"Are you ready?"
Rogue looked up from her bunk to meet Nomi's gaze. Although
she had asked for the privacy of her cabin to do this, she
still felt somehow exposed. She always did when someone entered
her mind, no matter who did it or why -- but this time she
was feeling even more nervous than usual. Probably because
she had yet to fully recover from her earlier ordeal with
the Phalanx. Facing their remains in her mind was not going
to be easy, not when her emotions were still healing, still
jangled and raw -- she needed time to regroup from the horror
of it. But time was a luxury that she could not afford right
And neither could the others.
She laughed, but the sound was hollow -- mirthless.
"Ah'm the one who should be askin' that question, not
the other way 'round. But yeah, Ah am .. jus' be careful!"
"Don't worry, Rogue -- should I see anything that doesn't
have to do with our enemies' plans, it will go no farther.
"It ain't that ... well, not entirely that. Ah won't
lie to ya, Nomi -- some o' the things Ah've done, I don' want
anyone knowin' about. Not even Remy -- but there's more to
it than that. Some of the things -- some o' the people --
in mah head are dangerous. Watch yoh step, just in case. They
cain't do much ta me 'part from give me nightmares, but I
don't know what they c'n do to you!"
Even Jean and the Professor usually opted to fully armour
their Astral selves when they had had occasion to probe her
mind -- 'just in case'. Rogue knew that the Force worked differently
than pure telepathy, but if telepaths of that caliber were
inclined to take that precaution, it was probably a good idea
to warn Nomi.
The Jedi seemed to be about to question her, then apparently
thought better of it.
"I'll keep that in mind," Nomi said.
"Good," Rogue replied, inhaling deeply, "Ready
when you are, hon!"
Nomi nodded her head, then closed her eyes in concentration
and reached out with the Force.
Entering someone else's mind wasn't unlike the process of
separating her mind from her body, but was somewhat more disconcerting.
It took some time to differentiate between the conflicting
images of Rogue's mind and her own, but after a short while,
Nomi had accustomed herself to the differences, and could
manage without difficulty.
Once her internal vision cleared, she found herself standing
in a sunny field by a river, the banks of which were lined
with gnarled old trees. Curious, Nomi looked around her, trying
to get her bearings. Granted, she had never used the Force
in quite this way before, but this pleasant landscape wasn't
what she had been expecting. Especially given Rogue's earlier
There was a path leading down to the edge of the river, and
feeling drawn in that direction, Nomi cautiously started walking.
She had gone only a short distance when she spied a blond-haired
boy who looked to be in his early teens, fishing on the opposite
bank. She watched him for a moment, but then he seemed to
notice her scrutiny. He looked up with a broad grin, and waved
a greeting before he returned to his task -- but both gestures
were directed at a spot just ahead of her, where Rogue stood
As Nomi approached, the younger woman remained silent, watching
the boy across the river, her eyes sad.
When the Jedi reached her side, Rogue spoke.
"Whenever Jean or the Professor have ta get in mah head,
they always say thinkin' of a favorite place helps. It helps
a body relax, so their job's easier -- I didn't know if it'd
do the same thing foh you, but Ah thought it couldn't hurt!"
She paused, looking back at the boy.
"Ah grew up here," she said softly, "Some
o' the best times in mah life were 'long this ol' river!"
"I assume he was an important part of those times,"
Nomi said, gesturing toward the fisherman.
"Cody," Rogue said, "his name was Cody. An'
yeah -- he was!"
Nomi noted the expressions which played across her friend's
face -- wistfulness, sorrow, guilt -- which seemed at odds
with her words.
"He was your friend, and the two of you were happy here
-- yet this memory saddens you. Why?"
"Ya know about my power ... the first time it turned
on was when he was givin' me mah first kiss!"
Rogue snorted with bitter humour.
"Guess Ah always had a good sense o' timin'. One second
everythin' was wonderful, the next, his thoughts were in mah
head, an' Cody was on the ground. An' no matter what Ah tried,
he wouldn't wake up...!"
