AN ACCIDENTAL INTERCEPTION OF FATE: 6b, "Fallout" (S/J, prefilm)
- Continued directly from 6a.....
Jean Grey was running late, and if Dr. Bruce Banner were fairly
even-tempered as far as doctors and researchers went, he did have a
few quirks, punctuality being among them. Racing along the hall of
the biology building, her glasses slipped down her sweaty nose and
went clattering onto the tile floor, requiring her to stop and pick
them up, and slowing her even further. The edge of one lens had
cracked, too. "Dammit!" she snarled, shoving them into the pocket of
her white lab coat.
By the time she reached Banner's lab, skittering through the open
door and sliding to a stop like a character in a children's cartoon,
she was eleven minutes late. Everyone in the room stopped to look up
at her. Three pairs of eyes where she'd expected only two. The
third belonged to a young man who, if his age were anything to go on,
probably numbered among the med students the same as she did.
"Glad to have you join us, Miss Grey," Banner said, pushing his own
glasses up his nose. He had an apple-round face and terminally
straight hair -- not a handsome man, but pleasant in expression when
he wasn't perturbed by something, either recalcitrant experiments or
"There was, ah, traffic." She glanced at Hank, but he wasn't looking
at her. No rescue from that quarter. They'd both driven into the
city from the same place, after all.
"There is always traffic in New York, Miss Grey. And if doctors
generally have a reputation for keeping golfing hours, I don't."
"Yes, sir. I know, sir."
Banner nodded towards the newcomer. "Why don't you help Mr. Roberts
with the slides. Ted Roberts, meet Jean Grey. She's about a year
ahead of you, in terms of her research. She's also a mutant, like
And that made Jean start in shock, that Bruce would so casually
announce it, but the other boy -� man, really -� didn't seem put off
in the least. He grinned at her and held out a hand to shake. "Glad
to meet you, Miss Grey." He had an accent -� some flavor of Southern
that Jean couldn't yet place.
"Ah �- Jean. Please."
"Then call me Ted."
She smiled, and blushed, and nodded, because she'd gotten a good look
at his eyes, as black as Frank's but full of humor instead of sorrow.
Beyond that, he wasn't particularly handsome. He had big ears that
protruded slightly to create a Dumbo effect, and freckles across his
nose. But his smile was easy, and his eyes were beautiful, and he
had a surgeon's hands, long and clever with tapered fingers. She was
a bit slow to let that hand go and smiled back at him, dazzling him
"Do either of you," Banner asked, making them both whip their heads
around, "plan to finish those slides any time today?"
"Oh. Yeah." And Ted showed Jean the samples he'd been working with.
Buccal swabs -- cheek cell samples -- all carefully numbered.
"These are the mutant samples here, and these are the controls."
"Gotcha." And they set to work doing the DNA preps. They might have
used the genetics lab robot, but the number of samples wasn't quite
large enough to justify it, and Banner believed in a hands-on
approach. He still took research notes in a hard-bound notebook,
eschewing PDAs and laptops. Last spring, when there had been an
afternoon-long blackout, he'd proudly walked about, patting his
breast-pocket with pens and a calculator, and saying, "I have my
computer right here." It was another of his quirks. Banner might
not have as many articles in refereed journals as some of his
department colleagues, but his were widely cited, and his reputation
in the field colossal, so his quirks were absorbed and tolerated.
He'd once told Jean, just a few weeks after she'd begun working with
him, "Measure three times and cut once, m'dear. My grandfather was a
carpenter and he taught me that. Do it right the first time, so you
don't have to redo it. Carpentry -� and science �- is all about
precision and care and noticing the small things."
So Jean and Ted lysed cells with detergent, then set them to spin in
a centrifuge and removed the clear supernatant that was forced to the
top. They conversed quietly as they worked, in counterpoint to the
metal-music clink of instruments.
"The Banner-Man's a bit edgy this morning, you think?"
Jean smiled. "It's still before ten, and he hasn't had five cups of
coffee yet. How long have you known Dr. Banner anyway?"
