Nathaniel Essex was a man who had always demanded perfection. From himself and, even more so from those who served him. He looked dispassionately at the quintet he’d assembled. Mutants all, they were hardly what he’d call perfection. Though they all excelled in one thing. Their love of chaos.
Though he wasn’t too keen to work with any of them, he knew they could gather the test subjects for his latest research project. They’d already delivered two of the five. The remaining three should prove no problem in locating, they were all within a few miles radius of each other.
They turned their attention to a large view screen as he dimmed the lights in the room. They were nothing if not professional. A picture of a smug looking fair-haired boy of about sixteen appeared.
“This…” Nathaniel intoned. “Is Pietro Maximoff. He’s fast, he’s agile, and won’t prove a pushover like our other two…guests. He does have a weakness though…which I’m sure you can exploit my dear Vertigo…” He smiled at the voluptuous silver-haired woman.
“Pride…” Another of the gathered mutants said softly.
“You have something to add, Riptide?” Nathaniel looked at the young man who had spoken.
“Oh, c’mon…look at him.” Riptide gestured at the screen. “He’s so up himself…tell him what he wants to hear and you’ll have him wrapped around your little finger!”
Nathaniel chuckled. “My thoughts exactly…” He looked again to Vertigo. “Lay it on…lay it on thick…and he’ll come to us like a lamb to the slaughter.
“Pietro, however, is the easy one…” He changed the picture to that of a sullen, dark-haired young girl. “His twin sister, Wanda, will be quite a challenge. She’s extremely powerful, but also very naive. She’s spent most of her life in an asylum. She knows little of how the world operates, but she trusts no one.” He looked to a dark haired woman and the Native American man that sat beside her. “Arclight, Scalphunter…think you can handle her?”
“I don’t think she’ll be a problem.” Arclight smiled nastily.
“Which leaves us with this young fellow.” The picture changed to a pale-faced boy with long dark bangs.
“Pretty…” Vertigo ran her tongue across the bottom of her upper teeth. “Can I have that one?”
“You have your assignment, Vertigo.” Nathaniel pointed out. “Besides there is far more to young Kurt Wagner that is apparent to the eye. THIS…” He gestured at the screen. “Is not his true appearance…” The image changed to show a blue, elfin-like creature. “This is.”
“Whoa!” Riptide smirked. “A bona fide freak!”
“Still pretty.” Vertigo breathed.
“He may be the hardest of the three to…invite to our little party. He’s phenomenally agile, can climb anything, is highly trained in a multiple of fighting skills, and he can teleport.”
“Teleport?” Riptide quirked an eyebrow. “You mean like in ‘beam my up, Scotty’?”
“Essentially.” Nathaniel confirmed. “Riptide, Harpoon…he’s yours.”
The lights came back up as Nathaniel rose to address them. “All three are adept in the use of their powers. Unlike your previous assignments, they’re trained, and…they’re not alone. They have equally powerful friends to back them up.
“You are free to use any means necessary in obtaining them, but keep damage to a minimum. I DO want them breathing and in one piece. Beyond that…use your imaginations.”
“All right, people.” Scalphunter announced as he surged to his feet. “Let’s move out!”
As the quintet filed out, Nathaniel quickly put himself between Harpoon and the door. “A word…” He said quietly. Harpoon arched a brow. “Your target…I want him out of it…unconscious, delirious, in shock, incoherent…”
“May I ask why?”
“His spatial awareness is infallible…if they escape he’ll be able to backtrack home by using the time spent travelling and the direction taken…even if you alter course…he’ll still know…”
“Neat trick.” Harpoon admitted.
“A neat trick indeed.” Nathaniel agreed. “Young Mister Wagner’s gifts are many and varied. I have no doubt that you and Riptide will have your hands full with that one.”
“So…” Riptide began. “How long are we’re gonna have to wait?”
“Until he ditches the skirt.” Harpoon said softly.
“You afraid of his girlfriend?”
“The fewer people involved the better…besides, I don’t think that’s his girlfriend…the interaction between them doesn’t indicate a romantic bond…”
“True…who’d go for a freaky fuzz ball…”
“Like, c’mon, Kurt…” Kitty whined. “Pick up the pace! Stop dragging your tail!”
