Part Four - Changing Lanes
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Julia de Santos/Shockwave belongs to me but she'll deny it if
She stared up at the skylight from
her position on the floor. Three days of chasing her thoughts in
circles. I would be leaving the Guild. I've never done that. I've
never even thought about it. Would they even let me go? Maybe I
can ask for leave instead. Do I want to go? Jimmy said they have
a shitty life sometimes but they all still stay. It must be worth
it for them. Why am I even considering this? It just because I
like them so much? Be honest with yourself, de Santos. Is it
because you like 'Star so much? Probably. Cable and Domino are
worth the respect. They've proved themselves as field commanders
before. But this isn't a regular op. This a cause. A revolution.
Am I a revolutionary? I don't think so. At least I don't think I
am. How do you test for that?
"Augh!" She yelled.
Okay. Primal screams don't help the thought processes. Revolutionaries are usually passionate, hot-headed types. I'm what? Don't know. Not that, at any rate. Can't really feel very much. Empathy is not my strong suit. Will that matter to them? At least I can sort of fake having real emotions now even it is still sort of abstract to me. Will they understand that assassins, that I, can't feel like they do? Am I looking to escape being an assassin? I don't think so. I like my life. I like what I do. Considering I can't really do anything different. How much of that is me and how much is what the Guild conditioned me to be? Doesn't matter now. I'd be taking orders. Can I do that? Haven't had to before. Never worked with a team before, either. Except for 'Star, they don't have the same perspective I do. Would we be able to work together, when push comes to shove? How long are they going to be doing this? For the rest of their lives? How long was I going to be an assassin? Well, according to the oath it was 'now and always'. Does that apply to them?
She got up and poured herself a drink.
Yes or No? Make a decision and live with it.
She took a deep breath.
Gods, let this be the right choice.
"How long has he been down
there?" Cable asked looking out of the control room window
of the Danger Room.
"Just under an hour." Domino replied. "But it's his fourth session today."
Below them Shatterstar was working through a program that involved robotic assailants trying to keep him from the stop button at one end of the room. The longer it took, the more opponents were added.
"Have you heard anything yet?" She asked as they left the room.
"Not a word."
He wasn't thinking. Just reacting.
The robots would materialize and he would cut them down. He wasn't
attempting to reach the goal so their numbers were increasing.
That was good. He didn't want feel anything beyond the rush of
Julia opened the door quietly and
peeked inside. As per Roberto's information, Shatterstar was
slicing a multitude of mechanical attackers into pieces. It
looked like he had been injured in several places already but
that didn't appear to have slowed him down in the slightest. I
could watch him all day, she thought before she could stop
herself. Yeesh, it's a good thing the resident telepaths can't
read me. She pulled out a fairly heavy knife and threw it at the
red button at the opposite end of the room.
Without warning the program stopped.
Breathing hard, he turned to the control room in fury. There was
no one there. He looked at the button at the other end of the
room. In it was knife, sunk to the hilt.
Julia was standing in the doorway. She was dressed in black armor and had a sword belt around her waist.
"Za's vid." He breathed as his anger evaporated. He sheathed his swords without taking his eyes from her.
"Hi." She sauntered towards him. "Why are you in here? Nothing on TV?"
"You came back." He stared at her with a mixture of hope and relief playing across his features. She looked at him with a puzzled expression.
"Of course. I wasn't leaving, I was just thinking. " She replied. He seemed to notice her appearance for the first time.
"Why are you dressed like that? You look like you're expecting combat."
"This is the official armor of the Assassins' Guild" She smiled. "I thought you guys should know what you're getting."
He grabbed her waist and pulled her closer. "You're joining us? Joining X-Force?"
"I, I am very happy that you choose this." He said with a brilliant smile.
"Hey guys, check it out!"
Tabitha called. Theresa and Jimmy hurried in. Below them
Shatterstar and Julia were standing about two inches apart.
Roberto ran in. He'd been outside when she arrived. "Did I miss anything?" He asked looking down.
"Nae. They're just talking but 'Star's smiling for the first time in three days." Theresa commented.
"Do you think that means she's joining the team?" Jimmy asked.
Tabitha gave him a knowing look. "Oh yeah. Why else would he be so happied up?"
"Another three hundred channels added to satellite TV would do it." Roberto said.
"You know, we've got an
audience." Julia remarked. She could see the gang in the
control room out of the corner of one eye.
"Yes. I don't care. We are not doing anything to be ashamed of." Shatterstar replied calmly.
"Not yet, anyways. I can't think of anything suitably shocking."
"Neither can I. We should consider possible actions for later opportunities."
Mindful of their watchers, she placed her arms around his neck. "For somebody who claims not to be good at social stuff, you've got innuendo all but mastered." She said playfully.
"I'm glad you think I'm improving." He said with a grin. "I look forward to increasing my skills in this and other areas."
She laughed. "It's always good to have a goal." She agreed. "I have to talk to Cable and Dom. I called from the car. They're expecting me in the 'briefing room' wherever that is."
"They didn't do anything!"
