Chapter Two: First Fitting and First Alarm
The physical was no problem. Carla had been on the women's swimming team in college, and even before that she had spent the first eighteen years of her life in the home of a father who firmly believed that personal fitness was next to godliness. (Just ahead of such secondary matters as cleanliness and orderliness, although those were not to be neglected either! Mom had disagreed slightly with his priorities, but in practice they combined forces to make their kids toe the line in all three areas—and others—to their mutual satisfaction.)
No chronic medical conditions to speak of (beyond a couple of minor allergies); no damaged or missing body parts; good vision; normal hearing; decent blood pressure . . . Nurse Ghazikhanian said she was in excellent shape, and Carla got the distinct impression that the lack of blatant peculiarities in her metabolism was refreshingly normal by local standards, although the nurse didn't put it quite that way.
None of which came as a surprise. Carla had been having regular physicals for years without telling the medical professionals that she knew she was a mutant. Thus far, no doctor or nurse had ever screamed in horror at anything they found when they examined her respiration, heartbeat, body temperature, etc. Of course, if she had ever been channeling electricity at the same time, it could have gotten awkward. But as long as she didn't, everything always registered as "normal."
The nurse gave her a clean bill of health and directed her toward the Costuming Section of the school.
Costuming was currently being run by a plump, middle-aged black woman sitting behind a desk. She didn't say whether she was a mutant, and Carla didn't feel like asking on such short acquaintance.
The lady glanced at a computer screen. "Carla Nemcova, AKA Capacitor?"
"Call me Jessie; everyone does." They discussed sizes and measurements. Jessie appeared to have a very keen eye for gauging what a woman usually wore. She finally swiveled around on her chair and reached into a cubicle in the wall behind her. "Okay, we'll start you off with one of the standard models—this ought to be your size, close enough." She pulled a folded bundle out of a pigeonhole, stood up, and shook it out onto the desktop for examination. "Later, after you're a fully trained member in good standing, you can fiddle around with just about any design that suits your personal taste."
Carla looked at it. The costume was mostly navy-blue, designed to cover everything below the head, with yellow gloves, yellow boots, yellow shorts over the pants (why?), and a yellow slash coming down the front of the torso, tapering as it descended toward the waist.
Jessie said helpfully, "Bulletproof—as much as anything fabric-weight ever is, in this wicked world—but this variation is not electrically insulated. According to the notes Forge sent over to me, the off chance of getting electrocuted in the line of duty will be the least of your worries! About as likely as Iceman collapsing from hypothermia!"
Carla nodded. "It would be a real pain if I tried to generate lightning from my hands when I was wearing fully insulated gloves. Wouldn't hurt me particularly, but it would annoy me. More to the point, it wouldn't hurt the baddie I was aiming at!"
Jessie paused. "By the way—does it have to be from your hands?"
"Strictly speaking, no. In a pinch, I can make it crackle around my whole body, or just my head, or whatever. But it seems to work a lot better—range, accuracy—when I direct the flow with my fingers."
"Interesting. I wonder if the same part of your brain that's responsible for manual dexterity has learned to do double-duty to treat electric current as if it were an extension of your arms?"
"Could be! I've wondered the same thing, but I've never asked anyone to hook me up to an EEG and test which bits of my brain are most active when I'm using my powers. That would require telling them I had powers in the first place! Until now, I've kept that strictly within the family."
"One other question—are you sure that even noninsulated full gloves are really suitable for your purposes? I mean to say, if your power burns holes right through the fingertips every time you use it, we might want to just cut the fingertips off and save time."
Carla thought about that. "I'm not sure. I don't remember ever ruining any clothes when I channeled current. But I wasn't usually wearing gloves, or any outfit that tightly covered every square inch of skin below my head for that matter. I suppose airflow or something could make a difference in performance. Does that sort of thing happen often around here? People shredding their own costumes by sheer accident?"
"Honey, everything happens around here sooner or later and more than once! Would you believe that I used to think death was a fairly permanent condition?"
Carla blinked. Then she decided to stick to the main topic and worry about the "death" remark later. "Why don't I change into the costume, gloves and all, and then do a couple of quick tests. If anything needs to be retailored for efficiency, we might as well find out now!"
