It's Not What You Know...

Part Two - Jokers Wild

by Sabia

One week later.

Thousands of years from the present in an alternate future, a society called the Askani would develop and teach some of the most sophisticated mental disciplines the world would ever know. Sequestered in his room, Cable practiced some of the more advanced centering exercises. His eyes were closed as he saw the lines of his thoughts as delicate patterns over the core of raw power. His mental link with Domino was a golden thread leading away into her mind. Then he saw something that was not part of the pattern. An ugly smear over parts of his mind. What was it? He focused on it. Someone else's thoughts! Someone had manipulated him using telepathy! He studied the foreign patterns closely. Who did this?

"Xavier!" He yelled as his trance broke. He landed on the floor with an ungraceful *thump*.


Cable and Jean finished their telepathic examination of Sam. It had been done to him too. Enough interference that he would be compliant but not enough for anyone to notice right away. She gently removed the lingering traces and sent him out of the room.
"My god, Nathan." She whispered. "It's been done to almost all of us. You, me, Scott, Sam, Bobby, Hank, Warren, Ororo. What are we going to do? Scott is devastated." She could feel his sense of betrayal and disbelief through their psi-bond.
"We have to confront him. All of us." He said firmly.
She nodded. "I, I'll call the others."


She was contemplating repotting a couple of her plants when the doorbell rang. I guess the botanical surgery will have to wait, she thought. She patted the little philodendron. You're safe for another day.

Julia opened the door. The rest of the team was loitering outside.

"Barbarians at the gate!" She exclaimed as she stepped aside to let them in.
"Hi there." said Sam. He turned to the others. "Ya'll remember now: it's pillage then burn."
"I knew we did something wrong last time." Roberto mused. He hefted the bag he was carrying. "We come bearing gifts, too."
"Well, make yourselves comfortable." She smiled. "I received a phone call from Dom to steer clear of the mansion for a while. What's happened?"
"There's been a problem with the Professor." said Roberto as he put the bottles in the refrigerator.
"Is he sick? Has he been attacked?"
"Nah. That would have been easy to deal with." said Sam flopping onto a floor pillow. "Cable and Jean have gone and found out that the Professor has been telepathically tampering with some of us."
"Damn. That's ugly." Julia sighed.
Jimmy nodded. "Yeah. We had to get of the mansion to give them their privacy while they talk to him."
"And to avoid any trouble." Terry added. "They were always going on about our lack of morals and ethics. Now this happens."
"It's been happening for a long time." Roberto pointed out. "We weren't around long enough for it to happen to us, that's all."
"That is not entirely correct." said Shatterstar. "Sam was affected." He took a few jabs at the punching bag. " Xavier has committed an immense betrayal of the trust that has been placed in him."
"Aye. 'Tis almost criminal but they won't dare to say anything." said Terry.
"Say anything to who?" Roberto asked. "Go whining to Val Cooper that the great Charles Xavier was playing head games with them all this time? Have him arrested for messing with his outlaw team of mutants?"
Tabitha was looking at the ceiling from her position of her favorite pillow. "Does it seem weird to anybody but me that a bunch of the X-Men have been living in some guy's house since they were kids?"
"If you take into account that it's supposed to be a boarding school then not really." Julia commented.
Roberto shook his head. "I never planned to live there for the rest of my life. Face it, people. The more we think about the setup, the flakier it sounds."
"Sam, do you know why it was done to you?" She asked.
"Ah think so." said Sam. "You know Ah was leading the team when we thought Cable had died?"
"Yes. Evil clones come into the story, don't they?" Julia paused. "I can't believe I just said evil clones."
"Time travel is also involved in this tale." Shatterstar added helpfully.
"Gosh, we can't forget that." She said in a resigned tone.
Sam looked vaguely sympathetic. "The X-Men thought Cable had shot the Professor. They came after us and had us under a sort of house arrest. The Professor and Ah had a talk about what we did and how we did it. He didn't approve of us then."
"So he messed with your mind so you'd be a good little X-Man." Tabitha concluded.
"No wonder you did one hundred and eighty degree turn." said Roberto. "It was like talking to a pod person after that."
"Was it that bad?" Sam asked.
"It was that bad." Jimmy confirmed.
"Shoot. Ah didn't notice anything wrong with me."


Scott knocked on the door of the study.
"Come in." Charles called.

They entered and arrayed themselves around the room. Scott stepped forward. God give me the strength to do this, he thought.
"Charles, Jean and Nathan have discovered," He paused, trying to work up the nerve to accuse the man who had all but been his father. "Have discovered that you, that there has been some kind of telepathic manipulation of several members of the team."
Charles nodded. "So you have identified the patterns of that manipulation as mine?"
Jean nodded. He's too calm, she thought. "Yes."
"What are the effects of this?" He asked curiously.
"The recipient would be more compliant to suggestions. Either telepathic or verbal." She said as steadily as she could.
Charles nodded. "Yes, that's exactly right."
Ororo closed her eyes. Outside, it started to rain.
"Charles, please indicate to us that you did not understand the premise." Hank said faintly. "Have you in fact truly used your telepathy on us in an intrusive way?"
"Henry, when have I ever lied to you?" Charles chided.
"Why?" Bobby asked staring at the floor. "What did we do wrong?"
"It wasn't a matter of wrong, Robert." He said. "It was a matter of ensuring that our dream would be fulfilled."
Logan cleared his throat. Jean had persuaded him to come in to be examined and he didn't like the reasons why. "Chuck, this ain't no joke. This is gonna be hurtin' a lot people. We all been fighting for this team for a long time. You ain't had call to be playing around with our minds."
"I assure you all I never meant to hurt any of you." Charles said. "There was no damage done to any of your psyches."
"This was against everything you every taught us, taught me! How could you?" Jean asked.
Betsy sat quietly in the corner. She had been carefully monitoring the patterns of Charles' thoughts and what she was sensing was making her ill.
~Scott?~ She sent.
~I believe that Charles is no longer truly sane. If Jean is emotionally ready, have her scan him directly to confirm my evaluation~
"None of you understand." Charles was saying quietly. "It was necessary. Several of you would have left. You would left and there would have been no-one to fight for our dream."
Jean blinked back tears. "We've given everything we've had for the dream."
"It wasn't enough!" He screamed suddenly. "Nothing has changed. My dreams of peace are as far away now as when I founded this school." He glared at his students. "You've failed me. All of you."


