Welcome to the New Mutants, Cypher, Hope You Survive
No permission has been given, no offence has been intended.
This story is set shortly after the first Legion story and the events of NM Annual #1.
The New Mutants gathered around their prospective team-mate in the corridor outside the Danger Room.
"Don't worry, Doug -- the Professor will take it easy on you your first time through, I'm sure of it... Unless, of course, the safety locks are disabled, or there's been some sort of malfunction. That's happened a couple of times, y'know, and then things can get really hairy... One time one of the monsters almost pulled Cyclops apart and if my brother hadn't been there to intercept the missiles then..."
"Errr... Thanks, Illyana, but I'm not sure I can take much more of your encouragement."
"Oh, stop teasing, Illyana, they were just flesh wounds! Just remember, Doug, the only thing that might get wounded here is your pride."
"Dani, my pride is about the only thing stopping me from running off down the corridor back to the locker rooms. I can't afford for it to be wounded!"
"Well, if you can't handle it, Doug, you just need to say so." As was often the case, there was an undertone to Bobby DaCosta's words which sounded like he was spoiling for an argument, even when he was really being sincere. Just in case, Sam Guthrie swatted him on the head.
"Pipe down Bobby. Come on, Doug, just have a bit of confidence and do your best. The Professor never asks for more than that. We know you can do it."
With assorted final reassuring waves and thumbs up, the team sped off up to the Observation Booth to get a better view.
Left alone, Doug fingered the collar of his new uniform as if it were about to strangle him. He wasn't yet sure about the whole long underwear, gloves and knee boots look, and felt very self-conscious (It had looked a whole lot better on him in his astral body). It wasn't as if he had much to show off, physique-wise. However, if spandex was what it took to be on this team, then it was a small price to pay, provided, of course, that none of his old schoolmates ever saw him... or his parents... or, basically, anyone he'd ever met.
As the heavy doors swung open, Doug squared his shoulders, took a deep breath, and walked into the Danger Room. In its inactive state it looked like nothing so much as a vast bank vault: a huge chamber lined with dull grey metal. Only the numerous cracks and lines in the walls gave any clue as to where doors and hatches might be concealed.
He looked up to where he knew the viewing window was and could see the rest of the team, as well as Kitty Pryde and the Professor seated at the console. Kitty gave him a cheery thumbs up and waved what looked like a large box of popcorn in his direction.
He smiled wanly in return. "Oh this just gets better!" he thought. "My first time out and she treats it like a night at the movies!"
The Professor's telepathic voice, however, was calm and reassuring.
<<The task is simple, Douglas, all you have to do is make it across the Danger Room floor and press the red button visible on the far wall. This will deactivate the program. I'm starting you on a Level One program, as I do all my students.>>
Doug still felt somewhat uncomfortable trying to broadcast his thoughts, and spoke aloud to make sure he was saying what he meant. "Okay, Professor. Give it your best shot."
The Professor and Kitty were running through the warm-up sequence on the Danger Room systems. He telepathed again, this time on a personal mode that no-one else could hear: <<Douglas, I just want to reassure you once again that your place in this school does not depend on the outcome of this exercise. You can always withdraw at any time, with no shame or embarrassment.>>
Doug caught the eye of Bobby DaCosta and decided that he'd sooner chew glass than back down. This time he did form his reply only in his mind.
<<Professor, I'm wearing my underwear over my pants already, how much more embarrassing can it get? I don't just want to be a student, I want to be on the team.>>
<<Very well, prepare yourself, and good luck.>>
Sam glanced over at Dani, then directed an intimate-mode thought at Professor Xavier. <<Ah have to say, Professor, are you sure we should be doin' this?>>
The reply reached Dani as well. <<To be honest, Samuel, no, I am not, but Douglas thinks he is ready, and I won't deny him the chance to find out. For all his recent experiences with us, I am not prepared to risk him in the more... outre situations our lifestyle often lends itself to. At least not until I am sure that he can look after himself. Though it would be an unusual circumstance, I am happy to take him on as a student regardless of the outcome, but he may not become an active member of the New Mutants until I have had a better chance to gauge his resourcefulness. The Danger Room is a tried and tested means of determining that suitability.>>
Behind them, the rest of the Mutants were discussing the odds of Doug's success.
