Chapter 36: “The Last Flowers of Fall (X3)”

They announced his name, and right away his mind said, “uh, maybe not.” His body, however, decided to go with the plan, and he jumped to his feet. As he moved to the front of the depressingly institutional auditorium, he thought of the chemistry test he should have been studying for last night instead of preparing for this speech. What would his parents say if his science grades fell? How would he get into med school? All eyes were on him; his face felt hot; but here he was, so he just marched to the podium as confidently as he could.

The audience regarded him warily. Was it his appearance (his piercings were multiplying and his Mohawk was again tall enough to glue up into spikes) or his topic? Both, probably. He knew he would have to work hard to win them over. He cleared his throat and chanted into the microphone, his voice reverberating flatly against the acoustic tiles on the ceiling and the closed faces in the chairs:

‘I was the one who got dropped / Shut out, banished and locked away! / The knife that did me in, I still carry to this day!’

“Members of the district council, my name is Michael Haddad. I am a senior at Lincoln High. Thank you for inviting me here to speak to you. If there is one message I want to deliver today, it is that mutants aren’t some mysterious group who are out there somewhere, in some other city, in some CNN news report. Mutants are my classmates, my friends, my family.

“As members of the Massachusetts education community, I want you to remember something. As you speak to colleagues and friends over coffee about the ‘mutant threat,’ about registration and other initiatives to limit the rights of this group of Americans, remember that mutants are also your students.”

He felt like his delivery had started a little stiff, but now he was on a roll. He brought up statistics from Andi Murakami’s studies of mutant youth; he related anecdotes of discrimination from friends at school and those he danced with at the Spiderhole. Today’s talk was the fourth or fifth he’d given since moving back to Boston, and he was becoming better at it. He remembered not to stay buried in his notes, but to look different members of the audience in the eye. Some seemed captivated by his ideas, and many looked away, embarrassed. Because they disagreed? Because they felt bad about things they’d done or said to mutants?

“People think we should fear the harm that mutants can do,” he concluded. “I say we should welcome the good they will bring to our community. If we reach out now and let our mutant students know that they are welcome, I believe they will not grow up to be Magnetos, but members of society whose special gifts make them valuable citizens.

“It is my hope that teachers and administrators like you can work with students like me to make sure that no mutant feels like the kid in that song:

“‘Rejected! Crossing bridges in the land of the forgotten! Rejected!’ Thank you.”

Afterwards, he shook a lot of hands. Smiling, professional faces wished him well; others with bigger smiles suggested he couldn’t grasp the complexities of the issues. No one actually offered to help. He felt like a David who couldn’t even get past Goliath’s secretary.

He wandered out alone into the lobby of the district educational building where the very air seemed to scream, “Nothing will ever change if we can help it.” He saw the Deputy Commissioner of Education striding towards the exit, and hurried to catch up with her.

“Ms. Klayborn, have you had a chance to consider my proposal for a mutant student bill of rights?”

For a second she looked annoyed at having been caught before she could effect her escape, but then the professional smile — perennial camouflage of the carnivorous bureaucrat — spread across her well-powdered face.

“Ah yes, Michael,” she replied slickly. “A daring proposal, indeed. I will discuss it with my board and get back to you soon. Next week, probably.”

“Great. I’ll call your office if I haven’t heard from you, okay?”

The malice peeked out from beneath the smile. “Anyway, thank you so much for speaking here today. And your, um, poem was very… energetic.”

He was left standing alone, biting back words of frustration. He felt like a fraud of a punk, not even able to scream his anger in the face of hypocrisy. A short girl in a long coat and tweed cap sidled up beside him and tucked an arm around his waist. The cap was festooned with buttons from new and vintage punk bands. Under it, fluorescent red streaks shot through honey hair that formed a frame for her large, clever eyes. Mike leaned down and kissed her, feeling her lip piercing slide across his lower lip.

“How bad was it, Twitch?” he asked.

“Don’t fish, Mish. It was excellent and you know it. Brilliant choice to use the Rancid lyric. Oh! I found a killer video of ‘Rejected’ on YouTube. Live in Strassbourg. So good.”

“Awesome. Xeno says they’re total sellouts, but he is the essence of unforgiving. Anyway, no matter how good or not good I was, you should have heard the bullshit they fed me after. If no one is willing to admit their own bigotry, how are we supposed to get through to —”

Twitch’s phone rang, the ring tone an orgasmic porn moan. “One sec, babe. Yeah? Wait, what? Slow down!”

And in that second, Mike’s cell rang, too. The coincidence sent a weird chill up his spine. An unsubstantiated conviction formed in his head that something had just gone seriously off the rails in the universe. He checked the caller ID and answered.

“Rayen, what’s up?”

Rayen had been Jubilee’s best friend when his former girlfriend still lived in Boston. The fact that Rayen and Mike had both been so unceremoniously dumped by the girl had drawn them closer together. It had been almost two years since they had all fought together against a gang of mutant-hating thugs on Halloween. Since then, Rayen had grown from the shy, weird girl who was tormented by bullies, into the strong, weird girl who people respected and even emulated.

He knew right away there was trouble; her voice was so shrill and loud, he had to pull the phone a few inches from his ear. “Shit, Michael, it’s all over the news! Todger says it must be a government plot to wipe us out, but what if it’s legit? I mean, this is terrible. I keep thinking of Zandy’s beautiful wings. What if she goes for it? You mean no one will ever see her make psychedelic dust again? I couldn’t stand it!”

“Hold it, I don’t understand…” He managed to slow Rayen down and make her spool out the facts in order. The gravity of the situation quickly sank in. He looked over at Twitch whose eyes were wide with horror. Simultaneously, they said to their respective phone partners:

“A mutant cure?!”

 

The Spiderhole wouldn’t open until 8 o’clock that night, so Corman’s Pizza became the default action center. Mike urged Davey Corman — who had always welcomed even obvious mutants at the restaurant he’d inherited from his father and grandfather — to go into production overtime because he’d be selling a lot of slices over the next few hours. It didn’t take him, Twitch, and Rayen long to get the word out by phone, Facebook and Twitter, and soon Corman’s was filling up with distraught young mutants and their supporters.

“This is totally organized,” Xeno Evil raged in fury, digging his penknife into the table. “Racists and capitalists standing arm in arm to wipe us out.”

Mike grabbed his wrist. “Hey, don’t carve up Davey’s furniture. He’s on our side.”

Rayen took a big bite of pizza and shook her green-tipped dreadlocks. “But he’s right, Mike. When do they ever make a new drug available the same day it’s announced?” On her cheeks and forehead, her power-generated tattoo read “DON’T. CURE. ME.”           

Mike peered around at the anxious faces. They were looking to him and their other unappointed leaders for direction. He didn’t know what to tell them. He wasn’t even a mutant! How could he know what they were feeling?

