by Alicia McKenzie



If Caliban thinks really hard, Caliban can remember their faces.

They said they were Caliban's friends. That Caliban was part of the team, just like them.

But they weren't there when Caliban needed them. Cable-Nathan was, but he let the stone-man take Caliban back to Apocalypse. Apocalypse did things to Caliban again.

Hurt Caliban.

Changed Caliban.

And then let Caliban go, told Caliban to go back to his friends for a while. Why did Apocalypse do that? To tease Caliban?

Caliban doesn't know. But Caliban is different. Caliban can't be the same as he was. Caliban wants to hurt people now. To--test people, like Apocalypse says.

This Caliban doesn't have any friends anymore.

Caliban is back home, now, in the tunnels. It feels safer here, but Caliban isn't going to stay. Cable-Nathan is somewhere in the city above, Caliban can sense him.

Caliban will find him.


"You're brooding more than usual, Nathan. Hard as that may be to believe--"

The gently teasing voice intruded on his reverie, and Nathan Dayspring started, looking up from his coffee cup and into Stacey's eyes. "What? Oh--I guess so. My mind was just drifting--"

"It seems to do that a lot lately. Maybe you should put a leash on it," Stacey said with a smile. She raised an eyebrow at his nearly-empty cup. "I'd offer you a refill, but I think you've probably had enough. You look like you need sleep more than caffeine--"

Cable felt himself smile, almost involuntarily. "You don't have to mother me, Stacey," he said dryly.

"Comes with the job," she said with a shrug, her eyes twinkling in her tired face. "Go on, get out of here. I have to start closing up, anyways--"

"I could give you a hand--" he offered, rising.

"Nathan. Go home. Sleep." She swatted his shoulder lightly, still smiling. "I'll see you tomorrow." Picking up his coffee cup, she turned and headed into the condition. "I don't see you moving," she tossed back over her shoulder with a grin.

"Yes, ma'am," Cable chuckled, tossing off a joking half-salute as he headed for the door. All the women in his life seemed to think he was six years old, and treated him accordingly. He was beginning to think it was part and parcel of his flonqing destiny--

Outside, the wind was bitterly cold. Cable did up his jacket, and started purposefully in the direction of the safehouse. The streets were deserted at this time of night--too much a reflection of the emptiness in his mind for him to feel comfortable out here. He still wasn't used to the sensation of being without his telepathy. Oath, he doubted he WAS going to get used to it anytime in the foreseeable future. He just wished he could get rid of this constant feeling that someone was sneaking up on him--

Passing by an alley, Cable heard a strange sound, almost a low growl, coming from the shadows. His eyes narrowed, but he continued to walk, having no particular desire to get involved in any kind of confrontation tonight. As he continued down the sidewalk, though, he heard heavy footsteps following him, and then another growl.

Cable stopped, closing his eyes for a moment. Oh, I do NOT have the patience for this tonight-- he thought in exasperation, and then turned to face whoever was following him. "Something I can do for--" he started brusquely, but his next words froze on his tongue at the sight of the huge, familiar shape standing a few feet away.

Bright Lady-- "Caliban?" he said, tentatively. Caliban simply continued to stare at him, and Cable couldn't quite make out his expression. "Cal, what are you doing here? I thought I--left you with--" Cable trailed off, suddenly confused. "With--friends--I thought--" Something was wrong. He couldn't remember--

Caliban took a step closer, and, even in the midst of his bewilderment, Cable began to realize there was something very wrong with Caliban, too. "Cable-Nathan left Caliban with stone-man," Caliban said in a soft, strangely toneless voice. "Cable-Nathan said he wasn't going to let stone-man take Caliban. But he did."

Stone-man? "Cal," Cable said helplessly, "I don't know what you're talking--"

Caliban howled, and lashed out at him. Cable saw it coming, but not quite in time. Even the force of a glancing blow from someone with Caliban's strength was stunning, and Cable found himself on his hands and knees on the ground, his head spinning.

"Cal, wait--" he managed.

"Cable-Nathan lied!" Caliban bellowed piteously. Before Cable could say anything else, Caliban reached down, grabbed him by the front of his coat, and threw him through the plate-glass window of an empty storefront.

He hit hard, blacking out for a moment. Coming to, he lifted his head in time to see Caliban coming through the broken window after him. Cable struggled to his feet, ignoring the stinging pain of cuts from the glass. "Cal!" he gasped out, wishing desperately for his telepathy, for anything that would tell him what the flonq was going on here!

