet moment. Didn't think there'd be anyone here."
He tried to grip the head with his feet, to push it further back under his chair. Illyana muttered something, and he felt witchfire crackling around his feet. The head vanished, as did the damp feeling where her blood had stained his pants. The fire didn't burn his flesh. Instead, it excited him. Illyana flashed him a grin.
"La- la- la-,"
"Christ Guthrie, bloody awful stammer. Where'd that come from? You up to no good?"
"No, sir" he interjected. "It's our Latin tutorial. Tuesday night at 7?"
"What? Ramsey, isn't it? It's Tuesday? Well, that explains everything. Venny, viddy, vitchy and all that?"
"Veni, vidi, vici, sir," said Kitty in a strangled voice. "The 'v' is pronounced like a 'w', the 'e' is a long 'a' and the 'i' is like it is in French, and the 'c' is hard."
"A hard sea, eh? You all look like you're on a North Sea Ferry in a force 10 gale. You all look like death, except for this one. I've forgotten your name."
"Illyana Rasputin, Mr. Wilson."
She was grinning maniacally from ear to ear.
"The rest of you should follow her example. You all look like a bunch of professional mourners. This is America. Everyone's supposed to be happy, damn it."
The others tried grins. He couldn't manage it.
"Aha," said Wilson, brightening. "I see what it is."
It was all he could do to keep from wetting himself. Kitty moaned. Wilson was pointing to something on the table. It was small and gray and lying in a small pool of thick, dark liquid.
"You've been eating in here."
Wilson inclined over the table, extending a finger as if he meant to scoop up the mess and taste it.
"Yes, sir," he said. "I'm sorry. I had some shepherd's pie left over from dinner. I brought it with me, but I got hungry and ate it right away. It had ketchup on it."
Sam was staring at him, horrified. Illyana giggled.
"Well," said Wilson, frozen in mid-gesture. "You're not supposed to eat in here. I really should report it."
"Please don't," said Sam. "Oh, please don't."
"Then don't do it again," admonished Wilson. "It encourages vermin to infest the books."
"Which assumes they aren't there already," he said, with a light chuckle. It frightened him, how the words could come so easily when he needed them.
Wilson laughed. It wasn't any more pleasant than Illyana's.
"Last thing I want to do is help to hammer the last nails into the coffin of a dying language. Not a word about my being here, right?"
"No," said three voices in unison.
"And fucking cheer up," said Wilson as he turned and stepped out the door.
As the sound of footsteps dwindled away, they remained frozen until the only sound remaining was the hum from the lights above. Sam sobbed and started to cry. Kitty slid down the wall, her face hidden by her hands. He started to laugh. They were lucky, so lucky, to still be alive, to not have been caught. Illyana gave him a frightened look, then vanished with her little leather bag in a blaze of blue hellfire. He laughed a bit longer, then realized that he was crying. He wasn't sure that he could tell the difference any more.
It might have been mid-morning or mid-afternoon, he didn't know and didn't care. The bed he lay on was the first that had never seemed small. As he lay curled up at its centre, it seemed to be an ocean, his body a tiny island. He thought of the head again, and curled up tighter still. He hadn't slept since leaving the library, and he wondered if he ever would again. He hadn't prayed since then either. His bible lay on the dresser, unopened.
There came a sharp rapping at the door. He ignored it. It came again. He wondered if Doug had lay like this the night before, when Kitty had gone in to see him. He hoped that it wasn't her. He wasn't sure what he would do the next time he saw her.
Any other, he would have ignored. He wanted to ignore her, but his body was unable to ignore her command. He opened the door, leaning against the frame for support.
"By all the gods, Samuel, have you had bad news from home?"
"No. What do you want?"
Amara's composure was obviously shaken, but only for a moment.
"I must apologize for missing the tutorial yesterday. I had to visit Manuel's parents in New York."
Doug had told him that Manuel's parents were lower middle class civil servants in the Estremadura, who bore the blood of kings but made their living processing licenses for farm vehicles. Doug had indicated that they barely had the money for train fare to Madrid, let alone for a ticket to New York.
"Great. See you next week, then."
"I would like you to look at this. For next week, I have composed something, and I want you to see if it is too difficult."
She held out a sheaf of paper covered with block capitals.
"Let you know tomorrow. Or some time."
He started to close the door, but she blocked it open.
"Read it," she demanded. "Now."
"Amara, I don't want to read it now."
He was aware of the petulant tone in his voice. She glared at him with wholly inappropriate contempt.
"I want to know if its subject is in any way in conflict with what you were discussing yesterday."
He glanced over it. It wasn't very long. Something to do with Ovid. Complicated. He read it again. Then again. On one level it was an erotic poem, on another it was a message. Do nothing. More precisely, do nothing tomorrow.
"Well?" she asked. "Is this satisfactory?"
His mouth was dry. She wasn't one of Frost's. She belonged to Shaw, and possibly to Selene.
"I don't know. I don't want to think about this now."
"Samuel, I must know now. Is it satisfactory?"
It was a trap. It had to be. Who controlled the assassins? Shaw or Frost? And who was it a trap for? All of them?
"I'm going to have to discuss this with Kitty."
"Oh," she said, emptily.
She turned and left, barely concealing great distress. He closed the door, and remained leaning against it for some time before he returned to the bed.
He knew he had forgotten to lock it when Doug entered, a few minutes later. Godless little faggot just couldn't feel the same pain that he did. He sat up on the bed, glaring.
"Bugs are off," said Doug. "We can talk."
"I've nothing to say to you," he said. "Get out."
"We need to know. Are you in, or out?"
"You mean, which band of killers do I choose to eat with? I almost want to call Shaw and spill the whole thing."
"Then he'll kill us all."
"Maybe quicker than that witch killed Rachel."
"She probably didn't see it coming."
"You think what you want. Her blood is on all our hands."
"It was on my hands. I spent an hour washing them."
Doug held up his hands. They were scabbed with blood at a few places where he had scrubbed the skin off. The ice in his heart melted.
"How can you believe her?" he said, almost begging. "Kitty's lost to them."
"No, she's not lost," said Doug, in a tone that would have sounded like the voice of reason the day before. "She told me more. We verified what Frost said. She's cast in her lot with us. I think that she might be in love with Kitty."
The blankness in Doug's gaze frightened him.
"I don't understand how you can think of going ahead with it," he said. "Kitty's more responsible for this than anyone."
"She must have asked Illyana to kill her."
"Illyana misinterpreted, or got carried away."
"She's part of your plan."
"She will move against Selene."
"And kill her."
"Kitty says she won't. Kitty also told me that Ray might have been one of Shaw's. An agent provocateur."
Doug might have been talking about the weather. He felt the warmth vanish and the ice return.
"That's bullshit," he said, hearing his father's words in his own mouth.
"Who gives a fuck? If we take out Shaw, we're free."
"If we murder Selene, where does it end? Who gets killed after that? Shaw? Leland? Frost? Me? You?"
"No-one is going to get killed."
"Someone's already been killed. Doesn't that mean anything to you?"
"Yes. No. I don't know. Nothing means anything to me. Not any more. Just getting out of here. That's all that matters."
A tear trickled from Doug's left eye. It moved him not at all.
"Will you tell Shaw?"
"Ask Kitty if this is part of Xavier's dream."
"Sam, will you betray us?"
Doug stood for a moment, looking utterly drained, then turned and left without saying a word. He picked up his Bible, and began reading breathlessly.
He wandered down the corridor, numb. He couldn't afford the luxury of indulging his feelings. Not now. They were too large to think about. The only thing that kept him going was knowing that Ray had lived through worse, at least until-
He fought back the urge to go and wash his hands again. If he hadn't been thinking of that, he might have noticed that someone was waiting for him in his room. As soon as he closed the door, the scent of cologne brought him back to reality.
"Your hands," said Haroun in a horrified whisper. "What happened to your hands?"
"Nothing." He folded his hands together, out of sight. "What are you doing in here?"
"What's going on?"
"I don't know what you're talking about."
"With Frost," Haroun whispered, conspiratorially, moving as if for an embrace. He backed away.
"You tell me."
"Why don't you tell me?" Haroun whispered, now with urgency.
"Isn't that the question I should be asking you?" he said out loud.
"Me?" Haroun blanched, looking frantically about the room. "It's got nothing to do with me."
"I'd expect you to deny it."
"I would never act against her! Never! I am loyal! Are you loyal?"
"Sure. We're all in this together."
The look on Haroun's face was priceless. He almost burst out laughing.
"Then tell me about it, tell us all before it's too late. Please. I'm begging you."
Haroun was shouting now, and he started to wonder just how thorough he had been in sweeping his room. What if Haroun did have an audience?
"You're the one who should be pleading, Harry. You've got so much more to answer for."
Most notably, anyone trying trying to trace his or Kitty's hacking would be led directly to the logs on the terminal in Haroun's room. He smiled at the thought.
"Please. I love you. Don't do anything stupid. Please."
Haroun was on his knees, now.
"I don't love you," he snarled. "I didn't ever love you. If I could, I would chew it off and spit it back in your face."
Haroun began to weep.
"You said that you would flee this place with me," said Haroun in a tiny, frightened voice.
He knelt down in front of Haroun and moved in until he almost choked on the combined scents of cologne and sweat. Haroun's eyes lit up.
"What I want," he said, unable to keep himself from smiling. " What I want is for you to go away, and never come near me again. If you come within 6 feet of me or talk to me ever again, I'll sell your family to the religious police. Understand?"
"No," whimpered Haroun.
"Yes. I will do it. No hesitation. Our business is over."
As Haroun left, it occurred to him that Haroun had green eyes, too.
She lay awake on satin sheets, calculating. A shower would have been good at this point, after being close to Emma for most of the evening. Frost would have noticed that, and probably joined her, defeating the purpose of it. Ro would have sooner died than do what she was doing now. Scott would never have been able to do it convincingly, but might have tried. Piotr, Piotr would have fallen for Emma and been lost. She knew it. She didn't cry. Kurt might have managed it. Charles would have done it without hesitation. She knew that for a fact. At first, she had been expecting them all to come crashing through a door or a wall unexpected, to rescue them all. Now, she was almost glad that they were dead. That way, they would never see her like this.
When it was over, she would make sure that everything would be fixed. The others could go or stay as they pleased, but she hoped that at least Sam would stay. He would be good for bringing the Hellions round to their point of view. When it was all over, she would take Illyana to the best psychiatrists that she could find. She would see to it that the fucking medallion was destroyed. There was a mage in Greenwich Village that she knew of from the Prof's files. She would take Illyana there, and everything would be all right. It just _would_ be.
Somewhere far from anywhere, the little blonde girl lay curled in a basin of melted rock. She hugged herself with clawed hands, and howled to herself. Any that remained living stayed well away, hiding anywhere that was left to hide. There wasn't very much left, not after she had returned, knowing that she had lost the only thing in the world worth saving.
When she had finished, she had gone back to Kitty's room without cleaning herself. Kitty hadn't been able to conceal her horror at the sight, and had come to her and hugged her, and they had both ended up with their clothes covered in the gore from a thousand dead demons. How could she have doubted? There was still someone worth saving. She had thought that for all of the next five minutes until Kitty had explained the new plan. She was to take care of Selene. Did this mean kill?, she asked. Kitty had told her that if Selene counterattacked they might all die. She asked if this was true of Rachel, and the look in Kitty's eyes had almost killed her. One more and we're free, Kitty had said. I'll bear the burden of this for the rest of my life, Kitty said. I'll see that you get help, Kitty had said. She had cleaned herself and smiled and ported home and rent her garments and her flesh, then collapsed in a crater of hellfire-melted rock. She eventually fell asleep, warmed by the radiant glow of the four red stones in her amulet.
Part 8 of 12
Sometime that afternoon, possibly when Shaw's black Armstrong- Siddely had pulled up in front of Frost's house, he had gone beyond terror. There were acts that he had to perform on cue later in the evening. At any moment while performing them, he could be suddenly and brutally killed. His parents and ten randomly chosen people would then follow him into the grave. Instead of thinking of this as he had all of the previous sleepless night, he had taken to believing that he was in a television program. He would play his role, everyone would cry and laugh at the right times, and then it would end and everyone would live happily ever after.
He was in the grand ballroom of Frost's house, wearing his school pants with his tuxedo. The pants that had come with the tuxedo were in the laundry, after he had had an accident. He had been thinking of Now so hard that he had forgotten something very important. Characters on television never had to go to the bathroom. Kitty was at his side. She looked very attractive in a Little Black Dress [TM] that showed off the architecture of her collarbones, in order to distract from the absence of any curves beneath. She was not going to let him out of her sight, not after all the rehearsals. Frost was scheduled to appear at midnight, and they had 90 minutes before that to get Shaw to the Conservatory. It didn't require much from him. They told him what Shaw liked. He was bait.
