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

The blade fell…

…and then Mina was falling too. She could not see anything, but she could feel gravity tugging at her, could hear the wind rushing past her ears. Then it stopped and everything was quiet. Calm.

'Where am I?' Mina asked. 'Is this death?'

'God, I hope not,' another voice replied. It seemed to come from very far away. 'And to answer your first question, you're safe, no thanks to me. You can open your eyes now if you want.'

Mina did as she was told. Her eyelids had become gummed together so she had to wipe at her eyes with her fingers before she could see clearly. She was in the same blue-grey room she had started out in, sitting on the opposite side of the table from Rachel.

Rachel passed her a glass of water.

'Drink this,' she suggested. 'Your throat's bound to be pretty dry.'

Now that she had said it, Mina did notice that the inside of her throat felt raw and she drank the water eagerly.

'What happened?' she asked when she had emptied the glass. 'I thought we were supposed to be looking at my memories.'

'We were and I'm sorry, Mina,' Rachel said. 'It wasn't supposed to go like that. I guess when we linked minds you ended up experiencing my memories instead of your own. I would have got you out of their sooner, but I guess it all overwhelmed me too.'

'You couldn't have left it much later.' Mina's smile took the edge off of the rebuke. 'If that was just a memory, I suppose that I couldn't have really been injured in there, could I?'

'Do you really want to know the truth?' Rachel asked.

'I think I would much prefer the lie,' Mina replied.

Rachel grinned.

'Then in that case, no, you would have been just fine.'

Mina mustered a weak smile.

'Is there any more of that water?' she asked.

'Sure.'

Rachel stood up and fetched the jug. Mina watched her fill the glass.

'So, that was where you come from,' Mina said.

'My memories of it,' Rachel replied without looking at Mina.

'I'm sorry.'

'Thanks,' Rachel said.

She pushed the glass across the table and Mina picked it up and started to sip from it.

Rachel folded her arms.

'You can say it, you know,' she said.

'What can I say?'

'That question you've been avoiding,' Rachel said. 'How could I do it?'

'That's none of my business,' Mina replied.

'Maybe not,' Rachel agreed, 'but you want to know, don't you?'

'Very well, if you insist,' Mina said, 'how could you do it? You killed people. You killed your own kind, your friends.'

'I never killed anyone,' Rachel insisted.

'So you didn't chop of their heads yourself,' Mina retorted. 'You might as well have done. You hunted them down for their executioners. They might have lived if it hadn't been for your actions.'

'If it hadn't been me, someone else would have caught them.'

'And that justifies it, does it?'

'No, of course it doesn't,' Rachel shouted. 'Nothing ever could.'

She stood up and crossed to the far corner of the room, facing the wall, her arms wrapped about her for protection.

'I was scared, okay,' she said. 'I was just a kid and I didn't want to die. Don't you think I'd made a different choice? Don't you think I'd much rather they had killed me than all those others I helped them find? But I was selfish and stupid and I grabbed at a chance to save my own skin with both hands. Maybe you're better than me, maybe you would have chosen differently, but I was weak and it's too late to change that now.'

Mina rose and went to stand by Mina, putting her arms round the trembling teenager.

'Perhaps I would have made a different choice,' she said softly, 'and perhaps I would not. I hope I never have to find out. It can't have been easy for you.'

'No,' Rachel replied, 'making the choice was easy enough. It's living with the consequences that's the hard part.'

* * *

'Slow down, Kitty.'

The Doctor grabbed hold of Kitty to stop her running off as they emerged from the subway. Kitty spun round to face him.

'Doctor, they'll be looking for us.'

'And running is only going to draw unnecessary attention,' the Doctor replied. 'The best thing we can do is pretend that we belong here and no one will spare us a second glance. Trust me, this isn't the first time I've had to evade the authorities.'

'And how many times have you been caught?' Kitty asked.

The Doctor whistled, pretending he had not heard the question.

'So,' he said, 'which way to the villain's headquarters do you suppose?'

'You don't really expect me to answer that, do you?'

Kitty stuffed her hands deep into her jacket pockets. Away from the heat rising from the subway, the cold hit her like a slap in the face.

'Well, it was by way of a rhetorical question,' the Doctor admitted with a wry smile, 'though if ever there was a time for a clue to fall from the sky…'

'You could always toss a coin,' Kitty said.

