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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.

SERIES DISCLAIMER: Although the characters themselves are the exclusive property of Marvel Comics and I make no profit off their use, these versions of them are my creation and I'd appreciate both being consulted and credited if you ever did feel like writing a story in this universe. I'm sorry to sound like a heavy, but I have a very specific conception as to where they should go and ... well, I would like to check that your version gelled with that. Of course, there's about the same chance of you wanting to write in this universe as hell freezing over, so let me segue into the next point. If you wish to archive or just to comment on what you loved, loathed or were indifferent to in this series, send your e-mail to Those who are delicate of disposition should note that there will be mild swearing, some violence and some references to sex. I'm a good Baptist, so they won't be too bad and certainly nothing more than a PG-13 or a Jim Carrey film. Go figure. Otherwise, hope you enjoy the story. :)

A Matter of Pryde


Pryde felt the cement walls as a mild tingle against her skin as she eased herself slowly through them and into the sharp, metallic air of the Sentinel factory. She squeezed her eyes shut as she phased -- otherwise, she was too convinced of her own solidity -- and did not open them until the prickling stopped and she knew she was safely inside the installation. When she did, it was all she could do to keep herself from crying or cursing or both. There were so many Sentinels, lines upon lines of steel giants with dark, empty eyes and bowed heads, and this was just one facility in heaven knew how many thousand. Worst of all, a low thrumming, like a hive of angry bees, filled the room as the production lines worked tirelessly to create more of the robots.

Walking cautiously around a mountain of what appeared to be fingers, she looked around her for a switch to open the door for the other rebels. It was not as easy as she had anticipated -- Sentinel parts littered the floor in an almost haphazard fashion, so she had to clamber over enormous arms and nervously walk under arches of legs in her search. The walls too were covered with control panels, labelled everything from lights to manual control of the production line. Eventually, she spotted it a few metres above the door, positioned so that almost only a Sentinel could reach it with any ease. Only a Sentinel or someone who could levitate, she thought with a wry grin, as she stepped onto the air. It was more like climbing a staircase than the swoop and lift of flight but it got her to the switch as sucessfully. She flipped it and the unoiled hinges swung the doors backwards into the factory with a metal shriek.

"Come in, take a load off," she quipped through the communicator, as the rebels came through the door.

"Merci, cherie," Remy's voice was barely audible above the endless buzz of the machinery, as he evidently realised because he shifted to telepathic speech in a second: Dis is de way we'll play it. Unuscione, Pryde, Bobby, Jubes, ya keep an eye out f'r any o' dese tin soldiers dat come t'life. Li, Rave, come wit' me an' we'll shut dis place down toot sweet.

Suddenly, the thrumming and humming of the machines stopped and Pryde froze, looking instinctively at the phalanx of Sentinels at their post on one side of the enormous room. Her mind gabbled a million, rational explanations - the factory could not work perpetually, there had been one of the brownouts common in an overpopulated city, the production quota had been reached - but she knew that they were all wishful thinking when the dark eyes of the Sentinels began to shine amber. The whir of cooling fans started, punctuated by the beeps of processing systems coming online.

"Human employee limit exceeded. Sentinels will activate in 30 seconds. Password required to abort Sentinel Activation," a mechanical voice intoned, "Please speak password now."

"Merde," Remy spat, removing a set of throwing blades from some fold of trenchcoat and charging them, "Dey'll kill us, but be polite about it. Change o' plan, people. Hit dem hard an' hit dem fast, while I try an' find de manual override."

"29 ... 28 ... 27 ... 26 ... 25 ..."

Not giving the countdown a chance to finish, Pryde removed an energy weapon from the holster at her waist and released a series of blasts in quick succession. The infrared, targetting mechanisms in her left eye pinpointed the Sentinels' weak spot - the circle of slats in the middle of their chests where the cooling systems were housed - and each shot hit its mark with precision, force of the energy shattering a hole where it impacted. The recoil would have snapped any other woman's arms like matchsticks.