He scanned the room. The other NMs and the Hellions were the only kids there. Everyone else was older, polished, able to own things in their own names. All of the men wore tuxedos, even Shaw and Leland. He couldn't see Pierce. Selene was not expected. Most of the women were in black, especially the ones with non-standard shapes. Most of the women weren't all that much older than he was, especially the one coming towards him now. The woman had blonde hair and Rachel's green eyes. He was afraid that if he looked, everyone in the room would all have green eyes. The woman had the largest breasts and smallest waist that he had ever seen on a human being. He couldn't understand how the dress that she was wearing stayed attached to her. Her companion was also blond, and was very large. The man's hands were bigger than his own head. One was extended, unsteadily. He clasped it and received a firm, but gentle shake.
"Club's taking in younger and younger members, I see,"
The man had a very upper class British accent, and was staring at Kitty intently. In a trick of the light, the woman's hair appeared to have taken on a reddish tinge.
"We're scholarship students at the school," said Kitty. "We were asked to attend by Ms. Frost."
The large blond man laughed, professionally. His breath stank of gin. His companion was steadying him. She appeared to be very strong. Mutants? If so, they had to be Inner Circle members.
"Braddock. Brian Braddock. From the London chapter."
"Shaken, not stirred," he said. Kitty elbowed him sharply.
Braddock laughed again, in a well practiced manner.
"My name's Meggan," said the woman, in a light, breathy voice that seemed to belong to a small child.
"Douglas Ramsey," said a voice from somewhere within him. "And this is my friend, Katherine Pryde."
"We've heard of you," said Meggan.
"My card," said Braddock, handing him a small rectangle of paper with very expensive printing on it. As he held it, red letters formed themselves from the white background into a blunt message. Do not move against Shaw. As soon as he had read it, the letters vanished. Kitty didn't seem to have seen it. He put the card in his pocket.
"Are you here for a long visit?" Kitty asked.
"That all depends," said Braddock.
"On what, if I may ask?", enquired Kitty, politely.
"On you," said the most beautiful woman in the world. She had materialized at his right. She had thick purple hair but he couldn't see her eyes behind the dark glasses. He knew that they weren't green. But why was she wearing sunglasses at night? No white cane.
"The woman you're staring at so intently, Douglas, is my sister Elizabeth," said Braddock. "Elizabeth, meet young Douglas and Katherine."
"Charmed," said Elizabeth, extending her hand. It was an elegant, almost perfect gesture, but was somehow awry. It was as if she was seeing through her brother's eyes. Psi. Threat. An image of Rachel's silent scream threw itself into his head. She winced.
"Kitty-," he started. Elizabeth threw her head back as if she was about to laugh uproariously, then collapsed to the floor. Her glasses fell off, revealing dark empty holes where her eyes had been. She twitched once and went stiff. A dark stain appeared on the front of her skirt. He opened his mouth, but no sound came out.
"Elizabeth!" exclaimed Braddock. He knelt beside his sister, who had relaxed, but was panting heavily. A small crowd was forming around them. He squeezed Kitty's arm as hard as he could. Where were the words? A towel hit him in the forehead, as if from the inside of his head. Instead, from somewhere, a remarkably beautiful woman was trying to get to her feet in front of him.
"What?" hissed Kitty.
"I, I don't know," he said. "Who is she?"
"No need to crowd," said Braddock, imperiously. "It's just a minor fit. Happens when she forgets to take her medication."
She was staring at him with empty sockets. She had a name. Why couldn't he remember it?
"Hopeless," she slurred. "Too late. Already started. Nothing we can do."
The blonde looked at him, terrified. "Brian, there has to be something we can do."
"There is nothing we can do," snapped the blind woman. "It's done and set in motion and there's not a bloody thing we can do."
The large man made faltering apologies, and the three withdrew.
"What the was that about?" Kitty asked.
"Don't know. Who were they?"
"What the fuck do you mean, who were they? They were-"
A frown crossed her face.
"I can't remember," she said. "Nerves."
There was something in his pocket that would help him recall their names. He took out a card. It was blank. Kitty squeezed his hand, hard.
"Hello, children." It was the Businessman, grinning confidently. Beside him stood Tessa in a red silk dress and a red scarf tied to cover her mouth and nose like a mask. The scarf was the colour of blood. She was standing close enough that he could see that some of the colour came from something other than dyes.
"Mr. Shaw," said Kitty.
"I understand that you have something for me," said the Businessman.
Tessa was looking away with bored eyes.
"We have ourselves to give you," said Kitty. "I see now that only the strong survive. Doug and I want to survive. We wish to join the Hellions, and the club."
"You do, do you?" enquired the Businessman, deliberately. "And what do you want, young man?"
"To serve. To be anything you want me to be."
He hoped that he wasn't overdoing it. The Businessman grunted, then smiled again.
"These are mere words. You must demonstrate fealty in actions, not words. In ones so young as you, I would take from you the veil that divides your childhood from your adult life. I understand that you have usurped some of my privileges in this regard, Douglas."
The menace in the Businessman's voice was barley perceptible, but it was there.
"You understand-" started Kitty with just a trace of a tremor in her voice. She had gone almost completely rigid.
"Understand what?" said the Businessman.
"That there are other things besides veils," he said quietly. "Roses in the desert that have never been cut."
The Businessman grinned.
"I like the way you think boy. You're ready for it."
Kitty's turn. She said nothing.
"We have a game," he said. "We thought it up ourselves."
He squeezed her elbow, in the hope that she might relax. She would be shaking visibly soon, if she did not relax. He felt very calm, now.
"A game," said the Businessman, still smiling.
"Yes, Mr. Shaw," he said. "In the conservatory. We call it Garden of Eden. Dampers on, so no powers. Total nakedness."
Shaw frowned. "And what roles do you play?"
"Adam and Eve," said Kitty, shakily.
"So I'm the serpent?" said the Businessman. The menace was back, just under the surface.
Kitty caught it. Her whole body was rigid again, as it had been the night before.
"Oh no, Mr. Shaw," he improvised. "You're God."
A look of surprise crossed the businessman's face, but then he began to laugh.
"Oh I do like the way you think, boy." The Businessman beckoned to Tessa. "Come Lilith, let us repair to the garden."
He stood with his back against the pillar, watching it all unfold. Doug and Kitty were together, across the room from him, talking to a huge blond man and a woman who looked like a high-priced whore. Twenty feet behind them, Shaw and Tessa were talking to Leland, also watching Doug and Kitty. He could tell Shaw now. He could do nothing. He could go and call the FBI, and hope that they sent someone to Kentucky who could be trusted. Then again, the presence of a deputy director of the FBI across the room talking to Roberto and Emmanuel DaCosta suggested that might not be a good idea.
Dani stood beside him, with Rahne at her side.
"Dani. Having fun?"
He wished it hadn't come out sounding so sarcastic. Dani winced. At least her eye had healed.
"What's happening, Sam?" asked Rahne.
"I don't know what you mean."
"Don't lie Sam," whispered Rahne. "If you need us-"
"Nothing is happening," he hissed.
"Glad to hear it, boy!"
A huge hand clapped him on the shoulder. Rahne turned white as a sheet. Dani's eyes grew huge and she made a small choking sound. Harry Leland was standing there, smiling broadly.
"Mr. Leland," began Dani.
"You girls are looking lovely this evening," said Leland. "I am especially partial to those high-necked blouses, Miss Sinclair. They do hint at the forbidden pleasures within."
Rahne looked as if she might be ill. Dani flushed, barely suppressing a look of intense hatred.
"Why don't you lovely young ladies run along while I have a chat with young Samuel here?"
Rahne nodded, and took Dani by the elbow.
"Good night, sir," she croaked. Dani said nothing, and they vanished into the crowd.
"Now, Samuel, I suggest that we put aside pretense for now," said Leland, still smiling. "I am afraid your little plot has gotten quite out of hand. You were asked not to act, and yet you have. This will not do at all."
"Mr. Leland, I don't know anything at all about any plot."
"I don't suppose it really matters whether you do or not. No. It really doesn't matter. What does matter? What do you think is important, Samuel?"
His mouth was dry. Leland had not intended the question to be rhetorical.
He said the first thing that came to mind.
"Doing the right thing, sir."
"And who decides what is right?"
"I- I- don't know, sir. Depends."
"You're starting to think like a lawyer already, boy. Tell me, you are a religious man, are you not?"
"I believe, sir."
"Protestant, no doubt. Presbyterian, if I recall."
"I'm Catholic myself. Fascinating business with your American churches. So many of them, all broken up into little fragments like a shattered stained glass window. All of you thinking you have a personal contract with Jesus, crashing to your knees before black iron crosses on white painted walls in plain little rooms that reflect the poverty of your spirits."
"It doesn't seem that way to us, sir."
He felt himself flush. He wanted to say something about squandering wealth on cathedrals, but then he didn't know any Catholic churches in the hills that were any better fitted out than his own. Leland was clearly trying to bait him.
"Do you have a personal contract with God, boy?"
"It doesn't work that way."
"Do you believe that you will be saved? That we'll all be burned when the rapture comes? Where would that leave your little friends Douglas and Katherine, eh?"
He wasn't sure. He spotted them on the opposite side of the room talking to Shaw and Tessa.
"I am not a Pentecostal believer, sir."
"Do you believe that God has power over earthly affairs? Do you believe that all of this happens according to God's will?"
"I think it's a very complicated question, sir."
"I expected a yes with that one. There's more to you than I thought, boy."
He hated it when they assumed from his accent that he was stupid.
"I give it a great deal of thought, sir. It's important to me."
Leland was still smiling, but the look in the fat man's eyes was grim.
"God cares nothing for us, Samuel. I learned that as a boy. My father died, as yours did, before his work was done. My Mother sent me to be educated at a boarding school run by an order of lay teachers. They called themselves Brothers. Boys from all over the Rock were there, and at night they taught us what right and wrong truly were. I learned every important lesson in life there, boy. I learned the way of the world."
Leland stepped closer until their faces were only inches apart.
"Power is all that is important. If you have enough of it, you are right, no matter what the issue is. You have no notion of what power really means, and neither do your friends. We wanted to teach you, to give you a chance, but you've squandered it. You think you know where it lies, and how to seize it, but you know nothing. Even kings are not as omnipotent as they may seem."
Leland's eyes blazed. They burned into him, and he had the crazy thought, for a fraction of second, that there was something to what the Pentecostalists said about the devil walking the earth.
"We will have much more to say about this later. I am looking forward to having many young talks with you and young Douglas about this in the future. I believe that we will be seeing much more of each other."
He couldn't see Shaw, Kitty or Doug anymore.
"They're not here anymore, Samuel. Within the hour, it will all be over."
"What will be over?"
"You will see. In the meantime, I would like you to spend the next twenty minutes standing in this very spot. Talk to anyone about anything, as long as it is of no importance. If you so much as give anything that even looks like signal, you will spend the next 48 hours strapped to a chair watching while we determine if your dear sister Paige is a natural blonde. Do we understand each other?"
"I will be gracious and assume that your nod was not a signal. In the meantime-"
Leland took a passing man by the arm and brought him round to face them.
"This is a junior partner in my firm, Leonard Cole. Mr. Cole is a great fan of the NBA, and I am sure he will have much to discuss with you. Did you know, Leonard, that young Samuel here is a great fan of the Chicago team? If you'll excuse me."
Leland disappeared, leaving him with the generic crewcut in a suit.
"So you're a protege of Mr. Leland?" asked the man, grinning inanely.
"Yes," he managed to croak, unable to think of anything but how Paige had run alongside the car as he left, the last time he had been home.
"So how about those Bulls?"
She was frightened. Very frightened. The plan was unfolding exactly as it ought to have, and she knew that the chance of its success was almost certain once they stepped into the conservatory. Again and again, she tried to figure out what it was that had caused her to seize up, almost guaranteeing their deaths. Seizing up wasn't what she was used to doing, and if she did it again, Doug would probably die. As if to re-assure her, he squeezed her elbow as the conservatory doors came into view. She almost winced. There would be a large bruise on her elbow, tomorrow.
"Tessa," said Shaw. "Lock the doors! Close the blinds! See to the dampers. Makes it all the more exciting. No possibility of escape!"
Shaw gave her a demented leer. He seemed completely consumed by the desire to consume. Not pleasant to think of, if you were the food.
