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AN ACCIDENTAL INTERCEPTION OF FATE: 11c (Ensemble, prefilm)

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  • Minisinoo
    Continued direction from 11b.... ... If not for Frank, Charles Xavier would have heard about the accident at the Columbia Genetics Lab on the evening news,
    Message 1 of 1 , Nov 10, 2002
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      Continued direction from 11b....
      -----

      If not for Frank, Charles Xavier would have heard about the accident
      at the Columbia Genetics Lab on the evening news, along with everyone
      else. Neither Jean Grey nor Hank McCoy were his children or
      immediate family. But only minutes after it had occurred, Frank
      showed up in the kitchen where Xavier was making tea. �There has
      been an accident,� he said, face grim.

      �Has been?� the professor asked. �Not will be?�

      �Has been,� Frank reiterated. �You will find Hank, and Jean, at
      Columbia Medical emergency room. They are alive. It would be . . .
      best . . . if we retrieve Hank as soon as it is possible.�

      Xavier studied Francesco for a long moment and the boy met his eyes
      calmly. In the space of those few heartbeats, the professor
      understood several things: first, that Frank had known beforehand
      and had chosen not to reveal what would occur, second that it was a
      choice Frank would suffer under for the rest of his life, and third
      -- for the first time in literally years -- Charles Xavier knew what
      it was like to surrender himself to the wisdom of another.

      There was a certain godlike aspect to telepathy as strong as his,
      when he so easily knew the thoughts of everyone around him. Even if
      he didn�t manipulate them directly, he couldn�t help but respond to
      people with that knowledge. Yet he didn�t know the future, and he
      understood at last the fear that could be generated by a mutant whose
      powers allowed him to make decisions for Xavier that might or might
      not reflect Xavier�s own. Trust. The professor had to trust a
      twenty-year-old boy with the prescience of Apollo. �What did you
      see, Frank?�

      The younger man didn�t answer directly. Instead, he said, �It was
      this, or the death of thousands. This is the pivotal event; it all
      turns on this. If I had called them, warned them, made sure it
      didn�t happen, everything that should come after would unravel -- was
      about to unravel.� He turned then and walked out, calling after him,
      �I shall phone Warren, and ask Ororo to drive us there.�

      It took them a good hour. Emergency vehicles still clogged the
      street outside the Hammer Building, and one of the windows on sixth
      floor was stained black with the glass shattered out of it. But they
      didn�t try to stop there. Ororo pulled into the hospital visitor
      parking lot down the street, and Frank and Ororo wheeled Xavier into
      the emergency room. Every hospital smelled alike, the professor
      thought. Warren was already there waiting for them. �They won�t
      tell me anything!� he complained, the anxiety spiking out of him.
      �I�m not family! They won�t even take my money!�

      *Shhh,* Xavier sent. Though he wasn�t surprised that Warren, in
      desperation, might have tried to grease some palms, it didn�t pay to
      announce it. *All of you, come with me into the waiting rooms.* And
      they followed.

      Once out of the main walkway and ensconced in a corner of the cramped
      waiting room with two chairs for his three students, Charles closed
      his eyes and folded his hands in front of him. Others would no doubt
      think him praying. There was always a moment�s disorientation as he
      slipped through minds like an eel through coral, looking for the
      particular signatures he knew. Jean�s he found first, surprisingly
      strong and steady though she was unconscious still. Hank�s was . . .
      oddly blurred, perhaps by pain killers. Xavier could sense the
      massive lacerations along his back and side, but he was too
      high-happy to care about it.

      Now came the harder part, searching through a plethora of minds he
      didn�t know -- the medical personnel working over his students -- to
      learn Hank and Jean�s condition. As he was more concerned with Hank,
      he searched for his attending first, but it took him a moment to
      realize that he�d found the woman and was seeing the situation
      through her eyes . . . and then he got a shock.

      Hank was . . . not Hank.

      �Stay here,� the professor told the three in the waiting room. He
      was about to do something of a questionable ethical nature, and he
      didn�t want them involved, at least not until he knew more. He
      understood now Frank�s warning that they needed to fetch Hank as
      quickly as possible.

