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 email@example.com
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
"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.
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
"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
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:
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.
Continued in Chapter Five.
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