Thus I; faltering forward,
Leaves around me falling,
Wind oozing thin through the thorn from norward,
And the woman calling.
~ Thomas Hardy, "The Voice"
Nick Fury had read Yvonne Montgomery's curriculum vitae with
a view to disliking her, for no more rational reason than
she was Katherine Pryde's replacement and he was unwilling
to accept that the woman he loved despite their acrimonious
break-up was gone permanently. An interview later, he grudgingly
admitted that the agent sitting across the table from him
was very compotent, very intelligent and very eager to be
a part of SHIELD.
Not that he could blame her, he thought with a curl of his
lips, WEST was the ugly stepsister of the intelligence community.
An embarrassment to the countries that founded it in the wake
of the Second World War. An anachronism that survived only
because it was funded out of the legacies and bequests of
the soldier's families who had vowed "Never Again." He could
not blame her for wanting to make something of herself, for
pursuing a career where she would accomplish something meaningful.
She was young, brilliant and beautiful and, now, she wanted
to work for him.
"Let's be honest, Montgomery," he lifted his eyes from the
paper, "We both know you're the most qualified person for
this job, and that there ain't a snowball's chance in hell
that SHIELD's going to refuse you. This interview is a formality,
and I hate formalities, so let's finish this as quickly as
She laughed, gray eyes sparkling impishly, her brogue warm,
"Ye do remember in all your glowin' praise tha' I worked for
WEST, sir? "
He grinned, "Yeah, but you had the good sense t'choose SHIELD
and that says more to me than all the recommendations from
your so-called superiors."
"When I heard there was an opening available, I ... jumped,
tae put it mildly, at the opportunity. Don't get me wrong,
sir, my time at WEST was invaluable and I am loyal tae them,
but ... they aren't anywhere near th' caliber o' SHIELD."
"Well," he held out his hand to take her grey, gloved one,
"Welcome aboard. I hope we're everything you expect."
She smiled and there was a strangely familiar quality about
it, a quality that almost made him retract his offer of employment.
He had seen that slight, mocking tilt of lips before, had
known at the time that the smiler was possibly the most dangerous
woman alive. He was getting paranoid, he told himself, her
references were impeccable and WEST, for all their inefficiency,
would never hire anyone without background checks.
Dismissing it as lingering animosity towards Kitty's replacement,
he did not hear the subtle menace in her smooth reply: "I
hope I don't disappoint either."
Katherine Pryde massaged the back of her aching neck, as
she ran the specifications for the nanites through the computer's
simulation again. Before going into production, she needed
to ensure that a machine that small was viable. That they
would be capable of navigating the rapid currents of blood
and slow ebb of lymph to reach the DNA. That they could resist
the body's defenses -- the lymphocytes, the extremes of pH,
to name just two. That she could create something small enough
to slip into the double helix that was at the heart of life
The answer, she reflected wryly, appeared to be an unequivocal
no. She had been working on the project for seven hours without
success or rest, had been doing the same for weeks on end,
and she was starting to question why she had left her job
at SHIELD and whether Nick would have her back after her resignation.
Nonetheless, she knew that it was merely the tiredness and
frustration speaking. Crew ASKEW, despite being notoriously
publicity shy, was possibly the leading research organization
in the country from what she could tell. The resources at
her disposable were seemingly limitless -- classified government
studies and reputable, scientific journals rubbed shoulders
in the massive archive, while her colleagues were experts
in fields as diverse as cryogenics and parapsychology. Briefly,
it was an ambitious scientist's dream, her dream after years
spent saving the world as first an X-Man then an agent of
SHIELD. She felt she deserved a vision of her own, and this
project did have altruistic applications, even if its potential
misuses far outweighed them. The same could be said about
the splitting of the atom, however, and greater scientists
than her had not baulked at that challenge.
The computer beeped and Kitty glanced desultorily at it,
expecting to see the standard "Simulation Failed" message
that she had been staring at for the last few days. Instead,
in brilliant green, was the legend that the nanites had managed
to normalize the mutated genome to which she had directed
them. Theoretically, at least, her project was a success.
Stopping only to grab a printout of the results, not caring
that she should have been more dignified in the wake of a
major scientific discovery, she tore down the hall to Beethoven's
Remy LeBeau awoke to a raging headache and the lingering
scent of a woman's perfume on his skin. The identity of its
owner was a mystery, however -- the citrusy, tangy fragance
was nothing like the sweet, almost cloying musk favored by
Teresa Cassidy. When he closed his eyes and cast his mind
back to the night before, he could almost remember the momentary
warmth of her body against his, almost see her mocking, teasing
smirk, almost feel the heavy silk of her hair slipping over
his fingers. Beyond that, however, there was a void where
her face and name should have been.
