"Sinister Games"

Chapter 1

           Even from the air, the damage to Muir Island's laboratories was clearly visible. Gaping craters were still smoking where some powerful weapon had been fired into the ground. Several of the tall, sculptured buildings were damaged; trees had been overturned; the long ferry at the far end of the island was a smoldering wreck.
           Yet as Xavier anxiously surveyed the destruction, he was relieved to see that nearly all of the damage was superficial. Sinister's henchmen had been more intent on causing a distraction than in killing.
           The emergency power had been restored--a few scattered lights bravely shone through the afternoon shadows. Still, he understood why Moira had refused to call the mainland for assistance. The humans who lived there were a simple folk, easily frightened by the mutant 'monsters' who lived on the remote island.
           And Kevin's widely-publicized escape the previous spring had not helped to reassure them. Though no one had been injured, the boy's energized appearance had terrified everyone...including Joe MacTaggert, his legal father. Xavier had suppressed the teenager's mutant abilities long enough for the frightened politician to see the gangly, bewildered figure hiding within. And only then--once he'd realized that a dozen avid reporters were filming his every move--had Joe MacTaggert made any effort to communicate with the boy.
           Kevin had been triumphant...he'd traveled halfway across the continent searching for the man who had abandoned him shortly after his birth. Yet his triumph had been short-lived. Despite his attempts to control his rapidly-growing powers, Joe MacTaggert had been repulsed by his mutant appearance and abilities. After a few short, disastrous attempts to blend in with MacTaggert's new family, Kevin had returned to Muir Island in tears.
           Fearing a clash of conflicting loyalties, Xavier had stayed away from Muir Island in the following months. Despite his soul-bonding to Lilandra, ruler of the mighty alien Shi'ar Empire, his feelings for Moira had changed very little in the intervening eighteen years since she had unexpectedly broken their engagement and married Joe MacTaggert. And he knew that she still cared very deeply for him.
           Over time, however, she had fallen in love with Sean Cassidy. Xavier found it difficult to resent Cassidy--better known to his fellow mutants as Banshee--because he obviously loved her just as much. He was good for Moira...and for Kevin.
           Xavier hadn't wanted to cause a rift between them. So he'd stayed away...until Moira and Kevin had been kidnaped by Mr. Sinister, and Banshee had needed his help to rescue them.
           To his surprise, the energetic Irishman had asked him to remain on Muir Island and train Kevin. That was when he'd begun to suspect the boy's true heritage...yet he'd wisely kept his silence. At all costs, he meant to avoid the power struggle that might occur if Kevin felt torn between him and Banshee, his prospective step-father.
           Jubilee had begged to stay on Muir Island with him, and he had watched in quiet satisfaction as his youngest student enthusiastically drew Kevin out of his protective shell. She, more than any of them, was responsible for Kevin's new confidence and love of life.
           She was eagerly staring out the window now, oblivious to the island's stark destruction, as Cyclops skillfully landed the Blackbird on the small helipad. Well, he conceded, she was fifteen, and Kevin seemed to share her feelings. Perhaps, in time...
           The laboratory's main doors opened as the Blackbird's ramp descended and he glided to the ground. Kevin eagerly followed Moira and Banshee across the ravaged yard, but Xavier noticed that he was hanging back slightly, a golden haze obscuring his tall frame. Was his excitement due to the team's return, or Sinister's dramatic escape?
           Moira kissed Xavier's cheek as Banshee energetically clasped his hands. Their open friendship warmed him deep inside. Whatever had happened between Moira and him in the past, they'd remained close friends. That was a priceless gift that he would always treasure.
           Jean and Scott hurried down the ramp then, followed by Beast and the two girls. Xavier stifled the proud gleam in his blue eyes as he turned to greet Kevin. He was careful to keep any hint of his private emotions from intruding into his conscious mind--like himself, Kevin was a full telepath, and it was possible that the boy might someday surpass him in power. Xavier could serve him best as a mentor and, eventually, a friend. Anything else would have to wait for a long, long time.
           Kevin self-consciously straightened as Xavier shook his hand, and the golden glow faded. Then he caught sight of Jubilee descending from the plane, a bright smile on her small face. Forgetting himself, he took an eager step in her direction, and the glowing haze reappeared. He promptly flushed, embarrassed by his open display of emotion, and struggled to control his reactions again.
           Banshee grinned and slyly winked at him as they turned and hurried back toward the laboratory. Then his smile faded as they neared the tall buildings, and the damage became more apparent. "Sinister's men knew exactly what they were doin'," he admitted, gesturing around with a heavy sigh. "Blew holes in the ferry an' all across the island...and while we were still tryin' to figure out what hit us, they cut both the main an' the backup power generators!"
           Moira nodded as she led the way into the main building, and the wide double doors quietly closed behind them. "I always had the feelin' he knew just what was happenin' around him...ye'd swear his beady black eyes were followin' ye across the room!" she insisted. "Gave me the shivers, it did, workin' in there with him!"
           "Aye, that it did," Banshee soberly agreed. "No one knows fer sure what he's capable o' doin', an' that's half the danger!"
           Xavier's frustrated sigh echoed through the long hallway. "And now he is free again, to cause even more havoc."
           Moira's spacious laboratory had born the brunt of the attack. Frowning, he hesitated in the doorway for a moment, scanning the damage. The outer wall had been demolished in the fight, and most of her equipment was shattered. Wisps of gray smoke were still drifting from the gaping holes in the floor and ceiling where her stasis field had held Sinister captive.
           Across the room, a large steel-skinned figure was struggling with a broken slab of concrete. Bits of stone and plaster fell as he hefted it over his head, then tossed it through the jagged opening to join the growing pile of rubble outside.
           "Colossus?" Startled, Jubilee took a step forward, then hesitated as the huge mutant's body seemed to melt in on itself. Morph turned around with an eager grin and jauntily saluted them.
           "Hi, guys!" he exclaimed. "Took you long enough to get here! What happened, Cyclops--didja take a left turn at England or something?"
           Jean couldn't help grinning at Scott's disgruntled expression...he'd never learned to accept Morph's teasing the way the rest of them had. "It's good to see you again, Morph," she assured him, clasping his hands. "Looks like you've kept yourself busy while you were waiting!"
           A rueful frown darkened the young polymorph's thin features as he glanced around the room, surveying his progress. "Yeah, Kevin's been helping me a lot," he conceded. "But we're gonna have to do something about that stasis field--it looks awful!"
           Beast carefully moved closer to the smoking craters, his eyes narrowed in concentration. "Exactly how did Sinister escape?" he demanded.
           Kevin uncertainly glanced at Banshee, waiting for the older man to explain. To his dismay, the tall Irishman grinned right back at him and spread his hands wide in an inviting gesture. There was no help for it--he was going to have to tell the tale himself! He swallowed hard, then gathered his courage.
           "Sean an' I were workin' on one o' his new scanners when all the power suddenly went dead," he shyly explained. It felt so strange, using his mouth and throat to talk instead of telepathically implanting his words into someone's mind! Still, he could sense Jubilee's enthusiastic approval, so he bravely continued. "'Fore we knew what happened, there was this bright flash from the stasis field, an' a loud explosion!"
           At that, Banshee bitterly nodded. "Aye--next thing we knew, we were pickin' ourselves up off the floor," he grumbled, "an' Sinister was gone!"
           "I was in the other wing with one o' my patients," Moira sighed, tossing Kevin and Banshee a sympathetic glance. "By the time I got here, 'twas all over. Sinister an' his men had already disappeared inta one o' those temporal warps they always carry!"
           "Then they could be anywhere!" Scott interjected, protectively glancing in Jean's direction. "I wonder where he's gone...and when he'll be back!"
           Jean touched his shoulder, trying to soothe him, but she was equally disturbed. Though Sinister was no longer allied with Apocalypse, he'd retained enough of the evil giant's technology to be dangerous. And if he should discover the existence of the Egyptian portal...
           Beast's eyes suddenly widened with inspiration. "If he is still restricted to this time period," he proposed, "it may be possible to track him! Banshee, are your computers back online yet?"
           The blond Irishman visibly brightened. "I was almost finished makin' repairs to the main generator when ye arrived!" he exclaimed. "If we can git the power up an' runnin', we'll have 'em goin' again in no time! C'mon!"
           The two scientists quickly left the room, deep in discussion. Scott spared them one last disgruntled frown, then straightened and gestured around Moira's battered laboratory. "Where would you like us to start?" he offered.
           Behind him, Jubilee groaned and rolled her eyes. Kevin caught her frustration with ease, and immediately canted his head toward the open doorway. He'd done enough work for one day, and he'd been hoping for a chance to visit with her alone. So many things had happened since she'd left that he was dying to tell her about...
           "Kevin can help me with that lab equipment," Xavier decided, turning just enough to fix the guilty teenagers with a steely gaze. "Jubilee, why don't you work with Morph? And Carly can help Moira."
           It was more of a command than a request. Jubilee groaned again, but she knew better than to disobey. Sighing, she reluctantly followed Kevin back into the laboratory and got to work.

