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"They'll strike." Dr. Hoffman said firmly.
"We'll replace them." Warren said in return.
"The school will lose accredidation without qualified teachers." Dr. Hoffman countered.
"The school will lose students with teachers who openly despise them." Warren said icily.
"You can't have it both ways. If you want the staff that keeps the college going to come with the purchase of the college, then you take us all. Otherwise, you'll have to fire everyone and interview for each and every position." Dr. Hoffman said firmly.
Warren thought about that and finally said, "You know you've got me over a barrel, don't you?"
"Yes, I suppose I do." Dr. Hoffman said with a friendly smile.
"Meet me half way, please. I don't want to subject the students to mutant hating fanatics. That's the whole reason for opening the new college." Warren said in a pleading voice.
"And how are you serving your students by sequestering them away from people with differing viewpoints? I agree that there should be standards of conduct that should be strictly enforced, but I will not agree to suppression of the freedom of speech or the termination of qualified individuals only for their personal beliefs." Dr. Hoffman said, ending in nearly a scream.
Warren got up and began to pace. Finally he asked, "Kurt, what do you think?"
Shyly Kurt said, "I'm afraid I must agree with Dr. Hoffman. Ve cannot prepare our students for ze world if ve do not expose zem to it."
Warren nodded and thought for a moment, then said, "Jimmy, do you have any thoughts on the matter?"
"Yes. I agree with Dr. Hoffman. I also believe that public debates should be scheduled, allowing anti-mutant sentiments to be expressed openly and opposing viewpoints to be presented in an orderly manner. If the students are educated properly, they will understand their opposition's viewpoint and be able to articulate a reasonable response." Jimmy said in a considering voice.
Dr. Hoffman was stunned by the young boy's statement, but quickly recovered and said, "An excellent idea. It cuts to the core of what I'm trying to say."
Warren nodded as Jimmy smiled at the praise.
"Okay. I still have my reservations, but that doesn't matter. If Dr. Hoffman and Mr. Wagner are in agreement, then that's all I need to know. The entire staff are welcomed to retain their previous positions at a... I can't believe you could get them to work for this. How does a four percent pay increase across the board sound? Subsequent raises in pay will come through the standard evaluation process." Warren said as he looked at some paperwork.
Dr. Hoffman was stunned by his willingness to increase the entire staff's salaries without any prodding from her.
"Now to the pre-college accommodations. Since the manifestation of mutant attributes is normally at puberty, we will need to provide for students of younger ages. What are your thoughts on the matter Dr. Hoffman?" Warren asked and sat down, still looking at his paperwork.
"I believe that to begin with we should tailor the classes to the number of students enrolled. If we were to have twelve pre-college students enroll, then we would put them in one class and provide additional teachers to deal with the varying grade levels. As enrollment increases, we could adjust the classes accordingly." Dr. Hoffman said in thought.
"I like that. Mr. Wagner? Mr. Summers? Any comments?" Warren asked as he stood again.
Both Warren and Jimmy shook their heads.
"The rest of these points are minor and don't need my attention. I'll let the two of you hash them out." Warren said and handed his paperwork to Kurt.
Dr. Hoffman was stunned by Warren's brash manner.
"Do you have any questions before we conclude the meeting Dr. Hoffman?" Warren asked casually.
"Yes, yes. Why are you doing this? What is your stake in it?" She asked with a note of suspicion.
"I have many reasons. The primary one is that I am a businessman and if this is done properly, I should be able to make a significant return on my investment. My other reasons are outside the scope of this meeting." Warren said pleasantly.
"Are you a mutant?" Dr. Hoffman asked boldly.
"Dr. Hoffman, there are places where admitting to being a mutant will put a person's life in danger. For that reason, I believe it is inappropriate to ask such a question, not because of what the answer might be, but because by asking it, you are asking someone to reveal a personal fact that they may have been hiding for years. The truth is, for all practical purposes, it doesn't matter if I'm a mutant or not. That being said, I will tell you what you want to know. I am a mutant, of course Mr. Wagner is, Mr. Summers is not, and Mr. Wainwright is not." Warren said calmly.
