A Matter of Pryde
Glancing at her portable tracker from time to time, Lieutenant Parker traced
her way through the maze of tunnels. The gadget was the only means of
navigation that she had in the featureless sewers. Not only did it have an
on-screen compass that indicated her position in relation to the homing
beacon, but its vibration increased in frequency as she approached it. She
was glad for both of the features. Neither direction nor distance had any
meaning in this underground labyrinth. She had been walking for what felt
like hours, but, if the hand-held device had not been growing more insistent
by the minute, she would have sworn that she was making no progress.
She had to admire the rebels' cleverness in choosing their base. It was a
natural labyrinth without landmarks by which to orient herself. The only
impression that Sabrina got from them was one of overwhelming greyness. The
walls and arches were grey, raw stone. The walkways were smooth, grey
concrete. The water, that murmured alongside them, was the grey of opaque
glass. It was like being lost in a pea soup. She could have walked in
circles for hours and not known it. If she had not had her tracker, she
probably would have.
Even with it, finding her way through the tunnels was difficult. The compass
did not register walls or dead-ends, so she was constantly having to retrace
her footsteps and try an alternate path to reach her goal. As she did so,
she mentally mapped the route she had followed in preparation for her
eventual extraction of Pryde and her return of her to the MPF headquarters.
The rebels would probably attempt to follow her, if the supersoldier was
anywhere near as damaging to the Emissary's reputation as she imagined, so
her escape had to be neat, quick and efficient. At that point, she could
neither afford to be trapped nor to retrace her footsteps through a wrong
As she rounded a corner, the little gadget began to vibrate at the frequency
that meant she had reached the homing beacon, while the compass on the
screen was spinning in circles to confirm the other information. Hating the
wastage of resources but knowing it could only betray her now, she crushed
it in her fist and tossed it into the water, where it sank noiselessly
beneath the surface. It had done its job. It had brought her to the door to
the holding cell. Through the slit of the door in front of her, she could
make out the vague shapes of manacles in the gloom. Beside it, an electronic
lock was set into the wall and she quickly punched in the combination. The
door hissed open as the locks slowly disengaged. At least the Contact had
been useful for something, she thought wryly.
She had been disappointed, but not surprised, to discover that she could
access only his short-term memory and only portions of that. Whenever she
tried to focus on the rebels, on their base or on their plans, she would
hear a mocking, little tune and have the strangest feeling that someone was
smirking at her. It was as if all the dangerous memories had been replaced
when she had touched him and had invaded his mind. Admittedly, her powers
were a club to a telepath's probe, but she imagined the same would have
happened if the latter had attempted to access them more subtly and
delicately. If Remy LeBeau had put those defences in place and he was the
only one who could have done so, he was a more powerful and skilled psion
than the MPF had imagined. It would have taken a number of their best men
and women weeks to construct a comparable resistance to mental probing.
"Bright side," she muttered to herself, "It hasn't compromised your op."
She had been lucky in that the code to open the door had not been among the
removed memories. That was sloppy of LeBeau. If she had been in charge of
the rebellion, she would have made sure the Contact did not know how to open
the holding cell. Certainly, it was not a logical place for infiltration -
few agents would risk themselves in the way she intended to do - but a great
tactician foresaw and pre-empted every means of attack. Which was precisely
what LeBeau might have done, if she thought about it.
In her first year of studies at the Academy, their instructor had taught
them about deliberate leaks, about misdirection. One of the most basic ways
of capturing an enemy was to allow them to discover false information and
use it to lure them into a trap. She, herself, had used the technique during
her first assignment as a Black Striper. The government had suspected one of
the newspaper men of abusing his position of trust by printing a series of
pamphlets on corruption in the Traskian administration, but had no real
evidence of his involvement. They had all been lies, of course, so it was
only just that he had been caught out by the same. She had fabricated a
series of bank transactions between a high-ranking official and a company
that had just won a high-value contract with his government, then had made
sure those records had found their way into the hands of a known informant
of his, whose loyalty had switched with the first bill she offered to her.
The instant the pamphlets had appeared on the streets, the newspaper man had
been taken into custody and executed as a traitor the next day. It would be
too ironic if she were captured by the rebellion's use of the same
technique, she thought. Still, of all the infiltration stratagies that she
had considered, this had been the only one that had even a hope of working
and, regardless of the risk it entailed, she had to proceed with it.
Grimacing slightly, she pushed open the door and stepped through it. It
swung shut behind her, and she heard the locks hiss back into place. The
holding cell was precisely as she remembered it: a small, square room that
could not have been more than ten paces in width. The walls were thick, grey
stone - cool and slightly damp to the touch - and were studded with manacles
at regular intervals. From what she had gleaned from the Contact's mind, he
was supposed to use those to restrain himself until a psion could check that
he, and anybody he might have brought with him, were clean. The image
inducer she was wearing would be of no help to her when it came to fooling
the mental scan. She would have to rely on her own resources to do that.
"Ready or not, here I come..."
With a grimace, she placed her wrists into the manacles and they clicked
around them. She noted the nature of the technology - sensors that
registered heat, or perhaps pressure - and wondered briefly how she could
counter it. Her strategy was risky enough without planning for every
eventuality. She ran through her plan quickly in her mind. She had to fool
the rebels into believing she was the Contact in order to infiltrate their
base. When there, she had to extract Soldier Alpha and return her to the lab
for reconditioning, which meant isolating her. Failing that, she had to
eliminate her. Its apparent simplicity was deceptive. She was all too aware
that it was the sort of dangerous, difficult mission out of which heroes -
or corpses - were made.
Ironically, however, the first stage of it was simplicity itself: All she
had to do was wait.
