******
Previously:
Kitty Pryde and her X-Woman squad have left behind San Francisco to hunt for designer mutant drugs in Amsterdam. On the flight over, it was clear that their little jaunt to the old world had not gone unnoticed. A villainous secret group, a mysterious redheaded man and a representative of the Avengers Initiative called Cloud 9 have all followed the X-Women to Amsterdam where Kitty and her friends are trying to establish themselves before they get to work.
******

The man had been sitting in the Amsterdam Grand Café for over two hours, nursing a glass of beer. The foam had all but disappeared and the beer would be called undrinkable by most. Had he not looked the way he did, a waitress would have asked him to leave, but he had the appearance of success working for him. With his vacant eyes he stared at his beer as if he was studying the secrets of the universe, yet he could not be dismissed as just another drunk. He wore an expensive Armani suit, his dark-brown hair was perfectly styled, and his handsome face spoke of confidence, charm and strength. A few years ago, he had been an international celebrity, but these days he lived in anonymity, which suited him fine. No matter how important a man John Sublime had been, he was nothing compared to what was awake inside of him.

The world had changed a lot since it first came to sentience. For an enduring life form, with no other agenda but to endure, this was the most frightening thing that could me imagined. After having lived as long as life had been present on this world, imagination was not something it lacked. It could conceive of everything, understand everything and identify with everything to accomplish its overall goal, to survive everything. There was nothing in existence that had frightened it as much as exclusion, and that was why, after millions of years of simple existence; it had finally decided to try and strengthen its grip on creation.

It had not been easy, for after all it was not used to interaction. It had lived in a perpetual state of quiet, silent domination, and conquest was unknown to the it, as it was never confronted by anything to conquer. The ascendancy of Homo Superior had changed all that. Mutantkind was the first form of life this enduring entity had not dominated from its very inception. It had been the first time that it had been confronted with real change in it’s millions of years of life, and for the first time it had to awaken from its self-imposed slumber from which it dominated life. Early attempts at awakening had not been successful, and many crude schemes had failed it. The first taste of success had come when it had chosen to acquire the Scarlet Witch, a mutant with powerful reality warping powers, through minions. In the end his scheme had failed, but it had provided it with valuable experience.

The second grand venture had involved the group of prominent mutants called the X-Men. As John Sublime, it had tried to influence them, and through an extension of itself, the substance called kick, it had rid itself of the greatest threat it had ever perceived, the mutant Jean Grey and her cosmic Phoenix powers. Again, his failure had been a success in disguise, as it had endured and it had hatched yet another, greater scheme to ensure its survival. Even with the world as it was today, it was still determined to eradicate evolution and provide for its own survival. And he would be unrevealed throughout it all, just a man, a man with a beer, in a Grand Café in Amsterdam.

*******

Hi, I’m Clarice Ferguson. I’m tired from being jetlagged, and that is actually funny because I should be completely used to it. I used to lead a group of mostly mutant-heroes and we called ourselves The Exiles. What we did was we went from one reality through another, and we fixed them. I swear I’m not making this up. Long story short: different realities have different time frames, and we should have been jetlagged all the time. We never were, however, but now I am, and it bites.
 
But anyway, I woke up this morning still tired from the day before. I had spent 10 hours in an airplane, and some of that time was spent fighting a group of bad guys that were absolutely c-level, at least they were in every reality I ever aw them. I also used my powers to teleport the same guy out of the plane a hundred times. How tenacious can you get? Some guys just can’t take a hint. So here I am, tired and grumpy, and I’m sharing a bedroom in an Amsterdam apartment with Rachel Grey. Now don’t get me wrong, I love the girl, but she snores like nobody’s business. I bet none of the guys that are always ogling her and those 2-mile legs of hers ever think about that. They can’t, they don’t know. Unfortunately, I do.

What else do I have to be grumpy about? I have to admit the apartment is quiet okay. Nothing special, nothing fancy, but it has everything we need. The bathroom is clean, and so is the kitchen, everything works that supposed to work, and it doesn’t look like a sci-fi nightmare or a post-apocalyptic dream.