"I'm sorry if I offended you by asking. I understand your objection to the question. And thank you for telling me anyway. It helps me to know that Mr. Wainwright is not a mutant." Dr. Hoffman said quietly.
"Because he'll be more likely to see your point of view?" Warren asked curiously.
"Perhaps. It's difficult for me to put into words, I just know that I feel better knowing that one of you is a non-mutant." Dr. Hoffman admitted shyly.
"And that is why I wanted Mr. Wagner to share the position of Dean with you. That feeling of relief that you can't name is the same one I hope the students, both mutant and non-mutant will have when they see the two of you." Warren said peacefully.
"Yes. I see your point." Dr. Hoffman said in a considering tone.
"Does anyone have any other questions or anything to add before we adjourn?" Warren asked everyone.
"Just one thing." Dr. Hoffman said in thought.
"Yes?" Warren asked.
"I have decided to accept your generous offer and agree to the terms we've discussed. Now that we're all on the same team, perhaps we could dispense with the honorifics and use first names, I'm Julia." Dr. Hoffman said with a gentle smile.
"Very well, welcome aboard, you may call me Warren." Warren said professionally.
"I am Kurt. Vhen you are done meeting with Doktor McCoy perhaps ve could meet to discuss some of zis." Kurt said as he looked up from the paperwork that Warren had given him.
"Yes, I'm interested to see what you've got there." Julia said then looked at Jimmy.
"I'm Jimmy." He said with a friendly smile.
"If there's nothing else, why don't you take Julia down to meet Hank?" Warren said casually.
"Yes, right this way Dr. Hoffman." Jimmy said as he walked to the door.
"You can call me Julia." Dr. Hoffman said with a pleasant smile as she followed him.
"Thank you but it would not be appropriate to do so while I am on duty." Jimmy said as he led the way out of the room.
* * * * *
Scott stood by the door to the foyer and when it opened he said, "Matt wants to talk with Ronny for a minute. We'll wait here for them."
John and Bobby nodded and withdrew back into the foyer, followed by Scott.
"Why don't you ask him while I'm talking to Logan?" Ronny asked Bobby and John
Bobby and John both nodded and watched Ronny walk away.
"Ask me what?" Scott asked carefully.
"We wondered if you'd like to camp out with us tonight?" Bobby asked with a smile.
"Where?" Scott asked, surprised by the question.
"It doesn't matter, in one of the wooded areas around the property. It's just something different we can do." Bobby said with a smile.
Scott saw the look of hope in John's eyes and said, "Yeah, but I'll need you guys to help me move some stuff from the boathouse to the mansion before we go. You okay with that?"
"No problem... do you think Robert could join us?" Bobby asked suddenly.
"I don't see why not. I think Andrew and Alan are in the examination room, you can ask them." Scott said in a considering voice.
"This is gonna be great. How experienced are you at camping Scott?" John asked curiously.
"I had survival training. I know how to use all the equipment, but as far as actually going out and camping for fun... this will be my first time." Scott said with a smile.
"Well if you've got the equipment side covered, I'll be in charge of the camping for fun part." Bobby said happily.
"What am I in charge of?" John asked curiously.
Bobby thought for a minute and said, "Sticks for toasting marshmallows and hot dogs... and of course you'll be in charge of the fire."
"So who gets firewood?" Scott asked with a smile.
"I think we all can. That way no one get's worn out before we get to have fun." John said in thought.
"Good idea. Let's see if we can get everything done before we lose daylight. I'd rather not try to set up camp in the dark." Scott said.
"We'll bring lanterns and stuff. We're not on a survival drill, just camping out in the backyard for something to do." Bobby said simply.
"Yeah, and thanks for agreeing to do this with us Scott. We're going to have fun tonight." John said with a smile.
