Flotsam

2

What happened next was a small flurry of organisation by the rest of the flat. Children were ferried gently into neighbours' places. Just so that the authorities wouldn't be confused by the presence of minors when they came.
The initial mother, Mrs Jones, returned to help Mort treat Sara for shock and to write a statement just in time for the knocks on her door.
"NYPD! Open up!"
"Rats," muttered Sara. "And I was betting on the social worker. At least Ms Garvallo knows about... youknow. Intellectually, anyway."
Mrs Jones opened the door. "Can I help you?"
"We have information that a Sara Adrien lives here," said the male of the duo. "Can we come in?"
Mrs Jones blocked egress. "Long as you don't have no arrest warrants. That poor girl ain't done nuthin' wrong."
"We just want to talk to her," soothed the female.
Jones muttered, "Mm-hm," as only a black woman can and stepped aside.
Mort froze in the act of tucking his coat around Sara. Had he ever been identified as a Liberty Islant Mutant Terrorist? No. They'd have arrested him in the hospital - hospitals - that Sara had initially visited.
Sara was trying to put her face back together without much success. "...terribly sorry about the mess," she murmured. "...i'm such a mess... not really presentable..."
The male exchanged a Look with his partner. "We've seen worse," he offered. "It's fine. You're apartment's very... economical."
"...necessity rather than intent... just the essentials..."
The female watched the hamster scurry through his tubing. "You keep a hamster?"
"He's called 'Chucky'," grated Mort. "She's got baby... albums of 'im."
"...i could fetch them easily..."
"You stay put," said Jones, forcing her back down with one hand. "I'm sure the police are too busy for that."
The female was the one with the curious fingers. She found the legal pad and Sara's writing. "You wrote a statement?"
"...practice... so i wouldn't forget anything." Sara daintily gulped the last of her drink down. "...got to get it down fresh..."
Mort got to brewing her another cuppa while the police interrogated her. The male of the duo had an amazing ability to find trivial questions, and even seemed surprised that Jones trusted a mutant with her children.
"Half the building trusts her with their kids," said Mrs Jones. "Sara's reliable."
"...i don't unhinge my jaw..." Sara mumbled. "...not built that way..."
"Okay..." drawled the female. "Not that we were going to ask."
Mort gave Sara her third hot, sweet drink for the evening.
"...thank you, dear..."
The male zeroed in on Mort. "And what's your relationship with Miss Adrien?"
Mort thought about it. "Grateful patient."
"Patient?"
"Got 'it by... lightnin'," he said. "Fell inna river. Still gettin' bettah."
"...they wouldn't take him in the hospitals," said Sara. "I tried and tried."
The sticky-fingered female had found Sara's fold-out wallet of ID. "Says here you're sixteen. Awful young to be living with a man."
"I'm just 'angin'," said Mort. "Nowhere else t' go."
"Mister Toynbee has kept his intentions more than honourable," said Sara. "Nothing more than a kiss... never on the lips. Only touches socially acceptable flesh. He's no pervert."
"Thanks, luv," he smirked, tipping an imaginary hat.
"That's an awful lot of ID," said the male. "You really belong to these organisations?"
"I keep busy," said Sara.
The female looked at the day planner. "Says here you're interview was shortly before lunch... how long ago did you come in?"
Ach du leiber Augustine... went the clock. Quarter past. "A little under fifteen minutes, I believe. Why?"
"What were you doing for all that time?"
"Running from angry people," she said. "The city's very angry with... us, I suppose. Wave a mutie at a crowd and they start throwing rocks."
"Did you hurt anyone?" said the female.
"No. I'd never hurt anybody... I... I don't believe violence solves anything."
"So..." drawled the male. "You live in New York and you don't own a gun?"
"That seems strange to you? I have little worth stealing, sir. Almost no money. Very few things to protect. I'm small fish. Used to be."
The male of the duo pulled his partner aside. Mort's ears managed to pick up the low muttering. "Not exactly my top ten in America's Most Wanted," he said. "She doesn't have the demeanor of a dangerous personality at all. She's even - honest."
"There's still forty-two people in hospital," whispered the female.
"Most of which were trampled in the mob by the rest of the mob. Our girl here just ran. We get her statement, we prevent the media from releasing her address, we do the forensics and prove her innocent. End of story."
"That's not going to sit well with the boss. She's a mutie."
"Just doing our job. Looking at what's there," murmured the male. "And what's there is some kid who's just trying to get along."
The female glared at both him and Sara. "Fine. But if the background check turns up anything untoward, we're bringing her in."
"She's a sixteen-year-old doormat," said the male. "What could she do?"

