"Hank, this will have to be quick– Oh god Hank!"
A sheet-covered body lay on a lab table. Charles immediately tried to connect with the body's mind, and there was nothing, it was a corpse–
"I'm so sorry," Hank said. "It's a cyborg, I should have warned you."
Charles took a steadying breath. "Hank, you know where I stand on cyborgs."
Hank apologized some more, rambling about the cyborg showing up unexpectedly with the afternoon's lab equipment delivery, no one was more surprised than Hank, but now that the cyborg was here, Hank wanted to remind Charles it would be a tremendous help to have a cyborg lab assistant, and would it be possible to keep it, and…
While speaking, Hank had moved to the lab table and pulled back the sheet, uncovering the cyborg down to the waist. For Charles, it was another shock, nearly as great as the first. The male cyborg's blond hair, perfect jaw, and unrealistically muscled-yet-slender physique had been seared into Charles's memory by an advertising campaign launched when Charles had been just twelve.
The cyborg's eyes were closed, and he was as still as death. Incongruously, Hank had placed a pillow under the cyborg's head, as if the cyborg needed to be kept comfortable.
"What's wrong with him?" Charles asked.
"I'm not sure," Hank said. "I didn't pick up anything with a scan. He has no power. Until he's recharged, I can't do any diagnostics."
Charles belatedly noticed the charging pad under the cyborg's right hand. He went to the table and lifted the cyborg's hand off it. The hand was pliable and relaxed, exactly like that of a human asleep.
"Charles, what are you doing?"
"Hank," Charles said. "This is a Max P-35."
As he expected, the name meant nothing to Hank, who just looked at him, puzzled.
"As soon as he's charged, he'll connect to the Web through our broadband," Charles said.
"Of course he will," Hank said. "Why is that a problem?"
"You're too young to remember, but the P-35 was the last realistic cyborg manufactured. The Max and Maxine were the focus of the anti-cyborg movement. All of them were recalled, and, as far as I know, all were destroyed."
Charles looked down at the cyborg. There had been several versions of the Max P-35. This had been one of the most popular – the Erik – with the Sexy Stubble option.
"I'm sorry, Charles, I didn't know. Does this mean I can't keep him?"
"I don't know what it means," Charles said. "But the likelihood of a P-35 showing up through a shipping error is zero. Someone sent him here."
"Why were the P-35s recalled?" Hank asked.
"I don't know. I was only fifteen at the time. Political reasons, technical, or both. I know you were a toddler then, but you do know what happened."
Hank nodded, and smiled slightly.
Charles had perhaps over-emphasized the mutant civil rights struggle in the Xavier Institute's curriculum, and had made sure the students knew the success of the movement had been dependent on the demonization of cyborgs. And while Charles had been too young then to shape affairs, he still felt guilt when he remembered how mutant leaders had exploited the public's fear of cyborgs to advance the mutant cause.
After the hysteria ended, non-realistic cyborgs made a comeback, with manufacturing logos embedded in numerous prominent places in their skin, and in the retinas of their eyes.
Hank was still heartbroken over the idea he was not going to get a cyborg lab assistant after all.
"So there's no support for this model," Hank said. "I can't register him, get updates."
"As far as I know, the recall is still in effect," Charles said. "If you register him, he would be impounded and destroyed."
"Professor, what should we do?" Hank said.
"We need to find out how in the world he ended up here. Which means we need to charge him, but make sure he won't connect to the Web. "
"I can keep him?" Hank said, looking hopeful.
"A cyborg is not a pet," Charles said.
"I already ordered the special food cyborgs eat," Hank said, apparently completely ignoring what Charles had just said. "I could put him in the yellow guestroom. It's shielded."
The yellow room had been shielded due to a student who crashed every broadband network within a mile. Until the student had learned to control her powers, it had been a rough year.
"All right," Charles said. "He can be charged there. Add surveillance to the room."
Hank bounced on his toes, excited.
"But I'm not saying yes to using him as your lab assistant," Charles said. "The P-35s weren't created to perform administrative functions."
"Were they military?" Hank asked.
"They were pleasure models," Charles said. "Their function was sex."
Charles retreated to his bedroom with his tablet to research the P-35. Quality photos turned out to be difficult to find on the Web. Finally he found an old advertising video, which confirmed it. The cyborg currently in the yellow guestroom was a Max P-35.
Charles had not seen a P-35 since the recall seventeen years earlier. So how could one show up randomly? Someone had sent it to the Xavier Institute on purpose. But why? And where had the P-35 been all this time?
