The Bauers, Isabel Mendez, Emilio Suarez, I-Ping Soong and Tham Kriengchayapruk belong to me. Jason Auspach technically belongs to Marvel, but I supplied the surname. All other characters belong to Marvel. I'm not profiting by this.

Comments go to Flames will be blithely ignored.

Minute Change

Part 17

Karolina Phillips



Rogue skittered to a stop, making a clumsy landing on the front lawn of the Mansion. The stumbled for nearly eight feet, damaging the winter grass and kicking up chunks of ice. She had been in pain for the entire flight and was numb with one goal. The incessant buzzing gnashing at her consciousness had to stop. Her physical reaction to whatever Sinister had done to her, the involuntary spasming had to stop. She would make it stop.

"Rogue! Where have you been?" A cheerful breeze announced Storm.

"'Mornin', Storm." Rogue squeezed a hand into a fist wondering if she curled it tight enough the bones would break. It was physically possible, a submerged portion of her mind informed her in a scientific note. Uneasily, she shoved the voice down and could not help begrudging the African woman her visible sense of peace and happiness. Shanghaied by Sinister, mentally raped and dumped in the snow. How about you?

Storm lit in front of her, pacing backwards in the air. She was bundled in loose, olive drab clothing, the military color somehow appearing elegant as her white hair lashed in the billows keeping her aloft. The shoes she wore were impractical for the snow. "We were worried about you." Her pupils narrowed catlike, "What happened to you?"

Rogue blinked, hearing herself laugh brokenly. "Nothin'. Please get outta my'way, 'Roro." She tried but then bit back her failed smile, gritting her teeth to avoid laughing or crying. She knew that because Ororo was adept at guarding her own emotions it made her more perceptive of others. Her timing was inconvenient.

"What is wrong?" Storm's eyes went blank white, as the breeze became a circling wind. She lifted higher into the air.

Rogue's right shoulder twitched, pins and needles crawling up her arm and side. She drifted away from Ororo, trying to stay out of immediate range. Training instincts were gnawing at her to either retreat and regather, or to disable the enemy. "E'rythin'. Ah was stupid, Storm. Stupid! Ah -- no, don' get any closer. Ah'll hurt ya. Ah'll rip y'apart. Ah don' wan' to, but Ah will. Ah can feel you. Y'here, an' here, an' there," she pointed at areas bordering Storm, who reached into a pocket and removed a communicator.

She started shaking, feeling that smile again as the other woman called in the situation. Enemy. Why did I call her the enemy? Who called her that? "Please tell me y'can see it too. Y'can see natural forces. Please?" Her throat choked on the last word. I'm begging again. It seemed to be her life story. She either had to beg for basics or steal what she wanted. Then again, waiting did not seem to work either.

She saw that Storm was maintaining a five foot distance between them. It was a cruel distance, a world away from peace. I asked for that distance. It was, nevertheless, a tactical (tactile?) advantage.

Ororo's voice interrupted her wandering mind. "It is clear that you are unwell. I have contacted Hank. He is waiting for you. Please, come with me." The command seemed to come from the forest and sky around them, more than from the woman who spoke.

Rogue looked up into the blue sky and wondered if a bolt of electricity could arc down from it. She wondered if it would matter if it hit her. At worst, it would simply jumble her brain a bit more. More likely, she would have another scar on her jacket and nothing more.

She looked back at the gap of air between them. "Whe' the hell did y'think Ah was goin'? Now, y'wan' me t'go in there, you back off, y'here?"

Ororo raised her chin and eyed her doubtfully. "Your skin is covered, there is no danger from your power...nor any from mine. Can you not share your distress with me?" Her face was implacable, a tight smile that was likely intended to be gentle curving across her face.

Rogue looked into those unblinking eyes and the part of her mind that chittered grew in volume until it became a warning growl. It was a silent growl of one predator recognizing another. Perversely, she dropped her accent to serve as a warning. "You have asked me once. You have asked me twice. Don't ask me again." Rogue raised a hand, palm out. It was encased in a glove but she could feel the haze of static engulfing Storm. The field seemed weakest at the edges and almost palatable at the center, towards its owner. "Storm, y'ain' generatin' 'lectricity, are ya?" She looked at her hand, trying to see what she was feeling.

