Clan Askani: The Askani Wars part 2
Disclaimer: Dawn and Will are mine, anybody else you can assume belongs to Marvel.
Author's Note: Okay, here's were it starts to get messy. You'll see what exactly I mean in a chapter or so. I mean, who LIKES being sent on suicide missions? Nah, 'course she doesn't die, this is a trilogy, if I have my way, but some things can be worse then death, if you know what I mean. Oh well, you decided.
Just take the medicine and run, they said. The odds are no one will notice you, they said.
So how come I was running for my life with no less then five prelates chasing after me? I was NOT happy about this, but Rachel had told me that the normal humans, or flatscans as they were called, were in desperate need of antibiotics and other medicines, and anybody else would be recognized by the officials. So, naturally, the job had fallen to me, the newest member of the Clan Askani.
"Ooooft!" I gasped as I tripped over a loose piece of something or other.
"There she is!" one of the prelates cried, pointing. I quickly used my telepathy to make myself appear to be just another human while I created a hologram of myself turning the corner and heading out of sight.
I was lucky that none of the prelates were telepaths or my little ploy would have failed. As it was they almost ran me over as they chased the hologram down several alleys. I wiped the sweat from my brow and teleported myself to Askani Hold.
"Here's the medi--" I began, but I stopped when I heard what Shy'ar and Rachel were talking about.
"Askani, she's a child!" Shy'ar snapped. "She's barely come into her powers, and you're going to send her on a scouting mission?!"
"It's the only way, Shy'ar," Rachel protested. "I don't like this anymore then you, but it has to get done! I can't scan inside, there are telepathic buffers everywhere. Besides, any one of us would be recognized in a heart beat, she's our only hope!"
"Sharra and Ky'Thri, Askani, that isn't the POINT!" Shy'ar roared, slamming his fist onto the table, shattering it. "She's a CHILD! To even THINK of putting one so young in such danger is--"
"ACHEM," I said. The two whirled around guiltily. "Now, would you mind telling me WHAT this is about?"
Rachel sighed. "I was explaining to Shy'ar that to storm Apocalypse's stronghold without an accurate idea of where the others are being held is ridiculous. I suggested that--"
"That we should get YOU to infiltrate it," Shy'ar finished sharply.
"Only because anyone of US would be recognized," Rachel scowled.
"And *I* say--"
"ACHEM!" I grated. "I am PERFECTLY capable of making such decisions BY MYSELF. Furthermore, I AM NOT A CHILD, I am a YOUNG ADULT, and my mastery over my powers is MORE then adequate. HAVE I MADE MY POINT?"
The two looked a bit stunned at my outburst, and, considering the circumstances it wasn't the best (not to mention most mature) thing I could have done at the moment, but it DID get the point across. I sighed. "All right, let's get this straight. I came to the future to get help for my friend, and I'm willing to do whatever it takes to get that help. If there isn't any other way to help him, then sure, I'll infiltrate the stronghold. I don't have to like it, but I'll do it. I knew the risks when I came here, and this was one of them."
From the look on Shy'ar's face I judged my resolve and loyalty to Glenn had just upped his respect for me another level, despite his misgivings at letting me go on the mission.
"If... you wish to sacrifice yourself, then we cannot hold you back," Shy'ar said at last. He looked at Rachel and thought, :It was as you said, Askani. She is loyal to her friends.:
:Never underestimate anyone, Shy'ar,: Rachel thought back at him. :Not even people you consider children. Had you but know Kitty Pryde you'd no doubt agree with me that even the young have loyalty and bravery; some even more so then certain adults.:
She was into that cryptic Askani Speak thing again. I shrugged to myself and made no move to tell them I'd overheard them. They weren't even shielding their thoughts, probably because they weren't used to having another telepath around. Well, all right, the whole Askani Clan were telepaths, but still, I suppose what one of them knows all of them know. Still, it was nice to know Rachel was sticking up for me, even if she didn't do it in front of me, so to speak.