The P-35's incredible realism was not the only reason it had engendered so much hate; it was the first cyborg model sold exclusively for sex.
The old ads were even worse than Charles remembered: like soft focus porn, with shots of Max and Maxine looking at their human owners adoringly. He found a print ad with the horrendous tagline he had done his best to forget. Your Max Has Come.
Charles had more than one reason to feel guilty. At age fourteen, he had nearly ordered a Max for himself, even though the models had been restricted to buyers eighteen and older. In spite of the price tag, the equivalent of two years salary for the average person, Charles could have afforded a Max easily. If there hadn't been a backlog, he might have ended up owning one.
His guilt had shaped his attitude toward cyborgs ever since. After the backlash against cyborgs peaked and subsided, and the new unrealistic models were on the market, Charles had still not purchased one, even though cyborgs could have been a huge help at the Xavier Institute.
Aside from sex, there had been another reason Charles had once desperately wanted a Max. When he was twelve, a neighboring family had purchased a cyborg butler, and Charles had discovered he could not read its mind. With a cyborg, Charles might be normal. When he had been a teenager, the Max P-35 had been a cherished fantasy for that reason.
Charles pulled up the video feed from the yellow guestroom. The cyborg was in the bed, and appeared to be asleep. Unbidden, the phrase Sleeping Beauty came into Charles's head. Getting to know the Max, without being able to communicate telepathically, would be exciting. Charles might as well admit it.
He checked to make sure the motion detector would alert him if the cyborg moved, and put aside his tablet and prepared for bed.
Perhaps the most bizarre aspect of the cyborg's arrival was that he was the exact model Charles had nearly purchased. The Erik.
There were no alerts from the yellow guestroom during the night. After a hasty shower and breakfast, Charles met with Hank in the lab.
"There's an issue I should have considered yesterday," Hank said. "If there's a problem once he's charged, I can't reinstall, because he's not supported. I'll have to troubleshoot manually."
"But you can do that," Charles said, confident in Hank's abilities.
"Not without getting behind in my other work," Hank said. "It could take all day."
"Then I'll do it," Charles said. "I'll ask Angel to take over my duties today. We have to know where the cyborg came from."
"I can send out a tissue sample," Hank said. "Run it through a third party. Could take a while."
"Who on the staff knows he's here, and that he's a cyborg?"
"No one," Hank said.
"Good," Charles said. "I don't want anyone to know just yet, not even the senior staff."
Charles's phone beeped. He checked the message.
08:12am : YllwGstrm : MOVEMENT.
Erik opened his eyes. He was in a bed in a large, sunny room. The room was impersonal, but the quality of the art on the walls was too high for a hotel. There were two doors, one open to a bathroom, the other closed.
There was a man in the room with him.
Erik sat up in the bed, and scrutinized the man, who was sitting in an armchair by the closed door.
The man was about thirty, well-dressed, pale skin, brown hair, blue eyes. Friendly smile. Attractive. He didn't match anyone in Erik's memory.
"Hello," the man said. "I'm Professor Charles Xavier. This is the living quarters of the Xavier Institute. Welcome." Xavier spoke slowly, as if he thought Erik might not understand him.
Erik shifted under the blanket, and determined he was wearing a pair of boxer shorts, nothing else.
"A pleasure to meet you, Professor Xavier," Erik said. "I am a Max P-35. I'm called Erik, unless the name is already in use by someone in this establishment."
"It isn't," Xavier said.
His face had tightened slightly when Erik said establishment.
"I'm afraid your arrival here was unexpected," Xavier said. "Do you know how you got here?"
Erik thought: retrieve. But there was nothing. He knew a tremendous amount – wedding customs, how to fly a jet, how to cook and serve a twelve-course meal – but his narrative was missing.
"I have had a memory malfunction," Erik said.
"Not surprising," Xavier said. "You were de-activated for a time. If you like, you can take a shower now, get dressed, then come with me for diagnostics."
Erik thought: connect. Nothing happened.
"Your broadband is unavailable," Erik said. "I can repair it for you."
"I must ask you not to connect to the Web until after your diagnostics are complete," Xavier said.
Erik nodded to show he understood, then swung his legs out from under the blankets, putting his feet on the floor.
"Please be careful," Xavier said. "Your coordination may not be what you expect it to be."
When Erik stood, his body moved fluidly, normally. No problems. He sensed a small movement from Xavier.
"I apologize if my lack of clothing has disturbed you," Erik said.
He could remember that: there were men uncomfortable around other men, even if the male was a cyborg.