"Remind me never to get on your wrong side, babe," Drake favored Unuscione with a significant glance, although he spoke to Pryde. The scruffy, blond-haired man had long since shifted into his other form -- a human-shaped ice-sculpture with assorted spikes and curlicues that made him appear as if he were wearing some frosty, delicate armor -- but his eyes were the same mischievous amber as ever. He never seemed to take anything seriously, Pryde thought with a shake of head, as he turned a row of Sentinels into enormous snowmen. She liked him, but she would not want him watching her back.

"15 ... 14 ... 13 ... 12 ... 11 ... 10 ..."

The same went for Jubilation. Brindled head bristling with aggression, the girl was hurling abuse at the Sentinels with her fireworks. Her roman candles and showers of sparks had little effect on the solid, metal casing of the robots, apart from blackening them slightly and superficially. Raven had been right: Jubilation was weak and tried to hide the fact behind the enormous chip on her shoulder. However, her fireworks could do some good, if they were correctly aimed...

"Jubes," she called, "Go for their eyes. Optic sensors are as finicky as they come and you'll blind them."

The girl grinned and nodded her agreement. To Pryde's immense satisfaction, the amber eyes faded to black where Jubilation's sparks made contact, photosensitive cells damaged beyond repair by being overloaded. Her pleasure was, however, slightly spoilt by the awareness that Unuscione was watching her, an appraising look on her face. She had learnt that the woman's opinions were seldom favourable and she wondered what she had done wrong to warrant such close scrutiny. Probably undermined her authority with the team, or ruined a nebulous strategy that she had planned. Her suggestion had been good, she told herself, and, if Unuscione did not like it, she could lump it.

"5 ... 4 ... 3 ... 2 ... 1 ... Sentinels activated."

Tendons tensing, Pryde glanced over at Remy, who, followed by Raven and Lila, was sprinting the length of the factory, leaping over and ducking under obstacles with animal grace. Eventually, she could only see the glowing spikes in his hand bobbing and darting like fireflies in the gloom. He was almost there, she thought as she turned back to face the Sentinels, they only needed to hold them off for a few minutes. Thank heavens for that fact, because they had no chance of destroying the rows and rows of giant robots that were creaking to life in spite of her blasting.

Ponderously, several of them raised their hands, and, shifting her weight to the balls of her feet, Pryde leapt and rolled out of the way of their energy beams that scorched craters and trenches into the steel and concrete of the floor. In response to the threat, her battle systems came online and the world was swallowed in a red haze. Through it, she was dimly aware of glowing shapes and searing lights -- of the energy signatures of her teammates' powers and the weapons of the Sentinels -- but, beyond that, she was merely a frantically darting, shooting creature without consciousness or awareness beyond her gun.

There was only the battle.

She was the battle.

Sentinels fell to the floor with shattered chests or heads, mouths open, staring almost accusingly at the team. Some staggered blindly under the effects of Jubilation's powers, spraying lasers at the rebels and the other robots with equal frequency. Some were crushed by Unuscione's psionic exoskeleton, while others' frozen metal shattered into deadly shrapnel. However, they fell to be crushed beneath the feet of the next wave and it seemed that they killed one to have it replaced by two. Through the haze, Kitty saw that Jubilee's forehead was gashed and Bobby was walking with an ugly limp. Even Unuscione appeared to be flagging, the green nimbus of her powers flickered slightly as if it were a guttering candle.

The battle continued.

She continued.

Somewhere in the distance, beyond the redness that covered her vision, she felt exquisite pain as a beam pierced her left arm. The limb was cybernetic, but the circuits interfaced with her neurons, so the plastic and metal rods experienced pain as if they were skin and bone. Although the noise came from her throat, it was someone else who was screaming. There was only the battle, so she was the battle, and the battle continued, so she...

The Sentinels stopped.

Her battle systems disengaged.

The pain rushed in on her and she collapsed...

