***********

 Hi, I’m Kitty Pryde. The reason I’ve turned to writing again, is that I’m so nervous I could scream. That’s right, Kitty, big bad veteran X-Men before turning 21 is a scare little girl. I’m fighting of one hell of a fight or flee impulse, because I know neither fighting nor fleeing is gonna help me here. The secret here is to just relax. But since I’m too busy fighting not to scream, I have a little problem relaxing. Wow, all of this barely makes sense, and the weird part is that it’s true.

 You see, ever since surviving being fused to a huge bullet flying through space for months, I’ve been having these anxieties. Being alone is one, silence is another, and now it turns out flying also freaks me out. After all, what is plane but a giant bullet with some wings attached to it? I know I have been horrible to the people around me, especially Alani, and I didn’t even realise I was doing it. Rachel just scolded me about being a bigot, when I called a couple of Arab people terrorists, and that chocked me back to normal. So now I sit here, in a plane that’s about to take off, writing down my feelings and thoughts, trying not to go all foetal. Part of me is still hoping those guys are terrorists, it will give me something to fight. I can deny it all I want, but I’m actually very much a fighter, and having something to punch would make me feel soooo much better.

 *********

 Four men were sitting together in the economy class. They all had dour faces, and none of them seemed to be happy to where they were now. Yet here they say, four big men who had among them been convicted for several lifetimes in jail, and put together had already served numerous years. They didn’t speak much, and had not met before they got on the plane. The fact that their seats were next to each other on the plane was an example of perfect planning on the part of the man they all feared and worked for.

 “So, I guess we’re it, eh?” a black-haired, man with Italian features said.

 “Yeah, we’re it. Now shut up, Scarlotti!” a big broad man with short brown hair said.

 “Scarlotti? I thought you were dead!” an elder man with grey hair and grey dead eyes said.

 “So did I. You know me?” the Italian said to the old man.

 “I make it a habit to know all of us who pass from this life,” the old man answered.

 The fourth man, a thin wiry man with a crazed look in his eyes, inhaled deeply and then sighed audibly. The old man and the Italian looked in his direction.

 “Hi-heh… Oh, we best get moving…. The fear is lessening…” the thin man spoke to the others.

 “We don’t do anything until we’re over the Atlantic!” the big man whispered, “Do I have to remind you of the consequences of disobedience?”

 “Who put you in charge?” the Italian demanded of the big man.

“Our employer. Do I have to remind you of what Mr. Silver does with people who fail to obey his orders?” the big man answered.

 All three of the men were silent after that.

 **********

 Abby had hooked up her laptop once more as soon as the plane had stopped its ascent. She was playing a game of real time strategy, but was not very successful, so after an hour or so she decided it was best to postpone her conquest of the Roman Empire. Turning on her spy-ware once more, she tried to listen in on her targets once again, but she discovered that nothing much was being said. The girl Alani was listening to reggae music on her I-Pod, the pink girl was now reading the article on The Netherlands, and the other two were oddly quiet, but Abby suspected they were communicating telepathically. Abby was a little surprised about how unprepared the four mutants were for their trip. She had been briefed extensively before her assignment started, and had a firm grasp about just what sort of country she was headed for. Every arrangement had been made for her, including an apartment across the square from the one the four X-Women were going to be staying at. Her weapons, and even an alternate version of her costume would be waiting at that address.

 She had designed her alternate costume herself, and it was her intention to take it up as her regular costume when her assignment ended. Abby hated her current Cloud 9 costume. When she had first put it on, she had been so proud of it, but now she just thought it was ugly. Her new one was mostly black, with some blue on the torso, in the shape of a short sleeveless shirt. Her mask was a lot smaller, too, only covering the upper half of her face. It looked a lot more feminine, and even a little sexy! Being a superhero is all good, but the old costume made her look like a lollypop with a helmet on, and Abby was having none of that anymore. She would be sailing on the clouds in style from now on! Abby let out a sigh as she looked at the clouds through her window. How much more fun would it be to just fly to Europe on her own power. No mission, no guns, just flying, out over the ocean. As Abby looked down through the clouds, she saw that they were now over the Atlantic.

 *********

 “Well, how THAT ever became one of the richest countries in the world is a whole new mystery in and of itself!” Clarice remarked putting down her magazine. When no reaction came, she looked at her four travelling companions. Alani was staring into space, only rhythmically moving a little as she listened to her music. Beside her was Rachel, sitting with her eyes closed, just like Kitty, and she noticed that they were holding hands. The look on Kitty’s face was troubled, and Clarice wondered what her problem was. As soon as she had even thought that, Clarice got up to go to the bathroom.

