Continued directly from Part 1/2...
Parts of the next few weeks, I have no memory of, just as there are
parts of my time on the street that are simply erased. But in this
case, it was the uncertainty of blindness and a powerful grief that
rendered me insensible. Who had mourned for the dead Mariana, I
wondered? Had anyone missed her? Was she buried in a pauper’s
grave? Even the knowledge that I’d killed the man who’d killed her
didn’t help. The death of Jack couldn’t resurrect my friend; it only
made me a murderer on top of being a whore. Some days, I simply
didn’t get out of bed, having no energy to face the chore of making
my way around blind, and I ate little. It was easier to sleep, or at
least to vegetate. I listened to the noise of reconstruction
downstairs, the buzz of saws, the pound of hammers, repairing the
damage I’d caused.
To this day, I don’t know how Xavier kept me from being arrested, how
the bodies were explained, or what became of the four goons who’d
survived. I’ve never asked, either; I don’t want to know. It was
nebulous, and I was content with that. True to the promise Jean had
given me, Xavier protected me, probably through highly illegal means.
But the law isn’t always about justice; it’s about the law. I
suspect that a few cops had their heads messed with, a few were lied
to outright, and a few knew the truth but kept their own counsel,
glad to be rid of the burden of Jack O' Diamonds. That his death
would almost surely instigate internecine gang warfare among his
lieutenants . . . well, that was the way of the streets. But the new
alpha wolf would be weaker, with less influence and fewer contacts,
and the police were happy with that. Sometimes, one must settle for
the best one can hope for.
That was the lesson I was learning. The best I could hope for.
Xavier had hoped that my manifestation would be a cause for
celebration. I learned many years later that he’d had a private
dream all his life of making the manifestation experience of at least
one child a time of joy and fulfillment, not fear and uncertainty and
self-loathing. He’d planned to throw me a *party*. But no one had
anticipated the fatal devastation of my power’s genesis. I suppose,
in a perverse way, I was lucky. Given my dicey mood at the time, I
could just as easily have blown my top at Jean, or Warren, or Hank,
or even the professor, and my power might have manifested against one
of *them*. That, I couldn't have borne.
I was the first energy converter Xavier had ever seen. Erik
Lehnsherr manipulated magnetic energy, but didn’t convert it. Hank
and Warren had physical mutations, and Jean’s was like Xavier’s --
psionic. But my body was one giant solar battery. Apparently, I
have a tertiary system right alongside my circulatory and limbic
systems that absorbs solar radiation through my skin, then conducts
it to part of my brain that converts it into concussive force that's
emitted back out through my optic pathways. Why the eyes, I have no
idea, though I suppose if mine worked right, it'd target and fire
instantaneously, with no need for eye-to-hand coordination.
But of course, it doesn't work right.
None of us knew that then, and almost the first words Xavier said to
me on the morning after I'd blown up his mansion den were words of
reassurance, not rebuke. "Most young mutants have to learn to
control their powers, Scott. Warren couldn't immediately fly, Hank
couldn't immediately climb walls, Jean couldn't immediately control
either her telepathic shields or her telekinesis. But they learned.
In my experience, just as babies are born with an instinct to pull
up, to crawl, and then to walk, so each mutant is born instinctually
knowing the proper way to manage his or her powers. You'll have to
But two weeks later, the news was different. It took that long, and
that many failed attempts by me to command the beams, to reach the
conclusion that there was something seriously wrong. My old medical
file, sent by Children's Hospital in Omaha -- where I'd spent five
months in a coma after the accident that had orphaned me -- only
confirmed what they'd begun to suspect.
It was a Thursday afternoon in mid-April, and I could hear the sound
of rain striking my window. April showers bring May flowers, but I
was beginning to fear I'd never see them. Xavier came motoring into
my room where I lay alone on my bed as I often did, listening to
music. Music had replaced books. Though Jean and Warren read to me
sometimes, Jean was still in class and Warren had other things to do
than entertain me. I had my CD collection. I'd come up with a
marking system on the jewel case spines that let me sort them
according to type, and with Warren's help, we'd alphabetized those.
