"Desperate Times, Ramen Noodles"
"Winning Bets"
"The Land of the Beautiful People"
"Remembering Those Who Have Yet to Fall"

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Stars and Garters

This story is a combination of the challenge about putting yourself into GenX, and an everyday event. To be precise it is a realistic self insertion. The names have been changed though, on grounds that it weirded me out to use my own name.

Disclaimer: Some bits, although this is may be hard to believe, do not actually belong to me. They may even, although our researchers have yet to investigate fully, belong to Marvel. Some bits do belong to me however. Even so, I am not making any money, sadly. I could do with the dosh.

I took a deep breath, and resisted the urge to pat my unusually obedient hair. This was my last chance. I'd come to America in the hope of getting a good job, but then discovered that the 'good job' was not only not good, it wasn't even a job. Having gotten in the country, I decided to try and look for another job, forgetting that I was lacking in the most important aspect. Experience. At least in the eyes of most employers. The fact that I had covered all the practical details in my university degree didn't seem to matter. So, I'd come halfway around the earth to get given the cold shoulder by a number of employers, and to give other's the flick myself. I firmly shoved the thought of those pathetic jobs out of my mind, focusing on the interview ahead. I surreptitiously removed the job description from my pocket.

Research assistant wanted.
Versed in DNA diagnostics and current molecular biological techniques.
Hours may be irregular, must be prepared to use initiative.
PO box: XXXXX Westchester, New York Dr Henry McCoy.
Must be prepared to work with mutants.

Dr. Henry McCoy, in some circles known as Beast, sighed, and put the resume on the pile. It had seemed like such a good idea when he'd thought of it, after saying up till three in the morning waiting for another experiment to finish. The whole concept of having someone else running the experiments and doing the, truthfully, boring and monotonous bits. It was only after he'd started doing the interviews that he'd had second thoughts. There were quite a few applications, and he'd been very hopeful. He wasn't so hopeful anymore. There had been some applicants who had said, very kindly, that they would be happy to front any publications, since obviously it would be embarrassing for a mutant. He'd debated throwing them out bodily, or providing a list of his previous papers. He settled for showing them the door, and tossing the applications in the bin. Then there were a few who had insisted to get half the credit for any discoveries, and their applications joined the others in the bin. There had even been a couple that had obviously been cloistered away in laboratories for the last ten years and had though that he had meant working ON mutants, not for one. These had shuffled off very quickly. Not that all of them had attitude problems. There had been a few which he had quite liked, although some didn't have the kind of skills he'd wanted.

He sighed and glanced at the next resume. This one looked okay, very good in fact. Of course some of the others had looked very good too. He buzzed the intercom.

"Could the next applicant please come in?"

"Could the next applicant please come in?"

I jumped a bit, and stood nervously. Brushing off my one business-like skirt and blouse I smiled nervously at the waiting room, and headed for the fatal door. One hand on the door knob I stopped, suddenly annoyed at myself. I hate it when I get all nervous about other people. I forced myself to stop being anxious. The worst thing that could happen if I didn't get this job was I would have to take a job somewhere other than a lab. Surely there were jobs I could get with an Australian accent. I could save up, and go to England for a while. Apparently they were under the misapprehension that Australians are hardworking there. I straightened my shoulders, and headed in.

The room was a typical interviewing room, of which I'd seen quite a few recently. The man sitting on the other side of the desk wasn't like the typical interviewer, though. I grinned, realising that I would prefer him to some of the normal-looking people who'd had research jobs.

"Good morning," I said cheerfully.

"Good morning," he replied. "Please, sit down."

He looked at my application for a few moments.

"I see you have a Bachelor of Medical Science with Honours," he said.

"Yes, I did my Honours in DNA Diagnostics." I offered.

He asked me a few questions, starting off very general, then getting more specific. He mentioned some techniques I'd never heard of before, which made me curious so I asked some questions in return.

Finally it seemed that he'd found out all he needed about me.

"Do you have any questions of your own about this?" he asked me.

"I was wondering what sort of erratic hours I might have to keep?" I tried first, deciding that I'd leave the question of wages for a while.

"Some of the research may take long hours." He gave a rueful shrug about that. "I have another career as well as my first love of research, so I may not be able to be contacted sometimes. Nor will I be regularly working alongside you."

