[personal profile] aeshna_uk
Title: The Philosophy of Locusts
Author: Aeshna
Fandom: X-Men: First Class
Rating: PG, gen
Word count: 4,425
Characters: Charles Xavier, OFC
Summary: "Ah, child." Aiyat's smile was fond. "Angels and demons and mutated genes – the explanations of the age always match its expectations. I have seen this act played out too many times to be fooled by the words of priests and philosophers."
Disclaimer: Not mine, no matter how many comics and toys I buy! Everything here belongs to Marvel and Fox.
Notes: Written for a prompt on the [livejournal.com profile] 1stclass_kink kinkmeme. Given what I do for a living, I really couldn't resist this one.... :)

Many thanks to [livejournal.com profile] cylin for sterling beta work – any remaining weirdnesses are mine. Feedback of any variety is very much appreciated but not compulsory – I'll post anyway! I've suffered for my art, now it's your turn....



He soars.

Wrapped within Cerebro's artificial embrace, Charles is a god, his mind swooping and racing far beyond the confines of his broken body. He can feel them, feel their minds scattered beneath him like shining pearls, each one a mystery waiting to be explored. Some are familiar but most are not, and there are more of them each time he does this, each time he dives into the mental ocean that only he can see, can sense. A new species, his new species, growing and spreading with each passing year....

He turns, pirouetting in place as he feels his way, seeking out those who might need him, those whom he might need. Here a bright young mind newly come into as-yet unrealised power; here a life lived in fear of losing control; here a –

It's like being thrown into freefall, like stumbling over the edge of a cliff, a gravity well, an event horizon. He pulls himself back with a cry, scrabbling for purchase... and slumps in relief as it's all wrenched away, as the ocean retreats and Cerebro –

    – shuts –

      down....

"Professor? Professor – what happened? Were you attacked?"

Charles opened his eyes to find Hank leaning over him, his golden gaze concerned. "I –" He paused, licked his lips. "No. No attack. I think I found a...." He took a deep breath and swallowed hard, running the concept through his mind and realising that it had always been a possibility. "I think I might have found an immortal."

# # #

If he hadn't known what she was, he wouldn't have thought her anything out of the ordinary – a dark-skinned woman in her late twenties, perhaps, with loosely curled hair that hung to her shoulders, narrow features, over-sized sunglasses and a yellow dress that flattered her slender frame as she sat and sipped coffee at an outside table, basking in the warmth of a Massachusetts summer's day. To look at, she could have been anyone... but her mind was –

Her mind was a thing of wonder and terror, like stepping into the shallows and finding the edge of a continental shelf beneath his feet, the chill abyss dragging at his toes. So old and so endlessly deep, a wealth of life and long experience that he could never hope to know, that he could drown in with an ease that made him want to turn around and flee.

But Charles had come too far to simply turn tail and run, and so he left Alex and the car at the kerb and wheeled himself across to join her at her table.

She looked up at his approach and he could feel the prickle of her curiosity as she set her cup aside, the flash of some sudden certainty as she decided something about him. Her smile was gentle and genuine as he brought himself to a stop, careful not to jar his unfeeling legs against the furniture, and it was hard not to feel like a clumsy child disporting itself before a tolerant adult. He was probably the most powerful telepath on the planet, and yet....

The words were out before he could stop them. "How old are you?"

She laughed. "Now what sort of question is that to ask a lady at first acquaintance?" she asked, her voice surprisingly young-sounding, with a lilting accent that he couldn't place at all. "You must be the soulreader who paid me a visit the other day. I'm afraid that you left before we had a chance to get to know each other."

"Ah, yes." Charles felt himself colour, then belatedly remembered his manners and held out a hand. "I hope to rectify that slight now. I'm Professor Charles Xavier. I run an educational institute for the gifted."

"A pleasure to meet you, Professor." She smiled and closed her fingers around his with brief, polite pressure. "Hmm – 'gifted'? Like you and I, Soulreader?"

"Yes." There seemed little point in beating around the bush with one who so clearly knew herself to be other. "Given the number of mutants appearing in the general population, it seems prudent to train them in the use of their abilities. Might I enquire as to your – ah, you seem to have me at a disadvantage, Miss...?"

She cocked her head at him. "I have gone by many names in many places. You... may call me Aiyat."

Her real name, he suddenly knew, the one that she had been given as a child by a mother and a community that she could no longer quite recall. "And the nature of your gift?"

