AN ACCIDENTAL INTERCEPTION OF FATE: 6c, "Fallout" (S/J, prefilm)
- View SourceContinued directly from 6b.....
Rick Starr, the off-key crooner of Sproul plaza, was at it again,
filling the dry California spring air with a butchered version of
Frank Sinatra's "My Way." High notes warbled and slipped, went flat
and nasal. "Somebody just shoot him and put him out of his misery,"
Scott muttered under his breath. At times, he lacked both compassion
and patience for the follies of others. Did the man not realize how
bad he was? Or did he simply crave any attention, even the negative?
Summers was eating lunch in the sun on the steps of lower Sproul,
trying (unsuccessfully) to tune out the impromptu concert. It was
hot, but heat had never bothered him much, and bothered him not at
all since his mutation had manifested. Now, bored and seeking
distraction, he pulled out his cell phone to dial Warren. Like his
friends back in Westchester, he was concerned about Frank. He was
also concerned as to why he'd heard from Jean only three times in two
weeks. What email she had sent had been a variation on, "I'm busy,
but I'll write a long letter soon."
"Soon" must be relative, and while he knew that she could fall into
obsession with her research, he doubted that was the case here, and
wondered if he wanted to know the truth, even while half-suspecting
"Hey, man," he said when Warren answered. "How's Frank?"
"Grouchy, but Ro's worse. She's getting no more sleep than he is."
"Not really. We're still waiting to see what this Reed guy and the
prof have cooked up with Cerebro. They hit some kind of snag and
Hank's been doing test after test on Frank. He just lives in the lab
these days. Hank gives him sleeping pills, but they don't stop the
visions, they just keep him from waking up easily when he has them.
I'm not sure which is worse."
"Shit," Summers muttered. Idly, he watched fellow students pass, his
eye caught now and then by girl with pretty hair. It was hair that
he noticed first. He liked it full and shiny and a bit wavy �- red,
if he could get it, but dark brown if he couldn't. He'd never much
cared for blondes. Jean's hair might be red, but it was thin and
lank. "Has Frank said any more about what he's seeing in the
"The *end* of the *world* . . . !" Warren replied, half in mockery,
then sighed. "I shouldn't joke about it. It's freaking him out.
It's so far reaching, he can't see enough, and nothing he can see
seems to connect to anything else. Just bits and pieces. So he
can't figure a way around it."
"And the professor is really going to put him in Cerebro?"
"That's the plan, m'man."
"I don't know if that's brilliant or crazy."
"Ro says crazy."
"Ro would wrap him in felt and chain him to that pedestal she keeps
him on in her head, if she could. He's not that fragile. What does
Jean think?" The question was out before he could bite it back.
"Ah," Warren stammered. "I don't know. Haven't asked her."
Scott didn't reply to that immediately. In his belly something
expanded, making him feel weak though he'd just eaten. The sun was
almost preternaturally bright, cutting sharp lines of light and
shadow, like truth and lies. No place here for polite vagaries.
"She's seeing somebody, isn't she?" he blurted out.
Dead silence on the other end of the phone. Then Warren's voice,
unconvincingly bemused. "Who is?"
"Don't play dense, you ass. Jean's got a boyfriend, doesn't she?
That's why she's been blowing me off for two weeks."
Silence again. "I'm not sure he's a boyfriend . . . "
Scott snapped the phone shut and wadded up his empty sub wrapper,
shoving it down into the paper bag his lunch had come in. It
crackled like an accusation. Rising, he tossed it in a trash bin
under the shade of a leafy oak, passing out of the sunlight to do so,
out of heat into shade. Light and dark; truth and lies. All the way
back to Norton Hall, he avoided shadows. A voice in the back of his
head sang a tune from childhood, �Step on a crack and break your
mamma's back . . . . ' On his floor, he ran into Phoebe, who was
hanging about the open door to her room, apparently bored and looking
for company. EJ was nowhere in sight, and neither was Elizabeth for
that matter. "Hey," he greeted her.
"Hey yourself. You eaten?"
"Yeah, on campus."
"Wanna get a coke and keep me company while I eat then?"
