The Zeitgeist Awakens

Discussion in 'Fan Fiction & Films' started by angelique, Oct 11, 2005.

  1. angelique

    angelique Registered

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    The usual disclaimer. I do not own the X-Men and do not make any money off of my attempts at ficcing. The Altheim family and Father Akwenye are my original creations. And I am hopelessly driven to improve, so feedback, please.

    The Zeitgeist Awakens
    Prologue

    Dear Professor Xavier:

    I write to you today out of desperate need for your reputed expertise on raising children who, shall we say, possess extraordinary genetic traits. My wife Adimu has just given birth to our fourth child, a daughter. She is a perfectly healthy child, and appears normal. But blood work confirmed the abnormal amniocentesis my wife had. We have treated people before with unusual genetic traits, but our Kassandra carries a mutation of a like we’ve never seen before. We have no idea how or even if it will manifest itself. But we do know this: we love our child regardless, and wish to give her all the benefits of a happy and healthy childhood. My wife has ordered all Kassandra’s medical records, as well as all of her own records from her pregnancy, sealed, sharing all the pertinent information only with you. She said that while we have no problem welcoming a mutant in our family, the rest of the world just is not ready. Any and all advice from you would be greatly appreciated.



    Regards,

    Fridrich Altheim, President

    St. Luke’s Relief Medical Foundation

    Keetmanshoop, Namibia



    Dear Dr. and Mr. Altheim,

    First may I congratulate you on the birth of your daughter, and also for your unconditional willingness to love and care for her. If only all the children at my school had parents such as you.

    Sealing the medical records as well as your lips is wise, for her safety. Yes, as if the world weren’t hostile enough in general to people who simply do not fit the norm, it fears people who, as you said, “possess extraordinary genetic traits.” (By the way, I do like how you referred to them that way. It reflects a refreshingly positive attitude. My first suggestion would be to not be afraid to use the word mutant in an equally positive context. But I digress.)

    I must admit that, to my unending sadness, not all their fears are ill founded. Keeping her mutation a secret will protect her not only from the world in general, but from certain fellow mutants who might be interested in using her for their agenda. If there are any other ways to protect her, that will depend on if and how her traits manifest. Expect that to start in adolescence. I expect, based on what you’ve shared with me, that whatever traits manifest will indeed be quite unusual. Let me know right away of anything that happens, and I should be better able to help.

    Also, before this happens, it may help to prepare. Most of the children at my school were brought up believing that they weren’t mutants and that mutants were to be feared. Naturally, the discovery of the truth proved quite traumatic for them. The fact that you know ahead of time can help make the discovery of her abilities a bit less shocking. As soon as she is old enough to understand the necessity of keeping her mutation secret, let her know and her siblings know. Emphasize the importance of keeping quiet. Don’t stress the mutation itself. Encourage her to regard all people, regardless of mutation or lack thereof, as equal. Do keep in touch. And you are welcome to come visit me anytime. Meeting people such as you is a pleasure I do not experience often enough.



    Best wishes,

    Professor Charles Xavier



    And so began a very long friendship between the Altheim family, Professor Xavier, and the few other people they gradually let into their confidence, Dr. Jean Grey, Dr. Hank McCoy, and Father Akwenye, the Altheims’ parish priest, known for his toughness tempered by an eerie cognizance of other people’s thoughts.

    Kassandra grew into a happy and well-adjusted teenager with a shock of wild brown curls, smooth mocha skin, wide eyes the color of black coffee, and the slender build of an avid athlete. She seemed to have everything. Good looks, plenty of money from her grandfather’s mining interests, and a delightful tendency to not care about the wealth and looks. Indeed, possibly due to having carried her secret around for years now, and also possibly due to growing up an ethnic, economic, and religious minority, she did not like drawing attention to herself. So she cultivated flair for drama and a bit of mischief to hide her secrets. Or she would divert attention to the significant accomplishments of her parents or siblings. Her father, the philanthropist. Her mother, the doctor. Her sister, Lucy, and brothers Michael and Vincent, who, respectively, grew up to work at Kalahari Gemsbok National Park, to become a doctor, and to give up professional soccer stardom for the religious life and a teaching career.

    Kassandra herself tried her hand at a variety of activities as most girls do, but distance running, music, dance, and martial arts captured her interests more than anything else. She excelled at traditional stick fighting as well as fencing. She and her family also visited Xavier’s school whenever possible and made a few friends there. In fact, it was under the tutelage of her closest friend, Kurt Wagner, that she honed her fencing skills. But besides the Professor, Dr. Grey, and Dr. McCoy, none of her friends there knew she was a mutant until….
     
  2. angelique

    angelique Registered

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    Chapter 2

    “Hallo, Vater,” said Kassandra as she sat in the confessional. “It’s been a month since my last confession, and I think I have a pretty big sin to confess.”
    “Kassandra,” Father Akwenye reassured, “You know that save for blasphemy against the Holy Spirit, there is no sin too big for God’s forgiveness.”
    “Ja, Vater,” Kassandra replied. “This has been going on for a few years now. I didn’t notice at first, then I thought it was coincidence, that I could make all these guesses and be correct, but now it seems I can do this at will. I can see what people have done in their past without them telling me, and I can see the future as it takes shape. Is that a sin?”
    “Well,” Father Akwenye mused. “That depends. Have you used any occult methods to do this?”
    “Nein. No spirits, no trances, nothing of the sort. But I do feel sort of sick and weak after I go back into normal time.”
    “Well then,” Father Akwenye concluded, “this doesn’t sound like a sin, but the way your unique condition is manifesting itself. In this case, you might not need Reconciliation, but a talk with your mother.”
    * * * *
    Charles wheeled himself into Cerebro. A phone call from the Altheims had woken him early that morning. Kassandra’s name didn’t need mentioning. “I’d discovered that the blackouts I’d told you about have no heretofore known medical cause,” said Dr. Altheim. “Not even the metabolic disturbances I’ve noticed. And we just got out of a conference with Father Akwenye. He said she was very worried about her future. We all agree this is it.”
    So with Cerebro’s help, Charles tried to zero in on Kassandra. It was like trying to read Nightcrawler in the middle of a teleport. Impossible. She seemed to flit everywhere, sometimes popping up in two places at once, sometimes blinking out of existence. At last, he caught a direct thought that nearly exploded in his head- “We need Charles, NOW!” Then nothing.
     
  3. angelique

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    Chapter 3

    “A Professor Xavier and Jean Grey are here to see your daughter, Dr. Altheim,” said the nurse, in German. Doctor Altheim did not think that too unusual. She often got idealistic foreign relief workers who were so smitten with working in Africa that they’d forget to learn the language of the people they’d serve. Less than a third of Namibia spoke German. Most of them spoke Afrikaans or one of the many indigenous Khoisan dialects. And this was the girl’s first day here. Dr. Altheim made a mental note to herself to sign this girl up for language instruction once things settled down.
    “Danke. Come in,” said Dr. Altheim. “Alone, bitte?” she said to the nurse. Of course the nurse knew this was a particularly sensitive case. Dr. Adimu Altheim was one of the best and most unusual medical minds of the country, with a spectacular rags-to-riches-to rags background. She had escaped apartheid in South Africa, then married a diamond heir of German extraction, then studied medicine, and, with her husband, eschewed a life of luxury to run a free hospital for the poor of Keetmanshoop. And Dr. Altheim was now coming toward the middle of the worst 24 hours of her life. Her husband had died mysteriously. Then her youngest daughter collapsed in an apparent coma even she couldn’t explain. Ah, yes, the nurse had heard whispers around the clinic, that the child had been in frequently over the past couple years, as a patient. No one was allowed to even speculate as to why. Her blue eyes flashed golden for a moment. Hers was not just innocent curiosity. And though she did not know Afrikaans, she knew English quite well. Things would get worse for Dr. Altheim if things went according to plan.
    “I am glad you could finally come here and meet Father Akwenye,” said Dr. Altheim, “though I wish the circumstances were better.”
    “A bittersweet pleasure, but a pleasure nonetheless,” said the Professor. “His help has meant a lot. And our deepest condolences, Adimu. We were already on the way when Ororo gave us the message.”
    Jean handed Dr. Altheim a vase of roses. “Kassandra’s been so lucky to have parents such as you and Fridrich. All of us took it hard when we heard. Where are Lucy, Michael, and Vincent? And anything new about Kassi?”
    Dr. Altheim wiped away the tears welling in her dark eyes and placed the flowers where she hoped her daughter’s staring eyes might see them. “The others are going to their grandparents to help prepare for Fridrich’s funeral. As for Kassi, I don’t know much more now than when I called you yesterday. I just confirmed my suspicions about there being no known medical cause. The only remaining guess I have is that this is connected to her-”
    “Shh.” The Professor then attempted to probe Kassandra’s mind. And discovered he couldn’t.
    * * * *
    Yesterday was much longer ago according to Kassandra Altheim. Yesterday she vowed, upon hearing her father had died, to do something about it. Everything around her at that precise moment stopped. The kitchen table, the walls of the house, her mother, brothers, and sister, the police officers, the sun, the sand, the whole universe faded and shrank. And she could now see the timelines by the millions- a monstrous web they formed. But by focusing on her father, she found his line, followed it to where a few others tangled with and cut it off (how she hated the ends of timelines), and then traced it back to determine, and if possible, halt that chain of events. While learning the past like this was a familiar habit, she’d never before tried to actually change it. She’d never even tried to place herself into any point in time besides the point at which she left it. Not the past. And she wouldn’t even try going into the yet undefined lines of the future. But these desperate times called for drastic measures. And they took a while.
    She stepped back into the moment just as her father was about to make his last fateful decision. Ah, that’s right. Nobody was home at the time. Not even herself. Lucy and Michael were helping at the clinic. Vincent was at the school. And she and mother were in conference with Father Akwenye. She called her father’s cellular phone. No signal. No matter. Though he was still miles out, she was a marathoner. And with the normal flow of time not her concern; she could get there instantly. She stepped out of time, and then ran.
    “Papa!” she screamed, turning back, stepping into that time, and now running alongside the car.
    “Kassandra,” her father slowed down and said through the window, “Was ist los? Why are you here?”
    “No time, Papa,” Kassi cried. “You must turn at the next intersection, or you will be killed!”
    “And have us get lost? You worry too much, Kassandra, but I will be careful.”
    “Nein, Papi!”
    Not careful enough. It became obvious. Timelines were like clay. The future and present were soft and pliable. The past was sharp and hard. She could see it, but however she tried, she could not change it. She might as well have just tried to change a movie by rewinding the video. Not only had she failed to save her father, she had been discovered. One of the passengers was looking very hard at her.
    Kassandra burst back into normal time at the very moment she left it, just after the police informed the family that Fridrich died on the scene of a fiery car crash. She fought off the encroaching blackness long enough to gasp, “Mama! It was a plot. We need Charles, NOW!”
    * * * *
    Fridrich pressed on as he had planned, wondering only if Kassandra’s behavior was anything to warn the Professor about, then deciding that it was when he saw a car ahead with the hood up. The van suddenly veered toward that car, tires screaming in protest as Fridrich applied the brakes and steered hard to avoid the inevitable collision.
    Metal twisted. Glass shattered. Screams erupted. And smoke filled the van.
    “Everyone out! Alle Mann raus hier!” Fridrich shouted in every applicable language. All the volunteers filed out, choking on the smoke from the spectacular inferno that quickly engulfed the van. But Fridrich seemed to have a problem unbuckling his seat belt.
    Pyro was enjoying his masterpiece so much he almost didn’t notice that someone failed to escape. But he saw that ruthlessness thinly veiled by a look noble distaste on Magneto’s face. He always affected that look when using his power to lethal effect. Then he saw through the smoke that poured through the shattered windshield Fridrich, gasping, choking, burning, losing the struggle to get out. The flames died down.
    “What are you doing?” he shrieked.
    “I was keeping his seatbelt buckled until your handiwork finished the job, of course,” said Magneto, matter-of-factly. “My dear boy, sometimes sacrificing friends is necessary for the greater good of…”
    “SHUT UP!” Pyro nearly decided to let some of his “handiwork” consume that bombastic, manipulative windbag, when a nurse interrupted. She appeared diligent, composed, and concerned about everyone now stranded on the roadside. It was now their turn for her attention.
    “Geht es Ihnen gut? Ist alles in Ordnung?” She shouted as she ran to them. “Nice, quick work, boys,” she whispered in English, her blue eyes flashing golden. “The Altheims have been hiding a mutant, and the father’s death has finally drawn her out. It’s Kassandra. She used foresight or something like it to warn her father. And we can find her. She was just here. She can’t be far.”
    “Careful, Mystique. Xavier has had his eye on her family for years,” warned Magneto. “Unless our naïve young friend is correct that it’s nothing more than the sort of innocent friendship Charles likes to think is possible with humans, she’ll turn out to be a powerful weapon in our arsenal. Dangerously powerful.
    “We will have to split up and search. Report all your findings to me. Sabretooth, Pyro, and I will search around here, her home, school, and other possible whereabouts. And have a talk with Pyro about his interfering conscience. Mystique, continue scouting the relief agency and the hospital. Report to me all you can discover. And take whatever action necessary. Dr. Altheim may make a valuable hostage if we can’t get Kassandra herself.
    “Ah, but here comes your ride at last, Mystique,” Magneto said, as lights flashed and a cacophony of voices asked and sought to explain what just happened.
    “Das ist gut,” said Mystique, now resuming her role as helpful Bavarian nurse. “Und was ist mit seinem Auto? Können Sie heimfahren?”
    As if in terse response, Sabretooth, resentful over Pyro and Magneto getting to have all of the day’s fun, slammed the hood, crammed his bulk into the driver’s seat, and started the car. “Get in,” he growled.
     
