Remnant of the Past: Chapter Six



Marvel owns everyone but Remnant, so this qualifies as textual poaching.

"What secrets do you hold, Cerebro?" Jean Grey asked as she stood by the console, not really expecting an answer.

Technically, she really didn't need to be here. She knew what and why Xavier had been wounded, and since she wasn't skilled enough yet to try to use it herself... Charles was supposed to teach her. He had hinted that her telepathic powers were in fact much greater than she had thought they were, but that they had been tamped back down as a preservation mechanism -- she just couldn't handle it when her mutancy developed.

Jean remembered those days with a shiver. It was like having Cerebro on, she imagined, all those voices, all those thoughts... she had been going crazy when Xavier had found her, the constant cacophony having reduced her to a hysterical bundle of nerves, unable to sleep (she would periodically pass out from sheer exhaustion), to eat (her mother would try and feed her like a baby), let alone to think.

Her parents, understanding and supportive the way most mutants' parents weren't, had called Xavier and he had stopped the noise. He had turned off her telepathy, for all intents and purposes. Anything to make the noise stop. The silence... it had been the remittance of pain.

It was that pain -- at least the memories of it -- that had kept Jean from asking Xavier to restore her telepathy for years. As she had grown, some had just started to leak through the wall he had built -- she'd catch a snippet of a thought here, a fragment there. And then, once Scott had entered the picture, she had actively worked on building a telepathic relationship with him.

In fact, that's how she had ended up with Scott. He had been so bashful, so distant around her that she would have never figured him for having a crush on her. But then she 'overheard' him chastising himself for acting like a moron in front of the girl he loved. And then she started looking for real, not with her mind (even were she able to, she'd never pry), but with old fashioned girl-sense.

The problem was that girl-sense relied so heavily on the eyes -- a look here, a glance there -- that she had never thought to use it with Scott. But by then, she knew Scott well enough to read his moods around his glasses. The way his eyebrows shot up in surprise, furrowed in anger and frustration, that one-eyebrow thing he did when he was trying to be funny, his earlobes turning red with embarrassment... And then it became obvious how Scott felt. And after a little consideration, it became just as obvious as she felt herself.

Now, years later, it only took a little concentration to find Scott's presence in her mind. He was right next door, in the War Room, staring at maps and trying to figure out where Magneto was.

How's it going?

Need you ask? He gave a mental sigh. I don't know how much better off we are doing this than running up and down the damned Eastern Seaboard with the Blackbird.
Should we try that?

The thought has crossed my mind, but Magneto probably has the technology to find us before we find him. If the Professor hadn't been injured using Cerebro... he was close. We knew it.

We'll find Rogue.

I hope so.

The frustration in Scott's thoughts was tinged with sadness and a little resignation. He wasn't sure, Jean knew, but he'd never say anything.

But we do have Cerebro now, Jean thought, careful to shield from Scott. And even though I might not have the experience that the Professor has, I have the power necessary. And we can't let Rogue -- or Logan -- down.

Swallowing deeply, hoping to keep her own nerves as well as the memories of her youthful telepathic trauma at bay, Jean reached for Cerebro's crown. Putting it on, she concentrated carefully. Finding herself at the high wall Xavier had constructed for her on the astral plane, the wall that kept everyone's thoughts out, she could feel the rush of consciousnesses on the other side. It was like standing in front of Macy's at Christmastime, an endless stream of voices fading in and out of range, all in mid-conversation.

Jean (or the image of herself) reached up and took the top brick off of the wall. Then a second, then a third. She put the bricks at her feet, trying to make herself tall enough to see over the wall. A few more bricks off of the top and then under her feet, Jean could see heads. A few more, there were faces. They rushed by at too fast a speed to catch... Until she saw Rogue.

Jean called to Rogue, and the image of the girl turned. Rogue was crying, reaching out for Jean with gloved arms. Jean called to Rogue, asking her where she was, but in the rush of people, Jean couldn't hear the answer. There was only one solution -- climb over the wall.

