Disclaimer: Nearly all these fascinating characters, plus the general universe, belong to Marvel. I'm using them for entertainment purpose only and so on so don't sue me and so forth. Yamoto is mine, and for those who missed Part I, he's a senior PhD student at the same lab as the main character. Which is a sort of me, hence belongs to me, too...

Please feedback (any color) to celiouan@terra.cl, and please ask before archiving (except the ones already authorized, of course...). And please do point out any mistakes so I can learn from them. AND I SUMMON A SHOWER OF BLISS OVER JAYA MITAI for betareading and general encouragement, if you really like this story, drop her a line, 'coz me, I already ran out of words to thank her, so help me out, please?

Thanks, too, to Poi Lass, for her tips and her great Hank-fic, and to everyone who feedbacked the first four parts, you helped me lots and lots.

Author's Note for Part V:

Sorry this took me so long to write. And sorry, Hank McCoy won't appear until the very end of Part VI, he's busy somewhere being a Beast, but of course *I* (the 'I' in the story) doesn't know that... so poor *me* has got to wait a bit longer, and hence, so does the reader - I'm a big fan of the immortal slogan of the French revolution. You know, the part that comes right after "Libert=E9-Freedom". You might skip this part if you want to step into McCoy's lab right away, and skip Part VI, too, if you are absolutely starved for Hank's *physical* presence... but remember, I'm a seize-the-journey person, and the process is often more important than the end result, at least to me.

This story takes place in a strongly movieverse-contaminated comicverse, or maybe the other way round. Sorry, I made a terrible mistake and assumed the Westchester Mansion was the actual seat of the school in the comic too, and now it's too late to change the story's outline in my head. So just pretend the Massachusetts School hasn't yet opened, or else that it had to be painted or fumigated or exorcised or something and the kids went a-visiting state of NY for a while. And Jubes is still adjusting to the fact that she doesn't belong to the X-men anymore. And no, Emma isn't around because I can't *stand* her, and that might prove fatal for my character who can so easily be 'read', for as you know Ol'Icicle has about as much sense of humor as a frozen trout. And if you miss another of the X-men (Bobby, Rogue, Gambit...), please forgive me, just pretend they are at the Bahamas. As you see, I'm completely messing up the 'true facts'. But I'm not sorry, I'm having too good a time writing this.

Author's Note for Part VI:

The following scenario is completely made up. This is how *I* believe the scientist Hank McCoy, backed up by Prof. Xavier's unlimited financial resources, would design his working environment. As the saying goes... tell me how you run your lab, and I'll tell you what kind of scientist you are... I just couldn't resist making up all the tiny little details, but I realize they might bore you to death. So just skip to the last paragraph, or read the entire thing and then flame me all you want, or else tell me what's missing, what you might change, what doesn't fit into McCoy's character as you know him... and I myself am but a fledgling researcher, so I might have gotten some of the equipment wrong. And I'm bound to get some translations wrong, my dictionary has given up on me. Please, feedback, especially the constructive-criticism-type 'coz me wanna get betta @ this!

Ah... hum... the author's names are completely made up. If you dig them up on Medline, it's pure coincidence.

Author's Note for Part VII: In this one, Christopher is mine. Hank McCoy is, for the time being, mine too because I'm sure not even Sinister could lure him out of his lab for the next hours . Although his Twinkie-obsession is Maelstroms (at least that's my source). I won't be able to imitate his particular vocabulary and phrasing and I'm not even trying, but I'm open to any suggestions, as long as they come soon, before my archivists (*s*!!) upload the stuff. And all the author's names are just made up. Any similitude to any living or deceased scientist is purely coincidental and... well... hum... almost unintended.

That said... here we go, it's a beautiful Saturday morning in spring, and I just woke up in the Westchester mansion, and I'm gonna visit Hank's lab today, and life has hardly ever looked this bright...


Personal Delivery

Part 5-7

Celiouan

07 Oct 2000

 

Part V

It must have been that mattress. If I ever get to stay over at Xavier's Institute again in my life, I swear I'll sleep on the floor. Or on a chair. Or I'll bring one of those outdated mechanical alarm clocks that can raise the dead, even from devilishly comfortable mattresses like the one I had the misfortune to spend that night on. Instead of taking my obligatory shower at seven as I usually do, by the time I finally rolled myself out of the bed my wristwatch marked an ungodly half past nine, and I *swear* that friggin' mattress squeaked in triumph. All in all I was lucky: if it had been a clouded day, I might have slept until noon. Nine-thirty is late enough to get up, though, especially since there was a pretty good chance Dr. McCoy might have forgotten last night's promise to let me watch as he repeated his analysis of Professor J's samples. I showered in a record time, but then I got lost in those corridors. As was to be expected. The day I don't get lost someplace new I'll suffer an identity crisis. So by the time I stumbled into the kitchen, rubbing my rumbling stomach and my still sticky eyes, it was almost ten o'clock.

