Wed, 20 Jan 1999
D Benway d_benway@yahoo.com
Naked

This is an ugly, horrible story. It is not appropriate for children or sensitive readers, but does fit in with the current Hatred Challenge. Unfortunately, little of this besides Rogue is imaginary.

Rogue and several other characters belong to Marvel. The story belongs to me. It takes place after my story 'Tag', which is archived at Luba's site, and during the first expedition of the X-Men to Genosha.

Many thanks to Tina S, Luba K, Suzie C, Alara R and Karolina KP for their editorial assistance.

Other stories that I have written are archived at the sites of Luba and Lori Macdonald.


Naked

Benway mf

 

She tried to fly, above and away. After the flash, she fell, hard, onto the concrete floor. As she lay there, stunned, a bland little man in a priest's outfit told her that she was no better than a human again. She was lying on a cold concrete floor, naked.

The magistrates were quite efficient. After they had beaten Logan into submission, they had handcuffed her wrists behind her and dragged her to her feet. She barely noticed. There were so many new sensations. The slow, dull ache of the bruise on her left elbow. The raw, sharp pain from the abrasion on her left knee, every time that she moved it. The feeling that all of their eyes were upon her. Once it had been amusing to watch the eyes, knowing that they could look but never touch, ever. They could touch her, now.

An officer wearing a crimson beret approached her.

"Who are you? Where do you come from? Are your meta-abilities mutant or technological in nature?"

She said nothing. There were no words. Not yet. Just watching. They had Wolvie on his feet for a moment, but then he collapsed.

"Does anyone know who these two are or how they got here?"

There was a general murmuring.

"Christ," said the officer. He pointed to the two Magistrates holding her up. "You and you. Take her out to the Centre. They'll deal with her there."

"The other one too?" said the one on her left, pointing at the crowd of soldiers standing where Logan lay on the floor.

"No," said the officer. "Best they go separately."

She was standing on her own now, dazed. Was it the after-effects of the power loss? Physical or emotional? Emotional. No. Both. She couldn't see Logan, but if they were all standing around him then he was probably too badly beaten to fight back. If she fought, she might be able to take three of them down before they beat her senseless. Even then, she had no idea if she was underground or in a tower, in a city or miles out in the country. There had to be at least 30 soldiers in the chamber, and most of them were staring at her. All of the men, and some of the women. Without even trying, they were taking her down. Her knees weakened, and she almost collapsed. Somewhere from within, an inner reserve of strength snapped her almost to attention. That scared her more than anything.

The two magistrates took her by the elbows and guided her out of the chamber, down a long metal-lined corridor and into a garage. They helped her into the back of a truck, and told her to sit on the metal bench. They unlocked the cuff on her right hand and transferred it to a large metal fitting that allowed her to move more freely. Eight other men had come after her, still staring. She had no chance among that many, not until they were outside of wherever they were. In the garage, it was their battlefield.

The two magistrates climbed into the front seat of the truck, and drove down a long corridor towards a small circle of daylight. A mile later, if she had the distance right, they emerged from a heavy steel gateway and passed a row of concrete pillboxes. They magistrates stopped at one of the pillboxes and presented an electronic card, after which a final gate opened. It would have been difficult to fight her way out of here with power. Without, futile. Even Logan would agree with that. She tugged on the cuffs. An hour before, the bench would have come apart. Now, nothing but noise. The female magistrate glanced back at her. She let her arm fall to her side.

The truck continued alongside a long concrete airstrip. Through the rear window, she watched the tunnel entrance dwindle into the distance. They passed rows and rows of what she recognized as F-15s and F-16s, as well as a number of Russian anti-tank helicopters. She suspected that Momma had had something to do with the helicopters. As they turned onto a highway outside the airfield, she noticed that the female one was glancing at her from time to time in the rear-view mirror.

"You gone fruity, then?"

"Fuggoff. She looks cold back there."

"She'll have no worries soon enough."

"No. No worries."

"Going away for the weekend?"

"Yeah. Taking the extra day to go hiking in the mountains, if all goes well."

"Won't go well. They always riot on the long weekends."

"Didn't at Christmas."

"No."

"Hate it. Such a waste of fucking time."

"Get overtime- shit."

A loud clunking sound starting coming from the engine. The truck pulled over at the edge of the highway.

"What is it?"

"Bloody motor's shot to hell. Told the sergeant it was fucked. Made me take it anyways."

Both magistrates went around the front of the truck and disappeared under the hood. There was some muffled cursing. The female returned and opened the back door of the truck, not making eye contact. It seemed that they needed some tools.

"I'm cold."

The magistrate looked up from the toolbox distractedly, then fished out an old blanket from behind a spare tire.

"Sorry, love, it's all we've got. We'll have you there soon enough. No worries."

"Take me where?" she asked, wrapping the blanket around her. It was a difficult task, with only one hand free. At least there was nothing for anyone to stare at, now.

The magistrate gave her a pained smile, then vanished around in front of the truck again. The blanket did not make her feel any warmer.


They were driving down Motorway G towards Hammer Bay, or so the overhead signs told her. The traffic affirmed something that she knew from somewhere or someone: 1 in 5 Genoshans worked in some capacity for the Ministry of State Security. At least 1 in 3 of the trucks and cars on the road were painted green and had official pennants flying off their aerials. Of the remainder, half were expensive European and Japanese cars and the rest were old trucks filled with thin, tired looking people that she identified guest workers. In spite of all of the success the Genoshans had in cloning their Mutates, there were never quite enough to supply the three that were supposedly guaranteed to every Genoshan citizen. Africa and Asia were ready, as always, to make up the difference. Their people lived in the guest quarters, as they had bene for the last 250 years. On slow news days one of their frequent riots might make a 10 second spot on the evening news.

From somewhere, from someone, the information came to her. She had heard some of it from Momma, some of it from that boring old thing that Charles had had in to talk to them, and some of it off the two soldiers she had touched in the vault where they had arrived. She wasn't able to recall exactly where she had heard each part from, and that was scary. Losing her power had rattled her, and she was having trouble with her focus. This was bad. Very bad. At least her head was clearing, some.

She went over the inside of the truck one more time. It was intended for carrying prisoners, and built in the good old US of A. Force One Inc, McMinnville TN. The decals on every exposed surface told her that. She knew from Logan that this was one of the better built ones. You couldn't beat the truck, only the occupants and possibly your restraints. Her lockpicks were back in her uniform wherever that was, and her hair was useless. Sometimes, if she twisted a strand out hard, it would take on the consistency of a stiff wire, perfect for a pick. Not now. She went over the interior, carefully again. No wire, no useful trash of any sort, and the toolbox was out of her reach. Regulation clean. The only way out was to talk her way out, and the odds were against that. The two in the front seat looked like lifers. If they had both been straight males, she would have had a good chance of making a getaway, but that thought frightened her even more. She drew the blanket tighter around her.

Swearing erupted from the front seat as the engine started making sputtering noises again.

"Why the fuck couldn't they have bought Japanese?" the male cursed, and began drifting onto the shoulder.

"Not here," said the female.

"Why not?"

"Rebel activity. Ambush just round the bend there, last week."

"Christ. What then?"

"Drive into town. Get a new truck."

"Not our orders."

"Getting shot up by apos isn't part of our orders, either."

They exited the motorway and drove some distance into what looked like one of the nicer parts of San Francisco. The truck engine died as the towers of the centre of town came into view.

She looked at the open hood, listening to the curses as they worked on the engine. She always liked playing with engines. She felt a strong and ridiculous urge to get out and help them fix it. Instead, she looked out the window, at the row of small stucco bungalows along the street. The lawns were perfect, the shrubs in bloom. A bent old woman was walking a poodle down the street towards them, followed by a slight figure in a shimmering green bodysuit. The poodle stopped to do its business, and afterwards the figure in green scooped up the refuse in its hands. The mutate's hands glowed with a faint pink light, and then its hands were empty. She snorted. As the small company passed the truck, she smiled at them. The woman stared straight ahead, features rigid, seeing everything but the truck. The mutate walked past with a look of blissful contentment on its features, not seeming to see anything at all. They bred them from cloned embryos, she recalled the old man at Westchester saying. Or was it Momma? She tried to sort it out as the truck drove off towards the city.