Goren was sorting the credible witness reports from the outlandish when the Australian Exchange Officer turned up at his desk.
"Got'cher girl's permanent record," said Spence[1]. "Volumes A to K..." {WHUMP} "and L to Zed."[2] {WHUMP}
"Nobody gets that joke in New York," said Eames.
"I get it," said Goren. He was smirking at the two enormous folders. "Thanks."
"No worries," said Spence. "Needed t' do some weightlifting." He flipped his hand somewhere in the vicinity of an absent salute and returned to his paperwork.
"Times like this, I wonder how Stabler is handling Canberra[3]," said Eames. She took a folder.
Goren examined the other one. "After he gets over the tall poppy syndrome, he should be fine..." he whistled as he flipped through the pages.
"So much for your doormat theory," said Eames. "This one school has twenty counts of fighting inside two weeks."
"Was she treated for hand injuries?"
"No... face, ribs, some soft tissue damage... a fractured rib or two... That just means she's bad at picking fights."
"Or the fights pick her and the aggressor gets away." He flipped through some more pages, skimming through the contents. "Though she did pick a fight here..." he shared the images of two girls, one much older than the other... and the elder of the two had come off worse. "Settled out of court years ago. Injuries versus mental anguish. Interesting that Sara's testimony's been censored..." He held the page up to the light. "And not because she swears."
"Ice capades in July?" said Eames. "This girl is dangerously insane."
Goren went through more of his folder. "I think it's worse than that. She's smart... too smart for her own good."
"Are you kidding? She's violent! Unstable. Her last school threw her out for moral reasons."
"I wonder what moral reasons those were..." said Goren. "She's certainly been sliding down the quality scale since age eight. Look at this... she starts at Lady Favisham's - very high-ticket finishing school, and goes steadily downhill until she's stuck in Carol Danvers High[4]."
"Where she's in Remedial Ed.," said Eames. "That's hardly smart."
"Come on. Ice capades in July?"
"That could've been a fluke."
"And some of these other offences... re-engineering the entire school's computer interface so that it acted like HAL from 2001. Correcting the language teachers."
"Fidgeting in class. Not paying attention in class," Eames flipped pages. "Fighting, fighting, fighting, fighting... Defacing school property... fighting..."
Goren peeked. "I notice nobody else was bought in for fighting with her," he said. "Isn't that strange?"
"Not for a mutie."
"Ay," warned Spence. "We're not paid to be racist... girlie."
Eames made a fist. Goren held her into her seat.
"Yeah, that pissed you off, didn't it?" Spence leaned back on his chair. "Reckon some of those mutant folks're tired of hearing 'mutie' slung around, too."
"She was bought in every day because she was bleeding," said Eames.
"Yeah? So's my kid. He's a full-time nerd," Spence informed. "Never picks the fights, but he sure as shit gets th' blame for 'em."
Goren found the most recent pages. "She's doing well in correspondence school," he noted. "Leaping ahead in record time."
"I'm still asking her landlord about her."
"You saw her apartment," said Goren. "Did that look like the residence of a violent psychopath?"
"No. But they never do." Eames waved a legal document. "And what sort of person puts out a restraining order against their own mother?"

