A Test of Power
Chapter 1
Chapter 2
Chapter 3
Chapter 4
Chapter 5
Chapter 6

This story is still in progress.

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Stars and Garters

Chapter 4

Buried deep within the heart of every conflict
lies a territory known as common ground...
but how do we summon the courage to seek out its borders?


Rogue had been on the roof of the apartment building overlooking the restaurant for over an hour. Only a single patron had entered the upscale Italian eatery that was quite common in this part of Manhattan. The remains of a day-old blizzard still decorated the sidewalks and streets discouraging even the hardiest of the New York City masses. The white snow was already dulled and sullied by the mixture of dirt and salt leaving a slushy, ugly brown residue. Rogue had always preferred the view of the city from the air, especially at night. The myriad of lights from buildings, street lamps and cars, made the city look like a translucent sea of precious jewels, masking the muck that was part of the underbelly of any large city. Rogue couldn't help but be disappointed whenever she actually set down on the city streets and her wistful illusion was dispelled.

She arrived early to conduct limited clandestine surveillance in order to get a feel for the surrounding area. Despite her enhanced strength and invulnerability, Rogue always liked to account for the number ways in and out of the any new location. Even though her affiliation with the X-Men exposed her to danger on a daily basis, she strangely enough felt an extra degree of caution was required whenever she might involve herself in her mother's affairs.

Mystique was always cryptic at best, but when she unexpectedly telephoned and insisted that they meet immediately and at such a public location, Rogue was a bit mystified. She became particularly concerned because her mother had actually sounded a bit scared -- not cautious or paranoid, her usual state of mind, but scared.

It was three minutes before nine, and Rogue was satisfied that further surveillance would not glean anymore information. She gently set down in a dark alleyway hidden from view. She walked the remaining distance to the restaurant entrance, careful to stay in the shadows and out of the lamplight.

She was greeted at the doorway by the maitre d', an elderly gentleman with a slight Italian accent -- Northern Italian and quite possibly from the province of Piemonte if Rogue was not mistaken. Although Rogue had never left the country in her formative years, her mother was very well traveled and was able to school her, among other things, in different modes of speech and dialects used in various countries around the world. She had always had a very sensitive and discerning ear, another minor talent that her mother recognized and was able to cultivate. He helped her off with her coat, handing it off to another employee of the restaurant and told her that Ms. Capriotti was expecting her.

Mystique most assuredly had given her description to the maitre d' and had already informed Rogue over the secure phone line of the alias that she would be using. He led her through a maze of tables of the moderately lit restaurant; a quiet hum of conversation could be heard throughout the dining area. The tables were adequately spaced apart which would make it extremely difficult to hear the conversation of an adjoining table. The restaurant was sparsely populated...about at twenty-five percent capacity, which suited Rogue just fine.

Rogue's strategic assessment of her surroundings was second nature to her. She did not have to make a conscious effort to perform a clinical evaluation of her environment. Her mother's training was so ingrained that it would be difficult for her to behave any differently. Rogue had often wondered whether this was a good or bad thing.

"Ms. Capriotti, your guest has arrived," the maitre d' said as he pulled out a chair for Rogue.

"Thank you Enzo."

"Your waiter will be by momentarily Signora," Enzo said, inclining his head slightly in Mystique's direction, excusing himself.

Rogue smiled inwardly. Her mother's table was located in the back corner of the restaurant away from any windows. This gave her a birds eye view of the entire dining area while her own seat was partially obscured by some potted trees making her very difficult to see.

Mystique had taken on the appearance of a fortyish, slim, brown haired woman, completely non-descript and physically unremarkable in any way. But Rogue could always recognize her mother by her eyes, not by the shape or color -- those things Mystique could easily alter as well. Her mother's eyes always gave off this kind of crazed intensity that was truly unique -- to her at least. The eyes of a fanatic maybe -- no it wasn't quite that. She had a respectable amount of experience with that type, especially among the mutant community. Her eyes exhaled desperation. That was the only way Rogue could think of to describe it.