All in all, I’m doing okay, and the girls I’m sharing this place with are great. I just hope we stay friends if we have to live together all the time.
 
********

Kitty was the first one to get up for the day. After a long relaxing shower, she made herself a sandwich and got dressed, to start on the arduous task of hooking up her hardware. Whatever else Kitty was, she would always remain something of a computer-nerd, and it was something that always made her feel good, just tinkering with computers, circuits, and other hardware had been a constant in her life ever since she discovered her knack for it. In a different life, she could have been a top-shelf engineer and ICT guru, and have already been a billionaire. Life, and a mutant-gene, had interfered however, and although she had tried life outside of the X-world, she always came back to it in the end. Sometimes, Kitty would go all cynical and tell people she hated what her life was like, but anyone who knew Kitty could tell she was lying. The truth was that Kitty was an X-Men in every way that ever mattered, and she really wouldn’t want it any other way.

As Kitty was unpacking the boxes with her stuff that had been sent over to the new Amsterdam address she now lived at with Rachel, Clarice and Alani, she wondered how Alani could sleep through all the noise she was making. Not only was the act of unpacking a very loud process, so was moving around furniture to accommodate Kitty’s incredible set-up. Then there was Kitty’s sometimes-unnerving tendency to talk to herself when she worked. It was a trait she had picked up years ago, but it had been put into overdrive since coming back from space. Kitty hated silence, and if listening to her own voice, telling her what she was doing, drove the silence away, Kitty felt it was a perfectly acceptable quirk.

When she was about halfway through setting up and unpacking her equipment, she heard footsteps in the hall, and then the sound of running water. Kitty went completely quiet, and heard a soft but unmistakable snoring-sound coming from the other room next to hers. Rachel was still asleep, so it had to be Blink who was up. Looking at Alani, still sleeping and drooling slightly in her pillow, Kitty thought about how they had decided on who would be rooming with whom. Rachel and Kitty had talked about it, and had decided that Kitty would room with Alani. Although the girl sometimes got on Kitty’s nerves with her laid-back attitude and tendency to speak in short, non-committing sentences, never mind the fact that she insisted on calling Kitty `Professor Kitty’, Kitty was the only one who actually knew Alani a little. Of course, Kitty also knew there was a second reason Rachel suggested the arrangement. Her plan had been that by linking Kitty, often to high-strung and overly aggressive, to the easy-going, relaxed Alani, some of Alani’s attitude might rub of on Kitty.

When Kitty was ready to plug in her set-up, she said a little prayer in Hebrew, the only Hebrew she knew, and hoped that it would not fry the wiring in the entire apartment. The house was very old, after all, probably dating back to Amsterdam’s Golden Age in the 17th century. With her eyes closed, Kitty plugged in and waited for the worst to happen. When there was no static noise or other indication that a disaster had occurred, Kitty opened her eyes. Time for phase two, namely turning on her equipment. Kitty went through the same ritual, remembering how she had fried Excalibur’s first base of operations when they all moved in to Captain Britain’s lighthouse. Again, nothing happened, and Kitty could not believe that her computer was actually running. She told herself how proud she was of herself, and sat down at her computer to start going over the software.

“What up?” Alani’s voice came from behind.

“Oh, nothing. Go back to sleep” Kitty said, realizing Alani had probably heard her congratulating herself.

“Can’t. I’m awake now” Alani said and got out of bed. She grabbed a towel and looked to be headed out of the room.

“Clarice is in the shower,” Kitty said.

“Oh” Alani said, and set back down on her bed.

“Yeah… She’ll be out in a while. She’s been in there for ages” Kitty said.

As Kitty worked on her computer and Alani sat on the bed in a trance, they heard footsteps in the hall after the water had been turned of.

“Your turn, Alani” Kitty said.

“What?”