The truck drove into a huge concrete building with the symbol of Genoshan State Security on the facade and parked in its courtyard. The female guard undid the cuffs and locked her wrists together as a small crowd of heavily armed men gathered and watched. The magistrate folded the blanket and laid it over her shoulders.

"Lean forward, otherwise it'll fall off."

She did. The magistrate rummaged around in the back of the truck and found a length of twine. She felt it wrapped around her body, just like what she had felt when Steve and her had played bride and groom when she was six-

Not her. Someone else. Or hers? A real childhood memory, playing house, where?

"Nice dress," said one of the onlookers, chuckling.

No. Concentrate. These men weren't dressed like the guards. They were less heavily armed, and had light blue instead of brown shirts. Their epaulets were different. Police, probably.

They led her down a long hallway into the building, and sat her down on a metal bench which was the only furniture in the yellow-painted room. The cuffs came off, and the female guard chained her to the bench. The male magistrate left them both alone in the room. As the magistrate lit up a cigar, she discretely felt the fitting that the cuffs were attached to. Solid steel, anchored fast in concrete. Before, she could have pulled out and imbedded in the wall opposite, or in the guard for that matter. She had done worse. For now, her only hope was to get the guard to let her go. She put on her very best smile and set to work.

"Excuse me," she began.

"Yeah,"

"What-"

A shrill bell started ringing , somewhere just behind her head. A claxon began sounding out a signal. Three long blasts, followed by a short one.

"Jesus fucking Christ."

Her guard put out the cigar, checked the cuffs, and left the room, rifle at the ready.

Hope filled her. Perhaps it was the others coming to rescue her. An attack of the apos, whoever they were. If she survived it, she might be able to escape with them. That was the benefit of companionship. Your comrades in battle would never desert you. Shared spilled blood was the strongest bond.


Twenty minutes later, the only sound that she had heard was a distant thump, probably some sort of explosion. No footsteps in the hall, nothing else. She had been working away on the handcuffs the entire time. There was nothing to use as a pick, and the fixture would wear away from the rubbing in perhaps a year. If she had been Kitty, she could have done that old Ninja trick that would have allowed her to slip her hand right out. Invulnerability had prevented her from doing it before, her muscle and skin strengthening as soon as she tried to dislocate her thumb. She tried to recall what Kitty had done, but failed completely.

She looked around for anything that might be useful as a tool for the thousandth time. Her eyes always stopped on the metal sign posted to the wall, just of reach. It was white, with a black cross like the one on the Swiss flag inside of a black circle. Beneath it was written GOD IS WATCHING YOU. She knew that it was important, and she knew that she didn't know what it meant. If she wanted to know, she would have to go underneath, and find out. It would be dangerous, but if she let them out only for a short time, she would have a much better chance of escaping and freeing Wolvie. There really was no choice at all.

To prepare, she cleared her mind as Xavier had taught her to. She thought about Berlin and everything she knew of it, then stared at the sign and began to free associate.

White.

Black.

Black circles.

Black circles of ash left after the holy burning circles.

The burning circle is a major ceremony of worship in the Church.

Apostasy was permitted under the General Law of 1961.

Of the 5,650,000 citizens, less than 1 in 100 are apostates.

It is impolite to call an apostate an apo.

Members of the Dutch Reformed Church were 1st degree apostates.

Anglicans are 2nd degree apostates.

Jews, Moslems and Hindus are irredeemable apostates.

Anyone who refuses to abase themselves before an all-powerful deity is not human.

Irredeemable apostates must register with the state and wear an identifying badge on their clothing.

Genosha was called Hammer Bay Territory until the Act of Union of 1910 with South Africa.

Genosha was called Hammer Bay State until the Unilateral Declaration of Independence in 1960.

The movement to re-name had started with the development of the mutate technology at the Hammer Bay Veterinary College in the late 1950s.

Genosha leads the world in the development of mutate technology.

Since 1980, mutates can live up to 10 years, though seven was the average.

The Church was founded by Germaine Van Der Valk, the Father.

The Father had been called by God at an early age.

The Father had been committed to a hospital by those who did not understand, but was ransomed by his family and sent to America.

In America, the Father learned many things at the theological colleges of western Michigan.

The Father taught that Genosha is God's Country. Americans and Iranians are wrong about this.

She had written all these during the rote lessons at school. If you could learn by rote and pass the examinations, you could be admitted to the upper echelons of Genoshan state security. Otherwise, you would stay in the lower ranks, keeping the guest workers in line. She prayed every morning for the day when there would be enough mutates to send the guest workers home. They would be so much happier back where they had come from.

He didn't learn by rote, and hated working with a religious fanatic who was so obviously on her way to becoming an officer. There were too many damn women in the Magistrates, and if he had done any worse in the exams he would have ended up in the police or the prison service. Most police officers and warders were men, and usually never amounted to much of anything. He hadn't done well enough on the exams to be sent to the University after three years, and would have to do his full seven years of service before he became a citizen. Still, seven years of Magistracy should get him a good job in a bank or in the Mutate program, both of which still were run by good men. It wasn't that he had anything against women, of course, but if the last book of the Father was interpreted literally, women of childbearing age should have been secluded for 5 to 10 years after childbirth, and he would be facing much better prospects in his career. Still, the Church had never accepted that book, probably because it also forbade non-negroes from taking on the top roles in the Church. He woke up every morning thanking God that he hadn't been born in America. They didn't have circles there. He enjoyed the burning circle. Every Easter, Christmas, and Halloween, his family would throw together a nice circle of brush, take ten percent of their material possessions and throw them into the flames. Some people used it as an excuse for spring cleaning, others deliberately bought an extra ten percent worth of goods each year to burn so that they wouldn't lose anything that they truly valued. He took his responsibilities more seriously than that. He had an itemized list of his possessions and picked ten percent of them by value each year, randomly. He had lost a car that way, but it had burned nicely. Even better were the times when they found those who harbored heretical books and music. Those circles were wonderful, because you could give all of their worldly possessions to God, and God was very pleased with circles like that. Rumor had it that they still threw the odd apo into the circles up in the hills, but they didn't do that in town anymore. No, they did that out in the desert where the free apos and escaped guest workers sometimes hid, waiting. Still, it was his duty to take the prisoner to the terminal for the train-

- -the train that was yellow, and followed a precise schedule. It ran under the gray, occupied part of the city. When it did, it slowed in every station as if it wanted to stop, and the gray men on the platform would stare at it with contempt. It would then speed up and leave and go back to the walled city, where everyone was free. Berlin.

She blanked her mind and fought to get her breathing back under control. The city had saved her again, as it had so many times in the past. It was the anchor that she could always flee to. Xavier had taught her how to use it to re-assert her personality, but it had always been hers, even before Momma and Nana.

To her, Berlin was Paradise. It was the walled city, inside of which everyone was free. Everything was perfect and organized when it needed to be, and totally chaotic when it didn't need to be. It was a place where there were no rules, and you could dance all night and touch anyone you wanted to, any way you wanted to. She knew that the real city wasn't like that at all. What she knew about it had come from little bits and pieces that she picked up from Nana and Momma or that she read about in books. She hoped that she would never had to go there outside of her dreams.

Her head was together again, and so it was worth trying to think of what she had learned. It hadn't been all that useful, except as a warning of danger. She was never one for religion, which always mystified anyone who heard her speak. They always assumed that because she spoke on that way that she was some sort of religious airhead who listened to country music and lived on parts of animals that no-one north of Mason-Dixon thought of as food. To her, after many years of living in Washington, the South was just a set of excuses for bad behaviour. Exposure to Sam Guthrie had cured most of the X-Men of their ignorance of the region, but that hadn't stopped Kitty from buying her a Shania Twain CD on the last Xmas they had spent together. She liked Black Flag and KMFDM and Sex Pistols, and sneaking out to dark tiny rooms where the noise obliterated everything and you could scream and thrash, and as long as you were tightly covered so you didn't touch anyone, no-one would notice. She traded in Miss Twain's disc to cover part of the cost of an imported Therapy? CD that she found in Manhattan.