'Toss a coin?' the Doctor repeated. 'If free will is an illusion, it would certainly be a means for destiny to point our way.'

'Or,' Kitty replied, 'it would mean we could make a decision and not stand around freezing our butts off.'

'Yes, there is that.'

He rooted around in the pocket of his jacket and removed a handful of change. At least, Kitty assumed it was change. As soon as it was exposed to the sunlight, one of the 'coins' started to crawl for freedom and the Doctor quickly stuffed in back into his pocket. Then, selecting a triangular coin with a hole in the middle, the Doctor flipped it with a flourish.

'Heads,' he declared. 'Three of them in fact. This way, I think.'

Kitty shook her head in amusement and set off after him.

They were heading north through Chinatown. Pagoda-shaped roofs abounded, and signs declared their messages in flowing Chinese characters rather less colourful English. Ducks and other animals hung outside of shops and restaurants ready to be prepared for dinner. Kitty tried hard not to look.

'What was that?' Kitty asked. The Doctor had said something to her, but she had been paying too much attention to their surroundings and not enough to him.

'I said it's very vibrant around here, isn't it,' he repeated. If her inattentiveness annoyed him, he did not show it.

'That's one word for it,' Kitty muttered in response.

'That's one of the things I love about your city.'

'It's not my city,' Kitty pointed out. 'I just live here.'

'Really?' the Doctor asked. 'So where are you from.'

'Chicago.'

'Hmm, nice place, Chicago.' The Doctor pursed his lips thoughtfully. 'You know, I don't think I've been there since helping out young Elliot with his gangster problem.'

'You're kidding, right,' Kitty replied.

The Doctor tapped the side of his nose and smiled enigmatically.

Kitty sighed.

'You were telling me what you liked about New York,' she prompted.

'Well, it's just such a cultural melting pot, don't you think?' He spread his arms wide and spun slowly on the spot to indicate the entire city. 'So many races and colours and creeds and they all call New York their home. In this part of the city alone we have Chinese, Italians, Indians, Ukrainians, Vietnamese…'

'All carving out their own little community within a community,' Kitty agreed.

'The ghetto principle,' the Doctor said. 'Half a mile or half a world.'

'The what?'

'Most immigrants rarely stray more than half a mile from where they first settled,' the Doctor explained. 'That's how these distinct communities spring up.'

'And half a world?' Kitty asked.

'Or they go home,' the Doctor replied.

'Ah.'

'Indeed,' the Doctor said, 'but I've always been impressed with all these different shades of the city. Yes, there are people with prejudices and yes, there are people who take those prejudices too far, but they are definitely in the minority and it's generally accepted that their views are incorrect. Here everyone is welcome.'

'Except mutants.'

'Yes. That's…disappointing.'

'Disappointing?' Kitty fumed. 'Disappointing? Have you any idea what it's like to be a mutant in this city at the moment?'

'Yes, yes, yes.' The Doctor brushed aside her concern with a wave of his hand. 'I don't mean to trivialise, but you were showing such promise. And by you I mean humanity, not you as in Kitty Pryde.'

'Glad we made that distinction,' Kitty muttered.

'What I mean is, are you aware of how small the genetic difference is between a mutant and a non-mutant human?'

'Yes, Doctor,' Kitty replied with exaggerated patience. 'Surprisingly, they do cover that sort of thing at a mutant school.'

'It's a single allele,' the Doctor continued, oblivious. 'Everything else is bundled up in what your twenty-first century scientists still insist on referring to as junk DNA, but that detail, that quirk, that determines whether a human exhibits mutant traits is whether this allele, this so-called x-factor, is 'on' or 'off'. Such a tiny difference blown out of all proportion. I thought humanity would be mature enough to rise above that sort of thing by now.'

'Well clearly we're not,' Kitty spat. 'I'm so sorry my species doesn’t match up to your exacting standards, Doctor.'

'Kitty? Kitty, wait,' the Doctor called after her as she stormed off. 'I didn't mean it like that. I got caught up in my own rhetoric and…and I wasn't thinking. I'm sorry.'

Kitty stopped and turned to face him, but her lips curled disapprovingly.

'Kitty, try to understand…no, no, that's patronising…I'm sure you will understand…'

'That's worse,' Kitty pointed out.

