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Fanfic The Ultimate Prey PG16 1/2

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  • Kat Hunt
    TITLE: The Ultimate Prey AUTHORS: Dream Weaver & Hunter DISCLAIMER: Everything belongs to Marvel except Kiefer, Jan, and the Disco. RATEING: PG 16 for
    Message 1 of 1 , Mar 24, 2002
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      TITLE: The Ultimate Prey
      AUTHORS: Dream Weaver & Hunter
      DISCLAIMER: Everything belongs to Marvel except
      Kiefer, Jan, and the Disco.
      RATEING: PG 16 for disturbing ideas
      FEEDBACK: Yes please�. katduza@... or
      mainsmel@...
      HUNTERS NOTES: Many thanks to Dream Weaver for all
      her amazing hard work to get this done before I left
      for Canada. It was a pleasure to work with you.
      AURTHORS NOTES: The dialect of the two main baddies
      is of Southern African origin, Mainly South Africa
      (Kiefer) and Namibia (Jan)

      THE ULTIMATE PREY


      PROLOGUE


      Canada�s West Coast

      He pushed between the dripping clumps of waist-high
      fern and knelt beside the prey to check the pulse. Not
      really necessary. It had been a clean kill, but this
      was something he had always done. The monotonous
      drizzle that greyed the day suddenly turned into hard
      rain, spattering the widening pool of blood, washing
      it away in runnels, mixing it with the earth until the
      brilliant red of life was diluted to a muddy brown.
      �Ashes to Ashes, Dust to Dust��
      Letting the dead man's hand slide slowly out of his,
      Kiefer rose as he sensed his friend's silent approach
      from behind. The two exchanged glances, the hunter,
      Kiefer, a tall, lean shaft of golden sun�hair, skin,
      even his light hazel, gold-flecked eyes at times
      showing yellow as a tiger's. The tracker, Jan �a
      smaller, slimmer, faded Kiefer, a Kiefer muted by
      moonlight with pallid skin that refused to tan,
      intense pale blue eyes, and a meticulous half-inch
      brush of white-blond hair. As one the men stared
      dispassionately at the body a moment before silently
      turning away and walking back to the camp.
      "That was too easy, Jan,� Kiefer said evenly.
      Jan did not reply, instead thumbed the cell, giving
      the co-ordinates of the prey, instructions for it to
      be collected and prepared for viewing.
      Slipping noiselessly through the dense foliage, Kiefer
      waited until the phone was once more in Jan's pocket,
      then murmured, "It�s over, hey? The hunt is over."
      He tasted bitterness. This was his last hunting
      ground, his last bit of wilderness. But it wasn't the
      land that was the difficulty; it was the scarcity of
      prey. No, the quality of prey. Despondent, his ears
      automatically attuned to any sound, his nose to any
      scent, he unconsciously scanned the damp earth for
      prints, not aware that he was tracking as he analysed
      trees, bushes, even tiny, delicate flowers, searching
      for a tell-tale turn of leaf, a broken stem�evidence
      that something had passed by. He was intuitively,
      integrally woven into his surroundings�as are all
      predators.
      "Nein, Kiefer," Jan said softly.
      "What do you mean?" The bitterness put an edge in his
      voice and though he still carried the rifle in a
      relaxed grip he moved faster through the plant growth.
      "With your Germanic penchant for unvarnished truth you
      of all people must admit it. The hunt is over, Jan."
      Jan regarded his comrade's rigid back. This man was
      like a brother, his 'boet'. He hated seeing his friend
      this way, listless, dejected, his spirit dimmed. But
      how to restore that fervent, joyful vitality? For what
      the other said was true�the hunt was over. Animals,
      then men�neither any longer offered challenge to a
      hunter of Kiefer's skills. There were no more worthy
      opponents. There was nothing left to hunt. And then
      Jan looked within himself and knew. "You still have
      not hunted the ultimate."
      Kiefer stopped, spun around. "The ultimate? You're
      talking shit, Jan, and you know it!"
      "Mutants,� Jan said calmly, blinking the rain out his
      eyes even as the drops caught in his bristly hair
      glittered like a cap of crystal beads.
      "Mutants!" Kiefer sneered.
      "First in South Africa, then in Asia, Australia, the
      Americas, we stalked the wily, savage beast.
      Afterwards, when we had learned all of beast's many
      ways, our prey was cunning, capricious man. Now the
      gods of the chase have favoured us with both beast and
      man as one�mutant. I promise you, boet, the hunt shall
      continue." Jan pushed aside the tall fronds of a tree
      fern and moved ahead.
      Stunned, Kiefer watched the forest swallow up the
      tracker as a swirl of emotions flooded his body. When
      at last he followed, it was to be swept on in a surge
      of overwhelming joy.
      ________________________________________________________



