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 7

Of war men ask the outcome,
not the cause.
Herucles Furens, ca. 50

The present

He was still angry as plowed down the city streets, his hands in his coat pockets and a scowl that warned everyone to stay out of his way. Even on a good day, Nathan Dayspring Summers was an imposing enough figure that people would naturally step aside rather than attempt to play sidewalk 'chicken' with him. Today, one look at his face and body language, and even New York City's pedestrian warriors gave him at least a ten-foot berth.

When Rogue had phoned him this morning and without any preamble informed him that -- that Mr. Sinister wanted to meet with him this afternoon, he had gone directly to the Professor. Rogue had filled him in on a few other things that Sinister had related to her, and to say he was skeptical about what Sinister had told her was an understatement. This was after all Sinister that they were talking about. But what had surprised him most was the Professor's reaction.

Cable had approached the Professor about a potential small-scale operation to possibly subdue and capture Sinister. This would be the first time that they had some prior knowledge about where Sinister would be and he didn't want to squander that kind of opportunity. Of course Cable was more interested in learning about Sinister's first hand information about Apocalypse -- but getting Sinister off the streets so to speak, was a good thing no matter how you looked at it. Unfortunately that wasn't quite how the X-Men's founder saw it.

The Professor had looked at him with that insufferable calm gaze and went on to tell him that Bobby and Hank had actually been staying at one of Sinister's labs for the past few days. He related all that transpired and said he had spoken to Hank at length about some of Sinister's claims.

Cable had blown up at this point. He knew his own reputation for a 'shoot first ask questions later' type of mentality -- but some of the X-Men were actually bunking at Sinister's place and the Professor thought this was OK? This wasn't some two-bit Friends of Humanity loser they were dealing with, Cable had told the Professor. This was the murderer of the Morlocks, a centuries old cold and indifferent killer, who hid behind the title of Scientist, as if that facade would excuse the atrocities he had committed in the pursuit of knowledge. This was the devil himself.

The Professor hadn't gotten excited about his outburst. If anything, he became even more subdued. He gently told Cable that he understood his personal reasons for his distrust of Sinister. He asked Cable to apply the same logic and benefit to capturing Sinister that a temporary truce or affiliation could. He also reminded Cable that finding a cure for the Legacy Virus was worth almost any risk. He pleaded with Cable to trust his judgment and meet with Sinister to see what he had to say.

Something in the Professor's tone told him that the Professor wasn't just throwing caution to the wind and trusting Sinister without question. The Professor wanted to play this hand out and some of the cards were going to have to remain face down for the time being. He reluctantly accepted this but still maintained that this was a big mistake. The only outcome when dealing with Sinister was that one or more of the good guys, somewhere down the line wouldn't make it.

He approached the park cautiously, choosing to enter by the Metropolitan Museum of Art off of East 84th Street. He didn't care for museums...didn't care for them at all. They contained physical representations of the past, things that you could pick up, touch, and feel. But all those things had come and gone, and were immutable -- impossible to change. He felt all this despite the fact that his mission, his entire life, was devoted to changing the past. Walking amongst living breathing beings that were part of his past was significantly different than looking at some dusty inanimate relics. Here he felt things were still fluid and being part of that dynamic he could effect some kind of change. At least that's what he hoped.

He walked lightly down the few cement steps and immersed himself into the midst of a throng of people. At this time of day this was probably the busiest part of the park and with a few telepathic tricks, blended innocuously into the crowd. He randomly probed as many people as possible as walked towards his destination to see if he could detect any of Sinister's goon squad that he might have placed in the park. He could detect nothing out of the ordinary, which meant very little. If nothing else, Sinister was a meticulous planner and left nothing to chance. He would have taken great care to hide any of his employees both visually and telepathically if that was his desire. Cable was careful in his own way as well and continued his scan none-the-less.

