Part Two - Developments

by Sabia


Two days later.

Shatterstar watched her from across the street. He had followed her from her hotel in accordance with Cable's order to observe any action that may provide information about her for their team. He knew he had surprised Cable with his willingness to handle the task.

"You've never been one for sneaking around 'Star. Why now?"

Julia was dressed casually with a camera case slung over one shoulder. Her hair was loose and the curled ends danced in the breeze as she walked along inspecting the things displayed in shop windows. He admired her carriage and her bearing as she moved. Perhaps if Cable agrees and she is willing to ally herself with us, she would agree to further demonstrate her skills as a warrior. Shatterstar found himself liking that idea. As she idly looked through a selection of dresses on rack outside he tried to think about thoughts more appropriate for a warrior observing a possible threat.

What is wrong with me? I watch her like a first run program with no chance of repeat broadcasts. Shatterstar shook his head at his foolishness. I am just missing Rictor's company. I wonder how he is doing with his family. Absorbed in his thoughts, almost didn't he notice that she had stopped in front of a large store with a wide variety of weaponry in the window. She stepped back a few paces to read the awning then went in.

Ah, too bad I cannot join you. That looks interesting. He seated himself an outdoor cafe two doors down but with a view of the store she had gone in to.

Julia looked around. Nice stuff. She nodded to the shopkeeper, an older Asian man. A collection of grandchildren was playing video games in one corner.

"Hello, young lady is there anything I can help you find?"
"No, nothing special."
The old man nodded agreeably.
Julia gazed out of the window and spotted Shatterstar at his table across the street. He looked bored out of his mind. Should I or shouldn't I? What the hell. Admit it, you want someone to talk to, she thought to herself. And since he's gone through all the trouble of following you around for two hours, you might as well be friendly.
"Actually, I was wondering if one of the kids would like to run a quick message across the street for twenty dollars." The oldest looking of the kids looked up at this.
The old man looked wary. "What message?"
Julia pulled a small notepad and pen out of one of the camera case's side pockets. She handed to the man for approval. He read it and laughed lightly.
"Direct approach, hmm. Okay, Sun you'll go." He folded the note and handed to the boy.
Julia took out a twenty and gave to the boy who smiled happily at the windfall. "See the man sitting at the cafe? With the long ponytail and tattoo on his eye? That's who the note's for. Tell him he has to reply in person."
"Okay lady."

Shatterstar watched as the door of the weapons shop opened but instead of Julia a small boy came out. Disappointed, he watched as the boy ran across the road and headed directly for him. He studied the small face with the big grin.
"This is for you." A folded paper was placed on the table in front of him. " The lady says you've got to reply in person."
"Oh. Thank you."
The boy ran back to the shop. He picked up the paper and opened it.


Would you like to go for lunch?


He glanced up to see her standing across the street in the doorway of the shop. She was watching him with faint smile. He stood and walked over to her.
"I believe my answer is yes."
"I'm glad."


Theresa sat pensively in the communications room of the mansion. I'm going to do this, she thought. I didn't have the 'let's just be friends' talk with Jimmy for nothing. She tapped the keyboard. The line rang five times before it was answered.
"Talk to me. Make it quick. There's a McGyver marathon on and I just love what that guy does with duct tape and chewing gum."
"Wade, it's Terry."
"Hiya gorgeous. What's the problem? Trapped in the loony bin again?"
"Nae. There's no problem. I'd like to see ye though."
Miles away, Wade Wilson, the mercenary known as Deadpool, stopped all motion and looked intently at the speaker. Did she really just say that? I haven't got kicked in the head recently so I should be hearing things okay.
"Uh, why? You're okay right?"
"Aye. I was thinking I'd like to see ye without anybody chasing us, no disasters, that's all."
"Do you mean like a date? A date, date? As opposed to a 'let's go out a beat some people up together' date?
"Aye. That is, if ye'd like."
"I like, I like." He said at last. "I like lots. When? Soon?"
"Whenever is good for ye. We're not going anywhere for the next bit."
"Tomorrow? I can pick you up at mutant central. Say sevenish?"
"Sounds good. I'll be waiting."
"Oh boy."
After they signed off, his brain caught up to his mouth. He was one of the most expensive specialized help money could buy but right now all he could do was jump up and down in excitement.


