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"Wild Cards"

Wild Cards

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
Chapter 15
Chapter 16
Chapter 17
Chapter 18
Chapter 19
Chapter 20
Chapter 21
Chapter 22
Chapter 23
Chapter 24
Chapter 25
Chapter 26

This story is unfinished.

Wild Cards

Part 26

"Dammit, at least let me do it m'self!"

If he could have shouted, he would have -- but Remy's throat was still too tender from the recently removed respirator to allow him to do much more than croak. Denied the full use of his voice to express his displeasure, he resorted to glowering at the spoon held in front of him.

Ororo set the offending utensil back into the bowl of lemon ice she held and sighed as she looked at her friend.

"Remy, please -- you must rest if you wish to get well. You do not yet have the energy to sit up without aid, how can you expect to feed yourself?"

"'Cause I been doin' it since I was a pup. It ain' like I had anyone t' help me out when I was sick then, an' I managed fine. I c'n manage now," he growled, wincing as pain flared in his abused throat.

It was just his luck that the residual link between himself and Reine only allowed for communication between themselves, he thought sourly. Being fully telepathic would definitely be a plus about now -- then he'd be able to avoid the pain involved in speaking to other people, as well as keep tabs on her...

Ororo watched him for a moment after his outburst, then set the bowl aside and took his hand.

"Then, you had no other choice. That is not so now," she said simply.

Her words struck home, and Remy's defiance turned to apology.

"I know it, 'Ro," he sighed, "I do. It's jus' that I hate bein' laid up like this ... I didn' mean t' take it out on you."

He grimaced again as he finished speaking, and decided the best way to complete his apology was to surrender. Resigned, Remy looked toward the bowl longingly. With a small smile, Storm used her free hand to bring a spoonful of the lemon ice to his lips, and he swallowed gratefully.

Sheer bliss ... the cold, slightly tart treat soothed as it melted, serving the dual purpose of replacing lost fluid and easing his abraded windpipe.

"I know, my friend, and I understand. Being ill is always a trial, but for one such as you, it is likely even more so," she said, feeding him another spoonful.

He let it melt completely before he answered her.

"One as m'self?" he asked hoarsely, eyes twinkling, "Just what d' y' mean by dat, 'Ro?"

Her smile broadened.

"Oh, I don't know ... someone who is active, impatient, temperous, and has trouble being still for any length of time."

"You jus' described someone with ADD."


"Y' cruel, hittin' a  man when he's down."

Ororo laughed and continued to feed him, but after only a few more spoonfuls, Remy spoke again.

"Normalment, I'd find de idea of bein' spoon-fed by a beautiful woman an appealin' thought -- but I hate dis, chère. I really hate it."

Ororo paused. Remy's voice was quiet, but there was no mistaking the loathing in his tone. Clearly, there was more than the fact that he was bedridden weighing upon his spirits...

"You have an independent nature, Remy. To be dependent on others, no matter whom they are, goes against your grain."

"Oui," he conceded glumly, "but it's more than that..."

"Oh?" she said, her tone of voice inviting him to explain.

"Bein' dependent is bad enough ... but what really gets t' me is not havin' control."

He closed his eyes briefly, as though gathering strength to continue -- then he looked at her and the words came in a rush.

"Like right now, I'm dependent on you t' feed me, but if I've had enough, you'll stop. If I want more you'll get some for me. I got some control. But that's all I got control over -- Henri's callin' de shots on everyt'ing else. What I eat, when I eat, who I see, when I see 'em, when I sleep, when I wake up ... he even controls when I get to piss on my own, 'cause he controls when I lose de extra plumbing," Remy said darkly, with a disgusted glance toward the IV lines which still surrounded him. "I know why all that's so, I trust Henri, an' I know that what he's been doin' is all f' my own good, even -- but I've spent too damn much o' my life bein' controlled an' I hate it."

Ororo squeezed his hand.

"Perhaps not controlled, but used," she said. "The two can be difficult to distinguish. Too often, you have been used by others -- even us."

"That's diff'rent, chère. Everybody uses everyone else -- it's de way of the world. What matters is if y' choose t' let it happen, an' why you make that choice. I'm jus' damn tired o' havin' my choices made for me -- dat's controlled."

He pulled a face in renewed discomfort.

"If y' would, Stormy?" he rasped.

"Do not call me Stormy," she said as she gave him some more of the ice, her automatic reply bringing a smile to them both.

"Merci," he said, once the ice had melted. "Trust me t' get all philosophical when I can' hardly talk."

