by Adrian Anderson

Author's Notes: Okay, here I am again with a new chapter. First of all, I'd like to thank everyone who emailed me with respect to Chapter Six. I'm sorry that I can't name everyone, but you guys know who you are. I read every email and do my best to respond to all of them too. Sorry for taking so long to come out with another chapter after leaving you guys with the cliffhanger at the end of the last - that was evil of me I know.

Now feel free to email me responses by sending mail to And you may also join my Yahoo group at the following address Updates are quicker there than at Nifty (by a few days to a week sometimes since Nifty takes a while to add them to the archive) and I send an alert email to members when I post a new chapter, so that will help those of you who constantly check for new issues with no idea when they'll be out.

Now for the usual: Bold text indicate emphasis. Underlined text indicate any sort of electronic communication. And italicized text indicates either personal thoughts or telepathic communication, depending on context. You're smart boys and girls - you'll figure it out. (^_^) Okay, let's get this show on the road!

Chapter Seven

Two days had passed and John had yet to exhibit any departure from his catatonic state. Not even one fleeting moment of recognition did he give to any of the people who constantly came to see him in the Med Bay. Scott was worried and had not had much sleep. Wanting to be awake and at his son's side should he recover from his mental stupor, Scott had taken up residence in the Med Bay, slipping in some rest on one of the spare beds.

During her visits, Lorna took to reading stories for John and sang to him under Hank's advice. He said that John might react quicker if the constant stimulus of the human voice was provided. Alex brought in John's favorite movies and would sit and watch them with him, making sure that the television was in the direct line of sight of John's unceasing gaze. When he got fed up of movies, he'd bring in photo CDs of their memorable moments. John didn't respond to them, but Scott was noticeably saddened when he saw just how much he and Jean had missed out on.

Despite Scott's repeated pleas for the Professor to enter John's mind immediately and bring his son back, Xavier denied him. According to the Professor, it was entirely possible that, given a few days, John could make it out on his own. If he did, he would be all the better for it. Apparently, coming out of catatonia on your own steam was a great sign of personal growth. Xavier didn't want to rob him of the opportunity for 'self betterment' (as he called it) or possibly force him out of his protective shell before he was ready for it. It would only make recovery from the near death experience more difficult.

Alex: "Scott, you haven't been out of the subbasement for a while."

The elder Summers sibling ignored the gentle hint.

Alex: "Why don't you come upstairs for a little bit? Stretch your legs out on the greens?"

Scott: "I have to be here when he wakes up."

Waking up... John's body was technically awake. By `waking up' they meant that they were waiting for his mind to catch up to that fact.

Alex: "Yes, I know. But there's no sign that'll happen right this minute."

Lorna saw Scott's face tightening. Not wanting Scott to have an outburst, like he did when Hank suggested the same thing twelve hours before, she intruded into the conversation, intending to forestall any possible animosity.

Lorna: "Sitting around here, just waiting - you aren't much better off than him, Scott. Go for some fresh air. I'll stay here with him. And if he so much as mumbles I'll call you."

Scott looked from John to Lorna, to Alex and then back to John again. Realizing that they were both right, he agreed. He and Alex got up and left, leaving Lorna alone with John.

Julian Keller stayed out of the corridor and concealed himself behind a corner. He waited until both Scott and Alex Summers walked into the elevator before he emerged and headed towards the Med Bay. It had been two days since his boyfriend had entered into a deathlike trance. And whilst Julian had been in to see him along with several others of the squads, he had not had any personal time with him and wished for some intimacy. The constant presence of John's father in the room had forced him to stay away. For all John's family and friends knew, they weren't particularly close. But now that they'd left, Julian was free to have a few minutes with John untroubled.

He'd entered the room in too much of a rush to realize that it wasn't as empty as he thought it was. Before he could go back outside into the corridor, she saw him.

Lorna: "Hello. Are you here to see John?"

Julian nodded a bit dumbly and approached the bedside. So much for intimacy, he thought. But it was better than nothing. Somehow, he found it easier to be here when it was just Lorna and not Scott or Alex.

"He hasn't shown any sign?"

Lorna: "I'm afraid not."

Taking in John's vacant stare, Julian's face twisted in barely repressed anger. Hank had been delving deeper into the Danger Room computer's mysterious behavior. It turned out that the changes to the system had not been pre-programmed in before Logan and John entered the room. Someone had made them while the two of them were actively in training and had specified that the droids attack John as their primary target. Which is why the droids didn't immediately kill Logan when he fell. They just started swarming in on John, their preferred target, instead.

Julian: "I just can't believe someone would do something like this. I mean, he`s not even a senior X-man. He's just a...just a kid."

Lorna: "Me neither. But I guess this is what we`ve come to."

Several minutes were passed in silence as they both looked at the oblivious boy who lay before them. Lorna was a little curious. She was not an X-man, and had never taught Julian before. She only had significant contact with the current students and other teachers. As such, she was not well acquainted with Julian personally.

Lorna: "You seem very upset by this...erm..."

Julian: "Julian. Julian Keller. And yeah, I kinda am. I just don't understand why anyone would want to target him."

Lorna: "Honestly, I don't know either. I mean, he's not even had a field mission yet. No major adversary has any grudge on him. You're a junior X-man. Have they told you anything?"

Julian: "Just that someone tampered with the settings while he and Logan were in there, and that a telekinetic flare of his had overwhelmed the system."

They'd explained what had happened to the juniors in the most rudimentary way, but had not released any of the footage of John's telekinetic flare to them. They could not however hide the demolished Danger Room from the Alpha, Beta and Gamma squads. The sight of it had raised questions among them all. They were smart enough to realize that the Danger Room strived to prevent and repair damage to itself. Therefore, whatever force had wreaked such destruction was powerful enough to exceed the self-repair mechanisms of the Danger Room. Something that Julian had never heard of being done before.

Julian: "You've seen the Danger Room?"

Lorna: "Yeah. Totally wrecked."

Julian nodded in agreement. Hank would be kept very busy. And the Professor might just have to use his money and influence to contact his underground sources, engineers and designers to rebuild the Danger Room from scratch.

Julian: "I'm telekinetic too. And I know what I'm talking about when I say that whatever power John channeled to do that had to have been outta this world. I'm talking major."

After all, the Danger Room was built to withstand the special abilities of mutants. It could even act as a frickin' bomb shelter, Julian thought.

Lorna: "Yeah, and to think just about a month ago the heaviest thing he could lift was the dinner table."

Which was precisely what was bothering Julian.

Julian: "There's something they are not telling us."

Lorna: "Why do you say that?"

Julian: "They told us John had a power surge. But I don't think there's any way that alone could explain what he did. His energy level has just increased too much, too fast. A lot more than any 'surge' I ever heard of. There has to be more to it than what they`re letting on."

Lorna: "Scott hasn't mentioned anything other than -"

Julian: "He's a senior X-man. And a total stickler for rules and regulations. He wouldn't disobey Xavier`s orders."

Lorna: "Assuming that you're right, do you think that could have had anything to do with why he was targeted?"

Julian: "They're obviously hiding something. And since there's nothing suspicious about what they have decided to tell us - the only possibility is that whatever they're concealing had something to do with the attack. So yeah, I do think so."

Lorna withdrew into her thoughts for a several moments. The Professor had been known to keep certain bits of information to himself and the senior X-men. Scott, in his grief, had revealed to both her and Alex the circumstances surrounding Jean's death. That was classified information that only the senior X-men were aware of. And it had taken the emotional instability wrought by Jean's death to get him to reveal that. Could Julian be right? Was there something Xavier was keeping from all but the seniors?

Julian: "Did they release the Danger Room video? Did you get to see it?"

Lorna: "No. And, honestly, I don't want to. I don't want to see how he got into the condition he was in."

Shaking her head in distaste, Lorna recalled him being brought into the Med Bay, slashed and bleeding as if he wouldn't stop.

Julian: "Neither do I. But I would be interested in seeing what it is he did."

Lorna: "So they haven't showed it to you guys either?"

Julian: "No. And they are handling the investigation themselves. We're to keep out of their way. Like I said, something is up."

Lorna: "Could you stay with him for a couple minutes? I need to make a phone call."

Julian nodded and watched as Lorna walked out of the room and onto the corridor. Had she been giving his words some serious thought, Julian wondered. He didn't know for sure then, but he was right, as Lorna had decided to contact Alex and share her newfound concerns...

Meanwhile, in the backyard...

A teenaged girl, known to those around the mansion by the alias Ashley Montgomery, secretively walked into the cover of the trees. Once she was certain that she wasn't under any observation, she pulled out her specially modified cell phone and began hastily dialing a number all too familiar to her.

Mystique: "Yes, Erik. It`s me. Did you receive the video?"

[Erik: "Yes. I did."]

Mystique: "Well, what do you think?"

Ashley, or Mystique rather, had grown tired of lurking about the Xavier Mansion, disguised as a teenaged girl and forced to associate with other (annoying) teens. Not to mention that she had to waste her time in mind numbingly boring classes and suffer through countless ethical lectures. It had been most welcome when Magneto had contacted her and issued new orders.

He'd wanted to place John Summers under an evaluation of sorts. He'd noticed how quick Xavier was to limit any contact he had with the boy when they'd met in the subbasement after the recently concluded Alkali Lake incident. Since his powers seemed to take after his mother's so much, and hers had only come out under the most extreme pressure, Mystique was to find a way to subject John to similar strain. Depending on the results, they'd see for themselves firsthand what they were dealing with.

Mystique: "Erik, time is precious. Please tell me what to do."

It was his original plan to find some way to place the boy among their ranks. But in light of the video Mystique had recorded, Erik's plans had since altered. John Summers seemed to have little control and his powers were far too unstable to be put to practical usage. Neither Magneto nor Mystique had the time or resources to train someone the likes of him. They wouldn't know where to begin. And worse, Magneto realized that if Xavier was right in his supposition of `unlimited potential', John Summers would eventually meet his own power level and exceed it.

Erik: "Now that I've seen for myself what the boy's capable of, I can understand why Charles was so uptight with me talking to him. He was so quick to make paltry excuses, that it was some fanciful improvement they'd made to Cerebro that allowed Summers to make contact over such an expanse. If I were Charles I wouldn't let him out of my sight."

Mystique: "Yeah, I know what you mean. He's all tranced out down in the Med Bay, and they got someone with him all the time."

Erik: "It would be one thing to try and convince a teenager who has only known of Charles' ideology for a few years. But that boy has been brainwashed from birth. There's no way we can turn him around to our way of thinking short of telepathic control. And from what I've seen of his telepathic power level...mind control wouldn't hold him long. Not nearly long enough for us to put him to good use at any rate."

For the sake of mutant kind, such power in the hands of the misguided could not be allowed to long continue.

Mystique: "I understand."

All too well. For now, it didn't seem as though John could summon up that kind of power at will. But Xavier had apparently assigned him to a junior X-team, no doubt intending to bolster his control. And Magneto thought he knew for what purpose...

Erik: "We cannot allow Charles to mold him into a weapon against us."

There was an ominous pause as Mystique waited for the orders of her leader. She knew where it was all heading and what she was to be asked to do. But she couldn't take action on her own. She needed the explicit command from the Master of Magnetism himself.

Erik: "I want him eliminated. Charles has already done much to set back the cause of mutant liberation. Imagine what he`ll be able to `accomplish' with this child at his side - to the detriment of us all."

Mystique: "You're right...of course. But it won't be easy. He`s very closely watched."

Erik: "It will be difficult. But I have faith you'll find a way. You always do."

Mystique: "I'll bide my time until I see an opportunity."

Erik: "Very well. And Raven?"

Mystique: "Mhmmm?"

Erik: "Make it as painless as is possible. Quick, clean and final."

Mystique: "Yes, sir."

After some more exchanges, Mystique cut the call and began walking back towards the mansion. She had some thinking to do...

Julian made the most of whatever little time he had alone with John while Lorna was away. He couldn't help but hope that he'd be the one who'd be able to coax some sort of response out of his boyfriend. But so far it was a hope in vain. John didn't react to either his words or touch.

Julian: "I'm a little lonely these days. When are you gonna come keep me some company?"

The faint hiss of the doors sliding open warned Julian someone was coming in. Hastily, he withdrew his arms from John's shoulders. And leaned back casually in his chair.

Ray: "Keller. What are you doing here?"

There was the `Ray' boy John had been talking about. The one with the homophobic issues who had insisted on teasing him relentlessly. The little prick, Julian thought.

Julian: "What's it look like I'm doing?"

Ray could sense that there was something off in Julian's tone. Before he could think anything further of it, four other teens walked in. Jubilee, Amara, Bobby and Ashley. Jubilee was carrying a fancy array of flowers. Amara and Ashley both had well wishing balloons in their hands. All five of them looked disturbed at the sight of John. This was the second time they saw him since he went catatonic, but they weren't much better prepared than the first.

Amara: "And I thought it was bad when Emma forced her way into his head."

Bobby: "Yeah. At least then it looked like he was sleeping."

Ray: "Instead of just sitting and staring."

Not able to stand hearing them - especially Ray - go on like that any longer, Julian spoke out in a somewhat irritated tone.

Julian: "Stop talking about him like he's not even here. It`d be more helpful if you`d talk to him instead."

At that, Julian gave John what passed for a gentle, friendly squeeze on the shoulder, and walked out of the door, leaving the gathered students with Lorna, who was just coming back inside.

Ray: "What the hell is his problem?"

Ashley watched Julian leave and hid a small, impious, smirk...

Blurry eyed and disoriented, I awakened from what seemed to be an eternity of slumber. It was the scent that I first took notice of. The air was sweetly perfumed by a floral aroma that I could not identify. I opened my eyes slowly so that I could let them grow accustomed to the bright light. From what I could make out, I was in some sort My first thought was, am I dead? Or...maybe the Danger Room did this?

Quickly, I got to my feet, looking around at the endless expanse in search of someone else. Trying to scan mentally, I realized that something was wrong. I didn't feel the psychic buzz I usually felt when channeling my powers. Sure enough, when I attempted to levitate a flower petal up from the ground, nothing happened.

And...what's this? Wounds all gone! And clothes all gone too! I'm naked! Naked as the day I was born! That fact made me grateful that no one was around. At least I hoped no one would find me until I managed to find some clothes. Slowly, I wandered the garden, keeping an eye out for anyone, and simultaneously admiring the beauty of it all. If I were dead, was this heaven?