      When younger, Charles Xavier had been almost casual in his
      manipulation of minds. Now, older and more aware of human grays, he
      understood why angels might fear to tread, but he wouldn�t stand by
      and watch such a gentle man as Henry McCoy bleed to death in a
      hospital emergency room just because he now looked like something
      from Charles Lamb�s BEAUTY AND THE BEAST. Taking the swinging doors
      backward, he wheeled himself into the ER proper and moved like a
      ghost among the medical staff. No one spoke to him. He didn�t try
      to make them not see him; he simply made them not care. Fortunately,
      the ER had no security cameras, so he had only to worry about a
      mental record of his presence.

      Jean had been transferred into one of the treatment rooms because her
      condition wasn�t critical, but Hank still occupied Trauma Room A.
      Nurses hung about gaping, and even a security man. One resident, a
      woman, worked over Hank with the help of two assistants while the
      second, another woman, stood well back from the table, staring. The
      doctors were yelling at one another, the working one in rage, the
      watching one in fear. How sadly ironic that medical personnel who
      could face unflinching the worst that human carelessness and bad luck
      could throw at them now hung back instead of doing their job --
      saving human lives. But that was precisely the problem, wasn�t it?

      Henry could no longer be mistaken for a normal human.

      Slipping into the minds of those present, Xavier calmed fears and
      soothed anger and brought the reluctant half of the trauma team back
      to the bed, even while he wondered how much of the man they�d known
      as Henry McCoy was left inside the oversized Sasquatchian form
      occupying the table. Xavier remembered the fuzzed, confused
      sensation of Hank�s mind. But assuming a man did still remain inside
      the beast, it might be best if Hank�s identity were not known. When
      Xavier had entered the emergency room proper, he�d seen both Jean and
      Hank�s names up on the board behind the nurse�s station, information
      no doubt acquired from wallets, lab coats, or name tags. That
      wouldn�t do. Seeing that matters in the trauma room were in hand,
      and that while Henry�s wounds had been serious, they weren�t
      life-threatening with proper treatment, Xavier wheeled his chair back
      to the nurses station. He hated tampering with others� minds or
      falsifying records, but when it came to protecting his �children,�
      he�d do what was necessary. The lesser of evils.

      It was easy enough to influence one nurse to erase Hank�s name and
      replace it with a generic �John Doe 7,� then fetch the chart from the
      spinning rack on the desk, rip out the information page, drop it in
      the trash, and replace it with another. The other nurses remained
      oblivious, and Xavier wheeled past to fetch the balled up paper from
      the little trash bin and tuck it away in his chair. Leave no
      evidence. It wouldn�t matter if there were a record of Jean�s
      admission since she wasn�t obviously a mutant.

      But much as he disliked it, he needed to wake her to see if she could
      tell him what had occurred, and he rolled down the hall to the
      examination room in which they�d placed her until they could treat
      her. An IV had been started, but little else. The room was
      strangely quiet after the bustle out in the hall. She was still in
      the dusty, torn clothes in which they�d apparently found her, and her
      visible skin was covered with minor scratches, abrasions, and
      bruising, but nothing more serious. He had no idea what damage might
      lie internally, but he could sense from her unconscious mind no
      severe pain. For the moment, no one else was in the room and Xavier
      gratefully relaxed the loose telepathic hold he�d had over minds in
      the ER. He�d learned long ago that if one looked like one knew what
      one was about, people rarely stopped to ask questions, so he�d needed
      only light touches to accomplish his goals. But light touches or
      not, he�d make them to multiple minds and that was a strain. Now, in
      Jean�s room, and dressed in a business suit, anyone coming in was
      likely to assume he was medical personnel.

