A Matter of Pryde
"I apologise for the disorientation," the Contact said with
an ironic smile, as they materialised in the small, stone
room that acted as a holding cell for potential rebels, "It
Disorientation was a mild way of putting it, he thought wryly.
Even after years of jaunting, he still wanted to empty his
stomach on arrival. Almost worse than the nausea was the paralysing
weakness that felt as if all his muscles had simultaneously
liquified and turned to stone. He swallowed, shaking his limbs
to try and work some life back to them, and looked at his
"passenger" for similar signs.
The woman appeared surprisingly composed, however, glancing
disinterestedly around the small, stone cell. Her hands were
jammed into her jacket pockets, and her one foot was drumming
on the floor almost impatiently. If he took her as his guide,
he would have guessed that teleportation was no more difficult
or uncomfortable than taking a taxi. Was she just incredibly
controlled or did her powers protect her against the worst
effects of it?
"As I explained to you in the bar, I will have to shackle
you to the wall until the leader has completed his psiscan
to determine whether or not you are loyal. Safety, you understand,
Fraeulein. The government has made attempts before at infiltrating
Removing a hand from the pockets of her jacket, her disgust
evident on her handsome face, she reached out to touch one
of the manacles set into the wall: "Any successful?"
"Nein, no agents have escaped alive."
"Guess you'll have ta make an exception this time, then,"
her conversational tone of voice did not change, as she removed
a badge from her pocket and held it towards him. The black
etching on the silver metal informed him that she was a Lieutenant
Parker of the elite Black Stripe Squadron of the MPF, "Ah'm
an agent of McTaggert's an' Ah'm arrestin' you in foh treason."
Even in the rush of panic that overtook him, he knew precisely
what he needed to do. Remy had drilled the procedure into
his head until it went beyond knowledge into instinct. Unfortunately,
he had also had plenty of practice in dealing with agents
who had tried to infiltrate the rebellion. The walls and the
door were adamantium-laced, despite their primitive look,
and would be more than sufficient to trap any hostile mutant.
All he had to do was teleport, tell Remy of the woman and
. . . . Horror caused his stomach to become hollow. He could
not teleport. HE COULD NOT TELEPORT. GOTT, WHY COULD HE NOT
The lieutenant smirked, "Oh, hon, did I mention that Ah've
got a dampenin' field on that counters your powers?"
"When?", the words came out as a croak. This was a nightmare,
this could not be real, this was impossible. He would soon
wake up in his bunk and this green-eyed witch would be an
unpleasant, vague memory to teach him to be more careful in
"When Ah stuck mah hands into mah pocket just now," she raised
a mocking eyebrow, "Rule number one, sugah, always check your
potential rebels' pockets. Come along now -- Ah wanna get
back to base."
Feeling as if he was moving in a dream, he spun a quick kick
at her ribs. To his surprise, she did nothing to avoid or
block the shot. Her smile merely broadened and she spread
her arms to welcome it. Something was wrong, he thought in
panic, something was very wrong. He tried to stop himself,
but his momentum carried the movement through to completion.
Pain shot up his calf on impact, as his foot smashed into
what felt to be more metal than flesh. Kicking her was like
kicking a block of solid steel, except slightly less effective.
She had not even flinched.
"Ouch," she said wryly, "That was painful. Now, come along
. . . Ah've left a homin' beacon here so Ah know where ta
come back after Ah've delivered ya ta McTaggert. You’re only
a bonus, mah main target’s still out there."
"Who is your main target?" the Contact asked, hoping that
some information could be salvaged from this disaster, "LeBeau?"
Laughing, "Oh, Ah’ve learnt a thing or two from th’ old cartoons,
hon. It’s stupid ta blab your plan to th’ hero even when he
is captured. Come on, Ah can still make mah game o’ poker
if we hurry."
"The Contact should be back by now," Remy lit his cigarette
casually with a fingertip, hoping that his worry was not too
apparent in his voice, "Should have been back hours ago."
"Perhaps he screwed up," Unuscione suggested with an unconcerned
shrug, "Got stupid and got caught."
Having left the worryingly empty holding cell, they were
walking down the tunnel that led back to the rebel base. Although
it was dark, the glowing end of his cigarette the one bright
spot in the dank dimness, they had both travelled the route
so often that they could have walked it blindfolded. They
had both lived in the tunnels so long that they could navigate
them without trouble or thought, telling if one led north
or west by the color of the moss on the walls or the dampness
of the air. That concerned Remy in moments of doubt, when
he wondered if they were doing anything apart from hiding
or whether their efforts were meeting with any success.
