Nomi Sunrider followed close behind Rogue as they continued
to journey through the landscapes of her mind. Since meeting
Cody at the start of their search, they had encountered many
other "people", but had not lingered to speak or interact
with any of them. Most appeared almost as ghosts, transparent
and ill-defined, others were more distinct -- and a very few,
like Cody, appeared to be as "real" as Rogue and herself.
They had made no search plan, but they hadn't needed one.
Rogue appeared to know exactly where they had to go. It was
just taking time to get there, navigating over the rough terrain,
and around the remaining mental shadows of those Rogue had
touched. Despite Rogue's earlier warning, they had had no
trouble from any of the scores of remnants of other minds
which shared Rogue's psyche so far -- which was why the Jedi
had allowed her guard to relax somewhat. However, it was not
much longer until Nomi realized the X-woman's call for caution
had been well founded.
Out of nowhere, a huge furred, fanged, clawed man leapt at
her. Surprised, the Jedi just managed to dodge, her hand instinctively
going to her hip for her lightsaber, as her attacker's momentum
carried him past. He skidded to a halt several feet past them,
then leapt again, arms outstretched to rend and tear. This
time, Nomi was ready -- but so was Rogue.
As he came toward them, Rogue stepped in front of the Jedi,
and frowned. A large, thick brick wall materialized before
them, and shuddered under the impact as their assailant hit
it in mid leap.
Nomi blinked in surprise, and turned to her guide.
"Not that I'm complaining -- but how did you do that?" the
"It's mah mind, after all -- Ah can do pretty much anything
Ah like in here," she replied, then muttered, "An' Lord knows
doin' things like that to that varmint is the only pleasure
Ah get from havin' him in here."
"Are there many others like him? Violent, I mean?"
"Well, there's only one Victor Creed, thank God -- but that's
not ta say he's the only one we have ta worry about. Ah've
fought a lot o' real nasty types over the years. Some of 'em
are still lurkin' around -- that's why it pays ta be careful,
like Ah said."
"Only some?" the Jedi asked, puzzled.
Rogue looked at her questioningly, and Nomi elaborated.
"I thought that once you touched someone, you retained part
of that person's psyche for good -- so shouldn't all
of them still be here?"
Rogue shook her head.
"Nope -- what stays an' what doesn't depends on a lot of
factors -- that's one thing the Professor figured out -- an'
the main ones are length o' contact, intent, an' the strength
of the other person's personality, " she replied, ticking
off the points on her fingers.
"Length of contact is fairly self-explanatory -- but intent?"
"Intent is mostly if'n Ah meant ta use my power, or
if was an accident, " Rogue explained in a worn voice, "an'
as for how strong the other person's mind is -- that c'n cut
both ways. Someone who ain't very strong is easier foh me
to absorb, but Ah can lose what Ah got from 'em faster too
-- assumin' the other two factors aren't an issue. Someone
who is strong is a lot harder -- an' more dangerous
-- foh me to absorb, but what Ah get from them is usually
here foh good. That's assuming that whoevah I just touched
didn' match or overpower the strength of mah own mind, of
She smiled mirthlessly.
"It's only happened twice -- but then I am about the stubbornest
person you're evah gonna meet."
"What happened those other two times?"
"That, sugah, is a story foh another time -- preferably
when we're both back on solid ground, an' Ah've had a chance
ta get good an' drunk. C'mon -- I think what we're lookin'
for is just a little farther. The neighbourhood's probably
gonna get a lot rougher too, so we better be ready."
Nomi nodded her agreement, and they continued on their way.
She paused briefly though, as she sensed a familiar presence.
She looked in the direction the sensation was coming from,
and caught a glimpse of the source before losing him in the
shadows. He hadn't confronted them, but was following from
Not wishing to draw Rogue's attention to their pursuer just
yet, Nomi was about to reach out to him through the Force
and demand to know what he thought he was doing. She hesitated,
however, as an idea struck her.
She sent out a gentle probe -- and her suspicion was confirmed.
She could feel his power -- but no awareness of it on his
This Remy had never been her student.
Apparently Rogue had absorbed people other than enemies in
the past -- and this particular shadow was what remained of
Remy's psyche within his teammate's mind.
Nomi didn't know why he (it?) was following them -- but she
could sense no danger. She debated whether or not to inform
her hostess about their pursuer, but then decided against
it. Although Rogue was holding up surprisingly well given
what she had been through, she was still vulnerable -- and
clearly uncomfortable with discussing the effects of her power.
In the end, Nomi decided to keep silent.
No doubt, like the Remy she knew, this one would reveal himself
when he was needed.
