Ties Never Binding, part 16

Disclaimer: GenX and Excalibur belong to Marvel, everyone else you may assume is mine.

Author's Note: This is weird, I won't deny it. It's MEANT to be weird, so you needn't worry. It will also make sense someday, which you SHOULD worry about. Ha.


The next morning I awoke in fairly good spirits. Knowing I might possibly regain my powers was wonderful, and that talk with my 'parents' (which might or might not have been a dream) made things all that much better. I was, however, feeling a bit curious as to the condition of Karen and Shrive. They had been so set on staying with me until that point, and then they'd just slipped my mind when they'd decided to stay at Muir. I wondered, if I sent my astral form somewhere, would it be like teleporting? I was basically a pattern of psionic energy now, how was that different from an astral form?

Well, there was one way to find out. It was early yet, and I had time. I sat back down on my bed (which I didn't really use, but it seemed as good a place to sleep as any) and concentrated, sending my mind out of my body and focused in on Muir. Kitty, specifically, since she had spent the most time with me of anyone else on Muir during my stay, so I knew her psi pattern the best. I found it within a few minutes--she was already up, since Muir was a few hours ahead of the states--and popped in on her as she was completing her morning walk.

"Morning, Kitty," I chimed brightly. She turned towards me, started for a moment, and then smiled.

"Hey, Dawn," Kitty said, looking relieved. "You wouldn't BELIEVE all the craziness that's been going on lately." She thought for a moment, "Hey...does Sean know you're here?"

"Nah, but this is just a--wait a second." I put my foot through a rock and resumed my sentence, "This is just an astral projection. It's the first time I've tried one since I died, so I wasn't sure what to expect. I had some time before classes this morning, so I figured I'd check in here. You guys have been awfully quiet lately. How's Karen?"

Kitty's face grew anxious. "Not very well," she told me. "She got worse after you left. Doug really spooked her, and after that everything went downhill."

"She's not going to--?"

"Oh, no, nothing like that," Kitty interrupted, shaking her head. "At least, not that Moira can tell. Karen's...well, not exactly okay, but she's not going to...to..." She didn't seem to be able to say the word 'die'...

I chewed on my lip for a moment. "I think... I dunno, maybe I should... take a look. Do SOMEthing. It just feels... right, I guess. Like something I have to do. Is this making any sense?"

"Does anything?" Kitty asked, smirking. "I guess you can see her--Moira hasn't exactly forbidden visitors." She led me down the hallways to the Med Lab, where I saw Karen AND Shrive lying on cots, with Douglock a little over to the side.

"Shrive and Doug too?" I said, dismayed. Apparently I'd missed quite a bit.

"Karen nearly strangled Doug when she lost control, and Shrive wore himself out trying to help her," Kitty answered, leaning against the wall. "HE'LL get better. We aren't too sure about Karen, but it's not looking good."

"Oh, God," I whispered as I approached Karen's limp form. She was almost entirely enveloped in metal, and I could see it working its way steadily past her forehead as it began to strangle her hair follicles--the only part of her remotely human left. I felt my stomach churn uncomfortably and forced myself to look closer. The metal didn't actually seem to be a whole sheet of metal upon close inspection, but little tiny silver wire-like things slowly inching its way up her forehead. If it hadn't been so disgusting it might actually have been interesting.

"I almost wish I had a microscope," I muttered, frowning. I straightened. "Has anyone tried telepathy? Just to see what's going on?"

Kitty shook her head. "We haven't had one since Ray left," she told me, almost wistfully. "No one's even been able to try."

"I have," came a soft voice. I whirled around to see Shrive standing beside me, leaning against the wall for support. His eyes were dark and shadowed and his face looked hollow, and he was wearing a look of pure misery.

"You?" I said. "You're a telepath?"

"Yes," he replied, looking very young and vulnerable in that moment. "I don't use it very much, but on Karen I tried. I hit a wall--she won't even let ME in."

I sat down in a nearby chair, managed to avoid slipping through it, and looked at him. "All right. Ignoring the fact you probably should've told Moira, you're a telepath. So you tried to scan her mind and came up with..?"

"To quote: 'Access denied. You may not enter, designate: Shrive.'"

I grimaced. I was no expert, but this wasn't sounding good.

