A Matter of Pryde
Remy LeBeau dragged anxiously on his cigarette as he paced the
width of the tunnel's stone walkway and wished that one of his rebels
would come to tell him how Pryde was doing. His mind replayed how
she had just crumpled in the factory, as if she were a toy whose
batteries had run down. Her left arm had been twisted beneath her
at an awkward angle, the blackened synthskin curling back around
the wound to reveal molten plastic and metal. He had bent over her
to check her organic arm for a pulse and had noticed that her eyes
were open. They had been covered by some sort of red membrane, he
remembered with a shiver, as if her eyes had been bleeding wounds
in her face...
He cut off the train of thought ruthlessly. Butcher's Alley, as
the tunnel was popularly known, always had this effect on him; always
seemed to cause a shadow to pass over his soul. It was here that
the Morlocks had tried to escape the final, great massacre that
had killed the last of them. It was here that they had been caught
and torn apart by their killers. His lips tightened in anger at
the memory. He had heard tell the mass slaughter had just been a
way of obtaining specimens for research into the mutant genome.
Their corpses were probably preserved in some eugenics lab in a
research complex as "interesting specimans." An image flashed vividly
into his mind: their wide, dead eyes staring in disbelief out of
the formaldahyde; their limp arms suspended in the fluid seeming
to reach out in supplication.
For a massacre about which no-one had known, the pogrom had certainly
left its mark on Butcher's Alley. The stones of the walkway were
still stained with their blood, brown patches like moss on the grey
stone, and, to an empath, the walls still thrummed with old violence.
As he paced, emotions, memories, sensations, pounded against his
Fear drumming in his chest. Pushing, biting, clawing in his desperation
to get through the crowd in front of him. Friends, family, fellows,
obstacles to his survival and freedom. They would catch him and
they would tear his flesh and they would...
Hopelessness. Her muscles burnt with her exhaustion, as her last
reservoirs of strength were exhausted. If she stopped, if she let
them catch her, she might be able to delay them and her daughter
might be able to escape. Everything within her froze when she heard
her child's familiar, high scream...
Absolute faith. The Bright Lady of their Dreamtime prophecies would
save them. She was more fair and more terrible than fireglow. He
raised his dry, old voice in a hymn but it was lost in the screams
that swirled into chaos around the tunnels...
Wild joy. The hot, metallic taste of blood in his mouth, the smell
of it in his nostrils, the warm glory of it on his hands, as his
claws and fangs ripped and ripped and ripped...
His stomach lurched within him and he was suddenly, violently sick
into the water that ran below the ledge. His stomach emptied, bile
gave way to dry heaves that wracked his body. Every muscle in his
body seemed to tremble, like light off a blade. Every nerve thrummed,
like a garotte. He pressed his stomach to his legs, hugging his
knees, resting his forehead on the cold stone. He was still in that
position some hours later when Unuscione came to relieve him of
"I keep telling Remy that the troops need armour of some kind,
but he never listens," Cecilia Reyes complained to Milan, as she
washed her hands at the sink after she had finished tending to the
last of the rebels' wounds, "I guess he still believes that God
protects the righteous."
She snorted ironically to indicate how misguided such a belief
was. After all, she had learnt from bitter experience that, if a
divine being existed, he or she was capricious. Young, handsome
and dynamic, the Latina physician had been an attending at one of
the most prestigious hospitals in Liberation, until a past addiction
to tranquilisers had been revealed by an envious colleague. She
had kicked the habit years before graduating, let alone beginning
work, but the board of trustees had not wanted to take the risk.
So, although they had mouthed the usual platitudes about believing
her to be rehabiliated, she had found herself being handed a severance
cheque by the chief of surgery along with the standard disclaimer
to sign. From there, it had been a frighteningly short fall to the
free clinics run by the various churches, mosques and synagogues
where she had seen enough mutant misery to make her sympathetic
to the rebellion's advances. All in all, Cecilia Reyes had no reason
to believe that God was fair, let alone benevolent.
"Why are you so quiet, Mil? I usually can't get you to shut up,"
she asked, walking across the room to where he was working on Pryde's
arm. She shuddered slightly as she peered over his shoulder. He
had managed to peel back the charred and twisted synthskin around
the injury, revealing a complex systems of wires and circuitry.
It looked like a nest of maggots, Cecilia thought in disgust. She
was not a squeamish person, no doctor could afford to be, but there
was something about the cyborg that repulsed her. It was a perversion
of nature. Man blended with machine. Flesh became electronics. Thought
was structured as a series of heuristic algorithms. Intelligence
became artificial. And, somewhere in the interface between the two,
humanity was lost.
"Science without conscience is the death of the soul," she quoted
softly to herself.
"T.S. Eliot, right?" he said unexpectedly, exchanging his calliper
for a microsolder and applying it to the exposed circuitry. Where
its tip touched, the wire went white and melted, completing the
broken circuit. Cecilia shuddered as the cyborg's index finger curled.
If she had not known better, she would have said it was muscles
and tendons moving and not wires.
"Montaigne, actually," she tried to keep her voice as calm as possible,
"Eliot said something about science having no point if it took us
further from God and closer to the dust. Serious, Mi, what's wrong?
I might have failed psych, but I can tell something's bothering
Ignoring her, he pushed out his chair and stood. His face was expressionless;
his voice, when he spoke, was flat: "I'm almost done. I just need
a tool from my lab to test the connections. I had to bypass and
reroute some circuits, as they were slagged beyond repair, and want
to make sure that everything is still working."
