Wanda sat in the corner of the small white room hugging her knees tightly to her chest. She’d been there ever since their botched escape attempt. The chalk-faced man hadn’t released them from whatever grip he had on them until well after his underlings had collected them and shoved them into five identical, featureless rooms.
She couldn’t see the others, or even hear them, though she was pretty sure she’d heard Kurt snarl a couple of times, but it could have just been her imagination. But the room, the silence, the solitude…it all took her back to the long years at the asylum. She had escaped, or rather, been freed, such a short time ago, but she had come to revel in her freedom. To be returned to such a hopeless situation was more than she could bear.
She began to weep silently into her chest.
Essex turned his attention away from Magneto’s daughter and focused his eyes on the next monitor.
Pietro was sprawled against one wall, apparently asleep. He had pounded on the walls for a while, but grew quickly tired of his futile efforts to escape this new prison. He had sat down, obviously becoming very bored, very quickly. Sleep seemed the only escape available to him.
Theresa was much like Wanda, huddled in a corner, though she was not weeping. She just stared off into space with dead eyes, not actually looking at anything. But then, there was nothing to see.
David appeared to be meditating, though it was difficult to tell. He could merely have fallen asleep leaning against the wall in a lotus-like position. Whatever the reality, all four looked as if they would be easily broken and bent to his will.
Sensory deprivation…you had to love it!
He frowned and cursed under his breath as he moved on to the fifth and final monitor. Kurt was yet to sit down. For over three hours he’d been pacing back and forth, tail flicking in a highly agitated manner behind him, looking for all the world like a caged animal. His eyes were narrowed, his body tense.
“And I thought Pietro was going to be the difficult one…” He sighed. He watched the blue-furred boy with mild fascination, absently noting the way he moved. There was power behind that pacing, a strength perhaps even he was unaware of. And an obvious enduring stamina, he didn’t seem to be tiring at all. He watched the way he pivoted on his unusually shaped ankles, the way the tail swung in perfect unison.
Essex glanced back at the other monitors with an arched brow and a tight smile. His eyes narrowed as they returned to the still pacing Kurt.
“You may be trouble…” He admitted to the screen. “But you will be my masterpiece.”
Pietro had never run so hard or for so long in his life. After having been denied access to his powers for so long, to suddenly have them back was such an incredibly liberating experience.
True, he was locked in a modified wind tunnel, and that creepy Essex guy had plastered him with all kinds of sensor pads to collect data for reasons Pietro didn’t even want to think about. He was probably watching too, behind that mirrored wall. He’d seen enough movies and TV shows to know that was what captors did when testing their captives.
But none of that mattered to him. His feet where a blur and he had the wind in his face. Everything else was an afterthought.
“Subject truly revels in his powers…” Essex intoned into the microphone that hung near his mouth. “Brainwave activity would indicate that his thought processes are also elevated way above the norm…” He added as he checked one of the many computer screens. “Heart rate and respiratory function remain constant. Musculature system of the thighs and calves developed to take the impact and strain of highly accelerated motor functions…”
He sat down at a computer and typed in a command. “Probability of Omega status…negligible…” He sighed. “Pity…” He stroked his chin for a moment. “I wonder if his accelerated metabolism has an effect on his aging process? Will he burn himself out?”
He glanced back at Pietro, still clocking in at just below sonic speed, and not even breaking a sweat…
Kurt had finally sat down, but his eyes never strayed from the hairline seam he’d found in the wall that indicated where the door was. He stared at it intently, unflinchingly, all but daring them to enter.
‘I have been hanging around Logan WAAYY too much!’ He thought to himself, a grim smile curling his lips as he thought of how his surly mentor might think of how he was handling himself right now. The smile quickly faded as he thought of his friends. He wondered if he’d ever see them again…
His ears pricked as he heard something just outside his cell. He didn’t exactly have enhanced hearing, but his ears, just by way of their design, were more sensitive than the norm. He immediately leapt up, taking a position above where he surmised the door was.
The door opened below him, but nobody entered.
“We’re on to you, fuzzball…” He heard Riptide’s slightly nasal voice inform him from outside. “You may as well come down and face the music.”
“Right…” Kurt growled. “I can hang on up here all day!”
He frowned when he heard the electronic beeps of someone punching in a code on a keypad, then he shrieked in pain and alarm as bolts of electricity arced around him. He released the wall, more by reflex than choice, hissing when he hit the floor. Scalphunter and Harpoon where on him in an instant, each taking a firm grip on an arm, so Kurt merely lashed out with his three remaining limbs, straining against their grip and flashing his fangs for all he was worth.
“For Christ’s sake!” Scalphunter grumbled as the spaded tail-tip slapped him painfully across the face. “Will you guys help!?”
Arclight managed to grab one leg while Riptide warily went for the other. Kurt let out a sound somewhere between a snarl and a laugh when he saw the white bandage taped to his nose. He backed off as Kurt focused his efforts on him.
“Vhat’s the matter, Riptide?” He smirked. “Afraid I might break something else?”