The wind of the rushing consciousnesses grew stronger and louder as more bricks came down. Jean was careful enough to take only enough bricks to climb over, leaving the wall mostly intact -- there was going to be no one to rescue her from the cacophony this time.

Hopping over the wall, Jean landed on the other side and ran towards Rogue, pushing past the rushing people the way the commuters did at the train station in the morning. Rogue grabbed her arm, near-hysterical with fear. Jean wasn't sure if she could touch the skin of even the astral version of Rogue, so she settled for stroking her hair.

Rogue took a deep breath, but couldn't stop herself from crying. Jean asked her again where she was and Rogue choked out the words between gasps and cries. Jean tried to assure her that they'd be there to get her as soon as possible, but Rogue wasn't comforted and wouldn't let go of Jean's arm. She begged Jean to stay, to help, and Jean tried again and again to convince the girl that she could only help by going away.

Finally, Rogue let go and Jean, momentarily surprised, was caught in the undertow of the waves of consciousnesses. She could see the wall in the ever-growing distance, the way a drowning person can see the lifeguard's stand. Jean fought as hard as she could against the tide of souls, but she was tiring fast and making little headway.

Fighting back the fear -- fear of getting stuck here, fear of returning to the hell that Xavier had dragged her out of all those years before -- she closed her eyes and stood still. Taking a deep breath, Jean opened her eyes. When she opened them, she could see Xavier. But he couldn't see her. His eyes were wide open, but they were unseeing, wild and unfocused. Jean called to him and he turned. For a moment, he looked almost lucid and she could tell he saw her, but then another wave of consciousnesses came and he disappeared.

It seemed the harder Jean tried, the further away the wall appeared. She was almost out of energy, too tired to do more than deflect the passing consciousnesses around her. Oh, god, don't let me stay here. Kill me before you desert me here...

Jean? Jean!

She opened her eyes. In the distance, she could see the wall. Standing at the top of the wall was Scott. He had his arm outstretched towards her, but he was far too far way to help. With a renewed sense of purpose, Jean tried to move towards him, making a little headway. As she got closer, the noise and wind grew louder.

When she was almost close enough to reach Scott's hand, she was knocked over by an especially strong wave. As she struggled to her feet, Jean could see a path clear, a path bathed in red light. Standing up, she could see Scott had taken off his visor. But his eyes did not emit fatal blasts here on the astral plane. Instead it was plain red light. But the consciousnesses seemed to avoid it anyway and Jean stumbled towards it until she felt Scott's hand grab her arm and hoist her over the wall. She fell in a heap into his arms on the other side, exhausted.

"Jean?" She heard Scott's voice whisper, raw with emotion. His fingers trembled slightly as they brushed her hair away from her face.

Opening her eyes, Jean could see they were back on the deck of Cerebro's console. Scott looked down at her, worry evident despite the sunglasses.

"I know where Rogue is," she breathed.

***

Primum non nocere. First, do no harm. A simple phrase to summarize a part of Hippocrates' text, probably Galen's only pithy comment in the entire damned opus. The man was more verbose than Toad after too much caffeine, Remnant thought as she watched Sabretooth hold Rogue down as she was strapped into the machine.

The problem is that sometimes the cure hurts.

In medical school, they had made the students sit through regular courses in ethics. The topics had been as predictable as they were contentious -- abortion, euthanasia, experimentation -- and Amalie the young doctor-in-training had been dutifully conscientious and thoughtful as she considered them.

But the lesson Amalie the anti-heroine, now Remnant the villain (face it, Mali, you aren't even the good guy to the people you are helping), carried with her from those days at McGill is that nothing is ever simple. Not even when Galen does the unthinkable and finishes a thought in record time. And so while the heart may be heavy, it knows the head is correct, and that's why I do nothing but watch as Rogue struggles.

I could make her pliable, dull her mind until she no longer fought, but she deserves better. She is angry now, and she has a right to be. No one wants to draw the short straw. Especially when you weren't around for the draw. When she starts to panic, when she is no longer angry and just terrified, then I will step in.

