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Part 1: Blurry Abstractions
Suspicion is not less an enemy
to virtue than to happiness;
he that is already corrupt is naturally suspicious,
and he that becomes suspicious will quickly be corrupt.
In one of the many industrial sections of New York City there
was a large cathedral, which had only survived the rapid growth
of smokestacked-buildings around it thanks to a group of do-gooders
who had claimed it to be part of the local heritage. They'd
raised a large amount of money to buy the land it stood on,
given it a nice paint job, and dusted off the altar, each
move carefully recorded in their newsletters and small community
papers. It was a triumph for the people over the evil of the
ever-growing modern factories, a small spot where old stones
hadn't been torn down and replaced by concrete. A Catholic
Mass had been held there, an offering plate passed around.
Then, pleased with what they had done, the philanthropists
had moved on to another project, and left old Saint Peter's
to fend for itself.
It had become a home to junkies and the mentally ill homeless.
The pews had become beds, runaways had become the acolytes.
The sills of the stained-glass windows were covered in pigeons'
nests, the Psalters torn up and fed to fires in the winter.
The mammoth organ's pipes were clogged with dust and could
no longer play. This wasn't a place for genuflection anymore,
but a home to ghosts and a symbol of defeat: perhaps the new
had not replaced the old in this instance, but the old still
On one evening, which was neither particularly starry nor
particularly dark, someone new walked in. Those who had taken
up residence there regarded this unfamiliar soul with a mixture
of curiosity and fear, and most watched from the shadows as
the figure walked from the massive doors down the center aisle,
not bothering to bow before the crucifix hanging crookedly
on the wall. Instead, it turned to another window on the side
-- this one perhaps the most grimy of all -- and looked up
at it for a great deal of time.
Behind the cobwebs was a jumble of colored glass ingeniously
fit together to depict the dark sublimity of Gethsemane, and
in the center of the trees and flowers was the image of a
grim-faced Messiah dressed in white, his pale hands outstretched
to an approaching Judas in black.
The stranger breathed: "Beautiful."
To the left of the picture was a small door which had no
handle; why that was had long been forgotten. It was quite
clear that no one could get through it unless he had a chainsaw
or other such equipment to cut a hole to the other side, or
to break it down. The newcomer turned and eyed those huddled
in the corners, and then asked, "Is there any other way
to get into the rooms behind here than this door?"
Each considered the question, not the answer -- that was
well known to be "no." Someone nearby said this
aloud, but when everyone peered again to the shadowy figure
under the Lord and His Judas, they saw that it had passed,
and no one could see where it had gone.
It was always cold in the War Room. Maybe that was because
every last chair and consul was made of an odd type of Shi'ar
metal; Elizabeth, however, was certain that the chill had
more to do with the room's inimical atmosphere: this was where
battles were plotted and planned or observed, where defeats
were sighed over and losses counted; if Cerebro were to discover
that a mutant somewhere in New York was dying, brutally attacked
by hate-filled flatscan neighbors, the first reports of it
which the computer made were here in the War Room; if a brutal
enemy were to come near the Mansion, the first alarms would
be heard from here.
Today it was particularly frigid, and that, of course, had
everything to do with the murder of Hank McCoy.
Telepaths can feel death. If someone looses their grasp on
life, a psi will feel the last shreds of consciousness ripping
away, swallowed into a yawning chasm of Nothingness
which will make goosebumps grow on any soul. So it had been
when the Beast had died; Betsy had felt the heaving and groaning
of Hank's life struggling in a web of the Astral Plane, sliding
away so quickly that Psylocke had instinctively grabbed a
table to steady herself.
It had taken her a moment's time to revive herself enough
to rush off in the direction of the laboratories, where she
had been the first to see Bobby crouched over a mass of blue
fur, yelling nonsense to no one in particular. She'd managed
to call to the others, and even to help them gather Hank up
and set him on a table. By then the body had been growing
cold, and Drake, who had been drawn aside by a horrified Jean
Grey, had been shedding frozen tears over the floor.
After Hank had been wrapped up, the Professor had called
the team -- sans Iceman, who wasn't in much of a condition
to be any help -- into the War Room to regroup, and try to
figure out exactly what had happened.
And here she was, shivering under two layers of thick clothing
and a large coat, almost feeling ridiculous because, even
in the dead of winter, she'd always come to the War Room in
only her uniform.
Cyclops stood, his blue-and-gold fatigues as neat and clean
as ever, his expression and voice featly straight, unruffled.
His face, however, was white as a ghost's. "I'm not going
to start with any sort of speech," he said, in measured
tones, "because as far as I'm concerned, finding the
murderer and bringing him to justice has just become the X-Men's
chief concern in life."
Some of the others nodded in agreement.
"Cerebro didn't pick up on any intruders, obviously.
We would have heard the alarm. I've checked the security records
for the past twenty-four hours -- nobody has come or gone
from the house without the codes. There haven't even been
any strangers driving by on the street this evening."
