Jean Grey stepped out of the taxi and smoothed her skirt with a hint of nervousness. She glanced up at the looming Triashlon building that housed SHIELD's headquarters then started inside with a confident, resolute set to her shoulders.
At the front desk the secretary gave the young woman a skeptical look.
"I'm Jean Grey. I have appointments with Cornel Fury and Dr… um… Hunter?"
The other woman checked her appointment book. "The mutant evaluation, right." She gestured to two towering, armored guards. "They'll escort you to Dr. Hunter's office."
Jean nodded and reluctantly fell into step between her two guards. Rationally she knew she could incapacitate both of them with a thought but just being treated like a dangerous criminal was intimidating and disheartening.
The Triashlon's office level was a maze of featureless corridors. Jean wondered if the people working there ever got lost or went insane from the oppressive sameness of it.
The solider on her right, anonymous and inhuman inside his armor and helmet, stopped and knocked on one of the hundreds of identical doors. He paused a moment then opened it. Jean assumed the secretary had called ahead with a warning.
The office on the other side of the door contrasted sharply with the sterile halls. It was filled with a homey clutter. A battered desk was pushed up against the far wall and several comfortable looking chairs were scattered around a low coffee table.
The office's owner swiveled her chair around to face them. When the petite, black woman went to greet them Jean couldn't help but notice the slight limp that marred her otherwise perfect grace. "Stevie Hunter." The woman greeted her as she extended a hand. "You must be Ms. Grey."
Jean shook her hand. The red head grimaced a little. "Of course. I don't suppose any other prospective college students had to submit to a psychiatric examination before being admitted to school?"
Stevie shrugged. "How many of your potential classmates can lift cars with the power of their minds?" She replied. "Gentlemen, you can go back to your business. Ms. Grey, I'll be taping our conversation if you don't mind."
"Fine." Jean replied as Stevie directed her to take a seat.
"I'd like to start out by going over some background details." Stevie said as she took a seat next to Jean. "You were fourteen when you first began studies at the Xavier Institute?"
"Yes." Jean replied.
"You enrolled at Bayville High as a freshman and graduated after a rather tumulus senior year."
"That's a polite way of putting it."
"How would you put it?"
Jean hesitated. "Tumulus works for me."
"Alright." Stevie said with a slight incline of her head. "Prior to being revealed as a mutant you were very active in extracurricular activities: You were a member of the year book staff, active in student body government, made the variety girl's soccer team as a sophomore, went to state with your team every year afterwards and were named MVP your senior year. Your grades are excellent."
Jean preened a bit as her accomplishments were listed.
"However, after it became know that you were a mutant you were asked to resign from all those activities. How did you feel about that?"
"Hurt." Jean said. "Principal Kelly, my teachers and my friends acted like being a mutant meant I wasn't a person. They thought that because I had the ability to cheat that I must be a cheat; like I don't have any sort of moral code."
"You hid your powers from them." Stevie said in a neutral voice. "Why should they trust you when you say you wouldn't misuse those powers?"
"I dated, kissed a guy who hates mutants. He confessed to murdering one of my friends, after shooting at him twice before." Jean exclaimed. "What does that tell you about how often I go around prying into other people's thoughts? If I had realized how he felt about people who were different do you honestly think I would have ever let him touch me?"
"I suppose not." Stevie replied.
Jean shifted then smoothed her skirt primly over her knees.
"That's a reasonable segue into me asking you how you feel about Lance Alvers."
Jean looked straight at Stevie. "What do you want to know about Lance? He is… was one of my friends."
"But not always." Stevie replied. "According to your Principal the students from the Brotherhood Boarding House were originally your rivals. In fact he went so far as to describe the relationship between them and your fellow students set the Xavier Institutes as being a gang war."
"Lance, Pietro, Fred and Todd were beholden to some very bad influences." Jean said. "Once we got to know them for themselves, apart from the people who'd been controlling them, they're okay. We all like each other now."
"However, your being here today is a direct result of Lance Alver's actions. In the next few weeks it is almost inevitable that the legislature will pass a bill requiring all students attending public schools to be tested for an active X-gene. If a person is found to be a mutant they will be required by law to prove that they are capable of and willing to maintain control over their powers. Your college asked that you voluntarily submit yourself to this rather than interrupting your classes later."
"Lance was brainwashed. It wasn't his fault." Jean said.
"By another mutant correct?" Stevie pointed out. Jean nodded. "And that's why this new law is going to be passed."
Jean's lips thinned.
"How do you feel about that?"
"In the last year a dozen 'normal' high school students brought guns to school and tried to blow away their classmates. Why is it that you only want mutants to under go psychiatric evaluation?"
"None of them leveled an entire downtown." Stevie said. "How bad would it have been if you and your friends hadn't intervened? How much damage was Lance capable of doing?"
Jean flinched. "It's still not fair."
"Some people might say it's not fair you have powers and they don't." Stevie replied.
Jean bit her lip then sighed. "Yeah they probably would. I know we have extra responsibilities because of what we can do. I try really, really hard to live up to that, to always do the right thing. Even my friends think I'm a teacher's pet, but you know what? It's not enough. It's never enough. I'll pass your tests with flying colors. I am in control of my powers. I am a sane, nice, responsible person. I can prove that to you. I can save people's lives. It won't change anything. People will still hear I'm a mutant and nothing else will matter to them."
"Then why bother trying?" Stevie asked.
"What else should I do? Give up? Go hide in a cave and cry? Hate everyone? I'll keep trying, thanks."
