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Into Your Tar, Honey

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LECTURE 1: INTRODUCTION

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Transcript
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But in any case, please know that this has been an area of enormous ferment. And the reason it's been in such enormous ferment is of the discovery in 1953 by Rosalind Franklin of the structure of the DNA double helix. We know the names Watson and Crick, but it was really Franklin who did the work, and it's she who we should be celebrating in this class. I want to impress on you the notion that two hundred years from now, we will talk about Franklin––and perhaps Watson and Crick, because status quo is a difficult thing––the same way that people talk about Isaac Newton in terms of physics. And that will be so because we are only beginning to perceive the ramifications of this enormous revolution that was triggered by her discovery.

That is the field of molecular biology and genetics and biochemistry which has totally changed our perceptions of how life on Earth is actually organized. One point I would like, hopefully successfully, to drive home this semester is the notion that biology has now achieved a logical and rational coherence that allows us to articulate a whole set of rules that explain how all life forms on this planet are organized. It's no longer just a collection of jumbled facts.
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*

Really, Alex doesn’t know why he’s in the damn class.

He barely knows why he’s going to college at all––he’s twenty-five years old, which he knows objectively is on the young side but feels ancient compared to all the teenybopper assholes around him––and yet Scott had seemed so happy for him when he’d gotten accepted, and it had seemed stupid to waste a nearly-free ride if it meant he could provide for Scotty better afterward. Doing some of it online had seemed like an easier way to fulfill the gen ed requirements; not having to haul ass down to campus every day makes taking care of Scott a lot easier, and he’d liked bio all right the first time around, when he was still in high school and his parents were still around to take care of Scott. He has to be at his computer at two o’clock on Tuesdays and Thursdays to participate in the forum, but he can replay parts of the video later, and if he’s typing one-handed while making tomorrow’s ham sandwich with the shitty French’s mustard that Scott prefers, well, no one has to be the wiser.

Okay, so it’s not so bad. But it’s definitely nothing like he thought Introduction to Biology would be, from the complexity of the material right down to their professor, who sounds like he’s fresh off the Mayflower or something and who is sort of weirdly pretty, in the way that Alex refuses to let himself think that his male professor is pretty until he smiles unexpectedly, and honestly there’s only so much lying to himself that Alex can do.

Their class is small, if the forum is anything to go by––and considering the way Dr. Xavier’s smile had turned a little knowingly evil when he’d said Participation is mandatory in that first video, Alex thinks the forum is probably an accurate reflection––there’s just a handful of other weirdos who couldn’t bear the thought of suffering through a bio lecture in a regular classroom for one reason or another. He recognizes some of the names from other classes he’s taken; namely, Angel, a girl from three towns over who he met at the regional Mutant Integration Center when they were in sixth grade, and Armando, who goes by Darwin for some reason that Alex has yet to discover and who’d been in his first year comp class last semester. The other two are mysteries to him beyond the auto-generated fonts the computer uses to differentiate them from each other during the class’s live chat, which is okay as far as Alex is concerned.

Dr. Xavier always gives the lectures from a room that doesn’t look quite like a classroom, more like an old-fashioned library; Alex doesn’t know where in the university it is, if indeed it is there at all. He’s always seated at the same big desk and occasionally cuts the videos with illustrations of what he’s talking about, or, more usually, records himself drawing on sheets of paper, rather than just getting someone to film him at a chalkboard during a regular class period, like most of the other professors who teach online courses do.

He’s a really effective teacher, whatever his methods. It’s good that he cares so much, probably.

*

LECTURE 3: BIOCHEMISTRY (PART 2)

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Transcript -- <Scroll up to read from the beginning.>
Here, we touched upon the fact toward the end of last lecture, in fact, at the very end, that one can cross-link these long, linear chains of carbohydrates.

And here, we see the fact that glycogen, which is a form of glucose that is stored in our liver largely, and to a small extent in the muscles actually is cross-branched.

So, if one draws on a much smaller scale a glycogen molecule, one might draw a picture that looks like this.

And it looks almost like a Christmas tree with multiple branches.

For God’s sake, Charles, call it a pine tree at least, be sensitive to the needs of your students.

Thank you, Raven, yes, apologies to anyone who doesn’t celebrate, you’ll see it looks almost like a pine tree, with these many branches.


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*

“I am not a damn invalid!” Charles yells over the phone, and presses the End Call button with all the force he can muster. It’s not as satisfying as slamming down the receiver would have been in the bad old days, but it’s the best he’s got, so he presses it again out of spite. The phone beeps in protest.

“Problems?” Raven calls, swanning in like she owns the place––which of course she does, in part.

“Just the department,” he groans, and drops the phone onto his desk with a clatter. So there, he thinks, narrowing his eyes at the handset. “Susan keeps asking me if I can handle coming back to work so soon after the incident. It’s enraging.”

“She’s only concerned for you,” Raven points out, sitting on the desk and putting the phone back in its cradle, where it belongs. She’d never grown into Charles’s casual disregard for the sheer number of things at her disposal––some part of her, Charles thinks, must yet be in awe of Xavier House, of the life that’s led them to coming back here and living in its grandeurs and shadows both. He doesn’t blame her; it’s been twenty years and he’s still unspeakably grateful for her.

“It’s been a year,” Charles grouses. “What, do they want me to research and teach from home for the rest of my life?”

“Such a hardship that would be,” Raven snorts, and pats his shoulder. “They don’t know how to manage you, that’s all.”

“They don’t need to manage me. I’m an adult and I can manage perfectly well for myself,” Charles says.

“Of course you can,” Raven assures him, tossing her blonde hair over her shoulder. He wishes she wouldn’t; she can walk around as blue as she wants, as far as he’s concerned, especially on the estate where there’s no one to startle but him, but she says she’s more comfortable as a blonde.

“There’s no need to be patronizing,” he grumbles, sending her into helpless screams of laughter. “What?”

“No need to be patronizing!” she says, wiping her eyes. “From you!”

“I’m not patronizing,” Charles says, but really, he can be, he knows; it’s one of his more worrying faults. “I try not to be,” he amends.

“I’ll give you that––you do try, at least when it’s convenient for you,” Raven agrees. “Speaking of which, isn’t it nearly time for your class?”

Charles glances at his watch, curses. “Too true, and will you try to limit your participation this time?” he asks, and hurries to boot up the extra laptop the university had lent him months ago so he could connect to the departmental intranet, before anyone knew what the outcome of the last two surgeries would be, when exactly he’d be able to function again; at the time, focused entirely on PT and pain management and how not to let his idle telepathy go haywire, the laptop had seemed like wishful thinking. Now it feels like a weight around his neck, one he’s eager to cast off.

“I thought you said participation was obligatory,” Raven says thoughtfully, and hops away before he can do anything more than shake a violent finger in her direction.

*

LECTURE 6: GENETICS (PART 1)

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Transcript
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Biochemistry seeks to break down the organism into individual components and study them on their own in a test tube. To a biochemist wishing to study the beauty of a butterfly flapping in the wind and to understand all of the mechanics of how it could possibly do so, he or she would start by taking the butterfly, putting it in the blender, pressing puree and making an extract, and trying to purify individual components that would explain muscles moving back and forth, et cetera.

But genetics––genetics is the study of organisms minus one component, or sometimes, with one component added. Of course, what I mean by that are mutants.

Mutant and proud!

Yes. Yes, thank you for your contribution, Raven.
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*

Scott’s got soccer practice and then some kind of awkward sixth grade playdate and/or possible preteen mating ritual afterward, and Alex couldn’t pick up any shifts at the telefund on Tuesday evenings, so he has the totally foreign sensation of having the apartment to himself for an entire afternoon. It’s an oddly anxious feeling––like he should be doing something, or going somewhere, but all he’s got planned is his bio lecture and making dinner and waiting for Scott’s future girlfriend’s mom to drop him off at their apartment complex. He thinks, uncomfortably, if his parents were alive he probably wouldn’t even know how to make dinner, not properly, not with vegetables and stuff, then fends off that hideously depressing line of thought by opening up the ancient netbook he scored off one of Darwin’s friends last semester and signing into the university’s online portal.

Dr. Xavier’s name is already highlighted green and he’s opened the live chat, which Alex clicks on even though he’s got ten minutes before the lecture video starts streaming. Why not? The alternative is dicking around on YouTube, which is a habit he’s trying to avoid, if only so Scott learns good habits through his actions and shit like that. Parenting is hard.

YOU ARE NOW ONLINE.
THERE ARE CURRENTLY 3 OTHER USERS IN THIS LIVE CHAT.

AlexSumm has entered this live chat.

ProfessorX:Yes, and I’m afraid everything I’ve just told you is, as the French say, n’importe quoi.
MMacTagg: Professor?
ProfessorX: Oh, I’m quite serious.
Darwin: That doesn't sound like you, Dr. X.

ASalvadore and Bansheeeee have entered this live chat.

ProfessorX: I assure you, I’m toato;oiuw
ProfessorX: Sorry, folks, that was my sister. She got ahold of my keyboard while I was getting ready––I’ll try not to be so horribly unprofessional from now on, hmm?
Bansheeeee: hey wait is your sister named raven?
ProfessorX: Indeed! How did you know that? Have you met?
Bansheeeee: no but someone named raven always talks to you off screen...
Bansheeeee: mystery solved brah
ProfessorX: All right, while I’m terribly pleased with your deductive reasoning skills, Sean, it is nearly two o’ clock, so I’ll leave the chat open for questions, but let’s make sure they pertain to genetics, please.
Darwin: Hey, Prof, is Raven a mutant, by any chance?
ProfessorX: What gave you that impression? Okay, really, it’s 2PM––questions welcome, but none about my personal life, or my sister’s, please.

The video starts streaming; Dr. Xavier’s in a different room, still seated but without all the books behind him. They’re talking about genetics again, which Alex tries to feel interested in for solidarity’s sake––his genes have fucked him over often enough, he should try to figure out what makes the little bastards tick––but which is just not as cool as shooting plasma out of your ribcage would make it seem at first glance. To be fair, shooting plasma out of your ribcage is also not as cool as it seems at first glance.

