The bike bulleted down Lakeshore Drive, its engine roaring in the night as it sped down the road skirting Lake Pontchartrain. The streetlights flew past so quickly they looked like picket fence posts. The harsh white light of the street lamps flashed repetitively across the black facemask of the driver's helmet. Behind him came the whine of police sirens in hot pursuit. The motorcyclist wove through traffic like a thread through cloth. It would be impossible for the authorities to catch him now; nevertheless, he glanced back at the flashing red and blue lights.
The lights were far off in the distance, flashing across the black water of the lake below. Reassured, the driver turned to the road ahead. Beneath the helmet, his eyes widened and he gasped. At the intersection ahead was a roadblock. A dozen police vehicles straddled the multilane road, their lights suddenly flaring to life.
The driver was undeterred. There was no room for hesitation. Pushing the motorcycle to its limit, he sped up even further, closing the distance between himself and the waiting roadblock. The bike rose up on its back wheel, which squealed as it did so. Police officers scrambled as the driver made his way toward the vehicles. The cyclist raised his arm, seemingly to salute the officers. In his hand, he proffered a single playing card, which in his grip, began to glow. In one swift motion, his arm swept forward, unleashing the card toward the awaiting police cars. In a seemingly impossible move, the card flew ahead of the speeding bike. As it contacted with the open doors of a pair of police vehicles, the glowing card detonated. The motorcycle narrowly slipped through the roadblock, shortly after the card had exploded and created a gap between the cars.
The motorcycle momentarily lost control after the maneuver, weaving dangerously from side to side. A mixed blessing in disguise, it allowed the driver to evade the bullets fired at him by the police officers. Because of the extremely high speed, the tires began to heat beyond their limit. The back tire burst, sending fragments of rubber flying toward the police vehicles that pursued him. The bike was now completely out of control. In a last ditch effort to escape, the cyclist pointed his speeding bike to the lake.
Crashing through the guardrail, the bike and driver flew out over the black water, separating from one another. Sparks from the motorcycle's rims abrading the street flew out, like bright white fireworks, briefly illuminating the black-clad driver before he was swallowed by the water. The pursuing police cars squealed to a halt and the officers streamed to the accident site. Flashlights scanned the water, but all that was to be found was the faint gurgling sound of the sinking motorcycle.
It was a half-mile back up Lakeshore that the driver reemerged, helmet-less and choking. He pulled himself from the lake with the aid of a ramshackle dock. Water ran from his lanky, chin-length hair and his leather jacket squelched against the weathered boards of the pier. He lay against the dock for a moment, his long legs still dangling in the water, as he caught his breath. The sounds of the police sirens droned in his skull, prompting him to move. Just as he lifted his knee onto the dock, he found himself hefted into the air. Swinging from his collar, he looked into the angry face of the enormous man before him.
"Time t'go home, kid," the big man snarled. "Daddy's waitin'." He then flung the protesting boy over his broad shoulder and trotted off into the night.
The door to the office opened slowly, revealing darkness beyond. The sole light barely lit the large mahogany table at the far end of the room. As the door opened fully, a pale, angular man looked up from the paperwork strewn across his desk.
The big man held the boy by the shoulder of his leather jacket. The latter wrenched himself from his captor's grip to stare through the darkness at the man in the room.
"Out late again, Remy," the man at the desk said serenely.
Remy crossed the room in a few broad strides and tossed the bag he was carrying down on the desk. It made a wet sound as it landed and beads of water ran across the paperwork on the desktop. The man behind the desk studied the satchel critically and lifted a floppy disk from amongst the bag's contents. A small stream of water leaked from the corner of the disk as it was canted to the side.
The man at the table looked back up at the young man before him. A defiant scowl imprinted itself on Remy's features. The man's gaze met that of his young charge. Red-hot eyes burned in the darkness; the eyes a young mutant boy eventually turned away, backing down from the penetrating stare directed at him.
"You understand that this information is of no use to me in this state," the seated man stated, as he drifted his hand across the tabletop, encompassing the soggy mass of papers and floppy disks.
The boy's bottom lip stuck out a bit. "De cops--" he began.
The other man cut him off. "I tire of your excuses and irresponsible behavior, Remy. You are better than this, yet you continue to put our mission at risk."
Remy crossed his arms and turned away.
The man sighed and leaned back into his chair. "You are dismissed," he said.
The boy turned on his heel and walked to the door. The large man remained at the doorway, and growled low in his throat as Remy sidled past.
