Chapter 10
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Chapter 10

 

(Frank Castle)

November 1st, 1996
Johnson’s dinner/bar
Queens
10:00 AM

Frank Castle swaggered into the bar, and took inventory. It was clean and the interior was a mix of old and new; the ceiling was all wooden panels, the wooden and brownstone walls were covered with memorabilia and propaganda ads of every war the United States had been in. One giant poster was of Uncle Sam saying ‘I want U for U.S Army’ which made him chuckle. As he walked toward the bar, under a LED sign, Frank saw the barman and owner, a fit and tall black man with wiping glasses behind the mahogany bar. He wore a plain fitted button up, dark slim jeans with a green apron over it that displayed the name of the bar. Frank sat on a stool at the bar in front of the barman.

“Frank Castiglione, as I live and breathe. What are you doing here?” The man looked genuinely surprised to see his ex comrade here when his wife had forbidden him to go to Johnson's. 

Frank stared into his eyes.  “It's Castle now; I had it changed. How are you, Avery?”

The black man shrugged. “Not so bad. I have everything I ever wanted since I left the service.” He placed the glass he’d been cleaning down and waved his hand around him.

Frank nodded, smoothing out his black leather jacket. “That's great. How are Maria and the kids?”

Frank remembered once again that he brought his family there to grab a bite, but because of some bad guy who had come trying to obtain protection money on his bar the Castle kids and mother saw Avery kill two men, since then they never went back. Avery had understood and didn't begrudge Maria for wanting to protect her kids.

Frank leaned forward, his arms resting on the bar.“Before I tell you anything, can I have a drink?” To Avery, the calm facade that Frank presented was just that- a facade, which is why he asked, “Your usual? Or should I get you something stronger?”

“Cognac lemon soda with ice.” Frank said with a bored tone.

Avery took his mildest cognac out of his cabinet, opened the fridge and seized the bottle of lemon flavored soda and poured it in order in the glass, “Is something wrong with your family?” He asked, adding three ice cubes to Frank’s drink.

Taking his drink, Frank chugged it down before placing it down on  the bar half full and sighed. “It started one week ago. We were at Central Park…” Frank informed him of the events that occured- how they were saved, how he almost lost Maria and about the teenage girl with weird abilities who healed the mother of his children. 

Avery leaned against the fridge, took a cigar out of his shirt pocket and stuck it between his lips. “So you met one of them powered people. That’s rare; not a lot of them are around.”

“Do you know more about them?” Frank seemed eager to know more about the girl who saved his family; he kept feeling powerless. This last week he was plagued with nightmares where his wife was dying, and each time he woke up he kept hugging her tight to feel the warmness of her body and to hear the sound of her heartbeat. 

It showed to him that he needed psychological help, that he intended to take with his entire family; but he had something more important to enact first: revenge.

Avery’s hand lit on fire and he put the end of his cigar in the flame. “Well some avoid the military or any government job, because if they do, they get captured and experimented on when the brass or a certain black arm of the government discovers their powers. There’s a reason I stayed a sergeant, Castle.”

Frank’s eyes widened like saucers which evoked a chuckle from Avery as he put his cigar in his mouth breathing in and then releasing a puff of smoke. “So, what were her powers?”

Looking down in his glass, Frank remembered the events. “Move things with her mind? I saw her also turn assault weapons and body armor into dust…”

Avery squinted his eyes, puffed another circle of smoke. Then his eyes lit up. “Oh! Telekinetic, at least Alpha level… So, when those presumed government goons attacked her, do you remember what branch they belonged to?”

“They didn’t say. Their logo was some kind of bird in a circle though, and they all seemed well trained and disciplined. They didn’t even refuse the order from their superior when it was clearly unpleasant.”

Opening the cash register, Avery retrieved a card from it. “Heh. Those collars are going to create a problem one day. The symbol, was it like this?” He threw the card between Frank and him on the bar.

A black eagle in a white circle. Frank recognized it, and looked up into Avery’s eyes, nodding.Avery closed his eyes, sighing, his face twisted to portray a painful expression. “Shit Frank, you are in hot water, man.” Opening his eyes, Avery took the card back and quickly put it into the cash register.

Chuckling derisively, Frank said, “I guessed, they wanted us to sign NDA’s but we refused. When they attempted to force the issue, the cute redheaded kid threatened them. Then she told us to tell nothing about what happened and we left in the ambulance.”

Avery’s eyebrows rose and he grinned. “You got a real firecracker to defend you. You always had the devil's luck like that.”

Downing the last of his drink, Frank stared at his friend. “Yeah right, I didn't come here to tell you about it Avery. I want those people who almost killed my family, I want them dead and…”

“Give them all a belly full of lead and a pool of their own blood to drown in!” Avery cackled loudly. 

Frank laughed with him. “You always say the nicest things, Avery.”

Avery around the empty bar; there was no one present at this hour. “I will close first, then you’ll follow me in the back.” He left, and Frank stood up and walked up toward the employee’s door, leading to the kitchen and to Avery’s office.

The Marine felt Avery come behind him and turned to him, he had his key out; Frank stood aside and the barman inserted the key in the lock.

“Is Sarah here?” Frank asked.

Sarah Jonhson was Avery’s wife- caucasian, tall, powerfully built, and a brunette. They had met in the corps. She made it to Commander before resigning her commission after marrying Avery, a black man, and was given flak for it. Now that Frank knew about Avery’s powers, he was sure that there was more to it.

Avery shook his head, pushing the door open. “Nah, she’s at work. Miranda is though.”

Frank followed him. “You daughter is giving you shit still?”

They walked inside, passed the professional kitchen on the right side, turned left and ended up in a corridor with brick walls. 

“Kind of, she got fire powers like me. Problem is she wants to join the chair force. They know how to see who is one of my people now, and I can’t let her go; I would never see her again.”

At the end of the corridor, there was a metal door with an electronic lock. Avery headed over to it, punched in some numbers and passed a card into the device. 

Frank’s expression was one of worry. Miranda was his goddaughter and no way would he let  shit like this happen to her. He began thinking and the only thing that came to mind was the redhead who saved his and his family’s life. “Maybe, just maybe ,I could ask the girl who helped me? They are the same age, after all.”

Avery shrugged. “We will see.”

The door opened, revealing a room filled with weapons on every wall, rack, and shelve. Frank’s eyes shone with battle lust. “Wow.”

Avery placed himself before his friend. “Now, I think it’s time to call the old gang, Castle. We wouldn’t want you to die for your revenge. Maria would kill me.”

Putting a hand on Avery’s shoulder, Frank shot him a smile. “Amen brother, Amen.”

 

# # #

 

Back with Jean Grey…
November 4th, 1996
Cerberus HQ
09:00 AM

Monday unfolded after the heist. I had stashed all the containers down in my warehouse in Forest Hills, the inventory of everything acquired to be made over the weekend. It was going to suck organizing all the stuff I stole…

Exiting the car, my knee high Daisy Duke boots touched the pavement before the tall building serving as a front for SHIELD in the Queens. One of the agents escorting me helped me up, then closed the door. I felt slightly self conscious as the blood red and black leather coat covering the red top and black leather skirt I now wore were my symbiote friend Goldie who didn't like the fact that I almost chose to wear normal clothes over herself.

I followed my protection detail, and as I walked up to the entrance of the building I noticed all the hidden SHIELD agents scattered around the building, disguised in civilian clothing. Inside, I asked Goldie, my new best friend, to stay dormant but to ask questions when she needed to know something. Although, she had proven over the weekend that she could read my memories most of the time to know what is what mostly. 

I also discovered that Symbiotes love processed chocolate like the Marvel database had explained in my other self’s original reality. It gave them a steady supply of phenethylamine- a chemical found as a neurotransmitter in the human brain. 

I’d been feeding Goldie a lot of it since Friday, and fortunately she’s not making me get fat for this. It forced me to keep chocolate bars on me all the time which caused mom to lock the snack chest down as she thought I was emptying it too fast.

As I grumbled over the family snack stash being denied to me, we passed the tastefully decorated welcome lobby, then I was led directly to a bank of elevators. As I climbed into the cage, I thought about today's job. My part time job was anything but simple- it was to offer support to the SHIELD interrogators in order to differentiate between what the truth was and what the fallacy was.  Since I joined, they'd been able to accurately take down most of the internal threats of the USA.

I found corporate spies from China or Russia embedded in companies that were military contractors such as Stark Industries, HAMMER and PYM tech. They often hauled those people from their home to an interrogation cell in the basement of Cerberus headquarters and had me rifling through their minds and asking questions that their subconscious always answered.

Sighing heavily, I fastened my purse against me. When Phil had called at six this morning saying that this was an urgent business, shooting him down was on the tip of my tongue. I wanted to go to school and meet up with Cindy and my friends, but he must have been desperate because they tripled the money they would give me for an interrogation.

Mom hadn't liked how sudden this was sprung on me but had relented, having no objections, when she saw the paycheck for sixty thousand dollars. That alone was more money than my parents made in a year. 

Ding! The elevator had moved and arrived while I was thinking about what type of customers Phil had for me which was strange as I hadn’t felt it go up or down. As usual, at the basement's entrance, my old friend- the chief interrogator- waited for me in the offices full of grey cubicles and different agents mingling or going about their business.

“Good morning, Agent Dylan.” I strode toward him, smiling. 

Robert Dylan was a tall and athletic black haired man in his thirties, wearing his SHIELD uniform proudly. Since he discovered I possessed the ability to read minds, he had become strangely reverent with me- in fact, most of the people in his department went out of their way to make things comfortable for me. I often found recruiting pamphlets in my purse to join SHIELD though, they slipped them in after I was done.

The chief interrogator plastered on a jovial smile, holding his hand out for me to shake. “Jean, glad you could join us… we didn't expect to call you in. I hope it didn't upset you.”

I took his hand and shook it. When I let it go, I shrugged dismissively. “These things happen, right? And I am paid for my consultancy.”

Agent Dylan smiled at me, glad that I wasn’t displeased with his department. “But you didn't set out to become the holy grail of interrogation.”

My eyebrows rose at that, the fervor this guy felt for me and my power was kind of overwhelming and off putting, but to stay professional, I chose to ignore it and waved him  off. “No, but it will pay for college.”

Agent Dylan grinned and said, “You got me there girl. Okay follow me.”

He spun on his heel, walking off, me and my protection detail trailing him. The offices gradually gave way to more spartan furniture, the kind that didn't let you think that where I was going was about practicality and pain. The people working here felt different- they compartmentalized themselves to be able to do the things they did. There was the agent, then the person they were completely separated, but able to switch from one to the other at the drop of a hat.

I guess it was a defense mechanism to the torture sessions they had light interrogation techniques they often practiced. If they didn't do that, I am sure there would be more psychos around in their midst, relishing in the pain and suffering off others.I was led to a room with a big one way glass, a desk with recording material, audio and video. A SHIELD support technician was operating the recording gear, headphones on his head. 

I glared at him, displeased that he was there. I filed his name away in my head knowing he was part of a certain group. Then, as I looked through the glass, I saw that the other side, in the drab grey and dark room, sitting at a table was a brunette man, wearing glasses and an orange jumpsuit that had numbers on the breast pocket.

I turned toward Agent Dylan, scowling. “Why is Justin Hammer in the room and not in prison where he belongs?”

The man didn't flinch at my tone, completely different from the other SHIELD agents who knew about me and my powers. He at least had balls. 

“He wants to make a deal by giving away information.” Agent Dylan answered smoothly. 

It wasn't his fault, he was just doing his job. I sighed heavily, then my eyes returned to the room. I looked harder at the man, pushing my awareness in the room and mind walked into Hammer's brain. Instantly, I began extracting information and emotions from him.

Even though he appeared to be calm and composed, Justin was desperate; he was… dying? *What the hell! First Norman, now Hammer? Did all those rich older men gobble up something to make them ill collectively?!*

He had stage two pancreatic cancer- it meant that he was still in the green zone and that it was salvageable. He should have been more careful with the bottle. With me changing his fate and throwing him  early in prison for his criminally shoddy work and terrorist support made it so that he couldn't find some wonder cure from Hydra or the Hand to treat himself. Justin was about to make a big mistake. I tried not to think about it because I had noticed how SHIELD was riddled full of Hydra agents dormant or active. I didn't want them to be onto me yet, like I was onto them. I just didn't have enough power or resources to take them out.