Shatterstar thought about his day with Julia as he drove back to the mansion. They had found a small cafe and spent much of the afternoon discussing her plans for sightseeing. She had been surprised to find out that he hadn't much knowledge of the city either. He had accompanied her to the Metropolitan Museum of Art and they had gone through the exhibits making the occasional scathing comments about the art and the possible mental health of the artists. He couldn't identify why he enjoyed her company so much. I barely know her, he thought. But I feel more comfortable talking with her than I have ever been with anyone else.

The wing where X-Force was staying was mostly dark. Everyone must be asleep. He passed by the kitchen and noticed that Cable and Domino were still awake. They waved him to a seat.
"Hey, 'Star. How was your day? Did you find out anything interesting about Julia?" Asked Domino.
He considered before answering. I was supposed to discover information that would be of use to the team, he thought. Instead, I know she likes strong coffee and has a low opinion of abstract art. Not precisely important tactical data.
"I don't think she is a threat to us." He said at last.
"Oh? What'd you do all day?" Cable asked over the rim of his mug.
"We had lunch. Then I went with her to an art display."
"It's past midnight. That must have been one hell of a long art display."
"We attended a dinner theater afterwards." It was very strange. Julia had been equally baffled. They had spent most of the performance debating the meanings of the actions of the players. They had come to consensus that it was supposed to be incomprehensible.
"You were tasked to follow her, you know." Cable said. So much for 'Star's sneaking around.
"I am aware of that. She noticed I was following her."
"Huh." Cable really couldn't think of anything to say.
~Dom, help me out here. With anybody else I'd say they got close to the target to seduce the information out of them.~
Domino suppressed her laughter at his thought.
~Me too. Given that this is Shatterstar we're talking about, I think the normal rule doesn't apply. Maybe they just got along. I hear it happens on occasion.~
Shatterstar noticed that they were probably communicating telepathically and waited for either one of them to say something aloud.
Domino cleared her throat. "Do you know what else she's planning do while she's in town?"
"She has a list of things she stated she wished to see." He paused. "I agreed to accompany her to the Empire State Building and to a number of other sites tomorrow." The looks on their faces nearly made him smile. I hope they do not decide that my plans are in conflict with the team's interests.

Cable and Domino were still trying to figure how to handle things when Gambit strolled in.
"Bon soir, mes amis. I understand you met a certain petite belle recently?"
Cable grumbled under his breath. The X-mansion had a whole range of comforts and advantages but secrecy was not one of them. "You mean Julia de Santos? Yeah, so what?"
Remy's red eyes were unreadable. "You don' know what she is or you don' care?"
Shatterstar tensed slightly. What was the man implying?
"That she's a mutant? We figured that out real quick." Domino couldn't understand Remy's charm at all. Just being in the same room with him made her want to have a wash.
"She be an assassin."
Cable leaned forward. "You think she's here to kill someone? A member of one of the teams?"
"Non. They'd be dead by now. I jus' though you should know who you're dealing wit'."
"So how do you know who the hell she is?" God, if she's some ex-girlfriend of his I'm going to be sick, thought Domino.
"La petite was at my wedding as a guest of Belladonna."
Cable considered this while Remy helped himself to a cup of coffee. "Remy, just how good is this kid?"
"She be a known master mon ami. As good as dey get."
Cable and Domino exchanged a glance full of meaning. A trained operative could be definitely of use to the team.
"Does she have a working name?" He asked.
"Non, not from the Guild. SHIELD's name for her is Shockwave."
Domino sat back in, well, shock. Cable looked like he'd been slapped. That kid was Shockwave? He ran through the list of kills that had been attributed to that name. Almost eighty. As far as anyone knew. How many more? Anyone's guess. Each one a perfect hit. She and Cable exchanged another look.
"She'd be a helluva an asset." Domino mused out loud.
"Or damn dangerous." Cable reminded her.
"Nate, everybody in this nuthouse could be dangerous with the possible exception of the goldfish upstairs."