He passed the Obelisk and rounded a corner just shy of the Delacorte Theater and was shocked by what he saw. There was Sinister, right where he said he would be -- and he was, the bastard was playing chess. He was dressed in a long black cashmere coat, black gloves, and black shoes. Not flashy but stylish -- right in fashion with the rest of the Wall Street punks, Cable thought. Cable could make out his face quite clearly. He was missing his trademark red diamond and instead of his normal pallor, a healthy peach cast adorned his finely chiseled features. What was unmistakable and most recognizable to Cable was the cold aristocratic arrogance that Sinister always seemed to exude.

Cable moved a little closer and then noticed that Sinister was not playing one game but several games simultaneously. All of his opponents were seated at the permanent cement chess tables deep in thought. Sinister on the other hand Cable noted disgustedly, didn't sit at all. His conceit wouldn't allow him to sit because it might give the opposing player the idea that the two players were of equal skill. Instead, he sauntered from table to table, pausing briefly, his hands folded behind his back until he was ready to move a piece. He would also take the time to grace his opponent with a condescending smile after each move.

Cable had frequented this part of the park before and had quietly watched some of the chess matches. It might surprise some people that he was a rather accomplished player. He supposed that people didn't take him for the type of person that would indulge in games, but he actually enjoyed a competitive chess match. A master military strategist, Cable found that chess honed his tactical skills, and relaxed him to some degree allowing him to think more clearly. He was a good enough player to recognize that the players in this park were far from amateurs but accomplished players as well. Only devoted chess players with a true love of the game would come and play outdoors all year round. Cable had seen first hand that actual Grand Masters would occasionally visit the park and do exactly what Sinister was now doing.

Sinister looked up and made direct eye contact with Cable and smiled. "I have a rather pressing appointment gentlemen. Let's see if I can move things along a bit. Your bishop's opening Scholar's Mate was an easily recognizable trap," Sinister said to the elderly and neatly dressed gentleman seated directly across from him. "If you favor bishop openings, you might consider Legall's Mate. Against a novice player, you might find it to be a bit more effective," Sinister said somewhat haughtily. "Checkmate in three moves." He moved quickly to the next table.

"Your King's Gambit opening allows for quite a bit of latitude. But unfortunately your playing black and must be very careful to protect the extra pawn on f4. Becoming over-eager can result in a fatal weakening of the king's pawn cover." Sinister shook his head apologetically while moving his knight. "Checkmate."

"A Danish Gambit as an opening trap," Sinister nodded his head in appreciation. "And a somewhat innovative version no less. I must admit I was caught off guard but you should have pressed your attack. You unfortunately chose to retreat with your bishop, which resulted in your present predicament. "Checkmate," Sinister paused, forecasting the next several moves in his head, -- "in eight moves."

For the next two minutes, he went from table to table, thirteen in total. The outcome was the same in every case -- checkmate in so many moves.

Sinister walked out of the circle of onlookers who had gathered to observe the games, then stopped and turned. "Thank you for a most enjoyable afternoon gentlemen. I might offer a bit of advice. The opening moves that you employed, going for the quick kill so to speak, is almost always ineffectual against an experienced player. Patience in chess as well as patience in life I find, bears the greatest fruit," Sinister said with a reflective smile on his face and then turned and walked away from the gaming area. The players immediately returned to their respective games to study what went wrong.

"Did you have fun beating up on the little kids in the schoolyard old man?" Cable called out to Sinister acerbically.

Sinister turned his back to Cable and began to casually walk across the Great Lawn. He stopped realizing that Cable had not moved to accompany him. "I think a nice walk around the reservoir would be most enjoyable -- and highly informative," Sinister added.

Cable snorted and walked up along side of him. "A stroll in the park with Mr. Sinister," Cable said acidly. "Did you pack a picnic basket and blankets?" he asked drolly.

"Not quite, Nathan. I am pleased to see that you haven't lost your puerile sense of humor."

"All right, what do you want Sinister?" Cable said bluntly.

"What do I want?" Sinister responded. "Nothing really, other than to talk."

"I'm listening," Cable said -- "for now," he added.

"I'm here to absolve you of your responsibility."

"What?" Cable said choking on something that almost sounded like laughter.

"As you might have already been told or surmised, I am gathering a team of the most powerful mutants to dispose of Apocalypse. Your quest -- your Askani holy grail, is unnecessary and futile".

