|           Ongoing...|
by Duncan Johnson
The camper van sidled gently into the car park, settled itself and then slept.
Charles turned round in his seat to address his passengers.
'I've got to go and pick up some supplies,' he explained. 'I won't be long.'
One of the passengers raised her hand.
'But what if someone comes looking for us?' she asked.
'No one can see you in here,' Charles promised, tapping on the blacked out windows. 'So long as you stay put you'll be safe. And once we get going again we won't stop until the coast.'
'And you're there'll be a boat ready?' another passenger asked, his voice a hoarse whisper. 'I mean, I know you said and I trust you, but it's everyone else I worry about.'
'The boat will be there,' Charles assured him. 'I have a way of persuading people.'
Riding shotgun, Amelia cleared her throat pointedly.
Charles gave her a pitying glance.
'I need some air,' she said, stepping down from the vehicle.
Charles got out on his side and hurried round the van to join her.
'Amy,' he began, 'I'd prefer it if you stayed here to keep an eye on them.'
'Have you looked at them, Charles?' Amelia asked. 'I mean really looked? I just can't be in there another minute.'
'Amy, they can't help what they are,' Charles said.
'I know,' Amy replied. 'I'm not anti them. But the thing of it is that they still turn my stomach.'
'So what do you suggest we do?' Charles asked. 'We have a responsibility-'
'What responsibility?' Amelia demanded. 'We don't owe them anything. But you have to have your moral crusade, don't you?'
Charles looked away. There were a group of teens hanging around in front of the store. They were not doing anything obviously wrong, but Charles was getting a bad vibe and he had learned to trust his intuition.
He glanced back at Amelia.
'I thought it was our crusade?' he protested. 'You never said '
Amelia ran a hand through her red hair and laughed.
'For such a big brain you can be incredibly dense, Charles,' she said. 'I love you. I want to spend time with you so hen you go off on one of your crackpot schemes I want to be with you. But I never signed up for any of this.'
'Are you saying you don't think what we're doing is worthwhile?' Charles asked plaintively.
'Of course not,' Amelia said. 'What you're doing is important and noble, but well, do we really have to be the one's to do it? We're risking our lives here.'
'Somebody has to,' Charles shot back.
'But not us,' Amelia insisted. 'We don't have to be a part of this this crusade. We could be happy, Charles.'
'Could you really be happy knowing you could have helped save someone, but didn't?'
'We have helped,' Amelia said. 'They can get to the coast themselves from here. We can say our goodbyes and get out of here before it's too late.'
'It's already too late, Amy,' Charles said. 'It was too late on the day that we were born. Do you really think they are going to differentiate between us and the people in the bus just because we look more normal?'
'They might never find us,' Amelia replied. 'We could have a normal life.'
'I I can't turn my back on them,' Charles insisted.
'Can't? Or won't?' Amelia turned her back on him. 'I can't be a part of this. Not any more. I'm going home.'
'Will you be there when I get back?' Charles stammered.
'I ' Amelia's voiced trailed off. 'I wouldn't count on it, Charles.'
Without looking back, Amelia walked hurriedly off into the distance. Charles watched her until she disappeared round a corner and out of sight.
He glanced back at the camper van. They'd be okay on their own for a few minutes surely? Then he glanced at the kids, still hanging around by the video store, sharing a cigarette.
He took another look at the van.
'Be safe,' he whispered. 'Please.'
Then he ran off in the direction Amelia had taken.
'Amy!' he shouted. 'Wait!'
The road had recently been resurfaced and gravel had scattered on to the sidewalk making footing treacherous. Charles skidded and fell to one knee. The gravel tore through both jeans and flesh, but Charles did not notice, instead getting right back up and carrying on running.
He grabbed a redhead by the shoulder.
'Amy!' he called.
The woman turned and looked at him quizzically. It was not her.
He had no time for apologies and sped right past her. Amelia could not have gone far, he kept telling himself, but her familiar figure, a figure he knew intimately, was nowhere in site.
An explosion echoed down the street. The shockwave set off several car alarms and set Charles' ears ringing. Without waiting for the noise to subside, Charles turned and ran back the way he had come, even faster than he had pursued Amelia.
He stopped when he reached the car park, falling to his knees in shock and horror.
The van was on fire, the vehicle already little more than a blackened ruin.
Charles crawled towards it. He could see a hand twitching in the blaze and he reached for it, ignoring the heat. His skin reddened and blistered as he clasped the hand. He put all his effort into trying to pull the hand's owner free of the wreckage, but he could get no purchase.
'Let it go,' a voice said in his ear. 'Let it go, man, they're gone. Nothing could have survived that.'
Strong arms wrapped themselves around him and lifted him away from the blazing wreck.
The hand twitched once more, then was still.
* * *
'Isabella, don't run so far ahead.'
Lisa Phillips watched her dog with a wry smile. The black Labrador ignored her, pounding furiously onward, revelling in her freedom from that confounding lead. A butterfly settled on Isabella's wet nose. She shook it off and then yelped at the fluttering insect. The dog leapt up, trying to catch the butterfly between her teeth, but the butterfly flew just out of reach, taunting the other animal.
Lisa paused for a moment, taking a deep draught of the damp morning air. She was an early riser and looked forward to her early morning run with Isabella almost as much as Isabella did herself. Lisa insisted on walking through the park, however. It was cut off from the busy main road and Lisa revelled in the peace and quiet. Everything seemed so much simpler here, peaceful and tranquil.