The sky was an almost exaggerated shade of azure with very little by way of clouds in sight. Whilst the place was as bright as anywhere I'd ever been, there didn't seem to be any sun in the sky. Which was confusing the hell out of me. Where was the light coming from then? Could I truly be dead? And could this really be heaven? If it was, and heaven did exist, it was damned well overrated. There seemed to be nothing but fields, shrubs and trees all around. What was I to do for eternity - garden? But I supposed, it was better this than fire and brimstone.

For all I could make out, the only living things around were me and the plants. I didn't see any lambs and lions frolicking together or babies playing with serpents and not getting hurt. I kept on walking, eventually deciding to climb a rather high hilly ridge to see what on the other side of it. It seemed the best way to go since the other directions seemed to be bordered by deep water. And on the other side of the water was just more flowery fields and groves anyway.

Fortunately for me, when I approached ridge, I saw that there was a well developed pathway of steps, cut into the hill itself. It was obviously artificial and not some rock feature. So who was it made for? No one was around. The rest of the garden had nothing that looked to be made by the hand of man. No fountains or such. I decided to be grateful for the path. Without it, I'd have had a very difficult climb. In short time, I was standing on top of the ridge.

"Holy shit," I mumbled to myself as I looked down at the valley before me. In stark contract to the other side of the ridge, it was dark, barren. Decaying trees and thorny plants abounded. The sky was dreary with billowing storm clouds overhead. There was the sun! But it fought to shine through and seemed to be fighting a losing battle. Okay, this can't be heaven, I thought. The winds blowing from the valley were chilly and cut me to bone, especially as I wore no clothing. I was just about to turn back when I saw it.

Towards the center of the valley, things were different. There was light and greenery. Upon a raised mound stood a majestic tree unlike any I'd ever seen before. It was gigantically big, with huge, branching boughs, luxurious foliage and was laden with fruit. It's limbs branched out into an intricate and complex network that seemed to tower towards the heavens. Certainly there wasn't a tree like it back in the garden I'd just come from. It appeared to radiate light and drew me towards it like a moth to a flame. I started walking down the ridge, curious but wary. There still didn't seem to be so much as an insect flitting about. Still, I wasn't taking any chances. In my powerless state it was best to be alert at all times. Now, to get closer to that tree...

Professor Xavier: "When did it begin, Scott?"

Scott: "Just under three minutes ago."

Scott Summers anxiously looked at John, who lay tossing and turning on the bed. It was the most active he'd been in days and whilst it was a bit unnerving, Scott was also relieved in a sense to see that John wasn't completely passive anymore. He was still not responding to external stimuli however, and just kept shifting about with his eyes closed. As if he were having a bad dream of some sort.

Professor Xavier: "It's possible that he's finally coming to terms with what happened. Facing the memory of the Danger Room incident."

Scott: "You have to help him!"

Xavier shook his head in the negative and explained that this phase was something that John would have to overcome on his own. He'd have to face it at some point in any case. Now was as good a time as any.

Scott: "But - "

Professor Xavier: "His subconscious considers him ready for it. We mustn't interfere."

At that, Xavier settled his hover chair next to the bed, at the ready to observe. In order to make things less awkward (which just sitting around watching someone toss about like that was) Scott decided to speak with Xavier about some things that were bothering him.

Scott: "Professor, I've got some things on my mind."

Professor Xavier: "I'm aware of that. I have sensed some inner turmoil within you for some time now. Speak freely about what`s bothering you."

Scott nodded and began.

Scott: "Well firstly, when John's telekinesis went into overdrive in the Danger Room, you were mumbling that it couldn't be right. That you weren't sensing him and that he was unconscious. How is that possible?"

Professor Xavier: "Well, we've seen that his powers have manifested when he was in an unconscious state. Like for example, that very first time when he levitated most of the loose items in the kitchen while sleeping - "

Scott nodded impatiently.

Scott: "Yes, yes I know. But you had placed blocks on his telekinesis to avoid that happening again."

Professor Xavier: "I know."

Scott: "Then how was it possible? Are you saying he disabled those psychic bonds?"

That was something Xavier himself was not sure about. He hadn't sensed the bonds being broken. But at the same time, with the state John's mind was in, he hadn't entered to make certain they were still intact. He didn't wish to render further instability to the boy`s consciousness.

Professor Xavier: "I don't know how it was possible. I`ll have to investigate further when John is ready and in a suitable state of mental serenity."

Scott: "What about the blocks on his telepathy?"

Professor Xavier: "I'm confident they're still functioning. I didn't sense any telepathic surges when he was...reacting."

So whatever went down in the Danger Room was of a purely telekinetic nature.

Scott: "The others are...disturbed, sir."

Professor Xavier: "They would be, Scott. Nothing and no one has ever demolished the Danger Room so completely before."

Scott: "How much longer before it's operational again?"

Xavier considered for a moment. According to Hank, most of the armored metal plates along the walls had been severely compromised. So they'd need to be redone from scratch. The circuitry, while temporarily fried, could thankfully be repaired with time and effort. But the holographic projectors had been completely demolished. As they were the main functional unit of the training system, nothing could be done until they were replaced. And while Xavier had ordered new ones from his underground sources, they wouldn't arrive for at least a month.

Scott: "Well, I bet most of the students will be happy."

Professor Xavier: "First the Blackbird. Now this. It's going to cost me a pretty penny..."

Both men smiled a bit wryly.

John: "Mhmmm..."

Professor Xavier: "John?"

The boy began to mumble a series of words that were nigh undecipherable to his observers.

Scott: "Professor?"

Professor Xavier: "It's a good sign, Scott. First his motor functions resurfaced, as evidenced by his movements. Now it appears speech capability is returning, if only unconsciously."

John's tremors began to intensify, so much so that he had to be steadied a bit.

Professor Xavier: "I'll contact Hank."

Scott: "Are you gonna give him some sort of sedative?"

Professor Xavier: "No. His mind is attempting to regain control of its higher functions. We shouldn't impinge upon its progress."

Scott nodded and did his best to stabilize John...

"Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death..."

Oh what the hell. I never was into religion. But seriously though, upon entering the valley, that description seemed to fit. From a distance, on top of the overlooking hill, I could actually tell that everything was essentially dead down in the valley. The trees, for the most part, still had some vestiges of leaves, but they were dry and fell to the ground every time the chilly wind blew. I didn't know much about plant biology, but something told me it wasn't simply their autumn state. Thick, black vines seemed to have strangled the hell out of the plant life. I had yet to see any sign of animal life.

Oh well, at least I was nearly out of that creepy place and out onto to lone spot of greenery in the valley. Looking behind me, as I had nervously been doing for some time, I made sure I wasn't being followed by some silent pursuer and stepped out and into the (somewhat stronger) light. Finally out of the darkness, I began to breathe easier. I paused, a little surprised. The temperature seemed to be warmer. And the cold wind had stopped blowing. Which was a very welcome change. I had yet to find anything suitable to cover myself.

Cautiously, I approached the tree. Up close, I took in its massive size. Its roots ran deep into the soil and re-emerged in some places. The trunk was gnarled and twisted elaborately before splitting into multiple branching pathways. Under its shade, flowers, like the ones back in the garden, thrived. Getting closer, I took a look upwards and saw to my delight that it was laden with fruit. I had started feeling hungry by then, what with the long walk in the valley. And the energy needed to keep warm against that cold wind (whilst utterly naked) must have also contributed.

"What the..."

One tree, but different kinds of fruits? The leaves were unremarkably typical of trees. But the fruits - there seemed to be two distinctly different types on the same tree. I drew backwards and took the sight in from another angle.


Half the tree bore bright red, delicious looking orbs that could best be compared to larger, juicier looking cherries. The other half was hung heavy with wrinkled, grayish-black globes. The sight of them made my stomach churn. Yuck. Maybe they were the same fruit, I considered. Maybe the gray ones were overripe and spoiling on the tree or something. Anyhow, I was hungry and knew which of the two I would pick. Cherries were among my favorite! And those red ones looked like giant sized ones!

Trying once more, I attempted to reach out mentally and grab one. Unfortunately, it didn't take. My powers still were not active. At the time, I refused to dwell on the ramifications of that - I couldn't be dead. I just couldn't. If I wasn't going to be able to get at them that way, then I could simply go get a stick from the...okay forget that. I wasn't going back inside the dark woods anytime soon.

"Maybe a stone..."

It was a damned shame. Where are the stones when you need them? Only larger rocks were laying about. And even if I managed to throw them, they'd have crushed the fruit to pulp. Sighing, I realized that the only way for me to get at them, would be for me to climb the tree. I'd only ever tried climbing a tree once. And that was during one summer I spent with my grandparents as a kid. I managed to get up but couldn't get back down. It took my grandfather ages to persuade me to jump so he could catch me.

So you can imagine I wasn't very comfortable with the thought of climbing that (very tall) tree. Especially as I didn't have my powers to fall back on should know fall. I longingly feasted my eyes on the fruit whilst wishing they were a bit lower...

"Are you hungry?"

I jumped and immediately backed away! Instinctively, with one hand I shielded my crotch and brought the other up defensively. It was a male voice. And it sounded mature. I quickly looked all around, wishing that I had my telepathy to help me locate who had spoken.

"Don't be afraid."

"Who's there?! Where the hell are you?!"

There was a pause before I heard the voice again. It seemed closer...

"Over here. On the tree."

Whipping my head around, I scanned the limbs of the tree, expecting to see the man who'd revealed himself. What I didn't expect was something that looked be a glorified iguana, emerald green scales, with an exquisite, golden crest that ran from the top of its head like a crown, to the tip of its tail. Like a children's fantasy movie, its mouth open and SPEECH came out of it!

"Come closer. And you don't have anything to fear from me."

" can talk!"

I know it sounds silly, but its lips curled in what looked to be a smile!

"No kidding," it said.

I warily approached, taking note of the size of the creature's teeth (which appeared to be very small and of little threat) and very small claws. Judging a safe distance, I stood before it, uncomfortably conscious of my nakedness. But then I figured, hey - he's naked too.

"Who are you?" the creature asked.

"Uh...John." I figured, at least I better find out a proper way to address this...thing. "What's your name?"

"I don't have one."

"No name?"

But that's a bit nonsensical (in as much sense as a talking iguana-thingy made sense anyway). Hmmm, come to think of it, maybe iguana wasn't the right word. It was more akin to a little dragon. This critter was obviously intelligent. It could TALK. And Hank once said that giving things names, encoding meaning into words was one of the prime points of language. And assigning a name for `self' was sort of the first natural step. I reasoned, the creature definitely knew of the concept of `name' at least. It had asked WHO I was.

"There's no one else here. Or rather, there wasn't before you arrived. No need for a name."

I warily eyed the being on top of the branch. It was reasonably small and didn't seem hostile. But I still had a weird feeling in the pit of my stomach. Maybe it was the outlandishness of a talking animal?

"So, John," the creature began once more, "are you hungry?"

"Yeah, actually," I replied.

"I saw you hungrily eyeing one of my fruits."

"Your fruits?"

The smile on its face grew wider. "Yes," it said with pride, "those bright red ones are mine. They look mouth watering, don't they?"


They certainly did! They also appeared to be the only source of food anywhere near. Back in the garden I'd come from, there were no trees bearing fruit. Just tons and tons of flowers. I very much doubted the nutritional value of flowers. And I was getting hungrier...

"Would you like one?" the creature graciously offered.

I smiled and replied, "Yes, thank you."

It climbed up a little higher and used its tail to grab at the stalk of a particularly juicy looking...giant cherry-thingy. Climbing back down onto a low bough, it extended the fruit to me.

"Go on, John. Help yourself. They're very good."

"Thank you," I said, eagerly reaching out for the fruit, hands extended. It was not meant to be however. A sudden flash of red and gold swept between us. It was so quick I only saw it as a blur. When it passed, the fruit was gone and my companion was frowning. As was I. The cry of a bird upwards drew my attention to the sky. It looked to be something like an eagle, red and gold with a wingspan of at least six feet. One of its talons held the fruit. Hmmm, the bird looked vaguely familiar. But I didn't get the time to ponder - it had stolen my fruit!


It swooped downwards right over my head and perched on a bough opposite to where my other - now clearly angry - companion sat.

"You would deny our guest hospitality?"

The bird turned a fiery gaze to the petite dragon-like critter on the other branch.

"I would deny him your hospitality," the magnificent bird said. It's voice was a bit odd though. Too low for a woman's, but too high for a man's. But it was resonant and almost...musical.

Oh great, I thought. Another talking animal! I must be dreaming! One of those where you're aware that you're dreaming. Like Betsy was talking about in Psionics class. Lucid dreaming or something. Well, if this was MY dream, it was damn well going to go the way I wanted it to. They were, after all, figments of MY imagination!

"I was going to eat that!"

"Yes," the dragon added, "he's hungry!"

The bird turned to me, anger vanishing from its eyes. "This," it said, "is the Tree of Life...and Death."


A loud, scary hiss erupted from the dragon. The bird ignored it and continued. "Some of its fruit will nourish and heal. And some will poison and kill."

Oh... So that must explain why half of the fruit were so delicious looking, and some were...yucky, wrinkled and hideous. The petite dragon interrupted.

"He has already chosen to partake of my fruit," it said. It approached the bird, tail waving in a very disturbing manner.

The screech the bird let out was terrible and again, musical at the same time. The dragon withdrew and was silent, quivering a little in what I assumed to be anger and maybe a little fear.

The bird now spoke. "But I have not yet offered him my fruit. What sort of choice is that if there was no alternative to your offering?"

The dragon creature laughed. I didn't much liked the sound of it. But what he said was true. "Your withered, old fruit? Do you really think he'll choose that over mine?"

I looked up apologetically at the bird. "I'm sorry. doesn't look all that appetizing to me."

"Looks can be deceiving," it said. "Come a little closer."

Now that I was very reluctant to do. Unlike my friendly looking dragon companion, with small teeth and hardly any claws, this bird looked dangerous. I mean it had a beak that was sharp and hooked. And talons that were long, curved and could easily cut me deep if it were enraged.

The bird beckoned with its wing. "I will not hurt you. If I`d wanted to I could have easily have done so earlier."

That made sense. It flew by so quickly and didn't even touch me. Just took my food...which it still held unharmed in one of its talons.

"Okay," I said and approached.

The bird held out the fruit. "You have the freedom to choose. But before you turn down my offer," it shook its head towards the grayish black fruit upwards, "see what it is you'll be partaking of if you choose his."


