icon_uk: (Default)

By Icon UK

Characters – Doug Ramsey/Kitty Pryde

One of the worst moments after his… well, “return” wasn’t really apt, but the English language hadn’t yet devised a word for what had happened to him without using terms associated with religious icons, was when Doug discovered what Kitty wasn’t there any more.

The horrible irony of having managed to come back from the dead, only you find one of your best friends had apparently died in deep space in the meantime was not lost on him.

He still hadn’t contacted his parents yet, and Rahne was a whole different issue, but had hoped that Kitty Pryde, the original other half of the original “Team Supreme” would be there to talk things through with him as they had always been there for each other. He knew she’d stayed in touch with his parents via Christmas cards and the like. Well, she had up until her own… departure.

Now Kitty was back, though stuck in phased form and apparently unable to speak. Which left him the slight issue of what to say. What DO you say to someone who you last saw shortly before you died? Even Hallmark didn’t have a card for that… or did they? He resolved to check it out. The X-Men could have made that a profitable sideline all by themselves.

He ran through some possibilities. He could say something in Shi’Ar… (She liked Shi’Ar, had always said it sounded like birdsong, but had she ever learned it herself?) Hebrew? (She could speak that, but as he was about as Jewish as a pork sausage it might be seen as tacky, or trying too hard to impress). He couldn’t, as he had with Amara, devise a private language for the two of them, since he hadn’t spoken to her yet, and even his somewhat amplified powers needed more than that to work with.

Okay then English it was. (The fact he was relieved by such a simple decision told him how stressed he was about this)

And what should his approach be? Play it cool, just casually walk in as if nothing had happened since the last time he’d seen her, years before. He could feel himself rocking backwards and forwards on his heels just waiting, so doubted his body language would sell that for any length of time. Plus there was the whole “Douglock” thing to get over between them. It hadn’t been Warlock’s fault Lord knows, he hadn’t known, but it would certainly put an odd spin on things between the two of them…

He didn’t want to seem TOO eager either, that would put them both in a very weird place.

The door to the Med Lab opened and he caught his first sight of her. She was floating in some sort of huge aquarium-like tank (his inner geek made a connection to Luke Skywalker in the bacta tank, but she was, thankfully, wearing more clothing) drifting in mid air with her eyes closed. He could tell she wasn’t in REM, but was just relaxing.

Well, that sort of sorted out the problem of his entrance. He walked through the doors before they could shut. He HAD to make first contact now (He made a mental note that he still had to watch that movie. It’s be nice to see Picard and the crew again, but the Borg always gave Warlock nightmares, so maybe not on their usual movie night)

Kitty’s eyes opened as if she were coming out of a doze. She caught sight of him and her eyes widened in shock.

He couldn’t think what else to do, his mouth went dry and his brain emptied. He reacted purely on impulse; He gave her a little wave.

Her expression didn’t change, but she gave a little wave back.

He pointed towards himself, and gave her the thumbs-up. He pointed towards her, gave a querying look, made the thumbs-up again, then thumbs-down, and then a little hand wiggling “so-so” gesture as an alternative option.

She made a face as she thought it over then gave the thumbs-up back.

He grinned.

She smiled.

What more needed to be said?

icon_uk: (Default)
I've been re-reading, as is my wont, Robert Aspirin's Myth books, and most recently "Class Dis-Mythed" where the magician Skeeve the Magnificent (Don't believe the hype, he doesn't) finds himself training some rather rebellious pupils.

His old employer Don Bruce (A Fairy Godfather... in every sense of the term, as his lavender pinstripe suit, Damon Runyons style mannerisms will attest) drops in to see him, and they chat, and then there follows one of my favourite examinations ever of power, it's application and what real power MEANS.

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I was in my room brooding when a knock came at the door.

"Skeeve?"

"Can it wait, Bunny?" I asked, recognizing her voice. "I'd kind of like to be alone for a while."

"We've got a visitor," came the reply. "It's my uncle. He'd like to say hello."

That was different. Aside from liking him as a person, I was well aware that her uncle was not someone you would ever want to ignore or offend.

"On the way," I called, and started for the door.

Even if I hadn't been forewarned, there was no mistaking the short, heavyset figure sitting at the dining room table. If nothing else, his trademark lavender suit was a dead giveaway.

"Don Bruce!" I said as I approached, then hesitated. As long as we had known each other, I wasn't sure what a properly respectful greeting should be.

I needn't have worried.

"Skeeve!" he crowed, popping to his feet and sweeping me into a massive hug. "How's the old pizano? How's the retirement goin'?"

"Okay, I guess," I said. "How are things with you?"

I had hoped to keep things light, but Don Bruce hadn't gotten where he was by missing things.

"Just 'okay'?" he asked, cocking his head and peering at me. "This wouldn't have anything to do with these students that Bunny's been tellin' me about, would it?"

I shot a dark glance at Bunny. While Don Bruce had been nice enough about my retiring, he had also made no secret of the fact that he wanted me back working for the Mob. As such, I wasn't wild about the fact that Bunny had let him know that I was working again, even if it was just as a teacher.

"Well, yes," I admitted. "This teaching thing is turning out to be harder than I thought."

"The kids givin' you grief?" he asked sympathetically. "Grab some wine and tell me about it."

To my surprise, I found myself pouring out my disappointment with how the class was going. Particularly, how unhappy I was with my own inability to control the bickering and backbiting among the students. I had never really chatted with Don Bruce before other than in a business context, and it was nice to unload my worries on someone who wasn't directly involved in the proceedings. He listened intently, nodding and making occasional sympathetic noises, until I finally wound down.

"I think maybe I can give you a little hand with that," he said when I was done. "Would it be okay with you if I had a word or two with these hotshot students of yours?"

That caught me flat footed.

"Um, sure, Don Bruce," I said. "If you think you can spare the time, that is."

Again, he noticed my hesitation.

"Whatzamatter?" he growled. "Don't you think I'm up to it?"

"No! It's not that at all," I said hastily. "It's just that these kids are kinda mouthy and, well, I'm not sure they'll react to you with the level of respect you're due and are used to."

Don Bruce threw back his head and laughed.

"You hear that, Bunny?" he said. "You wonder why I love this guy? I want to give him a hand and all he worries about is that my feelings might get hurt."

He leveled a pair of hard eyes on me, all trace of laughter gone.

"Just get 'em down here," he said. "Let me worry about how respectful they are."

I looked at Bunny and shrugged.

"Roust the students," I said. "Tell them we have a surprise guest lecturer."

