Chapter 14: “The Yellow and the Black, Part 1”

“No, no, no, no, no, NO,” Bobby moaned, shaking his head like a dog who’d just been sprayed in the nose by a skulking skunk.

“Bobby,” Kitty began cautiously and when he didn’t stop, snapped, “Bobby! You have to calm down.”

He ignored her and turned to the driver, “Ezra, turn this car around right now. I’m serious.” He banged his fist on the back of the driver’s seat for emphasis.

“Hey, man, I’m just the hired help. She’s the boss,” Ezra responded, his voice unconcerned. He pushed in the cigarette lighter on the dashboard.

Kitty was back on her knees, facing him. She placed a hand gently on his shoulder. “Bobby, listen, I’ll explain everything,”

Bobby didn’t want to hear. He wanted to tell her it wasn’t safe without a seat belt but he realized that was the least of their problems.

“Ezra, exit 9W coming up,” she cautioned and her older cousin dutifully made a turning signal and changed lanes. “After we talked to X, I started thinking a lot about doing this. Then, about a week—”

“Don’t explain, just tell him to turn us around! We are going to be in so much trouble—”

“I’m sorry,” she snapped in sudden annoyance, pulling her hand away, “but this is about bigger things than a perfect attendance record, Bobby.”

His face darkened. “You’re sorry? Well, I’m glad to hear that, at least. What are you sorry for? Making me the bad guy after Lance left? That must have been convenient.”

“Look, I didn’t mean to—”

Bobby ignored her and pushed on. “Or is this the apology you didn’t make when you waltzed back in with Times article? Suddenly, when you needed me, I was your friend again; is that right?”

Kitty bit her lip and looked a bit shaken.

“Or are you sorry for lying to me, misleading everyone who’s been trying to support you while you were secretly plotting this…this mission?!”

Her face fell and she muttered weakly, “You’re right, Bobby. I was mad and there was no one around to… to blame. God, I’m such a bitch. I am really, really sorry.”

As a tear appeared in his friend’s eye, Bobby’s anger twisted into a knot of frustration and regret. “Shit, don’t cry, Kitty, you’re not a bitch. Your… your boyfriend was gone. It wasn’t fair. I guess I understand.”

“Thanks.” She dabbed at her eye and sighed.

“Kitty, think about this.” Bobby said calmly, friend to friend. “It’s not too late, let’s go back to the mansion.”

The lighter popped out and Ezra coolly lit a cigarette. Bobby glared; he hated when people smoked in closed cars.

“We have to do something,” Kitty said with great seriousness. “We can’t let Lance get fucked up by some incompetent quack who cares more about money than mutants.”

At the open mention of mutants, Bobby looked nervously at Ezra. “He knows?” he asked Kitty.

“Hey, it’s cool, Bob,” Ezra said, exhaling noxious smoke. “Kitty told me last year. She even helped me raid my dad’s liquor cabinet with her (what do you call it?) ‘phrasing?’”

“Phasing,” Kitty answered looking a bit embarrassed. “Look, Bobby, X can’t do anything to help. His hands are tied.”

“But we don’t even know anything bad is happening, Kitty!”

“Right, and that’s why we’re not necessarily going to do anything when we get there,” she explained patiently.

Bobby blinked. “We’re not? Aren’t we going to, uh, bust him loose or something?” He realized he had been imagining a big prison break scene. He had to admit, it had been kind of thrilling to think of.

“I just want to take a look at the place,” she continued in soothing tones. “I want to talk to Lance in person and make sure he’s not getting into any big, dumb Lance trouble.”

Bobby smiled ruefully. “Always a possibility. And if we do find out he’s in trouble, we contact Xavier and Scott?” Kitty sat back down and looked out the window, not answering. Having calmed down, Bobby began to worry again. “Kitty? We’ll get right out of there and call for help, right?”

“Bobby, remember when X said that he couldn’t do anything if no laws were being broken?”

Warily he replied, “Yeah…”

“And then he said, ‘we may have to resort to other alternatives.’” She turned around and looked at Bobby, the fire relit in her eyes.

“Kitty…”

“Don’t you think he was practically asking us to do this?!”

Bobby’s eyes went wide again. “NO! He most definitely was not! Kitty, you’re talking about breaking into a hospital, damaging property—”

“Kidnapping,” their driver added helpfully.

“Shut up, Ezra,” Kitty snapped.

“Just being nice to your friend, Kit.”

She turned back to stare accusingly at Bobby. “And you’re fine with them jeopardizing his brains? Cutting parts off him like a Thanksgiving turkey until his stupid parents are satisfied?!”

The point hit Bobby hard and he couldn’t respond. “Kitty, we’ll be in so much trouble,” he finally moaned.

He knew as soon as he said it that she would take his weakness for compliance; and, indeed, she turned around and took her seat, spine erect, eyes scanning the road. “Ezra, Taconic State Parkway, merge here,” she ordered coolly and he complied. “And give me a cigarette.”

“Yes, ma’am,” he replied in a breezy, amused tone, digging in his coat pocket.

Bobby clenched his fist and pounded his thigh. He found a lump in his pocket: the X-phone Scott had given him. He started to reach for it, imagining the phone call to Scott, imagining forcing Kitty to do the right thing. But was it the right thing? Was he just covering his cowardice by sticking to the rules? Maybe Kitty was really the virtuous one here.

Shit!

He was a prisoner of the car, of the situation, of this crazy girl who was lighting her cigarette in front like she was the cool spy in the cool spy movie. As she exhaled dramatically, he opened his window in retaliation. Cold wind snapped into his face, blowing his curls askew. It felt great; the ice in his veins sang with pleasure.

Kitty turned around with eyes narrowed but when he returned her look with a defiant glare, she adopted a more accommodating tone. “Uh, Bobby, don’t you feel cold with that open?”

“Not at all,” he snapped and watched with some satisfaction as she wrapped her arms around herself and brought her knees to her chest. Head half out the window, he watched the yellow sodium lights shoot past as they plunged deeper into the black night.

***

Mike Haddad—lately of the hair metal band Lipstick and Leather—nursed his embarrassment in the back seat of his father’s car while Jubilee gawked and occasionally called out raucously to other costumed revelers slipping in and out of the bars and clubs in Allison/Brighton. Witches tipped their hats to her and pulled their cloaks tighter around them against the cold as their car slipped around the corner. He almost wished he and Jubilee had taken the MBTA in from the ‘burbs, but his dad had had to promise her aunt he would drive them or she would never have been allowed to come.

“Turn into that parking lot there, Mr. Haddad,” Jubilee called out excitedly. “There! On the right!”

Mike was less than enthusiastic about being dragged to a party full of strangers but he was definitely enthusiastic about Jubilee’s costume. After she had painstakingly dressed him for over an hour back at his house, she had vanished into the bathroom for just a few minutes before emerging to take his breath away. Her costume suggested a ringmaster from a sexy, adult circus. She wore a glitter-covered black top-hat with matching glitter bow-tie, thigh-high black suede boots and a well-tailored black jacket with tails over black leather shorts and—shining through like a buttercup in a battlefield—a bright yellow vest with gleaming silver buttons.

Her costume had produced an embarrassingly enthusiastic response from his father and another wave of cold from his mother who was no more pleased with it than she had been with his. He was going to have to do something to get his mom onside about Jubilee.

The car turned into a dingy lot, surrounded on two sides by an old factory. There were signs of new businesses having taken over the old hulking structure—small manufacturers and wholesalers—but they were all closed for the night, dark and deserted. Mike felt a strange dread, like they were doing some kind of Mafia meet-up far from the bright, warm places where normal people were safely passing the evening.