Rogue met Nomi's gaze as she spoke, her eyes misting, though
her voice remained steady.
"He nevah did!"
The Jedi reached out, giving the other woman's shoulder a
"It was an accident. You didn't even know of your power
then, so how could you have controlled what happened?"
"Ah know I shouldn't blame myself foh what happened
ta him -- heck, I even know he doesn't blame me foh
it. Ya'd think that would make it easier, but it doesn't --
not really," Rogue sighed, then continued. 1
"C'mon, gal -- what we're lookin' foh ain't here, an'
we've wasted enough time!"
Turning sharply, Rogue moved down the pathway, with Nomi
right behind her.
In the galley of the Shi'ar cruiser, Joseph was occupied
with reading a history of the Imperium while Gambit fidgeted
in his seat, impatiently shuffling a deck of cards. It had
been under half an hour since Nomi and Rogue had disappeared
into the former terrorist's cabin, and he was wondering how
their mission was progressing.
From the periodic checks he had been running with the Force,
everything appeared to be going well, and he knew searching
through Rogue's subconscious was going to take time -- yet
he couldn't seem to get over his anxiety.
Rogue was one of the strongest people he knew, but he also
realized how savagely her near-absorption by the Phalanx had
wounded her. What they had almost done -- what they had all
but succeeded in doing -- to her went beyond even the mental
rape he had likened it to. It was a testament to her strength
that she had managed to carry on normally for as long as she
had before even allowing herself to react to her ordeal.
But that reaction was too recent for his liking ...
He recalled how she had clung to him, how she had seemed
so small in his arms, when her tears had finally escaped her
control the night before. After she had cried herself out,
she seemed to recover quickly enough -- and she had assured
him that she was all right. But was she really?
He worried that the confrontation she now sought with the
Technarchy within her mind would be too much for even her
strength to bear so soon after her breakdown. Remy was no
telepath, but he could imagine some of the possible repercussions
if that turned out to be the case, and he feared for her --
and for Nomi.
Restlessly, he rose to his feet and had started to pace across
the room when Joseph cleared his throat.
The white-haired mutant looked pointedly at the chair Remy
had just vacated. After a moment's hesitation, the Cajun resumed
his seat with an ill grace, as the other man nodded with satisfaction,
then went back to his reading.
Maybe the two of them were on a friendlier footing these
days, but as Joseph had said earlier, that didn't mean he
had to put up with annoying habits -- like pacing. Mind you,
he hadn't said it in quite those words.
Those had involved a rather vocal threat to use the metallic
trim available in the room to bolt the thief down.
A born gambler, Remy could always identify a bluff -- which
was why he pulled his chair up to the table and rapidly dealt
out another game of solitaire.
Joseph sighed, setting down the computerized book.
"In a way, it's nice to know that despite this Jedi
training of yours, you really haven't changed all that much!"
Gambit looked up with a lopsided grin.
"Didn' know y' cared enough t' notice, mon ami!"
"I don't -- it's just that there are certain advantages
to predictability," Joseph said with a smile.
"Predictability?" Remy said dubiously.
"Oh yes -- for a while, I was afraid your character
would actually improve, and I'd have to learn how to read
you all over again. Luckily for me, that fear turned out to
be unfounded -- you're as impatient, hotheaded, arrogant and
impulsive as you ever were," Joseph replied with a smirk.
Gambit's eyes widened somewhat in surprise at the unexpected
gibe, then narrowed again as he chuckled, smiling dangerously.
"Cute, mon ami -- real cute. Y' might want t' be careful.
There's all kinds o' accidents c'n happen to a man too busy
workin' his mouth to watch what he's doin'!"
"I'll take that under advisement -- especially since
you're probably speaking from experience!"
"Merde, when did y' get so sarcastic?"
"I suppose since I started keeping bad company. It seems
to have had a negative effect on me!"
