Chapter One: Application
She walked in the front door of the Mansion. She wore blue jeans and a long-sleeved checked shirt and practical walking shoes, with her long dark hair tied back in a ponytail. Over on the left side of the entry hall was a sign saying, " X-Men Recruiting Drive: Line Starts Here!" She strode over to the table near the sign. The "line" ahead of her was only one hopeful applicant.
A blue furry guy and a black-haired, American-Indian-looking guy with a metal hand were sitting on the other side of the table, giving that one guy ahead of her the brush-off. "No, I'm sorry to be the one who has to break this to you," the blue guy was saying, "but I'm afraid that your unprecedented mutant ability to turn huge quantities of white paint into any other color of paint just by touching it and concentrating is not the sort of talent that would mesh well into one of our field teams. Sounds like you could make a very good living off it in the private sector, though. Have you tried a paint factory?" He had to repeat himself a few times before the news really sunk in, then the applicant's shoulders slumped and he wandered off. Carla stepped up to face the recruiting team.
"Howdy!" she greeted them. "I'm a mutant who wants to sign up. Is there an application form I need to fill out?"
"Not exactly." The American Indian touched something that vaguely resembled a laptop computer, if you assumed it had been built from scratch by a screwball genius using hand-made innovative components every step of the way, including an entirely new design of keyboard, with the finished product being intended to interface very well with a bionic hand if need be. (By an astonishing coincidence, this was approximately what had happened. Who says appearances are always deceiving?) "Mychelle here will fill in the blank spaces in the forms as we go through the necessary questions verbally. But let's start with your powers before we take it any further. Cerebro already told us you were a mutant as you entered the Mansion, but we mutants come in all shapes and sizes. What can you do?"
"In a word: Electricity. Absorb it, store it, generate it, throw it around . . . I've read several newspaper stories about Spider-Man's fights with Electro. Never met the guy, but I suspect we'd have a lot in common. Except for the part about his being a greedy sociopathic thug, of course."
"Of course! Can you show us a sample?"
Carla shrugged. "To prove I'm not just delusional? Sure." She raised her empty hands, closed them into fists, and opened them to reveal miniature ball lightning resting on each palm.
"Is that all?"
Carla began juggling half a dozen balls of lightning. After several seconds, they merged into one long stream of power that starting spinning around her body at waist level, looking something like a hula hoop. "How much do you want? I figured it was enough to get the point across. If you need to test my limits, I can generate a lot more power than this if you show me a target you don't mind seeing blasted by lightning. I used to go out in the woods during thunderstorms to practice. Finally got proper control of the effect at the expense of a couple of hundred trees."
Hank and Forge looked at each other. Hank took it upon himself to explain their "is that all?" reaction. "Usually, with a really viable prospect for recruiting, this would be the part where you were supposed to accidentally blow out a few windows, short-circuit the electrical systems, give somebody a nasty shock that knocks him unconscious, look absolutely terrifying as energy crackles all around you, and bring everybody running to see what all the hullabaloo is about. After things settled down, older but wiser heads would get to laugh and say, 'I like her—a bit rough around the edges, but she's got real potential! Reminds me of myself at that age!'"
Carla rolled her eyes. "Gee, I'm sorry. Nobody warned me I was supposed to throw a childish tantrum and let my powers get out of control when I was trying to make a good first impression. Maybe some other time?"
Hank beamed at her benevolently. "I look forward to it! I always say you never really know a fellow X-Man until you've seen her (or him) throw a hissy fit!"
Forge rapped his metal hand on the tabletop to recapture their attention. Carla reabsorbed the electrical hula hoop into her own metabolism for the time being. Forge asked, "Okay, it looks like we'll be putting you into the X-Men candidate training program unless it turns out you're completely psycho. (Partially psycho is no big deal around here; just ask Wolverine!) So what's your name, Recruit?"
"Nemcova. Is that a Russian name?"
Forge glanced at a blinking field on the screen of his laptop. "Mychelle isn't sure how to take that—did you mean 'yes'?"
"What? Oh. No, I meant C-Z-E-C-H. The family name originally comes from Czechoslovakia."