The phone rang as they were enthusiastically heckling the second movie.

"Julia? It's Domino. Is the gang there?"
"Yes, the entire circus. Let me put you on speaker."
She tapped the button. "Guys, it's Dom. Come here."
They clustered around the phone.
"Yes, Dom?" Terry asked.
"Hi there, team. We've got a meeting tomorrow morning at nine sharp."
"Aye. How's the situation?"
"Could be a hell of a lot better. Things are still tense so you might want to stay out tonight."
"Dang." Sam commented. "No wonder Cable said to pack sleeping bags."
Terry looked at Julia. "I guess we're going be asking if we can crash later."
"No problem." She shrugged. "You're always welcome."
"Since that's sorted out I'll call you here if we need to get in contact." said Domino over the speaker.
"Aye." Terry agreed.
"Okay, see you later guys."
"Bye, Dom."


Hank closed the doors to Charles' suite. "He's resting quietly now."
Scott nodded. "Will he be all right with the inhibitor bracelet on?"
"Yes." The doctor sighed. "That design can be worn for periods up to seventy-two hours without neurological damage. We will have consider what to do if we need any kind of long term solution."
"I've contacted Doc Sampson." He said with a sense of unreality. "I think we need a professional opinion on Charles' condition."
"Very much so." Hank agreed. "What now, Fearless Leader?"
"Hank, right now all my fears are front and center." Scott said truthfully. "I think the best I can be is 'Not Screaming with Anxiety Leader'."
"That is more than adequate. The rest of us will do the screaming on your behalf." He managed a toothy grin. "That's called teamwork."


They came back to the mansion the next morning to a surprise. There were a few strange people occupying the living room they normally claimed.
"Mah god. It's X-Factor." said Sam.
Julia surveyed the newcomers. Talk about diversity, she thought. "Who?"
"Now I'm hurt. Didn't anyone tell you about us?" A lovely if blue woman with red hair asked.
"Not that I can recall." She said truthfully.
"They're the government's official mutant team." Terry explained.
"Not any more." A rough-looking young man corrected. "We've split from the feds."
"Where's Lorna and Alex?" Sam asked.
"Being looked at by Cable and Jean." An older Native American man said. "Just making sure there wasn't anything done to them. I take it you've all been made aware of what's happened with Charles?"
"Yeah, we have. What are ya'll doing here?" Sam asked.
"We're working on the same side now." The man said. "Aren't you going to introduce us to your new teammate, Sam?"
He flushed at the oversight. "Pardon about that. Julia, this is Forge, Mystique, Wild Child and, Ah'm sorry, Ah don't know your name."
The black girl with blonde hair smiled. "S'okay. I'm Shard." She winked. "That's really my name."
"This is Julia de Santos." Sam continued.
"Hello." Julia waved.
Wild Child held out a clawed hand. "Kyle Gibney, actually. Don't you have a codename?"
"Not one that I'll admit to." She smiled as they shook.
"Now that sounds like it has a story behind it." Mystique said. "Since the Dog-Faced Boy told you his real name I'll tell you mine. I'm Raven Darkholme." She smiled at the surprised looks. "What? Can't a girl be on an honesty kick?"
"Stranger things have happened." Roberto commented. "Guys, I've got to start packing. I'll be down for the meeting."
After he had gone up to his room, the rest of them found seats around the room.
"Ah thought that the government wasn't ever going to let you guys go." said Sam. "What happened?"
Forge shrugged. "All of their data on us, on the X-Factor project in fact, has gone missing. For some reason, we don't exist anymore. We did tender our resignations properly so we've done our part."
There were some knowing snickers around the room.
"Don't laugh." Kyle said. "You wouldn't believe how much paper they had on us."
"Not to mention the computer files." Shard added.
"So what's all that stuff in the hallway labeled 'X-Factor' then?" Tabitha asked.
"Souvenirs." Raven smiled. "We couldn't leave with a few mementos of our lovely time with the government."


Everyone filed into the War Room at just before nine.
Tabitha nudged Julia as a green-haired woman came in with a blond man.
"That's Lorna Dane and Alex Summers. Scott's brother." She said.
"Real family affair." said Julia as they sat down.
"That's nothing. Remind me later to tell you about the time that Alex was going with Jean's evil clone."
"Are you serious?" She asked suspiciously.
"You bet." Tabitha smirked. "That was Cable's mom by the way."
"Oh gods." She said. "Please don't tell me anymore."
"Then you do not wish to hear of Cable's training by his sister's religious sect when he was cast into the future?" Shatterstar asked with a smirk.
"Sister?" Julia asked. "Damn it, no. Forget I asked."
"From another timeline." said Tabitha with mischievous glee.
Julia sighed and Shatterstar patted her consolingly on the shoulder.
"We will wait to tell you of the time Cable's clone's spirit had possessed him." He said.

Scott came in with Cable and Emma. He waited until they had sat down with their teams before speaking.
"Everyone has been briefed about the situation with Charles." He began. "Dispite these...developments we're going to go forward with the plans that Domino and Nate have laid out. Charles requires full-time care at this time and we have decided that we run too great a risk of being attacked here. It's happened once too often to think it won't happen again."
Most of his audience smiled or laughed quietly.
"Therefore, Emma has suggested that Charles be moved to the Massachusetts Academy while he's undergoing therapy. He'll be protected by that school's relative obscurity and the members of the team that will be moving there. As some of you already know, Emma has arranged for a twenty-four hour a day support staff to care for him while he's there."
There was a rustling of paper as a few people checked the nearly finalized team lists that had been handed out.
"Since this school has been more a combat base than anything else, we will be converting into that exclusively." He nodded at Forge. "With X-Factor in residence, this shouldn't be too difficult."


After the meeting, Scott and Emma went to talk further to Doc Sampson. The rest of them milled around the main living room and discussed the new arrangements.

Julia sipped her coffee as she watched Sean , Ororo, Bobby, Bishop and Logan discuss how they would be handling things at the Academy. Kyle and Shard were listening in but mostly concentrating on getting to know the students who were hanging around. Gods help anybody who tries into break into that school, she thought. There won't be enough left of them to pray over.

The X-Men were trying to warm up to Raven since she had given her assurances she would stay with the team if they were going to carry through with their plans.
Remy separated from the crowd and wandered over.
"Wish me a good trip, petite? We be leaving dis afternoon."
"Rio will never be the same again." Julia smiled.
"We try to keep de city in one piece." He offered.


