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I've not been reading the X-Men for a while, so I thought best to describe my story as being set in an alternate timeline. Historians out there, don't flame me! And hey, I love mail! E-mail your comments to: catharsis@mindless.com.
This story's a relationship piece on Iceman & the White Queen plus smaller parts for other characters.

Part 11
by Min

Though use make you apt to kill me,
Let not to that, self-murder added be,
And sacrilege, three sins in killing three.

(The Flea, John Donne)

The next evening.

They made their way towards the commercial heart in the Right Bank of the city by the subway. At eleven on a Friday night, the train was packed. Commuters returning home from late night shifts, tired workers getting to transit points to take the main service that would carry them to nearby provinces for a weekend break and those gearing up for a night out in the entertainment establishments in the Left Bank.

Despite the lack of standing space, both managed to stand apart from each other, a distance that was precise by the fact that Emma constantly drew an invisible line she made sure Mountjoy did not traverse. When he saw her warning look, he simply smiled and shrugged. He knew what she would do if he threatened that space. And it sufficed for both their purposes, for now.

"What is this Promised Land you talk so much about?"

"Eden." He replied, not looking at her.

"And your imagination urges you to be the emissary for this holy undertaking?"

"Better to reign in hell, than serve in heaven."

"You're mad." Emma retorted blandly.

He laughed, a staccato bark that caused the people around to look at them discreetly.

"That - is the most succinct observation I've ever had on my personal ambition. I would correct your misconception, but we do not have the time. And I prefer that you remain ignorant - there is only room for one emissary in such a quest."

His eyes latched onto hers.

"For a woman who prides herself in her ability to exert control in such situations - you have very little to say about the changes in your circumstances."

"I reserve judgement until I am sure of what I know. You do not. That was your first mistake - and it will cost you, Mountjoy. The only promised land you're going to will be the pit of fire at the end of your journey."

"Religious piety - why Emma, you never cease to amaze me! But you're not answering my question. What is it that makes you grit your teeth to talk so civilly with a bastard like myself? Oh wait - could it be the company I keep? I've always thought that my way of making acquaintances would come in handy someday."

The edges of Emma's lips curled. "I've insulted your capacity to surprise me - I didn't think that diminutive tumour you call a brain could grasp so basic a concept as thought."

He bared his teeth in a feral smile. "And what have I done to deserve a sudden critique of my intellect? Has it got something to do with how you goaded me like some adolescent girl in her first sexual heat and then discarding me like your rag doll last night? Tell me, which button did I push to get such an effect? I want to push it again."

Emma's face flushed and then grew deathly pale. Her voice, when she spoke was still as a stone.

"Thank me. I spared you the knowledge of your incompetence. And that is only the beginning - amuse yourself running through this list - impotence, sycophancy, pusillanimous, prostrating, there are countless others. If you possess a shred of dignity, any of these should provide the reason to die of a drug overdose."

He laughed again.

She could read his mind, they both knew; when the situation demanded it. But just as Mountjoy observed the physical line she drew, Emma knew that she had no choice but to observe their mental demarcation as well. There was always last night's experience act as a reminder.

They disembarked at the next station and came up to air that carried the smell of the briny river. Across the wide strait of the Seine, the twin towers of the Notre-Dame Cathedral blazed on the banks of a small island. The shimmering reflection fell upon the black water, glowing like fiery pillars of judgement from heaven.

"What are we doing here? The bank building is several hundred yards upstream."

"Jolly testy, aren't you? We're making a simple detour, that's all."

They were forced to wait for several hours before making their move. In that time, they saw the riverside gradually empty itself of couples and stragglers while the homeless crawled into their hovels within the crumbled masonry of the riverbank. Somewhere in the depths of the cathedral, a bell tolled twice. Mountjoy wiped at his runny nose and pronounced that they act.

He was reaching a hand into his coat pocket to retrieve the packet there when Emma spoke up curtly. "Don't even think of it. This may be your suicide run, but I'm not going to die because you lack self-control."

He looked at her, eyes rolling like a wild animal's. He shook his head vigorously. For the first time, Emma saw fear glitter in them.

Without looking at him, "I can stem off the withdrawal effects from your brain and your nervous system to a certain extent. But you're mostly on your own."

"You'd better." He spoke through gritted teeth as he led the walk towards the edge of the river.

This close, the stench was overwhelming. Emma wrinkled her nose. The oily water glistened with lurid colours, swimming under the dim lamplights. Mountjoy took one look at the ebbing tide lapping against the embankment and vaulted over the railing. Emma half-expected to hear the splash as he threw himself into the turgid water but nothing happened. She peered down and instead saw him disappear into the gaping maw of an exposed drain. Cursing under her breath, she followed in his wake.

