"This isn't going to happen again."
Jean was asleep in the infirmary--another doctor I didn't recognize had
checked her out and done whatever arcana doctors performed for bullet
wounds. Logan had dragged me to the showers, checking me inch by inch for
injury--I got the feeling he didn't have a huge amount of faith in my
invulnerability. Redressed and feeling a little less paranoid, we'd
returned to the situation room, where Scott was waiting, as close to Jean as
the doctor would let him come.
Logan pulled me out a chair for me, and it was a close thing that he didn't
bodily force me into it.
"Scott?" I pushed wet hair back from my face, trying to catch his
expression. Not just anger, not just fear, but a stillness that was more
frightening than either or both.
"I can't--" Scott stopped, closed fists pressed lightly onto the surface of
the table. From the corner of my eye, I saw Bobby and St. John come in,
Kitty a breath behind them. None of them looked too good right now, and I
couldn't blame them. "Where's 'Ro?"
"Supervising the reorganization of the camp with Remy," Logan answered,
sitting on the edge of the table and within easy reach of me should more
random shooters appear. Logan was *not* a happy camper--like Scott, tension
was radiating off him like plutonium was sitting under his skin. As the
others took seats, I realized that this wasn't just a check-up of
Jean--official meeting here. "'Ro says she'll support whatever you choose,
and I got Remy's vote. So, what's the idea, One-Eye?"
Scott tossed Logan a long look--strange still, to see that connection
"Betsy contacted me a few hours ago--it seems there was an attack on her
apartment as well." I caught my breath, saw the naked shock on Bobby's and
Kitty's faces. "It was only luck that she wasn't there--several in her
building were injured, including three norms that are currently being held
at the New York Detention Facility." Scott took a breath. "This was
planned--I can only suppose after the attack on Marie and Kitty at the Salem
Complex, they've come to the conclusion that there will be no consequences
for security breaches." Scott's eyes flickered over all of us. "After
tomorrow, they won't have that surety anymore."
Kitty made a small sound, but I couldn't quite take my eyes off Scott.
Cool, cool voice, relaxed in his chair, some of the tension beginning to
bleed off. Ah. Classic Scott. He had an idea.
"The interrogation of the dissidents taken during the attack on Marie and
Kitty was completed yesterday. They're going to be the teaching example."
His eyes slid over all of us again, gauging our reactions. "Tomorrow,
they'll be executed in Salem Complex. Publicly. I will not have these
incursions continue, certainly not the targeting and assassination of
mutants. We fought a war to stop this, and I refuse to allow it to happen
again." Scott paused. "Any questions?"
And it was no surprise, at least to me, that there weren't any. Something
like shell-shock, or maybe just a sort of vague understanding--Logan's hand
touched mine on the table, and I closed my fingers around his as Scott's
gaze settled on me. There were nods all around the table and vaguely, I
heard Bobby begin to start working out the details, but--nothing.
It was a little shocking to look inside myself and find nothing to protest
this. Jean was downstairs, injured, might possibly lose her baby--and God,
if it would prevent this from happening again, prevent having to sit in that
hallway with Jean in my lap, bleeding into my hands--God.
While the conversations continued around me, I wondered when I had changed.
* * * * *
Public executions were something that Logan's memories had given me random
glimpses of--a Guatemalan camp where six traitors had been led before a
tribunal before they faced a firing squad. I couldn't find the memories as
easily now with Jean's shields, but I didn't want them either--the echoes
were enough. Wrapped in my jacket against the cool wind, I stood with the o
thers in the tower while we looked down at the large, open area that had
been cleared and cleaned in expectation of this day.
Logan had warned me what would happen, and I watched him and Remy standing
with Scott as the twenty-five norms were led outside. They didn't look too
good--all had been imprisoned somewhere in the Mansion's sublevels for
almost three days with Jean and Betsy sifting their minds inch by inch.
Betsy compared it to peeling an onion--I wasn't sure if that was accurate,
but the graphic that appeared in my mind was quite enough to assure me I
didn't want to know any more. Ten of the prisoners were the ones who had
been apprehended immediately. The other fifteen had been implicated after
the telepathic interrogation.
The FoH was involved. Possibly, so was Hank, but Logan had been
tight-lipped about whatever Jean had told him, and I found myself with two
brand new security personnel assigned to me. I didn't know what that meant,
except that both had been indoctrinated by Jean before they appeared beside
me under Logan's orders.
Jean was worried that Hank had told someone, perhaps even Lensherr, who and
what I was. Logan worried that the FoH would target me for that same
reason. I worried that I would spend the rest of my life having two very
large, quiet people watching me until I went insane. We were in different
levels of worry.
I turned, seeing Kitty coming up the stairs, and tried to smile. I hadn't
expected her to come for this; simply being near the camp had been enough
to stress her to breaking and she'd only been out of her room twice since
the ambush the week before. Extending a hand, I waited as she hesitated,
then she crossed over, small, cold fingers closing tightly on mine. Touch.
Comfort. Something I could do now.
God, I'd never be able to pay back Jean for this, for the simple contact
that meant so much.
"They just came out," I told her. "The director already read the order of
execution. It's almost over." A group of camp sentries were lining up and
getting ready to finish it up.
She nodded a little blankly, watching the norms being herded out to the
remaining wall of a once almost-intact apartment building. I wasn't sure
when it had been destroyed--I could have sworn that it'd been in pretty good
condition the day Kitty and I had come to the camp, but I wasn't certain of
that anymore. Brown-grey dust was puffing up around the bare feet of the
norms as they were lined up against the wall. None looked interested in
putting up much of a fight. They weren't even manacled.
