The Sum of Zero: Part 2

by Dex



All recognizable characters and settings belong to Marvel; I am using them without permission but mean no harm and am making no profit. The plot and original characters, however belong to me. Any and all feedback is appreciated at Redistribution of this tale for profit is illegal. Please do not archive this story without contacting me first to obtain my permission. This story contains potentially disturbing imagery and concepts, and thus, reader discretion is advised.

"Scott, you always call with the sweetest phrases to whisper in my ear."

"That wasn't funny."

"Perhaps more sarcastic tinged with the tiniest edge of contempt, actually. I've been practicing it on Adrienne for the last few weeks." Emma Frost crossed her perfect legs and leaned back in her desk chair. She was half monitoring the grounds with her telepathy, and half listening to Scott Summers on the phone.

"Emma, this is not an idle request. I need you in New York today!"

"You need me, Scott? That much? Dare I say, pantingly so? Naughty, naughty, Mister Summers. We must discuss this telepath kink you've developed."

"Emma..." Scott growled on the other end of the line. Emma laughed gaily, sensual lips curled into a wide smile.

"Of course I'll be there, Scott. I was just curious as to how to pack. Silk and latex wrinkle if just tossed into a suitcase."

"Emma, if you-"

"-think I'm doing this merely on your orders, you are sorely mistaken, Summers. I'm coming for my reasons. Only that."

"Ten o'clock, Emma. Albert's on 52nd."

"How very pedestrian but yes, I'll be there, Scott." Emma put down the phone, relishing the sound of Scott's teeth grinding in the background. Unfortunately for him, Mister Summers still believed himself the leader of the entire ‘X' franchise, an illusion Emma was always quick to debase him off.


{{Aye?}} Sean brogue came through even in telepathic speech, thick and rough.

{{I am going away for a few days. Business matters that must be attended to.}} Emma said, even while beginning to pack.

{{An' have you let Adrienne know about this?}}

{{Sean, I have faith that you'll create a suitably sphincter-looseningly terrifying reason for my sister to explain my absence.}}

{{Emma, you know that lass ‘ll just paw around yer drawer of unmentionables till she finds out where you've gone.}}

{{If she takes that route, Sean, I think she'll be too busy being astonished at where I've been to be worried about where I'm going.}} Emma zipped up her suitcase and stalked out into the hallway. At the end was Sean, looking highly speculative about her last comment. Emma flashed him a naughty smile and a kiss on the cheek as she hurried past, and out the door.


John Caulder tossed his keys down on the desk, along with a heavy file folder, several assorted plastic evidence bags and a cup of manky coffee. He heaved a sigh and eased into his new posture perfect desk chair, just ordered in response to the rare ‘spinal misalignment' which plagued him. Occasionally, being a detective had it's perks.


"Yeah, Cortez?"

"Chief wants to see you."

"About what?"

"Do you think that he tells me? Or that I have some secret insight into the nature of police and department chiefs around the world?" The Spanish-Scot detective ranted. "Incidentally, he looked especially throat-ripping, bowel-clenchingly mad when he summoned you."

"Did he have that big purple vein thing going on his forehead?"

"Two of them."

"Oh, that's not good."

"Kinda like that time he caught you making jokes about his mother during the Christmas party."

"Clearly I was in error. Due to my keen deductive abilities, I've discovered that the chief doesn't have a mother. All upper level police staff are assembled in a plant outside of Atlantic City, from a Nicola Tesla design." John grinned and stood up, brushing the bagel crumbs from his tie. Cortez shook his head and walked out of John's office. Caulder threaded through the homicide nerve centre with a few nods before reaching the Chief's office. The door to the Chief's office was shut, never a good sign in Caulder's mind. He knocked lightly on the door and eased it open.


"Get the hell in here!" Oscar Adams growled furiously around the butt of his unlit cigar. Caulder slipped in and hurriedly closed the door behind him. The Chief started to light his cigar and stopped, snubbing the match out abruptly.

"Need a light, Chief?"

"Promised the wife I'd quit smoking for her birthday. Now, I'm hoping she doesn't live to it. See what you've done to me, Caulder? You've made me hate the woman I've been married to for fifteen years!"

"Sir, I'm sure that I'm not wholly responsible for the domestic trouble. I have tried her cooking..."

