Chapter 8: “Measured Response”

Kitty hated mornings. She always had. Apparently that antipathy wasn’t shared by the residents of the School for Gifted Youngsters. As she lay in bed cursing her alarm clock, hoping against hope that no one really wanted to get up before ten, she heard the sounds of movement all around her. Worse than movement: clear-eyed, willing and eager movement.

Still, she couldn’t really complain. There she was in her room at her new school. The rain had stopped and the sun was shining from behind the curtains. She was waking up in a school full of amazing, intelligent mutants who were going to be her teachers. And she had a new friend in Bobby Drake. Initial assessment: cute even if he wasn’t totally hot. All in all, she felt that things were pretty good. Then, she remembered last night’s news broadcast and the dead mutant in Pasadena. Her adrenaline started pumping and she was suddenly completely alert. The knock on her door almost made her jump.

“Come in,” she said loudly.

The door opened and Ororo stuck in her head. “Are you awake, Kitty?”

“Sure, I was just about to get up.” Kitty thought she would kill to have such beautiful hair.

“I wanted to see how you were doing.,” Ororo said in her soft but certain voice.  “I feel bad about last night; I should have talked to you before you went to bed—made sure you didn’t need to talk about what you saw. But the Professor had us in conference and by the time we were free, you were already asleep.”

“Bobby came to see me. I was okay.”

“He’s a good boy,” Ororo told her and Kitty couldn’t help producing a little secret smile. Ororo raised an eyebrow but said nothing. “Kitty, we need your expertise again. We’re checking media response to the shooting and we were wondering if you could see what’s being said around the Internet.”

Kitty felt a note of excitement strike in her like a clear bell. She always enjoyed being given a chance to show what she could do. Furthermore, her parents had tried to shelter her from any bad news about mutants so the request made her feel doubly appreciated. Her days of hiding were over; she was ready to be part of the action. “Sure. Report by noon?”

“Actually, the Professor would like it right after breakfast.”

“I can do that! I’ll just shower quick and be right down.”

“Excellent. I’ll see you soon.”

By the time she returned from the girl’s bathroom, Kitty was working up a mental list of the sites she would check. As she pulled on a White Sox sweatshirt, she was already booting her laptop. She barely bothered brushing her hair. Kitty in computer land. Sort of like phasing. The material world just didn’t exist.

“Hello?” she asked the screen in exasperation. “Mr. Wifi network, where are you? Damn.” She tucked the laptop under her arm and headed for the network room where she ran a couple of scripts to kick the wireless network into gear. “If I can wake up at this hour, so can you, Mr. Wifi.”

She was already surfing the web, laptop balanced in her left hand, as she passed the rec room where Ororo and Bobby were watching the news while they ate from bowls of cereal in their laps. Bobby reminded her of Scott as he rapidly changed channels in search of commentary on the shooting.

When he caught sight of her, he had a mouthful of cereal and couldn’t do much more than nod in greeting. He looked like he wanted to be doing anything else but watching that footage again. She winked encouragement and headed for the dining room. There she found Professor Xavier and Scott going over coverage of the shooting in the New York Times and the Washington Post respectively and Jean with her headphones on, taking notes in a small journal. Satellite radio? Kitty wondered.

The Professor had a portable phone with him and over the next 15 minutes he took three calls to placate parents who were suddenly in a panic over the security of their soon-to-arrive children. Kitty listened to his professional style—a combination of solicitude and certainty that seemed to convey the message that all their fears were understandable but unwarranted.

“Neither the public nor the U.S. government know that the mansion is a school for mutants, Mr. Sharra,” he explained patiently. “We are taking extraordinary pains to maintain that level of secrecy.” He noticed Kitty watching him and nodded to her, a small smile on his lips. “Yes, we interview all our staff carefully, of course. Extensive background checks, yes.”

Kitty gave him a thumbs up and returned to the blogosphere where long threads were developing as matters of security and human rights were debated. She was trying to keep a cool head as she waded through the pages, but every time she read a line like, “Your next door neighbor might be taking over your mind in your sleep,” she wanted to start screaming, either in frustration or panic; she wasn’t sure. What was missing from the discussions were participants openly admitting to being mutants. They had to be there—either lurking or commenting—but not one was willing to raise a three-fingered, webbed hand and admit to it. Including her.

Ororo and Bobby returned to the dining room looking grim. After returning his cereal bowl to the dirty dish station, he came to join her.

“How’s the box treating us?” she asked him quietly.

“Not good. I feel like I’m a secret menace ready to burn down your local mall and eat your baby.”

“That sounds like Fox News,” she theorized.

“Fox, CNN, doesn’t matter.”

“Everybody,” Xavier raised his voice as he hung up the phone. “I want you all in my office in ten minutes so we can formulate a working plan.”

“Professor,” Scott spoke up,  “I’d like Bobby to get the whiteboards up in the arboretum and south wing classrooms and Kitty needs to get the network working—”

“No, Scott,” Xavier interrupted. “Bobby and Kitty have been involved thus far in this troubling matter. They should be included in the meeting.”

