Ties Never Binding 20/?

Disclaimer: Um... I don't think there's anyone who *isn't* original in this chapter except the villains and Emplate (who are TM Marvel).

Author's Note: Okay, first of all, there's a little language in this part. Not a lot, but I feel obligated to warn you. That said, we can get on with the other gratuitous weirdness. Things start getting just a little out of hand in this chapter... but anyway, here we have what's up with Karen. Yay. Now if I can just get my muse to focus on Fading Embers and Circles this will have been a perfect week...

"Shrive still asleep?" I asked Vance. We were both sitting at the kitchen table, though neither of us could eat or drink. It was kind of funny--save for the fact that I was a little more solid than he was, we were a lot alike.

"Yeah, poor guy," Vance said sympathetically. "I didn't think he looked very well when I first ran into you three. What's he been doing?"

"Looking after Karen, mostly," I replied. "Day and night. I'm not sure when he last slept *soundly*."

Vance shrugged. "It's been about a year since I slept at all. It gets very boring late at night."

"I know the feeling," I said, massaging my temples. "How'd you... you know."

"Hit by a car," he sighed, propping up his chin on his hand. It took a few tries to ensure his elbow didn't sink into the table-top. "You?"

"Legacy Virus."


"Tell me about it. It was *not* an easy couple of months. Especially after half my wings got shredded."

"You've got wings?"

"Yup. Wanna see?"


I stood up, carefully pulled the back of my shirt up to my neck (all my clothing composed of unstable molecules was in the wash, so I'd had to borrow a shirt from Paige) and extended them for him. It felt uncannily like we were two war-veterans discussing out battle-scars. Maybe we were, in a way.

"Nice. What's the wingspan?"

"Not really sure. Never really took a tape-measure to them..."

Talking with Vance was a nice way to wile away the time. I'd "slept" for about four hours, and I hardly expected Shrive to be up for at least another five by the way he was sleeping now. Derrick had, at least, managed to lock Grace in the bathroom until she'd given up and taken a shower, and Verney, who hadn't been tired, had talked with him. About what I wasn't sure--after all, Verney had been absent for a few days, so he wasn't up to date on what had been going on with Karen. Oh well, I guess guys talk about *something*...

"Can you do anything else besides... you know... exist?" I asked.

"Sure," Vance nodded. "When I pass through electronics I short them out."

Just like Kitty, I thought. Interesting how some things can parallel so closely...

"And about the same happens when I pass through a life form," he said after a moment. "Hurts like hell, though. I don't do it often if I can help it." He looked at me steadily. "And you? You're not just a telepath, are you."

"I am now," I said regretfully. "I screwed my other power royally when I last used it about two or three months ago--it's hard to keep track."

"What was it?"

"Well... I was a medium, sort of. I could call up souls--mutant souls. I could use their powers, talk to them, the whole deal."

"Wow." Vance looked impressed. "Beats the hell out of *my* power."

I spread my hands. "It wasn't really as great as you'd think. It basically meant that I was a big fat target for anything that was even the least bit sensitive to energy. It was like having a big neon sign over my head that said 'eat me'."

"But that *was* a lot of power..."

"And a lot of irritation. Do you know what it's like to have your cousin play house in your brain while you're trying to take a shower? Your *dead* cousin?"

"I think I'm beginning to see your point."


Suddenly I got a flash of something from outside the house. A kind of... psionic hole? *Could* you sense something like that? I suppose so, because I was feeling it, possible or not.

I got out of the chair and peered through the kitchen window, straining to see into the backyard. Vance stood up, sliding his legs through the chair in the process.

"What is it?" he inquired.

"I think we've got company," I answered. There was a large, black mass just barely visible through the trees. Light glinted from something nearby--and it was moving.

"Karen," I said, flinging myself away from the windowsill. That girl had a *lot* of explaining to do--but what was I supposed to ask her when I found her? I hadn't thought that far ahead.

Well, so much for foresight.

"Vance, can you get Verney and Derrick?" I asked. "'Specially Derrick. If he's her cousin maybe he can get her to explain herself..."

"Sure thing," Vance nodded. He walked through the wall and into the next room, leaving me to decide what to do.

Great. What *was* I going to do? Just walk out there and demand to know why she'd stolen Excalibur's jet?

