Wheel of Morality, turn, turn, turn. Tell
us the lesson that we should learn.'
Moral # 9
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P.S. [Whatever] indicates a translation from another language
"Dmitri? Dmitri? What is it?"
"No time to explain, Anya. Get Boris, we've got to leave
"Da." The middle-aged woman ran into the small
house. "Boris? Come here now."
A small boy entered the living room, excitement shining on
his broad face.
"Mother. . . mother. I saw a man made of steel and he
had . . . ."
"This is no time for stories, we have to go."
"Your father will explain later." She said, gathering
her possessions up in a bundle.
"Mother? What is wrong?"
"Shush, child. Let us leave now and ask questions later."
"Da, Mother. But I am scared . . . ."
"Hello, Yevgeny!" The broad man sat down on the
"Have you heard the old wives' tale of which the town
is speaking?" Yevgeny laughed.
"The Rusalka has claimed another victim, or perhaps
Baba Yaga has returned with her hut on chicken legs?"
"Even more ridiculous . . . .They say there is a man
of steel whose tentacles strip people of their souls. More
vodka than truth behind that story, I think."
"I have never heard anything so silly."
" Silly', but nevertheless true." A third voice
said, from behind them. His thick Russian accent was contemptous.
The two men turned around to face the stranger, and disbelief
crossed their faces as they saw folklore become horrifying
"You called us in here, Professor?" Cyclops said,
sitting next to the older man. The Professor had a worried
look on his face, and was tapping a pencil impatiently. A
habit which invariably surfaced when he was agitated. Scott
looked as his mentor in worry, sending out a thought.
<Professor, what is wrong?>
"Watch." Charles Xavier turned the television on,
ignoring the psychic query..
A smiling woman appeared on the screen, dressed in a designer
suit. Behind her was a scene of desolation, burning buildings,
sending smoke signals up to God; children playing in the rubble;
women crying; men walking resolutely away from what once must
have been home.
"Good day, this is Laura Bow, reporting live from Bishkek,
capital of Kyrgyzstan, which so recently won its independence
from the U.S.S.R. It seems, however, that mother Russia is
not as eager to let its prodigal son go free as may be imagined.
Throughout the country, there have been reports of a strange
man of steel' who has terrorised citizens, claiming to be
acting on the authority of the Russian people. Let us cross
to the scene of one of these violent and brutal attacks..."
More smoke. More rubble. More tears. More hopelessness. More
"A man of steel? Colossus?" Jean asked. "As
unlikely as it may seem . . . ."
"No." Storm stook her head, "I know Piotr,
he would never do such a thing."
"Carry on watching." Xavier told them. "There
is more to come."
"This bustling, agricultural community was in the middle
of harvesting their crops when the man of steel came, leaving
destruction and death in his wake. Eyewitness accounts describe
him as tall and made of a metallic substance with a large,
red symbol on his front - the Greek letter omega..."
"I don't believe it." Wolverine snarled, "Omega
"You know this lunatic?" Storm asked.
"Tangled with him a few years back, I got lucky. Thought
I trapped him for good, but some meat-head obviously let him
"Search me, bub."
"Allow me to posit a hypothesis." Beast paused,
thinking. "This is probably the doing of some Russian
extremist group who wish their country to be restored to its
former glory'. They feel the only way to do so is to reclaim
the territory they lost to the independent states.To quote
an old aphorism, they believe that the end justifies the means
- no matter how barbaric the means may be."
Xavier stood up and cleared his throat, "My X-Men, the
choice is in your hands whether to go or not. Given the current
status of the team, I am not sure if it would be wise to endanger
yourselves again so soon; but can we stand back with a clear
conscience while men, women and children are being killed
in cold blood?"
"Flamin' right we can't." Wolverine said, "I
put him away once, I'll do it again."
"Wolverine is right, Professor." Cyclops added,
"I'm behind him all the way."
"Wouldn't that be in front of him, seeing as you're
the leader?" Iceman quipped.
"There is a time for irreverance and joking, Bobby.
It is not now." Storm looked serious.
"I'm with them too." Jean stood up.
"As am I." Beast followed suite.
