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Marauder

Alexandra Nigro

 

Nearly nine months had passed since Julien Borderaeux had slid down his blade and landed heavily on the marshy ground, gasping like a river trout. Remy Lebeau felt little pity then - only a wave of nausea as his brother-in-law heaved his last breath, blood bubbles breaking upon his lips.

With a careless motion, Remy stabbed his sabre into the wet ground. "Dat be stupid, Julien. And a waste, even f'a sick bastard like you." The slight, sucking noise of footsteps had caused him to turn abruptly, already scanning the ground for a rock that could be turned into a fiery ball of kinetic energy. He breathed a slight sigh of relief as the mists parted to reveal his brother.

Henri's reaction had been simple. "Mon dieu."

Remy shrugged. "It appears I *was* paying attention to de fencing master, non?"

"You t'ink dis is amusing?" Henri's eyes had been terribly cold. Both brothers looked strangely out of place in the chill night air. They were both still wearing their tuxes from the ceremony.

A ceremony that had celebrated a joyous union between two families who had battled for control of the underbelly of New Orleans for centuries. A ceremony that had celebrated a marriage that lasted barely seven hours. It was the opinion of his family that leaving New Orleans was the only possible choice. While his bride waited in a house in the Garden District, Lebeau said his farewells, and in the leaving of his wedding band on the mantle, signaled to all the acceptance of his fate. In reflection, his choice had been more selfish than anything else. It was true that the constant fighting between the families made him vaguely ill and he certainly had no desire to see Belle caught in the crossfire once Julien's death was discovered. But as much as he loved his wife, staring into her eyes as he said his vows had had the imperceptible feel of cold chains being wrapped around his body. Belle had wanted nothing more than to lead the guilds with an iron hand.

Would she have been surprised to learn that her husband felt that goal to be oddly pointless? Is that why he had left without telling her? There would be a day when Remy Lebeau would examine these thoughts in closer detail. But at eighteen, sitting astride his motorcycle, Remy felt only the bitterness of childish desire thwarted. Leaving behind a love he was often unfaithful to and a family he loved but did not respect, Remy headed west with all the rage and arrogance that neither his wife nor his father had ever tamed.

Nine months. He spent that time stealing-quite literally-across the southwestern United States. It bored him. Petty cons kept him alive and momentarily amused, but he hungered for something challenging. Henri had always planned the "pinch" and Remy had always been content to use his skills at the bidding of his guild. Not so for his "other" skills. Remy's mutant powers had been a warily regarded fact within the Thieves Guild. For the most part he employed them in petty ways, but as he grew to adulthood his true destructive potential sent ripples of fear throughout the Brotherhood of Assassins. Remy loved it. His father, a far more pragmatic man, had cautioned his son against the use of his powers until he gained more control. Privately, he had counseled Henri to guide his younger foster brother, help him gain the maturity he would so desperately need if he was to unite the guilds. Henri knew the truth - maturity would be a long time coming to Remy Lebeau.

He had gassed his bike in a flyspeck of a town halfway through Arizona. "Feh. Blink and I'd have missed dis burg." The attendant ignored him. Hat pushed low over his eyes, the old man leaned back in his chair. Remy swaggered over, blocking the man's sun. "What be de name of dis fine metropolis?" The man reached up and pushed his hat a little lower. Remy glared dangerously, trying to make out the man's face. He couldn't take being dismissed. He was a young man to be reckoned with - couldn't this dumb coot see it? He gave the chair a sharp kick, eliciting a small growl from the attendant.

"You deaf? Or can you show me where a body could find a burger and a cold beer?"

With a glare of equal power the attendant pointed lazily to a dilapidated diner across the street. Giving the old man a mock bow, Remy turned on one booted heal and strolled across the road.

Grey Crow waited until the cajun peacock was inside the diner to nonchalantly key the black lacquer paint-job on his Harley. Observing his handiwork, he snorted with satisfaction.

"Welcome to Millstone - asshole."

 

PART TWO

 

"What a dump."

Remy slowly scanned the diner. The atmosphere was practically depression-era mining town. A long, pitted bar ran along the back wall, ready to greet an empty room.

