Chapter 11
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Chapter 11

(Elizabeth Margareth ‘Peggy’ Carter)

 

Cerberus HQ
08:45 PM

 

CRASH.

Peggy took another vase, lifted it up and slammed it onto the ground. CRASH. Never had she felt so impotent, so useless! Wrong, she was wrong… she had felt this horrible way one other time.  It was when Steve took that damn plane to the arctic and landed over the water near Greenland. She froze at this realization but then made her way over to her office chair and took a seat. 

Once she sat, she swivelled toward the armored bay window and looked outside, where the sun had almost set and the shadows in the city would soon bring darkness to the land. Peggy’s thoughts spiraled downward again as her mind trickled back towards her failure.  There was no sugarcoating it- she had truly failed to uphold her promise to the young woman who she had come to view as a granddaughter. Jean was more attentive than her niece, Sharon, who was more of a loose cannon.

Already Peggy suspected foul play. She knew that Hydra was embedded deep but them being able to act boldly like this made her blood boil. Her being director here would let her stall the rotation of personnel and dig out the rot in her own headquarters. She rapped a fingernail against the armrest of her office chair as she pondered at the issue of how long this ambush had been planned.

“Someone had to have sent the route Jean and her escort had taken.” Unfortunately, there were too many suspects for her to have a chance to ever find them.

Peggy lowered her head, and sighed heavily, but a thread of anger was still present in her mind. She  slammed her fist on her arm rest. “I will find you.” She promised, her voice icy and sharp enough to cut through glass. 

Someone whistled in admiration and then she heard a familiar voice say, “See Nick, I told you it was going to be time for a witch hunt.”

“That you did.” The gruff voice was even more familiar.

Peggy’s chair swiveled toward the entrance of her office and she saw the uniformed Nick Fury and Phil Coulson standing in the entrance of her office, holding wine and beer.The old woman wanted to rage at them for interrupting her wallowing and self-flagellation.

She held herself back, though. “I said I wanted to be left alone for a while.”

“There’s no problem so awful that you can’t add some guilt to it and make it even worse.” Phil quoted as he walked to her desk in sync with Nick who looked around them, impressed by the destruction of the decorations and furniture.

Peggy’s expression became thoughtful. “Never heard of that saying.”

“One of my friends told me that when I failed for the first time.” Phil said sagely as he put the pack of specially imported Greene King beer on Peggy’s desk.

Nick went to the alcohol cabinet opposite the desk and found some crystal cups and brandy. His face lit up when he found Peggy’s stash of tea biscuits and he snatched them and placed everything on his boss’s desk.

“I see.” Peggy commented, starting between the two men- the only two agents she could trust to not betray her. “What have you come here for? Have you come to get an old woman drunk?”

Nick snorted. “Drunk? Ma’am, I remember you drinking us under the table some months ago.”

Despite herself, Peggy shot Nick a wicked smile. “And I paid for it on the morrow. Bloody good times.” Her voice was wistful and she fell into nostalgia. Peggy remembered being out for a night on the town with Howard and Antonia Stark, going bar hopping until they couldn’t walk. They were talking about funding SHIELD and lending gear and other resources. Howard came up with the concept of the helicarrier by drunkenly doodling on a napkin...

“We have pieced together what happened.” Phil said with undistilled emotion.

In a second, the trip down memory lane halted. Peggy’s eyes hardened and she leaned in her chair and looked at each of the men. “Business first, I see.”

Nick tipped his chin down in a nod. “When we are in these halls? Always.” 

And the two agents began to weave the tale of an ambush that claimed the lives of four SHIELD agents on Corona avenue. The pursuit then stopped abruptly on Van Doren street when an explosive device was used to stop the vehicle with the person of interest inside. The three interrogated rookie agents that were with the person of interest survived thanks to her ability and were rendered unconscious. Instead of fleeing, the person of interest chose to stay and defend the downed agents.

“A damn fine job she did before she got taken down by that Eskimo asshole.” Nick praised Jean Grey, a rare moment. 

Peggy reacted to the racial slur. “Noatak was there?”

Kodiak Noatak, or Harpoon as he was called in the underworld, was an assassin on whom the only information SHIELD had managed to obtain was his ethnicity and trails of bodies all over Canada and the USA. Doctor Wright, their scientist specialized in powered humans, had described his power to be Longitudinal object conversion; he could imbue items with some sort of bio-energy and give them different effects.

Phil nodded, his face crinkled and his lips twisted into a scowl. “That bastard was caught lurking around the fight on camera.”

Peggy’s eyes were on Phil and she was aware he was struggling to rein his emotions in, The  alcohol on the table was mostly for him and the old woman wouldn’t begrudge him to drink his sorrows away. He had entered into a rapport with Jean Grey who saw him as an uncle rather easily after being exposed to him and his good nature. He missed her. Peggy could also say that she did too, it was as if the teen knew how to easily enter their confidence and obtain their trust.

She had at first, like Nick, suspected that there was some subtle telepathic manipulation going on from Jean, but she was genuinely like that with the people she liked.

“There’s a recording of the battle if you are interested.” Nick threw out, munching on a biscuit.

The director’s eyes hardened, her voice becoming martial. “I am, bring it to me here.”

Ten minutes later Nick was back with an IT guy who set up a TV screen with a DVD player, the recordings of three different streets were collated together to offer perspective of how the fight happened. Jean killed the first one who appeared with some sort of teleportation technology. Phil explained that the scientists were having a field day with the high energetic signatures all over the place.

They now saw how Jean had deflected three .50 cal rounds fired from at least one kilometer away. They paused the video to discuss that specific part of the fight. “We found the body of the sniper, he was killed from afar, somehow Grey could see him.”

“Somehow we have been able to identify him.” Phil said as he put a folder on Peggy’s desk and slid it to her.

Peggy took and opened it, instantly seeing the old black and white picture of a clearly American Indian man in an army uniform. Phil continued his report, “This is John Greycrow, a Native American from an unidentified tribe. Just like you, Ma’am he fought in World War II for the USA, but he was executed for murdering his fellow officers.”

“The bastard.” Peggy spat, gritting  her teeth.

What she heard next settled her nerves slightly. “He was shot by a firing squad and was believed to be... killed. Clearly false, our coroner and doctor Wright are examining the body to see how he died exactly.”

“The girl simply unscrewed his head off his shoulders. What’s so complicated about this?” Nick unhelpfully added while eating another biscuit.

Phil turned to his friend, pinching the bridge of his nose in frustration. “Nick…”

Nick leaned forward in his seat and stared at Peggy and Phil with a winning smile. “I knew she was used to killing.” Then his expression shifted to a haunted look. “But even for her, that was horrible.” He acknowledged, pointing a finger to the picture of the head of Greycrow.

Peggy glared at Nick who shrugged in return. “Let’s move on.” The director wanted to know how everything happened, to see how Jean had given everything and yet failed nonetheless.

The video resumed and an asian man appeared, lunging at Jean. She’d caught him but  it seemed to have been a bad decision as suddenly she found herself on the ground. The asian man’s shoulders shook with his laughter.  

“I think this guy was able to temporarily take away her powers.” Nick nodded, certain. 

“He paid for it.” Phil said with dark satisfaction as Jean suddenly decapitated him with a kick. “We have unfortunately been unable to discover who he was, his head has been completely vaporized by Jean.”

Peggy paused the video again. “Since when is she this strong? I thought he had somehow messed with her ability?”

Shaking his head, Phil stared at her impotently. Jean Grey. Even though he could feel Jean Grey’s love for him in  a familial kind of way, he knew she kept her cards really close to her chest. “We still don’t know, but it seems that Jean recently gained additional ones; she has stopped sparring with our agents lately. But the last time she was here, she joined a knife throwing game and each of her knives sunk to the hilt into the wooden surface. I think she gained some kind of super strength?”

Nick cackled. “The girl has been sandbagging us since we met her. We will never know how strong she is in fact. But the day we do, she’s going to dictate terms to us, you’ll see. Something has been going on since Norman Osborn died, did you hear about how his labs were raided and burned down the same day he bought it?”

A retort was on the tip of Peggy’s tongue, ready to tell him to stop throwing accusations where there were none, but to her surprise, Phil backed Nick. “His theories have some kind of merit ma’am… it pains me to say it, but I have been suspecting that Jean, I mean Miss Grey, has been using her powers to somehow take down various criminal organizations all over New York.”

She didn’t know how to take this information. *Jean had been playing vigilante again?* Elaine Grey had confided in Peggy that the main reason behind her allowing Jean to work for them was so they could maintain an eye on her daughter who had been mimicking the Daredevil of Hell’s Kitchen. She’d also been associated with the second best assassin in the world, Elektra Natchios. Those meetings were closely monitored by SHIELD, but Natchios had been there more in her capacity as combat instructor for the girl, so they didn’t push for anything concerning the assassin yet.

“How? I know what you are talking about, I saw the news; but she had been sleeping in her bed when the Russian Bratva was taken down some weeks ago. I checked myself.” Peggy said with certainty.

Nick laughed, and Phil himself couldn’t hold back a smile as  the reaction of the Director permitted them to have one over her for once. “Ma’am you told us yourself to not expect our common sense to matter where powered people are concerned.”

“It all comes down to how those events have been linked, Director. Fire.” Nick spelled it out for her.

She seemed even more lost. “Fire?”

Nick took another biscuit from the bag, “Miss Grey is what Doctor Wright calls a Pyrokinetic, another ability she had shown us in her first ability test. The scientists have found that the fire generated by her powers consumes everything it touches, even the ash. And guess what? The burned down clubs, brothels and drug houses were all burned without anything left of them, not even ash remaining.”

With this overwhelming evidence… Peggy realized she couldn’t defend the girl. “Then she has been busy destroying the Russian…”

“And the sudden quelling of the gang related crimes in Harlem.” Phil added with his quirky smile.

Peggy laughed at the realization of how much Jean had played them. “Sneaky girl.” In a sense, she was proud that Jean could pull one over them so easily for so long, but in another, “What was she thinking?!”

“I don’t know, but she must have had her reasons. We will know them when we get her back.” Phil said with hope.

They conferred a little more, finished watching the video and surmised that they all needed to get the tech that was used in Jean’s capture analyzed. At the same time Nick was inducted into the secret that Hydra had infiltrated deeply and they could only depend on themselves to clear out their Headquarters, then move on from there.

 

# # #

(Alice, Eve & Francesco)

 

SHIELD rec room
09:01 PM

Guilt was not a response to anger; it was a response to one’s own actions or lack of action. If it led to change it could be useful, since it was then no longer guilt but the beginning of knowledge. Yet all too often, guilt was just another name for impotence, for defensiveness, destructive of communication; it became a device to protect ignorance and the continuation of things the way they were, the ultimate protection for changelessness.

Guilt was a feeling that gnawed at people typically when they’d just done something wrong, intentionally or accidentally. A person’s sense of guilt was usually related to their moral code.

Guilt wasn’t necessarily bad. Sometimes it was even productive. Feeling bad after making a mistake could lead to change, such as an apology or a decision to make different choices in the future. A “guilty pleasure” could describe something harmless a person enjoys even if they feel they shouldn’t or were embarrassed about their tastes.

No one could deny that guilt was sometimes unhelpful. It could cause physical symptoms, self-doubt, decreased self-esteem, and shame. It could be difficult to overcome these feelings. Having failed to help someone they were ordered to protect, someone who had become a friend somewhat, this seriously made the trio of Alice, Eve and Francesco think that they were failures they could not come back from.

The three of them isolated themselves in the second rec room of the building- the one where no senior agents would find themselves at this time of the night. They felt shame at having failed and were full of dread at what was being done to Jean.

“I wish I had been faster.” Alice was sitting on the sofa, nursing a bottle of White Ace cider.

Eve placed a comforting hand on her colleague’s forearm. “Nah, it all happened too fast Alice…”

The brunette recalled the moment Jean cried out about shooting the man who had suddenly appeared twenty meters from their vehicle. She did the math and as she was familiar with Alice’s reaction speed on the shooting range there was no way the blonde would have been fast enough to do anything about what happened next.

Alice looked at her, not willing to believe her and wallowed a bit more in her misery. “But-”

Eve bopped her on the nose and told her with all seriousness. “No buts, we weren’t prepared or serious enough and we paid for it… Jean paid for it.” Her tone was drenched in sadness by the end. The two women kept silent for a moment, thinking of the worst case scenarios; women being captured by terrorist or criminal scums often ended up being mentally and physically… violated. They looked at each other and hugged, seeking warmth as the prospect for their charge had made them feel cold with dread.

“I hope she’s going to hang in there.” Alice mumbled.

Francesco slammed his metal cup on the bar facing the sofa where the women were seated. He had drunk some Apple Sourz and felt a little of a buzz thrumming through his blood. He wanted to shoot someone or something. When he heard Alice and Eve talking, he couldn’t but help think of the worst scenarios too, but there was something that he knew about Jean Grey from the little time they had been acquainted, she wasn’t a quitter, she could take it and roll with the hits life threw at her.

That’s why he was confident in his next words that were meant to reassure his colleagues. “Jean will find a way to escape, you hear? She killed three of those guys before they took her down. I saw the video.”

Alice nodded, her sadness fading a little. “I did.” It had been incredible.

Jean had performed for them, just little tricks with her powers they had thought at the time. The redhead was companionable and funny, but after seeing her in action and wrecking those asshole kidnappers they were happy to have not pissed her off like the first team had, becoming virtual fixtures around her and ignored completely.

*Too bad she was taken out by a cheap shot.* Eve thought.

Francesco had a determined and wild expression on his face. “I bet you that we will see Jean here soon.”

Alice was the first to react to what the Latin man said. “How much?”

Francesco took a fifty from his wallet and slapped it against the bar. He smiled devilishly at the female agents who somehow felt better and less guilt ridden.

Eve said with decisiveness, “We need a pot. I want in on this.” With that, she stood and went in search of one.

“It gives me hope.” Alice took a $100 bill out of her wallet, walked up to the bar and placed the money on it, waiting for Eve to come back.

Later, other agents from the interrogation department would come to bet on how long it’d take Jean Grey to free herself, some variation of the bet spoke about how she would destroy the kidnappers’ base or come back with their dead bodies. There was a lot of that going on as the days passed and the pot’s money grew and grew until secondary pots were added.

Everyone that knew her was sure that Jean Grey would come back.

 

# # #

(Cindy Moon)

 

November 18th, 1996
B&T Electronics
11:21 PM

There were two kinds of guilt: the kind that drowned you until you were useless, and the kind that fired your soul to purpose. It was the second kind that concerned Cindy Moon. It had been seven days since her girlfriend was captured. She too was guilt ridden, wishing she;d gone with Jean that day and maybe, just maybe she would be there with her and her family.

Cindy had seen the state her father and mother were in when SHIELD had announced that their daughter had been taken. John had gone completely quiet and Elaine burst into sobs, breaking things until Cindy had hugged her. The asian girl had needed to do something or she would have sunk into despair, that was why she was accompanying Peter in his patrols and was fighting crime alongside him.

The enemy simply looked ridiculous, however he was still dangerous.

“You meddling kids! Who asked you to intervene?!” Shouted the man in green leather tights, spandex mesh jumpsuit and metallic bionic electromagnetic wings.

They were in an office, with the desk, computer and chair having been slammed into a wall, the safe behind a pricey painting of a woman was barely hanging from its hinges.

Peter was hanging on a wall trying to cover the winged man with a cocoon of spider threads, but they were simply torn apart by the metal feathers of his wings vibrating at subsonic speeds. “Give up man, killing that guy won’t make it alright, whatever he did to you.”

There was a man on the ground, the owner of this little electronic enterprise. He was slowly bleeding out due to the bullet taken to the guts. Peter had disarmed the bird man but kept trying to hold back to not kill him either. Cindy didn’t understand.

“Oh believe me it will…” The man grinned with pure delight.

It was at that moment that Cindy landed between the Vulture and Peter. She lunged at the birdman and attempted to land a superman punch on his shoulder, At the last moment he dodged, but Cindy nicked him and he held on the top of his arm crying out. Cindy didn’t stop there, targeting his legs with her spider silk and pulled, making the birdman fall.

Peter took advantage of this moment to send a big blotch of web fluid on the downed so he could be pinned down to the ground. The birdman was quick though, rolling away to the left and avoiding it. “Come on!” Peter was getting annoyed by the luck of the man.

Cindy jumped and the birdman tried to bat her away with a wing, but the spider girl caught the non bladed part on the armature of the wing and held on. Something strange happened as a blue electric bolt of electricity that coursed from Cindy’s right hand to the wingsuit made it stop moving completely. The man cried out and seized as if he was being electrocuted.

Cindy was about to claw the man’s face when Peter caught her hand. “Don’t, he’s down.”

Indeed, the birdman fell face first onto the ground. His mechanical looking wingsuit was smoking, sparks shooting out of it every few seconds. 

“So?” Cindy retorted. 

Jean had taught her that an enemy down was the perfect time to strike and beat them to within an inch of their life. The spandex wearing wannabe hero shook his head and told her through his lens covered eyes, “This isn’t how I do things, Ci-Spider girl.”

With the money that Jean had given him to make their phones, Peter was given the leftover money for a job well done; he had upgraded his costume. It was now made from a skin tight cloth, most likely spandex or similar. The costume was mostly blue with red gloves, boots, mid-section and mask.

Cindy reacted violently to that code name; no way was she going to be treated like a sidekick for Peter’s Parker superhero persona! “No, just no. Don’t call me that. I am Silk. Je-my girlfriend gave me this cooler name.”

Peter made the movement letting her know that he was rolling his eyes. “Whatever, what I am trying to say is that I am not like that guy in Hell’s Kitchen. I don’t beat people black and blue or break their spine.”

Cindy was about to answer when she felt the presence of someone behind them and turned toward it in a combat stance. Peter didn’t feel the same instinct until the last second as he was still focused on lecturing Cindy.

“This will get you killed one day.” A feminine voice said.

Elektra appeared from the shadows, dressed in  her less slutty red and black ninja costume composed of a black and red hooded skin tight boiled leather suit with short sleeves, fitted bodice, leather bracers and leg protections. A half mask, similar to Cindy’s, protected her identity. It was her visible cold eyes that were focused on Peter that made him back off.

Cindy saw Peter visibly flinch as he placed himself between her and Elektra. “Silk, get behind me.”

Cindy arched a brow. “What for?” 

Peter pointed his chin to Elektra. “She’s dangerous, aren’t your spider senses tingling?”

Cindy’s gaze bounced from Elektra and Peter before she burst into a fit of giggles.  “Huhu, no. Sensei, what are you doing here?” The spider silk covered girl turned to the female ninja.

There was a certain sadness that filled the room, a sadness so heavy even Peter felt it. “Phoenix would have wanted me to keep an eye on you, that’s what I’ve been doing for the last two nights since you’ve been busy playing hero with spidey boy there.”

Cindy fell silent, her eyes misting and Elektra walked up to, embracing her in a hug. 

Peter looked rather surprised and asked, “Do you know each-other?”

Stepping back from each other, Elektra let Cindy introduce her to the young man. “This is my and Phoenix’s sensei. She taught us how to fight.”

“Ah.” Peter looked at Elektra as if she was a viper or something even more venomous.

Elektra just shook her head and said urgently. “Less talking, spiderboy, call the police and an ambulance. Silk, take the flight harness off the man.”

“Yes sensei.” Cindy slightly bowed her head.

Spinning on her heel, she briskly walked to the battered and bloodied man, crouched at his side and began stripping him of the suit he wore. It was kept together on him with a lot of leather and metal harness. Three minutes later, Cindy took the piece of tech and brought it to Elektra.

Cindy presented the suit to Elektra who took it. “What are we going to do with it?” Her brown eyes focusing on the wingsuit, Elektra said absently, “Keep it, for when Jean comes back.”

This carefree little sentence punched a hole in Cindy’s heart that made her look in surprise at her combat tutor. Cindy was consumed by fear at the possibility of never seeing Jean again, which was the sole reason she had been roaming at night with Peter, taking down criminals and asking for information about her girlfriend’s abduction. To no avail as none of the petty criminals or crime families in the Queens knew about what happened.

She hadn’t given up yet, but she was getting there. But now, here was Elektra having no doubt about Jean coming back. “You are so sure of that, Sensei…”

Elektra looked Cindy in the eyes, her own brimming with confidence. “I trained her, and she has copied everything I know about my craft; I believe in her.”

“I-I do too.” Cindy stuttered.

Did she? Each time Jean spoke about the man after her, she depicted him to be extremely scary and evil. Would her girlfriend be able to come back? And if she did, would she be the same girl she loved? Cindy looked down at her hands and felt fury that she would never have thought that she was able to feel before. *How dare he? If I find that man I will do more than some damage.*

Elektra’s hand landed comfortably on Cindy’s shoulder. “Then don’t be too down and be more careful if you intend to go out at night and fight crime. You almost killed that man tonight.”

Cindy felt vindicated when she heard Elektra; she didn’t care much about this guy, after all birdman was a killer. He should understand that some other people might want to kill him too. She opened her mouth, ready to defend her reasons, “But-”

“No buts, I would have said the same to Jean. Killing is easy, but would you have been able to handle taking a life? We will never know, and I don’t expect you to know before you are mentally ready to pay that price, is that clear?” Elektra scowled,  her voice brokering no arguments.

They stared at each other for over a minute before Cindy broke down first and gritted her teeth with her fists tightly closed. “Yes… sensei.”

Six minutes later, Cindy and Elektra were on the roof of B&T Electronics, overlooking the ambulance as they loaded Mister Gregory Bestman the owner of that particular enterprise toward the nearest hospital, his gunshot wound was critical. As for the Birdman, who was Mister Adrian Toomes he was being arrested and brought-in personally by Captain Stacy in his squad car.

Peter was hanging under the light sign of the building, making it seem that it was him that was responsible for stopping Toomes. But Cindy knew that news of her existence and willingness to fight crime would sooner than later spread all over the city, she was going to be ready for that attention. 

 

# # #

 

November 19th, 1996
Midtown High
12:04 PM

It was lunchtime and Jessica was being a bother. Cindy was on her last straw.  The pink haired girl always asked her if she was okay. Things were different when Jean wasn’t here to glue her friends all together; Jessica had reverted to being more rude, Gwen and Peter had retreated to isolate themselves and Patsy restored to being mute. 

The weather was grey and windy, so it had forced the group of friends to stay indoors for lunch time. The subdued mood was getting to everyone, Cindy more than ever.

*This is getting ridiculous.* Cindy slapped her hand on the table’s surface and everyone looked at her. Gwen was the first to ask a question. “Abusing the furniture, Moon?”

Cindy ignored the obvious barb. “What’s gotten into you all?”

