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Chapter 1
Chapter 2
Chapter 3
Chapter 4
Chapter 5
Chapter 6
Chapter 7
Chapter 8
Chapter 9
Chapter 10
Chapter 11
Chapter 12
Chapter 13
Chapter 14


Written by Elena Zovatto
Last updated: 01/02/2007 02:01:11 AM

Chapter 11

While the others slept, Deathbird was in the control room of the holovid chamber, replaying the session she had had with Bishop. Due to her avian physiology, she was accustomed to several brief periods of sleep interspersed with activity, rather than one long resting period. With little else to occupy her time on the last night of the outward journey, she found herself dissecting her performance on the screen. She hadn't managed to defeat the human outright, and that was an affront to her -- one that she did not plan on suffering again.

Frame by frame, she examined each clash in minute detail, analyzing each movement -- block and counter, action and reaction -- trying to find a weakness she might be able to exploit at their next meeting.

He was much heavier than she was, of course -- but that gave her a definite edge in speed, though not as much as she would have liked. Earth's gravity was slightly heavier then Chandilar's, which would probably account for that. But she had to admit, Bishop moved very well for one of his bulk. He clearly had a talent for strategy, too -- he had refused to allow himself to be drawn into fighting her kind of battle, staying with the techniques that worked best for him. At the same time, he was quick to capitalize on any openings in her own defenses, however small.


She was midway through playing the session for the second time when she suddenly realized that she was no longer concentrating on her opponent's technique, so much as his other qualities.

He was ... comely ... for a human, she thought critically. Perhaps not to the same extent as his companions Joseph and Gambit, but those two lacked the warrior instinct and were thus beneath her regard. Deathbird found in the X-Man from the future something of a kindred spirit, which she had never before encountered -- a man as made for battle as she was. Bishop had fought and bled with her, defending the next generation of her people from the Phalanx menace, and proven himself a warrior-born. Apart from herself, she had yet to find another true warrior among the Shi'ar -- she found it exceedingly ironic to have found such a one amongst a race as obviously weak and backward as the humans. Although admittedly, as a mutant, Bishop was not exactly human -- and clearly, the species must have vastly improved in the next eighty years. Perhaps in Bishop's time, humans were worthy subjects for the Imperium ... after all, he was certainly worthy of her ...

Her train of thought rapidly crashed to a halt.

I must be going mad ...

How else could she explain it? That both of the last surviving members of the most powerful ruling House in the history of the Imperium since Sharra and Kythri themselves -- had become so debauched as to even consider the possibility of having non-Shi'ar as heirs to that power?

She chuckled bitterly.

It is fact that insanity has appeared in our line. Could this be some manifestation of it? This ... predilection for weakness?

Deathbird immediately rejected the thought. While she wouldn't defend her sister's choice of companion from the accusation, she could defend her own -- Bishop was not weak. She had seen weakness and despised it in all its forms -- she would recognize it if it were present. And that brought her to a rather sobering thought ...

If she were a superior member of a superior race, and was unable to find a meet companion amongst the others of her kind -- but could find one amongst an inferior people -- were those people truly inferior?

Her eyes widened in shocked realization.

It flew in the face of all she had ever been taught of her heritage -- yet she could find no way to rationally deny the fact.

At last, she laughed as she savoured the irony.

She, Deathbird -- the greatest opponent to her sister's alliance with a mere human -- forced to acknowledge her mistake by falling in love with one herself.

I fear I shall have to be grateful to you for this, sister -- damn you ...

Cyclops wearily pinched the bridge of his nose -- the others too, were uncharacteristically quiet as the Blackbird sped back toward Westchester. This last mission was definitely not among their finer moments as a team.

Sam had nearly become an unwilling test subject for the Kingpin's scientists, and the hope for a Legacy cure -- or at least treatment -- had been dashed once more. But it was nearly losing Sam that caused the tense silence now ...

It was well over two months ago that Beast, Bishop, Gambit, Joseph and Rogue -- with Trish Tilby -- had disappeared in space. Lilandra, her resources already overburdened with rebuilding the Imperium, had ordered a search; and the Starjammers were already retracing the lost ship's last known course. Neither had found anything yet, and the rest of the team was rapidly losing hope. Five friends were possibly lost forever -- the spectre of nearly losing a sixth hung over them like a cloud.

If I had been more thorough ... thought things out a little more. Maybe it could have been different ...

A soft voice broke into his self-recriminations.

"Do not blame yourself for that which you cannot control."

Scott smiled wanly.

"Telepathy in addition to controlling the elements, Storm?"