There’s no creation there, no discovery, something Alex has had to learn to appreciate, with Scotty always hanging around. Somehow he’s come to prefer the slow joyous burn of things coming together rather than the spitfire, filthy exhilaration he’s always gotten from destruction. Breaking things down has always come more naturally to him than building things up, but he’s got someone to look out for now, and, Alex has learned the hard way, you can’t hand your legacy to a kid or be a good role model if all you’ve got to your name is rubble.

Dr. Xavier doesn’t seem to feel that way about genetics, though; you can tell from the way his eyes light up and his hands start moving faster than the average human eye can track, although, in retrospect, that’s possibly a result of the video’s shitty resolution. Seriously, though, Xavier obviously loves this stuff, and his enthusiasm, while Alex wouldn’t exactly call it catching, makes it hard not to at least try, if only not to earn the heartbroken, disappointed, kicked-puppy look he adopts every time someone says something a dismissive or self-deprecating. He’s so earnest, it’s a little unnerving.

Just as he’s wrapping up the lecture and Alex is closing his notebook––he’s tried to write notes on the netbook, but he can’t concentrate on whatever Dr. Xavier’s saying on screen and type at the same time––a tall blonde drink of water walks behind Dr. Xavier and rests a hand on his shoulder. “Come on, Charles, PT,” she says, her voice unbearably kind. Alex wonders vaguely who she is, what her face looks like, then, abruptly, if Dr. Xavier is married, if he has any kids.

“Can’t you wait until I’ve at least turned the camera off?” Dr. Xavier grumbles, gathering up his lecture notes. Alex squints at his hand and doesn’t see a ring––but the pixelation’s pretty bad, so it could just be hidden.

“Oh, are you still streaming?” the woman asks, sounding more animated, and Alex realizes she’s the as-yet-elusive Raven; it’s hard to recognize her voice when she’s not busy admonishing Dr. Xavier for his thoughtlessness or yelling absently about mutant supremacy. She leans down into the camera and waves. She’s sort of distractingly pretty. “Hi, boys and girls!” she says.

“For God’s sake,” Dr. Xavier says. “I’ll see you guys next time, and don’t forget, one question and response each in the forum, all right?”

He reaches forward to turn off the camera, but not quite before Raven starts moving him out of the frame, which is when Alex gets it, with a feeling like the bottom of his stomach dropping out––the reason Dr. Xavier is always sitting is that he’s in a wheelchair.

ASalvadore: So what practical application do Punnett Squares even have?
ASalvadore: Ohh, I see. Okay. Thanks.

ProfessorX has left the live chat.

Bansheeeee: well shit
Bansheeeee: didn’t see that one comin
MMacTagg: *coming
MMacTagg: No kidding.

YOU HAVE LEFT THIS LIVE CHAT. PLEASE SIGN ON AGAIN.

*

LECTURE 9: HUMAN GENETICS

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Transcript
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Can we do genetics anyway? How exactly can we perform this idea of genetics even though we can't arrange the matings the way we'd like to? Well, you’ll find the answer in family trees; we have to take the matings as we find them in the human population. You can talk to somebody who might have an interesting phenotype, I don't know, attached earlobes, or some unusual color of eyes, or, yes, a more––well, obvious mutation, shall we say––and begin to collect a family history on that person. If you were really industrious, you'd go check out each of their family members and test for yourself whether they have the phenotype. People who do human genetic studies often go and do that. They have to confirm their information, either by getting hospital records or interviewing the other members of the family. This is not as easy as plating out lots of yeasts on a Petri plate. 

Then you get pedigrees. Here, here’s a pedigree. Tell me what you make of it.

Pedigrees? Seriously, pedigrees?

No need, Erik, I think you’ll find I wasn’t talking to you. 

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*

“You can’t just interrupt me when I’m teaching, Erik,” Charles says, irritated. He takes a drink of water and wishes, rather desperately, that it were something stronger, but reminds himself that he comes from a long line of alcoholics, and also it’s only four in the afternoon, and also that mixing liquor with the muscle relaxers he now has to take to combat the spasticity in his lower legs will probably end in respiratory failure and an outrageously embarrassing Raven-penned epitaph. Here Lies One Whose Name Was Writ In Grain Alcohol (It Was Misspelled, In Case You Were Wondering), or something worse.

“Sure I can,” Erik says. “Especially when you’re talking about pedigreeing people. That’s cruel, Charles. I never took you for one to throw your fellow human to the dogs.”

“It’s what it’s called!” Charles insists. “I didn’t make it up to spite you!” But Erik’s eyes crinkle slow and sweet, above his impressive frown, and Charles notices for the first time that he’s being teased. “You utter prat.”

“So they say,” Erik says amicably. “I’ve always gone for ‘asshole,’ myself. Seems more honest, somehow.”

“I bet you’ve gone for asshole,” Charles mutters, then, glancing at Erik’s exasperated expression, snickers helplessly. He’s missed him. “Sorry.”

“This is why you can’t have nice things, Charles,” Erik points out, eyebrows furrowed, but relents when Charles unabashedly pouts at him. “You don’t really have to be sorry for your truly regrettable sense of humor. I know you were an only child for the first ten years of your life and had no one to test your jokes on.”

“Twelve,” Charles says pedantically, though of course Erik knows this and is only courting assholery again; you can’t love someone for eight years and not have absorbed the minutiae of his history, the way the past is writ large on his skin. Charles knows every inch of Erik’s skin and wishes, desperately, that he hadn’t given up his right to it––but he made his bed months ago and, he thinks without humor, without functional legs, there he must lie. “Not that it’s not lovely to see you, Erik, but why are you here?” he asks entirely without meaning to. His voice sounds hollow and sad even to himself.

Erik stiffens. “If you’re going to be like that––”

“No, no,” Charles says, holding up a hand like he’d have any hope whatsoever of getting Erik to do anything––fending him off, making him stay. Erik has always been a force too great for Charles to comprehend, one which, once having consented to be tamed, brought him a strangely gentle and endless delight. Setting him free from Charles’s gilded, wheeled cage had been one of the hardest things Charles had ever had to do, not least because Erik had dug his claws in and resisted Charles’s good intentions, the contrary bastard. “I don’t––I’ve missed you terribly, I just––”

“Have you,” Erik inquires, without any inflection whatsoever.

“Of course I have,” Charles snaps. “How could I not?”

Erik’s face is inscrutable. Charles wishes he didn’t have such a high bar for his fucking moral code. Sometimes he really hates his own standards. Erik’s mind is a singular thing, ticking from one thought to the next with the precision of a fine clock––or a bomb, and underneath, a chaotic, addictive tangle. The shape of it is branded into Charles’s memory, an absence he keeps picking at like a rotten tooth, the delayed pain of a life upturned.

Erik shakes his head. “You need to work on your priorities,” he says, and straightens to go, palming with painfully intimate familiarity the back of Charles’s neck as he passes. Charles finds himself pressing up under it, making all of this last half a second longer, pretending Erik won’t actually leave, that his place is still here, knotted up with Charles, his shoes under the big bed Charles can no longer sleep in and his books haphazardly strewn everywhere. Sometimes Charles still finds them, penny dreadfuls and dime novels, mostly, and he can never stop himself from wondering if Erik had forgotten them on purpose, a secret message encoded.

Erik stops, looking down at Charles, playing with the too-long hair at the nape of his neck. “I’ll come back to visit you again, don’t worry. I’ll even bring you a bologna sandwich for old times’ sake.”

“You just want to see Raven and conspire with her humiliate me,” Charles accuses.

“Sometimes you do need taking down a peg or two,” Erik agrees, and whispers a kiss across Charles’s cheek, removing himself all at once so that he’s not touching Charles anywhere; Charles aches with the lack of him. “See you around.”

Hate to see you leave but love to watch you go, Charles thinks, and Erik hunches over in silent, distant laughter––that may have been projected. Shit. He needs better self-control.

*

LECTURE 11: MOLECULAR BIOLOGY (PART 2)

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Transcript
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<Scroll up to read from the beginning.>
Now, at the beginning, when people were trying to patch this together, it wasn’t as obvious as it seems today, that DNA goes to RNA goes to protein. And, in fact, it was a real struggle to find out what exactly this RNA stuff was even doing, how it could possibly give rise to protein. I’ll talk about that in a minute. Let me briefly mention, however, Francis Crick’s term, the central dogma, because it sometimes gets criticized––the word dogma, of course, as being like religious belief, and molecular biologists treated it this way. There are a few social scientists who sort of sigh, “oh, dogma.”

But in fact Francis Crick deliberately named it the central dogma because he said there was no proof for it at the time was put forward. He used that word precisely to emphasize that this was a working guess. It was merely a matter of belief.
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*

“Aaaaalex,” Scott says, kicking the back of his chair. Scott’s a good kid, but he can still be an annoying little shit, and when he’s in the last stages of illness, like he is now, too fucked up to to go back to school but too restless to sack out on the couch all day, he’s really fucking irritating. “Aaaaalex.”

“God, what is it?” Alex groans, looking up from his bio notes. His other classes are time-consuming but not in the same way, where it takes all of his concentration and he feels like he spends all class squinting at the material; he thinks he’s going to focus on finance, since, unexpectedly for all parties, he’s kind of good at it, and he’s more likely to get a decent job with it than anything else he’s good at––his skill set, until his parents’ death three years ago, was largely comprised of flipping (off) burgers and jacking (off on) cars, at which point you could say his priorities got rearranged. Scott had spent a year crying his way through foster care while Alex got his act together and proved to the system that he’d be better at taking care of his brother than some random weirdos who’d signed up for temporary parenting to prove they were good people or some shit like that. So far they’ve been doing okay, as long as Alex stays in school and keeps making enough money between his job and his parents’ life insurance policies to feed and clothe and house them both, and makes sure they stay on top of their check-ins with Anna Marie, Scott’s case manager.

“I’m booooored,” Scott whines.

“So read a book,” Alex says, aware that this is probably one of the most hypocritical things he’s ever said in his life. When he was twelve, their mom used to tell him the same thing, reaching for toddler-Scott with on hand and pointing towards the bookshelves with the other. He’d just rolled his eyes at her as elaborately and gruesomely as possible, which, thank God, is not something Scott has yet mastered, because that is some disgusting shit.

He’s pretty damn good at sighing, though, and he throws himself back on the couch with a forlorn gust. “I have read all the books in this apartment. Every single one.”