"Guess I'll have to go too, unless I want to babysit
the mansion. . . ." Iceman said, standing.
"Ah'm comin' too t'make sure that y'all are all right
"Den I'll have t'come to, t'keep an eye on Rogue."
"Hmmp. Ah am capable of lookin' after mahself, cajun."
"Not gonna argue wit' you on dat point, chere. . . it's
just dat it's fun t'keep an eye on you."
Rogue blushed slightly. "Nice line, didja steal that
one from an old movie as well?"
"So *they* can joke and be irreverant, but can I? Noooooooo.
" Iceman complained.
"Th' thing is, Drake, Ah have a harder right cross than
"Point taken." Iceman laughed.
"Let's leave this conversation until later. We have
more urgent things to do right now." Xavier said, almost
smiling. "Which includes finding out a way to take down
Omega Red before he hurts more people."
"We can discuss it in the plane." Wolverine said
impatiently, "But right now there's a tin squid threatening
the lives of some people, and the longer we take - the more
people he gets."
"Wolverine is right. We must not procrastinate any longer."
"Then let's head Blackbird-wards, and prepare to fly
off into the wild . . . grey yonder."
"So sue me, I made it up." Beast shrugged.
"I never would have guessed." Jean laughed as they
walked off in the direction of the plane.
"Piotr. Come inside." Illyana tugged on the sleeve
of her older brother. "It is getting late and mother
and father are worried."
"Just let me finish harvesting this field and I shall
come. You go ahead, Yana."
"Da, brother." Illyana skipped off over the fields
in the direction of the farmstead.
Piotr Rasputin wiped the sweat of his forehead and began
cutting the rows of golden corn with his sickle. It was hard
work; but good work, now that it was done for his family and
country - both so recently freed from Russian tyranny. It
had not been easy and it would not be easy. The way ahead
for Kyrgyzstan was paved with difficulties but, with hard
work and determination, they could succeed. Piotr shouldered
the sickle and stood up straight. He had finished for the
evening and was ready to return home to his family. Walking
over the fields, he soon arrived at the small farmstead where
they lived. Or more accurately, the remains of the farmstead,
because all that stood in place of his home was a smoking
pile of rubble . . . .
"Y'all sure you're up t'this?" Rogue asked for
the twentieth time, as she and Gambit sat with the rest of
the team in the Blackbird. "You were only discharged
a week ago an' . . . ."
"I'll be fine." He assured her.
"Ah'd be happier if you stayed where it's safe."
"Much as I like t'make a lady happy, I'm fraid
I can't oblige you dis time, Rogue."
"Remy. Your condition was serious an' Ah'm . . . ."
"Chere, I've had dis talk from Beast, Storm an' Cyclops.
If dey couldn' convince me, I doubt ya'll be able t'."
"If y'insist on endangering your life in this manner.
. . ." She sighed, "Be careful. Ah don't wanna see
"Gambit's always careful, chere. He's learnt de hard
way what happens when y'ain't."
"Y'learn a lot on de streets dat no classroom could
ever teach ya." He looked at her, his red eyes preoccupied.
" Specially as a t'ief."
"Guess so." She smiled at him, attempting to break
the sudden tension. "An' does that include how to sweep
women off their feet?"
"Why? You been swept?" He laughed.
"Den I must be losin' my touch."
"Pity. Cause . . . ."
"Attention, Passengers. We are about to land. Return
your seats to an upright position and fasten your seatbelts.
Welcome to Kyrgyzstan, and thank you for flying Beast Air."
"You were sayin', chere?" Gambit looked at her.
"Later, Remy. Right now, we've gotta kick some metallic
butt." Rogue jumped up.
"Not sure if dere be a later." He muttered under
"What was that, sugah?"
"Not'ing. Let's go." Gambit disembarked the plane,
stepping into the frosty air.
"Kinda chilly, isn't it?" Rogue commented. "Sometimes
Ah wish Ah had a built-in fur-coat like Hank."
"Rogue, I shall ask you to repeat those exact words
when it is 95 degrees in the shade and you're wondering if
bald' isn't a good look for you." Beast teased.
"Enough." Cyclops said, "Let's concentrate
on Omega Red right now."
