Well I finished my exams yesterday, so
don't be surprised if you suddenly start getting feedback
from me on stories you wrote months ago.
But, to deal with this story, it's another of those where
the title came first and then the story kinda tacked onto
it. It is both an Alternate History and Alternate Future tale
(confused yet?) and you really should have some concept of
the story of Bishop coming back from the future and the Witness.
Otherwise, all confusion is your own problem <bg>
I really got a thing for stories in the form of letters lately,
Disclaimer:They - Marvel's. Twist - mine. Profit -
They brought me back from Hong Kong in chains.
Actually, I'm pandering to your taste for the melodramatic
with that statement. They weren't chains - they were some
form of electronic locking device that completely enclosed
my hands. And a collar. And a gag.
Forge made them, I think. Amazing electronic work in them.
I tried to work them out in the quiet hours. Took me fourteen
years to learn how to unlock them from the inside. Not that
that was much use to me when they were slapped on me the first
They sent Storm to do it. They knew I loved her. They knew
I would trust her. They also knew she was the only one with
fast enough hands to slip the bonds on me.
When I saw her on that street I could have wept with joy.
I greeted her with open arms. And while I was telling her
how much I missed her and how much I loved her, she slipped
those devices around my hands and locked me up.
I looked down at my enclosed wrists in astonishment. 'Why?'
'Because you escaped from Antarctica,' said Storm. 'Because
you killed the Morlocks. Because the X-Men don't believe you
have been punished enough.'
'Do you agree?' I asked her, my friend, my padnat.
'You killed the Morlocks,' she replied. 'I was their leader,
Gambit. What do you think?'
Before I could reply she slipped the collar around my neck
and the electronic gag across my mouth and she activated both.
You can sense when your powers have been taken. If the gag
hadn't been so effective, I would have screamed as they drained
They taught me a valuable lesson that day, the X-Men. They
taught me that, no matter how much you love someone, you can
Remember that, Shackle. I may love you (and that is no certainty)
but I will never, ever trust you.
Storm took me straight up in the air like an arrow and for
a little while I wondered whether she was simply planning
to drop me from a great height. But when she was a very, very
long way up, she slowed and stopped beside the other woman
hovering there. Her. Rogue.
Storm handed me to Rogue and vanished backwards at high speed.
Rogue was flying close to supersonic and I understood why.
They couldn't want to be caught with me trussed up like I
was - it would hardly enhance their reputation. I barely noticed
at the time - it was cold at the level we were flying at and
I was too busy trying to keep warm to notice much else.
I did notice the occasional tear that blotted against my
duster. Whether Rogue was crying because she still loved me
or whether it was simply a reaction from the speed of the
flight, I never did find out.
When she got me back to the mansion, she dumped me on the
lawn and flew away. Scott and Bobby came out and got me. They
never said a word to me. They just took me downstairs and
put me in the psi-shielded chamber and left me there. I didn't
see either of them alive again. I do not know if I am sorry
I had no doubt that, having found me, the X-Men would be
having a meeting to determine my fate. They liked to do that.
It made them feel democratic - or it stopped any one of them
having a problem with their conscience. I settled down to
try and get out of my bonds.
What they would have done with me, I do not know. The crimes
I have committed since that day make the Morlock massacre
pale by comparison. And considering what has happened, killing
the Morlocks may almost have been an act of mercy. I doubt
the X-Men saw it that way.
The proximity alarms at the mansion were amazing. Even underground
in that chamber I heard them go off. And then the sounds,
the crumps and whines and shudders, that made me realise the
battle over my head was intense. I can think of few worse
moments in my misspent life than being trapped and helpless
in that chamber with the knowledge that people who were once
my friends were fighting. But I had faith in them. Misplaced,
it turned out.
It was Rogue that broke into the chamber. She came through
the roof like a bullet, shattering bricks and plaster and
metal as she dove through. What she was there for, whether
to release me to fight for them, to kill me or to hide me
(for my presence could hardly have helped the X-Men in their
battle for legitimacy) I'll never know.
For at the same time she broke in through the roof, one of
the Sentinels broke through the wall of the chamber. They
faced off for a second, Rogue screaming curses before she
moved forward to grapple with the Sentinel single-handed.
That was her mistake.
I don't know what it slapped onto her side - after all these
years it is still too deeply classified for even myself to
find. But I always remember that I thought it looked like
a red spiderweb as it began to crawl over her body. Then she
turned to me and I can't forget the look in her eyes as she
did. Horror doesn't even begin to cover what was in that look.
She looked at me and her eyes beseeched and then she dissolved
away into death - the woman who was closest to invulnerable
that I have ever met became a red puddle on the floor.
Behind my gag I was screaming. I didn't think I would ever
be able to stop.
And I looked up through the hole in the roof and Storm was
there in the sky and she was surrounded by a hurricane wind
and flashing lightning and chunks of ice and then a laser
beam simply took her through the heart and she was gone, her
body falling limply from the sky.
I was choking on my screams when the Sentinel who had killed
Rogue came over to me. He looked at my gag and collar and
bonds and nodded in satisfaction.
'They didn't like you,' he said, almost happily. 'And you're
a mutant. Perfect. We need a witness.'
And that's what I became. The Witness.
They took me out into the light of day (though they didn't
remove any of my bonds) and held me there as I watched them
take down the X-Men one by one.