Cable had a look of amused annoyance on his face. "Thanks for telling me now. And what the flonq do you mean, futile?"

"You never could defeat Apocalypse, with or without the techno organic virus I might add."

"Thanks for your vote of confidence," Cable chuckled arrogantly. "And I guess we'll just have to see about that," Cable shot back at what he perceived as Sinister's disparagement. "So let me get this straight. You told Rogue..."

"Let me save you some time," Sinister interrupted. "You believe that my purpose in creating..." Sinister paused, a thoughtful look on his face and then continued. "You presume that my purpose in manipulating events that resulted in your birth was to fight Apocalypse."

"And you told Rogue that wasn't true," Cable said impatiently. "So what is it? You just thought you'd would play matchmaker between Madelyne and Cyclops."

"Ah Nathan, sardonic to the bitter end," Sinister chuckled. "It's quite simple really. I knew many years ago that it would take a mutant of enormous power to defeat Apocalypse. Nature at times can be quite fickle and time was a luxury I really didn't have. So I simply decided that it would be necessary to make one."

"Make one," Cable repeated disgustedly at Sinister's indifference. "You arrogant flonq. So I guess that's where I came in."

"Yes but not in the way you think," Sinister answered. "A mutant powerful enough to defeat Apocalypse would have to be able harness and command tremendous energies. To that end I discovered that these energies seemed to have a pernicious effect. At relatively low levels, psionic energy has little or no effect on the user. But past a certain threshold and after long-term usage, there can be some damaging consequences. The result, a variety of physical maladies primarily affecting the outer layers of the brain that control perception, reasoning, and memory. This deterioration of dura matter leaves the victim with an increasing skewed view of reality leading to insanity and eventually in many cases death. Proteus, Legion, Magneto, and your beloved Professor in his Onslaught personae have suffered from this to varying degrees. Quite simply the energy would literally eat you alive. I worked for many years to overcome this problem and found what I thought was the answer in the joining of Jean Grey and Scott Summers DNA. The aggregation of their most unique DNA structures resulted in not only a mutant of multiple abilities and almost unlimited power, but also possessed with an extreme resiliency to psionic energy. But alas, I forecasted that even your sturdy structure would eventually give way to the raging energies and break down. Your carbon copy refugee from another reality Nate Grey, would have eventually succumbed to this condition. Unfortunately, I had failed."

"And then something entirely unexpected," Sinister said with an expression of surprise. "Apocalypse infected you with the techno organic virus that I created, which had an unforeseen effect on your metabolism.(1) The use of your telekinetic ability to control the virus in conjunction with the virus itself, had a dampening effect on the harmful repercussions of the great psionic energies you possessed. So much in fact that it rendered you completely immune to the lethal consequences."

They had reached the reservoir and began to walk around the large body of water, all but invisible to the endless parade of joggers deeply involved in their daily constitutional.

"You're a real trip Sinister," Cable said with a short and bitter laugh, "and you have to love the way you operate. You don't let anything get in the way of what you want. You think Jean's dead, but you don't let that flonq up yours plans. Nope, you just reach into your bag of DNA tricks and pull out Madelyne. Well she's a dead ringer for Jean thanks to your Sear's cloning catalogue. Scott's so grief-stricken, he can't help but fall in love with her. Put one and one together and you get three -- in this case me."

"Quite an experiment -- even a failed one at that," Cable said contemptuously. "How many people got flonqed up along the way? Look at what it cost Maddie and what that cost a hell of a lot of other people. How about Scott and Jean?

"And what about you Nathan?" Sinister asked voicing Cable's unspoken thought.

"What about me?" Cable spit out the words his fists balled at his sides. "Like you give a shit about me or anyone else. You're a user Sinister, there's no mystery there. A professional liar," he said vehemently. "A flonqing murderer, worse...maybe worse than Apocalypse," Cable stammered with rage.

"Once again, an argument about ethics, my ethics of course," Sinister sighed and waved off Cable's comments dismissively. "You and your rather obtuse friends can not be held completely accountable. After all, my ostensible motivation has always been to create an impression of moral turpitude. But what I find objectionable is that now you seek to take the moral high ground," Sinister said derisively. "Forgive me, but I didn't know I was in the presence of a saint."

