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I need a Danglehopper

Posted on Sun Feb 5th, 2023 @ 10:43 by Cameron Johnston & Mhairi McIntyre
Edited on on Sun Feb 5th, 2023 @ 11:20

Chapter: Prologue: Dawn of Avalon
Location: New Cresthill
Timeline: Late morning, Thursday, 24th of September, 1992
4432 words - 8.9 OF Standard Post Measure

With cold white fingers Mhairi dug around under the hood of the volkswagen. They were decently made cars with easy to replace parts that were in abundance on the open market. The only downside was that they were also boring as hell to work on. It was very different from keeping the agricultural machines working in the relentless sun, sand, and dust of Central Africa. Added to that the Scottish cold of her hometown, and the fact that her dad insisted on double checking most of her work, she wasn't having a great time being back.

"Come on you little shite." She mumbled under her breath as she pulled out the offending dynamo and tossed it over her shoulder, also something that was less appreciated here than during her time backpacking across the world. Both the cussing and the tossing away of broken scrap. She had fixed combine harvesters with paperclips, but somehow her father still didn't trust her to recognise a completely burnt out dynamo that was beyond repair.

It was probably fair to say that the relationship between the townsfolk and those 'up at the Institute' was an odd dynamic. Trapped together within the confines of natural boundaries, forced into symbiosis through the sheer will of geography, there existed a very strained and uneasy truce that rippled like the flutter of a white flag to reflect the writhing discontent buried inches below the surface. At this level, zoomed in close enough for more direct scrutiny, it was harder to maintain the charade of being just 'some fancy prep school'. Had there been a decent amount of history behind it, perhaps tradition would have soothed some ruffled feathers, but the sudden emergence of this community, this unnecessary invasion of juveniles who surely had educational prospects within their own shires, struck a discord that could either be dismissed as petty rivalry or examined more closely to reveal the inherent bigotry and intolerance of generational custodianship. Outsiders were impositions by default. The fact that there was a good deal of mystique and subsequent mistrust around their origins didn't help matters.

With all that being said, Cameron actually liked his trips in for supplies. Certainly, there were those who gave him a wide berth, or the handful that were more prone to direct confrontation and accusation, but most were just honest people who simply didn't want to feel unsafe. Cameron had a disposition that put people at ease and, though he'd never consider himself much of an ambassador, his popularity amongst several of the key pillars of the community had gone a decent way towards allowing the Institute to get on with the business of existing sans pitchforks. He was nice to old ladies. He drank beer with the old guys and listened to their stories. More importantly, he remembered what he was told and its significance to the people who recounted the information. The benefits of a hyperactive mind.

With his hands stuffed into his pockets, he stepped into the garage without a second thought for checking to see if it was open. Hardly surprising, he often found himself here for hours on end when he had the time to spare, fascinated by older techniques and the creativity that came from having to make do. He was whistling, which he tended to do when content with the pace of his own company. He was quite good at it.

Mhairi turned at the whistling and was just in time to see the dynamo she had just tossed roll to a standstill in front of the visitor's feet. "Hi. Sorry 'bout tha'. What can I do ya for?" Even though she had spent several years away, the local accent and speech patterns had quickly returned once she had moved back in with her dad. She wiped her hands on a nearby cloth and leaned back to take in the full form of the man that had just walked into her old man's shop. She didn't recognise him, but he seemed to be around the same age as her. It led her to the conclusion that he was probably not a local. Perhaps his car had broken down somewhere and he had made a hike to the nearest garage. "Car trouble?"

There was a certain face that Cameron pulled when he was caught by surprise, something that Reagan liked to call his 'passing gas' face because it so closely resembled a young infant's mockery of a smile whilst in the process of expelling flatulence. To be fair, there was a lot of opportunity for his facial expression to be left to fend for itself, his mind had a tendency to outpace his reactions sometimes and thus he was stuck with the rigor mortis of open-faced amiability and slight, it had to be said, buffoonery. It was the rapid blinking of his eyes that usually alleviated the tension, or at the very least exposed his brief departure from making sense of his surroundings.