The bell on the door rang as Todger pushed his way through the crowd on his crutches. When stars were visible in the sky, his mutation allowed him to float several inches off the ground and glide along in silent elegance. By day, he hobbled on legs atrophied by the same X-gene. They made room for him at the “head table.”

Twitch leaned towards him. “What did your friend say?”

“You know how they closed St. Agnes’ last year? The old cancer hospital? Well, it’s already being retrofitted as a cure clinic. Set to open by the 15th.”

The room erupted. Mike understood the seriousness of this report. It wasn’t just a curious news item; the cure was about to take on a physical presence — a living, breathing behemoth — right in their city.

Xeno pounded his fist on the table. “But that means they’ve known about this for weeks. Months! It’s all a fucking setup!”

“How much will it cost?” a girl sitting by the far wall called.

“Yeah, will it be covered through our parents’ HMOs?”

Grimly, Todger told them, “It’s going to be free to anyone who tests positive for the X-gene. Anyone who wants it.”

And that was yet more serious. Free treatments in America? Mike thought. What could it be but a coordinated plot?

“But what fucking coward would even take it?” Xeno said, and for the first time, the room grew quiet. Mike looked around and he knew. Sure, why wouldn’t they at least consider it? He remembered being called “towelhead” in his first week of high school as soon as he stepped from his dad’s car, right after his foreign-sounding dad called out, “Respect your teachers, Michael!” Yeah, Towelhead! Be a good little terrorist! they shouted. His skin had suddenly felt so dark, his breath full of lemon and parsley. Would he have taken a cure if they’d offered him one? One treatment and you’ll be like everyone else.

And he knew they would be there on the 15th, waving signs in protest, screaming: “Mutation isn’t a disease!” But he also knew that some of the kids in this room would be on the other side of the barricades, lining up to be normal.

 

***

 

The rec room was packed to bursting, with nearly every student at the School for Gifted Youngsters present and accounted for. Jubilee had to keep a sharp eye out for clumsy boys who came all too close to falling over the cast that still imprisoned her broken leg. Maybe she should have retreated to a safer spot, but fuck it; the corner of the couch was hers and she wasn’t giving it up without a fight.

“Hey, Josh,” she called to a golden-skinned freshman who was making his way across the room. “You gonna heal my leg, or do I have to send my X-Men after you?”

The boy looked panicked at the thought. “I can’t, Jubilee! Dr. Selvananthan says that I don’t know enough yet. If I lost control of the cell growth, I could give you bone cancer!

She gave him a dismissive wave. “Wimp,” she proclaimed and turned back to the TV which David was turning up for the news report, as infuriating a broadcast as she’d ever seen. They all watched in tense silence right through the final words:

“The Food and Drug Administration has called the cure a giant step forward that will ease the suffering of mutants who, it is estimated, number as many as a million in the United States.”

“I’m not fuckin’ sufferin’, asshole!” Sam shouted at the TV as the station went to commercial.

“Sam!” Ororo, called from her place at the back of the room. Jubilee smirked.

“Sorry, Ms. Monroe,” Sam responded, embarrassed. “But it makes me so mad!”

Keller chimed in. “Me too. Are they saying I’m a disease?”

Ororo walked to the front of the room and David muted the TV. “That’s a good question. What are the assumptions being made in this speech?”

“That mutants have something wrong with them,” said Clarice.

Kitty added, “It assumes that any mutant would automatically want a cure.”

Ororo nodded. “Good. Remember, no text is neutral, even if it presents itself that way. Only by identifying the point of view can you truly debate its meaning.”

The news was back.

“Our organization welcomes this breakthrough and the relief it promises…”

Loud exclamations and jeers filled the room, followed by a chorus of shushing. The text identified the man as a spokesperson for “Mutant Refuge Services,” an organization Jubilee had never heard of.

“…and we look forward to working with the authorities for speedy implementation of the cure.”

“Where did they find that white-bread hypocrite?” David asked.

“I think it’s a set up,” Sam said. “He’s probably not even a mutant.”

Jubilee’s peripheral vision suddenly filled up with Peter Rasputin. He leaned in and spoke in a low voice. “You okay? Can I get you anything?”

Jubilee felt obliged to roll her eyes. “Jesus, Pete, don’t treat me like a complete cripple.” Despite her objections, she was touched by his consideration.

He gave a small nod over his shoulder. “Look at Rogue,” he whispered.

The girl was sitting on the edge of her chair, draped in a black shawl. Lately, her makeup had been immaculate, lovely, cold as ice. Bobby was beside her, but not really with her. She was staring, staring at the TV with an intensity that could melt glaciers.

Jubilee whispered back. “What’s with her, these days? She looks like a cover model for Vampire Glam Weekly. I know they stopped tearing each other new assholes, but I don’t think Bobby’s making her very happy.”

Peter shook his. “To me, it looks like she wants that cure.”

“Bullshit,” Jubilee hissed. “No one in their right mind… I mean, she’s almost an X-Man!”

“Okay, people!” Ororo called to the room. “Dinner time. Professor Xavier will talk to us all afterwards and we’ll be able to continue this discussion.” Everyone scrambled to their feet and headed noisily for the doors.

“You need a hand?” Pete asked her and she shot him a threatening look. He smiled and raised his hands in surrender. “I’ll save you a place at our table.”

The fact of the matter was she should have let him help. She was getting sick and tired of lumbering around like a buffalo. She had sores on her side where the crutches dug in and she could feel her finely toned body growing slack and stiff. She decided to give herself one more minute before she dragged her way down the hall. She watched the muted news, vaguely amused by the earnest dumb show. Suddenly a name she recognized, a mug shot over the anchorman’s shoulder. She dived for the remote, tumbling off the couch and dragging herself over to the side table where David had left it.

“The mob leader, arraigned on charges of racketeering and tax evasion, had been released on $4,000,000 bail over the protests of the DA’s office. Now it appears their fears have been realized. We take you to the federal court building in Los Angeles where…”

Jubilee pulled herself back up on the couch, cursing as her cast dragged her leg back to earth with a whack.

“Cassius Kwan was last seen Thursday when he appeared for a brief pre-trial procedural hearing. No one knows when he might have skipped bail or where he has gone. It would not be easy for him to board a commercial airplane, but fears are he will slip through the borders and vanish off into the world to live on what might be vast cash resources.”

Her heart raced in her chest. Since his arrest, she had followed every news story and spent countless hours staring at the familiar face as he grinned at the cameras outside the courthouse as if he had nothing to lose. The man had aged, but there was no question. And now, the fools had lost him!