Scott looked at the two students in concern. “But the whiteboards... um, yessir.”

Kitty whispered to Bobby, “Those whiteboards pretty important to him?”

He looked embarrassed. “Don’t ask, okay?”

They finished up their breakfasts quickly and returned to completing their reports in silence. As Kitty headed for Xavier’s office, she saw Scott and the Professor enter ahead of her, deep in conversation, Scott looking distinctly unhappy. Scott closed the door behind them and a few seconds later she stood before it burning with curiosity. She looked around to make sure she wasn’t being observed and then phased the side of her head through so only her ear was on the other side.

“Because, Charles,” Scott was saying with no little passion. “I’m trying to protect them.”

“I appreciate the sentiment, Scott,” Xavier responded calmly, “But how is that even possible? We cannot cut the students off from the outside world. We are trying to prepare them to live in it.”

Scott sighed. “I just wish we could let them be kids while they’re here; learn to use their powers responsibly and train their minds without them worrying that their own country is going to proclaim open season on them the minute they leave us.”

“It’s a lovely vision, Scott and I...”

He paused and then she suddenly heard his voice—the same but different—in her head. *Kitty, if you’re going to join us, I would appreciate seeing more than your ear.*

Blushing hotly, she phased the rest of herself into the room with her eyes lowered in embarrassment just as Jean, Ororo and Bobby—out of breath, with toothpaste staining the corner of his mouth—arrived. They all took their seats, Bobby and Kitty finding a place in the corner.

Xavier called on each of them to report their findings. From every corner of the media, the story seemed to have the same shape. Instead of a sad and shameful tale of a young man gunned down, the angle was that mutants of unknown powers were among us and it was time to take the threat seriously. Each of them looked grim, she noticed, except Bobby who looked more shell-shocked.

The Professor made little comment as they spoke other than to ask for elaboration or clarification, a look of concern and deep concentration furrowing his brow. He then checked his watch and, at the touch of a hidden button, a panel in the antique desk slid aside with a gentle hiss and a spider-like device unfolded. It turned out to be a fancy speakerphone on which Xavier pressed a speed dial button.

A rich, eloquent voice emerged from the speaker. “Good morning, Charles.”

“Good morning, Henry,” Xavier responded. Ororo and Jean both called out ‘hellos’ and Xavier asked, “Can you hear us all?”

Bobby leaned over to Kitty and whispered, “That’s Hank McCoy. He’s a mutant who works in the State Department. Department of Mutant Affairs.”

Her eyes widened. “There’s a Department of Mutant Affairs?” she asked, impressed. Jean looked over at them and brought a silencing finger to her lips.

“I hear you all clearly and, I might add, with distinct relief,” came the voice from the speaker. “Hello, my dear friends.”

Xavier gave McCoy a brief summary of their research, adding his own conclusions and suppositions about how and why the reports were coming out as they were.

“It’s not good, is it, Henry?” he asked.

“Surprising and alarming, I would say,” McCoy responded. “It’s hardly the first such incident we’ve seen in recent years…”

Kitty watched Bobby’s discomfort with surprise. Had he really never heard news stories about mutants and police clashing?

McCoy continued, “…but the story has taken hold of the public imagination in an unprecedented way.”

Ororo folded her arms across her chest. “It’s almost like people were ready to be up in arms about the ‘mutant menace’.”

The Professor nodded. “I agree. We’re witnessing a change in the zeitgeist. The voices calling this a human rights violation have been weak if not completely absent.”

Jean looked up from her notes. “They might be speaking out. But if the media doesn’t want to broadcast those opinions—”

“The Department is preparing a statement,” McCoy interrupted. “We will not mince words. A clear signal must be sent: the law protects mutants the same as any other Americans.”

“But does it, Hank?” Scott asked. Kitty thought his voice sounded sarcastic, bitter. “We’ll only know that for sure if someone is actually prosecuted for this crime.” Jean put a supportive hand on his shoulder.

“Henry,” the Professor said with sudden decisiveness. “I would like to see a draft of your statement as soon as possible. By 10:30 if you can manage it. Perhaps Jean can add some scientific weight to the argument.” He looked at her and she nodded.

Kitty wondered what was going on. Why was Hank McCoy from the State Department taking orders from the Headmaster of a prep school? Why was Dr. Grey?

McCoy’s warm baritone returned. “Scott tells me you almost suited up and flew out to the scene last night. I would have gladly joined you.”

Xavier spoke up quickly. “One moment, Henry. I forgot to mention we have two of the students with us here.” He looked over at them. “Say hello, Bobby.”

Bobby sat up straight and called out a little too loudly, “Hi Dr. McCoy, how are you, sir?”

The Professor continued, “Also with us is Katherine Pryde, our new computer wizard. Children, I’m afraid you’ll have to excuse yourselves at this point. Perhaps you could make Scott a happy man and get the whiteboards in place at last.”

They left the office and walked across the lobby to sit on the steps. Bobby seemed kind of stunned but Kitty was mulling over everything she had just observed.

