The Ties That Bind, part 7

Disclaimer: This story is not to be taken orally, nor are the characters of Dawn, Shrive, or Karen. Ask Marvel about the rest.

Author's Note: (sing-song) I get to be enigmaaaatic! This is basically a teaser regarding some other plot lines that'll probably take place in the distant future, so you'll just have to wait and see why I felt the insane urge to stick it in. Enjoy!

Splintered Visions

"GET AWAY FROM ME!" I screamed as I ran through the broken sheets of metal and fraying wires spitting electrical sparks. I felt stiff and clumsy, as if I hadn't moved in months, and I kept tripping over debris. I looked over my shoulder and saw a huge figure moving behind me, it's glowing red eyes following my every movement. For a moment I had the terrifying feeling that it was Sinister, but I soon discarded that notion. This... THING... was different then Sinister somehow, and it never even occurred to me to touch it's mind and find out what it was. I kept on running, but I tripped over something and landed on my side.

"Escape is futile," the thing said in a strange, hollow voice. "We are everywhere. You cannot escape us."

"Leave me alone!" I cried as I got up and began running again, glancing over my shoulder as I did so. "Why are you chasing me?! What did I do?!"

No no no no! This was not happening! Who WAS this person? Why was I acting like that? It was like... like I wasn't ME anymore. Like I was someone else totally different...

"You are a mutant," the thing said. "We need mutants, especially ones such as you." It shot an arm towards me and I raised and arm to fend it off as I tried to dodge it. I managed to get out of the way in time, but something exploded next to me, burning my arm. Something cold and soothing wrapped around the wound, but I barely had time to notice it because the thing shot his arm at me again. I struggled to my feet and ran for all I was worth, feeling my heart pounding in my ears with every desperate step. Suddenly I felt something wrap around both my arms, a searing pain shooting through them as it did. I screamed in agony and terror as liquid fire lanced through my wrists, like a jolt of electricity. In desperation I reached within myself and struck out with an electro- magnetic pulse that obliterated the creature, flinging bits of it everywhere. I stood, panting, in the corner of the decimated room, trying to figure out what was going on. I didn't know what the creature had been trying to do to me, or where I had gotten magnetic powers from, however weak they might be. My arms were still throbbing a little, but there was no apparent damage to them, so I assumed it had just been the lingering result of the monster's attack. I wiped the sweat off my forehead and settled against the wall to recover.

Unfortunately, fate had other ideas.

I saw a small chunk of the creature start to quiver and move across the floor slowly and a head formed, covered in deep shadow.

"Primary mission accomplished," it said to itself. "secondary programing initiated. Target capture imminent."

"NO!" I screamed, struggling to my feet. The thing leered at me as its separate parts began to gather again, and--

I woke up. I was, surprisingly, in one piece on the floor of the psionic containment chamber, still in the medical suit. I rubbed the back of my neck and stood up, glancing at the wall clock through the door. It was now around four o'clock, which meant I had been sleeping for quite a while. I guessed I must have been dreaming, and my sheer terror had pulled me back together, thus waking me up, so I decided that it was my equivalent of waking up screaming. I got off the floor and opened the door, stretching. I wandered down the corridors, thinking about that bizzare dream. It was weird... not only had I dreamed I was a mutant with totally different powers, I hadn't even been acting like myself. If it had been ME being chased by that thing I would have made a stand, or at the very least mouthed off , as was my custom. I had never had a dream where my entire attitude had changed before, and the power switch alone was enough to put me a bit on edge. I felt a little weak, like I had been using my powers too much, but I didn't really know how I'd be expected to feel after three sleepless days, so I just shrugged it off. As I turned the corner I almost ran into Moira, who was carrying something.

"Good, I found ye," she said. "Here, I found some clothes I believe will fit ye. They may nae be tae yuir likin', but they're the best I could find." She handed me some underclothes, jeans, my leather jacket, and a green crop-top.

"Let me guess," I said, looking at the last item dubiously. "Meggan, right?"

Moira frowned. "'Tis no' that bad," she told me. "'Twas that or her old costume, because right now nothin' less wouldna ha' fit ye." I winced and sighed.

"All right," I said, taking the bundle. "Any chance of going shopping soon?"

"No' until ye go back tae Massachusetts," Moira told me. "But right now I'd like ye tae put those on and come with me. Karen refuses tae undergo testin' unless ye're around. God knows why, but Shrive seems tae agree wi' her." She turned to go and said, "Meet me in the Med Lab when ye're done changin'. We'll be waitin' for ye."

