|DISCLAIMER: Any character you recognize is the property of Marvel Comics and is used without permission for entertainment purposes only.
Warning: This story may deal with adult issues, so be forewarned.
Much thanks to Luba Kmetyk and Alicia McKenzie for their hard work in beta-reading this thing for me.... God bless you both!
Just Lucky, I Guess
"He got better."
Ignoring their stunned expressions, Domino elaborated. As the words rolled off her lips, she marveled at the complete lack of emotion in her voice. Even with all her feigned nonchalance, she was careful to not look too deeply into anyone's eyes. She knew if anyone looked too closely into hers at just that moment, they'd see the rage flickering, and her charade would be over.
"The man who's behind all this is a clone of Tolliver with a full memory implant. We can assume he knows everything the original knew."
At those words, Logan swallowed, the misery in his eyes mirroring the pain in Domino's. 'Damn. This is gonna- Nate's gotta go through all that- and with me here, a constant reminder of everything that happened-' Memories of himself, enraged with the aborted adamantium transfusion from Genesis' warped plan, killing Cable's insane 'son', sprang unbidden to him mind.
Noticing his expression, Domino had to look away. 'I know it's hard, old man, believe me, I do...I didn't think of what this would do to you. When Pete told me all this, I should've sent you home.' At that thought, she chuckled grimly. 'Yeah, try to keep him away when he wants to go somewhere,' she reminded herself. Pausing again, she felt her psilink with Cable flicker briefly. Glancing at him, she wasn't surprised at all to see him carefully staring at the wall, eyes focused straight ahead, refusing to meet any of the quietly sympathetic stares that kept glancing surreptitiously in his direction.
Taking a shaky breath, she continued. "Tolliver has gathered the top Black Air geneticists left over after Excalibur's little shakedown a while back and given them some extremely advanced equipment, technology that in the normal course of things won't appear for a couple of millennia, at least, and put them to work." She paused, waiting for the inevitable slew of comments.
Kitty spoke up first. "Two questions- what kind of work, and where's this stronghold at?" Her voice, clear and strong, held traces of both her mid-western childhood and the clipped accent of Great Britain, where she'd made her home the last several years.
Domino tilted her head in surprise. 'Looks like Pete didn't tell her everything after all,' she thought gratefully, buoyed by the knowledge that her secrets belonged to one less person, no matter how trustworthy she might appear to be. Aloud, she lied "We don't really know what kind of work. That's what we're going there to find out and to stop, if necessary." Domino met Kitty's gaze easily, not disturbed in the least at having to lie to the earnest young woman. 'And if I'm lucky, none of you will ever find out what kind of little shop of horrors he's got going on down there....'
Answering the second question, Domino continued. "The compound is built around an abandoned castle on the coast of northern Spain. Tolliver gutted it several years ago and turned into his central headquarters- we spent a *lot* of time there." She shuddered, but it was so quickly repressed that none but Nathan saw it. He looked up at her, his eyes haunted, and she had to look away.
"The fortress," She took a deep breath, regaining her composure "Is disguised by a massive jammer that conceals it from electronic detection. Tolliver also uses an industrial-size image inducer to visually disguise the area when anyone comes and goes, so the locals don't see all the traffic coming from the 'abandoned' castle and get suspicious."
"It was sheerest chance," She grinned "That the satellite caught any of the strange readings *and* saw the scientists when they did. It must have been a glitch- and trust me, those don't happen very often with that program. I wouldn't count on that happening again."
She leaned forward in the chair, slim fingers steepled thoughtfully, remembering the long hours she'd spent going over the layout of the various fortresses in her mind, planning an escape. "I had a lot of time to kill when I was there, so getting around the external security shouldn't be too hard. The kicker's gonna be," She took a deep breath "Getting into the security system again. Just knowing where the booby-traps are won't be enough. With the futuristic technology he had- has," She corrected herself "At his disposal, Tolliver has, in all honesty, probably the best set up I've ever seen. The only way Nate and the kids were able to get into one of Tolliver's fortresses the last time was because Vannessa knew the codes and was programmed into the system, so she could get them in."