"I think that you already know the answer to that."

Charles took a deep breath, then nodded slowly. "Yes." The weight of ages hung around her like a cloak and she wore it well, the years layered upon years, decades, centuries. "I... how long?"

Aiyat chuckled and removed her sunglasses, revealing startlingly green eyes with slight epicanthic folds, a combination of features that didn't quite match any extant race that Charles could name. "Long enough, Soulreader. I'm a child of a previous cycle – I have seen all of this play out before... and I will live to see it all again."

He frowned. "I'm sorry – 'previous cycle'?"

"Of course." Aiyat turned in her chair, signalling to the waitress for more coffee for them both; Charles telepathically amended his order to tea, with a sharp instruction to boil the water before letting it anywhere near the leaves – there were limits to even his moral boundaries and most of them involved the preparation of his favoured beverage. "What we are – you and I, your students, so many others – this is not the first time our kind has risen from the masses."

"You mean mutants?"

"That would appear to be the current parlance, yes." Aiyat steepled her long fingers and gazed at Charles from across the table. "We have been called many things over time – angels and demons and gods incarnate, spirits of the World Below and the World Above and...." She trailed off and shook her head with a sigh. "Many things and not a one of them correct. Not even, in my understanding of the word, 'mutants'."

It was Charles's turn to smile. "I can't really comment on the cultural beliefs of times past but, as a scientist, I can assure you that these abilities, rare and wondrous though they are, are being brought about by genetic mutation. We're seeing the birth of a new species, one that –"

"Ah, child." Aiyat's smile was fond. "Angels and demons and mutated genes – the explanations of the age always match its expectations. I have seen this act played out too many times to be fooled by the words of priests and philosophers."

Charles scowled. "I am not a child, a priest or a –"

"Aren't you?" The green gaze was piercing. "Please, do not think that I haven't been watching. That, after all, is ultimately the nature of my gift. To see the greater patterns of history from a unique perspective. We are not the harbingers of a new species; we are merely the turning of the wheel."

"I can't accept that." Charles stopped, nodding thanks to the waitress as she set a mug down before him and refreshed Aiyat's cup. "These mutations, these undeniable differences," he said as the woman moved away, "they're not part of a cycle, they're an evolutionary leap forward. If this had happened before there would be genetic evidence... oh. Well, evidence other than yourself, I mean."

Aiyat smiled and lifted her coffee, blowing across its surface before taking a sip. "You're still thinking in terms of your favoured explanation and no other. But intellectual arrogance has long been the preserve of the soulreaders...."

"I prefer 'telepath'."

"The name does not affect the nature of the beast." Aiyat sighed and set her cup aside. "The... potential exists within us all. You and I are as human as any of the seething masses – we're just phenotypic variants brought about as a response to environmental pressures."

Charles snorted and took a mouthful of tea, trying not to wince at the taste – even boiling could do little for Lipton's Yellow Label, it seemed. "Impossible."

"Is it?" she asked. "Consider how many of your 'mutants' are being born now, across the world, within a period of just a few decades. All at once, scattered across the continents within previously unaffected communities – this is no speciation event, there's no physical or reproductive isolation, no divergent and localised haplotype finding its own niche. All of this is a reaction, triggered and true. There's nothing impossible about it."

"You're well-versed in the terminology," Charles said, a little bitterly. He wanted to reach for her mind, to dive in and find out just how much she really knew, but the fear of drowning was too great and so he remained in the shallow wash of her emotions. It was enough to let him know that she believed every word she said.

"I have made it my business to be well-versed." Aiyat's smile was sad. "Time is something that I have no shortage of. And I have seen so very much.... If nothing else, it is a relief to be able to speak of this once more, with one who understands."

"I don't know about that." Charles ran his hands down over his face. "Right now, I'm not certain that I understand anything other than that it's impossible to get a decent cup of bloody tea in this country!"

Aiyat laughed, a low peal of delight. "I won't disagree with you on that point, Soulreader. On the other... consider, if you will, the locust. A perfectly harmless, relatively solitary herbivorous insect that goes through its lifecycle without fuss, but as numbers increase over time a population will eventually reach the point where its environment can no longer support it. And then the next generation is different, in body and behaviour, forming great migratory swarms that can strip the countryside bare. And then... they stop, they settle, and the following generation is harmless and solitary once more. Until the next time their numbers grow too great. It's a natural pattern, the way of the world. The tide turns and then turns again."