Tabitha complained. "I was sure they would!"
"It's good ye didn't wager on it then. Ye think they didn't see us up here gawking at them?" Terry asked.
"I was not gawking." Roberto sniffed. "I was taking an interest in my friends' situation. A DaCosta does not gawk."
Jimmy snickered. "Yeah, right. C'mon, let's meet them downstairs."
"Cable, you and Domino asked
if I was willing to join the team. I am." Julia stated
clearly. "However, I have three stipulations."
Domino leaned forward. "Let's hear them."
"First, I'd like to keep my own place while we're still in New York. I'm not trying to be difficult but Professor Xavier and I don't agree and I'm just not comfortable with the idea of living in his house. Second, I'm wearing this when I'm in the field. I know the reasons why you dress similarly and they're good ones but really, you might as well paint targets on your chests if you're going to be wearing yellow anything. I'll wear an badge or change the color to dark purple if you'd like. Third, unbelievable as it may seem, I do have a life. There's several things I have to sort out before I can get out of the full-time assassin business. If there's something you need me to do right away, they can wait though."
Cable and Domino glanced at each other.
~What do you think, Dom?~
~I can see her point about living in the mansion. If it's just while we're stationed here, that's fine by me. We'll probably end up bugging out sooner than later, you know~
~Yeah. Probably~ Cable thought about the uniforms. What possessed him to make his team wear X-Men variation outfits?
~Why'd we go with the purple and yellow?~
~Damned if I know, Nate. We wanted, pardon me, you wanted to dress like a team, work like a team and so on ad nausea~ Her mental voice sounded amused. Knowing Dom, she'd wear whatever she felt like when they actually went into combat.
"What sort of things?" Domino asked out loud.
"Number one is that I have to take official leave from the Guild. Normally, I could be called back at any time and I have to report where I am once a year."
"Sounds pretty strict." Roberto commented.
"Not any more so than any other secret organization and we're a lot more stylish than the Masons."
"How long will you need?" Asked Cable.
"At most, two and half weeks."
Cable sat back for a moment. They didn't have any missions planned as yet and things were quiet on the 'enemy back for revenge' front. "Okay, why don't you do whatever you have to do immediately and we'll start the team training when you get back. You can keep you own armor. We'll decide on the color later. And while we're still here in the mansion, you don't have to bunk with us. That'll change when we move out of here."
"Fine with me." Julia said with a smile.
"So you're on the team now?" Tabitha asked.
"I guess so. Is there anything else I should know?"
"Nae. We'll teach ye the secret handshake later." Terry smiled.
"Hey, Julia." Jimmy said. "What's you power anyways? You nailed Mimic with something but we never asked what it was."
"Jeez, Jimmy. You make it sound like a game show." said Tabitha.
"I'll take 'unknown' for five hundred then." Julia said thoughtfully. "I project a force wave of varying strength and range. It's difficult for me to control it in close quarters but in the open the speed can exceed Mach one. I tire out quick if I go full throttle more than a couple times consecutively though."
"What kind of range do you have?" Cable asked intently.
"It's hard to say. The wave front will keep going for about five miles if there's nothing in the way but that's mostly due to its own momentum. My effective range depends on the density of the buildings and such. In a reasonably developed area? About half a mile. I can hit planes from about two miles away." She smiled at the surprised looks around the table. You guys really weren't ready for that, were you? She thought.
"Wow." Tabitha said. "How fast is Mach one anyway?"
"Approximately seven hundred and five miles per hour." Shatterstar said with a smug air. She'd already told him what she was capable of when he demonstrated his mutant power during practice.
"So you're Shockwave." Cable stated, sounding pleased. We've got our ground-to-air assault covered now, he thought.
"Really? I didn't know that. Where'd you get that name?" Julia asked curiously.
"SHIELD's file on you. They didn't have your name so that's what they put down."
"Colonel Fury's getting creative in his old age. I'd just as soon not use it if that's all the same to you."
Domino smiled at her decline of a codename. "Are you always this open about your abilities?"
"No. But if I'm going to work with you I'm going to be honest. You should know what I can do." Julia replied. "Your tactical planning will be off otherwise."
Domino raised her eyebrows at the reasonableness of the answer. ~This kid takes the award for the nicest professional killer I have ever met~ She sent to Nate.
~I know. If she showed some kind of personality disorder I think I could cope better~ He sent back.
~In this business being polite and friendly is a personality disorder~
"Mail call!" Tabitha
yelled. She looked at the last envelope left. What's this? S.Star
c/o Xavier's Institute for Higher Learning. No return address.
"Hey Shatty! I think there's mail for you."
That is odd, he thought as took the envelope from her. He never received any mail. It wasn't as if the postal service could send to Mojoworld after all. Perhaps Rictor has sent me something. Inside the envelope was a card with a picture of a city he'd never seen before.
"Well, who's it from?" she asked impatiently.
"Julia." At this the gang crowded around.
Hi from Cape Town,
How's life? Save the world from
anybody lately? Things are okay here.
Say hello to the gang for me.