Isabella's frantic barking cut through the stillness.
Lisa looked up, but the dog was no longer in site. She must have run beyond the tree line. Lisa hurried forward, making her way through the small copse that shielded the children's play area from the wind.
'Isabella?' she called out. 'Where are you?'
Lisa wondered what could have spooked her dog. There were not going to be any kids around at this time of the morning, surely. As she forced her way out beyond the trees, Lisa had to correct herself. A small child was sitting on one of the swings. Isabella was tugging at the kid's pants' leg with her teeth, growling all the time.
'Isabella!' Lisa snapped. 'Come away from there.'
She rushed across to the swing. The play area was surfaced with loose bark chippings that crunched underfoot as she ran.
'I'm so sorry,' she said as she grabbed Isabella's collar and dragged her away. 'She didn't hurt you, did she? She's normally really friendly.'
Lisa looked up, offering the boy a weak smile.
Then she screamed.
* * *
'The peace of this community was shattered today with the discovery of the body of a child, tied to a swing and with his throat slit. As yet the child remains unidentified. Police refuse to comment on the possible circumstances of the boy's death, but this case shares similarities with six other deaths in the State of New York within the past fortnight. Detectives working on the case refuse to confirm that there may, in fact, be a serial killer at large. In the meantime, this area remains sealed while scene of crime officers continue there investigations and police are appealing for anyone who may have seen anything suspicious in the park last night, however small, to come forward.'
Governor Grayson disgustedly thrust the remote in the direction of the TV and shut off the picture.
'I see you're people have done a good job in covering up certain aspects of this mess,' she said.
'You mean that these attacks may be racially motivated?' Adams asked.
'Are racially motivated,' Grayson corrected. 'So who do you think's behind them? FOH? Purity? The Third Way?'
'All of the above?' Adams suggested. 'The fact is, Kim, that we don't know anything near enough about these groups.'
'Still, so long as we can keep the public unaware of the situation we may still be able to prevent a mass panic.'
'It may already be too late for that,' Adams said. 'People are already starting to put two and two together and realising our numbers make five.'
He threw a pile of newspapers down on Grayson's desk.
'The New York Times, page six: Genetic War on our Streets,' Adams read. 'The Daily Bugle, page four: Are Humanity's Days Numbered? And I can quote another half dozen papers with similar stories.'
'No one's going to believe this stuff,' Grayson said.
'Why not? It happens to be true.'
'We'll deny it,' Grayson insisted. 'There's not one ounce of evidence to back this up.'
'And you think the public will believe us over the tabloids?' Adams asked.
'So what do you suggest?'
'I don't see we have much choice,' Adams replied. 'We tell them the truth. After a fashion.'
* * *
'Let me get this straight, Professor,' John Hammer said. 'You're telling us that we don't need to worry that that people capable of firing laser beams from their fingertips are walking our streets. We can feel safe at night knowing that there are people out there who can walk through solid walls and into our homes. I'm sorry, Professor, but I don't feel safe at all.'
Charles Xavier leaned forward, steepling his fingers beneath his chin.
'Mr Hammer, you are blowing the issue out of proportion,' he began slowly. 'You are suggesting that just because a person is capable of something then they will do that thing. That's like saying that everyone who owns a handgun intends to use it to kill somebody. I don't see you campaigning to take away a persons right to own a gun.'
'But we license people to own guns,' Hammer went on. 'At the very least, there ought to be some registration in place for these 'mutants'.'
'For what? Being born different?' Xavier asked. He was consciously struggling to keep his voice level. He wanted to be seen as the voice of reason in opposition to Hammer's hysterical ranting. 'Do we insist on registration for athletes for being born faster or stronger than the rest of us?'
'Last time I checked, Michael Jordan couldn't turn me into a popsicle,' Hammer remarked.
This drew laughter from the studio audience. Xavier frowned.
'People have a right to feel protected,' Hammer continued. 'How can they feel safe when they're constantly wondering if their neighbour might blow up their apartment block next time he loses his temper? Answer me that.'
'I couldn't agree with you more,' Xavier replied. 'People do have a right to feel safe. However, what you seem to be forgetting, is that mutants are people too. They should have the same rights as every one else. How would you feel if the government stepped up and insisted that all human beings had to be registered?'
'Now who's missing the point?' Hammer asked. 'We're talking about people who could kill you just by looking at you here.'
'I think you'll find that non-mutants are just as capable of murder,' Xavier responded. 'Physical differences don't make one any more or less enlightened. Don't forget that the number of mutants is tiny compared with the non-mutant population. With all the fear and hatred around at the moment, who do you think has more right to be frightened?'
'I'm sorry, Professor,' Hammer said, 'but I find it hard to believe that someone who can make me think what they want is going to be scared of little old me.'
'If mutants can do that, Mr Hammer,' Xavier said, 'then ask yourself this: why haven't they?'
* * *
Sebastian Vaughan stood at the window, looking down on the people scurrying like ants below. His gloved hands rested on his silver-topped cane. His right leg had been grotesquely twisted since birth and the cane helped, though not nearly as much as Vaughan would have liked.
'Did you see the debate on television last night, Ashley?' he asked.
Ashley Campbell was perched on the corner of his desk. A glass of Scotch sat untouched next to him.