  4. angelique

    angelique Registered

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    Chapter 4

    Time started to catch up with Kassandra. “Give it another try, Onkel Charles,” she said softly as she awakened. And this time their minds could meet. Charles saw what she had and wanted to know more about- the timelines that cut off her father’s. He recognized the events they contained. And the people who lived and created those lines. Kassandra in turn knew she had to see a couple old friends who were hiding just outside the hospital. Instantly.
    Wolverine and Nightcrawler crouched in the shadows awaiting their next move. Wolverine sniffed. “Mystique’s here.”
    “Ja, right outside my room,” Kassandra interjected.
    “Kassi? Wie-?” Nightcrawler nearly broke his standing high jump record.
    “We have no time!” Kassandra interrupted. “Mystique will call for Magneto and the others. Both of you stop her now!” They had never seen Kassandra so agitated before. They went.
    So, the Little Elf is a mutant, after all. Wolverine had suspected it, but up until now, he’d always seen her goofing around and roughhousing with the other mutant kids or sparring with Nightcrawler. Now he could definitely tell it wasn’t just the smell of her friends hanging over her. And that nickname was appropriate, no more just because she seemed to be Nightcrawler’s smaller and prettier shadow. Now she could add out-elfing the Elf, without even trying, to her list of credentials. Wolverine would decide later if he’d let Nightcrawler live that one down.
    Back inside the hospital, Mystique was growing impatient. Not a word had been said aloud since the pleasantries ended. The only new information she could glean was speculative. The girl was a mutant. That much was clear. It seemed that, though she had some kind of weakness, she was powerful enough to warrant the highly secretive and protective manner in which she was treated. Perhaps her abilities surpassed those of Destiny or even the Scarlet Witch. But she couldn’t tell. “And it’s likely they all know I’m here, anyway, trying to eavesdrop,” Mystique thought to herself. That tore it. They did know. She would call Eric now. But wasn’t she just holding her phone?
    BAMF! Two feet planted themselves into her solar plexus. She flew into the grip of hairy, muscular arms, which pinioned hers. SNIKT! Three adamantium-plated blades poised at her throat. Tires squealed at the entrance and a horn blared. Jean hustled the Professor and Dr. Altheim out the door.
    “Don’t you know?” Wolverine threw her aside and ran out the door. “Good nurses don’t kidnap their patients!”
    “Es tut mir leid, ‘Mutter,’” Nightcrawler hissed before teleporting out.
    “Ja, ganz bestimmt,” Mystique replied icily. The police had been called. The Professor, that telekinetic twit, the doctor, and the rest, were all out the door. The volunteer at the desk wouldn’t let her use the office phone. And she had to get Eric, now! She bolted out the door, deciding once and for all that she was through with the nurse disguise.
    * * * *
    “Elf here looked like he’d seen a ghost when the Little Elf just popped up next to him,” laughed Wolverine. Then he addressed Kassandra, “And how did you snag Mystique’s phone, anyway?”
    “I knew she’d try that first to call the others, so before I left the building, I just ran out right in front of her and snatched her phone right from her hand!” Kassandra giggled. “I figured it would come in handy.”
    Kassandra had, immediately after urging Nightcrawler and Wolverine to stop Mystique, stepped out of time, flit instantly into her mother’s SUV, stepped back in, drove to the entrance, and honked. When Jean, the Professor, and Dr. Altheim got there, Kassandra scrambled out of the driver’s seat and slumped over, out cold. Now Dr. Altheim was driving. Jean navigated from the passenger seat. And Kassandra, awake again, sat in back with Charles, Nightcrawler, and Wolverine, regaling them with her tale, and explaining what she could about her powers, her strengths and weaknesses. “It may appear that I can teleport, read minds, or predict the future. But I don’t,” she said. “I can step out of time. I can see people’s timelines and learn about them that way. I can’t change the past. And I can’t predict the future, but I can guess pretty accurately based on how I see the timelines shaping up. By the way,” she added, “I may not be completely bound to time, but I still am subject to biology. Is there any food in here? I hadn’t eaten since the first time I was in yesterday.”
    Just then, the phone interrupted their laughter. Kassandra answered cautiously, “Yes?”
    “Mystique? Magneto, Sabretooth, and I will meet you at the hospital. We’ve got the priest.”
    Kassandra hung up immediately. She had lost touch with Pyro when he left Xavier’s school. And she missed him. Indeed, though he only suspected the truth, the brooding, romantic John Allerdyce could stir the embers of her heart as easily as if it were any other fire. But now that she knew exactly what he’d gotten himself into, the effect of hearing his voice was quite the opposite. She felt sick. Nightcrawler squeezed her shoulder. He also knew the pain of betrayal.
    Kassandra choked back her tears. “I didn’t guess that would happen. That was John. We have to go back.”
     
  5. angelique

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    “Pyro, you scout the school grounds and see what you can find,” said Magneto. “I’m going to Confession.” Pyro didn’t think he had any use for religion, but he began to think maybe there was something to unloading one’s guilt before some deity’s representative. Particularly when his eye caught a stone crucifix with an engraving at the bottom.
    “Can I help you with anything?” said a woman’s voice in heavily accented English.
    Pyro jumped, then turned to see that a nun, who had been patrolling the playground keeping an eye on the children, was addressing him. “Oh, yeah,” he stammered. “I don’t know much Afrikaans. I was wondering what it says.”
    “’Greater love has no man,’” the nun said, cherishing the words, “’than this, that he lay down his life for his friends.’ So what brings you here anyway?”
    “Oh, I was here to pay a surprise visit to an old friend,” said Pyro, truthfully enough, “Kassi Altheim.”
    “Well, you won’t find her at school,” she replied, slightly upset. “Haven’t you heard? Her father died yesterday, and it seems the shock of this good man’s death nearly killed her, too! Go to the hospital now, and…” Here tears came to her eyes, “tell her and the Doctor that Sister Ursula sends her love.” Pyro could only nod before he turned and ran.
    He remembered all too clearly the conversation in which he’d first mentioned the Altheims. Magneto had been griping yet again about how all mutantkind would be better off if they never had to be bothered with the fear mongering, hate spewing, masses of inferiority known as humanity.
    “Now wait a second,” Pyro interrupted, “It can’t be that simple. I mean, look at Sabretooth. All brawn, no brains. And then there’s the whole Altheim family. They’ve got everything to like in people even without any X factor mutations. They’re smart, kind, and we always had fun when they visited the school. Granted, I agree that most humanity needs to make way for us, but it’s not fair to brand them all inferior just because of genetics.”
    “There is,” mused Magneto, “a point that deserves careful consideration. Humans tend not to befriend us mutants at all, unless they can use us in some way, or unless they themselves are mutants in hiding. How do you know they aren’t mutants?”
    “They told me. Actually I asked.” Pyro relayed that whole conversation he had with the Altheims the day he first met them.
    “Why are you so nice to us?” he asked. “Are you mutants, too?”
    They all replied no, except Kassi, who said, “Do I have to be? I can wiggle my ears. Does that count?”
    “Kassi would never lie to me,” Pyro explained, “But she liked to joke around, so I took that as a no.”
    “Hmm,” Magneto scowled in thought. “Perhaps you should tell me more about these Altheims. If indeed your friend is a mutant, it may be in her best interest for us to learn more about her and help her get the most of her power. And if all is as you think, the possibility that mutantkind may have true friends among humanity deserves investigation.”
    Pyro liked the Altheims. He even considered dating Kassi. He wished he had never opened his big mouth. But he couldn’t change that now.
    * * * *
    Eric Magnus Lehnsherr was a very devout man. He had faith in God, when God agreed with his terms. He’d sacrifice nearly anything and anyone for his beliefs. And he had plenty of use for religion. He’d use any religion, from atheism to Zoroastrianism, to further his agenda. Today, a religion starting with C was convenient. He strolled with his head held high into St. Martin’s, into the confessional. He removed his helmet, for the appearance of respect, if not respect itself, was very important to him.
    “Bless me, Father, for I have sinned,” Eric droned, “It has been far too long since my last confession…”
    “Evidently,” Father Akwenye interjected, with a smile. “These days, a simple ‘hello’ does nicely.” The smile faded. “But you are here to add to, rather than confess, your sins. In that case, I will not help you.”
    “Oh, but I don’t think you have a choice,” grinned Magneto. He now had his bargaining chip- a friend of the family, with a convenient metal plate in his skull.
    Magneto strode out of the church followed by his tormented hostage, and nearly tripped Pyro on his way out. “Hold on, my young friend,” Magneto called out. “Where are you going in such a hurry?”
    Pyro stopped, and looked. The priest’s face contorted in another nauseating wave of agony, but he didn’t cry out. Magneto had that same look on his face Pyro recognized from yesterday, the nobly but not completely reluctant acceptance that one must sometimes make a mess to get things done. He was disgusted. And defeated. “To the hospital,” he sighed.
    “Nice work, my dear boy,” said Magneto. “Now call Sabretooth and Mystique and tell them to meet us there.”
     
  6. angelique

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    Chapter 6

    As the SUV approached the hospital, Wolverine and Kassandra both sensed trouble on the way.
    “Mama,” said Kassandra, faintly. “Stop the car. Everyone get out and run, now.”
    “Sabretooth,” growled Wolverine, as the SUV squealed to a stop. No sooner had he said that than the hood crumpled and the windshield shattered. Sabretooth, rejoicing that at last he got to have some fun after sniffing around the Altheim home finding nothing, and driving Magneto and that bratty firebug around, dove straight for Kassandra. Instead he got Wolverine’s claws buried in his chest. Nightcrawler grabbed the professor and teleported them both out. Jean and Dr. Altheim, taking no time to wonder why their doors were already open and their seat belts detached, spilled out and took off running. Kassandra had disappeared.
    After an abbreviated struggle, which would have killed him and Sabretooth both had they not been self-healers, Wolverine rumbled, “It’s been fun, bub, but I know you didn’t come to play.” At that, he withdrew his claws and leaped out.
    Nightcrawler and the Professor caught up with Kassandra, unconscious and lying against a police car.
    Nightcrawler set the Professor down, vanished into the shadows and then gently felt for Kassandra’s pulse. Though very slow, it was speeding up. Kassandra and Dr. Altheim had only just explained what that meant.
    “She’s coming around, Professor.”
    “I’ll buy some time,” said the Professor. Magneto had his helmet on, the helmet specifically designed to block out other people’s probing minds. He did not know, as the Professor did, that Mystique was hiding out among the lines of police officers, and he only suspected rather than knew the level and the potential violence of Pyro’s disillusionment.
    Thankfully, it didn’t take controlling Pyro’s mind to get him to act. Professor Xavier loathed having to do that. It was rage that brought John Allerdyce into the Brotherhood of Evil Mutants. A reminder that the very same rage now simmered against them was quite easy. And that’s all it took.
    “It really is quite simple. I do not want money. I am not here to make some political statement, and I really do not wish to kill anyone. All I want,” Magneto demanded, “is for you to surrender Kassandra Altheim in exchange for the priest’s life, and we will trouble you no further.”
    “Yeah, right,” muttered Pyro sarcastically, fully intending to blast that pompous liar into oblivion. All the cars were parked. There was no fire for him to use there. But he had his lighter. Magneto then turned his gaze to him. His lighter was crushed the second he tried to light it.
    “Charles, I know you’re here!” Magneto yelled.
    “Und Ich auch!” Nightcrawler stepped out of the shadows. “You speak of the lady as if she were the Botswana border. Really, a gentleman would know she is nobody’s to surrender….”
    “…But mine to protect!” roared Dr. Altheim as she and Jean burst on the scene, followed up by Wolverine, who, of course, was stopped in his tracks by Magneto. Sabretooth, in hot pursuit, stopped and sulked when he saw all the guns around him. He had been shot before. He had little to fear from being shot, but it was annoying.
    “So you see,” seethed Father Akwenye through his pain, “I know you only have in mind exploiting Kassi, like you have that boy. In which case, my decision is clear. You’ll have to kill me first.”
    “And me, bub,” Wolverine growled.
    “Und mich,” Nightcrawler chimed in.
    “And me,” said Jean and Dr. Altheim.
    “And me, old friend,” said Charles.
    “Which begs this question,” said Fr. Akwenye. “Exactly how many of your fellow mutants… I mean, how many of us, fellow mutants or otherwise, will you kill, kidnap, or exploit before you realize your battle is self-defeating?”
    At this, Magneto laughed. “You actually believe I have some scruple against killing you, rather than a simple preference?” Then, raising his hands as he had done innumerable times before, he took the guns trained on him into his magnetic grip and aimed them at the police officers. “I submit to you this question,” Magneto added, his patience at an end. “How many other people will you allow to die before you realize that I have the upper hand?”
    Mystique, staring down the barrel of one such gun, metamorphosed from police officer back into her naturally sleek, blue form and stepped out of formation. She always knew Eric might sacrifice even her for his pet cause. In this case, it was not deliberate. Some other time, it could be. She wasn’t about to let it happen. Not now, not ever. But as long as she had her own reasons for getting Kassandra, she’d play along with Magneto.
    “No one will die, Eric Lehnsherr!” Kassandra stepped up to him. “If anyone deserves to die, it’s you and your fascists!”
    “Really?” Magneto smiled. “Is this another one of your predictions?”
    “Maybe,” retorted Kassandra. She considered the possibilities. Stopping the relative flow of time might not help her in this situation, but slowing it down would. A pair of nightsticks appeared in her hands, wielded like traditional Zulu fighting sticks. Now that it came down to it, this would not be in any way like the rigorous but friendly sparring she enjoyed with Nightcrawler. For the first time ever, she’d have to really fight, for her future, and for people’s very lives, against the people who killed her father. She hated the idea, but she’d do what she must. Magneto’s smile deepened. So far, the girl played right into his hands.
    “Mystique, Sabretooth,” he ordered, “take her.”
    At this, Kassandra transformed into a ghostlike whirlwind. And though the forms of her opponents appeared just as faded to her as she was a transparent blur to them, they were solid enough to her clubs and feet. Mystique, with all her speed, agility, and quick thinking, went down in less than one second. She was sluggishness incarnate compared to Kassandra. Sabretooth’s teeth, claws, and brute strength were useless. Before he could even lay a hand on the girl, she’d transformed him into a bleeding, unconscious heap that even his accelerated healing would need time to restore. It occurred to Kassandra with a sickening jolt that Wolverine did not have a corner on mutant berserker rage. Had she wanted, she could have killed them all before they’d ever have a chance to defend themselves. But she had to end this fight, and surrender was not an option.
    Magneto was now shocked. Less than five seconds into the battle, and the avenging spirit was now upon him. Could nothing stop this rampaging wraith? He extended his magnetic control to the steel bolts and bindings in the nightsticks, hoping to halt the barrage of blows he anticipated.
    And that was just what she counted on. Time for a little trick Nightcrawler showed her. Using the now immobilized nightsticks for leverage, she vaulted up and smashed her feet into Magneto’s jaw. Awe and terror registered on his face. His helmet flew off his head. The guns, helmet, and bloodied nightsticks clattered to the ground. Wolverine and Father Akwenye were released. Magneto thudded against a wall, and slid to the ground, unconscious. Kassi twisted, landed, and whirled to face Pyro. She stepped back into time, and normal speed resumed. And though her normal appearance was restored, Kassandra, the sweet girl that Pyro once considered asking out, appeared to him as a woman transformed- trembling, fists up, eyes wild, and capabilities unfathomable. “Think about what just happened here, John, and I might forgive you. And,” she added, tossing him a cell phone, “Mystique might want this back.”
    Then, as a petrified Pyro swore to himself, Nightcrawler dashed up and caught Kassandra’s inert body.
     