“Jean…” Patsy mumbled, her eyes shining ever so slightly. She looked down, returning to her food, eating almost… mechanically.

The youngest among them had been behaving strangely since Jean disappeared. Her easy smile had faded away and she had become a bit more skittish. The silence was deafening around the table. Everyone had demanded an explanation when they’d heard of Jean’s kidnapping. Cindy and Jessica had felt compelled to give an accurate story of why she had been targeted; some powered mad scientist guy wanted Jean for her powers and had been targeting her since she was a child until now when he had finally succeeded.

Gwen and Peter had nothing to say to that at the time but they looked upset. Patsy had just cried the whole time; then Peter decided to look for her at night and Cindy decided to follow and help him.

Cindy sighed wearily. She had never thought that she would fight to keep this group together. Then she looked at everyone around the table and spoke with as much eloquence she could, “I know Jean isn’t here. But do you think she will be happy that the group of friends she put together broke apart in her absence?”

For the first time Cindy saw Gwen looking... ashamed? Was it truly that? Or had she given up? Then Cindy remembered that Gwen was the daughter of a police officer and that kidnappings like Jean’s often went unresolved. The victim was never heard from again. Cindy would never give up, though. Elektra herself was sure that her first student would come back.

“When she comes back, she’s gonna smack you.” Patsy’s voice surprised everyone.

Cindy was happy that the other redhead of their group had finally spoken. Lately, she’d been really worried about her. But of course someone had to rain on her parade and ruin the moment.

“If.” Peter added with a neutral face.

Jessica and Patsy glared at him; for once it wasn’t Cindy who snapped at him for being a Debbie Downer, but Patsy. “Shut up Peter, she will come back. She has to.”

He looked at Patsy patronizingly. “You know the statistics about kidnapping, 48 hours is…”

Patsy rose from her seat and shucked her plastic fork at him. “I said shut up, she will come back.”

Peter simply moved his head on the side and avoided the projectile. Everyone in the cafeteria was watching the show they were putting on. News of Jean being snatched on her way home had spread like wildfire and an AMBER alert was released just a few days ago. AMBER was an acronym for America’s Missing: Broadcast Emergency Response. The alert was named after Amber Hagerman, a 9-year-old girl abducted and murdered in Arlington, Texas, in 1995. Since then, the system had been implemented nationwide.

Jessica took her sister’s hand and attempted to calm down. “Hey, Patsy. Sis, calm down, don’t say anything you can’t take back okay?” Jessica hoped that Patsy would let it go; she was kind of shy but when she got angry it was hard to stop her.

Patsy kept glaring at Peter who looked impassively at her, a dangerous smile playing on her lips and everyone was surprised when venomous-like words spilled out of them. “He was never her friend anyway. Always thinking he was in competition with her for Gwen. What an ingrate, after everything she did for him.”

Gwen gaped at Patsy, and as for Cindy, she wasn’t surprised. Peter kind of came across like an asshole when he spouted things like he just did.

“Well, I see that tempers are running hot…” Cindy mumbled.

Jessica, having heard Cindy, sighed heavily and stood up, once again she was going to try to be the voice of reason for everyone at this table. It wasn’t going to be easy. “Everyone, can’t you just chill? Pete, keep your opinion to yourself if you cannot read the mood; anyway you don’t know Jean like we do. She will come back.”

Gwen seemed to understand that Peter wasn’t welcome at the table for now. Not with Patsy and Cindy in that kind of mood and decided that discretion was the best part of valor. She glanced at her watch and said, “Come Peter. It’s going to be the end of lunchtime soon anyway.”

“But-” Peter was going to argue but she pulled him away from the table, and he just about grasped his backpack straps. 

Jessica then turned to Cindy and sat as she said, “Hey Cindy, I know you’re trying your best to hold us together; but you were kind of heavy handed there.”

Cindy’s cheeks reddened, she was clearly not made for this touchy feely stuff. “I-I just want her to find everything she left like it was. Jess, you know she will need us when she gets back.”

Jessica chuckled sadly. “So that’s why. You can’t force people to get along.”

The asian girl looked at the pink haired hellion. “Jean can. It’s like she’s using magic to glue us all together.”

“Jean is Jean, you are you.” Patsy said. “Don’t try to mimic her, she likes you for who you are.”

Cindy found it rich that Jean’s number one fangirl was lecturing her about not mimicking her girlfriend, but she let it pass, because she understood the underlying message she wanted to tell her.

“Well said!” Jessica nodded, slapped the table and returned to eating her home cooked lunch. 

After that the cafeteria slowly emptied, the girls went to their respective classes. Cindy hoped that what happened between the gang right now wasn’t going to stop them from being friends again. *Jean I’m doing what I can, can’t you hurry up and come back to us? Back to me?*

Days passed and it wasn’t until December that news about her girlfriend would reach her.

 

# # #

(Charles Xavier)

X-Mansion
December 14th, 1996
08:05 AM

Charles Xavier was in his office, reading the news from different newspapers from all over the USA. He had a feeling, a sense of awareness, that today wouldn’t be a good day. It was reinforced by this  sense of foreboding in the air gnawing at him. The news had been slowly worsening as of late. Clinton had been reelected last month, and it was bad for the Republican party. As if it wasn't bad enough, the man kept doing things such as this Freedom of Information Act of his, intended to make U.S. government agencies’ functions more transparent so that the American public could more easily identify problems in government functioning and put pressure on Congress, agency officials, and the president to address them.

His old friends in the CIA and DOD had not been happy since. The light on his answering machine blinked, altering him he hadn’t checked his voicemail. Charles removed his glasses, frowning. Then he pressed the playback button, curious as to who might have contacted him this early in the morning.

You have one new message!

After the automated message from the machine, the familiar voice of an immortal English mutant was heard, “Charles! My dear, DEAR friend! I know technically I’m supposed to be completely blank in regards to our “secret arrangement” in that I continue my work in collecting Mutant Data for the benefit of some BIG plan you and Magneto spent years in the prepping for… But, I’ve actually been able to recall it for quite some time!”

Charles’ eyes widened, quickly examining his surroundings to ensure no one else had heard the message. He sensed no one near the door. The message continued on, not caring about his feelings at all. In the background of Mister Sinister’s call, there were sounds of combat, men crying out and stone grumbling.

“Years in fact,” The voice of the man was smug. “thanks to a previous Me being replaced by another previous Me, who remembered our short time together. Now, the reason I’ve decided to make this revelation, this little call, is because I’ve recently got myself an early christmas present.”

Sinister stopped here for effect, screeching and weapons’ fire could be heard at that moment. Charles was slowly understanding who Sinister was talking about. It had been thirty-four days since Jean Grey disappeared. John Grey had also called him to find out if there was anything he could do to save his daughter. Charles had scoured the world with Cerebro but found nothing; though he had suspected Weapon Plus or one of the groups who experimented on his kind to be responsible.

But Nathaniel having an interest in the girl was suddenly terrible news.

Sinister’s british accent was more prevalent as he seemed to panic at that moment. “A reality warping mutual acquaintance of ours, and I just want to offer a sign of trust to make sure you haven’t decided to cancel our arrangement and throw me under the bus… you haven’t, have you?!”

Crashes and explosions prevented Charles from hearing most of the message until he could hear what Sinister was getting at. “Because she’s tearing apart my base and killing my people left, right and center! She’s clearly more powerful than I had expected. How did you not know that she could lift mountains with her mind when you met her? BLOODY MOUNTAINS!”

The roar and cacophony came to a stop and Sinister continued, his tone ringing with finality. “Oh, she has killed everyone already, it’s my turn now, good bye.”

Then the answering machine stopped, leaving Charles frozen in complete shock.  With a trembling hand, he opened the drawer of his desk and retrieved the special communicator that Peggy had given him. The message was clearly implicating him with Sinister. A monster who had been roaming since before the first World War. His sense of ethics and his personal friendship weighed hard on his psyche, so he couldn’t just not act- at least, not this time.

This kind of thing had a way of getting out, he couldn’t just ignore it. Even though he understood that Jean Grey was tearing apart Sinister’s base and in the process of escaping, if she learned that he had done nothing he could lose a potential ally in her too. *But then the utopia plan might get scraped too.*

After deliberating for another five minutes, Charles pressed the call button of the communicator and the wearied voice of Peggy Carter could be heard. “Charles, what can I do for you?”

He had seen how resolved Peggy Carter was in having Jean Grey back when she had come mid November, seeking his help. He had been surprised to find out that Jean Grey was hired as a consultant for SHIELD and that was because she had followed him to discover that there was a powerful unbound telepath in her vicinity with less ethics than him and willing to work with SHIELD. Charles had been disapproving all the while, and still, the protection of SHIELD hadn’t been enough and Jean Grey was taken, by other mutants.

Now Charles understood that Sinister’s own agents had captured the girl and he himself was now paying for it.

Charles’ heart was beating fast as he spoke, “Pegs… I just received a message and… I think I know who has Miss Grey. Could you come to the mansion?”

Silence. Then, in a hurried tone, she answered, “I will be there in an hour, prepare the helipad.” With that, she hung up abruptly.

“Certainly.” Charles said.

Just like he thought, today was a bad day. It was a day he’d lose a friend.

 

# # #

(Erik M. Lehnsherr)

X-Mansion
10:15 AM

Magneto needed answers- answers that he’d find in the house of the man he viewed as a friend, despite their diametrically opposed views on how mutants should interact with the flat scans. As he flew into the skies of the county of Westchester, the Leader of the Brotherhood recalled how he received a message on his voicemail from the one he hated the most. He had thought that it was a ploy to sow division between Charles and him, however the inclusion of Jean Grey who had been snatched up by a mutant group, made him think that this was genuine.

“Charles, did you betray me?” Magneto’s red steel gauntlet rippled thanks to his magnetic power spiraling briefly out of control but he quickly managed to calm himself down. Magneto knew the address by heart already; the place where Charles was striving to make his dream come true. Greymalkin Ln, Westchester County 1407, North Salem, NY 10560. Magneto stopped over the big three storied mansion and watched as the youth in the current roster of this institute of Charles were gallivanting around.

He recognized some of them from their constant battles with some of his own junior team in Bayville. The children were straining the bounds of his patience because of that, always threatening to reveal their races and abilities too soon. Fortunately, Erik could count on Charles to make everyone forget.

Erik slowly descended toward the lawn near the entrance of the mansion. When the kids saw him, some stepped back, wary, while the others halted completely. A brunette boy wearing a blue shirt and brown pants walked up to Erik, the distinctive ruby colored lens of his sunglasses permitted him to identify Scott Summers, the pseudo leader of this ragtag team of misfits.

“You are on private property.” The boy said firmly.

Erik looked at the boy trying to portray manliness and chuckled darkly. “I know, boy.”

Summers scowled at the condescension in the man’s voice but his wariness grew. Erik saw his hand twitch. *But it is too late for that.*

“Who are you?” The boy asked, getting into a ready  stance.

“Hmm, strange. So Charles didn’t speak about me to his new batch of students? He must not think much of you.” He didn’t anticipate this. Was Charles still playing his games? Keeping secrets from his own troops? Erik didn’t like what his friend had been doing. His son and all the members of his powered group knew who he was, an army should after all have a clear chain of command.

They also knew who the X-Men were, their numbers, their HQ and the resources they could call upon. *Oh, Charles, you are raising blind fanatics.*

The boy scowled. “You-”

RAAAARGH!!! Magneto nonchalantly raised a hand and stopped the lunging clawed Logan in midair with his magnetic power. He had felt the man with the metallic skeleton coming from behind him. *The man hasn’t changed at all, always attacking like a crazed beast.*

“Logan, still as wild I see.” Erik intoned aloud.

The clear sky darkened suddenly as storm clouds gathered and a gorgeous ebony skinned woman in a tight outfit made of blue and gold spandex descended from the sky. It was like a goddess had decided to grace them the honor of gazing upon her beauty. Lightning gathered in her hand and she threw bolts at him; the boy, Summers threw himself to the right, while Magneto didn’t move at all, using his powers to ground the lightning all around him by magnetising different objects in the garden. The arcs bent and carried on through the objects and eventually reached the ground, exploding this little patch of earth and creating craters.

“So much potential squandered, Ororo.” Erik commented, looking wistfully at the beautiful woman, her white mane of hair flowed like waves as the wind picked up.

The storm goddess landed on the lawn, glaring daggers at Erik. “That’s Storm to you, Magneto.”

Erik graced her with his most dashing smile. “Oh my, you are still mad about that little incident from the last time, huh?”

“Why are you here?” Storm spat, her glare only sharper.

“I’ve come to speak with Charles about something, of course.”

A blue eyed and blonde haired young woman placed herself behind Storm and her body shone with intense yellow and orange light that radiated tremendous heat. Her blonde hair seemed ablaze with fiery light. Another student with an ice form tried to make Logan descend, Magneto let Logan fall on his ass; the man clearly wanted to go another round but a glare from Storm cowed him.

Storm’s eyes looked unfocused for an instant, a clear sign that she was now speaking with Charles through telepathy. He didn’t understand how they could let the man enter their minds so easily, they should be more wary, if what Sinister implied in his message was true, Charles wasn’t as ethical as he wanted everyone to believe.

“The professor will receive you.” Storm’s tone was full of exasperation.

Erik smiled at her. “Excellent.”

“Follow me…” Her heels clicked together and the two entered the mansion, leaving the students murming their questions, asking who that man was, and how powerful was he to toy with Logan and their teacher Ororo.

 

# # #

 

“This place hasn’t changed a lot, only minimal renovations were made.”

Erik glanced left and right, noting how the decorations seemed to be the same from the last time he had been here with the former graduates- before Charles and him disagreed most violently on what to do with Wanda, his daughter, some years ago.

“The professor wants to keep the homey feeling of this place, let the students think of it as a home away from home.” Storm informed the Brotherhood leader.

Magneto stopped before a painting. A sailing boat under the storm, rocking on the waves. “The Storm on the Sea of Galilee. Supposed to have been lost in 1990, painted by Rembrandt van Rijn in 1633.” The helmeted man said with quiet reverence.

He turned to Storm who eyed him with suspicion. “When did you find it?”

She stared at him for a second before giving him the information he desired. “We came across and helped in the arrest of the thief and Charles bought it for 70 million from the original owner. It has sentimental value for him and us, it was the last time the previous students worked together.”

Erik let his cape cover his arms and nodded at Storm. “Students who have now scattered all over the world spreading Charles’ message to any mutant they come across, is Banshee still thinking he is so funny?”

Storm harrumphed and crossed her arms over her ample chest. “Sean works at Interpol. By the way, he is looking for you, I might give him a call later.”

Erik slightly bowed, and with a smile in his voice, said, “Please do, it is your prerogative after all.”

Storm rolled her eyes and then they resumed their path toward Charles’ office which was located on the third floor. Five minutes later, Erik was finally before the office’s door and Storm opened it for him. He wasn’t surprised to find Elizabeth Margareth Carter seated before Charles.

The white haired but well preserved woman turned her eyes on Erik, then back to Charles. “Another one of your well kept secrets Charles? Consorting with a known terrorist?”

Erik had always liked the no-nonsense woman. His presence didn’t phase her in the slightest. With pleasure, Erik almost purred as he addressed her, “Elizabeth.”

Peggy glared at him, and firmly stated, “That’s Director Carter to you, Erik.”

The helmed man chuckled.  “I get that a lot lately.”

He walked toward the empty seat near Peggy’s chair and sat with panache, ensuring he wasn’t sitting on his cape.

Peggy mumbled, “As you should.”

Erik heard her mumbled words, and snickered.  “What a hard woman you are, you still haven’t softened since the last time we saw each other. Maybe we could fix that by going to share some drinks later?”

Scratching the surface of the wooden armrest on her chair with her nail, Peggy was grimacing, looking like someone had just placed coals in his socks. The SHIELD director blamed him for her bad luck and said clearly, “This is your fault too, Charles! I am being hit on by Magneto.”

*Any man of our generation would.* Erik thought.

Charles heaved a sigh and spoke in an attempt to defuse the situation between his two guests. “Erik, could you please stop creating problems, and tell me why you are here today?”

Magneto raised his hand and glared at the man who claimed to be his friend. “Oh, I’m creating problems?” His voice was thick with sarcasm. Erik crossed his legs and glared, continuing, “Charles, I received a call from a certain immortal British mutant some hours ago and he told me that you and I have some kind of plan that asked for his expertise and that is why we are not raiding each of his bases wherever they are. He must be dead by the way, Jean Grey will have killed him for capturing her.”

Charles was visibly sweating, looking between two of his old friends. Peggy wasn’t showing it but this discourse from Erik made her reevaluate him. After reigning in her feelings of disgust, Peggy leaned back in her seat and asked the two men, her expression full of seriousness, “Who is he? And is Jean alright? And since when do you deal with criminals, Charles?”

“Sometimes I am forced to deal with things that go beyond what my resources can provide. I am sure that as the director of a spy agency you understand me, Peggy.”

She could certainly understand, Erik too; better than anyone in this room in fact. He had to resort to connections he made in the underworld to keep his own bases stocked, and rely on Mystique’s fortune to keep his operations running. And still it smarted, that he wasn’t able to provide normally for his troops. Maybe he should listen to Mystique- she’d told him his powers had function beyond combat and building things.

Peggy finally nodded, her arms rested on the sides of the chair, shaking with nervous energy. “This… I trust you but the message you promised me to let me listen to. It might change things between us Charles. Jean is important to me, she has been an invaluable help ever since she has entered into my service.”

Charles nodded. “I am aware.”

That was interesting, so Jean worked for Peggy and not SHIELD directly. *The young woman must have negotiated a deal with Peggy, obviously, knowing that she is a powerful telepath she must have leveraged her ability for protection. The more I hear about Miss Grey, the gladder I am for not having forced her recruitment. Despite that, Peggy doesn’t know what the young woman’s goals are and mustn’t understand the scope of Jean’s power- information is power to telepath.*

Magneto chose to interrupt again. “And there’s also the fact that Charles might have messed with my memories, as I don’t recall anything about any plan Sinister was alluding to.” His words portrayed his displeasure clearly. 

Charles had the decency to look sheepish. Out of nowhere, Peggy laughed out loud. “So that’s his name? Sinister? Is he some kind of James Bond villain? I hate those.”

Erik nodded, Sinister was in some ways akin to a James Bond villain, his bases kept being underground and his cloned normal personnel all wore silly uniforms and used futuristic energy weapons and most of them had bad aim. The powered ones weren’t so, though. “Nathaniel Essex, or better known in our circles as Mister Sinister. Genius Geneticist and powerful mutant in his own right, he is immortal, has super strength and a durable body, telepathy and a regeneration factor almost rivaling Logan’s.”

Charles continued, “He is also able to clone himself, normal humans and mutants. Oh. I should have linked the dots when you asked me about all those brain dead clones turning in Annandale-on-Hudson.”

Peggy took a notepad from her jacket pocket and began to slowly take notes.

The men continued to share everything they knew about Sinister. “You never know if you are eliminating the real Sinister, he is worse than Hydra was, you can never get him.” Erik chuckled, then continued. “As a matter of fact Sinister is allied with the remnants of Hydra. I wouldn’t be surprised if they share technology and technical knowhow.”

Hydra, a monolithic organization that had been around for several millennia in various forms, its latest and most known incarnation was created out of the remnants of Nazi Germany and Imperial Japan. It’s ideology had changed over the decades, but Hydra’s methodology had been consistent. Which was one of supremacy and elitism. Erik knew that Baron Von Strucker had survived and became the new leader, completely replacing the Red Skull.

Anyone could become a Hydra plant, now they didn’t care about the previous nazi ideology, they had recently been accepting not only Caucasians and Asians, but also recruits from other racial and ethnic groups such as blacks, mutants, genetic experiments, and the undead… *Those damn vampires should know their place.*

Peggy finished writing and looked at Erik who suddenly wished to have a drink. “Is that all?”

Putting on his most dashing smile, the helmeted man smoothly said, “There’s so much that I could tell you, Director Carter. But that information might cost you.”

The director looked at the man with disdain. “Your price?”

“Dinner with me, of course.” His answer was instant, needing no pause to contemplate. 

It was as if the atmosphere froze over in the room. Peggy clenched her jaw and  said in a low intonation, that brokered no doubt of what she thought of him, “Go to hell, Lehnsherr.”

“Charles you better play that tape, now.” Peggy urged the bald professor.

“Right away, Peggy.” Charles nodded and then pushed the playback button on his answering machine.

The message was the same as before, they heard the smug tone of Essex; Erik wanted to rip him a new one as he heard his voice. This was the man that put him on this road, this was one of his most hated enemies. In the background, Erik could hear the sounds of battle and destruction, it seemed that this young miss Grey was giving Essex one hell of a fight. It was satisfying to him to hear the panicked rant of the crazed mad scientist, and as the message finished, the tone of resignation in Essex’s voice as he would clearly face death.

Nonetheless, Erik was surprised. Jean Grey was an omega level mutant and a reality warper at that? He could see it. Peggy looked mystified for a while, her gaze on Charles growing colder, harder, as the seconds passed. “The only reason I am not putting my gun against your temple,Charles is that it would worsen the situation for those under your care. You have been dealing with a man who has terrorized a young girl for years and wanted to do unspeakable things to her. I wish we could have a way to monitor you, but you have the old boys club protecting you, it wouldn’t stick. Frankly, I am disappointed in you.”

Charles stayed mum, but his downcast eyes and tightened fists told a story to Erik. Charles liked to conform to the appearances of a wise man that could do no wrong, but deep down he was as sly as Erik.

“Give me the tape.” Peggy commanded, her tone harbouring no room for any objections.

“Yes.” Charles hurried, removing the tape from his answering machine and sliding it to Peggy over his desk.

The woman stared at him for over a minute after placing the tape in the inner pocket of her jacket. “Do you have anything to say? That you could defend and justify yourself with.”

Charles shook his head. “I feel guilty enough as it is.” The bald man said in a strongly emotive voice.

Peggy harrumphed. “But not ashamed.”

Erik saw that Charles wisely kept silent and decided to weather the storm. But Peggy took it differently, like validation of her new understanding of what Charles Xavier was about.

“Your silence speaks louder than words Charles. I understand why Jean Grey hates you now. I will take my leave.” Peggy turned on her heel, slamming Charles’ office door as she exited. Erik waved his hand and the bugs that Peggy had left under the chair lifted from it; they floated innocently between him and Charles. “What a woman,.I wish I had met her during the war.”

“I have lost a friend today.” Charles lamented, loosening the tie of his black suit.

Erik leaned back in his chair, shooting daggers at his bold friend. “Charles we know you are always at risk of that, you think of yourself as a chessmaster, but you are more of a schemer. Now, answer me truthfully, did you manipulate my memories?”