'Yes, I did,' he replied. 'That Xavier makes a pretty convincing case.'
'He's a natural orator,' Vaughan agreed, 'but it doesn't matter. People will believe what they want to believe and that usually means the worst.'
'Usually? Usually's not good enough, Sebastian,' Campbell complained. 'The mutant question is the biggest single issue in this election campaign - Grayson's made sure of that - and I need to know I can beat her.'
'Don't worry yourself so, Ashley,' Vaughan told him. 'Grayson has badly misjudged the mood of the people. She wants to be seen as the supporter of human rights, an icon of tolerance and a paragon of virtue. She wants to play the hero.'
'And that's wrong, is it?' Campbell asked.
'It's been less than twelve months since they went public regarding the existence of mutants,' Vaughan explained. 'Do you really think that's enough time for people to get used to the idea. They're not worried about such complexities as the legal status of mutated humans; they only want to know how it will affect them. Grayson may be the mutant's champion, but you well, play it right and you can be the people's.'
'You really think so?' Campbell fumbled with a cigarette packet, finally managed to remove a cigarette and lit it.
'Should you really be smoking, Ashley?' Vaughan asked with a wry smile. 'I thought your latest poll showed that eighty-seven per cent of voters preferred their candidates not to smoke?'
'Ah, yes, well '
Ashley wafted the cigarette around ineffectually.
'Relax, Ashley, your secret's safe with me,' Vaughan promised. 'Besides, if that's your only vice then I think the voters are getting off lightly. As for your campaign, you really have nothing to worry about. Thanks to Vaughan Industries generous support, you have a solution to the mutant problem.'
'How is the Guardsman Project?' Campbell asked.
'Progressing nicely,' Vaughan said, checking his watch. 'Actually, the first prototypes should be rolling off the production line any time now. We can have them ready for you press conference on Friday if you want.'
'That's probably a good idea,' Campbell agreed, 'it's just '
'Hmm? Not getting cold feet, are we, Ashley? And I thought you wanted to win.'
'I do,' Campbell insisted. 'It's just that we're pouring a lot of money into this thing-'
'Actually, I'm pouring a lot of money into this project,' Vaughan corrected him. 'Don't worry about paying me back, though. At least, not until your firmly in office, anyway.'
'Er, quite,' Campbell responded. 'As I was saying, you're spending all this money, but what if the mood of the public changes? We seem to be putting a lot of faith in their continued fear of these mutants.'
'Not at all, Ashley, not at all,' Vaughan said. 'In fact, I've taken steps to ensure that that fear will only grow.'
'Now hang on a minute, Sebastian,' Campbell began, 'I'm not sure I like where you're going with this.'
'Which is why I'm not going to tell you about it, dear boy. Plausible deniability. And by the way, we're renaming the Guardsman Project.'
'Guardsman sounds so weak,' Vaughan continued. 'We need something more dramatic, something the public will respond to. I'm thinking Sentinel.'
* * *
And some distance away, on Staten Island, a blue box wheezes and groans into existence...
* * *
From the journal of Mrs Mina Harker
I am not a vampire.
It is one of the three things that have been preying on my mind since we left England some three weeks ago. The image of that child, that thing, standing in the church pulpit and laughing at me is one that I fear I shall take to my grave. It labelled me a vampire, but I know my vampire lore and I know that that cannot be the case.
I can still walk outside during the hours of daylight.
And there the differences between my condition and that of that supernatural creature of the night end. Can I any longer consider myself to be human?
There, in a nutshell, is the second of my concerns. The creature may have highlighted my condition, but he did not change me. Well, loath as I am to speak of those events, that is not entirely the case. I cannot, no would I want to, claim that his powers did not affect me, but I do know that he left me no different than when I first arrived. Yet prior to his statements, I remained oblivious to my condition, other than a curious need to hide the twin wounds in my neck. How can that be? Surely I must have noticed when completing my morning ablutions that I had no reflection in the mirror. Every day since, the lack of such an image ha haunted me, taunting me even in my sleep, but in the days prior to that confrontation I paid it no heed. It was as if my mind was refusing to acknowledge the fact of my condition.
But all that has changed and acknowledge that state I must. If only I knew what my condition was.
I would turn to the Doctor for help and guidance, but here we arrive at the third and final of my worries. The Doctor has been avoiding me.
My travelling companion seems uncommonly bothered by my existence. I remember everything that happened while under that horrid creature's influence (and oh, how I wish that I did not) and I recall his words to the Doctor. Is my condition such an anathema to him? How I wish he would explain things to me so that I might better understand, might be able to help him as I wish he would help me, but he seems to be avoiding the issue by avoiding me. Those few times we have spoken have been short terse exchanges where he would not even meet my gaze. I would ask him to return me to my own time so that I might resume my teaching career, but he will not remain in the room with me long enough for me to form such a request.
Besides which, can I really go back to my previous life knowing what I know now?
I visited the wardrobe room this morning. The wooden walls are inlaid with mirrors, all of which seem to be laughing at me. I ignore them; after three weeks I am beginning to learn how to do that. I have decided to try a new look, something befitting my current state of mind. Three weeks ago the idea of wearing something other than a long dress would have horrified my sensibilities - sensibilities, which, I am learning, are very much rooted in the time of my birth - but now I have bigger concerns. I can consider an outfit for its practical benefits as opposed to one that suits my antiquated views on modesty.