"Let me cut it," the bird said.

"No!!!" the dragon screamed, enraged.

I jumped. With a lightning motion, the bird's talon sliced the fruit in two halves, exactly down the center. They both fell onto the ground. I looked on in horror as I saw what I was about to sink my teeth into. The fruit may have looked wholesome on the surface - but under the skin was black and rotted to the core! My stomach heaved as several fat worms slithered out of it.

"Oh God!"

I turned towards the little dragon creature who had offered me the fruit...but he wasn't so little anymore! His appearance had altered drastically. Gone was his beautiful emerald color of his body. He had turned pure black with a much bigger crest of silver spikes along his back. The limbs were muscular now, with serrated talons, poised for a striking blow. Teeth sprang out of it's gaping jaws, as did a forked tongue and menacing hiss. Angry red eyes regarded me with open hostility. Without warning it lunged towards me.


I fell backwards with a shout. Once more, a flicker of red and gold flashed between us. The black beast staggered and fell onto the ground near the trunk of the tree. There was a screech from above. The bird had shielded me from the creature's attack. With another cry, it flew downwards and struck the black monstrosity, slashing away at it with beak and talons. The former green dragon hissed in pain and took off into the surrounding darkness of the woods. I shakily got to my feet.

"Are you alright?" the bird asked, turning towards my direction.

Only a dream. A lucid dream. Only a dream...

"Y-yeah. Thank you."

It flew and settled next to me. "Are you still hungry?"


"Then you may have one of my fruits if you so wish."

I looked up at the wrinkled gray-black fruit on the tree. Appearances can be deceiving the bird had said. How true it had turned out to be.

"Just because something looks unappealing and bitter on the surface, doesn't meant it's not good for you."

I looked again at the fruits on the tree, back and forth between the bright red giant cherries and the wrinkled type. The bird had proven to be much more trustworthy than the dragon. It had said some of the fruits were poisonous and would kill me if I chose to eat them. I guess I now knew which was which. And it had saved me from the black dragon...the least I could do was show some trust in gratitude.

"Um, I'd like one of your fruits please."

"Are you sure?"

"Yes. Yes I am. If your offer still stands"

It nodded, flew upwards, grabbed one by the stalk with its beak and brought it down to me. Carefully, I took it and brought it up to my nose for a whiff. It didn't smell rotten. The bird's eyes were on me, so I slowly brought it up to my mouth and took a bite.


"It's only bitter at the start," the bird said. "Sometimes we don't like the taste of what's best for us at first."

Yeah, kinda like me and veggies as a kid...

It continued, "But that doesn't change the fact that it IS best. Or would you rather the alternative?"

I looked down at the remains of the split fruit on the ground. Its black juice had stained the grass. No, I definitely didn't want that. At least this fruit wasn't crawling with worms. Hmm, and it was starting to taste a little...sweet. Yes, very sweet now! Downright delicious!

"It''s good!"

"I know," the bird replied.


"Care for another?"

"Actually, no thanks."

I yawned a little, tiredness catching up with me after my long walk through the woods.


"Come to think of it, yeah."

The bird nodded in the direction of the tree's trunk. "Have a little nap."

"But," I motioned towards the woods, "what about him? He could come back and - "

"I'll keep watch."

I would have rejected the offer. But I was tired after the long walk through the valley, with its cold chilly wind. Funny that, feeling sleepy in the middle of a dream. Oh well.


I leaned against the trunk of the magnificent tree and, amidst a soothing song courtesy of the bird, drifted off into slumber...

When I awoke I half expected to find myself at the bottom of the tree, leaning on its trunk, with the red and gold bird perched above in the branches. That wasn't the case however. I was flat on my back, clothed and on a bed in the...Med Bay. Oh good. So the dream was over! Or was it? What if I were simply dreaming again? Or what if I really had died and -

An alarm sounded from a machine next to me and the next moment, the door to the room slid open and I recognized my father, shaky and unshaven, stumbling into the room and towards the bedside. His face lit up in a smile and he called out behind him.

Scott: "He's awake!"


Lorna, Alex and the Professor quickly entered the room in my father's wake. The next moment I was subjected to various hugs and hair tussling and words of relief. And...I could sense the emotions around me - unlike in that other place. I must really be awake - and alive - I figured. Shifting the pillow a bit, I sat up in bed so I could see everyone better.

Scott: "How are you feeling, son?"


The visuals came back to me in a rush. The Danger Room session with Logan. The malfunctioning AI. The continuous flood of cyber ninjas. Logan struggling to keep up and eventually falling. Being slashed repeatedly, then blacking out. That was the last thing I remembered. The blood...

"I'm okay?" I said more as a question as I examined my chest and found my wounds all gone.

Professor Xavier: "We had Josh Foley heal your wounds."

Ah yes, he was a mutant boy from my former Chemistry class. He had the ultra rare power of psychic healing. I must have been in pretty bad shape for them to call him in...

"I'll have to remember to thank Josh. So I guess Logan got me out after all."

The three of them regarded each other with grim expressions. Oh no. Logan. Sure he had a healing factor, but could it keep up with the butchering he'd taken? The last I saw of him, he was barely able to acknowledge my cry for help with a twitching motion.

"Logan! Is he okay?"

Professor Xavier: "He is fine, John."

I sighed in relief. Good, we'd both made it out okay.

Scott: "Right now we're more concerned about you. "

Professor Xavier: "John, what is the last thing you remember?"


He explained that I'd lost a lot of blood and had gone into hypovolemic shock. The resulting loss of blood flow to my brain might have had consequences, like possible minor brain damage. Josh Foley's power would have healed the damage, but left holes in my memory. I nodded in understanding, then proceeded to tell him what I remembered, everything that had happened during the session. >From start to finish, leaving out nothing.

Alex and Lorna, who had been silent, spoke up.

Lorna: "Oh God, you don't remember what happened?"

Alex: "John, you - "

Abruptly, before he could finish the statement, the Professor raised his hand and cut him off.

Scott: "Professor, could he have some sort of minor memory loss because of brain damage?"

Professor Xavier: "I don't think so, Scott. Remember, I told you I didn't sense him during his...reaction."

My reaction? What were they talking about? I opened my mouth to speak, but Alex cut into the exchange between the Professor and my father.

Alex: "Maybe it's too traumatic and he's blocking it out."

Traumatic? Hell yeah it was! But I don't think I forgot anything. There were no unexplainable gaps in my recollection to hint at that.

Lorna: "No, that doesn't make sense. He remembers everything else about the attack...all of the violence. Logically, that would have been the part he forgot if this was some kind of trauma induced amnesia."

Dad and the Professor nodded in agreement with Lorna's statement.

"What are you talking about?"

They all paused for a few moments. Finally, the Professor nodded. My father took a seat next to the bedside, apparently going to reveal what all of the melodrama was about.

Scott: "John, Logan wasn't the one who got you out of the Danger Room. Me and Piotr did. Logan was unconscious, as were you."

Betsy had come through then. She'd alerted Hank and he must have found some way to shut down the computer manually. And then dad and Piotr came in when the lockdown was disabled.

Professor Xavier: "No, that wasn't what happened. Despite our best efforts, we were unable to shut down the program."

"But the lockdown would have..." then it hit me. " Did Mr. Wagner teleport you and Piotr inside, dad?"

He shook his head in the negative.

Scott: "Kurt was...unavailable at the time."

"Unavailable? He wasn't in the mansion? He went out somewhere?"

Alex: "Out? More like out cold."


Professor Xavier: "John, we have reason to believe that what occurred was an act of direct sabotage."


Scott: "The computer was tampered with while you and Logan were actively engaged in the Danger Room. Someone had to have been looking. Whoever it was changed the settings."

Oh God! I felt the blood drain out of my face, and had to take several deep, calming, breaths. It's one thing to have gone through what I did, assuming that it was a rare fluke accident not likely to happen again. But to hear that some person or persons unknown had deliberately set out to...

"Did you catch the - "

Professor Xavier: "No, John. But we are doing all in our power to trace this saboteur."

"But - but I don't understand. They were aiming for Logan, right? I mean, it can't be me. I`ve never even been on a mission. None of your enemies know about me joining Generation X. Whoever was watching would assume that I was just another student."

There was a pause and I got the feeling that they were holding something back - yet again. After a long staring session at the Professor, my father spoke.

Scott: "This concerns him and his safety, Professor. And I'm going to tell him everything."

I looked on as the Professor and dad briefly had some eye talk - or more likely, telepathic conversation.

Lorna: "Oh God damn it! John, someone specified to the Danger Room computer that YOU were to be the primary target."

Again, I felt a sudden chill. Me?! The primary target?! But who would do such a thing? When they said it was direct sabotage, I assumed it was meant for the X-men and I had merely been at the wrong place at the wrong time. Gulp I never went on a mission, never came into contact with the big badass X-men foes on the field of real battle. The only time I'd had on the field was just a minor altercation with the three members of the M.A.L.E. on the night the other Alphas and me went to the Hellfire Club...

"And the saboteur is still loose! Could be skulking around even now?"

Scott: "We've made sure that you were continuously supervised."

Considering how close a call I'd had, I didn't think I'd feel safe until this person was caught.

Professor Xavier: "We'll discuss those technicalities afterwards. Right now, I wish to show you something."


Professor Xavier: "Some video footage of the incident."

Scott: "Not now, Professor."

Professor Xavier: "Scott..."

Alex: "He just woke up after three days - "

"Three days?!"

Okay, no way did I feel like I been under for so long. I mean, they'd gotten Josh Foley to heal me. Even if I needed a little recovery time afterwards, it shouldn't have taken that long. Josh was a very skilled healer.

Lorna: "Yeah, three whole days. But you weren't sleeping...exactly. More like catatonic."

"What do you mean?"

Professor Xavier: "You were physically awake. But mentally vacant and unresponsive to external stimuli. In total shock after what happened in the Danger Room."

"Yeah, back to that. You never told me who was the one who really saved my life in there. You just said you guys couldn't override the computer. So how did I get out? Who do I have to thank?"

Scott: "We can talk about that a little later. For now, we`ve got to get some stuff done."


Lorna: "Yeah. We need to get some of your belongings. You`re going to be moving into the Mansion for a little while."

Professor Xavier: "For your own safety. The security systems will afford you the best protection available while we continue our investigations."

There would be no arguments from me. I just hoped they found whoever was responsible and soon. Aside from exacting some personal - and very painful - revenge on them, I'd give anything to know why they wanted to target me in the first place.

"Well, I guess I'd better get settled in."

It was close to dinner time at the Mansion. I'd already moved my things into one of the guest bedrooms. Dad was also moving back into the Mansion and occupied a room that was directly opposite mine. The floor we were on was reserved for the teachers. Hence, it was as safe as safe could get in X-land, with what being surrounded by X-men left right and all.

Since my settling in was finished, my first order of business was to meet up with my friends, and directly afterwards to find Julian. It was heartwarming to see the get well balloons and flowers that the guys had left me in the Med Bay. I was very lucky to have friends like them - Ray included. And I suppose that Ray - like everyone else - had his flaws. So I'd made up my mind to apologize for what I'd said about his mother and hopefully melt some of the ice that had come down between us.

"Hey, guys."

Amara: "John! You`re awake!"

Amara, eyes lit up and smiling, flung herself on me in a manner that (were the circumstances different) would have made me very uncomfortable.

"Careful. We wouldn't want to make your girlfriend jealous, now would we?"

Jubilee: "Ha, ha."

Jubilee treated me to a mock bitchy frown, but hugged me nonetheless. When the girls finally broke it off, I saw that Bobby and Ray were both walking over from the other side of the lounge.

Bobby: "John, dude! When the hell did you get out?"

"You make it sound like I just got released from prison and not the Med Bay."

He smirked and we high five'd each other. Never quite the touchy feely type, I was a little surprised when Bobby pulled me in for a quick hug and pat on the back. But I guess they must have been pretty damn worried, considering the state they saw me in. That left Ray. He was still standing a little off, with a sort of shy look on his face. It was actually kind of cute, considering he's so not the shy type.

Ray: "Hey..."

"Uh, hey yourself."

Awkward pause...

Ray: "So, it's good...that you're better."

Rolling her eyes a little, Jubilee walked over to Ray, took his arm and dragged him over.

Jubilee: "Alright, boys. This crap has gone on long enough. Kiss and make up already."

Amara: "Ooh, that'd be hot!"

Ray gave Jubilee an exasperated look. She teased him and laughed a little before allaying him.

Jubilee: "Just a figure of speech."

Amara: "Pity. It would be hot."

Bobby: "Maybe to you. And talking about homo kisses – you and Jubilee owe me one. Remember?"

The three of them started bickering. With Amara and Jubilee merely stating that they were just joking, and Bobby complaining that they had promised. The overall effect was that me and Ray were offered something close to privacy.

"Look, Ray...about what I said. I'm sorry. I was an ass and of all people should have known better. I mean, we're sorta alike. We both lost our moms – not to the same thing. But I know I'd be pissed if someone said or did something to disrespect her."

Ray: "Like making out with his girlfriend over her memorial stone?"

We both smiled a little as we reminisced about that little fight I'd gotten into.

"Yeah. Like that."

Ray: "Yeah, well...I'm sorry too. For calling you -"

I didn't like to hear the "F" word coming out of any of my friends' mouths. So before Ray could enunciate "faggot" or "fag" or the like, I interrupted.

"Apology accepted. So...we cool again?"

Ray: "Hell, yeah."

Similarly, as Bobby had done, Ray pulled me in for a quick hug and pat on the back.

Ray: "It's good to see you up again. You were kinda freakin' us out there for a while."

Jubilee: "Oh, if this isn't just a Kodak moment!"

Bobby mock sniffed and joined in.

Bobby: "Aww, man. That was beautiful!"

Amara: "And you know what'd make it even better?"

Ray: "We are not gonna kiss, Amara."


Amara pouted for a bit, then talked turned once again to my little encounter with near death.

"So I take it you guys know about what happened, huh?"

Jubilee: "That some sicko deliberately changed the Danger Room's settings?"

Bobby: "Man, that's pretty fucked up. It can't be a student so -"

Ray: "Well, from what I overheard Worthington and Wagner saying – they're working on the theory that some Brotherhood spy is in the Mansion. Makes sense, especially since old Mags was recently over here."

"You overheard them saying alla that?"

Ray: "Uh huh. We were just exiting the elevator in the Subbasement when we came to see you. And they were talking in the corridor."