“Kitty!” Kurt admonished. “Someone vill hear.”
“It’s just an expression, Kurt…” She pointed out. “Besides, they know what we are now…”
“It is easy for you…” He sighed. “You can pass for normal…I vould rather not draw attention to myself.” He glanced around uneasily. His eyes narrowed when he noticed the van. It had been parked outside the school when they’d left. Now it was here.
He grabbed her arm and pulled her closer. “Ve are being followed…” He hissed at her.
“Knock it off, Kurt.” She yelled at him, yanking her arm free of his grasp. “You’ve been totally paranoid since we got the others back!” She took a firm grip on his biceps. “The government is not out to get us! Some people even see us as heroes…they, like, wanna be us!” She said firmly to him. “Besides…we’re American citizens with the same rights as everybody else.”
“Kitty, I am NOT an American citizen.” He reminded her.
“Oh…right…” She acknowledged. “But you are here legally. The government still can’t touch you.”
“It is not the government I am vorried about.” He said. “It is the curious, psychotic members of the scientific community that concerns me…”
“Heh…sounds like you already know the boss.” A voice chuckled from behind them.
The two young mutants spun, the overly cautious Kurt dropping into a defence stance. The stranger arched a brow at Kurt’s reaction.
He was a tall, thin, smarmy looking man, with long silvery hair. In fact, he looked a lot like Quicksilver.
“Oh…” He mocked. “Little tough guy…”
Sounded a lot like Quicksilver too.
“Of for God’s sake!” A second voice growled. “Do you not know the meaning of the word ‘WAIT’?”
Kurt’s golden eyes flicked from one to the other as he brushed Kitty behind him in a traditional show of chivalry. He kept hold of her wrist. “Brace yourself…” He said to her.
“Oh no…” She warned him. “Don’t even think about it. You know it makes me sick to my stomach!”
“You vould rather take your chances vith them?” He jerked a thumb at the menacing looking pair who were slowly advancing towards them.
“Good point.” She conceded. They didn’t look too friendly.
They were only a few steps from the young pair when Kurt flashed them a winning smile. It wasn’t quite as impressive a smile as it would have been if he hadn’t been using his image inducer, but it’d do in a pinch.
“Auf Wiedersehen…” He said to them as the pair disappeared in a puff of smoke.
Riptide did a double take, then chuckled. “He didn’t say ‘beam me up’…”
“Terrific…” Harpoon growled.
“What’s with you?” Riptide sneered. “I thought you enjoyed the thrill of the hunt…”
Harpoon crouched, plucking up some grass from where Kurt had been standing, inhaling deeply, getting his quarry’s scent. He looked off into the distance.
“Remind me to kick your ass when we get back.” He said to his companion.
“Oh, yeah…I’m REALLY gonna remind you to do that!”
“Who the hell vere they?” Kurt demanded from their new location. He’d transported them to one of his numerous shadowy arrival points.
“Like I know?” Kitty countered, holding her head as she waited for the world to stop spinning. She looked around the trash strew and extremely rancid alley. “You really take a girl to the best places…” She mumbled under her breath.
“Ve have to get home…” Kurt said, not hearing her comment. “Tell the Professor about this…maybe he knows them or something…” He was way jumpier than usual, pacing back and forth. “But the minute ve show our faces…”
“Will you relax?” Kitty tried to sooth him. “We like totally left them in the dust.”
“Maybe…” Kurt admitted. He was just beginning to relax when the alley was suddenly filled with a powerful, swirling wind. It was so forceful it knocked the pair back against the wall.
“Then again…maybe not…” Kurt muttered as the smarmy looking guy spun to a stop in front of them. He had to be a mutant. No human could move that fast.
He fanned out a series of shuriken in his hand like a Vegas card dealer might fan out the deck. Kurt’s eyes widened as he realised just how much damage the guy could inflict if he hurled them while spinning.
“Riptide!” The other yelled at him. “Don’t even think about it. We need him alive.”
‘HIM…’ Kurt echoed in his mind. ‘They are after me?’ He glanced at Kitty. He could tell by her expression that she had come to the same conclusion.