“You have not,” Alex counters guiltily, although it’s been at least a couple weeks since they’ve had time to go to the library, and it’s not like he’s built up a big reading collection or anything––at least, not a collection of anything he’d let someone Scott’s age get his hands on.

“Have so,” Scott grumbles, and kicks his chair again. “I feel gross.”

“That’s what happens when you’re sick, bozo,” Alex says. “You want some soup? Tea?”

Scott makes a face. “No more tea,” he says. “I want to go outside.”

“Okay, so, back to school tomorrow for sure, then,” Alex says. “But you can’t go outside, it’s way too cold for someone who should be––” he checks his watch as ostentatiously as he can “––in Mr. Howlett’s Social Studies class right now.”

“That’s not fair,” Scott complains.

“Life usually isn’t,” Alex says. “And the younger you are, the less fair it seems. Them’s the breaks, kid.”

“Ugh.” Scott kicks his chair again. “At least let me use the computer, you’re not doing anything with it.”

“No can do, I’ve got class in five minutes,” Alex says. “You can watch it with me if you want.”

Scott wrinkles his nose. “More school? No thanks.”

“Well, sometimes the professor’s family walks in on him teaching and they say funny things. And it’s pretty interesting, as far as school goes.”

“You think boring things are interesting,” Scott points out. “Everything you like has numbers being tricky.”

“This doesn’t, for the most part,” Alex says, and then scoffs at himself. For the most part? Who the hell does he think he is, Dr. Xavier? “Okay, so you don’t want to learn biology, that’s okay. Go get a comic if you’ve already read all the books in the apartment and come read it at the table while I take class, then, maybe you’ll be less bored if you’ve got something to look at.”

“Comics are for losers,” Scott proclaims even as he heads into Alex’s bedroom, presumably to get some of the issues Alex saved from his youthful superhero phase, which, secretly, he hasn’t quite grown out of yet. He just likes series about mutants, even though he knows they’re ridiculous, that he will never wield his plasma rays for anything useful or good except maybe demolition. But he can’t help it. Something in him cries out for the The Adventures of the Uncanny Z-Men.

Scott wanders back in with something in hand, flipping through it largely disinterestedly, and throws himself back down onto the couch. You win some, you lose some––he’s still in prime chair-kicking position, but at least he’ll be less likely to do so if he’s got something to distract him. Alex leaves him alone and signs into the portal, clicks on the live chat, settles back and licks his pen for good luck.

Eighty minutes later he feels like someone’s ridden him hard and put him away wet, or beaten him, or God, both at the same time; this is online, after all, there’s some seriously kinky shit out there. Fucking biology. They’ve got their midterm in two weeks and Alex has the sinking feeling he’s going to need to figure out a way to attend Dr. Xavier’s office hours.

MMacTagg: Could you repeat that last bit?
MMacTagg: Okay, thanks.
ProfessorX:For those of you interested, I’ll be holding a review session in person next Friday, in the Math & Science Learning Center in the ARC building. If you can’t make it, you will of course be welcome to e-mail me for further office hours;
ProfessorX: Can I get a show of hands of who’s likely able to make it this Friday at 2PM?

Alex runs through his mental schedule: Scott’s got school and soccer practice, his telefund shift doesn’t start until six, he’s got a class that ends at 1:20 but that’s fine, and if he gives Scott the money to order a pizza he won’t even care that Alex isn’t there to lovingly make fun of how he eats.

Bansheeeee: me i’ll be there
ASalvadore: I’ll have to check my work schedule but I think I can be there.
MMacTagg: Consider my hand raised, I guess. But I’ll have to leave early.
AlexSumm: Yeah I can be there.
Darwin: No can do, doc, I can’t change my schedule. I’ll e-mail you.
ProfessorX: Okay, Darwin, that’s fine. The rest of you, we can make a party of it, shall we?
AlexSumm: ...Oh yeah, partying in the MSCL sounds like a totally groovy time.
ProfessorX: You needn’t be sarcastic, Alex. All right, Friday, MSCL, 2PM. See you all there.

YOU HAVE LEFT THIS LIVE CHAT. PLEASE SIGN ON AGAIN.

“Aaaaalex,” Scott whines.

“What, little man?” Alex says, still focused on the computer.

“What’s a G-spot?” Scott asks.

Alex whips around and finally sees what Scott’s been reading this whole time. Comic collection my ass, Alex thinks. No wonder he was so quiet. God fucking dammit. He takes the magazine out of Scott’s hands and says, “Okay, guess it’s time for the birds and bees,” and proceeds to terrify Scott as thoroughly as possibly can; he can’t stop Scott from being twelve and curious but he can damn well make sure Scott knows what the fuck a condom is.

“Also, you get to wash your own sheets from now on,” he adds. Scott’s face falls a little and Alex cackles. It’s good to be the king.

*

LECTURE 14: PROTEIN LOCALIZATION

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Transcript
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Here is a bacterium translating a message. And here’s the signal starting to be translated, an exported protein. The same thing in the cytoplasm, a signal sequence is being newly made. And here is a closer look at the signal sequence, about twenty amino acids long, with a couple of positive charges at its extreme N-terminus.

Sorry to interrupt the lecture, all and sundry, but really, Erik, if you don’t stop making faces at me from behind the camera I’m going to throw you out. You know I can do it. Sorry that I’ve got such dreadful, nosy friends, guys. Okay. Let’s go on.
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*

In the eighties, Charles’s father had had a state-of-the-art laboratory installed in one of the basements of Xavier House to replace the nineteenth-century relic that had come before it; Charles has kept it more-or-less updated so he––and now Hank, his favorite postdoc fellow, not to mention Raven’s more-on-than-off-again boyfriend––can putter around whenever the university labs are closed to them. It’s not ideal, since it was intended for the illegal experiments with pilfered radioactive materials which had led to Brian Xavier’s incarceration and eventual death-by-shiv, but, Charles had sighed to Erik while looking over the budget for the renovations, one makes do.

“You are completely ridiculous,” Erik had said, wrapping an arm around him from behind. The and spoiled rotten had gone unsaid, understood between the two of them from arguments past.

Charles had turned around in his arms and licked him, laughing outright at the look on his face, hands resting on Erik’s waist. He was spoiled, and Erik had liked him that way: soft, content, mostly pliable where Erik is viciously, endlessly hungry, their madnesses complementary. Charles had pushed aside the budget review and they had fucked right there on the desk, Erik still with his work pass clipped to his unbuttoned pants, all wildly roving hands and lingering kisses.

But things have changed since Shaw’s bullet found its way into Charles’s spine. He can’t afford to be soft, to leave his vulnerable underbelly exposed, because look where that got him––he’s always been a privileged asshole, but now he’s a lonely and celibate one. These days he can’t even offer a guaranteed good time in exchange for putting up with his...well, his everything, really, which had always been his trump card, before. Here Lies Charles Sexavier, Undeservedly Beloved Brother, Decidedly Mediocre Son, Excellent Lay––Bit of a Prick But At Least His Prick’s No Bit, If You Know What I Mean.

On second thought, Charles realizes, Raven would never let anyone get away with carving that on his tomb. It’s far too flattering.

“Penny for your thoughts,” Raven says, flicking him on the ear, startling him back into himself and back into the lab, which has been mostly under Hank’s purview since the incident, as Susan, that harpy of a departmental secretary, likes to refer to it. They’ve only just gotten the elevator working––what with one thing and another, it hadn’t been a priority.

“Nothing you’d want to hear,” he assures her, smiling as innocently as he can.

“Ugh, you were thinking about Erik, weren’t you,” she says, with a long-suffering look on her face. “You didn’t have sex with him in here, did you?”

“Of course not, this is a sterile area,” Charles lies through his teeth.

“I’m not convinced,” Raven says suspiciously, poking at a lab table. Lucky for her, she’s off-base by about three feet. “But don’t try to persuade me, you’ll only give me details I don’t want to know.”

Charles shrugs and spreads his hands. “Okay, okay.” He surveys the room; it looks much as it always does when they’re not in the middle of testing one of Charles’s fringier scientific hypotheses or one of Hank’s more questionable inventions, neat, largely free of dust. “Good work, Hank,” he murmurs, and Raven smiles reflexively.

“He’s been down here every couple weeks even when he wasn’t working on stuff, trying to make sure it stayed all right since the cleaning staff aren’t allowed in,” she says, to make a point––Charles knows perfectly well the cleaning staff aren’t allowed in, he had asked them not to enter himself, but Raven thinks he’s being ridiculous.

“Just because there aren’t any gutted nuclear warheads lying around anymore doesn’t mean a lab can’t be dangerous to someone who isn’t familiar with it,” Charles reminds her for the umpteenth time.

“Yeah, well, I didn’t bring you down here to fight about it,” Raven says, because he’s never been any good at choosing his battles, will pick useless ones down to the bone for no reason other than that he can, did so for weeks after the shooting until Erik had finally walked out of his own accord. “Although I do sort of wonder why you’re thinking lewd thoughts about Erik when you’re the one who wanted him out.”

Charles doesn’t know how anyone could not want to think lewd thoughts about Erik. He’s Erik. “I didn’t want him out,” he protests. “I just––he––he needed to go.”

Raven looks at him, pitying. “That’s not how adult relationships work, Charles,” she says, not for the first time. This is yet another iteration of the same conversation they’ve been having since Charles first introduced her to his mother, when they were twelve and ten respectively, though she loses some of the moral high ground since she admits she doesn’t know where she’d be without Charles’s meddling savior complex. “Don’t you think that was Erik’s decision to make?”

“He wouldn’t make it,” Charles says mulishly.

“So you made it for him?” she says, her voice rising.

Charles flinches away from her. “He deserved to go, he deserved better than this,” he says, more quietly, gesturing at himself, the chair, the faint tingling sensation that comes and goes above his left knee, that had damned him with faint hope for so long, “and he wouldn’t, all right? Is that what you wanted to hear all this time?” He can’t look at her face, but her silence is telling. “I usually try to limit the amount of self-pity I allow myself in a day and I think this has put me over quota,” he says, staring straight ahead with his most professional smile, and turns around to leave.

Raven could, of course, follow––Charles has gotten a lot better at whipping around corners and through doors, but he’ll never be as maneuverable as someone with knees and toes in working order––but she does him the favor of allowing him his dignity as he wheels into the elevator and sends himself away.