"Sure t'ing , fearless leader."
"Fearless leader?" Beast asked, "I thought
I had that one copyrighted."
"Hate t'tell ya, Beast - dat's one's de oldest in de
"Maybe I should buy me a new book." Beast muttered.
A sudden glint on the horizon.
"Lemme check it out." Rogue rose into the air and
looked around. "Ah see somethin'. A man. A man o' . .
"Get ready, people." Cyclops cautioned, "We
don't know what to expect."
"You're lucky then, bub. I do and I'm still gonna be
cautious." Wolverine grinned.
"3 . . . 2 . . .1 . . ."
Muscles tensed as they prepared to meet the oncoming
"X-Men?" Surprise filled his voice.
Storm stepped forward and embraced him, "My brother,
it is *good* to see you."
"I wish the circumstances could be more pleasant though,
Ororo." Colossus reverted back to organic form. "What
brings you here?"
"The same thing, I imagine, that brings you. Omega Red."
"Da. He killed my parents . . . he took Illyana . .
. I have to find her."
"Your parents?" She rested a hand on his arm, "I
am so sorry, Piotr."
"Let us concentrate on the living and mourn later, Ororo.
We must rescue Illyana."
"Wise words. We naturally shall do everything in our
power to help."
"But . . . if it is . . . too late? Illyana is all I
have left, I cannot lose her too."
"Do not think about that until you have to."
"If we're gonna save the kid, what in flamin' heck are
we standing around here for? Our health? We've gotta act and
we've gotta act fast. I know Omega Red and he ain't the waiting
kind of guy."
"I echo Wolverine's rather brusquely expressed sentiments.
The reunions can wait until later."
"Then let us go." Colossus nodded, "I thank
you, my friends."
"Thank us when the kid is safe." Wolverine said
gruffly. "Not before."
"I am afraid then you may not get thanked." Piotr
"Yeah? Either way it'll be my pleasure taking him down."
"As it will be mine." Colossus smiled savagely.
"Piotr. . ." Storm said, her blue eyes concerned.
"Later. Illyana is out there. Somewhere. She's cold,
she's frightened and - guaranteed - Omega Red is not far behind
. . . ."
The darkness surrounded her, blinding her. Where was she?
Where was Piotr? She had been scared of the dark since she
was a baby, yet here, it was strangely comforting.
If she could not see him, she could almost believe he wasn't
there; that this was a nightmare; that she was safe in bed.
But the cold stone floor beneath her and the sounds of movement
from nearby - unfamiliar steps beating an executioner's drum-roll
- told her that it was all too real. She knew then. She knew
that she had no chance. That she never had a chance. The mind
knew but the heart refused to accept. She ran - like a fox
from a hound; like a mouse from a cat; as if death pursued
her, its steel tentacles hungry. She tripped, her ankle twisting
beneath her. Pain. A hot flame shooting up her leg. Turning
hope to ashes. She had time to murmur a simple prayer before
her world became dark forever, And if I die before I
wake . . . . I pray the lord . . . my . . . soul . . . to
. . . *'
Rogue smiled nervously as she watched the procession of refugees
from the abandoned village.
"Lot o' them, ain't there?"
"Dere be not'ing left for dem dere - dey have t'move
on." Gambit sounded unsymphathetic.
"Not really. Been t'rough it before myself. You survive."
"But what happens when you can't move on - when you're
too old or . . . tired to even try?"
"Den you stay wit' all de bad memories an' de pain.
Far better t'go."
"Y'all are right . . . but Ah can't help feelin' sorry
foh them. Ah know what it's like t'lose everythin'."
She smiled ruefully.
His red eyes looked at her curiously, "Y'don' show it,
"Shoulda seen me a few years back."
"Pity I didn', maybe I coulda cheered you up some."
She laughed. "Darlin', if'n any man came up ta me then,
Ah woulda run a mile. What happened with Cody spooked me bad."
"Mah first boyfriend, also mah last." Her green
eyes were filled with pain.
"Find it hard t'believe dat a pretty woman like you
only had one man interested in her."
"A prettier woman with mah power woulda had trouble."
She shrugged. "Ah'm used ta it."