      CHAPTER ONE
      14 Months Later,
      United States East Coast
      The steady, solid beat of the rock band reverberated
      through the disco's walls, floor, tables�and Logan's
      adamantium skull. He gazed at his whiskey glass,
      mesmerised for a moment by the miniature seismic shock
      waves vibrating in his drink, finally picked up the
      liquor and drained it off. The loud impact of the
      glass as he slammed it down on the cheap Formica
      tabletop was buried under the band's frenetic noise.
      Heavy metal. It was that, all right. Sounded like an
      endless domino row of tool cabinets pushed over one
      after the other in rapid-fire succession. And if the
      noise wasn't bad enough, there were the lights. Strobe
      lights that flicked and blinked and stabbed the eye,
      now blinding red, now searing green, now
      brain-piercing bluish white. The lights, the noise,
      overwhelmed his sensitive eyes and ears. If today
      weren�t Bobby's birthday he would have pulled up
      stakes from this joint hours ago. But this was what
      the kid wanted�a night in the Big Apple. So as a
      present Logan and Hank and Cyke had pooled their bucks
      for the treat and were here with him to make sure he
      had fun and got back home safely. After all, a guy
      could get just so many pairs of socks for his
      birthday. Logan resolved that next year he would opt
      for the socks.
      One Eye was perusing the newspaper oblivious to the
      noise. His ruby quartz visor must filter out the
      colours and flashing lights, Logan decided
      resentfully. The frown visible on Scott's normally
      smooth brow was because of what he was reading, not
      the beginnings of a headache like the one knocking for
      entrance to Logan's brain.
      Beast had elected to come into the city 'au naturel,'
      as he put it. To the curious who were bold enough to
      confront him, Hank said he'd just done a promotional
      gig at a used-car lot and was still in costume. As
      proof he pulled a couple of balloons out of his belt
      pouch, blew them up with gusto and presented them with
      a toothy smile. Satisfied, the questioner invariably
      complemented him on his outfit and went off content,
      balloons in one hand, in the other a little card that
      read:
      Bob the Blue Beast
      Balloons
      Birthdays
      Bar Mitzvahs
      "Why 'Bob'?" Logan had asked.
      Hank blinked. "Alliteration, of course!" he replied,
      leaving Logan looking lost.
      Here in the disco Hank appeared to relish the chaos.
      Something new to study, evaluate. He'd already given a
      succinct, admiring discourse on the lyricism of heavy
      metal�as if anyone could have heard him. Then he
      analysed the colour changes in the lights, put a
      numerical value to a spectrum compromised by the blue
      base colour of his fur, and proposed equations for the
      rainbow waves modulating through his thick coat. All
      this delivered in a deep rumble that rivalled the
      band's base section.
      Scott leaned over to place his lips against Logan's
      ear, the paper clutched in his hand folded open to a
      back page. "Unconfirmed reports of a mutant serial
      killer continue this week," he shouted as he read,
      then surrendering to the noise indicated the article
      and shoved the newspaper in Logan's face.
      " . . . as yet another mutilated body was found, this
      time in Florida." Unconsciously, Logan moved his lips
      as, squinting, he tried to decipher words that jumped
      about on a page blinking red and green and
      phosphorescent white. "Shot, skinned, and decapitated,
      the trademark mutilation is easily identifiable. The
      body count continues to rise over the last year to a
      staggering 23 victims. Authorities still deny any
      links between�"
      His ordeal was interrupted when the crowd convulsed
      and ejected a sweaty, beaming Bobby between the two
      men. "Hey, guys, aren't you gonna dance?"
      "You call having a spaz attack dancing?" Logan
      demanded sourly. He gave up on the paper, sliding it
      back to its owner, and was about to air his opinion of
      the 'music' when a man abruptly pushed through the
      tangle of twitching, jerking bodies to bend down by
      Scott. The stranger was pale as a ghost, the heat of
      the disco sleeking his skin so that the stuttering
      lights flashed over his features in coruscating waves
      of colour in such a way that Logan had difficulty
      determining his true appearance. Scott listened,
      turned, and mouthed a question. For answer the man
      jabbed repeatedly at the article in the newspaper.
      One Eye rose, and when he did it wasn't Scott that
      stood, but Cyclops. A slight twitch of head by the
      Xmen's team leader and his companions followed both
      him and the stranger into the seething mob.
      Thank God! Logan almost screamed his relief as he
      brought up the rear behind Hank and Bobby. Just let
      him get free of this living hell and he was ready for
      anything!







