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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


Written by Valerie Jones
Last updated: 03/23/2007 01:26:56 AM

Chapter 7

Cody LeBeau stopped and peered up at the thin slice of sky that was visible between the tall buildings. The skyscrapers had once been glass spires, but now many of the panes were broken out. Blankets and tarps hung across the jagged openings, creating a bizarre patchwork of colors.

As he watched, two helicopters crossed the thin ribbon of blue. They flew in formation with a third figure-- an airborne mutant. Cody was getting used to the constant aerial patrols, and the sounds of the aircraft launching from the aircraft carrier that appeared to be grounded in the bay. Its deck was slightly canted, but the catapults were operational, and fighters roared into the sky on a regular basis.

"I wonder where they’re getting their fuel," he commented as an F-18 climbed skyward, briefly appearing in Cody’s field of view. He was also curious about where those planes went. They didn’t all stay in the San Francisco area, he was sure of that.

Rachel pulled on his elbow, distracting him. "Would you come on? They’re just airplanes."

Cody shook her off. "I’m coming. What’s the big hurry, anyway?"

"Jean said that Psylocke is down here. That big gray building." She pointed. Cody thought it might have been bank at some point.


He was surprised when Rachel formed a telepathic link. It was one of those tight locks that made his brain itch-- the kind that was reserved for deep, dark secrets that their parents were not supposed to hear.

Haven’t you noticed anything weird about how everybody talks about her? Like they’re really uncomfortable, but no one will say why?

Cody could only shrug. I guess.

Oh, come on! Didn’t you think she sounded strange when we came in?

Cody thought back to when they’d finally reached the high walls of the city yesterday evening. He’d been too involved in studying the walls themselves to notice anything odd about Betsy. She’d simply come into his mind and asked permission to scan him. He assumed she’d done the same to everyone else, and then the hydraulically driven door had opened, and they’d gone inside.

Finally, he shook his head. Not really. She seemed o.k. to me.

Huh. Shows what you know.

Cody gave her an annoyed look. Rachel could be such a pain sometimes. And she had taken a couple of large steps, putting her in the lead. Wondering what kind of trouble she was going to get him into this time, Cody increased his pace to catch up.

Renee stood in the shadows, watching. She was afraid to interrupt, but she desperately wanted to talk to the woman who sat at the archaic computer terminal, fingers lightly tapping her lips as she watched the screen. Squaring her shoulders, Renee stepped into the room.

"Ex- excuse me?"

Rogue turned in her seat, eyes narrowing when she saw who it was.

"Renee, isn’t it?" she asked.

Renee nodded. Uncertain what else to say, she found herself fidgeting quietly in place, eyes on the floor. She felt foolish for being so afraid.

Rogue watched her for a moment, her expression darkening. "Well, ah’m not gonna bite ya," she said in exasperation.

Renee looked up, and Rogue jerked her head toward the empty chair beside her. "Sit." Then she turned back to the screen and typed a command, then peered intently at the information that scrolled by.

Renee walked quietly across the room and sat down. Rogue continued to work with the computer, muttering to herself. Renee watched, but wasn’t entirely sure what she was seeing. After a few minutes, Rogue seemed to reach a stopping place and leaned back in her chair, crossing her arms. She looked over at Renee, her eyes straying to the prominent white streak in her straight red hair. Eventually, her gaze dropped lower as she studied Renee intently. Renee felt like she was being memorized.

Abruptly, Rogue straightened. "Why do you wear gloves?"

Renee glanced at her hands. "I can’t control my powers yet. They’re like yours-- triggered by touch."

Rogue met her eyes for a very brief moment and then looked away. "Rotten thing ta do to a kid," she said darkly.

Renee shrugged. "It’s not that bad. At home I usually wear an inhibiter. And Beast said that it would only take me a few years to get control if I worked at it."

Rogue stared at her. "Well, that’s good, ah suppose."

"Uh huh."

An awkward silence enveloped them, and Renee struggled for something else to say.

"What are you working on?" She glanced at the computer.

Rogue followed her gaze. "Ah’m tracking flights in and out a Texas. We think the Shadow King’s got a new relay center there. We just can’t find it."

"Relay center?"

She nodded, seeming relieved to have the conversation shifted to an impersonal topic. "Even the Shadow King can’t keep telepathic control ovah the whole planet. So he has relay centers-- captive telepaths that amplify his signal and send it out ta a local area. Texas has always been good at resistin’ him, and he hasn’t bothered with ’em before now. But ah guess he’s startin’ ta feel like he’s got time foh a new hobby."

"So is that what Betsy does? She protects the people here from the Shadow King’s telepathic control?"

A shadow clouded Rogue’s expression. "Yes. That’s... exactly what she does, sugah."

Cody peered into the darkened building, wishing he’d inherited Renee’s night sight. From what he could see, it did indeed seem to be a bank. The tellers’ counter was off to his left, the little cubicles empty. To the right, a spiral staircase ascended to a second level. The area beneath the staircase was barren. Cody was sure the furniture had long since been co-opted for use elsewhere. Even the carpet had been pulled up, exposing a gray cement floor.

