A Matter of Pryde
"Ya asked t’see me, Emissary?" the young woman said as she
stepped into the Emissary’s office and shut the polished door
behind her. Her short-cropped hair marked her as a career
soldier, as surely as the white streak in it revealed her
mutancy. She was handsome rather than beautiful, and her appearance
made no concessions to the fact that she was seeing the most
powerful woman in the world - she was dressed in a simple,
black uniform and wore no make-up. Seeing her, Moira knew
she had chosen the right person for a difficult and dangerous
"Lieutenant Parker," she smiled, "You were the top pupil
at the Academy and, by your badge, you have continued to do
as well as we expected of you."
The girl glanced down to the insignia on her chest, pride
rising in her green eyes. It was a simple device - a black,
diagonal line chased with silver - that marked the wearer
as a member of the elite Black Stripe squad. Although not
as prestigious as the Golden Dragons, the ceremonial branch
of the MPF entrusted with guarding the Emissary, the Stripes
were sent on the most dangerous and sensitive missions. Among
their numbers were the most skilled and intelligent agents;
those who had distinguished themselves through their loyalty
and their bravery.
"Thank ya, sir," Parker grinned, and Moira knew that she
had sealed the girl’s loyalty. Force and compulsion were all
very well, but flattery and the pretense of a personal interest
in her soldiers’ lives worked miracles.
"If ye would be so kind as tae take a seat, I will explain
what needs to be done."
"Certainly, sir," the lieutenant settled into the chair as
if it were not deep and comfortable, her back perfectly straight
and her legs crossed neatly in front of her. She was very
disciplined, Moira thought approvingly, just as her squadron
commander had said. He had added that she was also as cold
and ruthless a person as he had ever met; that she would get
the job done if she had to kill every last spike in the greater
New York area.
"Computer?" the Emissary said, tapping a button beneath her
desk to start the tri-D projector, "Retrieve and display image
of Project 5789-kappa-pi."
McTaggert settled back into her chair as a silver knob emerged
noiselessly from the dark wood of the desk. From it shone
a white light, that soon resolved into the image of a girl,
who looked barely out of her teens. She was dressed in silvery-black
uniform which bore clear traceries of cybernetics on its surface.
Her fluffy curls softened a slightly pointed face and she
wore a slight smile that did not reach her brown eyes.
"Sir, with all due respect, Ah don't know why you need me.
She's just a kid," Parker sounded confused as she watched
the girl’s image revolve on the table.
Removing her decanter of sherry from the bookcase behind
her, Moira slowly and deliberately poured equal measures into
two glasses, then passed one to the MPF lieutenant: "Ye read
the documents I couriered to you yesterday evening, Sabrina?"
She nodded, "Yes, sir, an’ destroyed them. Ah thought the
supersoldier project had been tabled, though, because . .
. because th’ bleedin’ heart liberals couldn’t stand th’ thought
of mutants bein’ used as guinea pigs."
McTaggert smiled thinnly and sipped her drink, relishing
the burn of the sherry against her palate. This Lieutenant
Parker kept herself well-informed of current events. When
she had first proposed the supersoldier project to the public
as the next step in the evolution of Sentinels, she had not
expected the backlash she had received. Human Rights’ Organisations
had picketed her head-quarters, various world leaders had
written her screeds, even her own government had been divided
on the ethics of mutant experimentation.
"Sabrina, on occasion, the greater good justifies lesser
evils," she looked the younger woman in the eyes, "The lives
tha’ could be potentially saved by sending supersoldiers or
cyborgs into hazardous situations instead of mutants or humans
left me with no choice but tae continue with the project.
Is it distasteful tae deceive the public? Maybe. Is it wrong
to use mutant volunteers to test the project? Possibly. Is
it more immoral, however, tae sacrifice people when I could
do something tae save them? Absolutely."
The girl quirked an eyebrow, clearly skeptical but knowing
that it would be unwise to argue with the Emissary, "An’ what
does this supersoldier project have ta do with this kid?"
Moira folded her arms across her chest, still holding the
lieutenant’s gaze with her own, "She’s the prototype."
A fractional, momentary widening of the green eyes was the
only outward sign of shock. On any other woman or man for
that matter, it would have been a gasp or an oath. Moira would
not have blamed her if she had done either or both, but was
impressed by her control over her emotions. Sabrina was an
intelligent woman - she must have done the sums in her head
and come up with the correct answer. The Emissary was not
"Soldier Alpha’s gone AWOL, hasn’t she?" the lieutenant’s
voice was low, tone implying what neither she nor Moira cared
to admit. If the prototype had gone missing, she was mixing
with the general populace (or, worse, the rebellion) and a
word dropped in the right ear could spell scandal for the
Emissary’s admistration. The supersoldier project had come
close to dividing the government, but the knowledge that the
public had been so flagrantly and willfully decived about
its continuation and success would split it.