He was about to ask what they were doing in such a desolate spot when Jubilee pointed towards the corner of the lot. Above a small, metal door painted shiny black and encrusted with sparkles, a spider web of eerie blue neon seemed to have ensnared the red neon letters that spelled out ‘The Spiderhole’. At the door stood a bouncer—Mike figured him at 6’4” and easily 250 pounds—with a star tattoo over much of his face. He was checking the backpacks and purses of a small group of Halloween-bedecked kids entering the club. Jubilee was all but bouncing in her seat and grabbed his hand as if to stop herself from floating away.

Mr. Haddad pulled up opposite the door and Jubilee immediately jumped out, dragging Mike with her. His dad opened a window and said, “11:15 sharp, kids.”

“Yes, Mr. Haddad, thanks a lot!” Jubilee called and began to move towards the door. Mike stopped to talk to his father and her momentum carried her away from him, running to greet a friend who was also just arriving.

Mike looked into his father’s face and saw the worry there. “It’ll be fine, dad,” he said with what he hoped sounded like confidence. “Jubes has been here a lot and she says there’s never any real trouble. It’s all ages; that means no alcohol.”

Mr. Haddad shook his head ruefully. “I don’t like how far you are off the main street. I wonder if the police even come down here. You have your cell phone?” Mike nodded. Mr. Haddad sighed. “Your mother would be most unhappy to learn I left you in such a place; but I suppose I spent my teenage years in some equally unsavory venues. Very well, I trust you to make sensible decisions to protect yourself and your young lady.”

Mike smiled. “Don’t worry, dad. My ‘young lady’ can take care of herself better than you think.”

At that moment, Jubilee shouted to him in anything but a ladylike tone: “C’mon, Haddad! The party’s not gonna wait for us!”

Father and son exchanged another smile but Mike noticed his father looking at the deserted street with concern before he pulled the car out of the lot and vanished into the night. Mike joined Jubilee at the door where she was saying hi to the massive bouncer as he looked into her purse.

“I hear you got new ink, Wolf!” she enthused and without saying a word, he tilted his shaved head downwards to show her the crescent moon and three stars that adorned the pinnacle of his dome. “Nice,” she told him appreciatively. He rose again to his full height and gave Mike a darkly appraising look. Feeling intimidated by the silent figure, Mike lifted his arms from his side to show he was carrying nothing.

“He’s with me, Wolf,” Jubilee said with a wink. The big man nodded and suddenly she was pulling Mike through the door, down a dim, vertiginous staircase and into a single, large basement room throbbing with happy dark beats, blinking lights in blue and red, and at least 50 kids packed in like sardines... that is, if sardines had dyed black hair and black makeup. As Jubilee led him through the crowd, he saw dozens of variations of the basic goth look but he also noticed more ornate vampires, werewolves and other creatures of the night, elaborately sewn and glued together for Halloween.

As at school, a surprising number of people seemed to know Jubilee and to be happy to see her, as if the party could only now begin. He followed in her wake, nodding when he was introduced, though he couldn’t really catch any names over the music.

He spotted Rayen pushing through the crowd to give Jubilee an excited hug and Mike was surprised to find her beautiful. At school, she carried her height and weight with embarrassment, trying in vain to be invisible. Here at the Spiderhole, she was in her element—at home and sure of herself. Suddenly, she wasn’t a freak; she was a startling Amazon, glamorous and powerful.

Something whizzed past his head and he ducked. He spun around to see what it was and noticed a skinny girl dressed like a debauched Victorian maid waving her hand in the air. Around her flew a cheap rubber bat. Mike realized it was following the movements of her outstretched arm. The bat circled her head and then headed for a boy in spiked black hair and a floor-length black coat. When the bat struck him in the back of the head, he jumped and his skin flushed red then yellow then blue before he turned around and good-naturedly told the bat’s mistress to fuck off.

Mike felt his breath catch. He began looking everywhere at once, turning and turning in the gyre of the crowd, realizing that the fangs on that vampire were real, that one girl behind him was semi-translucent and a boy next to her had phosphorescent antennae. The room was full of mutants!

He felt Jubilee take his arm. She leaned in to kiss his cheek and shout into his ear over the music, “Do you like it?”

He nodded mutely, dumb happiness washing across his face. A short, pale boy passed and smiled up at him. His tight black t-shirt read, “Kurt Cobain was a mutant.”

***

“Who’s there? I know you’re hiding… Show yourself!”

“Oh, shit,” Terry whimpered and squeezed herself deeper into the couch between Sam and Ororo. On the big screen TV in the rec room, ‘The Betrayers’ was unfolding with a predictable mix of suspense and violence. In a suburban backyard, a well-proportioned, dark-haired young man (of the kind the girls tended to call “hot”) was brandishing a flashlight like a weapon and walking with foolish bravado straight into what was certain to be his imminent demise.

Ororo gave Terry a reassuring squeeze. She looked around the room at the bonds of trust and commitment that had formed in the two months these students had known each other. That she should be part of such a community was a wonderful and unexpected bonus when she thought she had merely signed on as a teacher. What a contrast it was to the misery she had known as a lonely teen; a proud, solitary girl who worked hard to convince herself that she needed no friends.

She had been 14 when she came to the U.S. with Professor Xavier. Her African mother and White American father were dead and the years following their deaths had taught her lessons she wished she had never had to learn. She knew she was lucky compared to other immigrants; she already spoke English and was arriving in her new country to live in affluence—but all the factors that eased her transition also made her alienation more keen. She fit in with neither the white nor the few black students at the private high school the Professor had enrolled her in. She didn’t get the jokes, didn’t speak the lingo and, having lived her early life with two zealous activists in Africa, she found herself looking down on the seemingly frivolous interests of her peers.

And, of course, there were her powers. Freak storms battered her school all too often in her first year there. At home in the mansion, she would work with Xavier to prevent her emotions from creating havoc with the weather; but in the end, the most reliable method was to turn her back on those emotions altogether. To distance herself. To forego passion, laughter and love until she could find someone who wasn’t afraid to knowingly commit themselves to a weather witch.

“Kevin, is that you?” the boy onscreen barked with nervous machismo. “I’ll kill you if you’re messing with me, little bro!” With a loud crash, a heavy planter dislodged itself from the wall and would have killed him if he hadn’t leaped away.

“I told you, Terry,” Sam explained excitedly. “The football guy always buys it first. Him or the slut!”

Ororo’s mind drifted from the movie as she observed the children around her. Roberto and Neal, though from homelands as far away as hers been, had grown up in the world of the privileged which now shared a single global culture. American genre movies were no more strange to them than to any of the other kids who watched with quickening pulses. Dani, of course, wasn’t frightened. She seemed, if anything, amused by the tale, perhaps because it was her power to induce worse nightmares than anyone in Hollywood could ever envision. Still she shared the good-humored banter and the popcorn with her friends. Even Jones had woken out of his flatness to become a normal kid once the show had started.

If anyone was an outsider here, it was Rahne who, with her sheltered, religious upbringing, looked the most shocked by the movie. She was sitting with her back very straight, clicking her long, sharp nails together in a strange ritualistic pattern. Perhaps, Ororo theorized, she was counting an imaginary rosary.

Ororo noted the natural tendency of a group to leave the outsider alone. Out of respect? Out of fear? She now understood that it wasn’t necessarily malice. Still, it was all too easy to see herself in Rahne and to feel hurt on her behalf. She could remember sitting in just such a detached, erect posture; a tall girl with a mature beauty whose long white hair was brushed to a shine and tied in a braid, alone in a crowded room reading history books, looking into the past for fellowship that wasn’t available around her.

