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 ja_glinka@yahoo.com Flames will be blithely ignored.


Minute Change

Part 22

Karolina Phillips

2/28/03

 

Flying and falling.
Wind against arms, chest
blistering the eyes, knives of oxygen
searing away debris of thought.

Lancing electromagnetic waves
crashing against, around and through
bed rock. Sweeping as a light wave
blinding darkness. And, oh.

Gambit was slumped, tucked between the bed and the bathroom wall, a light scrape left behind by buckles on his coat. His head lolled over his collar bone, a trail of spittle down his chin. His hands lay palm up on the floor, fingers slightly curled. There were no marks on him.

Rogue shook herself like a wet dog and took a deep breath to control the ragged beat of her heart. She had not been sure she could use her power on him safely so soon again, but his pulse was steady, his breathing even. She consoled herself with the thought that his stubborn refusal to leave had made this necessary. The room swayed around her, so bright, so full of kinetic energies. Her head drifted down.

He lay so quietly, like a corpse washed ashore, the human body too frail to combat tidal forces. She closed her eyes. She closed them to remember. She closed them to turn that mental switch, to compartmentalize and shut away the most uncomfortable feelings, whether or not they were hers. Thank you, Magnus, for this if nothing else..

She smiled, sadly. The others would not understand the sentiment, but then again, they had not been in the Savage Land at the time. They had not died through Siege Perilous. They had not fought a misborne clone of a copied memory. They had not been saved by the enemy. Magnus was an overbearing man, to be sure, but he had understood something about her mutant power that she had been too slow to grasp. Nor did he seem to want anything aside from her company. He was an odd man but predictable in his motivations.

The suppression of her power had been no accident. He put a dampening field around me, so my power couldn't sense any nearby energy. So my power went dormant until his battle with Zaladane broke his concentration. She suspected the Z'Noxx chamber worked the same way, but the inhibitor did not. No, it merely suppressed certain neural activity. But even with it on, her power was still active, still sensing, still reacting, feeding information that was not being absorbed like a person dieting so their body fed on its own muscle mass, churning memories aimlessly. The memories were rolling, boiling, reworking, grinding into an insentient madness.

Only now that she had removed the inhibitor did the voices in her head stop. Wearing it's gonna drive me crazy.

Though Remy had not tried to stop her, there was an additional complication to his mere presence. She went to his side, crouching down, and reached into the left interior pocket of his trenchcoat to retrieve a small metallic tracker. There was a tiny LED compass face built into the surface. Rogue prepared to crush it, then paused, rocking back onto her heels.

She rubbed her lip and considered their earlier discussion. Was is true that she hid behind hand arms and artificial strength to avoid using her own hands? And if she did, then what? Rogue glanced at Remy, hazing a bare hand over his face, touching something she could feel, always feel but never see or understand. People were like live wires and she thought of electricity. Did he see people like Storm saw the world? Can he see what I do with touch? Can he see....

She gasped, the staccato startling her. The energy was so faint now, her fault, but clear as day, wavering like the tendrils of a sea amoebae away from his body. Even those faint wisps curled towards her palm. Already his own power was gradually leaching replacement kinetic energy from his environment. His hand clenched into a fist as her heart accelerated. She closed her mouth, licking dry lips.

"All right then," she muttered to herself. She had a time frame within which she could take advantage of this new development. The tracker went into one of her belt pouches. Taking one last item from Remy's coat, she placed a pair of dark sunglasses over her glowing eyes. Flying out the window, she idly dropped her childhood gun on a nearby rooftop.


Cyclops watched the rising sun, up at this hour per Jean's request. Rogue had not come back yet, but he had his priorities. No, the welfare of the team had priorities. He leaned over and clasped his hands. According to various sources, the Underground, SHIELD and X-Factor, Zero Tolerance was being put on ice. Players were moving to shut the operation down. That did not bring the Professor back. He closed his eyes. It's my job to keep everyone focussed on our goals. We simply can't afford to let one person disrupt the team like this. He heard the door open.

Ororo walked into the Professor's study, wrapped in several layers of robes to ward off the chill. She nodded at Scott and settled into a sofa. Draping her arms like wings, she claimed it as her own.