Hoping the two were not connected with a night's overindulgence
chez Black Tom and that his most valuable possession had not
been stolen, he was relieved to discover that the gold ring,
the symbol of his grand-master-class rank, still encircled
his finger snugly. Whoever she was, she was not a thief, nor
in the employ of one. He was fortunate that that was the case,
because he had been unforgivably careless. The dim blur that
was the evening before, seemed to suggest that he had had
too much to drink, or had been drugged, or both. It was strange,
however, that his preternaturally fast metabolism had not
burnt the toxins out his system yet, that he was still suffering
the effects. He would have to rely on the time-honored methods
of a hot shower and coffee, he thought, his throbbing head
protesting the motion as he sat upright and swung his feet
onto the floor.
"Bizarre," he muttered, as he saw the two of spades on his
carpet. Slightly singed around its border, it looked as it
had been charged but had not exploded. As if someone had drained
it of its energy before it had a chance to release it more
violently. Something more than a bout of drinking and wenching
had happened the previous evening, he realised with a sick
feeling in the pit of his stomach. There were too many details
that did not quite fit, too many enigmas, for him to accept
the simple explanation. The card, if it had fingerprints,
might be the clue he needed to unravel the mystery. Careful
not to touch its surface, he picked the card up by the edges
and placed it into a plastic bag, which he extracted from
his thieves' toolkit. If he caught the next flight to New
Orleans, he could probably have his answers before nightfall...
"Hubby dearest, you do know you're going to worry yourself
into an early grave," Jean Grey-Summers commented wryly, as
she handed the cup of steaming coffee to Cyclops. His eyes
were bloodshot and a few days' growth of beard stubbled his
chin. Since discovering that Magneto was not only alive, but
had signed a treaty with the Western European Security Trust,
he had spent most nights hunched in front of Cerebro, running
endless iterations of the moment, where Magneto's biosignature
had simply disappeared, through the computer's analytical
"I just don't understand it, Jean," frustration colored his
voice, "Why would Erik go to all the trouble of getting around
our scanners just to make a deal with WEST?"
"As you have asked me about hundred times the last week,"
she reminded him gently, "And I still don't have an answer.
Scott, anything you suggest at this point can only be your
best guess. Perhaps he is plotting something, perhaps he didn't
want us to interfere with the peace process. I don't know
anything beyond the fact that Magneto has acted in unpredictable
ways in the past. His willingness to be tried for his crimes,
his tenure as headmaster of this school, his creation of Avalon
as a separate state ... The list goes on and on. He is human,
for all his hatred of them, and humans act in unexpected ways."
He sighed, removing the heavy helmet of the interface and
replacing it on the console. His hair was tousled, like that
of a sleepy child's, and she felt the irrational urge to smooth
it. To comfort him in some small, tangible manner. His concern,
his goodness, his stubborn meticulousness were a large part
of why she loved him, and she would not have had him change
for all the worlds in all the solar systems.
"What do you want me to do, Jean? Just forget about it?"
She smiled, "I want you to shave and shower, while I try
and see if I have any more success in locating Magneto's psi-signature
than you have had with his biosig. Remy looks sexy with designer
stubble, but it doesn't work on you, my dear."
He laughed, "Should I be jealous?"
"Definitely," she teased, glad that, for a moment at least,
she had made him forget the problems of the past few weeks.
That they could be like any young couple with no more pressing
concerns than each other's happiness. They had not been married
for all that long, and their perfect happiness, their honeymoon
bliss, had not yet been worn thin by daily trivialities and
squabbles. For all she loved the thrill that came with being
an X-Man, she wished suddenly that they could have a single
day, a single moment, where they could simply be Scott and
Jean, rather than Cyclops and Phoenix. As she leaned forward
to kiss him, a gruff voice shattered their private moment,
bringing reality with it.
"We need ta talk, Cyke," Wolverine's face was grimmer than
usual, "I've just got off the 'phone with a buddy o' mine
at WEST - a guy by the name o' David North -- an' he's never
heard of an agent Montgomery, thinks she's a fake. I told
you that somethin' stank about that frail."
Jean's lips pursed thoughtfully, "So, rather than searching
for Magneto, I should perhaps set my sights on this Yvonne
Continued in Chapter
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