By the time the class was assembled around the table, Don Bruce and I were standing against the wall, conversing in low tones. I was asking him about what he thought would be an appropriate introduction, while he kept insisting that I keep my comments to a bare minimum and let him handle the rest. That sounded vaguely ominous to me, but I had little choice but to go along with him.

As I turned to the group, my heart sank. The three Pervects had their heads together, giggling as they shot glances at Don Bruce, and Melvine was leaning back with his arms crossed with an "impress me" expression on his face, and Tolk was chewing at an itch on his foot. In fact, the only one who looked remotely attentive was Bee, who was watching Don Bruce with a thoughtful, puzzled expression.

"All right, class," I said, raising my voice, "I apologize for the short notice, but I didn't know this speaker would be available until he dropped in for a visit. This is Bunny's uncle, a successful businessman here on Klah, and he's offered to share his insights with us on operating in the real world."

I nodded to Don Bruce and stepped back, mentally crossing my fingers.

He stepped up to the table and took a drink of wine before starting.

There was a titter of laughter from the Pervects.

"Yes, ladies?" he asked, looking directly at them. "Was there something you wanted to ask before I started?"

"I was just wondering where you got your outfit," Jinetta said with a grin.

"Yes," Pologne added. "Do you always dress like this, or is this special for our class?"

This set the three of them to giggling again.

"I dress this way because I want to," Don Bruce said calmly after the giggles had subsided. "When you reach a given level in the real world, you get to do that. In my mind, it's better than dressing to blend with or imitate any given group, or to rebel against an established norm."

"Exactly what line of magik are you in?" Melvine asked, a note of skeptical challenge in his voice.

"I don't dabble in it myself," came the response. "When necessary, I hire it done."

"Then why should we listen—" Melvine began then seemed to think better of it. "Then exactly what kind of business are you in?"

"You might say I head a little family business," Don Bruce said with a tight smile. "Actually, it's not so little. More like what you would call a mob."

There was a moment's silence as the class exchanged glances.

"Excuse me," Melvine said, his tone cautious. "Are we talking about organized crime here?"

"Maybe that's what it's called from the outside," the Don said. "When you see it close up, like from the inside, it ain't really all that organized."

"Um, sir?" Bee said, holding up a cautious hand. "Would your name by any chance be Don Bruce?"

"Guilty as charged," the Don said with a nod, then he winked at me. "That's something you won't hear me say very often."

My students were murmuring back and forth, their tone and manner noticeably more subdued.

"Now then," Don Bruce said, returning his attention to the class, "I believe you were about to ask why you should listen to me. Before I answer that, let me ask all of you a question. Why did you all want to study under Skeeve here?"

That took everyone aback. For a moment, no one spoke. Then they all tried to talk at once.

"My aunt told me—"

"Well, I heard—"

"Everyone knows—"

Don Bruce silenced them all with a wave of his hand.

"Let's start at the top," he said. "Mostly, each of you wants to increase his or her value on the job market. Right?"

There was a round of nods from the class.

"To my thinking," he continued, "what that actually breaks down to is the acquisition and use of power."

The nods were slower, and Bee raised his hand.

"Um, not to disagree, sir," he said, "but I just want to help people. I thought that studying under Skeeve would help me to do that better."

"Good answer," the Don nodded. "Very admirable. But you don't see many weak or poor people helping others, no matter how nice they may be as people. To help others, you have to be in a position to be able to help, and that gets back to what I was saying, acquiring and using power. See what I mean?"

"I—I think so," Bee said hesitantly.

"Now, this all gets back to why you should listen to me," Don Bruce said. "I may not be a magician but, as a businessman, one thing I have to know is how to acquire and use power. The problem with young folks like you, with the possible exception of the young gentleman here and the furry guy sitting next to him, is that you wouldn't know power if it bit you on the leg."

He turned his attention back to Bee.

"I couldn't help but notice that you seemed to recognize me or my name. Can I ask if I'm right?"

"Yes, sir," Bee said. "I was in the army with Swatter— Guido—and he often mentioned you with the greatest respect. Just like he mentioned Skeeve."

"The army, eh?" the Don smiled. "I thought you showed more sense than normally comes out of a book. For the record, I have the highest regard for Guido. I only wish he was here to help me make my next point."

"Um, if I may, sir. If it will help—"

Bee closed his eyes in concentration, and suddenly Guido was sitting there in his place.

"Hey! That's pretty good," Don Bruce said then turned to me. "What is that? Some kind of transfer spell?"

"It's just a disguise spell," I said. "It's actually still Bee sitting there."

"Well, it'll do for the moment." He went back to addressing the class.

"Now, my question to you is this: Look at Guido here, then look at me. Then tell me which of us you would least like to have angry with you."

It really wasn't much of a choice.

"Guido," Melvine said. "No offense, sir, but he's a lot bigger."

The rest of the class nodded their agreement.

"Uh huh," the Don said. "Guido is not only big, he's one of the best, if not the best, at what he does—which is to say, controlled violence.

"Thank you—Bee, is it? The point is made."

There was a shimmering in the air, and Bee was back.

"Now, you all made the obvious, expected choice. Unfortunately, you're all wrong."

He smiled at the frowns around him.

"Guido is big and strong, and I'd never disrespect him," he said. "The truth of the matter, though, is that I have over a hundred like him working for me. All of them specialists in controlled violence. If Guido gets mad at you, you have to deal with Guido. If I get mad at you, you can have the whole pack of 'em down on your neck. Are you starting to see what I mean about power?"

The class was murmuring back and forth again, but they were also watching Don Bruce with a new level of respect.

"The key word in what I was saying," the Don continued, "is control. Guido doesn't walk around randomly pounding on people. He knows how much power he has and the repercussions if he misuses it. He's not a bully looking for a chance to show off. He's effective and only uses as much power as is necessary for the situation. Technically, I have more power at my disposal than Guido has. That means I have to be that much more careful about how and when I use it."

He leaned back and smiled.

"All of that brings us back to why you're studying under Skeeve. Now, if I understand it right, most of you were recommended to him or heard about his reputation. I'm willing to bet that you were all a little disappointed when you actually met him because he isn't flashier or more impressive. That's because most of you are still young and tend to look at the surface, just like you were more afraid of Guido than of me."

All of a sudden, he wasn't smiling.

"Well, I'm not young and impressionable. I've been around for a long time and earned my position against some tough competition in conditions where, if you make a mistake, you don't get a bad grade or expelled from class, you get dead. Based on long, hard experience, I'll tell you here and now that your teacher, Skeeve, is one of the most powerful men I've ever dealt with. What's more, I don't think there's anyone that I admire and respect more."

