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Minute Change

Part 5

Karolina Phillips

9/?/97

 

The feelings churned around uselessly, hermetically sealed behind cool walls. So few could be expressed. Happiness, not true happiness but rather an absence of grief, was transient and to be savored. She always watched for a moment to enjoy, laugh, even play but there were times when the very effort of living day by day exhausted her and she'd dwell on her non-existent future. Playing hero to pass the years. Probably get killed anyway. Despite flares of renewed hope, a greater part of her was resigned to living alone. It was foolish to pretend otherwise. The team's family. They don't deserve to be inflicted with my self-pity. Or the utter rage and frustration brought on by a humiliating quest to alleviate embittering loneliness. And then I go doing stupid things like falling for half-brained, heroic pieces of scum. It hurt. So she locked the emotions down, underneath a bright smile for the audience.

Carol had taught her that, quite unintentionally. Holy, vaunted, untouchable Ms Marvel wouldn't have liked Remy. At all. If only he'd joined a year earlier none of this would have happened. Because what Carol wanted, Carol got. Didn't let me flirt with Longshot, which was probably good as well since I was sort of poaching. No way she would have let me actually date. Or party, go bar-hopping, visit Mystique, enjoy the mall, wear my own clothes and heaven forbid I show how I felt. She had made an art out of denying Rogue those crucial, simple pleasures. But that was beside the point. Did any of them know how it felt to be spitting mad, in an absolute rage, to want throw and smash something, scream from the futility of it all? Any of them ever felt their guts knot strangling their heart, when suddenly, without a by your leave, you couldn't so much as blink because someone in your head decided your anger wasn't important enough to express? Doubt it. It was either cope or go mad, so she had learned. How not to feel hurt. There. Just. Like. That.

It was gorgeous here above the clouds where her tears froze so she could not feel them, where there was no air with which to cry. The view was different, sharper and more detailed. She cocked her head to one side taking in the curve of the planet horizon. No need to rush off just yet. This was a dark, sterile world normally separate from life. Tonight islands of clouds swirled to create a brightly illuminated landscape that rippled like a frosted ocean. Here it was violet, there a deep indigo, on the other side, a blazing red-orange. Down on earth, she could easily discern a score of ameobic metropoli. Finally, unable to resist the temptation, she looked up at the rainbow array of stars and away from the blinding moon. There were a billion more, blurring together, fuzzing the edges of pitch black. Here was a small measure of peace. For me, myself and I.

Previous experience allowed her to snap up the shielding that the resident telepaths often griped about. They were looking too closely, searching for a tangibility where there was none. The shields were extraordinarily primitive, comprehensive and subtle in way that Xavier's had never felt. His empathy, if that was the right name for it, was amorphous. It had been bizarre sensing other people's minds, being able to influence them on a subconscious level but not manipulate them as a telepath would. Even stranger had been their reaction with her own powers. The pull had been stronger. I could feel whatever it is that my powers latch on to every time I brushed up close to their mind.

Reluctantly dropping down again, Rogue took her first breath in minutes. A tingle spread as her heart sporadically resumed beating. She circled to get her bearing, then took a low flying southwestern route. Mach would be faster but too loud and detectable. Besides which, there were radio towers, planes, trees and birds to contend with. She stretched, arching her back and enjoying the feel of energy whipping about like a hurricane. It was almost visible peripherally but more of a physical sensation. Like I could reach out and grab a chunk. Not at all like Storm's. She pushed energy around, Remy changes it. The less this force moved, the more attractive it felt to Remy. For her, it was the stuff in motion that did wonders. It threw her wherever she pleased, bending to disappear into the nimbus surrounding her body. Soon, the only sensation would be of the energy that already filled her and the buffeting wind.

