Disclaimer: Generation X, Sinister, and the Marauders belong to Marvel--all other characters belong to me.

Author's Note: Okay, some people might recognize this character from some of my other writings, and some might not. Either way, this is a 'What If..?' story about her, as it would have been had she never joined Generation X. Should you wish to check out what happened in 'reality' mail me at malfam@inlink.com and I'll direct you to the nearest fanfic page, 'kay? Should anyone want to archive this story do so with my blessing, but *please* ask first! I like to know where my stuff is going, after all...


A shadow prowled through the woods surrounding Xavier's School for Gifted Youngsters, dressed in a form-fitting outfit of deep blue and black, blending easily into the dense underbrush. She was small, lithe, and uncannily good at what she was doing at the moment, infiltration numbering among the least of her skills. She had been sent by Sinister to subdue those at the school, and, for the first time, to accomplish such a task without the help of her fellow Marauders. She was the newest and the youngest member of the team and as yet untried in single combat. Sinister had made it quite clear she would need to prove herself if she wished to remain useful to him, and the very thought of what would happen to her if she failed both terrified and excited her. Nathaniel Essex was not a man to be toyed with, and she had never even tried, save for those few long, painful first months in his hands.

And he made me pay for those few months, too, she remembered, rubbing the long, pale scar behind her ear. I'm nothing but a toy to him. A toy, and a gene bank. And perhaps... perhaps something worse then poor Madelyne ever was...

She felt bile rise in her mouth and placed a protective hand over her still-lean abdomen. She was too young to have a baby--only sixteen--and she dreaded the child's arrival. Sinister hadn't been willing to wait, though. He had wanted his 'superior being' *now*. Even a mere three years had been hell for him to wait through, and now that she was nearly seventeen he could wait no longer.

And he didn't even tell me who the father is, she thought bitterly, swallowing painfully. Not that I suppose it matters. I'll probably never meet him--Sinister just picked up some random DNA from his stock when he... he...

She shuddered. She didn't want to remember what he had done to her then.

I just wish... I wish I could spare the baby. She hasn't done anything wrong--Lord, she isn't even two months old! I can feel her in my head already, though. Not even thoughts, just emotions. Contentment. Warmth. ...And trust. How can I betray her by turning her over to Sinister?

She wasn't worried about hurting the fetus on this mission; Sinister had done something to ensure she wouldn't--and indeed couldn't--have a miscarriage or an abortion. It was, to put it bluntly, impossible after all his genetic tampering. She was agile enough that she'd be able to compensate for the growing bulge up until her seventh month, allowing her to remain with the Marauders for as long as possible. She was powerful--even Sinister had admitted it--and she could not be spared. She was powerful enough to track down any quarry as efficiently as Scrambler ever had, and her long-range powers were fantastic, when she had a mind to use them. Strictly speaking, she really shouldn't have needed any training in stealth and fighting techniques, but she had been too wary for that. She may have been weaker then the others, and indeed, even Vertigo could overpower her with ease, but she was far too valuable to Sinister to risk herself in a situation where she was rendered powerless.

This in mind, she had dared the tempers of both Arclight and Scalphunter to receive proper training, and now excelled in it. Her two teachers had been ruthless in their work, and she wore the scars to prove it still. Broken bones had been reset, knife wounds healed as much as possible, but still her body was a lattice of scars, new and old. The only place that had been spared was her mid-section, for both mercenaries knew what would happen if they had damaged her *there*.

Sinister would have gutted them, then drawn and quartered them, and then stitched them back up just for the pleasure of doing it again.

She felt ill at the devotion with which she worked for Sinister even as she reveled in it. He had branded her soul as surely as he had her body, subtly rearranging genetic codes to better suit his needs. She had fought him for months, but the outcome had been inevitable. He had twisted her up inside, sent her body through thousands of demeaning and excruciating tests, and finally she had been broken completely. She was invaluable to Sinister, both as the bearer of one of the more powerful crop of future mutants as well as a promising Marauder, and he had left no leeway in the matter. He used her as he wished, and she knew it. And on some perverse, twisted level, she enjoyed it.

Dammit, Sinister--you destroyed my individuality! You couldn't turn me willingly, like the other Marauders, so you turned me mentally. I *need* you now, like all your pawns. The others don't know it, but you've bonded them all to you. When one goes rogue, you *know*. They don't know it, but I do. I know better...

She slipped through the foliage, carefully avoiding the motion detectors, which were, foolishly, set for height. Her hair had been pulled into a severe ponytail behind her so as not to impede movement, and her dark outfit was nigh invisible in the abundant shadows. Her face was protected by her black mask, which covered nearly every feature save her brilliant sapphire eyes. The young assassin pushed a thorny branch out of the way without a sound as she closed in on her quarry--people who, in another time and place, could have been her friends.

Sean Cassidy was jolted to consciousness as the intruder alert sounded. Still muzzy-headed from sleep, Sean tripped out of his bed as he rushed to the console that had been installed in the wall of his bungalow several months earlier and barked, "Computer, identify!"

There was a soft whir as the computer skimmed through various files before finally coming up with a match, which was displayed on the screen.