“Why you little FREAK!” Riptide screeched and leapt for the young mutant. They all went down in a tangled heap. Kurt, prepared for it, had disentangled himself from the mess of flailing limbs and broke for the door before the others had even begun to regain themselves.
Vertigo screamed at the sight of Kurt’s gleaming fangs, but had enough presence of mind to extend her powers against him. Kurt baulked, putting a hand to his mouth as he was suddenly overcome with the need to be violently ill. Scalphunter slammed into him from behind, knocking him to the floor. He managed to get his arms around the boy’s torso, pinning both arms to his sides. The tail wrapped itself tightly around his thigh. Scalphunter shrieked as it contracted painfully, but refused to let go of his prize. Harpoon and Arclight managed to get hold of his legs, wincing as his long toes dug into their flesh.
“Let’s just get him into the boss before he breaks lose again!” Scalphunter yelled to be heard over Kurt’s growls and snarls.
“Jeez…” Riptide arched a brow. “He was so easy to catch…I never would have thought the little guy had so much fight in him…” He gingerly touched his nose.
“He was easy to catch because he was worried about the girl…” Harpoon growled as the tail whipped at him again. Riptide reached in and grabbed the threatening limb, holding it tight, smirking at the pained hiss he got as he inadvertently tugged on it. It only made him tug all the harder. He laughed until a set of fangs flashed dangerously close to his face.
They staggered out into the hallway with the writhing bundle of blue fur, and somehow managed to get him into the designated examining room, though the tail managed to slip free a couple of times and knock a few heads together. They slammed him, hard, against a cold, stainless steel pallet that stood at a forty-five degree angle from the floor. They fought to get his ankles and wrists secured, then the tail, buckling the thick leather straps so tightly that they almost cut off the circulation. Three more straps where fastened around his shoulders, his waist and just above his knees. Unable to move, Kurt did all he could think of, he began to snarl at them in very thick and angry German.
“My goodness…such language!” Essex’ very cultured voice chided. “And from such a good, Catholic boy…”
“Let me lose and I vill show you just how GOOD I am!” Kurt growled at him through tightly clenched teeth.
“Yes…I’m sure.” He turned his attention to his employees, noting with an arched brow the bruises and abrasions they had obtained in bringing the young X-Man to him. “Take Mr Maximoff back to the others…” He ordered turning his gaze back to the immobilised Kurt. “I do believe I’m going to have my hands full here…”
He placed a series of sensor pads on various parts of Kurt’s body, careful to avoid the flashing fangs as he did so, to monitor his body as he had with Pietro. He then busied himself out of Kurt’s line of sight, but he watched as best he could. “You have a lot of anger in you, Mr Wagner…” Essex commented matter-of-factly. “I can use that…”
Kurt’s golden eyes widened when he returned, a very large syringe in his hand. He shied away as much as the bonds would let him, which wasn’t very far at all.
“Don’t be afraid…” Essex soothed. “This is a serum of my own devising. It’s designed to target and dormant factors in your mutant DNA.” Now the young mutant looked confused as well as terrified. “You and your friends are still young…it’s possible that you haven’t fully come into your powers yet…” He explained. “This…” He held up the syringe. “…will activate any powers that haven’t made themselves known…if you have any left to activate…”
He placed it on a small stainless steel tray beside the pallet Kurt was strapped to and gently brushed his long blue-black hair away from his neck. He then dabbed a spot with an alcohol swab. Kurt winched as the needle bit into his jugular, he could feel the serum seep into his bloodstream. He remembered what had happened to Jean and Evan when their powers had evolved. Jean had almost gone insane, and Evan had felt the need to hide himself from the world in general. And then there was the incident with Rogue…
And their powers had all increased naturally.
Maybe he’d be lucky…maybe there’d be nothing left in him to activate…
‘And maybe monkeys will fly out of my butt…’
“Now…” Essex said as he laid the syringe aside. “You’re the first to be administered with the serum…so I hope you don’t mind if I videotape the proceedings…”
“Like I have a choice…” Kurt growled. He blinked rapidly a few times as his vision began to blur.
“…for posterity.” He continued, ignoring Kurt’s comment. “I’d also like to know how it feels…”
“Urk…” Kurt managed as his eyes widened and his throat closed and his body tensed.
“Hmmmm…” Essex mused. “Interesting…”
Pietro let out an involuntary whimper as he was shoved back into the quintet’s luxurious housing. He was sure he had felt his powers blink out as soon as he crossed the threshold. He flopped down on the couch rather despondently, then glanced around at the others.
“Where’s the fuzzball?” He asked, noting the missing mutant.
“They haven’t brought him back yet…” Theresa said softly.
“They put you through the wringer too?” Wanda asked.
“Yeah…” Pietro sighed. “Had me running flat out for about two hours…”
“He’s gathering whatever information he can on us…so he can use it against us…” Wanda snarled.
“How do we know his intentions are bad?” Pietro countered. “It’s not like he’s actually really mistreated us…”
A scream tore through the castle, so sudden, so loud, it took everyone by surprise.
“Kurt?” Wanda whispered.