• • • • •

           "...so how long d'ye think it'll take 'fore they make it back?" Banshee urged, leaning forward to meet Xavier's steady gaze across the wide conference table.
           Beside him, Beast reluctantly spread his hands wide. "In truth, we do not even know how long the trip through the portal will take," he confessed. "The Shi'ar teleporters are virtually instantaneous, but we have reason to believe that the Egyptian device is capable of transporting over a much wider range. In order to be truly effective," he surmised, "the time involved would have to be fairly brief!"
           "They may be able to return very soon," Xavier offered, "if they can communicate with whatever entities are on the other side, and find a way to restore Rogue's memories. If there are problems, however..." He soberly trailed off, reluctant to express his own gnawing doubts.
           Moira tried to hide a worried frown. "Did ye have to let 'em go like that, Charles?" she gently protested. "' Twas such a risk--there's no tellin' what they might encounter!"
           Xavier allowed himself the luxury of a weary sigh. "Of course there was a risk involved, Moira," he chided. "Still, I could not forbid Rogue from making the attempt. They all volunteered to go, even Wolverine! What else could I do?"
           Moira's heart ached with sympathy as she slowly nodded. Poor Charles--the decision had been so difficult for him, and the heavy cost showed in his haunted expression. He'd blame himself forever if anything happened to his students--they were his family, his very life. Nothing, not even the love he'd once shared with her, could compare with that.
           A green-clad intern quietly appeared in the doorway, pushing a large cart of food and drinks. Moira glanced up, grateful for Amelia's welcome arrival--and the interruption from her own troubled thoughts. Her love for Sean Cassidy ran strong and deep, yet such brooding about her past invariably saddened her. Better that she should concentrate on the present, and the many trials at hand, than to mourn the choices she'd made so long ago.
           And Charles's team looked exhausted, as well they might. They'd been working so hard all day! Smudges of dirt still marred their weary faces and uniforms, and little Jubilee looked half-asleep in her chair. Even Beast looked drained, though she suspected that his fatigue was due more to mental than physical exertion.
           Still, they'd accomplished such a tremendous amount! The main power generators were working again, and all the computer arrays were online. Most of the damage to her laboratory had already been fixed, and Xavier had coaxed several mainland workers to repair the other buildings. Another day should see the worst of it finished.
           Morph, assuming Colossus's steely frame again, had finished rebuilding the shattered outer wall. Jubilee had added her own special touch, quick-drying the sturdy compounds with dazzling plasma bursts. Once the new stonework was completely set, it should be even stronger than the original.
           And Beast and Sean had finished repairing the generators in a surprisingly short amount of time. They'd spent the rest of the evening queuing up the computers, and streamlining the island's security systems. For the moment, all her systems were tied directly into Cerebro's vast resources, until the two eager scientists could duplicate Xavier's impenetrable defenses here.
           Tomorrow she'd have to see about getting more fresh food from the mainland--some of their raw nutrients had been contaminated during the attack. Maybe she could send Kevin and Jubilee--it'd be good practice for them.
           She briefly considered discussing the matter with her tall, red-headed son, then hesitated. He and Jubilee were already deep in telepathic conversation, and it'd be rude to interrupt them. She couldn't help wondering what they were discussing--Jubilee's dark eyes were gleaming with new energy, and Kevin seemed even more enthusiastic than normal. Still, it was none of her business, even if she'd had the ability to break into Kevin's intense thoughts...which she didn't.
           As a full telepath, he could easily implant his thoughts into anyone's mind, though he possessed enough self-discipline to keep from willfully scanning their private thoughts. Jubilee's ability to directly communicate with him was as baffling as it was welcome.
           Moira had gotten to like the spunky teenager during their last visit, and she approved of their growing friendship. Still, their psychic bond puzzled her. Though Charles insisted that Jubilee did have a latent telepathic ability, she'd never been able to link with anyone else before. Why could she communicate so easily with Kevin?
           She was starting to think in circles. Ah, well, but they were all tired. Time enough to face new problems in the morning. Right now she could almost hear her soft pillow calling to her!
           "I'd love to be takin' a look at what ye've got so far," Banshee was eagerly exclaiming, his eyes gleaming with excitement as he and Beast pushed their empty plates aside. "Now that we've got the computer linkups complete..."
           Oblivious to the rest of his weary teammates, Beast avidly nodded. "I would appreciate your interpretations," he confessed. "I am having some difficulty in establishing a corollary for the last several hieroglyphs. A fresh perspective could be invaluable!"
           Moira stifled a heartfelt groan as they left the room, their heads close together in deep conversation. She knew that tone all too well!
           Well, if they were planning to stay awake all night, studying ancient Egyptian symbols, she was not!
           Across the table, Xavier wryly shook his head, a sympathetic smile softening his austere features. Moira quickly glanced away, evading his keen gaze. Despite her frustration, she understood Sean's thirst for knowledge just as much as she had always understood Charles's. They were so alike in that way...
           "I think we should all get some rest," he said then, scattering her pensive thoughts with a warm, encouraging smile. "Tomorrow will undoubtedly be another very long day."
           His perceptive comment distracted Jubilee from her conversation with Kevin, and she groaned. Another day of setting concrete, when what she really wanted to do was...
           She quickly caught herself, smothering the thought before Jean or the Professor could catch a trace of it. Kevin flashed her a silent warning frown as he rose to his feet and started gathering up their plates.
           No, she wasn't going to let anything slip.
           It was their secret.
           For now.