Bobby: "We asked for the 411 but...they didn't tell us much more than someone targeted you."

Jubilee: "That and they ordered us not to tell anyone anything about what we might have overheard."

Yep, logical. If the X-men knew it was a deliberate act of sabotage, they'd not likely have revealed much about possible suspects to the students for fear of it spreading about and possibly tipping the perpetrator off.

We all pondered for a while. I was under the impression that the Brotherhood's current membership only included Magneto and Mystique. Magneto himself, when joking with me down in the Subbasement, had said that with only him and Mystique the Brotherhood could use some new blood. I'd since done some reading up on the shape shifter known as Mystique. Back when dad had revealed to me what went down at Alkali a year ago. One ugly bitch, inside and out...

Jubilee: "It's possible that the Brotherhood could have recruited some new members and are simply waiting to reveal them when they choose. You know, so they can have the element of surprise on their side."

It made sense to keep their hand private until the very last minute.

Amara: "Anyhow, word has gotten out nonetheless that something is up. Nothing major, but the student body knows about the Danger Room -"

"They do?"

Amara: "Oh yeah. All Danger Room courses have been cancelled. And Rogue accidentally let slip to one group she was supposed to supervise that it's been totally trashed."


The Danger Room's AI must have pull out all the stops and went all out to off me and Logan...

The guys all looked at me confusedly. That they knew something I wasn't yet aware of didn't strike me as too odd. I mean, I had just snapped out of a three day long catatonic state. All I'd done upon leaving the Med Bay was go home and get my stuff. The Professor had said he wanted to show me some stuff. I reasoned, it must have been do with the Danger Room.

Bobby: "Yeah. From the way your father explained it to us, you're lucky as hell to be alive."

"I know. I still have to find out who the hell got me outta there."

I explained the way it went down, with the X-men unable to disable the computer.

Bobby: "Yep. Owing someone your life – better prepare for some major sucking up."

Ray: "Until you can repay the debt by saving their life in return."

Personally, I didn't care about `sucking up' to whoever was responsible for my continued existence here on this lovely little mud ball called Earth. Grateful yes. But sucking up was going a little too far. I guess it's true what those old people say, the ones who are approaching their final years. You never really understand the value of Life until it's time to give it up or have it taken from you by force. I was never going to take it for granted anymore.

Jubilee: "So, John?"


Jubilee: "What was it like? Having an NDE."

"A what?"

Jubilee: "A Near Death Experience?"

Amara: "Jubilee!"

"It's okay. If it were you it happened to instead, I'd be really curious too."

Bobby: "Did you a light?"

I smiled at this absolute cliché of a question.


Ray: "What about a tunnel?"

And yet another cliché.

"Nuh uh."

Amara: "Jesus?"


Jubilee: "Any other figure that appeared to be divine?"

I shook my head in the negative.

Ray: "So you don't remember anything?"

"Oh, I remember. I just haven't said anything because I'm afraid that you guys will...laugh at me."

They all, especially Jubilee, badgered me non-stop about my near death experience until I broke down and told them about the garden, the tree, the eagle - bird thing and the dragon creature.

Jubilee: " unique."

Ray: "Seriously, dude! A talking dragon?! Was his name Puff?"

Bobby: "And don't forget the bird. It could talk too! You sure it wasn't a parrot, John?"

They burst out laughing, just as I'd thought they would.

"See, this I why I didn't wanna say anything. And yeah, you may make light of my near DEATH experience."

They let up and apologized.

Bobby: "Sorry. But um...the only time I ever heard of someone seeing crazy things like that was after smoking some really bad weed."

"Hilarious, Bobby."

They laughed some more at my expense and pretty soon it was going to be time for dinner. I was ravenous, so I figured I'd have to meet up with Julian sometimes afterwards. When we could actually have a moment to ourselves...

Down in the Subbasement...

Scott: "Could you explain why you're going to be running genetic tests on my DNA. I mean, John inherited his mother's abilities – not mine. He really did take after her. Hell, I look at him and don't even see much of myself there."

Scott Summers was a little confused. He thought that with the full complement of the Grey genetic line, Hank and the Professor would have been satisfied that they had enough DNA for their testing. But now they wanted a sample from him, despite the fact that his son had not inherited any of the energy absorption and manipulation abilities that the Summers genetic line conferred.

Professor Xavier: "He does take so much after Jean, that is true. But, there's a concept in genetics known as modifying factors. His primary abilities may have been inherited from his mother. But your genetic input, as his father, might have modified his traits."

Scott nodded in understanding at the Professor's explanation.

Hank: "For instance, many telekinetics find it a simple to manipulate matter, yet it is difficult for them to affect energy. Owing to the energy manipulation traits of your genes, John's telekinetic abilities may be able to manipulate energy more effectively as a result."

Scott: "I...see. Test away then I guess."

"Hey, you guys seen Ashley anywhere?"

Bobby and Ray smirked, but mercifully said nothing. We were having dinner in the dining hall and I noticed that our newest friend was not present. I was under the impression that she was getting along well with the guys. But I hadn't seen her for a while - with or without the other guys.

Jubilee: "Well she did go down with us to the Med Bay to see you. But she's pretty much been off to herself for a couple days. I wonder if she knows you`re awake."

Amara: "Personally, I think she's a little stuck up."

That struck me as a little odd. I thought that she had been doing great with Amara and Jubilee. From the very night of her arrival, before Rogue's singing competition, the three of them had apparently taken an instant liking to each other. And I said so.

Amara: "She's just been acting so stand offish lately. Like she's too good for us or something. As if a commoner like her has anything on ME - princess Amara."

Bobby: "How modest."

Ray: "Oh come on. Cut the girl some slack, won't you? I mean, for all we know, we might not be her type."

Jubilee: "Hmmm, you could be right. I mean, it's not like we know much about her."

Bobby: "What? So we're like too dorky to suit her tastes? I resent that."

Well, I for one hoped that was the case - and not that she had something against Jubilee and Amara being together as a couple. She wasn't around when Amara and Jubilee outted themselves to the rest of the school. I didn't know what her stance on girl/girl was.

Come to think of it, none of us knew anything much about Ashley. She never really talked about her life before she arrived at the Mansion. All I knew is that she ran away from home when her parents discovered her mutant status and tried to force 'normalcy' upon her. She had to fend on the streets for a while. Dad said she was really in a bad emotional state when they rescued her from the M.A.L.E. So I didn't want to pry. Especially as it would no doubt be painful.

"Well I guess that maybe she's used to rolling with a higher end clique."

Amara: "Well I'll let it be known right now that I never really liked her."

Bobby: "Sure looked to me that you were heading into best friend territory."

Amara: "Oh Bobby, if there's one thing you need to learn about women right now, if you intend to have any luck with them, is that we're never as we appear."

Oh how true, how true! That statement just shocked my memory back to Emma Frost - and while eating too! Yuck!

Jubilee: "True. We're experts at disguising how we really feel about someone or something. We`re complex and never as we appear to be."

Bobby grinned and looked at Ray evilly.

Bobby: "Hear that, Ray. Good news! Vanessa Rodriguez must just be putting up a front! Inside she must really LOVE you!"

Ray punched Bobby hard on the shoulder, mostly in fun, but partly in anger. We all laughed at his reaction to Bobby`s teasing. Things were heading back to normal in my group. A pity about Ashley though. Aside from the attention she gave me, she seemed like a nice enough girl. But I guess we must not have been her type after all if what the guys said was true. Oh well...

After dinner, my primary objective was to spend some time with Julian. During the days before my Danger Room incident, he and he other Gammas were all busy helping the senior X-men out with designing new Danger Room courses for the student body. So I hadn't been seeing him much. And given that we had last parted in a less than perfect way - due to his reaction to my touching his scar and all - I wanted to make sure we were okay.

The problem was - I was being watched. I mean, I was a marked man apparently. And wherever I went, some senior was sure to follow. And then there were the cameras and stuff everywhere. The Mansion's security had been increased, and cameras now littered the outside too. I saw Julian in the dining hall, and caught the furtive glances he'd throw me. I didn't dare try and send out mental messages across the room - not with so many telepathic students around the area. We could only manage to use `eye talk'.

Right after dinner, some of Julian's friends from Gamma squad dragged him away and he left. I blew an angry breath in the remembrance.

Part of the Mansion's increased security plans apparently included monitoring a wide range of wireless signals too. So my cell phone was no good as calls heading into and out of the Mansion would all no doubt be monitored.

Logan: "Hey!"

"Yah! Gosh, Logan! Don`t sneak up on people like that!"

Logan had popped out onto the hallway from one of the alcoves. And I'd thought I'd lost him a few minutes before too.

Logan: "You shouldn't be wandering the corridors alone. Especially hallways as dark as this one."

"Yeah, I know but..."

Logan: "No buts. Come on."

At that, I was pushed along and away from the general direction I'd sensed Julian in and back towards into the more populated areas of the Mansion.

Logan: "Until we find whoever the hell was responsible for that Danger Room incident, I don't want to see you anywhere on your own. Got it?"


Logan: "Stay with your friends at the very least."


Logan basically `deposited' me into the sitting room and was about to turn and leave.

"Hey, Logan?"

Logan: "Yeah?"

"Uh, I never thanked you. For trying to hold back the bots in the Danger Room."

Logan: "Oh that."

Yeah, that. With waking up and being kept busy with packing and unpacking, catching up with my friends and such, I hadn't had the chance to thank Logan.

Logan: "You ain't gotta thank me for that, kid."

"I think I do."

Logan shrugged it off.

Logan: "No really. I mean it. If anything I should be the one thanking you."

I looked at him questioningly, more than a little confused at what he could be thanking me for. All I could think of was the telepathic message I'd sent out to Betsy. But he didn't have to `thank' me for that - I'd done that to help not only him, but myself as well. And in any case, that was me just following an order.

"What are you talking about?"

I'm sure his expression must have mirrored my own for a few moments, as he was evidently confused by my question. Presently, the look of bewilderment vanished as his mind came to some sort of conclusion.

Logan: "They haven't shown you yet, have they?"

"Shown me? Shown me wha -"

I stopped mid-sentence as I again recalled what the Professor had told me in the Med Bay. He had wanted to show me something. Some kind of video recording of what had happened. But dad and the others had stopped him. They'd told him to give me a chance to recover from the ordeal and get settled into the Mansion first.

"The video footage?"

Logan: "Yeah."


To my surprise, Logan's face darkened with anger.

Logan: "So they're gonna keep you in the dark `bout it? I ain't gonna have this. Come on, John."

Okay, why all this melodrama for a simple video recording? Logan had taken me by the arm and proceeded to usher me towards the elevator. It was my guess that he was gonna lead us down to the Subbasement and access the video records himself.

"No, they are gonna show me. It`s just that dad made the Professor wait until I got settled in first. I`ll see it first thing tomorrow morning."

Logan's mood relaxed some and I felt the sudden spike of irritation subside.

"What's so special about that video anyway? I mean, we all know what happened."

Logan: "Do you know how we got out?"

"Well, someone musta gotten us out."

Logan: "Do you know who that someone was?"

"Well, no. I mean, not yet. We owe that person a big thank you."

Logan: "Well, one of us does."

I looked at him incredulously. I get from his personality type that he probably wasn't one to enjoy being in someone else's debt and preferred to think of himself as not needing help and being fiercely independent. But come on.

"Logan, of course you owe whoever it was a word of thanks. When last I saw, you were being hacked to pieces and could barely even flounder like a fish outta water."

He grinned. Funny, I was expecting him to be a little angry at my pointing out his helplessness.

Logan: "When I said one of us owed - I was talking about myself."

"Okay, you`re confusing me now."

Logan: "I know. You'll understand when you see the video tomorrow."

"You know who the person is don't you?"

Logan: "Yep."

"Any chance you could tell me?"

Logan: "Nope."

"Thanks a lot."

Logan: "Don't mention it."

At that, Logan repeated his warning about wandering around by myself and left. But my curiosity had been aroused. The Professor had seemed very eager to let me have a look at the video. And so far, no one had told me who was responsible for saving both mine and Logan's asses. This latest little exchange with Logan was the final straw. Time to head down to the Subbasement and find someone to show me that video...

Meanwhile, down in the Subbasement...

Tyrel: "Professor, I can help."

Professor Xavier sighed as, yet again, Tyrel Holder aka Trinity offered his assistance in the X-men's ongoing investigations.

Professor Xavier: "Tyrel, I appreciate the offer. Really, I do but - "

Tyrel: "No, huh? Permission to speak freely?"

Xavier nodded in affirmation.

Tyrel: "You're being illogical. A dangerous person/persons unknown has infiltrated the Mansion, nearly succeeded in killing two of our people. Logically, you should be willing to use any asset at your disposal to locate the intruder."

Xavier, inwardly, commended Tyrel for his excellent argument.

Tyrel: "And sir, I have just got to ask...why did you have Jonathan Summers hide his high level telepath status from us?"

Professor Xavier: "I was aware that you and Kitty were present in the Cerebro room when he contacted us at Alkali Lake. However, I wasn't certain you'd - "

Tyrel: "Seen the spikes on the scale? Yeah, I saw them. With all due respect sir, the cat is out of the bag."

Professor Xavier: "Have you told anyone else?"

Tyrel shook his head in the negative. It had been tempting. If Jonathan Summers was to be expected to be a member of Alpha Flight, then they had the right to know anything and everything about his powers and ability level. Just as he had the right to know about theirs. On the field of combat, they each needed to have an awareness of each other's strengths and weaknesses. Lack of such knowledge was in itself a weakness that opponents would exploit to the fullest - such was the teaching that Xavier and his X-men imparted to then. Which was exactly what Tyrel found to be confusing - why the secrecy?

Tyrel: "And it's not just his telepathic level you were hiding. You only told us that is was a telekinetic surge of his that wrecked the Danger Room after we saw the state it was in. When it was clear that you couldn't cover up something like that. Then you ordered us not to tell John anything. Why don't you have some trust in us? We trust you guys."

Professor Xavier: "It isn't a lack of trust that kept us from telling you. And we will tell John. We just wished to be certain that he came out of his near death experience with a stable psyche first - which he has."

Tyrel: "Okay, fine. But if trust isn't the issue, then what is it?"

Professor Xavier: "It's the need for security."

Tyrel: "Oh, I think our security has been compromised. Which is exactly why you should let me help. I may be a mid to upper mid level telepath. But you know how powerful my psychometry is."