She was still sitting there 20 minutes later when the segment was done and cure coverage filled the screen again (already the big story of the week had its own logo and theme music). Pete found her there, and silently handed her a plate of food which she silently accepted. She could guess what he was thinking: She wants to fight the cure bastards, and she’s pissed because she can’t. And he should have been right; that’s what she should have been focused on. But if ghosts were so easy to ignore, no one would bother telling ghost stories around the campfire, would they?

 

***

 

It was all John could do to keep from puking up the tasteless slop he’d just devoured with the rest of the Brotherhood down in the canteen of their new headquarters. He stood in the doorway with mounting anger, watching Magneto smack his lips and actually chortle as he worked his way through his pressed duck and sipped on his Alsace Willm Gewurtztraminer. The elegant repast looked out of place in the large, Spartan chamber of polished steel that served as Magneto’s office. So, too did the short, round man in the chef’s hat and apron who stepped forward periodically to pour more wine. The Master of Magnetism seemed to think he was in the finest restaurant in Paris, not 30 feet underground in a Northern California forest.

“Where do we suddenly have money for you to hire a personal chef?” John asked, unable to hide his resentment. “If the Brotherhood is so rich, why did you and me have to stay in such cruddy dives all the way out here? I mean, we were driving some crap-ass Dodge, and now you suddenly have a Benz and a fucking chauffeur!”

Magneto wiped his mouth delicately with linen and smiled smugly at his fiery amanuensis. “One of our generous donors came through with some much-needed funds.”

“Donors? Who?”

“Pyro, my lad, there are many who wish to see us succeed in our goals — wealthy mutants who know they will hold a place of honor in our new world order.”

“I bet they’d be delighted to know how you’re spending their money.”

“If I am to rule, let me act like a ruler. You’d be surprised how much loyalty I command just by playing the part.” His eyes narrowed and something acid crept into his smile. “Now that you’re a world-famous novelist, you too might learn how to use celebrity to your advantage.”

John actually blushed, and the loss of control made him even madder. “I had nothing to do with it. Two of Xavier’s puppies put my book online without permission.”

Magneto’s smile died on his face. His heavy steel chair slid backwards magnetically as he rose to his feet, pulling on not only his cape, but his unmatched hauteur. John felt a ripple of fear.

“Nonetheless, Pyro, your work is garnering attention,” Magneto said, his voice resonating against the steel walls. “I worry that your loyalty is compromised. Now that you have acolytes of your own, would you still lay down your life for me? If not, you are of no use.”

John’s voice was low and choked. “You know I would, Magneto. I serve you and your cause. That novel is… nothing.”

Magneto held him in his steely gaze a moment before speaking, and John felt that the real test was happening now. With Magneto, you were never assured a passing grade.

“Good. St. John Allerdyce has no place in the future; remember that. But the name Pyro will command respect and fear. Now, I need you to drive out to the crossroads and meet our new recruit. Give her the tour and then bring her to me in two hours.” Magneto turned and walked towards the wall. A small wave of his hand and a heavy plate of steel moved aside to reveal his bed chamber beyond.

“Can I take the Benz?” John called after him.

“You will take the jeep,” Magneto replied as the wall closed behind. “And I don’t want it dented!”

John climbed the steps and exited into the filtered green light of the forest through the hidden doorway. The guards on duty turned stern faces his way (sometimes the sheer proliferation of stern faces in the Brotherhood was fucking hilarious), but when they saw who it was they backed off, even though protocol demanded a challenge and a password response from anyone entering or leaving. John gave them a contemptuous sneer and marched into the woods.

He was an object of fear and envy among his fellow soldiers. That was fucking hilarious, too. No one fucked with Pyro, because Pyro had Magneto’s ear. He knew he was also rumored to be Magneto’s lover; he did nothing to quash that rumor even though it wasn’t true. “Use celebrity to your advantage,” Magneto had said and he was right. Of course, after that, their conversation had become altogether more hypothetical. Would you lay down your life for me?

Uh, no? Definitely not. But then why was he even here? Did he believe Magneto should be mutant ruler of Earth? Sure, why not? He’d be a narcissistic despot just like any other. He’d abuse power and people would suffer. What else was new? So, why be here instead of at Xavier’s?

John came to the clearing where the vehicles were kept, barking an order to the attendant who quickly cleared the leafy camouflage from the jeep and handed him the keys. Why be with the Brotherhood? The answer was simple. Here they didn’t fuck with him. And furthermore, the Brotherhood was actually accomplishing shit! Xavier tut-tutted and met with the same heads of state who were manufacturing anti-mutant pharmaceuticals. The Brotherhood blew up supply trucks and made key scientists disappear. If John had learned one thing in his life, it was how to pick the winning team.

That novel is…nothing. Another questionable statement. He had given up writing once, burning up his puerile poems to focus on the fight for mutant supremacy. But he hadn’t been able to stop for long. Castle in Exile had demanded to be written, and now it was being read. Despite his annoyance with Doug and Jones for uploading it without permission, he was more than a little pleased. Sometimes, he’d lie in his bunk at night and imagine some kid — maybe one who just got fucked with by some abusive parent or teacher— reading his words, and feeling stronger.

St. John Allerdyce has no place in the future. Maybe. But sometimes John worried that Pyro was just a made-up name stuck on a dime-a-dozen punk attitude… and all the future in the world wouldn’t make him any more real.

He parked the jeep and walked the last 100 meters to the road. The bus let passengers off about a mile to the south, and anyone coming to the Brotherhood compound had to hoof it to this secret meeting place. He only had to wait about 10 minutes before he heard her boots tapping against the blacktop. From his hiding place, he noted with amusement that her own badass attitude looked a little fuzzy at the edges. No one was ever too confident when coming to meet Magneto.

“Callisto!” he called, standing up. She dropped into a crouch, turning a fierce face his way. John fingered the control on his left palm that operated the fire controls on his right. He was stupid to have startled a powerful mutant like that. He shouted, “Stand down! It’s me, Pyro!”

She straightened and walked towards him. “Ha. Glad I didn’t take you out,” she said as she stepped off the road and came to stand beside him. “I’m a bit tense today. And I hate dressing like a human!” She held up her arms and made a face at the bulky sweater she wore. “I want back in my skin.” Pyro resisted rolling his eyes. She was from Omega Revolt, and they always made a big deal about your mutant name, about dressing like homo superior.

He checked the road to make sure they were unobserved and said, “Come with me.” As he drove her back to the compound, he told her some of the basic security rules and the day’s passwords. “Until you’ve been here for at least two weeks, you won’t be able to enter any red-flagged area without permission from a team leader.” He had to shout a bit above the wind that whistled through the open vehicle.

“Such as you,” she said, looking over at him. His first impression was that this was a dig, but no, she was just figuring her place in the hierarchy. “So, is the Brotherhood going to accept me, or am I going to have break a few heads to get anywhere?”