Well, for lack of a better plan, yeah.

With a sigh of resignation I opened the patio door and stepped out. It was late afternoon now, and the sun was only an hour or three away from setting. Its light glinted orange off Karen's hair as she walked briskly towards the house.

"Hey, Karen!" I called, waving. She turned to look at me for a moment, and I gasped involuntarily. Her eyes now had neither iris nor pupil--they were just blank expanses of white. This was *not* encouraging.

"Yes, Dawn?" she said smoothly. I licked my lips nervously.

"Um... what are you doing here?"

"What are *you* doing here?"

"Hey, I asked you first. Plus, I'm not the one who stole a jet to get here. I figure *someone* deserves an explanation for that."

She blinked slowly. I felt my heart inexplicably clench up.

"I needed the transportation," Karen replied simply. "I'm here to pick up my cousin."


"Who ever said I had to answer to *you*?"

Well, I'll admit this *did* stump me. But at least I was persistent.

"Look," I said, placing my body between her and the house, "you stole Excalibur's plane. You threw Lockheed into a wall. You've got Shrive worried out of his mind, and me *seriously* questioning your sanity. I'd at least like to know *why*."

She snorted softly. "You'll know soon enough," she replied. I felt a hard, cold lump forming in my stomach. It was not a happy feeling.


"Hey, Karen!" called Derrick, and we both whipped our heads around to discover the other residents of the house approaching us. Derrick waved and jogged over to us, preceding Vance, Grace, and Verney by a fair margin. He was smiling--despite what we'd told him about Karen, he didn't seem to believe it.

"Derrick," she said as he came to a stop a few feet from us, his eyes huge as he sized up his cousin.

"Karen, you're... what..." he stammered. Karen grinned.

"A new look. Do you like it?" She pirouetted, showing off her metallic demeanor. Her grin broadened, and not nicely.

"I hope you do, because you are going to be sharing it very soon."

There was no time to move, no time to think. Karen extended her arm towards Derrick, and it... it lengthened and contorted, stretching the metallic substance into a shape and size that should have been impossible. What had been her arm wrapped itself around Derrick's torso, pinning his arms to his sides. Derrick struggled, bracing his feet on the ground and wriggling in her grasp, but it was useless. Karen was too strong, had better leverage...

"KAREN!" he screamed at the top of his lungs. "What the hell are you *doing*?! Let me go!"

"Not an option, Rick--I'm just taking orders here," she said, "reeling" him in closer. "Your genetic distinctiveness is needed for the Collective. Sorry about that."

Collective. Techno-organic. That could only mean one thing.

The Phalanx. Karen was--or was working *for*--the Phalanx.

My skin went hot, then cold. I almost panicked--weren't the Phalanx supposed to be dead?! How had the X-Men beaten them?! And what could I *do*?!

I let myself panic for precious seconds before I commanded myself to calm down and think, focus on the *now*. Worry about the rest later--what could I do *now*?

Tentacle. Derrick. Must separate. Got it.

I lashed out with a side-kick, hitting Karen's--extremity--square on. Hard.

It didn't snap in half, as I'd kind of hoped it would, but it *did* buckle and split somewhat. So, I believe, did several bones in my foot.

Karen cursed and let go, dumping Derrick to the ground. She retracted her limb until it roughly resembled the arm it was supposed to be, cradling it with her good hand. I, on the other hand, concentrated on my foot.

"Ow... pain... MUCH pain..." I whimpered, hopping on one foot as I tried to feel if anything was broken through my tennis shoe. I tried to move my toes and hissed in agony as something shifted beneath my skin. It felt like I'd kicked a freakin' steel girder! "Holy sonuva--that frickin' HURT!"

"How do you think *I* feel, you little bitch?!" Karen spat, displaying her arm. Some of the metal "sections" were cracked, exposing what looked like wires underneath. Unfortunately, they looked to be repairing themselves even as I watched. (Huh. I may have had all the upper-body strength of a turnip, but it looked like my legs were a bit stronger than I'd given them credit for.)

"Well, you deserved it," I said, somewhat immaturely. Funny, I'd thought I was immune to external pain... Well, maybe I was. Broken bones aren't exactly external...