There was something in her expression, eyes lowered, caught between
shyness and seduction. She had nice hair, a rich shade of black, and
he remembered what EJ had said -- that she visited their room so
often in order to see him. "Sure," he said. "I could go for a coke
On the way, Phoebe asked him, almost casually, "I don't suppose
you're sticking around for the summer, are you?"
In truth, he hadn't planned on it. He'd been counting the weeks
until he could get back to New York. Now, he said, "I don't know.
Maybe." There were always some classes he could take.
*Never wear white dress shoes before Easter.*
One of many lessons taught to young, well-bred girls. *Walk
straight; keep your knees together when sitting; dark nail polish is
for older women;* and *don't laugh too loudly -- it's not ladylike.*
Ladylike. What Jean Grey had been trained to be. What, to some
degree, she hated; but such early lessons ran deep and she would
never entirely shake them off.
Now, she sat -� knees together of course -� between her mother and
her elder sister, on the pew bench of Trinity Episcopal Church,
Dutchess County, for Easter Sunday service. Growing up, there had
always been three Sundays a year when the family of Dr. John Grey,
professor of modern European history and chair of the History
Department at Bard College, was sure to be at church: Christmas Eve
service, Easter Sunday, and Mother's Day. Other services throughout
the year might find them in attendance, but these three were
sacrosanct, and even now, Jean was expected to drive up from New York
Hymns, homily, the rite and the Eucharist, lots of pageantry and
white Easter lilies. Jean sighed. It wasn't that she disliked
church but that she disliked the production into which her mother had
invariably turned it. Growing up, Jean had been very conscious of
the fact that she and Sara were display children. The daughters of
Dr. John Grey should be clean, well-dressed, and well-behaved. Sara
had behaved better than Jean, who, as the youngest and the apple of
her father's eye, had been spoiled. Nature had bestowed on her the
auburn hair and pale skin. Sara's was a mousy shade of brown, and
Sara -� not Jean -� had suffered the more severe case of freckles.
But Sara had learned her society lessons better, while Jean had been
inclined to go her own way and, to her mother's great chagrin, could
be found outside more often than in. It wasn't sports that drew her
-- Jean Grey was not, precisely, a tomboy -- but a fascination with
the natural world. She'd caught frogs to sail on sponges in the
bathtub, and butterflies to loose in the living room as household
decorations. She had even devised a bird catcher made from her
mother's upended laundry basket, one side raised on a stick with a
string attached and a line of bread leading inside. Then she would
hide behind the laundry room door, thirty feet away, string in hand,
patiently awaiting a bird to take the bait inside the basket so she
could jerk the string and capture a jay, or catbird, or wren, and
once, a beautiful male cardinal. At first, her parents and sister
had watched, bemused, certain her strategy would never work, but
she'd proven them wrong, becoming a proficient bird catcher. Once
the bird was trapped, she would take out her little clipboard and
record 'facts' about it -- the kind a child would notice -- her own
version of tagging. She could not have said why she was doing such a
thing. It had stemmed from some deep-seated need to get closer and
understand, and then to organize what she'd learned.
By fifth grade, she'd become more interested in books than dresses,
in animals than dolls, and in science than poetry or music. But she
had cleaned up nicely, and been quiet and contemplative by nature
with a promise of rare beauty in the bone structure of her face. Her
mother had enrolled her in the same etiquette classes that Sara had
taken, and in modeling and dance, and had hoped that once Jean
entered adolescence, she would follow in her sister's footsteps to
pursue more traditionally feminine interests. Her father had
secretly hoped she would not. She was his smart one, and he made
sure to keep her in as many books and child science kits as she asked
for. It was their passive rebellion against the tyranny of Elaine
Everything had changed when Annie had died, but that wasn't a time
Jean cared to recall. When her mind traveled back to the spring of
her tenth year, it went white and blank -- the memories something she
could only pick at, like nits, or lint on a dress. In less than five
minutes on that Tuesday evening, everything in her life had changed
-- the touch of Fate, the finger of God, and sometimes it seemed to
her as if her life were a series of such moments. Perhaps that was
why she struggled so hard to understand what she could. She loved
the beauty of paradigms and predictability because too much of her
life had involved tripping from one crisis to the next. Only now was
she beginning to feel that she had some control.