      CHAPTER TW0




      Outside on the corner Cyclops succinctly introduced
      the person and his problem. "Jan here is with a group
      of mutants being pursued by a man he believes to be
      the serial killer."
      "In New York?" protested Bobby. "But Ororo and her
      team are hunting the creep down in Florida!"
      "Then it would behoove us to establish the validity of
      this supposition," observed Hank, "since we are, how
      does current parlance express it, 'on the speck'?"
      "'On the spot,' Hank," Logan supplied, narrowly
      studying the stranger. The streetlights made the guy
      look whiter than ever, a cardboard cutout. Average
      height, thin, wiry, and an odd stillness about him
      centered in the unblinking gaze of his pale eyes.
      "How'd you know we were here? How'd you know we might
      be interested in your little problem?" He knew he
      sounded harsh, rude, but he didn't care. There was
      something about this guy that gave him the willies.
      "Professor Charles Xavier. His school for the gifted."
      The man suddenly smiled as if in afterthought, pale
      teeth in a pale face. "The mutant grapevine is very
      specific in telling who really are his students, his
      teachers." He gave a quick, stiff nod of recognition
      to his listeners.
      The stranger had a faint, choppy accent Logan couldn't
      place. German? Brit? A little like both. But even as
      he was about to ask, Jan explained.
      "We are a small group, my wife, my sister, our four
      children. We shortly arrived from South Africa. You
      have read, I am certain, of racial disturbances there.
      But when the prey is mutants, both white and black
      join forces to hunt us down. My brother-in-law was
      killed by a mob as we were escaping. We seek refuge
      and will�" He suddenly flung a hand to his head. "Ach!
      Not again! We must hurry!" He started off at a dead
      run down the street and after a startled moment the
      others followed.
      "You're telepathic?" Scott panted out as he drew up to
      the other.
      "Thoughts? Nein. But feelings, emotions, ja. Now there
      is fear, pain� Hurry!"
      Two blocks, three, Logan lost count. Even he was
      beginning to get winded and Bobby was weaving until
      Logan took him by the arm and hauled him along, their
      speed dropping as a result. Scott had fallen a little
      behind Jan who ran in a easy, steady, distance eating
      lope, but Hank bounded shoulder to shoulder with the
      stranger. They'd arrived at a seedy part of town,
      Logan noticed, and he wondered where exactly they were
      headed when at the far end of the block Jan whipped
      into an alley with a sharp, barked, "Come!"
      The laggards forced their pace after the others
      disappeared between the buildings, finally turned into
      the alley themselves and had sprinted halfway down the
      narrow crack before Logan realised it was a dead end.
      The only outlet was where they'd entered. The man's
      senses went on alert. He jerked Bobby to a halt,
      squeezing his arm when the other opened his mouth. The
      kid was quick. He nodded, made no protest as Logan
      pulled him over against a wall. The growing suspicions
      Logan had nurtured for this pasty-faced stranger
      suddenly bloomed into vibrant life. No one awaited
      them in the gloom.
      Had the guy taken the other two into one of the
      buildings? Logan squinted, scrutinising the canyon
      that walled them in on three sides. Bricks darkened by
      soot and age and rotting with moisture, doors and
      windows firmly boarded up. The sour, musty stink of
      tenements long abandoned. No visible entrance
      anywhere. As for the dark, cluttered alley, all he
      could make out were heaps of refuse and at the
      closed-off back a large, looming shadow blacker than
      the wall behind it. Muted radiance from the street
      picked out two shiny eyes�
      Logan grimaced, gave himself a mental shake. Too many
      nights of watching horror movies with the kids in the
      common room! Not eyes, headlights. Headlights of
      something big. Truck, maybe. No, delivery van. A
      delivery van? Here in this neighbourhood? Any vehicle
      left unattended in this place for more than half an
      hour would have been stripped down to the chassis, but
      this one faced the street looking ready to peel out.
      Where the hell were these moms and kids the stranger
      talked about? In the van, armed to the teeth and
      defending the vehicle against all comers? Or there
      were any women and children at all? The spot between
      Logan's shoulder blades tingled and it felt like each