"No." Charles shook his head. "No, that can't be it. We're not insects, we're –"

"We're what?" She chuckled softy. "We're animals the same as any other. I've seen empires rise and fall, seen religions and languages and nations come and go, all the shallow, surface creations of a species seeking identity... but in the end, we are merely what our evolution has made us. And no, we're not insects – we don't simply migrate en masse in the event of environmental stress. Instead, we produce our own predators, an inbuilt control on numbers to cull the weak and strengthen the species through selection. And when the population is stabilised once more, those predators simply breed right back into the baseline. Until the next time."

"The next time," Charles said bleakly. If what she said was true, then human-mutant relations were doomed from the start.... "No. No." He slammed a hand down on the table, making Aiyat's cup rattle in its saucer. "I can't accept this. We're more than just animals, reacting to our world on instinct alone. We have free will. What, are mutants just supposed to have an inbuilt urge to hunt down humans? To slaughter their own families in their sleep? Because I can assure you that I most certainly do not!"

"And yet you feel innately superior to the baseline, don't you?"

"What?" He set his jaw. "No."

"Liar." Aiyat's smile was a little too knowing. "I've yet to meet a soulreader who did not believe themselves to be the very pinnacle of creation."

"But this... this is...." Charles spread his hands helplessly. "It's wrong. This whole idea that mutants exist to kill humans, to... to control their numbers –"

"But we – your 'mutants' – are human too, are a biological release mechanism. A steam valve, if you will." Aiyat lifted her cup again. "The instinct is complex; it's rare indeed for blood families to be 'slaughtered in their sleep'. There are those who are favoured and those who are not, as there always are." She sipped at her coffee. "It's human nature."

Charles looked at her. "And who do you favour?"

"Oh, I'm far too old to play favourites." She chuckled softly. "My family... well, I'd be surprised if you were not somehow my descendant, Soulreader. You and everybody else." She waved a hand in a broad, all-encompassing gesture. "I'm an observer nowadays, not a participant."

"But in the past...?"

"Ah, well." Aiyat paused, then met his eyes, and there was something hard and glittering and ancient in her green gaze. "In the past I was very much a participant and nations trembled in my shadow. Now, though...." She shrugged. "Now I would rather leave such things to the younger generations. It's their world, after all, not mine."

They sat in silence for a while, Aiyat sipping her coffee while Charles attempted to make himself finish his frankly awful tea. He could hear a car radio playing somewhere in the background, could feel Alex's thoughts sliding into boredom, but his own mind was ablaze with what this strange woman had told him. The sickening part of this was that her claims made a horrific sort of sense and he didn't doubt her antiquity for a moment, but –

But.

He couldn't believe her. He mustn't.

"These cycles," he said at last. "They're regular?"

"Chronologically? No." Aiyat leaned back in her chair. "They seem to be related to the ability of the environment to support humanity, and that is something that changes over time as agricultural methods develop and improve. Wars seem to have some influence, as does the overall genetic health of the population. Sometimes – usually – the manifestation is localised. And sometimes, as now, it claims the world entire."

"And when you... manifested? Was that worldwide?"

She shook her head, her lips quirking into the tiniest of smiles. "When I came into the world, Soulreader, there was no 'worldwide'. We had barely left the cradle. We certainly hadn't learned how to bring nature to us."

Charles blinked as those words sunk in. "You're pre-agricultural?"

"Yes," she said simply. "And we were reliant on the whims of the wild, our numbers were few and our species was young, but even then we had fire and we knew how to fend off the predators that would devour us. Our numbers grew and the lands opened out before us but, slowly, our resources were stretched... until the first wave came upon us and humanity scattered in every direction to survive." She toyed with her cup, her long fingers dark against white glaze. "And then, in time, came farming, and the cycles slowed. And our species thrived and spread across the world and took all of their hidden potentials with them, to be called forth in time of need."

"Very poetic," Charles said, trying to calculate her age – he had the uncomfortable feeling that it might be well into five figures, back to the very dawn of civilisation... or before. "But if all of this is true, where's the proof? What we see now – it's going to leave its mark in the historical record."