"Great -- so now I've gone an' created a monster,"
"But I managed to get your mind off things for a minute
or two, didn't I?"
"That y' did ... and if dat happens t' be your goal,
I never did finish showin' you how t' play poker, an' I'm
tired o' solitaire. Interested?"
Joseph nodded, and began to angle his chair back toward the
table when he suddenly heard a small popping noise, and found
himself sprawled on the floor.
"You okay, mon ami?" Remy asked in a concerned
Slowly, Joseph picked himself up, as well as his chair. As
he warily settled himself at the table he noticed a few things:
the slight acrid scent in the air; the tiny singe mark on
the floor about where the chair leg had rested; the missing
deuce of spades from the table; and Gambit's innocent expression.
Joseph shook his head in chagrin -- he hadn't even seen the
Cajun's hands move.
"Y' should watch y' balance more -- these floors c'n
be slippery," Gambit said mildly.
His voice was deadpan, but his eyes sparkled with mischief
triumphant as he dealt the cards.
Elsewhere in the small ship, Bishop sat quietly in the command
chair, looking out of the main viewport. The Earth was a bright
jewel against the velvet dark of space, but his thoughts were
far away from the beauty of the planet shimmering nearby.
* How many times? *
He had come back in time to save the planet -- to prevent
the horror that was life in the future from ever happening.
He had done so knowing that he would be leaving everyone and
everything he had ever known or cared about behind, possibly
never to exist except in his memory -- all in the hope that
he could change history before it happened.
At the time, the mission had seemed possible -- insane, but
possible. By their very nature, current events were volatile,
mutable. The smallest change could have the most profound
His father had taught him that -- and he had seen enough
in his life to know it was true.
He had believed he could make a difference.
Yet every time he allowed himself to hope that he might have
succeeded -- or at least accomplished enough to have some
kind of effect on the eventual outcome -- the tide of events
rolled on inexorably, mocking him. He wondered now at the
arrogance -- or the desperate hope -- which had moved him
to go back in time.
* What have I really accomplished, if the Sentinels have
already been unleashed? *
He had never believed in fate -- life, as history, was a
stew of initial conditions, opportunities, timing and choices,
with no combination of the four ever yielding the same result
-- yet at times like this, he wondered if there really wasn't
some kind of malevolent entity that had preset the course
of events for its own dark amusement. Or perhaps his journey
through time had trapped him in some kind of temporal loop,
doomed to endlessly repeat his mission in slightly different
ways without ever succeeding.
* Was I such a fool to think I could succeed? Has it all
been for nothing? *
Someone approached him from behind. Training and experience
told him the identity of the newcomer, even before she spoke.
"I had thought you would join me to discuss strategy
after finishing the check of the weapons systems, Bishop.
Have you not finished here?" Deathbird asked.
"Yeah -- I have. Running at one hundred percent -- if
we do run into something, we'll be ready for it," he
Deathbird almost replied with a cutting remark that they
would truly be ready only after they discussed strategy --
but something in the Earthman's voice held her back.
"Something troubles you?" she made the question
Bishop didn't meet her eyes when he replied, continuing to
look out at the starscape.
"The Sentinels are loose -- and the only reason I came
to this time was to stop that -- and all that will follow
-- from happening. And I've failed. Despite all I've done,
and how history has changed, in the end it wasn't enough...!"
"I had thought you above self-pity, human. It appears
I was mistaken," Deathbird said, her voice cold.
Bishop's temper flared as he turned to glare at her.
"It's not myself that I'm thinking of! It's the millions
who are going to die because of my failure! I'm a protector,
Deathbird -- it's what I do. It's what I am -- and
I've failed the people who trusted me. I'd think that after
the Phalanx invasion, you might understand that feeling,"
"As a matter of fact, Bishop -- I do not. Because I.
Did. Not. Fail," she hissed, baring her teeth as her
own anger rose.
"The Phalanx were defeated on my world. Many of
my people died, but I prefer to think of those who lived.
