They all stood in silence, staring at the screen. No one spoke until Claire turned and ran from the room, hand over her mouth.
“Where did you get those?” Faith asked hoarsely, still staring blankly at the pictures.
“They were sent to us.” Jean replied. “They’re all mutants, from the information that came with the files.”
“Who’s it all from?”
“The Brotherhood.” At Faith’s quizzical look Xavier clarified. “A group of mutants who believe they’re better than humans and should be allowed to take control. They’re the ones who’ve been attacking you. We hypothesized at first that it was because you represented competition, more superhumans who could be a threat to their goals…”
“But I think we’ve found the real reason now, don’t you?” Logan growled. “This is your MO, isn’t it?”
Rachel whirled to face him. “Hey! You think we - ?” She stopped as Xavier put a hand on her arm.
“No, he doesn’t. None of do. What Logan is saying is that to the uneducated eye, these crimes look to be the work of a Slayer, or Slayers.”
“Hell, even to my educated
eye, it still looks like a Slayer’s work. It takes a lot of practice to be able to get the stake in at just the right angle to get past the ribs and still go through the heart, as my girls should know.” Faith met the eyes of the four senior slayers in the room.
“Well, some else could have been practicing, couldn’t they? If they knew how they wanted to kill, they’d want to get it right.” Rachel protested, but it was easy see she wasn’t sure of what she was saying.
“Yeah, but our way is not the only way, and in fact, it’s pretty damned hard to pull off if you’re not a Slayer.” Turning to the X-Men, she explained. “We’re gifted, as you probably know, with super strength, speed, agility and senses, but they’re very specified. Our strength is mainly in our limbs. For example, I could lift a car if I wanted, but couldn’t hold it up for very long, because my trunk strength would give out. The muscles in our arms are very good for quick, thrusting motions, like stabbing or the blocks used in most martial arts. To build those kinds of muscles on your own, without developing the other muscles in the arm, would be almost impossible. So this is either a Slayer, or someone whose gone to a hell of a lot of trouble to imitate one.”
There was a stunned silence as everyone looked at her. Her Slayers’ jaws had dropped. This was obviously the smartest thing they’d ever heard her say.
“Hey, I read.” She said, annoyed. Skeptical eyebrows rose. “Alright, I heard Red explain it to someone once, and figured the info might come in handy some day. And, hey, it did, didn’t it?”
“Alright, so it’s Slayer related, whatever it is. The question is why was it sent to you? Is it a taunt, a warning, a cry for help, what?” Rachel asked.
“The first thing is to find out who these girls are and what newspapers those pictures are from. Cassie, call Central HQ and get one of Fanboy’s crew on this. See if we can get some idea what this is about. Jaz, you’re on patrol tonight and Logan’s coming with you. Any others?” Faith turned to Xavier, who shook his head. “Alright, be careful. Obviously someone knows there’s a connection between us and our esteemed guests. If the whacko that did this is framing Slayers, they’ve got a grudge and they might be looking to make it more personal. Rach, Erin, you guys get some sleep and tell the girls the same. We’re gonna need to be alert and ready from now on. Ok, go on.”
As the team leaders left in their various directions, Faith collapsed into a chair.
“You’re rather good with them.” Xavier observed quietly.
“Yeah, well, I have to be. I’m the one that trained them, I’m their boss, and in this game, not listening can get you killed. You need to be able to trust your leaders, your teammates to have your back, to make the right decisions. I’ve seen what happens when girls question orders at wrong time, and trust me, it ain’t pretty. I’ve got to make sure that everything I tell them is true, is a good idea, or at least is built on something true or good, or otherwise, things go wrong.”
“It’s a good principle, and one more people should adopt.” Xavier said gently, sensing this was a sore topic for her.
“It’s just, you mutants are unique, each power is different and plays a needed part. You lose the guy who can fly, or your telepath communicator, and it screws things up for everyone. Make people a little closer to indispensable. Slayers now, whole different story. For years it was ‘Slayer’s acting up? Not towing the line? Kill her. Maybe the new one will be more pliable.’ And now that there’s thousands of us? Too many people are seeing the girls as expendable. Human lives should never be seen as expendable. It just….” She growled and through her hands in the air.
“I understand, although the variety can also cause problems. Many children come to the school thinking they will be superheroes, that they can save the world. The truth is, many mutants have beautiful, wonderful powers that can help them in their everyday lives, help with the little things that make the world a better place, but they don’t see it that way. They want flash and force, stopping the ‘bad guys’, and too many of them get killed in situations that are beyond their abilities. Not many people live a reality were they must worry about burying their students, and when you’ve dug a dozen graves, it’s still as hard as the first time.”
