The Zero Factor
David J. Duncan
October 2002

Notes: The characters from Forever Knight belong to Sony Tri-Star. The characters from Xena Warrior Princess belong to Studios USA and Renaissance Studios. The characters from Mutant X belong to Marvel and Tribune. The characters from Smallville belong to DC and Tribune. The idea with Schanke's transformation is Emily's. The characters from Dark Angel belong to their copyright holders. All other characters and scenarios are fictitious and of my own creation. Please send comments to dante0220@yahoo.com. Thanks to Emily for her beta and to Peggy for sneak-peeking. 


Gabrielle, Bard-Queen of the Amazons writes....

After the tragedy and burials, we started to move on. Lex began taking control of his father's operations. Adam and the others collaborated on their lessons. David, Angela, Francesca, and Karen dealt with things as best they could.

However, our enemies continued to plot against us. In particular, Ashlocke and his followers prepared their next attack. However, they had no idea of what waited for them in the desert.

No idea indeed....


Chapter 1 [Genomex]

In the boardroom, Genomex's managers sat anxiously waiting for a meeting to start. Since Mason Eckhart had disappeared some weeks earlier, the facility had remained on uncertain footing. Lionel Luthor's buyout pushed operations into blatant terrorist action. Worse still, "Patient 0" a.k.a. Gabriel Ashlocke remained at large and would continue to be a huge threat. Now, they had Luthor's son, Lex, to deal with. The files on the younger man revealed increasing business acumen in him. The Smallville experience definitely suited him although it had made him sympathetic to the cause of the freakish anomalies running loose out in society. Accordingly, they were uneasy about what the new CEO would put forward over the next hour.

At exactly 10 AM, the bald entrepreneur entered the room and sat at the table's head. Behind him, Steve and Garth flanked the doors.

"Good morning, everyone," Lex began. "As you know, last week, the Luthor Corp Board of Directors placed me in charge of all operations and gave me a directive to clean house. Obviously, this facility needs my attention the most. First, I want to compliment you on the research projects that have gone on here in the past and will continue to occur. Genetic research is a key element for Genomex and will continue to be such. However, there have been...certain unsavory activities that will require immediate termination. Therefore, I'm ordering an immediate audit into the company's affairs."

Charles Delay, the chief GSA agent, snickered.

"Excuse me, did I say something funny?" Lex asked indignantly.

"How would you know what to do? You lack your father's experience and his track record in the business community."

"Maybe I've seen some of those activities of yours, Delay," the new CEO snarled, his eyes burrowing into the agent's.

"The ones aimed at your freakish friend, Clark Kent, you mean," a female staffer cracked.

Lex growled, "I'm banning that term from our meetings effective immediately! Clark may be different, but he's no freak." Collecting himself, he turned to the door. "Gentlemen, are you ready?"

"We are," Steve agreed.

Here it comes, Delay brooded.

"You may wonder how I know so much about your operations. Trust me, everyone, I've scoured your reports and scrutinized your operations. I've had the unfortunate experience of seeing your agents harass my friends. Finally, I've requested counsel from experts. First, I present FBI agents Steven Petersen and Garth Singleton."

After he and Garth had joined their friend at the podium, Steve stared at the indignant people around the table. You're not going to like this, but I really don't care. "Thank you, Mr. Luthor. As you know, Agent Singleton and I have been investigating you for some time. Based on our findings, changes need to be made. First and foremost, we will dismantle the Genetic Security Agency...."

"You can't!" Michael Tomko, another GSA agent, protested.

"Don't worry. The lawyer filed an injunction yesterday against this move," Delay mentioned.

"You mean this?" Garth asked, waving a thick pile of paper in his hand. "After the bombings, the judge threw this out of court. You're finished."

Steve suppressed a triumphant grin, forcing himself to continue. "With Mr. Luthor's assistance, we hope to make this process an easy one. Accordingly, we'll need to confiscate every piece of GSA equipment and free the new mutants in stasis. Your cooperation will be appreciated. Thank you."

"Thanks, Agent Petersen," Lex expressed. "For the latter part of the game plan, I'm asking one of Genomex's founding minds to speak next, Dr. Adam Kane. Dr. Kane?"

Around the table, the agents grumbled. Bad enough to have these so-called "reforms" pushed on them, but having Mutant X enacting them was humiliating.

"Everyone," Adam began, giving them a stern look. "At one time or another, we've crossed paths on several points. I'd like to put all of that behind us. It's time for the Children of Genomex to take their places in society."