"Anybody home? A body could use a beer on a day like this."

"Keep your pants on, I'll be out there in a minute," replied a curt, feminine voice from the back room.

"Well, when ya do, cherie, make sure you bring me a drink." Remy kicked out a chair from a nearby table and collapsed backward with effortless grace. He smiled at the waitress as she entered the main room. "Well now, population of dis burg j'st improved one-hundred-percent."

Claire deLuc paused before crossing to the patron's table. He was a scruffy kid, with reddish-brown hair and long bangs that obscured his eyes. Dressed in denims and leathers, he looked like something off of "America's Most Wanted." Well, either that, or the president of the James Dean fan club.

"You'll have to deal with a warm beer. Fridge is busted." She plunked the brown bottle on the table and turned.

With lightning speed, the boy whipped his arm out and grabbed her wrist. "Dat's criminal."

He blew his bangs away from his face and Claire got the shock of her life. Like twin laser lights, the Cajun's pupils glowed a bright red against dark brown eyes. The sight was as mesmerizing as it was unsettling.

"Is Mr. Pretty Boy bothering you, Claire?" Grey Crow stood in the doorway, hands jammed in his pockets with a lazy hostility.

His voice brought Claire back to her senses. She yanked her wrist back and smiled back at Grey, pointedly ignoring her only patron. "Nothing I can't handle. Just like an armadillo. Desert pigs always show up where they're least wanted."

"Ooooh. Friendly belle in a friendly town." Grey Crow perched himself up on a bar stool. "Wild Turkey, honey."

"On my tab if you please, cherie.'Fraid my charm failed me a little earlier." Remy rose from the table. Grabbing his beer he slid onto the stool besides Grey.

Grey nodded to him. "Thanks." He felt a twinge of guilt about the Harley.

Claire tried hard to ignore the Cajun as she poured Grey's drink. There was something intense about him that made her nervous. "Three bucks."

Remy grabbed for his wallet and winced at the contents. Pickings had been slim in New Mexico. "You say you need somet'ing fixed, cherie? How about we take de drinks and some lodging out in trade?"

Claire narrowed her eyes. "You some kinda repair-guy?"

The smile was back instantly. "Let's j'st say I'm real good with my hands."

Grey Crow laughed openly. "Let him, Claire. God knows we could use some help around here. And if he stiffs you without doing the work, I'll wrap his bike around his neck."

Claire reached under the bar and tossed Remy a key. "Upstairs. Third door on the right."

Remy caught it without ever taking his eyes off her. "Merci." He chugged the last of his beer and walked across the street to undo his pack from the back of his bike.

Grey and Claire were left alone in the diner. "Trust him?" she queried.

"Woman, what kind of a fool *do* you take me for?"

A minute passed in silence. Abruptly, a pain-filled cry erupted from the service station.

"Zapiste! My bike!"

Grey smiled into his whiskey at Claire's startled glance out the window.

"Road gravel can be a bitch."

 

PART THREE

"So what weird mutant thing are you going to unleash on the fridge?" The ancient Maytag had been pulled out from the wall and half its guts lay strewn about in front of Remy Lebeau and Grey Crow.

Remy looked a little surprised. "Who said anyt'ing Œbout mutants?"

"I figure it's that or you're possessed by Satan." He made a vague waving motion towards Remy's eyes.

The Cajun's stare melted into a grin. "Mebbe it's both, non?"

"Heh. Fridge ain't gonna get fixed with that smile, pretty-boy. You have no idea what you're doing, do you?"

"Nope."

Grey sighed. The boy was arrogant, probably dangerous, and close to stiffing Claire for a day's room and board. But there was something about him that almost begged for a second look. "I hear that mutants can do some amazing things."

Remy shrugged his shoulders. "Not when playing handyman."

"So?" The unspoken question hung in the air.

Remy considered for a moment and then picked up a bolt from the gutted fridge. Casually, he spun it with lightning speed through the fingers of one hand as it began to glow with a soft orange light. He tossed it into the air and it exploded into a shower of sparks.