      individual hair on his head was a little antenna
      scanning the area for danger. Now from behind, loud in
      the silence, came a muffled scrape of feet.
      Logan slid down the wall pulling Bobby with him. A
      couple of guys back lighted by the street blocked the
      single exit and those long rods in their hands sure as
      hell weren't sticks. Keeping his eye on the men Logan
      tilted his head towards the kid, murmured, "Feel up to
      doin' your thing, Icicle?"
      Bobby looked startled and pleased at the same time.
      "Yeah, sure!" he whispered. "What's happening?"
      "Our buddy Jan laid a little trap and we swallowed the
      bait. I'll deal with the bastard and get our guys. In
      the meantime, you take care of those jerks in the
      street then run!"
      "I wanna fight too!" the kid hissed.
      "You will. You are! Your job is to find a phone. Call
      the mansion; tell 'em what's going down. Then get back
      to that disco and wait for us. Outside," Logan
      amended. "Think you can handle it?"
      "No problemo! I'll freeze their balls off!" Bobby
      breathed with relish.
      "Umm. Yeah, okay," Logan agreed with an inward cringe
      and muttered, "If you get yourself killed, Ice Cube, I
      ain't taking you to anymore discos, hear?"
      With a grin the kid began edging towards the riflemen,
      a cloud of frosty air like breath on a freezing day
      already forming around his outstretched hands. Logan
      saw him take shelter behind an overflowing trash bin
      then, hunched low, slipped down the middle of the
      alley towards the van. It was the only place Beast and
      Cyke could be. But how the hell did they get downed so
      fast? And so silently?
      He sniffed for them�Scott's salt and sulphur, Hank's
      incongruous scent of burnt roses�but his nostrils were
      flooded by the alley's stench of rancid garbage. Logan
      had almost reached his target when the vehicle's
      lights flashed on, blinding him those precious few
      seconds like a deer on a highway as the engine revved
      up and the heavy machine bore down upon him.
      It had never been one of Logan's lifelong ambitions to
      become a hood ornament. So now he dropped, rolled
      through filth, claws slashing blindly at the looming
      wheel. His panic prove more effective than cold
      calculation, for the remaining three tires squealed in
      alarm as the van struck the wall a glancing blow and
      rocked to a stop.
      Scrambling to his feet, a quick look at the shattered
      windshield told him that the occupant hadn't
      discovered the purpose of seatbelts. And it didn't
      appear that now he'd get the chance to find out. A
      rapid drum of boots alerted Logan and he whirled
      around to spot the sheen of light on a rifle barrel. A
      soft pop like opening a beer bottle . . . He ducked
      reflexively. Too late. Something bit him in the
      throat, set his blood boiling; the next instant froze
      the life in his veins. The claws slid silently home
      even as he crumpled to the ground.
      *****
      The drone in his ears sorted itself into words he
      almost understood. "I tell you, boet, the baster is
      completely bevok. Attacking the van with a knife?
      Bevok!"
      "Did you find the weapon, Jan?"
      "Nein. And that one is fortunate I did not. I would
      have used it on him. Bled him dry like a gutted bull,
      the baster, for what he did to Ernst."
      "Luck of the hunt, Jan. It's dangerous to
      underestimate the prey. Ernst was overconfident and
      careless. A deadly combination."
      "Ja, maybe so. Maybe so you are right. But the tire
      ruined, the windscreen shattered� Delay, delay, delay!
      And then because of that the airport sets back our
      flight time . . "
      A soft laugh. "He doesn't look like much, hey? Still,
      causing all this trouble . . . I think we will have an
      interesting run with this one."
      "The soonest is better. I will nail his puny bollocks
      to my wall!"
      Logan coughed, moaned at the pain that action caused
      in his throat.
      "Ach! The baster thinks to wake, does he? Here, I will
      rock him to sleep!" A heavy boot landed in his ribs
      rolling him on his back.
      He would have howled but his swollen throat restricted
      his air. Gasping, he thrashed about, roused and
      squinted up. He had a jumbled, bleary impression of
      the floor vibrating under him, a loud humming in his
      ears, two figures looming over him. Pale-faced Death
      bent down, jabbed something in his arm and he sank
      back into the suffocating dark.





