Chapter 35: “The Funk, Part II (X3)”

Integrate.

It is not, strictly speaking, necessary to find the original parts of us. A weed growing on the floor of the lake can be rebuilt to suit as easily as a fish-gnawed morsel of our decayed liver. But there is sentimental value.

What’s happening?

Sleep! You are not needed here.

Aren’t we dead?

You are. Act accordingly and shut up.

*Scott!*

Be quiet! Your human weakness caused enough trouble last time.

*Scott!!*

Very well, call him. Our new flesh might well benefit from the stimulation. Then we will feast upon his energy to fuel our triumphant return.

I stopped you before. I can do it again.

No, you have slept too long…

 

***

 

Magneto didn’t like the Internet. He had always made Mystique or some acolyte plumb its depths to keep him apprised of the world as it leaked in from the Web. All those chat rooms and blogs filled with useless, self-important, deranged and ignorant souls! The information was important, but the company revolting. But now Pyro, that amusing, infuriating boy had forced him into it.

He’d no idea his new right-hand man was a writer until the day before the Brotherhood released a video to the media. Pyro had presented him with a new version of his speech that far outstripped his own effort. It had taken some humility to admit this, but Magneto knew he would get the credit for the words anyway. He had quickly put the boy to work as his ghost writer. After all, he had too much to do to refuse competent help.

Magneto was weary. He and Pyro were making themselves hard to follow, occupying their fifth cheap hotel room in 10 days, and the boy had finally complained that he couldn’t edit Magneto’s memoirs and write his speeches if he also had to troll the Internet for the day’s headlines. They were soon leaving Circuit City with a cheap laptop (Humiliating! Half the power of the one Pyro was using; but they had to conserve resources…). And now they were both hunched over like trolls in the dark on opposite ends of a dingy room in some two-star hole.

The truth was, Magneto had soon become addicted to the awesome breadth of media at his fingertips. In addition to spending his time reading news and analysis, he had discovered some of his favorite bygone singers, both German and American, on YouTube. He combed through sites on industrial design, and studied the lives of great painters, reveling in the beauty of their works. He invented aliases to enter into debates in news forums, repeatedly resisting the temptation to pull rank as the world’s most powerful mutant. Hours would pass before he rose stiffly from the uncomfortable chair and returned to the drab reality of Topeka or wherever they happened to be on their meandering trek west.

“Here, listen to this,” Pyro called, his voice husky from an 18 hour day fuelled only by bad coffee. ‘The Neanderthals lived side by side with homo sapiens for a time, but the world proved too small for both early man and his superior.’”

“Too technical,” Magneto answered without turning. He was engrossed in the headlines on mutantDawn.org. “I am speaking to the masses. The masses don’t know the history of human evolution.”

“Fuck, you’re right,” Pyro muttered and resumed typing.

“Now, this is interesting,” Magneto said and the consequent silence made Pyro turn from his work in curiosity. Magneto gave him a penetrating gaze. “It seems you’ve published a novel, young man.”

“I what?!

 

***

 

“You look tired, Charles,” Moira said, her pleasant Scottish accent pitched somewhere between concern and disapproval.

“I’m sure you can’t tell over a video-chat window, Moira. I’m perfectly fine. Of course, we’re busy with the new school year…”

“You can’t fool me, Charles. If there was one thing I learned during our oh-so-brief marriage, it was how to see through that maddening placid exterior you’ve perfected.”

He sighed. “I’ll just say that lately I sometimes find myself wandering in an ethical fog without a lamp to guide me.”

She nodded and he realized how well they did know each other, because in that simple nod from half a world away was a world of understanding and sympathy. She said, “I’m disturbed by the levels of anti-mutant violence in the United States.”

“We’re not the European Union. Mutant rights are not yet guaranteed here. We may even lose ground before we gain any.”

“Things aren’t always rosy on this side of the pond either, Charles. There have been violent anti-mutant demonstrations in Hungary and Poland. A mutant art festival in Paris had to be cancelled after a series of bomb threats.”

“Now we’re just depressing each other.”

“Oh dear. We’ll have to start telling knock-knock jokes to cheer up.”