      He smoothed her hair back from her forehead and let his mind slip
      into hers. She was only lightly out and would probably have woken
      soon. *Jean....*

      Her eyes snapped open and she started to lunge upward, but he kept
      his palm on her forehead and she winced, moaned and relaxed. �You�re
      in the hospital, Jean,� he said. �Can you tell me what happened?�

      �Oh, God,� she whispered and he could feel the shock stiffen her
      muscles and shudder through her. �Oh, God, oh, God. It blew up.
      Bruce�s new GFG. It blew up. And Ted -- � She choked and stopped.
      �He was right there,� she whispered. �Oh, God.�

      �Shhh.� Xavier stroked her hair and kept a very light touch on her
      mind, not enough to interfere but enough to keep her calm, just in
      case she did have internal injuries. �Hank is here in the hospital.
      He�s going to be okay.� Well, he was going to live. More than that,
      Xavier couldn�t say, and no doubt Ted Roberts wasn�t in the ER
      because he was in a morgue. �Who else was in the lab besides you,
      Hank, and Ted?�

      �Bruce,� she whispered back. �Bruce was there, too. The last thing
      I remember hearing was this . . . this awful *whine*. It made the
      most terrible noise, like a hundred nails down a chalkboard. And a
      white light. The next thing I knew, though, Hank had leapt over the
      table and we were all falling backwards. I think I hit my head on
      the edge of the other lab table.� She�d been staring up at the
      ceiling, and now her dark eyes slid sideways. They were full of
      tears. �Will Hank really be okay? He saved our lives. And what
      about Bruce?�

      �Hank doesn�t appear to be fatally injured, though he took more
      damage than you.� Xavier stroked her hair again. �And I�m sorry,
      Jean, but I haven�t seen Bruce. It may be that he was taken to
      another hospital.� Though the likelihood of that, with the Hammer
      Center right down the block from Columbia Presbyterian, was slim. It
      grieved Xavier. Bruce Banner was, or had been, a good man, a good
      researcher, and might have been a friend, if they�d had more time to
      interact. As it was, their different callings had kept them too busy
      to do more than drop email on occasion and chat at conferences, yet
      he knew it would be a terrible blow to Jean to lose her mentor. All
      that, however, had to wait. �Jean, I must know what happened. As
      best you remember.�

      �I�m not sure. Bruce had some new, really interesting data that he
      wanted to share with Hank and me, but especially me. The readings of
      the cells he�d tested in the GFG all approached or matched the
      cortisol readings of mutants immediately after manifestation.�

      �So his hypothesis was correct.�

      �It looked that way. But I don�t know why the machine would
      *explode*. This wasn�t the first time they�d run it. It wasn�t even
      the twentieth. Bruce has had it for two months. If there�d been a
      problem with it, it would have showed by now.� She sighed. �There
      really isn�t anything else to tell. We were looking at printouts
      while Ted started the machine. Then it exploded. That�s all I know.
      How much damage did it do?�

      �Unfortunately, I have no idea.� Though given what he�d seen of the
      Hammer building even at a distance, the damage had been enough. As
      they would learn later, only Banner�s lab had been utterly destroyed,
      but the exploding machine had torn a large hole in the wall nearest
      to it and there had been several fires, not to mention smoke damage
      to the entire floor. At least the lab next door to Bruce�s had been
      empty. No one besides the four in the lab had been hurt. What
      concerned Xavier most at the moment, though, was the apparent effect
      of the accident on Hank. Had the gravimagnetic field escaped its
      protective housing somehow and set off a secondary mutation? Or had
      Hank�s original mutation never been complete in the first place?

      A doctor had arrived finally to check on Jean, so Xavier excused
      himself to see what had become of Hank, who now lay unconscious on a
      gurney in the hallway right outside Trauma A. No one was quite sure
      what to do with him next. The word �mutant� came up several times,
      but his mutation was now so extreme that the staff doubted that could
      explain it. Police had even been called in while Xavier had talked
      with Jean; they seemed to view him as a prime suspect in the cause of
      the lab accident. Apparently �just because.�

      That was not good, and whatever the consequences, the professor
      decided abruptly that Henry McCoy couldn�t be left to the tender
      mercies of the hospital, *or* the police. *Jean?* he sent. *What�s
      your condition?*

      *I think I�ll live, sir. Apparently nothing more serious than some
      bad bruises and scrapes.*

      *Make no mention of Henry. He was not in that lab, do you
      understand?*

      *Yes, sir.* But it was quizzical.

      And to his waiting students outside the ER doors, he sent, *I need
      the three of you. Ororo, go out to the parking lot and drive my car
      around to the ER entrance; ensure that the rear doors are unlocked
      and spread a blanket on the backseat, if you can find one in the
      trunk. Frank and Warren, I shall need you inside the emergency room
      proper. As Henry�s own father would say, we are about to pull a
      'Hank Snow.'*

      *Sir?* Warren sent back.