The audience shook their heads in consternation.

Delay challenged, "You would have them mixing with normal people?"

"And we're normal? Be careful of how you define that term, Delay. We aren't any more or less 'normal' than new mutants," Adam argued.

"And they'll end up on Dubois' funny farm, right?" Carl Ames, another agent scoffed.

The former geneticist shook his head, refusing to give the man any satisfaction. "It isn't a 'funny farm' at all. It's a social experiment and it's working quite well. One that I'm happy to be participating in."

"I'll bet you are. Eckhart must be rolling in his grave over this garbage," Ames griped.

"You're probably right, but he's gone. Now, we're going to return this facility to its original purpose-focusing on genetic research not incarceration," Adam asserted.

"And what about Mutant X? Will you disband them as well?" Delay snapped.

"No," Adam stated. "We have other threats to deal with." Ashlocke, for instance. 

"We heard that Ashlocke ran into Dubois at the funeral. Those patricidal freaks really tore into each other, didn't they?"

Steve glared at the speaker and stalked across the room. "Dave's many things, but he's not a patricide! He's had opportunities, but never crossed that line! Anyone who says that again will deal with me!"

"Not to mention an automatic suspension." Lex frowned. "Stuart Dubois put his son through quite a bit. Be thankful that the former wasn't..."

At that moment, an eerie feeling came over everyone in the room. Everything seemed to slow down as if mired in tar. Time itself seemed to stand still.

Then, as suddenly as the change had happened, things returned to normal.

"...your father," Lex concluded.

The alarm light flashed incessantly.

"There's been a security breach!" Delay noted.

"Order the lockdown. Nobody enters or leaves. Adam, Agents Sanderson and Petersen, you're with me," Lex directed. "I want all managers in my office for a meeting in 20 minutes!" With that, he rushed out of the room followed by the designated trio.


****

The FBI agents burst into the holding area fearing the worst. After the standoff in Wabash, they had placed the captured Strand members here. However a look around told them that the prisoners had escaped, leaving only disconcerted employees in their wake.

"We are they?" Steve demanded.

"We don't know," a man replied nervously. "One minute they're in the cells. The next, they're gone."

"Nobody came in or out?" Lex demanded. "Are you sure?"

"Positive. We were standing right here the whole time."

"As if somebody could freeze time with a snap of his or her fingers. Yeah right," Garth doubted.

Adam scratched his head, recalling a new mutant who could do just that. "Garth, can I borrow your cell phone?"

"Sure," the agent agreed, handing it to him. 

"Adam, when you're done, can you join us in Eckhart's old office?"

"Absolutely," he agreed, dialing Max's number. I'm glad we agreed on this system.

"Meantime, follow me everyone," Lex directed, leading the others back into the main part of the facility. Despite keeping a calm fašade, he fumed on the inside. Not only do they let them escape, but also the masterminds walked in and out. I won't allow this to be a threat to my friends. No way.


Chapter 2 [Cornell University] 

After dropping Adam and the others off at Genomex, the Double Helix made two other stops. First, Dave and Angie visited her parents' grave in Wabash, laying some flowers there and saying a few words. Afterwards, the transport headed for Ithaca for the rest of the day.

Chloe enjoyed showing the others around the campus and introducing them to all of its facets. For once, I'm not the sideshow and I can show them something really cool. Still, I hope my application to transfer goes through. This is great, but I really want to be with Clark, Lana, and Miri. "Okay, guys," she told the others. "It's time to go to class."

To the members of Mutant X, this revelation wasn't part of the program. "What?" Brennan asked.

"We're going to class," Clark explained. 

"Gary Miramoto's History 101 class," Dave added, approaching them in his suit. "Come on, Francesca's waiting for us."

"101? That sounds about your speed, Brennan," Shalimar jabbed.

"Yeah? Well, I prefer to live in the present." He shrugged.

Max snickered. They do like to go at each other. Of course, there's nothing wrong with it as long as she kicks his ass. 

You'd best pay attention, Sparky, or I'll give you the quiz from Hell," the medievalist cracked.

"Like you could do that. You're not the teacher here," the electrical mutant doubted as they entered the classroom. 

"But, Dr. Miramoto invited us to give this lecture," Francesca corrected him. "Good to see you all."

"Whatever," Brennan muttered, preparing himself to be bored to tears.

