"You have no idea how much of a surprise it was to me to find out that moleculars were the most likely to survive my procedures," the voice seemed to come from everywhere and nowhere at the same time. "My initial data suggested that ferals would be far more likely to survive the emotional and physical trauma, but in practice their genetic structure simply breaks down. I've had much more success with moleculars and the stronger the mutation the more likely the subject is to survive. I have high hopes for you, My Dear, very high hopes..."
There was a sudden pain like a pinprick and coldness; bone-numbing coldness that spread through every muscle. But that was not the worst; after the cold came the heat and the heat felt like liquid fire in every cell.
Jesse opened his eyes with a start and realised that he had fallen asleep in the corner of the warehouse where he had taken refuge from the rain. He was shivering from the damp and he did not discount the possibility that he was in the first stages of fever. The dream image lingered in his mind and he couldn't shake the fear that he was beginning to hallucinate.
He was not sure how he had reached the warehouse district; he didn't even know what city he was in, and he was not sure what images from his mind were real and what were nightmares. Jesse had woken up when the storm had started pelting him with water and what was really scary was that he had been walking at the time.
The last thing he remembered clearly was going to a club with Brennan and then loosing the elemental mutant to the charms of a stunning blonde. Someone at the bar had started a fight, Jesse had felt something hit him in the back and then it was all a blank.
Remembering the dream, Jesse checked his arms for any sign of the needle marks or other abrasions, but they looked perfectly normal. It was all so confusing and all that he knew was he had to return to Sanctuary. Adam would know what was real and what was fever hallucination and at Sanctuary he would be safe.
With a determined effort, Jesse pulled himself to his feet and found that his legs were even more unstable than when he had first sat down. The grubby t-shirt and jeans he was wearing had not done much to keep out the weather and even out of the rain it was still cold. Jesse's communicator was gone and so there was only one thing to do; he had to find a phone.
Adam watched his younger colleagues as they sat around the recreation area in silence. The other three had barely spoken a word since all four of them had returned to Sanctuary and Adam would have been lying if he had said he was not worried about them. The whole situation had hit them very hard and the black they were all wearing reflected their mood perfectly. Brennan and Shalimar were sitting close to each other, the tragedy having brought them together in their grief; Emma was a few feet away and, from the cold look in her eyes, she was attempting to shut out everything around her.
Adam was not sure who would be the first to crack, but he would be glad when something made it through the facades. The funeral had been hard on them all and the fact that Jesse's mother had all but accused them of killing her son had not helped the matter. He had done everything he could to bring Jesse back from the coma caused by the bullet to the back, but there had been no brain wave activity at all and eventually even he had had to stop trying. A week and a half had passed since then, two weeks since the incident itself and it had taken so much out of Mutant X.
Adam was trying to decide if there was anything he could do when the terminal he was standing next to beeped gently to let him know someone was calling. Very few people had the number and anyone ringing would have a good reason so, turning away from the rest of his team, he walked into the next room and answered the communication.
"Adam," he spoke quietly, but firmly.
There was a moment's silence from the other end and just the sound of someone taking a breath.
"Amm...need help," was the eventual mumbled response.
The voice sounded vaguely familiar, but Adam's mind refused to tell him who it was through the distortion of whatever distress the caller was in. Thinking quickly Adam decided on a course of action; he moved back to the door and waved at the other three.
"Brennan, use the computers to trace this call," he instructed quickly, "someone is in trouble," he added when he saw the vague resentment on the other man's face.
Brennan did not look happy, but he did as he was told and the two women rose to their feet as well. The pair did not follow their male colleague into the computer area, but they were watching as he worked.
"Hello," Adam spoke back at the caller, "can you tell me where you are?"
There was another pause.
"Don't know," the man eventually replied with a definite slur in his voice.
There was something very familiar about the voice, but there were more important things to worry about than identifying the caller; Adam was afraid that he might loose the young man before he had time to locate him.
"Do you know the number you're calling from?" Adam asked calmly knowing that if Brennan's trace failed he was the only chance of finding the caller.
"Mmmm," the man on the other end of the phone sounded very confused, "can't read ... eyes hurt. Help, Adam ... please."
