Editor's Note: This is the second in the series. Takes place 1 month after X2.
Just Another Bug Hunt
Well, this is an odd letter, Ororo thought. I've never seen something hand-addressed to "faculty" before. Up until now it's just been junk mail.
It was sent from somewhere in California, but had no return address. She turned it over in her hand. It had the wonderful texture and look of parchment. This was someone's personal stationary. She opened the letter, which was also of that same parchment material. She blinked as she scanned through it. It was written in German, with a somewhat hasty scrawl, and she recognized Kurt's first name. At the bottom was the address of a PO box, presumably for a reply. Perhaps this was one of Kurt's adopted relatives? But why just address this to "faculty" instead of Kurt himself? She replaced the letter back in its envelope and headed out to find its proper owner.
She found Kurt, along with Scott, just outside the Danger Room door. Scott must have been running Kurt through his paces inside, as Kurt was dripping with sweat and winded, while Scott was fresh as the proverbial daisy.
"You should have told me you were so close to your breaking point," Scott berated him. "The last thing we want is for you to seriously injure yourself."
Kurt just nodded, still breathing heavily. He was leaning against the wall, a hand towel draped around his shoulders.
"Hey, Kurt?" Ororo asked as she walked up. She waved the letter in her hand. "I think this is yours."
Both men turned to face her. Kurt straightened and stood away from the door as she handed him the letter.
"Danke," he said. He looked at the envelope, opened, with a bit of confusion. "Just 'faculty'?"
She shrugged. "I don't get it, either, but it's in German, and your name's in it somewhere. It's pretty short."
He flipped the letter open, quickly glanced over it, then stopped and looked closer.
Please forgive my writing in German. I know that whoever first opens this will likely not understand it, and it is not polite to do this, but I'm not sure how else to contact you. I have been in fear for you since the attack on the White House, and it was with great relief that I saw your arrest order rescinded. I have tried to find you, but I understand your needing to go to ground and avoid people. Since this place was on the news at the same time, and called a "mutant training facility", I am hoping against hope that you are staying with these people, or that perhaps they can contact you.
I do not know if the government is still watching you or not, but with the order rescinded, perhaps it is safe to speak with you again. Here is my PO box. Please write back to me if you are able, Kurt. I cannot believe what they were saying about you.
"The Bug Man"
"This is from Anshelm," he said aloud.
Scott glanced at the envelope, though no one could tell eye movement behind his visor. "Looks like it's from California."
"No, no, this is from a friend of mine named Anshelm," Kurt explained. "I haven't seen him in years. It looks like he finally got where he wanted to go. He always wanted to work in movies." He sighed and shook his head. "We fell out of contact some time ago. I imagine he must have been worried sick after last month's 'incident'."
"He's not in trouble or anything, is he?" Scott asked suspiciously.
"Seems like when we get old friends writing to us, they're in dire need of help or being held at gunpoint for ransom."
Kurt laughed once. "I'm ahead of you, this time. That has already happened with Anshelm."
Scott leaned against the wall and gently hit the back of his head on its metal surface. "Figures."
"Would it be a problem if I replied to him?" Kurt asked, looking from Ororo to Scott. "I would like to let him know I am all right."
"Depends. Does he know you're a mutant?"
Kurt just looked at him blankly. Scott quickly realized the utter stupidity of his question. Even with the visor, the other two could see him wince and turn away.
"Sorry," Scott muttered. "I'm so used to asking that question of everyone else. It just automatically comes out."
"He is one of the few friends I have outside the circus," Kurt told him. "He knows what I am and what I can do. That is why he wants to contact me. He surely recognized my pictures on the news, as well as the descriptions of my teleporting. He was frightened for me."
"I don't mean to pry into your business, but I'm getting paranoid in my old age," Scott said, turning back to Kurt. "I need to know more about him."
"After last month, I would expect you to be cautious," Kurt replied, nodding. "I'm not insulted. I met Anshelm many years ago. He hired me for an evening's private performance, but leading up to it we spent much more time together. You see, he wanted me to... model for him? Is that the right phrase? He created costumes."
"You, a model?" Ororo asked. "I'd have to think your natural beauty would be too distracting."
He ducked his head a little and gave a shy smile. "Not in a full bodysuit. Are you familiar with Hans Giger's demented work?"
Ororo was not. Scott, however, must have been. His posture changed and a smile, a rare thing, spread over his lips.
