Peacekeepers: Remnant Shadows
by Alicia McKenzie
Patrick Finn frowned at the screen showing the local news. "I don't believe in coincidences," the commander of Madripoor's XSE base said darkly, watching emergency personnel sort through the ruins of the Princess Bar.
"Especially since we haven't heard from them since it happened," his second-in-command said softly from where she stood at his shoulder. Patrick looked down at the slender blonde woman measuringly. Amanda's eyes were distant, a dead-giveaway that she was using her telepathy to try and contact Nicholas Logan.
"No." Amanda shook herself lightly and looked up at him with a faint scowl. "Pat, when are we going to get a Cerebro unit? This is ridiculous."
He grimaced. "Lay off, woman. I've got one on order." They were a new base, barely a year up and running, and he still found himself fighting battles to get them equipped properly. It certainly was an entirely different matter from the field command he'd had before. He'd almost prefer to face down Prime Sentinels again, rather than duke it out with the bastards in Accounting.
"That doesn't do us much good at the moment, now, does it?" she said testily.
"No," Patrick admitted grimly. "It doesn't." Damn it, if only Logan had agreed to take some back-up. Patrick had officers who could blend into any crowd; Logan's contact would never have known they were there. Then again, hindsight was twenty-twenty, wasn't it? "You can have five more minutes," he said finally. "If you can't make contact, I'm sending out search parties, and the local police can shove it."
Amanda smiled faintly. "Pat, one of these days you're going to get yourself into trouble," she pointed out.
"I'm quaking in my boots," he scoffed, and turned towards his communications officer. "Get a channel to the Tower. They need to know about this--"
At that moment, a signal from elsewhere on the island triggered the several thousand kilograms of high explosives that had been built into the very foundations of the base by a group of completely unauthorized subcontractors. A huge incandescent fireball blossomed on the north shore of Madripoor, and Patrick Finn, Amanda Carter, and the seventeen other XSE officers stationed there died instantly.
The smell of flowers didn't fit with the dreams. In the dreams, he was drowning in filthy water, choking on it and his own blood. The delicate fragrance lingered, though, drawing him out of the dreams, almost gently.
Nick opened his eyes, blinking to clear his vision as his surroundings blurred around him. Veils--there were veils over everything, he thought hazily, raising a hand to try and push them away. But his hand brushed against silk, and his head cleared further, enough for him to realize that he was lying on some sort of low bed, which was hung with sheer curtains.
And he still smelled flowers. Nick let his hand fall back to his side and then raised it again, slightly trembling, to his throat, tracing the thin scars there. I should be dead. His healing factor wasn't all that efficient, not compared to Zara's. It certainly shouldn't have worked quickly enough to save his life.
Not that he was complaining. It dawned on him that he wasn't wearing a shirt, which seemed a little odd. Sitting up carefully, he bit back a curse as the room spun around him. The pain in his head wasn't pounding, like the normal sort of headache he got when he overextended his powers. It burned, and that was a bad sign. He knew the symptoms of psionic shock; Uncle Nate had drilled them into him ruthlessly when he'd been teaching him how to control his powers.
I never want you to go through what I did, he'd said gravely. The price is too high.
Nick grimaced, rubbing his eyes. They were stubbornly refusing to clear. Blurred vision, too? Swell--just swell. Oath--this doesn't matter, he thought. Not with Dad out there somewhere in who knew what sort of trouble.
Then again, Uncle Nate had gone on, with a faint smile, sometimes the price has to be paid. You'll know, when you find yourself facing a choice like that.
Nick gritted his teeth and managed, with some difficulty, to levitate himself into a meditative position. He reached out to scan the area--and fell from the air as the pain in his head suddenly swelled, as if a star had gone nova inside his skull.
For a few minutes, lying sprawled on the bed gasping for air was all he could manage. It seemed to him like forever before the pain eased enough to let him concentrate and control it further. All right, Nick thought weakly, sitting up and grimacing as he felt the blood trickling slowly from his nose.
