[1] [2] [3] [4] [5] [6] [7] [8] [9] [10] [11] Ongoing...
 
Episode Four

Stevie Hunter's dance studio was within walking distance of the school. Kitty, however, found herself wishing that they had taken the bus. In spite of the brisk pace set by the Doctor, the bitter cold gnawed at her bones, seeping through her coat and scarf and mittens, not to mention then many layers beneath, as if they were not there. The Doctor, in contrast, seemed not to notice the weather and had certainly made no concession to the elements in his manner of dress.

'Aren't you cold?' Kitty asked him as she rubbed her hands together.

'Cold?' the Doctor repeated. 'Sometimes I wonder.'

His voice was soft, but weighed down with sadness.

'Do you want to talk about it?' Kitty asked. She wanted to try and keep the conversation going. She liked the sound of his voice and she wanted to learn more about the handsome stranger fate had dropped into her life. For purely scientific reasons, of course.

The Doctor shrugged.

'I think I may be treating a good friend very badly,' he confessed, 'assuming she is my friend.'

'I don't understand,' Kitty admitted.

'No reason why you should,' the Doctor replied, 'but let's not talk about my problems.'

The Doctor beamed at her, his smile banishing his previous sadness as the morning sun might burn away the fog. The smile made Kitty blush. She wanted to turn away, but she forced herself to look up at those blue-grey eyes.

'Thanks, by the way,' she stammered.

'What for?' the Doctor asked innocently.

'Well, for talking the professor into letting me out,' Kitty replied.

The Doctor laughed.

'I should be thanking you,' he told her. 'I needed an excuse to get away from that place.'

Kitty frowned.

'What's wrong with the school?' she asked. 'I mean, besides being a school, obviously…'

'I'm sorry, Kitty,' the Doctor said hurriedly. 'I can call you Kitty, can't I? Good. It was a stupid thing to say. Forget I mentioned it.'

And despite Kitty's persistence, the Doctor refused to say any more on the matter.

'So,' Kitty said at last. 'What's it like travelling in time?'

'Much like any other form of travel, I assume,' the Doctor told her. 'Every journey seems to take twice as long as it should, the person a the back constantly wants to know if you're nearly there yet and there's always that little nagging doubt about whether or not you really did remember to turn the gas off.'

His eyes sparkled as he spoke. Kitty had always thought that was just a conceit invented by writers of fiction, but the Doctor really could make his eyes glow like stars.

'But,' Kitty began, 'but travelling in time is like totally, well, wow.'

'Wow?' the Doctor repeated, gently mocking.

'You know,' Kitty insisted. 'What I mean is, you must have all these great adventures.'

'Well, the Doctor mused, 'there was this one night at a restaurant in Venice. Best meal I've had in all my lives and the atmosphere…heavenly. And the beauty of time travel is that I can go back and repeat that exact same night just as often as I like.'

'You can do that?' Kitty asked.

'Well, no, not really,' the Doctor confessed. 'So please don't tell anybody or I might get into trouble.'

* * *

There is a small bench just inside a large bay window in one of the rooms of the mansion. It provides me with the perfect place to add to my journal, gifting me with ample natural light, while sparing me from the bitter cold. It is also peaceful. There are only two people in the room at present, myself and a man playing a game called pool. The man is short, about half a head shorter than myself, and his hair is even more wild than that of my travelling companion.

'What's the matter, sweetheart?' he growls at me when he notices that I am watching him. 'Am I breathing too loud for you?'

'I am not your sweetheart,' I inform him,' and I was just appreciating the quiet.'

'Yeah,' the man drawls, straightening up and resting the stick he has been using on the table, 'you don't get a lot of that around here. Best appreciate it while it lasts.'

'I'm Mina Harker,' I say, getting up from my seat.

'I know,' he replies. 'The kids aren't talking about much else at the moment. I'm Logan.'

He had a firm handshake and rough, callused hands.

'What are you writing?' he asked, cocking his head in the direction of my open journal.

'A diary,' I explained. 'I like to keep a record of things so that I always have the opportunity to remind myself should my memory fade.'

Logan turned away from me, picked up a ball from the surface of the table and began tossing it from one hand to the other.

