Sanctuary Issue # 3 By Kyle Phoenix
"We All Fall Down"
Dani didn't like pain. But then honestly who did? Well, extreme pain. But she'd grown up dealing with pain, mental and physical. Her parents supposedly dying, then her grandfather, the turmoil of the New Mutants, becoming a Valkyrie, living in Asgaard for many years longer than it appeared she'd been gone on Earth, Xavier volunteering her for SHIELD training and the conflicts that brought. But here she was back with the X-Men, a place, a team, she hadn't wanted to return to but always knew her ancestors would bring her to.
With her right hand she was clutching a steel girder extending from the Yashida Towers that were now a warped physical version from only minutes ago. From her left hand, she clutched teammate Paulie who in turn was clutching Sebastian Shaw, the man the X-Men had come to Japan to protect. Above Dani by only a few meters was a cackling Selene, Black Queen of the Hellfire Club, supposed ally to Shaw who had suddenly used her matter altering powers to tip the roof of the building downwards like pouring water.
Forty stories below lay a busy Japanese street and Archangel and Northstar the only flyers on the team were somewhere off dealing with snipers that were allied with Channel, the mutant serial killer who had targeted Shaw and was the X-Men's target.
"Any last words, child?" Selene taunted Dani.
Dani, her boy felling like it was slowly being torn in half, still felt like something was wrong. Selene's face was twisted in dark pleasure but she was different. Changed. Almost as if she'd been co-opted by someone else. And then the Hellfire Guards turning on Shaw made sense.
"You're not Selene!" Dani spat at her.
"Very good! No, child I am Channel. I channel through others for my own use. Now I'm going to raise the girder up, it's Shaw I want to kill firsthand. For that exchange, I'll allow you to live and only kill your friends."
"Through the projectiles that people are shot with? So you have an accomplice?" Dani said, working out a plan in head, hoping that Iceman and Magma were uninjured from the fall. It would take all of them to overcome a possessed Selene.
"Yes, we're engaging your flying friends across town as we speak!" Selene laughed.
Dani nodded knowingly, that had been the answer she need. Could Channel occupy more than one form at a time? Obviously so. "Paulie?"
"I've got him! I've got him!" Paulie babbled, still in shock over dangling so high up.
"Shaw absorbs kinetic energy," Dani said a desperate plan forming in her head.
"And you?" Paulie asked, calming slightly understanding what she meant for him to do.
"I'm going to beat the shit or more like Channel out of Selene," Dani shouted up at her as Paulie let go of her hand and the two men plummeted.
"For that you die!' Selene screamed and rode closer to Dani on the sliding metal she controlled.
"Not today, not by you!" Dani smiled and let go, falling for only a minute until she felt a cold arm around her waist and wrapped her arms around Iceman's neck. He was bringing them up on an ice ramp, a few feet away, Magma rising on an earthen one.
"That was quite the risk, lady you've got some balls," Iceman laughed.
"I was hoping you heard all over the comm link, We needed as much Intel possible on Channel before engaging. Besides I knew that you and Magma would survive the roof being destroyed," Dani said as Selene screamed in rage then caused a pocket to open in the building itself and enveloped her.
"Is she truly possessed by this Channel mutant?" Magma asked. Does that mean we don't get to kill the bitch?"
"Actually I think that may be the one loophole to killing Selene!" Dani said as Ice changed his stand into a ramp and they went sliding down.
There was a thunderous crash below and a small crater exploded in the ground.
"Guess Paulie and Shaw landed, eh?" Iceman said. "Can Paulie take that kind of fall?"
"His upper limit of invulnerability is a lot higher than this fall according to the professor's file on him. Its Shaw I'm worried about, it's a calculated risk that his body will absorb the impact into strength and invulnerability injured as he was.
When it had come through his network of informants that a mutant serial killer had targeted him, the idea of asking Xavier to send some of his pups to "protect" had seemed like a delicious ironic idea. His identity as a mutant was unknown and for his own purposes he preferred to keep it that way. Perhaps, he had hoped, even a few X-men would be killed in the melee and he would get a chance to observe this killer in action. Shaw was never to have been in danger. But from what he had discerned in the past few minutes, Channel had the ability to control the minds and bodies of not only the Hellfire Guards but it's powerful Black Queen, Selene. A woman who wanted to kill Shaw and take his place as head and had the power to do so. Why she hadn't yet was merely a game of Shaw never being vulnerable enough for her to do it cleanly. With a chest wound, healing from the massive influx of kinetic energy, but still bleeding, a possessed Selene controlled by a madman who wanted to kill Shaw seemed like manna to the true Selene's goals. His only hope of survival would be himself, he didn't trust the X-Men, especially Magma to defend him against Selene gone rogue.
"Just the man I was looking for," the possessed Selene said as she came out of the lobby of Yashida Towers and saw Shaw pulling himself to his feet.
"Channel, I take it? Selene lacks the temerity to create such massive destruction for simply my death. It lacks style," Shaw grunted, his words still coming in gasping bursts as his body worked feverishly to knit up his wounds.
"Yes, Shaw. Know though that though Selene fights viciously inside of me, it's to regain control, not to prevent me from killing you."
"I would expect no less," Shaw smirked then pressed on with the opportunity he had before him. Though his mutant power had left him kinetically charged his wound was still bleeding, he needed a few moments for his healing to be augmented. Selene was smart enough to have killed him outright had she been in control of her own body. Shaw wasn't missing the irony of two beings in one body limited by their knowledge that the other had wanting to kill him. When, not if, he survived this latest challenge, he would laugh about it. The only question in his mind was whether or not that would include being with Selene or toasting her end as well. "I take it you have a purpose for wanting to kill me?"
"Of course I do Shaw and the fun part will be watching you agonize over what brought this on and realizing that it could've been prevented," Selene grinned.
"How unoriginal. Do you have any idea the number of enemies I have? I take it as a compliment to both collect and dispose of them," Shaw said dryly, then slammed his fists onto the ground causing a shock wave that threw Selene to her knees. He ran closer to her intended upon snapping a new and old enemy's neck in the same instant before Channel gained a mastery over her abilities when a blast of intense cold struck him from above.
"Easy, Shaw, we're not thrilled with having to keep someone like Selene alive but she's still a pawn in this," Iceman called down from his ice sled, Psyche holding on to his waist.
