Feared and mistrusted by the very people they have sworn to protect, the X-Men are a band of mutant heroes dedicated to defending humans from those mutants who would use their powers to harm and destroy. Blessed some would say cursed with awesome abilities, the members of the X-Men are Earth's last defense against villains and madmen...and the future's only hope.
Jean Grey awakens in an unfamiliar room. She is weak, disoriented, stripped of her telepathic and telekinetic powers and trapped in someone else's body. Also prisoner are her teammates Cyclops, Wolverine, Rogue, and Nightcrawler their minds held hostage within the bodies of strangers. Who has brought them here, and for what purpose? The answers lead to a terrifying plan that threatens not only the X-Men, but all of mutantkind...
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By Marjorie M. Liu
Pocket StarCopyright © 2005 Marjorie M. Liu
All right reserved.
In her first moment of consciousness, before opening her eyes to the world and discovering such things as floors and walls and straitjackets, Jean Grey imagined she had died; that for all she had suffered in her life, all her terrible sacrifices, the final end would offer nothing but an eternity of suffocation, an unending crushing darkness spent in utter isolation.
Her mind was blind. She felt nothing. Heard nothing. Not even Scott. Cut off, like a blade had been dropped on her neck, separating life from thought, life from sensation, life from -- Scott? -- life.
The remembrance of flesh came to her slowly. She became aware of her legs, curled on a flat hard surface; her hands, tucked close and warm against a hard body. Her body, though it felt odd, unfamiliar. Not right.
Jean opened her eyes. She saw a cracked white wall decorated by the shadows of chicken wire. She smelled bleach, and beneath that scent, urine. She felt something sticky beneath her cheek. Her head was strange -- not just her mind, but her actual head -- and her hair rasped against her cheek. No silken strands, but rough, like stubble. Her mouth felt different, too; her teeth grated unevenly. Her jaw popped.
Jean could not move her arms. This concerned her until she realized she was not paralyzed. Her arms were simply restrained against her chest, bound tight within white sleeves that crisscrossed her body like an arcane corset. Again, she tried to reach out with her mind beyond the isolation of silent mental darkness -- Scott, where are you, what has happened -- to find some trace of that living golden thread that was a thought, a presence, a -- I am not alone --
As a child, alone was all Jean wanted to be. Alone in her head, alone in her heart, alone with no voices whispering incessantly of their fears and dreams and sins. Funny, how things could change. Her wishes had grown up.
Jean tried to roll into a sitting position. Slow, so slow -- her head throbbed, a wicked pain like she had been struck -- and she fought down nausea, swallowing hard. She had to get her feet back, get free and away, away to find the others. It did not matter where she was or who had done this -- results, results are all that matter -- only that it could not be allowed to continue.
Scott will be looking for me.
Yes, if he could. Jean's last memory of her husband was his strong profile as he gazed up at the dilapidated brick façade of an old mental hospital, sagging on its foundations in a quiet neighborhood located beside the industrial hinterland between Tacoma and Seattle. Disturbing reports of rising mutant and human tensions had trickled in from the Northwest for weeks, but without anything specific enough to warrant a full investigation -- or interference -- from the X-Men.
Until two days ago. Logan had learned through an old contact that mutants were being arrested on false charges and incarcerated in state mental hospitals. Serious accusations, with no real hard evidence -- except a name.
Belldonne. An institute for the mentally ill, and a place -- according to Logan's contact -- where the X-Men would find incontrovertible evidence that mutants were being held against their will.
"And if it's true, then it ain't no holiday they're having," Logan had said. Because prison was bad enough -- but add doctors, the ominous specter of science, experimentation, and the scenario became much worse. Mutants, despite the law protecting them, were still easy fodder for overeager scientists who wanted nothing more than to see, in the flesh, the why and how of extreme mutation. Jean understood the fascination. She simply did not think it was an excuse for unscrupulous behavior.
The room was small. One window, covered in fine mesh. No furniture or cameras or anything at all that revealed the identity of her captors. The door had a small glass observation window set too high for Jean to see much but a snatch of ceiling.
She heard voices in the hall, soft, and then footsteps. Closer and closer until the doorknob rattled. Jean closed her eyes. She heard someone enter.
"He still out?" said a man. He had a rough voice, gritty like a hard smoker.
"Probably pretending," said another. Jean heard shoes scuff the floor. She peered through her lashes and saw black shoes and dark blue pants. Cologne tickled her nostrils.
"Hey," said the first man, nudging her ribs with his toe. "Hey, Jeff. You out?"
Quiet laughter. "Idiot. You actually expect him to say yes?"
The two men stood close together, relaxed and unafraid. Perfect. Jean shot out her legs and slammed her socked heels into a knee. She heard a very satisfying crunch, a sharp howl, and then she rolled left as the second man tried to subdue her. He was slow -- but then, so was Jean. Her body felt clumsy, unfamiliar; she barely managed to gather enough momentum to stand, and by that point, the man -- large, muscular, with a flat square face -- was too close for her to maneuver. She saw his fist speed toward her face -- was able to turn just slightly -- and got clipped hard enough to slam her into the wall. A low whuff of air escaped her throat, and the sound of that partial cry made her forget pain, capture -- everything but her voice.
A man's voice, slipped free from her throat. Deep, hoarse, and horrifying. It had to be wrong, her imagination: The man with the broken kneecap howled, screaming so loud her own voice must have been drowned out, swallowed up, and yes, that was right, that had to be it --
A strong hand grabbed her hair and crashed her forehead against the wall. Her skull rattled; sound passed her lips, and still it was the same, an impossible rumbling baritone that was not her voice, not feminine in the slightest.
"Hold still," muttered the man, pinning her against the wall. "Jesus, Jeff."
"Who are you?" she asked, listening to herself speak. Chills rushed through her arms and she glanced down, seeing what she had taken for granted upon waking, never noticing, never paying any serious attention to the changes she felt in her body.
Not my body. Not my body.
No breasts, a thick waist, strong broad legs. The ends of black dreadlocks, hanging over her left shoulder.
Her captor did not answer. He was breathing too hard. His companion lay on the floor, muffled screams puffing from between his clenched teeth. Jean heard footsteps outside the room: people running, drawn by the sounds of violence.
"Please," Jean said, listening to herself speak in a stranger's voice. She wanted to vomit. "Where am I?"
The man shook his head. "I thought you were getting better. No wonder Maguire wanted you restrained."
The door banged open. Three men entered; one of them held a nightstick, another had a syringe. She recognized their uniforms.
"Don't," Jean said, staring at the syringe. "I'm calm now. I'm better."
"Sorry." The man pushed her harder against the wall. "No one's going to take a risk on you now."
Jean struggled. Without her powers, she lived in a state of semi-unconsciousness. To take that one step further -- again -- without knowing where the others were -- Scott -- or what had happened to put her in another person's body, was more than she could bear.
She was outnumbered and in a straitjacket. Perhaps the men showed surprise that the person they were accustomed to dealing with displayed sophisticated tricks in fighting them off, but they were tough and used to unruly patients. They subdued Jean. They subdued the man they called Jeff. And as Jean felt the sharp prick of the syringe in the side of her neck, she silently called out to her husband, to her friends, to anyone who might be listening, and then, still fighting, felt herself borne down to the hard floor like a slippery fish, slipping swiftly through the curtain of darkness into a deeper unconscious.
Copyright © 2006 by Marvel Characters, Inc.
Excerpted from Dark Mirror by Marjorie M. Liu Copyright © 2005 by Marjorie M. Liu. Excerpted by permission.
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