Personal Delivery
Chapter 1
Chapter 2
Chapter 3
Chapter 4
Chapter 5
Chapter 6
Chapter 7
Chapter 8
Chapter 9
Chapter 10

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Stars and Garters

Part II

I had no idea. Looking back at that day, they treated me like a raw egg, feeding me information only bit by bit, which was a lucky decision, because despite of all the precautions my head was spinning before I even reached the door of Dr. McCoy's lab at Xavier's Institute. Remember, I was completely ignorant, and I was no mutant. I understand that future students get a much more straightforward introduction. On me, they went really easy.

I had thought that Xavier's Institute was a private research center. After Jean set me right, my first reaction was: Dr. H. McCoy working on a boarding school for teenagers? Make that mutant teenagers, okay, but even so... That guy co-authored half a dozen revolutionary publications a year without so much as a PhD student to help him in his research? And worked as the School's medic on top of that?

Well, as I said, I had no idea.

I would learn later that most of his publications resulted from collaborations with other researchers. Our Professor J. was considering such a collaboration. Desirable as it was from a scientific point of view, it was a personal and professional hazard. A few years ago in Massachusetts, a postal bomb had crippled one of McCoy's long-time friends and injured two assistants. Dozens of other co-workers had been threatened, at work as well as in their homes. FoH, of course, although they were never caught. A few labs had suddenly lost their financial support, although that was rare, and usually reversible, as McCoy had too much of a reputation to be ignored as a scientist, whatever the color of his skin. Those were the very good reasons why Professor J. would not make personal contact with Dr. McCoy nor use postal services, only heavily coded email. Of course there were times in which the information exchange required a personal delivery.

Of course, Professor J. had not found it necessary to explain these things to me, a mere pawn in this chess-game of science vs. politics. Some well-meaning colleagues had dropped a few warnings, Yamoto one of them, but I had shrugged them off as paranoid. But now that I know everything, I still think it was worth the risk. I guess I would have made that trip even if I had believed the warnings. I don't know if that makes me a typical absent-minded scientist, or a person that really loves her job, or, as someone would later say, just plain stupid. I do know this: if there's danger, I'm not really aware of it. I'm walking blind through the streets of life, my mind on anything but the possibility of being assaulted. You know what? My mind's too damn busy to get stuck on that thought. I could, after all, get rolled over by a car tomorrow, or be shot by accident by a drug addict assaulting the store around the corner, for no other reason than being at the wrong place at the wrong time. We all meet our death sometime sooner of later. If living in fear buys me a few more years, I'll gladly decline, thank you very much.

But this is what I'd say now. When Jean pulled up at that great mansion that was Xavier's Institute for Gifted Youngsters on that Friday night, I knew not even one tenth of what I know now, although I had just learned more about mutants than in my entire foregoing life. Suddenly I had just plain forgotten everything about famous Dr. McCoy and his friggin' samples. Let me explain: I spent ten minutes watching fireworks of every imaginable color exploding all around me inside a moving car, until Jean got fed up and stopped the fun, because, she claimed, she couldn't drive when she was in the middle of a 4th of July celebration. Then I spent another ten minutes examining the fingers of that not even grown-up, quicksilvery girl that was the unlikely source of all that energy bursts, while she answered my questions about the abilities of her co-students at Xavier's, colorful, but as matter- of-factly as any teenager might describe the hair color or the clothes of her high-school classmates. The rest of the journey I just looked out of the window, barely registering the sunset, my mind completely blank. I didn't hear the conversation going on in the front part of the car. If they talked at all, I'm not sure about that. Have you ever eaten so much so fast, you had to sit back and just breathe and do your best to not even think about the word food? Then you know what I felt.

I am an intellectual glutton, though. By the time we turned into that driveway, my nose was glued against the window, and screw the grown-up dignified attitude I should have shown to make honor to my lab and to Professor J. I had forgotten he existed. Heck, I had forgotten about the samples, and Jean had to remind me to gather my stuff when I jumped out of the car to look at that three stores of illuminated windows, full of walking, talking wonders of nature. Suddenly, just bandaging those kids' bruised knees seemed enough to fill a lifetime. Suddenly I could not only understand Dr. McCoy's decision to recluse himself in this remote location, but I'd've made the selfsame choice myself. Jubilee was laughing herself silly again at my bedazzled expression. I couldn't care less.

A woman was there to great me at the door. An old woman, at first look, in the dim light of the evening. Then I saw she was younger than Jean, maybe my age, despite her ebony white hair. Together with her dark skin, that hair color created an astounding effect of a warrior goddess, enhanced by her beautiful features and her smooth feline movements. She was dressed much less formal than Jean, and her name was something like a prolonged cat's purr, which would take me quite some time to learn. "Just call her 'Ro," said Jubilee, and shot her a glance that probably meant I was a bit thick. I grinned my agreement. As I said before, I had completely given up on appearing a worthy messenger of Prof. J's. There was no question as to this woman being mutant. The question was: what were her specialties. I didn't ask, though. I wasn't in the zoo, after all. And guessing was much more fun.