  7. angelique

    angelique Registered

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    Chapter 7

    Escaping the prison was, as usual, ridiculously easy even with the bruises and general achiness from their humiliating defeat. Magneto sprung the locks. Mystique disguised herself as a high-ranking police officer, said that Magneto, Pyro, and Sabretooth were wanted elsewhere on other charges (which was, of course, true), and off they went.
    “I’m afraid there’s more to this girl than precognition,” said Magneto, as Mystique drove them away. “Either she has multiple powers, like foresight, telepathy, speed or teleportation, and maybe telekinesis, or she’s got some other power that we just don’t understand. At any rate, we need a new modus operandi.
    “Are you aware of any weaknesses?” Magneto asked. “Pyro, my boy, why was she in the hospital?”
    All Pyro would say was, “I heard it was shock from her father’s death.”
    “Hmph,” scoffed Mystique, “Xavier and the rest acted as if using her power put her there.”
    Pyro sulked silently, refusing to admit that was probably correct.
    * * * *

    The Blackbird cruised over the Atlantic, with nothing but good weather ahead. Jean set the autopilot and looked back on everyone else.
    “How’s our patient doing?” she asked.
    “Hungry!” Kassandra shouted. She then resumed devouring all the food and drink offered her and talking with Nightcrawler, softly and exclusively in German, the way these friends always shared a private conversation.
    “She’s hungry, dehydrated, and exhausted,” Dr. Altheim clarified, “Just as if she’d gone for a couple of very trying days without food, water, or sleep. Which, of course, is precisely what she did in one day.” Dr. Altheim groaned in mock frustration. “I don’t think I’ll ever fully understand it.” She added, all seriousness restored, “But I do understand this. We’ve seen what slipping in and out of time can do to her. It could possibly even kill her.”
    “However,” Charles reassured, “I do have a couple of ideas. If Logan is willing to help, we might be able to do something about it.”
    “Hey, what do you mean, ‘if’?” Wolverine demanded.
    “So,” said Kurt to Kassandra, “do you still like John?”
    Kassandra chewed thoughtfully, swallowed, then said, “I care about him, but…”
    “You don’t want to go out with him?” Kurt asked, feigning shock. “What’s up?”
    “Bist du verrückt?” Kassandra laughed. Then she took his hand. “I have you for my friend. Mein Lieblingsfreund. That’s much better than any infatuation. I am so lucky.” With that, she yawned, “And so tired. Night, all! Gute Nacht, Kurt.” Then she dropped off into her first regular sleep, full of life and dreams, as opposed to her deathlike hibernation, since that long ago yesterday.
    Kurt gently pulled a blanket up under her chin and kissed her forehead. “Schlaf gut, mein’ Zeitgeist.”
    * * * *
    Back in Keetmanshoop, Fridrich Altheim was buried in the Altheim family plot with the simple but full and sincere honors of the people he served. Dr. Altheim had just returned from New York to mourn her husband. Kassandra had stayed behind to undergo a regimen of medical procedures and therapy before starting her first term at the Xavier Institute for Higher Learning. But a transmission was set up courtesy of her wealthy Opa Altheim, and so all the students and faculty at Xavier Mansion saw the funeral and heard Father Akwenye’s brief eulogy.
    “Fridrich’s death was tragic. It was preventable. But we must not regard his murder as a waste of a life, for that would suggest we think his life was a waste. And he certainly made sure that was not the case. As St. Paul said in the reading today, we must not mourn like those who have no hope. We have plenty of reason to hope even in our grief. While the murder was an act of evil, it of course could not stop the good that Fridrich had done. Indeed, just as surely as his soul lives on in the care of Almighty God, his example of undiscriminating kindness continues to be lived out by his wife, his children, and numerous friends both here and abroad. And so let us celebrate.”
     
  8. angelique

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    Down Time
    Chapter 1

    “Guten Morgen, Kassi!” came a cheerful voice.
    “In wie Fern gut, bittesehr?” Kassandra muttered, as she trudged back into the Xavier Mansion after a most unusually disappointing morning run. She hoped that resuming her runs in the early morning solitude would help her sort through the events of the past several days. It failed, miserably. She wanted to get away from anyone that might feel sorry for her. She wanted shoulders to cry on. She couldn’t decide what she really wanted, and this confusion further darkened her mood.
    “Well,” her friend continued in German, “I was wondering if you’d like to have breakfast with me, and then after that, maybe a bit of fencing?”
    Kassandra stopped. “I’m sorry, Kurt. I suppose I would like that,” she said, with a wry smile, “but it feels like I just can’t enjoy anything the same way anymore.”
    “Ich verstehe.” Nightcrawler put an arm around her and steered her toward the dining room. “I wouldn’t expect you to enjoy anything the same way again after what you’ve been through. Rather, you will find the same things you’ve enjoyed before take on different meanings, and you may appreciate them differently. Perhaps even more.”
    “I know that,” Kassandra sighed, leaning her head on Kurt’s shoulder and choking on the tears that escaped her dark eyes. “I already appreciate you differently and more. There!” she added, now smiling through her tears, “I’m making progress already, nicht wahr?”
    Kurt smiled gently as he and Kassandra loaded up their plates and found a table. He was not empathic, much to his relief. It was difficult enough for him to deal with his own grief and see his dear friend hurting so badly, without experiencing the profound depth of her pain on top of that. He resolved to do all he could to make things better, set his tray down, and with his prehensile tail, pulled Kassandra’s chair out for her. She smirked as she sat. A small success.
    Kassandra had hopes that she’d be one of the all too few that would enroll at the Xavier Institute with no more difficulty than that of any other eighteen year old leaving home and starting college. Unlike most the people who ended up there, she was raised by parents who knew all along and didn’t mind a bit that she was a mutant. Most of the others there were rejected, betrayed, or abused by their families. Some, like Nightcrawler, were rescued from mob violence. A few envied Kassandra, with her loving family and relatively normal life. No more.
    Any hope that Kassandra Altheim would enjoy a normal transition into college life was shattered completely only about four days ago. She arrived from Namibia a few months ahead of schedule after the Brotherhood of Evil Mutants murdered her father, tried to kidnap her, took her parish priest and an entire police force hostage, and compelled her to tap into her powers in new and alarmingly violent ways. Now that she had a little time to recover, it was clear that her adjustment to life at Xavier Mansion would be no easier than anyone else’s.
    “Liebchen, bitte iss etwas!” Kurt urged Kassandra, who was picking at her eggs. “It isn’t sporting to defeat a hungry opponent.”
    “Then you’d better eat well, mein Freund,” Kassandra retorted, finally deciding she had an appetite after all.
    * * * *
    Nightcrawler put the music on. It had been a habit now for Kurt and Kassandra to train to music. It helped them maintain the right frame of mind, and made each of their bouts look and feel more like a beautifully improvised pas de deux, with blades. Soon, a haunting, romantic melody pealed out over the flow of broken chords.
    “Beethovens Mondschein Sonaten?” Kassandra grimaced as she entered the Danger Room. “Not the best music for fencing.”
    “Until the third movement, Liebling,” Kurt replied, “Meanwhile it’s perfect for what I’m doing now.”
    “Was ist das?” Kassandra asked, knowing well that he was setting up to deliver another signature round of silly and maddeningly flirtatious compliments. Unlike most at the Xavier Institute, she thought Kurt’s desire to join the seminary was noble, rather than strange. At the very least, it only made sense to her that a good Catholic man would consider all his options. However, she didn’t think he’d last a minute in the priesthood.
    “Well, just admiring the view,” he smiled, pulling on his customized three-fingered gloves and looking upon her in a way that made it clear that he was referring to her. Indeed, her white jacket and knickers fit her graceful, petite, slender form well and set off her milk chocolate colored skin, deep brown curls, and wide black-coffee eyes. But it wasn’t just that this one of few who could hold her own against Nightcrawler also looked very attractive. Kurt noticed for the first time as she pulled on her gloves and mask, that though she never cared very much about clothes, she wore them with authority.
    “Ach, du!” Kassandra’s face grew hot.
    “So, what weapons, today?” Kurt asked. “Foil? Epee?” Kassandra was quite clever with those blades, and could, on occasion, beat him with them.
    Kassandra surprised him. “Nein, Kurt,” she said, cuing the music to the sonata’s third movement. She picked up a sabre and saluted. “Today I’ll win with your favorite.”
    She engaged, and quickly impressed him. She parried all of his attacks strongly and successfully. While she could not get a single point, neither did she allow him any. Nightcrawler retreated and switched hands. Of course, he had taught and encouraged Kassandra to fence equally with both hands. She switched hands, as well. Now the sabre was in her left, her weaker hand. But her parries and ripostes were no weaker. And now she was throwing in counterattacks and flying lunges, forcing Nightcrawler to give ground. Fantastisch! It looked like she might get in the first point. But he also noticed something was not quite right.
    Missing was the smile, the riffing on all of Kurt’s favorite swashbuckling movies, the lighthearted banter Kassandra usually employed when the two friends practiced together. Instead, she adopted stony silence, unusually aggressive attacks, and a grim scowl.
    “Time to lighten the mood again,” thought Kurt. The first time he tried this maneuver with Kassandra, she doubled over and rolled out of the lines, overcome with rapturous laughter, and he won by default. He retreated, wrapped his tail around the grip, and then attacked, taking his hand off the grip in mid-lunge. Kassandra seemed unfazed. She parried and retreated. But she did smile. And he got her talking again. Another small success.
    “Ungerecht! Das darfst du nicht!!” she protested. “That’s got to be below the waist.”
    “Nein, Kassi.” Nightcrawler made a big show of folding his arms while engaging and attacking with his tail. “As long as I’m not attacking below your waist, this is perfectly legal.”
    “Only because the rules never took us mutants into account.” Kassandra counterattacked.
    Nightcrawler took his sabre back into his hand. “Which means there’s no rule against me doing this,” he replied, teleporting behind her. Kassandra knew it was only a matter of time (and a lot of practice on her part) before he’d consider her ready to handle a mid-match teleportation, so she anticipated it. She whirled, retreated, and parried.
    “And I guess that means,” she retorted, “that there’s no rule against me doing this!” Here she stepped out of time and slowed it down. Here, outside of the normal flow of time, nobody could catch her. Here, she could steal Nightcrawler’s tempo and completely disengage.
    “Touche,” said Nightcrawler, as the transparent blur which had been his friend dealt a smart rap to his shoulder, then passed out into his arms.
     
  9. angelique

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    Chapter 2

    “Logan, Scott, come in! Please sit.” said Professor Xavier. “Jean, Hank, and I just got your mother on the phone, Kassi. Adimu,” he said into the phone to Kassandra’s mother on the other side of the Atlantic, “I’m sorry to call you at this time. We just received some news, both good and bad, that we need to share. Jean?”
    At this point, Dr. Jean Grey took over. “Kassandra, it seems that your unauthorized use of your power helped us confirm what’s going on and what to do about it. If it weren’t for Kurt’s quick action in teleporting you to the infirmary, we might not have caught it. Everything you’ve suspected about your hibernation, as you’ve called it, is correct. Dr. Altheim,” Jean said to her mother, “you were right when you said that even when Kassandra is outside of time, she is still subject to hunger, thirst, fatigue, and aging. We’ve confirmed that the things we’ve observed, like the changes in her sleeping habits, heretofore unexplained spikes in appetite, and yes, her blackouts and occasions of deep coma are all part of a biological safeguard. Outside of time, her biology continues as it normally would. When she steps back into time, her body, even her aging, slows down almost to a complete stop until time catches up, almost like suspended animation. If this didn’t happen, she could step out of time, then die of hunger, thirst, exhaustion, or even, theoretically speaking, old age in an instant of our time. And it would certainly cause what would appear to us as premature aging.”
    “So,” said Dr. McCoy, “Part of our objective is to help her learn her limits-"
    “Hang on a second, furball,” interjected Wolverine, “If all you’re saying is that her time-tripping puts her out of commission and that she’s not allowed to do it, then what’s the point of all of this?”
    “-after,” the Beast continued, with a shaggy blue eyebrow cocked in Wolverine’s direction, “we minimize the medical risks.”
    “This is where you come in, Logan,” Jean explained.
    “So a stem cell transplant from an accelerated healer is a possibility?” Dr. Altheim asked.
    “Not only is it a possibility,” said Beast, “but we have found two matches: Sabretooth, and you, Logan.”
    Kassandra gaped in horror.
    “Sabretooth,” Beast continued, “will donate willingly enough-“
    “So he and Magneto can manipulate me!” Kassandra exclaimed. “Nein, danke!”
    “Precisely,” said Beast. “That’s what makes Logan the best candidate.”
    “But, but-“ Kassandra stammered, “Logan, your adamantium!” The idea of anybody trying to drill through the indestructible metal that plated Wolverine’s bones just to ease and prolong her life appalled her.
    “Relax, kid.” Wolverine patted her shoulder. He’d done things even more drastic to protect the kids at the school, and he wasn’t about to make an exception for his Little Elf. “I said I’d help.”
    “And I won’t have anyone vivisecting any Logan clones just to make my life a little easier,” Kassandra insisted.
    “Kassi!” said Dr. Altheim, “You know none of that is necessary. There are other sources of stem cells, even in non-mutants. But quick healers have a constant and plentiful supply of uniquely adaptable stem cells in their bloodstream, ready for use wherever and whenever they’re needed, am I right, Dr. McCoy?”
    “That’s right,” said Beast. “Now, Kassandra, you know overhauling your immune system like this won’t be easy.”
    “I know, I know,” replied Kassandra, “Three days of chemotherapy, quarantine, throwing up, and all that. I can handle it.”
    Dr. Altheim laughed in spite of herself. “So you have indeed been reading my medical journals!”
    “And,” Jean added, “as a mutant transplant hasn't been attempted before, we don’t know how any side-effects will affect you. And Kassi, don’t bother looking ahead to see. If you consent to this, you’ll need to save your energy.”
    Kassi waved her hand dismissively. “If Logan’s willing, if it enables me to better use my abilities, and if it will help others down the road, let’s go for it.”
    All said their goodbyes. Jean, Beast, and Wolverine then headed to the lab.
    “Something’s very wrong, Kassandra,” said Charles. “You aren’t just mourning your father and adjusting to your new environment. You’re afraid of something, aren’t you?”
    “Ja,” she conceded.
    “Something you saw in our timelines?”
    “Just a glimpse,” replied Kassandra. “I was only trying to beat Kurt in fencing, but it was so big I couldn’t help noticing. Something terrible is shaping up, for all of us. It’s still a few years down the road, so I don’t know what exactly will happen. And even if I did know, I don’t think we can avoid it. The only thing I can think of is for me to get as much of my studies out of the way as possible beforehand. Onkel Charles, would it be all right if I used my down time to get ahead on my psych assignments?”
    “That won’t be a problem,” Charles smiled. “I happen to also have in mind giving you an extra assignment. Some of the children have been reading The Chronicles of Narnia over the summer. Perhaps you could explain to them the ‘muddle about time’ better than Lewis did. But we also have a more immediate concern, right?”
    “John Allerdyce called me yesterday,” said Kassandra. “He said he wanted to get together, try to patch things up, and discuss a cure for my hibernation problem. I told him no thanks.”
    “Well then, it’s quite simple,” Charles replied. “Scott, Kurt, keep a close eye on Kassandra for the next few days. Jean, too. It seems that Mr. Lehnsherr hasn’t learned to leave you alone, right Kassi?”
     
  10. angelique

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    Chapter 3

    A black car pulled off of Graymalkin Lane into the driveway of a sprawling estate. A single figure, carrying a briefcase, got out, walked up to the door, and then entered the house. She then strode to the infirmary with the determined stride of a woman who held a girl’s future in her hands. Oh, yes. Mustn’t forget to scrub, too.
    Voices led her to the room. Two girls, talking about guys.
    “So I hear you’re over Johnny,” said one.
    “Quite,” whispered the other, grimacing. “Not that he was never good to me. I mean he did put me off dating bad boys altogether.”
    “Anyone new?”
    “Not unless Piotr’s got an identical twin brother! Well, now that Scott’s finally twisted Kurt’s arm into leaving and getting something to eat, well…actually, Kätchen, I really can’t tell right now.”
    “Oh, come on! Wait, Kassi, are you okay?”
    The woman arrived and saw the patient overcome with apparent faintness, and a girl swathed in blue scrubs sitting at her bedside. And Cyclops, at the door.
    “Jean!” he said, reaching out for her. “Is everything ready?”
    She stepped away from him. “Oh, sorry, Scott,” she stammered, a full syringe now in hand. “I just scrubbed. Yes, everything’s ready.”
    “Except for one thing,” came Kassandra’s voice, with renewed strength. “That’s not Jean.”
    The woman lunged toward Kassandra, barely evading a stunning optic bolt from Cyclops.
    “Hold your breath!” Shadowcat warned, phasing herself and Kassandra through mattress and the floor below. The needle drove into the mattress. A second bolt sent Mystique crashing unconscious into the wall. Cyclops grabbed the syringe and ran to the lab as fast as he could.
    “Mystique’s here! Lock the school down!” Shadowcat cried, as she and Kassandra plunged into the room below. She landed and started running, half dragging Kassandra along with her. Oh, thank God, there was Kurt on his way to the dining room.
    “Kurt!” Kitty yelled, “We’ve got a problem. Get Kassi to the lab, now!”
    “Ja wohl!” Nightcrawler said, as he scooped Kassandra up in his arms and teleported out.
    Kitty Pryde remembered all too well how she arrived at Xavier Mansion only a few years before, and hoped for Kassi’s sake that the Hellfire Club would not share the Brotherhood of Evil Mutants’ interest in her.
    Jean had just finished preparing Wolverine’s cell culture for transplant, when Nightcrawler teleported into the room, carrying Kassandra. “Is it ready?”
    “Maybe not!” Cyclops shouted, running into the room and handing Jean the syringe. “Jean, you may want to check this out first. And recheck everything.”
     
