Kitty – Magneto’s Raiders.
She and Kurt arrived at training Monday morning, both anticipating what the session would bring. Kitty gave a grim smile at the cutout posters of their primary opponents on stands, near an odd looking map on the table. Labeled “Magneto’s Headquarters”, it looked like a rocky island, depicted in three dimensions: top, side, and bottom. Kurt cocked his head and looked confused. Howards smiled, and flipped a chart over top of it, the Heli-Carrier depicted in a similar manner. Her love’s eyes widened, “A floating island?”
“Close, Nightcrawler. Orbiting.” Howards turned back to the first map again. “Our scientists say this is an asteroid that the original Magneto drew into our orbit. His abilities allowed him to hollow it out and use it as a fortress. He called it Asteroid M.”
He fed a film reel into a player, and a magnified view of the starry sky showed on a television screen. The image panned until it came to a patch of occluded stars. The picture magnified, and a light sensitivity function was activated when the rough edged mass blocked out all but the faintest background stars. It was an unevenly shaped rock, pitted with ancient craters. As the camera’s zoom reached its limits and the image began to blur, man-made alterations to the rock could be seen. Small windows, and what could be air locks pierced the surface layers, and constructions of mysterious purpose dotted the exterior.
He continued, “The short version of this mission is you’re training to travel to and infiltrate the asteroid, and kill the false Magneto and his Raiders. This is a big priority with us, and you two are the key. No one can keep you two out of someplace you want to get into, and we’ll be working hard to prepare you for what you are likely to encounter.”
Combs nodded and stepped forward. “We captured pieces of one of their shuttle planes, and were able to repair the air lock mechanism and reverse engineer it. The rocket shuttles our forces will be using are built to be compatible with their locks, so you’ll be training in low gravity flights and providing entry at the locks when you get there.”
Howards called them over to the chart. “This represents years of surveillance and patient study. Most people, Congress included, don’t appreciate the difficulties involved in destroying an enemy that you can’t reach. They’ve launched their attacks with impunity from Asteroid M, knowing we had no way to strike back. They had the moat of space on their side, and the superior position by way of gravity. We’ll be covering the information here, and you’ll be taking packets of the info back with you to study in your quarters.”
Kitty looked down as they went over the chart, concentrating so hard her face was a mask. Kurt stood beside her, his tail coiled around her hand. She gave a brief squeeze, then freed her hand to point at an area of the chart, and asked for clarification…
* * *
Tuesday, and two of the enemy portraits were front and center in the training room. Howards handed them a new pair of information booklets. The labels said “Cyclops and Psion”, and featured severe photos of the one eyed man and the red headed woman.
Beginning the briefing he pointed to the male, “He has called himself Cyclops since we first discovered him at Xavier’s when he was a boy. An orphan of questionable mental stability, he has none the less grown to be a formidable leader, one to be reckoned with.”
The next gesture indicated the woman. “She has called herself by a few names, but nothing consistent over the years. Shield Intel labeled her ‘Psion’, because of her mutations, and she’s adopted the name due to an obvious lack of originality. She came from a middle class family that managed to disappear before Shield could track them down from what was left of Xavier’s records.”
Combs took up the discussion, unveiling a chart of their known activities. “Since Magneto took them in, they’ve been actively working against Human interests. You can see here, how he dropped out of sight five years ago, after the Raider’s leadership was executed. He started showing up again a year later, but he was a different mutant. His right eye no longer projects the dangerous red energy, and we are pretty certain he can no longer see out of it, either. He’s approachable on the right flank, so keep that in mind. It’s a weakness you can exploit, if you can distract her or lead her from his side.”
Howards again indicated Psion’s portrait. “While he is present at nearly every raid they undertake, she shows up much more rarely, generally only at the bigger terrorist attacks. Intelligence things she and the black woman had offspring about 15 years ago. Notice the five-year gap in her sightings? Some of the psychs have tentatively attributed her spotty appearance to some form of material instinct, postulating she stayed behind with the offspring.”
Kitty felt her shoulders grow painfully tense. This red haired woman was everything that she was not: classically beautiful, with a fabulous body… And not only were all mutants in Shield custody treated more harshly for the actions of these few renegades, but she the… the nerve to have a child… when she, and Kurt, and all the rest were forever barred that… Her teeth grated together in barely suppressed rage. She could hate the woman just for that.
Kurt brushed her hand with his, and she tore her heated gaze away from her enemies to look at him. He looked worried, the scars on his brow were furrowed with it, and his lips moved in a silent question. “[i]Liebe[/i]?”