Rubbing her short hair dry with a fluffy towel, Sabrina Parker stepped out of the cold shower and glanced around her small apartment. Although she lived in a human residential area with a minimum of crime and violence, her instincts had been formed in the ghettos where the average mutant lived and incaution meant a knife in the back there. Neatly and sparsely decorated, it did not allow many places to hide, which had been her intent. As a result, unfortunately, it did not look lived in so much as unpacked from a box. She was seldom off-duty for long enough for it to worry her, though. The Black Stripers were always in demand and, if she had one evening to herself in a fortnight, she counted it as a lot.

Tonight was one of the rare few that found her off-duty and she was determined to spend it living like the other, civilian half. Tossing the towel onto a chair, she slipped into a long shirt and boxer shorts, curled up beneath her standard-issue blankets and picked up the paperback from her bedside table. She smiled wryly at the lurid cover -- a scruffy, jaw-droppingly handsome man with pectorals that looked capable of cracking rock had a woman draped over his arm in a position that looked exceptionally uncomfortable. Unsurprisingly, the woman had masses of auburn curls, green eyes and breasts that defied gravity. The title in pink, scrolling text above the pair read: "To Tame a Rogue's Heart!"

"Sure, sugah," she drawled ironically to herself, "How about "Ta Break a Girl's Back!"? Ah swear, anyone who lets themseves be held like that deserves ta be dragged in front o' a firin' squad an' have their final cig refused."

Although Sabrina's genre of choice was military science fiction, Elisabeth Braddock had given her the bodice-ripper as a joke for her birthday. Had commented with a wink that it might teach her strategies of another sort, if she knew what she meant. Sabrina snorted at the memory -- even if Braddock had probably slept her way through several divisions of the MPF, she had no interest in getting romantically involved with anyone and even a purely physical relationship was a complication she did not need. Careers had been ruined because of encounters with the wrong person and she had worked too hard to get where she was to throw everything away for a few seconds of pleasure.

Rolling onto her side and opening the book, she became aware of someone gently knocking on the door of her apartment. One of life's petty annoyances was the way that people always waited until you were settled to make themselves known to you, she thought angrily. If she were in the bath or watching a film on television, she could almost guarantee that she would be interrupted.

Cursing the unknown visitor roundly, she swung onto the floor and reached for the energy weapon that she always kept next to her bed. It paid to be cautious. Many humans objected even to having mutants from the peacekeeping forces staying in their areas, saying that there was no difference between a dog that licked its master's hand and a dog that bit it, saying that they had created these zones in order to avoid contact with mutants, their violent natures and their diseases. A number of her colleagues had had visits from the Friends of Humanity, and the majority of those had required either a morgue or a hospital at the end of them.

Breathing deeply in order to remain calm, she padded towards the door, her footsteps muffled by years of training. They were still too loud for her liking, though, thudding like her heart as she made her way down the passage. Her fingers tightened on the trigger of her weapon, as she lifted the latch and looked through the peep-hole. Features distorted by the fishbowl lens, she could make out a clearly nervous teenage boy, wearing the uniform of a courier service and holding a large package in front of him. She shook her head in disgust -- he was obviously scared spitless by the thought of delivering to the home of a mutant, but there was no guarantee that he was not a decoy for the Friends.

Grasping her weapon, "What do you want?"

"I've g-g-got a d-d-delivery for you, Ms ... Ms Parker," his voice trembled up and down the scale.

"That's Lieutenant Parker to you," she replied coldly, unlocking and opening the door the barest fraction, "Pass it through the crack."

"I ... I n-need your signature."

Swearing to herself but placing the gun on a convenient table, Sabrina stepped into the corridor of the building and regarded the young man flatly. He was skinny with a shock of red hair and she guessed that his paleness was not entirely due to hours spent in front of the television. Of course, by the next morning when he came to tell his friends about delivering to a dangerous mutant, she would be the one stuttering and trembling like a leaf. She would also probably be blonde, busty and incredibly, unbelievably grateful to him.