Chapter 2

           "What do you mean, the portal can only be activated by a telepath?" His visor glowing a vivid, angry ruby-red, Cyclops furiously jumped to his feet. His harsh voice echoed through the small conference room as he impotently glared across the table at Beast. "Don't you realize what you've done? Now they're trapped over there!"
           Beast was outraged by such an unwarranted accusation. Incensed, he leaped up and braced his large hands on the table. "With all due respect," he snarled, baring his long white teeth, "I am not responsible for the current situation! Storm and her team made their own decision!"
           Cyclops impatiently flung his arms wide. "If you'd done your job properly before they went through..."
           Xavier quickly raised his own hands. "Beast! Cyclops! Enough, both of you!" he ordered. "Sit down!"
           He waited until both men had reluctantly obeyed him, then frowned at Cyclops. "Control yourself, Scott!" he commanded. "Beast has spent the past four days poring over alien symbols which hold no similarity to anything on Earth, yet he has still managed to decipher them! It is not his fault that the final translations could not be completed until now!"
           Undaunted, Cyclops glared at Professor Xavier. "Well, if he hadn't..."
           Banshee caustically waved his protests away. "Ah, shut yer wailin'!" he retorted. "The man's a great scientist, an' better'n you or I'll ever be! While ye've been restin' yer butt in a nice warm bed, he's been slavin' away at his work an' not takin' a single minute to sleep! Ye've got no cause t' be blamin' him for somethin' he never coulda foreseen!"
           "Anyway," Morph interjected, his brown eyes lighting with inspiration, "they aren't trapped anywhere! All we have to do is send a telepath through to bring them home again!"
           Kevin and Jubilee exchanged a startled glance as Cyclops grudgingly subsided, scowling. Send a telepath through the portal? This might work out even better than they'd originally planned!
           Banshee caught a glimpse of their barely-suppressed excitement, and narrowed his eyes. "Don'tcha even be thinkin' it, me lad," he warned in a low voice. "Ye're neither old enough nor properly trained fer such a thing!"
           Kevin mutinously stiffened. "But Professor Xavier can't go!" he protested. "He's needed here too badly--ye've said so yerself a dozen times! Who else is there?"
           Morph calmly smiled. "I could go!"
           His ingenuous offer startled everyone. Moira anxiously stared at him, a quizzical expression on her face. "You, Morph?" she protested. "I know ye can take on any shape ye want, but..."
           Beast's eyes widened in surprise as he vigorously nodded. "Morph is right! Whenever he takes another mutant's persona, he also mimics their unique powers!" he exclaimed. "If he was to take on Professor Xavier's form, for example..."
           "You mean like this?" Morph playfully interjected. Without warning, a second Charles Xavier appeared at the table, hands folded in his lap as he serenely floated between Jubilee and Carly in a gold-hued hoverchair.
           "You see?" Beast gestured, pleased by Morph's spontaneous demonstration. "He is telekinetically hovering off the floor, just like the Professor! If he was to retain that form throughout the journey, it is possible that he could trigger the portal mechanism!"
           Morph changed back to his original shape, and the hoverchair vanished. "I'm sure willing to give it a try!" he offered.
           Xavier quickly glanced in Moira's direction. Better than anyone, she would know if their precocious young colleague was fit for such an arduous task. His recovery from Sinister's torturous psychic domination had been slow and painful, with many setbacks along the way. He was clearly well on the road to a full recovery--but was he entirely cured?
           Moira sensed his worried gaze, and subtly shook her head. Morph's progress had been aided by Sinister's capture earlier that year, when he'd finally proven himself immune to the evil scientist's insidious mental control. And his self-confidence had taken a corresponding leap.
           Now Sinister was free again. And he had certainly added Morph's name to his blacklist, along with Jean's and Scott's. Of all the mutants he'd ever encountered, only those three had been capable of defeating him.
           Morph was in danger now, and he knew it--they'd spent long hours over the past several weeks, discussing this very possibility. Already she could see the first signs of insecurity creeping back into his personality, despite his efforts to hide them. If traveling through the portal induced any new trauma...
           As she had done in the past, she opened her mind to Xavier's familiar psychic touch, and let him read all her doubts and fears. Morph might very well survive the trip intact...but the potential danger was ominously high.
           Xavier pursed his lips, disappointed by her professional diagnosis. "I do appreciate your willingness to take such a risk," he diplomatically assured the enthusiastic young man. "However, I believe that I may have greater need of your unique talents here...at least for the moment."
           Morph leaned forward, intrigued despite his own disappointment. "What do you want me to do, Professor?" he urged.
