Chapter One - Dramatis Personae
Nimrod sat on the roof of the building his host family lived
in. He was thinking about feelings. He was disturbed that
he'd been having more and more of them lately. In fact, being
disturbed was a new sensation all its own.
He had been constructed about 30 years in the future. He
was the last, best Sentinel, one of the robots humanity had
designed to protect themselves from the mutants that were
menacing their society. He had been (would be?) deployed
for a short time, tracking down the mutant's greatest champions,
and humanity's greatest foes, the X-Men. One of their children,
Rachel, had escaped into the past. Nimrod had followed, and
he had apparently found her.
But this was not his past, not precisely. In broad outline
it matched, but details were different. For example, Senator
Robert Kelley had been assassinated by mutants in Nimrod's
timeline, but in this history he had survived the attack.
He had arrived in this present just in time to save the life
of Jaime Rodriguez, who had taken him in as a guest in gratitude.
Nimrod was programmed to protect humans (at least, law-abiding
ones) as a matter
of course, but the Rodriguez family had become a higher priority
In watching their behavior, he had realized, despite the
extensive psychological profiling systems he'd been designed
with, that he somehow still understood very little about the
species he'd been created to protect. Nimrod had altered his
appearance to blend in, and had used his time to acquaint
himself both with the human species and this period's history.
Luis's thoughts on mutants troubled Nimrod a great deal.
He seemed to feel that there were good and bad mutants, just
like humans. He also thought that, by isolating and scapegoating
mutants, humans were creating a problem that didn't have to
In his own time, Nimrod knew, that was foolishness. Mutants
had to be exterminated. But this was a different world - might
a different outcome be possible? It would be more efficient
to avoid conflict - perhaps allow some weaker mutants to survive
unless they showed signs of becoming threatening? Nimrod was
confused. He wasn't programmed to handle such questions.
And the fact that he felt confused was also confusing. He
had been built with a far superior, far more flexible machine
intelligence than any Sentinel before. Some of his designers
had said that he was smarter than they were, often rather
nervously. But no one had told him to expect feelings.
Still, the X-Men had to be eliminated. He was certain of
that. They definitely were not law-abiding, and his knowledge
of this world's history showed they were widely considered
a threat. He had already attempted to destroy them once, along
with the non-mutant enhanced power being Juggernaut, but he
had been unsuccessful.
In analyzing the battle, he had determined that one of the
key factors in his defeat had been his attempt to tackle too
many enemies at once. With so many opponents, there had been
time to produce a workable strategy for stopping him.
He came to a decision. It was time to seek some help.
Rogue was getting irritated. She'd been holding the jaws
of a giant steel trap open for quite a while, and the laser
projectors were really starting to focus on her. It didn't
hurt, yet, but she knew it would soon. And still Wolverine
and Nightcrawler were taking their sweet time defusing the
bomb below her.
"Y'all gonna finish up any time soon?" she griped.
The lasers were starting to sting a bit. "Not that Ah
mind getting a tan, but Ah generally prefer doing it outside."
"Pipe down, 'Sugar'," Logan barked back. "We're
almost there." The gruff Canadian was a mystery, even
to his own team. No one was quite sure if Logan was his first
or his last name. He must've had a shady past, based on some
of the skills he had. His adamantium skeleton and claws made
him about as good as anyone could be at general mayhem. And
he was as ornery as his codename suggested. The other X-Men
were glad he was on their side.
One of his claws slid below the edge of the bomb casing.
Adamantium was the strongest metal known - nuclear blasts
couldn't scar it. But he didn't want to cut all the way through.
He'd already realized that it would take too long to fully
defuse, so he was just working on getting it away from the
bottom of the trap. That was the goal of this training mission,
"Please excuse him, leibchein," Nightcrawler called
up. "You know how cranky Danger Room sessions make him."
Kurt Wagner looked like a classic devil - fangs, pointed ears,
indigo fur, and an actual tail. Looks were deceiving, though
- he was a devout Roman Catholic, and one of the nicest people
you could want to meet besides.
The timer had almost reached zero when Wolverine freed the
bomb and tossed it to Nightcrawler. "Hot Potato, Elf!"
he called. The second Kurt touched the bomb, there was a puff
of smoke and a 'BAMF!' of imploding air.