Three days later.

Shatterstar and Julia wandered around the university campus looking for the right lecture theater. He had discovered that the author of one the books he had particularly liked was participating in a debate and so he had asked if she would accompany him. Since the debate resembled live entertainment, he felt he might be able to appreciate it. After some searching, they found their destination and went in.

Julia regarded the room. A classroom was the same the world over, she thought. I'll bet people goof off in the higher rows here too.
"Hmm. Where did you want to sit?" She asked.
Shatterstar was looking at the little tables that were attached to the seats. Of course, he thought. The students are supposed to take notes when the instructor speaks.
"I would prefer to be seated closer to the front." He glanced at her. "That is a cultural preference."
"Fair enough." She smiled.

The debate was quite interesting. Shatterstar was content to listen as the various speakers propounded their arguments. He did not feel sufficiently learned to participate in the discussion. What was said angered, pleased and baffled him in turn. However, he was enjoying the exposure to new concepts. This is different, he thought as he tried to follow the latest line of reasoning. A duel of words and ideas. He noticed that Julia was writing in the small book she had brought.
"What are you doing?" He asked quietly.
"Just making a few notes. If we're going to discuss this later I want a crib sheet." She whispered back.
Shatterstar nodded his understanding even though he was not familiar with the practice personally. Any information he had to learn during training had been presented to him on computer screens.

Julia tuned out most of the debate as she doodled in her notebook between notes of the major premises. Most of the theory was review of her classes at the Guild and the rest didn't really interest her. Modern philosophy isn't my favorite, she thought as she sketched the guest author. It always seems to be about rights and not responsibilities. What these people would say about the way the Guild is run? She smiled to herself. They'd hate it. We're not a democracy, after all. A society ruled by an aristocracy made up of the living and the undead. Well, no-one can say we discriminate on the basis of one's mortal status. She abandoned the sketch and started one of the author's opponent. There's no nobility here, she thought. There's snobbery but it's not nearly the same. It's all about money and nothing about character or skill. Small wonder they can't respect Selene for what she is. What's another long-lived mutant? She sighed. Thousands of people pilgrimage to see the home of a dead rock and roll singer but they'd never worship a sorceresses who remembers when Egypt had rainstorms that lasted for weeks. She glanced at Shatterstar. He was raptly listening to the arguments being tossed back and forth. Now that's a bizarre social system, she mused. It'll take a whole lot more than removing Mojo to fix things there. A few marks of ink created the outline of a sword on the paper. Will I offer to help with that war? She thought. It's more than agreeing to do a job in another country. I'm sure that the gang back home would fall over laughing at the idea of fighting a rebellion on a planet in a different dimension. They'd probably ask what I've been drinking and tell me to stop.


Kyle caught his reflection in a window as they waited in the lobby of the movie theater for the girls. He considered the face looking back. Still ugly but the haircut helped, he thought. With the new duds it's about as good-looking as I'm ever going to get.
"What do you think is taking them so long?" He asked his companion.
Jimmy came back from wherever his mind had drifted off to. "I haven't a clue. It's girl thing. I've been wanting to ask: what do you think about being assigned to the Massachusetts Academy?"
He shrugged. "I kinda like the idea. I'm gonna be finishing school, helping with the kids, doing my bit for the team when I have to. Sort of getting a chance to do more normal stuff, you know? Shard's brother is going up there too so she doesn't mind." He grinned. "And the farther I am from Raven the happier I'll be. She's always hassling me and I'm not allowed to swat her one."
"We don't have that problem on our team because Cable lets us hit each other." said Jimmy.
"Good deal." Kyle said enviously.

Shard and Risque sauntered up a few minutes later.
"Okay, the fabulous babes are back." Risque announced. "What fantastically amusing things have you guys planned for us to do?"
"Now that's a loaded question." Kyle smirked. "I don't think I should say that kind of thing with all these kids around."
"It's nothing they haven't heard before on TV." said Jimmy. "How about we hit that pizza joint we saw on the way in?"
"Sounds like a plan." Shard agreed.


On the floor of the Danger Room, Terry reloaded the clip in her gun and tapped the wall controls for another round. Domino had created a set training scenarios for her to work though and she was determined to beat the computer. Her last round was without her powers so this one would be with them. I have to able to do both, she thought as she lifted into the air with her scream. Ready or not you little beasties, here I come.

Tabitha came into the control center to check if anyone was using the room. Since the new training programs had been announced they tended to practice whenever the oppourtunity presented itself. She grinned at the sight of Terry flying in a tight pattern through the shooting gallery. What the bullets didn't hit, the sonics did.
"Trying to fly and shoot at the same time, huh?" She manifested a mini-timebomb in one hand and hefted her gun in the other. "I can be a double threat too."
She waited until Terry had finished to bother her.
"Looking good, Siryn." She said in to the microphone. "You did eight-nine percent on the ratings. That's eight percent up from your last run."
"Thanks." Terry waved back. "Did ye want to use the room now?"
"You done? I'll tag-team some fake guys with you. We gotta practice that anyway."
"Aye. Come on down, then."


While the light of his life was honing her skills, Wade was trying to figure out which of the boxes labeled 'Stuff' were the important ones. He was in a old brick office building that was in serious need of renovations. It was located in one of the areas that the city council would just as soon forgot about.
"I hate moving." He declared. "What this? Porno mags from 1989? Pack rats of the world unite! Why the hell was I keeping this shit?"
His friend and partner Weasel, otherwise known to his mother as Jack Hammer, looked up from his meticulous unpacking of some very illegal computer equipment. "'Cause you didn't have a sex life, Wade."
"Well, that's not my problem anymore." He gloated. "All is well with my sweetie."
"It's gotta be great if you're willing to move your ugly carcass across the country to get some. She must be a great lay." Weasel snickered. He gagged as his best friend suddenly pinned him to the floor with a hand around his throat.
"Don't get smart about Terry." Wade warned quietly. "I don't want to hear any disrespectful crap coming from you, okay?"
"Yeah, I hear you. Let me up." He rubbed his neck as Wade went back to rooting through the boxes. "Damn, you're pretty far gone on her."
"Yeah. I ain't coming back." He held up a baseball cap with holsters for a can of a beverage of one's choice on each side and straws for ease of consumption. "I wondered where I put this." He donned the headgear with an air of great pride.
Weasel threw him a couple of beers to complete the adornment. "Here. You know, I think it's great that things are working with you and Terry but someone's gonna notice you're always around her soon."
Wade paused in mid-sip. "What?"
"Man, we got so many people after our hides since we split from Department H that they could hold 'We Want to Kill Deadpool and His Buddy Weasel' conventions in the World Trade Centre." Weasel tossed off. "As cool as the place is, coming to New York is like hanging a target around your neck."
He sat down on the floor. " I hate it when you come up with stuff like that. Now I'm gonna be all tense for the rest of the day."
"Have some soothing herbal tea." Weasel advised sarcastically. "Help me lift this thing, would you?"