Primum non nocere. Galen didn't realize he was being funny. How could you caution against doing damage when your own cure rate averaged somewhere around that of a coin flip? But it was the theory that counted. The theory that put everything in its proper place in the universe.

What would you have thought, you old Greek, about homo superior. What would you have done when you found not only an exception to the neat little classification system, but a whole species of them? What would you have done when you saw abominations that the gods couldn't have come up with on their most inventive days? Homer on LSD couldn't have imagined the four people currently standing right here.

What I don't ask you, Galen, is what you would have thought of me. I took an oath to do good. I swore to do everything in my power to preserve life. And yet I have killed. Repeatedly. Without hesitation. Without remorse. And I will do so again here tonight. One guaranteed death for the hope of future lives saved. Are those odds any better than your own? Or does that matter. If you doubt you are doing the right thing, you probably aren't, they told us back in school.

But exactly whom do I call for the second opinion?

***

Do you mind?

Logan shook his head, unused to having a voice other than his own rattle around inside of it. He smiled weakly at Jean, at whom he had been staring.

Black leather suits you, he thought back, shrugging physically as he wasn't sure how to do it mentally. She gave him a flat stare.

"Are we ready?" Cyclops walked by, fastening his left glove. Jean nodded and Logan shrugged.

Logan hated the outfit. He didn't see the reason why he had to put it on -- his healing factor compensated for wounds much more thoroughly than the leather could protect against them. And while it may have been warmer to wear up in northern Alberta, this was New York in June and all it did was make him itch and sweat. It's not bad enough that we have to match, but we also have to match looking like Devo's backup dancers.

Jean's stifled chuckle from the other seat assured him that he had sufficiently projected that thought.

It takes time getting used to being near a telepath, Logan mused. Or at least one that you knew was a telepath. He wondered how many of his thoughts Mali... Remnant... Mali (for she was Mali then) had been able to read. She certainly hadn't seemed interested in what he had thought, but maybe that was because she already knew.

He heard Storm muttering to herself, or to her goddess, to be more precise. The tiny aircraft was aggravating her claustrophobia and she was trying to distract herself.

The trip down to Manhattan took only a few moments -- beating the Cross Bronx and the Major Deegan by eons -- and Logan tried to hide his amazement at the technological advances of the plane. Cyclops could fly this thing well, although Logan was sure that the cops all over Westchester County had to have been plagued by people calling with UFO sightings while he had been learning.

"You call that a landing?" He barked out as the plane bumped down. No need for One-Eye to be getting too proud of his flight skills.

"Remember, everyone, put your mental shields up like you've been trained," Jean warned. "We don't want Remnant sneaking up on us."

They ran, under cover of trees and shadows, to the base of the Statue. Let the action begin.

*** ***

As the X-Men ran along the ground towards the base of the Statue, Sabretooth watched from his vantage point hundreds of feet above. In specific, he watched Wolverine.

It's a shame he doesn't remember. We used to have such fun.

He looks so stupid in that get-up. Does he really think that by matching outfits he's going to fit in? Logan, Logan, Logan... you should know better.

That's what I don't understand. You probably do know better.

So why the uniform, hmm? You're not the mercenary type, so you aren't doing this for money. It's not for the company. I'm sure you get along with Cyclops just about as well as I do. except you're not the type to gut him in front of his frail. You were always weak like that.

Are you doing this for fun? Nah... if you were doing this for fun, you'd be downstairs waiting with Mystique and Toad. We are the action. Xavier and his minions are the reaction. And while you do many things, Logan, one thing you do not do is let others make the first move.

Boy, must this whole thing piss you off. On the defensive from the first move of the game. You haven't been this far behind since, well, since then. But you don't remember that yet, do you?

So what is your reason? Remnant? We all know about the two of you, more than she'd like us to know. Don't know what you saw in her, though. Don't see what Magneto sees in her. Beautiful, sure, but too fucking cold. No passion. I don't need love. Fear works just as well, terror is even better. But dear little Amalie is a wealth of ice-coated nothingness.

But I don't think it's Remnant, no matter how good the lay.