*

01:230:101:07 ANNOUNCEMENTS

!!!REMINDER!!! ONLINE MID-TERM EXAM: DUE BY 11:59PM THIS TUESDAY (THERE WILL BE NO COURSE THAT DAY)

!!!REMINDER!!! EXAM REVIEW: FRIDAY, 2PM, MATH & SCIENCE LEARNING CENTER - WITH DR. XAVIER

Homework 7 - due by 11:59 on Thursday, in the drop box.

Lab 4 - due by 11:59 on Tuesday, in the drop box.

Homework 6 - due by 11:59 on Thursday, in the drop box.

*

“Friday, Friday, Friday, oh!” Jean sings to Scott as he stops at his locker after last period.

“That’s the wrong tune,” he tells her, because he is an avid if totally secret Z100 listener and he sort of obsesses about details, but somehow Jean makes everything cute, even mixing up Justin Bieber and Rebecca Black, which is basically sacrilege. Bieber is an artist. Rebecca Black is just a one-hit wannabe.

“You’re really pedantic for a sixth-grader,” Jean says, which is a word Scott doesn’t know, but then she moves her face close to his and almost kisses him on the cheek, so it’s probably a good thing.

Scott heads out towards the back of the school, floating along in a parade of hormones and adrenaline, but he starts to feel weird about ten minutes into soccer practice, the lasering, percussive force of a migraine building up behind his eyes. He hasn’t had migraines since he moved in with Alex; Anna Marie had said they were probably caused by stress. He’d thought they’d stopped for good.

“You okay, Summers?” Mr. Howlett, his Social Studies teacher and the junior league soccer coach, asks.

“Yeah,” Scott says, not wanting to seem like a wuss in front of Mr. Howlett, who’s nice and all but who could definitely bench press Scott’s body weight at least twice over and whose sideburns seem like a testament to unwashed lumberjacking manliness.

“You sure about that, kid?” Mr. Howlett asks just as another wave of pain hits him.

“N-no,” Scott manages, clutching his head, before everything goes white, then red.

*

He hears:

“Where are you going, Mr. Howlett?”

“Is Scott okay? What happened?”

“Practice is over. Someone get to the principal’s office and tell Mr. Coulson what happened, okay?”

He sleeps.

*

He hears:

“Hi Logan––oh God, not another one from the high school?”

“What does it look like?”

“You’d think they’re putting radioactive substances in the mashed potatoes, Jesus.”
He sleeps.

*

He hears:

“Scott? Scott, I need you to wake up, okay?”

He sleeps, but––

Scott, it’s time to wake up.

He opens his eyes.

*

“Hi, Scott,” says the man sitting by him. “How are you feeling?”

“Hi, okay, I guess,” Scott says back, not really knowing what else to do. He takes quick stock of the situation: soccer practice, migraine, black-out (red-out?), hospital bed, strangers smiling benevolently in front of him. “I don’t have a brain tumor, do I?” he asks. He’s seen this on Grey’s Anatomy; he knows what doctors with bad news look like.

“Jesus, no,” he hears Alex’s voice say, and whips around in surprise––it all goes red and he hears the distinct crack! of breaking glass, but––

Calm down, says the same voice that woke him up, which Scott realizes belongs to the man next to the bed. It’s nearly the same as his speaking voice but deeper somehow, more resonant, like he’s hearing it echo around his skull cavity. Calm your mind, Scott, and breathe with me. In. Out. Again. That’s better.

The red clears up and Alex is standing in front of him him, unharmed, although the wall behind him hasn’t fared so well. “Hey, buddy,” he says, his voice uncommonly fragile. “You had us all scared for a minute there.”

Scott smiles at him as reassuringly as he knows how. “Yeah, me too,” he says, scratching the back of his neck with the hand that doesn’t come with an IV. “I feel like someone stuck me in a snare drum and knocked me over.”

The man sitting next to the bed stifles a laugh and says, “That sounds about right, Scott.” He leans forward in a way that is probably supposed to seem paternal but, really, it’s not like Scott hasn’t been around the block, so only reaches patronizing. “Have you heard of the Mutant Integration Act?”

Scott rolls his eyes. “Duh,” he says. “Alex is a mutant. I’m not a baby, you know.”

“Scott,” Alex says, because even though Alex has an attitude problem approximately the size of a small rogue state, he’s always tried to make sure Scott behaves.

“Of course you’re not a baby,” says the man, and his smile changes completely––he looks way less like he’s going to be delivering tumor-related news now, only like something messed up has happened and Scott’s going to have to deal with the fall-out, which has pretty much been the expression most adults have used at him ever since his parents died. “Well, as it turns out,” the man says, and Scott notices for the first time that he is in a wheelchair, “you’re a mutant too.”

“Oh,” says Scott, processing. “Is that why the wall behind Alex is messed up?”

A tall, thin man who’s been lurking in the back up until now says, “Oh, goodie, a bright one all for me.”
“Hey, that’s my brother your talking about!” Alex yells, warming Scott’s heart up from the inside out.

“Yes, so it runs in the family then, apparently,” says the man, and Alex makes for him.

“Please,” says the man, just as everything seems to go red again. “Erik, you’re not being helpful, Alex, control yourself, and Scott, calm down, calm down, calm down.”

The red subsides. “Can we do something about that?” Scott asks. “I don’t want to be––doing whatever that is––whenever I have a feeling.”

The man apparently named Erik hides a snicker behind one hand, but even so Scott can hear him say, “Feelings?” incredulously. Whatever, Scott is so over that guy.

Erik,” says the man.

“Hey, didn’t you have class and work and stuff?” Scott asks Alex.

“This was kind of more important, bud,” Alex says, patting him awkwardly on the shoulder.

“But how did you know? How did I even end up here?” he asks, shrugging Alex’s arm off. They can have brotherly bonding time later, once he’s out of here and has gotten all the logistics worked out. “The last thing I remember was Mr. Howlett asking me if I felt weird.”

The man in the wheelchair nods. “Ah, yes, Logan––Mr. Howlett––you know, he’s a mutant too––”

“No way!” says Scott. “Is that why he’s like the way he is?”

“Uh––some of the time,” the man says, which is a relief; Scott feels off the hook for not being such a shining specimen of manhood. “Anyway, Mr. Howlett is the representative for the Mutant Integration Services at your school, so he brought you here and called your brother.”

“So then who are you?” Scott asks, and gestures to Erik. “And who’s he?”

“I’m Alex’s teacher, Dr. Xavier,” the man says. “Alex was in class with me, and since I’m something of an expert on mutation and the hospital wasn’t quite sure what to do with you, I came along for the ride. And that is Mr. Lehnsherr, who works for the Mutant Integration Services, too.”

“Yeah? What does he do?” Scott asks, trying to channel Alex, chin stuck out defiantly, his tone as much of a challenge as he can make it.

“Oh, wonderful things,” Dr. Xavier says, smiling at Erik way too familiarly for Scott’s comfort. “But, specifically, he’s going to help you work with your mutation until you get it a little more under control, and then he’s going to help Mr. Howlett and the people at your Mutant Integration Center to make sure you get the right kind of training so you don’t have to worry about––ah––things going red, anymore.”

“Okay,” says Scott dubiously, but he figures if worse comes to worse he can make Alex complain to Anna Marie and then she can yell at Erik for him (Anna Marie is really, really good at yelling on Scott’s behalf; Scott’s pretty sure she’s 90% of the reason he got to end up living with Alex at all). “I’m tired now.”

“Of course,” says Dr. Xavier solicitously, “why don’t you rest a little longer and then Alex can take you home to rest up for the weekend, all right?”

They take Alex aside and talk at him for a little while, but it’s too boring to pay attention, and Scott wasn’t lying when he said he was tired. He feels like something vital has been punched out of him, his headache metastasizing until his whole body feels riddled with phantom pain.

Alex helps a nurse get him into a wheelchair and then into Alex’s broken-down car, which he’s had since before their parents died and which has a pretty nice radio of uncertain origin that neither of them talk about. Once Alex graduated from high school he’d only dropped by on big holidays or when he needed money, except for the four months he’d spent living in their basement just before they died. Scott doesn’t remember very much about it except their mom cried a lot when she thought no one could hear her, and their dad looked disappointed whenever Alex came up from the deep.

But things have changed and Scott’s willing to let bygones be bygones, especially since Alex lets him man the radio on the ride home, which he usually forbids under penalty of certain ear drum death. “Really?” he asks, anyway, when Scott settles on a station.

“Adult contemporary is a perfectly valid genre of music,” Scott says. He knows he sounds snotty, but Alex is really dismissive of some of Scott’s opinions and that kind of resentment can build if you don’t let it out once in a while. “Lots of people enjoy it. And you promised.”

“Okay, okay,” Alex says, backing down. “If I promised.”

They go on in companionable silence for a little while, but Scott can’t help replaying that moment the red cleared over and over: the way Alex was rocked back on his feet, the way the cinderblock of the hospital wall behind him had been pulverized. They get back to the apartment and Alex sends Scott over to the couch while he gets himself a beer and Scott a glass of milk.

“Alex,” Scott says, higher than he’d like to acknowledge, “are you sure you’re okay?”

Alex looks over at him, looking worried. “Yeah, of course, I’m fine. You’re the one who got shook up today.”

“I––I didn’t hurt you?”

“Jesus, no,” Alex says, and comes over and sits down next to him, comfortingly solid. “You didn’t hurt me.”

“What if I can’t figure it out?” Scott worries. “What if I just open my eyes and it starts coming out all the time?” He can feel tears start to well up, humiliatingly, but he can’t stop them. “What if I hurt somebody?”

“Hey, no,” Alex says. “You’ll be fine, okay? You’ll have classes to go to with Mr. Howlett, just like I did. And if it starts happening all the time we’ll figure something else out.”

“But how?” Scott hiccups, everything running over like he’s leaking his heart out through his pores. “What if nobody ever figures it out and I just––” He totally loses it, curling into Alex, sobbing in a way he hasn’t in ages and ages. He wants his mom.

