"IT'LL CHEW YOU UP AND SPIT YOU OUT”
"A Sort of Homecoming" Part 1 of 2
Brought to you by: James Carmen: Plotter, Scripter, Letterer, Editor
DISCLAIMER: Wolfsbane, Excalibur, X-Factor and all featured characters are the property of Marvel Comics, with the exception of Wire, Haze and Flashfire. These are the property of James Carmen. Those characters of Marvel's are used without permission, and no profit is being obtained through their usage.
A couple of things. First, I know that Douglock sounds a little wooden in this (even though he has become much more human since Excalibur 100, in comics, they can alter the look of his speech bubble, but here I can only alter his speech patterns. Thus, he no longer uses conjunctions. Sorry, Douglock fans.
Second, the bad Scottish accent in this piece differs from the bad Scottish accent last issue. I was trying to stick with Rahne's speech patterns in the comics, but every writer there had a different idea of how to write her accent. In between writing last issue and writing this one, though, I read Irvine Welsh's Trainspotting, which is written entirely in a Scottish accent, so I used it as a basis. Rahne's accent is still not completely uniform, as she did live for about three and a half years in the states. She's been back in Scotland for some time, but she'd still have a bit of a mixed-up accent. Any other mistakes are mine, because it is difficult to deliberately misspell words, especially if you type at speed. A reminder that this is set _before_ X-Factor #132 - i.e. they have not split with the government yet.
"FROM: Paul Summers, U.S. National Security Advisory Council.
ATTN: Attache Agent Rahne Sinclair
Dear Ms. Sinclair..."
She didn't dare read any further. It was going to be bad news. Rahne put the letter down next to the envelope (padded -courier mail) on the kitchen table and sighed. "What's it about?" asked a concerned Kitty. She was sitting next to Rahne and had been trying her best not to read over her shoulder. Douglock was seated opposite Rahne, absorbing the emotions.
"It's frae the Gover'ment. I dinnae think it's good news."
"Why is the government sending you mail?" Kitty asked before she caught herself. "I mean, you aren't exactly the most well-known member of the team. You think it's anything to do with the attack on you a couple of days back?" She did look genuinely concerned, Rahne thought.
She shook her head. "The letter's nae frae the British Government, it's frae the American one. I think it's about X-Factor."
"Oh." She actually looked surprised. Rahne didn't think she'd ever seen Kitty at a loss for words in the entire time she'd known her. Shadowcat's feud with the New Mutants ended years ago, but it still felt good to see her old rival like this.
"Och, Ah may as well read the whole thing," she said, and began reading aloud: "`Dear Ms. Sinclair. Our records indicate tha' ye filed for indefinite leave o' absence frae yuir assignment on the gover'ment-sanctioned "GeeCee" team "X-Factor" on 5.27.1996. The terms o' yuir agreement stated tha' ye were tae be allowed tae choose when ye returned tae active duty, bu' the Gover'ment has need o' yuir services and so we are forced tae call upon clause 17, subsection eight o' the United States Secret Services act, entitled Code Latitude...' "This dinnae sound good." She continued: "`...which allows the Gover'ment tae reinstate ye in active service in the case o' an extreme emergency. Such an emergency has ocurred, in the apparent defection o' former X-Factor team leader code-named "Havok"'"
"Oh, Rahne..." said Kitty, her hand on Rahne's arm.
"Och, they cannae dae this!" Rahne blurted, rage beginning to form behind her eyes.
"A question, please," asked Douglock, with a confused expression on his techno-organic mask, "`X-Factor' was your previous affiliation in a group, was it not Rahne? And Havok was the team leader to whom you were bonded with genetically. Do you retain any aggression toward this man as a result of the actions of others?"
Rahne took a deep breath. From anyone else, such insensitivity would have been a serious insult. From Doug, though, it was him trying to be concerned and find where things lay. Besides, he looked so much like Doug. "Aye, Dougie, I' wis and he is - 'til Haven cured me o' the genetic bond. But nae, Ah dinnae hold him responsible. What Ah dinnae respect him fer is treating me so badly when Ah thought Ah was in love wi' him. He jus' treated me like a lovesick child."
"However, that is what - to Havok - you were. You were aged sixteen years at the time, which is as I understand, immature, with certain connotations attached to it, one of which is lack of control over emotions."
"Aye, an' muh power wis doin' strange things tae muh mind. Bu' still, instead of trying tae reason wi' me and help me, he tried tae ignore everything until I' wis too late."