Lost in her reminiscences, Ororo had managed to miss the movie’s first death. It must have been impressive because it drew a universal gasp and at least two screams.

“It was his brother,” Doug said with authority. “He killed him.”

“No way, we just saw him up in his bedroom!” Sam countered.

“It is possible that he can teleport,” Neal hypothesized.

Scott and Jean entered at that moment and curled up on a large pillow on the floor as Peter passed them a bowl of Margit’s Halloween popcorn, mixed with black raisins and chunks of bright orange dried cantaloupes.

“What did we miss?” Scott asked, taking a generous handful from the bowl and downing it in one.

“After one inning,” answered Terry with a manic grin, “the score is evil monsters: 1, humans: 0.”

***

Bobby watched from the parked car as Kitty sprinted across the lawn of the Turcott Clinic for Advanced Genetic Disorders and disappeared into the shadows along the west side of the building. She had said she’d come and get Bobby after she did an initial reconnaissance.

Bobby could almost hear his pounding heart in the eerie silence of the quiet neighborhood. Now was the time for him to act! He should admit that he was in over his head, pull out the X-phone and call Scott– No! He couldn’t stomach such a chicken-shit betrayal of his friend. Okay, then, he should leave the car and try to find Kitty; pull her out before they got in big trouble. Every option seemed to lead to a dead end of self-loathing.

He was relieved when Ezra broke the terrible silence by turning on the sound system. Pulsing electronic beats filled the car like a more palatable smoke. The music was soothing but with a strange sense of desperate longing. A beautiful female voice drifted on top of the beats and Bobby closed his eyes to listen.

I can see your secret
Hiding in the corner of your eyes
Hiding in the way you tell your lies
The way you bear the weight without a word.

Can I share your secret...?

Bobby felt himself drift away on the intimate, confessional voice. His heart and mind slowed and he felt something inside himself give up and accept his situation. He knew he was going to just go along with whatever Kitty wanted. It was so much easier to just live in the now. Consequences seemed too far away and, frankly, too awful to contemplate.

“Who is this?” he asked Ezra.

“The Dazzler,” he replied, seemingly without a care in the world, with no worries that he was transporting two truants on an illegal mission. Bobby kind of admired that attitude. Ezra reminded him of Paul Greenstein back in Boston; never serious but not really flighty either. With guys like that, their very flexibility had a kind of weight.

There was something magic in the moment—the voice seemed to exude a light that illuminated this strange adventure and Bobby could see himself from outside. He was strong, he was the one Kitty wanted at her side on this mission. He was cool, listening to trip hop with Ezra in their getaway vehicle.

Can I share your secret?
I’ll sink into the beauty of your sea
Diving deep to set your beauty free
Searching for that siren song I heard...

He was startled out off his reverie by a knock on the window. He looked out and there was Kitty, gesturing to him. He climbed out of the car and joined her in the fresh air.

“It doesn’t look like security is a big deal,” she explained, a little out of breath. “There’s one fat rent-a-cop guard and he’s doing his rounds.”

“Where’s Lance?” Bobby asked excitedly. “Did you see him?”

“Nope. The patients are all in their rooms and the lights went into some kind of night mode at 9 o’clock. You ready?”

“I’m kind of scared,” he admitted.

“I think it’s going to be easy. We just have to watch out for nurses—three, I think—and the guard.”

The driver’s window went down and Ezra asked laconically, “What’re my orders, Kit? Should I fire some rockets in if you send up a flare?”

She smiled, “You just wait here and try not to fall asleep. If you see us running, get ready to move fast.”

“Cool. And I got my cyanide pill between my teeth just in case.”

Bobby did not find that funny. He followed Kitty across the front lawn and up to the main entrance which was dark but for the spill of light from the lampposts over the parking lot.

“Shouldn’t we be sneaking in the back?” he said anxiously in a whisper.

“No, that’s where everyone is. The reception area is the quietest place now. Okay, hold on.” She phased through the front door and unlocked it so he could slip inside. “I need you to stay here in reception for a minute while I figure out where to go first.”

“But what if someone comes?” he hissed in a panic, not having imagined they would be separated.

“Go wait on those chairs in the alcove. I saw the guard in here before so I don’t think he’ll come back until he does rounds again. If he does, you can duck behind the couch. Back in a minute.”

Before he could think of any more questions to delay her, she turned and vanished through the wall behind the receptionist’s deserted desk.

Bobby retreated to his alcove and sat down as ordered. Being in a doctor’s office after hours was kind of surreal. He could imagine the place full of families awaiting consultations, canned music playing and the receptionist answering the phone with reassuring cheeriness.

His legs twitched with tension as he watched the wall for Kitty’s reappearance. Having nothing better to do, he flipped through a glossy lifestyle magazine called “Modern Woman Monthly”. The endless pages of useless advertising and dubious advice held little to distract him until he came across a quiz entitled, “10 Ways to Find Out If He Really Likes You.” Looking back at the door to make sure he wasn’t observed, he pulled out his pen and began filling out the quiz.

It was another five minutes before Kitty phased through the wall and called to him with hushed insistence. Flustered, he dropped the magazine and had to kneel on the floor to retrieve his pen. Number 3: Does he ever call just to let you know he’s thinking of you?

Once he had joined her, she brought him over to a fire plan map on the wall and gave him a quick rundown. “The ward is laid out like a capital letter ‘A’, but with a flat top, not a point, see?” He nodded. “We’re at the right foot of the ‘A’. Beyond this door is the east corridor. The nursing station is the cross line of the ‘A’. I think the surgery and other medical areas are in the basement.”

Bobby pointed at a large room off the west corridor. “What’s that?”

“Something called the dayroom. Just follow me; I’ve got it covered, okay?”

He nodded again and Kitty ducked her head through the door, the rest of her body remaining in the waiting room. Bobby was uncomfortably reminded of ducks swimming on the surface of a pond with their heads underwater. She pulled her head back in and whispered, “Let’s go. Quickly and quietly!”

She tugged open the door and soft light flooded through from the corridor beyond. He followed as they ran down the hall of a hospital ward. Like any hospital, there was a sense of scrubbed sterility and utility. There were specialized equipment trolleys parked here and there and railings lined the wall to help the infirm walk. Unlike other hospitals, this one had more hard wood and polished aluminum as well as expensive-looking paintings on the wall complete with donor plaques.

The ceiling lights were muted for night but there was more than enough illumination for anyone to see them easily. Kitty came to an abrupt halt in front of a room numbered “1001”. With an all-too-audible click, she turned the lock on the door, opened it and pushed him quickly inside. Before he could ask what this room was, she closed the door behind him, leaving him standing inside alone. Panic took him and then doubled when he heard her lock the door from outside. What is she doing? he thought. Is this some kind of trap?! Xavier wants me sent to the clinic! He’s working with my parents to get rid of my powers! But then Kitty phased through the door and stood beside him.

“Okay,” she said, in a whisper. “We’ll be safe in here for now.”

His heart still pounding, he took in his surroundings. They were in a private hospital room. The lights were turned low and he heard the soft hum of diagnostic equipment and caught the smell of disinfectant in the air.

He jumped as a small lamp on a nightstand was snapped on. Bobby saw a girl about their age sitting up in bed, long hair spilling down over the shoulders of her hospital gown. She was staring at them with interest. There was an IV dripping into her arm and Bobby suppressed a shudder. He hated needles.

“Bobby,” Kitty said politely, with an edge of excitement, “This is Marilla.”

“Hi, Bobby,” the young woman answered. There was something strange about her voice, like it was being processed through a special effects program.