'Memory's a tricky thing, ain't it,' he muttered.

The comment seemed to be meant more for himself than for me and it was apparent that Logan felt that the conversation was over. I, however, was not about to waste any opportunity to learn more about these colourful individuals.

'You rescued us, didn't you,' I began, 'from that mechanical creature. I haven't had the chance to thank you…'

'Illyana did the rescuing,' Logan grunted. 'I just came along for the ride.'

'But still…'

'But nothing,' Logan cut me off. 'I'm not claiming someone else's credit.'

I decided to try another tack.

'In all the confusion my eyes may have been playing tricks on me,' I confessed, 'but would I be right in thinking that you have claws?'

'That you would, darlin',' he replied Three blades popped out from between the knuckles of his left hand then, just as swiftly, they retracted beneath his skin.

'I don't know what to say,' I said.

'Best not to say anything,' Logan replied. ''Specially since we both seem to like the quiet.'

I did not catch the note of warning in his voice.

'Pardon me for saying so,' I persisted, 'but those do not appear to be natural. Where they metal?'

'Yep,' Logan said.

'But why would you do that to yourself?' I inquired. 'Why mutilate yourself?'

'None of your damn business,' Logan snarled.

'There's no call for rudeness, Mr Logan,' I snapped back. 'I merely asked you a question. If you choose not to answer, that is your own concern, but you can at least be polite about it.'

I have taught enough unruly pupils in my time to know the benefits of a sharp tongue-lashing.

'I didn't,' Logan said. 'I didn't do this to myself. Now will you just shut up. Please.'

Unfortunately, Logan was not one of my students.

'Someone did this to you?' I whispered. 'But that's horrible? Was there…was there much pain?'

'Can't you take a hint,' Logan roared. 'Just drop the subject, okay?'

'I'm just trying to understand,' I protested.

'I said drop it!'

Logan turned and hurled the ball he had been holding straight at me. It whipped past my ear and imbedded itself in the plaster of the wall behind me.

'Logan, that's enough!'

A man was standing in the doorway. His tongue was even sharper than mine.

Logan stalked over to him. Despite being over a head shorter than the new arrival, he did not appear at all comical standing up to him. He looked terrifying.

'You want to start something, Scotty-boy?' Logan grunted. He was flexing his hands, but kept his claws concealed. For now.

Scott's hand moved towards the glasses that hid his eyes.

'I don't know, Logan,' he replied levelly. 'Are you prepared to finish it this time?'

'Last time I checked, you weren't in charge here any more,' Logan said before pushing past Scott and leaving the room.

'Are you all right?' Scott asked me.

I was trembling.

'I think I just need to sit down for a moment,' I confessed, backing up until I had reached the window seat.

'Take all the time you need,' Scott told me. Scott was tall. Not simply tall when compared to Logan, but taller than most people I had ever met. His short, light brown hair was parted on the left and his eyes were hidden behind dark red glasses. They made him difficult to read effectively.

'Can I get you anything?' Scott continued. 'Water? Something stronger?'

'A glass of water would be much appreciated,' I told him.

Scott crossed to a white and blue cabinet in one corner of the room and placed a cup inside of it. When he returned the white cup, which seemed worryingly flimsy in my hand, was full of cool water. I took a sip.

'Better?' Scott asked. He had crouched down in front of me so that I did not have to strain my neck looking up at him. There would have been just about enough space for him to have sat down beside me on the bench, but Scott kept his distance and I was glad of it.

'Better,' I confirmed.

Scott smiled at me, cheered by my reassurance. I could not help but smile back.

'I'm Scott Summers,' he said.

'Mina Harker,' I replied.

'I know,' he told me. 'Walls have ears.'

'I am inclined to believe anything of this place,' I responded.

I took another sip of the water. My nerves were less frayed now, but the sight of the ball embedded in plaster was an uncomfortable reminder of what might have been.

'Is Mr Logan always so…' I paused, searching for a word that would accurately describe my opinions, but would also be suitable in polite company.

'Short?' Scott suggested.

I had to laugh. 'That's one way of describing it.'