Xavier did know. All too well. Which was precisely the reason he was so hesitant to enlist Tyrel's aid. For fear of what he might discover about John and possibly leak - non-intentionally or otherwise - to others. The truth has a way of coming out in the end...

Tyrel: "And if I boost my power level with Cerebro, I should be able to sense the psychic echoes in the Danger Room. I might even be able to see who was tampering with the computer. Professor, the longer this person remains free to roam, the greater the danger John is in."

Professor Xavier: "Very well."

Tyrel was momentarily stunned. He had won over Professor Xavier!

Tyrel: "Really?"

Professor Xavier: "Yes. But we have to come to a mutual understanding."

Tyrel: "Yeah, of course, sir."

Xavier laid down his terms. He would accept Tyrel's proposal to help with the investigations. But in return, Tyrel was to agree to keep whatever information he discovered about John through the use of his powers or otherwise a total secret.

Tyrel: "I will."

Professor Xavier: "Very well then."

Tyrel: "He's..."

Professor Xavier: "Yes, a question?"

Tyrel: "He's different. Isn't he?"

Professor Xavier: "What do you mean?"

Tyrel: "No one's ever leveled the Danger Room before. Right?"

Professor Xavier: "No. It`s never happened."

Tyrel: "John said that his powers were pathetic before this alleged surge he had. Was that a lie? Were you covering it up?"

Professor Xavier: "He was telling the truth. The surge was not alleged - it was real."

Tyrel: "So someone went through the trouble of infiltrating the school to target him specifically. And this happens right after he experiences a mutant `growth spurt'? I`m thinking he`s not just another student. There`s something different about him. Something that you`re not telling us."

Xavier ignored Tyrel's last statement and instead beckoned Tyrel to follow him to Hank's lab. They'd fetch the portable Cerebro unit and begin scanning the Danger Room immediately...

Scott: "What are you doing down here?"

When I entered Hank's lab, intending to ask him for the video recording, dad was there - with a syringe stuck into his arm. From the looks of it, Hank was drawing blood, probably for more DNA testing.

"I was hoping to see the video the Professor wanted to show me earlier."

Scott: "Can't you wait until morning?"

With my curiosity raging as it was...

"No. I really think I should see it now."

Hank didn't say anything to dissuade me. And after repeating that I didn't want to wait until the next morning, dad finally relented.

Scott: "Oh alright. Hank, run the video."

I walked closer to holographic projector in the middle of the room. Far better than any two dimensional display unit I can assure you.

Hank: "The footage you are about to see may be a little...disturbing."

Considering what the subject matter of the video was - I should think so. It was not like Hank to state the obvious. However, I appreciated his concern.

"Yeah. I can imagine the blood, maiming and stuff. Don't worry, Hank. I got a strong stomach."

I gave him a shaky grin, even though the thought of my former wounds did make my stomach churn for a moment. Just a little.

Hank: "Very well then."

Dad approached the projector and Hank entered the command into the console. The air above the projector shimmered for a moment, then grew clearer as the static of the video dissipated.

"Logan fell..."

Scott: "Yeah."

I watched on as the cyber ninjas tore at him, never letting up for a second. However, more of them kept approaching towards my position. Which made sense. As I'd been informed, whoever had done the tampering had set me as the primary target. I saw the slashes I'd received and winced a little with each one.

"I remember that. Can`t we...bypass this?"

Hank: "Wait for it."

"I lost consciousness then. I remember things getting dark."

Scott: "Just keep watching."

"This must be the part where we got rescued."

Hank: "Yes it is."

For several more moments, we observed the droids' continued assault on both mine and Logan's prone forms. Then, to my shock, I saw the droids that were surrounding me thrown backwards by some sort of telekinetic pulse. There was a golden energy signature. That was a surprise. My powers had never before exhibited an aura. Psychics only exhibit those when channeling really powerful energies.

"I don't...remember that. Could it have been an unconscious thing? No, no, the Professor blocked those..."

Three more spears of the golden light impaled what was left of my immediate attackers.

"What the -"

Then I saw myself stumble to my feet, seemingly ablaze, surrounded by a psychic aura. The pulsating light repelled Logan's attackers and slammed them into the wall on the opposite side of the room. Several of the droids leapt into air, only to be torn apart.

"Why can't I remember that?"

Scott: "We're not sure."

Hank: "Here's the real killer."

Hank drew my attention back to the holographic representation of the video. It seemed as if the Danger Room was trying to swamp me with an ever increasing amount of adversaries. I saw myself rise, the golden flame intensify until it was difficult to look at directly...then it exploded in a brilliant nova that temporarily blinded the camera. When the light died down, I was lying unconscious in a pool of blood near Logan. And the surrounding area, the Danger Room was totally destroyed, except for a small circle in which we lay.

I shakily took a seat, mentally processing what I'd just seen.

"So that's what he meant..."

Scott: "Huh? What who meant?"

"Oh - Logan."

Now what he'd said all made sense.

"I had to have been conscious if I got back up on my feet. Right?"

Scott: "Well...maybe not. It could have been something like sleep walking."

I looked at him incredulously.

Scott: "Okay, that was a bad analogy."

Hank: "The Professor will investigate thoroughly. Rest assured."

"Yeah. Investigate meaning more prying around in my head."

That statement of mine drew some sighs from them both. Yes, I knew that he had a good reason for doing it. But that didn't mean I had to like it.

"Speaking of investigations - how's finding that lurker coming along?"

They informed me that they were working on several theories.

Hank: "Well, an idea eventually struck me that our lurker might not be a person per se. That would account for the Professor not sensing anyone foreign on the grounds."

"Oh? What do you mean?"

Hank went on to explain that he thought the intruder was a computer virus that had infiltrated the Mansion's network.

"A computer virus?"

Scott: "Yeah. See, when we went on our last mission, we used data disks courtesy of Magneto to store the information on the base's computers."

Hank: "I had begun working on decrypting the data. What if those disks had a virus on them, placed there by Magneto? And this virus spread to other Mansion systems - including the Danger Room?"

I thought about it for a while. It seemed to make sense. When Logan and I used the Danger Room that morning, it was the first time it had been used since the X-men returned. Not even the students had used it for regular training. As a matter of fact, the entire roster of training courses were being redesigned by the Gamma squadron to be more challenging.

Hank: "Of course I scrapped that theory."


Hank: "There was no trace of viral contamination on the disks when I scanned more thoroughly. And none of the other Mansion systems have been behaving erratically."

"If you scrapped that theory as pointless, then why bother to tell me?"

Hank: "Well, you've been requesting to be adequately informed of late. And I just thought you'd like to know everything about our progress - from beginning to end."


At least he said it in a nice tone. It was no surprise or secret to me that Hank didn't agree with my recent behavior. He may look like a beast, but he was all about being civil. And I suppose the way I was acting didn't fall into that category.

Professor Xavier: Hank! Scott! Report to the War Room! Immediately!


Professor Xavier: You as well, Jonathan.

Scott: What's the matter?

Professor Xavier: I believe we've discovered just who has compromised Mansion security.

"About damned time!"

At that, we three quickly left for the gathering in the War Room...

When I entered the War Room, I saw that all senior members of the X-men were present. To my surprise, I saw that Tyrel from my squad was also there. The Professor beckoned us to have a seat so that the meeting could begin. Hastily, we did so.

Scott: "Well, sir. Who is it?"

Professor Xavier: "We believe it is Mystique."

Ororo: "Mystique?!"


Professor Xavier: "Tyrel has lent his assistance. Via his psychometric gift, he was able to pick up the psychic imprint of what transpired."

Tyrel: "It wasn't hard at all. The Danger Room is still echoing on the psychic level. I saw flashes of her at the console. Blue skinned, red hair, yellow eyes..."

Professor Xavier: "I was telepathically linked to Tyrel's mind as he scanned the room. And I saw all that he saw."

Scott: "So you know for sure it's her?"

Professor Xavier: "I do. And as we all know, she is immune to telepathic scans."

So that was why the Professor didn't sense anyone foreign on the grounds.

Tyrel: "She may be immune to telepathic detection. But not psychometric. That's not all we discovered. We know who she's been disguising herself as."

Logan: "Well, stop beating around the bush. Out with it, kid."

Professor Xavier: "Among the images that flooded our minds...was that of our newest admission here at the school. Ashley Montgomery."

I jumped to my feet, and was promptly pulled back down into my seat.

"A-Ashley?! Are you sure?"

Tyrel: "Very sure."

Professor Xavier: "And as it so happens, isn't her mutant ability that of shape shifting as well?"

My father's face tightened as he slammed his fist hard into the table.

Scott: "Yes. It is. Dammit! I can't believe we brought her in here ourselves!"

Well, it wasn't like they could have known. I mean, she played her part very convincingly. And to add the disguise, her mind was impenetrable to telepathic probes.

Logan: "No wonder she was wearing alla that perfume. Bitch musta been trying to hide her scent from me."

Rogue: "What are we gonna do, ya'll? We have a mutant terrorist running around loose in the school."

Professor Xavier: "For the time being, I don't believe anyone else is in any immediate danger. However, now that we know who was behind the attack, we have more pressing concerns."


The Professor shared his concerns with me. Mystique worked for Magneto and bore an almost fanatical loyalty to him and his misguided cause. The chances were that she was acting directly under his orders. Which meant that somehow or the other, Magneto was now aware of my status.

Tyrel: "His status?"

The Professor and the X-men looked at each other for a bit, then he nodded.

Hank: "John's mutation apparently grants him unlimited psychic potential."

Tyrel: "W-what?! And you kept something like that from us?"

Professor Xavier: "I think this latest incident is justification enough for my actions, Tyrel. Trust was never the issue. Keeping us all safe was."

Tyrel: "Yes. Yes, you're right, sir. I'm sorry."

Professor Xavier: "I thought I saw some suspicion in Erik when he was last here and met you, John. He was rather...impressed that you were able to reach out mentally all the way to Alkali Lake."

Come to think of it, he was. The Professor was quick to try and cover it up by explaining some of the new modifications they'd made to Cerebro.

"You know, Ashley - erm, Mystique - was kinda clingy to me when she first arrived here."

Dad nodded and said that he'd noticed that too.

Scott: "She did show a strange level of attraction to you for two complete strangers."

Ororo: "So do you suppose she came here with the specific intention to spy on John?"

Professor Xavier: "If she did, then she would have had to suspect something about him before the Alkali Lake incident. Before Ashley even set foot here. Which means Magneto would also have known before this last mission as well."

Logan: "That ain't our only worries, Chuck."

Scott: "True. I'm beginning to suspect that this entire thing - our rescue of Ashley Montgomery - was staged."

Hey, that's right! Ashley was supposedly a runaway mutant girl who had been approached by the M.A.L.E. - the Mutant Alliance for Liberation and Equality - and was being coerced to join them. That incident had lured the X-men out downtown, where they rescued her and offered her a place with us. Basically inviting the enemy into our own territory.

Betsy: "Well if that's true, then it could mean that Mystique and the M.A.L.E. are in cahoots."

"You think she's a member of the M.A.L.E.?"

Logan: "From what we can tell so far, it seems the M.A.L.E. are mostly a group formed from teens and young adults. I don't see Mystique taking orders from kids. She could damn well be the one running the thing."

Professor Xavier: "Yes...building up a new Brotherhood for Magneto by corrupting the young. The very antithesis of what we stand for. He was very secretive about his special friend with the remote teleportation power. For all he know - HE could have been a M.A.L.E. member."

"So what do we do now?"

Professor Xavier: "Our primary objective is to apprehend Mystique and ascertain just how much she knows."

"So basically we act all cool and whatnot. And when she doesn't expect it, we knock her upside the head really, really hard and then drag her blue ass down to the brig?"

Professor Xavier: "Erm...well..."

Logan: "Yep, sounds like a plan to me. I can't wait `til interrogation time comes around..."

There were great advantages that came of being a fly on the wall, Mystique thought to herself. She had indeed given the term, `bugged', a whole new meaning. Thanks to her shape shifting ability, combined with her immunity to telepathic scanning, she had succeeded in following John Summers down into the Subbasement undetected.

So, they had found out about her, had they? Mystique hadn't taken psychometric detection into account. No matter. Her orders had changed. All she now had to do was find a way to lure John to her so she could do her duty and be off. A sudden thought occurred to Mystique as her memory was jogged. She buzzed to herself in satisfaction. Yes, she knew exactly how to go about luring her intended victim...

"So how does this thing work again?"

I adjusted the small, circular disk that was attached to my belt buckle.

Hank: "It constantly projects a scanning frequency that detects active mutant signatures in the nearby vicinity. Its range is adjustable from one to thirty feet."

"Okay. So if a shape shifting mutant is disguised as a chair in my - otherwise empty - room, it should alert me. Right?"

Hank: "Oh yes. It can detect generic mutant signatures, not specific though. So if Mystique were to be in the presence of other mutants, it won't be able to tell you which mutant she's disguised as."

I nodded in understanding. At least with Hank's little piece of handy technology, I could enter my bedroom and not worry about something, that's supposed to remain inanimate, morphing into Mystique and trying to get me when I'm dead asleep.

Scott: "If the scanner gives you any reason to suspect that all isn't well, make sure and contact someone immediately. And do it telepathically so you won't be overheard calling for help."

"Yeah. Did Logan and Remy finish installing the -"

Scott: "Yeah. The windows are now fitted with electrifying inducers."

Good. If the bitch tried to get in that way, then she'd get one hell of a surprise! It was a nice idea of Remy`s. Remy, being an ex-thief, knew all about different ways of entering unbidden, as well as precluding such attempts.

Hank: "Now, just remember - before you fall asleep, set the scanner like I showed you to."

I nodded in agreement. While I slept, the scanner would ignore my mutant signature and if any mutant entered my immediate vicinity, it would send a warning signal to alert the X-men (who all slept on that same floor) about the intruder.

"I'll be okay," I said.

Hank: "Well, fine then. I'll leave you to your rest."

At that, Hank turned and left the room, leaving me and my father alone for the first time since my awakening. I was feeling a little awkward, considering that the last time we had any contact (before the Danger Room incident) he was punishing me with the silent treatment for my behavior.

"I'm sorry for -"

My would be apology was cut off mid-sentence as he shook his head and drew me into a hug.

Scott: "From now on, if you want to know something, about anything you feel concerns you - don't hesitate to ask."

That was unexpected. When I broke out of my surprised stupor I nodded and hugged him back. I figured that if he was willing to meet me halfway, I had better show the spirit of compromise too.

