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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 14

Nomi Sunrider followed close behind Rogue as they continued to journey through the landscapes of her mind. Since meeting Cody at the start of their search, they had encountered many other "people", but had not lingered to speak or interact with any of them. Most appeared almost as ghosts, transparent and ill-defined, others were more distinct -- and a very few, like Cody, appeared to be as "real" as Rogue and herself.

They had made no search plan, but they hadn't needed one. Rogue appeared to know exactly where they had to go. It was just taking time to get there, navigating over the rough terrain, and around the remaining mental shadows of those Rogue had touched. Despite Rogue's earlier warning, they had had no trouble from any of the scores of remnants of other minds which shared Rogue's psyche so far -- which was why the Jedi had allowed her guard to relax somewhat. However, it was not much longer until Nomi realized the X-woman's call for caution had been well founded.

Out of nowhere, a huge furred, fanged, clawed man leapt at her. Surprised, the Jedi just managed to dodge, her hand instinctively going to her hip for her lightsaber, as her attacker's momentum carried him past. He skidded to a halt several feet past them, then leapt again, arms outstretched to rend and tear. This time, Nomi was ready -- but so was Rogue.

As he came toward them, Rogue stepped in front of the Jedi, and frowned. A large, thick brick wall materialized before them, and shuddered under the impact as their assailant hit it in mid leap.

Nomi blinked in surprise, and turned to her guide.

"Not that I'm complaining -- but how did you do that?" the Jedi asked.

Rogue shrugged.

"It's mah mind, after all -- Ah can do pretty much anything Ah like in here," she replied, then muttered, "An' Lord knows doin' things like that to that varmint is the only pleasure Ah get from havin' him in here."

"Are there many others like him? Violent, I mean?"

"Well, there's only one Victor Creed, thank God -- but that's not ta say he's the only one we have ta worry about. Ah've fought a lot o' real nasty types over the years. Some of 'em are still lurkin' around -- that's why it pays ta be careful, like Ah said."

"Only some?" the Jedi asked, puzzled.

Rogue looked at her questioningly, and Nomi elaborated.

"I thought that once you touched someone, you retained part of that person's psyche for good -- so shouldn't all of them still be here?"

Rogue shook her head.

"Nope -- what stays an' what doesn't depends on a lot of factors -- that's one thing the Professor figured out -- an' the main ones are length o' contact, intent, an' the strength of the other person's personality, " she replied, ticking off the points on her fingers.

"Length of contact is fairly self-explanatory -- but intent?" Nomi asked.

"Intent is mostly if'n Ah meant ta use my power, or if was an accident, " Rogue explained in a worn voice, "an' as for how strong the other person's mind is -- that c'n cut both ways. Someone who ain't very strong is easier foh me to absorb, but Ah can lose what Ah got from 'em faster too -- assumin' the other two factors aren't an issue. Someone who is strong is a lot harder -- an' more dangerous -- foh me to absorb, but what Ah get from them is usually here foh good. That's assuming that whoevah I just touched didn' match or overpower the strength of mah own mind, of course."

She smiled mirthlessly.

"It's only happened twice -- but then I am about the stubbornest person you're evah gonna meet."

"What happened those other two times?"

"That, sugah, is a story foh another time -- preferably when we're both back on solid ground, an' Ah've had a chance ta get good an' drunk. C'mon -- I think what we're lookin' for is just a little farther. The neighbourhood's probably gonna get a lot rougher too, so we better be ready."

Nomi nodded her agreement, and they continued on their way. She paused briefly though, as she sensed a familiar presence.

She looked in the direction the sensation was coming from, and caught a glimpse of the source before losing him in the shadows. He hadn't confronted them, but was following from a distance.


Not wishing to draw Rogue's attention to their pursuer just yet, Nomi was about to reach out to him through the Force and demand to know what he thought he was doing. She hesitated, however, as an idea struck her.

She sent out a gentle probe -- and her suspicion was confirmed. She could feel his power -- but no awareness of it on his part.

This Remy had never been her student.

Apparently Rogue had absorbed people other than enemies in the past -- and this particular shadow was what remained of Remy's psyche within his teammate's mind.

Nomi didn't know why he (it?) was following them -- but she could sense no danger. She debated whether or not to inform her hostess about their pursuer, but then decided against it. Although Rogue was holding up surprisingly well given what she had been through, she was still vulnerable -- and clearly uncomfortable with discussing the effects of her power. In the end, Nomi decided to keep silent.