"Sara, would you please make Joey sit still!" Jean's mother hissed
across the space of Jean's lap, pulling her back to the present.
Joseph, the younger of Sara's twins, was scooting up and down the pew
bench, systematically collecting offering envelopes from all the
small racks on the pew backs in front of them, to what end only a
small boy would know.
Leaning past her husband, Paul -- who was ignoring his son -- Sara
said something into Joey's ear. He replied with a very loud "No!"
and frustrated, Sara blew out and whispered again in a timbre and
hiss that reminded Jean exactly of their mother. On Jean's other
side, Elaine Grey's lips had thinned. Sara was still talking to
Joey, who was still refusing to comply with her words.
"Sara has completely spoiled them," Jean overheard their mother say,
supposedly sotto voce but pitched perfectly for Sara to catch. "When
you two were that age, you could sit through an entire service."
"Well, you try to make him stop then!" Sara hissed back, frustrated
already and now with a struggling three-year-old on her lap.
Leaning over, Elaine gripped the boy's ear and spoke into it. "You
sit still or we'll take you right home!"
"I wanna go home!" he replied.
All their neighbors in nearby pews were either looking at them or
trying not to. Paul was ignoring the whole affair, as was Jean's
father. Sara was within a breath of spanking the boy and Elaine's
entire face had gone from white to red. Furious with all of them,
Jean snatched up Joey, rose to her feet and pushed past legs to take
him outside for the last fifteen minutes of the service. They used
rocks to draw on the concrete of the church drive, then Joey chased
falling dogwood petals, blown about by the breeze, while Jean sat on
the steps and watched. By the time church had let out, he'd lost his
little-boy clip tie and his suit jacket -- both in Jean's lap -- and
had grass-stains on both knees of his khakis.
Elaine Grey emerged from the church amidst several of her cronies, a
society smile plastered on her face, conversing in her "phone" voice
as Jean liked to think of it, modulated and sweet, none of the iron
edge she used with her family. Sara stalked across the church lawn
to collect Joey while Elaine called Jean up to join her on the
sidewalk, then put Jean through the familiar torture of introductions
and recitations of her accomplishments at Columbia. When the circus
was over and they were headed back to the car, Elaine remarked,
"Well, you made absolutely certain that Joey will be worse next time.
Taking him out of church was exactly the wrong response. You don't
give in to a child's tantrums. He'll only learn that it works!"
"True," Jean agreed, seething inside but playing the rehearsed role
of smiling at near-strangers as they passed along the sidewalk to the
parking lot. "But you also don't expect a three-year-old to sit
through an hour-long service, mother."
"You and Sara could at that age; even Gailyn can manage it!"
"We're all girls! Joey is a boy!"
"It shouldn't make a difference."
"It does. Every child is unique, but there are distinct differences
between the genders. Joey is a typical boy, and you just can't �-
fairly -� expect him to sit as quietly as the average girl. Blame
biology. I'm the doctor here, remember?"
"You're not a doctor yet," Elaine retorted, mostly because she
couldn't think of a better reply. She hated it when her youngest
played the trump card of superior education as much as she hated it
when her husband did it. It made her feel weak and powerless. Jean
normally eschewed such tactics, but occasionally she grew desperate
enough to use them.
If Scott Summers were disinclined to seek the favors of Warren's
wealth for himself, he had no such qualms when it involved a good
friend, so he asked Warren to fly out to fetch him the day before
Frank entered Cerebro. It meant missing a few classes, but EJ had
agreed to cover notes for him, and it felt right to him that all of
them should be there. This was pivotal. Why he was so certain of
that, he couldn't have said. He wasn't the precog in Xavier's little
mutant family, but he told Warren, "I have to be there," and so
Warren came to fetch him.
The hardest part would be seeing Jean.