At the sound of his name pronounced properly Adam went very cold; he finally recognised the voice. His rational brain told him it could not possibly be true, he had watched Jesse die, and he had run every test he knew how on the body to be sure. Now he was shocked into silence.
"Adam," the voice pleaded quietly.
When he glanced up, Emma was looking at him; she obviously felt his confusion. The question in her eyes broke his immobility and he put his doubt aside.
"Jesse, it's alright, I'm still here," he said firmly and Brennan looked up from where he was typing with a very startled look on his face.
Shalimar had also heard him use the name, because she was through the door like a shot with Emma close behind. Adam held up his hand for silence before anyone could say anything.
"We're tracing the call, Jesse," the scientist said with far more calm in his voice than he felt.
So many possibilities were running through his mind from elaborate plots to the terrible mistake he must have made, but Adam shoved them all aside for the task in hand.
"Do you know what happened to you, Jesse?" he asked evenly without letting any emotion into his voice.
His logical, scientific brain kept telling him Jesse was dead, that the battery of tests he had run on the body to make sure had been fool proof, but his very human side hoped that this was real. All the anger and grief of the last two weeks would be over and the family would be whole again.
"Got him," Brennan announced before Jesse replied.
"Can't remember," was the quiet reply from the other end of the line. "In a clu..." the voice trailed off for a moment, "s'mthing hit me."
"We're coming to get you, Jesse," Adam said evenly. "Stay where you are. I'm going to leave Shalimar to talk to you and the rest of us are going to the Helix. We'll be there soon."
No one argued and Mutant X went into action smoothly.
Adam had little idea how long the flight took, he had had far too many other things to think about, especially when Jesse had stopped talking. They landed as close to the coordinates Brennan had found as possible and then they ran the rest of the way. What Adam saw made his heart jump into his throat. Laying half in and half out of a phone booth was an all too familiar figure in a position not unlike one in which Adam had seen him far too recently. Brennan reached the prone young man first and knelt down.
"Don't touch him," Adam called out quickly, far too aware that they could all be in danger at every turn.
The scientist reached his younger friends and held out the mobile scanner. Jesse was half curled into a foetal ball and he was shivering; he gave no sign that he knew they were there.
"He's hurting, Adam," Emma said desperately, "we have to help him."
"And we will," he assured her calmly as he watched the readings fly up the scanner, "but first I have to make sure Jesse is not a danger to us."
Both Brennan and Emma watched him intently as Adam finished his initial scan. When nothing immediately dangerous showed up, he nodded at the other two.
"Let's get him back to Sanctuary," he said pointedly, "someone has been playing with his DNA and I need to stabilise it."
Brennan needed no other encouragement and without any help from the other two he lifted Jesse into his arms.
"Let's go," he said firmly.
Adam walked away from his instruments with a quick glance at the motionless Jesse as he walked over to the other three. He had been working all night to stabilize Jesse and his tests had confirmed his darkest suspicions.
"The body is a clone," he eventually said quietly. "My tests were not wrong, we buried what was left of Jesse's body yesterday."
"No," Emma said almost instantly, "that's Jesse I can feel him, no clone would feel exactly like him."
Adam held up his hand before anyone else could join in the protest.
"I said the body was a clone," he told them using his calm, detached, clinical tone. "My tests also confirm what Emma knows; someone transferred Jesse's consciousness into the clone. That's not Jesse's original body, but it is Jesse."
Shalimar's eyes flashed yellow in fury and Brennan looked like he was about to explode; only Emma appeared remotely rational as she used her rigid self-control as a shield. Adam had seen the hope flare in his team as they re-found their lost comrade and he prayed this would not tear them apart further.
"But why?" the telempath asked evenly. "What is the point of stealing someone's mind and putting it in a cloned body. And how? He's only been gone two weeks: it's not possible."
Taking a deep breath, Adam tried to put his racing thoughts into an order that would mean something to the others; the ideas were so incredible that even he was having trouble dealing with them.