Charles laughed with a force that surprised him and was immediately hit with a wave of bittersweet nostalgia for a small apartment in Glasgow where they were happy for a while. She was right about him being tired. He would have to take control of this emotional tilt-a-whirl if he wanted to get any work done. “Remind me again why we divorced, Moira.”

“I wasn’t a mutant and I wasn’t a man. Does that cover it?”

“No, no. I think it was just bad timing. And I was too old for you.” Self-indulgent regret, Charles… “Now, tell me about your new test subject,” he said, forcing the conversation back to the professional.

“I found him languishing in a back room of a terrible little institution in Braemar. Forty-two years old, no higher brain functions. They’d been expecting him to die for 20 years, but he just hung on.”

“And they only realized he was a mutant a month ago?”

“That’s why I was called you. He is a mutant, but we detect no specific power. There has been no X-gene expression or any resultant transformation to his physiology. We’re calling him tabula rasa. He may help us prove Jean’s theory that a mutant’s particular manifestation is a combination of genes and developmental events.”

“So, depending on events in the womb or during childhood, very different mutations might arise from the same genetic code.”

“Or you might say that an individual’s ‘personality’ plays a part in determining his or her manifestation.”

“Fascinating,” Charles replied. He heard a voice in his head. “Oh. Hold that thought, Moira. Come in, Ororo!” he called. The door opened and Storm walked in. He always appreciated those who would “knock” at his office door with their minds.

“Am I interrupting, Charles? The students have stumbled across something you need to see.”

“Just one moment, Ororo.” He turned to his screen. “Moira, I look forward to reading your report.”

“I’ll send it to you first thing tomorrow. Remember what I said: take care of yourself.”

He broke the connection with some reluctance. He wished there had been time for at least one knock-knock joke.

Ororo came around behind his desk and leaned over him, typing on his keyboard. “www.saintinhell.net,” Charles read. Saint in Hell? It was a simple sight in grays and blacks with accents of orange and sky blue. “Castle In Exile,” he read out loud. “A novel by…” he paused, startled and looked up at Ororo.

“That’s right. By St. John Allerdyce. The students are all over it!”

Charles reached out with his mind. “Yes, I can feel the unity of focus. The buzz.”

“I wish we could close down the school’s access to the site.”

“That doesn’t sound like you, Ororo. You’re not usually the type to censor knowledge.”

“I’m worried about morale. John’s defection hurt so many people here.”

Charles scanned the first paragraph hungrily. The volcano had grown active again, spewing sprays of ash across the island, Castle spent his days sweeping the pale grey misery off his porch and wondering if the blistering hatred in the mountain’s heart would spill over on him and his little world. Maybe it was what they all deserved. A good opening.

“Charles?” Ororo said, calling him back to reality. “What should we do?”

“Perhaps Kitty can find out something,” he responded. “Isn’t it possible to trace web addresses somehow? Maybe we can find Magneto this way.”

“I’ll go talk to her. What are you going to do?”

His eyes returned to the screen. A thread of curiosity and pride tightened inside him. “Read,” he replied.

 

***

 

Mystique wasn’t interested in the boy’s puerile offerings. “So this is what he spent three months doing,” she hissed into the air of the public library’s public computer room. She clicked on the orange button labeled “forum.”

Crytal4Mation
St. John, I love you! Your book has changed my life. Castle is me and I am alone on that island. Don’t ever stop writing!

emRome93
It doesn’t matter they say u are a terrorist. U have so much pain I can feel it in ur story. U have to fight for what u believe. I understand.

ptbarnum4HOPE
Castle In Exile is a work in the outlaw tradition of Gide, Kerouac and Bukowski. Your prose is like raw meat on a black eye. If I was a vampire I would drink you.

“Stupid, stupid child!” Mystique cried, and annoyed library patrons turned to stare at the hulking teen with the small dark eyes and greasy hair whose large tongue slurred his speech into a stew. She glared angrily back with all the resentment of a tough inner-city life she had never lived. She wanted to tell them all what she thought of them and their insignificant lives, but that would just get her thrown out of the library. No, she could control herself. She could be patient. Magneto would soon grow tired of sharing the spotlight with that strutting peacock of a boy. Pyro was using his proximity to the great mutant for his own advancement. It was galling.

