Along with Birth of a New Dream (see the other post), I found the archives online for my story, NEXT FLIGHT which was my "New Mutants version of Alpha Flight." These both date to way back around 1997-1998.

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y Adam-X@juno.com


Chapter One
Alpha: Omega
"What do you mean you don't know where Donavan is at? He's one of our own field agents for crying out loud! Do we have to put tracers on our own men?"
His name is Colonel Chaffey. Right now, he's not the least bit pleased with the situation. And truth be told, he has no problem displaying that anger… much to the dismay of those around him. One of the other officers stepped forward, braving Fate. "Sir, I… realize you're a little upset…"
"A little? Son, you don't know how upset I am."
"Sorry, sir." He cleared his throat, looked back at the others, and was now questioning if taking a step forward was all that wise.
Certainly didn't seem like it at the moment, staring up at the Colonel's flaring nostrils. Not a pleasant sight at all. "Ahem, yes, sir. As I was saying… if I may?"
"Well, you've already opened your big mouth, might as well spit out the rest of the babble you've got to offer, and see if we can't make some kind of valuable time, which is now being wasted."
"Yes sir. Ahem, as I was saying…" He looked back again at the others, than back at the Colonel. "Although Alpha Flight has disappeared*… perhaps we could use…?"
"I know you're not going to suggest what I think you're going to suggest?"
"And what is that sir?"
"Next Flight?"
"Actually…"
The Colonel flared red in his face. Surly, the officer thought, his head was going to explode. He had never seen such a deep, yet soft crimson before… Especially in someone's face. "Son, Next Flight isn't even close to being ready for any kind of battle! They lack training! They lack skills! They lack everything! They're nothing but a bunch of kids with these neat little super-powers, that they have no idea how to use!
Might as well hand a machine gun to a baby!"
"You've obviously not visited the streets of Los Angles, have you sir?"
"What was that?"
"Nothing, sir."
Another officer stepped forward. "Sir… not to, um, interrupt, but…"
"Interrupting is what you're doing, so for whatever reason you're doing, you had best make it a damn good reason, son!"
"I was merely going to mention that New Generation, as they seem to be calling themselves these days, is wreaking havoc in the city… and it's a time, where Canada's own Alpha Flight has disappeared* and America's finest heroes have also vanished**… We don't have too much of a choice…"
The Colonel sighed. "All right, go summon up Next Flight…" He turned and walked out of the room. "God help us…"

Chapter Two
Fighting Reality
"So what do we got?" he asked, pacing back and forth, not even daring to look into the exercise room. "I mean they can't be all that great. They can't compare to Department Alpha."
"Well of course not, sir," the officer replied. "Department Alpha has had years now experience on the field. Especially since they have all their original members. All of them." He stressed the word "all" and the general knew why. Snowbird had returned also. She was sighted with Alpha Flight. Their last report indicated that she had been deceased. "Well, we have Donovan taking care of Alpha Flight. We're going to need someone to head these …" He glanced into through the training room window. "These kids."
"I know how much you hate the idea that the Canadian Government would actually employ 'kids'… but under such circumstances as now, it's a good thing that we do, sir. We've lost track of Alpha Flight somehow, so we need a back up plan."
"Yeah, but kids? In a world where it seems like mutants are popping up all over the place, I realize we have no choice. Just wish it wasn't kids." He placed his hands behind his back and paced. "And mind you," he said coldly. "It's not because, if they die in battle, that I am going to feel sorry for them. I was a kid when I went to war… I just don't trust kids with that kind of power. Anyway, who do we have?"
The officer pressed a series of buttons and the computer began to print information, and a picture image of each person. General Chaffey looked over the print out:
MINDSCAN
Real Name: Thomas Wolfe
Eyes: Brown
Hair: Brown
Sex: Male
Powers: MINDSCAN is a telepathic with slight telekinetic ability.
THERMAL
Real Name: Stephanie Golden
Eyes: Hazel
Hair: Strawberry Blond
Sex: Female
Powers: THERMAL is capable of plasma blasts from her hands.
TALONHAWK
Real Name: Alex Saiz
Eyes: Blue
Hair: Black
Powers: TALONHAWK is capable of flight.
COLDFRONT
Real Name: Samantha Doe
Eyes: Blue
Hair: Blond
Powers: COLDFRONT controls ice, and can even create it, freezing the air around her.
CATERWAUL
Real Name: Adam Peters
Eyes: Blue
Hair: Brown (long)
Powers: CATERWAUL is a feral human; basically a good mix between all the bad things of Sabretooth and Wolverine. He has a healing factor, and razor sharp talons and teeth, which he apparently has no problem using when he needs to… or wants to.
"I'm not liking the given profile we have on this Caterwaul character here," the General hissed. "He sounds too unstable. More of a risk than what's worth the effort."
"I said the same thing when they brought him in," the officer agreed. "But I've seen him in action sir, and all I can say is… Yes, he's one to be feared… but he's very, very impressive… and if you look there, he's taking a … liking, if you will, to Coldfront."
The General peered into the window and watched the training session. The one known as Caterwaul, used his razor sharp talons, which have thus far proven unbreakable, to free the one known as Coldfront from steel coils that had wrapped around her. He stood beside her, until she had regained her composure, and was steady on her feet again. His talons destroyed anything that came within any close proximity…
"What if a monster like that turns on us… Remember Gamma Flight and Omega Flight? That Wildchild character…"
"Wildchild is dead sir. And before his death, he turned to the good, and joined X-Factor."
"Turned to the good?" the General almost laughed. "Son, X-Factor also employed such people as Mystique and Sabretooth… Good is hardly the word I'd use for X-Factor. Not to mention, their own leader went nuts.
That Havok fellow. They speculate that he's the one who killed Graydon Creed."
"So do we cut Caterwaul from the Program Next Flight?"
The General was silent.
"Didn't think so," the officer whispered. "Didn't think so…"


Chapter Three
Operation: Alpha
The general turned to the second officer who had been watching the entire time. "Calm Next Flight in here."
"We're going to send them after… them?"
"I do believe that is our plan, now will you call them in here or do I have to do it myself?"
"No sir." He turned to the intercom, and pressed a number of buttons. The practice session came to a sudden halt. Through the speaker, they could hear Next Flight below.
"Hey! What gives? I was just beginning to warm up?" Talonhawk shouted.
"Need someone to cool you down?" Coldfront smiled to the high-flying mutant.
"Last time I said 'Sure' you coated me in ice," Talonhawk swooped close to Coldfront, and picked her up into his arms.
Unnoticed, Caterwaul growled in the back of his throat.
"Enough clowning around," Mindscan shouted. "The drill is over."
"That's why we're having fun 'boss-man'," Talonhawk laughed, as he set Coldfront down.
"They want us inside. Stop clowning."
Talonhawk walked next to Coldfront. "I think our 'leader-man' needs a good cooling off…"
"He takes the whole thing so seriously," Coldfront laughed.
"We've been with Operation: Alpha for six weeks now, and haven't done anything but these silly exercises. I thought we were going to train with the actual members of Alpha Flight?"
"We were," Thermal said, bringing up the rear. "From what I understand, Alpha Flight suddenly reformed, without the government's permission like a week or so ago. They set up a task force to take Alpha Flight in, but they halted that in mid-process and assigned some officer to penetrate Alpha Flight and gain their trust, or something. Someone named Donavon or something. Just as they sent this agent out, Alpha Flight up and disappeared in the North Pole area, or something like that."
"And just how do you know so much?" Talonhawk grinned.
Thermal winked. "I control heat. This body of mine can get quite hot… I know how to make things… and people… hot… you'd be amazed how easy people give out information if you flirt just enough with them…"
"I bet all you did was 'flirt'," Coldfront sneered.
Thermal only grinned…

Chapter Four
Mission Delete
"So what's the deal? Why were called up here now? Did we get a little toy for our pal here, Caterwaul?" Talonhawk laughed.
Caterwaul growled and leaped for Talonhawk, his razor sharp talons glistening in the light. Thermal and Coldfront knew what to do the moment they heard the growl, and saw Caterwaul spring forward. Unleashing their powers at the same time, Fire and Water collided into Caterwaul at an amazing force, becoming a spew of rushing water, knocking him backwards.
Mindscan stepped forward to ease Caterwaul's anger with his telepathy, momentarily forgetting that for reasons yet unknown, Caterwaul was completely immune to telepathic attacks and probes. It was like reaching for something, and encountering a glass casing.
Coldfront moved between Caterwaul and Talonhawk. "Calm down, Adam. He didn't mean it." She looked over her shoulder. "Our high flying mutant is ever graceful in the air, but his words are about as graceful as rock rolling down a hill."
They all knew that Caterwaul had a weak spot for Coldfront, but never knew its extent. When his eyes calmed, and he bowed his head, like a dog scorned, they all exchanged glances.
Mindscan grabbed Talonhawk's arm. "Will you cut that crap? What is your problem with him? What are you going to do if one of these times we aren't here to stop him when he attacks you?"
Talonhawk pulled his arm free. "Look, he's a beast. Nothing more, nothing less. I don't need any of you to 'save' me from him."
"One of these times," Caterwaul growled. "You're going to get under my skin real bad. And I am going to be a bad little kitty, and I am going to play mean with the little birdie, and rip his little wings and feathers out."
"How do you propose you'd catch me, when I can fly?"
"Where would you fly now, if they weren't here to stop you?
You're in a room. You're caged."
Talonhawk's eyes widened, as he saw a cold stare return from Caterwaul. "Now you're catching my drift, eh, Bird-feather?" Caterwaul chuckled callously.
"That will be enough of that," Mindscan stepped in again. "We're a team damn it. We're in front of our superiors! It's about time we acted like a team, and not a bunch of little children in a playground! Save these little squabbles for your private time!"
"No problem," Caterwaul whispered. "No problem at all…"
"Here's what we're up against," the General barked. "I was hoping not to hear from these guys… ever again… But it looks like they've banded together, just as we feared they might… We wanted Alpha Flight to track and hunt them down… but now Alpha Flight has up and disappeared… If I could call your attention to VidCamOne."
All eyes shifted to video-camera-one. A woman tore apart a building with the movement of her bare hands. By making gestures with her hands, the steel and metal tied itself into a knot. "That's Magistrate.
Her real name is Heather Corsi. She has, as you can see, the ability to control the magnetic spectrum, much like X-Men's archenemy, Magneto. She is not anywhere near as powerful, for she is not yet as trained or experienced, but she is deadly nonetheless. We believe, according to our intelligence, that she is leading this Rogue Force. She is not alone.
There, over on VidCamTwo. That is Marquee. Her real name is Amy Dane. She is a telepath who is able to 'cover' her 'essence' from any sort of telepathic probing. We have learned, and have reason to believe, that these powers have expanded since our last… encounter. She can now also cover the 'essence' of others as well. Over on VidCamThree, we have Wipeout. His real name is Michael Hunter. He is perhaps one of their deadliest. He has the ability to 'wipe out' or temporarily cancel anyone's powers, whether they are mutant or otherwise. There one VidCamFour and Five, we have Spectra 'phasing' through a wall. Naturally, as you can see before you, she has the ability to pass through solid objects. Her real name is Christine Pierce. There, also on VidCamFive is Imagery. His real name is Phillip Lelland. He has the ability metamorphosize into anyone he sees. If he has an audio of the person, he can also mimic their voice. He is able to metamorphosize into people who he has a picture of, but he can not mimic their voice unless he hears it.
On VidCamSix we have Compact. His real name is Derrick King. He has the ability to increase his or anyone else's mass. And finally, on VidCamSeven, we have Tremor. His real name is Shawn Kane. As you can see by the destruction before you, that he is able to manipulate the earth, and cause massive tremors."
"Who are these guys?" Mindscan quickly awed to ask.
"They were the Original Next Flight… however, back then they were called Operation Alpha. Now, they broke away after learning and stealing all they could from us, the Canadian Government, and now call themselves Rogue Force, formerly known as New Generation."
"Lemme guess," Caterwaul growled. "You want us to bring them in?"
"You've got it," the general agreed, without looking away from the videos. "One way or the other, I want them stopped. They have attacked Ontario numerous times, taking advantage of the fact that Canada has no heroes to defend it. We were training you all to take down Rogue Force. That was the whole reason you were all banded together. Then when we heard that Alpha Flight had suddenly reformed, we were ecstatic. We didn't want to send you kids in with little to no experience."
"Excuse me sir," Mindscan cut in. "We're not 'kids' anymore."
"Yes, that's all well and fine. You know what I mean. Rogue Force means business. They'll probably take down anyone who stands in their way, and show no mercy."
"We'll just have to show them the same courtesy," Caterwaul murmured under his breath.
"Alpha Flight is still missing… right now, you kids are Canada's only heroes. However, if you kids aren't ready… if you don't think you can do this… We understand."
"We're ready," Mindscan said coolly.
"Good," the general sighed. "We have a pilot ready to take you kids to the drop spot, close to where Rogue Force is currently attacking …"
"Let's go then," Mindscan sneered. He turned, just as everyone filed out the room. "And sir, we're not 'kids' anymore…"
The general nodded his head and waved his hand at Mindscan. "Yes, yes, well, you know what I mean." When Mindscan left the room, he turned to the officer. "Operation Delete is now in effect…"

Chapter Five
Rogue Force
The pilot brought the plane down for a landing, on a clear site.
"Look," the pilot began.
"We know," Caterwaul cut in. "These are a bunch of creeps with a bit of experience under their belt, and they're probably going to play for keeps, and to watch our back right?" He didn't wait for an answer, and he leapt out of the helicopter. The others followed behind Caterwaul, save for Mindscan who stopped to apologize to the pilot.
"Look, he's … different. Has a chip on his shoulder. I apologize for his behavior."
"No," the pilot whispered. "It's all right. Just wanted you to all know, with all this anti-mutant hysteria going on… I know it's hard to deal with when 'regular' humans are claiming hatred for you… I just wanted you to know… I am not one of those people… I just wanted to wish you all luck…"
"Thanks," Mindscan whispered. "Nice to know someone's on our side…"
As Mindscan left the helicopter the pilot muttered under his breath. "I have to be, when my own kid is a mutant too…"
"Caterwaul, take front. See if your heightened senses can pick them up," Mindscan commanded.
Caterwaul turned his head and grinned, his teeth glittering, like a cat prowling - his pupils wide, his smile devilish. "No problem.
Already one-step ahead of you. They're not trying to hide their scent.
Boss, these people aren't scared. They're doing this because they're having fun."
"Well their fun is going to end tonight," Mindscan gritted between his teeth.
"One way or the other," Caterwaul muttered under his breath.
"Talonhawk, take to the skies, and see if you can spot them from an aerial view… But be careful."
"Sure thing, Leader-Guy," Talonhawk laughed as he took to the skies.
"Damn him," Mindscan muttered. "Does he realize this isn't a game? This isn't a practice session? This is real."
"He'll learn quick enough, as soon as he gets hurt," Caterwaul grinned.
"He is your team mate, it'd be nice if you covered his back, and showed a little more caring," Mindscan complained.
"Funny, same could be said about him, but you pick me to say this to, because I am the 'savage' one… the 'animal' who doesn't seem to care for much but himself, right? Our little flying friend, doesn't come across as your typical 'wolf in sheep's clothing' because he seems to care about everything and everyone else… or those that he chooses to like anyway," Caterwaul hissed, and leapt forward. "I got the front boss-man.
I'll be the first that gets hurt here. It's how ye want it right?"
"That's not what I meant Caterwaul," Mindscan began.
"Save it for the masses," Caterwaul seemed to laugh, and took off around a corner. "They went this way," his voice could be heard coming from around the corner.
Mindscan, Thermal, and Coldfront rounded the corner after Caterwaul, and nearly collided into him, as he sat there crouched, like a cat waiting for a mouse to move just out of reach of it's hole. "Where are they?" Mindscan asked, looking around.
"Some place where our high flying friend won't be able to see them," Caterwaul laughed. "You might as well Psi-Link with our bird friend, and tell him to land and stop beating those feathers."
"Will you cut the patter? Where are they?"
"1st Bank, in there."
"They're in the bank?"
"Sure are. I can here some people screaming from inside."
"What are they doing in the bank?" Thermal asked.
"Probably robbing it," Caterwaul snickered. "They're making all kinds of threats… but no one seems to be in too much danger… They're doing it for a power kick… Just to prove they're better than 'regular' humans…"
"How do you know all this?" Coldfront asked.
"Because, I can hear every word they're saying," Caterwaul muttered.
"But they're like 30 feet away, and inside a building… You can hear them?"
"About as clearly as I can hear you."
"We wait till they exit the bank before we make our move," Mindscan whispered. "I want to make sure that the civilians are all out of danger."
"They'll never be out of danger," Caterwaul hissed. "Not so long as people like Rogue Force run free… and forgive me, but I got my own ideas…"
"No!" Mindscan tried to reach for him, but Caterwaul had already leapt clear out of his range. Mindscan then quickly forced his telepathic ability on Caterwaul, only to be quickly reminded yet again, that Caterwaul's mind was somehow shielded from any sort of telepathic assault. "He's going to get them killed! He's going to get himself killed!"
Quickly, Mindscan sent a telepathic message to Coldfront, Thermal, and Talonhawk. *Be ready for anything! Caterwaul has gone and made an unauthorized move! Be ready to move quickly. Our first priority is the civilians inside! Get them all to safety!*
Caterwaul kicked the door open.
Wipeout turned around. "Who the blazes?"
"Name's Caterwaul, and I'd like to make a withdrawal."
"Ye just wrote yer last check, mate," Wipeout sneered.
"Oh, how I doubt that!" Caterwaul laughed. With that he leapt forward and struck the first member of Rogue Force with his claws. A woman's scream tore through the air, and Magistrate was the first to fall.
"Heather!" one of the other members cried out.
"Ye'll pay dearly for that hero," Wipeout screamed. "Let's just see how tough ye are without those precious powers of yours!"
Caterwaul felt a cold chill shake through his body. Instantly, his heightened senses went away, and he knew his healing factor was probably out of commission now… but still he smiled. He leapt for the one he knew as Wipeout. "Anyone ever tell you, that you talk too much?" He covered ten feet in one spring, and raked his claws across Wipeout's chest, sending him screaming to the ground, clutching his chest. "How -?"
"My leaping is all strength, my claws are natural… these are things that are not powers," Caterwaul laughed, as fresh blood ran down his claws.
"Who the hell is this bloody maniac?" Spectra cried, as she cradled Magistrate bleeding body.
"Name's Caterwaul," he replied, running for the one known as Tremor. "And I am a means to your end… Government Approved nonetheless," the last words seemed to fall off his lips, in a mocking laughter.
Just before he reached the one known as Tremor, his intended victim panicked and raised his hands. The floor turned into solid waves, pushing him, and most of the bank right through the wall. The wall crumbled, solid waves of stone crumbled around him… but he had managed to do what he wanted… All the civilians had managed to escape during the chaos, running from fear.
Outside, Mindscan shook his head. "I don't believe this… Come on, the civilians are safe. We're taking down Rogue Force now."



Chapter Six
Beginnings To And End
Caterwaul could feel his wounds healing. Wipeout was unconscious, and that meant his powers weren't working. Still, with his wounds healing, he could not move. Tremor had knocked him through a wall, and rubble landed upon him, pinning him down.
Tremor leapt upon the stones and rubble, standing over Caterwaul.
"I don't know who you are, what your gig is, but it ends here!"
"Now, now," came a voice, and before Tremor could realize what was going on, he found himself lifted into the air. "Our resident psycho-path isn't the most friendly on the team, but he is a part of the team nonetheless, and as much as I hate to do it, I guess I have to rescue him, since he is on my team!"
Tremor looked up and who had him. "Talonhawk's the name," his capture laughed. "And since Caterwaul forgot to introduce us, we're Next Flight… a division of the infamous Alpha Flight, and we're here to put an end to your madness!" He saw Tremor about to do something, and added with a coy smile. "I wouldn't do anything if I were you… because if I drop you…" He looked down. "Well, I just don't think you'd survive the fall…"
Just then it felt as if Talonhawk's were made of pure steel, his bones as thick as metal, and he began spiraling downward, his weight doubling nearly ever second.
"Name's Compact," someone called from the ground. "I am doubling your mass every two seconds… what's the matter, little angel, can't fly when you weigh more than a truck?"
He had no choice now but to drop Tremor, to lighten his load as much as he could and try to control his rapid decent toward Mother Earth.
He screamed as he tried to tilt upward, and concentrate on flying…
Spectra, who was at the time intangible, and thus lighter than air, caught Tremor in mid-fall, and with her touch made him intangible as well, making them both lighter than air. When they landed upon the ground as gently as a feather, Tremor held up his hands. "I am going to guess you guys are supposed to be the new Next Flight? Well, prepare to be called Dead Flight! This is ending now!"
"No!" a hand fell on Tremor's shoulder. "Magistrate is badly hurt! We have to get out of here, and we have to get out of here now!
Wipeout's unconscious also, and bleeding severely!"
"This isn't over … 'heroes'… Not even close!" Tremor screamed.
Just then, they all vanished.
"What the - ?!" Thermal screamed. "Where'd they go?"
"I have done a mindscan and I can't sense them," Mindscan hissed between clenched angry teeth.
"They didn't tell us they had a teleporter…" Coldfront ran up along side Mindscan. "How'd they do that?"
"Not a teleporter…" Caterwaul moaned, holding his ribs as he came limping by their side. "Marquee… remember… she can cover the 'psi-essence' of people… So much so that not even known Sentinels or the legendary telepaths could sense… No offense to you Mindscan," Caterwaul groaned. "But she's going to have no problem 'psi-screening' herself from an amateur like you…"
"Can't you track them with your heightened senses Caterwaul?" Thermal inquired.
"Could… if they were fully functional…"
"What do you mean?"
"Wipeout knocked out my powers, till he got himself rendered unconscious… my healing factor is barely beginning to kick in and mend the bones and tissue… My sense of smell is probably no better than your own right now…"
"Then they've won."
The office was silent.
"They didn't win. Neither did we."
"You calling this a tie, general?"
"No. I am calling it a lesson."
"I don't understand," Mindscan inquired.
"Rogue Force has been around for some time… they even trained with us for quite a bit of time, before going rogue on us… They had experience under their belt. I hate to admit this… though there is a lot of room for improvement for you little kids… You held your own against a greater number than yourselves, who were also more experienced… and came out of it… for the most part, unscratched, and all the civilians were safe… Very impressive indeed."