A sliding noise broke the silence, and he looked up sharply to see one of the painted wall-panels move aside. A woman stepped through, smiling faintly at him. "I see you're awake," she said, coming closer. She was tall and regal, clearly in her mid-fifties at least, but still very beautiful. Silver streaks spiderwebbed through her black hair, but her face was nearly unlined, as if it had accepted the onset of age only grudgingly. She folded her arms across her chest and studied him thoughtfully. "How are you feeling, young man?"
"Better than I should be," Nick said cautiously.
She smiled, and even with his telepathy barely functional, it made him somehow uneasy. "Yes," she said, nodding slowly. "Definitely better than you should be." Sitting down on the edge of the bed, she reached out and took his chin with one hand, tilting his head back. He stiffened, but realized immediately she was only looking at the scars. "You take after your father in more than appearance," she murmured. "Fortunate for you."
This time, he did draw back, but her smile remained. "Yes, young Nicholas, I know your father," she said calmly. "I even changed your diapers, once or twice."
"I'm--sorry," Nick said, more than a little confused now. "I don't remember--"
"Of course you don't," she said, almost briskly, folding her hands together in her lap. "It was a long time ago, and you were very young." She smiled again, a little more wryly this time. "If I told you to call me Tyger, would that mean anything to you?"
He blinked. "Yes, ma'am," he said. "Dad--my father's told me about you." He'd also been briefed on the former Jessan Hoan when he'd been given this assignment. According to XSE intelligence, she still controlled most of Madripoor's underworld.
"I said call me Tyger, Nicholas," she said with a throaty chuckle. "Hearing someone call me 'ma'am' makes me feel so old."
"All--right, um, Tyger," Nick said a little weakly. "Um--how did I get here?" Start slow, he told himself. Dad had said she could be a little unpredictable.
"Two of my operatives pulled you from the harbor." Tyger rose, moving across the room for a moment and returning with a neatly folded shirt. "Not yours, I'm afraid," she said mildly. "Too much blood on it to be salvageable."
Nick pulled it on quickly, a little unsettled by the strangely speculative gleam in her eyes. "Umm, thank you," he said.
"You did lose a great deal of blood."
"Having your throat ripped out will do that to a person," he said, striving for a wry tone without much success.
"You should perhaps rest some more," she suggested.
Nick shook his head. "I can't," he said awkwardly. "I appreciate this--all of this, but I've got to report back to the base--"
Tyger folded her arms across her chest again, her expression tightening. "The base," she said quietly, "is no longer there."
Nick froze, staring at her incredulously. "What?" he finally managed, hoarsely. That was impossible. The base had to be there. There was no way he could reach Mom or Zara from this distance, with his telepathy so badly screwed up, so the base was the only place he could get help quickly for Dad. It couldn't be--gone.
"It was destroyed by a sizeable explosion three hours ago," Tyger said. "There were no survivors." She shook his head at Nick as he looked wildly towards the door. "There is undoubtedly an investigative team on its way here," she said sternly. "I would suggest you wait for them."
"I can't!" Nick said, and then swallowed, moderating his tone as he went on. He couldn't tip-toe around the subject anymore. "Do you know what happened to my father?"
"Of course," Tyger said. "Essex has him."
"Essex?" Nick blurted. "SINISTER?"
Tyger raised an eyebrow. "The XSE truly didn't know he was on the island?" she said, half-scornfully. "Ridiculous. He's been squatting here making my life difficult for the last two years. One would have thought your organization's information-gathering branch was more efficient than that!"
Shaking his head, Nick slid off the bed, swaying for a moment. "It doesn't matter," he said wildly. "What is, is--I have to get him out of there." He swallowed, his hand flexing futilely at his side as he looked around the room. No psimitar. "Tyger, did your men find a--it would have looked like a spear to them, probably."
She gave him a quizzical look. "No," she said. "Is it important?"
