Logan and I were in Charles’s office within minutes. We weren’t the first ones there. Ethan had arrived before us, or perhaps had never left after the meeting we’d had to discuss Cassandra’s future. Cassandra had joined Charles and Ethan since we’d left.
My first thought on seeing her was that we had been just short of insane to even consider taking Cassandra on as an X-Man. She looked like an inmate in some horror movie about an insane asylum. Her clothes were torn and dirty, her hair all over the place. Scratches on her face and forearms were fresh and bleeding. I might have thought she’d been attacked except that she continued to rip her clothing and rake her nails across her flesh as she sat there, thrashing about and wailing uncontrollably. Ethan was speaking to her in a quiet, soothing voice, trying to get her to stop the self-mutilation, it seemed. It was apparently a futile gesture. It looked as if Cassandra didn’t even know he was there. She continued ripping her skin and clothes, and crying and ranting loudly. Her arms were moving about in strange, almost mechanical, gestures or tics. I could make out a few words – “the kids” and “save them” was said a few times – but her voice was oddly inflected and the phrases were difficult to understand. And most of the sounds coming out of her mouth weren’t speech and didn’t even sound all that human.
“Cassandra had a vision,” Charles said in my head.
“Is this what she’s always like during one?” I sent that thought back to him, but he didn’t answer, his attention turned now to Cassandra and Ethan.
“Let me,” Charles said to Ethan. “This has to stop,” he added. Cassandra’s wailing ceased even as he said it, stopping abruptly along with the compulsive scratching and twitching and tearing of clothes. Cassandra smoothed her rumpled skirt, and sat on the couch calmly and sedately, her head turned towards Charles. Aside from the rips in her blouse and the blood on her face and arms she looked perfectly normal, a complete contrast to the wild woman she’d appeared to be just a minute ago. If I hadn’t seen other people under mind control I might not have noticed the characteristic vacant expression in her eyes.
“Are you okay, Cassandra?” Ethan asked, his voice calm and concerned, taking both of her hands in his, looking deep into her eyes.
“She can’t hear you,” I interjected. “Charles has her brain.” He took a closer look at her, then turned to Charles, questions on his face. Charles nodded. “What’s the vision?” I asked.
Ethan answered me. “We don’t know. She couldn’t calm down enough to tell us. All I’ve managed to get out of her is that it’s going to happen soon and there are children in peril.”
“Also, that she thinks the X-Men can help,” Charles added.
“Are her visions of... possibilities, then, not what’s definitely going to happen?” I asked.
“No, that’s not my impression,” Ethan replied. “I think she does see what’s going to happen. That’s a lot of what makes this gift such a difficult one for her – the feeling of powerlessness, the inability to stop disaster she knows is coming. But this time it seems it’s a little different. Whatever she’s envisioning is a scene of people in danger, not dead. She kept saying ‘They’ll die if you don’t do something’ but we couldn’t get her to tell us more.” He turned to Charles. “Can you control her enough to keep her calm but let her thoughts through, so she can tell us?”
He shook his head. “I’m trying, but she’s too panicked. If I let up even a bit, I can feel her start to spiral out of control.”
“Can you read her mind while she’s under mind control? Get at the vision that way?” Ethan asked.
Charles shook his head. “No. Usually I can do that, but not with her. I can’t seem to read her thoughts well enough to see the vision myself. Her mind is unusual, unique perhaps. Certainly not like any I’ve ever encountered. I find her hard to read even when her power is inactive. When she’s in the middle of a vision her brain is totally incomprehensible to me.” He turned towards me, to answer the question I’d asked when I came in. “No, Scott, she’s not usually like this. I’ve been with Cassandra before when her power is active. Her affect is always kind of strange during a vision and she does cry while she talks about it, but she’s been able to tell me what she sees other times, although I’ve always been unable to access the vision directly with telepathy. I think her panic is coming from the feeling that this is a situation we can and must respond to. Other visions she’s had there were no such options. She was upset, but somewhat resigned to the calamity she foretold. She wasn’t so completely out of control.”
“So what do we do now? If there is something the X-Men can do to avert disaster,” I added, “we should find out what it is. But how can we find out if she can’t tell us when she’s not under your control and you can’t find out for us?”
“Let her go.” Logan spoke for the first time. “I’ll handle her.”
Charles complied immediately. I could tell as soon as he released her mind, because the noise and the movement started as if it had never stopped. Started, but not for long.