"More then skin deep, huh?" Kitty said, looking uncomfortable.

"Much," Shrive nodded, looking a shade paler. "This is no good. I can't do anything for her any more, and I can't even talk to her now. I don't think that...that she'll be the same person if she wakes up..."

The poor guy looked so depressed I wanted to reassure him somehow, but I couldn't think of anything to tell him. So, I did something extremely stupid instead.

Like always.

"Well, if you're a telepath, and I'm here anyway, why can't we make a joint effort?" I offered. "I doubt either of us is in peak condition, but maybe both of us can break through."

Shrive looked shocked. "Why?" he blurted out.

"Why what? You'll have to be more specific."

Shrive shook his head. "I MEAN, why are you offering? You barely know us."

"You barely knew me, but you still helped in Manhattan," I countered. "Did you think I'd forgotten that incident with the Sentinel? Give me SOME credit." I folded my arms and snorted. "Besides, precog or not, I'd think that you'd know enough about me to see I can't stand it when people are hurting. The emotional tension alone drives me nuts!"

Shrive looked sheepish (it was the first time I'd ever seen him with any hint of humility on his face, so it startled me a bit as well). "Truthfully," he started, "The only real reason I helped was because I 'saw' that it would benefit Karry in some way. I can never tell exactly what's going to happen to her--or myself, for that matter--but every so often I get vague impressions of possible futures. It's like Russian Roulette--I guess we're just lucky it worked out as well as it did."

"You're getting off subject," I interrupted. "Do you want to try or not? I've got classes in a few hours, y'know."

"I suppose I--"

"Good. Them let's start." For some reason I got the feeling that this would be well beyond merely 'reaching' someone and more along the lines of 'dragging them out.' I don't know why I was so eager to get I there so quickly--except maybe to get it over with as soon as possible. Shrive was still looking a bit confused, but he merely shook his head and sat down in the chair beside Karen's cot, obviously bracing himself for the worst. I moved next to him and nodded, indicating I was ready, and he touched Karen's forehead--and his eyes went blank. I could see the strange pattern of psionic energy I had seen once or twice before flowing into Karen's mind via Shrive's arm, but it didn't look very stable. I decided I'd better get myself into her head to help before Shrive passed out from the strain and did so, placing my hand THROUGH her forehead--

I gasped in surprise as I encountered a huge, seamless wall of metal before me and black stretch of nothingness behind me. Shrive was already probing for a fault or crack he could slip through, but apparently without much success. He cast a glance over his shoulder and shook his head hopelessly, but I probed anyway. There HAD to be some way to get through her defenses, there HAD to! I HAD to find out what was wrong! I couldn't let her erode away into some metallic thing, I--

I think it was that last 'I' that stopped me. Where had I gotten such strong feelings? True, I didn't want to see Karen suffer like this without knowing why, but still...

Then something clicked, and things made sense. It must be my empathy, siphoning off Shrive's emotions and feeding them back on me! That would explain so much...! If my powers were siphoning emotional energy as well as psionic energy, then wasn't it logical I would inevitably reflect it somehow? Maybe that was why I felt this overwhelming need to HELP people--because all the emotions of the victims and would-be rescuers were being channeled straight through me...?

Then I snapped back to reality. This was all very interesting, but it wasn't getting us anywhere. I had to shut down my emotions for a moment and THINK about the situation, or this was hopeless. I stopped slamming myself against the shields for a moment and did so, running all the possibilities through my mind, and rejecting them all one by one until only one remained. I couldn't reject it because I'd never actually tried it before, and it seemed worth a shot.

:Shrive, I think we're going to need to mindlink for this,: I called, my tone letting him know full well I wasn't taking this offer lightly. Mindlinks for two telepaths on the astral plane were deep and extremely personal, and I was more than a little reluctant to let him into my head, where he would have full access to whatever memories I had stuck up there, pleasant or otherwise.

Still, this was for a good cause--and plus I was afraid that if we didn't get through Shrive's psyche was going to snap in half.

With only a moment of hesitation Shrive nodded, and I extended a mental hand, no words spoken. He clutched it tightly, and I felt his mind dribbling through my own, though not nearly as deep as Emma had warned me it might if I ever attempted a stunt like this. Something was blocking me from getting in--something cold, almost mechanical...