See you soon,
"She's in South Africa, huh? I
guess we'll see who died on the news." Said Roberto absently.
He was absorbed in the multipage letter he had received from
Amara. Nova Roma was slowly integrating into the twentieth
century but there was still a lot of work to be done. As it was,
it remained a virtually closed society. The post script made his
day. 'I would like very much for you to visit if you are
returning home to Brazil' she had wrote.
"That's it? Doesn't say much." Jimmy put in.
No, it doesn't, Shatterstar thought. See you soon. It says everything. She'd said she needed at most two and a half weeks, so she should be back in four days. He sighed. He had discovered that he despised waiting for his friend to come back as much as he despised seeing her off. At least she is coming back, he thought. They had yet to hear anything from Rictor, even though he had promised to keep in touch.
Later that evening, Domino was
doing a little recreational hacking into the SHIELD databases.
She really wasn't looking for anything specific but she liked to
keep her skills up. Nate was loitering nearby reading a newspaper
and enjoying the view.
"Nate, check this out. Ten days ago a paramilitary compound in Botswana was wiped out. The blast field around the main building was ID'd as identical to Shockwave's energy sig."
"Not a one." She tapped another key. "It gets better. The guy in charge was found beheaded at ground zero. His head was found with a knife sticking out of one eye. According the cross-references, the late General Amared was a known supporter of anti-mutant policies and practices."
"Well, can't say it's a loss to society then."
"Makes you wonder who paid to have his ticket punched, doesn't it? You think a group of mutants took up a collection?"
"Given who he was, maybe she did as a public service." He studied the screen. "That kid does good work. If she was taking a break, I wonder why she took the job."
"Why don't you just ask her flat out when she gets back?"
"I think I may do that." He agreed going back to his paper. She pulled up the latest intelligence reports on mutant hate crimes. The ideas that been simmering in her head came to a full boil.
"Do you ever think we could be going about this the wrong way?"
He looked up at that. "What do you mean?"
Three days later.
"Tabs? It's Julia."
"Hey you're back. Are you at your place?"
"Yeah. Traffic was horrible. My suitcases are a nightmare and I'm ready to fall over. Stop laughing."
"Sorry. No, actually, I'm not. I've never heard you whine before. It's funny."
"I've done an insane amount of traveling in the last two weeks. I'm entitled to whine, bitch and complain. How's things with you?"
"I'm okay. We haven't gone out and pounded anybody lately. Sam's going to get a timebomb stuck somewhere if he doesn't take me out this week. Shatty's been mopping around."
"I doubt that. I'll come by tomorrow before lunch. Go smack Sam into line."
"You bet. See ya."
Tabitha found Shatterstar watching
a late news program. He was, in fact, watching eighteen news
programs and his incessant channel surfing had driven everyone
else out to find other entertainment.
"Yo 'Star, Julia just called. She'll be around tomorrow morning." She smirked at the suddenly happy expression on his face. The guy was just too easy to read some days. She planted herself in a chair.
"So, you really like her, huh?"
"Yes. I thought she was liked by all our teammates."
"Oh, yeah. But you kinda were her friend first. How come you even made the effort to get to know her at all?"
"Tabitha, is there a reason for your inquiries?"
"Well, if you're gonna be like that do you want to know why I like her?"
"If you wish to tell me."
"It's 'cause she cares. I mean, when I talk to her she's really listening to me, you know? Most people just blow me off and forget what I've said three seconds later. Julia's different. I can kinda see her thinking about what I'm saying. She takes me seriously. I matter to her. We matter to her." She paused. "It's nice."
Shatterstar looked at Tabitha's earnest expression. "That is one of the reasons why I find her such an appealing companion also." He sighed. One confidence deserved another. "Julio was my closest friend as you know." She nodded. He'd been so freaked when Rictor left. "Yet even he did not care to find out very much about me or my background. Admittedly, I am not the most forthcoming of individuals but I always felt that he became my friend out of default rather than choice."
"What do you expect? All of us sorta stayed 'cause we didn't have anywhere else to go. Kinda amazing we even get along at all."
"Some days we do not even do that."
"Yeah. But come on, what are we really gonna do about it? I'm not going back to my dad. Terry can't stand who her dad is working with and her uncle's locked up. Jimmy's family is toast. You can't go home. The only person who maybe has somewhere to go is 'Berto." She paused. "I mean, none of us have any regular job prospects either. I can just see me at an interview. No high school but I've been to outer space and I can blow stuff up. I'm sort of okay with really fancy computers from the future too."
"I see your point. I have no option but to continue to remain with our team."
"I don't know. I think you'd make good coin as a male exotic dancer."
"Never mind." She grinned as she stood up. "I'm going to hit the sack. 'Night."
"Good night, Tabitha."
The next morning, Shatterstar found
reason to linger around the front door. He jumped up when the
doorbell rang and hurried to answer it.
Julia was standing on the doorstep. "Hi there. Remember me?" There was a collection of gift bags at her feet.