Kitty drew him forward with a hand on his upper arm. “Marilla’s been telling me a bit about the Clinic. She’s been here two months.”

“Oh,” Bobby said, surprised, trying to imagine being stuck here that long. “And, um, are you feeling… better?”

“I’m okay, I guess,” she said and her voice seemed to bend like a Doppler effect on a musical saw. “When I first got here, no one could understand anything I was saying, and my voice would make the lights go funny.”

“Cool,” Bobby enthused with the keen interest he usually felt when learning a fellow mutant’s powers. Then, with a sobering shock, he realized where they were. “But now you can’t do that?”

The girl looked kind of embarrassed. “No, not while I’m on my medication.” Bobby and Kitty looked at each other and the girl blurted out, “My parents are really happy with my progress.”

In the awkward pause that followed, Bobby looked away, and that was when he saw the other bed. In it lay another girl, this one clearly younger, maybe only 13. She was unconscious, her head bandaged, monitors blinking around her and an oxygen mask on her face.

“They did surgery on her Monday,” Marilla explained. “She hasn’t woken up yet. I hope she’ll be okay.”

Kitty moved to sit on the edge of Marilla’s bed. “Are there a lot of surgeries like that? Brain surgeries?”

“Yeah, a few a month, I guess.”

Bobby felt a creeping fear. He had a fleeting image of the back of Lance’s head cracking like an egg. Nervously, he asked, “What happens after? Do the patients get better?”

Marilla bit her lip. “I guess. I mean, some of them were having a lot of trouble before. You know, like your friend Lance with his headaches.” Crack!

Kitty prompted, “And after the operation they feel better?”

Marilla seemed hesitant. “Dr. Turcott’s really good, I think. That’s what my parents say. He says they’ll need a long recovery, but with therapy, they’ll be able to lead full, normal lives.”

Bobby looked down at the bandaged girl. “Are there a lot of problems after the operation?”

“It depends,” Marilla said guiltily. “Alan couldn’t, um, talk anymore. Ashley seemed mostly asleep and I don’t think she knew us…”

“Fuck,” Kitty murmured. “Marilla, where’s Lance’s room? I want to talk to him.”

“He’s in the northwest corner. You go to the end of the hall, past the nurse’s station, then turn left and he’s the last room on the right.”

“Does he share the room?”

“No, his folks are paying big bucks for a private.”

“I’m sure. Listen, thanks a lot for your help,” Kitty said genuinely. “We just want to make sure he understands what he’s getting into.”

“I don’t know if you’ll be able to wake him up,” Marilla added, speaking in a tiny whisper for the first time as if afraid of discovery. “They give you sleeping pills the night before surgery.”

“Thank you,” Kitty repeated and paused. She leaned in to give her a kiss on the cheek. “I hope it works out okay for you.” The girl in the bed blushed as Kitty stood up and moved to the door. “Come on, Bobby.”

Kitty stuck her head through the wall to check if the coast was clear and then phased right out of the room. Bobby gave Marilla a shy smile and the girl smiled back, looking terribly alone.

“So, everyone’s a mutant at your school?” she asked and Bobby nodded. “And no one has trouble with their powers?”

“Yeah, sometimes,” he responded, “but we try to, you know, help each other.” He felt awful that they weren’t doing something to help Marilla. He wanted to promise to return and visit but he sort of doubted that would happen. He heard the door unlock and then Kitty swung it open for him.

He stood nervously in the hall again, looking around for the guard or a nurse as she locked the door behind them. It was only then that he realized how weird it was that the clinic locked the patients in their rooms—like it was a mental institution or the hospital wing in a prison. He really, really wanted to get Lance and get the hell out of this creepy place.

They scuttled silently along the corridor, staying close to the wall. The hall opened onto the central, open area where a nurses’ station stood. A young man and an older woman were sipping coffee and chatting as they went over some charts. The woman checked her watch.

“Almeida and Hibbert need meds at 23:30,” she told her colleague, “and we should check the IV and drains on Leung at 22:15.” He nodded.

Kitty was pointing at the continuation of their corridor beyond the open area but Bobby didn’t see how they could get there without being seen. He heard a soft squeak and a cleaner appeared from the corridor on the west side of the building, pushing a trolley with a trash bin and various mops and brooms.

“I’m going to mop the day room, Mrs. Binns,” he announced in a thick Russian accent and she called him over. He walked from his cart to the nursing station and the woman he’d called Binns began quietly lecturing him on places he habitually left less than spotless while he mounted an emphatic defense of his cleaning skills.

“Get ready to run,” Kitty whispered to Bobby and phased through the wall beside them. Bobby was finding it really nerve-wracking to not be part of the planning. Across the room, there was a sudden clattering as the brooms, mops and other equipment tumbled out of the cart, their tether apparently having failed with the help of an unseen mutant hand.

All eyes turned in that direction and Binns grumbled, “Patients are sleeping, Oleg!”

Kitty phased back through the wall beside Bobby and hissed, “Go!” With everyone’s back turned to them, they ran unseen across the open area and then straight to the end of the north corridor. Kitty stopped them with a raised hand and peeked around the corner. “There’s another nurse around somewhere,” she cautioned. “I saw her before: a young Hispanic woman. Keep an eye out.”

Bobby looked down the hallway in front of them and, remembering Marilla’s directions, pointed and said, “That’s gotta be Lance’s room on the right.”

Kitty led them down the hall and, after a quick check of the west corridor, she unlocked the door of Room 1017 and they slipped inside. Bobby’s heart was beating fast and he moved across the darkened room to the bed while Kitty phased out to lock the door.

“Lance? Lance, it’s Bobby. I’m here!” he said in an urgent undertone, trying to make out the shape of his former roommate in the darkness. He heard Kitty moving behind him as she phased back inside. He quickly added, “And Kitty’s here, too.”

She clicked on the overhead light and Bobby blinked hard before the figure in front of him resolved. Lance lay on his back, mouth hanging open, chest rising and falling lightly, an IV in his arm. His hair had been shaved off and there were various marks made on the scalp, preparatory to the next day’s operation. He looked terribly vulnerable, violated. Bobby heard Kitty whimper as she joined him by the bed. She slipped her hand into his.

For the first time that evening, Kitty looked very unsure. “Bobby,” she said shakily. “Try to wake him up.”

Bobby felt an almost superstitious fear, like they might break something, set off some alarm if they disturbed him. Or maybe Lance would scream when he saw them, call for help, like they were strangers here to hurt him.

“Lance,” Bobby called again before reaching out a hesitant hand to shake his shoulder. Lance stirred a bit, licked his lips and then rolled his head away, still asleep. Bobby shook him again but to no avail.

“He’s really under,” Bobby told her. He turned and saw her looking pale and uncertain. Compared to the Kitty who had been leading them through the clinic like she was a veteran of commando assaults, the girl who stood beside him suddenly looked small and young and lost.

“What should we do?” he asked her but she didn’t take her gaze off Lance’s sleeping face, his marked head. A tear rolled down her cheeks and Bobby felt panic rising in him. He had followed her inside against his better judgment; he had jeopardized his place at Xavier’s School for Gifted Youngsters and now she was falling apart before his eyes.

He slipped his hand from hers, moved back to the door and put his ear to it. He heard nothing. He positioned himself just to the side, ready to snap off the lights if the lock suddenly turned. He’d give Kitty a minute to get back on the horse then everything would be okay. She would tell him what came next. In the meantime, he could ice someone to floor if he had to. He could knock them down and tie them with bed sheets. He could call Scott and whimper, “I’m sorry, I’m sorry, come and help us, we’re in Poughkeepsie hiding under a bed!”

