Flotsam

3

Sara had cried her tears out and appeared to be vague and distant from some degree of shock. She clung to him, still, but payed little attention to the world outside her head.
Every now and again, she'd say some random phrase that may or may not have been related to reality.
"...they didn't even let me keep my underpants..."
Mort actually remembered a fragment of that. Just the image of someone closing each article of clothing in a biohazard baggie for later examination. Nothing more.
All of the people here had found a bunk for one reason or another. Some obvious, like the very pregnant black woman with the growth on one side of her face... some not, like the vacant-eyed man just staring at nothing a few feet away.
Children uprooted from their homes cried and whimpered. Most of them were without comfort.
Almost everyone here was visibly different. Those who were apparently normal were either deep in shock or nervously watching the doors.
One was walking, checking on all the others. Picking up crying children and soothing them until their tears ebbed. Doing what little she could for the others.
The most noticable thing about her was that she was missing an eye. The black patch that covered her left socket and the scar that ran above and below told Mort that this was a woman well used to surviving, no matter what her life threw at her. She walked like a predator, but she moved like someone who deeply concerned. Someone who cared, yet was toughened by life into a dangerous creature.
Mort watched her listen to the pregnant woman.
"They bought me in for this," she gestured at the disfiguration. "It's just a fibrous growth. It's not even cancer, it's just something that happened..." she sniffed. "The doctors are still tryin' t' find out what it is... an' they bought me in fo' bein' a mutie..."
"Did they hit you?"
The woman shook her head.
"I know they strip-searched everyone... even the children. Did you see if they swapped gloves between probings?"
"...o my god..." whimpered the woman.
"They double-gloved," murmured Sara. "Went through an even dozen per patient. Each set tagged and bagged."
Mort checked her over. Her eyes were still distant. She wasn't home, yet she'd answered with perfect clarity.
One-eye stared for a moment, then went back to subtle and gentle questions. How far along was the pregnancy? Were there any signs of mutation in the scans? Did anyone want a DNA test to find the X-gene? Were there official charges? Had she been read her Miranda rights? Did she know what she was charged with? Could she plausibly prove an alibi? Did she know any really good lawyers?
After that, it was a set of instructions. The disfigured mother-to-be had to keep warm and try to relax. Focus on deep breathing and making herself calm. It was all going to be a big mistake and they'd be home and laughing before the end of the week.
"Hey," she said to Mort. "Name's Callisto. You two an item?"
"Kinda sorta," Mort said. "She saved me life. I owe 'er."
"Don't talk a lot."
"Got 'it by lightnin'. Can't talk a lot."
Callisto shrugged, checking Sara's pupils by gently turning the girl's face towards the light and holding her hand between the light and her eyes. "She's retreated. Happens to the sheltered ones. I'm guessing she was doing okay up until her arrest?"
"For limited definitions of... 'okay'," said Mort. "'Er mum tossed 'er... for bein' a mutie. She's been copin'. Just."
Callisto whistled backwards.
"Yeh," said Mort.
Mort measured Callisto up. Same orange one-size-fits-most jumpsuit as everyone else. No harassed demeanour, nor any sign of shock or surprise. Were it not for the eye patch and associated scar, she looked... normal.
"Appearances are deceiving," said Callisto. "I'm a mutie, just like you two[1]. My big mistake was volunteering for the register up at my damn-sure-soon-to-be-ex-employers. I went quietly with the police about five minutes after the shit hit the fan. You?"
"I'm with 'er," said Mort. "An' she go' in... trouble with th' law. 'Er face fell off... inna public area."
"Shit. I knew I knew her. Those fuzzy security vids did her no favours."
"...where's chuckie?" murmured Sara.
"'E's safe at 'ome... everyone's lookin' after 'im."
"Chuckie?" said Callisto.
"She's got an 'amster." Mort soothed Sara's hair. "It's agorophobic."
Callisto stared at him. Even with one eye, she was good at that 'are you on drugs or just shitting me' glare that required one eye to squint. "Never mind. I'm better off not knowing."
"...i left the candle burning... what if there's a fire?"
"Mrs Jones'll take care... 'f ev'rythin, luv."
"...how's daddy gonna fin' me now?"
Callisto sighed. "She's going to have to walk it out. You two'd be better off staying more than a meter inside the fence. There's no guards in here with us, and a thin security team keeping the crowds at bay."
"Ta, luv."
"Don't call me 'love' unless you mean it," she said.
"Righ'. Gotcha."
[yeah I do footnotes. Deal]
[1] And on a side-note - does anyone know what the HELL Callisto's powers actually ARE? I haven't got any cannon refs


Hank pulled up at the discrete little place, tucked away where nobody would look at it. He remembered it vaguely as one of the Xavier holiday homes. Now it had an underground complex beneath it that would rival the Pentagon's nuclear fallout shelter.