This sounded a bit odd, so I decided to bite the bullet. "What's the dress-code like?"

Dr McCoy looked at me very strangely at that. "As long as you are neat and clean, it doesn't really matter what you wear, why?"

I grinned at him. "Like I told the last interviewer, I only wear lycra when I'm swimming, latex as gloves and I have yet to see any point at all in wearing spandex."

Dr. McCoy made a funny noise at that, but it was so muffled I couldn't figure put what it was. He got over whatever it was fairly quickly, and asked if there were any other questions.

Now for the important question. Money. "I would like some sort of consistency, if only in my pay packet. Would I get a set amount of work over, say, a month?"

"I am sure that we could work something out that way," he kindly assured me. "Perhaps a system of a certain number of hours a month, and if you work less one month, then it could be paid back the next?"

"Oh, that sounds good."

The interview ended not long afterwards, and he promised to get back to me.

As I left I felt neither happy, nor disappointed. The interview had been one of the better ones I'd had, and I could only hope.

At the end of the day, Beast had narrowed down the choice to three. He inspected both the applications and the notes he'd made after the interviews, and discarded another one, which would have been very good, if he was just doing biochemistry. He sighed. These last two were about equal in knowledge and skills. One of them had a bit more experience, and he was about to pick that man, when he suddenly had a picture of the man as he had been during the interview. He'd been nervous, and easily startled. Beast tossed that one aside, and picked up the other application. This one, he remembered, had been at ease during the interview, and he would need someone who would be able to deal with surprises. Plus her supervisor had gotten his doctorate with Beast some years before.

Beast was no one's fool, even though he had been driving himself to exhaustion. He knew that there was no way that anyone would let him bring an outsider into the mansion, even with the extensive back ground checks that he had done on the applicants before the interviews. So he'd opened up his little-used laboratory space at one of the research Institutes he was affiliated with, and was planning to ensconce his new assistant there. This was a trial period, and if in a month or two he didn't find anything bad out about them, they might be transferred to the Mansion laboratories. After all there was some precedent, Moira had stayed with them, not to mention Tom Corsai and Sharon Freedlander. And it wasn't like he really enjoyed getting no sleep. He packed up all of his stuff, leaving the final application on top. He'd phone Naomi Chandler in the morning.

I sat in my hotel room, and considered my options the next morning, I had enough money to live on for about a fortnight and I had to figure out some way of surviving. After a good night's sleep I felt a lot less hopeful about the job, so I began to make a list of places where an accent and a smile would get me a job. Clothes shops, waitressing, pubs, talk-show host ... I was getting a little imaginative when the phone rang. I looked at my watch and calculated, no it probably wasn't going to be any member of my family.

"Hello?" I said curiously.

"Is this Naomi Chandler?" a vaguely familiar voice asked


"This is Dr Henry McCoy. I was just ringing to inform you that you have the job if you wish," he said.

If I wish? Heck no, I wanted to sell jeans. "Oh, that's good."

"If you wouldn't mind, I would like you to start as soon as possible."

Oh, no, let's wait till I'm completely broke. "Sure, whenever would be convenient for you."

"Would next Monday be alright?"

Figure out where the Institute place is, figure out a way to get there, figure out what to wear. "That's fine. What time?"

"Eight o'clock seems like a suitable time."

"Right. Monday morning, eight o'clock."

We each hung up, and I started making my phone calls. I considered phoning home and telling them about it, but decided that I'd better wait until I'd kept the job for a while. I'd hate to get their hopes up, only to have to tell them I'd quit. Plus telling other people about it might jinx it. Never let anyone tell you that scientists aren't superstitious, especially research scientists. I've known researchers who would wear the same underwear every time they did an experiment if they thought that would cut down on the variables. Personally I think that Loki is the god of science, and pray to St Jude[1] regularly.

On my first working day, I woke up nice and early. To be precise I woke at 3:00, 4:00, 4:30, 4:50, 5:10, 5:25, and decided to give up, and get up at 5:30. I really need to get an alarm clock.

This gave me two and a half hours to get ready. Contrary to popular myths about women it didn't take all that time. It took exactly two hours. No matter what Dr McCoy had said, I wasn't going to go to my first day dressed in jeans. Which meant that I was down to what I wore to the interview.