The minutes passed.

***

“Come on, Jean,” Scott chided with a laugh, “Don’t be a wimp!” He looked around the room at the gleeful faces gawping at his normally cool and confident girlfriend with no little amusement.

“It’s just a commercial now, Doctor Grey,” Terry reassured her. “You can look.”

Jean snuck a peak out from behind the improvised screen of her fingers. Scott had to admit he was sort of enjoying her embarrassment. Trying to salvage some dignity, she pulled herself off his shoulder and sat up straight. “Admit it, guys,” she said a bit too loudly, “that was pretty gruesome!”

Neal chimed in, “You’re a doctor! You’ve dissected cadavers!”

“It’s different when I’m in control,” she insisted.

“So, serial killer is still a viable career path, Dr. Grey?” Sam asked with a laugh.

“Starting with smart-ass students,” Scott replied and threw a pillow at him. Scott was having a good time, rare these days as worries and responsibilities mounted inexorably.

First of all, being the assistant headmaster and a teacher at a new school was a recipe for headaches, no matter how gratifying the work was. Beyond that, however, was a growing sense of impending trouble for mutants in America. The professor, who was more adept at operating in political circles, was trying to keep most of that work to himself, but Scott wasn’t good at separating Xavier’s problems from his own. If the his mentor was worried, Scott felt he should be doing something to help. He was, of course, doing some very practical things involving both arduous training and the implementation and maintenance of offensive and defensive equipment. Still, nothing ever felt like enough.

He knew he wasn’t alone in feeling the stress. The fact that the Professor was now coming up on eight hours in Cerebro was making all the staff nervous and Scott had to run interference to stop Jean from pulling him out of there. If Xavier were with them, they would probably be able to completely relax and enjoy this evening of levity with their remarkable students. As it was, Scott’s mind had to remain on alert as always, waiting to switch from leisure to leadership at a moment’s notice. It was at times like this he wanted to yell, “I’m only 24! Can’t I just chill out like a normal guy?”

“Don’t worry,” Sam reassured Jean sagaciously, “There won’t be any violence for a while. We’ve had the set up and three deaths. Time for some answers. Remember that car that’s been prowling around their house? I predict we’re about to learn its secret.”

“Quiet, it’s on!” Doug yelled.

Sam began a color commentary. “The family holed up in the living room. Everything is a mess because they’re too traumatized to vacuum. Through the window—WHAT DID I TELL YOU?!—the mysterious black sedan slows to a halt. A blurred figure approaches the door...”

“Will you shut the fuck up?” Terry griped, slapping him on the shoulder before she shot an apologetic look at Ororo. “Sorry, Ms. Monroe. ‘Shut the heck up’ I mean.”

“Who are you? We can’t talk now. Our family is in crisis.”

“Please, Mr. Carter, I think you’ll want to talk to me. I am Doctor Emanuel Ender.”

“Oh my God, it’s Professor Xavier,” Dani shouted and everyone cracked up because there was indeed some resemblance, both in the features (though the man on TV had a thin grey moustache and could walk) and in the air of confident authority.”

“It’s the scientist! There’s always a scientist who explains everything in the middle of the movie,” Doug announced enthusiastically.

“Our son Ben is dead, Doctor, and now we’re afraid his little brother Kevin is, too. He’s been missing since last night!”

“I don’t think Kevin is dead, Mrs. Carter. Tell me, has he been acting strange since his birthday?”

“Why, yes, how did you...?”

“And may I confirm... He is thirteen years old?”

Neal called out, “And has he been taking extra-long showers?” The rec room exploded in a mixture of laughter and annoyed shushes.

“Your son—I’m so sorry to have to bring you the news—your son is a MUTANT!”

The rec room fell instantly silent, the last traces of laughter falling off into a shocked abyss. Scott felt himself tense.

“A-a mutant? I don’t understand? He’s always been normal!”

“Yes, of course he has. A child’s mutant abilities—his ‘powers’ if you will—don’t appear until his thirteenth birthday. And then they explode within him, possess him! There is no way back. From that point on, your child is no longer the child you knew.”

Scott looked around the room at the shell-shocked expressions on everyone’s faces.

“But-but Kevin’s my BABY!”

“Mrs. Carter, Kevin isn’t even human anymore. And you and me, all humans, we are his instinctive enemies. We are his natural prey.”

Scott jumped to his feet and moved towards the television. “Who has the remote control?” he shouted angrily.

Jean called out, “What are you doing, Scott?”

“I am not leaving this garbage on the screen. Our students do not need to see this!”

A general cry erupted from all sides of the room—students objecting, telling him they wanted to watch. Scott looked around, fighting with the urge to assert his authority and shut down the party. What good could it do them to be assaulted by this hate?

Ororo got to her feet and came to stand by him.

“Scott,” she said calmly, though he could sense the tension beneath the surface, “Millions across America are watching this movie. We cannot protect the students by pretending this isn’t happening.”

“Please, Mr. Summers,” Peter said. He had also risen from his seat. “We need to see what they’re saying about us.”

Dani added, “Otherwise, how can we know how to respond?”

Scott looked at both of them and then back at his fellow teachers. He could see by the faraway look in her eyes that Jean was in telepathic communication with the Professor. “All right, leave the program on. If anyone feels they cannot watch, they should leave and I want everyone else to respect their decision.”

There was a pause as he looked around the room but no one left.

Ororo turned to address the group. “This is now a classroom. I want everyone watching and listening with critical eyes, with the dispassionate mind of a social historian. We need to analyze what we are seeing.”

The students nodded with grim resolution. Scott looked into their faces for any obvious signs of distress. He watched Dani move without a word to sit near Doug and Jones, the youngest kids in the room.

Scott returned to his place on the floor beside Jean, becoming aware of his breathing, running mentally through the muscles of his body, checking them for readiness. Jean put her hand in Scott’s and squeezed. He squeezed back but did not take his eyes from the screen. He was all alertness.

***

Bobby was trying to be Scott as he waited for whatever would happen next. He tried to let his teacher’s voice speak inside him because now that he’d realized Kitty didn’t actually have a plan, someone would need to think of a way out of this place.

He looked at the wheelchair standing in the corner. If they had to, they could use it to wheel Lance out. But how could they get all the way to the parking lot without being seen? He reviewed the layout of the Clinic in his head and realized that to prevent anyone from following them, he would have to barricade at least two hallways with ice walls. It all depended on where the staff were, of course. Three nurses, a cleaner, a security guard. Would the patients help them if it came to a fight? Maybe it could be a mass liberation!

But even Marilla had seemed unsure about the two free mutants from the mutant school. More than anything, she wanted to believe in Turcott and to give her parents what they wanted: a normal child. No, they couldn’t count on the patients to help. Shit, they might even try to stop the two interlopers! What powers did they have? Planning this escape was completely overwhelming! How the hell did Scott—?

“Bobby!” Kitty called. “I think he’s waking up, come here!”

Bobby darted over to her side, accidentally kicking the metal garbage can. It clanged loudly in the quiet hospital and they froze, listening for approaching footsteps.

When none came, Kitty hissed, “Be careful!” She shook Lance’s shoulder carefully and said in a gentle tone, “Lance? Can you hear me? It’s Kitty. Can you open your eyes?”

They held their collective breath as Lance struggled to regain consciousness. His eyes blinked and he moaned quietly, mumbling, “Kitty? Yer in Wesschesser… I… Cn I have sum water?”

Bobby noticed a plastic cup with a straw sticking out of it and helped Lance sit up to drink.

“Here you go, buddy,” he said in a cloying voice that sounded disturbingly like his mother’s. “Take a sip of this.”