"No," he said slowly. "He didn't. An alien?" Kurt nodded, and Scott continued, "Oh, this I have GOT to hear."
* * * * *
July in Munich. Hot, sticky, hot, sticky, and did he forget to mention hot and sticky? Only the evenings were bearable, which was when the Munich Circus did all their performances. Of course, for the trapeze and high-wire artists, that meant being up where all of the heat and humidity was collecting. By the end of the night, the entire troop was sticking to everything they touched, and the sweat just wouldn't evaporate. This lead to the time-honored summer tradition of "hosing the animals down", and they weren't talking about the performing dogs.
The trapeze troop, five men and five women, were under the canopy in back of the tents, open on all sides to catch what little breeze came through. There were four hoses to be had, and everyone was taking turns spraying and being sprayed in their swimsuits. Kurt, right then, was a grateful recipient. Eric hosed him down as Kurt leaned on a plastic table to give him easy access to the back of his neck. Eric then gave Kurt's hair a fast soaking, a simple matter as he wore his hair short. Kurt shook his head quickly, then stood up, cracking his back.
"You're sure your tail's doing all right?" Eric asked as he gave Kurt the hose. "I was grabbing it pretty hard. Even with the chalk, I was sweating so much I couldn't seem get a good hold."
Eric lifted his arms and slowly turned around as Kurt sprayed him. "Aside from the constriction gangrene, it's fine. I've almost got feeling in the tip by now."
Dieter laughed and sprayed Kurt's tail from across the canopy. "I bet that puts a crimp in your lovelife, there, eh?"
Kurt sprayed him back. "Oh, and this from the man who simply must regale us with his exploits every chance he gets? You're jealous, Dieter! Admit it!"
Thus started the second time-honored summer tradition: the water fight. Just a few seconds in, however, one of the stagehands, Cristof, came running back.
"Guys, guys, hold it!" he called, waving his hands.
The troop stopped, though a few were still suppressing giggles. The stagehand looked over at Kurt.
"You're not going to believe this," he said, "but someone wants to talk to you personally. One of the patrons."
Kurt set the hose aside. "Cristof, I'm soaking wet. No one is going to believe a costume and body paint lasts through all that."
"I know, I know. I tried to dissuade him, but he says all he wants to do is talk technical with you. I think he's a college student or something. He says he'll pay you for your time talking to him."
Everyone looked at each other. Paying for the time? That was new. No fan had ever done that. Of course, once he saw that The Incredible Nightcrawler wasn't wearing a costume, he'd probably slink away, shaken to his core. Most did.
Kurt sighed. "Well, if he's willing to pay for the time, it means he's determined. I hope I don't shock him too badly. Give me a minute to cover up, then send him back. What's his name?"
A little later, Cristof lead Anshelm back to the bathing canopy. The performers had covered up in terry robes by that point, but Kurt was a bit more covered than the rest, sitting at the table and draped so in robe and bath towels that only his face was visible. Anshelm was a slight man, probably Kurt's age, maybe a little younger. He fit the description of college student quite well, dressed in cut-off fatigues, a tank top, and sandals, with a laden backpack slung over one shoulder. He looked very excited to be there, which gave Kurt a sick feeling in the pit of his stomach. It made the rejection that much more painful when it inevitably happened.
Anshelm headed straight for Kurt, a broad grin on his face. "Thank you so much for seeing me, sir! I did not mean to delay your shower."
Kurt smiled pleasantly and nodded. He tried very hard not to show his teeth as he spoke. "It is no trouble. You wanted to talk 'technical' with me?"
"Ah! Yes!" Anshelm glanced back at the table and an empty chair. "May I?"
"Feel free," Dieter said, patting the chair.
Everyone was a bit tense. Anshelm must have been truly focused not to notice it. He sat and pulled the chair up across the table from Kurt, leaning forward eagerly.
"Look, I'm a student at Berlin University, and I wanted to ask you about the workings of your tail. I mean, it's the most incredible piece of work I've ever seen! You must have one hell of a harness to hold such weight! And what pneumatics do you use for such speed and motion?"
Despite himself, Kurt sighed and looked away. Everyone believed the tail to be a prop. It was safer that way. How could he tactfully explain to the man that it was wholly organic?
"I know it's a trade secret," Anshelm said, holding up his hands in the universal sign for "forgive my rudeness". "But I was just hoping to get some pointers. I'm working on something that could make my career in November... and...."
