I worked out later that I was out about three hours, trapped on my back beneath half a wall. When consciousness finally decided to visit again I thought for a moment that I'd woken up in hell, which frankly seemed rather unfair. I was under the impression that I'd been a pretty good person, all in all. Reality kicked in quickly though, and it wasn't gentle.
In fact, it really hurt.
I mean, everything hurt. You know that phrase about "muscles you didn't know you had..."? That really was true in my case. I had all new, all different muscles, and every one of them was introducing themselves by exploding inside my veins, over and over again. Even my toenails hurt. I think I may have passed out a second time, just from the pain, but perhaps that was only wishful thinking. You want to know what it was like? Really? Okay. This is how you do it: Get yourself a rack, one of those medieval torture ones. Have someone tie you to it, and then stretch you a couple of feet. Not gradually, no `half an inch at time' crap. All at once.
Oh, and did I mention the rack was electrocuted? And that acid was being injected directly into your bloodstream?
Are we having fun yet?
Anyway, if you're finished assembling the home torture kit, I'll move on.
I called for help for a couple of minutes, but no-one came, and like I said, I'm not noted for my patience. I was starting to feel less like I was on the verge of sudden death, so I braced my arms against the wall on top of me, and pushed.
I didn't actually expect that to get me anywhere, but to my surprise, it moved. I assumed the wall was made of balsa wood or something, which came as no shock; it at least explained why I'd been able to hear the couple in the next room going at it night and day. A couple more heaves, and I was free - covered in blood and dust, in pretty unbearable agony, and about to fall over, but free - so I rejoiced as much as I could be bothered to.
I'm a glass half full kinda gal.
I couldn't, however, bring myself to actually move, so I collapsed where I was, and called for help again.
"Help." I said. "Help."
Well, I was tired. I didn't feel up to screaming.
Still, it wasn't much longer before I heard actual movement, and then, gods be praised, etc., etc., the police showed up.
Now, I'd like to take this chance to say, that I've met a lot of really nice, tolerant, intelligent police officers in my life. Lots of them. Honestly.
But I didn't meet any that night.
"Oh thank God." I said weakly, as they came into view. "Oh man. I could really use some help here... I think I'm okay, but -"
"Shit! Just stay where you are, freak!" This, as I tried to sit up. I stiffened in terror, on the verge of panic once again as they got out their guns. Oh my God!, I thought. There was someone behind me! Looters, maybe! Or maybe terrorists had been responsible for the bomb, and I was about to be used as a hostage...! I risked a horrified glance over my shoulder. There was no-one there.
I turned and stared back up at the policemen, noticing, this time, the way those guns and glares were pointed, not just in my general direction, but at me.
"Um." I said, hopelessly confused. "What?"
"Shut up! You're responsible for this, aren't you? Where are you buddies, huh? You freaks always run in packs, don't you... get your kicks out of killing innocent people..."
Oh, okay, I decided. He's insane. Fair enough.
"I think you may have confused me with someone else..." I tried to stand, holding my hands out in a way that was meant to placate and reassure - it wasn't, however, what you could call a very successful attempt.
The bastard shot me.
I didn't see it coming, and I certainly don't recall being given any warning. There was just a really loud noise, what felt like a kick in the ribs, and then I was falling back on my arse yet again, looking down in horror at my bloody chest.
I realised only vaguely that I was half naked, and that what was left of my clothing hung off me in rags. Everything, everyone, seemed utterly focused on the terrifyingly large stain of blood darkening my shirt and the awful, deadly pain.
You might have expected me to have figured out just why I'd been shot by then. I mean, I like to think of myself as a fairly observant person, and you'd think the alterations to my form would be fairly unmissable to anyone paying even the tiniest bit of attention. But I didn't see them. What can I say? The average human mind (and yes, I am including mutants in this generalisation), has an amazing ability to ignore or rationalise into obscurity anything that doesn't fit into its previously established world-view. The improbable gets an audience; the impossible just doesn't exist. We see what we expect to see. It's called the Inkfish effect, and it's one I've seen in operation many, many times in the years since. That night, it was in full effect in me. I honestly can't remember if I noticed the fur when I looked down at myself, or the fact that I was a good bit thinner and taller than I had been last time I looked, but if I did, it somehow got rationalised away. True, everything looked too bright, smelt too strong and sounded too loud. But I'd just been blown up, I assumed these were somehow among the consequences. I knew how tall I was, I knew I didn't have fur, I knew I wasn't a mutant, therefore I ignored any evidence presented by my senses that said otherwise.