 “What’s wrong with me?” Clarice thought as made her way to the back of the plane. She had been on edge all day, and it was just not like her. Kitty had been annoying, too, but Clarice wondered where her grumpy disposition came from. As she filed past a woman standing the aisle, Clarice noticed the surprised look of the woman when their eyes met. “So that’s it…” Clarice thought. All of a sudden, things started to make sense to her. Among The Exiles, and even back on her homeworld, ruined as it as, she had never been an outcast or a curiosity because of the way she looked. But now, here on the relatively normal and stable world, she was. Compared to Nocturne, Thunderbird and Morph, she was always a normal looking woman, but compared to Kitty, Rachel and Alani, she was a freaky looking pink-purple skinned mutant. With all the non-stop drama and action in her life, always living on society’s edges if there even was a society to live in, Clarice had never thought about her appearance. It was just never an issue. And now it would be. If this was indeed the place she belonged, and part of her very much wanted that, it would mean either living in hiding or forever being the freak. That was what had been eating at her all day, the fact that for the first time in her life, she was not hiding from enemies, but from regular people. The thought, that belonging meant she would still be an outcast, frightened her more then anything Apocalypse could ever have done.

 “Aaaaah…. Delicious….” The thin man said as Clarice passed him on her way to the back.

 “What is?” the older man asked.

 “The fear in that purple skinned one…. Exquisite…” the thin man answered.

 “Purple skinned? Hold on…” the Italian said.

 “Laughton! Scarlotti1 Shut up, both of you!” the big man said, “Somebody could hear!”

 “If you are so worried about being recognised, you should have thought to wear a mask like most of us, Baker!” the old man said.

 “I’m not interested in your opinions, Roland. Now shut up, and I’ll get your gear… including your precious masks,” the big man answered.

 The big man reached down into the sports bag that was under his chair, and concentrated intensely. Instead of sweat, grains of sand fell from his brow. When he took his hand back out of his bag, he had a package in it, covered in sand.

 “This is yours, Scarlotti,” the big man said, handing the Italian the package.

 The big man repeated the act, sweating out more sand with every time, and handed packages to the old man and the thin man.

 “Okay. Now, I’m going to the bathroom to reform properly. When I get back, you three had better be ready to go at my say so!” the big man said, as he got up and made his way to the back of the plane.

 ********

 Rachel & Kitty were deep in a telepathic conversation. Kitty as still clutching Rachel’s hand, squeezing it so tight that she was actually hurting Rachel. Apart from a slight wincing, Rachel never let on, and continued her efforts to calm Kitty. She had created a mindscape for Kitty and herself, in which they were standing on top of the Lighthouse overlooking the Atlantic, where they had both lived during their time with Excalibur.

 “How’s it going?” Rachel asked.

 “I’m holding on,” Kitty answered.

 “That’s good, isn’t it? That’s what this place was all about” Rachel said.

 “Yeah, Excalibur… We had some good times here, didn’t we? We came together here when we thought the X-Men were gone.” Kitty said.

 “That’s right. And we kept it together, until they came back…”

 “You know what we should do? We should pay a visit to Kurt in Germany before we head back to the States. Maybe we can invite Brian, too. Or maybe not. He may not like to have an Excalibur reunion without Megan there. You were with him when they got separated, right? That must have been bad. I mean, when we were starting out with Excalibur he was a total dog, treating Megan like she wasn’t even there a lot of the time, but in the end they got it together, and it must really have hurt him when they both ended up on opposite sides of the universe, and it must seem really unfair, and…. Oh god… I’m in a plane!”

 “Ssshhhh… Hold it together, Pryde…. Hold it together…  Rachel tried to calm Kitty, who was starting to hyperventilate.

 “I’m trying, I’m trying… I just want to hit something, you know? It’s like every time I get it together, find my place of calm, something is pulling the fear back up…. I don’t get it…” Kitty answered as she regained control of her breathing.

 “That’s strange….” Rachel said.

 “Getting shot into space in giant bullet always is” Kitty said, trying to smile through her fear.

 ********

 When Clarice came out of the bathroom, she passed the big man who was waiting his turn. Something was familiar about him, Clarice thought, but she couldn’t place him. The very thought of recognising somebody set of alarm-bells in Clarice’s mind, because most of the people she knew or met during her many travels through time and space were super-people, and the gruff look of the big man made the chance of him not being on the side of the angels better than the opposite. Crunching her memory for an idea of who the man was, she was surprised when a man in a chair she passed grabbed her wrist. It was Martijn van Steen.

 “You are one of them, aren’t you?” Martijn said.

 “I’m sorry, sir, could you please remove your hand before I do it for you?” Clarice stated threateningly.

 “I already thought I saw you people. I already thought I recognised the girl with the tattoos, but now I’m sure. It’s you! The X-Men who killed my boy!” the man shouted.