Chapter Seven
Alpha Flight
He hated the smell of smoke. He paced back and forth trying to avoid the smoke that lingered up from the cigar. His name was Thomas Wolfe, better known to his teammates as Mindscan, and leader of Next Flight.
"So what do you want kid?" the general puffed at the cigar.
"For you to stop puffing on that … thing," was his first reply.
The general only returned the comment with a look and cold stare.
A stare that might have normally turned someone's blood to ice. But if there was one thing Thomas Wolfe was used to - it was callous stares - he got enough of them from his own team mates.
"Well yer not getting that kid, so what else do you want or are you leaving now?" the general took a deep breath, and exhaled a large amount of cigar smoke into the air intentionally to annoy Mindscan.
Mindscan parried the smoke with a sarcastic smile. "I'm here to talk about Adam."
"What do you want to talk about?"
"Sir, we don't know anything about him. No telepaths have been able to probe his mind. He acts on his own. We don't know much about him except for his name - and for all we know that may even be incorrect.
Sir, we couldn't even place him by fingerprints. It's like he came out of thin air."
"Yeah, stranger things have happened. You will get used to that when you work with this department."
"What scares me is his affection for Coldfront - I'm sure you've noticed it."
The general paused for a moment, tapping the tip of the cigar.
"No. No I haven't."
Mindscan rolled his eyes. He knew the general had noticed. He knew that the general, along with the rest of the department, was banking on that they could use Coldfront to keep Caterwaul under control. "Sir, should anything - or anyone - harm Coldfront, there will be no stopping Caterwaul… You do realize this, don't you?"
"If it ever comes to the time where we must bring down our own, we will worry about it then."
"We can't worry about it 'then.' Caterwaul is too dangerous. Sir, he could have probably taken out half of Rogue Force on his own! Who's going to stop him if he goes berserk?"
The door swung open, and one of the officers blurted. "Alpha Flight!"
The general sat up. "What? What? What are you talking about officer?"
The cigar fell to the ground, now forgotten.
The officer glanced at Mindscan and quickly said, "Sorry." He turned back toward the general. "Sir, radar just detected Alpha Flight at the airport…"
"Well let's get a team down there!"
"Sir… that's the thing…"
"What? What is 'the thing'? You're trying my patience boy, and you just got here!"
"Sir, we tried to radio the airport when the sensors detected their presence…"
"And?"
"And there was no answer sir."
"So?"
"We sent a helicopter team… sir… they said the entire airport has been laid to waste… there's dead bodies everywhere… like one large grave…"
"Christ," the general whispered. "I don't believe that crazy Indian was right…"
"Excuse me sir?"
"Michael Twoyoungmen… he said something about 'a great evil from far away' was coming back to Canada… he mentioned when we reinstated Alpha Flight long ago… how they fought one of these creatures called The Great Beasts*…"
"Sir, we can help…"
"You're kids," the general snapped at Mindscan. "Nothing more than kids…"


Chapter Eight
Hypnotizing
Weeks later…
His wings beat against the wind.
"I grow increasingly tired… every beat of my wings feeds my hunger further… I must feast soon… or perish…" His voice was raspy, and from the clear skies high above; with his vulture like eyes; he peered down looking for something… someone to feast upon… and it would have to be soon…
"Can you believe those little punks, Radius, Murmur and Flex made it into Alpha's next training class?" Alex grumbled. "Especially that Radius punk. Where did these kids come from?"
"I dunno," Samantha admitted, shrugging her shoulders. "Yeah, like they'd take any one of us into Alpha Training. We're a 'new project' as they say."
"Well it stinks," Alex complained. He looked up. Classes for college were about to start soon. "Hey! There's Dawson!" He started running after him. "Say, Dawson, have you seen Joey anywhere? Has she asked about me?"
"Yeah," Dawson's friend, Pacey laughed. "She did ask about you."
"Really?" Alex asked. "What'd she say?"
"She said, 'When's that freak Alex gonna leave me alone?'" Pacey laughed.
Alex pushed Pacey. "Yeah, you're a riot."
"Look," Dawson said stepping away. "You two can keep this up, I am going to go meet Jen in the film class… I'll catch you guys later."
"Sure Dawson," Pacey laughed. Turning his attention, "So, Samantha," Pacey smiled. "What are you doing later tonight?"
Samantha walked past Pacey, and looked over her shoulder.
"Probably the same thing I always do."
"What's that?" Pacey smiled, striking a "manly" pose while winking at her.
"Doing everything I can to avoid you," she smiled and walked off.
"Ouch," Alex grinned. "That had to hurt."
Pacey threw his arm around Alex. "She loves me. She just doesn't realize it yet."
Alex took to the air in the guise of Talonhawk. This is the only place I feel free… the only place I ever truly feel safe, he told himself. He dodged through the clouds, flew next to the birds. I wouldn't know what to do if I didn't have my wings, he told himself over and over again.
It was then that two strong arms grabbed him. "What the?"
He looked up and saw a large man… creature… "Look into the eyes of Sauron," it hissed. "And relax… relax…"
Darkness took Talonhawk away…
"There's been no word from Alex," Mindscan said, while pacing the room. "It's not like him."
"The boy's love struck with some girl at school named, Joey," Samantha shrugged. "Probably flying around with his head in the clouds… quite literally," she smiled.
"It's just not… like him to be so…"
"Lofty," Caterwaul growled. "I say we're better off without fly boy. Less chatter from his big mouth."
"Now look, Adam," Mindscan began. "I know how you feel about him…"
"Not you don't," Caterwaul cut in. "Or else I wouldn't be a part of this team." He raked his nails down the steel wall, which without the slightest bit of effort, cut into them like a hot blade through butter.
Mindscan took a deep breath and left it at that. "I've tried mindscanning… and it hasn't picked up anything… however, my mindscan is limited compared to others… I know this… but it just worries me."
"So why don't we go find him?" Thermal smiled. "I kind of like the… fly boy."
"You like any boy's fly," Caterwaul sneered.
She smiled. Never denying a word.
Mindscan cleared his throat. "Look, that's why I called everyone here. Department H doesn't even know that we're doing this."
"Good," Caterwaul grinned. "Better off without their influence anyway."
"Is there anyone you do like, Caterwaul?" Mindscan sighed.
"Sure there is," Thermal grinned. "And her name's Samantha."
Caterwaul growled furiously.
"All right! All right! That will be enough of that!" Mindscan shouted. He shook his head and began to wonder how he ever got this far…


Chapter Nine
Dark Caverns
He slowly opened his eyes. "Where am I?"
"In my dark home," came a hissing voice from the shadows. "For now. Until I become stronger."
Talonhawk cursed his eyes. He could not see anything. "Who… or what…" he amended, now vaguely remembering his attacker. "… Are you anyway?"
"I am Sauron," the voice hissed.
"Well, that's great sore whatever," Talonhawk grimaced. His head was pounding. "What is it you want with me anyway?"
"Your life essence of course," the darkness answered.
Talonhawk paused. "Of course. What was I thinking, like it'd be anything else," he muttered to himself.
"His scent starts to trail off here," Caterwaul said sniffing at the air. "I can smell his arrogance for miles."
Mindscan rolled his eyes. "Well, I am thankful for that. So where do we go from here?"
"How about them rockies there?" Caterwaul smiled.
"Into the mountains? Why there?" Mindscan asked.
"Why not?" Caterwaul shrugged. "I could go for the exercise.
You?"
"This isn't a game, Caterwaul!" Mindscan screamed. "This is serious!"
"Yeah well, so am I. He's up there," Caterwaul said, pointing to the mountain peaks. "And it's gonna be a heck of a climb, too. Whoever… whatever took him has wings too…" He looked back. "Try a mindscan. Tell me I'm wrong."
Mindscan closed his eyes; he felt his mind reach out; almost like an astral image of himself drifting forward; no longer confined by the rules of the Earth. There - he touched the mind of Alex Saiz - Talonhawk.
He looked down at Caterwaul who was smiling smugly. "One of these days you're going to be wrong, Caterwaul - and I just hope I live to see it, and that the error doesn't cost us our lives."
"I'll never be wrong," Caterwaul chuckled. "Count on that."
Thermal nudged Coldfront. "And he says Talonhawk has an arrogant attitude."
Coldfront only smiled. Any friendship she felt for Thermal was farce. "We better get going," she finally said, as cold as her namesake she adopted.
Thermal grinned inwardly. My, she thought to herself. A bit defensive about our resident psycho are we?
"You fly as I do," Sauron hissed. He touched Talonhawk's wings.
"Your essence is so strong… in my weakened condition, I could not take it all at once."
"Yeah, that's pretty great," Talonhawk groaned, struggling against the bonds. "So what are you doing here in Canada anyway?"
Sauron smiled, and turned. "There are no mutants in the Savage Land… I have tasted the essence of mutants… and now, none other will do… such… power…"
"Wonderful," Talonhawk grunted. He was trying to buy himself more time; for what he did not know. He prayed that the others would come looking for him soon…
"Havin' a high flying party, fly boy, and not inviting me? I'm wounded. Didn't peg ya for the whips and chains kinda guy, either," came a voice at the cave entrance.
Sauron turned. "Who? No human could climb this high!"
"One day," the shadowy voice seemed to chuckle. "You're going to be wrong. And you're not going to live to tell about it - because that time is now."
Claws glistened in the sun's light.
"Caterwaul?" Talonhawk questioned. "Is that you?"
"Ya know anyone else who calls you fly-boy?" the shadowy figure stood up. "Never mind. Don't answer that. It's probably somethin' I don't wanna know."
"Another mutant!" Sauron hissed.
"Yeah. So who are you, gruesome? What do you want with our resident fly-bird?"
Sauron didn't hesitate; did not wait to answer. He quickly lunged forward.
"Watch out!" Talonhawk screamed. "He'll hypnotize you and he can absorb life essence!" He paused and whispered. "I guess anyway… from what he's told me…"
Sauron's hands fixed on Caterwaul's cheeks. "Stare into my eyes, and know the power of Sauron!"
Caterwaul could feel an intense burning in the back of his head; a nauseating feeling coming forth. With his feet, he kicked Sauron off him. "Don't much care for having my head messed with."
"Impossible!" Sauron screamed.
"Why do people keep thinking that things are impossible around here?" Caterwaul groaned, holding his head. Before he knew it, Sauron was upon him once again.
"If you resist my gaze, you are a threat… I must feed off you now!" Sauron wailed madly.
"Not… sure… if… I like the sound… of that…" Caterwaul stammered, feeling something tugging at him within at the touch of Sauron.
Sauron was glowing brightly. "Yes! Yes! I feel it! Deep! Vast!
Endless!" Suddenly Sauron flew backwards. Convulsing on the ground, he held his head and screamed. "No! Make it stop!"
Caterwaul used the wall to help himself to his own feet. He grabbed Sauron by the throat, his talon's digging into Sauron's flesh. "I don't take kindly to people mucking with my head… or tampering with my life…"
Sauron at that moment began to change in Caterwaul's hand… becoming less bestial… and more… human!?
In a matter of moments, Caterwaul held a half naked frightened man in his grasp. "Kill me…" the man pleased. "Please end the curse of Sauron…"
"Don't!" Talonhawk screamed. "You can't do that, Caterwaul!"
"He tried to kill you. Me. He wants to die."
"It's not our place," Talonhawk screamed again, struggling against the chains. "We need to turn him over to Department H and see if they can help…"
"Department H can't help. All they do is muck things up."
"Please," Talonhawk pleaded.
Caterwaul snarled and threw the man down. "Change back, and you're mine," he threatened. Walking by Talonhawk, and not even pausing he struck at the chains, which sliced apart with ease against his talons.
"Lizard man is your responsibility then. You turn him into Department H.
I'd much rather turn him into the morgue."
Talonhawk rubbed his sore wrists. "Where's the others?"
"The climb was too high for them. All they did was slow me down anyway."
Talonhawk sighed. "Look, I just wanted to say -"
"Can it. I don't wanna hear it from you, and you're gonna need all your strength to be carryin' yerself and Lizard Man back down to the ground…"
"What happened when he tried to absorb your life essence?"
Caterwaul turned and grinned. "Guess I tasted good, but had a terrible after taste."
With that, he began the journey down the mountain…


Chapter Ten
Spring Break
Sunny San Diego, California.
Coronado Beach. Popular because of the cleanliness. Popular because of the large homes that surround it. Popular because of Hotel Del Coronado, where many stars stay. Popular because it is a beach usually filled with beautiful women and men; all of who are usually quite rich.
"Thought school was never going to end," Stephanie sighed, breathing in the sun's rays. "And I can't believe that Department H even let us out of Canada." She lowered her DRAGON sunglasses and looked at the others. "Don't you think that's strange?"
"No," Mindscan smirked. "See those two people to the left of us."
"The couple?" Talonhawk asked, sitting up.
"Hardly a couple. They're Department H people."
"You're kidding me?" Coldfront sighed.
"'Fraid not," Mindscan sighed. "I noticed them at the San Diego Airport. Didn't think anything of it till I happened to see them at the store. Then saw them here. I did a quick mindscan… sure enough, loaded with Department H memories."
"Why would they do that?" Coldfront asked. "Didn't they think if they got spotted that you would mindscan them?"
"It's Department H's way of lettin' us know we're still on their leash," Caterwaul growled.
"Had to admit it," Mindscan said matter-of-factly. "But he's probably right."
"Figures," Thermal sighed, and put her DRAGON sunglasses back on.
"Hey," Mindscan said, standing up and brushing himself off. "I'm headed up to the store. Anyone need anything or wanna come with?"
"Wouldn't wanna cramp yer style," Caterwaul grinned.
"I could go for a Diet Soak," Coldfront said, shaking her head.
She began digging into her purse.
Mindscan shook his head and grinned. "I got it, don't worry."
She smiled. "Thanks."
"Anyone else need anything?" Mindscan asked.
"Yeah," Thermal finally spoke up. "If you could get out of my sun, Thomas."
Mindscan bit his lip. "Sure thing," and headed for the store just up the street.
"Why don't the rest of you go off and do something," Thermal grinned. "You're all… 'cramping my style.'"
Coldfront jumped to her feet. "You know, Stephanie… it's amazing anyone tolerates you. Is that why your mother sent you away?"
With that Thermal was on her feet. Her hands glowing. "How dare you!"
"This isn't the time or place!" Talonhawk quickly jumped in.
"Stand down Thermal. Now." He looked over and saw the couple staring at them. "I said stand down now."
Thermal twitched and looked away. "This isn't over, Sam'," she hissed through clenched teeth. "Far from over…"
Talonhawk grabbed Coldfront and Caterwaul. "Come on, let's go for a walk on the beach…"
"What got into you back there, Sam?" Talonhawk asked.
"There's only so much of her mouth I can take, Alex," Samantha replied. "Her and her big shot attitude."
Alex Saiz sighed. How he longed to rip off this accursed shirt, and remove the "hollowed" backpack that held his folded wings. "I don't think there's anyone who gets a long with anyone around here," Alex muttered. "I mean we got Sylvester here who can't stand me," Alex said, watching Caterwaul's reaction, which happened to be none. "I can't really get along with our fearless leader. You and Sylvester can't get a long with Thermal. We just all have a lot of angst towards one another."
"Speaking of angst," Caterwaul chuckled. "Surprised you didn't invite Joey to come along with us on Spring Break."
"Well, it seems their film class scored big," Alex shrugged.
"Her, Pacey, Jen and Dawson supposedly all got some kind of television show kind of deal."
"Must be nice," Coldfront sighed. "To lead a normal life…"



Chapter Eleven
Inconvenience At The Convenience Store.
Mindscan opened the cooler door and reached in and grabbed a Diet Soak. He looked at the drink for a moment and shrugged his shoulders. He had briefly wondered how Sam could drink this stuff. And like she needed it. She already had a nice enough figure. He grabbed a Fountain Brew for himself. Ah, he said inwardly. Twice as much caffeine and sugar - and everything else that's bad for you. My style of drink. He took both drinks to the counter.
"Will… that… be… all… sir?"
Mindscan lifted an eyebrow. The man behind the counter sounded like a robot. "Sir, are you all right?" Mindscan asked, reaching into his wallet.
"Of… course… I… am… What… a… beautiful… day… we… are… having… yes?"
Mindscan looked outside. "Yes. It is a beautiful day, isn't it?"
The man behind the counter smiled. He pulled out his money and gave it to the cashier. "Here … is… twelve… dollars… and… twenty-two… cents," the man replied and coldly "plopped" the money into Mindscan's hand.
Normally he would never pry into the mind of an innocent; but he had to. There was something wrong here. He felt himself lift out of his body and reach into the clerk's mind… and there he found… a wall.
"What's this?" he whispered to himself. "I've never seen such a thing…"
He pulled his mind out, and shook his head, and headed out the door.
"Have… a… nice… day… sir… and… visit… us… again…."
"Yeah," Mindscan nodded. "Count on it…"
He arrived at the beach, and found their towels deserted. "Oh no," he sighed. "What happened?" He looked, and the couple that had been the Department H figures were gone as well. "This can't be good. What if someone nabbed them? I am not sure what's going on, but I intend to find out. Shame I don't have Caterwaul's senses…" Just then he caught sight of strawberry blond hair. He heard a knowing laugh. He turned his head and saw Thermal flirting with a muscular man. "Cripes," he muttered to himself and stormed over.
"We've got problems," Mindscan said, when he arrived.
"No," the burly man growled. "You've got problems, punk."
"Stephanie, this is serious…" Mindscan began.
"Do you know this dweeb?" the man snarled.
Mindscan rolled his eyes impatiently.
"Of course not," she said flatly, and shot Mindscan a cold grin.
"Didn't think so," the man muttered. A large fist met with Mindscan's face, sending him flying back. "HAW HAW HAW," the man laughed.
"What a little dweeb."
Mindscan wiped the blood trickling from his lips. He curled his lip in anger and stood up and approached the man.
"Comin' back for more?" the weight lifter laughed.
"Hardly," Mindscan smirked. "Drop."
One word… and the weight lifted did.
"My God!" Stephanie screamed. "Did you kill him?"
"No. I just tapped the part of his mind where sleep comes from, and convinced his body that he was exhausted and should sleep, now come on," he snarled and grabbed her arm, forcing her to come with him.
"What's gotten into you?" Thermal said, jerking her arm free.
"It's not what's gotten into me. It's what's gotten into the people at this store. Where are the others?"
"They went for a walk," she said, shrugging. "Like I care where they went."
"You better start caring. We all better start caring if we hope to make it as a team. We're supposed to act as one; be there for each other; like a family."
"Whatever," Thermal laughed. "We even have a family pet called, Caterwaul."
"That will be enough of that," Mindscan snapped. "Where's the Department H figures?"
"Probably went after the rest of them," she said. "I don't know.
I was tanning."
Mindscan took a deep breath. Right now he needed to be calm. "We need to get the others."
"Just what's going on?" Thermal asked, growing more so irritable.
"I am not sure," Mindscan admitted. "But I plan on finding out." He traveled deep into himself, and felt his mind free itself of its body.
He reached out to the familiar minds he knew. "I can't sense them. They must have gone pretty far by now." He looked at Thermal and grimaced. "It looks like it's you and I, then."
"Sure, whatever, but could you at least fill me in on what's going on around here?" she asked, as they ran back to their room.
"I feel ridiculous," Thermal growled. They were walking into a store, in full "super hero" outfit.
"Sorry," Mindscan shrugged. "But if there's something going on, we have to be ready to act." They entered the store where Mindscan first had come. People shot them looks of amazement; some laughed. The super hero types weren't too common in San Diego, California. Mindscan ignored their remarks, and approached the clerk. It was a different man. "Where's the gentleman who was working here about an hour ago?" Mindscan asked, expecting a robotic reply.
"Oh. Stan? He's in the back," the clerk replied, in a normal voice.
Thermal stared at Mindscan.
He could hear her thoughts loud and clear. 'If I lost a chance to go out with Brian, the body builder, I am going to be so pissed off.'
Mindscan shook out her thoughts. "May we speak with Stan?"
"Sure," the clerk replied. "He's the store owner. Let me get him for ya."
An older gentleman came from the front.
"Stan?" Mindscan asked, extending his hand.
"Thank you, Kyle," Stan said, and waved him to go back to the register where several customers awaited. Turning back to the two strangers, he smiled. "How is it that I can help you?"
"Someone called us… said that… something strange was going on here," Mindscan said, trying as quick as he could to come up with a lie.
"We're here to investigate."
"Are you super hero types?" the man asked, looking them both over; more so looking over Thermal several times, in her tight outfit.
"You guys reforming the West Coast Avengers or something?"
"No," Mindscan smiled. "Nothing like that. We just…" He looked at Thermal and shrugged. "We just happened to be in the neighborhood."
"Just happened to…" Stan smiled. "Anyway, how can I help you?"
"The person that called us, told us that everyone in the store was acting strangely. He said they almost sounded automated."
"Automated?" Stan whispered. He bowed his head down. "Come to the back with me, if you would. I… don't want anyone else to hear this…"
Mindscan looked at Thermal and shrugged.
She was still scowling.

Chapter Twelve
Without Dreams
"Eric is a… " Stan looked the Mindscan and Thermal over. "Special boy."
Mindscan and Thermal looked at one another. "What do you mean?"
"Well, you know… he's…"
"Yes? He's what?"
"He's… one of you."
"He's a … uh… superhero?"
"No. Not exactly."
"Then what?"
"He's a… mutie."
"A mutant?" Mindscan stood up and looked at Thermal. She could feel his thoughts in her mind, 'I told you so.' Mindscan looked at Stan.
"Look, we're here to help him."
"You ain't some of those evil muties are you? Looking to enroll, then corrupt his young mind to do your every whim?"
"No! Whatever gave you that idea?" Thermal screamed.
"Well. I've never really seen super hero types around here… Well, except for the West Coast Avengers, but they were based up in Los Angles.
They didn't really come down to San Diego all that often. And, well, truth be told, you all look like kids yourselves, and I have never seen you before."
"Ever heard of Alpha Flight, sir?" Mindscan asked.
Stan thought about it for a moment. "No. I don't think I have."
Mindscan heaved a heavy sigh. "Look, we want to help him if we can. What exactly is his mutant power?"
"He has the ability to stare into one's eyes, and well - hypnotize them, and make them do as he wills."
Thermal felt Mindscan in her mind again. 'That's sort of like Sauron,' she heard Mindscan's thoughts tell her. "Where would he have gone? What happened?"
"Well, he was in the back stocking some milk, when some crates fell on him. I guess he panicked… and well, if he panics, he doesn't even have to look into someone's eyes apparently… he screamed for help… and next thing, everyone who is in the store - and even people in their cars, all felt compelled to come into the store and go to the cooler and help him… Once all these people did that, he realized he was a mutant… he stared into my eyes, I vaguely recall this mind you, and told me to proceed as if none of this had happened… and if anyone asks, nothing happened, and everything is normal… I guess his effect only last so long, or has a limited range…"
"Where did he go from here, sir?" Mindscan asked.
"Now, see. That I don't recall. Once he stared into my eyes… I don't really remember much… When I snapped out of it… I had Kyle take the front register while I sat in the back trying to figure things out…"
"Interesting," Mindscan mused.
"Look. He's just a frightened kid. Doesn't mean any harm."
"I know. That's why we want to help before something bad happens," Mindscan answered, itching his chin thoughtfully. "Let's try home, first. He may have run home scared. Where does he live?"
"Well, he lives down towards Imperial Beach," the man said. "At 1123 Ilex Ave, from what he tells me."
"We're on our way."

Chapter Thirteen
School's Out.
"I feel so silly riding a taxi in our superhero outfits," Thermal whispered under her breath, angrily.
"We don't have a legal license to be driving around in the United States," Mindscan replied. "We don't even have a car to drive anyway.
We're not even supposed to be doing any kind of heroics! We're on vacation!"
"So why don't we just have the cabbie turn this thing around, and do just that," Thermal growled.
"Because I can't turn my back on this," Mindscan said, flatly.
"Remind me to never take any more vacations with you," Thermal fumed.
"Consider it done," Mindscan replied. "Consider it done…"
"Here we are," the Robbie, the cabdriver smiled. "1123 Ilex."
"Thanks," Mindscan said, handing Robbie the amount due.
"Say," Robbie called out from the cab. "Is there some kinda trouble or you two just a bunch o' weirdos?"
Thermal's hands flared instantly.
Robbie's eyes widened with fear…
If, for just that moment, that taxi raced a Porsche - with how fast Robbie drove it away… the taxi might have won that particular race.
"Why do we put up with that?" Thermal pouted.
"Because we're supposed to be the good guys."
"Sometimes I'd like to forget that…"
"I can tell."
"This is nice," Thermal growled, holding the bars. "There's a gate around the door. We can't even reach the doorbell. I could melt the gate…"
"No," Mindscan grabbed her arm. "I don't think they'd really appreciate that. There's a better way." Mindscan focused, and a stick lifted from the ground, as if some ghost now held it… slowly it levitated across and pushed the door bell.
The door swung open. "Who is there?"
"That'd be us," Mindscan waved from outside the metal gate.
"How did you ring my doorbell? Who are you? Are you the West Coast Avengers?"
"No ma'am," Mindscan sighed. "We're not the West Coast Avengers.
There are no more West Coast Avengers. They disbanded long ago, ma'am."
"Then what do you want?"
"We're here because we need to talk to Eric…" Mindscan replied.
"What do you want with Eric?" the woman said furiously. "He's done no wrong!"
"Uh… we didn't say he has… Listen, we know he's a mutant… maybe we could help him…"
"He is no such thing!"
"Ma'am," Mindscan sighed. "He had an entire city block under his control. If we don't help him… someone else just might do something worse… and I don't want that to happen at all."
The woman hesitated. Frowning, she walked forward and opened the gate with a set of keys. "Come in," she whispered.
"When did you learn he was a mutant?" Mindscan asked.
"Only a few days ago," the woman confessed. "He had gotten a really bad report card and was kicked out of school for a fight with a teacher who had failed him in one of his classes. We told him to go to his room, and in his moment of anger, he told us no, and that we should leave him alone. We knew what we were doing, but could do nothing about it. We did indeed leave him alone. He told us he was going outside, and we did nothing to stop him. I don't think that at the time he realized he was a mutant…"
"Where is he now?"
"I'm afraid he went to the school…"
"Oh my…" were the only words that fell from Thermal's lips as the scene unfolded before her.
The entire schoolyard was in chaos; everyone was fighting, boys, girls, teachers, everyone. It looked like a free for all. "This is madness," Mindscan screamed. The news was there, grabbing footage of it all.
Using his telekinesis, he floated Thermal and himself into the middle of the fray.
"About time you flamin' got here!" came a voice.
Thermal turned. "Caterwaul? What are you doing here?"
"I will explain later! Talonhawk and Coldfront are here too, but it beats me as to where! This is a pretty big scrap!" Fists and feet were flying everywhere.
"Just be careful," Mindscan shouted. "Everyone here is innocent."
"Why do I find that so hard to believe?" Caterwaul screamed as someone hit him. Using his forearm, he pelted the one who struck him. The blow left the boy unconscious.
"I said be careful! They're innocent kids!" Mindscan screamed.
"I was being careful, fearless leader," Caterwaul laughed, as he ducked another swing, and elbowed a teacher in the gut, knocking the wind out of him. "If I wasn't be careful, I'd be using these!" He held up his claws and smiled. "But I'm tellin' ya, my patience is sure wearin' thin!"
At that moment the voice of a boy shouted. "Look! Look at them all! Fighting like madmen! What are you going to do now? Suspend them?
Kick them all out of school! Who will attend your school then! Who!"
"Lemme guess," Caterwaul shouted. "That's our target?"
"That'd be him," Mindscan answered. Everyone around him had the same thing as the clerk at the store had; some kind of wall… or barrier in their minds… the boy was controlling over two hundred people… such raw power… his anger was feeding that power…
Mindscan shouted, "Caterwaul - cover me!" Mindscan slipped into himself and reached out with his mind. 'Talonhawk - get over here. This needs to end now!'
Just then Talonhawk swooped from the sky. "No need to shout, leader man! I'm right here! What do you want me to do?"
"Grab Caterwaul - drop him on that kid…" Caterwaul grinned. "No!
There is to be no serious blood shed," Mindscan quickly amended. "Just take him out. Fast."
Talonhawk swooped down and picked up Caterwaul and took high into the skies. Using the cloud cover, he swooped behind the Eric, and dropped Caterwaul. Caterwaul, without so little effort, approached behind the Eric, who never heard a thing, and pinched a nerve in Eric's neck. Eric collapsed unconscious.
"That was almost too easy," Caterwaul sighed.
The fighting ceased. The entire area was filled with confused people. Only training from Department H kept their own minds free from Eric's influence.
Later that night, at their own hotel room…
They collapsed, and turned on the television.
"Hello. This is Elise Chung, with DBS 11 o'clock news. Today, violence erupted in a high school, when suddenly it seemed chaos reined.
Teachers and students alike all gathered in the school grounds and fought one another! Several people were hospitalized when then event was over.
Eric, whose last name is being withheld, was brought down when the West Coast Avengers arrived and saved the day…"
"Wonderful," Caterwaul sighed. "We don't even get credit for it."
"That may be a good thing," Mindscan smiled. "How did you guys end up there anyway? And where's the Department H folks?"
"Well, we ended up leaving match stick over there," Caterwaul began. "When, like always, she copped her little attitude. We went for a walk on the beach, then just cruised the sidewalks of Coronado, when we saw the news on the television of all these people at a school fighting.
What took you guys so long to get there anyway?"
"We… uh… did some investigative work," Mindscan answered. "Before deciding to tackle the situation." He cleared his throat. "So where's the Department H folks?"
Caterwaul smiled and shrugged. "Last I saw they were still taggin' us when we got into the fray… Who knows where they are now?"
Balboa Hospital, San Diego, California.
"Don't worry," the nurse assured both the man and the woman, lying on the table. "Your noses are broken… who ever punched you did a nice job of banging you up… But we will get it taken care of. Say, your Identification cards said you were from Canada… does that mean you don't have insurance here in the United States?"