'Logan has a temper,' Scott explained. 'Believe it or not, he's more civilised now then when he first arrived. But I figure we still have a long way to go.'

'We?' I queried. 'I thought Logan said…'

'Slip of the tongue,' Scott admitted. 'The school's been a part of my life for so long now, first as a student and then a teacher, that I have difficulty letting go.'

'You were a teacher?' I asked.

'No need to look so surprised,' Scott protested good-naturedly. 'Most of the adults around here take classes at one time or another.'

'Even Logan?'

'Well, maybe not him so much,' Scott replied. 'Truth is, though, when you're running a school for mutants you can't afford to be too choosy about who you put on the faculty.'

'I used to teach,' I told Scott, 'before I met the Doctor.'

'Really, what did you teach?'

'English mainly,' I replied, 'but I would teach whatever was necessary under any given circumstance.'

'Do you miss it?' Scott asked.

'A great deal,' I said. 'There is a tremendous sense of satisfaction to be gained by imparting wisdom to the young.'

'Tell me about it,' Scott agreed. 'To think that you have somehow helped that kid to achieve something…You can't beat that feeling that you're making a difference.'

'If you feel that way then why did you leave?' I asked.

'Personal reasons,' Scott replied.

'I'm sorry,' I apologised hastily, 'I didn't mean to pry.'

'It's okay,' Scott assured me. 'I'm not going to throw a cue ball at you. Someone close to me died while I was here and let's just say that it coloured my perceptions of this place.'

'I'm sorry.'

'Thanks,' Scott said, 'but I guess it's not all bad. If I hadn't quit I would never have met Maddy.'

'Speaking of your gorgeous wife, does she know that you're chatting up other women?' A woman stood in the doorway. Fiery red hair flowed down on either side of her heart-shaped face. She held a baby in her arms.

'I, er…' Scott jumped to his feet as if stung.

'Relax, Scott, I'm teasing,' Madelyne said as she gave her husband a peck on the cheek. 'Here, hold on to Nathan for me for a minute.'

She turned to me, extending a hand.

'Hi, I'm Madelyne,' she said, 'but most people call me Maddy.'

I got up and took her proffered hand.

'Mina,' I said, 'but you probably already know that.'

'What can I say?' Maddy asked with a shrug. 'News travels fast around here.'

'You have a beautiful son,' I said, waving my fingers in front of the boy's face to attract his attention. He, however, seemed to be more interested in chewing on his father's shirt.

'His name's Nathan Christopher,' Madelyne explained. 'Named after his grandfathers.'

'You're a big, handsome boy, aren't you?' I said to Nathan.

'And heavy to boot,' Scott added. 'The little man isn't so little anymore.'

'Oh stop complaining,' Maddy scolded. 'Remember what we said about men with babies.'

'I have yet to be convinced,' Scott told her.

'Do you have any kids of your own?' Madelyne asked me.

'Just the one,' I replied. 'His name's Qunicey.'

'Quincey,' Madelyne repeated, 'I like it.'

'He's named after an old family friend,' I explained.

'And how old is he?' Scott asked.

I hesitated. I could picture Quincey in my arms, not much older than Scott and Madelyne's son, but that was a memory from years ago. I could see Jonathan in the picture, but he had died and Quincey…what had become of my son? Why couldn't I remember? Why could I not remember?

I stumbled away from Scott and Nathan.

'Are you all right, Mina?' Scott asked.

How could I tell him? How could I expect anyone to understand when I did not understand myself?

'Fine,' I managed. 'I just need some fresh air.'

Then I fled from the room, the incredulous stares of Mr and Mrs Summers boring into my back.

* * *

The chair was large and soft, but Marie could not get comfortable. She kept feeling as though the chair was trying to swallow her up. It was a chair for relaxing in, maybe even sleeping in, but Marie was having a hard time relaxing. She had an urge to bite her fingernails, but she had enough control left to keep her hands firmly in her lap.

'Be calm, Marie,' Ororo said, reaching across and placing a single cold hand over both of Marie's.

'Easy for you to say,' Marie complained in a whisper. 'Which one of us is the wanted criminal again?'

Despite her black leather clothes and white mohican-style hair, Ororo looked completely at home in the inoffensive waiting-room. Marie envied her that.

