Chapter 4
The Exercise



The tools in Logan's hands felt very comfortable. It would be pretty hilarious if after all this soul-searching and mind-ripping, he ended up being a superintendent with delusions of grandeur who happened to be taking care of the building where those crackpot scientists had their lab.

I very much doubt that's the case, Xavier said.

They were in Cerebro, fiddling with the guts of the machine, doing some final tweaks. Some guy named Forge dropped in and put most of the big stuff together around the same time the major repairs were going in. He left a notebook of scribbled diagrams that Xavier read and hummed at every five minutes before telling Logan to connect the red wire to the green socket.

Logan didn't know why Xavier trusted him with the machine; he was positive he wasn't a computer geek. Putting in new windows was real different from re-wiring the cables on this overgrown science experiment. But, hey, it was Xavier's shiny dome wearing that helmet.

He turned the screwdriver one last time to ensure the screw wouldn't give. "Okay, it's in. How's it feeling?"

Xavier chicken-pecked at the console. "All the systems seem to be in order. Forge mentioned that he'd installed a troubleshooter in the program although it only indicates the malfunctioning part and not how to fix it."

"That's real helpful."

"Considering what we had to do before, this is a godsend." Xavier put the helmet on. "If you wouldn't mind keying the doors into 'watch' mode; should anything goes wrong, you can override the lock and shut Cerebro down."

"How do I know if something's going wrong?" asked Logan.

"I'll probably be shouting expletives at the top of my voice. Your hearing should come in handy."

Logan could have sworn he saw Xavier grinning. Telepaths-- all that mental mind-twisting definitely did something to their sanity. As a card-carrying member of the Possibly Psychotic Club, Logan knew all the signs.

"Out of curiosity," said Logan, "what did I just do?"

Xavier paused in the middle of typing. "You increased Cerebro's sensitivity. I'd requested Forge to place it at a low level by default partially as a security measure against curious young telepaths that might enrol and partially to prevent a repeat of the events at Alkali Lake. The only way to change the setting is manually, as a redundant safety device." He tapped a few keys and the room buzzed. "Even though I can cross-reference Adam's bio signature through Scott's file, since Adam is not a mutant, Cerebro's sensitivity level must be increased."

"So I'm going to have to hang out until you're done so I can quiet it down again," said Logan.

"I'll let you know when you're needed," said Xavier. "But first, the test run. Do you remember how to operate the viewing panel?"

"Yeah, sure, Chuck. Reality TV technology finally put to good use."

Logan stepped out, wiping his hands on a workshop rag as Cerebro's doors hissed shut. He could really kill for a smoke right around now. That machine had never sat well with him-- maybe it was the knowledge that Magneto helped build it, maybe it was the idea that it made Xavier a frillion times stronger.

He pulled on a notch in the wall beside the doors. A monitor with a small panel of buttons disengaged from the smooth metal finish. After a short hiss of static, the monitor showed Xavier with the helmet, eyes closed in concentration. It was grainy-- something about the telepathic resonance interfering with the camera lens-- but it was clear enough for the current purpose. Numbers and a line-graph scrolled in an adjacent, slightly larger monitor.

"Do you remember what to look for on the readout?" asked Xavier.

"Yeah, sure," said Logan. "If the graph goes over 9000 or under 5000, shut it down. If the numbers go over 13 .2 and under 12.8, shut it down. It's like tuning an engine."

"Excellent. I'm bringing up Cyclops' biosignature file," said Xavier. His voice was grainy, too, like those audio cassette tapes that had been played way too may times. "All the systems are responding properly."

The viewing panel was one-way only; Logan could see and hear Xavier but not the other way around. He stuck a cigar in his mouth.

Xavier's voice popped in his head again, this time in digital surround sound. Logan, sneaking a smoke when I'm on Cerebro? That's demeaning.

At least you know it's working, Logan thought back at him.

Mental laughter came accompanied with multi-coloured stripes and the smell of freshly baked pies and roast chicken. If that was a peek into Xavier's head when he was laughing, Logan was putting good money on the bet that all telepaths were a little bit nuts.

Actually, those are just residual memories evoked by my amusement, said Xavier. The tendency on the astral plane is to think not only in terms of words. All the senses become incorporated in the emotion including memories that have an especially strong connection to that particular emotion.

So you have extremely happy memories of wearing plaid at church picnic buffets? asked Logan.

