Little Drops In A Storm
There's a black space where my soul should be
A gaping wound where my heart could be
I feel so low I feel like Christ
I see my head is turning white
The knuckles twisted raw and I'm so empty
And there's no respite
You prey together on the small
Hellvision shows it every night
White silver draws black lines
Bright whites the killing kind
Two wrongs don't make a right
Two blacks don't make a white
Devotion isn't what it seems
The broker of my broken dreams
Hell is all that I see
My cell is my sanctuary
-Pig, "My Sanctuary"
Danielle was screaming. Carolyn had just put her down in her bassinette for a few minutes to try to make it into the kitchen long enough to get a sandwich, and now she was howling and the chair wouldn't go fast enough.
"I'm coming! I'm coming, Danielle, please be quiet, please, I'm going as fast as I can--"
The chair wouldn't corner properly, and she ended up catching the wheel on the baseboard. When she tried to force it, it simply refused to come clear of the baseboard and go any further. Frantically she pushed on the wheels as Danielle continued to scream.
//I'm COMING, Danielle! Please stop crying!//
She backed the chair up, and painfully wrestled it away from the doorjamb, trying to straighten it so it would go straight through the door. The first time she tried to go forward, it stuck again. The second time it went through but then the back wheel stuck.
Danielle kept wailing.
Carolyn backed up the chair, again, and this time managed to make it through the door. She rolled it out of the kitchen and through the interminably long hallway. When she'd been a child and they'd moved back here, she'd been impressed with the size of the halls, and the amount of space there was to play, or wander. Now the hallway seemed to go on forever. She had been able to walk then, and run, and scamper, and hop, all the things she'd never do again--
Danielle was still screaming.
Something snapped in Carolyn. In her mind she screamed an imperative. //Danielle, %SHUT UP!%//
The baby fell instantly silent, impelled by her mother's telepathic compulsion.
Immediately Carolyn was horrified. //No, no, baby, what have I done?// She rolled to Danielle as quickly as she could, checking the baby's mind for any damage she might have accidentally caused. Danielle seemed fine. Sulky, and angry that she couldn't express her displeasure at being hungry and the fact that her mother had gone away for a minute, but unharmed.
Carolyn picked Danielle up, and burst into hysterical tears, sobbing brokenly at what she might have done to her child and the relief that she hadn't done any damage. Danielle, picking up on her mother's distress, began to howl again. Carolyn rocked the baby, tears streaming down her face, projecting love and tenderness and everything's going to be fine to her infant, sending lying reassurances and honest love and none of the despair she really felt. The baby was soothed a bit, but still cranky. She wanted food.
Uncivilized primitives who had nothing better to do than be wombs on two legs fed their babies from their breasts. Modern, civilized, liberated women bottle-fed their babies. Unless they were cripples living alone and couldn't handle the complications of sterilizing the bottles and preparing the formula, not when they couldn't even stand up and reach the cabinets, in which case they fed their babies just like uncivilized primitives did. Tears still running down her face, Carolyn unbuttoned her blouse and put Danielle to her breast, rocking her back and forth. She'd been told that breast milk was actually far better for humans than formula, and that the children of mutants couldn't possibly thrive on formula designed for humans. She'd been told that by Erika--
--She didn't want to think about Erika--
Since her homecoming she'd been in the other rooms, the rooms beyond the kitchen and the bathroom and the bedroom with its bassinette and climbing bars around the bed, exactly once. Once was enough to see the dust so thick she would have been hard-put to clean it if she was healthy. The people she'd hired to put the bars around her bed and her bath had cleaned out these few rooms for her, eliminating the dust of five years left idle, abandoned. She couldn't imagine how they would ever be clean again, or how she could wash the dishes she couldn't even reach anymore, how she could ever mop or sweep the floors, how she could do laundry when the laundry room was down a flight. She hired people to come take her laundry and wash it, to buy her groceries and stock them where she could reach, to buy her piles and piles of paper plates and then take out her trash once a week. But they couldn't stay. She couldn't have a cleaning person in her house for hours, seeing how she spoke to Danielle wordlessly, how she knew the baby would cry before she did. She couldn't risk anyone finding out about her. Or seeing how hard it was for her, how she struggled and she couldn't even feed the baby formula because it was too complicated for her now, because they might take the baby away and give her to a foster home because a recent cripple, recent widow, who left her house a filthy pigsty because she couldn't take care of it, obviously couldn't take care of a baby and they would take Danielle away for Danielle's own good and then there would be nothing left but to join Gabe and Mike and Mother and Father in the place beyond the astral plane, out through the doors of existence and out to whatever remained beyond, and if she was still a practicing Catholic she might believe she'd go to hell for that but God could not be so cruel and hell was here. And the only thing keeping her here in hell was her baby.