"Fool, it's best to press the attack before he understands both Selene's limits and potential!" Shaw raged, knowing that such a massive expenditure of power would necessitate Selene absorbing life forces of others to replenish herself. Channel must not be aware of that need or Selene was hiding it from him, but once Channel understood how to recharge his weapon they wouldn't have a chance.
"I have to agree with Shaw, Iceman, this is an excellent opportunity to deal with two threats!" Magma said as she hopped off on her earthen sled and helped a groggy Paulie to his feet.
"Channel, we don't want to harm Selene but we will if that's what it takes," Psyche threatened.
"S-simpering idiot children!" Shaw chattered as he stretched and shattered the icy layer on his body. "Hesitate now and all is lost!"
"Too late," Selene shouted and hundreds of cables ripped from the ground and grabbed Shaw and the X-Men, snatching them to the ground. "Again, X-Men, join into this fray at your own peril! You're not on my list at the moment but with so much power at my disposal that could change."
Channel occupying Selene knew that they were all gambling on him not being able to become accustomed to Selene's abilities in such a short period of time and to so degree they were right. Subsuming a normal host body was easier than trying to remain dominant over this creature that had been alive for millennia but she subsided in her struggle when it became clear that he intended to torture Shaw before killing him. Her animosity for the Black King greater than her desire to break free but she also was emanating a fear he would harm the fire wench. Why, he couldn't understand but looking for a pawn, he had found an ally.
"Finally a chance to fry you!" Magma said gleefully, easily melting the metal tentacles off of her super heated body and fired lava bolts at Selene.
Selene vanished as the lava bolts seared the ground where she'd been an instant before and reappeared down the block near the crowds the police were trying to hold back.
"Is this what you crave, my dear? I didn't know that we also had a habit to feed, so many secrets I'll have to pry out of you!" Channel said out loud to Selene within as he raised her cloak mesmerizing dozens of people and then reached into the crowd and began clutching a man and a woman, absorbing their life forces. The use of this woman's abilities seemed to be in direct correlation her vampiric like feeding, the more power he expended the more he needed to feed. The question was how long could he hold onto this precious new toy? His parasitic possessions generally had no limit but his whim however her constant hammering away from inside the mental prison would soon force him to relinquish her. He had many forms to control, therefore mental battlefronts to maintain while the true Selene had the privilege of only one enemy to focus on.
Glancing back at the X-men who were freeing themselves, Channel knew that he didn't stand a chance against them as long as he was new to Selene's powers. He would need time to cultivate stronger mental bonds around the woman's essence. But that didn't mean all was lost. With another burst of speed, Selene crossed back to the X-men and grabbed Shaw's throat.
"Have a care, X-Men, I could kill him without hesitation," Selene grinned.
Psyche, psi bow and arrow drawn, nodded with a grim smile. "Channel, we can match this fight."
"Yes, but I have much to do! And not much time to do it in!" Selene laughed then waved her free hand at the sagging tower above, causing what looked like a wave stopped in mid arc to continue plummeting.
"Holy shit!" Iceman said which expressed what they were all thinking. He gave a silent prayer that he had what it would take to do this and thought of his body as more of a large form than a being. Rocketing up his icy form began first expanding and then flattening until it became a buttress to catch the plunging tower. Still mentally conscious within the ice barrier he focused on expanding even as columns for support to hold up the tons of metal shot down from the contrary ice structure. Expanding further still until the ice shield encompassed the entire street. Then pulling more and more moisture form the air, from the nearby ocean to curve the barrier, catch the debris. He prayed that the building would hold as he forced his barrier to grow even higher to push back against the wave to steady as much of the building as possible. Selene didn't have the power to topple a skyscraper so easily but causing it to pour had shifted the integrity of the structure, the weight distribution. He couldn't put it back but he could make sure it was only the top ten or fifteen stories that actually collapsed and crumbled and not the entire building.
Pulling upon more mental reserves then he would've ever expected himself to have, Iceman allowed his barrier to grow into an embrace and then a full cast around the entire building, all the while creating overpass barriers on the surrounding streets below. He focused on not thinking of himself as a man but as the ice itself. Forming the ice as he would if it was in his hands and not thousands of feet, hundreds of tons.
"Fuck me!" Paulie said as he grabbed Psyche, prepared to shield her with his own body but Iceman's feat no longer making it necessary.
"Paulie, out of the way don't forget about Selene!" Psyche shouted but it was too late as a cascade of pavement slammed into both of them.
Magma readying her powers to add support beams to Iceman's structure without shifting the fragile Japanese tectonic structure too could cause a huge seismic event turned her attention away from Selene only to be struck down by a mystic bolt from the sorceress.
Draining away enough of his life force to keep him dazed but not kill him, Selene hissed into her captive Shaw's ear, "Don't struggle, Black King, you'll miss the best part!"
With a burst of speed, Selene, still clutching Shaw, scooped up Magma, who stunned, reverted to her human form, and they both vanished.
Supplies were low even with the United Nations air lifting in supplies. Khan's invasion attempt, repelled by a faction of teh X-Men lead by Storm had saved the island, saved the world, in fact but the small nation was severely hurt by it. Low Town, reserved for pirates and ne'erdowells had been as phsyical devastated by the shock troopers as High Town where the affluent dwelled and had once played. But Khan's shock troopers had been indiscriminate in their attacks, class boundaries meaningless to winning, to conquering and establishing a foothold. Though they had loss the Earth, the repelled soldiers, their energy conduit space ladder to Earth never firmly established, could rest assured back in their home dimensions, that they had given Madripoor a sound beating.
Under Prince(ss) Viper, formerly of Hydra, committed nihilist and terrorist, now reigning sovereign of the small nation, the Madripoorians had fought back valiently, viciously with guerilla tactics and self sacrifice that was legend amongst the conventional forces of the world that had been unable to hep them due to the force field that segmented the island off from the rest of the world. When the X-Men had turned the tide and won the war, the island rejoiced and then focused on rebuilding, on recreating teh balance infrastructure it had maintained for so many years before. The chief imports and exports, all manner of vice that the crowned prince(ss) of the island would allow. And Viper, having lived a life that held precious few moments of grace had gone to work reestablishing Madripoor as a gambling capital of the Orient, willing to traffic any and everything that would save what was a hemorrhaging population. She had turned a blind eye to anyone who's reasons for wanting to invest in the island, legitimate and not, would've normally been closely screened. She would get the country back on it's feet from legal and illegal aide and then viciously cut a swath through anyone foolish enough to challenge her ruler ship.