And even if you knew what's about to happen, you wouldn't be here trying to stop it. You'd probably think we were right. And even if you didn't, you still wouldn't come here trying to stop us. You don't care enough about the rest of the world. You just take what you need and then you'll go. You only stop to repay debts that you can't avoid. No heroics, no dragon-slaying, no rescuing damsels in distress...

The frail? You're here for the frail?

She hasn't done anything for you, so you owe her nothing. You aren't doing her. Not even with your healing factor. And especially not with your rather misplaced sense of propriety.

Of course.

Emotional attachment is bad in this business. Especially attachment to the weak. You don't remember an awful lot, Logan, but you always remembered that. Until now.

You're getting soft on me.

"Victor?" Remnant called from the other side of the parapet.

Very soon, Logan, you're going to have to pay for this newfound compassion.

With your life.

***

"This is too easy. Where are they?" Cyclops looked around the lobby outside the gift shop. A minor (very minor) perq of his mutancy was excellent night vision, aided by his visor, but he could see nothing.

"The gate is down," Storm spoke quietly. "We'll have to go up the back, through the gift shop."

"It's probably a trap," Cyclops frowned.

"Well, unless you're gonna sprout wings, we're out of alternatives," Wolverine snapped.

"Everyone be on alert," Jean whispered as they moved to the shop entrance.

The door was unlocked, adding to Cyclops' concern. We're on an island with no residents, he mused, locking up is probably not a priority. They quickly moved into the room.

Suddenly the metal detector went off. Wolverine had shredded it before Cyclops could turn around.

Moron, Wolverine cursed at himself, you know you set these things off unless the claws are fully retracted. He looked up to see Cyclops frowning at him. One adamantium bird flipped forth.

They made their way to the stairs.

How many steps did the little sign say there were, Jean frowned. The elevator was not an option, of course. So now it's time to see what all those Danger Room sessions have done for our cardiovascular systems.

They had gone two flights, only up to the photo gallery level, when suddenly Wolverine froze.

We're not alone.

Before he could vocalize that realization, he heard Storm scream. Toad had wrapped his tongue around her the way a boa constrictor encircled its meals, and was dragging her towards him. Cyclops turned and fired his laser at Toad, knocking him backwards and forcing him to release Storm.

The battle was engaged in full then. It should have been easy enough, but Wolverine quickly realized that his companions were fighting not to kill, but merely to advance. Toad, and very quickly he was joined by Mystique, were not so benevolently minded and their directness of attack was enough to balance out the numbers difference.

Wolverine and Storm were the first to break free from the melee and head back to the stairwell. The element of surprise gone, the elevator was now an option and Storm pressed the call button.

"Jean!" they could hear Cyclops cry out.

"Go, we'll catch up to you," Wolverine sighed to Storm. He then ran back towards the gallery.

Storm turned back to the elevator as the doors opened and had almost put her foot in when she realized that there was no elevator there. Turning back, she could dimly make out the shadow of the black-clad Remnant in the corner. A little borrowed magnetic power had forced opened the doors.

"Careful," Remnant warned, waggling her index finger at Storm. "You don't want to fall."

Storm was about to summon a bolt of lightning when all of a sudden, the room began to spin.

"Vertigo's a bitch, ain't it?" she could hear Remnant call out as she fell down the shaft.

Storm collected herself after she landed in just enough time to create a tornado to keep the free-falling elevator from falling on her. When she was back to the gallery, Wolverine, Mystique, and Toad were nowhere in sight and Cyclops was standing over a prone Jean.

"Don't move," Cyclops told his lover as he adjusted the visor to the lowest setting and aimed it at the hardened green slime over her mouth.

Once Jean had caught her breath, they went for the stairs.

"The elevator's out of service," Storm explained with a smirk, nodding at the returning Wolverine, blood visible on his extended claws.

****

Rogue was still screaming and crying and testing her bonds, but her voice sounded strained now and she was visibly losing energy.

"Stop fighting," Magneto told her for the fourth time. "You'll be too tired to power the generator."