They sat, two teachers, staring into nothing as their own visions of the past flashed through their minds. Tomorrow would be a busy day, with sleuthing to be done and ‘bad guys’ to catch, but right they were just occupied with prevent one more death on top of the many they’d already seen.§¤§¤§¤§¤§¤§¤§
, Faith just wants the names of the girls…You don’t need anything else…We don’t know either….No….NO...Oh, for God’s sake…Yes…Thank you.” Erin hung p the phone and turned back to the group. “That was Andrew. He got the names of the girls. Apparently all four photos are from major papers, yet somehow no one’s noticed them before. The first is Sally Munroe, published three months ago in the Cleveland Plain Dealer. Next is Alex Ho, from the Des Moines Register, published 6 weeks ago. Then the Denver Post, Jenny Forrest, three weeks ago, and finally, in last week’s LA Times, a picture of Kara Jonas. He was really curious about those last two, and said he wanted to look something up, so hopefully we’ll hear more soon.”
“Four girls, four cities, killed weeks apart. What’s the connection?” Jean mused.
“Well, for one, we have an HQ in every city listed. And there are only eight, if you don’t count the mini-base in the capital. Kind of an odd coincidence, don’t you think?” Faith smile was patently false.
“They are all major cities, and the pattern does seem to be moving west. Perhaps it is a coincidence, albeit a strange one.” Xavier was playing devil’s advocate.
“The first city just happens to be our main headquarters, and not the capital of the state? And De Moines? Really only a major city to those corn-fed hicks.”
“Alright, let’s say you’re right. From what we’ve seen, the killings are getting closer and closer together. If this pattern holds true, the killer should strike within the next week. Where’s the next target?”
“Well, he’s reached the coast, so he can’t go west. That leaves north and south. Since he’s been getting away with this in bigger and bigger cities, I’m thinking he’ll leave Billings, Montana, alone. That leaves Fort Worth, Texas.”
“Alright, so we know where he’ll probably be next, but what do we do about it? Wait for him to kill again and hope we can catch him after? That still leaves us with another dead body and no guarantee of being able to stop this maniac.” Cassie looked like she wanted to hit someone.
“Exactly, so our next priority is figure out what criteria he’s using in picking these girls. A profile, if you will.” Xavier looked around at them expectantly.
“Actually, Andrew said he’d been working on something like that and he’d call us when he figured it out.” They all looked at the phone expectantly, which complied and rang. Erin leapt at it. “Andy?...What? Really?...Oh God…No, yeah, it does help…You may well have…Thanks…Bye.” She hung up the phone and seemed to deflate.
Everyone stared at her. “Weeeeell?” Faith drawled.
“What? Oh.” Erin looked up to see all eyes on her. “He found a connection alright. Every single girl is the sister of a SIC at the relevant HQ.”
“Oh God.” All the blood drained out of Faith’s face. “Jenny Forrest. I knew her. Michelle Forrest is the Commander at Denver HQ. I was the one who went to her house to give The Speech just after we originally set up base.”
“And Sally Munroe is Carly Stack’s half-sister.” Erin pointed out. “Different fathers, which I forgot, because Sally usually goes by Stack.”
“Carly, B’s right-hand girl?” Faith asked. Erin nodded. “But we just talked to her. She definitely doesn’t know her sister’s dead. Just how did Fanboy get those IDs?”
“He said it took him a while, because the girls were all Jane Does, and the quality of the pictures was bad. He ran some sort of facial recognition software.”
“So it’s possible no one knows these girls are dead?”
Three hours later it was determined that Sandra Ho did indeed know that her sister had been killed, but had no idea that the death was connected to any others, and hadn’t recognized the method of killing as being particular to Slayers. Carly had known her sister was missing, but since Sally had a reputation for being flighty, no one had really been worried. Unfortunately, three months disappearance was a little out of the norm for her, and so when Andrew had started asking questions, Carly had put the pieces together. Buffy said she’d been given the week off to go home and tell her parents the news, with that time to be extended indefinitely.
The Forrest's and the Jonas’, on the other hand, had no idea, and no one wanted to be the ones to tell them.
“This sucks. When we recruit these girls, we tell them and their families that they will be fighting the forces of darkness, and that it is
a dangerous job. Their parents know that some day, they may get that call. But when I make those calls, I can tell them that their little girl died defending the innocent, or even the world. Telling them that I’m not calling about their Slayer daughter, but the other, the one they thought they didn’t have to worry about? And that they were killed only because they happened to be related to a Slayer? There is nothing good in this.” Faith looked pleadingly at Jean. “Do you think I can wait? Until we catch this bastard? At least then I can say the monster who did this is off the streets and will be punished.”