"They were wiped," Kitty said softly, her voice toneless, and I blinked,
looking at her. "I didn't think Jean did that anymore."
Looking back down into the dusty square, I readjusted my vision, and looked
into the faces. My eyes caught in the blank, dark blue gaze of the only
woman--not for the first time, I wished I knew her name. She was third from
the left in the file. Quickly, I took in the other expressions. Equally
"Sometimes--sometimes their minds break after too long under telepathic
interrogation. They--just stop functioning." Kitty stepped closer to the
window. "Sometimes, they come out of it, and sometimes they don't. I guess
since they were being executed anyway, Betsy and Jean didn't have to be
careful so they could recover."
Oh. Eww. Onion metaphor again. Didn't want to think too much about that.
Shivering, I placed a hand on the windowsill and wondered if I could see
John Andrews if I looked closely enough. All the norms looked the same in
grey coveralls, with little differentiation between them. Only the woman
showed up much.
"What happened to her daughter?" I asked, waving a hand toward her row.
Kitty blinked, tearing her eyes away from the scene outside to look at me.
"Scott arranged something. She was chosen to be part of the Polaris Project
for a reason, after all. Compatible genes. Probably gave her to a family
in here to take care of until it's all over."
Oh. That seemed--a little cold.
Kitty shrugged again.
"Scott's careful with the kids. He'll find her mutant parents to raise her.
Lots of us were sterilized during the war--there's always couples who want
children. She'll be very well taken care of when this all is over." Kitty
smiled a little. "There's a theory about mutation that it comes from
environment as much as genes. Maybe she'll be a explosives expert like her
I looked at the frail woman again.
"She was a mechanical engineer and a very good FoH terrorist." Kitty's
fingers tightened in mine. "I wonder why she volunteered for the gene
tests, then. Most of the FoH would rather die than join us." She must have
caught my expression. "I looked up her file a couple of days ago. She had
a mutant cousin, so she qualified for the preliminary testing and passed.
She would have probably survived the wave."
The delicate looking woman against the wall didn't seem capable of surviving
a strong wind. I swallowed hard, gripping Kitty's fingers as the camp
guards moved into position. Scott was saying something to Logan and I
wished I could hear them--it seemed lonely up here.
I shouldn't have come. There was no reason on earth I needed to watch this,
no matter how necessary it was to camp discipline. Most of the camp
population was gathered around the edges of the square, and I knew that the
cameras were already rolling, recording everything that happened here so it
would never have to happen again.
"We shouldn't have come," I said softly.
"I'm glad I did--I need to know, Marie." Her other hand gripped the sill.
"I need this time, to see them die. When--when Logan and I got out of the
Miami camp with the others, there was the explosion--but I never saw the
bodies. I never--I never knew if they were even there, or if they were out
in the city, having a nice dinner, and escaped. Maybe one of them got away
and is out there, and remembers what he did to me." Her voice choked.
"During--during the war, I wasn't on the field. I didn't have those powers.
This time--I need to know for sure." Kitty's face broke, and I saw tears
leak out of her eyes. "I don't care if it makes me a bad person anymore. I
just--I need to know."
Without even thinking, I turned, pulling her into a tight hug, and the slim
arms went around me with desperate strength, digging into my back.
"You know their names, don't you?" I asked, and Kitty nodded against my
chest. I was glad I didn't.
An unspoken signal from Scott, a movement of his hand, and the guns came up.
I bit into my lip, feeling Kitty's head turn to watch as well. There was
more voices down there--but the eerie silence seemed to swallow those
voices, not magnify them. I'd watch this. They were dying because of
me--the least I could do was see it happen.
The norms braced against the wall didn't even to be aware of what was
happening. Maybe it was better that way too--how could Scott stand there
and give those orders if they pled for mercy, screamed for their families?
It had to be kinder this way, that they didn't know, not really. I stared
at the two rows of them, and John Andrews' face was suddenly
visible--blinking a little, looking around him as if he wasn't sure what was
I remembered his voice telling me he would have let those boys rape me in
the middle of the street and not given a good damn. I stared at him,
watched his head turn toward the waiting guns, and the blue eyes widened a
little in some sort of half-realization. He took a step from the line, and
Scott brought up his hand in my peripheral vision.
The gunfire was deafening and I watched John Andrews crumple to the ground,
grey-brown dirt clouding my view of his body. The grey coverall was
splashed with blood as the other bodies followed, but I watched for him to
A second round of fire, then a third-- I wasn't even sure anyone was
standing anymore, and Scott signaled a group to go forward, who went through
the bodies with drawn guns, ready to finish if there were any left alive.
Another shot rang out, but I couldn't move my gaze from John's body.
It was over. Kitty shuddered against me and I tasted blood in my mouth.
Invulnerability had never covered wounds from my own teeth.
"I'm glad they're dead," she whispered, and I tried to deny it in my own
head, but it wouldn't work, not anymore.
"I am, too," I answered.
Outside, they began to gather the bodies, and I watched until John was taken
away. He would have killed me and Kitty without thought. I couldn't even
bring myself to pity that he'd come out of it enough to know what was
happening to him. He wouldn't have cared if I'd been the one on the other
side of that gun.
I couldn't pretend to care that he died.
* * * * *
--Barney is fun in the middle of the night, but wake up and you just feel
cheap and dirty, and not in a good way. -- Beth, AIM convo on Barney the