Having dressed, I make my way through darkened corridors towards the console room. Perhaps, I think, my new image will be of passing interest to the Doctor. Or perhaps I am simply deluding myself. The corridors branch and wind in a dizzying pattern, one that I am sure changes each time I attempt this route, but I have been in the TARDIS for some time now and have learnt not to fight the machines foibles. As long as I am patient, I know that I will eventually end up where I wish to be, even if that was not where I originally intended.
This time, however, the ship and I are in agreement and I arrive in the console room after only five short minutes of travel. The Doctor is hunched over the mushroom-shaped central console, partly hidden from my sight by the wrought iron 'legs' that wrap spider-like around the dais and stretch up into the blackness overhead. A bat is fluttering round the crystalline central column. I shudder, wondering if this is an omen.
The Doctor looks up, meets my eye and hurriedly glances away.
'Ah, Mina,' he says. 'You're up early.'
It is an odd thing to say. Time does not have a lot of meaning inside a time machine. I am tempted to say as much, but then think better of it.
The Doctor looks even more drawn than usual. His narrow face is line and careworn, his eyes filled with age and sadness. His long-fingered hands dance across the controls of the time ship, but they seem to lack the energy I am used to. It is as if someone has found the fire that drives the Doctor and snuffed it out.
'I need to get something from the library,' he says. 'If you'll excuse me.'
'Doctor,' I begin and he pauses. Suddenly I have nothing to say. I know that we need to have this conversation, but I am unable to find the words I need.
I settle for something simple.
'Doctor, we need to talk.'
The Doctor looks my way and this time he does meet my gaze. If I were a more fanciful individual I might say that I could see his torment writing like a storm-ravaged sea beneath the surface of his grey-green eyes. In any event, I find myself unable to hold his stare for long.
'You're right, Mina,' he says at last. 'I'm sorry for how I've been treating you lately and we will talk about it. Just not right now, all right.'
And he forces his way past me and hurries off down the corridor. I do not bother to pursue. Instead I cross the room and examine the settings on the console. They mean nothing to me, but with the Doctor being less than forthcoming this is my only way to keep informed. Having made a mental note of the information, I settle into the armchair to wait for the Doctor's eventual return.
I do not have to wait long.
It is impossible to make out the ceiling of the console chamber. I have not yet decided whether this is because it is so high up as to be beyond the range of my vision or because the room does not have a ceiling at all. Instead, all that can normally be seen up there is impenetrable blackness. Normally. I have just made myself comfortable in my chair when the area above me suddenly explodes into life. Stars and galaxies appear on the dark blanket. As I watch I can see a comet streak from one side of the room to the other.
And then a bell begins to sound.
I have never heard that bell before, but its deep, mournful sound, assures me that it can only mean trouble. If there is any doubt it is dispelled by the sight of the Doctor darting back into the room, coat tails flying, and seizing hold of the console as if his life depends upon it. He flicks switches and consults dials with increasing alarm, an alarm that is infectious.
'Doctor,' I ask, 'what is it? What's wrong?'
'Not now, Mina,' he replies, hopping round the console like a frightened jackrabbit.
'There isn't time,' he complains, casting furtive glances at the maelstrom forming above our heads.
'Make time,' I demand.
He looks at me and there is a flash of anger in his eyes, but it passes almost as quickly as it had arrived.
'Very well,' he says. 'The short version. There's a temporal breach somewhere in the TARDIS. Vortex energy is spilling in.'
'And this is bad?'
'Put it this way,' the Doctor explains, 'if it touches you it will either age you to a crone or regress you to a baby. Or both.'
'Nasty stuff temporal energy.'
'Isn't there something we can do?' I ask. 'Can't we plug the breach somehow?'
'Regrettably not,' the Doctor replies. 'The breach is already too far advanced. That's not the problem, though.'
'No, the TARDIS can seal the breach on it's own, given time,' the Doctor continues, 'but by then the ship will be swimming in temporal energy, which won't do either of us any good at all.'
'So what are we going to do about it?' There is an edge of hysteria in my voice. I am not ashamed to admit it. It is very difficult staying calm when your life is at stake.
'Well, if I wasn't constantly being interrupted,' the Doctor snaps, 'I might try setting us down somewhere where you and I will be safe while the TARDIS rides out the storm. There! Hold on, this is going to be rough.'
He is right. I usually do not notice when the TARDIS is in flight. At present, however, the TARDIS is bucking like a wild stallion and I am thrown back into my chair with enough force to knock the breath from my lungs. The Doctor is clinging to the console like a drowning man might cling to the wreckage of his ship. It is an image I wish I could easily dispel.
Then the terrible trumpeting of materialisation begins.
* * *
'Mr and Mrs Buckingham, let me assure you that I have Sarah's best interests at heart.'
Professor Charles Xavier was sitting in his wheel chair, which was position by the fireplace in the front room of the Buckinghams' home. It was a gas fire and currently not lit. Pictures adorned the mantelpiece over the fire, including one photo of Sarah, aged six. She did not look anything like as attractive now that she had turned thirteen.
'We're still not sure that talking to you is such a good idea,' Graham Buckingham, husband and father, replied. He was sitting on the sofa, next to his wife, holding her hand in his. She had not said a word throughout the entire interview. Ororo felt that she might be more sympathetic to their case, but it was clear that it was the husband's opinion that counted. Ororo sat cross-legged on a chair near Xavier, nursing a mug of coffee in her hands. Through the window she could see the sky darkening outside, mirroring her mood.