She shook her head. CDs? She didn't have it together as she thought. Not good. The past was useful, as long as it was hers, as long as it helped her get Logan out of this. She forced herself to think about what she had found out while Underneath. This country was some sort of religious state, just like home. They had always laughed about that, everyone except Fred. Momma and Nana thought it was ridiculous that any state could claim to be blessed by a God, unless it would be willing to allow them to marry. Dom believed in God in some weird way that didn't make him any happier, and involved amulets and hand signs to ward away evil eyes. St. John had a million stories about stupid and evil things that devout Americans had done and said in Vietnam during the war, and seemed to be some sort of Buddhist in a very quiet, private way. Fred was always sad, because he alone believed that it was God's country and that it was Hell. She had never been in a church in her life, and never had felt the need to. It was just something that would distract her in her search for the Good Thing.

The Good Thing was something that she could find in Berlin, but in the real world it was very, very rare. Before Momma and Nana, she was sure that she had never known it, but in the house on U St you could catch sight of it, if you watched carefully. Once, she had become tired during the day and had fallen asleep in a closet. When she woke up, she could see Momma and Nana through the louvres on door. It was close to their anniversary, when they always became very sad, even though they tried to hide it. Nana was curled up in Momma's lap, crying. Even Momma looked sadder than usual. They didn't say anything to one another, but then Nana had gotten up and just looked at Momma and Momma had looked back, and the Good Thing was there. There was a four-letter word for it, that was used as an excuse for people to sell bits of paper to each other. Sometimes, the others had looked at her with the Good Thing in their eyes, like when she was able to hug Momma for the first time. It took Nana over a year to teach her how to accept being touched. Three weeks after that, something terrible had happened and Momma had never touched her again. Nana had said that it was something that happened to some little girls when they reached a certain age.

There was more of the Good Thing at Westchester but much less of it in the Desert. When it was scarce, the power helped her find it. She would fly up into the sky, as far as she could go without blacking out, and look down on the planet, imagining that somewhere down there, there were two people looking at each other with the Good Thing in their eyes. She didn't have the power now, and she knew that people with God on their side really had no place in their lives for the Good Thing at all.

A loud thump brought her back to earth. A short, balding man in a blue uniform had opened the door and was staring at her. The blanket had fallen aside and exposed her. She drew it back around herself, huddling.

"Who the hell are you?"

Opportunity. A name? Which name? No.

"I don't know."

"Where are your clothes?"

"I don't know. I lost them somewhere."

The man rolled his eyes, and turned back to talk to someone in the corridor.

"Will! Got any idea who left the nutter in here?"

There was an incomprehensible response. The man entered the room.

"Let's see your I-94."

She looked at him, widening her eyes and letting her features go slack. It was an expression she knew well from the times in the tunnels, before the Massacre.

"I-94?"

"The paper they gave you when you were brought in."

"Paper?" she said querulously. "No-one gave me a paper."

"Well, maybe they put it in here."

His hand slipped beneath the blanket. She recoiled. He drew back, flushing, and looking away.

"Not in there," she whispered.

"Did you eat it?" he said, grinning uncomfortably.

"Why would I do that?" she asked.

"It's happened. Are you on any medication?"

"I don't like the pills," she said petulantly.

"If you don't take the pills, this is what happens," he said.

She responded with what she hoped was a hurt look.

"Look, we'll get this all sorted out. You picked the wrong time to be stupid."

Or exactly the right one. As long as you weren't violent, they often tried to dump psych cases to the hospitals as quickly as possible, especially on weekends. Logan had told her that. Even better, on the weekend, she was likely to get an intern instead of an experienced psychiatrist or psychiatric nurse. As long as she could fake it long enough, she could escape. Security was almost always looser on psych wards.

"Yes," she agreed. "I want my pills now. I want to see my doctor."

"Who is he? Your doctor?"

"I can't remember," she muttered.

"You sound like an American," he said.

She had been trying for Australian. It was close to the Genoshan accent.

"Been here for a while. My husband's a citizen."

"What's his name?"

"I don't recall," she said, letting her voice trip on the last word.

"Christ," said the man, rolling his eyes. "Look, we'll get you some help. We're going to process you, then send you to see someone who can help you. Try to think of your name, or your husband's name, or your doctor. That'll help. You picked a damn stupid time to pull something like this. We've got an emergency on."

He bent over and unlocked her handcuffs, then locked her hands behind her back again. One key fit all the cuffs, but not a key that was anywhere that she could reach. She pulled on the cuffs gently, to feel if the power had come back. Nothing.

She was taken down another long corridor, through a guardroom and into a high-ceilinged room with a desk on a podium. Metal benches lined the walls. They were filled with women, many of them scared and covered in blood. Almost all of them had bar-codes tattooed on the backs of their hands. Guest workers.

The policeman had her sit in a plastic chair in front of the desk. There were two other women sitting there, without bar codes. They were scared as well, but trying not to look it. One had a small Amnesty pin on the collar of her blouse, and a red patch with a large A sewn onto her jacket.

"I-94," said the huge sergeant sitting behind the desk.

"She hasn't got one."

"What did she do with it? And where are her clothes?"

The policeman tapped his finger to the side of his head. The sergeant looked at her directly.

"Do you have any proof of your identity as a citizen?"

Difficult. She kept her face blank. She could make up a number, but that could only lead to more complications. Saying nothing would make more problems for them, not for her.

"Can you speak?"

She nodded, looking as frightened as she could.

"How did you get here?"

She stared at him blankly.

"She doesn't know her name," said the policeman. "She said that she stopped taking her pills. Found her in a guardroom in C wing. I was assigned to cleaning it out before it was requisitioned."

"Bloody Magistrates. Don't know why they have to requisition our cells, when they've got so many of their own. How do you think she got there?"

"Someone was bringing her in, and left her there when they went to the Class 4 Alert."

"Try to find out where she came from."

"I'm still on clean-out drill, sergeant."

"Bloody hell. Never enough hands. Go. But she can't sit there."

"She said she's a citizen."

"Her citizenship cannot be established."

"We can't put her over there," said the policeman, pointing to the benches with the tattooed women.

"Use your initiative, Constable."

There was an empty bench by the door behind the podium.

"There?"

"She might be a mutt."

"Bloody hell," said the policeman under his breath.

"I didn't quite catch that, Constable."

"I said, very well."

He led her over to the bench. There was a large black M painted on the wall behind it.

"I'm sorry, I can't undo you. Nothing to lock you to."

She gave him a small, humble smile, and made herself as comfortable as she could.


Twenty minutes later, she was in considerable discomfort. Not as bad as when Danvers had beaten her half to death, but as bad as the last parts of that recovery. Asking for help would be stupid. None of the other women were saying anything. They all looked very, very frightened. The Genoshan prisoners approached the table one by one, and then were taken away by female warders. Several tattooed women were brought before the sergeant. She couldn't hear what was said, but two of them collapsed and had to be carried away.

A female warder with a Red Cross armband approached the sergeant, and they had a short discussion. The sergeant rose from his chair with a put-upon look and they both came over to her.

"This is the one," said the sergeant.

The warder put on latex gloves, then plunged in under the blanket. Expert hands ran up and down her sides. She shuddered.

"Nothing in there."

"Get her down to the bin."

"Can't. Magistrates requisitioned it."

"All of it?"

"Special security service."

The sergeant looked very worried.

"We'd best put her into the general population," he said.

"Can't do that. Headcases aren't supposed to be put in there."

"Only if they're citizens. We have no idea of who she is."

"That's dangerous."

"Letting her loose might be worse. She might even be a mutt." He chuckled derisively. "We must establish who she is before releasing her to the hospital."

"What are you going to charge her with?"

"Public indecency. Public nudity. Lewd & lascivious behaviour. Mopery? That should do it. She certainly looks miserable. Keep her in over the weekend, until she figures out who she is or we can get her ID established on Tuesday."

"If she turns out to be a citizen-"

"We can charge her with not taking her medication."

"Fine. Send her off with the next batch, but she goes in with the citizens."

"Whatever."

They both left her on the mutt bench. That's what they called them. The places where the mutates sat, waiting for instructions. She knew it from Underneath. The children in his Montressori kindergarten class had made him sit on the mutt bench one day, when the teacher was out of the room. He had decided on that day to become a Magistrate for life.