Charles opted to not lie, simply placing his hand before him and linked them by threading together his fingers, staring into Erik’s eyes. “I did what I had to. The Utopia project is more important than you think, and you wanted to take charge. I couldn’t let that happen.”

Erik understood, but it seemed that there was something more that Charles wasn’t saying. “I see, tell me, why shouldn’t I stop being polite, Charles?”

Charles gazed at Erik with sadness. “Erik whatever I might have done, I am working for the good of our people. I am sure you can understand. You are a dangerous man, smart but clearly blind to see that his action will clearly make the normals demonize us. I-I couldn’t let it happen.”

Erik chuckled, uncrossing his legs. “You are the second person to tell me so, Jean Grey in fact was the first. I like that girl, she has seen through you and your dream. I am happy that she is such a down to earth and savvy young woman.”

Through the window of the office, Erik felt the gathering of numerous vehicles at the entrance of the property. It was time to skedaddle. Peggy must have called in reinforcements to try to take him.

Charles looked surprised by Erik’s admission. “When did you meet her?”

The helmeted man stood up, his cape swishing. “That doesn’t concern you, Charles. I must now take my leave. And Charles?”

At his name, he looked  up to his long time friend and waited for his words with baited breath. 

Erik smiled and with a predatory expression said, “If you go into my head and mess with it again I will burn everything you hold dear, my friend.”

Charles nodded. “Understood.”

Erik turned, walking to the door at a brisk pace, not wanting to be caught by Peggy’s task force. As Magneto, Erik was the target of many groups with different interests and he couldn’t permit himself to be captured, never again.

“Well at least he didn’t slam the door.” Charles said to no one in particular. 

 

# # #

 

Back with Jean…

 

I felt myself floating, the sensation strangely soothing. Then, suddenly everything that had happened to me came back in a flash of memories. Panicking, I tried to move, to open my eyes, and I did. I was in some sort of pod with green liquid and cables all over my body and a certain intimate place. I couldn’t use my powers, they didn’t react like I wanted to.

[Happiness: Back you are!] The familiar mind voice of my second best friend rang in my head.

*Goldie! Girl, where are we?* I was floating in green liquid and I could see the room outside but it was all one blurred image to me.  

[Rage, Anger: The bad man took us.] Goldie informed me, showing me Sinister.

My heartbeat spiked. Wow okay that was bad news, Sinister has us. *I see, why can’t I move?*

[Sadness, Anger: He broke things.]

Image and feelings were transmitted to me, Sinister breaking my back when I was given to him. A dark and heady feeling of anger threatened to take me over, but I didn’t let it. I channeled it into one purpose- get better and go on a killing spree with no holds barred. *Goldie, can you do anything about it?*

[Uncertainty: I can. Sustenance needed. But leave, I must, to find it.]

This was good news. *You have my permission to leave, oh and is that sustenance people?*

I recalled what Venom did to people and what happened after he ate them.

[Truthful: Yes]

I smiled or at least tried to, with the mask on my mouth. *Goldie, eat as much as you can, but stay stealthy. Eat those motherfuckers, leave the bad man to me though, alright?*

Golden goo oozed out of my body and floated to the ceiling of the pod and escaped it through some apertures I wasn’t able to see. Then Goldie was outside and took the form of a  golden snake that slithered across the floor.

*Go Goldie, go.*

 

# # #

(Goldie)

 

Somewhere in Africa
Sinister’s Base
December 7th, 1996

She slithered through the base's air ducts, ensuring she was silent and stealthy all the while being observant.  She noted the different levels she passed through, the bad man's lair was big and cavernous, if Goldie knew her host as well as she did right now, she would transform this place into a tomb in her quest for vengeance.Who could begrudge her when she had been treated like cattle, this bad man harvesting her blood in large doses. Fortunately, she could do something about it and each time her Jean-host’s blood was exposed to oxygen from outside, the DNA became corrupted.

Through the maze of stone and steel, a lot of his minions roamed in groups within the corridors and gathering places. Goldie was despairing as she wanted to follow the orders of her Jean-host, she needed to be stealthy like a tiger. It wasn't until night, when half the base went to sleep and she’d found an isolated human male cooking in the kitchens, that she struck.

When the man began to turn to grab more potatoes to peel, Goldie wrapped herself around him, knocking knives and utensils on the ground. Screams left him until l she closed his airways. The man struggled and whimpered even more as Goldie slowly covered his entire body with her own form and began to physically consume him from the inside-out, slowly draining his vital fluids. As the man's body slowly disappeared from within her, Goldie didn't feel full, no she received barely any sustenance from the man. He was a clone- a fake- and Goldie needed more essences to heal her perfect host. 

She repeated this endeavor nine times before having a modicum of what she needed. They had all tasted bland, as though she was eating  one of those vegetarian dishes Jean-host's progenitor fed her sometime. An opportunity to fill herself fully presented itself an hour later when she   saw a new target who had come to take sustenance in the kitchen. She followed him and his appearance jostled memories and then suddenly she couldn't pass such a boon from the fates.

As the man installed himself in one of the private quarters in the sub-basement of the base, Goldie blended with the stone, her golden luster dulling to grey and stuck to the wall behind. Goldie observed the man who had captured her Jean-host; he was watching something on one of the portable screens that everyone used in that place. Goldie slowly took on her humanoid form and crept up behind him, using the abilities she’d adapted from her Host's mate and sent a powerful bolt of electricity directly to the nape of the bald man’s neck. 

He seized and then fell forward face first and crushed the low table. Glee and the sweet feeling of revenge washed through her in waves. The man was still alive and Goldie was going to enjoy this. She planned to take her time eating this… meal. She morphed her head to create a mouth and long jaw; scary teeth appeared one by one and a long pink tongue licked the bald man's face.

“Fucked, you should have not, with Goldie.”

She swallowed him slowly, head first, though her feminine humanoid form didn't even bulge. With loud crunches, Goldie began masticating, the man must have awakened as her form slightly distorted,  but she held on and didn't let him escape and finally there was no struggling inside herself. 

“Delicious. Unlike those fake humans.” Goldie smirked, beginning to  analyze his DNA, the man seemed to have a degree of extra-dimensional properties. That was interesting, she decided to teach her Jean-host about her being able to replicate powers from other powered beings, the one she just obtained might make her happy. From what she could guess, this man had been able to teleport both himself and a certain amount of additional mass over a great amount of distance almost instantly.

Goldie willed herself to displace inside the air duct in this room, and in a flash of blue light there she was, Her surface rippled in satisfaction and she began her path back to Jean-host. It took her two hours to find her way back to the bad man's lair, occasionally stealing weapons and ammo and food for Jean.

She arrived in the room Jean-host was in and slithered on the cables of the pod and entered through the interstices of the water pump. Jean-host was asleep, Goldie returned to her home inside her perfect host, slowly loosened herself and filled Jean-host entire body with necessary vitality, essence and proteins. She quickly got to work on healing her host's spine, bones and nerves. 

[Exultation: Soon vengeance will be ours.] Jean’s eyes opened and immediately she felt the satisfaction of her Klyntar friend who transmitted to her the memories of the men she had eaten. A wicked smile came over her when she recognized the man who had bombed the SHIELD armored cars, heard the sensation of his bones crunching under Goldie's teeth and the way she made his power hers. 

Her eyes widened. *Goldie we have to talk, how could you have hidden this from me? How?*

[Apologetic: Now I can tell you.] And tell her she did.

Jean became excited as she learned from her friend that a symbiote was able to  interface with people's genomes and physiology to imprint their unique powers and abilities into itself, granting subsequent hosts access to those powers. She could also insert a power set into other people, she had in her genetic codex. This shocked Jean.

*No wonder there are symbiote poachers… you are all so incredibly powerful. *

That wasn't all, symbiotes functioned as living extradimensional tesseracts, requiring living hosts to anchor them to the fabric of space and time. That was how those hateful Poison and poachers got to them, without a host they couldn't defend themselves. It wasn't so surprising that Goldie could store a lot of things inside her. Goldie felt the resolution of Jean-host as the bare bones of a plan germinated in her mind. *Goldie, you are the key to our escape and… I think about finishing this. We will kill everyone here, I have had enough of having to look behind my back! Are you with me?*

[Acceptance, friendship: We are one.]

 

# # #

(Sinister)

 

Sinister Egypt Base
December 8th, 1996
05:29 AM

Sitting on his throne in his audience room, Nathaniel dismissed the holographic window projected before him. He stared at the portrait of his dear and late wife, Rebecca that hung on the grey stone walls. She was such a beautiful woman, witty and smart; a real socialite, that still took care of assuring herself that he was fed and didn’t spend too many nights researching and brought him happiness.

Nathaniel closed his eyes, trying to recall her beautiful smile, her blissful scent, and the texture of his fingers threading through her silky black hair.Putting his fist against his temple and leaning back in his throne, Nathaniel tried to calm his bubbling mind, but yet again failed and smiled.

He had her! Finally, it took six years but he had bested the Grey girl, though he felt somehow empty. His smile faded, morphing to a frown. Nathaniel should’ve been feeling like he was in heaven right now, but this hollow feeling in his chest didn’t permit him to. The chase was done, the prey was in his power right now, he should’ve been beyond satisfied right now, but  his caution whispered to him that nothing was decided yet.

“Why do I feel so unsettled? She lost, I won! I will make her my tool! I will defile her in body and spirit… and still she has that much power over me?”

Nathaniel’s memories brought him back to the nineteenth century, in 1859 and to that night when the time travelers Cyclops and Phoenix had come to him, trying to make him stray from his birthright, and his meeting with En Sabah Nur, Apocalypse. She was beautiful and powerful, yet a good and kind woman. Phoenix had tried to change him and give him a choice to make him stray from this path, but the death of his Rebecca and his reputation in London’s Royal Society had pushed him to accept the offer of En Sabah Nur.

En Sabah Nur painfully transformed him into an ageless being of extraordinary pallor, using telekinesis in his Alien Ship. He’d ordered him to create a powerful plague that would cull the weak and let the strong rise. Phoenix and Cyclops that Apocalypse had captured escaped and had pleaded with him to not release the plague. 

When Nathaniel had emerged from En Sabah Nur’s machine, he had willingly allowed whatever humanity remained in him to be carved out, all for the sake of science. But unleashing a plague to destroy most of humanity? That was foolish, cruelty for no purpose was ignorance and ignorance was the greatest enemy of science. 

Nathaniel manipulated the plague so that it would affect only Nur himself, but his immune system quickly adapted to it. It only caused the man to go into hibernation and as he slowly went to sleep, En Sabah Nur warned Nathaniel to never forget who had the true power and that when he returned, it would be the dawn of the Age of Apocalypse and Sinister would be his servant.

*Never, I will find a way to kill you!* Nathaniel slammed his fist on his throne’s armrest.

Phoenix and Summers had returned to their own timeline after he caused his master to go back to sleep. He had hoped they could stay and experiment on them to create a mutant of equal power who could defeat En Sabah Nur. He had to settle to trace their lineage and ancestors to find them in the future. Meanwhile he had made alliances with people of likely similar goals and creed to save the world.

He made enemies and friends alike, created his own army, took items from En Sabah Nur’s ship to study the technology inside and became wealthy through the patents and discoveries made by studying them, several fortunes over, but none of it mattered in his eyes. He wanted to be free- free to experiment and enjoy the fruit of his labor, contributing to the cause of homo superior you know.

And it wasn’t before the 80’s that his long wait was rewarded when Summers and Phoenix, whose real name Jean Grey, were born. He had made sure to be hands off with them, to subtly manipulate things only when needed. But in an unforeseen event Jean Grey noticed him after he had attempted to reinforce the programming he was supposed to have done on her when she was but a toddler. It had completely been ineffective!

And that girl! She was completely different from the woman he had met and he couldn’t understand why. She was cocky, abrasive and lethal. She was supposed to have joined Xavier! Been molded by him, but she completely loathed the man and even worse? She was a lesbian! His plan to pair her with Scott Summers completely went down the drain! He needed to combine their genes and create the ultimate offspring.

Nathaniel abruptly stood up and walked to the exit of his audience room taking care to not wrinkle the expensive red carpet with gold threads on the trims. He had tried, really tried, to let nature run its course, Grey and Summers would marry, have children and he’d kidnap their first born and raise him or her. Now he had no choice but to force things, thankfully, he had multiple clones of Summers on base, the only hijink to his plan is that for some reason he couldn’t harvest genetic material from Miss Grey.

And there was also the fact that all his attempts to brainwash her utterly failed. Her mind was like steel, stronger than any other ones he had met previously. It didn’t bode well… It upset him a great deal that his plan to have her as his willing puppet would never unravel. He stopped walking at the door. His brow furrowed. *Was she subtly defending herself? You never knew with powers…* Nathaniel decided to try again, and if he failed once more, he’d be forced to proceed with doing  in vitro fertilization and use the girl’s womb.

Nathaniel smiled, he had nothing but time. The door closed behind him as he walked to his main lab with a pep in his steps.

 

# # #

 

Back with Jean…
December 9th, 1996

I was really getting bored while waiting for Goldie to fix my spine, after I finished reviewing things Otto and the scientists had come up with from my stolen knowledge and skills. I tried finding entertainment in quantum string theories. String theory was a broad and varied subject that attempted to address a number of deep questions of fundamental physics. It had been applied to a variety of problems in black hole physics, early universe cosmology, nuclear physics, and condensed matter physics, and it had stimulated a number of major developments in pure mathematics.

Then that gave me a headache when my mind followed the lead of the current known theories and instantly went to Faster Than Light travel and Quantum communication. I realized that it also led to what I called hyperspace theory and the navigation of its layers and how I would break the barrier between dimensions to open a stable hyperspace window. This would allow a vessel to enter subspace and achieve faster-than-light velocities relative to real space while traveling at sublight speeds within its own layer of subspace.

I stopped there; it was scary what my mind conjured up when I was sufficiently bored. I just wanted to test the knowledge and use the skills in applied mathematics and chaos theory I had pilfered. My hands itched to find a damn blackboard and take notes to write down formulas, but I made do with my internal diary for now.

I was intrigued by what Goldie was  doing to my body. As an escape, I began entering in deep meditation just like sensei had taught me. Emily helped by doing the same as me and we quickly found balance, I was the yang, she was the yin and vice versa. I sank deep inside myself and was able to feel the repairs Goldie was doing to my back and more precisely on my spine and spinal cord.

Extra-dimensional tesseract symbiotes were able to fix or cure what ailed their host, by replacing some of the elements that didn’t work in their body, like failing organs or creating new legs with part of themselves. Goldie decided to not do any of that and directly take what was damaged and reconstruct it, thanks to my microkinesis that she copied, she was able to do just that and as I focused more my vision changed and I was able to see some kind of golden energy… being exchanged and suffusing my body.

*What the hell is that?*

It circulated into my body through some kind of channels. I knew the human body in and out because of how much control my TK gave me over it, but this was the first time I was seeing those arteries- and were those fucking meridians? Oh shit, please don’t let this become a chinese cultivation novel Emily told me about, I don’t want to become a bullshit person like those people. Those channels went through my organs and brain.

It was beautiful in a way, the way the energy slowly circulated and helped in fixing what was broken. Goldie was directly using my life force after feeding me the essence? Life force? Of the people she had eaten. It didn’t horrify me, what I let her do, all those clones and people on base were my enemies. As an afterthought I tried to touch the golden energy but it was like attempting to grasp air. It was weird, different from psionic or cosmic energy that had a more physical aspect to it, this energy was… this Chi, this was life force, spiritual energy. There was a trick to harness it. I was kinda bored and decided to continue to try. I don’t know how long I spent trying but I finally got the trick by spreading my awareness all over my body and with an act of will, touch my Chi. It felt strange, it was as if I had poked my and Emily’s own soul.

[Irritated: Please, stop that. Working, I am.]

*Oops, sorry.* I apologise, then dozing off to let Goldie complete her task. When I came to consciousness again, Goldie was still hard at work. I’d asked her on the progress and she informed me that the operation was almost complete. I deduced that she wasn’t simply fixing but modifying bone structure, making my bones stronger somehow. I didn’t yell at her, but she could have asked. Goldie was just like me- actions first, apologies later. 

I was finally understanding why she was saying we are one, she didn’t like being squishy so she made some change. *You could have asked, Goldie.*

[Worried: Thank me later, you will.]

*Don’t be sassy with me young lady!* I warned her; she was being bad.

I felt how smug she was as she continued to work. But she understood that I wouldn’t let the matter rest even if she ignored me. Though she still kissed me mentally as if to reassure me of her intention. Unable to shrug I still did it in my mind and got back to try Chi manipulation. With Goldie working on me, I tried to not touch my Chi but decided to see how everything worked. 

To help me in this task, I decided to tap into my symbiotes racial memories, Goldie seemed to intrinsically understand how life energy worked and could be used. The knowledge was extensive and Goldie didn’t limit it, giving me everything I could conceptually understand. When Emily and I delved into our body this time, I understood what I was seeing.

Goldie was basically transmuting my bones with life energy to make them denser, she also reinforced my muscles into an explosive mix of power and stamina, she had cut off my ability to feel pain, that was why I wasn’t suffering as she worked on me.

*Fascinating.*

Following the meridians linking my head, heart, lung, arms and hands, intestine, feet, I noticed how the Chi accumulated in some kind of energy center in my lower belly. The Chi focused here, then it surged and went into another energy center at the level of the heart. The same thing happened again between my eyebrows. 

Goldie’s memories told me that everything could be even more efficient if I accumulated more Chi from outside and refined it to unlock those channels and all my energy centers. 

<This is cultivation alright.> Emily snarked.

I couldn’t start when Goldie was still working as it could interrupt what she was doing which might be fatal. Just looking how the energy worked soothed me and slowly as I focused I began sending my awareness outward, and sure enough, Chi was everywhere. The trick to touch it and pull it into me wasn’t complicated, the place seemed to be filled with outside Chi anyway, so I did it. 

I noticed how murky it was compared to the energy inside my body, the knowledge of Goldie showed me how to refine it. I had to make it circulate in my first energy center, in my lower belly and send the impurities outside. It was hard at first, the energy didn’t want to separate, it was rocky and earthy in nature, but I imagined it going through a filter and it separated the rock like energy and took the pure Chi inside of me, adding it to my store.

I don’t know how long it took me but I felt as if something was breaking and before I could stop it did. The Chi was like a maelstrom inside of me, it settled and I noticed how the Chi inside me was stronger.

<Welp, Jeanie you just broke through.> Emily explained what I’ve just gone through.

I shuddered. *Hng, please stop, I am not a Cultivator!*

Emily laughed, thinking I was being ridiculous. <But you’ll do it again, you got some channels cleared and your first dantian unlocked.>

It was just like she said, my Klyntar’s knowledge was exactly describing the process as she did. *How do you know all this?!*

<I was a bored mom and reading tons of chinese cultivation shit. Now, continue.> Jean saw Emily shrug in her mindscape and return to her meditation.

[Affirmation: More essence! More power!] Goldie intervened, she suddenly had more energy to work with and finish Jean’s tune up.

Sigh.*I was getting bored anyway.*

It took time but I cleared my channels that became thicker and denser, allowing me to circulate more energy. I unlocked my second energy center near my heart. A surge of vitality spread throughout my body and my Chi heavier in my body, it had gained substance instead of being that wispy golden energy. Almost like a liquid. I felt stronger. Healthier.

<Only one left. Goldie is almost done too. The third one, I think it’s going to be a lot tougher; the area between the eyebrows is often depicted as the third eye. We may be able to see some supernatural stuff if you unlock it.>

That was disturbing, I was already seeing weird stuff in people’s mind; but seeing the supernatural was kind of spooky. There’s been something bothering me since I started that cultivation thing and I asked aloud to Emily, *You know… aren’t we going too fast with that stuff? I mean shouldn’t it take years for us to be able to do shit like that?*

Emily stiffened, scowled and sent her awareness outside of us. She could do everything I could, despite believing my body didn’t belong to her, too- we shared everything. Since I gained awareness as a toddler she had always been here. 

Emily took in our surrounding and focused on how the Chi outside flowed.<There’s an abundance of Chi around us, this shouldn’t be possible but I feel like we are being helped.>

I understood what she was saying. There should’ve been  less and less energy as we took it all in, but that wasn’t happening. *Someone is boosting us!*

I landed in my mindscape and looked at Emily who sighed heavily and sat on the sofa of the representation of my home in Annandale-on-Hudson. <There’s only one thing able to mess with life energy that we know off.>

Stepping back, I couldn’t prevent the fear that creeped up on me. I I didn’t like where my mind was taking me. *Em, please don’t scare me like that.*

Emily walked up to me, placing her hands on my shoulders, levelling me with a glare. <Stop trying to not see it! You know she’s been manipulating our lives since Annie died. She’s been sitting in the astral plane watching us, helping or letting us not… realize some shits.>

My memories instantly came on the fact that I suddenly had the cosmic equivalent of pyrokinesis, me able to see life force without meaning to train for it like Elektra or any member of the Chaste would, how people seemed to see me. I wasn’t that scary, I think?

(Very good.) A voice similar to mine, albeit more mellifluous, rang in our mindscape.

I wasn’t surprised that a fiery version of a bird manifested in our mindscape and looked at us too. I was frozen and looking at the bird of fire who stared at us two. Emily immediately placed herself between us.

(I have been observing you, yes.)

Emily is my role model; nothing scared her much. <Why do you want her that badly? You could easily find another host.>

The firebird flapped its wings and cocked her head. (Not a perfect one such as you two.)

My eyebrows rose at that, It wasn’t just me she wanted, but Emily, too? Why? This was completely different from what she has been telling me would happen after my powers manifested. 

<Me? But I am a tagalong, this is Jean’s body! I don’t matter.> I noted the sliver of panic buried in her tone. 

Again, it bothered me how she saw herself; she wasn't a nobody to me. She’d saved me, taught me valuable things and allowed me to be free. 

The Phoenix shook its head, pointed a wing at Emily and said, (You are one and the same, I don’t understand why you stay separated. You two should have fused since long ago.)

From the look on Emily’s face, one would think that the Phoenix had struck her.  She’d only calmed down when I grasped her hand in mine. She breathed in, even though she didn't need to and stared at the firebird <Fused?>

I poked Emily who turned to me. *She’s not the first one to say that to us, remember, the Ancient One.*

The firebird nodded and we stared at her. (A really wise woman, that is rare in this backwater galaxy.)