Jean crossed her legs and glumly perched her chin on a palm. Scott looked at her but avoided her eyes. He reminded himself that no one could see his eyes. I could see that she didn't want to rush Rogue, that she had reservations. I should have let her handle it her way. Psionics are her specialty. Jean had not complained at all since yesterday. Her brow was drawn, eyes distracted.

He kept his own face composed as they waited for the fourth member of their party. Sunlight crawled across the corner of the main desk, a ceramic mug and spilled onto the brown carpet. Elisabeth glided into the room, through the door, each step taken with forethought. Her face was ashy, drawn, her shoulders stiff.

Scott started to ask if she was all right, but her eyes narrowed daring him to offer pity. He shut his mouth and smiled in acknowledgment. She sat slowly, supporting herself with a hand on the armrest and, ignoring the other woman's territorial behavior, sat beside Storm. They were watching him while he watched the patch of sunlight, trying to see it shifting but knowing full well he could only see that it had moved.

"This isn't a formal meeting, guys, I just need an update so I know the status of our search for the Professor. Since this mess with Rogue, I want to know if you two," he nodded towards Jean and Elisabeth, "are up to par."

Jean shrugged. "You know my opinion. She needs help."

Psylocke tipped her head and sighed. Scott expected her to disagree. She spoke. "As much as I would like to avoid a repeat experience, I agree with Jean. I'm tired. Exhausted." She paused to gather her energy. "Seconds of contact and she sucked the life out of me. I do not recall her power being so pernicious."

Scott took a fortifying breath. "I know. I'd like to suggest that we send her to Muir Island because even though part of our mission is to teach, we were gathered to help achieve the Professor's goals. There are too many problems right now; we don't have the resources to expend both our telepaths on one person." Especially one that doesn't seem to want help.

Jean was the first to respond, shaking her head absently. "I agree that we're stretched thin, that this is a risk, but I don't think there's anyone at Muir capable of dealing with it. Not only that, but it took both of us to rein her in when she went berserk. I could have taken over Rogue's mind from within. She had no conscious control, it would have been easy, but I would have lost her trust."

"What exactly do you mean by she went berserk? If it took both of you to contain it...." He shook his head. There was a look on Jean's face, a tightening of her features. She was going to lie to him. He focussed his thoughts on her.

"No, it's not like that. I jumped the gun, made a stupid mistake. I was trying to find out what sensation she might associate with her power before, during or after initiation. I...dangled a psychic probe at the edge of her mind while asking, a subliminal carrot."

Ororo sat still as a cat, thoughts flickering across her face. "And it was too tempting by far?"

"I made a mistake. She kept repeating that she didn't like telepaths in her head, specifically that she didn't like to absorb them because they remained conscious and manipulated her. I ignored her. I thought she was just uncomfortable the same way everyone is around telepaths. I should have considered that she might be especially sensitive to them."

Psylocke's eyes were almost shut. "I imagine she finds those with great power, psionic or otherwise, unusually appealing. Subconsciously, of course."

Jean snapped her fingers in a sweeping motion. "Exactly! She told me she had no psychic training. How would she know the difference between a psionic attraction and any other?" She appeared to speak again, but trailed off into a brief silence. "What if it's the same to her?"

Elisabeth opened her eyes and peered at Jean curiously.

"I'm sorry, I think you've lost us." Scott cocked his head. "What's it? Assuming she's a psi-siphon of some type, how would the fact that she mistrusts telepaths fit in? Following the logic that she can sense the strength and type of mutation of a person, wouldn't it be logical for her to like psis?" He hoped this was not a spur of the moment idea with no solid backing.

Jean cocked an eyebrow at him. "That's what I just said, but let's assume that someone took advantage of her ignorance when her power was emerging. Hell, let's assume that person was a low-grade psi of some type, But keep in mind that a child may have difficulty distinguishing between what is and isn't, the physical and the mental.

"When I, as an adult telepath, look into someone's mind, I know I'm seeing and hearing their immaterial thoughts. It's not real. But if those thoughts suddenly became my thoughts, what would be real? Would there be a difference between someone remembering something they had done or planning to potentially do something? When I was younger and couldn't grasp the metaphysics, I thought I was crazy, hearing voices in my head. I thought it was my fault, but I had someone to teach me otherwise. Xavier had been through it; he understood. Rogue never had that."