No matter. If I could patch up a few cuts, I could piece together bone fragments. Well, I hoped I could, because if not this was going to be a *very* painful fight.

As I focused on repairing my foot, Grace had bounded over to Derrick, looking worried.

"You okay?" she asked urgently. Derrick took a deep breath and nodded.

"Yeah, yeah I'm okay," Derrick assured her, even though his hand was shaking as he rested it on her arm. "It was just... just a shock..."

"That's all very well, but does anyone think we should get the hell out of here *right now*?" Vance said sharply.

"That's a *really* good idea," I agreed. I tried to put my foot down, but immediately regretted it.

"Acccch..." I breathed, wincing. "Okay, maybe that *wasn't* a good idea..."

"Grace, see Derrick out of here," Vance directed the other girl. He pointed to Verney. "You, go with them, please. I'm going to test a theory."

"It doesn't matter where you run," Karen snarled, dropping her now-healed arm to her side. "Reinforcements are on their way. I am only the first of many. You *will* be found."

"Yes, but will you be in any shape to care?" Vance snapped, thrusting an arm through her chest.

To say what happened next looked painful would be an understatement. It looked *excruciating*.

First Vance screamed, his arm through Karen's torso up to his elbow. Belatedly, I recalled him asking us not to put anything through his body because it hurt him; now I didn't doubt him.

A split second after Vance's wail of agony came Karen's. Small wonder--there were sparks arching from her mouth and eyes, and her body was convulsing as if in the midst of some electrical shock. She looked as if she were having a seizure, which, judging from what Vance had alluded to earlier, might very well have been the case.

After several seconds that seemed to span eternity, Vance finally managed to wrench himself away. Karen wavered for a moment before crumpling into a smoking heap of metal and charred clothing, twitching spasmodically. Vance simply stumbled over backwards and sat, panting, on the grass. At least, it *looked* like he was panting--as I'd learned from past experiences, "panting" does not necessarily mean the being in question is breathing.

My foot was healed (or at least nearly) and Vance had stopped his--attack. I judged it was probably time *I* did something around here.

"Vance--Vance, you need to get away from here," I told him urgently. He was shivering--he looked like he was in some kind of shock. I could guess why--not only have the contact looked agonizing, it had probably been his first experience with techno-organic. New experiences (and here I thought of the absolutely ~wonderful~ time I had first had using my wings) were not necessarily fun.

I wanted to try and touch him, but I didn't know if he could solidify enough to enable me to do anything but more harm. After a few moments of fretting I took a *big* chance and slipped into his mind, searching for the "switch" the activated his ability to cohere himself. I found it with relatively little trouble and triggered it--but I soon discovered *keeping* it triggered was a lot harder than I'd thought it would be. It was no wonder Vance got so frustrated!

"Sorry about the intrusion, but we really do need to get out of here," I said softly, even though I knew he wouldn't hear me. I picked him up as best I could (and trust me, solid he was *heavy*) and tried to get a fix on where the others were while at the same time holding Vance's body together. Psionic multi-tasking is *not* easy, and I just *knew* I was going to have a *huge* headache in a couple of hours.

Second floor of the house... I verified after a minute. I shifted my grip on Vance uncomfortably--I could've sworn the man was gaining ten pounds a minute. There was no way I'd be able to run with him...

Well, that left flight. It wasn't like I hadn't flown with passengers before...

Yeah, but I didn't have to concentrate on holding those passengers together at the same time!

I sighed, and extended my wings...



Great. The one day I *really* needed to use my wings, and I'd been wearing a shirt that wasn't composed of unstable molecules. Oh well, I'd have to assess the damage later. Right now I had to get to the second floor of that house...

I spread my wings, flapped them a little, and struggled into the air. It was not fun. Usually when I'd picked up passengers in the past I'd had some momentum going beforehand--lifting off with one was murder on my wing muscles. Not to mention all the stupid trees...

Mental note: *Always* think these things through *before* you decide to do them!

It took about two minutes to get to the house, but it felt a *lot* longer. I was sweating by the time I landed on the balcony (thank you THANK you for that balcony!) to a bedroom and sent a psionic "please open this door" to the nearest psi signature. This, as it happened, was Grace, who arrived almost immediately.

"Vance..?" she said tremulously, looking at her friend's barely-conscious form, which is had set down on the bed.