Nomi quickened her pace, falling into step behind Rogue as
they moved further into the darkness...
At that moment, the corporeal Remy LeBeau had just finished
another game of cards with Joseph, who had won handily. The
Cajun's fortunes had steadily declined for some time, at a
rate directly proportional to his level of interest in the
contest. When they had begun play, Remy had been thankful
for the diversion, and was able to concentrate on taking Joseph,
a novice, through the finer points of the game. It was a welcome
respite from worrying about his teammates both on the ship
and dirt-side. But Joseph caught on fast, and as time went
on, Remy, having less and less to teach, became more and more
distracted. He knew that finding the information they needed
from within Rogue's mind would take time -- as did any psychic
investigation with her -- and they had no choice but to wait.
Information was the best tool to ensure that everyone else
would get out of Zero Tolerance alive.
He still couldn't believe it -- none of them could. Logan
was supposed to survive -- that was what he did.
Remy tried to turn his thoughts away from Wolverine, but
it was hard. They had never really been friends, but there
had been a bond between them just the same. It was the sort
of relationship that could only be formed under fire, when
you bled and drew blood with someone. Even if there hadn't
been any real liking between them, they had respected each
other -- and with that respect there had been understanding.
Out of all of his teammates, only Storm understood him better
than Wolverine had done...
"It's worn off, has it?" Joseph asked, startling him out
of his reverie.
"The diversion of the game."
Gambit chuckled softly.
"Guess it was pretty obvious, non?"
"Given how you played the last two hands, painfully so,"
Joseph said tartly, then added, "Do you think they're all
"Depends on who you're askin' about, don't it?" he said,
"Far as I c'n tell, Stormy an' the rest of de survivors are
as all right as they can be. Nomi an' Rogue, though ... it
ain' Nomi I'm worried 'bout..." his voice drifted off uncertainly
before he continued speaking.
"For most t'ings, Rogue can look after herself better 'n
most all of us, but for dis, I jus' don't know. What the Technarchy
tried t' do to her back on the station ... she ain' really
had a chance to handle it. I think that her goin' face t'
face with it dis way ain' a good idea, that she ain' ready
for it. I think she don't think she's ready for it
-- but she's doin' it anyway..."
Joseph nodded, sighing.
"I know ... I've been worried about her too. I've tried to
talk to her, but she refuses to discuss it -- or anything
else about the Phalanx -- unless it might pertain to our current
mission. But we have no choice -- we must have this information,
she is the only resource we have for getting it, and she knows
that. It will be hard for her," he said consideringly, "but
I think she'll be fine."
"What makes ya so sure?"
"Experience -- I think," Joseph replied with a twisted smile,
"I've been having dreams, but I think they're really flashbacks..."
"Y' probably right," Remy said quietly.
Joseph looked at him sharply.
"How do you know about...?"
"I can' see y' dreams with the Force -- but I can feel how
they affect ya. An' there's plenty of t'ings Erik Lensherr
lived through that would make any man wake up screamin' from
his sleep. What is it dat y' remember?"
"Only fragments..." Joseph said, his voice growing distant
as he spoke, "I remember being a prisoner in a terrible place
... I remember bodies and burning ... and I remember a man..."
The vision from his dreams came back to him now...
Himself as a boy, working side by side with the man, going
through the clothing of the bodies laid out in front of them
as the guards watched. They retrieved anything that could
be considered valuable from the remains, his partner occasionally
using the pliers he had been issued on a corpse, to retrieve
a tooth that held a gold filling. After turning in the spoils
of their scavenging to their jailers, they proceeded to ferry
the dead to the next building, where the smell of burnt meat
always hung in the air...
"Who was he?" Remy asked, breaking Joseph out of the memory
-- for which he was thankful.
"I don't know his name ... or I can't remember it yet. But
I remember it was his example that helped me survive. He was
able to draw upon something within himself to persevere ...
the only other choice we had was to go mad. I believe Rogue
will take the same path -- in a sense, that is what she has
been doing ever since her powers awakened within her -- this
situation is no different. She will do whatever it takes to
get the information we need because she has to -- she won't
allow herself to fail, because there is no alternative. Once
this crisis is over, though..." he shrugged.
"If she's going t' need anyone to lean on, dat's when it'll
be," Remy said.
"'Course, that's assuming we all manage t' get through Zero
Tolerance, an' whatever dat ship's got t' throw at us alive
As Jean Grey-Summers slowly made her way to consciousness,
that was the first thing she was aware of -- every part of
her body ached, especially her head. In her twilight state,
she had a fleeting memory of her mother hanging the hall rug
on the line, and beating out the dirt. Now she knew what the
rug felt like...
