The phone call comes in the night. Which, for the woman answering the phone, is fine. Despite it being well past midnight, Moira MacTaggert is infamous in scientific circles for managing to go two days straight with no sleep while having little adverse affects on her research.

As the tone continues to buzz through her lab, Moira pulls her eyes away from the microscope, letting her thick glasses fall back onto her nose. Dark mahogany bangs hang in her face, while the rest of her short hair is cropped around her neck. Her lab coat had been taken off hours ago, left lying across a series of processing terminals. She was always more comfortable without the jacket. A black shirt clings to her torso, sleeveless. As she stands, plastic gloves are shucked off of her hands and tossed into one of the many waste bins scattered around the room.

The lab is rather small for such a large facility. Moira’s labs on Muir Isle are enormous – both working space and home to the faculty and small amount of patients and students it houses. But Moira’s personal labs are another matter. All metal, cold and sterile, a light grey. Several gurneys are scattered around the room, as are six computers that she assembled herself, their cords and innards left open. Notes, books, and sketches are scatted on most everything, including the small desk that she keeps in the corner. Three large bookshelves line the corner behind it, each one housing needed tomes. The desk is empty of personal affects. A large computer monitor is set up next it, the large system needing room.

“I’m comin’, I’m comin’.” Moira says to the phone as she finally reaches it. “If someone is calling me at two in the morning, they better have a bloody emergency – hello?”

The voice on the other end is recognized immediately. “Moira.”

“Charles?” Moira asks, rubbing the bridge of her nose. “What do you want?”

“I need your help Moira.” Charles says quickly, a panicked edge in his voice. For all their personal problems, Moira still considers herself one of his closest friends. As such, she knows that “panic” is not something that Charles Xavier does. “Something’s gone wrong.”

“Gone wrong with what?” Moira asks, leaning against the desk. “Is it the students? What’s going on?”

“It’s the X-Men – they’re missing. Maybe dead. We need to do something.”

“We?” What’s this we business?” Moira asks, concerned, but angry. She had been against the idea in the first place, all those years ago. “Just what do you need from ME?”

“I’ve already sent a Blackbird,” Charles says, ignoring the question. “I need you and Gabriel to come to the Mansion immediately. I already have Sage working on a list of suitable candidates.”

“CHARLES. What in God’s name is going on? What’s happened?” Moira says, frustration setting in.

“I’ll…there’s no sense waiting I suppose. Brace yourself.” Charles warns.

“Charles, what are – oh.” From across the Atlantic Ocean the thoughts and memories come, passing through the distance as if it wasn’t there. Immediately Moira understands, the knowledge cutting through to her core, and she shakes because of it. “Oh my.”

“Moira.” Charles says, his voice coming out of the phone with an electronic tint to it. In her shock, Moira hadn’t even realized that she had been setting the phone down. “Moira! Moira, listen to me, this is no time to panic. We must act quickly. Moira!”

“I’m here Charles,” Moira says, her voice hushed and quiet. She closes her eyes, rubbing a hand against her forehand. “I’m here and we’ll be ready. I warned you about this Charles, you foolish man, I warned you and – “

“Your words cannot hurt me anymore than this already has,” Charles says, a hard edge appearing in his voice. “Just be ready. We cannot afford to waste time.” And with that, he hangs up.

“Damn him!” the scientist shouts, practically slamming the phone back onto its receiver. She stands over the desk for the moment, just seething, and then she shakes her head. Angrily she crosses the room, stopping at the doorway, and jabs her finger into the keypad next to it. There’s a slight beep, then she holds down a large bar at the bottom.

“GABRIEL. This is Dr. MacTaggert. Get up ‘nd get some clothes on, it’s your lucky day. You get to meet the founder of the X-Men.”

 

*************

 

Resting quite comfortably upon Graymalkin Lane in Westchester, New York is a rather large mansion. Made of three larger buildings, connected by various hallways and passageways, the brick exterior of the building lends it an air of history. Wood paneling lines every one of the windows, though few are on this cool night. The only exterior light that does glow hangs from the ceiling of the small white porch, its roof held up in a semi-circle of columns. An expansive green lawn stretches out from all sides of the house, stopped only by the woods surrounding the property and the large brick wall facing the roadway. For over ten decades the land and house have been held by the Xavier family – the most recent of whom being one Charles Xavier.