"So, when do I start?" I asked.
"Tomorrow morning," Rachel told me. "There are several things we'll have to prepare you for and equip you with, first. Such as an image inducer, like this one." She held out a small, pen sized object.
"What's it do?"
"It cloaks you with a pre-programmed illusion. Nightcrawler used to have one, so I used my memory of it to design this one. Remind me to thank Reed Richards if I ever see him again."
"But why would I need one?"
"Wouldn't a thirteen year old girl going into Apocalypse's stronghold alone seem strange, if not suspicious? This will make you look like a prelate, and Boak and I will insure you're allowed in."
"But I could just use my telepathy to make myself look different."
"Any use of mutant powers would be detected the moment you set foot in the citadel. And besides, there are psionic dampeners lacing the stronghold. You'll be head blind while you're in there, and I won't be able to contact you until you get out."
Oh wonderful. Head blind AND cut off from my only allies in this area. "What about my medium power?" I asked her.
"We haven't had a chance to test that yet," she replied. "No one in this era has the kind of power to make telepathic contact with someone who's dead, let alone manifest their powers. It might work, but it probably won't."
I thought this over carefully. Without any telepathic powers I'd be nearly helpless, and without my medium powers I'd be COMPLETELY helpless. Of course, I'd gotten along well enough before my powers had developed, but then again I hadn't been introduced into the world of the X yet. It seemed like everything bad happened to or around mutants, but I guess it's all part and parcel to being genetically gifted. As it has been said, angst is a mutant's genetic heritage.
So I just played "grin and bear it". "All right, not a problem," I told them. "But what exactly am I looking for?"
"The holding pens where the other sisters are being kept," Rachel said. "Don't try to free them if you find them, just get out quickly and tell us exactly where they are. WE'LL worry about freeing them, all YOU have to do is find them."
"Sounds simple enough."
"It isn't. Believe me, it isn't. I tried it once and barely got past the front gate," Rachel sighed.
"That's why we need you," Shy'ar told me. "We need someone Apocalypse has never seen before but who is powerful enough to pass as a prelate without any technological assistance. The image inducer alone is pushing it; it's lucky it's such a primitive form of technology that it doesn't register on the scanners."
Well wasn't that just peachy keen. Not only did I have to depend on technology, it was outdated technology as well. "Anything else?" I asked.
"Nothing," Rachel told me. "But get some rest, please. I don't want anything to happen to you if we can help it." I nodded and set the medicine on the table, then left for my room. I came in and discovered some type of food laying on the desk by my bed. I took a closer look and discovered it was a... sandwich? It was actually strange, because all I had had to eat since I had gotten there was some kind of vitamin concentrate--REAL food was hard to come by. I took a bite--ham and lettuce on white bread. And, compared to all the nutro gunk I had been eating lately, it tasted quite good. I felt a faint flutter in my mind, which I interpreted as a mental smile.
:Hey, Corinth,: I sent. :Thanks for the sandwich. Where'd you get the ingredients?:
:Rachel found them in a shelter meant for prelates,: she replied. :They're not real, I don't think, 'cause none of it spoils, but it tastes like the real thing.:
:It does,: I agreed. :Thanks again.:
:It's okay. I like you.: And with that the little girl slipped out of my mind.
With a slight smile I lay down on my bed, thinking about what I had seen earlier. Humans and lower class mutants... all of them starving or sick. Only the prelates had been healthy and well-fed, and sometimes even they had looked a bit under the weather. I imagined that it must have been like that in the dark ages, except the dark ages hadn't been caused by a megalomaniac with the power of a god. What made it all the worse for me was that my shields were starting to blink out again. I was especially attuned to pain and death for some reason, which could have been because it related to my power or perhaps because that pain and death were some of the strongest emotions someone could experience. Death, for instance, let flair memories and powers alike, and telepaths could often experience the death traumas of others, as I had learned the hard way. My shields weren't so weak that I couldn't blunt the effects somewhat, but every time I got close to one of the dying they would cave in on me and hit me with pain. I was glad that the current Askani Hold had telepathic dampeners around it, both to keep it shielded from prying minds and keep my sanity in check.