"I don't know how; his cells show very few of the normal signs of cloning. I can't even begin to explain the process used," he admitted eventually. "The genetic structure is basically Jesse's, but the cloned body was further engineered. In fact his genetic structure is still in flux. Whoever did this to Jesse was still changing him after they transferred his consciousness. I've stabilised him as well as I can, but I don't know if I can bring his mutation under control."
"What were they trying to do to him?" Shalimar asked tightly.
"It appears somebody wants another super-mutant," Adam told them candidly, "and they used Jesse's genetic code as a foundation. As far as I can tell someone believed that starting with a stable mutation and building on it would give them a stable super-mutant. More detailed tests will give me a better idea of what's been added and then I'll have a better chance of bringing our Jesse back."
There was a moment's silence as the team let the implication hang.
"And if you can't?" Brennan finally voiced what they were all thinking.
"Jesse's genetic structure will break down," Adam said quietly, "he'll die."
Shalimar gave a growl of frustration and anger and turned on her heel to stalk out of the room. Adam wished it was as easy for him to express his dismay and fury at the situation, but he maintained his calm exterior.
"I'll go make sure she doesn't destroy anything valuable," Brennan said as if he was unsure he wanted to leave, and Adam nodded at him.
It was obvious that the whole situation was making the elemental mutant very uncomfortable and Adam had no intention of making it any harder for his team than it already was. The tall dark man followed his teammate out the door which left just Emma with Adam.
"Can you save him?" the telempath asked candidly.
"I don't know," Adam replied honestly, since it was pointless lying to his companion. "I have never seen anything quite like this; I'm amazed he's still alive."
Emma nodded as if she had suspected this all along.
"What can I do?" she asked practically.
Jesse opened his eyes slowly and blinked blankly at the bright blob above him. It took a moment or two before it resolved into a recognisable light and Jesse's brain caught up with the idea of consciousness. He vaguely remembered being wet and cold and now he was warm, dry and comfortable which was a nice change. At that moment Jesse really could not be bothered about anything else and he just lay there for a while. There was a noise to his right and reluctantly he moved his head to find out what was causing it; he came face to face with Emma.
"Hi Jesse," she said with a smile that didn't quite reach her eyes, "I felt you wake up."
"Mmm," was the closest Jesse could come to a coherent reply.
It was then that Jesse began to notice that he was not quite connected to the world correctly. His body was responding, but not as well as it should have been and this filled him with a sudden fear.
"It's okay, Jesse," Emma said soothingly and he felt her mental touch, "you're safe. Adam gave you some medication to help you relax, it's just making you groggy."
The waves of calm the telempath was projecting into his mind had some effect on him and he calmed down a little, but the whole situation still filled him with irrational anxiety. The lab scared him at a very deep level and he didn't know why. Even under Emma's influence he couldn't stop his heart pounding and he felt the absurd need to get away.
"Adam," he heard Emma call, "Jesse's awake."
Adam appeared from somewhere else in the room and entered Jesse's peripheral vision. He was carrying something in his hands and the sight sent Jesse over the edge into full-blown panic. Logic told him there was nothing to be afraid of, but his instinct went crazy and terror replaced any rational thought, flooding his system with adrenaline.
"Jesse, it's okay, no one is going to hurt you," Emma's words made it into his mind, but they did nothing to help him.
Jesse needed to get away, but his muscles wouldn't respond properly. He tried to move, but he could barely lift his body from the couch on which he was lying. Pure, unadulterated fear pulsed through every fibre of his being and panic took over. Jesse reached for his power's instinctively as his last line of defence, but his mind filled with blinding pain. It was like grabbing hold of a live wire and all he could do was scream.
Emma saw Jesse arch off the recliner and phase as he did so. The cry he let past his lips was almost as stunning as the mental scream of agony that accompanied it and if she had not been prepared it would have taken her along for the ride. As it was, all her defences were in place and she felt Jesse's pain, but was not overcome by it. When Jesse's body relaxed out of the arch he did not stop moving and convulsed on the couch.
"Emma, stand away," Adam instructed firmly.
All Emma wanted to do was help her friend, but she did as she was told. As she removed herself from the vicinity, Adam engaged the DNA sequencer and blue light bathed Jesse's pain wracked form. The convulsion died away slowly and left a semi-conscious, exhausted Jesse limp in their wake. Emma moved forward again as soon as the scanner beams cut off.