"No such thing," she said, returning his smile, "but I have experienced the sensations you are having now often enough to know the signs. These last few weeks have been difficult for us all, but perhaps more so for you, my friend, " she said quietly.

"The responsibility is the cross we bear, Storm," he returned in a tired voice.

"The decisions and the consequences are ours. I know that, and I accept it. Hell, I've lived it since I was a teenager ... but with the others missing ... what happened today was almost too much to handle -- for everyone."

Ororo placed her hand on Scott's shoulder.

"You made the best possible decisions you could, given the information available to you at the time. That is all any leader could do. Or at least," she said with a twinkle in her eye," so a very wise man I know once told me."

Cyclops chuckled.

"Using one of my own speeches on me -- I could have you up for insubordination, you know."

"Yet it is true -- is it not?" Storm persisted.

"Yes ... but you know that's cold comfort at best, Storm."

She nodded somberly in agreement.

"True -- but there is nothing that you could have done to prevent Gladiator when he came in search of aid for Lilandra. And I too, feel guilt for not going in search of the others -- yet I still maintain that with the situation here being what it is, it was the right choice to make. They may yet be found. We must look at what we have accomplished, rather than what we have not. Cannonball is unharmed, and the Kingpin has been thwarted."

Scott grunted.

"For now, at least. But there's something deeper at work here ... something insidious. And whatever it is, Bastion's behind it. His name has been coming up more and more often in every Senate reference to solving the mutant 'question', but nobody's saying what exactly he's proposing -- even Val hasn't been able to get any details. That has me worried ... maybe I'm just paranoid," he sighed," or maybe I just need a break ..."

"You have been pushing yourself as of late ..." Ororo replied.

"True enough ... and I have some things to discuss with you later, Storm. Depending on what we hear about the others, I've been thinking of taking a couple of days of private time, probably up in Alaska ..."

"If you would ask about my willingness to lead in your absence, there is no need, my friend," she smiled.

"I certainly cannot begrudge you that."

"Thanks, Storm ... but it won't be until we have some definite news. We'll talk later ..."

Wolverine, who had been sitting by the controls, was the first to notice the fast-approaching blips on the radar.

" We've got incoming!"

There was a tense silence on the bridge of the small cruiser. The shipboard computer had run a full scan of the solar system as soon as they had re-entered normal space, and turned up nothing -- but they knew better than to take that result at face value. They had been careful to enter the Sol system while cloaked -- there was every chance similar technology was available to the crew of the vessel which had almost destroyed them.

"Anything?" Bishop inquired.

"No, not a thing. If they are here, they're hiding very, very well ..." Beast replied.

"Or very, very smart," Nomi mused distantly, her eyes narrowing.

"How do you mean?" Hank asked, turning back to their guest.

"I believe I follow the Jedi's meaning," Deathbird broke in.

"If our enemies had enough time -- or foresight -- they may have manoeuvred close enough to one of the planets or larger moons to hide in its gravitational 'shadow'," she explained, then smiled grimly, and continued.1

"It is a manoeuvre I have often used myself ... and since most routine scans are based on gravitics ..."2

"... that would essentially render them invisible," Hank finished, his voice flat.

"They didn't seem to be the shy, retiring type when they blew by last time," Trish observed.

"We can always hope," Beast returned," but it would likely be best to err on the side of caution -- at least until we can be certain whether or not they're here."

"Oh, they're here," Nomi said quietly," and nearby."

She turned to Gambit, her eyes dark.

"Do you feel it?"

Since they had re-entered the system, the vague feeling of dread which Remy had experienced earlier had changed to something else, which he couldn't find words to adequately describe. The best he could do, if asked to explain it, would be to say that it felt like someone had drilled a small hole through the middle of his soul, allowing a cold wind to blow through the empty space.

"Oui," he replied softly," but what is it?"

"A disturbance in the Force ... remember when I explained that Light and Dark can sense each other, and you asked what it felt like?"

"Lemme guess -- now I know?"

Nomi nodded, then turned back to Hank.

"I'd suggest we find your friends as quickly as possible -- there is great Darkness here."


"Units One, Three and Four confirm acquisition of chosen targets. Units Two and Five are in pursuit of another, with the remainder of the battalion proceeding to the crash site. Anticipate full attainment of mission objectives shortly."

"Acknowledged. Once captures are completed, transport to base immediately."

"Acknowledged. Will return to base, ETA two hours. End report."

Bastion signed off the communications screen, and leaned back in his chair. It was almost time to leave for the press conference. Phase two would begin shortly, and with one stroke, the partnership he had struck would achieve his goal -- the preservation of humanity.