"Affirmative. He failed to fulfill his duty as your team leader. I accept your explanation. You indeed have cause for resentment against him. What does the rest of the letter say? What do they want you to do?"
"Well, I' goes on: `We are callin' tae active service all members of the team X-Factor, including all currently involved in other projects, tae attempt tae stop any plans that Havok may have before they can reach fruition.' Och, tha' sounds bad. Bu' Ah don't know o' any other members of X-Factor who aren't members now. Except Guido, bu' he's not really able tae help. Bu' tha's I' fer the letter. There's jus' the signature."
"Do you think it's got anything to do with the attack on you, Rahne?" Kitty asked.
"Nae. I've worked wi' the Americans, an' two people in the same office will be tellin' ye different things about wha's goin' on. It's bleedin' terrible. Ah thought Parliament wis bad enough." Rahne shook her head in disbelief. "I think it's genuine."
"I have been looking at the regulations regarding your re-enlistment." Douglock's eyes were closed, and he had a ‘spaced-out' look. "It is true that they have the right to do such a thing,. The code that they invoked, however, is used only is the most dire emergencies and such an invocation is subject to review by senate committees. I do not believe that they would have called upon such powers if it were not necessary." He opened his eyes and looked pleased.
Kitty looked impressed. "What did you do, just hack the NSA?"
"Not precisely," he answered in a matter-of-fact tone. "I penetrated through NASA, from there into the Senate funding sub-committee and from them into the NSA. The security was very low because they thought their computer were safe simply because they were turned off."
"My, my, my. We must do more of this, Dougie. I'll teach you what Ramsey taught me." She was genuinely amazed at the abilities that Douglock was manifesting. "Shall we start?"
“Now would be a good time, I believe. The Funding sub-committee is due to meet in two hours and then they will check their computers. We should have cleared out any evidence of intrusion in the meantime." The two of them left.
It was nice to see Kitty getting friendly with Douglock, Rahne thought. She'd finally accepted him as a different person to Doug. About time. His death had hit her at least as hard as it had Kitty, but for some reason she was able to move on - but Kitty was always such a bull-headed lass. Rahne shook her head and gathered up the letter. Kitty had been no help. This would have to go to Moira.
"So whit exactly is an Attache Agent?'" asked a slightly amused Moira. They were in the medical lab; Moira had put her tests on hold when Rahne entered. "Och, I' wis a silly label they gave me when Ah joined. Ah wis tae young tae be a Special Agent, so they gave me another name. I did everything the others did, but I got a lower salary."
"I blame the government," sniffed Moira. "I hate th' spaleens."
"Aye, bu' whit d'ye think Ah should do? Ah mean, ye may need me here for the operations. Ah dinnae think Ah should go."
"We are doing important work here, but Ah think we c'n spare a few hands. There won't be any fighting for some time. May never be. Remember, Kurt's tryin' tae keep everything above board. If we can find out where and what the agents are doing, we can leak the information to MI6 through Wisdom's contacts."
"There's nothing that MI6 hates more than incompetence." The cigarette smoke had alerted Rahne a while before Wisdom appeared in the doorway. "Except maybe foreign agents on their turf without their say-so."
"Ye're smokin' again in muh lab. We both know whit this means." Moira's eyes wandered over to the heavy-duty horse needles. "Are ye feeling any pain frae yuir leg injuries?"
"Alright, you bloody jock, I'll put it out." The cigarette was thrown outside. Moira sighed - probably the best she could hope for."What are you talking about?"
"That's our mister Wisdom, nae bleeding respect fer privacy," Rahne retorted.
"Look, I'm going to find out sooner or later. There's no privacy on this bloody rock. It's either from you or from Kitty, what's it to be?"
"Ah suppose ye're right. Well, Ah've been asked - told - tae come back tae X-Factor."
"Bloody hell. Why?"
"Their story is tha' Havok is runnin' loose an' they want tae get him under control before he blows up any really big buildings."
"Bloody hell," he said again, leaning against the door frame. He reached reflexively for another cigarette, but stopped. "You think they're kosher?"
"Aye, Ah do. They called Code Latitude."
"Ye seem tae be sayin' that a lot, Mister Wisdom. Is anything wrong?"
"Yeah, it is. Latitude is one of their older codes. It means, paraphrasing, that everything's gone to hell in a handbasket and they're getting everyone they think they can half-way trust together to deal with it. ‘Any Means Necessary'. I think they're going to kill him. Is he really as powerful as they say?"
"Aye, even more so now. Back in Genosha the first time he blew up the whole Citadel himself."