"I think so. You are the strange woman with all the knives." He smiled and helped her carry the bags inside. He closed the door and pulled her closer. "I am pleased to see that you are well." He said into her hair. "I was concerned when Domino said that you had been fighting during your time away."
"It's nice to see you too." She said. "Everything went as planned and, as you can tell, I've brought a lot of blatant bribery goods for everyone."
Domino came around the corner and
nearly choked at the sight of them holding each other. ~Nate!~
~What? What's the problem?~
She sent him the image and in the opposite wing of the mansion, Cable spat out his coffee. Unfortunately, he was having coffee with Jean and Ororo and managed to spit his beverage onto the front of Ororo's dress. I think descretion is the part of valor I should exercise right now, he thought as there was a crash of thunder overhead.
"Nathan!" She gasped. "What do you mean by this?"
"I'm sorry, Ororo. I have to get back to my team immediately."
He handed her a dishcloth and hurried out with as much dignity as he could manage.
"Hi Domino." Julia smiled
as they stepped apart.
"Hi yourself. Welcome back." Do I say something? You'd blow a circuit if somebody decided to get cute about you and Nate so just ignore it. "Did I hear that you're going to be bribing us?"
"Yes. Is that a problem?"
"Hell, no. We don't get nearly enough bribes. The gang is congealing in the living room."
"Okay everybody. A word of
warning. There's not much else to the country than gold and jem
stone mines and I've been told my tastes are a bit much. "
Julia said handing out the boxes. "I blame that on the
culture. We tend to go overboard on glittery objects."
"That would explain 'Berto's thing with jewelry too." Jimmy smirked. "Maybe it's something in the water."
"It's good breeding." Roberto shot back. "And you're the one wearing two earrings and a necklace, Proudstar. Latinos are by nature conscious on their appearance. When we have the means to do so, we choose only the best."
"I gotta go with 'Berto on this, Jimmy." Tabitha said. "His clothes always rock and Julia's been decked out every day we've seen her."
"Decked out? Tabs, wait until we go to an embassy ball. That's decked out. It'll take three hours to get dressed."
"Why would you go, or even be invited to, an embassy function?" Domino asked in mid-unwrap.
Julia shrugged. "I needed some excuse to stay in the country. I'm not a citizen and it'd be too much paperwork to get a student visa. So, I'm officially here as an attaché of Argentine Embassy. Diplomatic immunity might come in handy."
Cable's eyebrows almost reached his hairline. "Do I even want to know how you swung that?"
"Nobody died, if that's what you're asking."
Roberto looked speculative. Diplomatic privileges sounded good. "Hey, maybe I can pull a few strings and become an attaché from Brazil. Did you use money or pull favors?"
"Pulled rank, actually. The Guild has a long reach. DaCosta International should have enough clout to get you a position, though." She made a frustrated gesture at them. "Open the stuff already! I'm dying from anxiety here."
"Why would you do that?" Shatterstar asked as he undid the last of the ribbons and paper. "I would certainly welcome any gift you choose to give me." He lifted the lid of the box. There was a black leather coat inside. He inspected the lining and saw that it would conceal two short bladed swords. There were two plain sheaths at the bottom of the box. He pulled out one of the blades. It was well-balanced with a good grip. He carefully placed the blades in the sheathes that were part of the fabric and tried the coat on.
"That looks great 'Star." Domino said. "You can't tell you're carrying anything."
"I can see that I will no longer have to go without weapons when we are out socially." He said warmly. "That is very comforting. Thank you."
"You're welcome, of course." Julia smiled. Encouraged, they began tearing into their respective packages.
Jimmy open his box. Inside was a large gold watch and a vest with a cool design down one side.
"Wow." He said as he examined the heavy timepiece. His name was engraved on the back. He put it on and admired the glint of the metal. "Thanks." He shrugged the vest on. The design seemed to be the representation of some kind of animal-human creature.
"That's the god of," Roberto searched his memory. I used to know the mythology. "warriors. There's all these altars and things to it back home."
"I bet it's got some name fourteen letters long and mostly consonants too." Jimmy said. "It fits great."
"Vowels are for sissies." Julia said. "And thank Tabs. She got me all your sizes."
"I'm no fool. If you're going to actually to bother to get us stuff, it's got to fit. " Tabitha said. She looked down at her gift. "Ooh." There was pair of gold and emerald earrings sitting on a silk sundress. "I'm totally amazed." She reverently exchanged the set she was wearing for her new pair. "Thanks just tons." She shook the dress out.
"It's sort of a new wave toga." Julia explained at her curious look.
"I'll be right back. I gotta try this." Tabitha said running out.
"Since she'll be a few hours, I'll open mine." Cable said. Inside his box was a tooled leather briefcase. It was proportional to his size but still quite light. Inside was compartments for more than a few weapons. His initials were worked in sliver on the lock. "This is fantastic. "He complimented. "I can't help but notice that it's setup for carrying guns."
"Of course." Julia smiled. "And it's shielded so you can get past a metal detector if you wanted to." She looked puzzled as something occurred to her. "How do you get through metal detectors anyway?"