After the debate, they decided to explore the small village that was more or less attached to the university. They had a late lunch in a café with a poet declaiming on a small stage. He seemed blissfully unaware of the uncomprehending stares of most of his audience.
"Did you understand the meaning of his speeches?" Shatterstar asked as they resumed their tour.
"No." said Julia. "I'm convinced that less than five percent of the population actually understands poetry and it's pretty much gibberish to everyone else."
"Then I will say that I side with the majority on this subject." He said.
He stopped in front of a store selling games and books. On the front window was a large poster of a woman holding a sword and dressed in very impractical clothing.
"I have noticed that this is typical of the portrayal of female warriors on the world. She does not even have a sheath for the weapon." He commented. I wonder what she would look like dressed in such a fashion, he thought. Probably quite appealing. I should not think such of a fellow warrior, he reminded himself.
"That's because there's no place to attach it to a chain-mail bikini." She said as she considered the image. "I think she's going to die of hypothermia before she actually fights anybody. Although, with her boyfriend there, they make a nicely matched set."
He regarded the overly oiled man depicted on the poster beside the first. His personal comfort could not be enhanced by that particular garment, he thought. "As bold as I am known to be, I would be hesitant to challenge any foe in such clothing."
"You mean lack of clothing." She smirked. "But your enemies almost certainly won't be paying attention to where your swords are. They'd probably call a time out to let you get dressed first." Gods knows that even I'd have a difficult time concentrating if I was attacked by someone in a pair of leather micro-Speedos. Especially if he did it. Actually, that would be great. Stop that, she added automatically.
"It would be a courtesy to be thankful for."

They stopped and watched for a while as a small ragtime band played in front a music store. Julia threw a handful of coins into the hat on the ground.
"There's a lot of this at home." She commented as they strolled off again. "There's major concerts from time to time but there's always street entertainers."
Shatterstar considered the idea from several angles. "These people perform but for only those who happen to see them? That seems somewhat inefficient. Should not their efforts be appreciated by many?"
"It's different because we don't have a broadcast network of any kind. A good musician or dancer will become famous through word of mouth so eventually many people do come to watch them." She smiled at his slightly disapproving look. "A little too old-fashioned, hmm?"
"I don't think that has ever been the fashion on my world." He remarked. "All performances are shown on the Networks. Even when the Cadre Alliance would stage attacks on Mojo's forces it would be broadcast. We were the most highly rated program."
She stopped. "Sorry. Backup a bit, please. Your revolutionary group was shown on Mojo's Network?"
"And the high ratings that this received somehow translated into more power for the current government?"
"Yes." He held up a hand. "I know the failings of it. But you must understand that nothing can be truly hidden from the Networks. Anything so important as a conflict between forces is quickly found by the cameras."
"Gods above. Your people are really starting out with the all odds stacked against you." She sighed.
"I know." He said thoughtfully. "It is a similar war to the one our team and allies fight. The advantage that the leaders have here is their warriors do not have to overcome the programming that was done to them." He smiled with sudden humor. "As our teammates have likely told you, I behaved very differently when I first arrived."
She smiled. "Oh yes, it's a popular topic all right. I categorize it as 'culture shock' and leave it there."
"I suppose some of it was my adjusting to this world." He allowed. "However, I think it was my adherence to the values that were instilled in me by my trainers. All the members of the Cadre Alliance adhere to those values even though we wish to be free of the Arena and what it represents."
"Do you realize you're going to have the same kind of culture shock when you go back?" She asked. "Your allies back home aren't going to understand or accept your reasoning right away."
"Then I will use reasoning they do understand. I will hit them repeatedly until they agree." He decided.


The pizza joint in question was decorated in a eclectic mix of rock 'n' roll memorabilia. Buddy Holly was warbling over the sound system while they waited for their order.
Shard was trying not to let on how out of place she felt. This was so different than the war-torn world she remembered. Peace on earth, she thought. I can't cope. Great.
"You look tense." said Risque to her. "Didn't you hang with your pals when you were with those future cops?"
"Yeah, we did. But we were always on patrol, you know?" Shard answered.
Risque nodded. "Are you going to be a cop here too?"
"No. I'm going to try the part-time civilian thing." She smiled. "Show those kids at the Academy a few tricks."
The pizza was served and they dug in. Shard was happy to indulge since her essence that had been held in a holomatrix had been merged with a clone body. I'm back and I'm going to enjoy it, she thought. She frowned at the angry looking man approaching them.
"Possible trouble, people." She warned as she put her slice down.
"Hey what do we have here? A couple muties in love?" A heavily-built young man sneered.
"Actually, its four mutants." Jimmy corrected. He stood up and towered over the shorter man. "Do you have a problem with that?"
"Yeah, I do." The man muttered. Damn, the fucker's big. "Me and my buddies don't like seeing your kind around here."
Kyle flexed a claw idly as he reigned in his impulse to leap over the table and tear the man's throat out.
"Wow. What a coincidence. We don't like you either."
"Okay, Jed. You've had your say. Go sit down and shut up." said Risque.
The man slunk back to his table. They could see his friends looking dissatisfied at their continued presence.
"Well, that wrecked my appetite." Shard commented.
"You barely eat anyway." said Jimmy sitting down again. Six of them, four of us, he thought. If they want to start something it won't take long to finish it.
"Sorry about that, guys." Kyle muttered.
"What are you talking about?" Risque asked.
He shifted uncomfortably. "It's us, not you, that got them all worked up. You look normal."
"Fuck that. We're mutants too. He's offensive and deserves to get his teeth kicked in." She asserted. "If wasn't the mutant thing he'd be riding you for going with a black girl."
Kyle blushed. "We're not, uh, going together. Not for lack of interest on my part."
Jimmy and Risque looked at Shard expectantly.
"What? Don't look at me like that." Shard said. "I'm thinking about it."
"Hey great! That's progress." Kyle said with a grin.


