Author's Notes: Okay, here I am again with a new chapter. First of all, I'd like to thank everyone who emailed me with respect to Chapter Six. I'm sorry that I can't name everyone, but you guys know who you are. I read every email and do my best to respond to all of them too. Sorry for taking so long to come out with another chapter after leaving you guys with the cliffhanger at the end of the last - that was evil of me I know.
Now feel free to email me responses by sending mail to firstname.lastname@example.org. And you may also join my Yahoo group at the following address http://groups.yahoo.com/group/phoenix_587. Updates are quicker there than at Nifty (by a few days to a week sometimes since Nifty takes a while to add them to the archive) and I send an alert email to members when I post a new chapter, so that will help those of you who constantly check for new issues with no idea when they'll be out.
Now for the usual: Bold text indicate emphasis. Underlined text indicate any sort of electronic communication. And italicized text indicates either personal thoughts or telepathic communication, depending on context. You're smart boys and girls - you'll figure it out. (^_^) Okay, let's get this show on the road!
Two days had passed and John had yet to exhibit any departure from his catatonic state. Not even one fleeting moment of recognition did he give to any of the people who constantly came to see him in the Med Bay. Scott was worried and had not had much sleep. Wanting to be awake and at his son's side should he recover from his mental stupor, Scott had taken up residence in the Med Bay, slipping in some rest on one of the spare beds.
During her visits, Lorna took to reading stories for John and sang to him under Hank's advice. He said that John might react quicker if the constant stimulus of the human voice was provided. Alex brought in John's favorite movies and would sit and watch them with him, making sure that the television was in the direct line of sight of John's unceasing gaze. When he got fed up of movies, he'd bring in photo CDs of their memorable moments. John didn't respond to them, but Scott was noticeably saddened when he saw just how much he and Jean had missed out on.
Despite Scott's repeated pleas for the Professor to enter John's mind immediately and bring his son back, Xavier denied him. According to the Professor, it was entirely possible that, given a few days, John could make it out on his own. If he did, he would be all the better for it. Apparently, coming out of catatonia on your own steam was a great sign of personal growth. Xavier didn't want to rob him of the opportunity for 'self betterment' (as he called it) or possibly force him out of his protective shell before he was ready for it. It would only make recovery from the near death experience more difficult.
Alex: "Scott, you haven't been out of the subbasement for a while."
The elder Summers sibling ignored the gentle hint.
Alex: "Why don't you come upstairs for a little bit? Stretch your legs out on the greens?"
Scott: "I have to be here when he wakes up."
Waking up... John's body was technically awake. By `waking up' they meant that they were waiting for his mind to catch up to that fact.
Alex: "Yes, I know. But there's no sign that'll happen right this minute."
Lorna saw Scott's face tightening. Not wanting Scott to have an outburst, like he did when Hank suggested the same thing twelve hours before, she intruded into the conversation, intending to forestall any possible animosity.
Lorna: "Sitting around here, just waiting - you aren't much better off than him, Scott. Go for some fresh air. I'll stay here with him. And if he so much as mumbles I'll call you."
Scott looked from John to Lorna, to Alex and then back to John again. Realizing that they were both right, he agreed. He and Alex got up and left, leaving Lorna alone with John.
Julian Keller stayed out of the corridor and concealed himself behind a corner. He waited until both Scott and Alex Summers walked into the elevator before he emerged and headed towards the Med Bay. It had been two days since his boyfriend had entered into a deathlike trance. And whilst Julian had been in to see him along with several others of the squads, he had not had any personal time with him and wished for some intimacy. The constant presence of John's father in the room had forced him to stay away. For all John's family and friends knew, they weren't particularly close. But now that they'd left, Julian was free to have a few minutes with John untroubled.
He'd entered the room in too much of a rush to realize that it wasn't as empty as he thought it was. Before he could go back outside into the corridor, she saw him.
Lorna: "Hello. Are you here to see John?"
Julian nodded a bit dumbly and approached the bedside. So much for intimacy, he thought. But it was better than nothing. Somehow, he found it easier to be here when it was just Lorna and not Scott or Alex.
"He hasn't shown any sign?"
Lorna: "I'm afraid not."
