It was a very warm November morning when Kitty, Alani, Rachel and Clarice arrived at San Francisco Airport. Their luggage had already been sent ahead to their destination, courtesy of a favour from SHIELD, so all they had with hem was carry-on luggage. The four women checked in, and proceeded to a coffee-counter after the long wait at the passport-check. There had been no problems regarding Clarice’s passport, even though it had been only recently created and the woman inspecting the documents had raised an eyebrow at Clarice’s pink-purple skin. Alani’s elaborate tattoos had also raised a few eyebrows, and Alani’s “Yeah. We’re a band, you know?” explanation had not helped much. As they sat down and drank their coffee, all except Alani who preferred water, Clarice wasn’t looking very happy.

“What’s up, Clarice?” Rachel asked.

“It’s nothing. Well, it’s… I’m so bloody hot in this sweater. It’s nice to live in a world where everything is basically normal, but I hate the fact that I have to hide away in layers upon layers of clothes!” Clarice said, referring to the fact that she was not dressed for the high temperatures.

 “Don’t worry about it. It’s always freezing in an airplane, and once we get to where we’re going… Well, from what I read people don’t go there for the great climate!” Kitty said, “Once we land, Alani here will be freezing her ass of!”

 “Last time for a while to show of my ink.” Alani explained her choice of attire, which was more suited to sunny beaches than a trip to northwestern Europe.

 “You know, we’re turning into a cliché here. Four woman gathered around the coffee-table, and we’re talking about clothes!” Rachel remarked.

 “I don’t know. I’m just used to wearing clothing I can fight in. Now here I am, without my weapons, heading into unknown territory. It just feels weird” Clarice continued her complaints.

 “We’re going to Amsterdam! Not invading Iraq!” Kitty said, “Relax! Everything will be fine”

 “Why couldn’t we take a Blackbird?” Rachel asked.

 “I wanted to. Scott couldn’t miss one, and we don’t have much of a presence left in Europe. Everything held by X-Corporation Amsterdam was sold off within two days after M-day. That address Scott gave me is all that’s left of  X-corporations holdings over there. We’re lucky to even have that.” Kitty said.

 “So what is it? A safe house or something?” Rachel inquired further,

 “More like a safe-floor” Kitty answered, “We’ll still be rooming together, it’s a three room apartment, furnished and all, with a kitchen and a bathroom. That’s it. Not much more than when I was in college.”

 “Trust me, I’ve seen worse. Much, much worse.” Clarice said.

 “Same here…. ” Rachel added grimly.

 “So it’s going to be a picnic. Okay.” Kitty said, not wanting to argue with the Clarice and Rachel remembering the worlds they grew up in.

 “Seen worse too” Alani added without looking up.

 “You? Where?” Kitty asked.

 “Took a trip once. Bad hotel. No running water, toilet was a hole in the ground. Lots of rodents though, really cute ones, too” Alani answered absent-mindedly.

 “So, what’s this Amsterdam like? Anyone ever visited there?” Clarice asked.

 “Nope. It’s supposed to be this old city, with lots of tourists, and most vices readily available. That’s about it” Rachel said.

 “I did a little reading. It’s the Capitol of The Netherlands, and that country is the leading exporter of syntactic drugs. Local law-enforcement is very lax on drugs and other vices, but it’s still a very stable country, and crime is relatively low. Most people speak English, so we should be okay.” Kitty added.

 “And that’s it?” Clarice asked.

 “Basically. Not a whole lot going on there, except that Amsterdam has the reputation of a party-town” Kitty answered.

 “So, it’s a big party-town, with lots of drugs, not many cops, people speak English and it’s a nice place? Did I leave anything out?” Clarice asked.

 “Uuhh…No?” Rachel said.

 “Okay, not very different from jumping in with The Exiles” Clarice said sarcastically.

 “They have a Queen” Alani remarked.

 “What?” Kitty asked.

 “They have a Queen, there. Says so right here” Alani answered, showing the others a magazine she was paging through that had an article on The Netherlands.

 “Thank you” Kitty said as she grabbed the magazine, and started to read the article.

 ***********

 Two tables away from the four X-Women waiting for their plane, another young woman was sitting by herself. She had blond hair, and wore plain clothes and a pair of shaded glasses. On the chair next to her were a backpack and a laptop-bag. She was just sitting there, drinking a glass of orange-juice and at first glance seemed to be doing nothing. She was however keeping a discreet eye on the X-Women, and was secretly enjoying listening in on their conversation, which she could hear perfectly through the receiver in her left ear. Her name was Abigail, or Abby for short, and she was very happy with her assignment. By a direct order she had been pulled from her regular job as field leader of the Montana Initiative team, and she was now tasked with following the four X-Women two tables away from her.

 To Abby, the assignment had been a blessing. It was good to get away from it all for a while, because for a girl who just wanted to fly, she had seen too much combat since she got involved with The Initiative. In the past weeks, she had taken part in a lot of big fights, and she had killed a large number of aliens with her greatest skill beside her powers, her incredible marksmanship. Lately Abby had even started training with thrown weapons instead of just guns, and again she had been a natural. There was some crazy talk about entering her into a competition with the recently resurfaced Bullseye. But Abby was very sure she never wanted to even get near that psycho. Besides that, shooting and killing were not what she wanted to be known for. Her control of clouds, and flying around on them, that was what she loved. Getting away from all the fighting on an assignment was just what she wanted. Cloud 9: super-spy!