"Silence! I'm tired of this, Caulder. Those goddamn sandals! Everyone thinks I hired you out of Greenpeace. What kind of eco nonsense is it?" Adams stabbed the unlit cigar at Caulder like a finger.

"Sir, I assure you, it's completely comfort nonsense. I ate a baby harp seal dipped in sea turtle juice for breakfast just to please you."

"Caulder, you're a good detective. You've got a quick mind and you think things through to the end. That's why you're here in Homicide. So, using all of these abilities we've so carefully brought along in the last few years, can you tell me why you're following a case which is not a homicide?" Adams said, slamming his hand down on the desk.


"I don't have the manpower for this, Caulder. Last night the beats tagged a woman's head found in a McDonald's garbage bin! A woman's head! That is a murder, Caulder. Why aren't you finding the culprit on that one!"

"As fun as the McMurder might be, I think that the death of that woman is not only a murder but connected to the bombing by the FoH."

"You think? I'm supposed to tell the commissioner that one of my men is nosing in other department's territory on the basis of a hunch!" Adams stabbed the cigar at Caulder again. "Dammit, John, we're Homicide. This girl wasn't a murder."

"I think it was."

"Murdered how? No signs of violence on the body, or the scene. No wounds, no blood, and no witnesses. For all we know, she just keeled over."

"But the mark on her foot, and the timing."

"Maybe all the victims are part of some cult, or maybe she's connected with the bombing some way and suicided. Either way, it still falls outside of our jurisdiction." Oscar stubbed out cold cigar furiously, and took to scowling at his papers. After a moment, he looked back up.

"You still here?"

"Chief, please! Give me two days to work, and I'll show you."


"Sir, please!"

"Fuck... you've got 24 hours, John. I'm going to send you home according to the logbook. This is on your own time. Twenty-four hours from now, you either bring me a reason for us to be involved or back off. Got it?" Adams' hard brown eyes met John's intensely.

"Yes sir."

"I'm not kidding, John. 24 hours or I'll fucking bounce you back as a beat cop. Get out." Caulder slipped out of the room gratefully.


"Domestic beer, no less. Scott, you really should invest in a baseball jersey and one of those wallet chains." Emma said, slipping into the chair beside him. Her white suit looked as out of place as a Viking costume.

"You're late, Emma."

"Traffic was hell. Care to fill me in as to why I'm here instead of with the children? Adrienne will have them tracking down her lost luggage through a warzone if I'm not there to keep an eye on her."

"Hear about the FoH bombing yesterday?" Scott said, drawing a heavy envelope from his pocket.

"Very tiresome, that. I'm told a few of the best and brightest from the new ‘X-Factor' program are now involved in the investigation." Emma ordered a coffee from the young waiter and waited patiently for Scott to come to the point.

"A woman was found dead a few blocks from the blast site, no visible cause of death apparent."


"This was found burnt into the sole of her left foot." Scott separated a grainy printed image out of the pile in the envelope and placed it before her. The waiter brought back Emma's coffee and tried to casually glance at the picture, Emma's cold stare drove him away quickly.

"Digital photo?"

"Sent to me from the NYPD database a few hours ago."

"You have access to that?"

"The X-Men have surprising resources, Emma."

"I wonder why you were always so easily ambushed then? However, this is an X."

"A sign."


"I don't know yet; that's the mystery of this whole thing. But, I'm telling you right now, something sinister is out there, and I intend to find the truth."

"How very Mulder of you, Scott. Will you wait for a few minutes while I run out and get a trenchcoat and some red hair dye?" Emma said, a smile quirking the corner of her mouth.

"A girl died badly, Emma. She was a mutant and marked with an X. Think it's just coincidence?"Scott said tightly, controlling his anger. Emma matched his glare coolly, noting the tension.

"Someone is killing mutants and branding them with ‘X's. And this surprises you? It's not like you X-Men haven't made a career of announcing your presence with toppling buildings and great pillars of fire. You're honestly amazed that some self-loathing, anti-mutant psychopath has chosen to mark his victims with the same label you have stamped on every available surface? Get a clue, Mr. Summers." Said Emma, disdain ringing clear in her voice. Scott dropped the photo back on the table and regarded her flatly.