"I never said anything about being a saint. You can twist and turn everything I say but that doesn't change what you are," Cable said acidly. "I don't pretend to know why you've been pushing a lot of crap to people lately -- but I know it's not the truth."

"Really Nathan. And here I thought you had such a high opinion of me," Sinister said in such a fashion as though nothing could be further from the truth. "I shall speak the plain truth, indisputable even coming from me because they are things you've experienced firsthand." Sinister put the palm of his hand under his chin as if in deep thought. "Where to start? I find that comparisons tend to put things in perspective quite nicely. Perhaps we should discuss the morality of killing another human being. When you shoot at an enemy from a distance, is that all you see in your gun sight Nathan... just an enemy? Do you ever wonder whether that rival solider has a father or a mother, a wife, a son or maybe a daughter? Does that ever give you pause?" Sinister went on relentlessly.

Cable said nothing, but his stony expression betrayed feelings of anger as his eyes began to smolder.

"But you're fighting a war -- and people die in wars," Sinister continued. "I can hear you now extolling all the virtues of the X-Men or your comrades in arms. Let me go one step further. How about all the decisions you've had to make that resulted in deaths of other people -- strangers, friends, even loved ones. Your son and even your wife, fighting by your side..."

He quickly turned towards Sinister and grabbed the lapels on Sinister's coat, the veins throbbing at his temple. He only succeeded at drawing himself closer to Sinister and not the other way around as he had intended. Sinister was incredibly strong and he was well aware that in a physical contest, he would lose and lose badly. Sinister had pushed his buttons and had probably gotten the reaction he wanted. But flonq it, he still didn't have to tolerate the use of his family as the subject of Sinister's jibes.

"What I do and what you do are two different things," Cable said his voice dripping with spite. "Don't use my family to make any of your points," he said raising his voice as his left eyed glowed dangerously bright to further emphasize his point.

"Perhaps my choice of words was -- unsettling. But please remove your hands from my person and calm yourself Nathan. I have no desire to create a spectacle. I must say that I prefer the taciturn soldier that I've come to know to this stentorian ruffian standing before me."

Cable snorted and released Sinister. "You don't know me."

"Ah but you know me, correct?" Sinister said nodding his head in mock understanding.

"I know what you do -- what you've done. I've known a lot of guys like you -- killed a few whenever I could," Cable said with a predatory smile. "But none of them were as bad as you. None of them with your gift of gab -- rationalizing everything as the 'greater good,'" Cable said mockingly. "The Professor let me in on some of the stuff you told Bobby and Hank. I don't buy any of it."

"You believe people like me are responsible for all of the ills that the world suffers, don't you Nathan?" Sinister asked seeming genuinely curious.

"All, no. I guess I can't hold you responsible for the traffic problems in Manhattan, can I?" Cable said with a vicious smile.

"Ignorance." Sinister said emphatically.

"What are you talking about now?" Cable glowered.

"Ignorance Nathan. A societal cancer that has eaten away at the fabric of what we call civilization since its inception."

"And what am I ignorant of?" Cable said knowing that he was opening himself up to another one of Sinister's petty comments.

"What has transpired -- all that has transpired to bring us to this point in time. You are also ignorant to the fact that I truly wish to unburden you of the task that you believe that the Askani have placed solely upon your shoulders. As much as you might like to deny it, I am after all responsible for your being here and feel a certain measure," Sinister paused and incredibly seemed to be groping for the correct words. "I feel duty-bound to see that my -- my work is not wantonly squandered on a fool's errand."

Sinister didn't say the word 'creation', but Cable could hear it in Sinister's voice none-the-less.

"Oh give me a flonqing break," Cable blurted incredulously.

"And why not?" Sinister quickly responded. "You've suffered enough -- more than most."

Cable laughed out loud. "Sorry Essex, compassion coming from you? Even you can't sell me on that."

"Maybe so, but I also wanted to keep a promise to your sister," Sinister said with a furtive glance at Cable.