Chapter Fourteen
There and Back Again.
In the darkness, he rocked back and forth. He held himself closer to his body. From around his black prison, the voice came again. "Hello, Enrapture. The time has almost come for you to make another stand…"
"I … I don't want to hurt anyone! Leave me alone!"
"Oh, but they want to hurt you…" the voice echoed back. "And soon, Enrapture, you will teach them a lesson once again…"
But that story is for a later time…
"It's nice to be home again," Thermal stretched.
"Yeah," Caterwaul growled. "Under the leash of Department H again."
"You have a serious problem with Department H don't you?" Coldfront asked.
"Can't blame him there," Talonhawk cut in. "I would give this all up in a heartbeat."
"Why don't you?" Mindscan stopped to ask.
Talonhawk's smile faded. He shook his head and turned away. "Uh, I don't know. Listen, I will catch you all later, huh? I'm beat."
"Sure," Coldfront said, looking at the others, noting Talonhawk's unusual tone.
"What's up with the bird all of the sudden?" Caterwaul asked.
"I'm not sure," Mindscan whispered. "But I'm not sure I like it."
He flew in the heavens, where he felt free.
Nothing here could touch him. Nothing here could bring him down… except for himself. Up here, he was like an angel, whose wings beat against the white wisps of clouds around him. The air rushed against his face, and he was more alive than he had ever been. Here, he could be alone with his thoughts… as dark as they were at times.
It was here that he realized how he longed to depart from Next Flight more so now than ever… especially after their vacation. He didn't want to risk his life for anyone anymore; he was a teenager and wanted to enjoy his own life.
They're names are Samantha Doe and Adam Peters, better known as Coldfront and Caterwaul. Today they're going for a walk, and just enjoying the day. The sun is beating softly down from the skies. People seem to be in the best of moods all around. Except for one… and that is whom they were speaking of.
"So what do you think is up with Alex?" Coldfront asked, as they walked.
Caterwaul shrugged. "Dunno. Can't figure the bird out. But his tone definitely did change. Almost as if he were -" Caterwaul paused.
"Hold up, Sam."
"What's wrong?" Coldfront asked.
"Trouble," Caterwaul replied with a grin. Grabbing her hand, they ran a few stores up and in…
"Are you mad?" the man was screaming. "Didn't you think to use your brain? You're fired! All of you!"
Caterwaul quickly looked around the jewelry store. For the most part, the cases were all empty. "Excuse me, sir," Caterwaul began.
The man spun on his heels. "I don't have time for you! Can't you see I've been robbed! Get out of my store!"
They rushed out and waited for the clerk who had been fired. When he stepped out of the door, Caterwaul put his hand on his shoulder.
"Hey," he said. "What happened in there?"
"We were robbed," Kenny replied. "I guess."
"You guess? What do you mean, you guess?" Coldfront asked.
"Well, you see… Dave, he's the owner of the store, came in earlier today. Told me he had to pack most of the jewelry to take to some kind of convention. I believed him. Why wouldn't I? He's the owner. So I let him. He only left a few pieces of jewelry behind in the store. I thought that was kind of strange, but I didn't question him. So then he walks in just now asking about the jewelry, and I tell him that he had come in earlier saying he had to take them to a convention. He flipped out. He says he did no such thing. But I swear he did."
"Interesting," Coldfront shrugged, not sure what else to say.
"All right," Caterwaul said. "So what's he doing now?"
"Calling the police," Kenny answered. "He says he's going to have me arrested."
Caterwaul smiled. "Don't count on it…"
"Today in the news… Apparently Saph Fire, the jewelry store in the Arlington Mall was robbed today. And once again, much like the stores previously, it was apparently 'robbed' by the owner. Police are baffled as they viewed the videotapes showing the own come in, and taking the
jewelry away. Police are baffled, but are conducting an investigation into this matter now. More at 11. And now a word from our sponsors…"
Click.
"See," Caterwaul was explaining to his other teammates, as he threw down the remote control. "Something weird is going on. This is like the third store this has happened to. I think it's time we hit the streets and find out what's going on."
Mindscan looked around. "Sounds like we'd be the ones for this.
Alpha Flight wouldn't tackle something so mediocre."
Caterwaul grinned. "Now it's time for action."


Chapter Fifteen
A Thief In The Night.

"Yeah," the boy said, looking at the two before him. "I heard someone's selling some jewelry and stuff on the streets. Why?" Again he looked at the two standing before him. "The two of you look too young to be cops. What's the deal?"
"We're not cops," Caterwaul replied. "We're just interested in making a purchase. You see my lady here; she wants some new jewelry. Do ya know where I can get a hold of this seller?"
The boy smiled. "Sure. I know where he is. But…" He extended his palm.
"Lemme guess," Coldfront snarled. "It's gonna cost us."
"Ah, you know it babe. I got me a woman too. She likes jewelry too, ya know?"
"Yeah, whatever," Caterwaul smirked. He handed the boy fifty dollars. "That gonna cover it for ya?"
The boy smiled. "Sure will. Come with me…"
From the skies, only Talonhawk was in costume. He watched from the heavens, to see if he could spot anyone with his eagle like vision.
So far, he had no such luck. Until he spotted a kid leading Caterwaul and Coldfront. He spoke into his mouthpiece. "Mindscan… Thermal… I think we got a lead. I spot a kid leading Caterwaul and Coldfront. They're going down Maple Leaf Road…"
The headset crackled a confirmation. "We're on our way."
The boy led them into a factory, where there was a van parked.
"He's over there. Just knock on the back of the van. You'll see."
Caterwaul smiled at the kid. "Thanks, kid. And if this is any kind of set up, trust me. I will find you. You won't like what I'll do to you."
Coldfront pulled Caterwaul's arm. "Stop it. Come on." She started concentrating when she felt a buzzing in the back of her mind. She knew it was Mindscan, letting her know they were just outside. 'We've got a visual on his van,' Coldfront spoke to Mindscan, who shared the telepathic link with everyone else. 'Be ready.'
They knocked on the back of the van, and the door slid open. A black man looked down at the two standing there. "Is there something I can do for ya'all?"
"I wanna buy some nice jewelry. Kid tells me you're the main man around here for that kinda thing," Caterwaul replied. "Got anything that will look good on my woman here?"
The black man looked the woman up and down. "Well, I gots all kinds of things. She's beautiful enough, I almost dare say there's nothing to compare to her beauty."
As Caterwaul and the black man bartered back and forth, Coldfront continued the link. 'We have a black male. About five feet, six inches.
Medium frame.'
'Got it,' came back the mental confirmation.
The man pulled back a cloth. "See here?"
"Yeah," Caterwaul grinned. It had matched the jewelry that had been stolen earlier in the week from Saph Fire Jewelry. Caterwaul smiled.
"That's good," he mused. He then ripped off his shirt, where his costume was underneath. "I wouldn't run if I were you. Where ever you go, I can track you. You're under arrest."
The man looked back and forth between the two. The woman, he watched, in absolute horror as her body coated over with thick ice.
"You've got to be kidding me," he said to himself. Flipping over the back seat and out the driver's door, the man made a run for it.
'He's making a break for it!' Coldfront shouted mentally. 'North exit.'
Caterwaul leaped on the truck and took off after the man. He had a good head start, and fear was pumping his heart… but that wouldn't save him from Caterwaul. Quickly running up some stairs, and into a room, just barely dodging a freezing blast from Coldfront, he made it out into the emergency stairwell outside.
Talonhawk saw something on the north side of the building. A man waving his hands frantically. Talonhawk dove down and saw it was a homeless man. "Help me!" the homeless man screamed. "There's some kinda super hero battle in there! All I want is a place to sleep! That's all!
Get me outta here, sir! I beg you!"
Talonhawk grimaced and picked up the homeless man and dropped him off several blocks away, and returned as quickly as possible…
Only to find Caterwaul where he had picked up the homeless man.
Talonhawk landed. "Well, where is he?"
"His scent dies right here."
"What do you mean?"
"I can't pick up his scent. It's as if he never existed. Did you see anything?"
"No. No. I mean, there was a white, homeless man… rather dirty and robust. But nothing matching your description."
"Strange," Caterwaul growled. "Strange."


Chapter Sixteen
When Fire And Ice Collide.
"Well if Bird Wonder here didn't take off!" Caterwaul screamed.
"What? Me? Look! I was gone for a few seconds!" Talonhawk retorted.
"And that's all it took, fly boy!" Caterwaul snapped back.
"I've just about had enough of your punk little mouth, Adam!" Talonhawk shouted, getting in Caterwaul's face.
Caterwaul's hands moved like lightning around Talonhawk's body.
"Go ahead, fly boy. Hit me or fly away. Either way I clip your feathers, and you never fly again."
Talonhawk's eyes widened. "You dirty son of a -"
"That'll be enough!" Mindscan finally screamed.
A moment of silence descended upon them. "I can finally hear myself think. Look, we're obviously dealing with someone who knows what they're doing. What's important is the fact we were able to recover most of the jewelry that's been stolen over the last few weeks." He paused.
"Our thief is going to make a mistake eventually. And when he does, we'll get him then."
"But we had him!" Caterwaul screamed suddenly. "He was ours!"
"I said enough!" It had been Mindscan screaming again, also emphasized with a mental whiplash saying as much.
"Wanna explain to me how a common thief could eludes your heightened senses, Caterwaul?" Thermal asked, as they filed out of the room.
Her smile was coy. It was not a serious question; but a rhetorical one; to show that Caterwaul wasn't all that he was cracked up to be.
"Wanna explain how you've escaped my talons ripping you open so far, Thermal?" Caterwaul retorted. Thermal only shot back a snug smirk.
"I swear I am gonna rip that girl's heart out of her chest… if she has one."
"I've had it with that psycho!" Talonhawk was screaming.
"Calm down," Mindscan tried to say, keeping a soothing voice.
"Don't let him get under your skin like that."
"Try - Calm -" Talonhawk wanted to say so much, but all his sentences were colliding with one another. "Look, I don't mind telling you, fearless leader, I have seriously thought of quitting this hero business."
"I know," Mindscan said softly. "You've dropped a lot of hints.
Any reasons why?"
"I can't think of any reasons to stay," Talonhawk sighed. "That's the problem."
"Think of all the good you will be doing," Mindscan said, smiling. "You'll help keep Canada a better place."
"I'm almost twenty," Talonhawk replied. "I'm too young to be flying around trying to save Canada from a horde of nasty villains. I want to live my life. Maybe I'd come back, maybe I wouldn't. I don't know. It just feels like I am missing so much."
"You must do what you feel is right," Mindscan said, quoting one of his favorite movies, and trying to lighten the mood. "Look. I can't keep you here. I mean, I suppose I could use my telepathic powers and tell you to stay, but that's not what I'm about. If you feel like you can't stay, then you have to go. For the love of God; our lives are short enough as civilians; let alone heroes. I wouldn't wish an unhappy ending to anyone's life." He turned and looked at Talonhawk. "You're much like the birds. You can't be caged for long, without yearning to spread your wings. I've seen that look of sheer thrill and enjoyment when you're flying. When you're free." Mindscan closed his eyes. "So why do you stay then?"
Talonhawk opened his mouth to say something; then his brows came together angrily. He sighed deeply. "I suppose I just like you guys too much to leave… and you'd never make it without me…"
His tone was completely unnatural. Every word that just spilled out of Talonhawk's mouth was a complete lie. I could probe his mind and find out what's really wrong with him, Mindscan thought. Then he quickly shook his head and turned away. What am I thinking? That's like peeking into someone's diary without his or her knowledge. Mindscan smiled.
"Well, I'd miss you if you ever left…"
Talonhawk offered a smile feigned from the depths of his heart.
"Yeah, well," he said as he walked away. "Looks like you're stuck with me for awhile…"
Mindscan watched as Talonhawk left… now only empty shadows waited for him here in the room, with the single thought that now dominated Mindscan's own mind…
What is your dark secret, Talonhawk?


Chapter Seventeen
Cameos and Roles.
The thunder seemed to crack in the distance…
Or perhaps it was one child's last hope shattering in the heavens.
None the less, as soon as he heard the words, "I'm sorry son, there was nothing we could do…" He knew it was over.
Nothing could be done from here on out.
And it was entirely all his fault.
The doctor laid his hand on his shoulder. "Is there family?"
"I'm all she had, doc. I'm all she had…"
"So what does one get a telepath?" Caterwaul shrugged as they walked through the toy store.
"What do you mean?" Coldfront asked.
"I mean, he's a telepath…" Caterwaul smiled. "He could read our minds and already know what we're getting him for his birthday."
"How about these?" Coldfront smiled, holding up a package.
Caterwaul looked. He laughed.
It had been the Snowbird and Puck Side Kick Figures recently released. Caterwaul looked. "Is there two packages of them?"
Coldfront looked down. "Yes, why?"
"Could you grab them for me?" Caterwaul chuckled. "I know exactly what I am gonna do with them. As a joke of course."
"Oh no," Coldfront laughed. "Who are you buying them for?"
"S&S," Caterwaul smiled. "Who else?"
"Twenty one," Mindscan told himself. "And what have I done?"
He was reflecting back on his life… the things he's done… the things he wish he had done. He found there were many more things he had wished he'd done; but now it was too late. He paced back and forth in his room, pondering what Talonhawk had said. About living his life before it was too late. He was so passionate about wanting to leave Next Flight and live his life… yet he remained.
Mindscan was not having any second thoughts about leaving… but his mind kept drifting back to why Talonhawk just didn't leave…
"Penny for your thoughts, birthday boy?" came a soft voice.
Mindscan turned around. "What? Oh, Stephanie. I didn't hear you walk up."
"You were too deep in those precious little thoughts," Thermal smiled, as she posed in the doorframe. "So, what are your big plans for the night? Go out with Caterwaul, get hopelessly drunk, hit the nudie bars?"
"Uh," Mindscan smirked. "No."
Thermal smiled. "Oh, so you want to stay home and play with a real woman, do you?" She started walking slowly towards him.
"No," Mindscan whispered.
If she heard him she didn't stop. Their lips met in a passionate kiss that was nearly as hot as her own powers. Slowly, softly she broke away. "You know where to find me, lover boy," she winked.
She turned and screamed a startled cry. "What the?"
Caterwaul was smirking. "Man. Nice kiss."
Thermal rubbed against Caterwaul. "Were you wanting one, psycho boy?"
Caterwaul chuckled, gently shoved her away and smirked. "No thanks, I have morals and standards." He paused. "Maybe you'll find out what that is, eh?"
She didn't say a word. She only stared him in the eyes, in which he winked at her. Furious she stormed off. Turning back to Mindscan, who was blushing, Caterwaul smiled. "Well, I never knew you had it in you, boss man."
"She came onto me," Mindscan protested.
"Well, I was gonna ask if you wanted to get hopelessly drunk then hit the nudie bars," Caterwaul chuckled.
Mindscan looked at Caterwaul shocked.
"I'm kidding. I heard big mouth say that," Caterwaul laughed.
"Look, if you don't have any plans, Sam invited you, myself and Alex - if anyone can find him - over to her mother's restaurant. Heard they cook a mean steak, and serve some nice brews."
Mindscan threw his arm around Caterwaul. "Of all the ideas, that sounds just about the best one I've heard so far. Come on…"
Behind them the news was on… "… and this is Elise Chung with DBS afternoon news. There was another robbery this afternoon. We have exclusive footage of the robbery that took place only fifteen minutes ago… The robber was surprised when he stepped out of the store and encountered Talonhawk from Canada's newest team, Next Flight, who happen to be in the area. The criminal apparently escaped, but here we have an exclusive interview with Talonhawk of Next Flight… Can we see that footage now, Hal? Thanks…"
"That was a great dinner," Mindscan smiled, patting his stomach.
"Remind me to thank your mother. She cooked it exactly to my liking… you'd think that she was a telepath also! It's a shame Alex never made it…"
Samantha, also known as Sam, or more commonly known as Coldfront smiled. "She's a great cook. And a great mother."
"Whoa!" came a started scream from Caterwaul. "Hey! Come check this out!"
Mindscan and Coldfront quickly gathered around the television.
"This is Elise Chung with DBS 11 o'clock news…"
"Does the woman ever rest?" Caterwaul complained.
"… and we're following up with that special story from this afternoon, where the robber, who has somehow fooled employees into believing that he … she … is the owner of the store, was surprised to see Talonhawk. Talonhawk, who is a member of Canada's Next Flight, a sub division of Alpha Flight, engaged into combat with this common thief, chasing him down a dark alley… Talonhawk emerged later, stunned a bit - apparently the thief managed to get the drop on Talonhawk, and dealt him a blow to the back of the head… Talonhawk was taken to the hospital, where he was shortly released with no serious head wounds - only stitches in the back of the head."
"Well, looks like fly boy was out pondering, and got stuck playing hero on his own and got clocked in the head," Caterwaul smirked.
"But it's the same guy… same Motive. How does a normal thief keep giving us the slip?"
"I'm not sure," Mindscan shrugged. Quickly, they gathered their things and headed back for Department H…



Chapter Eighteen
Rite of Passage.
"Saw the news," Mindscan said softly. "You all right?"
Talonhawk looked around. He seemed to be straining for the right words. "Yeah," he finally said, nodding. "Just took me by surprise."
"What happened?" asked Caterwaul, leaning against the wall, no apparent concern for Talonhawk upon his stone, cold features. "How'd the thief get away?"
Talonhawk seemed to pause. Thinking. "Well, I was chasing him in an alleyway, when he leapt down at me… striking me in the back of the head with some kind of club. I tried to get back up and go after him… but I was, uh, too disoriented."
"Too disoriented," Caterwaul sighed, and left the room.
"He doesn't like me, does he," Talonhawk asked.
Mindscan caught himself. It seemed that Talonhawk was asking that question, as if it were new knowledge to him, rather than stating the obvious. The head wound was probably slightly more severe than he cared to show.
"Maybe you should take a break," Mindscan said, sitting at Talonhawk's bedside. "Look, I know you've been thinking about leaving… your mind's been preoccupied with some thoughts apparently… and tonight it almost cost you your life. If that robber had meant to kill you, you wouldn't be here with twelve stitches in the back of your head."
Talonhawk grabbed Mindscan's arm. "No! No! I don't want any kind of vacation!" His voice almost seemed panicked. His brows came together, his tone changing to a darker sound. "And I know all about death, all right? I know I'm not invincible. I know my limits. I know about seeing people buried. I know I could be one of them." He took a deep breath, and looked at Mindscan. "Look, I'm sorry. It's been a long day…"
Mindscan looked at Talonhawk and nodded. "Yeah, all right. Hey, I will leave you to get some rest."
"Hey Thom," Talonhawk called out. "Look, I'm sorry. I didn't mean to blow up there…"
Mindscan smiled. "Don't worry about it. It's quite a shake up. I think you're just realizing the danger you were in…"
"And Mindscan," Talonhawk called out, just before the door shut. "Happy Birthday, Thom."
Mindscan smiled into the room, and smiled. "Thanks…" He turned off the lights, and left Talonhawk to his own thoughts in the darkness…
"Is it safe," a voice slowly drifted through the shadows.
"Yes," Talonhawk whispered.
"I was worried about you, my little winged angel," the female voice said.
"I'm… all right… just a little shaken."
"Want a kiss to make you feel better?"
"Even if I was feeling better, I'd want that kiss, ice queen," he laughed back.
He held Coldfront close…
Outside the door, a low growl could barely be heard, as eyes peered with anger into the dark room… seeing all as clear as day…
Coldfront moved with silence. She flinched when the floorboard below her foot creaked. Slowly, she opened her door and slid into her room. She heaved a heavy sigh of relief, and began to undress.
"Long night, Sam?" came a gruff voice from the darkness.
Coldfront muffled a startled cry. "Who's in here?" Quickly, she hit the light, holding her half off shirt to her chest. Perched on her bed, like a gargoyle over looking the dark city was none other than Caterwaul.
"You got Alex's scent all over ya," Caterwaul mused. "Pay him a visit did ya?"
"Do you mind?" she hissed, indicating her half-removed shirt.
"Sorry," Caterwaul smirked, and turned away. She placed her shirt on fully, and he turned to face her again.
"What are you doing here?" she wanted to scream through clenched teeth.
In a mocking tone, as he leapt from the bed with the grace of a cat, he turned to her and snarled with a curled lip, "I was worried about you, my little ice queen…"
Immediately she knew what he was referring to, and her hands froze with frost ready to be expelled from her hands. "I can't believe you!"
Caterwaul turned towards her. "Funny, I was going to say the same…"
"Check out the new song I am working on for my band," Caterwaul said, as he leaned back coolly against the kitchen counter. "It's called 'Fallen Angel.'" He took this time to look at Talonhawk who was sipping at some coffee. "Wings spread across the skies… The world below to see… Those cursed down below look up and despise… The one thing they can never be… Rip your wings… Strip away the halo… And everything… You ever held will finally let go… Fallen Angel… Come see how far you fell… Fallen Angel… Welcome to He -"
"That's enough of that," Mindscan said, walking into the room.
Caterwaul grinned, and folded the paper. "How's it going, boss man? Look, my band's having practice tomorrow night. We're going to play a show at Club Collavo. You're more than welcome to come. I'd invite our little fly boy here," Caterwaul smiled at Talonhawk. "But, he's not yet old enough. Shame, really. Would have like for him to come see the song live. Guess I'll go get some practice in. See you guys later."
Mindscan sat at the table. "Don't mind him."
"He talks about me, like I'm not here," Talonhawk sighed. Just then Coldfront entered, her hair still a mess. "And I'm not even sure what I did to make him hate me so much."
"Who?" Coldfront asked, yawning.
"Caterwaul," Talonhawk answered, dismayed.
Coldfront froze. She frowned. "Did he say something to you? To any of you?"
"No," Mindscan said, turning. "Why? What's the matter?"
Coldfront stopped, cleared her throat. "Nothing. I've just noted his unusual behavior lately." She cleared her throat again. "He seems to be getting worse."
That's funny, Mindscan thought inwardly. I was thinking he was getting better. Until today, that is. I wonder what could have happened to bring about such a change in him…? His thoughts continued down that road…
Lord, he thought to himself. Am I the only sane one here?



Chapter Nineteen
Cry Wolf.
"So," Mindscan winced at the sight of the cigarette that Caterwaul pulled out. "Is there a reason you drink in the states and not in our own Canadian borders?"
Caterwaul puffed at the cigarette. "Just because I know fly boy can't be with me."
Mindscan waved away the puff of smoke. "I seriously doubt that would be a problem with the two of you… And aren't you afraid of lung cancer?" Mindscan added as an afterthought, staring at the cigarette.
"Two things," Caterwaul replied. "First of all, I've got a healing factor. Don't think I can even get lung cancer, even if I spent the rest of my days sucking on a tail pipe of a diesel truck." Throwing the cigarette down, and crushing it under his heel, he smiled.
"What's the second thing?" Mindscan asked.
"I ain't your model hero," Caterwaul smirked.
"I noticed," Mindscan grumbled under his breath, but he might as well have shouted it in Caterwaul's ear, because he heard every word with perfect clarification. "But you didn't even finish the cigarette. You took one puff. Why'd you do that?"
Caterwaul smiled. "Because I can."
Mindscan shook his head. "So you take advantage of the fact that we work with Department H and let them foot the bill to your trips to the United States to drink?"
"Sure," Caterwaul replied. "Besides, see those two behind us?" Not waiting for an answer, he continued. "They're Department H people.
Been following us since we left Department H. It's nice. Not only do they foot the bill, they're kind enough to give me an escort that I pretend not to notice."
"But why do all this?"
"I put my life on the line everyday for Department H… the least they can do is foot some excitement, and besides," Caterwaul smirked, turning back towards Mindscan. "It's a simple saying…"
"What's that?"
"Because I can."
Mindscan rolled his eyes. Had he expected anything less? Anything more? "So," he said clearing his throat. "It seems a few people are concerned about you."
"I'm touched," Caterwaul snapped back sarcastically, as they walked.
"That's not what I mean," Mindscan said. "I mean they're worried that you're losing control of yourself. As team leader, I have looked over everyone's file. The only one that worries me is yours."
Caterwaul smirked. "As well as it should."
"Come on, work with me," Mindscan snapped. "Give me a reason to trust you. Tell me something so I can go back to the others and tell them that everything's all right. Tell me something. Anything! I mean, there's no previous record of you at all. Department H found you in the states.
No background. No family records. Fingerprints don't match any.
Apparently they brought you to Professor Xavier, who runs with the X-Men, and not even he could see inside your mind. * You're a mystery through and through. We don't even know if we have your real name or some pseudo-name that you gave us. Just tell me something to ease my fears…"
"Wish I could," Caterwaul replied.
"Why can't you? You some kind of super top agent?" Mindscan screamed.
"No," Caterwaul replied.
"Then what? Tell me!"
"Truth is, I don't even know the answers myself…"
"What?" Mindscan whispered, taken aback by Caterwaul's sudden calmness.
Caterwaul shook his head, and started walking again. "Like I said, truth is, I don't even know… That's why I went to Professor Xavier… There's pieces inside my head, like a puzzle… but I can't put them together, because I don't have a picture to look at, to know what it should look like… and that's why I keep coming to the United States… not only to drink - but this is where Department H found me… I keep hoping someone will recognize me… tell me who or what I am… or that I will recognize something, so I can at least start assembling the puzzle pieces in my mind…" He paused. "Satisfied?"
Mindscan was silent.