"Sensible girl! You can change over there." She beckoned to a corner booth that was curtained off. Carla was not terribly shy about changing clothes when only her fellow females were present, but she took the hint and carried the new Costume, X-Men, Standard Color Scheme, Noninsulated in with her and started the process of changing.
Whoever had designed this model of costume had done a fairly good job. A woman could, in fact, get the whole thing on by herself without needing a friend to button her up the back or anything like that. Carla got the major pieces on before fiddling with the boots and then finally the gloves. Sleeves on her arms and legs were just the right length; the seat of the pants was not ridiculously tight; it was actually a bit loose around the chest but that wasn't the end of the world.
She flexed her hands inside the gloves. Even individual fingers of the yellow gloves might be bulletproof (or at least highly resistant to impact and cutting edges) if she had understood properly, but in that case their material was incredibly thin for the stated purpose. She could already tell that with a little practice to learn to compensate, the loss of dexterity would be small, almost trivial, for anything but the most delicate tasks. She thought she could type 75 words per minute in these gloves if she had to, or scrub dishes, or even—as a worst-case scenario—change a colicky baby's dirty diaper without hurting the tiny tot by accident!
(She had heard, vaguely, about Shi'ar technology that could do things terrestrial engineering couldn't, or not in such a compact and cost-effective way as the Shi'ar approach. Was any of that involved in the manufacture and operation of these outfits? She could ask Forge later. Heck, there was probably a whole seminar on the proper care and feeding of your costume!)
She stepped out of the booth. Jessie beamed at her. "It suits you well, dear! I just see one or two places I might want to tuck it in a little after you're done trying it out!"
Carla pointed both index fingers straight up and projected two cute little lightning bolts, about three inches long, from the gloved fingertips. Nothing awful happened. She stared down at her legs and created an electric arc spanning the gap between her right and left knees. She let the arc grow brighter and brighter, crackling louder and louder in the air . . . then banished it. She hadn't felt enough resistance to worry about, and the material showed no signs of wear and tear.
"Looks good! I suppose I can hike out in the woods and really exert myself later, but so far I don't see any signs of trouble. One thing, though—if I'm going to wear this on missions out in the field, I will want some sort of facemask to go with it. Do you keep any in inventory?"
Jessie opened her mouth to say something—and was cut off as a cold voice (synthesized?) suddenly filled the air.
INTRUDER ALERT. INTRUDER ALERT. CHRONOSPATIAL ANOMALY IN THE MAIN HALL. ANY AVAILABLE X-MEN PLEASE CONVERGE ON MAIN HALL.
Carla had no objections to seeing her very first Chronospatial Anomaly, but wondered if she was properly included in a blanket summons of "any available X-Men" just yet. Beast and Forge would recognize her, but they might not be the first responders. Would other X-Men, upon seeing a total stranger approaching (wearing one of their own suits), think she was part of the solution or assume she was part of the problem? And what was the protocol for handling an Intruder who was probably emerging from a Chronospatial Anomaly? She had received zero training at the school thus far—
"Well, what are you waiting for, honey? You've got powers and costume; go see what all the fuss is about!"
"Love to, but I've only been here for about an hour. Hardly anyone knows me. What if the X-Men think I triggered that alarm?"
"Nonsense, honey, anyone with eyes in his head will see you just aren't the type to be mixed up in anything so downright rude as an unscheduled Chronospatial Anomaly in the Main Hall!"
Carla grappled with that reasoning and then decided to defer to the advice of an experienced local resident instead of arguing the point at length. It's your first day, girl. Respect the House Rules until you understand them better. Assume that staffers giving advice know what they're talking about! "Right, then. I'm on my way!"
It's Capacitor now, she told herself as she sprinted down the corridor. Better get used to thinking of yourself that way when you're on the job, girl!
Capacitor emerged into the main hall. Over by the same table where she had been interviewed about an hour earlier, a brown-haired guy in red shades and a tall slinky blond woman were facing off with a green-haired figure who was gesturing wildly and seemed to be the one who was completely out of place. They weren't actually trying to hurt each other, not that the naked eye could see, anyway. Capacitor stepped away from the mouth of the corridor that had brought her here (so she wouldn't be trampled by any big husky males who might be following in her wake) and swept the rest of the hall with her vision. No one else who looked like a wild-eyed intruder; no sprawled bodies or bloodstains; no broken windows . . . then her vision was blocked for a moment by a cloud of smoke that suddenly materialized a few feet in front of her nose—emitting a strong odor of brimstone and a noise: BAMF!