Scott felt himself flushing in discomfort. He had a bad feeling he knew where this theory was going. "But, if I understand this correctly, aren't you saying that she enjoys the absorption process? She's never said anything like that. From what I've seen, I'd say it hurts and distresses her more than anything."

Ororo broke in, placid in tone. "It is true; she has shied away from using her abilities and on occasions suffered for them. Yet, I would point out that few offer their minds or abilities to her. Would you admit to someone that you enjoyed tearing a person's mind apart? Would you not try and prevent your own behavior? What if you were given no choice but to always take, because no one ever gave"

Jean met Scott's eyes. "She told me she feels a rush. I know she does but it's practically taboo. If wouldn't mention it in her place either."

"If I may?" Storm imposed. "I am confused. You are speaking of Rogue's power as if it is a purely psychic phenomenon. Yet, we know it requires touch. Would anyone care to explain this to me?" She neither looked nor sounded bewildered.

Jean sighed. "The Professor believed her dependence on touch was largely a product of a negative association created when her power emerged. Now, the fact that it kicked in full gear at her first kiss rather, than say, a handshake implies an association with sexual contact. Then there's the fact that most psi-abilities occur gradually. Heck, most powers grow in spurts. Why so violent? Why all at once?" She threw her hands in the air. "Let's face it, one of the primary connotations of touch, in general, is sex." She sent a rueful glance at Scott, acknowledging that his interpretation had been correct.

"You are implying that she was sexually exploited when her power began to manifest? And that her association was set before she reached her teens?" Storm raised an eyebrow. "I ask because you are making extreme claims based on circumstantial evidence. If you are wrong, you could cause great harm and be harmed in return."

"No, that's not what I'm saying. I had that theory earlier, but like I was saying, If the person who did this to her was a telepath, they could have inadvertently conditioned her not to attack anyone who was like them. Assuming her mutation is a successful one, she should have no difficulty suppressing anyone's mind, including a telepath's. So, her power by nature seeks out mental energies but her conditioning results in your classic guilt complex. And an adult wouldn't have had to to molest her in any way for her to remember it and create a negative association."

Ororo sighed deeply, rearranging herself on the sofa. "Yes, that is possible, but please consider a more basic alternative. Regardless of what terminology you employ, there are natural cycles at work guiding our mutations and powers. Like all natural cycles, they seek to be self-regulating as if they are living things. For example, to all of you this room is still, static and solid, but I assure you, that is not true. This room is like a storm, atmospheric energies flowing all around us, but in their flow, creating serenity."

Storm paused, noting their attention. "Imagine instead of injuries, attacks or abuse that Rogue's power is engaging in the same phenomenon of self-regulation. In this Western society we may regard the form it takes as obscene or shocking. Certainly a child of this society would be traumatized by such effects. Nevertheless, there is no reason to assume that Rogue is or was suffering unless she states such."

"Yes, but-"

"But what, Jean? Has she asked for anything more than help in controlling certain symptoms of her power since Xavier has left?"

"She asked for control."

"Ah." Storm fell silent as the gusts of wind outside increased in tempo. "But Jean, I cannot control the weather. I can only control myself. And I also know, that given the chance, Rogue does not necessarily harm her 'victim', if they give themselves over willingly. So what exactly are you asking of her? What exactly is the problem?"

Scott cleared his throat. "I think we can discuss philosophy later. Let's see if I have this straight. Rogue has started to experience some sort of psychic attacks. These might be mental injury or a form of sensory perception linked to her power." He nodded his head towards Jean, indicating the source of that information. "She has stated that she wants to control her power but refuses help. She has begun showing uncoordinated activity in combat. Mystique arrived and showed little if any concern. I know she's our enemy, but she's consistently shown interest in Rogue's welfare. Rogue ran. She came back with healed injuries and an implant and ran again. Now, what am I missing in this? It sounds to me like this is a long term venture. Wouldn't it be better, if you're right, to send her to a good therapist?"

Jean scowled at him. "A psychologist wouldn't be able to teach her to identify her psychic aura and distinguish between a sensation caused by her power and one caused by hormones. I'm dead sure that's part of her problem and I definitely can help with it."