She tried to remember what had happened -- and when she did,
the fear-fuelled adrenaline kick was enough to bring her to
full consciousness. She opened her eyes, but closed them quickly
as the sudden bright light stabbed painfully through them
into her skull.
She was lying on a metal floor, and she could feel a weight
around her neck -- a Genoshan collar, she was sure.
*No surprise there* she thought grimly.
Carefully, she set about taking inventory, moving her limbs
and flexing each joint in turn. She sat up slowly, keeping
her eyes closed to minimize her dizziness.
*I might hurt, but at least everything seems to be working
-- not bad, for someone who just fell out of a plane*
She remembered Logan grabbing her as they fell, doing his
best to protect her with his own body. She winced at the memory
of their descent, flashes of impacts against rock outcroppings
and trees. He had obviously succeeded, but even with his healing
factor it would take time to recover from the injuries he
would have sustained in the fall.
Opening her eyes again -- gradually this time -- she became
accustomed to the light, and turned to take in her surroundings.
She moved a little too quickly, however, and nearly sank to
the floor again as her stomach lurched and her skull pounded.
*Correction: apart from the concussion, everything seems
to be working. But I can do this* she thought, determined.
*I just have to take it slow...*
She took several deep breaths as she waited for the nausea
to pass, then tried again.
She was in a small cell. The walls of her prison were solid,
not barred, and appeared to made out of the same metal as
the floor. There was enough room for her to stretch out on
the floor, but not much more than that. She could only just
make out the outline of a door in the far wall. Set into the
door was a small panel at eye level -- just enough to allow
a jailer to look in on her. Looking up at the high ceiling,
she noticed there were some small slits in one corner -- probably
for ventilation -- but that was all.
Judging by the lack of even a rudimentary cot or other facilities,
this was hopefully just a temporary holding area. Maybe the
others were nearby...
The door panel was closed, so it wasn't as if she could peek
outside to look. She would have tried shouting, but from the
looks of things, the only way sound could travel outside the
cell was through the air vents in the ceiling. It was possible
that if another cell was next to hers, she and whoever might
be inside it could communicate -- but the attempt wouldn't
be terribly likely to be successful, and even less likely
not to be overheard. She supposed she could try later though,
when she felt steady enough to try standing... then she could
go through the formality of examining the door...
*For all the good that might do -- but still, you never
All other options that she could figure she had would probably
be coming through that door. Which led to her next series
of decisions -- how to play the situation when the door did
She had some knowledge of hand-to-hand combat -- nowhere
near the level that Psylocke or Shadowcat possessed, but she
could hold her own at need in a fight -- however, she knew
that her experience wouldn't count for much against professional
soldiers. And judging from how smoothly the attack against
the team and their subsequent capture had gone, it was safe
to assume that was the calibre of personnel they would have
to deal with. She should be able to get one good shot in if
she caught them off guard, but that would be all -- and it
would be stupid to waste it without any information. She needed
to know more about the where she was being held, her location
relative to the exits -- and of course, where the others were...
Reflexively, she tried to reach out with her powers -- of
course, to no effect. It was no more than she expected, but
still the emptiness she felt as a result made her shiver.
Over the years since her powers manifested, she had become
accustomed to the background white noise of the thoughts of
others around her -- and the comforting hum of Scott's mind
which came through their link. The absence of them now just
served to underscore her plight.
*Someone will be coming for me soon, I'm sure... now when
they do, how can I manipulate the situation so I can get the
information I need?*
Grimly, Jean sat back in thought and planned, waiting for
the door to open.
Something was wrong...
It was a distant thought, almost lost among the perception
of lingering aches he felt as his body completed repairing
itself, but it was persistent. He wanted nothing more than
to sleep, but his senses would not allow it. Groggily, he
tried to sort though the sensations, to isolate what the problem
As his eyes were still closed, he could see nothing, but
he could feel that he was lying on a hard, flat surface --
floor or table, he figured. He could taste nothing but the
old blood from some of the wounds he suffered in the fall,
which had since healed over. But still, there was something...
a faint hissing noise... and even over the stench of garbage,
there was another scent he could only just detect...
Logan lurched upright, and stared wildly around the room
where he found himself. There -- he half-leapt, half-staggered
toward the door he had spotted, and yanked open the small
panel beside it. Presented with a selection of keys that had
no obvious function, he decided not to waste time. The smell
of gas was overpowering now...
Unsheathing his claws, he slashed into the control panel.