"C’mon." Rachel grabbed his arm. "The elevator down to the vault is over here."

"How do you know?" Cody demanded as she led him toward the back of the room. It was dark enough that he was feeling a little uncertain about walking into things.

"Psylocke told me." Rachel glanced back at him. "She sounds like she’s excited about having visitors." Cody wasn’t sure how to interpret her tone. He glanced around him involuntarily. Despite how much time he spent around telepaths, it still seemed strange to know that there were voices out there he couldn’t hear. Remi occasionally teased him about being "brain-dead", and every once in a while, Cody wondered if that weren’t more true than not.

They turned a corner into a short hallway, lit only by the pale glow of the elevator buttons. Rachel pushed the down button without hesitation. The car arrived with a small rumble, and when the doors opened, Cody was relieved to see that the interior, at least, was lighted. They stepped inside, and Rachel pushed the button labeled "V" -- for "vault", no doubt.

The car began to descend, and Cody found himself studying the ceiling.

"These are only the emergency lights," he pointed out. Most of the fluorescent panels remained dark.

There is no point in wasting the power, a female voice said in his head. The light is sufficient. Cody managed not to jump out of his skin at Psylocke’s sudden presence in his mind, but that was about all. Beside him, Rachel giggled and he turned to glare at her.

It’s depressing, he told Psylocke once Rachel had gotten her expression under control. Do you keep all of your lighting this low? They’re using main power up in the command area. The Psylocke he knew from his own time was a pragmatist in the extreme. Often to the frustration of her husband who, Cody suspected, would have liked to be able to romance her a bit more. Living on emergency lighting just to save a little energy was very much her style.

Her response, however, surprised him. The light is for you.

For the first time, Cody understood why Rachel thought she sounded strange. He couldn’t put his finger on it, but there was something odd about the way she spoke. It reminded him of the way a person deaf from birth spoke-- shaping sounds based on how they looked, rather than how they sounded. Psylocke’s "voice" was technically correct, but it was as if she were no longer using her own human voice as the model for it.

Rogue returned bearing a tall stack of computer printouts. She handed the stack to Renee as she slid into her chair. "Here. Long as you’re here, ya might as well help."

Renee stared at the top page. It was nothing more than numbers. Six columns of them-- she glanced at the height of the stack—apparently thousands of rows long. "What am I supposed to look for?"

Rogue leaned over and pointed out one of the columns. "These are the ones ya want ta keep an eye on. Ah’m lookin’ foh any big changes."

"Couldn’t you just graph all of this? Changes would be a lot easier to see."

Rogue shook her head. "Gal, we haven’t seen graphing software in years. We’re lucky we’ve still got this ole thing." She patted the top of the monitor.

"But..." Renee was thinking back to the things she’d seen in her brief stay in this time. "The fighters are computerized aren’t they?"

"Yep." Rogue flashed her the first smile Renee could remember seeing. "An’ guess where all the technology goes?" Her smile faded. "We need those planes more ’n graphing software, that’s foh sure."

Renee looked back down at the papers in her lap. "So where did all of this come from?"

"What?" Rogue was quickly becoming engrossed in the computer. "Oh. They’re seismology data from some old cores nobody evah bothered ta dig up. Usually, they’ll pick up a sonic boom or a Sentinel settin’ down. That’s what we’re looking foh."

"All right." Renee bent to her task. The simple act of helping her mother left Renee feeling more content than she had since arriving in this time.

The elevator doors slid aside to reveal more darkness.

I will bring the lights up slowly, Psylocke told them. I did not want to startle you.

Rachel stepped out of the elevator with Cody close on her heels. Their footsteps echoed around them, the sounds distorted by whatever took up the giant chamber. She couldn’t quite see what was out there-- she was only aware that the darkness had different textures, even glinting here and there as if the dim light from the closing elevator had struck metal. She could sense anticipation from Betsy-- and also... fear? But she was unable to read much of the mind that surrounded them. Rachel was awed by how huge it was. She hadn’t probed the shield that covered San Francisco before, but here, Betsy’s presence was unavoidable. Her mind spread across the entire city in a protective arc, and Rachel could sense a tremendous amount of information flowing back and forth, as if Betsy were operating as some kind of central communication. That made some sense, she guessed. Her mother had done the same thing on a smaller scale for the X-Men as they battled the Shadow King’s forces.

The lights began to come up, and the room around them took shape. Rachel gasped, completely stunned, and felt a similar shock from Cody. The vault was completely filled with machinery-- strange, living machinery. There were no right angles, only piles upon piles of metal cables and metallic structures that reminded Rachel of wind-carved desert stone. Cables and wires crisscrossed the open space like tangled yarn. But as Rachel’s eyes drew nearer to the center of the clustered machinery, it all seemed to become more than just a machine. As she stared, her eyes began to pick out the pattern there at the center-- a vaguely human form from which all of the rest of it somehow radiated. And just as her eyes registered what she was seeing, the "head", made of tightly packed and twisted wires, turned toward them. Rachel understood in an instant and was horrified. Her stomach twisted with sudden nausea. That-- that thing... all of it... was Elizabeth Braddock.


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