It was a moment's work to bring out the large stack of pizzas, and only a little fiddling to balance them all the way up to the front door.
The large young man that opened the portal had to be young Piotr.
The ravenous crowd that disassembled the pizza pile had to be the survivors of the raid on Xavier's institute.
"Beware of geeks bearing gifts," he joked. "Anyone hurt?"
"Avery was hit by dart," said Piotr, lapsing into a thick Russian accent[1]. "He does not sleep, but he is not aware."
"And how long?" Hank measured the boy's pulse, checked his eyes as best he could. Synchopated breathing, but he wasn't showing any signs of being in medical trouble...
"Since the night... I am careful, taking the dart out."
"Yes, I noticed the bandage..." reflexes still there. "Do you know if he has any bad reactions to stimulants?"
"He does not sleep. He never needs them."
Lovely... "Many mutants have idiosyncratic reactions to medication... Just a very small dose of a mild stimulant, then. And hope it works the way it should." His bag was always stocked with a few of the odder requirements for mutant-kind, including super-mild versions of over-the-counter medication. Just a few millilitres... "Cross your fingers..."
The needle went in perfectly. As did the medicine.
"...ow..." Avery blinked. "IthinkI'mgonnabesick..."
Piotr picked him up wholesale and bolted for the nearest bathroom.
"Dr McCoy?" said a petite brunette girl. "Do you know what's gonna happen?"
[1] I personally abhorred that they gave Collossus an American accent in the film


Walking Sara around, even with bare feet on the blistering tarmac, was a good excuse to case the joint.