Beside the door, Tessa was making adjustments to a small control panel. She heard the hum as the sound dampers and image enhancers came on. Anyone standing outside would see dimly lit plants and hear the sounds of the night, whatever went on inside. They were entirely alone. From outside, Emma would be able to read both Tessa and Shaw, but Tessa would be headblind. She hoped that Emma would finish it quickly.
Shaw took of his jacket and carefully placed it on the handle of a garden spade planted in the soil. His white shirt was completely soaked with sweat. It wasn't that warm. He turned to her and licked his lips. The urge to run was almost irresistible, but she never ran. She simply could not remember what was supposed to happen next. If Emma was on schedule, she should be deep inside Shaw's mind. There were words to be said, a game that she was supposed to pretend to play.
Shaw stepped forward and stopped, no more than a foot away. He raised both his arms, and caressed both her own cheek and Doug's with his enormous hands. It was a surprisingly gentle touch. She suppressed a shudder. Doug didn't. Shaw smiled.
"So smooth, so smooth," he whispered.
She was supposed to say something. Start the game.
"Some skin is even smoother," said Doug, in a silky, soft voice. "It never sees the light." Emma's lessons had not been lost on him.
The smile on Shaw's face robbed her of any other words she might have had. Fortunately, Shaw wasn't that interested in starting in on her right away.
"I was at lunch with a president yesterday," he said. "Which one was it Tessa?"
He didn't take his eyes off of Doug. She glanced behind and saw Tessa looking very bored, and taking a cigarette out of a very badly bruised mouth.
"Goneril," she said.
Neck like an oak staff. An oak staff could not be broken by a single hand, no matter how strong.
Two hands. The other hand freed. A neck like steel cannot be broken by two hands.
The hand shifts its grip, then lets go. They come together around a head that falls to the ground screaming, blood pouring from its nose, revealing the woman behind, dropping her cigarette, fumbling in her purse, getting something large and black and heavy from her purse-
Flight. Off the ground, through the air, all the energy expended in collision. Her one hand on the gun, enclosed by two. Not a strong hand, but desperate. Not letting go. Squeeze.
An explosion. A terrible scream. Three hands still hold the gun, in terror. Desperation that overcomes the agony of the destroyed knee. Drag it back. Squeeze. Another explosion and a groan. Two hands only on the gun. Hers.
Crouching, she spun back to where they had been standing. Doug lay on the ground twitching, his eyes wide open and staring at the ceiling. Across his chest lay Shaw, bleeding heavily from the mouth and nose, but still. She turned back to Tessa. The second bullet had gone through Tessa's back and out through her stomach. She was crawling towards the door, dragging herself forward with one hand, holding her intestines in with the other. She was making remarkable progress, pushing with her good leg and dragging the destroyed one behind her. Tessa, the only person who might be able to rally the troops around to Shaw, who might not be dead. Doug, who was definitely dying. She shot Tessa's brains all across the ferns, then turned to Shaw. He was still breathing in spite of losing at least a quart of blood. She kicked him off of Doug, then emptied the rest of the clip into his skull.
She knelt at Doug's side as his eyes rolled back into his head. He wasn't breathing. Fifteen seconds ago, he had been standing beside her. Now he needed a heart to keep the blood flowing and air to keep his brain alive. It had to be a high break, possibly fixible by Shi'ar medical xenotech that she should be able to get him to, if she could keep him alive. She set to work.
She arrived only slightly later than she had expected to. It had been a lot of fun, but it had taken longer than planned to deal with Selene. If all had gone according to the plan, she should be on time to take Shaw and any of his companions off to limbo for safekeeping. The thought of having Shaw to play with made her very happy. She had thought up some very interesting tortures for him.
One look told her that something had gone very wrong. Shaw and Tessa were stone dead, non-recoverable. Kitty was crouched over Doug, blowing into his mouth, then getting up to push on his chest. Doug's neck was immobilized in a strange device made of stakes and garden wire.
Kitty hadn't seen her. Suddenly, it wasn't fun anymore. She had hoped to dispense with it all without speaking. She found words difficult now, but she forced herself to find them.
"Kitty," she croaked. "He's gone."
Kitty looked up, grim, emotionless.
"Do something. Bring him back."
"I cannot. He's nowhere that I could reach him. I could only animate the body."
There was a terrible pain in Kitty's eyes.
"I could go back," she said. "Try to return in the past. Before Shaw attacked, or just after."
Anything to make that pain go away.
"Could you?" said Kitty, a ghost of a hope in her voice. "Could you be _sure_ that you could stop him?"
"No," she said. "I could not be sure. I might arrive early enough to give you away. I could arrive before I took Selene, and she might have been ready for me. It could become very complicated. Very dangerous."
"But Doug would live"
"He might. We all might for a while."
"He's gone," Kitty whispered.
"As is Selene. I could bring back his body, if-"
"NO. No. Get rid of those two. Take them, drop them from high up, to somewhere where they won't be found for a month or two. Drop them from high enough that no one will know that they were shot."
"And you do not want me to go back."
"I do. Oh God, I do, but we can't afford the risk."
She leaned forward and hugged Kitty as hard as she could. Kitty stiffened in surprise, then softened. She hugged her only human friend, knowing that now they were both damned.
She had 30 minutes until she was expected below. She would have to lead the orgy herself, but it would be downstairs, not here. No-one would be coming to her study tonight, except her conspirators. Queens had cool temperaments, and didn't smash everything in sight when they found that they had been made fools of. Why had she never considered it? Why had she not seen the contempt under those muttered asides and clever comments? Why had she imagined that, among all of his women, she was different?
Her reverie among broken glass was interrupted by the architect of her sorrows.
"Emma," said Kitty, icy-calm. "Who attacked you?"
"I did. Made a fool of myself. Leland's on his way to New York, to take control of Shaw's enterprises, and Pierce is on ice downstairs with his power packs removed. Selene?"
"Taken care of," croaked Illyana. "No threat."
The girl looked like death. She made eye contact and had to grind her palm into a shard of broken glass to stop herself from screaming. That girl would have to die. She knew it. She briefly read Kitty. Cold. Ice-cold. She ground her palm into the glass again.
"Emma, what the fuck happened? How did he know?"
"I have no idea, Katherine. I read nothing from him. Perhaps, Selene?"
Selene had battled against him at the meeting that afternoon to which she had not been invited. Selene had argued for the children against Sebastian's call for blood. She might have been an ally, but now she had met God only knows what fate at the hands of the devil-girl.
"Not Selene," growled Illyana. "Selene is mine."
The girl drew out a pouch that she had seen through three pairs of eyes the night before. Kitty did not turn back to look at her friend. Instead, she was keeping herself cold. The ice slipped for a moment, and she could read the pain within. Horrible. Even worse was the red, pulsing thing that Illyana held in her hand. Illyana was grinning, as if she were a delighted small child, seeing a wonder for the first time.
"See?" croaked Illyana delightedly. "No Selene anymore. Thirty minutes and it's still beating."
She almost threw up. To stop herself, she dragged her hand across the table. Red lines appeared across her palm, widening as she watched.
"Put that away," said Kitty quietly, not turning back to look. "Emma, is the installation secured?"
"Yes. The bodies are gone?"
Illyana giggled. She looked away from the terrible face, staring longingly at the piece of bloody glass on the floor. Blue fire shot up her arm and she screamed. Pain, like nothing she had ever felt before. She flexed her hand. No pain. No cut. Illyana giggled again.
"They are gone. Illyana fixed the conservatory for now, but you'll need new plants. All the ones that she touched will be dead within a week."
"Plants can be replaced. I am very sorry about Douglas. Oh, God, I just wasn't quick enough, not looking-"
"It's done Emma. We need to bury him. Get him out of the way fast. No autopsy, no attention. Can you do it?"
"What about the others?"
"What about them?"
"They will need a funeral."
"No funeral. This is war, Emma. Until we're secure, he'll be most valuable as a martyr."
Illyana reached out and touched Kitty's arm. Kitty shrugged it off. The faint look of concern on Illyana's face was eclipsed by a glare of infinite malice.
"Katherine. I didn't know you had it in you."
A lie. She had known. She knew that she might be safest if she killed them both, now. She knew that she never would.
"They won't like it. They don't like me, but with Doug dead they just might be confused about it all enough to keep from running."
"Perhaps. I must go. There are matters to attend to."
"Go. I'll be waiting when you get back."
There was a purr in the last phrase that was as false as the welcome in Doug's last words. The fear thrilled her. Illyana made as if to summon a disc.
"Wait," said Kitty. "Emma, can you read my mind?"
"No. I cannot read your mind."
She amazed herself with the calm tone of her reply. She was half out of her mind with terror. She could read what Kitty wanted to do to her if she were to find out, but she was used to reading thoughts like that.
"Good," said Kitty, vanishing into the black disc.
She hoped that Illyana wasn't there when Kitty found out that she could. Perhaps she would tell Kitty herself, then, just to see what would happen.
Part 9 of 12
The Burial of The Dead
She accompanied the person that she once considered the only person in the world worth saving into the meeting room. It was a generic, lifeless sort of place, outfitted by those who thought that the possession of power could be signified by the appropriate choice of wallpaper. There was a lot of dead flesh in the room, but it had been excessively processed and she was disappointed that they had not left the faces on when they tanned it. She always did.
She could have stayed behind, in Limbo, and perhaps she should have. She didn't like being here any more. It was a dull, washed out place, where she could demonstrate very little of the power that she possessed. The only reason that she came was because she knew that this was going to be fun.
They were all there of course, from both groups. Amara, Roberto, and Manuel, sitting in a group at the other end. Jenny, Haroun, and Marie-Ange on one side of the table, Sam, Dani, and Rahne on the other. Sam looked unwell, and Haroun kept turning around to stare at the door. She kept her face frozen in a neutral state, but the urge to giggle was almost too hard to resist.
As Kitty closed the door behind her, the unasked question flitted across all of their faces.
"I have news, " Kitty said quietly. "We will soon be free."
Eyes widened. Manuel looked panicked.
"What have you done, Katherine?" asked Amara.
"The leadership of the Hellfire Club has been removed. Emma Frost now runs this school independently of the club. She has agreed to work with us in converting this school into a haven like Westchester. You will be free to come and go as you please."
"Removed?" asked Jenny.
"Sam, what did you do?" asked Roberto. Sam shrugged, and loosened his tie.
"Where is Douglas?" asked Haroun.
Kitty drew in a deep breath. Silence.
"Doug died in the fight for your freedom."
Silence. For a fraction of second, no one moved. Then, Haroun sagged forward and slipped off his chair onto the floor. Jenny screamed. Rahne collapsed against Dani, burying her face in her hands.
"Sam, for fuck's sake, what did you do?" yelled Roberto.
It was hilarious, but somewhere deep inside, something was making her uneasy. She dug her nails into her palms, to keep the laughter under control. Marie-Ange was kneeling beside Haroun, almost out of sight under the table. Small sounds of pain were coming from there. As a connoisseur, she knew very well how hard it was to obtain pain of such quality under controlled circumstances.
"We planned to turn Frost," said Sam, quietly. "To play her against Shaw."
"How far did you take it, Samuel?" asked Amara, sternly. She turned to Kitty. "How many of them are dead?"
"Shaw is dead," said Kitty. Jenny shrieked again, then stood up an pointed at Kitty, pointing, sobbing, pointing. A small smile escaped her lips.
"You killed my Daddy," howled Jenny.
It wasn't true, of course, only a rationalization, and a fairly twisted one at that. Kitty had told her it wasn't true, since Shaw had been sterile for years.
"Jennifer, he was not your father," said Kitty coldly. "He was going to kill one of us. He wanted Rahne or Sam dead as a way of breaking down our group. He was going to have us fight until there was a death. We would be doing that right _now_ if he wasn't dead."
"I would have died in place of Doug," said Rahne quietly.
"Who else?" asked Amara.
"Selene is dead," stated Kitty. "Pierce is disabled. Tessa is dead. Leland is on our side. He's in New York arranging for Emma to take control of the club."
Roberto and Amara exchanged a worried look. It was very brief, and she didn't think anyone else had seen it.
"How did Doug die?" asked Dani.
"Shaw broke his neck. We were baiting Shaw, in the conservatory, so that the dampers would prevent Tessa from using her power to protect him from Emma. Emma got into him from outside, and was reading him, but not fast enough. Shaw found out about our plan, and tried to kill both of us. He was very strong. I could resist, Doug could not. I did everything I could to save him. We have justice for Angelica."
"Justice be damned," snarled Dani. "She's still fucked up and now we've got blood on our hands."
"Justice," snapped Kitty. "The only justice Doug and Anjelica would ever get."
