Fanfic The Ultimate Prey PG16 1/2
- 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
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
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
"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.
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
Bob the Blue Beast
"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
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
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
"You're telepathic?" Scott panted out as he drew up to
"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?
"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.
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
"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
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
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
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
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
Logan grinned in spite of himself. Trust a teen to
rank his stomach higher than drugging, kidnapping, or
"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,"
"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,
"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
"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
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
"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
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."
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
"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
Logan gritted his teeth. He knew who was going to pay
for what happened to Carl.
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
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
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
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
And today it was Logan's turn to be released. He
twitched his head in the negative. "Mfph! How long
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
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
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
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,
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
"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.
Kiefer's eyebrows rose and his lips quirked in a
smile. "Curious. I was just thinking the same thing
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
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
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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