No doubt, like the Remy she knew, this one would reveal himself when he was needed.

Nomi quickened her pace, falling into step behind Rogue as they moved further into the darkness...

At that moment, the corporeal Remy LeBeau had just finished another game of cards with Joseph, who had won handily. The Cajun's fortunes had steadily declined for some time, at a rate directly proportional to his level of interest in the contest. When they had begun play, Remy had been thankful for the diversion, and was able to concentrate on taking Joseph, a novice, through the finer points of the game. It was a welcome respite from worrying about his teammates both on the ship and dirt-side. But Joseph caught on fast, and as time went on, Remy, having less and less to teach, became more and more distracted. He knew that finding the information they needed from within Rogue's mind would take time -- as did any psychic investigation with her -- and they had no choice but to wait.

Information was the best tool to ensure that everyone else would get out of Zero Tolerance alive.

He still couldn't believe it -- none of them could. Logan was supposed to survive -- that was what he did.

Remy tried to turn his thoughts away from Wolverine, but it was hard. They had never really been friends, but there had been a bond between them just the same. It was the sort of relationship that could only be formed under fire, when you bled and drew blood with someone. Even if there hadn't been any real liking between them, they had respected each other -- and with that respect there had been understanding. Out of all of his teammates, only Storm understood him better than Wolverine had done...

"It's worn off, has it?" Joseph asked, startling him out of his reverie.


"The diversion of the game."

Gambit chuckled softly.

"Guess it was pretty obvious, non?"

"Given how you played the last two hands, painfully so," Joseph said tartly, then added, "Do you think they're all right?"

"Depends on who you're askin' about, don't it?" he said, then paused.

"Far as I c'n tell, Stormy an' the rest of de survivors are as all right as they can be. Nomi an' Rogue, though... it ain' Nomi I'm worried 'bout..." his voice drifted off uncertainly before he continued speaking.

"For most t'ings, Rogue can look after herself better 'n most all of us, but for dis, I jus' don't know. What the Technarchy tried t' do to her back on the station... she ain' really had a chance to handle it. I think that her goin' face t' face with it dis way ain' a good idea, that she ain' ready for it. I think she don't think she's ready for it -- but she's doin' it anyway..."

Joseph nodded, sighing.

"I know... I've been worried about her too. I've tried to talk to her, but she refuses to discuss it -- or anything else about the Phalanx -- unless it might pertain to our current mission. But we have no choice -- we must have this information, she is the only resource we have for getting it, and she knows that. It will be hard for her," he said consideringly, "but I think she'll be fine."

"What makes ya so sure?"

"Experience -- I think," Joseph replied with a twisted smile, "I've been having dreams, but I think they're really flashbacks..."

"Y' probably right," Remy said quietly.

Joseph looked at him sharply.

"How do you know about...?"

"I can' see y' dreams with the Force -- but I can feel how they affect ya. An' there's plenty of t'ings Erik Lensherr lived through that would make any man wake up screamin' from his sleep. What is it dat y' remember?"

"Only fragments..." Joseph said, his voice growing distant as he spoke, "I remember being a prisoner in a terrible place... I remember bodies and burning... and I remember a man..."

The vision from his dreams came back to him now...

Himself as a boy, working side by side with the man, going through the clothing of the bodies laid out in front of them as the guards watched. They retrieved anything that could be considered valuable from the remains, his partner occasionally using the pliers he had been issued on a corpse, to retrieve a tooth that held a gold filling. After turning in the spoils of their scavenging to their jailers, they proceeded to ferry the dead to the next building, where the smell of burnt meat always hung in the air...

"Who was he?" Remy asked, breaking Joseph out of the memory -- for which he was thankful.

"I don't know his name... or I can't remember it yet. But I remember it was his example that helped me survive. He was able to draw upon something within himself to persevere... the only other choice we had was to go mad. I believe Rogue will take the same path -- in a sense, that is what she has been doing ever since her powers awakened within her -- this situation is no different. She will do whatever it takes to get the information we need because she has to -- she won't allow herself to fail, because there is no alternative. Once this crisis is over, though..." he shrugged.

"If she's going t' need anyone to lean on, dat's when it'll be," Remy said.

"'Course, that's assuming we all manage t' get through Zero Tolerance, an' whatever dat ship's got t' throw at us alive first..."


As Jean Grey-Summers slowly made her way to consciousness, that was the first thing she was aware of -- every part of her body ached, especially her head. In her twilight state, she had a fleeting memory of her mother hanging the hall rug on the line, and beating out the dirt. Now she knew what the rug felt like...