“Don’t let all the posturing assholes intimidate you. We have rules and a chain of command, so if someone fucks with you, you tell a team leader. Such as me.” He gave her a wink. “Everyone’s uptight when they get here. Just remember, we’re all on the same side.” He wasn’t sure what was moving him to be so nice to her. Maybe it was the persistent memory of his first days in Westchester, his first days as the outsider.

“And what about him?”

“Magneto? Hey, he picked you for the Brotherhood, right? That means he respects you. He’s even bringing you here ahead of your buddies. Uh, Arclight, right? And, um…”

“Kid Omega.” They hit a rut in the road and jerked in their seats. Both held on with admirable aplomb, and they exchanged smirks. But then the tension settled again over Callisto’s face. “I just want Magneto to know that I can be really valuable to him. I want to knock his socks off.”

“Heh, and they’re expensive socks. Listen, don’t think too far ahead now. Just take it one day at a time.” As soon as he said it, something about the phrase bugged him. He furrowed his brow and turned his head away. Then he knew. It was straight from the lame orientation spiel made to every quivering new student at Xavier’s… by Bobby fucking Drake. John was channeling the jerk who had turned his life upside-down.

All at once, he felt violated by memory. From day to day, he worked hard to keep Drake at a mental distance, because every time he let that idiot into his head, his body reacted with palpable longing. Those blue eyes would dance in front of him, the feel of the peach fuzz on Bobby’s ass would seem almost within reach. Pyro, lieutenant to Magneto himself, would cease to exist and only some stupid romantic fantasy of fire and ice would seem real. Fuck! He was damned if he was going to start acting like mascot of the Brotherhood! He spun the jeep around a sharp corner, and Callisto had to grab the roll bar to keep from falling out.

They pulled to a jerking stop in the vehicle area, kicking up sod, and the attendant ran to meet them. Callisto said, “Okay, you’re right. I just have to focus and get my shit together. I mean, what do I have to worry about? I was an area commander for Omega Revolt! I have my tattoo, I have my skin —”

“Hey! You want some advice, lady?” John’s sudden fury caught her by surprise. He felt a cruel satisfaction at the way her mouth fell open. “Magneto doesn’t want to hear about Omega Revolt. Your little Mickey Mouse action club is a fucking joke. And he doesn’t like tattoos. Remember that.” He jumped out of the jeep, throwing the keys on the ground in front of the attendant and storming off.

“Pyro!” Callisto called after him. “Where do I go now?”

“Figure it out yourself, ‘Area Commander!’”

Fucking Bobby, he thought bitterly.

 

***

 

The mansion had been a place of shamed silence and sudden explosive outbursts in the days since the mutant cure had been announced. Voices of support and sympathy, but also invective and blame rang through the halls. The professor had asked the older students to stay close to the younger, to provide an example, and to be there in case they needed to talk. Group homework sessions were an obvious and unobtrusive answer. And so there they were — Kitty, Bobby, Rogue, Sam, Terry, Doug, and a half dozen of the new students — in the music room with their books open, huddled close and working away in silence.

Peter had been thinking about the widespread theory that the cure was actually a government plot to wipe them out. He just couldn’t accept it. Even if some bigots in Washington wanted that, he didn’t believe that mutant extermination was official policy. Nor did he believe that most Americans would want such a thing. Professor Xavier’s message of faith in humanity had found fertile ground in Peter’s religious upbringing. His father always said of the foibles of mankind, “They will find the Lord and they will stop acting like children.” Peter wasn’t as sure about the Lord part, but he too believed the world would move beyond hatred and embrace all outsiders. In the future, no one would need a cure to make them “normal.”

Kitty was much more the skeptic. She loved to remind him that for every period of tolerance in history, there was a backlash. She believed all the mutants might yet find themselves peering out through the barbed wire of a prison camp. She was a bit condescending to him about his “utopian” dreams, but at least she considered him more a romantic than a naïf.

“What are you staring at?” Kitty asked him, bemused.

Pete was startled. “Sorry, I didn’t realize I was. How’s your paper going?”

Sam laid his head down sideways on his books. “She’s pulling off another ‘A’ in her sleep, naturally.” The younger students snickered.

Kitty picked up an eraser to throw it at him when something altogether different hit them.

It was almost a voice. No, it was a wave, like when you play in the ocean and get knocked flat. It was sensation, it was memory, it was pain and relief and disbelief, and a horrible tug tug at the core of everything. A world in red and then in color. Color never seen before, color that breaks your heart. And the eyes of the dead, so deep and entrancing. And then it was a voice after all, a terrible voice: I want you… arra’ arra’ klifkhatonda ssshet!

And it was over. Did it last more than a second? Doug had jerked upwards, knocking his books to the floor. Terry and Rogue had respectively covered their eyes and ears with their hands, like two-thirds of the famous monkeys. Bobby stared, stunned, breathing frost; and Sam, who had been leaning backwards on the back legs of his chair, tumbled over with bang.

“What’s wrong?!” shouted Trent, one of the new students, terrified as he stared at them.

Peter was on his feet, armoring up, looking frantically around for a danger he could not name. He bent low and took Trent’s shoulders gently in his steel hands. “Don’t panic. Whatever it was, it’s over, right?” He looked at Kitty. “You don’t feel it anymore, do you?”

“No,” she replied, shaken.

A rumble of feet. Wolverine raced by the open door and Peter ran out into the hall, calling his name.

Wolverine shouted back, “Stay where you are, Colossus! Keep the kids safe!”

Peter stepped back into the music room in confusion, closing the thick wooden door behind him.

“What is it, Peter?!” Trent cried. “What happened to you guys?” Peter looked at him in surprise. He had assumed they’d all felt… whatever it was. They hastily compared notes. They remembered flashes, but nothing concrete. There was no obvious pattern as to who had felt the phenomenon and who had not.

It was Doug who figured it out several hours later, when it was already too late.

“It’s just us older kids who felt it. Just the ones who knew Dr. Grey.”

 

***

 

‘He won’t leave Los Angeles,’ said Alphonse Maurier, a former bookie, now out on parole after serving seven years in jail for fraud and racketeering. ‘There are too many people who want Kwan’s turf. He leaves, he loses everything.’ When asked where the most wanted gangster in the United States might hide, Maurier laughs. ‘Los Angeles is nothing but hidey-holes. That’s how it was built. He could be right here in the building, making plans, taking out his enemies, and you and me would never know.’ We both look around the unassuming coffee shop which has suddenly taken on a sinister air, as if Cassius Kwan were watching us from behind the innocuous posters of homey coffee plantations.

There was a knock at the door and Jubilee put down the latest issue of Newsweek. She was sitting on her bed, her broken leg propped on a pillow. “It’s open!” she shouted. Josh Foley entered cautiously. His perennial bad posture was worse than usual — he was practically a question mark of discomfort — and his voice broke adolescently. “Hey. Uh, so did you feel that psychic thing before?”