"Keep an eye on him, Victor," the man at the table said as he folded his hands before him.
"I ain't a babysitter," Victor grumbled, but after meeting the gaze of the seated man, he turned and followed after Remy.
The large computer screen before Professor Charles Xavier flickered to life, startling him out of his reverie. One of his students, Kitty Pryde, awoke with a sudden snort as her palm, which was holding up her head, slipped from under her cheek. The professor glanced over at the young girl, who immediately hid herself behind a book, which she had initially intended to study. Xavier then turned back to the large screen before him.
"So what's up, professor?" Kitty said, shyly peeking over the top of her book at him.
"It seems Cerebro has discovered a new mutant, Kitty," the professor replied, keying in the information that would bring the new discovery to the screen.
"Really?" Kitty said, as she got up to stand behind the professor's wheelchair. "Anything to get out of studying," she thought to herself. The professor gave her another teacherly glance as she turned red. Of course, being a telepath, the professor could hear her thoughts. "So, like, where's the new mutant?" she tried, struggling for recovery.
The professor turned back to the screen as an image of the United States appeared. A section of the map was outlined in a red square. The square enlarged, providing a detail of the possible whereabouts of the new mutant.
"That is odd," the professor stated.
"What is it?" Kitty asked.
Professor Xavier studied the map provided. "Usually, Cerebro is able to pinpoint a mutant's location more accurately than this," he said, indicating the screen. "It seems the mutant's power may be interfering with Cerebro's scanner. Kitty, find Scott and ask him to gather the other X-Men. We will leave for New Orleans in thirty minutes."
"Remy! Over here!"
Remy paused on the front steps of St. Vincent's High School, adjusting his sunglasses as he scanned the mass of loitering students. Belle was easy to spot; her shortly cropped blond hair catching the bright light contrasted by the darkness of her trademark black clothes. She waved, beckoning him over to their small group of mutual friends.
"Hey, can I bum a smoke?" she asked, as Remy approached.
"Dat the only reason you called me over, Belle?" Remy asked as he provided a rather flattened pack of cigarettes.
"Would you deny us de pleasure of your delightful company, Monsieur Gambit?" she replied with a grin.
"Spare me, Belle."
"So where's your bike?" asked Emil.
"At de bottom of Lake Ponchartrain," Remy replied smoothly.
"You gotta remember to start tippin' de valets, Remy," Belle replied. "So where were you last night?"
"Apparently, he was swimmin' wit' de fishes," Emil laughed.
Just then, a long black sedan pulled up the school drive. It paused beside the trio and the back window slid down partway. Remy looked at the car with dismay.
"Lissen guys, I gotta go," he said, turning away from Belle and Emil.
"You gonna call me?" Belle said. A small worried line appeared between her brows.
"If I can," Remy said as he approached the car. The door opened and he disappeared into the dark interior. Inside, Remy removed his dark sunglasses, to acknowledge Belle's farewell wave. Then the dark window rolled up, concealing him from the
outside world as the car drove away.
"I am removing you from St. Vincent's," he stated in the same cold manner in which he always spoke.
"Why?" Remy exclaimed, suddenly leaning forward in his seat. He glared at the impassive profile of the man he sat beside.
"Our cause would be better served if your time were further devoted to research."
"'Our' cause?" Remy retorted heatedly. "I don' care nothin' for dis research! I don' care bout de mutants you're lookin' for!"
The other man turned slowly, gracing Remy with an icy stare. The boy silenced immediately. "You speak out of turn, Remy and without thinking. Calm yourself. Do try to speak in a less gauche fashion, your English is terrible."
Remy's face burned at the reprimand, his anger nearly boiling over.
"It's time you felt more responsibility toward our kind. Instead, you ally yourself with these base humans," the older man turned to the window to examine those of which he spoke of on the schoolyard beyond. "Two of the mutants I seek have left the sanctity of their home. For reasons unknown to me, they are able to slip in and out of my computer's detection system. I will be sending you to find them, before they disappear again."
Remy wordlessly nodded, staring out at the world beyond the black sedan.
"I cannot stress how crucial these two mutants are to ... my cause," he continued. "Or rather, their combined genetic traits."