Sara's colour was coming back, her babbling had died down, as had the twitching obsession to put her peeling skin back together. She gratefully accepted the hot meal Mort made for her and gradually trembled into a tired slump. She also jumped and yelped at the telephone ringing.
Jones answered it. Then she got furious. "You're not allowed to call here," she said. "You have thirty seconds to hang up before I hang up and call the police on your ass."
Sara's slump almost became a full-on collapse. "Let me guess. Mother."
"She hung up," said Jones. "What a surprise." The phone rang again. "Now what?" She picked it up. "Yes? Mm-hm. Oh, she's getting over the shock right now, and it's getting late. Yes. I'm sure an inspection in the morning's going to be fine." She listened, but mouthed, 'social worker' at Mort. "Yes, I know what you saw on the news. I've seen it, too."
Mort knelt by Sara's side and held her. "It'll be all righ'," he managed. "We'll figure somethin' out."
"Four words," murmured Sara. "New record."
"Yeh. Have t' piss off... soon. Or get in trouble."
"Or purchase a camp bed. Or a futon."
"I'll just not be 'ere... when th' inspector comes. Y're better off."
"Says you," she sighed. "I rather like the company."
His heart almost exploded from that affirmation. God, you're gonna be in trouble when you turn eighteen, he thought.
[Incidental footnotes]
[1] Bruce Spence is that really tall Aussie guy with the horse-ish face. His first international appearance was in one of the Mad Max movies as the aviator. He's been in other features, but I have no clue which ones you guys'd remember. This is his cameo
[2] The Brisbane version of the Yellow Pages is so full of businesses that it's been released in two volumes for almost a decade, now. Whenever an Australian is referring to a really thick document, they make some variant of this joke.
[3] Detectives Goren and Eames and Officer Stabler are all from spin-offs of Law and Order. See if you can name them all
[4] Aka Miss Marvel, the chick that Rogue got her extra powers from in the comics

Mrs Jones used to be a nurse, and finally cleared Sara for slumber when the clock approached midnight. Sara gratefully slumped into bed, only voicing a minor protest that she deserved the mattress.
Mort just gently removed her shoes and lovingly tucked her in.
"She's special to you, isn't she?" said Jones.
Mort closed the door. "She's a miracle." He was compelled to restore Sara's order to her flat. Something to make her feel at home when she woke up and had to face the next Spanish Inquisition[1].
"I thought the same thing when I needed a babysitter for the late shift," said Jones. She fell to helping him. "At first I asked myself how any mother could let her go for being a mutie - no offense..."
"None taken."
"And then I actually talked to her mother..." She shuddered. "Frankly, I'm shocked both her parents are still married to each other. It was on the 'phone, but still... She is an absolute witch with a bee. And that's being nice."
"Never knew my mum," said Mort. "Got chucked out."
Mrs Jones winced. "That should never happen to any child. Mutie, norm, black, white or what..." She fumed over the washing up. "Some aspects of the human race make me want to boycott it."
Mort laughed at that one.