My thoughts, inevitably, drifted back towards my teammates in Generation X. Even though it would only seem like seconds to them my trip would probably last weeks. I had already been there for almost three days, and we still hadn't heard anything from or about the missing sisters. Of course, that would be my job, but I couldn't see an end to this nightmare in sight. From what I had seen and read in the minds of others, this Apocalypse made people like Sinister look like puppy dogs. At least back home there was hope for the world, here there was nothing for the people to believe in or look forward to. I began to wonder what events had lead up to all this. Could it have had something to do with Graydon Creed winning the election? Back in my time the results were still unknown, but maybe now I could find out what was going to happen.
I buried my head in my pillow and tried not to think about what would happen if Creed was made president. It had seemed like no one would be able to win anything just by playing on the fears of others, but the poles were rising. People were so afraid of mutants they would do anything to get rid of them, even elect scum like Creed. I knew this too well, I had felt it in my own father. He had admitted his mistake, of course, but he had died, too. I clenched my fists at the thought of Sinister. I kept seeing my mother's horribly mutilated body in my minds eye, riddled with stitches and wires sticking out like some grotesque jigsaw puzzle. I hadn't even seen Will's body, but from what I had seen in Mom's mind it hadn't been a pretty sight. The virus or poison or whatever Sinister had injected him with had been potent--and fatal. I had brought him back, of course, but he was still dead, and that was what really mattered. I promised myself I would get Sinister for that, and with those thoughts I finally dropped off to sleep, my emotions exhausted.
The next morning I stood at the gates of Apocalypse's stronghold, cloaked in the illusion the image inducer provided. There was a slight problem with the illusion since it was scaled to my dimensions, and I was, after all, a thirteen year old and thus relatively small compared to everyone else. Still, Rachel and Boak managed to make me appear to be a youngish woman, albeit a petite one.
"Name and security code," the gatekeeper said.
"Prelate Ruin, security code 8936251," I replied, using the fake name and code Rachel had given me.
"Code approved," the man said. "You may enter."
I stepped through the heavily guarded perimeter and into the stronghold. The architecture was fantastic; I couldn't imagine how they got such buildings to stay erect. Furthermore, I had no idea how I would get past all the other prelates in the building. There was bound to be a lot of security around, and if I ran into a telepath I was going to be less then toast. Still, I had to try; Rachel and the others were depending on me for the information about the layout of the place, and without them there would be no way to free the rest of the Clan, and thus no way to cure Glenn.
So I walked into the fortress like I had lived there all my life and began to search for the holding cells. What I had gathered from the briefing was that this was where the prelates stayed when they were off duty. I passed several halls of living quarters and a commons area as well as the kitchen. Everything was a depressing, sterile grey color except for the commons area and the rooms, which were lavishly decorated in an elegant, old fashioned style. I was about to search the lower levels when a man grabbed my arm.
"Who are you?" he asked me, his eyes narrow.
"Prelate Ruin," I replied, trying to hide the quaver in my voice.
"I've never seen you here before."
"I'm new. I just completed my training."
"I don't believe you."
My heart stopped as his eyes flared and I felt an alien presence in my mind. I struggled to get my defenses up, but with my psionic powers dulled my shields weren't what they used to be. I managed to hold him off for all of three seconds before the strain got to me and he tore into my mind. I could feel him sifting through my memories, picking up anything and everything about me and the Clan Askani as well as Generation X. It was a horrifying feeling, having all my memories spilled out before a stranger to look at, as well as the fact that I was inadvertently betraying everyone I had ever known, past and present. When he finished I slumped to the ground, weakened by trying to resist. The man grabbed me by the arm and dragged me towards another prelate.