'It is? Yes, I suppose it is, isn't it. It's just…' The Doctor sighed and his shoulders sagged. 'Human beings are quite my favourite species. I know it doesn't always seem that way, but they are. I think you're all such wonderful, remarkable people, filled with so much potential. And to see all this, this hatred and prejudice and violence…to see you take such a backwards step in your social evolution…it breaks my hearts.'

'So what do you figure's caused it?' Kitty asked.

'I'm sorry.'

'This 'backwards step' of yours,' Kitty said. 'There must be a reason for it, right?'

The Doctor looked back over his left shoulder.

'Well,' he began, 'if I had to hazard a guess, I'd say it was fear.'

'Fear?'

'Do you think your safe, Kitty?' the Doctor asked.

'I guess.' There was something in his eyes that made her look away.

'Everyone thinks they're safe, Kitty,' the Doctor said. 'Read the paper, watch the television news. Terrible things happen to people every minute of every day. But they'll never happen to you or me, am I right? We feel bad that these things happen, but that doesn't stop us feeling safe, does it? Until one day it happens to us.'

He looked over his shoulder again, at the skyline, or at the skyline as it used to be.

'Something like that, it makes people question everything they believed in,' the Doctor continued. 'Fear breeds at trust's expense.'

They started walking again.

'So, what you're saying,' Kitty began, 'is that people can't afford to trust mutants.'

'Mmhmm,' the Doctor confirmed. They think they can't afford to trust and it's not just mutants. Anyone might be a potential threat.'

'But with mutants, that potential to do harm is more obvious,' Kitty deduced, warming to the theory. 'Like it or not, we have powers and abilities that could be used to hurt people, kill people even. Logically, just because you can do something doesn't mean you will, but I guess fear undermines logic, right, Doctor? Doctor?'

Kitty trailed off as she realised that the Doctor was no longer beside her. Concern was over her like a cold shower. She spun round, searching the crowded street for him. Where was he? Where was he? Just as she was about to give in to panic, she caught sight of his green velvet jacket. He was standing like a statue, much to the annoyance of the pedestrians forced to walk round him, but he seemed oblivious to their complaints. His eyes were transfixed by whatever was beyond the store window in front of him.

Kitty jogged back to his side.

'Doctor,' she asked, 'what's going on.'

He fluttered his left hand to shush her.

In the window were a number of widescreen televisions. One in particular had captured the Doctor's attention. It was showing a news broadcast, specifically their encounter with the Sentinel. They could not hear the sound, but Kitty could get the gist of what was being said from the pictures and the headlines at the bottom of the screen.

'But it wasn't like that,' she protested to nobody in particular.

They were saying that they had attacked Campbell's campaign headquarters. Ashley Campbell was using the 'mutant attack' as evidence to support his policies. He was using their actions to win the election.

'They're saying that it was an unprovoked attack by mutants,' Kitty deduced, 'and that if the Sentinel hadn't been there to stop them…Doctor, they're saying we're killers.'

But the Doctor wasn't listening. He was muttering over and over to himself.

'What have I done. What have I done.'

Kitty glanced around, feeling suddenly confined. They were not the only ones who had been attracted by the TV.

'Doctor,' she hissed, shaking his arm. 'Doctor, I think we should get out of here.'

They were showing their faces on the television. How long would it be before somebody recognised them?

'Doctor?'

The Doctor snapped out of his trance, shaking himself awake.

'What was that, Kitty?' He surveyed the crowd. 'Ah, I see what you mean.'

Taking Kitty by the hand, he began to wend his way through the audience.

'Excuse me,' he said. 'Pardon me. Coming through.'

We're going to make it,' Kitty thought to herself. 'We're actually going to make it.

Than a man grabbed hold of the Doctor's jacket.

'Hey,' he said, 'aren't you the guy off the TV.'

The Doctor beamed disarmingly at him.

'You know, I get that all the time.'

The man was far from convinced, but he hesitated just long enough for the Doctor to tug his jacket out of his grasp.

'Run!' the Doctor shouted, shoving Kitty ahead of him.

As one, the mob turned in pursuit.

* * *

Sam's eyes opened just in time to see the glass partition slide up into the ceiling and out of view. Sam fell forward, no longer wedged inside the tube in which he had been confined. His fall was halted, however, when the various wires and tubes attached to him pulled taut and he was left hanging like a fly in a spider's web.