I shouldn't have worried. McCoy had left on some urgent business over an hour ago. He would return soon, I was told by a gloomy, coat-less, but still colorfully clad Jubilee who had apparently been charged with the task of the hostess, for she hopped from the table were she had been brooding and set out to make breakfast. I asked about the others I had met so far, but she answered, in a funeral voice, that "they all" had gone. She didn't say who "all" or where to or why, and I didn't ask, as she obviously felt she should have been included in the "all", and I didn't want to upset her any further. So I cautiously inquired whether there had been an accident. I was fairly sure that a few hours ago, McCoy had not known about this urgent business, whatever it was, and I feared some cosmic tragedy. The ensuing diatribe against grown-ups in general and one "Wolvie" in particular calmed my worries on that behalf, although I understood very little else. But then, who but a teen can really understand a teen. I was almost a decade late for it.

As I had nothing to do but wait, and in an attempt to win back her grace as a representative of the adult fraction of the species, I got her started in the noble art of German Cursing. PG-13, of course, I wouldn't want any trouble with Jean. Then we made a few experiments with coffee beans and Jubilee's mutant abilities. The result tasted a bit burned, but absolutely drinkable provided you added enough milk and sugar. Afterwards, though, we had to remove coffee-powder from every crack and corner in the kitchen, a welcome chance for Jubilee to practice her German pronunciation.

We were hardly done cleaning up when I was summoned to the Professor. Jubilee immediately offered to lead me to his office. Maybe she just wanted to skip classes for a few more minutes. Anyway, I was grateful, for that house was *huge*. By the time we reached the Professor's office, Jubilee had learned half a dozen new words, it was past eleven, and I was more than ready for some real work. Hence I had a hard time swallowing my disappointment when the Professor told me that McCoy would take a while longer, and offered to show me around.

One advantage of communicating with a telepath is that you don't need to waste your time with pleasantries like "Oh, that isn't necessary" or "I don't want to cause any trouble", you can just think in the general direction and the message gets along. Most of my feminine ancestors on both sides of the family always come up with a miraculously exact phrase for every such situation, but they somehow failed to pass that gift on to me, which is a pity for I could really use it sometimes. I always feel slightly stupid trying to find what to say, and even more stupid after I say it. But the Professor just smiled and answered, "My pleasure" before I could even stutter the first word, and that was it. Of course he knew what I *really* wanted to do, and why. That's another advantage of communicating with a telepath. Correction: for a frequently incomprehensible weirdo like me, it is the very queen of advantages.

You see...

... *most people* have never listened to single cells. Their voices, cracks in cracking noise, their peculiar firing patterns... Most people have never played deaf for the narrow- minded colleague whose radio speaker they might just have confiscated for this sole purpose, for how can Jazz concerts be more important, more wonderful to listen to, than microscopic cells calling out to you... And anyway, it wasn't like I didn't leave him without speakers, he still had the other one...

... most people would *never* get so obsessed with their most recent project they'd stumble over the same cable for weeks, without picking it up... And they'd never lose their concentration because a well-meaning soul lined that very cable against the wall, and there was that irritating, unknown little something missing in their everyday environment and they just couldn't figure out what it was...

... most people *know* how to play the solitaire, or handle a photo editor, or listen to Internet Radio... but would *never* spend their weekends learning how to access the interruption that allows the CPU to read the keyboard or the friggin' serial port, and for no particular reason, but just because...

... most people have never even *touched* an instrument rack, and if they have, they don't indulge in the peculiar custom of brushing their thumb across the smooth black heads of sleeping LEDs, before reaching for the main power switch that marks the beginning and the end of the day... and have you ever smiled in knowing anticipation as the LEDs stir like lidless eyes, drawing an intricate code of primary colors on smooth, clean, hard silver and black surfaces?

And that familiar shiver, almost like a long-time lover's caress, every time I brush against the pulse generator; would you know it? That small current-leak of the power source that has slipped undetected through every tech support and raises the fine, translucent hairs on my forearm...

So how could you possibly understand that I would spend most of my waking time surrounded by a chaos of blinking panels and wires and connectors and computer screens and printouts and reprints and data disks, and still crave for yet more of all that pandemonium of biomedical data acquisition and signal analysis in my *spare* time? How could I make you understand that an a- few-hours-visit at another lab would constitute my all-time favorite weekend entertainment? And how could I explain that spending those hours in the lab of a scientist of Dr. H. McCoy's caliber would be like all my past, present and future birthday and Christmas presents all packed together into one giant parcel, and that even a tour around the world's probably only boarding school for teen mutants, however fascinating, couldn't quite distract me from wanting to dig into that parcel, right there and right then?

I have long since given up explaining my motivations, I don't even try anymore. Xavier, though, could surely read them in my mind. And he knew McCoy quite well, who must be even worse than me, because he's a friggin' all-round genius on top of all his passion for research, as I had confirmed the night before. And finally, after decades reading people's minds, the Professor is probably one of the world's greatest connoisseurs of human nature. So I hope he didn't take it too hard if my mind was cringing in expectation of the rooms he most assuredly wasn't going to show me on this tour, so that most of his words just lingered in my short- time memory for a coffee-break before vanishing into oblivion.

