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The Death Card: Chapter One

Mac O'Roni

This is the way the world ends...
This is the way the world ends...
This is the way the world ends...
Not with a bang, but a whimper.

-T.S. Eliot, "The Hollow Men"

     “So…just what, exactly, is that thing for?” Gambit asked, eyeing the liquid-filled containment tube with obvious suspicion.
     “That, my boy, is the instrument of your rebirth. It will either make you stronger…or it will kill you,” Sinister replied, not looking up from his tray of shining scalpels and bone saws.
     “Uh huh. Great. Great choices I got there.”
     Sinister picked up a syringe with a six-inch needle and tapped the air out of the pale amber liquid within. “Relax,” he said, with a smile utterly devoid of comfort. “You won’t feel a thing.”
     “No drugs.”
     “I beg your pardon?”
     “You heard me. No drugs. I wanna know what you’re doing to me, every step of the way. I’ve seen that look in your eyes before, and just to let you know right off the bat I’m not your guinea pig.”
     “Are you certain? This will be…exceedingly painful.”
     “No drugs.”
    “As you wish.” Sinister turned away and muttered, “His Lordship will want to witness this.”
    He pressed a button on the wall and addressed the intercom. “My Lord Apocalypse, forgive the intrusion, but I have a rather interesting subject in my laboratory. I thought perhaps you might wish to observe. It promises to be most intriguing.”
    “I shall join you in a moment,” the box returned, and Gambit couldn’t quite repress a shudder at the voice that issued from the device. It had been a long time since he’d heard that particular booming voice. “You know that I am always interested in your work.”
    It seemed much less than a moment before the titanic figure of Apocalypse strode into the dark laboratory. “What do you have for me today, Sinister? It is rare that I hear such eagerness in your words: This subject must be of extraordinary interest indeed.”
    “See for yourself, Lord Apocalypse. You are somewhat familiar, I believe, with this young man. He goes by the name Gambit.”
    Apocalypse studied him with the sort of half-sickened interest one might show a particularly strange and noxious variety of insect. “Yes, he is one of those thrice-damned X-Men.”
    “Not anymore, my Lord. He has joined with your great and noble cause. Voluntarily.”
    “Indeed? How very interesting.” The change in Apocalypse’s regard made Gambit feel as though he had just evolved from cockroach to something marginally less reprehensible, like a salamander.
    “He is about to undergo the standard genetic transformation. He has refused anesthesia.”
    “Most fascinating. I am pleased you called me to witness this. If he is capable of undergoing the procedure without anesthesia, he will be a most welcome addition to my forces. What do you estimate his chances to be?”
    “I wouldn’t give anyone else one chance in ten thousand, Lord. But this one makes a habit of beating long odds.”
    “Excellent. Please, proceed.”
    “With pleasure.” Sinister advanced on the young Cajun and raised a second, larger needle. The liquid in this syringe was not pale amber but rather a lurid dark crimson, like heart’s blood. “This, Mr. LeBeau, is not an anesthetic agent. Rather it is a reactant, which will alter your genetic structure and reconfigure it into a stronger form. Brace yourself, because this…is really going to hurt.”
    Without ceremony, he rammed the needle into Gambit’s bicep and shot the plunger. The Cajun’s dark eyes flickered, but otherwise he gave no indication of discomfort. “All right, Remy, into the tube with you, that’s a good boy.”
    The Cajun’s eyes continued to flicker. Sinister hesitated, carefully inspecting those dark orbs. “It begins already. How extraordinary.”
    Gambit’s face twisted into a deep grimace of pain. “What’s happening to my eyes?” he demanded.
    “I’m not entirely sure. It’s difficult to predict the effects of the reactant under normal circumstances. Circumstances where you are concerned, however, are never normal.”
    The geneticist pushed the Cajun into place in the chamber of the reactor and hooked up all the wires, tubes, and unidentifiable gizmos that made the young man cringe just by their appearance.
    “Hmm. Interesting. It appears that your pupils have changed shape,” Sinister noted, and slammed the glass front shut and locked it. Gambit was unable to respond before the liquid in the back of the tube flooded the reactor chamber and the most intense pain he had ever before experienced wracked his body. It felt as though he had been sliced open and the wounds filled with molten lead and poison. There was the most horrible sensation of stretching.
    I won’t give them the satisfaction of screaming, he thought. Before long, he had to hold onto that thought with all his considerable determination. But all through the long hours of his transformation, he made no sound, and he did not lose consciousness. Not until it was over, and Sinister released him from the chamber and shoved him into a room to “recuperate.” Only then did he allow himself to slip into blissful darkness.
    “Most impressive, Mr. Sinister. You’ve outdone yourself,” Apocalypse said when the geneticist returned.
    “I thank you, my Lord. Your praise does me great honor.”
    “I believe my search has ended. This one shall be the last and greatest of the Four.”
    “I am happy that you are so pleased, Lord Apocalypse.”