"I hear he had a habit of doin' weird things in Genosha. Look, MacTaggert, I've really got to have a smoke."
"Then get outside. Shoo!"
"Alright, don't break out the woad yet, I'm going." And he left.
"He actually looked worried, Lady."
"Aye, Ah think that under all that crud he has around him, he may be halfway decent. Only halfway, though. Not enough for me tae actually like him. So, are ye going to go?"
"Ah think it's best."
Upstairs she found Wisdom again, smoking in the front hall. "Look, I've got plane tickets for both of us to Washington. I hope you're coming."
"Excuse me, bu' ... us?"
"Yeah. I got some friends to post me as a liaison to MI6 to give aid to our American Cousins.' This ittle jaunt should give Excalibur some good coverage."
"So ye volunteered yuirself tae oversee me, is that it? Ye thought the little girl would make a fool out o' herself and ye'd best be by tae keep me safe, is tha' it?"
"Oi! Keep it down, will you? I'm doing it because it's good forthe team, what's wrong with that?"
"What I really don't understand, Kitty, is why she had to hit me. She even shifted to give herself more strength!"
"She's under s bit of pressure. The last time she saw the man, she wasn't exactly on the best of terms with him. She hasn't dealtproperly with everything she went through ..."
"Yeah, more than one of them around. Does she do this often?"
"Shut up, would you mind not breathing for a bit? It's hard to put bandages onto your chest if its width keeps on changing. Thanks. Yeah, she's done it before. Sam - Cannonball - ignored her one too many times and she hit him.
"Anyway, she's been left a little out in the cold by everyone, and never really spoke to anyone about it. I think she had a shrink for a while, but she couldn't see him after she moved back here. And here we've had all of our troubles. There, I think that should hold."
Wisdom stood up and tested his new bandages - they covered most of his torso. "I still think you just wanted an excuse to go staring my chest ."
"Mister, I don't need no stinking reason." She poked his chest for emphasis, laughed at his pained reaction.
"You sure she didn't break a rib? It feels like it. Anyway, since when have you been so chummy with the wolfgirl? It's not like you've ever been the best of friends."
"Hmph. And where exactly did you hear that?" Kitty asked, drawing herself up to her full height and crossing her arms petulantly.
"Grapevine. Like I say, you can't keep secrets on this rock. That, and I've been doing reading. Baldy tried to bust you down to the New Muties..."
"So?" Kitty interrupted. "That was a long time ago, and she's forgiven me since then."
Wisdom laughed, catching himself and wincing at his aching ribs. "Yeah, right," he said when he recovered. "You don't see the look on her face whenever you get caught short. You're the two youngest here - you're either friends or the deadliest of enemies. She thinks you're winning, since she's only just arrived and you're a founding member - with a boyfriend to boot, which is something she's never had. Meanwhile, I obviously support you more than her, so I'm her enemy too. You understand?"
"Yeah, and I think you're making all that up. Since when did you become pop psychologist extraordinaire? You getting a soft spot for her?"
The trip to Washington was shorter than any other Wisdom had ever made over the pond, only about two hours. Brian's new crate really did have some kick - even more than the old 'Runner. The kid slept most of the way - or pretended to sleep, she didn't seem too happy to have him along. The Flit was cold, but when he looked in on her last, she didn't have any blankets over her, just a layer of fur ... some mutants have all the luck.
As for himself, he used the time looking through the sealed information package given to him by Doyle, his MI6 friend. The man did actually work for the CIA for seven years (of course, he was still on a British payroll at the time) so he knew more about Americans than most anyone than Pete knew. He said that there was a shadowy American organisation involved here - and this was the real reason that Pete had come along. The organisation was called Operation: Zero Tolerance, and he wanted to keep the kid safe. He couldn't get the rest of the team involved, they had too many important things to do, keeping up on OP:Z activities in Britain. They probably wouldn't have any breakthroughs by the time he got back, but the work was still important.
There had been no ceremony when the Moonlight Flit landed and taxied into a special reserved hangar. Just a car waiting for the two of them and two rooms booked in a rather fancy hotel. Some sleep to catch up on jet lag - Rahne wasn't so badly hit, she'd adjusted her sleep pattern the day before they left - and on to the meetings. She handed in her Government ID (she had had to look for it quite extensively at Muir - she had thought she'd never need it again), and she was assaulted by images of a drastically changed team. In addition to some grey- and black-suited bureaucrats, Polaris was still there and Forge was in uniform - looking more like part of the team than their liaison. There was a man who looked for all the world like a small Sabretooth. She wished suddenly that Wisdom wasn't in meetings of his own. A deep, rolling voice behind her: "What's th' matter, frail, don't like what you see?" She spun around. Sabretooth.