"My cybernetic parts can fool the detectors." He smirked. "We don't travel coach so I don't go through the airports."
"That's good to know. Knives and swords are usually aren't allowed as carry-on luggage."
"Have you considered switching to non-metal weapons?" Domino asked as she petted her new black leather coat.
"Domino, please." Julia winced. "Even the idea makes me queasy."
"It would be difficult to be taken as a serious threat with a plastic sword." Shatterstar agreed.
"You're both being fussy. Carbon fiber can be your friend." Domino teased, examining the coat. She smiled at the pockets for knives and the shoulder harness for one handgun built into the lining. She stood and put it on.
"It looks good on you, Dom." Cable said.
"You're really raising the dress code here." Domino smiled. "I don't know if we can cope with this kind of thing."
"Well, Roberto was slacking off so someone's got to do it. I've got great taste in combat gear but that's about it."
"I am not slacking!" Roberto asserted. "It's a tough job. I was just resting."
Tabitha adjusted the dress one last
time in front of the mirror. It was a simple tunic-style dress
with a layer of semi-transparent layer of silk draped over it.
She stepped out onto the hallway and ran into Sam.
"There you are!" He smiled. "Wow, you look nice."
"Thanks. It's new." She tilted her head. "Are you allowed to hang with us tonight? We're going out to a club."
"Ah'm not sure. Ah think Ah's supposed to be on watch."
She blew out the breath she'd been holding. Figures. "Whatever. If you get permission, you know where we are." She pushed past him and went to join the others. I am really getting sick of him jerking me around. Yesterday it was 'Sure, girl. Anytime's good for me'.
"Okay, check it out!"
Tabitha called. They looked up at her in the doorway.
"Looking good, Tab." Roberto said truthfully. The dress wasn't especially short or low cut but it clung to her enough to show off her figure. The swathe of silk over top gave the outfit a classical air. She smiled at the praise and settled down beside him again.
"That's a good idea about getting you in as part of the embassy, Roberto." Cable said. "We'll have to work on that." He looked consideringly at Julia. "Does the Guild's reach extend to Brazil?"
"Um. Not so much my Guild. Rio's Thieves' Guild is quite large and influential, though"
Roberto frowned. "It is? I haven't heard about them before."
"How many secret societies last if they take ads out in the newspapers? I'm surprised you haven't received an invitation to enter into alliance with them yet."
She's not insulting you, he reminded himself. "Why? My family aren't thieves."
"No, but your family has control of a major corporation and you're old money. Those are usually the major prerequisites. The Guild likes to see that its prospective allies have staying power."
"Is this why there isn't a strong presence here?" Cable asked. Domino was watching everything intently. This could be a big help to what we want to do eventually, she thought. It'll be our biggest op ever.
"More or less. American families are too new by our standards. I mean, the country's isn't that old and the value system here is very different."
"I guess that makes sense. My family has been Brazil for the last four hundred years." Roberto pulled out a white cloak with gold trim along the edges. There was a large intricate pattern in gold over each shoulder and the DaCosta crest was worked into the design on the right side.
"You muttered something about visiting Nova Roma." Julia explained. "That's part of the dress code for a nobleman's son. They might be accepting electricity now but jeans and t-shirts are still out."
"You've been there recently? I thought you needed all kinds of special permits."
Julia hesitated. Might as well tell them. He'll find out if he wants to visit anyway. "The government of Nova Roma has entered into alliance with both Guilds. Officially, all trade negotiations are being handled through Guild agents and we can come and go freely."
"Whose idea was that?" Domino asked.
"Theirs. They needed protection from exploitation and we've got sort of a cultural loyalty. They can take their time learning about how things are done now." She smiled. "And we speak the language."
"Dios, I had no idea that you guys had so much influence at home." Roberto commented. After a moment of consideration, he turned on his inhibitor bracelet. I think it'll lose some of the effect if I'm powered up. He stood and fastened it around his neck. The cloak reached almost to the floor. If I was wearing sandals, it'd be the perfect length. I wonder what Amara will think? I'll have to get fitted for some tunics and leggings before I go to see her.
Tabitha whistled. "You're stylin', 'Berto."
He bowed with a flourish. Female approval. Good sign. "It's great. How did you get my family crest done?"
Julia smiled mysteriously. "Ways and means."
"I know not to ask, then." He carefully folded it up and placed it back into its box. If the Guild is that powerful, I should at least make an effort to know about them. "I'm going to be visiting home in a few weeks. How would I contact the Guild?"
"Ask Remy. He's got the title to make the introductions and he's very well liked. Terry, are you going to open that or what?"
"I donnae want to open it." Terry said, turning the elaborately wrapped package over in her hands. "It's so lovely."
"Open it, you silly. I was bored out of my mind on the plane so I got clever with the wrapping."
Terry carefully undid the paper and pulled out a necklace with a sapphire pendant. "My goodness." Tabitha scooted over and helped her fasten the clasp. Terry patted the stone happily. "Thank ye." She lifted the silk dress out of the bottom of the box. It looked longer than Tabitha's but a similar style. Wade will love it, she thought.