"You must be tired and hungry," said 'Ro, smiling even more warmly than Jean, if that was any possible. Tired, me? I wouldn't have felt tired even if I had been about to keel over from exhaustion.

"I could use some coffee," I admitted, "and a bathroom. But I'd like to deliver these first," and tapped my belt. The white-haired woman stretched out her hand, and I started unbuckling the box without thinking about it. There was some quality in her that just made you obey. She must have been a heck of a leader. Or teacher, for that matter. "Jubes," she said, "bring these to Hank. Don't dawdle. And be careful."

I was almost immediately sorry. This was not a mission I wanted to get over with quickly. Once I delivered these samples, I'd have no further reason to stay, and to leave now would have driven me crazy. I needn't have worried, though.

The girl took the box and nodded, then winked at me and lifted her hand. Half a dozen sparks crashed against the wall behind me, in ear-shattering explosions. I jumped, but then I applauded after her as she vanished around a corner, narrowly escaping Jean's scolding.

"I'm sorry," sighed 'Ro.

"Don't," I grinned. "If I had that gift, and her age, I couldn't resist it either."

"Mutant powers can be dangerous," frowned Jean, "if the person wielding them doesn't take responsibility." If she hadn't been a mutant herself, and teacher of a school for mutants, I'd have accused her of being simplistic.

"That applies to any power, however insignificant," I shrugged.

_Just like any substance can be a poison, depending on the quantity. Even water._

I was just about to say that I had been thinking the same thing, when I realized that the voice had been neither Jean's nor 'Ro's. Was there an echo in my head?

'Ro suddenly had an intent expression, as if she was listening to something. Jean had the same look in her eyes. I listened hard, and heard nothing. But there was something. Then it was gone, and the two women exchanged glances.

"We'll bring you to your room, to freshen up a little. If you are not too tired, there's someone who would like to meet you," said 'Ro.

My room. I was invited to stay? Wow. I would probably be unable to close an eye in the entire night. "Not tired at all," I assured her.

Inside, the mansion was beautiful, with a slightly ancient feeling about it. Wide halls and intricate corridors, quite deserted, although I could hear voices whispering behind the carved, dark wooden doors and footsteps around the corners, muffled by the thick carpets, almost as if haunted by mischievous teenage spirits. I thought I heard Jubilee laugh somewhere in front of us. Then, I thought I saw a bony face emerging from a door to my left, staring at me. I stopped and took a good look. A perfectly normal door.

"Just a student's prank," said Jean reassuringly, urging me on. 'Ro stayed a little behind and hissed a name in a scolding tone. So the students were curious just as I was. "Scheiss mit Reis," I whispered. Snickering ensued behind us. 'Ro turned again, but I stopped her. "They're kids," I pleaded. "They are brats," she answered. But she smiled.

The cold water was icy, like a fountain at the feet of a glacier. I gasped, but it sure woke me up. I had made the mistake to sit down on the bed to change my socks and shoes, as I expected to do quite a bit of walking tonight. I also changed into more comfortable pants, grateful I had decided to bring them along. In a boarding school I might be forgiven if I walked around in black jeans and my beloved, outworn black sneakers. The house was huge, and I was starting to feel the exhaustion of three tense days. I'd've sworn that mattress actually tried to coax me into a short nap. No flesh is too weak, though, to be dragged along by my mind when I'm set on something. After a dip into melted ice, I felt ready for action. Brushing back my hair with still wet fingers, I stepped out into the corridor, where I found Jean and 'Ro in the presence of a tall, handsome man with a pair of sunglasses under a shock of brown hair. Red sunglasses, that covered his entire field of view. "Scott Summers," he said, holding out his hand for me to shake it. My knees went weak. I might be a bad observer, but this guy definitely was Jean's boyfriend, and his sunglasses were definitely not just a fashionable accessory. Underneath their cover, he seemed to eye me quite curiously. I was glad I wasn't alone with him. This guy was just a bit too dashing for my peace of mind. And judging from the smile lurking around the corner of his lips, he had a great sense of humor.

Luckily, he was just passing by. After a loving squeeze of Jean's elbow and a nod for 'Ro and me he walked down the corridor in swift, long strides. I stared after him until he bent the corner, then found myself back in reality, and in the presence of a very amused 'Ro and a not-so-amused Jean. Uh-oh, screwed up again. Only complete honesty could save me in this situation. "You're soooo lucky," I told her. It worked. "Oh, he has his faults," she giggled. She giggled like a lady, but she looked like a girl, almost as young as Jubilee. Love does that to a woman. "Sure he has faults, he is a man," said 'Ro and started dragging me in the opposite direction. "Noooo," I went in mock surprise. "He is? Really?"

'Ro went along with me. "Could have fooled me too."

"Hush," said Jean, "you're just jealous."

"Not me, Red. Remember, I know the guy."

I hadn't felt so much at home for years.

Continued in Chapter Three.

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