In her nervous state, it took all of her self-control to avoid pinning his arms and ripping out his throat. That, and the fact that she saw him carrying X-Factor ID. Still, her rage expressed iteself as increased bulk.
"She's wolfing out! Let me handle her," came a shout from behind her, and before she could turn, Polaris raised a hand and froze Rahne's muscles, locking her bones into place. Polaris had never done things like that before. A little more reliable than a magnetic bubble, but Polaris probably didn't know that it ... hurt. A soundless scream wracked her lungs, emerging form her lips as a vague gurgle.
Polaris let her drop as her body flowed into a more human seeming. She rose, only able to get to her hands and knees. "Good start, kiddo," Polaris continued. "First thing you do back with the team is try to kill your own teammate."
Rahne rose to a squatting position, adjusting her form her more usual one. "Aye, but don't you think tha' if Ah had tried tae kill him, Ah'd ha' made a move before ye could ha' had a chance tae hold me? Ye know how fast Ah am." Polaris had changed. Gone was the woman with whom Rahne had almost formed a sort of friendship, in her placewas a hardened - no, uncertain - soldier. What had happened while she'd been away?
"You were wolfing out, I couldn't take a chance," she said, almost - but not quite - apologetically, putting her hand on Rahne's shoulder.
Rising to her feet, she looked Lorna directly in the eye. "Maybe, maybe no'. Ye never did really make much of an attempt tae understand muh wolf forms. Why should Ah think ye any different now?" It was probably too harsh, but Rahne didn't have the patience for banter. Her words had some of their intended effect, and Lorna removed her hand.
Rahne barged past her, towards the cluster of members. Sabretooth had been joined by a blue-skinned woman, Rahne recognised her as Mystique, the leader of the now-defunct Freedom Force, with whom the New Mutants had clashed with on two occasions. Rahne set her jaw and walked with determination towards Forge.
"Hello, Rahne. Welcome back," he offered.
"Ah won't delay, here," she returned. "What is he doin' here?" She pointed a taloned finger at Sabretooth, who was grinning maniacally.
"He was assigned to us by the U.S. Government. Since then, he's proven himself to us many times."
"But ye cannae really say that ye trust him, can ye?" Forge began to deny her claims, but she continued. "I can see the doubt on ye, Forge. Yuir voice has jus' a little uncertainty, an' yuir pulse raises a little. Yuir face changes shape tae bring attention away from yuir eyes, so other people won't look at them. Yuir body temperature rises ever so slightly. There's nae sweat, bu' Ah know ye're verra controlled an' so ye could stop tha' frae happenin'. It's about as hard tae lie to someone wi' heightened senses as it is tae lie tae a telepath. And if Ah can tell, ye can be sure tha' Sabretooth already knows."
"You have been away fro some time, so I will remind you. When you are here, I am your leader. You don't question my decisions," he snapped back, angrily, expecting the little seventeen-year-old to jump back into line. But she didn't.
"Aye, whate'er makes ye happy, Forge. Bu' Ah thought ye were just our liaison. Since when are ye the team leader, tae?"
Forge bristled with anger. "The meeting's on. We're all here, so let's go."
One of the men in suits was busy scribbling on a pad.
“You're Wolfsbane, right?" It was the smaller version of Sabretooth. He didn't look nearly as formidable as his older counterpart, a little naive even. With his physical mutation, it was impossible to tell how old he was. They were in X-Factor's aircar, speeding towards Fall's edge. Rahne had been amusing herself by looking at the stunning scenery, including the long valley over which the base was situated.
"Aye, how did ye guess?" she replied, putting as much good humour into her voice as she could muster. She didn't want to be angry at someone she didn't even know.
It caught him a little off-guard; he smiled. "Yeah, well, the name kind of gave it away. But they say you were an old member. Polaris was looking forward to seeing you. Before what happened just before, I mean." Rahne looked away. "You know, she's sorry. It's just she's on edge. We're all on edge. The G-Men've been pushing us around, I don't think anyone really mean what they say anymore. We don't mean to make you feel unwelcome."
"Thank ye. Whit's yuir name?"
"Wildchild. From Alpha Flight."
"Hmph. Who thought tha' one up?"
"Forge. I used to be called Wildheart, but I was a criminal under that name. He thought it better to change."