"Based on his last lecture back in Tucson, this should be good," Lana informed them. "I wish the others could hear it."

"They will actually," Jesse noted coming from the sound booth in the back of the room. "Toni's got the feed going back there."

"Adam wants to see the tape when we get back," Emma told them.

Glancing at his watch, Dave advised, "We'd better take our seats." Following his cousin to the front of the room, he greeted his friend standing there. "Gary, how's it going?"

"Okay. Thanks for doing this...both of you," the host expressed.

"Our pleasure," Francesca said, albeit a bit gloomily.

The two former classmates looked at each other, wondering, What's wrong with her?

"Umm, can we get a minute?" Dave requested.

"Sure. I'll get my notes set," Miramoto agreed, heading for the front of the room.

"Are you ready?" Dave asked caringly.

"I guess," the literature professor sighed.

He nodded. This is still so hard for both of us not to mention Angie. "It's going to be okay."

"I know," she told him. Then, she managed a smile. Aunt Beatrice always said he was strong. "Gratze. I'm ready."

Whew. "Primo. You'll feel better once we get going."

"All right. I'm ready now," she concurred.

Dave nodded to their colleague.

Having received the signal, Miramoto began, "Good afternoon. Since you enjoyed his first lecture here, I've invited Professor Dubois back for an encore. Today, he and our noted colleague from the language and literature department at the University of Arizona, Dr. Francesca Alvaro, will speak to us on the Renaissance. Professor Dubois?"

Dave took his place at the podium and looked out at everyone. "Thanks, Dr. Miramoto and hi again, Folks. Today, Dr. Alvaro and I will address our distinct angles of this movement. First, I will go into the background and then, she will address the literary and artistic elements."

"As long as you remember that the whole lecture isn't about Dante," Francesca jabbed humorously.

"I know that," he assured her, allowing a smile to spread across his face. Good. She wanted to let me know that she's back in form.

Angie grinned and reclined in her front row seat. Oh, this is going to be good.

For the next hour, he spoke about later medieval European history, east-west relations, religion, and the state. He interchanged maps and web pages. I wish Nick were here.

Francesca complimented his lecture with her own mastery. With her slides, she demonstrated various art pieces and talked about famous literary works. After discussing Dante, Petrarch, and Boccaccio, she wrapped up with a musical sample from Francesco Landini's music.

The students asked several enthusiastic questions both remotely from Tucson and in the classroom giving the presenters a chance to go in-depth with more information on their topic. 

Chloe observed something about their presentation. It's weird how in sync they are even down to the style. Accordingly, she raised her hand.

Dave smiled. Here it comes. "Yes, Miss Sullivan."

"Well, I can wait until later to ask this if you would prefer," she hedged, feeling her nerves.

"That's okay," Francesca indicated. "Go ahead."

"You're from Italy, right?"

"Lucca actually. Why do you ask?" the literature professor replied.

"Well, you two are so...well...into the cultural stuff. I wish you both had been our teachers back in Smallville. History wouldn't have been so boring," Chloe continued.

Francesca chuckled and looked at her cousin. He warned me about her forthrightness. "Ah, si. That's the way our mentor wanted it taught. History can be a collection of dry and dusty facts or it can be a vivid collection of people, places, and cultures. It depends upon your point of view,"

"Did you say 'our mentor'?" Lana interjected.

"I did," Francesca affirmed. "My uncle, Lorenzo Alvaro."

"My grandfather. He was a simple immigrant with a high school background, but he was in tune with everything and everyone. He read five languages. Remember when I said that everyone deserves to have his or her story told during the Crusades lecture? That was my grandfather's first lesson to me," Dave added.

Miramoto nodded. I don't care if I've heard that story a hundred times; it's a wonderful perspective. Tony thought so and so do I. "Well shall we give our speakers a hand?"

After the students applauded, they left the room for the most part, leaving with a better understanding of world culture.

Meantime, the Mutant X team members and the Smallville contingent flocked around the speakers.

"Nice piece-both of you," Emma complimented.

"I gotta say you two are great," Shalimar concurred.

"As Chloe said, I wish my teachers were more like you two," Brennan stated.

"Passion for one's work is important," Miramoto agreed, a smile tugging at the sides of his mouth. "And in Dave's case, he's so far gone that there's no hope."

"A fella's got to have something like that," the medievalist replied.

At that moment, Max approached them with a disgruntled look on her face. "Uh, guys. We've got trouble."

"Give us a minute," Dave told his former classmate. "Max?"