"I took a couple classes with him, and when I applied to the genetics
program, he agreed to direct my thesis."
"You're interested in mutations?"
"Why? If you don't mind my asking -� "
" -� since I'm not a mutant? Our *interests* aren't genetic, Jean."
He grinned, brief and wicked. "That's just what we study."
"I'm sorry; I didn't mean to sound aggressive."
He sighed. "No, my fault. I keep hearing the same question over and
over, so I'm a tad defensive. Dad's got a practice down in
Chattanooga and he still can't figure why I might want to go the
research route instead of coming home to join him in the office."
"So why don't you?"
"I want to do something that makes a difference. I was interested in
looking at the effects of genetics on the HIV virus, how much it
contributed to the likelihood of developing AIDS or ARC." That
wicked grin again. "I had delusions of winning the Nobel Prize,
She laughed. "I think it's been done, Ted. The research, I mean."
"Yeah, so I found out. When I took Dr. Banner's class on
evolutionary biology, I was just . . . fascinated. Think of the
potential for genetic engineering . . . " And off he went on the
subject in that charming, lilting accent that she could now place as
Tennessee -- like North Carolina on speed. She could listen to him
talk for hours, and more or less did as they saturated the DNA
samples with ethanol and spun them again, removed the clear
supernatant a second time to wash the sample pellets, then spun them
further, finally drying and suspending them in Tris-EDTA for Banner
and McCoy to dilute and sequence. Tedious, but necessary. Jean had
become quick and proficient in the past year with Banner, and Ted
watched her with respect while she watched him from beneath lowered
lids, head tilted just so. When they went for a coffee break, Ted
asked her if she'd like to go out and grab a bite after they were
done for the day, and Jean agreed. Neither noticed Banner watching
them with amused approval and Henry McCoy with stiff-faced
inscrutability that concealed a dim jealousy he wasn't entirely
prepared to admit to. He'd never expected to win Jean for himself.
What would the graceful Jean Grey see in a big, hulking ape of a man?
But there she sat, head bent close to a jughead from the
Appalachians, laughing at all his jokes. Hank had tolerated Scott
Summers' crush because Summers was a kid, and as for Warren . . . .
Well, Warren wasn't much older than Scott, and Hank had yet to decide
if his flirting with Jean were serious or reflexive. So while Hank
hadn't had much hope of claiming Jean himself, neither had the other
two. But this non-mutant Southern gentleman was another story
entirely, and if Hank had never thought of himself as an unkind or
envious man, he was envious now.
Banner, who sat beside him at the little round table in the building
caf�, nudged his foot. "What is it, Henry?"
"How well do you know Mr. Roberts?"
Leaning over the tabletop, hands folded in front of his face, Banner
studied his former student and current colleague. Although Hank was
easily the most brilliant young man that Banner had ever had the
pleasure to work with, in some ways, he could be a tad dim. "Ted's a
good kid. Smart as a whip, but a bit lazy. We'll train him out of
that. I have high hopes for him." Henry was still watching Jean and
Ted Roberts chat. "If you're going to make a move, Hank, it's now or
never. She can't read your mind."
And Henry McCoy nearly choked on his Coke. "What makes you think I
have any interest in Jean? She's five years younger than me!"
"And so . . ?"
Blushing furiously, Henry set the bright red can down on the table.
"She's not interested in me, Bruce. She never was, she never will
be. I'm like a big brother to her. And . . . that's okay."
Banner shook his head faintly, but he'd had a long-standing policy of
not getting overly involved in his students' � or his ex-students' �
lives. "Your choice."
"My choice. And I made it a while ago. I just don't want to see
anyone mistreat Jean. She . . . had a hard time, down at Vandy, with
"Hmmph," was all Banner replied. After a minute of watching the two
young med students, he added, "I'm more worried for Ted than for
Jean." He grinned. "She has him wrapped around her little finger in
less than three hours."