"Good reasonin', bu' aren't ye worried about the number o' villains in this team? No' ye - if ye've worked with Alpha Flight I'm prepared tae trust ye. I mean them two." She pointed at Mystique and Sabretooth.
"Look, you've got to realise that they both requested to work with the government. Forge is convinced they're on the straight, so I 'll go with him."
Rahne shook her head. "Like Ah told Forge, ye can't lie tae someone wi' enhanced senses. Ye're even less sure than he is. Ah've gotta say, the more Ah ask people, the less Ah understand why they're tolerated. Ah mean, look at Lorna. She almost passed over the team in the first place because it was replacing Freedom Force - because any new team would be tied in people's minds tae whatever came before it. Freedom Force was led by Mystique. Now she's on the same team! 'Tis madness."
"Well, you see..."
"And then there's Sabretooth. He's a killer. He had his chance in Xavier's mansion, bu' he repays them tryin' tae help him by guttin' Psylocke."
Wildchild didn't say anything at that, just stared at her.
"Aye, they didnae tell ye about that, did they? They tried tae rehabilitate him, but he's a killer at heart."
"Um, we're getting close. I should get back to my seat." Wildchild left. She had probably been a little hard on him - her voice had been a little accusing at the end there. But she couldn't stand Sabretooth.
Rahne entered the rather bland meeting room confidently, taking a seat at the large table that consumed most of the space in the room. She decided to take it easy, give the new team a chance to prove themselves to her. But Sabretooth and Mystique? No way. She could remember like yesterday the time that Freedom Force had shown up to abduct Rusty for desertion. The Blob said that there was a program to make a mutant army, hints at a covert mutant strike force. Was this what had become of that suggestion? She couldn't look at Mystique without seeing killers like the Blob and Commando. And Sabretooth - the last time she'd seen him, he'd been gutting Morlocks in the sewers under New York City. She shivered. Yes, she would give the new team a chance, but Sabretooth and Mystique would never be forgiven by her. The decor was awful - had probably been chosen out of a catalog. She seats were office twirlies, upholstered in purple paisley. However, the walls were a rather pleasing dark blue and the computer that took up one whole wall with its holographic screen actually seemed to fit. Everyone entered and found a seat, Polaris sitting down next to Rahne. She put her hand on Rahne's and smiled apologetically; Rahne smiled back. Forge placed a sonic damper on the door and a bug jammer on the table in front of him. Finally, he went to the computer and inserted a disk. Pressing a few buttons, he opened a door through which walked a new member - translucent, she wore a strange parody of an X-Men uniform and had an `M' over her left eye, in a similar manner to Bishop. That done, Forge began to talk: "We all know why we're here. Havok has gone mad, and we have to decide what to do about him."
"Excuse me," said the new woman, "but how do we know that e has actually `gone mad?' What do we have to go on?"
"A good question, but invalid. Two weeks ago, he attacked a transatlantic flight, ripping to top of it off. He threatened a newspaper editor, and may have killed everyone on the plane had Cyclops not been there to stop him. The 'plane would have crashed had it not been saved by the X-Men. Before this, I do not need to remind you of his mind control at the hands of the Beast clone. He attacked Polaris, leaving her near death, and escaped. He claims to be free of the programming, but I do not think so. Furthermore, he recently released the Beast clone and Fatale from prison, indicating that he is less than free of programming than he thinks.
"Now, before we begin, I shall introduce everyone. "Our new arrival is Rahne Sinclair, Wolfsbane. She is a founding member of the team, although not an official member. Refer to her as an `Attache Agent'." Stifled giggles from the transparent girl. "She is a lupine shapeshifter, possessed of enhanced strength, coordination and senses. We've all seen some evidence of her powers this morning." The computer screen behind him displayed several images of Wolfsbane at work. One showed her attacking in full wolf form, another showed her shifting from human to her attack changeform in a split-second and jumping out of harm's way. In any case, as a member, her file is on record. You are all cleared to access it."
"Jus' a moment, there!" Rahne responded, a little indignant.
"It's on record so that others may know what to expect from you and what you are capable of. For your benefit, miss Sinclair, I shall introduce those who you may not yet know. This is Wildchild," he said, pointing at "He is formerly of Alpha Flight in Canada. He, too, has enhanced senses, strength and agility. Shard, over here, is Bishop's sister from the future. She is a stable hologram, capable of making herself solid at will. She can fire blasts of energy and is an accomplished martial artist. You have met Polaris. I do not know if you have met ..."
"Aye, I've met them two. Although Ah had trouble recognisin' Sabretooth jus' now because he wasnae hip deep in Morlock blood."