"Jesus H. Christ!" Grey Crow cracked his head against the wall as he scooted back.

"Dat was mild. Don' want to burn de place down."

But Grey Crow seemed mesmerized by the after-smoke of the explosion. "You sit. I'll fix the fridge. Claire doesn't need to know."

Remy gave Grey a confused glance. "You sure, homme?" "Dead sure." He gave Remy a second appraising glance. "I think we can find another way for you to pay off your debt."

Grey Crow caught Claire in her room. "The Cajun needs to stay." She abruptly dropped the laundry she had been folding. "You have to be kidding me."

He smiled slightly. She would be tough to convince on this one. She wasn't his daughter, but sometimes she felt like it. He had taken over the service station after her uncle had died, more for age and inertia then any real desire to run a business. Not, of course, that any man could expect to make a profit in a dead-end town like Millstone. But Claire had been determined to make a go of it, and Grey was just as determined to help her out where he could - any way he could.

"This dump could use another pair of hands. Trust me, honey. The boy has skills that are......needed."

Her lower lip stiffened. "It's not a dump, and you and I take care of just about everything."

"Ok, Claire," Grey replied calmly, "but you know I have a couple of side interests."

"Which you barely tell me about."

"That's not the point. I'm telling you straight, honey, if you want to keep this place running into next year, the Cajun needs to stay for a while."

Claire stood with hands on hips, but finally relented. "A week, no more. That guy gives me the creeps."

Grey banged on Remy's door a little after one in the morning. "Get your ass up, boy. The work day has started."

The door opened a crack. "Give me one reason not t'kill you now."

"Because you're about to justify those three burgers you inhaled at dinner. Or have you forgotten our little bargain?"

"Jus didn't know I'd be working de graveyard shift."

Remy's comment elicited a nervous laugh from Grey. "Kid, you don't know how right you are."

Twenty minutes later both Navajo Indian and Louisiana Cajun were situated in the front of a battered Jeep Cherokee rolling off-road across the sand and brush. It took them nearly two hours to reach something Grey called the "Mesa Muerte" and Remy's questions had been ignored the entire trip.

Grey parked the car near a huge rock and turned to face his passenger. Remy sat with arms crossed, sullen. He wasn't used to working blind. Grey cleared his throat uncomfortably. "Um, I do a little side-work to keep things in Millstone running smoothly."

It was Remy's turn to present a confident silence. Obviously, this guy was some kind of amateur crook. Well, he thought smugly, amateur hour is over. The smell of cash was in the air.

Grey continued to stutter through his explanation. "There's this woman - she runs an ethnic art shop in San Diego. She's pays good money for authentic "ancient" Indian artifacts. Apparently people in California slap down good money for that kinda hocus-pocus bullshit."

"I take it you help in de transfer of ownership, non?"

"Something like that. My usual resources have been running a little dry - I figure this is the time to make a big score, but I could use a little help."

Remy looked around the desolate flats. There couldn't be another person around for fifty miles. "And what do de original owners say Œbout dis?"

Grey climbed out of the truck with a snort and whipped off the canvas cover in the back. The full moon revealed a pile of shovels and picks.

"Not much."

 

PART FOUR

"Everybody knows about this site. But even I couldn't name you the tribe that walled their folks up in the side of the Mesa." Grey kicked a stone between his feet as he explained. "'Bout fifteen years back a bunch of anthropologists dug into one of the tombs. They found *alot* of stuff buried with the remains - some of it gold."

"So why only one?" queried Remy.

"Local councils and the Bureau of Indian Affairs threw a fit. The anthropologists were almost prosecuted and Mesa Muerte became a protected site."

Remy's nerves started to tingle. "Why wait till now?"

Grey cleared his throat noisily and replied, "That's kinda where you come in. Dynamite's way too easy to trace and it would take me over a week with a shovel. Fed's would be on me in a flash. I need something that will get us out of here - two days max."

"Sixty percent, gross take." Remy leaned back against the truck. "Fifty. All you have to do is work your damn mutant magic." Remy made a show of considering. Really though, there was never any doubt - easy work, easy money. "And this don' bother you none?" "Why would it?"