      *'Moving on,' Mr. Worthington. Hank Snow sang a song called 'Moving
      on.'*

      And on the very heel of that, both boys were inside the doors,
      staring around at arguing people . . . and then at Hank on the
      gurney. Warren gaped, but Frank was unsurprised, and Xavier noted
      that. He wondered, idly, just how much the boy knew.

      *You see our dilemma,* he sent. *I need you to wheel Hank out to the
      ER entrance, then get him loaded into the car.*

      *That�s Hank?* Warren asked.

      *Indeed it is. Warren, after he�s safely in the car, you�ll remain
      here to assist Jean. She will probably be released after the
      paperwork is complete, which could take half a day, given how
      hospitals operate. Her parents may arrive in the meantime, if the
      hospital has contacted them.*

      *Oh, gee, thanks,* Warren sent back. *Sic Mrs. Grey on me, why don�t
      you?* He was still staring around at the people. *They don�t see
      us, do they? And then, God, they�re talking about arresting him!*

      *Yes. We cannot permit him to be taken into custody, particularly
      for a crime he didn�t commit, if it was a crime at all and not mere
      human error. Now, quickly. One of you on either end of the gurney
      -- just wheel him out the door. And no, no one will see us. Or
      rather, their minds won�t register what they do see.*

      And Xavier became aware then of Jean standing in the doorway behind
      him, her doctor calling her back inside. Xavier turn to look at her.
      Her face was white. Utterly white. *Go back and lay down, Jean.
      You could still be suffering from shock, at the very least.*

      �What happened to him?� she whispered. Then, �My God -- it changed
      him.�

      *Apparently so. We shall handle it.* He hoped. *Remember what I
      told you to say, if anyone should ask you questions. You know
      nothing about a blue, hirsute figure. Now, go back in and lay down,*
      and he tweaked her mind just so. She obeyed.

      Frank and Warren were already moving Hank�s gurney. Xavier followed.
      He could hardly erase memories of Hank�s presence in ER. Or rather,
      he could, but it would cause more trouble than it was worth. Better
      to effect something simpler -- the patient had been moved to a
      different room, then had woken and apparently escaped. It wasn�t
      perfect, but would do. The main thing was to prevent anyone from
      making a connection between the extraordinary blue-furred mutant
      admitted with wounds to the torso, and a research colleague of Bruce
      Banner by the name of Henry McCoy. On the way out by the nurses
      station, Xavier paused to remove the wallet that the ER team had
      taken from Hank�s back pocket and deposited in a personal effects
      bag. Then he followed his students out.

      It was a strange �escape,� Warren thought, when they could simply
      roll Hank out through an oblivious crowd, but saying as much to Frank
      got no reply. The younger man been acting rather oddly ever since
      the professor had arrived, or even odder than he usually did, and
      Warren had long ago given up on actually understanding Francesco
      Placido. He shook his head.

      By the time they got outside, Ororo was waiting with the car, and her
      reaction to Hank was much like Warren�s had been -- shock and
      disbelief. But she helped them haul the unconscious bulk off the
      gurney into the Rolls� rear seat. It took all three of them, and
      much grunting. �He�s added at least a hundred pounds!� Warren
      huffed.

      �I hope that we are not doing him worse damage,� Ororo replied,
      panting.

      �It is better than the alternative. They would have taken him into
      custody,� Frank reminded them. �And do you think they would have
      believed his story? It is best this way.�

      Neither of the other two was inclined to argue with a precog, and the
      professor had joined them in any case. They helped him into the
      Rolls, then Ororo and Frank got in, and Warren was left to see Jean
      home, and deal with the Greys if they arrived. When he considered
      it, he decided that facing an angry Elaine Grey would be preferable
      to facing Hank when he first looked in a mirror.

      Whatever Hank had been given in the ER, it kept him unconscious for
      the entire return to the mansion, which was fortunate, Xavier
      thought, as having him wake in a moving vehicle, in such a changed
      condition and with God only knew what mental alterations in addition
      to the physical, could result in all manner of crises. Yet when they
      had returned, they found themselves seriously compromised without
      Warren�s mutant strength to help them unload Hank. If, wings aside,
      Warren might not have appeared significantly different, his mutation
      included alterations to his sight, his bone structure, and his
      musculature. In short, he was a lot stronger than he looked.