He looked at me and gave a slow nod with his head in salute.

Startled as I was by his declaration, the only thing I could • do was return his nod with equal dignity.

He turned his attention back to the class.

"You might want to hear a little of how he built that reputation. Since he's not likely to tell you himself, let me fill you in on few of the highlights.

"When I first met Skeeve, he was the Court Magical for Possiltum. At that time, he had just backed off the largest, best-led army this dimension had ever seen. What's more, he did it with only a Troll, a Trollop, a Pervect, an Imp, a Gargoyle, a salamander, and an Archer to help him."

"Gleep was there, too," I said.

"I stand corrected. And a baby dragon. Even so, that's fairly impressive odds by anybody's books. As I was saying, when I met him, he was standing in for the king, who had taken it on the lam to get out of a marriage. If Skeeve had wanted to, he could have stayed and run the kingdom from then on. Instead, he straightened the mess out and moved to the Bazaar at Deva, where the Chamber of Commerce hired him for their Magician in Residence.

"On the side, he and a few of his friends challenged the two champion teams on Jahk to the Big Game and beat them out of their own trophy. Then there was the time that his partner, Aahz, was in jail in the dimension Blut—that's the one with vampires and werewolves—and Skeeve had to bust him out and prove his innocence."

That one got a reaction from the class. I had told them I would be sending them to Blut on a field exercise, but I had deliberately neglected to mention to them how I happened to be familiar with the place.

"One bit you ladies might find interesting was the time that Aahz resigned from M.YT.H., Inc. and Skeeve here went to Perv all by himself to convince him to come back. I'm still gathering information as to exactly how he pulled that one off and came back intact."

The three Pervects were eyeing me now with thoughtful expressions. I was glad Don Bruce had either failed to find out or chosen to omit mentioning how that little escapade got me deported from Perv as an undesirable.

"Now, you might think that all that would be enough to build a reputation for anyone. Well, it might, but in Skeeve's case, it's only the tip of the iceberg. Where his real reputation comes from is that he's a true gentleman.

"I said at the beginning that I was telling you all this because he won't. That ain't his style. He don't brag or bluster or swagger. What's more, he don't throw his weight around unless it's absolutely necessary. He don't have to. His track record speaks for itself. More important, Skeeve genuinely likes people. He's polite and respectful to everybody including his enemies, whether they're strong enough to hurt him or not. If you don't believe me, ask around.

"You've all met Massha? Well, when they first met, they were opposite sides of a caper—specifically, that Big Game on Jahk I was telling you about. Afterward, not only did he accept her as an apprentice, he set her up to replace him as the Court Magician at Possiltum. And my niece, Bunny. She had it in her head that she wanted to be a mob Moll, so I sent her to Skeeve as a bit of a test for both of them. As it turns out, he won't let her be a floozie. Instead, she ends up using all the financial training she got at school to straighten out the kingdom's books for Possiltum, and now she's got a rep of her own as a financier and negotiator. As a matter of fact, there's at least one bank in Perv that's been trying to hire her away from Skeeve for years, but she won't budge."

This was the first I had heard about it. I glanced at Bunny, but she was smiling at the class and nodding.

"That's the kind of reputation Skeeve has. Everybody respects him. He earns the kind of loyalty from his friends and associates that money can't buy."

He looked around one more time and rose to his feet.

"Well, I've been ranting here for a long while, and I'll be on my way. Just one last thing, though. Remember when I said I was more powerful that Guido? Well I'll tell you here and now that your teacher, Skeeve, is more powerful than I am. Of everyone I've met or worked with, he's at the top of my list to turn the Mob over to when I retire. Think about that the next time you want to mouth off about how your professors or friends know more than he does."

With that, he waved at Bunny and me and left.

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icon_uk: (Doug)
In honour of Cypher's return to active duty in this weeks issue of "New Mutants", here's an old fanfic of mine from many years ago. It's been published before, but not in a long while...

A New Mutant fanfic by Icon_UK

No permission has been given, no offence has been intended.

This story is set shortly after the first Legion story and the events of NM Annual #1.

+ + + + +

Below

The New Mutants gathered around their prospective team-mate in the
corridor outside the Danger Room.

"Don't worry, Doug -- the Professor will take it easy on you your first
time through, I'm sure of it... Unless, of course, the safety locks are
disabled, or there's been some sort of malfunction. That's happened a
couple of times, y'know, and then things can get really hairy... One time
one of the monsters almost pulled Cyclops apart and if my brother hadn't
been there to intercept the missiles then..."

"Errr... Thanks, Illyana, but I'm not sure I can take much more of your
encouragement."

"Oh, stop teasing, Illyana, they were just flesh wounds! Just remember,
Doug, the only thing that might get wounded here is your pride."

"Dani, my pride is about the only thing stopping me from running off down
the corridor back to the locker rooms. I can't afford for it to be
wounded!"

"Well, if you can't handle it, Doug, you just need to say so." As was
often the case, there was an undertone to Bobby DaCosta's words which
sounded like he was spoiling for an argument, even when he was really
being sincere. Just in case, Sam Guthrie swatted him on the head.

"Pipe down Bobby. Come on, Doug, just have a bit of confidence and do your
best. The Professor never asks for more than that. We know you can do it."

With assorted final reassuring waves and thumbs up, the team sped off up
to the Observation Booth to get a better view.

Left alone, Doug fingered the collar of his new uniform as if it were
about to strangle him. He wasn't yet sure about the whole long underwear,
gloves and knee boots look, and felt very self-conscious (It had looked a
whole lot better on him in his astral body). It wasn't as if he had much
to show off, physique-wise. However, if spandex was what it took to be
on this team, then it was a small price to pay, provided, of course,
that none of his old schoolmates ever saw him... or his parents... or,
basically, anyone he'd ever met.

As the heavy doors swung open, Doug squared his shoulders, took a deep
breath, and walked into the Danger Room. In its inactive state it looked
like nothing so much as a vast bank vault: a huge chamber lined with dull
grey metal. Only the numerous cracks and lines in the walls gave any clue
as to where doors and hatches might be concealed.

He looked up to where he knew the viewing window was and could see the
rest of the team, as well as Kitty Pryde and the Professor seated at the
console. Kitty gave him a cheery thumbs up and waved what looked like a
large box of popcorn in his direction.