She wished she could stop the bitter pangs of jealousy. How could Erik do this to her? Still, even separated from Magneto, she knew she was his most valuable and loyal lieutenant. Tomorrow she would follow her lead into the heart of the FDA office in Oakland. She would prove again that of all his champions, she most deserved to stand beside his throne when they ruled the world.

She logged off the computer and trudged out of the library, snarling venom at the patrons who were glad to see her leave. Ten minutes later, she left the restroom of a nearby shopping mall as a 10 year old girl in a light cotton dress with a pattern of raspberries on the vine. The lightness of this new body lightened her mood, and she skipped along the sidewalk, letting her arms fly at her side. She sat herself in the grass of a local park and thought again about the next day’s mission. Getting through the security system would be easy. She could flawlessly duplicate the retinal patterns of a vacationing scientist. She knew the layout of the complex and where they kept the sample. Could it be true what her sources had said about the terrible work they were doing there? It was monstrous. Still, she had learned to believe in monsters.

You’ll see, Magneto. I won’t let you down.

 

***

 

“It makes absolutely no sense,” Kitty told David as they left lunch. “It’s a website! It has to respond to a “whois” query. It has to be registered with ICANN.”

“And it’s not,” David replied.

“And it’s not. John’s site is like a ghost ship on the ocean. It’s there, but where’s the crew? Where did it come from?”

They went outside through the front door and sat on the steps, craning their necks upwards to watch a passing flight of geese. Time to head south again. September in Westchester was always a tease — giving the impression to all the new students that it was always summer at the School for Gifted Youngsters, their new mutant haven. But by the time they’d settled in, the first chill of fall would have arrived and they would realize that school was still school, that there was no exemption from the trials of adolescence, and that they were still in the same world of hatred they had run from.

“What do you think of the book?” David asked.

She blew out an exasperated breath. “It’s good. It’s annoying. Talented, relentless, self-important.”

“Just like John,” he replied with a laugh.

“Just like John. I mean,” she said suddenly, as if the previous discussion had never ended, “Someone’s got to be hosting the site!” Just then Doug Ramsey wandered out from the hedge garden, head down in the book he was reading. A penny dropped. She sprung to her feet and stood in his path so that he almost collided with her before snapping his head up. She gave him no time to think. “So, Doug, how could you put a site online without anyone being able to track the host?”

He answered automatically. “Well, there are a bunch of ways. For instance, Jones and I have developed an alternate sort of Internet bandwidth, if you will.”

“So, for instance, you could host John’s website there.”

He mouth dropped open and Kitty smiled in triumph. “Ani lo yodea,” he stammered and backed up, changing gears and walking a wide path around her.

“Doug!”

“Je n’ sais rien!” He began running up the steps into the school. “Semmi! Nada!”

David came up beside her. “Should we tell someone? Mr. Summers?”

Kitty turned on him, crunching the gravel of the driveway under her shoe. “You better not, Alleyne.”

“Kitty! Pyro is a member of the Brotherhood! He’s a felon!”

She shoved him in the chest. “And I’m practically an X-Man! You will not say one damn word!”

 

***

Welcome to Cutline, new captions for today’s headlines. We begin today’s program with a fascinating story that joins the worlds of political action, national security and the arts. This week, an untraceable rogue website appeared on the Internet featuring a novel by a mutant named St. John Allerdyce. “Castle in Exile” is a violent fantasy tale of a young man in search of his lost love. The author of the novel is a wanted mutant terrorist, implicated in several high profile attacks in this country. A hit counter on the novel’s website shows an exponential growth in readers, and the forum indicates that there is a growing and enthusiastic young fan base.

To discuss the book and its implications for national security are Ryan Dennison with the group Friends of Humanity, an organization that seeks to raise awareness on the dangers of mutant integration, and Carmen Batiste, a freelance culture writer whose syndicated reviews appear regularly in independent newspapers around the country. Carmen, what did you think of “Castle in Exile?”

So you think the book has a political agenda, Ryan?

And I should point out that none of the alleged crimes perpetrated by Allerdyce has resulted in death.

Doug chewed nervously on his thumbnail, prying off a piece which he dropped carefully in the overflowing garbage can.

“Do you think we made a mistake posting the book?” he asked.