           Xavier frowned. "You have the most experience in tracking Sinister's whereabouts...and the greatest motivation," he grimly conceded. "I suspect that our old enemy will lose no time in resuming his illegal activities."
           "And you need me to find him, so we can capture him again!" Morph concluded, his chest swelling with pride. His familiar face and uniform abruptly dissolved again, and Sherlock Holmes materialized in his place. "Elementary, my dear Professor!" he exclaimed in a stuffy British accent, his eyes mischievously gleaming. "Sinister's game is afoot!"
           "Bravo, Morph!" Jubilee grinned, clapping.
           'Holmes' smiled as he tapped his long-stemmed wooden pipe on the edge of the table. "Thank you, my dear young lady," he gravely responded.
           Then he grinned, and Morph was sitting in the comfortable chair again. "Sure wish Wolverine was here right now," he confessed in a wistful voice as he folded his arms across his chest. "It's gonna be one hell of a hunt!"
           "Professor?" Ignoring Scott's warning frown, Jean leaned forward, her eyes glittering with concern. "I know I'm not as powerful as you are, but I might be able to trigger the portal, too."
           "No!" Scott firmly shook his head, his visor flashing again. "You can't do it, Jean--it's not safe!"
           He was remembering the last time they'd been separated, when Sinister had kidnaped her and taken her to Apocalypse's time axis. Jean stroked his arm, psychically willing him to relax again. "Well, Kevin's right," she insisted. "The Professor's too valuable--he can't go!"
           "So are you!" Scott protested, gripping her hands. "Look, there's got to be another way, another telepath who could make the trip!"
           Beast thoughtfully sat back in his chair. "What about Psylocke?" he recommended. "She owes us a favor, after we thwarted Apocalypse's schemes to kidnap her and misuse her psychic talents. Or Callisto's people may be able to assist us--some of the Morlocks have varying telepathic abilities."
           Xavier slowly nodded. "There are several options available to us," he agreed. "I will contact Psylocke and Callisto as soon as we return to the mansion."
           Cyclops anxiously glanced across the table at Moira. "We've finished all the major work here...can you and your people handle what's left?"
           Moira had no need of telepathy to sense his impatience to return home. "Aye, ye've done a grand job o' fixin' things up," she assured him. "I canna believe ye all got so much done in only two days!" Her warm smile encompassed the entire team as she glanced around the table. "An' with the new defenses ye've designed, that ugly black vampire'll have a time hittin' us again!"
           Moira's caustic description made Jubilee grin. Then she sobered as Xavier smoothly glided back from the table. "We aren't heading back now, are we?" she protested.
           They just couldn't leave yet!
           "We've still got a lot of work to do at the mansion," Cyclops chided, frowning as he rose to his feet.
           "There will be other opportunities for you to return and visit with Kevin," Xavier assured her as he firmly gestured toward the door.
           It wasn't fair!    Groaning, Jubilee reluctantly followed them from the room, her shoulders sagging. It just wasn't fair!

• • • • •

           Morph grimaced as he passed Cerebro's newest printout to Cyclops and Jean. "Yeah, that looks like Sinister's work, all right," he agreed, shaking his head. "Who else would attack a biological research station down in the Amazon Basin? I wonder what he was after this time?"
           Cyclops's expression was harsh with grim satisfaction. "Let's find out, shall we?" he urged.
           Jean glanced up, a warm smile brightening her face, as Beast appeared in the War Room's doorway. Several hours of uninterrupted sleep had clearly helped the weary scientist--he looked fresh and alert again. A new gleam lit his deep blue eyes as he glanced over her shoulder, avidly reading the emergency report.
           "Care to join us, Hank?" she invited, sensing his eagerness for some sort of action. "We can be down there in a few hours!"
           Beast gratefully returned her smile. "I would welcome the opportunity," he agreed. "The change of pace will be good for me."
           Morph tossed him an enthusiastic grin, then hesitated. "What about Carly?" he protested. "The Professor says she's not ready to go on any missions yet."
           "Carly will be preoccupied with her studies for most of the day," Beast assured the young man. "I will leave her a note telling her where we have gone." Then he glanced around the room and frowned. "But what of Jubilee? Perhaps she would relish the chance to accompany us."
           Scott rolled his eyes in disgust. "She's still in her room, sulking because Professor Xavier made her leave Muir Island," he retorted.
           "She's still young, Scott," Jean chided. "And she doesn't get the chance to see Kevin very often. We've always been more fortunate." Her green eyes glowed with tenderness as she lightly touched his hand.
           Morph and Beast tactfully glanced away as Scott caressed her cheek, a gentle expression on his face. "I guess you're right," he quietly conceded.
           Then he straightened. "I'll let Professor Xavier know where we're going," he instructed. "Meet me at the Blackbird?"
           His teammates eagerly nodded. The sooner they set out after Sinister, the better!

