Saving Cain: Chapter 1

Alex Summers turned his Walkman down a little as he found a space by the door of the subway car to lean against. It was quieter on the inside of the train than it had been on the platform and it was, he knew, quite rude to make others listen to his music. Not everybody appreciated the Misfits like he did.

Alex loved the disquieted look people got when someone who looked like he did exhibited manners. Especially on the Upper East Side, a rarefied part of Manhattan if ever there could be a fortress without walls. You could walk down the streets and know who lived there and who was passing through.

Alex looked like he was passing through. He dressed respectably for school - button-down shirt (untucked, but ironed) and undershirt, army pants (clean) with his wallet chained to a belt-hook, polished combat boots and a freshly showered body (one that was bereft of any decoration in the wake of a long-and-weird discussion with his foster father about wearing makeup to school). But he would no more be confused with a local resident than he would be with a student at one of the myriad of exclusive prep schools housed in the brownstones that stood between his own school and Central Park. The silver ring in his eyebrow and the silver stud in his nose assured that, if nothing else.

The train pulled in finally to 96th Street and Alex got off with a modest crowd of people, a mix of school kids and groggy interns showing up for shifts at Mount Sinai. It was 7:15, too early for most of the kids from his school except for the other juniors who were taking the AP American History tutorial like he was. Since very few of them would talk to him, Alex was able to make the long uphill trek to school uninterrupted.

"Wanna cookie, 'Lex?" Minda asked as he took a seat in the auditorium used for the early-morning cram course.

"I can't understand how you can eat Oreos before eight in the morning. Save some for later. I'll bum one in official," Alex said as he sat down next to her. Miranda Gao was one of the few of his original cadre that would still talk to him after his... allegiances had become well known. Minda didn't like his politics and made it abundantly clear. They still liked the same music, however, so as long as they kept away from anything involving homo superiors, they were still friends. Minda, he was fairly sure, was convinced he was going through a phase.

This faith was not in evidence for most of the crowd Alex had started school with in seventh grade. Most of them now either ignored him or offered a façade of friendship that came out of either fear or that stupid teenaged urge to do something nominally dangerous. And for the last year-plus, hanging with Alex Summers had been considered dangerous.

This had not always been the case. After the initial shock of being in a school where everyone else was as smart as you were, the usual cliques common to twelve-year-olds had formed - the kids who played Chinese handball whenever they could, the kids who had known each other from the elementary school housed on the first floor, the crowd from Staten Island that hung out with each other because nobody else would, plus every kind of group that existed in a normal school.

Alex had been one of the centers of the popular crowd. Good looking with his blond hair and blue eyes and tall athlete's body, a part of the large Park Slope contingent that formed tight bonds on the long ride up from Brooklyn each morning, and with a history that made him that much different from the rest of the over-achievers that walked the school's halls, Alex had been the epitome of cool. His teachers adored him. His classmates voted him into positions of leadership and in his first year of varsity sports he had already being talked about as captain of one of the track teams. And -- most importantly - he could always get a girl to come with him to one of the stairwells above the fourth floor to fool around.

All that had changed during the summer between ninth and tenth grades. Alex had been part of Friends of Humanity for over a year by that point, but had kept it quiet. Not out of embarrassment - 'Any opinion you are afraid to express is an opinion you shouldn't be having' had been a favorite quote from one of his social studies teachers - but out of simple practicality.

But that summer was a busy one for the FoH. Alex had started spending more time at NYC-FoH headquarters in Alphabet City and less time with his school buddies, most of who were away for the summer anyway. A new local director had come in with a new plan of action and Alex, being a precocious young man, had risen quickly in the ranks of the organization. Even at just-turned-fifteen he was being asked to deliver statements to reporters. He spoke well - two years of mandatory Communication and Theatre had certainly paid off - and found himself before television cameras and reporters' tape recorders.

Returning to school in September had been both rude awakening and crucible. The friends and affection he had had enjoyed in June was gone, burned up in the summer heat and a few sound bites on the evening news. The unease of his classmates and teachers was almost palpable, the turned backs and whispered words behind his own not unexpected but cutting nonetheless. Intellectually, Alex had known that this would happen, had thought himself prepared to face rejection. But the previous year had been so normal, his status so unaffected by his outside activities, that the change felt more abrupt than it probably was.

By Thanksgiving, there wasn't a person at school who didn't know that Alex Summers Hated Mutants. By Christmas, there had been a specially convened PTA meeting to see whether grounds could be found for expelling him. [There wasn't and there wouldn't be so long as Alex didn't commit a criminal act while on the school's grounds.] By Valentine's Day, there had been a feature in the New York Times on the issue.