He trailed off as Kurt lifted his tail up next to the table. The rest of the trapeze troop tensed further.
"My friend, there is little I can tell you about pneumatics or harnesses," Kurt said softly. "The tail is wholly mine."
Anshelm just stared at the tail, his mouth wide open in shock. He lifted a hand as if to touch it, then must have decided better. He looked back to Kurt.
"It's...not a costume, is it?" he whispered. "Everything...it's all real, isn't it?"
Kurt looked at him calmly, hoping he masked his own apprehension well. "Yes. All of it is real."
Then Anshelm did something that no one expected. He broke into a wondrous, elated smile.
"My God," he whispered. "I never dreamed. This is just perfect."
Trepidation turned to confusion. What was this student talking about? Anshelm picked up his heavy pack and unzipped it, so excited his hands were shaking.
"I-I want to talk to you... about maybe hiring your services this November," he blurted out, digging for something in his pack. "I'd need access to you for a week off and on for fitting, and you'd only be performing for the night--"
"Whoa, hold on." Kurt raised a hand in an attempt to slow the bewildering chain of events to a manageable speed. "What kind of performance, and where?"
Anshelm glanced up at Kurt as he fumbled through his pack, that smile still on his lips.
"I'm trying to break into the movie industry. I do costuming and special effects. I'm replicating one of Giger's aliens, and I was going to ask you about how to make the tail move, but, my God, you'd be the perfect model to wear the thing!"
" 'Giger'?" Kurt asked.
Anshelm froze. "Giger! Hans Giger? H.R. Giger? Haven't you heard of him or seen his work?"
Kurt shook his head. A few in the troop gasped, realizing what Anshelm was proposing.
"Kurt, he's right!" one of the ladies said, laughing. "You'd be perfect!"
Anshelm produced a large, hardbound book of Giger's surreal artwork. Kurt felt a bit revolted as he looked at the cover. This was the product of a twisted mind. He removed the extra towels as he leaned forward and took the book in both hands, then opened the pages. Two were marked in particular, so he went to those first. He just stared at the creatures on the glossy pages. Bipedal, insect-like exoskeleton, long tail, bulky yet elegant dorsal spines, long, eyeless head. The stuff of nightmares.
"You're making this costume?" he asked. "And you want to hire me to wear it because of my tail?"
"It isn't just that. It's the way you move! You've never seen the movie, have you? Giger did this work for a movie series for America. It was very popular."
"It looks like it was a horror film. I don't usually go for those."
"I have the videotape in my pack. Do you have a VCR somewhere?"
Usually the TV and VCR stayed in its respective trailer, but that would have been too cramped and hot for everyone. They moved the setup outside, hooked it up to an extension cord, and plugged everything in. There was quite a crowd by this time, as few people were willing to pass up a free movie. The trapeze troupe had the best seats, of course.
Kurt had never seen anything like the movie Aliens. The "chestburster" scenes practically made him want to teleport away into his trailer. Soon he understood why Anshelm wanted him to perform in the monstrous costume. The way the things crawled about, the way the bounced from wall to wall; those were his movements.
Dieter elbowed him in the side. "You've been holding out on us, Wagner! You owe us a share of the wages you made on this film!"
"Huh? You say something, Dieter?" he asked innocently. "I'm sorry, I'm too busy watching Miss Weaver to pay attention to you."
It was a longer movie than most anyone thought it would be, and it was very late by the time it was over. However, Anshelm was as energetic as ever, and by this time, so was Kurt. They stayed up for hours talking in the main tent, using a propane lantern for illumination, trying not keep the rest of the circus awake. Anshelm's enthusiasm was infectious, and he was already taking measurements and doing sketches.
"Is this your major?" Kurt asked, watching Anshelm work.
"No, my major is robotics and electronics, minor in chemistry," Anshelm replied. "They don't really have a 'special effects' course. You put it together as you go along. When I graduate, I intend to work with people like Stan Winston and Stephen Spielberg. Maybe even ILM."
"That's a tall order. There must be a lot of competition."
"Well, this could do it. Every November in Berlin, there's this big special effects and costuming night. Talent scouts for the big names are in the audience, and if you do well enough, they offer you a position. Starting, of course. An apprenticeship. I'd almost pay to work for them."
"You're not planning on passing my tail off as--" Kurt started.