"Ten bucks says he won't make it."
"'Berto! Huv'ye no shame? Nae just gambling, but against a friend!"
'Berto grinned somewhat smugly. "You should know by now that I'm never ashamed of anything I do, Rahne. Doug's got guts, no doubt about it, but be realistic. He doesn't stand a chance and we all know it. None of us made it through on our first run, remember? And we had physical powers to help us. If he gets further than ten yards, it'll be a miracle."
Dani spoke up. "Excuse me, Bobby, but I managed to make it through the Danger Room, and my power is as psychic as Doug's."
"Well, yes, Dani but you're... different, aren't you?"
"Oh really?" Somehow Bobby missed the landmine quality of Dani's sweetly innocent tone. "Different from...? What, Bobby? ...most girls? ...physical mutants?"
"Well, from most..." Bobby finally noticed the looks he was getting from his team-mates (who were assuming that Bobby had spontaneously developed a death-wish) and realised not only what he was saying, but who he was saying it to. "Well, never mind. I still bet he won't make it."
Kitty turned her head to join in the conversation. "I'll take you up on that, Bobby. I've known Doug longer than you and he might just surprise you. In fact, how about we spice it up a bit? Ten dollars for the first ten yards, then ten more for every yard past that."
"And if he doesn't make it to ten yards?"
"Then... I take your turn at cleaning duties for the next week."
"You're on, Pryde. Consider it a bet."
Kitty caught the Professor's gaze boring into her, clearly not happy about the betting. She shrugged her best "What can I do?" look at him.
"I'll take you up on it too, for the sake of 'non-physical' mutants everywhere."
"Fine, Dani, I can always do with more women carrying out my chores." Bobby didn't even try to dodge Illyana's mock-serious punch on the arm.
"Well, it ain't going to be just women then, Bobby, Ah'm in too."
"Sam?" Bobby was starting to look worried now; was there something going on here he didn't know about?
"Just a gut feelin' Ah'm gettin'. An' if Kitty and Dani have it too, Ah'm not going to argue with it."
"I never bet, 'Berto, but I want ye to ken that, if I did, I would."
Amara and Illyana just exchanged glances and kept quiet.
The Professor now seemed satisfied with the readings in front of him and spoke into the microphone. "Beginning Danger Room training sequence Ramsey One."
Doug watched warily as several androids emerged from a hatch in the side of the Danger Room. Level one drones, humanoid in size and weight. Though made out of a dull grey metal and limited to normal human parameters of strength and speed, they still looked quite formidable. Clearly the Professor wanted to either put him off, or stop him with minimum force. Though he knew that they would be programmed not to cause him injury, any one of them looked more than capable of stopping him.
Taking a few deep breaths, Doug started a running monologue with himself; "So I'm not even worth a few holograms to make them look like real people? Okay, I can deal with this... Concentrate Ramsey... You've been to a Dyson sphere, you've tackled aliens, you've even been inside the head of a guy with multiple personalities, you can cope with a few androids!"
He paused for a second. "All right, so the sphere freaked you out, the aliens whupped your butt, and you found yourself getting in touch with another guy's feminine side... Okay, note to me: devise new pep talk! Come on, then, you metal maniacs, you're not just dealing with any old mutant, you're dealing with a New Mutant."
The androids had positioned themselves between him and the switch, either alone or in groups of two or three. He moved towards the nearest android. It moved to block him, and he raised his arms in a placating manner.
"Look, I don't mean you any harm, I just want to get past, please. Can we just talk about this or something?"
"He actually said 'please'? To an android?" Bobby was grinning broadly.
The Professor nodded approvingly. "Indeed, and I'm delighted to see he did. Trying a non-combative approach to such a situation is a commendable idea. The last student of mine to try that approach was... Nightcrawler, I believe."
The first android lowered its arms and silently gestured Doug past. He edged past it warily.
In the booth the Mutants gaped at what had happened. "I believe in rewarding the non-violent approach," said the Professor simply.
The second android seemed to have other ideas as it didn't react to Doug's repeated question.
"...the first time at any rate," finished the Professor.
This android was reaching out to grab him across the shoulders.
"Okay, so 'please' isn't the magic word with this guy." Doug ducked, feinted left and then dived right before the android could turn to block him again. As soon as he was past it, it froze in position.