Colours are a bit difficult to explain, said Xavier, but the scents... Memories are stored, for the lack of a better phrase, close to the processing area for the olfactory system. Some victims of amnesia also become scent-blind because of that region which was damaged. In any case, the scent of pies aren't mine. My thoughts probably triggered a few of your memories.

Logan instantly went on alert. How'd that happen?

I assure you, it's entirely normal and happens to everyone. It's rather like speaking with a group of friends over a poker table. One person tells a funny story which reminds the next person of a similar experience who then reminds a third man of his own story and so on and so forth. I acquaint Sunday dinners with joy and your mind, in turn, pulled out a memory of a favourite mealtime.

Great, so my next mission is to go around sniffing pies at country fairs.

I could think of worse ways to spend a year.

He had a point.

"Cross-referencing Cyclops' biosignature with known related mutants," Xavier said out loud. "All systems are responding. I'm going to attempt to search for Alex. I know his location and his biosignature so it should be relatively easy. However, since this will be the first time I access a non-human mind since... Alkali Lake, I will need you to watch the readouts very closely. If the numbers don't go over 13, we'll have to sensitize the machine a bit more."

"Ready when you are, Chuck." Logan spoke out loud before remembered that he had to think the words.

"Don't worry; I heard you," said Xavier. I'm changing my search to Hawai'i now.

Silence from Cerebro. Logan kept one eye on Xavier's expression and the other at the figures on the larger monitor. The line graph oscillated wildly but within the safe range. The numbers underneath it moved steadily upwards, increasing by hundredths.

Looking good, Logan thought.

Yes, it's very encouraging, said Xavier. Alex is very easy to find. His mind is very much like Scott, constantly expending energy processing large amounts of data.

In comparison to the walking dick that's visiting us right now?

Yellow-tinted stripes flashed through Logan's head. Don't underestimate Remy, Xavier said. He tries far too hard to appear carefree.

Staff grapevine says he dropped out of this school.

Many students only stay for a short time especially if they have supportive families. It's telling, I think, that Remy only needed a few months to master his gift when he received them at a younger age than the present students.

Great. Even the slacker in Summers' family was "exceptional."

How are the readings? asked Xavier after a few minutes of scanning: first all non-mutants on Hawai'i, then all the mutants on the archipelago, then switching rapidly from the mainland USA to the islands and finally alternating between mutants and non-mutants on the mainland..

Holding steady, Logan replied.

Good. Then, I believe I'll start the search now.

What, for One-Eye's kid brother?

It's been a week. The longer we wait, the greater the possibility that Adam might be hurt, said Xavier. Staff interviews aren't until the afternoon. I will not be needed until then.

"Whatever you say, Chuck." Another flash of plaid, this one in greens and blues, flew through Logan's mind before Xavier turned his attention away.

With his boots clunking heavily against the sub-basement floors, Logan left the Cerebro sector, taking care to re-arm the security door which Forge had also installed during his visit. There was one mutant power Logan would lose a limb for-- the ability to build everything out of duct tape and scrap metal. Damn, the mods he could put on a bike if he had that.

A small group of kids, led by Cyclops and Storm, made their way down the same hall. Logan dipped his chin in Rogue's direction but she barely acknowledged him. Weird.

"Logan," said Storm.

Cyclops didn't speak but Logan was getting used to it. The guy did spend the whole week after Jean's death talking in monosyllables.

"Where you headed?" he asked, again pointedly facing Rogue.

To his dismay, her lower lip stuck out and she broke away from her classmates, barelling into the elevator and punching the call button viciously.

Logan stared after her, his eyes narrowed. "Where's the fire?"

A deep sigh rushed from Cyclops' chest. "Class dismissed. Go nuke yourselves some lunch before Pietro eats it all. I'm just going to talk with Logan for a sec, 'Ro."

The remaining three students nodded and limped away with Storm at their heels, hovering uncertainly.

Cyclops fell into a comfortable military stance which Logan copied until he realised he did so. Then, he deliberately pulled a cigar out of his jacket and stuck it between his teeth.

"Rogue's being too hard on herself," said Cyclops.

One of Logan's brows rose. He didn't see that one coming. "What do you mean?"

They began walking down the hall towards the council room's east entrance. "We had a training session in the Danger Room just now. Nothing too complicated; just a high-tech version of capture the flag. It's her first time in that environment so, of course, I told her that she'd experience some disorientation, maybe fall back a little." Cyclops shook his head. "She wants to save the world and she wants to do it now."

"Don't that make her the perfect little X-Man?" Logan drawled.

