I am smoke.
I am its slow progression
from light to dark,
from fire to void.
I am the sinous pathway
of the snake
in red dust,
showing the way out of Eden.
~ Fragment from ‘Snake’ by Anonymous
Pencil clenched between her teeth so that they bit into the
soft wood, Katherine Pryde scanned the diagnostics screen
of the Aurora’s computer. As Rogue had indicated in the scarce
few sentences she had spoken to the woman, there was definitely
something amiss. The energy consumption was too high, even
for a machine of its sophistication, and the actual code was
a patchy mess of additions and subtractions. Not even the
most unskilled, neophyte programmer could have produced such
a jumble, she thought in consternation, which meant it was
deliberate. A virus of some sort, although to what purpose
Kitty could not say. The program was unfamiliar to her, dense
with seemingly nonsensical insertions and pointless subroutines
that accomplished nothing as far as she could tell.
"In other words", she told the screen wryly, "a five java
Knowing that her personal computer would be better equipped
for the task of analysis than the Aurora’s one, she inserted
a writable CD into the conveniently positioned holder and
pressed the button to copy the files from the disk. As far
as she knew, the facility was really intended to transfer
flight records from the jet for permanent storage - an atypical
feature that she appreciated. Leaving the machine to carry
on with its task, she went in search of the first, all-important
cup of coffee.
Although I have told anyone who would care to listen that
I have no doubts about Remy’s return, I am ashamed to say
that I lied to them. I do have my misgivings about his place
on the team. Have had many of them, ever since I pieced together
his role in the Morlock Massacre from the scraps that Angel,
Beast and Rogue let drop. I was leader of the Morlocks at
the time, after all, however nominal that role was. There,
I have admitted it. For all I had won the right to lead in
combat, I had never truly accepted the duty that came with
it. It was my negligence that cost the Morlocks their lives,
and I suppose a part of me was always looking for a scapegoat
A scapegoat -- an ironic, if apt, choice of word to describe
him. I remember reading once about its etymology. In olden
times, a village would ascribe their collective psychic evils
upon an animal, would make him the cause of their problems,
then either kill or drive him out of the village. I am not
proud to say that we did exactly that in his case. For all
my initial anger at him, for all my uncertainties about him,
I do know that what we did to him was unforgivable and that
all my stumbling, clumsy apologies will never be enough.
Almost invisible against the verdant shrubbery that grew
against the mansion’s white walls, the smoke moved purposefully
as it methodically searched for an open window through which
it could gain ingress. Although it was capable of slipping
beneath the door, the woman gardening in the beds beside the
steps had put paid to that particular plan. Twisting through
the branches, it occasionally sent tendrils upwards and recoiled
as they brushed against cool glass. Finally, however, its
probe met only space and it followed it inside the room.
Sitting cross-legged on her bed, occasionally popping a chocolate
in her mouth, Rogue gazed at the fashion magazines that were
spread out in front of her. Although seemingly absorbed in
an article on silver being the new black, or something equally
inane, the fact that she had been ‘reading’ it for the last
hour belied her carefully cultivated air of nonchalance.
With a disgusted grunt, she tossed the despised copy of Vogue
to the floor and padded across the floor on bare feet to the
mirror. No-one, not even Remy, had been able to convince her
that the face that looked back at her was beautiful. To her,
it was a catalogue of faults. No wonder he no longer loved
her, but Kitty! Any charm her green eyes might have had was
cancelled by thick eyebrows and a tilted nose that could kindly
be called heroic. Her lips were too large and her face too
square, while as to that freakish stripe in her hair ... She
picked up a brush and savagely attacked the offending streak
with hard, straight strokes as if that might remove it.
"Admit it, sistah," she told her reflection angrily, "You
messed up by makin’ a mistake no green rookie would have.
By not thinkin’ straight, because you loved someone. Mystique
would tell you that you’re pathetic, after tannin’ you until
She replaced the brush on the table and pulled her hair back
into an experimental ponytail, expression becoming thoughtful:
"Still, she’d also tell you ta put things straight if it wasn’t
too late. Not sure if it is now, but Ah still can try."
Motions suddenly decisive, Rogue hauled a laptop from beneath
her bed, clearing a space for it amongst the litter of magazines.
Out of habit, she glanced surreptitiously around the room,
then tapped in the passwords that gave her access to the operating
system. Once there, she opened the file that contained everything
she had gleaned about the mysterious man who had coopted her
services, a man who had called himself the Creator...
