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Chapter 1
Chapter 2
Chapter 3
Chapter 4
Chapter 5
Chapter 6
Chapter 7
Chapter 8
Chapter 9
Chapter 10
Chapter 11
Chapter 12
Chapter 13


Written by Karen Bruce
Last updated: 01/02/2007 02:01:11 AM

Chapter 9

Thus I; faltering forward,

Leaves around me falling,

Wind oozing thin through the thorn from norward,

And the woman calling.

~ Thomas Hardy, "The Voice"

Nick Fury had read Yvonne Montgomery's curriculum vitae with a view to disliking her, for no more rational reason than she was Katherine Pryde's replacement and he was unwilling to accept that the woman he loved despite their acrimonious break-up was gone permanently. An interview later, he grudgingly admitted that the agent sitting across the table from him was very compotent, very intelligent and very eager to be a part of SHIELD.

Not that he could blame her, he thought with a curl of his lips, WEST was the ugly stepsister of the intelligence community. An embarrassment to the countries that founded it in the wake of the Second World War. An anachronism that survived only because it was funded out of the legacies and bequests of the soldier's families who had vowed "Never Again." He could not blame her for wanting to make something of herself, for pursuing a career where she would accomplish something meaningful. She was young, brilliant and beautiful and, now, she wanted to work for him.

"Let's be honest, Montgomery," he lifted his eyes from the paper, "We both know you're the most qualified person for this job, and that there ain't a snowball's chance in hell that SHIELD's going to refuse you. This interview is a formality, and I hate formalities, so let's finish this as quickly as possible."

She laughed, gray eyes sparkling impishly, her brogue warm, "Ye do remember in all your glowin' praise tha' I worked for WEST, sir? "

He grinned, "Yeah, but you had the good sense t'choose SHIELD and that says more to me than all the recommendations from your so-called superiors."

"When I heard there was an opening available, I . . . jumped, tae put it mildly, at the opportunity. Don't get me wrong, sir, my time at WEST was invaluable and I am loyal tae them, but .. . . they aren't anywhere near th' caliber o' SHIELD."

"Well," he held out his hand to take her grey, gloved one, "Welcome aboard. I hope we're everything you expect."

She smiled and there was a strangely familiar quality about it, a quality that almost made him retract his offer of employment. He had seen that slight, mocking tilt of lips before, had known at the time that the smiler was possibly the most dangerous woman alive. He was getting paranoid, he told himself, her references were impeccable and WEST, for all their inefficiency, would never hire anyone without background checks.

Dismissing it as lingering animosity towards Kitty's replacement, he did not hear the subtle menace in her smooth reply: "I hope I don't disappoint either."

Katherine Pryde massaged the back of her aching neck, as she ran the specifications for the nanites through the computer's simulation again. Before going into production, she needed to ensure that a machine that small was viable. That they would be capable of navigating the rapid currents of blood and slow ebb of lymph to reach the DNA. That they could resist the body's defenses - the lymphocytes, the extremes of pH, to name just two. That she could create something small enough to slip into the double helix that was at the heart of life and heredity.

The answer, she reflected wryly, appeared to be an unequivocal no. She had been working on the project for seven hours without success or rest, had been doing the same for weeks on end, and she was starting to question why she had left her job at SHIELD and whether Nick would have her back after her resignation.

Nonetheless, she knew that it was merely the tiredness and frustration speaking. Crew ASKEW, despite being notoriously publicity shy, was possibly the leading research organization in the country from what she could tell. The resources at her disposable were seemingly limitless - classified government studies and reputable, scientific journals rubbed shoulders in the massive archive, while her colleagues were experts in fields as diverse as cryogenics and parapsychology. Briefly, it was an ambitious scientist's dream, her dream after years spent saving the world as first an X-Man then an agent of SHIELD. She felt she deserved a vision of her own, and this project did have altruistic applications, even if its potential misuses far outweighed them. The same could be said about the splitting of the atom, however, and greater scientists than her had not baulked at that challenge.

The computer beeped and Kitty glanced desultorily at it, expecting to see the standard "Simulation Failed" message that she had been staring at for the last few days. Instead, in brilliant green, was the legend that the nanites had managed to normalize the mutated genome to which she had directed them. Theoretically, at least, her project was a success. Stopping only to grab a printout of the results, not caring that she should have been more dignified in the wake of a major scientific discovery, she tore down the hall to Beethoven's office.