'Very dignified,' Illyana said.

She was standing below him, hands on hips.

'Could you save the sarcasm for later and concentrate on getting me down from here?' Sam asked.

'Your wish is my command.' A sword materialised in Illyana's hand. 'Hold very still now.'

Sam tried very hard not to flinch as Illyana swung the blade in a long, lazy arc. It severed the wires holding him aloft and Sam tumbled down to the ground. Illyana had the presence of mind to step to one side, making sure that Sam had an unimpeded landing on the hard floor.

'Thanks, 'Yana,' Sam said as he picked himself up.

Illyana grinned.

'You're welcome. Shall we get the others out while we're here?'

Sam looked up.

Suspended above them was a construction that looked like the skeleton of a half-opened umbrella. Four cylinders radiated out like spokes, jutting out at an angle from the central root growing from the ceiling like some twisted metallic fungus. Two of the cylinders were open and empty. Through the glass panels in the other two, Sam could make out Dani and Rahne, both unconscious.

'Where's Doug?' Sam asked Illyana.

He expected a quip. All he got was a sombre, 'I don't know.'

Brandishing her sword, Illyana strode over to the structure holding their friends and started to hack at it.

'What the heck are you doing?' Sam wanted to rush over and stop her, but he hesitated in the face of the wildly swinging sword.

'Getting them out of there, stupid,' Illyana replied. 'You know I'm not technically-minded, Sam. I got you out by chopping bits of this thing until I hit something important.'

'Are you sure that's a good idea?'

'Seems to work,' Illyana remarked as the glass panel in Dani's tube slid open. 'You might want to catch her, by the way.'

Sam launched himself upwards as Dani fell out of the tube and into his arms. He ripped the wires and tubes from her as the descended.

Dani's eyes fluttered open.

'Where am I?' she asked. 'Sam, is that you?'

'Glad to have you back, Chief,' Sam said as they landed. He let her go, then took to the air once more, flying over to Rahne's cylinder. He had to grab hold of it to hold himself in place. He had been told that he would eventually learn to hover using his power. At present, however, he found turning in flight difficult enough.

Illyana continued attacking their prison, unfazed by the sparks falling all around her, and, eventually, Rahne's cylinder opened and Sam helped her to the ground. She was unsteady on her feet so she sat cross-legged on the ground while the four of them reviewed their situation. Unfortunately, their situation boiled down to a lot of questions and very few answers.

'I'm sorry guys,' Sam said, hanging his head. 'This is all my fault.'

'Don't say such things, Sam,' Rahne scolded.

'Why not?' Sam replied. 'It's true. You're only here because I asked you to come with me. The professor told us not to leave the school and I reckon he's been proved right.'

'You're not being fair to yourself, Sam,' Rahne insisted. 'This was as much Illyana's idea as yours.'

Illyana shot Rahne a black look, but she agreed, 'Rahne's right. I'm as much to blame as you are.'

'We all chose to come,' Dani pointed out. 'Nobody was forced, so let's stow the recriminations and concentrate on what's important, namely getting out of here.'

'And finding Doug,' Illyana added.

'We can't leave here without him,' Rahne agreed.

'We won't,' Dani said.

'Do you think the professor and the others will be looking for us?' Sam asked. 'They must know what happened by now.'

'They must be,' Rahne said.

'So what?' Illyana interjected. 'Where are they supposed to start looking? We don't even know where we are or how long we've been unconscious.'

'Illyana's right,' Dani said. 'We have to assume we're on our own.'

Rahne and Sam slumped dejectedly.

'Hey, chin up, people,' Dani said. 'What do you think all our training's been for? We can do this.'

'Doug's counting on us,' Illyana added.

'Now let's get out of here,' Dani said, pointing at the door.

'One exit coming right up, Chief,' Sam said as he prepared to blast through the door.

'Slow down, Sam,' Dani cautioned him. 'Let's try and do this without attracting too much attention.

Sam reddened. 'Sorry.'

'No harm, no foul. Rahne?'

Rahne shifted to her werewolf form.

'I can't hear anybody,' she said, 'or smell them either.'

'Then allow me,' Illyana said. 'Everybody gather round.'

When everybody was standing close, Illyana summoned up a stepping disc. The circle of light swallowed them up and the deposited them in the corridor on the other side of the locked door.