"Aye," Moira sipped her sherry in order to seem nonchalant.
"And we both know the consequences of that."
Nodding, "Which is why ya want me ta track her down an’ .
. . silence her."
"Bring her in alive if ye can, because she was an expensive
experiment an’ she can probably be reconditioned. If ye canna
. . . ." she spread her hands in a half-shrug, "I am placing
great trust in ye, lieutenant. See tha’ ye dinna fail me."
"Ah won't," Sabrina stood, snapping her heels together and
lifting her hand to her forehead in a crisp military salute,
"Sir? Kurt has returned," Unuscione purred, as she entered
Remy’s room. As usual, she was struck by the spartan simplicity
of them. The majority of the room was taken up by a heavy,
wooden desk; dark wood cracked and chipped from years spent
in the dank tunnels. One wall was covered by rows of filing
cabinets, neatly labelled, while another had various maps
taped to it. The camp-bed in one corner, above which a crucifix
was nailed to a wooden strut, was the only sign that it served
as living quarters for someone. And what a someone too, Unuscione
thought with a smirk, as she looked at the man sitting at
As always, his eyes were the first thing that caught her
attention. Red energy shifted and swirled in black pits, crackling
out of them if he were angry. At the moment, however, they
were calm and quiet, divided by a furrow that indicated the
leader was deep in concentration. Occasionally, a slim, long
hand would brush a recalcitrant strand of russet hair out
of his face, but, otherwise, he was as still and beautiful
as any marble statue in the museums. Her heart accelerated
as he looked up at her and grinned, prompting her to think
of all the other things that that mouth could do. And had
done on that one, too brief occasion . . . .
"Send him t'rough, chere," he drawled, "Guido promised me
dirt on de MPF spies dat he had fingered."
"He's not alone, sir," her tone became brisk and businesslike
- gorgeous as the man was, Unuscione did not waste time on
seduction when there were Rebellion matters to discuss. She
was too much of a professional to allow her personal life
to interfere with their mission to overthrow the Emissary.
Hate was a far stronger emotion than love, and she had every
reason to loathe the woman whom she called the holy cow.
"Dey’re in de holdin’ cell, den?" Remy fished a cigarette
out of the packet on his desk and lit it with a slender forefinger.
He was worried, she thought, he always smoked whenever he
was concerned. She did not blame him for being disturbed by
the news - the last man, with whom Kurt had returned, had
been with the Mutant Peacekeeping Force. There had been no
danger, of course - a superficial psiscan had revealed traces
of conditioning and the man had been killed after having his
mind squeezed like a grapefruit for any information. Still,
it was worrying that Moira knew about their method of recruiting
other rebels and was able to exploit it. Remy was working
on a portable psiscanner to sort the sheep from the wolves
in sheep’s clothing before they reached the base, but it would
be a while before it was completed and they did not wish to
lose even one potential rebel in the meantime.
"Flatscan or mutie?"
Raising a dubious eyebrow, "Could be one o' McTaggert's dogs.
I’d better go scan de femme. . . . Dieu, an’ here I hoped
for a quiet day."
"I thought you said that your leader was anti-mutant suppression."
Pryde said as the Contact gently slipped her hands into manacles,
"I feel pretty suppressed right now."
Grimacing, she tugged experimentally at the metal bracelets
which surrounded her wrists and pinned her to the wall. As
she had expected, they were solid and strong, probably made
from an alloy that contained adamantium. She felt her stomach
turn queasily at the thought of being trapped. Although she
was not genuinely trying to escape, she hated being confined.
It reminded her too much of the laboratories; of being strapped
on a table while a white face with a bloody diamond set in
its forehead peered at and prodded her. . . .
"Yes," the Contact replied, "But you must understand that
he cannot take any chances - he is a wanted man."
To her surprise, he was placing himself in a second set of
manacles which snapped shut automatically around his arms.
He seemed calm, as if chaining himself up were the most natural
activity in the world. His brimstone eyes even managed to
look reassuringly at her.
"Which is why he has shackled you up with me?" she could
not hide her incred ulity, "Some leader."
"The other two rebellions have been crushed because they
were uncautious. Although I am loyal and the leader knows
it, he prefers not to take any risks. You, after all, could
be a psion and have twisted my mind in such a manner as to
compel me to assassinate him. He is a most intelligent man
and sees all the possibilities."