'I am sure you have nothing to fear,' Ororo said comfortingly.

'We're in the heart of a government building swarming with armed security guys, Ororo,' Marie pointed out.

'Everything will be fine,' Ororo promised. 'We were invited here, remember?'

'Sure,' Marie drawled. 'And how exactly is that supposed to reassure me?'

A door opened, causing Marie to jump. Ororo eased herself languidly upright.

'The Governor will see you,' the man at the door announced.

* * *

'You okay?' Dani asked Sam as she retook her seat beside him.

'Just terrific,' Sam muttered. He was leaning against the window of the train carriage.

'Farm boy still can't decide what to get her, can you, Sam?' Illyana teased, leaning over the back of the seat and ruffling her hair.

'Hey, leave off,' Sam complained.

'Don't your parents work on a farm, Illyana?' Doug inquired innocently.

'My brother and I came to America when I was six,' Illyana pointed out. 'I am a city girl and proud of it.'

'The city is all well and good, I suppose,' Rahne mused softly, 'but how can you not love the country. I miss the Highlands something terrible.'

'Then why don't you go back there then,' Illyana retorted.

'You know why,' Doug cautioned Illyana. 'Rahne didn't chose to leave home like we did, she was driven out.'

'And the reason we haven't gone over there to teach those creeps some manners is?' Illyana asked.

'Because it would be wrong,' Rahne explained.

'Oh yes, I forgot that you forgive them like the good little Christian girl that you are,' Illyana mocked.

'Illyana…' Dani warned.

Illyana ignored her. 'Remind me, wasn't it a priest who encouraged people to drive you out in the first place?'

'Illyana, that's enough,' Dani snapped.

'He was misguided,' Rahne replied softly. 'One priest's mistakes don't mean that God himself is flawed.'

'Whatever,' Illyana muttered before folding her arms and slumping in her seat.

'For what it's worth, I'm with Rahne on this country over city thing,' Dani said, changing the subject. 'All I ask is for a wide open plain and a horse to carry me over it.'

'The problem with wide open plains,' Doug said, 'is there's nowhere to plug your PC in. Much as it pains me to agree with 'Yana, I guess I'm not cut out for the country lifestyle.'

'We get internet access on the farm,' Sam put in. 'Okay, with five brothers and sisters I never get to use it, but it's there…'

Dani smiled, allowing the tension that Illyana had built up inside of her to melt away.

'So what's got you so worked up anyway, Sam,' she asked.

'Illyana's right, Chief,' he said resignedly. 'I can't think what to get her.'

'You'll think of something,' Dani assured him. 'You just need to look around a bit, that's all.'

'You think?' Sam asked. 'I mean, it's got to be something special, right? Let's face it, Lila's a star who may be interested in me…'

'Is into you,' Rahne interjected. 'Anyone could see that.'

Was there a hint of bitterness in her voice, Dani wondered. Not from Rahne, surely?

'Rahne's right,' Dani agreed. 'And when she puts a song on her album called Sam, you've got to take that as a pretty big hint.'

'I've heard that track,' Doug put in. 'Didn't like it.'

'My point is,' Sam began, 'that there's a lot of pressure.'

'No,' Doug said. 'Phys Ed with Logan - that's pressure.'

'Not helping, Doug,' Sam replied.

You could get her the new Lila Cheney album,' Doug persisted. 'That's what I'd get my girlfriend.'

'You haven't got a girlfriend,' Illyana pointed out.

Doug grinned back. 'And here I thought you and I had a connection.'

'In your dreams,' Illyana replied.

'Are there going to be any useful suggestions from the peanut gallery?' Dani asked.

'I doubt it,' Doug admitted. 'Best think fast, Sam, we're almost there.'

* * *

Kim Grayson sat behind her desk. The only item on it was a desk tidy holding two pens. Anything potentially incriminating must have already been locked away, Marie guessed. A man sat off to one side, studying them with little grey eyes. Marie recognised him from numerous public appearances Grayson had done. He was always hovering at her shoulder, but Marie had never heard him speak and had not even known his name until Grayson had introduced him as David Adams.