“Yeah, fucked up, huh? Did you?”

“No. What do you figure it was?”

“I dunno. Maybe Xavier blew a circuit. Weird shit happens here all the time. So, Josh, you get my message?”

“Yeah.” Hardly above a mumble. “What do you want?”

“You know what I want.”

The mumble morphed immediately into a loud, cracked cry. “I can’t, Jubilee! I told you I can’t! Why don’t you just wait a few weeks? It’ll be better then!”

“Because I need to get back on my feet now!” She slapped the bed. “Get over here. You can at least feel it and see what’s up.”

Josh ran an anguished gold hand through his blond hair. He closed the door and came to sit uneasily on her bed, staring down at her cast with his golden, glowing eyes. “Okay,” he said quietly. “Just… uh, just breathe normally and, um don’t move. I’m going to examine…” His voice trailed off as he put his hands on her leg. She felt a peculiar, tingling warmth as his power moved through her. He brought one hand higher, onto her inner thigh and immediately his golden skin grew more coppery as he blushed. “Sorry,” he murmured.

“What’s the diagnosis, doc?”

“Like I said, it’s healing well. A couple of weeks and you’ll be out of the cast.”

“And how fast if you healed me?”

Josh pulled his hands off her. He looked into her eyes in misery. “Is it really important?”

“Code Red important. Nuclear important.”

She could tell that despite his reluctance, he wanted to do it. Mutants have powers and powers want to be used. The joy she felt when letting her fireworks fly was the joy he felt when he healed a body.

“I’m going to study my anatomy books tonight… make sure I know what needs to happen.”

“And then you’ll do it tomorrow?” she said, excited and impatient.

“The danger is that I lose control and over-stimulate the cell growth. Then —”

“Bone cancer, you told me.” She put a firm hand on his shoulder and said, “I trust you, Josh.” The boy was only 15. She was 18, hot, and putting herself completely in his hands. She knew he wouldn’t be able to refuse.

“Okay, tomorrow,” he said. He stood up, curling back into a question mark. “Fuck, I’m gonna get in so much trouble if Dr. Selvananthan finds out. You can’t tell anyone, okay?”

“Kid, I was going to say exactly the same thing.”

 

***

 

Thank you for your letter(s), Michael. I have to admire your persistence! I have spoken with my board about the mutant student bill of rights, and they feel that in light of the new cure, the time is not right to pursue this action. The next few months may see many of our mutant students choose to live their lives as normal human beings. It is not at all clear to me where the school board’s responsibility will lie with those who refuse this option. Sincerely yours, N. Klayborn, Acting Chair, blah, blah, blah-di-blah.

The hateful words of the email rang in Mike’s head like a gong, almost drowning out his mother, who was ringing a few bells of her own.

“I do not understand; a C+ on your chemistry test?” She waved the stack of pages at him, like it was his confession of murder in the first degree. “Michael this is not like you! How do you explain this poor performance?”

“It’s just one test, Mom,” he said by rote, while his mind was in full debate with an avatar of the evil administrator. So, is it board policy that mutants should be encouraged to take the cure? Is that to make it easier for them or for you?

“Yes, one dreadful test in your last term at school. Your college admissions are still dependent on final grades, you have to remember that!”

“I had a speech to deliver to the school board! That’s important, too.” Reasoned debate was giving way to fury. And if they found cures for dark skin, different sexualities, independent THINKING, would you use those as excuses to curtail basic rights? Admit it, you’re just a bigot pretending to be a liberal!

Could a protest be organized? But on what grounds? She wasn’t stating anything openly, just suggesting. He was so fucking sick of polite words. He wanted to firebomb the goddamn school board building and stand screaming on the ashes.

“Are you even listening?!” his mother screamed. Suddenly, he was completely aware of her. When had she become so angry? “We permit your questionable political activities only if they do not interfere with your education. Do you not understand the kind of competition you face trying to get into a top medical school?”

He found himself breathing hard, the anger at Ms. Klayborn spilling over into the living room of his house. He had noticed that the more piercings he got, the higher his Mohawk rose, the less his mother really looked at him. He was so sick of working and working and getting no respect. “Maybe I’m not going to medical school, okay?”

His mother became very still.

“Maybe I’m going to become a civil rights lawyer,” he said and he suddenly felt like the floor had vanished out from under him. Free fall.

“Ali! Ali!” she called as if she were on fire and Mike’s father ran in from the family room in panic, spilling cashew nuts from the bowl he carried.

Despite his growing audience, Mike couldn’t stop the words from spilling out. He had no more patience for evasions and secrets. “I’m graduating in January. There’s an intern position at the Mutant Center in Berkeley, California and I’ve applied for it.” He looked up and saw his father standing slack-jawed in the doorway of the living room. “I’ll work there for a year and then, hopefully, I’ll be accepted to UCLA for their pre-law program.”

His father had a strange, pained smile on his face. “Michael, you are telling us jokes. You are going to be a doctor. That’s what we all want.”

“Did anyone ask me if that’s what I want? I’m not the reincarnation of your precious Dr. Aziz!”

His mother exploded. “You want to turn the world upside-down? Your family upside-down? Fine! You will do it without our money!” She stood and stormed out. Mike and his father watched her, and there was nothing but shock hanging between them, like smoke in the air. After a minute, his father sat on the couch beside him and ate again from the bowl of nuts.

“That didn’t go well,” Mike said, not really to anyone. He looked at his father. “I just don’t think med school is for me anymore, you know?”

His father looked so sad. He put a hand on Mike’s shoulder. “We will all talk about it when your mother calms down.” He offered Michael the cashews and Michael took a few. “This new girlfriend of yours…Twitch, is it?” He somehow managed to say it as two syllables. “She is another mutant? Like Jubilee?”

“I’m not sure,” Mike said and watched his father’s eyes go wide. “She won’t tell. It’s a political statement.”

“A damn confusing statement! Have you ever thought of having a nice, normal girlfriend, Michael? One who might make your life more… peaceful?”

“You mean like the peaceful one you found?”

“Don’t be disrespectful to your mother! However, you have a point.”

 

 

***

 

Lunch was over; the students put away their trays and got ready to head to class.

“Hold it,” Kitty said quietly to her table-mates. She looked around and called, “Terry, Sam, get over here.”

“Kitty, we have to get to class,” Doug told her as Sam and Terry sat down.

“There’s something more important than class. We’ll just tell Mr. Eckstein we had ‘mutant problems.’ That usually works.”

The school’s enrollment was four times what it had been when Kitty and the other first years had begun. With Dr. Grey gone (and now Mr. Summers), it had been necessary to hire additional part-time teachers. Kitty knew it was wrong to trick the flatscan staff, but it was just so damn easy to do!