If Justin talked, he wouldn't live to see tomorrow; they would kill him in his cell. Why is Marvel throwing this hot potato in my lap suddenly?! *Fine you want to play? Ok we will! If there's someone who can take care of SHIELD it's Peggy.*

“Agent Dylan?” I called out without turning to him.

“Miss Grey?”

“Call down Director Carter and Agent Coulson please. This is big, okay?” I took a chair and pulled it from under the desk.

*I should have asked for more money.* We needed to be careful with what was going to happen right now. First, I needed to get that bastard recording out of the room. 

“Yes, very well.” Agent Dylan complied, exiting the room and heading  toward the offices.

I chose to  sit at the table, starkly ignoring the technician at my side but clearly sifting through his mind. I  wrote his name, Craig Anders, in my mental diary like I did for every  Hydra plant I meet since  I was forcefully recruited by SHIELD. There were already two hundred of them since then. I met some of them in the weapon and vehicle testing facility in the Catskill Mountains, or on rotation in this hidden HQ office, from the other SHIELD offices in Texas, Washington and California.

Five minutes later I plundered all the dirty things related to the job he did and was sickened; destroying evidence or interrogation records to protect some Hydra moles who were caught red handed or to protect the interest of Hydra. I was aware he messed up some of the evidence I had found against Roxxon Energy through their subsidiaries Cybertek Systems by finding the money trail linking them.

I almost killed him on the spot. Instead I put him to sleep, permitting his face to fall violently onto the desk. Then I waited for my… was Peggy my mentor? It sure felt like it; I liked her more each time we entered in contact. She was at least more grandmotherly than Granny Grey was. She had been a complete socialite, but she was dead now.

Now it was Sara, Julia and I. I was grateful they weren’t running around here, instead they were in college doing collegial stuff like attending parties and studying. Though, somehow Sara knew about my powers and I had an inkling mom must’ve told her... Urgh, they are coming back for Thanksgiving!

I felt Peggy and Agent Dylan move in the building. Oh, Phil was coming with them too! This would go even better than I thought. I shrugged, then my gaze focused on the barely holding there Justin Hammer; I was really tempted to go in there and speak with him, but I didn’t. My presence here was supposedly need-to-know (Ah!) and my abilities only to be known by level 3 agents and beyond.

The door opened and it was Agent Dylan entered first, followed by Peggy who was clad in a white pantsuit. Phil trailed behind her, looking harried. I stood up and went to shake Peggy and Phil’s hand.

“Hi, it’s good to see you ma’am. Phil.”

Phil grunted, but gave my hand an affection filled squeeze. He knew that I couldn’t say no to him when he asked something and vice versa, but we tried to not abuse each other this way.

“Good morning, what did you discover that required my presence?” Through my empathy I sensed that Peggy harboured annoyance towards me; I took her away from an important meeting it seemed.

“Well… I’m pretty sure you are going to hate me for this.” I smiled at her innocently.

Peggy sighed, pinched the bridge of her nose and counted to ten. She was used to me bringing bad news to her. I promised myself to buy her the best tea set possible with my new wealth. It made me think that I should go visit the Talia shelter. The Talia shelter was the apartment complex that the money I plundered bought. It was twenty years old, but sturdy, and we would do renovations later. It could house forty people. Talia was busy contracting someone to do something about the phone, electricity and cable tv. 

The women and girls I saved grumble but at least they had a roof above their head, food in their belly, and clothes on their back.

“By all means, please tell us what prompted you to contact us?” Peggy waved. I smelled the vanilla perfume wafting from her body. Was it me or were my senses getting stronger? 

I shelved this for later and simply pointed a thumb at the sleeping guy behind me and said, “First thing first, Phil arrests this technician. He is a mole.”

Agent Dylan’s indignation piqued at that, and he placed himself between the technician and me, “What? No, Agent Anders was screened thoroughly.”

He was friends with Anders too, and spoke up against me out of loyalty. The interrogation department was full of loyal people, but in this case it was kind of a hindrance. “Eh, yeah of course he was screened, but it doesn’t matter, SHIELD is full of Hydra agents.”

Silence reigned for a while at my revelation. To break the silence, I said, “The squiddies are alive, Peggy and they have infiltrated SHIELD since its inception. What did you think would happen when you let Hydra’s scientists in? Now they are everywhere.”

We ignored Dylan who was taking the news badly, his gaze shooting between us and the sleeping form of agent Anders.

Peggy finally spoke, “Is this why you don’t trust SHIELD? That you were so adamant in working exclusively for me?” Peggy passed through different levels of emotions ranging from disbelief and anger, I saw her hands tighten into fists before she channeled those feelings and breathed in and out and relaxed.

Though her outside emotional response didn't blind me from her inner turmoil. Peggy felt weary, believing everything she’d done was in vain. I walked up to her and took her gloved right hand and stared meaningfully into her eyes.

The “Yes.” that I answered her with simply broke her heart. She had given everything to see her enemies routed and destroyed, but it hadn't been enough. She was overcome with the urge to cry but her tough demeanor wouldn't allow her to do it before us. 

I projected a soothing feeling toward her. It wasn’t her fault, she was so trusting and believed in redemption, but as it is often the case some people didn’t deserve it. Howard Stark was more wary of handing them out, but he had decided to follow the group instead of voicing his opinion. Result, he was killed by Roxxon who had hired the winter soldier and Hydra had sent their pet assassin with glee to dispose of Howard Stark.

How do I know this? There were a lot of variations of how Howard And Antonia Stark died. Fortunately, it seemed that only Howard died in this reality.

Phil finally decided to participate in the conversation. “What about Hammer?” He tipped his chin toward the opaque glass where the man was behind. He felt distressed as well, and watched Peggy like a hawk, feeling for her. “He is about to give you concrete information about another Hydra Branch in Europe led by Baron Von Strucker, and he knows who the people leading the Hand are in the USA.” I answered as I plunged deeply in Hammer's memories.

“That’s…” Peggy tried to say something as she thought about the almost immortal Wolfgang Von Strucker, one of her most tenacious enemies; the Hand was also a problem, an organization as old as Hydra itself.

I continued. “Important, but it will mean nothing if you let the Hydra plants amongst SHIELD sniff out what I told you.”

Sitting back on the chair, I crossed my legs, watching Peggy muse deeply about the problem. I didn’t pry in her mind beyond feeling her emotion in turmoil. Agent Dylan didn’t look at his friend, though he was torn between his duty and his friendship for him. Phil leaned against the wall, thinking about his interactions with everyone he led, what kind of things that might have been out of place, if some of his friends were genuine.

They didn’t even question what I was saying, that’s what having a telepath on the payroll was doing to them. I was paid to tell the truth and pry into the brains of everyone. Hammer was giving me an excuse to mess with the Hydra branch of SHIELD and I could only hope it didn’t blow up in my face later.Peggy’s gaze sharpened on mine once again, her tone martial and unforgiving when she spoke. “Jean, do you know who they all are?”

I straightened in my chair, turning  serious. I didn’t feel like acting like a kid when Peggy was like this anyway. “In the building? Yes, I do. But there’s others in the other HQ all over the United States. To get them all we would need to strike everywhere at once. They are not called Hydra for nothing.” I stood back up and looked at Hammer who was finally cooked after being left stewing.

Peggy nodded sagely. “If a head is cut off, two more shall take its place.” The older woman walked up to my side, poked an arm and said, “I want a list of everyone who is in on it, in New York.”

I looked at her and crossed my arms under my breasts. “Are you sure that you want to?”

Peggy’s gaze became harsher. “Yes, you are not to act on any information you will give me, Understood?”

My eyes widened. “But-” She couldn’t be serious! This… without me this would turn into a fucking disaster! There was no way I would let her do this alone.

When she spoke to me again, her tone harboured no room for compromise. Her eyes were steel-like and I found myself shying away from her. “Jean?”

I knew she might lose, and despite me a tear rolled down my cheek. “If anything happens to you, I will save you and damn the consequences. Same for you, Phil.” I told my surrogate uncle who had been speaking with agent Dylan and handcuffed agent Anders. Phil just smiled back at me, but he couldn’t lie to me, he was afraid; this was going to be really hard to be hands off with that business.

Putting a hand on my shoulders, Peggy said soothingly. “I like where your heart is, Jean, but this is my problem. I wasn’t thorough enough and now the monster is back. This isn’t your fight.” With the silk handkerchief from her breast pocket, she dabbed away the tears from my eyes. I hugged her and whispered in her ear, “Then you better crush them all to not make it so. Stomp them hard, wherever they are. Have no mercy.”

Peggy chuckled. “Child, you can’t teach your grandmother to suck eggs.”

And that was that. Agent Dylan proceeded to go to interrogate Hammer along with Phil, they entered the room and the prisoner latched on this instantly. “Aaah, the black suits are comin’ applaud everyone.” Hammer tried to applaud but the manacles he was wearing got in the way.

“Can it Hammer, this isn’t the time.” Agent Dylan snapped, throwing a thick folder filled with files on the table between them. The revelation didn’t go well with the poor man, Craig Anders was arrested for destruction of evidence and will be interrogated as well; but with more violence than necessary.

Hammer nodded eagerly and leaned forward making his manacles jiggle. “Of course, of course. I’ve come to give you information. But there’s a price for that.”

It was Phil who asked, “What, will it be?” His back was against the wall beside the entrance of the room, gazing in an inscrutable way at the ex-billionaire.

The mood in the room shifted, becoming somber, Justin Hammer’s shoulders slouched, and his voice was laced with sadness when he spoke,  “I am dying- pancreatic cancer stage two. I want it to be treated with the best doctors you can afford, and in return I will give you everything I know. Everything.”

Yes, I was already taking the numbers and passwords for his offshores accounts and writing them in my mental diary to not forget anything. There were several billions worth in the Caiman, Liechtenstein and the Bahamas. I planned to reroute all this money into a new account and save it for when I’d start my own company. 

“We know.” Phil nodded.

Hammer glared at uncle Phil, making his manacles and the chain holding them rattle. “You have been doing the minimum possible to treat me, that’s so unsporting.” The man whined.

It was so pathetic, my eyes rolled. 

“Are we supposed to care after what you did?”

The ethical work in Hammer industry was so bad that any military savvy person would never buy anything from them. It worked most of the time, but defects were found in most of the weapons produced by this company. I was biased because of the memories of agent Katherine Shane who was a Stark weapon user and thought them the best. The woman had been the first person to have her knowledge and skills replicated and she was the base of most of my knowledge on how to handle intelligence work.

“I suppose that no, you shouldn’t feel responsible, but…” Hammer felt vindicated that they didn't care much.

Dylan interrupted him, snapping, “You are lucky we were told to give you everything you needed, now spill.”

Hammer choked out a laugh of frustration.“Fine, it goes like this...”

And he spilled everything; who the Hand representative was in New York, Madame Gao, Bakuto and that they were in control of Rand Enterprises who recently reshuffled their board members- this  couldn't be a coincidence. Now came the turn of Hydra, and here came the location of Baron Wolfgang Von Strucker and his lapdog Zemo who were in Switzerland and had some weird activity going in Japan.

I was there to give context in how Hammer knew about what he was giving us; it was mainly through parties and doing business in the underworld that he met all those people. I avoided reading his mind when he thought about the orgy he participated in that was sponsored by Hydra, who knew. Baron Zemo was into those. There was also the fact that Hammer rubbed elbows with the Mandarin, I saw the man in his mind, a tall asian guy with long hair, in a wuxia combat robe, he fancied himself a learned and larger than life person, I could see the rings on his fingers.

*So, Tony Stark will get kidnapped and rumble with the real Mandarin. Nice to know.* I filed that away for later.

“And this is all I have.” Hammer finished, leaning back in his  uncomfortable chair.

Agent Dylan nodded, and pushed a button on the recorder near him, he’d also been writing too in a notepad too. He leveled his eyes on Hammer and said, “Then we are done there, Mister Hammer. You’ll be given your treatments in a hospital prison facility until you are in remission.”

“That’s fine with me.” Hammer shrugged. “But? Don’t I get a receipt or something?”

Phil pushed a button on the panel at his side and then guards arrived to take Hammer away. Peggy looked at me, took my right arm and pulled me out of the interrogation room. I followed her, “I will send you on your way.” Of course she took me aside to write that list for her on the pretext to give me my paycheck personally.

Peggy was worried for me; Hydra surely knew about me already and she had in mind that I would need to vet the members of my own guard detail. I hoped that I didn’t put in motion something that I couldn’t take back.