"Good thing is," She shrugged "Since Vannessa mimicked me so perfectly- down to the molecular level, so completely that even psi-scans don't show the difference-" Cable flushed "That means that her mutagenic code was programmed into the filter system, just like mine was, but with a much higher security level. She basically, with very few exceptions, had complete access to the entire base."
Logan whistled, and she nodded. "Yeah. If I can just get into it, if my signature's still in the system, we've got a good chance." Noticing several confused looks, she explained "The system scans the DNA of the 'visitor' and them admits them- or not-" She muttered darkly "Based on whether or not that signature has been programmed into the system. That's why Pete needed me for this little venture." She leaned back. "Also, since Vannessa had my form at that time, it gives us twice the likelihood that one or the other of the signatures weren't deleted from the system. Given the state of mind Tolliver was in at that time, I really don't think computer maintenance was forefront on his list of priorities..."
She inhaled sharply, leveling a laser-sharp violet glare on the group. "I've seen what happens to the poor bastards who don't make it through that system." She stared hard at them "I don't want to have to worry about any one of you not being willing to be a part of the team and take direction when we get there, because one mistake can be deadly. This is serious, folks. I'll do this thing myself if I have to, and I'd rather do that than worry about my team not functioning perfectly." 'That's really not a bad idea,' she thought, half-seriously. 'That way at least I wouldn't have to worry about anyone else finding out about the tests and whatever else I find there...'
Cable's chin jerked up suddenly, and his left eye glowed golden. 'Dom, you wouldn't,' his baritone voice reverberated through her skull, emotion making it even deeper than usual.
'Don't be stupid, Nathan,' she chided him, her mental voice edged with annoyance 'And get out of my mind.'
She felt him sheepishly pull back 'Sorry. I didn't mean to, I just- Hell, Dom, this isn't easy for me, either. I should've- Maybe I just needed-' She was surprised by the depth of feeling in the voice, stirred no doubt by her painful, though necessary, reminders of Tolliver and Vannessa. 'I guess I need some help to get through this, and I instinctively turned to you. I apologize for not asking permission to 'link first.'
She felt her breath catch in her throat and replied softly, careful to keep her facial expression stern for the benefit of the others. 'I know, Nate. It's all right. We'll get through this the same way we've gotten through everything else the world's thrown at us- together. Just let me get through this damn debriefing, OK? They've got to understand how serious this is...'
Ororo coughed, unknowingly interrupting the very private conversation. "Forgive me for stating the obvious, Domino," she queried, her voice silky "If this security system is as advanced as you say it is, then what are we going to do if your..." She paused delicately "Plan doesn't work?"
Pete sat up from where he'd sat quietly, listening to Domino's spiel. Noticing the look of irritation that marred his old friend's smooth features at the subtle criticism, he broke in smoothly "I think I can answer that one. Y'see, Storm, Dom's th' only one who's ever escaped from Tolliver." Logan, beside him on the couch, stiffened. 'Huh,' Pete thought, filing the reaction away. 'Interestin'.' Pretending not to notice, he went on "Now, there's no way of knowin' for certain, but we're countin' on Dom's luck to get her through that system, and her skill and familiarity with the compound to get around it if she can't. Then she'll let us in."
Ororo's slanted eyebrows rose almost to her hairline. "Luck?" She turned to face Pete, an incredulous expression on her face "You would base this mission on such a nebulous concept as luck?"
Pete leaned forward to answer her, but Domino stopped him sharply. 'Enough of this.' Shaking her head, she answered in a mild tone "I know you led," she smiled calmly, placing the emphasis on the past tense of the word "the X-Men for quite some time, Ororo. Surely you remember a gentleman by the name of Longshot?"
Storm's eyes narrowed at the retort. Leaning forward, Domino murmured "He's not the only one to have things fall into place for him. Remember that, windrider...."