Chapter Twenty
End of the Line.
Another place… possibly another time…
Her tone was dark. "In our own history, she was rescued while the others remained trapped here. This time the reverse may occur. For all we know the entire process may repeat itself yet again. In this dark place, where the rules of time… and space itself… do not apply… anything can happen… anything…"
A little girl frightened beyond all measure laid in a bed, perfectly still. She listened with all her heart, though she was not the one being spoken to… however, she was the one they were speaking of. They knew she was there. She was under their care. But that did very little to ease her fears. She had seen too many things. She saw her brother slain, and faced the devil himself, she believed…
Earth. Today.
"So it doesn't bother anyone that these robberies just suddenly ceased?" Caterwaul growled, pacing back and forth.
"Maybe when we almost caught him the first time, it scared him...
Then the time that Talonhawk happened to be in the area and pursued him was finally enough to tell him that a life of crime just isn't worth it when you got super powered people chasing you down alleyways," Thermal laughed.
"Personally, that's what I think happened," Talonhawk agreed.
"There's got to be more to this," Caterwaul continued to argue.
"Why?" Thermal chuckled. "Because you refuse to believe that an ordinary man can escape your little heightened senses?"
"Keep pushing me, darlin'," Caterwaul growled. "Keep pushing me, and see where it gets you."
Mindscan cleared his throat, indicating that things were going too far. He calmly asked, "So what are you saying? That our robber is a mutant of some kind?"
"Possibly," Caterwaul muttered. "A shape shifter. After all, our man - or woman - made a break for it when we almost had them. Talonhawk didn't see anyone with his eye sight, except for a bum who looked nothing like our man."
"So are you saying the robber changed forms? Assumed the form of a homeless man to escape us?" Mindscan asked, leaning forward.
"Give me a break!" Thermal protested. "Why would a mutant go running around robbing stores? Wouldn't they rather take over governments? Or even the world? I mean, if I had that kind of power, I'd take form of some world power leader, kill him, take his place and claim the world as mine. I most certainly wouldn't spend my time on trivial things like robbing stores…"
"I have to agree with Thermal," Talonhawk nodded.
"Too much makes sense, and not enough sense," Mindscan sighed.
"Somehow our robber was imitating different store owners, and convincing employees that he or she needs to take the money or jewels to the bank - then the real boss shows up, furious. But as Thermal said, robbery of small stores and banks doesn't seem to be the typical motive for your classic villain. Besides, wouldn't you be able to still track the person, even if they change their forms?"
"That's the only part I haven't been able to figure out," Caterwaul admitted. "Even if someone shape changes, their scents shouldn't change. But somehow our robber just vanished."
"A teleporter?" Coldfront spoke for the first time during the discussion. Now Mindscan noticed how silent she had been and how tense Talonhawk had been. An incredible tension was lingering in the air, and he was extremely tempted to poke into their minds and find out just what was going on…
Mindscan shook his head and cleared his own troubling thoughts, and opened the discussion up to the possibility that it had been a teleporter of some kind.
"Not likely," Caterwaul cut in, staring at Coldfront, as if she dared speak in his presence. "If it was a teleporter, he wouldn't have worried about attacking Talonhawk in the alleyway this last time. He would have just ducked into the alleyway and teleported away to safety." Mindscan noticed how Caterwaul seemed to enjoy the idea of shredding Coldfront's suggestion.
Mindscan sighed. Things were not going well… no one had to say a word… the tension said it all…
Mindscan didn't feel comfortable with Caterwaul. Didn't always agree with him. Hardly agreed with him, for that matter. But if there was one thing that Mindscan was quickly learning was trusting Caterwaul's instincts. If Caterwaul felt this robber was a mutant of some sort, perhaps Department H might have some kind of file on him or her. It was definitely worth a shot.
He began scanning from as far back as he had access to. And it started with the man who started it all; the man who called himself, Vindicator. The file went on to explain how Vindicator had tried recapture the X-Men now known as Wolverine, and bring him back to the Canadian government. The mission had failed terribly, according to the notes given by Department H. Then it spoke of those of the original Alpha Flight team, Mac Hudson, also known as Vindicator, had acquired. Michael Twoyoungmen - Shaman. Nayra - Snowbird. Walter Langkowski - Sasquatch.
Jeanne-Marie - Aurora. Jean-Paul - Northstar. Once again, sent forth to recapture Wolverine. In an epic battle with the X-Men, Wolverine finally surrendered to Alpha Flight. Somehow he had escaped yet again.
The notes went on to say Alpha Flight was disbanded at that time, to later be reformed by Mac's wife, Heather, to fight The Great Beast.
The new Alpha Flight included all it's original members, plus two new additions of: Eugene Milton Judd - also known as Puck, and one only known as Marina. The Great Beast was defeated. Later, Marina had undergone some sort of transformation, mutating her body. With the help of Sub-Mariner and the Invisible Woman (who was apparently from the Fantastic Four), she was saved.
Mindscan took a deep breath. He wasn't even sure what he was looking for at this point. There was so much information here.
He spent many nights looking through the files to learn about many things, he had not previously known… and some of the mysteries that remained open. He had never known that Beta Flight reformed after Vindicator's original Beta Flight; and consisted of several members his own age.
He wondered briefly where these people were now…*
One thing that struck his interest was the one called Witchfire.
Someone had apparently possessed her… but the truth had never been revealed. According to the notes, she had made several references about "The Dark Ones."
He briefly consider the idea that the robber possessed magical abilities… he laid his head down, for it was pounding with information that his mind could no longer absorb… and he lapsed into a deep sleep…



Chapter Twenty-one
The Wakening."
"I don't know what I did to you," Talonhawk began. "But if I could, I would take it all back."
Caterwaul spun around and extended his flaws from his fingertips.
"Some things can't be taken back. The shot's been fired. The enemy had been wounded. War is on the horizon. The best you can do now is defend yourself from any retaliations."
"It doesn't have to be this way," Talonhawk reached out.
Caterwaul batted his hand away. "Next time you try that, you're going to have a doctor sewing it back on."
Talonhawk gripped his arm and stared at Caterwaul as he walked down the hallway… Knowing better than to pursue this further…
His name is Jeremy, and he is standing at the foot of his mother's grave. Gently he placed a flower down upon the grave, tears swelling in his eyes. "I know you can see me, Mom… I know you've seen the things I've done… You know all my secrets… I know the pain you always felt is over… but I miss you… I want to hold you one more time and tell you I love you… and that I have always loved you…"
He walked away, not turning back.
He's trying to make amends for the things he's done.
He wants to make his mother proud. Something he believes wholeheartedly that he has never done before.
His name is Jeremy, and he's never felt more alone… than he does now.
"I ask only because I am concerned," Mindscan said, turning to face Coldfront.
"I'm fine," she replied back.
"I can't help but notice tension around you… Ever since the time in the kitchen when Caterwaul was reading those lyrics about a Fallen Angel…" Mindscan went on to say, as if Coldfront had not spoken a word.
"I said, I'm fine."
Mindscan stopped pacing and looked at her. "I'm a telepath. I could tell in one second if you're lying or not. But I don't like to use my telepathy… But I can't count how many times I've been tempted in the last few weeks. Our team is in chaos. Why do we need villains if we can fight so well amongst each other?"
She stepped back. "You wouldn't…"
"Not on my own will no," Mindscan said. "But I'm growing increasingly more concerned about us. If we can't operate as a team - when the time comes, and one of us messes up because of feelings towards another - and it cost one of members their lives… I can't imagine…"
Coldfront was silent. She turned away. "Are you through?"
"If this keeps up," Mindscan whispered as he walked out the door.
"We're all through, not just me."
She stood in front of the trailer home and heard the television.
Her hand reached for the door. Over and over in her mind, she tried to find the right words to say. She realized it was something she couldn't rehearse. Whatever was going to happen right now would surly be anything but easy.
She opened the door slowly and saw her mother.
"Mom," she whispered.
The older woman turned. Her eyes immediately flashed with anger.
The woman was no older than 45 at the most but all her features seemed so aged. She looked more like she was in her 60's.
"What are you doing here? I sent you away!"
Her name is Stephanie Golden. She is better known as Thermal.
Right now she's facing something she has feared all her life. This moment.
"Mom, I want to make amends," Thermal began.
"Get out of my house! Get out!" her mother screamed.
"Mom, please…" she reached out.
In retaliation, her mother threw a vase. It struck near Thermal, exploding in ceramic shards. It wasn't a warning shot. She had every intention to have the vase shatter across her skull.
It wasn't enough to scare her away. She's been running scared too long. She wanted to fix things now.
Her mother picked up another vase. Thermal held out her hand, and it glowed a soft orange. The mother screamed, and dropped the hot vase.
"You witch!" the mother screamed. "Get out!"
"No mom," Thermal said firmly. "Not until you know the truth."
"Shut up! Don't try to lie!" the mother was screaming so loud.
"Mother!" Thermal screamed. "You can not say it's a lie! You know! And you did nothing!" Her mother continued screaming protests, but now those voices were drowned away as Thermal began to unleash memories, buried deep within her mind. "He beat me, mother! He touched me when I was so young! He took everything away from me! Everything! He left me an empty carcass that knew only hate, and 'love' so tainted and black!"
"He did no such thing! Stop! Stop!"
"No, mother, I will not stop," Thermal shouted back. "Because you never stopped him! You did nothing! I hated him for what he did to me!
But I never meant what had happened!"
The memories were flooding them both.
She was thirteen. Her father had dragged her into the garage after severely beating her, when she dropped her glass of milk in the kitchen. Now he was going to do what he had always done. Make it up to her; tell her he was sorry; and love her the way no father should love their daughter.
She was so weak. She was crying. The mother looked on, wanting to stop it; but as she had always done, she did no such thing. She reached out for her mother to stop this; but she only turned away.
Anger exploded inside of her. A canister of gasoline ignited… and shortly after exploded. Flames danced, and caught her father on fire. No matter how much he rolled on the floor, the flames always seemed to attack him. Jumped from distances to ignite him time and time again… relentlessly.
Little did she know at the time, it had been her own doing. Her anger ignited the spark. Her anger controlled the flames that burned her father.
He was dead long before the ambulance ever arrived.
That night, Thunder City was the birth of a new mutant.
After the funeral, her own mother seemed to age. All those years holding back and doing nothing to save her own daughter suddenly seemed to have caught up with her in one moment. Her mother cast her out of the house when she was sixteen years old. The girl known as Stephanie Golden had to learn quickly how to survive on the streets. How she did it, no one knows. No one asks. No one pries. Until Department H found her and took her in, promising her a better life… and control over her powers.
Her mother now fell to her knees, shaking her head… Barely above a whisper, she repeated consecutively, the one word she always wanted to shout. "No."
Thermal kneeled down by her mother. "It's okay… it's over now…"
Forgiving had always come easy.
Forgetting however...
She will probably never forget.


Chapter Twenty-two
Three of a Kind.
"Everybody down," he laughed.
Upon his command everyone fell to the ground, like puppets whom had their strings snipped. He laughed uncontrollably.
"This is gonna be to too easy, eh?" another laughed. With a wave of his hand, the earth below everyone's feet responded as if it were watery waves.
"We got to be careful, mates," the third and finally one said.
"Ye gotta be on guard. The others know nothin' of what we be doin'!"
"You worry too much," the first one laugh.
"No," came a voice. "I'd say you've got every reason to be worried."
The first turned. He is better known as Compact, a member of Rogue Force. "Aww, cripes, it's that freak."
Extending his talons, Caterwaul smiled. "I'm touched you remember me."
Tremor didn't hesitate. With a wave of his hands, the earth replied in kind. As if made of water, large waves of solid stone crashed towards Caterwaul. Leaping out of the way with incredible ease, Caterwaul growled. "That trick worked once. Caught me off guard. Not this time. Not again."
"Wait till I get me hands on ye, matey!" Wipeout shouted. "I'll cancel yer little healin' factor that I found out ye have, and then we'll beat ye to a bloody pulp!"
"Somehow I don't think so," came a woman's voice.
They turned. They recognized her.
"Cripes," Compact complained. "It's anudder one of them!"
Her name is Thermal. With the mutant ability to generate and create fire, she's proven to be a deadly enemy… those wise enough would either quickly surrender to her, or join her. She's with Next Flight now.
She's one of the heroes.
"As if that weren't bad enough," came yet another voice. Looking up, it was Talonhawk.
"Enough with the dramatic entrances," Mindscan said. They looked to the door now, and there stood Mindscan and Coldfront. "So, where's the rest of Rogue Force?"
"We don't need'em to crush the amateur likes of you all!" Tremor shouted, and again the earth replied to his movement.
"I don't think so!" Coldfront laughed. Her hands flared a chilling blue, and seconds later ice covered the tidal wave of stone.
"Do you guys have anything to do with the jewelry heists from the previous weeks?" Mindscan called out.
The fight continued. What was he thinking? Like someone would answer him.
"Watch out for Wipeout," Caterwaul called out. With amazing agility he leapt towards Compact.
"Come on, psycho boy!" Compact jeered.
Caterwaul hit Compact with every ounce of his energy, with a powerful kick - and felt as if he struck a solid wall. Compact laughed.
"Shame you didn't read up on me, little psycho! I can control another's density as well as my own! I can make myself completely unmovable! Now how does it feel to - !"
Compact never finished his sentence.
His body fell to the floor, lifeless.
"Blimey!" Wipeout screamed. "Someone downed Compact - permanately!" With a look out the window he suddenly had the answer.
"Gene-Hunters! Scatter!"
Men clad in orange armor hovered outside.
"We can't just leave Compact's body here!" Tremor shouted.
"Then die here with him, matey!" Wipeout called, and ran out the back.
Tremor paused, then ran.
A shot struck Caterwaul in the chest. A shot meant for his heart, but his heightened senses heard the bullet whizzing for him. He felt a burning sensation, and knew immediately these were not normal bullets.
Caterwaul shouted, "We've got a problem! They're targeting us too!"
"What?" Mindscan screamed in disbelief. "Who are these guys?"
"I don't think we have time to ask," Coldfront screamed, as bullets began to fill the room.
Mindscan looked around when he heard a woman scream. An innocent woman fell, blood pouring out of a wound. "They're hitting innocent people, too!"
"No," Thermal growled. "They're going after us, not carrying who gets hit."
"We've got to do something," Mindscan shouted above the gunfire.
Coldfront was the first to react. Ice blasted from her fists and enveloped one of the Gene-Hunters. Almost immediately, the ice began to melt. "Their armor has defenses built in them!" Talonhawk shouted.
"Let's see about that!" Thermal shouted. "If they need help melting that ice, let me do the honors!" Her hands, opposite of Coldfront's flared a bright red. Seconds later, orange armor turned red.
A man inside screamed.
"Retreat! Our armor's not designed to fight these gene-scum!"
As quickly as they had appeared, the men in battle armor quickly pulled a retreat.
"Why do I doubt that's the last we'll hear of them?" Caterwaul hissed, as his healing factor took care of the wound in his shoulder.
Talonhawk looked at the body of Compact. He was their age. And he was dead. A bullet hole through the head. He never felt a thing, Talonhawk told himself. Somehow that didn't ease the stirring emotions he felt inside.
"Call an ambulance, people!" came Mindscan's shout. He was next to the woman who had been struck by a stray bullet.
Coldfront wrapped her arms around herself. She felt unusually cold inside. She had been a "hero" for some time but never really saw anyone die. They were here, after all, to save lives. To make sure no one ever died. There was a cold that raged inside of her heart; a cold that even made her shiver.


Chapter Twenty-three
When Heroes Meet."
(Note: This chapter takes place during Chapter 41 "Surprises" of "Birth of a New Dream")
"Sir," Mindscan said, approaching Mark Carr, who was Next Flight's main contact now. "Who were those Gene-Hunters? I looked through the Alpha Index, and there is no mention of them anywhere. What are they?
Who are they? What do they want? They didn't seem to care who was a hero and who was a villain."
Mark turned and faced Mindscan. "Look, it's as simple as the fact - the world is not just black and white. There are gray spots. The Gene-Hunters are an organization that is out to be rid of all mutants.
Whether good or bad. In their eyes, all mutants are bad."
"I don't get it," Mindscan said in disbelief. "We're here trying to help regular humans! We're trying to save the world and they want us dead?"
"Unfortunately so," Mark said. "After all, their belief is one that would stem from such ideas, like Rogue Force. They were the original New Generation. They went bad. Whose to say all mutants won't go bad? Not to mention," he paused. "They fear you."
"Why?"
"You are a slap in the face. You're the next evolutionary step.
You are what has been called Homo Superior."
"I don't understand why we can't work together, for peace. That's why we formed, isn't it?" Mindscan asked.
"Yes, it is. Unfortunately, not everyone shares our vision."
He looked at the flashing light on the console. "We've got company. People whom you just might want to meet."
"Who?"
"Come with me," Mark smiled, and led him out of the room.
"Vindicator, I want you to meet someone," Mark said.
The man known as Vindicator - Mac Hudson - turned, and smiled.
The one, who stood there, only gawked. He tried to speak. Vindicator reached out his hand. "It's a pleasure," he smiled.
Mindscan, a telekinetic and a telepath, couldn't speak. He shook his head after a brief moment and finally took Vindicator's hand and shook it. "Wow. Vindicator. I, wow, I was, well, have been, wow, reading all about you, and well, um, all of Alpha Flight, and well, wow, everything you've all, um, done."
"Most of it is vastly exaggerated," Vindicator laughed.
In another room, Caterwaul nudged Walter Langkowski. "So, you're the legendary Sasquatch, eh? You up for transforming and doing some practice rounds with me in the Training Room?"
Walter's eyes watered for a moment, then he turned away. "No.
Look. Why don't you go ask someone else? I'm rather tired…"
Caterwaul looked puzzled.
"Walt can't change into Sassy anymore, eh," a voice said.
Caterwaul looked down and saw none other than the legendary Puck. "But I will go a few rounds with you, eh?"
"You? A sawed off little pint?"
The rest of Alpha Flight grinned.
This was going to be good.
Puck was doing cartwheels around Caterwaul, who was leaping after Puck time and time again. For what it was worth, Caterwaul might as well had been a cat chasing the reflective light of a mirror. For all his heightened reflexes, Caterwaul found himself missing Puck by a long shot.
Every time he struck out, Puck would effortlessly cartwheel out of the way.
Landing behind Caterwaul, he tapped the back of his knee.
Caterwaul spun around, only to have Puck grab him by the head and leapfrog over him. His every move was done with such incredible ease. He was mocking Caterwaul.
Puck wasn't breathing hard, but Caterwaul's own breath was becoming increasingly labored. Puck stopped and turned his back to Caterwaul. Caterwaul knew this was his chance. He crouched, let his strengthened leg muscles wind up, then he released and sprung far and fast; but at the last possible second, Puck ducked, grabbed Caterwaul's leg, and climbed on his back, riding him like a giant bird. Just before Caterwaul impacted with the steel bench, Puck leapt off, did a few flips in the air and landed on his feet. "You forget you leave a shadow, eh?"
A slight gash upon Caterwaul's head was already healing itself.
Puck wiped the one bead of sweat on his forehead. "That was almost a work out for me," he laughed. He approached Caterwaul and helped him up, throwing him a towel. "Remember, one of my favorite sayings, eh?"
"What would that be?" Caterwaul growled, unable to hide his smirk. He was made a complete fool of, in front of everyone who was watching through the observation booth above.
"Little green man said it best. 'Size matters not.'" With that Puck left the room laughing all the way.
Caterwaul waited till the door was shut and collapsed.
Mindscan gently touched Talisman on the shoulder. "Elizabeth?"
Talisman turned around. She was quite taken aback. Mindscan was an attractive, young man indeed. "Mindscan, right?" she said, extending her hand.
"Um, right," Mindscan said. He took her hand and shook it. "But how did you know?"
"I did my homework," Talisman smiled. "When people we're summoned by Snowbird *, I saw your file. Considered summoning you, but just because of you lack of experience… I didn't. Not with what we were facing."
"Wow," was all he could mutter. He couldn't help but look at her.
She was beautiful. Her hair was thick, long, and straight. Her figure, as if shaped by the hands of a man who desired the perfect woman. He shook his head, and felt his cheeks blush. "Um, I wanted to ask something of you."
"What is it?" she asked.
"Could you come with me?" Mindscan asked.
She smiled.
"Look here," he pointed at the screen. "These symbols. These were markings that were found after Witchfire was possessed… they were recorded for future analysis. While I was looking for information about a…" He paused. "Well, an elusive robber… I was looking through Alpha Index to see if there was anything that might lead me in the right direction… but I came across this - and noticed it was never analyzed."
Talisman looked. "Interesting. They're ancient runes. That's for sure. Let me see if I can figure them out."
She moved her hand in a circle; upon the floor a red circle flared. She traced the runes in the air. She stood amide the glowing symbols. Mindscan stared with awe. He had seen much in his days… but never anything that could come close to this.
Slowly Talisman levitated. Her voice was not her own. "It's a portal spell."
"Okay," Mindscan said. "That's enough. You can break the spell now."
"Go!" Talisman screamed. Still her voice was not her own.
Mindscan didn't know what to do. Go? Go where? Go get others? Go run? Go into the portal? Talisman screamed, "Run little snow-!"
From a portion of the spell, a young lady burst just in front of Talisman, collapsing to the ground. Talisman was regaining control of herself, when she heard the voice that had not been hers. "She is safe!
She is safe…"
With that, Talisman collapsed.
Mindscan was in the room, horrified, fascinated, and completely frozen by what he had witnessed.
The world was so fuzzy.
Slowly things were coming in…
"My daughter," Shaman was saying. "What happened?"
Talisman tried to think. "Mindscan showed me some runes that had been recorded when Witchfire was with Alpha… When she was possessed… runes that were never analyzed… I analyzed them by casting the spell they invoked… and from there, I don't remember anything, but hitting the floor."
"What runes?" Shaman asked.
"They're on the computer." Talisman answered matter-of-factly.
"They're not anymore," Mindscan whispered. "They're gone. As if they had never been."
"What?" Talisman asked, sitting up. She saw a blond girl, ice blue eyes staring at her. "Who's she?"
"We were hoping you'd be able to tell us, Talisman," Vindicator said. "She came through this apparent portal spell."
"We can't understand a word she's saying," Mindscan shrugged.
"I've tried to probe her mind, but she has some kind of incredible defense. Same force as I encountered when I tried to mindscan Caterwaul once."
"Shame Puck's not here. I think he knows how to speak every language that's on this globe! Where's Puck when you need him?" Vindicator sighed.
"Out taking Caterwaul for a few drinks, I assume," Thermal replied. "Saw the two of them talking, and heading for the front door.
Caterwaul boasting that he could at least out drink Puck, with his healing factor…"
"Oh no," everyone sighed in unison.