      CHAPTER THREE




      Tool cabinets were falling one after the other in his
      head. He yelled at Bobby to turn off the damn disco
      and his shout came out a croak. It was the searing
      rawness in his throat that at last nudged him into
      awareness. Logan struggled to open his eyes. They felt
      gummy, sticky, and he had to blink repeatedly before
      his vision cleared.
      He stared at his surroundings with disbelief.
      Great. Just fucking great! If he could have pinched
      himself he would have. A surge of nausea rose in his
      aching throat as his initial shock turned to anger
      quickly becoming rage. Not again! His nightmares had
      come to haunt him in living, breathing Technicolor.
      No. No, not quite. He forced himself to examine his
      surroundings, its occupants, already accepting the
      situation and assessing the possibilities. They looked
      to be few.
      A long, cold, severe and sterile room, blinding white
      tiles competing with flickering fluorescent lights as
      to which was the most irritating to the eye. Hospital?
      Medical lab? Veterinary? All of those. Perhaps the
      last was most true. For along one side of the room
      stood a row of large stainless steel cages from which
      came the odour of animals, the reek not totally wafted
      away by the labouring ventilator system. The majority
      of those cages appeared to contain predators. Anyway,
      his neighbour to the left certainly fit that category.
      The panther's green eyes were regarding him with
      culinary interest.
      "Same to ya, bub," Logan growled.
      The big cat stretched, yawned, displaying his weaponry
      of claws and fangs before settling down to rest his
      head on massive forepaws and fix the man with a
      disconcerting stare.
      Logan snarled in return, begrudging the panther the
      luxury of its cage for he had been given no such
      amenities. Instead, he was forced to stand, cuffed
      hand and foot to a steel panel set in the wall.
      Straining his neck, twisting his body, Logan examined
      the manacles, tested the limited play they grudgingly
      allowed. With his hands fastened shoulder-high his
      claws were of no use.
      �Doesn�t this bring back happy memories!� he muttered
      to himself, pulling against the bonds until dribbles
      of blood ran down his wrists. Nope. Not going anywhere
      with these on. Feet? Same sad story.
      With a sigh Logan looked over at a drowsing Bobby
      pinioned in like fashion to his right. Just beyond,
      Scott hung unconscious in his bindings and last
      drooped Hank's blue bulk He regarded his teammates
      with an odd mixture of unwilling affection,
      exasperation, and envy that they were still ignorant
      of their situation. In the end he decided to let them
      sleep. Reality would rear its ugly head soon enough.
      Logan felt worse about the kid. He thought he'd made
      it possible for Bobby to get away. Hell, it was the
      kid's birthday after all! He and Cyke and Beast were
      big boys and could handle this�he hoped. But the kid�
      Even though he knew it wasn't true, he felt Bobby's
      capture was his fault.
      At some point they had been stripped of everything
      except their jeans. Only Hank looked dressed. Logan
      noticed that the bastards had left Cyke his ruby
      quartz visor. Too bad, or else this whole place would
      be smithereens as soon as he woke up. But with Scott's
      hands securely manacled the visor was as inoperable as
      Logan's claws. The kidnappers must have known about
      that visor, he realized. Yup. Canny Jan had done his
      homework. Knew who to catch, and where, and what would
      draw them in.
      A sudden thought struck him. Somebody knew about the
      visor, what it did and why . . . And Beast was
      obviously a mutant. A roundup. The mutant slayer? Nah,
      couldn't be. That bastard killed, he didn't collect.
      It had to be somebody else. But did that somebody also
      know about the kid's peculiarities or was aware of his
      own claws? He dimly recalled a dream-like conversation
      where he had supposedly slashed the truck tire with a
      knife. Okay. The best thing was to keep quiet about
      the claws and Ice Cube's little tricks. Pretend to be
      the ordinary Joe on the street. Not that he expected
      their captors to give him and the kid a 'Get Out of
      Jail Free' card. But what the baddies didn't know
      might hurt them. Besides, it was only smart to keep a
      couple of aces up his sleeve�even when he didn't have
      a sleeve.
      Logan could see no visible wounds on any of them. What
      had the bastards hit them with? He recalled a quiet
      popping sound, a sting in his neck. Some kind of
      tranquilliser gun, he decided. That's what knocked out
      Cyke and Beast so silently. They must have already
      been tucked in the van by the time he and Bobby
      arrived on the scene. A tranquilliser would also
      explain the bitter, medicinal taste in his mouth and
      the delayed reaction of his healing factor to overcome
      the drug. Wonderful. He'd figured out who had captured
      them and how. But damned if he knew why!
      'Why' chose that moment to announce its entrance. A
      squeak of the handle on the steel door at the end of
      the corridor caused Logan, the panther, and the roving
      eye of a security camera set high in the corner to
      focus on the newcomers. A tall, deeply tanned man
      radiating good humour strode in first with
      leopard-like grace. Close on his heels, came the
      watchful, expressionless Jan. Last to enter were two
      heavy-set thugs in pseudo-military outfits with
      pistols and other paraphernalia strapped around their
      hips.
      Jan went up to Hank, broke a capsule under his nose,
      and when that one jerked his head away from the sharp
      smell gave the Xman a half-dozen stinging,
      unemotional, methodical slaps bringing Beast to
      roaring life. He administered the same gentle, kindly
      attentions to each of the other two. His eyes narrowed
      when he found Logan awake and aware. With a tight
      little stretch of lips Jan slipped the last capsule in
      his pocket and slapped Logan anyway.
      "This is just a taste of what awaits you, baster," he
      murmured.
      Logan lunged his full extent from the wall�a good four
      inches. The only impression his aborted attack made on
      Jan was to harden the man's smile. "Your turn will
      come." Slap! "I swear it." Slap! With an abrupt nod
      that promised vengeance, Jan left Logan licking blood
      from his lips and went to stand by the other man who
      was studying the captives.
      "Hey, I'm hungry!" Bobby complained. "When do we eat
      around here?"
      Logan grinned in spite of himself. Trust a teen to
      rank his stomach higher than drugging, kidnapping, or
      imprisonment!