"I will. And, um, I guess I'll have to try and be more understanding if there's some things you feel I shouldn't know."

To my absolute amazement, he shook his head in the negative.

Scott: "No. You were right. Whatever happens - you're the one with the biggest stake in all of this."

"But the Professor said," I began.

Dad's voice dropped in volume and took on a conspiratorial note.

Scott: "I don't care what he said. >From now on, if you want answers, you come to me? Understand?"

It suddenly hit me in full what he was proposing. To secretly inform me of goings on against the official rules and regulations if need be. Of course, I know he broke those rules in a time of emotional upheaval (when mom died) and told Alex and Lorna about what really happened. But this was different. Now he was in full control of his faculties.

"Are you saying..." I trailed off, instinctively looking towards the closed doorway, "what I think you're saying?"

He nodded.

"I don't know what to say. Thanks...I guess."

Scott: "John, everything has changed now."


Scott: "We wanted to make sure that no one but the seniors knew about you. But now the chances are, Magneto is well aware of your potential."

I took a deep breath for stability's sake and sat on the bed.

"So Mystique was probably following Magneto's orders and tried to...get rid of me?"

Scott: "We don't think so. The situation is more complex. Magneto is not just a would be mutant savior with a grudge against us. He's a scientist with a need to know. Finding out about someone like you - he wouldn't be able to resist experimentation. Testing."


Scott: "Yes."

"They said that the computer was instructed to focus most of its attention on me."

Scott: "We think that Mystique was using the Danger Room to test you. To try and see what you were really capable of."

"Well it must be true then. Mystique must have been skulking around here before she came undercover as Ashley. Cuz I didn't tell anyone about my powers - just like you guys said not to. If she was `testing` me, she damn near took it too far."

I scowled. I never felt anger as intense as that in my life before. Emma Frost may have been an evil, conniving slut. And she may have even gotten physical and choked me. But she didn't try to actually kill me. Mystique's little test damned near finished me in a bloody, gruesome way. And for that, I decided, she had to be punished.

Scott: "Judging from Magneto's past patterns of behavior - there are one of two courses of action he might choose to take."

"Past behavior patterns? What do you mean?"

Scott: "Magneto recruits mutants to help serve his cause. Some come because they actually have faith in his beliefs - like Mystique. And some follow him in the hopes that they'll be able to share the spoils if they take over."

I let it sink in. Magneto had made me that offer - and we thought it was a joke no doubt - down in the Subbasement after he and the X-men had returned from Alkali Lake. Logan had gotten kinda pissed about it. Magneto could possibly have had an inkling even then and could have been toying with us.

"I'd never follow Magneto. Especially as I almost died cuz of him. Besides, he goes against everything we stand for."

Scott: "I know that. But Magneto always tries to give prospective mutants the benefit of the doubt. You can choose to join him or decline. Which leads us to option two. If you are not with him, you`re against him. He believes mutants who don't fight for what he sees as the common good of Mutant kind, are obstacles standing in the way of his vision. And therefore he...removes such obstacles. Like the X-men for instance."

I froze. Life as an X-man was not turning out the way I had thought it would. It's one thing to go into the program knowing that it carried its risks and dangers. But to actually go through those risks and dangers so soon without adequate preparation for the grim realities - and so suddenly and left me rudely awakened.

"So he'll probably want me out of the picture if I were to say no? Just like he won't hesitate to stop you guys by any means if you stand in his way?"

Scott: "Yes. We think he might already have been informed of the results of this test. Mystique had enough time to inform him while we were still reeling from the attack. "

"And, Mystique...think she'll stick around until she fulfils her orders."

Dad nodded gravely.

Scott: "That portable scanner only detects mutants in general. It'll be effective if she takes the form of something inanimate. But if she disguises herself say - as one of your friends - you won't know its her. Which is why from now on, until she`s caught, I want you to trust no one absolutely. Always keep your guard up."

"Okay. But..."

Scott: "And as of tomorrow, you'll be taking lessons with Betsy and Julian Keller."

I felt a surge rush through me at the mention of Julian's name. Julian, who I still had to see since waking but wasn't allowed the opportunity.


Scott: "Yes. It's about time you acquired the skill of reading mental impressions. That'll give you a heads up with Mystique."

"How so?"

Scott: "Well, different telepathic skills utilize difference brainwave frequencies. Mystique, while she can communicate mentally with a telepath, is immune to mental attack and mind reading probes."

"Oh I see. So if I'm nervous about someone, and try to read their mind and get nothing - I should be very cautious? But isn't reading minds without permission wrong?"

Scott: "You can use that test safely without getting into anyone personal secret spaces. Betsy can explain it a lot better than I can."

"And what about Julian?"

Scott: "He's going to be teaching you how to shield telekinetically."

A definite plus. Shielding was one of the most signature, useful and effective telekinetic skills known. Had I known how to shield in the Danger Room, neither Logan nor I would have wound up in such a dire situation. I suppose they would have taught it to me later down the line, as I'd only just joined Alpha Squad.

"So I'm gonna be busy tomorrow huh?"

Scott: "Yeah. And one more thing - Cassandra."


Scott: "It's our password. Only the senior and junior X-men know it. Whenever you see one of us approaching, reach out mentally and ask for the password to make sure it`s not Mystique in disguise."

"Juniors? How much do they know?"

Scott: "Well Tyrel knows everything obviously. But the rest of them just know that someone set that computer to target you. They just don't know its Mystique."

"Why don't you guys tell them?"

Scott: "Because then they'll be curious as to what she could possibly want with you. And we don't want to reveal your status anymore than is necessary."

"But Magnet probably knows already. We might as well tell our allies."

Scott: "It's the Professor's decision."

"Well okay then. About this password - if they don't respond?"

Scott: "Call for help and get away from them. If you're backed up against a wall, go all out and don't hold back."

I nodded.

"Have you guys seen or heard of Ashley since?"

Scott: "Well...I showed Lorna and Alex a picture of her from the school files. And apparently when you were unconscious, she came to visit you together with your other friends."

"And after that?"

Scott: "No one's seen either hair or hide of her. Her roommate hasn't seen her. And she didn't even bother to report that Ashley hasn't been coming to their room."

Yes. I remembered Ashley being placed with that slut, Alicia Suarez. No doubt Alicia was making prime use of the empty room.

"Do you think she knows you're onto her and has gone into hiding?"

Scott: "It's very possible. We`ll think of something, don't worry. Tyrel`s psychometric powers really came through for us. Maybe they`ll do so again. Look, you should get some sleep."

"Yeah. Okay."

There was an awkward pause, then I was drawn into another hug.

Scott: "I love you, okay?"

"Yeah. Love you too."

All that out of the ordinary, touchy feely emotional stuff showed me how deeply affected he must have been at the whole situation. He walked towards the door and paused in the entrance. When he turned around, I was a little shocked at his expression. In contrast to before, he now wore an expression of dark anger. It was frightening and mirrored the look he'd given Calisto when he threatened to kill her in the sewers (should she ever try to kidnap him again).

Scott: "When we find this bitch, I am going to make her pay for what she did to you. I am sick and fed up of people messing with my family."

And at that, he left me to my rest...

I woke up the next morning a bit earlier than my usual. When I glanced at the clock, I saw that it was just about a quarter to six. I got up, had a good stretch and took care of morning business. Carefully, I attached the disguised mutant scanning device onto my belt buckle. It was set on vibrate to alert me. Opening the door and looking out warily, I ventured outside.

I was on the floor that housed the teachers. In the distant end of the hallway, I could make out Warren getting out of his room. As I approached him, the scanner vibrated to alert me of a mutant in the area. Remembering what dad had said, I reached out to Warren mentally.

What's the password?

He rubbed his eyes and blinked stupidly.

Warren: Huh?

I backed away slightly.

The password!

Warren yawned once, and that seemed to clear the morning cobwebs from his head.

Warren: Oh! Right, right. Cassandra.

Had he hesitated any longer, I might have simultaneously screamed out for help telepathically, put some distance between us and tried to hurl him into the wall. I breathed a sigh of relief, having been getting a little jumpy. We both started walking down the stairs.

Warren: "What're doing up so early? Only the teachers, cleaners and cafeteria staff are up at this time of morning."

"Just woke up a little earlier than usual."

Warren: "You wearing the scanner?"

I nodded and pointed to my belt buckle. We continued walking downstairs until we made it into the kitchen. Remy and Rogue were seated having a breakfast of pancakes and syrup.

Warren: "G'morning."

Rogue: "Mornin', Wings."

Remy mumbled a response, mouth half full.

"Hey," I greeted as I grabbed a plate and immediately started stacking.

I sat and quietly went about eating and contemplating the sudden turn my life had taken. Among my chief thoughts were images of the wrecked Danger Room and the display of power I`d seen in the video recording. Something I had no recollection of doing. And yet I seemed conscious and aware in the video when the telekinetic surge went down. I bet the Professor would be only too anxious to probe my mind and find out more about that.

Rogue: "You okay, sugar?"


Rogue: "You've been holdin' that piece of pancake in midair for a while now."


I lowered the fork onto my plate.

Rogue: "Did you sleep good last night? You`re up early."

"Oh yeah. Weird considering," I lowered my voice, "the circumstances."

Remy: "Of course he slept well knowing the room was well protected. Microphones, cameras, electrified doorknobs and window -"

"Yeah. About those - thanks."

Remy: "Ain't no problem."

Ororo: "Good morning, everyone."

We all looked towards the doorway. Ororo and Logan were approaching. We all murmured a response. As they walked pass, Logan tapped me lightly on the head.

Logan: You were supposed to ask us for the password before we got close to you. Cassandra by the way.

Oh, damn! I forgot.

I shrunk a little as I realized I didn't ask either Rogue or Remy for it either. And they didn't make mention of it. We'd all have to get in the habit.

Rogue? Remy? It's a little late for this. But, what's the password?

Cassandra they both responded simultaneously whilst looking a little embarrassed at having forgotten about it as well.

Ororo: "Mhmmm, this looks and smells delightful."

Rogue: "Courtesy of Lorna."

"I thought they tasted a little familiar."

Warren: "So, did the Professor give any word about when we're getting a new Danger Room?"

They all looked towards Ororo, who was the X-men co-leader.

Ororo: "Not as yet I`m afraid. It may be a little while before we do get back up and running. Sneaking in and assembling the required components into the country will take a little doing. Not to mention the expense...and right after losing the Blackbird at Alkali Lake..."

"I bet," I said, then reddened a little when all eyes turned towards me. I was feeling a little bit down at having (unconsciously) wrecked a VERY expensive state of the art piece of simulation equipment. And in the process slowed down the mutant training regimen of the entire school populace.

Ororo: "Don't burden yourself, John. What you did was merely out of survival instinct. It`s Mystique who`s ultimately to blame for the loss."

Everyone drew closer at a signal from Warren and lowered their voices. They must really have wanted to keep anyone from overhearing and learning what was really going on in the Mansion.

Warren: "I was thinking...we're at a standstill. Mystique can hide around here indefinitely if she chooses. We can't scan for her telepathically and she can take on the form of anything."

"But can't Tyrel maybe locate her with his psychometric powers?"

Ororo: "He needs a place or an object that she has been in contact with. And it must be sufficiently charged psychically to work. In any event, she can still just shape shift into another form once we`re onto here...and then we`re back to square one."

Remy: "Not only that. I don't think we can really keep this high security thing goin' on much longer before word gets out...and then we'll have a panicked school."

Rogue: "Giving Mystique a good chance to have her way in the chaos."

Logan: "So what were ya thinking, bub?"

Warren: "We need to draw her out into the open. Set a trap of some kind."

Logan: "Trap? Are you suggesting that we dangle John out for that bitch like a piece of bait?"

There was Logan doing what he does best - giving people attitude and shooting down their ideas. Although in this case I sorta agreed with him. Warren looked right insulted. I didn't see myself being bait for that stone cold bitch.

Warren: "Actually no. David Owens from the Gamma Squad is a shape shifter..."

There were some looks around the table as we all caught his drift. Logan looked a little abashed and Warren flashed him a brief look of superiority.

"So David morphs into me and when she tries to get to guys move in."

Warren: "Exactly."

Logan: "Well, it beats sitting around waiting for her to strike. At least this way, it goes down on our own terms so we can be prepared for it."

Ororo: "I shall speak of this with Cyclops and the Professor as soon as time permits. If David agrees - I say we have ourselves a plan. Excellent idea, Warren."

Warren smiled and blushed as he turned his attention back to his breakfast. Finally, some real headway in dealing with Mystique's lurking threat...

It was around eight or so in the morning when I got the mental message from Betsy requesting my presence in one of the empty classrooms of the Mansion. It was time for her to begin training me in the skill of telepathic mind reading. I turned off the television in the Rec-Room and headed to our meeting place.

As I stood outside the room, I reached out mentally and made contact with Betsy.


Betsy: Cassandra. Very good. I see you're following the protocol. Come inside.

I opened the door and entered, shutting the door behind me. As soon as I turned around, I was enveloped in a familiar pair of arms, my lips captured in a frantic kiss.


I was so into it that I blocked out everything else and immersed myself in his feel, taste and smell. Finally, when we both needed to come up for air, Julian squeezed me as if he'd never let go and gasped out, "Cassandra".

"I never thought I'd ever be so happy to have someone kiss me then blurt out some girl's name in the afterglow. Don't make it a habit or we're gonna have a problem."

Julian: "You have no idea how much I missed your smart ass."

"I love you too."

I could hear Betsy chuckling in the background and quickly looked around to see if anyone else was present. Namely, the Professor, who was also aware of mine and Julian's relationship.

Betsy: "Aww, that was so cute."

Julian rolled his eyes, but judging by the heat in my cheeks, I knew I had to be blushing a dozen shades of red.

"Betsy, did you plan this?"

Betsy: "I thought you boys could do with a moment to yourselves. So I had Julian come with me."

Julian looked at her thankfully and I followed suite.

Betsy: "I assume your father told you why you'll be meeting with me?"

"Yeah. Mind reading. But, about that..."

Betsy: "Yes, reading someone's mind without permission is unethical. But there are several phases you have to go through before you even come across any distinct thoughts. What I`m going to teach you today deals with the preliminary phases. You won't be sensing thoughts per se. Just surface impressions and what may appear to be background telepathic static."

I nodded. "But how will that help me?"

Betsy: "Well, if you try to do this against someone like Mystique - you'll detect absolutely nothing. No impressions, no telepathic gibberish. Telepathically immune people are rare. So if you come across such a person in the Mansion be VERY wary. It could be Mystique in disguise."

