NAMING OF NAMES
Rachel held her little brother carefully. He clung to her with all his nine-year-old might, and she felt like clinging right back, but if she squeezed him too hard he'd know how scared she was. So she concentrated on holding him casually, like she had when he was little and he liked to sit on her lap while they watched cartoons on TV.
David hadn't sat on her lap since he was four and she was seven. Then he decided girls were yucky (except Mom and, later, Jean), which was fine with Rachel. He'd been such a pest till then. Well, he'd been no trouble at all this past year. He was in little-boy heaven, with all the big boys around to tag after, doing whatever yucky stuff big boys did.
That seemed like centuries ago. This morning seemed like centuries ago. Mom in her head, screaming in her head (she'd never done that before, never) to take David and run, get away, get away-
And then the screaming stopped without even a whisper to follow-
Rachel closed her eyes and leaned her head back against the seat, taking slow deep breaths and going mindless and seeing her parents' wedding picture. If she relaxed just right, she could put herself back in Mom's office, in Mom's big worn leather chair, cradling the framed photograph carefully in her lap.
Studying that picture now, like the zillion times before, stirred a satisfying melancholy in Rachel's young heart. There was no way to avoid comparing the radiant bride posed in her finery to the real-life Mom. Pain now shadowed Charlotte Xavier's face, drawing fine lines about her eyes and the corners of her mouth. But Rachel could imagine her father unchanged, as strapping and handsome as ever he'd been. It was all sad and romantic and tragic, how death had cut him down in his prime. How he'd never get old like Mom.
Mom. Mom had called- somebody's name?
Rachel shivered. Mom in her head, and then a name, and then nothing, which had been enough to unfreeze Rachel and make her floor the gas. David had laughed at first, and then screeched with fear, and then got even louder when they plowed through a fence and into woods. "Rachel, stop! Rachel, you're gonna wreck us!"
"But, Rachel, Mom's gonna kill-"
<Shut UP, David!>
He did shut up, but only because they'd hit a tree. Oh God I've killed him! but he'd only had the breath knocked out of him and resumed screeching the instant he regained it. Somehow Rachel untangled the Doc Ock restraints that had popped up to cushion their sudden stop and flung herself from the car, dragging the hysterical David with her. She'd had to all but carry him to the bomb shelter in the woods.
To be precise, a space pod disguised as a bomb shelter.
Where Mom had obtained a space pod, Rachel couldn't say. Mom had all sorts of mysterious contacts. So here they were, in orbit. Rachel didn't know whether to laugh or cry. She greatly preferred terra firma. She got queasy in a rowboat, for cat's sake. Of course her fool baby brother wanted to be an astronaut, which in Rachel's opinion was a fine way to drastically shorten your life expectancy.
Rachel had never felt much love for her brother. Jean and the boys thought David was cute as hell, but Rachel could not see why. He was obnoxiously full of energy and questions, distracting her from important business and spoiling what little fun she managed to have. He was an unceasing bother and of absolutely no use to anyone. Lately he had learned every single word of 'The Ballad of Davy Crockett' and sang it for what seemed like hours on end. Looking back on it, Rachel was amazed she hadn't left David in the car or the woods, especially when he'd freaked and tried to get loose and run home. She'd had to glom him a bit so he at least wouldn't fight her. She didn't dare try to coerce him into running in the right direction. Her control wasn't that good; she could've turned him into a veggie, maybe even killed him.
Damn it, she never should've let the little creep blackmail her into letting him ride in the car with her. But if he hadn't threatened to rat her out, he wouldn't have been right there with her when Mom-
-cried out a name-
A flash of revulsion tore through Rachel. She didn't want to think about that. Not now, not ever.
She looked down at David in her lap. He was too still. Rachel didn't know if she'd glommed him too hard or if he'd whacked his head on the dashboard. After the glomming he'd latched onto her like a tick on a dog, which became inconvenient once they reached the bomb shelter/space pod and she had to get him strapped into his own nice cushioned seat. He wouldn't let go of her; he just wouldn't. What really worried Rachel was how silent he was about it. He emitted nary a word or groan or peep in half a minute's sweaty exertion (all on her part; he didn't seem aware of her tugging at him). So she gave up and strapped them both into one seat, slapped the big red button, and used language Mom would certainly disapprove of when the G-forces hit and pressed David into her chest and belly at five times his earthly weight. And their bladders reacted accordingly. David had wept and radiated distress, but still made no sound, which was not like him.
