Jean smiled politely at the third man to hit on her that
evening. "Thanks but I'm just leaving," she muttered as Rogue brushed
past her toward the exit. "I'm not sure how much more of this I can
take," Jean groaned as they emerged into the sultry heat outside the
Rogue actually laughed. "It's the hair," she grinned. "Red's a
popular colour down here. I don't think were gettin far though. Why
don we call it a night and see if Logans had more luck'n us?"
Jean nodded. "Hold on a sec," she said and stood for a moment a far-
away look in her eyes. She smiled suddenly. "Scott has had a little
more luck with the missing person's reports and such. There's a
definite pattern emerging and most of the folks who've gone missing
were last seen downtown where the Jazz clubs are. No problems at the
clubs themselves - that always started elsewhere - but it's a common
thread right before the trouble. Scott wants us to check out a couple
of rough spots where the trouble started during daylight hours then
try downtown tomorrow evening."
Rogue nodded. "The parties'll be startin tomorrow too so that'll give
us plenty o' cover."
"Tomorrow?" Jean asked startled. "I though the celebrations start the
Rogue shook her head. "Locals always start a day ahead of the tourist
dates and finish a couple days after. Lets check with Logan."
The sidewalk was pretty crowded and Jean barely had time to register
Rogue disappear jerkily into an alley just two blocks from their
hotel. She had to fight the tide to get back to the alley opening and
stretch out with her mind to find the younger woman where the alley
curved behind the building. She wasn't alone. Jean turned the corner
just in time to see one of the three youths that had grabbed her try
to push her up against the wall and kiss her.
"Don't," she warned angrily as one of his friends grabbed her bag,
yanking it from her grasp.
"Give it up Sugar," he snarled "ain't no one gonna miss one more
tourist." He leant in again making contact with her bare flesh and
with a gasp staggered back, his eyes rolling up into is head before
passing out cold. Jean immediately reached out with her telekinesis
slamming another youth back into some trashcans. The other man picked
his friend out of the trash and dragged him off down the
alley. "They're mutants man lets book."
"You Ok?" asked Jean as Rogue stood trembling by the wall. She shook
her head and tried to push Jean after them, but mistaking her intent
Jean tried to comfort her.
"No!" Rogue finally gasped "they are connected to this."
"What?" asked Jean stunned. She immediately scanned the area with her
mind but they had merged back in with the streams of people and were
lost to her. "Let's get back to the hotel and you can tell me what
When they got back Rogue had stopped shaking. "They don't know much
really - just hired help. They pick pockets, looking for certain
people they've been told to. They follow ' em to the clubs then call
in when they're there for others to take over. Then they go on to the
next mark. They're part of some sort of thieves' guild. They don't
know what happens next but I saw a coupl'a faces of targets and they
match some o' the missing folks." She slumped down to the bed.
"Okay - at least we know how they pick their marks and where they go
first. We'll follow up on that tomorrow and hope they don't get
scared off by what happened tonight. In the meantime I'll try to
contact Logan, find out why he hasn't checked in yet. Rogue - contact
Scott on your wrist communicator and let him know what you told me."
She nodded as Jean let her mind wander out. Finally she found what
she was looking for. She snapped out of her reverie as Rogue finished
her call. "Logan's in, he thinks." At Rogues blank look She
smiled. "He's made contact with the thieves guild, or at least some
part of it. It seems there is some kind of gang war going on between
the human and mutant elements of the guild. He's made contact with
both sides but is with a group of mutants right now."
"But its mutants that are going missing, wouldn't it be a safe bet
that it's the humans?"
Jean shrugged, "he didn't know about our encounter at the time - he
was just trying to make contact with local mutants. He may be able to
learn more where he is anyway. We do exactly as we planned earlier."
Neither Jean or Rogue had any success with their daytime activities
despite their hopes of the previous evening, and it became clear from
a short conversation with Logan that, much to his disgust, the group
he was with considered the daytime either sleep time or, in the case
of the mutant called Gambit and a few others, time to fleece each
other at cards. Night came quickly and with the onset of sporadic
parties around the area, the nightlife sprang to life much quicker
than it normally would. Jean and Rogue dressed for party time, but
their garb was as much functional as attractive so that they could
react to an emergency without worrying about tripping over their
party dresses. The Club scene was just getting in swing when they
arrived in the quarter.
"There's so many of them," Jean muttered trying to smile gaily and
Rogue smiled and strode toward the first one. "I guess we're gonna
have to stick to the club soda's then," she grinned.
Storm was monitoring the board when it picked up a contact in the
"Cyclops," she said urgently nudging the man, who dozed in the
pilots' chair. He was alert in an instant.
"How far?" he asked.
"Half an hour on foot, a lot less as the crow flies. Contact shows
two Mutants on an erratic course with other people fanned out and
converging on them."
"Are the others Mutant too?"
