Continued directly from Part 9b....
The newest door in the sub-basement slid aside, and the professor led
his students behind it. What he'd intended to give them for
Christmas was being revealed on New Year' Day. Perhaps that was
fitting -- a new year, a new chapter in their mission here.
Turning his chair, he watched them file in and look about: Hank,
Jean, Warren, Frank, Ororo and Scott, bringing up the rear with young
Bobby. After the events of two nights prior, the boy had latched
onto Scott as a substitute big brother. He'd needed a role model
desperately, and had begun imitating what Scott did, what he wore,
what he ate (which could be a problem), and even how he walked.
"It looks like a locker room," Warren said now, baffled.
"Pretty high-tech locker room," Scott remarked as he walked along one
of the two walls, studying metal cabinets. Finding one with his own
name on it, he pulled open the glass door and withdrew a dark
sweatshirt stored inside. It had a small X stitched on the breast.
Next, he lifted out a thin, kevlar vest made along the lines of a
police flak-jacket. On the back, in place of a name, was a large
white X inside a circle. Laughing, Scott held it up. "It looks like
a big target, professor. 'Please shoot me!'"
The students all laughed, and Xavier smiled. "I admit, that thought
hadn't occurred to me," he said. The others had gone to find their
own lockers, though Bobby looked for his in vain. "This was built
before you arrived," Xavier told him. He hated to leave the boy out,
but, "You aren't yet ready for this stage of training, Bobby. When
you are older, you will be able to join them."
The professor could sense puzzlement in the others. He'd been
enjoying their anticipation over these past months, and their
attempts to ferret out what he and Reed had been up to. Now, they
were trying to hide their disappointment, and he caught more than one
stray thought of, *This is it? A new locker room and some workout
clothes is all they've been hiding?*
When he thought they'd waited long enough, and were winding down in
their exploration of the contents of their new lockers, he triggered
a button on the remote in his hand, and a light went on above a door
hidden in the recess on one side of the hallway. The flashing red
light caught their eyes -- a circle with a bar through it. Then it
switched to a steady white X. He'd instructed Reed to be certain
that the wait/ready light was more distinctive than going red to
green, for Scott's sake. Curious, his students had all gathered
around the door, and when the X appeared, the door opened to reveal
the heart of his surprise.
He heard soft "Wow"s as they moved through the short corridor into
the room beyond, their faces a mix of awe and mild confusion as they
studied the huge, round room with its soaring metal walls and lighted
glass insets. Slowly, they filed out onto the circled X set in
"What is this place?" Warren asked.
"It's an automated training center," Xavier told them, "but Dr.
Richards jokingly referred to it as his �danger room.'" Then he
pointed to a high, lighted alcove like a stadium box with a
reinforced glass viewing port, set above the door through which
they'd entered. "That is the control center. You reach it by
stairs, or an elevator in my case, located back in the entry
corridor. Most of the room's more interesting, and more dangerous,
features are programmed from there, and the glass can absorb nearly
any blow except Scott's eye-blasts at full power."
"Impressive," Hank muttered, a gleam of appreciative envy in his eye
that Xavier found amusing. Hank and Reed were good for each other,
he thought. Reed was someone to whom Hank had to look up
intellectually, and Hank could follow even Reed's more esoteric
"Dr. Richards left you the design blueprints, Hank. He may have
created the center, but I fear most of the upkeep will fall to you,
with Scott to assist."
Henry appeared positively ecstatic, and Scott said, "Man, I want to
see the specs for *this* place."
"So what does it do, professor?" Ororo asked. She was always the one
who cut to the chase.
Smiling, Xavier held up the remote in his hand. "As I said, the more
interesting, and more dangerous features can be programmed only from
above, but Dr. Richards did produce several of these remote controls,
by which other features of the room can be turned on or off, or an
entire program halted in an emergency. The room will also respond to
verbal "Halt" or "Cease" commands -- including those given in Italian
or Bantu." That got a laugh. They'd all heard Frank or Ororo lose
their English under pressure.
Xavier pressed a button, and the room slowly began to rotate.
"Whoa...." Warren said, wings flexing automatically as the rest put
out hands to balance themselves. "It's a Merry-Go-Round!" Jean
Xavier double-checked to be certain that he occupied one of the "safe
spots," then pressed yet another button, and portions of the flooring
began to rise and fall in irregular patterns, even while it continued
to spin at a slowly increasing speed. His students scrambled to keep
their feet on the morphing surface. They were all laughing now,
enjoying the game, and even Warren stayed down to play along. "I'm
going to get dizzy!" Scott shouted, as Ororo asked, "Is this all it
"Oh, no," Xavier replied. "Dr. Richards did not dub it his danger
room for nothing. Imagine this, while being fired at by various
kinds of weaponry. The safe mode uses only paint, but there are
options for soft rubber bullets, dull-edged projectiles, and lasers
that will give a sting."