"Adam just called. It seems our friends just flew the coop."

Angie looked at them indignantly. "They can't even hold onto a few criminals? What is this?"

"Princess, we'll take care of this," her husband reassured her.

"I know, but these creeps just keep making life miserable for us," she countered.

"Who?" Miramoto wondered.

"The creeps who crashed the funeral last week," Dave replied. "Gary, can you excuse us? Thanks again."

"My pleasure," his friend responded, shaking both guest lecturers' hands.

"Okay, now let's meet with the others," Dave stated, leading the others out of the lecture hall and toward the Double Helix.

Chapter 3 

[A Tenement on New York's Lower East Side]

Ashlocke stared out the window at the Manhattan skyline. The Strand's first mission had netted mixed results. On the one hand, they had rid themselves of the GSA and Lionel Luthor, sending a firm warning in the process: defy us and you'll pay. Unfortunately, he had badly underestimated both the Duboises and Mutant X. Damn bastards made me run like a craven child. I'll make them hurt for that. Worse still, he could still imagine the Dark Child's blast knocking him from the church steeple. I'll strike at Tucson all right. Payback's going to be oh so sweet.

Walking back into the apartment's main room, he saw his followers gathering there.

"Gabriel," Morgan, the African-American telepath and his second in command, indicated enthusiastically. "The mission was a success! We released the others. Thanks to Kristin's intervention, they never knew what hit them."

Ashlocke nodded as he looked at the slender woman to the back of the room. I wish I could've seen their faces when she released them. That would've been priceless. "Is everyone ready?"

"We're all fine," Morgan assured him. "We're ready to begin preparations."

"Good," the head mutant indicated. "The amount of firepower in that church was unexpected to say the least. Still, you all fought well. Rest assured, next time will be different.." Quite different indeed.


****

[Tucson]

The sun had set in a brilliant fiery red display, coloring the desert in many splendid colors, and cleansing it before the coming of night.

On the west side of town, Eckhart scanned a newspaper. Despite his new state of affairs, he kept up on the news particularly as it related to his former mortal affairs. One headline caught his eye. "What's this? How could they allow this to happen?"

"Allow what to happen?" Ali inquired, entering the living room. Once again, he's too occupied with those mutants.

"Adam and the others overran Genomex...turning it into a haven for his freaks," the fledgling spat in disgust.

"Nothing is permanent, Mason," the former Janissary sighed. "Forget about those things now. When the opportunity comes, you'll have your opportunity. You must have patience."

Eckhart glared at Tucson's night skyline relenting tersely, All right, Ali. I'll follow your advice...for now.


Chapter 4

Nick watched the window shades slide open revealing the night sky. The sun had barely set and it had already been a busy day. Somewhere out there, Ali and Eckhart schemed away on some plan to set vampires and mutants against each other. Ashlocke and the Strand waited for their opportunity as well. Worse still, the recent crime spree had left several homicides in its wake. Nat's probably up to her head in work. I wish I could help her, but I've got enough problems of my own right now.

"Nick?" Alyce asked.

He turned to see the raven-haired curator descend the staircase and head over to the refrigerator. "How did you sleep?"

"Fine," she told him, pouring herself a glass of blood. "You didn't, though. I heard you tossing and turning."

"Ever since the funeral, I've had problems relaxing. The tension's building between Dave and Ashlocke. Work's a mess too," he explained.

"I'm sure," she concurred, sipping on her drink. Even if I'm not the Elder-being his companion means sharing his burden. Why can't you see that I don't mind that, Nick? I love you. "Nick, let Dave take care of himself."

"LaCroix said the same thing before we left Wabash. It's hard to balance friendship with Community duties," he admitted.

"And you're doing an excellent job of it, Nick," she soothed, hugging him from behind. "Give yourself more time."

He managed a smile and squeezed her hand warmly. "I'll try. Thanks." Putting on his holster, he told her, "I'll stop by the museum later."

"Okay," she agreed as he walked into the elevator and disappeared from view. After that, she zipped through the open skylight heading for the museum and the latest display.

****

Nick entered the precinct a few minutes later. The area buzzed with activity-more so than usual.

Sitting at her desk, Tracy waved at him, signaling him to join her. "Hey, Nick, any new info on our case?"

"No. I was hoping to hit the streets in a few minutes. Where's Schank?" he replied.

"He booked off sick. Apparently, he's got that crazy flu. Too bad, we could use the help. Oh yeah, Nat wants to see us," she informed him.