I gaped, *Wow, she's dissing the milky way, Em.*

Emily rolled her eyes. <What did you think would happen? She’s been seeing more advanced civilizations in Kree space or the Andromeda galaxy.>

I glared at the firebird, why did it seem like she was being insulting? I walked up to the bird and raised my chin, holding her gaze fiercely.  *I don’t like it, but just you wait, we will make Earth awesome. Birdy.*

Emily pulled me back and whispered, <Could you respect her and not give her cute names? She can still vaporize us.>

I grinned and shook my head. *No she needs us. We should go back to our cultivation, she’s just gonna do whatever she wants.*

Emily slapped my arm, clearly annoyed with me and crossed her arms over her chest, speaking loudly for Phoenix to hear, <Deal.>

When I turned to Phoenix, I saw her impenetrable expression breaking into a mask of indifference. Was it just me or did the firebird glare at me? Must have been my imagination, yep, totes that. Emily and I attempted to leave our mindscape, but we stood firmly fixed in place.

(You’ll have to fuse to leave, or you’ll die.) And just like that she disappeared in a column of fire.

Okay I didn’t anticipate that; that bird is being vindictive! *Em, what do we do?* I turned to Emily who stood in place with a calculating gaze.

Our bodies could finally move and Emily went to sit on the sofa. <Jean come here.>

I obeyed and sat at her side, at the same time she put an arm around my shoulder and said, <How lucky I am to have something that makes saying goodbye so hard…>

*Em?*

<There is nothing I would not do for those who are really my friends or family. I have no notion of loving people by halves, it is not my nature. When I first awoke in a tiny body and you were here, I began just observing. You were such a little wonder. You reminded me of my own child. You remember? I was always telling you to not do this or that. It wasn’t before you got burned by a hot pot that you finally listened.>

Being this close to Emily for sixteen years had given me insight in how she thought. She didn’t like how the bird forced us to do this, but she took it in stride; there was no hesitation on her part. Telepathy could be a boon, but today it was a curse to me. My vision became blurry, and I wiped my eyes, realizing tears had escaped. 

I lifted my head and looked at the older woman. *Em, please... you… this isn’t the end, you won’t leave me right?* I squeezed her in a hug and she returned the embrace just as tightly. 

She laughed and patted my back. <Leave you? No I’m not, we are going to fuse.>

I pulled away and then glared at her. *I don’t want to lose you, I don’t want to.*

<You are not, I will still be there.> Emily said as she poked my head, then my heart.

*Don’t serve me that sappy bullshit.* I knew that she was sacrificing herself for me, that she thought she didn’t matter, that I should have always been the one at the helm. Scratch that, it’s our body and-

Emily smiled, put a hand on my cheek and I saw her eyes shimmering with tears. <I don’t want you to die, if I must give you everything I am I would do it without hesitation.> She sobbed, wiped tears from her face and tried to laugh them off, but the sound was just choked. 

She didn’t fool anyone, certainly not me. But she tried really hard. <Don’t see it as us parting ways. This is not goodbye. Never say goodbye, because goodbye means going away and going away means forgetting. You won’t forget me, will you?>

There was no way I would; she was more of a big sister to me than Sarah or Julia. Emily had always been here. If she said something then I’d believe it was true as she had always been mostly right. But who would be here to pick me up when I fell, who was going to hug me when loneliness crept in?  It had been her presence that had helped me get through the whole school bullying ordeal. 

No. I needed to grow up, I couldn’t continue to depend on her like this. I wiped at my cheeks.*I owe you more than my life, you are the reason that I am not a half lobotomized drone who answers to the rapist baldy’s wishes. Okay, I will buy that you won’t disappear, but if you do… I will find a way to get you back, you hear me?*

<Crystal, come here baby.> She gave me a dazzling smile, her curly locks tickling my nose as we hugged again. 

I shouted indignantly mid hug, *I am not a baby!*

As she began chuckling in my ear, she gave me the impression she was humoring me. <Yes, yes. Here.>

It was at that moment that we turned into our astral form despite ourselves. Emily’s golden yellow aura shone like the sun was completely different from my ruby red one. Our astral bodies became translucent, then we fell into each other. I understood then that we were fusing and that I too would be subsumed with Emily to become someone new.

As usual, she was right, we were not disappearing, we would be together forever. My thoughts were suddenly blank and I couldn’t think of anything.

 

# # #

 

I opened my eyes. I felt strange, completely different, stronger than ever. My legs and arms finally responded to the orders my brain gave them. Information flowed through my brain, two souls becoming one and forming another whole.

I wasn’t just Jean Grey, I was also Emily. That fact brought a smile to my face; we were still there but in a more complete fashion. What just happened to me was putting into perspective for me what really mattered. When we honestly ask ourselves which person in our lives means the most to us, we often find that it is those who, instead of giving advice, solutions, or cures, have chosen rather to share our pain and touch our wounds with a warm and tender hand. The friend who can be silent with us in a moment of despair or confusion, who can stay with us in an hour of grief and bereavement, who can tolerate not knowing, not curing, not healing and face with us the reality of our powerlessness, that is a friend who cares.

And we would be there together for each other. I knew why love was always described with eternity. A single minute stretched out for lifetimes and sometimes, in those moments people came together for a short time as that was the design of that relationship. Sometimes, it’s a lifetime. Sometimes, it’s much longer than one life on Earth.

I opened my eyes and my gaze shot around me. I was still within the green like water in the holding pod I was imprisoned in. There was only one thing left to do. Continuing my cultivation, it was done rapidly when I quickly but carefully drew on the outside Chi and made my breakthrough. I unlocked my upper dantian and the world was never the same again.

[Happiness: Completely fixed we are.]

*Goldie, thank you! You deserve all the chocolate we are going to steal!*

The symbiote reacted to that; I felt something like glee and anticipation coming from her. I focused my will and tried shattering the glass but it stayed intact, not even a glimmer of a crack appearing. *Ah yeah, there must be an inhibitor on this pod.*

I kept trying, I even began to punch the glass with my fist but it did nothing. It pissed me off. I kept trying, until I was suddenly brought back to my mindscape, Phoenix was there before my sofa looking at me as if she was disappointed.

(You limited yourself.) She stated.

“What?” I don’t understand her, I was giving my all to escape!

Her bird head shook as she read my mind. (You limited yourself and I want to know why,? Was it to fit into that box your mortal enemy placed you in?)

“No, it isn’t! Please... I-I want to live! I want to kill him, see him being driven before me as I take everything from him!” There were so many people awaiting for my return, Mom, Dad, Cindy, Jess and my friends. No way that I was going to give up now!

(I’ve got advice for you then. Don’t think, do not try, when you try you fail. To succeed you must do, do or do not, there is no try.)

D-did the Phoenix Force just quote Yoda…? But I understood what she meant, I must unlearn what I have learned. I keep failing because I didn’t believe in myself, that I could win. I closed my eyes, cleared my mind, then I let go. I destroyed the lid that I had covering the well of power inside me, no more will I use it as a crutch. Pure and unadulterated power filled me, it couldn’t be contained and I didn’t even try to. 

It was like plunging into the sublime seas, diving deep, and swimming far, till I reached the depth of the ocean. I joined hands with it. And my world ended. And the next one began as Psionic energy thickly spilled out of my body and invaded the room I was in. 

I opened my eyes and looked at the glass separating me from freedom. *There is only the force.*

The glass broke or I should say the forcefield broke and the rest of the pod and the cables linked to me turned to dust. My body levitated from the ground. A cackle escaped me as I reveled in my power. It was hard to believe I was once afraid of it. This was awesome. My power was enough to reshape the world to my designs and you know what? I possessed the will ll to see it through.

Huh, I was naked, I floated toward a wall and transmuted it into a reflective surface and what I saw horrified me. My hair, my beautiful, luscious locks, were now completely shoulder length! My voluminous mane of red hair that I took care of for my entire sixteen years had been snipped. That was it, Sinister went too far this time! Even if it takes me an eternity, I will make you pay! “I will murder you, you and all the monsters you created, one after another, until you’ve been wiped from the surface of the earth!” I raged, my blood damn near boiling.

Goldie responded to my hatred and asked me if it was finally time to kill our enemies. “Yes, yes it is my dear.” And just like that, Goldie covered my entire form. As she was giving me our battleform, I let her sift through my mind for a good look for it. Memories of one Gabby Garcia, the White Widow came to mind and my symbiotes took her costume and morphed into it.

Where Gabby’s costume was white, mine was gold, where her’s was black, mine was red. Instead of a spider symbol, a dark Phoenix force one was emblazoned on my chest.

I noticed that I was taller and more muscular than before, strange. My hair had more of a curl to it, and my breasts had grown again it seemed. I shrugged, *I will think about that later, the fusion with Emi must have brought those changes.*

"Game on." Goldie covered my head like a full mask that concealed my features. Then, I shrank in a puddle and teleported with my new adapted power into the air duct and up on the wall and slithered into it, just in case I covered myself in my cloaking field. I was surprised that no one was checking on the room, and the pod with all the power I used. I retraced Goldie's previous path and went directly to the kitchen.

I wasn’t surprised to see people working there, even though one of them died here. Are they that dumb? My telepathy told me that they were so brainwashed they barely had the ability to think for themselves. I didn't lose time with them, I simply bound them all, they stopped moving and stood where they were.

I exited the air duct and fell on the ground in my humanoid form. I held my hand before me and sharp looking red claws replaced my fingers. I smiled and began to systematically kill everyone by slashing their throat. Red ocher oozed from the line across their neck, staining their clothes and aprons. 

Once they;d been drained of blood, they fell to the ground, dead. The entire kitchen was coated red in their blood. I levitated not wanting to cover my soles with blood and leave footprints. I raided the pantry, took food for myself and chocolate based products for Goldie. And for evil’s sake I used my TK to make the blood flow inside the pantry, staining everything: vegetables, water. I made incisions in the bag of flour and spoiled it all. 

It was a must to always cut off the supply of the enemy if the opportunity presented itself, and starve them. Even though I was stronger and in complete control of myself. This place must be a main base of that asshole Sinister and there must be significantly more powered people and allies of his inside. I was ready to put an end to this now. Determined to obliterate everything. I cloaked and exited the kitchen, left the armored door open for the cooks to be found. I floated slowly in the corridor and then a shrill sound rang everywhere, there were speakers embedded in the walls.

Attention, a subject has escaped, the base will be on lock down.

*Oh they finally noticed.* I chuckled as shutters closed and sealed the corridor I was in. 

Hearing footsteps behind me, I made a double take, my gaze landing on the man who’d attacked me before I was captured. He wasn’t alone, there was another man who could be assumed to be his twin brother running alongside him. They quickly found the kitchen and saw the bodies strewn here and there bathing in pools of their own blood.

The black guy felt nauseous. “Shit.”

His clone was even more disturbed by the scene.“What happened here?!”

As they stepped back, one of them took some kind of rectangular device from his pocket and spoke into it after pushing a button. “Boss, it's blockbuster 1. I entered the kitchen and… the clones staff... they are all dead, this is a literal sea of blood in here!”

A gasp was audible from the device’s speakers. “She was there! Find her!”

Of course I was here, dumbass. Now you are going to send your men to the slaughter to catch me, good. Bring them all.

The blakc guy in charge looked quietly at his dark blue uniformed clone. Then spoke again in the communication device. “But boss…”

“Do it.” I heard the steel in Sinister’s voice. There was no doubt it was him. Theatrically the man sighed. “Understood.” 

He pocketed his communicator and spoke to his counterpart who didn’t seem enthused about finding me. “Let's go find her, she must be weak after escaping that pod.”

Decloaking I appeared behind them, my face becoming visible when my Klyntar uncovered my head. “Oh, I assure you, I feel quite fine.” I said aloud and started speed reading his mind.

The black man man was called Michael Baer or better known as Blockbuster, a mercenary and an assassin that was hired by Sinister; he was eventually brainwashed to be my nemesis’ bitch. Sinister had created a literal army of this guy, there may be fifty of them on this base. What was worse, was that Sinister updated the memories of all his clones every week. 

It didn’t come as a surprise when recognition flashed across his face at the sight of me. He and his clone said at the same time, “Bitch!”

I smiled tightly. “Oh, you remember me. That's great. I kicked your ass the last time we fought and…” My eyes turned to his clone. “How sweet you've brought your brother to get his cheeks clapped too.”

They attacked in tandem at that, lunging at me. I didn’t even have to raise my hand to freeze them with my TK. The two men stopped one meter from me in midair, breathing heavily. Before the face of the one who insulted me, I smiled devilishly. “I am going to kill all of you cloned bastards.”

My eyes turned to the one who had attacked me in New York. “But first, I’m going to take your brother’s head and stick it up your booty hole.” 

I decapitated the one on the left with a thought. His head rolled on the ground, a pool of blood forming slowly.  The one who had attacked me was now soiling himself. 

*Disgusting.* I disintegrated his pants and undies and did just what I said I would. Now I needed to send a message to everyone here, something that would get the point across of what I was about to do.

As the head of his cloned brother floated toward him, the man shook like a leaf, looking at me as if I was the devil incarnate. I shoved the head where I said I would. Blockbuster’s screams were music to my ears.

# # #

(Sinister)

Audience room

Waving at his subordinate, Sinister mumbled, “Bring him to me.” 

Fortunately, it was audible enough for the guard at his side. “Yes, master.”

The normal clone took his communicator and spoke some orders into it. It was ten seconds later that the adamantium reinforced door to the audience room opened and two other clones were transporting a black man in a blue uniform on a gurney. Something indescribable was done to him and Sinister couldn’t believe he had survived it. Grey was dangerous- in more ways than he could fathom. 

*How did she escape?* Nathaniel asked himself.

He had gone all out on her adamantium holding pod, the most powerful power inhibitor and forcefield generator he could design and backed by two fusion batteries. The system diagnostic after that failure had shown that the forcefield capacitors had fried and not been able to hold on. This brief analysis shouted to him that the girl had woken up and immediately destroyed the apparatus holding her.

Yet again, Nathaniel felt he had underestimated the girl. He’d been disregarding the signs, the way she could even unconsciously shrug off any attempts of his to subvert or use her in any way. Nathaniel’s attention focused on the clone. The man’s belly bulged as though he were pregnant, and he kept mewling in pain at each movement of the clones transporting him.

*As I thought, she was in no way the kind soul of the woman he once met. She had gotten more vicious, before she would have just killed everyone without theatrics, but what she did here was just gruesome.*

“Ack… argh.” Blockbuster turned and twisted in the gurney.

Nathaniel looked on impassively at the spectacle, he would have felt the psionic power insinuating itself into the black man’s body if he had focused enough. Blockbuster’s body slackened, then he stopped moving. When he sat upright, Nathaniel immediately knew something was very wrong. The clone looked directly at him and smiled predatorily. Nathaniel wasn’t worried; there weren't many things that could threaten him. Blockbuster opened his mouth and his voice was replaced by a feminine one that Nathaniel was really familiar with. Natahniel flinched, his eyes wide at the psionic field that deployed all over the base.

Sinister. This is where your story ends, although I am sure that there was a way out planned for you, I have a feeling that’s not what you want.” The tone of voice was serious and clipping.

*The girl, she's speaking as if she knew something about my future!* Nathaniel realized, standing up but mere moments later he was sent back on his throne by a powerful force.

He looked at Blockbuster, whose body began to smoke and to be covered in yellow orange lines.

“But I have a feeling that you are right where you want to be.” There was a chuckle before the message continued. “I am remaining as well, I am nearby. This place will not be remembered; and the memory of everything that started this, will finally begin to fade away; as the agony of every tragedy should.” The message became even more threatening. 

The psionic field thickened so much that it became visible, golden yellow aura spread all over the base. Miss Grey then began to address everyone, “and to you monsters trapped in the corridors, be still and give up your spirits, they don’t belong to you.” 

The chuckling intensified. “For most of you, I believe there’s still peace and perhaps more waiting for you after the smoke clears, although for you Sinister, the darkest pit of hell has opened to swallow you, so do not keep the devil waiting for too long. It's not me trapped in here with you, no, it's you trapped in here with me!”

A burst of emotions spread to everyone. It wasn’t anger though, no, it was thick, hot rage, A rage so strong and vengeful that it oozed of retributory and punishment for an offense. Biblical Wrath. After being used as a proxy messaging device, Blockbuster's body simply exploded in a shower of gore everywhere in Nathaniel's audience room.

Strips of flesh, blood and bones had splattered all over him and the guards in the audience room. Nathaniel took a kerchief out of his costume’s hidden pocket and wiped off the blood and brain coating parts of his face. He held onto the slip of fabric and stared at the blood staining it. *Fine, I will give you the fight you desire. *

“Call down the powered clones!” Nathaniel commanded, raising again and  pointing fingers.

But before one of the guards could move, the base… no the entire mountain began to shake, people and items were now levitating in place, until red light shone everywhere and then, BOOOOOOOM. The mad scientist was projected back onto his throne and a forcefield bubble surrounded him while the ceiling crumbled on everyone else in the room.

After ten seconds, the shaking subsided but Nathaniel looked around and up. The sun and the blue sky was visible, the audience room open to elements. He slammed his fists against the armrests of his throne.

“Call someone to get those clones out of the rubble! Call the powered soldiers now!!” Nathaniel screamed at the surviving clone guards who were extricating themselves from under the big chunks of rocks.

 

# # #

 

Back with Jean…
Sinister Valley

Looking at my handy work, I ripped away a good chunk of the mountain Sinister’s base was ensconced in. It was extensive, with multiple levels. I was satisfied with the level of damage I inflicted and cloaked. Flying deep into the jungle, I landed in a meadow with a water stream, my awareness spread all over it. There were strangely no foes or beasties here.

The jungle was an assault on all senses. The virescent hues were the foreground, the background and as high up as you could see. The heat and humidity pressed in on my skin making sweat pointless. The sounds of the insects, the birds and the larger animals created a symphony of nature calling you deeper. 

As I walked among the bushes, the leaves brushed up against me and my feet sprung up with each step. The air tasted sweet and fresh, making it feel like flowers were blooming on my tongue. There was a giant tree and under it a cave. I entered it, the cavern's walls were covered in moss. An animal had lived here and it didn't smell great inside.

My TK aura spread all over the interior, and I disintegrated the moss and mushrooms, the animal feces and urine. I packed the earth inside and the ground became grey, visibly gaining the consistency of smooth stone. I created airways to allow oxygen to pass through. My klyntar battle form melted into me, replaced by the clothes I wore when I got ambushed by the marauders, I remembered them from the comic books.

There were a number of them, and if I knew Sinister like he was in the different media I saw in my other life then he would have cloned them in multiple batches. It reminded me that I was unaware of what date it was. Goldie the ever helpful symbiote produced the communicator that was some kind of mini walkie talkie and the tactile tablet that everyone seemed to use in Sinister’s base.

I logged in into the tablet that reminded me of a Surface Pro 6, the same thickness and weightlessness. The operating system was completely different from the Linux or Windows one that I used in my other life. I brushed a strand of hair out of my field of vision, the bangs irking me now. The climate was sweltering and Goldie reacted to my need, getting rid of my jacket, leaving me  in my tank top.

Breathing in and out I sealed the entrance with a thought, the earth raised at the base of the cave and I transmuted it into rocks. *This Do or Do not shit was really helpful, thanks Phoenix.*

(You are welcome.)

I jumped up in surprise, hitting my head on the cave’s ceiling. I cradled the top of my head, crying out and a mellifluous laugh could be heard in my head. I don’t know when it’d happened but the firebird was now embedded deeply in my mindscape.

“What are you doing here? I thought you would go back to the astral plane!”

(I am the Phoenix Force. I can do what I want, and technically I am in the astral plane on our chosen island. Observing you, like you would observe reality TV.) I heard her sniff at me.

“Wow, my life is weird.” I found it strange that the PF was having human reactions. 

She stayed silent at that which was fine with me.I made the tablet float to me and looked at the date and time. My mind suddenly froze, “It’s not possible! No!”

[Distress: Jean-Host?]

“Goldie, how long was I in the pod?”

[Clarification: Thirty revolutions, since you were in the prison.] Goldie showed me that a revolution was the time it took the planet to turn on itself. The cycle of night and day.

My mind went blank. Thirty days. It’d been a whole month since I was captured. Thirty days that my mom, dad and Cindy had to endure in anguish without me.. If I wanted to kill Sinister before, it was nothing compared to now. Goldie reabsorbed the tablet into herself and I sat in the middle of the cave and instantly found my center and entered my mindscape. Inside I located the link to Jessica that represented a phone.

I took it in hand and from it felt emotions that my best friend shouldn’t have. Sadness and sorrow, longing. I put the telephone handset near my ears and mouth and spoke. “Jessica?”

<I must be dreaming, I felt like I heard Jean.> I heard her think, a sad note in this thought which went straight to my heart, cracking it. 

“Babe, you aren’t dreaming. It’s me.” I assured her.

Everything stopped and my mindscape was suddenly invaded by a pink haired girl. <Jean? JEAN!> When she saw me, she tackled me and held onto me.

I patted her back. “I am here, I escaped but I was put under for thirty days.”

She looked at me, though the mental representation of myself must have not changed even though Emily and I had fused. <Where are you? Where can I get to you?> Her expression was full of determination. Jessica was able to fly fast, we clocked her at below mach one because she doesn’t have anything to protect her that could support her acceleration.

I shook my head sadly. “You can’t, it seems that I am somewhere in Africa. I don’t know exactly where.”

She deflated, <I can’t fly that far… but… but, I am so glad to hear that you are safe.> Jessica hugged me again and I let her.

I hated to be the bearer of bad news. “Safe? I am not. If I run, Sinister will just hunt me down and take me back, he might also take the gloves off and capture you and the rest of our friends.”

For the first time I saw Jessica’s anger directed at someone else than the company whose truck killed her parents and brother. Her gaze became sharper. <So that bastard is called Sinister? It sounds like a Bond villain name…>

“His real name is Nathaniel Essex, an immortal enhanced bastard with too much money and power, smarts and resources. I’m going to kill him and everyone with him.” My mindscape literally vibrated at my uncontained wrath- uncontained because it was that great. 

Jessica looked around her, unsure of what was happening. As she refocused on me, she stared into my eyes, voice shaking. <K-kill him? Jean are you… yes you are serious I see it in your eyes.>

I changed the subject, clutching her hand. “Can you do something for me?”

<Anything.> Jessica looked at me earnestly. 

Smiling, I told her to, “Go see my parents, Cindy and our friends and tell them that I’m fine for now. I will come back when I am done killing everyone.” My hair rose as psionic energy surged into my mindscape.

Jessica stepped back. <Jean…>

“They are threatening my life, my family, my friends… It has to stop. I will make them stop.” Phoenix appeared at that moment, startling Jessica who looked between her and then at me.

<You are scaring me.> She whispered, her voice so little and so unlike her. 

I levitated to her, and put a hand on her cheek. “Don’t be, this has always been what it would have taken to make Sinister stop.”