But Caliban was on him again, before he could even begin to formulate a plan of action. He barely managed to avoid a blow that probably would have fractured even his skull; blocked another so powerful that his arm went numb to the shoulder.

"Cal, stop this!" he grated, backing off, trying to put some distance between them. Caliban seemed stronger than before. Faster. What had happened to him? "Tell me what's wrong!"

Shockingly, Caliban began to laugh. It was a terrible, desolate sound, unlike anything Cable had ever heard from the usually good-natured Morlock. "Cable-Nathan should have left Caliban in the mansion. Caliban thinks Bastion would have been better than Apocalypse--"

APOCALYPSE? "Caliban," Cable said, bewildered. "I don't understand--what happened?"

"The stone-man, Cable-Nathan!" Caliban screamed. "The stone-man took Caliban to Apocalypse! You promised, Cable-Nathan! YOU PROMISED!"

Cable started to say something, but something in Caliban's words suddenly--clicked, making a connection. He fell to his knees with a groan, his head exploding with pain as a carefully-constructed mental block abruptly shattered.

Images flashed through his mind. The Morlock tunnels. Finding Caliban again--only to find that he wasn't alone. Ozymandias-- The 'stone-man' that Scott and Jean and some of the other X-Men had already encountered when they'd gone after a feral Wolverine.

One of Apocalypse's servants.

The rest of the memory was painfully, perfect clear. Caliban was right. He had promised to protect him, a promise he'd fully intended to keep, right up until the moment when a psychic attack of unknown nature and incredible strength had slammed him into the tunnel wall. And then--and then--nothing. A few dim images, but nothing clear until the bar, and G.W.

The pain diminished to a dull ache as the last of the block dissolved. Cable looked up at Caliban, who had made no move to attack him in that moment of vulnerability. "Cal--" he rasped, trying to ignore a different pain, one that had situated itself somewhere in the vicinity of his heart as he'd realized what must have happened to Caliban since that night. What must have been done to him. Stab your eyes, Apocalypse, he thought in a mixture of rage and horrified pity--the former for the High Lord, the latter purely and only for Caliban. "Cal--please," he begged. "You need help--" His mind raced around in circles for a moment, but fixed almost immediately on the most obvious source for such help. Blaquesmith. Blaquesmith could help him, Blaquesmith still had his telepathy. He could enter Caliban's mind and fix whatever damage Apocalypse had done--

"Caliban doesn't want help, Cable-Nathan," Caliban said, in that curiously dull voice once more. "Caliban doesn't deserve help."

Cable pulled himself back to his feet. "Caliban, no," he said, trying to sound firm. But his voice broke, despite his best effort. "What happened isn't your fault. Blame Apocalyse--blame me--but not yourself, Cal, you didn't do anything to deserve this--" Caliban moaned, a sound that wrenched at Cable's heart. "Cal," he said more softly, reaching out to lay a hand on his shoulder. "Cal, we'll make this right--please, trust me--"

A grip like iron closed around his wrist, and Cable grunted, as much in surprise as in pain, as Caliban whirled and slammed him into the wall, pinning him there with apparent ease. Even in the dark, even without his telepathy, Cable could see that the eyes boring into him were far from sane.

"People always tell Caliban to trust them," Caliban hissed. "That they can help Caliban. PEOPLE ARE ALWAYS LYING TO CALIBAN! CALIBAN IS TIRED OF IT!" His voice had risen to an anguished scream.

"Cal--" Cable wheezed, but Caliban's hand shot out, grasping his throat, and trying to breathe suddenly became a much more immediate concern than reasoning with him.

"STOP IT!" Caliban howled. "STOP LYING TO CALIBAN!" Obviously hysterical, he started to rain blows down on Cable with his free hand, one after the other after the other, as if he was working out with a punching bag. Cable managed to block the first couple, just barely, but the lack of oxygen finally got to him, and he went limp in Caliban's grasp, darkness creeping in at the edges of his vision. He still felt each punch, but distantly, as if he was half-outside his body.

At some point, before he lost consciousness entirely, instinct took over. Dazed, not really knowing what he was doing, he lashed out telekinetically, and heard a snarl of mingled fury and pain from Caliban as he was thrown back through the air.