Now what? He wondered, sensing that another bombshell was going to explode at his feet. Taking a deep breath, he followed Tracy toward the stairs and some answers.

****


Natalie typed away on yet another report for Ramirez. The freezer had held all of the victims, but now only three remained for her to look over. Seven murders in a week...geez, we need to nail this creep.

In the corner, Steve sat glumly staring at the gray wall beside her.

"It's not your fault, you know," she stated, still looking at the screen.

"We were right there! The security stinks! I can't believe we let those creeps escape!" he ranted.

She sighed. Now I can see why he and Dave are such good friends. "It's going to be okay, Steve. They'll surface again."

"Oh, you can count on that. And they'll be here when they do so," he agreed, setting his jaw firmly.

"Here? It would figure," she groused. They'll turn the U of A into a battleground...again.

"Sure. Ashlocke's stupid enough to pick another fight with Dave to boot. When it happens, I don't want to be anywhere near them," he responded. Child vs. Maniac...oh, man.

"Close by to what?" Tracy wondered as she and Nick entered the lab.

The vampire detective closed the door, insuring their privacy. "What happened?"

Steve stared at them intently before recounting, "While we were at Genomex, Ashlocke's followers broke in and freed their buddies. I'm feeling really stupid right now so pardon me."

"Do you remember what happened?" Nick inquired.

"Not really. Lex was talking and then, the alarms went off. I did feel this weird sensation...almost like I was stuck in molasses or something," Steve added.

"Weird," Tracy chimed in. "Who are these guys anyway?"

"They're called the Strand," Nick explained. "They're a renegade terrorist group led by a powerful mutant named Gabriel Ashlocke. He's also the man who pushed the button on the farmhouse bomb."

"I'll bet Dave wants to get a shot at him," his partner supposed.

The immortal continued, "They've already met once, Trace. Ashlocke crashed the funeral. It wasn't a close fight. I've warned the Community to prepare for an attack."

So that's why Vachon's been on edge. "Thanks for trusting me," Tracy told them.

"You're welcome," Steve commented. "Farrell's already preparing for this assault as well. In addition, the national office has sent a group of agents up to Genomex with strict orders to keep a lid on things."

Tracy shook her head and queried them, "So what happens if this Ashlocke guy attacks? Will your mystery group show up again? Ramirez and Fishburne are still pissed over what happened at the UMC, guys. Lucky for them that Chloe Sullivan is okay."

"When Ashlocke and his group arrives, the Community will be ready. As for Ashlocke himself, Dave will handle him with Xena and Gabrielle ready to jump in," Nick told her. 

At that moment, his cell phone went off. "Miles," he answered.

"Nick, it's Alyce. Umm...you'd better get over to the loft. Don Schanke needs to talk to you. Trust me, you need to see this. I flew him back over here when I found out about what's on his mind," the curator stated.

Through his enhanced senses, he felt her concern. Schank, what's going on? "I'll be there ASAP," he concluded, ending the call.

"Who?" Steve asked.

"Alyce. Something's going on at the loft. I need to check it out," the vampire detective told him.

Figures. Natalie told him. "The reports will be ready when you get back, Nick."

"Right," he replied, rushing out of the room and disappearing into the night.

One of these days, he's going to trust me to come along with him. That day can't come soon enough for me, Tracy fumed to herself as she prepared to tackle yet another report on her own.

****

Nick landed at the loft soon after that point. Something's out of place, he mused, scanning the area. "Alyce?"

"Nick, sorry to call you out of work, but this is important. Don?" she apologized.

The detective felt his partner's presence. Something's not right here. "Schank, it's okay."

"All right," the other agreed nervously and stepped into the light. "Just don't freak out, okay?" Once he was in the light, the reason for his anxiety was readily apparent. Silvery-white fur covered his features. His face resembled a wolf's and his eyes glowed yellow.

"Schanke, what happened?"

"I don't know. The last couple of months, I've been feeling really weird. Well tonight, I was getting ready for work and this happened," the newly transformed man noted.

"It's different-that's for sure," Nick agreed.

"You're a werewolf. I thought that you all were just legend, but here you are," Alyce indicated, her fascination getting the better of her.

"I'd say the same thing about vampires, but you're here too," Schanke remarked testily. "Seriously though, are there others like me?"

"There are, Schank. We'll have to track them down. I haven't seen any werewolves in half a century or so. Just relax," Nick assured him.