"Important?" Nick gave a weak laugh. "Not really, I guess." Not important. Just a tool. He didn't really need it, right? "I have to--do you know where they are?" he continued unevenly, starting towards the door. "I was supposed to be his bodyguard, and--" He'd screwed up. He should have figured out Forge's intentions, crowd or no crowd--what sort of a flonqing telepath WAS he?
Anger flooded up inside him, and his hands clenched into fists at his sides. For a single, savage moment, he wanted to break something, or someone, more than anything else in the world--
He hesitated, eyes widening slightly in realization. Part of him HAD reached out just there for something to vent his frustrations on, and yet he was still on his feet, the pain in his head not any worse. "Whoa," he said aloud, and ignored Tyger's inquisitive look. He glanced at the nearest small object, a vase sitting on an elegant table, and levitated it experimentally. There was a sense of strain, his headache cresting slightly, but not unbearably so. Nick narrowed his eyes, adding a few more random objects; a chair, the writing desk on the other side of the room, one of the painted wall-panels.
And he could do it. He was splitting his concentration four different ways, successfully. It hurt, but not enough to get in the way. I was levitating myself a few minutes ago, Nick reminded himself sharply. That was an even more complex process, manipulating forces to balance oneself like that. Why the hell didn't I think of that?
"The psi-screamer," he muttered. "That's what did the real damage."
"I beg your pardon?"
Deeper damage took longer to show up. The feedback from losing his shield had been immediately painful, but that couldn't be the real problem, not when his telekinesis was functioning. He wasn't positive how well it would hold up to combat conditions, but still--it was something. "I can't use my telepathy, but I've still got my telekinesis," he said to Tyger. "I can do this."
"Do what, boy?" Tyger said sharply, moving over to stand in front of him. "Don't be foolish--"
"I have to," he said stubbornly. "I can't wait for an investigative team, and I can't reach my mother when my telepathy's like this--"
Tyger frowned repressively at him. "The explosion that took out the XSE base also damaged the island's communications grid," she said. "Deliberately, I would imagine. Whatever Sinister's doing, he doesn't wish any interference."
Nick blinked at her. "You tried to contact my mother already," he said, certain of it.
"Of course." She shook her head, obviously angry. "Listen to me, Nicholas," she said harshly. "I will not risk my own people in this any farther. I have no faith in the XSE's ability to remove Sinister, and I do not wish to declare open war upon him. Wait for the investigative team." She made an impatient gesture. "My watchers say he has sent out some of the Marauders, undoubtedly to look for you. To be walking the streets now, given how badly you fared in your first encounter with them, would be foolish."
"Really?" Nick asked, surprised again.
"Of course it would be foolish!"
"No, that's not what I meant." He thought rapidly. "You risked your people to help me, and I'm grateful. I understand why you won't go farther, but what if there was a way for you to help me help Dad without taking any more risks?"
Tyger pursed her lips. "I'm listening," she said, almost reluctantly. "What are you proposing?"
Nick managed a strained smile. "We give Sinister what he wants," he said simply.
Logan heard the door open, and abruptly froze, cursing the timing. He'd actually managed to pull one arm a few centimeters out of the restraints, even if it had taken most of the flesh off the bones of his forearm. If he'd had just a few more minutes, he might have gotten one hand free--
"If I truly wanted to do you permanent harm, Logan," Sinister said coldly as he strode over to the table, "I would put an inhibitor collar on you right now and let you bleed to death."
"Fuck you, bub," Logan snarled. He could feel the blood pooling beneath his arm, hear it dripping onto the floor. "Next you're going to tell me you're mellowing."
"Perhaps." Sinister raised a syringe of something vaguely mercury-like. Logan's eyes lingered on it, and Sinister gave him that grotesque smile again. "The nanite toxin," he said. "A non-airborne strain, of course. I'm afraid the blood samples aren't sufficient. I'll need to expose you to the toxin again to observe the reaction of your healing factor." Logan growled as Sinister laid a hand on his arm. The geneticist smiled once more. "I've ordered some of the Marauders to find your son and bring him here, if he's still alive," he said, almost diffidently. "I have always wanted a closer look at how your DNA mingled with that of your Askani lover's."