      And now, without him, Frank and Ororo couldn�t budge the suddenly
      increased bulk of Hank McCoy. Xavier had to call in additional
      assistance from two of his staff. Not Bobby. Not yet. The two men
      were used to being around mutants, of course, but even their
      expressions showed alarm at Hank�s altered form; and they didn�t
      recognize him any more than Warren had. And Xavier didn�t enlighten
      them. �A new mutant, yes,� was all he said.

      They deposited Henry upstairs in his bed, though Xavier had
      considered putting him downstairs in the sub-basement lab . . . just
      in case. But Henry didn�t need to wake to a shiny metal room and an
      antiseptic atmosphere. Better to be surrounded by his familiar room,
      though one could hardly say that waking in the lab would be the
      *unfamiliar* to him.

      Frank and Ororo stood in the bedroom door beside the professor�s
      chair. �So now what?� Ororo asked.

      �Now, we wait,� Xavier said.




      The moment of truth came more rapidly for Jean than she might have
      expected, as the doctor didn�t need much time confirming that she had
      sustained nothing more serious than some bad scratches and a mild
      concussion, and noted as much in her chart so they could clear her
      out of an overfull ER. Her clothes -- a nice blouse and khakis --
      were a mess, but there was no help for that. She hadn�t come
      prepared with a spare change of clothing, and Warren being Warren, he
      could hardly give up his shirt and jacket in public. A nurse offered
      Jean a spare blue scrub top to replace her shredded blouse, and some
      mild pain killers, and then she was on her way to the front desk,
      Warren hovering like an anxious parent. �You sure you�re okay?�
      �Yes, I�m sure.� �They let you go awfully quickly.� �Warren! I�m
      fine!�

      She had other things to worry about in any case, such as what had
      happened to Hank. The more she thought about that, the more
      concerned she became, but when she asked more information from the
      staff (people who, come the fall, she�d be working alongside daily)
      no one could remember much specific. That was the professor�s
      handiwork, she knew. And no one could tell her anything about Ted or
      Bruce, either. It was while she�d paused to query a nurse that a
      police officer stepped up beside her. He was a tall man, thin, with
      medium brown skin and an all-business attitude. �You�re Jean Grey?
      You were at the site of the accident? Can I ask you a few
      questions?�

      �Officer, I think she needs -- �

      �Shh,� Jean told Warren, raising a hand. Any apparent lack of
      cooperation would be that much more suspicious. �I�d be happy to
      help,� she said. �And maybe you can help me, too. I�m trying to
      find out what happened to the two other people in the lab.�

      �There were only two?�

      �Yes. Myself, Bruce Banner -- whose lab it was -- and Ted Roberts.
      I was brought here, but I haven�t seen either of them.�

      He gave her a quizzical glance. �What, exactly, happened, Ms. Grey?�

      �Dr. Grey,� Warren corrected.

      Jean pinched his arm as irritation washed over the officer�s face.
      �I�m sorry, Dr. Grey,� the officer amended.

      �It�s okay. As for what happened, I�m not sure myself. Bruce -- Dr.
      Banner -- had invited me in to share some particularly exciting test
      results and demonstrate them in the GFG -- the gravimagnetic field
      generator. Dr. Banner and I were sitting at a lab table, looking
      over the results when Ted -- Mr. Roberts -- started the GFG engines.
      There was a terrible whine, and then the explosion. That�s pretty
      much it, for what I remember. I must have hit my head on a lab
      table. I have the concussion to prove it.� She rubbed the side of
      her head, both for effect and because it did genuinely hurt.