When his statement elicited no response, the older man turned to look at his young charge. The boy's face was sullen, his eyes impassive, as he stared out the window. The older man felt an emotion akin to regret, but the feeling quickly evaporated. Remy was important to his plans, but not indispensable. Perhaps after the young man's ordeal was finished, he would loosen the strings that bound the two of them together. Loosen the bonds to allow the boy some freedom, but never completely sever their ties.
The man known as Sinister would never allow the boy, or any other he possessed, to slip completely free of his grip.
"Wow!" Kitty gushed, her face plastered to the glass window of the trolley. "This is like, so totally wicked awesome!"
"I think I see a prostitute!" exclaimed Kurt, pointing as he turned to Logan. "Hey! Is that a prostitute?"
Logan, the man also known as Wolverine, moaned lowly and pinched the bridge of his nose as if he were struck with a sudden headache. The quaint trolley in which they were all seated trundled down a picturesque avenue of New Orleans' famous French Quarter. Logan glanced over at Storm, who was sitting adjacent to him on the opposite side of the trolley. She met his despairing expression with an understanding smile. Jean and Scott, in almost perfect contrast to Kitty and Kurt, were sitting quietly.
Scott and Jean had both been at Xavier's School for Gifted Youngsters for some time now. Both understood the importance of seeking out the new mutants that Cerebro discovered. Professor Xavier had instilled the seriousness of this mission on them. At that moment, Jean turned to Logan and smiled. She held in her hands a special device created for missions such as this. It was able to detect the special x-factor signature that all mutants possessed. So far, the small devices that both Scott and Jean held had remained silent.
"So, Storm," Wolverine said, trying to be heard over Kitty and Kurt's incessant chattering, "when are we gonna quit joy-ridin' around and get some work done?"
"I was also contemplating the matter," Storm replied. "Perhaps we should separate into teams to cover the city more quickly."
Wolverine immediately disliked the idea. He glanced back at Kurt and Kitty, who were literally bouncing in their seats. Scott leaned over Jean and handed Kurt one of the scanners.
"Here, now," Wolverine muttered, snatching the device from Kurt's reaching fingers. "Why don't you give that doohickey to me."
Storm smiled as the trolley slid to a halt. She, Jean and Scott stood in unison. "Good luck, Logan," Storm said.
Logan silently, and grumpily, watched the trio depart.
"Bet we find him first!" Kurt leaned forward and called out to Scott.
Logan put his hand over his now-ringing ear. He was about to force Kurt back into his seat when a figure on the street caught his attention. A tall man, with ragged blond hair was just turning the corner.
"Couldn't be," Logan muttered to himself. "No, it isn't." The mutant scanner in his lap remained silent, but Logan was not reassured.
Remy stood at the public phone booth, counting the times the phone rang at the other end. On the seventh ring, he began to replace the receiver in its cradle when the line picked up.
"Hello?" came the familiar voice at the other end.
"Belle," Remy said, "it's me."
"Remy? Where are you? Why weren't you in class today?" Belle asked.
Remy took a breath and scanned the busy street through the phone booth's glass. "I'm leavin' town," he replied after a moment.
"Now wait," she said. "You just stay right where you are. I'm comin' t'get you."
"Staying in one place is exactly what I can't be doin' right now, chere," Remy snapped.
"Don't you leave, Remy," Belle said. "You gotta take me wit' you."
"Belle..." Remy said softly. "I ... can't. I gotta go. It's too dangerous for you."
"Remy what in the world are you into?"
"Y'don't wanna know. G'bye Belle," he said, slowly putting down the receiver. At the other end, he could hear his best friend's voice, small and distant through the phone's mouthpiece.
Remy slipped from the phone booth, an all together too public place for his liking. He kept close to the buildings, a source of protection from the crowd, at least on one side. Remy found himself glancing over his shoulder frequently. His father would be angry with him, surely, but in a quiet, cold way. Victor, on the other hand, would be irate and violent. After quickly surveying the crowd, he turned a corner quickly. His concentration was more on what was behind rather than what was before him. Just around the corner, he collided into another person, knocking her down.
"Sorry," Remy mumbled, and was about to make a quick exit, until he saw whom it was he had bowled over. A beautiful red headed girl in a short skirt sat sprawled on the sidewalk. "Very sorry," he added. "Here, let me help you up."
"It's all right," she said, letting him take her by the arm. "Busy streets," she said, with a forced laugh.
Remy looked away from the girl's pretty face to meet the irritated stare of a young man in red sunglasses.
"Are you sure you're all right, chere?" Remy asked. "If so, I'll leave you in de care of your brother, here."