"No. There is no need for me to do so. Why do you-"

"It don' matter, sugar." She put her accent back and hand down, backing away further. She took deep breaths, doing her best to slow her heart, to regain equilibrium. She tried to silence the roar like that of a surf drowning her mind and realized she was swinging her head from side to side. Knowing how that would appear to others, she forced herself to stop. "Ah'm goin' t'see, Beast. Ah promise, Ah'll go straight t'the Medlab, but y'all got t'keep 'way from me."

Rogue hunched against the smooth metal walls of the sub-level corridor and clasped her head between her palms. So far, she had encountered Bishop and Sam, both of whom had dutifully avoided her vicinity. The worst part about all this was not that she was hurt, not that Sinister had done something to her that made near touch charged. It was having her friends see her in this condition. Madness made a bad impression no matter how understanding another person was. Recalling her earlier lesson, she kept her eyes open and stared at the floor. The buzzing had dulled to a partial deafness. Hopefully that would fade as well.

She braced her left arm on the door frame and peered into the Medlab. Every surface, from floor, walls, ceiling, monitors and beds glowed aqua except for a yellow circle where Hank crouched. His blue hair and clothing were in their perpetual disarray and battle scarred safety goggles added to the effect. It was reassuringly normal.

"Ah'd ask where Frankenstein was, but Ah already met 'im."Jokes helped make bizarre things seem normal.

"Frankenstein was the doctor not the monster. Although, some would argue that I qualify as both." Absently, Hank groomed the long hair along his upper jawline with clawed fingertips. Some of it snagged and he worked the knot out before giving her further attention.

"Nah. He beat y'to it."

Behind the plastic of his goggles, reflecting green lines and diagrams, Hank McCoy's obscured eyes took in the damage her uniform had taken. Several places were torn, some punctured. Hank vaulted over a lab instrument and pushed the safety goggles up. With a fingertip, he scraped some blackish crust off one of the punctures and raised his eye brows at her. "He?"

Her reaction was too slow. He was too close. Her ribs squeezed the air from her lungs and her teeth ground audibly. He was within touching distance. Every time she gave a passing thought to that, his presence scraped across the raw nerve her power had become. And something else. Just a for a second, as that happened, the din in her mind subsided.

Seeing her panic, Hank stepped out of reach.

"Sinister." Nathan. She shuddered and remembered. He'd had grayish white skin, like something dead infested by nanotechnology but not consumed. His lips had been dark, crisp, around a sharp smile. It made her think of dried blood around a vampire's mouth. And, through those flat red eyes, she could almost see the pinpoints of pupils. It had reminded her of Mystique. They even spoke the same way, with melodiously amused accents so soothing and controlled.

For an absent moment, she thought about finely crafted wooden furniture, powdered wigs, a dawning scientific age and arguments about evolution and religion. She remembered horses alongside curved vehicles. She remembered a fine horn pipe laying on a crystal bowl, a book of anatomy beside it. She remembered a wife who lay still and quiet during sex, and that last part made her chuckle until she realized whose memories they were.

Hank coughed. "Excuse me?"


"You said 'Sinister' and laughed."

"People are funny. Even crazy people, though, they're usually pretty borin', since they're obsessed with one thing in pa'ticular." She blinked to a stop, looking at Hank. "Ah'm sorry. It's jus' that Ah need somethin' to think about. It keeps my mind clear, sometimes. Y'can carry on."

"As you wish." Despite a doubtful response, he leaned over her shoulder and inspected the entry point at her back. She knew that the entire surrounding area was singed. "Take off the jacket. He did this?"

She slid her arms out of the sleeves and let it fall over the examination table. "No. Someone else did that." She tucked her chin close and placed both gloved hands on her knees. The thick leather made no difference. Instinctively, she knew that it was thinking about Hank that she had to avoid. Unfortunately, all her mind seemed to find interesting at the moment was the middle to late nineteenth century. I need to talk to Jean. She'll know what to do. Ah'm hurt inside not outside.

"Mm. No wound, I see. I presume you acquired Logan's aid."

The lie was on the tip of her tongue but she needed help, not lies. "No. Sinister did that too."