It felt sometimes as if he and his rebels were fleas who
were too insignificant to do more than irritate by pricking
the dog here and there. Every warehouse they raided, McTaggert
seemed to replenish without batting an eyelid. Every munitions
factory they destroyed was rebuilt within two months. For
every MPF soldier they killed, five more new recruits seemed
to join, but they were losing more rebels than he cared to
admit and those were almost irreplacable. He could not afford
to lose the Contact.
"P'rhaps," he exhaled in a cloud of smoke, "If so, we better
go save him."
"And risk the rest of us getting captured?" she snorted deprecatingly,
"This is a war - we must be prepared to suffer a few liabilities."
"Loyalty means not'ing to ya, does it?", he shook his head
in disbelief. Unuscione was a good soldier with a sharp, incisive
mind for tactics, and he tolerated her for the sake of her
advice, which counterbalanced his own propensity to believe
the best of people. He did not like her very much, however.
She was ruthless, enjoyed killing and interrogating the enemy
troops too much and did not care enough about the safety of
Her lips set into a thin line, "Loyalty loses battles. Magnus
was captured when he went to save his follower - Illyana.
He hoped to use her to travel back in time and assasinate
the Holy Cow at an early age. McTaggert found her and caught
her. Magnus went after her and . . . boom . . . he now worships
at the Holy Cow’s altar."
All of which was true, Remy thought, but it was no less cold
for that. Raven had told him what happened in the MPF cells,
of the techniques they used to extract information from their
prisoners, of how, when they had no more answers to give to
the questions, they were brainwashed and "allowed the honor
of serving the Emissary with their skills". He would not abandon
the Contact to that.
"Oui, I see ya point. It not be sensible to rush in dere
like lambs t’de slaughter. We need t’plan first," he ground
his cigarette beneath his foot, "After de raid on de warehouse,
I’ll ask Rave if she has any ideas ‘bout how t’get him out
o’ de prison. If anyone knows a way o’ escaping dere wit’
all our necks intact, she will."
"Yeah," Unuscione’s rosebud lips had contracted into a pout,
evidently displeased that he had not taken her advice in the
way she had intended. Time to change the subject, he thought,
but he doubted she would be any happier with the new one.
"How's the new recruit, Pryde, doin'?"
She raised a sardonic eyebrow, "I’ve found her a place to
sleep - apart from that I don't know. Someone should be watching
her, though, so we don’t have to watch our own backs."
Remy nodded his head in satisfaction, ignoring the last barb,
"Tell her team dat we'll be launchin' a pre-emptive strike
tomorrow on a Sentinel factory. We need t’destroy de source
of de t'ings t'nip dem in de bud."
They had arrived at the base and the darkness of the outer
tunnels had given way to the light provided by electric lamps
strung along the ceiling. Walking was no easier, however.
The crates of supplies, piled unevenly along the corridor,
made movement almost impossible as the two rebels had to slip
around them into the little space they left. Unuscione, never
shy in seizing an opportunity to make her intentions known,
pressed against him at every opportunity and, although the
sensation was not totally unpleasant, Remy was grateful when
his quarters came into view.
"I’ll go inform them now."
"It's my pleasure, sir. If you ever need anything else .
. . ." she smiled suggestively, "Just call."
"I don' t'ink so, U," he said with a forced grin, regretting
for the umpteenth time the night he had spent with her, "De
rebellion needs ya more dan I do right now."
And thank heavens for that, he added fervently, if silently.
"Mmm . . . java and good java too," Pryde breathed in the
delicious scent of the hot coffee, as she sat crosslegged
on her bunk, "What blend is it?"
"Kenyan," Lila replied from the bed above her, voice slightly
muffled, "Courtesy of a raid on the human's warehorse. I think
it’s the Emissary’s white-haired lapdog’s personal stock."
"I couldn't care where it came from right now," she took
a cautious sip, rolling the flavor around in her mouth, "I
used to be addicted to this stuff before McTaggert banned
it as yet another human-only luxury."