"As you taught me long ago, timing is everything."

"That it is, padnat, that it is," he said with a rueful chuckle.

"Knowing you as I do, I would think there is still more on your mind than the things you have just spoken of..."

"Couldn' ever hide much from you, 'Ro," he sighed.

"Then may I ask?"

"Y' could, but I c'n save you de trouble," he said.

She looked at him expectantly as he gathered his thoughts, waiting for him to speak .

"Y' ever notice how anyplace medical has de same sort of smell?" he asked finally. "It's cold, disinfectant ... an' underneath that there's decay, an' somethin' metallic, like a cross between clean steel an' old blood ... it's a smell y' don't ever forget."

He smiled wanly.

"Let's jus' say dat with recently relivin' how the deaths of a couple hundred innocent people came t' be, an' bein' in this place -- ain' exactly made for de kind of restful stay that Henri keeps sayin' I need."

There was little she could say to that, so she wisely chose to avoid words altogether. Instead she joined her hands with his, looked into his eyes, and opened her mind to him. She let her feelings silently communicate to her empathic friend, the emotions she sent him as soothing as any of Hank's medications.

"Merci, Stormy," he whispered.

She smiled, and bent to kiss his forehead. She then replied to his words with "Do not call me Stormy", but had to laugh as her friend said it in unison with her. She saw that Remy's eyelids were drooping now, and Ororo glanced at the clock, noting that this was his longest stretch awake since being injured.

"You should rest now -- I shall stay until you fall asleep."

"Y' don' have t' do that..."

"I know."

He smiled his thanks and his eyes gradually slipped shut. As they did, Ororo began to hum a tune that she remembered from long ago, when her mother would lull her to sleep. It was just as effective on Remy as it had been on her in her girlhood.

Allowing the lilt of his best friend's voice to carry him off into sleep, Remy at last managed to put aside his worries. His last conscious thought was of his sister.

Sure hope y' know what y' doin', ma soeur...

Over the course of her criminal career, Reine had come to adopt a mantra which read like a cross between Murphy and the Boy Scouts.

If anything can go wrong, it will -- so be prepared.

It was a philosophy that had served her well over the years. Mind you, there were always elements to any job that no matter how one tried, one could never adequately prepare for. Like a momentary lapse in one's reflexes...

Fatigue crashed into her like the storm surge of a hurricane just as she was reaching for a vital handhold, and her grip faltered just enough to make a difference.

She tried to adjust, but it was too late -- her hand slipped from its purchase, and she found herself plummeting down the elevator shaft.

"End program!"

In response to her shouted command, the walls of the shaft faded away, replaced by the utilitarian metal walls of the Danger Room. She was still falling, but from only a few feet, instead of a few hundred. Unfortunately, she didn't have quite enough space to get her feet under her, and she landed rump-first in an undignified heap.


She swore under her breath, unsure what annoyed her more: failing at a simple task due to second-hand fatigue from her brother, or the thought of his she had picked up as she had been overcome.

Dammit, I know what I'm doing... she thought irritably.

For all that her name was unknown to the rolls of the Guild, professionally she had few peers and even fewer equals amongst their membership. She knew that.

And, she thought with a pang of guilt, Remy knew it too. In truth, it was because of Remy that she knew it for a fact, though her ego had always taken it for granted. His concern for her had nothing to do with her competence, and everything to do with the effect his infirmity was having on her through their link. Given what had just happened, that concern was more than justified.

She had made two trial runs, using two different approaches, and each time she had failed to attain her objective, courtesy of the sensations shared through their link. Remy was doing his best to shield her, but in his weakened state he could only maintain the necessary level of concentration for a comparatively short period of time. Complicating matters, she needed her concentration for the job at hand, and was consequently unable to devote much attention to shielding herself, which left her all the more vulnerable to anything which did come through from her brother.

A fine mess indeed ... especially with the time she had available growing short.

They had discussed their power problem extensively both between themselves and with the resident telepaths, and they were fairly sure they had a solution. If they allowed their powers to merge completely again, then dissolved the union normally, it seemed likely that everything would revert to normal. Certainly it would be worth trying ... if Hank hadn't put his foot down.

Since the aftermath of using their joint power was still physically draining for both of them, Beast had forbidden them from making the attempt until Remy was stronger. Unfortunately, at the rate things were going, by the time they would be able to try, it would be too late.