"I'll wear mine when we go out tonight." She said. "What are you wearing, Julia?"
Julia blinked. "Pardon? Who's going where?"
"Terry, I didn't tell her yet." Tabitha grumbled. "'Berto and I thought it would be cool for us to take you out. Sort of a welcome aboard thing."
"Oh. Okay. What's the plan?"
"We'll tell ye over lunch." Terry said.
It was Tabitha's turn to cook so
they had pizza for lunch. While they waited for the delicacy,
they squirreled away their new acquisitions. Roberto probably
broke some local ordinance when he burned all the wrapping paper
and boxes with his flares outside.
"Are you pleased with the idea?"
Shatterstar asked as they sat down on the patio to wait.
Julia curled up on a chair and tried not to think about how tired she was. "I guess. I thought this wasn't your sort of thing, though."
"I think it may be enjoyable as we are going with our friends. Rictor always wished to socialize with women when we had gone out before and I was uncomfortable because of my ignorance of the behavior expected."
"Just be yourself." She smiled. " If people can't deal with that, then to hell with them."
He tilted his head. "Should I not make the effort to integrate myself with this culture? That has been an occupation of mine for some time."
"I think there's difference between understanding the culture where you happen to be and changing yourself to get along." She said thoughtfully. "I mean, if you change what you are what will you have left?"
"Nothing." He asserted firmly. "Being a warrior is all that I am. Many are uncomfortable with my manner on occasion, though."
"So? As long as you're not breaking some law outright, who cares?" She smiled at his intensely serious expression. "'To thine own self be true.'"
He considered that. You have such clarity of self, he thought. "I like that phrase. It is honourable advice."
"And your Shakespearean quote of the day." She said lightly. "Hamlet, to be specific."
"I suppose that is something not shown on television? Will I only find it in one of your very dense books?"
"Well, actually sometimes the play is broadcast but the language might be different than the original. So you're still saved from reading."
"That is most fortunate." He said with small smile.
Terry found them and handed Julia a
brochure. On the cover was a round all-glass building. A large
neon sign named the structure as 'The Palladium' .
"It's newish club that's supposed to have everything." She explained. "Tab and 'Berto have been dying to go."
"Whatever." Julia shrugged. "What's the dress code?"
"Club formal." Roberto said, joining them. "Nice party clothes will do it."
Julia went through her wardrobe in her mind. "I suppose I can do that. When did you want to go?"
"We were thinking after dinner would be good." Terry said.
The pizza was pronounced ready and
they seated themselves around the kitchen table.
"You were in Botswana a week ago, weren't you?" Domino said nonchalantly between bites. "SHIELD ID'd an energy signature that's been linked to their profile for you."
Julia stilled her automatic alarm at the connection. I'm working with these people now. "Yes, I was. It was one of those things I had to get done."
"Can I ask why'd you did it?" Cable inquired. "I mean, besides the money." He added with a smile. That kind of work would be worth a fortune.
"I said over a year ago I'd agree to do the job." she shrugged. "You've got to keep your promises in this business."
Cable's bionic eye flickered. "Yes, you do." He glanced at Jimmy and Shatterstar who were watching him with noncommittal expressions. "I haven't forgotten my promises to either of you."
"That is good to hear." Shatterstar said seriously. Jimmy nodded.
Domino turned back to Julia. "What kind of transport did you use?" Nothing like shop talk, she thought.
"Getting in, I walked. Getting out, I drove." Julia smiled slightly. "Why did you think it took me so long to get there?"
"Why the hell did you do that?" As tough as she was, Domino didn't see the point in suffering any more than strictly necessary during an op.
"They were tracking all vehicle movements for about twenty miles out both ground and air, and I couldn't get a reliable set of teleportation coordinates. Pedestrians aren't much of threat so they didn't bother stopping any hikers." She blinked innocently. "After all, how much damage could one person on foot possibly do?"
"Jeez. That sounds brutal." Tabitha muttered. "I'd be bagged before I even got there."
"Well, just don't make any smart comments about my having to do a workout now." Julia said.
Cable sat back. A trek on foot, presumably with her gear. Then, break into and neutralize every person on the base and flatten the place on the way out. From the date of her card to 'Star, she must have drove more or less non-stop to Cape Town. "Christ, kid. You're good."
She smirked at him. "Yeah. I know."
"And yer modest too." Terry snickered.
"Not at all. Arrogant and proud of it."
"We can't accuse you for false modesty then." Roberto noted with a grin.
They watched TV while the rest of
the gang wandered off to do their own thing. Shatterstar noticed
that Julia's attention was drifting and she looked like she was
staying awake on willpower alone. He didn't think the program was
that boring for her.
"Julia, have you slept recently?"
"Hmm? Oh, yeah. Sort of. I've crossed the date line and four time zones in the last three days so I'm kind of out of wack with the local clock. I think it's three AM for me."
"Why don't you rest now? You will be too tired to enjoy going to the club otherwise."