The next android, learning from the previous one, didn't fall for the feint, so Doug dropped and dove through its legs, only just managing to squeeze through before it reached down to grab him.
The next one wouldn't let him dodge past, so he grabbed it by the "wrist" and twisted it round, pushing it away before it could grab hold of him. It was the closest thing to judo he knew, but it worked! The android stumbled away and he jumped past it, freezing it in place. The next one he punched in the jaw. Though the head unit was designed to give slightly rather than just bruise his hand, there was still a satisfying "clang" as he made contact, enough to be heard, not enough to bruise his fist too badly.
The next one he barrelled straight into, gauging what seemed to be the best spot to push it over. He almost got it right, but it staggered rather than collapsed, and managed to snag his ankle. He twisted and kicked, but it wasn't going to give way to simple human strength. As he had passed it, it was frozen too, but the grip seemed immovable.
"Oooh, too bad for the new kid, that can't be more than about what... eight yards in? Goodbye, dishpan hands, hello, three weeks of easy living."
Kitty raised an eyebrow. "Don't speak so soon, Bobby. It ain't over until the Blob sings in drag."
"Sorry, Brotherhood of Evil Mutants joke. X-Men humour."
Doug knew that he wouldn't able to break free unaided. Time for Plan B, then. Well it was actually Plan A, but he had wanted to see how far he could get unassisted. He thought his performance had been credible, he'd got past three (and a half, sort of) of the androids on his own, but now it was time for the real games to begin.
Doug spoke out loud: "Danger Room, accept command 'Kobayashi Maru.' Authorisation: Cypher." A bit Trekkie perhaps, but what the heck. This should make the rest of the Mutants' eyes pop out.
In the Observation Booth the Professor's eyes narrowed as he watched the read-outs in front of him. Kitty's reaction was very similar, but seemed less surprised. Both stabbed at several controls in front of them with no apparent effect.
"Douglas! There seems to be some problem with the Danger Room systems, I'm trying to shut it down, stay where you are. I'll send Cannonball down to pick you up."
"It's okay, Professor, I've just taken charge a little."
"You mean this is your doing?"
"Sure is, Professor. I'll explain after the test."
Suspiciously, the Professor tried his control panels again.
"What's up, Professor?"
"I'm not sure how, Samuel, but somehow Douglas has locked me out of the controls for the entire Danger Room."
"Is he in any danger? Other than from the maurauding androids, of course."
"I don't think so, Danielle. This isn't an accident, he seems to have planned it somehow. Bearing that in mind, I think we should see how it develops. On the other hand, it wouldn't hurt to be ready in case of overconfidence. Magma and Shadowcat: run interference. Cannonball: you're on retrieval." The three students nodded.
Doug called aloud "Command: Wolfsbane" to no-one in particular. Suddenly his appearance started to alter; claws sprouted from his fingers, and fur grew over his elongating hands and a face that was swiftly becoming more of a snout. Bringing his... well "paw" was the best word, up to his face, Doug took a brief movement to marvel at the effectiveness of the interactive holograms. He felt no different, but the outside world would see a very different Doug Ramsey now.
He slashed out with his 'claws' at the android's hand clamped around his ankle and it popped open. Another raking slash and its head appeared to be hanging at an odd angle.
Really getting into it, Doug sort-of-loped towards the next two androids and snarled. As he had not thought to include a voice-changing subroutine, it was not as impressive as it might have been, but overall he thought his impression of a snarling wolf-boy was pretty effective.
The Mutants were staring at the scene with mouths hanging open.
"Professor, how is Douglas doing this, his power isn't copying other people's powers, is it? I thought he said he could just learn new languages quickly."
"His power is based on languages, Amara, but it also makes him extraordinarily gifted with computers, which I think we are now seeing a rather unorthodox demonstration of. I believe he's using the holographic interfaces to change his appearance and apparent abilities. How he is accessing them is another matter."
There was the sound of barely stifled laughter from beside him as Kitty watched the proceedings below. "Well, I _did_ warn you not to underestimate him." She offered the popcorn box around, and Sam grabbed a handful without taking his eyes off the scene below.
Meanwhile, Rahne was having a momentary impression of what others must see when faced with her wolf form and made a small whimpering sound at the back of her throat as she huddled closer to Dani.