Yes, I do confess: I forgot most of what he told me as we walked around that huge building. That is, *I* walked, he rolled. I do recall a bit of family history. I recall a bit of how he first got the idea that mutants could be taught to handle their powers and be at ease about them, and with themselves. I recall the name of some Erik or Erich Lehnsherr, maybe because the Professor pronounced it like he knew German, maybe because I sensed a deep sorrow associated with it, like for a very dear friend, forever beloved, and forever lost.

But then, I do also remember the basketball field and the echo of the player's laughter, hitting me from behind after reflecting at the mansion's walls. I remember the dark pines that summoned long- forgotten childhood memories, when all trees had seemed so incredibly tall little me feared they could accidentally brush the stars from the sky on a windy night. I remember the classrooms, quite deserted as it was noon and the students were having their lunch in a diner we both agreed would not be wise to visit. I remember the small number of desks, and I remember touching one table's dripping corner, and wondering what could cause dry wood to freeze on a spring morning inside a closed room. A student's prank, of course. What else?

I remember a thick carpet that swallowed my footsteps, imperceptibly worn in the middle by countless young feet and the wheels of this one man's chair. And half a dozen girls and boys, chasing along the corridors and slowing down abruptly as they spotted the Professor, greeting him as best suited their personality, solemnly, or respectfully, or with a half guilty, half mischievous grin, and resuming their race scarcely ten feet passed us, their suppressed laughter lingering behind like a scent around us old-timers, left to smile indulgently after them. I remember the Professor's calm, quiet voice vibrating from the walls and the ceiling and from behind me, making the hair in my neck stand in an unconscious, animal reaction; and then again welling up within my brain, like hearing it inside out, words and sentences I would be so quick to forget. And yet they must have stayed in my brain at least long enough to understand, not with my intellect but with some sixth or seventh sense, that the Professor was the source of the life that pulsed through this school, just as this school was the heart of his own. He seemed ancient to me, this man, older than his years, and yet, like the building, he seemed strangely ageless. And I remember marveling at the depth of their relationship, anchored and thriving on a secret they both shared and I wouldn't learn, not that day and maybe not ever. I don't think I wanted to know it either. I didn't feel ready for all of it.

Maybe I remember enough, after all. Maybe all that matters.

And then, finally, we stopped in an empty corridor at a nondescript white door somewhere on the lower floors and the Professor had fallen silent, and was just watching my face, a hint of a smile on his thin lips, a hint of amusement in his clear eyes. I looked around, disoriented, then embarrassed, wondering whether I had missed something crucial he might have said, and eventually understanding. And I stared at that door and surely it didn't take a telepath to read my mind, it must have been written all over my face.

"You can wait inside, if you wish. He shouldn't be long now."


Part VI

I stepped through the door like a five-year-old into the toy section of a big warehouse. Better still, like a five-year-old whose adult accompanying person had decided to go and get some of that adult stuff done and leave her alone in Wonderland, with the promise that some older buddy would come and play with her in a few hours so why wouldn't she go and take a good look until then? And no 'adult supervision', and no "Behave nicely".

Of course, Professor Xavier knew I would behave. I'm a little over five, you see. Still, I wondered whether Dr. McCoy knew I'd be wandering around alone in his territory.

_He knows. He left you something to read on the table to your left, next to the computer screen._

I heard the elevator humming some fifty feet to my left, carrying the Professor back to the upper levels. No supervision, hum? But I didn't mind at all. Which was strange, considering I had led a petty war against my mother even setting a foot into my room since I was about twelve. Somehow, the Professor's voice in my head was very reassuring in this situation. It felt like someone was looking after me. And it wasn't like he was prying, I *had* asked, after all. Sort of.

So I felt safe to go in, carefully, almost tiptoeing. Awed. The lab seemed so very quiet. There were no windows, the walls were white and bare, lacking the usual mess of posters and printouts pinned or taped all over the place. Solid metal bars hung here and there from the roof like railway fragments, and I couldn't guess what they were for, except perhaps to hang something up, cameras, maybe, although it didn't make much sense. The illumination seemed to come from everywhere, as it cast almost no shadows. Actually, it originated in carefully placed halogen spotlights on the ceiling, covered with a metallic grid. I remembered the metallic doorframe. The entire room was a big Faraday's cage. Spacious, well designed, functional. And tidier than any lab I had ever seen. And yet I was sure McCoy hadn't just cleaned up because he'd be getting a visitor. He was just one of those rare individuals who where above a certain corollary of the second law of thermodynamics, the one that states that increasing order in the intellectual realm always wreaks a reactive havoc in the physical realm.