Returning her attention back to the others, who were watching the interchange with rapt interest, she shook her head "That is a good point, though. I trust my abilities," she shot a glance at Storm "But there's still not a 100% certainty that I'll be able to sneak through the system. If I can't, we're gonna have to bust our way in. With a couple of exceptions, this group is more suited to quick-and-dirty fighting and sneaking around than sheer explosive power." She grinned ferally "That's why we're takin' the big guns."
Pete rolled his eyes "You ain't gotten over that fixation *yet*?"
Domino chuckled, ignoring him. "We'll use those if we have to. Seriously, though, this team is almost ideally suited to breaking into the base, and powerful enough to deal with what we find there. Even if I can't steer us around the worst of the external security, Shadowcat and Psylocke can respectively phase and shadowslip, or whatever the hell you do, Betsy, us in."
"We'll discuss specific battle plans and subteams tomorrow. Right now, it's enough that you know what we're up against. We're not leaving until 6pm tomorrow night- cloaked or not, it'll be better for us getting there under the cover of darkness." Suddenly exhausted, she slumped back into the chair. "Any questions?"
All during the briefing, Betsy had remained silent, trying to chase down the tantalizing hints of precognition teasing the periphery of her consciousness. Not really knowing why she was saying it, she spoke up in a dreamy voice very different from her usual clear alto "Are you sure that's all there is, Domino? There's no more to this than what you've said?"
Domino rose quickly from the chair and in one fluid motion addressed the group, daring them to question her. "That's all you need to know. Take it or leave it- if you don't like those terms, you can leave now." 'That's damn sure all I'm telling you,' she fumed, 'The rest of it's none of your damn business if I can help it. I don't know how I'm going to do it yet, but since I'm the only one who knows where the labs are, I'm gonna be damn sure to get there and blow them up before anyone else comes anywhere near them.' She was careful to keep that thought completely shielded from Cable, who had been curiously silent throughout her speech.
When no one spoke, Domino nodded curtly "Dismissed, then."
When the group had dispersed, Logan walked over to Cable. Inclining his head at the other man, Logan said in a low, almost sorrowful voice "What Wisdom said back there wasn't altogether accurate, Nate."
Cable, troubled by the strange thoughts he was picking up from Betsy, turned to Logan and in a distracted voice asked "What do you mean, Logan?"
"Domino's not the only one to escape from Tyler." He used the name intentionally.
Cable stiffened, concern about Betsy forgotten. 'I should have known this would happen,' he thought 'From the minute Dom told me about Tyler I knew this would come up, but I guess I just didn't want to think about it....' In a overly controlled tone, he replied "I'm telling you now, Logan, I don't want to talk about it. I know you had reasons for what you did, but..." The emotional toll of the day suddenly caught up with him, and he placed a hand on a nearby table to steady himself. "I don't want to talk about it," he repeated weakly.
Logan nodded, standing up straight, short legs spread wide apart and arms crossed over his broad chest. Knowing better than to show the concern he felt, he responded "I know. And I'm sorry, I just had t' bring it up. Unlike th' rest o' the people around here, I ain't got no patience with leavin' things hangin' in the air like this." Face contorting in a grimace, he sighed, realizing the futility of the discussion. "I ain't got no business bein' here at all. If you want me to leave, Cable, I will."
For a split second, Nathan considered it until his better judgment took over. 'Never waste a resource,' he told himself. "That won't be necessary," his voice grew slightly less brittle. "You're too good a man in a fight to throw away, Logan. We're going to need you tomorrow- I can live with it if you can."
Logan swallowed, and when he finally spoke, his voice was heavy and grave. "I been livin' with it, bub." 'Lived with this and worse as long as I can remember, Nate.'
Cable nodded tiredly, to both the spoken words and the sentiment behind them. "I know what you mean."