Marie wanted to be anywhere, but here and had to fight not to flinch every time Grayson glanced in her direction. The whole atmosphere made her distinctly uncomfortable. Ororo, sitting next to her, seemed perfectly at ease, but the way the rain was hammering at the window made Marie wonder.

Grayson had offered them drinks. Ororo had declined so Marie had felt obliged to do likewise despite the fact that her mouth was as dry as the Sahara. She hoped no one was expecting her to contribute to this discussion.

Ororo and Grayson stared at each other, waiting patiently for the other to make the first move. Marie tried not to fidget and wished that someone would just do something.

Adams broke the deadlock.

'Governor,' he said, 'I had to interrupt, but I should remind you that you have other appointments.'

'Of course, David,' Grayson said.

Both she and Ororo allowed themselves a small smile. It had been a skilful move on Adams part, getting things moving again without anyone having to lose face.

'You're probably wondering why I had you brought here,' Grayson said.

'I'm assuming it has something to do with your campaign,' Ororo replied, 'and the fact that you are trailing substantially in the polls.'

Go, Ororo, Marie thought. The governor's superior attitude rubbed her the wrong way.

'Miss Munroe,' Grayson said, a slight frown marring her features, 'it is your best interests that I win this campaign as much as it is in mine, or do you really want Ashley Campbell in office?'

'Honestly, Governor, I wouldn't trust either of you,' Ororo told her, 'but at least you don't plan on putting mutants in camps. Yet.'

'Charles seems happy enough to support me,' Grayson pointed out.

'Professor Xavier is more comfortable playing politics than I am,' Ororo responded.

'I appreciate your candour,' Grayson said. 'Allow me to be equally frank. Campbell is going to win this election.'

'You can't be conceding already?' The words were out of Marie's mouth before she could stop them.

'I have no intention of conceding,' Grayson snapped. 'However, the fact remains that unless we do something drastic and soon Campbell will win. He has tapped into a very real fear in people and is exploiting it brilliantly. The Sentinel was a masterstroke.'

'It's an abomination,' Ororo countered.

'Perhaps,' Grayson conceded, 'but as a propaganda weapon it's tough to beat.'

'I don’t get it,' Marie admitted. 'Can't people see it's wrong? Campbell's advocating killing people and you're telling me that makes him popular?'

'People are afraid,' Grayson explained. 'It's easier to hate what's different than to welcome it with open arms. Safer, too.'

'But it can't be legal, surely?' Ororo remarked. 'If Campbell is really advocating death camps and killing machines, can't we use that to get him disqualified from the race? Locked up even?'

'It's not that simple, I'm afraid,' Grayson told her. 'Campbell is claiming that mutants are a whole new species. If that's true then they would not be automatically entitled to any 'human' rights.'

'And they call us monsters,' Ororo breathed. 'I take it you have a solution. That is why we're here, isn't it?'

'I have an idea,' Grayson admitted. 'We need to capture the public's imagination. Rally them around us. We need to make mutants fashionable.'

'And how do you propose to do that?' Ororo asked.

'We both know mutants are more prevalent than most people think, they just don't advertise the fact that they are mutants,' Grayson said. 'I'm guessing that there are plenty of mutants we already consider popular and fashionable, we just don't know their true nature. A lot of things make more sense when you look at them that way.'

'Assuming you're correct,' Ororo replied slowly, 'then those mutants choose to keep their origins secret for good reason.'

'But you know who they are, don't you,' Grayson persisted, 'you and Charles. You could talk to them. Win them round to our point of view.'

'And if they still want to preserve their secret? It's going to be hard convincing them that the world will accept a public mutant with open arms, even a celebrity one. I'm not even convinced of it myself.'

'Then give me the names,' Grayson shot back. 'They can help us whether they like it or not.'

'You would expose them?' Ororo demanded.

'Yes, I would,' Grayson said. 'We need something big to recover all the ground we lost. What is the future of one mutant, of a dozen mutants if it secures the future for all of your kind?'

'I won't hang these people out to be slaughtered,' Ororo insisted.

'And how much is your moral high ground worth?' Grayson asked. 'How much mutant blood will you have on your hands?'