There were those who weren't interested in rulership though. There were those who were interested in somewhere to hide or even more important, rest, plot and flourish.
Meridian was just such an entrepreneur.
Through lackeys she had legitimately purchased several estates that the owners had abandoned and converted them into a development compound. She allowed the underbosses Viper had in charge of watching such new players believe she was an arms dealer. Not big enough for them to worry abotu her staging a coup. Just someone who had worn out her welcome in all of the normal terrorist rest places. Bimini, Algiers, the Congo. She paid the outrageous "protection fees" the under bosses demanded for themselves and the royal coffers with just enough reticence to look believable. She knew she'd been checked out three ways from Sunday and back again. But her resume as a dealer was impeccable, she should know, she had spent years cultivating it. Her background was sullied enough and murky enough to be taken seriously and therefore overlooked by everyone in the communities she enjoyed hiding in. She had made it a art form to hide, to cultivate, to nurture.
Wasn't that her greatest ability?
Cultivating and nurturing mutants?
No, perhaps her greatest ability had been keeping her truly greatest ability a secret. With agents sprinkled throughout the world, a network that if ever exposed would be seen to rival a superpowers intelligence organization, Meridian had been invisible on the mutant cultivation radar screen for nearly a decade. Let the Xavier and Magneto's dual in the day with their pawns cast at each other. Even let the Hellfire Club Lord Cardinals believe that their machinations were hidden in secrecy and darkness from all.
Meridian was the darkness. She was the collector of knowledge and more importantly of the refuse of the madmen, all in her opinion, Apocalypse, Sinister, Xavier, Magneto who ran around creating wheels within wheels to try and oust the other from the premiere position of mutant leader. She was smarter than them all. They wanted to control mutants, to train them, to experiment with them, Meridian sought to master the entire board before she even came close to touching any pieces, to having her invisible hand finally revealed.
Then the vacuum of Sinister being driven underground, Apocalypse supposedly destroyed and Magneto slaughtered in Genosha. She knew it was her time. At first she had considered bringing her army of denizens together with but a figurative snap of her finger and taking Genosha fromthe rubble heap to be her kingdom. But kingdoms needed figureheads and figureheads became targets of both governments and madmen. Meridian prided herself on being smarter. The others wanted to affect those walking the Earth, Meridian wanted to be mistress of the literal ants, the unseen ones that could rise up and consume any morsel so swiftly, disassemble and devour it so expediently, that it would disappear unnoticed.
Madripoor was just such the fruit she would take. The invasion had left it weak enough that she could slip in and hungry enough that she could feed it poision. Already six of her agents were on the island ready to bring about the next stage in her plan, the overt hand that would bring the X-Men, any X-Men to her. The confrontation was inevitable. But when she got word from one of her Hellfire Club deep cover agents about them protecting the Black King, one X-Men in particular had caught her eye. And luckily enough, like the chessmaster, she had a piece in play that would lure that exact team to her den.
And then.....well, then Meridian would become visible as simply a piece on the board. Because if they saw she was in truth orchestrating half of the board, millions of them for so long, she would have to forsake them.
Cassandra Nova had been a wild spike killing sixteen million in one manipulation but Meridian had anticipated such a piece in play one day.
Meridian's ultimate targets totalled four billion, all living breathing, walking beings who didn't know that she had deemed them dead before their first breaths.
"You have been infiltrated!" the man whispered into Cecilia's ear. "I am not the enemy but I am risking my life, the life of my family to tell you this. Please do not raise the alarm until I can explain."
Cecilia considered her options, her hand was still on the comm unit on the wall, about to hit the button that would alert her teammates around town. But the man sounded s desperate and he had yet to harm her. She could listen. Running a clinic in some of the toughest neighborhoods in New York City taught her that sometimes people couldn't come clean until they knew they could trust you. Praying that the same rules applied to Mutant World, she lowered her hand from the comm link.
"Thank you," he said then released his grip over her mouth.
"Thank you. Can I turn around or is that a problem for you too?" Cecilia asked calmly, centering her mind to call up her force field in a split second.
"Yes," he said and she turned around and was genuinely surprised to see a spaceman. She opened her mouth to say something then shook her head and closed it. "You are of the X-Men, yes?"
"Yes, I am. Sorry, I'm a new member. Not as accustomed as the others to casually meeting a----? Ummm, you don't look human, no offense, what are you?" she asked of the light brown skinned man. He kind of reminded her of Warren. "Hey, are you---?"
"Yes, Shi'ar. My name is Hunter. I am one of the Imperial Guard," he nodded perfunctorily from within his metallic body suit and head piece, only his face exposed. "I am here because of the infestation within your midst."
"Infestation? Ummm, I'm the resident doctor and I've checked everyone's health in the X-Men, here and in the States. Everyone is fine."
"Not your people, a township on one of your continents. Though the Shi'ar Empire has left this region of space, calling you X-Men an infestation unto yourselves because of the Mummudrai, the Brood are here."
"Ok, ok, wait a second. Why are you here then, from what I understood no Shi'ar or Imperial Guard are suppose to be here ever again because of Cassandra Nova's ruining of your empire. Sorry about that by the way."
"Your comrades saved my family line several years ago. I owe you X-Men a blood debt that my children and wife are still alive. I found a way to come here undetected to warn you. As Lilandra was leaving, her command vessel did a scan of your planet and found the Brood village. I returned after the ship had left the sector to recon the village."
"Ok, then why didn't the Shi'ar come back for you? They were to leave tracking posts or satellites or whatever the Star Wars translation is so that they would insure we never had contact again."
"I am dead."
"Excuse me?" Cecilia said with furrowed brow, he looked perfectly healthy to her.
"It was trap. The Brood knew of my surveillance and obtained the codes to my jump ship in orbit around your moon. My ship is hidden here but the infestation must be destroyed before they can get to the jump point. If the Brood, of such massive numbers as are there, were to strike the Shi'ar Empire now, all would be lost."
"Ok, hunter, why not just warn your people? And then tell us before today?" Cecilia asked incredulously. "If a town has been contaminated this world is in danger."
"To alert my people would mean the death of my entire line. Forty-seven direct relatives. And do not be so sure that I am the only Shi'ar agent on this world. We have been watching your world for centuries. I could not make contact with any of you until I intercepted your intentions to come here by monitoring the Institute. I don't have much time left."