“Somebody will figure it out, trust me,” Alex tells him, one hand hesitantly coming up to stroke over his hair. “We’ve got Dr. X and some of his really smart friends on our side, okay? One of them even thinks he can maybe invent some glasses for you if you agree to sit for some tests, just in case, so you can’t hurt anybody by accident, okay? So you’re covered. You’re all covered.”

“Okay,” Scott says, and they sit like that for a while, Alex’s hand big and warm on his neck, his back. “Thanks,” he says, and pulls back.

“That’s what I’m here for, bozo,” Alex says, and smiles at him gently.

Scott smiles back, watery, and rubs his eyes with his hands. “Well, at least Jean called me pedantic today,” he says.

“Did she?” asks Alex. “Young love’s a lot weirder than I remember it being.”

“Hey,” Scott says, and hits him in the arm. “Be nice to me. I had a hard day.”

“Hey, now, my day was no picnic, either,” Alex reminds him, but hauls him in again for one more hug. “Drink your milk, or your bones will get brittle and break into a million pieces and Jean will have to carry her husband around in a plastic bag.”

“We’re not married!” says Scott, but he thinks about Jean, her red hair, the way her lips had hovered so close to his cheek, and he sinks happily into sleep.

*

LECTURE 17: RECOMBINANT DNA (PART 3)

Click to play.

Transcript
--
<Scroll up to read from the beginning.>
Now, here, a fluorescent dye could be put on it, and while you can’t read it with your eye the lasers are very good at reading it. So you might run a whole gel here and have lasers scan it. But you can actually do better than that––suppose I put my fluorescent dye on my dideoxynucleotides, and suppose I even had enough at my disposal that I could put a different color on each of my nucleotides.

Then whenever the dideoxy is put in to terminate the chain, it carries with it its own color. Wouldn’t that be cool? Bully for us, then, because that’s what’s done––not just can you buy dideoxynucleotides now, but you can buy the four different dideoxynucleotides, each with its own dye attached to it. So they’re––sorry, sorry, I can’t help it––they’re dye-dideoxies. Badum-shing! Anybody? Nobody? All right. Let’s keep on.
<Scroll down to keep reading.>

*

Alex sends Scott off to school on Monday with his heart in his throat; Tuesday morning’s a little better, though not by much, not least because he’s got an exam in a few hours and he feels like he’s going to die. Wednesday passes without incident. By the time Thursday’s rolled around, he feels less like Scott’s going to collapse on him and he’s got a half-shift he picked up at the grocery store, covering for somebody, but he can’t help himself from looking Scott over.

“I’ll be fine,” Scott says, arms crossed, one foot tapping, precious and irritated cargo. He still looks strange in the dorky red glasses Charles’s science butt buddy Harry or Hubert or whatever handed them as they were leaving the hospital, but he says he feels safer with them on, and anything that makes Scott feel less like the world’s going to fall out from under him is something Alex is guaranteed to approve of. “Now can I go catch the bus or what?”

“Stop mouthing off, bozo,” Alex says, cuffing him on the side of the head as tenderly as he can allow himself to when neither of them is sick or crying. “Yeah, yeah, go ahead.”

The grocery store is as boring as it usually is; he doesn’t have time to head back to the apartment before his class starts, so he sets himself up in the nearby coffee shop, laptop and earphones and notebook. The WiFi, he knows, tends to be a little unreliable, but it will have to do.

 

YOU ARE NOW ONLINE.
THERE ARE CURRENTLY 5 OTHER USERS IN THIS LIVE CHAT.

AlexSumm has entered this live chat.

ProfessorX: Oh, hi, Alex. Before we get started, how’s Scott doing?
AlexSumm: He’s fine. The glasses are helping.
ProfessorX: Great! Hank will be so pleased to know the ruby quartz worked. He wasn’t sure, you know, that it would, with those concussive beams of his. A really fascinating mutation.
AlexSumm: Yeah okay. Well tell him thanks I guess.
ProfessorX: Thanks for letting him test it out with yours! We suspected they would be similar, what with the genetic component.
Bansheeeee: Whoa AlexSumm are you a mutant too?
ProfessorX: ...I have got to stop outing people.
ProfessorX: Okay, guys, let’s get on with the show, hmm? No more discussion of mutant status, if you please.

Alex stares at his screen as the video starts up, taking notes on autopilot, his heart wrested darkly in his chest. His mutation isn’t a secret, precisely, but only because it’s on every job application he’s ever sent, the embarrassing but legally obligated M on his resumé, like a port wine stain that people are too polite to mention but not so blind they can’t see. He has spent most of his life a hair’s breadth away from the explosive consequences of his own frustration, the firebrand of anger which has relentlessly followed him, ghoulish, and Charles F-Stands-For-Fucking Xavier’s good intentions can’t do anything to change that.

He takes a sip of his coffee to cool down and notices Angel three tables over, also staring intently at her laptop. She’s got a jacket on, so you can’t even tell by looking––of course, you can’t tell by looking at Alex, or at Dr. Xavier, who Alex now knows is a telepath. He wonders whether Dr. Xavier is ever going to share that with the class or if only Alex gets that privilege.

Dr. Xavier says something about acids and Alex realizes he’s stopped paying attention for at least five minutes too long, scrambles to catch up as best he can when he can’t just breathe out the storm that’s brewing on the underside of his ribs. He doesn’t follow much more than the gist of the class––he’s going to have to read the transcript later and figure out what in any God’s name notes are referring to, goddammit––and wonders whether he can secretly get Dr. Xavier to wipe everybody’s mind or something.

YOU HAVE LEFT THIS LIVE CHAT. PLEASE SIGN ON AGAIN.

A hand reaches down and picks up his coffee, smelling it. “Good choice,” Angel’s voice says, followed quickly by Angel herself. “Hazelnut. I wouldn’t have expected something so fancy from you, Summers.”

“Hey,” he says, awkwardly. “Been a long time.”

Angel nods and flips her hair back over her shoulder. “Mind if I––” she says, with a predatory gesture towards the coffee.

“Nah, go ahead, I wasn’t really feeling it anyway,” he says, and watches as she drinks it cold. She’s his age; he knows she disappeared for a few years, with way fewer traces than he did, and wonders now what those years were full of, whether taking other people’s coffee was just a habit or a necessity. She’s still beautiful, but there are fine, fine lines around her eyes, and Alex thinks, whatever shit he got into, she must have had it worse.

“Dr. Xavier’s a nice guy,” she says, putting the paper cup back on the table.

“Yeah,” says Alex, cautiously. “I mean, he’s all right. Scott––my little brother, I don’t know if you remember––anyway, he had an accident this weekend. Dr. Xavier was pretty nice about it.”

“Sure,” she says, and then appears to think before opening her mouth again. “But he still shouldn’t have told everybody like that.”

Alex shrugs. “I guess,” he says.

“I’m serious,” Angel says. He remembers her from the MIC, God, practically a decade ago now, her shoulders hunched in, her hair over her face, scowling. She doesn’t look like that anymore––sitting up straight like no one can hurt her. Alex envies her fearlessness, and then promptly buries the envy down deep where he can’t find it again. “I’m really sorry.”

“What does this look like, a fucking pity party?” Alex growls, standing up and dumping his shit into his bag. He’s not scared of anybody. “You’re welcome for the coffee.”

Angel raises a hand, though she seems careful not to actually touch him. “I didn’t mean it like that,” she says, shaking her head. “I just meant––look, I know what it’s like, okay? Obviously. And I just wanted to say, I’m sorry for his thoughtlessness. Not all of us are like that.”

“All of us?” Alex asks, frowning down at her.

“Yeah,” she says, and turns to dig through her purse, finally coming up with a business card. “All of us at the MIC, I mean.”

“You work for that godawful place?” Alex says. “But you hated it so much.”

“All the better to fix it up, right?” she says. “You should come by sometime, especially if your brother’s accident had to do with, well, what Dr. Xavier made it sound like it had to do with. He’s there, too, of course, although he’s usually not working in my department. And––Scott, that’s your brother’s name?––Scott will have to come for his monthly check-ups, anyway, won’t he? So you might as well stick around, see what we’re trying to do with it.”

“No promises,” Alex says, but he closes his hand around the business card.

 

 

“We do good work,” she says. “I’m usually with older mutants––ones who maybe didn’t have a handle on it the first time around, before all the education reforms, trying to make up for lost time.”

“What, you think I’m a charity case?” Alex spits, rubbed raw.

“No,” she says, never losing her cool, but for once he doesn’t feel like he’s being talked down to––like she’s sharing her serenity instead of lording it over him. “No, but everyone needs a hand sometimes, and it helps me learn how to heal myself.”

“Oh,” Alex says, subdued. “Well, thanks.”

“No problem,” she says, downing the last of the coffee. “How’d the exam go?”

Alex makes a sound that he might even admit is a whimper.

“Yeah, for me too,” she laughs, and punches him lightly on the shoulder. “See you around, Summers.”

*

LECTURE 20: CANCER

Click to play.

Transcript
--
<Scroll up to read from the beginning.>
In the end, I don’t really care much whether you know the difference between DNA and RNA or proteins and phospholipids. What I’m really interested in doing is to use this course as a vehicle for pushing you to get your brains functioning even better than they already are. And, therefore, if you learn in this course how to think about very complex subjects and figure out what’s really going on, then it will have more than paid for itself in terms of the energy you put into it.

You know, I really don’t appreciate being laughed at in my own house, Raven. I’m quite serious.

At the end of our discussion last time we talked about the cell cycle, the fact that it has four major active phases. G1, S, G2, and mitosis.
<Scroll down to keep reading.>

*

On the anniversary of his mother’s death, six weeks before he’s due for the last of his five surgeries, Erik finds him in his study, morose and wishing desperately that he were drunk, which, while not atypical, is hardly the most flattering of positions. “What in fresh hell do you want?” he snaps.

“Hello, Charles, yes, nice to see you too,” Erik says, dryly, leaning in the doorway. He looks tired, but as unattainable as he ever did, cotton and leather and razor blades.

“Insipid pleasantries, how utterly charming,” Charles says, unable to stop himself, feeling sunken in a miasma of his own unhappiness and sweat; the last time he showered was three days ago, when Raven had had to help him up after his hand slipped off his rail. He hasn’t felt so––well, he hasn’t, not in months.