"Hello Momma. Ah see ya haven't outgrown all the cloak and dagger stuff," Rogue said quietly and with a gentle smile.

"I suppose the world is warm and safe place and mutants are now welcomed with open arms," Mystique whispered sharply.

"Ahright Momma, Ah see somethin' outta the ordinary got ya spooked. Ah'm all ears." Rogue leaned forward letting her mother know that she had her complete attention.

"Things ... things are beginning to happen. I've tried to prepare for them -- tried to prepare you. I want you to gather all your belongings and accompany me to a special safehouse," Mystique said abruptly.

"Momma," Rogue interrupted, a look of bewilderment on her face. "What are ya talkin' about?" Her mother could be ice-cold in life threatening situations but was also prone to seemingly impulsive behavior. This behavior though ... Rogue had never seen her mother act in this fashion. She was starting to feel the effects of her mother's fear and becoming scared herself.

"The FOH, Bastion, Graydon's death, Genosha ... they're all precursors of things to come. Irene had hinted at certain things, even she was unsure ... said she couldn't see anything clearly that involved him, and didn't want to. I don't want you involved," Mystique said with a sudden intensity. I don't want you taking sides, even with the X-Men."

"Takin' sides ... takin' sides against who?" Rogue asked.

Mystique hesitated and then said, "Apocalypse," in a hushed tone.

At the mention of Apocalypse's name, a partial understanding of her mother's fear became clear. He was a mutant monster, a mysterious and ancient being, completely divorced from humanity and from his own humanity. But the X-Men had dealt with Apocalypse before and would deal with him again if necessary. The question of why her mother would have such a personal fear of Apocalypse was something Rogue was almost too afraid to find out.

Mystique continued and sounded a little more like her usual self. "He isn't an enemy that can be dealt with in a conventional sense. He can't be coerced, blackmailed, threatened, or even seduced. There isn't even a way to find him. He's visited me ... several times over the years."

"What?" Rogue asked stunned. "Ya never told me any o' this Momma."

Mystique ignored her daughter's surprise. "The first time was many years ago, when I had initially established 'The Brotherhood'."

Both Rogue and Mystique were completely startled when a tall, middle-aged man, was standing right next to their table, a friendly expression on a handsome face. The man was impeccably dressed, well groomed and manicured, and had an air of aristocracy about him. Neither had seen or heard his approach, which was very unusual. Rogue had always been an extremely difficult person to catch off guard ... her mother, next to impossible.

"May I join you?" the large man said in a deep clear voice, motioning toward one the empty seats.

Surprisingly, her mother graced the gentleman with a smile reaching for the napkin on her lap and said, "by all means, please sit down."

As he sat, Mystique brought up the napkin from under the table in a graceful and fluid motion. Rogue could barely make out the concealed muzzle of a very unconventional firearm. It appeared to be some form of energy weapon.

"Who are you? Why are here? And you better come up with a reason why I shouldn't use this to cut you in half, because I can't," Mystique hissed sharply, but maintained an extremely pleasant expression on her face.

The gentleman answered with an equally pleasant expression on his face, completely nonplused by Mystique's words.

"Mr. Sinister, to speak with your daughter, and you might kill some innocent people in the process," the man said matter-of-factly. His expression remained unchanged except that the shoulders of the finely tailored jacket morphed into multiple shiny blue metallic strips of cloth that fluttered in the air like the tail of a kite. They melded back into the jacket with no sign that they were ever there. This was followed by the terrifyingly familiar red diamond, which quickly flashed across his forehead and then disappeared, confirming the identity of their dinner guest.

What is Sinister doing here and what the hell does he want with me? Rogue thought. No one on the team even knows I'm here. There was no room to maneuver and too many innocent people close by. She had to do her best to avoid a confrontation. She consciously moved away from him, clenching her fists, and poised for anything he might try.

Mystique leaned across the table and moved the napkin under his chin as if she was playfully wiping a small crumb from his mouth. "Unless there are some stargazers on the roof, no innocents will get hurt," Mystique said mockingly. "I could cut your head in two," she added, as she moved the barrel underneath his chin.