"Dani? Am I really that scary lookin'?"
"You? Nah! You're a lot more cute-little-puppy-like. However he's doing this, Doug's been watching way too many Lon Chaney films. He looks much scarier than you ever do." Privately, Dani thought that Doug had got it just about right, but saw no need to frighten Rahne.
The next androids had spontaneously developed a much shinier appearance, and wolf-Doug's claws just skittered across them, barely leaving a mark. Their reaction time was increasing too, which meant it was time to switch partners.
"Reset. Command: Mirage." Doug's appearance returned to normal. He'd thought about adding in a headband and suede boots for this part of the program, but had decided against it on the grounds of both taste and Dani's likely reaction to someone making fun of her, even if it was meant harmlessly.
Doug advanced on the next group of three androids, put one hand on his forehead and made rather hammy finger-wiggling gestures with the other hand. In front of him appeared a pink-tinged hologram, much like Dani's thought projections, this one looking like a giant electric can-opener.
The three androids back-pedalled furiously. One tripped over itself, one swooned dramatically and the last one curled up into a close approximation of a foetal position.
One attempted to rush him from the side, but retreated at the sudden appearance of the Microsoft logo floating in front of it.
Kitty cheered out loud at that one.
"I'm going to kill him for this!" promised Dani, though she was laughing as hard of the rest of them.
As their original numbers were being thinned out, more androids emerged from the recesses of the Danger Room.
Sam's accent was getting stronger, a sure sign of worry. "We're moving into a Level Two sequence. Those androids'll be stronger than normal humans, won't they, and react faster?"
"Indeed, Douglas passed the Level One sequence I had established, so it is automatically upgrading the threat parameter. He seems to be remaining true to the spirit of the program -- in his own way, admittedly". The Professor sounded almost pleased about that.
Doug only just managed to avoid falling into a trapdoor that suddenly swung open in the floor. He would have fallen right in if he'd even been jogging. But he knew enough about the Danger Room to test every footstep carefully.
However, he was unable to avoid the two large padded slabs that slammed out from the wall on pneumatic pistons as he backed away from the gaping hole. He was caught firmly between them in what he was sure was a hideously embarrassing position, one arm and a leg sticking out from what was basically two large mattresses.
Wedged inside, Doug shouted again "Reset. Command: Sunspot". It was rather muffled considering his position, but, as he was still able to breathe normally, he was counting on the padding to be sound-permeable.
Those in the Booth could see the visible yellow glove and boot suddenly turn jet black, dark energy crackling around them. With a creaking noise, the two slabs were forced apart by a shadowy shape within.
As he dived out it was clear that Doug had assumed yet another persona. He now resembled nothing so much as the silhouette form of Sunspot, though the outline was still his own.
Kitty heard a barely intelligible mumbling coming from Sunspot's general direction, and was rather glad she didn't speak Portugese. She'd ask Doug to translate it later -- she'd know how bad it was from how deeply he blushed.
Meanwhile, Doug grabbed the two nearest androids and slammed them into each other. Then one attacked from behind, pinning his arms to sides. Swinging around so the pit was behind him, he shrugged free almost without effort, and elbowed it in the guts. The android was sent flying backwards down the still open trapdoor. Sensing a humanoid body passing by, the trapdoor snapped shut.
With a casual backhanded swat he sent the next android flying through the air.
"Hey, you guys, I could get used to this! I can see why 'Berto gets off on it so much."
Now from the floor behind Doug animated cables emerged, and they swiftly wrapped themselves around him until he was barely visible. They strained a little as he stretched them, but they had enough give to trap him completely.
From inside the cable cocoon, a muffled voice could just be heard. "Darn... I was enjoying that... Reset. Command: Magma." The cocoon lit up with a warm red and yellow light from inside.
The coils around Doug flowed like candle-wax and he stepped free without hindrance. He was glowing all over in a familiar red and yellow pattern and fire flared around his head.
"Hey, it looks like it's your turn, Amara! Goodbye Doug-spot, hello, Doug-ma!"
"Indeed, Roberto. I had no idea my other form was that... imposing looking."
"It looks way better on you though, Amara."
"Why thank you, Sam."