"That is true, but I do not believe this team has the power capable of containing her mutation, should she choose to pursue it. The Professor was able to suppress it, but you were not."

"Power's not the issue, Storm. Trust is. I aggravated her, on purpose. I was literally asking for it as the saying goes. It was a calculated risk. One thing's for sure, she needs to work with people she trusts."

Ororo slowly rapped her fingers on the back of the couch, measuring Jean with pale eyes. "Of course trust is the issue," she answered, ever so mildly.

Elisabeth was eying all three of them crossly. "Why don't you just ask Gambit? I for one will assume Rogue trusts him," she added dryly.

Jean canted her head in agreement. "Right, psionic double tag. If we can break down one of the two: her negative view of touch or her psi-blindness, we're halfway there."

Scott pursed his lips. This discussion was leaving him behind like a fifth wheel. "I take it no one is agreeable to outside aid?"

Jean and Elisabeth shook their heads in unison. Ororo blinked at him and shrugged slightly.

"Well, I'm going to find Remy." Jean rose and patted his shoulder on the way out.

Storm looked at him in consideration. "I am going to wait for Rogue to return."

"Good, that means I can go to sleep." Elisabeth pulled herself out of the sofa and left without waiting for acknowledgment.

Scott began to pace. None of this addressed his primary concern. It had taken both telepaths to control Rogue. One of them was psionically drained in the process. Only the Professor and mutants like Wipeout were able to suppress her power and those blocks were eroding. A psi-siphon, the antithesis of a telepath. And she doesn't want to, or can't, control her power.

He touched his visor letting the sunlight that flooded through the center of the study wash over him. That's not her fault. Maybe some of us just don't have cognitive control. Still, maybe an inhibitor would be a good idea until Jean's more certain of what's wrong. He paced to the other end of the room. A mutant that preys on psions indiscriminately? No wonder the Professor blocked her power. I would have too.

And where the hell is she? He crossed his arms. What if the things Agent Bauer had said to them were true? What if Rogue was tired of waiting? His lips went tight. What if she knew what had been done to her and was avoiding them simply to address taboo?


Jean sank into the contoured steel and fabric of the central seat of Cerebro. The helmet slid easily over her head, obscuring her face, blinding her outward eyes so her vision could fan outward over the Astral plane.

She expected the search for Rogue to be difficult, arduous and filled with deception so it was with consternation when she neatly queued in a blur of imaginary motion.

"Please take your entry pass. Please do not lose your ticket."

Jean stared owlishly at the paper stub in her hand. It had come out of some sort of toll booth, one of many that stretched as far as she could perceive into an arc. The booth had a fresh shiny metallic surface, an innocuous pillar with a light scanner that had passed over her body as she approached.

Under her feet was fresh black pavement leading directly - 'please do not take any side streets' - to the City. The light here wavered in a state of perpetual twilight, the lights from the metropolis brighter than the sky. To either side of her, heavy construction vehicles were building more roads and erecting guard rails. They made imaginary sounds and even threw up virtual smoke and grit. Of course, there were no drivers, which made matters a bit odd.

Jean Grey Summers, you are officially in deep ca-ca.

"Please proceed with caution. Please do not lose your ticket."

So she started walking and drew her psi defenses tighter. She had to wonder how Rogue's mind had converted pools of tar and broken wilderness into a regulated structure so quickly. Unless the City was already here. Maybe only the roads and toll booths are new which makes me wonder if anything was being suppressed at all or just disguised. Maybe Xavier couldn't control her either.

Looking over her shoulder, she confirmed the booths were still there, replacing walls of black tentacles. Apparently, visitors were now welcome. She returned her gaze, uneasily, to the City and came to an abrupt halt.

She was standing at the junction of Main and First, in what had to be a bizarre joke. After all, how do I avoid side streets if I don't know which one is which? Jean searched the crossings.

There were brownstones, worn with dirt, detritus collected on the sidewalks all around her. A lamp post to her immediate left shone brightly, despite a covering of grime, acid etch and bird droppings. Gradually, she became aware of the smell, exhaust fumes, trash bins, human waste and.... She scrunched her eyebrows. Fried dough. She bobbed her eyebrows. My favorite.

