Presentiment is that long shadow
on the lawn
Indicative that suns go down;
The notice to the startled grass
That darkness is about to pass.
Sipping her coffee delicately, peach lipstick leaving its
kiss on the polystyrene cup, "Yvonne Montgomery" scanned the
information that she had pulled up from SHIELD’s enormous
data banks. Enormous that was, when it came to anything other
than Valhalla. As befitted a project of Valhalla's reputation
and magnitude, even SHIELD seemed to be uninformed of the
specifics. That was not surprising, considering the Americans'
ridiculous paranoia of Communist moles infiltrating their
secret agencies. She smiled, savoring the delicious irony
of the fact that the greatest threat to their national security
was a girl from backwoods Caldecott Country. Nick Fury was
past his prime, she thought scornfully, for him not to have
recognised her. He had only been the lead agent on the Ms
Marvel murder, which made her deception of him the more delicious.
Nonetheless, she still had to operate on the assumption that
they would ultimately discover that her WEST credentials were
fraudulent and she had to have infiltrated the Doomhammer's
computers before they did.
From the little she had been able to piece together from
military reports, dating back to the Cold War years, the system
that controlled the Doomhammer defense network was located
in a secret, remote installation in the mountains. However,
to find the physical network, she had to discover a means
by which to enter the logical one, the collection of intangible
terrabytes that formed the basis of the system. When she had
done so, she could cause the machine to transmit a signal
on a wavelength that the agencies monitoring the project would
explain as radio interference or solar radiation. Without
a homing beacon, she had no hope of discovering the facility's
coordinates. After all, the architect had died some years
ago under suspicious circumstances, while the blueprints had
been conveniently destroyed in an accidental case of arson.
Chewing her lip thoughtfully, she attempted to pull up the
access codes for the government LANs and WANs that dated from
the early eighties. In response, the screen flashed a red
access-denied and asked her to enter the prerequisite password.
Unsurpising, but irritating. Her only chance at gaining immediate
access was if one of the programmers had been lazy and had
not bothered to remove the code with which they had tested
the system. Trying to recall the standard series of codes
which Mystique had taught her, she typed "TEST" and hit return.
Again, an identical red screen with the legend that her password
was invalid. "DEFAULT", "BETA" and "PRYDE" produced the same
result. Evidently, she thought with a scowl, Katherine Pryde
had been as good at her job as Fury had suggested.
Still, she had other resources at her disposal, literally
including the minds of every agent at SHIELD if she chose.
Naturally, if comas became endemic among his staff, Fury would
begin to suspect that something was amiss. He would have to
be . . . "Dudley Doright" of the X-Men not to realise that
she had infiltrated his organisation. On the other hand, if
she obtained the information from him and it was almost certain
that he did have the highest possible security clearance,
he would be in no position to stop her nor would the squad
of bumblers he called agents.
It would not be as easy, but it would certainly be more pleasurable.
"Remy, ti-frere, what in de name o’ de Bon Dieu are ya doin’
down here?" yelled Mercy leBeau from the wrought-iron balcony
that overhung the street. She had a suspiciously pink ball
of yarn in one hand, which she waved in his general direction
by way of greeting. A handsome woman with her corn-blonde
hair and blue eyes, she was one of his oldest friends. They
had gone through tilling and training together; had crammed
for exams over coffee and beignets a few hours before writing
them; had disapproved of each other’s taste in dates and clothes;
had confided their deepest secrets in each other. Mercy, after
all, had been the first person who he had told about his kinetic
She was also his brother’s wife, who had learnt to be resigned
to Henri, if not to love him. Like Remy, she had been forced
to marry for the peace of the Guild, to end the power-struggle
between the leBeaus and the Alouettes. Their wedding had been
the signature on a deal that affirmed Henri’s position as
heir, and made Genard, her brother, the future Harvest Disseminator.
Mercy’s veil had failed to disguise her tears and her anger
at her father’s decision, but Blaise Alouette had remained
immovable. He had placed great stock in Clan leBeau’s concept
of family loyalty, of the obligation to those tied to them
by blood or marriage, and had felt it the only way to be certain.
Both Mercy and Henri had been deeply unhappy; had taken that
misery out on one another in the same way an abused cat would
claw at whoever was closest. She had become bitter and fragile;
he had responded with remoteness and impassivity. Although
physical divorce was impossible from both a religious and
a political standpoint, their spiritual divorce was clear
to all in the clans. They went through the forms of marriage,
attended mass together and danced together at soirees, but
their interactions were too rehearsed and too stiff. Their
chilly, perfect politeness was a constant source of pain to
Jean-Luc, who had wanted his eldest son to be happy even in
an arranged marriage. Looking at the blonde woman’s distended
abdomen, Remy felt sudden pity for the child who would be
born into the grotesque masque that was his or her parents’
life together, but he hid it with his best proud-uncle smile.
"Came t’see m’ niece, but I guess I be a few months early
Grinning with pleasure, he leapt from the steps and caught
onto the balustrade, pulling himself up with practised ease.
