Ties Never Binding 22/?

Disclaimer: The Phalanx, Emplate, GenX, and all other associated characters belong to Marvel Comics. Everyone else belongs to me.

Author's Note: Well, building to the climax (or anti-climax, depending on how it turns out ;) and yes, I *am* prolonging the agon um, the inevitable. :) This whole affair should be wrapped up in the next chapter or two, though, so just relax and wait for me to get to the REAL climax of the story..!

"You're WHAT?!" I yelped, stepping backwards and falling unceremoniously onto my rear. I sat amidst the pile of rotting leaves and gaped at Shrive in disbelief. "I thought you said several times that her only brother was her twin!"

"I am."

"But you're at least six years older than she is!"

"Technically, yes."

"Than explain to me how you can be her TWIN!"

"Uh... can it possibly wait? It's a *long* story..."

"What do *you* think?"

"I..." Shrive (Jason?) gulped nervously. "I... can't. It's long, and complicated, and--and you'd hate me for it anyway..."

"What do you--"

"Look," he interrupted sharply, "I'll explain later if you like. And it'll be a *good* explanation, too, I promise. But for now I would *like* to concentrate on getting my sister to snap out of whatever mind control she's under, and I'd like to do so *without* getting maimed. But to do so, I'm going to need your help."

I blinked. This was too much information at once--it wasn't sinking in properly. "You... need *me*... to help?" I repeated stupidly.

Shrive nodded curtly. "There's this--it's just that I--arrrrgh." He made a small, frustrated noise and grimaced. "Look," he said at last, as if floundering to articulate, "there's something in my head that's... suppressing... my personality. I'm... not quite the same as I used to be. That's why Karen isn't--well, responding to me. To her, I'm *not* Jason anymore."

He sighed and abruptly sat down on the ground, shaking his head. "She's right, too, you know," he stated flatly. "I'm really *not* Jason. I'm just this... this weak-willed drone who's completely useless unless he has orders to follow. I'm not even sure why I try anymore..."

Almost automatically, I opened my mouth. I was really going to have to work on that in the future. "*Weak-willed*? Excuse me, but I think you've been showing *plenty* of will so far!"

Shrive dismissed this immediately. "I should be so lucky. Any and all will *I've* shown is just a reflection of the person who ordered me to do--whatever I've been doing. I'm wetware. Nothing more, nothing less."

"Will you *listen* to yourself for once?!" I snapped, patience fraying. "A minute ago you were talking about saving Karen at any cost--and now it sounds like you're backing out of it because you think you're a--a drone or something! Well, guess what? *We* aren't, and neither is your sister! And, for that matter, neither are *you*!" I looked at his blank face and my tone softened a little. "Look, I think you're underestimating your value as a person. Don't you get it? It doesn't *matter* what whoever did this to you forced you to do--you've got a chance to do something *for yourself* now. Don't you at least want to *try*?"

Shrive blinked and chewed on his lip uncertainly. "I... yes..." he said softly. I rested my hands on his shoulders and looked up into his green eyes. They looked so... tired. Like their owner had seen things no one should ever have to see.

I got exactly the same impression when I looked at myself in the mirror.

:I... I'll try to help you,: I sent privately. :I don't know how... but I will.: I wasn't just talking about helping him with Karen, and he knew it. Shrive looked at me in surprise, and I nodded minutely. He smiled; his lips quirked only a fraction of an inch, but it was still a smile.

:Thank you,: he replied silently, and I nodded again, dropping my arms.

"We need a plan," I said aloud. "The Phalanx are immune to psi-probes... right?" I glanced meaningfully at Shrive, and he nodded hopelessly. I sighed. "Well, there goes option one. Anyone have any ideas? I'm too tired to think straight..."

To my surprise, it was Grace who spoke up. She had shifted back to her human form and was standing beside Derrick; she'd been so quiet I'd nearly forgotten she was there.

"Telepathy no, yes?" she inquired, pointing to her head. I inclined my head, wondering what she was thinking. She nodded, as if she'd expected it. She turned and pointed to Derrick. "But technopathy work, yes?"

"Sorry?" I said. I felt like I'd missed something vital.

"Technopathy," she repeated, looking a little frustrated. "Derrick have. In head, like telepathy... but not work on people. Work on machines..." She spread her hands and looked at Derrick imploringly.

"My power," Derrick agreed. "Well, sort of... but I have to touch the machine first. Works wonders when I'm trying to install software. But I don't really see what it's got to do with this..."

Grace beamed. "Telepathy no, technopathy maybe." She brought her hands together and interlaced her fingers. "What about together? Mind-to-mind and mind-to-machine. Might work against mind that *is* machine."