 

# # #

(John Greycrow / Marauder Team)

Wyndham Hotel
Presidential Suite
12:05 PM

“Everyone is here?” The tall native american man wearing a jacket that had many metal pieces on it asked, his gaze trailing over everyone present in the dining room. He stood as he gazed at each of the members of this eclectic group who mainly joined for the juicy reward attached for the completed job. They all sat there at the table, waiting expectantly for him to begin.

They were all in the luxuriously decorated presidential room for the day, taking a break from casing their target and planning. John looked at each of them, two women sitting on the farside of the table, one barely out of her teens but with infiltration and intelligence gathering skills, she also had the power of psychic camouflage and weave believable illusions, the second one was simply a broken woman, once a soldier now turned mercenary with super strength and toughness. 

Lady Mastermind and Arclight.

He wanted to scoff at their chosen operative names, but he refrained, opting to remain professional. Then there were the other boys- a teleporter and his second in command, since Gambit was now deader than a doornail, Vanisher. The man had experience running a criminal crew and was gifted in infiltration and exfiltration.

Blockbuster, who looked at him with a dispassionate gaze, was another brute who possessed various superhuman physical attributes as a result of his natural mutation. He’d been recommended by Mister Sinister so John viewed him as a wild card. 

Then there was Prism, the least t human looking of them; his body was totally crystalline, but his power was useful. He could refract most forms of energy directed at him, including ambient light to project and amplify it to throw it at his enemies. Yet again. a late addition to their group when he had made his report to Sinister.

Harpoon or Kodiak Noatak was an assassin for hire. He was an Eskimo mutant who’d been driven out of his tribe- a consequence of his powers surfacing. A compelling but common tale for people like them. He had accepted to be on the payroll and to let Mister Sinister find new applications to his powers; the man was obsessed with self-perfection.

And finally there was Scrambler or Kim Il Sung, a friend of the late Gambit who lamented his sudden demise and who had been less than enthused to try to take on subject Grey when it was revealed that she could kill them from afar if she ever felt them and their intentions. The plan to take her down clearly hinged on Scrambler’s ability to disrupt the function of any system with his touch, whether the system be that of a living being, a machine, or a field of energy. He was required to make physical contact with his target with his bare flesh in order to affect it. If his victims possessed superhuman powers, Scrambler could disrupt the functioning of those powers

After a last row of glaring, John nodded. “Good.”

John then manipulated the mechanical component of his jacket into a rifle, he knew intrinsically how to build one. It was his power, Technoformation, allowing him to configure components into different weapons, technology or tools.

He lowered his rifle to the table and then locked gazes with the blonde young woman at the table. “Miss Wyngarde, what have you got for us?”

“And we start with me, as usual.” Lady Mastermind rolled her eyes, leaned forward into her chair, placed her elbows on the table, and her expression morphed into a serious one. “I’ve been following Jean Grey for two weeks now, and I’ve been able to profile her somewhat. She was a loner at the start of the year but had a bad reputation with the kids at school before she formed her clique and engineered a plot to expel those feeding bad rumors about her. She’s loyal and friendly with her friends, but ruthless and uncompromising with those she deem her enemies.”

Lady Mastermind’s face was now a mask of worry as she continued, “I noticed something about her. She mentally scans her surroundings completely. I couldn’t even enter her school without feeling a headache. The psionic field was massive and I  don’t think that the two kilometers that I used were her maximum range.”

“Even with the overlays?” John asked, worried.

The teenage girl took the circular grey device out of her grey jacket’s pocket and threw it on the table before her. “Those don’t work when you try to take on powerful telepaths. It works on me and I am classed as an Alpha level mutant... what does it mean for us, mister Greycrow?”

There was uncertainty on the faces of everyone, and John answered with as much confidence he felt.“That we are going to need to be even more prudent and careful.” He knew that some of them were going to die on this op; the girl was powerful, and he was only considering continuing with the mission simply because she’d never battled against other mutants. 

He raised an eyebrow at the young woman. “What else do you have for us?”

Lady Mastermind huffed and crossed her arms in annoyance. “I know who her friends are, and who her sweetheart is. Some half South-Korean girl, a normal.”

“Kidnapping?” Scrambler raised an eyebrow, nd aJohn noted the certain eagerness present on the asian man’s face.

*Revenge, huh?* John glowered at Scrambler who noticed and averted his eyes. Making things too personal was bad for business and it was bound to bring problems for the group. John’s eyes refocused on the blonde teenager.

He saw Miss Wyngarde shrug in answer to Scrambler’s question. “Possible, but foolhardy we would be dead before approaching any of them.”

No one understood why she was saying that, and Arclight poked her to have more clarifications. “Well, she can manifest her TK from afar and I am not good enough at Astral combat. She would do the same thing to me she did to Malice.” Lady Mastermind said, her voice small. 

Malice could possess anyone and she was the first one to fail to capture Jean Grey. John and Lady Mastermind were witness to her demise, the young woman had given him context about what happened. Malice was a being of pure psionic energy and Jean Grey absorbed that raw energy into herself and destroyed Malice’s mind while perusing her memories and taking her skills for herself.

John understood that, at that moment, Lady Mastermind was terrified of Jean Grey- a mutant who could cut through her mental shield like tissue paper and do anything to her. The little redhead being an unethical telepath was a given when John considered the past attempts that his sponsor made to capture Jean Grey since she was a child.

Now they had to capture their prey alive and whole- a prey aware that she was being hunted. It was a worthy challenge to John. He wasn’t called Scalphunter for nothing.

Lady Mastermind sighed.“When you go in, I will already be at the main base. My power is insufficient and badly matched to hers so I would just slow you guys down.”“You don’t know that Reggie!” Arclight put a hand on Lady Mastermind’s, an affectionate gesture that didn’t move the teen at all.

Lady Mastermind retracted her hand, shooting Arclight a glare. “Don’t call me that, Philippa.”

Arclight harrumphed when she heard her hateful first name, her purple hair swishing back and forth because of the fans on the ceiling.“Okay I get it, you don’t have to bite my head off like that.” Blockbuster chuckled at them. It was a rumbling sound that defused the tense atmosphere that had been pressuring them. Prism glowed in amusement, showing his inability to hide his emotional state. Vanisher stoically sat there, not bothering to participate.

After this bout of banter, they began forming a strategy on how they’d t take on subject Grey. Mainly distractions to keep her unfocused, if she did one of them would die and no one wanted to do that. Blockbuster and Arclight argued about taking the girl in CQC range, Vanisher wanted to just teleport to her and sedate her and get paid. Lady Mastermind called him an idiot and that he would die before he could get a needle near Grey’s neck.

Scrambler whined about the fact that he would have to have to touch Grey to disable her powers and that everyone had to work together to let him get close. John liked all those ideas and decided to implement them all. It was going to be about moving fast, distracting her and taking her down as fast as possible. *And I still see that at least half of us will die.*

Ting!

His communication tablet pinged, and he unlocked it with a swipe of his index finger, clicking on the text message he received. A furrow appeared on his face, then a slow evil self satisfied smile blossomed on his face showing his teeth. 

Vanisher noticed and asked, “What’s up John? Good news?”

“My friends, those are terrible news for our target, good news for us. This operation has become so much easier. It seems that the target’s escort is going to be lighter from now on.”

“That’s cool, Scalpy. But we still must find a way to eliminate them all.” Arclight interrupted.

John smiled, more than bare bones, he has the skeleton of a plan forming in his mind. “You are right, that is why I decided to use all of your good ideas to form a layered plan that should bring us victory.” It required a shit ton of explosives, a .50 Cal rifle and some of their teleportation discs and harnesses.

“But at what cost?” Prism asked aloud. He was an experienced mercenary like John and knew that this mission would bring casualties. The crystalline man looked at everyone around the table and knew some of them would not live to even lay eyes on the money.

“Yes, we have much to lose.” Blockbuster added.

“No pain, no gain.” John said with finality, placing his tablet on the table.

 

# # #

 

Back with Jean…
01:24 PM

 

Well, I’m sure they regret taking me in now. I massaged my right hand, slightly sore from writing all those names on two pages. Peggy had been watching me like a hawk as I wrote them down, her anger simmering to a boil as she recognized most of the names on the list. It was then that she scared me a bit. When I was done, and to not lie, Peggy took out her checkbook and wrote in it.

It was a cheque for one-hundred thousand dollars which had me looking at Peggy like she was off her rocks, and I’d asked if it was some kind of ‘severance pay’ or something? She didn’t reply, instead making a shooing motion at me, ushering me away. Now I was waiting for Phil in his office because he had something for me it seemed. I was sitting on a swivel chair, looking all around me as I was getting bored and anxious about the happening of the day.

I saw family pictures on Phil's desk, I was sure that it was his parents and his wife. Ex-wife, maybe? He didn’t wear a ring. 

“Thank you for waiting.” Phil said as he suddenly opened the door of his office. 

In his hand was a familiar armored suitcase. “Is that what I think it is?”

Phil went to sit on the desk and placed the suitcase before him. “Maybe. What do you think it is?” He taunted. 

He knew I never tried to enter his mind since he’d become practically family to me, and he loved to lord this over me, it gave place to little games like those. It didn't matter with my empathy; it never went off now that I had ninety-percent control on my power.

I looked intently at the suitcase, letting some of my awareness around it, and to my utter surprise, I was unable to see inside it. Did they add adamantium to the lining of the suitcase? It was the only metal dense enough that could insulate from psionic energy so far. “A SHIELD uniform?” 

Phil showed his index and his thumb at one inch of each other. “Almost, I decided you should have more protection, those are underclothes. I know that you have your telekinetic barrier but I would feel more at ease if you had some kind of last line of defense. They are made of the same material as our uniforms.” Phil slid the suitcase on his desk toward me.

I took it, but didn't open it. I leveled my gaze to his Grey eyes and grinned,“You are the first man who isn't my father to offer me underthings.”

“Glad to have that notch on my belt then.” Phil said without blinking, a quirky smile on his lips.

I giggled. See here? I love this man; he could snark like a champ. “Thanks for the present. I hope it didn't cost you… anything.” I didn't want for him to owe favor to anyone, at least not on my behalf. I hated being in debt, but I planned to play with the big boys and gals who made decisions for their people so I needed to resolve myself to it.

Phil shrugged, absently placing back each of his family pictures to where they had been. “Beyond going on a date with Agent May, no it didn't cost me much.”

I gaped at him. Melinda May was here? I really wanted to meet her! Huh? I was getting influenced by other-self again. She was was getting excited in my head, <Calm down, ok?>

Other self huffed and became quiescent again. I felt another mind laugh at us- Goldie, who was being a good Klyntar and not doing any of her symbiote things. I tilted my head and found the mind of Melinda May, she wasn't a squid thank god.

Smiling, I said with honesty, “I hope it works between you two, she's quite the catch, Phil. You deserve to be happy.”

Phil’s eyes sparkled. “Thanks, c’mon let’s get you back home.” He rose from his seat, walking around the desk and waiting for me. 

I stood up, adjusted my red leather coat and then held onto my new high tech suitcase. “You know I am a big girl, I can find my way…”

Phil gave me a look, buttoned his jacket and said, “Now that the wool was pulled from my eyes, you really think I will allow you to be alone?”

Shoulders sagging, I averted my eyes, not daring to make eye contact. I loved the fact that people cared for me, but they were also choking me. “Damnit uncle Phil, stop making sense!”

He opened the door and held it for me before looking for foes in the glass-like corridor. “That’s my job, here follow me.”

We walked in silence for a while, took the elevator and one minute later we were in the underground parking garage of SHIELD where my security detail waited for me. Wait, there were less of them now. I counted four new people who replaced some of the squiddies in my group.

*Peggy you work fast. So, it means that the armored underclothes plan was her idea? Or she took advantage of Phil's overprotectiveness? That woman scares me.*

Two women fresh out of the academy and six men with different levels of abilities; some of them were level two and three agents. Grunts, all wearing unmarked uniforms with body armor, their weapons were kind of still lights. They will get killed in case of attacks, I see that Peggy rackled the end of the barrel. Maybe I was too harsh on them?

“They are new.” I whispered to Phil.

“They are, but give them a chance, okay?” Phil hoped that those agents would toughen up.

My voice was hard when I said, “You know, they are going to die right? What if I need to fight to protect them?”