Shatterstar stared at the far wall as he contemplated Gambit's words. To him, an assassin was everything a warrior was not. Untrustworthy, cowardly, dishonourable. Julia did not seem be any of those things but perhaps it was all trickery and lies.
"We would not benefit from associating with those who kill in secrecy."
Remy gave him a measuring look. He could sense the feeling of betrayal coming off the boy like mist.
"You got a problem wit' assassins? Dey bound to their Guild jus' like t'ieves. Dey have der rules."
"You cannot deceive me thief. Assassins have no honour."
"You t'ink it so bad? You killed for sport. De assassins don't kill for dat. She find out you killed for a TV show she prob'ly but jus' as disgusted wit' you." With that Remy stalked out. She might be mad at me now but a least they won't hate her later for what she is.


The next morning Shatterstar waited in the courtyard of her hotel. He watched as Julia approached.
"Hi. Ready to go?" She asked as she reached him.
He gazed at her lovely face. This is an assassin he reminded himself.
"No. Why did you not tell me that you are an assassin?" His tone was full of accusation.
Julia couldn't help her start of surprise. How the hell did he find out? Who knew who she was? I don't know anybody here, do I? Oh blast. LeBeau's still hanging out with the X-Men isn't he?
"You didn't ask." she replied.
As if I'm going to just say hello, my name's Julia and I'm paid to kill people. Sounds like some demented twelve-step program.
"Perhaps we should forget about the tour. It's been nice making your acquaintance." She nodded as politely as she could manage and walked off.
This doesn't bother me. I've only known him for two days. A day and a half really. This doesn't bother me. He can't prove a damn thing. This doesn't bother me, she repeated to herself. Gambit, truce or no truce I'm going to kill you.

Shatterstar stared after her retreating form. What had happened? He had expected denials and protestations of innocence. Instead she had all but confirmed his accusation. Or had she instead been so offended by his words? Why did it bother him so much to think she did not want to speak with him any longer?
"Julia! Wait!"
She turned to see him jogging after her. Gods, what now? "What did you want?"
He looked slightly put out by her cold tone. "I am sorry. I did not mean to offend you."
"You didn't. I think the issue here is whether I offend you."
He couldn't think of anything to say to that. She sighed.
"Look, why don't we continue this conversation somewhere reasonably private, okay?"
He brightened at this. At least she was willing to speak with him.


Just before lunch Tabitha intercepted Sam as he was leaving the library with a large binder under his arm.
"Sam!" She called. She wrapped her arms around him and kissed the air out of him.
"Hey there girl." He smiled when they broke.
"I was thinking we could go and see a movie later. A little time for ourselves. What do you say?"
"Ah'd like to but Ah've got to study these Blackbird specs. Maybe later this week?"
"Um. Okay. Promise?"
"If nothing important comes up."
"You know, you should be practicing more with powers. Ah think the Danger Room should be free now."
"Is this something you want to help me 'practice' with?" She leered. Maybe he was just playing hard to get.
"No, Ah've really got to study. Ah'll help set up a program for you, though."
"Uh, no. That's okay. You run off and study. I'll see you around."
"Sure Tabs."
She watched as he strode down the hall. "Damn it!" I'm not going to cry, she thought furiously. He's busy. Just because we haven't done a single thing together in a week doesn't mean I'm going to blow my cool.


They ended up back at her hotel room for no other reason than if she was going to be telling a member of known mutant outlaw group that she was a killer for hire she wasn't about to do so in public.