Terry landed on the floor and wiped the sweat from her face. "I think I'm done for the day."
"Yeah, geez, I'm bagged too." Tabitha agreed. "I can't believe you've been in here for almost three hours."
"I have to get better." She explained as they headed out. "I cannae be the slow one if I'm going to lead the team."

There was new supply of sodas in the refridgerator that they commandeered. Terry studied the printouts of her ratings as they sat at the kitchen table. Tabitha looked curiously at her in between searching for the last bag of potato chips she knew was still stashed away.
"How come you're so into this now?" She asked around a mouthful of sour cream and onion chips.
Terry snatched the bag and took a handful. "I told ye already."
"Yeah, right. You've never been this much of a keener." said Tabitha. "Did Dom tell you to or something? Gimme the bag."
"Nae, I'm doing this for myself." said Terry as she opened a second can of pop. "I'm always being compared to me Da. I want to be known for me own skills, not his."
"You gotta admit it's kinda automatic when your powers are the exact same."
"Nae they're not. I can do more." Terry sniffed.
"And you're cuter." Tabitha snickered.


There was a small crowd outside when they emerged. The man who had bothered them before came forward again.
"You freaks are gonna have to go through us now." He said loudly.
Jimmy shrugged. "Fine with me."
He picked the man up and threw him onto the spectators. They retreated somewhat at the display. A few of the more enterprising started throwing whatever debris they could pick up. Risque smirked and raised a hand. The small projectiles imploded into harmless specks. The rock throwers muttered and watched her warily. This was not the mutant-bashing sport they had in mind.
"Okay, people. Show's over. Move aside." Shard said.
"You really sound like a cop sometimes." Kyle remarked.
"Mutie freaks!" One of the boys yelled.
"Stay cool, people." Jimmy advised.
He was shoved by one of the braver members of the crowd. He pushed the boy back. "Don't start with me."

Most of the crowd broke off but a dozen and half or so of the more vocal protesters followed them down the sidewalk.
Kyle stopped. "Guys, this is really getting on my nerves."
"I'm with you." Risque agreed.
Shard glanced at Jimmy. "Well?"
Jimmy shrugged and punched out the nearest of their followers. "Okay."
I just wanted a nice day out with my girlfriend and a couple pals, he thought. You creeps have to go and wreck that. I am not happy.
Kyle snarled and launched himself at an unlucky individual. The boy in question scrambled away as fast as he could, holding his now bleeding arm and shredded jacket.
"I bet you can't get them without using your powers." He dared Shard as he backhanded his next subject.
"I can too!" Shard claimed.
She proceeded to take out two more with a series of martial arts maneuvers.
"You just wanted to see her bounce around." Risque snickered as she snap-kicked another protester in the gut.
"Yeah, so what? I'm a healthy boy." Kyle grinned.
Jimmy tossed his latest challenger into a trash bin. "These guys aren't professionals, don't rough them up too much."
It didn't take too much time for the protesters to realize that they were outmatched. Most of them took off quickly, leaving the original ringleaders to take the brunt of their attentions. These six backed away cautiously as they noticed their supporters had abandoned them, then broke into a run.
Risque smirked. "Oh no. Can't have you running away." She raised a hand and an instant later, the car the boys were trying to reach imploded. They halted and looked at the crumpled metal.
"That was stylish." Shard complimented.
Kyle's ears perked up. "Sirens. We're better get lost before the cops show."

They ran down the alleyways until they reached the carpark. Risque was laughing at the thrill of it all. We showed those sons of bitches, she thought. This is great.
"Hey, James? Do you think Cable would let me hook up with your crew?" She asked. "I'm into this kickin' mutant thing."
Jimmy grinned. "Really? You want to join us? Wow, that'd be great!"


Two weeks later.

Roberto and his luggage returned to much shoulder punching and other manly greetings. He immediately complained that he hadn't been attendance for Risque's 'welcome aboard' function but was mollified when they decided they would have another event to celebrate his return. He also proudly announced that his family was in alliance with the Thieves' Guild of Rio. It would mean more paperwork to do but the Guild agents would keep DaCosta International's board of directors under control for him as well as a few other benefits. They sat in the living room amidst the discarded wrapping papers and boxes as he described his vacation in glowing terms.

"Nova Roma was great." Roberto enthused. "You'd never know you're still in the twentieth century except that they've started adding electric lights to some of the main buildings. Amara says hello. She'd really like it if we could all go down for a visit."
"What's she doing now?" Jimmy asked.
"Helping teach people about the modern world. Some of the older citizens are refusing to believe that Rome isn't an empire anymore."
"How was the festival of Dionysos?" Julia asked.
"It was fun. I really had a good time." Roberto smiled.
"That's good. Did Amara attend with you?" She inquired artlessly.
"Uh, yes she did." He admitted. That alone had been worth the trip, he thought.
"Okay, clue me up." Risque demanded. "What's the big deal about this festival?"
Julia played with her coffee cup. "How's your knowledge of Greco-Roman religion?"
"Lousy. Spill it."
"Dionysos is the god of wine." She explained. "The festival is sort of the prototype loud, drunken party with a few twists."
Risque looked intrigued. "Yeah? What sort of twists?"
"Well, Dionysos is also one of the male, uh, potency gods."
"Oh. So guys pray to him when they can't get it up?" She asked with a smirk.
Jimmy started laughing. Sam looked embarrassed. Shatterstar looked impassive as usual.
"Pretty much." Julia confirmed.
Risque grinned at Roberto. "Everything working okay now?"
Tabitha couldn't keep from snickering. Terry was trying to look sympathetic dispite her giggles.
"Yes, just fine, thank you." Roberto managed politely. "If you're done harassing me, I've brought pictures that I thought you guys might want to see."

