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Lock-Down: Chapter One
All of the X-Men had been captured when the United States government instigated the Mutant Isolation and Incarceration Act. Gambit and Wolverine had been the last to fall, but in the end even those two great survivors were taken.
They were jailed together in the same cell, and most of the other X-Men had been celled with their former teammates as well. Cyclops, visor-less now with his inhibitor collar rendering him just another brown-eyed handsome man, spent his nights in the same eight by ten foot space with Dr. Henry McCoy, who wore no collar at all. Iceman and Nightcrawler shared another cell, Archangel and Cannonball another again. The one tremendous irony was who Professor Charles Xavier had drawn to share a cell with: Magneto, old friend and bitter enemy. With their powers stripped away from them, both proud men got along rather well together from day to day.
At night, after lock-down, as in countless cheap prime-time prison dramas, a lone harmonica played. Not every night, but most nights. But most of the time, the songs weren’t sad. In fact, it quickly became “the” evening activity, shouting out the titles to the mystery songs the otherwise silent musician played. Most of the inmates didn’t know who made the music that helped them through the long watches of the night, but they knew that it came from the max security block. One of the “dangerous” mutants.
But his cellmate knew, of course, and his former teammates knew, too, although they hadn’t known he played before this and it was never mentioned during the day. He was very good, too, and had an eclectic repertoire of songs that he played well enough that someone was always able to identify the tune, no matter how obscure. In one night he might play a dozen songs before finally falling silent, and each song might well come from a different style or even musical era.
An harmonica is a strange instrument, isn’t it? Nasal and twangy, in the wrong hands it can sound like a crying baby or a braying donkey. Played well it can express all the vast range of emotion as a classical violin. Remy LeBeau’s hands were the right ones.
Kurt Wagner stood at the bars of his cell, as did many other inmates. Some of them were crying, silent tears running unashamedly and largely unremarked down cheeks that were, for the most part, bristly with beard stubble. The smooth cheeks were the cheeks of boys and men still too young to need their first shave.
Kurt wept, as silent as the others moved to tears by this night’s music, but the song had a deeper resonance for him than most of the others, even those who recognized the tune and could have named it.
The last notes trailed off into silence, a palpable stillness that remained unbroken for a few long seconds before Kurt finally spoke. “Bist du Bei Mir,” he said, voice choked and quiet, and yet everyone in the cavernous men’s wing heard him, so silent was it in the absence of music.
His only acknowledgement was the resumption of song, a spicy jazz tune this time. That was how Remy rewarded correct answers; with more music. He played with their emotions, drawing them up out of despair or sent them crashing down from euphoria like a boy playing with a yo-yo, but only Professor Charles Xavier suspected he did it on purpose. He did not know why, for he could not have easily penetrated that well-guarded mind even with access to his telepathic powers, but he suspected that all the toying was for a deeper purpose than simple twisted entertainment.
“Don’t do anything stupid, Remy,” he pleaded in a whisper, as though hoping to be heard six cell doors away. “Do what you think you have to do, but please don’t get hurt. Please don’t hurt anybody.”
“So, LeBeau is the mystery musician, eh?” Erik Lensherr, the former Master of Magnetism, said. His voice was pitched only slightly louder than Xavier’s original whisper. “I suspected as much. Do you think he has a plan to get us out of here? More importantly, do you think it will work?”
Xavier shook his head. “I do not know the answer to either question, my friend. I suspect he may be planning something. Indeed, I don’t believe Gambit could possibly survive in such a situation without plotting some sort of devilment. But I think the most likely scenario is that he is only looking to cause our captors as much trouble as he can. A considerable amount, if I know him.”
Lensherr arched an eyebrow. “Do you really believe that’s all it’s about?”
Xavier smiled thinly. “Let us just say that it is all I will allow myself to hope for at this juncture.”
Lensherr leaned back against the wall behind his bunk and slitted his eyes as though tired. “If he should be…plotting something bigger, and just for the sake of argument let us suppose for now that he is, do you think he would have the wit to pull it off? You know him better than I, undoubtedly, but he has always seemed to me to be a singularly clever fellow.”
“Clever is as good a word for it as any, I suppose. In his way, he’s really quite brilliant. I don’t think it’s too far off the mark to call him a tactical and strategic genius. But he’s never been what I would call particularly ‘community-minded.’ He’ll know the odds on every possible scenario, much better than I or any of us could ever figure them no doubt, and he’ll go with the one that looks to have the best chance of success. No, he probably knew instinctively what I in my idealism have a hard time accepting: he’ll be making an escape attempt, of that I have no doubt, but he’ll do it alone. I believe he’s planning on inciting the other prisoners to riot. He’ll make his break while the guards are distracted.”
“You sound ever more certain of yourself, my friend,” Lensherr said. “And the idea is distasteful to you.”
“I should prefer that there be little or no chance of bloodshed on either side of these bars, whatever he’s planning. But perhaps there is no other way. It is for his sake as much as Wolverine’s that cell 17 has a door of tightly-spaced adamantium bars. They know what he is up in administration, what he can do. They don’t want him to be able to slip out between the bars or reach the keyplate to have a go at the lock. I’m sure he will choose the safest method when he makes his attempt, but I fear he may only be considering his own safety.”
“Would you counsel him to sit quietly in his cell like a good boy and not make the attempt at all?” Lensherr asked.
Xavier shook his head. “No. If I had one of my men outside, one man whom I can feel reasonably confident will keep up the good fight, I could live with that much more hope for the future of man and mutants. He will make his attempt whether I like it or not, and if I know him half as well as I think I do he will be successful. I’m left to sit quietly in my cell, a good boy myself, and pray to whatever forces rule these things that as little damage as possible is done in the process.”
“Allow me to pray, then, my friend,” Lensherr said, smiling sardonically, “that you are wrong in your assessment of LeBeau’s plot and the odds against it, and that he will somehow manage to free us all.”
Xavier smiled, weary and world-worn. “And I shall pray that your prayers are answered.”
On to Chapter Two!