"Why? What could be more dangerous than what you've already told me?"
"I am dead."
"You keep saying that! What do you mean?"
"I do not have much time in this life. I fight now to save the future of this world and what is left of my people. I have been impregnated with one of the Brood."
Alex Rosten turned in his chair ever so slightly so that he could see the Security Council as they looked at the viewer screen on the far wall. Like most of these councils his seat and the monitor were the only things in light, the five council members were in shadows.
But he played along, though it would be child's play to find out their names, their children's favorite colors, their dirty little secrets and libidinous joys. He played along because they were his employers for the time being, his contract still had another ten years on it. An out clause, of course, at his discretion but if and when he exercised the clause it would be because of their fault, not his. It would be important to the rest of the international community that it was clearly the Council's fault and not Rosten's.
Reputation was everything.
On the screen were the outlaw X-Men. Well this group in Australia supposed weren't of the outlaw branch. Except for Cargill, she had some potential for going bad according to her personality profile. The whole Genoshan thing. What if she just went ballistic? Was the Council's fear. But that's why they had Rosten, to handle potential fears.
"I'm to make contact soon, I figured a basic management team. We're in negotiations with the X Corp and Xavier now. He understands that he's expanding himself exponentially and will need governments to trust him so he's being extremely forthcoming. You've established an excellent rapport with him."
One man spoke form the end. "Australia is a vast continent but with a low population. We can afford to be gracious and from the abundance of files you have, we can use there expertise and help in a wide range of areas."
The woman in the center added. "We don't have a team of heroes like most nations do and while the risk of an attack similar to Genosha is possible one day, the benefits for our continent far outweigh the risk. Mutants, happy ones, are a vast untapped resource."
"When it becomes clear to the international community what you're doing, I hope that you aren't liable to back away from this policy. The X-Men and Xavier aren't enemies I would want to have. By me, I of course, mean you," Alex grinned.
"We're committed. Take some times to work out details but tell Xavier he has our support," another man said.
"Good. I'll take my leave then," with that Alex walked out of the room, reminding himself to buy up as many shares of stock that he could get his hands on of Australian stock. The first continent to make an active commitment to allying itself with mutants in exchange for technology and industrial support? A done deal. He was walking on land of the next super power of not just this planet but if things went well over the next century, the solar system.
Dani peaked around the corner at the dozens of police cars, ambulances and city emergency service workers, news cameras and hundreds of bystanders. A lot like the old days. You could always tell by the crowds afterwards where Xavier's students had been, lots of damage. As far as she knew only two people had been killed by Channel inhabiting the Black Queen's body but Shaw and fellow X-Man had been kidnapped by him. She'd been trying her comm unit for twenty minutes now and no Angel or Northstar, who were last seen pursuing Channel's accomplices. The situation looked grim and Dani had a feeling it was only going to get worse.
"Hey, chief, Bobby needs to lay down, that building brace he created drained him good," Paulie said to her from the alleyway they'd hidden in, a gaunt Bobby Drake cradled in his arms. Iceman had used his power to the utmost to keep the Yashida skyscraper from falling on top of them by literally freezing it in place, almost in it's entirety. That was still too huge of a concept for Dani to swallow. A forty story building? Iceman was no longer looking like the goofball she'd always thought of him as.
Dani felt a pang in her heart, her psi link with Warren was down, which meant he was either under Channel's control or dead. She didn't know which one would be worse and Paulie had even less field experience than she did. Warren and Bobby were the senior X-Man on the Blue Team but Warren had unofficially delegated her his second in commander, their psi rapport making their work seamless.
"Hold still so I can get this right," Dani said as she faced her two teammates. She focused on a specific image and Paulie and Bobby, one unconscious and the other in tattered ruins of a tuxedo were dressed to the nines again in beautiful evening wear. What she most desired to see. The hotel Warren had them booked at wasn't too far away, they could get there and Dani could call in the other half of the Blue Team from their base in Australia.
They couldn't do this caper alone.
"How are you?" Dani asked Bobby, he was sitting in the Jacuzzi up to his neck in freezing cold water, a dozen buckets that had been full of ice around him.
"I feel a lot better. Thanks to you two," Bobby groaned. "I've got a migraine like you wouldn't believe but I'll be ready to help once we figure out where the others are. What made you think of an ice bath?"
"Actually that was Paulie," Dani said as Paulie came up behind her eating a hamburger.
"Way to go, Paulie, who woulda thunk you had such good ideas in you?" Bobby laughed then starting coughing.
"Up yours, Icy, I actually read through all the files Charlie X had on my teammates and I simply reasoned that you'd dehydrated your body with that ice stunt that is still on the news I might add. The Mayor thinks it may take a week to thaw out the Yashida building," Paulie laughed. "If I hadn't of been there I wouldn't believe it. You froze like the entire fucking block!"
"It was impressive, Bobby, you saved a lot of lives with that stunt," Dani chimed in. "Channel used Selene's power very recklessly to try and kill us, I didn't think we had a chance. We can't make the mistake of going easy on him because he's co-opted someone's body."
"You think he's done the same to Warren and Jean-Paul?" Bobby asked.
Dani nodded. "Or worse. I can't think of any other reason why my rapport with Warren would be shut off so completely.
"So half our team are part of this Hannibal Lector wannabe's army now?" Paulie sighed. "Jesus! The Marines was never this dicey."
"I tried calling the others in Sanctuary. No answer. Which means that they're probably on a mission. We're on our own," Dani said. "I don't want to wait too long to get to Channel, he's a killer who has no reason to keep our people or Shaw and Selene alive, we don't have time to call to America for help."
"Then what's the plan, chief?" Bobby said as he reached for a towel and climbed out of the Jacuzzi. Dani turned her head slightly as Paulie started laughing.
"Ouch, Drake, cold is not your little friends' friend, eh? I can't imagine a power that would do such constant damage to my pride and joy!" Paulie hooted, pointing at what couldn't be seen.
"Up yours, Paulie!" Bobby muttered back, blushing.
"Uhhhh, Drake, I think you're confusing me with JP, who if I remember correctly was your date earlier this evening."
Dani couldn't help but smile as Bobby walked into his bedroom, the ribbing that a true team gave each other was something she hadn't realized she'd missed so much. Bobby and Paulie, not often considered much in the raw power department, we're warriors at heart, she trusted them more as each minute went by.