"Designate: Ember, real name unknown," reported an electronic voice. "Affiliation: Marauders, see file: Sinister. Power: High-ended psionics, telekinetics, teleportation, pyrokine--"

"Enough," Sean moaned, rubbing his head. "I know the lass."

As well I should, he thought. 'Pparently she made quite the impression on--or is that in?--some o' the X-Men few months back. Scott's still recoverin' from the burns she gave him...

With a wince, Sean shook himself fully awake and said, "Computer, where's the intruder now?"

"Approaching the Girls' Dorm, east side," the computer chimed.

"Acch, 'tis too early fer this!" Sean rushed out the door, hoping the girls had heard the alarm, and took to the air. It was, of course, impossible to approach stealthily when levitating oneself by a sonic scream, but at the moment Sean wasn't worried about that. He kept low enough to just barely skim the treetops, making himself less of a target while staying high enough to get a clear view of the area. He was in luck--the intruder, no doubt hearing the alarm--had completely abandoned stealth in favor of efficiency. She was moving quickly now, across the quad and in full view, dark hair streaming behind her and as clear as day.

He began tightening his vocal cords to find a tone that would knock her unconscious, but he never got the chance. The girl spun around quickly, eyes gleaming an ominous blue as she rested her fingers on her temples. There was a short flare of sapphire-and-white light, and Sean's throat seemed to freeze, his body suddenly limp. He fell towards the ground, breaking his fall on several large trees on the way, and lay there momentarily stunned.

Damn, she got me wi' her psionics! Sean fumed impotently as he struggled to get his now defunct limbs working again. She ne'er used 'em on the others, but I should ha' known! He narrowed his eyes and thought, Emma! C'n ye hear me?

:YES--and stop shouting!: was the reply. :The alarm was bad enough, and I don't need you screaming in my head, too!:

:Well, 'tis all very well an' good, but I could use some help here,: Sean sent. :Th' intruder managed t'--:

:Floor you like an amateur, I know,: Emma interrupted. :The boys are coming, and I've alerted the girls as well. She's just lost the element of surprise, but from here we'll have to wing it and hope for the best. Oh, and by the way, you'll have control of your nervous system back in about three minutes.:

:Thank ye kindly,: Sean said, tone a little sharper then he would have liked. :I'm sure ye'll be able t'handle this 'till then?:

:Well, I didn't become White Queen by sitting by and watching people destroy huge portions of my real estate without lifting a finger, did I?: Emma retorted. :Believe me, one Marauder is *not* going to be a problem, especially if she's anything like Sinister's other lackeys.:

:Tell that t' Scott's third-degree burns.:

:Oh, shut up, Irish.: She shut down the rapport with a showy flourish of psionic energy, carefully masking her annoyance. Sean sighed and waited for his paralysis to abate, doing his best to ignore what sounded uncannily like several trees falling in the distance.

Ember barely had time to duck before the blur of red and black that was Monet St. Croix introduced the intruder's face to her fists. Fortunately, her reflexes were excellent, so the older girl flew harmlessly over her head and, unfortunately, into a few trees that were unlucky enough to be in the line of fire. She winced as Monet plowed through about half a dozen of them, but turned back to the task at hand. Jubilee and Paige were coming at her from the left, and Jonothon and Everett from the right. All of them were awake, powered up, and very, *very* displeased at being awoken at such a late hour.

I think I should be able to handle the other three, but Everett's going to be a problem, she thought, slamming Paige with a telekinetic blast before she could get close enough to put her omnimorphing powers to any real use. I think I'd better try to take him down first. If they discover what my power *really* is, they'll find a way to counter it.

Ember began to prepare a truly awful surprise for Everett, but, before she had a chance to finish concocting it, she was abruptly pulled to the ground by her feet, mouth suddenly full of sod.

"Sorry, chica," came a voice from behind her as whatever had wrapped itself around her feet began to unwind. "Pardon my skin."

Ember craned her neck around to discover Angelo Espinoza standing above her, grinning. She was not amused in the slightest.

"That's going to cost you, Skin," she snapped, getting to her feet and wiping the dirt off of her face. She narrowed her eyes and fire ignited around them in a wide ring of flame, painting the lawn and its occupants a dull amber in the non-existent light. Angelo blinked with surprise, giving Ember time to administer a wicked sucker-punch to his face. She kicked him in the stomach, following up with a telepathic hammer blow that very nearly knocked him out.

Almost, anyway.

Angelo fell to the ground, but as he did he shot a length of skin out of his forearm and wrapped it securely about her waist, pulling her down with him. He grabbed her arms and held them behind her, effectively immobilizing her. She struggled to get up, but she simply didn't have the leverage to do so. Ember's concentration was broken, and the flames died down with no fuel to sustain them. She tried to access her telepathy and *force* him to let her go, but suddenly discovered that her powers no longer worked.