"It knows who we are, Emma."


"The X-Men. That's why I called you. Someone outside of the normal X range who might be less recognizable."

"How do you know it knows you all?"

"This is the fourth murder branded with an X. The first was a young man named Xavier Mitchell. Then Jean Martins, a widowed homemaker. Albian Summers, a law student. Then this girl, a waitress from a little café. Her name was Lina Drake. Xavier, Jean, Summers, and Drake. The first four of us, Emma, and in the exact order we joined the team. This thing knows who we are and our history. That shouldn't be possible." Scott said. Emma looked ashen for a moment, covering the moment with a sip of coffee. Her icy composure slipped back in place in seconds, and her mind began to chew on the facts.

"All of these people were mutants?"

"Yes, although the strongest of them was barely Delta level."

"The strength wouldn't be important. Just the fact that they're mutants. Symbolic."

"What are you doing?"

"Trying to profile... and all of these deaths correspond with the FoH bombings?"

"As far as I know. We're going to meet with a detective involved with the investigations in a few hours." Scott stated. "He'll have the full information."

"Excellent. I think I just may have to stay with you on this, Scott. I have no intention of seeing him get to my lists of students."

"I thought you might say that."


The Number frowned with concentration as he worked in the semi-darkness. The grinding wheel gave off no feathery gush of sparks when he pushed the tip of his instrument against it. The machine had originally been designed for jewelry fabrication, and the dull black Carborundum wheel had been coated with a thick layer of dark green rouge. Number 6, important to have numbers, this one meaning midway in terms of its abrasiveness. Each time he brought the gleaming edge of the tungsten steel against the wheel, it created a tiny wisp of smoke, filling his sensitive nostrils with the scent of burning oil. The smell made him think of his mother's bedroom, and he frowned, pushing the razor-sharp vanes harder into the rouge.

His mother's bedroom, in the oppressive heat of the South Carolina summer. Dust motes hung in the still air, gold flecks in the brighter sun through the window. Mother, seated on her bed, legs curled up under her like two dry sticks. The rhythmic creaking of the ancient ceiling fan in his ears as he approached the bed. The fan going round and round, while the desperate child watched the slowly spinning blades, too terrified to let his eyes touch Mother's eyes, but hypnotized by the fan blades. One hand would slip out from the pool of blankets like a pale spider, scuttling out and pulling him up to the bed, and under the waistband of his underwear; to stroke and squeeze and pull, and the unoiled mechanism of the fan creaking in the frozen afternoon. And nobody knew. Nobody ever knew.

The Number blinked, staring into space, then turned back to the grinder. He switched it on again and studied the wheel turning to a blur as it came up to speed. He went back to his work, watching the razor edge magically becoming mirror bright between his fingers, seeing the faded blankets under his body and hearing the creak of the fan past the blood rushing in his ears.

The words from the fairy tale his mother used to speak when they lay together, him a prisoner of circumstance and age, came unbidden to his lips.

"Toil and spin, toil and spin, my name is Rumplestiltskin. Toil and spin, toil and spin."

The faded blankets. The smell of Mother's breath and the feel of her hands. The creak of the fan on the ceiling. The spinning wheels, counting each traverse, counting each movement, counting each dust mote in the air. Toil and spin, like a prayer never answered. Until now.

Straw into gold, toil and spin.

Steel into death.


John Caulder trudged down the steps which led to the morgue, already dreading the coming meeting. He'd seen human bodies torn into every gruesome parody of flesh possible in his time with Homicide, but there was something about the damage being sterilized and confined to a white sheet and steel table that woke tiny tendrils of fear in the back of his mind. At a washed out green desk at the bottom of the stairs sat the duty guard, yawning his way through the paper.

"Hi Carl."

"Hey John. See the Yanks game last night?"

"Missed it. The Doc ready for me yet?"

"Oh, you're gonna love this. Doc is sick, so you get the Iron Maiden cutting today."

"You're kidding me?" John winced. The grin on Carl's face as he nodded was enough to confirm it. "Fuck... too late to sneak off, I guess."

"Sorry, Detective. Sign your permit into hell." Caulder scrawled his signature on the clipboard and walked into the room.