And Jean didn't know he was coming, so of course she flushed and
stuttered when she arrived in the sub-basement infirmary along with
the rest of Xavier's students on that designated morning, only to
find Scott already there with Warren and Frank. It would have been
kind, she thought, had someone troubled to prepare her, then wondered
rebelliously why she should think so, or feel guilty to see him. But
she knew why. She ought to have told him about Ted Roberts weeks
ago. Yet the complication of pain didn't necessarily require that
she be on the receiving end of rejection. Her role in life had been
as a mediator, and she disliked hurting Scott precisely because she
cared for him, even while she couldn't care for him in the way that
he wanted her to. He was just a boy. The fact that she didn't
always think of him so confused her, and she refused to examine it
Thus flustered, she used the excuse of adjusting lab equipment that
needed no adjustment in order to orbit the three young men clustered
about the central infirmary bed. Acutely conscious of her, Scott
followed her progress without once turning in her direction; she
could read his awareness in his stance, slightly slouched, his side
turned towards her so he could keep her in his peripheral vision.
And Frank suppressed his amusement along with his irritation. There
were days that he hated the boundaries he had set for himself. Just
then, though, he had more important matters to worry over than the
private drama of Scott and Jean. "I'm ready," he said to the
professor and Dr. Richards, who waited with Henry beside the
monitoring equipment. Ororo was there, too. She had made them
explain it all to her, every part, from the remote electrodes they
would attach to his cranium, to the failsafes built into Cerebro's
design, set to pop the doors if he fell unconscious during operation.
Her unease was evident in the delicately-drawn brows pinched
together above her sloped nose. It was the same frown she had worn
for the past week since Reed Richards had arrived. Her struggles to
protect him might have bothered him, but he adored her fierce
self-sufficiency, and how she struggled to defend what she loved.
She reminded him of his mother in the most unexpected ways, but was
different enough that she failed to trigger all that Italian maternal
And it was the two women in his life to whom he turned last. His
mother kissed him roughly, but said nothing. They had done all their
screaming the night before, and the night before that. Ororo didn't
scream, but she had expressed her disapproval. Now, she clung to his
neck in a rare public display of personal fear. Affection, she would
show, if in a guarded way, but rarely fear. Then he glanced at
Scott, perhaps the only one of his fellow students who wasn't
fighting him on this. Scott nodded once, and he disengaged Ro,
passing her to his friend so he could follow Xavier and Richards out,
the rest tagging behind, all but Henry, who would monitor the
equipment, and Jean, who would assist. It felt almost like a funeral
march, and perhaps he should have laughed at that, but he refrained.
He could die; he knew that. The power of Cerebro could fry the
synapses in his brain, leaving him little better than a vegetable.
But that was unlikely, and he knew it.
At the X-door, Xavier stopped, moving his chair aside to let Frank
kneel down so Cerebro could scan his retina. His eye blinked briefly
at the assault of light. "Welcome, Francesco," the machine's
feminine voice said, doors whooshing apart on pneumatic hinges. He
entered without looking back. Only Xavier followed down the
suspended access tongue that led to Cerebro's core display. A chair
had been brought in for him to sit there; the professor didn't
require one. Seating himself, he glanced first about the geodesic
room that enclosed them, then looked at his mentor and savior,
"It will be all right," he said, because he knew that however calm
Charles Xavier might appear, he feared this gamble that Frank was
taking. "You are not forcing me into this. My gift is."
And here, at the crux, Xavier hesitated. *We might attempt an
*And how long would it take?*
Xavier didn't reply, merely turned his chair to wheel away. He
couldn't remain present while Frank ran Cerebro anymore than Frank
could be present when Xavier did. Different gifts. And there was no
need for final instructions; they had been reviewed multiple times.
When he heard the door snick shut behind him, he raised the headpiece
and turned it to face him, studying it a moment like an ancient
soldier might contemplate his helm. Then he placed it over his head.
For a moment, there was nothing at all. He looked out into open
emptiness and wondered, irrationally, if he ought to push a button
somewhere, even while he knew he didn't need to.