• • • • •

           The Blackbird's muted roar dragged Jubilee from her gloomy thoughts. She curiously glanced out the window just in time to see the massive black jet rising into the sky and curving south. Then it vanished beyond the trees.
           Scowling, she spun back around to flop across her bed...then hesitated. Morph wouldn't have taken the Blackbird if he was going after Sinister alone--he'd have set out in his little mini-jet. That meant that at least two, or maybe all three, of the remaining X-Men had gone with him! And if everyone was gone...
           Her eyes gleaming, she slipped out of her room and quietly headed down the long hallway.

• • • • •

           The War Room was empty. And Professor Xavier was still down in the Danger Room, supervising Carly's training exercises. Jubilee cast one last wary glance around, then eagerly grabbed Morph's emergency report and scanned it.
           The Amazon Basin...they wouldn't be back for hours! With luck, no one would miss her until dinnertime!
           Grinning, she hurried back to her room and snatched a bulging survival pack from her closet. Then she was gone again, and the door quietly closed behind her.

• • • • •

           "Jubilee?" Carly wearily raked one hand through her long, tousled hair as she knocked at the teenager's door. "Jubilee, it's time for dinner!"
           No answer.
           Surely she couldn't still be moping around! Frowning, Carly knocked again.
           No answer.
           Was she asleep?
           Sighing, the young empath quietly opened the door and let light from the hallway spill across the bed.
           The room was empty.
           A cold chill ran down Carly's spine. Dismayed, she closed the door again and hurried downstairs.

• • • • •

           "I know I shouldn't have, but I tried to 'sense' if she was anywhere in the area," Carly guiltily confessed, her eyes on the thick carpet beneath her sandals. "I'm sorry, Professor--I just wanted to help!"
           A compassionate smile curved Xavier's lips as he touched the girl's slender shoulder. "There is a difference between using your abilities properly and invading another person's privacy. You did exactly as you should have, Carly," he assured her.
           Relieved, the young empath gratefully met his clear blue eyes. "I was so worried that you'd be mad at me!"
           Then she shook her head in confusion. "But where could she be, Professor? I know my range is still limited, but I'm sure I'd be able to sense her anywhere on the grounds, if she was still here! Could she have gone to the mall again?"
           Xavier frowned. "For all our sakes, I sincerely hope so," he murmured. "I will scan the surrounding vicinity. Carly, I would like you to go down to the hangar and see if any of the mini-jets are missing."
           Carly's eyes widened in horror. "You don't think she tried to run away or anything, do you?" she gasped.
           Xavier was already reaching for Cerebro's interface helmet, a troubled expression on his face. She had never seen him look so disturbed before, not even when Rogue had been hurt by the alien portal!
           Frightened, Carly swallowed hard, and silently backed out of the room.

• • • • •

           "Professor?" Carly reluctantly pushed the intercom button, half-afraid that Xavier was still telepathically linked to Cerebro. She didn't want to disturb his psychic rapport...
           To her relief, his crisp voice instantly echoed through the small control room. "Yes, Carly?"
           Her relief was short-lived. Gulping, she stared through the window at the immense hangar one last time, counting the assembled planes. Surely she'd made a mistake...
           "You were right, Professor. One of the mini-jets is gone," she finally admitted, her voice trembling.
           "I know."
           The intense anguish in Xavier's voice made her close her eyes in shared pain. She could feel his despair washing over her in billowing waves, despite his efforts to shield his turbulent emotions. Despair, and fear, and an unmistakable sense of apprehension. Yet what could spur Professor Charles Xavier, the world-renowned telepath, to such incredible dread?
           "Professor?" She had to clear her throat before she could force any sound to emerge. "Is there anything I can do to help?"
           She could almost see him sitting there, alone in the War Room, his angular face drawn and pale with anxiety. For a moment he seemed so withdrawn that he barely heard her.
           Then his eyes opened again and bored straight into her. "Contact Jean and Scott," he grimly instructed, "while I place a call to Muir Island."