Risque was staring a picture of a typical Nova Roma crowd with an air of disbelief. "It looks like this everyday, right? This isn't some massive toga party?"
Julia leaned over the back of the sofa. "That's right. They look a little more dressed up than usual but if the festival was taking place at the same time then everybody would be in their best clothes."
"Wild." She said. "James, if it ever comes up, I want to check this place out. What's the word on brown people?"
Julia raised an eyebrow. "Pardon?"
"Come on, girl. You know what I mean. If James and I went down there, would we be hassled for not being white?" She asked seriously.
"Gods, no. Whatever made you think that? Almost the entire the population is Inca to some degree." said Julia. "Try to remember your history. Romans are equal-opportunity slavers."
"That's not the kind of equality I'm looking for." Jimmy commented. "The buildings look really cool. I never figured that there'd be paintings on everything."
Roberto grinned at Julia. "Do you want to explain it to the barbarians or should I?"
"You go ahead." She smiled.
"Okay. That boring all-white look you see on the banks and things is because by the time there was an interest in classical architecture in the rest of Europe, the paint had worn off." Roberto explained. "They thought the past should look dead so they left the colours off even though the buildings of the Empire are described in literature as highly decorated."
"Western Civ 101." Tabitha laughed.
"Ah think it's neat you know this, 'Berto." said Sam with a trace of envy. I should do more of that kind of book learning, he thought.
"I was just there." Roberto shrugged.
Shatterstar was studying the pictures of the Coliseum closely. It looked much smaller and far more simplistic than the Arena but the basic idea was obviously the same.
"I had to get permission to take pictures of that." said Roberto to him. "I thought you would be interested in seeing it."
"Thank you for the consideration. Why are photographs not allowed?" He asked.
"Because cameras in general are sort of frowned upon. If you wanted to paint the city or write about it then that's fine but I can't really draw and I didn't want to write an essay."
Shatterstar glanced at Julia. "Is this your world?"
"Almost." She said. "I think the closest it would be is a renaissance fair crossed with a Roman city."
"Ya'll do jousting?" Sam asked with a grin.
"Yes. I'm terrible at it. The horses and I can't work out who's in charge." Julia smiled. "I do have some sketches of the Guild if you'd like to see them sometime."
"Ye cannae take pictures there either?" Terry asked as she considered the logistics of wearing a toga. How do they make it stay up? She wondered. There aren't any buttons.
"Definitely not." said Julia.
"How strange." Shatterstar commented.


Domino sat in the briefing room and reviewed her notes for the meeting. The amount of planning that was required to organize their collective efforts was more than all of her past missions combined. Let's hope our new motto of 'unity is strength' is enough to hold it together when push comes to shove, she thought. This group has done more than its share of pointless in-fighting. Cable came in with his ever-present coffee mug and a carafe.
"Can I pour you another?" He asked with a furtive peck on her cheek.
"I wouldn't say no." She smiled. "How's things with the X-Men?"
"Settling down. They've sorted out that Alex will be leading now that Scott's in charge of the Xavier Foundation and Ororo's at the Academy." He leaned back and cracked his knuckles. "Forge has it written up for the meeting but I'll tell you now. The teleport scramblers, security enhancements and computer upgrades are completed. We'll be set to move on to improving the armory stores and working out some area-wide energy shielding next. This place is going to be a fortress by the time everything's done."
"As you've always told me, Nate: we're fighting a war." She said. "We're going to need a fortress."
He studied her critically for a few moments.
"What are you staring at?" She demanded after she thought the inspection had lasted long enough.
He pushed back from the table, out of arm's reach. "I'm just thinking what you'd look like in wimple."
"I'd stick the pointy end somewhere you wouldn't like." She shot back. He just smiled at her. "Nate, this is going to be a big job. We haven't done a strike yet and I'm almost overdosed on meetings."
He knew better than to try and sugar-coat his comments. "You think we can't do it? Is this too big for us?"
"Hell, no." She snapped. "I'm indulging in a little private bitching. My rep is riding on this. It's going to work if I have to bludgeon every single person into line."
"Yes, Dom. Anything else?"
"Stop being so damned compliant!" She yelled.
"Yes, ma'am." He said with a sharp salute. "Seriously, we can do this. You keep us on track and I'll make the day-to-day things work."
She subsided then switched to psi-speak. It was easier to voice her real thoughts when she knew only he could hear them.
~You really have that much faith in this? In me?~ She sent with an anxiousness that would never make the light of day.
~Yes, of course. There's no-one else I'd trust for something like this. That applies for any number of things, you know that~ He sent back honestly. ~We have what we've always needed, Dom. Our soldiers, our cause and each other~
~You're going to make me blush, Nate~ She said, touched at his belief in her.
~Oh yeah? Where?~ He eyed her speculatively.
~I'll show you later~

They composed themselves as the rest of the 'steering committee' came in and sat down. Emma brought news from the Hellfire Club about the revitalized Hound project. The Hellfire Club had welcomed its White Queen back with open arms, giving her access to people that wouldn't have normally even considered helping any of the X-teams. Warren announced that thanks to the efforts of a prominent marketing firm, the 'Metahuman Defense League' would start a newspaper and television ad campaign to bring their concerns into public view. In addition, the Washington law firm of Edwards Jones Robinson would begin work on a legal fight for mutant rights. The senior partners' ties to the Hellfire Club were purely coincidental, of course.

"Our last bit of business to cover is the information we've started to gather on the latest international effort to control mutants." Domino began. "I'm sure everybody has seen the articles about Zero Tolerance that have been cropping up in the papers recently."
"Aye. 'Tis amazing that the jackboots get away with even saying that all mutants should be exterminated." Sean said.
Forge nodded. "Government backing accounts for a lot of that. There's been the most activity here with some of the European Community also indicating their support. Depending on the source quoted there's five to twelve countries on side."
"Saints, that's marvelous, isn't it?" He asked sarcastically. "Who's running the show?"
"A fellow by the name of Bastion. He's the one who's been lighting a fire under the Friends of Humanity now that Graydon Creed is out of the picture." said Domino.
Raven shrugged. "Useless brat. I'm not surprised he killed himself after his followers found out about his ties to myself and Victor. It's only too bad he didn't do it sooner."
"You're all heart, Raven." Emma commented. "What do we know about this Bastion person?"
"Damn near nothing." Cable groused. "He showed up a couple years ago out of nowhere as a technological advisor to Henry Gynch and his Project: Wideawake staff. He's been the driving force behind the renewed interest in Sentinel development and Nimrod."
"Maybe he's another time-traveler." Warren suggested. "That would explain why there aren't any records for him."
"Possibly. I'm not discounting anything for now." He said. "We do have some indication that Bastion or someone close to him on the Nimrod project is from a future timeline. The control modules that we found were too advanced to have been developed by contemporary scientists."
"We need to get some hard data on Bastion and the scope of his hobby." Domino stated.
Forge tapped the table thoughtfully. "Why don't we can pull from the federal databanks? I've still got a few worms in those systems. Maybe you should talk to Kitty and that spy boyfriend of hers about doing similar work from Muir to get a handle on what's happening overseas."
"Okay. Warren, get a hold of those lawyers and see what we can do about the statements that have been made by the Zero Tolerance and FOH spokesmen." She said. "I'm sure we can get them for promoting hate crimes."
"I'm on it." Warren nodded as he made a few notes.
"Once we've got something to work with, we'll see about a little infiltration and good old fashioned spying."
Raven smiled. "Hello? Did I hear my name?"
"I think you did." Domino agreed. Shapeshifters still made her uneasy but Raven was too good an operative to ignore. "Let's figure out what's going on first so you're not working blind."