Danielle's mouth on her nipple should have felt good. It should have been a warm comforting feeling to be feeding her baby so closely and intimately, sensing her daughter's joy in the milk and in being snuggled close and safe. Instead the feelings of tenderness that coursed through her merely intensified the despair. She couldn't take care of Danielle. So trusting, such an open little mind full of love and simple joy, and she couldn't take care of her, she couldn't fulfill that trust. She was going to screw it up. She was a mutant and that was what mutants did, they screwed things up. They did outright evil, like the Shadow Queen, or they murdered out of jealousy and tried to pass it off as an accident--
--don't think about Erika--
She was a cripple. One of her legs had been blown off entirely at the knee. The other was shattered beyond repair. With a prosthetic leg, she'd been told, and crutches, she'd be able to walk a bit, but with great pain and only for short distances. Without the prosthetic leg and with one arm needing to be free to hold a baby, so no crutches, there was no hope of her walking at all. She was alone with a four-month-old infant whose father was dead, and she was crippled, and there was no one she could trust, no one she could turn to for help, no one at all. Her friend and colleague Daniel Shomron, the man Danielle had been named for, was dead. Her husband, beloved Gabriel, was dead. Her best friend--
--She had dreams of Erika, night after night, of lightning flashing and charring her baby in her arms, or blasting her in a bright flash like the HYDRA bomb that had taken Daniel and her legs, two months ago, when she'd trusted Erika to go after Gabe and rescue him and instead she'd murdered him--
--don't think about Erika--
No, this was hell. A filthy house she couldn't care for, a baby she loved that she could never do enough for. Never walk again. Gabe dead, Daniel dead, Erika worse than dead, and she was alone, and if anyone found out how she could barely take care of Danielle they'd take her baby away.
The phone rang. Carolyn jerked violently in her chair, startled. Danielle sensed it and began to whimper.
//Calm, calm, little one, you're safe, Mommy won't let the telephone get you...// Or get Mommy. If she didn't answer it, she didn't have to deal with it. She would be safe.
It rang again. And again.
Every ring jangled her nerves as loudly as it did the phone. She wouldn't pick up. She didn't have to pick up. There was no one she wanted to talk to. Stop ringing. Stop ringing!
As phones didn't have minds, and she couldn't reach whoever was on the other side of the phone, she couldn't make it stop. With the baby breastfeeding she couldn't even unplug the phone from the wall, because she couldn't get her chair in there and if she crawled out of her chair she'd need two hands to get back in and she couldn't with the baby. There was nothing to do but let it ring.
"Stop it!" she screamed at it. "Stop ringing! I'm not here, go away!"
It rang again.
There was only one way to make it stop.
It rang again. By her count, this was 18 times.
With a trembling hand she reached for the receiver.
It rang again. She jerked again, almost knocking it out of its cradle, and then grabbed it resolutely. "Who is this?"
"Can I speak to Dr. Carolyn Xavier, please? It's a matter of vital importance!"
She almost lied and said Carolyn Xavier wasn't in. She was not up to a matter of vital importance right now. Let someone else save whoever needed saving; Carolyn Xavier couldn't even save herself, or her husband. But she couldn't do that. "Speaking."
"Oh, Dr. Xavier, I'm so glad I managed to get hold of you! I was afraid you were going to be out, or they said they weren't even sure if you were going to be in the country, or still in practice--"
"I'm not in practice. I'm very sorry." She started to hang up.