He smiled wanly in return. "Oh this just gets better!" he thought. "My
first time out and she treats it like a night at the movies!"

The Professor's telepathic voice, however, was calm and reassuring.

--The task is simple, Douglas, all you have to do is make it across the
Danger Room floor and press the red button visible on the far wall. This
will deactivate the program. I'm starting you on a Level One program, as
I do all my students.--

Doug still felt somewhat uncomfortable trying to broadcast his thoughts,
and spoke aloud to make sure he was saying what he meant. "Okay, Professor.
Give it your best shot."

Above

The Professor and Kitty were running through the warm-up sequence on the
Danger Room systems. He telepathed again, this time on a personal mode
that no-one else could hear: --Douglas, I just want to reassure you once
again that your place in this school does not depend on the outcome of
this exercise. You can always withdraw at any time, with no shame or
embarrassment.--

Doug caught the eye of Bobby DaCosta and decided that he'd sooner chew
glass than back down. This time he did form his reply only in his mind.

--Professor, I'm wearing my underwear over my pants already, how much more
embarrassing can it get? I don't just want to be a student, I want to be
on the team.--

--Very well, prepare yourself, and good luck.--

Sam glanced over at Dani, then directed an intimate-mode thought at
Professor Xavier. --Ah have to say, Professor, are you sure we should be
doin' this?--

The reply reached Dani as well. --To be honest, Samuel, no, I am not, but
Douglas thinks he is ready, and I won't deny him the chance to find out.
For all his recent experiences with us, I am not prepared to risk him in
the more... outre situations our lifestyle often lends itself to. At least
not until I am sure that he can look after himself. Though it would be an
unusual circumstance, I am happy to take him on as a student regardless of
the outcome, but he may not become an active member of the New Mutants
until I have had a better chance to gauge his resourcefulness. The Danger
Room is a tried and tested means of determining that suitability.--

Behind them, the rest of the Mutants were discussing the odds of Doug's
success.

"Ten bucks says he won't make it."

"'Berto! Huv'ye no shame? Nae just gambling, but against a friend!"

'Berto grinned somewhat smugly. "You should know by now that I'm never
ashamed of anything I do, Rahne. Doug's got guts, no doubt about it, but
let's be realistic here. He doesn't stand a chance and we all know it. None of us
made it through on our first run, remember? And we had physical powers to
help us. If he gets further than ten yards, it'll be a miracle."

Dani spoke up. "Excuse me, Bobby, but I managed to make it through the
Danger Room, and my power is as psychic as Doug's."

"Well, yes, Dani but you're... different, aren't you?"

"Oh really?" Somehow Bobby missed the landmine quality of Dani's sweetly
innocent tone. "Different from...? What, Bobby? ...most girls? ...physical
mutants?"

"Well, from most..." Bobby finally noticed the looks he was getting from
his team-mates (who were assuming that Bobby had spontaneously developed
a death-wish) and realised not only what he was saying, but who he was
saying it to. "Well, never mind. I still bet he won't make it."

Kitty turned her head to join in the conversation. "I'll take you up on
that, Bobby. I've known Doug longer than you and he might just surprise
you. In fact, how about we spice it up a bit? Ten dollars for the first
ten yards, then ten more for every yard past that."

"And if he doesn't make it to ten yards?"

"Then... I take your turn at cleaning duties for the next week."

"You're on, Pryde. Consider it a bet."

Kitty caught the Professor's gaze boring into her, clearly not happy
about the betting. She shrugged her best "What can I do?" look at him.

"I'll take you up on it too, for the sake of 'non-physical' mutants
everywhere."

"Fine, Dani, I can always do with more women carrying out my chores."
Bobby didn't even try to dodge Illyana's mock-serious punch on the arm.

"Well, it ain't going to be just women then, Bobby, Ah'm in too."

"Sam?" Bobby was starting to look worried now; was there something going
on here he didn't know about?

"Just a gut feelin' Ah'm gettin'. An' if Kitty and Dani have it too, Ah'm
not going to argue with it."

"I never bet, 'Berto, but I want ye to ken that, if I did, I would."

Amara and Illyana just exchanged glances and kept quiet.

The Professor now seemed satisfied with the readings in front of him and
spoke into the microphone. "Beginning Danger Room training sequence Ramsey
One."

Below

Doug watched warily as several androids emerged from a hatch in the side
of the Danger Room. Level one drones, humanoid in size and weight. Though
made out of a dull grey metal and limited to normal human parameters of
strength and speed, they still looked quite formidable. Clearly the
Professor wanted to either put him off, or stop him with minimum force.
Though he knew that they would be programmed not to cause him injury, any
one of them looked more than capable of stopping him.

Taking a few deep breaths, Doug started a running monologue with himself;
"So I'm not even worth a few holograms to make them look like real people?
Okay, I can deal with this... Concentrate Ramsey... You've been to a Dyson
sphere, you've tackled aliens, you've even been inside the head of a guy
with multiple personalities, you can cope with a few androids!"

He paused for a second. "All right, so the sphere freaked you out, the
aliens whupped your butt, and you found yourself getting in touch with
another guy's feminine side... Okay, note to me: devise new pep talk! Come
on, then, you metal maniacs, you're not just dealing with any old mutant,
you're dealing with a New Mutant."

The androids had positioned themselves between him and the switch, either
alone or in groups of two or three. He moved towards the nearest android.
It moved to block him, and he raised his arms in a placating manner.

"Look, I don't mean you any harm, I just want to get past, please. Can we
just talk about this or something?"

"He actually said 'please'? To an android?" Bobby was grinning broadly.

The Professor nodded approvingly. "Indeed, and I'm delighted to see he
did. Trying a non-combative approach to such a situation is a commendable
idea. The last student of mine to try that approach was... Nightcrawler,
I believe."

The first android lowered its arms and silently gestured Doug past. He
edged past it warily.
Below

In the booth the Mutants gaped at what had happened. "I believe in
rewarding the non-violent approach," said the Professor simply.

The second android seemed to have other ideas as it didn't react to Doug's
repeated question.

"...the first time at any rate," finished the Professor.

Below

This android was reaching out to grab him across the shoulders.

"Okay, so 'please' isn't the magic word with this guy." Doug ducked,
feinted left and then dived right before the android could turn to block
him again. As soon as he was past it, it froze in position.

The next android, learning from the previous one, didn't fall for the
feint, so Doug dropped and dove through its legs, only just managing to
squeeze through before it reached down to grab him.