She nodded that she was all right as Howards cleared his throat. “If I might have your attention please? We have a lot of material to cover… That’s better. Shield’s files record that the first time these two were encountered was in Westchester, New York, at Xavier’s ill-conceived ‘School For Gifted Youngsters’.”
Kurt’s frown only deepened as he watched her, but she needed to concentrate to learn this material…
* * *
After lunch Wednesday, she sped through the hallways. Only one in every three lights was lit in most of the corridors, and every fixture that could be removed was gone. “What’s the hurry, [i]liebe[/i]?” Kurt said.
“They said they were covering the savage today. I’m eager to learn more about him.”
“You are… eager to learn how to fight a fellow mutant?”
“Mutant or not, he’s a monster who glories in blood and pain,” she snapped.
Kurt stopped short, and his golden eyes blinked at her. “And you know this… how?”
“It… it’s obvious! Those films; the way he mowed people down…”
In a patient voice, he spoke softly. “The ones he fought in the films were Shield agents, so it could merely be self defense. If I had known how to fight before they found me, I would have… resisted, instead of trying to run. Not that running did me any good…” He idly scratched his chest, as he usually did when he remember his capture.
She shook her head, irritated. “You’re just being dense. Anyone could see that he’s just an animal…”
He sighed and looked away, leaning against the wall. “Ja, an animal… All he’d need to complete the image would be a coat of fur [i]und[/i] a tail…”
A shiver ran through her at the irony in his tone. He stared down at his hands, which toyed with his tail, smoothing the soft fur that covered it.
“I… I didn’t mean you… Kurt…” She touched his velvety cheek, needing him to know that she didn’t believe that about him…
He looked up at her again. “I’m just saying that you should keep an open mind, and not buy into everything they say. After all, I have far more cause to be called an ‘animal’ than [i]Herr Klaws[/i] does, just on my looks.”
She took a deep breath, trying to let the anger go and nodded. “I’ll try.”
He smiled faintly. “Okay. Let’s go.”
When they arrived, it was classroom time again. This time the cutouts on the stands were of the black woman and the hairy man. If the portraits were life sized, then he was much shorter than she expected, definitely shorter than the woman. “These two are called Storm and Wolverine,” Howards said. Pausing he gave a brief smile. “And yes, he really is that short. It’s the first time everyone says about him, but don’t underestimate him because of it. The bone claws that spring from his hands are extremely hard and dense, making them dangerous weapons. They can be cut or broken, but his mutant regeneration can repair them as easily as the rest of him, although it seems to take a little longer with them.”
Combs passed them their briefing documents. “We think he’s Canadian, and that he first escaped our custody in the Sixties. There was an outfit interested in training him as a tool, much like a prototype Hound, but they couldn’t pin him down. It’s too bad, really. The plans they had for him would really have been something.”
Kitty cocked her heard. “The Sixties? He doesn’t look that old.”
Howards nodded, and tossed another folder down. “He doesn’t look to be this old either, but this is conclusive proof that he served with Canadian units in the Second World War.” Kurt flipped the folder, and they examined the yellowed enlistment and service photos of the burly man in a foreign army uniform. As one, they looked up at the cut out.
“That was taken four months ago,” Combs said, “and not one wrinkle or gray hair betrays the fact that he stormed the beaches of Normandy on D-day. It’s disgusting, really.”
Howards gave him a look. “The negress is from Northern Africa. She has the uncanny power to manipulate the weather and conjure atmospheric effects. While you’ve already been shown what he can do, she’s a much more tricky problem. Strong winds, freezing temperatures, and electrical arcs are all part of her arsenal. Don’t try to fight her from a distance; she excels in that style of combat. Instead, we recommend that she be rushed and physically incapacitated.”
Combs nodded, “We say incapacitate her, because you won’t be facing her alone. If you ignore her and fight the others while she provides windshields and covering fire, you’ll be in trouble. So, keep her occupied or knock her out fast. After you’ve defeated the others, you can finish her off then.”
“We think these two are mates, and that he’s the father of her offspring. He seems more protective of her than he is for the other rebels. You might be able to take advantage of that.” Howards caught their eyes to emphasize his point. “Keep in mind here that the goal is to know the enemy.”
Kitty felt her jaw tighten again, but she struggled to remember what Kurt had said to her. A glance to the side showed worry along with tension on his face. She sighed. It would be so easy to give in to the hate that threatened to boil up from within…
* * *
Day four, and the two cutouts on display both appeared to be of Magneto, but there were subtle differences. “The one on the left,” said Howards, “Is their leader before the executions five years ago. The other is a more recent image. You can see for yourself, the second man is slighter and shorter. We are certain the new leader is an imposter. The real Magneto is dead, there’s no doubt about that. What we don’t know how the duplicate is mimicking the original’s abilities, but the displays thus far have convinced us that he has a full mastery of the powers that are associated along with that costume.”