“Yes, I’ve found that pleasantness is the general idea of pleasantries,” Erik says, light, “you can hear it in the similarities between the words––I mean, of course, English isn’t my first language so I could be misinterpreting, but––”

“What do you want, Erik?” Charles growls. “I’m in no state to be seen for company, obviously, so you’d better say whatever you came to say and get out.”

“Are you drunk?” Erik asks, coming forward. “Because I swear to God, Charles, if you’ve started––”

No,” Charles snaps. “What would it be to you, anyway, if I were?”

Erik crouches in front of him like he doesn’t understand how endlessly humiliating it is to be talked down to. “Charles,” he says, seriously, laying a hand on Charles’s knee before Charles slaps it off with his own. “Would it kill you to look at me?”

“It might,” Charles mutters, but turns to look him in the eye. “What?” Erik’s expression is too complicated to make sense of, his hands coming towards Charles’s face like they’re going to touch him. He rolls back quickly, knocking Erik off-balance so he’s sprawling awkwardly on the ground, which only serves him right. “What?” Charles repeats.

“I’m sorry about the day, that’s all,” Erik says softly, getting back on his feet. “I just wanted to tell you.”

“Why?” Charles asks. He could just look, but, he thinks bitterly, he’s the better man, isn’t he.

“I knew Sharon, too,” Erik says, like Charles could ever forget. The first time they had met she had looked Erik up and down and said, So it’s not a phase, then, and Charles had said, I’m afraid not. “I know you miss her.”

“I don’t,” Charles says, which is patently a lie, but he’s been missing her for nearly as long as he’s been alive, watching her wash herself away bottle by bottle. Her life was very small, at the end, and it’s for that he grieves as much as her blonde hair or the smile he remembers from before his father died.

“Sure,” say Erik, unbearably kind. He’s never kind, Charles thinks, except when he is, in the small interstices where it both counts and hurts the most, a sort of unkindness in itself. “You want to get out of here anyway?”

“And go where?” Charles asks, a sigh away from hysterical laughter. “I’ll have to take a shower during which you’ll have to be on look-out to haul me up if I fall, which, if you recall, is hardly something I’d say was fun for either of us. You’ll have to phone ahead and ask about accessibility, or I will, and then we’ll have to use the van––your car hasn’t enough room in the trunk for the chair, remember––and then once we get there God forbid I’ve forgotten to use the bathroom or we’ll be in trouble. And that’s before we’ve even done anything! Is that what you want? Think about it, is that really what you want?”

Erik looks at him for a long moment. Charles holds his breath involuntarily, the venom falling away.

“Yeah, Charles, I think it is,” Erik says, and smiles.

*

LECTURE 24: AIDS

Click to play.

Transcript
--
<Scroll up to read from the beginning.>
And what do I mean by autoreactive?

Don’t you mean autoerective?

No, no, I do not. I mean reactive with the self.

Still sounds pretty erective to me.

Oh my god. I’m sorry, guys. I’m really sorry. Could you please––okay, thanks.
<Scroll down to keep reading.>

*

Alex celebrates his spring break by snagging as much overtime as he can and by bringing Scott to his very first session at their county’s MIC building. It’s in the same place as it was when Alex had his classes with Angel there, years and years ago, but it looks more like an office building now than the concrete mausoleum he remembers. “Okay, bud,” he says as he parks, “be on your best behavior, will you?”

“I’m always on my best behavior,” Scott counters. “At least way more often than you are.”

This is true, but Alex isn’t about to let Scott know that. Alex has two main priorities as Scott’s caretaker, and they are, first, to call him on his twelve-year-old bullshit and make sure he grows up into a more universally bearable human being than Alex has turned out to be––not that that was anyone’s fault but his own, God knows his mother tried, but at least he has an idea of where he went wrong––and, second, to get him to lighten up a little. Scott’s a really serious kid, always was even before the plane crash, and getting him to see anything as other than life-and-death or right-and-wrong can be extremely difficult. “Yeah, yeah,” he says, motioning Scott towards the front entrance, “whatever.”

They follow the signs to the second floor. Most of Alex’s memories of this place are clinical and decidedly unpleasant––anonymous white-coated scientists in adamantium-reinforced basement labs, asking, Can you destroy this, check, How about that, check, Well, looks like maybe you should be on lockdown, how does having a handler sound?––but it looks about as harmless as a dentist’s office now. There’s even a bored-looking receptionist.

“Dr. Pryor will be out in a minute,” she says, and gestures towards the waiting area. “You can sit if you want.”

“Thanks,” says Alex, grabbing a magazine for himself. Fifteen minutes later Scott’s doctor comes out and introduces herself as, “You can call me Madelyne if you want,” before ushering Scott into the area behind the receptionist’s desk.

“Is this going to hurt?” Alex hears Scott ask as the door closes behind them.

“It certainly shouldn’t,” says Dr. Pryor, her voice faint.

“She’s good with the younger ones,” the receptionist tells him. “You don’t have to worry about your son.”

Alex refrains from correcting her despite his gut reaction to ensure that one more person in the world will remember Chris and Kathy Ann Summers, because it’s none of her business and too complicated to explain besides. “Good to know, thanks,” he says instead.

He switches out his magazine for another that’s a little worse for wear, flips through mostly disinterestedly until he has to backtrack, because––yeah, that is Dr. Xavier. Whoa. 

Alex, feeling like a cheap voyeur, can’t stop himself from reading.

AFTER THE STORM
Four months after the Middlesex County Mutant Integration Center shooting, C.F. Xavier––finally––speaks.
by Shanthi Zand

We meet at a café of his choosing, not far from the NY-MIC. He orders a coffee and then, with a grin at me, a green mint tea. “Call me Charles,” he says, reaching over the table to shake my hand. “And don’t worry, you were fairly broadcasting, I would never read you without your consent.”

Well, there goes my first question.

Charmingly self-effacing and surprisingly warm, Dr. C. F. Xavier, has long been one of the most outspoken supporters of the MIC mission since its introduction fifteen years ago. It was this support, his academic history, and his leadership in mutant activism and integration which made him one of the primary targets of the April NY-MIC shooting––but I’m getting ahead of myself.

Xavier, who had practically become a household name even before permanently moving to the U.S. a decade ago, has already lived a lifetime’s worth of achievements despite being only 35. After graduating from Harvard at 16, he pursued graduate degrees in Biophysics, Genetics, and Psychology at Oxford University (yes, the one you’re thinking of; Xavier, who was raised between New York and London, holds a dual U.S./U.K. citizenship and speaks with a decidedly posh accent, which, I’m not ashamed to admit, adds considerably to his charms).

“I came over because my sister decided to settle down here, where she felt she could do the most good,” Xavier explains; his adoptive sister Raven Darkholme is another well-known name among mutant activists, though she hasn’t quite yet reached level Xavier’s near-universal fame, perhaps because of her more radical politics. “At first I was just visiting, then one thing led to another and the MICs were all being severely threatened with a loss of funding, and Raven and I got to talking. She’s really the reason I’m here, the strength of her conviction––she’s the reason I came down from the ivory tower and got caught up in the fight. I owe almost everything I have now to her.”

Shortly after earning a tenure-track professorship and publishing his first groundbreaking book, Green Eggs and Ham: Why Mutant Integration Is the Way of the Future, Xavier revealed his own mutation to a shocked public––after extensive testing that, he says, “involved more secret government agencies than I had ever imagined existed, and that’s all I can tell you because of the non-disclosure agreements,” he was revealed as the single most powerful telepath ever recorded. “It’s humbling, in a way,” he says, shrugging. “I didn’t ask for this, and I’m sure I’m not the only one out there, but for whatever reason I’m the one who got people’s attention. So I’ve got to do something good with it.”

Xavier also began working in his county’s MIC, which also happens to be one of the biggest MICs in the country. “I couldn’t devote as much time to raising awareness as I wanted to and keep up researching and teaching,” he explains, “so I left the national scene to Raven and went local.” There he soon became one of the chief coordinators of the pediatric medical and counseling services unit, helping to arrange care for adolescents who have special needs or requirements when it comes to dealing with their mutations. “So often these kids come in, and they’ve been branded dangerous, or unmanageable, not because they’re violent but because they don’t know what they’re doing. When I first got to the NY-MIC, no one working there really understood what it was like to be one of these kids, and of course the MICs were modeled off their predecessors, the Mutant Control Centers that went back to the 1960s, so the whole place was sort of like a giant laboratory, not much in the way of social services. Very scary, in other words, if you didn’t know what was going on. So we––Erik Lehnsherr, the new director, and I, and of course the other coordinators, Emma Frost, formerly of Frost Enterprises, Inc. and Virginia Potts of Stark Industries, you’ve heard of them I’m sure––worked quite hard to change that, to find a new model that worked to help us understand the mutations but also to understand the kids.” The NY-MIC has become the bar-setter when it comes to standards of practice and procedure in the MIC world, “all the better to combat the dreadful mess of misinformation and honestly dubious treatment ethics that those MCCs and the outdated laws that governed them left us to work with.”

Ay, and there’s the rub.

Sebastian Shaw, who is best known because of the nationwide manhunt that took place after the shooting and which ended in his capture and arrest, is currently on trial for his long history of human rights violations, not to mention the attempted murder of one Dr. C. F. Xavier. Once the National Director of Mutant Control working out of Washington, D.C., he retired from the position only a few years before Xavier came on the scene and began uncovering evidence of the flagrant abuse that the MCCs apparently hid behind their closed doors. Xavier suspects Shaw found out somehow that he was planning on making this information public and decided to stop him, permanently.

Shaw and two accomplices who remain unknown apparently walked straight into the MIC cafeteria, where Xavier was eating his habitual bologna sandwich with a coworker. They opened fire, killing two cafeteria aides and one pediatric consultant, wounding several others. Xavier was rushed to the emergency room, where it was discovered he had likely been paralyzed from a bullet wound in the lower back.

“I still feel guilty for their deaths,” Xavier says, looking subdued. “I hope we someday find out how they managed to get into that area of the building, which is supposed to be restricted to employees. It won’t assuage my guilt at all, but I’d feel a little better.”