Sinister said nothing, and gave no indication that he was going to move. Rogue broke the silence, knowing that if this escalated people would definitely be hurt and most likely killed.

"Momma, let's hear what this rattlesnake has ta say," Rogue said, putting her gloved hand on her mother's gently pushing the gun away from Sinister. As much as Ah'd like ta see his dead carcass sprawled on the pavement, ah got a lotta questions foh this boy," she said through clenched teeth.

"I imagine you would. I will do my utmost to answer all of them. And Raven, don't ever threaten me," Sinister said as he leaned forward, an expression of disturbing scrutiny across his face. "Do not delude yourself into believing that toy you appropriated from some government organization or from Forge himself could harm me. And if you believe that the psi-screening device you are wearing will offer some measure of protection against me, you are sadly mistaken. The trinket you have on your person is nothing more than a poor imitation based on my design. However beautiful your natural appearance is, I imagine that you would find it quite a hindrance to go about your usual business should I decide to make your appearance permanent," Sinister said coldly.

Mystique was unusually quiet and seemed to be measuring Sinister's words. Rogue believed that her mother knew that Sinister was not the bluffing type and could deliver on all his threats. She did not like to see her mother threatened -- especially when the threat exhibited one of her rare vulnerabilities. Rogue knew that Sinister was aware of people's fears and vulnerabilities and had no qualms about exploiting them ... an enjoyable specialty of his she thought disgustedly. She also knew that her mother was most dangerous when she felt threatened. This situation could and would degrade very quickly unless she acted.

"Ya said ya came here ta talk ta me, so talk," Rogue said, as she began to casually remove one of her gloves from her hands, which were hidden from view underneath the table.

"Since you believe my civility is a pretense, a direct approach may be more effective to convince you of the futility of what you contemplate." Sinister suddenly reached under the table and grasped Rogue's bare wrist. A feeling of intense malaise swept over her, overwhelming her senses. "Need I remind you Rogue that that course of action was not effective the first time around.(1) You will find it a much more disturbing experience should you be foolish enough to try it again," Sinister said menacingly. "This shall not be a contest of power or will -- because there is no contest. You have touched the mind of Sinister my dear. Since then, we have maintained a bit of, how shall I say, psychic rapport. Your mutant powers are an open book to me, to be utilized or shut down as I see fit." Sinister released Rogue's wrist as quickly as he had grabbed it.

Mystique had her weapon aimed at Sinister again, her hand rock steady. She would have fired immediately but was unsure of the effect it might have on Rogue while she was in contact with Sinister. Her daughter's eyes cleared and she seemed to recover completely. "This is what I wanted to warn you about. Two monsters who for centuries, want to kill one another. One a complete madman, the other, a coward, who wants others to do the fighting for him. Irene had said that the fight between these two could destroy most of the planet, and everyone on it."

"I'm impressed Raven -- so impressed in fact, that there might possibly be a position available on my team of Marauders for such a sagacious individual. And if you wish to trade barbs, I will indulge you for a moment." Sinister turned to Rogue ignoring the presence of the weapon.

"You see Rogue, your mother has not exactly been honest with you. In her true form, she appears to be a vital and attractive young woman in her mid-twenties. She has told you and others that her mutant abilities ... Sinister paused, a thoughtful expression on his face.

"Exactly what did I extract from Victor's mind? Ah yes, let me quote your mother. 'My morphing powers continually revitalize my body cells and DNA memory. That's why I can look just like I did all those years ago.' (2) What a wonderfully scientific explanation for your youthful appearance," Sinister said with mellifluous tones. "But that is wholly inadequate to describe your virtual immortality." Sinister glanced in Mystique's direction. "No my dear, your visits from Apocalypse were a bit more involved, were they not?

Mystique's trigger finger began to tighten, her expression no longer hiding her emotions but openly murderous.