The teen in the sunglasses scowled, and his face turned a shade of pink. "I'm fine, really," the girl responded.
Remy smiled at the pair and gave a mock salute before continuing down the street. He glanced back once, to get another view of the redhead's behind, only to find her eyes were following him.
"Jean?" Scott questioned.
"I'm all right, Scott," Jean replied. She glanced down at the small x-factor detector in her hands. The indicator had lit, but the signal flickered on and off, as if confused.
"The mutant must be nearby," Scott said, barely able to contain his excitement. Professor Xavier would be very happy with him if they found the new mutant so quickly.
"Nearer than you'd think," Jean said. "That boy, it was so strange..."
"What about him? Is it so strange of him to have been leering at your legs?"
"Well," Jean said, ignoring Scott's jibe, "usually, I can feel a sort of noise of thoughts when I meet people. But with him, it was like hearing loud static."
"The professor told us that the new mutant Cerebro detected was possibly an energy wielder, like myself. Maybe it's interfering with your ability to hear thoughts."
"That would also explain why the tracker has been so silent," Jean agreed.
"Contact Storm, and let's follow him," Scott said.
The pair hurried down the street after the teen. "This way," Jean said, indicating a narrow alley. "I can still feel the static in my head."
They darted into the alley, following Jean's head-sense. Up ahead came the sound of clattering trashcans.
"Hey, you!" Scott called out. "Hey, we want to talk to you!"
"Who? Me?" asked a voice from the darkness. The voice was low and laced with a growl. It was clearly not the voice of the young man they had run into in the street.
"Scott, stand back!" Jean called.
A tall, menacing figure slipped from out of the shadows. "Sabretooth!" Scott exclaimed, recognizing the man from a previous altercation with Wolverine.
The big man brandished his claws and snarled at the pair. "Looks like two birds with one stone," he growled.
Jean and Scott exchanged a glance, clearly confused at Sabretooth's statement. Sabretooth leapt, flinging himself toward Scott.
"Look out!" Scott cried, lifting his glasses and aiming an optic beam at the snarling man.
Sabretooth was struck in the chest, and tumbled backwards into the garbage cans. "Cute, kid," the big man growled. "Let's see if you can do the same trick twice."
"Try this!" Jean said, lifting a trash barrel with the power of her telekinesis. The barrel spiraled end over end as she sent it hurling toward their aggressor. With a sweep of his hairy arm, Sabretooth knocked the can from the air.
"I've had enough play time," Sabretooth said, and launched himself at Jean. In one swift movement, he toppled Jean and struck out at Scott, knocking him aside. His glasses clattered across the pavement.
"No!" Jean cried, her arms flying out. She gasped as Sabretooth's weight, which was holding her down, was suddenly lifted away. Jean opened her eyes to find the man several feet above her head, floating in midair, growling with fury. With a jolt, she realized she had flung him upward with her telekinesis, almost without effort. The realization caused her to release Sabretooth, who plummeted back towards her. Jean flung her arms before her face, bracing herself for Sabretooth's fall.
"Jean! Roll!" shouted a familiar voice. Instinctively, the girl rolled across the pavement. Above her came a growl and the sound of a pair of bodies hitting a nearby dumpster. She opened her eyes to find Wolverine and Sabretooth, brawling on the pavement.
Scott scrambled in the shadows, his hands blindly seeking out his ruby quartz sunglasses, which enabled him to control the beams he fired from his eyes. He was dangerously close to the two snarling men.
"Hey!" shouted a voice from nearby. "Heads up Four-Eyes!" Several feet above the street, a figure stood on top of a chain-link fence. He tossed a pair of red hued sunglasses which arced through the air and struck Scott on the top of the head. Scott quickly recovered his glasses, which had fallen into his lap. Once he placed them back on the bridge of his nose, he looked up to see the boy Jean had run in to on the street. He was balanced effortlessly on the top bar of the fence, his right arm held before his chest, and a pair of playing cards in his fingers. He clutched the cards beside his left cheek. Amazingly, the cards ignited in his grip. "Grab Sis over dere, and duck and cover," he said.
Scott leapt after Jean, and the two of them stumbled away just as the boy sent the cards flying toward the two fighting men. Scott collided with Jean as a result of the blast, which propelled them both out of the alleyway.
Smoke billowed from the alley and debris scattered across the pavement. Scott and Jean watched, stunned, as Wolverine emerged from the alley for the most part unscathed.