      "We don't eat," said Scott. "No shoes. No shirt. No
      service," he intoned, deadpan.
      The incongruity and truth of the statement brought a
      startled laugh out of his teammates eased the palpable
      tension. Even the tall man chuckled. Logan mentally
      revised his assessment of Cyke's leadership abilities,
      pushing it upward another notch. Damn! At this rate he
      might even end by liking the guy.
      Followed by Jan, the man now approached Hank, staring
      at him curiously. "What do we have here?" He ran an
      admiring hand through the blue fur.
      "'Whom do we have here' would be more accurate,"
      rumbled Hank.
      "It talks!" The man turned to Jan with delight.
      "It is also fast, Kiefer. It kept up with me despite
      its bulk. Looks strong, as well. It would have to be
      to carry that weight. Take care with this one, boet. I
      think it may have a surprise or two."
      "Perhaps I should introduce myself," Hank suggested.
      "I am Dr. Henry P. McCoy, medical doctor as well as
      recipient of Ph.Ds in chemistry, biology, mathematics,
      and genetics."
      "Have you felt its fur, Jan? Almost like�"
      "The fur's molecular structure is not dissimilar from
      the best quality of cashmere," Hank interrupted.
      "However, it also bears close DNA resemblance to the
      thick, water-proof fur of sea lions, rendering it both
      amazingly warm and incredibly weather resistant�as I
      am modestly able to testify. And now that I have
      satisfied your curiosity, gentlemen, would you be so
      gracious as to satisfy mine?"
      Logan understood what Hank was doing. P.O.W.
      Psychology 101�make your captors acknowledge you as a
      human being and not as a thing. He doubted it would
      work in this case.
      "Firstly," Hank continued, "why are my friends and I
      trussed up in this undignified manner? And, secondly,
      what are your intentions that warranted our abduct�"
      Kiefer yanked out a tuft of blue fuzz, sniffed at it.
      "Damn me if it doesn't smell like . . . roses? Jan,
      release this one first."
      "As you wish," replied Jan as they moved over to
      Cyclops.
      "Scott Summers?"
      "Only to my friends. Who are you?"
      "Ach, so rude! But I have wanted to meet you for some
      time, Scott Summers. Call me Kiefer. That will serve
      for the brief period we will be acquainted." He
      laughed. "And if I remove that which hides your eyes
      what will happen, hey?"
      "Hmm. Let's try it and see," Cyke suggested with a
      winning smile.
      The man laughed again. "I think not! I have heard of
      the power of your gaze. Save this one for last, Jan.
      He will provide the greatest sport."
      "And you, boy," Kiefer addressed Bobby. "I'm truly
      sorry. I did not intend to net any kids in my hunt."
      "I'm not a kid!" yelled the kid.
      "You claim to be something more?" he goaded. "My men
      tell tales of frost, ice. But surely these are
      fantasies."
      "C'mere and find out, asshole!"
      "You think to hurt me, little boy?" The man grinned
      and moved closer. "I dare you!"
      Even as Logan shouted at him to stop, a haze of
      freezing cold streamed from Bobby towards Kiefer.
      Still grinning, that one adroitly stepped aside and
      the icy cloud enveloped the guard by the door. In
      seconds, the man stiffened, turned shimmery white, and
      crashed to the floor, scattering across the tiles in a
      hundred pieces.
      Bobby stared horrified at what he'd done, then Jan's
      knuckles caught him on the chin and the kid slumped
      unconscious, hanging from his wrists.
      "Ulrich!" Jan made a whipsnap of the name, jerking the
      second guard out of his befuddlement as he stared at
      what remained of his companion. "See that this one is
      kept sedated until we are ready for him."
      "Ja!"
      Chuckling, Kiefer stepped back, hands on hips as he
      regarded the prisoners. "A good catch, Jan! We shall
      amuse ourselves with these. A blue gorilla, a maker of
      lightening, another of ice, and . . . What are you?"
      He came over to Logan. "I know why the others are
      monstrosities, freaks. How are you different?"
      "Lemme loose, and I can make my fist materialize in
      your teeth," Logan growled.
      The man laughed. "A maker of bad jokes. Commendable
      under the circumstances, I suppose, but of little
      interest otherwise. However, he was resourceful, hey,
      Jan? Ernst dead, the van damaged. Or are you just a
      lucky baster?" He studied Logan again as that one
      sneered back. "This one second, Jan. We'll see how
      long his luck holds. Then the boy."
      The two men started for the door. "Ja, the most
      challenging we keep for last." Kiefer paused on his
      way out, gave a half bow to Cyclops. "Scott Summers,
      in four days we will meet again. I await it with
      anticipation."
      "Just why did you bring us here?" demanded Scott.
      "What do you intend to do with us?"
      "Didn't I say?" He smiled at Scott. "Why, I have
      invited you all here for a bit of sport. Hunting, in
      fact. I�the jagter, the hunter, you�the hunted. We are
      on an island. There is a dock, a boat. If you wish to
      escape you will find that boat."
      "What's to stop you from just setting up camp on the
      dock?" Logan snarled.
      Kiefer laughed. "The bad joke maker has no sense of
      sportsmanship. Guarding the single exit is too easy.
      You are here because of the chase. You offer
      challenge, danger, wit�in a word, sport. It is not the
      kill that makes the victor. It is the trial of the
      hunt, then the kill. In the morning the ape will be
      released to run. A half hour later Jan and I will set
      out. I warn you now, Jan is the most clever of
      trackers, spying out the most subtle of signs."
      "Two against one doesn't sound very sportsmanlike,"
      Scott commented. "Also, you have supplies, equipment,
      manpower. We don't even have a shirt on our backs."
      The man grinned unpleasantly. "If it's a shirt you
      want, Scott Summers, then you must kill to get one."
      He left, still fingering the bit of blue fur.
      Jan stopped by the guard. "Ulrich, I will send Thomas
      down to help you clean up what is left of Carl." He
      indicated the glittering ice. "Meanwhile, see that
      this lot are fed as well as the animals. Thomas will
      take care of the boy intravenously. Ach," he turned in
      the doorway, "I almost forgot. The one on the end
      there, the maker of bad jokes, no need to feed him. He
      is not to be pampered. Do I make myself clear?"
      "Ja!" And before the door clanged shut Ulrich snatched
      something thick and black from his weapons belt and
      was striding towards Logan. A rubber truncheon.
      Maximum pain. Minimum damage. Make that visible
      damage.
      Logan gritted his teeth. He knew who was going to pay
      for what happened to Carl.