“Then escape together, you don’t have to attack to do this.” He simply answered with his special patronizing gaze. I totally understood what Daisy felt when she had this trained on her in the TV show. There was no way that I wanted to disappoint him, it was worse than my own mom...

I glared at him and slapped his arm. “Urgh, okay. Stop with the common sense attack, please.”

His gaze turned even more serious as he entered deeper into papa bear mode. “You need more formal training, Jean. If you had accepted back then we would be-”

I stopped him with two fingers on his mouth; when he got going he didn't stop. “Maybe… maybe another time, uncle Phil? I kind of don’t trust anyone in this place but you, Peggy and it pains me to say it, Nick.”

Phil sighed. “You are still mad at him?”

There were things that I would never forgive as long as I lived. “I take my freedom seriously. If it depended on Nick Fury, I would be in house arrest forever.”

Phil chuckled at that. Nick had offered this option at least two times a week since SHIELD took me in and he was the most vocal proponent of keeping me under lock and key and using my ability for the good of the country. “I cannot deny that.”

“Of course you can’t…” I hugged him and kissed him on the cheek. “Bye.”

I walked up to the second vehicle, entered first and was followed by the rookie female agents and one more senior male agent. A few minutes later we left. I would realize later that this would be the last time I was going to be a consultant for SHIELD. 

 

# # #

 

Grey Penthouse
01:59 PM

 

Those rookies had been chatty in the car. Eve and Alice, contrary to all the previous agents, were keen on getting to know me and not believe the grapevine. I had to make some things float for them or take the name of their boyfriends out of their head to give them a sampling of my abilities. 

They'd applauded when I'd given more details about their lives and I decided to not pry too much. I honestly felt like a show magician. If forming a company failed, I presumed I could strike it big in Vegas. As if.

I started to like the boisterous Alice and the gutsy Eve. They were weapon and combat specialists. Their fighting style seemed to go beyond the Jeet kune do, Jiu Jitsu and Krav Maga style taught at SHIELD academy. Eve and Alice followed me until they left me before the door of the penthouse. I turned and saw them wave goodbye before the elevator’s doors closed.

The penthouse’s door opened and what wasn’t my surprise to see the love of my life there standing. *I need to scan more actively.*

She wore a tight black and white Korean band T-shirt, paired with skinny blue jeans that showed off her fit and yet curvaceous body. I was still surprised to see Cindy when she walked up to me, seized the lapels of my leather coat and pulled me in for a kiss. My passive focus was shot, my awareness only around the two of us and how delicious she tasted and how right it was to have her in my arms. I don’t know how long this continued before we pulled away, needing to regain our breath. 

“Welcome home.” Cindy greeted me, with a toothy and easy smile.

With half lidded eyes, I stared at her with love and with a lot of emotion in my voice, I asked, “Marry me?”

Cindy laughed, not understanding that I was completely serious. “Maybe in a few years.”

She didn’t say no. My eyes sparkled and I smooched her again before saying, “I will hold you to that.”

My girlfriend took my right arm, pulling me inside where I wasn’t surprised to see Jessica and Patsy. I put back my mental field online and discovered that Gwen was here too in the bathroom. Cindy let me go just as Patsy stood up and glomped me.

After a brief hug, my friend mock glared at me, poking me with her finger.“Where were you?”

Today she wore a dark yellow hoodie with a matching short skirt. The color went well with her hair and eyes. The knee-high socks she wore were also a nice touch.

I shrugged and gave her my best smile. “I was at my part time job, and they had needs for my services.”

They all knew who I worked for and avoided the subject since I wasn’t privy to tell them what exactly it was that I was doing. Patsy led me to the sofa where there was a brief tug of war to sit with me and Cindy won. She cheated of course, the minx. Then they began to speak about what happened at school, the news of Harry Osborn having killed his dad and attempted to kill his fiance who would have become his step mother circulated.

His friends Liz Alan, Flash Thompson and his girlfriend Mary Jane Watson were interrogated by investigators at school with their parents present. Beside that, nothing much happened. I sure hoped those three wouldn't get too upset by what Harry did. I still didn't feel guilty about what I’d done. 

Then the conversation shifted to more materialistic subjects such as clothes, music, shoes, movies and the latest technology, until Gwen appeared and took a seat next to Jessica. 

“Oh, I wish we could have those cellular phones I heard about at school, it would be great.” Patsy really wanted a phone to stay in contact with us more but her mother didn't want to add another telephone in her adoptive daughters' bedrooms.

“Huh, I can get you some.” I blurted out.

Everyone looked at me. Gwen looked curious. She took a cookie on the low table between us and ate it while waiting for me to explain.

“How?” Jessica intervened, eyebrows raised. Today she wore a black strappy top showing off her midriff, grey jeans ripped at the knee. Her jewelry was all silver and fantasy themed. My best friend had an idea of what I was doing for SHIELD; I told her some things I did through our personal telepathic link. 

I smile at Jessica. “You might not know it but I have a lot of money from working for the government.”

“How much are you talking?”  Cindy held onto my arm and glued herself a bit closer to me.

I thought about the paycheck that was burning a hole in my leather coat pocket. “Today's job netted me, one-hundred thousand dollars.”

Silence descended upon the room. The  blonde pixie’s cookie fell on her lap. Patsy almost choked on hers and Cindy just watched me as though I was lying. She should know better. I put an arm around her waist, she leaned into me without much resistance.

“You didn't kill anyone, right?” Gwen asked nervously. 

Gwen was in tight clingy blue jeans and a black rock band t-shirt too big for her, weird. It looked like a man's shirt. I shook my head, maybe it was nothing.

As for me doing dirty work for SHIELD? I would not become that kind of person. I wasn’t a patriot. “No killing. The conditions I  set up when they hired me was that I was not going to become some kind of super soldier or assassin for them.”

Jessica who had more context on what I was able to do sent me a thought through our mental link. <You go into people's head for them, huh.>

<And it pays so well.> I nodded, acquiescing to the fact that she was spot on, then glared at her without heat. <You are too smart for your own good, Jones.> No wonder she became a top independent investigator in another life.

Jessica giggled and shrugged, taking another swig of her pepsi can. She dared bring that into my home, how bold. Cindy cuddled at my side and said, “Whatever, if you want to get us phones I will take one. You are going to be my sugar mama.”

A laugh burst from me; she didn’t know just how true her words were. I was so going to spoil her once I could reveal how deep my finances were. We smooched again, Jessica snickering when Patsy made gagging sounds. “Wait girls,” We looked at the resident pixie. “Instead of buying them… why not build them?” Gwen suggested.

Schematics for communicators using the GSM’s network filled my mind instantly. It was as if my brain did a research on google and gave me the most pertinent match to what Gwen asked. “I could build one, but I simply don't have the time.” I realized.

Gwen gaped at me, fully believing me from the conviction in my voice. She laughed, her body trembling in mirth.

 “Only you Jean, only you.” Patsy chuckled, slapping her thighs repeatedly, her dark yellow skirt ruffling as she did so.  

“If you are so busy, why not let Peter… do it?” Gwen’s voice gained that innocent tilt she employed when she wanted something.

I squinted my eyes at her. “Fair point. He is good with computer and gadget stuff.” There’s potential here I admitted. Peter wasn’t spied on like I was and could make the tech I needed. I asked after slight deliberation, “You think he can really do it? He would have to hack into the GSM network already in place. Or we could pay for SIM cards...”

Maybe we could have the two? Have the legal and hacked part for our phones. 

Gwen smiled wide. “He can, if I give him enough incentive.”

At this affirmation, it was like all of us had smelled blood in the water. Jessica was the first to ask, “Gwen is there something you aren’t telling us?”

She froze when she felt all our gazes on her. I grinned at her ruthlessly and crossed my legs and said, "He... finally asked you out didn't he?"

Gwen flushed, turning a deep shade of red and after a few beats she nodded. "Oh finally!" Patsy shouted, standing up and jumping in glee. 

Jessica followed suit and did a fist pump. "About time!"

"So the plan to lock them in a room together is scrapped?" Cindy asked with a singsong voice.

We all looked at her; how could she reveal our final trump card so casually?! We turned to Gwen who glared at us in betrayal. She stood up and focused on me, taking the cushion at her side and flinging it at me. Because of course it was my plan and she wasn't stupid- she knew I was the engineer.

I hit the cushion aside with a minor TK slap and it landed on Patsy's face who glared at me and threw it back at her. And this is how the cushion battle started. Mom had to separate us and tell us not to do it again. The girls had come today to stay and have a pajama party because it was Cindy's birthday. They’d  bought a chocolate cake and everything.  Cindy's parents were too busy to stay with her and celebrate so it came down to us to give her a party for her seventeenth birthday. 

That's how I found myself singing, “Happy birthday to you, Cin!”

*Thank god I thought about buying her a present for her, and the other present is ready in my bedroom too.* I thought as I sang.

First thing first, I instructed Goldie to go sweep my bedroom for recording, listening and video devices that didn’t belong to me. It was time for Cindy to join the powered people’s ranks.

 

# # #

(Cindy Moon) 

 

08:23 PM

 

After Jean gave her the present, she kissed Cindy chastely and whispered to her that the best had yet to come. It was weird to think that Jean was younger than Cindy; the redhead was acting more mature than the girls in her group. It was one of the things Cindy admired in Jean, she took the decision but often deferred to what she wanted, not wanting to be too controlling; though she was too enthusiastic to come to her defense.

Cindy felt like she won the lottery when she accepted to go out with her, though she had done some things she wasn't proud about, like getting Gwen to back off or enticing Jean with her body and kisses to get her to say yes more easily. The asian girl remembered how easy it had been to lead the redhead into the girls toilets and make her interest known. Since then, Jean had stopped letting her gaze wander to other girls and… boys. Jean liked boys too, Cindy lamented. 

It caused her to be wary of everyone and to be more affectionate than usual and show off their relationship. Somehow no one blinked at their preferences being exposed and Cindy had no doubt Jean had done something to avoid people ostracizing the two of them and stop them from thinking too deeply about their relationship. Without a doubt it was related to her telepathy, if Gwen ever asked her about her girlfriend's powers she would not volunteer anything, telepathy seemed to freak out normal people.

Cindy looked at Jean who was taking a blindfold out of her closet then walking toward her. The black haired girl looked at the athletic body of her girlfriend in admiration and... lust. She looked strong, fit and predatory. Jean was so strong, physically and in terms of combat power and it made Cindy believe she wasn’t worthy enough of the attention of such a person like Jean Grey. “Here, let me put this around your eyes.” Jean had a solid red bandana in her left hand.

Cindy obeyed and turned to give Jean her back. Then she felt her girlfriend dexterously blindfold her before making her turn again. There was complete silence now, only the noise of their breathing. Cindy felt a tad excited, was Jean going to touch her with everyone still in the house? It was kinky and… risky.

“Say, Cin. If I could give you powers, would you want them?” 

Cindy could feel her girlfriend’s breath on her face, it smelled of the coke juice and strawberry jam that was hidden in the chocolate cake Patsy had bought with her own pocket money.

Her brain froze at the question. “Huh?” 

Jean asked again, “Do you want powers?”

Cindy daren’t hope, being equal with Jean was one thing she yearned for. It wasn’t surprising that her voice cracked when she said, “Can I be like... you?” 

Jean chuckled a bit. “Yes.” was her instant answer. She added, “Well you’d have to work hard to be as awesome as I am, but I believe in you.”

Cindy gasped, utterly delighted by this life changing prospect. *Oh, yes, yes. We could help each other better!* And maybe this way, Cindy wouldn’t feel so useless when someone tried to come take the woman she loved. She sucked in air, finally realizing her feelings at this moment for the redhead. 

A moment later Cindy felt Jean’s lips on her own, the kiss deepened and their tongue twined for a minute or so before Jean broke it first to say, “I love you too.”

*Damn telepath.* Cindy said in her heart, though she understood that it was more her girlfriend’s empathy that made her read everyone like a book when she was not using her mind surfing.

“Give me your hand.” Jean commanded. 

Cindy gave her right hand instantly. Jean’s hand felt warm in hers. They stood like this for another thirty seconds, and she understood that Jean was offering her an out- that she could still refuse this. Cindy tightened her hold on Jean’s hand, then she heard the giggle of the redhead who finally asked, “Do you trust me?”

Her answer was instant.“With my life, I already did it once, remember?” 

A brief smile blossomed on the redhead's face before her expression shifted into a serious one. “It’s going to hurt for a bit, Cindy brace yourself.” Jean warned.