Forge nodded. "Okay, we've got it now. By the way, do you speak Czech?"
Carla blinked. "No, why should I? I'm only one-eighth Czech. My family roots are in Iowa."
"Well, if you ever feel the need to learn, and if you can find someone who is already fluent in the language and willing to cooperate, one of our telepaths can download the whole package deal into your head in about ten seconds flat. Fringe benefit. Say, Hank, have we ever had anyone on the team—any of the affiliated teams—with a Czech surname?"
Hank furrowed his brow (presumably—although under all that blue fur, it's always hard to tell). "I don't believe so. Russian, German, Apache, French, Hispanic, Irish, Japanese, Chinese, Arabic, Cheyenne, Vietnamese, Brazilian, East Indian, and an abundance of surnames from one region or another of the British Isles . . . we even had a Skrull once, though we didn't realize it at the time!"
Forge glanced at Mychelle (his laptop) again. "Are you the same Carla Nemcova who graduated from MIT with a B.S. in electrical engineering last year and has the Social Security number 666-00-4245?"
"By the way, have you picked out a codename yet?"
Forge nodded as the picture from Carla Nemcova's driver's license popped up in a new window. A readout at the bottom assured him it matched the young woman standing in front of him with 99.999 percent reliability. "Okay, looks like you've got the educational essentials already covered, except for the special stuff we teach all our people. And Mychelle is already filling in most of the blanks where your vital statistics are concerned. Let me see if we've got the general profile now: Capacitor. High-powered electricity-manipulating Caucasian female mutant, early twenties, good IQ, heterosexual—you are heterosexual, aren't you?"
"Yes, not that I was planning to go out of my way to prove it. I guess that's a reasonably close summary of who I am."
"You only 'guess' so? Which parts are less accurate than others?"
"You said Caucasian. I'm one-eighth Blackfoot Indian, if it matters for your record-keeping."
"Really? I'm Cheyenne, myself. That practically makes us kissing cousins!"
"Cousins, anyway. Don't count on the kissing part."
Forge laughed. "I wasn't. Who's your next of kin?"
"My mom and dad. Here's a card with their names and contact info."
"No husband, fiancé, significant other?"
Hank nodded. "Most of us are pretty much loners when we first arrive. We'll see what we can do for you." He glanced significantly at Forge.
Forge fiddled with his laptop for a moment. "Okay, locally available prospective love interests for a straight female Caucasian mutant in her twenties are . . . um, at this exact moment, Wolverine, Iceman, and maybe even the Beast here if you're ever really desperate."
Beast mock-growled, but was cut off by Carla saying, "What? Wait a minute! Did I even ask to know that? Is this a crimefighting squad or a dating service? I was kinda figuring on having a social life of my own, outside of this Mansion, when I'm off duty."
The two male veterans looked at each other. Forge raised his eyebrows. "Social life? Outside of the Mansion? What's she talking about?"
Hank was more open-minded. "You might not remember it as I do, Forge, but we used to do it that way a lot more often in the old days, before you ever met the X-Men. After all, we used to be a small, tight-knit outfit that might only have one or two female members at a time, and of course Jean had Scott wrapped around her little finger until she died the first time, and after she was gone, Kitty only had eyes for Colossus, and Storm didn't seem interested in any of the others . . . so the rest of the guys on the team in those days had to find their fun elsewhere, since the in-house dating prospects were so scarce!"
Forge clicked something on his laptop. "Dating outside of the X-Men team (or teams, or however you guys have it organized this week). Radical concept. Hmmm. I see a report that Alpha Flight is reforming for the umpteenth time. Available males would include—"
"How do you feel about Russians? There are some nice upstanding mutants in the Winter Guard—"
"Or if you want to do something really wild and crazy, you could try dating a superhero who isn't even a mutant! I think the eligible bachelors among the Avengers currently include—"
"He doesn't talk about it much, but I think I'd better warn you we have reason to believe Spider-Man is already in a committed relationship, possibly even married—"
"Good for him! What do I care?"
Forge was looking exasperated. "Good grief, girl, are you holding out for one of the Fantastic Four? Hugging Ben Grimm would be like hugging a pile of cracked rocks! And Reed Richards is already spoken for! And you really don't want Johnny Storm, do you? Who would? Get too intimate with him and you're likely to end up like Lyja the Laserfist!"