'You don't care about mutants,' Marie snapped, leaping to her friend's defence. 'You just care about winning your stupid election.'

'Maybe so,' Grayson agreed, 'but what do you care about? If you're not prepared to throw others to the lions in order to win then how about yourself?'

'I…I don't know what you're talking about,' Marie stammered.

'Oh, I think you do,' Grayson said, twisting the knife. 'I know exactly what you are. You're a terrorist.'

'I was a freedom fighter,' Marie insisted.

'Of course you were,' Grayson mocked, 'and I'm sure that Air Force captain understands. You know, the one you put into a coma. What was her name? Something Danvers…'

'Marie,' Ororo warned.

Marie ignored her.

'I was fighting for mutant rights,' she protested.

'And that's exactly what I'm asking you to do now,' Grayson informed her. 'Take a stand for what you believe in. Give yourself up to human justice. Show the public they have nothing to fear from mutants and that they don't need Sentinel's to defend them from the likes of you.'

'I…' Marie began.

'That's enough!' Ororo snapped, jumping to her feet. 'We're leaving. Come on, Marie.'

'Think about what I said,' Grayson shouted after them. 'You know it's the only way.'

* * *

'Head up, Kitty,' Stevie Hunter scolded her pupil as the girl spun and dipped around the studio in time to the music. 'People want to see that face of yours.'

Kitty executed a final pirouette and then came to rest just as the music ended.

'Not bad,' Stevie told her, 'but still not great either. You've got the moves and the rhythm down, but you're still lacking that poise. Remember, it's not just what you do, it's how you do it that's important. Look your audience in the eye and take charge. You've got a lot of work to do in that area if you're serious about entering that competition.'

'You mean it?' Kitty asked, surprise and delighted showing on her face in equal measure. 'You think I've got a chance?'

'Sure you've got a chance, Kitty,' Stevie assured her, 'but only if you practice, practice and then practice some more. Now let's run that routine again from the top and I want to see you selling yourself.'

Having restarted the music, Stevie crossed the floor to go and stand beside the Doctor who was sitting on a wooden chair, watching the proceedings intently.

'So, what do you think?' she asked him, keeping her voice low so as not to distract Kitty.

'She's very good,' the Doctor said. 'I've rarely seen better. A performance of Sleeping Beauty at the Met springs immediately to mind. You were in that one, I believe.'

'You've seen me perform?' Stevie replied.

'Seen and been impressed by,' the Doctor confirmed. 'I'm something of a fan.'

'I'm flattered.'

'I'm curious,' the Doctor said. 'Why did you give it up? You had such a bright future ahead of you.'

'I was in a car accident, Doctor,' Stevie explained. 'I damaged by knee and now my leg isn't strong enough for that kind of work.'

'So now you teach those who might go on to succeed where you were denied,' the Doctor mused. 'It's amazing how tiny events can change the whole course of people's lives.'

They watched Kitty in silence for a while, then the Doctor suddenly exclaimed, 'I'd be honoured if you would dance with me.'

'I'd love to, Doctor, really,' Stevie said, 'but my knee…'

'I'll support you, I promise,' the Doctor said. 'Please. It would mean a lot to me.'

Kitty's dance was just coming to a close.

'Well, if you're sure,' Stevie began sceptically.

'Splendid.'

The Doctor beamed while Stevie sorted out some music. Then he took her in his arms and whisked her out on to the studio floor.

Watching them, Kitty was reminded of something she had once had to do in drama class. You stood with your back to your partner and then let yourself fall backwards, trusting in the other person to catch you before you hit the floor. Despite having only just met him, Stevie was prepared to trust the Doctor not to drop her. The more she thought about it, the more certain Kitty felt that she was too.

* * *

Rachel found Mina sitting outside in the rose garden.

'I thought it was too cold out here,' she commented, sitting down beside her.

'I needed the fresh air,' Mina replied.

'I know what happened with you and Logan,' Rachel said.

'So I suppose everyone is talking about that as well now,' Mina replied hotly.

'No,' Rachel amended hastily, 'no one's said a word. It's just…well, I read minds. I wasn't doing it deliberately, but it's not a power I can switch off and sometimes I guess I just…pick stuff up.'