“To shower. Clarice just left, I think”

“Oh. Okay” Alani said, slowly got up and headed out of the room. As soon as Alani left, Kitty resumed talking to herself. After a few minutes, there was a knocking on the door of the room.

“Come in!” Kitty called, and Clarice walked in, dressed all in green like always.

“You know, I hope you already showered, because the hot-water is finished.”Clarice said as she came to sit besides Kitty.

“Are you sure? I hear the water running, and Alani’s in the shower now”

“Then she’s out of luck, because I squeezed every drop of hot water I could from that tap”

“Really? Going to be a short shower for Alani, then”

“I guess. Hey, is that coffee?”

“I got a whole can here. Help yourself” Kitty said, and Clarice poured herself a cup.

“A girl could easily get addicted to this stuff” Clarice said.

“I know. Another habit I picked up from Logan. He doesn’t wake without that stuff, no matter how many healing-factor’s he’s got”

“What are the other habits? From what you’ve told me and what I’ve seen, he’s a lot like Mr. Creed, the man who raised me”

“You know, that still gives me major creeps. On our world, Sabretooth is a complete psycho and a sadistic murderer”

“I know. But still, Logan and him are a lot alike, right?”

“Yeah, they are. Sabretooth is Logan without his human side. Sabretooth is all beast, basically” Kitty said.

“Hard to imagine. On my world, Logan was lot more savage than he is here. Mr. Creed used to call him a weak version of himself”

“That’s what they both say about each other here” Kitty replied.

“When you think about it, it’s weird. We were both mentored by the same man, only completely different” Clarice observed.

“Did you pick up any habits from your…. Mr. Creed?” Kitty asked.

“Not too much. I learned fighting and stuff from him, but I never took any personal habits from him. You?”

“He… A few… Like coffee, and calling people `bub’ to annoy them. I tried one of his cigars once, and I almost puked my guts out!”

“Yeah, I know. You probably need a healing-factor to smoke those things!” Clarice said.

“There’s a matter of fact he does! Once, when his healing-factor was completely maxed out, he actually had to stop smoking!” Kitty said laughing.

“If he’s anything like Mr. Creed, he must have been really pissed of about that!” Clarice laughed back.

“Besides that, he did teach me about everything there is to know in life” Kitty said, suddenly serious again.

“It was the same with me and Mr. Creed” Clarice said.

“Maybe that’s why we are so confused sometimes. We were both raised by guys who are in all ways the poster-children for Mutant Machismo!”

“They really should have picked boys to mentor” Clarice mused.

“Are you kidding? No boy would have survived those guys! Some things only a girl can do!” Kitty answered, and Clarice nodded in agreement, as Alani walked back in.

“Sorry I used up all the hot water” Clarice said to Alani.

“You did? Hadn’t noticed” Alani answered, and continued to dry herself of.

********

Abby had gotten up early, and felt miserable. If this was what being a spy was like, she wanted no part of it. After waking, showering and having breakfast, Abby had peeked through her windows to the house on the other side of the square, and aw that the curtains were still closed. She sat down on a couch near the window, and started cycling through channels on television. There was nothing remotely interesting on television, besides an item on the local AT5 channel about the hijacking she and the X-women on the other side of the square had been involved in. They were all shown on television, with their code-names. Abby thought she looked absolutely horrible on television, especially standing next to the X-Women. She remembered reading somewhere once that many human-looking mutants were extremely attractive, because mutants were a new species and they needed to be attractive to propagate their species. Looking at herself standing in between Alani and Rachel, Abby seriously wondered if there wasn’t some truth to it.

Looking at Alani, Abby wondered how old the girl even was. Abby had turned 18 last year, old enough to be an Initiative member, but she guessed Alani could be a little younger, even. From the fact that she called Shadowcat `professor’ all the time, Abby guessed that Alani was probably a student of that Mutant school the X-Men used to operate from. And that professor wasn’t that old, either. Abby sighed in jealousy about the X-Women. X-Men got trained in a school; Avengers got trained in boot camp. She bet X-Men also never got rifles shoved in their hands and told to kill the enemy from a sniper-position. Abby, however, got to her new home yesterday, and there was a crate of guns and ammunition waiting for her. There was also her cool new costume, and that was something she did like a lot! Although she had very tired coming in, she could not resist trying it on. Admiring herself in front of the mirror, Sally was very satisfied with her design. It looked cool and sexy, and made her hips look a lot smaller.

