DISCLAIMER: All characters, contained
in this part, are the exclusive property of Marvel Comics.
Crew ASKEW is theirs too but I invented Moebius and Beethoven,
although not Ms T. I am neither using them to make me a profit
or to bring down Marvel's particular heavens with a crash.
:) Comments however are much appreciated at email@example.com
as is any criticism, kvetches and bouquets, along with requests
for archiving. I won't say no. :) Um, this part is probably
a G, if I had to rate it. Otherwise, no romance etc ... in
this one, merely a competiton between two masters of their
Then the dumb, aching, bitter,
the pining to be initiated,
to have access to the knowledge that the great deed
has opened up for us, to know, to satisfy,
the great and dominant hunger of the mind.
- D. H. Lawrence, 'Manifesto, III'
The brick building was not extraordinary, situated as it
was in the middle of busy New York. With faded, peeling white
paint, green-trimmed doors and window-frames, it served as
the headquarters of an institution that the brass plaque at
the door modestly proclaimed was the Association for Scientific
Knowledge through Experimental Work. The name was bland, deliberately
vague, and thus the building was dismissed as a think tank
where musty, unambitious researchers and failed scientists,
who were unable to obtain the grants for better things, went
to lead careers of quiet obscurity.
Even Katherine Pryde, knowing beyond all doubt that this
was the address, doublechecked the typed sheet of paper that
had appeared in her mailbox a month ago. The wording had been
simple, pared of all extraneous courtesies and irrelevant
information. "Our selection committee has noted your
exemplary performance in the field of electronics and wishes
you to join a task-force on a project of a classified nature."
The outline of what exactly she would be expected to do followed,
deliberately nebulous to pique her curiosity, which now would
hopefullly be satisfied. She knocked on the chipping wood,
straightening the blue-diamond brooch at the throat of her
silk blouse. A key scraped in the lock on the other side and
the door swung open. A pleasant-faced, tweedy man with an
avuncular air about him smiled at her.
"Ms Pryde, I presume?"
He spoke with a slight, Scandanavian accent, Kitty noticed,
which indicated that this Association for Scientific Knowledge
through Experimental Work had wider ties than she had expected
"Yes," her eyes dropped to the silver name-tag
on the collar of the hideous coat, "Mr Moebius."
The crinkling of her nose must have telegrammed her surprise
at seeing the familiar name of a honoured mathematician inscribed
in the metal. "The nature of our ... work necessitates
that we adopt pseudonyms," he explained with a slight
flush of embarrassment colouring his cheeks, "For our
own protection, you understand. Many rival firms would bring
-- shall we say? -- less than professional pressure to bear
on us if they knew our true identities. I thought to honor
my alma mater in the choice of mine."
"I understand," Kitty said abstractedly, as she
looked around the foyer. A wooden desk, piled with papers
where it was not covered with a telephone and a laptop, stood
in the centre, next to two moldering pot-plants. On the wall,
a floorplan indicated the various laboratories and their inhabitants,
scrawled in an indecipherable code. Chairs that had once been
plush and velvety encircled a coffee-table, complete with
the obligatory out-of-date magazines. Scientific Americans
by the looks of their battered covers. If the organisation
was as secret as she had been led to believe, why the need
for a waiting room?
"We also used to serve as a centre for genetic counselling
-- when mutancy was ... less publically accepted than it is
at the moment. I know that the situation between the two species
is hardly ideal, but it is infinitely more cordial now than
it used to be."
Once again, Moebius had appeared to read her mind and she
wondered if he was telepathic, instantly running through the
mental disciplines of screening that Xavier had taught her,
trying to remember if she had thought anything beyond simple
curiosity and berating herself for her stupidity. She knew
that many organisations used psions to detect potentially
dangerous people and neutralise them.