"Don't be a turd," Cyclops retorted. "This training is for self-defense not offensive attacks. We were never meant to--" His jaw muscles clenched. "Rogue has a severe disadvantage on the field. Her gifts are extremely close-range. If she borrows gifts from her teammates, then they're the ones who become vulnerable."

"So give her a gun, teach her how to shoot."

"I'd rather not give firearms to a seventeen year-old, thanks. Especially not in a school."

"Then what the hell are you trying to tell me?" Logan demanded.

"Talk to her," said Cyclops. "Convince her that's it's okay to stay behind the main line of attack. She wants to be out there-- I don't know, kicking racist ass or something but she's just going to get herself hurt. Racist asses come heavily armed nowadays." His mouth curled down. "If I had the time, I could train her in a bit of judo but not to the level that she wants to be at."

"I know judo," said Logan abruptly.

Although what he could see of Cyclops' face didn't change, Logan could sense his doubt. "I'm not talking about an addiction to Bruce Lee films."

"Neither am I," Logan snapped. "I know it. I've taught it before."


"Hell if I remember but I have."

Cyclops was silent, studying his sincerity Logan presumed. "Okay. Even taking that into account, she still wants to be at the head of everything. I don't want you to make her over-confident, Logan. Not if it means she'll get hurt."

"Rogue's got a stubborn streak that'd make the Pacific look like a puddle," said Logan. "If she wants to kick Brotherhood ass, I'm going to be cheering her on. Kid's been knocked down enough."

"I'm surrounded by comic book wanna-bes," Cyclops muttered. "Nix everything I just said, Logan. If you're going to get her killed--"

"I didn't say that," said Logan sharply. "Part of judo is knowing your weaknesses as well as your enemies. I'm going to teach her how to kick-ass but only if she knows she can win."

"Unlike some other people who run headlong into enormously outnumbered fights?" Cyclops said with a wry twist to his lips.

"That's only because I know I can win every fight," said Logan.

The sparring floor groaned in surrender as Alex sent Kim slamming down. He quickly shook off the shock, jumped back to his feet and pummelled Alex into the ropes. Alex feinted a punch and a kick, finally settling for a headbutt.

The referee blew his whistle. "Summers! Watch your form!"

"It's okay," said Kim, smirking. "What's the good of learning how to fight if you don't know how to go against people who fight dirty?"

"I don't fight dirty," Alex said. "That was a perfectly legal headbutt in accordance to Ultimate Fighting rules."

Kim snorted. "Dude, we're not ultimate fighters."

"Maybe not you." Alex's grin widened when Kim came at him with a series of round house kicks. He dodged all but the last which knocked his jaw back, eliciting a loud crack as joints popped.

"Fujimura!" the ref shouted but the two young men ignored him. He wiped his sweaty brow. "Fine. As long as you don't get blood on that ring, I'm leaving you two psychos to yourselves."

Blood did get on the ring but Alex and Kim cleaned it up with a liberal application of Lysol and a shirt from the lost and found.

"Man, I have to work in ten minutes," said Alex, "and my arm feels like shit."

"I thought the Klines weren't coming for another half an hour?" Kim said, popping a stick of gum in his mouth.

"Yeah, but it takes about that long to get the smell out of the clothes."

"Dude, that's why you shower."

"Dude, I don't have time to shower. Not when I've got a chem lab exam to study for."

Kim tsked. "School in the summer. You're way too hard-core, brah."

"Nah, just aching for any excuse to hop around this island and collect rocks."

"You know what happens when you take one of Pele's rocks right?"

Alex cocked an eyebrow. "Something gruesome?"

"Your pizzle withers," said Kim. "And then you start wanting to hump lizards."

Alex laughed. "You are so full of shi--"

"Hi, Alex!" Lorna Dane broke away from a small group of girls to wave at them, her brightly printed sari-skirt fluttering like a butterfly. "Hey... Kim, right?"

Kim nudged Alex. "You do not want your pizzle withering."

"I'll keep that in mind," said Alex as he held his arms out. "Heya, babe. Missed you."

They kissed amidst their friends' amused impatience.

"Are we all still going to the Blue Jalapeno tonight for our three-month anniversary?" Lorna asked.

"Tonight?" Panic crossed Alex's face for a second but cleared when Lorna turned back to him. "Totally. Which is why I'd better get going so I can get all my reading done." He bussed her cheek. "Give me a call around five, okay?"

Kim managed to keep from commenting until they were out of Lorna's hearing range. "There's a dilemma, brah. Once a decade geological phenomenon or a chance to finally get into a certain someone's..."