They walked along the interior of the vast drum-like structure for several minutes, wending their way upstream. The smell of wet mildew smeared itself over the fetid body of the river stench; resinous formations on the walls recorded years of passage of waste discharges. Thankfully this late into the night, the city's gastronomic system only contented itself with recovering from the subsiding stages of the daily sewage output.

Emma made sure that her hands stayed clear of the surrounding walls, she was not going to dirty them unless as a last resort. Just as she was beginning to make sense of the plan Mountjoy had in mind, he took off for one of the several nondescript intersections that led into the city's sewer system proper. A sound of frustration escaped her and she snatched at his arm.

"You seem very at home with this unorthodox approach."

With utmost fastidiousness, he pulled his sleeve away.

"The information was from a maintenance engineer working for the bank. Sophie, sweet little thing - for a woman who plied the sewers and ventilation ducts for a living, her acquaintances were unusually top-notched. Pity - had to discard her to make room for Bobby, her personal life would've made a quintessential laxative for the tabloid. Those damned reporters can purge their bloody way from purgatory to hell."

He swiped at the tic that began on his face and threw a look of pure hatred at Emma.

"You're not making it stop."

"Has the extensive use of drugs addled your brain?' She shot back. "It's purely psychosomatic - if you can't even hold on to the sanity bestowed upon you by some random act of fate, what do you expect me to do?"

It was not entirely true but she had other things to think of. So that was the woman whose body he had absorbed and then kicked to death. He had been planning this long beforehand.

The stench of the river grew more concentrated, Emma covered her nose with the sleeve of her jacket. She was about to demand if they were going to wallow in the sewer when Mountjoy took off towards a darkened corner of the tunnel.

Approaching, she found him wrestling with a rusty door embedded into the side of the wall. Bobby's ice-form materialised in front of her. One hand went out to touch the door, freezing it to the hinges. With a kick, he smashed the door in. The boom reverberated into the darkness. Emma winced involuntarily.

"What do you think -"

The form of Iceman turned around; the wide grin on his face was disturbingly out of place with those transparent and dispassionate eyes.

"I'm beginning to like this body a lot."

She ignored him and stepped across the opening.

The new section of tunnels became drier as they went along. Very soon, the atmosphere became mummified; embalmed in an airless smell of oppression. Ancient dust particles kicked into activity by their movements rained down in torrents under the dim tunnel lights. The faint sounds of dripping water had subsided entirely. Now and then, Emma caught an indistinct roar that came on and off.

It was the sound of trains, rattling their presence in places where old tunnels intersected the new ones. They were walking along the disused Metro tunnels. Yellowed papers began adorning the naked brick walls; old advertisements that dated back to the fifties.

The tunnel widened, a platform with a domed ceiling loomed ahead. It was an abandoned station. Mountjoy scrambled up the steps, she followed suit. The words on the dingy plate were almost ineligible. She made them out with some effort - Pyramides.

Several more doors were frozen over and kicked in. And each time, Mountjoy turned around to observe her reaction. The network of corridors continued to twist and turn. With a sinking heart, Emma realised that if she and Bobby could ever escape from Mountjoy, they would never be able navigate the labyrinth on their own.

The last door finally opened into an uncomfortably hot basement room. The roar of machinery and fire drowned out their entrance. Flames burning within the boiler cast unearthly shadows over every object in the room. With his lank hair and widow's peak, Mountjoy looked exactly like a demon sent from hell to plague her nightmares.

"So we're in the building?"

"Yes." A curt reply. He moved impatiently towards the outer door. Emma barred his way with her hand.

"I refuse to subject myself to unnecessary danger. Outline your plan now."

He sketched his plan to her. They were to make their way to the first of two security stations and take control of it. She was to stay there to safeguard his passage into the vaults, masking his presence from the other station and warn him when there is the possibility of being found out - and eliminate all resistance in his path. Mountjoy stipulated: as long as she prevented the general alarm from being sounded, they would be able to escape the way from which they come in.

It was suspiciously simple. But Emma had to go along with it, the facility was immense, with connecting wings that linked a series of buildings into one. She had no idea where the security stations were and could not possibly knock out every security guard in the premises. Besides, cameras would expose her identity easily, with or without psi-manipulation. The only choice was for Mountjoy to adopt the body of a security guard and sneak into the vaults of the building.

This had better be good. She told herself as she made contact with the two guards manning the nearest security station. An additional effort was all it took to knock them out. Feeling more confident with her success, Emma scanned for the station at the other end of the compound, but she could only feel their presence faintly.

They reached the first station without difficulty. The two guards were lying comatose on the ground. She turned away to busy herself with the screens as Mountjoy absorbed one of them. It wasn't that she was affected of course but being treated with the spectacle once, it was enough for a lifetime.

There was a hard cracking sound. Emma turned around. She was treated to the sight of Bobby Drake freezing the remaining guard into ice. The man shuddered instinctively for a while before dying. He continued the process until she could see frost solidify over the whole body. Then he swung in an all too familiar kick, a spindle attached to the mechanism of an axle. Bracing his hands against the wall, he lodged the hammer of his leg into the frozen form again and again - breaking it into thousands of pieces.