Well, the worst part was over. A semblance of normal gravity had been restored in a manner Rachel didn't have nearly enough math yet to understand. She prompted David, very gently: <Davy?>
"Where are we?" he demanded, with a hiccough.
Oh, thank God. He's not catatonic. "In space." Keep it light. "Just like the Fantastic Four."
"No we're not." He was no longer weeping; he was recovering from his fright by getting angry. "You stink."
"So do you. You wet yourself."
"Shut up!" David bellowed. "So did you!" He was about ready to cry again.
"You're right. I'm sorry, honey." Rachel mentally kicked herself for using that endearment, but she owed him that much. She shouldn't have taunted him like that. He was just a little kid. Anyway, now was no time for fighting. "Neither one of us could help it, what with getting squished like that. C'mon, let's get cleaned up."
To her enormous relief David slid off her lap. He peered around, aware of his surroundings for the first time since the mighty oak had so rudely greeted them. Rachel had to push herself to her feet. Her legs were all pins and needles. David was good-sized for his age, but Rachel (as Mom had gently explained more than once) was just a late bloomer, at least physically. Here she was going on thirteen, and she looked like a tall ten-year-old.
"Where's the bathroom?" David asked.
Rachel had to think about that one. They hadn't been here in almost a year. "There," she pointed. "Don't take forever in the shower," she called after David as he made a beeline. And Rachel said a prayer in her heart for Jean, who had once told David how nice he smelled after a shower and shampoo. After that, soap and water held no horrors for him.
She looked around at the rustic-cabin decor, a primitive veneer over alien technology. At least, Rachel hypothesized that it was alien. Hank had told her that artificial gravity, that staple of science fiction, had never even been theorized, never mind generated. Yet the floor felt firm beneath her feet. She wasn't in the least spacesick.
The bathroom door slammed open, and out tore David, naked and dripping. "Jeez, David! Aren't there any towels?"
"I dunno." His voice was hushed, almost awed. He was staring out the window, entranced by the heavenly view that shone through four ordinary panes of glass.
No, it couldn't be ordinary glass.
Rachel decided not to nag David about his state of undress. She'd have the bathroom all to herself until he got tired of the view, which from the looks of him would be a while.
So she showered and dried herself (of course there were plenty of towels) and the bathroom floor (of course David had just about flooded it). And she dressed in a jumpsuit she'd stashed away because it was too ugly for anyplace but a bomb shelter.
The jumpsuit was now too short in the arms and legs, but still fit her torso just fine. "It figures," Rachel muttered. Pardon the expression. Lord, she hated being a late bloomer. Especially with Jean in the house. She really had a build on her. David was too young to appreciate that, but he liked Jean because she smelled sweet, and he liked Scott because he was tall. He hung around them both a lot, which was easy because Jean liked Scott.
Rachel was embarrassed that David figured that out first. Jean could shield her thoughts, but not her scent, and David had told Rachel that Jean smelled even sweeter when Scott was near. Rachel had told him she really didn't need to hear about things like that, thank you very much. Then she took it back and said she was sorry, and he could talk about how people smelled all he wanted. But then David, encouraged by that idiot Bobby, got into a fart-and-snot humor stage and provided no more useful intelligence about who liked whom. So much for his career as a spy.
Rachel had no idea what David or Jean saw in Scott. He was a sour old man at eighteen. Rachel preferred Warren, and even allowed herself, very cautiously, a bit of a crush on him. Talk about your golden boys! His smile could make any female feel like the only member of her sex in all Creation. Wouldn't you know it, he only had eyes for Jean. One day, maybe Rachel could compete. One day, when she actually had something to put in her training bra.