For an instant, nothing happened -- then the doors opened,
and he dove through them just as the gas ignited, the blast
driving him into the wall opposite the entrance to his former
prison. He rolled as he hit, redirecting his momentum to the
side, down the corridor, and just managing to avoid the fireball
which followed him and spent itself against the wall.
Getting to his feet, he paused to take his bearings as he
scanned the area, all senses on the alert.
No alarm was sounding -- yet.
*Musta gotten lucky and nailed one of the failsafes when
I got the door...*
That had bought him some time, but he was sure it wouldn't
be long before someone arrived to investigate. What he needed
was a place to hide, and he needed it fast.
He retracted his weapons and inhaled deeply, searching the
air, before setting off down the corridor...
"Is it done?"
"Yes," the surgeon replied as he stripped off his gloves,
"the procedure was successful, with no complications."
His voice was short, even surly, and his attitude had not
"Is there a problem, Doctor?" Bastion asked.
"Just with performing unnecessary surgery," he growled, "The
man might be a mutant, but his powers are neutralized, he's
safely in our custody, and this is a secure base. He's not
likely to escape. And even if he was, it's the makings of
a goddamn BOMB I just put in his chest! If he did escape,
who could guarantee that he wouldn't be next to a school or
something when it went off? Jesus!"
"I can assure you that your worries are unfounded. The technology
is completely reliable in that regard."
"It's not the technology that's bothering me -- I'm
a doctor, not a butcher! Your program gave me the opportunity
to help patients that never would have had a chance otherwise
-- that's why I signed up. Experimental treatments for terminal
or otherwise hopeless cases are one thing, but putting those
things into a perfectly healthy man for no reason is
"The man is a wanted criminal, and the leader of a terrorist
group," Bastion said coldly. "It is only prudent to take all
precautions to ensure that in the event of his escape, he
will have no further opportunity to endanger the public."
"By blowing him up? You're insane!"
"And you are naïve, Doctor. Your perspective suffers
from being narrow in scope -- you are thinking of this one
man. My concern is for the millions who might be put at risk
through him, his personal actions, and the actions of the
terrorist cell he leads. It is an extreme measure, but given
the extremity of the danger of having this man free to act,
it is justified."
The surgeon had opened his mouth to argue, when Bastion resumed
"I also seem to recall you had few concerns about moral issues
when it came to performing experimental treatments without
the knowledge and consent of your patients or their next-of-kin.
Perhaps I should inform them in order to assuage your conscience?"
Caught, the man could only shake his head shortly in reply.
"I thought not," Bastion said quietly. "I expect you have
other duties awaiting you, Doctor. I suggest you be about
The surgeon left the room, leaving Bastion to look in on
the cell where the mutant known as Cyclops lay unconscious
in a small cot, a barely discernable mark on his chest indicating
the place where the nanotech had been inserted.
*This time, I will succeed* he thought.
They were close -- Nomi could feel it.
She and Rogue had moved ever deeper into the darkest areas
of the mutant's mindscape. They had not been attacked since
they had encountered the man Rogue had called Sabretooth,
but there was an almost palpable miasma in the atmosphere
around them, which made them both uneasy.
"Somethin's really wrong," Rogue muttered, "Ah've never liked
goin' this deep in mah own head, but it's never felt like
this before... it's almost like it's not me somehow
-- which probably means we're gettin' real close. Get ready,
sugah -- it's gonna hit the fan any time now."
"It may be a little late to mention this, but what's going
to happen when it does?"
"Same thing that always happens when Ah have a real confrontation
with someone or something in here. There's gonna be a dust-up,
an' with any luck, when it's over, Ah'll have what we need
and we c'n get outta here."
"And if not?"
The look on Rogue's face as she replied was hard to decipher;
resigned, amused, determined, and fearful all at once.
"In that case, we make ourselves at home 'cause we'll be
here foh a while."
Engaged in their hushed conversation, they were both taken
by surprise when their quarry materialized between them, flowing
up from the very spot where they had been standing,
throwing both women to the ground in opposite directions.
The Phalanx had taken Rogue's shape, and even as they struggled
to regain their feet, its body was changing, its lower arms
and hands forming scythe-like talons.
"And so you shall be," it hissed.
The Phalanx slashed out viciously to either side. Nomi just
managed to roll out of harm's way on the left, while Rogue
ducked under the swipe that had been directed at her on the
right. As it passed, she grabbed the arm/weapon of her opponent,
and yanked, hoping to rip off the appendage -- but nothing
happened. And she couldn't pull her hands away...