I don’ know how long I stood outside Rogue’s door ‘fore chickenin’
out. Stopped checkin’ m’watch - Rolex an’ swiped, o’ course
- after de first half-hour. Truthfully, I don’ even know if
she was in her quarters - coulda been in Caldecott or Cairo
f’r all de effort I made t’find out one way or another. I
was too scared t’knock in case she answered an’ too proud
t’peek through de keyhole. Oui, ya heard right - de unflappable,
lady-killin’ Remy LeBeau was stopped dead in his tracks by
a woman ... Ah, who’m I kiddin’? By de woman. I’m still
not sure what went wrong between leavin’ Kurt an’ goin’ t’see
her. After what he’d told me about her still havin’ feelin’s
for me, it seemed de easiest t’ing in de world t’walk up t’her
bedroom an’ try an’ patch t’ings up wit’ her. Insert cynical,
hysterical laughter here. What really happened was dat I got
dere an’ I froze. Bambi’s mother in de headlights sorta stuff.
All m’carefully prepared lines and speeches jus’ fled, leavin’
me stranded in de middle of de hallway, feelin’ like a fool.
I spent de next Dieu knows how long tryin’ t’remember m’words,
then, when I couldn’t, tryin’ t’summon enough courage t’open
de door. Which is, of course, why I’m lyin’ alone on my bed
at de moment an’ countin’ de cracks in de boat-house’s ceiling.
(Twelve, incidentally.) Scott, f’r all his fine qualities,
wasn’ much of a handyman. At least, however, he had de good
sense an’ guts t’make t’ings up wit’ Jean, which makes him
a better man dan me.
Once it was certain the man had left, the wisp of green smoke,
too small to be visible, seeped up from between two parallel
boards. It had travelled through the spaces in much the same
way that water travelled through a canal, directed and controlled
by the pattern of the cracks that zigzagged along the floor.
Becoming thinner as it elongated, it slipped confidently beneath
the door, twined up the leg of the dressing-table and groped
around the smooth surface in search of something. Seemingly
finding the object of its quest, leaving everything else untouched,
it withdrew from the chamber and continued along its water-system
Last night, I sketched, as one possessed, when I returned
from the observation booth of the Danger Room. Sketched, as
if reducing my fears to lines, shapes and shades could exorcise
them. They are all of Rogue, hoisting that illusory weapon
with a sharp-shooter’s ease and comfort. In front of her,
the paper targets are lined up with neat, circular holes in
Valentine-card-hearts. Instead, however, of their usual featureless
faces, they have our ones, the X-Men’s ones. I am in the middle,
eyes fixed and horrified as I stare at her. You would expect
her to be either furious or impassive in my sketch, but she
is not. She is crying, tears streaming down from pain-filled
eyes. As I said, I sketched as if possessed, because I am
ashamed of them now. Know them to be disloyal. Know Rogue
to be incapable of what my pictures indicate. As I watch them
burn in the fireplace into which I shoved them, angry at myself,
I repeat my mantra of the last twenty-four hours to myself.
Rogue is loyal, because she has to be, because we could not
hope to defeat her.
As Shadowcat left the room, an oily, green smoke poured from
one of the Aurora’s grates and swirled a few metres above
the floor. Seemingly blown by an invisible wind, it pooled
around the control panel, obscuring the bright chrome, the
dials and lights of the instrumentation. The upper-half of
the miasma solidifying into vaguely female form, the lower
curling into the cockpit’s chair like a firework-snake, the
intruder ran a finger that was more pseudopod than anything
else down the lines of code on the screen, then grinned as
she saw the notification that the files had been copied.
"How ... considerate of them," she purred, "Doing my job
The woman pressed the eject button, sliding the CD out to
be grasped by a foggy tendril. Another wisp of smoke produced
two strands of hair - white and chestnut, twined around each
other - from within the mist and placed them surreptitiously
on the back of the chair.
"After all," Coquette’s malign smile broadened, "I wouldn’t
want to take all the credit for her hard work."
To be continued.
The characters belong to Marvel and are not used for profit
purposes, but the scenario in which they find themselves belongs
to me. Comments to firstname.lastname@example.org
:) Thanks to my two charming beta-readers without whom I would
be completely lost. You're the peachiest. :)
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