"Logan!" Jean cried. "Are you all right?"
He coughed, "Terrific," he muttered.
Scott turned to the sound of approaching police sirens. "We'd better get out of here before the cops arrive."
"What happened to Sabretooth?" Jean asked.
"He decided to take a nap," Logan said. "Slim is right, let's beat it. And find the little punk with the exploding card trick."
"This way, Kitty!"
Kitty paused, putting her hands on her knees in a struggle to catch her breath. "Wait, Kurt! I can't keep up with you!"
Kurt appeared before her, using his powers of teleportation. Startled, Kitty fell backwards with a cry of surprise.
"Oops. Sorry, Kitty," Kurt said, giving her a hand up. "I guess when this thing started beeping," he waggled the x-factor detector, "I got a little excited."
"So where's it pointing us to?" Kitty asked.
"Right over here!" Kurt said, grabbing hold of Kitty's wrist. The pair disappeared in a flash only to reappear a few blocks away.
"Gah!" Kitty cried, punching Kurt in the shoulder. "Don't do that again!"
"I'll warn you next time," Kurt replied.
"No 'next time'!" Kitty said. "Ugh, now my sweater has that funny smell."
Kurt pointed the detector at the mansion before them. "It looks like the detector stopped working," he said.
"I thought you said this was the place."
"Well, I thought it was," Kurt replied. "This thing was blinking like crazy before."
The pair stared at the mansion, which was partially concealed behind thick overgrowth. Containing the house and the thick brush was a tall wrought iron fence. "What should we do?" Kitty asked.
"Knock?" Kurt suggested.
The two looked at the foreboding mansion. "Well, I'm not going into that creepy place," Kitty said.
"I'm not," Kurt replied.
Kurt and Kitty looked at each other. "We should call the Professor," Kurt said.
Remy paused at the door to his father's office, his hand on the doorknob. There was a sound of muffled voices in the room behind, something that was not commonplace in the office.
After the encounter with Sabretooth and the three strangers in the alley, Remy had run back to the place he almost considered home. At least here, he was somewhat safeguarded from Victor's anger. When the big man did not return, Remy almost felt brave enough to risk fleeing a second time. That is, until his father summoned him.
He now turned the knob, cracking open the door. The voices beyond silenced. As the door opened fully, Remy was surprised to find the room brightly lit. The heavy curtains, usually pulled closed to shield the room from sunlight, were drawn open. The man Remy had known as his father since adoption was seated behind the desk as usual. However, he was turned to face his guest, an austere bald man in a wheelchair.
"Come in, Remy," his father said.
Remy swallowed and slid into the room, closing the door behind him.
"Remy," he said, "I'd like you to meet Professor Charles Xavier."
"Hello, Remy," Xavier said, extending his hand.
"Hi," Remy said into his chest while leaning forward to shake Xavier's hand.
"Remy," his father said, "it's rude to introduce yourself to someone wearing those things. Remove your sunglasses, please."
The boy's eyes flicked to his father's face. Then, eyes lowered, he removed the glasses. "Nice to meet you, Professor Xavier," Remy said, looking up.
Charles found himself looking unabashedly into a pair of black and red eyes. "A pleasure to meet you as well, son," Xavier said. "Your father has told me a bit about you."
Remy nodded, unsure of what the two men had exchanged between them. "Remy," his father said, interrupting his thoughts, "the professor has a school, in Westchester, New York. It is an institute for children like yourself."
"Like what?" Remy asked suddenly.
"Mutants," the professor stated. "Where we train to control and take responsibility for the powers we've been given."
"And you want me to go to dis school?" Remy directed his question to his father, who nodded in response. Remy was stunned. It was as if he were suddenly granted what he desired; to leave his father's oppressive direction. He was confused, because he felt that there had to be a drawback.
"The decision is ultimately up to you, Remy," the professor stated. "If you feel you are ready to leave your home here, your school and your friends. My students and I would welcome you to the Institute. We would like to help you."
He sounded sincere, Remy thought. Other than the faint buzzing he felt in his head when Xavier looked at him, he picked up no threatening tones, no secret agendas. Without looking to his father, he found himself nodding, yes. Xavier looked pleased, and leaned back into his chair. Remy allowed himself a faint smile before turning to his father. The smile slowly evaporated when he looked at the man behind the desk.
The thin, pale-skinned man was smiling like a cat.
Continued in "Running to Catch Up"
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