I picked up the papers, five in all, scanned the titles and the authors. Methodological papers; Gossamer, Lewis, Richards, Gennaro, Pascoletti. I knew two of them. Something to read, hum? How long intended Dr. McCoy to be gone? Gennaro's paper had taken me five hours to halfway understand it, Lewis' a little longer. Richards I had never heard of, and Pascoletti... I wasn't sure. Gossamer, of course... he was Yamoto's favorite author after you- guess-who. But Yamoto was a genius, somewhere near McCoy's caliber, whereas I would have needed a brain-transplant to be able to follow Gossamer's reasoning. I usually got lost after a few paragraphs into the introduction, and ended up needing professional translation. McCoy's papers were just as intense, information-wise, but his writing style was much more enjoyable, he didn't stuff the Discussion with information you wouldn't really need, and his references were always well picked and worth reading. I wondered why there were no papers from McCoy himself, and decided he either

(a) was too humble to promote himself that way; or (b) guessed I probably knew most of them already, at least the abstracts; or (c) preferred to have a nice long personal chat about the stuff he was working in; or (d) figured I'd be busy enough sightseeing and had left the papers just in the unlikely case I needed to rest my feet; or (e) all of the above.

I ticked (e). And as my feet felt quite ready to rock despite the foregoing sightseeing tour, I set out to explore the environments. And that included everything, for the Professor hadn't warned me to stay in this very room, and I've always liked to start with the general outline. And there were a couple of very interesting- looking doors at either sides.

As I was to find out, there were four main rooms in a row, connected to each other and to the corridor by heavy, well-oiled, very broad doors. The rooms were big enough to accommodate all the instruments and furniture and computer terminals and still leave space to move comfortably, even considering McCoy's massive shape. Judging by the equipment, the one Professor Xavier had left me in was an electrophysiology lab. There was some gym equipment confirming what I already knew, that McCoy specialized in locomotor and cardiovascular system. Four huge wheeled instrument racks held all kinds of hardware; amps, filters, multi-channel oscilloscopes, function and pulse-train generators. Most were new and obviously acquired on the general market, but some looked self-made, switches and buttons and indicators unlabeled, or identified by nothing but a few cryptic signs scribbled in their general neighborhood with black or green marker, and protected by transparent tape so they wouldn't rub off. And then there were quite a few analog voltmeters, thermometers, amperemeters and other sensors I recognized as belonging to that famous generation of German production of the seventies, heavy, solid, voluminous instruments that after decades of hard labor still did their job with unsurpassed accuracy. They all looked quite clean except for a dark fluff stuck at the screws that fixed the instruments to the racks. I plucked some of that stuff and recognized the owner's signature, left to catch the dust of the years, and I smiled.

Then there were a couple of dedicated DAQ computers on wheeled tables, plus another couple that stood on a table near the entrance, looking like the numbercrunching ones to me. The computers were all turned off, and I wouldn't try and switch them on, much as I wished to. That's considered very bad manners in a strange lab. But peeping into closets isn't, and so I found about every kind of wires and cables, including a small treasure of Kinar cables in five different colors, and shelves loaded with a mess of small handmade instruments, waiting to be of use again, and a tool collection I'd be proud of. There was a workbench that held a giant protoboard and an equally giant multiple power supply, and dozens of tiny drawers with about every kind of resistors and connectors you could come up with, including, to my delight, isolated BNCs. I made a mental note to ask him where he got them from, and maybe to ask him (very nicely) for a couple of them. A shelf held a small collection of handbooks and data sheets, including a first-edition Horowitz I greeted like an old friend.

The door at the right wall led to a biochemistry lab with a U- shaped table in its center, loaded with familiar-looking equipment and then some I couldn't guess the function of. The left wall held an entire wall of shelves behind glass doors, accommodating the obligatory seven feet of company catalogues and all kinds of indexes, and scores of neatly arranged white boxes and plastic containers and glass bottles of all sizes and forms. The opposite wall was occupied by a door leading to the main corridor, a giant, full colored Table of Elements, an equally huge Map of Radioactive Isotopes and an apparently hand-drawn, 6x6 feet Map of Metabolic Pathways and Inborn Errors of Metabolism. Professor J. would be dumb-struck with envy. I studied it for at least half an hour and didn't even start to cover all the interconnections. Recalling my struggle with biochemistry and endocrinology a few years ago, I wished I'd had a copy of this map back then. I'm sure I'd've gotten an outstanding at the finals.

Next door was the histology lab, with a center table and, at first glance, three fridges, three freezers, and five different microscopes, four of them sitting beside computers with twenty- seven-inch screens. Then there was a workbench with a beautiful, unique ceramic cover, and on top of it half a dozen small rectangular glass containers filled with cobalt blue liquid of decreasing intensity. McCoy must have been working here this very morning, for there were some dye spots on the creamy-white ceramic, and they hadn't dried up yet. Then I recognized the cigar box I had brought, sitting to the left, open and empty, and realized the samples I had brought were probably immersed in the blue dye. I wondered if they shouldn't be rinsed anytime soon, as far as I knew dying is a very time-sensitive procedure. But it was wiser not to touch anything. Especially since I knew very little of histology. So I took a glimpse behind the couple of smaller doors at the far end. One led to a comparatively small cell- culture room with the neatest sterile workbench I had ever seen, and a huge humming incubator I was very tempted to open, although I knew enough about growing cultures to resist the urge. The other small door led to a liquid nitrogen freezer. After a last glance at the dyes (histology isn't really my thing, but they sure work with beautiful colors) I went back to the room I had started in.