Chapter Twenty-four
The Guest.
"She's asleep," Mindscan whispered, coming out of her room. One of the many guest rooms of Department H. "I wonder who she is."
"I don't know," Talisman answered. "She all right?"
Mindscan smiled. "If I knew how to speak her language, I guess I'd know that for sure." He stretched and yawned. "She looks to be about sixteen years old or so." He shook his head. "What a night. Care to join me for some coffee downstairs?"
Elizabeth Twoyoungmen smiled. "I'd love to."
They walked together downstairs, whispering among themselves.
Just as they reached the bottom of the door, Puck kicked the door open, barely able to hold up Caterwaul who was swaying all over the place. "Seems the boy can't hold his liquor either, eh?"
Mindscan's mouth gaped open, while Talisman laughed.
"I don't believe it," Mindscan awed. "I've seen him drink cases of beer, mixed with hard liquor, and not even sway in the slightest!"
"You obviously haven't seen Puck drink," Elizabeth smiled.
Puck smiled. "Where should I take the pup?"
"His…" Mindscan was still stunned. "His room's up there - Section SDC, room 105…"
Puck smiled. "Got it." Dragging Caterwaul more than carrying him now, Caterwaul looked up and saw Mindscan and Talisman looking at him with pity. "Go fer it, leader man!" He imitated a tiger's growl, and passed out once again.
"He's going to hate you in the morning, Puck," Mindscan smiled.
"Not as much as he's gonna hate his hangover, eh?" Puck mused.
"See if his healing factor gets rid of that, no?"
Mindscan shook his head, as Puck laughed, dragging Caterwaul up the stairs. He wasn't caring too much if Caterwaul banged his head on the stairs or railing. His healing factor that he bragged about so much would surly take care of any bumps and bruises.
Mindscan bowed and smiled up at Talisman. "Shall we?"
Talisman bowed a small courtesy, and smiled back. "We shall."
They sat across from each other. Nothing at all in common, but they never ran out of things to say. Things to talk about.
Suddenly a scream tore through the halls.
"What was that?" Mindscan shouted, jumping to his feet.
"A scream," Talisman remarked sarcastically.
Mindscan shot her a smug look, and made a break for the hallway where the scream had come from. It came again.
Mindscan and Talisman looked at each other.
Their mysterious guest had apparently woken up again.
Bursting into the room, they saw the blond girl kicking and swinging her arms about, fighting the covers that wrapped around her body. "Release me foul demon! Release me!"
"She's speaking English!" Talisman awed.
"I'll explain that later, meanwhile I think we better -!"
He never got the chance to finish.
The last thing he saw was a large, circular light disk appear.
Then a flash.
Northstar and Aurora whizzed into the guest's bedroom, only to find it empty.
"C'est impossible!" Aurora awed.
"No," Northstar whispered breathlessly. "Apparently not, no?"
It did not take them long to summon the others. Shaman looked around. "I sense magic - but it is not magic that took them away. The magic residue is very thin. It's the girl. I sensed it on her, though she does not wield magic herself. I can't not explain it."
"So what happened?" Talonhawk asked.
"They vanished."
The room lit up again.
"Out! Everyone out!"
The flash faded, and there stood Mindscan, Talisman, and their mysterious guest in the bed, which had vanished as well.
"That…" Mindscan paused. "Was interesting."
Talisman looked around. "We're back."
The others peeked into the room.
"What's going on here?" Vindicator screamed.
Mindscan took a deep breath and sat on the bed, as if in shock.
"I wish I could tell you. Wow." He turned to the blond, mysterious girl.
"Do you have a name?"
"My name is…" she paused, as if thinking. "My name is Christi."
"What?" Talonhawk screamed. "Just several hours ago, she didn't speak a word of English! It was broken at best! And now she's speaking it perfectly!"
Mindscan stood. "I can explain that."
Everyone looked on.
"I read in the Alpha Index while looking for information on… well, a robber, I read that Professor Xavier was able to transmute his thoughts, and basically 'teach' someone a language when they went to sleep by incorporating every piece of knowledge he has into another's mind. While I sat with her, I spoke with her. I tried to figure out who she was or where she came from. She fell asleep, and I tried the trick.
Apparently it worked. She knows English as well as I do."
Puck shook his head. "As confusing as Alpha Flight's life, eh?"
Time and time again, Next Flight would train with various members of Alpha Flight. Whoever was on the team at the time, or whoever was available. Their mysterious guest, now only known as Christi - for she could not apparently recall her own last name, and her psionic defenses were more powerful than Mindscan could overcome - had begun to join them in their practices.
Apparently Christi was also a mutant.
A mutant, able to summon and control disks which she could step into and use to teleport anywhere. This is what had happened in the bedroom with Mindscan and Talisman. She adopted the name "Portal" and became Next Flight's newest member...


Chapter Twenty-five
Unfavorable
"So what's your assessment on this Christi girl?" the voice asked.
Mindscan stepped forward. "Sir. I have tried a mindscan on her several times. Her mind is as blocked to me as Caterwaul's. I admit I am not experienced as Professor Xavier, but I'm not a rank amateur either. I mean… she's a great asset to the team. That I can't deny. She can teleport us anywhere. All of us at the same time even! But the only name she's given us is Christi. I seriously doubt that is her real name. I didn't notice it before but in her room there is a picture of Christ. I believe this is where she came up with the name 'Christi.' I have asked her time and time again about her family. She keeps telling me that she has none left and that they have all died. She's sixteen years old sir." His thoughts were a radical mess. "Sir. Look. She's only given us the name 'Christi' and she says she can't remember her last name… yet she knows that her family has all passed away. Sir, she's not even interested in her friends. She says the ones that mattered have also died. When I asked where she was from and what language she was speaking before, she tells me it doesn't matter anymore. What matters is here and now. Sir," Mindscan fell into a chair. "If I may say so, she's probably more mysterious than Caterwaul…"
His name is Mark Carr. He's Next Flight's newest contact. He was much more sympathetic towards Next Flight; and for that they were all thankful. He shook his head, and stood up from his chair, folding his arms behind his back. "Perhaps she's not yet trusting of us," Mark Carr said.
"If she didn't trust us, she could easily teleport away," Mindscan said flatly. "Not like there's anything we could do about it."
"Then perhaps she has had a terrible past. Perhaps her friends and family are dead. We don't know where she came from exactly. Talisman opened some kind of portal. Who knows to or from where she came to us from? She may not wish to discuss her past with us. Aren't we all entitled to our own secrets? I am sure you possess quite a few."
"Well yes, but…" Mindscan shook his head. "I don't know if I can trust her."
"And perhaps she doesn't know if she can trust you," Mark Carr said. "Trust isn't something all people hand over on a silver platter."
"I'm learning that," Mindscan muttered.
He was flying. His wings carried him through the clouds… through the skies.
"Beautiful isn't it?" came a female's voice.
Talonhawk beat his wings to hover in one place and looked around.
His eagle eyes were dashing here and there, when finally; an owl he spotted came towards him. As it did so, he could see its form changing.
"Snowbird," he said softly.
Her soft form took shape. Her sightless eyes fixing on him. "You look like an angel," she said with a smile.
"That's funny, coming from a half-goddess," he smiled.
She touched his face, and her own facial features changed. "I am sorry. I did not know there was a death in your family."
Talonhawk's eyes blazed over with sadness only to change seconds later into a flash of anger. "What? There was no death in my family! I have no idea what you're talking about!" He pulled his wings inward, and sky dived, reaching incredible speeds, diving downward.
Snowbird could have easily caught up… but somehow she thought it wiser not to… and thought about the last few seconds of the conversation…
Shrugging, she took owl form again, and flew freely through the skies once more…
"I don't get it," Caterwaul sighed. "How does your power work?"
"Well the way that Or -!" she cleared her throat. "Or I should say, I 'think' that it works… Earth sits on a 'plane of existence.' That plane is flat. Say like a sheet of paper. Say each corner of the paper is point in a direction, like north, south, east and west. Now say that we're on the West End of the paper. By using my power, I in essence bend that plane of existence, like you would bend or fold a sheet of paper, thus bringing the West End to meet the East End of the paper. But instead of traveling all the way across the paper, it's bent and touching points already."
"That's pretty incredible," Caterwaul sighed.
They talked for a bit more, exchanging tales.
Two spirits with so little found comfort in one another.
Caterwaul finally stretched. "Look, I am gonna go get myself a brew. Is there anything I can get for you?"
Portal smiled and nodded.
"You sure?" he smiled.
"Positive," she replied.
Caterwaul began walking back towards the department when he saw Coldfront standing in the doorway. As he approached, her cold tone matched her cold demeanor. "She's too young for you."
Caterwaul shoved her aside and stood two feet into the hall.
"That's funny. She's filled my head with more intelligent gumbo than you ever did." With that he turned and kept walking towards the kitchen…
The room is dark.
Voices speak above a whisper.
They could scream and she would never hear them.
Her name is Jeanettalynn Braxton.
She is shackled to some kind of device, with needles, wires, and tubes weaving in and out of her body. She has been like this for how long - she doesn't know. She hasn't seen the sun or moon in so long. But by the strain on her wrists and ankles, she would say it's been at least a week. Occasionally, someone in a containment suit comes in and gives her crumbs of food and drips of water. Just enough to keep her alive it seemed, but not enough to let her recover her strength.
"Hudson came to us several weeks ago, claiming there was no need for himself and Heather to be on Alpha Flight," one man in the observation booth was saying. "He said he would like it if Heather would retire off the team. Of course when Mac brought this up to her, she exploded and said she would not. So, I propose we give Heather a new power suit…"
"What's the girl got to do with this?" another asked.
"Her name is Jeanettalynn Braxton," the first went on to explain.
"She is a mutant. She was once known as Igneous… she possesses the mutant ability to control magma and lava flow of the earth… somewhat altering the earth's magnetic field in the earth's surface to push up volcanic eruptions… A slight variation since Mac's suit is able to manipulate the magnetic properties of the earth… now if we could find out how our precious mutant, Igneous, is able to do what she does, we may have ourselves a new suit for Heather…"
She hears the humming.
She knows the tests are about to begin again.
She screams before they do, hoping someone will hear her.
She screams louder once the tests begin.
Same result.
No one ever hears her scream…

Chapter 26: Enter: Rogue Force

They watched in horror. "Sir, Rogue Force is tearing the city apart. Shouldn't we do something about it?" Mindscan asked, urgently.
"No," Mark Carr replied, grim faced.
"I don't get it. Why not?" Mindscan persisted.
"Because they're doing this to get attention," Mark Carr said flatly.
"Well they got our attention," Caterwaul growled from the shadows.
"It's not our attention they want," Mark Carr said, turning once again towards the monitor.
"So what?" Caterwaul snapped. "They got our attention, let's show'em what that means. I don't care who they're gunning for."
Mark Carr turned around. "They're wanting Gene-Hunters."
Suddenly Mindscan understood. "Revenge."
"That's right. For the death of Derrick King, alias Compact," Mark Carr said sadly. "You all went to the funeral. We saw all the members of Rogue Force there."
"I can't believe you stopped me from canning them while we had the chance," Caterwaul growled.
"It was a funeral, Caterwaul," Mark Carr snapped. "Show some respect."
Caterwaul only growled in response.
"So why aren't we going after them now?" Thermal asked.
"Several reasons," Mark Carr replied. "One being, Rogue Force is out there, and they're wanting vengeance for the death of Compact. They'll be playing for keeps, and not care who gets hurt. Secondly, if the Gene-Hunters show, I don't want you all caught in the middle of the crossfire. And finally, if the Gene-Hunters do show, they'll gun for you as well… and as we know, they play for keeps. The last thing I need is the team caught up in the middle of two other teams, desiring blood."
"Makes sense," Coldfront muttered.
"So in the meantime, we sit on our hands while they terrorize innocent civilians?" Caterwaul growled again.
Mark Carr turned and faced them again - his eyes tearing up. He didn't like this choice. But he was doing it for their benefit. Because he cared for the team.

Moments later, they left the meeting room.
Mindscan turned to the others. "I can't sit by and do nothing."
"Now you're talking my style," Caterwaul smirked, as he released his talons from his fingertips. "I say we go there and give a trashing to whoever wants to step up to meet us."
"I could get us there in a second," Portal said.
"I'm in with Mindscan and Caterwaul," Thermal said.
"I have to agree. I don't like the idea of innocent people being threatened," Talonhawk finally said.
All eyes shifted to Coldfront.
Her eyes lowered.
"I'm in."
Seconds later, a disk appeared and there was a flash.
Mark Carr could see the flash of light from underneath the door's frame. He knew what it was. Knew what it meant. There was never any doubt.
He bowed his head in sadness, and with sad eyes turned to the monitor.

"They're scared of us as a whole!" Wipeout screamed.
Tremor caused the earth to dance in all directions. "They'll attack if we're not acting as a whole! I swear I am gonna kill'em all for what they did to Compact!"
"No," came a voice. "This is going to stop here."
The one known as Spectra turned. "It's Next Flight!" she screamed.
"We'll take them down!" Tremor screamed. "The psycho freak's mine!"
Caterwaul extended his claws. "Pleasure's mine."
"No!" Mindscan extended his arm in front of Caterwaul. "Look it doesn't have to always start like this. These Gene-Hunters play for keeps."
"And so do we now," Wipeout yelled.
"They're coming!" Her name is Magistrate. She has the ability to influence, and even control, the magnetic spectrum through her mutant ability. So in tune with the earth's magnetic force, she sensed six steel objects closing in rapidly.
Mindscan was frantic. "Look, there's no way either of us is going to survive if we're all fighting each other. Gene-Hunters are our common enemy. I say we join forces to eliminate them."
Marquee, leader of Rogue Force looked at the others. "So it shall be."
"And no killing," Mindscan added. "Dismantle their armor, but no killing."
Tremor looked at Mindscan. "Sorry, we don't play that way."
"Sounds like a plan," Caterwaul agreed.

Marquee kept a psi-scan over herself and Wipeout, who were helpless to attack the Gene-Hunters. They had no true offensive powers.
Wipeout's mutant ability would not cancel out mechanical powers, which Gene-Hunters operated on.
Magistrate found it easy to attack the Gene-Hunters. Her control over the magnetic spectrum made for manipulating the Gene-Hunter's armor all too easy.
"This is Gene-Hunter PM-1," one of them called out through the microphone. "Mutant witch, class MM has attacked me! Armor's shorting!
Retreating!"
"I'm on it, over," another Gene-Hunter replied. He aimed a gun at Magistrate and fired. When she turned, she tried to use her magnetic ability to curve the bullets away, but they did not turn. Two plastic pellets struck in front of her.
"You missed!" she laughed.
"I don't think so," the Gene-Hunter smirked. With a click of a button, the two plastic bullets exploded. Magistrate barely had time to scream. "CE-6 has neutralized mutant class MM."
Mindscan collapsed.
Immediately, Talonhawk flew to his aid and pulled him to safety.
"What happened to you? You suddenly buckled."
Mindscan reached out with a trembling hand. "I felt her… her screams… My God, I felt her terror and all her pain… Her mind, just suddenly reached out at her last moment…" Suddenly his eyes flashed open.
"My God! She's still alive! I can feel her dying…"
Talonhawk knew he was talking about Magistrate. Talonhawk looked down at Mindscan. Amazing. In one shot they took down one of Rogue Force's strongest members as well as Next Flight's leader.
This was not going good at all.
"Portal!" Talonhawk screamed. "Magistrate!" He pointed. "She's still alive. Get down there - get her to Department H. A regular hospital could never save her! Do it now!"
He held Mindscan. "Don't worry," he said, as he watched Portal teleport down, grab Magistrate and teleport away. "I won't stand by and watch anyone else die, ever again…"

Her name is Christine Pierce. She was never a bad kid. Not in the beginning. She discovered her mutant ability when she was using an Anytime Teller Machine, and it decided to eat her card. She grew furious and pounding on the machine. To her amazement, while she was pounding on it, her hands passed through the ATM machine, causing it to malfunction.
Not only did it spit her card out, but it also began spitting out large quantities of money, in large, small, and medium bills.
Realizing that somehow, by passing her hand through the ATM machine, she caused it to malfunction - she quickly reached through the mirror glass, where she knew a camera was hidden.
Naturally, the camera was also similarly malfunctioned. This is how her life of crime began, until she was brought, along with several others, to Department H. They were called 'The New Generation' then. They left Department H and tried to make it on their own as a team, and took on the name Rogue Force.
Composed mostly of people, who have committed various crimes, trust was hard to find with a fellow teammate. However, Magistrate, otherwise known, as Heather Corsi was always one you could trust.
Christine has just seen that friends struck down.
Possibly even killed.
She means to get revenge.
And she doesn't even care if it lands her in prison for murder.
She learned a lot during her time with Department H. For example, the ability to walk on air. She could make her entire body intangible, thus making it lighter than air itself. She used this talent now to come up behind the Gene-Hunter known as CE-6, the one that struck down Magistrate.
Her hand passed through his armor, and immediately the man inside began to scream. Every circuit was exploding… some of those were attached to him. He was in essence, being electrocuted by the armor he wore.
"Full systems failure in CE-6," he screamed. "Danger intimate!"
He turned and looked at who had done it. He could hardly see through the goggles. Smoke. Blood. So many things were in the way. "Die," were his last words. Something in mist like form shot out from his chest, and then the flight powers failed, and he came crashing down to the earth… with nothing or no one to save him from the hard and brutal welcome the concrete gave him.
He was dead on impact.
"That was for Magistrate," Spectra hissed. "A shame that your last command will never come true. I am intangible right now."
She walked down to the ceiling of a building and took solid form again. As soon as she did… she began screaming.
It felt as if her flesh was consumed with fire…



Chapter 27: When Angels Fall

"It's a shame I hate you so much," Caterwaul grinned. "We work well together."
Tremor used his mutant ability to control the earth, or any stone matter. A wave of earth trapped one of the Gene-Hunters underneath its awesome weight. Seconds later, Caterwaul ran up the wave of stone, and pounced on the pinned Gene-Hunter. Smiling down at the Gene-Hunter, he saw the look of terror when Caterwaul extended his claws. "If you believe in a God, pray to him now."
Tremor was almost horrified at what followed. He had to turn his head as he felt his stomach twist and turn, nearly forcing him to wretch.


Her name is Stephanie Golden. The one on the opposite side of her is Samantha Doe. They're both mutants. Members of Next Flight. One with the ability to create and control fires of any size. The other the ability to create and control ice, in any form. They are opposites in every way possible.
They are like Fire and Ice.
They even have strong resentments towards one another.
But when they put those resentments aside and work together, as a team.
There is very little more deadly.
"Gene-Hunter SE-4, targeting mutant known as Thermal."
"Come get me," Thermal smiled. "You think you can handle this hot stuff?" Summoning fire to explode from her hands and enfold the Gene-Hunter is searing flames. She laughed, "I don't think so."
However when the fire died, Gene-Hunter SE-4 was still flying.
"We learned from our last encounter with you, mutant witch! Our armor has built in coolants!"
"Oh does it," came a second voice. "Do you think you can handle this?" A thick block of ice encased the Gene-Hunter. Almost instantly it began to melt away.
"I do believe so," the Gene-Hunter mocked. "You see, we also have heating systems in this babies! You mutant witches are as good as dead!"
"I don't think so," Thermal and Coldfront laughed.
Now they fired their individual powers time and time again, consecutively. Hot. Then ice. Fire. Ice. Fire. Ice.
It didn't take long at all.
Gene-Hunter SE-4 quickly learned the armor could not compensate for the sudden changes as quickly as it was being dealt. The armor began to spark and hiss madly. "Gene-Hunter SE-4 retreating! Armor short circuiting!"
"Leave him to me," Talonhawk said, flying by.

His name is Phillip Leland. He is running for his dear life. He is a part of Rogue Force, better known as Imagery - with the mutant ability to "morph" into anyone he has seen before. However, no matter how well he mimics the person, he does not get any of their powers. Which right now, is very unfortunate.
The red optical lens over the right eye of the Gene-Hunters allows them to detect mutants, rendering his idea of taking from of another and blending into the crowd. He's desperate. He's already seen one person taken down, and possibly slain. Compact was slain by these Gene-Hunters. He hasn't seen Spectra since her attack on one of the Gene-Hunters, and he's vastly afraid that he is going to be the next to fall.
As a last ditch attempt, Imagery bursts through an old abandon building, hoping to use the garbage within to hide him until he's able to escape. He heard the crackling of the radio, right along with the blaster fire, right behind him. "Gene-Hunter DD-2, entering abandon building. In pursuit of mutant scum."
He hid behind a crate. His heart was racing. He could hardly catch his own breath.
The Gene-Hunter began blasting everything. Anything that moved.
Whether it be mouse or homeless man. He didn't care. He didn't want to take time to analyze to see if it was the mutant that he was pursuing.
That second to analyze might give the mutant enough time to do something.
A blaster shot shattered a window near Imagery. He looked back and forth, from where he was, to the window. The Gene-Hunter was insane.
This entire idea was now insane. He was going to die if he stayed here.
That was without a doubt. The Gene-Hunter was blasting anything in sight.
Whether it was man, mutant, or mouse. A stray blast struck one of the support beams. Old as the building was, it began to crumble. The Gene-Hunter realized his mistake too late. Imagery realized he had to act now or never, while the Gene-Hunter was preoccupied. He took a deep breath and made a leap for the window. It was a good effort.
He heard a blast.
Then felt it shatter his back.
His name is Phillip Leland.
Should he survive… he will never walk again…

She said her real name is Christi. No last name. No past.
In her mind, she has seen a lot of things in her days. She keeps them buried away. But when she sees the slaughter unfolding in front of her, memories come flashing back. A time, so dark… when her friends… and her brother… were all slaughtered.
It's more than she can bare.
She will not see that happen again.
Summoning up a disk, she appears behind the last of the Gene-Hunters. She grabs him, and whispers in his ear. "I can teleport anytime, anywhere. Imagine if I only teleport half of you."
There is a flash.
And a scream that no one ever sees or hears.

His name is Adam Peters. Or so it's believed.
He's better known as Caterwaul of Next Flight. He has the uncanny ability to heal any wounds inflicted on him, as well as his heightened senses. He's using his tracking sense of smell right now. He's on a scent and won't let it go.
He comes into an alley where he sees the Gene-Hunter known as PM-1 has crashed - apparently his armor finally malfunctioned after being attacked by Rogue Force's Magistrate.
He's about to go in and finish the job when he catches another scent.
Talonhawk's.
Slipping back into the shadows of the alley, he waited to see how this one would turn out. He had suspicions about Talonhawk. His recent "changes" of behavior. Now he wanted to see what would happen, without him knowing anyone was watching.
Talonhawk dove down at the Gene-Hunter striking his fist against the metal, and in the process ripping the Gene-Hunter's helmet off.
"You've killed," he hissed. He dove again, striking with incredible force, behind each dive. "You've maimed!" Teeth fell out with this punch.
"And all in the name of hate!" Again and again, Talonhawk dove at the helpless Gene-Hunter, striking harder and harder every time. "Learn now, to feel the other side of hate!" Talonhawk screamed.
Talonhawk was beating the armored man senseless. It was brutal.
And very unlike Talonhawk, Caterwaul noted.
Caterwaul almost felt compelled to step out of the shadows, just to end it quickly. It's one thing to think of killing someone slowly.
It's another to do it. Worse, to see it being done. But something made him hold back. Perhaps to see how far Talonhawk would take it.
On his next dive, Caterwaul's heightened senses heard a click. A click from the armor. Then he heard the dying man wheeze. "Die…"
Just as Talonhawk swooped down for another punch, the Gene-Hunter pressed a button. From his armored chest, a panel opened.
Caterwaul leaped out of the shadows… but he could have been the fastest mutant on the world… it wouldn't have been fast enough…
A spear, loaded and ready, fired from his armored chest.
Talonhawk never stood a chance…



Chapter 28: In Memory Of

Mindscan looked over the papers.

"Mutant: Magistrate. Real Name: Heather Corsi.
Condition: Hospitalized. Massive blood loss. Massive trauma to the brain.
Currently comatose. Chance of recovery: 6.1%"

"Mutant: Spectra. Real Name: Christine Piece.
Condition: New strain of Legacy Virus. Apparently, the virus clung to the
air around her. When she solidified, the Legacy Virus was then inside of her. This new strain of the Legacy Virus acts if it's in its last stages. She is currently in a Contamination Tube, under heavy medication and kept in suspended animation. Chance of survival: 3.4%"

"Mutant: Imagery. Real Name: Phillip Leland.
Condition: Paralyzed. Back was shattered to near dust. Massive trauma to
nerve endings. Currently under heavy medication for the pain and mental
trauma. Chance he will ever walk again: -8.76%."

Mutant: Talonhawk. Real Name: Alex Saiz.
Condition: Deceased."

Nothing he could do now could stop the flow of tears that fell from his eyes…

Thermal turned on the television. The sound of the television coming alive was the only thing that broke the eerie silence. "Hello, this is Elise Chung," the television began. "Here now live at Canada's Department H for the official announcement of the relaunch of Alpha Flight, and the core members. Let's cut to live footage, Charles."
"Hello people of Canada," the man began. "We are honored to announce that Alpha Flight has been reinstated. The core team will consist of: Vindicator, Guardian, Shaman, Northstar, Snowbird, Saint Elmo, Box, Puck and Wyre. Vindicator will resume his position as team leader, with Guardian and Puck serving as field tacticians." He nodded at Heather and Judd's direction. "The rest of Alpha's members will belong to subsidiary teams as we, at Department H, have outlined. We have faith that this new team of Alpha Flight will be able to deal with any threat that dare raise against the people of Canada!"
The news cut back to Elise Chung. "On a sadder note. Today in the downtown area, a terrible tragedy befell several people. When the evil mutants, known better as Rogue Force appeared and began terrorizing the town, Canada's Next Flight appeared to put a stop to their madness.
However, they found themselves in the crossfire between Rogue Force and a band of mutant hating, armored individuals that call themselves, the Gene-Hunters. There were casualties everywhere. Six innocent people were slain by random gunfire, by the Gene-Hunters, who seemed obsessed with eradicating mutants, no matter the cost. The Gene-Hunters are the same ones who attacked several members of Rogue Force, while they were committing a bank robbery. It was during this time that the Gene-Hunters had killed Derrick King, better known as Compact of Rogue Force. Although in today's skirmish, despite that the Gene-Hunters were defeated, none were captured alive. One that was believed to be alive, used his armor to end his own life. Before being defeated, the Gene-Hunters managed to slay Heather Corsi, better known as Rogue Force's member, Magistrate, though her body was not found. Christine Pierce, better known as Spectra, was taken away by several members of Department H in containment suits.
Phillip Leland, better known as Imagery of Rogue Force was paralyzed, and taken away by Department H. And finally, perhaps one of the biggest tragedies of all, Next Flight's own Talonhawk was slain. More at 11…"
Her name is "Christi" as far as anyone knows. To her teammates she is known as Portal. Those that questioned her value on the team beginning quickly put such doubts aside as she proved herself time and time again.
She was the first to arrive.
She was the first to see Talonhawk's body after Caterwaul.
Mindscan had nearly doubled over when he got the urgent telepathic message from Caterwaul, through the psi-bond that he shared with all their members. Like Caterwaul, Portal's mind was completely immune to telepathic probes. It took great effort and practice to even create a psi-bond with herself and Caterwaul.
Nothing could have saved him.
No force on the world.
The spear had plunged directly through his heart.
Most of his insides weren't even in his body anymore.
It was a gruesome scene.
She'd seen worse.
She teleported his body to Department H, but as expected, he was pronounced dead upon arrival. She did remember however, when she arrived at the scene how Caterwaul was tightly pressing on Talonhawk's massive wound. As if keeping the blood, as well as the spirit, inside the body.
It was almost a touching scene, had it not been such a tragic one.
Her name is Portal. She has seen friends, family, loved ones all slain before her eyes. She had seen the closest of friends betray her, like none other ever could. Now she had seen another friend die. She knew the risks. Death was sure to follow those that chose this life style. But now, she vowed the Gene-Hunters had better realize the consequence of taking one's life. One that she swore to protect.
Nothing is going to stop her.
And she knows the one person that will help her.