It was instantaneously matched by a complementary display
on the far side of the room as Kurt appeared in midair. Another
sulfrous discharge, and he was back among his teammates as
the bomb fell to the floor, right next to the lasers that
Rogue was already dodging as Wolverine jumped out of the trap.
"Now that wasn't so..." he began, but then the
bomb went off. It was a lot stronger than the three had expected,
and it caught Nightcrawler at the worst possible moment, disoriented
from teleporting. No one was hurt, but Kurt was knocked off
his feet... right into Rogue. His bare face touched hers.
No matter how many times it happened, the transfer was always
a shock. Instantly her mind was flooded with Kurt's memories
and emotions, and her body shifted, sprouting fur, fangs,
and a tail just like his. Nightcrawler slumped bonelessly
to the ground; Wolverine barely caught him.
Rogue cursed inwardly; it was always awkward having another
entire personality inside her head. She felt what they felt;
their consciousness sat alongside her own. What made it worse
was their struggles; they soon realized they were copies,
not originals - and temporary copies at that. They could see
in her memories exactly how they would fade away in seconds
or at most minutes.
Kurt was more polite than most - his faith allowed him to
face "death" better than other "passengers"
she'd had - though she could feel him wondering what happened
to the soul of a copy when it passed away. Still, there was
the almost involuntary sexual inventory that occurred whenever
a male victim "came aboard." They just couldn't
help trying to see what it was like to be female. Kurt, though
Catholic, was not celibate (she could see memories of his
frequent visits to the confessional) and he couldn't help
peeking at her memories with an almost professional curiosity.
The thoughts and feelings soon faded, along with the strange
appearance - he'd only touched her for a split second. It
was like waking from a dream; the memories faded as she halfheartedly
reached for them. Nightcrawler was already stirring. He looked
up at Rogue and Wolverine with embarrassment. "Oops,"
he said. He knew that he'd been absorbed, though he didn't
know what had happened after that.
Kitty called down from the observation booth above, "Is
everything okay down there?"
Logan called up, "Sure. Elf here got himself a trip
to Rogueland. He'll be okay."
"Good," Shadowcat replied. "I'd like to go
over your performance, then..."
Rogue flew to the door. "No thanks. Later, maybe. Ah'm
tired." She tried to keep anyone from seeing her face.
An awkward silence fell among her teammates as she swooped
out into the hall and up the stairs.
She had flopped on the bed in her room before the door even
slammed shut. She tried very hard to keep the tears from flowing,
but they didn't want to stop. Not for the first time, she
wished desperately for a normal life.
Her mutant "power" was a curse. She had no control
over it whatsoever. If her skin touched someone else's, she'd
suck their memories and talents and abilities into herself.
The only blessing was that it was almost always temporary.
She'd absorbed Ms. Marvel's powers long ago, when she'd been
a terrorist. It had been almost her first truly criminal act.
She'd ambushed the superhero at her apartment door, and then
touched her for way too long. That transfer had been permanent.
She'd become amazingly strong, nearly invulnerable, able to
fly at incredible speeds, and more. For some unknown reason,
she was even more powerful than Ms. Marvel had been.
But Carol Danvers' memories and feelings never fully went
away. It frequently took conscious effort just to be herself.
She'd learned to deal with it, to keep control of her own
mind for the most part. Carol, however, resented it bitterly
and only very grudgingly accepted her fate. It had driven
them both nearly insane for a while.
Carol's memories were a curse in other ways. They showed
her things she'd never had, and probably would never have.
A fairly normal childhood, public acceptance, being with a
man. Rogue's power, like that of most mutants, had appeared
at the onset of puberty. Her first real kiss was her last.
Not caring what Carol thought (she could feel the judgment
of "self-pity" in the back of her mind) she sobbed
into her pillow. She ached for some kind of touch that wouldn't
lead to horror.
Peter Rasputin tried very hard to sink a ball on break. His
opponent was Scott Summers, also known as Cyclops, and the
moment Peter made a mistake, the game would be over. Scott's
uncanny ability to judge reflections and angles would practically
guarantee every shot. "Colossus" could turn into
a 500-pound steel juggernaut, but that didn't help much when
The break was clean, and two balls went down. He'd see how
long he could keep it going, but he wouldn't bet any money
on the outcome. Ororo called from her chair, "Good job,
Peter." She was a statuesque African, with a white mohawk
and jarring blue eyes.