  11. angelique

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    Chapter 4

    Kassandra recovered from the transplant in record time, proving that her own healing capabilities had been completely replaced by Wolverine’s. And the whole school was now abuzz with the news that Pyro, the same boy who betrayed the Altheims and killed Kassandra’s father, had again asked Kassandra out for a cup of coffee. Even more scandalous was the word that this time she’d accepted! Nightcrawler was stunned. Wolverine, who had developed a strong paternal affection for his Little Elf, was beside himself. They confronted her.
    “Relax, guys,” she reassured them. “I know something’s up, and I have a plan.”
    At a coffee shop in Salem Center, Pyro looked like anyone else there, talking on the phone while waiting for someone to arrive. “She just got out of the car. No, she didn’t come alone,” he said.
    He hung up as Kassandra walked in.
    “Hallo, John,” she said.
    “Kassandra,” said Pyro. He maintained at the very least the appearance of composure. Kassandra had to give him credit for that. She knew that since the last time they’d met, he was rather terrified of her. And for good reason. “Can I get you something?”
    “Ice water, please,” she said to the barrista.
    “Okay, listen,” he said as they found a table and sat down. “I am really surprised that you’d even agreed to see me. But I am glad. I wanted to see how you were holding up. And I really needed to talk to you. I know that nothing I can ever say or do will make up for what I’ve done, but I have to say this. For what it’s worth, I- I’m sorry.”
    Kassandra knew that on some level, he was sincere, but it wasn’t enough.
    “I also wanted to let you know that I did not tell Magneto about your fainting problem or whatever it was,” he continued. “He and Mystique figured all that out on their own. And how to cure it, as well. But there’s another problem.”
    “Save it, Johnny,” retorted Kassandra, bitterly. “I know what the problem is. I know about Sabretooth’s bone marrow, as if that would make me feel I owe him anything. And I know of Magneto’s nanoprobes. And why you’ve really asked me out. It’s not so we could make amends, as I dared hope. It’s all a ploy to drag me into your little mutant supremacist movement, when my answer has been and always will be no. So stop wasting your time and mine. IT WILL NOT HAPPEN!”
    Before Pyro could even think to signal Magneto, Kassandra disappeared, leaving behind her glass of water, with his lighter in it sinking to the bottom, and a note saying, “And neither will we.”
    At that same moment, in a nearby parking lot-
    “Guten Abend, Herr Lehnsherr.”
    Magneto nearly jumped out of his skin whirling to see the very girl he was just now watching through the window standing right behind him. He looked again. She was still in the coffee shop. And right here. With fighting sticks in hand.
    “What’s wrong? You look like you’ve seen a ghost,” said Kassandra. “Oh, don’t bother torturing me with your nanoprobes. I didn’t receive them. And it wouldn’t make a difference if I did. You’d have to kill me, and you don’t want to waste such potentially useful talent as mine, nicht wahr?”
    “Blob, Toad-”
    “-are taking a nap. With the rest of your friends.” She indicated the unconscious bodies that littered the ground.
    “But surely-”
    “And it’s ludicrous that you of all people would think of appealing to my sense of honor. I neither wanted nor received anything from Sabretooth. Even if I did, I’d owe him my gratitude, not my soul. And you and your little mutant socialist party, absolutely nothing.”
    At last she hit a nerve. “I see your past,” she intoned in a voice that seemed to come from beyond time, her eyes burning, wide with the horror she beheld, her appearance now somehow brighter and more transparent. “Everything about it,” the wraith continued. “I know who you really are. And how you managed to become the very sort of person you despise the most. Care for me to elaborate?”
    * * * *
    “Hallo, guys!” Kassandra returned, scarcely two minutes after they dropped her off.
    “That was quick,” remarked Wolverine.
    “It was also the most difficult work I’d ever done, except for that instant marathon I ran back home. But I’ve persuaded Magneto to leave me alone. By the way,” she added, “do you notice anything different?”
    Wolverine smiled. “The Elf’s not carrying you.”
    “One less ohnmächtige Dame for me to rescue,” said Nightcrawler, feigning disappointment. “I think I’ll miss how you so often managed to end up in my arms.”
    Kassandra grimaced. “I thought you’d appreciate having a comrade-in-arms who doesn’t keel over all the time.”
    “Well, I guess I can’t complain as long as die Ritterin who has my back is so brave, brilliant, und so eine schöne Schwertkämpferin!”
    Kassandra’s face darkened. “Kurt, du bist unmöglich!”
    “Stop blushing, Little Elf,” said Wolverine. “You’re only encouraging him.”
     
  12. angelique

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    Another disclaimer. I owe profound respect to Excalibur, Star Wars, Highlander, and the late, great Robert Heinlein.

    Love Enough for Time

    Mein Liebe Kurt,

    I have quite a bit of news to share, most of it relatively good, for a change. Mama and Michael have joined forces with Doctors Without Borders and expanded the relief agency’s work into South Africa and Rwanda. I’ve also enclosed a picture of Michael, his wife, and my favorite (as well as only) niece and nephew. They’ve grown in sweetness as well as size. Lucy found a man content to live happily ever after at Kalahari Gemsbok. He’s a fellow zoologist. They’ll be getting married in a few months. And my brother Vincent is now Father Vincent. He’d just taken solemn vows with the Franciscan Order. So all goes well with that odd assemblage that’s my family.
    As for me, life continues to be lonely with you, Kätchen, and Piotr abroad and the X-Men gone. Work has been especially depressing, particularly after the last time I saw you. I will tell you as much as I can about it when I visit.
    And yes, I will be visiting. I badly need a change of scenery. I had been considering a permanent career change, moving back to Keetmanshoop at least for the time being, and figuring out where my life should go from there. Instead, I have taken an assignment in Rome, and will need to stop in and see you on the way. Sadly, I will not be able to stay for Brian and Meggan’s wedding, but I will have a gift for them.
    I am scheduled to arrive at London Heathrow 3:15 Friday. I’ll call with further information before I arrive. Tell everyone hallo for me, and that I look forward to seeing all of you very soon.

    Dein’ immer,
    Kassi

    P.S. Tell no one that I’m going to Rome. Don’t even think too much about it, and destroy this letter once you’ve read it, bitte.
     
  13. angelique

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    Chapter 2

    Nightcrawler anxiously looked for one last thing to do to get the lighthouse ready for its guest, when he noticed a book Brian had left lying around, open and pages down. He picked it up and found a bookmark to keep Brian’s place, but not before noticing this quote:
    “Since the word ‘love’ occurs so frequently in ancient English literature, I thought my failure to understand that word might be the block that keeps me from thinking in English.”
    He thought that that the author really should have read 1 Corinthians 13, but then wondered if he really understood it so well, himself.
    Now there was nothing left to do until Meggan, Brian, and Piotr returned from the airport. With Kassandra Altheim. A beautiful young Namibian-born psychologist who now only officially existed as a code name spoken only in awed whispers among the highest levels of government intelligence. Zeitgeist, ace criminal profiler and international covert operations specialist. And Kurt Wagner’s favorite fencing partner.
    The elemental Meggan breezed through the door, radiant with excitement, followed closely by the man once known as Captain Britain, Brian Braddock, and Piotr Rasputin, the mighty Colossus, helping with luggage. And then, Freude, endlich! Kassandra strode in, gorgeous in a terra cotta colored pants suit and burgundy duster. She threw down her satchel and briefcase and greeted the rest of the team.
    “Douglock! Rahne! Kätchen!” Big hugs all around. And a small, winged reptile fluttered excitedly around Kassandra’s head, eager for a little attention from this distinguished guest.
    “Ach, unser mächtig Drache, Lockheed. Have you been taking good care of the team for me? Und Herr Wisdom….”
    Pete Wisdom barely acknowledged her greeting with a strained nod. “Miss Altheim.”
    And then…
    “I thought a professional woman in black would actually wear black.”
    “Kurt!” She raced into Nightcrawler’s arms. For a while, all they did was just hold each other.
    “Es ist lange her. Zu lange,” she whispered, pressing a kiss into his blue cheek.
    “It’s been way too long,” he concurred, running a hand through her wild dark curls and taking a moment to enjoy the soft scent that always seemed to emanate from her hair. The first time she’d visited him on this side of the Atlantic, he was in no condition to remember anything except wondering if she really did survive the disaster that nearly claimed his and Shadowcat’s life, or if that was just some wishful hallucination reassuring him that she was okay and would do her part to help. The second time, they were both working with Black Air, but she worked busily under such deep cover that he never knew the nature or level of her involvement. He didn’t get to see her except when Britannic requested her counseling to help deal with his jumbled memories. A lot had happened since then. Their good friend and colleague Dr. Moira MacTaggert had died. The team had to leave Muir Island. Sure, Kassandra would be leaving again after Mass on Sunday. But for now….
     
  14. angelique

    angelique Registered

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    Chapter 3

    Kassi helped clean up in the kitchen after tea then sat down with reams of issues of Aquerello Italiano and a variety of other books. In Rome, she would be circulating among multilingual society, but she did not want to take that for granted. She wanted to have at least a conversational fluency in Italian before she arrived. She then rethought her plan of action, got up, and grabbed some leftovers. Growing up multilingual did give her an advantage. Nonetheless, learning a new language in mere seconds would take a lot of energy. And maybe some more coffee. She sat back down and opened the book.
    Nightcrawler looked in, curious about the furious rustling of paper he heard in the kitchen, seeing Kassandra blurry and transparent, pages flipping furiously before her eyes. He smiled to himself. That’s how Kassandra crammed for finals, too, once she got a grip on her mutant extratemporal abilities and stopped passing out all the time after utilizing them. Kassandra could work in a whole night or two of intensive study into a single instant, if she needed to. She then put her last book down, satisfied with her vocabulary and knowledge of verb conjugations, and stepped back into normal time.
    “Buono notturno, mi amore,” Kassandra yawned, as she headed to her room.
    * * * *
    The next morning, Kassandra ran a few miles along the beach. She knew she was going to have to say some things she wouldn’t like later that day. She could not predict the future, but she could deduce very accurately. Also, just as if she were her mythical Greek namesake, people had an often-tragic tendency to disbelieve when she knew trouble was on the horizon. Her own ability to shape the future was limited to the range of her own decisions. She could only try to persuade. She couldn’t make other people’s decisions. While her methods of persuasion could be powerful, blackmail, intimidation, bribery, and such were only effective against people with weaknesses she could exploit. And she would not dare use this particular person’s notorious weakness for a pretty face. She had to do something anyway. And Nightcrawler, though he did not yet know, would be so entangled in the problems she foresaw that she couldn’t even guess the most probable outcome. For his sake, she’d have to have a word with him. She did not look forward to that.
    Still, she felt better than she had in a long time. Though Nightcrawler and the future that was taking shape for him confused and troubled her greatly, just being around him again, even if it was only for one more day, warmed her heart. And it was difficult to not to enjoy a greater clarity of mind and soul in this environment. The mist-covered crags and gravelly beach were nothing like her favorite places- from the vast Kalahari Desert, to the Skeleton Coast, famous for its stark, desolate, and dangerous beauty. But it was just as good. In all her work dealing with the world at its ugliest, she had almost forgotten how it felt to see God’s Creation at its best and most sublime. She returned to the lighthouse with a clearer mind and lighter heart.
     
  15. angelique

    angelique Registered

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    (Did I tell you I also owe a debt of gratitude to the whole James Bond franchise?)

    Chapter 4

    The rest of the day was busy. Kassandra spent the rest of the morning on the phone, being debriefed on her assignment, and apparently practicing her Italian at the same time. She was delighted to see that her extratemporal crash course in the Italian language paid off. She next went shopping with Kitty and Rahne, and bought an antique wall clock she knew Brian and Meggan would like. Then she met the whole team back at the lighthouse for lunch and a run-down of some of the operations and investigations she’d worked on, and how they affected them. She reminded Pete that she could dodge any heat daggers he might have for her. Oaths of secrecy did not apply to people who actually had a need to know, some of what she shared had been declassified, and as one agent once said, absolute secrecy corrupts absolutely, anyway. But she was gracious enough to not mention his substantial part in how her cover was blown and gun runners nearly rolled her up in Thailand. Finally, it was time for an appointment with an old friend in the Danger Room. But on the way, Pete Wisdom accosted her.
    “Oi,” he said, “Don’t think I’m beginnin’ t’like you or anything, but thanks for not mentioning me part in the Ronsaphan incident.”
    “Pete, I’ve long since forgiven you for that,” said Kassandra. “You’ve more than proven yourself to the team. And you weren’t the only one responsible for that bloodbath, anyway. But officially, I still think you were insufferably stupid getting me into that mess. And then leaving MI6 for an even worse outfit.”
    “Well, that’s a bloody lot of comfort.” Pete almost allowed himself to smile. “And officially, I still think you were violating international agreement, spying on Black Air like that. And as flippantly as if you were in some bad spy film.”
    “Oh, you’re one to talk, Timothy Dalton. And don’t even think of calling me Gloria Hendry or whatever.”
    “I wouldn’t dream of comparing you to her.” Pete wondered briefly about how all his relationships tended to begin with mutual dislike.
    Kassandra’s eyes flashed. She picked up on his thought, like glimpsing an event in his timeline. She grinned. Annoying Pete Wisdom was almost as much fun as teasing Kurt. “You got that right, George Lanzerby. I’ve always had better taste in who I work with, present company excepted. And don’t flatter yourself.”
    “Well, I aint one ta keep ya from yer boyfriend, anyway.”
    Kassandra stopped. “You know, Herr Wisdom, I rather liked how you put this. Sod off.”
     