Perhaps that was why she felt something was vaguely inappropriate when two mutates came in and sat down beside her. They could have been twins of the one she saw in the street earlier. No hair, pale features, thin bodies of similar height. The glassy surface of their uniforms seemed at odds with the pale beige walls of the room. They paid no attention to her at all.

"Hi," she whispered.

Their heads turned to her in unison, their faces blank. At exactly the same moment, they both looked down at the back of her hand.

"At your service, miss," they said in unison.

She froze, unable to think of what to say. One of them had replied in classical BBC tones, but the other had a distinct Indian lilt to its English.

"The basic phonemes are established within the first few years of life, but beyond the age of 12 or so no further changes in accent can be imposed."

She had felt very stupid about not being able to be precise about that, having left the notes for her lecture in the pouch on her other wheelchair, back in Westchester.

She went very cold. One of Xavier's, not hers. From Underneath. She fought back the panic, and followed the idea where it was leading. It meant that the mutate had been converted as a teenager or as an adult, not at birth. Of course it did. The lecture in Langley, in the high security lecture hall, paint still new on the walls. Two visiting delegates from the Colonists of Rigel in their shimmering green uniforms, bitching about the theft of their encapsulation technology by the Kree and its sale to certain parties on Earth. Were they male or female? Not knowing made him nervous. There was a stenographer in the room, taking notes.

Danvers? Xavier? No, too long before. The Genoshans could encapsulate at any age. If they could do that, they must have a mind-wipe technology-

"Come on," said the warder, taking her by the hand. "Look, we'll have to give you an examination, but there's nothing to be afraid of."

The warder's smile did not look at all re-assuring. She smiled back, so relieved to know that they didn't know who or what she was that she almost burst into tears.


The examination was conducted in a large, white-painted room. After taking off the cuffs, the warder left her with an orderly and two other women. One was quite overweight and white, the other black with very short hair. The black woman was the prisoner with the red A patch from the big room where she had sat on the mutt bench. According to the fat woman's t-shirt, she wanted to save the whales.

"Disrobe," commanded the orderly.

She had difficulty. She wrists were stiff and her shoulders hurt from being cuffed for over an hour. Even worse, two male guards had come into the room. They had followed her there from the room with the podium. She couldn't manage the knot in the twine that held the blanket on.

"Here, let me do it," said the black woman, who had already stripped expertly to nothing. "I'm Thandie. Thandie Musabaeka. Remember my name."

"Thank you," she said quietly.

"Your name?"

She shook her head. "I stopped taking my pills, and they took me here."

"You shouldn't be here. Orderly!"

"Nah?" came the response.

"Why is this woman here? She should be confined under the provisions of the Mental Health Act, not the Criminal Justice Act."

"Look, Thandie, it's nothing to do with me. Put it in your next article when you're telling everyone what bastards we are."

"That won't do her any good."

"Take it up with the doctor."

"Is this enough?" interrupted the fat woman, who had stripped down to her underwear.

Laughter from behind. She looked over her shoulder. There were six male guards in the room now.

"Whale ahoy!"

More laughter.

"All of it comes off," said the orderly.

The fat woman flushed, and started to take off her remaining clothing with fumbling hands.

"Come on, love," said Thandie. "It will all be over in a moment." She turned back to the orderly. "There aren't supposed to be spectators. You're supposed to be a woman."

The orderly shrugged. "I'm the only one here tonight. Others are out in the wards, patching up what gets brought in. Doing the men next."

There was a scuffling behind them as a female sergeant and a male doctor came into the room. The doctor was 50-ish, like a family practitioner off of a picture out of a drug ad, until she looked into his eyes. The sergeant looked bored.

"Line up, back to the wall," the doctor ordered.

She had to turn to face them as she did it. She had one hand across her breasts, the other down below. The fat woman did too, much less successfully. Thandie stood defiantly, hands at her side, staring the doctor and the rest of the audience in the eye, one by one. Thandie had obviously done this before.

"Hands at your _sides_," the doctor ordered.

The fat woman put her arms down and started to weep. She wasn't going to weep. She followed suit. All eyes except the doctor's turned towards her.

"Raise your arms and turn around,"

She did as she was told.

"Hands at your sides."

She complied.

"You in the middle. Lift your breasts."

"What?"

"Lift your breasts. You do understand English, don't do you?"

"Come on, love," said Thandie.

The fat woman, crying openly now, lifted her breasts. A small round of applause came from the audience.

"Now lift the flab on your belly." The doctor turned to the sergeant. "I don't know how they can let themselves go like that."

The doctor turned to the orderly.

"I thought I said that I wanted them completely undressed."

"They are, sir."

"Then what is this?"

The doctor strode forward and reached for a string hanging from between the fat woman's legs. He pulled it out with a swift jerk. The fat woman screamed and collapsed to the floor. The doctor threw the blood soaked-tampon at the orderly. It left a red stain on his white lab coat.

"All of it next time." said the doctor.

Thandie rounded on him.

"Just what the hell-"

The sergeant stepped forward and drove her mag-lite into Thandie's kidney. Thandie screamed and fell to the floor.

"Get up," said the doctor to the fat woman.

She helped the sobbing woman to her feet. The orderly attended to Thandie, still holding the bloody tampon in his hand.

"Right," said the doctor. "Bend over and grab that bar."

She did.

"Spread your legs."

She did. He shoved something hard and bulky into her rectum and felt around for what seemed to be a very long time. She bit down on her lip to stop from screaming.

"Stand up."

She did.

"Go and get into the stirrups over there."

She did. The doctor repeated his cavity inspection with the fat woman, who howled. She closed her eyes. She heard the sound of a slap and the howling stopped. The orderly helped the fat woman to a second set of stirrups beside hers, while the doctor inspected Thandie, who could barely stand at the bar. After that, the doctor came over to her, without changing his gloves. She shied away, by a single glare from the doctor's eyes froze her into place. He bent down to have a look, then stood up with a gasp of surprise.

"Morris. Come over here."

The orderly came over. The doctor was pointing to something down below.

"See that? That's an intact hymen. You don't see many of those in ones her age."

She felt the back of her throat cramp up. She wasn't going to cry. Not in front of them. She wished that she had Kitty's ability to turn to ice.

"Want it out?" the doctor asked, with a grin. She had to fight back the urge to vomit.

"No," she whispered.

"Suit yourself."

The orderly led her away from the examining table as the doctor went on to the fat woman. The sergeant had to help Thandie into the stirrups, as she could barely stand. She had the blanket and the twine tied around her waist when they brought the fat woman back. She wanted to reach out to her, but that might give the game away. Instead, she took a step back and huddled against the wall. Thandie limped back from the table, and helped the fat woman dress herself. The doctor sat at a table, filling in forms. No-one paid attention to her at all.

"Get rid of them," said the doctor to the sergeant.

"Cell 4 for the crazy," said the sergeant, pointing at her. "The other two go to the psych cells."

"Godspeed," whispered Thandie, before they led her away.

As they took her away, she tried to recall Thandie's last name, but could not. She started to weep.

"Should have taken your bloody pills," muttered the warder.


Sitting in a corner of the cell, she was glad that she had been able to keep the blanket. It was cold, and the paper dress that the medical orderly had given her didn't protect against the July cold at all. She didn't make eye contact with any of the prisoners, but was careful to watch them out of the corner of her eye. There were perhaps 30 women in the holding cell, penned in by the steel bars running from the concrete floor to the concrete ceiling. There were benches along one side that were occupied by what she decided were 20 members of a girl gang. Three of them had obscenities tattooed on the back of their hands. They all affected an appearance of being at ease in the room, unlike the ten women who huddled in the other corner. They looked terrified, and were being stripped of their designer clothing by some of the more enterprising gang members. They had checked out her paper dress and blanket, but she hadn't had anything that they considered worth taking. She drew the blanket around her and stared at a place in front of her on the floor and tried to think of a way out.

She could find no way that she could have avoided being locked in the cell. Every other option courted disaster, and even now she was convinced that this was the safest place to be. She might have overpowered the guard who had brought her there in any one of the long corridors that they had passed through if she had not been cuffed, but even then she would have had no idea of how to get out. There were police and warders and security checkpoints everywhere. She needed a name to get the machinery of bureaucracy working in her favour, but she couldn't think of one beyond that of the old man that Xavier had in to speak to them, and he was a political fugitive. Aside from getting broken out in some sort of mass jailbreak, she didn't know how she was going to get out of this one, and so she played an old game: what would they do in my place?