The creature that wore her face grinned, its expression bonechilling,
as its body shifted and reformed. Now Rogue's hands were engulfed
to the wrists by the Phalanx's own forearms, and to her horror,
she was steadily being drawn further in...
"Kikt. Your escape on the station was only temporary,
Carbon-Based-Designate: Rogue. Though your teammate broke
our hold and freed your body, we, Phalanx-Rogue, remained
complete within your mind. Your physical separation from the
main unit weakened us so that we could not assume control
of your organic body outright -- we had to wait until you
chose to confront us here, directly. Now that time has come,
and when we are complete, your -- our -- transformation
As Rogue frantically tried to pull away, Nomi's mind raced,
trying to think of some way to help her friend. Her probe
with the Force showed the enemy was mentally linked to Rogue,
so this was not a battle she could meditate -- any strength
she fed to the other woman would also be picked up by the
creature they fought. Her lightsaber would probably do as
much damage to Rogue as to the Phalanx, and time was running
Gambit appeared from the shadows, hurling a fistful of cards
at the back of the creature as he yelled. The projectiles
exploded short of their target, as if hitting an invisible
barrier. Phalanx-Rogue barely spared him a glance.
"You have no power here, fragment -- we do, as this is our
mindscape as much it was hers. You are foreign matter, soon
to be purged, as are the others."
"Maybe -- but den again, maybe not..." he snarled -- and
Intent on Rogue, who was now almost halfway merged with itself,
and confident that neither Nomi nor Remy posed a threat, the
Phalanx paid no attention when Gambit strode towards them
-- until he placed his bare hands on Rogue's face.
Immediately, he began to fade, his figure becoming more and
more ghost-like as Rogue absorbed him -- and slowly, the Phalanx
began to recede from Rogue's flesh.
"What are you doing?" the creature shrieked.
"You're de ... Borg wanna-be with ... de knowledge o' civilizations
... you figure it out," Gambit replied, his voice harsh with
strain, but growing faint. Still, he maintained contact with
Rogue's skin, until finally he disappeared altogether -- and
Rogue easily pulled away from her stunned attacker.
"Kikt! Impossible! No one can escape once transmoding
Rogue looked at her opponent, her now red-on-black eyes blazing.
"Then Ah guess Ah'm no one -- but then, how often do ya find
someone who ain't limited ta having one mind at a time?" she
asked with a grin, then began her own attack.
The two exhanged a flurry of punches and kicks, yet neither
could obtain an advantage -- they were too evenly matched.
Nomi stood off to the side, 'saber at the ready, looking for
an opening, but they were too close together, grappling now
... still, she could not meditate the battle. After their
contact, Rogue and Gambit now shared a mind, though Rogue's
personality was dominant. Rogue's absorption of Gambit had
been enough to free the southerner from her Phalanx counterpart,
whose own being was built solely upon Rogue's core mind, and
therefore could not accommodate a shared consciousness. Any
bolstering of spirit or strength Nomi could provide would
still affect Phalanx-Rogue as well as her friend, but maybe
if she attempted to help by focusing on Gambit...
"Kikt. You only postpone the inevitable, Carbon-Based-Designate:
Rogue. This unit knows all of your techniques -- you cannot
outfight us. All we need do is wait until the effects of your
contact with the psychic fragment of your teammate expire
before we seek control, and then you will fully become part
"Don't think it'll happen -- you're fogettin' that it ain't
just me you're up against any more," Rogue said. Expression
and voice changed as she spoke again, and this time they and
the words she said were not hers...
"An' while you two ladies have been fightin', the other,
sneakier half o' dis team ain' been sittin' on his hands..."
It was only then that Phalanx-Rogue noticed the deceptively
gentle glow that had begun to emanate from deep within its
body, spreading outward -- telltale sign of the kinetic charge
that had been building within its body since Rogue had begun
"Kikt. Your strategy is futile. Destroy us, and the
blast will destroy you all..."
Its entire body was now alight, still tangled with Rogue
herself as they continued to fight.
"Not a problem, since Ah don't recall explosions bein' on
the agenda," Rogue said in her own voice, then changed again
as Remy spoke through her.
"Normally, I'd say 'au revoir' but under de circumstances,
'goodbye' c'est vraiment appropos..."
Then the charge went off, in the carefully controlled manner
Rogue had willed, using the power and knowledge Gambit had
allowed her to absorb. One moment, Phalanx-Rogue was grasping
at its opponent -- then like a diamond struck at precisely
the right point and angle, its body disintegrated in a chain
reaction, falling into itself, leaving only dust.
"So goodbye," Rogue said quietly -- and collapsed.
Continued in Chapter Fifteen.
"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
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