*Hmm.* My mental field that was spread over the valley was detecting thoughts protected by those telepathic overlay things Sinister developed. They couldn’t fool me in a deserted place like this, human thoughts had a texture that was inimitable. “I must leave, Jess. There are people trying to find me in the jungle.”

<Jean! Wait!>

I turned to her. “Yes?”

<I may be scared but I want you to get back intact, okay? Do whatever you have to do to come back to us. >

“Thanks Jess, I needed that. Truly.”

I waved her away and her astral form disappeared from my mindscape. I was back in the cave, then I stood up, weighing the pros and cons of going into Klyntar battleform. After some moments, I found that I didn’t want to. Goldie must stay a secret, and if the fights are isolated I’d no doubt transform. I planned on using my main power set, my newly acquired Chi manipulation and continue to harvest powers with Goldie.

But just in case… Goldie formed a thigh holster with a magazine pouch on my tactical belt, I was now equipped with one of the P226 pistols we had stolen from SHIELD with three full clips. She added the tactical knife and sheathed my hands in black tactical gloves. The reason it wasn’t dark in the cave was because I’d manifested a construct of psionic energy in a spherical form all around, though everywhere was red and yellow because of the light.

However, I must fight smart too, instead of blundering all along and making mistakes like I ended up doing for the past years. I’d rely on Agent Shane and Elektra-sensei’s knowledge and training. Switching methodology and focus, I cleared my mind, and placed myself into a calm and mindful state; the result was my sense of awareness increased far above a human’s.

My body filled with Chi while I absorbed it from the outside and made it mine to fill my energy centers. All around me things became enhanced, like the colors, the wind, smells, my hearing and even my Klyntar enhanced vision.

*Okay, I will take out some of those clone scouts, rip information from their mind and then depending on what I find I will get back into the base and deny my enemies resources and kill the powered fucks there.* I nodded, cloaked, then teleported inside the base.

 

# # #

 

(Sinister)

Meeting room

Seated at the long table in front of him were fourteen of his powered clones, technically enough of them to take out that crazed girl. Sinister smiled and put his hand on the table before him. He had brainwashed each of them to believe that he was their ultimate master when they reached a suitable age of development in his manufactured artificial wombs.

On the left of the ornate white marble table was Hans. Massive, muscular, blond haired and with beady red eyes, he was the culmination of all the experiments with mutants and other superhuman individuals since WWII that Nathaniel had practiced. He was bred as the perfect mutant. Hans was genetically engineered from several other mutant's DNA, he had Superhuman strength, speed, durability, flight, an accelerated healing factor and optic blasts.

Nathaniel was proud of the fact that he had patterned him to be as close to Superman as possible; his creature was what the Nazis had wanted their ubermensch to be. Next to Hans was Vertigo, a lithe and green haired woman hailing from the legendary Savage Lands with the power of Psionic Equilibrium Distortion. She was able to project swirling mental waves of psionic distortion into her environment that affect the nervous systems of other living beings, focusing on the organs of the inner ear, causing extreme vertigo, nausea, disorientation, and having them experience hallucinations. 

Her distortion waves could render others unconscious, and like Scrambler, could also interfere with the superhuman powers of others, preventing their use or causing them to function incorrectly. To Sinister, amongst all of his subordinates, she was the most important right now. It was her who’d permit him to retrieve Jean Grey intact. On Vertigo’s side was an armored man, a clone of Senyaka, a mutant able to drain the bio-electrical essence of others upon physical contact. The living energy he drained augmented his natural strength, endurance, and reflexes, as well as accelerating his recuperative powers significantly.

The man was a savage, just like his original. *Well, Magneto killed the original for his bloodthirstiness…* When Gambit sent him the DNA sample of the man

The last clone on the left was Empath, a really disliked clone of a rapist and sexual offender who could use Empathy like his name suggested. Though it was his Pathokinesis that was the really bothersome ability he possessed. He had the ability to psionically control one emotion at a time, affecting many targets in the same area during that time or controlling the emotional states of multiple victims. He could change the amount of control he exerted over his victims, such as a simple emotional push or complete emotionless zombies who bowed to his every whim. 

The women here avoided him like the plague. Nathaniel kept having to clone him because he was murdered every three months by the local women population. Nathaniel barely tolerated him, disliking him greatly. 

To the right of the table were the most interesting mutants he had at his beck and call. The one to his right was the clone of Fiona Knoblach, a powerful psionic and ancestor of Jean Grey. He had found her original in the 1900s after Fiona founded the Sisterhood, an organization of psychic female mutants. Her original wasn’t dead and still lived as her Sisterhood grew into an organization with global influence, especially within the United States. 

She was immortal and possessed precognitive powers as well as the normal host of psionic powers such as telepathy and telekinesis. At her side was Jeanne-Marie Beaybier, Fiona’s friend; she was a clone of Aurora, a mutant member of Alpha Flight, one of the secret powered assets of the Canadian government. She was able to use photokinesis. Next to Aurora was a clone of Northstar, they shared almost the same power set. Each was able to fire concussive blasts and control how powerful the shots were, flying at 770 miles per hour at sea level. They moved faster than the human eye could follow. 

Technically those two were twins and able to use a Gestalt Photokinesis should they link hands they could generate a light equivalent to a lighthouse beacon by each sibling varying the rate of acceleration of his or her own molecules out of phase with those of the other’s. 

At Northstar’s side and flirting with him was the clone of Chimera, the clone of an interdimensional pirate of questionable sanity. A blue eyed blond, tall and curvaceous woman, clad in a leather outfit flattering her female form. Nathaniel had cloned her when he obtained a sample of her DNA after she appeared from a dimensional rift. The original and him had come to blow and he made her bleed enough, she fled through another rift, of course.

Chimera could generate ectoplasmic bursts in the form of telekinetic dragons to strike enemies both physically and psionically. She also had telepathy enabling her to read minds and create illusions. Due to the nature of her powers, it was getting rather difficult to keep her docile and obedient; the brainwashing machine’s programming tended to not stick more than two months with her.

*I may have to eliminate her.*

Unknown to Sinister, as he looked at the familiar faces of Gambit, Scalphunter and Vanisher who he had cloned last month, Chimera stared at him with a calculating gaze and quickly averted her eyes.

At last, Havok and Sunfire’s turn, with Hans they were his strongest hitter. Nathaniel’s Havok was a clone of Alexander Summers, Scott Summers’ little brother. The sample of his DNA had been easy to appropriate in his orphanage in Omaha, Nebraska. Havok was able to convert ambient cosmic energy and process it into plasma. 

This results in control over an extremely powerful sort of destructive force. He could also absorb energy from other sources other than the cosmic sort, fly, shoot or emanate plasma in the form of a blast or discharge, with a tell-tale concentric circle pattern. The kicker was that Havok was virtually immune to the effects of most forms of heat and virtually immune to the effects of most forms of radiation.

Sunfire… ah! Sunfire’s mutant powers enable him to absorb solar and other radiation to generate the process of ionized matter (usually air) through a mentally-triggered unknown biochemical process so that it was converted to plasma, the superheated state of matter. Plasma was the state in which matter making up the sun existed; hence, Sunfire referred to his projecting as "solar fire". Hence he could sheath his body in flames.

He could fly, shoot powerful blasts of plasma and sense beings by the heat signature that they gave off. With this powerful line-up, Nathaniel was confident that he could retrieve Jean Grey.

Nathaniel took on a fond expression, spreading out his arms. “My friends, I am happy that you answered my call.” 

“Like we have any other choice.” Someone retorted.

Nathaniel glared in the direction of Chimera and asked, “What was that?”

The woman rolled her eyes and huffed. “Again, my point.”

“So why are we here for, great leader? I heard that some redhead escaped from confinement and destroyed half the base.” Chimera wanted to point out that even he made mistakes.

“It is true. Jean Grey ran away and is now threatening to kill us all.” Nathaniel pushed a key on a holographic keyboard and a 3D picture of Jean appeared.

Everyone looked at her picture with varying expressions. Some with anticipation, others with a dread that grew and grew. 

Fiona Knoblach showed a fearful expression. She looked at Sinister who observed her in particular. Her eyes were completely dilated, a sign that she was having one of her visions. “He is right, if we don't kill her, She's going to kill us all. There's some kind of obstruction on my precognition, I don't know who is doing it but I barely get bits and pieces.”

“Interesting, where do you think it's coming from?” Nathaniel wasn't surprised that this had turned to a fight to the death.

Fiona closed her eyes for a moment, focusing on what she was feeling from the ambient local psionic field. “It's a mental field, covering the entire valley.”

There were clones cursing and showing displeased expressions on their face or body language.

Havok slapped his hand on the table. “Shit, seriously? There's no way she's that powerful!”

Nathaniel chuckled darkly. “Of course she is, why do you think I wanted her?”

Chimera chose to antagonize Nathaniel as usual, her chin lifting as she stared him dead in the eyes. “So let me get this straight, you kidnapped an omega level mutant and didn't think this would bite you in the ass?”

Nathaniel narrowed his gaze, glaring, and she held it the entire time until he answered, “I had no way of knowing she was omega level at the time. She's young, weakened from her stint into the holding pod and we can either capture her or kill her.”

“Yes, she's just one girl, what can she do?” Gambit interrupted and laughed with Scalphunter and a Blockbuster clone.

As if the fates had heard them and decided to give them a lesson, red glass boxes began to appear one by one on the big marble table. Then the boxes disintegrated, letting the heads of dead clone soldiers squelch onto the white surface. Most of the women present stood up to either puke or step back from the table. Some of the men did the same, but Senyaka, Scalphunter, Sunfire and Vanisher weren't affected.

“Apparently, she can do that, Gambit.” Nathaniel simply said. 

He wasn't disturbed by her theatrics but deeply  disappointed. A note slowly descended from the air and landed on the heads. He grabbed it, reading it aloud for everyone. “Imagine forests of corpses, dripping on a buffet. That's what you'll find when you descend into the valley and enter the jungle. Killing your toy soldiers was like stepping on ants; call your minions in 'cause you're gonna need more than them if you want to survive.”

Sinister slammed his fist on the table, cracks appearing instantly. The crack spread all over its surface, but by some miracle the table held upright still. “Impertinent little trollop.”

Nathaniel pointed a finger toward the  mountain of severed heads. “You’re seeing to which length she's going to take this, are any of you wanting to end up like this?”

“I will go, it’s either us or her at this point.” Aurora said, her brother nodding in agreement with her. 

Scalphunter intervened. “Hold up people, I want to point out that something is wrong here. How did she know we were here? How is she doing this?” He was worried about operational security and to prove to him that he was right to, multiple notes appeared from midair, for specific clones. 

Scalphunter took his notes and saw the sentence, “Fuck you, that’s how!” The clone fumed. “I’m going to shoot that little bitch.” His costume morphed into a rifle.

“You’re scared, motherfucker.” Hans pointed out, grinding his molars together. 

“Nice fur, you look badass with it. Unfortunately, there’s a pussy underneath.” Senyaka read, his tone flat. It wasn’t the first time someone dissed his fur armor. He looked in the air and nodded, sure that the girl behind the taunts watched them. 

“Fiona has the last note.” Aurora said aloud.

Everyone turned to the precog whose hands were now trembling, her eyes dilated. Nathaniel noticed that she was having a vision. Blood trickled out her nose when she looked at everyone. “What I am about to do to your annoying little club, I am going to enjoy it.” Then her head popped in an explosion of gore.

“OH MY GOD, FIO!!” Aurora bellowed, activating her super speed to catch Fiona’s body. It was in vain, as seconds later the rest of her exploded in the same manner.

Aurora watched her empty hands with wide eyes and blood covered her entire body. Her yellow of her skintight jumpsuit was barely visible now, most of it stained in red.  The mood was suddenly subdued in the room.

Nathaniel chose this moment to rally them. “I have only one order for you all, find the girl. Operational security is of course important.” Sinister left the room, the others following him, but Chimera remained, hiding a note. 

She was smiling as the note said, “Wanna team up?”

 

# # #

(Hans)

 

Hans' apartment
10 minutes later

Hans was fuming. Never had he been this insulted before. He was dying to get his hands on that little harlot. He couldn’t believe that he had found her attractive before. Hans had spent days watching the little harlot floating in her holding pod and fantasized day and night about her for the entire month. Now, though? He planned on tearing her apart a limb from limb. She wasn’t needed alive anymore; his master would find a way to clone her and then maybe the next iteration would be more reasonable.

He entered his apartment, the automatic door switching as he swiped his access card in the electronic lock on the door. Hans stripped of his armor, letting it fall to the ground and strode to his locker embedded in the gray wall facing his bed. Again, he swiped his card and the steel gray metal door folded on the right, revealing weapons and armor that Hans had stored.

Choosing to be careful, he chose his heavy armor, but as he took his tactical vest he heard a noise from behind him. Hans turned back and saw that there was nothing. Shrugging, he returned to his business but when he turned before him was a beautiful redhead with shoulder length hair who was now touching his face.

Hans tried to move away by stepping back at super speed, for naught as he couldn’t move anymore.

“Hello Hans.” The voice was sultry but  laced with maliciousness.

The giant man tried to move and fight but nothing happened, his body standing firmly paralyzed. “Unhand me!”

Jean Grey cackled. “No Hans, you’ll all die, but you? Not yet, not before I use you like the brainless puppet you are.”

“Y-you won’t win! My master will kill you… and I will be there watching as he desecrates your corpse.” A crazy glint appeared in his beady red eyes as he took her in.

“How crude.” Her hand on his cheek covered in golden and red goo that formed claws. She slid it on his naked skin, making a cut in his cheek. 

Blood oozed from the wound, and the red and gold goo sucked his essence with relish. “Now you ain’t going to be so unique anymore. This is goodbye to your sentience, puppet.”

Hans tried desperately to move, to fight! But he couldn’t think anymore. She was robbing him of everything; he felt as the redhead was unmaking him and plunged him into oblivion.

 

# # #

 

Back with Jean…
2 minutes later

This wasn’t the first time I’d destroyed someone mentally. I did it with the first clones that Sinister had sent after me. But Hans had been born naturally, his mind had felt more substantial than those I've made into vegetables before and it took significantly more time. Goldie hummed in the back of my mind as she registered Hans' genome into her codex and archived his abilities.

Then I felt it click as she was now able to use a different power set than Vanisher's teleportation. All those powers would come in great use. I catalogued the knowledge that I had stolen from Hans and it showed me the different abilities and skills of everyone arrayed against me. It was daunting, but not insurmountable. I had just taken two pawns off the chessboard. 

I cloaked myself once again, and began programming Hans' little pea brain with basic instruction and left a bit of my awareness with him to… pilot him, that's the word. I made my Hans puppet dress in his heavy armor and then we left to find someone I really wanted to kill and sabotage the teleportation network in the base. We wouldn't want for Sinister to resupply from his other bases.

We made a show of patrolling the corridors, the vehicle hangar where there was, I kid you not, a blimp, a plane and… how the hell could there be a Yacht in a mountain?! And who uses blimps nowadays? Those are death traps. Apparently Sinister kept the blimp out of nostalgia. 

From what I pilfered from Hansy, the control center should be near. Floating to avoid knocking into one of the clone engineers, I planned to return later and end them. I followed the light, there was excellent and comprehensive signage in this base. I even found a 'you are here' map. *Did Sinister believe that he would never get invaded?*

After five minutes we were in something akin to a loading bay, people and boxes appeared in flash of lights on a pedestal. *Isn’t that a fucking transporter from Star Trek? But the way it’s working… looked like it was an Asgard transportation device from Stargate.* Through my power, I was able to comprehend what was occuring. 

In Star Trek, people and objects were broken down into streams of subatomic particles, also called the matter stream in Star Trek. But Sinister’s transporter worked like the Asgard variant; any matter targeted by an Asgard transporter was encompassed in a bright light and broken down into its base atoms, which were then transported to a designated location and reassembled. 

*I want one… Fine, when I kill the asshole I will take everything he owns. Gives me more motivation to finish this.* I was going to take his base, his entire assets and form a company that would permit me to live comfortably in this world.

Deploying my awareness, I searched for any recording devices. No matter the size, I’d find them. They weren’t fixed to the walls, but in the forms of little insect-like drones set up all over the loading bay. With a thought, I crushed them all, closed the door to the bay forcefully, Carrie style and ordered Hansy to kill everyone in here.

I watched as he grasped a clone’s head between his hands and tore it from its body. He looked at the transporter platform with glowing red eyes, then twin beams of light struck the platform that went out in an explosion and shower of sparks. Whoever was coming to the base must be dead in transit in their base atoms.

I decloaked and manifested bladed constructs, arrows, swords, axes and threw them in the throng of fleeing or fighting clones. It was like I was the fox and they were hens, panic leading to them being killed or dismembered. I had to occasionally strike some of them, and tested my Chi powered punches and kicks that simply rend flesh or let my fist pierce them.

I also tested my own optic blasts stolen from Hans.

Krakooom. At first the ruby colored beam came out of my eyes far too weakly; they slammed into a clone who had a collapsible baton in his hand and lunged at me. I allowed the blast to persist and ramped up the strength until the clone’s body exploded and splattered on the wall. I shunted the power back into the inter-dimensional portals that my eyes had become.

Looking at my handy work I nodded, “Wow, that’s handy. I’m not going to need to study Summers for his power again. Hmm, though I would prefer to use my hands or all other my body rather than my eyes.”

Goldie must have heard me as I felt something switch and I held my hand to the control station of the transporter. KRAKOOOM. The station was now demolished as I sustained the blast for another ten seconds.

“Well that’s better, thanks Goldie.”

[Acknowledgment: Welcome, you are.]

Hansy continued to kill and wreck the place. We finished crushing and maiming everyone in the loading room. It was when we were about to leave that I felt a familiar mind with a different texture. It reminded me of…*Gambit.* I didn’t cloak this time and decided to stage a fight with myself and Hansy. I released my hold on the doors of the loading room and when it exploded, Gambit had a full view of me and Hans in a fist fight.

WHAM! I threw him flying out through the exploded door. Gambit jumped low on the ground supporting himself with a hand as if he was doing push ups. As Hansy sailed in the corridor and impacted the hangar door twenty meters away, the Gambit clone took a playing card between his fingers and threw it at me. With my TK aura I batted it away and it exploded. As the light and smoke descended on him, I flew toward him with super speed.

He was still fast enough to swipe his bo staff to my head. I lowered it, landed my feet on the ground and launched a palm strike that he stepped into and evaded by attempting to give me a shoulder check; Goldie upped my durability and base strength and I jumped, kneeing him in the stomach. The blow had him gasping for air and spitting out blood. 

Catching him by the neck I struck him with a full power reinforced Chi punch in the solar plexus. I pierced his torso and, with a thought, Goldie oozed from me and gobbled him up. CRUNCH. Crunch, crunch.

“That was cool.” I praised, feeling more people rushing for me at super speed. s As they came into the loading room, I smiled and waved at them before teleporting out of there. 

 

# # #

(Aurora and Northstar)

Loading Room/Transport Room

“She’s a monster.” Aurora gasped as she gazed upon the handy work of Jean Grey. 

Aurora had never felt horror like this before. She thought she knew what fighting was about but things like all those dead bodies and destruction of the transport room drove the point through that they were fighting for their lives.

Her brother asked, “Do you know what happened?” 

She turned and glared at her twin. “No! I've just arrived.”

Heavy footsteps rang behind them, and they turned, alert and ready in a fighting stance. They relaxed when they saw the giant form of Hans. “Urgh, did Gambit get her? She threw me rather far away.” The giant dusted himself off causing particles of stone and dust to fall from his face as he spoke.

“Hans, what the hell happened?!” Aurora demanded, all up in the bigger man's face.

Northstar walked behind her, avoiding walking over the clones' corpses.

“I was patrolling the corridors and important installations when I saw Jean Grey teleport into the loading room, we fought and… she didn't care about collateral damage.” Hans reported, still dusting himself of the stones and dust he was completely covered in. Hans looked concerned as he stared around the room.“Did you see Gambit? He arrived when we were battling.”

“No we didn't see-” Aurora was about to say when she saw a severed hand holding a silver bo-staff. Her face became hard when she said, “I think I found him.”

“Damn, she got him!” Northstar said insensitively as he took out his communicator and said aloud, “Northstar to console, I report Gambit killed in action.”

Aurora looked as her brother, clad in black and white uniform, was reporting what Hans had informed them about. As for Aurora she watched as Hans looked into the room beseechingly and especially looked guilty about the transporter platform.

*I see, she must have tricked him into destroying it.* She walked up to the big man and placed a hand on one of his biceps, thinking about how hard they felt. 

Hans turned to her and watched her absently. “Yes?”

Aurora took her hand back. “Hans… can you tell us anything about her?”

The giant blond man folded his arms across his chest. “I don’t know… shouldn’t she just be a Telekinetic and a Telepath? She fought me on equal terms in close quarters and she’s cunning, always about to deceive you and push you into making mistakes.” Hans glanced to the platform again.

Aurora could tell this line of questioning was bothering him as his ego had been shattered after fighting with the ruthless and powerful Jean Grey. “I see, we should bombard her from afar with your optic blasts, my brother’s concussive blast and my lightning.” The black haired woman said confidently.

Hans shook his head. “Don’t underestimate her, she’s fast. As fast as you.”

Aurora snorted at that. “No one is as fast as me or my brother in flight.”

Hans chuckled gutturally. “Is this hubris I hear?”

There was off about Hans but Aurora couldn’t figure out what it was. “Hans?”

The blond giant cracked his neck and shook his head as he said absently. “Forget it, I’m going to patrol again.” He left her amongst the dead body and the destroyed transport room that finally gave Aurora chills.

 

# # #

(Jessica Jones & the Grey family)

USA, New York, Queens
December 11, 1996
Grey Penthouse
04:02 PM

Jessica would have never thought that she would be beating on this door again; she had lost hope of ever seeing her best friend again. But by some miracle Jean escaped, or should Jessica say as 'expected?'

Knock. Knock.

Jessica waited for another two minutes before she heard shuffling and someone coming to the door. The young woman who appeared at the doorway wasn’t someone Jessica recognised but she noticed the shared family traits with Jean. Short red hair, though the shade was lighter, green eyes and she was beautiful, like Jean. She directed a judgemental look at Jessica who was used to such behavior from people because of her pink dyed hair and the punk rock look she sported right now.

She wore a tight fitting green t-shirt and blue jeans. Her expression was less than welcoming. “Yes?” 

Jessica still smiled, looking earnest. “Is Mrs E here?”

“Who are you?” She scowled, crossing her arms under her ample chest.

Jessica couldn’t help the flicker of jealousy she felt because of the good genes of the Grey. “I'm Jessica Jones, I am Jean's best friend.”

It seemed that Jessica was now worth talking to as the redhead now stared at her with interest. “Ah. Is it important?”