Critics, like retired military strategist and pundit Col. William Stryker, say he’s being used as a scapegoat and that the real responsibility lies elsewhere, but Xavier disagrees. “Maybe he is a scapegoat, maybe there are other people guilty down the line, and we should do our best to find them and bring them to justice, too. But if anyone deserves to be a scapegoat, it’s Shaw. Someone very dear to me was ‘mentored,’ as Shaw called it, personally. And the things that person still has nightmares about, the terrible things that Shaw did, they were torture. They weren’t training, they weren’t helping, they certainly weren’t mentoring. They were torture. End of story.”

Well, I was convinced.

But I was intrigued to hear him mention “someone very dear.” There have been rumors about Xavier’s personal life since the beginning, one of the pitfalls of being young, brilliant, and filthy rich. The potential candidate list has included renowned PTSD-expert psychiatrist Gabrielle Haller, nurse Amelia Vought, and a lesser member of the Monégasque nobility, Princess Lilandra, all of whom appear to have been closely linked with Xavier in the past and two of whom are mutants. Some have even speculated, since Xavier is both notoriously secretive about his personal life and openly supportive of the LGBT community, that he might be involved with a man. But Xavier refuses to confirm or deny any of the names I bring up.

“My private life is, well, I prefer to keep it private, especially since so much of it was made public after the shooting,” Xavier says, with a small, almost wistful smile. “But if it’s really such a matter of interest––sorry, ladies and gents, I’m taken, and I don’t think there’s any coming back from it at this point. You should be thankful, really, I’ve been told by those who are in the know that I’m a rubbish flirt.”

Well, we know why he’s never been on People’s Most Eligible Bachelor list, then.

Xavier, who is apparently tireless, also works in education reform with a focus in the introduction of technology to the underfunded classroom. While his research position is at Columbia, he says he is “particularly interested” in public education, and improving its quality. In fact, just two years ago he set up a special program with several CUNY schools to help share faculty resources that might not otherwise be available.

“Useful to me now,” he says ruefully, gesturing and bringing attention to the wheelchair for the first time since we began talking. “Next year I’ll be working almost exclusively on the Columbia Online project, while I work on getting back on my feet––oh yes, you can laugh if you’d like. You needn’t walk on eggshells around me.”

He smiles, a little meanly, and I get the feeling that there’s more to Dr. C. F. Xavier than perhaps we can ever know.

He checks the date on the cover of the magazine; it’s nearly a year old. Alex remembers the MIC shooting, vaguely, in the way you can’t help but remember other people’s tragedies. He didn’t––he’d had no idea. He hadn’t even known Dr. Xavier worked for Columbia, although if he thinks back he can remember looking up his staff page at one point and being surprised that someone so prestigious would slum it at CUNY, which is great for Alex’s purposes but isn’t exactly, well, Columbia.

Scott picks that precise moment to bound back through the door. “Hi!” he says, sounding more chipper than he has since before he manifested.

“You sound good,” Alex says, cautiously. “It went well?”

“Yeah, Dr. Pryor is awesome, she gave me all these exercises to do with Mr. Howlett and I’m going to make a heart for Jean in some concrete or something after I get better at focusing and control,” Scott says, grinning, for once like the little kid he’s supposed to be.

“Better make sure she wants a heart before you give it to her, bozo,” Alex says, rubbing Scott’s hair the wrong way and picking up his jacket. “Come on, let’s go.”

Scott’s still chattering happily away; Dr. Pryor is introducing herself to her next patient. “Thanks,” he calls to her.

“We’re here to help,” she answers.

*

LECTURE 27: GENOMICS

Click to play.

Transcript
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<Scroll up to read from the beginning.>

We’ve only got about 22,000 genes that we know of, so how do we manage to run a human being with fewer genes than the mustard weed? What do we do? Well, our genes are creative. The typical gene, on average, has about two alternative splice products. Some have many, some have few. Probably, when you’re all done, those 22,000 genes encode 70 to 80,000 different proteins. 

 

But can humans get credit for being really inventive or creative, for having all these new genes that make us human? The answer is, alas, no. Humans––all humans, and don’t anyone mention <i>Homo sapiens superior</i> if you don’t want a very long and boring rant that won’t be on your final––humans are not different in their gene complement from other mammals.

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*

“Hot date tonight?” Raven asks as she comes into the bedroom, waggling her eyebrows.

“Would it really pain you that much to knock?” Charles asks, hopelessly. Raven has never understood the concept of privacy––but then, neither has Charles.

“It would pain me terribly,” Raven says, hand over her heart. She’s blue for once, still in her work clothes; Charles wonders whether that means she’d spent the whole day that way, and hopes she did. When they were children he had lived in constant terror for her, that whatever telepathically-aided miracle had brought them together would dissolve if she let up the disguise for a second, but they’re all grown now, and she deserves better than to live forever in someone else’s skin. God knows the mutant aid nonprofit she works for wouldn’t care. It would be one thing if she really <i>liked</i> her pink skin, her dimples, but even when he’s actively shielding he can’t block everything out, and he knows how much of a burden she finds it; and yet, as she has reminded him again and again, it’s not his body, so it’s not his place. “Look at you, you’re all dressed up!”

“I’m not,” Charles says, ignoring the fact that it took him forty minutes to decide what to wear even though everything he owns is practically identical. “I’m just meeting with Erik for dinner.”

Raven’s concerned face comes out. “Again?” she asks. 

“Yes, again,” Charles says, annoyed. 

“No need to snap, Charles,” she chides, and comes forward to straighten his tie. “I’m just worried for you. Is this going to be a regular thing now? This is the fourth week in a row, isn’t it?”

“I can manage my own social life, I’m an adult, you know,” Charles reminds her.

“Not one who can do his tie up properly,” she points out, and flicks his ear. “You’re always such an ass when you’re nervous.”

“I’m not nervous,” Charles says, stung. He is, obviously––he doesn’t know what he and Erik are doing, only that it’s fragile and heartbreaking, that he doesn’t think he can bear to let go of it again––but if he admits it out loud, he’ll have lost it all. “I’ve known Erik for almost a third of my life.”

“All the more reason to be nervous then,” Raven says sensibly. 

“That is not helpful,” Charles hisses, and tugs his tie out of her hands.

“You’ve just knocked it askew again,” Raven points out, and sits on his bed, sticking one foot on the chair’s arm.

“Must you?” he sighs, wrapping a hand around her ankle, but he can’t bring himself to shove her off. Their own relationship has been difficult in Shaw’s aftermath; she’s been his advocate and his friend, called him on his bullshit, pushed him and argued with him, helped him with his physical therapy exercises and held him when he, defeated, wept––but he’s been too lost in his own misery to repay her, is only just starting to believe a future where maybe he can. 

She wiggles her toes, trying to tickle his palm. “You sure you’re all right?”

He shrugs. “Right as rain,” he assures her. “Well, as all right as I usually am.”

Raven narrows her eyes at him. “I don’t know if I like the sound of that.”

“Better, better, I’m doing better,” he promises, and lets go of her. “If you don’t get off me, I’m going to be late.”

“You need help with the car?” she offers, because for all that Charles is self-sufficient now, or whatever, he still hasn’t mastered being in two places at once––both in the car seat and shutting the chair in the trunk. He wonders vaguely if Hank would be able to invent him a portable task-specific robot. Probably.

“No, Erik’s driving, we’re all good,” he says. 

“Wasn’t his car too small?” she asks suspiciously.

Charles shrugs. “Apparently he got a new one? I don’t know. Seriously, though, off. It wouldn’t do to be tardy.”

“He bought a car for you, he’ll wait,” she says, wisely, and removes her foot. She kisses his cheek as he rolls out. “Don’t do anything I wouldn’t do!”

“There’s very little you wouldn’t do,” he reminds her.

“Even better for you to avoid it then!”

Charles glances at his phone––1 new text! it informs him helpfully.

From: Erik - 7:49 PM

Hey, let myself in.
In the kitchen. Please
come down soon or I’ll
be forced to entertain
myself, and we all

know how dangerous
that can be.

Erik’s sitting unobtrusively on a counter when Charles gets there––he had never taken the keys back, in all the commotion, and it wasn’t like he was going to go through the hassle of changing the locks when the only threat was Erik, who’s no threat at all.

“Well, you’re looking dapper,” says Erik, raising an impressed eyebrow. Charles can’t tell whether he’s being sarcastic or not, but it hardly matters: the sharper the veneer of sarcasm, the truer the sentiment, a secret of Erik’s he’ll keep as long as Erik lets him. He Who Rests Here Rests His Tongue At Last, he thinks, idly, before brushing the thought away. No more early graves.

“And you,” he says, running a finger along Erik’s beturtlenecked forearm appreciatively. “Shall we go, then?”

“Lead the way,” says Erik, his grin a well-missed glow.

*

LECTURE 29: STEM CELLS & CLONING (PART 1)

Click to play.

Transcript
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<Scroll up to read from the beginning.>
So here we have an asymmetric cell division on the part of this stem cell up here.

We’ll prove later on that these two cells are genetically identical, but clearly they’re reading out their genes in quite different ways.

This cell is absolutely the same as the other cell.

This cell has already committed itself. It’s made the commitment to differentiate in one or another lineage.
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*

Because Alex is a full-time student and also works two part-time jobs and, oh right, is also trying to raise his little brother into somewhat less of a creepy stick-in-the-ass sociopath than he might end up if he were still stuck in foster care, it’s not like he’s got a lot of free time to gallivant off and visit Angel in the MIC. For one thing, his mutation is under control, mostly––it hadn’t been, before, but that had been one of Anna Marie’s stipulations for helping him get custody, so he’d had a nerve-wracking, furtive six months of blowing up shit in the park and trying these wacky meditation exercises he’d gotten off the internet. It had worked, more or less; he had passed the test to prove he was a fit guardian; he’d forgotten about it.

But then Scott’s glasses malfunction and Mr. Howlett leaves him a message telling him that, while Scott’s a good kid, they just don’t have the resources to train him in a public school facility, especially since, he says acerbically, their facility is just a classroom they emptied out of desks and chairs and put a box of reflectors in.

“I’ve seen what a reflector can do, Mr. Summers,” Mr. Howlett’s gravelly voice had said. Dude needs to stop smoking those cigars Scott says he keeps in his pocket. “And with someone like Scott, he don’t need those beams reflected back on him, you copy? So see if your insurance will cover it, get over to the NY-MIC, because we can’t do nothing useful for him here.”