“Regardless of who he is, or how he’s doing it, he’s cashing in on his predecessors legacy. “Just as the first one did, he’s attempting to show that mutants can successfully resist the power of Shield.” Combs paused for effect. “He must be killed. They can’t have an infinite supply of ersatz Magnetos, at least not ones who can use the powers. Go over these briefings, and get a feel for what he can do. We’ll answer any question you might have about him.”
Kitty frowned. “But, my knives…”
Kurt nodded his agreement, “[i]Ja[/i], and my gauntlets…”
“…Are made of a super strong, electrically resistant non-magnetic alloy,” Howards said. “Even super magnets can’t touch the stuff. Your weapons are expensive beyond belief, but then, all your training has led up to this point. Now save the rest of your questions until after you read the material…”
“Yes, sir,” they said in chorus.
* * *
Friday afternoon, she and Kurt walked to the Psych Department. She wasn’t looking forward to it. She still had jumbled nightmares about the last session. She shivered as they took her to the conditioning room, with the chair facing the screen. The tech strapped her in, and gave her the injection. He watched until her eyes started glazing, and left, activating the session. Some unknown amount of time later, Kurt was helping her to rise.
She couldn’t stop crying, and she felt sick to her stomach. She stumbled as he led her away, and she growled, pulling away from him. Planting her fists and forehead against the wall, she felt herself tremble. She was stronger than this, dammit. She was a Hound, and it was time she started acting like it. She drew in tearing gasps of air, and fought for composure. Kurt let her be, though she could feel him nearby, waiting. Oddly, the knowledge didn’t seem to comfort her.
Her face felt like stone when she drew herself up again. The pain she saw in her husband’s eyes was a faint discomfort, but most of her concentration was devoted to the singular effort to keep functioning. She gave him a short nod. “I’m all right now, let’s go.”
“As you say, [i]liebe[/i].” His voice was soft and subdued. Thankfully he had nothing else to say during the descent to their quarters. When they arrived, he put on some music and fixed them snacks. She ate absently; hardly know what she was putting in her mouth. He wouldn’t be able to leave it alone, she knew, and she didn’t have long to wait. Soon enough, after they sat on the couch, he broached the subject she was manifestly unready to talk about.
“If… you want to talk about it, Katzchen, I’m here. I was able to remember some of what they are putting in our heads, and if we…”
“No.” She shook her head and turned away. “Look, I don’t remember, and I don’t want to remember. I’m barely hanging on as it is.”
He gently persisted. “It might help if…”
“Please, Kurt. Don’t… don’t hurt me like this.” A whimper escaped him, and she felt queasy.
“I would never want to hurt you, [i]mein liebe[/i], I’m sorry.” His voice sounded of sad acceptance. “I’ll be right back, there something I need to do.” He rose and picked up a candle stub, and walked into the between space that she had avoided since the utter darkness had fallen.
The record player was giving off a rhythmic hiss by the time he returned. He drew her to her feet, and led her to their bed. “We have time to nap before dinner. We can use the rest.”
She slipped onto the covers besides his warmth, and sighed. “Rest… is nice.”
* * *
A notice was posted opposite their door the next morning. They were to skip work, and head for mission training. The space gear and shuttles weren’t mockups this time; they were the real deal. Kurt looked surprised that everything was happening so fast, but Kitty felt only relief that the preparations were over. If anything she felt excitement… one way or another, it would all be over soon.
Screens showed that the sky outside was turning black. From conversations around them they learned that the Carrier had been rising gradually all week, clawing its way to the upper limits of the atmosphere. The fuel tanks of the rocket-propelled shuttles were insufficient for a long journey and a lot of maneuvering. The Carrier needed to provide as high a launch base as possible, closing the gap to the Asteroid in high orbit.
They were instructed to suit up and board the hardened command shuttle. There was less room inside this one. Its hull armor was the thickest of the flotilla. Besides themselves, it held the Strike Commanders and the Special Ops teams. Kurt and Kitty were there to overcome any obstacles in gaining access to the Asteroid’s interior.
A technician trained in air lock operations gave a last rundown on what problems they might encounter - to a bulkhead in their general vicinity.
Kitty’s mouth quirked. The way some of these agents acted, you’d think that mutation was contagious or something. Half the time they didn’t want to acknowledge their existence, which was fine with her. Kurt was quiet, unusually so. She found she was glad, actually. She needed to keep her focus sharp if they were to accomplish their mission.