She threw her coat over the chair in the sitting room adjacent to her suite.
"Okay." I can do this, she thought. Gambit's already told them who I am, that thieving bastard. Still, a lifetime's worth of secrecy was hard to overcome in twenty minutes. She didn't want to examine why she was doing this too closely. "What did you, and by extension I can assume all of X-Force, want to know? Or better yet, what has Gambit not told you?"
He looked surprised at the association. "I want to know, for myself, if what he has said about you is the truth."
"And that would be what, exactly?"
"You are an assassin."
"Yes, I am."
"Oh." Shatterstar stood up and moved over to gaze out of the window.
"What specifically is bothering you? X-Force consists of mutant terrorists that are wanted by the U.S. government and SHIELD for a whole assortment of offenses up to and including attempted murder."
"We are not terrorists."
"That's what's on news. Sorry."
"It is just on my world assassination has an extremely negative connotation."
"On your world?" This was news. A unpleasant possibility occurred to her. Oh gods, please let him not be delusional.
"Yes. I am not from Earth. Did you not suspect that from my name?"
"No. I mean, I thought it was your, uh, working name, as it were. You've got a friend calling herself Boomer for goodness sakes." She paused. "Where are you from?"
"That may take some time to explain."
"I'm not on a schedule."
"What about your plans for today? I thought you wished to see the Empire State Building."
"I'm fairly sure it'll still be there tomorrow."
"You are truly new to New York if you think the buildings here remain undamaged for very long."
"If not, we can go look at the ruins." She pulled a bottle of wine from the bar fridge and a couple of glasses. "I got this at the vineyard your friends dropped in on. May I pour you a glass?"
"Yes, I think so. I have never had wine or any type of alcohol before."
"Really? The effect is sort of lost on me. It tastes nice though."
"Theresa used to drink beer quite often." He said as he removed his jacket and settled on one end of the sofa.
"Oh? I don't care for beer. I can't get past the smell." She said as she put the glasses down. She sat down opposite from him. "I have to ask. Is this normal for you?"
"What do you mean?"
"Hanging around with an almost complete stranger."
"No. I do not know why I am doing this."
She laughed softly. "Well, that's okay. Neither do I."

He sat for a moment trying to find a way to describe his world and his life in a manner that would not have her questioning his sanity.
"I told you I am not from Earth. The world I am from is called Mojoworld, after the ruler. The ruling class is of a different species than mine and my people were, are, being held as slaves." He picked up his glass and took a sip. It was an agreeable drink.
"Why are your people slaves? Did you lose a war?"
"No. We are created to be slaves. My race was bioengineered, not evolved like humans. We were created to provide entertainment. Television is a very powerful on my world. We would perform for television programs that were in demand by the masses. There were a few factions that contested for power but Mojo's programs always had high enough ratings to maintain his rule."
"Are you saying that the power base of the government rested on television ratings?"
"Yes." He smiled at her expression. "I am entirely sane."
"I don't doubt it. My political theory professor would hyperventilate at the idea though."
"That would be the reaction of most people." He said. "We have been trying to free ourselves for over one hundred years. Many of us who escaped from slavery joined the Cadre Alliance."
As he described their war, he realized how much he had neglected his mission. I have almost forgotten why I am here. He told her of his trip through time and space in search of help and how that resulted in joining with the group that would become X-Force. He talked about the nature of the Arena games and the Spineless Ones' taste for blood sports. She looked ill at the idea of killing for entertainment but did not say anything.
"The matches of single combat in the Arena were the most popular show. The more a warrior was able to humiliate his enemy the better ratings."
"These matches were always to the death?"
"Yes. If your opponent was badly injured Mojo would decide whether or not they would be spared by the audience reaction." He closed his eyes briefly. He could hear the roar of the crowds demanding death even now. They had cheered his victories but he always knew that they would have cheered his death just as avidly. He opened his eyes and looked at her. She was staring down at the sofa, one finger tracing the pattern of the fabric absently. "Julia?"
"It sounds like a cruel world." She said softly. "What happened to those who refused to fight?"
"They were still placed into competition. They were killed by their opponents. Not many wished to die that way. We are bred to fight. The sense of honour instilled in us demands it. The trainers tell us that 'where there is life, there is hope'." He paused. "That phrase inspired the Cadre Alliance."
She looked up at him. "Of course your people had to be indoctrinated to hope." She said just as quietly as before. "If you were being set against your countrymen, you needed something to believe in. This dream that someday it would end." He heard the sadness and understanding in her voice.
"Yes." He hesitated, then took her hand gently in his. "Thank you."
"For what?"
"For listening to me. I have not spoken of this since I arrived on this world."
"You must have told your friends this. Don't you talk to them?"
"My teammates know where I am from and how I came to be here but they have their own concerns."
She tilted her head questioningly. "You make it sound like they don't care. I thought you said that's why you're with them to begin with."
"I feel that Cable may have made his offer of assistance without understanding fully what I was asking. And perhaps I accepted too rashly. Even he did, there does not seem to be any indication from him that his part of the agreement will be honoured. The others do not take my request seriously because of that, I think."
"You live in the same house as the X-Men. Have you asked them?"
"I have thought about asking them." He played with his glass, watching the liquid spash against the sides. "They were not the heroes I expected from the vids. I do not doubt they are formidable opponents but I don't know anymore if they are what the Cadre Alliance needs to succeed against Mojo."