Yes, there was a sidewalk cart across the street. In fact, there were people everywhere, or rather, ghosts with hollow eyes. A glimpse of suit there, jeans elsewhere, a flowing dress, so many people milled around in directed aimlessness. There were people visible through windows, passing down the streets. And then, there were none.

From the corners of her eyes, she caught glimpses of perpetual loops: a man and woman trapped in a permanent embrace, prostitute with client, a man dashed out onto the street to catch a cab, waving his arm, a briefcase spilling its contents, another systematically kicking a German shepherd, tail bowed between his legs. Jean blinked hard and looked forward.

She wandered past the lamp post to sit on a bus stop bench. The arrival and departure sign for the bus was blank. The people faded in and out of existence, bustling though their everyday lives, talking to each other, creating a constant haze of white noise. Jean glanced back at the empty sign and carefully pocketed her ticket stub.

As eerie as it was, none of these people were real. She extended her mind to search.... Jean gasped. All the individuals nearest her turned to stare, then shuffled back to create a gap around her.

"My God." She bit her lip. How the hell am I going to find.... She slapped her forehead, then stood. I'm the goddamn Phoenix, not sparrow girl.

"Excuse me, but I have a ticket," she announced in a clear, loud tone.

An oriental man, small, perhaps in his late forties, answered. "Ah, yes. You will need to wait for the taxi." He indicated the bus stop sign.

"I don't suppose you have a name?"

"Oh yes. We all have names, Ms Grey." His smile was fiendish. "But you already know that."

She checked the road and when she looked back, the man was gone, faded into the City. "Wait, I -"

"It's no good, chere."

Jean nearly put a crick in her neck looking back at Remy LeBeau, now sitting nonchalantly on the bench. "What the hell are you doing here?"

He grinned, his eyes black. "I got a residential here, ooh, there's your ride."

A steel gray limousine slid to a stop, with surgical precision, in front of her. A passenger door opened, without sound. "Good morning. Please, do join us," rang out a woman's voice, echoing like the voice of a thousand.

When Jean checked back with Gambit, he merely waggled his fingers at her, then shrugged, ever sanguine.

She raised an eyebrow, hesitating, then stepped in, sliding into a black leather seat. The privacy shield was up behind her head, but she doubted there was an actual driver for this vehicle. The remaining interior was a brilliant white, edged with silver. In front of her sat the woman, and a man.

The woman wore a white pant suit, complete with a broad rimmed hat and lace half veil. She was decorated with silver jewelry but her eyes were black in the shadow of the brim. The man was excessively large, and wore black, jacket, T-shirt, jeans, boots and some sort of rag tied around his dark hair. His eyes were covered by sunglasses.

He curled a lip at Jean. "We should kill her."

"Oh, don't be tedious, dear. We can't kill everyone, especially after such a busy week."

"You never let me do anyone."

"Nonsense, you're just too rough on people."

"So howabout that instead?" He clapped his hands together and leaned forward.

The woman rapped him on the shoulder. "No, not that either. She's a friend, remember?"

"She's a lousy two timing bitch."

"Oh, don't be stupid." The woman looked crossly at the man, then turned her attention to Jean. "Don't mind him. He's surly and resentful." She tipped a rueful smile. "I had him tucked in the basement for a while due to his terrible manners and disrespectful nature. I suppose his attitude should be excused."

"You locked him the basement?"

The woman's face went flat. "Yes," she continued in a low tone, "he broke something of mine."

The man crossed his arms. "Didn' mean to," he groused.

Jean regarded them both, then nodded, slowly. "So, who let him out?"

"An interfering neighbor." The woman sighed to great affect. "I supposed I'll have to live with him now." She tsked. "We're related, you see, and I don't mean to be rude, but this is a family matter."

The man leaned forward again. "Now?"

"Oh, not yet. Let's see what she does, first."

Jean flared her psionic armor, guarding against the woman with her implacable practicality and the moronic thug working his way towards her, a grin on his face, the light of her psychic powers glinting off his shades.

"Oh, yes please." The woman smiled like a shark. "You'll make it so much easier this way."

Jean froze her display of power, remembering stories about carrots and Elisabeth laying unconscious on a tile floor. She needed to figure out which of these two characters was the subconscious and which the mutant power quickly. Which was the idiot savant?