I had a good memory for what I had, but it still often took three
tries before finding the one I was after. Strangely, I resisted
audio books, as if borrowing them from the library would be an
admission that this state wasn't temporary.
Now, I could hear the whine of the professor's chair even over the
earphones. I'd become extremely sensitive to sound and the
disturbances of air in a room. It was hard to surprise me, blinded
or not, and I removed the earphones, sitting up and turning my face
in his general direction. The professor rarely came to my room, so I
figured he had important news, but he began with small talk. "What
are you listening to?"
"Bimbetta -- 'The War of Love.'" Despite the group name and album
title, the music had been composed by Frescobaldi, Purcell and
Monteverdi. Hank's fault. I'd never like his opera, and composers
such as Wagner and Tchaikovsky drove me insane with their bombastic
style, but I'd discovered that I enjoyed early modern and baroque
very much -- the clarity of it. It pierced my soul in a way that
later classical music didn't.
"Have you ever considered joining a chamber ensemble, Scott?"
"*Me*?" The idea struck me as absurd. "What for?"
"Every now and then, I've had the pleasure of hearing you sing to
yourself in the kitchen. You have a fine ear and nice tenor."
That embarrassed me. I hadn't been aware that anyone had been
listening. "I can't read music," I blurted. "Not that it matters
Normally when I made remarks like that, Xavier would admonish me
with, "It's just a matter of time until you learn to master it."
That afternoon, he didn't. Instead, he moved his chair closer and I
felt his hand rest on my knee. In another place and time, I might
have construed it as a come-on. "Henry is finally finished with his
comparisons of your old medical charts to what data we can glean
Xavier's tone told me that whatever they'd found wasn't good news.
"Apparently, your effect on medical equipment isn't new." All those
fancy machines in the medbay didn't like my body much. X-Rays came
back entirely white; MRIs and CAT scans were nearly indecipherable.
"But the effect seems to have been intermittent when you were
younger, so they did have several brain scans. You suffered severe
injuries in the fall from the plane: multiple pelvic fractures, two
broken legs and one broken arm, plus internal injuries -- it's a
miracle your back wasn't broken. You also had fractures to both
shoulder blades and the rear of your skull."
All the damage he listed was old news. Involuntarily, I touched a
spot behind my ear where one of the scars lay from the holes they'd
been forced to drill to relieve the pressure on my bruised and
swelling brain. I'd always worn my hair longer to cover them.
"It seems the severe concussion that partly accounts for your lengthy
period of convalescence did damage to the occipital lobes of your
cerebrum. One of the doctors even wrote in your chart at the time
that if you did regain consciousness, it was possible you'd suffer
from vision problems or reading-related dyslexia of one stripe or
That, I'd never been told. "My sight's always been fine. Better
than fine. Except for the sun headaches -- but that's new. And I've
never had trouble reading." That was an understatement.
"Yet the damage is clear, according to Henry." Xavier hesitated,
then said, "He thinks the damaged part of your brain isn't the part
that controls sight or reading comprehension, but the part that would
have controlled your mutant power."
He stopped, but it took a moment for the import of his words to
register. "You mean I *can't* control it?"
"We’re beginning to fear that's the case. As you know, scans of your
cranial area are only nominally useful, but the MRI, at least, gives
enough data that Henry can pinpoint the damaged section when he
compares it to MRIs made at Children's Hospital nine years ago. It
does show up a different color, which seems to reflect less
"It's dead, you mean."
"Not dead, merely damaged. Obviously, part of the area still
functions, or your mutation would never have manifested at all."
I pulled in my legs against my body and wrapped my arms around them,
chin on knees. I didn't say anything for a while and Xavier didn't
press me. "So what does that mean?" I asked finally. "I'm going to
be blind forever?" Or effectively blind, as my sight destroyed
whatever I looked at. For the past two weeks, uncertainty had driven
me into increasing depression, but now I had the very truth I'd
feared the most. "I *hate* it," I said now, ready to scream with
rage, though I refused to lose control like that. "I *hate* being
helpless like this!"