"He'll be all right," I assured her hastily. "He's just in shock."

"What he do?" she demanded, looking at me with wide, frightened eyes.

"He--I'm not really sure," I admitted. "He put his arm through Karen, and she shorted out..."

Grace's eyes lit up with comprehension. "Oh! I know. Vance hurt electrical devices. People, too. He sleep then, sometimes..."

I felt a wash of intense relief. "So he's done this before?"

Grace nodded, and I wiped my forehead with my forearm. It was about that time that I noticed the back of my shirt had ceased to exist.

"Oh, geez..." I muttered, suddenly flushing crimson. "Um, Grace, can you tie the back of my shirt together? Under my wings?"

"Sure," she replied, doing so quickly. I was grateful there was still enough *to* tie--the last thing I needed was to have a shy-attack in the middle of a fight.

"Where are the others?" I inquired, casting about.

"Shrive room," Grace answered, a frown creasing her forehead. "Shrive scream, convulse... then silent." She spread her hands helplessly. "Verney not know what happen. *Derrick* not know what happen. You know?"

"I have a pretty good idea," I said after a moment. "I think he and Karen have some kind of mental link--he doesn't seem to be able to read her mind, but there's *something* between them..."

"Too true," came a weary voice. I started guiltily and turned around to discover Shrive standing in the doorway. Despite his nap he didn't look much more refreshed than he had when we arrived. Behind him were Verney and Derrick, both wearing expressions of concern.

"When Vance comes to tell him that was *not* a nice way to wake me up," Shrive continued, massaging his forehead. "It feels like someone threw my brain into a vat of acid."

I remembered the expression on Karen's face and winced. "I believe it," I replied. "But we've got bigger problems right now- Karen's here, and she--"

"Wants Derrick, I know," Shrive interrupted with a wave of his hand. "Rick told me. But I don't know *why*... they've got essentially the same power as she does, but he's not nearly as powerful as she is. For the life of me I don't know *what's* going on here... my precognition isn't helping at *all*..."

"I know what's happening," I said, flopping down on the bed. The others looked at me in disbelief, and I sighed. "Well, I think I do, anyway. Karen looks like... like those Phalanx creatures Jubilee and some of the others told me about. Karen mentioned a "collective"... and if she's not techno-organic I don't know *what* is."

"I recall Monet relating the story to me," Verney agreed. "But I also recall the Phalanx supposedly cannot assimilate mutants unless the mutant consents."

"And I don't think Karen would have consented," Shrive insisted doggedly. "She was *scared*. She didn't know what she was scared of, but she was. This wasn't her choice."

I rubbed my neck awkwardly, piecing half-remembered facts together. "I... I think I remember reading something that said Cable was nearly assimilated," I said slowly. "Because of his techno-organic arm, I think." I chewed on my lip, trying to remember. "Dr. MacTaggert said she couldn't find any trace of abnormality in Karen's DNA, so she didn't think it was a virus, but..."

"But Karry definitely wasn't the one doing that to her body," Shrive nodded eagerly. "I remember *that*. Dr. MacTaggert thought it was natural, but I always got the feeling that there was something strange going on."

"Perhaps..." Verney said reluctantly, "perhaps the transmode virus *was* in her bloodstream. Assuming her body's defenses *had* been compromised, is it possible that the virus was somehow hiding behind Karen's own abilities as a technomorph?" He looked thoughtful. "Or maybe not. Maybe she was *not* transformed by the virus, but instead the virus caused her own powers to become overstimulated, maybe even merge itself with them."

"If you're right it's no wonder Dr. MacTaggert couldn't find anything," I agreed, looking at him with renewed respect. Who'd've thought Verney would be the one to think of something like that? "And I'll bet being a technomorph made her *very* susceptible to it, too. I think we've got a theory here."

"Um, this may be a bad time to ask, but where did you leave Karen?" Derrick inquired.

"In the backyard," I replied, jerking a thumb over my shoulder and towards said area. "She didn't look like she'd be getting up any time soon, so don't wor--"

As if on cue, there was a resounding crash from downstairs.

"--ry. Then I guess that would be the reinforcements she was talking about," I sighed and rolled my eyes heavenward. "Someone up there is mocking me, aren't they?"

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