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"A Matter of Pryde"

A Matter of Pryde

Author's Notes
Chapter 1
Chapter 2
Chapter 3
Chapter 4
Chapter 5
Chapter 6
Chapter 7
Chapter 8

This story is still in progress.

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 will pass."

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 the base."

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 TELEPORT?

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 the future.

"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 own.

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."

"Merci, Uniscione."

"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 source."

"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 go too."

"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 my beliefs."

"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 by it.

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 Brain Drain."

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 Four.


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