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Star Struck
        By Bobbi Todd

The peaceful silence of a mid-summer's night at Charles Xavier's mansion was shattered by a terror filled scream. Lights flicked on in bedrooms throughout the building as the X-Men leaped from their beds to rush to the defense of ... someone.

"Jean!" Cyclops held Jean's hand and she sat, wide eyed, in her bed. "What is it? What's wrong?" She stared through him, sweat beading her forehead. Wolverine and Beast reached the room simultaneously, followed, in short order, by the other X-Men, all in dishevelled sleeping clothes.

Jean took a shuddering breath and finally looked at Cyclops. "There's a mutant in trouble. She's terrified. And in a lot of pain." Jean closed her eyes, and could hear the terrified pleading echoing through her mind. (Please! No more dark! Please! I'm sorry! Please!) "We've got to go after her." Jean go shakily to her feet.

Beast nodded and said, "I'll get the blackbird ready," and turned away from the door.

"Storm," Jean turned to her friend. "She's stronger than I am." Cyclops and Wolverine stared at her in disbelief. "I won't be able to control her by myself."

"I will get what we need from the dispensary." Storm turned and was gone. Wolverine, Rogue, Gambit, and Jubilee hurried away. Cyclops still held Jean's hand.

"We'll find her, Jean."

At the blackbird, the X-Men reassembled, uncertain as to what they would face, but eager to get started. Jean stood in the open hangar door, listening. Suddenly she staggered and almost fell. Rogue steadied her.

"She's ... gone," Jean said in explanation.

"Dead?" Rogue asked.

"No. It felt more like ... a door being closed."

"Can you still find her?"

"I think so."

"Well, we better get goin' then. Ever'body's ready. Which way?"

"South." The blackbird, with the X-Men on board, took to the skies.

The X-Men flew South until well after the sun had risen. Jean, seated next to Cyclops, recoiled as if she had been struck, then fell from her chair, both hands to her head. Wolverine and Rogue helped her back into her seat as Cyclops tried to keep his attention on flying, then Rogue asked,

"What happened, gal?" Jean raised her head and said shakily,

"I think they opened the door." She shook her head gingerly, "She's gone again." She looked out the window of the blackbird. "Just a little further now." She turned to the other X-Men, "I don't know what is being done to her, but if we don't stop it quickly, she will go mad. And then she will be beyond our help."

"What you saying, Chere?" Gambit asked.

"She's saying a crazy telepath ain't gonna be easy to stop," Wolverine snarled. "So we gotta go in fast, one way or the other."

Cyclops landed the blackbird near a large house Jean had pointed out. The X-Men poured out.

"Where, Jean?"

"Down. Right there." Cyclops turned his deadly gaze where Jean indicated and blasted a sloping tunnel in the ground. The X-Men hurried down it and into the underground lab through the smashed wall. Several technicians in white lab coats were getting to their feet, having been knocked down by the blast. Five or six guards scrambled for the automatic weapons which had been knocked from their hands. Most turned toward the X-Men, but one turned toward an enormous cylinder in the center of the room, obviously intending to open fire. In the transparent cylinder was the contorted body of a young woman, screaming soundlessly in terror or pain.

"No!" Jean shouted, reaching out with her mind to stop the guard. The gun flew from his hands as Rogue swooped down upon him, smashing him backwards into a wall. Storm called upon the power of the winds, catching two of the guards and one of the technicians up in a whirlwind. Cyclops blasted the floor in front of a guard, hurling the guard away from the fray. Wolverine bounded into the smashed laboratory, followed closely by Beast and Gambit, with Jubilee, the smallest X-Man, bringing up the rear. Wolverine snarled when he saw the cylinder. It was the same type he had found himself in, so long ago. He leaped toward it.

Gambit stepped in front of Jean, blocking the technician who had shakily raised a handgun and pointed it at her.

"I t'ink not, mon amie." He tossed as charged card at the tech, striking a bank of instrument panels and exploding the whole in a shower of sparks just as Wolverine reached the cylinder. His claws slashed the cylinder. A torment filled shriek struck a tremendous blow through the mind of everyone in the room as the woman's body tumbled from the cylinder. The X-Men, the remaining guards and technicians, all dropped, stunned by the unexpected strike. Wolverine picked himself up, flinching as the terror filled scream continued in his mind. He was convinced that they had arrived too late to help this mutant.

The woman was curled in on herself at the base of the smashed cylinder as Wolverine reached her. He grasped the front of the body suit she was wearing, turning her toward him as he extended his claws, wanting to make a quick, clean kill, to put her out of her obvious misery. As he was about to strike, her odd silver eyes seemed to focus on him and the screaming stopped abruptly. Her hands clutched his arm as he held her.

"Please," she whispered, "hurry!" and she pushed her head back, giving him a clear shot at her throat. He felt the scream beginning to build again and knew she wouldn't be able to stop. He retracted his claws and struck her in the jaw with his fist. The scream stopped as the woman went limp.

The other X-Men began to pick themselves up, shaking their heads. Gambit turned to Wolverine.

"You stop her, no?"

"Yeah. I stopped her."

"Jean!" Cyclops' shout caused them both to turn. Jean Gray lay unmoving. Cyclops lifted her and cradled her in his arms.

"Jean!" She did not respond. Storm hurried to the stricken telepath's side.

"Cyclops, she is breathing, but we need to get her back to the mansion so we may care for her properly."

"Right." Cyclops got to his feet, Jean in his arms, and carried her out of the lab, back toward the blackbird.

Gambit turned back to Wolverine.

"You kill her, mon amie?"

"Not yet." Wolverine snarled, glaring down at the limp figure still in his grasp. Her body was sprawled, her head back, still exposing her white throat. She was a small woman, no larger than Jubilee, and probably not much older. Some of the fury went out of his eyes as he looked at her. She was completely helpless.

"Flamin' hell." Wolverine growled under his breath. He retracted his claws yet again and lifted her slight body to his shoulder. Gambit held his tongue.

"What is this thing, Beast?" Jubilee asked as Beast examined what was left of the instruments and the cylinder.

"It seems to be a sensory deprivation tank, although I've never seen one which was transparent."

That would seem to defeat its purpose. Unless, of course, you were blind."

"Hmmm," Beast said thoughtfully, looking after Wolverine as he disappeared up the tunnel after Cyclops, Jean, and Storm, with the girl over his shoulder. Gambit and Rogue rounded up the stunned guards and technicians.

"What's this stuff for?" Jubilee asked, pointing to a complicated electrical array.

"I don't know. Let us inquire, shall we?"

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