"Sure, anytime guys." Scott said as he basked in the feeling of being wanted.
* * * * *
"Hey Logan, that wasn't much of a nap." Ronny said as he took his seat.
"I slept for a few minutes, then I was wide awake. Sometimes that happens." Matt said and sat up on the bed.
"When I was getting your beer, I saw some clothes in that crate over there." Ronny said, pointing.
"Thanks kid. Whoever thought up backless nightgowns for sick people needs killin." Logan said and walked to the indicated crate.
As Logan was pulling on some sweat pants, Ronny nodded and said, "Mr. Summers said you wanted to talk to me."
"Yeah. Cyke was sayin that John is gonna start school too. I was just thinking that if you wanted, we could invite him to live with us. I don't know him that well, but he always seemed like a decent guy." Logan said and got back onto his bed.
"That'd be great. He talked with me about starting school here. The guy's really had it rough." Ronny said honestly.
"Then let's get him over here and ask him." Matt said with a smile.
Ronny motioned to the others who were watching from the containment foyer.
Scott, John and Bobby walked into the containment room.
"Can I ask him?" Ronny asked with excitement.
"Go ahead kid." Matt said peacefully.
"John, would you like to move in with me and Logan?" Ronny asked hopefully.
"What?" John asked with wide eyes.
"We're gonna get a place, and you could move in with us if you wanted." Ronny said, begging with his eyes.
"Um, yeah. That sounds great." John said with a smile.
"Good. Now that that's done, all I need is to get released from this fishtank." Matt said with a growl.
"If you need anything done while you're in here, just let me know and we'll take care of it." Scott said simply.
"You think you could look at some houses for me? And find out about my money. I don't know if the other guy had the same bank accounts." Logan asked hopefully.
"Sure. How about I sit down with you tomorrow and get all the details. I've been invited on a camping trip tonight." Scott said with a big smile.
"A camping trip?" Matt asked with surprise.
"We're going to pitch a tent and sleep in the back yard." Bobby said simply.
"Why?" Matt asked curiously.
"Why not?" Scott asked happily.
"You're really gettin into this Cyke, you're a lot more fun than the Scott I remember." Matt said honestly.
"Alan's loosened up a lot too." Bobby said seriously.
Scott nodded in agreement.
* * * * *
"Dr. Hoffman, this is Dr. Hank McCoy and his niece Tara McCoy. This is Dr. Julia Hoffman, the current Dean of Forestgrove and future Dean of the Wagner Institute for Mutant Education." Jimmy said formally.
There were handshakes all around and Jimmy withdrew to stand beside the doorway.
"You don't look like your pictures." Julia said honestly, remembering his very human picture on the dust cover of his last book.
"They say the camera adds ten pounds." Hank said off-handedly.
Julia smiled at the comment, then asked, "So what are you working on now, if I may ask."
"Of course, come with me to the BioLab and I'll show you something extraordinary." Hank said and led the way.
"Are you waiting for her?" Tara asked quietly.
"Yes. I will conduct her back to the library when she has finished talking with Dr. McCoy." Jimmy said professionally.
"I can do that. I'm going to be here anyway." Tara said kindly.
"Thank you Aunt Tara. If you need for me to return, I will be in the library with Uncle Warren." Jimmy said happily before he left.
* * * * *
"So you goin on the camping trip too?" Matt asked Ronny.
"No. I'm gonna stay here with you." Ronny said quietly.
"No you ain't." Matt said with finality.
At Ronny's timid look of question, Matt continued, "Just cause I can't get out of this box don't mean you can't either. You go and have fun with your friends, then you can tell me all about it when you get back. Hearin about it'll be almost as good as gettin to go and do it myself." Matt said, holding Ronny's gaze.
"You really want me to go?" Ronny asked, sounding hurt.
"Yeah, I want you to go, have fun, and come back... can you do that?" Matt asked seriously.
"Cyke, make sure the kid has a good time." Matt said, sparing Scott a glance.