To the public, Charles is both scientist and scholar, having long ago opened the doors of his family home to students who needed extra care. What the public doesn’t know is that Charles is a mutant; gifted with extraordinary abilities beyond that of normal man. This is also true of his students, who are not only mutants, but X-Men. Mutants who have taken up the cause of protecting the world from whatever threats pose it, are posed against their kind, or are even CAUSED by their kind. They have saved the world and many lives countless times, always putting their lives at risk.

Tonight, Charles fears that he may have asked too much of his students.

He sits, as he always does, in his wheelchair. A well-worn brown sweater is wrapped around his thin upper body, while a plaid blanket is wrapped around his legs. He leans forwards on his elbows, wrinkles of concern splayed across his face, emphasized by his bald head.

Behind him stands one of the only X-Men to stay behind: Tessa Niles, better known as Sage. Her hair is worn long in the front, creating two bangs that line either side of her face, while the rest is cut short. Dark eyes, hard and brutal, look out over Charles, although her hands remain on the handles of the chair. She too is dressed for the cold – a jacket is worn over her torso, while jeans run down her legs. She’s dressed quite plainly, forgoing the traditional X-Men uniform in favor of blending in later in the night.

Both of the mutants shift anxiously as the Blackbird jet settles down on the tarmac. Built underneath the school are a dozen hidden bunkers, home to the X-Men’s more esoteric equipment, including the long runway that opens out over the Atlantic. Steam still rises from the Blackbird as the bottom hatch opens and the stairs extend downward.

Smiling, Charles sits up and Sage immediately picks up on the cue to push him forward. First off the jet is Moira, her clothes unchanged and her attitude all the darker for the time passed. A duffel bag is swung over one shoulder. Behind her, a young teenage boy follows, two large duffel bags in his hands. His eyes are wide as he scans the chamber, a mass of unruly black hair topping off his head.

“I’m sorry for all the trouble Moira.” Charles says with a grimace. Then he opens his arms and the pair hug. “But thank you nonetheless.”

“Of course.” she replies quietly, breaking the hug. “For all the trouble these trips are, if the children need me, I’ll always come.” Moira straightens up, planting both hands on her hips as she looks at Sage. “Tessa.”

Sage nods her head. “Mrs. MacTaggert, it’s good to see you again.”

Merely nodding in return, Moira shifts to the side slightly, exposing the teen behind her. “Charles, this is the young man I’ve been telling you about – his name is Gabriel. Appears to not HAVE a last name – just Gabriel.”

The boy steps forward, enthusiasm pouring out of his every move. He starts to stick out his hand, in order to shake Charles’, but then remembers the duffel bag. Smiling nervously he sets the bag down, then shakes Charles’ hand. “Vulcan, actually, sir. I mean, that’s what I’d like to be called. If I’m on the team.” After getting his hand back, Gabriel runs it through his hair. “That…that IS why I’m here right? Dr. MacTaggert didn’t tell me anything.”

To look at Xavier’s face then would give one the idea that he had never smiled in his life. All levity and happiness is gone from his persona, leaving only a very cold, business-like look on his face.

“Yes Charles,” Moira says, looking at him with blood in her eyes. “Tell the boy what it is that you’ve called him for.”

“There isn’t much to explain young man.” Charles says as he folds his hands together. “A little under twelve hours ago I picked up a strange reading on Cerebro; a new mutant, larger than any other reading I’ve ever seen. It was on the island of Krakoa, out in the South Pacific, so I sent the X-Men to investigate. I…haven’t heard from them since.”

Gabriel stares at Charles, his eyes wide, before turning to look at Moira. She shrugs, gesturing at Charles. The boy looks back. “What…ah…what are you going to do about it? Is that why I’m here?”