Fur just wasn't part of my world.
The next few minutes were confusing, yet, now, they are clear in my memory. I squawked in pain, panic, and pure terror when I realised I'd been shot - but the sound somehow came out all strange. More like a strangled growl, an alien, animal noise that couldn't possibly have come from my throat.
It shocked me into silence - and Mr Trigger Happy into action again. I was looking right at him when he pulled the trigger again, and it seems now like I saw the bullet itself leave the barrel and come right at my head, cutting through the air so fast I could almost hear it. And then - it was the strangest thing I'd ever seen, it seemed to slow right down - or my sight sped up - so I could see death coming straight at me like a second-rate special effect.
It didn't get there. (You might have put that one together for yourself, given the evidence provided, but what the hell. There are enough unanswered questions in the world already.) There was this strange blurring of the air in front of my face and the bullet - stopped. Just hung there, staring at me like a fat little slug. For a long second I thought - `oh wow, time really does slow down when you're about to die. I wonder if I'll have enough to see my whole life flash before my eyes' - and then it dropped to the ground. The sound was amazingly clear to my ears - something else I blamed on the explosion, not asking myself why I hadn't been deafened by it instead.
"I think," a voice said sternly, "that will be quite enough of that."
And that is how I met the X-men.
It's been said before, but it bears repeating. No-one makes an entrance quite like a superhero. From my point of view at least, they seemed to come right out of nowhere. Of-course, I wasn't paying much attention to anything but my imminent death at the time, but it's still a hell of a trick to sneak up on someone with hyper senses. Even if they've only had them five minutes.
There were moments after that filled with threats and counter threats between the police and the X-men, calming words and angry ones; I didn't really hear any of them. I was too busy looking at all the pretty colours; all that spandex wrapped around a series of really beautiful bodies... I heard this, though:
"Shut up or take it elsewhere. Some of us have work to do here." A beautiful women knelt down beside me, brown skin, calm eyes, nice dreads. Great skin. She said calming things to me, and snappy things to everyone else, as she opened what was left of my shirt and tried to convince me to lie down flat so she could get a better look at it. (I simply refused to budge, though I really couldn't tell you why.)
"Why don't you tell me what happened." She said, trying, I think, to take my mind off the fact that I was probably going to die. She told me she wished afterwards that she'd asked me something else, but ce la vie. She asked, I answered.
"That policeman shot me." I told her seriously. The sound of my own voice seemed a little lower than it was usually, but at least I wasn't growling. In fact, I was rather pleased to hear myself speaking at all, and I think it was about then I decided that as long as I was talking, I couldn't be dying. Just as long as I didn't shut up, I'd be fine.
So: "That one, right there. He shot me."
And then, just in case she'd missed my stunned announcement the first few times: "That policeman shot me. He shot me. He just - *shot me*. Just like that. I didn't do anything."
"I think she's in shock." The woman said.
Well duh, Doc.
Thanks for the diagnosis, I thought, but I'd already worked that out for myself. I just hadn't worked out how to get out of it. Some little theorist at the back of my head was running feasibility studies on buckets of cold water, warm blankets and hot cups of tea, but meanwhile, I was on a roll.
"He just up and shot me for no reason!" The policeman in question was actually beginning to look rather embarrassed at this point, and was getting a number of disapproving glares from both the X-men and his own colleagues. I hate to admit, I might have been able to make myself stop then, but in some way I was enjoying the look on his face. Well, he'd shot me for no reason. My finely tuned sense of justice had decided he deserved to have it rubbed in.
"I hate this country. You just shouldn't let people like that walk around with guns, shooting innocent bystanders."
"Okay, try to calm down now. This isn't going to do you any good."
"I wasn't doing anything." I insisted. "He just shot me."
A great sigh from somewhere. "So you've said."
"J-just shot me. For no reason. I w-wasn't even anywhere near him. I wasn't doing anything. I was j-just lying here, bleeding, and he shot me. For no reason." The woman patted me comfortingly, and looked a little desperately at her companions, silently asking for help.
