Thanks to Luba K and Suzy C for editorial comments.
Other work by me can be found at Luba
Kmetyk's webpage, and at Ro's
Comments may be sent via e-mail to firstname.lastname@example.org
This is a nasty story, not intended for children. Some characters
in this story belong to Marvel, others belong to me (more
or less). The story is entirely my own. Enjoy.
An Unexplained Death
She knew that something was wrong, moments after he picked
up the phone. They were having a quiet night in, after she
had spent the day in the lab and the gym. He had spent the
entire day in the old leather chair in her room, reading.
Not his usual way, crouched over a book and taking unreadable
notes on small bits of paper. He could do that for hours without
moving, as long as the cigs and the whisky were nearby. That
evening, he had been going through a book a paragraph at a
time, slowly. He would stop, climb through the window onto
the roof outside, and stare out at the sea for a while, then
come back. She was certain that he had been thinking about
his past. She hadn't asked him about it, but she did take
note of what he was reading. Ethics. War. Holocaust: Armenia,
Germany, Cambodia, Bosnia, Rwanda. Just and Unjust Wars. Eichmann
in Jerusalem. Hitler's Willing Executioners. Her book on the
persecution of Nazi war criminals had been gone one morning
and was back the next. There was cigarette ash in the section
on the einsatzgruppen. Sometimes he asked to borrow them,
sometimes he didn't.
As she watched him, listening to the caller and mumbling
the odd reply, she thought of the other times that he had
been reading like this. She had tried to break him out of
it, trying to lift his spirits first by her company, then
with her body. There had been consequences. She had a long
talk over a slow whiskey about it with Moira, and then a good
long cry about it afterwards, in her room, alone. After that,
she had followed Moira's advice and had tried very hard to
remember that it was not her fault, that all she could do
would be to wait until the storm broke. It seemed a very British
solution, and she wasn't at all sure if it was the right thing
It wasn't a long call. She watched him hang up the phone,
then grope for the whiskey glass. He drained it, stared at
it for a moment, then snarled and threw it against the wall.
The crash was expected and not loud, but she started. He was
still drinking, but he had stopped smoking. He hadn't told
her he was planning to stop and she hadn't asked him about
it. It was the eighth time that he had tried to quit. As in
the last four times, the smell of peppermint on his breath
had nauseated her, every time he came close. The cigs were
there all the same, just in case something came up. Something
clearly had. As he lit up, he had filled her in on the details.
"Malcolm was a mate, from the Crown. Worked as an archivist
at MI5. Wicked sense of humour about the higher ups. Totally
harmless looking. Did a lot of drugs in the 60s. He was in
an experiment, back then. Didn't work as they'd expected.
Found out by accident that when he was under with this shit
they were testing, he would channel this mad killer they kept
in a special prison at Porton Down. Wound up killing and eating
the other 4 subjects in the experiment. Never knew anything
about it. He was Black Air's deadliest assassin, and he wasn't
ever aware of it. He'd be gone for a few weeks, and he'd say
that he'd had a bad flashback, and someone would turn up dead,
somewhere in the world. Butchered. Never got caught, because
the filthy thing that possessed him didn't want to lose out
on its fun. They sent him to Baghdad to clean up some mess
for the Americans, and something went wrong. He started to
remember things. Terrible things. In his dreams. He gave me
his dream diary, for insurance. He talked them into letting
him retire early on a full pension. He still went to the Crown.
He was there last time we were. I was going to introduce you,
but he looked like he wanted to keep to himself."
He had stopped to light another cigarette.
"The Yanks saw him as a loose end. So did some on our
side. That was him on the phone. Said that they put something
in the water, that he was awake, but not really in control.
Said he was afraid he would hurt someone. Said he was in a
safe house, something about the North, then we were cut off."
"Let's go," she said.
With both aircraft in parts all over the hangar and no flights
until at least the next morning, they decided the fastest
way to get to their target was by driving all night. She was
at the wheel of the sky blue 2000TC that Moira had given to
her. It drank gasoline, but it was built like a tank and had
more character than almost anything else on the road. Sometimes
she let him drive, but for the most part she reserved the
pleasure for herself. For now, he wasn't getting near the
wheel. He was far too pre-occupied.
They had talked to Moira about it, and she had packed away
an emergency kit for the trip. Major tranquilizers, a dart
gun, a supply of syringes, a taser. The plan was simple. Find
Malcolm before he hurt someone, drug him, get him back to
Muir and let Moira have a go at detox. They were underway
within an hour. They had driven all night from Ullapool to
the South, but it was now almost dark again and there hadn't
been a sign of their quarry all day.