Cable stopped abruptly and fixed Sinister with a withering glare. "What the hell do mean my sister? "You never..." Cable's voice trailed off at Sinister's raised eyebrow expression.

"I've never what, spoken to your sister?" Sinister said pointedly.

Cable said nothing, waiting for Sinister to continue and answer his own question.

"First ask yourself this Nathan. Your sister had the ability to transfer the essences of both Scott and Jean, their souls if you will, into two host bodies and bring them 2,000 years into the future.(2) She also supposedly created Stryfe, a perfect duplicate of your own body but minus the techno-organic virus. I know you've spoken to your father about this. Rachel herself told him her entire plan. Interesting Nathan," Sinister said with a puzzled look. "I wonder why she didn't take your essence and place it into Stryfe's perfectly healthy body? To possess this ability, yet leave a defenseless baby, her own brother no less, in a body ravaged by a terrible virus seems unusually cruel. To also knowingly condemn Stryfe an innocent baby, to the childhood he endured under Apocalypse might have been even a crueler fate than your own."

"She did what she had to do," Cable said harshly. "Rachel and I lived when that bastard's plans were realized," he added with a wild- eyed expression. "You know better than most what Apocalypse plans for the future are."

"Indeed I do," Sinister said earnestly. "Yet you would condemn my actions and excuse or justify your sister's when our objectives were the same and our methods virtually indistinguishable. But you expect me to be contrite and apologize for my actions -- beg for forgiveness maybe?"

Sinister was Satan, Daniel Webster, and every Philadelphia lawyer all wrapped into one nasty package, Cable thought. "You're twisting the truth again," Cable said sneering.

"Am I?" Sinister responded sharply. "You don't even know the truth."

"And I'm going to get the truth from you?!" Cable laughed humorlessly.

"Think for a change Nathan. Try to pierce the veneer of hatred you hold for me listen to what I am saying," Sinister said with a piercing look. "Why did Rachel bring your parents forward in time? Why risk their lives in a world infinitely more dangerous than our own present? Did you ever consider why she didn't decide to create two, or even three Nathan Dayspring clones?" Sinister went on in his incessant query. "Why not create a clone to house your soul, another to 'trap' Apocalypse, and yet another to fight along side you?"

"I ... I don't know," Cable said with the tiniest bit of doubt creeping into his voice. "I'm sure she had her reasons."

"Not her reasons ... my reasons," Sinister said coldly.

That stopped Cable dead in his tracks. Even after his father had filled him in on all that had transpired when Rachel had brought both Scott and Jean into the future, -- the future where as Redd and Slym they had raised him, where for the first and only time in his life he had felt genuinely happy, and even normal, -- even then he had questioned the logic or even the sanity of his sister's plan.

Stab his eyes, he had asked the same questions, had the same doubts that Sinister had just voiced. In a discussion with Scott once over this very same subject, Scott had reluctantly admitted that he had his suspicions that Rachel had never told them the whole truth. Rachel knew what Nathan would be forced to endure...what Stryfe would become and how many people that maniac would torture and kill. Rachel flonqing knew, yet she had gone ahead with her plans anyway.

There were so many conflicting thoughts and emotions going through his head. He also remembered that Scott had told him that he was eternally grateful for the time they spent together raising him, and he and Jean wouldn't have traded anything for that time. He had echoed those sentiments to Scott -- to his father, he mentally corrected himself. He had at least tried to tell his father how he felt about that time -- in his own clumsy way.

Through all the trials and tribulations he had been through, it was that time in his life that had centered him. Whenever he had grown despondent, tired of his fight, tired of his life, tired of seeing everyone around him die -- and those times had been too many to count. It was his time with Redd and Slym that he remembered and drew strength from, allowing him endure, allowing him to go on. He had told his father that without him and Jean, he would never have made it. His father, a man known for expressing very little emotion, -- his father's eyes had brimmed with tears. Cable guessed he wasn't as bad as he thought with conveying how he felt after all.

But if Sinister was involved...if this was somehow one of his plans. Jesus flonqing Christ, Rachel, he thought. Rachel had made a deal with the devil.