"What about me?" Warren called, finally launching into the air to
hover. "Get me from up here."
Smiling, Xavier pressed a third button, and a net of light appeared
three feet above Warren's head. "Navigate that -- but touch a beam
with body or wings, and you will receive an electric shock. You can
cause the beams to shift, as well." And the lights began to weave
slowly. "The pattern is randomly generated, so don't expect to
memorize it. The same goes for the flooring."
And pressing a final, red button, Xavier watched the lasers disappear
and the floor cease spinning and settle back into a simple floor.
"That is only a portion of what the room will do, children. Merry
Social gears changed for Scott that spring semester. He took a heavy
course load, and finally began to tackle a level of math that he'd
never seen in high school. Despite an easy fall with Numerical
Analysis and Geometry, he'd still not pulled spectacular grades.
Among other things, he'd been distracted by a new romance. So when
he returned for the spring, he decided it was time to buckle down and
apply himself more. Multivariable Calculus, Introduction to
Analysis, and Linear Algebra and Differential Equations required it.
This was the first time he'd attempted three math courses in a single
semester, but if he wished to finish early, he'd decided that he had
to do more than take summer courses. To reward himself for this
diligence, he signed up for two courses he wanted and that would
fulfill gen-ed requirements -- an introductory level cultural
anthropology, and Science from Antiquity Through Newton. It was a
The previous fall, he and EJ had taken a generic world history
course, and had lucked out, getting a professor who emphasized social
history and technological developments, rather than kings and things.
Scott had fallen in love. Why was bronze rare? Why had the wheel
never been developed in the Americas? Why was pyramid architecture
so prevalent all over the world (without resorting to theories of
space invaders)? How had humans developed farming in the first
place? And why did human cultures develop in the ways that they did,
given the impact of geography on history? They weren't questions
he'd ever thought to ask, but the answers had fascinated him. So
that spring, he sought out more of the same, and tended to do all
homework for those courses first. Around February, EJ remarked in
passing, "Man, I think you're chasing the wrong major," and by the
beginning of March, Scott was starting to wonder the same thing. But
he was stubborn, and convinced that the professor needed him, so he
relegated his interest in the history of technology to the status of
a hobby. Yet somewhere in the back of his head, he wondered if
mathematicians and closet engineers ever became archaeologists? He
even bought himself an Indiana Jones hat that Clarice said looked
stupid, but he wore it anyway.
At the same time, Clarice was going through transformations of her
own. As an intended astronomy major, she had to take many of the
same math courses Scott did, including the calculus sequence. And as
with all large classes, she felt insignificant -- a speck of dark
flotsam in a pale flood. Though she knew perfectly well after a
semester that the percentage of blacks at Berkeley was low (despite a
student union named after MLK), her roommate was black, and so was
most of her personal circle. Scott and Lee were the odd ones out,
not her. That meant it was mostly on campus that she was reminded
half the student body was Asian, and much of the rest was white or
Latino. She was one of a small percentage that constituted
So feeling self-conscious on that first day of her second semester,
she was considering a seat in the back row when she noticed two other
dark spots amid all the pale, down further on the right-hand side and
slightly isolated by empty seats all around them. While she'd always
detested segregation, especially of the voluntary variety, she now
made her way to where the other two -- both girls -- were sitting,
and asked, "Do you mind if I sit with you?"
They looked up. One was dressed neatly and wore a simple,
straightened hairstyle none too different from Clarice's bob, but the
other sported tight pants, sculpture on her head, and sculpture on
her hands, and Clarice couldn't figure out how the girl could write
with nails that long, never-mind how many hours and how many
extensions it had taken to design and braid the complicated artwork
of her hair.
"Sit down, sit down," said the one with the nails and hair, and
patted the chair beside her. "I'm Janice. Call me Jan."
"Nikeesha," said the other, leaning across to smile at Clarice.
"Jan's in chemistry and I'm in electrical engineering and computer
"I'm Clarice. I'm majoring in astronomy."
"*What?*" the other two said in unison, but they regarded her less as
a black oddity than as mildly insane for tackling such a difficult
major, and after class, they asked her to eat lunch with them.
There, they met Diane as well, and over rice, the two freshmen were
treated to the details of Jan's current project -- to start a student
organization for black women in the sciences. "There's BGESS," Jan
said, ticking off existing groups on her fingers, "for black grad
students in sciences and engineering. And there's the Society for
Women Engineers. But I want something for black women in all the
hard sciences, grads and undergrads both. I read that only one in
every *twenty one thousand* black women receives a Ph.D. in math or
the natural sciences. We got a better chance of being struck by
lightning, sisters, than of earning a doctorate, unless we support
So, on that January day in a Berkeley campus cafeteria, watching rain
slide down the window outside, four girls made a spontaneous pact
that they'd see each other through to advanced degrees, come hell or
high water -- or difficult boyfriends. Two would take masters,
Nikeesha and Diane, and two would take doctorates, Jan and Clarice.