Taking in John's vacant stare, Julian's face twisted in barely repressed anger. Hank had been delving deeper into the Danger Room computer's mysterious behavior. It turned out that the changes to the system had not been pre-programmed in before Logan and John entered the room. Someone had made them while the two of them were actively in training and had specified that the droids attack John as their primary target. Which is why the droids didn't immediately kill Logan when he fell. They just started swarming in on John, their preferred target, instead.
Julian: "I just can't believe someone would do something like this. I mean, he`s not even a senior X-man. He's just a...just a kid."
Lorna: "Me neither. But I guess this is what we`ve come to."
Several minutes were passed in silence as they both looked at the oblivious boy who lay before them. Lorna was a little curious. She was not an X-man, and had never taught Julian before. She only had significant contact with the current students and other teachers. As such, she was not well acquainted with Julian personally.
Lorna: "You seem very upset by this...erm..."
Julian: "Julian. Julian Keller. And yeah, I kinda am. I just don't understand why anyone would want to target him."
Lorna: "Honestly, I don't know either. I mean, he's not even had a field mission yet. No major adversary has any grudge on him. You're a junior X-man. Have they told you anything?"
Julian: "Just that someone tampered with the settings while he and Logan were in there, and that a telekinetic flare of his had overwhelmed the system."
They'd explained what had happened to the juniors in the most rudimentary way, but had not released any of the footage of John's telekinetic flare to them. They could not however hide the demolished Danger Room from the Alpha, Beta and Gamma squads. The sight of it had raised questions among them all. They were smart enough to realize that the Danger Room strived to prevent and repair damage to itself. Therefore, whatever force had wreaked such destruction was powerful enough to exceed the self-repair mechanisms of the Danger Room. Something that Julian had never heard of being done before.
Julian: "You've seen the Danger Room?"
Lorna: "Yeah. Totally wrecked."
Julian nodded in agreement. Hank would be kept very busy. And the Professor might just have to use his money and influence to contact his underground sources, engineers and designers to rebuild the Danger Room from scratch.
Julian: "I'm telekinetic too. And I know what I'm talking about when I say that whatever power John channeled to do that had to have been outta this world. I'm talking major."
After all, the Danger Room was built to withstand the special abilities of mutants. It could even act as a frickin' bomb shelter, Julian thought.
Lorna: "Yeah, and to think just about a month ago the heaviest thing he could lift was the dinner table."
Which was precisely what was bothering Julian.
Julian: "There's something they are not telling us."
Lorna: "Why do you say that?"
Julian: "They told us John had a power surge. But I don't think there's any way that alone could explain what he did. His energy level has just increased too much, too fast. A lot more than any 'surge' I ever heard of. There has to be more to it than what they`re letting on."
Lorna: "Scott hasn't mentioned anything other than -"
Julian: "He's a senior X-man. And a total stickler for rules and regulations. He wouldn't disobey Xavier`s orders."
Lorna: "Assuming that you're right, do you think that could have had anything to do with why he was targeted?"
Julian: "They're obviously hiding something. And since there's nothing suspicious about what they have decided to tell us - the only possibility is that whatever they're concealing had something to do with the attack. So yeah, I do think so."
Lorna withdrew into her thoughts for a several moments. The Professor had been known to keep certain bits of information to himself and the senior X-men. Scott, in his grief, had revealed to both her and Alex the circumstances surrounding Jean's death. That was classified information that only the senior X-men were aware of. And it had taken the emotional instability wrought by Jean's death to get him to reveal that. Could Julian be right? Was there something Xavier was keeping from all but the seniors?
Julian: "Did they release the Danger Room video? Did you get to see it?"
Lorna: "No. And, honestly, I don't want to. I don't want to see how he got into the condition he was in."
Shaking her head in distaste, Lorna recalled him being brought into the Med Bay, slashed and bleeding as if he wouldn't stop.
Julian: "Neither do I. But I would be interested in seeing what it is he did."
Lorna: "So they haven't showed it to you guys either?"
Julian: "No. And they are handling the investigation themselves. We're to keep out of their way. Like I said, something is up."
Lorna: "Could you stay with him for a couple minutes? I need to make a phone call."