Illyana frowned.

'You okay?' Sam asked her.

'You mean aside from being held prisoner by some mutant-hating fanatics and their pet robot?' she asked. 'Sure, I guess. It's just…something seemed odd about that jump.'

'Odd how?'

'I don't know,' Illyana replied.

'It'll come to you,' Sam told her. 'Give it time.'

Illyana grunted noncommittally.

Sam turned to Dani.

'Now what, Chief?' he asked.

Dani took an elastic band from her pocket and used it to tie back her long black hair.

'Now we go looking for Doug,' she said, 'and we'll search this building from top to bottom if we have to.'

'And if we happen to see any of those Purity freaks?' Illyana asked.

Sam forced a smile.

'Well I know I owe them some lumps.'

Dani put a hand on Rahne's shoulder.

'Rahne,' she said, 'I'm relying on you to find Doug for us. If you pick up any trace of his scent - anything at all - you let me know right away, got it?'

'Got it,' Rahne confirmed.

'Then let's go, people,' Dani ordered.

* * *

'I think we've lost them,' Kitty said. She collapsed against a fence to catch her breath.

'Maybe,' the Doctor said, looking back the way they came, 'though it's more likely that they just gave up. Mob mentality is great for mobilising people in short bursts, but it doesn't tend to last over the long haul. Plus, if they really do think that we're killers then I doubt that many of our pursuers were all that keen to actually catch up with us.'

'Fear again,' Kitty said.

'Yes,' the Doctor replied hollowly. 'Fear to which we appear to have added.'

Kitty took a moment to examine her surroundings. Their flight appeared to have brought them into the East Village. Leather and piercings seemed to be the order of the day and Kitty found herself moving closer to the Doctor. Was she betraying her own prejudices? A guy with ram's horns sprouting from his temples walked past. Kitty frowned. He couldn't be a mutant, surely? Not if he was walking around so openly. Then she realised that the horns were fake. Mutancy as fashion statement. The object of her attention caught her eye and leered at her. Kitty looked away hurriedly.

'Doctor,' she asked, keeping half an eye on horny-guy until he disappeared round the corner, 'where do we go from here?'

The Doctor was not listening.

'It wasn't supposed to happen like this,' he muttered to himself. 'I'm should be better than this. I'm the Doctor.'

'Doctor?' Kitty repeated with more volume. 'Doctor?'

She put a hand on his arm and he jumped. He glanced comically in all directions.

'Doctor?'

'Philosophically or geographically?' he said.

'Sorry?'

'In answer to your question,' the Doctor said, 'where do we go from here. Do you want to know philosophically or geographically.'

'Does it matter?' Kitty asked.

'Well,' the Doctor replied, 'it's sure to matter to somebody, but I'm not sure you'd appreciate philosophy right now.'

'So, geographically then,' Kitty prompted.

The Doctor licked the tip of his finger and held it up to the wind.

'That way, I think,' he said, striding off.

'Um, I don't mean to criticise,' Kitty said, 'but how do you know this is the right way?'

'Aha,' the Doctor declared, 'that's the question, isn't it? As I see it, we're either going towards were we want to be, in which case we can try and put a stop to this madness.'

'Or we're going away from it,' Kitty pointed out.

'In which case we won't do any more damage,' the Doctor replied darkly.

The Doctor walked on in silence for a while and then the Doctor's arms suddenly shot out.

'I once shared a flat - an apartment, I guess you'd say - over there with Allen Ginsberg,' he said absently.

'Who?' Kitty asked.

'Sorry?'

'Who's Allen Ginsberg?'

'Who mentioned Allen Ginsberg?' the Doctor asked.

Kitty took a deep breath and counted to ten.

'You did, Doctor,' she said. 'Don't you remember?'

'Did I?' the Doctor asked. Then he looked down at his shoes, embarrassed. 'Yes, I suppose I probably did. Name-dropping is a bit of a nervous tic I have and I've got a lot on my mind at the moment.'

'So who is Allen Ginsberg?' Kitty asked again.

'Allen was a poet and a friend,' the Doctor explained, 'someone who wasn't afraid to stand up for what he believed in. 'What if someone gave a war and nobody came? Life would ring the bells of ecstasy and forever be itself again.' Smart man was Allen.'