“Aye,” Moira says, moving to stand next to him, despite never turning away from Charles. “He wants to send you in Gabriel – a boy, who hasn’t seen a DAY of combat training – and Sage – his assistant – to save ‘em?” Moira asks as she shakes her head. “This is lunacy Charles. I told you makin’ a strike team was a bad idea in the first place and I don’t want you placing MY charge into harm’s way and – “

“Mrs. MacTaggert, I want to go.” Gabriel says, putting a hand on her shoulder. She turns.

“I know Gabriel, but I – “

“No, you don’t,” He says, shaking his head. “Doctor, all this time while I’ve training, you’ve been telling me stories about the X-Men. And I know that you were only giving me some hope to shoot for, a reason to get my powers under control. And they are.” He glances away here, rolling his eyes. “Well, mostly. But I haven’t been training just so that I can live a normal life. Get a lame job and buy a house and marry and never do anything.

“I want to do this. I’ve wanted to be an X-Man SO. BAD. And, if we’re honest,” he says, taking on a smile to match his playful tone. “You know you couldn’t stop me.”

For a long minute, Moira glares at her student, her lower lip pulled up in a pout. Finally she sighs and shakes her head. “I’m not saying that someday you can’t BE an X-Man Gabriel. I’m saying that it’s too early to send you out on field missions. Especially ones that even the X-Men can’t handle.”

“I have a solution for that,” Sage says, her voice sliding right into the conversation.

“OH really.” Moira says, leveling a glare at the girl.

“Yes, she does.” Charles says with a nod. “She’s quite clever Moira.”

Moira’s glare doesn’t stop. “Isn’t she now. So what’s this plan then?”

Here, Charles speaks up. “Moira, I have given Sage a list of coordinates for four other mutants who I believe could be of help to us. I need – “

“Whoah, wait Charles.” Moira says, holding up a hand. “You’re putting together a whole new team? And what happens if THEY get into trouble? Just find more mutants? Keep slapping together teams until one of them – “

“MOIRA.” Charles says as loudly as possible without shouting. “I have this under control. This is only temporary. Once the X-Men are saved, I can offer these new students my help, and if they don’t want to be a part of this, I’ll remove the memories and they can go about their lives.”

“You really are just slapping this together.” Moira says quietly. “Charles, just because of what happened with Jean – “

“THIS HAS NOTHING TO DO WITH JEAN.” Charles says with a ferocity that shocks everyone. Even Sage, one of Charles’ closest agents, is taken aback. “And if you’re going to bring that up, I suggest we do it behind closed doors and at a later date. RIGHT. NOW. Though. My students are in danger and I won’t leave them.

“Now, I have given Sage the locations of four mutants who can be of help to us. I need you to go, convince them to go along with all this, and then bring them back to the Mansion. From there, Sage will train them psychically.”

“Psychically?” Moira asks, raising an eyebrow. “Fake training?”

“It will work.” Sage says, folding her arms behind her back. “I promise you. As soon as we take off, I’ll start with Vulcan. With each new student, I’ll expand the scenario and the training will intensify. By the time the team is assembled and we’re on Krakoa, we’ll have all the experience of the X-Men – and more.” she adds with a smile.

A cocky smile explodes on Gabriel’s face. “YES!” Moira spins around to glare at him one last time before turning to Charles.

“And what about you? Does the general stay at home while the troops move about the field?”

“No.” Charles says, his eyes already looking deep in thought. “While I am prepared to put this team into action based upon their psychic training, they need real leadership. Not even mental experiences can train a mind for what a leader needs. THAT is what I’m going to get.

“I just hope he’s willing to put aside his differences and work with me.”

 

*******

 

For the usual patrons of the Hellfire Club, fear was the first feeling that worked its way through them. Even with years of experience under their belt, they had heard the rumors about the strange things the Club did, the…more than odd people in their employ from time to time, and everyone knew about the disappearances.

For Sage, the first feeling was something bordering on arrogance.

As she steps out of the taxi, still dressed in her street clothes plus a pair of dark glasses, she eyes the building. Tall, with ornate concrete alcoves around the doorway and windows – neither of which she could see into thanks to the red drapes – the brick building was quite a mystery to most people who walked passed it. Most never gave it a second thought though. The only indication of its name was the Club’s logo set into a gold plate next to the doorway – a thin ‘H’, its tops pointed like the tips of a demon’s pitchfork.