Jessica nodded vehemently. “Terribly so.”

She opened the door fully and stepped aside.“Enter please.”

*Don’t mind if I do.* Jessica quickly entered and was ushered into the familiar living room. The difference was that there was another new redhead present and this perturbed Jessica. She had never seen them before. She slightly resembled Jean but harboured a different fashion sense that was closer to Jessica's, shoulder length hair and a less than mature attitude compared to her little sister.

She looked hostile too, but Jessica didn’t mind as this was a vulnerable period for the Grey family. 

The redhead who allowed her in inhaled deeply before shouting,“Mom! Jean's friend, Jessica is here!”

A few seconds later, Elaine Grey came to the living room. Jessica looked at her and she found the Grey matriarch subdued and tired looking, there were dark marks under her eyes and she wore clothes that were less cheerful than before. Elaine smiled when she saw Jessica, an improvement on her mood. “Jess, my dear. What brings you here?”

Jessica glanced at the two redheads who stared back at her with different kinds of mood and suspicions. As usual Elaine read the situation quite skillfully and waved at the other two redheads. “Oh, let me introduce you to Jean's big sisters, those are Sara and Julia.”

Jessica was surprised. She had heard about Jean’s big sisters; her best friend had been complaining about how absent they were and that it had made her parents sad, but that she understood they were busy building their own lives. They still called from time to time but it was only when they needed money or advice from Elaine and John.

Jessica threw a polite, “Nice to meet you.” and deftly ignored them to say to Elaine, “Mrs E, I have big news! Jean has escaped!”

Elaine visibly became more animated and, with a speed belying her age, she was in Jessica’s face, grasping her hands in hers tightly. “Jessica?! Is this true?”

She bobbed her head up and down and opened her mouth to reply but was cut off when someone put a hand on her shoulder and made her  turn. It was the older redhead, Sara, glaring at her.“What the hell?! How can you say that? Jean is… lost to us, respect…”

Elaine surged and slapped her daughter. “Sara, will you shut up?”

Sara looked at Elaine in betrayal. “Mom? Why...”

The Grey matriarch's eyes focused back on Jessica who felt like she had seen something too personal and squirmed when she felt everyone’s eyes on her. “Did she contact you?”

Without stuttering, Jessica began to inform Elaine. “Two hours ago, I was in class and she called on me.” Jessica became even more animated and happy. “Mrs E, she's alive, but… Jean said that she was put under for a month.”

Elaine’s disposition visibly shifted under Jessica’s eyes, her back straightening and her eyes shining with joy. Tears of relief streamed down her cheeks, one after the other. Julia, the second redhead in the room kept looking back and forth between Jessica and Elaine with incomprehension. She assumed Jean was dead since they hadn’t received any demands for ransom or any calls from those who kidnapped her. She had already written off her little sister at this point. She felt sad but wanted to be here for her mom as Jean was the baby of the family. 

But right now this girl just came and said that she had news of her sister having escaped. “Mom could you please explain? What's happening?”

Jessica saw Elaine’s face suddenly become more unhappy, and... was that guilt that she was seeing on Jean’s mom's face? Elaine turned to her second born. “Julia, I wanted to tell you… but your sister, she has powers. That's why the man who took her was interested in her. As you are really the most skeptical of us, I didn’t want to burden you with this knowledge.”

Julia had a disbelieving expression on her face. She raised from her seat, saying,“Is this a joke?”

“No Julia, mom… is right. Jean can lift things with her mind.” Sara intervened to cut short the freak out of her sister.

Jessica rolled her eyes at the two other Grey girls and decided to cut short this little drama and poked the link between Jean and her. *Come on Jeanie, your sisters are having a freak out. Can you do anything?*

Julia was in full blown denial when she opened her mouth to reprimand everyone. “Mom, you are being deceived. That girl is-”

In a flash of red and golden light, the astral form of Jean appeared, dressed in the same badass outfit Jessica had seen her in. Surely a Goldie construct. Jean was here, not in person as her astral form was transparent. She looked at her mom who suddenly tried to hug her but went through her instead.

“Mom! Careful, I’m not here.” Jean informed, watching her mom hit the back of the couch.

Elaine stood back up, a bit embarrassed. She saw Jean laugh at her, Jessica felt that the Grey matriarch was about to try to hug Jean’s projection again, before she stopped herself.

Sara Grey’s eyes were wide as saucers. “Jean!!”

Julia stepped back, frightened at the display before her.“Jean?”

Jean turned to her sister, beaming. “Hey Sara, Lia! Rumors of my demise are awfully exaggerated.”

Sara was first to react and walk up to her, poking Jean’s astral form. It went through it instead and she laughed  at her sister’s misquote. “That’s: The rumours of my death have been greatly exaggerated. You geek.” Sara’s eyes were shimmering with tears.

“Jean, where are you?” Elaine asked beseechingly. Not interested in banter, she wanted to know where her baby was.

Jean's smile faded, her expression now hard. She crossed her arms and looked at her family. “Africa, in a base teeming with clone soldiers. My kidnapper is a fan of Star Wars it seems…”

“Like in episodes two and three?” Jessica interrupted.

Jean turned to her best friend and grinned. “Yep, I’m thinning their number as we speak, I already killed a lot of them and I am busy sabotaging everything.”

Jessica raised her hand and they simulated doing a high five.

“Kill? Jean what are you talking about? Mom, what’s happening?! Why is Jean a ghost?” Julia began to freak out as she took in the crazy scene before her.

Jean looked on in pity at her second big sister but didn’t explain; Jessica understood she was on a time crunch. Elaine would surely do that in her place.

“Can’t you just come back right now, Jean?” Elaine interceded between Jean and Julia, knowing her two daughters well. They had never been able to see eye to eye. Jean seemed to be on better terms with Sara who at least was supportive of her, as Julia was simply dismissive of her.

Jean had the same guilty emotion that Jessica saw earlier on her mother as she said, “I can in fact come back right now.”

Everyone reacted to this and shouted in sync, “Why don’t you?!”

They all looked at each other. Jessica giggled at their expressions. Then their gaze returned back to Jean who seemed reluctant to speak.

“I need to kill Nathaniel Essex or he will attack me again! He will not stop, and this time to get me back he might kill or take you all with me to assure my… obedience if you catch my meaning.” 

Sara squinted her eyes, doubting. “You are doing this for… us?”

Jean nodded. “Mom, sis… I need to finish this. I want to be free, I want to destroy the man who made me this way.”

Elaine shook her head, longing to have her daughter back this instance. “No! Jean come back! You’ll be safe with us.”

Jessica’s best friend looked apologetic. She shook her head and looked Elaine in the eyes. Jean was somewhat angry. “You think your world is safe? It is an illusion mom, even SHIELD couldn't do anything. Safety is a comforting lie those in power tell us to protect us, this is a death world. And whether you want it or not, mom… I will have my vengeance.” The angry eyes of Jean softened as she became even more transparent, she was leaving.

“Jean!” Elaine walked up to her daughter and tried to touch her.

Jean smiled and for just an instant, Elaine felt physical contact. “I love you all, I will contact you later!”

She was gone, like the wind and with her the colors of the world were too for Elaine.

# # #

 

 

Back with Jean…
December 12, 1996
Sinister Egypt Base
10:00 AM

Seeing my mother and sisters was good for me. It reminded me of what was at stake if I failed. I was even more determined to not be captured again. I wouldn't die! I would let those dumb clones do the dying for me. Not even knowing how to resist some lousy brainwashing machine, though this Chimera girl, she was fine, we had even reached an understanding. 

Looking behind me, I saw some other clone soldiers patrolling. I opted to shapeshift into one of the few remaining cloned engineers left. c I think any revenge plans of mine would have been doomed if I didn’t have Goldie with me. I nodded in greeting at another engineer as he passed by me. The passageways and corridors of the base were spacious, to permit some special transportation vehicles to pass. I had even seen some kind of maglev that travelled through the mountains.

It was the first thing that I had sabotaged today. I fiddled with all the magnets of the tracks, today wasn't a killing day, but to cut any avenue of escape for Sinister and his troops. I also caused cave-ins to the access to the other facilities in the mountain chain surrounding the valley. Now it was the generators’ turn. They were in the lower level of the base.

I fully intended to disrupt the operations of this base. Earlier, I rode the elevator to the  lower level and walked to the main generator fueling everything, and in the confusion I intended to go have a look at the containment cells to see if they had anyone there I had to rescue who could help me kill the rest of the clones.

The armed clones were more numerous the more I advanced- a tidbit that informed me Sinister was gaining more of an understanding of my tactics. I would have to up the ante if I wanted to force the endgame like I designed it. The guards ushered me into the generators chamber that I realized was massive, taking all the two hundred fifty square meters of the room. It wasn't a fuel based generator like I thought but a full blown fusion reactor, it made me respect Sinister just a tiny bit.

The spherical and dark gray containment unit showed me the electric blue plasma inside. I felt the warmth and energy that it generated raised the hair on my skin. It was controlled by a single computer which was far more advanced than anything I’d ever encountered in this reality and my previous one. Fortunately, the control and the UI of the operating system was intuitive and made completely comprehensible; another thing I didn’t understand, Sinister should have made this more difficult to get into.

On the screen, I saw how much energy 0.90 GJ/s. *How inefficient, Howard Stark made a smaller one that could feed 2GJ/s that powers Stark Industries for years.* Consulting my stolen tablet, I read the apps that permitted me to control the generator and its capacitors before me. There were a series of hidden chambers such as this one with a generator barely handling the feeding power to each facility.

Though the tech was here before my eyes, it was hard to believe that a wacko like Sinister had it; and this one reactor could power multiple cities for one hundred years. I wanted it, and badly.  My first instinct about blowing it up and the base with it warred with my greed. Here I was, with the chance to end this all by creating an instability in the plasma containment unit, thus creating a nuclear explosion that would blast those mountains and the valley, but no, I wanted it all.

*Fine, I will keep it. I will just cut the systems feeding into it and create a loop in which it will cut the electricity intermittently. Introduce deliberately a few bugs that are easily fixable.*

I shunted the power fed to the teleportation system into the labs; the cloaking system, I didn’t touch it; that was needed to make this place invisible and I didn’t want SHIELD or god forbid Hydra to discover it after I am done with the current owner.

I poked at the touchscreen to validate the operation I wrote in the computer. I turned toward the gate and began to solder the armored doors together with a thin beam of heat with pyrokinesis. Once done I caved-in the entrance and packed the rocks and earth into a solid wall of rock by bonding their molecules together.

Slowly approaching the wall, I knocked on it with a finger. It was four meters thick. I tipped my chin down in a nod, pleased with my work, before taking my tools and tablet, then teleported to the next chamber. This operation was repeated four times before Sinister finally sent Havok to protect the last generator chamber. As I didn’t want the reactor chamber to be damaged, I stopped my sabotaging operation and teleported directly in a deserted alcove in a secluded part of the base.

I shapeshifted into Aurora and her dumb costume, which was annoyingly too tight on the breasts. I materialized an illusion of Sinister at my side and we walked together toward the holding cells. The clone guards that we crossed respectfully bowed and scraped to my illusion. It disgusted me that the man had programmed them to do such a thing at his mere presence. I mean, talk about abuse of good brainwashing.

Swish. Clang. Vrzzz. Multiple metal doors opened automatically when I punched in the code I’d stolen from the guards head in the electronic lock box. Sinister was already in 2020 as far as I was concerned, while the world was still in the 90’s. I envied the communication system and the tablets, it would be really easy to create smartphones by copying the circuitry inside, I couldn't wait to get my hands on Sinister's factories.

I entered, immediately noticing the guards positioned in armored booths, possessing flame throwers, energy assault weapons and machine guns waiting for orders. With my TK, I snapped their necks and they were dead instantly, tumbling to the ground like a sack of potatoes. Most of the cells seemed to be tailor made for my kind, armored walls, each cell is a large cage with horizontal bars and a powerful force field spanning across the sides. At least they had amenities inside such as a shower and toilet.

There were only two prisoners inside neighboring cells. A young woman who seemed to be my age, dressed in black prisoner clothes, her hair red, and eyes green- I wasn’t surprised at that. Sinister seemed to have a thing for girls with my eyes and hair.- and a bald black man in tattered clothes. The two wore inhibitor collars around their neck.

The young woman flinched when she noticed my gaze on her, and also because my Sinister illusion was standing beside me. The black man in his cell was frozen entirely. They were terrified and angry… I could do something about that.

I returned to my normal appearance and dismissed the Sinister illusion. “Heya guys, how is it hanging?”

 

# # #

(Angelica Jones)

 

It’d been seven months since she was snatched on her way home. Of course, she had attempted to defend herself, escape or kill the guards, but she was always caught. Not only that, her powers seemed to have deleterious effects on her own body. She couldn't use them extensively; her jailer had written her off when he discovered that her power generated radiations were affecting her cellular structure and long-term exposure would give her cancer.

Angelica lay strewn across her cot, thinking about how she got here; she was a thirteen year old high school student who fell victim to a series of unfortunate events. She was being bullied by girls at her school, midtown high, then her grandmother died; it was how she activated her x-gene, a really bad day. She could remember how frightened she was when she began manifesting the power to generate great heat.

It was much more of a struggle when you didn’t have anyone to help you do so... and there was her father who she had come to live with after the death of her beloved grandmother who couldn’t deal with her ability, thus neglecting her  completely. Angelica had felt so desperately confused, lonely and miserable. And then, she had been snatched by two men in  black who in fact took the wrong girl!

When she was presented to Sinister, she defended herself with a beam of microwave heat. She had clearly roasted the guy, but he regenerated under her very eyes, his response a wicked smile and a slap that rendered her  unconscious. Since then Angelica was experimented on, beaten, and starved. She had to even fight a clone of herself which she’d killed.The pale faced man was a sicko… Footsteps came toward her way, and she wasn’t surprised to see that it was the vampire mad scientist guy and his new slave, it was the first time she saw that woman who watched her with interest until she suddenly turned into a younger redhead of sixteen-eighteen years of age, then the pale mad doctor disappeared when she waved her hand.

“Heya guys, how is it hanging?” The redhead asked cheerfully.

The actions of that redhead made Angelica huddle in a corner frightfully. “W-who are you?”

Her smile slackened as she looked at Angelica. The red aura surrounding her gave her an ethereal atmosphere that scared the young girl, but the soothing voice of the older redhead put her somewhat at ease.“Oh you poor girl, what did they do to you?” Her eyes glowed slightly. “Your name, it’s Angelica… Oh! I know who you are now.”

She turned to the left, her attention shifting to the other captive. “And you man, what’s your name?”

“Name’s Will.” Angelica heard the guy from her neighbouring cell say. With a determined expression she said, “Will, what do you say if I can help you and Angelica get out of here?”

Angelica stood to her feet, staring with  interest at the older girl, trying to discern if she was leading her on. “I-is this a test? Please no more tests.” Angelica heard her neighbor ask with a crack in his voice. She too was subjected to the pale man’s test, he had even offered to release her if she became one of his subordinates; of course she spit in his face as an answer.

The redhead’s eyes flared with anger, she pinched her nose for ten seconds, then looked at each of them. Angelica was feeling hope for the first time in months. “Ok we are going to get outta here, Angelica stay far from the forcefield. Will as well.” She made a fist that glowed red and gold and took on the quality of flames and smashed it into the forcefield of Angelica’s cell. 

With a noise of broken glass and an explosion, the forcefield shattered and then the girl stepped into the cell. Angelica stepped back watching as the strange girl walked up to her. She held up her hand and touched the collar at Angelica’s neck and blink, it disappeared. The girl smiled at Angelica who felt the rush caused by her ability being active again.

Angelica took a full lungful of air, and for the first time in seven months, she could taste freedom. She threw a thankful gaze at the older girl.

“Follow me, we need to free Will.” She informed, spinning on her heel and giving her back to Angelica.

There was something important that Angelica wanted to ask the older girl. “Wait! What’s your name?”

She turned, looked at her and grinned. “I am Jean Grey, I am a telekinetic and telepath and something more… I am the girl who they should have taken instead of you, they kidnapped me one month ago, I have awakened four days ago and I have decided to kill Sinister and his clone club.”

This news floored Angelica. How could they have mixed her with this gorgeous girl?! Her form was much higher than her own, and she was way more muscular. Angelica followed her to face the black guy in the other cell, who looked the same age as Jean.

Jean smiled at him as if she had won the lottery. “Will, my man! I will get you out of here, but I want to ask something of you first. Hmm, Angelica too while I am at it. I need a drop of your blood.”

Angelica looked wary. “Huh, what for?”

Jean tilted her head. “To get your powers, of course. I have an ability that lets me get others from people through their genetic material. I need a lot more of them to kill Sinister, the pale man. That’s his name.”

Angelica couldn’t help but be hesitant; she’d been burned from hoping before. “Y-you won’t abandon us if we give them to you right?”

The flash of determination on Jean’s face reassured her. “I’m going to save you, I will bring you back to New York, okay? I have a friend there who can help you two get on your feet. Can you trust me? Just this time, believe in me, please.” Jean’s eyes bounced between the two. 

The two prisoners stared at her with different levels of emotions; one dared to hope, the other simply had given up long ago. But something in the voice of that one girl made them feel that everything could be okay.

It was by standing back that Will took his fate in his hand and decided for the first time to dare hope. “If ya can get me outta here, I fitna give ya my power.”

The older redhead turned to Will who looked at her in the eyes with a firm gaze. “Bro, I will do better than that. My friend I spoke about? Samira, she will help hide you, get you a job. If you can work for us, we are going to treat you better than those people. Your power is a great boon.”

Will snorted, hurling spit to the ground. It’s more like a curse to me, lady.”

She shook her head. “I’m gonna change that, bro, I promise. But I need your ability to get you to the place I spoke about and to help me put that pale faced wanker six feet under, I don’t want to look behind my back forever, you capiche?”

Will nodded. “Crystal. Now get me outta here.”

Jean just punched the forcefield again which crumbled just like the one in Angelica’s cell did. Then, she removed the collar from Will’s neck.

“Damn, it’s been so long…” Then Will bit his thumb and blood began to flow from it.

Jean’s lips quirked up into a smile, and she asked him,“No hesitation?” His response was a shrug and a coy smile. “A deal is a deal.”

She chuckled at that, patting his shoulder. “Bro, I like you more and more. Stick with me and everything will be alright.”

“We will see.” He commented, still wary, and Angelica understood why. “I never renege on a deal.” Jean raised her chin, she looked so haughty and funny that Angelica couldn’t help her smirk. 

Jean’s hand morphed into a golden and red clawed one that seemed to suck out Will’s blood. Then something else happened, with a red glow from her hand she took the black guy’s thumb and healed it. “Thanks homie.”

She then turned to Angelica who was irrationally afraid. Jean understood and stopped moving. The younger redhead breathed in and out and did the same as Will and bit her thumb, precious red ichor flowed slowly out of it. Angelica allowed it to drop onto the gold and red clawed hand. Jean healed her, the sensation warm. 

“Okay, now let’s get outta here get behind me, okay?” With a wave of her hand, Jean tore the fabric of reality and a red colored portal opened.

Inside the portal was an office with the most beautiful woman that Angelica had ever laid eyes on. She directed a smile at them and nodded at Jean. Will was the first to pass through, Angelica following suit. They all passed through and Jean simply said to her beautiful friend, “Take care of them, Sam.”

“I had foreseen this, identities were prepared for them. I am sad to say that Angelica’s father was killed six months ago, for her to not end up in the children protection services and being dealt an unfair hand, I took the liberty to designate myself as her guardian. William will be given a job in one of my new... enterprises.”

Jean laughed out loud. “As always, you are on top of things, Sam.”

Angelica frowned, understandably, as she had missed the context to this conversation. The beautiful woman smiled softly at Jean.“This is nothing compared to what I owe you, Jean. Now go back to kill that pale assed asshole and…” Samira looked at Jean meaningfully. “Watch your back.” 

Jean cocked her head, frowning. She must not have understood as she simply shrugged and straightened the lapel of her jacket. “Sure.”

“Angelica, your body can’t handle too much of the radiation you power produces, as you have a normal constitution. When I get back, I will help you with developing a resistance to  heat and radiation, but… to help you in the immediate, I can just do that for now.” Jean’s hand glowed red and she groped Angelica’s right breast.

“Hey!” Angelica looked on in indignation at her savior.

She didn't expect to be groped by the person she owed her freedom to. With an intense look of concentration, Jean explained, “Shh... I’m disintegrating the cancerous tumor here in your right breast.”

Angelica stopped struggling then said with a cracking voice and a tear. “Y-you… thank you.”

When she finished her work, she withdrew her hand, shooting Angelica a smile. “You’re welcome!”

It was finally time for the older redhead to leave. Along with her, she took some gear that Samira had prepared for her- a fine katana sword, food and water for two weeks, bandages, an English to Xhosa dictionary that seemed to be an African language and a first aid kit. Angelica and Will cheered Jean.

“Kill them all big red!”

"Punch that pale vampire guy in the face for me!"

Jean chuckled. “Yeah, time to get this show on the road, I will see you later guys.”

The kickass girl punched another hole in the fabric of reality, passed through it and then was gone leaving Angelica with stars in her eyes and a new heroine to worship.

 

# # #

 

(Northstar & Aurora)

December 13th, 1996
08:10 AM

Patrolling the Jungle from the sky, Aurora and Northstar searched for Jean Grey. They had assumed before that she would make mistakes, and she wouldn’t be able to hide in the jungle forever. Certainly, they thought, she’d be found, thanks to the clone reinforcements from the other bases around the globe coming to help.

Aurora kept seeing patterns in how their wayward subject acted. She created a distraction that made all of them scramble until she destroyed or sabotaged something important. There was no way that a young woman of sixteen years old was an expert in guerilla warfare. But it was like making Aurora and Northstar wrong was the new goal of the snot nosed brat!

Yesterday she had taken out most of the fusion generators hidden in the base and if their master didn’t anticipate this possibility, the base would be left without power. Only two reactors were left online. Meanwhile, the girl used the distraction to spring two prisoners. The powered clones were taking turns patrolling the base and the jungle for any sign of Jean Grey, clone guards with more powerful telepathic protection to be able to discern who is who and not be controlled through mind control.

Aurora and Northstar believed these measures were taken far too late to their tastes. They were over the river in the valley and following it, it was not the only water source in the valley; the base depended on an underground lake that was fed by the Nile, but from the scientist and soldier clones Grey’s base of operation should be near one.

The twins were sweating excessively, their costume unable to dump the excess humidity and warmth generated by their flying under the sun. Aurora was ready to call it a stop and switch assignment with Hans and Sunfire when her brother called her out as he stopped to hover in the sky.