"Bobby's in charge of good times, I'm in charge of equipment." Scott said with a teasing smile.
"Knowing you, that's probably best." Matt said with a chuckle.
Scott nodded and said, "Well guys, we're losing daylight. Are you ready to get to it?"
"Would you like to visit with Matt while we're hauling Scott's stuff from the boathouse?" Bobby asked Ronny quietly.
"Yeah, thanks bro." Ronny said with a smile.
"Then we'll come get you when we're done." Scott said with assurance.
* * * * *
The sound of a cell phone could be heard.
"It's mine." Marie said.
As she turned away from the others she said, "Hello?"
"Yeah... Really? Yeah... I'll be right there." Marie said happily and hung up the phone.
"That was Rachel. Dawn is about to show your dads the baby stuff." Marie said happily.
"Would you like for me to accompany you back to the mansion?" Icheb asked carefully.
"No, not unless you want to sit around for a few hours talking about baby things." Marie said with a chuckle.
"I can't say that I've ever noticed the desire to do that." Icheb said seriously.
"Maybe we can get together and do something tomorrow." Marie said as she walked for the door.
"Yes, I would like that." Icheb said hurriedly as she left.
"Naughty bit of fluff, that one." Spike said as he watched her leave.
Icheb turned quickly to Robert and said, "You must help me to write some poetry for Marie."
Robert looked at Icheb curiously as Alex said, "That was Robert's first poem. It would be better if you asked Spike for advice. He's the one who helped Robert."
Icheb turned and said in a voice filled with panic, "Please Uncle Spike, please help me to write something suitable for Marie."
"I've landed in a house full of bloody poets... I love it." Spike said and extended his arm to indicate the dining room.
* * * * *
Hank and Julia walked into the BioLab in time to see Scott, Bobby and John removing their biosuits.
When they stepped out of the containment room's foyer, Hank immediately said, "He's been very ill, he needs his rest. You should have come to me and asked me before entering the containment room."
Scott looked at Hank seriously and said, "He's been alone for four months. The man wants company... He needs company."
"It is my opinion as his physician that he needs rest while he is in isolation." Hank said definitely.
"Hank, you're not listening. Matt has been without human contact for four months. Whatever medical reason you have for keeping him isolated can't compare with his need for people. If you can't see that, then maybe I need to find another doctor to look at him." Scott said with anger creeping into his voice.
"Are you threatening to fire me?" Hank asked with surprise.
"No. I'm just going to seek a second opinion in Matt's case. I don't know why you can't be reasonable with him, but you are hurting him by isolating him." Scott said with concern.
"That's preposterous. I am being completely objective." Hank said with a growl.
"Perhaps I can help resolve this." Julia said hesitantly.
"Oh, excuse me. I'm Scott Summers, and you are?..." Scott asked carefully.
"Dr. Julia Hoffman. Summers? Are you by chance related to Jimmy Summers?" Julia asked curiously.
"Yes, Jimmy is my nephew." Scott said with a proud smile.
"He seems to be a fine young man, incredibly intelligent." Julia said in a considering voice.
"Yes, you should read some of his writing. He has an amazing talent." Scott said, warming to the woman.
Julia snapped herself back to the point and said, "As I was saying, I may be able to help with your disagreement with Dr. McCoy. Though I haven't been in practice for a few years, I am a qualified medical doctor. If you would like, I could examine your patient and give my own opinion."
"That sounds like a good idea to me Dr. Hoffman. Do you have any objection Hank?" Scott asked with raised eyebrows.
"I hardly see the point, but since you seem to have your mind set on this course of action, who am I to stand in your way?" Hank said in a tone of long suffering.
"I'll take that as a yes." Julia said and moved to the containment foyer.
"If you wouldn't mind, I'll go in with you to introduce you." Scott said as he walked behind her.
"Thank you. Matt must be a good friend of yours for you to look after his interests like this." Julia said and opened the door.