"There is no blood on your hands Danielle," said Amara. "It is all on the hands of Katherine, Frost, and perhaps Illyana. I would assume that she destroyed Selene."
She looked at the Roman, who was sitting erect and glaring at both of them. She wondered how erect and indignant Amara would look after she had had her arms chewed off. Or perhaps the legs. It was difficult to know where to start. It differed for every individual.
"We take responsibility for our actions," said Kitty. "They have left you free."
"Shut up," said Rahne. "Just quiet yourselves. Where is Doug's body?"
"It's on its way to his parents. We cremated him last night. Emma has numbed his parents' grief, so they will not interfere. It's best this way."
Rahne didn't respond. Her mouth worked, and she made small animal sounds.
"Numbed?" asked Dani.
"She told me that she can make it so they don't remember, when remembering brings too much pain," said Kitty.
"That is so, so, _wrong_," said Marie-Ange. "You can't sweep this all away. Will you take him from us, too? For our own good? You're his real killer, if he won't even live on in memory."
"This is a _war_," snarled Kitty. "People die in wars. We have won a victory, at a cost. We can mourn Doug later, as can his parents. Now, we must consolidate our gains and maintain our independence."
"From who?" muttered Dani.
"Are those your words?" asked Manuel. "They sound very much like Miss Frost's."
"Why couldn't you have let us seen the body?" said Rahne.
It was so funny that she couldn't hold it in any longer. She started to laugh, giggling, then shaking so hard that it hurt. She was blinded by tears, and she was surprised by the blow that knocked her to the floor.
Nobody did that. Ever.
The others were going to see what happened to anyone stupid enough to hit her.
She began reciting the death spell as she turned towards her attacker. Dani stood before, her shaking, crying, eyes filled with pain.
"How could you?" said Dani.
She choked off the rest of the spell and took herself to Limbo. There she bathed in fire, burning her skin away and renewing it, over and over. It was very soothing.
The tiny rolls of tape were annoying. It was impossible to pull the stuff off the rolls, but he had to in order to make up the boxes. He had made ten so far, and had at least ten more to go. He found it hard to imagine that the things from a single life could take up so much space.
They were in Doug's room, packing. Roberto and Amara had disappeared after the meeting, presumably seeking help from their masters, whoever they were. He hoped that Kitty would just let them go. She was at the computer, back to them all, making copies off of Doug's hard disc. Dani, Rahne and Marie-Ange were on the other side of the room, packing books into boxes. He didn't like Marie-Ange being there, but Dani and Rahne had insisted and Kitty had suggested that it would be a good idea for them all to pitch in. Dani and Rahne were still very upset but he had been able to talk to them after the meeting had broken up. Dani was beside herself over Illyana. Yana seemed to be losing her mind, but Kitty didn't seem to notice. At least they hadn't had to face Frost yet. According to Kitty, Frost was locked away with lawyers in her house.
He finished the last box, and went over to Kitty.
"Holding up?", he asked quietly. The other three had been discussing something in the background, but now they all went quiet.
"Yeah. Just cleaning up the disc. They're going to ship it back to his parents. Don't think they even know how to turn it on, but I don't think they'd want to see some of the things on here."
She turned back to the keyboard, and continued typing. He didn't know what to make of her. Was she grieving? Had she gone back to her room and prayed for Doug's soul, like he had? Or was that even something that Jews did? He wasn't sure, but he had included prayers for her and Illyana too. They needed all the help they could get.
He set to work on the dresser. The first drawer was filled with socks and underwear. Mundane things, unless you knew that there owner was dead. He stood staring at the contents, until someone came to the door and the talking stopped again.
"I want to help," said Haroun.
He turned back to the drawer, and started emptying its contents into the box. Out of the corner of his eye, he watched Haroun shuffle in, uncertainly. He could hear Kitty at the keyboard. She was striking the keys very, very hard. Haroun stopped and stared at her.
"Is there something I can do?"
"Haroun, this is not a good-" Marie-Ange began quietly.
"You had better leave," said Dani. "Now."
"Get the _fuck_ out of here you little prick," snarled Kitty. "You're finished here. Understand?"
Her eyes blazed. Haroun made a small sound, then turned and ran.
"That was cruel," said Marie-Ange.
"You're a fine one to talk," said Kitty. "Did you try to stop him from hurting Doug?"
"He was in love," said Marie-Ange.
"That Arab faggot was a predator, nothing more, nothing less," said Kitty.
"You know nothing," hissed Marie-Ange. "Doug led him on, played with him, broke his heart."
Kitty turned to her, saying nothing. Marie-Ange backed up a step and almost fell over a box of baseball cards.
"It's true," said Marie-Ange weakly, then turned and fled from the room.
"Fucking good riddance," muttered Kitty.
Rahne shot her a nasty glare and then left, followed by Dani. Something was up here. He lit out after them, and caught them at the top of the stairs.
"Dani, what is this?"
"She had a crush on Doug," said Dani.
"She was too afraid to tell him, " said Rahne. "It broke her heart when Haroun fell for him, but she told me that it made Haroun so happy that she forgave him."
"You're close to her," said Sam.
"Who the hell else was there?" said Dani. "You weren't."
They turned and continued down to the Hellion's floor. He went back to Doug's room. Only Kitty was left in there now, and she wasn't at the computer. Instead, she was standing with her back to the door, holding something up to her face. One of Doug's shirts, from the laundry basket. He cleared his throat. She turned, her face a picture of pure terror. She fled past him, down towards her room, still clutching the t-shirt. He stood there for a moment, then went over to her door and knocked. No response. He knocked again.
"Kitty, it's me, Sam."
The door opened. Kitty was standing there with red, very cold eyes.
"Let's finish this. We don't need them."
He followed her back to Doug's room. They finished it, alone.
She knocked before entering Emma's study, since there were outsiders there. She had composed herself since the battles of the morning, and there wouldn't be a repeat episode of any unseemly emotion. She would see to it that there wasn't.
"Come," said Emma.
She entered. Two men in suits were sitting in front of Emma's desk. The older one looked at Emma quizzically. The younger one ignored her.
"Miss Frost, this is most important matter-"
"Shut up George. Katherine, this is George Binnie, my attorney. That is his assistant, Donald Roberts."
The younger one nodded, but continued staring at his laptop. There was a nasty edge to Emma's voice.
"This is my protege, Katherine Pryde. She is a party to all of this, and is here to listen to what you have to say to me."
The older man frowned at her, then turned back to his folder.
"As I was saying, Miss Frost, the matter is not at all clear. We have not been able to contact Mr. Leland or his representatives at this time, and so the status of these liens cannot be established."
"So just what is my position?" asked Emma.
"At the moment, I cannot say that you have clear title to anything."
"Anything?" she said, quietly.
"Listen," said Emma, tonelessly.
"Miss Frost, the situation is hardly that dire," said Binnie. "Title cannot be established now, but once the SEC finishes going over the corporate files in detail-"
"SEC?" said Emma. "What do they have to do with it?"
"They are investigating the matter on behalf of you and all of the other shareholders of Frost Industries. Once the investigation-"
"There is to be no investigation."
"It is not a question of what you want, Miss Frost. The SEC is bound to investigate fraud on this scale. An announcement of the investigation has already been sent to the wire services, and will be on the front page of The Globe tomorrow."
"Stop it!" screamed Emma. "Do anything you have to. Just stop it."
"Miss Frost, many years ago when I advised your father, I warned him not to enter into any deals with Mr. Shaw or with the Club. I gave you the same advice upon the death of your father. As he did, you have kept your relations with club in a distinct sphere from your relations with our firm. I only wish that you had kept the business away from them, as well."
"It was a minor loan," said Emma. "Seven million."
"You signed the documents in the presence of Mr. Shaw's counsel. We could have advised you of the consequences. Every asset you possess has been pledged as collateral for loans that will never be repaid. I have no idea what he did with your money, and I suspect that you should not tell me."
"There must be some arrangements that I can make. Some private arrangements."
"Emma, fraud on this scale cannot be covered up. My partner Mr. Walcott is on his way to Washington at this very moment to address the Senate finance committee and the Chief of the Federal Reserve Bank. The effect on global markets is expected to be significant. I would suggest that you contact Mr. Leland and attempt to sort out-"
The lawyer stopped, put a hand to his head, then sat down in his chair quickly.
"Emma, stop it!" she said.
"You really are telling the truth," said Emma, quietly.
"Yes, Miss Frost," said Binnie, mopping his brow with a handkerchief. "I suffer from migraines, They don't usually come on this quickly."
"Get out," said Emma.
"Very well, Miss Frost," said Binnie. "I will be in touch as soon as we hear from Mr. Leland."
The two lawyers tidied up their papers and left the room.
"Emma, what the fuck was all that about?"
Emma was slumped in her chair, staring at some point far behind her.
"Sebastian fucked us over. I made him a loan. Harry set up the documents. We were supposed to keep the club business separate from the businesses. That was the deal. Leland mortgaged everything that Pierce and I own to finance the club's activities. Now, it seems, the government is coming to my aid. At least until they find out how we spent it."
"What about all the money from the drugs and the smuggling? You have to have it all hidden away somewhere."
"Leland handled all of that. I know of some places, but it's difficult to hide that much money."
"Emma, Fortune says you're worth 4 billion dollars. You must be able to get to some of it."
"Kitty, right now, technically, I'm worth whatever is in the petty cash accounts. About 2 million maybe, 12 million before the party last night. I might not even have that if the government lawyers are on the ball."
"Do you have to go through Leland?"
"Yes. No-one will act unless they hear from him. He's taken on Shaw's mantle of power, before I could. Apparently he's gone to great lengths to present himself as an unwilling accomplice."
"Could you force someone to give us enough cash to fight back?"
"I thought you wanted everything lily white and pure."
"We can be, once we're free of this."
Emma smiled. It chilled her.
"The accountants will be all over us on Monday. I could force it out of someone, but the lack of a paper trail would raise suspicions. We need someone in the club who holds cash that I have title to, but doesn't have good security."
"Is there anyone?"
"There is a banker in Switzerland that we could lean on. He's the only weak link in Leland's network."
"What happens if we don't lean on him?"
"No money, no school, I go to jail, the government takes you off to a camp somewhere."
"It may not work."
"We're damned if we don't. Do it. Lean on him. Get enough to hide your tracks and keep the school going. You could come out as the hero in all this."
She wondered if Emma could see how much she was sweating. She had gone over half the records in Emma's database with Doug, but there had been no sign of this.
"It wasn't in the datafiles. We only kept that on paper."
Which explained why she hadn't seen it.
"How are the kids holding out?" asked Emma.
She suddenly felt a headache coming on. Something that she had just thought of-
"I'm alright. Just a bit tired, that's all. They're not taking it well. Everyone's pissed because there was no funeral. They wanted to see the body. Haroun's on everyone's shit list. Yana's losing it. We have to get her some help, and soon. It took a lot out of her killing Selene."
"Then go to her. Spend some time with her. Perhaps that will help."
It was a splendid idea. She turned and left the room. She was halfway down the porch steps when she saw the lawyers getting into a black Jaguar. One of the lawyers was taking a pill, because he had a headache. He had a headache, because Emma had fucked with his mind. She had a headache. She hadn't said anything about the substance of her computer searches of any sort to Emma, ever. Frost could read her mind. She turned and ran back into the house.
She remained where she had been, slumped in the chair. Stupid for having trusted Shaw. Stupid for having trusted Leland. Stupid for having almost let Kitty know she could read her mind. So damn close, and yet-
There was something against her throat, cold and metallic. She fired off a mindblast that would have destroyed any unshielded mind within 10 feet of her. She cut it back as she felt it ricochet off Kitty's barriers, now almost intact. It was almost too late. The blast knocked her off the chair onto the floor. She probed for Kitty's mind, but the barrier was back in place. Through the few cracks in it, she could sense something burning as brightly as the sun. Kitty kicked her, twice. She looked up at the little girl, who was holding a decorative knife in a very lethal throwing grip, aimed at her heart. She could barely move.
"How long?" growled Kitty.
"Since that psi came after you. Rachel." It would have been fatal to lie. She knew it.
"Did you know that Shaw knew about our plot?"
"Yes. Shaw knew some of it."
"Yes. She could read you and Douglas."
"Why did you let him die?"
"I was reading Shaw. I couldn't believe what I found there. I became angry. I smashed things up. When I got back in his head, he had already attacked Doug and I did all I could to stop him. I couldn't hit both of them at once, and I knew you could handle her."
"Can you read my mind now?"
"No. But I don't have to."