“Sis, do you see that?” Northstar pointed his finger to something he was seeing in a clearing. A mid sized structure with a roof covered in grass and flowers. Aurora stopped flying near her brother and cast her eyes downwards, and they widened. It was a hole dug into a hillside, with round windows and wooden front door.

It looked cozy and inviting, and Aurora glowered at the strange construction; she had no frame of reference to such a thing. She noticed her brother wore the same expression he always had when something attracted his curiosity and began to slowly descend to the clearing. 

“North! Don’t go there!” Aurora panicked.

Aurora’s brother looked up, smirking at her. “Why? It’s clearly her base of operati-”

He was interrupted by a scorching golden beam of energy firing at him. It was scorching, so much so that even  Aurora felt it from her position. Thanks to his superhuman speed and heightened reflexes, Northstar evaded the beam by channeling a portion of the kinetic energy of the atomic motion in his body’s molecules in a single direction. Down.

But the beam still singed his hair. Aurora looked down and saw the red haired hellion launching another beam at her, she too avoided being hit and fired her own concussive blast at her. The girl didn’t even bother dodging and waved her hand, harmlessly hitting a golden and red forcefield spread all over the construction and their target.

Northstar and Aurora continued to bombard the forcefield until they noticed that it still remained strong, not even wavering slightly under their continuous assault. Aurora took her communicator and spoke loudly but concisely. “We have found her, she’s holed into a building she has built into a small hill!”

“Can you capture her?” The smooth and british accented voice of Sinister asked.

“We are trying!! She raised a forcefield that Northstar and I can’t even dent, please send help-” Aurora dodged a golden heat beam. 

She didn’t have the time to continue leisurely speaking as she was getting shot at and made to dance in the sky as Jean Grey was firing at them through the forcefield. *This shouldn’t be possible! Are they one way shields?!*

As she danced in the air as multiple beams converged toward her, Aurora felt another beam coming for her from the back. She rolled on the right and saw what had been coming for her, noticing the beams could bounce! *How the hell is she doing that?!*

“North, careful! The beams can bounce!” Aurora noticed as she saw the beam bounce on invisible surfaces in the air, if they didn’t have super speed and reflexes they would be dead. She didn’t think that the others, Hans or Sunfire could survive this!

“Got it!” Northstar shouted back, charging his concussive beam while dodging the bouncing beams of heat.

The pointy eared man liked this rush of adrenaline that was coursing through his veins, the healthy fear that he might die at any moment; that this was why he was born! To fight, be different from his original who had disappointed him in so many ways. Northstar pointed his fist at the forcefield and fired multiple concussive bursts to where the redhead was firing at them. The shield rippled in place, showing signs of weaknesses for the first time. It galvanized Northstar who continued.

It cheered on his sister too who raised her two hands before her and a crackling sound fired a powerful lightning blast that shattered the shield. The twins feeling victorious looked as the girl looked frightened for an instant before her expression shifted into one determination and strength, she crouched as if she was preparing to jump, the ground and stone shook and Jean Grey shot into the sky at a speed comparable to them, creating a shockwave that pushed the twins away.

Aurora was the first to straighten her flight and try to catch up to Jean and fire concussive and lightning blasts at her. Jean was making incredible barrel rolls, dodging and braking mid-flight that simply rattled Northstar and Aurora who were subject to G-force while Jean wasn’t.

*That is so unfair!* Aurora cried out in her thoughts. Now she understood what Hans was telling her about Jean Grey being faster than her and Northstar.

Jean Grey stopped while Aurora came at her and then her entire body began to slowly glow with strobing lights. Music suddenly played in their heads, a genre that Aurora and brother recognized. They were seeing spots in their eyes because of the light, it was annoying.

*Heavy Metal Hard Rock music?* They thought in tandem.

At that point the situation changed again, Jean Grey fired beams of energy at them but they evaded. Northstar veered right but was surprised to find himself caught by a red glowing hand that held him by the left ankle. His face paled as dread crept up his spine. This was the moment that Northstar knew that for all his bravado he was about to die. For a brief moment, his eyes landed on his sisters but it was already to late

He was wrenched back toward Jean Grey and multiple hands caught each of his limbs. Aurora cried out and fire sped toward her brother in an attempt to try save him but she was far too late as he was quartered. His arms and legs were pulled out of his body, blood flowed in the air and Jean Grey caught Northstar with a hand on his throat, beheading him in a single go. The heavy metal music stopped.

“NORTH!!!” Aurora bellowed, her voice cracking.

Jean Grey giggled. <Oops, looks like your brother lost his head…> The monster projected into Aurora’s mind.

The monstrous young woman was holding onto the body of her brother, her right hand coated in his blood. She laughed at Aurora’s outburst. <Monster? How rude… I find it really hypocritical that you call me this when I see in your mind what you have been doing. You’ve been naughty, Aurora.>

*How… Ah, telepath.* Aurora glared at Jean, blue light shining around her like a torrent. “I will kill you! No… I will end you today, whatever master says!”

Grinning, Jean Grey wasn’t impressed by her display of power. <Well, that would be intimidating if you... well... were intimidating.>

The death glare Aurora directed at Jean would have killed her if she had this power. “Are you mocking me?!”

Jean rolled her  eyes. <Oh, you’ve become boring.>

Aurora heard a sonic boom behind her and saw Hans coming toward them. Her hands coated with lightning and she turned her head to Jean who wasn’t phased by anything. “You are dead. Hans and I will avenge North-”

Twin beams of light hit Aurora on her back and knocked her from the sky, as she fell in the sky she tried to recover but was hit again by the same red beam of Hans and she crashed into a copse of trees. The fall broke her right arm and leg on hanging branches that should have slowed her fall. Aurora was still conscious when she saw Hans and Jean Grey slowly descend from the sky.

The pointy eared woman tried to stand up but cried out in pain. Jean Grey, the monster, landed before her, and crouched with a quirky smile on her lips. “No sequel for you.”

With a crack of her neck, Aurora’s story ended.

 

# # #

(Sinister)

 

Sinister’s personal lab
15 minutes later

Nothing was going his way. Miss Grey had cut him off from his other bases and resources completely. He was busy going through the computer network and fixing the bug introduced into the control program of his fusion reactors grid. He just couldn’t understand how that little trollop did it! 

His system was supposed to be inviolable! Yet, she had simply waltzed in with the understanding of how everything worked?  Who was this girl? She’d been playing him since she was a child and now? Now he regretted having ever involved himself with her. Nathaniel kept losing subordinates and disposable pawns. 

The pale man was typing away angrily on his mechanical keyboard when he heard the footsteps of someone coming behind him. It was Vertigo, looking rather upset. “Master.”

Nathaniel didn’t bother to turn, trying to track down the program creating the feedback loop in the reactors. With a measured voice he said, “Yes?”

A few beats of silence passed before she spoke, “There’s a development.” 

He stopped typing and turned to Vertigo, his eyes focused on her, his expression neutral. “Speak.”

As if wanting to be done with it, Vertigo breathed out and said, “Aurora and Northstar have been killed.”

Nathaniel stumbled back, denting the table slightly when he hit it.“Impossible!”

Aurora and Northstar were his most loyal clones and those who sought to surpass their originals the most. In fact, they bugged him relentlessly for equipment to raise their capabilities every two weeks. Nathaniel had thought them more wary of Jean Grey and able to bring her back, once again the mad scientist felt as if the redheaded trollop nipped his heels.

His face morphed into a mask of cold fury and his clenched fists were an indication of his fury and his need to obliterate something. Vertigo lowered her eyes, not wanting to become the target of his anger and get flattened. “I’m sorry to say that's what happened.”

It was about five minutes later that Nathaniel found it in him to reign in his temper to ask, “What about Hans?! He should have arrived on time!”

Vertigo didn’t know about that, and agreed with her master, Hans should have been faster but maybe there were circumstances? Hans had come out covered in blood and his armor completely destroyed, so she believed that that fight had been difficult. “He wasn’t fast enough. But... there's good news, we discovered her base of operations.”

Nathaniel relaxed his posture and looked completely taken aback. “She didn’t abandon it?”

Gulping, Vertigo continued. “No… she’s hmm… how can I say this without sounding ridiculous? You’d have to see it to believe it.”

With an intense gaze, Nathaniel closed the distance between them, all up in her face, demanding, demanding, “Show me.”

Vertigo chuckled nervously. “Fair enough.” She took her tablet from the pouch on her belt and deftly unlocked the screen and let her finger slide on it to do what she was commanded with. Vertigo connected to the surveillance drone pointed at the hole in the hill of Jean Grey and showed it to her master.

Nathaniel watched the scene on the screen, his jaw unhinged. He looked to Verigo who wore an incredulous expression that didn’t abate since she entered his lab. “Is she… having a BBQ with the prisoners?”

Vertigo nodded in assent. “Yes master.”

Nathaniel looked into his subordinate’s eyes, a rictus of rage slowly spreading on his face. “She is taunting us.”

Vertigo backed down from him, her voice little as she agreed, “Yes Master.”

“Vertigo, my dear, fetch Sunfire and Hans and tell them to bombard that place to kingdom come. Kill her. She’s been nothing but trouble, poisoning our food and well, messing with our generators in a way that tells me that she could have made them blow up and the base with them. She’s impossible to contain so I want her dead. But at least bring me a sample of her DNA.”

At that, her fear vanished, a smile spreading across her face as finally Nathaniel was being reasonable and gave the orders she had been waiting for. Her friends were killed by the psionic bitch and there was no way that the leftover clones could take her down by holding back. “As you wish, master.” 

Vertigo was about to leave when Nathaniel raised a finger to stop her and continued to hand out instructions. “I almost forgot, gather Havok, Chimera and Senyaka with you, bring the three leftover losers too.”

Vertigo tilted her head and hesitated, the title of loser often shifted to others periodically when the master was concerned, he didn’t like failure at all. “Scalphunter, Empath and Vanisher?”

He gave her an indulgent smile. “Who else has deserved that expletive?”

Vertigo chuckled. “It shall be done as you bid.”

Nathaniel waved the woman off. “Now get out, I have work to do.”

As she left, the mad scientist decided that maybe he should array more enemies against Jean Grey. Taking his tablet, he called two of the non-clone personnel in the base on visioconference. On the computer’s screen the blonde Lady Mastermind and Arclight appeared. They were in a safe room in another mountain linked to the main base.

“Miss Wyngard and Miss Sontag.” Nathaniel’s head barely shifted in greeting.

Arclight was the first to speak, folding her arms over her chest in a sulky way. “What do you want?”

Nathaniel showed no reaction to her blatant rudeness, continuing to amiably speak, “I am in need of your services…”

This time it was Lady Mastermind’s turn to react, her gaze growing colder and vastly more unfriendly. “Is it about Jean Grey?”

Nathaniel nodded. “...Indeed.”

The young woman flicked her wrist at him, a scoff leaving her. “Not interested, we were supposed to have already left, but you kept delaying our departure... for your tests.” 

“It is my job to map out all eventual divergence in mutants’ genome, you-” Nathaniel who was lost into the start of his rant and explaining the importance of his research to those two, was suddenly interrupted by Arclight.

“I DON’T FUCKING CARE, I WANT TO LEAVE!!” The crude woman then left the camera’s range and Nathaniel heard shockwaves in the background as the screen on the two women’s side shook.

“You and your little army, you are all going to die anyway. We have been following what’s been happening, and  you keep underestimating Grey. Count us out, you are on your own.” With that, Lady Mastermind  boldly cut the communication.

“If she wasn’t the daughter of my associate…” He would have turned her into a surrogate mother.

He shook his head and returned to work, engrossed in the programs and routines of the control computer and undoing the damages of the girl for the next two hours. What a disappointment she was. He had thought that he could mould her and make her his lieutenant and the mother of his weapon against En Sabah Nur, or maybe more… but it wasn’t to be.

A notification suddenly pinged on his screen. Nathaniel was surprised that he clicked on the pop-up automatically and that surprise grew when he saw three of his loser clones in a compromising situation. Empath was being savagely used from behind by Scalphunter and was giving oral favors to Vanisher. Empath kept pleading with them to let him go and screaming until his aggressor kept beating him in submission to continue to satisfy them.

“Damn, that's a surprise learning you can't gag.” Empath found a rare moment when his mouth wasn’t working to speak but the Vanisher clone slapped him, knocking out a tooth out of his mouth and placing his manhood back into Empath’s mouth. “Shut up and take it!”

“Damn you suck like a pro, swallow this milkshake!” Vanisher then proceeded to push his member to the hilt in the younger clone throat.

Grrrlllk. The shocking sounds coming from Empath made Nathaniel shudder.

“Yes, suck it all! Damn, you sucked a liter outta ma’ balls!”

Scalphunter was climaxing as well, until all three of them dropped dead on each other. To Nathaniel, it appeared as though they’d dropped dead from their act of forced copulation. The camera cut the feed and the mad scientist found himself wondering what it was all about until a note appeared into the air and slowly fluttered to him.

Nathaniel caught it and read aloud, “You kept recycling that rapist Empath with his memories intact, I had to punish him. Anyway, just like him, you seem to be the type of guy that likes a hot dog in your bun.”

“YOU DARE, HARLOT!!” He bellowed, his lungs burning with the roar. 

Then suddenly, bodies started landing at his feet with a note. ‘Four left.’

Nathaniel’s eyes widened and he instantly took his communicator. “Vertigo!”

Only silence and radio static replied to him, until he heard the scratching of someone answering.

“Hey, I am sorry to say but Vertigo is dead.” A female peppy voice replied to his call. 

Nathaniel recognized the voice, it was certainly… “Chimera, is that you?”

“Mhm, sure it is.”

Closing his eyes, Nathaniel asked the question that burned on his tongue. “How did she die?”

Chimera’s laugh was throaty and Nathaniel frowned, disliking the mocking tone of it. “Why of course, I killed her, my new boss has freed me from your little programming and seriously? Suicide codes implanted in my psyche if I raise a hand against you? That’s a low blow even for you, Nate.”

Nathaniel’s clenched his fists, his knuckles turning white. He grit his teeth in an effort to remain silent, his hunched form exuding an animosity that was like acid - burning, slicing, potent. His pale face became red with suppressed rage. “Chimera, listen to me carefully. I will find you, and I will kill you for this betrayal. Tell your new master that I will come for her too, I shall rava-” 

His rant was interrupted by the mountain shaking again, it seemed that it was a localized earthquake. Then he thought better when he saw the top of it fly leaving his lab’s ceiling exposed to the elements. With wide eyes, he watched  as the top of the mountain turned into smaller chunks of stones and just like shotgun rounds spread into the sky at supersonic speed. Nathaniel felt them slam in the earth as they kept creating quakes each time they landed.

“What the hell is happening outside!?”

 

# # #

 

Back with Jean…
2 hours earlier

I followed with great interest as the Sunfire clone barreled in the sky toward my position, when he stopped to hover up in the air and looked down at me and my projections of Will and Angelica with superior stoicism. I was ready to drag him down from the sky and wrung his body like a dirty towel when he raised a hand and sent a stream of ionized matter toward me which rammed harmlessly against my forcefield that covered the hill. 

I made my construct of the freed prisoners run to the inside of the hobbit-house and close the door. I shot into the sky and sent telekinetic constructs in the form of flaming birds at Sunfire who destroyed them with plasma blasts. Swiftly and with stealth, I dodged all those he shot my way and the way I could feel the scalding heat when it was barely halfway to me informed me that I really did not want to get hit by those!

*Sunfire? His codename is so fitting. Okay it’s not the time to play with that guy, let’s be serious!* I stopped and hovered using my hand as a focus to grab the man by his middle section and slam him in the earth below.

It worked, a bit too well, the force creating a crater in the clearing he crashed in. My hands covered in lightning arcs, one of the powers harvested from Aurora’s dead body. In one smooth down gesture, I lit Sunfire up repeatedly with it. I continued this for over one minute until I was sure that the guy wouldn’t get up. I finished this with a wide area optic blast in the crater that enlarged it.

“I hope that was enough.” I landed at the mouth of the crater with a forcefield just in case, and wasn’t surprised when I received another  plasma blast and was  ejected into the sky.

“Still alive, fuck!”

Sunfire rose, naked from the crater, his costume having burned off under my assault. His skin was burned all over his body, making him resemble a well done steak. “Y-ou… steal from us.”

Oh, finally a dumb clone realized that I got abilities from the others I killed. I shrugged, smirking at the cooked japanese man. “Yeah, so? I’m still not going 100% here.”

I let go of my conscious control on my TK aura, and my telekinetic field expanded to immediately cover the entire area, the valley, the mountains and beyond. Sunfire tried to cook me with his plasma emanation ability but I was beyond caring about such things as logic and physical laws. My raw power was such that I was strong enough to become immune to my enemies’ powers or ability through sheer force alone.

Sunfire plasma emanation blazed hot enough that everything around him turned to charcoal immediately. “You are toying with us!” He growled, launching  burst after burst of plasma blasts at me.

The power of the sun was nothing to me at this point, his blast dissipated as I dispersed the heat all around us by slowing the molecule of air. “Let’s kill you properly this time.”

I was more than a telekinetic, I was a reality warper. All the powers I’d stolen from those clones taught me something, TK could replicate everything. That is why I focused on how Gambit power affected items or people around him.

I grinned at the Sunfire clone and said in his mother tongue, “Omae wa mou, shindeiru (You are already dead).”

His eyes widened in confusion. “Nani (What)?” He asked.

But I didn’t answer and simply snapped my fingers.

SNAP. The half cooked man exploded in a shower of gore and fire; as a result of the current use of the japanese man plasma emanation ability, it was as if a mini nuke had exploded. The shockwave and energy didn't reach me and I kind of contained it into a force bubble. How did I do this? Through my TK I made Sunfire’s body molecules speed up to the point that it caused an explosion.

I reigned in my power and let it flow back into me; landing on the ground was out as it was all scorched and still hot enough to cook eggs on. Scanning the landscape surrounding me, I could understand how dangerous my powers were. I liked that hobbit-house which had taken me three hours to make it. Fortunately, the hill was intact and-

I felt a presence and a projectile being thrown into my direction, and I batted it away, turning in the direction it was fired at me from. My mind grabbed his, and as I read him, I discovered that I was only captured because of him. Dragging him toward me on the scorching ground on his back, the man really screamed like a bitch. Once he was driven before me, I watched as Kodiak Noatak was covered in second degree burns. I grabbed the gun at my thigh, pointing it at the rogue inuit’s head. I fired two bullets in his brain and two in his heart, lungs and kneecaps.

“Not even worth the expenditure of power.” I holstered my gun.

Goldie latched a tendril on the man's dead body and gobbled its blood, and I was guessing he tasted delicious from the way she covered and consumed him. I turned my head to the feet of the mountain and felt a fight happening from afar, the psionic energy great in strength. I floated up and slowly flew toward what I felt and covered the eight kilometers in seconds, not caring at all about G-forces.

My arrival didn’t pass unnoticed, my ally, Chimera the blue eyed blonde was battling that big brute Senyaka. She was winning as the man must not have drained enough people to sustain using his bio-electric whips. With a thought I tripped the armored guy who fell face first only for Chimera’s giant ectoplasmic dragon to nab the man in its gullet and crunch on him.

He howled in pain until it stopped, the dragon then spat him out. Goldie gave me the impression that she didn’t want his power so she didn’t reveal herself.

“Hi, Chimera.” I greeted her with a wave.

She was the only clone so far that felt like an actual human being to my telepathy and not half a person. The less brainwashed and most capable of independent actions. Chimera wore a black armored catsuit and a mask barely protecting her face, I thought that she would be better off with a helmet.

The blonde did a perusal of me from head to toe, smiling, seeming to like what she saw. She  slightly bowed her head to me. “Hello, it’s nice to meet you face to face.”

I landed before her. Chimera was taller and… statuesque. A bit intimidating, but for some reason, I felt that she was more afraid of me than of her. To reassure her, I returned her smile and projected camaraderie feelings, holding my hand before her. She shook it readily. “Indeed.”

Releasing her hand, I then focused my telepathy on her mind. “Now come here I must look into your mind to undo the brainwashing you were subject to, as promised.” I pulled the woman down to a crouch before me and held onto her head.

Unbeknownst to Sinister and his clone group, I offered Chimera to unshackle her will if she allied with me, and she easily accepted it out of fear for her life when she realized the type of lengths I would go in my fight. I still kept my guard up, just in case she would betray me.

Her eyes shone with gratitude. “Thank you.”

Chimera’s mind was in shambles, she was suffering from ADHD and there were multiple mental blocks on her mind. *This psionic signature…* It was powerful and yet the work shoddy. It reminded me of myself when I had started learning how telepathy worked; if I was a scalpel, Sinister was a hammer. It smelled of his work; I’d seen it in everyone’s altered mind in this base.

The blonde woman before me was strong, maybe on par with Xavier. Sinister had limited her telepathic and telekinetic output, she should be stronger than what I saw her do to Senyaka. Chimera should have been able to use multiple ectoplasmic creatures. Sinister was actually afraid of her. If I remember well, Sinister had an ability called Dilate power that allowed him to mentally paralyze a foe he's touching and the ability to psionically "turn off" the superpowers of any mutant, creating a mental block.

The man was scary, and I was honestly surprised  he hadn’t tried that shit with me- there must’ve been a reason my power was still intact.

“I am… surprised that you could fight as well as you have been, Chimera.” I mused as I systematically removed all the blocks on her mind.

The blond’s head was already killing her, and riddled with headaches and at worse creating bleeding in her brain that I instantly treated. I deleted the programming placed on her, but I saw something that made me gasp. *Kill codes? That guy is horrible. He could kill them with an order.*

“That asshole, I will kill him.” I vowed between clenched teeth. 

Chimera looked in my eyes. “Why are you saying that?”

I told her the truth without sugarcoating it for her. “Sinister, he really doesn’t like you. He placed more suggestions and safeguards in your mind than all the previous clones I’ve been mind surfing in. It will hurt somehow, are you ready?”

“Do it.” She clipped, her eyes serious, full of determination.

With those words, I started, completely erasing the command embedded in her psyche. She screamed  in agony as I ripped away any of Sinister’s safeguards in my new friend’s head. After over ten minutes, Chimera’s agony had faded to a dull throb. Chimera though, she was grinning like a loon.

Chimera's expression turned beatific, she exhaled in one breath, “Free at last, and I owe it to you.”

“Don’t sweat the small stuff. But I can tell you something I learned the hard way. The most important kind of freedom is to be what you really are. And you must ask yourself this to be able to be truly free; who are you, Chimera?” Jean asked, the clone was young and she had done less bad deeds than Aurora who was a freak who killed children for fun.

She suddenly looked rather lost. “I-I don’t know, I am only two years old and I never had time for myself… I guess, when I discover who I am, I will know and I’ll be free.”