Or a paranoid bastard, Pryde amended silently, who liked
the feeling of power and importance that being hunted gave
him. She recognised the confinement speaking there, because
she knew he was a good man who deserved her respect. People
on the streets spoke highly of LeBeau, although never by name
and never in earshot of strangers. He gave them money, food
and medical supplies; left it on their doorsteps without them
asking for it. They never saw him or his rebels, but they
all knew from where the goods had come.
"Yeah, right. I bet he is attracting beaucoup rebels with
this sort of reception," her mouth twisted as the metal of
the chains grated against her skin, "Can't you teleport out
of these things, Contact?"
"Nein. The leader has implanted restraints in the chains
which inhibit mutant powers."
"I kind of guessed that," she slumped against the wall, "I
hoped it was only my powers which were inhibited."
"Intangibility, some levitation, and . . . ." she held out
one tanned hand, "These."
On cue, adamantium claws sprung from her fingertips, glittering
with sharpness even in the dim light. They did not hurt her,
but she turned her head away from them in disgust, not liking
to see what she had looked at so often. Nonetheless, she could
imagine the smooth, nailless skin of her fingers and the metallic
sheen around the claws where the shafts had been implanted.
"Mein Gott, who did that to you?" the Contact’s voice was
"Don't know," as far as it was possible to do in the restraints,
she shrugged, "Maybe it's natural."
That was a blatant lie, of course. She remembered all too
well the scientist who had experimented on her, who had recommended
that she should have some in-built defenses. His face had
been unnaturally white, the color of chalk, apart from the
gash-like diamond on his forehead. He had smiled down at her
as he placed the gas mask over her face and she had shivered
as she had noticed that his teeth were sharpened into points.
"Or mebbe it's a trick," a third, strange voice interrupted
from the doorway, "Let's start wit' de basics - what be ya
name an' why are ya here?"
"The name's Pryde and I’ve got important info for you that
could bring down the Emissary."
As she spoke, she carefully examined the figure who had spoken,
storing every detail in her MemChip for future reference.
A cold, clinical part of her catalogued him as ruthlessly
and neatly as she had been conditioned to do. Estimated his
height at 6’2. Noted that his eye color was red- on-black.
Analysed his accent as Acadian from the Traskian Lands. Set
the probability of him being the leader at 96,5678%, while
acknowledging that there was a 3,4322% chance of him being
a decoy. The part of her that was still woman thought that
he was just . . . gorgeous.
"Oui. Dat's what de last one said as well, part from de name
t'ing," his mouth narrowed into a slash, but she recognised
more pain than anger in the expression, "Turned out t'be a
member of de MPF - he didn't want t' sing but ended up in
de heavenly choir anyway."
"I'm not," she tried to keep her voice steady, matching him
stare for stare, "The Emissary has taken everything from me
- my family, home, life."
"Ya’ll let me psiscan ya, den, mademoiselle Pryde?"
"Anything get out of these damn chains," she tugged at the
manacles for emphasis.
"Do not worry," the Contact murmured reassuringly, "He will
not look beyond signs of conditioning."
Pryde tried to smile back at him, but her gut was clenched
from more than being held captive. She had a chip to control
her emotions, but some still seeped through its filter and
churned her stomach. Her conditioning had not been completed
- she had escaped before they had a chance to complete the
final sessions, killing the guards who had been posted to
watch her on one of the many trial missions on which she had
been sent - but she was afraid that some vestiges of it would
"Ready or not, cherie."
The Cajun’s forehead furrowed in concentration, a faint aura
beginning to glow around him, and she felt a sudden coldness
slide inside her skull. It was like snowflakes were falling
softly in her mind, as his mental probe lightly touched various
areas of her psyche. Unlike the times where other telepaths
had worked on her, there was no pain, but just the coolness
of feathery snow. The line between his eyes deepened as the
glimmer dimmed and he looked at her in consternation.
"I could only get at half ya mind," his voice sounded surprised,
"An’ don’ take dis de wrong way, cherie, but psiblockers jus’
wouldn’ fit into dat skin-tight spandex o’ yours. Care t’explain
or should we jus’ assume you’re too much of a risk an’ slit
dat throat for ya?"
She inhaled, knowing it was time to tell the truth, "I’m
a cyborg - you know, half-man, half-machine. Half my brain
was replaced by a computer, which is probably why you can’t
read it. Half my body was made in a lab too."