Sam shook his head. “Well Doug and me have history with Ms. Monroe, and you just don’t cut class on her.”

“No, Oliveri is taking your class,” Bobby said. “Storm’s been in the subbasement with the Professor and Logan since they got back in the jet. Something serious is up.”

“It’s got to be about the psychic pulse we felt yesterday,” Peter said. “I don’t know about the rest of you, but I keep remembering more and more details.”

“Me, too,” Terry said. “Not just pictures. Sounds, smells…”

“Emotions even,” Rogue added. “All this sadness and happiness. It’s a mess!”

Kitty nodded. “Exactly. I think we better put our heads together and see if we can get the whole picture.”

Harsh, autumnal sunshine cut through the high cafeteria window like spears of glass, but the cold light did nothing to dispel the air of dread that hung over them all. It was as if they were around a campfire in the heart of the woods, and the telling of ghost stories was essential.

“It’s cold. There are pine trees. Rock faces,” Kitty said, staring into the blackness of her coffee.

Peter continued the narrative. “Water. Animals in the wood. Foraging for winter.”

Bobby said, “I can feel the snow in the air. It’s not ready to fall yet, but soon.”

Terry’s eyes flashed with sudden recognition. “It’s Alkali Lake, isn’t it?”

Bobby looked at Rogue uncertainly, and she nodded. “Yeah, you’re right.”

Doug caught his breath. “It’s a wave. But not just water.”

“Not real; must be imagining,” Peter whispered.

Sam lowered his face into his hands. Concentrating? Hiding? “But he wants it so damn bad. Be real, please be real.”

“What I see.”

“What I need.”

“No,” Kitty said, and they all knew she was repeating a voice heard in her head.

“Trust me,” Bobby replied. “I can control it now…” For whom was he speaking? A female voice, familiar…

“My God,” Peter said, and he looked around at his friends. “I can see his eyes.” And he didn’t need to say that he meant Scott Summers, whose eyes none of them had ever seen.

“And they’re so beautiful… blue,” Terry said with a small thrill. A cloud passed over the mansion at that moment and the sharp sunlight was extinguished.

Kitty licked her lips. “She’s there.”

Doug looked at her, mouth hanging open. “Dr. Grey…”

“No!” Terry objected. “It’s not her. It’s something else!”

“He’s scared.”

“He loves her.”

“It’s not right.”

“Please, it hurts!”

It was Sam who gave that last cry and it stopped them short. No one breathed.

And then the mansion shook.

An explosion — too far away for them to hear the blast, but they could feel the rumble, imagine the destruction. Too far, but far too close. Terry pulled closer to Sam who put a protective arm around her.

The PA system crackled to life. Professor Xavier’s voice, tight and commanding: “All students and staff, remain in your classrooms. Close the doors and do not come out until further notice.” The speaker crackled again and went dead.

The six students stared at each other in shock. “Peter…?” Kitty whispered.

He rose to his feet and armored up, already moving toward the cafeteria door. “New X-Men, with me! You others stay here.”

“Fuck that!” Sam said, following, and somehow Peter didn’t stop him. They moved down the corridor together, staying close to the wall, silent as they could be.

Rogue came up behind Peter and whispered, “Shouldn’t we wait for orders from Professor X?”

He shook his head. “What if the X-Men are hurt? We have to be ready to defend the other students.” He looked around at the group. “If anything happens, I want the New X-Men with me. Sam, Doug, Terry, retreat to the cafeteria.”

“There!” Sam yelled, too loud. They all followed his gaze down the corridor where they could see a figure moving in the mansion’s foyer. A woman with long, red hair, staring around her as if disoriented. A few more steps and she disappeared from view.

Doug whispered. “Oh my God, it’s…” and then he yelled. “Dr. Grey! Dr. Grey!” and ran in her direction. Peter reached.

“Doug, wait!” Peter called, reaching out a hand to grab him, but he wasn’t fast enough. Doug quickly vanished around the corner after the intruder. The others were all frozen to the spot, each waiting for someone else to move first. “Come on,” Kitty urged them, almost pleading. “Let’s go.”

They emerged into the foyer to redoubled horror. Doug was suspended in the air, face white with fright. His hands scrabbled at his throat, as if he couldn’t breathe. The air was of full of Xavier’s ancestral artifacts — vases, tiny bronzes, the umbrella stand and its contents all danced lazily around the figure that might have been Jean Grey, if her eyes weren’t featureless globes of obsidian, if her face weren’t grey-white and shot through with sickly green veins, if the kindness they all remembered in their teacher weren’t twisted into clear hatred for the boy she held aloft telekinetically.

“I remember you,” she hissed. “Akfassni’klekbat lívkiii! Weakness, passivity… You are an affront to the magnificent fury of the mutant race!”

She raised her outstretched arm higher and Doug rose, too, his legs kicking, small squeals of pain escaping his constricted throat. She wore only black shorts, a black top, but trails of fire danced around her form like a translucent gown.

“Leave him alone!” Kitty screamed and ran at the woman, at the not-Jean. The woman’s head swung around, and Kitty was swept off her feet, thrown backwards. She phased through Peter and flew through the wall. Peter shouted in fury and his steel feet pounded across the floor at the woman. He found himself knocked to the ground by an unseen force, held there as if by a massive weight.

The next attacks happened at once, Sam bursting into fiery flight, Terry screaming in sonic assault, Bobby throwing ice, Rogue pulling off her glove and angling to get closer in the mayhem. With terrifying ease and a pale smile, the woman quelled all attacks simultaneously. Sam’s trajectory suddenly changed, sending him smashing through a window; the others were thrown to the floor.

Not-Jean turned her attention back to Doug, her smile blooming into a flower of greatest cruelty. “Can you not breathe, Khrattat frrsknnn? How sad. Try now.”

Some force released and Doug pulled in a deep shuddering breath. “Doctor Grey,” he moaned. “It’s me. Doug. Don’t —”

“And now scream,” she responded and Doug did, his limbs twisting in agony.

“No!!” Kitty shouted, half emerging from the wall, unable to escape any further.

“Hey,” came a new voice, and they all looked upwards to see Hayward Jones standing on the second floor landing. “There’s a faster way to ground,” he said, pushing his glasses up his nose.

The woman’s fiery red haired tumbled and flowed as she tilted her head in surprise. “What does that mean, small frrsknnn?” she asked, with genuine curiosity.

Jones tilted his head in imitation of her. “I’m not talking to you. I’m talking to the high voltage current in the security conduit over your head.” He blinked and the ceiling seemed to burst with blue-white light, as if Jove’s rage were thundering down and through Not-Jean who screamed and thrashed for many agonizing seconds before she finally fell to the ground, blackened, smoking… still.