The dark man chuckled. "Oh, I ain't so dumb, sugar. She may be a cold bitch, but I'm the other half." And when he took off his glasses, his eyes cascaded brilliant white light.

Jean thrust the ticket stub in his face.


"Are you gonna buy that, ma'am?"

Rogue found herself swaying precariously beside a countertop at a convenience store. She grunted a non-answer.

"Hey, are you all right?"

She stared at the clerk in front of her, dimmed by gray chromed plastic and nodded her head, gradually. "Ah've been sick, hon, that's all. Nothin' catching." She bared her teeth in a smile. "My mind was wandering but Ah've got a handle on things now."

"Yeah? Well, cash or credit?"

She pushed three dollars towards him.


Jean rammed the Medlab door open telekinetically, pleased to note the measure of her success, giving Hank little warning of her visit. "Hank. I've got a problem."

"Not with your temper, I hope." He raised bushy eyebrows at the still protesting automatic metal door.

"Uh, sorry. I'm not sure how much time I have so, to be blunt, I just went looking for Rogue, using Cerebro and she found me before I found her. Or rather, I'm almost positive it was her power, not Rogue herself." She waited for a response, but Hank looked nonplused.

"My dear, I'm sure that the astral visions you experienced were highly detailed and meaningful to a telepath of your caliber, but I was not there." He pursed his lips, canines poking up over his upper lip and scratched his nose. "Obviously, you believe I possess valuable information regarding your discoveries."

Jean raised her index finger, punctuating the air with her thoughts. "Okay. I went to the Astral plane. I started to search for Rogue but without even trying, I was there. Instead of a chaotic organic environment, I found a strictly organized city full of people she's absorbed in the past. I was expressly given a ticket out."

"What do you mean?"

"I mean, a ticket. A stub. It implied that Rogue was aware of my presence and was somehow protecting me from.... Barely protecting me. They kept warning me not to lose the ticket."

Hank sniffed rather than ask the obvious question.

"There was a man and a woman, one in black, one in white, cruel, vicious, predatory and stiffly polite, controlled and restrained, respectively. They were like gangsters and I'm positive they weren't Rogue, but," she pointed the finger at him, "they obeyed the ticket, presumably a conscious direction given by her."

"Ahh, yes, I believe I see the quandary. You were met preemptively by Rogue's mutant power before you were able to establish telepathic contact with the woman herself." He tapped his chin, then rubbed the blue ruff there. "And weren't you attacked by her power last time you made contact."

"Yes, but don't you see?" Jean was slowly shaking her head as she spoke. "Last time it was a wild attack, this time, it was like I was being stalked. I suspected, earlier, but now I'm sure." She met his eyes. "It's not touch based. Her power has nothing to do with touch; it's just a psychological hang up because of the first emotions, ideas she absorbed, probably sexual ones because her power was triggered violently by a kiss."

"And all that is very interesting but -"

"No, listen to me. We have to cooperate on this. Her mental development is too fast, too sudden and she is too dangerous a mutant. I was scared. Do you understand? For all my power, I was scared because I knew that she could tap into that power and subvert it if she wanted. So tell me, if she wasn't making telepathic contact with me then how did she do it over that kind of distance?"

Hank looked down at the floor before sighing heavily. "I believe, with electromagnetic fields." He looked up at her. "As you know, all living beings generate a weak electric field that extends outward from their bodies. Theoretically, one or more fields can create a circuit. If one source was more heavily grounded than another-"

"It would absorb the energy from the other, draining it into the Astral plane or physically as heat, light or other kinetic energy such as cellular mutation."

Hank nodded. "Furthermore, a sufficiently sophisticated electric transfer could also transmit information."

Jean was nodding in return. "Such as thoughts, emotions, ideas and entire concepts, but only in an encapsulated, segmented form. So she can make mental and genetic copies of people by using their own life energy. I suppose you could say she burns them to disk."

"And assigns them an icon, in case they should return."

"The ticket stub." Jean exhaled loudly, picking up the hair off the back of her neck, ruffling it. "Okay. Show me."

"Cerebro, locate file Rogue Poly-3. Visual. Pause. Isolate central nervous system, designate Rogue. Play at one percent speed."