Jean looked at her, sympathy in her eyes. “It’s your choice, Faith. Could you live with yourself, if you waited? Do you really think they’d appreciate it?”
Faith sighed, shook her head, and picked up the phone.§¤§¤§¤§¤§¤§¤§
Now that they knew the most likely place for the killer to strike next, as well as the small group that was likely to include his target – there were only three Slayers in positions of command at the Fort Worth HQ who had sisters–, they just needed a plan of attack. They’d decided that warning Fort Worth would only cause panic and ran the risk of alerting their target to their activities. They’d told the Texan Slayers that they were doing a training exercise involving working in a desert environment. The girls had been glad to lend them the use of the one of the ‘hotels’ the Council owned for these kinds of occasions. Once ensconced, the plan was put in motion.
Since they only had a few girls to watch, it was decided that the best plan would be to split up into six teams, two per girl. The first three teams, each made of three SITs, and led by one of Faith’s SICs, would be in charge of tailing a girl. Rahne was an add-on the team trailing the girl on a weekend retreat in the woods. The other three teams, with the rest of the girls, and led by Faith, Jean and Logan respectively, would be back up, each sticking close to their assigned girl, but mobile enough to respond quickly if a threat was perceived to another girl. No matter what happened, the Stalker teams, as they were calling themselves, would stick with their girl, in case another attack was a false alarm or a diversion.
The plan seemed to be proceeding smoothly. Jean watched from an upper walk way as Rachel’s team casually followed their target through the mall. She was impressed at their skills. None of them seemed to be paying any attention to the girl or each other, yet one of them was always within a few metres of her. She wondered if it was a form of unconscious telepathy or empathy, maybe. She turned to the girl next to her. “Do you know how they do that? Stay so attuned?”
“What? Oh that, not so impressive. Part of the Slayer package are enhanced senses. In this case, they allow those girls to ‘predict’ what the target’s going to do, and what their sisters are going to do in response. Lionesses do it, apparently. It’s a hunting thing.”
“Really?” Jean was astonished.
“Yeah, it’s new, apparently, since there are now enough of us to form ‘packs’.”
Jean filed away this information for further use. If she could study the way these girls worked together, she could help the feral students, such as Rahne, in working together with each other, fighting in a way that would make the most of their unique abilities.
An hour later, she was still pondering this and was startled by the sudden squawk of the radio by her side. “Any progress?”
“Nope, nothing. Anything on your end?”
“Same. Is that good or bad?”
“Dunno.” Logan sighed “Faith just contacted me. Nothing on her end either. Apparently we’re gonna pack it in. Meet back up at the hotel.
One by one, the groups trudged into the foyer. Dejection showed on all the faces.
“Were we wrong?” Erin asked plaintively. “Is this not who the killer’s after?”
Faith walked in, phone in hand, palm over the receiver. “Guys, we might have a problem.” She waited until everyone was gathered before continuing. “Andy’s found something I think you all should hear.” She uncovered the phone. “Go ahead Andy.”
“Hello? Uh, yeah, I was looking through the family records of those girls again, the pertinent Slayers?” Faith rolled her eyes at the word pertinent. “And I found something I missed before. One of the families has a birth on record just weeks ago. It occurred to me that our killer might find the idea of going after a baby appealing, especially in light of the whole pile of nothing you guys have found. Tatiana Petrova has a new baby sister, Natalia, only two and half months old. She could be your target.”
“Exactly, so, Andy and I have been planning. You Stalker teams will continue with your surveillance of the other girls, and I’m assigning the girls of my team to Erin’s, Jean’s to Rachel’s and Logan’s to Cassie’s, with the exception of Claire, Jaz, Dana, Emma and Max. I’m making you into a new team, and Jean, I’d like you there as well. I might need your talents. While I’m doing this, Charlie, I need you here to coordinate, and Logan out with the girls in case something goes wrong there.” The X-Men all nodded, expressions solemn. Faith continued, addressing the phone. “Now, Andy, you said you’d talk to Willow?”
“Yes, well, I did and she says she’s too busy.” Speaking quickly to forestall Faith’s outburst, he continued. “But! But she’s sending someone who can do what you want.”
“Anyone I know?”
“She wouldn’t say, but she was chuckling evilly when I left.
A/N: Yeah, I know, kinda angsty, but it's how I see it. When you get in the business of sending children to fight, things can get a little over the line.
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