Aiyat threw her head back with a laugh. "Oh, child. What did I say about angels and demons? Those gods and heroes of the ancients – they were more real than you can imagine. Achilles, Apollo, Arthur, Cú Chulainn, Xi Wangmu, Anubis and Sekhmet and Set, Zeus and Perseus, the Eight Immortals, Amaterasu and Susanoo, Tumatauenga and Tawhiri Matea, Eshu, Guan Yu, Tezcatlipoca, Neain, Wōden, Lei Gong...." She stopped and smiled. "As I said before – the expectations of a culture guide its explanations and the name does not change the nature. The science of one age is the mythology of another."

He opened his mouth to say something... and then closed it again as the words evaporated on his tongue. He wanted... he wanted to believe that she was wrong, mistaken, that it was all lies or illusions, but he could feel her age, the echoes of her antiquity, and the sincerity and – pity? – that was threaded through her emotions....

It wasn't true.

It couldn't be.

"You don't have to believe me, Soulreader," Aiyat said gently, as though she were the telepath. "But my life has been long and I speak from experience. So many years, so many lifetimes. You need to find your own truth but I...." She chuckled roughly. "I have been a Minoan goddess, a Nubian queen, a Mayan priestess. I was there when the Minotaur was trapped within his maze, and I was there when Khan, the hunter, led his hordes through Asia, slaughtering any and all who stood against him. I saw the pyramids rise and Rome fall. I watched as the Bosporus opened, the walls tumbling beneath the will of a grief-stricken earthsinger and the sea surging in to destroy those who had taken her beloved and thousands more beside, a flood that still resides in the cultural echoes of more than one religion."

She paused, her expression turning wistful, her gaze distant. "I have been a lover of Hephaestus, the lodestone, who could shape iron like clay and draw the fire from the sky; of Ekchuah, the warrior; of Hermes, the trickster. I have birthed heroes and monsters and everyday, unremarkable humanity. I have seen them all come and seen them all go, passing into myth and legend and the anonymity of the masses. And I will see this age pass into legend in its turn."

Charles let her words wash over him, picking up on the projected echoes of memory, the fractured sense of ages past. "I came..." he started, then laughed weakly. "I came to try to recruit you. As a teacher. I thought that with your wealth of knowledge of the ways of the world, that...."

"Ah." Her smile was small, almost unbearably understanding. "You hoped that I would reinforce your beliefs?"

"That tolerance and integration are the only way forward? Yes." He took a deep breath, then leaned towards her and pushed every ounce of persuasiveness he could muster into his words, projecting the full weight of his conviction onto her. "Surely you can see that?"

"I can see no such thing," Aiyat replied, raising an eyebrow as she shrugged his suggestion aside. "All that I can see is the inevitable fall. And the sooner it comes, the sooner it will be over with, the cycle begun anew. And all the gifts at your command will not make it otherwise... especially not to one born immune to such blandishments." She sighed and shook her head. "You have not been the first that I have had this conversation with, Soulreader; you will not be the last. The words and the faces and the philosophies change but the arguments, ultimately, never do."

"I am not a predator," Charles said softly, retreating back into his own skull. "And I refuse, refuse to teach others that that is what they are."

"And that is your right," Aiyat told him. "Completely. But for all that you might deny your nature, know that the baseline will recognise you for what you are. You already know how they twitch at the mere thought of your 'mutants' –"

"And it's just that sort of unthinking prejudice and unfounded fear that we must –"

"No." She shook her head. "It's instinct, not prejudice, and it's far from unfounded. Tell me, Soulreader, what you could do to all of these people around us, if you were so inclined. Destroy their minds, wipe their memories, stop their hearts?"

"I have no command of autonomic responses," Charles muttered. "Their hearts are safe from me."

"And their minds? Their memories? Their very selves?"

"I wouldn't," he said quickly, affronted, trying very hard to not think about Moira. "It's wrong."

"But you could. And, given the right incentive, you might. And they, on some deep and primal level, understand that. You're a danger to them and they know it." Aiyat's smile was sharp. "And so do you. And that is simply the way of the world. The swarm is upon us and must run its course."

Charles closed his eyes. This... had not been the conversation that he had expected to have and he didn't quite know what to think – he was certain that his research was correct, that his conclusions were right, that they had to be right. And yet Aiyat's point that there was no gradual selection, no specific adaptive niche, no isolation event – physical, behavioural or genetic – was all too close to the mark, as was the fact that there was no set pattern of mutation but rather an apparently infinite set of variations on difference, an explosion of unexpected phenotypes that might not even breed true. It was incredibly easy to see her locust hypothesis, to see the predators that they might become, that some arguably already were....