The layout of the autopsy chamber was stark and austere; four dish-edged rectangular tables on wheels and fitted with blood gutters and drainage holes. Brushed metal cabinets ranged along the one wall, steel counters fitted laid with an assortment of tools ranging from scalpels and electrical saws to brutal looking hammers and steel wedges, and more drains on the floor. One the centre table, draped with a white sheet was the body of the late Lina Drake, now only the blue stenciled numbers on the sheet for an identity. Standing beside the table with a clipboard held in one perfectly manicured hand was a woman in a lab coat.

"Obviously, the niceties of schedules are lost on you, detective." Lillian Sharpe's voice was ice cold, and left no doubt to her frame of mind.

"Doctor Sharpe. You're looking lovely today-"

"Stuff it, Caulder. I'm not interested in hearing it from you." Sharpe was widely held as one of the most beautiful women employed by the NYPD; long chestnut hair, clear brown eyes, and a body that would not have looked out of place in a fashion magazine. However, her coldness was equally legendary, rebuffing suitors and admirers with equal worn patience and cold refusal. The pool for the first man on the force to get to first base with her was nearly two thousand dollars at this point.

"Sharpe, did Doc-"

"Yes, Doc told me the situation and his analysis. He was very wrong."

"What?" The Doc was also referred to as ‘The Pope' at times in the force since a conclusion by him was virtually infallible.

"Yes, he was wrong. Caulder, do you know to date I've done more than five thousand odd autopsies? For those autopsies, I receive just over sixty-two thousand dollars a year, less then a third of what I could make as a pathologist in a private research facility."

"Yes, ma'am." Caulder had no idea what she was getting at.

"What I'm saying, detective, is that I don't do this for the enormous financial benefit I derive from poking about in people's internal organs or mucking about in their brain pans with a scoop and a trowel."

"No, ma'am."

"Now, after those five thousand bodies, I assure you that I have seen virtually everything there is to see as regards the practice of homicide. I continue to do them, however, in the faint hope that there is still something which I have not seen. Something to pique my scientific curiosity." Sharpe's lovely brown eyes met his over the rims of her glasses. "I must admit, detective, this one has me confounded... quite happily so."

"I don't understand." John's nose twitched in the room, as blowers in the ceiling brought in gusts of freezing cold air. It wasn't enough to remove the dank, sour odor the room had been steeped in for the last fifty or sixty years.

"I'm not surprised. Let's get on with it, shall we?"

The body, Sharpe noted aloud, was that of a woman in her mid-twenties, positively identified as Lina Drake. Notes made by the investigating officer, regarding postmortem lividity, and corroborating photographs taken in situ led Sharpe to believe the body had been dead for some three hours before her discovery. There was no visible cause of death. The only wound was the letter X burned into the sole of the left foot, and due to the marking, would have appeared to have been done after death.

"Cause of death?" Caulder asked.

"Certainly not a heart attack or brain embolism. And not poison as the Doc believed." Sharpe pulled back the girl's lip with a hooked pick. "Nothing violent like strychnine or cyanide. There's no vomitus in the mouth, and no bluish tint to the lips. My guess is a massive dose of some narcotic."

"Drugs? Like an overdose?"

"Of a sort. This girl has none of the marks of a habitual user, and lacks the hemorrhaging in the nasal tissue for cocaine use. There is a possibility that it's a modified street drug like Chrome, but personally, I believe that's getting too complex. Morphine in a large dose leaves no exterior signs on the body. However, I'll have to gut her to make sure." John whitened as she finished.

"So, it is murder?"

"Perhaps. Suicide is just as likely at this point. It would be extremely difficult to administer the amount of morphine needed against an unwilling recipient, especially while trying to conceal the syringe marks. No signs of bruising or violence on the body that would be consistent with an assault or restraint." Lillian drew out a blood sample from the body and prepared it on a slide. "We'll run a full spectrum analysis later, but morphine at heavy doses causes a telltale rupturing of hemoglobin in the blood stream.

John sat quietly as she slid the slide under the microscope and began to cluck distractedly. After a few minutes, she straightened from the table, ticking her pen on the steel counter.

"No signs in the blood. Not only was the doctor wrong, but so was I."