 “Let go of me!” Clarice said as she pulled her arm loose and other passengers started to notice the commotion.

 “You won’t get away with it, you know! I won’t let you! You people think you can do anything, but you won’t get away with killing my boy! Murderer!!!” Martijn said as he tried to hit Clarice, tears streaking down his face.

 “Please, sir, miss, could you please calm down and get back to your seats?” a stewardess said as she arrived at the scene.

 Clarice tried to walk back upfront, but found her way blocked. She turned back to the back of the plane, and bumped into the big man she thought she recognised.

 “Hey!” she shouted, drawing the attention of Abigail, too by now, and then Clarice saw that there was and all over her clothing. She looked back up at the big man, who looked back concerned, and then she knew who the man was.

 “Sandman!!!” Clarice shouted, “You’re the Sandman!”

 “Here we go…” the red haired man whispered to himself with a smile on his face.

 “What the hell???” Abigail said to herself

 “People! Go!!!” the Sandman shouted, transforming his fists to sand.

 Several rows down the aisle, Sandman’s companions got up. They all had their masks on, and the Italian, now wearing his Blacklash mask, cracked one of two electronic whips in the aisle, causing people around him to take cover. The older man had put a hood over his face and held a levitating rope tied in a noose. He threw it over the head of the only male flight attendant on the plane.

 “Take me to the cockpit! The Hangman commands it!!” he shouted at the terrified flight attendant.

The fourth man also rose, wearing a scarecrow-like mask, and looked around at all the passengers.

 “Good…. Gooooooood….. Give me all your fear!!!!” he shouted, as people around him all cowered in their chairs in fear.

 “That’s it!!! Now everybody sit down, keep your mouths shut and nobody dies!!!” Sandman called out, “You too, purple girl! You sit down here, and don’t make a move, or everything that happens will be on your head!”

 Clarice went through several scenarios in her head, but couldn’t think of one that would work under the circumstances. She figured she could easily teleport the Sandman out of the plane, but she was in no way sure she could prevent him grabbing anyone or his companions from going ballistic. She sat down next to Martijn, and remained quiet.

 In the meantime, Blacklash and the Hangman made their way to the front of the plane. Blacklash cracked both his whips in the aisle, causing sparks to fly, which immediately got him the attention of all the passengers.

 “Nobody moves, nobody dies!!!” Blacklash called, as the Hangman headed for the cockpit, still dragging along the helpless and terrified flight attendant.

 Most had already been uneasy from the commotion at the back of the plane, and now after some panicked screams, all the passengers seemed happy to remain seated and wait for what was coming. The Hangman dragged his victim to the cockpit-entrance, and ordered him to open the door. When the man stammered that he could not, the Hangman punched him several times, before noticing the man was unconscious.

 By now Rachel had noticed something was going on, and she whispered to Kitty that she would leave her for a little while. Refocusing on reality, she saw Alani had already removed her earphones, and was looking at what was going on not 3 meters away from them.

 “Hijackers. Guess they already took the back” Alani said.

 “I’ll handle this…” Rachel said telepathically, and mentally commanded the Hangman and Blacklash to surrender. The second she did so, Kitty started to scream, breaking her concentration. The Hangman wasted no time, and as he sensed Rachel was the one responsible, he threw his rope around her neck. The noose tightened around Rachel’s neck, and the Hangman smiled as Kitty continued to scream.

“The rope knows you! It will strangle you if I do not command it not to. Now sit and be silent!” The Hangman spoke.

Rachel had no choice but to comply, and turned her attention back to Kitty. When she re-entered the mindscape, she saw why Kitty had gone insane with fear: in her mind, Kitty was back inside the giant bullet! Rachel tried her best to get Kitty to notice her, but she was too far gone into her personal nightmare. Certain that somebody was doing this to Kitty, Rachel cast her thoughts around to pick up Kitty’s assailant.

It was then that she saw the Scarecrow, laughing at her and saying: “Try something…. Try something and I’ll never release her!”

Meanwhile, Blacklash had grown inpatient, and smashed his whips through the cockpit-door. He went inside, and several more sparks flew before they heard the voice of the captain through the speakers.

“This is your captain. We have been hijacked and I have been ordered to divert our flight path to head for Latveria. The man now holding us hostage here has informed me that any resistance will result in the death of all passengers and crew. Please remain calm and seated as we try to get out of this alive.” The nervous voice of the captain sounded through the airplane.

In the back of the business-class, the red-haired man was smiling. “I wonder if this bunch of second-string flatscan-criminals even realises how much I have augmented their powers,” he asked himself silently.