For those who DID know however, the Hellfire Club was a place of pleasure, of business, and for that slight thrill that comes with doing something just wrong enough.

“And just where are we?” Moira asks as she follows Sage out of the taxi.

“The Hellfire Club in Manhattan,” She says factually. “Without going into details, it is…a gentlemen’s club.”

Gabriel hops out after Moira. “What’s a gentlemen’s club?”

“NEVER YOU MIND.” Moira says, turning on the boy. Then she looks back at Sage. “Just what kinda mutant is Charles looking to find here?”

“One whose psychic abilities rival even mine,” Sage says as she pulls off her glasses to look over her shoulder. “I’ll need her powers to start the training cycle.”

“If you say so,” Moira says, looking up at the building. “Gabriel, you’re staying out here.”

The youth scowls. “Awwww, man.”

“Actually, you both are,” Sage says, folding up her glasses and handing them to Moira. “I have this under control.” With that she’s off, trotting up the stairs to the doorway. When she reaches the top, Sage presses the small button set into the golden buzzer and waits. Finally the door opens, revealing a middle aged woman dressed in business clothes – or something close to it. The blouse is far too low cut, the jacket cut up too short, and the pants barely cover her panties. Tossing long black hair over one shoulder, the woman directs Sage inside.

“Good evening.” The woman says, revealing a bright smile behind her perfectly made up face. As soon as Sage is behind the doorway its shut, then the woman steps in front of Sage. “What are you looking for tonight miss?”

Sage reaches into her jacket and pulls out a large manilla envelope. As the woman looks through it, Sage folds her hands behind her back. “I’m looking for some particular entertainment. Blonde, well endowed. The rumors I’ve heard are calling her the Snow White Princess.”

“Ah yes.” The woman says, tucking the envelope away. “I’m afraid that the Princess is busy at the moment, but if I may make a suggestion -” Suddenly she stops when Sage hands her another envelope.

“Please.” Sage says, smiling at the woman. “I must have her.”

 

******

 

After the long march down the hallway, Sage waits patiently outside of a large, ornate wooden door. It matches the many others in the building, save for the fact that this one is the one that her host went into with a quick “This will be just a moment.” The seconds tick away in Sage’s mind until the door finally swings open. A portly man leaves the room in a huff, his face red, his work jacket thrown over one shoulder. He notices Sage just as the host closes the door.

“YOU…” he says, wagging a finger in her direction. “I have been waiting for a WEEK to see her, a WEEK, I had to cancel dinner with my WIFE to be here, and if I – “ he’s cut off though when the host steps up next to him.

“Sir, please, if you make a scene I will not hesitate to have security escort you off of the property.”

“I know the rules!” The man says, huffing down the hall. “I know the damn rules…”

The woman turns back to Sage now, bending at the waist. “Please, she is waiting. I’ll let you know when time is up.”

One polite smile later and Sage enters the room. It’s rather small, but grandiosely decorated. A large plush couch, also red and shaped like a U sits in the closest corner, a beautifully carved table resting in its center. A large TV rests against the wall. A large bed, covered in lush crimson blankets and velvety sheets, rests in one side of the room. Large red curtains surround the bed, allowing for privacy if it’s needed. A large wooden desk rests next to it, a huge mirror resting on top, while make up and a lamp join it. Immediately next to the desk is a large dresser, its door swung open, and dozens of outfits are crammed inside. Standing in front of the dresser is a woman, although Sage knows that in reality she’s still under age.

Tall, although two inches shorter than Sage, her long blonde hair runs down her back. Her smooth, perfect skin shows almost everywhere, barely covered by the dark red lingerie that covers the necessary bits. Her arms are outstretched, resting on the doorways of the dresser, but she looks over her shoulder at Sage.

“A girl,” She says, cocking an eyebrow. “I’m getting more and more of those these days. What do you want me to wear? Lingerie like that last, sad, sorry sack of a man, or something more kinky? Most people tend to favor the school girl look, but I must remind you of the No Touching Rule.” Then she turns, showing off her well toned body. “Unless you’re going to pay much, MUCH, more.”