"Wait!" The wail was loud enough that even with the phone away from her ear, she heard it. "Please, you're my daughter's only hope!"
Reluctantly, Carolyn took back the phone. "What is the problem with your daughter?"
"She's in a coma. She's been in a coma for five years, now. The doctors say there's no medical reason for it; her brain patterns say she's awake but she just won't listen, she won't feed herself, she won't respond to anything. They say you're an expert in these kinds of things--"
"Dr. Samuel at Johns Hopkins told me a few years ago, but you were out of the country, and then Dr. Ferguson from Cornell Medical told me that he thought you were back in the US and he gave me your phone number."
So much for her privacy. She'd been famous, the years before she had burned out and quit, before she'd gone on her wanderjahr that began with running from emptiness and ended with running back to emptiness, this time with a baby daughter and no legs to run again. It must be all over the medical community what had happened, because she'd had to spend a month in therapy learning how to deal with being a cripple. "Has she been diagnosed with catatonia?"
"Yes, they tried treating her for that, but nothing's worked."
A small suspicion was forming in Carolyn's mind, perhaps more like a tiny hope. "How old was your daughter when she entered her catatonic state?"
"She was thirteen. She was complaining about headaches for several days, and then started having fits, where she'd throw herself on the floor and scream at everyone to shut up, even if we weren't talking, even if she was in a soundproof room. And then one day she started screaming, and she wouldn't stop. We put her in her bedroom and called the ambulance. By the time they came, she was staring at the ceiling with her eyes wide open, but she wouldn't look at anyone, and there was nothing they could do."
Bingo. That was a mutant manifestation. In fact it sounded much like a telepathic manifestation. Carolyn remembered the headaches, the voices so cacophonous in her head that she couldn't hear anything else, her desire to scream at the world to shut up. But she had kept her silence because she was terrified of being called insane, terrified that her stepfather would find any excuse to lock her up, and eventually she had learned to shut out the voices and get control. It sounded as if this fellow's daughter might have had the same problem, but had never learned shields, and had had to retreat into catatonia instead.
But was it wise to try to help her? Carolyn thought of the mutants she'd met. Milbury, the telepath who'd wanted to use her, control her, whose mind she'd had to blast and steal away every memory she had ever existed; the Shadow Queen, dancing from mind to mind, seducing poor fools like Amahl Farouk into believing she would give them power, and giving it to them at the price of their body and soul; and Erika--
--it barely seemed worth it. Mutants seemed to be born to abuse their powers, power bringing corruption. Even Carolyn herself had abused her power. She remembered Cain's rage at her for accidentally invading his mind... and later, his hate for her when he'd realized that she had murdered his father. She had never meant to kill Kurt Marko, but that made her no less culpable. She had never meant to control Michael, either-- she had loved him, had never meant harm to him, but the older she got the more certain she was that she had mind-controlled him from early on without knowing what she was doing. What good had all her ethics done him? Better to leave the girl comatose, where she couldn't hurt anyone...
...but what if she woke on her own?
Carolyn had had ethics but no one to show her what to do, to teach her how to stop an assailant without giving him a fatal stroke, to teach her how to be close to a lover without devouring him. She simply hadn't known. Had anybody been around to teach the Shadow Queen not to abuse her power, to restrain her id in the development stages of adolescence? Probably not. And Erika-- Erika had been going insane for some time now. What if there had been someone to save her as a young woman, to teach her how to use her powers to protect herself without killing?
Could mutants be saved from doing evil, if only they were taught properly?
Her heart beat faster. For a moment, she glimpsed a vision, a dream for her own future-- not an endless black vista punctuated by gray, the empty life of a disabled widowed mother, but a true future-- where she might find mutants, and teach them. Ethics could be instilled in teens who would otherwise succumb to the temptation of too much power. Teens who wanted to do the right things with their powers already could be taught how. The horrible things she'd done in her youth could be expiated; she could teach others never to do the same. She could make up for killing Marko, brainwashing Michael, not being able to save Michael, not being able to save Gabe--
--the bubble burst. What other mutants? She knew of no way to find mutants. Even with her telepathy, how could she possibly get to them early enough? And who would listen to a crippled woman, and how could she recruit students when she was tied down with a baby?