"That's enough!" Forge bellowed. "We are all members of this team, and will behave as such! If you have an objection to one of our members, then that's fine with me as long as you keep it outside!" He was purple with fury; she'd butted against his authority too many times that morning. Or perhaps it was because she was questioning decisions that he wasn't too comfortable with himself. "In here, we are a team."
"If she wants to talk, she can talk. I like a girl with spunk." Sabretooth grumbled, still grinning inanely. Maybe Wolverine's claw had done lasting damage to him - damaged his jaw muscles or something. He just kept on smiling!
"No, Sabretooth. You take that stuff outside." Forge relaxed, returned to his briefing. "Now, the powers that be have decided that this is out primary concern. All other priorities, including all personal projects, must be set aside in order to try to crack the ‘Brotherhood' before it becomes a major threat. Unlike many of their orders recently, this is one that I believe that we can follow without too much bother." The mutants gathered around the table nodded slowly. Slowly, Sabretooth became a little more sombre as he began to concentrate. It actually did seem as though he took his role on the team seriously. But was that to his own ends? Or to others'?
"This is what we know so far. He has recruited five mutants into his Brotherhood. Exactly how they fit into the hierarchy, we do not know. We do, however, know their names: one of them bears a striking similarity to the Beast - Henry McCoy - and claims to be a clone of him. Another is Fatale, a teleporting shapeshifter who was in McCoy's employ before their arrest. The next one is new - a mutant named James Rhodes, also known as Flashfire. He was broken out of prison two days ago. His powers transform him into an energy being made of electrical fire."
"Has physicists baffled. All we know is that he's immune to physical attacks - they just pass through him. Only way to take him down is by disrupting him enough - a wall falling on him tends to disrupt his form enough to force a transformation back to his human form. That's how they caught him. Presumably any large enough mass moving through him would do the trick. Polaris, you should be able to deal with him quite easily. His powers put him right into your sphere of influence.
"Next is Andrew Hayes, also known as Haze. He's a mercenary who was working in South America. He returned to America with an injury and was presumably recruited by Havok. His mutant ability is unknown, unfortunately. He has taken pains and spent a great deal of money covering his tracks.
"The final mutant is Luis Rochelle, also known as Wire. His power is to project the image of any object up to five feet away from where it is, thus creating the illusion that it is in a different place. We know him because he visited Rhodes four times during his last week in prison, and has NCIC records for working with the Mob. Best of all, he still lives at home."
WHAM! Sabretooth burst the door open with a kick to the lock, and entered the house, followed by Forge, who was carrying a predictably large weapon of his own design. At precisely the same time, Polaris ripped the metal-framed attack window out and flew in, dragging Wolfsbane behind her, while through the back, Shard entered with Wildchild.
Forge encountered their target first, as Wire came barrelling down the staircase, firing a submachinegun from each hand. He was a small Hispanic man, athletically built - deceptively strong. Strong enough to hold an Uzi in one hand and control it. He came flying through the air spitting twin swathes of destruction, long black hair snapping around and a wicked grin on his face. Forge brought up his wrist-band shield generator, deflecting most of the shots. One struck his cybernetic leg, shattering the knee. Depleted Uranium bullets, Forge thought. Even armour-piercing wouldn't do that to his leg. Sabretooth crouched behind Forge and his shield, but when Forge went down, he sprung to the side, avoiding the last of the burst of bullets. Rolling behind convenient couch, he came up over the top when the fire stopped, leaping straight at where he smelled his opponent.
Just before he hit, he realised that his target was standing still, he wasn't even looking at Sabretooth as he reloaded. Furthermore, the smell wasn't fear - it was expectation, like he'd just set a trap . And the big lug had just walked into it. He crashed through the illusion, coming muzzle-to-muzzle with a very nasty Uzi, and a grin on a face above it. He kissed himself goodbye and charged. Whether he would have managed to kill Wire without dying himself would never be known - Polaris entered at just that point, freezing the trigger mechanism of the gun and spinning the man around. Sabretooth's wild swing connected with his ribcage, which by rights should have caved in, but instead the claws bounced off. Below the torn skin on his right side was only metal. Polaris locked the target in place as Sabretooth licked the "blood" off his hand. The cyborg even had face blood pumped into capillaries in the synth-skin to make himself look real. It didn't taste nearly as good as the real thing. He glanced up - Rahne was standing up on the staircase, where Polaris had come from, looking him dead in the eye. She was different from the X-Factor reports he'd read about her. He returned the gaze and grinned, she looked away.