• • • • •

           "No, Charles, I haven't seen her," Moira exclaimed, shaking her head. "Not since ye left here yesterday afternoon. Ye don't think she's run away, do ye? Mebbe she just needed a little time alone, an' she'll be back 'fore mornin'!"
           The bleak look in Xavier's eyes sent a shiver down her spine. "She is not answering her communit," he grimly countered. "And the mini-jet is being run in stealth mode, so it cannot be tracked."
           "Aye, but can't ye locate her telepathically?" Moira insisted, confused. "She hasn't the talent t' shield herself from ye!"
           "Jubilee does not," he agreed, frowning. "But Kevin does--if he chooses to."
           The color instantly drained from Moira's tired face. "Oh, sweet heavens!" she gasped. "He wouldn't!"
           Banshee was immediately at her side, his strong arm circling her shoulders. "Sit yerself down, Moira," he urged, throwing an angry warning glance at the commscreen. "I'll go wake Kevin up, an' see if he's heard from the girl."
           Carly anxiously turned toward Xavier as the blond Irishman hurried away. "Professor, I've got Cyclops on the other commline," she whispered. "What should I tell him?"
           Xavier briefly glanced her way. "Have him hold on for a moment, Carly," he instructed. Then his attention quickly returned to Moira's pale face. "Moira? Are you all right?"
           She looked so frightened...how he wished he was there right now to help her! He should have stayed on Muir Island...
           Before she could muster a reply, Banshee was back, his mouth set in an angry line. "He's gone," he exclaimed. "No one's seen him since about ten o'clock, his bed's not been slept in, an' some o' his clothes are missin'!"
           Moira's eyes widened with renewed fear as she stared at Xavier. "Ye don't really think they've headed for Egypt, do ye, Charles?" she pleaded.
           As if her words were a signal, the mutant activity monitors suddenly went wild!
           "Look at those readings, Professor!" Carly yelled over the shrill wail of sirens. "They're right off the scale!" She quickly slapped at the nearest panel, and the alarms shut off.
           "And they're all centering on Cairo," Xavier frowned, his eyes on the fluctuating dials.
           Moira and Banshee stared at him in mute horror. "They couldn't possibly've made it t' Egypt so fast!" the tall Irishman finally protested, shaking his head. "It's jus' barely midnight here!"
           Xavier's eyes glittered with bitter rage. "The way Jubilee flies, they could easily have reached Cairo by now!" he retorted.
           On the other commline, Cyclops was angrily demanding a report. His furious reply was both graphic and unrepeatable. Then he scowled up at Carly. "Tell the Professor we're coming back immediately!" he snapped.
           The line went dead before she could respond. Swallowing hard, Carly reluctantly obeyed his imperious command.


Chapter 3

           "Harämï! Te"bæn wisikh!"
           Henré was so furious, he was practically sputtering!
           How dare that filthy infidel break into his encampment, steal his precious artifacts...and then have the unmitigated gall to act so innocent!
           Mutant or not, this kind of sacrilege could not be allowed!
           "Voleur immonde!" he yelled, switching from scathing Arabic to French and then, for good measure, to English. "Thief!"
           Xavier stared at the glowing commscreen in blank confusion. "Dr. D'Argent, I must insist that you explain yourself!" he commanded. "I am aware that my two youngest students activated the portal--against my strict orders--and I assure you that they will be suitably punished when they return! Neither of them, however, are inherent thieves!"
           Henré gritted his teeth in churning frustration. "Do not play the imbécile with me, Charles Xavier!" he retorted. "Your so-called students were carrying energy weapons which nearly killed one man and seriously injured several others! Their attack was well planned, and entirely too successful! The ancient portal has been stolen!"
           "What?"   Xavier stiffened in shock, and his hoverchair rose several inches into the air. His fingers gripped the armrests as he quickly lowered himself again, angered by his momentary loss of control. "That is impossible!" he protested. "Kevin and Jubilee do not have access to energy weapons, and they certainly would never have stolen the portal! They activated it in an attempt to rescue their stranded teammates!"
           The irate archaeologist vigorously shook his head. "My camp was attacked by several mutants, not merely two inexperienced youngsters!" he insisted.
           "And I tell you..."
           Then Xavier hesitated, his eyes widening. "Describe them!" he demanded. "What did they look like?"
           Gradually, as D'Argent calmed down, a coherent picture emerged.
           Kevin and Jubilee had indeed arrived at the archaeological site shortly after two o'clock. The weary guards had just traded shifts when the entire world had suddenly gone mad. Terrified of the huge 'glowing monster' and the ground warping beneath their very feet, the native workers had fled yet again, allowing the two teenagers unhindered access to the sacred chamber.
           Moments after they had disappeared below the heaving sands, another team of mutants had charged through the encampment, firing at the dazed scientists. Several of them, including D'Argent's partner Mariah Rogers, had been seriously wounded in the resulting fight. By the time Henré had rallied his students to care for the injured, and had ventured down into the chamber himself, the damage had been done.
           The portal had vanished.
           "Sinister!" Xavier bitterly murmured when the shaken archaeologist described the terrifying, black-clad fiend who had led the devastating assault. "I should have known!"
           "He's been playing games with us!" Cyclops retorted from the doorway, his visor flashing with hot fury. "The attack on the biological research station was obviously only a ploy to draw us away from Cairo!"
           "Nothing was taken," Beast elaborated as he quickly followed his anxious teammates into the room. "The scientists could not explain why he and his men had attacked their facility. Apart from superficial damage to the buildings themselves, they did not appear to be searching for any particular item!"
           "And now we know why!" Cyclops sourly muttered, gesturing at the glowing commscreen.
           Morph's face was twisted with black hatred. "We have to stop him before he figures out how to use the portal!" he grated, his fists impotently clenched. "Once he gains access to the rest of the galaxy..."
           Jean touched his tense shoulder, willing him to relax again. "Morph, Sinister may be able to control minds with those biological implants of his, but he isn't a full telepath!" she gently reminded him. "No matter how hard he tries, he can't make it work by himself!"
           "That will buy us some time," Xavier somberly agreed. "However, it is imperative that we recover the portal as quickly as possible. Once Sinister finishes translating the alien hieroglyphs and realizes that he needs telepathy to activate it, no psychic on the planet will be safe!
           "With half of our regular team missing, we will need reinforcements," he briskly continued. "Morph, I want you to return to Muir Island. Make sure that Moira is safe, then take Banshee with you to Russia and speak with Colossus. If he is willing to help us, bring him back here with you."
           Morph obediently nodded, then hesitated. "Why Banshee?" he argued. "Shouldn't he stay with Moira, and make sure that the island isn't attacked again?"
           Xavier shook his head. "Your unique talents put you at risk, Morph," he gently explained. "Muir Island's defenses are currently tied into ours, so their position should remain secure. The moment you leave there, however, you will be in danger again. Banshee can protect you until you return with Colossus."
           "Beast and I will stay here to protect you and Jean," Cyclops grimly assured Xavier. "I'll die before I let him take either of you again!"
           Xavier managed a grateful smile. "I sincerely hope that such a sacrifice does not become necessary, Scott, but I do appreciate your sentiment."
           Jean reassuringly tucked her hand inside her husband's. "We'll be fine, Scott," she chided. "Look how long it took Beast to translate the glyphs! You don't really think that Sinister can do the same incredible job in only a few hours, do you?"
           Mollified, the tall mutant reluctantly subsided. "What can we do while we're waiting for Morph and Colossus?" he demanded.
           Xavier briskly waved toward the doorway. "Perhaps you should finish helping Carly fix dinner," he recommended. "We will all be the better for a good meal. In the meantime, I will contact the Morlocks and Psylocke again, and warn them of the potential danger."
           Beast rolled his eyes in disgust. "If your last conversation was any indication, she will not listen to you," he predicted.
           "Perhaps not," Xavier reluctantly conceded. "However, I must at least make the attempt...I owe her that much."
           Henré was still intently listening, bewildered. "Explain yourself, Charles!" he demanded when Xavier paused for breath. "Exactly why did your students use the portal, and how are telepaths involved?"
           Morph half-saluted Xavier as he turned to go, and cheerfully slapped Cyclops on the shoulder. "It feels good to be back again," he admitted in a low voice, "but I wish it wasn't always in the middle of a crisis! We never did get to finish my welcome-home party!"
           Despite himself, Cyclops chuckled. "Our lives are one long crisis," he retorted, shaking his head in wry disgust.
           Then he clasped the energetic young polymorph's hand. "Good luck, Morph," he exclaimed. "Hurry back!"