      CHAPTER FOUR


      The beating was cut short this time. A little
      going-away gift. Swollen eyes still closed Logan
      automatically took a mental inventory. Feeling was
      nonexistent in hands and arms. He wondered how long
      he'd been suspended from them senseless. A long time
      by the ache in the small of his back. With wrists and
      feet fastened firmly to the wall a limp body tended to
      bend in unaccustomed and painful ways. He slowly
      straightened and every vertebrae sent out distress
      signals.
      Face�yeah, the bastard had gone for the face again,
      attempting to rearrange the features. Nice to know
      that somebody cared. Nothing broken, everything
      bitching and whining about bruises, aches, twinges,
      smarts�the complaints went on and on. As usual ribs
      and gut had borne the brunt. Major throbbing and
      soreness there, a shooting pain every time he tried to
      breathe deep. Just as well he'd had nothing to eat
      since that greasy pizza at the disco. He tried to
      count the number of days since then, stopped at
      'eternity'. He carefully lifted his head and bit back
      a groan. With no food and each shift of guards taking
      their turn at the 'punching bag' his recovery time was
      slower and slower.
      "How ron . . . "
      "You've been out about half an hour," Bobby was quick
      to reply.
      Hank had persuaded the new guard, Thomas, in such a
      way that the man thought it was his idea to put the
      kid in a kind of straightjacket where the only target
      for his jets of ice would be himself. That way the boy
      would be physically fit to be 'hunted' when the time
      came and Thomas wouldn't have to bother about the
      intravenous feedings.
      The next day Hank had been turned loose�literally. The
      four had planned that Hank would attack the guard when
      freed, then free the rest. Or if that proved
      impossible�find the boat, go for help, come back with
      the Marines, the Mounties, the Girl Scouts�oh, yeah,
      and the rest of the Xmen who were toasting their toes
      on a beach in Florida. But the guard hadn't freed
      Hank, at Kiefer's signal had merely pushed a button.
      The steel plate Beast was fastened to rotated in the
      wall. When it circled back the shackles were open and
      empty and Hank was gone. No Marines had yet put in an
      appearance.
      And today it was Logan's turn to be released. He
      twitched his head in the negative. "Mfph! How long
      left?"
      Bobby's response was slower this time. "I don't know.
      Soon, I think. We already had bre� Soon."
      Logan's neck cracked as he nodded. He'd heard the kid
      backtrack on the word 'breakfast.' "'S'okay. I'll
      catch me sumpin to eat outside. Fas' food." He
      attempted a chuckle and it came out a cough.
      "You scared?" The voice was low, hesitant�fearful.
      He willed his eyes to open and squinted at the kid
      bundled up in one of the mercenary's oversized
      camouflage jackets, making him look smaller than
      ever�long sleeves crossed in front, tied in back, the
      versatile metal prisoner panel providing a band that
      secured him across upper arms and chest�and thought
      about the question. "Scared? Yeah, a little. Mainly,
      'cause I don't know what's out there. It's good to be
      a little scared. Keeps you on your toes."
      Bobby scowled. "You don't look scared!"
      True. He probably looked like a slab of tenderised
      beef. But he felt like he'd been pounded into dog
      food�cheap dog food, at that. "Kid, I've been scared
      so much in my life that my 'scared' look is plain worn
      out. All I got left is 'mad' and 'bored.'"
      A shaky laugh was his reward.
      "I� I was scared," Bobby confessed, "real scared, that
      day . . . Honest, I didn't mean to kill anybody. And
      then the guy busting apart like a broken glass . . . I
      didn't know I could do that. I sure don't want to do
      it again!"
      Logan looked at the kid who was staring down at his
      feet. "Yeah, I know you were scared," he said softly.
      "We all were, still are, as a matter of fact. Anybody
      who's been knocked out and kidnapped and chained up .
      . . I'd say you're entitled to be scared. You'd have
      the brains of an earthworm if you weren't. Like I said
      a little scared is okay. Makes you think. But a lot
      scared�that's when you end up doing things you're
      sorry for the rest of your life. Believe me, I know."
      Bobby's head sunk lower.
      "Okay. So. What can you do different? Maybe next time
      you're scared just freeze the bastard's shoes to the
      ground, or if he has a gun, make it so cold he drops
      it."
      The kid looked up, eyes wide with excitement. "Yeah!
      Or put a wall of ice around him, then he couldn't
      move. But I'd leave an air hole at the top so he could
      breathe!"
      Logan grinned. "That's the idea."
      "They're coming," Scott now murmured.
      Logan and the panther had already heard the cadence of
      marching feet, Kiefer's quirky little ritual on a
      level with the formality of a firing squad. There was
      no glory in death�only worms. But in dying, when the
      'die-ee' knew what was happening . . . That was the
      time to spout immortal words to be recorded in
      history. Logan supposed there was some logic to it,
      albeit sick.
      Kiefer, Jan, a little troop of five guards. All
      entered in formation and ranged themselves before the
      prey, the odd, fifth guard looking lonely and out of
      place with no partner. Probably six guards used to
      come to these ceremonies when Carl was still alive and
      kicking, Logan thought, and suddenly wondered if the
      seven men were the total number of occupants in this
      place. Something to keep in mind when it came havoc
      time.
      "I think you know the procedure, joke man. You have
      half an hour before Jan and I set out. Find the boat
      and you're free. Any questions or comments?"
      It was at this point that Hank had given a little
      speech on tolerance. Logan also poured out his heart.
      "Get stuffed!"
      Kiefer's eyebrows rose and his lips quirked in a
      smile. "Curious. I was just thinking the same thing
      about you."
      He lifted a finger and Logan's panel revolved.


      Logan knew where he was by smell before he was able to
      see all the details�a tunnel running behind the cages
      and the prisoner panels. This must be where the fans
      vented for the animal stench was so thick here he
      could all but feel it. No problemo! as Bobby would
      say. Once the shackles were opened he'd stay in the
      tunnel, then when the guards left he'd cut through an
      empty cage and free the others. Kiefer and his creepy
      shadow could just haul ass all over the whole damn
      island while he waited here snug and cosy.
      The shackles clicked open, his lifeless arms dropped.
      The platform began to rotate and he staggered free. Or
      did he? Instead of rock under his feet, the ground
      felt just like the smooth, slick disk he'd been
      standing on the past several days. He peered closer
      through the gloom and saw that the tunnel floor was
      metallic. What the hell?
      As if on command, hell came in the form of an electric
      shock to his bare feet. It was mild, but startled him
      enough to elicit a squawk. Another followed that, then
      another, and he found he was being herded towards the
      end of the cage row where there was a glimmer of
      light. He tried once to stop and go back but the jolt
      he received told him his captors had planned for that.
      Once he passed a point the voltage there cranked up.
      The same thing happened if he just stopped and stood.