And all became founding members of BBWS, Black Berkeley Women in the
Sciences. Jan, with her boundless energy and forceful personality --
not to mention a commanding height of six feet (hair not included) --
led the battle, and the rest were her myrmidons. It was an ironic
end, Clarice would think years later, for the girl who'd been dubbed
an oreo in high school. The fish out of water had finally found her
pond, and a fight in which she took a personal interest.
But having a mission came with a price: she lost her first real
love. It was a slow disintegration, not marked by catastrophic
clashes or screaming fights, but only by pressure from friends, and
the demands of different interests. The honeymoon period of their
romance was over, and Scott was terribly busy with schoolwork and
band practice -- not to mention karate -- while Clarice was busy with
schoolwork and BBWS. But if they saw less of each other than their
first semester, they began to talk more about permanence, and that
was when their trouble began. Clarice had become even more set on
pursuing a career in astrophysics, and if Scott entertained private
doubts about his commitment to math, he still felt a need to return
to Westchester. "Come with me when I graduate," he'd tell her. "You
can finish your degree out East."
"I want to do it *here*," she'd reply. "I can't just up and leave in
the middle. Why can't you stay in California with me?"
"Because I owe the professor," he'd say, and then touch his glasses.
"And I owe other kids like me." And angry, he'd get up and leave the
"I owe other kids like me, too," she'd call after him.
But sometimes she wavered in her resolve, and talked to her new black
sisters about astronomy programs in New York. "And what," Jan would
ask sarcastically, "are the national ratings for these universities?
Any of them on the verge of synthesizing a new element?" Jan's
regular appeals to Berkeley's breakthroughs with the Gas-Filled
Separator amused the rest of them. Chemistry wasn't her major; it
was her religion. "And you'd throw all that away for a white man?
If he really loves you, he'll stay here. We made a pact, remember?
No more following the goddamn men around!"
"Jan, *Cornell* is in New York. It's in Ithaca, not Manhattan, but
it's still New York. And it's *only* one of the most prestigious
astronomy and physics programs in the United States."
"So go live in the snow and the New York traffic. But don't come
crying to me, girl, when you wind up his little black wife in a white
man's big house, and no degree."
Clarice doubted that would happen, but national averages weren't on
her side, so Jan's warnings had more of an effect than she wanted
them to. "You just don't like him," she'd reply, angrily.
"I like him fine. But he got that white boy entitlement thing
"No, he doesn't!"
"Yes, he does."
"He's a mutant!"
"So? He's still a white boy."
EJ, at least, came down in support of Scott when she asked him what
he thought. "I know where Janice is coming from," he said. "But
she's only part right. Scott is a white boy. I told you that
before. We're born like we're born, y'know? But he's got ears, and
he listens. And he's got eyes, and they shoot those weird blast
things. It's made him see the world a little differently."
Unfortunately, and although these conversations weren't conducted in
Scott's presence, he was well aware that Clarice's friends had doubts
about him, and for the first time, found himself truly uncomfortable
when Clarice took him to parties or functions. It wasn't the mild
discomfort of an unfamiliar culture, but the very real distress of
knowing he wasn't welcome, so he found excuses to avoid anything that
included Jan Farmer, even casual lunch, and Clarice was reminded of
what EJ had said the previous semester. He might be a brother to EJ,
but he wasn't a brother, and if Clarice felt like a raven in the snow
in her Berkeley classes, he was a lone white pigeon at black
functions, while Jan was a great black hawk. She had a fierce
nature, and ate pigeons for supper, even of the mutant variety.
As he had the year before, Scott went home with EJ and Clarice for
spring break, and away from the social pressure cooker of Berkeley,
the two rediscovered a little of what had drawn them to each other
the previous year. And Clarice had a long talk with her mother about
Scott and Jan and schools and compromise. "I can't make that
decision for you, honey," her mother said. "And neither can your
friends at Berkeley -- or Scott. It has to be your decision."
"But I love him."
Violet sighed and sipped her coffee. The two of them had played
hooky from Sunday School, catching breakfast at a local IHOP in order
to get away from the rest of the family, and from Scott as well, who
hadn't gone to church. That was another issue between Scott and
Clarice, and if it hadn't developed the same downhill force as their
conflicting careers, it was one more mark on the "incompatible" side
of the tally.
"Love," Violet said now, "isn't the same thing as living with
somebody for the next forty years. Do you have any idea how many
domestic disputes your father and I have seen between couples who
hated each other as much as they loved each other? I'd count more on
you and Scott as friends, honey. But it still don't solve the other
problems. Or the fact that your girlfriends don't like your
"Jan and Nikeesha say they do like him."