"Enjoy it," Jubilee said wryly from her own perch at the
end of Lila’s bunk, legs dangling over the edge, "This is
the last of it, which I pinched from Drake’s secret stash.
Want some, Raven? It’ll irritate Bobby . . . ."
The blue-skinned woman looked up from the journal in which
she was writing and shook her head, "Tempting as that sounds,
coffee’s a bad habit and I weaned myself of it."
Although she spoke to the young Asian, her brimstone eyes
rested on Pryde. Since her introduction to the former MPF
commander, the supersoldier had had the unpleasant feeling
that Raven Darkholme was watching her in the same way that
prey might watch a potential predator circling. There was
a readiness, a tenseness about her, that suggested she would
spring in defense at the first sign of a threat. It was not
dislike, but it was distrust.
"Front and center, people," Jubilee whispered, jumping off
the bunk and landing cat-like on her feet, "Unuscione’s coming
down the hall with a look on her face that’d split rock. Guess
Remy’s resisted another of her advances."
Pryde grinned, as she glanced at the approaching woman. It
was comforting to know that Unuscione was universally hated
among her team-mates, that her dislike of the supersoldier
was a higher commendation to them than any of her compliments.
Both Bobby and Jubilee seemed to spend their spare time polishing
suitable insults to use against her, testing their barbs out
on their roommates and trying to outdo each other in sheer
nastiness. Lila had told her half-jokingly that there was
a pot that the winner would collect when they came up with
the perfect jibe.
"Our leader says we will go on a mission tomorrow," Unuscione
scowled at Jubilee, as if guessing what had been said before
she entered, "To a sentinel factory to destroy them at their
"Oh, he’s our leader now?" the teenager’s smile was innocent,
but her eyes were mischievous and knowing, "Not your darling
Remy? Not the light of your life? Not the . . . ."
As quick and deadly as a snake, the dark-haired woman’s hand
shot out to slap Jubilee across the cheek. The girl gasped
in pain - angry, red marks visible against even her olive
skin - but glowered defiantly at Unuscione. Pryde could see
her hands begin to sparkle, gold and green flecks of light
shedding themselves from her fingers, and swallowed nervously.
A fight using mutant powers could become nasty and not for
the older woman. Unuscione’s psionic exoskeleton would crush
Jubilee before the child could let off a single cracker. .
"Enough," Raven’s voice was as crisp and final as the snap
of a whip. "Jubilee, you know you deserved much worse than
that for your comments. Unuscione, thank you and we’ll be
ready at Oh-Six-Hundred Hours. I believe that is all."
Nodding but not sounding mollified in the least, "See that
you are. Remy, for no reason that is apparent to me, trusts
your squad and I would hate him to be disappointed."
When the woman had left the room, Jubilee rounded on the
former commander, fists planted firmly on her hips in an age-old
gesture of teenage defiance. Her eyes were black with anger,
the mark on her cheek an ugly, livid red. Even her tiger-striped
hair seemed to bristle as she spat: "What the hell was that,
Rave? You on her side now?
Arching an eyebrow, the shapeshifter set aside her journal
and met the girl’ s stare with a cool, yellow one of her own:
"If you truly believe that your *sparklers* and *squibs* stood
a chance against her powers, then you are more of a child
than I thought. Open your eyes, Lee, you’re almost the weakest
member of the rebellion and your appearance and attitude are
only going to fool people for as long as it takes them to
realise you don’t have the power to back them up. And you
don’t. So, yes, if keeping you from having every bone in your
body splintered constitutes being on her side, I am."
Wondering if Raven had stopped one fight to start another,
Pryde’s eyes went automatically to the Asian and widened in
surprise when they stopped on her. She had expected Jubilee
to be angry. Had expected her hands to be sparkling. Had expected
her to be yelling a denial of the metamorph’s cold speech.
She had not expected Jubilee to be crying. . . .
Knees drawn up to his chest in a defensive posture, the Contact
looked around his small cell in much the same way that a caged
animal would, searching wildly for some weakness where he
knew rationally there was none. The concrete room was almost
bare: a bunk, covered with a thin sheet, a basin of water
on a metal table and a toilet in the corner were the only
furnishings and none of them could assist him in escaping.
Even the tantalising gap in one wall was useless to him, being
protected by invisible energy bars that delivered enough of
a shock to stop a heart. Through it, he could see a young
guard yawning and listlessly paging through a comic book that
seemed to feature a scantily-clad, busty warrior princess.