Dani and Paulie went into the luxurious living room and waited until Bobby came out of his room in a towel, the 60 inch plasma screen TV on mute, but on the news about the Yashida Towers. She had a fragment of a plan but it would be dicey at best.
"Ok, boys, listen up. My psi rapport with Warren is constant, but my link to him is stronger than his to me. If he's being mentally suppressed as I think Channel does to his victims then that's probably why I can't sense him. However, I may be able to push myself through into Warren and get a visual or a clue to where he is. The danger is for all of my psi abilities, I'm no telepath, it will be a clumsy barrage of energy at him. My psi energy can be wild. I could fry his brain. I don't know what shape that will leave him in."
Bobby spoke up. "Dani, I've known Warren almost half my life, if he's in that freak's clutches he'd take the risk of dying rather than be turned into a puppet. Apocalypse did that to him, Warren would rather you scramble his eggs forever than he harm anyone as Channel will make him do."
"Ok, so we might be able to locate him but the question is can the three of us take them out, including our teammates?"
"In a fair fight, no. But maybe we're thinking of this the wrong way. Maybe we need to make a call to the Hellfire Club and ask their precious Inner Circle for some back-up. They have a vested interest in getting Shaw and Selene back safely or avenging them if they're dead," Bobby suggested.
"That sounds like a plan but who else do we know in the Inner Circle who could put us in touch with their Japan people?" Paulie asked and looked at the sour looks Bobby and Dani exchanged.
"Ms. Bitch herself," Dani groaned.
"Emma Frost," Bobby finished.
Four Seasons Hotel,
"Well, well, well," the astral projection of Emma Frost telepathically said as she appeared in the center of the Presidential suite. "My, all three of you have moved up in the world. The members of your team who are accustomed to these surroundings all unaccounted for due to the efforts of only one mutant?"
"Including the Black Queen and your former pimp, Shaw," Dani shot back icily.
Emma glared at Dani. "Careful, girl. There was a time when it was only my compassion that kept me from twisting you into whatever pretzel I desired."
"Run that on someone else, Frost. I was the only New Mutant who didn't go catatonic and need your telepathic ministrations. Which means one of two things: they weren't as strong as me and I'm strong enough not to need you. Now cut the trademark bitchery and cut to the chase."
"When the time comes, Moonstar I'm going to train you to be a telepath. And I promise you all of your bravado will crumble under all of the neurosis and subliminated fears we'll have to indepthly explore," she stood a fraction of an inch from the impassive Cheyenne warrior but in the end Dani turned away, disgusted and at the same time revealed for the fear that held true. One day, as her powers kept maturing, if she survived, she would need an Omega level telepath to train her and the numbers were dwindling of who she could choose.
"Emma, are you done?" Bobby asked tiredly, he'd been through Emma's mind fucks before. The rub wasn't the words or the public humiliation as much as the truth behind them. He wouldn't just stand by and see Emma piss on Dani the way she had him. On every young person's concern about fulfilling their potential and at what cost.
Emma sauntered over to him, her astral body undulating and bouncing in ways that seemed impossible for gravity or lack thereof to provide. "Cerebra enhances me so much, Bobby. To the point where right now I'm looking at the thoughts, the instincts you used to accomplish the feat at Yashida Towers. The only thing more impressive than the fact that you did it, is that I used your body to do that and more years earlier. But you're catching up, I'm marginally impressed."
"Jesus, when was the last time this bim got some pipe?" Paulie laughed. "You can hear her knees scratching to the bone from here!"
Dani and Bobby shocked by his blunt outburst couldn't help but stifle their laughter as Emma blanched then turned and glared hatefully at Paulie. She didn't like having the spotlight taken from her. "Mr. Provenzano. Yes, you too, like these others have immense potential." Her astral form leaned down to where he was reclining on the couch. "And secrets. Secrets that I'm looking at right now. Two words. Cowboy. Video."
"Are you done? We've all got Achilles Heels and you've kicked each one. We're not the Gold team or Storm's team and we got our asses handed to us. We get that. Can you help us or do we have to do this alone?" Dani asked when she saw how pale Paulie had gone.
"We need contact with the Inner Circle. We need back up," Bobby reminded, "it's in their best interests to help us."
"Oh, I didn't have to make this astral trip, I just wanted to make sure the "B" Team was living up to all of our low expectations. I phoned ahead. Your help is here," Emma cooed and there was a sharp knock at the door.
Paulie gladly hopped off of the couch and nearly ran to open the door. In the doorway stood a tall, strikingly handsome Latino man, close to 6'4 in a black designer suit and thin clear glasses. Everything about him bespoke privilege and command.
"X-Men, Carlos Allegra, the Black Bishop. Carlos, X-men," Emma introduced casually. Allegra calmly walked the length of the marble floors into the sunken living room and stood before Emma's astral image. She raised her hand and he leaned down, simulating holding it and kissing it gently.
"La Reina Blanca," he said in a heavy rumbling voice.
"El Obispo Negro," she replied.
Emma stared intently at him for several long minutes, their communication obviously both telepathic and purposefully omitting of the three X-men, then they both smiled and he laughed heartily. "You haven't changed at all, mi Reina, I've missed you at the functions. We all have."
"Thank you, Carlos. These are allies of mine and of Sebastian's. You understand the price of failure on your part?"
"Espléndido. Good hunting." And with a small smirk Emma was gone in a hazy flicker.
Dani looked around, still feeling the White Queen's telepathic presence.
Excellent plan to find Warren. However know the longer and more often you connect the deeper the ties with our fair Angel. Have a care, Danielle, he will satisfy desires you admit and others even you are unaware of. When you're ready contact me and I'll teach you how to make the rapport your contrivance and not you its concubine, Emma telepathically whispered for Dani's ears alone.
"So you're a member of the Inner Circle, a Lord Cardinal, pallie?" Paulie said smugly with folded arms standing in front of the Black Bishop who towered over him by several inches.
"Yes, Mr. Provenzano, I am. It is an honor to both be within the Circle and my honor to be called upon to aid mi el rey y la reina," Allegra said calmly, turning away from Paulie as if he were a child who couldn't understand such an adult allegiance. "Downstairs is a van full of trusted Hellfire elite guards, we are at your discretion, Ms. Moonstar. Emma apprised me of the situation in detail and that you have a way to locate the exact surroundings of our mutual associates? The mutant locator we possess only has a general location approximated."