Erik had always been a predator, sleek and sharp and dangerous, killing without compunction or pity. Charles had thought that the result of his horrific upbringing, of Shaw's influence, of the desensitisation of the camps, but if it was more about nature than nurture –

If it was true, then what possible hope was there for Erik? What hope was there for any of them?

"You... make some excellent points," Charles said slowly, carefully. "Things that I shall endeavour to research further with regard to the nature of mutations. But I..." he sighed and met her eyes. "I cannot accept that it is our nature, almost our duty, to cull our less gifted brethren. We are moral creatures. We have choice over our actions and beliefs and we must behave in a way that is most fitting for the communities that we find ourselves a part of."

"Even if, by denying your nature, you make the period of upheaval longer, the death toll possibly higher?" Aiyat's expression was one of honest curiosity, as if they were discussing nothing more meaningful than his plans for the week ahead. "Would you actively oppose those who would bring this age to an end sooner instead of later?"

"Those who would slaughter innocents, you mean?" Charles raised his chin. "Yes. Without hesitation."

"And those who are not so innocent? There are already those who hunt our kind through fear, who have picked up on your concept of 'mutation' and let it fuel their hatred. Does their instinct to kill make them more worthy in your eyes, where ours makes us less?"

"What? No... you're twisting what I'm saying!"

"Am I? People are people – us and them, 'mutant' and baseline – and the issues are never less than impossibly complex." Aiyat toyed with her empty cup. "Sometimes it is simply easier to cut the Gordian knot and accept what nature demands."

He shook his head. "No. No."

"And yet others disagree – as I said, I have been watching. Your friend, the lodestone, the heir of Hephaestus." Aiyat smiled, and Charles felt his heart sink. "I've heard rumours of his history and he would have reason enough to follow his path even without biological imperative driving him on. But with it? Oh, he will be a giant amongst our kind, an angel and a demon and a god incarnate, and through his actions he will bring this period to a swifter end."

"Erik is hurting – he's confused, damaged by his childhood. Given time, he'll –"

"Time?" She laughed softly. "The world will remember his name, Soulreader – will it remember yours?"

Charles sighed and set his hands on the wheels of his chair. "I think that we've reached a natural end to this conversation, don't you? We're just going around in ever-decreasing circles."

Aiyat gazed at him for a long moment, then nodded. "Sadly, yes. My apologies for not giving you what you hoped to hear from me. I suspect that you would not want me speaking to those who look to you for guidance, like that rather pretty young man with the blond hair over there."

"Quite." Charles could feel the sincerity radiating from her, tempered with a wistful sorrow, a sort of pre-emptive grief for what she knew was to come. This wasn't an ideological crusade for her, he realised, but a simple anticipation of what must inevitably be. "If what you say is right... well, I'm certain that they'll work it out on their own."

"In my experience," she said quietly, "yes, they will. The only question will be how many of their lives are lost before they do."

Charles nodded and wheeled himself back from the table. "Thank you, Miss Aiyat," he said formally, extending a hand. "It's been a pleasure, of sorts."

"I trust that I have at least given you food for thought, Soulrea–" Aiyat caught herself and smiled as she stood to take his fingers in hers, meshing them for a moment in an unfamiliar gesture. "Professor Xavier. I shall watch your progress with interest."

And then there was simply no more to be said.

"You all right, Prof?" Alex was frowning as he helped Charles into the car, stowing the wheelchair away before climbing back into the driver's seat. "You look worried. What did she say to you?"

"What? Oh, nothing of import." Charles smiled at the younger man, deliberately projecting a sense of calm reassurance quite at odds with his roiling emotions. "She has... a life of her own already – she doesn't want to drop it for our little crusade."

"Pity," Alex said as he turned the key and the engine roared into life. "Would've been fun to have an immortal around – I bet she has some great stories to tell. How old was she, anyway?"

"There are some questions, Alex, that it simply isn't polite to ask a lady. And yes." Charles glanced out of the window as they pulled away from the kerb, watching as Aiyat strolled away from her table, not looking back as she returned to her long and eventful existence. The years to come would no doubt prove her words right or wrong, but if what she had said about having seen all of this before were true, if she was right and he was somehow holding humanity back from –

No.

No.

He couldn't accept that. He wouldn't. And yet....

Charles looked away. "Yes, she had stories to tell."

~ fin ~

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February 2012

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