"Oh how your sister agonized over the decisions she had to make," Sinister said, sensing that some understanding was dawning on Cable. "Condemning you to the future that she knew would be in store for you, leaving your parents childless, leaving you as a defenseless babe in a ghastly future ruled by a madman. Finally, using Stryfe knowing how millions would suffer at his hands."

"How did she know?" Cable rasped, the words tasting like bile in his mouth. The question had come grudgingly. He knew asking the question meant that he was slowly beginning to buy into what Sinister was saying, and Sinister would know it.

"I told her," Sinister simply responded. "She sought me out Nathan knowing full well that only I could help her defeat Apocalypse. She was desperate. You've spoken to your father. The Askani were all but defeated, a rag tag group of war-weary refugees. They had no chance."

"I'm sure Rachel was desperate," Cable said, his jaw clenched like a vice. "That's your favorite type of person, isn't it Sinister? You can smell desperation like a lion smells blood on a wounded prey animal. Make's people careless, foolhardy. She'd do anything you wanted," Cable said, his eyes exuding black fury.

"You persist in clouding your mind with misguided anger," Sinister levelly met Cable's gaze. "I gave your sister exactly what she asked for. She needed a way to kill Apocalypse."

Cable's expression remained unchanged.

"You still do not understand," Sinister said firmly. "Your sister had neither the technology nor the resources to create the required clones. They didn't know how Nathan...but I did," Sinister snapped.

"How is that possible?" Cable said disbelievingly. "Their technology was thousands of years ahead of where it is now."

"Indeed it was, but not in the field of genetics," Sinister responded. "The world leaders outlawed genetic research and in particular cloning not too far off in our own future. You better than most understand the sensitivity of the general public to tampering with the genes of humans and mutants, especially after the incidents with mutates in Genosha and the Prime Sentinels. Genetics was a dead and forgotten field."

"You mean to tell me you've never once wondered where Rachel obtained the material 2,000 years in the future to create clones of your parents?" Sinister asked.

"She...Rachel said she had the Askani sisterhood gather the material from Scott and Jean's descendants."

Sinister had a dubious expression on his face. "I assure you Nathan that it is quite impossible to create clones of your parents to house their essences from their descendents. Furthermore to create a clone is actually as much art as it is science. If that were the case, if the process was easy to duplicate, I would have created a thousand Nathan Daysprings and even Apocalypse...well I don't think I have to spell it out," Sinister said with an arrogant smile.

"What about your Marauder's?" Cable asked. You seem to cookie cutter those bastards out in quantity."

"Cloning some of my associates is more difficult than it appears, and they are much less than what you are Nathan. Simply put, the more powerful the mutant, the infinitely more complex the cloning process is. And if you're wondering, your parents looked different by design. I simply tweaked a few genes to change their appearances so they would not be recognized by Apocalypse should they have met face to face. I sometimes am a bit overcautious...a harmless idiosyncrasy of mine," Sinister said as if he were privy to an inside joke.

"She also told you that your parents original bodies would have never survived the time jump. But Sanctity, the last member of the Askani sisterhood, managed to transport your parents back in time -- to the time of my transformation, in their original bodies. Don't you find that odd Nathan? Your sister, a full blooded Summers, still possessing vestiges of the Phoenix force, was unable to do the same."

"Sanctity had to maintain their bodies in that time period for only forty eight hours Sinister. Scott and Jean spent years with me in the future," Cable responded quickly.

"Please Nathan," Sinister's expression was one of barely restrained tolerance. "There are perhaps one or two other human beings that understand temporal mechanics as well as I do. Think of your experience as an example," his tone one of admonishment. "Rachel brought you forward two-thousand years into the future in your own disease ravaged body, -- as a baby no less without any difficulty what-so-ever. You stayed in the future for many years. The duration of your stay had absolutely no bearing on your survival as you can attest to.

Cable seemed to hold his breath for an instant, and then exhaled slowly, a pensive mien shadowing his battle-creased face. "So Rachel never created the clones at all," he replied with undisguised effort. "She didn't have the necessary material, the facilities, or even the no how," Cable said, his brow furrowed in concentration. "That would mean..."