Scowling, "Pass your pen an' Ah'll sign it."

Tentatively, he held out a yellow pen, snatching his hand away as soon as she took it from him. Was he afraid that he would get a disease if he touched her, or simply that she would remove the lower half of his arm? Mutants, after all, were riddled with illnesses and had the base instincts of animals, she thought wryly, remembering a Eugenics Brochure that had been circulated by the Friends of Humanity. Given their gross sexuality, it had continued in a prurient tone, their propensity for violence is perhaps a natural means of population control, as it is not uncommon for mutants to have upwards of ten children. She had been disgusted and outraged by the propaganda, and had believed that no rational person would see it as anything other but hate-speech and lies. Unfortunately, she thought, it seemed that a number of humans were irrational in the extreme, her delivery-boy among them.

Baring her teeth in a false smile, "Thank you."

With the too-precise writing of someone who had only become literate late in life, she initialled the appropriate places and put her signature on the bottom line. That done, she gave the clipboard back to him, but, when she attempted to do the same with the pen, he shook his head and spread his hands in front of him. They were shaking.

"C-c-ompliments of the c-company, Lieutenant Parker," he stuttered, as he passed the parcel to her with some difficulty and replaced the clipboard in his backpack.

"Ah'm sure," she snapped, unable to conceal her irritation, "Wouldn't want yo' other clients ta get mutie germs from usin' th' same pen as me. Now, get th' hell away from here, 'fore Ah give you a real reason ta hate an' fear people like me."

Slamming the door behind her with one hand, she placed the large, brown parcel on the floor and padded her way back to her room to get her portable scanner. The boy could easily have been contracted by the Friends, and, although the package felt too light to contain a bomb, she preferred not to stake her life on gut feelings. Dropping to her haunches beside the box, she ran the device quickly over the top of the box. To her relief, its lights, that represented everything from nitroglycerine to plastique to poison gas, changed to green, indicating that there was nothing potentially dangerous in the package. If it were not from the Friends, she wondered, from whom could it be?

Brow furrowed in puzzlement, she tore off the tape that sealed the parcel and opened it. The answer was not immediately forthcoming, as the package was half-filled with packing material, underneath which was a small, black box with a hinged lid. Closer inspection revealed it to be made of a dark metal with a silvered panel on its top.

"Curiouser and curiouser," she murmured, gently removing it and noticing in surprise that, for all it fitted comfortably into the palm of her hand, it was extremely heavy. Had she not had her superstrength, she might have been hard-pressed to carry it more than a few feet. Obviously, the sender had not intended it to be forcibly opened, which, in turn, suggested that the panel on the lid was a fingerprint-activated lock. Holding her breath, she pressed her thumb firmly against it and watched as a thin, red light ran from her nail to the first joint.

The box snapped open, revealing a thick, creamy envelope with her name on it and a flat, transparent disc in which the traceries of circuits were clearly visible. Exhaling in a surprised puff, she held the device up to the light and examined it carefully. From her studies, she recognised it as a portable image-inducer, but knew that to be impossible. The technology had been banned after the civil war a decade or more ago. Being in possession of one, let alone using it, was a serious enough crime to warrant the death penalty.

"Shit," she murmured, ripping open the envelope in the hopes that it contained some answers, "Whoever sent this ta me had better have a very good reason ta risk mah neck."

Unfolding the sheet of paper, eyes widening as she progressed through the note, she traced the lines with a fingertip and repeated them softly beneath her breath:

Lt. Parker,

This black box contains a portable, image-inducer, programmed to disguise you as the Contact. We trust that you shall find it useful in your upcoming investigation. We also apologize for the fact that we had to use more unconventional methods to give it to you. It would not be good for our image to be associated with essentially banned equipment. Finally, we wish you the best of luck for your mission and have every confidence that you will be successful.

Yrs faithfully,



Continued in Chapter Five.


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