It's ten o'clock. Do you know where your children are?
Professor Charles Xavier does. We're all sprawled on couches and floor in front of the giant television in the entertainment room. And we're watching the news.
Most of us - okay, Piotr, Henry, and I - will watch it on a regular basis. But tonight's perfect attendance is due to a homework assignment from the Professor. And it's not hard to see why.
"Tempers flared today in Washington Square Park as protesters and clashed with the members of the Friends of Humanity as the human rights organization marched in opposition to NYU's recently announced Department of Mutant Studies," the carefully coiffed news anchor reads.
We see footage of what looks to have been a small but lively free-for-all. Banners waving on broomstick standards, megaphones, and the intermixing of preppy NYU students and Goth-punk-Hitler Youth chic favored by the FoH.
"The Sentinels aren't enough," a young man -- a teenager, really -- growls, not looking at the camera but instead at the mayhem going on around him. I've seen him in the footage before; he's one of the local lieutenants for the FoH as can be evidenced from the t-shirt tucked neatly into black pants that are in turn tucked into combat boots. He's got blond, spiky hair and he's got his eyebrow and nose pieced and he looks to be wearing Goth-style eyeliner. He turns to face the camera and his gaze is intense.
"The government should stop being so afraid of the opinions of the leftists that hole up in places like this," he sneers, sounding much older than he must be. "These are the same weaklings that protested Vietnam only because they were afraid they'd have to fight themselves. They're nothing. Cowards. The government should follow through on its promise and eradicate every single mutant in the country - and the world. They are a danger to everyone and the longer mutants are allowed to roam free, the longer we will all be at risk."
"You know, he'd be cute if he wasn't such a raging moron," Jean says idly from her space next to me on the couch. "The eyeliner works for him. Sets off those beautiful blue eyes..."
"He's not a moron," I counter. "That's the problem. There's a brain underneath all that hatred. We'd be a lot better off - and a lot safer - if he was just some dumbass who took the ferry in from Staten Island 'cuz he was bored."
"Fourteen people were arrested and six were taken to the hospital for minor injuries after the violence erupted shortly after two in the afternoon," the anchor continues, "The Dean of Students at NYU, Roger Hagrew, told reporters that the University was greatly saddened by the day's events."
"New York University is proud of its mission to further education and understanding," Hagrew, a middle-aged man who looks distinctly unhappy at having to be where he is, intones. "We are disappointed that members of our New York community do not share in our pride, but we will not be intimidated by them."
The video goes back to the studio. "While many major universities now have mutant culture courses, last week NYU became the first American school to create a separate department for the study of so-called 'homo superior' and it's society. Starting next semester, undergraduates will be able to major in Mutant Studies and University President Vishwala Sanders told reporters that she'd like to see the graduate division open by 2003."
"Since last week, NYU has been the subject of numerous demonstrations and today's events mark the second time police have been forced to don riot gear to quell the violence."
"I don't want to be confused with those idiots," a young woman in her late-twenties, dressed in the unofficial uniform of the Village (i.e., all black) tells the camera. "But I have to admit to being a little scared. I have no problem with mutants. I like mutants. But I live in a building with a lot of NYU students and I don't want my home destroyed because Sentinels think some of them might be mutants just because they're studying them."
"It's good to know that NIMBY lives on," Ororo spits out. She's flopped across the loveseat, her top half across Henry's lap and her hands holding one of his enormous paws.
"What's that?" Bobby asks from the floor. He's got popcorn. This is entertainment as far as he's concerned.
"Not In My Back Yard," Ororo explains. "Everyone loves everyone else until they want to move next door."
The news moves on to other things. By the time they get around to the weather, Jean has disappeared. Ororo offers up a challenge to the perky blonde meteorologist - "What do you want to bet it's going to rain tomorrow, cornbread?" - when the weather comes on and Piotr makes all of us be quiet for the two seconds of hockey coverage on the sports report.
It's the early news, so it's only eleven when it's over. Bobby takes over the remote control and turns it to one of the sports stations for the baseball program and the rest of us flee. Except for Piotr, who promised Bobby that he'd try to learn about baseball before continuing to decry it as a non-sport played by weak-willed, overweight Americans.
"Scott," I hear Professor Xavier call me as I pass by his study. "A moment please?"