:That would be me,: Emma said, cold voice echoing in the Marauder's mind. Ember ceased her struggling and turned her head to discover the White Queen standing across the lawn, arms folded in front of her and somehow still managing to look regal in only a simple white robe. :I shut off your powers,: Emma continued calmly. :I highly suggest you desist with this kamikaze mission of yours and cooperate. It would be such a shame to loose such an obviously talented young woman such as you, wouldn't you agree?:

Dammit, Sinister's going to have my hide for this! Ember swore mentally as she grudgingly went limp. I forgot about Frost and let my guard down long enough for her to get into my head. How stupid can I be?! I'm acting like a half-wit amateur!

Emma strode placidly up to the girl, who glared at her angrily. She stopped just short of her face, pristine white robe swishing faintly against the scorched grass.

"You can't hold me forever," Ember not-quite growled. "You're going to have to sleep sometime, you know."

An unpleasant smile spread over Emma's saturnine features, and she extracted something thin and metallic from the folds of her robe. "I know," she agreed, holding up the device. "Which is why I brought this along." She proceeded to snap the object around Ember's neck, and then stepped back to examine her hostage.

"Your shields were good, I'll give you that, but you're young, and you lack my experience," Emma commented, cold blue eyes examining her captive as Ember fumed impotently. "If I were you, I'd seriously consider working on keeping them secured when you're irritated. It's a dangerous habit to let them slip, as I'm sure you know."

"Yeah, well, thank you for showing me the light, O Mistress of the Mind," Ember retorted sarcastically sitting up a little straighter in Angelo's grip and raising her chin defiantly. "As if it's *my* fault I've only been on four missions before this."

Emma only regarded her with a cool, unperturbed gaze and shook her head. In the distance, there was a high-pitched wail that could only be Sean, finally recovered from the psi-blast he had received. Ember shifted her gaze towards the sky and wearily observed the form of the headmaster coming over the tree-tops, bits of moss and dirt still adorning his clothing and hair. Within moments he was overhead, hovered for a moment, then touched down gently to inspect Emma's handiwork.

"I s'ppose I got here a bit too late, aye?" Sean said, sounding a little annoyed.

Ember allowed a slight grin to cross her face, though it was concealed by her mask. "Depends on how you see it, really," she replied, surprising the two teachers.

"In case you're unaware," Emma drawled, "you *are* wearing an inhibitor collar, and you *have* been quite neatly contained."

Ember's smile widened. "Oh, *I* have. But not... well, I suggest you scan me once more, Ms. Frost."

Emma looked at her warily, but curiosity overcame caution. She initiated a psi-scan (and quite expertly at that, Ember was forced to admit) and ran a second check on Ember's psyche.

Three, two, one...

"Wha--?!" Emma exclaimed, eyes suddenly snapping open with astonishment. Ember smiled wickedly, the part of her that Sinister had warped reveling in Emma's dismay.

"That was basically my reaction, too," Ember said dryly. "But you know, there are some advantages to having a kid, even in my line of work. 'Specially when she can tell if Mommy's in trouble." She allowed the child to glean a bit of what was going on outside, and the reaction was immediate. Emma froze--literally--as did the others.

:How... are you... doing this...?: Emma stuttered, forcing her telepathy through the haze of psionic interference.

"Don't look at *me*," Ember said, shrugging nonchalantly. "It's my baby. She doesn't like it when people mess with Mom, I guess. I wouldn't press the issue, though. She's still only a fetus--this is about all she can do without causing permanent damage."

Oh, damn. I just shot myself in the foot. *Again*. Now they know what she can do...oh well. They were going to find out sooner or later, I suppose...

Ember sensed the baby tiring and rubbed her stomach absently, comforting her, telling her Mommy could handle things just fine right now and that she had done very well, but she really should rest for a while. The baby seemed to agree, for it released everyone from her telekinetic grip, then settled back into what could only be described as the sleep of the innocent.

"But, since she can't get this inhibitor collar off, I guess we're stalemate, hmm?" Ember continued smoothly, acting as if her baby could have held them until October had she been so inclined.

:You're a terrible liar, girl,: Emma sent, unconvinced.

:Humor me,: Ember retorted stiffly. :She *could* have torn you all apart, you know.:

Emma fixed her penetrating gaze on Ember's abdomen, as if trying to determine the truth of her words from the fetus itself, but finally gave it up as a bad job. Ember's psi-screens may have been imperfect, but it was impossible to read the child, even had it done her any good. Sinister had made certain of that fact.

"It appears you're correct," Emma said aloud, much to Ember's astonishment. "We'll have to think how we're going to handle this very carefully," she continued glancing at Sean. "We can put an inhibitor on Ember, but we *can't* put one on her child."

Sean looked a little puzzled, but finally nodded. "Aye," he said. "Well, I s'ppose ye're the expert on this sort o' thing. I'll trust ye word on this."

Emma only nodded, utterly confusing Ember. Was Emma trying to help her, or disorient her? And how much had she gotten from her mind, anyway?

Does it matter? Ember asked herself as Angelo got to his feet, taking her with him. I'm out of Sinister's hands... for the moment. I'll worry about him later. Then a thought of another kind came to her.

If Frost decides to help me... can I get out of this hell he's putting me through?

And for the first time in a long while, an emotion she had all but forgotten flickered faintly.

It was hope.

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