Sinister continued and seemed to enjoy provoking Mystique. "I am truly conscience-stricken to divulge this Rogue. First you find that your nefarious beau is involved with the likes of me. Now I tell you that your mother has dealings with Apocalypse. You must be wondering what's next? Perhaps my next revelation will uncover the torrid relationship between Destiny and Victor Von Doom?" Sinister said with a malicious smile on his face.

"You do a good job of pressing everyone's buttons, you slimy son of a bitch," Mystique said, open hate in her voice. Mystique turned to Rogue, an angry expression on her face. "What he didn't tell you was that I was forced and had no choice in the matter."

Mystique continued. "It was many years ago, when we operated out of a large warehouse, by the docks ... same area as what's now the South Street Seaport. Money was a little tighter back then. I was doing some creative accounting, hiding and funneling money into legitimate businesses. The rest of the team was relaxing, watching some T.V. in another room, the set blaring as usual. I had told them to keep the door closed so I wouldn't be disturbed."

Rogue thought it was very characteristic of her mother to remember such a trivial thing. She had always had tremendous recall of even the minutest detail. But she knew her mother was stalling and was filled with apprehension at what her mother might try. For the moment, Sinister strangely enough seemed content to listen.

"I heard a rush of air and was momentarily blinded by a bright flash of light. Standing ten feet in front of me, what was an empty space a second ago, was an enormous -- what I thought initially was a armored man or robot of some sort. It or he, was about eight feet tall and as wide as a small car. I can't actually tell you why but I sensed tremendous power from this thing and not from just its physical appearance. It gazed down at me, its movements strange, not mechanical but not human either. It spoke to me in a voice saturated with authority and I immediately knew that this was not the voice of a robot ... this thing was alive ... and that made it all the more terrible. The voice was impossibly deep, and it shook the iron latticework that made up the structure of the warehouse. He called me by my first name."

"Hello Raven. I am called Apocalypse."

"I felt like he was staring right into my eyes, but he had no eyes that I could distinguish. His eye sockets exuded a cold luminous white light, and looking into them added to the pervasive feeling of power ... ancient power. He managed to evoke something I hadn't felt in many years -- fear. I'm not talking about the type of fear or apprehension you feel because of a particularly dangerous mission. I am talking about," Mystique paused, possibly because she did want to make this admission in front of Sinister or maybe even Rogue for that matter. "I am talking about little girl scared -- something primal and basic. I was able to shake off the feeling because I could not believe that this thing...after the myriad of hidden lives, multiple identities I had assumed and built ... this thing knew my real name and how to find me."

"I reached for a laser rifle, an early prototype of the plasma rifle. I had appropriated it from a group of scientists working for the government. It was large and not very mobile but cutting edge technology for the time. It was attached to a stationary and rather cumbersome power source, but it packed a hell of a punch. The laser could cut through three inches of tank armor in just a few seconds. With the press of a button, I alerted the others that there was trouble and needed help.

Apocalypse didn't move as I stood and pointed the weapon at him. I fired at point blank range hitting him just below his chest. There was no effect. I fired again keeping the trigger depressed with the laser trained on the same spot. I kept firing until I had depleted the entire laser's energy and it ceased to function. The metal -- what I thought was metal of his armor showed no signs that the laser had even touched him."

"Just then the Blob crashed through the door, " Mystique continued. "Apocalypse ignored that the Blob had entered the room and didn't turn in his direction."

"You have nothing to fear from me," Apocalypse said still looking at me.

"You're damn straight she doesn't," the Blob said as he lumbered forward. "Who is this clown?" He advanced but paused momentarily next to a piece of the warehouse's support structure, to take a good look at Apocalypse. "And I thought I was ugly," he chuckled as he his meaty hands grabbed and tore an enormous steel I-beam from its moorings, screaming metal, bolts and cement spraying in all directions. Using the beam as a baseball bat, he swung the enormous cantilever at Apocalypse.

"You should refrain from any unnecessary words boy, and choose your opponents more wisely." Apocalypse's arm lengthened and thickened while his hand grew to incredible proportions. He met the beam, a deafening ring of metal on metal.