Jones giggled, watching the TV, blinking to bring up the site’s counter which was going up moment by moment.

“No way,” he said. “This is more fun than the time we reprogrammed the Sony DRM code to auto-seed content on torrent sites.”

 

***

 

Bobby could feel the rumble of the bass before he even got to the gym. He was hurrying, almost late. And why? He had been obsessing about his fucking hair. Today of all days. In another hour, he’d be covered in sweat, running and rolling in smoke and mud and God knows what; and yet he had spent 15 minutes gelling, poking, shaping. BOOM BA-BOOM, went the bass. Or was it his heart?

He swung open the door of the gym and looked in. He was the last of his team mates to arrive. Peter and Kitty were on their mats, beginning their stretches. Like him, they wore fresh X-sweats. Soon, they would all be changing into something altogether more serious. Jubilee, sitting on the floor beside Rogue, wore a cast on her right leg. Their squad leader had been absolutely fierce at practice last week, and they had all held their breaths as she leaped from the training apparatus, twirled through the air, shooting sparks at imaginary enemies… And it would have been a really impressive landing if she had made it. Now she was sidelined for the next six weeks. As Bobby passed them, he heard Jubilee saying, “You have to get in close to the targets, Rogue. Behind Pete or Bobby. Once you’re close, you’re lethal.” Then her voice was lost under the music.

Once inside the gym, the thump of the bass had been joined by the higher colors of cymbals and shimmering guitars. Horns chimed in with their opinions at odd intervals.

“Sam,” Bobby shouted. “What is this?”

Sam Guthrie stood behind his full DJ station, set up at one end of the gym. He wore a knit cap with his headphones over top, one ear on, one ear off. He leaned forward and spoke into his microphone with an accent that was a strange amalgam of his native Kentucky and some dark, smoky club in Brooklyn. “Bobby, my brother, today is your big day. I thought I would offer some funky inspiration to the warriors.”

Bobby rolled his eyes, but he couldn’t help smiling. He moved to a mat and joined the others in stretching. It was a big day. Scott and Ororo were going to take them through a battle simulation in the Danger Room. “Bigger and more challenging than anything you’ve faced before,” Cyclops had promised earlier that week. The new X-Men understood what it meant. It was time to show what they’d learned and prove they were ready for real world action. The thought was more than a little intimidating. He watched Jubilee move over to Pete, bending to give him his advice. She might be sitting this one out, but she was still their team captain.

“Funk music is about chaos and order,” Sam announced through the big speakers. “Listen to the downbeat: One! Everybody in the band proclaims it loud and clear. A foundation. A common starting place. The kick and snare lay down the law, solid as a house. That’s you, Jubes. Nothing stops you and nothing stops the beat.” She gave him a sceptical look as she moved over to talk to Kitty.

“And then the rest of the band starts playing,” Sam continued, and as the ‘one’ came round again, he grunted a guttural, “Hunh! Listen to the bass. BOM-BOM-daBOM! That’s you, Pete. A deep, smooth figure that rises from the depths and holds out its hands to the world. Nothing wrong here as long as Mr. Bass is doing his job.”

Pete smiled shyly as he bent his forehead down to his straightened leg.

“Kitty, hear that? You’re the hi-hat. Cha-katta-katta-chakata-ka! You’re that crazy pulse that runs through the beat, fast and agile, walking through the walls of the song.”

Kitty, bent backwards in bridge pose, jumped to standing, shaking her hips and rolling forward into a somersault. She bowed and retook her mat. They were all grinning now.

“Rogue, baby,” Sam continued, scratching a counter-rhythm on a turntable. “You’re the organ. Whoooosshhhh. Smooth when we need it, hitting hard and dirty when you gotta.”

Rogue shouted over to Bobby. “Is that a compliment? It’s kinda hard to tell…”

Bobby looked up and Jubilee was at his side. He imagined how frustrated she must be to be excluded from their big day; but she was pure professional as she sat on the floor by his mat.

“Remember, Bobby,” she said, close to his ear. “You’re sometimes so busy watching out for everyone else, you forget to watch out for yourself. And careful of your left flank. You always leave it exposed.”