"Yes, I am their bloodhound in addition to being
a researcher," he replied with a grin that put her in
mind of a shaggy terrier seeking approval, "My particular
field of study is that of parapsychology -- telepathy, empathy,
pyrokinesis et cetera. I used to be affiliated with the Department
at Edinburgh until ASKEW tempted me away. Don't worry. I won't
intrude on your thoughts after this -- I was merely gauging
whether you posed a threat."
With a shaky laugh, "So I passed?"
He nodded, indicating with a hand that she should follow
him. His chatter after that was incessant and light, obviously
preempting any further questions on her part. Precis of the
various projects followed a summary of ice-hockey results,
and weather reports preceded queries about her training. Through
ajar doors, she caught glimpses of laboratories and their
inhabitants conducting seemingly endless series of tests.
Even trained in the pure sciences as she was, she could not
determine half of what they were doing. A blonde woman, clutching
a sheath of notes, bumped into them, glaring at Kitty's muttered
apology before responding with an equally graceless one of
her own and disappearing into a lab.
"That was Ms. T."
Kitty grinned, "I think she'd scare even Mr T."
Eventually, Moebius stopped before a polished, wooden door
with a similar bronze plaque to the front. Engraved by the
same person, it read: "Director of Projects. Mr Beethoven."
"They say it is because he is deaf to complaints and
suggestions yet conducts everything harmoniously," her
guide ventured with a slight, spaniel smile as he pushed open
the door, "He's expecting you."
The office was scrupulously neat, without a pen or paperclip
out of place. The laptop was centred, parallel to the telephone-cum-fax-machine
and printer. Piles of papers, stapled and colour-coded, were
being filed by a angular woman in a lintless grey suit. On
the wall, a Mondrian print kept geometric order -- sparse
and sterile -- and even the flowers --- stiff, plastic-seeming
freesias -- stood to attention; they would have attracted
no vagrant bee or butterfly. From a generic leather chair,
an improbable man, considering his surroundings, was conducting
an invisible orchestra. Waving his hands around, with headphones
over his servicable, military hairstyle, his eyes were closed
and he was humming along blissfully. Handel's "Music
for the Royal Fireworks" by the sounds of it. Dressed
in a stark, black suit with a Bugs Bunny tie, he did not look
as inhuman as the room had led her to believe. The movement
seemed to stop, he removed the headphones and he opened his
eyes, which widened as they saw her.
His syllables were clipped and precise, as if he chopped
each one off from the sentence as he spoke. He did not seem
embarrassed, but extended a hand. She shook it, before sinking
into an identical leather chair.
"So you decided to take up our offer?"
"I am pleased to hear that," he surreptitiously
took a file from the secretary's hand and opened it, "You
have been informed about the nature of the project on which
you will be working."
Across the desk, she caught glimpses of what appeared to
be information on her education and stint as a SHIELD agent.
To her surprise, there even seemed to be a photograph of her
with the X-Men. It appeared that this ASKEW was more careful
than they had initially seemed to her.
"I know that it involves the blurring of the boundaries
between human and machine. Speaking frankly, sir, it sounds
like you want me to create cyborgs."
He snorted somewhat rudely, "Old hat. As you well know,
SHIELD themselves have a crack-unit of cyborg agents that
are used in situations where it is considered too hazardous
for your average Joe Homo Sapiens. Where biological weapons
are used, for example."
Kitty started at that. The existence of those units was top-secret,
classified to levels above most agents, let alone the public.
She only knew because she had helped develop them from the
bodies of critically wounded operatives, mingle mangled flesh
and steel in an attempt to save their lives as well as develop
a force capable of going where humans could not. Still, ASKEW
appeared to have resources above and beyond the citizenry,
resources beyond SHIELD's comprehension.
"How did you know about them?" she blurted out.
"We make it our business to keep track of advances in
various fields," was the bland reply, "As well as
improve on them. What we want you and your team to do is infinitely
more subtle than that rather crude butchery."