And then Cindy felt pain on her hand, “Ouch!” she almost smacked her left hand on the back of her right to smack away what bit her.

Jean stopped her, though, holding onto her left wrist. “Don’t kill 42 please, it’s my pet spider.” She said, then the blindfold undid itself, or Jean untied it with her TK.

Cindy furrowed her brow at Jean who looked at her with a strange smile. Then she complained, “But it hurt!”

Jean laughed. “Of course, powers are a curse, Cindy. And getting them is a trial unto itself.”

The asian girl’s vision became blurry and she began to sway on her feet. “I-I don’t feel so good, honey.”

Jean clicked her tongue and mumbled. “Oh, it started faster than I thought it would. Let’s put you into bed.”

Cindy leaned into Jean’s embrace and slowly waggled her eyebrows. “Normally… I would be thrilled to get into bed with you.”

The asian girl saw Jean flinch, then felt a strange vibration coming from her girlfriend’s body and where was this nice smell coming from? Cindy smelled Jean and realized it came from her, then the smell disappeared.

Jean lifted her in a princess carry and walked toward her bed. “Me too, however. You must sleep.”

Cindy kissed Jean’s neck and complained, “But I will miss the pajama party.”

That same sweet smell came from Jean again, Cindy was really intrigued; was it a new perfume? If it was, could she steal it from her girlfriend? 

“I-it doesn’t matter, I will explain what’s happening to everyone. Cindy?” Jean stuttered. This was the first time Cindy heard her girlfriend do that.

“Yeah?” Cindy mumbled.

Even with her wobbly vision, Cindy saw Jean’s panty-dropping smile. Jean’s  bedsheet moved, then the redhead placed her into her bed and began to undress her with her TK.  Almost absently Jean said, “Thanks for trusting me. I will try to not disappoint you.”

“Now sleep.” Jean touched her forehead.

“I love-” But she couldn’t finish her sentence as darkness closed on her and pulled her oh so slowly down into unconsciousness, the last thing she saw was her redhead lips coming down to kiss her again.

 

# # #

 

Back with Jean…
November 4th, 1996

06:01 AM

The pajama party had been a great success. We enjoyed a game of truth or dare, eating snacks and drinking cola. Then we watched movies in my bedroom that sported a TV screen and a DVD player. But there weren't a lot of movies that had been converted from VHS to DVD yet, only the most recently released ones.

I woke up with Cindy in my arms, She was sweating profusely in her sleep and ran a fever; but I held onto her to warm her up. I could feel her change all the while and it resulted in me not sleeping for even a moment last night. Last night, I discovered that my self control around a Cindy who hinted at sex was barely there. I don't know how but she made me almost take her on her offer. Something to check when she woke up.

I slowly extricate myself from the arms of my hot girlfriend, though I lingered by kissing her cheek. I levitated myself and shifted my position from horizontal to vertical once I was out of the bed. Taking care of not landing, I floated toward the bathroom's door while avoiding the girls sleeping on the spare mattress on the ground. A soft chuckle left me when I saw Patsy grasping Gwen like she was a teddy bear. 

Twenty five minutes after finishing my ablutions, I made the high tech suitcase that Phil had given me yesterday float toward me. It opened with a hiss once I put it on the ground by pressing on the manual lock button on the top of the case. And here were my armored underclothes. The leather like fabric was black and soft to the touch, somewhat stretchy.

There was a how-to-use manual for them, I made it float thirty centimeters away from my face and began to read it, turning the page each twenty seconds, speed reading through it. Once done, I placed it inside the case. 

I floated to my walk-in closet and opened one of my undies drawer and grabbed some black panties and a sports bra with my TK. Putting them on, I then slowly donned the underclothes that on me looked like female surfwear. It was short sleeved and stopped at my knees, covering the essentials. 

“Huh, I will need to go back to less flamboyant outfits.” That was a damn shame. 

“Jean, what are you wearing?” I heard the somnolent voice of Jessica behind me.

Jessica was in a white cotton shirt and panties; She wiped her eyes with her hand, then looked at me from head to toes. “You going on the beach or something?”

“Or something.” I answered, rolling my eyes.  

A smile slowly appeared on her face, then her expression turned into concern, it showed in her tone. “Is Cindy alright?”

My girlfriend was still asleep, but I felt that she would wake up soon. “Yes she has stopped shaking, I think the bite ritual was a success. We just need for her to wake up.”

A red shirt and black jeans flew toward me, I put them on with my TK while Jessica stared at me with jealousy and a bit of wonder at the speed I was doing things.

“So you got a magical spider who can give spider powers like Peter's with a bite…”

I wasn’t going to correct her and tell her it was a radioactive spider instead; there was a change she’d react badly and want to stomp on 42.

Jessica crossed her arms and asked, “Are you going to let Gwen and Patsy in on that?”

Goldie manifested and oozed from my skin in drips of golden goo and covered my entire body and absorbed my clothes to then morph into them. <You are a possessive little thing, Goldie.> She felt snug on me. I decided that I would give her extra chocolate before leaving.

Jessica didn't even react to Goldie's antics anymore. Their first meeting had been hilarious where I got to see Jessica panic and scream about an alien monster possessing her best friend. However, she didn’t fear Goldie anymore now that she knew what a Klyntar was but that didn’t mean she wanted to touch her. 

Problem was, Goldie liked Jessica and made her know it by often wanting to cover her in herself too. She was discovering what friendship was  and considered my family hers. I still didn't introduce her to my parents; they would freak. SHIELD would take her away from me, so I started taking out their bugs and recording devices. Goldie ate them all and was full of them. Since the symbiotes could store things in a weird interdimensional pocket, Goldie was now filled with various little knick knacks.

I finally answered my friend who was still waiting for an explanation. “No, they will not, the spider can only bite one person. Weird things happen if it bites another.”

She raised an eyebrow. “Then?”

I sighed and continued, but didn't clarify what would happen. “I can't tell you that, but I assure you that I have a plan for Patsy and Gwen, I will give them something akin to the super soldier serum. But something better, you'll see.”

What was I going to do with a bunch of super powered girls? Security, they will be safe right? I felt Jessica began to think fast and draw some conclusions from simple facts and events, it was incredible for someone who needed to jumpstart their brain with a cup of coffee in the morning. “Where did you get it?”

She knew. I don't know how but she already knew. Jessica stared at me in expectancy. I could dissemble or evade the question, but I knew that she would never give up in wanting to know, so I didn't bother telling her a lie. I never lied to her. I just hoped she didn't get closer to the source of the events that led me to raiding Oscorp. 

“I raided Oscorp and stole everything in their R&D department.” I revealed. Goldie formed a trendy dark leather jacket over the clothes she simulated.

[Assertions: Perfect we look.] The symbiote declared.

I turned to the floor length mirror, inspected myself and nodded in satisfaction. *Yes we do, my friend.*

Jessica walked to me, placing her hand on my shoulders to spin me to her. “So that was really you!”

An evil grin crossed my face. “Yeah, I will explain everything to you later, okay?”

We didn't have the time to get into this, I didn't want to tell her about the Osborns. I didn't feel guilty or ashamed of what I'd done, but losing my friends over them didn’t sit well with me. I’d tell her eventually but she needed to mentally toughen up first to accept my actions. I felt like an eel as I was blatantly manipulating my friend.

Wow, I was turning into Professor Xavier! *Eww!*

Jessica pointed a finger at me, levelling me with a sharp glare. “Fine, but you better remember this.”

Quick! I needed to divert the conversation. Just as I thought that, the smell of delicious waffles came from the kitchen downstairs. I nodded at Jessica and watched my alarm clock. “I will go see what mom made for breakfast.”

She did the same and looked at my alarm clock near the bed and her eyes widened. “Oh my gosh, I need to shower fast!” Jessica disappeared as fast as Speedy Gonzales having smelled cheese.

The other girls began to wake up, and it was later as I went down the stairs I felt the war for the bathroom start. I was glad that I went first. As I walked through the door of the kitchen cum dining room, I saw mom do her magic cooking and the already piled waffles, jug of orange juice and cereals on the table.

“Mom?”

Elaine Grey turned and smiled at me. She raised the big spoon in her hand and pointed at me, her smile wide. “Ah, Jean you are awake, come help me set the table.”

I saluted her military style and shouted, “Yes captain!”

As I walked to the tall cabinet, my jacket morphed into an apron, on it was written the iconic ‘Kiss the cook’. I took bowls from the kitchen furniture and floated them on the table. Meanwhile, mom looked rather unsettled at this new ability to morph clothes- something I’d been doing a lot. She shook hers and returned to her waffle making. “One day you'll tell me how you are doing this with your clothes.”

Despite me, I emitted a bell-like laugh at that. “Sure, after we aren't in SHIELD's custody.”

Mom stopped and turned to me, her expression thoughtful. “It's that secret?”

I shrugged. “Yes.” I made a move to change the subject. “By the way mom, what are we going to do for dinner tonight?”

Mom gave me a look, then smiled a sweet yet scary smile.“Baby, you are too young to try changing the subject on me.”

I froze, lowered my eyes and mumbled, “I have to start somewhere…”

Never could I pull a fast one on that woman. Despite not being a telepath, she could honestly read me like a book sometimes.

“Sure, sure, baby.” Mom chuckled, her left penciled blonde eyebrow raising in doubt.

She pissed me off. “Mom! I am not a baby anymore!” I shouted at her. But in the end, it was more to assure myself of that fact, I tried to be mature and responsible.

Elaine chuckled and waved at me dismissively. “You’ll always be my baby Jean, no matter how old you get.”

Hmph. I quickly finished setting the table and went upstairs to check on the girls. As if they were waiting for me, they all hurtled down the stairs as if the devil was after them. Gwen stopped, letting the Jones sisters pass by and asked, “Hey Jean, is breakfast ready?”

I nodded. “Yeah it is, go and leave some for me?”

She grinned impishly and left as she was saying, “No promises!”

I rolled my eyes, and went up the stairs. *Urgh, I better go wake up Cindy fast before they eat everything.*

A moment later I was standing before my bedroom door. It was finally time to test if Cindy had succeeded in getting her powers. I projected feelings of fear with my projective empathy. One second later I heard a scream, and a big ‘Bump’ noise in my room. I opened the door and looked at Cindy clinging to the ceiling. “Hello, beautiful.”

“Jean? I don’t know how to come down!” Cindy panicked, her expression soaked in distress as she looked at me with wide eyes.  

*Was it wrong that seeing her make such an expression excites me?* I smiled and spoke soothingly to her.  “Just relax, Cin.” I said as I reeled in the projective empathy.

Her breathing settled back to normal and I saw her looking at me with trepidation. Then her eyes became slightly scary as she realized what I did. “It was you wasn’t it?”

“I don’t know what you are talking about.” I tried to play innocent, *Deflect, deflect.*

It was not effective as Cindy shouted at me at the top of her lunge, “Jeaaaaan!”

Knowing she had my number I rushed out, “Come down, go to the bathroom, there’s breakfast waiting for you.” And stepped back to the door.

She glared at me, murderous. “Jean it was you, I knew it!”

“Later!” I exited the room, waved at Cindy who finally managed to come down and ran after me. I quickly shoot the door. I cackled evilly and went downstairs, satisfied that I didn’t lead my girlfriend astray. One down, two more to go. Gwen and Patsy were next.

 

# # #

 

Midtown High school
08:20 AM

Cindy was still mad at me and steadily ignored me for my prank. Okay, it wasn’t much of a prank. Cindy wasn’t used to superpowered ones, like I did with Jessica. She would come around; she’d already found out that she had a danger-sense, organic webbing generation through her fingertips and she could also make claws-like extrusions from them. She also got the normal package of spider powers such as wall-crawling, superhuman equilibrium, agility, strength, speed and other types of powers that weren't her iconic one.

I think she had her Silk power-set combined with those of Miles Morales. It was something that we would need to put to the test and I know only one person that I trusted enough to help us in that endeavor. *Elektra Sensei to the rescue! I sense that I will suffer when I do reach out.*

I leaned against the wall of our usual meeting place where we were waiting for school to commence. Jessica and Patsy shared earphones, listening to rock music. As for Peter and Gwen, they were in their own little pink world, french kissing while hiding behind us.

Feeling a bit lonely, I turned to the love of my life and poked her. “Hey.”

Cindy ignored me, opting to put distance between us. I followed her and took her hand in mine. “C’mon, I apologize.”