Hank paused, holding a pen in the air. "Are you telling me that one unnamed personage assaulted you and our local mad scientist healed you?" He picked up a clipboard and jotted down a note. It made ticking, tapping and scratching noises. She winced until the pen was tucked behind an ear and lost in a mass of blue fur. "How peculiar. I don't imagine you would be willing to supply the identity of the unnamed personage so I might understand the nature of your injuries?"

Buzz. Buzz. Buzz.

She stared at him, with no conception of what he had just asked. The static in her ears, in her head, was not going away. She had forgotten to think about something. So it buzzed and it buzzed like a chainsaw. She guessed. "My power...."

She should not have come here. She raised a hand, palm out, slowly passing it through his bio-electrical aura. Maybe it was okay.... She sucked in her breath and slammed her hand down and reminded herself that a man was dead because of that 'maybe'. "Ah'm sorry. Ah was.... My power's workin. It...."

Vaguely, she noticed him set down the clipboard. "Allow me to illustrate my perspective, Rogue. You come here with mysteriously healed injuries, wave your hand in my face and apologize. I can't help you if I don't know what's wrong. "

"Why ain' y'listenin?" She slid off the table and grabbed her jacket. "Where's Jean? She can help me. Where is she?"

Hank, being the patient person he was, did not snap back at her. He adjusted his glasses. "Since I'm not one to intrude, I'd like to say that you are physically fit and healthy with the exclusion of exhaustion. You're also in shock, although I doubt that matters to you. Jean has been alerted." He turned his back to her, picked up the clipboard and padded away.

She sagged in relief and removed her death grip from her knees. This is not good. First Storm, now Beast. I can't get close to a person without wanting to strangle them. It galled her to admit it, but Jean could probably help. If not help, she would know what was wrong. She slid off the table.

"Sit down," he ordered, poking his head out from behind a cabinet door and pointing at the Shi'ar polygraph. "I reiterate. What I see is a woman who is either in shock or drugged." Hank moved to block the door. "What I see is blood on your uniform but no visible injury. It is seven o'clock in the morning and you have been missing for over forty-eight hours. No one knew where you were, or what you were doing. Cerebro couldn't pinpoint your location. You claim to have been in Nathan Mulberry's tender care so the immediate course of action is to encertain that there are no...biological concerns."

"Ah know y'wouldn' be givin' Wolvie the third degree like this," she bit out, but obediently sat in the medical scanner. The sooner she gave him what he wanted, the sooner she could leave. She rested her head against the cold metal of the scanner and her skin crawled. The white walls flickered in blue and green while all around her, computerized equipment hummed. She had to leave this place.

"True, but if Logan were to appear in the Medlab under similar circumstances, I would know the factors involved in the situation."

Growing more agitated and pained by the second, she snapped, "An' if y'gon' gi'me a lecture on responsibility, then Ah will fin' someone - ow!" She looked in shock at a receding hypo, and jumped out of the chair. She had forgotten that many of Hank's medical devices contained proximity inhibitors. Rogue turned on him, "Ah di'n' think y'd sink this low. Too bad y'drugs won' work with my power, huh?"

His brows lowered and he frowned but waited a patient moment before replying, "Please, stay calm. I'm afraid your Kree metabolism will be no aid." Looking up, "I dosed you with heroin. I suggest you sit back down before I have to catch you."

Her body confirmed and she swayed drunkenly. Well, at least it doesn't hurt anymore. She slumped into the polygraph, swearing at Hank and all his precedents and descendants.

Jean quietly shut the wooden door of the boathouse. She did not want to wake Scott and waste time in an argument he could not win. What had woken her was an agitated Henry McCoy and even more agitated Rogue. No, I don't think Scott would let me near her without a pretty big argument.

She kept one eye on the path and one on the Astral plane. What she saw there disturbed her, almost frightened her if she was fully honest with herself. Rogue's mind was coiling into itself, randomly striking outwards at pinpoints of light, occasionally passing over them but never connecting. The closer it got to one, the more agitated it became arching like a snake biting on empty space.