That evening, X-Force was called in to the briefing room.
"This place hasn't ever seen so much use." Sam commented as they filed in.

Cable studied his team. This is what I had in mind from the start, he thought. Are these kids ready? Of course they are. This what they've been trained to do all their lives.
"Okay, as you know there's been some changes to the way the X-teams are going to be working. We're no exception. X-Force was intended to be the preemptive strike team and that's what we're going to be." He got up and started pacing in front of them. He always thought better on his feet. "As much as we're changing the strategy we're using to win the war there's a need for a team that can do the jobs that need to be done." He surveyed his audience. Everybody was still with him. Good. "Jobs like breaking into research facilities before the evidence can be destroyed, like eliminating dangerous individuals before they can act. The jobs that the X-Men can't be linked to and won't do."
"Shucks," said Sam. "We've been doing that for ages."
"True enough." He allowed. "But now the stakes are going to be higher than ever. We can't get caught and we can't let anybody know who we are." He took a breath. Time to see who he really had. "I know you all hate when I call you kids but you are kids to me. You still have your lives ahead of you. If you go through with this, you'll be targeted by the authorities. It won't be until we're in power will you be cleared. If anybody feels that's too high a price say so now. I'll reassign you to another team with no problems." He sat down again and waited.

They glanced at each other over the table. As one, they stood.
"Cable, yer being more than fair to tell us about the risks." said Terry. "But we've already committed ourselves and we aren't going to let you or Domino down when ye need us."
"So you don't have to worry about anybody having second thoughts when the going gets rough or when things start to look mighty nasty. We're all in for the long haul." Sam finished.
Cable sat back in surprise. "Did you kids rehearse that?"
"Aye. How else did ye think we'd get it so we all stood at the same time?" Terry asked.
Nate, you've got a good bunch of kids here, he told himself. Don't let them down. He felt real hope for the first time in a long time. "Kids, I mean team, thank you."
They smiled with a little embarrassment at his sincerity as they sat down again.
"Okay, what's our mission?" Sam asked with a grin.
"Yer certainly anxious." Terry noted.
"Ah've been stuck studying most of the time Ah've been away." He explained. "Ah'm bored."
Cable smiled. "What else? First task is to get new uniforms."
"Oh yeah!" Tabitha cheered.
"Hold up!" said Risque quickly. "There's a dress code?"
"Nothing too drastic." He reassured her. "Since we're going to be doing some very visible missions everybody will be required to wear a mask. There's guidelines in the computer. Everybody is to come back here once you're done. We've got some guests arriving soon so don't take more than an hour."
"Sakes, Wade and I'll be a matched set." Terry mused.
Roberto shrugged. "A new uniform sounds good. I don't think yellow looks good on me."
"Yellow doesn't look good on anybody." Risque opined.
"Enough already!" Tabitha exclaimed. "Let's go get the new duds."
"Okay then, dismissed." said Cable with a shake of his head. Some things never changed.


They trooped back once everyone had been outfitted to their satisfaction and had grabbed a beverage of their choice to fortify themselves. Domino was waiting for them in the briefing room.
"We're ready. Bring on the bad guys." Terry smiled.
She regarded her team. They'd gone in for mostly black with dark purple belts and holsters. They'd kept the modular armor and most of them were wearing more of it. She noticed that they'd also skipped the underwear as outerwear look too. Damn, they look like a group of real operatives now.
"You guys look great." She smiled.
Tabitha preened. She had been the one responsible for getting everyone fitted up. "Thanks, Dom."
She looked at Julia. "You still look like something out the dark ages."
"I am something out the dark ages." Julia smiled. "Fashionable or not, body armor is my friend. But I must say this high-tech stuff is neat."
Risque rolled her eyes. "The funkiest machine I've ever seen and she says its 'neat'."
"Spiffy?" Julia tried.
"Girlfriend, what century are you from?"
"Eleventh. Why do you ask?"
Risque hesitated. James said a lot of these X-dudes time travel as wacked out as that sounds, she thought.
"Are you playing straight with me?"
"Of course not. Where's the fun in that?" Julia smirked.


Cable came in followed by his three guests. They sat down at the head of the table beside him.
"Team, I'd like to introduce you to Marcella Andrews, Kenton Davis and Josh Watterson." said Cable, indicating each one in turn. "They'll becoming along from now on to make sure we get the proof we need."
Josh waved. Damn, they're young looking for a strike team. I must be getting old. "Hey guys. Just so you know, my buddies and I have done lots of work in war zones so you don't have to worry about being saddled with a group of tourists."
"Can we ask why yer even doing this?" Terry asked. "Yer going to be in as much danger as we will when the authorities see what we're doing."
Marcella, a lovely brunnette with an unmistakable military air, nodded. "You bet. But if you're willing to bust what's being done then we're willing to get it on the air." She pulled a large handgun out of her jacket. "And we can fend for ourselves if it comes to that."
"Ya'll done some real fighting before?" Sam asked.
Kenton smiled slightly. His white teeth contrasted sharply against his dark skin. He looked like he had seen more than a casual amount of physical training. "I did a stint in the Marines for ten years."
"Air Force major, eight years." Marcella said. "Strange, huh?"
"I'm the scholarly type but I know which end of the gun to point at someone if I have to." Josh said as he fiddled absently with his wire frame glasses. "Oxford grad. My thesis was on the modern conspiracies of government."
"I think that's a 'yes', people." said Roberto.
"For what reasons do you wish to accompany us on our missions?" Shatterstar asked.
"Mar, you're the talking head, answer the boy." Kenton prodded.
Marcella swatted him on the back of the head. "We've been digging up dirt on what the government's been doing against its citizens for three years but we can't get to the real proof without help. It's more than mutant rights. What's going on under the auspices of programs like Project: Wideawake is morally unacceptable. We think that if the truth comes out then the public will have to sit up and take note."

