The snow fell steadily outside the glass panes of the Westchester
mansion's den window. It was a calm, clear night, the stars
shining reassuringly in the inky expanse of the night sky.
A beautiful sight -- but one which went unnoticed by the man
at the window, who was staring intently up at the firmament,
his jaw clenched.
He turned toward the sound, his features relaxing somewhat.
She walked to his side, wrapping one arm about his waist,
then joined him in looking out of the window.
"Are you all right?" she asked gently.
"As all right as I can be while knowing that half of
my team is lost in space and there isn't a damned thing I
can do about it ..."
"Regrets about your decision?"
Cyclops shook his head.
"No. It was the right choice to make. Even Logan had
to admit the situation here was -- and still is -- too volatile
to risk going after them."
"But that doesn't make it any easier to live with."
"How are you feeling?"
"Apart from guilty ? Angry and betrayed -- after all
we've done for Lilandra, the least she could have done is
let us decide whether or not we were going to get involved,
and who was going to be on the away team. I don't appreciate
having five of my people shanghaied, no matter how desperate
the situation might have been," he growled.
From behind his ruby-quartz glasses, he briefly glowered
again at the sky before he finished speaking in a soft voice.
"And I'm worried about them ..."
"We all are ... at least that one transmission from
Chandilar was good news."
From the time their five friends had been pressed into service
by Gladiator, the rest of the team had received nothing but
static from the Shi'ar for over three weeks. It had taken
that long for their engineers to simply reconstruct enough
of their communications systems even to get a message through
to Earth. While the message had been of poor quality, and
the system had gone down again almost immediately after it
had been received, it had come as a relief to the remaining
X-Men. Somehow, Beast, Rogue, Gambit, Joseph and Bishop --
with help from Trish Tilby and Deathbird, of all people --
had managed to defeat the Phalanx on the throneworld, and
were on their way home. But they had heard nothing further
from Lilandra since then, and the continuing system problems
prevented them from sending messages of their own to the Shi'ar
And the ship surely should have arrived by now ...
Knowing that Deathbird was the one charged with the safe
conduct of their teammates to Earth did nothing to ease Scott's
mind. While failing in this duty would cause considerable
damage to the Viceroy's reputation -- and prestige -- among
her people, Cyclops could see the Majestrix's unstable sister
arranging an 'accident' to eliminate some of Lilandra's longtime
allies too easily for his own liking.
"If she did that, she'd lose face in the Empire -- that's
one thing Deathbird will never risk," Jean broke in,
having picked up on her husband's dark thoughts.
"Maybe," he frowned, "but we've heard nothing
from Shi'ar since due to commnet problems. If I could just
get word out to Dad, I would've asked the Starjammers for
some help on this -- but I can't even do that, for the same
reason," he said, his voice tight with frustration.
Jean reached out with her mind, soothing Scott's nerves,
and he relaxed slightly.
"We'll just have to sit tight for a little longer ...
I don't like it either, Scott, but we don't have a choice
-- especially given what we've been hearing from Valerie."
Valerie Cooper had long been the X-Men's most reliable source
within the government, and her reports were becoming progressively
more tense. She seemed to be particularly worried about the
growing influence the mysterious Bastion was enjoying in the
Senate. And considering that Gyrich had been cozying up to
the man, that could only spell trouble ...
"I know -- but something's going to break, and soon.
I can feel it. I just hope we can keep it together when it
does," he sighed.
Phoenix cocked her head in dismay.
"You are worried."
Scott smiled reassuringly.
"Let's just say I think we'd be in a more advantageous
position if we were at full strength ... and let's hope that
we will be. And soon ..."
His smile faded as he looked skyward once more.
"Have you any word, Commander?"
"Majestrix -- I regret to inform you, no."
"Carry on -- inform me of any change in the status quo."