Mystique continued. "The beam was incredibly torn from Fred's hands and flew thirty feet to the cement floor with a gigantic clang. I remember the dumbfounded expression on Fred's face. He looked disbelievingly into his empty hands and then glanced up in fear, as Apocalypse's huge hand grew larger still and closed over his entire body. Two fingers, with the diameter of car tires, came down on left and right side of his head crushing down on his shoulders. The remaining fingers and thumb wrapped around the rest of Fred's body, painfully sinking into the enormous roles of flesh, making even the Blob look small and pitifully vulnerable. I could not believe that he was held in one hand, struggling feebly to free himself. Then, something I'd thought I would never see. Apocalypse lifted Fred ... the Blob, off the ground ... at the end of a twenty-foot long arm with no apparent effort at all. Apocalypse's hand changed color, becoming translucent, emitting a nimbus of bright white energy ... and Fred screamed.

"I could smell burnt flesh," Mystique went on more slowly. "Apocalypse then casually tossed Fred's smoking body to the ground. Fred was unconscious, and did not move. I have never to this day seen anyone do this to the Blob. And incredibly, Apocalypse had never moved. His feet -- or boots were in the exact same place. I then noticed that the others had come out of the room, including Destiny. I don't know how long they had been there or how much they had seen, but judging by the expressions on their faces, I knew they had seen enough."

Apocalypse turned and addressed Destiny. "Tell her, seer," he rumbled.

A cloud of pain passed over Destiny's face and her hands clutched at her temples. "Do not attempt to overcome him. All of your efforts will fail ... and he will kill everyone," she gasped and fell to her knees.

Apocalypse turned back to Mystique. "I am here to bestow a great gift upon you." Apocalypse touched his belt and there was another flash of light. A clear cylindrical canister appeared covered with strange unintelligible markings. "You have proven yourself worthy of survival. This alien device will extend your life span indefinitely." The canister opened without a sound. "You will place yourself into the device now." Apocalypse's tone was such that his directions could not possibly be questioned.

"I naturally hesitated," Mystique said. Apocalypse's hand began to glow again and he glanced at Destiny and the others. His intention was obvious."

"Do as he says Raven. He speaks the truth and no harm will come of it. The purpose of the device is exactly as he claims," Destiny said.

"Irene still seemed to be in a great deal of pain. She was to tell me later that to even glimpse into an event surrounding Apocalypse or his future was almost impossible, and caused excruciating pain."

"I asked him why he felt I was deserving of such a gift, stalling despite what Irene had said. He didn't answer but instead reached for me with his other hand, which grew as it came closer to me. I didn't move.

I expected his touch to be cold but was mistaken -- it was hot, uncomfortably so. His hand wrapped itself around my body and gently placed me into the strange device. The container closed immediately. I could see through the material but it was so clear that I was not sure that it was there. I placed my hands on what I thought was glass but discovered it was an energy field of some sort. I looked up to see Apocalypse's terrifying face staring down impassively and for a moment, I felt a surge of panic to escape."

"The procedure will last approximately one hour ... I am told it is quite painful," Apocalypse said indifferently. The device will automatically open once it has fulfilled its function. You will then be free to return to your affairs. I give you this gift freely and only require that you continue to do as you always have done ... survive by any means possible."

"There was another flash of light and he was gone. True to his word at the end of an hour and after some exquisite pain, I was free," Mystique shuddered. "The device disappeared immediately after. Since that day, I have not been sick nor have I aged a day," Mystique concluded.

"Momma, ah don't know why you never told me this before. But you said that he visited you several times," Rogue said inquisitively.

"What a heart-wrenching story, although surprisingly the truth," Sinister interrupted before Mystique could answer. "You must think I am quite a fool to believe that you would relate this entire story in my presence, only to satisfy your daughter's curiosity and feelings." Sinister chuckled. "Stalling for time afforded you nothing -- no succor is available. Your hired help were dead before I arrived at your table -- interesting choice though, human mercenaries. I assume they were expendable," Sinister said offhandedly.