'I understand, Mr Buckingham,' Xavier was saying, 'but it can't hurt to listen. I'm sure you'll agree that Sarah's condition has progressed to the stage where something must be done. I'm here simply to offer one option.'
Mr Buckingham scratched behind his ear with his free hand. He looked far from convinced.
'Mr Buckingham, Mrs Buckingham, I am a product of Professor Xavier's school,' Ororo said. 'I was an orphan and had to make my way as a pickpocket in order to get by. The professor found me and offered me a chance at a new life. He gave me a future I might otherwise not have had. I'm here to try and give you an insight into the workings of the school and obviously I think you should take the professor up on his offer, but nobody's going to force you into anything. All we ask is that you give us a fair hearing.'
'That's all very noble, Miss Munroe,' Mr Buckingham replied, 'and I'm glad that Professor Xavier was able to help you out, but I'm sure that you can see that your situation and my daughter's are very different. For one, Sarah isn't an orphan. She has Alice and me to support her.'
And Sarah isn't a thief, Ororo thought. That's what you want to say, isn't it.
'Yes, Sarah and Ororo come from very different backgrounds,' Xavier said, 'but I believe that Sarah's situation is actually more desperate. Ororo can hide the fact that she is a mutant, if she wishes. Sarah, on the other hand, is going to have great difficulty hiding what she is and she is going to suffer because of it, no matter how loving and supportive her parents are.'
'She's going to be a mutant whatever happens,' Mr Buckingham retorted. 'Going to a fancy school isn't going to change that.'
'No,' Xavier agreed, shaking his head sadly, 'it isn't. Your daughter will always be a mutant and, because of the nature of her mutation, that will always be apparent. My school won't change that. But it can help her to cope. My staff understand mutancy in a way parents can't, which is not to demean your contribution in any way, but it is a fact that my staff have more experience in these matters. We can help Sarah come to terms with her gift - and I firmly believe that all mutations, however they may first appear, are gifts - and help her establish her place in society. And perhaps we can help you and your wife understand your daughter's condition a little better, too.'
'My wife and I understand our daughter well enough, thank you,' Mr Buckingham snapped.
'That's not what I meant '
'We've been watching the news,' Mr Buckingham continued. 'It's getting so you can't turn the TV on anymore without hearing the word 'mutant'. We heard about that boy who was killed and apparently he's not the only one.'
'No, he isn't,' Xavier agreed quietly.
Black clouds gathered outside the window.
'It seems to me that by putting all these mutants in one place you're making yourself a target,' Mr Buckingham continued.
'My school is a school for gifted youngsters,' Xavier replied. 'The fact that those gifted youngsters are also mutants is a closely guarded secret. Those 'undesirable elements' you're concerned about are not going to learn about my school.'
'And yet you are happy to tell us all about it,' Mr Buckingham said. 'It does not reflect well on your security arrangements.'
Thunder rumbled outside.
'My security arrangements are more than adequate, Mr Buckingham,' Xavier said darkly, 'and I pity any individual that comes to my school looking for trouble.'
'Yes well, that's as may be,' Mr Buckingham stammered, 'but we still feel that Sarah will be better off with us, don't we, darling.'
Xavier turned to Ororo.
'Ororo, would you mind waiting for me outside,' he said. 'I'd like to speak to the Buckingham's alone for a minute.'
'I don't see what you hope to achieve,' Mr Buckingham protested.
'Indulge me,' Xavier said.
'Are you sure you want to wait outside, Miss Munroe,' Mrs Buckingham said quietly. 'It looks like rain.'
'I think Ororo will be just fine.'
He looked at Ororo and she acknowledged him before leaving the room.
The dark clouds were already dissipating when Professor Xavier rolled out onto the drive to join her.
'Well?' Ororo asked.
'Sarah will be joining us in the New Year,' Xavier said. 'I persuaded her parents that it was in her best interests.'
* * *
The Doctor shoves me violently through the TARDIS door, following at my heels. He whirls and I get the briefest glimpse of a roiling blue white wave charging towards us before he slams shut the doors and locks them.
He turns to me, grinning.
'You know, that was almost exciting.'
Then he catches himself and looks away.
'We'll have to find somewhere for you to stay,' he says. 'I'll come and fetch you when it's safe to go back inside.'
'You won't be staying with me?' I ask.
He does not answer.
It is cold outside and I wish that I had had a chance to get a coat. As it is, I am at least grateful that my chosen outfit includes a jacket. I shove my hands into the jacket's pockets and hurry after the Doctor as he begins to explore.
We have landed in the shadow of a temple. While I pause to appreciate the structure, the Doctor is already darting off into the garden beyond. There are a number of stone sculptures in the grounds. I recognise a few as representations of Buddha. My husband, Jonathan, used to travel a lot and he entertained me with his stories of other cultures, so, while I do not consider myself well-travelled (at least, not before my meeting with the Doctor), I am not completely ignorant of life beyond England's shores.
'Where do you suppose we are?' the Doctor says. His voice is soft and I get the impression that he is not directing the question at me, but rather to himself.
'Asia?' he muses. 'Tibet, possibly?'