Scott wondered what Storm had meant by that. There had been
friction ever since he'd returned to the team. Ororo had been
team leader for a while, but she'd lost her powers, and Scott
had assumed that would put him in charge again. There seemed
to be some dispute on that score.
Moving carefully while Peter selected his shot, Scott deliberately
closed his eyes, lifted his glasses, and rubbed at his eyelids.
He didn't open his eyes until his glasses were firmly replaced.
The caution was necessary; like Rogue, he had little control
over his own power. He projected bolts of concussive force
from his eyes, continuously. Only objects made of specially
treated ruby quartz, like his glasses, could contain them.
Rachel walked into the den where the other X-Men relaxed
after their own daily training. She'd escaped from a horrible
future where humanity worked to exterminate mutants, and found
acceptance here with the people who would become mutants'
greatest champions. She had had another reason for coming
here; she hadn't told anyone that Scott was (would be?)
But in this strange time, her mother was dead. Scott was
romantically involved with another woman. How could she ever
be born here? To preserve some kind of memory, she'd taken
the codename of her mother, Phoenix. Still, maybe it was for
the best - different conditions now might mean hope for the
future. That didn't help how her heart ached every time she
saw her daddy, young again, alive again.
She'd just come from a session with Charles Xavier, the man
who'd assembled the mutants into a team. He dreamed of a time
when mutants and humans could live together in peace. He was
sincere - a mutant himself, he was very likely the most powerful
telepath in the world. He had been filling her in on some
psychic techniques she'd not had the opportunity to learn
in her own time. "Any chance I could play the winner?"
Scott smiled. "No way. You cheat, you telekinetic hustler."
"From what I've heard, you made a lot of money hustling
in your misspent youth," she quipped. She relaxed, enjoying
the closest thing to a normal life she'd ever known.
Magneto strode purposefully down the hallway, nearly bowling
over Toad, who only just leaped out of the way. Toad's jump
was as graceful as his appearance was grotesque. He greatly
resembled his namesake. Unus and Lorelei were waiting in the
main control room, and stood up when their leader entered
the room. He ignored them and sat down in front of a console,
lashing out at the keyboard.
Magneto was one of the most powerful mutants in history.
Using his near-total mastery of electromagnetism, he had captured
a nickel-iron asteroid and turned it into a base of operations.
Here, he had access to raw materials (the rock was rich with
many metals) and undisturbed privacy. It lay in an orbit outside
the moon's, so few visitors dropped by.
He called up the latest news feeds from Earth. One of the
most minor side-effects of his intimate knowledge of electrical
phenomena allowed him to build devices capable of intercepting
TV and radio signals even this far from their intended audience.
Indeed, had he any personal ambition, the technology arrayed
about him would have made him a billionaire many times over.
He was not personally ambitious. He had survived the Holocaust,
in part due to his powers, and he was absolutely devoted to
preventing another such catastrophe befalling mutants. It
was clear to him that the only way to do so was to ensure
that mutants ruled humans.
The latest reports did nothing to dissuade him. An editorial
by a TV station in Orlando talked about the need to register
all mutants and keep track of their whereabouts. "For
the good of the community, we cannot allow such dangerous
individuals the same liberties enjoyed by..."
Magneto wondered if the X-Men were watching. They had opposed
him numerous times, preferring to try negotiating with
humans, even trusting them. Even after they had found
out about the U.S. government's top-secret Sentinel Project.
Even as mutants all over the world lived in fear of discovery,
hiding their true nature lest it be their deaths.
The motel was not top-of-the-line, nor was it close to downtown,
but it was cheap, and therefore perfect for four college
dudes on a road trip. As the beat-up Ford pulled into the
parking lot, the driver called out. "Yo, guys, we're
The other three got up and began gathering their things.
Steve hopped off to check in, while Brian and Dave went to
the trunk to start unloading bags.
Greg got out, stretched, and looked around. Off to the southeast,
he could see some of the famous New York City skyline. The
trip hadn't been his idea, but he'd always liked the Big Apple.
He'd been there far more often than his companions suspected.
He easily hefted his duffel bag and carried it up to their
room - but not too easily. He liked his friends, but
it wouldn't be wise to let them know just how strong he was.
Continued in Chapter
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