“I’m not.” Sage says as she moves over to the couch. “Please, sit down.”

Shrugging, the girl crosses the room. “It’s your money.” Flipping her hair, the girl sits down next to Sage, making sure to press against her thigh and lean just enough. “Now…exactly what are you looking for?”

“To help you,” Sage says, the girl’s pose doing nothing for her. “And to be helped by you. My name is-” The girl shakes her head, putting a red tipped finger against Sage’s lips.

“No names. Rule Number Two.”

“I’m sorry,” Sage says, standing up. “But I don’t have time for games Emma Frost.” At the mention of her real name, the girl’s eyes go wide. “Yes, I know your name. I know your history and why you’re here. I also know about your abilities – that you can hear the thoughts of other people, read their minds, and manipulate them if you feel you need to.” Sage gives off a slight smile as she folds her arms. “I also know what it feels like to have someone’s fingers in my head – and the delicacy of yours does not nearly match those of your hands.”

Emma stands up quickly, a flush of anger evident in her face. “Get out. Get out NOW.”

“There’s no need to panic,” Sage says. “I represent a man who has need of your skills. He can offer you sanctuary from the world, an education, and a future – something that this place can’t come close to matching.”

“A future is exactly why I’m here,” Emma says proudly, inclining her head slightly. “The people I meet are all bored, old businessmen. They’re walking money in suits. I work three days a week and make more money than seventy percent of New York does in a month.”

A slight smile rests on Sage’s lips. “You don’t want money Miss Frost, even I can tell that. You want POWER. Influence. You want to be in control of your own life, answerable to no one, able to change the world when it suits you.

“You aren’t a player here Emma,” Sage states coldly. “You’re a pawn. But if that’s fine with you, feel free to stay.”

She makes it to the doorway before Emma’s voice echoes in her mind. “Wait.” Fighting the urge to smile, Sage turns. “At least let me put some clothes on.”

 

*******

 

Moira turns away from the taxi cab as Sage and Emma exit the building. A large, white fur coat is wrapped around Emma. Moira opens the vehicle’s door as they approach.

“Hello there dear,” she begins, smiling somewhat shakily. “My name is – “

“I know, I know.” Emma says casually, brushing a hand towards Moira. “You need to work on your shields some more. It was just too easy Moira.” As the girl slides into the cab, Moira glares at Sage. Smiling, Sage shrugs as she gets into the car.

As the door finally closes behind Moira, Gabriel extends a hand to Emma. “Hi. I’m Gabriel.”

Through much effort, Emma manages to produce a smile. Even without attempting to read his mind the sheer…idiotic joy radiating off of Gabriel could be felt by her. “Emma.” she says, deliberately turning away from him.

“Hey,” he says, leaning forward on his knees. “What’s a gentlemen’s club?”

Emma cocks an eyebrow then looks at Sage. “This is going to be oh-so-much fun isn’t it?”

 

*******

 

For Suzanne Chan, jail wasn’t really all that bad. Or at least, so far it hadn’t been. A cell all to herself with three meals a day; she even had her own personal guards for trips to the shower. All and all, the 5th precinct had been treating her pretty well, except for the lack of a change of clothing. She was still in her jeans and tennis shoes, a t-shirt covered by a puffy jacket. A brown and orange scarf lay on the bed next to her, the cell being just warm enough. A few odd magazines lined the floor of the grey cell, along with some newspapers. A small trashcan filled with Chinese food boxes, soda cups and cans, and other assorted fast food containers sat in one corner. After all, she was more of a guest than a prisoner. She didn’t have anywhere in New York to go now, and she didn’t really want to go back to California – not without her parents. She didn’t know anyone in New York, had no family left in the States, and wouldn’t go home.

All of those reasons are why Suzanne is surprised when Inspector Officer Yee stops in front of her cell, a woman with brown hair in tow.

“Ms. Chan, you have a visitor,” he says, unlocking the cell door. He pulls the door open, allowing the woman to step past, and then stands there for a second. Officer Yee looks around the cell for a second, feeling oddly out of place, and then lets go of the doorway. “I, uh, I’ll just…leave this open. I guess.” When he finally leaves the room, the visitor sits down.