The Cajun swore at the same time that the Contact hissed,
both obviously reaching the same conclusion. There had only
been one experiment with the aim of creating cyborgs who would
act as the next generation of Sentinel. AI was flawed in many
respects, certainly no match for the complex functionings
of a human brain, but robots had the physical advantage over
soft-bodied humans or mutants. Combining the two best attributes
of both was logical, but . . .
"But . . . de supersoldier project was shut down, ‘cause
it was unethical," he whispered, "Moira was pissed, but she
had t’agree or else face a possible coup."
She smiled grimly, "Surprise. I kinda threw a monkey-wrench
in the works by escaping before the conditioning was complete.
I came to you because my knowledge could serve as serious
leverage against Moira if it got into the right hands. It
could kick that bitch right out of power, because this was
her pet project."
"Pryde," his voice was soft, "Dis rebellion ain't bout revenge
- we ain't goin' after de Emissary."
"Say what?!" she exclaimed, shocked.
The Cajun sighed, extracting a cigarette from the pocket
of his battered trenchcoat, "Kill her an' ya create a martyr
- make mutants seem like de dangerous betes dat de humans
make dem out t'be. However, if ya destroy de infrastructure
dat keeps her as de Emissary, she don' have a leg t'stand
on. Her an' her whole fascist empire will fall like so many
Kitty snorted in amusement. The rebel leader had a point
- Moira was an icon, the symbol of the Era of Humanity, and
her death would lead to the remaining PTBs doing everything
to safeguard themselves. No-one was more dangerous than a
dictator who felt threatened, because their power was often
the only thing that stood between them and a death-sentence
for their crimes. However, he was wrong in one important respect:
Moira was her infrastucture and her infrastructure was Moira.
She was no figurehead, she was the lynchpin around which the
machinery of her empire turned. Killing her would throw the
entire government into disarray. She opened her mouth to argue,
but the Contact shook his head to silence her.
"If ya feel ya c’n put aside ya revenge until we’ve accomplished
dis, chere, ya have a place on our team."
She nodded, "You’ve got a deal, Cajun, but call me chere
one more time and it’s off."
He grinned and the manacles fell away from her wrists, "Welcome
t’de Rebellion, Pryde. Ya can call me Remy."
"You seen this girl?" a low, smooth drawl asked, as a large
hand slid a photograph across the glass of the counter. Guido
Carosella glanced casually at it, noting a tiny, red tattoo
in the webbing between finger and thumb, before his eyes shifted
to the picture. A familiar face smiled back at him from it.
Her hair was different, the clothing less flamboyant, but
he recognised the girl from a night or two ago who had come
looking for the rebellion. He had been right, she was being
It took all his power to keep his face neutral as he looked
up at the inquirer. The woman’s close-cropped, chestnut hair,
slashed at the front with white, would have marked her as
a career soldier, had it not been for her tattoo. It was of
a trident of the type that Gladiators used to wield in the
arenas. Only fighters on the death-match circuits were marked
that way, indicating that they were owned by whatever boss
fed and housed them. And, if there were one group of people
that Guido wanted to avoided more than the Emissary, it was
the thugs who ran the fighting syndicates.
"I saw her here earlier. She was talking with some guy."
"Guy by the name of the Contact."
"Of the local rebellion. Kid’s probably gone off to join
it," Guido hesitated, "Look, sweetheart, you will put in a
good word with los Gladiadores for me. Tell them I co-operated.
I don’t want no trouble."
Although she seemed slightly taken aback by his request,
she smiled pleasantly enough at him and replied: "Oh, they’re
pleased with ya. Asked me ta give you somethin’ if you played
along with us."
She reached into her jacket pocket, and his hand went automatically
to the button that would drop the bulletproof glass across
the bar. It had cost him two years’ worth of profits, but
had saved his life in more than one drunken squabble or MPF
raid. It had taken him twenty stitches obtained as a result
of being robbed and stabbed by a street urchin to whom he
had given food every night, but he had learnt from hard experience
that people could not be trusted. That went double for the
Some of his suspicion must have shown on his face because
she looked bemused as she held out a crisp roll of bills to
him. As he tentatively took them, her fingers brushed his
ones and the room began to spin crazily around him. He was
the one fixed point in an endlessly moving, swirling, twisting,
dancing universe. The bar, the patrons, the neon lights all
revolved around him and he could only watch them helplessly.
"You okay, Gueed?" her voice restored enough order to allow
him to nod, "Ya look a little green."
"Yeah, just a little dizzy, sweetheart," he murmured, "Just
a little dizzy . . . ."
It was only after she had left that he realised he had never
told her his name.
Continued in Chapter
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