The fence was a hasty remodel of a former, shorter incarnation. That had not, however, prevented the builders from skimping on the razor wire. In fact, were it not for that razor wire, the screaming crowd outside would have already shaken the impromptu fortifications from their hasty base and turned every single assumed mutant into jam.
Shelter was a couple of ex-aircraft hangers, each with a second floor fabricated from raw pine, and bedding was just a set of double-bunks set at regular intervals. Only the barest legal concessions had been enforced to prevent injuries.
And speaking of legalities...
There. Lining the west side of the enclosure, were a solid row of porta-potties that were a nod towards sanitation needs. The other nod was a metal trough and a series of taps.
They had clothing - a uniquely ugly unitard each, or a large white shirt for the kids - shelter, and sanitation.
What about food?
Mort found out, more or less, when he encountered the conveyor belt on the east side. There was a compound on the other side of the fence, there, and a more solid building was accepting things in trucks, and people in hazmat suits were putting the last of the conveyor belt together.
They'd thought things out with an almost obsessive paranoia. The hole in the fence just allowed for the passage of the belt and something food-tray sized. Just to be certain, they'd added loops of razor wire and a bristle of guns trained on each port.
The guns were manned. Goons in hazmat suits and fingers on the trigger.
"Good evening, gentlemen," Sara chirped, giving them a wave and a smile.
One set of goons, obviously given orders to be wary for happenings on the mutie side of the fence, each aimed solidly at the both of them.
Loudspeakers squeaked into life. "Move along, muties."
They were moving along anyway. Mort just added a little extra hussle to it as he helped Sara on their way.
"We're a hedge[1]," Sara giggled.
Mort felt a stab of guilt. If he hadn't left, he'd have been there. If he'd been there, he'd have been able to do something. Knock out the two trying to arrest her, for a start.
And then what?
Magneto was in jail, and it wasn't as if he had bolt-holes up the wazoo like old baldy. Magneto just - improvised. A cliff side, an old scrap yard... and boom. Instant hide-out.
He'd never had to think around Magneto.
The following thought dawned on him like the sun going nova.
...and the old bastard had encouraged it.
Sara was his polar opposite in that respect. She encouraged him to expand by means of gentle encouragement. Asking his opinion about meals in progress gradually taught him the finesse of her cooking. She'd walk him through the process if he appeared interested, and often drafted him into helping.
All the time, babbling about what did what, and sometimes delving into the why and how as well.
It was the same process with the computer.
Before Sara, he was vaguely aware of the internet as yet another means of communication. Mystique was the genius with electrical stuff. He just put machines together.
But Sara shared. She showed him how to google. She introduced him to the basics of her television program and told him, "The rest is somewhat intuitive. Feel free to mess with it, I'm in the stress-testing phase anyway."
No-one had ever told him to try and wreck stuff before.
He'd tried to return the favour, when the first lessons in a more advanced math arrived by mail. "'Ave a go," he'd said. "Might be fun?"
Those days, those chances were gone, now. Sara's bright eyes had gone dull.
Her little step forward towards peace between the muties and the norms erased by one nutso with a knife.
Last he'd heard, a batch of military idiots had attacked some school for muties.
Callisto joined them for the second circuit. "Cased the joint?"
"Yeh. Minimum stuff. Geneva'd give 'em a... squeakin' pass."
Callisto glared at the fence, the razor wire, and the yammering crowds. "I used to work in a security company. My mutations made it - easier for me." She pointed outside. "They're going to need a second barrier. Sooner or later, someone's not going to care about the razor wire and have a go at us. They'll cut themselves to ribbons and blame the government."
"An' we should care... why?"
"Because the government will blame us for being alive and in here. We're the cause." Her raptor gaze flicked over the entire facility. "They've gone low cost... Is there anywhere we can talk to them?"
"Hedge," said Sara, pointing.
Callisto's one eye flicked to the conveyor, then back to Sara. "Either she's gone deeper than I thought, or there's something seriously screwed up in there."
"Some kinda joke," said Mort. "I don't get it."
Callisto shook her head and marched towards the conveyor. Even with bare feet and a known absence of underthings, she walked as though she had an army on her side. The guns raised at her approach, and she put her hands on her head. "I just want to talk," she said. Loud and clear. Enunciating every word.
Goons conferred.
"They really should have invested in headsets," said Sara. "Trying to shout through two hazmat suits is so taxing." Her eyes were alive. She was back.
"You're payin' attention?" said Mort.
"I've been... re-prioritising," said Sara. "Here and now, what matters is maximum survival. If we deal with that, we can deal with everything else."
A stab of fear. He'd seen her do something similar, before. Going blank, then returning to herself in order to deal with something. "You be okay?"
"For the meanwhile," said Sara. "I can save that much for some kind of degaussing at a much later date."
"I'm just saying a second fence should keep the crowds from hurting themselves, reduce the risk of escape and contamination to the civilians," said Callisto.
Sara joined by her side. "You don't want them to get mutie germs, do you?"
The sarcasm was completely lost on the guy with the gun.
"You're all wearin' suits," said Mort. "What about them?" a nod to the yammering crowd. "You gonna pay for... their shots?"
"Think of all the medical bills," said Callisto. "The lawsuits... it'd be debilitating."
The goon raised an eyebrow at the three of them. "What are you? Some kinda committee?"
"We could be the itty bitty titty committee?" murmured Sara.
Callisto snorted and smirked. Louder, she said, "We're just - concerned. Almost everyone here has someone who could be over there," a gesture to the fence and the angry norms. "If there is a risk of harm, we'd like to see it minimised."
"You do want the people to see that you're doing the utmost to prevent our escape," said Sara. "Don't you?"
That edge on her last two words got the goon thinking. Mort was personally amazed.
"I'll talk to my superior," he said.
Sara smiled. "Progress. At least, progress of a sort. I hope the political edge worked."
"Are you always like this?" said Callisto.
"Chatty? I try to curb it when I can."
"Okay. I can deal with chatty. Just try to curb the wise-cracks, kid. I had to look like I was in charge, there."
"He was lip-reading," said Sara. "He knew exactly what I said."
"You could tell?" said Mort.
"He sprained something trying not to laugh, dear. Intuitively obvious, I think."
Mort shrugged. "Not t' me, luv. I was watching th'... gun."
"Common error," said Callisto. "You watch their faces. When they go impassive, you're as good as meat."
"Charmant," drawled Sara. "You're speaking from personal experience?"
Callisto pointed to her missing eye and the scar. "Hel-lo-oo..."
"Not so intuitively obvious, dear."
"Word of warning, kid. I don't 'do' endearments."
Sara blinked. "Sorry, but I was rather away when you introduced yourself."
"Callisto. Enhanced senses, reflexes and co-ordination."
"Sara Louise Adrien. I sort of... blend when I'm frightened."
"Mor'imer Toynbee," said Mort. "Weird froggy stuff."
"Weird. Froggy. Stuff," said Callisto.
"I can stick t' walls." Mort coughed. Okay. Four words was still his upper limit. "Jump like th' blazes. Spit stuff. An' me tongue's prehensile."
"Leaving the best 'till last," said Callisto. She nudged Sara, "Do you share?[2]"
Sara went dark from mortification.
Mort held up his hands, even though she hadn't moved. "No' into bein' used."
"Lifelong visible?"
"Yeh."
"Damn," she said. "All the lifelong visibles are jumpier than all hell. Pity." Callisto sighed. "Fine. Business. You said you could spit stuff. What sort of stuff?"
"Go' stuff that sets... 'arder'n concrete. If I'm real pissed... I can do acid."
"Remind me not to piss you off." She turned to Sara. "You're not a lifelong..."
"Still shedding the old skin." Sara rolled up a sleeve, showing the portion where someone had slashed the remains of her old epidermis off of her. The new, raw flesh underneath was forming tiny bubbles, which gradually turned into glistening aqua acales. "It started like a rash, and the doctors couldn't do a thing about it... so they took a blood test. They said they were checking for every eventuality."
"And they found one," said Mort.
Sara rolled her sleeve back down. "Here comes the guard. Looks like the head honcho gets a mouth-speaker."
Mort followed Callisto's lead and put his hands on his head. After a heartbeat, Sara followed.
"You three want a second fence around the first one?" said Honcho.
"Us?" said Sara. "Oh, of course not. What we want is complete and utter freedom."
"We just have concerns," said Callisto, giving a glare to Sara. "It occurred to us that an extra layer of prevention would -uh- be prudent."
"Stops them--" Mort nodded crowdwards, "--chuckin' stuff."
Honcho narrowed his eyes at the conflicting statements.
[1] _The Tick_ comics... again
[2] _ElfQuest_ side-fling.
"Of course," said Sara, "looking at nothing but blocks of concrete would be rather demoralising... Maybe we'd better forget about it."
Callisto clued on. "Yeah. Bleak blocks everwhere we look? Hardly aesthetic."
Mort used every ounce of energy not to grin. "Pro'lly too expensive anyway," he said. "Forget it."
They strolled away on their circuit.
Sara turned and walked backwards. "Ah, the marvels of reverse psychology," she said, barely moving her lips. "Big chief's evidently got an earpiece, since he's holding his head. Gesturing with the gun. Nice. Obviously this man wasn't briefed in basic firearms safety... could've shot his people thrice, now." Sara turned forward, grinning. "There'll be a low fence of barricades by tomorrow. Maybe they'll go as far as three-high."
"How the hell old are you, kid?" Callisto said.
"Sixteen. Seventeen come December twelfth. Why?"
"Because that was a flim-flam worthy of a pro. I've seen 'em dance before, but - damn..."
"Entirely my fault," said Sara. "I used to make something of a career out of disarming live psychologists... you know, playing head-games back? I'm quite immune to theirs, but... they never really expected me to have any. Poor things."
"Poor things?" echoed Mort.
"I think I went overboard when I put one of them in his own mental institution..."
Callisto had a truly wicked laugh. "We just might make a good committee after all. Sometimes, I need a quick thinker on my side... and you already have strategies."
"Stratagem," Sara corrected. "They'll wise up if we use it too often."
"Don't undersell yourself," said Mort. "That's my mistake."