“Okay,” she offered. “I’m confused.”

He looked at her with curiosity. “About what?”

“Does this place seem like a normal prep school to you? Why are we suddenly in the middle of the media response to the shooting? What did Dr. McCoy mean they were going to fly out to Pasadena?”

“Of course it’s a normal prep school. I mean, not normal; it’s for mutant students, but…” Bobby paused and blinked, as if computing variables. “Actually, there are some weird things. I mean, cool weird but still—”

She grabbed his shoulders and fixed him with an intense stare. “Tell me everything.”

Bobby only hesitated a minute before he began. “Well, there’s the security system. I haven’t seen much, but I get the sense that we could track, like, incoming missiles and stuff if we wanted.”

“Interesting; what else?”

He was warming to the subject now. “Okay, there’s the whole training thing. It’s not just gym class—Scott is going to be teaching us all combat moves. He keeps bringing up some guy named Sun Zoo.”

“Sun Tzu,” she corrected him. “The Art of War.”

“And then there’s the sub-basement. Do you know about the sub-basement?”

She looked around with a paranoid twitch and lowered her voice to a hiss. “We saw them going down there last night, right? What’s there?”

“I don’t know, exactly. Cerebro for one thing—X’s telepathy machine—but I’ve heard weird stuff. Big industrial sounds. Roars like engines. And there was one weekend when Scott took me away to Vermont. We were picking up some industrial kitchen equipment, but I had the feeling that they were doing something big here and they wanted me out of the way. There were tractor marks in the lawn and X was not happy about that.”

Her eyes were shining. “Can you show me the sub-basement?”

“No, it’s all locked down.”

“It doesn’t matter; I can phase us in!”

“Kitty!” he shouted in surprise. They both looked hastily at the closed door of the Professor’s office. He continued in a whisper. “Does the word ‘telepath’ mean anything to you? Does ‘high security’?” He watched her excitement deflate. “We have to trust the teachers. They’ll tell us what we need to know.”

“But—”

“How about we don’t get thrown out before the term even begins?”

She sighed and nodded. “So, what’ll we do now?”

“Whiteboards,” he replied with a smile. “Come on, newbie, follow me.” He headed down the hall in the direction of the arboretum.

No changing the world without whiteboards! she thought ruefully and followed him.






If Mike had been driving, they would never have ended up at the fucking mall. The last place he wanted to be the day after the shooting in Pasadena was in a herd of unthinking consumerist humanity gathered in their temple of choice. But he wasn’t driving; he didn’t even have his license yet. He was in the back seat and it was the newly minted driver Greenstein who was wheeling too fast around corners and generally encouraging the other two guys accompanying them to be jerks. It was Paul Greenstein who was aiming them at the mall.

“Hey, Haddad,” Greenstein yelled from the driver seat, “Stop sulking. You’re making me nervous.” He spun the wheel back and forth and the car waggled in the lane, causing a nearby driver to honk. “See? That was your fault!”

They parked in the massive lot and Mike eyed the endless rows of cars wondering, not for the first time, Who are all these people? The boys wandered down the corridors of themed clothing stores, each selling identical fashions with different names, and Mike felt a kind of desperate depression growing in him. The other three, on the other hand, were in high spirits. They called out to packs of girls who feigned disinterest and generally made a scene until Security was glaring at them threateningly.

Greenstein walked up to one self-importantly serious guard and said, “I’m a mutant! Please don’t shoot me!” He slipped a hand up his t-shirt and began poking it upwards as if an alien were going to burst from his chest. “Oh no, I feel it coming!” The guard tensed. “Oh, no no no!” Greenstein wailed and executed three perfect pit pumps which caused the other two nearly to fall down in hysterics. Mike turned around and walked in the other direction as if he didn’t know them. He wondered when he had gotten so much more mature than his contemporaries.

Alone, he wandered through the mall miserably, stopping at a newsstand to peruse headlines:

“Mutant Showdown in California Mall.” “Police Shoot Out-of-Control Mutant in Pasadena.”

He felt too depressed to even be angry. He looked around at the shoppers and hated them all for not caring about the injustice. He caught a glimpse of himself in the shiny chrome archway of a music store. His hair was longer and more unkempt than it had been in years. In principle, he agreed with his mom’s frequent suggestions that he get it cut before school; but something was preventing him. He looked at the shaggy mop with a kind of fascination—as if there was a different Mike Haddad who might be emerging; one not so eager to be a good boy.

He suddenly felt exposed—as if anti-consumerist sedition were written all over his face. He veered towards an electronics store and pretended to check out some discounted ear-bud headphones on a sales rack by the entrance. He didn’t care about the headphones; he was thinking of Bobby and wondering what would have happened to his friend in a similar showdown with police.

“Can I help you?” came a girl’s voice behind him.

“Huh?” he responded, coming out of his reverie. “Oh, no, sorry. I was just looking.”  But what he was looking at now was a pretty Chinese teen dressed in black pants and a yellow sweater with big yellow hoop earrings.