"Don't t'ink dere be many prettier." He smiled.
"Remy . . . ." She paused, not knowing what to
say in response. "Ah know that . . . oh LAWD. . ."
Terror filled her eyes, producing confusion in his. "Get
Rogue pushed him over, falling with him into the soft snow.
The sound of a tentacle, whipping past them, cut into the
"What de . . . ?" He looked up.
"It's him." She stood.
"An' here I t'ought dat it was my irresistable animal
magnetism. . . ." Gambit grinned.
"Save th' small talk - where is he?" Rogue looked
"Behind you." He unleased a barrage of cards, pushing
Omega Red backwards and concealing him in a blanket of smoke.
"Ah don't believe it - he's not even scratched."
Rogue gasped as she saw him emerge.
"Believe it, woman. Like progress, Omega Red can not
be stopped so easily."
"Then maybe, ya'll like ta tangle with me." She
stood up, dusting the snow off herself. "Man to woman."
"You challenge my supremacy? The supremacy of mother
Russia?" Increduality colored his voice.
"Rogue, stand back! Let me take care of this tin squid."
Wolverine growled, unsheathing his claws.
"Let's see how you do against a little adamantium."
"Wolverine." Omega Red smiled.
"Got it in one, bub. . . Oolmph." Wolverine fell
to the ground, gasping for air. Behind him, Colossus stood,
his steel face split by a grimace of hatred.
"I am sorry to do that to you, Logan." Colossus
said, "But this is my fight and my revenge. Mine alone."
"I'll excuse you - right in your face." Wolverine
"Wolverine." Rogue put a restraining arm on his,
"Ah know what Colossus is goin' through - he needs ta
do this t'be at peace with himself."
"Don't look too much at peace now, chere." Gambit
smiled, "Looks downright unpeaceful in fact."
Squinting, she looked at them. The light was unbearably brilliant,
refracting and reflecting as it was through a landscape of
cut glass. Their steel bodies too shone with blinding radiance
as they fought. A tentacle whipped out, twisting around Colossus.
"Ah gotta stop them - b'fore Colossus gets killed."
"What happened to leave-well-enough-alone'?"
Wolverine asked, gripping her arm tightly.
"That was then an' this is now." She shook his
hand off. "Ah gotta do this. Ah'm th' only one who stands
"Keep your eyes closed, that intensity of light
is detrimental to the optic nerve of the eye." Beast
"Ah can't, Beast."
She flew into the radiance, feeling her eyes burn; watching
helpless as redness passed over her field of vision; as day
turned to darkest night. She blinked, hoping wildly that when
she opened her eyes she could see. Darkness. Fear. Letting
her instincts guide her, she felt her fist connect with steel,
felt the shock reverberate through her bones.
"Pursue." Cyclops yelled. The sound of footsteps
pounding against the compacted snow.
Rogue shook her head, trying to remove the black curtain
that had fallen over her eyes.
"Are you okay?" Beast asked. He sounded concerned.
"Ah can't see, Hank."
"You're kidding, right?" Worry.
"Wish Ah was darlin'." Tears stung her sensitive
retina, "Ah'm blind."
"Let's see." She felt a hand touch her arm.
"Hank? What's wrong with mah eyes?"
"Can't say for sure, but it is plausible that prolonged
exposure to light of that intensity has caused damage to the
optic nerve of your eyes."
"Damage? As in permanent?"
"Probably not. When we get home I'll run some tests."
"Hank . . . Ah'm scared." She hugged herself.
"Don't be. Modern medicine has made it possible to cure
most ailments - including light-induced blindness."
"But . . . if'n Ah'm blind forever, then what?"
"Then we deal with it."
"Let's answer that question when it needs to be asked."
Footsteps behind her. Rogue spun around, terrified.
"Stay back." She cautioned, frantically. Knowing
under the bravado that if the encroacher was inimical, there
was nothing that she could do about it.
"Chere, it's me. Y'blind or somet'ing?" The familiarity
of his cajun accent made her relax.
"Yeah, actually Ah am."
"Mon dieu. Y'can't see at all?" The touch of Gambit's
gloved hand on her face.
She shook her head.