He glanced behind him. There was no reason for it, other than making sure he'd walked in the right door.

"That depends on your definition of trouble." Unlike hers, his accent was from further south, tinged a little from his years in the States, though something about being around the locals had confused his ear enough to flatten out that twang and replace it with another. His tone was warm, however, because even when he had no clue what was going on, Cameron found it hard to be anything other than welcoming. "Couple of months of solid work and she might be roadworthy again." He grinned, because nothing he was saying was liable to make much sense and he knew it. "Didn't know Graeme'd hired back-up." He had an inkling of who he was talking to but wasn't willing to play that hand quite yet.

"Ha, that would imply in being paid." Mhairi stepped closer to the man and put on a mock sour face that made her look more like her father; "the old man dinnae pay for me gallivanting around the world just fer the privilege to pay fer pokin around in me friend's cars." She really laid on the accent thickly for that particular impersonation. For a moment she kept her serious gaze before smiling widely.

She offered her hand in greeting, "Mhairi, sounds like the Virgin, but it's spelled like a drunk Scot fell on a typewriter."

There was enough recognition, just that hint of internal verification, in Cameron's expression to suggest he was a little more frequent around these parts than a wayward traveller fallen short on luck. And as was fairly typical of the man, his eyes lit up with a mixture of keen interest and warm delight not only because he'd been right in his initial guesses but because he was finally able to put a face to the name he'd heard so much about. Graeme might have been a pain in the ass to his daughter but he was proud of her. Cameron had always loved that about the endless recounts.

"Cameron," he extended a hand in return. "I occasionally come bother your old man and he tolerates me as long as I get my hands dirty once in a while."

She gave a nod, "So whereabouts are you situated?" It was her more subtle way to ask whether he was with the townsfolk or with the community down in the Loch. "Dad's running an errand in town, you can wait if you'd like." She pointed towards the small office off to the side of the garage, before she jabbed a thumb over her shoulder, "unless you want to make yourself useful."

It was always an awkward question the first time around, though there was no point in trying to deflect or fabricate a different answer. Cam opted, as always, to take it in his stride and provide a response that brushed over the implications of the admission. "If you can believe it, they actually let me teach workshop up at the Institute." The lift of his chin signified an effort to peer over her shoulder in the direction she'd pointed. "Mrs. Elwick's beetle giving you a hard time?"

"Mrs. Elwick is the hardest part to replace about this car." Mhairi gave a radiant smile to the strange man from up the hill. She went over to a nearby cabinet to look for a suitable replacement part for the dynamo she had just ripped out of the thing's guts. "My old man insists on just charging cost for poor Mrs. Elwick ever since Mr. Elwick kicked it. Honestly would've been cheaper to buy a new car for her." She plucked the part she needed from the rack and turned to face Cameron, "heads up." She waited a moment for him to respond and then lobbed the part across half the garage. "How's the pay for teaching kids to properly sand wood?"

Any time, regardless of location, impetus or intent, that Cameron attempted to avoid staring, he invariably failed. It was hard to curb natural inquisitiveness and it was equally as impossible to satiate it if you didn't spend some time observing the curious nature of things. This was a place of relative familiarity, a comfort that wasn't quite enough to cure homesickness but still provided that same kind of welcoming lack of assumption. Whilst the year ahead threatened to provide the mutant with more projects than he could keep up with, it hadn't always been that way and knowing that he could wander down and get his hands greasy whilst listening to Graeme ramble on about his daughter's exploits, or whatever other local gossip was currently doing the rounds, without any expectation beyond simply 'not making a mess of things' had made it far easier to settle into life so far away from his family. It felt a little strange to be meeting the main character of so many of those stories in the flesh, so to speak, but it was also just...nice.

On the other hand, admiring someone for so long and then being suddenly confronted with them did have a certain jarring quality to it.

The snap of attention was instant, just as were the reflexes to intercept the otherwise-solid throw. From a certain angle, it might have appeared that he'd left it too long, that there wasn't time enough for him to cover the distance forward that would make up for the throw's conservativeness. And yet, he caught it, against the chest no less, without a lot of easily-processed explanation for how.