  16. angelique

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    Chapter 5

    “So, you were Celestine Ritter all along. And Alistair Stuart and the mighty Britannic himself were your agents!” Nightcrawler said. “No wonder Pete’s been grumpier than usual around you. Unglaublich!”
    “Nein, Kurt.” Kassandra shook her head. “It’s only reasonable that a bit of envy and mistrust should exist between rogue-ish spies such as him and me. Particularly since he and I have a rather unpleasant history that goes back even farther than Black Air. But I think we’re getting over that. As for me, I’m not proud of the job I did. I had to make a lot of horrible choices, and I had spread myself too thin, concentrating on too much at once to be of enough help to anyone. There were more disasters than you know of that I tried- and failed miserably- to prevent.”
    “But you did help us all the same,” he replied. “It seems mein’ liebe Zeitgeist is a guardian angel in human form.”
    “Und Ich werde wieder sein, Kurt,” replied Kassandra, “as you have been for me.” She pulled on her glove. A lot had changed in the past years. Many tragedies, a few joys, and a great many new things learned. Kassandra graduated college early, became a U.S. citizen, worked as a criminal psychologist and profiler for the FBI, and joined the CIA Directorate of Operations as a human intelligence specialist. Her grandfather died, leaving her a portion of his diamond interests, so she was free to work as independently as she wanted. She also learned that her ability to see and navigate timelines did not extend to alternate realities. She hadn’t seen her honorary family that was the X-Men since the Adversary so rudely interrupted their timelines and caused her to spend considerable time questioning her sanity. And though, thanks to Wolverine’s stem cell donation, she would always remain physically youthful, her haunting dark eyes now reflected the weariness of someone who had seen more life and death than possible for anyone else in their early twenties.
    But some things just needed to remain the same. She would never forget how the X-Men and Excalibur earned her fierce loyalty, though she could not officially join either team. How Nightcrawler had put his life on the line for her repeatedly. How he was her constant comfort after her father and grandfather died. How he didn’t have to earn her love and friendship, and managed to deserve it so richly anyway. And that fencing to classical music would always be the sport of choice when she and Kurt were together. But standard sabre rules, this time. Kassandra felt that using her extratemporal abilities in fencing gave her an unfair advantage, Nightcrawler’s ability to wield three or even four blades at once, and generally superior fencing expertise notwithstanding.
    “So,” she asked, “was Music habst du?”
    “Hm.” Nightcrawler rifled through the CD’s that had collected there. “Wir haben ‘Tannheuser.’”
    Kassandra grimaced as she pulled on her mask. “Kurt, you know the only Wagner I like is blue and fuzzy and about to select something less depressing.”
    Nightcrawler smiled. “Point taken. How about Schubert Lieder? And not Erlkönig. I can’t have you singing along one of your parodies.”
    “Ach, du verstehst ja gar keinen Spaß.”
    And so the piano played a whirling spinning-wheel theme, and a mournful soprano sang the words of a familiar Göthe poem. From Faust, it was, Kassandra recalled, as she saluted.
    “So,” said Kurt, as he attacked. “You said something about being my guardian angel again. Is this about your new assignment?”
    “Ja.” Kassandra counterattacked. “On the surface, it doesn’t seem to directly involve you at all. But I’m the only one who knows any differently right now.”
    “What do you know?” Nightcrawler parried and riposted.
    “Not much yet. That’s why I’m going to the Vatican. To find out more.”
    “Die Vatikan?” Nightcrawler parried a strong counterattack. He had almost forgotten that while Kassandra was already an excellent fencer, the deceptively small and graceful girl also tended to fight with Wolverine’s passion. And stamina.
    “It won’t be easy. I can’t just flit in and out, grab secrets from people’s pasts, and maybe roll up some baddies. You know how I look whenever anyone can see my extratemporal appearance.”
    “Like a woman transfigured,” said Nightcrawler.
    Kassandra scoffed as she again countered. “That’s a nice way of putting it. There’s a reason why the angels always have to tell people to not be afraid.”
    “Das ist wohl wahr.” Nightcrawler parried and riposted. Kassandra tended to appear, if visible at all, like a bright, blurry, transparent wraith when she moved outside the regular flow of time. And anyone shocked by the sight of a fuzzy blue elf would be overwhelmed to see mutant beauties such as Ororo Munroe, Rahne Sinclair, or herself transform into terrors Storm, Wolfsbane, or Zeitgeist.
    Kassandra parried and riposted. “At any rate, the last thing we need is a rumor of some mystic- or demoniac- flitting about the Vatican, of all places. Kurt, you mustn’t tell anyone yet. I’m risking more than enough in telling you anything now, but you have a right to know. There are rumors of a covert anti-mutant movement forming within the Church. You’ve read the Pope’s recent encyclical on mutant rights? Well, there have been threats made against him and a number of cardinals. I still can’t make sense of how, but somehow, someone’s going to get you mixed up in all of this.
    “Kurt, I know this is harsh, but you must be very careful about the company you keep. And you’ll have to make some very hard decisions, very soon.”
    “Kassi, Liebchen, how hard can it be, with my angel always looking out for me?” Nightcrawler smiled and closed the distance. They were already dueling toe-to-toe. Now it was knee-to-knee, and still closing.
    Kassandra parried at the forte, and inwardly cursed free will and her inability to make people believe her. Then, against her better judgement, she riposted. “You have no idea. Shouldn’t we halt this action?”
    They were now corps-a-corps.
    “Maybe,” replied Nightcrawler, parrying and wrapping his free arm around her waist. With the end of his long tail, he flipped up their masks.
    “You’re not retreating,” she said, placing a trembling hand on his chest as he leaned toward her.
    “Neither are you.”
    A million thoughts flashed through Kassandra’s mind at once. Ach, ja! She wanted this. But now? When she wasn’t sure Kurt was over his last couple girlfriends? And so soon before she herself would leave? When she might not see him again for months, or years, or even ever? When he still hadn’t even made up his mind about joining the priesthood? When there was no certainty of anything but eventual heartbreak? Und verdammt! She was just talking about people’s lives on the line!
    “Kurt, nicht jetzt,” whispered Kassandra. And before their lips could meet, she disappeared, leaving her mask and sabre behind. “Gretchen am Spinnrad” had spun itself out, and the first tempestuous measures of “Rastlose Liebe” began to play.
     
  17. angelique

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    Chapter 6

    Brian looked into the communications room, where Meggan was on duty. His blonde bride-elect had been looking particularly stunning since Zeitgeist had arrived. But the beauty she radiated was unusually fierce and tumultuous, like the view from the lighthouse on a windy day with a spectacular storm blowing in.
    He kissed the top of her head and rubbed her shoulders. “What’s happening, love?”
    “Nothing, darling. All’s quiet, for once.”
    “You know that’s not what I was asking about,” said Brian. The empathic, metamorphic Meggan had an unconscious tendency to alter her appearance according to the emotional climate. And in an instant, he could see reflected in her, as she felt, an intense flash of passion and fury and confusion that left the room as soon as it came through.
    Meggan gasped. “That was Kassi. I’d better have a word with Kurt.”
    * * * *

    It wasn’t at all difficult for Kurt to find Kassandra. Once he turned off the CD player, he could hear another piano thundering a theme eerily reminiscent of a Dies Irae. Whenever Kassandra was happy, she’d just hum or spontaneously burst into song. If she was excited or nervous, she preferred drumming. But if something bothered her, it was always the piano. And if she was especially upset, it was always a really big piece that involved her practically throwing her small frame at the keyboard. “Ich bin ein gesampt’ Idiot,” Nightcrawler muttered, as he slid beside her on the piano bench. “Was ist das? Rachmaninoff?”
    “Ja. Das erste Klavierkonzert.”
    Kurt watched and listened for a while, amazed at how even someone with almost twice as many fingers as he had could get such sounds out of a piano. Then he continued. “Meggan yelled at me for not taking you seriously. Then Brian got on my case for upsetting Meggan. Quite frankly, I deserved it. And if you want to go all Cyclops and lecture me about my irresponsibility, I’d deserve that, too. You were telling me something important, and I was behaving like some Cassanova.”
    Kassandra stopped playing. “Well, I’m sorry, too. My time here is too short to waste on histrionics. And if I could force you to believe things I don’t quite understand myself, or if I even tried, what kind of person would that make me? But that’s not all Meggan had to say, nicht wahr?” No use hiding feelings from her. While Kassandra could block telepathy by venturing even the tiniest bit out of temporal synchronization, in or out of time, she could not stop wearing her heart on her sleeve.
    Nightcrawler shook his head. “Meggan told me everything. And Kätchen confirmed. You’ve been more than just a constant friend to me all these years. And now it all makes sense.”
    Zeitgeist sighed. “For what it’s worth, everything they said was true. I thought you should know. I just didn’t know how to tell you.” She then looked into Kurt’s golden eyes.
    He then finally understood. Kassandra was not and could never be just another one of his many flirtations or infatuations, and he really could not treat her that way. The bond he had with her was not the attraction he’d feel for just any smart, kind, and beautiful woman who could appreciate a blue guy with funny ears and a tail. It was not the many other things he liked about her, her sense of humor, zest for life, how she laughed when she first saw his Errol Flynn disguise, and her stubborn efforts to remain a sterling character in a tarnished line of work. It was not based on their similarities, their common language and faith. It was not the mutual benevolence and gratitude between friends who’d put aside their own desires for each other’s best interest. Nor even the visceral affection shared by comrades who’d lay down their lives for each other. Okay, so it was all of that, but more. Something dangerous when too lightly. “For what it’s worth? I’m more blessed than Beethoven to have an immortal beloved like you.”
    Kassandra blushed. “Hold that thought, bitte. We can’t afford to get too attached now. It’s likely you will go for a long time without even hearing from me. Meanwhile, you have some hard decisions to make regarding your vocation, as I will about mine. You will be forced to question your friendships and even your faith. And even with Wolverine’s healing factor, I won’t be your immortal anything if I lose my head.”
    “Well, I wanted to give you something that might help.” Kurt pressed a small silver pendant into her hand.
    “Your St. Michael medal!” she gasped.
    Nightcrawler nodded. “To remind you that I’ll be praying daily for your safe return. And somehow I think the patron saint of soldiers and swordsmen will be of particular help to you.”
    “I can’t even tell you what this means to me,” said Zeitgeist, her eyes gleaming.
    “Also, I had something I wanted you to know before you leave,” said Nightcrawler, taking her shoulders into his hands and pulling her close. “Ich auch liebe dich.”
    Kassandra retracted her curse on free will. Obviously it was good for something. She allowed herself to be drawn into Kurt’s embrace.
    “So now that we have that out in the open, can you be content that we have to leave it at that for now?”
    “Ja doch!” Kurt replied.
    “Then now to get something else out in the open. I was just waiting for the right time to show you these. Hier!” She unlocked and opened this box that sat underneath the piano bench since she arrived, and took out two sword belts, and live sabres stronger than any ever made before and sharp as razors. One had “Epheser 6:10-18” engraved upon the flat. The other, a shorter blade which was presumably meant for Kassandra, said simply, “Hebräer 4:12.”
    “Donnerwetter,” said Nightcrawler, awestruck. “Ist das-?”
    “Ja. Logan decided that someone with a healing factor like his should also wield adamantium like him. So he had this made for me. And he thought it would be only fair to make sure new swords were made for both of us Elves. They’re light, indestructible, always sharp, and not for regular fencing. ‘An elegant weapon,’” she said, imitating Sir Alec Guiness’ clipped accent, “’ From a more civilized age.’ I selected the verses. And if you’re fast enough, you could destroy or deflect anything they can fire at you.”
    Nightcrawler looked incredulous.
    “You can learn a lot from angry arms smugglers,” Zeitgeist explained. “How about trying it out in combat simulation?”
    “Unbedingtlich. After I’ve heard the rest of this piece. But one more question. When Meggan said you’d kill for me, did she mean it literally or figuratively?”
    Kassandra glanced furtively away as she shook out her hands. “That’s classified information.”
     
  18. angelique

    angelique Registered

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    Another disclaimer. I claim no ownership to Bob Dylan, the Beatles, Domenico Modugno, L'Osservatore Romano, St. James' Hospital, the communities of Butte or Dillon, Montana, Yellowstone National Park, the Swiss Guard, etc., in other words, anything real or fictional in this story except for my original creations, the Altheim family and a couple of fictional background characters. Please do not sue me.

    Zeit und Zwischenraum

    Mutants at our Masses:
    Catholic or Catastrophic?
    By Angelique Sauvegarde

    Throughout history, it has not been unusual for the Catholic Church to weigh in on a variety of issues, from large-scale injustices like poverty and war to everyday matters like family harmony, regardless of the popularity of its teachings. So it surprised very few to hear that the Pope had taken a position on mutants and their place within our society. His recent encyclical, Nostra Familia Mutantis, however, has stirred a firestorm greater than even the controversy surrounding Humanae Vitae.

    In light of this, it is only fitting that we devote a series of articles to detailing and investigating reactions from all sides. Starting today and throughout the week, we will feature articles by and interviews with leading doctors, clergy and religious, scholars, politicians, and everyday people, Catholic and otherwise, with a variety of opinions regarding and experiences with mutants among us. For a great many of us, this is a frightening issue that forces us to question what it means to be human and where humanity stands in the whole of God’s creation. But these questions need to be asked. It is our hope that we may provoke honest but thoughtful discussion guided by the kind of reasoning many say is the divine spark, the wisdom we like to think makes us homo sapiens.


    Who and What are Mutants, Anyway?
    Notizie San Gabriel


    Equally human: 48%
    Members of separate and superior hominid species: >1%
    Members of separate and threatening species: 33%
    Other: 14%
    Don’t know: 4%


    A scientific study of 50,000 randomly selected people revealed these results. Further probing revealed that the general public does not accept mutants as much as these numbers alone would indicate.

    Of those who regarded mutants as non-human threats to humanity, all were in favor of eradicating mutant populations. “It’s not as if they, like lions or tigers, contribute anything to the ecosystem,” said “Sierra”. “And as long as they are allowed to fancy themselves human, they’ll feel entitled to destroy and consume as much as humans. Humanity, and the earth as a whole, will not lose anything. Indeed, we will only benefit from the extinction of these species.”

    Of those who voted “other” or “don’t know,” 5% were in favor of extending mutants equal rights. 60% favored restrictions, such as have been proposed under numerous nations’ mutant registration acts, and 35% supported eradication. “I don’t think they’re human,” said “Tom,” “but if a dog started speaking up and demanding its rights, I’d listen. But if it asked to be taken off its leash, no way.”

    The percentage that regards mutants as separate and superior was overshadowed dramatically by the study’s 2% margin of error.

    Finally, even those who regard mutants as fully and equally human revealed some anti-mutant bias. 70% favored restrictions under various mutant registration acts. “I don’t see how law enforcement could keep up with mutant crime, without restrictions,” said “Edith.” “And while I’m sure there are mutants who are kind, decent people, I don’t think I’d want my daughter to go out with one.”

    From the Scientific Community
    “There are a few mutants, to be perfectly fair, who arrogantly claim to be of a new, separate, and superior species, and act as if the morality that governs all humanity does not apply to them,” says Dr. Adimu Altheim, coauthor with geneticist Dr. Henry McCoy of various studies and articles such as “The Ethics of Mutant Stem Cell Research.”

    Biologically, mutation is nothing more than a suddenly occurring genetic variation, and it actually occurs in humans quite frequently. “Most of the time, mutations are no more noticeable or bothersome than one’s habit to get up earlier than most, or an extra bone in another’s foot,” Dr. Altheim says.

    She also says that sometimes mutation, while never a disease in and of itself, can result in diseases or disabilities such as a tendency toward cancer or depression. “But in a truly human society, we would seek exercise prevention where there is a risk for disease, or treat the illness should it arise, rather than eliminate the patients. Only very rarely does a mutation actually produce extraordinary abilities in the people possessing it. As revolutionary as it may seem to many, mutants are in fact just as human as anyone
    else.”

    The Church’s Position
    Philosophy professor and Canon lawyer Father Patrick Brady called into question common definitions of humanity, citing numerous works, “from the medieval Platonists, to Chaucer, to C.S. Lewis,” suggesting or even stating outright that even having a seemingly inhuman body does not preclude having a mind or soul that is or is equal to human.