"This is a spy sent by the Askani," the man told the prelate. "I think Apocalypse would be... interested in her." With a silent nod from the other prelate I was dragged towards a large, ornate door made of gold. The telepath went in while the other prelate held me. After about two minutes he came out again and signaled the other prelate. I was deposited inside the throne room before what looked to be a woman sitting in the midst of a large exoskeleton of sorts. She had hard, iron grey eyes that looked like they were dissecting me.
As I faced the reason for all this era's suffering only two words sprang to mind: "Oh. Crap."
"So you are Sinister's doing," she said. It may have looked like a woman, but there was nothing even remotely human about the cold, dead voice it spoke in. "I must say, you are a fine piece of work. Essex has outdone himself this time."
"I'm no one's work!" I snarled, outrage overriding fear.
"Of course you're not," Apocalypse said smoothly. "But come, my dear, let us remove this illusion. It isn't fooling anyone." He gestured and the image inducer shorted out, revealing my true form. "Much better," Apocalypse said. "But is the Mother Askani so desperate that she sends children to do her work?"
"You're never going to get anything out of me if you keep calling me a child," I told him.
"Oh, I shall get as much out of you as I please," he laughed. "If you doubt me, perhaps I should demonstrate my power to you."
"Why bother? Didn't that other guy already strip my mind of anything of real use?"
"Truth enough. But I was thinking more along the lines of subverting you to my cause. Power such as yours would truly be a pity to waste, especially since I can have it for myself."
"I've heard that before. What are YOU going to do with me? Chop me up and experiment on me like Sinister wanted? Or maybe you miss you great-grand father and want me to play human Ouija board for you, huh? Look, Apocalypse, I've been manipulated MY WHOLE LIFE, and there is NO WAY I'm going to let it happen again. First my parent's meeting was arranged by Sinister, not to mention the fact that he KILLED my COUSIN, and then I almost get skagged by Emplate when I try to free M. But guess what? I BEAT THEM BOTH. And if you think I've gotten this far just so YOU can use me, then mister, you are sorely mistaken."
"Who said you had a choice?" Apocalypse's eyes turned a disturbing shade of red. "I now have mental powers that more then counter your own, Dawn Embers. I can use them to twist your mind and make you whatever I desire, or I could simply kill you. I much prefer the former, but I shall resort to the latter if need be."
"Fine," I said, struggling to get to my feet. "*I* would much rather go home, but we all can't get what we want, can we?"
"Impudent whelp!" he roared. "Do you have any idea what you are toying with? I have conquered a planet, I could destroy you in the blink of an eye!"
"Then do it." I spread my arms. "Look, no weapons. And to tell you the truth, I'd rather die then join YOU. Go ahead, blast me with this all mighty power of yours, I really couldn't care less." All right, I admit it was one of the stupider stunts I've pulled, but it worked nonetheless.
Apocalypse laughed at me. "I shall take delight in twisting such foolish courage to my own ends," he chuckled. "Hav'nah! Quarban! Take her to the holding pens. I shall come for her when at my leisure."
Instantly two guards appeared. "Yes, m'lord," on said. They seized my arms and dragged me through the halls towards the holding pens. Well, at least I would get a chance to find the rest of the Sisterhood. Of course, living to TELL someone about it would be nice, too...
"Dump the genetrash in cell twenty," one of the guards said. I was thrown into a small cell with a single cot in the corner. The guards left me there without another word, and I began to shake with terror. Being insolent was easy enough to do, but nothing could change what he had said to me. He was going to twist up my mind and make me betray Rachel and the others. He could do it, too. I had read some of the back files from previous missions and remembered what he had done to Archangel. The thought of something like that happening to me was horrifying, and I had a feeling not even the Mother Askani could save me from it.
TEASER: Dawn undergoes a little brainwashing, and it's not one of those done in three minute deals, either. "In Too Deep" is next.