      Nor, he discovered, could he claw a way through wall
      or ceiling. He was in a large metal tube, all of it
      wired. So in short order he was hustled through the
      tunnel and ousted like a bum given the heave-ho from a
      bar. A steel door slid shut behind him, nipping his
      heels. He tested it with a finger, yelled and jerked
      his hand away.
      Whether the door remained electrified all the time he
      had no way of knowing, nor did he have any desire to
      wait around to find out. He found himself on the
      narrow ledge of a cliff. Above him sailed white, puffy
      clouds. Below him surged white-crested waves. It was
      sunny at the moment but a brisk early morning wind was
      energetically herding a fog bank towards the island
      and chill gusts buffeted him to the point where he
      thought he might be blown into the sea. A path even
      narrower than the ledge straggled across the cliff
      face in an upward direction. There was no choice but
      to take it.
      Logan stumbled up the track, his bare feet bitten by
      sharp rocks, his leg muscles knotting after days of
      inactivity. His arms swung like dead weights of their
      own volition, sending him periodically off balance so
      that he must throw himself against the rock wall to
      keep from falling. And all the while arms and
      shoulders, feet and legs burned as if dipped in acid
      from the returning circulation.
      Despite the pain, he demanded of himself the greatest
      speed he could muster�a lurching shuffle. He hadn't
      eaten for at least three days and his stomach was a
      little sullen lump that made its presence know with
      lightening bolt jabs. He had half an hour. Thirty
      measly minutes before the hunters came after him. And
      from the cliff top they could pick him off in an
      instant. They might even be waiting for him now at the
      end of the path! Ice water ran through his veins. No.
      No, he still had time. But the coast itself was
      dangerous. They knew he'd have to follow it to find
      the boat. He had a fifty-fifty chance of starting off
      in the right direction. The hunters had a hundred
      percent chance of knowing where he must go.
      Exhausted, he scrabbled up the last part with the aid
      of his claws and for precious seconds sprawled face
      down on a mat of moss and pine needles as he caught
      his breath. How the hell had Beast managed that climb?
      The path was so narrow he must have had to inch up it
      sideways. But he had made it. The evidence was in
      front of Logan's nose. A crushed pinecone, a flattened
      clump of fern, a patch of moss scuffed up from damp
      earth, and in the middle of that pocket of dirt the
      impression of a claw-tipped footprint half the length
      of Logan's forearm. Hank had passed this same spot
      twenty-four hours ago. And then where had he gone?
      Pushing himself first to his knees, then to a stand,
      Logan scrutinized his surroundings, staring up and up
      at the towering evergreens that crowned the island.
      Huge of girth, each rust-colored trunk was concealed
      at its base by dense, vivid green undergrowth of fern
      and shrub. The morning sun had disappeared during
      Logan's climb and now a cold, grey mist drifted among
      the trees, coating each needle, leaf and curling frond
      in chill dew. Rain forest. West Coast. He could be any
      where between northern California and Canada. At least
      the moss and the fairly level terrain made walking
      easier, but the profusion of trees and exuberant
      foliage reduced his line of sight to a few feet.
      Hearing also was affected, sounds muffled by dampness
      and the constant, muted slap and growl of breaking
      waves. Worse than the lack of sight and sound was that
      of smell. The air was saturated with moisture. The
      perpetual mist and fog rolling in from the sea was
      what caused the rain forest to exist, and that
      humidity would neutralize all warning scent of Kiefer
      and his men.
      No help for it. And the hunters were just as
      handicapped, he reasoned. But if he was going to make
      good his escape he must have food. Logan forced his
      reluctant muscles into a slow jog, eyes following
      Hank's track of trampled moss and at the same time
      searching for breakfast. He ripped up a handful of
      young fiddlehead fern as he trotted and crammed it
      into his mouth. The taste was fresh, green, and
      slightly bitter. He pulled up two more bunches leaving
      hollows in the earth where their roots had been;
      blazing a trail even a blind man could follow. The
      juice helped quench his thirst, was kind to his
      shrunken stomach. But he hadn't clawed his way to the
      top of the food chain to be a vegetarian. He needed
      meat.
      Already winded, he slipped between the bushes into the
      thick of the forest and soon found what he was looking
      for. Some horrific storm years ago had downed a giant
      of a tree. But in its death the tree now provided
      life. Mushrooms grew from its rotting trunk, a tangle
      of wild blackberries filled the space where it had
      stood, and tunnelled under the tree itself was a
      rabbit burrow.
      He squatted behind a sapling twice the thickness of
      his body and licked the back of his hand. Many animals
      come to the distress calls of their kind. Rabbits are
      among that number. Setting his lips against the wet
      skin, he gave a long, drawn-out, sucking kiss, a
      squeaking sound of pain and fear.
      Fast food. The rabbit wasn't fast enough. The animal
      came to aid its own and the claws stabbed down.
      "Sorry, bub," Logan murmured. A flash of blade skinned
      away the fur and the next instant he was gnawing the
      warm, bloody flesh. The main course was over in a
      matter of minutes and served only to whet his
      appetite. He stripped off a handful of blackberries
      for the liquid and the instant energy the sugar gave.
      Munching on those, with a claw tip he pried up a strip
      of bark from the tree trunk. Beneath squirmed a
      seething mass of fat, white bodies as thick and long
      as a finger joint. Logan grinned. He speared up the
      grubs one after the other, popping them between his
      teeth. Pure protein.
      Supplied with two more handfuls of berries he returned
      to the track, crouched a moment, the wary beast,
      listening, looking, sniffing, before he stepped out on
      that trail. Still following Hank's spoor he felt
      strength flow through him and he picked up the pace.

      __________

      PART TWO ON ITS WAY


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