"...early mornin' singin' song! Sing, siiiinng song... sing a song..."
Mort smiled to himself and kept his eyes shut. "Mornin' luv," he said, picturing her naked only in his mind. "Le' me know when... y're decent."
Sara continued until the final, chime-like 'sing', then rustled into a robe. "Modest, now."
Mort got up, folding away the sheets and blanket, stowing them in the filing cabinet that served as her linnen cupboard. He was lost about what to do with the mattress.
"Leave it," Sara advised. "Until I find a spool, it's the only spare furniture I have."
Mort rolled his eyes. "Tell me yer kiddin'..." He remembered having a spool. Combination coffee table, improv seating, storage unit and, when the winter got too severe - heat source.
"I was rather planning to dress it up a little." {Bzt!} "Oh fudge... and I haven't put a face on, yet."
He was reluctant to leave her, but he knew he had to. "Get 'em to wait... 'till we're dressed?" He gestured at his own PJs and her robe. "Their fault for bein'... early."
Sara waved him into the shower while she turned on the intercom. "I thought business hours didn't commence until nine," she said.
"NYPD never sleeps, miss."
He barely heard the, "Oh FUDGE!" and Sara's hectic scramble for some clothes over the water. As it was, he decided to hurry it up and at least try to look like everything was above board. If all else failed, he would lie and imply he was impotent.
The little wench with the nosey git had looked the sort to believe anything about a mutie.
The detectives were in the flat and he was wrangling breakfast for them both before he knew what was what. He remembered to ask if they wanted anything, at least. "We go' choc'late... tea..." he fumbled through the cupboards. "Buggerall else, pard'n th' French."
"The tea's herbal, I'm afraid," said Sara. "Tastes like boiled grass clippings infused with lilac. I've heard one can build up a tolerance, though."
The male smirked. "Thanks, but no thanks."
"Mr Toynbee... are there any more eggs? We could at least offer a snack..." Sara was dithering, trying to set things up with too few resources.
He looked at the frying scramble and tried to imagine how he could stretch that much and the one rasher of bacon to feed four. "Cupboard's bare, luv," he said. "You eat first. I'll scrounge la'er." Translated: I'll go hungry for your sake. You need the comfort of food inside you.
"I should've gone shopping last night," said Sara. "Alas, I was unexpectedly derailed." She sat and stared at the pitiful meal. "It feels so wrong to stuff my face while you're all going without."
The male mouthed, 'doormat' to the female, who sneered.
Saw that, bunky. You're lucky she's watchin' or I'd rip you right off.
"It's fine," said the male. What was his name? Gonad? "We've already eaten."
Sara made a small, anguished noise.
"Do I 'ave t' do... airplanes?" Mort threatened.
She concealed a giggle behind a hand, but she at last picked up her fork and ate. Dainty little bites. Trying to make a small amount of food seem bigger.
"We have a few... concerns about your permanent record," said the female. Eaves? Something like 'eaves'... Eve?
Sara's anguished noise was a little louder. "Which particular parts would concern you? The explosions? The quote-unquote 'fights'? Or perhaps my disruptive behaviour?"
"I'll take all of the above," said Eve.
[Mor footnotes!]
[1] "NObody expects the Spanish-- oh sod it..." -- Monty Python
Sara lowered her head. "I guess structured education and I don't really mix," she said. "There's aways some level of... conflict. Between myself and established authority... between myself and the teachers..."
"Between you and the students?" prompted Eve.
"No, that was just malice," said Sara. "They didn't like me, so they made me bleed. Mostly owing to a rumour that I was actually some kind of transsexual."
"There's your 'moral reasons'," said Gonad.
"Are you a transsexual?" said Eve. This earned a glare from Gonad, not to mention Mort's eternal hatred.
"No. I merely look male in the few items of off-the-rack clothing that actually cover me decently. Jeans with legs long enough for mine disguise the bottom half, and the shirts that conceal the midriff also obscure the top." She tidied up her empty plate and utensils, then absently washed them. "Rest assured I am, was, and always have been completely female."
"She got documents," said Mort.
Sara raised an eyebrow at him. "Quite."
Fuck. Her documents were in one of her lock-away positions. A case with a lock in a bottom drawer. Never before had he wished he was mute again. "Maybe I aught t' go... shoppin'," he said. He found a pair of cheap shades that were gender-neutral and put them on.
"Maybe you should," said Sara. "CPS is due at ten."
He had no wallet, but that would change in a matter of minutes on the street. "You be okay?"
"Moderately."
Mort turned and went into exile.

