Sally had decided to walk home from X-Factor’s HQ to her hotel. Rictor had offered to bring her, but Sally had told him that she’s rather walk. A kiss goodbye, on the cheek, that had been it for Rictor and Skids. As soon as she left the desolation of the crumbling Mutant Town behind, Sally felt like she had stepped into another world. This was New York, this was Manhattan. Even on a Sunday like today, the city was more alive this early in the morning than any city she had ever lived in, including LA. Just thinking about enjoying her stay in the New York the coming days made her feel happy, although she knew all to well there was a reason she came here, and that she still had much to do. First on her list was a visit to the hospital where Tarbaby was recovering, and then she would have to start getting serious about tracking down The Blob. Truth be told, she did not expect to get all the answers from The Blob concerning the fate of the Inferno-babies. The man was never all too great in the brains department, and if any former Freedom Force member knew anything specific, it was probably Mystique. That woman was hanging out at the X-mansion, however, and Sally really did not want to involve them in her search. The X-Men had a way of sweeping in and taking over, and Sally was very sure she did not want to get involved in the whole mutant-wars drama again. She felt far too much sympathy towards Magneto to ever fully subscribe to the X-Men creed. That was probably why she always felt a little out of place at X-corporation out in California, but that was all behind her. This, finding the Inferno-babies, was real, and was the road into the future. This was the one thing she felt she had to accomplish before moving on with her life, and making her own way in the world. Away from the X-Men, where there was always one drama after another.

As she picked up a newspaper, Sally found out that not just the X-Men dealt in drama. She read about the disaster at Stamford, where a crew of young superheroes fought a villain last week, resulting in the death of 600 people, many of whom children. The article she read was about this huge call for superhumans and masked vigilantes to register themselves with the government. The report made Sally a little nervous for a while, until she realised that she was already registered herself, being a member of the X-Men’s “198”, and as she thought about it, she found that she was pretty much in favour of such registration. People like the government’s Freedom Force had made it clear that earlier government experiments in harnessing Super-powers were unsuccessful, but maybe getting a nation-wide Avengers-crew in place would actually work. The more people, the harder such an organisation would be to corrupt. No matter how horrible Sally felt about so many people dying at the Stamford disaster, she was a little glad that it had, for now at least, crowded the mutant-situation from the front pages. The more mutants were left alone, the better it was.

When she reached the hospital where Tarbaby was, Sally thought for a minute about going in now, or getting a change of clothes at the hotel first. She decided to go in, and was told by the nursing-staff that Tarbaby had woken up, but was resting now. She was allowed to go in, and soon Sally stood at Tarbaby’s bed. Not knowing what else to do, Sally started to talk to him.

“Hi Tar, it’s me, Sk… Sally. Yes, that is my name, you know. I just heard your name is actually Tyrone. That’s a good name, I like it. So, anyway, I’m glad you’re getting better. When I saw you, I was… really worried… I thought you were dead. You don’t know how happy I was to hear you were still alive. It took some searching, but we found you, so that’s a good thing. Anyway, I heard and saw who did this to you, so I sort of went out to get even. The old Morlock-code, eh? We have to stick up for each other! So yeah, I went out and kicked some major ass. The guy who led those bastards won’t be doing much for a while. I think I broke his neck with this new trick I learned, and I threw one of them out a window. He won’t be doing much either for a long time. So yay, Sally!”

A nurse came in to tell Sally that she had to leave in a minute or so, and Sally nodded.

“Okay, I gotta go now, Tar. I see you lost your powers, and I don’t know if that’s a good thing or a bad thing. I don’t think you ever liked them that much, so I’m going with good thing. I still have them, myself. I still wonder why of all people I got to keep them, but at least they were good in making those bastards pay for what they did to you. Okay, so… I’m going, and I’ll come back later, okay? You just… rest…”

Sally bent forward and kissed Tarbaby on the cheek. The nurse was already holding the door for her to leave, and Sally walked out.

A few seconds after Sally left, Tarbaby opened his eyes. A little smile appeared on his face, as he whispered: “Ah, Skids… Shouldn’t have gone… to all hat trouble…. That kiss…. Is all I ever wanted from you…”

Than he closed his eyes, and slept once more.

*********

Joe had not slept well at all. He had lain awake until he saw Derek leave to go for something to drink, in the middle of the night, and had slipped Derek’s phone back in the drawer where he had found it. When Derek turned in, Joe was still awake. He was thinking about how he could inform ally about what he had read, and how they should confront Derek with the fact that they knew he had probably killed his own wife. Several theories crept through his mind, and he also remembered the sheriff all of sudden not wearing his wedding ring anymore. What did that say about Derek Moseley? That he felt liberated now? That he had cold-heartedly executed his wife to go on a road-trip? Or was there something more sinister going on? And where was Sally anyway? After a few hours, Joe’s body finally came to a rest and although his mind was still racing, his 6-year-old’s body needed sleep. When he woke up, he found himself completely lone in the hotel-room. From the look of her bed, Sally had not come in all night, and Derek had already left, who knows why.

This at least gave Joe something to work with. All he had to do now was hope that Sally made it back before Derek, so he could tell her all about what he had learned. Together they would b able to think of a solution for the dilemma he found himself in, and they could confront the sinister Sheriff together. As he heard a key-card slide into the lock on the hotel-room, he tensed up. “Fifty-fifty, let’s hope it’s Sally!” Joe thought.

“Are you descent, Joe?” Sally called from the hallway before she entered.

“Oh, Sally! I have something very impor…” Joe began.

“No, me first!” Sally said, entering the room, “Derek has found The Blob!”

Joe’s heart sank as he saw Derek entering the hotel room right behind Sally. He sat down on one of the beds, and knew he had to wait for another chance. Sally took one of the chairs, and Derek sat down at his computer once more.

“This means I can make a start at tracking down the Inferno-babies!” Sally said enthusiastically.

“You know, they’re not babies anymore. They’re all six years old by now. Look at me!” Joe said.

“I know, I know. But just think. This is our first lead. The Blob might be able to tell us who took the babies… children!”

“Miss Blevins, I would not get my hopes up. The Blob was hardly the most intelligent member of Freedom Force. It’s possible that he doesn’t know a thing about what happened to the victims of the Inferno-night” Derek put in solemnly.

“You know, you just could let a girl be happy! This is my search, my quest, you two are just along for the ride! Now, I say we’re of to a good start here, so let’s just be happy, okay?” Sally protested.

“Oh, you’re right! I’m happy for you, Sally!” Joe said and hugged Sally.

“You are right. It is a solid lead” Derek said, and patted Sally on the back.

“That’s the spirit! Let’s capture this moment, okay guys?” Sally said, and got up to fetch the phone Sam had put in her backpack when she left Xavier’s. She arranged Joe and Derek around herself, and then held the phone in front of them all to take a picture. When she looked at the result, Sally was pleased. Joe was his usual happy elf, and even Derek seemed to have taken the trouble to attempt a smile.

“All right! I’m gonna get this printed! Sally said, “After I pay a visit to Mr. Dukes, that is!”

“I could come with you!” Joe said, sensing a chance to tell Sally about his discovery.

“So will I. Depowered or not, the man is still a career criminal. I think it would be best to have some back-up” Derek said.

Joe looked at Derek, and was suddenly afraid that Derek knew what he had found out. Sally was completely oblivious to the tension between the two, and happily agreed to both of them coming along, as long as they would let her handle The Blob. After Sally took a shower and put on a change of clothes, all three headed out, back into Mutant Town.