    He also says that the ramifications of any anti-mutant bias in the Church could interfere with the Church’s ability to minister in seemingly unrelated areas. “If we deny believers their humanity and a place in the Church based on genetic traits,” he says, “what, then, of the child who has Down’s Syndrome, or the beloved parish priest with osteogenesis imperfecta?” He insists that only by very flawed logic can we continue to oppose racism, sexism, abortion, eugenics, discrimination against the disabled, and other crimes against anyone likely to be arbitrarily denied their rights as human beings if the Church does not welcome mutants. “His Holiness really has come to the only conclusion consistent with the Church’s regard for all human life. For the sake of all the good the Church ever has and ever will stand for, we must extend the same welcome to mutant believers that we would to anyone else.”


    News Publishing Office Robbed and Vandalized
    Reporters Escape Bombing Attempt
    From L’Osservatore Romano
    Rome- The main office of Catholic news service Notizie San Gabriel was robbed and vandalized yesterday after running several articles addressing mutant issues. Workers arrived to find windows broken, threats spray painted upon the walls, papers and computer equipment strewn everywhere, and a parcel bomb addressed to freelance reporter Angelique Sauvegarde, author and editor of the controversial Mutants at our Masses series. Several computers were also stolen.

    “So many groups called in and claimed responsibility,” said police chief Rafael Neri, “that it’s hard to tell if they were lying, covering for the real perpetrators, or actually involved.”

    The staff remained undaunted and issued the following statement. “In the name of fair reporting, we had actually hoped that people on all sides would contribute more letters and interviews, rather than this. We encourage the newspapers and magazines we serve to run the rest of the series, and refuse to be intimidated by those who do not value the free exchange of ideas.”

    * * * *
    Nightcrawler read and re-read the article. Violence against mutants or mutant sympathizers was as disturbing as it was common. And every time it seemed society made progress in solving that problem, something would happen that would galvanize the bigots. But something else bothered him as well. Angelique Sauvegarde was a rather unusual name, true. A name, French or otherwise, that literally meant “angelic safeguard” was most likely a nom de plume. Or nom de guerre. But didn’t he recently refer to a dear friend as his “guardian angel,” before she left for an undercover assignment?

    “Ja Himmel noch a‘mal!” He hastily folded his copy of L’Osservatore Romano and teleported to the Professor’s office.

    Professor Charles Xavier was unruffled by the explosion of smoke and the sudden appearance of a blue man crouching on his desk, frantically waving a newspaper.
    “Was ist los? Ist sie-?”

    “Yes, Kurt,” said Charles. “It is she. Don’t worry. I think she actually chose that alias so you could check on her without compromising the mission. She is safe, and she trusts that we will keep her identity to ourselves. Meanwhile, she is actually far more worried about us. You in particular.”
     
  19. angelique

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    Chapter 2

    Angelique Sauvegarde had done her work. The last of her articles was written and ready to run. And because of her and the pressure she put on local police, the Vatican Security Corps had more insight as to the budding international threat they had on their hands. She could now take a break from freelance journalism, investigative reporting, and conducting studies, and disappear for a bit, perhaps to work more on writing a book or whatever. It would be wise, anyway. Her uncanny ability to deduce and anticipate the near future saved her from opening and detonating that parcel bomb. Brave woman that she was, she knew when it was time to retreat.

    An extended sabbatical in Russia might be in order. Her old friend Piotr had been gone for months. She would never acknowledge his death. And her persistent tendency to miss the funerals of loved ones became almost the subject of a running joke among her friends and family. But she still felt bad about going for so long without at least paying her respects. Such a gentle, self-sacrificing soul. Even if she refused to mourn, she still missed him.

    Meanwhile, the Vatican Security Corps took on a new security consultant fresh from Arlington, Virginia, FBI criminal profiler Elizabeth Errol-Koenig. When she first arrived and settled into her new office, she took a second to scan the room for bugs. Thoroughly. In an instant, she was as confident of her office’s security as any spy who’d spent hours seeking out bugs could be. She never said or did anything of tactical importance without checking. Granted, this was the Holy See’s equivalent of FBI headquarters, but she would not take any chances. She was given this assignment based on her reputation as one of the world’s best criminal investigators, with a tough but squeaky-clean character to boot. So her methods had to be respected, including her insistence on working quickly, quietly, and, for the most part alone.

    She’d spent her first weeks in Rome getting acquainted with the people she’d need to know, some of whom had corresponded with Angelique Sauvegarde, or at least were familiar with the reclusive writer’s work. All were good contacts: the Vatican’s chief of security, the chief of Rome’s Polizia, the commander of the Swiss Guard, and the Secretary of State. She never expected to find anything on them, nor on anyone directly connected to them. But these were good, resourceful people who were quite willing to help her help them. Particularly the Secretary of State, who, according to his job description, had to know everything and say nothing. She liked him right off the bat. She hoped for everyone’s benefit that the work she’d rope them into wouldn’t be too sordid. But for now, it was a relief to know that her biggest difficulty at the moment was keeping her black hat from blowing off that wind-tossed mess of tight curls some liked to call her hair as she made her way across Piazza de San Pietro. This particular meeting called for an extra measure of decorum.

    Elizabeth dropped to her left knee and kissed the Fisherman’s Ring. “Santitá, You must have indeed stirred up a hornet’s nest of controversy for you and Cardinal Vallejo to ask me here.”

    “More foolishness to the wise, that’s all.” He helped her to her feet, more out of simple courteous habit than out of any need he perceived. Indeed, the child seemed, despite her appearance, almost strong enough to break a man in half with her bare hands. “I never expect the right thing to be popular. And particularly at my age, I am not worried about protecting my own life. Still, I am grateful that Signora Sauvegarde’s articles ran when they did. She took a terrible risk and redirected a lot of this anger away from me and toward herself, didn’t she?”

    “That was part of her objective, in addition to publicizing your encyclical and exposing the reactions to it, Your Holiness,” Elizabeth replied. “Simply to safeguard other people’s lives and liberty and ensure your work along the same line is not in vain. She said it’s a risk worth taking. And I agree absolutely.”

    “And for the sake of our shared objectives,” said the Pontiff, “His Eminence and I have agreed to granting you complete access. I will put anything you need at your disposal.”

    “Ringrazio la Vostra Santitá.”
    “E ringrazio te, figlia mia.”
    * * * *

    The officer had Vatican Security’s crime laboratory to herself. Now came time to study the case history and the evidence. Angelique Sauvegarde was a freelancer, not officially on San Gabriel’s payroll, and she worked on her own laptop, which was now safely in the officer’s hands. She memorized the surveillance tapes. The figures were black clad, gloved, and blurry. Forensics said they left behind little evidence. It didn’t matter to her. She had the crime scene pictures, rocks, and other debris she could study.

    Then the officer code named Zeitgeist, stepped out of time. Even the very rocks had timelines she could trace, with her mutant extratemporal abilities, back to the hands of the people who threw them. With an event she could recognize, the vandalism at the Notizie San Gabriel offices, she could find those lines and trace them. In an instant, she had some names, and better yet, information on a few criminal backgrounds. But there were a few things she needed to clarify. Some things in their backgrounds did not seem to make any sense. She returned to time.

    “Let’s see if we have any files on them,” she thought to herself, sitting at her computer. Ah, yes. They all had records, mostly for various hate-related vandalisms and assaults committed across Europe and North America. By all appearances, they were common anti-mutant thugs, but for the theft of the computers. Obviously they weren’t interested in committing random acts of terrorism. They were more sophisticated than they let on. They wanted information. She smirked. They didn’t get it. But she could get them. Still, she felt like Alice falling down the rabbit hole. She didn’t like having to do this, but she would have to question one or more personally. She called her station chief.

    “I have names,” she said. “Our agent will bring one in.”
     
  20. angelique

    angelique Registered

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    Chapter 3

    “I’ve done all I can,” said Polizia Chief Rafael Neri. “This Arnold Eastman is a tough one to crack. He would only answer in disjointed Bible verses and un mucchio di sciochezze that I can’t sort through.”

    “He will open up,” said Elizabeth. “You play ‘good cop, bad cop’ here, too, don’t you?”
    “Si, si. And I suppose you’ll be the good cop?”

    Elizabeth smiled, knowing it didn’t occur to Neri that a doe-eyed, diminutive, cultured slip of a girl could ever play the bad cop. “[font=&quot]Stavolta, si[/font].”

    They both entered the interrogation room.
    “I’ve just heard, ‘Brother,’ that you are charged with causing some trouble in the United States, as well as here. The FBI has gone to a lot of trouble to send Agent Errol-Koenig here. So I hope, for your sake, you will stop talking nonsenso,” said Neri.

    The suspect looked over to the dark, black-suited young woman that sat before him.
    “Touch nothing unclean…” he said almost to himself.

    Neri leaned on the table, his menacing frame looming large. “Racist, no? Don’t worry. And don’t flatter yourself. I don’t think she’s interested.”

    “It is a disgrace for a woman to speak…”

    “Capo, posso fare questo,” the woman interrupted. “’Everyone must submit himself to the governing authorities,’” she quoted to the suspect, “’for there is no authority except that which God has established.’”

    “I follow a higher authority.”

    “Higher than God, Mr. Eastman? I will continue. ‘The authorities that exist have been established by God. ’ Yes, Mr. Eastman, I’m afraid that includes women in authority. Even Black women. And federal agents. If your higher authority is any good whatsoever, and if you have nothing to hide then you will respect me.”

    “Dio mio,” thought Neri, as he stepped out of the room. If this was what Elizabeth was like playing “good cop,” he didn’t know if he could stand to ever get on her bad side.
    “I hear you don’t even want a lawyer.”

    “The Lord is my advocate…”

    Elizabeth leaned toward him, eyes ablaze. “And mine, too. I just wonder if we’re talking about the same Lord.”

    Eastman blinked and squinted as the woman before him seemed to blur and
    brighten for a split second. He also felt a need to either stop or redirect the conversation.

    “But you look faint, and I’m a bit hungry, myself. How about something to eat?” Elizabeth said, in a low, smooth voice. She punched an intercom button and rattled off a few more words Eastman could not understand. An officer brought in some coffee and a couple of sandwiches. His vision blurred again.

    “The best Rome’s finest can offer.” Elizabeth shoved a plate and cup toward him. “Buon appetito. And when you’re ready, might as well come out and tell me everything.”

    Eastman took a bite and glanced up. He’d never seen, let alone eaten, anything on ciabata bread before, and was a bit cautious. But Elizabeth was right. He was hungry, and it was pretty tasty. After several more bites washed down with coffee, he felt much better.

    Elizabeth continued. “While you finish eating, I might as well tell you how I moved up with the FBI. I don’t practice any occultism, but my first official capacity was as a psychic.”

    “You have the gift of prophecy?”

    “You could say that. But my point is that I’ll find out whatever you try to hide one way or another, so you might as well save us both the trouble and be upfront with me. And there is that commandment against bearing false witness.”

    Eastman noticed a silver medal she wore around her neck. “So you are a believer. You know Scripture. And that medal-”

    “Yes. It’s of St. Michael the Archangel. Patron saint of soldiers and police officers.”

    “Appropriate.” Eastman smiled. “But you forgot swordsmen.”

    “So I did. Not very many people know that outside the salle. Do you fence much,
    by any chance?” she asked. Establishing authority and then trust helped, but how on earth did he know that?

    The question caught him off guard. “No. Do you?”

    Elizabeth smiled. “A bit, but back to the subject, Mr. Eastman-”
    “Brother Eastman.”

    “Brother Eastman, from here on out, try quoting Scripture correctly and in
    context. The Lord also said you shall not kill. And you’re here on charges for attempted murder.”

    Eastman looked down. “That reporter was marked for excommunication.”

    “Excommunication just means being denied Communion, ‘Brother,’ not being
    blown up.”

    Eastman about choked on his coffee. “For treason against humanity? Comforting
    mutant abominations? The Supreme Pontiff said such a death would be a merciful punishment for those crimes.”

    “You’re not talking about the current Pope, are you?”

    “That apostate?”
    “I didn’t think so. So tell me more about your ‘Supreme Pontiff,’” Elizabeth demanded.

    “I don’t know. Even a believer like you may not fathom-”
    “In my line of work? Please. I specialize in the unfathomable.”

    “Very well, then. His story is the stuff of legends….”
    Neri watched through the window in disbelief. Here this guy was rambling on and on with the same feci della mucca that he had to hear. And Agent Errol-Koenig smiled, nodded, and took it all in, occasionally asking questions like whether or not Eastman had met this “Supreme Pontiff,” and what the “Church” hierarchy was like, almost, after the initial confrontation, as if it were nothing more than a friendly interview over lunch. Most of what Eastman said sounded like rote recitation, and her questions seemed to confuse him. But she seemed to get some answers, though Neri could not venture a guess as to how.

    Before long, Agent Errol-Koenig got up to leave. “You have helped out considerably, and I thank you. Maybe, if you get a lawyer, we can see about reducing the charges for your cooperation.”

    And certainly get this guy a deprogrammer. To think he really believed all he was saying! And with all his talk about combining technology and sorcery, maybe he needed a copy of That Hideous Strength as well.

    She then turned back, her eyes ablaze. “Out of curiosity, what do you make of this ‘apostate’ Pope’s ex cathedra statement that those who do not welcome mutants have cut themselves off from the Church?”

    “True enough. We just have to rebuild the Church anew in our image, of untainted humanity.”

    * * * *
    Back at Vatican Security Headquarters, Zeitgeist worked on her laptop, drafting a report for the chief of Vatican Security. She emailed a copy to her station chief. Then she added two more paragraphs and saved it to her A drive. It wouldn’t do to send personal email from a CIA computer. Anyway, there was a cute cyber cafe she wanted to visit.
    * * * *
    To: wingman
    Re: Polizia Romana Case #374613924
    I’ve narrowed down our leads in this case. While the suspects have all been linked to one or another of the organizations that claimed responsibility for robbing Notizie San Gabriel and for the attempted bombing, all are connected to yet another group that was not listed. This group is the one most likely behind all this.
    This new organization seems to be recruiting primarily from Catholic excommunicants disenfranchised by the Pope’s expressed sympathy for mutants. Make no mistake. This is not a movement within the Church, as I previously suspected, but now an entirely separate sect that will try to infiltrate the hierarchy. They want to remain under the radar for now, but expect their attacks to become more frequent, more sophisticated, and more flagrant as their plans progress, particularly since this organization seems to be as much doomsday cult as hate group.
    And while there is an active cell in Rome, it’s constituted almost entirely of U.S. and Canadian citizens. As is most of their leadership. Be on the lookout for a lot of activity Stateside. I am having trouble determining their base of operations, as this group seems extremely mobile. And I cannot get any concrete information at all on this person they call the “Supreme Pontiff.” I will need to investigate further.
    Attached is a list of all the suspects and the leads they’ve provided.
    Also, I must warn you that your investments are targeted to take a literal as well as financial beating, starting with this operation in Clark County, Nevada. (Also, if I were in your situation, heads would roll in the boardroom about that one. This business is technically legal otherwise my people in the Bureau would have busted them a long time ago. They’ll wish we could have before long.) And I need to get in touch with Kurt somehow. Don’t ask me how, but this group knows about him.
    And due to the sensitive nature of this information, do not forward or respond to this email, bitte. You may, however, want to pay a visit to Mr. Cassidy on your way to the upcoming G8 conference. Nothing personal against him, but he’s likely to ruin everything.