"Better get her back to the plane." Beast said,
"The sooner I conduct those tests the better."
"Could . . . could ya . . . help me, Remy?" Shattered
pride in her voice.
"You not have t'ask, chere. Course I will."
His hand in hers, he guided her back to the Blackbird where
it stood holographically masked in a copse of pine-trees.
"Watch de steps."
Painstakingly she picked her way up the steel steps, hearing
them clank beneath her, and found her way to a seat.
"Remy, you still there?"
"Y't'ink I leave you at a time like dis?" He squeezed
her gloved hand reassuringly. "Don' worry, I ain't gonna
"Even if'n Ah'm blind?"
"More dan ever den - ya'll need eyes, and I got two
"This means a lot t'me - you know that." She smiled
weakly. "Ah just wish Ah didn't have t'be grateful to
ya for this reason."
"Ah'm not sure how ta thank ya."
"I can t'ink of a few ways, but ya'll slap me if I tell
you." He laughed.
"Remy, about us?" She paused.
"This has been goin' on foh a few months . . . this
"Shadow-dancing, Rogue?" His voice was curious.
"Shadow-dancing around each other; around our feelin's
foh each other; around mah feelin's foh you."
"T'ought you knew how I felt - ain't exactly b'n subtle."
"Remy, it's just that Ah'm confused. Ah want . . . this
ta work but Ah'm too scared ta try, in case. . ."
"Den, perhaps, Rogue, we should jus' f'rget about de
fear and go wit' our feelings."
"Ah want ta . . . but what if . . . what if ya end up
like Cody. Seems like th' best thing foh ya is if'n Ah back
"Chere, I'm old enough t'decide what's good for me."
"But now . . . Ah'm helpless an' Ah keep thinkin' that
it would be nice t'have someone ta depend on. Someone ta love
me. Sounds selfish, don't it?" She laughed bitterly.
"Non. Sounds nat'ral."
"Th' thing is Ah'm too scared ta trust you, in case
Ah get hurt. In case Ah hurt you."
"As I said b'fore, I can wait."
"Foh how long?" She smiled nervously.
"F'r as long as I have t'." He took her hand.
A sudden scream split the deathly silence that shrouded the
ship. Rogue stiffened, feeling terror course through her veins.
"What's goin on, darlin'?" She held his hand tighter,
almost crushing his bones in the process.
"Don' know, chere. Don' particularily wanna find out
"Illyana is dead." Storm walked into the ship,
her booted feet tapping against the steel. Her voice sounded
"How's Piotr holdin' up?" Rogue asked, her concern
for herself superceded by her sympathy for Colossus.
"As well as can be expected." Storm replied.
"Poor guy." She bit her lower lip. "The burial?"
"Will take place back in America. Piotr is not sure
if he will be able to bury her in the midst of such turmoil."
Storm sighed. "It is sad that she cannot be buried in
her native country."
"Always sad when a kid dies."
"Perhaps it is as the Goddess wills."
"Ah could never accept that a god or goddess could ever
exist an' still let such terrible things happen. Just seemed
"That is where faith comes in." Storm smiled. "Faith
that everything turns out for the best."
"And if it don't, Stormy?"
"How are we to know what is best? Do we have the wisdom
to question divine intelligence?"
"Guess not, chere."
"Ah just wish Ah could have faith; could believe in
somethin'- someone." Rogue shook her head.
"Faith is hard, it relies on complete suspension of
"That's mah problem, Ah can't trust nothin'. Not even
"Then perhaps it is time that you did."
"Think Ah've forgotten how ta." She bowed her head,
her sightless eyes filled with pain as the Blackbird turned
and pointed in the direction of home.
Continued in Chapter
1.Kyrgyzstan (Don't ask how you pronounce it) was really part
of the U.S.S.R. It does exist. Its capital is Bishkek and
its president is Askar Akaev. I don't think Colossus lived
there but for the story's sake he does; he actually lived
2. Yup, this part is 7 pages on my Word Processor!
In Smoke and Mirrors Part 8 . . .
* Get out your Kleenex and dust off your black suits, Illyana's
* Donate money to a guide dog fund, Rogue may need one.
* Be it ever so humble, there's no place like home.
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