The man on the phone was still talking, describing the things that had been done, the treatments performed on his daughter, none of which had worked. Perhaps there was at least one potential student she could help at least, one mutant she could save from her own powers. Carolyn interrupted the man. "What did you say your daughter's name was, sir?"
"Minda. Minda Garfield. I'm Sam Garfield."
"Well, Mr. Garfield, as I said, I'm not in practice anymore, but your daughter's case is intriguing. I have a suspicion as to what's wrong with her, and if I'm correct, I can indeed cure her, but she will need a program of extensive therapy and education. What I'd like you to do is prepare to come to my home, with Minda. Where do you live?"
"San Diego. California."
"Ah. Well, as you probably know, I'm located in Salem Center, in Westchester County, New York. About forty minutes north of the City. I'd recommend that you fly out, and be prepared for a stay of potentially a week; there are plenty of excellent hotels nearby. I'll examine Minda and determine her prognosis; she'll probably need the week to remain in my care and undergo therapy. After that we'll see. Of course this is only a tentative plan, as I can't guarantee anything until I've examined her, but your description of her symptoms fits a syndrome I've successfully treated before."
"What syndrome is that? No one else has had any idea what's wrong with her!"
"I would rather not say, until I've had a chance to examine her." And read her father's mind, to see how open he'd be to the concept that his daughter was a mutant. "When would you like to come?"
"I, uh, I'd have to talk to a travel agent but as soon as possible! Money's no object. And, uh, should I bring my wife as well?"
"Of course. Does Minda have brothers or sisters?" Best to examine them for potential mutancy, too.
"No, she was our only. Is our only. I, I'll make arrangements as soon as possible, and call you back when I've got a travel date."
"Excellent. My calendar is clear, so whenever it's convenient for you."
"Thank you. Thank you so much. I don't know how to thank you, Dr. Xavier--"
"Don't. I can't make guarantees, as I've said. Thank me when Minda is cured, not before."
Danielle needed to be burped after her call, so Carolyn didn't have her hands free to use the phone again for several minutes. When she did get access to the phone, she called, in rapid succession, her grocery delivery boy to bring in a fresh load of groceries, including the fresh vegetables and meats she couldn't cook and hadn't bothered with; a cleaning agency, to have her house scrubbed out top to bottom and to arrange for regular maid service until her guests arrived; a wigmaker, to come to her home and sell her a new wig in the latest style for professional women in America, since she hadn't been keeping up with hair styles in the US in five years; a dressmaker, to come tailor her a wardrobe that would help her look professional despite her disability; and a nanny, to watch Danielle for three hours a day until the guests arrived, so Danielle would be used to spending time with the nanny by the time her mother got busy and wouldn't be extremely traumatized by Carolyn's absence. She'd wait on bringing in a cook until Minda Garfield was actually here.
Carolyn disliked letting ordinary humans into her home; it was why she hadn't done any of this already. She spoke to Danielle telepathically all the time, and she wanted no one about to notice anything odd. But she couldn't present a professional image while bringing her clients in to the house in its current filthy state, and she couldn't feed her patient the diet of TV dinners, delivered takeout, and Campbell's Soup that she'd been eating. Actually, she shouldn't feed it to herself, either, given that she had two people's health to worry about; maybe she should specify a nanny that could cook.
She had something to do, now. Work had always been an excellent way to push aside the grayness. And she was beginning to see a glimmer of light ahead of her, showing her a way out of the black pit she'd been in for two months, now. She couldn't function without an assistant, and she couldn't hire human assistants on any kind of long-term basis; she couldn't afford to have strangers see her strangeness. But a fellow mutant, now... Minda Garfield was 18. Old enough to be legally employed. If she could be healed, and she was in fact a mutant, she would need training, and would need to remain here with Carolyn. If she could be healed, and she was a mutant, she would be safe, someone Carolyn wouldn't have to hide her telepathy from. Someone she could safely have in her home, someone who could assist her.
It might just become possible to have a decent life again someday, after all.