The next one wouldn't let him dodge past, so he grabbed it by the "wrist"
and twisted it round, pushing it away before it could grab hold of him. It
was the closest thing to judo he knew, but it worked! The android stumbled
away and he jumped past it, freezing it in place. The next one he punched
in the jaw. Though the head unit was designed to give slightly rather than
just bruise his hand, there was still a satisfying "clang" as he made
contact, enough to be heard, not enough to bruise his fist too badly.

The next one he barrelled straight into, gauging what seemed to be the best
spot to push it over. He almost got it right, but it staggered rather than
collapsed, and managed to snag his ankle. He twisted and kicked, but it
wasn't going to give way to simple human strength. As he had passed it, it
was frozen too, but the grip seemed immovable.

Above

"Oooh, too bad for the new kid, that can't be more than about what... eight
yards in? Goodbye, dishpan hands, hello, three weeks of easy living."

Kitty raised an eyebrow. "Don't speak so soon, Bobby. It ain't over until
the Blob sings in drag."

"The what??"

"Sorry, Brotherhood of Evil Mutants joke. X-Men humour."

Below

Doug knew that he wouldn't able to break free unaided. Time for Plan B,
then. Well it was actually Plan A, but he had wanted to see how far he
could get unassisted. He thought his performance had been credible, he'd
got past three (and a half, sort of) of the androids on his own, but now
it was time for the real games to begin.

Doug spoke out loud: "Danger Room, accept command 'Kobayashi Maru.'
Authorisation: Cypher." A bit Trekkie perhaps, but what the heck. This
should make the rest of the Mutants' eyes pop out.

In the Observation Booth the Professor's eyes narrowed as he watched the
read-outs in front of him. Kitty's reaction was very similar, but seemed
less surprised. Both stabbed at several controls in front of them with no
apparent effect.

"Douglas! There seems to be some problem with the Danger Room systems, I'm
trying to shut it down, stay where you are. I'll send Cannonball down to
pick you up."

"It's okay, Professor, I've just taken charge a little."

"You mean this is your doing?"

"Sure is, Professor. I'll explain after the test."

Above


Suspiciously, the Professor tried his control panels again.

"What's up, Professor?"

"I'm not sure how, Samuel, but somehow Douglas has locked me out of the
controls for the entire Danger Room."

"Is he in any danger? Other than from the maurauding androids, of course."

"I don't think so, Danielle. This isn't an accident, he seems to have
planned it somehow. Bearing that in mind, I think we should see how it
develops. On the other hand, it wouldn't hurt to be ready in case of
overconfidence. Magma and Shadowcat: run interference. Cannonball: you're
on retrieval." The three students nodded.

Below

Doug called aloud "Command: Wolfsbane" to no-one in particular. Suddenly
his appearance started to alter; claws sprouted from his fingers, and fur
grew over his elongating hands and a face that was swiftly becoming more
of a snout. Bringing his... well "paw" was the best word, up to his face,
Doug took a brief movement to marvel at the effectiveness of the
interactive holograms. He felt no different, but the outside world would
see a very different Doug Ramsey now.

He slashed out with his 'claws' at the android's hand clamped around his
ankle and it popped open. Another raking slash and its head appeared to
be hanging at an odd angle.

Really getting into it, Doug sort-of-loped towards the next two androids
and snarled. As he had not thought to include a voice-changing subroutine,
it was not as impressive as it might have been, but overall he thought his
impression of a snarling wolf-boy was pretty effective.

Above

The Mutants were staring at the scene with mouths hanging open.

"Professor, how is Douglas doing this, his power isn't copying other
people's powers, is it? I thought he said he could just learn new
languages quickly."

"His power is based on languages, Amara, but it also makes him
extraordinarily gifted with computers, which I think we are now seeing a
rather unorthodox demonstration of. I believe he's using the holographic
interfaces to change his appearance and apparent abilities. How he is
accessing them is another matter."

There was the sound of barely stifled laughter from beside him as Kitty
watched the proceedings below. "Well, I _did_ warn you not to underestimate
him." She offered the popcorn box around, and Sam grabbed a handful without
taking his eyes off the scene below.

Meanwhile, Rahne was having a momentary impression of what others must see
when faced with her wolf form and made a small whimpering sound at the
back of her throat as she huddled closer to Dani.

"Dani? Am I really that scary lookin'?"

"You? Nah! You're a lot more cute-little-puppy-like. However he's doing
this, Doug's been watching way too many Lon Chaney films. He looks much
scarier than you ever do." Privately, Dani thought that Doug had got it
just about right, but saw no need to frighten Rahne.

Below

The next androids had spontaneously developed a much shinier appearance,
and wolf-Doug's claws just skittered across them, barely leaving a mark.
Their reaction time was increasing too, which meant it was time to switch
partners.

"Reset. Command: Mirage." Doug's appearance returned to normal. He'd
thought about adding in a headband and suede boots for this part of the
program, but had decided against it on the grounds of both taste and
Dani's likely reaction to someone making fun of her, even if it was meant
harmlessly.

Doug advanced on the next group of three androids, put one hand on his
forehead and made rather hammy finger-wiggling gestures with the other
hand. In front of him appeared a pink-tinged hologram, much like Dani's
thought projections, this one looking like a giant electric can-opener.

The three androids back-pedalled furiously. One tripped over itself, one
swooned dramatically and the last one curled up into a close approximation
of a foetal position.

One attempted to rush him from the side, but retreated at the sudden
appearance of the Microsoft logo floating in front of it.

Above

Kitty cheered out loud at that one.

"I'm going to kill him for this!" promised Dani, though she was laughing
as hard of the rest of them.

As their original numbers were being thinned out, more androids emerged
from the recesses of the Danger Room.

Sam's accent was getting stronger, a sure sign of worry. "We're moving
into a Level Two sequence. Those androids'll be stronger than normal
humans, won't they, and react faster?"

"Indeed, Douglas passed the Level One sequence I had established, so it
is automatically upgrading the threat parameter. He seems to be remaining
true to the spirit of the program -- in his own way, admittedly". The
Professor sounded almost pleased about that.

Below

Doug only just managed to avoid falling into a trapdoor that suddenly
swung open in the floor. He would have fallen right in if he'd even been
jogging. But he knew enough about the Danger Room to test every footstep
carefully.

However, he was unable to avoid the two large padded slabs that slammed
out from the wall on pneumatic pistons as he backed away from the gaping
hole. He was caught firmly between them in what he was sure was a
hideously embarrassing position, one arm and a leg sticking out from what
was basically two large mattresses.