"I don't care if you can or not. Your life is mine. If you try to get away, Cordelia ends up in a whorehouse in Thailand. Doug and I found the convent and the places where you get the girls for those parties in New York."
She looked up the face of a killer. Pain exploded in her back. Kitty had kicked her expertly in the kidney.
"That was for Doug. You wanted an advantage, and it cost Doug his life. I will never forgive you for that, ever."
Kitty twisted and threw the knife. It struck a mahogany armoire and lodged there, quivering.
"You try to kill me, you try to do anything, Illyana comes after you. You can watch what she does to Cordelia before she does it to you."
"I won't try to get away,"
It was true. She didn't expect Kitty to believe it.
The girl turned and left. She continued to lie on the floor, weeping, for some time.
Part 10 of 12
He didn't wake up that morning, because he hadn't slept at all the night before. He experienced the odd feeling of disassociation that he knew from many all-nighters at Westchester and before. He only got out of bed to answer the call of nature, but on the way to the bathroom Kitty and Illyana intercepted him. Kitty looked grim.
"We've got a problem," she said. "Haroun and Roberto are gone. Do you know anything about this?"
The suspicion in her voice erased any forgiveness that he might have felt.
"Why don't you just ask your friend?"
"Neither Emma nor Illyana can find them anywhere."
Illyana giggled, then put on a small child's impression of mock seriousness. Kitty put her hand on Illyana's shoulder.
"That's enough, snowflake."
Illyana looked at Kitty with wide eyes, and the grin vanished.
He shuddered. Illyana's voice was barely human now.
"Sam, if you find anything out about them, let me know. Also, if you see Amara, I need to speak with her. Come on, Yana."
Kitty led the devil away. He went into the bathroom and bolted the door behind him. He collapsed to his knees before the porcelain wall tile and prayed for guidance but none was forthcoming.
By the afternoon, he didn't feel tired at all. Half out of his head, but not tired. He heard his door open. He turned to see Amara, standing in the shadows. She had a nasty bruise on the side of her face.
"I had a meeting with Katherine, Samuel."
"And she hit you."
"Yes. I will tell you what I told her."
"That you betrayed us?"
Amara flinched as if struck.
"Samuel, I cannot imagine how you could think that. I have not betrayed you, but I must ask you to make Katherine see reason."
"Manuel." he snarled. "He took you."
"I took him, body and soul. I can see how this has hurt you, but you must understand that you have no idea of who I am. How could you have read so much Latin and known so little about Rome? If you had known me and all that I have done before I met you, I know that you would have rejected me. Manuel could not."
"But his power-"
"Was his to use or not use. I told him that he could have my body, but if he ever used his power on me, I would incinerate him. He is weak and easily dominated, but he is a good lover."
"So you seduced him for us?"
"You were making no progress. Frost was wearing you down. I knew that Pryde would be obsessed with a technological solution to a human problem. Time was in the Club's favour."
"But we got into the system."
"You were besieging the city when all you had to was to walk in through its open gate. I found the gate, but I knew that it would be futile to tell you."
"We couldn't trust you."
"You wouldn't trust anyone. The four of you alone had no hope, and so I went to your government."
"Frost dismissed me as the plaything of Manuel. I believed that it was worth the risk."
"But government would destroy us all."
Her face darkened.
"Samuel, I come from a society which practices a game called democracy and in reality operates like the jungle that surrounds it. When I came here, I could not believe that a society could operate with so little blood flowing in the streets, trying so hard to live according to the rules that the philosophers proposed. I know that your society is flawed, but I cannot understand the crude, ignorant cynicism that so many of you possess about the institutions of the state."
"Amara, they want to put us into camps."
"Fool! Your government consists of millions of individuals, a microcosm of your entire society and you know as well as I do that most of them don't want to put us into camps. Your government is based on a remarkable set of ideas, even if your people are for the most part far too ignorant to make it work properly. I didn't go to the soldiers. I found a district attorney who had persecuted financial criminals and who had a daughter with a tail. I met him every time I went to New York with Manuel."
"He assisted me in tracking the man down."
"How could you know he wouldn't betray you to Frost?"
"As I said, he is mine."
"You told this to Kitty?"
"And she hit you."
"Yes. She accused me of betrayal. Do you believe that I betrayed you?"
"I, I don't know."
"I suppose it matters not," said Amara. "I have come here to ask you to persuade Katherine to surrender Emma Frost and the remaining staff and guards to the District Attorney in Boston by Monday morning. Kitty, Illyana and yourself will not be prosecuted."
"What about Frost?"
"I believe that they will make an example of her."
"You know that Kitty wants to use Frost to re-create Westchester here."
"They will never allow it. She deserves to be thrown to the dogs for what she did to that girl, when we first arrived. Her name was Jubilation Lee. She was a 12 year old runaway from Los Angeles."
"Frost tried to stop it."
"She did not stop it. She may have been the only one who could have stopped it and she chose not to. She runs this prison. She is responsible. Have you any idea of the number that she has killed?"
"How many have you killed?"
She didn't answer.
"If we don't surrender?"
"They come in and take you all. They will call in the soldiers to do it, and many will die. Please, Samuel, talk her into surrender. I don't want you to be hurt. They will ask you to submit to tests, but they will be with the civilian authorities, and then they will let you go free."
"And you trust them."
"For what might have been. Please."
He turned his back to her, and looked into blue sky and the gloriously sunlit panorama of the back fields. He heard the door close behind her.
Two hours later, he hadn't moved. Instead, almost paralyzed, he had watched the light of God's sun dwindle away. The night was God's too, he thought idly as the door opened behind him.
"No," said Rahne. "Just us."
She was standing with Dani just inside the door.
"Have you seen Amara?" he said hoarsely.
"No," said Dani.
"That's what we're here to ask you about." said Rahne.
"I haven't seen her since she came and talked to me," he said.
"No-one else has seen her either, or Manuel, or Haroun," said Dani.
"We're trying to get everyone together," said Rahne. "All of us are in the common room downstairs, waiting this out. We've even got James out of Down Under. He brought Angelica up with him. They're killing each other down there. I can smell the blood."
"Killing each other?"
"The faceless ones," said Dani. "Those loyal to Frost against the rest."
"And what do you intend to do?" he asked.
"Hold out there until it all sorts itself out," said Dani. "They won't attack us above ground."
"Is Roberto there?" he asked.
"It was his idea," said Rahne.
"You know that he's probably betrayed us to the club."
"Samuel Guthrie, do you know his heart?" asked Rahne. "He would never betray us."
"The Hellions are with you?" he asked.
"We cannot find Haroun, Manuel, or Amara," said Rahne. "We have Marie-Ange, Jenny, Angelica and James. They're frightened. We could use your help to calm them."
"Marie-Ange said she saw Illyana with one of Haroun's shirts from the laundry," said Dani. "She read the cards and she said Doom would come to claim him."
"And what did the cards say about the rest of us?" he asked, bitterly.
"Nothing," said Dani, glancing nervously at Rahne.
"Nothing she would tell us," said Rahne. "She became quite upset."
"I'm staying up here for now," he said. "I might join you later."
"We could really use you," said Rahne.
"Later. I need some time alone."
"Please," said Rahne quietly.
They left him alone again, but he forced himself to watch them leave, since he knew that he might never see them again.
She sat on her bed, her features rigid, but it hardly mattered, as the human who had once been the centre of her world wasn't paying any attention to her. Instead, she held Kitty's head in her lap as Kitty moaned, and Kitty's tears moistened the matted fur that now covered her legs. She looked out through the window, where she could see the children in the courtyard. Some were crying, some were standing slack-jawed, others were on their knees praying. Some were arguing, and what looked like a rugby scrum was lurching across the green, as only a mob of people trying to hug each other could.
Kitty had told her to kill, and she had. Kitty had known what it would cost, but she had done as requested. Kitty had shed tears for the victims, but never for her. Tears for the 457 that had died a world away, for the tens of thousands who would soon die of radiation poisoning, and for the wall of ancient brick that no human would now be able to approach for 20,000 years.
All those tears, but none for her. Kitty was no different from any of the rest of the cattle, who lived unknowingly one bloodstone away from Armageddon.
He was locking his door when he saw Roberto at the top of the stairs. Roberto was pale as a ghost.
"You haven't heard."
"Atomic bomb in Jerusalem. Didn't go off like it was supposed to, but there's plutonium all over the place. Hundreds dead, thousands dying. Israelis have gone mad. They're killing thousands of Arabs, and no one even knows what really happened yet."
"No fuck. Your government has decided to stand by Israel whatever, so now we get to see who else out there has the bomb."
"Why did you betray us?"
"I expected you'd want to talk about what's really important."
"We needed you."
"To die alongside you? How did you think you could possibly get away with it? They were watching you the whole time. Shaw knew about everything."
He lashed out. Roberto could have dodged, but he didn't. Instead, his fist connected and Roberto staggered backwards, holding his stomach.
"Good one," said Roberto, wheezing slightly.
"You're not fighting back."
"I could break you in two if I wanted to. I don't want to. Feel better now?"
"You can't imagine what I had to do."
"I had to convince them that I was serious."
"They didn't believe you."
"They found Amara easier to believe."
"You took her into it?"
He wanted to hit the little rat again.
"We both found our own ways in."
"But that was just fine, because you were both on the side of the angels."
"We found out what you did with those women in New York."
"They were well paid. They were great."
Roberto smiled to himself.
"How was fucking club whores supposed to help us?"
"Here's a typical Saturday night at the club. I stay away from the smack and the hard liquor, just stick to the bennies and the coke. Ten hours fucking and drinking, and by 5 or 6 I'd be the only one left awake. The security in the inner circle apartments sucked. All I had to do was wait until Shaw passed out, then download the contents of that laptop that Tessa always carried around onto a zip disc."
"Took six months to get that far. Took eight tries to get the disc. Once I spent an hour under his bed while he fucked someone. I shit myself, I was so afraid. Given his habits, he didn't notice the smell. Gave it all to the DA that Amara put me in touch with. They were all set to move on you when you went after Shaw and fucked everything up."
"You'll see. They're pissed off, but if you can give them Frost and the school without bloodshed, they'll let you all go. Same deal as Amara told you about."
"Why should I believe you?"
"How are you going to be the man in your family if you end up spending the rest of your life in a federal prison? If you're so keen on sticking with the club, we might have a position for you. I'm taking it legit."
"My Dad and Leland. We made a deal. Give them Frost and my father goes free."
"Your father tried to kill us all."
"He's still my father. If he crosses me, I break him in half. He's learned, just like I have. Besides, who would you have stepping into the vacuum? Leland?"
"What would you have done in my place? Died a noble death, I suppose. It's the way of the world, Sam."
"How long do we have?"
"Tomorrow night. No time at all really. When the full impact of the bomb hits the fan, anything could happen. Markets might collapse, all deals are off if no-one knows whose ass they're supposed to kiss."
He grunted non-committally.
"If you need to talk, call DaCosta America in New York and ask for the Patron. I know that you'll do the right thing."
Roberto left the room. The sun had entirely set, and the image of the brightly-lit corridor remained floating in the darkness for some time after.
She lay on satin sheets with the girl sleeping in her arms. Kitty had appeared at her door as she was trying to interpret the effects of what she had done. It had gone completely out of control. She had the money, but she also knew what she had done to get it. Even worse, she suspected that the pressure that she had exerted had produced some unintended consequences. She had been following up on those consequences when Kitty had walked through a wall and had stood in front of her, no longer a killer but merely a very little girl who needed to be told that the Bad Things were not coming to get her. She had held Kitty as the girl cried herself to sleep, imagining that it was Cordelia or Marie-Ange or Jimmy or any of the others that she held. In the darkness, she had followed her suspicions and found that it was The End. To be merciful, she knew that she should snap the girl's neck before she waked. There was a switch that could be thrown that would flood Henry House and the Underworld with Sarin gas. She could throw it, but instead, she did nothing, and waited for the men to come.
He sat on the park bench in the darkness. The light that would have illuminated the bench at night was broken and had not been repaired. The bench had been given up to the lawless for whatever use they might have for it, but his fellow lawless seemed to be elsewhere that very night.
"I have a proposition for you," came a voice from the darkness.
"I'm not interested."
The light came on, illuminating a very healthy looking man in a trench coat. He idly wondered if he was about to be propositioned by one of the local high school coaches.
"Don't go flying off now until you hear what I have to say," the man said, smiling.
"You're from the DA."
"No, not me. I'm from up there."
The light went out. In the moonlight, he could make out a suspiciously large cumulus cloud.
"My chief has 6000 men waiting to drop on this place."
"Knew you were a bright one."
The lamp came on again.