"Okay." She sighed as she curled up on her end of the sofa. She was asleep almost instantly. He paused, trying to figure out what to do. He had thought to suggest she sleep upstairs but was hesitant to wake her again. I don't think I should leave her alone in a public room while she is sleeping, he thought. He carefully pulled her closer to him and settled them down on the sofa. He reached out to the remote control and shut the TV off.
"Hey, 'Berto. Come see this."
Tabitha called quietly. He joined her at the doorway of the
living room. Shatterstar and Julia were sleeping on the sofa and
he had his arms around her. Roberto moved closer to get a better
view and Shatterstar opened his eyes.
"Yes?" He asked softly.
"Sorry. I thought you were sleeping."
"No. I am not tired but she was fatigued from her mission. I thought it best if she rested before we went out tonight."
And that's why she's napping on you? Roberto thought. "Oh. Why don't you wake her up around five? She'll have time to go back to her place and get changed then."
"I will do that."
Julia woke up slowly. Where am I?
Suddenly she realized she was lying more or less on top of
someone. Her eyes snapped open and flicked over the room. Oh,
right. The Xavier place. That would make this cuddly someone
Shatterstar. She glanced up. Sure, enough he was sleeping
peacefully and she felt his arms wrapped around her. My, this is
nice. I could really get to like this. Don't go there, she
reminded herself. She wondered briefly how they ended up like
this. I'm pretty sure I was a modest distance away before I
flaked out. He stirred and opened his eyes.
He looked confused briefly then smiled at her. "Hello."
"Hi." She smiled back.
"How are you?"
"That is good." He didn't feel inclined to move. He was quite comfortable as they were. I am enjoying this, he thought. He wasn't quite sure why he felt compelled to hold her so protectively close. Since she didn't object, he decided to leave that consideration for another time. He looked up as the living room doors were opened.
Sam opened the doors to the living
room. Why were they even closed? He wondered. He went in and
stopped in his tracks. Shatterstar was lying on the sofa with a
"Oh mah god." He said automatically. She looked vaguely familiar. Wasn't she around when we did the barbecue a couple weeks back?
"Hello Sam." Shatterstar said, sitting up. The girl just smiled at him as she sat up and adjusted the pins in her hair. "You have met Julia, correct?"
Sam's manners kicked in. "Ah can't say Ah have." He came forward and held out a hand. "Sam Guthrie."
"It's a pleasure to meet you at last, Sam. I'm Julia de Santos." She said as she took his hand.
"Julia has recently become a member of X-Force." Shatterstar said.
Sam frowned. Ororo had complained that Cable had recruited an assassin. "Are you the assassin?" He asked before he could think of a polite way of phrasing the question.
"Not 'the'. Just 'an' assassin." She said whimsically.
"Ya really kill people for money?" Might as well ask, he thought.
She smiled. "No, not any more. Since I'm on side, I guess I'll be killing people for free." Why do I get the feeling he doesn't see the humour here?
"Great, you're awake!" Tabitha said, coming in. "You got to help me pick out what to wear."
Sam brightened up. "Hi there, Tab."
"Hey Sam." She said offhandedly. He blinked at her lukewarm greeting. What did I do? He wondered.
"What time is it?" Julia asked.
"Almost four-thirty." Tabitha said sitting down. "What are you wearing?"
She looked down at her clothes. "Right now? Black pantsuit with silver trim. Can't you see me?"
"Funny. I meant tonight."
"I don't know yet. I'll dig something up."
Shatterstar looked puzzled. "Why do you wish to know this?"
"I just do." Tabitha stated. He put it down to the mysterious behavior of women and abandoned the inquiry. "Are you allowed to come out and play?" She asked Sam.
"No. Ah'm sorry but Ah'm on watch tonight. Ah tried to get Bobby to swap with me but Scott says Ah should get familiar with the system."
Storm warning, Julia thought watching Tabitha. She looked mad, hurt and then indifferent.
"Yeah, okay. Whatever."
"This is important to me, Tab."
"Yeah I know." Don't spazz, she thought. He really doesn't get it. How come I'm not important anymore? He doesn't really give a damn about anything except being a good little X-Man. "Did you come over here for a reason?"
"Ah came to tell you that. Ah'm not trying to be jerk."
"Of course not. You're never trying to be a jerk."
Sam considered asking what was bothering her but let it go. I'll find out when we're alone, he decided. "Have a good time tonight."
"Yeah. We will."
Tabitha blinked back tears as Sam
left. I'm cool, she thought. "Julia?"
"What do you do when you're really, totally mad?"
"Something violent and destructive. Repeatedly."
That sounds like the way to go, she thought. "Um. 'Star? Do you think you could set up a program for me in the Danger Room?"
"Certainly." He said. "Did you wish to do this now?"
Julia watched as the program began.
Tabitha was standing in an open field with mechanical insectoids
coming at her. She began throwing her timebombs in a fury.
"Will she be all right in there?" She asked Shatterstar. I know he explained it's all computer simulations and such but sure looks real.