Scott chose to make his revelatory trial run to his fellow band
members. Rick accepted the news with the same nonchalance that he
applied to most everything, but Lee had more questions. As with EJ,
she wanted to know why Scott had kept it a secret for so long. She,
however, was more inclined to accept his caution. Being cynical
herself by nature, and private, she agreed with him that discretion
was sometimes the better part of valor. Not everyone could be as
forthright as EJ, but EJ was still young enough that he couldn't
understand why such might be so. Seeing in shades of gray was a
privilege of age. In this case, too -- as Charles Xavier had
surmised even without telepathic assistance -- EJ's peevishness
stemmed as much from wounded affection and pride as from any
ideological disagreement. He might have forgiven Scott in word, but
matters were still cool between them in the weeks that followed.
Forgiveness was not acquittal, and telling the truth to others was a
part of Scott's penance. Revelations to fellow band members were
just the start. From there, Scott moved on to a handful of dorm
"Whoa! You can do *what*?" was Phoebe's reaction to the news.
So Scott demonstrated again. At EJ's suggestion, he'd selected a
less dramatic manner to reveal his gift to others. After the UFO
rumor, he'd found that he could not only cut up fallen branches to
release excess energy, but could use the beams to carve wood, as
well. So now, he adjusted the aperture on his visor to release a
knife-thin beam of energy, cutting into the block of maple that he'd
brought. It was his own unique method of whittling wood.
Both Phoebe and Elizabeth watched, their mouths agape in a comical O
"That is *so cool*!" Phoebe squealed as soon as he'd closed the visor
cover, but Elizabeth was silent. "What else can you do? I mean, can
you, like, start a fire with them?"
"They're not heat, Phoeb, just force. Friction from the beams could
make something hot, but the beams themselves aren't hot."
"So you don't burn holes in things."
"No, just *knock* holes in things."
"This is so cool!" she said again, hugging herself and dancing about
the music room where'd they'd asked the two girls to come so that
Scott could do his thing. The walls were more insulated here than in
the dorm. "Scott Summers is the Berkeley UFO!"
Elizabeth, however, was far less sure. "You could hurt somebody,
"I could," Scott replied. "Usually, I try to avoid it; blood is so
hard to wash out of the carpet, y'know." Yet making light of it
didn't lighten her mood; her eyes remained wide and she was glancing
towards the door. "Liz," he said again, "I'm not dangerous." Not
strictly true, but true in essentials. "I'm not going to hurt you,
or Phoebe, or EJ, or anybody else. I'd rather hurt myself."
She was not, he thought, entirely convinced, but her muscles did
relax, and by the time she and Phoebe left, he didn't fear that she
would rush right to the administration -- or worse, the police -- to
report him as a danger to the public. A small victory, perhaps, but
a victory, and he waited for his weekly chat with Jean, to tell her
the news. But Jean never called.
"*You* took cocaine?"
"Yes." Jean stared up at the sky through the still-bare branches of
a big maple on the mansion property. "You've never taken coke, have
"No," Ted replied, his voice edged about with echoes of both
righteousness and curiosity.
"It makes you feel as if you can do anything. I know that's such a
clich�, but it's true. You're just . . . on top of the world. No
fears. No insecurities. You have no idea how much I needed that,
Ted. I was a mess -- afraid of everything. But the first time I
snorted coke at a party, that all changed. I was funny and outgoing
and the boys asked me to dance."
Ted Roberts listened to her explanation, caught somewhere between
confusion and awe -- awed that she'd trust him enough to tell him
this, but confused as to why anyone as beautiful and classy and
intelligent as Jean Grey would be afraid of anything, least of all
boys. Truth was, she terrified *him*, and sometimes he felt an
irrational need to pinch himself, to remind himself this was real.
They might share the same interests and career, and even similar
backgrounds as children of the privileged upper crust in their
respective hometowns, but beyond that, she was Aphrodite and he
Hephaestus, limping and ugly and chained to the forge of his
research. Or he had been. Now, they found time to rent a movie, or
go to dinner, or ride the horses at the mansion where he'd been made
welcome by Xavier and reluctantly tolerated by Hank McCoy.
