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The Death Card: Chapter Eight

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"

     “Listen up, people, this is important. One of us has recently come into possession of information we need to pass along to the rest of you. Forge, if you would.” Cyclops turned the floor over to the mutant inventor and sat down.
     “I’ve discovered the identities of the Four Horsemen,” he began without preamble. “Despite their current appearance, all are well known to us in their previous incarnations. The Horseman War is the Hulk, Famine is Sunfire, and Pestilence is the mercenary known as Deadpool. Death, as I believe we all realize, is Gambit. One of us. An X-Man.”
     There was some grumbling from the assembly, mostly expressions of disgust. Very few of the gathered found it at all difficult to believe that an X-Man, at least that one, would turn coat.
     “This is all very interesting, Mr. Forge, but how exactly does the identity of these monsters help us?” Magneto asked.
     “That isn’t all I’ve discovered. I’ve come into possession of genetic information regarding the alterations done to each man. We now know exactly what we’re up against regarding each. Death is the biggest threat. War’s strength has been vastly increased, and as we know it was prodigious to begin with. But apparently Mr. Sinister came into his own with regards to our old friend Gambit. Not only are his original powers of biokinetic manipulation many, many times stronger, other powers have been grafted to his basic genetic template. His strength has been increased—he is now on the order of twenty times stronger…than our friend Colossus.” A gasp ran through the group. “Moreover, he is now capable of walking through solid objects. This is something I have seen with my own eyes.”
     “Great. Hard enough keepin’ that damn Cajun outta where he didn’t belong in the first place,” Wolverine grunted, tapping his claws against the booted foot he had propped indolently on the briefing room table.
     “It gets worse. According to the information I’ve obtained, Sinister capitalized on a preexisting psionic template—“
     “English, please,” Iceman said. “I understand you so far, but I can see you’re getting on a roll. Slow it down so those of us who aren’t geniuses can keep up.”
     “A thousand pardons,” Forge responded archly. “What I mean to say is that Gambit was a very low-grade telepath. Now he’s a very high-caliber one.”
     “Woof.” Iceman sat back.
     “I perceive no difficulty in that. He is only one telepath. We have many, including the most powerful telepathic minds on earth,” Magneto said, with a gracious nod to Professor Xavier and another across the table in the general direction of Jean Gray, Emma Frost, and Elizabeth Braddock, who were seated near each other.
     Forge cleared his throat uncomfortably. “Um, that designation may be technically incorrect…”
     “Are you suggesting that Gam…Dea…that he’s more powerful than Chuck?” Wolverine demanded.
    “Forge, if I may?” Charles Xavier inquired politely.
     “By all means, professor.”
     “The situation isn’t a matter of how powerful Gambit’s telepathy. Even if he were on a par with an omnipath such as the Gamemaster, the combined efforts of the telepaths in this room ought to be more than a match for him. The difficulty we may encounter here is in how much these enhanced psionic powers have incapacitated our ability to reach his mind.
     “Originally, Gambit’s telepathy was limited almost solely to the ability to block telepathic invasion. For all that this power was weak, it was highly effective—and he had other ploys for keeping curious mentalists from reading his thoughts.”
     “I know,” Rachael Summers shuddered. “Blob naked. I always just thought he was queer with really, really bad taste.”
     “Hey!” Fred J. Dukes shouted.
     “By whatever method, Gambit was never easy to prog. Now, not only is he psionically invisible, but he has the ability to make others invisible by his very proximity. In other words…”
     “…We’ll be useless in locating Apocalypse and his henchmen, and have next to no chance of picking up any hint of his future plans from the minds of those who have that information,” Emma Frost finished.
     Forge cleared his throat again. “However, it is not all bad news. In case you’re wondering how I have come by this information, I was approached by someone acting as a double-agent. The same someone who affected the mess-up at Apocalypse’s debut that wiped out that batch of Infinites and sent the Horsemen packing. This someone wishes to remain anonymous, since there are telepaths on the other side who could easily pick his name from our minds. I’m using a psionic inhibitor I invented so they can’t get it from me.”
     “How does this guy keep from getting found out by those telepaths?” Spider-Man asked.
     “Death’s psionic protection. It’s a double-edged sword. Telepaths can use their abilities from within it but cannot penetrate it even from the inside,” Forge answered.
     “You’re sure you can trust this guy?”
     “He gave me certain assurances, more concrete than a handshake. I don’t trust him completely, but I think he’s our best shot right now, and I believe he wants what we all want—the swift, complete defeat of ‘Lord Apocalypse.’”