Back at the EPh lab I recalled the other door I had seen on entrance, and headed right to it. At first I thought I had stepped into another dimension, until I remembered that McCoy jobbed as medic for the school. But I would have expected some kind of first-aid room, or maybe standard ambulatory care equipment. *This* was a full-blown private clinic, including a fully equipped two-bed intensive care section behind a glass window that could probably also be used as isolation unit for infectious diseases, and a set of doors that looked suspiciously like the entrance to an OP room. Then there was a door that read "CT". I couldn't believe it, computer tomographs are usually much too expensive for small private institutions. But there it was, a real-life scanner, white and shiny and ready to use, and looking very much like the most recent model on the market. How much *money* did the Professor have? Or did they receive donations? Maybe there were a few Rockefeller offsprings among the students?

I shook my head and decided I had done more than enough reconnaissance for the time being. I returned to the main medical attention room, ignored another couple of lesser doors, and made a beeline for the biggest one, just to make sure I had grasped the outline of this huge medical-care-and-research-facility. Indeed, it led to the corridor. I walked to the unmarked door at the right, away from the elevator. The EPh lab, as I had expected. The entire complex was so well designed I could imagine a versatile man like McCoy running it all, and yet big enough to accommodate a dozen biologists, biochemists and MDs, plus another two dozen students and lab assistants, and maybe one or two computer engineers. I had once worked in an institute that had held that many people in about two thirds of the space. There was only one thing I expected to find yet, something that no self-respecting research facility of this size could lack. And I found it, it's entrance a comparatively small door in a corner of the EPh lab, almost hidden behind a huge instrument rack.

It was the only room with natural light, pouring through a high shaft in the ceiling that ended in a thick milky white glass window, protected by what looked like thick iron bars. Tiny flakes of dust started to dance like microscopic fireflies in the oblique column of early afternoon sun as I entered. It was the only room of the complex that had a wooden floor, darkened by age and scarred by use, yet waxed and polished to a soft glow. There were five rows of bookcases of the same dark hardwood, reaching up to the ceiling and containing neatly arranged journals and books, classified by topics, covered with just enough dust to give them a cozy appearance. There was an old-fashioned metal filing cabinet, containing, as I found out when I opened the topmost drawer, an indexed, somewhat messy collection of reprints and papers and notes. There was a huge armchair in the corner opposite the door, with a worn leather coat that spoke of hours of lonely reading in the light of the tiny halogen reading lamp fixed to the left corner with masking tape, and of little naps between experiments, or at dawn, after a full night's work, when exhaustion set in and the bedroom seemed just too far away. A tiny table at its right held a stack of books and papers, a pair of slightly bent reading glasses, and a crumpled candy-bar wrapper. More wrappers were in the waste bin on the other side of the chair. The only concession to modern technology was the computer humming on a table behind the door, probably the server of the lab's intranet, as it was the only one that was turned on. I moved the mouse, and a login window appeared, username already typed in: administrator. QED.

I stood a long time in the door of this room that seemed to house the very soul of Henry McCoy. It was a warm room, and cozy, and a sharp contrast to the neat efficiency of the research facility. But it also spoke of a loneliness I could hardly comprehend. I felt my throat tighten. I turned around, leaned against the doorframe and scanned the libraries' counterpart, a huge lab room, yet empty for all its instrument racks and tables and screens and wires, waiting for voices and footsteps that would never come. For the chief researcher of this facility was a mutant, and to come here and work with him meant to tattoo the mark of leprosy on one's forehead, invisible and yet shunned by anyone within the trade, and forever.

Who but a mutant would work for a mutant?

I am a loner, you see. As signal processor I have to work very closely with those who generate the data and interpret them, based on my analysis. Yet I have always liked to do the actual number- crunching alone by myself, going to the lab on weekends, or arriving at mid-afternoon and staying up the entire night, listening to the same CD over and over again and turning off all lamps but the one on my desk, alone in a cone of light and music and work. But even then there are always traces of the presence of other human beings, maybe the muffled sounds of one or two loonies like me working a couple of doors away, or maybe nothing more than some notes written by another hand, and somebody else's coffee mug sitting on the table next to me. And on regular working days, on my many trips to the coffee-room, I'd always encounter people sitting at the small table, reading, or just staring into the air cupping a steaming mug, and they would look up and acknowledge my presence with a nod and a little smile, and I'd be free to join their silence or start a conversation about this or that trivia. Or there might be a heady discussion going on, to which I could listen more or less attentively as I mixed my favorite brew, a real-life discussion in which I was free to join if I felt that I had something to say. There was always someone to beam at when something went exactly the way I had expected to, or to exchange depressed sighs with when something went wrong. The absence of people while I worked was always temporarily, an exceptional situation I sought out and enjoyed, but never a permanent state. I couldn't even begin to imagine the solitude this man was enduring.