'Then you know that that man tried to kill me,' Mina said.

'No, he didn't,' Rachel said. 'I've seen what Logan can do. If he had wanted to kill you then he wouldn't have missed.'

'That's hardly comforting,' Mina remarked.

'Look, you seem like an okay sort of person,' Rachel began, 'and I just want you to hear Logan's side of the story before you judge him.'

'I think I know quite enough about Mr Logan already, thank you very much,' Mina retorted.

'Please,' Rachel begged. 'If you still want to hate him when I'm done then fine, but at least hear me out.'

'I don't understand,' Mina said. 'I thought that you were new here. How is it that Logan is so important to you.'

'In the future I come from Logan…he died to save my life,' Rachel said.

'That doesn't sound much like the man I encountered earlier,' Mina pointed out.

'Logan has…issues,' Rachel began. 'It's difficult to explain, but the gist of it is that an organisation captured him and experimented on him, giving him a metal skeleton and those claws. They also wiped his memory and then started implanting suggestions into his brain to turn him into their perfect soldier. Logan managed to break free of their conditioning in the end, but he never recovered what he'd lost. He doesn't really know who he is or where he comes from. What memories he does have might just have been implanted there by his captors and when he makes a decision, is it really him that's doing it, or the thing they turned him into? Can you imagine trying to live your life like that?'

'Yes,' Mina whispered. 'Yes, I think I can. But even so…'

'Hey, I'm not defending what he did,' Rachel said, 'and I doubt he would either. I'm just asking you not to judge him on one bad day. He's a better man than you give him credit for. I know.'

'Has it occurred to you that the Logan you know may be from a future that may not happen?' Mina suggested quietly.

Rachel turned away so that Mina would not see the hot tears that had just sprung up behind her eyes.

'Given what my time was like,' she said, voice shaking, 'I pray that you're right.' She wiped the back of her hand across her face. 'I'd better get back inside.'

'Wait,' Mina said, grabbing hold of Rachel's wrist to prevent her from leaving. 'Please.'

Rachel paused and turned back.

'You said you could read minds,' Mina recalled, an edge of fear in her voice. 'Could you…could you read mine?'

* * *

Charles Xavier sighed and massaged the bridge of his nose. This was supposed to be relaxing. What with everything else that was going on, Xavier had decided to take a break and work on planning courses for the new semester. The idea was that he could lose himself in his schoolwork for a few hours free from the demands of politics. He had not asked to play politician. All he wanted was to be a schoolteacher, but somebody had to make a stand on behalf of mutants and if not him then who?

That did not mean that his work as a headmaster was easy, however. Given the small teaching staff, it was a nightmare trying to arrange a workable timetable. He really needed to hire more teachers, but how was he supposed to vet potential candidates? The last thing he needed was a new member of staff blowing the whistle on the true nature of his school.

Maybe he should have a word with Scott while he was here. Even if he only agreed to come back to teach part time, it would make things a lot easier. Then again, maybe having Scott around was not such a good idea. He had been Xavier's first student, the best and the brightest to ever graduate from here. But a little learning was a dangerous thing and, after Jean's death, Scott had started to ask questions Xavier was not prepared to answer. Maybe it would be better after all if Scott were to keep his visits to a minimum.

Xavier was interrupted from his reverie by the muffled sound of an explosion and the smell of sulphur that filled the study. He glowered at Kurt who had just appeared in the room.

'I thought we agreed no teleporting in the mansion,' he said.

'I'm sorry, Professor,' Kurt said, 'but you must see this.'

With his prehensile tail, Kurt snatched up the remote control from the desk and turned on the television.

* * *

'Illyana, help me get these civilians out of here,' Dani shouted over the noise of gunfire.

She was standing on the main concourse of Grand Central Station surrounded by dozens of panicked people who had come to New York expecting to get caught up only in the crush of last minute Christmas shoppers, not a race related shootout. There were eight gunmen - no, ten - proudly displaying the colours of Purity, an anti-mutant hate group. Somehow, they had recognised Dani and her fellow students for what they were as soon as they had got off the elevator. And then the shooting had started.