Vance looked surprised, and Derrick downright astonished. I had to admit, I was rather impressed myself. I knew she wasn't as simple as she seemed, but it was still a bit of a shock.

:You always like this?: I inquired with a telepathic "grin".

Grace winked at me. :Most of the time, yes,: she answered in kind. She smiled at me as she took note of the shock on my face at her... well... *coherent* mindvoice.

:Vance told you it wasn't my mind that was the problem, didn't he?: Grace thought, eyes sparkling. :There's nothing really wrong with me it's just that the connection between my mind and mouth doesn't seem to work properly anymore. The result is basically a badly butchered vocabulary, but not much else.:

:Will wonders never cease,: I commented with a sheepish grin. :Sorry I... underestimated you.:

:No problem,: she replied with a negligent wave of her hand. :I'm used to it by now. Can't really say I blame you, either.:

"I don't know..." Derrick was saying, and I snapped back to reality guiltily as I realized I'd missed a sizable portion of the conversation. "Computers are all well and good, but an actual *brain*? Even if it *is* techno-organic it would still be impossibly complex for me. I wouldn't even know how to begin!"

"But you wouldn't *need* to," Shrive pointed out. "All we'd need you to do is actually get us *in* her mind we could do the rest."

"Yeah..." I said, recovering fairly quickly if I do say so myself. "There's some kind of technological barrier around the Phalanx's minds if you could just crack that open we could probably do the rest."

Derrick considered this. "Well... I guess it's possible *in theory*, but can we really pull it off? Like I mentioned, I've got to actually *touch* the object in question to make contact. That means I have to touch Karen, and..." he looked a little ashamed of this, "I'm... afraid of what that might do to me. The Phalanx got *her*... what's to keep them from assimilating *me*?"

"He's got a good point," Vance nodded. "He and Karen have essentially the same powers, from what I've heard and the only reason they're even here in the first place is because of Derrick. This is *very* risky."

"I hold her down," Grace offered. "I strongest, I think in change-form, anyway. Hopefully she not yet real good at manipulating techno-organics. Went down easy last time..."

"I'll help you," Vance volunteered, resting a hand (was it tangible or not? I wondered...) on her shoulder. "I should be able to keep myself focused long enough..."

And if not, he would end up going right through her and causing *both* of them to pass out again. Still, what else could we do..?

"I as well," Verney said. "Or, should the Phalanx advance thus far, hold them off. Though psionic powers may be ineffective, from what I seem to recall physical force might suffice."

I looked at his long, sharp fingers and nodded mutely. They could cut at the slightest touch. I shuddered to think of what would happen when he used them *on purpose*.

"Okay..." I sighed, "now that we've got everything arranged, does anyone want to get started?"

"Let's," Shrive nodded. "I'm going to need your help in a big way is it possible for you to go *bellow* the conscious level of thought? I think at this point my subconscious is the only place my original personality can be, and if we're going to do this it needs to be free and conscious..."

Then he looked embarrassed. "Even *I* think that's the stupidest thing I've ever heard," he muttered ruefully. "Someone dress me in a gaudy spandex suit and put a gun to my head right now..."

"Now *that* is a frightening thought, although it would make sense..." I remarked. Shrive stared at me, and I cracked a smile. "Oh, I'm only kidding. I've said cornier things in just this month alone. I never claimed to have a *good* sense of humor, but at least I admit it..."

"Er, yes," Shrive said, suddenly looking *very* doubtful at entrusting me with his mind. "But about the threshold of consciousness thing..?"

I'd been dreading having to answer that...

"I... I think so," I said, trying not to show how nervous I felt. "But you've got to understand, I've only been a telepath for a couple of months. I'm pretty good at it, because my teacher lets me link to her mind and get 'direct' lessons on it, but I'm making no guarantees. I am *not* an expert. I... might do more harm than good. I've been lucky so far, but... are you *sure* you want me to try..?"

"Yes," Shrive said adamantly. "I honestly don't think there is any other way we can snap her out of this. I'll try to help you as much as I can, but..."

"All right," I said slowly. "I'll... try. But if I think I'm doing any damage and I mean ANY damage I'm out of there."

Shrive nodded. "I understand. But we need to do this quickly..."

"Yeah." I sat down on the ground, and Shrive followed. I touched his hand lightly; physical contact helped a great deal. I gave him a moment to compose himself (and me a moment to quell my nerves) and dove in.

My brain felt like it hit a wall. A *hard* wall black, endless, impenetrable. Shrive hadn't been kidding when he'd said there was something in his mind locking up his personality this had to be it.

Great. How was I supposed to get to the sub-basement of his consciousness if I got stuck at the front door?