"I know." Xavier's voice was soft and I could hear him shift in his
chair; that gave me pause. If anyone at the mansion understood what
it was like to be told "never again," it was the professor.
"How do you stand it?"
He seemed to follow what I was asking, but then, of course he would.
"Time," he replied, his voice gentle. "You adjust, relearn . . .
But Scott, it is still very early. We have only just isolated the
problem, and there may yet be a way around this. Please do not give
Unsure of what to think, I pressed one hand over the blindfold
secured across my eyes, there to help hold them shut as much as to
remind me not to open them. Fear suddenly filled me. "What'll
happen if there's no way around it? Can you sew my eyes closed? Or
just take them out?" Could they even do that without my blasting
through the medlab roof?
"Absolutely not!" Xavier's tone was shocked and -- I could tell --
deeply upset. "I would never permit you to be mutilated, Scott. We
can't know what the future will bring. I don't want you even to
think about damaging your eyes permanently. Promise me that you'll
attempt nothing drastic."
The emphatic nature of Xavier's concern took me by surprise, but I
said, "Okay," intentionally vague about what I was agreeing to.
He left me then, and I lay down, sleeping through until early
afternoon the next day. Once, Warren came by to sit with me a while,
though he said nothing. I was too depressed even to cry, but his
presence was the bulwark that I'd come to associate with him.
Deprived of sight, I'd developed new ways to see my friends. Warren
had become the wall that enclosed and protected me, just as he did
sometimes with his wings. He was scrupulously careful when I went
walking with him, warning me of everything in subtle ways that spared
my dignity; accidents rarely happened with Warren, and the few times
he failed to warn me fast enough, or I failed to listen, one of those
great wings would snap out to brace me or keep me from jeopardy.
That, I thought, was Warren's nature. Maybe he'd taken the whole
'guardian angel' thing to heart, but it was just the foundation of
his personality. He was a protector, a defender of those weaker than
him. He embodied the absolute best of the old aristocratic ideal of
social obligation. With power and resources came responsibility.
Hank was my educator, now no less than before. If the professor
taught my classes, Hank taught me that the heart of learning is a
spirit of adventure. For him, there truly were no stupid questions
except the one that went unasked, and if he sometimes seemed
childlike, it was because he'd never fallen into the sin of a
cultivated apathy. From Hank I learned to enjoy life, whether
sighted or blind.
One day while running errands for the professor (an attempt both to
get me out of the mansion and to force me to function blind in
public), Hank pulled off the highway unexpectedly, parked the car,
and led me across a field. I wasn't at all sure where we were beyond
someplace with a lot of squealing kids. Then he halted, took away my
cane, and placed my hands on a set of what turned out to be monkey
bars. "Climb, Scott."
"I can't fucking *see*!" I snapped back.
"You don't need to see, you only need to feel. I won't let you
fall." And he didn't. By the end of the afternoon, I'd been on
every toy the yard had to offer and had even caught myself laughing a
time or three. What the children thought of two grown (or nearly
grown) men playing on monkey bars and slides, I have no idea, but no
one said anything to us.
Thus, when a few days later Hank arrived at my room with a handbook
for Braille, braille flashcards, a braille keyboard and voice
recognition software for my (unused for four weeks) computer, I
didn't snap his head off. "You love to read, Scott. There is
absolutely no reason to deprive yourself of that joy." Other things
Hank brought included a currency scanner, a talking calculator, and a
hinged-face pocket watch for telling time by touch. So I sat down
that evening and began to memorize letters. When I got my sight back
a month later, I kept it up anyway. Today, I read American Literary
Braille fluently, and still use a braille keyboard. It's not an
affectation. I'm at the mercy of my glasses or visor; without them,
I am blind. And I refuse to be helpless. Besides, by the end of the
day, their weight can give me a headache. It's a relief to take them
off and read a book by touch.