She crossed her fingers and discounted her earlier theory about this being a mental condition. While a mental condition could appear as a dark blighted area, it could not leap around like a living thing trying to devour nearby minds. Definitely a siphon. Thank you Professor. He would have known what she was the second he looked at her, if he saw anything like this. Of course he would have kept this under wraps. Her anger eased. But Betsy's right. I'm not sure I'd want a psi-siphon of unknown ability operational either. A siphon, who in a fit of rage did to an enemy what the Professor did to Magneto with less effort and, in the long run, less consequence to themselves.

But why is she missing? Jean watched Rogue strike out at Hank, saw his psionic light warp, then hold in place. The connection might be dependent on physical contact, after all. Either that or she's resisting or- The dark avatar suddenly fell dead, wrapping into itself.


Right here.

What happened. Her mind just froze.

I, er, drugged her.

Isn't that a little bit unethical?

Perhaps. She was apparently calm but her beta levels were at an abnormally high frequency and theta waves were present. Furthermore, her brain is saturated with what appears to be seratonin. While my specialty is neither neurology nor physical medicine, I thought it best to restrain and sedate her. As physical restrains were unfeasible, I thought a chemical solution best. The drug I used is specific to her physiology and will not harm her.

She shook her head sharply. Never mind. I'm in the lift now. I'll be there in a minute. Sweeping her mind through the mansion and grounds, she located Elisabeth.

Betsy, I'm probably going to make psionic contact with Rogue. Are you willing to act as back up?

Excuse me? No warning, no explanation?

I don't know how much time I have. I'll take her to the War Room and use Cerebro, but I don't know if that'll keep me grounded. All I'm asking is that if anything goes wrong, that you pull me out. When Elisabeth held silent, Jean sorely wished she was an empath and could guess her mood.

Fine. Fine, I'll be there. Just let me tell Warren.

She strode into the Medlab, spotting Rogue sprawled in the polygraph. "Well?" she looked at Hank, who made face that exposed his lower canines.

"No physical injuries, but" he motioned her over to his console, "I found this." He pointed at branching node superimposed over a translucent diagram of a skull and brain. "It's expanding, so my guess is nano-tech, gift of Sinister. Tracking device at the very least."

"...Right. Can you remove it?" She considered the diagram. As a planned attack on the X-Men, this made no sense. It was too obvious. Which meant it might be target specific, but it was still obvious. Unless he doesn't care if we know in which case it may be something so devastating that we'll have no defense against it. Or it could just be an experiment.

"No, not without dissecting her brain. Although, if his intention was to kill her-"

"He would have done it the first time around. It doesn't make any sense."

Hank sighed slowly and tipped his head in acknowledgment. "It does if it's purely an experiment."

"Mm. I thought of it too." In the end, she could only do what she did best. "You work on this and don't mention it to Scott quite yet. I have to take her to the War Room. She's safe to move?"

"Yes, but may I make a suggestion?" He pinched an inhibitor between his thumb and index finger.

She had to admit that putting an inhibitor on Rogue would probably be the easiest and surest solution until she figured out how to duplicate the Professor's blocks. Unfortunately, common sense also pointed out that it could create a floodgate effect; when removed, her power might lash out viciously and uncontrollably. That and I can't examine her power if it's being suppressed .

She took the device from him and telekinetically lifted Rogue. "Thank you."

A dead white man had once described a metaphysical consciousness composed of all living minds. This mass consciousness contained all the fears, drives and desires of the human race. At the same time, any given mind also contained all these elements and two forces pulled and tugged each other, neither truly the dominant. It was a land of shadows and true beings, forces only glimpsed and half-sensed in the physical world, which seemed so real.

Jean wondered if Carl Jung had been a telepath for this was a land of monstrous beasts. Forces combined created dragons, beings so large, so encompassing, they were invisible to a lone mind. Yet, they were present. They smoked with fire, shook the immaterial earth of the astral plane and if one tried, if one looked everywhere into the void at once, the dragons could be seen dancing. For all their power, they could have been kittens. The astral plane did not care about single mind in its mass.

But, when a single mind could tap into the power of dragons, boundaries shifted. The very laws of reality were changed. A single mind could then trample a league of heroes. Jean mused for a minute at what dragon might be sleeping in the darkness until she realized that Scott would tease her for being overly romantic. She smiled or, perhaps, only imagined she did. She doubted she would find any dragons in Rogue's mind.