Rachel rather approved of big, homely Hank. His smile seemed more genuine than Warren's. Hank let Rachel read his books and even use his precious lab equipment, once she proved she knew what she was doing. Sometimes he kept David off their hands by roughhousing with him, and even managed to tire him so thoroughly that he'd go to sleep right at his bedtime. For that, Rachel was truly grateful. Mom simply couldn't keep up with David in a wheelchair, and he could run Rachel right into the ground. The few times she'd tried to outlast him, she'd been the one who keeled over first.
Hank could be dead now. And Scott and Jean and Warren and that stupid Bobby, too.
Rachel had to face that fact. Nothing but the most dire emergency would frighten their mother so. But Mom wasn't dead. Rachel would know if she were. No matter what else had happened, she could tell David that Mom was all right.
Or at least not dead-
Mom had called out to-
"Erik," Rachel murmured to herself.
She turned to the mirror and studied her face carefully. She traced its outline in the steam-fogged surface, a childish version of the face of the man who stood beside the young, carefree Charlotte Xavier in her wedding photograph.
How long had it been since she'd said that word? What a sweet word it was. "Daddy." Repeated it just to savor its sound, how lovely it was to call out to him-
-a big strong man, he could pick her up as if she were a doll and carry her without effort, even when she got big to be a big girl-
Rachel leaned forward, as if to brush solid lips to reflected ones. "Erik."
-felt so safe in your arms-
<I still love>
"Jeez!" Rachel shook her head, as if to dispel cobwebs. What was she doing, spazzing out like this? They were in outer space, and David was probably finding some neat levers and buttons to play with. What if he opened the window or something?
Rachel rushed from the bathroom, but David hadn't moved. He still crouched by the window, staring out, standing in a small pool of water that had dripped from him.
"David! For crying out loud!" she hollered at him almost savagely. Her stomach felt uneasy. "Dry off and get dressed! Aren't you cold?"
"No." David was shivering. "Rachel. Rachel, it's so beautiful."
Rachel rolled her eyes to the ceiling and heaved a martyred sigh. When David was like this, there was no dragging him away from whatever it was he was into. He'd go at it until he dropped.
Rachel got a towel and dried David off. He took no notice of this. She swabbed up the pool around his feet and the water trail he'd dripped from the bathroom. She got a fresh towel and wrapped it around his waist. Then she joined him in admiring the stars in all their glory, unburdened by Earth's atmosphere, and the lush Earth far far below.
"I guess it is beautiful." Rachel would have appreciated it more if she weren't thinking about how long they'd have to stay up here. And about how very small the shelter protecting them from a very big outer space was.
She had no problem turning away from the brilliant stars. She was starting to feel nauseous. How on Earth (pardon the expression) did Mom come up with the brilliant idea of hiding them in orbit? Did she just happen to have a spare space pod lying around?
The drill was very simple. A last-ditch solution, but very simple. Strap yourself in, hit the big red button, suffer the (somehow silent) acceleration, and then wait for pickup. It was supposed to be foolproof. Childproof, even. Although Rachel had seen David's sheer endurance defeat other childproof arrangements.
Who exactly was supposed to pick them up? And when?
Rachel knew a beacon would go off to help them be found if they weren't located within a certain amount of time. A week or so. A week too long! She suddenly felt exhausted. Doubtless a delayed reaction to dragging someone who weighed almost as much as she did a good quarter mile. At the time, David felt no heavier than a marshmallow. Amazing. Rachel resolved to ask Hank about adrenaline.
Assuming Hank wasn't dead-
"I'm going to bed," Rachel said. Still intent on the window, David showed no sign of having heard her.
As she brushed her teeth and donned nightclothes, Rachel further resolved to spend more time with Hank and nip this silly mooning over Warren in the bud. Yeah, Warren was pretty, but pretty wouldn't get her through medical school. Hank's lab would give her a leg up on all the heavy science she would need.
Come to think of it, Hank was so thoughtful towards her, and David too, and not just because they were Professor Xavier's kids. That was just Hank-
Rachel decided maybe she should start mooning over him. Not an unpleasant thought, even if it did make her giggle. Kind of made her feel tingly, too. Like David had just pushed an ice cube down her back.
She actually checked her back to make sure he hadn't sneaked one there again. Funny how such a loud little boy could be so stealthy when he put his mind to it.