The medical scans on Wire were quite revealing. His bones were interlaced with synthetic protein strands, making them several times stronger and less brittle than normal bones. On the sides of his ribcage were subdermal plates made of high-impact plastic. His right hand was cybernetic, as were his eyes, his inner ear, and a large amount of his nervous system. Reflexes, senses, strength, all boosted to well beyond the human norm, and all replacements were covered with a very expesive synthetic skin - they all looked normal. Best of all, though, he had a storage cell at the back of his head that was linked to his eyes so he could access the information. At the moment, it was filled with a map - a townhouse, with entry points and address marked. Forge ran the address through the computer. It belonged to one P. Hayden, a CIA agent. The house had not yet been attacked. "They'll ne'er attack it now. They know tha' this spaleen's bin nabbed, and they'll guess tha' we got the map, too," Rahne pointed out when Forge suggested they lay in ambush at the house.
"The girl's right, Forge," said Shard. "They know that if they got here, they'll be busted. All it gives us is something to go on."
"To try to do what?" Forge asked.
"T' try tae figure out what the Brotherhood is doing." Rahne answered. "Could ye jus' show me the man's file?"
Forge brought it up. Sure enough, P. Hayden was listed as being ‘on leave'. "Aye. Ye see tha'? Tha's making me suspicious. Ah ran intae some CIA blorks in Scotland who were ‘on leave'. They were working fer Operation: Zero Tolerance."
"Are you saying that this man..." Forge started.
"No' necessarily. He could jus' be on leave. There's nae way o' tellin' ‘til Ah c'n talk tae Wisdom an' get him tae check up wi' his contacts in MI6."
"Excuse me," asked Forge. "What would MI6 know about this?"
"Och, nae more than the KGB," Rahne replied whimsically,
"Bu' more than the President." Forge hmphed and left, pleading that repairs awaited on his car.
"Look, just get it done quickly, will you?" Shard interjected to hide her smile. "I want to be ready for the movie tonight."
"Aye, it shouldnae take too long. Wha's on?"
"A Michael Douglas film that Wildchild has been wanting us to see for a long time. I don't see what's so great about him, but this movie's meant to be really good." She shrugged.
"And wha' is it called?"
Wisdom had spent the whole day in meetings with top CIA officials. He always hated dealing with the CIA; they didn't tell you anything that you didn't know already. You never got anything done in meetings, that was all done in backroom audiences, or in restaurants or pubs or at someone's house. The meetings were just there so everyone met each other and established where they all lay. He fell back on his hotel bed, half-empty whiskey bottle hanging from one hand, top shirt buttons undone and tie hanging loose. It had been a long day and he needed to unwind. He didn't like leaving the kid alone, either. He liked it even less now that he found that Mystique and Sabretooth were on the team. But from what he'd heard they were actually very tied to the government. They'd even had a chance to kill Forge and go off with the weird Beast (there were about thirteen theories about where he came from - Wisdom believed none of them) but apparently working with the government was important to them for some reason.
The cigarette that hung slackly from his lips ashed onto his shirt. He didn't worry, just brushed it off. _Back to your old slob hall habits, Wisdom. Kitty would die if she saw you like this._ Hell, just about the only time he ever behaved was when he was around people who would report back to his girlfriend. _The things we do..._ Another swig of his whiskey and he sat up, reaching for the pile of messages he'd carried up from reception. Sorting through them, he saw one was from Wolfsbane: "Check up on a P. Hayden. He's a CIA agent who is officially ‘on leave'". That was it. He looked at his watch - it would be about four in the afternoon in London. He reached for the phone.
Interlude one: a bleakly shot, drizzly futuristic city's airport. A plane has pulled up at the terminal, a tube extends to greet it in a handshake ("Welcome to my Domain", it seems to say).
Special Agents Rahne Sinclair and Lorna Dane are stepping out of the plane's door. Handcuffed to Sinclair's wrist is a Hispanic-looking man, with flowing brown hair and a dangerous look. "Hey, no way, the Mets are gonna kick in this years' final," Dane asserts.
"If ye want tae b'lieve tha' Ah won't stop ye," Sinclair answered, shaking her head, "bu' Ah'll ha' tae warn ye tha' ye're backin' the wrong horse. Ye never were so good at spottin' the odds."
"Yeah, right. Since when were you an expert? Oh, yeah, I remember. You like to think you're an expert on everything - what's that nickname of yours? Black Rahne?"