"You're the hard sell," he said. "Amara and Roberto were the soft sell."
"Not quite. We've been watching this situation for some time, and we will be bound to act even if your government doesn't. We're a UN agency, as I'm sure that you know."
"Yeah. It's why you do fuck all. Why aren't you off putting the lid on all the shit in the Middle East?"
"We are doing just that. Deals have been made. There is an understanding. The planes are back on the ground, now. We expect the riots to be over tomorrow, and then the mourning can begin. It's all very sad, really."
"So why are you bothering with us?"
"I am not at liberty to discuss that in detail, but I'm sure that my chief will debrief you on this matter soon enough. Both matters are related."
A wave of nausea hit him. What could the connection be? Kitty and Frost didn't have that sort of power.
"I'll bet you're wondering what the connection is, aren't you?"
"We aren't the only ones who have made it. There have been a great many people watching you for some time. Some of them aren't as nice as we are."
"How long do we have?"
"Roberto said thirty six."
"Twelve. I have a little something that might make it all easier."
The man gave him a small black bible. It was surprisingly heavy.
"See the red tassel? Get within 20 feet of Emma Frost and pull it. It will temporarily incapacitate her, and perhaps make your job a whole lot easier."
"Will it hurt her?"
"Not really. Just knock her out and make her headblind for a while."
"Without Frost, your little friend Kitty won't have a leg to stand on."
"Just do the right thing, and everything will work out just fine. Good night."
The lamp went off. He looked for the figure of the man in the darkness, but no-one remained. He opened the bible. It had pages with text, just like his own.
Kitty awakened in the darkness. Emma had fallen asleep and she was still alive, but that didn't seem so important. She had not thought of herself as religious in the normal sense of the word and her parents had not been observant, but she could not keep the memory of her Grandfather intoning One Day In Jerusalem from her thoughts. No Jerusalem for anyone, now.
As she phased out of the room and made her way down the stairs in the darkness, she wondered how she could have ever have believed that the arrangement with Emma would have worked. The forces that were against them were too strong, and it was a different, more realistic future that they would have to dream of. If she had done as Amara had, Doug would be alive, Rachel would be alive, even Shaw would be alive, and even better, humiliated. It was time to end it, and get help for Illyana. She would sacrifice everything for Illyana.
As she passed the service building in a half-daze, she saw someone standing in the light of a lamp by a car with its hood up. The figure turned and looked at her.
"Pryde, is it?"
Wilson, the drunken English teacher.
"I was just at Ms. Frost's. She gave me permission to break curfew."
"Bugger curfew. You know how to fix a motor?"
"I have to get in."
"Look, I'm bloody desperate. Damn thing won't turn over."
He wasn't drunk, but there was a desperate look in his eyes. Finding Sam and making the call could wait a moment. It had taken Jerusalem to make her see that it was the small things that were important.
"I'll have a look."
The bulb in the lamp was weak, and she could barely make out the shape of the engine.
"What do you think the problem-"
Something flashed and the car came up and hit her in the face. The ground hit her even harder. Her body didn't work. She tried to phase, but that didn't work either. Wilson put a cloth over her face that smelled sweet, and everything went black.
He was sitting in his room in the dark, once again. The two bibles sat on his desk, identical except for the colour of their tassels. He had been looking at them in the moonlight for three hours when Rahne came in.
"Have you spoken to Kitty yet?"
"Sam, we haven't much time."
"Less than you think."
"When will you talk to her?"
"When she gets in."
"Can you convince her?"
"Haven't decided if I want to. How are things downstairs?"
"Not so good. Marie-Ange and I are looking after Angelica, but Jenny and James are hitting the drink. No-one's come up from Down Under. Dani and Roberto went down to recce, but they only found some bodies. Roberto left at sunset. Said he had to go to New York. We could use your help."
"I'll join you after I've seen Kitty."
"I have faith in you. I know you'll do the right thing."
He didn't know what to say. She slipped out of the room before she could see his tears.
Part 11 of 12
Things Fall Apart.
She woke up with a terrible headache in an unfamiliar room. She was lying on a bed with her wrists and ankles bound and immobilized. She tried to phase, but nothing happened. There was something heavy and metallic around her neck.
Wilson was staring down at her. The look of desperation in his eyes was still there, more so than before. She didn't understand.
"Genoshan inhibitor collar. Stops your powers dead, and if you find some way out of your bonds, I can use it to blow your head off."
He still looked desperate. Why didn't he run?
"I can fix your car.Help you get away."
"Bugger the car. There's nothing wrong with the car."
He looked ill, uncertain, not fully in control. Somebody had to be in control, though of what she did not know.
"Let me go," she requested, in a firm voice.
"Can't do that."
"Frost will be on you in a second if you do anything to hurt me."
"See this?" He pointed at a small black box sitting on a table. "Blocks out all thoughts beyond a twenty foot radius, and outside of that anyone who might be looking in will see me asleep in my bed, all by myself."
"Illyana watches out for me. You don't want her after you."
"Do you think we hadn't thought of that? We have our allies, too. We can take out a tyro like her, no problem."
"What do you want?"
He looked as if he wanted to vomit.
"I want to put you out of your misery, but I'm not allowed to do that."
She went cold. She tried to think of a means of escape from what he was allowed to do.
"Who are you?"
"I'm what they pull out of the stone when someone threatens Camelot."
"Who are you working for? The government?"
"Not yours. Sort of deniable freelance on this one."
"I want to surrender. All of us. You don't have to do anything. You can let me go."
He was weeping now, looking sicker than ever. He turned away from her and opened a small black case. She watched as he extracted a a set of surgical instruments.
"Why?" she asked, in a very small voice.
"I'm going to tell you a story, since you're a very little girl. It helps to use stories with little girls who are too damn fucking stupid and ignorant to understand anything else."
She tried to say something, but had no voice. She tried not to be afraid. He was pacing now, much too fast.
"There's this place on the other side of the world, see? Bunch of people were chosen by God to make a happy little kingdom there, after they almost were exterminated for no reason at all. Some people lived there already, and they didn't want to move, so the people chosen by God ran them off the land where they lived for centuries, because it was the holy land of the people chosen by God to be their eternal refuge. Problem was, the people they ran off thought exactly the same thing, and they got pissed that the new chosen people burned their farms and their schools and their places of worship and uprooted their orange groves and expected them to be happy cleaning toilets. They fought back, but they didn't have rich powerful friends like the chosen people did, so they died and died and died and they went a little crazy. They threw stones and they stopped cleaning toilets and they blew up the chosen people with car bombs to show that they were the real chosen people, but their God wasn't listening. So one day, one of the really crazy ones went to see an old friend in Russia and brought home to the little cesspit where they made him live some very special stones and some very special instructions. Because he was chosen by God to save his people, he didn't have to follow the instructions, so it all went wrong."
"Shut it. There's more."
He was pacing so fast he was almost bouncing of the walls. A sweep of his brought a shelf of books down across his desk.
"Some of the his friends, they stopped being crazy, see? They wanted an accommodation with the chosen people, so no one had to die anymore. They found about the device and they tried to stop it before the chosen people found out. They had a mutual friend in another land where there were many banks and who lived in a castle and who hid money for people. This old man used to wear a black uniform during the big war when almost all the chosen people got killed, and he was an old Orientalist, and they thought they could trust him. He almost had them all talking when some ex-stasi types came by to ask about some other money the old man was hiding for someone else. Get it now?"
He was the only thing in the room. She could feel the panic rising.
"I'll tell you straight. Frost killed the Kraut in Switzerland by accident. The negotiations fell apart. The man with the bomb put it on a truck and crashed it through a house and a police barricade and it didn't blow up right. We didn't expect them to move so fast. We stopped Cairo and Amman and Damascus and Riyadh and thrity million people from being bombed to nothing by minutes. We made a deal. We come through, all the bombs go back to Dimona and the world can get on with burying the dead."
"Deal. What sort of deal? I told you, I'll surrender. I'll tell you everything."
"We make an example of those responsible. An example that will not be forgotten."
"But I'm going to surrender."
"For what? A trial? A nice little secret tribunal that ends up with employed by the US government and working in some secret lab for the rest of your life?""
She focused on the bitterness and pain in his voice. It was all she could do to keep her mind from racing away completely.
"You crossed a line, you stupid girl. When you told Frost to do anything, you went from the world of law to the world of things that don't get seen or talked about. The things that keep the wealthy safe and happy and the poor in their hovels. You thought you were there when you were with Xavier, but he kept you from the reality of it. They want to make an example of you. You have nothing left but your life to bargain with, and the terms of that bargain were sealed with your words. Nothing but the sacrifice of your blood will make the world safe again. It's the way of the world."
"It can't be true," she screamed. "You're lying."
"If I am, it makes no difference to you."
He picked up a handkerchief and wiped his eyes clear.
"You don't have to do this," she said, leveling her voice.
"You don't want to do this."
"You don't have to. Leave them. Run away with us. We could protect you."
"I am protection, little girl. I'm what keeps the punters sleeping quietly at night."
He took a flask out of his pocket and took a long draw on it.
"You _don't_ have to do this."
She told herself the panic in her voice was deliberate, not real.
"I never did want to do this. I wanted to be a soldier, fighting to keep the world safe from the badduns. I got my wish, and now I'm just as bad as any of them, only I fight on the side of the angels, like your old friend Logan. It wasn't worth it."
"Are you going to hurt my friends?"
"Frost is to be taken care of. I imagine your government will take care of the rest of them. Probably recruit them, or throw them in jail. Can't have you running around making messes everywhere."
"Please, " she said. "It doesn't have to be this way. I could give you things that no-one else could."
"Little girl, you have nothing to give me."
He put a strip of adhesive tape over her mouth. He turned aside, vomited briefly into a garbage can, and then he set to work.
She watched it all in her pool, transfixed. It was so beautiful. The drunken Englishman was going to make it so that they looked alike. She watched, with tears of fiery joy burning black furrows across what was left of the pale skin of her face.
She awakened, perhaps. She wasn't sure if she had ever been asleep. If she had not met Logan and learned from him, the rest of her very short life would have only consisted of more and more pain, but she pushed past it until she could sense things again. She was in a room, on a bed. Hands and legs free, no collar. Smells. Every smell that could come from a human body, every smell that could have come from her body save one.
It was his room. She had to leave it. Now. Survival required leaving the room. He might still be in it. Somehow she found her way to a sitting position at the edge of the mattress. There was someone else in the room. She stood up. The other person stood up. She tried to blink in order to get the crustiness out of her eyes but she couldn't. The other person was wearing a red t-shirt and had a smile that was all too large. It wasn't him, because the person was a girl with hair like her own and a skull mask on. She tried to close her eyes, but that didn't work, so she turned her head. She banished the concept of a mirror from her mind, using everything that Logan had taught her. To think any more in that direction would be fatal, except to remember that she was half-naked and that this would attract the wrong type of attention. Her blouse was on the bed, reduced to shreds. Only his clothes remained, but she wouldn't touch them. She wrapped a sheet from the bed around her. She would go back to the house and shower, be clean. Then, she would be all right.
She would be alright, because before, when the bad things were happening, the Professor had come to her in some sort of prerecorded message that was to play only under the most catastrophic of circumstances and had taken her away to somewhere pleasant where there wasn't any pain. There, he had given her the instructions on how to use a lever big enough to move the world. It was what she had always wanted. She would be able to make everything right again.
He was looking at the processed wood in his hand when the hammering on his door started. He tensed, and prepared to blast the first person through.
No-one entered. Instead, a thud and a moan.
He went to the door and opened it. Dani was leaning against the frame, soaking, staring. Her t-shirt was clinging to her body, obscuring nothing. He became exited, then enraged. He looked up into her face. He smelled the alcohol and the rage boiled over.
"Sam. Oh, Sam, come."
She could barely stand. She was tugging on his sleeve.
"What the fuck did you do?"
Rage vanished. Panic.
She pointed towards the bathroom. He dragged her to it. He burst through the door into an empty room.
"So where is she?"
"Went into the wall."
"Fuck girl, what is this?"
"Sheet. There was a sheet, all that blood."
"There's no blood. It's clean."
"Worst thing in the world. Standing there, under the water."
He stepped into the shower stall that she was pointing at. It was completely clean and dry. No blood, no even remotely human odours.
"How much did you have to drink?"
"Her eyes. Oh, her eyes."
He slapped her, hard.
"Go lie down. Get back down there and lie down."
"I'm not drunk! James threw up in my lap! She's going to die!"
He stormed from the room and went to Kitty's door. He knocked on it hard.
"Kitty. We have something to discuss."
No response. Big surprise.