“Then can I pretend to help you?” she said in a confidential voice. “I can’t spend one more minute in there with that bitch.” She indicated a stuffy-looking manager in a cheap power suit.

Surprised, he smiled at her, staring into the dark depths of her beautiful eyes. He played along with her plan: “What’s the difference between these two models?” and quieter, “My name is Mike.”

“I’m Jubilee,” she replied, meeting his stare with confidence. “And the difference, sir, is that I’m supposed to make you buy that one because we’re overstocked.” Louder, “I think you’ll enjoy the features and comfort.” She dropped her voice again. “What time is it?”

He checked his watch. “3:15.”

“Loretta!” she bellowed in the direction of the ‘bitch’. “Can I take my break now?”

The manager—Loretta—excused herself from the customer she was attending to and stormed up to them.

“Jubilee,” she said tightly, “We do not shout to each other like we’re in a gymnasium. I am with a customer.”

“So am I,” the Chinese girl shot back, flipping a thumb at Mike. She seemed as little intimidated by her manager as she had been by Mike’s probing gaze. “Can I take my break or not?”

“You are pushing it, lady. Fifteen minutes.” She turned on her heel and returned to the customer with an unctuous “Welllllllll, have you made any decision?”

Soon they were sitting over sodas in the food court. Mike watched Jubilee staring at the crowd with barely concealed contempt. Somehow, her mirroring of his own sentiment made him feel better. He quickly developed a technique of covertly checking out the curves in her sweater every time he reached for his drink.

“God!” she muttered. “I will be so happy when I don’t have to come here everyday.”

“Well, considering how much your manager likes you, the day of freedom may be sooner than later.”

Jubilee laughed with a forceful, “Hah!” like a little slap. The smile stayed on her face as she looked him up and down, as if deciding if he was the model she would choose. “It doesn’t matter. I’m back to school next week and I’ll be able to talk my aunt out of her brilliant idea that I should be working.” She put on a puppy face and whined, “But Auntie, it’s more important that I do well in my studies!”

“You live with your aunt?”

“Yup! Just moved here from L.A. in June.”

He was about to ask where her parents were but a string of awful possibilities occurred to him and he decided to save the question for later. He realized he hoped there would be a ‘later’. Instead he asked, “What school are you going to?”

“Lincoln. It looks okay.”

“It is. That’s where I go. You going to be a Junior?”

“Sophomore. I have to repeat a year. Really? You go there? Cool; now I know someone.” She slurped her drink loudly and smiled wickedly around the straw at her own vulgarity. She flipped her hair and gave him that look again. “So what were you hiding from before?”

“Was I that obvious? My friends were being jerks and I was trying to ditch them. Nice, huh?” He wondered if he should be so honest, but that was the way he was. “I’m just in a mood today and a mall is the last place I want to be.”

“Yeah, tell me about it.”

“Especially with all the security idiots looking so excited. Like they’re going to be the next one to pop a mutant for the evening news.”

He watched her freeze up and he cursed his big mouth. Don’t get political right away, asshole! There was an awkward silence before she exhaled audibly, somewhere between a sigh and a shiver.

She was looking at him more obliquely now. “Yeah, that was fucked up,” she said cautiously. “I mean, what did that kid do to deserve a bullet in the heart?”

“Right, exactly. There had to be a way those cops could have calmed him down peacefully. It’s like they didn’t even want to!” Suddenly unable to meet her eyes, he looked at his watch.

“I better get back,” she muttered. “It’s better if I don’t get fired before I ask my Aunt’s permission to quit.” They got up, avoiding each others’ gaze.

He picked up both their paper cups and put them in the garbage. Feeling shy and awkward, he asked, “Uh, can I walk you back to the store?”

A little too quickly she said, “No! I have to hit the girl’s room first so you better just—”

“Yeah,” he replied hastily. “I have to go find my—”

“Right. Nice meeting you, Mike.”

“You, too, Jubilee!” He felt as if he were sliding down a sheer cliff of ice. He watched her turn and walk away and he hated himself for choking.

But then she stopped and turned, shouting back across the food court in that brash voice, “Hey, I’ll look for you in school next week. Save me a seat in the cafeteria or whatever.”

He smiled but couldn’t find any words before she waved and vanished down the corridor to the restrooms.






Bobby and Kitty took the train into Manhattan late that afternoon. Kitty spent the trip reading while Bobby looked out the window, reviewing the events of the past 24 hours. Getting the whiteboards up had been relatively easy, but then after lunch a very short-tempered Scott had joined them in their efforts to make the computer network behave. Xavier had been locked away finalizing his press release but none of them had spoken about the shooting as they worked.

Still, every technical glitch had made them want to snap at each other and the day had become an exercise in forced diplomacy. Bobby had felt sorry for Scott who seemed to have nowhere to place the anger he felt. The only time he had actually referred to the shooting was for a minute over lunch when he had suddenly said, “If I had been there, it might not have been that boy who ended up dead.” Jean had leaned over and squeezed his arm as if she understood something unsaid lurking behind his words.