There was a way to give Remy what he deserved. Hm, yes, that's the right word isn't it? Feel a bit guilty not being able to give him something back. Hank had shown her Forge's latest inhibitor, small, lightweight, attaching to her temple. It would be so very easy to use, every day, without thought until she grew complacent just like Bobby had, or better yet, Cyclops who would probably never be free of the visor. Wearing it would acknowledge she'd wasted years fighting for control . Then there would be the looks she would receive from some, beneath the outward displays of joy, a relief that they no longer had to fear her. The contempt would be from Mystique, reminding her that once she had control. Granted, a weak and temperamental control, but more than now. It.... She blushed sheepishly in her solitude. C'mon girl, it's not that hard to say. Sex. It wasn't worth the risk of giving up and backsliding further.


Emerging from the trap door of the tunnel, the trio paused, regaining their bearings with the forest, and the agents to their backs. Amplified, yet muffled, shouts echoed back to them. With them blended the ceaseless patter of water dripping through the canopy to fall in heavy splats on the underbrush. The rain had petered down to a drizzle that fogged in their lungs and the air hummed with humid ionization following the storm. A warm breeze blew the odor of rotting vegetation and fresh sap rising to saturate the entire forest to them. Insects hesitantly began chirping, humming and buzzing in concert.

"Anyone?"

Destiny bowed her head, face hidden by a blank emotionless mask, in consideration. The surreal disguise heightened her serene composure, image broken only by stray beads of water. "Yes, I see one, a man, tall and thin. He runs with limp and wears spectacles. It was me he saw. My apologies. "

Mystique crossed her arms, eyes glowing faintly in the direction of their hunters. "There's no need to apologize."

"I believe it is safe to send the child."

A nod was her unseen answer. "Fine, Rogue, you heard. But only the man with the limp. Then catch up with us."

Licking chapped lips, the girl nodded sharply. Her orders had been given; they were non-negotiable, her duty. Instead, she handed her machine gun to Mystique before wheeling off after the agent. He was the bony, gangly one with the crooked nose, the straggler. So far they had escaped the facility without being identified too closely, especially by one of the Feds. Except for the other three, but they were supposed to get caught. Now it was her responsibility to keep them free.

Following the sounds of "pursuit" was easy. There had been dogs but they had lost the scent when the downpour started. Nevertheless, the humans managed to make quite a bit of ruckus on their own. They barked orders to errant partners breaking in with crackles and static or wet splashing. She slid on a slime covered log, wavering for an instant before diving forward to land gracelessly. A startled cry announced an abrupt meeting with the ground which courteously returned the favor by filling her mouth with mud. Only the silenced hand gun swiftly held over her head remained clean. She tried to spit the offending muck out but most persistently remained. "Ugh, oughtta scare him t'death way Ah look now."


Martin Boyarsky trotted to a stop pulling out his gun and listening carefully. There had been a faint sound, an impact of a body on the ground, a stifled gasp, snapping twigs. Maybe it was just a branch broken loose by the deluge finally dropping. It came from behind not the group far ahead. It was dark, slippery and his leg hadn't worked right in years but the Bureau hadn't been expecting an attack from inside the genetics facility. When it came, from a group known as the Brotherhood of "Evil" Mutants, a pompous title in his own opinion, every locally available agent had been pulled. A small S.H.I.E.L.D. force had arrived but did little more than ghost away the three felons the Bureau had captured. Damn politicians. He edged back against a tree, prepared for an eye blink or the inaudible nervous panting of a hunter.

The buzzing stopped. Martin tensed every muscle darting his head from side to side. Someone was there disturbing the music of the forest. The silence betrayed and disguised them. His thumb brushed against the rough grip of his firearm and his teeth touched lightly edge to edge. A shot would draw the rest of the team. He gently touched the radio dangling from his belt. A motion or sound was all he needed to act but it would look foolish to panic over an unknown source. On the other hand, these mutants were butchers.


Damn, he heard me. Didn't know he was so close. Stupid, stupid. The target had fallen silent after a scrape or two repositioning himself. Careful to control her intake of air, and avoid sharp movements, Rogue began crawling on her belly like a green and brown snake. Wet leaves slapped her face and she glanced up stifling her surprise. The target was only forty feet away.