Lance drank mechanically, his eyes shutting again. Then he turned and opened them, taking in Bobby’s presence with crooked smile. “Bobby! S’Bobby, Kitty-Kat! He’s got big balls,” Lance confided and Bobby flinched.

“Yes,” Kitty answered in a strained but encouraging tone. “He’s been very brave to come here with me.”

Lance moved his hand upwards in his usual gesture of clearing his hair from his face. When he found nothing there, he looked confused. Then he noticed the IV in his wrist and winced.

“No… They’re gonna cut me up, Kitty,” he said, his voice like a child’s. “I don’t want… I don’t want them to do it. I told my dad but they said I have to and… and then it’ll be better… But—”

“But you don’t want to go through with it?” Kitty asked with growing excitement.

“No! I don’t want—”

“You don’t want them to take your powers and maybe give you brain damage, right?”

“Kitty,” Bobby snapped, feeling she was out of line. “Don’t put words in his mouth.”

Lance’s eyes were wet and he was touching his bald head with bewilderment.

Bobby took hold of his arm before he accidentally pulled his IV free. “Lance,” he said a bit sharply, trying to cut through the drugged haze. “If you’re sure you want to have this operation, maybe get rid of your headaches—”

“Bobby!” Kitty snapped.

He ignored her and continued, not taking his eyes from Lance’s. “But if you want us to get you out of here and take you back to the Mansion, we will.”

He felt his stomach clench. How could they take him back? His parents would have Xavier arrested for kidnapping. But there wasn’t anywhere else! Could the three of them run away? Hide from the authorities? He felt a terrible dread and anger at the thought that he might have to give up his new home so soon after he found it.

“Yeah,” Lance muttered. He shook his head and seemed to find his way back to consciousness. Suddenly it seemed like their friend Lance was back with them. “I want to go with you. I told my dad I didn’t want the operation but Mom was so… so fucking… insistent and he fucking just gave in to her. Like always.” His voice was filled with bitterness. He suddenly started shivering. “C-cold.”

Kitty ran to the closet and found Lance’s jacket. She draped it over his shoulders and hugged him. “We’ll have to get the IV out,” she said, her voice steadying as her resolve strengthened.

Bobby’s heart was pounding. They would have to move before any nurse appeared to check on him. “We’ll get him out in the wheelchair,” he announced.

“Yes! Good idea,” She nodded. “I’ve going to get some towels from the bathroom. If his arm starts bleeding, we can wrap it.”

Lance was sitting up, hunched forward under his coat. His head was drooping again and he was mumbling inaudibly. His speech seemed to have drained him and he began slipping away from consciousness again.

Bobby was trying to unlock the wheels of the chair but either the design wasn’t obvious or else the mechanism was broken. He pulled at the lever with all his strength, banging the back of his hand on the adjacent spokes. “Fuck!” he spat and watched the blood seep from his cut knuckle.

He saw Lance look up groggily at him as he put the wound to his mouth and sucked. “Yer havin’ trouble, Bobby?” he slurred. “Wait, I’ll call th’ nurse to help…”

Bobby’s eyes went wide and he froze in shock. Kitty emerged from the bathroom carrying a towel just as Lance picked up the call button on its long tether from the bed beside him and pushed it decisively.

In his mind’s eye, Bobby could see the light for Room 1017 begin blinking at the nursing station, perhaps accompanied by a friendly, musical tone.

***

It was a typical, teasing horror movie ending. The forces of evil had been vanquished and the innocent had triumphed, though with tragic losses. Then, just when order was restored to their universe, evil re-emerged with a sudden shock and a stab of high-pitched violins on the soundtrack. It reminded Jean of the resurgence of a bacterial infection that you thought you had wiped out with antibiotics.

And it would all have been great, adrenaline-pumping fun for a Halloween evening if the unspeakable evil they had just watched dramatized on TV weren’t mutant children. They were mutant children just like the students who surrounded her and for whom she had grown a she-lion’s protective instinct.

Jean had never realized she had that kind of devotion in her. She knew she was dedicated to science, to Scott and Charles and to the betterment of the mutant subspecies; but she had never thought she had any kind of parental love to share. This had been one of the biggest points of contention in her relationship with Scott. He wanted to be a father and the more kids they had, the better. As far as Jean had been concerned, the demands of children just meant hours away from the lab where her real talent and value lay.

Then the students had arrived in Westchester and, despite herself, she had begun to care, to worry, to dream on behalf of these talented, maddening individuals. They were, not to put to fine a point on it, her children—and her children were under attack.

Through her psychic senses, Jean felt the waves of fear, humiliation and anger flood her from all corners of the room. The emotions were overwhelming and she had to dampen her telepathy to prevent her own feelings from being swept along on the current.

The last scene had only just ended when Ororo stood up. “Jones, please mute the volume. Okay, students, let’s examine what we’ve just seen.” Her strong, calm voice broke across the room and Jean could feel the students’ chaotic emotions focus. “Terry, pretend you know nothing about mutants. Could you please review what the movie tells us about them?”

“That they suck,” Terry said shakily. Her control was wavering and her voice carried barely audible high frequency overtones that made glasses around the room shudder.

“No, you need to be specific and analytical,” Ororo replied sternly and then softened her voice to say, “I know it’s difficult but we must be strong here.”

“Okay,” Terry said, with a small shudder as she brought herself and her powers under control. “Um, mutants develop their powers on their thirteenth birthdays. They go crazy and, uh, want to harm humans.”

“Especially, it would seem, their own families,” Ororo added. “Good. Doug, how does this description differ from what we have learned about mutation here at the school?”

Doug spoke up with a slightly manic edge. “Mutations manifest at different times. Mostly just after, uh, puberty.” He looked embarrassed to have to say the word out loud but continued, “In some cases much younger and sometimes 18, 19 or even later. Our personalities don’t change like, like they did… um, on the show.”

“Correct,” Ororo replied. “Rahne? What can you add to that?”

The pause was just a little too long and everyone in the room turned to find Rahne curled up in her armchair, hugging her knees. Her eyes were shiny with tears. Jean heard the girl’s psychic cry as clearly as if she had been shouting into the room: *I am evil. There is a demon inside me.*

Jean gasped. She was about to go to the girl, pull her out of the room, comfort her, when Jones called out, “Hey, the credits are on.” With a blink, he un-muted the TV and the brooding theme washed over them. Jean watched with some relief as Ororo went to sit beside Rahne, whispering into her ear and stroking her hair.

The names of actors, producers and technicians scrolled upwards and Jean wondered angrily who all these people were who were telling such vicious lies about her and the people she loved. How could they sleep with a clear conscience? Scott tapped her on the shoulder and she turned to him.

“We’re going to have to raise a protest with the network,” he told her quietly. “I wish I knew more about hate-crimes legislation. Isn’t there something about inciting hatred?”

“Hank will know,” Jean whispered back.

“Hey, wait,” Dani shouted. “Did that say ‘Jean Grey’?”

Jean spun around so fast, she knocked over the popcorn bowl, scattering the unpopped kernels across the rug.

“I’ll rewind it, hold on,” Jones said. He blinked and the credits reversed direction and stuttered down the screen.

“How’re you doing that?” Doug asked with interest. “It’s a live broadcast!”

“I’ve been backing up the show to the teacher’s partition on the server. They have lots of free disk space.”

“That is a restricted area,” Scott said indignantly. “How did you manage to access…?”

Jones ignored him and pointed as the credits rolled forwards again. “There! ‘Science Advisor: Dr. Jean Grey.’”