If possible, he looked more bored than the Contact felt. Terror
had long since given way to a dull numbness that was only
made worse by the fact that no-one had come to interrogate
him since he had been placed in the cell.
Leaning back against the wall and preparing for a long wait,
he heard a nearby door hiss open and precise, staccato footsteps
come down the corridor. Hastily sliding his comic beneath
his chair and standing on it with a booted foot, the young
guard snapped to attention and clumsily saluted the new arrival.
Not the changing of the guards, the Contact thought as fear
began to bubble in chest again, not at this time and not given
the boy’s degree of deference.
"Lieutenant Parker," the guard automatically snapped to attention,
"What can I do for you, sir?"
"You can leave me alone with the prisoner," there was an
unpleasant note in the smooth drawl, "Ah want to . . . speak
to him in private. You can take your porno with you when you
"Yessir," he sounded abashed, and the Contact heard him shuffle
down the hallway. Lieutenant Parker, the woman responsible
for capturing him, slipped easily into his seat and regarded
him with a not unfriendly expression in her green eyes. She
was still wearing her black bodysuit, but had matched it with
a neatly tailored coat that bore the insignia of the Black
Stripe Squadron in gold embroidery on its right breast. The
pips of a lieutenant were above it, polished to a shine.
"So, sugah, Ah don't suppose you'll tell me much by your
own volition," she sighed, running a hand through her short
hair. It was damp, as if she had just stepped out of the shower
and he could smell the faint fragrance of apple shampoo on
her. She was younger than he had first imagined, barely out
of her teens, and he wondered what she had done to be raised
to the rank of Lieutenant so quickly. Whatever it was implied
that she was a skilled and dangerous opponent, and that he
should give her nothing to report back to her boss.
"You suppose right, leutnat."
Clicking her tongue in irritation, "Y’know, we’ll get it
out of you sooner or later, an’ later always tends ta involve
. . . unpleasant methods. Why not save yaself some pain?"
"That may be true, leutnat, but I am prepared to die for
"That one is on page one o’ th’ book o’ Rebel Cliches, ain’t
it?", she chuckled, but became sober, "Can't tell you how
many people Ah've heard it from. Usually, their resistance
lasts about as long as it takes ta put them in a life-threatenin'
situation. So, can we just talk, fuzzy elf? Ah don't really
want ta hurt you."
"Depends on the subject, leutnat," he replied cautiously.
"Call me Sabrina," she grinned, "Sabby, if you must, although
Ah can’t stand that nickname."
He smiled grimly, recognising her ruse. It was the classic
good cop, bad cop routine from the old movies that he had
loved as a child. If his instincts were right, she would probably
be followed by a bruiser, who would turn him into a blue smear
across the walls of the cell. By the time the thug was finished,
the theory went, he would be willing to confess to any crime
or to answer any question at the first friendly word he got
from her in the hopes that she could protect him. It was an
old game and he had seen it played too often to be fooled
He shook his head, "I don't think so, leutnat. I won't be
lulled into a false sense of security."
"Suit yourself, fuzz," she shrugged and fished in her pocket
for a cigarette, which she lit with a silver Zippo lighter.
"Smoking? It will kill you."
"Most things will, sugah," she sounded amused as she slid
off her chair and walked across to the doorway of the cell,
"Ah’ve cheated death enough not ta be worried ‘bout a cig
here or there."
As if to emphasise her point, she exhaled in a cloud of white
smoke and the infrared-sensitive beams suddenly came into
view, shimmering greenly in the misty air like a curtain of
neon diamonds. To his surprise, they were not as close to
each other as he had imagined, leaving gaps wide enough for
a person to fit through if they knew where the holes in the
net were. Which was obviously the lieutenant’s intent, as
she rose into the air and wove neatly through them.
"You fly?" he could not keep the surprise out of his voice,
"How many powers do you have, leutnat?"
"Th’ first was just a stupid question, sugah," she raised
a sardonic eyebrow, coming closer to him so that the smell
of apples filled his nostrils, "As to the second, Ah suspect
ya’ll see another of them in a few seconds. Ah call this game
Eyes brilliant, smile of exquisite pleasure curving her mouth,
Sabrina lightly traced his lips with a fingertip and the world
dissolved into black pain. . . .
Continued in Chapter
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