Julian nodded and watched as Lorna walked out of the room and onto the corridor. Had she been giving his words some serious thought, Julian wondered. He didn't know for sure then, but he was right, as Lorna had decided to contact Alex and share her newfound concerns...
Meanwhile, in the backyard...
A teenaged girl, known to those around the mansion by the alias Ashley Montgomery, secretively walked into the cover of the trees. Once she was certain that she wasn't under any observation, she pulled out her specially modified cell phone and began hastily dialing a number all too familiar to her.
Mystique: "Yes, Erik. It`s me. Did you receive the video?"
[Erik: "Yes. I did."]
Mystique: "Well, what do you think?"
Ashley, or Mystique rather, had grown tired of lurking about the Xavier Mansion, disguised as a teenaged girl and forced to associate with other (annoying) teens. Not to mention that she had to waste her time in mind numbingly boring classes and suffer through countless ethical lectures. It had been most welcome when Magneto had contacted her and issued new orders.
He'd wanted to place John Summers under an evaluation of sorts. He'd noticed how quick Xavier was to limit any contact he had with the boy when they'd met in the subbasement after the recently concluded Alkali Lake incident. Since his powers seemed to take after his mother's so much, and hers had only come out under the most extreme pressure, Mystique was to find a way to subject John to similar strain. Depending on the results, they'd see for themselves firsthand what they were dealing with.
Mystique: "Erik, time is precious. Please tell me what to do."
It was his original plan to find some way to place the boy among their ranks. But in light of the video Mystique had recorded, Erik's plans had since altered. John Summers seemed to have little control and his powers were far too unstable to be put to practical usage. Neither Magneto nor Mystique had the time or resources to train someone the likes of him. They wouldn't know where to begin. And worse, Magneto realized that if Xavier was right in his supposition of `unlimited potential', John Summers would eventually meet his own power level and exceed it.
Erik: "Now that I've seen for myself what the boy's capable of, I can understand why Charles was so uptight with me talking to him. He was so quick to make paltry excuses, that it was some fanciful improvement they'd made to Cerebro that allowed Summers to make contact over such an expanse. If I were Charles I wouldn't let him out of my sight."
Mystique: "Yeah, I know what you mean. He's all tranced out down in the Med Bay, and they got someone with him all the time."
Erik: "It would be one thing to try and convince a teenager who has only known of Charles' ideology for a few years. But that boy has been brainwashed from birth. There's no way we can turn him around to our way of thinking short of telepathic control. And from what I've seen of his telepathic power level...mind control wouldn't hold him long. Not nearly long enough for us to put him to good use at any rate."
For the sake of mutant kind, such power in the hands of the misguided could not be allowed to long continue.
Mystique: "I understand."
All too well. For now, it didn't seem as though John could summon up that kind of power at will. But Xavier had apparently assigned him to a junior X-team, no doubt intending to bolster his control. And Magneto thought he knew for what purpose...
Erik: "We cannot allow Charles to mold him into a weapon against us."
There was an ominous pause as Mystique waited for the orders of her leader. She knew where it was all heading and what she was to be asked to do. But she couldn't take action on her own. She needed the explicit command from the Master of Magnetism himself.
Erik: "I want him eliminated. Charles has already done much to set back the cause of mutant liberation. Imagine what he`ll be able to `accomplish' with this child at his side - to the detriment of us all."
Mystique: "You're right...of course. But it won't be easy. He`s very closely watched."
Erik: "It will be difficult. But I have faith you'll find a way. You always do."
Mystique: "I'll bide my time until I see an opportunity."
Erik: "Very well. And Raven?"
Erik: "Make it as painless as is possible. Quick, clean and final."
Mystique: "Yes, sir."
After some more exchanges, Mystique cut the call and began walking back towards the mansion. She had some thinking to do...
Julian made the most of whatever little time he had alone with John while Lorna was away. He couldn't help but hope that he'd be the one who'd be able to coax some sort of response out of his boyfriend. But so far it was a hope in vain. John didn't react to either his words or touch.
Julian: "I'm a little lonely these days. When are you gonna come keep me some company?"
The faint hiss of the doors sliding open warned Julian someone was coming in. Hastily, he withdrew his arms from John's shoulders. And leaned back casually in his chair.
Ray: "Keller. What are you doing here?"