:Sorry...: Shrive's mindvoice resonated. :It's a safeguard... let me try to take it down...:

His "voice" was tight with strain, a sign that he was *already* trying, and apparently not succeeding. I didn't like how this was starting out...

A chink appeared in the wall. It wasn't much, but it was enough. I squirmed through the "chink" and closed my mental eyes to my surroundings I didn't need to see anything to know where I was supposed to be. At least, so I hoped... this was *not* going to be easy.

Then I was sent directions of a sort. It was more like a "that way" feeling, and almost certainly the result of Shrive's attempts to help me. I heeded the "directions" and was drawn closer to the core of Shrive's mind, treading carefully. I wasn't entirely sure what I was doing, and it was just blind luck I hadn't screwed anyone's mind up completely yet. I didn't want the first casualty to be Shrive.

In the astral plane time is very difficult to follow, so I wasn't sure how long I "walked" before I can to the place I knew must contain Shrive's true personality. How did I know? Well, ever seen Alcatraz..? This was worse.

There stretched an impenetrable wall, much like his sister's, with a few crucial differences--barbed wire and being electrified two of them. I stepped back involuntarily.

:I... can't help you here...: Shrive set faintly. I could *really* feel the strain now he was almost exhausted as it was, how would he take me attacking a corner of his psyche..?

But then, who said I needed to *attack* it..? Maybe there was another way...

:Shrive?: I sent, eyeing a particular spot of the wall, :I'm going to try something. This may hurt.:

:By all means, go right ahead,: he consented. :Pain is usually a good thing in these circumstances. It means something is getting accomplished.:

I wasn't sure this was a healthy attitude, but I went ahead anyway. First, I created a thick pair of "rubber gloves" from psionic energy, completely enveloping my hands. This wasn't exactly what you would call a sure-fire deterrent of electricity, but what else could I do? I didn't have a lot of knowledge in this type of astral "combat"...

I flexed my fingers a few times, gathering my courage. This shouldn't have been anything to someone who'd already died before, someone who'd lost the one she was mind-linked to...

Glenn. Glenn again. The thought of him bolstered my courage, and I took a deep, even breath before I plunged my arms into the wall.

It *hurt*. As in, a *lot*.

:This... was a REALLY... bad idea...: I choked faintly through gritted teeth. I had thought perhaps by using a more passive approach I might be able to breach the shield, but...

I shook the thought off. How could I just give up just because it hurt a little..?

Okay, maybe more than a little... but still.

Eyes watering enough to effectively blind me, pain throbbing through every cell of my body, I set my jaw and tried to find a chink I could pry open. Nothing. Unwilling to surrender, I began to push at the thick, impenetrable barrier--it was stupid and futile, but what else could I do? My psionic sword couldn't possibly make a dent in this stupid thing, and it would almost certainly be damaged by being used as a bludgeon. I would have to go at it bare-handed--or, as the case may be, bare-minded. Everyone was counting on this to work...

We were so very dead.




I rubbed a hand across my bleary eyes in an attempt to clear them, forcing myself not to pull my other arm away from the "wall". I was afraid that if I did I would never have the guts to put it back.

Eyes still watering but at least momentarily clear, I scanned the wall for the source of that odd sound. There, right next to my hand, was a crack.

But Shrive said he couldn't--

I stopped short as something drifted under my nose: rubble. No more than a tiny pebble or two, but enough to indicate that the crack had been made from the *inside*. This led me to two observations: 1) Jason really *was* in there, somewhere, and 2) not only that, but he wanted out.

Thus encouraged, I quickly set about "adapting" my gloves to something a little more... suitable for digging. Silently praising Emma for having taught me how to reshape psionic energy on the astral plane using a minimum amount of energy (boring as that class had been), I sculpted the fingers into hard, tapering, claw-like extensions of the rubber. Gritting my teeth and trying to ignore the agony rushing through my veins like my erstwhile blood, I carefully inserted two of the claws into the tiny crack and pushed outwards.

It was far from easy. I didn't have a lot of upper body strength, even on the astral plane, and this wall was *thick*. I scrabbled at the crack as best I could, attempting to hook the tips on the structure and pull it outwards. The most I succeeded in doing was pulling loose a few more bits of the stone. I noticed Shrive was conspicuously quiet now--I hoped he was all right...

Worried, in pain, and thoroughly frustrated, I gave up on trying to pray the wall apart and drew back. Clenching my fists at my sides, I dredged up Threnody's skills and gave the wall a good, solid roundhouse kick. And another. And another. Every kick sent a jolt of fire through my leg, but it was a wonderful way to relieve stress. Unfortunately, it didn't seem to be accomplishing much beside making my foot sore.

Until someone else decided to help.