"I hate this stupid country!" I ranted on, "You Americans are just mean. You just blow people up and then you shoot them. I never got shot or blown up my whole life, and then I spend one week in New York City and BOOM. That's it. Fulla holes. Blood everywhere." My eyes were leaking self-pitying tears. "Am I going to die?" I asked mournfully, sure I knew the answer already.
"No! You'll be fine." She reassured me instantly. "Look," she tried for a distraction, but I was waaay beyond that by then, "you're all healed up already!"
"What are you talking about, all healed up?" What kind of doctor, I was starting to wonder, was she? "Aren't you even going to bandage it or anything? Aren't you even going to take me to hospital? I don't want to die." I started blubbing helplessly, quite unable to hold it back anymore. "I can't. I have a concert next week."
Now you have to understand, this was not my normal reaction to stress. Normally, I was much cooler under pressure than this. No really, I was. I am. The physical changes I went through obviously caused some kind of hormonal thing that made me freak out (at least that's my story, and I'm sticking to it). I swear to God though, at the back of my mind, I was screaming, Shut up, shut up you stupid bitch, you're being a complete _baby_! My god, listen to yourself, you're *crying*. In front of *people*! What's wrong with you? Where's your stiff upper lip already?
But my mouth had been completely disengaged from my brain. I had absolutely no control over what came out of it. It was very embarrassing actually, and I'm sure it made one hell of a bad first impression. But it only got worse when my gaze dropped to my hands, and I finally, suddenly, really saw them.
The Inkfish effect snapped out of operation.
Fur snapped into my world.
"Omigod!" I couldn't take my eyes off my hands, bigger, and longer, be-clawed, and so very much furrier than they were supposed to be. "What did you *do* to me?!" Stunned silences all round.
"... um..." someone ventured eventually. "...we didn't do anything -"
"I'm all - I'm all -- furry and shit! An - and - fuck, I'm taller an - an - whatdidyoudotome, **whatdidyoudotome**??!" I struggled to my feet, to take myself in better, glaring down at the unfamiliar body my head had incomprehensibly become attached to.
"Look - uh - what's your name?" A tall, redheaded woman tried.
"You put fur on me! That's not even funny! Is this a suit?"
"We didn't -"
"This is a trick right? This is some weird-ass mutant trick, to like, make me understand where you're coming from and crap and- "
"It *isn't* -" Red looked appalled at the very idea, (although actually, I still think it's a pretty good one myself).
"Okay, I'm really sorry, all right? I was pissed when Excalibur blew up my favourite pub and I once said bad things about Magneto. I take it all back. Get the suit off now, okay?"
"Would you please just -"
"Please? If I'm really sorry?"
"WOULD YOU SHUT THE HELL UP? _WE DIDN'T DO IT_!"
I shut up. I sniffed pathetically. I cowered against the wall as far from all of them as I could possibly get, and no-one looked interested in invading my personal space. I heard someone mutter:
"... That's a hell of a bedside manner you've got there, Doc."
"Shut up, Drake!" Personally, I think Doctor Cecilia Reyes, for that was her name, showed great restraint and kindness to me that night.
I would've given me a good slap, myself.
And perhaps Doc Reyes would've tried that too, if another hadn't intervened. Out of the shadows came yet another mutant, bigger than any two or three of the others put together. My usually infallible memory fails me at this point, but I think he said something along the lines of: "My friends, we must depart this building propitiously. Alas, it seems the explosion has left it in a state that can no longer be truthfully described as structurally sound..."
He trailed off as he took in the scene: back drop of rubble; police officers hanging around like confused extras; his friends standing helplessly in a half circle around a hysterical yeti, like actors who've all forgotten their lines - or turned up in the wrong play entirely... It must have made quite a sight all things considered, and he certainly looked a little taken aback by it.
Me? Well, I gazed up at this enormous, blue, furry nightmare, with the aspect of an animal and the vocabulary of a English professor - not to mention the most delightfully kind eyes - and I snapped. Left the building. Waved farewell and auf wiedersein to sanity, kissed goodbye to my normal life.
The last words out my mouth before I passed out again were:
"Yes Virginia, there is a cookie monster."
To be continued.
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