She tried to remember what had happened -- and when she did, the fear-fuelled adrenaline kick was enough to bring her to full consciousness. She opened her eyes, but closed them quickly as the sudden bright light stabbed painfully through them into her skull.

She was lying on a metal floor, and she could feel a weight around her neck -- a Genoshan collar, she was sure.

*No surprise there* she thought grimly.

Carefully, she set about taking inventory, moving her limbs and flexing each joint in turn. She sat up slowly, keeping her eyes closed to minimize her dizziness.

*I might hurt, but at least everything seems to be working -- not bad, for someone who just fell out of a plane*

She remembered Logan grabbing her as they fell, doing his best to protect her with his own body. She winced at the memory of their descent, flashes of impacts against rock outcroppings and trees. He had obviously succeeded, but even with his healing factor it would take time to recover from the injuries he would have sustained in the fall.

Opening her eyes again -- gradually this time -- she became accustomed to the light, and turned to take in her surroundings. She moved a little too quickly, however, and nearly sank to the floor again as her stomach lurched and her skull pounded.

*Correction: apart from the concussion, everything seems to be working. But I can do this* she thought, determined.

*I just have to take it slow...*

She took several deep breaths as she waited for the nausea to pass, then tried again.

She was in a small cell. The walls of her prison were solid, not barred, and appeared to made out of the same metal as the floor. There was enough room for her to stretch out on the floor, but not much more than that. She could only just make out the outline of a door in the far wall. Set into the door was a small panel at eye level -- just enough to allow a jailer to look in on her. Looking up at the high ceiling, she noticed there were some small slits in one corner -- probably for ventilation -- but that was all.

Judging by the lack of even a rudimentary cot or other facilities, this was hopefully just a temporary holding area. Maybe the others were nearby...

The door panel was closed, so it wasn't as if she could peek outside to look. She would have tried shouting, but from the looks of things, the only way sound could travel outside the cell was through the air vents in the ceiling. It was possible that if another cell was next to hers, she and whoever might be inside it could communicate -- but the attempt wouldn't be terribly likely to be successful, and even less likely not to be overheard. She supposed she could try later though, when she felt steady enough to try standing... then she could go through the formality of examining the door...

*For all the good that might do -- but still, you never know...*

All other options that she could figure she had would probably be coming through that door. Which led to her next series of decisions -- how to play the situation when the door did open.

She had some knowledge of hand-to-hand combat -- nowhere near the level that Psylocke or Shadowcat possessed, but she could hold her own at need in a fight -- however, she knew that her experience wouldn't count for much against professional soldiers. And judging from how smoothly the attack against the team and their subsequent capture had gone, it was safe to assume that was the calibre of personnel they would have to deal with. She should be able to get one good shot in if she caught them off guard, but that would be all -- and it would be stupid to waste it without any information. She needed to know more about the where she was being held, her location relative to the exits -- and of course, where the others were...

Reflexively, she tried to reach out with her powers -- of course, to no effect. It was no more than she expected, but still the emptiness she felt as a result made her shiver. Over the years since her powers manifested, she had become accustomed to the background white noise of the thoughts of others around her -- and the comforting hum of Scott's mind which came through their link. The absence of them now just served to underscore her plight.

*Someone will be coming for me soon, I'm sure... now when they do, how can I manipulate the situation so I can get the information I need?*

Grimly, Jean sat back in thought and planned, waiting for the door to open.

Something was wrong...

It was a distant thought, almost lost among the perception of lingering aches he felt as his body completed repairing itself, but it was persistent. He wanted nothing more than to sleep, but his senses would not allow it. Groggily, he tried to sort though the sensations, to isolate what the problem was.

As his eyes were still closed, he could see nothing, but he could feel that he was lying on a hard, flat surface -- floor or table, he figured. He could taste nothing but the old blood from some of the wounds he suffered in the fall, which had since healed over. But still, there was something... a faint hissing noise... and even over the stench of garbage, there was another scent he could only just detect...


Logan lurched upright, and stared wildly around the room where he found himself. There -- he half-leapt, half-staggered toward the door he had spotted, and yanked open the small panel beside it. Presented with a selection of keys that had no obvious function, he decided not to waste time. The smell of gas was overpowering now...