********

Twenty minutes after the hijacking started, Abby was starting to consider what could be done. She knew she was not alone in wanting to mount an offensive, as she was certain the four X-Women would also be considering taking action. The bad news was, however, that two of the X-Women, the veteran kitty and the powerhouse Rachel, were effectively incapacitated, one by the Hangman, the other by… what?  Abby didn’t know, but no matter what, Kitty would not be available. That left the purple girl, Clarice and the rookie Alani. For now, these two had been separated at opposite ends of the plane, and here she was, in the middle. Not a very good place to start from. Abby thought about it some more, and realised she needed to know what was happening in the back. Here at the front, the Hangman was in control of Rachel and possibly Kitty, and the threat of violence to a young woman kept the rest of the passengers in line. Abby decided that she needed to know the situation in the back, and raised her hand, which Blacklash noticed.

“What do you want?!” Blacklash called to Abby.

“I.. I…eh.. I need to go… to the bathroom…” Abby stuttered.

Blacklash didn’t answer right away, and took a long look at the young blond girl standing up in the aisle. Finally he said:  “Go then…. But walk slowly! No sudden movements or my partners back there will take care of you!”

Abby got up and walk to the back. Sandman saw her come in right away and put a huge sand-paw on her shoulder, whispering in her ear: “Don’t try anything, girl! I have no problems with killing little girls!”. She saw the Scarecrow standing in the aisle, swaying back and forth, and Abby figured that this was probably the reason behind the fact that all the passengers seemed even more frightened than usual. When she passed Clarice, Abby winked at her. Clarice saw it, but didn’t know what to make of it. Then she went into the bathroom.

“Not such hot stuff when you’re not fighting innocent boys like my son, eh?” Martijn spat at Clarice, who was still wondering about Abby’s signalling.

“Shut up! I’m trying to think!” Clarice whispered back.

“Don’t you tell me to shut up!” Martijn said.

“Listen! The reason I haven’t done anything, is because I’m trying to save us all here! I have no idea how I am going to take out all four of these idiots before people start dying!” Clarice whispered.

“You’re a coward!” Martijn stated flatly.

“Okay. Here it is. When we both get out of here in one piece, you and I are going to sit down, and we are going to have a…..” Clarice started, but didn’t finish. She noticed that the blond girl had been gone a very long time, and that the wink probably meant she knew who she was. All of a sudden, Clarice was certain that the blond was setting up some sort of distraction. She saw the Sandman moving towards the bathroom, and he banged on the door a few times, shouting for the girl to come out.

“A what? A talk?” Martijn yelled at Clarice.

“Yeah… a talk!” Clarice said, “I’ll tell you exactly how I strangled that piece of shit son of yours!”

Martijn was furious. He got up and punched Clarice in the face. Sandman turned to look at what was happening, and used one of his big long sand-arms to grab Martijn. That is when Blink acted. She created a warp underneath Sandman, and he was sucked out of the airplane, leaving only a pile of sand around Martijn. At the same moment Cloud 9 burst out of the bathroom, standing on a tiny cloud that floated one foot of the ground. She flew through the aisle at Scarecrow, who twisted his body at an impossible angle to get out of the way, causing Abby to overshoot and end up in the front section of the plane. Blacklash noticed what was happening, and cracked his whip at Cloud 9, who barely managed to avoid it. He tried again, and sparks flew as the whip hit the ceiling of the plane and some lights, plunging the whole front section of the plane into darkness and causing total panic among the passengers, and the crew flying the plane. The plane began to slowly descend.

The Hangman looked nervously at his captive telepath, and saw her still desperately holding the hand of the woman next to her, whose face was contorted by fear. The other girl, however, the one with the tattoos, was missing. He looked around and saw that she was suddenly behind him, holding his broken rope.

“Hi. You are in so much trouble.” Alani said, and kicked the Hangman hard in the knee, shattering it. The Hangman screamed in pain, but pulled another rope out of thin air, and flung it around Alani, holding a chair for support.

“Doesn’t work, dude,” Alani said, as she pulled the rope through her body, causing it to fall apart into spare molecular matter.

“No girl beats me! I serve the Dark Lard Satannish, and I will not be denied!” the Hangman shouted as he lunged for Alani, who easily moved out of the way. Alani gloated for a moment, but had not reckoned with the old man’s speed, as a second blow landed in her stomach. Alani doubled over coughing, as the Hangman went to bring his fists down on her head once more. Alani reacted instinctively, and turned immaterial so the fists went through her body. The Hangman screamed in pain and shock: both of his arms had been disassembled into globs of molecular substance. Alani looked in horror at the screaming Hangman.

“No! No!! Please, Lord!!! Novo!!!!” the Hangman shouted, and then black flames burst from the Hangman, hitting Alani. The mutilated Hangman dropped down dead on the floor, while Alani was blown into the side of the plane, and fell to the ground unconscious.