One thing Alex decidedly does not have is insurance, but, after e-mailing Dr. Xavier about it since it seems like he’d know, it turns out that, like the mandatory monthly check-ups, since Scott’s mutation is filed under “potentially really fucking dangerous if left untrained,” the government picks up the bill as long as he’s going to his regional MIC.

It’s probably the only good thing the U.S. government has ever done for Alex besides letting Anna Marie convince them to give him Scott, but by God, is he grateful for it. Scott’s a little snotty about it because he has to miss soccer practice twice a week, but Mr. Howlett’s a good guy and doesn’t bench him more than he deserves, so he shuts up about it after a while.

Scotty’s precocious if he’s anything and he knows the bus system better than Alex does, but on the exceedingly rare occasion that Alex is free, he likes to drive Scott over there, see what’s going on, and if he happens to dawdle by Angel’s desk and shoot the Biology 101 shit with her while Scott is getting his concussive beam on, well, that’s nobody’s business but his own. Angel is studying Social Justice and they’re neither of them cut out for these motherfucking cellular shenanigans, which is what they’re complaining about when they see Emma Frost escorted out in handcuffs. She’s got a reflector conspicuously around her upper arm, the two policemen with her armed with shiny anti-psionic gear that Alex has only ever seen on cop TV shows. He didn’t even know that happened in real life.

“Holy shit,” says Angel, then claps a hand over her mouth––Alex knows she tries not to swear in case there are any little impressionable ears nearby, but he hardly blames her: it’s basically the only appropriate response to seeing your boss’s boss’s boss’s boss under arrest. “What in God’s name going on?”

“No idea,” says Alex, because he’s only ever been here like three times, come on, how should he know? Angel hits his arm and peers after Frost and her escorts, eyes wide.

“Jesus wept,” she says. “I wonder when we’ll find out what the hell that was about.”

“Your guess is better than mine,” Alex says, and this time, when she hits him, it doesn’t hurt.

*

LECTURE 34: HUMAN POLYMORPHISMS AND CANCER CLASSIFICATION

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Transcript
--
<Scroll up to read from the beginning.>
And were it not for that, it’s quite plausible that the eugenics movement would have continued to grow, and that today, when we talk about genetics, much of it would be referred to a belief that somehow we can determine people’s phenotype and genotype and that we can predict how useful or useless they’re going to be on the basis of our insights into genetics. Thankfully, this ideology of genetic determinism, i.e., to say that an individual’s life course is strongly dictated by his or her genome, has had a great decline.

But I urge you think quite carefully about what eugenics and its descendant lines of thought might mean for current oppressed minorities––most particularly mutants, who we call by a name that celebrates but also punishes their clear genetic difference, but also people of color, the queer community, the disabled, anyone who has been stripped of the right to feel human––because that’s what we face today, as a society, and that’s why joyful integration is the only possible future we can work for. Okay, okay, I promise to put my soap box away.
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*

They’re kissing, they’re kissing, Charles isn’t entirely sure how they got here but they have and it’s marvelous, curled together in what would have been their marriage bed if Erik believed in marriage instead of decrying it as a corrupt sociological construct, kissing, and Charles can’t help himself, he knows Erik didn’t like it then and probably won’t now but he longs for it so dearly, so he sends a cautious tendril of thought––Can I, please, please, and Erik thinks, Yes––I––yes, please, it’s been so long, and Charles dives in and he’s missed it, oh, he’s missed it, to be so well-loved, to love so well, every inch a newly-bridged divide.

Thank you, thank you, he thinks, fervent, moving his hand down from Erik’s shoulder, and things are starting to get really interesting when there’s a sharp knock on the door.

“I swear to any god who’s listening I’m going to kill your sister,” Erik groans against Charles’s neck.

“I’ll help you hide the body,” Charles says, closing his eyes and willing his breathing to slow down.

“I can hear you, you know,” comes Raven’s voice through the door, acid-tart. “Are you going to let me in or what?”

“I have connections,” Erik growls at her as he unlocks the door without getting up from the bed.

“I’ll bet you do,” says Raven as she comes in, then immediately shields her eyes in the crook of her elbow. “What the hell, guys, you couldn’t unbraid yourselves for long enough to listen to me while I tell you some extremely important news?” She throws a magazine at them without looking; Erik has to lean away from Charles to pick it up off the floor, which is totally unacceptable as far as Charles is concerned. He pouts a little.

“This is the National Enquirer,” Erik says dryly, flipping through the pages with hands that could be holding something much better than the shittiest tabloid of them all.

“Raven,” Charles says, hurt, “you interrupted us to bring us a copy of the National Enquirer?”

“Look at the cover, Charles,” Raven says, dragging out his name into three unamused syllables. “I’m serious!”

“Well,” Charles says, at a loss, before turning to Erik. “Is it love, do you think, or some kind of torrid mutant affair?”

“You know those mutants, they just don’t know how to control themselves,” Erik agrees, his smile turning wicked, “it’s probably a flash bang kind of thing.”

“Jesus, could you stop flirting for like thirty seconds and focus, here,” Raven yells. “What are you going to do, Charles? I can’t protect you from this no matter how many newspapers I’m frenemies with, not if you haven’t been careful, not this time.”

Charles knows Erik doesn’t care, that this had been one of the many things they’d fought about long before the shooting, for the eight years that had preceded it––that Erik would wear a sign or shout it from the rooftops if he thought it would help his cause (or, Charles thinks, if he felt a need to mark his territory)––this is on Charles and Charles’s national reputation alone.

“Would it be so bad if you just––didn’t protect me from it, then?” Charles asks. He can feel Erik holding his breath, his arm like iron where it’s around Charles’s shoulders; the wheelchair beside the bed is vibrating, and Charles soothes his fingers along Erik’s wrist.

Raven is smiling almost helplessly. “Yeah, Charles,” she says, “yeah, I can do that.” She backtracks towards the door and waves obnoxiously. “I’ll leave you to your disgusting exhibitionistic tendencies now,” and she dances off down the hall.

“Don’t talk to me about exhibition, you filthy voyeur,” Charles calls after her, and then Erik’s shut and locked the door again, leaning over Charles like a storm cloud after drought.

Where were we? Erik asks directly into his head, and this is another boundary they’re going to have to talk about, but Charles is endlessly grateful for the chance.

I think we were wondering IS IT LOVE? Charles says, his hands coming to cup Erik’s face.

It’s love, Erik thinks, and Charles can feel it––and how wondrous, for love it is.

*

01:230:101:07 ANNOUNCEMENTS

!!!REMINDER!!! ONLINE FINAL EXAM: DUE BY 11:59PM NEXT THURSDAY (THERE WILL BE NO COURSE THAT DAY)

!!!REMINDER!!! EXAM REVIEW: FRIDAY, 2PM, MATH & SCIENCE LEARNING CENTER - WITH DR. XAVIER

Homework 14 - due by 11:59 on Thursday, in the drop box.

Lab 9 - due by 11:59 on Tuesday, in the drop box.

Homework 13 - due by 11:59 on Thursday, in the drop box.

*

Scott Summers has a date to the end-of-the-year dance, and her name is Jean Grey.

Scott Summers has a date to the end-of-the-year dance. Jean Grey agreed to be his date. Scott is sort of in a happy daze about this. They’re twelve, so they can’t actually do anything but hold hands and maybe sit together while they take breaks from dancing, because Alex insists that Scott’s not old enough to drive Alex’s car no matter how many times he promises he’ll be extra super incredibly careful and anyway Jean has to get back on time because she has a piano lesson and then an MIC session the next day so it’s easier if her mother drives her, but Scott has new and improved ruby quartz glasses and a date with Jean Grey. The world could not be a better place right now.

“Hey,” Scott says, suddenly coming out of his fog when he sees someone familiar on the TV screen. “Isn’t that guy your teacher? The one who helped me in the hospital?”

Alex glances up from his piles and piles of review work. “Yeah,” he says, abandoning the homework to come sit on the couch with Scott. “I guess it is.”

“What’s he talking about?” Scott asks, too bored to listen already.

“If you’d shut up, I could tell you,” Alex says, and a few minutes later, “oh, his usual thing. He’s really big into mutant integration, so he’s talking about that.”

"Isn’t everybody into mutant integration?” Scott asks, confused. “That’s why the MICs exist.”

“Well, yeah, buddy, but some people still want mutants to, I don’t know, live in special communities, and a lot of people still use ‘mutie’ if they want to insult someone, stuff like that. So he tries to make people be good to one another.”

“Oh,” Scott says, kicking the legs of the couch. People in his school say mutie all the time, about stuff that’s stupid or stuff they don’t like. It never occurred to him that maybe it came from somewhere, from someone like him. “Who’s that guy with him?”

Alex squints at the screen and then, uncharacteristically, flushes red. “That’s Erik Lehnsherr, he’s the director of the MIC you go to. I guess they’re really good friends or something.”

“Did you ever find out why he’s in a wheelchair? Did he fall down from a tree or something? Or is it part of his mutation?”

Alex is preoccupied by whatever they’re talking about. “No, no, it’s not, he, uh, he got shot by someone who didn’t like his beliefs.”

“Wow,” Scott says, with newfound respect. “So why does he keep on talking about them, then?”

Alex looks distinctly uncomfortable. “I don’t know, bud,” he says. “I guess because he thinks they’re more important than he is.”

“That’s weird,” Scott says, crinkling his nose. “I liked Hank better than him, anyway."

"That’s because Hank gave you your glasses,” Alex says. “Hank’s a bozo.”

“Hank’s nice. And you call me a bozo.”

“Well, I guess everybody’s a bozo, then.”

“You too?”

“No way, I’m too cool to be a bozo.”

“Suuuure,” Scott says, unimpressed. “I think Hank’s cooler than you, so if he’s one you’re definitely one.”

“Whatever,” Scott says. The silence stretches on, and he starts to grin, thinking about Jean again.

“So what’s this I hear about you having a date?” Alex asks, even though Scott has probably told him a million times, because even when he’s a jerk, he’s still the best big brother Scott’s ever going to have.

“Well, her name’s Jean, but sometimes she likes to be called Phoenix,” Scott says, and he can imagine the two of them, mutant and free, holding hands at the sixth-grade dance.