He nodded. He was looking for some way to reply, to express his gratitude to her for all her dedication, when Sam’s voice called out over the music. “Bobby, my man, don’t think I forgot about you!” he said. “You are the horn section. The horniest horns. And you know what they say? They say BAP! BADDA! BAP! BOWWWW! You know what that means, right?”

Bobby shook his head, unable to suppress the giggles that were bubbling out of him.

“Oh, you gotta know!”

“I don’t know! Tell me, Sam!”

“It means ‘Look out, fuckers, the New X-Men are coming!’” And for good measure, he shouted, “Huhn! Come on, on the ‘one,’ I want to hear y’all go ‘HUNH!’”

He raised his arms like the funkiest conductor in the world, and on cue, they all yelled: “HUNH!!” They were on their feet now, jiving, sliding around each other and through each other, even Jubilee, swaying carefully on her cast.

“Hear that? Have mercy! That’s the one. That’s the meaning of funk music right there, boys and girls. We are family. We all take off from the same place. We slide into the world, each of us with something special to say — some particular power. And we do our thing, BOM-BOM-daBOM, katta-chatta-chak, whoooooooosh!!! BAP BAP! But no matter how far we stray, how out there we stretch the groove, we’re all together again…”

He scratched a break and then brought it down hard. “…On the one!”

 

As they made their way to the sub-basement elevators, they were laughing, brimming over with the injection of energy Sam had given them. Bring it on, Cyclops, Bobby thought. We can take it! But the trepidation started to return as they walked down the cold steel corridors towards the equipment room. The four students stood in front of the wall niches where their new uniforms hung. It had been so exciting to be measured for the black smart-leather outfits two weeks ago. Bobby had felt appreciated and mature. But now, as they dressed separately in the male and female locker rooms, he felt the weight of the uniform — the responsibility and the danger it carried in its daunting, black bulk.

“Ready, Bobby?” Pete asked, putting a big reassuring hand on his shoulder.

“I don’t know, am I?”

Pete nodded definitively, and that felt pretty good.

“Okay, let’s do it,” Bobby said.

They met the girls out in the corridor, and together the four young X-men marched to the Danger Room. When they arrived, the door was closed. Leaning nonchalantly on the hatch’s big ‘X’, in jeans and a wife-beater, was the Wolverine. He was trimming a cigar, letting the leaves fall to the immaculate floor.

“So, you babies ready to wet your diapers?” he said. “It’s gonna be bad in there, hoo boy. We’re talking post-apocalyptic urban warfare. We’re talking rockets and flame throwers. We’re talking giant fucking mutant-hunting robots! All cooked up by the sickest fucks in the US government!”

“Okay, Wolverine, enough with the spoilers,” said Storm, coming down the hall from the  locker room. “You’ll all be fine, I know it. You’re ready for this. Just remember: whatever happens, act as a team.”

“Wait,” said Bobby. “Where’s Scott… I mean, Cyclops?”

“Scooter’s taking a pass. I’m his replacement,” Wolverine said with an evil grin.

Bobby’s mouth dropped open. “What do you mean? He said he’d be here!” He felt betrayed. If they could all overcome their fear, couldn’t Scott get over… over all his… issues and join them? Didn’t he want to see what they could do?

Storm had her business face on. In the classroom or in private, she might have offered more sympathy, but today she was their commander. “Plans change, Iceman. We adapt and move on. As a team.”

“Well then, why is he letting the team down?!”

Rogue put a hand on Bobby’s shoulder. “Sugar, he’ll be here next time. You know what he’s going through —”

But he was furious. “Bullshit. I’m not going to let him get away with this!” And to his own surprise, he was suddenly running back towards the elevators. He heard Storm call after him, but he didn’t care. Scott Summers never allowed his students to take the easy way out. Why should he let himself?

The Assistant Headmaster’s office was empty, so Bobby ran up to the teachers’ quarters, rapping loudly on the door of Scott’s suite. Students passing by looked at Bobby with wide-eyed awe as he stood there in his X-Men uniform, but he wasn’t in the mood to be an icon. He was about to knock again when the door suddenly opened. Bobby looked hard at Scott, at the mess he’d let himself become, and he was pissed off.

“Aren’t you supposed to be downstairs leading us?”