Rogue started kicking and screaming with renewed energy. Of course, Magneto wasn't going to tell her that tiring herself out in fact made their job that much more easy.

If only Toad and Sabretooth were as receptive to reverse psychology. As it stood, they were receptive to much more base instincts. Of course, that's why it was good to have Amalie and Mystique around.

From the lights and noise, he could see where the battle was taking place. He knew his own soldiers were outnumbered, but he did not fear for them. Charles had rescued his group before they had really had to learn to fend for themselves. Even the Cyclops. As a result, they were inherently soft. Unwilling to do the hard thing, the mean thing, unwilling to let go of their childish liberal ideas that people were good and just needed another chance to prove it. Just like Charles.

As such, he was sure Amalie would let him know if there was a problem. In the meantime, he babysat the child.

Rogue didn't understand, but how could he expect her to? She was a child, after all. How do you explain to someone who has not yet begun to live that their life is required for the advancement of many more?

And, of course, do it while not sounding like the doctors in the camps (first Sachsenhausen and then to Mengele's lab in Auschwitz), who used to say all sorts of things before they injected him with who-knows what.

He didn't even know why he felt the need to explain. No, he did know. Because she deserved it. Because she was a sacrifice -- an item of value destroyed in service of a higher calling -- and not an inanimate spare part. Because making this distinction was how he distinguished himself from Mengele and his cronies. Rogue will be a martyr and not a tool.

I know I am hurting you and it hurts me, too, child. If I could do this myself and live, I would. But someone has to lead after it's over. And Charles would only undo all that I will have accomplished. All that we will have accomplished. Because you are a part of our team now, Rogue. Not a 'battery' as Amalie is wont to call you. (She doesn't mean it personally, dear. It's her way of avoiding hurting for you, too.) You are among the Brotherhood now. And we will mourn your passing.

But yours is a necessary sacrifice. One life to save thousands, millions more. For this is the last chance for peace. If this fails, and we cannot even consider that idea, then the only alternative is full-scale combat. A fight to the finish of either humans or mutants. Co-existence is no longer an option.

"If you're so intah killin'," Rogue had asked him earlier, "why dontcha just kill off Senator Kelly and the others like him." Instead of her, it was left unspoken.

The solution is not that simple, he had explained to her. The kernel of mutant hatred was not in Kelly's head, nor in Pascal Gervais', nor in any other individual's. It was far, far too widespread.

To kill everyone who hated mutants enough to do harm to them would require more manpower than Magneto could even imagine to muster, more blood would flow than even Sabretooth could dream about... it was impossible. There wouldn't be enough people left on the earth.

Contrary to Charles' naïve hope, prejudice is inherent in humans, not acceptance. Anyone who had lived through the Holocaust could tell you that. When your neighbors suddenly wouldn't talk to you, when the grocer suddenly wouldn't sell you apples, when your school mates would spit on you because all of a sudden, it was now not only socially acceptable, but also encouraged to display your true feelings... then you understood. Everyone hates.

How else to explain the guards at Sachsenhausen who knew that they were escorting people to their deaths? The Jews didn't suddenly become non-people to them, they always had been, but up until now, it had been covered in the thin veneer of social conformity.

You cannot teach acceptance, my child, he had explained to her. You cannot teach people not to hate. You must instead appeal to man's most base, most easily understood notion.

Self-preservation.

And so Rogue would be sacrificed in order to re-introduce the world's leaders to fear. To re-acquaint them with their fight-or-flight instinct, and by doing so, make the world safer for those without power.

Almost seventy years ago, the Jews were not able to save themselves. We didn't have enough power to stop them, but we didn't run. We were unwilling to believe that man could turn upon itself like that. We were wrong.

But those who do not learn from the past are condemned to repeat it. And I have learned. There will be no new Kristalnacht.

Erik? He could hear Amalie's voice in his head. We're in position. I can take care of them, but...

But you know how much I'll enjoy it, he finished the thought for her. He knew that wasn't what she meant to say, nor did he think that it was the truth.... Well, he'd enjoy it a little.


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