Mystique stood abruptly and moved away from Sinister to get some breathing room. "Once I knew I was dealing with the likes of you, I knew that the mercs would be useless, but might serve as a distraction. But I did need the extra time to charge this weapon to full capacity," Mystique said pointing the gun at Sinister. "This weapon has an interesting feature. It has a setting that allows the entire energy stores to be delivered in a single shot. I was told this setting is supposed to be quite effective, even against the most powerful mutants. Die you bastard."

"Momma no!" Rogue yelled as she lunged for her mother. White-hot pain seared through Rogue's head, paralyzing her in mid leap as she fell back into her chair.

Mystique fired, a blinding red beam exploded out of the weapon. She maintained firing long enough to cut Sinister from his midsection all the way up to his head, cleaving him in half. Not a drop of blood spilled out from the rupture and Mystique couldn't make out anything that even resembled an internal organ. There wasn't an internal anything. A thick gray ichor coated both sides of the split and Mystique believed that this gelatinous substance was what comprised Sinister's entire form. The beam also passed through chairs, tables, walls, and four human beings ... three in the restaurant and one passerby across the street, killing them all instantly. Mystique took her finger off the trigger after the gun's energy was exhausted.

Mystique rushed to her daughter's side as people screamed and stampeded out of the restaurant and into the street. "Rogue, are you alright?" Mystique cradled her daughter's head in her arms but was still careful to avoid any skin-to-skin contact.

Rogue slowly regained her senses stirring sluggishly at first; able to turn her head enough to witness the carnage her mother's actions had wrought. A soft moan escaped her lips. "Momma," Rogue's anguished feelings clear in that one word.

"Would you prefer if you and I were lying in a pool of blood instead," Mystique said without a trace of remorse in her voice.

Mystique and Rogue both heard a slurping sound, almost as if a thick syrupy substance was being sucked through a thin straw. They simultaneously turned to see Mr. Sinister's body draw together and mend into his familiar attire and bloodless cast.

"An excellent yet futile roll of the dice Raven. You are to be commended." Sinister stood and casually tossed the table aside, dishes and glasses shattering on the floor. His arm shot across the distance that separated them, a chilling smile on his face. His fingers sunk painfully into the soft flesh of her chin and neck, and lifted her off the ground. He turned her head from side as if he were examining a piece of art he might consider purchasing. A thick expensive looking necklace suddenly snapped apart revealing the hidden psi-screening circuitry inside.

Rogue had been struggling in vain to get to her feet but could not get her legs to work properly. After what seemed like an eternity, Rogue could hear blaring sirens that signaled the arrival of the police. Not that they could stop Sinister, but they might distract him long enough for her to regain full use of her faculties. Although Rogue had no idea what she could do against Sinister as well. But she had to do something to help her mother. She then heard shouts and multiple gunshots ring out from outside the restaurant.

Sinister turned to Rogue, a dour expression on his face. "You will shortly regain full use of all your abilities. The local authorities will be sufficiently preoccupied by my Marauders to allow us to conclude our business.

Mystique had hung limply in Sinister's grasp refusing to cry out despite the pain she was in. She would not give him the satisfaction of struggling, which she knew would do nothing to free her. Nor would she let him see the fear she felt for both herself and her daughter because they were completely at Sinister's mercy.

Sinister's expression hardened as he brought Mystique's face within a few inches of his own, his eyes and mind boring into hers. He located a specific sphere of her brain -- the region of the brain he knew better than any person on the planet -- the area that controlled mutant powers.

"It is such a simple thing really," Sinister said coldly, as he none too gently dropped Mystique back into a chair -- "to take control of another mutants powers and command them as your own." Mystique morphed into her natural form, except open lesions and festering sores began to appear all over her blue hued skin.

Mystique could see her daughter's horrified expression, which hurt her more than the open wounds that now covered her entire body.