      He�d been taking notes while she spoke, and now glanced up. �Did
      anyone else come into the lab while you were there, and then leave?�

      And Jean paused, frowning. She wasn�t sure what to say. Certainly
      other people in the genetics department had seen Hank around that
      day. It probably wouldn�t do to lie entirely, never mind that if
      Bruce had been taken to another hospital and anyone took his
      statement, he�d no doubt name Hank as there in the lab, and
      incriminate her in the process. Easier if she could claim confusion.
      �Well, when I first arrived, Mr. Roberts was on his way down to the
      computer core to pick up a new printout. Hank -- Dr. McCoy -- had
      been there earlier, but he left with Ted. When Ted came back, he
      started up the machine.� She�d felt Warren stiffen beside her at the
      mention of Hank, but she didn�t react herself.

      The officer was frowning. �This Dr. McCoy -- how long was he in the
      lab, and would he have been in the lab alone at any time?�

      And realization struck Jean -- they were looking for a saboteur.
      �I�m sorry,� she replied, voice cold, �I have no idea how long Dr.
      McCoy was in the lab, nor if he�d have been alone with the machine,
      but as he helped to *build* it in the first place, if he�d wanted to
      do anything to it, he�d have had multiple opportunities before now.
      He and Dr. Banner are very close.�

      The officer winced. �I�m sorry, ma�am, but we have to ask these
      questions.�

      Jean nodded. �Then understand this -- Hank McCoy would stand to lose
      as much, career wise, as Bruce Banner if something went wrong with
      that machine. Accidents happen, you know. Even if it wasn�t an
      accident, there are more likely suspects than Dr. McCoy. Now, it�s
      my turn to ask a question. What *happened* to Mr. Roberts and Dr.
      Banner?�

      The officer sighed and shook his head. �I�m not really supposed to
      tell you -- �

      �-- but you will, because they�re my friends,� Jean finished.

      He eyed her, but then shrugged. �Well, as for Ted Roberts -- I guess
      he was the guy we found right next to the machine. I�m sorry. He
      didn�t make it.�

      Jean had suspected as much, but her hand still went out to grip
      Warren�s arm, and he slipped an arm around her waist. �And Bruce?�

      �I don�t know ma�am. The only ones found were you, the body and . .
      . well, this sounds crazy -- but some big blue furry guy. They
      brought him in here, but he woke up and escaped. That�s what they�re
      telling us, anyway. But God, you�d think *somebody* would notice him
      walking out!�

      �You�d think,� Jean echoed, and leaned more heavily into Warren, her
      head on his shoulder. He stroked her hair. �I�m sorry. I don�t
      know anything about a blue furry man in the lab. Could . . . could
      Dr. Banner have woken up and walked away?�

      �Possible, I guess. Not likely. You were, well, buried under
      rubble. If he was with you, he�d have been there, too. This blue
      guy was lying on top of you.�

      �So he did save my life,� Jean said, then swallowed, hoping the
      officer hadn�t caught her peculiar phrasing.

      But all he said was a dubious, �I guess. Or maybe he caused it.�

      Jean shook her head. �I told you, Bruce and I were looking at the
      printout and Ted started the machine, which exploded. No blue guy.�

      The officer added a few more comments in his notebook, then he said,
      �Thank you. I imagine someone else will want to talk to you about it
      again. Where can we reach you?�

      Jean gave him the phone number of her city apartment, and then
      grabbed Warren to pull him out into the busy ER waiting room area,
      where a dozen other conversations concealed theirs. �I want to go
      back to the lab.�

      �Forget it, Jean. Even if you were in any shape to go, I�m sure the
      whole floor was evacuated. They�re not going to let you up there.�

      �Then I�ll have to -- � Abruptly, she stopped. She had an idea.
      Surely it couldn�t be so easy, surely not . . . but it was worth a
      try. �Warren, I don�t need to get onto the floor; I just need to get
      into the *computer lab*. I hope. And as long as that wasn�t damaged
      in the blast, they�re not going to shut it down or they�d have nine
      hundred furious grad students.�

      He eyed her curiously, but shrugged. �Okay, but I don�t see the
      point.�

      She ignored that and set about checking herself out before her
      parents arrived with their particular brand of paranoia and sucked
      her into it for the next week. Once out of the hospital, they walked
      up the street to the Hammer Building and on the way, she dialed her
      father�s cell. Warren caught only her half of the conversation.
      �Dad, this is Jean. I just wanted to call and tell you I�m fine.
      There�s no need to come down here.� �No, Dad, I�m fine.� �Yes,
      really.� �Yes, there was an explosion. It was an accident. I�m
      fine.� �Dad, I�m *fine*. You and mom turn around and go on home.�
      �Dad, I have to go. Someone wants to ask me some questions. I won�t
      be home until late I�m sure. I�ll call you tomorrow. Bye.� And she
      snapped the phone shut.