 **********

 An hour after he had checked in his luggage, and taking care of his precious cargo, Martijn van Steen was relieved to hear that he could finally board the plane back to Amsterdam. His stay in San Francisco had not been a pleasant one. When he had heard that his son Harold had been killed during a fight with powered mutants, his first thought had been “Why did he have to go to San Francisco, the only place these freaks even still hang out?”. Harold had been his only son, and all that was left of his family since his wife died two years earlier. Now, there was nothing left, except his dead boy in a coffin to be taken back home. When the authorities told him that the X-Men had been involved in the investigation into Harold’s dead, he had been furious. He did not want to believe the official reading that his son had been involved in inciting a riot at a club that had injured over 50 people, nor the allegations of his involvement in rape before the riot. He knew very well that his son was no angel, but Martijn had always believed that his son was a good boy at heart. Now these people, including the bloody X-Men, where trying to tell him his boy was a junkie who, under the influence of some very strange drugs, had hurt numerous people and raped several girls. Martijn had always been a tolerant man, but this was just going to far. The mutants had gotten him killed, and now tried to pass of the blame on his poor dead boy. Martijn was resolved that once the funeral was over, he would leave no stone unturned to get to the bottom of this.

 It was probably a good thing that Martijn did not see the four X-Women boarding the plane just behind him.

 **********

 “How long will we be on this plane, anyway?” Clarice asked as the four X-Women stood in line to board the plane.

 “10 hours” Alani answered.

 “Are you kidding me? 10 hours?” Clarice asked.

 “Said so in the magazine. The one professor Kitty stole” Alani answered.

 Rachel sighed as Clarice grumbled something under her breath about taking a rowboat instead. She looked at Kitty, who was casting suspicious glances over her shoulder. Rachel tried to see what Kitty was looking at, and then she noted four Arab-looking men with thick beards about thee meters behind them in the line.

 “What are you looking at, Kitty?” Rachel asked her friend.

 “Four Arabs, with Taliban beards. I’m getting a 9-11 vibe,” Kitty whispered.

 “Kitty Pryde! I never thought you to be a bigot!” Rachel shouted telepathically.

 “No reason to shout! And I’m not a bigot!” Kitty thought back.

 “Yes, you are! You are suspecting four people of being terrorists because they’re Arabs! That’s bigotry, girl!” Rachel thought back.

 “It’s called keeping your eyes open, bub,” Kitty thought back, given Rachel an angry look.

 “Are you channelling Logan again? What’s wrong with you Kitty? You’ve been obnoxious all day!” Rachel asked telepathically.

 For a moment Kitty’s thoughts were blank. Then she said: “I’m afraid to fly.”

 Rachel was silent, as she tried to understand Kitty’s sudden fear of flying.

 “This is because of the bullet?” Rachel thought at Kitty.

 “Yes it is. Let’s just talk” Kitty said.

 ‘Okay. But you are not alone, now” Rachel said.

 “I know. But somehow I am scared shitless about getting on this flying thing”

 “I think I understand. I can let you sleep once were on the plane. You wouldn’t even notice taking of” Rachel whispered.

 “Thanks, Ray, but I don’t think so. I have to confront this, now, or I’ll be scared of flying forever” Kitty said, a look of grim determination on her face.

 In front of them, Clarice was still complaining: “You know, I could have tried a teleport, Ray could have flown us, Kitty and you could have phased us through the centre of the earth….”

 “Nah, I’d leave a big tunnel. Too obvious, you know?” Alani answered

 “Whatever” Clarice answered, “I’ll just be happy when we’ve landed…”

 ********

 About a meter behind the four Arabs, Abby was standing in the same line. Boarding was slow, as it was a big plane, and al the seats had been sold. By now she had had to hand over all of her hardware, keeping only a small shoulder bag that included her laptop. There was too much noise around her in the line, so she couldn’t really use her microphone and earplug anymore to listen in the four women. Nevertheless, she felt like she did have something of a picture of her four targets. The brown haired girl was Kitty Pryde, and was kind of bitchy and blunt, strangely vulnerable, but also seemed to be sort of their leader. The red head, Rachel Grey, seemed to be the friendliest of the four, but somehow she had a melancholy look about her, as if she was actually very sad. Then there was the pink girl, Clarice Ferguson, who was grumpy and opinionated, in a way only people that have seen too much can be. Last but not least, there was the girl Alani Ryan, who looked like she was just along for the ride, but at the same time seemed to be constantly studying her surroundings. They were an odd group of people, but they all looked like they got along perfectly, and somewhere in her heart Abby envied them a little. The X-Woman were very different from the Initiative. These people had been thrown together by fate, and somehow that had created a bond between them. Law had brought the Initiative together, and although Abby had made a lot of friends, both at Camp Hammond where she had trained and in Montana, she was a little jealous of the four X-Women in front of her.

 *********

 When everybody in the boarding area had finally gotten up to get in line or was already on the plane, a tall muscular man in a black suit and a purple tie finally got up to stand in line. He had long red hair tied back in a ponytail and wore dark glasses. He had quietly observed all the people boarding the plane, including Martijn van Steen, the four X-Women, Abigail, and four other men When he stepped onto the plane, he picked up both an American and a Dutch newspaper, before sitting down in the business class. He looked around the plane, and saw that all of the people he deemed important were in their seats by now. The man smiled at inwardly, singing silently to himself  “He came dancing across the water, with his galleons and guns…” As the plane got ready for take-of, he rejoiced in the fact that he was going to be using his god-given talents once more.