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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
Chapter 14
Chapter 15
Chapter 16
Chapter 17
Chapter 18
Chapter 19
Chapter 20
Chapter 21
Chapter 22
Chapter 23
Chapter 24
Chapter 25
Chapter 26
Chapter 27
Chapter 28
Chapter 29
Chapter 30
Chapter 31
Chapter 32
Chapter 33
Chapter 34
Chapter 35
Chapter 36
Chapter 37
Chapter 38
Chapter 39
Chapter 40
Chapter 41
Chapter 42
Chapter 43
Chapter 44
Chapter 45
Chapter 46
Chapter 47
Chapter 48
Chapter 49
Chapter 50
Chapter 51
Chapter 52
Chapter 53
Chapter 54
Chapter 55
Chapter 56
Chapter 57
Chapter 58
Chapter 59
Chapter 60
Chapter 61
Chapter 62
Chapter 63
Chapter 64


Written by Valerie Jones
Last updated: 05/10/2010 11:31:24 PM

Chapter 9

Remy shifted his position slightly as he waited for his contact who was making her way across the wide expanse of grass separating them. Central Park was crowded today as New Yorkers got out to enjoy the sun, and Remy debated the wisdom of continuing with the meeting. The heavy traffic in the park would make it harder to pick out a possible tail. Considering who he was meeting, that could be disastrous.

The woman reached him. “Hello, Remy.” She was stunningly beautiful, with wide green eyes and russet hair that fell to her waist. A thick white streak ran through that hair, accentuating the paleness of her skin and the contrasting color in her full lips.

Remy throttled a burst of anger as he scooped up her gloved hand and kissed the back of it lightly. “Dis is low, even f’ you, chere.”

She gave him a predatory smile. “This form was least likely ta draw suspicion,” she answered sweetly.

Remy couldn’t legitimately argue that one, though he doubted it was the main reason Mystique had chosen to wear her daughter’s form. It was another not-so-subtle reminder that she had a few nasty weapons in her arsenal if he ever showed signs of getting too seriously attached to Rogue.

“Why don’t we go foh a walk, sugah?” Mystique suggested. Remy did not resist as she slipped her hand into his. To any onlookers they would look like little more than a pair of lovers wandering through the park on a sunny day, though if said watchers had followed Mystique there, he wasn’t convinced the ruse would fool them.

“Tell me about Creed,” Remy said once they had walked a ways.

Mystique glanced at him sidelong. “Not in a mood foh flirtin’ today, are we?”

“Not anymore.”

She pouted briefly and Remy kept his reaction to himself only by effort of will. Rogue had a naturally luscious pout, and Mystique knew full well how to use it. It actually made it a little easier for him to remember that this was a borrowed image of Rogue, but didn’t lessen the impact any.

“Creed?” he reminded her brusquely when she showed no signs of saying anything further.

“What do ya want ta know, sugah?” Mystique returned cheerfully. She was enjoying her game, he could tell. But then, toying with men’s hearts had always been one of her favorite pastimes. Mystique sometimes reminded him of the little kids who pulled the wings off of flies just to watch them stumble around. Remy considered himself lucky to have met Mystique the way he had. She hadn’t had much opportunity to sink any claws into his heart.

“What kind o’ mutant program was he workin’ on?” Remy forced his mind out of the past and back onto the immediate problem.

Mystique’s smile faded, becoming more business-like. “I don’t know.”

Remy glanced at her askance. “What? Y’ shot him f’ kicks?”

She stiffened minutely and Remy chalked himself up a point. Then the momentary lapse was gone, hidden behind a wall of nonchalance. “He deserved it.” Mystique scuffed the leaves with her feet as she walked.

Remy looked out over the park and the people who were there, intent on their own self-involved lives. “Talk t’ me, Raven. Y’ wouldn’ve called if y’ didn’ want t’ tell me ‘bout somet’ing.”