Touch. What the blind can't do without, and what I had the most
difficulty accepting. If Warren was my bulwark, and Hank my teacher,
then Jean became my open door. It had been Jean who'd come after me
that first night in the rain, who'd dragged me bodily back to land,
and who, even before that, had taught me to accept a touch or embrace
without flinching. She still touched me afterward, despite what
she'd learned of my past, as if she knew how much I needed the
reassurance of human contact. There was an added benefit -- when she
was touching me, I could see. It proved, however, to be a
double-edged sword. When I saw, I saw through her eyes, not my own,
and the result was a tendency to misjudge distance. I ran into
things. With more time, I might have learned to adjust, but Jean
could only visit on weekends and about a month into my blindness, I
realized that it was neither fair to be her visual parasite, nor
useful. It only fostered dependence, which I despised. So I told
her that I'd accept the gift of sight only occasionally. She didn't
press the matter, but when she was around me, she was always touching
And thus I didn't associate Jean with sight, but with the warmth of
skin and an enthusiastic grip. She grounded me, dragged me back to
the shore of social companionship. I wasn't an island in a blind
lake. Strangers who saw us probably assumed we were lovers, but it
was never that kind of touch, not then, though I have no doubt that
my complete ease with the feel of her body bled later into the
sexual, not merely the sensual. At that point, she was simply my
door. I passed through her back into the human race.
For convenience, I say I was blind for two months. In fact, I was
blind for seventy-one days. I lost my sight about midnight on March
29th and regained it fully on June 8th. But the process started
weeks before that, and like most important discoveries, it happened
quite by accident.
'Try it again, Scott.' 'Concentrate, Scott.' 'Isolate the feel of
the beams themselves.' 'Experiment with contracting and releasing
the muscles of your eyes.' Probably all good advice, if things had
worked right, which we eventually discovered they didn’t. In those
first weeks, I tore up a lot of lawn, a few trees, and probably
confused a number of locals with the ‘laser show’ in the sky up at
Xavier’s estate. The difficulty with learning to control my powers
(even if they *had* worked right), lay in their sheer
destructiveness. I could dig a twenty-foot trench in seconds, and
seconds isn’t long if it’s all new and you’re trying to get a sense
of how it feels. Aiming at the sky gave me more time, but I couldn't
really determine relative force because the beams weren’t striking
anything (we hoped). The end result was that I usually stormed off
inside half an hour, upset and frustrated past bearing. I was a
walking weapon, my body good for nothing except destruction. It was
hardly the mutant gift I’d have chosen. Warren got to fly. I got to
punch holes in things.
About four weeks after my beams first manifested, Hank and the
professor took me out to a corner of the estate that sported a
shallow cliff of exposed granite, hoping that by trying my beams
against such hard rock, I'd have more time to feel them. The
professor still thought my lack of control might be 'mutant dyslexia'
rather than an entirely dysfunctional 'on-off' switch. (It isn't.)
And Hank was trying to discover if the density of an object had any
containment effect. (It doesn't.) They'd had no idea just *how*
much force the beams wielded, but when I drilled a hole twenty-five
feet deep in the side of that cliff in ten seconds, they realized my
'optic blast' was a whole order of magnitude stronger than they'd
thought. They also made a startling discovery.
The igneous granite had been riddled with veins of brown tourmaline
and one massive deposit of SiO 2 -- silicon dioxide, or quartz. In
this case, rose quartz, common to New York and Connecticut. The hole
I'd made was clean-drilled, slicing through both granite and
tourmaline, but leaving half-exposed that clump of raw, glittering,
Rose quartz is my friend, so I've read a lot about it. The name
comes from the Saxon word 'querklufterz,' and the mineral has
traditionally symbolized love and beauty. Romans believed it to be a
fertility aid, it's the gemstone of the zodiac sign Libra, and South
Dakota's official stone. Yet in terms of geology, it's . . . quirky.
First, unlike all other forms of quartz, it rarely occurs in
hexagonal prisms, only massive chunks. There's no scientific reason
for this. Second, no one is entirely certain what gives it the
distinct color. Mineral impurities, yes, but *what* impurities?
Iron and titanium used to be thought the culprits, but more recent
X-ray defraction tests suggest it's a previously unknown fibrous
mineral related to dumortierite.
Whatever it is, it likes me, or my beams like it. A few more tests
were conducted before they said anything, but on the five-week
anniversary of my manifestation, Hank called me outside, sat me in a
chair and told me to open my eyes. Still docile in my depression and
used by now to being a guinea pig, I complied.