The one called Riptide returned the shuriken from wherever it was that he’d pulled them. He grinned. “Fine…” He said. “I won’t lay a finger on…HIM.” His hand flashed out and he had Kitty’s wrist in his iron-like grip. He spun her around so quickly she didn’t even have time to think about phasing. She impacted hard with the wall, her head making a resounding crack against it.
“KITTY!” Kurt lunged forward, catching her before she could hit the ground. He brushed back her hair, matted with blood. “Kitty?” he repeated in little more than a whisper. Her eyes fluttered open and she smiled weakly up at him.
Harpoon raised a brow and drew one of his namesake weapons from the pack on his back. He walked silently towards the youngster as he lowered the girl gently to the ground now that he had ascertained that she was all right. He knew he’d have one seriously ticked off little mutant on his hands in a moment. He had to work fast.
He ignited his own powers. Energy crackled around his weapon. He aimed it at the boy’s back…
Kitty’s eyes widened as she saw Harpoon approach, his glowing weapon held high. She was about to scream a warning when Harpoon brought it down...
Kurt shrieked as his shoulder exploded in pain. He saw Kitty’s horrified face splattered with blood, and realised it was his. To add insult to injury, Harpoon lifted Kurt off the ground by raising the weapon embedded in his shoulder. He pulled him back towards him.
“Never let your guard down on the battlefield, boy.” He hissed in his ear. “It can have disastrous results…”
Kurt gritted his teeth as he looked back at his would be captor. Kitty noticed his tail as it slinked out of the inducer’s field. It snaked through the debris on the alley floor, scooping up as much of it as it could. Kurt then quickly flicked it up, spraying the contents in Harpoon’s face.
Harpoon dropped him as his hands instinctively went to his face. “You little shit!” He snarled.
Kurt reached for Kitty with his good arm. He wasn’t sure he had the strength to teleport. But he had to try…
With a malicious grin, Riptide slammed a foot down on the harpoon in Kurt’s shoulder. There was a sickening tearing sound as it ripped through his flesh. Kurt didn’t have time to scream, he simply passed out. So Kitty did it for him.
“Kid’s got moxie…” Riptide commented as Harpoon scrapped the grit out of his face. He kicked Kurt over onto his back, frowning at his torn shoulder. “Boss ain’t gonna like that…”
Harpoon crouched down beside him, checking his pulse. “He’s alive…” He muttered. “Boss said we could use our imagination…”
Riptide turned his gaze on Kitty. She whimpered and shuffled back into the shadows. “What about the chick?”
“Leave her…” Harpoon said as he tore off Kurt’s over-shirt and crudely bound his wound with it. “He’s not interested in first rounds…” He picked Kurt up and swung him over his shoulder like a sack of potatoes. “Let’s go.” He headed for the street.
With a shrug, Riptide followed him.
Xavier looked up from his book as Cerebro’s alarm went off. He made his way towards the chamber.
“Mutant signatures detected.” It intoned at him. He looked at the screen showing five distinct patterns in three different locations.
“Identify.” He ordered.
“Signatures not on file.”
He frowned. ‘Five new mutants?’ Something didn’t smell right about this.
“Show me the locations of our student body…and the Brotherhood.” He added, almost as an afterthought. A second series of signatures was superimposed over the others. Sure enough, as he had expected, several intersected with the unidentified ones.
“Identify those in the vicinity of the new signatures.”
A grid appeared over the top of the computerized map. A horizontal line dropped from the top, a vertical one moved from one side. When the crosshairs met over one pair, Cerebro spoke. “Unidentified mutant signature…identified mutant signature…Pietro Maximoff.” The crosshairs moved on, paused again. “Unidentified mutant signature…identified mutant signature…Kitty Pryde…identified mutant signature…Kurt Wagner…unidentified mutant signature.” The crosshairs moved on again, stopping at the next grouping. “Identified mutant signature…Wanda Maximoff…unidentified mutant signature…unidentified mutant signature.”
He touched his temples with his fingers. “Kurt…?” He questioned, reaching out with his mind. His frown deepened when he received no answer. “Kitty…?” He tried.
‘Professor…?’ Her mental voice was groggy, indistinctive. He could sense her fear.
'Stay where you are, Kitty…' He told her. 'We’ll be there shortly.'