Mystique’s playful smile returned. She clucked her tongue disapprovingly. “Responsibility is doin’ terrible things to ya, Remy. Where’s ya sense of adventure?”

Remy chuckled. “Chere, you’ve always been too much adventure f’ dis boy.”

Mystique snorted in amusement, but finally he could see her settling into her business mode.

She adjusted her grip on his hand. “All right. Creed was the director of a new mutant control initiative bein’ funded indirectly through Congress. The name of the initiative is Operation: Zero Tolerance.”

Remy raised an eyebrow. “Dat sounds ominous.”

She nodded. “It was scheduled ta go online five days ago, which is why ah acted as ah did.” The mixture of Mystique’s hard professionalism with Rogue’s warm Southern drawl struck Remy suddenly and he had a glimpse of the woman Rogue might have become had she not joined the X-Men. He wasn’t sure if he liked what he saw or not.

“Go ‘online’?” he asked.

Mystique shrugged. “That’s the terminology that was bein’ bandied around. Ah don’t know what they were referrin’ to.”

Remy chewed on his thoughts for a few moments. “A front company f’ dis Zero Tolerance spent a couple billion dollars over de last t’ree years. Doin’ what, I couldn’ tell y’.”

Mystique cocked her head to look up at him. “Sentinels? That would fit with some o’ the things ah’ve heard.”

“Maybe, chere. Maybe. But de Sentinels have never been real effective ‘gainst de X-Men or any o’ de other teams.”

Mystique snorted. “The Spandex Brigade has never run inta them en masse, either.”

Remy felt a small chill at the thought of an army of the metal titans. “Point. Still, de human population don’ like Sentinels any more dan mutants.” He gave her a lopsided smile. “Too visible. Too much property damage.”

“So maybe they have somethin’ else in mind.”

Remy thought briefly of the Draxar building he’d been inside. It had reminded him somewhat of a prison. Or a detainment center.

“Y’ t’ink dey might have plans t’ start separatin’ humans an’ mutants?” he asked slowly, his thoughts still turning.

Mystique stopped abruptly and turned to face him. It was obvious from her expression that he had struck some kind of chord.

“Ah’ve heard one common thread throughout everything dealing with Zero Tolerance, an’ that’s a sense o’ complete certainty that whatever they’re plannin’ ta do will be done without any significant mutant interference.” She met Remy’s gaze. “They’re not afraid of us. Not this time.”

Dread filled Remy. “Is dat why y’ shot Creed? T’ teach dem some fear?”

She nodded. “And ta throw off their schedule. Ah bought us as much time as ah could, but ah don’t think it’ll last much longer. Zero Tolerance is going ta hit, an’ unless you or somebody else has got a miracle up their sleeve, there’s nothin’ we can do ta stop it.” She shook her head in a gesture of frustration. “Ah haven’t heard o’ anythin’ kept this quiet since the Manhattan Project.”

Remy pursed his lips. “Sorry, chere. I’m fresh out o’ miracles.”

Mystique’s gaze narrowed. “Then ah hope ya’ve protected ya people.”

Remy shrugged, feeling apprehensive. “I’ve done everyt’ing I can. Most o’ de ot’er Guild leaders t’ink I’m bein’ paranoid, but at least dey’ll be on dere guard.”

“An’ the X-Men?” Her gaze was intent.

Remy nodded slowly. “Wit’ any luck, dey’ll be able t’ take care o’ demselves. But if not... Oui, I made some plans.”

She nodded sharply. “Good enough, I suppose.” With a surprisingly gentle motion, she disentangled her fingers from his. “The next time ah see ya, we’ll no doubt know what Zero Tolerance is all about.” There was an edge of sarcasm on her words. “If we’re not dead, that is.”

Remy didn’t answer as she turned and walked away. He didn’t need to. Whatever Zero Tolerance was, it was probably going to be one of the worst nightmares mutants had ever faced. And if Mystique’s prediction was anything close to accurate, they were almost out of time.