In front of me, I saw a wall of pink as the beams lanced out. They
struck the wall -- and *disappeared*.
It startled me so much, I jumped to my feet, knocking the chair over
backwards and blasting part of the lawn before I snapped my eyes
shut. "What the hell just happened? What *is* that stuff?"
"Rose quartz," Hank said, sounding very pleased with himself as he
righted the chair and guided me back down into it.
"Is it still in front of me?"
I opened my eyes again to the same astonishing result. The beams
disappeared into the crystal -- mostly. A bit leaked around the
edges, and I asked, "Are you sure this is safe?"
"As long as you don't shift your head much, we should be fine. Move
in closer. I want to see the approximate width of the beams at close
proximity." He didn't explain why and I was still too amazed to ask,
just pressed my nose to the quartz. It was the gemmy kind, milky and
opaque, like looking into a pink cloud. I could pick out the threads
of it, capillaries under fair stone skin, and caught Hank in my
peripheral vision moving about beside me, taking careful measurements
with calipers. Everything was tinted red, but what I noticed most
was the sensation of the beams releasing. Before, the longest I'd
held my eyes open had been 20-30 seconds, but now, almost a full
minute had passed and the sensation had gone from a sudden thrust to
a steady pressure, not at all painful. Vaguely erotic, in fact. It
had given me a partial hard-on and realizing what was happening, I
shut my eyes.
"What's wrong?" Hank asked. "I wasn't quite finished."
"Sorry." I swallowed and concentrated, trying to make the erection
go away, but of course, and perversely, concentrating only made it
worse. One's mutant gift wasn't supposed to be a turn-on, was it?
But the unexpected power of it, pouring out of me, felt bright like
I opened my eyes again and concentrated on feeling the beams. I
could master this. My body didn't rule me, dammit. After a few
moments, the sensation faded into physical background noise. Hank
finished his calibrations and the blindfold went on again.
Thus began steady days of experimentation. Having something positive
to concentrate on, I could drag myself out of bed in the morning.
(Well, late morning.) I didn't want to think about my present
blindness, my unsavory past, or dead people -- Mariana, Jack . . . my
family. I only wanted to think about rocks. Hard, crystalline,
Henry hallowed out a practice mask for me from the rose quartz I'd
accidentally excavated from the hillside. The whole block had been
ten inches by twelve, exceptionally large. He created a shallow bowl
that curved over my face from chin to forehead and around to my ears.
I had to hold it there, and it was heavy, but it gave me something
to work against that didn't explode. I found that if I couldn't shut
off the beams, I *could* control the power of their impact by pushing
or relaxing, and I could vary their size by widening or narrowing my
eyes. As we moved the mask closer to and away from my face, we could
measure the beams' dispersion and project the width of the ray.
Using the left-over quartz, Henry also began testing how thin the
sample could be before it cracked under impact, and determined the
effects of varying the aperture in the quartz. If the slit were long
and narrow enough, the beams were pushed together until they made a
single blast. I wasn't sure what the point of all that was, but Hank
was about six steps ahead of me.
Experimentation proved that any type of rose quartz was resistant,
but the thickness required to block the beams before the sample
shattered depended on its impurity level -- suggesting it was the
mysterious 'something' in rose silicon dioxide that absorbed my
In short, the darker the gemstone, the thinner it could be.
That presented a problem. Unlike other varieties of quartz,
high-grade transparent rose crystal is damn rare, and most comes from
Brazil. It's pale, too, with fewer impurities, and thus, less
resistance. No piece of natural transparent stone is strong enough
to withstand my beams, yet still be thin enough that I could see
through it. Hank's solution? A synthetic. Synthetics, like
cultured pearls, are real, just artificially created. The quartz
used for my visors and glasses is lab grown, stabilized, and then
enhanced by irradiation -- creating perfect, flawless crystals with a
high level of mineral impurity, making it deep pink. Hank calls it
I remained intensely interested in the entire process, as it gave me
something intellectual to latch onto, a raft in an emotional sea.