Carla blinked. "I'm likely to end up like Who the Whatfist?"
"Exactly! See what I mean? She disappeared off the radar so long ago that nobody even remembers her now! (Except me, apparently.)"
"Can we back up and try this again? Maybe some of the mutants who apply to be X-Men are mainly trying to 'score' with members of the opposite sex who run around in tight spandex to flaunt what they've got—"
Hank interjected: "Yes, as a matter of fact, except for a couple of special cases, such as Northstar—"
"But that's their problem. Not mine. My dad always told me to keep personal and professional stuff separate. He was an army officer for twenty years, and in his bachelor days he sure didn't date enlisted women or female junior officers, because it might look like he was pulling rank to intimidate them into fraternizing with him—even if he wasn't! Strictly civilians for him. He finally married one. Said it saved him a ton of headaches compared to some of his classmates from the Citadel and the risks they took over the next several years."
Hank shrugged. "What's your point?"
"If I'm out in the field staring down Mister Sinister and counting on Iceman to have my back, the last thing I need is to be worried about whether Iceman is harboring a grudge over the way I broke up with him the other night."
"So I figured on dating people completely outside of the mutant/costumed crimefighter community. You know, nice ordinary wholesome civilians who will probably be a thousand miles away the next time I'm in Texas facing near-certain death? So I won't be distracted by my feelings for them?"
Hank scratched his head theatrically. "How are you ever expecting to measure up to your Angst Quotient with an attitude like that?"
"Beats me. I didn't even know I had an Angst Quotient."
"Absolutely. Essential requirement. One of our telepathic members or associates will give you a light scan at regular intervals, just to make sure you've got enough worries on your plate to fit in. Nothing riles the rest of us like an X-Man who doesn't carry her fair share of emotional burdens!"
"Oh. Okay, then. The first time I go out on a date with a cute guy, I won't tell him right away that I'm 'Capacitor of the X-Men.' (Assuming I get the job in the first place.) The whole secret identity schtick, okay? Loads of Angst Potential in that!"
"Secret identities? Does anyone still do it that way?"
"I intend to," Carla said pointedly. "I'm a very old-fashioned girl in some ways. And I believe in personal privacy. If that doesn't suit you, I can walk."
Forge glanced back at the window where Mychelle was showing him their current hiring quota. One more well-educated female with an unusual ethnic heritage would fill a couple of conspicuous gaps very neatly. "Okay. I guess we can rig up a mask for you when we get your costume worked out. But first please go down that corridor to the last room on the left, and a doctor will give you a physical so we can make sure you're fit for duty with one of our field teams. If you are, then once you sign on the dotted line, you'll have all sorts of medical coverage for any injuries, diseases, etc., that may occur later on. That includes—" He broke off as Hank kicked his shin (the flesh-and-blood one!) under the table. "Er, dental work, and all sorts of other little things that might come up," Forge finished weakly.
"Got it!" Carla grinned and headed down the corridor.
When she was far enough away, Hank whispered in Forge's ear, "You were about to mention that the group health plan includes free silicone implants for any of our distaff members who are slightly disadvantaged in certain areas of their anatomy, in order to keep up our glamorous, sexy image, weren't you?"
"I was toying with the idea."
"Trust me on this: She didn't want to hear it. If, after making unfavorable comparisons between herself and most of the other grown women under this roof, she decides she's interested, that will be splendiferous! But until then, I suggest she'd not appreciate criticism on her physical appearance from a couple of males she's barely met!"
Forge pondered that. "You're probably right. She just wouldn't understand we were only trying to be helpful."
Author's Note: I wrote the first draft of this a long time ago, and then forgot about it! Today I stumbled across it on my hard drive, polished it up quite a bit (I hope), and decided to post the silly thing. My rough draft included notes for several additional chapters, as Capacitor, a relatively 'normal' red-blooded Iowa girl, learns all the peculiarities of the 'X-Men subculture.' Of course, I'm likelier to feel motivated to write and post more of the silly things if people actually seem at least mildly amused by this first installment.