Alex had continued on, unbowed. He reveled in forcing the faculty and student body into living up to the principles of liberalism that they were wont to spout. Kids who sneered at a local protest to keep a new apartment building from offering low-income housing (thus dropping surrounding property values in New York City's most exclusive and expensive neighborhood) now had to live with the cost to their school's reputation by its having an FoH lieutenant in the student body.

Alex didn't enjoy being the house that spoiled the neighborhood - he loved his school - but had understood the necessity of it. Hypocrisy was one of the worst sins - because unlike being a mutie freak it was completely voluntary. [Unlike mutants, however, hypocrites were usually only dangerous to their own reputations and could thus be adequately dealt with by more conventional means.]

School was a sanctuary for the mutants, Alex would tell all who asked, like the holy ground in one of his favorite movies. And while he'd be the first with a bat should he encounter any of his mutie classmates (eighth and ninth grades had been full of surprises) down in the Village or off with his FoH unit on a mission, he wasn't going to tackle one of his few outed classmates on their way to or from classes.

As such, eventually the fear that Alex would commit murder in one of the stairwells abated and an uneasy equilibrium had set in between him and the rest of the school microverse.

During the spring semester of tenth grade, he had been amused and delighted when his Public Speaking teacher had used a videotape of one of his impromptu press conferences as a teaching aid and had actually encouraged him to use the class to polish up his skills. ["Your views may be abhorrent, Master Summers, but your listeners should be forced to take issue with your principles, not with your presentation."]

Now, most of the way through the eleventh grade, classmates had stopped ostentatiously sitting across the room from him, group projects were accomplished without cross words being exchanged, and after the first time a kid had gotten caught there were no more attempts to leave nasty notes in his locker.

Alex knew from the FoH rolls that he wasn't the only member to be affiliated with the school (five faculty members and the parents of forty students, to be precise), but wasn't about to start a branch of the FoH as a school club. He had a group of people he associated with and a very few of his friends who would not speak to him when his 'followers' were surrounding him. As with the FoH itself, there were people in his new school cohort whom he didn't like and wouldn't want to be around in any other circumstance. But even in a tiny, intimate school such as his own, life could be a mite lonely if forced to walk alone.

Not that he was ever truly alone. Alex was a bit of a celebrity in school for entirely the opposite reasons he had been two years earlier. He had initially found the attention annoying - little seventh graders wandering by his locker like it was the lions' run at the Bronx Zoo - but had grown to ignore it. Mostly because of his new commitments, Alex had given up all sports but cross-country track and had dropped his spot on one of the newspapers' rosters in favor of the much more onerous task of editing the FoH newsletter.

All in all, Alex viewed school not only as a place to learn but also as a training ground. He was especially determined to put all of his history classes to good use. The Friends of Humanity (and he knew it was only a matter of time before he was heading up the outfit) would not make the same mistakes that almost all radical groups did. There would have to be continued support from the educated and professional classes and that was only possible with educated leaders. [Minda, who understood him all too well, occasionally called him a demagogue-in-training.]

One of Alex's main tasks with the Friends of Humanity was to show the people with money - and thus the ears of the politicians - that the anti-mutant movement wasn't made up solely of the sons and daughters of the Ku Klux Klan and could in fact be a welcome place for the wealthy and educated. While many in the movement were all-around bigots, Alex was fond of saying that he only discriminated against mutants and morons. Knowing that the bottom end could never be eliminated, Alex wanted to build a new coalition out of the upper group - a network of upwardly mobile professionals whose concern about the future was their unifying point.

The future - a mutant-free future safe for humans - was the reason why Alex got up at 5AM once a week to be at school in time for tutorial. It was why he spent a few hours in the library each day before heading down to FoH headquarters. It was why he had wanted to apply for Early Graduation (but had been shot down by his foster parents, who were quite sure he'd grow out of his 'quirky' beliefs if he just had another year of being a kid) to start college next year. It was his entire focus.

At least most of the time. But at the end of second period, Alex's main focus was on his having not had breakfast that morning. He was dedicated to the future, but not at the expense of getting up an extra half-hour early on tutorial mornings (the alarm going off at 4:55AM was bad enough) to eat. His hunger was assuaged somewhat by begging two cookies off of Minda during official class, but by fourth period, he was concentrating less on pre-calculus and more on where he'd go to buy lunch.

The courtyard was swarming by the time Alex and his small posse returned with their food. The entire school took lunch at the same time and that meant long lines at the area delis and pizza parlors and little sitting room in the sunken brick pit that served as the school playground. Alex had gone to the bodega on 98th and bought arroz con pollo - he had a rally to marshal that evening and didn't know when dinner would be - and was not going to object when Louie suggested that they remove themselves to a bench in Central Park instead of being run over by seventh graders playing frisbee.

In hindsight, "I think I'm going to take one of my excused cuts and skip physics tomorrow" was probably not the best choice for immortal last words. But Alex didn't have much choice at the time and hindsight is what it is.



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