*Come to my side, we have cookies.*

I  didn’t need to read Chimera’s thoughts to understand this moment was an opportunity. I held out my hand to her. “I will help you find your answers. Join me and I promise you that I won’t ever let you down.”

“I will. You have been straight with me so far.” Chimera took my hand, then I firmly pulled her up. She proceeded to firmly shake my hand. 

I rewarded her with a billion volt grin. “I shall not disappoint, welcome to team Phoenix.”

It was at this moment I sensed the approach of a malicious mind from the entrance of the base. My eyes fell instantly on a blond young man of my own age. I felt the plasma discharge building up in his body as he prepared to fire. 

“Not today, asshole.” Without breaking stride, I pulled out my pistol from its holster and fired off two shots dead center in Havok’s head so fast he was still standing up for some brief seconds before he fell like timber on his back, dead. Moments later, his mind had completely vanished. 

“You Summers’ boys are all so useless.” I commented, twirling the pistol in my hand before sliding back into its holster at my thigh.

“That was badass.” Chimera whispered, her voice full of reverence and wonder. I turned to her, with a full smile. “Aww, thank you Chimera. Now why don’t you go hide somewhere in the base while I go take care of Sinister once and for all?”

Chimera’s face lit up with a smile, and she saluted military style .“You are the new boss.”

I shrugged, and scratched my head. I didn’t want to see her as a subordinate after having dived so completely into her mind; I knew her better than she did now. “Sure, but I want us to be friends too.”

We walked up to Havok’s body, and I bent over, grasping his long hair in my hand, opening a portal to one of my hideouts in the base. Then I began pulling Havok’s body behind me.

“Kick that pale bastard in the balls for me, will you?” Chimera shouted at me, entering the portal.I turned to her, my smile promising.“Oh believe me, I will.”

I closed the portal and decapitated the dead body, taking only it’s head with me for Goldie to eat.

 

# # #

 

I had located Sinister but he was locked down in his lab. I could barely feel his inky mind ensconced in a structure built in the next mountain. There was a blockage there, preventing me from teleporting right there; blind teleportation was dangerous with my level of proficiency but I really wanted to kill the guy.

I had to wait, though, because using all those powers had drained us both. I was recovering from using my full power- channeling such energy was tiring and I didn't yet have the endurance to maintain full time. I wasn’t disappointed by my full power, and I knew it’d be awesome to train. Meanwhile, I called back Hans to me, the big lug surprisingly useful and I decided  it would be such a waste to kill him. I resolved to work on him and program him to serve me, completely replacing what Sinister was him. 

Hans was going to be my butler- something I truly needed. I felt him float toward me, in the alcove I had chosen to hide in. I was levitating in a lotus position, meditating on what I was about to do. This was the first time that I would deliberately rebuild the psyche of a human being. Fortunately, I knew what I wanted- I wanted someone lethal and loyal to me while also loving them as a friend,but not an ass kisser. He should also be fiercely protective of me and everyone I valued and he might come to love; the perfect butler, as well as a fighter, he should strive for perfection and believe that anyone should seek to be the best they could be. He should also be a learned and wise man. 

The giant blond man lowered his head and I pressed my fingers against his temples. The psyche, all of the elements of the human mind, both conscious and unconscious. It was also composed of the id, ego, and superego; the psyche consisted of all of the forces that affected thought, personality, and behavior. The product of all conscious and unconscious psychological processes.

I had looked deep down in mine and tried to carefully craft such a fragile thing; it was akin to building a model but I had to craft each of the parts carefully. Hans’ new personality would lean toward an Architect type, a person with an introverted, intuitive, thinking, and judging personality traits. 

These thoughtful tacticians loved perfecting the details of life, applying creativity and rationality to everything they do. Their inner world was often a private, complex one.

An hour later, I was done and Hans’ eyes lost their dullness, now staring at me with sharp and intelligent eyes. “Jean.”

Now that he had this now natural kind disposition, Hans looked handsome to me. Though, not handsome enough to dislodge a certain half-asian girl from my heart. “That’s my name.”

He nodded with seriousness. “I am at your service.”

I snickered. “You are mine now, Hans.” I raised a hand and patted his shoulder.

“Soul, mind and body.” Hans uttered, making a move to hug me. 

I firmly placed a hand on his torso, stopping him. “Let’s not go too fast, Hansy I am in a committed relationship.”

Hans smirked at me. “No offense, Jean, but you aren’t my type.” 

Gasping, I shouted, “What?! But I am everyone’s type!”

Hans looked me up and down, arching a brow. “Sorry, I don’t see it. You are too young, too muscular and you got that smug personality that is a major turn off.”

He patted my head, a large smile playing on his lips. I was momentarily stunned as this was the first time someone has said something like this to me. But I kind of understood, I was basically a mother; I gave birth to his personality and took mine as an example to craft it. Though the comment about being too muscular didn’t fly with me. I didn’t know what he meant; I felt fine. I looked at myself, well… it’s true that I gained a bit of muscular definition.

I shrugged. “Okay, it doesn’t matter anyway.”

“It’s time to finish this, go find Chimera and protect her, will you?” I stood up and landed my feet on the ground.

“As you wish...” 

I glared at him. “Did you read the Princess bride or something?”

“That’s my favorite book in the whole world, though I have never read it.” Hans quoted with a smile, bowing his head slightly before spinning on his heel and left flying at super speed.

*I-I think some unconscious thoughts of mine have messed with the psyche crafting process… like I think I added a bit of Westley from Princess bride. SHIT.*

[Understanding: There, there.] Goldie hugged me mentally.

*I love you Goldie.* I hugged her back, then I had the dubious pleasure to discover that symbiote can purr.

I teleported outside the base and floated to the summit of the mountain, it was barely one thousand meters or so. This was the mountain where the lab was hidden in.I couldn’t teleport inside, and I deployed my Aura, feeling that I could do anything. There was something I always wanted to do when I promised myself to control 100% of my power. 

I extended my arm before me and manifested a telekinetic sword composed of raw psi-energy. It glowed red and gold, it’s radiance blinding. If Betsy Braddock could do it, so could I, being more powerful than her it’s just par for the course. I took it in hand, the sword I manifested a fantasy bastard sword that I was very fond of in my previous life. 

The sword had a long handle which allowed use by either hand, or both, also possessing a more slender, tapered, narrowly pointed glowing blade. With a nod of pride, it was a pleasure to know that I could manifest blades, and I hoped that I could do it at will. Training would change that. I enlarged the blade, until it became as big as a skyscraper, looked at the mountain with critical eyes and in one thought sliced through it with my telekinetic sword.

I caught the other half of the mountain and used my recently acquired molecular combustion made the half chunk of rock explode. The fragments spread as if a grenade had gone off at the speed of sound  and crashed in the valley and other mountains; I didn't care if I had messed with the ecosystem, I would fix everything after I ended my enemy, today.

Finally, I found him. He looked at the sky, and I sensed fear and resignation coming from him and that he was speaking into a satellite phone. I quickly descended into the lab as Sinister kept speaking.“...Oh, she has killed everyone already, it’s my turn now, good bye.” He then put the phone on the lab desk behind him.

“Miss Grey.” His british accent was now really distinguishable.

“Professor Essex.” With the way he stared at me, you’d assume I backhanded him. I did, he thought of himself as Sinister now, in memory of his wife. I hovered toward him, he didn’t feel threatened at all, how quaint.

He wore a lab coat and an outfit that screamed of the  nineteenth century. The smile he gave me chilled me to my bone but I didn’t show it and stayed as calm outside as he. “I regret that it has come to this. If I knew the depth of your power, I would have either invited you or left you alone and observed you from afar.” 

I returned his smile. “And stolen my DNA while I was not aware of being part of your schemes like you did to the original Aurora and Northstar?”

He cocked his head, looking at me like I was a puzzle. “Strange, you seem informed about my methods.”

Lifting my chin, I turned my nose up to him. “I know everything about you, Professor Essex.”

Sinister shook his head and smirked condescendingly at me. “I doubt it. Miss Grey, I have an offer for you, if you are willing to listen we can put that sorry series of events behind us.”

The thought of refusing and beheading him on the spot crossed my mind, but I held off, opting to listen to what he had to say; it wouldn’t cost me anything. “Speak.”

The British mad scientist nodded at me and with a grandiose and dashing swish of his lab coat, put a hand on his breast. “I am willing to offer you my service, my technology and experience. As a battle between us would be rather… destructive, a partnership between the two of us could be highly beneficial Miss Grey. Think of all we could accomplish, we could bring homo superior to the top and of course, the rest of humanity with us. What say you?”

I bopped my head in a nod and Sinister’s face lit up with delight, until I opened my mouth and said, “I don’t see why you’re trying to buy your life with my own possessions.”

Sinister’s eyes held a glimmer of confusion at that. I landed my feet on the ground, staring him dead in the eyes. “Because I have already claimed everything you own by right of conquest, so you need to bring out something else if you want to leave alive.”

“Impudence! I offered you decent terms and you spit in my face! You’ll have my base over my cold dead body!”

“Ah a challenge! Now, where can I mount the stuffed head of a Nathaniel?” I made a show of looking around the lab.

His eyes glowed red like ruby, smoldering waves of anger rolling off him. “I will kill you, little trollop.”

I grinned. “And I am about to take you out prematurely, like your family.”

The shock on his face was priceless.

“You…” He lunged at me, I felt him unleash his own telekinetic aura meeting my own.

I was sent flying through the walls of the mountain by the clash of our respective might colliding. That was only a sign that my focu wasn’t sharp enough. Once again, I unleashed my full power, Sinister attempted to punch me but I caught his fist. He smiled devilishly like that was what he had wanted. I felt something trying to grab at my power and mind, but Goldie and I batted it away, then I punched him with all my strength.

It was my turn to send him flying into a wall, destroying the lab equipment. I pursued him only to receive a shot from his concussive blasts; my forcefield shrugged it off, I smiled and fired my own optic beam at him catching him in the chest and digging him in further into the next room. I manifested a telekinetic sword in my two hands and stabbed him in the heart.

My hands charged lightning and let the blast travel through the psionic blade to electrocute him. Sinister howled in pain and seized. He glared at me with such hatred and  endured the pain and touched my telekinetic sword with his hand, tightened his grip on it and kicked me.

Flying, I stopped myself from entering the lab again. Sinister created a multi layered forcefield and was charging his concussive blast and struck me full on. “Argh.”

I created multiple layers of forcefield like I just saw him do. “Enough!” I shouted and followed my instinct and began siphoning Sinister’s own psychic energy. 

Stumbling, I saw him now looking at me in fear as I strengthened myself with his energy and raised my hands before me and sent a blast of psychic energy I stole from him, cutting all the forcefield layers he made, to shreds. All the rocks around me floated up and I shaped them into sharp projectiles that I hurled at him. The screams that left him were music to my ears.

Walking toward him with a swagger, I looked at his shredded form. “Karma comes after everyone eventually. You can’t get away with screwing people over your whole life, I don’t care who you are. What goes around comes around. That’s how it works. Sooner or later the universe will serve you the revenge that you deserve.”

I crouched at his side and used my telepathy to stop him from using his powers- the same way he’d tried to do with me. Goldie latched on his arm and bit it, I turned off his pain receptors. Wrenching a bit of bleeding flesh from him. “This was always how it would have ended, asshole. You, dying, like the rat you are under my heels.”

I then began to steadily ransack his knowledge, and skills, I didn't just replicate it but completely stripped it from his brain. And Phoenix damnit, it was extensive; the process continued for two longer minutes, until it settled in my mind with Otto's knowledge and archived in my memory banks. I allowed myself a self satisfied smile.

Sinister looked on as Goldie began devouring him. “Y-you and I aren’t… so different, Miss Grey. I-it seems that you have… become a monster, like me.”

I scowled at him and Goldie stripped another strip of flesh from him. “You know what the difference between us is? My parents and family are still here, they didn’t ditch me. Not like your wife did. Laughable that she was even able to see any light in that dark pit you call a soul. Oh, what were her last words to you as she died? ‘To me, you are... utterly... and contemptibly... sinister.’ What a fucking joke, even she knew you were trash way back then.”

He stared daggers at me, hatred burning in his eyes. When he tried standing, I placed a foot on his torso and pinned him onto the ground again, cracking his ribs. He grunted. My hand lit on fire, Goldie retracted into me again fearing it. “How do you like your ribs?”

Sinister’s palpable fear was back, his heart thudding furiously and his eyes dilated. I turned on his pain receptors and used the strongest cosmic flame and heat I could use to negate the effects of his regeneration. I blasted him with cosmic heat and flame. He screamed like the bitch he was.

I sustained the flame throwing effect for five minutes until I saw that nothing was left of him. Not even ashes. I have killed my mortal enemy. “I am finally free.”

SHRIKNT. I felt a pain in my heart and I looked at my breast, a blade piercing me. Goldie was screaming and I noticed that I too was screaming in pain. I fell on my knee, then the blade retracted and I fell forward, face first.

“Urrgh.” Goldie was already trying to save me and fix my heart. But I felt that it wasn’t going to be enough…

My assailant rolled me on the side and then I saw Sinister smiling at me. “I told you that I would kill you, little trollop.”

No! I had forgotten that he has become some kind of hivemind with a bunch of clones! How could I forget such an important detail! No, it couldn’t finish like this, I had him! I had killed him. Why?! Just why?! Sinister took some kind of futuristic silver gun out of his jacket pocket and stood up, pointing at me and pulling the trigger. Even though I rallied any shred of psionic energy I had left to form a forcefield, the weird energy pierced my forcefield and then I saw black and fell into oblivion.

 

# # #

 

When I reopened my eyes, I was in the astral plane- on my little island, to be precise, with the gigantic tree on fire and a giant firebird looking down on me. We looked at each other for a long moment before she spoke.

(You have failed.) The voice was stern and uncompromising.

I sighed. “Yes, I admit that I had forgotten he had clones running about.”

The Phoenix Force cocked it’s fiery head. (What are you going to do?)

“I am dying, right?” My voice cracked.

(You certainly are, your Klyntar isn’t able to save you and is proceeding to launch a psychic scream.)

My eyes widened. “No, no, no! That can’t happen!”

When symbiotes are threatened, they let out a psychic scream that affects sensitive humans worldwide, and was received by symbiotes in a nearby star system. A starship full of Klyntar hosts might come knocking, it was a toss between good or corrupted one.

The Phoenix scratched inside her fiery left wings. (Goldie is still a child and she loves you. Of course she is going to scream for help.)

Panic consumed my insides. “What can I do?!”

(Become mine.) Phoenix said simply.

I tried to play dumb. “Excuse me, what do you mean?”

Phoenix’ voice was full of amusement. (You know what I want.)

Glaring at her, I said, “No.”

(You are already a pseudo phoenix avatar, you have been acquiring powers from me, such as the life sight or cosmic fire.) Her voice was as seductive as a succubus.

I knew that I was already doing things that only me merged with the Phoenix force should be able to do. My cosmic fire ability that I really liked was a boon, but it seemed that it came with a price tag.  “There must be another way.”

(There is none.) Phoenix whispered.

“But this is.. This is a burden! It’s too big.” The Phoenix Force was one of the oldest known cosmic entities, representing life that had not yet been born, as well as the forces of creation and destruction. The Phoenix Force was an immortal, indestructible, and mutable manifestation of the prime universal force of life. Born of the void between states of being, the Phoenix Force was a child of the universe. 

It was the nexus of all psionic energy which did, had, and ever would exist in all realities of the Omniverse, the Guardian of Creation, and a de-facto guardian of the M'Kraan Crystal. 

The Phoenix was among the most feared beings in the entire universe - having the power to cut and regrow any part of the universe, as well as destroy it entirely, which was part of the Phoenix's purpose: "The Judgement of the Phoenix": to burn away what didn't work. Recent interventions of the Phoenix suggest that "what didn't work" was what had become stagnant instead of naturally evolving.

I didn’t feel like I could assume such a mantle; I wasn’t a good person, and my morals were flexible, something that was proven by my acts against Sinister’s clones. (I have an offer.) She said, with a reasonable tone.

She made me hover to her, and I looked inside her flaming eyes. “Okay, it costs me nothing to hear it.”

(Twenty years, I can give you twenty years with your loved ones until you take your full duty as an avatar.)

I gasped, my jaw unhinged. “That’s not enough! I want to marry Cindy! I want kids, this is not enough time… I-I have a counter offer!”

The Phoenix lifted her head and screeched in annoyance. (Oh, this is gonna be good, let me hear it.)

I looked beseechingly at her. “I am willing to become a Phoenix host, you can give me tasks, but I can return to Earth and live my life as I see fit. I… I am willing to become part of you, forever, but I should also be able to manifest another avatar of myself to stay on Earth and fix things… is it attractive enough?”

The giant firebird looked thoughtful. (This has never been done before, but this offer is very attractive to me.) She mumbled.

“Then?”

The Phoenix force morphed into a flame Me. She held her hand to me and said, (Take my hand and you shall gain your heart’s desire.)

What I wanted was to live! What I wanted was to return to my parents, friends and Cindy! Then I wanted to ensure the death of Sinister and all his clones! I took Phoenix’ hand and then I fell asleep. Everything was on fire, and I felt myself merging with Phoenix, our memories, personalities and body becoming one. I even absorbed a part of her consciousness, it was vast, like an ocean and I felt myself cocooned in the most comfortable featherbed. 

In my dreams, I saw why the Phoenix was so interested in me. I saw a young me that had telepathically linked her mind to her dying friend, Annie Richardson, to keep Annie's soul from moving to the afterlife. In doing so, my mind was being dragged along to the "other side" with Annie. 

Phoenix had lent her energy to break the connection and kept close watch on me since then, as it felt a kinship with the young me. And I understood, yes, I finally understood that she wasn’t my enemy, that she cared for me, she loved me. And now? Now we were one.

“I am fire! And life incarnate! Now and forever -- I am PHOENIX!”

 

# # #

 

I woke up, and rose upright using my TK. I remained in the lab and Sinister looked at me with horror. I looked at myself, my hands were bigger, I felt taller. More powerful than I had ever dreamed of. There was another change, I was in a red and gold costume with the phoenix symbol emblazoned on my chest and a sash belt at my waist.

[Happiness: Jean-host, Jean-host, Jean-host, Jean-host, Jean-host…] The litany of joy of my Klyntar friend at my resurrection was heart wrenching

*Goldie! I’m sorry, I should have been more careful!*

[Determination: Don’t die.]

I smiled and then looked up at the Sinister clone who had killed me. Because, yeah there was no sugarcoating it, I had died some minutes ago. I looked at the vial of my blood in the hands of this Sinister. He smiled at me, took his gun and fired at me again. But this time the green energy package didn’t work and hit harmlessly against my body.

I cocked an eyebrow at Sinister. “You know, I thought that I hated you before. But now? Now what I am about to do to you, I’m going to enjoy it, very very much.”

His smile faded as if he had fallen into a particularly bad dream. “You may kill me, but I shall come back with a solution to that... sudden power up you have obtained. Each time I come back more powerful than before. It’s too bad that you are such a vixen, we could have done great things together. I was willing to bend the knee to you, you and I could have been the greatest force this world had ever seen.”

Tilting my head I answered him with, “For a washed out brit geneticist, you do sound awfully cocky; but I don’t want you to bend the knee like you did to that asshole, Apocalypse. I want you dead.

I held out my hand and his waiting neck flew into my grip, then I lifted him  into the air. I was already suppressing his powers as he struggled in my grip.

“This time I won’t just kill you, I shall scour the earth for every scrap of your presence, I will send your soul to Lady Death personally.” I felt my aura build up and then I was suddenly encased in a fiery gold and orange aura in the form of a bird and floated into the air, the mountain simply disintegrated around me and we were rising into the sky. Sinister’s body was already burning  and I held onto a piece of his soul.

Swiftly, I reached the stratosphere and clutched on the soul piece, I opened my senses and opened my lifesight. When I blinked, I could see everything living on the planet. When I turned toward the moon, I saw life there, too. I refocused on Earth and more precisely on the other soul pieces scattered all over the blue-green marble under me.

I closed my eyes and concentrated, now feeling at least fifty clones of Sinister alive. I wanted to kill them all in one shot, I spread my awareness around the entire planet and my fiery aura in bird form grew and grew. 

Then, I screeched. A red wave of energy spread all over the planet. The wave washed over everything on the planet's surface and in the surrounding space, searching for the precise DNA strand of Sinister. I saw many of his clones burn, screaming and disintegrate at the same time. It made my lips curl into a wide grin laced with satisfaction. His soul pieces came flying into my waiting hands and assembled.

Once complete, I crushed the soul in my hand and just like promised, I sent his soul to Lady Death. As I looked at my hands I realized that this power, it was terrible. And a responsibility that I didn’t want, but maybe because I didn’t want it, I was perfect for the job?

(Yes.) I heard the Phoenix’s voice in my head.

“Ah you are still here, excellent. Now Sinister is dead, that’s a great day!”

(Your job isn’t done yet. Can’t you feel that mental field all over the planet?)

“Oh?” I turned my senses toward the planet once more and fair enough there was someone performing mass mind control on multiple people at once. Half the population in fact, my eyes narrowed. 

My mind found them, it was some kind of bacterial life that was spread all over the planet and trying something. This vaguely reminded me of something. I interfered with the mental field and heard the suggestions it was sending. It hated metahumankind. It hated us because we were immune to his infection, we were a threat to him.

It called itself Sublime and burned so fiercely with hate that he compelled humans to hate us and took direct action in order to ensure that metahumankind’s population was held in check, if not outright killed in order to become the dominant species on the planet.

As I mind surfed on the mental field to divine the intention of the multicellular lifeform, it detected me and spoke to me. “Don’t touch me!”

“Abomination.” I gritted between my teeth.

“You mutant female think you are better than me?!”

“Huh, yeah, now prepare to die.”

I screeched for the second time by focusing on the entirety of the planet and the wave spread again. Seeking the Sublime, when it did find it, the waves began to break down the corresponding matter on the surface of the planet. I heard as the psychic scream of the sublime collective died, well… collectively. Some infected humans fell dead or fainted depending on the level of infection by the organism.

It was such a shame. Thing is, you couldn’t save everyone. My eyes honed in on Egypt. My new base of operation was now clone and Sinister free. I resolved to go to the other bases to clean them up. Also depending on the powered clones, I would either feed them to Goldie or keep them on retainer.

Looking at the blue and green planet, I saw beauty within it. How did such a place breed such an egoistic species like ours? Maybe, just maybe, my ascendency to the avatar state wouldn’t be so bad and would help fix the problem riddled planet. I descended toward Egypt with a smile on my face as the Raptor of Life.

 

END OF ARC 1: SINISTER'S END

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