"Yes, I share a psychic rapport with Angel, even if he's been co-opted by the mutant Channel, I should be able to see where he's at. Let's hope they're all together," Dani said as she sat down on the floor and focused her mind as Prof. X had taught her so long ago during her training.
"And what do you bring to the table, Allegra? We, X-Men don't run with Armani clad pussies," Paulie snickered, "no matter their references. We need raw power."
"Number one, this is Brioni. I find Armani passé. And number two, I am well equipped to kill you at this instant in spite of your invulnerability. Would you like me to show you or will you take my word for it?" Allegra's dark green eyes focused on Paulie's and the tension in the room ratcheted up tenfold and then something odd happened, Dani opened her eyes. There had been a ripple on the psionic plane, as if Allegra had just called something. Something big from somewhere. Hovering over Allegra now was the visage of Death, but not his, of many others.
"Paulie, let it go," Bobby murmured, he'd been around enough that when someone made a threat and glanced across a room and he, Iceman, got a chill up his spine, it was time to back off.
Dani saw the Death image recede and Allegra turned his eyes to her.
"You saw?' he asked calmly.
"I saw," Dani nodded then smiled and added. "Harm any of mine, act without my go and I'll show why yours doesn't impress me." And with that, Dani allowed her face to slip for a second and showed him her Valkyrie face.
"Madre!" he said and stepped back, then glanced at the two young men. They hadn't seen the sleight of haand she'd performed. Not only could she control it but she could intend it for his eyes only.
"You may bring It but I am It," she grinned then closed her eyes and looked for the mental thread that lead to her teammate because if it didn't exist that meant he was dead.
Dani found herself in a tube. A duct of some sort. First she had been gently reaching for the link between herself and Warren and then she was crawling through a cylindrical tube. The tube itself though, beat faintly, felt like something familiar. The walls of the tube were dark but off in the distance she could see a faint light. So she crawled.
Truth be told, she really didn't like the way her life had gone all mutant weirdness years ago. Xavier's dedication to this human/mutant coalition seemed alternately immature and gloriously unattainable. But here she was burrowing deeper and deeper into what she felt must be her mind's interpretation of the link with Warren because of the brotherhood Xavier had instilled in them all. While she expected that she had a deep emotional sense of the man, she didn't know Warren all that well and here she was risking her life to save his. And she knew that he and the others would do the same for her. Perhaps it was that existential comfort that kept them all bonded to Xavier no matter how far they traveled or the time that went by. There would always be someone there for you, caring about you because you had one of these gaudy X's on your belt.
Without even so much as a warning she fell out of the tube into a small room. Plush carpeting, a rolling fireplace and Warren standing there in a silk robe.
"Warren?" she whispered unsure of where the hell she was.
"Danielle," he graciously helped her to her feet. "You look wonderful."
And she did, still in the designer dress he'd given her for the Hellfire Club party that seemed like it had happened years ago. On the walls of the small room were solid X's imprinted with the professor's face and occasionally Jean Grey's.
"What is this, Warren? Where are we?"
"In my fallout shelter," he grinned.
"Your mind," she nodded understanding that this must be what Xavier had taught his students to retreat into if their minds were being co-opted. Her being a psi, her very being was her "room" but a non-psi would need a tangible visual to maintain their core self within.
"I knew eventually you would try to find me. Hope the tube wasn't too tight, I had to make it only for you. Channel is out there. In me. Trying to get in here," Warren said calmly but she could feel a sense of something lurking around behind the walls. Like a shark brushing past her leg in water.
"I understand. The cavalry is on the way, don't worry I just need to get a fix on where you are. You'll have to open up. Let me see through your eyes."
"It's bad, Dani. Channel has been planning this for awhile. The other murders were just to get Shaw's interest, to open a conduit ploy to get at Shaw, to challenge his ego," Warren explained then smiled at her. "I haven't been this deep inside of this room in years. I'd almost forgotten it was here, it's a sub-hypnotic suggestion, a last ditch place to retain my psyche while under attack."
Dani could feel the fear ratcheting up in the room. Warren was terrified of opening back up. Of waking up.
"Don't worry, Warren I'm here. We X-Men are here with you," she smiled and looked over the fire place. There was an elegant portrait of him and her embracing, looking deeply into each others eyes, his wings carrying them aloft. "Whoa, heavy imagery."
"Sorry, I can't control what's in here. Give him time. Give me time to accept the portrait in here out there, ok?" he smiled.
"Ok, Warren," Dani said then wondered if she was going to get the time to learn to accept an attraction, an intimate relationship that felt thrust upon her.
"Thrust would be the wrong concept to use with us so close right now," Warren laughed and Dani blushed, her thoughts as naked to him as his were to hers. He leaned down and kissed her gently. "So that you know me."
And then she felt her eyes flutter open.
A dungeon of some sort. Her arms were twisting behind her, her wings strapped to a wall.
No, she didn't have wings.
The X-Men would come.
"I AM ALL!" thundered through her head suddenly, a foul smelling voice. Smelling voice? Essence. The essence itself was unclean. Channel.
Seeing through Warren's eyes. Their thoughts were jumbling together.
Psyche focused on herself on holding onto the connection with Warren while trying to ignore the Channel being smashing down onto his consciousness. She realized that if she didn't, Channel could easily climb back through their link and subsume her as well.
"We're in a dungeon. The others are upstairs. I am----me---Warren is too stubborn to break, too much time with Xavier. Channel soaks in like a poison. But it's difficult trying to hold onto him. Them all. Selene. Selene is very strong. Almost too strong. I'm connected to Channel too. He doesn't know I'm here. Not yet. He will though. Angel isn't powerful enough to rate anything more than a sideline possession. We have to get in there soon, Channel is preparing more needles, permanent needles for Selene and Amara," Psyche said half in a trance inside of the Hellfire Club van that sat on the outskirts of an estate in the Tokyo hillside.
"Psyche, how many of them are there besides our people and Channel?" the Black Bishop asked, having changed into a dark leather battle suit much like the one's worn by the four elite Hellfire guards who were in the van also. Their blank faced masks disconcerting as Bobby and Paulie watched Psyche anxiously, she'd been fading in and out of this trance for the hour it had taken them to get here, mumbling incoherently as she tried to maintain individuality from the other two minds she was connected to.
"Warren was brought in by the Hellfire guards that attacked Shaw and he saw another man. Camus? Camus. Camus is Channel's assistant who fires the psi needles into people. If you can take the others, slow them down I can try and distract Channel, he's spreading himself too thin. Too thin. He can't hold Magma and Northstar and the guards with Selene's constant pressure."