Sabrina Parker was not sure how many hours she had been manacled to the
wall. In the grey limbo of the sewers, she had no way of knowing how much
time had passed. Judging by the way her arms were beginning to ache and her
stomach to grumble within her, though, it was more than a few hours.
She wondered briefly if they had penetrated her deception and had decided to
leave her to starve to death. It would be the most logical, most expedient
way to eliminate her. In a few days time, her body would probably be thrown
out into the gutters. There would not even be a hero's burial for her. There
would be no flag draped over her coffin; no words spoken by her squadron's
commander about her bravery and her skill. The Emissary had made it clear
that any success or failure with which her mission met would never be
acknowledged. As far as anyone knew, she was on furlough. Besides, by the
time the scavengers had picked her of everything from clothes to fillings,
she would be just another corpse. For all they would know, she could be
another nameless corpse of another nameless mutant who starved in the
In the midst of similar bleak thoughts, she heard the locks hiss open and
she lifted her head to see who had come to release her. She was obscurely
disappointed to see that it was not LeBeau. The gladiator in her still
prized a worthy opponent above everything else, and the newcomer appeared to
be anything but. He was a young man of about twenty-five, who might have
been handsome had he not been so haggard. His skin was the pasty colour of
an invalid's, while the faint stubble on his jaw and cheeks gave him a
vaguely seedy air. The lines about his mouth belonged on a much older, much
wiser man. She had to imagine any dark smudges beneath his eyes, because he
was wearing sunglasses. They were a ridiculous affectation in the sunless
tunnels, she thought in contempt, but typical of your average mutie. Most
muties did not even have the sense programmed into gamma sentinels.
"Ya know de drill by now, Contact," his voice was as tired as his face,
despite its strangely musical quality, "I'll scan ya, den take ya back to
Swallowing hard, Sabrina nodded her acquiescence. Suddenly, she was glad
that the boy standing in front of her was not LeBeau. She had anticipated
the psiscan, had prepared for it, but it was undoubtedly the riskiest part
of the operation. If she could fool this kid and get past it, Soldier Alpha
might as well be captured already.
She heard the boy take a deep breath, then felt the light touch of his mind
upon hers. Unlike the brutal violations that were the Ghosts' - the psionic
corps - routine scans, his psychic probe was gentle and strangely cool. It
reminded her of the softness of raindrops on bare, warm skin - the momentary
prick of cold, then the smooth glide down naked arms and legs. She had no
time to admire his technique, however. In the split second after the first
raindrop fell on her, she threw open the part of her mind in which she had
stored the Contact's psyche and memories, thoughts, emotions poured out of
her like a river in flood...
Blue and yellow love hovering above him.. White and silver cold against his
chest. He might be perfect, but he's a mutie. I know he is, so what...?
You know they have to be terminated. No! No! He's my son! I love him! You
know there is no choice. I love him. Mommy. Warmth. Milk. Lullaby.
Standing in the broken colours cast by the stained glass window, he feels
holy. He is humbled and exalted at the same time. Magnificat anima mea
dominum. My soul exalts my Lord. He wants to sing along with his soul.
Sister Marguerite is dead. Her skull is split. He can see her brains ooze
grey. Around her neck, her rosary is as white as bone.
Her lips on his forehead for a long time. Warm breath like a sigh. I love
you, baby. I'm sorry. I love you. I'm so, so sorry. Blue and yellow love
swallowed by black night. In the distance, a hymn.
Sister Marguerite was afraid. There was a tremble in her hands, in her lower
lip, in her eyes. Kurt, you must get out of here. You must go now. The MPF
have discovered that we are keeping you here. Go now and may God be with
you! The tremble was in him now, but he ran.
You bastard! She was a good woman! She never harmed anybody! She never
harmed you! Why did you kill her? Why? WHY? WHY? The man cannot answer. His
eyes are wide and staring. Blood bubbles between his thin, ascetic lips and
onto his uniform.
His shields already in tatters from Butcher's Alley, the Contact's memories
tore through Remy LeBeau's unprotected mind. They ripped at him. They rent
him. They were as simple and primal as the first kill. They were claws and
fangs, talons and beaks, teeth and nails. Pain, the worst pain he had ever
felt, shot through him. He screamed it. He screamed the agony, the fear, the
hatred. His mind was being torn to pieces. He could feel it shred further
with every memory that rushed at him through his connection with the other
Desperately, he threw up a feeble shield that he knew was not strong enough
to withstand the assault. He felt the memories and emotions crash against
it. He felt their violence and their force. His shield would not last long.
It could not and he did not know what he would do when it broke. He had
nothing left with which to defend himself. He had used up every reserve of
energy resisting Butcher's Alley...
Suddenly - as suddenly as it had started - the attack stopped, leaving him
doubled over and gulping for air. The room spun crazily, dizzily around him,
but, empty of even his own thoughts, his mind was blessedly quiet. Its
blankness was a kind of sanity. Nonetheless, when a thought was able to
form, it was a disturbing one: all appearances to the contrary, the manacled
figure standing in front of him was not the Contact.
Continued in Chapter Seven.
DISCLAIMER: I would say the characters are Marvel's, but I've probably
butchered them beyond recognition in writing this story. Nonetheless, I am
not making any profit off this story. The most for which I can hope is kind
feedback and I'm not even sure whether I shall get any of that. ;) If you've
enjoyed it, drop me a line at firstname.lastname@example.org OR
email@example.com and I'll be very, very grateful.Thanks, as always,
to my editor who points out all the glaringly stupid parts to me and makes
me wonder why I didn't see them myself. Previous parts can be found at
http://www.geocities.com/textualchemy/pryde.html [or pryde1.html ->
pryde5.html, if that ain't working]
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