Still, it did not solve an immediate problem that Abby was thinking about. On the one hand, she had been really friendly with the four X-women, but on the other hand Kitty had recognised the fact that Abby was on the plane with them for a reason. The X-women didn’t know that she was holed up in a small apartment on the other side of the square from them, and that she was really sent along to keep an eye on four X-Women on a mission. Why did those four loser-villains have to hijack the plane anyway? Was that a coincidence, then? Or was somebody already waiting for them? If they did, they probably had not anticipated her presence, as there were only four bad guys against five good girls.

Now, Abby had to decide how to proceed. She had to keep an eye on the X-Women, and if they accepted her as a friend, it would make her job easier. However, Kitty would expect an explanation sooner or later, and Abby really didn’t want to lie to the girls. In the end, Abby decided there was only one thing she could do, and she got up and headed over to the X-Women’s place.

********

In the X-women’s apartment, Rachel had finally woken up. She had popped her head inside Kitty and Alani’s room to say good morning, and then headed for the shower. Rachel gave a scream about the cold water, and it was only then that the others remembered they hadn’t told her about it. After a very short shower and getting dressed, Rachel came into the other bedroom, munching on a sandwich.

“We have to make a schedule for the shower” Rachel said as she sat down on Kitty’s bed.

“I just made that, Ray!” Kitty said.

“I swear, you and Alani are going to have so much fun about keeping this place tidy!” Rachel said.

“Tidy? Why?” Alani asked.

“Since when am I a neat-freak?” Kitty asked.

“You’re not… But I’m willing to bet good money that you two will get into an argument about it” Rachel said.

When the bell rung, Alani went to open the door, and came back promptly with Abby.

“Abby! Hi! How’s you sleep?” Rachel asked.

“Fine. Listen, I have to tell you all something before we get talking about any other stuff. I feel like I have to” Abby said, looking a little nervous. Kitty turned to face Abby, and saw clearly that the girl was struggling for words.

“I’m a member of the 50 State-Initiative. I’m an Avenger. I was sent here to keep an eye on you for… Well, I’m not really sure. I guess the order came from the Central Command of the Initiative, so that probably means from Tony Stark himself. I’m sorry for deceiving you guys, and I’m kinda hoping you don’t hate me now” Abby said, looking at her shoes.

“I know” Kitty simply stated. All the other’s looked at her with surprise written on their faces. Kitty clicked a few links on her computer, and showed Abby and the others a display of the Initiative status-overview. She highlighted a line that said “Cloud 9: Currently unavailable. Location: Netherlands (Ref: Iron Man)”

“It’s not rocket-science, people,” Kitty said, “Abby was sent here to spy on us. I guess X-Men make ol’ Tony a little nervous, unless he bankroll’s them from behind the scenes.”

“Are you talking about Dani’s group in Germany?” Rachel asked.

“They’re SHIELD. Don’t you read the papers? I do. Tony Stark controls every costumed hero in the US, except the X-Men. So he put his own X-Men in Germany. Kurt is a sweetheart, but he bought into it. Now Stark sees a few more X-people heading for Europe, so he sends us a spy.” Kitty told everybody.

“I guess I’d better leave” Abby said with a sad voice.

“Why? If you want to spy on us, you’re in the best place available!” Kitty said.

“Okay! That’s harsh, Kitty!” Clarice said.

“Need I remind you of what Abby did for you, Kitty?” Rachel asked, “There’s a good chance you would have died screaming if not for her!”

“This is so not-cool” Alani said.