Away from such dark thoughts, there lay a home… full of love, caring and understanding…
"Are you sure you don't want anything, son?"
"Yes mom," he called out through the hallway as he turned on the television and began unloading the groceries.
"…Spectra, was taken away by several members of Department H in containment suits. Phillip Leland, better known as Imagery of Rogue Force was paralyzed, and taken away by Department H. And finally, perhaps one of the biggest tragedies of all, Next Flight's own Talonhawk was slain.
More at 11…"
He stared at the television in disbelief.
The jar of Mikey's Mayo dropped the floor and shattered.
His mother rushed into the room. "Is everything all right, son?" she asked, touching his face. He was so pale. "What's the matter?"
He blinked. He shook his head, and gently smiled. "Um, nothing.
Nothing, mom. I'm fine. I just got a pinched nerve."
"Well it's probably from the -!"
"It's okay mom," he said, brushing her assistance away. "I will get a mop and get this cleaned up. Sorry about the mess."
She looked at her son, concerned.
He looked as if he had seen a ghost…
Or a premonition of his own death.

"It's not your fault," Mindscan screamed.
Caterwaul extended his talons from his fingertips. "No? You don't know the half of it!"
"Talonhawk took on a big risk taking on a Gene-Hunter alone," Mindscan snapped back. "Armor malfunctioning or not. He should have never done such a thing. Never. He made a choice. You had nothing to do with it."
With extended claws on each fingertip, Caterwaul seized Mindscan's throat. "Maybe if you didn't buckle! Maybe if we had a leader to keep us organized. Aren't you the one always pushing us to train?
Always pushing us to work and function as a team, as much as a family?
What happened to you? Where were you when we needed you?"
"I virtually lived through what Magistrate had gone through," Mindscan snapped back, slapping Caterwaul's arm, and freeing himself of his hold. Immediately he felt warmth on his neck, and knew the talons had cut him. "And if I hadn't … buckled as you claim. What good would that have done? I said no killing. You didn't listen. When Tremor trapped one of the Gene-Hunters under a wave of stone, you didn't even hesitate. You ripped the Gene-Hunter's throat open. If I was capable of leading, I seriously doubt you would have ever followed any instructions I would have given! You're too primal. Too driven by your animal instincts."
Their gazes locked.
Intensity burned.
Caterwaul turned away finally. "That's fine if that's what you believe."
"You've given me no reason to believe other wise," Mindscan snapped. Caterwaul looked back one more time and walked out.

Unnoticed a piece of paper fell to the floor.
It had been the song Caterwaul was working on…

"The Broken And The Lost.

Well Lord, I'm sorry.
I feel so weak.
I feel so broken.
If you've got anything to tell me
I wish you'd speak
Or have you already spoken?

I feel I'm losing my way
I feel so lost.
I feel so used.
Tell me something today
Tell me it's worth the cost
Being so beat up and abused...

Because I'm quickly losing my faith
Twice as fast as I'm losing my strength
Tell me you're out there
Tell me you're more than just phantasmal air
Just tell me you care...

Every road seems a dead end
I feel so trapped.
I feel confined.
I'm reachin' out to my friends
And my hand's being slapped
Dear Lord, I'm losing my mind...

I'm quickly losing my strength
Twice as fast as I'm losing my faith
Tell me you're out there
Tell me you're more than just phantasmal air
Just tell me you care..."

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~
· The poem "The Broken And The Lost" used by persmission by me. © 1998, Me! :*)



Chapter 29: Picking Up The Pieces

Mindscan walked into the kitchen and saw Portal making herself a salad. "Have you seen Caterwaul?"
She looked up from her salad and smiled faintly. "No, I haven't.
But I found this." She held out a piece of paper. Mindscan took the paper from her and looked over it. It had been a song Caterwaul was apparently working on entitled "The Broken and The Lost." His eyes looked up at Portal. Her back was turned to him as she continued to work on the salad.
"I assume you read it?" Mindscan asked.
"I did," she answered, turning around, eating her salad, coolly.
"I figured it was a goodbye note. Figured he left the team. You'll never understand what he saw." She bit into a tomato. "He basically picked up Talonhawk's heart and put it back in his chest, in an attempt to keep him alive." She said it so coolly. So callously, as if there were no emotion behind her words.
Mindscan's eyes were full of horror. He turned away and crumpled the song in his hand. "Well, reading this, it might as well have been a goodbye note. If you read between the lines, that's pretty much what it says. I better do a mindscan, and see if I could feel his psi-bond…"
"That's not what it says if you read between the lines," Portal cut back.
Mindscan opened his eyes. Nothing, he told himself. Caterwaul's snipped the psi-bond, and there's nothing I can do about it. He turned back toward Portal. "What do you get from this song?"
"A lot of pain," Portal crunched on her salad. "But the last thing that song is, is a goodbye note. Look again. How he talks about reaching out and getting his hand slapped by friends. He's trying to reach out. But those of you who don't trust him, keep turning your backs on him."
Mindscan thought back to the night before…
They had a confrontation… Mindscan was trying to reach out, explain that it was no fault of Caterwaul's that Talonhawk died…
"I virtually lived through what Magistrate had gone through," Mindscan had snapped back, slapping Caterwaul's arm, and freeing himself of his hold. Immediately he had felt warmth on his neck, and knew the talons had cut him. "And if I hadn't … buckled as you claim. What good would that have done? I said no killing. You didn't listen. When Tremor trapped one of the Gene-Hunters under a wave of stone, you didn't even hesitate. You ripped the Gene-Hunter's throat open. If I was capable of leading, I seriously doubt you would have ever followed any instructions I would have given! You're too primal. Too driven by your animal instincts."
Their gazes had locked.
Intensity burned deeper than anything known, burned for that moment.
Caterwaul had finally been the one that turned away. "That's fine if that's what you believe."
"You've given me no reason to believe other wise," Mindscan had retorted. Caterwaul looked back one more time and walked out…
Mindscan shook his head. "He's so hard to deal with sometimes…"
Portal frowned. "That's because you had all prejudged him from the moment you all met him. You never gave him a chance."
"He's not made it easy," Mindscan grimaced. "To earn our trust."
"That's the difference, and that's the attitude that caused it all," Portal scoffed. "Everyone else was trusted right off the bat. But because Caterwaul was different, that trust had to be earned." She put down the plate, as if the hunger left her. "And should trust be earned from your fellow teammates, or already given?"
She looked once back at Mindscan, who was looking at the crumpled paper in his hands again. He looked up and reached out with his mindscan to faintly touch her mind like a moth, and found that her psi-bond was gone as well.
He heaved a heavy sigh, and placed the paper on the table. For someone who was but sixteen years old, she spoke of wisdom beyond her age. Her mannerisms were also something else. Much different than a typical sixteen year old.
Then again. She's a mutant.
But Mindscan couldn't help but feel there was more to all this…
He shook his head, and heard her words again…
"… should trust be earned from your fellow teammates or already given…?"

Coldfront stormed through the hallway. Thermal saw her coming and debating running and hiding. She didn't want to help. But at the same time she did. She was never good with helping others. Never been a good shoulder to cry on. Before she knew it, Coldfront was almost in front of her. Thermal reached out, "Sam'…"
Coldfront smacked Thermal's hand away. "Spare me your pity."
"Look, I know you and Alex shared something special. I can only imagine the pain you are feeling -!"
Coldfront snapped. "That's right! That's all you can do! Imagine how I feel! Because what would a whore like you know about caring?" Without even waiting for a reaction, she turned and walked on, heading for her room.
Thermal's hands flared. "You ungrateful…"
She bit her lip. The flames faded.
She realized it was the anger speaking.
She had seen it before.
Not too long ago. When she recently confronted her mother.
She didn't mean what she said…
… did she?

Coldfront slammed the door.
"I want to apologize," came a soft voice, almost child like.
Coldfront spun around. "Who the -?"
Caterwaul was perched on her bed.
Her brows came together angrily. "Get out of here! Get out!"
"No," Caterwaul whispered. "Not until I have said my peace."
"I said get out! I mean it!" Tears were coming down from Coldfront's eyes. Falling upon the ground, frozen… like diamonds.
Priceless.
"I want to say sorry for how I had been acting…"
Coldfront's body encased itself in hard ice. Her hands became large blocks of ice. "Maybe you didn't hear me when I said get out?"
"… I was way out of league," Caterwaul went on. "I was jealous."
Coldfront raised her fists, two giant blocks of ice. "Get out before I make it so someone has to carry you out!"
"I care for you. I couldn't bare the thought of another being around you."
The fist came dangerously close, smashing the bed to pieces. "You can't just waltz in here!" Coldfront was crying, but no tears fell anymore from her ice hard body. "My heart is wretched out as much as Alex's was! You walk in here and expect to take his place! Be my little savior and capture my heart when it's weak!"
Another swing smashed the dresser. Her anger was making all her swings wild. Caterwaul hadn't even flinched yet. "It's not like that…"
"I … said… get… out!"

The entire temperature dropped throughout Next Flight's wing of Department H. It was not a small drop in temperature. Mindscan screamed as his coffee that he just made was nothing more than frozen, coffee ice cubes.
"Oh no…" he muttered. "This can't be happening…"

"… Every road seems a dead end
I feel so trapped.
I feel confined.
I'm reachin' out to my friends
And my hand's being slapped
Dear Lord, I'm losing my mind..."



Chapter 30: With A Vengeance

"How is he?" Mindscan asked as soon as the doctor came out of the room.
The doctor looked grim. "His condition is already stabilizing itself. If it had not been for his healing factor…" Mindscan breathed a heavy sigh of relief and nodded his head. "He's very lucky indeed. When they got him down here, his entire body was completely frozen, to the point that no blood flowed through his veins…"
"I understand," Mindscan said in a low tone.
Mark Carr stepped into the room and gently laid his hand on Mindscan's shoulder. "How is he?" he asked.
"He's stabilized," Mindscan said flatly. "But only because of his healing factor."
"Maybe it's time we give everyone another break," Mark Carr said.
"A casualty is a very difficult thing to live with. There's too much tension here. A leave of absence would do everyone some good..."
Mindscan bowed his head. "Maybe you're right. I will get the others into the Conference Room so we can make the announcement."
"No need to make it official," Mark Carr smiled weakly. "Just tell them they have a leave of absence. I will take care of the paperwork. If Department H has anything to say about it, they can come straight to me. I will be more than glad to deal with it."

The room was dark. Five figures sat around a circular desk. One puffed at a cigar. "The casualty of Talonhawk was most unexpected," he said, speaking through darkness. "And three of the others still managed to escape."
"The three who escaped are hardly a threat," the second man hissed. "And I just received a report that one of them has been spotted by one of our men."
"I agree," the third stepped up. "The death of Talonhawk was most unexpected, however, our agent acted out of self preservation. Did you see the condition our agent was in? Before the psychotic Caterwaul cut off his head? Talonhawk apparently beat him senseless. His entire skull was crushed in. Pieces of his skull poking into his brain. Amazing he lived as long as he did. His jaw was completely dislocated on the right side and barely clinging on by muscle alone. It was gruesome. Caterwaul did the lad a favor by ending his life."
"But," the fourth one said, defiant. "Upon reading and reviewing Talonhawk's records, such behavior was not in character of him."
"Do you suppose the secret we hold over him finally got to him?" the fifth one finally said. "That he finally snapped? I heard he often mentioned leaving the team. Only the secret we kept on him, forced him to stay."
"Perhaps," the fourth man said. "Perhaps not."
"Do you have another theory?" the first man asked, puffing at his cigar.
"I do," the fourth man replied. "I do…"

"Ben!" he heard a voice call out.
He turned and found himself embraced tightly in the arms of a lovely woman. "Calm down," he flushed. "We're in the airport!"
She looked around and laughed. "Oh, and people don't call out people's names, run up to them, and hug them, when they haven't seen them in so long?"
He smiled. Quickly grabbing her and kissing her.
"I've missed you, Steph," he said with a smile. "So, why the call out of the blue?"
She looked sad for a moment, all the joy draining from her face.
"I am sure you saw the news… about Talonhawk…"
Ben frowned. "Yeah. I'm sorry."
She shook her head. "No. It's … fine." She took a moment to set her thoughts straight. "Things got really intense. Don't know what the future of Next Flight is anymore. Don't even know if I want to be a part of that future, should it continue. When I saw Talonhawk… his heart -!" She began to sob.
Quickly Ben embraced her tightly and let her cry in her arms.
"Look, I understand. You don't need to say anymore…"
He never let her go, but he got her bags and loaded them into his car. He heaved a heavy sigh as they drove back to his apartment…
The love of his life had just walked back into his life…
… and yet he told himself not to get his hopes up again. He was, as he always seemed to laugh at himself bitterly, liable to get himself burned again.

Graveyards.
He never really cared for them. All these dead people. He sighed.
How many of them could have been saved at one time? How many of them died as heroes? How many died in their sleep? How many died, and found death a release of all their pain? But his question had always been the same… the one that always came back to him. How many of them died heroes?
It shouldn't have happened like this, he was telling himself. I wasn't supposed to happen like this. He held a single white rose in his hand, and began walking up the hill toward the grave. Just then his eyes caught someone at the same gravesite he himself had been walking towards.
Quickly, he stopped and walked behind a tree. Without so much as straining his eyes, he looked up the hill. His eyes opened. I know her.
Oh no, he began to think. Oh no. I hadn't thought of this… no…
Her name is Samantha Doe. She is visiting the gravesite of Alex Saiz. A former member of Next Flight, who died in a battle against an organization who called themselves The Gene-Hunters. Sam and Alex had an intimate relationship. One they had kept hidden from the others. Now, her own heart, like that of Talonhawk's had been wretched from her chest, and lie there broken. He watched her cry over the grave, kneeling before it - her hands gently tracing the writings upon the tombstone. She was talking to the grave. She stood up, wrapped her arms around herself, and left the grave. He watched her leave, saddened to know her heart was breaking so.
With a deep breath, he continued up the hill and stopped at the same grave. He kneeled down and laid the white rose upon the moist grave.
He stared at the grave, and slowly traced the name etched upon the tombstone: Alex Saiz.
He took another deep breath and said to himself, and perhaps to the spirit lying below. "You don't belong here do you? But how do I do this now?"
He never expected an answer.
But he waited by the grave… staring at the name upon the grave…

Mindscan threw his bag over his shoulder and looked around his room one more time. He wasn't forgetting anything, so why did it feel like he was leaving himself. He took in a deep breath and headed down the stairs. He cut through the kitchen to find Portal drinking a glass of water. "Hey, they called for a leave of absence for us, remember?" he tried to smile.
"Yeah. Great. Where would I go? Family? Friends?" her tone was sharp. "Some of us don't have those benefits remember?" She shook her head. "By the White Wolf, I am so sorry. I have just been on edge. I mean, Talonhawk's…" She struggled for the right words. "… gone. And now Caterwaul is in intensive care. Not to mention witnessing what we did when the Gene-Hunters took out most of Rogue Force single handedly, and with lethal force. I just feel like I am on edge."
Mindscan smiled weakly. "Understandable. That's why they called a leave of absence for us. Give us some time to ourselves." He looked down, then back up again. "Look, I am going to visit some family. You're more than welcome to come with me. I am sure they wouldn't mind."
She smiled. "Thank you," she sighed. "I think I will just stick around here for a bit. Make sure our ..." She smiled. "Resident psycho gets better."
Mindscan nodded. "I think he would like that. Last I checked, he was getting better, thanks to his healing factor. He should be all right soon."
"I know," she smiled.
"Good," he replied, and began heading out. He stopped and turned around. "I know he probably won't believe you, but tell him I am glad he's getting better. I… missed him."
"I think he knows that," Portal smiled. "I think he knows…"
Mindscan nodded, smiled, and walked out the door…

His name is Shawn Kane. He's also known as Tremor, a member of Rogue Force. His life is about to drastically change.
"Shawn Kane?" came a voice from inside a dumpster.
"Who's there?" Tremor called out.
The trash lid opened suddenly.
In two seconds, he had enough time to see the red, circular infrared lens on the man's right eye. On the third second he heard a soft sound.
Then the bullet went through his heart.
Today, Shawn Kane's life has drastically changed.
For, today it ended abruptly.
No one will find the body in the alleyway for another three days…


Chapter 31: Even The Score: To The Extreme

"Hello, and welcome to DBS news. This is Elise Chung reporting.
Today the body of Shawn Kane, better known as Tremor of Rogue Force was found in an alley way when several kids were running through there.
Police reports say that the body was several days old already when it was discovered. They are also saying, by the wound inflicted, that it appears he died from the same type of armory that the 'mutant haters' known as the Gene-Hunters have used. This makes the -!"
He turned away from the television.
Another death?
This had to stop. And it had to stop now. He turned towards his mother and smiled. "Mom," he said. "I'm going on a trip."
"Where to?" she asked, looking up with a weak smile. She already knew the answer. When the whole business of the Gene-Hunters became public eye, she knew it was but a matter of time before her son would leave the safe nest of their home. "How long will you be gone?"
"I can't tell you where… I am not even sure where… and as for how long…" He seemed to think. "I will be home as soon as possible."
"… and in related news, the organization known as the Gene-Hunters attacked an unidentified craft that was flying over Canadian airspace… a battle has since ensued… the target, apparently another, unknown mutant… we cut to Marti for some live footage…"

His senses were alive…
And so was he… amazingly.
His name is Adam Peters, but he is better known as Caterwaul.
In an attempt to apologize to Coldfront for his behavior, after Talonhawk's death, she froze every ounce of blood in his body… forcing all his major functions to cease working all at once.
It could have killed him.
It would have… had it not been for Thermal.
Using her mutant power to create and control heat and fire, she got Caterwaul's blood pumping once again… but even then, he was barely alive. He sustained a lot of damage… but his healing factor quickly went to work, and mended all that had been destroyed, by shutting everything off… and leaving him in a coma…
When he awoke, Next Flight was gone… all except Portal.
Apparently, Mark Carr called for a requested vacation; to give everyone time to deal with what they had seen and endured, after Talonhawk's death. It'd been five days since he awoke from his coma, and his body was healed, but he was still incredibly weak…
His heart strained to pump each ounce of blood…
His heart… it still felt broken…
And he wondered… how much of that was physical pain… how much of that was a deep, mental pain that would haunt him for years to come…

Her name is Samantha Doe, and she is Coldfront of Next Flight.
She's not alone in her car… with her is their newest member, and perhaps biggest mystery. A girl who only goes by the name of "Christi"… better known as Portal.
"I'm not going to take part in this mad plan of yours," Coldfront snapped.
"They killed Talonhawk… not only our team mate, but someone you professed to love with all your heart," Portal snapped back.
Coldfront was silent. Her eyes were brimming with tears. "You think I don't know that? Do you think I don't miss him?"
"Then let's strike back," Portal growled. "I was going to ask Caterwaul to -!"
"That madman?" Coldfront cut her off. "That animal?"
"That madman… or that animal as you call him… loved you… probably more than you ever loved Talonhawk… or more than Talonhawk ever loved you," Portal snapped. "You don't know the things he's told me about you!
His heart's desires! He's more than an animal or a madman! There's a man there, who is desperate and alone! He writes poetry about you almost every night! He dreams of a thousand ways to make your world a perfect one! He wants to be -!" She turned away. "Never mind. Forget it." She heaved a deep sigh. "As I was saying… I was going to ask Caterwaul to come with me… before you froze him solid…"
Coldfront was unusually silent.
"It's a shame, you know," Portal whispered.
"What's that?" Coldfront asked in a low tone.
"That your heart is colder than your mutant ability," Portal answered. "So much colder…"
Coldfront heaved a heavy sigh. "It's just that -!" Suddenly she screamed. An armored body crashed on their hood, and immediately they recognized it. "Gene-Hunters!" she screamed.
"Not exactly how I was hoping to find them," Portal hissed…

"It's nice to see you again," Ben said, as he walked along the beach.
Beside him walked Stephanie Golden, better known as Thermal.
"It's nice to be here with you," she admitted.
They walked a bit more in silence.
Ben had always been Stephanie's best friend… whenever anything was wrong, she had always turned to him. If there was a problem with a boyfriend, he had always been the one she turned to. If she didn't have a date for the dance, he would always take her if none other would. Ben was there for her when her mother had kicked her out. He did all he could to help her. He helped her through the troubling times, when she discovered she was a mutant, while she was dealing with her father's death, which she believed to be her fault. She had tried to kill herself more than once, when despair was too much for her, for she felt it was her fault her father died… despite all that he had done, she still loved him… and it was always Ben who talked her down… She would weep endless hours in his arms… but never, in all the years they had known each other, did they ever get involved romantically…
Not for reason that one found the other ugly or wanting… it just never happened, and that was the only reason for it. There were nights that Ben would lie awake, day dreaming of her… holding her… and kissing her… but he never mentioned these feelings, for she never showed any kind of interest…
"So," Ben finally said. "You're in Next Flight now, eh?"
"Yeah," she said. "But I don't know how much longer that's going to last."
"Are you thinking about quitting?" Ben asked, surprised.
"Well, yes and no, I guess. I mean," she kicked some sand. "I want to quit. I want to lead a normal life. But I know I could never have a normal life. People like the Gene-Hunters have sensors that can detect what's called the 'x-factor' in mutant genes, that gives us powers… they'd hunt me down."
"So why the hesitation in your voice?" Ben asked, curious.
Thermal frowned. "Well, several reasons. Like I said, people like the Gene-Hunters would surly hunt us down… kill us… If they get us one by one, we're as good as dead… as a team, we'd stand a chance against them… but with the death of Talonhawk… it just seems like Next Flight is going down…"
"Do you think they'd do that? Disband Next Flight?"
"Anything's possible," Thermal sighed.
"I suppose you're right," Ben nodded. "Anything's possible…"
Even a chance for you and I?
He wanted to ask… but the words never left his lips…

Portal and Coldfront jumped out of the car.
"Freeze!" Coldfront shouted.
Portal shot her a look.
"Don't move!" Coldfront quickly amended. "Or else you're going to find yourself incased in ice so fast and thick, you'll die before your precious little battle suits will ever have the chance to thaw you out!"
"Are you done?" Portal sighed. "I don't think he's going anywhere. Look at his armor. It's all nicked up with small slashing marks. And there are these small razors throughout his armor. And look at his face… the veins… they look like someone put red food coloring in his blood stream… This man's barely alive…"
"Who could have done it? We're the only team in Canada… Alpha Flight wasn't dispatched here…"
Portal was already running around the corner from which the Gene-Hunter had crashed from… Coldfront quickly followed after her, grumbling to herself, that first Portal had said she didn't talk enough, and now she had the nerve to insinuate that she talked too much…
What their eyes saw, they could scarcely believe.
The Gene-Hunters were engaged in combat, using every gadget, gun and device within their armor, designed to hunt and terminate mutants, with the greatest of ease… But to them, as well as to those who observed, they could only see a blur of motion in front of them, as they each fired a shot, used a gadget and activated a device…
And incredibly, each one of them missed… even in the madness of the entire crossfire, not one came close.
But that one finally, after dramatic leaps, landed on a light post. "Now," he said, smiling. "As you will notice, your armor has been damaged, and you all have a lot of nicks and cuts on you. I am giving you the option to surrender, terrans."
"You've got to be kidding me," one of the Gene-Hunters laughed.
"Sure we're bleeding, but I have bled worse from my own razor! Your little attempt to nail us failed miserably. Sure we're not hittin' ya, but you'll get tired eventually, eh? And when you do, you're as good as dead! Squadron DH-1, fire at will!"
"I was hoping you'd say that!" the mysterious figure laughed.
"Burn!"
It's amazing how much pain a body can take… even from the slightest of wounds. It's also amazing how much the human scream can sound like a dying howl, when enough pain and pressure is applied.
Three seconds after he mutters the word "Burn!" there isn't a single Gene-Hunter left standing. One man took down eight Gene-Hunters without even breaking a sweat.
"Hey!" Portal called out.
His every movement was a blur. In seconds, he had six razors in his hands ready to be thrown. "You with them?" he laughed.
"No," Portal quickly shouted. "No, we're not. But we have a qualm to settle with them. What did you just do to them?"
"He moves like Spider-man," Coldfront awed, whispering to herself more so than anyone else. "Perhaps even faster…"
Jumping up, grabbing the light pole, and twirling three times before doing several summersaults through the air and landing on his feet with the most incredible ease, he smiled. "I call it 'flashing' someone." His features were sharp and defined. His ears however, reminded them of Aurora and Northstar, in that they were pointed. His hair was blond, and down to the middle of his back. Four ponytails, two on each side of his face, were braided down. His outfit was a dark blue almost black color.
His belt was riddled with razors all the way around. On his knees he wore armored kneepads, with small spikes. His hands had been equipped with two claws on each that stuck out from his fisted glove. On the side of his legs, and on his shoulders, were large razors, like those found on his fisted glove. His body was strong, his physique incredible… almost as if he were the "perfect human." He smiled as he noticed they were both admiring him. He cleared his throat, and went on to explain, "I can ignite the electrolytes in a person's blood stream, but I have to oxygenate the blood first…"
Coldfront shivered. "Ouch."
He turned back to his ship. "Damn. Those terran bast'jaks fragged my ship."
"Um," Portal began. "I am not sure what you just said… but if you need a ride, we could give you one."
"Where are you headed?" he asked, skeptically.
Portal turned to Coldfront. "Why don't we drag one of these guys back to Department H, and get him fixed up and ask where he works… then we will have your answer for you." Portal smiled. "We'd really appreciate your help."
He smiled. "I suppose I could go. It will be nice to get them back for fragging my ship. Then I will continue on my way to New York."
"Great!" Portal shouted, jumping up and down, and quickly regaining her composure. As they walked back to Coldfront's car, planning to use the one that crashed on his hood for their prisoner, she turned and asked. "So who are you anyway?"
"People call me X-Treme," he answered, and followed behind them.