As the tracks thrummed beneath them, Bobby found himself slipping in and out of consciousness. After a few weeks of sleeping through the night, his insomnia had returned. As usual, he had had no trouble falling asleep but grew restless with dreams around 3 a.m. and was finally awakened by a nightmare. In the dream, Pyro—St. John Allerdyce—and he were walking in a shopping mall (the one near his home in Boston). They were discussing giant robots or something. Pyro had definite ideas about how to fight back if you were attacked by them, as if it were a common occurrence.

Bobby was nodding, repeating back Pyro’s advice to show he was interested. At the same time, he was taking every opportunity to run his eyes over the boy’s body. Pyro was wearing a tight blue t-shirt with a picture of a monkey on the front and Bobby could just see his erect nipples poking through. Sometimes he fell behind so he could watch the way Pryo’s hips and ass moved in his jeans.

Then, just as young poet was telling him, “You have to shoot for the eyes,” they suddenly heard the sound of actual gunfire. People were screaming and running towards them past the glittering shops from the direction of the shooting. Someone must have opened the cages of the pet store, too because dogs and cats were skittering by their feet and parrots were rocketing past their ears. And people, too. Flying people with bright green plumage zooming by overhead.

Bobby watched the bird-people in awe but then the gunfire was growing closer and Pyro grabbed his hand nervously, pulling him into a side corridor. “Come on, Bobby!” he was yelling. “Hurry!” The hand was uncomfortably hot. Pyro pulled open a door at the end of the hall and shouted, “Go in; we’ll be safe!” But just before Bobby ran through the door, he realized there was no room beyond; just a ledge overhanging an endless pit of fire whose red tongues licked up hungrily at him.

“St. John, no. I don’t want to—”

“Don’t worry, it’ll be okay!” Pyro grabbed him and together they plunged naked into the inferno.

It had taken a trip to the kitchen for two bowls of ice cream and, back in his bedroom, 50 push-ups and some quality time with his stash of hand-lotion before he had been able to sleep again.

Bobby looked out the window at passing stands of trees, at small towns with their car washes and Starbucks. Why Pyro? Why did that boy he had met for 30 minutes two months ago still haunt his dreams? Why did he still look for him at the start of every mutant youth meeting?

Bobby and Kitty arrived at the Youth Center around 6:15. Upon entering, they found Andi in a corner of the lobby with Raheem’s arms wrapped around her, their heads close together in intimate discussion. Bobby was usually clueless about things romantic but even he had begun to notice there was something going on between them. I guess the secret’s out, Bobby thought. He motioned to Kitty to follow him as he sauntered up to the couple.

“Are you two having a policy meeting?” he inquired and watched with amusement as Andi all but flew out of Raheem’s embrace, reflexively straightening her jacket. Raheem laughed and put an arm back around her shoulders. Despite her initial embarrassment, she leaned back into his broad chest and sighed.

“No, we’re thinking that it's going to be a crowded meeting. The shooting was big news on every channel today and I think a lot of the kids are going to be shook up.” She suddenly seemed to register Kitty’s presence. “Oh, hi, I’m Andi. You must be Kitty. Bobby texted me that you’d be coming.”

They said goodbye to Raheem and headed upstairs. They set up the room with more chairs than usual while Bobby confidently explained a few ground rules to Kitty.

“Everything that is said here is confidential, obviously; but even so, some of the participants don’t feel comfortable giving their real names. Also, we’ve learned that not everyone wants to say what their power is. Some of them have a lot of shame attached to being a mutant.”

Andi added, “Sometimes, after a few weeks, the shy ones open up more; but some have had pretty bad experiences. Sometimes we see nothing here that even indicates they are mutants.”

“Do you think everyone really is?” Kitty asked and Andi and Bobby looked puzzled. “I’m just wondering if you’re worried that someone might be, I don’t know, a spy or a government agent.”

Bobby shot Andi a worried look. Andi looked thoughtful for a moment before she said, “There’s nothing we can do about that. I doubt our meetings are a secret anymore to anyone worried about the so-called mutant threat.”

Kitty bit a nail thoughtfully. “So are we exposing the participants to danger by bringing them here?”

Andi sighed again. “I don’t know. I do know that we’re helping people who are scared and often feel completely isolated. I have to believe that bringing mutants together is better than all of them—all of you—living alone with your secrets.”

As he had last night, Bobby felt a pit open in his stomach. Was there no place he could feel truly safe? Thank God for the mansion. Then the first arrivals began trickling in and he had to put on his professional face and forget his fears.

The meeting was even more crowded than they had expected and Kitty went with Tonio to get more chairs. The air was tense and before the meeting even got underway, spontaneous group discussions had begun about the murdered mutant boy.

As the meeting progressed, Bobby and Andi heard terrible stories about encounters with police and security guards and they heard the group’s reaction to the anti-mutant rhetoric ramping up in the media. Even Derek, the defiantly open red-faced boy had been too intimidated to leave his apartment until it was time to come down to the Center. His gills twitched nervously.