She wrenched her hand from mine with a strength she never possessed before. When I said she’d got super strength, even I was surprised by just how strong she was. Fortunately I had my symbiote enhanced strength or else I would have flown away. Cindy was clearly not in control of her abilities.

I sighed and I wouldn’t say I begged, but a plea fell from my lips,“Please, Cin.”

Cindy strongly tried to not look at me, why? This couldn’t be borne! I didn’t like it. “Go away, I am mad at you.” 

“Ah.” She finally spoke to me! Progress. I smiled and poked her arm again.

“Still not talking.” She said again while watching the buses disburse more students.

With a cocky and victorious tone I said, “You just did, sweetie.” Then I adopted a more grovelling attitude. “I am sorry for doing that to you, I admit that it was a bit mean.”

Cindy finally turned to me, looking me in the eyes. I felt like  I was being judged and weighted for thirty seconds or so. She sighed heavily and crossed her arm over her expensive black and white jacket and said the word I’ve been waiting for . “Okay, I forgive you.”

It was like seeing the light after being in the darkness for so long, and smelling fresh air coming out of a tunnel. I gave her my best smile and said eagerly, “Then!”

My girlfriend then pouted, giving me her back. “But I am still mad at you.”

So this is what it feels? To see freedom but a second later be dragged back into the fiery pits of hell? I didn’t care what I had to do to be out of her black book. I swallowed my pride and said conciliatorially, “W-what can I do, to make you less mad? I’d do anything.”

I felt like I walked into a trap when Cindy turned to me, smiled and sweetly said, “Anything?”

I looked around me, feeling cornered. “Hum, yes.”

Cindy walked toward me predatorily, touched my face with one of her hands, slowly patted my cheek and said, “Remember those words, Jeanie.”

I gulped hard as her amber irises bore into mine. She suckered me into this huh? I am female! I should have seen this ploy from a mile away, I am even a telepath! *What the hell?*

“Okay…”

And this is how I basically signed away the places where we would go for our next dates and I also had to give her combat training. I frankly avoided pissing Cindy off for the next ten minutes as she cuddled happily next to me as if nothing happened. It was awkward at first, but we began to speak about her new powers and what she would do with them.

Cindy wasn’t hero material, that I knew. At least, not yet. She had the hallmark of being a vigilante like me. I could sense it in her, she was a predator and her powers had amplified this part of her. She was still my playful and cute Cindy though.

The bell finally rang and I retrieved my backpack from the pavement. Cindy took hers and left first after giving me a quick kiss. We didn’t have the same classes. Jessica and I had PE today and we had to play down our strength, speed and agility all the time, we spent this class playing mostly. We were the last to enter the school building, but I decided to go to the gymnasium directly.

Walking on the way there, suddenly I found myself somewhere else.  Looking behind me, I saw that I went through a golden portal opening in my school’s garden that closed all of a sudden. I instantly ramped up the multiple layers of telepathic shield and higher end mental defenses that I had developed. My hands suddenly covered with cosmic fire as I put myself in a combat stance, ready for anything.

“None of that will be needed, Miss Grey.” A female voice rang from up the stairs.

The skylight opened and then illuminated the hall. I shaded my eyes with one of my hands and blinked a few times, my eyes taking time to get used to the light again. A woman wearing some kind of Jedi-like outfit based on a kimono appeared and descended the stairs. “Who are you and where did you take me?”

“You will know in another ten seconds.” She replied with confidence. Then, she remained silent. It was enough for my eyes to normalize to the light and what I saw was a familiar woman. “OH SHIT.”

She smiled at me, I couldn’t read her either! What- wait it was normal; she’s the goddamn Ancient One! Damn you Marvel, why couldn’t I have the old and wise Doctor Strange from the get go? “What does the Sorceress Supreme want with me?” I still had one of my hands on fire, this was the first time it happened, but I wasn’t going to look a gift horse in the mouth.

The bald woman smiled patronizingly at me and continued to descend the stairs gracefully. “You fascinate me Miss Grey. I almost cannot see what is going to happen next when I am this close to you. And the fact despite never meeting you, you know of me, how?”

So she wasn’t going to snuff me out or banish me into another dimension? That was nice to know. I could work with a reasonable Ancient One. “Huh does that mean that you brought me here for your own curiosity? You know I have… school, right?”

She batted away my argument. “A mere trifle; you are ahead in every of your classes, your GPA can take it.”

My eyes widened, then the surprise I felt shifted to displeasure. “That’s mean.” I stated as I glared at her, making my other fire lit hand extinguish itself. I didn't feel any bad intentions  from the woman. Even though I couldn’t read her thoughts, I could still rely on my empathy, unless she deliberately fed it false information… I realized that I am still in deep trouble.

Ancient One laughed. “I know, and I like seeing this scared expression on your face. But you truly have nothing to fear, I invited you under the hospice of hospitality and graciousness.”

A golden light shone between us when she said this, and I understood immediately that she was tying her own hands. As long as I was showing courtesy and respect, nothing truly bad would happen to me.

I stared at her, my shoulders not as tense as it was a few moments ago. Still, I kept a lead on my mental defenses just in case.  There was also sympathetic magic to worry about, I should not leave anything that belongs to me here. I covered myself into my TK dermal armor to avoid any loss of DNA or hair. “Why are you acting as if we were friends, already?”

Ancient One came closer. “I strive to acquaint myself with future important figures. Think of it as networking.” She moved her right hand as if she was doing a sleight of hand and a cup of tea appeared. “Can I invite you for a cuppa?”

All that magic was making me nervous. Not to mention the fact she’d just conjured things out of thin air to keep me from finding any footing to take control of the situation.

“I-” A refusal was on the tip of my tongue but we  suddenly found ourselves somewhere else.

My reticence melted like snow under the sun when a slender yet tastefully ornate white table and chair popped out of nowhere. It was loaded with cakes and biscuits and a porcelain white tea-pot. Then suddenly we weren’t in the mansion, but somewhere outside with beautiful rolling plains, we were sheltered under a red pagoda garden.

I turned to her and asked, “Did you just teleport us?”

“What makes you think that, Miss Grey?” Ancient One quirked her lips up in amusement.

I frowned. “Call me Jean, please.” Then I looked outside the pagoda. The blue sky was full of fluffy clouds and there were grassy plains everywhere I could see. “And this makes me think you transported us somewhere else.” I pointed a thumb at our surroundings.

“As you wish, I shall use your name, Jean. And, no, I didn’t transport us anywhere, this is just an elaborate illusion..” She slightly bowed her head and sat at the table.

I deployed my awareness around me, and I felt the wind, the insects all around us, the tall swaying grasses and animals skittering among them. “But… it feels so real.”

Ancient One took a sip of her tea and explained, “This is magic in action, a bit better than your own telepathic illusions. Don’t worry, your senses are being fed false information, and you may one day reach this degree of mastery. It’s just that I lived far longer than you and am more adept at such child-like spells.”

I sat at the table, taking care of not disturbing it. I recognized that I was outmatched and there was really nothing I could do to escape. I had an inkling that she wanted much from this little get together. Sighing, I took the tea cup, snuffing the red and black liquid inside it. It smelled delicious. There were scones in the middle of the table on a plate and I took one and began to eat it. *Hmm, cream scones.*

“Your presence in this reality is a conundrum, Jean. Your mere existence is a nexus of change, the fates don't seem to tie you down, my gift of precognition has been showing me future paths that simply went up in smoke. It’s as if you were creating ripples across time and space and shifting events and playing billiard with causality.” the Ancient One began speaking about inane things that I understood only because of the scientific knowledge I had pilfered. Otto had understood Quantum Physics and theory related to time travel. 

So I was basically a blind spot to her and she had to use her precog ability around me to see what might happen, but even that isn’t sure to work. I acted and broke canon events such as me joining the X-men. “Huh, I am not aware of doing anything as grandiose as you are saying.” Deny, deny, deny!

The Ancient One’s eyebrows lifted, a smile playing on her lips as she dipped a biscuit on her tea. “Oh of course you are aware, for example, you saved a man’s family recently. He should have gone on a path of blood and thorns, righting wrongs and pursuing criminals and monsters in human flesh relentlessly.” She took a bite of her biscuit, her eyes on me as I choked on my scone, and began to beat on my chest to make the food pass. I wasn’t going to die so stupidly!

She laughed. “I see that you are aware of what I am saying.”

Cough. “Okay, let’s put our cards on the table then.” I breathed in, then exhaled. “I don’t know exactly what I am but when I was very young, I realized that I am misplaced and possess memories that were not mine at first. Did I assimilate them from another life? It seems so...”

Ancient One tilted her head, then her eyes shone with gold luster for an instant. Her grin then grew wider as though she’d won the lottery.“It explains why your soul is unbalanced, no… not just one, there are two souls in your body.” Her grin morphed into a frown.  “How is that possible?” She asked aloud.

I shrugged. “Who knows…” Nibbling on a biscuit, I hoped she’d drop this line of inquiry.

Ancient One stood up and walked up to my side of the table, staring at me with her eyes shining gold. I got out of my seat and kept the chair between us. I felt as if she saw more than she let on which sparked a ball of terror to rise within me. This emotion wasn’t mine but what my soul sister was feeling.

“Is this the person in your soul-sea feeding you information? This is the only way for you to know things beyond your ken.” The Sorceress Supreme never missed anything. Playing dumb didn’t save me.

Of course I kept mum, not wanting anyone to know about other-self. 

She had an inscrutable expression pasted on her face. “I see, do you want me to take her out?”

“NO.” I stumbled back. “Please no, I… she’s family, please don’t take her away.” I pleaded.

She tilted her head in interest. “You care about her, it also means that she isn’t possessing you. Great this might not be as bad as I thought.”

Ancient One then blurred toward me, palm out and struck my chest making my astral form and other self present outside our body. She was the same older woman, two inches taller than I, with tanned skin and curly shoulder length braided hair. Glasses lay on the bridge of her nose, and she was dressed in the same outfit as me- a red shirt and black jeans. The difference was in how voluptuous our bodies were where she was a very  sensual woman, I was still a duckling. “Shit. What did you do that for, woman?!” Other self shouted at the Ancient One.

Ancient One chuckled, looking at me with mirth-filled eyes. “I can see where your more temperamental tendencies come from.” She returned her gaze to my other self. “Who might you be, Miss...?”

Other self raised her chin and crossed her arms under her ample chest. “Does giving you my name change anything that might happen here?”

Ancient One nodded, her kimono-like outfit swaying under the breeze. “It will certainly make your case less complicated.”

“I… my name was Emily.” Emily… uncrossed her arms and placed them on the side of her body.

She looked at me, worried. It was the first time I’d heard it since Emily never told me her name. When I was barely four years old, I always called her big sister or other endearing names. I smiled, it didn’t matter; she had saved my life more than once with her wisdom. Emily smiled back at me, understanding that we were cool. 

Ancient One reacted to our exchange. “Oh so you defer to young Jean as the one who is in control? Why are you so self effacing? You exist after all.”

Emily turned to the Ancient One, shurgging. “It’s Jean’s body, and I am just sharing soul space.”

She didn’t say that she could take control, but she had no intention of ever doing so. I asked her why one day and she told me that she wasn’t a body snatcher, that her time has passed and she just wanted to protect me, the best she could as she knew what fate would befell me.

“You seem to really care for her, like a sister. You are an extra-dimensional soul and you seem to have mixed with young Jean’s here.” The ancient one moved her hand in wave-like gestures, her eyes still possessing that golden hue. “Hmm, I see there’s no way to separate you. Your existence seems to be tied together.”

Emily huffed and said, “Yeah, now can I go back doing my life coach thing, please?”

The Ancient One nodded.“I shall allow it.” 

Emily turned into a ball of red light and dived into my body that was still standing upright; Goldie’s job, she was to be an overachiever like that.

Hmph. <Bossypants.> Emily said through our link.

The Ancient One nodded and looked thoughtful as she said aloud, “Fascinating, today’s revelation has simply been extraordinary.” Then her eyes found me, with a gesture she helped me back to my body. When I became cognizant, she addressed me. “I understand why you are such a special young woman, Jean. As long as you live, you are going to create ripples in the eddies of times, those changes might not be always for good alas.”

I finally decided to ask the question that had been burning my tongue since I’d entered what I believe to be the Sanctum Sanctorum. “Are you going to kill me?”