Avery, for once, was not flipping channels. There wasn't much of a point, anyway, since just about every station was showing the same image, in or out of synch with the others. This time, he was actually paying attention, and it wasn't because he was feeling poorly.

He was absolutely terrified, watching the images of the mutants in the enclosure. Watching them line up for the rations the soldiers gave them by remote. Watching the shaky zoom-ins at the visibly different.
He pointed, while Dr McCoy and Piotr talked. "I know him," he said. "I've seen him in the Professor's files."
"You are not supposed to be in the Professor's files," said Piotr.
"I got bored." Avery shrugged. "And since my power's control of electronics... uhm..."
That 'uhm' was never good news. "We will talk later," said Piotr. "Do you remember anything?"
"His face?"
The downside of Avery's power was that he tended to have the attention span and recall of an amoeba on crack. Piotr suppressed a groan. "Try to remember. Put yourself back in the moment, da?"
"Uhm... I remember reading something about toys," said Avery.
"A toymaker?"
"...no..." Avery closed his eyes, concentrating. "I think it was part of his name. Toy... something."
By this time, Dr McCoy was leaning on the couch. "Hurm. It appears Mr Toynbee is not as dead as we'd thought. I must examine the unique resilience of Homo Sapiens Superior... Possibly at a date when the situation is not so dire."
The TV played a clip of him ministering to a tall, blue-green creature of indeterminate gender, earlier on in the day.
"He's made a friend," observed Kitty. "And I get the feeling that might be like, a bad thing?"
"He's made two friends," said Piotr. The TV was showing three, now. One definitely female. They were at the conveyor belt and talking to the hazmat-suited guards. Now they were seated together and discussing things over trays of food that could be eaten with a spork.
"The greenish one's the so-called New York terrorist," said Jubes. "She was trying to blend in and her face fell off in a crowd. Usual results."
"Meanin' she ran like spit an' they rioted," said Rahne. "They got 'er on 'incitement to riot', an' they reckon she's in on the White House thing."
Kitty snorted. "Are you kidding? She looks like she couldn't plot her way out of a wet paper bag."
"So what are we going to do?" said Avery. "Somebody has to do something?"
Dr McCoy mused on this. "We could begin with simple, civil measures. For exam--"
And then the scream invaded their minds.