“It’ll all quiet down again in a week,” said one girl hopefully. She seemed to be comforting herself by stroking a small ball of blue light that sat just above her right hand. “We just have to keep a low profile until then.”

“But it’s not going to get better, Stella!” Derek retorted with annoyance. “If no one jumps on the cops who did this, it’ll send a message to every security jerk in America that they can get away with plugging muties!”

“Derek,” Bobby interjected. “We’ve discussed that that word hurts a lot of us. But your point is valid. Someone needs to send a message out to the police that they can’t get away with this.” He was tempted to mention Xavier’s upcoming press release but wasn’t sure he was supposed to.

The room erupted into a stream of skeptical, furious babbling. It was clear that none of them felt safe anymore. Not in their cities, not in their schools, not at home in many cases.

Lynn and her twin of negative energy spoke up. As the summer had progressed, they had begun speaking in an eerily beautiful double voice. “Andi, what are we supposed to do if we’re attacked, or if we think that we’re in danger? Do we call the cops or not?”

“Do we use our powers to defend ourselves?” asked a boy with the furry, clawed hands of a werewolf.

A goth girl Bobby hadn’t seen before called out, “I read about something on the GenePool the other day.” She was talking about a small but growing mutant chatroom that had recently appeared online. “Someone said there’s this really powerful old mutant—like one who could tear down a building with a wave of his hand—and he’s threatening war if any more mutants are killed.”

The room again became a sea of amazed voices, the lights flickering and coloring, a strange siren-like wail modulating in the background.

Bobby held up his hand and called out loudly over the noise, “Everyone, please! Quiet down.” The room fell relatively silent and Bobby felt a small swell of pride when he saw Kitty looking impressed. “I won’t pretend I’m not shaken up by what happened yesterday. Wow, I can’t go five minutes without seeing the whole scene in my head again. But I think Stella has a point; things will calm down in a couple of days. That doesn’t mean we just shut up and sit on our thumbs. I know Charles Xavier and others are already formulating a response.” He had said that without really thinking about it—but if it was going to be a public release anyway...

A few in the room nodded at this; others looked doubtful as Bobby continued. “Tomorrow, Hank McCoy of the State Department will be talking to the Governor of California and I think it might help a lot. I don’t know anything about this building-wrecking mutant you heard about, but if he even exists, he would just make things worse for us. We have to trust Xavier and McCoy and those who are challenging the system legally.”

“Yeah, trust the system,” Derek responded sarcastically, his eyes burning into Bobby’s. “That’s fine until the next one of us is shot down. What about Lynn’s question? Who do we turn to when we’re in trouble? There’s no one who gives a shit and you know it.”

Bobby looked back at him, unsure. Everyone in the room seemed to be waiting for his response. Now there was real silence—a deep void of longing.

“I give a shit, Derek,” he said finally. He got up and moved to the old blackboard at the back of the room, hunting around until he found a sliver of chalk. “Does everyone have something to write with? Borrow from your neighbor if you need to. Here, I want you to write down this number.” He wrote the mansion’s phone number on the board. “If you’re in danger, you call and I’ll do what I can to help.”

He turned back to the group. Kitty and Andi both looked shocked and Andi was shaking her head and mouthing ‘No’.

Bobby ignored her. “If I’m not there, you ask for a guy named Scott. We won’t let you down.”

The meeting closed down in a calmer mood than it had begun. Bobby watched kids hugging and programming each other’s phone numbers into their cells. He felt hopeful seeing community happening. That’s how we’ll make it through this bad time, he thought.

After the meeting, they stacked the chairs in silence. Bobby could see from the set of Andi’s mouth and way she banged the chairs into place that she was pissed off. Kitty, too seemed put out and though he knew what they were going to say, he didn’t really want to hear it. Finally, after they had pushed the towers of chairs into the corner of the room, Andi said, a little out of breath, “That was the wrong thing to do, Bobby. You can’t just open your whole life to people’s problems. They’ll eat you up if you don’t set limits.”

Bobby took a deep, sibilant breath and stared at her, his jaw working but no words finding their way out.

Andi’s continued, trying to reign in some of her frustration. “Look, I know you were trying to do the right thing, but if you really want to become a social worker, you’ll have to learn to draw a clear line between yourself and your clients. The world is too screwed up for you to fix all alone and if you try, you’ll just burn yourself out.”

Bobby’s voice was tight, as guilt and indignation warred in him. “I didn’t plan to give them the phone number, okay? But then it seemed like I had to. Like it was the right thing to do.”

From behind him, Kitty suddenly called out angrily. “But you can’t just give everyone access to the Mansion, Bobby. What were you thinking? It’s supposed to be a secret sanctuary!”

He spun around like he was powered by one of Ororo’s whirlwinds and his eyes blazed like Scott’s red-hot beams. “We're supposed to help mutants, Kitty! Isn’t that the whole fucking point?! Is there something else we’re supposed to have learned from Pasadena, or am I crazy?” Kitty gasped and took a step backwards but Bobby couldn’t stop. “You show up out of nowhere 24 hours ago and suddenly you’re speaking for the school! Who do you think you are?! I’ve been there all summer! I’m the one who—”

But then his jaw shut with a click. His furious features turned red he and stormed out of the room.