Ultimately in war, the victory is in survival, and my people
survive -- because I and six outworlders refused to accept
defeat! Why do you do so now, when it is your own kind at
The question brought him up short, as a memory from his past
surfaced, unbidden ...
"I can't do it ... it's impossible," the boy
"'Impossible', hehn? Let me tell y' somet'ing, pup
-- people throw dat word around so much, you'd think there
wasn't anything dat was possible in de world. Nobody
ever got nothin' done with that kind o' thinkin'. When y'
facing something dat looks 'impossible', f'get about it --
dere ain' no 'possible' an' 'impossible'. Jus' what you got
t' do, an' how you plan t' get it done," the strange
old man said patiently.
Of all the lessons his foster father had drilled into him
over the years, that had been the one that stuck with him
most. Ignore the irrelevant, concentrate on the job at hand
-- and no matter how bad things might look, as long as you
were alive and used your head, you were in with a chance.
He had almost allowed himself to forget that -- and it had
taken a beautiful, megalomaniacal, alien warrior to remind
him of it.
Which either said a great deal for her instincts, or very
little for his current state of mind. Quite possibly both.
* Somewhere in the timestream, Father must be laughing
his ass off *
Bishop's thought was chased away by the Viceroy continuing
"I had thought you a warrior, human -- but perhaps I
was mistaken about that too," Deathbird said icily, then
imperiously turned her back upon him and strode away.
Swiftly, Bishop rose from his seat and went after her, his
longer stride easily allowing him to catch up. He reached
out and grabbed her shoulder, turning her to face him. He
managed to block the expected punch she threw as he did so.
"If that's what you think, then that's where you're
wrong, lady -- on both counts," he growled.
Bishop glanced briefly back toward the Earth. When he met
Deathbird's eyes again, there was no longer any weakness to
be seen in his own, and his voice echoed with quiet determination.
"I came here to do a job -- and one way or another,
whatever it takes -- that job will get done!"
"Nothing," Beast sighed wearily, removing his glasses
to rub his eyes.
After the newscast, he and Trish had adjourned to the briefing
room, analyzing every scrap of data they could pull from assorted
reports on the nature of Operation: Zero Tolerance.
"I just don't believe it -- you can't put an operation
like this in place without someone knowing something
about it! It's impossible," Trish muttered darkly.
"Apparently not," Hank said drily.
"Well it shouldn't be possible! Not in America
-- the whole Constitution is based on checks and balances
that were designed with the express purpose of preventing
one person or institution from exercising too much power!
How in Hell did Bastion -- an unelected official, no
less -- pull it off?"
"An excellent question indeed ... which hits upon many
worrisome points, I'm afraid. Bastion holds a position of
some importance in over a dozen countries -- a neat trick,
since he appears to have citizenship in none of them -- if
he's managed to enact what amounts to genetic martial law
here...!" Beast said.
"There's no telling how far or how fast it could spread
worldwide," Trish finished grimly.
"Exactly ... and then there is the mysterious silence
of our officials who are elected. Admittedly, there
have been times enough when for one reason or another, I wished
that they would simply put a sock in it -- but one wonders
how exactly this anomalous condition came about so fortuitously
for our gene-Nazi friends...!"
"It's not just the officials, either," Trish said
"It's the news, too -- check it out, Hank. We've got
plenty of reports and debates about Zero Tolerance itself,
but nothing at all about the man behind it. Nothing about
who Bastion is, where he's from, how he got the authority
he has -- it's unreal. There is always a standard bio
done for major players in government -- it's the starting
point for any story. But here, there's nothing...!"
"So the question remains -- how did a mystery man with
no known history to speak of attain this amount of international
power?" Beast pondered.
"And almost as importantly," Trish said, "why
isn't anyone saying anything about it?"
However, unbeknownst to either of them -- someone was about
It was well into the night, but a man was still at his desk
in the offices of the Daily Bugle. He was on the phone
(and at the end of his temper) with one last contact.