Bobby leaned against the corner of the building, heedless of the moisture that seeped through his shirt and chilled his shoulder. He had been waiting almost two hours, and had he not had very specific instructions from the Guildmaster, he might have given up in disgust and left. It was only an hour past midnight, however, and his real reason for impatience was the six a.m. practice that Scott had scheduled.

Bobby was standing on the border of Ravage territory, in the midst of an ill-defined neutral zone the gang maintained with its neighbors. He wasn’t alone, by any means. Shadows flickered around him as the scouts that Pitt had sent shifted and watched. They were looking for tails or any other evidence that Bobby was not what he seemed.

The young thief sighed and crouched down to stretch his hamstrings, resigned to waiting another couple of hours if that was what it took. He was looking down at the concrete between his feet, but out of his peripheral vision caught sight of the ghostly forms that slid silently out of the shadows to surround him. He straightened nonchalantly, and had the satisfaction of seeing the figures trade glances, surprised their little trick hadn’t startled him.

Bobby waited quietly. The Ravage was somewhat unusual for a New York gang, which was no doubt why Remy had chosen them. For one, they were older than the norm-- the boys that surrounded Bobby looked to be a mixture of late teens and early twenties. For two, they were multi-racial and had no bias against mutants. Many gangs were human-only along with their other racial, ethnic and/or sex-based orientations.

“You Drake?” the leader of the little group asked him.

Bobby nodded once without speaking. One of many things Remy had taught him was the power of silence. Silence was intimidating, if used properly. Silence implied power, and Bobby was slowly coming to grips with the fact that power was something he had a great deal of. His confidence was not lost on the gang members and he could see them mentally backing up a step.

Bobby kept his reaction to himself. Intimidating a bunch of kids was hardly difficult, but there was still a part of him that was amazed by the fact that he was doing it at all.

The leader turned away, jerking his head to indicate that Bobby was to follow. “This way. Pitt’s expectin’ you.”

Bobby followed without comment, noting the wary positions the boys took up around him. They had no idea they were dealing with Guild, of course. At most, the Thieves Guild was a rumor to them or perhaps an urban myth. Real knowledge of the Guild was limited to a strict set of people who could be trusted not to betray the thieves’ existence. However, they did know Gambit, or at least had heard of him, and that was enough to win Bobby an audience with the leader of the Ravage.

Briefly, Bobby wondered how Gambit was fairing. He’d taken the Guild jet to Washington D.C. to follow up on some new information about Draxar’s government connections. Already Bobby was working on what he planned to tell Scott in the morning. It was unlikely that Remy would make the early practice, and if by some chance he did, he’d be coming straight from the airport. Either way, Bobby needed to be ready to jump in with a diversion for Scott.

Bobby’s guide led him to the edge of a fenced-off lot. The building inside looked like it had once been a Wal-Mart, but was now abandoned. The parking lot crumbled in places and the white lines had all but faded away. The building itself looked fairly sound, though Bobby saw signs that there had been a fire at some point in the past. The area looked to be commercial, but Bobby spotted several apartment buildings whose upper windows gave them a view of the abandoned building. He chewed on his lip, considering the implications, even as the boy in front of him pulled up a section of the chain link fence, allowing them to duck through.

Pitt was waiting for them inside the building, surrounded by the core of his gang. Bobby took note of their weapons and was reasonably impressed. The Ravage trafficked primarily in designer drugs and heavy weaponry, which made them both smarter and wealthier than the average gang. Still, they were small-time criminals, all things considered, but they were a convenient source for the things Gambit wanted.

Pitt himself was something of a surprise. He was a mutant. His skin was far too red to be human, and freckled with black. His lips were black as well, with the tips of fangs protruding from them. Yellow eyes with oblong cat’s pupils watched Bobby with interest. Bobby was happy to return the favor. Vampire was the first thing that floated through his mind, but there was no way for Bobby to know if the other’s mutation included anything besides the visible changes.