Sara was the last to fall, but only by extreme effort. She saw people, young and old, falling into defensive huddles, trying to shut the noise out of their heads. She saw random soldiers and civillians fall, too, in a similar attitude.

Mort and Callisto were already down, yet many of the others inside were unaware of the noise and were confused.
Her last thought, before someone else's took over, was that this scream was only hurting the real mutants.
Then it was all blackness, and one thought merged over itself a millions times.


...findthemallfindthemallfindthemallfindthemallfindthemall...

Brisco was no genius with electronics, but he did believe his temporary partner - a gangly youth still getting over her spots - when she said the setup in the lounge room was too intricate to be reassembled accurately at the base. Her job was to investigate the hardware for anything suspicious and make a copy of the relevant files for the boys over in evidence.

His job was to seek out anything incriminating from the rest of the apartment.
It wouldn't be so bad except that every freaking nutso who shared the building with the mutie came a-calling to visit her damn hamster. Brisco had had to foster it out to an otherwise-shut-in so he could work in peace.
He gathered the studio portraits. "Geez. You'd never believe that used to look like this."
"Physical change isn't all that weird," said Parr. "According to the sites she visits? Very few visible mutants are that way from birth. It's way more common to seem normal and then - change."
"Any age limit to these transformations?" Brisco rooted about in the mutie's drawers. Lots and lots of cheapie cotton underthings. Nothing fancy. No hidden compartments, taped-down baggies or false bottoms. Damn. "Or do we have to guess which is the mutie and which is the extreme makeover?"
"Doesn't say. There's a survey, but the results are scattered all over the place. I'm guessing it's unpredictable."
"Which means that any mild-mannered teenager can wake up tomorrow as a super-powered mutie psycho," said Brisco. His hands closed upon a stack of letters in the bottom drawer. "Even you."
The expected, "Droll, Brisco..." was not forthcoming.
The letters were bound together with ribbon. "Hey, Parr! I said even you could wake up as a mutie psycho!"
Nothing.
"Parr?"
Silence there, as Poe might have written, and nothing more.
Brisco dropped the bound letters on the bed and started for the lounge. "Violet[1]?"
Parr was on the floor, clutching at her head and hissing against some mysterious pain. Brisco reached for his radio. "Officer down! Officer down! I need an EMT at fifth and twenty-second, apartment one-fifty-six[2], and I need it yesterday!"
"We can't send one, they're already too busy," said Base. "People are dropping like flies all over the city. Even some of the EMTs are down."
Brisco found a pillow and put it under her head. It was all he could do. "Hang in there, Vi," he whispered. He ran to the apartment's door, screaming, "I need some HELP in here!"
A door opened. "I saw it on the news. I used to be a nurse."


Annie forgot about the milk. She wasn't even aware of it soaking into her jeans as she picked up her son. Her little boy. He was in pain and all her medical experience meant nothing. People all over the store were down with the same affliction and it was terrifying. There was no precipitating event. No clue. No cause.

Just screaming and terror and her son... hurting...


...find them...

Sara opened her eyes to the dark grey and asphalt smell of the tarmac. "Someone knows where we are," she said. She sat up.
Mort was still recovering his senses, but Callisto had already dragged herself towards the nearest sufferer.
All the people now shrieking in pain were the ones who'd been watching in confusion when the others collapsed.
It had to mean something... but that could wait. Right now, she had to help them.
[1] Yes, Violet Parr from The Incredibles gets a cameo. Huzzah!
[2] A sly reference to Four of Two by They Might Be Giants. 1:56 is four minutes to two

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