The horizon melted and she dropped into a land of hypothermic chill. It was still, dark, an environment that promised peace if she would close her mental eyes and succumb. Her body was lit with the strength of her own spirit but did not glow. The light was swallowed as soon as it left her. This place was not merely dark. It was a soup of emptiness enveloping her. She could not feel her connection to Scott through it and for a second, panicked until the utter benevolence of the location struck.

Nothing was moving. This place was like the bottom of the ocean with the only motion being a subtle undertow. It was a motion not directed towards her. It merely was. She circled, ignoring the lack of ground, searching for the city. It was gone, swallowed up. She half expected a giant-eyed, phosphoric fish to swim up to her. How long have I been here?

As long as you like, fraulein. A ghostly version of Kurt Wagner crouched on an imaginary parapet. He looked through her with empty eyes and empty smile.

Startled, she whirled around, circling back and again. All around her gray shapes broke free from the darkness, some walking jerkily like wound up toys, others floating. They formed a cloud around her, hovering and crowding close like dead jellyfish. Gradually, she began to hear the murmur of a thousand voices, quiet, but insistent as night insects.

Forever and ever. This was young, male, wearing a uniform of some sort. A strap went over his shoulder, a gun hung at his back. He tipped his cap to her but she could not see his eyes.

Until you forget you were a person once. An older man in a suit flicked something off his lapel, then lit a thin cigar.

Hard to tell where you are when the sky's fallen, isn't it?

She felt a cool touch on her shoulder and jerked away from it. Logan stalked around her, grinning.

Come to visit us? Stay awhile?

A gossamer shadow drifted past with a curious gait. A shadow of light, gray on black, it was an old woman. Jean did not recognize her.

You still know who you are, don't you? Why, you're practically solid. All in once piece, as it were. I supposed you're looking for someone. Have you tried a phone call? The ghost proffered a telephone, its cord cut and frayed. The old woman chortled. That was the right symbol, wasn't it?

Jean glanced at the phone. It was the right symbol. It was the perfect symbol, and it was being thrown in her face. These people should not be here. If they had been here all along, she would have found them before now. She let her shoulders drop. This was all a joke, a sick, macabre, joke.

Tsk tsk, she doesn't like calls. Doesn't like to know we're here. Nope, nope. Mustn't let on that she knows we're here.

Of course, she does, don'tchyaknow.

Well, yes, of course she does. Lovely memory that girl has. Not a single thing escapes here. Why, the dear child looked so deliciously frightened last time she visited. But, we can't tell her. Especially seeing how she refuses our calls. Tsk, tsk. The old women nodded sagely. Why, the phone's practically ringing off the hook.

A murmur of laughter came in agreement.

I hope I don't sound too stupid asking, but are you all real? She tried to from a psychic shield, to extend her own mind as a barrier within this one. Energy drained from her, but there was nothing to show for it. There was no comforting boundary between her and this solid wall of caricatures. Though she could not feel the bond she had with Scott, she reasoned it was probably still present, and tugged on it. If it was actually severed, I know I'd feel that.

Did you hear that. She wants to know if we're real?

More laughter echoed back before magnifying into a hiss of amusement. It seemed to become a single hiss, like that of a giant serpent.

Why, of course we're real. As real as we seem. As real as you are. The elderly woman's smile was fond. Then again, all of us become less than real as time passes. Out living our usefulness, I suppose.

For whatever reason, the ghosts were not attacking. I wonder if it's because they view me as one of them. Jean started to dismiss the mass but changed her mind. They were something to concentrate on, after all. It was better to listen to them than float in dead silence, even if they were trying to scare her. The sound was harder to ignore, but even that was only a scare tactic.

Of course, dear. That's what we were telling you. You are one of us. The old woman covered her mouth miming shocked amazement. One, dear me, I shouldn't mislead you like that. Poor dear, pretty soon you'll lose your color too. Everyone here does.

Jean looked down at her arm. The light appeared undiminished. Or was there slightly less pearlescence, less warmth and an undertone of gray in the millisecond that had passed. Did she only imagine a deep lethargy had settled into her bones, tempting her with sleep. She moved to dispel the notion. Besides, no matter how many shadows there were, this was only one mind within the astral plane, not the plane itself and Jean Grey was a telepath with mastery over this world. Rogue? Can you hear me?