Goren watched Sara bustle. There was little to re-order about her apartment, but he let her indulge in what paltry nervous activity she had. She was scared, worried, anxious, and it all had to go somewhere or she might just jump out of her skin. Again.
Sara flipped a page in her day book, running a finger down the new day. She examined the twin candles and took the lit one out onto a little metal plate on the pocket balcony. She returned inside and retrieved a long taper and another pot candle. The candle went onto the windowsill and the taper was lit from the old candle just as the last of the wax erupted into flame. She took the fire from the old candle and, with practiced and careful movements that reminded Goren of a Japanese tea ceremony, lit the new candle, placing it just so.
"You're keeping vigil," he said.
"For Daddy," she said. "So he can find me." She blew out the taper and placed it in a painted jar of other used tapers. It looked - almost decorative.
"I've always wondered, you know... how long does one of those candles last? Burning continuously."
"Five days, give or take a few hours," said Sara. "It depends on the generosity of the candle-makers."
He did a rough guesstimate. Given that each taper represented five days... "You've been waiting a month and a half?"
"I've been here a month and a half," said Sara. "During which time, my neighbours and my landlord either guessed or found out I'm a mutant... I'm still here and there hasn't been any trouble until - yesterday."
"I saw those skin flaps are gone," noted Eames. "Did you save them, or...?"
"They're still attached," Sara blushed, turning a darker shade of bluish aqua. "It seems to want to come off in one piece, I've tried trimming... TMI. Excuse me. You - don't really want to know all this."
"I'm fascinated," said Eames. "I'd love to learn some mutie beauty tips. Where did it all go?"
"Tucked, folded, and held in a sort of girdle arrangement," she was truly dark, now, staring at her hands as the fingers intertwined with each other. "...if I go out today, I'll have to wear gloves..."
Goren could barely see where the peeling was. She was overcautious. Twice shy, as it were, from being bitten once. "I kind of guessed you'd prepared for this," he indicated the table of body parts. "You know how to handle latex?"
She took the change of subject with the gratitude of a drowning man who, having clutched at the straw, found it was firmly attached to a lifebuoy. "Oh, yes. I was fascinated by the opportunity to change myself when I was younger... and rather desperate to stay the same when this--" a gesture at her scales, "--happened. You can understand, can't you? Why I'd need to blend in?"
"Of course," he soothed. "Yesterday only proves it."
"Well, yesterday only proved there's so much one can do on a budget. I've been... trying to save my supplies for a sufficiently large need. There's only so much that glue can do. As everybody's seen." Another bustle. Quick, long steps to check her hand against the mould. "It'll still fit. Thank goodness."
"You can't have grown that much in a month and a half," said Eames.
"I did once. I was thirteen. Constantly growing out of things, it was a mess. The wedding people had to fit me at the last possible instant just to make things work."
"Wedding. People?"
"I'm a harpist... amongst other things," she put her spare hand down. "I did weddings, parties, bah mitzvahs... though probably not any more, now. I'll miss playing." A supreme sadness touched her eyes. She closed them, and for a moment, became as emotionless as a rock. When she returned to herself. "But I get the feeling we digress." Another mini-bustle, feeding her hamster. "Is there anything specific in my record that looks... bad?"
"Pretty much all of it," said Eames.
"What was that thing you did?" said Goren. "When you mentioned not playing the harp, you went... blank."
"You don't really need to see me breaking down over a silly harp," said Sara. "I just put my mourning aside for later, when I have the time."
"That must have helped you cope when you left home," said Goren.
"Only somewhat. I didn't need it all that much because mother..." she trailed off, cocking her head to listen.
Someone upstairs was watching CNN... something about an attack?
Sara turned her computer on and activated a program that mimicked the TV, also turning to CNN.
"Reports are unclear as to why the mutant attacked the president, or which terrorist organisation may or may not be involved," said the presenter.
"Oh my God," whispered Sara. She rushed to the balcony and screamed, "MOOOOOOOOOOORT!"
Goren stared at the man on the scene, but didn't hear a word the reporter said. He'd remember the protesters in the background, and the minor fracas between the pro- and anti-mutant people. He'd remember seeing the shaky zoom-in to the balcony, and the white-faced President trying to smile.
He'd remember Eames reading Sara her rights, arrested for conspiracy to attack the white-house, incitement to riot, and manslaughter.
Then Mr Toynbee buzzed the door. "The fuck's goin' on?"
He was arrested, too.
For being a mutant.