The students were all released from their confinement simultaneously. Doug fell to the ground with a thud along with the floating artifacts. They all ran to him, Kitty enveloping him in a frantic hug. Jones hurried down the stairs to join them. The front door opened, and Sam rushed in, his eyes going wide as he saw the fallen figure of their enemy.

Rogue and Peter stood over her body which lay in the centre of a patch of burned parquet.

“Is she dead?” Rogue asked, her voice trembling.

“She must be,” Peter replied.

“Peter, there’s no way that was Dr. Grey!” Rogue said desperately. “Jean Grey saved us all at Alkali! She would never…”

Doug was murmuring something, trying to sit up.

Jones said, “Dude, take it easy.”

“He’s right, Doug,” Kitty said. “Lie down. We’ll get you help.”

“…okay. I’m okay,” he said hoarsely, and sat up, rubbing his throat. “Idioglossia. Twin language…”

“What are you saying?” Peter asked, coming to kneel beside him.

“When I heard Dr. Grey talk like that last year, I thought it was some… ancient language or something. But I just realized, it has all the features of idioglossia.” He looked around at their puzzled faces. “Multiple babies — twins, triplets — actually learn to speak their parents’ language slower than single kids, because first they make up one to talk with each other. But the one she spoke was so complex… As if it had kept developing into a full language. What if Dr. Grey had another…”

But then he lapsed into terrified silence, his eyes going wide as Jones was plucked from their huddle. They all turned in shock as the boy rose into the air in front of them. They could watch, but that was all, frozen as they were by insistent telekinetic force. They stared helpless as Not-Jean stood up slowly, the burns vanishing from her body as her skin danced again with pale fire.

“No…” Doug whimpered as Jones floated closer to her until his best friend was eye to eye with the monster. A trail of pee ran down Jones’ leg and onto the floor.

“You’re a clever little frrsknnn, aren’t you, boy?” The woman stared at him and there was nothing human to read in her expression. “Oh no, no blinking! The Phoenix never gets surprised twice.” She threw her head back and laughed, fully, lustily. “You are more fierce than I would have thought. I like that. May you grow up to destroy and devour.” Jones suddenly dropped to the floor. He turned and scuttled back to the others on his hands and knees as the woman who called herself Phoenix walked calmly to the door. She turned and addressed them all from the front steps of the mansion. “Destroy! Devour! It is your birthright as mutants!” The heavy door slammed, leaving the students stunned and shaken.

 

The Phoenix marched down the driveway and then turned to walk across the grass to the middle of the garden. There, by a marble angel who resided over the goldfish pond, she raised her arms and cried, “Khrass’tíi-fa! Khrass’nák ta! Rise, rise! Into the air and then to airless void, my true home, at last!” She thrust her arms upwards again and the fiery corona around her glowed brighter. She could feel her body leaving the ground, but only a few inches. She hung there like a marionette, her toes in the preposterous hospital slippers just grazing the tips of the grass.

“Fuck!” said the Phoenix in annoyance and dropped back to earth. She raised a hand in the direction of the mansion, closed her eyes and reached with her mind. As she walked back to the driveway, the black Mercedes she had called pulled up and stopped, the back door opening. There was no driver. She heard a commotion from the direction of the mansion, and looked back to see Storm and Wolverine running down the steps toward her. With contemptuous ease, she threw them to ground and climbed into the back seat of the car.

“You can drive us, Jeangrey. I give you that much agency. No, you may not speak. There is nothing to say. Take us somewhere where I can think in peace. No tricks. I’m watching.”

The car pulled out onto Greymalkin Lane and headed towards the highway at exactly 10 miles above the speed limit, the way Jean always drove. The Phoenix looked out the window at the world of her imprisonment. Why can I not fly from here? she wondered. As they sped down the highway, she watched the signs of human civilization and was not impressed. Grey buildings, concrete, ash, garbage and all those brief, pointless lives. For all their technological advancement, the humans were no more advanced emotionally than the ones she had observed from her prison in the center of the Earth 20,000 years earlier.

Lost as she was in memories of passing millennia, she had no idea where they were when the car pulled to a stop. The door opened and she stepped out. A human habitation. Small, neat dwellings on a winding street, carefully tended squares of grass in the last flush of green before winter’s cold would leave them brown and dead. She pulled off the slippers and walked out onto the cool lawn. She approached the door of the dwelling, but a feeling of vague dread touched her heart. What had she to fear? She was the Phoenix! Still, she turned and walked around the house where a larger yard displayed the passion of an avid gardener.

Mature lilac trees and hedges of forsythia — the must have made a grand show in the spring — formed the core of the design. Long beds and round beds ranged down either side of meandering stone paths, free of weeds, full of healthy mature plants. Only the black-eyed susans and the last geraniums still flowered this late in the season, and the Phoenix found herself bending to touch them with the gentlest stroke of her fingertips.

Now pour lots of water in the hole, Jean, said a voice and she wheeled around to find its source. Good! I put the plant in and then we tamp down the earth. Tamp! Tamp!

“Who is there?!” she called, rage filling her breast, and her eyes turned jet black.

I’ve come to take you to the mansion for the day, Jean. Would you like that? Xavier! It was an attack! She was ready, there would be no mercy.

But the next voice she heard confused her. Will Mr. Lensherr be there, too, Professor?

Do you like playing with him, Jean?

Oh yes, he teaches me so many things!

“trrrrrKHAASTTIN!” she shouted, turning, seeing, recognizing at last where she was. “Damn you, Jeangrey! Why did you bring us here?!” Furious, she marched towards the back door of the house, the patio furniture flying from her path as she passed. She snarled in rage and the lock on the wooden door made an agonized creak and tore loose, the door swinging open. She paused at the threshold and turned back to the garden. Full of ghosts, full of a past that wasn’t hers, that she wanted no part of. She hissed out a breath of malice and the garden withered; the leaves dried and curled, the plants blackened and lost their will to stand. The dried soil lifted on the breeze and, within moments, the garden was a wasteland of grey ash.

Something inside the Phoenix broke loose, like a sob that never made it to the surface.

“Dead,” she exulted. She entered the house. Every object was familiar and not. They belonged to a life that clung to her own like a parasite. She saw her own face, younger, fuller, staring from the side of a coffee mug. She shattered the mug with her mind. “Do you think sentiment means anything to me, Jeangrey? Or did you think your progenitors would appear and somehow stop the Phoenix?!” She moved into the living room, burning family photos in their frames. “Pray that they aren’t home, Jeangrey. I will show them no mercy.”

She moved up the stairs, unconsciously walking her fingertips up the banister as the child Jean had every time. She walked into the bedroom that was still a shrine to Jeangrey’s adolescence. ’N Sync ignited first, and then every book, bauble, barrette and long lost boyfriends twirled into a tornado. The Phoenix walked in the eye of the storm to the closet, where she found the clothes she wanted — red as blood, red as flame. She shredded the rest with telekinetic talons as she left the room.