"Mebbe tradition, mebbe a "curse" or something like that."

"Jesus, kid. You watch too many movies. I don't go in for that "spiritualist-tied-to-the-land" crap." Grey made a dismissive gesture with his hands and then jammed them back in his pockets. They each grabbed some tools and walked over to the site.

"So why take de name o' Grey Crow'?"

"It has a hell of alot more style then o' Ed'."

The first night was easy - in a sense. Grey had already mapped the changes in rock texture to show where the openings had been sealed with clay. It took Remy the better part of the night and all of his energy, charging small sections at a time and then running like hell. By dawn, both men were covered in dust from head to toe and Remy had a second degree burn on the back of his neck from when he failed to clear his own handiwork in time. Grey had expressed concern, but all Remy felt was frustrated. Despite his bravado, he had little control on the timing of his explosions.

Grey ordered them both back to Millstone at sunrise - the last thing he wanted to do was get nailed by an unscheduled Federal fly-over.

Claire asked no questions why her tenant slept through most of the day and could barely be wakened for supper. He ate in silence and she considered, just for a brief moment, what it might be like to have a conversation with him when he wasn't being flirtatious or arrogant. However, Claire wasn't a person for risks. She left him alone in the main room, after having shooed the last of her customers out.

Remy barely noticed when she left. Nursing his beer, he hit a state of reflection that was rare and always unwelcome. In New Orleans, to defile one's ancestors was unthinkable. The imposing city graveyards had been respected, even by the Assassins, as neutral ground. Was there such a thing as a pinch not worth taking?

"Merde. Henri'd knock me over de head for a thought like dat," he muttered with amusement.

"They say only crazy people talk to themselves." Grey had come in through the back, work gloves already on.

"Only if dey answer back."

"Positive thinking. You ready?"

"Almost. Need some ammo." Remy left his beer bottle spinning on the table and leapt over the bar. Pulling two bottles of Wild Turkey from the floor cabinet, he tossed one to Grey - who barely caught it."

"Don look so surprised, homme. After tonight, we ain't gonna have a problem paying de belle back."

"A man after my own heart."

"Au contraire. A man after de fortune in dose hills."

The second night was far simpler work. Working with shovels, the two men sweated their way into the crypt in under an hour.

"Jesus H. Christ. The art freaks are gonna love this." Grey Crow took a chug of his whiskey and shined the flashlight back and forth.

Thirteen bodies, laden with gifts for the afterlife lay in a row on stone biers.

"Do de appraisal later. We need to get dis stuff in de Jeep." The last few words slurred a little. Remy had been hitting the Wild Turkey almost as hard as Grey. Punctuated by several more "refreshment breaks" both men loaded the majority of their find into the back of the Jeep. As Grey sat with his back against a tire, singing, Remy kicked through the scattered bones. The job had been sickening. The take would be thrilling. Walking out of the crypt and into the light of the moon, Remy raised his arms in drunken benediction. Wasn't any deed made clean by the rush he felt? Charging the whisky bottle and tossing it into the air, Remy smiled as a thousand flaming sparks littered the sand.

It was one of life's little miracles that they made it back to Millstone alive. Remy had to practically drag Grey to his bed in the back of the service station.

The Indian, for his part, could only mumble, "Thousands of dollars, man - *thousands*."

Remy made sure the canvas cover was snug on the Jeep and stumbled across the street. The high he had felt in the desert was beginning to fade, only to be replaced by a cold, empty feeling that made him shake. Halfway across the road, Remy's stomach began to lurch. Moaning in despair, he collapsed to his knees and emptied the whisky into the dirt.

He never quite remembered just how long he had lain there, shivering. Or when he had first realized he was not alone. His clearest memory of the night was of a pale man, tall and imposing, dressed in an old-fashioned black suit, looking down on him with the cruelest disdain.

"I cannot possibly believe that *you* represent the end of my search."