Lilandra Neramani, supreme ruler of the Shi'ar Imperium,
frowned worriedly as she signed off her commscreen. The cruiser
carrying the X-Men back to Earth, captained by her own sister,
should have returned by now -- and she was beginning to fear
the worst. It should have been a routine trip, and under normal
circumstances, her space traffic controlling systems would
have had little difficulty monitoring the ship's progress.
She winced inwardly.
Under normal circumstances ...
The Phalanx had essentially decimated the Empire's entire
infrastructure, and rebuilding efforts would take months,
if not years. Her engineers were still at least a week away
from getting basic communications fully operational, but she
had managed to get her message through to Earth during the
second phase of the systems tests. Unfortunately, that would
be all she would be able to do for some time.
With the Empire in disarray, the borders were vulnerable,
and she had to see to the safety of her subjects before all
else. She had failed in that duty to them in the Phalanx invasion
-- she would never do so again. They had not survived near-annihilation
at the hands of the techno-organic collective only to crumble
under a lesser threat now.
A large portion of what remained of the Imperial Navy had
been dispatched with emergency supplies to relieve the outpost
worlds, and beef up the surviving border detachments. While
en route, they were also rebuilding the commnet nodes -- with
her borders covered and information flow re-established, she
would be in a much better position to use her core defense
force to counter any possible threats from her neighbours.
Her lips twitched in a small, sardonic smile.
I doubt even my sister would be able to find fault
with my plans this time ...
Her smile quickly disappeared as she considered the absent
Viceroy. There were a number of reasons why Lilandra had chosen
her sister to captain the X-Men's ship. First, conducting
those responsible for saving the Empire to their homeworld
would be seen as a great honour, and would indicate that the
Majestrix had full confidence in her sister. As Deathbird's
forces had failed to hold back the Phalanx, this would salvage
the Viceroy's reputation, and provide a perception of solidarity
within the Royal house -- something her people desperately
needed to see in this time of crisis.
As well, given the domestic chaos, it would have been a perfect
opportunity for Deathbird to make another attempt to usurp
the throne -- if she were in the Empire.
Removing her sister from the temptation gave Lilandra time
to consolidate her own power base, and minimize any openings
Deathbird might find to use against her. And of course, if
Deathbird failed in her duty this time, she could never hope
to regain enough power to attempt the throne again.
She had never wanted to use her allies -- her friends --
so ruthlessly, but as Majestrix, she had no choice. If by
using the X-Men, she could secure the Empire and preserve
the safety of her subjects, she would -- even though she hated
herself for it.
What is it that Charles told me once ? 'Uneasy lies
the head that wears a crown' ...
Lilandra only hoped that she was correct in her analysis.
Deathbird might be insane, but her behaviour fell within certain
parameters -- and she would never tolerate any risk which
could keep her from the throne. If some accident befell the
X-Men under her watch, her prestige and power within the Empire
would suffer a fatal blow -- and without either, Deathbird
would have no hope of deposing her sister. Both siblings were
completely aware of that fact.
Lilandra had done all she could for the X-Men -- she only
hoped that it would be enough.
In a small office within the vast underground complex, a
man sat in front of a small, dark screen. After pressing the
hidden button, the monitor came to life, and the first of
many security layers appeared. Stifling his impatience, the
man swiftly negotiated each and all of the passwords.
"Identity confirmed and acknowledged. Report,"
came the command from the figure on the viewscreen.
The man spoke.
"Phase one is complete. Enough information has been
attained from the specimen we have acquired to initiate phase
two of the program. There is the possibility that more intelligence
may yet be gained from her to further facilitate phase two,
and as such, cataloguing and storage of the subject will be
"Acknowledged. Implement phase two as planned. Rendezvous
will occur as scheduled. End report."
As the screen again went dark, the man rose from his seat,
and walked to the door. He cast his eyes over the banks of
monitors on the far wall, taking in the assorted images: a
laboratory, technicians scurrying back and forth between their
charges in the cylindrical tanks; a man in a wheelchair in
the cellblocks below; guards in the mess eating their meal;
the waiting units of the storage facility; the programming
center for the end product of the lab technicians; and a small
isolation cell and its occupant.