Ten minutes later, they found him in the lobby, sulking on a couch, his arms folded across his chest. Andi came and sat down beside him but Kitty hung back by the stairs. He couldn’t look either of them in the eye.

“I’m sorry if I was harsh with you, Bobby,” Andi said quietly. “It was a really difficult session today and you were so supportive and helpful. I just want you to be careful.”

Bobby’s voice was gruff and choked. “I am careful. But I won’t sit by and see more of us getting shot.”

“I understand. Listen, Bobby, you’re going to have to tell Charles that you gave out the number. He’ll need to implement a plan in case any of the kids do phone.”

Bobby’s clenched expression let go and panic crossed his face. For some reason, this hadn’t really occurred to him. Raheem came out of his office and Andi rose to meet him. Reluctantly, Bobby turned his head to find Kitty. He expected her to be looking hurt and angry, but she seemed as nervous as he was. She cautiously approached him and sat at the far end of the couch.

“You still mad at me?” she asked quietly, genuinely concerned.

“No, you were right. I totally breached the school’s security. The Professor and Scott are going to kill me. Shit! I didn’t check for messages. Hold on.” He stretched his legs out straight and arched his back so he could pry his phone from his pocket. He beeped it into life, pushed several buttons and listened, his brows twitching in agitation. He hung up. “Scott brought the Professor into Manhattan for some meeting with the media. X is staying in town tonight and Scott’s going to pick us up...” He checked his watch. “...in about an hour.”

“What’ll we do till then?”

“The Youth Center closes in five minutes so we can’t stay here. Hey, you hungry? There’s a coffee place down the block that makes this amazing pecan pie.”

“Chocolate pecan?” she asked, as if the coming of a new age of global peace and understanding was at hand.

 “I think they do, in fact, have such a variety of pie, Ms. Pryde,” he replied with the first real smile he had managed in hours.

“Show me!” she commanded.

They found Andi in Raheem’s office and said goodnight. Bobby made a point of hugging her so she’d know he wasn’t still angry.

Half an hour later, he and Kitty were chasing the last crumbs of pie around their plates with their forks in the happy hubbub of the coffee house and Bobby felt some semblance of peace returning. He caught Kitty watching him with a furrowed brow.

“What,” he inquired with feigned vanity. “Is it that stupid pimple on my nose?”

“No, although it has been grossing me out for hours. No, I wanted to apologize for yelling at you. I had no right at all to act like such an imperial princess. You did what you thought was right. I think the school is going to have to find a way to help out mutants in trouble. We can’t just leave them out there while we’re hiding in our little castle.”

Bobby looked at her with gratitude. “I’m still not looking forward to telling Xavier and Scott. Shit, don’t you sometimes wish you could just hide in the background forever?” No, he thought. She probably never wished that.

“Bobby, what did Andi mean about you becoming a social worker?”

He looked at her, assessing how much to tell. He began quietly, as if afraid to say the words out loud. “I’ve been thinking—really thinking for about a month now—maybe it’s what I want to do.” Bobby’s excitement mounted as he continued. “I got the idea participating in the youth group. I was really shy at first, but then it got easier, you know, to talk to the kids, to say the right thing. Andi thinks I’d be really good so I asked Raheem and he told me what schools I should go for and everything.”

“Bobby, you can’t be a social worker,” she said, as if he were proposing bungee jumping from the moon.

“What? Why not?”

“X will never go for it. It’s not what he has planned for us.”

“What are you talking about?” Bobby asked, his voice rising again. “I can become anything I want!”

“No, you can’t!” she shot back as if he were missing the obvious. “We’re the best of the young mutants, Bobby. Our powers put us all in Class 4 or at least high Class 3. And not only that, we’re top students. Why do you think they picked us for the first year of the school? They’re grooming us to be professionals: important doctors, lawmakers, business leaders, senior research scientists.”

“But… why? I thought the Professor just wanted to help mutants.” Bobby felt like he had missed a memo again and Kitty Pryde—just arrived—was once again ahead of the curve.

She rolled her eyes. “He does! He wants us to be examples for the world of what mutant-kind can be! He wants us to change public opinion through our influence and example. Look at the facts, Bobby. You told me yourself; it’s not just a school: there are special defenses, secret labs. X is working with people in government and the media. I’m still confused about all the paramilitary training, but this is big!

“‘Big’ like bad?”

“No, ‘big’ like awesome! Our school is ground zero in the fight for mutant rights! Xavier is clearly the one calling the shots. Even to the government!”

“But what can he do?”

“With connections? Everything!” Her eyes shone with excitement. “He’s like the mutant Martin Luther King! And we’re right in the middle of it all!”

Bobby stared at her, half furious, half thrilled. “How do you know all this? Why did the Professor tell you and not me?”