“Y’ come t’ deal or t’ stare?” Pitt asked caustically, and Bobby pushed his curiosity away.

“Deal,” he answered, then purposely broke away from Pitt’s gaze and looked around the interior of the building. “Is this it?”

Pitt didn’t bother to state the obvious. “Lot’s of empty space an’ the ceiling’s more than twenty feet high. That’s what y’ wanted, right?”

Bobby pursed his lips. The Blackbird would fit quite nicely, though they’d have to drive it through the front wall to get it in.

“Underground access?” he asked.

Pitt shrugged. “Not inside. There’s a couple of manholes out back that lead into the storm sewers.”

Bobby frowned. That wasn’t ideal, but would probably be all right. He’d insist on checking it out before he left, just to make sure. “And the rest?”

Pitt gestured to one of his people who brought a large duffel bag forward. The young man kept the bag’s strap securely on his shoulder, but unzipped it and showed Bobby the contents.

“Fuses and timers are there, too,” Pitt said.

Bobby nodded. He didn’t have any reason to expect Pitt to make a bad deal. Slowly, he reached into his jacket and pulled out a thick envelope, which he handed to Pitt. The man holding the duffel bag watched his leader open the envelope, and when he saw the thick leaf of hundred-dollar bills, he slid the strap from his shoulder and offered the bag to Bobby.

Bobby took it and quickly double checked the contents. The blocks of gray plastique were wrapped in paper. He found the bundle of fuses tucked into an inside pocket, along with the timing electronics.

“Looks good,” he told Pitt.

Remy paused curiously as the program he was watching was interrupted for a special report from the White House press room. He sat alone in the den, having abandoned the kitchen after two consecutive rounds of sniping with Rogue. It constantly amazed him how quickly their relationship could bounce from one end of the spectrum to the other. Today was apparently going to be a bad day. Partially his fault, no doubt, because he was punchy from lack of sleep and frustrated by his inability to dig up anything on Zero Tolerance. Still, he wished she would show a little more understanding. Some days he was just too tired to be anything but passably civil. Of course, he reminded himself bitterly, the X-Man Gambit was both irresponsible and lazy, so he didn’t really have an excuse for poor manners.

Remy’s frustration slid toward anger as his thoughts chased each other around inside his head. Then, in an instant, every thought of Rogue was banished as the man standing before the White House podium uttered the magic phrase, “Operation: Zero Tolerance”. Remy sat forward, instinctively upping the volume on the television a couple of notches.

He didn’t recognize the man at the podium, but the coldly calculating stare was enough to set Remy’s internal alarms to ringing. The speaker introduced himself only as Bastion then launched into a very political speech about the threat of mutant powers. Remy didn’t hear anything he hadn’t heard a dozen times before, and a number of the instances of mutant terrorism that Bastion cited were conflicts that the X-Men, including Gambit, had been involved in. To his surprise, Bastion had most of his facts straight, though he never gave the X-Men credit for the disasters they averted, only the collateral damage they caused.

Remy listened with growing disgust that went sour in his stomach at Bastion’s final words.

The hawk-faced man surveyed his audience. “Today, the threat presented by mutants is brought to an end, my friends. Today, we mark the beginning of a new age because you, the people of America, and all the others like you around the world, have had enough. No longer will we tolerate those whose genetic mutations give them the power to destroy what we have built. From today forward, I am declaring a zero tolerance policy toward mutant aggression.” His ringing statement was met with scattered applause from the assembled journalists.

Bastion paused and shifted back a step. “And what, you ask, can one man or even one organization do to enforce such a policy?” Bastion smiled, a thin, cruel expression. “Well, let me show you.” He picked up a remote control from the podium as the room grew expectantly silent around him. The projection screen behind him came to life, showing an illustrated picture of the Earth with a ring of out-of-scale satellites surrounding it. A large blue “20” overlaid the picture of the Earth. As Bastion began speaking again, the blue numbers began to count downward.