Doug pointed dramatically and a lava bolt shot out of his hand, striking the next wave of androids, who also seemed to melt into slag.
He moved forward again but found that his heat blasts had no effect on the next wave. The androids were adjusting faster and faster.
"Oh-kay... Can't raise a rock wall in here, it'd block my own way. Here we go again then. Reset. Command; Magik." Again his form returned to normal for a second, then a silver sword burning with white light appeared in his left hand and silver armour formed around his left arm and upper chest.
"So, Illyana, what do you think of 'Dougik'?" Bobby asked.
Suddenly the real Soulsword materialised in front of Bobby's face. Illyana held it lazily, and spoke without actually looking at him, still gazing at the scene below.
"I'll have words with Doug about his little... impersonation later, but, in the meantime, Bobby, don't mess with the wickedest witch going! Besides, think about the money you're losing with each step he takes." Bobby gulped visibly as that realisation struck him, and wisely decided to keep his mouth shut.
"Illyana..." The Professor's voice was warning.
Illyana suddenly gasped and turned to look at the sword in her had. "Oh golly, Professor, did I manifest this old thing? I am SO sorry. What can I have been thinking?" It vanished as quickly as it had appeared.
Doug was swinging the blade awkwardly towards the next android which was now manifesting a sword of its own. He'd forgotten he wasn't left handed. Okay, too much attention to detail there, but not to worry. He switched the sword into his right hand and then realised he still had little idea of how to use it. He waved it in what he hoped was a suitably Errol Flynn manner and the android backed away slightly.
"He's not touching them with the sword."
"Good move too. If he's keeping within the rules, it wouldn't be able to harm them anyway. The sword only affects magical objects, and androids don't count."
Almost on cue Doug pushed the illusion too far and the sword passed right through the chest of one of the androids without causing it any harm. It ceased retreating, and moved forward.
"Oh well, so much for impressing the guys with my armed combat skills." Doug then made a vaguely magical-looking gesture in the air, waved the sword like a rather large wand, and shouted "Abracadabra!" Beneath the next three androids, disks of light suddenly appeared and they fell through them, vanishing from view. Actually holographic technology was now cloaking them as they fell through more concealed trapdoors, but the illusion was rather effective.
"I would never use a cheesy sounding incantation like 'Abracadabra'." Illyana sounded almost offended. "A witty one-liner perhaps, but not 'Abracadabra'."
"Relax, roomie. Anyway, think about it -- Doug could probably read any book of magic you have, so be thankful he's sticking with the cliches."
"Wouldn't matter. Reading spellbooks isn't enough -- you cast a spell with your heart and soul, not your mouth." Illyana still sounded slightly huffy.
The Professor seemed interested despite himself. "I'm not so sure, Illyana. Douglas' power is based on understanding the language and intent, not just knowing how to pronounce the words."
Illyana chimed in again. "Professor, I don't think it's an experiment we'd want to take too far. I doubt any of us would appreciate it if Doug started translating chapters of say... the Darkhold, as a homework assignment."
Though it was clearly meant as a joke, Dani noticed Kitty shudder slightly and Illyana, possibly without realising it, made a small warding gesture as she spoke. Dani realised that, though she didn't know what the Darkhold was, the chances were that, if it could worry Magik, ruler of a demonic Limbo, and Kitty, one of the bravest (if occasionally annoying) people she'd ever met, then she would probably be happier not knowing.
Doug could see other hatches opening in the far Danger Room walls as yet another wave of androids were dispatched. These were bigger than the last set and appeared to have built-in weaponry of some sort. He figured he was near enough the deactivation switch for the final act.
"Reset. Command: Cypher." Doug's appearance returned to normal again. A panel opened in the floor, and a hideously complicated looking Shi'ar keyboard and monitor cube rose up on a simple plinth. Crouching over it, Doug swiftly started typing commands, staring intently at the crystalline monitor cube and the symbols that flashed around inside it in complex, three-dimensional patterns.
"Professor, those are androids from a Level Three routine. They could really hurt Doug. They've got energy attacks, don't they?"
"Indeed, but I think you should have a little more faith, Danielle. Given his performance so far, it's clear Douglas is in control and I don't think he'd let any random factors interfere."
"I could be in SO much trouble here!"