Momma wouldn't be in a spot like this, not unless she knew that she was going to get out of it. With Nana's help, Momma was always prepared, and no-one kept Momma chained up for long, even if she did get caught. The X-men tended to go off unprepared, almost on principle. No discipline or planning at all.

Monroe would have thought up something. She had a great head for tactics, even if she turned into a quivering nothing in confined spaces. No dignity there, cringing in the dark. She could imagine Monroe, no, _Ororo_, being very uncomfortable in here.

Betsy. Betsy would put on the stiff upper lip and die quietly. Not really into fighting, but then, Betsy was just too unpredictable. Betsy would have found a way out.

Kitty would have thought her way out of this, too. No. Kitty would have done would Betsy would have done. No. Pryde would have led them all smiling to the train, singing little songs all the way, keeping their spirits up. No. Kitty would have died instantly, dispersed to nothingness as soon as her mutant power had been taken away. No.

She buried her head in her knees. There was something else that she could have done. Something that she might still have the opportunity to do. She saw the bulge at the guard's crotch as he took her to the holding cell. She saw how he stood back so that he could look inside the paper dress, where it didn't fit properly at the shoulders. She could have turned to him, and kissed him, if she knew how. She suspected that experience wouldn't have mattered. If he had succumbed, then she might have persuaded him to take off the cuffs. If she had taken his uniform, she might have been able to escape. Either that, or he would have beaten her senseless and she would have sacrificed her virginity to some sweating animal, or perhaps a herd of them, before getting thrown into the cell anyhow. It was stupid to have even thought about it. She should have taken the risk. It was tissue, a meaningless thing for her to keep.

She slammed her fist into the floor. It was not meaningless. It meant something to her. It was something she would give to the man who would wait until she mastered the power, who would love her for who she was before he could love her physically. It wasn't something that Danvers would understand.

"Get the fuck out of my head, bitch," someone snarled. As thirty pairs of eyes fixed on hers, she wondered how long she would have to go on pretending that she was crazy.

They all stopped looking at her when the commotion started, somewhere outside. A company of guards was dragging a thrashing, manacled woman towards the cell. No one spoke. Several of the wealthy women were weeping, wide-eyed with disbelief. They dragged the still body into the cell, then lay into it with clubs and mag- lites, for all to see. The woman lay on the floor of the cell, her jeans and denim jacket covered in blood and dirt. The tattoo on the back of her hand read Fuck You, Dad.

"Jon-Jon!" she moaned, weakly.

One of the women from the benches went over to her, and gave her a thorough once over.

"They took my Jon-Jon."

"Sure, Georgie," said her companion. "Just stop there and be quiet, right?"

The woman on the floor began to howl.

"Quiet!" A male voice from the guard-room.

The woman screamed even louder.

"I want my Jon-Jon! Want him now! Filthy screws! I'll kill you all, tear your balls off with my teeth! Give him back to me, motherfuckers!"

Georgie somehow staggered to her feet, and looked at every face in turn. She tried not to make eye-contact, but when she did, she couldn't look away. Sallow skin, dilated pupils, wide staring eyes. And the diagnosis? asked the turbaned professor of surgery. PCP poisoning, or perhaps the very thing that she was pretending to suffer from.

"You," the woman said, pointing at her. "You took him, you whore."

Georgie snarled and leapt at her. She was pinned under her attacker, but quickly rolled on top and managed to get a good punch into the left kidney. The woman grunted, then landed a blow to her solar plexus. She rolled off onto the floor and lay on her side, gasping. The attacker was on top again, pummeling her head with light but painful blows. From somewhere behind, she heard the cell door open, and booted feet enter. Someone pulled her attacker off and threw the woman across the cell. They set to work on her again with their mag-lites, beating away rhythmically, until the screaming stopped. They paused for a moment, then went on with the beating, regular as a clock, four very large men. It was too much.

She rose shakily to her feet. All of the other women were pressed back against the bars, staring in silence. She walked towards the guards. A tattooed woman made a warning gesture of some sort, but she ignored it.

"Stop," she yelled. "There's no need. I'm fine."

They stopped beating Georgie. The woman's face was so covered in blood that her features were unrecognizable. Bone was visible through some of the wounds. The guards all turned towards her, smiling. The closest approached her. He was at least six feet tall, and must have weighed well over 200 pounds.

"What did you say?" he asked her, breath hissing between his teeth.

She hardly heard him. His eyes were magnetic, radiant blue under blond eyebrows. Just like Danvers' eyes, just before-

She was flying towards the bars. She hit them hard, but barely felt that next to the terrible pain in her ringing left ear. She hit the floor and rolled over, then lashed out automatically with a kick that once would have broken both of his legs. Instead, it almost fractured her ankle, if the pain was any indication. The guard kicked her in the ribs and picked her up by the hair, dragging her away from the bars.

She wanted a cigarette. They were so hypocritical, these Americans. It was supposed to be a video designed to show how the scars of torture came about, but he knew that it was not a re-enactment. What he was watching on the video was already well-known from countless sessions in the police cells with the worthless shits that challenged the honour of the state and the army. The soldier on the screen hit a woman lying on a concrete floor on the elbows, on the soles of the feet, on all the basic nerve clusters, in places where the damage wouldn't show. He knew those techniques, from long experience. He had learned them from the older officers who had learned them from their fathers, then added to their knowledge at this very school before the Americans passed their stupid laws that prevented them from being open about it. Hypocrites. They wanted cheap coffee. Perhaps they believed that if fell off the trees and into the shipping sacks of its own accord. He wondered if one day all of this would produce an economic miracle as it had in Chile. The Americans loved Chile, didn't seem to mind all the blood that had been spilled there, as long as it was a showcase for privatization. Everything in his country had always been private, and ten times as many were dead, but no Americans were singing its praises. Hypocrites. He was just about to leave the room for the crapper when the instructor came up to him, grabbed him by the shoulders, and lifted him off the floor.

"Never, never, EVER, speak to an officer of the LAW unless you are spoken TO!" he screamed. "You'll never do that to me again, you little piece of shit," Danvers screamed, as she stared at the crushed, corkscrewed remnants of her legs. She blacked out as Danvers picked up her head to smash it into the floor.

She was on the kitchen table at home, reaching out for Momma, who wouldn't come near. If Momma touched her, she could morph to normal, and she could norm to standard and be healed. Momma wouldn't come near. Instead, Momma was backed up against the wall, screaming while Nana tried to calm her down. St. John was talking to her, shaking her every time she felt as if she was greying out. Unimaginable pain in her shattered legs at each movement. Pain with every breath from four broken ribs. Dom was telling her Don't fall asleep or you will die.

There was a terrible burning across her back and buttocks. Searing pain from her shoulders and her wrists, which were locked together. The blanket and paper dress were gone. They were dragging her by manacled wrists across a concrete floor. She tried to help, tried to get her legs to lift her lacerated skin off the ground, but they were like wood. She had no control, no feeling, and it slowed them down. They hit her again, and she stopped trying to help. They didn't drag her much further after that.

"Here," barked a hoarse voice.

She heard a steel door open. A terrible smell. Cheese, leather, and urine, all mixed up together. They dragged her into a small concrete walled cubicle. Describe this cell! Ceiling 2m high, 2m deep, 1m wide. No light, no window, plate steel door with a slit in it, sir! The blonde one stood over her. Page, his name is Page. She could read it on his ID badge. There were two others in the cell. One had a handlebar moustache which he kept licking. Gendron. The other was very young and Chinese, and very nervous. Leung.

"Well, faggot, what'd you think of that?" said Page, still panting from the effort of dragging her into cell.

Leung's mouth worked, but he said nothing.

"The kid has an opinion," said Gendron.

"Rules," said Leung.

"What rules?" said Page.

"Have to undo the cuffs. We can't leave her like this."

"Very good, faggot. Unlock it." She heard a key hit the concrete floor. Leung vanished behind her and undid her cuffs. Her arms fell to floor like dead things. Somehow the pain had become worse, but she couldn't find the words to ask them to lock them up again.