The slight, black-haired girl's face was bloodied, a nasty
bruise appearing over one almond-shaped eye. Arms and legs
restrained by the special suit within which she was strapped,
head immobile with the weight of the VR helmet, she lay still
on the floor on the unit, heedless of the younger, bald child
Leaving the room, Bastion walked toward the hangar. He had
a Senate meeting to attend.
Beast looked at the expectant faces around him, and cleared
"All systems tests are complete. We've run them twice
in every conceivable configuration -- and according to the
results ...," he paused, smiling broadly, "all systems
Sighs and exclamations of relief were heard within the confines
of the bridge.
"But of course," Hank continued, raising his voice
slightly above the noise, "there's only one way to know
Taking a deep breath, he moved toward the helm console.
"And now, for the moment of truth ..."
He swiftly keyed in the ignition sequence.
For a split second, there was nothing -- then they all felt
the thrumming power as the long-dormant engines fired at last,
and the helm control panels lit up completely. Brief pandemonium
followed, with triumphant shouts, squeals of joy, and much
back-slapping causing something of an echo within the room.
Deathbird and Beast examined the astrogational plot, and
the Viceroy punched in another sequence on the console, which
the computer dispassionately considered, then blinked an affirmative.
She actually smiled at the results of her query, and turned
to her passengers.
"We are ten light-minutes from the Demani gravitational
wave. Once the engines have stopped cycling, we may translate
into hyperspace, and enter the wave. That will bring us on
a direct course to Earth, estimated time of arrival -- forty-eight
"I think this calls for a celebration," Trish said
happily as she hugged Hank.
"F'get the dispensers -- there's still some real food
in de galley. I'm goin' t' cook a meal you all goin' to remember
f' de rest of y' born days."
"You jus' better be sure that all of it ain't as spicy
as you like -- not all of us have asbestos tastebuds,
"The prospect of finally ridding myself of your company
is reason enough to celebrate," Deathbird sniffed. But
Trish, with her newswoman's ear, could have sworn she heard
a note of humour -- and perhaps regret ? -- in the Viceroy's
"I believe there is yet a bottle or two of m'rilla nectar
dating from the last millenium in storage ..."
"Wonderful -- how long must we wait for your culinary
"Gimme deux heures t' work my magic ..."
"Ah'll give ya a hand, Remy."
"Then I suggest we all repair to the dining cabin in
two hours time, there to experience gustatorial bliss ..."
As the small group began to disperse, Deathbird approached
"Well, human ... as we have two hours to kill, would
you care to spar with me on the holodeck ? My previous invitation
went unanswered due to circumstance, but it still stands."
Bishop actually cracked a smile.
"You don't have enough sore muscles for your liking,
Her eyes narrowed in appreciation of his taunt, and her smile
"Be careful, X-Man -- those foolish enough to challenge
me swiftly come to regret it."
"We'll just see about that ..."
From his seat on the bridge, Joseph idly watched the stars
through the viewport -- they streaked by like so many white
crepe streamers in a strong breeze. After so many days with
his mind fully occupied with repairs, he had time to think
-- and he didn't like it.
In less than two days time, he and the others would be home,
and could resume their interrupted lives.
With no memories, no past, no sense of belonging to anchor
himself, he had nothing to interrupt. He simply drifted from
one mission to the next.
It was part of the reason he clung to Rogue's friendship
so desperately -- as the children at the orphanage before
her, Joseph used her as a lifeline, grounding himself through
her, as he tried to discover some purpose to give meaning
to his existence. It was all he could do, with his past wiped
form his mind. He knew some of the history of 'Magneto'
-- but he knew nothing of what had caused him to become what
he had been. Although, he shivered, the flashes of memory
he had experienced on Chandilar were giving him some ideas
... and he preferred not to dwell on them.