"Jesse," she said with far more calm than she felt, "it's Emma. You're safe, you're home."
She had tried to calm him with a psionic pulse before and it had barely made any difference. She did not want to try again in case that had had anything to do with Jesse's attack, so she chose the old fashioned method. With one hand she reached out and brushed the damp hair from his forehead.
"Everything is going to be okay," she soothed gently. "Just relax."
Adam walked over, much more slowly this time, but Jesse did not seem to be in any state to notice him. Jesse appeared to be almost delirious.
"His powers are out of control," Adam said quietly, "try and keep him calm. I need to run some tests before I can do any more."
Emma simply nodded; she was going to stay as long as it took.
Time was a relative concept and there was little in Jesse's world to relate it to. The world drifted by in a haze, never quite making sense and was alternately painful and peaceful. From time to time he recognised a face or a voice, but it was mostly just a jumble of nonsense that floated around him. He had the odd lucid moment, but they lasted only seconds and usually ended in anxiety or pain.
When Jesse finally returned to a world that made sense, it took time for his mind to adjust to constant input. Something in him recognised the lab at Sanctuary and he could feel the pleasant sensation of the DNA scanner. It cut off just as he opened his eyes. For a moment he simply lay there trying to gather his thoughts and then he moved his head to the side to see if he could see who was running the scanner. To his pleasure he found that his body responded in the way he expected, if somewhat reluctantly. Jesse could just about see Emma out of the corner of his eye as she punched some keys.
"So will I live?" he asked in a voice that came out much more quietly than he had intended.
"Jesse," came the delighted reply and very rapidly Emma was standing beside him smiling down, "you're awake."
He smiled back, although his body felt as if it didn't want to agree.
"I'll get back to you on that when the rest of me catches up," he replied lightly.
"Not feeling so hot?" Emma asked sympathetically.
"If asked to guess I'd say there was a meat grinder in my recent past," Jess told her with a grin. "Care to tell me why I feel like someone put me back together without the instructions?"
At that comment he saw Emma's expression change slightly; she covered quickly, but Jesse had seen the shadow dart across her eyes.
"You don't remember?" she asked with a cheerfulness that belied what he had just seen.
He shook his head; his memory was empty of an explanation.
"What is the last thing you can recall?" Emma continued calmly.
With a frown Jesse tried to bring his scattered thoughts under control; it was not the easiest thing he had ever done.
"We all went out," he said slowly as he struggled with his memory, "and Brennan and I ditched you and Shal to go to a club. That's it except for some flashes of faces."
"That was a little over three weeks ago, Jesse," Emma said gently, resting a hand on his arm. "You were attacked at the club."
The idea seemed preposterous; it couldn't have been three weeks, it felt like yesterday.
"No way," he voiced his opinion.
"Yes way," Emma replied sympathetically. "We let you out of our sight for a few hours and you went and managed to get yourself kidnapped."
"Brennan?" Jesse asked quickly as it suddenly occurred to him that he had not been alone when attacked.
"Oh Brennan's too big and too stupid for anyone to worry about him," Emma said with perfect timing as the elemental walked into the lab.
"Hey, I resent that," Brennan said with a mock hurt expression. "So the sleeper awakes."
Brennan's tone was just a little bit too cheery as far as Jesse was concerned and something felt off about the whole situation.
"Why was I asleep for three weeks?" he asked evenly and unsuccessfully tried to catch one of his companion's eyes.
"Well technically we don't know if you were asleep all the time," Brennan said irreverently, "we lost you for nearly two of those. Careless I know, but do you know how many guys there are out there who are short, blond and answer to the name Jesse?"
"I am not short," Jesse shot back, even as he did so, realising that he had been suckered into joking about the situation. "You're just too tall."
Someone had obviously done something Jesse had missed because Adam came strolling into the room as if he knew exactly what he would find.
"Welcome back, Jesse," Adam said cheerfully, "how are you feeling?"
"Wiped and a little sore," he responded, giving the honest truth.