'Sam, Rahne, keep them occupied until we've got these people to safety,' Dani continued. 'Doug, find cover.'

Doug gave her a quick salute, then ran. His mutant ability to translate languages was not going to help him in a firefight. Then again, this was not exactly normal circumstances for Dani, either.

She turned to the crowd. At least they were running, she supposed, but they were running in all directions rather than making for the exits. It was time to give them a little incentive.

She concentrated, reaching out with her mind and focussing on their fears, giving them form. Monsters began to appear on the concourse, twisted freaks with teeth and claws and many, many legs. Were they meant to be demons, Dani wondered, or these people's perception of mutants? The monsters were just illusions, but the crowd did not know that and Dani used the images to heard them towards the nearest exit.

On the other side of the concourse, Illyana was summoning up glowing portals of light and using them to transport people outside to safety. On her third trip, one of the gunmen had time to snap off a shot and it grazed Illyana's arm. Howling in rage and pain, she teleported over to the gunman, grabbed him by his shirt and then they were both swallowed by a golden disc that rose up from the ground like a hole in space. When Illyana returned, she was alone.

'Where did you send him?' Doug asked, peering out from behind the relative safety of a pillar.

'Does it matter?' Illyana replied.

'Get down!' Sam shouted.

Illyana and Doug dived out of the way as Sam streaked past like a human cannonball, a plume of smoke trailing in his wake. He slammed into the sniper who had been bracing himself to pick off Sam's comrades and carried him up and out throw the arched windows, glass shattering around them.

* * *

'Don't you feel a little guilty,' Gareth Finch asked, 'impersonating Purity like this.'

He was sitting in the back of a white van parked across the street from Grand Central Station. The van was filled with audio-visual equipment and the many small screens were displaying different views of the action within the station.

'Not a bit,' Lindsey Kelly replied. 'Way I see it, Purity should be glad of the publicity. This is the sort of thing they should have done long ago.'

On the screens they could see the small red-haired girl spring at a pair of gunmen. In mid leap, dark hair began to sprout from her skin. Her teeth and nails lengthened and her face contorted into a snarling muzzle as her ears tapered to points. By the time her claws slashed open the uniforms of her assailants, her transformation into a werewolf was complete.

'I'm not arguing,' Finch said. 'I just feel that we should be taking the credit for this, not letter Purity steal the limelight.' He picked up a cardboard box. 'Doughnut?'

'Thanks,' Kelly said as she scooped a jelly doughnut out of the box. 'I know what you mean, but Vaughan wants us to remain anonymous. At least for now.'

'Well, I suppose he is the boss.' Finch gestured towards the equipment. 'You reckon we've got enough footage?'

'Let's hope so,' Kelly replied. 'We're fast running out of 'Purity members'.'

'Fine,' Finch said. 'Let's send in the Sentinel and then get the hell out of here.'

* * *

Xavier and Kurt watched in horror as the TV screen showed a Sentinel marching into the station. It took out Sam and Illyana first, the mobile ones, the ones with most chance of getting away.

Dani's illusions were of no use against the robot and before she could even turn to run, she had been engulfed by a weighted net that had shot out of the Sentinel's stubby right arm. Rahne threw herself at the mechanical monstrosity, raking at the metal shell with her claws, searching for an opening, any opening. A blade popped out of the Sentinel's left wrist and it jabbed it into Rahne's shoulder. She screamed.

Doug shouted something - the sound on the television was not clear enough to hear what - and ran at the Sentinel. The robot stuck out its free arm and caught the boy on the side of the head. He fell to the ground and lay unmoving.

The Sentinel lowered its left arm and Rahne slid slowly off of its blade and on to the floor.

Then the picture cut out, replaced by static.

'They were set up,' Xavier mused, taking the remote from cut and switching off the television. 'That television crew got there too fast for anything else.'

'I'll go get the others,' Kurt said. 'We need to plan their rescue.'

'No,' Xavier insisted. 'There's not going to be any rescue attempt.'

'But…'

'I'm sorry, Kurt,' Xavier said. 'I wish there was another way, but we are not going after the students.'

 

 
[1] [2] [3] [4] [5] [6] [7] [8] [9] [10] [11] Ongoing...