“Cassandra!” Logan said, in the commanding tone he uses with the kids when he’s directing them in drills and exercises. “Stand up!” She obeyed immediately and stood at attention facing him. She was still sobbing, but the wailing and thrashing had ceased. And the sobbing receded, too, as Logan began doing breathing and warm up exercises with her. Cassandra seemed very familiar with them – he must have taught her these when he was training with her. In less than a minute she appeared back to normal, almost.
Charles and I looked at each other. “Whatever your problem is with him,” his brain said to mine, “get over it. We need him.” I nodded my agreement.
Logan stood in front of Cassandra, eyes locked on hers, and said, “What’s going to happen?”
“An accident. A cable car. It’s dangling, going to fall. And there’s a fire, too. Somewhere nearby – maybe in the car. Children – they’ll die if you don’t get them out. There’s not much time.”
The wailing began again, but Logan took her by the shoulders, ordered her to go through the same sequence of breathing exercises, and she got herself under control again. “Can I try to find out more?” I asked Logan. He gestured his assent, eyes remaining fixed on Cassandra’s.
“Cable car? You mean like in San Francisco?”
“No!” she almost yelled it and her head shook uncontrollably for a minute, but Logan got her back on track quickly. “Not that kind,” she said. “Hanging from something – high up. Like in Switzerland, for traveling in the mountains.”
Charles had wheeled over to his desk and was doing something on his computer workstation while we were talking. He turned on the recessed projector now, and the picture he’d called up on his screen appeared on the wall opposite the couch. It was an aerial tramway – also called a cable car, as Cassandra had said – traveling up an incline, with alpine scenery in the background. “Is this what you mean?” he asked. She nodded. “How long until the accident?”
“I don’t know. Soon. Two hours, maybe.”
“Where is it?”
“I don’t know.” She was beginning to wail again, but this time all it took was a slight touch of her shoulder and she started breathing in time with Logan again, getting herself under control. “But it’s near here. It’s not in Switzerland – it’s just that kind of cable car. The vision is only this vivid if it’s close. I don’t think it’s more than twenty miles away.”
Charles shook his head. “There aren’t any cable cars like that in New York. Well, maybe up in the Catskills, but not around here.”
I stood up. “Yes, there are. Definitely less than 20 miles. The Skyfari ride at the Bronx Zoo.”
We got there before it happened. We landed the Blackbird in a clearing among trees on the zoo grounds. I was glad that its vertical landing capabilities made that an option, allowing us to enter the zoo less conspicuously than landing our secret vehicle in the parking lot. Still, we didn’t stay inconspicuous. Running through the zoo grounds in uniform, we attracted a certain amount of attention, not all of it positive. I didn’t care. Although I’d been told that Cassandra’s visions always come true, part of me thought we could prevent the accident. And, if not, we still were going to try to prevent or minimize loss of life. To have a chance of that, we needed to be on the spot. So my concern was for speed and efficiency, not blending in.
We wouldn’t have blended in very well in uniform, anyway, but even less so considering the team I’d brought with me. In addition to Logan, I’d taken Storm, Nightcrawler, Beast and Iceman. So, two who were obviously mutants at first glance and all of us in uniform. We stood out. We ignored the looks we got and rushed through the zoo to the Skyfari East station.
Storm and I had been to the Bronx Zoo just a couple of weeks before, on a school field trip. The class we took was Hank’s, a biology one, but on that occasion we had been trying to be inconspicuous, so we’d traveled there by school minivan, and it had been just her and me. The kids were studying adaptations of nocturnal animals and we’d taken them primarily for the World of Darkness exhibit. I’d quoted Blake to them: “Nature in darkness groans” and Jubilee had complained that they shouldn’t have to hear poetry on a biology field trip.
We’d used the aerial tramway – called the Skyfari – to get from one side of the zoo to the other. It was, as Cassandra had alluded, a cable car – a miniature version of the ones that were used in Switzerland to travel up and down the Alps. Four people per car, it rose above the zoo and took passengers from quite near the World of Darkness exhibit across to the Dancing Crane Café, where we’d given the kids lunch.
When we arrived at the Skyfari station, everything looked normal except for us. There was a long line waiting for the tramway and we could see a couple of the cable cars high in the air. No sign of a fire, an accident in the sky, or anyone in distress. We ran up to the station, ignoring the objections of people patiently waiting in line to board. Well, we all ignored them except for Logan, who extended his middle claw as we ran past, when he heard someone loudly complaining about “line cutters.” He didn’t break his stride to do it, though.