Remy LeBeau awoke to a raging headache and the lingering scent of a woman's perfume on his skin. The identity of its owner was a mystery, however - the citrusy, tangy fragance was nothing like the sweet, almost cloying musk favored by Teresa Cassidy. When he closed his eyes and cast his mind back to the night before, he could almost remember the momentary warmth of her body against his, almost see her mocking, teasing smirk, almost feel the heavy silk of her hair slipping over his fingers. Beyond that, however, there was a void where her face and name should have been.

Hoping the two were not connected with a night's overindulgence chez Black Tom and that his most valuable possession had not been stolen, he was relieved to discover that the gold ring, the symbol of his grand-master-class rank, still encircled his finger snugly. Whoever she was, she was not a thief, nor in the employ of one. He was fortunate that that was the case, because he had been unforgivably careless. The dim blur that was the evening before, seemed to suggest that he had had too much to drink, or had been drugged, or both. It was strange, however, that his preternaturally fast metabolism had not burnt the toxins out his system yet, that he was still suffering the effects. He would have to rely on the time-honored methods of a hot shower and coffee, he thought, his throbbing head protesting the motion as he sat upright and swung his feet onto the floor.

"Bizarre," he muttered, as he saw the two of spades on his carpet. Slightly singed around its border, it looked as it had been charged but had not exploded. As if someone had drained it of its energy before it had a chance to release it more violently. Something more than a bout of drinking and wenching had happened the previous evening, he realised with a sick feeling in the pit of his stomach. There were too many details that did not quite fit, too many enigmas, for him to accept the simple explanation. The card, if it had fingerprints, might be the clue he needed to unravel the mystery. Careful not to touch its surface, he picked the card up by the edges and placed it into a plastic bag, which he extracted from his thieves' toolkit. If he caught the next flight to New Orleans, he could probably have his answers before nightfall....

"Hubby dearest, you do know you're going to worry yourself into an early grave," Jean Grey-Summers commented wryly, as she handed the cup of steaming coffee to Cyclops. His eyes were bloodshot and a few days' growth of beard stubbled his chin. Since discovering that Magneto was not only alive, but had signed a treaty with the Western European Security Trust, he had spent most nights hunched in front of Cerebro, running endless iterations of the moment, where Magneto's biosignature had simply disappeared, through the computer's analytical subroutines.

"I just don't understand it, Jean," frustration colored his voice, "Why would Erik go to all the trouble of getting around our scanners just to make a deal with WEST?"

"As you have asked me about hundred times the last week," she reminded him gently, "And I still don't have an answer. Scott, anything you suggest at this point can only be your best guess. Perhaps he is plotting something, perhaps he didn't want us to interfere with the peace process. I don't know anything beyond the fact that Magneto has acted in unpredictable ways in the past. His willingness to be tried for his crimes, his tenure as headmaster of this school, his creation of Avalon as a separate state. . . .The list goes on and on. He is human, for all his hatred of them, and humans act in unexpected ways."

He sighed, removing the heavy helmet of the interface and replacing it on the console. His hair was tousled, like that of a sleepy child's, and she felt the irrational urge to smooth it. To comfort him in some small, tangible manner. His concern, his goodness, his stubborn meticulousness were a large part of why she loved him, and she would not have had him change for all the worlds in all the solar systems.

"What do you want me to do, Jean? Just forget about it?"

She smiled, "I want you to shave and shower, while I try and see if I have any more success in locating Magneto's psi-signature than you have had with his biosig. Remy looks sexy with designer stubble, but it doesn't work on you, my dear."

He laughed, "Should I be jealous?"

"Definitely," she teased, glad that, for a moment at least, she had made him forget the problems of the past few weeks. That they could be like any young couple with no more pressing concerns than each other's happiness. They had not been married for all that long, and their perfect happiness, their honeymoon bliss, had not yet been worn thin by daily trivialities and squabbles. For all she loved the thrill that came with being an X-Man, she wished suddenly that they could have a single day, a single moment, where they could simply be Scott and Jean, rather than Cyclops and Phoenix. As she leaned forward to kiss him, a gruff voice shattered their private moment, bringing reality with it.

"We need ta talk, Cyke," Wolverine's face was grimmer than usual, "I've just got off the 'phone with a buddy o' mine at WEST - a guy by the name o' David North - an' he's never heard of an agent Montgomery, thinks she's a fake. I told you that somethin' stank about that frail."

Jean's lips pursed thoughtfully, "So, rather than searching for Magneto, I should perhaps set my sights on this Yvonne Montgomery . . . ."


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