Mort had, in fact, managed to snag one wallet and quickly ditch all forms of ID and any kind of card with anyone's name on it before he slowed to a halt outside of the TV store.
There was no sound, but the words scrolling across the bottom of the screens said more than enough.
Mutants attack White House, the ticker read. President is unharmed. Sources are uncertain which organisations, if any, are involved.
He felt like he wanted to throw up.
This ain't Magneto's work, he thought. Not Mystique's style... It's insane. Who'd do this?
Trying to lip-read the newscaster, read the ticker, and watch the action at the same time made him feel dizzy. He could feel people staring at him from the side as they, too, caught what was going on. It was an effort not to hyperventilate in panic.
Sara. What's gonna happen to Sara?
And then her scream, far distant. Calling his name.
Mort swam upstream against the solid blockade of milling people, dodging in all directions as he ran, trying to get there. When he did, he remembered too late that he didn't have a key.
He buzzed the intercom with, "The fuck's goin' on?"
"...should you be unable to afford an attourney..." said a voice in the background. Eve.
"Stay right where you are, Mr Toynbee," said Gonad. "We'll be down in a minute."
Then came the crisply starched stickybeak, just on her appointed hour. "What's happening?"
"Haven't the foggiest," he said. "Some nutter attacked th'... White House."
Stickybeak let herself in with a, "Stay put, please?"
Fuck that, thought Mort, and followed her in. He thundered up the stairs while Stickybeak caught the anaemic elevator. When he got there, Sara was in handcuffs and Eve quickly read him his Miranda rights for conspiracy to attack the White House, cuffed him, and gently propelled them both towards the lift.
Stickybeak emerged into the confusion, and once again, Mort didn't catch her name. He barely acknowledged Sara begging the woman to house-sit and feed Chuckie... keep the candle in the window lit for her father. Or on the balcony if she was unsure of the time she'd be there. Just one little visit a day. Ten minutes out of her time. Please.
And the next thing he knew, he was in the back of the police car, listening to Gonad and Eve argue about the validity of the charges versus how pissed off their boss was going to be.
The police band radio was full of mutant arrest chatter, requests for positive ID on various individuals, chasing down outstanding warrants on known mutant criminals, and basically arresting anyone who even looked funny.
They were panicking, arresting anyone who could possibly be a mutant terrorist.
They'd probably be shocked when they found out they actually caught one.
Him.
And he'd just damned Sara by association.
"I'm sorry," he said.
"I can understand your curiosity," said Sara. She thought he was talking about her stuff. "I can see why you felt compelled to pry when I wasn't aware. You were even civil enough to put things back where they belonged... It's just - I thought people respected locks."
"They only use 'em... to hide," said Mort. "Ain't no respect."
"Ah," said Sara. "The illusion of safety. Yes. So what, if anything, is truly safe?"
Mort shrugged. "Buggered if I know."

It was a kneejerk reaction. Registered mutants, visible mutants, people who looked like they could be mutants... all were swept up for 'questioning' by the authorities.
The cells quickly overflowed, forcing the police to improvise an enclosure and use it as a temporary holding facility. Word, of course, passed around and the secure perimeter soon gathered a crowd of screaming fanatics.
Sara was a dark, dark aqua, and she huddled in the shadows of her bunk. Mort could see that someone had managed to cut her peeling skin from her... and they hadn't been gentle.
His own processing had been - rough. He had, in Sara's words, 'gone automatic' during the more brutal parts.
And Sara didn't have that option.
He sat nearby, not invading her personal space. "Need someone?" he offered.
Sara lunged, draping herself around him and shaking with tears. "...they didn' 'ave t' be horrid..." she managed around the sobs.
Mort gingerly patted her back, rocking her slowly. People passed him by, glaring at the two of them.
Mort returned the glare. Fending them off. Protecting her.

Piotr Rasputin watched the television. Like everyone else, he was riveted to the news. Here, in this safe house, he was watching the possibility of incoming danger.
People were talking about a 'huge conspiracy' involving hundreds of mutants, most of whom were in New York. Once again, they focussed on their 'lizard girl' who had been rounded up mere instants after the story broke.
She, like her partner, were visible mutants. Captured because of a unique rage overtaking the people. Piotr had seen it before, when anyone who visited a mosque or who was identifiably foreign was immediately suspect.
The only problem was that few people would care how many innocent were winnowed from the guilty.
It was easy for them to condemn a mutant for being a mutant. For being inhuman.
It would be easy for them to excuse inhumane acts against those mutants.
But what could he do here? Miles away from anybody and with the emergency resources the Professor had left in this place... he didn't have many options.
A Dr Hank McCoy appeared on the screen, calmly explaining that hysteria did not solve anything, and many mutants were more afraid of themselves than ordinary humans were.
Dr McCoy... He'd seen that name...
Piotr leaped up, dislodging Avery in the process, and reached for the small book near the telephone. Emergency numbers. He'd skimmed through them when they first arrived, but had been too frazzled to let anything sink in.
There he was. Dr Hank McCoy. Home, office, cellular, email, website...
Piotr muttered a prayer of thanks and started dialling.


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