I leave him to his thoughts and wander off on an exploration of my own. With all that I have experienced alongside my companion, you might think that travelling alone might not be the wisest course that I could have chosen and I would not even begin to argue with you. However, please remember that at this point I have been cooped up within the Doctor's time machine for three whole weeks. The TARDIS had landed several times during this period and on many occasions the Doctor had taken the opportunity to go outside and explore. Not once, however, had he taken me with him.
So you see, this is my first glimpse of the outside world in quite some time and I am determined to make the most of it.
Striding beyond the temple, I find myself at the top of a hill. The sun is high in the sky and I use my hand to shield my eyes from its glare as I stare out over the horizon.
'Doctor,' I call out, as something catches my eye, 'I think you should see this.'
He bounds to my side in an instant.
'Ah,' he says. 'Not Tibet then. Come on, Mina, it can't be far to the ferry.'
* * *
Xavier's School for Gifted Youngsters was closed for the Winter break. Few of the students had gone home for the holidays, however. A high proportion were runaways, strays with nowhere else to go, and for them the doors of the school were always open.
And then there were those who kept coming back by choice.
Scott Summers had not missed an Xavier's Christmas Party since enrolling there. He had been both a student and then a teacher at the school and, though he was no longer an official part of the staff, he was always welcome.
He passed a large gold star to Kurt Wagner, who was hanging by his feet from one of the wooden beams crossing the ceiling. Kurt beamed and deftly positioned the star on top of the tree.
'Perfect,' Kurt said, his voice heavy with a German accent. He released his grip on the ceiling and flipped backwards, landing cat-like on the carpet next to Scott. Kurt had been a circus acrobat before becoming part of the school.
'I'm impressed, boys.'
Both men turned to face Scott's wife, Madelyne, who was standing in the doorway admiring their handiwork.
Kurt executed a flamboyant bow before taking Madelyne's hand and kissing it.
'In that case, dear lady, all our efforts have been worthwhile,' he said.
'Careful, Kurt,' Madelyne warned him. 'You'll make my husband jealous.'
'Do I have anything to be jealous about?' Scott asked, putting his hands on either side of his wife's waist.
'What do you think?' Madelyne responded, draping her own arms over her husband's shoulders and running her fingers through his light brown hair.
'I think I'm the luckiest man alive.' Scott tipped his head forward and kissed Madelyne.
'You better believe it,' Madelyne said, when she came up for air.
This time she initiated the kiss.
'Oh, puh-lease,' Kurt complained. 'Get a room you two. If this was a video I'd fast forward through this bit to get to the big action scene, but here I'm expected to just stand here quietly while you two enjoy yourselves. Hello? Is anyone listening to me?'
Scott looked up.
'You're just jealous because Amanda couldn't make it,' he said.
Kurt folded his arms.
'Yes,' he replied. 'And you're point is?'
'How's Nathan?' Scott asked Madelyne. Nathan was their baby son.
'Asleep,' Madelyne replied. 'Finally. Is it me or is it really quiet here? I thought all the kids would be excited about Christmas, but this place is dead.'
'Everyone's out,' Scott explained. 'Peter and Logan offered to drive the kids into the city for some last minute Christmas shopping.'
'Logan?' Madelyne repeated. 'He offered to look after a bus load of children?'
'I think it's just an excuse to get out of the school,' Kurt interjected. 'I imagine Peter will end up babysitting.'
'Marie went with them, too,' Scott added, 'so they should be okay.'
'Famous last words. What about Kitty? She was all over Nathan when we arrived yesterday. I was going to ask her to baby-sit so you and I could go out tonight, but I can't find her anywhere.'
'I'm sure she'd love to,' Scott replied, 'but you'll have to wait to ask her. She's taken Rachel sightseeing.'
'Yes,' Kurt agreed, 'and knowing those two they may be gone some time.'
* * *
The ferry is crowded with people pressed shoulder to shoulder, yet somehow the Doctor has managed to find us a space at the railing. The view is spectacular, more than making up for the icy wind tearing the skin from my face. It is, therefore, a little disappointing to note that the Doctor is standing with his back to it.
'Do you know where we are?' I ask.
The Doctor grunts an affirmative.
'Have you been here before?'
'Are you planning on telling me where we are at any point?'
'We're in New York, in the United States of America. On Earth,' the Doctor replies flatly.
'I know where New York is,' I mutter. 'And how about when? It obviously isn't my time.'
'Early twenty-first century,' comes the disinterested response.
'How can you tell?'
'The skyline,' he replies.
'But you're not even looking,' I protest.
'And I prefer not to,' the Doctor snaps, before lapsing back into stubborn silence.
'Best ignore them when they're like that, honey,' the woman on my left remarks. 'My husband was the same. I up and left him in the end. You might want to think about that.'
'He's not ' I begin, then decide not to bother, settling instead for a smile and a shake of my head.
At least I can enjoy the view.
* * *
'You've said that,' Kitty remarked.
'It's so big.'
Kitty and Rachel stood at the base of the Statue of Liberty. Well, Rachel stood. Kitty had grown bored and was sitting on the grass enjoying a hot dog.
Rachel looked down at her friend.
'I'm sorry,' she said. 'Guess I'm overdoing it a bit, huh?'
'Hey, it's you're first time in New York,' Kitty replied. 'You're entitled.'
'But you must be bored stiff,' Rachel deduced, 'having seen all this stuff a zillion times before.'
'Hell no,' Kitty replied. 'Well, maybe a little. Still she is impressive, though.'