    -Zeitgeist
    * * * *
    To: rinasiog
    From: unknown address
    Re: you know verdammt good and well
    If you so much as even entertain the idea of trying to contact me ever again, that your militia will crumble from within will be the least of your concerns. And rest assured, it will, in the worst possible fashion. I never thought what you were doing, particularly with the people you’re “recruiting,” was a good idea, in the first place.
    Oh, yes, and I know you haven’t tried to contact me yet. But I also know you’re considering it. Nothing personal, but your kind of “help” will endanger us like nothing else. I have my eye on you, and have alerted some of my operatives already. If you or anybody connected to your X-Corps even thinks about my whereabouts, or me or acknowledges me as anything other than some false reading you’ve tapped from Cerebra, I will know. And I won’t enjoy what I’ll have to do to keep you quiet and away from my mission and me. Sean, you are a good, but misguided, man with noble intentions. You know who I am, and that’s too much. Don’t tempt me to introduce my blade to that overdeveloped trachea of yours. This is your only warning.
     
  21. angelique

    angelique Registered

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    Chapter 4

    Elizabeth clicked “send,” finished her biscotti, and “accidentally” spilled the remains of her cappuccino on the disc. Then she paid her bill and headed out. She’d had a long day at work, especially by Italian standards, but it was far from done. She’d have at least one more report, far more extensive, to file in quadruplicate before the night was over.

    She phoned her station chief, then Neri. “Capo, [font=&quot]incontriamoci [/font]alla Fontana di Trevi. E porta l’aiuto, per favore.”

    She tried at first to look as casual as anyone would be after winding down from a day’s work as she headed ostensibly for her apartment. But to no avail. She knew Eastman would call his friends. And he delivered.

    “Gentlemen,” she said, without stopping or looking back, “I don’t want us to create a scene in front of all these tourists.”

    “If you cooperate with us, we won’t have to.”

    Elizabeth stopped. “And if I don’t?”

    “Brother Eastman has revealed to you the gospel of humanity. Your choice is now to accept membership into our fellowship or be cut off.”

    Elizabeth turned to see seven black-clothed figures surrounding her. All with guns drawn. Okay, this might be a problem. “The only honest choice I have,” she said, carefully, “has been preordained by my Creator.”

    “Yes?”

    “Any of you watch any good television?” she asked.

    They stood around, saying nothing, and trained their weapons on her.

    “Because if you had, you’d know from X-Files that the short, cute, female agent is the one you least want to mess with,” she hissed.
    “Polizia! Mi aiutate!” she shrieked.

    Then time stopped. Completely. All faded and froze. The waters of the Trevi Fountain ceased flowing. Even the finest droplets from its spray hung suspended in midair like crystal beads strung on the finest fishing line. The bystanders stared with unblinking eyes, their jaws locked in horrified gapes. Neri and his officers were frozen in midstride. All was perfectly still and silent except for Zeitgeist. She administered her boots, fists, and elbows to several heads, thanked Heaven for Krav Maga, and resumed time. Before anyone could see how it possibly happened, seven men fell, unconscious.

    “Andiamo a prendere questi rifiuti!” Neri shouted. He ran up to Elizabeth, who was now rubbing bruised hands and elbows. “Sta bene? Che cosa é successo?”

    “Stoi bene. You’ll have my full report by morning. And I look forward to seeing yours.”
    And so passed another event Zeitgeist could recognize in several more timelines she needed to investigate.
    * * * *
    To: wingman
    Re: Polizia Romana Case #374613925
    The attack on me last night has resulted, as I anticipated, in bringing us an abundance of useful information. The involvement of a Swiss Guard applicant,
    Claudio Testabianco, has alerted us to some unsettling developments in Switzerland, as well as to the need to improve the screening process for applicants as we have for Vatican Security positions. We will need to make mandatory polygraph testing and background checks standard. And run those on all current members, as well. All intelligence saying that this cult will try to infiltrate Church organizations to gain access to their targets has been confirmed, and we cannot be too careful.
    Now we’re on to extending similar protection to the cardinals outside of Rome who have lent their support to drafting Nostra Familia Mutantis. Attached is a list of their names and each archdiocese they represent. We will need operatives posing as personal assistants or secretaries providing security. It was the original intent of my attackers to intimidate or even kidnap me, but they had orders to try to kill me if all else failed. Our agents should be prepared to fend off all levels of attack, including assassination attempts. And for the sake of efficiency, they should report all suspicious activity directly to me as our Vatican and Roman contacts have.
    We are also trying to deal aggressively with the designer gene problem. While not directly connected, it does play right into the hands of those who are convinced we are responsible for the decline of human civilization. I have enough on my plate without fanatics who think raising a generation of drug-addled mutant wannabes is part of our plan. Any help from you would be greatly appreciated. The weather’s getting too hot not just in Rome, but also in all Europe. I forecast a heat wave in Paris. Ask Logan what that means.

    Zeitgeist thought for a bit before adding this paragraph. With his position as chairman emeritus of a Fortune 500 company and former tabloid and gossip column subject, with chiseled features and a wingspan that made him look like he’d just flown straight from off a church window, the openly mutant Warren Worthington III usually had a good command of the media. Still, she strongly suspected that his upcoming press conferences would not be so easy.

    And save this email, bitte. Yes, this time I need to leave proof of our correspondence. We will need to go public with our own knowledge of this organization and their affiliates quite soon, otherwise, the reaction to Waco will look paltry by comparison. And the last thing we need is future Timothy McVeighs imagining that mutantkind is teaming up with the federal government for the sole purpose of persecuting anti-mutant religious minorities or whatever. I think Miss Sauvegarde is due to return to journalism soon anyway, and she’ll be more than willing to help.


    -Zeitgeist
     
  22. angelique

    angelique Registered

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    Chapter 5

    To: googoogajube (more)
    Re: Operation Conclave
    We have information concerning this international terrorist organization that has targeted the Catholic Church hierarchy for infiltration and assassination. They appear to have multiple objectives: elimination of all mutants and their supporters, takeover of the Vatican, and from there, manipulating all the Holy See’s diplomatic ties and resources toward world domination. Or destruction. They couch their rhetoric in various twisted misinterpretations of end-times prophecy, leading us to conclude that this is a doomsday cult as well as a terrorist organization. So whether they succeed or fail, mass murder will be on their agenda. And it may be of such a scale undreamt of even by Hitler or Stalin, I am afraid. Hundreds of millions, mutant or otherwise, will die.
    Your assignment, should you accept it, will be simple, but not easy. There is a substantial risk that you will not survive. Each archdiocese listed in the attached file has a position open. The cardinals there need new secretaries or personal assistants. You are to keep track of their appointments, monitor all correspondences and activities, report to me anything even remotely suspicious, and above all protect them. And tell no one. But their support of the real Pontiff has made them all targets.

    -Zeitgeist
    * * * *
    Three weeks later…

    To: googoogajube (more)
    Re: Operation Conclave
    EXFILTRATE NOW!
    -Zeitgeist
    * * * *


    “Buon giorno, Santitá. E grazie.” Elizabeth slipped into the confessional at the back of St. Peter’s Basilica. “I’m glad you made the time to hear my confession before Mass.”

    “And I am glad that you understood that all I put at your disposal included the Sacraments, too, figlia mia. So how long has it been since your last confession?”

    “Seven weeks. Santitá, let me begin with some business. Our success in halting this group’s infiltration of the Vatican means it’s time for me to move on. Everything is as close to under control here as they can get, and I can do no more good here. In fact, you’ll be in greater danger if I stay.

    “And now on to my sins. Would it be all right if we continued the conversation in German?”

    “Sprichst du Deutsch?” said the Pontiff, surprised that she didn’t reveal up until now that she knew his native language.

    “Ja. In fact, I have not been honest with you since we met. My name is not Elizabeth Errol-Koenig. And while you may have guessed that Angelique Sauvegarde is a nom de plume, she’s not a friend or colleague. She’s another one of my aliases. Ich heiße Kassandra Altheim. And I am not with FBI.”

    “But the FBI said you were their top investigator,” said the Pope.

    “Ja, I was. I mean, Elizabeth is. But I’m with the CIA. I am a spy.”

    The Pope had heard worse sins confessed than this. But no confession made him quite this nervous before.

    “Not to worry, Eure Heiligkeit. We still share the same objectives. But my interest in this matter is not just that of anyone who loves the Lord, hates oppression, and all that. Heiliger Vater, Ich bin ein’ mutant.”

    The Pope looked into the girl’s black-coffee colored eyes. She was shaking. Here was an opportunity to prove he meant what he said about welcoming mutants. Or prove he was a hypocrite who could speak very nicely of mutants as long as he never came face-to-face with them. But he didn’t see an opportunity to prove anything. He only saw before him a person in need of comfort and some absolution. “Meine Tochter, being a mutant is not a sin,” he said.

    “Ich verstehe. But deceit, intimidation, blackmail, bribery, and violence? My abilities make me very effective at that sort of thing. Furthermore, I never revealed to either agency that I am a mutant. Granted, they never asked. But under current US law, I am a double agent. A traitor to my country. I have been sharing sensitive information with a couple of my fellow mutants, and I’ve even had some work for me as operatives. Even though it is in the interest of protecting lives and my country’s ideals, technically, under the law, I have recruited more double agents, including a few with criminal backgrounds. They are not enemies, though several countries certainly see all of us as such.”

    The Pontiff took a deep breath. “Can you think of the good you’ve been able to accomplish with your talents, without resorting to violence and such, and breaking the law?”

    “Not really. My ability to get things done with minimal fuss is not the same as getting things done with none at all. I know you heard that I helped bring in seven armed assailants from that doomsday cult. What you may not have heard is how I did that single-handedly, and without drawing a weapon. I stepped out of time and knocked them all unconscious before they could so much as fire one shot, Heiliger Vater. And it is likely that I will actually be responsible for several deaths before this assignment is done.”

    The Pope thought for a bit. “I am aware that your CIA has paramilitary capabilities. And I can guess that you don’t wear that St. Michael medal just because you enjoy fencing. You see yourself as a kind of soldier, nicht wahr?”

    Kassandra nodded.
    The Pontiff continued. “Just recall that in the early days of the Church, when it was illegal to even be Christian, there was a controversy over whether Roman soldiers would be allowed in the Church, and whether Christians would be allowed to serve in the military. The answer was yes.
    “And at various points throughout history, attending Mass, reading Scriptures, or even simply professing the Faith was, and in too many countries even now still is, a grave act of civil disobedience. Do not confuse conscientious objection to an unjust law with disrespect for authority.
    “There will come a time for you to beat your sword into a plowshare, but until then, as long as you fight only for just causes, with humane and honorable methods, and only after diplomacy fails, you are not sinning.”

    “And if any part of me enjoys the fight, then what?”

    “A Rosary on the Sorrowful Mysteries for your Penance. They may be criminals, but they are as much God’s own creations as any other person. Reflect upon that and pray for their souls. And get yourself back to the salle, so you can enjoy the grace and power of your fencing without hurting anyone.”

    “Oh, that brings to mind another matter I need to confess, Heiliger Vater,” said Kassandra. “I told you about my friend Kurt, right?”

    “Your favorite fencing partner, the off-and-on-again seminarian? How could I forget? You seemed so happy to hear when he was finally ordained to the transitional diaconate.”

    Kassandra blushed furiously. “Well, that’s another thing I wasn’t entirely honest about.”
    * * * *
    It wasn’t easy getting on the first and quickest flight from Fiumicino to her rendezvous at Kennedy Airport. Rapidly escalating tensions in Zürich, Paris, and Berlin meant airports overcrowded with people who, like her, were desperate to leave Europe before things heated up any more. But Kassandra had anticipated that and pulled a couple of strings to get on that plane.

    Now all she had left to do was wait until they’d landed. And she could not wait. Her best efforts to save every life at that X-Ranch in Nevada only resulted in one girl rescued. And that little genius, while fidgeting with some artificial teleportation device, managed to zap herself directly into enemy headquarters and was nearly killed there. After giving away the Xavier Institute’s location. Then Nightcrawler, always the gallant knight in the shining leather X uniform, led that rescue. And then something else went wrong. So dreadfully wrong that Zeitgeist had to drastically step up her plans.

    Maybe some music would soothe this savage beast that paced behind Kassandra’s black coffee-colored eyes. She pulled on a pair of headphones. “Di mi quando tu verrai,” Domenico Modugno sang. “Di mi quando, quando, quando.” Nicht jetzt. Kassandra changed the station. Now it was the Beatles. “Anytime at aaall, anytime at aaaall….” Any other time, she’d like that song. Now it was downright depressing. How about some classical music, preferably some that would specifically get her mind off of what troubled her, rather than remind her of it? She changed stations just in time to get a headache’s worth of Richard Wagner’s Gotterdämmerung. When Siegfried was tricked into drinking the potion that erased his memory, no less. Great. Just great. Maybe the movie would provide some nice escapism. What was it? Captain Blood, starring Errol Flynn. What kind of verdammter flight was this? Apparently she was doomed to be taunted by the fates of ironic in-flight entertainment. She yanked the headphones off, pulled a sleeping mask over her eyes, and figured she should at least try to rest.

    Even that escape was denied her. The nightmare that woke her early that morning and drove her to frantically arrange last minute meetings, fire off emergency orders, and commandeer a seat on this plane haunted her again. And so all she could do was pray that the plane would land safely. And soon.
     
  23. angelique

    angelique Registered

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    Chapter 6

    “Logan!” Kassandra threw her arms around her favorite self-appointed honorary crazy uncle, who saw fit to meet her at the Institute’s hangar.

    “It’s good to have you back, Little Elf.” Wolverine returned the embrace, then recoiled. “You’re still using that stinky herbal hair oil?”

    “Fair’s fair, Logan,” said Kassandra, as they headed toward the mansion. “You still smell like stinky cigars and cheap beer. Now does Kurt know I’m here?”

    Logan’s mouth twisted. “Yeah. He’s very excited to meet you. How was your flight?”

    “Don’t ask.”

    “That good, huh? So, what more do you know, besides the hot weather Warren’s talked about?”

    Kassandra knew she could depend on Logan to understand CIA jargon for, to put it mildly, trouble. “Everything,” she said grimly. “And the weather’s going to get even hotter here.”

    And she knew all too well.

    “Kassi,” said Logan, “meet Stacy, Xavier’s newest stinkbug.”

    “Stacy-”

    “So, you’re the cop who tried to shut us down!”

    “Correction. I’m the fed who tried to shut you down. But let’s not talk about that disaster. I wanted to thank you for saving Kurt the other day.”

    “Did somebody say my name?” Nightcrawler entered the foyer.

    At the sound of his voice, a young vision looked up to him with hauntingly dark eyes awash with joy, grief, anger, and- and something else. He couldn’t tell what. “Hallo, Kurt,” she said. “Ich bin es. Dein’ Zeitgeist.”

    Zeitgeist. A charming girl, with a reputation for brilliance, sweetness, fun, and occasionally kicking serious Arsch, according to what he’d heard about her. Who spoke fluent German with a rich accent he hadn’t heard before. Or had he? And he’d heard a bit about her extratemporal powers. What an appropriate code name! How did she get it? Why did she refer to herself specifically as his Zeitgeist? How did she know his name? And he was usually quite at ease meeting pretty young mutant women. Just what was it about this girl that was different? An awkward smile played across his face. He took her hand in his. She had such perfect hands with smooth brown skin, graceful fingers, neatly trimmed nails, and a firm, muscular grip. She had to be a musician. Or a fencer. He swept into a deep reverénce and kissed her hand. He hadn’t exactly felt like his old silly, overly chivalrous self lately, yet somehow, this felt strangely appropriate. “Meine Dame. Have we met?”