The androids had lined up in front of Doug, blocking his way completely and advancing towards him relentlessly. He was still typing furiously, and the watchers could see that sweat was starting to break out on his forehead. With one final swift flicker across the panel, he stood up, wiping his brow and letting out an explosive breath he had barely been aware he was holding. The androids froze in place and then stood to attention, still in a perfect row.
Turning towards the observation booth Doug addressed his audience.
"Ahem... Ladies, Gentlemen and Technarchs of all ages. Stevie Hunter always says that, if you're going to do something, especially if the chances are you're going to fail, then at least do it with style and always, *always* have a grand finale! So, in that spirit..." He snapped his fingers and caught a cane that popped out of a hole in the floor. At the same time the androids suddenly developed straw boaters and bow-ties.
Cheesy music was piped in through the speakers as Doug started to perform a moderately successful looking soft-shoe shuffle across the Danger Room floor. Behind him the androids moved in perfect unison with his motions, becoming the heaviest chorus line in history. With a final twirl of the cane, Doug reached out and hit the deactivation switch with its tip.
"Danger Room Sequence disengaged. We now return you to your regularly scheduled program. Have a nice day."
Doug and the androids then performed matching bows, though the androids remained bent over when Doug straightened. Roses appeared out of nowhere and fell at his feet and he caught a bouquet that had materialised from the ether.
There was a spontaneous round of applause from the still laughing New Mutants, and Kitty, Dani and Sam made "pay up" gestures towards Sunspot, who bowed almost graciously in defeat. The Professor was looking relatively stony-faced, though a slight smile might have been seen by someone skilled in reading body language. His mental voice gave no clue as to his feelings.
<<Douglas, when you've quite finished, I think we need to have a little talk.>>
Most of the New Mutants had left the booth, pausing only to smile or shake their head in mock anger. Now Doug stood facing the Professor, who was flanked by Sam and Dani. Kitty was running through several diagnostic programs on the console behind them. Doug was explaining himself and looking a lot less confident than he had a few minutes before.
"Professor, when I asked the guys what to expect, they all said the chances were that I would have to make it across the floor of the Danger Room unaided -- it's almost a tradition. When I specifically asked you yesterday if I could use my powers to help me, you said I could. So last night I hacked into the Danger Room systems and created the scenario you saw. So I did use my powers to help me, and I did make it across the floor."
"Indeed, most... impressive, and just when did you learn Shi'ar computer code?"
"I used the English interface the first night I got here to communicate with Warlock. But the first time with the pure code? Last night when I hacked in."
"Are you telling me you learned to program holographic computers in an alien computer language and achieved this whole... 'production number' of yours... overnight?" The Professor seemed somewhat incredulous.
"Well, first I had to figure out the security system before it would let me near the core program from my guest-room terminal, but all in all it took me about an hour and a half. Then I had to get into the recordings of the New Mutants' earlier sessions to work out what their powers looked like and such. If I'd been outside the Mansion it would have been pretty much impossible, but with terminal access in my room it was just a matter of finding a shared system."
"Were you a party to any of this, Kitty?"
"No, Professor, I didn't even think there were any links between the room terminals and the Danger Room."
Doug was warming to his topic now as he turned to Kitty. "There are if you know where to look for them. There's a back door from the Danger Room's main environmental control and the sewage treatment system for the rest of the Mansion that you can access from the Housekeeping menu..."
"If I may return you to the topic in hand? Kitty, how easy would you say it was to do what Douglas has done?"
"Well, Professor, I'm the best student you've got with the Danger Room equipment, but there's no way I could have made it do all that in the time allowed, and I've been using it for over a year now. As for duplicating the appearance of not one, but multiple sets of powers? It'd take me days to work it out even if I'd ever thought of it. Plus of course you'd know about if I had, because I'd have been gloating for weeks."
"True. I must confess I did not expect this sort of subterfuge from you, Douglas."
"With respect, Professor, it wouldn't have been very good subterfuge if you'd been expecting it."
"A fair point. I was, in truth, rather impressed by the initiative you showed. I was more intrigued by your rather... let us call it perhaps 'over-creative' approach."
"Professor, I admit I got a little carried away, but I kept to the limits of the program. I didn't interfere with the Room's operations, only its interaction with me. I did think about just making every android just kow-tow to me, or ignore me, or something, but that wouldn't have felt right. I wanted to prove I could adapt to random situations, like you wanted, but in my own way."