He paused, allowing himself to frown deeply at his own implication,
and then moved on. "It would be a safe guess that whoever
killed Beast was a mutant, with some sort of pyrokinetic or
"In other words, Scott, it was one of us with some sort
of 'blasting' power," Warren observed, in his usual,
straight-from-the-hip manner. "Which narrows it down
to three of us -- Bishop, Storm, and Gambit." He annunciated
the last name quite clearly, and then glanced Betsy's way,
as if to make sure she stood behind him. She returned his
look with a furrowed brow.
"I swear to God, I wasn't even anywhere near de lab,"
Gambit said, his hands held up before him.
"Then where were you?"
"Up in my room."
"Alone, right?" Warren pushed.
"No, I had my teddy bears wit' me," Remy sneered.
"Yes, I was alone."
"There is absolutely no reason to suspect Remy above
me, or Bishop, or anyone else," Ororo interceded, her
hands bunched at her hips.
Warren shrugged indifferently, almost theatrically. "Frankly,
Storm, you don't have the heart to kill a fly. You couldn't
kill Hank. And Bishop's the one who came to this time looking
for a traitor."
He'd tripped upon a raw nerve there. The entire team tensed,
especially Bishop. The big man clenched his jaw tightly.
"Until we have some sort of clue to go on, people, nobody's
going to accuse anyone of anything," Scott announced.
"Split up into teams of three and search the house. Don't
leave any rock unturned. If you find something or someone,
alert the others immediately." That said, he turned to
Jean, and the two of them looked at each other with tears
in their eyes until they strode off to join the hunt. The
rest of the team filed out after them.
Psylocke waited as the others marched past: Warren first,
his wings held high in a cocksure way which belied the tumult
she felt in his heart; then Storm, who, with all the goddess-like
self-command she could muster, was holding back an irate scream;
Rogue and Remy, hovering around each other, but keeping apart;
Logan, who, surprisingly enough, had said nothing to anybody
during the gathering; and Bishop, also alarmingly quiet. It
was not until they had departed that Braddock noted Xavier,
who sat with hands steepled opposite the door. His face was
expressionless. "Professor?" she asked. "Are
you all right?"
He looked at her in surprise, as if he hadn't noticed that
anyone had been there all the while. "No, Betsy,"
he admitted, "I'm not."
"I'm sure we'll find whoever did this," she assured
"I don't doubt it."
She hadn't been very close to Hank. They'd been on friendly
terms, and had occasionally discussed literature or British
affairs over hot tea. In battle they had saved each other
from numerous certain deaths, and each would have died for
each other in a heartbeat. But she hadn't known what it was
that made him tick, hadn't ever gone to him for advice or
whatnot like others. His death had punched a hole through
her that would take quite some time to mend, but she wasn't
necessarily devastated, like Scott or Jean or the Professor
-- and especially not like Robert. Somehow, it made her feel
unqualified to comfort any of them. She set a hand on the
Professor's with a telepathic I'm sorry which he acknowledged
with a forced nod, and then quickly ran out to join Warren,
who was itching to go.
"He's very hurt," she told him.
"So is everyone else."
"I've yet to see you shed a tear for Henry."
"I'm too busy trying to avenge him," he said, his
fists clutched at his side.
"Warren --" she grabbed his arm "-- don't
get to avenging him more than missing him."
He shook her off, and took to the air. "Let's go."
Xavier was awakened from his dreary thoughts once again some
minutes later by the insistent beeping of the communications
monitor, which he flicked on. The imposing image of Emma Frost
filled the screen, her lips twisted into a snarl.
As usual, she was a sigh to behold: sun-gold hair neatly
brushed back without an errant strand, white suit immaculate.
Nothing out of place or smudged. Nothing not perfect. "Xavier,"
she said, cutglass BBC-accent crisp with fury, "We've
had an emergency."
"As have we ... what is the matter?"
"One of my students was killed this afternoon. Killed,
Xavier!" She pounded a fist on the consul before her.
"There is no hint as to who did it. I did not feel any
foreign psionic signature in the building, and our security
systems were not tripped. I was not ... "
"Emma," the Professor asked, softly, "Who
"Who was it?"
"The child ... "
"Paige," she said. "Paige Guthrie." She
quieted for a moment. Her gaze was settled upon Xavier's eyes
precisely, even through the vidi equipment.
"Beast was killed earlier today, as well," he informed
Frost's eyes narrowed. "Under the same circumstances?"
"Apparently. We are investigating the matter at the
moment. I suggest you do so as well. I will contact you later,
and we will compare notes."
She said, "Xavier, this stinks of treason."
"Perhaps," he said. "But it's not. It can't
She arched a brow, and then turned away. Her image faded
to a tiny white dot in the center of the screen, and then
He rubbed a hand over his stubbled chin, and then droped
his head to it, eyes shut tight. Hank and the child. For no
apparent reason. And if evidence collected thus far -- or
lack thereof -- was to be trusted, if the logic which lead
to the conclusion really meant anything -- then it could very
well have been, must have been, one of his own who'd done
"It can't be," he said to himself again.
He continued to repeat that to himself well into the night.
Continued in Chapter
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