"Not surprising given the circumstances," Adam continued before Jesse had a chance to go on. "We should run a few tests now you're awake to make sure everything's ticking over properly."
Jesse knew when he was being snowed and now was not a time he was willing to play along.
"Adam, what's going on?" he asked pointedly. "What subject is everyone avoiding?"
That brought all three to a halt; they all looked like kids who had been caught with their hands in the cookie jar.
"Jesse there are some things that you will need to know," Adam said carefully, "but we'd prefer it if you waited until you were stronger."
"Would you want to wait?" he replied and gave his friend an even stare. "You three are dancing around me like I might bite."
Emma placed a supportive hand on Jesse's shoulder and he had the distinct impression he was not going to like what was coming.
"Where was I, Adam?" he asked pointedly. "What had they done to me? How did you get me out?"
"We don't know where you were," Adam acquiesced eventually, "we didn't rescue you."
"We thought you were dead," Emma added quietly.
"Then how?" Jesse was confused.
"You rescued yourself, Jesse," Adam continued evenly. "You called us, just after ..."
The way his mentor paused did not reassure Jesse at all.
"After the funeral," Brennan finished what Adam seemed reluctant to say.
Jesse just lay there for a moment trying to take in what his friends were saying. They had thought he died; they had even had a funeral.
"Why?" he finally asked. "Why were you so sure?"
"We had a body, Jesse," Brennan seemed to be the designated storyteller. "There was a fight at the club; people with guns. I found what I thought was you shot in the back."
It was so far out there that Jesse totally believed him without question, but so many possibilities jumped into his mind.
"A fake?" he asked tentatively, not that Jesse could imagine what kind of fake could fool Adam.
No one seemed to know what to say and ghosts of memories flitted around Jesse's head, making him more than a little uneasy.
"Jesse," Adam said in a totally neutral tone, "the body we buried was not a fake."
The statement was so impossible that it took a moment for Jesse to figure out what Adam was saying. When he did, his chest felt suddenly tight and he looked down at himself not really sure what to think.
"Someone cloned you," Adam was speaking slowly and calmly, "and then they took your consciousness and put it in the new body."
Jesse wasn't really hearing him anymore as complete denial set in. It was not true, it was pure fiction; things like that were impossible. People could not take your soul and drag it into another shell; it was beyond even Adam's science. Jesse shrank away from the knowledge and tried to refuse to believe, but then his mind threw him something else. There was a dim pain and then nothing but darkness; cold, imprisoning darkness where there should have been warmth and freedom. He was trapped, without form, without sensation and it was the most horrific sensation Jesse could possibly imagine.
"Jesse," Emma's voice broke through the memory and he found himself looking directly into the telempath's eyes. "It's not real," she said gently, "it's the past. You're not alone anymore."
So much pain and anguish welled up inside Jesse that it overwhelmed him almost instantly. How was he supposed to deal with this.
"I can feel your pain, Jesse," Emma said quietly, "just let it out. You can release it now."
It was all the push he needed.
"It can't be," he whispered slowly, "it can't be."
But the denial did not ring true and he reached for the comfort Emma offered before the pain took everything away. Emma enfolded him in her arms and he sobbed uncontrollably.
Jesse appeared to be sleeping peacefully after his emotional outburst and Adam took the time to check the readings from the young man. Mutant abilities had a lot to do with emotion as well as the physical and any shock to his system could be dangerous to Jesse in his current state. To Adam's relief the revelations about his recent past did not appear to have done any damage to the young mutant.
When they had first brought Jesse to Sanctuary, Adam had had to constantly stabilise his genetic structure, but now the scanner was programmed to run once every two hours. By degrees the damage done to the Jesse's DNA was being brought under control and Adam was confident that he could bring his friend back from the edge.
The reasoning and actual science behind the alterations made to Jesse were, however, still somewhat of a mystery. No technique the geneticist knew could have produced a clone like Jesse's new body. The accelerated growth should have left cellular scaring, but it was almost as if Jesse's body had formed naturally, just not quite. Adam was the foremost expert on new mutants and he could not explain exactly how the cloning had been achieved. Finding out who had done this and how and why were Adam's foremost priorities.
End of Chapter 1