All eyes turned to her and she felt like she must have fallen into a parallel universe. “I-I don’t understand,” she stammered. “I never…” Then she remembered the emails almost a year earlier from the earnest young writer, asking detailed questions from the scientist whose name he had seen in the Washington Post. She remembered feeling flattered that someone was paying attention to her work.

“Shit,” she exploded, a sound so pinched and sharp it sounded like a sneeze. “He said it was going to be the truth about mutants! He wasn’t even sure it would get made!” Fury was rising in her. “And he certainly didn’t listen to what I told him!” She felt a terrible urge to telekinetically rip the TV from the wall and hurl it through the window. Instead she gritted her teeth and floated the spilled corn kernels back into their bowl, focusing on the complex mental task to hide her embarrassment.

From the front of the room, Ororo shot her an exasperated look before addressing the students again. “Jones,” she snapped, frazzled. “Mute the TV! Okay, students, we were analyzing—”

She stopped suddenly and in that moment, Jean heard Professor Xavier’s voice in her head. *Jean, we have an emerging situation. Come immediately to the ready room.*

She looked up and saw that the other two teachers had received the same summons. Scott was on his feet immediately.

“Students, an emergency has come up and Ms. Monroe, Dr. Grey and I have to leave you. You may continue the party but I expect all students in their rooms by 11:30. Peter and Dani are in charge and you will follow their orders as you would mine. Dani, Peter, please come and talk to me in the hall.”

Nervous whispers exploded around the room as the teachers and the two older students exited the rec room. Jean was impressed at how serious and determined Dani and Peter appeared to be in what must have been an unnerving situation.

Scott addressed them. “Dani, I believe you have learned to send a psychic call to telepaths?”

“Yes, Mr. Summers.”

“Good. If any situation arises that either you or Peter do not feel competent to handle, you will send to the Professor. Do not hesitate, especially in any situation where you feel the safety of the students might be compromised.”

Dani and Peter exchanged a look and the tall boy asked, “Are we expecting… trouble?”

“No, not expecting, but we always have to ready for situations we never anticipated, right?”

Despite his reassurance, the students looked alarmed. Jean put a hand on Dani’s arm. “Just remember, call the Professor if you’re worried. I’m sure nothing will happen.” Dani nodded.

Ororo added, “And check in on Rahne. I think the movie affected her pretty badly.”

Peter replied, “I wish Kitty was here. Rahne trusts her.”

“Kitty’s dealing with her own problems, Peter,” Scott told him. “We all have to do our best to help each other out. Ororo, Jean, let’s go.”

Jean’s heart was pounding. She realized that, unlike in similar situations in the past, her fears were not so much for her own safety as for the children’s. She marveled again at these newfound feelings as the trio stepped into the subbasement elevator and it began its descent.

***

The nurse called ‘Binns’ returned to the day room, an open area off the west corridor with comfortable chairs and couches, a big television, work tables and more mindless magazines. The big windows overlooking the gardens must have given the room an airy feeling of freedom by day. Now, they just reflected back the room back in the night-black panes, increasing the sense of imprisonment.

It was the first time anyone had ever held a gun on Bobby and he was all too aware that a bullet was waiting within the chamber, that the whole deadly process was controlled by the nervous fingers of the discomfited security guard.

Binns, though obviously uncomfortable, seemed to be more in control of her emotions.

“Hector, don’t point that at the children,” she said in the same commanding tone she had used with the cleaner. “We’re not going to make this situation any better if someone gets shot.”

“What if they’re mutants? We don’t know what they can do.”

“The Doctor will be here in five minutes, Hector,” she responded impatiently. “You can ask him all the questions you like. Now put away the gun!

The guard lowered the gun a bit and Bobby thought, Great, now he’ll just shoot our knees off.

“I still think we should call the police,” the guard muttered tightly.

Binns was staring at Bobby and Kitty, her arms crossed over her chest. Without taking her eyes from them, she told Hector, “No. Dr. Turcott wants to be informed of any incidents before the police are called in.”

She and Kitty were having something of a staring contest, two stubborn people used to getting their way, neither the type to yield first. Bobby in contrast, looked down at his feet. It felt to him like his life was over. To him, ‘busted’ meant busted for life, busted for good. Condition of everything: busted.

The silence stretched for a long minute before Binns finally asked, “So, are you mutants?”

“We’re Lance’s classmates,” Kitty replied simply. “We wanted to see him.” There had been almost no time in Lance’s room before the nurse appeared and the mission had gone to hell. In those scant seconds, they learned that acting under pressure was harder than you’d think Should they run? Should they force their way out with Lance? Each option seemed to require discussion that they just didn’t have time for. As the door unlocked, Kitty had whispered to Bobby. “No powers. Don’t let them know about us!”

Binns clearly recognized she wasn’t getting the whole story. “Visiting hours end at 7 p.m.”

“I know, but we were just in town for an hour,” Bobby chimed in hopefully.

Binns gave him a withering look. “And when you found our doors locked, you thought breaking in would be the right thing to do? How did you do it, anyway? Hector hasn’t found any doors forced or windows broken.”

Bobby squeezed his lips together and looked back down at his feet.

Binns gave a grunt of exasperation and crossed the room to a pharmaceutical display where she proceeded to straighten pamphlets. From time to time, other nurses and the cleaner appeared in the doorway to gawk at the prisoners. They moved on quickly, usually after a glare from the Head Nurse.

Bobby was strategizing again. An ice blast to take out the window, a slippery floor to trip up pursuers… but he understood Kitty’s admonition. Mutants on the loose might invite a tougher official response than two kids caught in an error of judgment. They had to talk their way out this.

Something was happening beyond the door. He could hear the anxious voice of the cleaner rising. Nurse Binns put down the pamphlets and hurried to the door. Bobby and Kitty found themselves alone with the security guard who raised the gun to the level of their faces again. Bobby’s heart began to beat quickly.

Kitty glared at the guard and hissed, “You’re a big man with a gun, aren’t you? Maybe your bullets would pass right through me, asshole!”

“Kitty!” Bobby exclaimed in alarm but at that moment a voice came from the direction of the door.

“Please put down the gun, Hector.” It was a clear, friendly voice and the guard and the two prisoners turned and saw the man. He looked as he had in the Times photograph, though his blond hair wasn’t combed and he was in a thick wooly sweater instead of lab coat and tie. He had the same winning smile and boyish glint and he looked oddly happy to find the intruders at his clinic.

He came forward. “Hi, I’m Dr. Christian Turcott,” he said extending a hand. Bobby stood automatically and shook hands, though he said nothing. “You kids are classmates of Lance’s, right?”

Bobby looked at Kitty who sat in her chair, tight-lipped. “Um, yeah,” he answered. “This was all just a big misunderstanding, Dr. Turcott. We just wanted to see Lance.”

Turcott gave him a nod. “Sure, sure,” as if the break-in wasn’t even of concern to him. “So, you’re from Xavier’s school. Are all the students mutants or just some?”

Bobby’s mouth clamped shut. He was already in over his head and now he couldn’t even remember the way back to shore.

It was at this point Kitty broke her silence. “Mutants?” she asked in surprised tone that sat uncomfortably between innocence and sarcasm. “You think there are mutants at our school?”

Turcott laughed but without malice. He pulled over a chair and sat down facing her. Bobby sank slowly back into his chair. It was like the three of them were having tea together.

“Come on, you know why Lance is here. I make no secret about my clinic,” Turcott answered her. “I’m always happy to meet more mutants. The more I know, the more I can help.”

“Help?” Kitty snapped. “That’s funny. You want to help mutants by destroying them?”