The Doctor's focus seemed to drift back into his memories so Kitty took the time to reorient herself. The Doctor had a tendency to draw all her focus, like an attention-seeking black hole, meaning Kitty lost track of where precisely they were at times.

'Want to share?' she asked as she looked about.

'Sorry?'

'You said you had a lot on your mind. I'm listening.'

'I appreciate that, Kitty, but…' The Doctor looked away. 'I'd rather not talk about it.

Kitty shrugged. Well, at least she had tried. The Doctor was clearly upset about something, but she could not force him to tell her what it was. Maybe if she gave him time he would decide to confide in her. Probably not, though.

There had been a concerted effort to reclaim the East Village over the last few years which had resulted in an influx of bars and restaurants and clubs all vying for the title of next big thing. The Orpheus was one such club and Kitty could see the large white writing of its sign beckoning to her from out of a field of black and deep red.

'Orpheus, Orpheus,' she muttered to herself.

'Now who's name dropping,' the Doctor said.

Kitty had thought that he would not be able to hear her so his interruption made her jump.

'I'm just trying to remember where I've heard the name before,' she said.

'Orpheus was the son of Calliope and Apollo,' he explained. 'He took after his mother and became a poet, and his voice was so beautiful that he could charm even inanimate objects, or so the myth goes. Nothing the Maenad's threw at him was willing to strike him. Pity the power of his voice didn't extend to the Maenad's themselves really.'

'Not the myth, the club,' Kitty corrected him, pointing to the sign. 'I'm sure someone at school mentioned it.'

'Doesn't mean anything to me,' the Doctor admitted.

Kitty frowned, then it hit her.

'Of course,' she yelled, grabbing the Doctor's hand and practically dragging him towards the club. 'Come on.'

As they got closer, Kitty could see the posters in the windows advertising the Lila Cheney concert. Lila was Sam's girlfriend, a fact about which they viciously teased him, and, Kitty hoped, Lila would be a friend to them by extension. At the very least, the club would give them a place to lie low while the Doctor came up with a new plan. She frowned again. She would really have to stop doing that or the wrinkles would become permanent. Why was she putting so much faith in the Doctor? She hardly knew him and yet…

The entrance to the Orpheus was barred by a man mountain who looked like he had being taking too many steroids. Way too many. A Lila T-shirt strained to keep his frame contained and John Lennon-style glasses perched in front of tiny eyes.

'What do you want?' he demanded languidly.

He had directed his question at the Doctor, but it was Kitty who stepped forward.

'We're here to see Lila,' Kitty said.

'Concert's not for another hour and a half, half-pint,' the bouncer replied.

Kitty stood her ground.

'We're not here for the concert,' she said. 'Not that we'd say no, but we're actually friends of Lila.'

It was kind of true, Kitty told herself. Well, friends of a friend. She crossed her fingers behind her back.

'Lila doesn't see anyone before a concert,' the bouncer said.

'But…' Kitty protested.

That was as far as she got before the bouncer cut her off.

'Now listen here, squirt…'

But he too was interrupted, this time by a woman's voice coming from inside the club.

'Lay off, Guido,' she said. 'She's just a kid.'

The woman stuck her head around Guido and Kitty did a double-take. The jet-black hair was new, but otherwise…

'Allison?' she asked.

Allison's eyes went wide.

'Kitty?' she said. 'My, you've grown, haven't you?'

'It's what we crazy kids do,' Kitty replied.

She and Allison embraced like old friends. It was difficult with Guido still wedged in the doorway, but somehow they managed.

'You've changed yourself,' Kitty said as they parted. 'What's up with the hair?'

'Long story,' Allison replied.

Kitty waited for her to elaborate, but when it was clear that that was all she was prepared to say she continued, 'Doctor, this is Allison Blaire. You might have heard of her. She used to be known as…'

'No, don't say it,' Allison interrupted quickly. 'Not out here.'

Kitty shot Allison a hurt look, then softened when she saw the expression on Allison's own face.

'Another long story?' she asked.

'Same one,' Allison admitted. 'Come inside and I'll tell you all about it.'

Guido interjected. 'But the boss said…'

'Guido, sweetheart,' Allison said, patting his biceps, 'just trust me on this one, 'kay. Come on, Kitty. Doctor.'