"Never mind tha'. Ye see the men we're meant to hand the prisoner over tae?" She scans the crowd in front of customs, then answers her own question. "Never mind, Ah see them." The little threesome worked their way through the crows - not difficult since government officials got the front seats - towards the clump of official-looking men. One is unbelievably large - bursting the seams of hi= s suit. Aside from that, he looks normal - if being in possession of long blue fur and sharp white fangs is considered normal. Sinclair approaches the one in lead - a blond - and everyone pulls out their badges. "Detective Inspector Alex Summers? I'm Special Agent Sinclair, this is Special Agent Dane."
"I'm Inspector Summers. This is Detective Rhodes, this is Detective Hayes, and this is Detective McCoy. We're here to pick up the prisoner, Luis Rochelle. Thank-you for escorting him to Tokyo."
"Hold it. Can we see some paperwork?" asks Dane. Blondie produces a form, filled in by computer. Dane looks it over for a moment. "It's legit. He's all yours, Summers. Hope you enjoy him."
She shoves the paperwork back to Summers, produces the key to Sinclair's handcuffs."Oh, we will." Sinclair uncuffs Luis and hands him over to Detective McCoy. "See you around."
"Nae, we're leavin' soon." Sinclair answers.
"Oh, no, you'll be seeing us," says Luis. As the Tokyo delegation leaves, he gives them a leer, about as cute and cuddly as a Bengal tiger.
"Wait on," Sinclair observes, "were we no' meant tae go tae the station wi' them?"
"Bloody hell, you're right. Let's catch up."
Customs is only a short jog away - they get through by flashing their badges. With no baggage, they get out quickly. "Special agent Sinclair? Soory we are late, but what are you doing out here? we expected to meet you inside customs." Another voice greets them outside customs. Sinclair turns to face the speaker, seeing four more men, all holding badges. One holds a form that looks similar to the one produced by Summers. He has a perplexed look on his face. "Where is your prisoner?" he asks.
"Bloody hell!" shouts Dane. "Look!" Sinclair looks where she is pointing, and sees Summers and his boys leaving by the car park entrance. Luis is no longer handcuffed, "Spit! Chase 'em!" They break into a sprint, heading for the car park. By the time they get there, their quarry has vanished. "Split up. When ye find 'em, yell and do nae try anythin' stupid."
"Gotcha." Sinclair heads for the upper levels, and Dane heads for the outside lot. Sinclair is only on the next level up when she hears Dane scream. Running to the edge, she draws her gun, expecting the worst. She did not expect what she now sees. Dane is in one of the outside lots, encircled by a chain-link fence and surrounded by bikers, each of which has a different exotic hand weapon. All wear helmets.
Dane has her gun out and is pointing it at the leader, but a biker rides up behind her and slaps it out of her hand with his bo staff. The emergency stairs are close by, and Black Rahne pounds down them seven at a time, crashing into the walls of the stairwell as she goes. Some nasty bruises and a short run later, she finds herself holding the fence, trying to climb over.
Her gun had disappeared somewhere along the line and she couldn't climb the fence, she could only beat her fists and wail. The bikers circled closer and closer to Lorna, like sharks. They had taken their helmets off now - the leader with the sword was Rochelle - Wire. With the bo staff was Bastion, with a chain-knife was Sabretooth and with a huge longbow was Mystique.
As she watched, Bastion rides forwards and knocks Polaris's legs out from under her with a quick blow to the knees, before returning to position. She remained kneeling, but almost immediately Mystique rode out and smashed a powerful blow with the butt of her sai on Lorna's temple which sent her sprawling. She struggled back to her knees, using both arms to support her. But Sabretooth rode forth, cutting her right arm with his chain-knife. She screamed then, staggered but remained kneeling, supported by only one arm. Rahne screamed in unison, her violent protest against the barrier increased. Wire extended his katana and rode back to the closed gate of the compound. With that runup, he set his blade steady at Lorna's neck height and accelerated. He got closer and closer - Rahne screamed...
..and woke up, jumped out of bed and ran to the basin. She splashed water on her face and collapsed into the corner for a while, sobbing dry tears for a while. "Och, it's happenin' agin, it's happenin' agin," she said to herself. "It's happenin' agin."
Oh, well. Had to make up for the lack of violence in this issue. Next issue, the action- and suspense-filled conclusion to the "A Sort of Homecoming" 2-parter - entitles "Indian Summer Sky", where the meaning of the dream is explained and Havok makes his move.
P.S. About the names I have given to each of these stories - they are, indeed, all taken from songs. But I'm not going to tell you which ones; it's not really important.