The threat was obvious, and Logan couldn't stop himself from responding to it. "You touch my son and you're going to have a lot more to worry about than this bleedin' virus of yours," he growled.
"Oh, come now, Logan," Sinister said mockingly. "Surely you don't begrudge me my scientific curiosity? I've had so little chance to even observe your children, you've kept them so carefully sequestered until very recently. Tell me, were you truly hiding them only from Creed, or did you have me in mind as well?" Sinister's expression grew almost thoughtful. "I've long-considered the possibilities of a match between your son and Nathan's daughter--"
Logan laughed harshly. "You never so much as tried for any of them," he pointed out. "Not Nick or Zara, Clare, or any of the rest of the kids. What's the matter, Essex? Afraid of something?"
"Merely cautious," Sinister said, and Logan felt the needle pierce his skin. He heard the door whoosh open. Sinister finished injecting him and then pulled the needle out, straightening and moving away.
"Boss," another voice said - Scalphunter, Logan realized - hesitantly. "We've got visitors."
His skin was itching around the injection site. Logan gritted his teeth as the itch worsened, almost burning as it spread up and down his arm.
"Two of Tyger's men, with a--uh, gift," Scalphunter continued. "It's the kid."
Even as the toxin spread, turning his blood to fire, a howl burst from his lips as Scalphunter's words sunk in. "Dead?" he heard Sinister ask, as if from a great distance.
"No, just trussed up like a calf at a rodeo. Drugged, one of them says."
Nick-- He had to get free, had to--but the pain surged, trying to shatter what was left of his rational thought and leave behind only the memories of that day years ago in Buenos Aires. You weren't supposed to remember pain, but he could feel the nanites infiltrating his body, and he remembered--
"Tyger is growing cautious, I see," Sinister murmured. "Have the boy brought here. I believe I'll transfer Logan to the containment chamber."
"You mean the toxin might wind up contagious after all?" Scalphunter asked nervously.
"Of course not. Still--I'd prefer to have him slightly out of reach. Just in case."
Hairun stepped back as the large, feline-looking one the green-haired girl had called Creed strode forward, picking up Nicholas's limp body and slinging him over his shoulder. He bared his teeth at Hairun and Ahmet. "Fine, you delivered the bitch's gift," he said. "Now get lost." He turned and strode into the building, leaving Hairun, Ahmet, and the green-haired girl standing in the doorway.
She shrugged at them. "I'd do as he says," she said in a peculiarly young-sounding voice.
"We will go," Hairun nodded, and gestured to his partner. He could feel her eyes on them, all the way to the 'safety' of the street.
"Foolishness," Ahmet grumbled once they were in the car and on their way back. "Absolute foolishness. This is a plan? To have us beat him, drug him, and hand him over to his enemy? The boy is mad."
"The boy is merely willing to risk himself to rescue his father," Hairun said with as diffident a shrug as he could manage. "The lady's physician calculated the dosage of the drug precisely. It should be wearing off already," he said, glancing at his watch. "As for the bruises--the boy heals, remember? It was only for show."
"They knew," Ahmet said gloomily. "They must have known. Perhaps they were merely waiting for us to leave, and will kill him now."
"Why would they have waited for us to leave?" Hairun asked with a sigh, pausing for a red light. "Do not be foolish."
Ahmet grunted. "I would have watched the boy's back, had he asked me. He will undoubtedly be found out, and killed."
Hairun suspected Ahmet had been more impressed than he had let on by the fact that the half-drowned, gravely injured young man they'd rescued from the harbor was apparently fully healed and ready to walk - or be carried, rather - right into the home of their lady's enemy.
"The boy seems hard to kill," Hairun observed.
"He is young and impulsive," Ahmet pronounced gloomily. "He will find a way."
to be continued...
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