Across the room, Betsy suddenly snapped to, surprised to find herself alone, staring absently out of the window onto the courtyard below. She glanced around the room, curious as to how she got there. 'The last thing I remember is Domino's briefing....' Psylocke sighed. 'A pre-cog vision, I suppose. I wish I could remember the bloody thing....' With a sigh, she turned to walk back across the room and join the others, who stood in pairs talking quietly among themselves.
She gave Cable and Logan a wide berth. Though Cable had psi-shielded the both of them, and they were speaking low enough she could not physically hear them, it didn't take a telepath to realize what they were discussing. 'Good,' she nodded in satisfaction as she passed. 'This little talk was too long in coming.'
She did the same for Kitty and Ororo. The two women were sitting together on one of the couches, Ororo beaming with pride as Kitty described one of EXcalibur's latest missions. 'If I'm correct about my suspicions, they'll need as much time as possible to readjust to each other as they are now. Kitty is no longer a child for Ororo to mother and Kitty cannot now, as an adult, continue to view Ororo in the idealized light of her youth. They can perhaps become friends as equals,' Betsy thought, smiling at the two as she passed.
That left Wisdom and Domino who were, despite Domino's own earlier admonition, huddled in a back corner of the room discussing the mission in general and the briefing in particular. When Betsy approached, however, both grew immediately silent. She didn't take offense- she, too, had her own secrets to keep.
"Braddock, you all right?" Pete greeted her. "You seemed a little out of it back there..."
Whatever assurance she had been about to utter was squelched when Domino turned to look directly at her. Two pairs of violet eyes met each other as Betsy stared into Domino's face for the first time since emerging from her trance.
Psylocke felt all the blood drain from her face. As her gaze locked onto the other woman, flashes of the vision came back to her lightening-fast, far quicker than she could possible hope to contain them. She gasped, the images growing clearer and stronger and infinitely more horrifying.
Domino instinctively leaned forward and grabbed the other woman's arm, steadying her. "Betsy? Are you alright? Nate!" She yelled across the room, both aloud and through their psilink "Get over here, now!"
Cable was almost immediately by her side, Logan right behind him. She saw Ororo and Kitty, too, out of the corner of her vision, but she had no time for any of them now. Betsy had grasped both of her forearms, hard, and was facing her directly, standing eye-to-eye, her lips moving but no sound issuing forth.
Betsy struggled to keep her consciousness through the haze of images flooding her thoughts. One in particular kept reoccurring, blurry and out of focus, but incredibly powerful. 'If I concentrate,' she thought, exhausted by the effort of maintaining cogent thought. She closed her eyes, and the fog lifted slightly, just enough to show a blond man, grinning maniacally, holding a child.
She cursed as the image faded only to be replaced by a woman's face, contorted in pain. Opening her eyes, she blinked as that image and her physical vision overlapped, a strange echo effect, the same woman in each field. Betsy bit back the bile, seeing in the background of the vision tubes and wires and bubbling cylinders filled with strange, twisted things and sensing, rather than seeing, the overwhelmingly fetid stench of death. 'It's only a *possible* future,' she cried, desperately willing herself to believe it.
Beside her, Cable closed his eyes, trying to establish a mental link with her, but the visceral terror she was feeling was so strong, her mental shielding thrown up so tightly against it, that he couldn't connect with her, no matter how hard he tried. 'Dammit, I'd burn her mind out if I forced a link now-'
Pete stood by, feeling helpless at all the confusion. Kitty, baffled, was silent as well. Ororo and Logan, almost in unison, stepped to stand on either side of Betsy. "It's one o' her visions, ain't it, 'Ro?" Logan asked in a low voice, watching Psylocke, still rigidly clutching Domino's arms and staring at her as if possessed. "She usedta have 'em all th' time, remember?"
Ororo nodded quietly, all her attention trained on Betsy. "She did. All we could do then, and all we can do now, is wait, and be here when it's over-"
Before Logan could form a response, Betsy tensed, and then her entire body slackened. Still holding onto her arms for support, Betsy met Domino's gaze with haunted eyes.
"Domino, I'm so sorry...." she managed to whisper, then promptly passed out.