"Selene, your associates and six Hellfire guards. Mid level men. We'll have no trouble at all," Allegra smiled.
Amara sat tied to a chair next to Shaw, they'd both been injected with some sort of drug. She felt both dizzy and nauseous and Shaw didn't look much better. Before them stood Selene but her bearing was wrong Amara realized. She held a tumbler of scotch and watched them with a smile. She was standing like a man. The mutant Channel still had control of her. Next to the possessed Selene was a tall thin man, bald with a side arm holster. But the gun didn't look normal, like either bullets or energy was projected from it.
Across the room, Northstar was preparing himself a drink, an evil grin on his face as well.
Co-opted too, Amara accepted of her teammate. She didn't see Angel. Either he was free or elsewhere and the six Hellfire Guards were positioned at the farthest end of the large ballroom. Side arms drawn, waiting patiently. She didn't doubt for an instant that Dani would find a way to find her, would come for her but would it be too late. Any mutant that could hold Selene, a powerful sorceress and mutant for so long in his thrall could do the same to Amara, if he didn't have a limit on how many he could possess. Did he have a limit?
"Selene is negotiating within here for both o f your lives. Negotiating fiercely I might add," Selene said calmly then took a long gulp of liquor. "Shaw I can understand. Perhaps. But why you, little X girl?"
"I am her liege, even at the loss of her body she would still fight in anyway possible for me," Shaw grunted. It was obviously a strain for him to speak, his bare chest crusted with blood, the kinetic energy he'd absorbed having healed his gunshot wound but obviously not enough. He was pale and ashen, his head lolling from the drugs but there was fierceness in his gaze, a ferocity that said he was a lion, had been one for a long time and would never mewl like a kitten, no matter the circumstances.
"Is that the only reason, Shaw? I sense she would see you dead," Selene taunted. "As time goes on her thoughts become even more open to me, she can't resist my total consumption for long. I like her body. I think I'll keep this one for awhile."
"You'll have to learn etiquette all over again," Amara snickered.
"Funny," Selene said then slapped her across the face, the tumbler smashing and cutting Amara in several places. "It seems Selene wants to make you her slave, Amara. Isn't that simply delicious? But with a vessel like Selene I no longer need to have Camus here inject me into others, portions of my long dead bodies DNA into projectiles to control people. I can suck the life force out of them and make them my slaves as Selene does. What an excellent trade don't you think?"
"You're a fool, Channel, you won't be able to hold Selene enthralled for long. She's malevolence personified. You've been a corpse for what….years? She's been evil for centuries. In fact, I suspect she's using you, perhaps even enjoying my predicament," Shaw grinned.
"Wouldn't that be a twist, Sebastian?" Selene laughed. "Though I doubt it," with a flick of her hand it was audible to everyone in the roof as several of Shaw's ribs broke. Shaw grunted and began sweating, doubling over as far as his bonds would allow but he never cried out, he just looked up.
"Very good. Worthy of the form you hold. I would warn you both, kill me, Channel, or free me, Selene, because that body will soon feel pain like never before," Shaw spit up blood with the words but Amara saw the look of surprise cross Selene's face.
"We should kill him then, Camus, the bald man, said calmly and took a silk scarf from his pocket with an embroidered "C" in scarlet.
"And now the serial killer histrionics. Don't bore me. Kill me or impress me," Shaw said in disgust then closed his eyes as if he no longer cared for even the sight of them.
Amara saw the far wall beginning to glow ever so slightly and at first she dismissed it as merely part of the drugs in her system then she heard a loud scream. The entire wall shattered as Paulie came crashing through, his arms over his face in what reminded Amara of an improvised fastball special.
The six Hellfire guards drew their weapons to fire on the hole, for more X-Men to come through but only Paulie seemed to be making his entrance that way. As if he entered rooms through walls every day in that fashion, Paulie calmly stood up and dusted off his black and grey uniform and smiled then spoke.
"Wow, it's a full house. Ok, here's the skinny, Channel---I take it you're still in Morticia Addams, huh?----you vacate and give up or we're gonna kick yer fucking ass back to the graveyard."
"We're going to die," Amara muttered to herself. "Imbecile!"
Selene ten feet away from Paulie one instant and then clutching his throat the neck shook her head no. "I think I'll sup instead." Her arm began glowing in the life force draining process then she screeched and stumbled back, falling to the floor.
"Now!" Paulie shouted into his comm link as the guards and Northstar all reeled from the psychic shock Channel felt as one being occupying multiple bodies. "Invulnerable to lots of shit, that draining crap don't work on the kid, bitch---bastard! Whatever!" Paulie said then kicked Selene with all of his might in the gut sending her sailing into the far wall.
Camus shocked, hesitated, unsure of what to do and Amara's eyes bulged as Shaw roared, ripped his way free of his chair and grabbed the man. He had feigned having no super strength left, biding his time with such perfection that Amara had believed him as had their adversaries. He held him by the arm and back of the neck, pulling in opposite directions tightly enough that Camus was paralyzed with instant pain and fear that he was about to be ripped in two.
"Mi rey!" Allegra said as he came through the hole debris followed by the six Hellfire Guards and two X-Men. "Take no chances," he instructed his men who calmly turned and shot their Hellfire comrades in the chest and head.
"No!" Iceman shouted.
"Bobby, they were never going to walk out of here," Psyche said and an unspoken communication passed between her eyes and Allegra's. They were people who understood the rules of true combat.
Paulie hurried to the bar and slugged Northstar who slammed back against the rack of liquor. "He's down and out. And I might say that was fun to do."
"Black Bishop, I knew you'd lead the assault force. I take it Emma contacted you?" Shaw said still clutching Camus' throat, the man, half conscious under the pressure.
"Yes, mi rey, we were mounting our own search when the X-Men contacted Emma to find me," Allegra said as he walked carefully towards Selene who was crumpled on the floor.
"Don't!" Psyche said and stepped between Allegra and Selene, she could see the two souls, Channel and Selene fighting viciously for control of the woman's body.
Finally the obsidian cloak flipped back and Selene stood, an angry snarl on her lips. "I have the bastard that dared to defile me!"
"Don't kill him yet, Selene," Shaw rasped.
"Why not?" she demanded enraged.