"When I copied Sunspot's powers they acted as if I had his powers, same with Wolfsbane and Mirage and the rest of them. None of the equipment cut me any slack and I didn't interfere with their reaction time. As for the final wave? They were completely independent of anything I'd prepared other than arranging to have a keyboard handy. If I hadn't managed to work out how to over-ride them on that terminal in there, they would have finished me off just like they would anyone else."
"So that final part, the err... dance routine?"
"...was made up entirely on the spot on the keyboard. Ask Kitty to check it out if you don't believe me."
"He's right, Professor, the only additional programming in those androids was what he downloaded into them when he convinced them to become the Rockettes. They'd have torn into him if he hadn't managed to stop them in time."
"I was never doubting the truth of Douglas' words, more the fact that he was prepared to act in such a reckless manner."
Doug realised that the Professor had been genuinely concerned about him, and felt a pang of guilt.
"Professor, let's be honest here. My power is so low key it barely qualifies as a power, it's practically a skill. I know that, you know that, the other New Mutants know that. So I decided to lose with style and, whilst I could, take advantage of the only real skills I do have to weigh the odds in my favour -- my knack with software. It was me against the Danger Room and no one expected me to win, least of all me, so I was going to do my best, like you wanted, and do it on my terms! And as a wise man once said, 'I don't believe in the no-win scenario.'"
"And, as I recall, Captain Kirk learned the folly of that particular belief when it cost him the life of a friend. Oh, don't look so surprised -- Sam and Bobby have watched that film often enough for me to have practically picked it up by osmosis."
"But Kirk always wanted to act alone, that was his flaw. I'll have the New Mutants backing me up. That's the reason why I copied their powers and not the X-Men. They're my team, I'd never let them down and I trust them never to let me down."
The Professor felt a momentary chill, for a reason he couldn't, or wouldn't, acknowledge, but was distracted by the co-leaders of the New Mutants giving their opinions.
"You have to admit, Professor, it was a novel solution to the problem..."
"...and it was making the most of his skills and powers in an original manner, which was the aim of this exercise after all."
The Professor heaved a sigh. "I think I can see where this discussion is heading. Kitty, do you have anything to add?"
"Well, he'll never put Fred Astaire out of a job."
"Kitty..." The Professor's tone was more tired than anything.
"Sorry, Professor, but I'm not in the New Mutants. Doug's actions are really a matter for you guys to decide. From an unbiased 'resident computer genius' viewpoint, I have to say I've never seen computer programming like this. He even upgraded one of the operational subsystems and tightened the security net while he was in there."
"It seemed the least I could do since I was poking about inside the code without permission."
"Most gratifying, Douglas. However, in future I would appreciate it if you would discuss any amendments you plan to make to my computer systems before you actually do so."
"I would also appreciate it if in future exercises you will limit yourself to the gifts you were born with and the skills you have acquired since then. Frankly I'm not sure my heart could stand the strain of two Sunspots or Magiks running around the place."
"Yes, sir." Doug managed to keep a straight face for that.
"And as you seemed so keen to injure yourself in this exercise, I think it might be advisable if you thought about taking the extra credit course in use of the medical facilities, on a voluntary basis of course. You can even try cleaning it for a couple of weeks, since you'll be there so much. Do I make myself clear?"
"Crystal, sir." Doug was no longer looking quite so pleased.
"Very well then, we will leave the matter there." Doug breathed a quiet sigh of relief.
The Professor consulted various notes he had made and looked over at the similar pads that Sam and Dani had. He looked from one to the other, clearly having some sort of mental communication with them, and nodded. Doug was all but hopping from foot to foot in nervousness.
"Under the circumstances, Douglas, you have indeed passed the test, in the unique sort of manner I have learned to expect from my students. I am therefor pleased to welcome you formally both to Xavier's School for Gifted Youngsters and the ranks of the New Mutants."
The Professor solemnly shook hands with Doug, who was somehow managing to grin like an idiot and look abashed at the same time.
"Are you still planning on using the codename we discussed?"
"Yes Professor, from now on, you can call me: Cypher!"