Julia watched silently as the rest of the team got to know their new additions. Gods above, she thought. All those years avoiding cameras like a plague and now I'm in with crowd that's going to bringing one with them. What has Dom told these people about us? About me? I'll have to ask right away. Presumably Cable has given them a telepathic once-over so they can't be looking to bust us for our various past activities. She tried to relax and uncurled her hands that had been clenched her lap. I'm calm, she thought. If they are casing us out for something else than what they say then I'll take care of it later. Two ex-military types and one bookworm won't be hard to drop if it comes to that.


They studied the information that had been gathered about the Hound facility. It was a guarded complex within a generic industrial park. There didn't seem to be anti-mutant activity in any of the other buildings.
"Hiding in plain sight." Julia murmured quietly.
"This raises the question of how many of these places are there." said Roberto. "I mean, lots of people must see this place every day and not notice anything."
"Wait 'till we show the files we've got on some of the places we've been poking around." Josh said. "There's more covert activity going on than you probably want to know about."
"We want to know about all of it." said Domino. "And since I've got you as my research assistant, all that equipment in the War Room is going to be put through its paces."
"As long as I don't have to defend another thesis I'll do whatever you want." Josh winked.

"Okay, team. You have the info about the target and you know what you have to work with. Put something together and let me know how you're going to get those kids out of there." said Cable as the briefing ended. "I'll give you two hours to come up with something."

They looked at each other as Domino and Cable left with the camera crew. Then they looked down at the notes they had been given.
"Okay, somebody be brilliant." said Jimmy.


Cable looked up from the evening news as the kids came in. "That was just under an hour. I hope you thought everything out."
"We hope so too." Sam agreed.
Terry held out the hand-written mission outline. "Here ye are."

Their plan was approved and they immediately swung into action getting everything ready for the mission the next night.


Terry landed on the roof of Wade's hideout just before midnight. It had taken some work to get away from the mansion but the rest of what they needed to do could be done tomorrow during the day. She pushed her hood down as she tapped on the bell.
"Oh wow. Doll, you look gorgeous." Wade goggled as he opened the door. She was wearing some kind of black ops suit with a gun belt. "What's with the new, all-sexy Siryn?"
She smiled. "We're changing our look. Can I come in?"
"Like you have to ask." He smiled.

I though the green and yellow outfit was my favorite, Wade marveled as she spun around in the living room for him. She didn't have her cape anymore but he didn't mind at all. "I really like it, Terry."
He was rewarded with a kiss. Okay, make a note, he told himself. Complementing her clothes is good. You like what happens afterward.
"Thank ye." said Terry as she released him. "X-Force is going to be doing the dirty work from now so we have to dress the part. We're going on a quick mission so I willnae be able to go out with ye tomorrow. I wanted to come by and let ye know in person. I can tell ye we're nae leaving the country this time."
He didn't like the sound of that and not just the part about her cancelling their date. "How dirty?"
She glanced away. "Hiding from the government kind of dirty."
"Oh no. I don't think so." He objected. "Babe, I've done that."
"So have I, love. There's nae much else when you're a mutant. It's nae like I haven't done it before."
He fell over onto the sofa. His brain had short-circuited at her first statement. She loves me!
"Wade? Are ye all right?" She asked as she crouched down beside him.
He grabbed her and kissed her breathless. "I love you too." He got up and danced around the room in happiness.
She giggled. "Is that why ye fell over?"
"Yeah." A nasty thought occurred to him. "You're not going into hiding now, are you?"
Tracer, he thought quickly. Weasel dropped me a new batch. I'll just tack one on to her belt or something.
"Nae. We're still at Xavier's."
Oh. Well. Never mind.
"Phew. I hate packing." He played with the material around her throat. "What's this thingy?"
She pulled her hood on. Since she couldn't wear a regular mask because her scream, she'd opted for a hood to cover her hair and a partial mask over her eyes.
"What do ye think?"
He frowned. "Why are you covering your face? Take that thing off. You don't need it. You're beautiful."
"I'm going to be on TV." She said as she pulled the hood off again.
"What? Does that mean I've got to actually program my VCR now?"
She smiled and sat down beside him. "We're going to be inviting some camera crew with us we go on some of our missions, starting with this one."
"You guys are going after publicity? That's not funny. That's asking for a shitload of trouble."
"Aye. There's things that have to be shown to the public and that's the only way they're going to listen to us. We're never going to win unless we have widespread support. Once people see for themselves what the government is doing against mutants then they'll know what we're doing is right."
"You're going to be hitting the government labs?" He asked disbelievingly. "Terry, listen to me. I'm being serious for a change. What you guys are planning to do is way more than prancing around in kinky costumes. Not to say I didn't like it when you did that. We're talking about real, illegal, no-holds barred criminal activity."
"I'm already a criminal." She raised an amused eyebrow. "Do ye realize that SHIELD has a standing directive to bring me in for terrorist activities?"
He grinned with associative pride. "That's my sweetie. No! Wait. I didn't say that. I'm not encouraging this. That's bad."
"Make up yer mind." She teased.
"Stop confusing me then!" He demanded. "Why are you doing this? Forget them! Stay with me and we can be mercs in love. All the thrills and only half the problems as your regular mutant group."
She sighed. "I'm doing this because one day it would be nice to beat our swords into plowshares, ye know? I donnae want to have to worry all me life because I'm a mutant. It's something we have to do."
"I could still beat somebody up pretty good with a plowshare." He said only slightly sulkily.
She smiled but didn't back down. "Do ye even know what one looks like?"
He studied her determined expression. I love that look, he thought. Really didn't have a hope in hell of changing her mind, did I?
"Look," He sighed. "I know it's a good cause. I know you and your buddies can stomp damn near anybody. I'll be progressive and supportive later. Just let me have my over-protective possessive cave-dwelling knuckle-dragging moment here, okay?"
"Aye." She agreed.
They sat looking at each other in silence.
"Are ye done yet?"


End of Part Two

Part 3

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