"Okay," he agreed, remembering that it was a vampire giving the advice. Sinking into the couch's cushions, he asked, "So, how do I go to work like this?"

"We'll figure something out."

"Kind of like your allergy to the sun, right?"

"Yeah. Meantime, try not to get any fleas on my upholstery, Schank, okay?" Nick jabbed, trying to get his partner to relax.

"My senses are driving me nuts! I can't touch something without crushing it. How can I get a handle on this stuff, Nick?" Schanke asked in confusion over his new condition.

"We'll do what we can," she advised.

Perhaps Adam can help. If not, we'll have to go through the Community. "We have friends who might be able to help you. Don't worry."

The werewolf took a couple of deep breaths, feeling his pulse slow down as he did so. He felt a warm tingle rush through himself. Gradually, his features transformed, the hair thinning and turning black, his face resuming its normal shape, and the glow fading in his eyes.

"You're back," Nick told him.

Schanke jumped up and ran to the bathroom. There, he saw that he was human again. Thank God! Man, I thought I was going to be like that forever. 

Yet in spite of the change, his gut told him, You are, Don. Just like Nick, you'll be different forever. Quite different indeed.

Chapter 5 
[Student Union]

While Schanke dealt with his discovery, the mutant students studied for their exams and worked on their papers. For all of them, the semester had flown by all too quickly. As the Holidays beckoned, the students wanted to get through their remaining work. In addition, the Strand's recent attack remained fresh in their minds. While Clark, Lana, Miranda, and Mika had already experienced such threats, the others had undergone a baptism by fire outside of the church. Fighting against others like themselves was eye opening, but that paled with seeing the professor go ballistic and nearly kill Ashlocke.

"This geography test will kill me," Samantha groaned.

"You could have Dr. Messenger's paper," Maria responded.

"Or Professor Dubois' assignment," Clark griped.

"C'mon, Clark, it's not that bad," Lana assured him.

"Yeah well, some of us aren't as gifted in history as others," he replied moodily before collecting his thoughts. "Still, I guess I'll pull through."

"It's hard to believe we're almost through the first semester," Michelle remarked.

"Almost doesn't cut it," Samantha sighed, slamming her book shut.

"Hey," Mika soothed. "It's going to be okay."

This class is driving me nuts!" the air elemental complained.

"Remember, we're in this together," Paula added, sitting down with her coffee in hand.

"How was class?" Mika asked.

"Dr. Coltrane was interesting tonight. She talked about the Middle East during the 1920s." Paula shrugged and took a sip of her drink.

At that moment, Dave walked over and inspected the students. From across the room, he had picked up on their concerns. Best go and help them. "Hey, gang. What's new?"

"Nothing much. Just our assignments," Samantha commented.

Yeah right. That's why I sensed you all from across the room. Composing himself, he invited, "How would you all like a review session before exams?"

"Review session?" Clark asked,

"Yes. The other profs and I have been planning this type of thing for some time. Let's make it a potluck. Bring a dish and your questions. It should be fun," he continued.

The students looked at each other curiously. True, Professor Dubois was intense and downright scary at times, but he did care for them and how things were going. This outing might be just what the doctor ordered.

"I'll make the announcement in class on Friday," Dave mentioned. "Meantime, you're all doing fine. Keep your chins up, okay? Have a great night." With that, he walked away sipping on his cherry mocha.

"I don't know about all of you, but that sounds good to me," Michelle stated.

"It does," Lana agreed, stifling a yawn. "Wow! Sorry, guys, it's been a long day. Thanks for getting together."

"No problem," Samantha replied, managing a smile. "See you both tomorrow?"

"Absolutely," Clark agreed, getting up and helping his girlfriend. 'See you then."

After watching them depart, the other students heard the clock strike eleven, but kept going on with their work, allowing the caffeine to push them further into the night.


Chapter 6 [New Sanctuary]

Ever since the team's return, Adam had scanned the new mutant database trying to find someone with the abilities used in the Genomex raid. One woman's record caught his eye. Kristin McErinn. It would figure.

"Who's that?" Emma asked, approaching him.

"I was looking for Steve's suspect and I think I found her," he replied. "Kristin McErinn. She's a new mutant with the ability to freeze time over a small area. From what he said, I figure she's the culprit. The Strand affiliation cinches it."

The psionic glanced at him. If Ashlocke's behind that attack, he's still looking for revenge. We'll need to be careful. "How does this affect the students at the university?"