"Sure," she shrugged, realising there was no way she could force
him to confide in her, "In the meantime, I'll fix its ... uh ...
"Damnit," Sabrina swore, thumping her bathroom's floor in irritation
before carefully picking up the image inducer between thumb and
forefinger. She held it up to the neon light and squinted at it,
checking it for any damage or cracks. She grunted in satisfaction
when she saw it was intact. The last thing she needed was for it
to short out while she was in the rebel's base and the tiny disc
would persist in slipping out of her hands before she was able to
tape it into place in her groin. Provided she did not get too intimate
with any of the rebels, which she certainly did not intend to do,
it would be hidden from view there, undetectable even if she was
nude. More ominously, it would also be protected from any attacks.
She took a deep breath to calm herself and stretched out her leg
at an awkward angle. Despite all her treatments at the hands of
the Academy's best surgeons, she noticed that it still bore the
marks of old battles in the Collosea. Most were thin, silver lines
crisscrossing the skin, like her veins had been filled with mercury,
but a number of them were still a faded mulberry years later. She
ran her finger lightly along the worst one - a livid scar that ran
the length of her calf and that she had thought would cost her her
ability to walk.
Memories flashed through her mind, like neon lights off a polished
blade. The faces of the crowd looking up at her, white spots in
the semi-darkness. Harpoon bowing in mockery and whispering very
softly that he would enjoy killing her. Her lifting her sword to
him in salute, liquid fire seeming to run up and down the steel.
The people's cheers echoing and reechoing off the high roof: Rogue!
Rogue! Rogue! The wild, giddy rush of combat overtaking her as she
realised they were cheering for her because they loved her and because
she was the nearest thing they would ever know to a god or a hero
in their poor, petty, sordid lives...
Spasmatically, as if touching it had caused the wound to reopen,
she jerked her hand away from the scar. She was acutely aware of
the red trident tattoed between her finger and thumb; the mark that
said she was property for the head of the syndicate, Bobby da Costa,
to do with as he pleased. She still could not put into words why
she had refused to have it removed when her foster mother had taken
her to the MPF's plastic surgeons. She knew it was because the deathmatch
circuit was a part of herself and her history, but she could not
explain what part or why she clung to that aspect of the past. She
could not explain how pain, pleasure and pride had become so entangled
Still, there wasn't anything to gain by reliving old pains or old
glories, she told herself firmly, nothing that would help her with
her current mission. No matter what she had been in the past, she
was a member of Black Stripe Squadron now and she was on a special
assignment for the Emissary that was of critical importance for
national security. She could not afford to make a mistake and not
only because failure would probably result in a demotion to Chief
Potato Peeler for the remainder of her military career. It would
be near impossible to infilitrate the rebel's base as it was, and
she needed all her wits about her, especially if she wanted to get
this blasted, slippery image inducer into place!
"Come on, girl," she muttered, "You scored a 9.765 for manual dexterity
on your physical exam. This shouldn't be that hard."
Carefully positioning the small, plastic circle on the pelvic girdle,
she picked up the strip of transparent tape that she had cut earlier
and firmly stuck the device down with it. She felt it as a cool
tingle against her skin, as the contact electrodes adjusted to her
body chemistry, using the natural alkalis of her sweat and glandular
oils to power the image inducer. Once that was done and it had built
up sufficient charge, its cloaking circuits would activate automatically
and Sabrina Parker would take on the form of the Contact. Best of
all, the illusion was solid, compressing photons to such an extent
that they felt like matter. Anyone who touched her would think she
was covered in fur; anyone who tried to snatch "her" prehensile
tail would be able to do so, would even feel ridges of bone moving
beneath their hands. It was no wonder the technology had been banned
by the senate as a threat to Big Sister and to National Security.
In a society where so much power was concentrated in the hands of
one woman, impersonation could mean revolution.
Content that the device was securely in place, Sabrina stood, stretching
her muscles to work out the kinks that had come from sitting in
an odd position for what felt like hours. In the mirror, she could
see the image inducer beginning to work. Patches of her arms and
legs shimmered from pale skin to dense, blue fuzz. A brimstone-yellow
spread out from her pupils, consuming both the green of her irises
and the white of her sclera. The entire shape of her body changed
- hips narrowing as her shoulders broadened. Her cheeks hollowed,
her normally square jawline sharpened. She was almost of a height
with Kurt, but she could see herself grow the few inches' difference.
The woman in the mirror shimmered into a demon-man.
Delighted smile revealing pointed fangs, Sabrina touched her cheeks
as if to ensure that the reflection really was of her and laughed
at the velvety fur that she felt.
"God, this might even be fun."
Continued in Chapter Six.
Again, the characters are Marvels, but I am
the one who has mutilated them beyond recognition. (Not that I make
any profit off said mutilation, other than your delightful comments
which should be sent to firstname.lastname@example.org.)
I don't mind if people set stories in this universe, but please
run them by me first. There's a very fixed structure to this world,
and a very fixed place for each character, so ... I'd rather see
what you did before you posted. Otherwise, bug me to release author's
notes for the world. I keep meaning to do so. At this point, you
should not try to compare the old version and the new in terms of
events that happen per chapter. In previous chapters, I've just
expanded on existing material, but, from this point on, I'm going
to change a great deal and add a great deal. So, archivists, I again
ask you to replace old versions with the new. Readers, I ask you
to bear with me. I know lots are asking when the last chapter might
be out, but ... surprise ... I'm ending the story on the events
of the old chapter 13. There was nothing else I wanted to add from
that point. So, I want to get this rewrite done, so everything is
right for the sequel. :)
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