I could feel the Professor somewhere at the edge of my mind, but for once I really didn't feel like talking, and he understood and backed off. Anyway, I knew what he would have said. That McCoy wasn't alone. That he had friends here, and tons of support. That he guest-lectured all over the country, that he worked with some of the most famous scientists all over the world, and that the students of this school loved him, for they surely did.

But that means nothing. Eager high-school kids don't replace a PhD student, no matter how many and how enthusiastic they might be. A bunch of dear friends don't replace a colleague, no matter how patiently they might listen, unless they were scientist themselves. And nothing makes up for your footsteps being the only ones to echo off the far walls, or for your coffee-cup to be the only one to leave stains on the tables, or for your everyday pitfalls and little achievements to drown inside your own mind, for lack of a genuinely comprehensive soul nearby.

And then I did what I do when I just don't know how to handle something. I fetched the papers from the table across the lab, and snuggled into the most comfortable spot I could find, and started to read. Nothing like reading methodology papers to prevent depression. And as I was particularly affected, I started out with Gossamer. That way I made sure my entire population of brain cells would be too busy to...

...

... and then I woke up, and the sunlight had wandered across the room, and had reached the door, bathing blue fur with a dark golden glow.

"I should have put a warning sign on that chair", said McCoy, smiling apologetically for waking me up, but beaming, and eager, and behind his broad back the lab had suddenly come alive with light and sound.


Part VII

Twenty-one hours. Mother Earth had completed almost an entire pirouette since I had first set foot in Xavier's Institute. I'm a seize-the-journey person, remember? I don't consider those hours a waste of time. Quite on the contrary, they prepared me for the following ones, made me stretch them and cherish them down to the last second. Encouraged me to fight back exhaustion, when it set in sometime around dawn, and then again on early Sunday afternoon when time was beginning to run short, as my plane was to leave at 20:00 and I still had to get to the airport. Strengthened me even more than the coffee and the huge amount of chocolate from McCoy's vast reserve. I don't remember eating that much candy since age 15, when I finished off a pound of chocolate in thirty minutes time, to win a bet. I tolerated it quite well, back then, but back then I didn't torture my gastric epithelium with coffee on a regular basis, and I sure ate healthier food than I do now. I still don't know how I managed not to throw up on the plane back. All that energy must have gone straight into my brain, releasing showers of neurotransmitters and activating all that sleeping synapses we're supposed to carry through life without ever using them. Well, it seems I kicked them all wide awake in that twenty- odd hour intellectual marathon, and probably burned quite a few of them, too, because I slept some eighteen hours straight when I finally got home, and didn't even hear the phone ringing, and woke up Monday evening as some guys from the lab broke into my apartment, fearing I might be sick or worse. I shooed them away and slept another entire night, and was groggy for days after.

But that was two days into the future. *Now* was Saturday afternoon, the marathon had just started, and I was running, even if I didn't know yet, and I was wide awake after that refreshing little nap in McCoy's leather armchair. And ravenously hungry. And blushing. Yes, *again*. Don't laugh. You'd sure have blushed, too, if *your* belly had made that obscenely loud grumbling noise in the presence of the world's greatest scientist.

Well, the world's greatest scientist was no more than human himself, for his dismay was almost comical to behold, although he immediately and politely inquired whether I wanted to get something to eat first. "No", I said, and grinned. Eat? Like in chewing and swallowing? "Thanks. Not unless it be some crunchy data." He laughed and introduced me to his secret reserve, which we were to mercilessly decimate in the following hours, leaving a trace of sticky wrappers in all the rainbow colors behind us, and to the coffee machine, which was to provide the necessary liquid to wash the sweet stuff down. If my stomach didn't kill me during those hours, it was probably because I refused to spare enough time to die.

Even the Professor didn't interrupt us. Jean showed up a few times to bring us something to eat and make halfhearted attempts to convince us to get some rest. Yes, we'd say, soon, just a minute, wolfing down whatever was on the tray, our minds already back at work. Once I looked up and saw Ororo, half-frowning, half-smiling, at the door of the MedLab. Hank went over and they exchanged a few sentences, and then 'Ro vanished. I can't tell how relieved I was. For a minute it had looked like another 'urgent business'.

Sometime during the following hours I overcame my rigid Viennese education and started calling him just plain Hank. Sometime during the following hours he overcame his mutant self-consciousness and demonstrated what those rails on the ceiling were for. Honestly, I wouldn't have guessed. But then it was very obvious such a massive body wasn't exactly built for standing around or slumping in a seat in front of a computer screen for hours; and no feet, however strong, could endure that full weight for too long in a static position. Especially his, with their long, mobile digits, built rather for grasping a branch (or a metal rail) than for walking upright. I saw him hanging from the ceiling, typing upside down, and it made perfect sense, although his lab coat hung from his broad shoulders like a slightly ridiculous bride's veil, and his glasses kept clattering to the floor. Luckily they were sturdy glasses, as I found out when I stepped on them. After that he fixed them to his head with masking tape.