"Oh, they don't let me near that side of things," he carried on forward, approaching the front of the car as he worked free the partial packaging still protecting the part from the elements. "Unless something breaks down and then apparently its worth the risk."

"Sorry, I thought. I mean." Mhairi furrowed her brow and grabbed another tool before making her way back to the car and leaning into the hood. "First thing I remember me and my dad making was a very rudimentary electric motor. Copper wire, magnets. We didn't have anything for it to actually motor, but it was cool." She smiled again and held out the tool that he needed to reconnect the new dynamo. "Don't know what happened to it, probably scrapped for parts."

As it happened, not many of the adults in Cameron's life ever really got to watch him work. The garages weren't a favourite hang-out space for most of the faculty and he tended to use that as a means of securing himself some thinking space without interruption when the pace of his thoughts made normal interactions difficult. Of course, the students got the benefit of his expertise, but only a handful of them truly appreciated it.

What most missed entirely was the reverence with which his hands traversed the inner workings of a complex network of circuitry, or as in this case, the interconnected components of a vehicle's heartbeat. Everyone liked to tease him about his dedication; even Phoebe had latched on to suggesting he elope with their jet. But he, much like Mhairi, had grown up alongside a father who had taught him the beauty of breathing life into cold iron. It was all in the nuances; the extra care to snake the tool into place without hitting anything on the way through, the way he set the hand balancing his weight in such a way as to dance his fingertips as an absent-minded caress, the studious concern that creased his brow as the first connection wanted to protest at accepting the new addition, and the patience of his movements as he gently wriggled the part to sit flush in place. Cam had a bedside manner for most things, including his machines.

"From what I've heard," he mused, without breaking his concentration, "You got it to start second try, and the first failure was his fault." It was as good a time as any to admit to a degree of prior knowledge.

Mhairi stood and simply appreciated the deftness with which Cameron navigated the innards of the car under the hood. "What this old thing?" She looked over the car and wondered when she had worked on it before, but it must've been before Mr. Elwick had passed. "Oh, the electric motor. He told you about that?" She looked at him a bit, wondering what else her father had been telling this stranger about her, his only daughter. "What else do you know about me?"

The slight smile that crossed Cameron's face even as he focused his attention on his current task was telling enough. As much as he was sure there were plenty of embarrassing stories from childhood, most of Graeme's reminiscing had been based on the recollections that were dredged up by having Cam's assistance and how much of a reflection that was of the times when his daughter had worked alongside him. There hadn't been a lot of dipping into things that didn't involve fixing one thing or another. "Oh, you know, pigtails and scraped knees and first crushes, the whole lot." With both hands still plunged into the car's innards, Cam turned his head enough to wink and then chuckled before turning back to finish the job. "Actually, he mostly talks about how good you are at this stuff and how proud he is of you for putting it to use in some pretty rough areas." Of course, that sounded far too direct for Graeme, not the best at conveying emotion. Reading between the lines hadn't been that hard. "And how much he's missed you."

Her heart thumped in her chest, though she wasn't quite sure why. This man who she knew next to nothing about seemed privy to her father's inner feelings around her. A man that could barely tell her he was proud of how she choose to spend her skills and time. Always complaining about how expensive it had been to get her the tickets to Africa. Always complaining he barely got a postcard in return. She knew he was proud of her, she knew he loved her, she knew he missed her and was scared for her until she safely returned. She just never knew he'd find someone to talk to about that sort of thing. "I'm sure he has plenty to say about my methods." It was the only thing she could say, face flushed red, adorned with an awkward smile. "I've missed him too." It was weird to say this to a stranger, even weirder knowing that she hadn't explicitly told her father this directly, and neither him to her.

She cleared her throat a bit as she saw him finishing up the work with the dynamo and took a step back. "So, what can we help you with, up on the hill?"