The Ancient One’s eyes widened, and she vehemently shook her head. “Kill you? My goodness no! I would never do that.”

“But isn’t it your job to kill people who threaten the balance of the world and take care of extradimensional threats?”

She immediately came into my personal space and put a hand on my shoulders. “You are not a threat, Jean. You are just a young woman who is destined to do great and sometimes terrible things. You and Emily were linked for a reason and I am not about to mess with the powerful entity who seems to have placed you in this reality.”

I knew it! I knew that there must have been a reason why my life wasn’t as shitty as it should have been! The Ancient One took a pocket watch from the inside of her kimono clothes and nodded.

“This has been a good day, we will see each other another time Jean. I hope you won’t be afraid of me as much as you were today.”

*Yeah, right.* I rolled my eyes. She sent shivers down my spine. 

“Before you leave, there’s something I can tell you that might be relevant to you for the near future, take it as a free advice my dear; you need to reach balance. You and Emily can’t stay apart for so long, your auras are out of sync. You’ll have to reach out for each other and become one, one day.”

I frowned, not understanding what the hell she was saying. “I don’t understand what you mean? We are already one.”

Ancient One tipped her chin down in a nod again. “You’ll understand when the time comes.” 

I didn’t notice the golden portal forming behind before, the Sorceress Supreme pushed me with telekinesis inside it and I was suddenly in the same place I was before I arrived. Midtown high school’s gardens. The immortal woman waved me goodbye and closed the portal.

“Well, fuck my life.”

 

# # #

 

November, 11th 1996
Elektra’s dojo
03:01 PM

I evaded Cindy’s butterfly kick, and attempted to hit her with a palm strike while she recovered from the highly risky maneuver. She was aware of the incoming hit and moved away agilely by somersaulting back. I followed her with a text book flying kick, but she caught my leg with her hand and slammed me on the mats.

I rolled and jumped back, avoiding an axe kick that would have clipped me on the head. Goldie reacted and shot from my left arm and caught Cindy’s right hand and pulled her toward me as I cocked my right arm and punched her in the solar plexus. I jumped, pirouetting and came down on her with my own axe kick that she evaded by rolling on the side.

“Stop.” Elektra's voice commanded, a hint of steel present in her tone. 

I stopped and released a breath, then  relaxed. Cindy stayed on the ground, her ragged breathing coming fast. Elektra walked from the side of the mats that gave a view on the open sliding door letting us see the skyscrapers all around her building. Elektra wore her ninjutsu attire that left nothing to the imagination, however, her beauty didn't take away the fact that she looked dangerous.

Elektra's face became marred with frustration.  “Jean you let Goldie intervene, again.”

I shrugged helplessly. “She has a mind of her own.”

In combat situations it was difficult to command my symbiote who often took independent action from mine.

[Complaint: Training I should be, too.] Everyone heard the symbiote speak in their minds, and reacted to the female voice with different levels  of annoyance.

This was a recent change where Goldie had developed telepathy just like me, rendering her able to communicate with everyone. I was discovering a lot of new abilities with every day that passed by with her sharing  space with me in my body. We had finally and completely bonded as klyntar symbiote and host some days ago. Goldie was now able to hide in my bloodstream and I was allowed to see her racial memories that were just... extensive.

Goldie's golden Klyntar face oozed out of me, then her body followed and placed herself at my side in a vague feminine humanoid silhouette. 

Elektra's patience was running thin, her eyes skirting from me to my companion. “Still, Goldie, this is a fight between your host and Cindy. Sometimes Jean won't be able to depend on you, it is good for her to develop individual skills.”

[Smug: Never alone Host Jean shall be, that is why participating I should be.] 

*When is she going to stop speaking like Yoda?* With this I thought I sent a picture of a tiny yoda to my symbiote.

[Indignation and sarcasm: Like an old goblin do I look?] Her anger was directed at me for a moment before it shifted at Sensei.

Elektra wiped her eyes for a moment, acted as if she was seeing double, then shook her head  and massaged her temples. “She's pretty stubborn Jean, you need to teach her better.”

Just like children, Goldie needed strict handling, and lines of morality placed that she shouldn’t be crossing in the event that I died and she bonded with another. But so far my golden girl didn’t do anything reprehensible or scary. She was affectionate and cuddly and just, maybe, a tad possessive? “Hey, Goldie is a good girl.”

“Obviously not.” Elektra harrumphed and rolled her eyes.

Cindy was finally sitting upright and her breathing had returned to a steady pace. Elektra looked at my girlfriend with a sage and patient smile, completely different from her attitude with me. I think that was a sliver of jealousy that slithered up my spine just then. I‘d felt like this before when some of my friends found my big sisters cool and wanted to hang around them more. 

“Cindy, this was a good showing compared with your first fight with Jean.” Sensei admitted to her.

My girlfriend smiled at the praise and raised her chin at me in a taunt. Had I forgotten to mention Cindy’s crazy competitive streak? Even with me being her girlfriend didn’t make it diminish. Though I felt that it was good that the two of us could share this, it’d reinforce our bond even more.

Elektra walked up to Cindy and held her hand out. Cindy took it and was pulled up on her feet. As she did that, sensei began her assessment of her current combat style. “You went out of your way to always be mobile, that was good.”

I was acting like a tank because of my strength and new found reinforced physical attribute. I surmised as I did my self-assessment. Even so, Elektra continued. “Your build and powers are geared toward agility, speed and cunning, don't enter in direct strength competition with Jean in your sparring session, she has become too strong with Goldie's physical boost.Which is quite unfair in my opinion.” Elektra faced me with a scowl. 

As if it was my fault what Goldie enhanced on my body... “Don't be a hater, sensei!” I whined.

[Complaint: Hater everyone is.] Goldie waved her oozing arms at everyone in the room.

As proof of this, Cindy and Elektra proceeded to ignore her antics. Goldie mimicked my body language and how I carried myself, it was troubling sometimes; did I really act like that? Seeing it from my perspective I was surprised no one slapped me yet. *Was I always this... smug?*

My girlfriend looked between me and Elektra, her cute hands forming a fist, her knuckles cracking. “How did Jean get so strong? I mean she moves somewhat like you, Elektra sensei. Has it really been only two months of training?”

Elektra swaggered before me and poked a finger on my collar bone. “You know Jean is a cheater that cheats, she replicated my combat skills and knowledge with her telepathy. However, she has yet to reach master level. Right now, she is firmly stuck on the journeyman path.”

I tried to bat away her offending finger, and she chuckled when I couldn’t catch it and turned her back to me to look at Cindy.

The asian girl’s face took on a look full of determination. “How long will I have to practice to get as strong?”

Elektra’s smile became predatory. Oh shit! Cindy, run! I made eyes at my girlfriend to leave or run away or something! There was a confused expression on her face when she looked at me, but she shrugged and ignored me.

Sensei who had followed the byplay gave me a strong glare for trying to ruin her games. I averted my eyes before watching her turn to Cindy with the same scary smile. “With how smart and gifted you are? I give you another six months to reach a decent proficiency. You will be able to take on special force soldiers in no time. But super powered people like Jean? Train more, darling.”

Cindy looked at me with a challenging expression. “I will catch up to her; I don't like that disparity between us.”

I interrupted that; I didn’t like being a goal for her to reach. “What about hockey practice?”

Cindy seemed stricken having forgotten all about hockey  and getting lost in the giddy feeling of having super powers. She was letting her grades slide as well as she sneaked out to get training in her spider powers with Peter. I wasn’t jealous, not at all;,but if Peter ever made a move on her I would have his head. I still don’t know if there’s such a thing as the bride spider totem for my Cindy, but if she ever got caught up into that spiderverse shit? The Morluns were going to wish they had never entered this reality.

Web Slinging was something of a rush and Cindy being an  adrenaline junky and a little predator loved this feeling of being in suspension and defying gravity, it was more gratifying to her than ice hockey. “I can do the two, we have found out that I got superhuman stamina and toughness, remember.”

“Among other things.” I nodded.

Cindy’s body was physically tougher and more resistant to impact forces than most humans. We discovered she had the ability to withstand great impacts, such as being thrown through a plate-glass window. Just don’t ask me how we discovered this… 

Then there was the Spider-camouflage, the same ability as Miles Morales! Cindy including her clothing can blend into her surroundings, allowing her to sneak up on her enemies -it was Peter and her playing hide and seek- or, in some cases, flee from them. The resulting effect closely resembles that of invisibility. The most notable of her power was bio-electrokinesis; like Miles Morales I think she possessed control over the natural electricity her body produces.

We barely scratched the surface of what she could do. I hoped to help her become the best spider girl ever. Elektra sensei made us spar again, and this time Goldie behaved after she threatened us with one thousand pushups and to give me even more chores to do in the dojo. Carrot and stick, right? I got punched in the face and I sent Cindy flying as I knew she could take the super strength Goldie conferred me. It was 04:00 pm when ninja school ended for the day.

When we were in the locker room Elektra had there in the back room, Cindy covered herself in spider thread after taking a shower, she expertly formed a costume made entirely of silky spider thread and put the bandana she stole from me around her mouth only showing half her face.

“Why do I want to take you on the bench when you wear your makeshift costume?” I asked, my cheeks stained crimson.  

I almost told her that I didn’t want to see her leaving in that getup, but she knew how to defend herself now. I hope Peter wouldn’t  see her like this and that she will simply go home instead of hanging out with him.

“I don’t think you’re ready for what I truly want to do to you Jean, this body's too bootylicious for you, baby.” Cindy sing-songed, slapping her ass, making me laugh and copy her. 

It was strange to me that Destiny's Child had songs that they were supposed to have released later in their career, but I didn’t care, they were one of my favorite girl bands. Once I was finished applying makeup, Goldie formed clothes on my body. Goldie surprised me when she gave me a black tank top, tight jeans and combat boots, the final touch was a red leather jacket with a black tactical belt. She had copied most of my wardrobe by this time and she needn’t to be cleaned, I would never need to buy clothes again if I didn’t know that symbiotes had weaknesses.

“Hmm, why did you choose this?”

[Uncertain: I know not, a feeling I have.] My companion symbiote explained.

I would be prudent on the way home, you don’t dismiss hunches like that from a part psychic organism like this. “Say do you still have the weapons you stole from the SHIELD Headquarter?”

Goldie began to make a mental inventory of what she was storing and showed me in my mind everything she had been stealing or storing on demand. I needed to do something about her kleptomania. There was a tactical knife, three P226 pistols with ammo boxes and some medicine and bandages, clothes, accessories and shoes, packed food and the GSM burner phone I bought for myself last week.

A finger poked my arm, I turned to Cindy who was the offender. “Jean, we are leaving.”

I glanced at my wristwatch , noting the time. “Oh.”

Cindy laughed a little bit at me for being distracted. “You were speaking with Goldie again, what did she say that distracted you so?”

“She told me she was having a bad feeling about something. And as she is part psionic, I think she’s onto something.” Maybe it was a latent low precognition ability that Goldie possessed, we are still barely scratching the surface of what she could do.

Cindy’s playful tone switched to a more serious one. “Do you want me to leave with you? Maybe this feeling... it’s about an event around you.”

I shrugged, zipping up my jacket. “No, it’s better if you go do your own thing. I will be surrounded by SHIELD agents and I don’t want them to get into your business.”

Cindy tilted her head.  I could only see half her face but she was an open book to me; she had inimical feelings about the organization that was exploiting me, at least I think that was her reason for not trusting them. “You hate them.” I mused, speaking aloud what she felt. 

She said nothing, simply making hyper dense claws on her fingers that shone red under the light. When I saw them, I thought Cindy should learn a palm and eagle style Kung Fu. It would be better for her in the long run. I would find another way to power her up; spider powers weren’t enough.

I sighed, she was right to not trust them. I chose to tell her what’s what. “The only people in SHIELD I like are Phil, Peggy and I think Alice and Eve.” Reaching up, I pulled my hair into a low ponytail. Cindy was familiar with the names since I’d touched up on who they were before. “Your two new agent friends? Since when?”

I praised them, gushing, “They are fun to be around. We had a knife throwing contest the last time we were in HQ. You can trust them, they have deep principles.” 

Cindy pouted at me, still stuck on the fact that I could play with knives. “You are having all the fun.”

I chuckled. “Maybe.”