What the bloody blazes was he mixed up in?

:Help me!: he pleaded, reaching towards the wall. I shook myself back to reality and reached with him, grabbed, and PULLED as hard as I could. Shrive's fingers found purchase first, and the wall began to groan. I dug my fingers into the smooth surface and allowed myself to become immersed in his terror, triggering my psychic adrenaline. I threw my weight against it, then jerked outwards, and the barrier's groan became a screech. It tore away like a sheaf of paper, revealing--

:Holy shit!: Shrive swore, with more force than I had thought possible given his exhausted state. I was inclined to agree with him.

p>Before us stretched a vast, glittering mindscape. It was beautiful; possessed of mountains, rivers, trees, --and all of it metal. I bent down and dipped a cautious finger in the liquid metal river. It was cool and silver, though opaque, and seemed almost like normal water to the touch. I felt something slow and hard brush against my fingertips and hauled it out--and dropped it like a hot potato. It was a microchip. There were MICROCHIPS swimming in the river.

It wriggled about frantically, flipping a clump of wires around like a fishtail. Shrive and I gasped as one as it flopped back into the 'water,' where it promptly disappeared from sight. Shrive and I exchanged horrified glances. If THIS was what had happened to Karen's psyche, then what had happened to Karen?

:Hello, Shrive. Dawn.:

We whirled around and came face-to-face (or, in my case, face-to kneecap) with Karen. She was dressed in torn jeans and a black tank-top, hair bound up in a secure French-braid--and completely metallic. The bright, unnatural light refracted off of her right shoulder and into our eyes, making it difficult to see. I felt sharp, metal blades of grass gouging my hand and forced myself to uncurl my fingers before I sliced them off. She didn't look like Karen anymore. She looked... dangerous.

:Nice, isn't it?: she asked, eyes scanning our surroundings lazily. :I admit, I fought it for a while, but eventually I saw that it was for the best. What do you think?:

I saw the last of the color draining from Shrive's face. :Karry, I don't think--: he began, voice cracking.

Karen glared at him. :Stop patronizing me!: she snarled angrily. :You didn't USED to be that way! We WERE equals! Why are you treating me like a child?!:

:Karen, after you got sick I...I...: Shrive gulped, completely speechless at the change in his friend. I did my best to keep out of it--whatever was going on, it was obvious those two knew more then either was letting on. I wanted to stay out of it until I was certain I knew what was happening.

:'You, you'! That's just it!: she snapped, eyes flashing angrily. :All you've been think about is yourself! JASON never treated me like this!:

:Well, I'm NOT Jason!: Shrive exploded, suddenly finding the words again. :Your twin is DEAD, Karen! He's gone, and he's never coming back! NEVER!: He took a few deep breaths and said, in a much calmer tone, :Karen, listen to me. This conversation isn't going to degenerate into an argument about... him. Not here, and not now. This is about you, and it's going to stay that way. I'm worried about you, Karen.

This,: he gestured to the landscape, :is not normal. What's going on?:

:Nature,: Karen replied stiffly. :Nature is taking its course, and I, for one, do not want to stop it. I think it looks lovely, and if you don't agree that's your problem, isn't it? I'm not going to play the frightened rabbit anymore, Shrive. I intend to be myself from now on, whether you approve or not. Is that CLEAR?:

Shrive looked shocked. :Perfectly clear,: he answered softly. :I... we'll just go now. We'll leave you alone.: He turned to me, eyes unreadable. :Thanks for your help, Dawn, but I think we should leave now. I know where I'm not wanted.:

I nodded mutely, and we withdrew from her mind. Shrive's depression was tangible, and I wisely kept my mouth shut. He didn't want to talk now, and perhaps he never would. As we returned to the physical world, I thought I almost saw tears forming in his eyes. I touched him briefly on the shoulder, offering comfort, but he waved me off. I met Kitty's worried gaze as she began to move closer to us, but I shook my head. With a slight nod she looked once more at the pair, then quietly phased herself out through the floor. Without a sound, I let my mind slip back to Westchester, my upcoming classes the last thing on my mind.

Karen watched Dawn and the despondent Shrive leave her mind, face impassive. As soon as they left, however, she broke out into a broad, disturbing grin. It was amazing how telling a half truth could prove so deadly...

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