Chapter 32: Even The Score: Hunters Become Prey

The human eye can not see in pitch dark.
His armor was far too damaged to do him any good.
He backed himself against a wall, and his hands felt cold steel.
He tried to let his eyes focus… but nothing worked. There was absolutely no light in this room at all. Not even a sliver of light under a doorway. It was as if someone had painted his sight with black paint.
His breathing became erratic as his heart pumped with fear of the unknown… was he blind?
"I can hear your heart pumping faster," a voice came from the darkness.
He yelped and stepped back. "Who's that? Who's here?"
"He has every reason to be afraid," a second voice said.
He recognized the second voice. He had heard it before. His head felt too groggy, he could hardly think straight.
"You've got that right," the first voice said, in a low, rumbled growl, which reminded him of an angry wolf. "My one desire is to rip his heart out and show it to him, while it's still beating."
"I've seen your talons, terran, I know you can frag this bast'jak without even breaking a sweat," the second voice seemed to laugh.
Terran? Bast'jak?
It was the blond mutant. The second voice was the blond mutant he and the other members of Squadron DH-1 of the Gene-Hunters had attacked.
"If I could see you, I'd rip your throat out!" the man called out.
One should be careful what they wish for… or ask for.
The light's came on in a brilliant flash… and as soon as his eyes adjusted, he prayed to God that this was a bad nightmare… he prayed for the darkness… for in there, he could not see, could not know the horror…
It was a terrible sight.
The man known as X-Treme was holding Caterwaul back on a leash, like a wild animal who was foaming at the mouth, and reaching out to snare the man… his razor sharp talons only inches away from his chest.
"Now terran," X-Treme began. "Caterwaul has next to no patience.
He hates you, and wants to kill you. It took a lot to convince him otherwise. Your organization apparently killed one of their members. He's not the least bit happy. He's been looking for someone to take his revenge out on… I am afraid it's you…"
Caterwaul's talon snagged and shredded the chest portion of the man's armor… pieces falling away, as his talons made it seem as if they were made of paper. Caterwaul struck out again, and this time cut deep into the man's chest.
The man doubled over in pain. "You can't kill me. You're a part of Department H. They don't let their heroes kill."
"Need I remind you, terran," X-Treme smiled. "I am not a part of Department H. I do kill. I have no qualm killing." His hands began to flare, his eyes burning. "Caterwaul cut your chest… and cut it deep… right by your precious heart, terran… One flash fry and you're dead… remember what that felt like?"
The man fell backwards now. "You're… bluffing."
"I'm afraid not," X-Treme grinned. "Bur-!"
"Stop!" the man screamed. "Christ, what do you want?"
"The location of the base for the Gene-Hunters…" X-Treme smiled.
"That's it?" the man laughed. "I will give that to you! You're fools if you go there! They will destroy you when you get there! You will be annihilated!"
"We'll cross that bridge when we get there…" X-Treme shrugged, uncaringly.
"So what happens to me if I give you this information?" the man asked.
"We do the 'good guy' thing and turn you in to the local authorities…" X-Treme answered. Several moments later, after the man sings like a bird with all the information, X-Treme turned around. "You had better hope you're not lying," he said. "Or else we're coming back after you."
"I have no reason to lie," the man laughed. "You're as good as dead."
"Yeah well," X-Treme shrugged. "I've got but one thing to say to you, terran."
"And what's that?" the man leered, arrogantly.
X-Treme smiled.
"Burn!"

"Looks like a government building," Coldfront whispered.
"It's got to be coated with security cameras," Portal sighed.
"There's two, right in front of those steel doors," X-Treme replied.
"What?" Portal hissed in disbelief. "You can see that far? We're like a mile or so away…"
He only looked at her and shook his head. "Can you get us within thirty feet of that steel door?"
She had to look through the binoculars. "Yes," she replied.
"Good. Do so. I will take care of it from there."
There was a flash of white light…

No matter how many times you see something… no matter what kind of wonders you have bore witness to… there's always something that is going to take your breath away again. For Coldfront and Portal, it was seeing X-Treme in action. No sooner had they barely landed with the teleport, did he throw two razors, without so much as aiming or looking, and easily 'pinged' two high tech security cameras. The cameras were now angled away from the door, but not destroyed. Anyone looking at the camera would only see grass…
X-Treme looked at the door now. He laughed to himself.
"What's so funny?" Coldfront asked.
"You terrans are so far behind the technology I am used to," he answered, matter-of-factly. Pulling a razor from his belt, he began poking and prodding at the wire panel. Within seconds, the door swung open.
"You're amazing," Coldfront sighed.
"No," he said, standing up. "Earth's technology just has a long way to go."
Portal began walking towards the door - however, X-Treme extended his arm out. "Wait. There's more. Coldfront, could you make a mist with your ice? Sort of like the effect dry ice has in water?"
"Sure," she said, stepping forward. In seconds, a soft mist filled the halls…
Revealing infrared motion detectors that were set in a complete random pattern. "I have to give them credit for that," X-Treme admired.
"Without the proper Magna-card, the infrared doesn't turn off."
"I could 'port us in there," Portal offered.
"It's a good bet there's infrared scanners beyond this hall as well. There's a panel in the middle of the hall way, I bet it has the controls for the infrared wiring," X-Treme admired.
"That's good," Portal sighed. "How do you suggest we get there?"
"Watch," X-Treme smiled.
He loved the workout. Either that or he was enjoying showing off.
His body moved as one - even his hair, long and blond - seemed to flow with every instruction his body gave. He moved through the random infrared sensors, never breaking a red beam, with such speed and grace, it was … as promised, breath taking.
Digging the steel claws into the ceiling from his gloves and heels, he clung upside down on the ceiling.
"Show off," Portal sneered.
Reaching down, and prying the panel open with yet another razor; he cut three wires, and reconnected them to another set of wires… the infrared vanished. "We're all clear," he said, clinging upside down still…

Ben shook his head. "This is crazy. I stood in line for three hours for movie tickets. It's supposed to be real good. 'The Legend of the Marie Celeste.'" He looked at Thermal and smiled. "Let me guess, you just want to see it because it has heart throb, Vincent Sagittarius in it?"
Thermal laughed. "Oh, and I am sure you're not going to look at the chest heavy, co-star, Heather Vicede?"
Ben blushed. "How could I look at anything but you?"
Thermal nudged him. "We're going to be in a dark theater."
"But your eyes shine like the stars," he suddenly blurted.
There was a moment of silence between them, until she finally spoke. "That… that was very flattering…"
He shrugged. "Well, yes. So," he said, eyebrows lifted, shifting his weight from foot to foot, trying to quickly think of a way to change the subject. "Do you know about the legend of Marie Celeste?"
She frowned. "No. Not entirely…"
"Well, it is about a boat that set sail almost two centuries ago.
The legendary Marie Celeste was discovered floating in the water with all its passengers and crew missing, including a wealthy family on board. The entire ship was left in perfect condition, ruling out the possibility that pirates may have been involved… Still a mystery today," he went on, flushing. "There's quite a bit of speculation. Of course, the movie doesn't focus on all that. The movie is about the daughter of one of the rich families falling in love with one of the poor deckhands of the ship… and how they discover each other…"
"So it's about finding true love," Thermal whispered softly.
Ben flushed red…

_______________________________

* - As you might be able to guess, the movie mentioned entitled "The Legend of the Marie Celeste" is a "spoof comment" about the block buster movie, "Titanic." What is mentioned above about the ship called Marie Celeste is all very true however...



Chapter 33: When Lies Lie Ahead

"Caterwaul is it?" came a soft voice.
Caterwaul spun around, cursing himself. His senses were still weak… his healing factor working overtime… he never even heard her approach. "Snowbird," he said softly. "I didn't hear you come up…"
"Few do," she replied, coldly. "Not even Wolverine."
Somehow that comment was supposed to make him feel better, he thought to himself. "What can I do for you?"
"I know this is a difficult time for all of you… with the loss of one of your comrades… Once, it seems so long ago now, Mac died before Heather's eyes. It took her a great deal to overcome the pain."
"So why are you telling me?" Caterwaul groaned, and tried to turn away disinterested.
"Because, I know that you watched Talonhawk die in front of your very own eyes," Snowbird replied.
Caterwaul, if surprised, did little to show any emotion. "And just how do you figure this?"
"I have the ability of post-cognition," she explained. "When your team mate froze you, it was both Thermal and myself that kept you alive long enough to allow your healing factor a chance to work. When I touched you… I saw many things… most of which I do not understand… but one that was very clear was how you had witnessed Talonhawk's death…"
"Okay? So what's the deal? Why tell me? You think I need a shrink or something, lady?" Caterwaul growled, not liking the idea of his past being probed into.
"No," she said. "I don't want you to make the same mistake he did."
"Who?"
"Talonhawk," she answered.
"How do you figure?" Caterwaul asked, turning slowly towards her.
"I believe it was the recent death of his mother that drove him to be so reckless," Snowbird replied.
"Recent death… of his mother?" Caterwaul asked surprised. "She can't be dead. He would have told us. I am sure of it… How do you know?
About his mother, I mean."
"He was flying… I met him, and touched his face to tell him how much like an angel he looked like, and I saw a strong and powerful image of his mother being buried…"
"That's crazy," Caterwaul whispered. "You have to be wrong."
"I rarely am," she replied. "I rarely am…"

He stood up and faced the outside window… into the darkness.
"Sir, you should come with us," the shadowed man hissed. "We have been infiltrated. We need to abandon this place."
The man folded his hands behind his back and only smiled. "Do what you feel is right…"
"We could ready the Gene-Hunters, sir…"
"No. I don't want them involved in this… Go…"
The man hesitated… then ran…

The door shattered like a fragile window. Three figures stepped into a dark room, where one large window overlooked Canada's beautiful landscape. The room was deserted it seemed, the computers turned off…
"Everything's empty," Coldfront whispered.
"Not everything," a chilling voice replied, as a chair slowly turned. "Good evening," the voice added, as it stood up and bowed.
X-Treme immediately drew his razors out. "Speak fast terran, or find yourself begging for mercy."
"So much like Alex," the man whispered. "Temperamental, indeed." The man shook his head, and waved his hands. "Where are my manners.
Please, sit down."
"No," Portal growled. "You're a part of the Gene-Hunters."
The man looked surprised. "Really? Did you find any such evidence to support such a horrid accusation?"
"No," Coldfront spoke up finding herself easily angered. The man was too calm. How could he be? He was responsible for Talonhawk's death!
"I bet these computers are full of enough information to indicate you," Portal snapped.
"Oh really? Please," he waved his hand toward the wall of computers. "Feel free to browse through them. If it prompts you for a password, please ask. I will be more than glad to tell you… Of course, due to security reasons, I will be forced to change them after you've been told. But I am sure you understand that."
X-Treme quickly ran to a computer. His fingers moved across the keyboard with amazing speed… his eyes reading and scanning the text at an astonishing rate…
"It's asking for a password," X-Treme smiled, thinking he had gotten somewhere.
"Where are you at? Ah yes. The password is 'Milbury.'"
X-Treme stood up, and in one fluid movement had four sharp razors between his fingers and at the man's throat. "What did you say?"
"Milbury," the man smiled, not even the slightest bit surprised to have four, extremely sharp razors at his throat. "Is that a problem with that?"
"Why that name?" X-Treme growled.
"I don't know. I didn't assign it originally."
X-Treme's eyes narrowed. "If you're lying to me…"
"Why would I do such a thing? You have four, very sharp razors at my throat. It doesn't seem very beneficial to me to lie about that right now," the man replied with all the coolness in the world.
"Portal," X-Treme growled. "Check what's there."
She stared at him for a moment, in disbelief of being ordered to do something.
"So much like Scott," the man smiled, and said through clenched teeth. "Quick to give commands."
X-Treme turned back to the man. "What did you say?"
"I said those razors look very sharp, and deadly in your hands," the man sneered.
"It's about the cloning of sheep… and some experiments they did with monkeys… and how a cloned monkey successfully had a child…" Portal sighed. "Nothing about the Gene-Hunters anywhere…"
"We're nothing but a scientific lab," the man said. "I assure you."
"Come on," Coldfront said. "I think we've been had by our captive."
X-Treme lowered the razors and spit on the man's shoes. "If I find out you lied… I will be back…"
They walked out of the room, and just before they were out of ear shot, the man smiled, "Please, tell your brothers hello when you see them…"

"I can't believe the movie was three hours and thirty five minutes long," Ben laughed. "I don't even think the voyage of the ship itself was that long!"
Thermal wiped a tear from her eyes. "It was very romantic… How the disease was spreading through the people on the ship… how she died for him… when the rich family found out about her and the poor deckhand… how they were going to make him walk the plank… but instead, she killed herself before ever letting herself see the sight of her one true love dying…"
"Yeah," he said. "And it's doing very well in the theaters. I mean, look at this line already for the next showing… pretty crazy…"

They walked along the sandy border of a lake… somewhere along the line, their hands met and interlocked. They walked without talking… it seems that they did not need to. It was Thermal that finally spoke up.
"So what do you think really happened to the Marie Celeste? I mean, do you think people fled the ship because a disease was running rampant on the ship, like the movie suggests?"
Ben shrugged. "I don't know what to believe. I just leave it up for mystery. One of the things no one alive will ever know the answer to."
"Would you die for true love?" she suddenly asked. "The way she did? When her rich family told her to get on the raft, and she wouldn't without the poor deckhand…?"
Ben sighed. "It's pretty extreme. I mean, if I believed the one I was with was truly my destined soul mate, I suppose I would…"
She smiled. "What would your destined soul mate be like? I mean, you must have an idea?"
He turned and faced her. "She would be just like you…"
And they kissed…




Chapter 34: Unlocked

"What do you mean he's dead?" Coldfront screamed.
"Look, I'm just telling you the truth," Mark Carr shrugged. "I went in there to check on him, and it looks like his body decomposed thirty years."
"You're kidding me, right?" Portal screamed.
"Afraid not," Mark Carr sighed.
"I can't believe this is happening," Coldfront screamed, and sat down.
"It was all a ruse to get us to leave him alone, so he could die without ever telling his secret," Portal growled. "But I can't help but feel there was something more to that science lab…"
"You went to a science lab?" Mark Carr asked, turning around.
"What science lab?"
"Apparently a place called 'The Lab of Higher Evolution,'" Portal answered. "Really weird place. Pretty high tech for just being a 'science' lab."
"Especially the way that X-Treme person reacted to that password that we were given…"
"You are not to go there again. Is that understood?" Mark Carr snapped. "I don't know who this X-Treme person is… But I don't want any of you going near there again. That is an order. And it will not be broken. Is that clear?"
Everyone looked at Mark Carr. He had always been so kind and sincere to them. To see him so angered… or perhaps it was fear…?
They nodded their heads in reluctant agreement.

His mind continually drifted to the others. How they were doing.
What they were doing. Life as an ordinary person just didn't suit him anymore. He had found importance in Next Flight. It is where he wanted to be now.
In the beginning he thought that the entire idea of Next Flight would never work out. They were nothing but a bunch of throwaway teens that didn't know their place in the world; brought together from various backgrounds to work together as one. There was always someone hating another, one person who couldn't get along with the other. There was always something. But in the end, they were working as one. They were working as a team. His mind was changing. Perhaps something could become of them yet. They were working as a team. They were showing their individual strengths and pulling them together, to show the teams incredible strength.
Now, after having worked with them and having come this far as a team; nothing felt more right to him than being there again. He wanted to save the world. He wanted to save Canada. He wanted to be a hero. Nothing else in his life excited him as much as the idea of racing to together as a team.
Everything seemed to be working out so well…
Until the death of Talonhawk.
That had thrown the team for an unexpected loop. Then again, death such as his is usually unexpected. It rattled their sense of security. They realized then, even heroes could die… and die young… and sometimes tragic and horrible deaths.
All they had worked for… had worked to become… was suddenly fragile… Then the tensions mounted… and escalated beyond belief… Coldfront had nearly killed Caterwaul by freezing nearly every ounce of blood in his blood stream… there had also been seeing most of Rogue Force being taken down by the same people who had slain Talonhawk… the Gene-Hunters… they were ruthless killers…
"You all right, son? You look like you're drifting in space," the man said.
His name is Thomas Wolfe. He is better known as Mindscan. "Yeah dad," he answered distantly. "I'm fine. Just thinking about some things."
"Girl problems?" the father smirked.
"Sure dad," he answered back, nodding. "Say dad, can I use the phone?"
His father smiled. "Well, of course you can."
"Thanks dad," he said, and excused himself. Walking up the stairs, he thought to himself about calling Department H. Just to see whom - if anyone - had come back. He figured that at least Portal would be there. She said she had no one to go to. Besides, it would be a perfect excuse to check on Caterwaul's condition.

"Alpha Flight is supposed to be showing the rest of the new people around to some of the new additions to Department H. I guess some people that used to belong to Beta Flight will be coming through here," Coldfront said.
Suddenly the phone rang. Portal smiled. "Excuse me." She picked up the phone. "What do you want?" she laughed.
"Is that how we answer the phone now?" a familiar voice said.
"Mindscan! Hey! How's it going?"
"Terrible," he confessed. "All my dad keeps asking me about is girlfriends."
"Well you got plenty of those now don't you," Portal laughed.
"Thanks, I needed that," he replied back. "So how is everyone?"
"Well for the most part, they're all here in my room," she answered. "Coldfront and Caterwaul are here…" She whispered her addition of, "Though they're sitting as far apart as possible, and not even saying a word to one another." She cleared her throat, and spoke in a normal tone again. "Yeah, but Caterwaul is doing all right. What's that? Well, yeah. A few exciting things have happened. We met someone called X-Treme.
Interesting person he was." Portal turned towards Coldfront and whispered. "She seems to be doing a little better. But she visits Talonhawk's grave every day… at least once a day, if not more." Portal got up and excused herself on the portable phone, leaving two people to sit in a room in uncomfortable silence.
"How are the others?" Mindscan asked.
"Others? You mean Thermal? Well, she's apparently having the time of her life. We haven't heard from her since she left."
"What about the others… as in Rogue Force…"
"Oh." Portal paused. "Them." She cleared her throat. "Well, Magistrate woke up from her coma… but it looks like she has some serious brain damage… if she can ever put a basic sentence together again, it will be far more than they could ever expect… then again, she only had a six percent chance or some horrible chance of even surviving… so I guess anything is possible… as for Specta…" Her voice failed her. "She's passed away. It was horrible… the Legacy Virus…" she paused again, as though the words were cancer to her tongue. She cleared her throat again, feeling her own throat constrict. "Her essence basically dissipated like some kind of gas… She simply… ceased to exist… and Imagery… he woke up from his coma as well… but he too has severe brain damage… doctors said he will never walk again… he's blind in both eyes… he's deaf in both ears… they actually said it would have been better for him to die in his coma…" She wiped the tear from her eye. "Magistrate and Imagery are still both under the Department H's medical care… and apparently will be so for life…"
Portal heard voices around the corner. "Oh, and Alpha Flight is showing, I guess Beta Flight, and Gamma Flight, and whatever other kind of Flight there is around Department H's new areas… and I think here they come now…"

The only thing Mindscan heard after that was Portal scream.
Not out of fear.
But out of anger.
Hatred, so deep and loathing.
And he heard one word that rung out so clear.
"… Belasco…"




Chapter 35: The Wicked Witch

Caterwaul ran out of the room, and had to stop and catch his breath. The sight had not been what he expected. Mystical arms held Portal against the wall, who was screaming and ranting at the top of her lungs.
"What has gotten into you, dear girl?" Shaman asked. "Do not fight against the mystical bonds - the more you do so, the more uncomfortably tighter they will become."
"If I had studied magic, instead of being hidden away, these bonds would mean nothing to me, Shaman," Portal hissed back. Her eyes almost seemed to brim red with anger and hatred. "Look among you! Do you not see her?"
"Who?" Snowbird asked.
"The daughter of the demon himself!" Portal screamed.
"Whom do you speak of?" Shaman asked again.
"The one you called 'Witchfire'!" Portal screamed. "Trust her not! I've seen her, and all the evil she can do! I've seen what she is capable of… I have seen, more so, what her father can do… he alone is responsible for killing my brother! Do you deny my accusations, daughter of Belasco?"
All eyes turned to the members of Beta Flight, whom Alpha Flight was showing around. Witchfire turned away. "I don't know you…"
"Look closer," Portal screamed. "Look into my eyes, and see the soul of my brother, as his heart is ripped from his chest by S'ym… see my best friend's spirit, twisted and perverted, into a feline like creature… tell me you don't recognize me now…"
Witchfire paused. Her eyes widened. "It can't be you… you… you died…"
"It is me!" Portal screamed. "And I will exact my revenge!" Within a large flash, Shaman found his mystical bonds could not hold back a teleporter. Within seconds, she was out of the bonds, and on top of Witchfire, punching her repeatedly.
"Whoa," Caterwaul shouted. "This is crazy!" Quickly, he and Puck jumped between the madness, and pulled them apart. Caterwaul slammed Portal against the wall, and stared into her eyes. "You've gotta calm down, and calm down now. I'm the resident psychopath, and don't take kindly to sharing that slot. Now what's going on?"