We exited the locker room and then the dojo through the sliding door that led on the roof, we walked on the gravel and I saw Cindy warm up for her web slinging. *Barely a week and she is already so adept at this.*

I wish I could just go fly with her and explore the city this way. Once she was done, Cindy lowered her bandana face mask, hugged me, then smashed her lips to mine in a searing kiss that had my toes curling with pleasure. We kissed each other for another five minutes before she pulled away, beaming. “Later honey.” Then she ran and jumped over the cement rail and fell fast down.

She shot her organic webbings and slinged away by navigating between the buildings. “My girlfriend is amazing.” I mumbled.

[Excited: Wish to do that you wish?]

I shook my head. “No, I can already fly.” I levitated and cloaked, flying to where I felt my escort was parked, before a small grocery store near this building.

When I touched ground, I deployed my notice-me-not field and uncloaked, suddenly appearing selectively for my guards. “Hey there.” I knocked on the glass of the driver door.

The door’s window went down with a mechanical sound. Francesco Matias, an hispanic man, with brown eyes and  a nice smile was at the driving wheel today. “Miss Grey.” He greeted with a slight spanish lilt to his words. 

An evil grin spread over my face. “Edwards.”

His eyes widened and he said in horror. “No, no my name is Francesco.” He waved his hands no, implying he’d never  accept such a name.

I tilted my head and said thoughtful, “No, you look like an Edwards.”

Francesco made a beseeching expression as he looked up and said, “Oh dios, ¿por qué debes probarme así? (Oh god, why must you try me so?)” Then he glared at me. “When will you remember my name?”

I shrugged. “Maybe never?”

Alice opened the passenger door and exited it, signalling me to enter. Her short blonde hair was styled into a bob cut  today. Her green eyes were hidden by her sunglasses. My eyes focused back on Francesco.

The poor man simply shook his head. “Niña mala (Evil girl).” 

Chuckling I touched his arm. “Sorry, you know I joke right?”

He nodded ascent. “I guessed, but it’s difficult to say with that poker face of yours sometimes, nina...”

Huh, I guess I need to do the RBF less often, let’s go home. I entered the vehicle and placed myself between Alice and Eve who readied their assault weapons and looked through the windows. Francesco contacted the first vehicle with the other agents and said that we were ready for the convoy to leave toward HQ.

“HQ?” I asked Eve with furrowed eyebrows.

The petite brunette seemed really contrite by the fact and she tried to explain why we changed itinerary, “Something came up, Director Carter has called for you.”

I sighed, “Let’s go.”

I saw the first vehicle start and leave before us. Francesco ignited our own armored car and followed the first vehicle. We were quickly out of Corona and followed Corona Avenue. Weirdly, Alice and Eve weren’t their chatty seleves today. It was evident they were nervous about meeting the Director who seemed to have news about something. *Does it concern the squiddies?* I asked myself.

When the silence became stifling, I was forced to break it by complaining. “I feel like we’re driving to a court martial, this is crazy, guys.”

Alice tightened her hold on her rifle and looked at me with quiet awe in her voice which, fortunately, wasn’t directed at me. “But, it’s the director Jeanie! I mean, she’s a living legend.”

I rolled my eyes; I didn’t see Peggy like this, she was like a grandmother to me. “She’s flesh and blood just like you and I, she doesn’t like the hero worship so can it.”

The blonde young woman huffed and looked through the window, from the sign outside I could see that we passed a Dunkin Donuts that made takeout and delivery. It took two minutes for Alice to speak again, I felt her curiosity getting the best of her. “So… you meet her a lot?”

I gave her a look. She looked away sheepishly, looking cute with  the red staining her cheeks, so I caved and said, “She’s practically family at this point.”

Eve threw a wisecrack at me, “No wonder you get to have an escort full of agents.”

I looked theatrically wounded and said to her while pushing her a bit, “Hey, Eve it’s not really nepotism you know... I am a valuable asset.” I beat on my chest.

Eve snorted and pushed me back.“A cocky one.”

“That’s right!” I laughed.

It was then that everything went to hell when the lead vehicle blew up, the other cars following suit with exploding. Francesco swerved right on Van Doren street, deftly avoiding cars that had stopped on the street. The girls were panicking and Francesco too.

“What the hell!?” Alice shouted.

Our lead vehicle obviously blew up, who would be bold enough to do that in the light of days? 

Eve asked as she unlocked the safety on her rifle. “What’s going, Francesco?!”

“We are under attack.” He said with obvious sarcasm.

My mental field detected another Metahuman right before us. It was a bald man who had some kind of horizontal tattoo on his face. He had on ballistic armor and held some sort of launcher with a disc. 

“Alice, shoot that bald motherfucker!!!”

“What?” She looked through the window, saw the man but simply didn’t have time to follow through my command and the man launched the disc from the device who came low. It was faster than I could think, I encased me and my guards in a bubble of TK.

BOOM!! The explosion under the car lifted it behind first into the air. I felt the bald bastard completely disappear out of my range, and the SUV slid on the road until it stopped in the middle of the road. Francesco, Eve and Alice were alive but unconscious. I was the only one awake and it didn’t bode well in the slightest. 

With my TK I opened the door, forcefully ejecting it from the side of the car. It clattered noisily on the road. I crawled out of the passenger side and was outside the car. Standing up I watched around me, waiting for that metahuman to appear again, I felt Goldie trying to enter her Klyntar battle form but fought her and told her, “No, I don't want people to see you in public yet.”

Through all this, I pushed the most powerful Keep-away field that I could deploy within two kilometers. All the onlookers began to stampede away from the car crash. I benevolently helped people trapped in the cars next to ours extricate themselves from the coffin on wheels that their vehicles have become. Whoever was after me has done their homework on me and was deliberately out of my range.

 

# # #

(Vanisher)

 

Through his binoculars, Vanisher watched as the girl exited the car. She was tough, he’d give her that. He didn’t see the agents get out of the wreck, but the girl kept overwatch on the car so they must still be alive and kicking but unconscious. She adopted a combat stance and Vanisher recognized someone experienced enough to kick some serious ass; he approved the fact that she didn’t depend on her telekinetic and telepathic power. The redhead’s gaze scanned her surroundings.  

Vanisher spoke into his Walkie Talkie. “I neutralized the car, over.”

“Wilco, Prism teleport and attack.” Scalphunter commanded.

In a flash of light, Prism appeared ten meters from the girl and ran at her. She instantly detected him and a red glowing spear appeared in her hand and she threw it so strongly that Vanisher thought he heard a sonic boom. The spear crashed into Prism who suddenly was completely gone in a shower of crystal dust.

It had really been a sonic boom that he heard, he saw the shattered glass of every building in that street on the pavements from each side of the road.

Vanisher changed vantage point from a building with a flat roof giving view directly on the scene from a vantage point. He noticed that as far as he could see the flatscans had all fled the area, was it the girl who did it? *Too bad we counted on them to stay and restrain her further.*

“Take the shot, John.” Vanisher said in his talkie walkie.

Bang. Bang. Bang. A red bubble of telekinetic force stopped each shot from Scalphunter’s .50 cal rifle. *Ah, that failed too.*

The girl turned toward the direction of the shooting, her hand raising.  Vanisher widened his eyes and quickly teleported to where Scalphunter was sniping one kilometer away to save him and teleport him away from the spot, but it was too late. His head uncorked from his shoulder and his head was wrenched away from his body until his spine was visible, a shower of gore rained down on Vanisher who teleported away and found another spot to camp.

He was suddenly on his knees and vomited his lunch on the gravel of the roof having never witnessed such a gruesome death before. That girl played for keeps. 

On his radio he heard Arclight. “What happened, Scalpy? Did you or Prismy get her? Scalpy?”

The bald man slapped his cheek and took his radio and spoke. “This is Vanisher, John is dead, I am taking command. Scrambler jump now, distract her! Blockbuster, Arclight, jump twenty seconds after them!”

Vanisher turned to the scene under him, took the bag on his back, opened it and pulled out a jet injector and screwed an ampoule of the special tranquilizer their sponsors had given them for this operation. He was ready to inject her at any moment now.

On the radio, Scrambler shouted, “No way dude, she just vaporized Prism and killed John!”

Taking the radio in hand Vanisher said calmly, “I will kill you myself if you don’t jump.”

There was silence on the channel until finally Scrambler said, “Fine if I die I will haunt you!”

Vanisher saw the moment Scrambler appeared basically at one meter of the girl and lunged at her but to no avail. He continued watching as she caught him by the neck  and raised him in the air. She smirked and floated one meter from the ground. Scrambler smiled as well and he touched her naked arm. Vanisher could see the girl grimace as the asian man’s power short circuited her powers.

“Score! He touched her! Go, go, go!” Vanisher shouted on his radio.

The girl let Scrambler go and they fell on the ground. She landed on her feet while the korean man was on his ass. Vanisher saw panic etched on the redhead face, until it was replaced by cold fury. She looked at Scrambler who was laughing and saying something to her. The scene that followed would forever traumatize the bald man.

She blurred to Scrambler with a flying kick and his head exploded into mist. “WHAT THE FUCK!!??”

Arclight and Blockbuster appeared, looking ready to rumble until they saw the state in which Scrambler was. Arclight was shaken while  Blockbuster took it in stride as he walked up to the redhead who turned to them and lunged with a fist, Blockbuster caught her fist, but she must have been some sort of ninja as she hit him with a wicked kick to the head that forced the black man to release her. She was attacking him again but Arclight tackled her. As they were in midair, they changed position and the girl was straddling the brutish purple haired woman and punched her so hard that Vanisher felt the shockwave from his vantage.

The redhead punched Arclight repeatedly and relentlessly, creating shockwaves that rattled the surrounding buildings. Arclight seemed to cry out and protect her face with her arms. Blockbuster made himself useful and caught the girl by her red hair and lifted her up. Vanisher doesn't know how she did it but she held onto the black man’s arm and squeezed it making him let go of her, but she was still holding his arm and performed a judo throw and slammed the huge man on Arclight who cried out again.

The girl kicked Blockbuster in the cojones and sent him flying in an arc ten meters away, then her eyes settled on  Arclight once again, reached her foot and held on it;.Vanisher couldn’t believe what he was seeing, the redhead was slamming his teammate on the pavement like a ragdoll until she created a crater that dug deep in the road. 

*This wasn’t in her file…*

Blockbuster jumped and lunged to the redhead and simply punched her with a full power haymaker, and sent her flying, he followed her until she crashed in an abandoned car. She was fast on her feet and the two foes lunged at each other once again, the difference was that the redhead didn’t punch him and simply snaked around his body until she was on his shoulders and used her strength and weight to pull him down on the ground, then she jumped in the air, readying an axe kick to cave in Blockbuster’s head until something miraculous happened.  A spear of energy struck the redhead full on, stunning her.

She fell on her knee and was quickly struck by another spear of energy that shocked her, arcs of blue electricity surged around her, making her seize. Then she passed out. Without waiting, vanisher teleported next to the redhead in a flash of purple light and put the jet injector against the back of her neck and pulled the trigger. A narrow, high-pressure stream of liquid penetrated the outermost layer of the skin of the young woman and delivered the  tranquilizer into her bloodstream.

“Mission complete.” Vanisher spoke, wearing  a self satisfied smile.

“Vanisher.” A steady and baritone-like voice called the teleporter out.

Vanisher felt happy for the first time that the inuit was on their team. “Harpoon, good job!” He shot him a thumbs up. 

“It was nothing, how many are still alive?” The inuit nodded and crouched to take his spears on the ground.

Vanisher looked at the bodies of his teammate, “Me, you, Arclight and Blockbuster I think.”

The inuit nodded. “Let’s gather them and get out of here, forget taking the dead with us.”

They did just that. Arclight was still alive but could barely move, her regeneration factor was weak, so they would have to put her into a health pod to heal. Blockbuster could still walk and at his expression Vanisher guessed that he felt humiliated by being done in by such a slip of a girl. They had entered this fight blind and were almost all wiped out. 

“Harpoon, is it normal that she is naked?” Vanisher realized when he looked at the redhead on the ground.

The inuit was pondering this phenomenon as he watched the childish but enticing female body. “This is strange, what’s her deal? Were her clothes temporary?”

Blockbuster lacked his front teeth, he sounded weird when he said, “Zho cares, Ret’s get outta fere.”

Vanisher turned to the SHIELD car and saw a blonde agent exiting the car, she looked at them, he gave her the finger and crouched to touch Jean’s naked body and pushed the button on his long range teleportation harness. The woman was about to fire at them with her weapon when they disappeared in a flash of light.

57