"Um, okay, I guess," I said, taking the clothes and heading for the bathroom. I changed quickly and discarded the medical suit, which was torn beyond repair. I was glad for the jeans and to have my jacket back, but the crop-top made me feel... uncomfortable. I usually didn't show even HALF that much skin, even in a bathing suit! HOW could the woman dress like that on a regular basis?! I zipped up my jacket and took of for the Med Lab, wondering why Karen and Shrive both refused to do anything without my presence. I walked into the door and discovered Karen asleep on the cot she had been temporarily assigned. Shrive was standing beside her, arms crossed and his face creased with tension, eyes closed. As soon as I stepped in the room, however, he opened his eyes slowly. He looked tired, but also relieved.

"You're back," he said, smiling weakly. "Thank you."

"Um, why?" I asked, slightly surprised. "I mean, you've had three or four days, why'd you wait for me so long?"

"Personal reasons," he replied, rubbing his eyes. "I'm sorry, I just haven't been sleeping well lately. I'm not feeling very well right now." He sighed deeply and turned to the sleeping figure next to him, nudging her arm gently. "Come on, Karry," he urged gently. "Time to wake up, kiddo."

Karen moaned slightly and woke up, rubbing her neck with her bandaged hand. "Hunh..?" she muttered weakly. "What time is it?"

"Time for your check up, Karen," Shrive told her, patting her back. "All right, Dr. MacTaggert, you can start now."

"All right, lassie, let's start wi' a blood sample," Moira said, extracting a syringe from a drawer. "Gi' me yuir arm, please."

Karen looked hesitantly at Shrive, who nodded marginally. She held her arm out slowly and Moira said, "Remove the gauze on the elbow joint, please."

Karen shuddered slightly and made as if to remove the gauze, but her hand stopped midway there. She cast an imploring look at Shrive, who touched her arm carefully and began to unwrap the bandages, starting with the fingers. I saw a glimmer from underneath and momentarily thought it was armor, but then realized her entire arm was covered with the stuff, looking much like a robot's extremity. It was by no means a smooth, solid expanse of metal, but rather sectioned, like bands of metal end to end. Along the joints there were other bands of metal, all connected by thin strips of the substance that ran around the muscle contours of her arm. I felt Karen and Shrive's uneasiness as the whole of her arm was revealed, and wondered if her strange condition was a result of her mutant powers, or something else..? Maybe an implant of some sort?

"There's blood in there," Shrive told Moira before she could ask. "You might need to search a little, but it's there."

Moira nodded silently and touched Karen's arm, searching for a vein. The surface seemed to shudder slightly, then settled back down. Moira blinked, but raised the syringe and stuck it gently into Karen's arm. The metal on her arm crawled about like a living wave... agitated? Karen's eyes widened in panic, then narrowed in desperate concentration as she quieted her misbehaving appendage. I saw sweat gathering on her forehead and knew she was having a lot of trouble keeping her powers under control. I was about to offer help when she suddenly ceased sweating and relaxed marginally. However, I could see Shrive tensing up and the strain written on his face as she did. I concentrated on shifting my gaze to the astral plane and--to my surprise--discovered a halo of energy around him. It's pattern was much like that of splintering glass, like little shards of light flickering outward until they got out to about three feet away, where they faded out into nothingness. It was really quite interesting, but it was also kind of disturbing. I mean, not only had the man not even told us his real name, I couldn't even read him. We knew diddly about the full extent of his powers, and he hadn't exactly been forthcoming with the details.

"There, ye can relax now," Moira said as she pulled out the needle and swabbed the area gently. "If I may ask, lass, what is yuir power?"

"I... I'm a t-technomorph," Karen said with difficulty, nearly choking over the words for some reason. "M-my arms were... injured. They were... transmuted into metal."

I glanced at Shrive and saw him looking concerned again. Interesting man. He seemed to have only two settings: concerned and enigmatic, both of which were showing plainly right now. Feeling slightly frustrated at my inability to figure out what was wrong, I turned back to Moira and Karen.

"How far has this spread?" Moira was saying.

Karen looked surprised. "M-my stomach," she said. "How did you know..?"

"Practice," Moira told her as she inserted the blood sample into a scanner. "Yuir body language is stiff an' somewhat awkward, as is your personality. When ye're a doctor fer as long as I've been ye tend tae notice things like that. Let me see yuir stomach."