"Kitty, open the door if you're in there. Dani says you've been hurt."
"Go away," came a faint, tired voice from within. "I need to sleep."
Definitely Kitty. He turned to Dani, who was staring at the door, dumbfounded.
"There was nothing left of her tongue," she whispered.
"Go back down and drink yourself to death for all I care."
Dani drew away, wearing the same look of horror she had possessed when he had opened the door. He turned away from her and retreated to his room.
He had laid down on his bed and smashed his fist into his pillow for the better part of five minutes. Five minutes after that, he decided that something was seriously wrong, but what? He went back out into the corridor, then into the bathroom. Empty and clean. He went back into the stall. Clean. He turned to leave, then went back in. Clean. Too clean. The showerhead in that stall had always leaked, and there was always standing water at the drain. It was always slimy and encrusted with filth, even after the staff had been at it. It was shining in the light from the ceiling fixture as if new. The tiles shone as if installed that very morning. He went back into the corridor. Wet footprints from his door to the bathroom. Wet footprints from his door back towards the bathroom, but stopping. He bent down and looked carefully. at the prints. They led towards his door, but started from a perfectly straight line across the carpet. On one side of the line, the carpet had footprints and had the odd cigarette burn on it. On the other side of the line, no footprints and no imperfections at all. He rubbed his hand across the clean part. His fingertips smelled vaguely of sulphur. He ran to Kitty's door and started hammering on it.
"Open this fucking door or I'll blast it down."
There was a scurrying behind the door, and it opened only a crack. He could barely see Kitty in the light from the hall.
"Tell me what happened."
Her voice was so faint that he could hardly hear her, but he knew that she was lying.
"They hurt you."
She drew back inside. He reached for her, but she drew back with a small animal's cry. The door was wrenched from his hand by a great force, and something stepped in between them, naked. It was skeletal and covered in coarse yellow hair, and it had a wide fixed grin that showed a great number of pointed teeth, but the last thing he remembered were the glowing yellow goat-eyes burning into his soul.
Sometime later, he regained consciousness. He had knocked himself out trying to smash himself further back into his closet than he could possibly go, using his head. After he had recited the Lord's prayer for the hundredth time, he uncurled himself and crawled out. He made his way to the desk, where the two bibles lay. He grasped at them randomly and picked up the heavy one. At that moment, he knew exactly what he had to do.
Kitty had given him the passwords for Frost's house, but he had never used them before. His hands fumbled at the pad, but he typed in the code without error and the door opened. He made his way up the stairs to the door of Emma's room, where a light was still on. She lay, slumbering, with an opium pipe still smouldering at her side. He approached the bed quietly.
"Miss Frost?" he whispered. She didn't stir. He held the bible out towards her and pulled on the tassel. There was a slight click, and the book hummed in his hand. A frown passed across her sleeping face, and she turned over onto her side without waking up. He backed away slowly at first, then turned and ran from the room. On the way, he threw the Infernal device into the pond in front of her house.
The morning light streamed into the room. She always liked the morning light. It was a special light, for queens and princesses.
Once upon a time, she had been a princess, but she hadn't been able to sleep because she had to wear a straight-jacket, and-
Once upon a time, she was a princess, and she had made another princess from the wages of sin, and-
Once upon a time, she was a princess but they had made her a queen, and she had ruled a wonderful kingdom filled with many happy girls and boys. She was a good queen, but the king was not a good king, and so she had done something, and then-
Once upon a time-
Once upon a time-
He awakened in the common room, which was dark in spite of the morning. The drapes were closed, and the antique furniture was barricading the windows. The room stank of unwashed bodies, alcohol, vomit, and shit. She had found him wandering in the quads and had brought him back here and put him to sleep. She was still beside him, sitting in a chair. As he watched her, she opened her eyes and smiled.
"Rahne, I'm afraid."
"We're all afraid, but we're all still here."
He looked around the room. Dani lay sleeping in James' lap, and Marie-Ange and Jenny were trying to feed Angelica, who was rocking back and forth, making crooning noises.
"How is she?" he asked, pointing to Angelica.
"Her body's alive. Dani tried to calm her down, yesterday, when she was raging. Tried to bring up an image of her heart's desire. There was nothing to bring up."
"We went up there, looking for you. Kitty and Illyana were gone, and you didn't answer. Dani told me all about what happened. She told you the truth."
He closed his eyes.
"Are they still gone?"
"No-one has seen them since she came back downstairs, but Kitty left a note this morning. She's going to Manhattan to talk about surrender."
"I know, it doesn't sit right with me, either."
"Illyana did a clean spell on the whole bathroom up there."
"I smelled the blood, about that time. I thought it was from Down Below. It's chaos down there. No-one's in control."
"Kitty's taking a huge risk-"
"Frost has control of the assassins, I thought. Kitty dealt with that, didn't she?"
"I hurt her. Emma Frost. I did something to hurt her. SHIELD told me to."
"Then no one is in control."
"If we leave, they might kill my family, or yours."
She handed him a celphone. It was jet black and heavy. It reminded him of the bible. He almost dropped it.
"Roberto said we could use this to contact him, if you talked some sense into Kitty."
The phone had a single red button. He pushed it. He heard a sequence of electronic sounds, followed by a very military voice.
"This is Samuel Guthrie at the Massachusetts Academy. I need to speak to the patron, Roberto da Costa."
"Senhor da Costa is unavailable."
"I want to speak to his son, Roberto."
"Senhor Da Costa is unavailable. Do nothing. Remain where you are. Matters have been resolved."
"Matters have been resolved. Do not attempt to leave the school under any circumstances. That is all."
The connection was broken.
"They said that matters were resolved," he said.
"Do you think that Kitty's all right?"
"I don't know," he said. "I have no idea at all."
They stared at the now-inoperative phone for some time after that.
It was a vault like many others, designed more to impress than to provide any degree of protection. She phased down into it from Emma's limousine, through the pipes and the wires and the cables. She phased through a stack of boxes and emerged from them when she was sure the room in front of the vault was clear. The door was still locked, and was unlikely to be opened. The bank branch above it had been turned into a disco, and the owners had never been able to obtain planning permission to use the vault for anything profitable, so they had locked it and built a wall across the door. Since the place didn't open for another six hours, she had a lot of time to get into the vault and get out without being seen.
She needed every moment of it. Recovering from That Which Was Not To Be Remembered had almost killed Illyana, and she had no idea how much of the damage Illyana had repaired. She knew the safety deposit box that salvation was in, but she didn't know what it was. She couldn't risk phasing through its locked door, as it might be a tape. Instead, she had to work at it with her picks. Thinking about picking the lock made her think of secret things and secret agents and her hands began to shake so badly that she couldn't work the lock. It took her four hours of work and meditation to get both locks open, when it should not have taken her more than 10 minutes. In the dying glow of her flashlight, she could just make out the leather satchel in the box that would deliver them all from evil.
The day passed slowly, without word from anyone. By noon, all were awake. Dani stayed out of his way, which was just as well since his shame had robbed him of any words that he could use to apologize to her. She remained in a corner with James, talking in whispers, not in English. James at times appeared to be praying to whatever gods he worshipped, but then he also was starting in on a bottle. Jenny huddled in a corner, not moving very much, but he had nothing to say to her. Everything else was Angelica.
Angelica had to be fed, and Angelica had to be changed. Both tasks were made more difficult by her resistance to any form of intervention. They had her chained, down below, and the red marks remained on her wrists and ankles. Up here, they had to hold her down while she struggled like an animal, insensate. After each bout, they had little to say to each other. Those responsible had been punished, but that didn't seem to matter.
He knew what they were thinking of. She hadn't been very bright, and she had been inclined towards the Hellions because they `were nicer', but she had a way of diffusing the ugly fights that sometimes started in the training rooms Down Under. He tried not to think of her smile, because it was obvious that her slack, drooling lips would never bear another smile again.
Instead, he thought of his family. They would be getting ready for a trip to the WalMart and the Swap Meet now, as they always did on a Saturday morning. He thought of the chaos as Josh and Paige got the little ones organized and packed into the truck for the trip. He had bought the truck for them, with the money that Xavier had given him. He wondered if it had a bomb in it.
"Sam," said Rahne.
"Do you think that they're safe?"
"No. I'm not sure at all. We should call."
"Someone's going to be listening."
"We only have to know that they are safe."
Rahne looked genuinely frightened.
"You first," he said.
She went to the wall phone dialed the long international code. She waited, and he could see the sweat beading on her forehead as the call went through. Her face brightened as she got through, and had a small, inconsequential chat with Lady Moira. She rang off and handed the phone to him.
He dialed the number that he knew off by heart. It rang four times before someone picked up. There was an angry sound in the background.
"Guthrie's", yelled Josh.
"Hi kid," he said.
"Sam. Hey Mom, it's Sam. You coming down for Easter?"
There came the sound of the phone switching hands.
"Sam, we were just going shopping."
His mother was tired, but all right. They were all right. He almost broke down. Rahne put her hand on his.
"Sam, what's wrong?"
"Nothing. Nothing's wrong."
"Look, I have to go now, we've a ton of things to do today. Is there something real important that you need to talk about, or can you call back later?"
"No. Nothing important. Just wanted to make sure you were OK."
"Sure we're OK. Joelle had a cold last week, but she's all better now. Sam, I think there's something you're not telling me."
He felt a rising tide of panic.
"I've got something to talk to you about, Momma. I've found a girl."
There was a silence on the other end of the phone.
"That's wonderful, Sam. Just a bit of a surprise, is all."
His mother didn't believe him. He knew that from her tone, but anyone listening wouldn't know that. They would think that she was just happy to hear of it.
"I'll call you tomorrow after church and tell you all about it."
"Fine. Take care, Sam."
"You too, Momma. You too."
He rang off and looked at Rahne.
"She's just fine. They're all fine."
Behind him, Marie-Ange cursed and Angelica shrieked. In the darkness, they set to work again.
She had her laptop open in her lap, its modem connecting her to the Club network. She entered the codes that Emma had taught her, and sent the kill orders for the chauffeur and the wife that he had phoned during the trip back to Massachusetts from the vault. She checked the phone records from the house and found that both Sam and Rahne had phoned home. Two more kill orders went out. Nothing, absolutely nothing, could be allowed to interfere with her plan.
It was all necessary and inevitable, but it didn't bother her at all. She opened the leather satchel and perused the papers inside of it for the fifth time. All of the Richards' private phone numbers were there, as well as a list of the code words that would start the chain reaction. Each phrase was unnatural but carefully chosen, and if one of them heard it, they would repeat it to the rest of the group, and then they would wait. She would phone again and say more words, and they would put together documents that would make Emma the guardian of Franklin, then go off on a mission from which they would never return. When Franklin arrived, there were more codewords that would annihilate his self and leave him a programmable husk with the power to remake the world. She smiled at the thought, and almost wept.
She found the man who had hurt Kitty on a plane, flying back to England. She did things to him that the other passengers would not have believed possible, and then just for fun she did the same things to them, starting with the children. Her dark lords sang out gleefully and capered while her power grew exponentially. Even so, there was something deep inside that was unsatisfied, the same thing that had made her undertake this little atrocity in the first place. She ported to limbo and dove into a pillar of fire. As it burned her away she remade herself, over and over. The ocean of pain isolated her from the dread lords, and in a secret place deep within herself, she thought hard of the stars that shone more brightly that anything else in the sky, then collapsed into themselves. Kitty had always liked those stars. In her secret place, she knew that she could not do as her dread lords asked. If Kitty was just like everyone else, then everyone would have to be saved. She conceived of a plan. The only thing that she needed to complete it was a single bloodstone.
He had been surprised by the phone call from Kitty, as he was sure that they would have put her under care. Rahne had insisted on accompanying him, and he wasn't sure that was a good idea. He didn't like the idea of meeting in the conservatory, but the housekeeping systems that Kitty had shown him how to access assured him that the house was entirely empty. He used the codes to open the door from the garden and they entered the room.
The smell made him choke. Almost all of the plants were dead or dying, and their putrefaction made the air almost unbreathable. They were about to turn back and leave when he heard the door close behind him and the lights went on. Rahne turned to half-wolf form.
"Stay there. Don't change. Don't move."
It was Kitty, from somewhere behind them.
"Turn around, slowly."
They did. She was standing near the door, with a pistol in her hands. There was a leather satchel at her feet. The gun was aimed at them.
"Kitty, please put the gun down," said Rahne.
"How could you?" said Kitty. "How could you do that to her?"
"Kitty, they said-" he began.
"She's no better than Angelica now, you miserable fuck," said Kitty. "You've fucked it all up. It's going to be so much harder to get into his head now."