On the large viewscreen, a still image appeared. The resolution was high but even so, it skipped with lines and grain caused by damage to the original file. It was a scene of three people in what appeared to be the Medlab, with minimal Shi'ar improvements. Xavier, unconscious, lay in a bed. Standing over him was Cyclops, in his older blue and white uniform with the hood. Despite the fact that Hank mentioned her name in the file, it took Jean a moment to identify the third person, overridden by a highlighted network of nerve fibers, as Rogue. She slumped in Scott's arms in an apparent stupor.

The footage crawled forward and Cyclops worked off one of her gloves, grasped her hand, and brought it close to Xavier's face. Rogue's nervous system, which had been cycling between an inactive blue and black, flared a sickly neon green before tactile contact was made. On touch, she jerked as her nerves went red and white. The footage froze.

Jean stared at the screen. "Her whole nervous system lit up like a fuse before contact."

"Yes."

"And no one thought this is significant enough to mention?"

Hank rumbled on exhale. "Jean, I don't mean to sound patronizing, but I'd like to reemphasize an earlier point. Scott absorbs cosmic rays and transforms them into another form of energy which is releases along his optic nerves, right through his brain. Logan, by all rights, should be riddled with tumors and cancerous growths caused by his accelerated immune system. You and Elisabeth exhibit elevated beta waves and sporadic theta waves. Both of you ought to be severely epileptic. Warren can walk with over a hundred pounds of bone, muscle and feather dangling off his back, which by rights, should be giving him chronic back strain. I could go on."

"You don't have to. I'm not trying to debate whether or not she's adapted to her power. I know we all are. But something like this.... I mean, what was that? She didn't turn into a bald man, she didn't change at all? Even unconscious, her power worked efficiently; it just picked the best part, the telepathy. And, judging by the evidence, she must have felt it physically as well as mentally. Look at the shock on her face. She must have felt something."

The muscle in Hank's jaw worked, as he scowled at the console before him. He tapped his index finger in a staccato, indecisive, glancing to her and away. "Of course she does. She bemoans the phenomenon on a regular basis."

"C'mon, Hank. You know what I mean." Jean gave him a half smile. "Play it again, slower. And can you zoom in at all?"

He jabbed at the console, and the tape rolled forward. On screen, the figure representing Rogue, guided by Cyclops, broke skin contact. Her nervous system fired from white to red to blue and black within frames. All electrical activity in her frontal lobes ceased, black. Then the peripheral lobes flashed red. Her body went into a seizure. The temporal lobes fired white. The tape hit end. Black.

Jean did not say anything. She crossed her arms, watching the floor until she the electronic hum of the screen fell silent. "Did Scott know what he was doing?"

"I doubt it."

"And Charles followed the plan?"

"He had to stop Dark Phoenix. From what I understand, it was the only way."

"Besides the obvious, that she usually doesn't have seizures or fall into a coma, was there anything unusual about this example?"

"Cerebro detected opiates in her bloodstream."

"She was high?"

Hank winced.

She raised her eyebrows in wonder, the unspoken question clear. "Scott drugged her?"

She was already thinking past that though. Opiates and alcohol had one basic feature in common; they were both depressants, slowing and impeding activity in the central nervous system. You think slower. You react slower. He handicapped her. Rogue would have been unable to respond adequately to the absorption. But why the hell was she drinking the other night if it causes her to lose control of her power? She did not realize she was mumbling.

Hank broke in with an almost casual, "You're missing the obvious. Opiates simulate the effect of endorphins."

"A natural painkiller, right. That's right! If her body is releasing endorphins to combat the physical stress, it would follow, that in a successful absorption she would, what? Feel satiated, sedated? High, maybe" She raised her eyebrows high again and glanced at Hank. "It makes sense. DNA strives to replicate itself. It's the ultimate reason people feel the need to procreate. It has nothing to do with rational thought or cognitive control."

Hank turned his back, eyeing her over his shoulder. "Incidental. It would seem to be, that if that were the case, she would have mentioned it either intentionally or accidentally."

"But what if she doesn't know about it and because she never knew, it always got mixed up in whatever memories and emotions she was absorbing? What if... Hank, can you focus on the brain itself? Is the scan good enough?" Her tone was urgent as she leaned close over the computer screen.