The last four safe houses in Kilmarnock, Carlisle, Barnard
Castle and Ripon had been empty, derelict since Black Air
had stopped paying the rent for them. In Bolton, they had
found a police constable shagging a traffic warden in an upstairs
bedroom, but that bit of low comedy hadn't been enough to
lift his mood.
"Are you sure that he meant The North? Couldn't it have
been North London, or-"
"No. The way he said it. He wouldn't go south again
unless he had to. No, he's up here somewhere."
"How many more of these are there?"
"Halifax. Scunthorpe. Grantham. Milton Keynes. That
one's a real bloody hole. Five or six others, but I'm sure
he'd go to one of those first. They're all easy to get to
from the trains."
"Speaking of Halifax-"
He had given her the directions from there. She wondered
how he could recall them. It was all so complicated. They
never had the grid system here, and each town was a rat's
nest of short twisting little roads that changed their names
every mile. And yet, he never got lost, never had to consult
the map. He had her stop at the bottom of a street of run-down
houses. She parked behind a white Ford Escort. They sat in
the car quietly, lights off, until they were sure that there
were no watchers in the street. She had checked out the police
and military band scanners and the BT account files on her
laptop, but there was no sign of unusual activity in the area.
He turned to her, managing a small grim smile.
"Let's do it."
They stopped in front of the door of the house. He put down
the gym bag, with the drug kit in it, and swept her up in
his arms. She gave him a quick hug, then phased backwards
through the door. In the twilight, it would be very hard for
anyone to see what she had done. They had practiced it back
on the isle. She unphased, and the stench hit her, hard. Dead
human. She hadn't been able to smell it, phased. It was a
small mercy from the numbing of the senses that accompanied
her phased state. She had the door open in a moment.
"Christ," he said, barely audible.
His face was dark. She took his hand, and phased them both,
just to be sure. They advanced cautiously down the hall, and
looked into the parlor. Blood on the wall. Broken furniture.
A large section cut out of the worn-out yellow shag carpet.
In the kitchen, more dried blood. He Signed to unphase. She
did. He Signed for silence. They stood, unmoving, for a very
long minute. Then, a small scrape on the floor above.
Upstairs, she Signed.
You. Straight up. I'll take the stairs. Meet me at the top.
She nodded, and airwalked up through the floor into the room
above. It was a small bedroom, empty of furniture, illuminated
by a sodium lamp in the street. A man sat on the floor beside
the window. his head buried in his knees. He didn't look up
as she rose through the floor. He was wearing a raincoat and
dark slacks. he was almost certainly middle-aged. They were
too late, but perhaps-
He looked up. He was 40ish, balding, undistinguished. No
moustache. Penetrating, frightening eyes.
"Who the hell are you?"
She could barely make out what the man was saying through
the interference. Phasing fucked the hearing, too. She was
lucky that it left her eyes as sharp as they ever were. She
knew it wasn't Malcolm. She knew that from the picture that
Pete had shown her. She backed out of the room, towards the
top of the stairs. The man took a small rectangular wallet
out of his pocket, and showed her a police warrant card. She
looked down and saw him staring up at her on the stairs. Police,
she signed. He looked down and cursed wordlessly, then took
her hand as he joined her at the top of the stairs. She was
careful not to appear phased. The man was staring at them
both. He stroked her palm. She unphased them.
"You got reason to be here?"
He had a London accent, working class.
"Wilson, Special Branch. Section 4.", said Pete.
He took out the fake warrant card that Alaistair had provided
for him. She had one of her own, but always felt embarrassed
using it. The man looked at it and grunted.
"Her too. On liaison from our American friends."
"They're no friends of mine," said the policeman.
"And you are?" she asked.
"Sergeant Derek Cook, Unexplained Deaths."
"Ryder. Kath Ryder."
She presented her hand. He looked at it as if someone had
offered him a dead rat to hold. He turned to Pete.
"She's a bloody kid. How could they bend someone this
"I'm 23," she said flushing, lying. "No one
did anything to me that I didn't want them to."
"God help you, then," said the sergeant.
"What happened here?" asked Pete, hostility barely
suppressed. His fingers were flexing, aiming.
"An unexplained death. It seems that you might have
She watched him darken even further.
"We're after someone who might be responsible for this,"
Pete said. "We left in a hurry. We weren't fully briefed.
We need to know about the death."
"Really. It always pleases me to find the likes of you
chasing after each other. Perhaps if you kill each other off,
they'll be some hope for the rest of us."
"So you haven't got him."