Guido scowled as they filed inside.

'Well, I thought you were very intimidating,' the Doctor consoled him as he passed.

Guido brightened up at that.

* * *

'Sam, on your left,' Dani shouted over the din.

Sam swerved towards the gunman who had Rahne in his sights. The gunman spotted Sam blasting towards him and quickly changed targets, but the bullets ricocheted off the forcefield the surrounded Sam while he was in flight. Sam collided fists first with the gunman, slamming him against the wall and sending the rifle spiralling out of his grip.

Their assailants had seemed to come from nowhere, dropping from the ceiling and into the midst. Some of the attackers had stayed in the crawlspace above them, ready to pick them off, until Illyana had teleported up there to deal with them. Dani assumed that must have tripped some kind of silent alarm during their hunt for Doug.

She was standing as far from the battle as she could get while still keeping it in sight. It was not fear that held her back, but strategy. From here she had a good view of the whole of the battle and could, she hoped, issue more useful commands. Plus, she did not have to be close by to use her mutant abilities. She focussed on a figure on the far right. So far he had kept himself out of the combat, but Dani could see him moving up to flank Rahne. She reached out and brushed his mind. Her powers were telepathic in nature. She could not use them to communicate, like the professor, or to control, like Xi'an, but she needed to form some connection in order to bring out the man's worst fear. Mutants, like the ones that had manifested in Grand Central Station, appeared in front of the man and began to shuffle forward, menacingly. They were just illusions - Dani was not powerful enough (yet) to give them any substance - but he did not know that and fled. Dani was a little disappointed that he had had the same fear as his colleagues who had originally captured them. She supposed she shouldn't really, but she took a certain pleasure in trying to guess what might appear when she used her power. She had had this guy pegged as spiders, but she supposed that, if you were part of a mutant hate group then mutants probably were what you feared the most.

'Rahne,' she called, barking orders again. 'Sam's in trouble.'

Sam was practically untouchable when flying, but their attackers had managed to force him back into a corner. Soon he would be forced to land and his forcefield would disappear, leaving him defenceless. Rahne did not need to be told twice. Pulling away from the man in black she was sparring with, the werewolf leaped up and over the armed men crowding the corridor, twisting in mid-air so that she landed in front of Sam and facing his opponents. Her claws scythed though the air and tore open one man's dark uniform. Dani hoped that that was all she had torn open, but…well, she would not have blamed Rahne if it was not. They owed these people some serious lumps.

It soon became apparent that Rahne had not caused any serious injury, however, as the man swung his rifle like a club, striking Rahne in the face. She staggered back, colliding with Sam. Dani swore. She had miscalculated. This was all so much easier in theory than it was in practice.

'Why is it you always need me to get you out of trouble,' Illyana said as she materialised beside Sam and Rahne. She quickly summoned up a fresh stepping disc and the three of them disappeared leaving the men in black vainly searching for their targets.

* * *

Sebastian Vaughan watched the quartet's progress on a small monitor screen.

'Are the tracers working as anticipated?' he asked.

'Of course,' Dr Currie replied without looking up from her readouts.

'You seem awfully sure of yourself, doctor,' Vaughan said.

'Why should I pretend to be something I'm not,' Currie replied. 'You employ the best, after all.'

'I employ the best because I want results,' Vaughan responded. 'So far, I'm not seeing any.'

Dr Currie spun her chair around so that she was facing Vaughan. She pointed at the monitor.

'Every time the subjects utilise their mutant abilities, my tracers tell us more about the biology - more specifically, the genetics - involved,' she explained. 'Eventually, we should no enough to encode these traits into the DNA of a non-mutant subject.'

'Eventually,' Vaughan echoed.

'These things take time,' Currie replied without the slightest trace of apology. 'In the meantime, it's not as if they're going anywhere.

She nodded to a second monitor. It showed the four cylinders suspended from the ceiling of the room Dani and the others had escaped from. Or believed they had escaped from. The monitor showed that the four students were still trapped inside their containers.

'They're wandering around in a virtual reality maze,' Currie continued, 'and, like any experimental rat, they encounter stimuli at set points along their route.'

'The best stimulus being pain, of course,' Vaughan said.

'If it gives us our desired result,' Currie agreed. 'Meanwhile, we get to keep the specimens exactly where we want them.'

 

 
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