"Anything else, boy?" asked Gendron.

"Has to have a bucket," said Leung.

"THEN GET ONE," screamed Page.

She heard the sound of running feet.

"Nice piece," said Gendron.

A foot kicked her over onto her back. Their eyes were all over her. She didn't have the strength to cover herself.

"Cunt," said Page softly.

"Shit. Apo's coming back," said Gendron.

The guards left her, and walked back into the hall.

"Couldn't find a clean one," said Leung.

"Who gives a fuck," said Page.

Something large and dark flew into the room, striking the wall with a loud crash. Its contents splattered everywhere, making the smell even worse.

The door slammed closed.

"Sleep, little angel," said Fred, gently laying her down in her bed to heal.

"Don't fall asleep," said the Professor of Medicine. "What you miss in your slumber during my lecture may kill the first patient that you diagnose in the casualty ward."

She woke up with a start, but she wasn't in the lecture hall. Instead, she was in the casualty ward, seeing her first patient. They all crowded into the cubicle, where a man lay on a gurney, covered in blood. The state of emergency had been in effect for several weeks, and she had already learned not to see things like this when she passed them in the streets.

"You," said the Professor of Medicine, pointing at her. "Describe her injuries."

"She's been beaten," she said meekly. There were snickers from somewhere in the back.

"Bravo! A statement of the obvious. Are you upset because this patient has been beaten by the police?"

"Yes," She said.

"Do you want to be a doctor?"

No. Not in a world that can do this. "Yes."

"Then remember that you are here to heal. What happens beyond our doors must not be considered. Now, describe his injuries fully."

She flexed her arms, gingerly. No sharp pains, no nausea. Bruises on the elbows and the wrists. Bruised ribs, that hurt every time she breathed. Not broken, that would have been worse. She knew that from Danvers.

She tried to lift her head. Her shoulders hurt, but she could almost move her arms, so they weren't dislocated. The legs? She almost lost her courage.

"You will, in the course of your career, see things that will threaten to shrivel you soul, " said the Professor of Medicine, throwing back his turbaned head on the first day of lectures. "You must always find the courage to face them, for if you do not, then who will?"

She moved her right leg, very slightly. A terrible ache, not a sharp, vomit-inducing pain. Her hand trembled as it moved towards her knee. It hovered over the joint, then she brought it down. It still felt like a knee. She almost wept.

"See? This is what happens to little girls who take things that don't belong to them."

Danvers had said that after pulling the cap out of one of her shattered knees.

"Every time I eat osso bucco, I'm going to think of you."

After Danvers had finished with her, she wasn't really there at all. Danvers kept shaking her awake to watch as she broke the legs, then crushed the knees and the ankles. Danvers had twisted what was left until she was looking at the soles of her boots sitting in her lap.

She twisted her head slightly. In the gloom, she could barely make out the outline of her leg on the floor. They were both in the right places, more or less. She closed her eyes with relief.

She woke up on the living-room sofa, with Momma standing in the doorway, silhouetted by the light from the hallway. The morphine blocked the pain. She couldn't see Momma's face, only hear her words.

"Live, little one. Just a few more days, please."

She did what Momma asked, slipping in and out of the morphine stupor from pain to an endless waking dreams of the blonde bitch leering at her as she destroyed her legs. Two days later, she awakened to find a bearded man in a weird cloak looking down on her. He was very frail and could barely stand. Fred was holding him up. Momma was there, screaming at him, telling him that if he didn't fix her legs, that she would go down into that damn sewer where he lived and kneecap a dozen kids in retaliation. Nana was holding her hand, wincing. The little man laid his hands on her, and something happened that was better than the morphine. Something happened to her mangled legs under the blanket, as the gentle hands passed over her head.

"She will be walking within the week. Give her a few days, and then have her take a few steps. She will heal."

Momma hadn't been too happy about that, but the old man had collapsed, unable to do more. Momma and Dominic had gone on a job for four days after that, but St John and Fred had stayed, taking turns coaxing her into standing and taking small steps. It was so hard, forcing herself to believe that she had something to stand on instead of twisted, bloody meat. When Momma had returned from New York, she had taken her first steps alone, and there wasn't a dry eye in the house, except for her own.

Then she woke up, back in her room in the desert. There was something that she had forgotten to do before she went to sleep, but she knew that it had to be done now, before sleep took her again. Tight under the covers, she took her diary out of its plastic bag and wrote out the names. Page. Gendron. Thandie. Georgie. Who they were, what they did, what had happened. When she had finished, she put it underneath the bed, but close to the covers where she could get at it. She tucked herself in under the sheets and went to sleep again.

She had a very bad dream. They were standing at the door to her room, which was open. She couldn't see them because they were shining lights in her face. She tried to shield her eyes with her hand, but it didn't help. They were looking at her and she wasn't wearing any clothes. She put her right hand between her legs, and her left across her breasts. She tried to crawl further into the darkness, but there wasn't anywhere to go. The lights followed every move she made, some blinding her, others playing over her hands and her legs. The smell of alcohol from outside cut through the smell of shit. She felt her wrists. The manacles were missing and so were her claws. She was confused. They had always been part of her, ever since Papa had chained her in the basement.

He couldn't see the ones at the door, but she knew them. They had come in the night for her, many times in many different places. They always said the same things, in the same black words.

"It's _not_ my fault," she slurred. Mistake. Never give them anything without a fight.

"Ohhhh. She can talk"

"Not her place to talk. Cunt's shouldn't talk."

"You've never seen one."

"Twenty that she spits."

"No, she's a swallower. Look at those eyes. Bitch swallows."

She tried to withdraw further into the cell, to get away from the light.

"Look at that. She's modest."

"Naw, she knows what's coming and she's getting ready for us. Getting all lubricated to ease our passage."

"Hold the flashlight up."

She was blinded again. There was no place that she could further back into. The concrete was unrelenting.

"Get the apo."

"Where's the fucking apo?"

There was a scuffling sound from the corridor. The light vanished for a moment, and someone was thrown into cell with her. He landed hard against the floor. She pulled her legs and arms in tighter, trying not to touch him. He had the uniform like the other warders. except for the armband. Conscientious Objector, written in black capitals. He looked up at her, with wild, terrified eyes.

"Go get her."

"She's been waiting for you."

"She wants it. She's been getting wet for you."

"Cherry for the cherry."

They started chanting it, over and over, a chorus of drunken voices. His face was vaguely familiar.

"Help me?" he pleaded.

His eyes met hers for a moment, but then he turned and ran for the door. There was a scuffle, and series of muffled curses.

"Come back, you little faggot."

"Apo shit."

"Get back here or we'll give you what she's going to get."

More running, and the lights went away. Two were left, staring into the cell.

"So?"

"So what?"

"Gonna do her?"

"Fuck no, she's all covered in shit."

"You shouldn't have thrown the bucket in,"

"Fuck you. Let's clean her up."

"Urine is sterile, " said the Professor of Medicine. "it carries no disease". The fact was of little comfort, but it was only a bad dream. A very bad dream.

She awoke with a start, looking up at the hammer-beam ceiling in her bedroom. It was an archaic detail that most houses in the region didn't have, but then most houses in the area hadn't been built by her great-grandfather, a shipwright obsessed with medieval architecture. She climbed out from under the duvet and looked out of the window. Her father was walking out in the garden with his latest friend. She imagined that she wouldn't see them until dinner.

She pulled on a pair of jeans and a t-shirt, and went downstairs. The studio was empty, so she went to the old stable. She found Momma, no, _Mother_, working on the old Cord that Great Uncle David had left there before hanging himself on a gray day in November of 1929. Mother was well under the hood, hitting something with a mallet.

"Need any help?", she asked.

Mother emerged from beneath the hood, wearing her standard paint-spattered boiler suit. Steel blue eyes burned into her own.

"You have something to tell me, that you don't want to."

"I'm going to a new posting. That's all."

"Carol, I can't abide liars. There's something about this which is bothering you. Tell me."

She wasn't afraid of anything or anyone, except for Mother.

"Nothing."

Mother gave her a disgusted look, then disappeared back under the hood. She turned and tried not to run towards the woods.