****** ****** ******
"Professor Xavier, it's a pleasure to meet you." A woman with blonde hair pulled into a neat bun at the base of her neck said as she offered Xavier her business card. "I'm Val Cooper, I've been charged with implementing the President's new mutant laws."
"Congress hasn't voted yet." Xavier replied.
"A formality at most." A red-haired man with a crew cut announced.
Val frowned at him. "You'll have to excuse Mr. Gyrich Professor. He tends to be rather outspoken. However, the smart money says he's right and considering the difficulties facing us I'd like to get a jump on things. I believe you already know Mr. Kelly?"
Kelly nodded curtly.
The silver-blonde woman sitting to Kelly's left offered a cool smile and extended a well-manicured hand. "Emma Frost, Headmistress of the newly formed Massachusetts' Academy." She said.
"I'm Donald Pierce, Principal of Boston's PS 113." The last man announced. Xavier's eyes widen in surprise as he realized the hand he was shaking was a prosthetic."
"Henry Gyrich, I'm here to see that Ms. Cooper's bleeding heart tendencies don't get the better of her." Val's colleague proclaimed.
Val smiled sweetly at him. "Henry, I've told you a hundred times: the KGB is not a good roll model. Shall we get down to business? In just over a month it is highly likely all Middle School and High School students in this country will be tested to see if they're mutants. The text says if they prove they can control their powers and pass a psychiatric evaluation they'll be readmitted to their school. The reality is very few of those kids are going to pass, it's not their fault, it's just that psychiatric review is so subjective. We've already begun testing in a number of private schools, extrapolating from that data we're anticipating at least hundred teenagers will need a place. That's after taking into account the parents who will choose home schooling."
"A hundred?" Xavier exclaimed. "I don't have the resources to manage that kind of a student body. I have a staff of four adults; only two of us are accredited teachers. I don't have the housing for that many children. Good Lord, the kitchen can just barely handle the twenty-odd people currently using it now. How do you expect me to be ready for five times the current student body in just a month?"
"I don't expect you to do it alone." Val replied. "Ms. Frost's Academy will be prepared for roughly half the expected students. Also we've purchased one of the properties adjacent to your Institute. I'm in the process of arranging for renovations to turn the building into a cafeteria, dorm rooms and some classrooms."
"And teachers?" Xavier asked.
"Mr. Pierce and I have worked out an agreement where a number of his teachers will be conducting one class each at my Academy." Ms. Frost commented smoothly.
Kelly squirmed. "I barely have enough teachers to cover my classes as it is."
"I'll arrange a grant for you to hire several additional instructors." Val said.
The corners of Kelly's mouth turned downward. "In that case, I'm certain I'll be able to manage it." He said with a sigh.
****** ****** ******
Jean wrapped herself in a telekinetic shield then floated up to eye-level with the reflective bulletproof windows that gave the control room a view of the simulation below. "Cornel Fury, is this supposed to be a test of my control or a job interview?" She asked. "I can ward off bullets and flip over tanks until doomsday and you won't learn anything about whether or not I'm safe to roam around a college campus."
"What do you suggest?" Fury asked after keying the microphone.
"Ask me to use my telekinesis to build a house of cards in the middle of a shopping mall." Jean replied. "I have to screen out dozens of people's thoughts while simultaneously using my powers with precision and delicacy. That would show you how good I am. This is just an exorcise in brute force and I'm not looking for employment with your group so don't start coming up with ideas about how you can use me."
****** ****** ******
Rich started as the newspaper hit his desk with a loud thwack. "Something came up, I'll call you back." He said. Then turned to the source of the disturbance. "Is there a problem Mr. Jamison?"
"What is the first rule of journalism?" Jamison demanded rhetorically. "You report the news, you don't become it. And if you have to break that rule you make damn sure a paper-man, not some TV bimbo, gets the scoop… So why the hell is Tilibily digging around in your background?"
Rich just looked at his boss and waited.
Jamison chuckled. "She's chasing a coincidence?" He asked.
Rich glanced away. "When you asked about our names…"
"You lied." Jamison said. "I ought to be reading you the riot act, but I'm just going to ask why."
Rich sighed. "I guess I wanted an excuse to see him. I'm an investigative reporter, he asked me not to find him… I'm sure you realize how hard that was."
"I'm being patient here, it's not a strong suit. What was he to you?"
"He's my son."
"Hell Alvers. I'm sorry."
"Lance isn't dead." Rich stated. "I know when I'm being lied to and I'm going to find out what's really happening. The prosecution over-estimated their reach and Murdock was going to use that to shred their case. The man's a damn good lawyer. Kirkland needed a pattern of reckless disregard for human life. It didn't exist."
"Right, try 'em for murder the defense proves it was manslaughter and they're innocent. Can't try 'em again because of double jeopardy." Jamison glanced over his shoulder toward the sound of transparently fake coughing. "What? I'm being sensitive."
Robbie Johnson shook his head and gave Rich a sympathetic look. "So the case was going well?" He asked.
"Yeah, it makes a guy wonder why Lance's friends would feel the need to fake his death." Rich said. "Trish can chase Lance's past to heart's comment. I'm going to find out who was trying to hurt my son and see they don't get away with it. I failed him every other way imaginable, this once I'm going to be there for him."
"Okay, look into it. If it's a story get back to me."
"Thanks." Rich said.
Jamison watched him walk away then turned to Robbie. "Parent's denial or reporter's instincts?" He asked. "Oh quit looking at me like that. We're talking about his kid. It's not as if I could get him thinking about something else and if there was anything funny going on behind the scenes he's motivated to find it."