Both girls looked up at the statue.
'I've seen pictures before,' Rachel said, 'but seeing it in real life it's just wow!'
'Said that,' Rachel completed. 'I know. So, where are we going next, oh magnificent tour-guide-type-person.'
Kitty pulled a face, the pulled the folded guide book from the back pocket of her jeans. She flicked through the pages, scowling.
'Well,' Rachel prompted.
Kitty sprung to her feet.
'That way,' she said.
'That way?' Rachel repeated sceptically.
Kitty nodded firmly.
'Are you sure you know where you're going?' Rachel asked.
'Of course I'm sure,' Kitty insisted. 'The tour of New York is like a tradition for any new arrival at Xavier's. Of course I know where I'm going.'
'You haven't got a clue, have you,' Rachel responded as they began walking towards the ferry terminal.
Kitty looked over her shoulder and gave her friend a hard stare.
'I'm just saying '
'Okay, okay, have it your way,' Rachel said, conceding defeat. 'Just don't come crying to me when we get hopelessly lost.'
* * *
Craig Miller hurried along Broad Street, glancing furtively around him. He was sure that everyone was staring at him. He clutched his trenchcoat tighter around his narrow frame, less to keep the cold out as to keep something in. Sweat beaded on his forehead and his tongue had swollen within his mouth, threatening to choke him. His body was falling apart with every step he took.
Keep it together, Craigy-baby, he told himself. Not far now. Then you just do your bit and Mr Vaughan will make all that pain go away.
At least, that was the plan. At the moment it felt like he would disintegrate before he even got to where he was going and that would not do at all. The timing had to be perfect. Vaughan had said so.
The off-white stone of the New York Stock Exchange building leered down at him. Between the columns, the windows taunted him with their mocking stare. Across the street a policeman was staring at him. Had he been found out? Did they know? No, they could not know. Vaughan had planned this and Vaughan did not make mistakes.
Craig took three deep breaths, steadying his nerves the way he had been taught. He glanced at his watch. He was five minutes early. He would have to wait.
There was a newspaper vending machine on the corner of the street. Craig shuffled over to it, fumbling with his change before finally inserting the right amount and yanking the paper free. He opened it up, not really reading the news. He simply wanted something to hide behind.
His hands were slick with sweat. It pooled between his fingers and trickled down the length of his thumb to stain the newspaper. As soon as it touched the page, the bead of sweat burst into flame. The flame licked hungrily at the newspaper and Craig instinctively threw it to the ground, stamping on it to stifle the flames.
He glanced around, vainly hoping no one had noticed.
That policeman was crossing the street towards him.
He no longer had time to wait.
Mumbling a quick apology to his employer, Craig Miller threw off his trenchcoat. His body was covered with sweat and, exposed to air, that sweat suddenly burst into flame. Craig did not feel the heat.
He laughed, then remembered that he was supposed to be giving some kind of speech. What was it?
'Human scum,' he began. His voice was amplified by the microphone attached to his throat and it echoed around the buildings in a way Craig decided he quite liked.
'Human scum,' he repeated, 'I am Fever Pitch and I represent Mutant America. You'll know all about us from, er, watching the news and stuff.' He was losing his thread, Craig knew, but damn, that amplified voice was impressive. Already pedestrians were running screaming away from him. A few brave souls had run towards him, but the heat emanating from his body had driven them back.
'I am a mutant,' he continued, 'the next stage of human evolution and I'm here to give you an ulti ultim warning. We are taking over this planet. Humanity has had its chance and it's time to give someone else a go. We're going to wipe you out, just see if we don't.'
He pointed at the front of the Stock Exchange and a ball of flame shot from his fingertips to strike one of the columns. The stone crumbled and fell, crashing down on to the sidewalk and sending the people below scattering for cover.
This was fun.
* * *
Now that we have disembarked the ferry, the Doctor is striding into the city. I practically have to run to keep up, but the Doctor ignores my pleas to slow down. Buildings tower on either side of us and I wish I had time to appreciate them, but I dare not lose site of the Doctor as he twists he way haphazardly through the city streets. Everywhere there is noise, from the chatter of the people to the blare of the vehicles and I wish I had a chance to rest, but the Doctor is always pressing forward and it is all I can do to follow in his wake.
Then he stops and I collide with the back of his velvet jacket.
'What the ' I begin, but he shushes me, cocking his head to one side as if listening.
I am at a loss to explain how he expects to single out one sound out of the multitude intermingling in this cacophony, but then I hear it to, like the rumbling of a thunderstorm only not.
Now the Doctor is running and I am dogging his heels, glad that I have chosen not to wear one of my dresses. We seem to be going against the current, with people hurtling past us in the opposite direction, but the Doctor continues to forge his way through and, in doing so, makes the going a little easier for me as well.
As we round a corner, I have to shield my eyes from the glare. I squint, trying to take in the scene as quickly as possible. There is a man standing on the pavement - or is it sidewalk here? - and he is on fire, but he does not appear to be in pain. Rather, he is laughing as if enjoying himself. I have heard that laughter before, coming from the mouths of toddlers pulling the wings off flies. The destructive imagery is not inappropriate as I watch the man hurl a ball of flame at a nearby building, smashing free a large chunk of masonry. A girl is standing beneath the falling stone. As it tumbles towards her, I have time to take in her strawberry-blonde hair, adorned with blue ribbon, her pretty green dress with lace at the collar and cuffs and the battered rag doll under her arm. And yet I cannot move my feet to save her.