That particular skill had come in useful for more than one
type of nocturnal activity, he thought, some more pleasurable
than others. Mercy laughed, shaking her head in mock disapproval,
then hugged him warmly and planted a sisterly kiss on his
"Unfortunately, oui," she commented wryly, "But, seriously,
Jean-Luc tol’ us ya said it was somet’ing important. Ya gettin’
married on me, Rem, or have ya run afoul o’ someone?"
"Mmm, both. I eloped wit’ de Kingpin’s daughter," he replied
with a grimace, placing a companionable arm around her waist
and steering in the direction of the door.
The small room into which they emerged was as homely as it
was familiar. Remy could not remember how many times he had
curled up at the foot of Henri's bed as a child, listening
to his brother spin wonderful stories of princesses and dragons
and brave knights; of beautiful worlds that were far removed
from the streets on which he had grown up. The table was where
his brother had patiently helped him conjugate Spanish verbs
or prove a particularly difficult theorem. The easy chair
was where Henri would sit and smoke his pipe, an intent expression
on his face, while Remy told him about the latest in a long
series of prepubescent heartbreakers. He inhaled deeply, breathing
in the well-known and well-loved smell of tobacco, linen and
books and feeling the tension, that had dogged him since finding
the card beside his bed, dissipate. If anyone could make everything
all right, a child-like part of him insisted, it was Henri
"Tres marrant, Rem," she said with heavy sarcasm, "Very amusin’."
"It be not’ing, Mers," he told her, "Jus’ a mystery I want
"An’ ya X-Men don’ have de resources?" she sounded skeptical,
folding her arms across her chest in a pugilistic posture,
"Or don’ ya want t’tell de Scooby Gang ‘bout ya illegal activities?"
"Once again, ma chere Sherlock, it be both," he sprawled
into the leather chair, while Mercy perched on the edge of
the bed, "I woke up yesterday t’ find a singed card next t’my
bed an’ m’room stank of a woman’s perfume."
Arching an ironic eyebrow, "What had ya been up t’de
night before, mon petit beau-frere?"
"Dat’s what I want t’know," he replied, "I can’ remember
a t’ing, except..."
Except he remembered the fearful delight as the woman had
slipped her arms around his waist and he had felt the rise
and fall of her chest against his own. He had been looking
down at her - he could almost see the challenging smile on
her uplifted face. Apart from her smirk, she was featureless
in his memory. He could not even remember the color of her
eyes or hair. Although she had been smaller and slighter than
him, he had had no doubts that she had him trapped; that she
could either kill or kiss him, depending on her whim. In a
sense, she had chosen to do both, he thought, as he remembered
the shining, sharp-edged dark into which he had fallen.
"Except?" she prompted.
"One helluva kiss," he admitted with a grin that he did not
feel, "Beyond dat, dere be not’ing."
"So, like Cinderella’s Prince, ya be lookin’ for de woman
t’whom dat kiss belongs," the corner of her mouth twitched
in amusement, "Gonna have t’kiss a lot o’ frogs ‘fore ya find
"Naah, fun as dat sounds, I’m gonna get Tante Mattie t’do
my dirty work for me..."
Standing by the window and watching the team relax, Cyclops
suddenly realised what Xavier meant when he had said that
they were all so very innocent.
In a prank as tired as it was traditional, Bobby had iced
the ground beneath Thunderbird’s feet, causing the Cheyenne
to slip and slide in a mad, vaudeville dance. Beast was laughing
as the usually solemn Native American alternated curses and
threats with attempts to regain his balance. Their game of
football had come to a standstill as a result of the trick,
and Wolverine was making his way to the victory keg, a glint
in his eyes that dared someone to tell him his team was actually
Storm was leaning against a tree, lithe legs curled beneath
her, a crease in her forehead as she considered the chess-board
in front of her. Ororo hated the game, but knew how much Forge,
her opponent and husband, enjoyed it. Knew that might be one
of two activities that could tempt him from the keyboard and
that the other probably was not suitably for public viewing.
Only Gambit was missing from the tableau, having returned
to New Orleans on personal business. Although Cyclops had
been both curious and suspicious, he had known better than
to ask questions to which Interpol would not like the answers.
If he saw no evil and heard no evil, he certainly could speak
no evil, if Gambit’s nocturnal activities caught up with him.
"We should join them, you know," Jean commented. She was
drifting a few inches above the floor, legs crossed in a Yoga
position. Her red hair was braided, twisting like a scarlet
snake to rest on the ground, and she was wearing an oversized
T-shirt and leggings, as she always did when she meditated.
Her green eyes were luminous with power, the deeply alien
and exotic superimposed over his familiar wife of two years.
"We should," he acknowledged the fact just as he knew neither
of them would act on it.
"In a minute," she demurred, "I just need to finish these
mental exercises, or else I’ll have no chance of finding Montgomery
later, as opposed to an anorexic one."
He smiled at the joke, but it faded as his gaze returned
to the grounds. He could not shake the feeling that the team
should be preparing for war. That they should be training
more and harder than they had in the past. That most of the
innocent children he was watching from the window would be
dead before they won. That, while skies were falling around
them, the X-Men were playing games beneath the vast and nude
Continued in Chapter
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