Remy had been all for going ahead with the attempt anyway, but Reine had sided with Hank. She wasn't about to put her brother's health at risk if she could help it. Also, she had hoped the effect of the link on her performance wouldn't be as bad as they had thought. Sadly, as her trials in the Danger Room had proven, it was worse.

Okay -- time to face facts. Barring a special miracle, there's no way I'll be able to pull this pinch myself -- in the time frame I have left, and with the location I chose to work with, that is -- without running one hell of a risk. So what options am I left with?

She frowned in thought, running through the possibilities...

"Am I interrupting something?"

Reine started at the sound of Bobby's voice, then relaxed.

"Not at the moment," she said, brushing herself off as she climbed to her feet.

"I was wondering, since Cerebro had the observation decks blacked out at your command."

"I don't like to be watched while I work -- you may have noticed that's something of a required idiosyncrasy in a thief."

Bobby grinned.

"With Gambit, I've never been sure of that. He seems to enjoy playing to an audience."

"Call me the black sheep of the family."

"I don't know -- until just now, I would have thought the same of you. You've never been bothered by having spectators when you train before."

"Maybe you just don't know me very well."

"Maybe so," he conceded.

Or maybe you're hiding something he thought to himself.

"Maybe so," Reine replied, her voice flat.

Bobby started at her reply, his expression rapidly shifting from surprise to embarrassment, then to annoyance; but Reine continued unruffled.

"I may only be a beta telepath, Bobby, but what I lack in power I make up for in sensitivity -- and that thought came through loud and clear."

"So are you?" he challenged.

"Hiding something? Of course -- but if you want to know particulars, you should be more specific with your line of inquiry."

"Okay -- what exactly are you hiding?"

"Plenty," she said with a grin. "My given name, my mailing address, my credit limit, my great-aunt's birthday..."

"Quit playing around, would you? You know what I mean. What were you doing in here that you didn't want anyone to see?"

"You really want to know? You're that curious?" she asked teasingly.


Hook's set ... now to cast the line she thought to herself.

"Then I'm afraid you'll have to stay in that condition," she said primly. "I can't tell you. But..." she paused, looking unsure, "I suppose I could just show you. Think you can handle that?"

Her answer came as Bobby iced up.

"Bring it on!"

Reine shrugged.

"Just remember -- you asked," she said, then gave the command to restart the program.

As the scenery began to change, Reine mentally shook herself.

That was almost too easy...

She was glad she had taken the time to put a little extra logic into the command structure of the program. The phraseology she had used would kick in the subroutine, calling an entirely different program, and erasing the one she had been using. She didn't think the others would have any objections to what she planned to do, but all the same...

Force of habit. Besides, the less anyone else knows about my business, the better. Safer for everyone.

The program came up, and she grimaced.

Oh great...

She had worked with this program before, and it was nasty. Granted, she wouldn't have to bluff her way through an unknown scenario in front of Bobby -- but in light of what was waiting for them, that might have been preferable.

She grabbed Bobby's arm and yanked him into the undergrowth, out of the path of the approaching searchlight, and started thinking about the best way to get around the perimeter guards. But first, she had to brief her partner.

"Okay, Frosty," she whispered, "here's the situation..."

It wasn't often that Henry McCoy felt shame. Since he was as considerate in nature as he was brilliant in mind, it was seldom he managed to do anything that could produce that particular emotion within him. But he felt it now...

When Rogue had come to the X-Men, the Professor had promised to help her learn to control her powers. However, Charles had made it clear to all that promise was binding to more than just himself. When he had given his word to help Rogue, he expected his students to assist in the effort in any way possible. At first, they had resented being obligated to help their former enemy, but with time and opportunity, Rogue had proven herself to all of them.

As hard as it was to believe at first, the young terrorist and would-be murderess truly had wanted to change. Beast had been among the first to realize it. And once he had, he had promised her that he would do his best to determine the physiological mechanism of her power.

He never had. So many crises had come up demanding his time, he had been forced to put that promise on the back-burner -- and it had languished there. He had always had every intention of returning to the problem, but somehow, he just never found the time. Stryfe and the Legacy virus had seen to to that...

The good of the many may well outweigh the good of the few, or the one. But that's only a reason for my actions, or rather the lack thereof -- not an excuse. And as logical as the reasoning behind it may be, it doesn't help one sleep any easier after doing a disservice to a friend he thought sadly.

Still, dwelling on his past failure would do nothing for Rogue now -- but working with Joseph's idea might.

What's done is done. All I can do is move forward, and see to it that this sort of thing doesn't happen again.