He extracted a tissue-thin piece of paper from the file and
handed it to her, sitting back with arms akimbo. Skimming
it quickly, she was amazed, and, although the SHIELD agent
within her had balked at its potential implications, she knew
that she would not refuse the carrot proffered to her. A chance
to do proper research again; research for which the
Nobel Prize would be a logical conclusion, if she was successful!
ASKEW were proposing to create a force of nanites that could
alter DNA, that were small enough to creep inside in the spiral
of sugars, nitrogens and phosphates and rearrange it. The
applications for good were astounding -- congenital diseases
could be eliminated, mutancy too for those who feared persecution
and experienced species-hate -- as were those for evil --
the ultimate weapon would after all be something undetectable
and incurable, that attacked on the most basic level, rending
apart the fabric of who the indivisual was.
"Impressed, Ms Pryde?"
"Yes, but I don't see how..."
"That's why we sink inordinate amounts of money into
the project. So that you can see how," he grinned, "Welcome
to Crew ASKEW, Ms Pryde."
The bulbous sac of nerves, gray- and white matter pulsated
in its nutrient fluid, absorbing glucose from the viscious
liquid. Around it, a faint aura glowed, cycling intermittently
from red to violet. Candide was feeding. Occasionally, her
creator would turn around to glance approvingly at her before
returning to the screen on which an man, wearing a Bugs Bunny
tie, was explaining a project to the woman on whose thoughts
Preceptor had chanced to land with Candide's help. It appeared
that the use of psychic powers attracted his mutated brain,
like a bee to nectar to sate herself on their thoughts, and
Moebius' scanning of this particular person had done that
admirably. More than admirably considering the nature of what
was being said. Nanites would prove most useful for his experiments
-- shaping flesh and bone in a way that his crude tools never
could. The most elegant scalpel imaginable. He could create
the ultimate race, the ubermensch that was any true geneticist's
dream. Smiling at the sweet irony, McCoy let Beethoven further
The e-mail from his son was not surprising, although the
contents were a shock. Despite being an exile from his Guild
and family, Remy had always kept in touch with Jean-Luc, telling
him of the million small things that occured in his life.
Of the women he was dating; none of whom he loved. Of Xavier
and his training. Of his rise in rank to grandmaster thief
-- Jean-Luc had almost burst with pride at that, unable to
resist the temptation of gloating to his colleagues. Of baseball
games with his friends and fishing-trips, all of which were
woefully exaggerated. This one was completely different though
-- a professional communique with an undertone of worry.
Subject: Sais-tu ce femme?
(Do you know this woman?)
J'ai recu recemment ce lettre de quelqu'un qui s'est appelle
(I recently received this letter from someone who calls herself
>Great news. I have tickets
for the Valhalla concert. (Cost me a bomb, but it'll be worth
>it.) It's a new heavy-metal group that I hear is fabulous.
So indie as to be almost top-
>secret. Unfortunately, their security is strict, so it
doesn't look like I'll be doing any stage-
>diving this time. LOL. Are you interested in coming with
Je suis sur que tu sais ce qu'elle veut dire. Naturellement,
j'ai repondu que non, mais je
(I'm sure you know what she means. Naturally, I told her no
but I )
suis soucieux qu'elle le peux faire sans moi. Sais-tu qui
(am worried that she can do it without me. Do you know who
(Friendly greetings - no real English equivalent.)
Jean-Luc stared at the screen, trying to put a face to 'Carol'
and failing. His position as Guild Master had garnered him
connections with much of the underworld, but he had never
come into contact with her. He grimaced, knowing that he would
have to call a council meeting, and bear their disapproval
of his continued relationship with his son. If this letter
was even partially true and 'Carol' was able to gain control
of Valhalla, it would be disastrous for the world. In possession
of their advanced technology and superior weaponry, any would-be
dictator's campaign for liberty, equality and fraternity,
or more plausibly absolute power, could only have one logical
conclusion. Shakily, Jean-Luc whispered: "Dieu, mon cher
fils, never t'ought ya'd drag me int' de superhero game..."
Continued in Chapter
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