 

PART FIVE

There was no flash of sunlight to tell him it was morning, no call to breakfast. Nonetheless, something deep inside Remy Lebeau told him to get up - immediately. In some ways his mild hangover was more surprising to him than his abrupt change of surroundings. Careful not to draw any attention, he subtly scanned the room. Cavern, actually, was a more apt description - chiseled from rock and supported with thick wooden beams. Electrical wiring ran up and down the walls, giving the room a disquieting organic feel. Nearly thirty yards away, a shadowed figure weaved in and out of strange blinking machines.

"I see you've shrugged off your drunken fit. For a young man in the prime of his life, you show remarkably poor stamina. Not an appropriate show of breeding."

It was the man from the street. Remy had to practically force his voice to answer the challenge. "Who de hell are you."

The figure came forward into the light. Perhaps it was a trick of the shadows or his dehydrated senses, but Remy believed the man *flowed* rather than walked.

"I have many names. In times you will learn to say them all with respect."

What he saw was not to be believed. The man, if he could fairly be called a man, stood at nearly six and a half feet. Not unusual for a basketball player, but no one who ever played for the NBA ever had shiny white skin and glowing red eyes. They reflected nothing but raw power. As if to crown them, the man's forehead boasted a shining red diamond. Whether he was royalty or a figure from some dark Mass, Remy couldn't tell. Had been able to move, he would have run blindly.

"Mon dieu. I'm having a nightmare."

A ghostly smile appeared on the man's face. "Perhaps. Follow me" He turned abruptly and his cape flared like a wave.

Remy found himself able to rise. Without truly understanding why, he followed the dark figure.

For a man noted for being quick on his feet, Remy soon fell behind. When he finally caught up to his host, the man had perched himself in a contorted stone chair atop a high dais.

"I am called Sinister."

"Hell of a name, mon ami." Was humor going to get him out of this weird dungeon? Probably not.

"It was appropriately bestowed and I value it. Remember what I said about respect."

"*Pardon* It's not that I mind being carried off to a party, but you j'st robbed me of some well-earned reward and dis joint has a real short guest list."

"For now, I am all you need."

"Dat so?" Despite himself, Remy was curious. A set-up like this would have required serious funding.

"Allow me to elaborate. I am a man of science, specifically, mutant genetics. I recruit promising young mutants to serve as.......research assistants and general staff."

"You hold a job fair in de Arizona desert?"

"Hardly. I located you by far more refined methods. I know quite a bit about you, Remy Lebeau, although you come with mixed recommendations."

"Dat's what all de ladies say." Remy tried not to panic - how did this man know his name?

Sinister continued as if Remy hadn't spoken. "In short, I am offering you a job. I have certain tasks that need to be performed that require all of your talents."

"I'm not much of a nine to fiver." He turned to go, but found again that he couldn't. What the hell kind of power did this man have?

"Don't be rash." Sinister smiled like a snake. "There are benefits. I can teach you how to use your mutants powers - all of them - in ways that you have never dreamed. The petty limitations you have lived with shall simply cease to exist."

That statement embodied the most tempting offer Remy Lebeau had ever received. This was an opportunity that New Orleans could never have offered him. But, training aside, there was still a very important issue. "How much?"

Sinister's smiled broadened, showing two lines of sharp, pointed teeth. For a pittance of wealth and power, he could buy any man. If the shortsightedness of his race disappointed him, it was only for the moment. Following a grand tradition born in the sewers of London, this callow fool would serve as a perfect lower agent of his plans.

"As much as you can take. However, I do require at least a minimal amount of team spirit." He hit a switch by his hand and a hidden panel to Remy's left side opened.

If the first nine figures made any impression, Remy didn't show it. It was the tenth mutant that froze the blood in his veins.

Victor Creed's smile was wide and malicious. "Welcome to the Marauders, pup."

 

PART SIX

Bitter memories of Paris flooded through Remy's mind. Without thinking, he launched himself at Creed. He hadn't taken more than a few steps when the ground seemed to lurch out from under him. Clutching his rolling stomach, Remy Lebeau went crashing down on his knees.

A woman stepped out from the crowd of chuckling mercenaries. "Looks like the little boy fell down and went 'boom'."