With that thought feeding his determination, he pored over the calculations on the Z'Noxx chamber that were scribbled on the papers in front of him.

After the first set of tests Hank had had Rogue undergo, Joseph had come by the lab asking about the results. Although the magnetic mutant could remember few details about his life as Magneto, his scientific ability appeared to have survived his amnesia intact. He had hit upon an idea while conducting his own investigation of Rogue's powers. Knowing that she had been all too frequently disappointed in her efforts to control her ability so far, Joseph had wanted to be sure that he was on to something before he mentioned it to her. Hence his visit with Hank...

If one made the assumption that the absorption of thoughts, memories and abilities which Rogue triggered by touch was a form of highly channeled telepathy (an assumption supported by Hank's preliminary results), perhaps the technology the Professor had used to craft the chamber could be used to circumvent her power. After all, the chamber had been originally constructed to mask Xavier's prodigious mental power from the alien Z'Noxx -- it was essentially an extremely fine psionic filter. And if you could filter from the inside out, you should also be able to filter from the outside in...

Simple as it was, it was a brilliant idea. Hank couldn't help but be irritated with himself for not seeing its potential before. As happy as he was that there might finally be an opportunity to help his teammate have a normal life, the fact that Joseph had found a possible solution before he had stung.

But of course we who are dedicated to the scholarly life know nothing of the vulgar competitiveness of other professions. Perish the thought... he thought, his mouth twitching up in a small smile at his own tart humour, then he turned somber.

Had he become too focused on research? Perhaps to the detriment of his personal relationships? Quite possibly, since in addition to excitement, he was feeling some sense of being intellectually cuckolded by Joseph's discovery. After all, it was Rogue's life at issue for heaven's sake -- not some academic hypothesis of passing interest. Who had made the actual breakthrough should be irrelevant.

But it wasn't -- he had promised.

Ah, what perfect symmetry of thought there is in self-recrimination ... as with any circle, one always returns to the same starting point. But enough for now -- focus on the data, and you can return to your wallowing afterward...

In only another few minutes, Hank had finished his analysis. Joseph looked to be right -- the idea should work, at least in theory. Now he just needed to put it in practice...

Turning to his workstation, he brought up the simulation program that had been used to test the chamber when it was first constructed. After making some small tweaks to the program, he entered his data and waited for the machine to process.

While he waited for the program to finish running, he decided to finish one other job. Moving to another part of the lab, he retrieved some slides and prepared one of the microscopes.

After Joseph's fainting spell a few days ago, Hank had given the other man a thorough checkup, and all had appeared to be normal. However, just to be on the safe side, Beast wanted to do some advanced bloodwork, even though the basic set he had run earlier had come back clean.

And no time like the present...

Carefully, he positioned the slide. Peering through the eyepiece, he adjusted the focus -- then stared in disbelief.

But ... that's impossible!

In another lab which existed in a pocket of time and space, everywhere and nowhere at once, Sinister was examining the data returned by his queries. There were a number of signatures which, when combined with the Acadian's, bore some degree of resemblance to the omega signal he had detected earlier -- but there was only one exact match.

And it was from a mutant that had apparently been dead for over ten years.


His lip curled at the thought -- he did so hate imprecision. But sometimes, it just couldn't be helped.

Advanced as his technology was, it still had limits. He was able to track the ever-increasing number of mutants in the world easily, but unless there was something about their power level or ability that dovetailed with his studies or otherwise piqued his interest, that was all he did. To collect the same sheer volume of data for every mutant as he had accumulated for those connected with his pet projects wasn't impossible; however, neither was it feasible. The potential return for such a substantial drain on his resources would have been minimal at best. He preferred to concentrate his attention where it would do the most good.

To that end, he focussed his energies on a comparatively small subset of the mutant population -- and if another mutant with a similar talent to one of those in the subset was found, he generally didn't follow up -- unless of course he was in need of a control specimen. Ironic that the similarity to Gambit's own signature had likely contributed to this one's being more or less ignored at the outset...

Usually when a signal was lost, it was due to the death of the subject -- but there were other possibilities. It would only take some small additional investigation to determine which of them might be applicable, but right now that was of secondary interest.

The computer would soon be finished compiling a summary of the known history of the mystery mutant, and he had time for some reading before the next set of experiments needed tending. He wondered if this life story would be as interesting as LeBeau's.

I'll soon find out...


To be continued.

"All warfare is based on deception." -- Sun-Tzu, The Art of War


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