"This," Sinister gestured at Mystique and spoke to Rogue, -- "is unnecessary. I have little enough patience for your patriarch and his multitude X-heroes, let alone the forbearance to tolerate the pathological behavior of your mother. To say she is capable is an understatement. But I do not admire her panache, as Apocalypse does. I also take umbrage that someone guilty of the crimes she's committed has the impudence to call me a monster. Your mother threw her infant son Kurt, over a waterfall to preserve her own skin. She abandoned her other son Graydon after his twelfth birthday when she discovered he was not a mutant." Sinister turned to Mystique. "Coupling with Victor Creed, Raven? Sinister's brow furrowed and shook his head with mock disapproval. "Such maternal instincts and such eclectic tastes in partners."

Mystique rasped an explicative.

"A lifetime of terrorism, extortion, theft, murder, -- most recently; pummeling to death a United States Air Force General, by your own hands no less."(3) Sinister smiled. "International spy Leni Zauber, Billionaire B. Byron Biggs, or fashion model Ronnie Lake(4)...window dressing, covering the same odious mind.

"Stop," Rogue heard herself plead. "You've made yoh point. Ya know all about mah Momma and can hurt her in a hundred different ways. Give her back control o' her powers ... please."

"As you wish," Sinister said, remarkably acquiescing immediately. I will though, temporarily deny her access to the speech center of her brain. That will allow us I trust," Sinister stared menacingly at Mystique, -- "to converse unimpeded."

Mystique glared at Sinister as her appearance returned to its healthy cast.

I guess that's something, Rogue thought. They weren't that much worse off than when they started. She had no idea where to go from here except maybe find out what it was that Sinister wanted.

"What could you possibly want from me?" Rogue said, both anger and torment clear in her voice. "I'm not a Summers'. Ah thought ya got off messin' with Scott, Jean, or Cable ... an' maybe Gambit," Rogue added harshly.

"No, no my dear," Sinister said, his expression almost convincingly earnest. You, Rogue, have been the primary focus of my work with mutants. Despite the brilliance of both Xavier and McCoy, both have rather parochial perspectives, and if I may, pedestrian scientific acumen compared to me. They are blind to what they have in you and have been stymied by what they perceive is a psychological problem."

"Ain't you the cat's meow," Rogue spit out. "Focus of yoh work, an' perceived as a problem?' Rogue said disbelievingly. "Ah can't even begin ta control mah powers. An' you never had me as one o' yoh ... lab rats." Rogue whispered the last two words, her expression, full of uncertainty, and fear.

"The laboratory is an abhorrent place for the proper development of mutant powers. For the most part, I allowed your powers to flourish on their own. I only had to sit back and observe. That is not to say that I didn't throw in an occasional variable into the mix."

"When your bio-signature first registered on my mutant detection device, it was most intriguing. But even I was unprepared for what I was to find. I traveled to Caldecott County myself, to see what new offering nature had bestowed upon the world."

Rogue had to consciously keep the horrified expression off her face. The thought of Sinister studying her and possibly playing an active role in her life, especially without her knowledge was almost too terrifying to contemplate.

Sinister continued. "Evolution and adaptation are synonymous, and who pray tell is more adaptable than you? Human genetics, mutant genetics, alien genetics ... your mutant-borne capabilities accommodate them all. Early on in your life, I examined and recorded your baseline genome. Then with the implantation of an innocuous and simple device, I was able to monitor even the most diminutive changes in your genetic make-up during and after each absorption episode. For instance, has any of your more scientifically adept teammates studied what it was that changed after you touched Carol Danvers -- or the Asgardian Thor for that matter? (5) I've made it part of my life study. Was it the number of genes, the type, the arrangement ... what power or energy accompanied the transfer? From you alone, Rogue, a single template for seemingly any mutant power, I learned almost everything just by simple comparison. And as far as your lack of control, it has little to do with any shortcoming on your part."

"Now ah know yoh lyin'," Rogue said uncertainly. "Professor Xavier, Hank, even mah Momma, believe it is a mental problem..." her voice dropped to a whisper. "They think mah biological parents -- how ah was treated, is the cause of mah lack of control. An' you mean ta tell me that in all the time Ah was with the X-Men ... all the times Hank examined me, he never found this little bug ya supposedly put in me."