As dangerous as riding a bicycle was in the city, I had decided that it was the only possible way I had to get to work, until my first paycheck anyway. I was down to eating popcorn and two-minute noodles, and as good as it was that I'd lost so much weight, the sooner I could afford to buy something green that wasn't moldy the better.

The bicycle was not an elegant machine. It was a gift from a guy who lived two floors up in lieu of cash for some tutoring in basic biology. The bike was one he'd had since he was fifteen and I thanked all the little gods and goddesses that he wasn't a shorty like me, so my knees didn't hit my chin as I peddled.

I didn't have a safety chain, but that was okay because no one would steal it. Not only was it held together with extensive lengths of old gummy gaffer tape, but every time I back-peddled the wheels jammed and the chain fell off.

After spending all Sunday poring over maps, I found the Institute without too much trouble. Like many places it had an area around the back that housed bins, strange metal objects and bicycles. I parked my bike a little distance away from the shiny special bikes, so it wouldn't get an inferiority complex, picked up the chain from where it had fallen as I parked, put it in a plastic bag in my back-pack and made it to the front reception five minutes early.

Unfortunately Dr McCoy had been ten minutes early.

"Good morning, Ms Chandler. Feeling enthused about the day's possibilities?" he asked.

"Oh, sure." It's not fair to spring a question like that on someone who's just about to start a new job she really needs.

Dr McCoy didn't seem to mind my lack of obvious enthusiasm, and he lead the way upstairs to the laboratory. I've been in a few labs and this one was okay. The thing about laboratories in which genetic engineering or DNA diagnosis is done is that they have to be fairly up to date.

The lab was one of those communal types, but Dr. McCoy had a big section of bench space for himself alone, and a small office. When he wandered off, leaving me with a technician to explain the little details I learned that he was seldom, if ever in the lab at all.

It's not commonly known, but if you want to know what's what in a lab, you've got to talk to the technicians. It's like janitors, secretaries or nurses, they're always up on any gossip. I'm not maligning any of these careers, a research assistant is only a glorified tech.

In between learning about who did what to whom, I got the standard introductory talks. Fire 'in case of fire, these are the exits, here are the fire extinguishers, please stay calm and all the floor wardens, unless it's in the solvent store, in which case get your butt outta here immediately and scream a warning at everyone else'. General safety 'eyewash, safety shower, incident report sheet,' and just stuff, 'stationary in office, manual or procedures over there, don't mention football to Luke, you'll never get him to shut up'.

By the time that Dr McCoy returned, I felt confident of being able, if not to walk around with my eyes closed, certainly to manage not to bump into something important while my eyes were open. He ushered me into the little office, and looked at me seriously. Time for the big discussion on what exactly we were researching, I guessed. I was right.

"Ms Chandler," he started.

"Naomi, please."

"Then please call me Henry. You are wondering what exactly we are researching, I assume."

"Yes, I was curious."

"You will have heard of the Legacy Virus. I, and a few associates are looking for a cure. However, we are restricted by time, resources and manpower. There are a small number of things that you should be aware of before you start," he said. His voice was low and serious, but that was okay, I was paying attention.

"I'm sure. But shouldn't any study on this take place in a much more highly contained lab than this one?" I asked.

Henry smiled. "True. Which is why what you will be doing is sequencing and measuring the DNA of patients before and after infection. This laboratory is of adequate standards for that. However, there is something else. Are you aware that Legacy can, in fact, infect humans?" He looked so concerned.

I shrugged. "Yes, I'd heard that. But that's still very rare, isn't it? One or two cases? And from what I've heard, the infective rate is pretty low, isn't it?"

Henry let out what he probably thought was an imperceptible breath. But with shoulders like that, it wasn't that hard to notice. "You are correct, Naomi. As far as we have as yet found, the infective rate is extremely low. So you have no objections to working on the virus?"

No, I'd prefer to be paranoid and unemployed. "No objections, provided I can take as many safety precautions which are merited." Geez, he was getting to me, too. Merited?

With that we got down to serious planning of research strategies.