She might have panicked if she hadn't previously read about the guy who was now falling from the cloud, uncurling from the ball he had been rolled into, in time to make a smooth four-point landing on the floor. Dark blue fur on his face and even darker hair above it (plastered to his head as if he'd been in the shower a minute ago), pointed ears, eyes that looked solid yellow, and there was something odd about his extremities . . . were there only three digits on each hand and each foot, in unusual configurations? He was facing in her direction, so she couldn't clearly see the tail at first, but she already knew it had to be there.
"Fraulein?" he inquired, raising his eyebrows as his gaze swept over her pristine uniform. "A new recruit?"
"Yes; Capacitor. And you're obviously Nightcrawler. I just got here a moment ahead of you, but I think the Intruder is the loud one over there." She pointed with her chin in the appropriate direction.
Carla didn't know (but would later learn) that Red-shades and Slinky Blond (as she was thinking of them at this moment, not knowing any better names) had started their own shift at the recruiting table shortly after her own interview. Hank and Forge had only agreed to pull a three-hour shift together, then they had to get back to their respective labs to fiddle with whatever it was they fiddled with in their creative moments. Hank had left behind the remains of a box of doughnuts.
The strange apparition who was ranting at the current recruiting team appeared to be a Caucasian male, but with dark green hair and shaggy beard, and an extravagant, even psychedelic outfit that appeared to combine splashes of every loud color the designer could think of, in random combinations. In cut, some of the clothes looked vaguely like things that would be worn by a character running around Renaissance Italy in a Hollywood extravaganza. Other items didn't.
He had apparently tried to explain something to Red-shades and Slinky Blond already and failed on the first pass, and now he was raising his voice higher as he gave it another go. "Assuredly we have calculated all the ramifications, retrograde! Monocular must refrain from assimilating the excess material or else a consecution of calamitous oscillations shall culminate in a most infelicitous causatum!"
Red-shades was frowning. "Is it just me, or does this guy sound like he swallowed a thesaurus in one gulp and it's desperately trying to fight its way back out before it drowns?"
Slinky Blond was coping better. "I believe I got most of his message that time, Scott. If we assume that he's using 'Monocular' as a synonym for 'Cyclops,' then he appears to be warning you that assimilating too much of something, nature unspecified, would be an extremely bad move because of a future chain of cause-and-effect, which his people managed to analyze by working backwards after the event. I think."
Scott (as Red-shades must be named) scowled. "Then why couldn't he say so? Why call me Monocular instead of plain Cyclops? Who ever heard of a causatum?"
Good questions, Capacitor conceded. She thought she was starting to grasp the situation. The green-haired stranger was speaking English, technically—but an English in which he never used a common short word if an obscure polysyllable could theoretically also get the job done. A man who was actually fluent in the language would never do it that way if he had something really important to convey. So perhaps the details of what she heard were largely outside the speaker's control. A translator program that was bound and determined to make full use of its rich vocabulary, perhaps? Even at the expense of any hope of clear communication? She wondered how oddball their Modern English sounded when it ran through the translation filter and reached the visitor's ears in his native tongue.
Slinky Blond might have been thinking along very similar lines. She said, in a tone that was probably meant to be soothing, "Sir, I can't touch your mind at the moment—but if you will open it to me, we can circumvent the language barrier entirely and resolve this in a jiffy!"
"Negatory!" he bellowed. "Maintain psionic hindrances, mandatory! Theoreticians asseverated absolute necessity that quondam events persevere unpolluted by fallout from vaticinations, to utmost degree practicable!"
Scott sighed. "I hate to admit it, but I'm actually starting to understand him. The essence was: No mind-contact because he doesn't want to reveal details of the future to us and change too much stuff at once?"
"Bullseye!" said Slinky Blond.
Scott appeared to have his bearings now. He said firmly, "It's not as if we've never faced similar situations. We can get by without telepathy. He seems to be all uptight about my 'assimilating' something, so let's run with that. Then he can go back where he came from."