Turcott’s smile dropped. There was a tense silence before he nodded weightily. “I understand what you’re feeling but it’s not my goal to destroy anything. I want to help people to be who they who want to be.”

“By taking away something essential? By neutering them? Has the NIH even approved any of these ‘therapies’?” Kitty was growing angrier and Bobby winced. They should just be apologizing and trying to get away with promises never to return. She was making everything so much worse.

Turcott turned and said to Binns, “Esther, could you go get Camille from her room? I’d like her here with me.” Binns nodded and left the room quickly as Turcott turned back to face them.

“I know it must seem like that to you, but I would never neutralize the powers of a mutant who wanted to keep them. That’s not what this place is about.”

Bobby broke his silence without even meaning to. “But if someone’s a mutant, they’re a mutant for life. How can you change that?”

Turcott nodded again. There was something smooth and impenetrable about him—like a man on TV, not a real person in a real conversation. “People change all the time. They want to lose weight, or change the shape of a nose that doesn’t feel the nose they should have. People change even such fundamentals as gender. So why not mutation?”

“That’s great, Doctor,” Kitty said, unimpressed, “If I believed you could really do it.”

“You’re Kitty, aren’t you?” Turcott answered with a smile, visibly throwing her. “You can pass through solid matter.”

“What makes you think I’m this ‘Kitty’ person?” she asked defensively.

“Lance told me a lot about you. You mean a lot to him.”

Kitty suddenly looked lost. Bobby wondered if Lance mentioned him, too. Number 7: Does he talk to his friends about you?

Turcott turned to him. “And you are…?”

He hesitated but there seemed no more reason for pretense now that Turcott knew who Kitty was. “I’m Bobby.”

“Nice to meet you, Bobby. So tell me, how did Xavier find you? It must have something to do with telepathy, right? He can sense mutations?”

The question was asked so innocently that Bobby almost answered. He was so relieved that the man who held their fate in his hand seemed to like them that he was tempted to cooperate fully.

Just then, a young girl, no more than 11, ran into the room in a flannel nightdress, her black pigtails bouncing as she threw herself into the doctor’s lap.

“Uncle Chris, hi! Why are you back at work?” Not waiting for an answer she turned to stare at Kitty and Bobby. “Who are they?”

“These are some new friends, Camille.” The little girl looked at them shyly but curiously.

Turcott leaned in closer to her ear and said softly, “Millie, has anyone been trying to find us?”

The girl yawned and rubbed her eyes. She turned to Turcott and nodded, “Yeah all day. I mean, not all the time, but he keeps coming back.”

“And you’re sure he hasn’t gotten through?”

Camille shook her head vigorously, her pigtails whipping the air. “No, he can’t get past my... What do you call it, Uncle Chris?”

Turcott smiled and kissed the top of her head. “Your psychic dampening field, honey. When I talk to your mommy tomorrow, I’m going to tell her what a good girl you’ve been.” Camille beamed. “Now, you go off to bed. I’ll look in on you before I leave, okay?”

“Okay,” she said, sliding off his lap. She stopped on her way out and turned back to Kitty and Bobby. “Welcome to the clinic. Dr. Turcott will make you feel better. He loves us all.” Binns took her hand and walked her out of the room.

Turcott watched them leave with a wistful expression on his face. He turned back to them and said, “She’s not really my niece, but her mother and I are great friends.” Kitty gave him another dirty look and he turned to her with his maddening smile still in place. “What Millie says is true, in a way. I do love my patients and I truly care what happens to them.”

Kitty’s sense of outrage had found its feet again. “As long as they have the money to pay your fees,” she snorted.

“I don’t deny that I’m making a living here, Kitty,” he responded nonplussed, “but that’s not a crime. And it doesn’t mean I don’t want to help all mutants. I hope that eventually the treatments I develop here will be widely available.”

Bobby shivered. He thought of the things Marilla had told them about the aftermaths of the operations. He thought of his parents dragging him to a hospital somewhere.

He spoke up hurriedly, “Look, we’re really sorry we broke in, Dr. Turcott. Can you just, um, let us phone the school? They’ll come and get us. We didn’t do any damage. We won’t do it again.” He turned and looked at Kitty who seemed to be aghast at his outburst. Well, what was he supposed to do? Argue politics?

Turcott was looking at him seriously, nodding and nodding. “Okay, Bobby, I’ll think about it. The right thing to do is to call the police.” Bobby’s stomach dropped. “I have to think about the welfare of my patients and my staff. This country runs on rule of law. If mutants were to just go around using their powers to circumvent justice, what would happen to our society?”

“B-but we’re not—” Bobby stammered.

Kitty snapped at him, “Bobby, be quiet! Okay, what do you want from us?”

Turcott smiled. “Thank you, Kitty. I just want us to cooperate here and be friends. I need to know more about your school and Professor Xavier. If you could just answer a few questions, I’m sure we could work something out and you would be on your way home.”

“And what about Lance?” she answered, brow furrowed. “Can he come with us?”

“Lance has been admitted to this facility by his parents. The family has agreed that the surgery is the best course for him. I’m not about to go against their wishes.”

“And if we just decide to walk out now?” she asked. Bobby and Turcott tensed in unison “You don’t even know about Bobby’s powers, do you?” All eyes turned to Bobby.

“Kitty, what are you—” Bobby began.

She put a finger to her temple. “With just a thought,” she explained, her voice low, everyone in the room leaning forward, “he can make your heart explode in your chest!” Turcott looked alarmed for the first time. The nurses at the door backed away and Hector raised his gun squarely at Bobby’s head.

Bobby began to shake, “No, I can’t! I mean, I wouldn’t… I mean, don’t make me do something we’ll all regret!”

Kitty had risen from her seat and was backing away. Bobby found himself getting to his feet to join her. They were moving backwards towards an emergency exit on the garden side of day room. The guard was sweating, the gun held out straight.

“I will be forced to call the FBI, Kitty,” Turcott called, sounding angry for the first time. “Think about what will happen to your school!”

“Think about what will happen to your heart!” she screamed and suddenly the room started to shake.

“Lance…?” Bobby whispered, looking around; but it wasn’t Lance. With a horrible moan, the steel beams of the ceiling began to bend upwards like a stop motion film of an opening flower. With a shower of sparks, the light fixtures fractured and winked out. Glass shattered as windows popped out of the distorting walls. The emergency lights blinked on and cold air rushed in as the walls peeled open. Someone screamed.

Silhouetted by the garden lights, a figure approached resolutely, his right arm outstretched. His form billowed and Bobby realized he was wearing a cape that was being blown by the night breezes. Was it a Halloween costume? What was happening?

The figure stepped through the hole in the wall and his face was lit an infernal red by the emergency lights. Severe, handsome, silver-haired with sharp eyes of terrible intelligence that flanked a rounded nose. He was far from young and yet every gesture bespoke potency and authority.

The security guard suddenly moved from the shadows and stood facing the intruder, gun out-stretched, eyes wide. The silver-haired man appeared to regard him with no more concern than he would a mosquito. And as if it were a mosquito pestering him, he waved his hand minimally and the guard’s gun sailed across the room and attached itself to one of the exposed metal beams in the ceiling with a sharp, percussive ‘clang’.

Bobby could see two other figures waiting in the dark garden, spectral and terrifying, as the intruder called out in a rich, cultured voice, “I wish to see Dr. Christian Turcott!”

Turcott’s staff backed away from their employer instinctively, leaving him alone in the uncompromising gaze of the stranger.

“Ah, there you are, Doctor,” the man in the cape said with a chilling smile. “I am called Magneto. I think you and I need to have a little chat.”

Chapter 15

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