"It's not a problem," Xavier said. "Except this is a school, so–"
The human stopped talking, perhaps realizing you'll be expected to wear clothes was condescending.
Erik observed Xavier carefully. The professor's face was flushed, and he was fixedly staring at Erik's face, not at his body. Conclusion: Xavier is aroused. But immediately the directive flashed through Erik – Never initiate – and Erik turned and went into the bathroom.
Once Erik was out of the room, Charles stood up and paced.
Charles's heart rate had unexpectedly soared when Erik had sat up and looked at him.
Possibly Charles's determined avoidance of cyborgs was to blame. He had not expected Erik to seem so alive, and he had definitely not expected the intense scrutiny Erik had given him, as if Charles was a fascinating book Erik had been given to read. Also nerve-wracking: Erik jumping to a conclusion about where he was, and for what purpose. Charles admitted it had not been a far-fetched assumption. He and Hank should have attempted to dress Erik before putting him into the bed.
Charles was relieved when Erik appeared fully dressed in a set of the school's sweats, and athletic shoes left behind by Scott. Using the elevator to avoid the classroom area, he took Erik to the below-ground laboratory.
Hank did his best not to appear excited at Erik's appearance, but Charles was quite sure Erik noticed. Erik also noticed Hank's huge bare feet, but reacted so subtly Charles would not have picked up on it if he had not been looking for it.
He introduced Erik to Hank, then asked Erik to sit in a chair. And once again Charles's ignorance led to an embarrassing moment. He asked Erik where his access ports were, and Erik immediately pulled off his sweatshirt and T-shirt. Before Charles could say please, please do not get naked, Erik lifted his left arm, and Charles saw the access ports just below Erik's armpit.
Charles sat on a rolling stool and began his tests, Erik watching with keen interest. When the moment came to connect cables to Erik, Erik lifted his arm slightly higher, but made no move to help. The sensation Charles had of being studied did not fade, but increased. Every time he hesitated to touch Erik's skin, or fumbled equipment, or said "Um," he was sure Erik had taken note.
Eventually, Charles calmed down, and lost himself in what he was doing. It had been a long time since he had undertaken such a complex technical task. He made notes on his tablet, but was careful not to access anything on the Web specific to the P-35. Not that there seemed to be much of use there.
After three hours, Charles was satisfied there were no serious technical problems with Erik, but he would not know for sure until Erik's internal diagnostic programs completed running, which could take two days, or even longer. One of Erik's functions had been disabled, so Charles re-enabled it.
After he disconnected the cables, and asked Erik to put on his shirt, Charles knew he had to quit stalling and give Erik the bad news.
"Hank, would you step out for a moment?" Charles said.
Hank left, first giving Erik an encouraging smile, as if Erik was about to undergo a job interview.
"Erik, you are in good working order. And that's fortunate, because I'm afraid your model is no longer supported by the manufacturer."
"I see," Erik said neutrally.
"Your model was recalled seventeen years ago. You seem to have been in storage. It's important you do not connect to the Web directly, because I believe the recall is still in effect, and you would be impounded."
"And repaired?" Erik's voice did not sound quite so calm.
"Destroyed," Charles said.
"If I'm defective, I should be destroyed," Erik said. His voice was neutral again.
"I don't think you are defective. In fact, I'm sure you are not."
Erik's face went blank, as if he were retreating into himself, seeking information. Charles was about to say For the love of god please don't connect to the Web when Erik spoke.
"Do I have an owner?" Erik asked.
"I don't know," Charles said, surprised ownership was the problem foremost in Erik's mind. "I have no records for you, and for obvious reasons I can't request them. So I suppose the answer is no, you do not."
"How did I get here?"
"You were in a shipment of lab equipment."
"Who ordered it?"
"So I belong to Hank," Erik said.
"No, of course not. You belong to the school if you belong to anyone, Hank used the school's general fund…" Charles stopped talking, realizing what belong to the school might suggest to Erik.
And then something else occurred to Charles. He tried not to give anything away, but Erik's next question confirmed Charles's suspicion: Erik was freakishly good at reading his expressions and movements.
"Who supplies the general fund?" Erik asked.
"I do," Charles said.
"You are my owner," Erik said.
Charles hesitated. He could qualify his answer, but why? Any qualifiers he offered would be to assuage his own conscience; they had no value to Erik.
"Yes," Charles said. "I know cyborgs must have an owner, even if it's just a corporation. I will take responsibility for you. I will make sure you are supplied with food, power, clothing, and have a place to stay."