There was the `Ray' boy John had been talking about. The one with the homophobic issues who had insisted on teasing him relentlessly. The little prick, Julian thought.
Julian: "What's it look like I'm doing?"
Ray could sense that there was something off in Julian's tone. Before he could think anything further of it, four other teens walked in. Jubilee, Amara, Bobby and Ashley. Jubilee was carrying a fancy array of flowers. Amara and Ashley both had well wishing balloons in their hands. All five of them looked disturbed at the sight of John. This was the second time they saw him since he went catatonic, but they weren't much better prepared than the first.
Amara: "And I thought it was bad when Emma forced her way into his head."
Bobby: "Yeah. At least then it looked like he was sleeping."
Ray: "Instead of just sitting and staring."
Not able to stand hearing them - especially Ray - go on like that any longer, Julian spoke out in a somewhat irritated tone.
Julian: "Stop talking about him like he's not even here. It`d be more helpful if you`d talk to him instead."
At that, Julian gave John what passed for a gentle, friendly squeeze on the shoulder, and walked out of the door, leaving the gathered students with Lorna, who was just coming back inside.
Ray: "What the hell is his problem?"
Ashley watched Julian leave and hid a small, impious, smirk...
Blurry eyed and disoriented, I awakened from what seemed to be an eternity of slumber. It was the scent that I first took notice of. The air was sweetly perfumed by a floral aroma that I could not identify. I opened my eyes slowly so that I could let them grow accustomed to the bright light. From what I could make out, I was in some sort of...garden? My first thought was, am I dead? Or...maybe the Danger Room did this?
Quickly, I got to my feet, looking around at the endless expanse in search of someone else. Trying to scan mentally, I realized that something was wrong. I didn't feel the psychic buzz I usually felt when channeling my powers. Sure enough, when I attempted to levitate a flower petal up from the ground, nothing happened.
And...what's this? Wounds all gone! And clothes all gone too! I'm naked! Naked as the day I was born! That fact made me grateful that no one was around. At least I hoped no one would find me until I managed to find some clothes. Slowly, I wandered the garden, keeping an eye out for anyone, and simultaneously admiring the beauty of it all. If I were dead, was this heaven?
The sky was an almost exaggerated shade of azure with very little by way of clouds in sight. Whilst the place was as bright as anywhere I'd ever been, there didn't seem to be any sun in the sky. Which was confusing the hell out of me. Where was the light coming from then? Could I truly be dead? And could this really be heaven? If it was, and heaven did exist, it was damned well overrated. There seemed to be nothing but fields, shrubs and trees all around. What was I to do for eternity - garden? But I supposed, it was better this than fire and brimstone.
For all I could make out, the only living things around were me and the plants. I didn't see any lambs and lions frolicking together or babies playing with serpents and not getting hurt. I kept on walking, eventually deciding to climb a rather high hilly ridge to see what on the other side of it. It seemed the best way to go since the other directions seemed to be bordered by deep water. And on the other side of the water was just more flowery fields and groves anyway.
Fortunately for me, when I approached ridge, I saw that there was a well developed pathway of steps, cut into the hill itself. It was obviously artificial and not some rock feature. So who was it made for? No one was around. The rest of the garden had nothing that looked to be made by the hand of man. No fountains or such. I decided to be grateful for the path. Without it, I'd have had a very difficult climb. In short time, I was standing on top of the ridge.
"Holy shit," I mumbled to myself as I looked down at the valley before me. In stark contract to the other side of the ridge, it was dark, barren. Decaying trees and thorny plants abounded. The sky was dreary with billowing storm clouds overhead. There was the sun! But it fought to shine through and seemed to be fighting a losing battle. Okay, this can't be heaven, I thought. The winds blowing from the valley were chilly and cut me to bone, especially as I wore no clothing. I was just about to turn back when I saw it.
Towards the center of the valley, things were different. There was light and greenery. Upon a raised mound stood a majestic tree unlike any I'd ever seen before. It was gigantically big, with huge, branching boughs, luxurious foliage and was laden with fruit. It's limbs branched out into an intricate and complex network that seemed to tower towards the heavens. Certainly there wasn't a tree like it back in the garden I'd just come from. It appeared to radiate light and drew me towards it like a moth to a flame. I started walking down the ridge, curious but wary. There still didn't seem to be so much as an insect flitting about. Still, I wasn't taking any chances. In my powerless state it was best to be alert at all times. Now, to get closer to that tree...