"Iceman, Warren is downstairs, get him. Quickly. This might disintegrate into something even nastier than Channel," Psyche said into her comm link sotto voce and he nodded from across the room then ran back out.
"Channel is under my protection now," Shaw said and stood, holding Camus above him. "Isn't that right, Camus? Or should I call you Channel?"
"He's Channel? Amara said in shock as Psyche undid her bonds.
"Yes, I believe this man's work has been nothing but a bid for membership into the Inner Circle," Shaw said. "Though who his sponsor is and who he may've tried to ally with is in question." Shaw glared at Selene. "Is that what you were negotiating? All this time instead of fighting the possession? Trying to convince him to follow through with the plan and not kill me but merely co-opt my body? But suddenly he developed a taste for yours?"
Selene hesitated for a moment then opened her clutched fist, a dim greenish orb in it. "Why, my dear Black King I have no idea whatever you're talking about, but you hold his body and I hold his soul. Shall we reunite them and ask?"
Psyche watched this play out. One side daring the other. If one of them killed Channel they'd have to pretend this was something it most definitely was not, a murder attempt. However if they took it to the next level a major battle would break out and with the way Allegra and the Hellfire elite were standing, Selene wouldn't have a chance. Psyche wasn't sure she cared about anything but her people in the room being in the crossfire. They'd have to choose sides and that could tip the scales in someone's favor, neither side being preferable victors.
"Looks like we got a crime family stand-off," Paulie said popping an Evian and swigging it down from the bar, Northstar hoisted on top of it.
"Paulie, zip it!" Psyche snapped.
"No, hear me out. These two gots beef and one or the other may've hired this Channel guy to off the other."
"What do you mean hired him?" Selene asked, perplexed for a moment and then understanding dawned that perhaps Shaw had been the true orchestrator.
"Well, it reminds me of a squabble back in the old neighborhood. Carmine, he used to run guns and stolen kitchen appliances, assumed, as you may be, I'm not saying you are, but may be that because he'd----Carmine, you----you get my drift---- negotiated with this Channel deal to off Shaw---who in my neighborhood was played by Vinnie One Eye--------that you're Channel's boss. But then why is Shaw still alive? Which is what Carmine had to ask himself too. Unless he----Vinnie One Eye----Shaw in this here scenario------negotiated a deal with Channel before you, Morticia---Selene---Elvira---whatever------to approach you with this scheme, keep him----Shaw-----alive and keep you under wraps while giving him a perfect reason to off you in front of a patsy witnesses-----us, the do-gooder pigs---X-Men and one of your own----Hellfire Ricky Martin here. No offense, Allegra."
"None taken," Allegra said and they could all see the Latin man taking careful measure of both the Black King and Queen. It was one thing to willingly serve another to be set up in a private grudge match.
"Dear God, even I understood that," Amara sighed and Psyche shook her head.
"So how does this play out, did one of you play the other and get played and want the X-men to wipe out the other in front of an Inner Circle witness?" Psyche demanded. "Wheels within wheels? I know enough about the Lord Cardinals to know that you can't just wage war on each other unless someone strikes first. Was this all a twisted game to get one of you to finally make a move on the other?"
"There is only one way to maintain the status quo, Sebastian. Other than a few broken bones and loss of low level operatives, this hasn't been an unmitigated disaster. The Yashida Tower isn't even relevant to this, I trust. I nominate Camus to be a member of the Inner Circle. If you trust my word, as you should, that I had no part in this, you'll see the advantage of having such a man with us as I do. However......," Selene trailed off.
"If you set this up from the get go, you have no enemies and one more ally in your pocket to wipe her out one day," Paulie finished.
"I don't know which is scarier, them or the fact that Paulie speaks them," Psyche said to Amara.
"Hold on to this one then, Moonstar. I petition you, Shaw for the position of Red Queen," Amara said mustering her courage to speak in a loud, determined tone. The whole room turned to look at her and Psyche saw a twinge of a smile on Shaw's lips.
"Now this is interesting----almost like Tommy No Thumbs in Red Hook that time…..," Paulie smiled as he watched excitedly.
"Are you freaking crazy?" Psyche shrieked. "Join them? Why?"
"Selene kept me alive when Channel wanted to kill me but she knows that I am not her ally. Shaw knows that I am neutral against both of you. I am the perfect incentive to you both," Amara said. "Shaw? Selene?"
"The young lady does have a point," Shaw admitted. "Channel is an unknown for us both but of considerable value to the Inner Circle as is she. Where one of us could say no to his membership, hers as a deal sealer will negate fear from the other of another reprisal, if in fact this ever was that."
"If in fact…," Selene said then nodded. "I agree to her provisional nomination and Camus' as well."
"As do I. Amara Aquilla for Red Queen and Camus for what? Black Rook?" he asked of Selene.
"Yes, sounds good. Very good," Selene nodded, the tension beginning to ebb in the room.
"Most interesting," Allegra said to himself then walked over to Amara and kissed her hand. "Welcome, mi Reina Rojo."
"Thank you, Carlos," Amara smiled weakly.
Psyche watched as Shaw lowered the unconscious to the floor where two Hellfire guards immediate secured him while two more began tending to Shaw's wounds. She walked over to where Paulie was leaning on a still unconscious Northstar. They still had the problem of Channel being a wanted serial killer but they were in shape to try and take him away from the Hellfire Club, especially with Amara having pulled such an about face. She didn't like it, it was wrong, a killer getting away because it was unclear as to who was pulling his strings but it a possible bloodbath had calmed, she wouldn't stir it back up again by challenging nearly everyone in the room. And in a way, Amara's bid would buy them safe passage out of here as well but after that, there was something even more sinister to be dealt with.
"I have Warren, Psyche, he's unconscious but seems fine," Iceman said over the comm link.
"Yes, Iceman, I can feel his thoughts again, Channel's mental attacks are gone. If they were even his and not Selene's. It's all questionable at this point."
"Hey, feel better, chief, we settled this without a fight. That's a good thing right. Good where I come from."
"No, Paulie it's a very bad thing. A fight would've cleared up all of this shit," Psyche said as she watched Allegra and Amara together, the true conspirators with Channel she suspected.
They'd never met and yet Amara had called him Carlos, which no one in the room had said. Neither Shaw nor Selene had hired Channel, which is why everyone, X-Men included were alive. Amara had to get herself a seat in the Hellfire Club as the new Red Queen and she'd manipulated events long before this confrontation to do so.
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