Wedged inside, Doug shouted again "Reset. Command: Sunspot". It was rather
muffled considering his position, but, as he was still able to breathe
normally, he was counting on the padding to be sound-permeable.

Those in the Booth could see the visible yellow glove and boot suddenly
turn jet black, dark energy crackling around them. With a creaking noise,
the two slabs were forced apart by a shadowy shape within.

As he dived out it was clear that Doug had assumed yet another persona. He
now resembled nothing so much as the silhouette form of Sunspot, though
the outline was still his own.

Above


Kitty heard a barely intelligible mumbling coming from Sunspot's general
direction, and was rather glad she didn't speak Portugese. She'd ask Doug
to translate it later -- she'd know how bad it was from how deeply he
blushed.

Below

Meanwhile, Doug grabbed the two nearest androids and slammed them into
each other. Then one attacked from behind, pinning his arms to sides.
Swinging around so the pit was behind him, he shrugged free almost without
effort, and elbowed it in the guts. The android was sent flying backwards
down the still open trapdoor. Sensing a humanoid body passing by, the
trapdoor snapped shut.

With a casual backhanded swat he sent the next android flying through the
air.

"Hey, you guys, I could get used to this! I can see why 'Berto gets off on
it so much."

Now from the floor behind Doug animated cables emerged, and they swiftly
wrapped themselves around him until he was barely visible. They strained
a little as he stretched them, but they had enough give to trap him
completely.

From inside the cable cocoon, a muffled voice could just be heard.
"Darn... I was enjoying that... Reset. Command: Magma." The cocoon lit up
with a warm red and yellow light from inside.

The coils around Doug flowed like candle-wax and he stepped free without
hindrance. He was glowing all over in a familiar red and yellow pattern
and fire flared around his head.

Above

"Hey, it looks like it's your turn, Amara! Goodbye Doug-spot, hello,
Doug-ma!"

"Indeed, Roberto. I had no idea my other form was that... imposing
looking."

"It looks way better on you though, Amara."

"Why thank you, Sam."

Below


Doug pointed dramatically and a lava bolt shot out of his hand, striking
the next wave of androids, who also seemed to melt into slag.

He moved forward again but found that his heat blasts had no effect on the
next wave. The androids were adjusting faster and faster.

"Oh-kay... Can't raise a rock wall in here, it'd block my own way. Here we
go again then. Reset. Command; Magik." Again his form returned to normal
for a second, then a silver sword burning with white light appeared in his
left hand and silver armour formed around his left arm and upper chest.

Above


"So, Illyana, what do you think of 'Dougik'?" Bobby asked.

Suddenly the real Soulsword materialised in front of Bobby's face. Illyana
held it lazily, and spoke without actually looking at him, still gazing at
the scene below.

"I'll have words with Doug about his little... impersonation later, but, in
the meantime, Bobby, don't mess with the wickedest witch going! Besides,
think about the money you're losing with each step he takes." Bobby gulped
visibly as that realisation struck him, and wisely decided to keep his
mouth shut.

"Illyana..." The Professor's voice was warning.

Illyana suddenly gasped and turned to look at the sword in her had. "Oh
golly, Professor, did I manifest this old thing? I am SO sorry. What can
I have been thinking?" It vanished as quickly as it had appeared.

Doug was swinging the blade awkwardly towards the next android which was
now manifesting a sword of its own. He'd forgotten he wasn't left handed.
Okay, too much attention to detail there, but not to worry. He switched
the sword into his right hand and then realised he still had little idea
of how to use it. He waved it in what he hoped was a suitably Errol Flynn
manner and the android backed away slightly.

"He's not touching them with the sword."

"Good move too. If he's keeping within the rules, it wouldn't be able to
harm them anyway. The sword only affects magical objects, and androids
don't count."

Below

Almost on cue Doug pushed the illusion too far and the sword passed right
through the chest of one of the androids without causing it any harm. It
ceased retreating, and moved forward.

"Oh well, so much for impressing the guys with my armed combat skills."
Doug then made a vaguely magical-looking gesture in the air, waved the
sword like a rather large wand, and shouted "Abracadabra!" Beneath the
next three androids, disks of light suddenly appeared and they fell
through them, vanishing from view. Actually holographic technology was
now cloaking them as they fell through more concealed trapdoors, but the
illusion was rather effective.

Above


"I would never use a cheesy sounding incantation like 'Abracadabra'."
Illyana sounded almost offended. "A witty one-liner perhaps, but not
'Abracadabra'."

"Relax, roomie. Anyway, think about it -- Doug could probably read any
book of magic you have, so be thankful he's sticking with the cliches."

"Wouldn't matter. Reading spellbooks isn't enough -- you cast a spell
with your heart and soul, not your mouth." Illyana still sounded slightly
huffy.

The Professor seemed interested despite himself. "I'm not so sure, Illyana.
Douglas' power is based on understanding the language and intent, not just
knowing how to pronounce the words."

Illyana chimed in again. "Professor, I don't think it's an experiment
we'd want to take too far. I doubt any of us would appreciate it if
Doug started translating chapters of say... the Darkhold, as a homework
assignment."

Though it was clearly meant as a joke, Dani noticed Kitty shudder
slightly and Illyana, possibly without realising it, made a small warding
gesture as she spoke. Dani realised that, though she didn't know what the
Darkhold was, the chances were that, if it could worry Magik, ruler of a
demonic Limbo, and Kitty, one of the bravest (if occasionally annoying)
people she'd ever met, then she would probably be happier not knowing.

Below

Doug could see other hatches opening in the far Danger Room walls as yet
another wave of androids were dispatched. These were bigger than the last
set and appeared to have built-in weaponry of some sort. He figured he was
near enough the deactivation switch for the final act.

"Reset. Command: Cypher." Doug's appearance returned to normal again.
A panel opened in the floor, and a hideously complicated looking Shi'ar
keyboard and monitor cube rose up on a simple plinth. Crouching over it,
Doug swiftly started typing commands, staring intently at the crystalline
monitor cube and the symbols that flashed around inside it in complex,
three-dimensional patterns.

Above

"Professor, those are androids from a Level Three routine. They could
really hurt Doug. They've got energy attacks, don't they?"

"Indeed, but I think you should have a little more faith, Danielle. Given
his performance so far, it's clear Douglas is in control and I don't think
he'd let any random factors interfere."

Below

"I could be in SO much trouble here!"