Everybody was silent after that, including Kitty. Kitty realized she had shot her mouth of again, something she was always getting herself in trouble with. No matter how you looked at it, Kitty had a bad temper, and sometimes it got completely out of hand.

“Let me ask you this, Abby” Kitty finally said, “What are you going to do now? You have completely blown your cover! Or is this also a part of your cover?”

“No! No, it’s really not. It’s just… I felt really bad about all this after yesterday. We were in this big fight together, and spying on you guys…. It just felt wrong…” Abby said.

“Hm. That’s a start, at least”

“Kitty, that’s enough!” Clarice said, “This girl is completely alone here, and is being totally honest with us. You don’t have to put her through a wringer to prove your toughness!”

“Fine. Maybe I am. I just hate that whole initiative deal, where Stark and the other Avengers round up every superhero they can find, and put them in a camp for training, and then relocate them. You al know how I felt when the O*N*E turned the school into a mutant-concentration camp, and this is not so different, bub!” Kitty said angrily.

“You know, for somebody who hates Emma so much, you sure act a lot like her!” Rachel said.

“Do you even realize how close this registration crap brings us to your nightmare future? Just substitute Mutant for Post-human or whatever crappy term they’ve come up with this time!”

“So how is that Abby’s fault?” Alani certainly asked.

Again silence. All the eyes were on Kitty, waiting for her to reply.

“It isn’t…” Kitty said softly.

“Thank you. Just wanted to know that” Alani said. She tossed her hair back, rolled her eyes and walked out of the room.

Clarice got up, too, and walked out after Alani, asking Abby to come along. Abby looked at Kitty, as if she was waiting for her to say something, and then followed Clarice. Rachel got up, and closed the door behind them. Then she sat down next to Kitty.

“Now, would you please tell me what this is all about, because it’s not about registration? Knowing you, you probably protested it as much as you could when it was all happening” Rachel asked Kitty.

“That’s just it. I didn’t” Kitty answered.

Rachel said nothing, and waited for Kitty to continue.

“When all of that was going on, the X-Men were dealing with the O*N*E, and the most we ever got involved was when a couple of the refugees living at the school went out and protested. The X-Men stopped them when they got violent. And me? I was busy getting reacquainted with Peter, having the best of times and could not be bothered to get involved”

“What is so bad about that? From what I heard, Scott and Emma declared the X-Men neutral in the Civil war” Rachel said.

“They did. We were all so tired of struggling for our right to exist, fighting the O*N*E who basically turned our home into a concentration camp, and worrying about becoming extinct. I was too tired to bang my head against another cause.”

“No one blames you for that, Kitty” Rachel said.

“Nobody but me. I’ll tell you something, something I never told anybody. When Peter died to cure the legacy-virus, a tiny part of me blamed him for getting out of the struggle, and another tiny part of me was even a little jealous of him. He had sacrificed himself in a noble act that saved millions. For him, the battle was over. I left after that, as well. I got out of the fight and moved back to Chicago. But somehow, I let the X-Men reel me back in. It’s not that I didn’t want to stay in Chicago; it’s just that I couldn’t. I couldn’t get out and let the others fight for me. Then, when the time came for me to make the noble sacrifice, I was relieved. I would be able to get out in a way that meant something. I wasn’t even afraid. I was just glad it was over, no matter how happy I was with Peter when he returned” Kitty told Rachel.

“And when you got back….” Rachel continued.

“When I got back, I hated myself for feeling that way. For wanting to get out. I should have tried to do something about the registration. I should have tried to get the X-Men involved. But I didn’t. I was too tired. I just wanted it over” Kitty said.

“Nobody blames you for wanting to stop fighting” Rachel said.

“I blame myself…” Kitty said.

“So you’re fighting yourself over not wanting to fight”

“I guess I do, that’s how that alleged genius-level brain of mine works, you know? I find something to get angry over, and start punching it. It doesn’t mater if it’s me or poor Abby”

“You’re…. complicated, Pryde” Rachel said as she felt the tension ebbing away.

“I know… I try…” Kitty said.