I come in and am motioned in to one of the chairs by the fireplace. Professor X is in the other - he moves himself from seat to seat for variety, he says.
"I'm going to have to ask you to be Cyclops for a little while tonight," he begins as he hands me a manila folder.
I nod. Our sort of business - whatever it may be - doesn't lend itself to normal working hours.
The fire - a small one, it's still cool out and I know Professor Xavier likes to keep the windows open if he can - crackles quietly as I take the envelope and settle in.
Inside the folder are photographs of the FoH lieutenant who was on television before. Alex X. Black-and-white close-ups, surveillance photos it looks like. Someone's been tailing this kid.
"That's why you wanted us to watch," I ask, not really making it a question. "So that everyone would see him in his natural environment."
"Indeed," he agrees, frowning at the cat as she edges towards the fireplace. "He is going to be the focus of a very delicate, very dangerous mission."
"Dangerous? We've handled FoH before," I protest. I know better than to scoff at danger and Professor X doesn't throw that word around lightly. But still.
There is a tea service set up and I shake my head at the Professor's silent offer. Even a little caffeine this late at night and I'm going to be up until all hours.
"What can you tell me about this young man from what you saw on the news tonight?" The Professor asks me in his teacher's voice.
"He's bright. Really bright. Probably a straight-A student until he fell in with the FoH. They normally don't put kids in charge unless there's a reason," I report. "He's violent, but selectively so. He looks like he's smart enough to conserve his energy."
"He's also a mutant," Professor Xavier adds and I don't bother to hide my surprise. "Oh, you can look shocked, Scott. It will be a surprise to him, too."
"You found him with Cerebro?"
"Yes," he confirms. "His signature is erratic, which is consistent with mutants whose powers have yet to manifest."
"So you have no idea what he could do?" I ask and the Professor shakes his head sadly.
Great. We're going to have to get him here before he manifests. Which means we're going to have to kidnap an FoH lieutenant who just happens to be brighter than the average bear. Something's bothering me, though...
"There's something else, isn't there?"
"His records are there," Professor X says as he points to the folder in my hands.
I shuffle the photos to the side and see what is the academic record of one Alexander Summers.
"No." I can feel the bile rising in me. This can't be him. Not Alex...
"I'm afraid so, Scott." Kindly, like I'm going to break.
Perversely, that only pushes me further. "How long have you known? How long have you known that my brother - the one relative I have in this world - is not only alive but living in the same fucking city?"
Xavier weathers my storm like the telepath-and-trained-shrink that he is. "What good would it have done you?" he asks once he can sense my anger has crested. "He hates mutants. He hates you. He'd kill you if he could and knowing that you were his brother would not make any difference. Would have made it worse, if anything."
"I didn't need to hang out with him," I yell back, standing up with the folder clutched tightly in my hand. "I just would have liked to know that he's okay. That he's happy."
"You wouldn't have been able to just let him be, Scott," he replies mildly, replacing his teacup in its saucer without taking a sip. "You know that. You'd have wanted to rescue him from himself..."
"And now I can," I sneer. "How convenient."
"We'll have a briefing tomorrow morning," Professor Xavier looks up at me as if I was merely stretching. Still with that endless patience. "I wanted you to have the material in advance. See if you can't come up with a few ideas."
"You want me to treat this like any other op?" I ask in pure disbelief.
"Absolutely not. But I will respect your decision to do so before the others."
I start. "How did... you're fucking with my head again, aren't you?"
"No, Scott, I'm not," he says, the tiniest tremor in his voice giving lie to that flawlessly calm façade. He knows that's where my greatest anger lies and we both know that's where his guilt lies. "I'm not even reading your thoughts despite the fact that you're 'shouting' them at me. But we both know that our group would function better without the added distraction and we both know that you're a very private man. It will come out in due course and you'll deal with it then."
I nod curtly, accepting the explanation for what it is. I'm still angry - still pissed off to the extreme - but I'm edging into leader mode now. Cyclops is less inclined to let anger get in the way of plotting strategy. "What time tomorrow?"
"Eleven. And I'm rescheduling your workout until afterwards," he replies and I can see the tension between his eyebrows lessen a bit. "We also both know that you're not getting to sleep at any decent hour tonight. There's no use wasting the workout."