Alex's eyes narrowed in warning but Kim quickly amended his thought.

"...good graces." He coughed again, so loudly and so long that Alex felt the need to put him out of his misery. Preferably by choking him so he wouldn't have to deal with that horrible cough.

"You wouldn't have that problem if you dated someone out of diapers," said Kim as they entered the prep room. Uniform shirts on locker hooks lined the walls. Alex made a beeline for his. Although it was across the room from Kim's, the distance didn't deter his friend. "At least, try to go for someone out of braces."

"Lots of people get braces out of high school," Alex said, nearly grumbling. "She's not that young. Hell, we're in the same math class."

"Because you enrolled later than she did," Kim pointed out. "Dude, I mean it. She's still thinking like it's high school with that three-month anniversary crap. You are in for nothing but a shitload of grief."

"Let me worry about it," said Alex. "I'll figure something out. Maybe if I rig a camera..." he muttered, mostly to himself.

"Where, at the restaurant or the volcano?" Kim was laughing so hard he didn't protest when Alex decided to whip him stupid with a wet towel.

When the Kline party strolled out to the green thirty minutes later, Alex and Kim were the picture of professionalism having directed their energy into the game. They met with the portly doctor and his guest, hands out for a shake.

"Good morning, Dr. Kline," said Alex, genuinely pleased to meet the man. "I'm happy to see you again."

"Likewise, Alex," said Kline. "As if I'd get anyone else to caddy for me. Gentlemen, I want you to look get a good hard look on this boy's face. Next time you see him, he'll be in the Masters sliding one of those green jackets around his shoulders."

"Don't I just wish," Alex said dryly. He turned his attention to Kline's guest. "Alex Summers."

"Michael Milbury." The dark, goateed man had a creepy look in his eyes and an equally disconcerting handshake. He held on a hair too long, his palms cold and hard, unnaturally smooth. Alex had to resist the urge to wipe his hands on his pants after Milbury released him.

"Are you a doctor, too?" asked Kim.

"I'm no longer a practitioner," replied Milbury. "I started in the OR but discovered that I much prefer research."

"What kind of research?"


Kim nudged Alex. "Isn't your brother's girlfriend studying the same thing?"

He couldn't explain why his reluctance to speak to Milbury. Ignoring the question would be rude, however, and Kline was one of the club's best members. "I'm not sure," Alex finally said. "I think she's gone back to practicing."

"There are a lucky few who can devote their time to both," said Millbury. "I found that I couldn't handle the strain of the emergency room. My failures affected me too deeply." The corners of his lips turned up into what might have been a smile. "There is no way to become attached to a Petri dish of stem cells."

"Depends on how much your grant is!" Kline guffawed at his own joke. Kim and Alex half-heartedly joined in while Milbury kept his non-smile on.

"You're a middle child, aren't you?" Milbury commented halfway through the second hole.

"I'm sorry?" Alex played at obtuseness.

"You're the middle child in your family. I can tell." Milbury gestured discreetly at Kline. "Middle children like to please as you're doing right now, juggling my incompetence and Kline's posturing with relative ease. No, don't protest; I am incompetent and Kline is posturing. Everyone who isn't a professional postures at golf. The attire all but calls for it." His lips turned up again. Alex couldn't help but imagine that the smile was a mask, one of those waxy numbers he and his brothers used to buy for a quarter at corner-stores.

"I've got two older brothers and one younger," he said, unable to think of a reason to lie.

"Ah, close enough. And do you get along well with your brothers?"

"As well as any other family, I guess."

"You think I'm prying," he said with a slight nod.

"No, not really--"

"Please, forgive a hermit's attempts at socialization. I believe Kline should be calling for you any moment now."

On their way to the fifth hole, Kim nudged Alex again. "I think he's got a crush on you," he teased, tilting his chin in Milbury's direction. The two doctors were discussing one of Kline's patients with disgusting detail.

Alex heaved the golf bag higher on his shoulder. "Screw off, Fujimura."

"What? He stares at you when you're not looking. I think you better keep your back turned away from this guy just in case. You don't want Lorna to get jealous now, do you?"

Kim wasn't going to stop until he played along so, despite his aversion, Alex let the comments slide. He retorted something equally suggestive then hurried to Kline's side as they got to the second hole. Milbury bugged him but it wasn't what Kim thought. The man just did not sit right in Alex's gut. If he came around again as Kline's guest, Alex decided he'd sit the round out. It would cost him a great tip but it wasn't worth being in Milbury's presence again.

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