"I created the clones here in our present, her past, and Rachel transported all three clones to her future."

"But whose plan was it...?"

"As I said before, mine," Sinister said firmly. "You see Nathan, your sister brought you to the future in the hopes that she could do something about arresting the virus. Nothing more. It was a desperate gamble, a gamble that would have failed had your sister not gotten the idea to contact me."

"Although I created the virus," Sinister continued, "Apocalypse somehow altered the virus in a way -- in a way that I didn't think was possible. At the time, I was unable to discern a method with which to cure you. But I did communicate a way to impede or master the virus to a manageable degree."

"But why would Rachel risk Scott and Jean...it doesn't make any sense."

"It does make sense, or it made sense to Rachel at least," Sinister said with something in his voice that hinted at compassion. "As I said before, Apocalypse had decimated the humans and even many mutants of that time. Rachel foresaw the inevitable. She could not beat Apocalypse. When your sister came to me Nathan, her spirit was broken. She was weary of the responsibility, tired of the death and carnage around her. She wanted an end to it all, but she also wanted revenge. She wanted Apocalypse dead at any cost, enough in fact to even solicit my help. She wanted me to devise a method to kill Apocalypse."

"Stryfe," Cable said simply.

"Yes Nathan," Sinister agreed. "But it had nothing to do with Stryfe being your clone. Buried deep and unrecognizable in Stryfe's genetic make-up, I encoded a time bomb of sorts...a bomb that would recognize Apocalypse's foul essence, and destroy the body he was inhabiting."

Cable found himself not questioning the validity of what Sinister had just told him because...because using a baby as bait, bait that would be placed for years right under the nose of the most heinous tyrant this world would ever see...bait that would be raised to use its great mutant powers in the most horribly conceived of ways. That type of patient connivance, devoid of any traces of humanity, was not something his sister would ever be capable of. His father had suspected. Only one mind was capable of that type of machination.

Cable smiled mirthlessly. "Your plan Sinister," he acknowledged.

"And why Scott and Jean?" Sinister asked, replying to Cable's unanswered question. That was your sister's idea -- or more her desire. When she attended your mother and father's wedding(3), she wanted to give them something special...she read your father's mind. There she saw her father's greatest desire, his thoughts of you Nathan, even on his wedding day. He wanted what every man and woman in love want, to raise a family together. Scott wanted the woman he loved to share in the joys of raising you, even as unlikely a dream as that was, especially coming from someone as pragmatic as your father. Rachel could not help but want to grant her father's deepest and fondest wish -- and she also knew what it would mean to you."

That sounded more like Rachel, Cable thought pitying his sister. God how was she able to cope, alone with the fate of two worlds on her shoulders? "You don't do charity Sinister," Cable said suddenly, his mood changing thinking about Sinister's motivation. "What did you ask for in return for all your help?" Cable asked not trying to hide his cynicism.

Sinister chuckled dryly. "Your misanthropic attitude brings to mind a small bit of writing by H.L. Mencken. 'A man who, when he smells flowers, looks around for a coffin.'"

"You haven't answered my question," Cable said in a clipped tone.

"I asked for knowledge of the future, " Sinister answered with a tight-lipped smile.

Cable's expression remained unsatisfied.

"I learned of the Mother Askani, Apocalypse, The Sisterhood, Blaquesmith, Ch'vayre, Turin, Tetherblood, the Daegon, the Wysps, Fossil, 'Strator Umbridge,"(4) Sinister rattled off quickly. "Satisfied?"

"What the flonq don't you know about?" Cable's brow knitted in thought. "The future? Why would she need to ask you about what happened?" Cable asked suddenly, returning to an earlier claim of Sinister's. "When I asked you about how Rachel knew about what would happen to me and Stryfe, you said that you told her. All of those things would have already happened -- and been part of her past."

Sinister smiled. The smile seemed different to Cable...almost genuine. "An excellent question Nathan. You have an underrated analytical mind. If the very act of traveling to the past or the future creates another separate and distinct timeline, then who is to say Rachel's past is your present, or will be your future? At one time I believed that time travel would always result in the formation of an alternate or different universe. Now I'm not so sure."