She shook her head, "not unless they can hide the fact from Cerebro.
The Professor wants us to try to intercept the two runners," she
confirmed as she read the message scrolling across the Blackbirds
powerful communications array. "Its not too far I can carry you
Cyclops nodded. Storm had been experimenting with using wind and
thermals for flight ever since Liberty island. "If you're sure it
won't tax you too much."
She smiled as they hurried outside. "If it were Logan I might have
declined, you however are somewhat slimmer than he."
Scott smiled slightly. "I don't know whether to be offended or
Storm laughed aloud and raised her arms calling upon the air currents
to create and updraft. She grasped Cyclops firmly under the arms and
around his chest, for stability rather than actually lifting him,
raising them slowly into the night sky. As she gathered momentum the
trees whipped by below them. "Just ahead," she said through gritted
teeth a few moments later.
"Put us down ahead of them out of their line of sight," called
Cyclops over the wind.
Storm dipped them below the tree line and they landed in soft marshy
ground that sucked at their booted feet. Storm leaned over her knees
drawing in breath for a moment.
"Are you OK?" asked Cyclops concerned. She nodded, straightening.
They took their bearing and moved off slowly through the thick
undergrowth, soon coming within hearing distance of the chase. Two
ragged figures could just be seen through the trees. One was hunched
over and supported by his green skinned friend. They pushed away from
the tree they were resting against as the sounds of pursuit again
drew nearer and almost frantically tried to force their way through
the foliage. Torches could be seen breaking the darkness. Cyclops
silently motioned Storm to maintain her current position relative to
the two while he circled around slightly. When in position they were
only a few yards from the approaching pair but one suddenly stopped
and pulled up short.
"What?" muttered the injured mutant startled.
The green skinned mutant looked panicked, "there's someone in front
of us!" he quailed.
Cyclops motioned Storm to stay hidden and stepped out in front of the
two, his hands raised non-threateningly.
"Wait," he called softly as they struggled to flee, "We're here to
As he took a step forward the green skinned mutant spat a glob of
some noxious smelling substance toward him. It sizzled passed his
shoulder as he dived ground-ward, melting into the rotten tree stump
it hit in his stead.
"Great," muttered Cyclops, extricating himself from the mire. The
torches by now were rapidly growing brighter. "Storm give us some
cover," he called as loudly as he dared. At once a swirling fog began
to fill the space between the mutants and the torchbearers. "We're
not your enemies," he hissed urgently at the pair. The green mutant
looked panicked but the wounded one pulled him back.
"Maybe he can help," he muttered in a thick voice to his partner.
"Let me go," hissed the green mutant shaking his arm loose and
running into the fog.
Cyclops reached the injured mutant in two strides and knelt to assess
the damage. He appeared quite normal apart from some stone like
growths on his skin here and there.
"Leg's broken," he hissed as Cyclops tried to help him stand. The guy
weighed a ton. No way to move quickly over the soft ground.
"Storm," he called softly, "I need help here."
She appeared out of the fog like a serene goddess of calm and took
the mans other arm.
"Now what?" she asked, "I can't lift you both and they're getting
"Did you see what happened to the other one?" Cyclops queried.
"He was heading right into their path, but I couldn't see well enough
to stop him."
"Okay," Cyclops drew in a deep breath. "Lets try to get some distance
and hope the fog confuses them."
They made better time than expected with two of them to assist the
man and Storm kept the fog between them and their pursuers but the
torches remained a constant presence either ahead or to the side of
"Wait," said Cyclops suddenly stopping, "this isn't working."
"We're ahead," Storm protested.
He shook his head. "I get the feeling we're being herded in one
direction, can't you feel it."
She looked around and shook her head.
"Go up," he said suddenly, "see if you can get a bearing on where we
are or if there's shelter available."
She immediately lifted from the ground.
"No use," muttered the exhausted mutant.
"What?" Cyclops asked calmly.
"They can track us," he muttered, "been tracking us since they forced
us off the road on the outskirts of town."
"Why do they want you?" Cyke asked urgently.
He shook his head. "Want some sport," he coughed. "Heard `em say they
want some sport."
Scott shook his head. The more he was seeing the more he believed
there was more to this whole set up. Storm appeared suddenly hissing
"Down!, they're close." As they crouched low in the fog they heard
soft shouts and movement. Storm leaned in close "you're right they're
trying to push us toward the swampy area just north of here. There's
not many of them but they are armed."
" Any way round or through?"
She nodded, "left flank is weak too spread out.I saw lights in that
direction too, moving, possibly a highway."
"Ok," he hefted the man up, "that's where we go."
They circled until they felt safe then moved back the way they have
come originally through the line of searchers. Cyclops was beginning
to think they had made it when a sharp crack was followed by a large
chunk of bark exploded beside his ear. He dragged Storm down as two
more shots pinged into the tree beside him.