“What a wuss!” Pietro rolled his eyes. “Crying like a little baby…”
Wanda’s head was lowered when she spoke. “I’ve spent most of my life in a place where screams are the norm. You get to learn how to differentiate them…that wasn’t fear, Pietro…” There were tears in here eyes when she raised her head.
“That was agony…”
Kurt left a noticeable dent in the stainless steel beneath him as he threw back his head with a resounding crack. He didn’t notice the new pain it brought. When your veins are on fire, when your bones feel like they’re trying to burst through your skin and run around on their own, when your fingers and toes are tearing trenches into steel…you just don’t notice a little bang to the head.
Essex just watched with a curiously arched brow as Kurt convulsed. The boy was gasping for breath now, he could barely get the air he needed to remain conscious, let alone scream again. His eyes were squeezed shut, his hands so tightly fisted now that he was drawing blood from his own palms. Essex frowned, more than a little concerned. He was many things, but he was not a sadist, he didn’t enjoy seeing the boy’s pain. He moved to his stock of pharmaceuticals and began searching for something to give the youth, to lessen the pain, or plunge him into a welcome oblivion until the transition was over.
He found something amongst his bottles and vials that would not have an adverse reaction to the serum already burning through the boy’s veins. He frowned at the monitors, none of them were looking good. Everything, heart rate, respiratory function, blood pressure, all were quickly approaching dangerous levels. He flicked the switch on the defibrillator, just in case the youth went into cardiac arrest.
He approached, the new syringe held at the ready. He stopped when Kurt’s eyes snapped open, flinching away reflexively from the pair of tiny blazing suns they had become. Kurt strained against the bonds, both metal and leather creaking from the exertion. His mouth opened and he screamed again, a low, rolling howl more akin to a jungle cat than a human being. His wrists twisted, tearing leather from steel. Essex backed off for a moment as he began pawing at the strap that held his shoulders. He growled, a true, bestial growl, as he turned his still glowing eyes on his tormentor. He lunged forward and rammed the needle into the boy’s thigh even as fingers savagely clawed his back.
Kurt’s head began to loll as the medication took effect. His eyes dimmed, appearing to return to their normal selves as his chin touched his chest.
Essex stared at the now slumbering mutant for a few moments, reaching around to touch the damage he’d inflicted on his back. He glanced at the blood on his fingertips, then wiped it off on his lab coat. He pushed the boy’s head back, and pried open one eye. The glow was still evident, though nowhere near as brilliant as before. The pupil was almost impossible to see. He released the lids and they slid shut again.
He stepped back, still holding the head up. His mouth hung open, the fangs bright amid the blue. There seemed to be a darkening of the fur around his eyes and across his forehead, but it could have just been a trick of the light.
He let the head fall forward and lifted a hand for closer examination. Each of the three thick fingers now ended in an obvious claw, claws of which he had already been on the receiving end. He glanced downwards and noticed the toes were similarly equipped.
“Hmmm…” He smiled. “VERY interesting…”
The remaining foursome hadn’t spoken a word since the second scream had torn through the corridors. Even its echo was nothing more than a memory now.
“God…” Pietro finally said quietly. “That wasn’t even human…”
“What the hell has he done to him?” Wanda wondered aloud.
The door hissed open and Scalphunter and Harpoon entered, dragging Kurt between them. He looked awful, pale, even through his fur. His hands were bandaged, and there was blood on his lip, probably where he’d bitten himself. They continued on towards his designated bedroom while Arclight watched them like a hawk from the doorway.
She noticed the stunned looks on their faces. “Be thankful it wasn’t you.” She shrugged at them.
Hank pushed his hair back from his eyes as he waited for his computer to log on. Though the search for the missing mutants continued, and continued to produce no results, life had to go on. It had been weeks since he’d checked his e-mails, everyone must think he was dead or something.
He opened Outlook Express and waited for his new e-mails to come in. Sighing, he glanced down the list of received mail in his inbox that he hadn’t got around to dealing with. His eyes widened when he noticed one from Xessen@sciencescene.net.
“Oh my God…” He quickly opened it and hit the print button.
“PROFESSOR!” Hank bellowed as he bolted down the stairs.
“What is it, Hank?” Charles sighed as the large blue-furred mutant bounced into his study. He’d been at Cerebro almost non-stop since the abduction, nearly three weeks ago. He frowned when he sensed the aura of guilt around his newest faculty member.
“A possible lead…” He admitted, surrendering the paper he was brandishing.
“An e-mail?” Charles eyed it suspiciously.
“Check the name…” Hank suggested. “Xessen…”
“N. Essex backwards…” Charles nodded.
“I KNEW that name was familiar!” Hank growled.
The professor scanned the e-mail, something about offering funding for Hank to continue his research in genetic mutations.
“You didn’t tell him anything, did you?” He asked fearfully.
“Of course not!” Hank quickly defended himself. “But he was very insistent…God! What if he hacked my computer? It’s linked to Cerebro! He could have gotten all our information! All our files! We’ve got every little detail on how the powers of every mutant we know work…Kurt…Wanda…Pietro…they’re all in there!”
“And far more about them than just how they’re powers work…” Charles frowned.
“My God…” He said, almost inaudibly. “We set them up to fall…”