After I had watched them kill Wolverine and cauterise the
gaping stump of his neck I realised what had happened. Bastion
had deciphered the Xavier Protocols. There was no hope. One
by one they died, slowly, quickly, dragged out of hiding,
defiant in the open, however the Sentinels wanted them to
die. Jean was the last. She held them off for a long time
with her power, but in the end they did the simplest thing.
They showed her the charred corpse of Scott. She fought for
a little while longer but her heart wasn't in it. She seemed
almost relieved when the laser sliced her open.
The Sentinels ignored me as they cleaned up, gathering together
the corpses of the X-Men and incinerating them with laser
fire. They were still doing it an hour later when Magneto
screamed down out of the sky, his body ablaze with energy,
his eyes with righteous fury. He never really did get over
his time in the X-Men.
I realised all hope was lost when his body hit the ground
ten minutes later. If they could kill Magneto so quickly,
what chance did the rest of the mutant community have?
None, I discovered. They took me with them as they slaughtered
their way across America and, eventually, the world. I watched
them all die, wrapped up in my bonds, only allowed to see
the horror. They took Sinister and the Marauders down in less
than an hour - though I find it very difficult to feel sorry
about that. Generation X was slaughtered in minutes. Excalibur,
X-Factor, Alpha Flight, gone, gone, gone. I Witnessed it all.
They made sure I wasn't allowed anywhere near sharp objects.
If I'd had my chance, I'd have gouged out my eyes rather than
see any more. But I was the Witness and I was made to see
And when I had watched all the champions die, when the slaughter
had ended with the death of Captain America, they brought
the other mutants to me. The lesser ones, the ones who didn't
know whether to fight, to band together or to give in.
I told them what I had Witnessed. I told them to register,
to comply, to submit, because there was no hope at all anymore.
Most of them submitted in the end. The ones who didn't - Witnessing
their deaths made my pleas to the next even more impassioned.
When they had finished with the mutants they turned to the
Guilds. The Assassins went first - Belle was a powerful woman
and they feared her skills. I'll never forget the look in
her eyes as she turned to me, begging me please - and then
she died. Rogue, Belle - their eyes haunt me in the night
The Thieves broke quickly and they brought Jean-Luc to me
to persuade. I have never pleaded so hard with anyone as with
him - to try and persuade him to turn, to submit. I tried
to explain that there was no hope, none, that it was better
to give in than to try and fight, because he would never win.
He turned his eyes from mine and called me traitor. It is
a name I bear nearly as well as I bear Witness.
My pere brought me up a Catholic. I'd stopped going to church
long before but I still believed in God. That stopped the
day they burned my father to pieces in front of me. I knew
then there was no God.
I doubt that means much to you, Shackle. I have heard little
of God in our world, not since they killed the last pope -
thirty years, now.
And when all was broken, when they looked into my eyes after
killing my father and finally decided I had been destroyed
enough, that I would be compliant, they gave me the Thieves.
There were not many of them left, just a core, but they gave
them to me to do what I will and they left me alone to run
my empire however I wanted.
The first thing I stole was the electronic bonds I'd been
in so long. Stupid, I know, but I still had a taste for symbolism
It has been nearly sixty years since then. My empire covers
the world and there is no criminal activity I haven't run
or dismantled or subverted or created since they gave me the
power. I have stolen the world and given back the pieces.
I own every thief, every murderer, every rapist, every pimp,
every prostitute, every drug-dealer that runs in this world
- even if they aren't aware of the fact. And the only price
I pay is that everything I do is monitored - and that I am
the Witness. They still make me do that, even now. How else
would I know how the last pope died? For a man who believed
in heaven, he went with remarkably little dignity.
They believe in order. They believe in straight lines, in
boxes. They believe in rigidity and control.
They do not understand thieves. They do not know that a thief
will never break, that he will bend so far he is almost inside
out, that he will offer any proof they want that he is broken,
but that they will never make him snap.
They think they own me. They think they know everything about
me - and those I rule.
They do not know that this missive will never trip an electronic
alarm, that it will never be recorded on any system they look
at. They do not know of the dark places in my mind where I
hold my strength - where the Witness shouts defiance to them.
They do not know of at least half of what my empire does.
They do not know about Fitzroy. It took me so many decades
to find him, has taken me a long time to drive him mad enough.
They do not know how I have moulded Bishop, how I have trained
him to worship the X-Men, to go clear-headed into every battle,
to have the courage to follow Fitzroy through the portal he
shall create in time.
I do not know what will happen when they return to my time
(and that is how I always think of it), but I know that at
least then there may be a chance.
You will tell no-one of this, Shackle. Not Bishop, not Shard,
not Fitzroy. You will delete this missive as soon as you have
finished reading it and speak no whisper of it, or I shall
have you annihilated. Believe me, daughter, you do not mean
that much to me.
But I needed to whisper my hope to someone and you are it.
Maybe, just maybe, if Bishop goes back, maybe time will change
and I can live without ever having to Witness.
I wonder if I have done this before, if I have been the Witness
before and sent Bishop back and it has failed and I am the
Witness and have sent Bishop back and he has failed. No matter.
However many times, I will run this loop to try and save my
world. If I succeed, it may be that I will be allowed to die.
Devron is planning a rebellion. Kill him - make it creative.
It has been too long since we have had an example.
Remember, daughter, if ever they cease to need a Witness
and allow me to finally die or if Bishop should succeed and
I can die in my own time, remember to look for me in hell.
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