There was a chance, should Graeme ever be made aware of this particular conversation, that Cameron's interpretation might have garnered a measure of protest. The mutant wasn't all that concerned, confident enough in his translation and certainly of a mind to believe that emotional honesty was better in the long run. That may just have come from being horrendously bad at masking his feelings but they did tell you to play to your strengths, after all. Grabbing a nearby rag to wipe off his hand, he then reached into his back pocket and pulled out a scrap of paper. The writing on it was clearly the work of an exceptional medical practitioner, if one's capabilities as a doctor were in any way related to how illegible their handwriting was.

"Well, that depends. Do you want to hear about the Camaro first or the Suzuki?"

"Ooh. Conundrums." Mhairi tried to look at the scrap of paper and saw nothing but scribbles. "What the 'ell is a danglehopper?" She stepped back again to stay out of range of any form of retaliation. "What kind of Camaro are we talking? Classic or Modern?"

For a moment, Cam's only response was a deadpan. If he hadn't known better, he'd have been tempted to accuse Reagan of spreading vicious slander again. The word dyslexic lived and died on his lips without expression, mostly because there didn't seem any need to make a big deal out of something that didn't actually bother him that much. Instead, he reached out to take the paper back and then very pointedly ran his finger along the scribbles as he enunciated, "Cr-aaank-shaaaft." A closer inspection did leave him inclined to concede her point, though it clearly didn't warrant admitting. "She's a '73 Chevrolet Camaro Z28, belongs to a friend. Beautiful shade of green."

Mhairi looked at the word he had traced again and shook her head, whatever it said, it definitely wasn't crankshaft. She was shaken from her ruminations by the mention of the exact details of the Camaro. "Are you kidding me? So you casually stroll in, make small talk about how you're best buddies with my old man, and help me dig around in the most mundane volkswagen the krauts could think of." She shook her head to try and sort out her thoughts, "way te bury the feckin' lead."

She took in a deep breath at the request for a crankshaft of a '73 Camaro. "This friend of yours have anythin' else buried in that Loch o' theirs? Chest of gold dubloons? Excalibur? The Loch Ness monster?"

There had always been the slight risk that the weakest part of their entire secret underwater base plan was Cameron himself. He had a face that didn't lie very well, and having a mind that moved like quicksilver didn't always come with the benefit of having a tongue that could keep up. "Probably about five," he agreed, moving swiftly into the ludicrous before his expression had any chance to complicate matters. "Whole family of them. We call the little one Chester."

It took him all of five seconds to realise he'd got that name from a word she'd just used.

"I don't know how she pulled it off, or how the hell she managed to drag it all the way over here, but she's in my garage and she's bloody beautiful and, right now, she needs a new crankshaft." Cameron paused. "The Camaro, at least, not my friend."

"I was hoping you weren't keeping friends in your garage. That woulda been weird." Mhairi resisted the urge to comment on the fact that there was nothing wrong with a good crankshaft every now and again. "I'll let you know when we find one. I'm sure there's someone that has one laying around..." She started to walk over to the small office she had indicated at the start of their meeting, "maybe they'll have to dig through all of their '52 C-type sparkplugs to get to it, but I'm sure we'll find one." For restauration projects it was always best to get the original parts. Or perhaps not best but it felt the most genuine. They always had the choice to handmake a replacement, but she didn't have those skills and seeing as he came to her he probably didn't either. "So, I take it you dinnea have a friend with 'crankshaft producin' abilities, then?"

"I haven't exhausted all my options yet," Cam protested, despite the fact that he probably had. At least the ones that wouldn't require more research. "But can you hear your father now if I'd take this somewhere else first?" It was an appeal, the press of a hand over his heart and the feigned desperation of frantic eyes. He was a brave man but even heroes had their limits.

"Ye'd take yer business te that good for nothin' O'Malley then, if ye dinnae think ol' Graeme would be able to take care of ya fancy car needs. See how you like bein' shafted!" Mhairi was back with her angry sour commentary, trying to lower her voice for good measure, before she leaned over the desk to write down some of the details he had shared with her. "You know..." She straightened up and turned around with a smile adorning her face again. "I think it might be better if I see this Camaro, actually. Maybe there's something you missed." A devious spark in her eyes challenged him, hoping that he would be the kind of guy that wouldn't let someone get away with calling him a poor or inattentive mechanic.