    -------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------
    Kurt Wagner was still a teenager when he, as the Incredible Nightcrawler, became a sensation as the Munich Circus’ star aerialist. It was about an hour before showtime, and he felt a need to gather his thoughts at the nearest suitable retreat. But this time, he didn’t have the sycamore tree to himself. Sitting on the same branch and leaning on the trunk was a dark-haired girl about fifteen, who didn’t look like she was in any condition to be sitting up in the highest branches of any tree. Indeed, she looked quite faint and about ready to topple over.

    He scrambled over to her, wrapped his tail around the branch, and put his arms around her to steady her.

    “Bleib bei mir. Ich hab dich.”

    Her eyes rolled back, and she went completely inert.

    “Gott im Himmel!” Kurt decided he needed to get this girl down and inside, immediately. But a look into her dark face, quite foreign-looking by most Bavarian standards, and an approaching clamor of voices convinced him that perhaps she was indeed safer where she was.

    “Wo ist unser kleiner Mischling? Wo ist sie hin?”

    “Away from you Schweinehunde,” Feuer Langhagen bellowed after them. “And the next time you torment a member of my audience, I’ll make you a part of the show!”

    Kurt clutched the girl even tighter. For her to fall from that height would have been bad enough. For her to fall into that would be even worse. At last, the noise died down, and the girl began to stir.

    “So, was ist los?”

    Her eyes fluttered, and she looked up. “Nightcrawler?”

    “Sag einfach Kurt zu mir. Warum bist du hier?”

    “Rassistenschweine. My family went in to save seats for the main show, but I wanted to see more of the fire-eater’s show, so I stayed behind. And then these people came up to me, and just asked what I was. They decided I was too pale and my hair wasn’t coarse enough to be eine-” her face crumpled in disgust. “-you know, that N-word, and that I must be, begging your pardon, a ‘filthy gypsy’ or- oder eine Türkenschl-”

    “Say no more.” As if the slur about the Roma wasn’t bad enough, they had to call her that? Kurt seethed, baring his fangs. “That sort of thing makes me ill, too.”

    “Ach, it gets even worse,” she said, furious tears springing from her eyes. “Finally, they concluded that I must be something ‘worse,’ and started pushing me around and calling me eine Mischlingshündin! I said it was none of their business what I am, and reminded them that racism went out of style here with the toothbrush mustache.”

    Kurt almost laughed in spite of himself. That seemed just the sort of thing he’d want to say under those circumstances. “You know, that was a good one.”

    The girl dried her eyes. “For a moment, I thought we were mistaken in thinking that visiting my father’s relatives in Germany would be safer than visiting my mother’s in Soweto! But at least this behavior’s illegal here, nicht wahr?”

    Kurt nodded. “And if you didn’t come here, I wouldn’t have the privilege of sharing my tree with you. Anyway, how did you get away, and you being sick and all?”

    “I don’t know. I wanted so badly to put a stop to everything, it feels like that’s what happened. Everything just seemed to stop. Then I found myself here. Kurt, how do you deal with stuff like this?”

    “Well, actually, I’m not Rom. But Daj Margali always said it didn’t matter, and would never tolerate anyone calling me ‘gadje’ or the old ladies shaking their skirts at me. Of course the racists don’t bother about facts before they pick their targets. They only know what little they allow themselves to see, and I pity them. Just think about what they’re missing. I get to sit in a tree with a cute girl like you, and they don’t!”

    The girl blushed slightly. “You have a point, but I wasn’t just talking about your ethnicity. Or what they think it is. They tolerate you because they think you’re just an acrobat in a blue demon costume, nicht wahr? Don’t ask me how I know, but I do. That’s not a costume, and you’re no demon. You’re just the person I needed to talk to, the one I somehow knew I’d find here. By the way, what are you doing up here, anyway?”

    Kurt, already a bit self-conscious and more than a little mystified as to how this stranger could know so much about him- and not be bothered by it, looked away, embarrassed. “Well, I climbed up here for a reason far more mundane, I’m afraid, than to rescue ladies from falling out of trees. I was just contending with a bit of stage fright.”

    “Ach. That’s perfectly okay. You’ll do fine. Besides, my piano teacher once quoted Pavarotti as saying that if a performer doesn’t get a little stage fright, that’s when there’s something wrong.”

    Kurt took one of the girl’s hands into his own. Her hands were small, like the rest of her, but perfect musician’s hands regardless. “So it seems you’re also just the person I needed to talk to. What’s your name, anyway?”

    “Kassandra Altheim.”

    He gently brought her knuckles to his lips. If there was any girl who could possibly get his mind off Jimaine, it might be her. “Kassandra. Ein schöner Name für eine schöne Dame. Sehr erfreut Sie kennenzulernen,” he said, with no small amount of exaggerated formality. “Ich heiße Kurt Wagner. Now it should be safe. Let’s get down from here before the show starts. Are you feeling any better?”

    “Ja, ein bißchen,” she said.

    “Gut. Hold on to your stomach.”

    He held her close and teleported them safely to the ground. The girl looked a bit peaked and staggered as her feet touched the ground, but she quickly regained her footing. As he helped her to big top, he said, “I’m impressed. You handled your first teleport quite well. By the way, you don’t seem alarmed by my appearance.”

    “Nein,” said Kassandra, still waving the noxious smoke away from her face. “I have another blue furry friend in New York who looks about twenty times as scary as you.”

    “Is that where you’re from? New York?”

    “Nein. My mother is South African. My father is a German Namibian. We live in Keetmanshoop.”

    “So that’s where you got your charming accent!”

    -------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------
    Kassandra responded to Nightcrawler’s half-joking courtliness with a low curtsey of her own. “Well met,” she replied, with a mournful smile.

    And as they rose, Kurt noticed that her near-black curls smelled softly of jasmine. And a small silver pendant, almost the only jewelry she wore, caught his eye. It seemed everything about this girl was disconcertingly familiar.

    “I like your St. Michael medal,” he said. “It looks like one I used to have.”

    “Do you know what happened to it?”

    “Come to think of it, I don’t remember.”

    The girl surprised him by taking off the medal and pressing it into his three-fingered hand. “Es ist deins,” she whispered. “Verzeihung.”

    And she swept out of the room.
     
  24. angelique

    angelique Registered

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    Chapter 7

    A thoroughly miserable Zeitgeist bolted madly down the hallway and nearly barreled into Dr. Jean Grey.

    “Kassi?”

    “Jean!” she sobbed. “What happened? WHAT DID THEY DO TO HIM?”

    Jean put her hands on Kassandra’s shoulders and looked steadily at her. “Kassi, I am afraid you know that better than I do.”

    Kassandra’s eyes widened in horror. “It was just like when you all took on the Marauders, or the Adversary. I wanted to think it was just a waking nightmare. Something just yanked me out of time. I saw what happened, I couldn’t look away, and I couldn’t stop it!”

    Kurt was tempted to follow this girl out of the room, especially after he overheard something about the Marauders. And nightmares. He’d been having a lot of those lately, himself. Perhaps the déjà vu she inspired stemmed from some remote common experience. But she seemed extremely upset, and he figured Jean was, at the moment, better equipped to deal with that. He would try to find out just what bothered this girl when she had some time to simmer down.





    He remembered Riptide coming at him. The feeling of being nearly flayed alive and powerless to resist. Then nothing.

    Eventually he locked in on a soft smell, dim light, and low, muffled voices.

    “I know I said ye talkin’ and readin’ tae him would be good, but, och, lass, ye need t’ rest, too. I ha’ enough patients on ma hands as it is, and I canna ha’ ye and Ororo both breakin’ doon.”

    “I’m almost finished, Doktor,” said the husky voice of a young girl who had spend the last Kurt had no idea how long talking his pointed ears off, reassuring him that she’d survived the massacre and that it looked like Kätchen would be okay too, even though she was not in good shape at the moment.

    Kurt stirred. She was wrapping up reading Die Drei Musketiere. Outside the Bible, that had to be one of his favorite books. What happened? Where was he? He rolled his unfocused, comatose eyes toward that voice, and could finally see… Kassandra? She put the book down and took his good hand, hoping for the response he’d been trying, and up until now, unable to provide. “Kurt, kannst du mich hören?”

    “….Himmmmmm….el?”

    The girl smiled and stroked his forehead. “Nein, Kurt. Nur Schottland. Muir Insel.”

    Kurt squeezed her hand slightly, and a bleary smile flickered across his face. It took most of his strength, but he had to say this. “Gnad…. Ennn…gel.”

    And the bewildered, exasperated, and embarrassed mix of expressions on her face was like a refreshing balm to his many wounds. “Kurt, du bist unverbeßerlich!

    “Moira,” she said to Dr. MacTaggert, “it’s confirmed. He’ll definitely pull through.”

    “Well, at least his ability t’make ye blush has nae been affected, love. But I’m afraid all this flirtin’s tired ‘im oot!”

    And so it had, but it was well worth it, if it wasn’t all a dream.


    -----------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------
    Kassandra was beside herself. “They went into his mind, but not like you’ve ever done. They erased stuff. A whole lot of stuff, including most everything pertaining to me! Worse than that, THEY HURT HIM, Jean! Gott steh uns bei! Even I don’t know how badly!”

    Utter despair threatened to envelope her. All those years they’d been friends, fencing partners, comrades-in-arms, and maybe even more- gone just like that. She couldn’t just tell him about it all. He wouldn’t believe her. Having Jean try to psychically restore his memories would only do more damage. Psychology wouldn’t help. This was no ordinary case of amnesia, and in this case, Kassandra had good reason to doubt her clinical objectivity. Nightcrawler didn’t surrender this or any memory willingly. Kassandra knew that. So they nearly killed him, went into his mind against his will, toyed with his dreams, stole memories, and stripped him of a few crucial things that made him Kurt. Hot tears stung her eyes at the very thought. No, just as it was with Wolverine, Kurt would start remembering things and inquiring only when he was ready. And then maybe she could help. But until then, she had other things to do.

    As if that weren’t bad enough, now Zeitgeist’s operatives began to disappear. Granted, she alerted them to all the risks, telling some under no uncertain terms that, while she’d do all she could to help them, they were not likely to survive. And they were willing to take those chances. Most agents took assignments for some personal gain. Not these people. They were in it purely on principle. And losing such good people did not sit at all well with Zeitgeist.

    “Kassi, I also have seen evidence of this psychic tampering,” said Jean. “What do you know? Who did this, and why?”

    Kassandra took a couple of ragged breaths, composed herself, and tapped her forehead, signaling that she wanted to communicate telepathically. “I might as well tell you, Jean, but only on the condition that you do not even tell Scott.” Because Cyclops would want to get all the X-Men involved in her mission. There would be a time for that, but she needed them to stay where they were for now. “I have a conference with a couple of my people in about an hour to deal with just that. I’d like very much for you to come with me. Meanwhile, I think having Logan run me through some combat simulation will do me some good.”

    “I agree,” Jean thought, as they headed down the hallway. “We also have something for you, that you may want to try out.”
     
  25. angelique

    angelique Registered

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    Chapter 8

    Nightcrawler teleported about the Institute hoping to find that strange and intriguing girl that he, somehow, upset. He found her in the Danger Room.

    “There’s a strong chance they’ll come at me with everything they’ve got, Logan,” she said. “So don’t hold anything back.”

    “Not a problem, Little Elf.” Wolverine was not usually known for holding back, anyway, his fondness for Kassandra notwithstanding. “What would you like?”

    “Try to surprise me.”

    Logan chuckled. “Is that even possible?”

    Kassandra drew her sabre and saluted Logan. “Well, you saw it happen once or
    twice.”

    She then turned to Kurt, saluted him with a smile, and took her en garde stance.
    The very way she saluted, just sharp enough, profoundly respectful, and devoid of any extra showiness, made him more uncomfortable. She was definitely a veteran fencer. He could see her looking quite fetching in a white canvas jacket and knickers. Or maybe he had. Verdammtes déjà vu. At any rate, she wore black now – what appeared to be a modified X-Men uniform and trench coat that made her look like some anime heroine. Not fetching. Stunning.

    Kassi regretted that she would not be dueling with Kurt this time. But preparing to finally go toe-to-toe with this doomsday cult seemed a perfect occasion for music anyway. A requiem, in fact. And nothing less than all the driving rhythm, percussive thunder, orchestral fireworks, and the operatic style of Verdi would do for the upcoming Dies Irae.

    “Mutant signature detected. Terminate immediately,” the robotic voice boomed.

    “One sentinel, Logan?” she said, as she began dodging and deflecting its various bolts and missiles. “I thought you’d give me something harder.”

    No sooner had she said that than two more appeared. Her eyes gleamed, and a ghost of a smile appeared.

    “You’re still in normal time!” said Logan “Want a bigger challenge?”

    “Bring it on!” She leapt, dodged, and parried, biding her time until she could put her power to use against a real threat. Then grinned widely as six more began firing upon her.

    “Oh ja! That’s more like it!” she shouted.

    “Ist sie verrückt?” Kurt thought. The girl must be suicidal. And his suspicions appeared confirmed when she cut a missile down, and took several pieces of the flying shrapnel in the side. He leapt up in alarm. “Ja, Himmel noch a ‘mal!”

    “Easy, Elf,” said Logan. “Kassi, you okay?”

    “Gut, danke!” She did not even slow down. The sentinels closed in. And then, with eyes ablaze, she transformed. Kurt’s own golden eyes widened in shock. All he could see of her, a bright, transparent human cyclone, looked like a woman transfigured. Or possessed. She did not seem constrained by laws governing time or velocity. Und was ist das? Teleportation, and bilocation? Perhaps she was an angel incarnate. But what kind?

    -----------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------
    The television was on CNN. “This just in, the President will give an address regarding this morning’s sentinel attacks on Arlington, Virginia and Washington DC from an undisclosed Air Force base…”
    “He will deny all knowledge of how it happened, blame it all on faulty technology, promise that changes will be made in the Secret Service, and make no mention of mutants in the government, if he wants to stay in office,” said the new FBI intern who now sat next to Kurt.

    “Kassi?” Kurt turned his shocked gaze to her. She had only just turned up again at the Institute this afternoon. “Did you have anything to do with this?”
    Kassandra folded her arms. “Alles.”
    -----------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------

    The whirlwind took down all nine sentinels before the Tuba Mirum ended. She stepped back into time, resumed her normal appearance, and saluted again, then walked up to Kurt. “I’ve seen your thoughts in your timeline, Herr Wagner, and I daresay I am insulted.”

    “I did not intend to compound upsetting you with insulting you, Kassandra. I was not familiar with the scope of your abilities. Well, not entirely. I do feel like we’ve met before.” And as Kassandra sheathed her sabre, Kurt made note that not only was it a live blade of unprecedented strength, but it had an engraving on the flat. “Hebräer 4:12.”

    Kassandra decided to take a chance. “Then give me a regular fencing sabre, and I’ll prove upon your body that everything you suspect about me is true. Except for the part about me being crazy, a demon, or possessed. You of all people should know better. What’s more, I shall prove that I once was and shall again be your favorite fencing partner.”

    “A bold claim, Liebchen. Why would I enjoy dueling someone against whom I clearly have no chance?”

    “Because you’re always up to a good challenge.”

    “Well, now that you put it that way…”

    “You Elves may need to save buckling that swash for later,” said Logan. He was pleased to see the two of them up to their old stuff, but… “Kassi has a meeting.”

    “Very well. Wenn wir uns wiedersehen,” said Kurt.

    “When we meet again,” Kassandra concurred. She tried hard not to think “if.”
     

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