"Possibly." He repeated his earlier motions and the image zoomed in further. It was more grainy, the skips more obvious. "The quality won't be exactly precise but I should be able to calculate an electrical flow pattern. Ah. Playing back at minimum speed."

Jean bit her lip, watching the highest surges of neural energy flow in patterns of warm colors. In through the epidermal nerves of the hand, up the spinal column and into the hypothalamus. There was a moment of proliferation. Almost simultaneously, impulses were sent primarily into the cerebral, peripheral and cortical lobes as raw information was disseminated into rational though, memories and visual images. And then- "Pause!"

"I see it."

There had been a signal sent to the hindbrain.

She tapped the screen over the image. "Resume," she murmured. The energy traveled from there back into the spinal column and extended nerves of Rogue's body. It all happened before she broke skin to skin contact. Her power spoke to her crocodile brain.

Hank ejected the disk from the computer. "What if she does know? Have you considered that possibility?"

Jean wandered in a circle around the Medlab and waved her hand in his general direction. "Shhh. I'm thinking." She finished three circles before stopping to take the computer disk from him and waving it gently in the air.

"You saw the pause?" Not waiting for his response, she continued. "I don't think she knows. About the emotions, I mean. Something happened to that electrical information when it traveled through the hypothalamus, but we don't understand that portion of the brain so well. Except, it's the seat of emotional generation and control." She narrowed her eyes. "Hank, what if all that energy passing through there just triggers random emotional impulses, creates accidental, completely irrational emotional patterns, like a phobia? What if half or more of what she 'feels' is completely irrelevant or maybe based on what she expects to feel?"

"I would say, colloquially, that you are out on a limb." He linked massive arms behind his back, looking down at her, sidewise. "And I think you need to be careful. From what I understand, you are working with very little reliable data."

"There isn't that much reliable data on the human brain." Jean turned in several directions, indecisively, before finding a chair and sitting. "The problem is, that I might have been right and wrong at the same time. I thought some bad emotional experiences she had were driving the function of her mutant power. But if her power is generating those emotions, random emotions really, then it's a feedback loop."

"I made some easy assumptions. After all, it's obvious that she shies from not only touch, but sexual contact. At the same time, she often kisses her victims,. I thought she was molested, the easy guess, but what if she just overheard - overfelt - something at the wrong age? But now, taking this into account, it could be random."

Hank shrugged one shoulder. "The truth is often too simple to understand or disseminate in clear words."

She frowned. "Simply put as a theory, as a result of a formative power experience, she believes her power is bad, so she feels bad using it, it amplifies what she believes she should feel, but mixes it with the endorphin response, which is positive." She snorted. "It's a bit masochistic, really. Ultimately, she's just choosing to feel bad."

Hank interrupted. "More importantly, confusing. I believe I see the problem. While there is a cerebral element to the process we witnessed, it occurred on a more 'biological' level, unlike a typical phobia which is a behavioral pattern, correct? This puts her mutant power in the realm of neurology rather than psychiatry, which is more my specialty than yours, and unfortunately, more Sinister's than mine." Hank took the disk back from her and placed it in a file drawer.

"Well, I guess we know why he's involved, now." Jean lolled her head back over the chair, looking at the ceiling. "Oh God." She closed her eyes. "I can't do anything against a hard linked biological reaction," she whispered and cupped her palms over her eyes. "If it was controlled by her cerebral cortex, I could do something, but it's not. It's just," she trailed off momentarily, "It's just a metabolic process probably as fundamental to her as breathing. She's like a sentient antibody." And antibodies are among natures most ruthless cellular predators.

"And I don't trust Nathaniel Essex," Hank rumbled in agreement, while padding towards the medical supply storage cabinets. Opening a door, he removed two transdermal injectors. From the refrigeration unit, he loaded a capsule of clear liquid in each. He met her gaze. "It's morphine. Give one to Logan and the other to LeBeau. They'll stand the best chance of tracking her."

"Gambit's gone."

"Ah." He looked down at the small gunlike objects in his hand and placed one in his waist pocket. He handed the other to Jean. "You don't sound concerned."

"She's already immunized against him. There isn't much point."


PART23

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