‘No!’ She mentally screamed at him. ‘You have to help Kurt! They took him…they hurt him…’
'Who Kitty?' He asked.
‘Dunno…’ She admitted. ‘Some guys…they were after Kurt…specifically…’
He glanced back at the screen. The five unidentified mutants were converging, with the other three identified ones. “Seems he wasn’t the only one…”
‘What was that, Professor?’ Kitty thought to him. ‘Think it again…’
'It’s all right, Kitty.' He assured her. 'We’ll take care of everything…'
He glanced at the Cerebro screen, noticing that two of the blips were very close to where the large clump were converging.
“Identify the signatures to the immediate north-north east of the unidentified signatures.” He ordered his machine.
The crosshairs moved on again, stopping when they reached the aforementioned location. “Identified mutant signature…Scott Summers…identified mutant signature…Jean Gray…” The mutant locator intoned.
“Perfect…” Xavier allowed himself a small smile.
“…and two regular fries…” Scott said into the order box.
“That’ll be seven twenty six…” The bored voice monotoned at him. “Please move to the next widow…”
“Thanks…” Scott said as he released the handbrake.
“Jeez…” Scott gasped at the sudden intrusion.
‘Kurt’s in trouble…’ He began.
‘When is Kurt NOT in trouble?’ Jean thought back.
Scott glanced at her, happy to let her carry on the telepathic conversation while he paid for their order. He looked at the bags as they were handed over by the bored teen. ‘If we’re meeting up with Kurt we should have ordered more food…’
‘Perhaps…’ The Professor agreed. ‘But this is a serious matter. From what I can get out of Kitty…Kurt, Wanda and Pietro appear to have been abducted by a group of highly efficient, unknown, mutants…’
‘No…’ Scott gasped. He had feared something like this…somebody hunting them down now that the existence of mutants was public knowledge. But he hadn’t expected the threat to come from their own kind.
Jean immediately began scanning for Kurt. “I can’t get a fix on Kurt…” She said.
‘Kitty said he’d been injured…’ Xavier admitted. ‘He may not be coherent enough for you to sense him…but you two are the closest to their location…you should be able to intercept them…delay them until backup can arrive.’
‘How many?’ Scott asked as he tried to casually pull out onto the street.
‘Any ideas on their powers?’ Scott asked. ‘What we’re up against?’
‘I don’t want you engaging them if it can be at all avoided, Scott.’ Xavier said. ‘A public battle between mutants is the last thing we need right now…’
‘Yeah…’ He agreed grimly. ‘Might look like gang warfare or something…’
‘I’ve got a lock on Pietro…’ Jean suddenly informed them. “Remind me to feed him his teeth when this is over…” She said to Scott. “His thoughts are disgusting!”
“He’s a teenaged boy, Jean.” Scott pointed out. “We ALL think like that.”
“YOU don’t think like this…” She countered. “The blue-furred flirt doesn’t think like this…” She shuddered, fighting the sudden compulsion to head home for a very long, very hot shower. “God, I feel dirty…”
“So…” Pietro smiled warmly at the voluptuous blonde on his arm as they approached the impressive looking private jet. “Tell me more about this…great opportunity…”
“My employer is only interested in the most superior of our kind.” She smiled back. “He’s had his eyes on you for sometime.”
“Guy knows quality when he sees it, huh?” He arched a brow.
“Most definitely.” She led him inside.
“Oh, gag me.” A familiar, surly voice interjected.
“Wanda?” Pietro gaped at his sister. “What are you doing here?”
“Our employer is interested in her as well.” The blonde smiled. “Where are the others?” She asked the very masculine looking woman with the extremely severe haircut.
“They’re on their way.” She said curtly.
“Make yourself comfortable.” She beamed at Pietro. “I have to help get us ready for take off.” He took a seat as far away from his sister as he possibly could.
‘Are you getting anything?’ Jean thought to Xavier.
‘Kurt should be very close to you…’ He replied. ‘I can’t pick up any thoughts, but Cerebro clearly shows you’re in close proximity…’
“Look for a van…” Kitty said to him as she entered, gently touching the thick, white bandage at her temple. “New…silver…tinted windows…”
‘Jean…’ Xavier passed on the information.