Professor Xavier: "When did it begin, Scott?"
Scott: "Just under three minutes ago."
Scott Summers anxiously looked at John, who lay tossing and turning on the bed. It was the most active he'd been in days and whilst it was a bit unnerving, Scott was also relieved in a sense to see that John wasn't completely passive anymore. He was still not responding to external stimuli however, and just kept shifting about with his eyes closed. As if he were having a bad dream of some sort.
Professor Xavier: "It's possible that he's finally coming to terms with what happened. Facing the memory of the Danger Room incident."
Scott: "You have to help him!"
Xavier shook his head in the negative and explained that this phase was something that John would have to overcome on his own. He'd have to face it at some point in any case. Now was as good a time as any.
Scott: "But - "
Professor Xavier: "His subconscious considers him ready for it. We mustn't interfere."
At that, Xavier settled his hover chair next to the bed, at the ready to observe. In order to make things less awkward (which just sitting around watching someone toss about like that was) Scott decided to speak with Xavier about some things that were bothering him.
Scott: "Professor, I've got some things on my mind."
Professor Xavier: "I'm aware of that. I have sensed some inner turmoil within you for some time now. Speak freely about what`s bothering you."
Scott nodded and began.
Scott: "Well firstly, when John's telekinesis went into overdrive in the Danger Room, you were mumbling that it couldn't be right. That you weren't sensing him and that he was unconscious. How is that possible?"
Professor Xavier: "Well, we've seen that his powers have manifested when he was in an unconscious state. Like for example, that very first time when he levitated most of the loose items in the kitchen while sleeping - "
Scott nodded impatiently.
Scott: "Yes, yes I know. But you had placed blocks on his telekinesis to avoid that happening again."
Professor Xavier: "I know."
Scott: "Then how was it possible? Are you saying he disabled those psychic bonds?"
That was something Xavier himself was not sure about. He hadn't sensed the bonds being broken. But at the same time, with the state John's mind was in, he hadn't entered to make certain they were still intact. He didn't wish to render further instability to the boy`s consciousness.
Professor Xavier: "I don't know how it was possible. I`ll have to investigate further when John is ready and in a suitable state of mental serenity."
Scott: "What about the blocks on his telepathy?"
Professor Xavier: "I'm confident they're still functioning. I didn't sense any telepathic surges when he was...reacting."
So whatever went down in the Danger Room was of a purely telekinetic nature.
Scott: "The others are...disturbed, sir."
Professor Xavier: "They would be, Scott. Nothing and no one has ever demolished the Danger Room so completely before."
Scott: "How much longer before it's operational again?"
Xavier considered for a moment. According to Hank, most of the armored metal plates along the walls had been severely compromised. So they'd need to be redone from scratch. The circuitry, while temporarily fried, could thankfully be repaired with time and effort. But the holographic projectors had been completely demolished. As they were the main functional unit of the training system, nothing could be done until they were replaced. And while Xavier had ordered new ones from his underground sources, they wouldn't arrive for at least a month.
Scott: "Well, I bet most of the students will be happy."
Professor Xavier: "First the Blackbird. Now this. It's going to cost me a pretty penny..."
Both men smiled a bit wryly.
Professor Xavier: "John?"
The boy began to mumble a series of words that were nigh undecipherable to his observers.
Professor Xavier: "It's a good sign, Scott. First his motor functions resurfaced, as evidenced by his movements. Now it appears speech capability is returning, if only unconsciously."
John's tremors began to intensify, so much so that he had to be steadied a bit.
Professor Xavier: "I'll contact Hank."
Scott: "Are you gonna give him some sort of sedative?"
Professor Xavier: "No. His mind is attempting to regain control of its higher functions. We shouldn't impinge upon its progress."
Scott nodded and did his best to stabilize John...
"Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death..."
Oh what the hell. I never was into religion. But seriously though, upon entering the valley, that description seemed to fit. From a distance, on top of the overlooking hill, I could actually tell that everything was essentially dead down in the valley. The trees, for the most part, still had some vestiges of leaves, but they were dry and