“Hello Ms. Chan,” she begins, pulling off her warm mittens and stuffing them into her long brown coat. “My name – ah, there we go – my name is Moira MacTaggert.” she says, offering a hand. “I’m a scientist.”

Suzanne eyes her warily, ignoring the hand. “Okay.” Moira waits a second, then nervously takes the hand back.

“My, uhm, my specialty is in genetics. Mutations specifically. Most of my research centers around human mutation – you’ve heard of mutants?”

“Yeah,” Suzanne says, leaning back against the wall. “The name has been shouted at me more than once during my time here.” She says, shooting a glare out into the hallway. “Along with a few other choice phrases.”

“I’m sorry for that,” Moira says, tucking her hands into her pockets. “I…I heard what happened to your parents. I’m sorry.”

“So am I,” Suzanne says, shaking her long black hair. “Look, I don’t want to be rude, but is there…a reason you’re here? If you wanna cut me up and poke around, think again lady, cuz I’m staying in one piece and – “

“Oh, no, nothing like that,” Moira says quickly, pushing her glasses up her nose. “Have you ever heard of the X-Men?”

“The mutant terrorists?” she asks, causing Moira to shake her head more.

“No, no, they aren’t terrorists. They’re heroes.” Moira explains. “And they’re in trouble. They found this mutant – a big, powerful one – and they can’t handle it on their own.” Moira pauses here, letting it all sink in. “They need your help.”

“MY help!?!” Suzanne says, leaning forward on the bed. “What can I do? I can barely control my powers and – and – and I’m not a hero! I’m not the saving the world type!”

“You can be,” Moira says, squatting down so that she’s nearly eye level with the younger girl. “I work with the X-Men. Help them learn to control their powers. An’ I can do the same for you, help you get a solid grasp on your power to control time.”

Suzanne looks at Moira, fear and hope all mixed up in her eyes. “You can do that? And I mean…what will I do after? Is this like…a one time deal or…or am I gonna be an X-Man for life?”

“That’s totally up to you,” Moira says, resting a hand on her knee. “Once the X-Men are rescued, you can stay with them and get training, go on missions if’n you like. If not, we’ll help you with your powers anyways and you can go about your business.” Here Moira smiles. “We’ll even get you an education.”

“Seriously?” Suzanne asks, her eyebrows cocked. “I mean….I thought I was just gonna sit here till I died. But I can get training, an education, this…this mutant thing isn’t the end of my life?”

“It doesn’t have to be.” Moira says, standing up.

“Well hell,” Suzanne says, grabbing her scarf as she stands up. “Make me an X-Man.”

 

********

 

“This here’s one of those DREAM situations that only doing favors for Charles Xavier can get ya in Moira.” The scientist says to herself. “Wanderin’ around Central Park in the middle of the night….real smart.”

As Moira continues to fumble through the trees, the flashlight barely lights her way. Her breath streams out into the cold winter air. Her chest is tight and her breathing is labored. Clearly, some time outside of the lab and in the field would do her some good. She pauses for a second, leaning against a tree, and looks down at the small paper in her hand. After studying it for a second longer she continues on, leaves shuffling and branches snapping with every step. After a few more minutes of frightened wandering, Moira’s flashlight finally hits rock.

Central Park may not be one of the most well up-kept parts of New York, but the city’s gardeners do their job well enough. Any large rocks deemed unappealing to the eye are promptly removed, although a few do manage to stay. What sits before Moira isn’t any ordinary rock through.

It rises from the ground almost naturally. Its outer form is rippling and smooth, more like ice than stone. A large opening in the front flickers orange, while several smaller holes up in the ceiling allow smoke to escape. Clearly, the mutant that Moira was searching for is home.

She approaches slowly, making sure to point her flashlight solely at the ground. Somehow Moira manages to not snap any large branches or trip over a root and her boots finally land on solid rock.

The inside of the dome is not well lit. In fact, only a few feet from the doorway is a large curved wall, blocking most of the light from the fire behind it from view. A pile of clothes rests along the ground, along with a few food containers, magazines, and shoes. Moving forward slowly, Moira turns off her flashlight and peeks around the corner.