As soon as we got there, though, it was clear something was amiss. Passengers board the Skyfari tram in a small enclosure, with the assistance of attendants who manage the doors and the line. As we approached the enclosure we suddenly saw fire. There were large flames surrounding the cable car on the landing and boarding platform. We couldn’t see where the fire was coming from, or even what was on fire. It must have just begun, or just gotten large enough to cause panic, because the calm line of a minute ago was transformed. People were screaming. Some were running away; some seemed frozen in place.
I could barely see the people inside the cable car. They must have been about to get out. One of the attendants had been holding the door for them to exit. She had had the presence of mind to slam the door before the flames reached the passengers inside. The cable, which moved continuously, had stopped, presumably due to some safety feature. We could see other cars high above the zoo, stopped in mid-air.
The attendants – all of whom looked to be in their late teens – were doing their best, but seemed bordering on panic themselves. They were trying to get away from the fire as they yelled at the passengers in line to back off, as well. One of the kids working there pulled a red emergency phone off the wall as she backed away from the fire, calling for assistance.
Well, we were already there and I didn’t know how long it would take the security people to arrive. “Stand back!” I told the attendants, who seemed grateful to see someone take charge of the situation. I motioned to Bobby to come forward. “Iceman – take care of this.”
He gestured towards the flames around the cable car and it was instantly encased in ice, the flames disappearing as quickly as they came. “Storm! Melt it,” I called. Her pupils disappeared as her eyes turned white, causing gasps from the crowd. We could all feel a warm wind, just enough to melt the ice and open the door to let the passengers out. I figured once we did that, we could deal with the cars that were still in the air.
Only it didn’t work the way I planned. Storm couldn’t open the door. The ice was gone, but it wouldn’t open. “It’s stuck,” she said. “Like it’s fused together or something.”
“Magneto!” Hank and I said it at the same time. We looked around, but wherever he was, he wasn’t visible. Anyway, we needed to deal with the current crisis before we looked for him. Logan stepped forward to try to force the door open, but I waved him back. Opening my visor very slightly, I blasted a fine line along the edge of the door and then pulled it open. The passengers tumbled out and I sent Storm as their escort, to get them out of the enclosure.
“Beast and Iceman – go look for Magneto. Nightcrawler and Wolverine – I need you to deal with the people still up there,” pointing at the two cable cars stopped high above the zoo. I was very aware of Cassandra’s vision of a cable car dangling and perhaps falling, but it wasn’t what I was seeing. The two cars were stationary, but they were suspended on the cable, right where they belonged. Logan and Kurt followed me out of the enclosure, looking up at the trams above us.
And then it happened. There was a sudden sound like a loud snap and then the tram nearer to us was dangling from the broken cable, swinging in the air, just like Cassandra’s vision. The two cars were on a continuous cable, but some safety feature must have kicked in, causing the rest of the cable to stay in place and the farther one to stay upright. I didn’t know how long it would stay that way, though. We needed to get the people out of both of them.
“Nightcrawler!” I called and he didn’t need any additional orders. Kurt waited a few seconds, his head swaying a bit as he tracked the dangling tram, making sure he could predict the movements of the swinging car. Then he teleported into it, coming back with two small boys, dressed identically in Bronx Zoo t-shirts and cargo shorts. One more teleportation trip brought their mother, and they ran into her arms.
Kurt was about to return for the last passenger when the suspended car was suddenly engulfed in flames, just as the one on the boarding/landing platform had been. He hesitated for a minute, but went back once more into the now burning car, returning with the children’s father. Both the passenger and Kurt seemed unsinged. Logan looked at something in the distance, and then ran off before I could say anything. I sent Kurt to rescue the people still high above the zoo, in the cable car that hadn’t fallen, then looked to see where Logan had gone.
He was back in a minute, but he wasn’t alone. Kicking and fighting him all the way was one of our former students, Johnny Allerdyce, also known as Pyro. The unexplained fire was no longer inexplicable. “Shut up or I’ll shut you up!” Logan growled, extending his claws. Pyro shut up. Logan handed me Pyro’s lighter. Johnny’s power is very specific – he can manipulate fire but not create it. Logan had effectively disarmed him.
“Where’s Magneto?” I yelled at Pyro and he smirked back at me.
“Doing what we came here for,” he answered. He shook his head. “This was just the diversion.”
This series begins at http://mofic.livejournal.com/31235.html and is also available here
Summers in a Sea of Glory is a sequel to Returning Spring, which in turn was a sequel to After the Fall.