Cable crumpled to the floor, gasping for air. He couldn't see straight--his vision kept blurring, and there was blood running into his eyes from somewhere. Pain throbbed like a second pulse inside his skull, stabbed like a knife into his side.

Concentrate-- he told himself hazily, wiping away blood as he tried desperately to focus on the huddled shape crouched on the floor on the other side of the empty store. Have to get through to him--have to get him to calm down, so I can help him--

"Caliban," he said aloud, his voice so weak that part of him wondered dazedly if Caliban could even hear him. "Cal, I don't--I can't even imagine--what he did to you. I'd--do anything if I could change what happened--but I can't. I can only--try to help--" He tried to get up, but only made it as far as his knees. He couldn't seem to straighten up. As he tried again, the pain in his chest grew worse, incredibly worse, and it was suddenly almost impossible to breathe. He coughed, tasting blood at the back of his throat.

Caliban's head turned towards him. "Cable-Nathan can't fix this," he muttered. "Cable-Nathan isn't stronger than Apocalypse. No one is."

"Please, Cal--" Cable said haltingly, almost shuddering at the hopelessness, the despair in those words. "Please, let me try--"

"No!" Caliban spat with a snarl, getting to his feet with an unnerving speed. He stalked over, hauling him up off the ground, and Cable couldn't repress a groan of pain. "Maybe Caliban likes being this way!" he shouted, shaking Cable like a rag doll. "Maybe this is the way Caliban was MEANT to be!"

Caliban's words would have been a lot more convincing without the tears coursing down his face, Cable reflected dimly, his hold on consciousness starting to slip again. "Cal--" he whispered faintly. "I'm--not going to--give up on you--don't give up on yourself--"

Then, he seemed to be airborne again. He came crashing down, this time onto pavement, by the feel of the hard surface beneath him. He heard the screech of tires, very close, as a car barely avoided him.

He lifted his head, saw Caliban stepping out onto the sidewalk, heading towards him. He tried desperately to summon enough telekinetic power for a shield, anything that might hold Caliban off--

Nothing. Raging at himself for not bringing his psimitar, or at least a gun, he managed to get to his hands and knees. He heard someone scream nearby, a woman from the sounds of it.

Oath, FOCUS, you idiot! he shouted silently at himself, and stared intently at Caliban, imagining a giant hand closing around the ex-Morlock, holding him in place--

Caliban froze in mid-step. He stared at Cable for a moment, almost in surprise, and then started to struggle. Cable struggled to keep his telekinetic grip on him, but he could feel it fraying around the edges under the strain, like the threads of a tapestry flying apart. Spots danced in front of his eyes, and he felt the T-O virus reaching out gleeful tendrils through his body as the bulk of his diminished psionic energy was diverted elsewhere.

He was losing it--he could feel it. Caliban took a slow step forward, and Cable put everything he had into one last push. Caliban stumbled backwards a few steps, only a few steps, and Cable slumped to the ground again, utterly spent.

No--not this way, he thought in feeble defiance. He started to cough again, realized he was coughing blood. His whole body screamed with pain. His arm was warping out of shape, the virus starting to advance more steadily.

He'd pushed too far. Even with his TK reactivated, it still wasn't up to what it had been, not when he didn't have his psimitar. On top of his injuries--no, I won't let this happen--

Footsteps approached. Cable opened his eyes, tried to say something, but all that came out was something far too close to a whimper of pain for his liking. Caliban knelt down beside him, and Cable flinched as a huge, clawed hand gently touched the side of his face.

"Caliban can't be helped, Cable-Nathan," Caliban said, almost sorrowfully. "Caliban will only end up hurting anyone who tries. Hurting people Caliban cares--cared about." A decisive note entered his voice. "Caliban has to make them see. Make them all see, so no one tries anymore."

The hand lingered where it was for a moment longer, and then moved slightly downwards, and closed around his throat.


Irene was casually scanning the Daily Bugle when Blaquesmith suddenly erupted into the room, his bug-like face twisted with an expression the ex-reporter had never seen there before.


She rose from her chair, the newspaper fluttering to the floor, forgotten, as her heart leapt into her throat. "Blaquesmith!" she said sharply. "What is it?"

He gave her one look, as if he'd forgotten who she was and was wondering exactly what the hell she was doing there. "Nathan," he rasped, and then emitted something very close to a moan as he continued to scan the room and saw what was sitting there in the corner. Irene followed the direction of his gaze.

It was Nathan's psimitar.