She took a deep breath, surrounded by most of Alpha Flight, as well as Next Flight members… she was on the spot light, and hated it… she could easily summon a teleportation disk and be gone… but they deserved an explanation for her behavior… She took a sip of her coffee. "I can't remember everything clearly… time… it didn't follow the same rules… it was… Another place… possibly another time… I remember her voice… it's so clear in my head… Ororo… I miss her… I was a little girl frightened beyond all measure as I lay in a bed, perfectly still. I listened with all her heart, though I was not the one being spoken to… however, I had been the one they were speaking of. They knew I was there… and that I was listening… I was under their care. But that did very little to ease my fears. I had already seen too many things by this time... I saw my brother, Peter, slain, and faced the devil himself, I believed… but that's when Ororo told me… it was a demon named Belasco… evil and cruel beyond all measure… I remember being on an island… and hearing Belasco's voice calling me… luring me away… I was so young then… perhaps five years old… The last thing I heard was Katherine calling for me… then a flash… Where I was… could only be described as Hell… though, it was not truly… everything made me think it was… a man, with two horns on his head, fangs, evil… demons… dead bodies… Ororo and Katherine came to my rescue… Saved me from Belasco… they told me I was to be used by him, to open some portal for the Dark Ones… apparently, his… gods… or something… Ororo was going to teach me magic, but then thought better of it, knowing that Belasco would be able to sense me then… So Ororo and Kitty kept me hidden in the Limbo, praying for the chance for me to be saved… When Ororo felt a weakening in the Limbo's barrier, she and Kitty quickly took me there… And that's when I appeared here… The Limbo's barrier shattered by Talisman, and sealed by Ororo so I might be saved… But during my time in Limbo, I saw many things… When Ororo had managed to successfully hide me from Belasco, he bore a child through a woman somehow…"
"Witchfire," Mac nodded.
"Right," Portal continued.
"Do you realize what you're saying, eh?" Puck asked. "That you're Illyana Nikolovna Rasputin. You … died here… of the Legacy Virus. How do you explain that, eh?"
Portal smiled weakly. "As I said… time… nor space did not matter in the Limbo… I remember, one night hearing Ororo speak to Kitty… Her tone had been dark when she had said, 'In our own history, she was rescued while the others remained trapped here. This time the reverse may occur. For all we know the entire process may repeat itself yet again. In this dark place, where the rules of time… and space itself… do not apply… anything can happen… anything…'"*
"Wow," Mac awed, rather impressed. "So you're an Illyana from a different time line?" He shook his head. "I've seen a lot of strange things since I have been with Alpha Flight, but this ranks up there…"
"You're not kidding," Coldfront added, under her breath.
"Have you… contacted the X-Men?" Guardian asked.
"No," Portal said, shaking her head.
"You should," Guardian persisted. "I am sure they would be glad to see you."
"Would they? My set of memories are very different than theirs," Portal said. "What I know, they may not. I am not their Illyana. As far as they would be concerned, I am just someone who has a striking resemblance to someone they knew. I have studied the files you all have on the X-Men… in my time… things were much different… there was never a Bishop on the team… or Gambit… and Rogue… she was evil… she never joined the X-Men…"
"So you possess no magic, eh?" Puck asked.
"None," Portal shook her head. "Ororo kept me hidden away from Belasco and never taught me magic herself. She didn't want me to know magic, or else Belasco could channel through me…"
"Well, to clear things up," Mac said, cutting in. "Witchfire … we know about her past… she apparently tried to attack Alpha Flight quite some time ago, in the name of her father… she was stopped… and she was freed from Belasco's hold over her…"
"No one," Portal whispered, "is ever free of Belasco's hold… never…"

There is nothing stronger that love.
It is stronger than any magic, machine, or force known to man.
Right now… right here… two people feel that they are very much in love… and that tonight, nothing can stop them…
Passion was high. They kissed, and held each other tightly in one another's embrace. Her soft lips upon his, his hands over her body.
Everything seemed so right. Her breathing was becoming rapidly faster…
And that is when it happened.
The bed caught afire. She tried to scream denial, but the flames only grew in response to her anger. They both quickly jumped from the bed, and ran into the bathroom and filled a small cleaning bucket full of water, to douse the flame. When it was all done, she turned away.
He reached out. "What happened?"
"Same thing that happens every time I get close to someone," she answered.
"It's okay," he whispered, and gently laid his hand on her shoulder.
She flinched and pulled away. "No it's not. I need to learn how to control my powers if I ever hope to lead a normal life…" She dressed herself, and turned to him. Her eyes were alive with a waterfall of tears. "I'm sorry…" Slowly she walked out the hotel door and closed it behind her.
Ben stood alone, his head hung low.
Only self-doubt was stronger than the flames of Love…

~~~~~~~
· Aside from being a brief recap of the intro in Chapter 20 of Next Flight, the dialogue that she is speaking of about Ororo is paraphrased from the Magik Limited Series

Chapter Thirty-six: Together Again: The Changes
She walked into the room, and there was suddenly a moment of silence.
All eyes turned to her when she walked in…
"I like it," Caterwaul finally said.
Portal smiled, and flipped her hair. It was cut down to shoulder length, and dyed black. "I figured I was due for some kind of change," she smiled. She turned away. "Besides, this will at least make me harder to recognize."
"From?" Caterwaul began, then nodded his head. "The X-Men, eh?"
Portal nodded her head. Caterwaul understood… Or he portrayed that he did. Inside, he could not understand her motives… the reasons.
Caterwaul's own past was a complex picture of broken puzzle pieces, to which he could not make any sense. He wanted a past; he wanted family… but so long as his memories remained like fragmented pieces of glass, he would never have that… and no telepath, to date, not even the legendary Professor Xavier, was able to mind probe him, to help him put the pieces back together… "So," he coughed. "What do we call you? I mean, we know your real name isn't Christi… and that it's actually…"
Portal stopped him. "The name's Christi. Just call me Christi."
Caterwaul jumped from the counter, and placed his arm around her.
"Fair enough, Christi. Got a last name, yet?" he laughed.
She looked at him and playfully punched him in the stomach. "I am still working on it…But with Laura Dean back in here, I have a new name, of sorts…"
"Really?" Caterwaul asked. "What might that be?"
"Since she has the code name 'Portal' - I figured I would have to change my own. And I have just the name…" She danced ahead, spun around, and stared at Caterwaul as she stood in a beautiful pose. "Call me, Passage!"
When a child is frightened… it returns to its mother and father, to protect them from the things that make them scared… When a child has been hurt… it returns to its mother and father, to make them feel better…
Deep in the dark heavens of space, a child is coming to its "parents"… And the world may never be the same again…
Sometimes, the strangest things can happen. Somewhere deep in space, a child was fleeing for it's dear life… now, here on Earth, a young man is fleeing for his own life as well… Parallel lives in a most bizarre situation. Both fleeing from two different evils; both evils incredibly sinister and deadly.
His name is Vincent Hall. He never asked for any of this. All he ever wanted was a normal life. Maybe to be a star on a football team back in America. But now, all that has been stripped from him… and he's deathly afraid that soon, his own life will be stripped from him as well.
Somewhere behind him, a male snarled. "Smart kid. KO'ed Vertigo.
Makes him a moving target. He's got a tough hide, but there ain't been no armor that I can't build a gun to destroy."
"He's even immune to my harpoons," another man growled, his accent thick.
"A shame to kill him," a female laughed. "I'd like to go fist to fist with him for a little bit."
"Let me get a hold of him, and he's as good as dead," a Chinese young man replied. "That way harpoons, shurikens, bullets - you name it.
Nothing can save him then."
"The way the boy runs, you'd never catch up to him," the first man snapped back, as he began piecing together another gun…
Mark Carr paced back and forth, sometimes walking around the circular table. The others were all gathered around. "Where's Coldfront?" Mark asked.
"Probably at Talonhawk's grave," Portal replied. "That's the last I heard of her. She said she bought some flowers to lay there…"
"Wasn't she made aware of the meeting?" Mark asked, pausing.
"Yes sir," Mindscan answered. "She was."
Just then the television clicked on, in the room.
"Sir," came a voice through the television. "I am sorry to disturb the meeting, but I have something you may want to see…"
"Go ahead, Johnson," Mark Carr replied.
"This is Connie Schön, and this is the scene of Greenhill Cemetery…" The footage cut to the entire graveyard covered in ice. Next Flight was horrified. "The police are baffled by this strange occurrence.
A local resident, visiting the cemetery at the time this occurrence occurred, claims that a young woman was responsible. Unleashing ice from her hands, she created this spectacular, yet horrifying scene…"
"Greenhill Cemetery," Mindscan whispered.
They all knew who it was… from the name of the cemetery, to the scene that had unfolded there…
Coldfront.
A disk of light appeared, and the members of Next Flight stepped out.
Greenhill Cemetery.
Ice cascaded from the trees; what appeared to be sleds, decorated the cemetery; tombstones, buried in ice, sat silently, waiting to be freed from their own tombs.
"This is Coldfront's work, all right," Portal sighed.
"What's gotten into her lately?" Thermal asked.
"We're all under a lot of stress," Mindscan replied. "Caterwaul, take the front. Thermal, go over there and tell the authorities we're here to help. You know what to do." He turned back to Caterwaul. "Any other scents? Was she attacked?"
Caterwaul's eyes flared open. "What the?" He looked around, as in disbelief.
"What is it?" Mindscan asked.
"Another scent, all right," Caterwaul answered. "But it can't be who I think it is."
"What do you mean?" Mindscan asked. "Whose scent is it?"
Caterwaul turned, his face ashen white. "Talonhawk's…"



Chapter Thirty-seven: Madness Reigns.
"What do you mean you got Talonhawk's scent?" Mindscan screamed.
"I'm just tellin' ya what I picked up, all right? It's vague, but it's his scent all right. There's not mistaking our flyboy," Caterwaul retorted.
"There's got to be some kind of mistake," Passage whispered in awe.
"I don't make mistakes," Caterwaul snapped back.
Thermal was using her control over flame to make heat so intense, that the water turned to steam before it ever hit the ground. As a result, a thick fog seemed to linger in the cemetery, until the breeze would slowly blow it out… At least it saved the cemetery from being desecrated but an over abundance of water…
In the shadows of that fog, a figure watched closely, the newly arrived heroes. "Caterwaul senses something," the figure said to himself.
"The mist and the fog however is clouding up his senses apparently…" With that, the figure quickly escaped in the cover of the fog…
"We've got to do something about Coldfront," Thermal said, panting. "I melted all the ice, but I am completely drained. I can barely even stand to take my next breath. This isn't going to go over well with the public."
"Our only benefit is, they don't know it was Coldfront…" Mindscan said.
"Yeah, but they've seen us on the news. They know how her powers work. Ain't no one else on Canadian soil that can do quite what she does," Caterwaul interjected. "It won't take them long to piece it together."
Mindscan was silent. What had made her go off the deep end like this?
Just then a figure approached the group, in the cemetery. "Do you all know Alex Saiz? The one that was known as Talonhawk?"
They turned. It had been the caretaker of Greenhill Cemetery.
Mindscan looked at the man. "We did, yes. Why do you ask?"
"His grave," the man began, then stopped.
"What about his grave?" Caterwaul snapped.
"It's been dug up," the caretaker replied.
"What?" Thermal asked, in surprise.
"You're kidding me!" Mindscan shouted in disbelief and horror.
"Was his body…"
"Desecrated?" the caretaker interrupted. "No. That's the strange part."
"Then why?" Mindscan asked.
"His entire body is gone," the caretaker replied. "Right along with the coffin he was laying in."
"What? That's madness!" Thermal screamed.
"I have heard of when they rob bodies, but they never take the coffin as well!" Mindscan added. "Who would do such a thing? And why?"
Answers to be known later…
It's a dark, black ocean. Humans can't breathe here.
Not without a device to give them air.
There are so many wonders here.
So much untouched beauty.
It's almost perfectly relaxing here.
A place to come watch and be soothed by the gentleness.
But right now, deep in that dark, black ocean…
There is one who does not see the wonders.
Does not see the beauty.
And the last thing it can do is relax, and be soothed…
Though every ounce of its body aches.
It's being chased.
By something of pure evil.
It looks like what humans might call a shark.
But it's nearly twice the size of the largest great white shark known on earth.
This deep, dark ocean is space.
And here, a "child" is racing to find its parents.
Hoping they can save him from the horror.
But it can't help but wonder…
Is it about to doom planet earth, as it's own planet was doomed?
His name is Vincent Hall. He has barely begun his life.
Now he's running for that very life.
Or it might end, much sooner than he could have ever planned.
He doesn't even know the people who are after him. But he has an idea why they're after him. Because he's a mutant, a person, blessed, or cursed as some might say, with extra genetic abilities. He is able to condense the intensity of his own flesh to an ultra hard armor, which has so far, endured bullets at close range, without so much as knocking the air out of him. The circus he was traveling with called him Minaret.
Life at the circus was simple.
Everything was back then.
However, the life of Vincent Hall is about to change, forevermore…
Department H has a thousand secrets, built upon a thousand other secrets, like a temple of lies. To even begin to thread through them all would be like wandering through a maze the same as the finger print of your index finger.
Deep, down in the experimental areas of Department H, where very few know of its existence, machines hum, then fall silent.
Labored breathing comes from the center of the test room.
Inside the safety of the observation booth, a man whispers, "We've done it."
"What of our specimen? Jeanettalynn Braxton, better known to us as, Igneous?"
"She's still breathing, but barely alive."
"It does not matter," the voice replied. "We can now begin making the suit that will allow its wearer to control magma, the volcanic flow of lava around the world…"
That's the funny thing.
Life is about change.
There's a lot of change blowing in the wind tonight…


Chapter Thirty-eight: Winds of Change.

He has been running for quite some time… it has come time to make a stand, once and for all. He stopped, and stood his ground. "I am tired of running," he shouted into the darkness. "Come for me, if you will! Or strike me from a distance, as you did to all of those at the circus!"
A figure stepped out of the darkness. His hair was long, and blacker than night. His eyes were deeper than the depths of hell, and colder than the most northern regions of the ice peaks of Antarctica. He strokes his long mustache, and loads his gun. His name is Scalphunter, and he is the leader of this organization that has been pursuing the one known as Minaret. "You gave us a good run, boy. But you will fall, like the rest did."
"I don't understand why you did this," Vincent stood his ground, though his heart pumped with fear. "Why did you slaughter all of the circus workers?"
"Because, like you, they were all mutants," Scalphunter sneered.
"And you are not?" Vincent shouted back, tears streaming from his eyes in frustration.
"Oh we are," Scalphunter seemed to smile. "We just make our living killing off mutant kind. Sort of like the theory of only the strong survive. It's nothing personal, boy. Rest assured."
"Let me take him out," a female voice said, stepping out of the shadows behind Scalphunter. Her name is Arclight. She is known for her tremendous strength.
Scalphunter seemed to think a bit, and lowered his gun. "Have fun," he said, and nodded. Arclight leapt forward.
"You know, like Scalpy said, you gave us a good run," Arclight chuckled. "But they all fall to the Marauders. Eventually they all die."
Vincent Hall stood his ground and stared at Arclight. "Well, if you think you can take me down, I guess this is the time to find out." There was a haunting laughter from behind Scalphunter, and Vincent knew it was the rest of the Marauders, almost laughing and taunting him, as if he never had a chance.
"Nice knowin' ya, kiddo," Arclight laughed and charged him.
Vincent stood his ground.
Her fist met with his face with every ounce of her strength…
His head should have come clean off.
It didn't. Instead Arclight fell to the ground, screaming, and clutching her hand.
He looked down at Arclight and smiled. "Just as I had thought.
You knew of my strength, but not the rest of my mutant ability," he said, almost confidently. He took pride that at least he would take down one Marauder before his own death would claim him. "You see," he said, reaching down and grabbing Arclight and holding her above his head. "I also possess the mutant ability to make my skin diamond hard, and when I am in that state, my body absorbs kinetic energy, and stores it… adding to my own strength!" With that he threw Arclight at Scalphunter who was already aiming and just as he fired, Arclight's body struck him with such incredible force that it send them flying backwards… sounds snapped and crunched, it was too much to hope it had been bones; probably the protective armor they wore.
"Nice moves," came a voice, as Riptide came spinning into the scene. "But no matter how thick your hide, eventually my shurikens will penetrate that thick skin of yours!"
"You might be right," Vincent screamed. With amazing dexterity, added by Arclight's strike, Vincent reached behind him and grabbed a man who had been sneaking through the shadows. Throwing the Chinese man into Riptide, he screamed as shurikens filled his body; collapsing with Riptide, and canceling his powers. The man had been Scrambler, one of the other Marauders.
Harpoon stepped forward, his thick Alaskan accent shining through each word spoken. "I am verily impressed that you have actually managed to kayo my comrades, however, your time of triumph has come to an end."
"Only if," Vincent smiled and clapped his hand together…
With the combination of his diamond hard skin, his unbelievable strength, the ending result was that close to a sonic boom that shattered Harpoon's ear drums instantly, and the air pressure sent him flying backwards…
He collapsed on one knee.
He made it look easy.
It was anything but that.
But he couldn't rest now. He had to keep running. They'd regroup and come after him again… they always did… and now he needed to find someone… someone that could help him… but here, who could help him?
NASA or anyone else never had a chance to see it.
It suddenly appeared on their solar scopes… what appeared to be a small meteor about the size of a small house, headed straight for earth… the strangest part was right behind it was another one… about the size of a great white shark… They were streaking towards earth at an incredible speed, and there was no way to stop it…
Just as the first one was about to enter earth's atmosphere however, it stopped for a few seconds… then entered the atmosphere… heading straight for the land of Canada… All of Canada and the United States would surly be doomed once the meteor struck… The second one, not stopping, followed directly…
One strange thing… In it's original course, it should have struck somewhere it Japan, but for that second it stopped, it had stopped and changed it's course… removing the idea that this was just a regular meteor…
When it struck Lake Winnipeg, it should have sent a massive wave… but it didn't… it barely even sent a ripple through the lake… The second one struck into the lake shortly after the first, causing minor damage, but not nearly as large as had been expected…
This gave the definite idea that it was a UFO.
The Canadian government was quick to send a recovery mission…
However, they found nothing for the first night…
On the second night however, a team of divers was attacked by what the few that managed to survive, claimed was a great white shark, three times larger than any they had seen previously…
They stood around the cemetery for a brief moment more. "Well, if someone stole Talonhawk's coffin, that would explain why you caught his scent, Caterwaul," Mindscan said, plainly. "And it would explain why Coldfront went crazy. Probably came by to visit his grave, and saw it had been robbed…"
"No," Caterwaul shook his head. "I know a fresh scent, and a decaying scent. The scent I caught was very fresh. If the moisture from melting down Coldfront's work hadn't dampened the air, I would have been able to track the scent as well."
"What are you saying? That Talonhawk's alive?" Thermal replied.
"I guess I am," Caterwaul sighed.
"Look, we all saw him. He died. There was no way he survive what had happened to him," Mindscan began. "I know you feel partially at fault for his death, for not stepping in when you did, but this isn't the answer… to think he's alive."
"I am telling you, he's alive," Caterwaul snapped back. "He's alive, and he was just here."
"Why would he visit his own grave?" Thermal asked.
"I haven't figured out that piece of the puzzle just yet," Caterwaul whispered. "But that sure does begin to explain a lot of things…"
"Care to share?" Mindscan asked.
"Not just yet," Caterwaul smirked. "Besides, our priority is to find the one team member we know for sure is alive and well…"
Coldfront.
A portion of the sparse forest around Lake Winnipeg, a creature pulls itself together, and fights the pain burning inside of it. It knows that it is doomed, but perhaps it can be saved. It is, after all, the last of it's kind. Should it die, then all of it's own race would have been destroyed, but something so evil and vile…
Not far from there, one of the Canadian government works puts on his hat and shakes his head. How I do detest this human form, but for the Queen I shall do whatever she bids of me… What a waste to have been born into a mortal shell .



Chapter Thirty-nine: Unfold the Wings.
"Do you ever wonder where things begin going wrong?" he asked softly into the wind, to no one in particular, for as far as he knew, only shadows heard his question.
"I do that all the time," came a voice from those very shadows.
Mindscan turned. "Who's there?"
"Me," came a chilling voice. Caterwaul slowly stepped from the shadows. "One of the few people your psi-powers can't detect," he added.
"Caterwaul," Mindscan whispered. "I didn't realize you were around…"
"Most don't," Caterwaul answered his voice cynical. He sat down, heaving a heavy sigh, as if he had walked for miles on end. "The hardest part," he finally said after a moment of silence. "Is not giving up when you can't find out where it did start going wrong. More often than not, you really can't tell where it went wrong." He ran his hand through his long hair. "Events are happening every second of every moment; and each one of those events is a movement either for or against us. We just have to tough it out, and come out on top the best we can. When we can't; we lick our wounds, and hopefully live and learn from each experience…"
Mindscan was silent for a long moment.
Passage had often spoke of "another side" of Caterwaul; a side of depth and caring; wisdom beyond his years… and he was seeing it now, and truly not believing it. He shook his head after he realized the unusual silence that had grown. "Back at the cemetery, you said you had an idea of what was going on… care to share with me?"
"Sure," Caterwaul shrugged. "But the high opinion you have of me right now is going to go right out the window…"
"What?" Mindscan said, shocked.
"Look, I know you think … or thought… that I was more beast than man, and that I have a 'caring' side is a bit of a shock, but no one ever really cared to get to know me; of course, I didn't make it easy either… but this theory I have… it's right out there with being insane…"
"Well, what is it? I could use a bit of insanity," Mindscan smirked.
"Well, it has to do with something Snowbird told me way back," Caterwaul said, itching his chin, thoughtfully. "I was sitting there, when she told me some things…"
Caterwaul's memory flashed back…
"I have the ability of post-cognition," she explained. "When your team mate froze you, it was both Thermal and myself that kept you alive long enough to allow your healing factor a chance to work. When I touched you… I saw many things… most of which I do not understand… but one that was very clear was how you had witnessed Talonhawk's death…"
"Okay? So what's the deal? Why tell me? You think I need a shrink or something, lady?" Caterwaul growled, not liking the idea of his past being probed into.
"No," she said. "I don't want you to make the same mistake he did."
"Who?"
"Talonhawk," she answered.
"How do you figure?" Caterwaul asked, turning slowly towards her.
"I believe it was the recent death of his mother that drove him to be so reckless," Snowbird replied.
"Recent death… of his mother?" Caterwaul asked surprised. "She can't be dead. He would have told us. I am sure of it… How do you know?
About his mother, I mean."
"He was flying… I met him, and touched his face to tell him how much like an angel he looked like, and I saw a strong and powerful image of his mother being buried…"
"That's crazy," Caterwaul whispered. "You have to be wrong."
"I rarely am," she replied. "I rarely am…"
Mindscan's face paled. "That is very interesting…"
"Oh, and that's not all," Caterwaul explained. "I remember when she told me about meeting him in the sky…"
Her soft form took shape. Her sightless eyes fixing on him. "You look like an angel," she said with a smile.
"That's funny, coming from a half-goddess," he smiled.
She touched his face, and her own facial features changed. "I am sorry. I did not know there was a death in your family."
Talonhawk's eyes blazed over with sadness only to change seconds later into a flash of anger. "What? There was no death in my family! I have no idea what you're talking about!" He pulled his wings inward, and sky dived, reaching incredible speeds, diving downward.
Snowbird could have easily caught up… but somehow she thought it wiser not to… and thought about the last few seconds of the conversation…
Shrugging, she took owl form again, and flew freely through the skies once more…
Mindscan looked at Caterwaul. "So what do you think it means?"
"I think it means our flyboy is still alive…"




Chapter Forty: Massacre. *
* This chapter takes place before Chapter 43 of "Birth of a New Dream."
"There was chaos on the streets. Super beings with weapons were after one young man, who was doing all he could to evade them, while saving the lives of innocents," came the voice over the television. "The super villains have been identified as a murderous group called the Marauders…"
Wyre sat up. "Who did they say?"
As if the newscaster had heard, he repeated, "That's right folks, the Marauders. Responsible for the murder of nearly hundreds of mutants in the deep sewers of New York City…"
"Know them?" Vindicator asked, turning his head.
Wyre stood up grabbed his jacket. "Stay out of this, Mac. For your own sake. This isn't going to be pretty. These guys are killers."
"What's the deal?" Mac said, slamming down his cup.
Wyre turned his eyes ablaze with anger. "You heard me, Mac. Stay out of this. Get in their way, they're gonna kill you. Get in my way, I'm liable to kill you too."
With that he slammed the door shut.
He is surprised to be with Alpha Flight as a part of their team.
He's always been a solo player for as long as he could remember. That's what is bothering him most. Why did they choose him to be a part of the Alpha Flight team? Was it for the sole reason that the government could keep an eye on him? He had been, in part, their creation. Now did their scientific eyes seek to pry every secret from him? Good luck, he told himself. He frowned, as he realized more important matters.
The Marauders.
What were they doing in Canada? Were they coming for him? He had met several of the Marauders before; Scalphunter, and another, who he did not recognize in the beginning; another mutant, whose eyes were red. He was their informant. Their information gatherer. Wyre didn't like being a part of a team then, and he still didn't know. But at least Alpha Flight stood for something; some good, to wash away his own sins of the past.
The Marauders… they thrived on murder.
He's running. Not even looking where he's going. The strength he absorbed is quickly ebbing from him, as his muscles ache to collapse and break down. Had it not been for his mutant ability to absorb kinetic energy, he might have broken a few bones. Wyre had not timed to react when a body crashed into his motorcycle… the body of a young man.
A voice came from the darkness of the alleyway. "Well, well, well," came the cold and chilling sound. "If it isn't our buddy, Wyre.
Looks like we got ourselves a double slam here."
Wyre could not see through the blackness, but he could see light gleaming off eyes in the alleyway like the moon reflecting in the lake.
But then again, he didn't need to see who it was. It had been years, but he still recognized the voice.
"Scalphunter," he said coldly.
"Still recognize me?" Scalphunter stepped out of the darkness, wielding his trademark gun. "I'm impressed."
"Don't be," Wyre barked back, as he helped the boy to his feet.
"It's hard to forget such a wretched stench." He looked the boy over. "I see you haven't changed much in the ways you… hunt. Killing children and women. I guess a leopard never does change his spots."
"Why should he, if he's enjoying himself?" Scalphunter laughed.
He clicked his gun, and aimed. "I tire of this talk. Let's dance!"
Scalphunter opened fire, and only Wyre's quick reflexes saved him and the boy from being riddled with bullets at near point black range.
Wyre grabbed the younger man by the scruff of his collar. "There isn't much time for talking, but do you care to tell me why these Marauders are after you?"
Vincent looked up. He had been running for so long, every ounce of his body ached. All he could get out was, "I really don't know why… I worked for a circus… they came and killed all of us… we were all mutants, trying to make an honest living…"
"As freaks," came Riptide's voice as he spun around the corner.
Wyre used the cover of his own motorcycle to hide from the shower of shurikens that Riptide threw at incredible speed and intensity as he was spinning around like a tornado.
The sound of metal being damaged was quite clear, and sharp to his ears. Pings and other sounds shot through the night. Wyre spotted a manhole and opened it, throwing Vincent down. He then climbed down himself. Just as he was about all the way in, he drew his gun and aimed…
A hit to the gas tank and the motorcycle exploded.
He heard a terrible scream.
It was too much to hope that Scalphunter had died.
He was their worse threat.
It was probably too much to hope that any of them died.
They always had a bad habit of coming back from the dead anyway…
Scrambler's body was full of metal. He had come around the corner to see what was going on… His own body shielded Riptide from seriously being wounded, aside from burns… but Scrambler… that was a different story… metal shrapnel filled his body, and his blood ran free like a river… but he was still alive…
Scalphunter looked down. "Sorry Kim," he smiled.
He put the gun to Scrambler's head and pulled the trigger.
Scrambler's body was still full of metal…
His body was still bleeding live a river…
But he wasn't alive anymore.
Arclight clapped his hands together, and a sonic boom sounded.
However, with that boom came a large gust of wind. "They're gone," she snapped.
Scalphunter kicked aside the still burning motorcycle. "There," he pointed to the manhole. "They've gone down into the sewers," he smiled. "How ironic. This will be like old times," he laughed maliciously…