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Sinister Intent: Chapter Twelve

Mac O'Roni

     He didn’t know if his psionic shields had broken down while he wasn’t paying attention, giving him a weak telepathic connection with Dr. McCoy, or if it was simply an intuitive flash brought on by the eloquently expressive quality of the doctor’s face, but when Beast cornered him in the hall on his way to Professor Xavier’s office he knew at once that his tests were in, and the results were not at all good. He found he wasn’t surprised in the least.
     “Gambit, may I please speak with you?” the doctor asked, and nodded at Jubilee, tagging along behind the Cajun worriedly. “Privately.”
     “I ‘spect dat be a good idea, Doc,” he said. Jubilee looked from one to the other of them, chewing her bottom lip, and then bolted off down the hall. Clearly she’d had a psychic news flash of her own, and didn’t like the headlines. It was then for the first time that he realized that she had a crush on him. Strange that he hadn’t noticed before—her very denial of the fact made it patently obvious. She had never passed an opportunity of pointing out that she didn’t like him like that.
     Beast led him back to the MediLab, to his private office. He closed the door and motioned for Gambit to sit. Then he perched himself on the edge of the desk and sighed deeply.
     “What’s de bad news, Hank?” Gambit asked. “Genetic instability? My molecules flyin’ apart? Cancer? AIDS? Tiny little purple polka-dotted aliens in ma’ bloodstream?” He tried to laugh but it didn’t sound quite right.
     Beast flipped open a manila file folder on his desk and pulled out an x-ray. He tossed it into Gambit’s lap. “You can read it for yourself easily enough, I think,” he said. Gambit picked up the thin plastic sheet and held it up against the light.
     “Dat’s de inside a’ ma’ head, hahn?” he asked, looking at the cranial x-ray. “Nice. I ‘specially like dat shiny little square spot down dere by my neck.” He tossed the x-ray back onto the desk and wiped his hands off on his jeans as if touching the sheet had dirtied them.
     “I can say with some authority that that wasn’t there before all of this,” Beast sighed.
     “‘Course it wa’ant,” Gambit said. “Sinister jus’ put it dere. Any clue what it is, Hank?”
     Beast shook his head. “None. But I know it shouldn’t be there, and I also know that there’s no way in hell I can take it out.”
     “‘Course you can’t. When Mr. Sinister fuck somebody over, he like t’ do it up right. You t’ink dis t’ing could be what’s makin’ me lose ma’ temper?” he asked.
     Beast considered, then nodded. “Possibly. It is implanted right in your medulla oblongata—that’s the primitive part of the brain where the more instinctual emotions originate, like lust and rage. It also seems to be…to be releasing some sort of chemical into your brain and thence to your bloodstream. I haven’t been able to do a detailed analysis of this chemical, but I can guess what the effects of it are.”
     “It’s makin’ me lose control,” Gambit said grimly. Beast nodded again.
     Gambit’s hands were trembling in his lap, his whole body doing a nervous shimmy in the uncomfortable office chair. Beast watched this jittery dance with deep sympathy in his heart. The flippant cardsharp’s grin, the arrogant manner, the dead and emotionless gaze—none of it was the root and heartwood of Remy LeBeau. The fast, deadly flashes of temper and quick turn and turn about of emotion he had shown in the last days were more the truth of him, and it made his usual mastery over these flare-ups all the more admirable…
     …and sad, in some perverse way. Beast wondered just what sort of hell the man had gone through in his formative years to make him so hard so young. With all they knew of his checkered past, they really knew nothing at all. And misconstrued much of what they did know, Hank guessed.
     They had called him a betrayer. Hank wondered about that now. It was easy—too easy—to blame Gambit for things, partly because he accepted blame without question, as though he were truly responsible…or simply used to accepting blame. He had called himself a betrayer, a traitor, a double-crosser…and maybe he was. Just maybe. But looking at things from an objective perspective…
     There was too much honor in him. What he did that was right, that was good and honest, was always done apparently without consideration, without thinking. It was only when he allowed his self-doubts to intrude that his actions ever became less than noble—and even then he was much more apt to ultimately do the right thing than the wrong.
     Beast understood the basic problem. It was difficult—damned near impossible—to think of an acknowledged thief in such terms as “honorable” and “noble” and, of course, “honest.” But the thieves of Remy’s guild were different, somehow. He’d thought often about doing an anthropological study of the New Orleans master thieves and their undoubtedly unique sub-culture, if only to satisfy his own curiosity on a number of scores. He knew he could never publish any findings, no matter how intriguing.
     Not, that was to say, unless he wanted to end up with his head impaled on a sharply pointed stick out in the middle of the bayou.
     Gambit didn’t seem to catch the run of his thoughts, but he did become aware of Beast watching him, watching him twitch nervously as he tried to think of some way out of his current situation. It drew his own attention to his jitters.
     Knock it off, piss-f’-brains, he commanded himself in the same half-irritated, half-amused voice his father had always used when high-strung nerves had intruded on training. Someday, all dese jitters an’ jokes is gon’ get you ass kilt.
     It seemed he could fairly feel Jean-Luc’s hand grip his shoulder as it always would at those moments, hard and painful but steadying. As it had been intended to be. He took a deep, shaky breath, held it, and let it out slow.
     Beast saw the change steal over him. Gambit’s body tensed, grew rigid, stilled. There was a strange feeling of electricity in the air, and at first Hank thought it was biokinetic discharge—that the young Cajun was charging something—and he searched for the familiar and potentially deadly magenta glow with no success. Then he realized that was he was feeling was in fact the gathering of the young man’s not inconsiderable will, and he thought, Sinister made a mistake with this one. A big one. He’s too much for him, and I think that, deep down, Sinister already knows that. But it’s like a high-stakes poker game, and Sinister’s a compulsive gambler. He knows the other guy is really holding all the aces, but the pot’s too big to walk away from. He’s trying to bluff him out.
     For an instant he trembled on the verge of blurting out this sudden, intense revelation, but only for an instant. After all, he couldn’t be sure. Sinister was, short of Apocalypse, pretty much as bad as it got. If he was wrong, he could end up doing a lot more harm than good. And he probably was wrong.
     Still, the idea wouldn’t leave him. With it came again the thought that they knew next to nothing about Gambit’s past, and that included his years with the thieves guild. Given the undeniably superhuman abilities of the other masters, none of whom were genetically aberrant—which was to say, mutants—he guessed that part of what they didn’t know anything about was the training he must have received. He thought about a book he had read once, in college. The only Stephen King novel he’d ever read and finished reading. The Gunslinger, it had been called, and was the first in a longer series called The Dark Tower. Back then he had thought that people like Roland Deschain, the gunslinger, couldn’t be made. He thought that only mutants could possibly have the sort of uncanny abilities that had been trained into the fictional character. Now he thought maybe he was looking at a gunslinger.
     Or worse.
     After all, Gambit was both a master thief—the youngest ever, apparently, just like King’s strange knight errant—and a very powerful mutant.
     I think you’re playing in another poker tournament, my friend, he thought, and I’m not sure you realize it. I just hope you’re as good as I think you are. For your sake. For all our sakes.