The sat in silence for a while. Julia got up and retrieved the bottle of wine from the ice bucket.
"If your trip back involves time travel, couldn't you theoretically return just after you left? That way, no matter how long it takes here, your people won't notice the difference?" She asked as she refilled their glasses.
"Yes. However, I still have no means of returning. The technology of this world is not yet advanced enough and I am not versed in the magics capable of making the journey." He sighed.
She settled down across from him again. Magic, huh? I think I know a magician or two, she thought. I wonder if interdimentional time travel is on the course list.
"Tell me about your Guild." He asked. "I don't know very much about how such things are organized here."
"That may take a while." She smiled. "We've been around for a long time."
"I, too, am not on a schedule." Indeed, Cable had been so amazed that he was inclined to socialize with someone that he was exempted from training sessions for the next few days.
Julia sipped her wine and tried to sort out an abbreviated version of the Guild's thousand years of history. "Here in America it seems that the development of mutants in the population is considered recent. That's not really true. The number of mutancies is on the increase but there have always been people with usual powers throughout history. One of the rarest powers is that of immortality."
"I am familiar with this. Sam Guthrie is immortal. We were certain he had been killed in battle but he came back from death."
"I think I remember Tabitha complaining about him. He's with the X-Men now, right?" He nodded.
"Many immortal mutants became very wealthy and powerful simply because they outlasted everyone else. Others gathered mortals to serve their causes and protect their interests. These became the sponsors of the guilds. Eventually, the guild councils created their own laws and expanded into different countries." She took a sip of her wine. "The Assassins' Guild was created by Selene to fight her wars. She's only ever appeared to the Council, though. Remy LeBeau's Thieves' Guild was formed by Candra to acquire valuable items that she wanted. I understand that she's still involved directly with them. She caused the split between the New Orleans Assassins' Guild and the main house in Argentina when she persuaded their council to accept her in place of Selene."
"Are there many such guilds?"
"According to the records, at one time there were twelve. Now we're down to two. Some of the functions of the vanished guilds have been incorporated into the surviving houses."
"I have never seen any vid of this in all my time here."
"I'm not surprised. After all, killing and thieving is against the law in most countries." She looked consideringly at him. "Generally, anytime evidence of either guild's existence is going to be made known to the media everyone available moves to destroy it."
"Sensible." He thought for a moment. "Are you at risk for telling me this?"
"Only if you planned to announce it on nationwide television."
"No. I would not betray your confidence." He sipped the wine again. "Did you join the Guild freely?"
"I suppose not." She said. His eyes darkened at that. "I'm a foundling. An orphan. Technically speaking, when the headmaster took me from the orphanage the Guild bought me. Most of what I earned for the first three years after I reached full rank paid for my freedom."
Shatterstar put his glass down while he considered her words. It was disturbing to hear that she had been property.
"I had, I think, a good upbringing. I didn't suffer. I didn't want for anything and when I see what some parents do their children here I can't help but be grateful." She paused. "I wasn't alone. The Guilds have been actively taking mutant children in for some time. I would guess that's how Remy came to be Jean-Luc LeBeau's son."
"Were you similarly adopted by an assassin's family?"
"No. I was raised in the guild house with a few others. We started training earlier than children who had been adopted into assassin families."
"Ah. That explains you skill. I was very much impressed when we dueled the other day."
She smiled. Compliments from another expert were always welcome. "Many thanks. I've got to say that you're certainly one of the best fighters I've seen. Your style is very unique."
"Thank you." He smiled back. "I have been told I employ excessively extravagant techniques by others though."
"As long as it works for you, anything goes." She shrugged. "We used to get marked for style and technique but the particulars were up to us."
"Marked? Do you mean like grading?"
"Yes. It was a school after all."
"What sort of classes were taught to children who were being made into assassins?"
"Weaponry, combat strategy, basic magical theory. Plus, we did the usual literature, sciences, and cultural studies." She smirked at his disbelieving expression. "Sounds a little out there?"
"Out where?" He asked with what she was starting to recognize as a conversational hedge. "It sounds to me like a very practical and useful education."