"I'll come back for you when I find the device I'm looking for, sweetheart. Wouldn't miss continuing our little feté for the world." Bobby sidled up close behind, his voice disturbing the fine hairs of her cheek.

Emma snatched a look at the departing form as she drew a deep breath to calm her heartbeat. The events of last night flashed through her mind for a split-second. The fact that something was affecting her troubled greatly.

She watched on the screens as he went down one level after another uneventfully. At times, he almost skipped along, a sight that would be immediately suspicious to anyone in the other security station. Stop that, she commanded him, her mental upbraiding earning short-lived attention from him until she had to remind again.

There was a security post at the lift on every level. Each time, Emma twigged the minds of the guards before Mountjoy could get close. If they were lucky, the death count would only be the unlucky pieces of the fellow melting on the floor behind her; she could work towards that at least.

It was harder each time, as the security level tightened and the guards bristled with instinctive suspicion towards anyone who approached them out of ordinary.

One floor passed, one more to go.

The final floor, three stories below street level.

She saw Mountjoy approach the final guard, strolling as if he was simply taking a walk. But she could see his fingers already contracting into talons, flexing against his side.

Mental persuasion had very little effect against this last guard even though she tried to convince him that it was for the best. In the end, Emma forced herself to seize the man's mind, commanding him to give over the vault keys. His movements against the flickering light were stiff and uncompromising as his mind bent itself against his will. She could only pray that the unnatural body language would escape unnoticed in the late hour.

The keys finally passing hands, an audible sigh of relief escaped her mouth. Emma bit her lip and controlled the guard, forcing him to sit back on the chair before shutting his mind down completely. His back was facing the camera, his blank face only visible to someone walking down the corridor.

Thank you so much, Darling. I would never forget that.

The thought came intimately across. Emma's mouth twisted in distaste. At least he had the frame of mind not to smile into the camera.

He disappeared into the vault and out of her vision.

A few intense minutes went by.

Facing the emptiness in the blank expanse of screens in front of her, Emma was acutely aware of the sounds around her - the constant hum of the machinery, the air-conditioning coming through the vents overhead. And the constant fear at the back of her head as her ears and mind pricked for slightest sounds of approaching footsteps. Minutes stretched and flowed into the mesh of sounds that demanded all her attention.

He reappeared on the last screen again.

In the cold light of the flickering screen, she saw him approach the immobile form of the guard.

Leave him alone. She commanded.

He looked up at the camera and waved, a queer lopsided smile on his face. She could see that he was holding some bulky device on the other hand.

With preternatural slowness, she saw him reach over the counter - and punched the intruder alert button. Emma's eyes snapped wide with outrage. Klaxons began to wail throughout the building.

The bloody asshole! She slammed her fist into the control panel, spending several precious moments cursing.

The door crashed open behind her. She turned around to face a guard who flung his hundred-fifty pound weight at her. They hit the ground with a crash, skidding up against a wall. But not before the edge of the panel board tore a bloody gash at the side of her head. The sensation was like being branded with live iron.

The room blacked out. When she came to, Emma felt wrenching pain on her arms as they were pinned against her back. With great effort, she slammed a mental spike into the man's mind, jolting him into unconsciousness. The feat almost knocked her out cold. For a while, she was only conscious of the harshness of her breathing and cold floor against her face.

She forced herself to get up agonisingly, failing in the attempt when her hands slipped on a pool of liquid. Lifting one hand, she saw a red haze in front of her. The other hand went to her head, and felt the stickiness on her scalp and face. She was bleeding heavily. But she dared not examine the extent of her injury. Right now, her greatest task was to get out of here.

She bit hard into her lip as she braced herself against the wall. The painful angles of the room rose to meet her. It was a futile effort that caused her to collapse on the floor again. In the distance, impending footsteps came nearer and nearer.

She could do nothing this time. The irony of being captured for felony was something that never occurred to Emma until now. It was almost hilarious.

It took her a while to realise that the newcomer had entered the room. It took another few seconds to register the cold that radiated from him. A freezing hand came down gently on her head; She could hear a voice as through a hollow tunnel.

"Shit, this is bad, real bad. Hang on, I'm going to freeze the wound - stop the bleeding."

Emma gasped as the shock of unnatural cold hit her. The pain rushed out instantly, replaced by deep numbness.

"Bobby?" She managed to croak out.

"Yeah, it's me. Can you walk? We've got to leave right now."

She got up finally, Bobby literally hoisting her to her feet. She gripped his ice-covered shoulder hard for balance. He suppressed a sound of frustration.

"I don't think you can walk far like this. Kill me later, Em but I've got to play prince charming for now."

Before she could utter any protest, he lifted her up in his arms and made a dash for the hallway.

continued >>

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