Battling the nausea, Remy forced himself to look up at her and immediately wished he hadn't - her dress was skin-tight and swirled with a blend of colors that made his eyes water.

It was Sinister that spoke next. "Vertigo, release him. I think he has learned his first lesson sufficiently." He waited until Remy had pulled himself to his feet. "Perhaps I should make the introductions. These are your......co-workers: Vertigo, Arclight, Scalphunter, Scrambler, Harpoon, Malice, Blockbuster, Prism, Riptide.......and I believe you already know Sabretooth."

Remy inhaled sharply and waited for his knees to steady. "First party I ever been to dat didn't have at least one 'Bob'."

"Names are chosen to reflect certain abilities......as well as character traits. I could select one for you if you like."

Remy considered the offer seriously. Having entered into this strange arrangement, it probably wasn't a good idea to have this linked in any way to the Guilds. But he wasn't sure how he felt about Sinister, either. "I'll pick for mys'lf. When I'm ready."

Remy later realized that Mr. Sinister was nothing if not quick on the uptake. In the month that followed, he barely saw the rest of the so-called "Marauders", leading him to believe that perhaps Sinister really meant him for something else. In fact, Sinister seemed to take an extraordinary interest in Remy's "education." The tunnel system that Sinister inhabited was truly amazing, and to his delight, offered many avenues of access into the city above. Remy had never seen Seattle, and his mentor gave him plenty of rope. But increasingly, Remy felt a greater draw to be at Sinister's side. Unlike his own foster father, the mutant teacher seemed to understand and sympathize with Remy's frustration over his own lack of control. Careless acrobatics had always come easy to the young Cajun, but Sinister soon taught him the benefits of discipline and concentration. Tossing rocks at multiple attacking targets, Remy learned to master the size, timing, and intensity of his kinetic charges.

And unlike his brother and father, Sinister was always quick to praise.

But the Marauders returned, and Remy had to tolerate, if not welcome, their presence and Sinister's divided attention. He would send them out in carefully selected teams, on apparently unconnected missions that would advance and define their abilities. Their orders were often left on the computer, as Sinister himself was rarely seen outside his lab.

Remy's orders never called for him to partner Sabretooth or Malice, for which he was immensely grateful. He suspected that Malice wasn't entirely sane and the proximity of Victor Creed still elicited hate and guilt in almost unbearable measure. The pickings of Seattle were fat, and over all, he felt he had little to complain about - for their were great opportunities in unlikely places. Competent thugs didn't necessarily make for competent poker players.

"I'll take three." Of all the pigeons in the world, Remy was especially grateful for Riptide. They had cleaned out a rare coin collector earlier that evening without tripping a single alarm, and most of the loot was already stacked in Remy's pile. Riptide was wagering heavily and Remy was fairly sure one more hand would present him with the entire pot.

"None for me, mon ami."

"Bullshit. You ain't got nothing. You're bluffing."

Remy simply stared. Belladonna had once remarked that a statue showed more emotion than her lover's poker face. He had named this particular strategy after her - Belladonna's Gambit.

The tension didn't waver, and it was Arclight was finally spoke. "Jesus, man, call or fold."

Riptide looked at his own paltry pile of coins and frowned. All that work just to line the pockets of that obnoxious Cajun. With a moan he slapped his cards down on the table. "I'm out."

Remy's poker face cracked into a grin. With a luxurious sweeping motion he drew the pot to his side of the table - and broke a cardinal rule. With a lazy flip, his winning hand landed face up on the table.

An ace of spades, a two of diamonds, a nine and four of hearts, and a six of clubs. All in all, a perfect nothing.

Riptide sat, white-faced. "I had a two-pair."

Remy smiled nonchalantly and shuffled the cards. "Unlucky at love, but very lucky at cards."

Riptide didn't even bother to swear. Tipping over the table, he launched himself at his opponent.

Hours of training with Sinister had sharpened Remy's reflexes to a point. In a blur, he dodged Riptide and sent a kinetically-charged spray of cards at him. The air cracked with 52 tightly contained explosions. Riptide and Arclight went flying back, their clothes smoldering.

"ENOUGH!"