"Oh. And this way I won't even be delving into anyone's personal thoughts and secrets."

Betsy: "Yep. Later on, we can progress to all out mind reading."


Betsy: "Julian here can be my assistant."

She went onto explain her plan. Since Julian had no telepathic abilities, blocking or otherwise, I could use the skills she would teach me to surface scan his mind and get a feel for the telepathic `gibberish' I'd encounter with a normal mind. Then, I'd try the same thing on Betsy - who could render herself immune to telepathy - and I'd be able to compare the relative silence with what I'd sense from Julian.

"Okay. So we can start now?"

Betsy: "Yes. First things first. As with all telepathic skills training, I want you to open your mind to its most receptive."

I nodded and complied, thus beginning our session...

Professor Xavier: "Of course it would require informing yet another Generation X member of what`s going on."

Hank: "Well, we surely don't have to tell him everything."

Professor Xavier: "We`re expecting him to risk his life. I think he`d want to know all the details."

Professor Xavier, Scott, Ororo, Logan and Hank were gathered in the War Room to discuss the suggestion that Warren had proposed at breakfast. Namely, that they make use of David Owens aka Morph's shape shifting skills to lure Mystique into a trap.

Logan: "And another thing."

Scott: "What?"

Logan: "To make sure David is safe, we are gonna need someone who can shield to hide out and watch him."

Ororo saw where Logan was headed.

Ororo: "No one on the senior team can shield. And the two with the best shielding potential are in the Gamma Squad - Julian Keller and Sally Blevins."

Xavier sighed as he saw the walls of secrecy he had built up begin to crumble.

Professor Xavier: "I suppose it is time to enlighten the Gamma Squadron at the very least."

All present nodded.

Scott: "Sir, chances are Magneto already knows. Why bother hiding this from our own any longer? We tried it and the truth still came out."

Yes, it always does, Xavier thought to himself.

Professor Xavier: "So you`re suggesting we come clean with all three squads?"

Scott stood his ground and nodded.

Scott: "They all need to know in order to be better prepared."

Professor Xavier: "What about the rest of you?"

Hank: "I agree with Scott, Professor. He raises a cogent point. Information is ammunition and the more we know about each others abilities, the more effective our combined efforts will be."

The Professor looked questioningly towards Ororo.

Ororo: "I concur. I believe the time has arrived where the cons of secrecy have outweighed the pros."

All eyes then turned towards Logan, whose response was short, simple and right to the point.

Logan: "You know I ain't ever liked lyin'."

Professor Xavier: "Very well then. We shall have a meeting with the Squads, after which, we will ask for David`s assistance. I just hope we`ve made the right decision."

Scott breathed out deeply, releasing his tension. He had expected changing Xavier's stance to be far more difficult. But perhaps the time had come where the Professor himself finally saw the futility of secrecy in keeping them all safe...

Betsy: "Do you hear it?"

"Yes! Like...lots of whispers. But I can't make out what each of them are saying."

Betsy: "You've got it!"

She patted me on the back as Julian gave a quick congratulatory peck on the lips.

Betsy: "Now try it on me."


I opened my mind and established a link to hers. Gradually the mental distance between our two minds decreased as the strand of thought linking us drew my consciousness into hers. The external sounds of our environment grew fainter and fainter as my attention turned from the external world to that of the internal.

"Nothing. Perfect...silence."

Betsy: "Exactly. That's what Mystique would feel like if you tried to read her mind."

I slowly withdrew my mental presence and turned my attention to the external world once more.

Betsy: "Feel free to practice the technique. You aren't breaking the rules since you`re not reading the thoughts and memories of others. That will come later."

"Okay. I will."

Betsy: "Well, that's it for today."

She eyed Julian a little mischievously before continuing.

Betsy: "Well, at least from me anyway. Julian here still has a lot to teach you, I'm sure."

Both our jaws dropped at her joke. She laughed a little scandalously, told us to get our minds out of the gutter and then said she had an English class to teach. Ever since Emma's departure she's been given heavier teaching duties.

Betsy: "Later, boys."

And she was gone, leaving us with our mouths open.

"Okay, she totally rocks."

Julian: "Ditto."

I turned towards my teacher and asked in a respectful tone, "So, Mr. Keller...what do we do first?"

He pretended to think for a moment, then focused his attention on the doors and windows, locking them with the power of his mind.

Julian: "First we need to get rid of all unwelcome distractions."

"I see."

He walked behind my chair and leaned over a bit.

Julian: "Then we need to make sure you're relaxed."


Julian: "Oh yes. Being in the right frame of mind is very important for practicing the psychic arts with any real hope of success."

At that I was treated to a soothing, rhythmical rub of my shoulders. If this X-man thing don't pan out for Julian, then he has a bright future in the exciting field of massage therapy. I'll say that much. All my tension that had built up from Betsy's lessons dissipated, as he squeezed and rubbed my neck, shoulders and upper back.

Julian: "Are you feeling more relaxed?"

"Oh, yes Mr. Keller," I replied with a smirk.

Julian: "Good."

His hands continued on towards my chest, swooping in circles over my front.

"Mr. Keller, are you sure this is appropriate student-teacher behavior?"

Julian: "I'm doing this all in the name of advancing your education. So of course it is."

The wandering hands eventually landed on my nipples, which were both simultaneously pinched, causing me to yip at the unexpected contact.

"What was that for?"

Julian: "I'm just trying to stimulate your chakras."

Betsy, in her psionics class, tried to promote Yogic concepts and principles to her students. According to her, they were particularly effective for focusing and strengthening mental energies. Whilst most students didn't follow that bit of optional advice, everyone had a basic understanding - such as with chakra (energy center) locations.

"I don't think there are any chakras located there. But something's...been stimulated alright."

Julian: "Ah yes. I can feel that the kundalini has started to stir and awaken."

"With all due respect, sir. I don't think it's kundalini."

We both looked down at the obviously raging hard on in my pants.

Julian: "Well, whaddya know? Another distraction. We can't proceed until we've dealt with that."

"Yeah, yeah. I agree. It's very distracting, sir."

It was in the midst of unzipping my pants that mine and Julian's communicators began to beep.

Julian: "Dammit!"

Simultaneously we activated the two X patterned badges.

Julian: "Yeah?"

[Scott: "All junior members of the X-men are requested to meet in the War Room for a gathering. Come as quickly as is possible."]

Julian: "Yes, sir."

I got up from my seat, more than a little bit disappointed at the horrible timing of this meeting.

Julian: "Sit down. Hurry."

"What? The meeting..."

Julian: "You heard the man. He said come as quickly as is possible. A direct order."

Julian winked devilishly. I looked on in surprise as I caught onto what he was suggesting.

"You can't mean..."

Julian: "Well it's not like you can walk into the War Room with that thing poking outta your pants. Let's see if I can make you come in under three minutes."


Resistance was futile. I reasoned that I was so damned worked up I couldn't possibly last long in his mouth anyway.

I smirked a little wickedly. "Okay. Time's a wastin`!"

We did arrive a little late for the meeting in the War Room. But luckily for us, Julian was able to make an excuse - that we caught in the midst of my tutoring and just wanted to be clear on a few points before ending the lesson. The Professor did give us an odd look, and I did catch Betsy's supposedly hidden smirk. But we got away with it.

The real tension in the room came when the meeting went underway. Apparently, the Professor had decided that it was time for him and the senior X-men to come clean about everything to the juniors. You didn't have to be telepathic to sense the strained emotions, disapproval especially, concerning the former secrecy. My teammates were looking at me with something close to distrust. Like I had any choice - I was expressly told not to tell anyone.

We were all arranged in groups. Senior, Alpha, Beta and Gamma squadrons. To ensure that an all out chaotic exchange didn't take place, everyone's concerns were to be routed to their group leader (Alpha = Risk, Beta = Tarot and Gamma = Rune).

Questions were being thrown out alright. Why didn't they inform them? Why didn't they trust them? Why tell them now? Were they being told the whole truth or not? While the seniors were answering the questions being posed by the group leaders, my squad mates were badgering me.

Tabitha: "Back off, guys! Give him some space."

I turned to her in gratitude. They (the Alphas and Generation X by extension) were all a close knit team. And me as an outsider coming in to join them, expecting acceptance and yet keeping secrets from them must have been upsetting.

"I couldn't tell anyone. They ordered me not to."

Donovan: "We're a team. We're supposed to know these things. Not knowing everything about each other`s abilities can kill us on the field."

Sam: "He was just following orders."

Tyrel: "And they came from the top of the command chain. From Professor X no less. What did you expect him to do?"

I glanced over at Tyrel. He was the only other Generation X member who knew the whole truth. It was due to him that we learnt that Mystique was the one responsible for the Danger Room attack.

"If its any consolation, I didn't want to keep secrets from any of you. And you're not the only one who they were keeping in the dark. They kept things from me too. As a matter of fact, right before the Danger Room thing - I had a falling out with the Professor about something."

Andrew: "What did you fall out over?"

"He wanted DNA samples from my family for testing and they didn't say for what purpose."

My willingness to share information must have been redeeming in their sight. The looks I'd been receiving stopped once they realized that they weren't the only ones who'd been subjected to this so called `need to know' system.

Professor Xavier: "I did not wish to place anyone in undue risk."

The room filled with murmurs.

Rune: "And now we have Mystique running around the Mansion. Turns out secrecy didn't really help much then, did it?"

A good point.

Professor Xavier: "No. I must admit that it did not."

Attention turned to Logan as he got up to say something.

Logan: "Look, we can choose to sit here and argue about this all day. Or we can decide on a course of action on dealing with Mystique."

Tarot: "He's right. We have to put this behind us."

Risk: "Only as long as they swear it damned well won't happen again."

Rune: "Agreed. If he were just another student, then you were justified in keeping his...mutant status secret. But when he joined us, we had a right to be informed."

Risk: "For God's sake, look at the Danger Room. He obviously freaked out. Imagine that happening to us - unexpectedly - on the field. He could end up hurting our opponents AND us."

Professor Xavier: "Very well. I give you my word that something like this will not happen again."

Before anyone could jump and ask a stupid question, like - "Can your word be trusted?" - dad took over.

Scott: "Okay, so Warren has come up with an idea on how to draw out Mystique. But it will require the cooperation of the Gamma squad."

Ah, yes - the rough idea that Warren had mentioned at breakfast that morning.

Someone murmured, "Oh yeah, sure. So they suddenly come clean when they need us."

Rune: "Enough. Drop it. What`s the plan?"

Professor Xavier: "We have but one shape shifter of Mystique`s caliber in our ranks. David."

Everyone glanced at a guy from the Gamma group. He drew closer.

Scott: "We need your help, Morph."

David: "Uh, okay. What do you need me to do?"

Ororo: "Mystique obviously has targeted Jonathan. She can't get too close to do anything to him whilst he's under our constant supervision. But, if someone acting as a decoy were to wander off alone somewhere, she'd likely come out of hiding. We can draw her out into the open."

David: "So you want me to act as bait."

Scott: "Well, decoy is..."

Logan: "Don't sugar it over, Cyke. That's exactly what we're asking him to do."

Professor Xavier: "The entire plan hinges upon whether or not you agree, David."

David: "Of course. This is what we've been training for."

Logan: "Good. Now to make sure that you're safe. We need two other Gammas to volunteer their services. Keller and Blevins."

I looked towards Julian and Sally Blevins. They stepped forward.

Julian: "I'm in."

Sally: "Me too."

Professor Xavier: "Your job will be to monitor and shield David from attack should Mystique make an appearance and try something."

They nodded in understanding.

David: "Um, how exactly will this plan be carried out?"

Professor Xavier: "Mystique is likely watching John from a distance, but is not chancing getting close."


Scott: "What we plan is, to have David take the form of...say a book...and go with you to your room where you`ll be safe and can rest while we work. Then, David changes to your form and walks out, leading Mystique - should she be watching - to believe that it`s you leaving."

Ororo: "David will then walk slowly towards your house, as if he forgot something at home and is going to get it. All the while he`ll be under surveillance. Should Mystique strike, Julian and/or Sally will shield him and the rest of us will come out of hiding and take her down."

I nodded, impressed. It seemed like it would be an effective plan.

"Sounds great. So how soon before we try it?"

Professor Xavier: "Why put off for tomorrow what you can do today? We can try tonight. She`ll feel more secure in coming out under cover of darkness..."

I deposited the book (David in disguise) that I had been carrying to my room onto the floor. It was something of a surprise to learn that while David could change his size and shape, he could not alter his weight. I had to use my powers to lift the `book' and merely kept my hand on it for show. As soon as it was placed on the ground, the said `book' began to expand and conform to a humanoid figure. Within seconds, David stood before me.

"That is one seriously cool power."

He smirked.

David: "I know. Well, time to get going."

He activated his power again and before me stood a perfect copy of myself. I walked around him scrutinizing.

David: "Look alright?"

"Yeah. Perfect match. Down to my clothes."

David: "Cool. Let`s hope that bitch takes the bait."

So saying, I hid behind the door as he opened it and walked outside. I was left alone in my room where I was to stay until notified otherwise. There was nothing much to do. So I figured that I could surf the net and maybe chat a little on Yahoo. So I went over to the computer terminal in the corner and signed into my account.

"Hmmm, ten new emails," I said to myself and I began visually scanning the subject lines.

As my eyes slid across one particular line, I froze. It read - I know your dirty little secret Jonathan Summers. I checked the date of the email. It was posted the day before. Quickly, I clicked on the link to open it. It read...

Dear John,

Ooh, the subject line was catchy, wasn't it?

By the time you get this, my plans will probably have been discovered. I suppose I should identify myself. You knew me as Ashley Montgomery. But that was just a cover. See, I'm being honest. My real name is Mystique. I've been posing as a teenage girl to get close to you and learn more about your amazing gift. I've learnt oh so much more about you than I ever bargained for.

As you're probably aware of by now, the little incident down in the Danger Room was not an accident, but was MY doing. Regardless of what you may think, my intention was never to have it turn lethal. I was about to decrease the danger level eventually, but then the help you called out for arrived and I was forced to retreat. That session was meant to merely push you to your limits and show us both what you're truly capable of.

And I must say that I and my superior, Magneto, are quite impressed. Yes, I'm sure that they told you I work for him. And I know that you're aware he's not quite what you expected him to be. He DID help save the X-men at Alkali last year after all.