The androids had lined up in front of Doug, blocking his way completely
and advancing towards him relentlessly. He was still typing furiously,
and the watchers could see that sweat was starting to break out on his
forehead. With one final swift flicker across the panel, he stood up,
wiping his brow and letting out an explosive breath he had barely been
aware he was holding. The androids froze in place and then stood to
attention, still in a perfect row.

Turning towards the observation booth Doug addressed his audience.

"Ahem... Ladies, Gentlemen and Technarchs of all ages. Stevie Hunter
always says that, if you're going to do something, especially if the
chances are you're going to fail, then at least do it with style and
always, *always* have a grand finale! So, in that spirit..." He snapped
his fingers and caught a cane that popped out of a hole in the floor. At
the same time the androids suddenly developed straw boaters and bow-ties.

Cheesy music was piped in through the speakers as Doug started to perform
a moderately successful looking soft-shoe shuffle across the Danger Room
floor. Behind him the androids moved in perfect unison with his motions,
becoming the heaviest chorus line in history. With a final twirl of the
cane, Doug reached out and hit the deactivation switch with its tip.

"Danger Room Sequence disengaged. We now return you to your regularly
scheduled program. Have a nice day."

Doug and the androids then performed matching bows, though the androids
remained bent over when Doug straightened. Roses appeared out of nowhere
and fell at his feet and he caught a bouquet that had materialised from
the ether.

There was a spontaneous round of applause from the still laughing New
Mutants, and Kitty, Dani and Sam made "pay up" gestures towards Sunspot,
who bowed almost graciously in defeat. The Professor was looking
relatively stony-faced, though a slight smile might have been seen by
someone skilled in reading body language. His mental voice gave no clue
as to his feelings.

--Douglas, when you've quite finished, I think we need to have a little
talk.--

Above

Most of the New Mutants had left the booth, pausing only to smile or shake
their head in mock anger. Now Doug stood facing the Professor, who was
flanked by Sam and Dani. Kitty was running through several diagnostic
programs on the console behind them. Doug was explaining himself and
looking a lot less confident than he had a few minutes before.

"Professor, when I asked the guys what to expect, they all said the
chances were that I would have to make it across the floor of the Danger
Room unaided -- it's almost a tradition. When I specifically asked you
yesterday if I could use my powers to help me, you said I could. So last
night I hacked into the Danger Room systems and created the scenario you
saw. So I did use my powers to help me, and I did make it across the
floor."

"Indeed, most... impressive, and just when did you learn Shi'ar computer
code?"

"I used the English interface the first night I got here to communicate
with Warlock. But the first time with the pure code? Last night when I
hacked in."

"Are you telling me you learned to program holographic computers in an
alien computer language and achieved this whole... 'production number' of
yours... overnight?" The Professor seemed somewhat incredulous.

"Well, first I had to figure out the security system before it would let
me near the core program from my guest-room terminal, but all in all it
took me about an hour and a half. Then I had to get into the recordings
of the New Mutants' earlier sessions to work out what their powers looked
like and such. If I'd been outside the Mansion it would have been pretty
much impossible, but with terminal access in my room it was just a matter
of finding a shared system."

"Were you a party to any of this, Kitty?"

"No, Professor, I didn't even think there were any links between the room
terminals and the Danger Room."

Doug was warming to his topic now as he turned to Kitty. "There are if you
know where to look for them. There's a back door from the Danger Room's
main environmental control and the sewage treatment system for the rest of
the Mansion that you can access from the Housekeeping menu..."

"If I may return you to the topic in hand? Kitty, how easy would you say
it was to do what Douglas has done?"

"Well, Professor, I'm the best student you've got with the Danger Room
equipment, but there's no way I could have made it do all that in the time
allowed, and I've been using it for over a year now. As for duplicating
the appearance of not one, but multiple sets of powers? It'd take me days
to work it out even if I'd ever thought of it. Plus of course you'd know
about if I had, because I'd have been gloating for weeks."

"True. I must confess I did not expect this sort of subterfuge from you,
Douglas."

"With respect, Professor, it wouldn't have been very good subterfuge if
you'd been expecting it."

"A fair point. I was, in truth, rather impressed by the initiative you
showed. I was more intrigued by your rather... let us call it perhaps
'over-creative' approach."

"Professor, I admit I got a little carried away, but I kept to the limits
of the program. I didn't interfere with the Room's operations, only its
interaction with me. I did think about just making every android just
kow-tow to me, or ignore me, or something, but that wouldn't have felt
right. I wanted to prove I could adapt to random situations, like you
wanted, but in my own way."

"When I copied Sunspot's powers they acted as if I had his powers, same
with Wolfsbane and Mirage and the rest of them. None of the equipment cut
me any slack and I didn't interfere with their reaction time. As for the
final wave? They were completely independent of anything I'd prepared
other than arranging to have a keyboard handy. If I hadn't managed to
work out how to over-ride them on that terminal in there, they would have
finished me off just like they would anyone else."

"So that final part, the err... dance routine?"

"...was made up entirely on the spot on the keyboard. Ask Kitty to check
it out if you don't believe me."

"He's right, Professor, the only additional programming in those androids
was what he downloaded into them when he convinced them to become the
Rockettes. They'd have torn into him if he hadn't managed to stop them in
time."

"I was never doubting the truth of Douglas' words, more the fact that he
was prepared to act in such a reckless manner."

Doug realised that the Professor had been genuinely concerned about him,
and felt a pang of guilt.

"Professor, let's be honest here. My power is so low key it barely
qualifies as a power, it's practically a skill. I know that, you know
that, the other New Mutants know that. So I decided to lose with style
and, whilst I could, take advantage of the only real skills I do have to
weigh the odds in my favour -- my knack with software. It was me against
the Danger Room and no one expected me to win, least of all me, so I was
going to do my best, like you wanted, and do it on my terms! And as a wise
man once said, 'I don't believe in the no-win scenario.'"

"And, as I recall, Captain Kirk learned the folly of that particular
belief when it cost him the life of a friend. Oh, don't look so surprised
-- Sam and Bobby have watched that film often enough for me to have
practically picked it up by osmosis."

"But Kirk always wanted to act alone, that was his flaw. I'll have the New
Mutants backing me up. That's the reason why I copied their powers and not
the X-Men. They're my team, I'd never let them down and I trust them never
to let me down."

The Professor felt a momentary chill, for a reason he couldn't, or
wouldn't, acknowledge, but was distracted by the co-leaders of the New
Mutants giving their opinions.

"You have to admit, Professor, it was a novel solution to the problem..."

"...and it was making the most of his skills and powers in an original
manner, which was the aim of this exercise after all."