Hesitantly Karen lifted her shirt a bit, letting a bit of her side show. Most of the rib cage was covered in the same kind of sectioned metal as her arms, but it stopped just shy of her waist. Moira ran a small device over it and said, "Lass, ye're lucky it hasnae permeated yuir internal organs yet. How've ye been feelin' lately?"

"Not very well," she replied. "It burns sometimes. And I'm cold."

"I see," Moira said, frowning slightly. She walked over to Shrive and said softly, "How long has this been goin' on?"

"It... wasn't always like this," he told her uncomfortably. "When I first... met her... she could control it better. She could keep it in check, and it would disappear as whatever hurt she had healed, like a scab. But recently it's just been... spreading. It doesn't go away, and she can't control it anymore."

"Occh, I'm prayin' it's no' Legacy," Moira said. "Even though we've got the makings o' a cure, we're no' sure it'd be ready in time tae save anyone in the later stages."

"It's not," Shrive assured her. "I'd know something like that. I can't use my power on her, but I'd know if something bad like that was going to happen to her."

"Then ye have no real way o' knowin' what's wrong, aye?" Moira said.

"No," Shrive said softly, head bowed. "If... you could find out what's wrong with her and help her..." Suddenly all his emotional restraint seemed to collapse as he turned to lean on the wall. "Oh God, she just can't die!" he moaned softly. "She's the ONLY person I can even LOOK at without being assaulted by all their possible futures! She's all that's holding me together!"

"It'll be all right, boyo," Moira told him, touching him on the shoulder. "We'll find a way to cure her."

With difficulty, Shrive seemed to pull himself together. He took a deep breath and turned around slowly. "I'm... sorry," he said, rubbing his forehead. "I've been rather stressed lately, and being a precog can be painful under these circumstances. I'm afraid Karen's plight is starting to get to me."

THAT I could understand. When I'd first gotten my powers I'd nearly gone crazy, and that had just been what was in the people's minds NOW, not their futures. And since there are an infinite number of futures, it must be torture to get all those visions out of only one person, let alone everyone you met! To lose the only person who there was even a HINT of mystery about...

I shuddered. There was something about Shrive that gave me the impression that he wasn't just a normal guy who happened to be a precog. If he were to lose it I had a feeling that we would all be in very, VERY big trouble.

Moira completed the physical without any more conversation and sent us all out of the lab afterwards. I decided now was as good a time as any to drill Shrive. Strangely enough, though, he was the one who started talking.

"You're the first fourteen year old I've ever met who was taller then me," he commented absently as he rubbed his red eyes.

"For the moment," I shrugged, looking down at him. "Er...Shrive isn't your real name, is it?"

"Of course not," he said. "I felt it a suitable alias."

"Listen, I KNOW what it means. It means to receive absolution by confessing and doing penance. Why would that be suitable?"

Shrive looked at me with tired eyes. "Look," he said softly. "I've done a lot of things I'm far from proud of. Most--if not all--were the result of one major screw up, which happened to be the LESSER of the two evils I was given at the time. Looking after Karen is just one of the ways I'm trying to atone."

"And the others?"

"Trying to help YOU." He looked pained. "And I can tell you right now, you're going to need all the help you can get." He turned a corner towards the part of the building he had been assigned to stay in, Karen, oblivious, followed behind, leaving me thinking: What the heck was THAT about?

Shrive walked down the hall towards his room after depositing Karen in hers, still seeing the confused and startled look in Dawn's deep blue eyes.

Despite all the Hell she's been through, she's still very much the innocent, he thought, almost sadly. Nice kid. Still finds it hard to believe--let alone suspect--friends can go bad or have even BEEN bad. She's a lot like Karry in that respect. I almost wish I was still like that. Learned the hard way that precognition cuts down innocence REAL fast, though. Not to mention everything ELSE I've done... Damn, that had to be the biggest mistake in my whole sorry life.

He changed his course and peeked in on Karen's room. She was already asleep, utterly exhausted. Her arms were bound in gauze again, sparing her the sight of her afflicted limbs. He smiled wanly.

Karen... he thought fondly. I have no doubt you'll be going to Heaven when you die. Not soon, I pray, but in a long, long time. I just hope you won't miss me too much, though, because I know that for what I have done I'll be going straight to Hell.

Continue To Chapter Eight

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