"Yes. I have made sure the safety locks cannot be overridden. If she wishes, she can halt the program by calling out 'stop'." He looked down at Tabitha's angry assault on the attackers. "I believe she is very upset that Sam cannot come with us tonight."
"That's probably just the surface of things." She stood as the explosions coming from the floor of the room increased intensity. "Come on. I think she might want to be alone for a while."
He nodded. "I do not care for people watching me during my workouts either."
Tabitha blew the next wave of metal
insects into pieces. I'm not important to him, she thought. He
said we were gonna try and make it work and it's not working. I've
haven't even had to go on a mission yet and we still can't get
together. She wiped her eyes and threw another bomb at what
looked like a giant grasshopper. You're fucking pathetic, she
cursed herself. You were drooling over him when we got back from
Asgard. Did he give a damn? NO! Hung around because of him. What
did I say? 'If Guthrie stays, so do I?' Boy, I bet Cable just
about bust a gut laughing. The stupid bimbo'll follow along as
long she can get with Cable's pet. Another blast of explosive
plasma. Why'd he bother to get with you anyways? Nice country boy.
It's 'cause you'd put out. Must have been thrilled to get some
after that out-of-date bitch dumped him. She ran to the top of
the fake hill. She could feel the power just rushing through her.
It's been over fifteen minutes and not I'm even close to tired.
Been holding back all this time. Oh yeah. Took me home to meet
his mom and useless family. Jeez, did that ever suck. All of them
looking at me like I'm trash. She held her hands out and the
explosion demolished more bugs. Fuck 'em. Practice more with your
powers, Tab. Maybe if you're really, really good you can be an X-Men
just like me. No way. The mandatory lobotomy would wreck my hair.
She laughed out loud. How come you got all nice and sweet, Boomer?
That ain't you. You turned yourself in a doormat 'cause why? It
might freak somebody out if you let go? Let 'em freak. She
grinned and looked down at her hands, glowing with power. I'm not
gonna get yanked around by anybody. The bugs reformed and began
charging the hill. Oh yeah, come and get it you fuckers.
Sam entered the control room and
looked down. Tabitha was standing in the middle of dozens of
mechanical insects. They had her surrounded but she was laughing.
He reached for the microphone. He jerked back as an explosion
slammed against the glass, filling his view of the room. The
light cleared and he stared stunned at the damage. The room was
in shambles. There were burn marks along the walls and wires hung
from some of the exploded light fixtures. Tabitha was still
standing. She smirked up at him.
"You got a problem, Guthrie?"
"Tab! Are you okay? Ah'll be right down."
"What for? I'm cool. Just working on my powers and having a great fucking time. I gotta tell Cable I broke the playpen." She said as she strolled out the door. He raced out to meet her downstairs.
"Tabitha!" He called to
"Yeah?" She smiled. This is going to be so sweet.
"Uh, Ah'm sorry about not being able to go out tonight. Ah know Ah haven't been around much."
She manifested a mini-timebomb and played with it. "You ain't been around at all. We're over, Sammy boy."
"What?! Tabs," He began.
"Nope. I'm not going for sorry, maybe or later. You want to get with me now, you're gonna have to work for it. Talk to me when you're willing to do that." She bounced the little timebomb off his chest and grinned when he flinched. "'Till, then, see you around the mansion."
Cable looked around at the
devastation. "Tabitha did this?" He asked incredulously.
"Yeah. She blew the room up and said we're over." Sam reported. He was stunned, hurt and confused all at once.
"Hey there Big Guy!" Tabitha called. "I guess you know I broke the room now."
"Yes. I do." Cable studied the girl. She looked happy and he could sense that she was really pleased with herself. "You okay?"
She smiled radiantly. "Fantastic. Am I in shit for this?"
"No. I'm glad you've reached a new level in using your powers."
"Funky. Got to go. See you later." She waved and walked out.
"Cable! Aren't you going to talk to her?" Sam asked. "She's not acting normal."
"Sam, how are you doing?"
"How do you mean? Mah girl's just dumped me and has gotten all mouthy."
"She's always been mouthy. It's practically a trademark. Why she's dumped you, well, have you been paying attention to her lately? Women like that, you know."
"Ah know but Ah've been trying really hard to fit in with the X-Men." Sam said running his hand over his head. "Since you and the Professor felt Ah was ready to graduate, Ah want to do right by your decision."
Hell, Nate, you can really wreck things for your kids when you try, he thought. "What did you think of that decision?" There was something about that conversation with Xavier that bugged him but he couldn't focus on it.
"Ah was," Sam considered. "impressed at first. Ah mean, Ah've always looked up to the X-Men. But weren't we our own team? Ah missed mah friends. Ah'm just another junior teammate now."
Cable sighed. I have to fix this. Sam deserves that much from me. "Do you want to come back to X-Force?"
"Ah don't know. Ah mean, with Tabitha acting so different and all. It would be kind of hard to live with. Can Ah think about it?"
"Sure, Sam." He put a paternal arm around the boy's shoulders. "Why don't tell me about what you've been doing lately?"
End of Part Four
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