Wade pulled up outside the X-mansion. He checked his watch nervously. I've done jobs in total hellholes and I get the jitters waiting for my date. At precisely seven, Theresa emerged from the house.
"Oh, wow." He sighed. She was wearing a very flattering dark green dress that showed just enough to wet the appetite. He got out of the car and met her halfway down the steps.
"Hiya doll. You look fantastic."
"Hello Wade. I'm glad ye like the outfit." She studied him carefully. His face looked almost normal but there was something just slightly off. "Are ye wearing an image inducer? Ye look different."
"Nah. I'm trying something new. It's a latex mask." He said with a twinge of anxiousness. What did she think? She reached out and gently ran her hand down the side of his face. She could feel the scar tissue under the covering.
"Ye look fine, Wade." She said finally with a smile. "Let's go and have a good time."
He stood there with a silly grin on his face. "You got it, Red. One good time coming up." He opened the door for her and clicked his heels in air as he hurried to the driver's side.


Jimmy was sitting outside and enjoying the sunset. He'd allowed himself a bottle of beer as Theresa wasn't around to be tempted. That's kind of the problem isn't it? He mused. I'm good at helping her and being her friend. Spirits knows that I think she's one of the most beautiful women I've ever met. She said she still likes me as a friend and I know I still like her. Should I push for more anyway? Do I really want to or I am just doing this out of habit? Jimmy boy, you need a life.


They had gone to see the Empire State Building after all. They both agreed that the streets of New York looked much better from twelve hundred feet up. Afterwards, they found a nice restaurant with a view of the city lights.
"After you left, there was discussion as to whether or not you had told us your real name. Domino had tried to find some record of you in various databases."
"Oh? I can't say I'm surprised. Well, on the passport it's my full name: Julianna Selena de Santos. Spanish names tend to be lengthy so I just introduce myself using the short form. Domino can look me up under that name if she wants to."
He turned the name over in his head. "I think it has a pleasing sound."
"Thank you." She smiled. "Which name do you prefer: Shatterstar or Gaveedra Seven?"
"I earned the name Shatterstar so I would say I prefer that one. I don't like the number associated with my other name. Neither one is what I use legally here." He said. After searching through his jacket, he handed his driver's license to her.
She looked at the card. "Benjamin Russell?"
"Apparently I resembled this individual closely enough that Cable thought that it would be a suitable legal identity."
"Where is he now?"
"He died a few years ago in an institution for the criminally insane."
"You're using the ID of a crazy person? The police are going to love that."
"I'll just have to ensure I'm not performing some outlandish act when they decide to question me."
"I thought that's what your team did best." She studied him then turned back to the picture. "You know, you don't look like a 'Benny'."
"I'm glad you think so. I don't think I would be able to face my enemies saying 'I am Benny, warrior born'."
"It does lack a certain something." She agreed.


Wade was happier than he could remember being in a long time. He was twirling Terry around the dance floor of a fancy dinner club and feeling like just another guy out with a pretty girl. I think my life is complete, he thought as she pressed against him as the song ended. And people say ballroom isn't sexy.