"No!" he interrupted, indignant. "Of course not! That's your trade secret, remember? They'll understand that. You're just showing off the merchandise. Besides, I know one team is having a friend of theirs wear their Robocop costume. He's only got one leg, so they can make a robotic prosthetic and have the gun literally come out of his thigh. With competition like that, I don't feel bad at all about having you there. You'll get full billing."
"A robotic prosthetic?" Kurt repeated, awestruck.
"Yeah, like I said. This is where the professionals go. There's a lot of competition to get in, but my sketches got me a place in the show."
Kurt smelled coffee. Oh-oh. He went to the tent flap and saw the sun starting to rise.
"Um, Anshelm?" he said timidly. "It's morning. We've been here all night."
Anshelm bolted to his feet. "Oh shit! I've got classes today!"
"All the way back in Berlin? I think you're cutting today."
Anshelm stuffed his work back in his pack. "No, no, I can still make them, but I'll have to hurry."
"Want some coffee before you go?"
"Nah. Stuff makes me wired."
Kurt just stared at Anshelm as he shouldered his pack. He didn't want to think about what this guy considered "wired". He'd probably vibrate through the floorboards.
Anshelm pressed a roll of marks into Kurt's hand, along with his address and phone number. "I hope this compensates you for your time. I didn't mean to keep you up all night."
Kurt shrugged and smiled. "I don't need much sleep. I'll probably be fine by lunch."
"Will I be able to see you again later this week, perhaps?"
"Next time, just bring a sleeping bag and sleep here, will you? I would feel better knowing you weren't falling asleep at the wheel somewhere."
"Sure. No room in the trailers, but plenty under the stars."
* * * * *
For the next few months, Anshelm would occasionally come up with pieces for fitting, following the circus as it went from city to city. The rest of the performers soon grew used to seeing him around, and treated him well. After all, any rube who liked Kurt couldn't be all that bad.
The problem was that as summer wore on into fall, Berlin became a less and less healthy place to be. The city had two all-too-successful bombings and one attempted one. Anshelm was concerned, but not overly so. As always, his project occupied his time. Kurt, too, was relatively unconcerned. Statistically speaking, the chances of a bomb going off on the exact day of his performance were slim, let alone in the exact place. Or so he thought.
On the first of November, two weeks before his "gig" with Anshelm, the circus patriarch, Papa Bashalde, called him into his personal trailer after dinner. There the two of them spoke alone.
"Kurt, look... your mother and I would like you to think this Berlin job over," he said quietly.
"What?" Kurt asked, shocked. "Are you telling me to back out?"
"We'd like you to consider it, yes."
"How can I do that? There's only two weeks left! It's all fitted to me! There's no way he can find a replacement!"
"Berlin isn't safe right now--"
Kurt threw up his hands in exasperation. "I'm more likely to get killed by a streetcar than a bomb! I've got a commitment!"
"So you think a bomb won't come for you, eh?" He poked Kurt in the chest. "Do you know what just happened a few minutes ago?"
"I can just guess," Kurt grumbled.
"That's right, another bomb. And do you know where it was?"
"You're going to enlighten me, aren't you?"
"Right outside the American Embassy! All of the bombs have been going against places where there are American interests! Guess who will be at that little party of yours on the 15th?" When Kurt didn't immediately respond, Papa Bashalde finished for him. "Lots of powerful movie Americans! Producers, agents, scouts! All part of Hollywood America! The only thing that would make it more America is if there was Disney there!"
Kurt decided against telling the aging patriarch that some people from Pixar would be at the performance.
"And that is why we don't want you there," Papa Bashalde finished, crossing his arms imperiously. "Yes, you can pop about from one place to another, but it won't save you if you don't see it coming."
"I can't believe you're telling me to do this. You encourage me to try things on the trapeze, but you don't want me to fulfill a commitment on the slim chance that--"
"We know the trapeze! We know the risks with it!"
"And because this risk is unfamiliar, it makes it more lethal? Because you don't understand it? Is that it?"
Papa Bashalde hesitated, realizing where the argument had suddenly turned. Kurt's face was turning deep purple with the flush under his skin. His tail lashed to and fro angrily.
"I've had it!" Kurt snapped. "I'm sick of hearing that something different is too dangerous!"
"This isn't about you, it's about terrorists in Berlin--!" the man started.
"It's the same mindset!"
Kurt teleported out of the trailer. He would sleep alone, under the stars, that night.