Slowly, the cruiser moved into position -- they had been lucky so far.

Although the usual scans had proven fruitless, Joseph had managed to locate what they believed to be the mystery ship through his power, searching for particularly high concentrations of metals. It had taken a lot out of him to search such a wide area, but he had managed to detect a large, regularly shaped metallic mass in orbit around the moon. While they couldn't confirm whether or not it was the mysterious ship, they were taking no chances -- and with their collective experience, the X-Men had as little belief in coincidence as the Jedi.

"Strange ..." Beast muttered.

"What is it?" Bishop asked brusquely, his voice tight.

"Well ... I sent out a hailing signal as soon as we came into range -- about ten minutes ago -- that should have been picked up by the communications system at the mansion. But there hasn't been a return signal."

"So maybe nobody's home," Trish suggested hopefully.

"That shouldn't matter -- it's automated. What it's supposed to do is first notify the proper parties about the signal, then acknowledge the hail. And it's interfaced with Cerebro to locate those parties -- usually Cyclops and Storm -- no matter where they are."

"Any chance that the delay could be due ta some kinda malfunction?" Rogue asked uneasily.

"It's possible, of course -- but not probable," replied McCoy, his voice tense.

"Maybe we can find out for sure," Nomi replied thoughtfully, then turned to Gambit.

"Remy -- would you be able to contact one of your friends?"

"I'll do m' best ..." he replied with a nod.

With the others looking on intently, Gambit took a deep breath, centering himself.

'Member what she taught ya ... concentrate on one person, and sift from de background. Should be like the other times ...

As she was closest to his heart, and would probably be the easiest for him to find, he focused on Storm. Using the Force, he sought her unique presence from the teeming life on the nearby planet. He was successful -- but although he had suspected trouble, he was unprepared for the assault of her emotions upon his senses.

The sense of confinement, the panic, the inability to move, the lack of air -- Remy felt the full force of her claustrophobia as she experienced it, and it sent him reeling.

He felt someone's arms about him, holding him steady, but he ignored it and the din of his teammates' questions, concentrating again on his best friend's thoughts.

Trapped ... can't move ... must calm myself ... need to breathe ... please ... let me out ...

Storm's thoughts were desperate as she struggled with her fear. Remy anxiously reached out to her -- she had to calm down, and for that to happen, he had to get through to her.

# Stormy? Stormy, listen t' me! # he sent urgently.

Remy? ... imagining things ... can't breathe ...

# Y' not imaginin' t'ings, Stormy, it's me! What 'appened? Where are you? #

How ... she began confusedly, but he cut her off.

# Never min' dat now, I tell y' later -- right now, we got t' know where you are! #

Colorado, I think ... we were going home ... Sentinels attacked, different ... than before ... Nimrod type? I ... I can't breathe ...

# Stormy, hold on, we're comin' ! Y' got t' relax so you c'n breathe # as he 'spoke' to her, he also projected calming thoughts, hoping to ease her panic.

Calm ... must calm down ...

# Dat's right, Stormy -- calm down, then it's easier to breathe. Y' said 'we' were goin' home -- do y' know if the others are wit' you? #

Yes ... they captured ... Cyclops first ... they used a divide ... and conquer strategy ... be careful ...

Her fear still paralyzed her, but at least she had calmed enough to breathe properly ...

# Jus' hold on, Stormy, we're coming # he reassured her.

Do not ... call me 'Stormy' ...

Relief washed over him. If she wasn't all right -- for the time being, anyway -- she wouldn't have said that.

# Now dat's my padnat # he chuckled.

# Hol' on, 'Ro, we're on our way. We're goin' t' get you out of there, compris? #

Yes ... please, hurry ...

# We're comin' as fast as we can, chèrie. Right now, I got t' go -- but I'll talk to you again in a little while, 'kay? #

Yes ...

# Au revoir, Stormy -- we'll see y' soon #

Reluctantly, he broke the connection with Storm, and brought himself back to his surroundings.

"Remy? Are ya all right? What happened?" Rogue asked anxiously, shifting her grip from his waist to his arm, as she led him toward a chair.

Wordlessly, he accepted her assistance and promptly sank into the seat, closing his eyes for a moment. When he opened them again, they were dark with worry -- and anger -- and when he replied, his voice was grim.

"It looks like we got more t' worry about than that other ship."


1. and 2. These ideas were shamelessly lifted from David Weber's first-rate space-opera, the Honor Harrington series, which I would recommend to anyone. A full explanation may be found in the fifth book of the series,"Flag in Exile".

Not like you can tell I'm also a David Weber fangirl ;-)


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