Anyway, here's the thing. I've decided to stop following you all over the place, and instead have you come to me. I'd like to meet with you, personally, to discuss some very disturbing issues that pose a threat to mutant kind. Issues that we believe you could help us with. We're underpowered you see, and could really use the help. You should be honored at having been chosen worthy of a position in the Brotherhood.

I know that the brainwashing that Xavier and your parents have subjected you to might preclude you from making the right choice - to aid your fellow mutants. You might even feel like you're betraying your own people and wonder what they'll think of you for doing so. So I'm prepared to help make that choice a lot easier on you. If anything comes up, you can say that you were being coerced and it was not of your own free will.

How am I to do that, you wonder? Look back to the subject line of this email. Yep, I'm going to pull a Martha Huber on you. Think carefully about your decision when I tell you that I know all about what you and Mr. Julian Keller, of the junior X-men, have been up to. Remember that black cat that scared you two in the greenhouse - that was me. What would dear old dad say if he knew his only son was a faggot? Oops, I forgot that you don't like that word. Sorry. I guess Ray was closer to the truth than he knew, huh?

By the way, isn't Keller a little too old for you? If word gets out, wouldn't it be child molestation charges he'd face? Your father would so throw the book at him. You know he's a stickler for the rules.

Oh, I've even managed to sneak into your house and copied your internet records, which plainly show you that you've been visiting some rather decadent websites. And what about those stories of your mother's that you've hidden in your sock drawer. Think of how daddy might react if he found out. Jonathan, you naughty boy!

Think carefully Jonathan. All I want to do is talk with you in a place where we won't be interrupted. Just to be certain that you'll hear me out without one of them dragging you off. You are the first of your kind and have a responsibility to your mutant brethren.

When you've read this email, I want you to give me a call at 555-3923. Oh, the line's secure and untraceable. So don't even try anything. Not that you'd tell anyone if you want me to keep my mouth shut.

I'm patiently awaiting your call within fifteen minutes of you receiving this email. I'll know exactly when you've opened it as I've also hacked your Yahoo account to send me a reply the instant you read this message. Some of those Yahoo groups you joined looked quite entertaining, I must say.

Well, that's it for now. Sorry about such a long message. But I just wanted to be absolutely clear and leave no room for misunderstanding - do as I request or I out you.

PS - You and Julian do make quite an attractive couple. That kiss I saw was rather hot.

I must have read that letter ten times with my mouth open. The shock came first. I thought we had done everything we could to hide our relationship. And to think that we'd just had a close call when the Professor wanted to enter my mind to seal away my telepathic powers. That had been handled satisfactorily. And now this comes up. I'd never have thought someone would use something like my sexuality against me like that. But I suppose no one ever thinks they'll be blackmailed until it happens to them.

Once the shock passed I got really angry. I won't even bother to try and describe just how angry I was, as I'm sure I lack the right words to do so. Reaching for my cell phone, I hastily dialed the number she had left. There were no more than two rings before she picked up.

[Mystique: "It took you thirteen minutes to call. You were cutting it rather close to my fifteen minute deadline."

"You're really pissing me off! And that`s not something that's exactly safe for you to do. I think you`ve seen what happens when I`m pushed too far!"

[Mystique: "For your own sake, Jonathan, calm down. It just won't do for you to get all worked up over a little talk. "

"We can talk over the phone."

[Mystique: "But that`s just so impersonal. I`d rather do it in person. So you can meet the real me."

"What do you want to talk about?"

[Mystique: "Everything will be explained at the meeting. Now, here`s what you`re going to do. I`ve bugged the cameras outside of your window to send back a looping image to your security center. The way is clear for you to fly outside of your room and meet me in the grove of trees to the south."

I quickly reasoned while I scanned the email for information I could use. She obviously knew I was in my room having read the email. She also said that she was no longer following me about all over the place. That email was dated the day before. So chances were she wasn't nearby now, having ceased stalking me since yesterday. And that meant she wouldn't have seen David, posing as me, leaving my room. The X-men were all shadowing David. As her plans didn't involve tailing me any longer, it meant that the X-men's plans were going to fail. She wouldn't show herself unless I went to the grove. And I was forbidden from telling them anything.

"It's your word against mine. Unless you had some sort of proof. If you had any pictures or videos as evidence, then you would have sent a copy in the email."

[Mystique: "Well I do have those stories I found in your room. And the internet records."

"I could argue that you were skulking around our house looking for stuff that could be of use to your plans, found those stories in the attic and planted them in my room to lend credibility to your claims. And since you hacked the Danger Room computer, it'll be easy to let them think that that you modified my internet records as well."

[Mystique: "My dear boy. First of all, your behavior of late will lead many to conclude that I`m right. For instance, the fact that you couldn't handle the gay jokes Bobby and Ray made. You were rather insecure. Called off a friendship because of it too and dissed that poor boy`s mother. Secondly, your father is already wondering what you could be hiding as you were VERY adamant that Professor Xavier not enter your mind to place blocks on your telepathy. You were so firm, in fact, that they not enter your mind, that you were prepared to leave the Mansion. Remember I was there in the greenhouse - I saw and heard everything."

I scowled as I realized that she was right. Dad was trained in investigating and putting pieces of evidence together. And even people who weren't trained and were just smart enough would be able to figure it out if Mystique guided them along.

[Mystique: "And I`m not an amateur, John. This conversation is being recorded as we speak. You have given me all the proof I need."]

Upon hearing that I had to sit down. The shock was gone. Oddly, so was the anger. In their place I just felt despair and something close to resignation.

[Mystique: "Meet me at the grove within fifteen minutes. I`m waiting."]

She ended the call. I quickly began to ponder my options, like a desperate man, I grasped at straws. Mystique was firm that I not inform anyone. She was a hacker and it was possible she had access to the cell monitoring systems and could listen in on my cell phone calls. And maybe even check the Mansion's network to see if I'd sent any messages via the computer. If she could hack the Danger Room computer, then those things would be small pickings. But I did have one means to communicate that she wouldn't be able to tell if I chose to use it - telepathy. Of course she knew I could do that if I chose. But I was sure she thought me threatened enough to obey her commands not to.

Even if I could contact Betsy and the Professor for help, and the X-men were notified as to where Mystique would be waiting, I didn't see a solution to the main dilemma. Mystique would be captured, but there was no way that Professor Xavier or Betsy would be able to wipe her mind clean of my secret due to her telepathic immunity. And then, once secured, the X-men would take over and start interrogating her and she would reveal everything she knew just to spite me for alerting them to her presence in the grove and getting her ass captured.

I could either go see her in the grove and my secret would be safe - but I myself might not be. Especially as dad had told me how they saw people who refused to join them. Either with or against them, he'd said. Or I could refuse Mystique and wait for her to reveal my secret to everyone and make my life hell.

Briefly I thought to myself that if Mystique were to die, that would be an easy solution. The dark tone of the thought shocked me. I was pissed at her for pulling this latest stunt. And for almost getting me and Logan killed. And I wanted her to suffer. But having her die to protect my secret...a secret that would probably be exposed eventually, was taking things a bit too far. Where the hell did that thought come from?

Eventually, a strange sense of calmness seemed to overtake me and I began to look at the situation without being as panicked. I hadn't planned on coming out anytime soon. That was true. But I'd have to do so eventually. Eventually I wouldn't be able to live a lie any longer. Whether I was rejected in the future or now didn't matter - it would still hurt the same way.

At least I had what a lot of gay teens didn't have. I was secure that if even I were disowned by family, I would still have a roof over my head in the Mansion. Aside from wanting me kept safe due to my unique mutant status, Professor Xavier himself didn't seem to have an issue with my being gay. Come to think of it, I'd never heard dad make any sort of homophobic comment. And as I knew, mom was totally okay with this gay thing. Maybe if dad was ever a homophobe she turned him around on the subject?

I'd still have Amara and Jubilee as friends obviously. I was going to come out to them soon anyway in all probability. I could see Bobby trying to accept the situation. Ray...well I'd ponder that later on.

I didn't know how my uncle would take it. Alex was always making dirty jokes and bringing up girls in many of our conversations. Having that stop would be a relief all its own. I couldn't see Lorna treating me any different. Hell, when Andrew kissed Justin on Desperate Housewives, she let out an `Aww, how sweet.'

My main concerns were how my immediate family on the Mansion grounds and my old friends would take it. After some thinking, I considered that if there was ever going to be a `good' time to come out, this could be it. I'd just almost died gruesomely. Maybe almost losing me would have opened their eyes. Maybe they just might realize that they loved me enough to be grateful in having me alive and gay than not having me around at all.

Of course, I knew that if Mystique outted me, there would be those who'd turn against me and probably treat me with contempt and disgust. Like Logan for instance. He was all out against girl/girl - something most straight guys see as a turn on. I could only imagine what he'd think of guy/guy. He'd probably be a hundred times worse. Logan carried a lot of weight around the Mansion. Everyone looked up to him. His point of view would influence a lot of people.

Regardless, I accepted that I couldn't give into Mystique. There was no way that I'd ever join them and become a mutant terrorist with no regard for innocent lives caught up in their so called war. No matter how favorably she painted the `issues' she wanted to discuss.

If I refused to join, what was to stop her from trying to eliminate me then and there in the grove? She knew all about my potential. If I were her, I wouldn't want to risk leaving behind someone who could be trouble for me later on. So giving in was out of the question. And I couldn't just sit around and not go, let Mystique get away AND out me in the bargain either.

What I could do was alert the Professor, help ensure Mystique was caught so she couldn't endanger other innocents and hope for the best. In a way Mystique was right. I did have a responsibility to Mutant kind. Helping put her away - like Sabertooth and Avalanche - was in Mutant kind's best interest. Without her, Magneto would be on his own and without one of his best operatives. I could help make that happen.


Betsy: John? Is something the matter?

Yes. I need you to listen to me very carefully. And trust me...

Betsy: I don't see why we can't let David pose as you and enter the grove.

Because she's expecting me to fly out of my window. She could be watching my window from the grove. And by the time David makes it back to my room, the fifteen minute deadline will expire.

We wouldn't want her to suspect it's a trap. Sure I could lower David out the window to give the impression of flight. But he was all the way over at my house. It would take him ten minutes to get back to my room. Of course, Nightcrawler would have been able to get him back much quicker. But he was busy skulking around in the grove - his night vision and ability to cloak in the shadows of prime importance.

Professor Xavier: Fine. But be very wary. Remember, you only have to keep her distracted so we can close in.


I opened the window and took a deep breath. There was no turning back from the course of action I'd chosen. Leaping outside, I lowered myself to ground level and began walking towards the grove.

Betsy: It will work out for the best, John.

I sure hope so.

Presently, I was at the border of the grove.

Okay, I'm going in. Notify the others.

Professor Xavier: Affirmative.

I stepped into the grove of trees, keeping my eyes peeled and listening for the slightest sound.

"Alright, bitch," I said, "I'm here. So let`s talk."

There was no immediate response to that. I took a step further and whipped out the penlight I'd brought with me for a source of illumination. I flashed it around, seeing nothing in the immediate surroundings.

"If you don't come out soon, I'm leaving."

The scanner on my belt buckle began to vibrate.

Mystique: "You`re almost late. I was just about to assume that you weren't coming."

Quickly, I turned towards the direction the voice came from. And there standing before me in all her `glory' was Mystique. Just as the files in the X-men database had depicted her. Deep blue skin studded with small scale like segments, bright yellow eyes with a vertical slit and short red hair.

"I think I prefer your disguise," I said rudely, "I don't much care for the real you."

Mystique: "Ooh, bitchy."


Betsy: I'm homing in on your telepathic signal. We're slowly closing in on your exact location in the grove. Just keep her talking for a minute or two.


"Look, are you going to have our little talk? Or not?"

Mystique: "Right to the point I see. I apologize for having to blackmail you to ensure you came here. I, more than anyone, know the burden of keeping your true self hidden from others."

"Yeah. I'll bet. Now, are you going to keep wasting time, or tell me about your so called issues?"

Mystique: "Mutant kind is once again under threat. William Stryker was merely the tip of the iceberg. We have anti-mutant politicians threatening to take away our human rights, a new shadowy underground association formed by bigoted zealots, the hatred of the general public... It was our hope that you would join us and help turn the tide."

"How? By helping you commit acts of terror that hurt innocent people as well as -"

Mystique: "We figured as much."

She began walking closer. I backed away slightly.

"That's close enough. And about your offer of membership - I decline. Respectfully of course."

Mystique: "You`re too far gone to convince. They`ve been brainwashing you from childhood. It pains me to have to do this."

I immediately assumed a defensive stance, keeping my eyes peeled on Mystique for any sudden moves.

"Do what?"

Mystique: "This."

At that I felt a sharp piercing sensation on my right arm. I turned around, already starting to feel disoriented. Mystique was standing behind me. I looked towards where she was standing before. She was still there. There were two Mystiques!

"T-two of you? How..."

Mystique: "Oh that other one`s just a hologram. I nabbed a small spare projector from the Subbasement whilst I was down there just for this special occasion."

No wonder she chose the time and place of our meeting! She wanted to make sure she had the place rigged properly to catch me off guard! The feeling of vertigo began intensifying and I had to lean on one of the trees for support. I tried calling out on the telepathic band - nothing.

Mystique: "Don't bother trying to use your powers. That formulation disorients a target, preventing them from using active mutant powers. Given a few more minutes it will render you unconscious - making the next part of my task much easier on both of us."

"You're going to...kill me?"

Just like dad said. With them, or against them - there was no neutral stance to take.

Mystique: "Sad, but true. We cannot have Xavier raise you as a weapon against us. When we saw what your mother did last year, it had us worried for a bit. But when she went down, we breathed easier. And then you come along..."

"Sorry to disappoint you."

Mystique: "Me too. We could have done such great things for mutant kind together. That`s why this hurts so much."

"Oh it's going to hurt a lot m-more..."

By this time, I could make out the faint images of several X-men behind Mystique. I had bought them enough time and occupied Mystique's attention sufficiently for them to get close enough and encircle her.

Mystique: "And why's that?"

Scott: "Because of this, bitch."

The look of shock on Mystique's face was priceless, blurred though it was.

Mystique: "You little son of bi -"

At that things were getting dark. But I heard Mystique let out a shriek of pain and saw a bright ruby flash - no doubt one of dad's choice optic blasts. There was a crash and thud. And then Mystique's injection took its full effect, knocking me out cold...

To Be Continued...