Remy turned in shock to see Sinister's imposing form blocking the doorway. Sinister barely looked at him, instead, glaring at his two downed minions. "Lebeau, get them on their feet and meet me in my audience chamber." He turned to leave.

"Gambit"

Sinister turned back. "Excuse me?"

"My name is Gambit."

His mentor smiled thinly and nodded.

Remy Lebeau looked back at his teammates, struggling to their feet amongst the burnt laminate littering the floor.

Gambit arched an appreciative eyebrow and followed Sinister.

Exploding cards made for one hell of an effect.

 

PART SEVEN

For the first time since they had met, Gambit and the rest of the Marauders assembled together in Sinister's audience chamber. Remy noted that the seemingly ageless mutant appeared preoccupied, as if his body was in attendance while his mind still operated in his lab.

Malice, possessed of little patience and even less sense, felt bold enough to challenge him. "Get on with it. I had a little trip planned for the week."

Sinister's ruby eyes pinned her where she stood. "You'll go when and where I direct." He paused, and seemed to consider an alternate plan. "However, your services are not immediately needed. What did you have in mind?"

Harpoon spoke up, "We had a fix to go to Los Angeles. The rain's starting to bore."

"And Lila Cheney's hitting town," chimed Scalphunter with a leer. Sinister gave a dismissive wave of his hand. "As you wish. Take a locator and make sure you all make it to New York by the week's end." Malice grinned triumphantly, and rolled her eyes at Sinister's next remark.

"Remember, Malice, no disturbances."

"No one will even know we were there," she replied sweetly.

Remy considered, it had been a long time since he had been to California. But it would be even longer.

"Sabretooth and Gambit will stay. I have need of you both."

Creed's breath was hot on the back of Remy's neck. "Ooooh. Alone at last."

Gambit's nerves twitched. If anything, Victor Creed was even more savage than he had been in Paris. It would be a public service to kill him, but the dark truth was that Creed absolutely terrified him. Somewhere between their first encounter and Genvieve's death, Sabretooth had come to represent everything Remy despised and feared in himself - his lack of control, his selfishness, the cold calculation that could save a brother but allow an innocent woman to fall to her death. He had fled back to New Orleans, back to Belladonna, but neither his family nor his wife could cure him of himself.

Without replying, Gambit left the chamber and followed the twisted tunnels to the place where Marauders were not allowed and therefore the only place a daring thief could try to speak to Sinister in private. As usual, Sinister was there before him, expecting him.

"What's in New York?"

"Nothing that concerns you too deeply. A failure - mine, perhaps someone else's. I need you and Creed as scouts, to tell me what I need to expect."

Remy smiled, almost sympathetically. "I t'ought you didn't make m'stakes. And I t'ought not'ing went on wit'out your knowledge."

He meant it as a tease, but his comments agitated Sinister. "I have worked longer and harder than you could possibly imagine. My work will ensure that mutant genetics will proceed to advance the species in ways never dreamed possible. Something, *someone* is interfering with that."

"Someone messing wit' your lab?" This disturbed Gambit greatly; security was, in part, his responsibility.

"The world is my lab, boy. And some incompetent has introduced a deadly flaw into the gene pool." He looked thoughtfully at Remy. "You learn quickly. Perhaps you need to be introduced to the larger picture."

He typed a command into the computer and a part of the cavern wall shimmered away as an illusion. Remy stared in amazement at the view. Not being trained in science, he knew he could never put a name to the equipment he saw - but it was extensive, and not of Earth. The centerpiece of the lab was a Pyrex cage that contained...........a girl.

"Mon dieu. What is it?"

" A Morlock. Someone's sad idea of mutagenics. I was attempting to see if I could reverse the process."

The mutant was twelve, perhaps thirteen. Her hair had completely fallen out and her skin was peeling in flaky strips. It gave her the appearance of a hideous sunburn, barely covered by a flimsy medical robe.

Remy's stomach lurched. "Dere's not'ing you can do?"

Sinister wasn't paying much attention to Remy, instead totally focused on the girl. "There is plenty I can do. This experiment must be sterilized completely. I found the greatest infestation located in the tunnels beneath New York. I *will* see this end."