"I would have asked you to dance, shy or not," Ted told her now.
Sitting up on the bench under the maple tree so that her
shoulder-length hair swept back from her face like an auburn veil,
she smiled at him. "In other words, I left Vandy too soon?"
"I guess you could say that."
Another thing they both shared was having attended Vanderbilt
University in Nashville, she for a single semester of her freshman
year while he had earned his undergraduate degree there. He had fond
memories of the place, but hers were mostly a spiral down into
"Unfortunately," she said now, "I didn't have a choice about
leaving." But she wasn't looking at him. She was looking towards
the long reflecting pond in the mansion yard, watching a mother
mallard approach, followed by a line of fuzzy yellow and brown
ducklings. They waddled in the spiky shadows of new daffodil leaves,
and she tossed the last bit of her bagel towards them, but too
skittish, they all fled into the water.
"I screwed up so much my first semester, I wound up on academic
probation. Me, the high school valedictorian. Needless to say, my
parents were outraged. Christmas break that year was pure hell, I
practically fled back to Nashville. Early in my second semester,
though, I had the classic O.D. experience. I was lucky; cocaine can
be lethal. My friends rushed me to ER over my own protests, and my
parents were called in from New York. They withdrew me from school
and took me home for drug rehab." She smiled again, but it was as
bitter as stale tea. "I hated it. I went to Nashville in the first
place to get as far away from my mother as I could manage."
And Ted had thought he had issues with his parents. "She that bad?"
"With bells on."
A bloodcurdling scream catapulted Ororo out of deep sleep, making her
screech in response and flop over in the bed -- still half-asleep --
to clutch at Frank where he was sitting upright, shaking and
breathing heavily. But it wasn't the first time he'd woken this way,
and her responses were automatic now: hold him close and stroke his
hair until he had his breath back, then see if he wanted to talk
about it. Slowly, his arms slipped around her and he let himself be
held. This was part of why she loved him so. He was strong enough
to let himself be weak. "Francesco," she whispered in French, voice
rough with the tears that were always at the back of her throat these
days, "when is this going to stop?"
"I don't know," he replied in the same language.
Silence. The space heater hummed in the background. Although
mid-spring, nights could grow quite chill in New York, and it was
easier to heat a room than the entire house. If Xavier had little
concern for money, he did eschew unnecessary waste. The mansion put
out a recycling bin every trash day, as well. They were responsible
citizens, quiet neighbors . . . why, Ororo wondered, would the
government seek to hunt them down as Frank's vision warned? It
seemed too enormous to be real. "Maybe it's really just a bad
dream," she said.
"No. They're going to come and take us away, put us in prisons and
mark us, then kill us if they can. Our own holocaust. It will
happen unless we find some way to stop it."
"It's America, Francesco."
"It makes no difference. They are quick to pursue freedom on others'
land, but if �national security' is threatened, they will react like
any other people. Fear conquers reason. They will see us as a
threat, and label us inhuman. We will have no rights, no recourse.
They will kill those of us who are strong, and sterilize the others.
I have seen it." In fact, he had seen faceless men in riot gear kill
her as she fought them with all she had, lightning and gale-force
winds and bullets of hail, but he would not tell her that. There
was, he firmly believed, such a thing as too much truth, and he
didn't believe in fate, not in any usual sense. Riding time as he
did, he understood that nothing was simple. Men and women made
choices that produced their own fates, but sometimes their natures
determined the choices they made, natures shaped by previous choices.
To Frank, fate was merely the sum of a life, combined with random
chance. New choices could change it.
He clung to that belief, because anything else killed hope.
And she clung to him still, continuing to rub his back. "What does
the professor think?"
"That the vision is too big this time. Too many possibilities, and
the terrible ones press hardest until it seems as if there is no
escape; but at this distance from matters, there are always choices.
The professor has an idea that may permit me to see more futures than
are available to me in dreams. I just need help to control it."