“Hello?”

“AH!” The young woman sitting swaddled on the floor cries out as her body explodes into motion! She tries to stand, causing her too-large boots to clamp down on the blanket wrapped around her. That forces her off balance, sending her tumbling backward into a worn sleeping bag. More cloth flies as her arms grab at anything, just searching for a handhold. Grimacing, Moira steps towards the girl.

“I’m sorry! Calm down child, I don’t mean to harm ya! I’m not the police! It’s alright, I’m a friend!” she says, fighting to free the girl from the cloth.

“Friend? Sh’yeah right,” the girl says, pushing the cap from her deep green eyes, spilling out long blonde hair. “I don’t have friends lady. Especially this late at night. Now if you don’t get out NOW, I will – “

“Ye’ll make me leave, I know, I know.” Moira says. She takes a step back, allowing the girl to collect herself. “I know about your powers Petra, that’s why I’m here.”

“I don’t know what you’re talking about,” Petra says, kicking off the blanket. “Unless smelling like garbage is a power.”

Moira smiles in the firelight. “I’m no geologist, but even I can tell that this rock-dome isn’t exactly a wonder of nature. Now, a girl who can manipulate stone and earth with nothing but her mind – that’s a wonder.”

“If you’re looking for “test subjects”,” Petra uses the air quotes. “Then you can keep looking. Most of the regular vagrants have either been picked up or moved on and I’m not interested. Whatever the hell I am, I’m not gonna be someone’s science fair project.”

Genuine concern shows on Moira’s face as she leans forward. “That’s not what I – there are people doing that? Who could…” But she shakes her head, pushing the thought away. “Never mind that for now. One problem at a time.” She looks at Petra.

“Miss Kristensen, my name is Moira MacTaggert. I’m a scientist who specializes in human mutations and I believe I can help you. But I need your help first.”

“Lady, if you need diamonds, I can do that,” Petra says, reaching underneath one of the piles of clothes to pull out a lump of coal. “They don’t last long, but they’ll get ya through a pawn shop. Otherwise, I don’t help ANYBODY.”

“But that’s just the thing!” Moira comments. “With gifts like yours, you could help so many. If you were trained properly that is.

“Now, I’m friends with Charles Xavier – he’s a mutant, like you, and he’s also the founder of the X-Men. And he needs your help. But in return you’ll get training, safety, a home and regular meals and a chance to do more than just die in the cold of the night.” Moira says, shivering. “And really, even if you don’t like the rest of it, ain’t that worth at least checking it out?”

Petra waits a long minute, shuffling nervously as she watches Moira. “You…you know what I can do right? You and him?” Moira nods. “Then you know what I can do if this even LOOKS like a trap?”

“Miss Kristensen,” Moira says as she stands up. “Right now, as you are, you aren’t worth trapping. But after a week with this man?” she smiles. “You’ll be worth your weight in jewels. I promise.”

 

********

“I have to say Mr. Munoz,” Moira says casually as she and her latest acquisition leave the hotel that rises behind them. “I didn’t think you’d say yes that easily.” A large suitcase dangles from her arms, both of which are needed to carry the thing in front of her. The taxi that had been taking her all over New York City sat at the side of the road, the driving waiting patiently for his MORE than generous fare. Moira turns to look at the boy behind her as she draws up upon the cab.

He’s taller than Moira by a head, his body lithe but sturdy. A sweater vest covers his chest, a white dress shirt beneath that. The sleeves of the shirt fall short of his wrists by a good three inches. Khaki slacks run down his long legs, but the strange proportions of Armando Munoz’s body aren’t what usually catches people’s interest. What does is his head. Slightly larger than most people’s already, he is completely hairless – no eyebrows, no facial hair, nothing. His eyes are blank as well, giving him quite the alien look. He leans forward to open the doorway for Moira.

“I don’t exactly have colleges offering me scholarships very often Mrs. MacTaggert,” Armando says, almost embarrassed. “Especially one that houses only mutants.”

“Quite – understandable.” Moira replies as she hefts the luggage into the taxi. “But just – I can’t help wondering what your family will think, you going off to school and joining the X-Men and all.”