"Him. I rather thought it would be a him. Not that I
haven't met some women who could have done it."
The sergeant was looking at her as he said it. Then he turned
back to Pete, fixing him with a bitter look.
"No, we haven't got him. But he got her."
The sergeant took a stack of square Polaroid pictures out
of a pocket in his raincoat and handed them to Pete. They
couldn't see in anything in the dark hallway. The sergeant
pointed into the room.
"In there. That's where it ended."
They followed him into the light from the streetlamp outside.
She could now see the top photo on the stack. Young, long
red hair, cheap clothes. Standing in front of this house,
in daylight. Smiling for the camera. Angelica. Firestar. But
it couldn't be, Angelica was 20 or so now, and this girl was
16 at most. Not that she wasn't trying to look older, and
failing in the sort of way that appealed to a certain sort
of older man. Pete began to shuffle through the deck. Shots
inside the house. The girl looked drunk, or high. Having a
good time. Giddy, wearing less and less. Showing her age.
Then not so happy. The mouth still smiled, but the eyes looked
scared. Tied to a chair. Then very scared. Then screaming.
Not Angelica. He was only half-way through the stack. She
could feel him trembling, through his coat.
"Zoe Hanlon, age 16, born Belfast, lost her mother at
4 from a brain embolism, lost her father at 10 in an automobile
accident. No immediate family, into a Catholic orphanage for
5 years, then runs away from her rancid little island to ours.
In town for three weeks before the bastard got her."
He had stopped shuffling through the pictures. She took them.
She was sure that the sergeant wouldn't let them take the
stack away. The rest of the pictures reminded her of things
that she had seen. Torture. Tunnels with dead, mutilated meat
bearing the faces of friends, floating in the darkness. She
took a deep breath, then shuffled through the bad ones again.
Damp down the emotions, let the reptile out. The killer had
known what he was doing. He had kept the girl going for a
long time, using subtle techniques. She would have expected
that the girl had been dead in the last ten pictures, but
then the stream of arterial blood in the very last testified
to the killer's skill at mutilation. She recognized the blood
stains on the wall in front of her. The carpeting had been
taken out, presumably as evidence. Hammers, knives, screwdrivers,
and razors showed up in the pictures. No guns, no signs of
gunshots. No parts of the killer in shot, no reflections in
mirrors or windows, no shadows on the wall. She handed the
stack back to the sergeant.
"Half of what we could find went out of here in a stretcher,
the other half in two pails. I imagine the rest is in his
colon, if what we found on the plates downstairs is anything
to go by."
"What do you have on the killer? Do you know where he
might be?" asked Pete.
The seargeant's face flushed. He looked ready to explode.
"If I knew, I'd fucking well have him wouldn't I? Don't
you care? Don't you see what he did? He killed this child,
butchered her. You don't care, do you? There'll be no justice
She glanced up at Pete's face, and didn't like what she saw.
"We'll get justice for you, Sergeant," she said.
"We'll take him down. We'll make sure that it doesn't
The sergeant favored her with a look of disgust.
"What do you know about justice?"
"I've been fighting for it all my life."
The sergeant looked away.
"We don't know anything. No-one saw him clearly. Sixteen
eyewitnesses and they can't even agree on if he was a black.
She didn't confide in anyone either, not so far as we can
tell. Poor little thing."
The desolation in the sergeant's voice was disturbing. He
might have been lying about the girl's family. There was a
connection there, deeper than he was letting on.
"If we find something, we'll let you know," she
said. "One way or another. We'll end it , and we'll give
you proof it's ended. Perhaps another unexplained death."
The sergeant's head snapped up, his eyes blazing. He had
been hinting at blood hadn't he?
"If you find him, I want him alive. If not, I want enough
of him to get DNA samples."
"Come on Wilson, there's nothing more to be done here,"
she said. The sergeant was watching her carefully.
"No," said Pete. "We'll leave you to it. I
must remind that if you do find him, you are obligated to
let us know." He handed the sergeant a card. "The
Official Secrets Act covers this. No word to anyone that we
were here. Understand?"
The sergeant had spat the words out. She knew that they would
never hear anything if he found Malcolm first. She took her
lover's hand and guided him towards the top of the stairs.
The sergeant stared at them for a moment, then turned his
back on them. He shrugged off her hand on the way down. Then
he found it again, gripping it tightly.
In the car, he sat in the passenger seat looking straight
"We were too late"
"Why didn't I see it on the damn computer? This is still
Halifax, isn't it?"