• • • • •

           "Well, well! Two calls in one day--this is a surprise!"
           Psylocke tossed a lock of long dark hair over her shoulder as she venomously smirked into the glowing commscreen, one eyebrow raised.
           Then she scowled. "But the answer is still 'no,' Xavier!" she insisted. "I have no desire to go galaxy-hopping in that mystery device of yours without some assurance that I'll come out intact on the other side!"
           Xavier reined in his temper with an effort. "You made yourself abundantly clear on that point during our last conversation," he retorted. "I did not call to belabor the issue, but to warn you. The situation has changed since we last spoke--Sinister has stolen the portal."
           "And he's going to need a telepath to make it work?" she concluded, shaking her head in disgust. "More power to him if he can activate it! Then he'll leave our planet and we might get a little peace for a change!"
           Xavier glared at her defiant image. "You would sit back and allow him to ravage other unsuspecting worlds the same way he has tried to destroy ours?" he challenged. "The years have changed you, Elizabeth Braddock, and not for the better! There was a time when you would have moved heaven and earth to prevent such a thing!"
           Xavier's use of her real name disturbed Psylocke more than she was willing to admit. It was a painful, poignant reminder of all that she had once been...and all that she had lost...
           "Why should I care what that ugly creep does?" she demanded. "You think he might come after me? I'm flattered, Xavier...but not terribly concerned. He and his men are so clumsy, they'll never get close to me!
           "Anyway, I don't know why you're so worried," she shrugged, leaning forward to break the connection. "Your students might not be able to return right now, but I'd say they're safer where they are until you get the portal back. And you will, I don't have any doubts about that!"
           Xavier sighed. "I am afraid that it is no longer that simple," he reluctantly admitted. "My two youngest students entered the portal just before Sinister attacked the archaeological site. One of them is a full telepath, and we believe they made it safely through to the other side. If Storm and her team return right now, they will be walking straight into a trap."
           For just a moment, he thought he saw a slight crack in Psylocke's cool composure. Searching her dark eyes, he ruthlessly pressed his slim advantage. "You and Storm used to be close friends," he reminded her. "Do not let your bitterness toward me taint your feelings toward her, or the rest of your former teammates. They are in grave danger, Elizabeth, and they need your help."
           Psylocke swallowed hard, and for a moment he thought she might relent. Then her defensive shields snapped up again as she scowled. "Look, if Sinister's fool enough to show up here, I'll tie him up and call you!" she retorted. "Not that he could get through Warren's new defenses--even I can't sneak through undetected anymore!" The justifiable pride in her sultry voice seemed to lighten her mood.
           Then she frowned again, obviously disturbed by her own painful memories. "I'm not one of your X-Men anymore, Xavier, and neither is Warren! We've done quite nicely on our own, without any help from you or your precious students!"
           Mention of her fiancé's name seemed to soften her slightly. So she could be reached! Encouraged, Xavier tilted his head to one side. "How is Warren doing?" he gently asked.
           Her hand had been inching closer to the connection switch, but now she hesitated. A welter of conflicting emotions chased across her mobile face in the instant before she hesitantly managed a more genuine smile. "He's been going through some difficult changes recently, but he's doing better now," she admitted. "I think he's going to be okay."
           Something in her tone made Xavier wonder...but now was not the time to press her for details. "Give him my regards," he urged. "And Elizabeth...tell him about Sinister and the portal. He deserves to be warned, if they do risk coming after you."
           Psylocke instantly withdrew behind her icy shield again. "I'll do that," she muttered, her voice cold and uncompromising.
           The commscreen went dark. Sighing, Xavier leaned back in his hoverchair. Though he had expected her hostile attitude, it still pained him to acknowledge the changes between the bright-eyed, innocent young girl she had once been and the embittered woman she had become.
           She still blamed him for her abduction by the Hand, the evil ninja assassins who had brainwashed her and forced her to become one of them. After numerous attempts, he and his team had finally rescued her...but the damage had already been done. Elizabeth Braddock was gone forever...only Psylocke remained.
           Well, she would have to resolve her bitterness and hatred in her own way--there was nothing more he could do for her.
           Carly hesitantly stuck her head through the door. "Professor? Dinner's ready."
           Another weary sigh escaped Xavier as he turned and followed her from the room.