Scott’s face was always hard to read. Not only because of his impenetrable glasses, but because he was an expert at controlling his emotions. This time, Bobby could see the effort. He could see the little twitches at the side of his mouth and the wrinkling of the brow beneath the messy hair.

“I’m not up to it, Bobby. Storm will be able to assess you.”

“And Wolverine? You’re going to let goddamn Logan take your job from you?” Bobby asked and pushed his way past Scott into the room.

“Hey, mister,” snapped the teacher. “I don’t remember inviting you in!”

Bobby turned a slow circuit around the room, taking in the unmade bed, the clothes strewn across every surface, the shoebox of photographs overturned in the middle of the carpet. “Look at this place! How could you let it become such a mess?”

Scott closed the door loudly. “Not your business, Mr. Drake.”

Bobby turned to him, and his heart was aching. “What would Jean have said if she saw you like this, Scott?”

Scott wasn’t hiding anything now. “You! Stop it right there, I won’t have you… have you…”

“It’s been a year! We need you. I need you.” Bobby felt scared of the words he was saying, but he couldn’t stop. “When I came to this school, you were the one who busted my lazy ass and made me learn responsibility. You were the one who told me how every day we need to get up and try to be a better person. Every day, we try to make the world a better place.”

Scott sat heavily on his bed, staring at the floor, his breath heavy, his fists tight. “I can’t.”

“Well, try!” Bobby barked. He crouched on the floor in front of Scott, forcing the teacher to see him. “The world isn’t getting any better, Scott. Mutants are in trouble. The students are scared. Xavier is scared; I can see it in his eyes.”

Scott’s voice was all but inaudible. “You don’t understand. You can’t understand what it means.” He looked up at Bobby, clamping his teeth down against the tears. “When I lost her, I lost everything. Before Jean, I was nothing. I was this stupid, angry kid with no direction, no sense of what I could be. Jean… Jean was my lodestone.”

Bobby didn’t know what to do or say. Their positions were reversed — man and boy — and seeing his mentor so hurt and broken was unbearable. More than anything, it made him angry.

“Don’t tell me this, Scott,” he said in a low voice. “Just… just get dressed and… come watch me. I’ve been working so fucking hard. I’ve become a fighter… for you!

“No. Not for me—”

“Yes!” Bobby rose to his feet, towering over the shrunken man. “And don’t you fucking tell me about loss. I lost someone, too!”

“What? You don’t mean… You can’t possibly mean…”

“John! Just say his name, for fuck’s sake! What do you think it’s been like, losing him? It’s worse that you losing Jean! ‘Cause I know John’s still alive, still out there somewhere; but I can’t be with him. Not ever again!”

“I will not let you compare… I… John Allerdyce is a criminal and a malcontent. He was a terrible influence on you. He was nothing but —”

“He was my boyfriend!” Bobby shouted, and saying the words out loud was like letting go of an anchor he hadn’t known he had been carrying all these years. It was terrifying to be this light, like he might blow away and never land again. “He was my boyfriend, okay? My lover! And you pushed us apart.”

Scott stood and marched for the door. “I won’t listen to this.” He pulled it open. “Get out of here.”

A cold shot of fear passed through Bobby — with the door open, anyone could hear what he was saying. Shout it from de rooftops, Remy had told him, so Bobby went on. “I loved him. And now he’s gone. If you… if we had really been there for John, maybe he’d be downstairs in the Danger Room now, fighting beside his friends, instead of with Magneto.”

Scott was a statue. A tear ran down from below his glasses and he turned his head away as Bobby passed him and headed into the hallway.

Bobby was almost at the stairs when Scott shouted. “Bobby!” Bobby turned and looked back. “I hear her voice. She calls me. I-I tell her to go away. I tell her I need to get my life back, but… She keeps calling. She won’t let me go.”

Bobby was trembling. The unbearableness. “Scott… I have to go. They’re waiting for me.”

The teacher pushed his glasses onto his forehead, wiping the tears from his tightly closed eyes. He retreated into his room and closed the door.

At dinner that night, Bobby learned that Scott had climbed aboard his motorcycle and left the school “on an indefinite leave.”

***

He is coming.

No! I have to stop him!

Too late, Jeangrey. You are done now; you and your man. This is no more the time of love. It is the time of the Phoenix.

Chapter 36

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