Masking tape is a wonderful invention. For me, its everyday importance ranks somewhere between toilet paper and the wheel. We ripped off tiny arrowheads of that white tape and sticked them all over a twenty-seven inch screen, and scribbled on them with colored markers as we analyzed the fluorescence images of Professor J's samples. I used that tape to repair the wooden cigar-box that had held the samples after I had accidentally brushed it from the table, empty, luckily. Then I used a bit to fix the repaired box on the table, and Hank commented: "Splendid idea", and handed me another Mars bar, probably to keep the ideas coming. Then he decided we should change over to a more familiar environment, familiar to me, that is, and showed me a marvelously simple and yet extraordinarily powerful method to analyze dynamic electromyographs. The secret was in the acquisition, he said, so I rolled up my sleeve and had electrodes masking-taped all over my arm. We acquired for an hour, and spent the next three or four hours attacking the data with any kind of analysis we could come up with. We even downloaded a trial version of the program I usually used for more advanced numbercrunching, because there was a toolkit I wanted to show him. Then he introduced me to a program some friend had sent him, a gamma-version that was to be commercially launched in a couple of years. He made a copy for me, right on spot.

"Try it out", he said, "and tell me what you think. You know more about signal processing programs than me." I doubted that very much, but thanked him anyway. That was only the first of a dozen disks I was to bring home from that weekend trip.

We made a break at that point, as it was about two a.m. and we had a visitor, and we soothed Jean as we munched our steaks and told her we'd go to sleep, yes, of course, just give us ten minutes to wrap it up... And the ten minutes stretched to two hours as we went to the library and plunged into a bibliographic search about fractal analysis of single point processes, him in books, me in the net. Then he gave me a full version of the lecture on amplitude and frequency modulation of physiologic systems he had hinted upon the night before in the kitchen, using the back of the door as a blackboard, me crouching in the armchair, my chin on my knees. Then I repeated my Master degree's dissertation for him, and it was his turn to slump in the chair, munching chocolate and coming up with more intelligent questions than the entire commission back then. Then it was his turn again, and he explained Gossamer's last paper to me in about fifteen minutes, and as he was at it, gave me a few tips which I penned down under the title: "How to read Gossamer and not go bananas. A comprehensive tutorial, by H. McCoy". He laughed, a deep rumbling laugh, and stated that Gossamer wasn't that bad. And started rummaging in the middle drawer of the cabinet.

"Have you ever read Bernhard Kirsk? No, of course you wouldn't. He was one of the dinosaurs in immunohistochemistry during my student years. He used to analyze his entire set of references in the Introduction. Hence the Discussions usually consisted of only a few paragraphs, as he had already said it all before. To make it up, his Conclusions were rarely less than three pages long."

He handed me some thirty photocopied pages, crumpled and yellow with age, scores of faded remarks and diagrams scribbled at the margins in what seemed to be an early McCoy handwriting. I scanned through the pages, carefully, lest the cheap, withered paper ripped.

"And he got this..." I searched in vain for a ladylike expression, "*this* published?"

"Of course. This one and everything he submitted. In *his* generation," he winked, "no one expected pedagogic skills in a scientist. And he was a brilliant man, he just didn't know how to write. I learned many things reading his work."

"Like how *not* to write?"

He smirked and winked again.

Then it was almost seven o'clock, and I craved for my shower. Luckily, there was one next door, in the MedLab. I refused to go fetch a change of clothes from my luggage upstairs because that meant getting a bit too close to that devilish mattress, and anyway, I was bound to get lost again in the corridors. Which might attract the Professor's attention and unwanted intervention 'for my own good'. So I borrowed a pale green cotton outfit that belonged to Jean, when she helped out with surgery. Luckily it was too wide for her, as surgical clothes often are, so it fit me just fine. I had to roll up the sleeves and legs, though. In the meantime, Hank took a fifteen-minute nap in his chair, and we emerged refreshed, me from the shower and him from the library, just in time for breakfast. Jean gave Hank a stern look and shook her head at my probably very unconventional guise, but we were much too excited to heed as all that Gossamer discussion, combined with the short rest, had fed Hank a brilliant idea about how to prove a statement he had hypothesized about in his one-but-last paper. We just needed a 128-electrode net, a 128-channel amplifier and an epileptic, about to have a seizure. I must admit, he thoroughly lost me in the theoretical analysis of the problem, but I was more than enthusiastic about trying it out, right then. Only, we would need that amplifier... he had a 512 channel modular amplifier, software-regulated. And the net... we could fabricate one ourselves in no time, he had those tiny electrode buttons... and we needed some nylons. Or a rubber swimming-cap, I suggested, remembering a visit to a neurophysiology lab in Paris a few years ago... But where were we to find an epileptic, I cried out after him as he vanished through the door, to catch up with Jean. One sandwich and one cup of coffee later he returned with a red-white rubber cap and a pale adolescent.

"This is Christopher", he presented, "and he is willing to sacrifice his hair for this noble cause."