Rahne tensed, preparing to leap. Kitty fired. The bullet passed between their heads.
"No," he said to Rahne.
"Damn right," snarled Kitty. "I'm sorry you had to come, but it's going to hurt me more than you."
"What do you mean?" said Rahne.
"I sent a squad to do the others," said Kitty. "You're the last loose end to wrap up."
"Do?" asked Rahne.
"Kitty, it's over," he said. "There isn't going to be any school here to run. We've got to surrender."
"To what?" said Kitty. "How can you trust them? Do you know what they did to me?"
She was starting to weep, but the gun didn't waver.
"Kitty, you can't fight them," he said. "They have soldiers, and they'll use them. They'll all be against you."
Kitty smiled a smile that was almost as frightening as Illyana's.
"You don't think I can fight? I have the power. The power to fix everything. To make it all better."
"Kitty, you don't have that sort of power," said Rahne. "No one has."
"I have the power to remake the world," whispered Kitty.
"It's unholy to even think of doing that," said Rahne, quietly.
"Unholy?" Kitty shrieked. "Do you think God gives a flaming fuck about any of us? Is it unholy to want to change a world like this?"
Kitty blinked the tears from her eyes, but didn't shift her aim.
"Do you know what some of God's creatures did to me? I'll make it so you never will know pain like that or what it took to heal it. I'll make it so that there'll never be another man like that. I'll make a world where no-one hurts kids and makes them into killers, and breaks their necks or fucks them or sends them off to hell for no reason at all. I'll do it. I'll fix the world."
"How can you make it that way for us if you're going to kill us?" asked Rahne, quietly.
"You'll only be dead for a little while," Kitty said. "And then I'll bring you and all of your families back. Even your real Mother, Rahne. Won't you like that?"
He closed his eyes and started to pray. He opened them when he heard a soft thump.
Something that might have once been Illyana was standing behind Kitty, who wasn't holding the gun anymore. Instead, the gun lay on the ground, with Kitty's severed hands still clutching the grip. Kitty staggered back a step as Illyana raised the Soulsword again. There was a vicious slash across Kitty's side, and what appeared to be her liver and intestines were starting to ooze out of the gap. Kitty collapsed to her knees. Her mouth worked, but she didn't say anything. Instead she stared, hypnotized by the twin fountains of blood from her truncated wrists.
The thing that was Illyana stood behind her, grinning. It had Illyana's hair, but it had the eyes and legs of a goat and at least ten sets of breasts, partly covered by matted white hair. Forked tongues tasted the air from between both sets of teeth, above and below.
"Too close to me," the thing croaked, in a voice that wasn't human anymore.
The thing raised her sword again. Kitty looked up, with an expression that he knew from when Joelle was two, and cowering under the bed from the thunder. He had held Joelle's hand and told her that it was just the angels bowling. He gripped Rahne's hand as tightly as he could. She squeezed back, her claws tearing into his hand.
The sword swept down, but Kitty flinched from it at the last moment, and he saw it slice into her skull and through her face. Her body collapsed. The thing raised its sword, and plunged the blade through the medallion and its own heart, if it still had one. It threw its head back and made a sound louder than thunder that was the last thing that he or Rahne ever heard. Blue hellfire swirled around them, and he felt himself lose control of his bowels. He clasped Rahne to him, and tried to pray, but there were no words. Where Illyana had been, there was a column of swirling red fire that consumed nothing. The blue flames in the room rushed to it as if returning home and it vanished in a flash, leaving them alone, in silence, alive.
Part 12 of 12
On The Eighth Day
The sun had gone down by the time their tale had ended. The tea was cold in their mugs, unconsumed. Sam had done most of the talking, but she had helped when he lost the words, as he often did now. Piotr had listened sympathetically, asking few questions. Kurt had said nothing at all. Kurt was still sitting in his chair, although the chair was now resting upside down on the ceiling.
It had all been lies, of course. What else could they have said? Piotr seemed to have accepted the tale of Kitty going off with Illyana to fight demons after they had vanquished Emma Frost, and he had managed to construct a plausible explanation of how they had ended up in their current situation. It was frightening to lie to those who might be Gods, but neither she nor Sam had the courage to do otherwise.
She hadn't told them of what they found after Illyana and Kitty had been consumed. They had staggered out of the conservatory into a scene from what World War Three might have looked like. The Faceless Ones that had tried to get into the house to kill the others had been fought to a standstill by James, and then had been hit from above by SHIELD hit squads. All of the survivors had been swept away for interrogation at locations that she was never able to identify, although she suspected that they were far from the world of the ordinary. Everything that they had done was praised and condemned in programmed alternation, but there was nothing worth hiding after they had shown her what had happened to Moira. They had been held for almost a month of solid interrogation, after which Moira had died of her burns and all of Sam's family had been buried. At the end, they were informed that they were charged with nothing, and what was left of their lives began.
Before their release, they were taken to see Emmanuel da Costa, who was there as a grateful father and as an official representative of what remained of the Hellfire Club. She understood almost immediately that they were being offered a blank cheque, any amount of money that they wanted. Sam asked about Emma and Angelica, and was informed that both had suffered irreparable brain damage. They were taken to see Emma, who, in her lucid moments, could manage one or two word sentences. She was at least able to take care of herself, even if she was catatonic half of the time. Sam inquired about the arrangements that would be made for them, and was informed that both were to be institutionalized for life. Sam had made them an offer. The gatekeeper's cottage at the school, was it occupied? Could they make modifications so that it could be used as a care facility for Emma and Angelica? Could funds be made available for this? It seemed that their best hope for recovery was in the presence of those whom they loved. He asked her if she would like to help, and she agreed. It wasn't as if there was anywhere else for her to go.
They looked after Angelica for ten years until she died. It never became any easier, and any improvements that they thought they saw vanished almost immediately and to be replaced by some further decay. Looking after her was continuous work, and neither of them had day off or more than six hours sleep during the entire period. Emma had been able to help after the first year or so. Looking after Angelica helped Emma find her way partly back to reality, so some good could have been said to come of it. Sam thought that he did it out of love, but the effort of forgiving was so great that all he was left with was the capacity for duty, which was required as Angelica became larger and larger. At the end, it took all three of them and a crane to deal with her needs. When she died after a short bout of pneumonia, the relief in the house was almost too painful to bear.
Without Angelica, Emma began to slip away. She sometimes forgot to dress herself or feed herself, and began to spend the hours that she had spent at Angelica's bedside in front of the television. They cared for her needs, but the only thing that slowed the decline was the cat that Dani brought for her. It proved to be an affectionate cat, which was just as well since Emma wouldn't let go of it while awake. Five years after Angelica's death, Emma stopped speaking almost entirely. Two years after that, hard drugs were legalized and Emma spoke her last words. Sam purchased the drugs for her, and she abandoned the cat, retreating into a perpetual opium haze. It took another two years for the drugs to kill her, and the cat died a month afterwards.
After that, they lived in the empty house, going through the motions of life. There were visitors from time to time that broke the monotony, but there was even greater relief once they left. Sometimes it was Dani visiting from the West, telling them of the latest things that she had been doing in the tribal nations, where she had rejoined the Cheyenne. James came once, and stole all of the pills that they had in the house. Given that almost of these were associated with the control of Angelica's bowels, they were not surprised when he did not return. Marie-Ange returned from time to time as she traveled from place to place in her studies of the occult. These visits were endurable, as they still had the manners required to survive them.
She didn't tell her visitors of the visit that Roberto had made, after Angelica died. He had come to ask them to join Geonet, a new business that he had founded after finishing at the Harvard Business School, dedicated to the exploitation of geophysical resources. Sam had, just that once, violated his pledge not to use his powers. He had hurled Roberto from the house. Roberto had been taken away in an ambulance, and they had not seen him until his face started showing up in the commercials on Emma's television. After Emma's death, he had thrown the television away.
Shortly after Emma's death, Amara had come calling, with a large white-haired man as her companion. It was as clear to Sam as to her that the man she introduced as Erik was her lover, but Sam had still heard her out. The new geophysical energy sources were hers, and Roberto was her front man, and the only person in all of Geonet who knew where the power came from. Geonet wired the world for power, then gave it television, which was where Erik came into the picture. Through their efforts, all but about a million people on the planet had a thousand channels personally accessible through the Geonet satellite network, complete with special signals designed by Erik to make them safe. Fertility rates were down, and the last major civil war had died out a month before. With fine tuning, Amara had said that it might be possible to almost entirely eliminate domestic violence. It
required a large effort from many people, working in the Blue Area on the Moon and in orbiting space stations. The best and the brightest were there. Would they come?
For a moment, she thought that he might be tempted, but he turned them down. They had both seen the effects of the Geonet program locally. The streets, deserted at almost all hours. The churches, gradually emptying as their congregations found themselves inexorably attracted to the services on the box. The nation, which had faded away almost altogether. She had heard that no more than ten languages were expected to survive into the next decade. After they left, she had watched them with wolven eyes, and read their lips.
"Insufferably noble," Erik had said.
"Yes," replied Amara. "It is sad."
"It would be safest to take them anyway."
"They will not speak of it, I am sure."
The white-haired man had smiled with great sadness.
"They are last of Charles' children."
As she watched the car fly away into the sky, she decided that she too would never use her devil-given power again.
She said none of this to the visitors, but she was sure that she didn't have to. She knew in her heart that they knew that Sam had lied.
"It is-", Piotr started, then halted, vexed.
"Tragedy?" suggested Kurt. "Farce?"
"Tragedy", said Piotr, uncertainly. "But this is not the purpose of our visit."
"We're here for a reason," said Kurt.
"We are in need of something that the Professor left behind for you, in case of a dire emergency," said Piotr. "It is brown and made from the skins of dead animals. It contains papers."
"Why would you need a set of documents that the Professor wrote?" asked Sam. "Did you not say he was still alive.?"
"He is beyond being able to assimilate that sort of information in his current state," said Piotr. "Only Kurt and I can still understand what he wrote."
"What do you need it for?" she asked. She had read only parts of it. Sam had read it all.
"Transformation," said Kurt. "Enlightenment. Transfiguration."
"It would be simpler to act through an agency less changed than ourselves," said Piotr.
"Transformation into what?" asked Sam.
"Why?" she asked.
"What has happened to us, you cannot imagine it," said Piotr airily. "What we've become, it's so wonderful. We only want to share. You will all become as Gods. All of humanity, raised up into perfection."
"Oh," said Sam.
"Do you know of what we seek?" asked Piotr.
"It's late," said Sam. "Tomorrow. I know where it is. I'll take you there."
"Tomorrow," said Piotr.
"They need their rest," said Kurt.
"We have no assigned location to stay on this plane," said Piotr. "May we leave our mass here?"
"We don't have an extra bed any more," said Sam.
"These fixtures are adequate," said Piotr, gesturing to the chairs. "We have no complicated needs."
"Come on," said Sam, smiling at her for the first time in many years with love in his eyes. "Let's go to sleep."
They left their mass in space and time, sending themselves back to the higher domain to report on what they had found. The joy was indescribable, and it was difficult for him to experience any but a small part of it. When they returned, his remaining human senses told him that something was amiss. He shifted his mass instantaneously to the second floor bathroom. The sink was filled with ash, and an empty container made from the skins of dead animals lay open on the floor. As Kurt floated up behind him, the draft from his passage blew the ash apart.
"I could have told you this was going to happen," said Kurt.
"Then why did you not?" he asked.
"You didn't ask," said Kurt. "It matters not."
They opened the door to the bedroom. The two small single beds had been pushed together to make one. Sam and Rahne lay on each, their hands clasped. There was a empty bottle of pills on the night-table beside Sam, and both of them had plastic bags over their heads.
"They got away from us," he said.
"For now," said Kurt.
"For now, " he agreed. A small part of him, remembering a little blonde girl standing in a field of snow, wished that they really had gotten away, but he knew that he would soon be rid of such feelings. Those feelings would be no part of the new way of the world.
This was composed while listening to a lot of KMFDM, especially Godlike.
It was heavily influenced by the novels of Iain Banks, especially Feersum Enjinn.
It was also heavily influenced by some very good films, including Roman Polanski's Macbeth, Jacques Rivette's Duelle, and Terry Gilliam's Brazil.
The working title was The New Mutants vs Shakespeare, starring Kitty as Macbeth, Sam as Hamlet, Illyana as Iago, Emma as Gertrude, and Doug as Ophelia.
Finally, many thanks to Tina, Luba, and all of those who wrote in as the narrative hurtled down the mountainside towards the rocks waiting below.
Soon, there will be more.