Chapter 4

           Banshee was eager for action...any action to take his mind off his gnawing fears about Kevin and little Jubilee...
           "Aye, I'll come with ye," he readily agreed, nodding. His thick golden hair gleamed in the early morning sunlight. "Always wanted to visit Russia anyway. An' ye're right--Xavier'll need all the help we can give 'im."
           Moira anxiously bit her lower lip as she glanced back and forth between the two men. "D'ye think Charles'll be safe enough until ye git back?" she ventured in a low voice.
           Morph confidently nodded. "Beast and Scott are there. They're not going to let anything happen to him," he assured her. "And anyway, you know how well he can take care of himself!"
           She managed a tremulous, grateful smile. "Aye, he's always done that fair enough," she agreed. Then she straightened and visibly braced herself. "Well, ye'd best git goin', then...time's a'wastin'," she urged, giving the two men a light, teasing push. "G'wan!"
           Banshee gently touched her cheek. "We'll be back 'fore ye know it," he promised. "An' just think--ye can spend some time on yer new plasma transferral project, an' there'll be no one around t' bother ye!"
           Morph understood her unspoken fears, and reassuringly clasped her hands. "Kevin's fine, Moira," he promised. "Professor Xavier said he made it safely through the portal before Sinister attacked the camp. And he should know."
           Moira slowly nodded. "Aye, that he would," she agreed, encouraged. "Thank ye, Morph." Smiling, she pressed an affectionate kiss on his thin cheek, then reluctantly turned and hurried toward the main building.
           Banshee grinned as he gestured at Morph's two-man mini-jet. "Ye know we're gonna have a time fittin' that big lad in yer little hopper! We'd better head back t' Cassidy Keep, an' take my four-seater. Moira can keep this one, in case there's an emergency."
           Morph suddenly seemed to grow a long pair of white-feathered wings. An instant later, a younger version of Warren Worthington grinned back at Banshee. "Shall we go?" he invited, waving toward the nearby cliffs.
           "After ye, laddie!" the tall Irishman exclaimed, sweeping into an elegant bow. "Show me what ye can do with them pretty toys!"
           'Warren' laughed, and threw himself off the edge of the sheer bluff. A moment later he reappeared, wide-spread wings strongly carrying him through the shifting air currents. Banshee threw him an enthusiastic half-salute, and hurled himself toward the turbulent water.
           Moira hesitated just outside the sliding doors and glanced over her shoulder as Banshee's deep voice drifted back to her. Even after all this time, she still marveled at the way he could use his powerful voice to fly, riding the sound waves as if they were a tangible path.
           He was already nearly out of sight. She stood watching until his bright green-and-yellow uniform disappeared into the hazy distance, and the last echoes of his awesome travel-cry faded away.
           Then she firmly opened the doors and hurried inside.

• • • • •

           "Ye're really sure Kevin's all right?" Banshee demanded as he fired up the jet's massive engines. Glowing flames shot out the rear of the plane, blackening the heavy stonework behind them. Then they were airborne, and his magnificent castle receded into the distance.
           Morph cautiously nodded. "For now," he admitted.
           Banshee heard the hesitation in his voice. "But?" he prompted.
           Morph winced. "Well, I didn't want to mention it in front of Moira," he conceded, "but there is a danger. If they come back before we can retrieve the portal..."
           "Aye, I'd thought o' that, too," Banshee confessed, frowning. "An' Sinister'd love t' get his hands on Kevin, now, wouldn't he?" He briefly concentrated on his instruments, then glanced back over at Morph's angular profile. "Is there nothin' else we can do?"
           Morph soberly shook his head, his eyes on the distant horizon. "Not until we can find where he's hiding this time."
           Banshee was silent for several minutes, a thoughtful scowl creasing his forehead. "If I were Sinister, I'm not sure I'd risk attackin' Xavier's mansion again," he finally murmured. "He managed it the once, when Jean an' Scott got married, but that was only 'cause the defensive perimeter was down for the occasion. An' anyway, from what ye've told me, he'll not fancy tacklin' Cyclops again.
           "If I were him," he continued, "I'd look for some other telepath t' do my dirty work, one who'd not give me a fight. Surely there's others he could choose from!"
           "Professor Xavier is the world's most powerful telepath!" Morph loyally objected.
           "Aye, that's true enough," Banshee agreed, nodding. "But is he worth the risk? Who'd be fillin' second place, that's what I'd like t' know!"
           Morph was silent for a moment, reviewing everything he'd learned during his years as Xavier's student. "Emma Frost," he finally replied, frowning. "She calls herself 'The White Queen' because her hair's pure white, and she always wears white clothes. She used to work with a group called the Inner Circle."
           Banshee spared him a curious glance. "So where is she now?"
           "No one knows," Morph shrugged. "The Inner Circle was disbanded back when Jean absorbed the Shi'ar Phoenix entity! Serves 'em right for trying to boss around a redhead!" he suddenly grinned. "Anyway, no one's seen or heard from Frost or most of her partners again."
           They were approaching land. The vast Russian continent spread out before them as Banshee verified their location, and the jet began to descend. "Well, she's the one I'd be keepin' my eyes on, if I were ye," he soberly advised.
           Then a challenging grin lit up his handsome face. "Now then...how d'ye propose t' find this big lad o' yers, seein' as we've no idea where he might be?"
           Morph simply grinned and rolled his eyes.



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"The Sphinx Saga" -
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