Swearing in Askani, Blaquesmith reached a hand towards it. It flew through the air and straight into his grasp. Nathan's enigmatic little mentor whirled and scuttled from the room as quickly as he could.

Irene, something very close to terror clenching icy fingers around her heart, followed.


In Westchester, the only other telepath on the planet whose powers had been unaffected by the Psi-War awoke in a cold sweat, trembling.

"Cable--" Charles Xavier whispered in anguish. Knowing, even before he began to scan, that it was too late.


As she pulled on her coat, Stacey was promptly scared out of her wits by someone hammering frantically on the locked front door of the dinner. She stuck her head out of the kitchen cautiously, and saw a young woman, crying and shouting something unintelligible.

Stacey immediately went to the door. Whoever she was, she was definitely in some kind of trouble. Unlocking the door, she reached out to support the younger woman as she all but fell across the threshold. "What's the matter?" she asked swiftly. "Are you all right?"

"Oh, God," the girl choked out. "There's some kind of--monster out there! And it's killing someone!"

"Monster?" Stacey said rather stupidly, wondering if the girl was drunk or high.

"I don't know--a mutant, maybe!" she sobbed. "It's huge--and purple--"

Mutant. Killing someone?

Stacey's hand flew to her mouth in horror as she remembered who'd just left the diner. She grasped for self-control desperately, grabbing the girl by the shoulders.

"There's a phone in the back," she said, staring into the girl's eyes intently, willing her to pull it together. "Call the police."

"But where are you going?" the girl cried out after her as Stacey ran from the diner. Stacey barely even heard her.

This probably wasn't a good idea. Hell, this almost CERTAINLY wasn't a good idea, charging headlong into a dangerous situation like this. It wasn't as if she was going to be able to help, even if it was Nathan--

Please, God, don't let it be Nathan--

Two blocks down from the diner, she learned, yet again, that prayers weren't always answered.

There was a car, still running, on the street, its driver door open. The girl's car, part of Stacey figured.

But her eyes were on the scene in the middle of the road, where a towering figure--I don't believe it, she was right--it--he is purple, Stacey thought, absurdly--slowly got up, visibly trembling.

Lying at his feet, battered, motionless, was Nathan.

The other mutant looked at her, and Stacey gasped. He was crying, tears pouring down his face, and the look in his eyes, even in the dimness of the one working streetlight on the block, was so lost, so tormented--

Then he turned and started to run in the opposite direction, dodging into the next alleyway. Stacey remained in her frozen position for a moment longer, her heart thudding wildly, but then ran forward, kneeling down beside Nathan.

"Nathan--oh, God, no--" There was blood everywhere. Stacey's vision blurred with tears as she felt for a pulse. She found one, weak and erratic.

There was a gasp from behind her. Stacey's head whipped around, and she saw the girl standing there, trembling. "Oh my God--" the girl whispered, looking like she wanted to be sick. "Is he dead?"

"Go and call an ambulance!" Stacey snapped. The girl hesitated, her gaze locked on Nathan. "Now!"

She turned and ran back to the diner, and Stacey leaned over Nathan again, gently stroking blood-soaked silver hair back away from his forehead. "Hold on, Nathan," she whispered, pleading with him. "Help's coming--just hold on--"

His eyes fluttered open, and her heart nearly broke as she saw how hard he was trying to focus on her. His lips moved, shaping a word he didn't have the strength left to say.

"No, don't try to talk," Stacey said brokenly. "Save your strength."

He closed his eyes, as if in frustration. "C-Cal," he managed, in the barest breath of a whisper. A tear slid from one eye, mingling with the blood on his face.

*Cal?* "Nathan, I'm sorry, I don't understand--" Stacey said miserably.

He turned his head slightly, with what seemed like a massive effort. "Cal," he tried again, more insistently as he stared up at her. But whatever answer he was looking for, he didn't see it in her expression. Another tear escaped, an expression of terrible grief crossing his face.

For a few moments, the only sound she could hear, the only sound in the whole world, was his shallow, labored breathing. Then, his gaze seemed to clear once more, and he stared past her, as if searching for something across a distance greater than anything she could imagine.

"Dom," he whispered, then closed his eyes.

And died.

Stacey heard a broken sob, realized it had come from her. Heedless of the blood, she cradled his head in her lap, weeping. "No, Nathan, don't--please--"

It started to rain in Hell's Kitchen.



Back to Archive

Story Challenge Archive