“New, silver van with tinted windows…” She said aloud for Scott’s benefit. It was safer to keep him out of the loop, let him concentrate on his driving.
“Like that one?” He pointed out a vehicle fitting the description.
‘C’mon, Kurt…’ Jean thought towards it. ‘Give me a sign here…’
She was just about to give up when she felt the briefest brush of a familiar mind.
‘KURT?’ She all but screamed at it.
‘Jean…?’ The mental reply was so weak she barely caught it.
“Kurt…” She said aloud.
“You got him?” Scott glanced at her briefly, saw the flash of her relieved smile.
‘Are you alright?’ She thought at him.
There was a noticeable lapse in his brain activity before he managed to reply.
Harpoon glanced at the passenger in the backseat with a frown. He was sure he’d heard him speak, but it had been so soft it was possible that he’d been mistaken. Or it could have just been an incoherent sound brought about by pain. The young mutant whimpered with every bump and jostle of the van. There was an obvious stain spreading on the seat beneath his shoulder. Harpoon had laid him on his injury, hoping the boy’s weight would work to help control the bleeding, but he wasn’t looking good at all. His breathing was ragged, he was continuously licking his lips and his tail was flicking about in a highly agitated manner.
He glared at his companion. Riptide had made the wound much worse than it had needed to be. True, this would make it impossible for the boy to access the infallible spatial awareness that Essex had warned him of. The only problem now was whether or not he would live to make delivery.
“Well…well…well” Riptide smirked as he checked the rear-view mirror. “Looks like we got ourselves some tailgaters…”
“What? Where?” Harpoon focused on the side mirror.
“Red convertible…” Riptide pointed with his chin. “Been following us for the last few blocks…” He glanced back as he heard the little freak let out what sounded like a laugh. Sure enough, he was smiling.
“Friends of your, huh?” Riptide smirked at him. “Hope they can fly…”
“What are you getting from them?” Scott asked.
“Not a lot…maybe they’ve been trained to block their thoughts or something…” Jean admitted.
“Block their thoughts?” Scott questioned. “Is that possible?”
“It’s not so different to the mental wards the professor’s been teaching us ever since the Mesmero incident…” She explained. “I can get a little though. One’s very closed, but he seems worried about something. And the other one…well, let’s just say he could give Pietro lessons in smugness…”
“You mean there’s someone who’s a bigger jerk than Pietro?” Scott arched a brow. “Wonders never cease…”
The van very suddenly switched lanes. It was all Scott could do to match it as it headed for a turnoff.
“Oh no…” He mumbled as he realised where they were heading.
“What?” Jean frowned.
“So what did she promise you?” Wanda asked quietly breaking the long silence that had fallen over them.
“Power and wealth beyond my imagining.” Pietro told her.
Wanda rolled her eyes. “You are so self serving.”
“So what were you offered?” He shot back. “A makeup kit and all the black clothes you could want?”
“Control…” She said. “Their employer can help me control my powers.”
“Employer…” Pietro moved towards her. “Say…did anybody tell you this EMPLOYER’S name?”
“No…” She admitted. “I was a bit suspicious of that…but I figured I can always take them down if things turn nasty…”
They turned as one as a tall, snowy-haired man barged up the stairs and towards the cockpit. “Let’s get this show on the road.” They heard him say. “We got company!”
They exchanged a worried glance. Before either could say anything, another man entered, a rather familiar form draped over his shoulder. “Riptide!” He yelled. “Get the damn door!”
“Keep yer shirt on!” The blonde man returned, the severe haired woman with him. He pulled the stairs in, sealing the door as the other man moved towards the two teens. The woman watched as he tugged at the body on his shoulder, letting it slump into an overstuffed chair.
“KURT!” Wanda’s eyes widened in horror.
“SHIT!” Pietro added.
“What the hell did you do to him?” The woman demanded. “The boss specified minimal damage.”
“He’s alive and breathing isn’t he?” The other shot back.
Kurt hissed through clenched teeth as his injury was slammed into the seat’s back. His image inducer was no longer engaged. He looked pale, even through his light dusting of blue fur. His golden eyes were glassy. There was a dark stain on his red shirt, the beige over-shirt was so soaked with blood it almost matched.