The mud and water soaked her front, collected in boots and gloves. A stone jabbed maliciously into her hip while water pooled in her eyes like tears where there were none. She lifted the gun with measured movements, barely breathing now, her heart slowed, watching the man over the barrel. He twitched like a bird in an open yard back and forth, obscured by the shadows thrown from the tree, then visible in the blocks and swatches of moonlight. His face blurred losing identity. He was nothing.

She arched on her stomach lifting the gun with both hands.

Snap.

He brought down the revolver without thought. A soft vacuum like sound, barely a "pop", sneaked out. A small twig clattered down from above.

Martin tottered on his bad leg, thrown to the right, caught motionless for a second like a puppet. His gun fell, forgotten, as he searched his ribs. His hand came away covered in red bubbles.

She crept up to him, looking down curiously. The man leaned heavily on one elbow staring at his palm as if it was a scientific specimen. The other arm was wrapped protectively around his ribs. Only when the agent fell onto his shoulder with a soft sigh did he look up at her.

"Jus' a kid." A sucked in wheezing breath. "A kid. . . ."

"Ah'm sorry." She pointed the gun at his forehead lifting the end of her cloak to act as a shield.

". . .fuckin' kid. . . ."

"Ah di'n' mean t'miss."


The house had grown dilapidated in age. Over the civilized, white, two story walls was a faded green roof decorated with snow and debris. Gutters were choked with weeds and ice and a ladder leaned forgotten against the back side of the house. In the yard, some trees had been cut down widening the perimeter where a shed was situated. The motion sensor had gone off.

Noting the shadow behind the small pane of glass, Victoria opened the door halfway, smiling at the sight of an old friend. Gradually it faded and she nodded to herself when Rogue continued hovering, making no effort to come inside. She brushed aside a strand of gray hair, self-conscious under the perusal of her guest. The face looking at her was stern, almost apathetic except for the eyes glinting back in the darkness. They held pain. That at least was the same. Even when Tori had first found Rogue as a child, on request from Mystique, the unbidden knowledge had been buried there. A child that knew too much but chose to forget. Good as well Destiny told Mystique to choose her. If she'd stayed any longer with her loving family, she would've snapped. With her mutant abilities soon contributing to the burden, Rogue had grown into someone who took a nearly sadistic pleasure in hurting others. Now, not even a hint of the old leer remained. "What happened to the rapscallion?"

There was no need to reply, none to give anyhow. Rogue shrugged a shoulder in dismissal. "How urgent is it?"

"Not too bad. I can stall him for a while. I've deleted the files he copied but he has the originals. He's sure to notice eventually." Clive was a good man. He did the best he could. But he never suspected me of treachery. He never thought for an instant that I might be a mole. He never suspected me of anything. Her first loyalty was to Mystique. It always had been. Saved my life. Gave me a life. Her attention turned back to Rogue. For a price.

"Floppy?"

"Yes, blue with a green label. Keeps it with him but he won't take it in until he can find supporting evidence connecting it to the Suarez incident. He never did get over that."

"Oh. Hm. How'd the file slip through?"

"Got me. We were in a rush, we probably just missed it. Or maybe he suspected. It's a partial list of names and gene codes. Doesn't matter now."

Rogue nodded sharply, then fixed Tori with a penetrating look. "You know what'll happen?"

Dr. Suarez and his genetics research had been well acquainted with Raven Darkeholme, the latter without his knowledge. The government had known about mutants for a long time, searching for them, recruiting them, or eliminating them. It was Suarez's job to find them, attain genetic records for Gyrich. Some he found through his own testing. Other times he was supplied information such as names or addresses in return for aid regarding the other party. Due to its unofficial nature he had been able to reach only a small cross-section of the population but that was more than enough. This erstwhile file was trivial in itself but connected them to Suarez as it did many names with current aliases or clues that would. Some of those mutants were dead already, others worked in the underground. Their identities were something the government would kill for.

"You don't have to threaten me young lady. Raven would string my guts up if I double-crossed any of you. Clive was gone for a week on 'business'. I checked, but there was nothing, no mission, no file, no record. He came back talking about mutants this and mutants that." She smiled ruefully. "The Bahamas are said to be nice this time of year." Tori leaned against the frame shutting the door part way. "How is she? I heard she was captured."