Unsheathing his claws, he slashed into the control panel. For an instant, nothing happened -- then the doors opened, and he dove through them just as the gas ignited, the blast driving him into the wall opposite the entrance to his former prison. He rolled as he hit, redirecting his momentum to the side, down the corridor, and just managing to avoid the fireball which followed him and spent itself against the wall.

Getting to his feet, he paused to take his bearings as he scanned the area, all senses on the alert.

No alarm was sounding -- yet.

*Musta gotten lucky and nailed one of the failsafes when I got the door...*

That had bought him some time, but he was sure it wouldn't be long before someone arrived to investigate. What he needed was a place to hide, and he needed it fast.

He retracted his weapons and inhaled deeply, searching the air, before setting off down the corridor...

"Is it done?"

"Yes," the surgeon replied as he stripped off his gloves, "the procedure was successful, with no complications."

His voice was short, even surly, and his attitude had not gone unnoticed.

"Is there a problem, Doctor?" Bastion asked.

"Just with performing unnecessary surgery," he growled, "The man might be a mutant, but his powers are neutralized, he's safely in our custody, and this is a secure base. He's not likely to escape. And even if he was, it's the makings of a goddamn BOMB I just put in his chest! If he did escape, who could guarantee that he wouldn't be next to a school or something when it went off? Jesus!"

"I can assure you that your worries are unfounded. The technology is completely reliable in that regard."

"It's not the technology that's bothering me -- I'm a doctor, not a butcher! Your program gave me the opportunity to help patients that never would have had a chance otherwise -- that's why I signed up. Experimental treatments for terminal or otherwise hopeless cases are one thing, but putting those things into a perfectly healthy man for no reason is something else!"

"The man is a wanted criminal, and the leader of a terrorist group," Bastion said coldly. "It is only prudent to take all precautions to ensure that in the event of his escape, he will have no further opportunity to endanger the public."

"By blowing him up? You're insane!"

"And you are naïve, Doctor. Your perspective suffers from being narrow in scope -- you are thinking of this one man. My concern is for the millions who might be put at risk through him, his personal actions, and the actions of the terrorist cell he leads. It is an extreme measure, but given the extremity of the danger of having this man free to act, it is justified."

The surgeon had opened his mouth to argue, when Bastion resumed speaking.

"I also seem to recall you had few concerns about moral issues when it came to performing experimental treatments without the knowledge and consent of your patients or their next-of-kin. Perhaps I should inform them in order to assuage your conscience?"

Caught, the man could only shake his head shortly in reply.

"I thought not," Bastion said quietly. "I expect you have other duties awaiting you, Doctor. I suggest you be about them."

The surgeon left the room, leaving Bastion to look in on the cell where the mutant known as Cyclops lay unconscious in a small cot, a barely discernable mark on his chest indicating the place where the nanotech had been inserted.

*This time, I will succeed* he thought.

And smiled.

They were close -- Nomi could feel it.

She and Rogue had moved ever deeper into the darkest areas of the mutant's mindscape. They had not been attacked since they had encountered the man Rogue had called Sabretooth, but there was an almost palpable miasma in the atmosphere around them, which made them both uneasy.

"Somethin's really wrong," Rogue muttered, "Ah've never liked goin' this deep in mah own head, but it's never felt like this before... it's almost like it's not me somehow -- which probably means we're gettin' real close. Get ready, sugah -- it's gonna hit the fan any time now."

"It may be a little late to mention this, but what's going to happen when it does?"

"Same thing that always happens when Ah have a real confrontation with someone or something in here. There's gonna be a dust-up, an' with any luck, when it's over, Ah'll have what we need and we c'n get outta here."

"And if not?"

The look on Rogue's face as she replied was hard to decipher; resigned, amused, determined, and fearful all at once.

"In that case, we make ourselves at home 'cause we'll be here foh a while."

Engaged in their hushed conversation, they were both taken by surprise when their quarry materialized between them, flowing up from the very spot where they had been standing, throwing both women to the ground in opposite directions. The Phalanx had taken Rogue's shape, and even as they struggled to regain their feet, its body was changing, its lower arms and hands forming scythe-like talons.

"And so you shall be," it hissed.

The Phalanx slashed out viciously to either side. Nomi just managed to roll out of harm's way on the left, while Rogue ducked under the swipe that had been directed at her on the right. As it passed, she grabbed the arm/weapon of her opponent, and yanked, hoping to rip off the appendage -- but nothing happened. And she couldn't pull her hands away...

"What the...?"