The Phoenix waited in the chair by living room window. Don’t you want to help me with the cookies, Jean? I’m making them specially for your professor.

– No, Mommy, I’ll wait for him here.

– Are you really learning anything from those men?

Enough! She breathed deeply, forcing the Jean-mind back to its room under the stairs, full of spiders and solitude. Alone in the roiling void of her consciousness, she waited, as she had for millennia. She felt the Earth turn in its orbit, and the ache of life as it clung fearfully to the speeding ball.

And then he arrived, as he always had.

Xavier entered the room, but why did he cling to this absurd form — this crippled old man whose mighty power would soon be lost to the ravages of human mortality? Why did he not cast off the frail shell and engage her on the plane of the mind? Absurdity!

He spoke to her in his human voice: “I’ve come to bring you home.”

“I have no home!” she heard herself respond.

“Yes you do,” he said calmly. “You have a home and a family.”

Inside her, Jeangrey hurled herself violently against the door of her cage. The Phoenix realized she made herself vulnerable when she communicated in words, at their level.

*arrKHHAAAftn’iiiiii!* she snarled at him telepathically, seeking to tear his spectral form loose and confront him in the world of the mind. But then she realized how she could beat him. Xavier still thought of himself as human. He was afraid to cut himself loose and BECOME. She would use that fear to her advantage. She would tear his body apart with the rage of the Phoenix, and his mind, too, would die inside that fragile vessel.

He recovered quickly from her mental attack. “I want to help you,” he said.

“Help me? What’s wrong with me?”

A third voice spoke. “Nothing! Absolutely nothing.” Who was it? Familiar… But she didn’t dare break her focus, or Xavier would attack.

*skharTAAAA!naá’d! brr’EGAH!* She let loose the full force of her telekinesis. He would have been torn instantly to pieces, but he was using his mighty mind to dampen her powers. At one time it would have worked, but now the Phoenix was risen, fully and triumphantly, and no force on Earth could stop her.

“Jean! No!” Of course! It was Lensherr’s voice! Her favorite teacher… he was the other here in the house. Fool, did he think he could interfere? Still, she didn’t want to destroy him. She felt for his presence, hoping he was out of range of her attack.

Focus! She reminded herself. Where was Xavier? His mind was gone! She twirled in the void of pure consciousness and yet he was nowhere!

*Hello, Jean.*

Xavier! On her like a barnacle, like a boarding party. Too close! She braced herself against the spine of the cosmos and pushed back.

*Jeangrey is not here, old man. You know all too well you are addressing the Phoenix.*

*Jean, the time has come to put aside childish things. You are strong enough to face the truth.*

She knew it was a trick, from the trickiest old trickster of tricks. Fine, she could play along. Let him waste his last moments in pointless games. He still kept a tether line to his decrepit body, and that body was dying by degrees. She need only keep him talking, and soon she would win.

*What truth, Xavier? The Phoenix is amused by your posturing.*

His mind-voice was unnervingly calm. *There is no Phoenix, and you know it very well.*

Panic seized her for a moment. Deep inside, Jeangrey’s strength grew. The Phoenix growled with the hunger of the neutron star! She ripped at Xavier with beak and talon.

*The Phoenix is a creature of the Stars, old man! She is fire and rage, a billion years old, and she will return to rule the heavens!*

Xavier, on every plane of reality, smiled indulgently. *Now, you know that isn’t true, don’t you, Jean? Shall I tell you the origin of the Phoenix persona? I think you’re ready to hear it now.*

*Born in the heat of the nebula! Star stuff and the first and only orgasm of the CREATOR!*

*Jean, you’re a woman of science. Does that sound even vaguely credible?*

She must not hear this. She had to sweep him away, destroy even the memory of him from every human and mutant! She had to leave this planet so he could not get to her!

But still he continued, though his body was being returned to base elements. *You were extraordinary even as a child, Jean. Probably the most powerful mutant that has ever existed. Even before you could talk, you could hear the voices all around you — perhaps the echoes of every mind on Earth — undifferentiated, overwhelming. And though your parents loved you, they could only relate to you as human parents to a human child.*

She wanted to scream, to hide! But she was frozen, unable to shut down her senses.

*So who could the child turn to? The only recourse for her lonely psyche was invention. Lord knows, she had enough raw material to work with. The thoughts of the human race, the raw clay of love, jealousy, joy and hatred.*

*But… I remember space…*

*You remember the astronomy shows your father loved to watch. Sitting in his lap, hearing his own fantasies of space travel in his mind. That was when the twin you had invented — the Phoenix — found her unique identity at last.*

*But if I was so… If Jeangrey was so powerful, why would she need the Phoenix?*

*You knew you were different. By the time I met you at the age of 10, you already felt profoundly alienated from your parents and peers. Feelings that usually do not develop until adolescence were already ripe within you. Only the Phoenix understood your frustration.*

*She understood…*

*And more… The Phoenix was a vessel for your rage — rage that was too disturbing for an essentially kind girl like Jean to accept within herself.*

The words began to form themselves from the swirl of confusion. Help me, she wanted to cry, and Let me be free of her… But those were Jeangrey’s words! How could they come from the Phoenix, the merciless might born in the heart of the galaxy?!

No, the paradox was too much for her. “Get out of my head,” she hissed on the corporeal plane.

“You must trust me,” he said, and she could see both his strength and his fear. “You're a danger to everyone and yourself.”

“No! I am the Phoenix”

“Look at me, Jean! I can help you!” She could feel his mind battering at hers. “Look what happened to Scott, you killed the man you love because you couldn't control your power.”

No! It wasn’t true. I couldn’t kill Scott, I love… I mean, Jeangrey loved… But the Phoenix…

She felt her identity losing ground. Like bodies in a mudslide, she and Jeangrey tumbled into the void, calling to each other in the language they invented: Kharas’staNAh! Orméhh! Sister! Save me!

She was going mad, and the only way to survive was to destroy him, destroy him before she was lost. These were the last words she perceived before the rage of the Phoenix eclipsed all conscious thought: “Don’t let it control you.”

She knew some door had closed. She heard someone call her, someone familiar. She rose and followed him from the house and into the waiting vehicle. They drove away from the familiar street, and later they boarded an airplane.

“Is Xavier dead?” she asked at some point.

Lensherr answered. “Just rest now, Jean. Everything will be all right.”

It was night and she was peering through the plane’s small window at the stars above. She was Jeangreyphoenix and she would be, for all eternity, alone. The stars were too high above her, out of reach. She had so much power, but not enough to fly to a home that had never been hers to begin with. Lensherr. He would tell her what to do. She closed the window and shut down her thoughts.

Note: In his speech to the school board, Mike is quoting “Rejected” by the band Rancid.

Chapter 37

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