"He'll make a move eventually. The question is when and from where the attack will come from. All we can do is prepare the students for it," Adam advised grimly.

"And deal with Dave's moods in the process," she added.

Yes. He still hasn't recovered from the fire. If he and Ashlocke meet, it'll get ugly. "Well, keep an eye on him, okay? By the way, how are you handling your new powers?"

"Okay, I guess," she responded, allowing the glowing spot to appear between her eyes. "I still need to practice some more."

"You'll get the hang of it," he assured her. "Meantime, just keep practicing."

"If you say so," she relented, turning to head toward the dojo for her next session.


****

Jesse sat at the computers, running a diagnostic on the systems and checking the files in the database. As his eyes ran down through the file listing, he scanned the status of each one. No sense in risking a virus.

Suddenly, two hands clapped over his eyes and yanked him backwards.

"Wha?" he gasped. "Who?" Reaching out, he grabbed the arm of the person behind him. Somehow, he made them both intangible, causing him, the chair, and the other to fall through the support column behind them.

"How did you do that?" Toni wondered surprised at what had just happened.

"I don't know. Are you okay?" he queried with concern.

"I'm fine," she assured him. "Just a little surprised is all. When did you start phasing other things as well as yourself?"

"This is the first time," the density mutant told her. This must be my extra power...just like the others.

"You need to let Adam know," she advised.

"Right. I'll do that," he agreed. Looking at the computer, he saw that the scan was complete. "Come on."


****

Shalimar sat by the fountain, observing how the light reflected off of the water. The sparkle wavered in the water along with her reflection. How do you deal with these extra strong senses? I wish I knew. Brennan's been having a tough time with the rocket blasting stuff too. I wish I could get a handle on my thing so I could help him. Then, as if on cue, she felt his presence. "I know you're there, Brennan. Come out."

He stepped into the light. "Can't fool you, can I?"

"Nope," she cracked, the 'gotcha' smile on her face. "The security system's up and running for ex-thieves looking to steal girls' hearts."

"Is that right?" he cracked, hugging her. "Well, I got in under cover that time."

"Only 'cuz I let ya," she replied knowingly. Executing a flip, she shook him loose, flinging him toward the wall, and sending herself toward the overhang above them.

He used his hands to shoot bursts at the wall, slowing himself. Then, pointing his hands toward the floor, he flew up to join her. "How's that?"

"Pretty impressive," he slurred, staring into her eyes. "Hold still." With that, he kissed her.

Wow. "What brought that on?" she cracked, trying to mask her nervousness.

"I felt like doing that," he told her.

"Well, I feel like doing this," she declared, returning the kiss.


****

Max stood inside of the dojo, messing around with holographic constructs. Since she had accepted Adam's offer to join Mutant X, she wanted to make sure she was up to snuff. I'll show Adam he made the right choice. 

"Hey, don't kick all of their asses. Leave some for the rest of us," Emma told her.

"According to Adam, we can kick 'em all day and the computer will make more," the transgenic remarked.

"True. So, how's it going otherwise?"

"I'm really getting the hang of this stuff. It feels good to be part of a team and having Shalimar around really helps," Max told her.

I'll bet. It's hard to remember sometimes that she's from the future and is a more advanced version of Shal. Still, having her here is a real asset. Thanks, Dave and Angie, for giving her a chance to make her way in our time. "I'm sure. We still appreciate the help you gave us when the GSA found the old Sanctuary."

"It wasn't a big deal. Manticore's pulled some of the same stuff. You all helped Logan and me. I wanted to return the favor. The more I'm around you all, the more at home I feel. I would like to deal with that Ashlocke creep though," Max informed her.

"We all would," the psionic agreed, firing a mental pulse at the invisible energy barrier in front of her.

"Emma, you have no idea how good it feels to be in the group. I'm enjoying this," Max told her.

"We know, but thanks," Emma mentioned. "You've helped us so many times already. Don't worry-you don't need to prove yourself...just keep up the good work and training."

"I will. Thanks." Max accepted, her face still focused in a frown as another GSA hologram appeared. She just as quickly kicked its tail.

"Has Logan found out anything more on the Strand?"

"Nope. He's still trying," Max noted, preparing for another assault. "Feel free to join in."

"Thanks. I will," Emma accepted, seeing the next two makeshift agents appear. Willing up a mind blast, she disposed of them both.

And so it went for the next few hours....



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