Somewhere, in the dark, she was lying on the floor. It was best that way, in spite of the things that she had to lie in. If she tried to sit up, the cramps started. Ugly things, her own muscles like worms crawling under her skin, burrowing away, eating at the flesh within. Every time she dropped off to sleep, her legs curled up involuntarily and started to cramp again. Even lying straight out on the floor, stretched, there was some muscle ready to knot up under her jaw, or in the soles of her feet.

"The symptoms of dehydration?" asked the professor of medicine.

"Cramps, dry mouth (tongue that feels like leather), dark urine (which burns like hell), buccal ulceration (which hurt), rapid drop in blood pressure upon rising from a prone position that could induce fainting?"

"Good enough. And how long has it been since the patient had last taken fluids by mouth?"

"A day? Two days?"

"And the consequences, if the patient is left in a hot unventilated cell and is not given fluids?"

"Possible death, due to heart failure, within 48 hours."

"The treatment?"

Her mouth was too dry to respond.


The woods were comforting, and she knew them better than anyone. They went back for miles from the house, into the hills and down towards the Connecticut River.

She went in a different direction than her father had, as she knew his special places and had no desire to interrupt him. He had never seen her spying on him and his friends, though she had known about those places and what he did there since the age of 6. Hiding in the bushes, he was usually naked with men younger than himself, kissing and doing many unusual things that she had the sense not to ask him about. Her mother and father would always use special words when they talked about such things, words that she soon got to know the special meaning of. Other people's father's didn't meet new friends in bus stations, or at least didn't bring them home for dinner when they did. Other people's mother's didn't dress in men's suits and go out dancing with other women. She said nothing of this to any of her friends, or to any other adults that she knew. Her brother knew all about it as well, but for some reason was ashamed of it. After making his career on Wall St., he had told everyone he knew that he was an orphan. None of them had seen him or spoken to him in years.

Her route took her over the hill towards a clearing that she knew better than any other place in the forest. Whenever she felt threatened by things that were dark and terrible, she would come here and look at the old oak tree and the place where the heavy limb had been cut off, and she would remember how she had learned to kill fear.

Her lesson had started one afternoon when she was eight, in her brother's bedroom. She had been there with Mike, his creepy friend Greg, and Greg's even creepier cousin Chris in from Hartford. They were all reading comics. It was a Saturday, and no-one else was in the house. She was reading the Western comics and paying special attention to the gunplay, while the boys were all reading Superman and Batman. After a long discussion of whether Catwoman or Batgirl on the TV show was sexier, Mike went off to the bathroom. Greg jumped on her and pinned her to the floor. Chris had put his hands in places where Mother had said no decent person should touch a little girl. Greg's hand covered her mouth, but she was too enraged to scream. Chris didn't do anything that would have left a mark, but what he did hurt her somewhere deep inside.

"We can do this to you any time we find you alone in the woods," Greg had whispered to her. "If you say anything, what we'll do will be worse."

From the look in Greg's eyes, this was a certainty.

"Meat," said Chris. "You're meat."

Then they had let her go. Mike returned a moment later, and they started to discuss the merits of Wonder Woman's new white costume versus the Star Spangled bustier.

"They hurt me," she said, interrupting Mike's defence of the bustier.

"What'd they do?" he asked her.

"They touched me," she said.

"What's the big deal?" he asked, puzzled. "I touch you all the time." To prove the point, he punched her lightly in the arm, as he often did on long car trips.

"Nothing," she said, and fled.

This was the place that she had fled to. She knew, deep down, that Greg was dangerous, and that he was even more dangerous when Chris was around. If they came after her and waited for her here, they could hurt her for hours and perhaps even kill her, and no-one would find out until it was too late. She might be able to hide from them, but if they caught her unawares-

No. These were her woods, and she would not be looking over her shoulder for anyone. She had looked up and seen the branch that a storm had half broken from an oak, and she had an idea.

It took her a week to put it all together. First, there were the things that had to be stolen. Heavy rope, a construction knife, and a saw all vanished from the studio and the stable. After she made sure that the woods were clear of watchers, she had practiced on several other storm damaged branches to refine her technique. It all involved much tree climbing, but she liked that. When, on the following Friday, Mike asked if Greg and Chris could come over, she was ready for them.

She had been watching Greg and Chris in the woods before, even if they didn't know it. They were creatures of habit, always taking the same path at the same speed. That day, she was waiting for them, up in the tree. As she expected, they didn't look up and didn't see anything until she cut the rope and the huge, 500 pound tree limb came crashing down on them. It had been a gamble, of course. If the ropes hadn't worked properly or if the limb had caught on another tree, they would have had her trapped up there. It had worked, and now they were pinned to the ground, unable to move. She carefully removed the ropes from the trees and then retrieved the Louisville Slugger that she had been given for Christmas. Chris was out cold with a large purple lump on his forehead. Greg was stirring, and moaning. From the look of his leg, he had broken it. She got his attention with a couple of swift kicks in the bent part.

"Meat," she snarled, and went to work on them both with the bat.

She had returned everything to its proper place, though she decided later that she ought to have wrapped the saw in plastic to have kept the dew from it. A policeman came by and asked her questions. Did she know these boys? Yes. Did she know if they had any enemies? No, they were just friends of her brother. Had she seen anything strange in the woods? Black boys, perhaps, from Pittsfield? No, never. Then she should be very careful, as there were kids doing vicious things, and she shouldn't go out in the woods alone. Greg and Chris didn't say anything about her to anyone about it, and blamed it all on a gang of black kids. Two thirteen year old boys would hardly want to admit to having been hospitalized by an eight-year old girl, and she found it amusing when Greg's parents moved, in order to 'raise him in a safer environment'. Her mother had asked some pointed questions about where all the sawdust in her clothes had come from and what had happened to the saw, but she had said nothing. Mother hadn't punished her. In fact, Mother seemed quite pleased for once. A few years after that, her brother had given her all of his comics. She had thrown all of the super-hero ones away.


Between spasms, drifting in and out of consciousness, she began to worry about ridiculous things. What would they think when they went through her books? They would all have a laugh over the Harlequins, most like. What would they do if they found her diary? Logan or Ro would burn it unread, she was sure of that, but Longshot might read it, and ask questions. Alison would read every word of it, and she was sure that Betsy would too. Beyond that, she owned nothing but a few clothes that would sit in drawers and closets until the desert claimed them. She would not be remembered, not even institutionally by the police or security apparats. She wondered if anyone would tell Momma.


Mother was waiting for her in the kitchen. She still had the boiler suit on, and Father had not returned.

"Well?"

There was no avoiding it.

"This new assignment. It's special work, security. I may not be able to see you or speak to you for a long time."

Her mother busied herself with pouring some tea, as if she had just said that she was planning to go for another stroll in the woods.

"I believe that you said it was on Diego Suarez."

"I don't know where it will be, I might not be coming back at all." Her voice was shaky, not like it ever was on the parade ground. Her mother looked up, glaring.

"Carol, there is nothing that you cannot do if you put your mind to it. I do not believe there is any force of nature that could prevent you from doing anything that you want to do. If you want to come back, you will. I know it."

Her mother stared at her with steel-blue eyes that allowed no contradiction.

"You will return. You will live. Now pass me the relish."

That night, as she lay in bed looking at the ceiling, she thought about what Mother had said, and the first time she had said it. She had expressed a desire to go to the Moon, and Mike had told her that it was impossible, because she was a girl. You had to be a jet pilot to be an astronaut, and girls couldn't be jet pilots. Mike had been right about the last bit, but Mother had sent him off to bed without dinner anyhow. The colonel that she had been sleeping with had told her that there was no hope of her flying jet within the next twenty years, unless she was willing to go outside normal channels and into the units that didn't exist on paper. The colonel was too old to be involved such things, but as she looked at the colonel's sagging body, she made up her mind that she would be piloting a fighter jet within a year.

She did feel regret, that she might not see the old house or Mother or her father again, but if it was a choice between that or the jet, she would fly, and she would see Mother again. She closed her eyes and went to sleep.


There was a commotion outside again. She was too weak to move now, to hide from them.

"Which bloody cell did you put her in?"

"This one?"

"That's not her, unless she's a bleeding hermaphrodite. Open all of them."