"I do wish you'd reconsider. I appreciate the reference to your decoding skills, but you must be aware that a cypher is another word for something of no value, a zero. There are other names available: Codex? Babel? Interface?"
"'Cypher' has been my hacker tag for quite a while now. Professor. Besides, it may be nothing on its own, but I looked it up, and a cypher is the zero that makes a '1' into a '10'!"
"Very well then. The choice is, of course, yours to make. I have discussed the matter of a scholarship with your parents already and they were not averse to the prospect. If you wish, I can arrange for a session with them, where we can discuss the circumstances of your time here, and the possibilities that your powers offer you for the future."
Doug's face blanched. "Umm, no, Professor, I'd really rather we didn't at the moment. I'm still not sure how they would react to all this, me being a mutant and all. Maybe when I graduate or something, but not right now."
The Professor nodded. "Again, the choice is yours, but it is something I'd ask you to think about."
"Believe me, Professor, I've lost sleep over it. I love Mom and Dad and everything, and I know thye love me, and I'm 99.9% sure they'd accept me being a mutant, but I'm just can't take the slightest risk -- even if it's only a 0.1% risk -- that I'm wrong. I'm not happy about lying to them, I've never done that before about anything, but it's just too big a risk."
The Professor nodded solemnly, recalling his own experiences in that regard. It seemed prudent to change the subject.
"Sam, Danielle, I think it's time you properly introduced the other New Mutants to their new team-mate. I understand the tradition is for the new student to buy for everyone else on the team at the Salem Soda Fountain. I believe I might join you later, but don't wait to order on my account. Mine, Douglas, will be a very large Chocolate Spectacular. I suddenly feel in the need for a lot of sugar. Probably a reaction to a certain 'high stress' situation I've been through this afternoon. Samuel, if you would do the honours..."
"Sure thing, Professor, c'mon Dou..I mean 'Cypher'."
Doug smiled broadly at that. Being called by your codename name for the first time by a teammate, THAT makes you feel like a superhero.
"Y'know, I REALLY like the sound of that..."
As the two -- no, three -- New Mutants left the room to join up with the others, who had been hanging around outside the door, there were cheers as "Cypher" was introduced and instantly engulfed in a round of back-slapping and hand shaking.
Before the sound of voices faded into the distance, the Professor turned to the youngest X-Man. "I'm sure you'd be welcome too, Kitty."
"No, Professor. Doug's a good friend and all, but it's a New Mutant tradition and I'm an X-Man. I might join you all later, though -- for some reason I find I have rather a lot of Sunspot's money burning a hole in my pocket. Anyway I want to have a quick look at Doug's programming again, if only to keep my 'resident computer genius' position for a little while longer. You know, I think we could adapt his over-ride technique to deal with one of Arcade's Murderworld programs, if we ever needed to..."
The Professor was listening to his students as they talked outside to Booth...
"So Doug, why didn't you copy me when you were in there? Something against me?"
"Are you kidding, Sam? I'd have loved to copy your powers, but I just couldn't work out a way to make it look like I could fly in there. I could have faked your blast field and run around making 'woosh'-ing noises, but it would have looked silly."
"And pretending to be Magma didn't?" Bobby asked. Doug just shrugged and smiled sheepishly.
"It was the same thing with you, Warlock, your abilities were way too complicated to duplicate in the time I had, you shapeshift way too much so the holograms alone would have taken ages. It was weird enough seeing myself look like Bobby and Amara, can you imagine what I'd look like if I looked techno-organic? Ummm... No offence, Warlock."
"NONE TAKEN SELFFRIENDCYPHERDOUG. IT IS NOT SELFFRIEND'S FAULT THAT FEW SENTIENTS CAN CARRY OFF SELF'S COLOUR SCHEME SO SUCCESFULLY."
The voices faded out of earshot.
Left alone in the Control Booth, Kitty having vanished off with reams of print out, the Professor was about to activate the housekeeping programs to clear away the debris from Doug's session. However, as he surveyed the still bowed androids on the rose-strewn Danger Room floor, he recalled the whole ludicrous training sequence. Secure in the knowledge that he was truly alone and his dignity would remain intact, Professor Charles Xavier finally started to laugh out loud.
Kitty Pryde's head popped through the ceiling. "Gotcha, Professor!"
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