Other X-Men had appeared from various directions, and, seeing the general lack of bloodshed at the moment, were standing around watching intently. Capacitor was drifting across toward the table, wanting to be closer to the action. If everything went south, she could try her luck at shorting out any high-tech doodads the stranger was carrying.
Slinky Blond said, "Sir, what is that you want Cyclops to definitely not do?"
"Not eventuate catastrophic butterfly effect! Rather, ameliorate crisis otherwise foreordained! And all because of excessive sanguinary saccharine triggered by rash assimilation of comestible our Prime Postcognitive denominates 'surplus torus, glucose-filmed!'"
Maybe none of the other X-Men in sight remembered their basic chemistry and topology right away. Or maybe they just couldn't see what Capacitor could from her new angle near the table.
Capacitor picked up the last glazed donut in the box and took a bite out of it.
"Hey!" Scott said indignantly. "I wanted—" He broke off as it dawned on him.
"Actualization!" howled the visitor. "Voluminous indebtedness, Condenser!" He flashed all the colors of the rainbow and then vanished with a pop!
CHRONOSPATIAL ANOMALY IN MAIN HALL. RECENT INTRUDER IS NO LONGER WITHIN SENSOR RANGE, said the artificial voice helpfully, telling the various mutants in the Main Hall nothing they hadn't already worked out for themselves.
Capacitor took another bite out of the donut, just to be on the safe side.
Nightcrawler asked, "Did he call you Condenser?"
"I think he meant Success! Many thanks, Capacitor. 'Condenser' is another name for a 'capacitor.' So I guess he recognized me from some future history book. Someone did an incredibly bad job of programming his language translation software, is all I can say."
"Almost as if they were trying to sabotage his mission," Scott mused. "Unless he hailed from so many centuries in the future that nobody had a clue how real people use the English language in real conversations?"
Beast had witnessed the tail end of the conversation. He said, "Either hypothesis is feasible. His reference to sanguinary saccharine was indubitably an awkward translation of the catchphrase 'blood sugar.' My best guesstimate? Had you consumed the last doughnut, Scott, it would affect your blood sugar just sufficiently to alter your mood, reaction time, etc., in some almost imperceptible way, but adequate to ensure that your behavior in an impending situation would have at least a modicum of difference from what otherwise would have transpired. Which would influence someone else, which would influence something else, which would change the timing of some other event, which would ultimately lead to something terrible happening which subsequently motivated our recent guest to invest whatever resources were necessary to trace the problem to a root source, and then plan and bring about his temporal pilgrimage."
(For one awful moment, Capacitor thought the green-haired thesaurus guy's influence had rubbed off on Hank, like a virus. Then she realized, from the lack of concern on other faces, that for him this must be normal. And more comprehensible because he more-or-less knew how to pace himself where big words were concerned.)
"Good work, Fraulein!" Nightcrawler said pleasantly. "You may have just saved billions of human beings, thousands of years in the future, from living under the awful yoke of oppression that, er, somebody-or-other would have imposed upon them if you hadn't snatched that doughnut out from under Scott's nose! Saving the world a few millennia ahead of schedule?"
Slinky Blond added, "On the other hand, you may have only prevented that poor man's favorite pet animal from dying of a rare disease when the owner was just a soft-hearted eight-year-old urchin. So that he spent the next umpteen years financing research into a way to undo that particular twist of fate without ruining his whole future civilization in the process. Who knows?"
Nightcrawler gave her a dirty look, then grinned at Capacitor as he said, "All in all, though, a good first day at the mansion! You got off lightly! My first day with Herr Professor and the gang, we all had to run off and fight Krakoa, the living island, to pull the original team's fat out of the fire!"
"Lightly so far," Slinky Blond said blandly. "Midnight is still a long way off; who knows what else might happen?"
This was the kind of pep talk Capacitor could do without. She was still trying to sort out what had just happened, which provided a convenient excuse to change the subject. "So Mister Green-Haired Thesaurus was acting like Michael J. Fox in those old 'Back to the Future' movies? But in that case, if he made the change he thought he wanted, is he going to return to a recognizable-but-improved version of his own native era, or is he going to cease to exist, or what?"