To Cable, those words sounded alien coming from a scientist of Sinister's caliber...and arrogance. "What do you mean you're not sure?"

"This is admittedly a perplexing subject," Sinister sighed. "Some of your scientists argue conservatively that time travelers don't change the past; they were always part of it. On the other hand, paradoxical though this sounds, a version of the many-worlds theory of quantum mechanics devised by another of your physicists might allow such history-changing visits. In this picture, there are many interlacing world histories, so that if you went back in time and killed your grandmother when she was a young girl, this would cause space-time to simply branch off into a new parallel universe that doesn't interfere with the familiar one. There is direct evidence of the latter. You yourself are intimately familiar with this theory."

Sinister continued. "One of the United States leading physicists, Stephen Hawkings has addressed the problem in a different way, proposing what he calls a chronology-protection conjecture. He argues, the laws of physics must always conspire to prevent travel into the past. He believes that quantum effects, coupled with other constraints, will always step in to prevent time travel in ones own universe. I agree. The universe isn't stupid or suicidal. With the number of sentient species that have reached the technological level to build a device capable of time travel, in this galaxy alone would conservatively number in the thousands. Think Nathan, a thousand different species capable of time travel -- the number of paradoxes that would result if that travel were possible in ones own universe. It would take only one paradox, and everything we know would be undone. Yet here we stand having this conversation when we both are aware of several such journeys through time. One could only conclude that time travel in ones own universe is impossible."

"Time flows in one direction only, and we flow with it like corks bobbing helplessly in the river." Sinister said with a measure of finality.

"Really?" Cable said with an annoyed tone. "Then how the flonq do you explain how this cork," Cable said pointing to himself -- "has jumped in and out of the river at different points?"

"That my dear Nathan is the conundrum," Sinister said arching his eyebrows. "Let me tell you something that might even surprise you some more. There is only one real universe, one true timeline."

"What the hell are you talking about?" Cable asked more confused than angry. "You just said there must countless alternate timelines and universes because of all the time travel that must have gone on -- or be going on, " Cable added.

"Indeed I did," Sinister responded. "But only one real one," he repeated. "The others exist for a time, a relatively short time and fade from existence. The other universes all stem from this one, and are just pale echoes of our own timeline."

"You sound so sure about this. How can you be positive that what you just said is correct," Cable challenged.

"I was told by someone whose scientific acumen dwarfs my own," Sinister admitted. "Even he -- his entire race, were ignorant of this fact until recently."

"Entire race?" Cable asked.

"It matters not. What matters is that you have done the impossible Nathan -- you have traveled forwards and backwards in your own timeline with no ill effects. There are greater forces at work here than even I could have conceived."

"I don't understand."

"Your understanding of such things isn't required," Sinister said bluntly. He then went on more gently as if he regretted his words. "You are not alone Nathan. Despite what you may have believed or believe still -- since I learned of his existence, his purpose, only I have truly carried the banner against Apocalypse. Everything else -- a charade."

Cable said nothing. He was still absorbing everything Sinister had just told him.

Sinister opened a tesseract, his back to Cable. "You may aid me in this cause. You are aware of what I plan and can join those already willing to help."

"You couldn't stop me," Cable answered sharply. "Just for the record, despite everything you said, I still think it's a mistake throwing in with you."

"A mistake?" Sinister turned, his red-lit eyes glowed eerily even with a bright sun overhead.

"Oh that's right, I guess you've never made any mistakes," Cable said bitterly.

A shadow quickly passed over Sinister's face. He looked at Cable as if he was staring at him from a deep dark pit. Cable suddenly felt his blood run cold. "One mistake," Sinister said slowly, separating and drawing out each word.

He then turned and walked into the nothingness of tesseract space, disappearing from view, leaving Cable to wonder at everything that had just transpired.

To be continued.

[1]X-Factor #67
[2]The Adventures of Cyclops and Phoenix #1
[3]X-Men #30
[4]X-Men - Books of Askani