She rolled her eyes again, a habit he might grow to hate. “I don’t know. People tell me stuff; they always have. But he didn’t actually spell it out. I got it partly from what he said and partly from reading the signs. I’ve met people like X. My parents have a lot of friends in NGOs and the UN and stuff. Foundation people who want to change the world. I know that eager look. I can smell the subtext.”

“So why can’t I be a social worker? I want to help mutants, too!” To his embarrassment, this came out as a whine.

“Bobby,” she said, either supportive or patronizing, he wasn’t sure. “There’s nothing wrong with being a social worker. But it’s not—you know—as sexy as policy advisor to the President.”

Bobby felt itchy with confusion. He tapped his fork, he dropped it on his plate. He ran fingers through his hair, shaking his head. “It all sounds like a stupid conspiracy movie! Like we’re all just pawns in some game, Kitty.” His eyes widened. “Oh, shit! That’s why X wasn’t interested in any of the kids from the youth group! Every week I would tell him about someone, thinking he’d be glad to help another mutant. But he was always non-committal—bored even. But now I get it. They’re not prime candidates for his big plan. Not elite. This is a nightmare!”

“Okay, get a grip, Mr. Drama.” Kitty said a bit harshly. “Xavier is doing this to help mutants.” She suddenly realized her voice was too loud. She looked around the coffee shop but no one seemed to have noticed them at all. She continued more quietly. “And he thinks this is the best way to do it.”

“But… it’s so creepy,” he whispered back.

“Doesn’t it at least make you feel good that you are one of his chosen few?”

“That makes no sense, frankly. I understand why he would pick you, but I’m just—”

“Don’t even start, Bobby Drake! You are awesome. You totally deserve to be one of ‘Xavier’s Saviors’.”

Bobby laughed at the name despite himself. “No, that’s too religious. How about ‘Charlie’s Angels!’”

A nasty smile bloomed on her lips. “That’s been done. ‘Xavi’s Navy!’” she tried.

“No,” he breathed, his eyes widening. “How about ‘The X-Men’?!”

“Ooh! Sexy! Also sexist, but definitely sexy.”

He suddenly looked serious again. “I don’t like it. I feel used.”

She put a hand on his. “I know. But I think we’re at least being used for something good.”

“I hope so, Kitty.” He looked at the time on his cell phone. “Hey, we should be in front of the Youth Center in, like, five.”

They paid for their pie and headed up the block in silence, lost in their respective thoughts. At one point, Kitty slipped her hand into Bobby’s and he took it without a word. Bobby wondered what he had gotten himself into. What were Xavier’s plans for him? Were the others all in on it? Was Scott? Was he trapped in a cult? Maybe they’d all end up in jail! Or maybe they would be heroes. He looked over at the girl beside him. She was smart and clearly not as naive as he was about the ways of the world. If she was willing to follow where Xavier led, maybe it would be okay.

They arrived at the steps of the Center and sat down. They were still holding hands and Bobby was still looking at Kitty—at her thick brown hair blowing in the evening breeze, at the skin of her neck as it rose from her t-shirt. She turned and met his eyes and he felt a kind of wave of energy move through him that made the world sway.

She leaned in to him, raising her lips to his and closing her eyes. He blinked dumbly for a minute and then completed the circuit with his own lips. The kiss was just the barest touch for a moment and then the wave picked up speed, moving through his body and lighting it up. He felt her lips open and her tongue touch his. He opened up his mouth in response and pressed his head into hers, his tongue moving urgently.

She giggled and took his head in her hands, pulling away a few inches. “Gently, Bobby, take your time.” And she reunited them. He felt like a dork for a second but then thought, Idiot, you’re kissing her, just do it! His dick hardened and his mind swirled. A car pulled up by the curb and the horn honked. They turned and saw Scott behind the wheel of the Professor’s Mercedes. Bobby panicked, pulling himself upright and straightening his shirt reflexively. Kitty, on the other hand, seemed completely nonplussed. She waved and stood, tossing her hair as she walked to the car, leaving him sitting foolishly and blinking in confusion, a deep blush coloring his face.

Kitty hopped into the backseat as Scott stepped out of his door, stretching his arms and breathing the sweet late-summer air. He looked up at Bobby and a grin stretched his features. He waggled his eyebrows like a bad comic and said, “You coming, big guy?”

Bobby rose, surreptitiously adjusting his bone and walked quickly over to the passenger door. He climbed in, staring straight ahead, saying nothing as Scott got back behind the wheel and pulled out into traffic.

“You kids having a good night?” Scott asked through his grin.

“Just fine, thank you, Mr. Summers,” Kitty replied primly. “This is my favorite time of year.”

Bobby said nothing and looked at no one, just stared out his window. He had a sudden vertiginous feeling that he was a stranger in his own life. How had this happened? How had he woken up a mutant? How had he come to a school which was more than a school? Who controlled his destiny? Then the memory of the kiss awoke again on his lips and tongue. He turned suddenly to look back at Kitty who was smiling at him with disarming confidence. He smiled shyly back and then looked again out the window as Scott began whistling tunelessly.

They crossed the bridge out of Manhattan.

Chapter 9

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