*Your mind,* the professor had told him repeatedly. *Cerebro
responds only to the commands of your mind.*
Eyes sliding shut, he regulated his breathing, listened for his
heartbeat, and concentrated on his various muscle groups, tensing and
relaxing as Xavier had taught him to do -- releasing. Releasing his
body. He was not a physical being; he existed outside himself,
slipped free of his fence of skin, and reached . . . .
Fragments of the future blew past like blizzard snow, like cottonwood
seeds on the wind in spring, too light to catch but fogging the very
There was no air here. There was nothing except the fragments, an
impossible puzzle. He touched a coalescing image -- *concentrate on
someone dear to you,* Xavier had instructed -- so he brought Ororo
into focus. Ororo as he had seen her in his nightmares, but not
fuzzed as in a dreamscape. Ororo versus the riot police, and at her
feet, the body of Warren Worthington, white wings broken and
splattered with his own blood. Off to the side, he could see his own
body and there was an insane rage in Ro's face. Somewhere, Scott's
voice rang out. "Ro, no!" Lightning ripped the space between her
and the riot police, followed by gale wind. But bullets were faster,
and Frank found that he could slow time, watch deadly slugs approach,
but not stop them by the force of his will. That was not his gift.
The first bullet struck her shoulder, the second just below her
collarbone, and the third was placed perfectly in the center of her
forehead, like a third eye into the mystery of human hate.
He *wrenched* it -- twisted it sideways to a different version of the
The first bullet entered her shoulder, the second just missed her
neck, and the third grazed her forehead. In the hot shock of agony,
she went down, and a fourth pierced her heart.
*Wrench* again. And again. But there were always bullets. And
blood. And death.
He needed more perspective and rearing up, he pulled with him a
rainbow strobe of divergent realities, but hovered above them all.
If he couldn't hope to see every one, like a man trying to look
across the ocean, he could still see many, a thousand fragment
glimpses of Ororo -- long hair, short hair, or no hair in a prison
camp. Young, middle-aged, or old. With him or with someone else.
Thin, plump, emaciated or, in one vision, ancient and fat and happy,
the flesh of her face puckered into a roadmap of the years. So many
possibilities for her, and how little he figured into most of them,
but he had no time to explore that now. Reaching for the fat and
happy future, he traced it back across its alternate pasts, looking
for the dark time, the nightmare vision that faced them now, and how
she had evaded it. All of a sudden it loomed out of the dark and off
to the side, but just what, exactly, had been the pivotal roundhouse
turn that had bypassed that terror track? What alternative choice
had been made? He crossed the rail lines of other happy futures
where human beings had avoided the mass butchery of other human
beings, searching through each for the event that had made the
difference. Faster and faster and faster, futures and pasts danced
across his mind, bending and blending and twining in myriad
Until he found it. The knot of commonality that he sought.
Ripping Cerebro's helm off his head, he panted while the doors slid
aside. The abrupt stop had been a mistake perhaps, as almost
immediately, he spewed all the contents of his stomach across the
control board. But he had been unable to bear the pressure a moment
longer. He could hear footsteps rushing in, and the sound of
multiple voices. "Is he all right?" "Frank, are you all right?"
"*Francesco, mi parli quello che ti ho vedere!*"
And it was easier to babble in Italian, so he did. English simply
wouldn't come. The professor could understand, and he was the one
who mattered. "A police force," he gasped as he accepted Warren's
handkerchief to wipe his mouth. "A mutant police force. That's the
answer. Non-mutants will fear us, but if we show them we can contain
our own, it might make a difference. There is no guarantee, and in no
future did I see complete peace, but in every future that escapes the
massacres, this force exists."
"What force?" Scott asked, also in Italian, but his was awkward and
inelegant. "Who will create this force?"
Francesco just glanced at Xavier, who could sift his mind to see what
he had seen. And it was Xavier who answered, in English. "We will,
Scott. We will create it, because we know now that we must."
Well, did you see that coming? :-) Chapter 7, "Fire and Ice," will
be along, but I didn't leave you on a cliffhanger this time, so
first, I think I'm finally going to go back to "The Golden Goose"
series and do the next story, the "Jean meets Maddie" story. I
reread INFERNO while on the plane down to a friend of mine's wedding. --Min
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