:There!: came a faint, male voice from behind the other side of the wall, causing me to stumble backwards with a small, strangled "ack?!" as I tried to pull back a kick already in progress.

:Who're--what?: I stammered as I struggled back to my feet (although this didn't make much of a difference when there was no floor to begin with). I would *never* be able to make intelligent conversation in the middle of a fight, I just knew it...

:Stand back--I'll be right out,: the voice replied. It sounded fairly young, and familiar...

I groaned with embarrassment. Of *course* it was familiar--it must be Shrive's original personality! Way to go, genius...

Of course, my brain was commenting as dull thuds sounded from the other side of the wall, this is the first time you've ever done something like this, and heck, just a few months ago you weren't worrying about anything more serious than what high school would be like isn't that excuse enough?

Well, it wasn't really, but it made me feel a little better. Especially when "Jason" stepped through the wall, feet first.

This wouldn't normally be considered a problem except the rest of him didn't follow until about thirty seconds later, when he had regained enough awareness to pick himself up and widened the hole.

:>Cough< Well, *that* could've been planned a little better...: he remarked as he crawled through the new opening, shaking the dust from his ragged hair.

:Um... Jason?: I asked hesitantly, taking a tentative step forwards.

He nodded and smiled at me. :None other,: he replied, his green eyes glittering. He looked--well, exactly like Shrive, only a little younger. This made sense, of course, but something in his carriage--and his eyes--made him seem like quite a different man altogether...

I shifted my gaze to the gaping hole now in the center of the barrier. :Ummm, not so sound rude or anything, but... couldn't you have done that before this?: I inquired, gesturing to the destruction.

:Actually, no,: Jason replied, rolling his shoulders. He was clad in dark blue jeans, a black turtle-neck, and a denim jacket. It made him look even paler than he really was. :I couldn't get out until someone else started working on the outside. Thanks for your help, Dawn.: He stuck his hand out to me, and I accepted it somewhat dazedly.

:So... what do you do now?: I asked as our hands dropped. He looked thoughtful.

:Well, first I'll have to displace my Shrive persona,: he informed me. :I'd... well, I'd like to try and integrate myself, but I don't think I can until the implant that kept us separate is removed. For now I'll have to settle with a split personality...:

:So you know what's going on?:

:Of course. With or without my original personality, this is still my body--I've been aware of what's been going on all along. I've just been unable to act on it.:

I smiled faintly. :Been there. But... what'll happen to Shrive when you--integrate?:

He rubbed his head uneasily. :Truthfully? I'm not really sure. We'll have to worry about that after we take care of--: Suddenly his eyes widened with alarm. :KAREN! I'm such an idiot--we need to get out of here and help her!:

I smacked myself on the forehead, chagrined I hadn't thought of that myself. :Of course! I'm such a ditz--let's go!:

I sensed his affirmation and slipped from his psyche to the physical plane, hoping I hadn't missed too much...

I opened my eyes just in time to see Verney fly past my shoulder and greet a rather large tree with his back.

I whipped my head around to discover Grace slashing frantically at a now fully-conscious Karen, shielding a moaning Derrick with her body. The latter was on the ground, clutching at his left ankle--he had rolled up his jean-cuff to reveal it was slightly purple and beginning to swell. Had he sprained it..?

"Nice timing," Vance commented from near my elbow. "Did it work, or am I going to have to put my arm through her again..?"

"It worked," Shrive no, *Jason* said from directly beside me. He rose to his feet and dusted his jeans off almost casually. "It worked, and I'm back. For a while, anyway." He straightened out his shirt--there was something in his eyes now, something I'd seen back in his mind... I couldn't quite place it. It was some kind of quality that hadn't been there before...

Jason turned towards Karen, who was still intent on nailing Grace to a tree. Something silent but no less significant passed between the two of them. Karen stopped short and snapped around to face her twin.

"Hey, Karry," Jason said quietly. "You wanted to see me about something?"

"No," she said shortly, narrowing her eyes. "I never asked anything of you." Grace, now forgotten, carefully edged away and looped her arms beneath Derrick's arms to help him up. He staggered to his feet, clearly confused, wincing as he had to put weight on his afflicted ankle. No one else even noticed.

"I think you did," Jason said, crossing his arms. "Several times."

"Oh, really, *Shrive*?" Karen sneered disdainfully. "And when might *that* have been?"

"Look closer, Karry. I'm *not* Shrive."

Karen crossed her arms and shifted her weight to one leg, echoing his stance so precisely it could almost have been some sort of bizarre funhouse mirror. She regarded him narrowly through half-lidded eyes, as if silently appraising him....

Then she blinked, caught completely, undeniably off guard for the first time I had met her.

"Jase..." she murmured softly after a long, tense silence. "Long time no see, bro."

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