"Yer a terrific dancer. " She said as they sat down again.
"Only one of my many fabulous secret talents." He said as the waiter came back with another bottle of de-alcoholize wine. He'd nearly died when she admitted she couldn't let herself drink anymore. More so, considering he'd just offered to get her something from the bar. What could have happened to you to hurt yourself like that? He wondered. He had managed not to screw things up and suavely choose something they could both enjoy. At least it tasted like wine. He couldn't feel alcohol unless he went on a real bender anyway. Like I'm going to do that with her sitting here, he thought.
"Babe, I gotta know. Why, um, are you, I mean," He stuttered to a stop. Great time for your brain to seize, Wilson.
Terry smiled. "Why did I ask ye out?"
"Yeah." He fiddled with his napkin. "You were kind of close to Proudstar. What's up with that?"
She sighed. "Nothing. I said 'let's be friends'." She leaned forward and took one of his hands. "I like ye, Wade. I sort of got the impression ye liked me too. I want to give this a chance. Is that good enough reason for ye?"
"It's a great reason." He grinned. "Fabulous. Wunderbar. Outstanding."
"I guess ye like it then?" She teased. He nodded enthusiastically. "How about this then?"
She leaned forward kissed him. She could feel the unevenness of his skin through the mask but she had promised herself to not let that stop her. For the first time since she'd met him, he was completely speechless. He blinked as she sat back again. She kissed me! He thought stunned.
She gave him an appraising look. "Well?"
"Oh yeah. I definitely like that too." He gushed. "Take advantage of me anytime."
"I just might do that." She winked.


After dinner they walked along until they came upon a loud nightclub. There was a line of people outside waiting to get in.
"I have been here before." Shatterstar said. "Rictor, our teammate I told you who has left, brought me. He thought it would be a good experience."
"Was it?"
"No. I found the environment too close to that of my homeworld. And there was a woman who..." He trailed off.
Julia looked at him when he didn't continue. He had a vaguely embarrassed expression.
"A woman who what?" She asked teasingly. "Asked you for hair care advice?"
"No. I think the term is 'came on' to me."
"This was a bad thing? Or just unexpected?"
"Both unexpected and unknown. Rictor said it is just 'social stuff' I have to learn but I have my doubts."
"Well, given the culture here finding information shouldn't be difficult. Did you like the attention? No, never mind. You don't have to answer that."
"I don't mind answering you." He said truthfully. "Her attentions were, ah, physical. I wasn't prepared for my reaction to them."
Oh, she thought. Is he saying he's never been felt up before? I think he is. My goodness.
"How did you react? When that sort of thing happens to a woman the man usually gets slapped."
"I did not hit her. I ran out the door. Not the fearless behavior expected from a warrior."
"'Star, correct me if I'm wrong but I'm getting the strong impression your schooling didn't cover reproductive biology and psychology." Sailing into deep waters here, she thought. Do I really want to know this or am I letting my morbid curiosity run away with me?
"Your impression is partially correct. We are," He paused. "anatomically correct. So I am aware of the physical makeup of the sexes. However, reproduction is done entirely through artificial means."
"Why artificially? Just because? The women don't want stretch marks?"
"No, we are married to a genetically approved mate in order to improve the Arena game stock. The Arena could not spare a female warrior for the gestation period so infants are created and raised in the training facility's breeding centre."
"Oh. That's sounds like quite the impersonal reason to get married. Arranged marriages in the Guild are usually to keep the peace between the various houses." She glanced at him. "What's your wife like? Shouldn't she be wondering where you are?"
"I have never met her." He said in a subdued tone. "From the vids I have seen, she is a magnificent warrior. Undoubtedly she is still fighting with the Cadre Alliance."
"I can see how you'd be a good couple then."
"Yes, I suppose we will be." He thought for a few moments. "You mentioned that arranged marriages are not unknown in your guild. Are you married?"
"No. There was someone that the Council thought would be a terrific match for me but it didn't work out as planned."
"Why?" He asked curiously.
"It was hate at first sight. Nicholas and I aren't actively trying to kill each other now so I guess that's some progress."
"Oh. Where is he now?"
"Italy, last I heard. He's in the same guild, different branch. They're into magic and whatnot."