The creature that wore her face grinned, its expression bonechilling, as its body shifted and reformed. Now Rogue's hands were engulfed to the wrists by the Phalanx's own forearms, and to her horror, she was steadily being drawn further in...

"Kikt. Your escape on the station was only temporary, Carbon-Based-Designate: Rogue. Though your teammate broke our hold and freed your body, we, Phalanx-Rogue, remained complete within your mind. Your physical separation from the main unit weakened us so that we could not assume control of your organic body outright -- we had to wait until you chose to confront us here, directly. Now that time has come, and when we are complete, your -- our -- transformation will begin..."

As Rogue frantically tried to pull away, Nomi's mind raced, trying to think of some way to help her friend. Her probe with the Force showed the enemy was mentally linked to Rogue, so this was not a battle she could meditate -- any strength she fed to the other woman would also be picked up by the creature they fought. Her lightsaber would probably do as much damage to Rogue as to the Phalanx, and time was running out...


Gambit appeared from the shadows, hurling a fistful of cards at the back of the creature as he yelled. The projectiles exploded short of their target, as if hitting an invisible barrier. Phalanx-Rogue barely spared him a glance.

"You have no power here, fragment -- we do, as this is our mindscape as much it was hers. You are foreign matter, soon to be purged, as are the others."

"Maybe -- but den again, maybe not..." he snarled -- and moved.

Intent on Rogue, who was now almost halfway merged with itself, and confident that neither Nomi nor Remy posed a threat, the Phalanx paid no attention when Gambit strode towards them -- until he placed his bare hands on Rogue's face.

Immediately, he began to fade, his figure becoming more and more ghost-like as Rogue absorbed him -- and slowly, the Phalanx began to recede from Rogue's flesh.

"What are you doing?" the creature shrieked.

"You're de... Borg wanna-be with... de knowledge o' civilizations... you figure it out," Gambit replied, his voice harsh with strain, but growing faint. Still, he maintained contact with Rogue's skin, until finally he disappeared altogether -- and Rogue easily pulled away from her stunned attacker.

"Kikt! Impossible! No one can escape once transmoding has begun..."

Rogue looked at her opponent, her now red-on-black eyes blazing.

"Then Ah guess Ah'm no one -- but then, how often do ya find someone who ain't limited ta having one mind at a time?" she asked with a grin, then began her own attack.

The two exhanged a flurry of punches and kicks, yet neither could obtain an advantage -- they were too evenly matched. Nomi stood off to the side, 'saber at the ready, looking for an opening, but they were too close together, grappling now... still, she could not meditate the battle. After their contact, Rogue and Gambit now shared a mind, though Rogue's personality was dominant. Rogue's absorption of Gambit had been enough to free the southerner from her Phalanx counterpart, whose own being was built solely upon Rogue's core mind, and therefore could not accommodate a shared consciousness. Any bolstering of spirit or strength Nomi could provide would still affect Phalanx-Rogue as well as her friend, but maybe if she attempted to help by focusing on Gambit...

"Kikt. You only postpone the inevitable, Carbon-Based-Designate: Rogue. This unit knows all of your techniques -- you cannot outfight us. All we need do is wait until the effects of your contact with the psychic fragment of your teammate expire before we seek control, and then you will fully become part of us..."

"Don't think it'll happen -- you're fogettin' that it ain't just me you're up against any more," Rogue said. Expression and voice changed as she spoke again, and this time they and the words she said were not hers...

"An' while you two ladies have been fightin', the other, sneakier half o' dis team ain' been sittin' on his hands..."

It was only then that Phalanx-Rogue noticed the deceptively gentle glow that had begun to emanate from deep within its body, spreading outward -- telltale sign of the kinetic charge that had been building within its body since Rogue had begun her counterattack.

"Kikt. Your strategy is futile. Destroy us, and the blast will destroy you all..."

Its entire body was now alight, still tangled with Rogue herself as they continued to fight.

"Not a problem, since Ah don't recall explosions bein' on the agenda," Rogue said in her own voice, then changed again as Remy spoke through her.

"Normally, I'd say 'au revoir' but under de circumstances, 'goodbye' c'est vraiment appropos..."

Then the charge went off, in the carefully controlled manner Rogue had willed, using the power and knowledge Gambit had allowed her to absorb. One moment, Phalanx-Rogue was grasping at its opponent -- then like a diamond struck at precisely the right point and angle, its body disintegrated in a chain reaction, falling into itself, leaving only dust.

"So goodbye," Rogue said quietly -- and collapsed.


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