"Sowerby Bridge. Probably just finished. They wouldn't
put it on the computers until he went back to London. They
got to him. Fucking bastards"
"And he got her. How dangerous is he, Pete?"
"Malcolm is harmless. The thing that takes him, that's
what I'd expect of it. And that prat in there. Christ, what
a nutter. I've heard of him. Quite a reputation. Always gets
"He does seem very committed."
Pete grunted, and looked away. "Should be committed,
more like. We've got to find Malcolm. Lincoln's the nearest-"
"Hotel? We're going to find a place to stay, and we're
going to get 4 hours of sleep."
"We've been up 36 hours, and that fucking horrible scene
back there hasn't helped. What if he's possessed, and I'm
so tired that my mind wanders for a minute and I find you
dead? We're no good like this. We must get some rest."
"We've got uppers."
"What if we can't find him before we crash? We go for
36 on, 4 off. Even you can keep that up for a week."
He turned back to her, and gave her a small smile.
"You're right. There's a pub up the road that's got
Ten minutes later, they entered a small stuffy chamber under
the eaves. He took her by the waist and hugged her very closely.
"You're shivering," she said.
"Those pictures. They reminded me of someone I met once."
"One of us. Girl called Angelica Jones. A mutant. Called
"Someone you liked?"
"Yeah. No. No, I didn't like her."
"Doesn't make it any easier, does it?"
"Guess not. She was a dangerous one. Broadcasted microwaves,
but she didn't have much control and she was kind of emotionally
unstable. Tended to fly off the handle. An airhead, too. Killed
a few people, a horse. Frost jerked her around for a while,
but got rid of her. She'd wanted to be a nun, but she was
more like a living rad-waste dump. If something set her off,
it was lethal rays all over the place."
"Where is she now?"
"In a team off in California somewhere. She found someone
even more uptight than Scott to get involved with. I heard
it calmed her down a bit."
"You're sure it wasn't her?"
"Dead sure. This guy doesn't have any offensive powers
when he's possessed, does he?"
"No. He's a librarian, in every sense."
"If he'd put any sort of sexual threat on Angelica,
he would be a pile of cooked meat on the floor back there.
Xavier scanned her, 'cause he was interested in having another
energy blaster. Decided that she was way too unbalanced to
be on a team. Thought about cutting her out."
"Cutting her out?"
"Fixing her brain so she couldn't use her power any
"Did he ever do me?"
"Did Xavier check me out? Because I was involved with
"No. He'd never do that without your consent."
The last part was a lie, and she hoped that he didn't catch
it. He didn't respond. She had had him scanned, but not by
Xavier. She had asked Emma Frost to do it. She had given Emma
a list, with some questions that on retrospect she now found
naive and embarrassing. Yes, Emma replied, he is what you
think he is. His heart is true. That was all she needed to
know. She didn't care about anything about his past. But if
he found out what she had done, then-
"I need a drink."
He gave her his flask. She opened it to the medicinal smell
of vodka. She hated its nakedness, not even pretending to
be something other than the cold annihilator that it was.
She drained half the flask and gave it him. She felt it burning
all the way down as he tilted his head back and finished the
remainder. He lay down on the bed in his clothes. She joined
"Sorry 'bout the smell," he muttered, as she snuggled
"Better than those fucking mints. You're still mad at
"Why're you shaking then?"
"That photo reminded me of someone, too."
His past was off-limits. He had never said anything to that
effect, but he hadn't had to. She put her arms around him.
A tear trickled down his cheek.
"The pictures. They reminded me of you."
"Me? I don't look anything like her."
"Her face. The expression."
"Those last ones I looked at, when she was trying not
to look frightened. It reminded me of how you looked, on the
way back from Dream Nails."
She went rigid for a moment, then forced herself to relax.
"I didn't look like that. Scared, I mean."
"No. But those ones when she was smiling but their was
fright in her eyes? You looked like that. I knew that, I knew-"
His mouth worked, but he said nothing.
"Maybe I was a little scared. It was kind of, well,
sudden. But I did want you. Oh God, I wanted you."
"Huh?" She winced, involuntarily, but he didn't
see it. His eyes were still closed.
"Why did you want me?"
"I, I don't know." She hated questions that she
He didn't say anything more. She blew gently on his eyes,
and he opened them.
"Hey. I'm here now. I wanted you, and you've got me,
and I'm glad. I'm not going anywhere."
"I don't know what I'd do if anything happened to you."
"Nothing's going to happen to me."
She ruffled his hair with a free hand, then kissed him lightly
on the forehead. He wasn't trembling now.
"Sleep," she whispered, and they did.
Continued in Part
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