The strolled along in companionable silence as they occupied themselves with their own thoughts. He found himself wondering what kind of person would incite such loathing in her. I wonder what my reaction to Windsong will be when we meet. She was impressive on the vids. Adam X was willing to fight to the death to save the hologram of her so he must have thought the mere sight of her was reason enough.
"What was this Nicholas like?"
"Well, he's good-looking. Blond hair, green eyes. We're the same rank, sort of, in the Guild, so he's good at what he does. All the regular social qualifications: respectable family, charming, well-educated and so forth. If you can overlook the fact he's a half-demon, then I'm sure you'd get along very well."
He stopped and stared at her. "Your Council thought a demon would be a good match for you?"
"Sure. They thought I was the avatar of our patron goddess so a sorcerer would be an acceptable date."
"Why did they think you to be that?"
"I'm immune to magic for some reason. Spells just skip over me."
"That is quite an advantage. On my world, there would be many who would desire such immunity."
"It's just a fluke, or sloppy spell casting. I'd rather be immune to bullets."
He smiled at her eminently practical view. "That also would be desirable."
"What does you wife look like? Do you know her name?"
"Her name is Windsong. She is a warrior, as I have mentioned." He paused. "She has very long brown hair and brown eyes. I am not sure of what else I could tell you. I think she would be considered beautiful by Earth standards."
"I'll bet she's photogenic too." She smiled. The idea of an entire world run by television still amazed her.
"Of course. Are you not?"
"I'm not sure. I stay away from cameras. It's sort of expected, given my line of work."
"That is too bad." He mused aloud. She gave him a sideways look but didn't say anything.


They were watching television when he returned to mansion. Tabitha practically tackled him when he came into the living room.
"'Star, where have you been all day?"
"I have been in the city with Julia."
"Oh really? Cool. Let's hear it."
"Hear what?"
"Details 'Star. C'mon, you're in town all day with a girl and you're not trying to kill each other. What happened?"
"We talked. She is very good company. I enjoy speaking with her a great deal."
"I guess it helps that she's majorly cute too." Roberto noted.
"She is aesthetically pleasing." He agreed. Leaving the rest of them with bewildered looks, he went upstairs to his room.
"I dunno. I think it's weird. 'Star usually doesn't care about anything except TV and hacking people to bits." Jimmy commented.
"Do you think it's a sign the world's ending?" Mused Roberto.
"What, again?" Jimmy asked. He tilted his head as he heard the front door opening again. After a few moments Theresa breezed through.
"Hi guys."
"Hey Terry. How's Deadpool?" Roberto asked. I cannot believe she went out with him.
"Wonderful." She smiled. "I'll see ye in the morning. We've got a session at eight so don't forget." She waved at them and sailed upstairs, humming happily.
"Oh, yeah. The world's definitely ending." Tabitha muttered.
"What's the matter, Tabs?" Jimmy asked. "You've been snarky all day."
"Sam's being a jerk." She grumped. "He's so into being an X-Man now it's enough to make me gag. At dinner he said maybe if I train harder I might graduate too."
"Since when were we looking to graduate?" Roberto asked without looking up from the TV. "I thought that's what Gen X was for. We're just as much a real team as they are."
"I guess." She said. "It just makes me mad."
"It should. I personally thought it was weird that Sam even went for it." Roberto opined.
She huffed and returned her attention to the TV. He looked her over as they watched the rest of the late night movie. He always liked blondes. He knew that Tabitha didn't mind him and Sam's ignoring her wouldn't help their relationship any. It was just, what? Besides the hair, she wasn't the type of girl he found really attractive. She was pretty but they were from different worlds, socially speaking. He was the head of DaCosta International, even if it was in absensia. He sighed as an image came to mind. Amara Aquilla, now she had been perfect. Except she'd been interested in Manuel at the time. Now though, she was back in Nova Roma. Rumor had it she and Manuel had called it quits once and for all. I should write her, he thought. Better brush up on my Latin. Besides, I'm sure Sam wouldn't like me hitting on his girl just because I can.

End of Part Two

Part 3

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