Remy felt his breath catch in his throat. "What do you want us t'do?"

"Exterminate them all."

Sinister returned to his lab later that evening to a great disappointment. The cage had been deftly unlocked, with the Morlock girl missing. The computer flashed a single line of text into the darkness.

"I am not an Assassin."

 

PART EIGHT

Victor Creed smelled his employer long before he saw him- formaldehyde, sulfur, and the sweet, lingering smell of a long death. Being caged below Northwestern Washington was making him restless and he started up at Sinister with hot, baleful eyes.

"The cajun has greatly disappointed me."

Creed almost stopped breathing. He could hear the blood rush past his ears.

"He has stolen something from me and left." Creed deeply bit the inside of his lip and shivered as the rich, salty taste of blood flooded his mouth.

"Deal with him and return. I have far more important things for you to attend to."

Sinister allowed himself a smile of consolation. At least one of his Marauders knew how to follow orders. Creed had already left.

Gambit ran. To his humiliation and increasing panic, he had already gotten lost in tunnels twice. For a boy bred in the labyrinth beneath New Orleans, his lack of direction was unthinkable.

Well, so was betraying Mr. Sinister.

He shifted the girl in his arms and was surprised when she didn't make a sound. Initially, she had put up a struggle when he had released her from Sinister's lab. Remy had bound her tightly in a blanket to keep her from impeding his progress. Now, her breathing was slightly labored and her eyes had a dull, lifeless glaze to them.

He was confused as well as terrified - what the hell had he been thinking? What was he going to do with this......Morlock? So he ran. Markings on the tunnels finally gave him his bearing - the Harbor District. If he could find an exit that was fairly unobserved, he might be able to disappear into the night. He cut left and stumbled, nearly dropping the girl. Another few paces would lead to the storage basement of an abandoned theatre near the docks. He patted his bundle awkwardly, "Hang on, petite. Not much furth..." The whisper died in his throat.

"LEBEAU!" Victor Creed's voice was full with triumph and bloodlust. He had the Cajun's scent firmly - and it was fresh. He would overtake the pup soon - and then there would be nothing holding him back.

"Mon dieu," choked Remy. Sinister had sent that animal after him.

This wasn't going to be a reprimand - this would be a slaughter. Pulling the girl roughly against him, he scrabbled through the hole that led him into the basement of the theatre. Abandoned for years, yet never pulled down due to a property lawsuit, it was the perfect access to the darker side of Seattle. And most likely, itwould become his tomb. There was a ladder leading up to a trapdoor that probably opened onto the stage. Shifting the girl to one arm, he grabbed for thad always been able to count on - self-preservation. Accessing the depths of his power the way Sinister had trained him, Gambit let an enormous rush of mutant energy race through his hands into the blanket wrapping the Morlock girl. He dropped the entire glowing package, mortar style, down the passage directly on top of Victor Creed.

The resulting explosion knocked him backwards into the orchestra pit. Grabbing the edge for support he hauled himself back to his feet when the smoke cleared. There would be cops. There would be.....Sinister. He ran. Less than an hour later he made his way to the docks under the cover of night and freezing Seattle rain. A loading freighter gave him his chance. Bounding up the gangway after the last worker, he was roughly stopped by the deckmaster.

"Where the hell do you think you're going?"

"Need a job."

The deckmaster looked him over skeptically. "Buddy, we ain't going for no harbor cruise. We ain't stopping 'till we hit Madripoor."

"Give a body a chance." He kept his head low. If this guy saw his eyes, his chance would be gone.

The deckmaster considered. This guy looked like nine different kinds of hell and was probably on the run from the law. But Jesus, his crew wasn't exactly the pillars of society and he didn't much care who's back he broke. "Okay, whatever. Go below - I sure hope you're ready to work or I'll toss your sorry ass over the side."

Remy Lebeau barely heard him as he followed the other men into the bowels of the ship, back into the darkness.

He had done what he thought he had to do. And understanding the consequences, now or later, would never erase it. It was already too late.


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