A weak smile crawls through Armando’s lips. “Yes, well, I wouldn’t really worry about them. I’ll be fine ma’am.”

“Alright then,” she says, smiling at how easy this one was. “Get in, get in, we’re in a bit of a hurry and ya’ve still got to meet the rest of the class!”

For Armando, the cab ride goes quickly. Nervous thoughts race through his mind, so many that he can’t help but smile as New York passes by all around them.

A school for mutants – other mutants! Will they be like me? Will they like me? I wonder if mutant teens can be jerks too. Wouldn’t see why not. I hope they aren’t jerks. A whole school for mutants. And the X-Men too! Holy, freaking, shit, the X-MEN. I’M gonna be a super-hero! Oh no – codenames.

            I gotta have a codename. The Evolver! Shifter! Genius Kid! I kind of like Genius Kid. No wait – KID GENIUS. A bit old school, admittedly, but still, it fits the bill. Maybe Genius Guy? Genius MAN? No, that sounds…no.

            I wonder what kind of trouble the X-Men are in? Magneto-trouble? Maybe it’s just the Brotherhood of Evil Mutants. That wouldn’t be bad. I could take – oh, that’s the thing. Oh, no. My mutation…I can’t FIGHT. I can only defend. CRAP. What kind of super-hero just survives a threat? How in the world am I going to be of ANY use on this team? Oh God, and we’re a team. I hope everyone is cool. That’s what you have to do Armando – be cool. Do not be nervous. Do not be quiet. Be COOL. Save the day, throw out a hilarious quip, and get the girls.

            Oh God will there be girls? GIRLS. Woah. In those tight costumes.

His face goes red.

Woah. I hope there’s girls.

 

*******

 

As the Blackbird’s engines cool down once again, having just made the trip from New York City back to the Mansion, Moira’s shoes clap against the ramp leading to the tarmac. “Finally.” she says to herself, ducking below the jet’s outer hull. “Not exactly home sweet home, but – “

Moira, I’m glad you’re back.  We’re in the study.” Charles’ voice says suddenly inside her head. “I see that you managed to get them all. Excellent work Moira.

“Don’t be complimenting me now Charles,” Moira says out loud, mainly for her own benefit, as she heads into the lower areas of the Mansion. “I’m not still happy about this. They’re just children! And some of them are just…a telepathic hostess?”

She needs a proper lifestyle. And her potential – like all of them – is amazing Moira. I believe that with the proper guidance, she could some day be more powerful than even myself.

“Comforting,” Moira says as she enters the elevator to reach the Mansion proper. “A girl with loose morals and the power to control people’s mind. I’m sleeping better already,” Sighing, she makes sure that Charles can feel her discomfort through the telepathic link. “I can’t argue that they all need help though – assuming that they make it through this insane mission of yours. By the way, I take it you got your little team’s leader?” Finally the elevator stops, allowing Moira to exit. She immediately turns, heading towards the second floor.

Yes, thankfully.” Charles replies.

“Not that I’m pleased about it,” A man’s voice, tinted with a fading Australian accent, says from inside the study. Moira finally reaches the room and swings the door inward.

Sitting behind his large oaken desk, Charles sits quite restlessly. A smattering of stubble has begun to cling to his jaw, and his eyes are clearly darkened with exhaustion. A feeling of purpose emanates off of him though; he won’t rest until he’s satisfied.

Standing opposite the desk is a tall thin man. He is well built, but not overly, and covered in an orange, red, and yellow uniform. A flame motif is wrapped around the gloves, neckline, and boots. Accenting the whole outfit is the black circle in the center of his belt making his allegiance to the X-Men. He stands with a bend to him as he turns to look at Moira, his long, curling blonde hair hanging in his face. A glowing cigarette hangs from the lips of Saint-John Allerdyce as he smiles at her.

“I thought I had retired.”

to be continued! in misseDirections #2: As Pyro leads his interim team of X-Men to Krakoa, they are all put to test as the island strikes back! Can this group of untested civilians manage to find their predecessors? And if they do – are the X-Men even in any shape to be saved?