Even if he did rediscover his past, he wasn't sure he could
handle it -- but what choice did he have ?
"Not much of one," a soft voice wryly observed.
Nomi's approach had not gone unobserved -- Joseph had detected
her body's natural electromagnetic field well before she had
The Jedi was quite scrupulous in not violating the privacy
of others, and ordinarily, Joseph would resent such intrusions
when he was being introspective -- but not this time. Right
now, he didn't particularly want to be alone with his thoughts
-- perhaps she had sensed that.
"I suppose you of all people might understand how I
feel --but at least you remember your past, although it is
lost to you. I cannot even do that," he said bitterly.
"True," she acknowledged.
"But at least you don't have to deal with the regrets."
Joseph turned toward her, eyebrows arched in silent inquiry.
"Memory is a double-edged blade, Joseph. Yes, I have
my past -- and with it, I have all the might-have-beens. If
I hadn't gone on that mission, maybe I would've known Vima
as an adult. Maybe I would have been able to make a real difference
in the war against the Sith. Maybe I would have been able
to help Ulic turn from the dark side."
"Ultimately though, stewing over what's gone before,
whether you remember it or not, accomplishes nothing. You
have to focus on the here and now if you want to move forward."
"Easier said then done," he replied quietly.
She smiled sadly.
"It always is -- but then, the struggle is what makes
us who we are. And when it gets too hard -- well, that's what
friends are for."
Joseph's lips twitched upward in a small smile.
"Is it part of a Jedi's duty to dispense annoyingly
true snippets of folk wisdom?"
"Only on an as-needed basis."
She rested her hand on his shoulder for a moment, before
turning toward the door.
"I'll see you in the galley ..."
Alone once more, Joseph thought on his friends -- the children
he had left behind with the Sisters; Rogue, who had believed
in him when no one else would. Even the lost Jedi had become
a friend -- although she had even less time on her hands than
most of the other castaways, she had made the time to get
to know them all. And now, Gambit ...
He shook his head in bemusement.
Whoever would have thought it possible?
Joseph was unable to pinpoint exactly when the situation
had changed between them -- but the changes seemed to have
coincided with his nightmares. He had intermittently been
having horrifying flashbacks in his sleep, like the one he
had suffered while awake on Chandilar -- the one which had
driven him to attack the Phalanx in a rage. They were the
kind of dreams that wake you from your sleep, bathed in sweat,
heart racing, too terrified even to scream.
It seemed as if each change in Gambit's treatment of him
had been heralded by a particularly bad episode of his dreams.
It had begun slowly. First, the gibes had tapered off, then
finally stopped altogether. Then there had been a quiet, but
uneasy tension, which slowly eased. Then that had disappeared.
Things were still uncertain between them, but Joseph had
noticed something else as well -- Remy's eyes no longer crackled
with barely disguised hate when he looked at the other man.
Instead, they held another quality -- understanding ... and
perhaps, a hint of shame.
The first time Joseph had questioned Remy about his apparent
change of heart, Gambit had laughed bleakly.
"Why? 'Cause when I called you m' brother ... at de
time, I didn' realize jus' how true dat was."
Joseph had been turning that cryptic statement over in his
Perhaps I'm not the only one with nightmares ...
Continued in Chapter
1. I have blatantly stolen my ideas about gravitational waves
and hyperspace as applied to interstellar travel from David
Weber -- IMHO, the king of currently living sci-fi authors.
" To win one hundred victories of one
hundred battles is not the acme of skill; to subdue the enemy
without fighting is the acme of skill. " -- Sun-Tzu,
The Art of War
Down-Home Charm / Fan-Fiction /
Fan Artwork / History Books /
Photo Album / Songbank /
Miscellania / Links /
Legalese: Rogue, the X-Men, and the distinctive likenesses thereof
are Trademarks of Marvel Characters, Inc. and are used without permission. This is an
unofficial fansite, and is not sponsored, licensed or approved by