"How should I address you?" Erik asked. His voice had changed. It was slower, almost sleepy.
"Charles is fine," Charles said. "Only the students call me Professor Xavier."
"Thank you, Charles."
Charles found a tablet and handed it to Erik.
"Since you cannot use the Web directly, please use this. I recommend you catch up on recent events. You'll understand why I cannot register you."
Erik touched the tablet, manipulating it with a speed Charles was going to have to talk to him about eventually; it was inhuman. But apparently the speed wasn't satisfactory to Erik. He regarded the tablet with the first real expression Charles had seen on his face: annoyance.
"I could anonymize my Web access, so it is not detected," Erik said.
"I'm sure you could," Charles said, and smiled. For some reason, Erik's impatience with the tablet struck him as hilarious. "But I can't have you wandering around announcing the weather forecast without something in your hands to explain where you're getting the information."
Erik's keen gaze returned, and then Erik smiled at Charles, an appreciative smile, which said he got the joke. There was even a hint of gratitude to Charles for thinking of an angle he had missed.
The smile took Charles completely by surprise. His heart rate jumped again. He forced himself to go on.
"There is something we must deal with eventually," Charles said. "The cyborgs made today cannot pass as human. You can, and you must. But you could be recognized as a cyborg by people over the age of thirty-five, so we will have to change your appearance, at least before you leave the school grounds."
"Passing as human is a violation of federal law," Erik said. The neutral voice and expression were back.
"It was, seventeen years ago," Charles said. "There are circumstances now when it's legal. Cyborgs in law enforcement, and in the military, for instance. Since they wear full body armor, they can pass, and they do. So my plan is to designate you in charge of school security, just in case… just in case I eventually find a solution to your situation. Do you have any skill in that field?"
Erik hesitated. "I have weapons and surveillance training."
"We'll have to get you up to speed," Charles said. "Technology has changed in the last seventeen years."
"But humans have not," Charles said. "Unfortunately."
"You're not human?" Erik asked, betraying surprise for the first time.
"I'm a mutated human. A mutant." Charles pointed to the tablet, and smiled. "Look me up."
Erik stood when Charles stood.
"As I'm sure you know, your diagnostic programs are still running," Charles said. "Until they complete, I'd like you to remain in your room. I hope the tablet will provide sufficient distraction."
"Thank you, Charles."
"Your memory may return," Charles said. "If you remember anything–"
"I'll let you know immediately, if it's something important."
"Good," Charles said. "You can contact me by–"
Erik lifted the tablet, touched it. Charles's phone buzzed. There was a text message. Greetings, Charles – Erik.
"Oh," Charles said. "You're rather good at this, aren't you?"
"I shall try to satisfy you," Erik said.
There was no innuendo in Erik's voice, but Charles still reacted to the words with all the subtlety of a sex-starved thirty-year-old academic. He was momentarily speechless, and he had the grim feeling that Erik was no longer just observing the effect he had on Charles, but was relishing it.
Which made what Charles had to say next much more difficult.
"The room you're in," Charles said. "You should know… it has video, motion, and sound surveillance. I'm sorry."
Charles said nothing as he accompanied Erik back to the yellow room. He was too busy planning what he would not say, and how he would not react, if Erik said something the slightest bit suggestive.
When they reached the door, he was almost grateful when Erik shook his hand in a brisk, professional manner.
"Charles, would you be more comfortable if I was locked in the room?" Erik asked.
"That won't be necessary." Even cyborg-ignorant Charles knew Erik could easily demolish an interior door. "But thank you for suggesting it. Please alert me as soon as your diagnostics have completed, or if you experience any problems. Your food will arrive later today. Is the charge pad sufficient until then?"
"It is, thank you," Erik said, and began to close the door. Then he stopped, and said, "I can eat human food, Charles."
"You can? But the special food–"
"Is a marketing strategy to increase profits," Erik said. "Cyborgs don't require it."
The door closed silently.
Charles went to his bedroom, locked the door, and unzipped his pants, finally releasing the pressure on the hard-on he'd had on and off since that morning.
He had faced and overcome enormous obstacles in his life. He liked to think of himself as calm and unflappable. The last thing he had expected was to be so thoroughly bad at resisting a pleasure model cyborg.
He had known Erik would be visually arousing. But no one had warned him Erik would be charming. And have a sense of humor. Whoever had designed Erik's smile should be shot. And, worst of all, what was truly unforgivable from a design perspective: Erik was intelligent.
Not having sex with Erik was a thousand times more difficult than Charles had thought it would be.