"Nightscope?" queried Storm. He nodded, an annoyed expression on his
face that in other circumstances might have amused her. Trust Scott
to take this turn of events as a personal slight. He shuffled around
on his backside till he faced the direction of the shots. He let off
two low-level blasts of force in quick succession before urgently
moving them forward again on a zigzagging path. As the ground got
firmer their almost silent companion found the going easier. They
paused to get their bearings and a body launched itself out of the
fog at Storm. She crashed to the deck dazed as the figure scrambled
up and swung an axe handle at Cyclops head. He staggered back, the
weapon missing, but stumbled over a tree root falling flat on his
backside. Another wild swing followed the first and he rolled
slightly to avoid it, still on the ground. On the second such swing
he was able to wrap his arm around the wood and yank the man forward
off balance, kicking his legs up he sent the man flailing over his
head. As he got up he arched in a spasm, mouth open in a silent
scream as Storm shocked him with a mild surge of lightening. He
flopped down unconscious as Cyclops staggered to his feet.
"Go!" he urged the other two, "I'll watch our backs till the road."
The second attack followed soon after the first. This time it was a
thug with a thick bicycle chain who surged out of the fog, chain
whipping through the air to tangle around Cyclops neck. He hit the
charging man hard at close range with a concussive blast that threw
the man back into a tree, getting a savage yank from the chain around
his own neck as a result. Coughing to clear his windpipe, he caught
up with the other two. When they reached the road, luck seemed to be
on their side. The lights they had seen earlier belonged to a truck
stopp and Storm `aquired' a pick up in short order. At Scott's look
she shrugged, "I dabbled in all sorts of things as a youth. Should we
try for one of the attackers?"
Cyclops considered it carefully then shook his head, gesturing to the
wounded mutant. "We need to get him out of here, if we get bogged
down in there again we all run the risk of not coming back out."
She nodded and slipped behind the wheel, peeling away from the verge
with a squeal of spinning tyres. A few torches appeared on the road
behind them but no serious pursuit followed, which seemed odd to them.
"You Okay?" she asked glancing over at Cyclops.
"Mmm?" He grunted startled.
"Your neck's cut up pretty bad," she noted.
He brought his hand up to his throat and sure enough his fingertips
came away with blood on them. "Uniform absorbed most of it," he
muttered. "I can clean it up at the `bird." He turned his attention
to the mutant huddled over in the seat beside him. "You feel like
telling us what happened to you mister?"
The guy shrugged. "I'd heard there was work to be had if you were,
y'know different, here. Me an' my mate got some security sort of
work. Don't ask too many questions an' it's OK. We'd only been there
two days and was goofin' off when we finally saw the boss guy. No one
else there had seen `im so we were curious. He was talking to some
Cajun about a Job he wanted doing not what you'd call legit.
Couldn't hear much but the Cajun didn't look happy none. We hid
behind some crates as the guy was leavin'. Anyhow Boss guy steps out
of the doorway and we can see him clearly and he kinds of fades out
and then he's the guy we've supposedly been hired to protect stuff
from. He's gotta be some kind of mutant too I figure but it just
didn't make sense. Lick, that's the guy I was with tonight, he says
we should tell someone, so we did. Our guy looks real shifty like but
he says we done good and can have the rest of the night off. Tells us
to go to this Club they own downtown and have a good time on the
house." He shrugged. "We did just that an then all this trouble
started on the way back from there."
Cyclops looked over at Storm and his lips tightening with
worry. "Sound familiar?" he asked.
Storm nodded "I guess Jean and Rogue are on the right track."
"Hey ," said the mutant suddenly, "who are you guys anyhow?"
Storm looked over him. "The people who just saved your life. That for
now must be answer enough."
He looked between the two of them. "Yeah , whatever" he
muttered. "You think Lick made it out of there?"
Storm shook her head. "Your friend was running straight toward them
there was not much we could have done for him."
She pulled over in the trees a little way ahead. "Wait here," she
said softly, glancing at Cyclops before proceeding, "I'll be back
with something to splint that leg." True to her word Storm returned
with a Brace support and painkillers. After fixing the mutant up they
suggested he rest and then get himself out of town.
He snorted, pulling himself over to the Drivers seat. "Plenty of time
to rest in the next state over," he muttered. "I've had enough of
this hoodoo town." Storm and Cyclops watched him pull away in
the `borrowed' truck and disappear before heading toward the
Blackbird. There was an urgency to Scott's stride.
"We'd better try to warn Jean and Logan about this," he said firmly.
"Scott," Storm said touching his arm gently. "Do you understand any
of his story. I can't figure out how this all fits together."
Cyclops shook his head. "I think I know what's going on I just don't
know why what the purpose of the whole charade is."
"Charade?" she looked startled.
He gestured her inside and locked down the hatch after them. "Try to
raise Jean or Logan and I'll explain as we go along."