"Baloney. That Jan's got man issues," Violet replied with a smile.
"Even so, she's a barometer of what you're going to face. It's
racism's baby, that kind of doubt. She don't trust him, and she's
got good reason. I think your Jan's a little overprotective, even if
she means well. But you still have to decide if you love Scott
enough to give up part of what you want in order to follow what he
wants. If you transfer to Cornell, he'd drive to Ithaca to see you,
and be as proud as punch to do it. But he got a mission of his own,
honey. He wants to teach mutant kids. You want to play with
telescopes and show black girls they can do math. But being a
couple's about more than two people living under the same roof, or in
the same state. You each got your own interests and goals -- it's a
bad thing if you don't -- but you got to have a mission together,
too, even if it's just to raise healthy, happy kids. The best
marriages are the ones where the couple's got a mission." She eyed
her daughter. "Do you and Scott have one, Clarie? And is it the
Clarice couldn't answer. And for the next two weeks, she struggled
with what her mother had asked her, talking Scott's ear off about
goals and missions until, in frustration, he asked her where it all
was coming from. "I just need to know who we are as a �we,'" she
said. Baffled by that, he was unable to reply, just as Clarice had
been unable to answer her mother. And subconsciously, he recognized
the shadow of the end behind his silence.
He'd feared it since spring break. Time away from school had given
them a moratorium, but not a stay of execution, and he'd begun to
suffer from chronic insomnia and an upset stomach, not just his
ever-present headaches. He was being eaten away inside by a cancer
of dread. Once, he and Clarice had spent their evenings talking
about science and books, philosophy and schoolwork. Now, they spent
them alternatively quarreling, or in frenzied fucking to make up.
Sex seemed to be the only thing they didn't disagree about. He
couldn't concentrate when he needed to most, and his grades slumped.
Sometimes he cried himself to sleep, as much from school pressure as
from the despondency of a failing romance. She cried herself to
sleep most nights, or stayed up too late, talking to Diane and eating
EJ observed it all with the same kind of horror that one felt upon
watching a car spin out of control and head directly for another.
And he couldn't save them. It was what he'd feared would happen from
the beginning, if not in the way he'd feared. Scott wasn't savaging
Clarice. She was savaging him with all the innocence of a young
tiger shredding the arm of its handler. Scott wasn't what she
needed, but he'd been close enough to seem like it, and now she was
asking him for what he couldn't give, and he was balking.
"If this doesn't resolve itself soon," Diane said to EJ one evening,
"they're both going to flunk their finals."
They were eating dinner at EJ's apartment while Scott and Clarice
were out -- separately -- on their own business. EJ set down plates
of stir-fry on the dining table and then took the seat beside hers.
"I know. She's breaking his heart."
"Well he's breaking hers!"
"That too," EJ agreed. "She don't want to let him go, and he don't
want to let her go. That don't mean what they got is good anymore."
Then he added bitterly, "This is all Janice's fault."
"It is *not*."
"Shit, to listen to you two, you'd think that woman walked on water!
She ain't Peter, DeeDee. She's a goddamn lioness and she scares the
pants off *me*, never mind poor Slimboy. She's filled you and
Clarie's head with all kinds of crap. Some of it's good. Some
ain't. But she got a thing against my brother, and that bugs me."
"I know," Diane replied quietly, and they ate in silence for a while.
Finally, Diane said, "Scott needs to break up with Clarice."
EJ shook his head. "He won't do it. He's like a freakin' terrier
with a rag. I think he's a little afraid, too, that he'll look like
the bad guy if he does. It'll have to be Clarie to do it."
Diane nodded and EJ knew it would be taken care of. People
underestimated Diane because they assumed that one had to be loud and
forceful to get matters accomplished, but Diane was an architect, and
saw the weak points and strengths in structures. She knew just where
to knock out the struts.
Three days later, on a Friday evening, Clarice asked EJ to vacate the
apartment for an hour, so she could talk to Scott, and when EJ came
back, he found Scott sitting on the bathroom floor, glasses off and
crying so hard his face was swollen and he was half sick. "It's
over," he told EJ, when he heard his friend's footsteps stop in the
doorway. "Two months ago, I thought I was going to be your
brother-in-law; now it's all blown to hell. I'm sorry. I didn't
mean to hurt her."
"I'd say you both got beat-up about evenly here." And EJ ran cold
water onto a washcloth, squatting down to give it to Scott, so he
could wipe his face. "You might not wind up my brother-in-law, but
you're still my brother. Come on, Slim. Lets go get falling-down
I'll announce when the site goes back up, so those of you who like to
see the illustrating images can find them.
As always, feedback is adored. :-)
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