The Professor heaved a sigh. "I think I can see where this discussion is
heading. Kitty, do you have anything to add?"

"Well, he'll never put Fred Astaire out of a job."

"Kitty..." The Professor's tone was more tired than anything.

"Sorry, Professor, but I'm not in the New Mutants. Doug's actions are
really a matter for you guys to decide. From an unbiased 'resident
computer genius' viewpoint, I have to say I've never seen computer
programming like this. He even upgraded one of the operational subsystems
and tightened the security net while he was in there."

"It seemed the least I could do since I was poking about inside the code
without permission."

"Most gratifying, Douglas. However, in future I would appreciate it if
you would discuss any amendments you plan to make to my computer systems
before you actually do so."

"Yes, sir."

"I would also appreciate it if in future exercises you will limit yourself
to the gifts you were born with and the skills you have acquired since
then. Frankly I'm not sure my heart could stand the strain of two Sunspots
or Magiks running around the place."

"Yes, sir." Doug managed to keep a straight face for that.

"And as you seemed so keen to injure yourself in this exercise, I think it
might be advisable if you thought about taking the extra credit course in
use of the medical facilities, on a voluntary basis of course. You can
even try cleaning it for a couple of weeks, since you'll be there so much.
Do I make myself clear?"

"Crystal, sir." Doug was no longer looking quite so pleased.

"Very well then, we will leave the matter there." Doug breathed a quiet
sigh of relief.

The Professor consulted various notes he had made and looked over at the
similar pads that Sam and Dani had. He looked from one to the other,
clearly having some sort of mental communication with them, and nodded.
Doug was all but hopping from foot to foot in nervousness.

"Under the circumstances, Douglas, you have indeed passed the test, in
the unique sort of manner I have learned to expect from my students.
I am therefor pleased to welcome you formally both to Xavier's School for
Gifted Youngsters and the ranks of the New Mutants."

The Professor solemnly shook hands with Doug, who was somehow managing to
grin like an idiot and look abashed at the same time.

"Are you still planning on using the codename we discussed?"

"Yes Professor, from now on, you can call me: Cypher!"

"I do wish you'd reconsider. I appreciate the reference to your decoding
skills, but you must be aware that a cypher is another word for something
of no value, a zero. There are other names available: Codex? Babel?
Interface?"

"'Cypher' has been my hacker tag for quite a while now. Professor.
Besides, it may be nothing on its own, but I looked it up, and a cypher
is the zero that makes a '1' into a '10'!"

"Very well then. The choice is, of course, yours to make. I have discussed
the matter of a scholarship with your parents already and they were not
averse to the prospect. If you wish, I can arrange for a session with
them, where we can discuss the circumstances of your time here, and the
possibilities that your powers offer you for the future."

Doug's face blanched. "Umm, no, Professor, I'd really rather we didn't at
the moment. I'm still not sure how they would react to all this, me being
a mutant and all. Maybe when I graduate or something, but not right now."

The Professor nodded. "Again, the choice is yours, but it is something I'd
ask you to think about."

"Believe me, Professor, I've lost sleep over it. I love Mom and Dad and
everything, and I know thye love me, and I'm 99.9% sure they'd accept me
being a mutant, but I'm just can't take the slightest risk -- even if it's
only a 0.1% risk -- that I'm wrong. I'm not happy about lying to them,
I've never done that before about anything, but it's just too big a risk."

The Professor nodded solemnly, recalling his own experiences in that
regard. It seemed prudent to change the subject.

"Sam, Danielle, I think it's time you properly introduced the other New
Mutants to their new team-mate. I understand the tradition is for the new
student to buy for everyone else on the team at the Salem Soda Fountain.
I believe I might join you later, but don't wait to order on my account.
Mine, Douglas, will be a very large Chocolate Spectacular. I suddenly feel
in the need for a lot of sugar. Probably a reaction to a certain 'high
stress' situation I've been through this afternoon. Samuel, if you would
do the honours..."

"Sure thing, Professor, c'mon Dou..I mean 'Cypher'."

Doug smiled broadly at that. Being called by your codename name for the
first time by a teammate, THAT makes you feel like a superhero.

"Y'know, I REALLY like the sound of that..."

As the two -- no, three -- New Mutants left the room to join up with the
others, who had been hanging around outside the door, there were cheers as
"Cypher" was introduced and instantly engulfed in a round of back-slapping
and hand shaking.

Before the sound of voices faded into the distance, the Professor turned
to the youngest X-Man. "I'm sure you'd be welcome too, Kitty."

"No, Professor. Doug's a good friend and all, but it's a New Mutant
tradition and I'm an X-Man. I might join you all later, though -- for some
reason I find I have rather a lot of Sunspot's money burning a hole in my
pocket. Anyway I want to have a quick look at Doug's programming again, if
only to keep my 'resident computer genius' position for a little while
longer. You know, I think we could adapt his over-ride technique to deal
with one of Arcade's Murderworld programs, if we ever needed to..."

The Professor was listening to his students as they talked outside to
Booth...

Below

"So Doug, why didn't you copy me when you were in there? Something against
me?"

"Are you kidding, Sam? I'd have loved to copy your powers, but I just
couldn't work out a way to make it look like I could fly in there. I could
have faked your blast field and run around making 'woosh'-ing noises, but
it would have looked silly."

"And pretending to be Magma didn't?" Bobby asked. Doug just shrugged and
smiled sheepishly.

"It was the same thing with you, Warlock, your abilities were way too
complicated to duplicate in the time I had, you shapeshift way too much
so the holograms alone would have taken ages. It was weird enough seeing
myself look like Bobby and Amara, can you imagine what I'd look like if
I looked techno-organic? Ummm... No offence, Warlock."

"NONE TAKEN SELFFRIENDCYPHERDOUG. IT IS NOT SELFFRIEND'S FAULT THAT FEW
SENTIENTS CAN CARRY OFF SELF'S COLOUR SCHEME SO SUCCESFULLY."

The voices faded out of earshot.

Above


Left alone in the Control Booth, Kitty having vanished off with reams of
print out, the Professor was about to activate the housekeeping programs
to clear away the debris from Doug's session. However, as he surveyed the
still bowed androids on the rose-strewn Danger Room floor, he recalled the
whole ludicrous training sequence. Secure in the knowledge that he was
truly alone and his dignity would remain intact, Professor Charles Xavier
finally started to laugh out loud.

Kitty Pryde's head popped through the ceiling. "Gotcha, Professor!"

The End

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