"Quiet. If it's not a narcotic overdose, what else could cause the death?" Lillian keyed the intercom on her desk. "Do we have those x-rays developed yet?" A voice signaled affirmative. "Bring them in.

A young man in a matching lab coat entered the room and handed a stack of flimsies to Lillian. "And now the x-rays."

"Great." Sharpe clipped them up against the light box and scrutinized them closely. From Caulder's limited view, he couldn't see any breaks or lesions.


"What's that?"

"Well, the woman has a small chip in the bottom of the third cervical vertebrae. Why?" Lillian took a scalpel and bent over the body. With gentle hands, she turned the head to the right and peered down at the neck. She wordlessly took a pair of tweezers from the tray beside the table and poked about the back of the woman's neck. Caulder shuffled nervously in the silence as Sharpe was locked in concentration. She finally drew out an object in the tweezers.

"What is-"

"Quiet." Sharpe dropped the object under the microscope and peered at it. She adjusted a knob, then reached out blindly, picking up a small tool. After a moment, the pathologist straightened, and looked at Caulder.

"Come take a look at this." Caulder found himself staring through the eyepiece of the microscope, at what appeared to be an Indian arrowhead made out of dark, highly polished metal. Instead of two cutting edges, there were six, each one slightly flared, thicker at the base and narrowing to a prefect point. At that magnification, John would have expected to see some nicks or flaws on the cutting edges, but there were none.

The base of the arrowhead was circular and tapped for a screw. A few flecks of something were caught within the minuscule threads. Caulder blinked as Sharpe plucked the tiny weapon off the tray with a new pair of surgical tweezers. Under the bright light of a gooseneck lamp, the arrowhead was barely visible between the tweezer tongs. Base included, it was no more than a centimetre long.

"Astonishing," said Sharpe. "The craftsmanship is quite exquisite."

"What is it?"

"This, detective, is your murder weapon."

"Not drugged then?"

"Oh dear, no. My initial hypothesis is completely inaccurate with this beauty found."

"Hardly looks like it could kill someone."

"The puncture was almost invisible. Hidden by the hair on the nape of the neck. Sliced through the upper quadrant of the trapezius, entering between the third and fourth cervical vertebrae, severing the spinal cord and the autonomous ganglia. Death was paralytic and virtually instantaneous. No time to react at all. If it hadn't nicked the upper vertebrae on it's nasty little route, we'd have never found it. The bone would have disguised it from the x-ray."


"Extremely. There was no sign of powder burns. I suspect the projectile was delivered mechanically. Compressed air, or a very strong spring. The point itself is made from tungsten steel, I believe."

"Where would someone get a weapon like this?"

"The weapon would have to be hand-tooled and machined. Whoever created is has a near-genius mechanical aptitude and ability. Machinist, technician, engineer. Highly skilled, at any rate." Lillian carefully placed the point back down on the table.

"I don't see any nicks or scratches. I'd have thought there'd be something from it striking bone."

"Tungsten has an extremely high melting point. It looks like the edges made have been heat sealed at some point in it's construction, making it extremely resistant to marking. Your man is either very shrewd or very lucky, detective. The neck was bent when the weapon was used, opening a space between the vertebrae. When she was laid out in the shroud, her neck straightened, closing the space and hiding the arrow in the grey matter. Without an obvious wound, there would be no reason to look for a severing of the cord, and no evidence of spinal trauma. Even a gross dissection of the spine might not have revealed it."

Caulder nodded. Sharpe wasn't making excuses for herself, she was simply stating a fact.

"Would the killer need some special medical knowledge?"

"Not necessarily. Some basic anatomy perhaps. Nothing you couldn't get out of a copy of Gray's. It's the mechanical knowledge that sets him apart."

"Anything else you can tell me about this man?"

"Yes." Lillian Sharpe's voice was empathic, almost respectful. "He's a perfectionist. The edges of that device are as sharp as razors. You could drive it through your palm and never even notice." The doctor frowned. "And from the workmanship, I'd wager that he has small hands. Long fingered and very strong, like a pianist, or like a surgeon." She held up her own hand, pale and softly glowing in the light. "Like mine."

"I'm dealing with a lunatic, aren't I?"

"A very intelligent and dangerous one, yes detective. But you should be happy. You now officially have your murder."

 Part 3

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