"'No comment'?! What do you mean, ' no comment
'?! An unelected official who isn't even an American citizen
has effectively declared martial law in the United States,
and you have NOTHING to say about it?! ... 'Record'?!
What record? Of what? Bastion doesn't have a past,
let alone a record of anything! The only record he
has, so far as I can tell, is of bribery, and probably murder!
... No Senator, I'm not accusing you of anything, I know about
the man's penchant for bribery from personal and very recent
experience -- and if he was willing to try that with me, you
can't tell me that...!"
There was a click on the other end of the line, then silence.
J.J. Jameson slammed the phone down in disgust, and stormed
to his feet, looking around his office for something convenient
to throw -- but he was out of luck.
His eyes went to his desk, to the singed area which was barely
hours old. Taking a deep breath, he turned to look out the
window behind his desk, and attempted to calm down.2
* Easier said than done when a murdering son-of-a-bitch
just paid a social call. If I ever had any doubts that Bastion
was behind Nick's murder, they're gone now. But I need proof,
dammit! And how can I get proof of murder when I can't even
get proof of a man's existence?! *
Suddenly weary, he sat at his desk, leaning forward onto
his elbows as he massaged his temples.
There was a soft rap on the door, and he looked up to see
Robbie enter the office, bearing a fresh cup of coffee.
"You looked like you could use it," Robertson said
Jonah accepted the steaming mug with a grimace.
"So -- are you going to tell me what really happened
in here, or is it still nothing?"
"'Nothing' is it -- all night, I've worked every contact
I've got trying to get something -- anything -- on
Bastion. And what do I get, Robbie? Nothing -- and a whole
lot of it," Jameson growled, sipping his coffee.
"And that's why you set fire to your own desk before?"
"Not the desk -- the bribe that smug bastard offered
me to back off!"
Robbie's jaw dropped in surprise -- but then his expression
changed to a grin, and he let out a slow chuckle.
"The man came here himself -- and tried to suborn you
into backing off on a story? No matter what else we don't
know about the man, we do know he can't be too bright...!"
"Damn straight ... and that he's as arrogant as he is
dirty. I've been a reporter for most of my life, Robbie --
my gut has never been wrong on a story, and it's telling me
that Bastion is the story. But there's no damn information
... just nothing ..!" he said, his voice trailing off
"Jonah ... why don't you go home? Get some rest, it'll
do you good. If you can't sleep, rest -- watch the late night
Seinfeld marathon, or something -- it'll still be here
in the morning. You need some distance," Robbie suggested
"If I watch that show, the only distance I'll get is
from driving myself around the bend. Blasted vapid excuse
for entertainment...!" Jonah muttered.
"Well, what do you expect in a show about nothing? Come
on -- let's lock up!"
Slowly, the publisher sat up ramrod-straight, his eyes suddenly
alight, the wheels of his thoughts almost visibly spinning.
He looked at the other man intently for a long moment before
he finally broke the silence.
"Nothing. That's it...!" he said in wonderment.
"Robertson, remind me to discuss your raise with you
in the morning -- you're a genius!"
"Are you sure you're okay?" Robbie asked cautiously.
He knew his boss had been under stress, but for J. Jonah
Jameson to freely offer a raise to anyone -- with no arm-twisting
involved -- was too far out of character to be attributed
to a lack of sleep.
Jameson's face split into a fierce grin, and he swigged the
last of his coffee.
"Never better, Robbie -- never better. I'll be okay
-- take some of your own advice. I'll just finish up here!"
Robertson shrugged as he left the room -- whatever his boss
was up to, he would find out about it soon enough.
Jonah fired up his computer, cracked his knuckles, and rapidly
Continued in Chapter
1) Rogue LS, last issue. Before Cody died, he told Rogue that
he didn't blame her for what happened to him.
2) UXM 346 -- this takes place shortly after Bastion attempted
to bribe J.J. with a disk containing the identities of the
X-Men in this issue.
" 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
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