"What's his idea?"
"He's going to put me in Cerebro."
"Absolutely not!" Letting him go, she pushed herself up to her
knees, even as her eyes went white in the room's darkness. "Cerebro
was made for the professor! Not for you!"
"They're going to modify it. The professor is calling in someone to
help. Hank has been taking EKG readings on me, and they're going to
modify Cerebro so that I can use it."
"That's insane. He's almost sixty. You're not even eighteen! You
don't have his experience!"
"I'm not going to argue with you, Ro. He knows more about it than
you do. If he thinks this will work, I'll trust him." Frank looked
up at her. "He kept me from going insane before. I need him to keep
me from going insane again. I can't maintain this. I'm too
exhausted, and when I'm exhausted, it just gets worse. Catch-22."
Sighing, she slumped on the bed sheets. "But even he admits he
doesn't fully understand what you do."
"We understand enough. The problem is that I'm too bound to my body.
I need Cerebro to free me, so I can see further. So I can see an
His gift was psionic and predictive, but Xavier suspected it to be
more than simple precognition. Francesco Placido wasn't bound by the
same dimensional constraints as others. His body lived in one
dimension, but his mind existed outside them. Thus, he saw the
future and past as a series of reflecting mirrors extending into
infinity. "It's like a fun house," he'd said once. "Many mirrors of
what might be, and you can't always find the path through -- or
really, there are many paths. Any of the mirrors could be real, but
some are closer to you and some are further away. They move, too --
becoming more or less likely -- depending on the choices made. I
can't control the choices unless they're mine, but sometimes I can
see what a particular choice will lead to."
He rarely shared that information, though. "I'm not a god," he'd
said. "I see some things, but not everything, and sometimes I must
guess at what I think the pivotal choice was. I could be wrong." So
he kept his visions to himself except for the small and mostly
insignificant, or the far-reaching and important. He had
occasionally called the police to report a crime in progress. No
doubt, the police had thought him an eyewitness, which he was, in a
manner of speaking. But he did this rarely -- he did not, after all,
see everything -- and he was still trying to decide on the most
responsible application of his gift. Francesco was an idealist and
an ethical man, and that was the other reason Ororo loved him. He
had returned to her a belief in basic human goodness. It would have
been so very much easier either for him to withdraw entirely, or to
exploit his gift for fame, or because he thought he had the answers.
But he wasn't arrogant that way, or selfish. So he pursued the
toughest road of all: a middle one -- to tell what needed to be
told, but not to interfere in the lives of others, even if he thought
he might spare them personal pain.
But this new vision was too enormous, too all-encompassing, and too
tragic for him to keep to himself. It had begun the evening of the
Winnipeg Marauder's first appearance, and had grown worse since. In
the past week, no night had passed in which he'd slept undisturbed,
and Ororo was in a position to know. She'd been sharing his bed for
months now, and not for sex. They hadn't needed to sleep together to
find a quiet moment and privacy. She slept with Francesco because
his dormant mind was least anchored to his body, and in sleep he
could slip free. After he woke, he needed a body to cling to, to
ground him again in his own dimension, his own reality. Frank's
mother had never objected to their arrangement, and neither had
Xavier -- too practical to do so, both for Frank's sake and because
Ororo wouldn't have taken kindly to being fettered after surviving on
her own for years. Warren had once teasingly referred to her as
sixteen going on thirty. It was not far off. Like a feral kitten,
Ororo Munroe had never enjoyed the luxury of a childhood.
It was two days later -- with no improvement at night -- that a
stranger arrived at the mansion's entrance. "I'm Dr. Reed Richards,"
he said when Ororo let him in: a middle-aged man with a pleasant
smile and a shocking white streak in his hair. "I'm here to see
And thus began the dismantling and reconstruction of Cerebro. None
of the professor's students saw much of either man -- or of Frank for
that matter -- over the next few days, as the three of them locked
themselves behind the cold blue-metal doors in the sub-basement.
Continued directly in 6c.....
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