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" Charles, you're on in ten minutes," Cooper's hand hovered over his shoulder, but failed to come to rest. She moved it back to her side.

Xavier looked up at her - blue eyes sharp, piercing. " You regret inviting me for this." It was not a question, but a statement. He sensed her unease, masked though it was, and interpreted it as such.

" It would have had to be, Charles. After New York, tensions have been running high. People need someone to reassure them, and reason with them."

He nodded. He understood what she meant. There would have been few other paths to take.

Then again...

" I fear that," he said quietly, as he was turning towards the stage entrance, " there will be those who will not wish to listen to reason, but take recourse in violence instead."

" Don't be such a pessimist, Charles. There will be others who will listen."

" I pray for that, Val; I pray in earnest that there will be those."

He wheeled himself towards the stage. He sensed a smothering hostility in the crowd. They were against him, for sure. But they might be willing to listen to reason. For the moment.

As he came into view of the audience, the hostility rose and he winced mentally at the flood of anger and hatred that beat upon the shields he had erected to protect his mind from their unconscious assault.

Few people ever truly understood what it meant to be a telepath. One was given the gift of reading the minds of others; but one also continuously faced the danger of having one's own consciousness overrun by the uncontrolled, undisciplined minds of others.

Being the world's most powerful psychic did mean that Charles possessed greater power over the minds of other men. But it also meant that his sensitivity to undisciplined minds was even more acute.

In a crowd of such minds, rendered even wilder by emotion, he would have to be careful not to allow them to influence his thinking.

Val came on stage, following him. She would make the introduction. After that, he would be on his own.

" Professor Xavier is a world-renowned geneticist, specialising in human mutations. As such, he is also an acknowledged expert in mutant affairs and has been very much involved in all mutant-related discussions at the highest levels. He was also one of those consulted in the most recent mutant uprising at New York. Ladies and Gentlemen... Professor Xavier."

Scattered applause from the audience sounded, and was hushed rather suddenly, even before Charles wheeled himself to the podium.

Perhaps Val was right, and there are some who are genuinely here to listen.

If so, then today, he would have to convince these few people to lay down the flag of anti-mutant hysteria. It would be a small step indeed. And he wondered, if small steps were to be enough these days.

Turn the page...