“Oh my God…” Pietro whispered. He’d never been Kurt’s greatest supporter. He usually led the insulting…but this…he glared at the adults.
“He was made the same offer as you…” The one called Riptide shrugged.
“Then why is he the only one bleeding?” Wanda shot back.
“You’ll find our employer doesn’t take NO for an answer.” The woman told them.
Wanda growled, thrusting her hands forward, her intention to knock them off their feet. But nothing happened. She looked at her hands in confusion.
“Whole plane’s chock full of power dampeners.” Riptide smirked. “For all intents and purposes…you’re human…” He laughed as he headed back to the cockpit, the woman following.
“If I were you, I’d strap myself in…” Harpoon warned them. “We’re taking off.”
Brother and sister exchanged a terrified glance. Kurt glared at Harpoon as best he could, but he was barely able to hang on to consciousness. Wanda fell into the seat beside him as the plane began to taxi. She searched around Kurt, fishing for his seatbelt and strapping him in. She then buckled her own belt.
“Oh…man…” Pietro mumbled to himself as he swayed in the aisle. “What were we thinking?”
“Will you sit down and fasten your belt?” Wanda growled at him. “I don’t want you both bleeding!”
“Right…” He stumbled into a seat and strapped himself in. He looked at his sister with fearful eyes. She had torn the curtain from the window and pressed it to Kurt’s still bleeding shoulder. The blue-furred mutant winced a little but otherwise stayed still.
“How can you be so calm when we’ve just been kidnapped?” Pietro demanded.
“One of us has to stay sane here.” She pointed out. “You don’t seem a likely candidate…and Kurt’s hardly in any condition to do much of anything…”
“But…what are we gonna do?” He implored.
“We’ll think of something.” She said, protecting Kurt as best she could.
Scott ran through Bayville’s small airport terminal as quickly as he could without drawing attention to himself, Jean close behind. The telepathic redhead was doing her best to cloud the thoughts of those around her about their passage, but there was only so much she could do in her current state of mind.
She was worried about Kurt, Wanda and even Pietro. From what little the professor could get out of Kitty, a little more clearly now that Rogue had retrieved her and brought her home, was that whoever it was that had abducted the trio knew exactly what they were doing. Kurt had been badly hurt, his recent, slurred response to her mental probe had confirmed that, and she could only imagine what had happened to the twins.
Scott burst through the double glass doors onto the observation deck. There were several small planes on the runways, all moving into taxing position.
“Jean?” He snapped as she came up to the railing beside him.
She closed her eyes as she concentrated, reaching out with her mind, searching for the familiar touch of Kurt’s thoughts. She mentally kicked herself. He’d been barely conscious when she’d linked with him before, he could be totally out of it by now. She switched her efforts to Wanda. She didn’t know the sullen teen nearly as well, but she really didn’t want to risk peeking inside Pietro’s mind again.
“C’mon!” Scott hissed, his tension obvious in his voice.
“I can’t sense them…” She whispered. “I can’t sense them at all…” She altered her perception again. ‘Professor...?’
‘I can’t sense them either, Jean.’ He admitted. She could almost hear him frown. ‘And Cerebro can’t locate them now either. How many planes are there?’
‘Three…’ She thought at him.
'Odd…’ He mused. ‘I can only sense the passengers and crew of two…’
Jean’s attention snapped back to where she was. The Professor was right. She could pick up random thoughts from two of the planes, but the third was a total blank.
“That one!” She pointed out the plane that had, unfortunately, just left the ground.
“Damn!” Scott muttered, his hand rising to his glasses. “I think I can still hit it…”
“Are you crazy?!” Jean grabbed his arm, spinning him away from his intended target. “You’re gonna blast them out of the sky? The idea is to save them NOT kill them!”
“But…” He began in protest.
“There are other ways of tracking them.” She said.
“Like how?” He turned back, watching in anguish as the simple, jet-black plane lifted into the air.
“They’re flying out of an airport, Scott.” She said softly. “They had to have logged a flight plan…it’ll tell us where they’re headed. We’ll find them, Scott.” She assured him. “We’ll get them back!”
Scott was trembling slightly. He never had handled failure well. But some failures were worse than others.
He had failed his best friend…
“Yes.” Scott agreed firmly. “We WILL get them back.”