Her door was opened, and two faces looked in. One was Page, the other an older, white-haired man with a Voice of Authority.

"There had better be a bloody good reason for this, " said Authority. "I've got a bleeding brigadier after me, wanting to know where she went. I want to see you in my office, now."

Page vanished. Authority glanced at her in disgust, then turned to another very frightened looking guard.

"You. We have 15 minutes. Get her hosed down, then hose down the cell and put someone else in it. You. Find a mutt-suit."

"We haven't got one. Only magistrates-"

"What about the evidence room? Isn't there one in the evidence room?"

"But, it's evidence."

"Get the fucking thing and get her into it. I don't want them seeing anything and asking questions."

"About cleaning her off-"

"Do it. Now."

"She's all covered in filth."

"Put on an ABC suit. Just get her out of there and clean her and do it now, or you'll be out in the desert with the apos for the next twenty years."

The warder saluted shakily and ran off. The Voice of Authority remained, looking at her with disgust.

"You've caused a lot of trouble, you have."

He turned and went away. Two minutes later, two people in rubber suits that covered them from head to toe picked her up and carried her into a white tiled room. She couldn't walk by herself, the cramps were too painful. They laid her out on the floor. It was hard, but it was clean. She was the only thing that smelled bad in the room. She was thinking about trying to sit up when it hit her. A cold wall of water, pushing her against the wall, tearing the filth from her. She couldn't scream, only croak through her abscessed throat. None of her struggles seemed to affect the warders, who stood there with a bemused looks on their faces, directing the firehose at different parts of her. They backed her into a corner with the blasts, then when she collapsed one of them turned her over and they washed down the front of her. When they were finished, she couldn't manage more than a moan, but they pricked her with something and it didn't seem to matter anymore. They came in with a shiny greenish-yellow suit and she tried to run, but she could barely flinch away. Two female warders stretched it over her soaking body, until it covered everything below the neck. They gave her water, but she was too weak to drink. Instead, with some annoyance and brutality, they shoved a tube down her nose and into her stomach, which they filled with a cloudy liquid that they squeezed from a clear plastic bag. They dragged her to a truck, where she was bound in manacles head and foot, and they drove her to another building somewhere else.

Where it was she did not know. She didn't need to drink, now, they had taken care of that. This place didn't smell, but she knew that if she so much as breathed improperly, she would be punished again. She didn't know what the rules were anymore, only that she had broken them. Her life was over, but she hardly seemed to care. A slit on the door opened, and two sets of eyes looked in.

"No ID on this one either." Female, military.

"And you say that you are sure that she was a mutant?" Male, older, patrician.

"She flew. Wipeout took her down."

"All the way?"

"No. She was coherent when they left her."

"She's bloody catatonic now."

"There were some irregularities in her processing."

"Irregularities."

"She somehow ended up in the cells at Police Central. Seems that one of the guards attacked her."

"Knowing that she was a mutant?"

"No. They didn't know that."

"Inhuman. What is the name of the animal responsible for this?"

"Leung, sir. One of those filthy apos assigned to the police. Refused to carry a gun. Went against his so-called beliefs. Don't know how people like that can call themselves Christians."

"They're moral cripples, happy in their misunderstanding of the words of God. A good stint in the Magistrates would beat the weakness and perversion out of them. Show them what God was all about."

"I certainly would think so, sir."

"Put him on the D list."

"Sir, his father is a citizen."

"Major Anderson, we cannot have a potential citizen who behaves in this manner if he is in a position of responsibility. Can you imagine what he would do if he were to be given responsibility for a mutate?"

"Even so, it could be bad for our relations with the police."

"Do it. We don't have enough casualties on our side this weekend."

One set of eyes disappeared from the slit. The sound of clicked heels echoed in the corridor, and the one set of eyes stared back at her with almost a look of pity in them.

"Don't worry, little girl, I'll take it all away from you. No more worries, no more pain, and you will have a useful purpose in society. No one will ever hurt you again."

The slit slammed closed, and they left her in the darkness.


She awakened in the night, sweating. It was so unlike her to have nightmares, especially such vivid ones. She rose from the bed and went to her dresser. In the mirror, she saw a familiar face. Auburn hair with a white stripe, big green eyes, a filth-covered body twenty years younger than her own.

"You look like shit, girl."

The face in the mirror looked was staring off into space, its eyes empty.

"You're covered in it."

"They washed me."

The voice from the mirror was small, almost inaudible.

"It's outside, it's inside, it's you though and through. Shit."

"No."

"You've lost it, haven't you? Can't fight back. Don't know what to do, and Logan's going to die because of it."

The green eyes looked down.

"You know what you have to do if you want to live."

"I don't want to."

"I know how to save him. Give me control, and I'll get us out of this."

"No."

"Then we'll die."

"Maybe."

"They'll do something to us. Kill us both, but the body will live on."

"Maybe I die either way."

"You will if you do nothing. Do you really want to die?"

"No."

"Then you have-"

The green eyes were looking up. The body beneath them was no longer covered in filth.

"You didn't deserve the power."

"Deserve it? Who gives a shit if I deserved it? I got it, and I used it for good. Not like you."

"You're like them. You like to hurt people. You enjoy it."

"You enjoyed hurting me. You left my body for dead, you miserable little bitch."

"If you hadn't hurt me-"

"I don't believe this. We're going to get killed and you're going to debate me on the moral issues associated with violence? Give me control, now."

"Will you give it up, if we get out of this?"

"I'll think about it."

"Then think of Berlin."

"Why?"

The girl vanished, the mirror vanished, the room vanished. She was in a cell somewhere. Genosha, in some sort of prison associated with the mutate processing service. Logan was certainly nearby, somewhere. She stood up and flexed the body. Severe bruising at the joints, administered by someone who would spend the rest of his life being through a tube. Abrasions on the back and buttocks. She bent all the way forward, tearing them open against the suit. Best to hurt now, not later. She threw a few punches, tried a few kicks. The arms and legs on this body were shorter, and not in the same proportions. Even worse, the power was gone, but she could remember how to fight without it. At least the body was in reasonable shape. She tried a few more stretches, then sat back down on the bed when she heard the footsteps coming.

The door opened, and two magistrates entered.

"You should have asked Ray to come along," said the male.

"He's taking the heat for me," said the female. "She's no threat. She's spaced. Gone away, not coming back. Should never have left her alone back there. Animals."

They came in close, thinking that it was still the weak little bitch, and not her. She used the heel of her palm to drive the man's nose into his brain as she kicked the legs out from under the woman. The man went down, probably dying. She slammed the woman's head against the floor, then put her neck in a hold. She recognized the woman from somewhere. A quick twist would make sure that they never met again, but she couldn't do it. Instead, she switched to a choke hold, which she held for two minutes. She checked them over quickly. The man was comatose, and would die if not given prompt medical attention. No threat. The woman was still breathing, shallowly. It was stupid to leave her alive. Stupid and dangerous. She stripped the woman of her uniform, and then, as an afterthought, draped the blanket from the bed over her unconscious body.

"No worries," she whispered, and left the cell.


It took some time to find Logan. She whispered his name through the slit of the thirtieth cell that she had looked into, but he had not responded. It took her a while to find the right key, but once she was inside, it was apparent that she wasn't going to be relying on him for much if it came to a fight. He had more bruises than her body did, and his face was covered in blood from a nasty cut on the forehead which had not healed. She leaned over him and whispered into his ear.

"Logan?"

He groaned softly.

"Come on sport, up and at'em."

"Carol?"

She should have said yes, but she couldn't manage it. His eyes opened, but unfocused.

"Carol, what you want? Sleepy."

"A kiss before dying," she heard her voice say.

The body grabbed hold of Logan and forced its lips down onto his. She tasted the blood and tobacco in his mouth. He struggled against her, which was more frightening than anything else because he was so weak. She made the body let go of him, but he stopped her, still holding on.

"Not like that darlin', like this."

It was different that time. His lips found hers and his tongue caressed her own, gently. It was over in a second, but it felt as if she had been kissed for the first time. His eyes unfocused again, and he went limp.

"Logan. Come on, sport."

His eyes opened again.

"Carol? Where's Rogue?"

He was looking at her, able to see her this time.

"We're here Logan," she said. "We're here."


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