Basically what I was doing was an investigation into the effects of the virus on the DNA of the patients. I had samples from a number of patients over some time. My part in this was to find and sequence changes in what is called the x-gene (which is not a little confusing, what with the x-chromosome and so on, why couldn't they name it something unique like the Sonic Hedgehog gene, or the ADAMS family of genes[2]) over the length of the illness. The theory, based on what was known about the disease was that over time, due to the 'unraveling' more and more point, or other, mutations would occur, making it more difficult for the transcription of mRNA and from there the normal proteins that mean the body functions normally, or at all. I am of course, leaving out the details of how I was going to do this, but that kind of thing should be reserved for published papers and boring sciencey-type people. Things that should be kept in mind about these techniques are simple. They are long, complicated, and frequently go inexplicably wrong for days, weeks, or even months.

A few days later, I had settled into a routine, and was having a break with one of the other research assistants in the tea-room.

"What's it like working with an ex-Avenger?" Jackie asked. I just blinked at her a bit, confused. "You know, Dr. McCoy was an Avenger? A superhero? He's one of the X-Men now, apparently."

Jackie must have thought I was a bit odd, because she changed the subject pretty quickly then. The worst of it was I felt like a moron. No, I hadn't known that Henry was a superhero. Which I should have, I guess. He certainly looked like he could be. But, to be completely frank, I just hadn't realized.

This may sound stupid. It probably was. I've just never been that interested in North American hero-stuff. We had a few back home, but I didn't pay that much attention to them there either. And here, I've found that it's easy to be out of the loop when you're new to a country, and you don't bother watching the news much.

Now that I'd found out about the secret life of my employer, I was a little curious. However, after thinking about it a little, I figured that the best idea would be not to bring it up in conversation. I'm not quite up on what's considered etiquette in terrorist circles (okay, so I did look up the X-Men a bit, there's not much else to do when you're a wimp in a big city, and I like libraries) but that whole 'now you know, I'll have to kill you' thing is enough to stifle even my curiosity a little. Even if concrete boots weren't involved, if I got fired this soon, I'd never find another job and starve to death. Also, I couldn't really see the point in bringing up something that would make Henry all worried. He looked like he wasn't getting enough sleep as it was.

So, I continued my merry way, getting enough money to eat, actually getting a bike helmet. The stuff I was finding wasn't terribly exciting, because it took a while to get it working, but it was interesting some of the time.

"Henry?" Naomi asked. Henry looked up from her gels, questioningly. She looked slightly worried, so he sat back and prompted her to go on. For the last few months she'd been quietly wading through the piles of genetic analysis that he'd planned, but simply hadn't had the time or, if he was brutally honest, the skills to finish himself. She'd finally finished the fine-tuning, and everything from here on should be fairly straightforward.

"I've optimized everything, and the rest should be pretty simple," she said, as though reading his thoughts. "But, you know you told me that you hired me because you had too much work to do, and from what I've seen I haven't actually cut down on your workload at all." She grinned. "Not to mention the fact that this is getting a little boring. I was wondering if there was anything else you'd like me to do?"

Henry looked around the lab. "You want to do more?" he asked incredulously. "Shouldn't the current experimental procedures keep you busy for a considerable time to come?"

"I have to be here from seven till almost six everyday anyway, Henry, and that's only if I start a batch first thing I get in here. If I start anything later, I'm in here longer. And there's long hours in the middle when there's basically nothing to do. You're paying me for sitting around looking bored, and while I'm perfectly happy to do it, if there's anything else you want me to do, just tell me." Naomi shrugged.

Beast thought about this. As far as he could find, Naomi's background was clean. He would have liked to shift her over to the mansion, but he knew that it would be a lot of effort to shift all of the experiments, samples and so on over to his lab. Not to mention the fact that if she pulled the same long hours as she did here, Naomi might have to move into the mansion entirely. There wasn't just the other X-Men that he'd have to think about, but also how she'd take to moving there.

"I may have a solution to that, however some time to consider the options would be well recommended," Beast said.

I took that to mean that there was nothing else I could do that wasn't really hush-hush, so I forgot about it. Besides which, I was could always find something to do, or read an interesting book.

Time passes, if you don't watch carefully, fun or no fun, especially if you keep busy.

The End.

[1] St Jude, patron saint of hopeless causes.
[2] The Sonic Hedgehog gene is very important in developmental genetics, and the ADAMS family is a linked with kalikreins and other proteins involved both in embryo implantation and, possibly, cancer secondaries. Both exist, and both are fairly frequently cited.
The question being, should I write more? Yes? No? I'm interested in your opinions.