Somewhere, in the distance, alarm bells rang. Were they even allowed to invite non-faculty onto the grounds? Non-mutants?

Unless she is a mutant. Graeme had never mentioned. Would he though? Surely something would have slipped, she doesn't look... Well, not all of us look... But there'd have been something, half the town speculates about the Institute already, if his own daughter...

At the speed with which his mind worked, Cameron had only stared for several seconds whilst confusion threatened to short circuit his ability to reason. He'd never been confronted by the possibility of someone wanting to visit him at work and had certainly never thought to ask if there were procedures and processes that would allow it. He was pretty reasonably sure that security issues made it a terrible idea, there was far too much risk of inadvertently inviting anti-mutant protestors onto the grounds, or worse, the press. Cameron knew all of this and yet the question still threw him, his mouth hanging open in stunned silence. Panic was only partially the cause.

Being blindsided by her smile hadn't been factored into his retort.

"Missed?," was what he finally arrived on, and was instantly relieved that the indignation made a perfect cover for his lapse in composure. "Listen here, our Mhairi," he pronounced the name as her father would, "the day I don't know what an eroded crankshaft looks like is the day I turn my toes up and kiss the daisies." He was pretty sure he'd just muddled two phrases into one but he wasn't Scottish. It was probably obvious.

Mhairi put up her hands in surrender and was surprised at hearing her name properly pronounced by an outsider, it took her aback for a bit. "It's just. I'm sure a car from that year might have some more deficiencies." She was just looking for an excuse to put her hands on a '73 Camaro. "I understand you're all a bit more reluctant to let us normies through the gates." She nodded a bit at that but couldn't just drop it there. "I just want you to know I've seen what prejudice and bigotry does to a people, and I'm not that." Then a shrug, to try and alleviate some of the tension her proposal to come have a look at the car seemed to have caused. "I'm sure we have your phone number on file somewhere. I'll give you a call when we've found what you're looking for. Might be a while though, so dinnae hold your breath."

And now he was properly flustered. Generally speaking, Claire's intention was to keep the school's status under wraps. That had been largely successful in terms of the bigger picture but arguably less so when it came to the speculation, and admittedly living proof, of the local's interactions with the students and staff. Some mutants just couldn't hide their gifts, and whilst Cameron had always understood that he was lucky not to be a visible target, he couldn't bring himself these days to hide behind that luxury unless it was back in his family's neighbourhood, surrounded by people who could once again make their lives miserable. Mhairi had spoken with too much authority to outright contradict, and he wasn't honestly sure that he wanted to. Something about the way she spoke conveyed sincerity and it was hardly a good time to be turning away potential allies.

His shoulders deflated somewhat. It would never be just about what he wanted.

"I wouldn't have a problem with you visiting," he said quietly. "But it's not really my call. It's not even my car," Cam added with a huff of tired laughter.

"I know." Mhairi leaned back against the desk and looked the man in front of her over. There certainly seemed to be a lot going on in his mind. A lot more than he was telling her. Who could blame him, they barely knew each other. "It's alright." She understood perfectly why someone like her couldn't simply stroll into a place like Avalon like nothing was different. Like the world wasn't slowly unravelling around them at the fact that the people within those walls were fundamentally different from the people outside of them. It hurt to realise that even with the wall crumbling down, and the internet starting to connect them across unmatched, they still lived in a world where people died trying to stand up for what is right. "Graeme or I will reach out when the part comes in. Promise."

A look of genuine gratitude, softened by a similar weariness in regards to the precautions he had to take that went against his nature, relaxed Cam's features into a smile. "Thank you." It was a simple response but direct in its honesty. "And hey," he rallied, because he always would, "the crankshaft's just the first problem." The smile turned predictably towards a grin. "Wait 'til I tell you about her fuel injectors."


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