      �Liar, liar, pants on fire.�

      �Fuck you, War.�

      �Such language.�

      She shot him a bird and he laughed. They�d nearly reached the
      building. The emergency vehicles were all gone by this point. It
      was verging on the dregs of afternoon, but the place was swarming
      with the curious, talking about the explosion. People stared at her,
      as she was dressed -- or partly dressed -- in torn clothing and had
      scratches all over her face, but no one stopped her. She didn�t even
      see anyone whom she immediately recognized. She and Warren took the
      elevator up to a floor with a computer lab full of Sun stations.
      There, at least, she ran into people she knew and had to field
      questions. They were relieved to see her, but plenty of people had
      also seen the EMTs wheeling out a shrouded body, and knew that
      someone had died, but not who. Jean claimed ignorance -- the news
      would be out soon enough -- and stuck to her story that only Bruce,
      Ted and herself had been in the lab. �But I thought I saw Hank
      hanging around up there today, too?� Evelyn said.

      �He was, but he left,� Jean replied. No one questioned that. Why
      would they?

      Observers had, however, seen the blue furry version of Hank. �What
      *was* that?� and �Where did it come from?� were the main questions.
      Jean claimed ignorance about that, too, and after a good twenty
      minutes, people left her alone. She sat down at an open machine, a
      little away from the chattering others, and pulled herself up to the
      keyboard. Warren joined her.

      �What are you after?�

      �Test results,� Jean replied, and turned her attention to the
      machine. She�d graduated, but only a month ago and she should still
      have access to the system until the following September. *Please,
      please,* she whispered to herself as she typed in her user name and
      password. And . . .

      It worked. She breathed out and closed her eyes. Thank God for
      small miracles. As long as she was still in the system, she was sure
      that she was still a part of Banner�s research group and had access
      to those protected files. The trick now was finding the ones she
      wanted.

      In the end, she had to print out the past-five-days�-worth of test
      and research statistical results, but found the ones she wanted, the
      same ones that Bruce had shown her earlier in the lab. Waving these
      under a still-confused Warren�s nose, she said, �Now, maybe I can get
      some answers.�

      �For what?�

      Jean glanced around quickly, but they were alone. �For Hank, War.�

      Warren opened his mouth to inquire further, but at that moment, they
      heard first a wild bellow, and then a shrill scream. It sounded as
      if it was one floor down, and everyone in the lab -- including Jean
      and Warren -- raced out and down the stairs, to see what had
      happened.

      They found a terrorized secretary sitting on the floor of her office.
      She�d obviously been getting ready to go home, as she had her purse
      clenched in one hand and a plastic bag with an empty Tupperware lunch
      bowl gripped in the other. She was glassy-eyed and panting, and had
      slid right onto the carpet . . . which was dark with liquid. She�d
      wet herself in her fright. Jean and Warren pushed to the edge of the
      small crowd. �Oh, my God, oh, my God,� the secretary kept repeating.

      �What happened?� someone asked.

      �In the closet. It was in the closet. I went to shut the supply
      closet and it was in there!�

      �What?�

      �A big green . . . *thing*! A beast! Like a man, but bigger. And
      all green! It ran away down the hall. Oh, my God, my God. It
      yelled at me! I thought it was going to kill me!�

      Jean and Warren exchanged a glance. Hank was accounted for. Ted
      was, unfortunately, accounted for. �Bruce?� Jean asked, and stared
      down at the sheaf of printouts in her hand. A big green thing?

      She had to get back to the mansion with these results.

      --------------

      Endnotes: And was there anyone who did not see this coming? ;>
      Obviously, I�ve played around with comic history making Bruce a
      geneticist, not a physicist, and altering both Bruce and Hank
      simultaneously by an energy wave intentionally reminiscent of
      Magneto�s machine in the film. Condense, condense, condense. Many
      thanks to Tarch for the genetic assistance and ideas.


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