"Guys, why don't you go get the camping supplies while Dr. Hoffman looks at Matt? I'll meet you in the garage when I'm done here... Let's take the four by four." Scott said and waited for a response.
"Yeah, we'll get it loaded. Take care of Matt." John said and cast a disapproving glance at Hank.
Scott nodded and went to change into the 'garbage bag' suit.
* * * * *
"Let's see what you've got mate." Spike said and moved to Icheb's side.
Hesitantly, Icheb handed the padd to Spike.
A long minute passed as Spike read, occasionally looking at Icheb's expectant, worried gaze.
Finally Spike said, "We may need to do a bit of work with this one."
"Is there a problem? I did exactly as you said. I thought about Marie and wrote about the attributes that I found most attractive." Icheb said with tension.
"When I said that, I was meaning for you to talk about her eyes, her hair, maybe her smile. Seven of your paragraphs talk about her breasts. And I'm with you mate, the chit has a nice rack, but women get a little touchy when that's all you notice about them. You didn't even mention her eyes." Spike said, trying to be gentle.
"I have eyes. I thought I would focus on the attributes that are unique to her." Icheb said honestly.
"Yeah, bout that mate. You might not want to use the phrase 'broad child-bearing hips'. I can't say for sure, but it might get you hurt." Spike said hesitantly.
"But the bone structure of her pelvis would make her ideal for birthing children. She should be able to bear at least a dozen before her menstrual cycles cease." Icheb said reasonably.
"I'm surprised you didn't put that in here." Spike said sarcastically.
"You must press that button to advance to the next page." Icheb said helpfully.
"Oy, there it is..." Spike said in wonder.
Icheb sat quietly with a worried expression, waiting for more.
Finally Spike said, "Maybe poetry isn't the best way for you to express your affection toward her. There are a lot of ways a bloke can chat up a nice girl like Marie."
"But her reaction to Robert's poem was so favorable, I know she would like poetry. If I were to try something else, it might be an art form that does not interest her." Icheb said in a pleading voice.
"Listen Mate, the chit is into you. If she wasn't interested, she wouldn't be going on walks with you. So whatever you do, she'll either like it, or try to like it... but this... and what's this bit about her kiss being the superior one?" Spike asked as he reread the passage.
"After I kissed Marie, I kissed her ex-boyfriend to compare the sensations. I processed and compared the information about the two kisses, and have concluded that hers was superior." Icheb said clinically.
Spike was stunned.
"Uncle Spike?" Icheb asked in worry as Spike stared off into space.
"Right mate..." Spike said, snapping back to reality. Then he continued, "So you're telling me that you kissed Marie, then kissed her ex... did she find out?"
"Yes, I told her. She seemed upset." Icheb said unsurely.
Spike shook his head, then thought to ask, "This bloke you kissed, he ain't off somewhere pining for you, is he?"
"No, I don't think Bobby has any emotional attachment to me. I did not consider that possibility." Icheb said with the beginnings of worry.
"Bobby Drake?" Spike asked quietly.
Icheb nodded in confirmation.
"Passions has nothing on you lot." Spike said, then looked at Icheb's writing again.
"Does this mean I'm an awful poet?" Icheb said with a crestfallen look.
Spike froze at the words and relived a moment of pain from his distant past. Finally he came back to himself and said, "No mate, it means you need someone to help you till you get it right."
Icheb nodded with a hesitant, but hopeful expression.
"How's about this? You write down whatever you like about her, but limit yourself to one paragraph per part. And you can write about things like her sense of humor or laughter too. It doesn't just have to be body parts." Spike said and handed the padd back to Icheb.
"Then you're not giving up?" Icheb said in a small voice.
"No mate. I've had me a bad review or two in my days, you can't let it keep you down. If you want to write, you write and I'll help you... just whatever you do, don't send Marie anything till after I've had a chance to read it." Spike said firmly.
Icheb nodded and went back to work.
To Be Continued...