“Above our heads, a network of satellites are now in position to cover the entire face of the globe. These satellites were originally part of the Magneto Protocols—a shortsighted plan that was completely ineffective in protecting the citizens of this planet from Magneto’s terrorist attack two years ago.” An unhappy murmur of answered him as the count hit ten.

“These satellites have since been re-commissioned, and equipped with state-of-the-art modulation arrays that will blanket the entire planet with a mutant power suppression field strong enough to curb even Magneto himself.”

Remy came to his feet in horror as the details clicked together in his mind. The large blue number displayed on the screen became a “4” and he watched with sickened dread as it counted down to zero.

The large blue zero hung with terrible finality in front of his eyes for just one moment, and then it was gone. A wave of nausea swept through him. It took a moment for Remy to adjust to the change, and he knew without any doubt that Operation: Zero Tolerance had struck. He could hear the gloating in Bastion’s voice as understanding swept through the assembled journalists and reporters.

“As of this moment,” Bastion told them solemnly, “there are no more mutants.”

Remy’s mind was still whirling with the terrifying implications when Rogue screamed, her voice shrill with agony. Without thinking, he turned and ran for the kitchen, vaulting instinctively over the Victorian loveseat, and breathing a silent prayer of thanks that he hadn’t misjudged its location. The doorway to the kitchen glowed brightly with the light that shone through it, and Remy burst through without slowing. Rogue stood in the middle of the kitchen, her breath coming in shallow gasps. She held one hand away from her body with the other hand wrapped tightly about the wrist. An angry red stripe ran across her palm, matching the glow of the cast iron skillet that lay on the floor next to the stove. She didn’t seem to notice him, but continued to stare at her injured hand.

Shock, Remy thought to himself. He forgot Bastion momentarily as his mind flipped through what little he knew about treating burns. His inertia carried him to the center of the room and Rogue. He grabbed her wrist and used his body to push her toward the sink. The longer that burn stayed hot, the more damage it would do. That much he did know. He thrust her hand into the dark square that was the sink and fumbled for the handle, finally pushing it all the way over to cold.

Rogue jerked back and cried out in pain as the cold water poured across her hand, but Remy held her pinned against the counter and forced her injured palm beneath the dark tumble. After a moment she stopped struggling, but remained rigid in his arms. The bright red slash on her palm began to fade to a slightly less alarming color.

“Rogue, what happened?!” Bishop burst into the kitchen. Remy heard the whine of his weapon charging.

“Get Beast!” Remy shouted at him. “She’s burned!”

“What?” For once, Bishop was taken by surprise.

“Just get him!” Remy tried to hold his panic in check. He had no way of knowing how badly she was hurt. It was just her hand, but she was frighteningly quiet.

To Remy’s surprise, Bishop turned and left. He was replaced almost immediately by Ororo, and then other X-Men, arriving in twos and threes. Ororo helped Remy to steady Rogue and keep her hand in the cold water. Remy desperately wished he could read Storm’s expression in the hopes that it would ease some of his inner disquiet.

Hank pushed through the crowd in the kitchen without his usual polite pleasantries. “Let me see,” he demanded. Ororo moved out of the way. He cupped Rogue’s hand in his much larger ones as he carefully turned it, examining the burn.

“Let’s get her down to the infirmary,” he told Remy. His voice was steady, but concerned, and Remy found himself more frightened than ever. Why didn’t Rogue say anything? He could feel her shaky breath against his ribs.

Hank stepped away, and Remy realized with a sudden start that he was giving Remy room to pick Rogue up. And Remy also knew that there was no way he could carry her all the way to the infirmary.

“Take her,” he said hoarsely. He couldn’t read Hank’s reaction, but imagined the curious lift of his bushy eyebrows. Still, Hank did as he asked, and carried Rogue swiftly out of the kitchen. Several of the X-Men followed him, including Storm and Jean.

The rest of them were left staring at each other in silence.

Scott cleared his throat. “Can any of you still use your powers?” he asked quietly.


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