She can't hear you. She won't hear you.

Aye, the lass cannae hear in the dark.

Hear no evil, see no evil, dude.

She wanted to tell them to shut up. Carol had made contact with Rogue from within. It could be done regardless of these delaying tactics. She stepped forward, counting on the immateriality of these ghosts to allow her passage.

She sure did, Red, bein's as how the kid came down to visit with blinders on. Wolverine laughed. Then again, Ace over there, he waved behind and the crowd parted, might argue differently.

Jean paused to stare at the hollow shell of a person once called Carol Danvers. She was gray as the rest, the surrounding darkness showing through the eyes. It, Jean could not call it her, gazed blankly past her. Her first thought was that Siege Perilous had removed this persona from Rogue's psyche and her second was that it did not matter. She kept walking and the ghosts drifted out of her way.

The horizon reappeared, rotating until it reached a drunken angle, then faded again. Her pace remained steady but the cold pulled at every step. The darkness pressed down filling her lungs and ears until any imagined sound was lost. The undertow became a gale force wind, pushing her backwards. Rogue? Can you hear me?

She waited forever, for the breath of a moment. A disinterested silence and curious gazes from the ghosts followed.

She was forced to her knees, her breath reduced to gasps. Of course, there was no oxygen here, but the act of breathing remained a representative behavior. She wondered if the ghosts had minds of their own or if they were puppets. And she wondered, if that puppet master was Rogue or the power from which she had disassociated herself. Jean tried again to wrap her shield around herself and tugged on her bond with Scott. It was that safety line that kept her from sinking into this mind to fall endlessly. Or, maybe, that was a matter of perception. Maybe this abyss was a ruse. She would not be trapped. If she fell, her strength would be drained, her mind raped and copied, but not destroyed. Would I become one of these ghosts as they claim I already am?

What are you?

Och, you've already asked that, dear. Moira walked alongside her and smiled.

What are you? What are you really?

Weren'tcha listenin'? Wolverine dropped in front of her, circling slowly in measured steps. We're scars, Red. Things that started t'grow, Logan extended a claw, an got torn 'fore we were done. We're the left-overs.

So what's Carol?

Ace? He thrust his chin up and she saw that his eyes were more than shadowed. The biggest scar of all, darlin'.

The old woman smiled fondly. You shouldn't pry, dearie. You might get your fingers stuck.

Jean finally started to look up, to find the exit.

Now, now, don't fight it. You'll just work us all up. You hush and hold still. The old woman held her shoulders gently but she could not break free. The touch was like ice as the other ghosts crowded around her.

There wasn't time to panic, to back out, to move, to reply. The ghosts were acting in unison, as one entity. The unreality of the situation penetrated. She felt, with stunned curiosity, herself falling into weightlessness and the friction of the darkness eating at her invisible shields. She felt rage that this could happen, that Rogue would allow it to. She felt disoriented by the inability to contact Scott but not scared. There was no time for it. I can fight this.

Stop! I want to help!

She could not see anymore. Not the dark, not herself. All that was left was a tenuous sense of self. It was not painful. That surprised her and the unfairness of that upset her. She clung to her last thoughts, putting as much belief as possible into it. Somewhere, Rogue was hearing, if not listening. I need to make her see. If she won't see, she can't stop this from happening.

Jean opened her eyes but vision eluded her. She was engulfed by the darkness. I want to make her see this, hear. She prepared to convince whoever, whatever, was listening that she could help.

Will you?, asked the sibilant hiss of the mass.

On my word. She did not add that it was because she wanted Rogue to be able to control this facet of herself. There was no telling if this force was malignant, benevolent or benign. She did not know how much subconscious energy was in it. What she could see was that this mind was split between a conscious Rogue and a senseless darkness that appeared to be under her indirect control. If only.... Words. Wrds. Wrrrrrr...ssssssss....

Silence, but beneath it, a lullaby. She could hear her mother's voice humming softly, humming her to sleep. She could hear her but not see her, as if she were a lifetime removed. She stopped falling. The pressure lightened. The presence suffusing her sifted through her mind. She was tired. She could not see. She could not feel and all the power in the world would not help. She wanted to sleep.