The kid behaved admirably, helped us counting the electrodes and plugging in the connectors, and dug into our chocolate treasure with the healthy appetite of a seventeen-year-old. His paleness was probably constitutional, for he couldn't appear any calmer. He even seemed enthusiastic to be turned into a younger version of the Professor. And although he wasn't an epileptic, he presented, according to Hank, EEG wavelets very similar to a Petit Mal seizure whenever he activated his mutant powers, which consisted in an uncanny ability to inflict acoustic torture to nearby people. But we endured it in the name of science, and were relieved when the acquisition was over. At least, I was relieved. So relieved I didn't protest when Christopher snatched the last two Mars-bars on his way out, slightly dizzy it seems from the effort, but happy to show off his cool new haircut to his friends. I suspect Hank didn't even notice those awful shrieks, he was too intent hitting on the keyboard and mesmerizing the computer screen, dangling from the ceiling like a giant blue bat. Maybe *his* ears were protected by all that fur.

So I went to hold my head under ice-cold running water in the huge basin in the BioChem lab, until my ears ached with cold rather than with... well, I'd rather not remember, and then we struggled with those data for a couple of hours, and dug into biomedical databases until we arrived at the inevitable conclusion that this experiment would never work unless we used a perfectly symmetric net, and individually blinded wires for the electrodes. And that meant commercial fabrication. And *that* meant a couple of days of shipping time. Unless we were willing to adapt another swimming cap and wrap 128 individual wires with aluminum-foil. We glanced at each other, questioningly.

"Naaah", I said and made a face, at the same time as he said "I think we'd rather leave it for another time."


Exhaustion was setting in. It was early Sunday afternoon, and Hank had slept some five or six hours since Friday morning. And he started to look like it, eyes sunk in and dark rings under them, and his movements growing increasingly erratic and shaky. I was hardly better off, even if I had had about twice as much sleep. Still, wasting the rest of the afternoon with napping was out of the question. So we agreed to do something light and fun in the last few hours we had left before I was to leave for the airport, and he said he had exactly the right thing for us. He fetched an empty disk and hopped over to the MedLab, and asked over his shoulder if I would please be so kind as to bring some Twinkies and a bit of coffee. Which was fine with me. I was feeling strangely lightheaded, and brewing a fresh pot of coffee was about as much intellectual effort as I could muster right then.

I met him in the MedLab, hunched in a chair that looked awfully small for him, absently staring at the green bar that indicated data transmission and decompression from the hard disk to the backup disk. He had explained his method of compressing acquired data immediately before saving it to the local disk, and decompressing it to portable disks for analysis. I had wondered why he didn't just share the data folders and decompress and read them from any computer in the lab, until I realized how many password windows he used. This was highly restricted information, and wisely so. I was quite sure Hank McCoy had a complete medical file on every soul in this building. And who knows what some pervert mind might want to use this information for. Of course I had no idea, at that point, the atrocities some so-called scientists were capable of when it came to mutants, to whom the ethical restrictions of experiments on human subjects would apparently not apply. Well, I was about to find out.

I watched him rip the wrapping from his Twinkie as if he hadn't had any in years, and savor the coffee like it was a genuine Florentine cappuccino. The sole idea of sipping that brew myself made me gag.

"You wouldn't have some tea somewhere, would you?"

He scratched the thick fur that surrounded his ears. Almost everyone I know has a very personal tick to stimulate his or her higher brain functions, and that one was his. Mine was rubbing my belly, which I was doing now, although it wasn't exactly aimed to get my brain to work.

"There should be a can of English Breakfast in the bottom drawer of the..."

I raised my palms and cut him off. "No way", I moaned. "I'm not going anywhere near that armchair."

Truth was, I was in dire danger of falling asleep as I was, just leaning against a table. He nodded and sighed heavily. Apparently, he felt the same. But he was the world's best host and a thoroughly sweet guy, for he heaved himself to an upright position and headed for the door. I felt immediately guilty.

"Do you need my moral support?", I called after him.

"I would appreciate it", he called back, already from the EPh lab. I was just turning to follow him, when I saw something black and flat that had slipped under the table. In most of the labs I've ever worked in, I might not have noticed it. But a certain amount of neatness somehow grows on you. So I bent to pick it up.

If he took a nap, it was a short one. If he didn't, that can must have been really well hidden. By the time he showed up again, carrying two steaming mugs of fragrant tea, I had studied the X-ray at every distance between three inches and arm's length, and at every angle from 20 to 90 degrees.

Tilting X-rays is a neat trick to bring out density changes the naked eye would otherwise miss. Especially untrained, shortsighted, astigmatic eyes like mine. Tilting that particular, very "hard" (i.e. overexposed) X-ray convinced me this wasn't a model or a robot or a skeleton's hand, but a real, a flesh-covered one. An adult, sturdy, most likely male hand. A short male, for his fingers were hardly longer than mine, although much broader.

A very normal, strong, healthy-looking hand... if it hadn't been for the dense layers of something on every single bone.


PART8-9

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