This is not a problem for my companion, however.
While I stand rooted to the spot, he has hurled himself across the street and is even now scooping the little girl into his arms. Just before the stone hits, the Doctor leaps clear. The stone strikes the pavement (sidewalk) and shatters, unleashing an enormous cloud of grey dust. When this begins to clear, however, I can see that my friend is safe, albeit looking slightly the worse for wear, and is passing the child into the arms of its grateful mother.
The street is now almost empty of pedestrians, though there are a small group off to my left. One of them is holding something on his shoulder and pointing it at the flaming man. A camera, perhaps?
I do not have time to ponder this further, since the Doctor is now approaching the fiery creature and I feel compelled to go and help him. Why this should be the case, I do not know, but I have seen the Doctor exert this influence on others and can only put it down to some indefinable facet of his character. It certainly cannot be is winning personality if the last few weeks are anything to go by.
'What do you think you're doing?' the Doctor demands. 'You're going to get people killed.'
'They're only humans,' the man replies. 'It's not like they count.'
There is something hesitant in his delivery, as if he doesnt quite believe what he's saying.
'Only humans?' the Doctor repeats. 'What are you?'
'I'm a mutant,' the man says, proudly. 'I'm the future.'
'Do you really hate humans so much?' I ask. I am still some distance away from the 'mutant', but the heat prevents me from approaching any closer.
'Why not?' the mutant replies. 'They hate us.'
'I'm not surprised if you go around destroying things,' the Doctor retorts. 'It's hardly a way to win friends, now, is it?'
'I don't want to make friends with the humans,' the mutant responds. 'I want to wipe them all out.'
'Do you indeed,' the Doctor muses. 'In that case, why are you throwing those fireballs of yours at the buildings rather than at people. Wouldn't that be a more effective way of 'wiping them all out'?'
'Well, I '
Before the mutant can finish his reply, we are interrupted by heavy steps walking our way. I turn to see a mechanical man, at least seven foot tall and resplendent in a purple and silver colour scheme, striding towards us.
'Stand aside,' the creature says in a grating mechanical voice. 'The unregistered mutant requires immediate termination.'
'Termination,' the Doctor says. 'That's a little bit drastic, isn't it? Not to mention final.'
'Termination?' the mutant asks. 'What's he mean by termination?'
'It means it's going to kill you,' I snap.
'Oh, no way,' the mutant stammers. 'That's not how it's supposed to happen. Mr Vaughan said '
'Will you just shut up,' I shout. 'Don't you think you've done enough damage?'
The mechanical man raises its left arm. It has no hand, the arm ending in a hole, rather like the end of a cannon.
'The mutant must be eliminated.'
'Now hang on just a minute,' the Doctor says. 'Let's not rush things. After all, we haven't even been introduced. I'm the Doctor. And you are.'
'I am a Mark One Vaughan Industries Sentinel,' the mechanical man replies.
Vaughan? I recognise that as the name the mutant used moments before, but now is not the time to pursue that thought.
The Doctor strides forward and takes hold of the Sentinel's cannon-arm.
'Pleased to meet you,' he says, trying unsuccessfully to shake the arm up and down.
'Release this unit at once,' the Sentinel pronounces. 'You are interfering with an officially mandated termination.'
'Well, we couldn't have that,' the Doctor agrees, releasing the arm and stepping to one side. 'He's all yours.'
The Sentinel levels its arm at the mutant.
'Please, God, no,' the mutant begs. 'Don't let him kill me. Please, don't let him kill me.'
The Sentinel fires.
And at exactly the same moment, the Doctor barrels into the Sentinel, knocking its shot wide. The blast slams into the side of the building, knocking yet more masonry from its structure.
'For heaven's sake, run!' I shout at the mutant.
'I can't,' he complains, pointing at his feet. 'I'm stuck.'
The heat from the flames has melted the ground at his feet and he is now firmly welded in place.
'Doctor,' I say, 'I think we have a problem.'
'What was your first clue?' he retorts, positioning himself between the mutant and the Sentinel.
'You will move out of the way,' the Sentinel says.
'No, I don't think I will,' the Doctor replies. 'You see, you're here to kill an unregistered mutant and I think that's all that your programming will allow you to do. You can't kill a non-mutant. So as long as I'm standing between you and your target then there's nothing you can do.'
'You will move,' the Sentinel repeats.
The Doctor grins.
'Put you and your little tin mind in something of a quandary, haven't I?' the Doctor taunts.
'Why are you helping me?' the mutant asks. 'The smart thing to do would be to run and save your own lives.'
'Yes, it would, wouldn't it?' I agree beneath my breath.
'I'm not going anywhere,' the Doctor promises the mutant. 'Not until I know you're safe.'
'I save lives,' the Doctor responds simply. 'It's what doctors do.'
'Scan complete,' the Sentinel says. 'You have a double cardiovascular system.'
'Now, I can explain,' the Doctor begins, raising his hands above his head.'
'You are not human,' the Sentinel deduces.
'Well, no, not exactly, I grant you '
'Conclusion: you are a mutant,' the Sentinel continues. It raises its cannon-arm. 'Secondary target acquired. All unregistered mutants must be eliminated.'
The Sentinel fires
|           Ongoing...|