Launch caught her unprepared. She was running her anatomy lessons in her head when the lurch came. Kurt swept his arm across her and kept her from impacting on her harness. She gave him a nod of thanks as they roared away from the Carrier. The thunder of the rockets was all that could be heard for ages, then the primary burn stopped and they were on their way, through the lower orbit and heading up.
Engagement with the enemy was easily discerned. Comm chatter between the shuttles picked up and their vehicle executed a few dodges to evade weapons fire from the target. Kurt pointed with his chin at a video screen she hadn’t seen before, where the rocky body of their goal steadily grew as they approached.
A sudden rise in the pitch of the chatter got her attention. One of their escorts was in trouble, and before another shuttle could come to their aid the pilot’s panicked voice cut out with finality. The hush that followed was only broken when one of the demolition guys started grousing. “Why couldn’t the stinking muties have been on that shuttle? But no, they had to be safe, here on the command shuttle…”
The mission commander twisted in his straps to give the man a glare. “And you’d get the air lock open how? With explosives? Yeah, that’ll help, won’t it? The Hounds are specially trained for this mission, so shut yer yap!”
“Yessir,” he said, but he and the others still glared at the two of them.
Kurt stirred in his seat, his tail twisting about in a serpentine way that earned them even more evil looks. “Something’s different,” he whispered to her. “I can feel ‘down’ again. We’re out of full freefall and falling down towards the Asteroid.” As if to confirm him, the pilot reported retro-braking maneuvers.
The chatter seemed to indicate that they were too close for the fixed emplacements to target them. For long minutes, the sway of Kurt’s tail recorded the tiny movements of their craft. With a soft clang, they were still. The technician unstrapped and pulled himself to the air lock. After a few minutes he reported that they had successful engaged the Asteroid’s door mechanism.
“Dig in, Captain,” the Commander said. The pilot flipped a switch and the ship shuddered as multiple explosions erupted around the air lock. The commander grinned at his startled men. “We’ve sunk our fangs in like a tick into the surface of this rock, and it’s gonna be real hard for them to get rid of us.” They laughed at his joke.
He looked over at the Hounds. “Shadowcat, you’ve got the first door. Phase into the lock chamber and get it open.”
“Yes sir,” she said, and undid her straps. Curiously enough she didn’t feel dizzy. The weightlessness of her power seemed to acclimate her to the micro gravity. Kurt came with her, gracefully using only the slightest movements to soar easily to their goal. He helped her seal of her helmet and checked her airlines. The yellow eyes behind his thumbs up gesture were melancholy, but clear.
She nodded and turned to the lock. Taking a breath, she ducked her head and walked through. Once in the chamber, she looked around. It was set to vacuum, and locked to prevent entrance. She initiated the air cycle, only to have it stop and reverse back to vacuum, by remote control, no doubt. She opened the emergency panel and triggered a manual override.
Air flooded in and normalized, and she turned to the locks on the door. Again there was a manual backup, as if the designer never anticipated that infiltration might come from within. A short while later, the door opened to Kurt’s relief, and the Commander’s approval. “Good work, Hound.” She nodded, taking off her helmet. He looked past her, and she ducked out of his way. “Nightcrawler, is that little window big enough for to see through and teleport?”
“The space beyond looks very dark, [i]mein Herr[/i], but I will try.” He pulled a flashlight out of his tool pouch, and stepped past Kitty into the chamber. His tail drooped as he entered, and he paused. “Commander? I think there is nearly normal gravity here.”
“That’s impossible,” the technician said with scorn. The Commander fished some coins from his pocket. One he tossed over his shoulder, where it drifted lazily, then slowly fell to the side of the shuttle pressing against the rock mass of the Asteroid. The second he tossed at the air lock. It started to drift up, and then its arc ended with a normal sounding clatter as it bounced sharply off the decking.
“Hmmm,” was all that the Commander said before he nodded at Kurt.
He peered through the little window, shining his light beam first this way, then that. Finally he nodded, and BAMF! He was no longer in the lock chamber. She had a moment to shiver from his absence, then the inner air lock started to open and a soft light shown through the glass. Kurt grinned as he bowed theatrically to them from the interior corridor.
“Welcome to Asteroid M, [i]mein Herren und Dame[/i].”
a/n I haven't posted here in so long I'm having technical difficulties. I'm out of time at the moment, so I'll leave this as a place holder, and check it out later. Okay, that's better.
Don't hate me because I scare you...