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. ::grin::
Although his Twinkie-obsession is Maelstrom's (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*!!)
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.
Continued in Chapter Eight.
Author's Note for end of Part VII: Yes, I know. I'm being predictable. But hey, I'm tired and burnt out, I've been working on this almost non-stop ... and I just couldn't resist that X-ray. Tell me, could you?