"We may never know, Fraulein. Anything is possible. This is probably a case where 'no news is good news!' I remember the first time we tried to 'rewrite future history'—this was back when Senator Robert Kelly was running for the Presidency of the United States—"
Nightcrawler started educating her about something the X-Men had ended up labeling in their archives with the catchy title "Days of Future Past." Capacitor listened politely, saying little, trying to take it all in before she started asking too many silly questions about the implications.
An hour later, most of the adults currently in the Mansion, X-Men or otherwise, were gathered together in one classroom. Forge was behind the desk at the front that was obviously the "teacher's seat." He had his trusty laptop, Mychelle, up and running. Carla (back in mufti, and not thinking of herself as Capacitor now that the 'crisis' had been averted) had no idea what the purpose of this meeting was, but as a brand new probationary X-Man, she had been "invited" to attend. There were at least two other probationers present whose faces looked just as curious as she felt.
Forge said, "All right, I think Hank and I have isolated our strange visitor's DNA from molecules of saliva that he left hovering in the air when he vanished. And now it's time for the most important thing we do after any Time-Displaced Visitor stumbles into our lives. . . ."
Some of the veteran X-Men tensed, obviously anticipating whatever must come next. Carla braced herself for something incredibly brilliant and esoteric that she probably wouldn't completely understand the first time she witnessed it—but she intended to learn!
Forge said firmly, "Yes, ladies and gentlemen and miscellaneous others, it's time to settle the bets."
Thinking it over, she half-expected snickers from the audience, but there weren't any. He's serious?
Forge muttered something to Mychelle and a spreadsheet popped up on the screen. "Okay, some of you were betting that our next Unexpected Time-Displaced Visitor would be a genetic member of the Summers and/or Grey families within the degree of a second cousin or great-great-grandchild of any members we already know, or any closer relationship! You all lose!"
Beast, Northstar, and Iceman groaned theatrically.
Forge continued. "Furthermore, he didn't even claim to be related to Scott or Jean!"
Archangel sighed. Emma shook her head sadly. Jean smiled sweetly.
Forge added pointedly, "Nor of anyone we ever heard of, for that matter!" Beast groaned again. Iceman muttered something about betting the same way as before, regarding the next Time-Displaced Visitor, and making up his losses.
Forge moved on. "He didn't physically attack anyone during his brief time with us." Wolverine snorted, as if he didn't care that his prediction had fallen flat. Nightcrawler, more optimistic about these things, appeared very happy.
"And the total length of his intrusion in our timeframe was only five minutes, thirty-three seconds. The shortest duration that anyone bet on in the pool for that subject was . . . seven minutes exactly! Kitty came closest, so she takes that entire pool for herself! Pity she isn't here right now to enjoy the moment!"
Forge did something and a big wallscreen lit up with the names of the winners in different categories, as well as the quantities they would collect from the "bank" of the various related pools for predicting what would happen with Time-Displaced Visitors. Carla was not a gambling woman; her interest was purely academic; but she glanced it over and noticed that Kitty, for instance, was only due to collect a grand total of twenty-six dollars. Jean would receive twelve, and so forth. Presumably nobody was going to starve because of their tiny personal losses. (Did each participant only kick in, say, one or two dollars max to each betting pool in which he wanted to play? That would keep the cash flow from getting out of control and causing terrible grudges on the part of painfully impoverished losers.) Carla suddenly suspected that you didn't bet on these things to win money; you bet on them to win bragging rights!
Author's Note: This story is set somewhere around the X-Men continuity of the first three or four years of the current century . . . but I haven't made up my mind exactly when. So far I haven't mentioned Xorneto at all, but I do figure that Jean is still alive (not that she's gotten any dialogue yet), so wherever we are, it must be before the final portion of Morrison's run. The general idea is anything that was published in the Twentieth Century in the X-Titles is fair game if I have read it and if I want to refer to it as an event that already happened well before Carla's arrival; something that she probably knows little or nothing about, but which is still remembered vividly by seasoned veterans among the X-Men. Also, a point on costumes: I assume, for my own reasons, that Carla is issued the same sort of bulletproof standard-color-scheme X-Men costume that the X-Men started wearing toward the end of Claremont's first long run on "Uncanny X-Men," back in the early 1990s. If that is not actually what they would have issued a new probationary member in the comics of just a few years ago, then I'm sorry but I'm sticking to my guns on this one:)