I'd been drifting. Even so, science isn't a steady march forward.
For every breakthrough that Hank made, he ran into another problem,
yet he was determined to find a way for me to see again and spent
hours in his lab, even though he was also juggling residency
rotations. "Why are you doing this?" I asked him once. "I got you
shot, almost killed."
"Don't be ridiculous. The bullet merely grazed my shoulder. And
*you* did nothing." I could hear his motion cease. He'd been
polishing yet another stone. "Listen to me -- you must cease to
blame yourself for the actions of a hardened criminal, Scott. Yes,
perhaps you erred in returning to visit your old roommate." By now,
they all knew how Jack had gotten my cell number. "But it was an
error, and a *compassionate* error, at that. Would that all of us
made mistakes of that kind. Let blame fall on the right shoulders --
and they aren't yours."
I heard him out, but maintained my doubts. Instead, I said, "That
still doesn't explain why you're helping me. Every spare hour you
don't spent at the hospital, you're down here playing mad alchemist."
I could hear the smile in his voice. "I delight in a challenge, and
this is a massive challenge." Then he grew serious. "But more than
that, you belong to this little mutant family, Scott. Your burden is
my burden, and in this case, it's a burden I can do something about.
So I am."
I pondered that, remembering what Jean had said to me on the night
she'd come after me -- that she admired how I noticed and did things
for people. I'd replied that it was all I had to offer. And it was
-- but I'd been looking at it wrong, as a payment, not a gift. We
each had something to give. Mine was noticing things. That
encompassed who I *was*, though I'd never thought of myself in those
terms. Always before I'd been an orphan, a runaway, a street-kid, a
hustler . . . a problem. But I was also a shepherd of sorts, an
organizer, and -- if Xavier could be believed -- a budding tactician.
I saw patterns in things, how they held together, and what was
required to make them work. Hank's gift was ingenuity, Warren's was
compassion, Jean's was enthusiasm, Xavier's was vision, but I was the
glue that held them all together.
I liked that thought a lot better than being a whore.
Three days later, Hank caught me in the kitchen on a Sunday morning.
It was brunch; Warren, Jean and I were quarreling over whether
pancake syrup should be hot or cold (surely a topic of epic
importance), when Hank burst through the door, shouting, "*Eureka!*"
"Whathefuck . . .?" I heard a loud clatter as something fell.
"Don't scare the shit out of me like that!" Warren snapped,
presumably at Hank.
"What is it?" I asked, frustrated yet again at my blindness.
"War dropped his plate of pancakes," Jean explained
"Forget the pancakes!" I heard Hank bound over to undo my blindfold
and put something else on my face instead. It was heavy and cold,
like metal, and it fit snug over my ears and across the bridge of my
nose. "Wholah! Open your eyes, Scott!"
"Are you fucking crazy? Not in the house!" I'd been through a
couple of Hank's experiments before, enough to be cautious.
"Okay, so let's go outside."
"Shouldn't the professor be here?" Jean asked.
"I don't know --" I began even as Hank said, "Yes, yes!"
So Xavier was summoned from where he'd been taking quiet time in his
office, and we all exited the kitchen's servant door, Jean guiding me
by the elbow. I tried not to think while we trooped out onto the
lawn beyond the herb garden. This would probably be another failure;
no reason to get my hopes up. When we stopped, Hank said, "Open your
eyes, Scott!" And cautiously, I cracked them a little inside the new
contraption on my face. Nothing happened. No exploding quartz, no
deadly optic blasts.
It was marvelous.
Everything was red and distorted and dark, even outside at near noon,
and the visor itself lay heavy and uncomfortable on my face. But it
was marvelous. After months of blindness, the power of vision felled
Dropping to my knees, I whispered, "I can see."
Notes: Thanks to Cyclops&Phoenix, especially Lelia and Naomi, for a
long-ago discussion of Scott's injuries and the discovery of his
glasses. Heatherly read a draft and offered insight. Bimbetta is
http://www.bimbetta.com/ -- "a blend of cabaret, Commedia Dell'Arte,
and MTV Unplugged."
Feedback is always welcome.
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