"Caught but not defeated. You know how she is. Reckon she'll stop by fo' a visit t'chat 'bout this."

"Yes, well, send her my regards."

"Ah will." Rogue lifted marginally, "'Mutants this and mutants that', huh?"

"Yup. Oh, and I'm taking him out to dinner tomorrow night."

"Ya don't say?" Pulling up further, "Hope y'two have a pleasant evenin'."


Rogue landed quietly on her windowsill swinging a leg in. Crossing the room, she began to pace agitatedly. Suarez. There's no point in worrying about it this very instant. A mission called for a clear head and wits, not migraines. There was no time left for Remy's fears. Was going to work through them bit by bit. Have to do it all at once now. He almost told me, he tried. And wasn't that good enough? A hand fisted, accenting the space in front of her, as she let out a slow controlled breath. I'm going to look at those memories. He offered to let me absorb the rest, that's permission enough. Not here though, there was a better place, properly equipped, for the job.

"Going so soon?"

Bother, her again. "What're y'doin' in my room?"

Elizabeth made her way from the corner where she hadn't been, to block the door. "I was spying? Or maybe I just wanted to drop in and say good morning? Did you have a nice trip?"

"Uh huh." Maybe if I play dumb she'll go away.

"Uh huh?"

"They sky's nice this time of year."

"At two o'clock in the morning?"

"Yes. It's hardly any y'business where Ah spend my nights." It was best to get this trifling matter over with. She straightened politely clasping both hands behind her back. "Is there somethin' Ah can help ya with or y'just passin' through?"

"You're rather testy when tired aren't you?" Elizabeth ducked her head. "No, truce." She began to wander with calculated direction. "I merely came here to discover what exactly conspired in the Danger Room. I've used the psi-knife on you before, but that never happened. I thought, perhaps, you might know."

"Well, sorry t'disappoint ya, but Ah don't know what happened back there. Ah jus' wanted t'finish the routine. One-" Something... "-way or another made no mind t'me an' since y'always seemed so doggone curious all the time...." She shrugged.

"Have you ever seen a dog with a rubber toy shaking it to and fro before spitting it out in disinterest? If I had to guess how that toy felt, this would have been it."

I hurt her but that's not why she's here. "Ah've never been scared of 'paths, Betsy. Maybe today, yesterday, Ah was feelin' even 'less scared 'an usual. Ah'm awful sorry if Ah hurt you but it wasn' intentional." Psylocke strolled to the computer desk to scan the disks and papers arranged in their haphazard piles. From there, she examined the woodwork of the bed. Rogue pivoted to face her. Way she's looking through my stuff you'd think someone invited her. "If y'done, kindly remove yo'self."

"Would you have actually torn his wings?"

She's stalling. "No. Not in a practice session." Rogue quelled uneasy jitters watching warily as Elizabeth took inventory of her possessions. Only when the telepath changed direction towards the bureau did she move to intercept.

"I didn't realize that was a restricted area." Her eyes flashed obliquely.

The muscles in her back cramped. Get out.

Elizabeth raised her brows with a decidedly bored manner looking pointedly at the stuffed animal collection. "Of course, this is your room. I'll be leaving as soon as you let go of my arm." Her trademark knife flashed into existence.

Rogue felt her eyes widen and heard a low hiss that a part of her identified it as hers. She's scanning me! The unmitigated gall. Squeezing the arm until bones ground together, she pushed her away. Her tone moderated, "A piece of neighborly advice, never threaten me 'less y'plan t'follow through. Now, please leave." She let go of Psylocke who promptly disappeared.

Immediately, the aggression disappeared. Ah almos' broke her arm. Chilled and flushed in succession, she squirmed out of her jacket. All right, calm down. No way she learned anything useful. And if she tells, well, just icing on the cake. Remaining still until her nerves settled, Rogue yawned, tossed her parka on the chair and left the room.


PART6

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