"My dear, I invented the techno-organic virus over half a century before Henry McCoy took his first steps.(6) The device mimics your own cellular structure and could not be distinguished from your own tissue by anyone but me. And as far as the implied abuse," Sinister waved his hand in a dismissive manner. "Ah yes, the mantra of every modern mental health professional. The root of all evil is child abuse, begetting child abuse. A sadistic authoritarian parent, an inciting event ... all very common themes to explain an adults behavior in the present. But fortunately for you, that was never the case." Sinister did not deign to elaborate further on that subject.

"I shall explain your perceived problem -- or why your power seems uncontrollable -- as simply as possible. The simplification of my explanation is by no means a reflection of your own intelligence.

"That's mighty considerate of ya," Rogue said sarcastically.

"Thank you, "Sinister answered equally sardonic, accepting the false praise. "Have you ever seen examples of Kirlian photography?"

Yeah, Ah've seen it. That's where ya can see that strange light come off ya skin ... an aura.

"Yes, a photographic process that involves the use of electrostatic phenomena of certain objects. That is exactly the visual example that I am trying to impart. Now imagine that your astral self, your soul if you will, is slightly out of phase with your physical body. While other mutants and human beings souls are juxtaposed with their physical bodies; occupying the same space at the same time, yours simply does not. This disassociation between your corporeal and spiritual components is an undesirable state, incomplete. This disparity between body and soul must seek a means to rectify this imbalance ... an integration of sorts. Physically touching another person in your case actually brings you into contact with another person's soul. In order to resolve your own internal division, your body attempts to accommodate this new astral presence, by rearranging your own genetic structure to match whoever you are in contact with, making it essentially as simple as it sounds, more comfortable by creating a familiar or identical environment. Memories, experiences, and behavior are absorbed to do the same. The end product is a temporary or permanent amalgam."

"But what about when others were able to control mah powers? The Professor, Carol..."

"A legitimate question," Sinister returned. "The contact by another mind or an astral presence either satisfies, or deceives your body into believing that it is fully integrated. This allows you physical contact without the usual side effects."

"An' if I were ta believe ya, the Professor, Hank an' Moira don't know nothin' about me being ... 'out o' phase'?" Rogue asked.

"Professor Xavier is the preeminent telepath of our time, but even in his astral form, would not be able to detect your dichotomy. Only the possession and manipulation of alien technology allows me to observe this condition."

"An' Ah suppose ya could help me with mah condition?" Rogue asked, not sounding terribly confident.

"Easily," Sinister said, assuredly.

"An' foh mah own edification, all the stuff with Cable ... nothin' but a trick?" Rogue said disbelievingly.

"No, not entirely. He has been most certainly useful but is just a means to a particular end. I never intended for him to fight Apocalypse directly. The Askani nonsense that he became embroiled in has been and still is a most useful feint in my favor. But even you must admit, I do have a reputation for being a bit of a clever fellow. Any weapon I might develop would not be so inherently obvious. And I certainly would not put all my eggs in one basket," Sinister said, an expression of disdain on his face.

"An' what you did ta me a little while ago -- ya burned some info inta mah head," an expression of concentration crossed Rogue's face. "Ya want mah help against Apocalypse."

"Yes," Sinister answered. "The exact plans I've placed in your mind will slowly become apparent to you over the next hour or so."

"An if Ah don't help you? What're ya gonna do, threaten mah mother again?" Rogue said, the resignation in her voice already betraying her answer.

"Search your mind Rogue. I won't have to," Sinister said with certain finality. A tesseract opened and he was gone.

"You're not gullible enough to believe him and will not help him," Mystique commanded, regaining her power of speech. "I'll find a way to protect you and myself."

"It's got nothin' ta do with what Ah believe or you Momma," Rogue said submissively. "He's got Remy, Momma, he's got Remy."


Continued in Chapter 5.

[1]X-Factor #39
[2]Sabertooth - Death Hunt #3
[3]X-Men Unlimited #4
[4]X-Men #93
[5]Avengers Annual #10
[6]Cable 1999 Annual