Body and Soul I: The Body Snatcher
Chapter 1: The Fall of the Tower
I wore the clothes you wanted
I took your name
If there is some confusion,
who's to blame?
I sequenced your arrival
I sealed your fate
I pushed the button
and erased your master tape
If there is some confusion
who's to blame?
--REM, "I Took Your Name"
For him, standing on a street corner in the middle of a big city was rather akin to a normal person walking into a stadium full of cheering, screaming fans, all yelling something different, usually at the top of their lungs. The magnetic fields around him were a cacophony composed of car engines and traffic light switches and electrical wires and radio/TV waves cauterizing the air, howling in his head. He could stand New York City, he could stand Paris, and that was about it-- the cultural opportunities both afforded compensated for how irritating he found cities in general. Philadelphia, however, was probably fairly high on the list of least pleasant cities to spend his time in. What passed for culture here was provincial American glorification of their ridiculously recent past. In general, he preferred Americans when they didn't try to pretend they had a past... fortunate, since in his work, he had to deal with a lot of Americans, and most of them were completely myopic about history. Not an endearing trait, that, but better than their patriotic glossing over of the genocides they'd committed and the assassinations they'd caused, the litany of their crimes. It wasn't as if the Americans were actually any worse than any other nation, of course, but they were so damned self-righteous about it.
Whereas you, of course, haven't a single self-righteous bone in your body. He smiled thinly, recognizing the hypocrisy. But then, he didn't pretend to be anything other than he was-- a terrorist fighting for the freedom and security of his particular minority. A freedom fighter by any other name. History would decide whether he was a visionary or a madman on the basis of whether or not he won.
And right now, whether or not he won probably depended on how well he prepared for the inevitable battle, which was what he was doing in Philadelphia in the first place. His supplier-- an import/export company dealing in bulk foods, a very discreet business that had so far never asked him why he wanted enough food to stock a small city-- had moved to Philadelphia because the superhero insurance was a lot lower. Ironic, that, considering that one of their biggest customers was a wanted supercriminal who might well accidentally draw a battle down onto them simply by standing in their office. But then, the world thought he was dead, so Magneto considered the chance of this happening to be reasonably slight. The meeting had gone well, the next shipment of food to his staging ground in the Pacific had been arranged, and now all he had to do was get out of this accursed city without attracting the attention of Cerebro, 140 miles to the north. It wouldn't do for Charles to know Magneto lived, yet. Mostly because he was still too weak from his fall from the heavens to withstand a battle with the X-Men, and after the catastrophe their last meeting had turned into, he knew that no matter how reasonable his words, however sensible his beliefs, the X-Men would still attack him, simply for being alive and for not kowtowing to almighty Charles' vision of ideal human/mutant relations.
So he stood on a street corner, impatiently waiting for the light to turn, though he was perfectly capable of reaching out with his power and throwing the switch himself, because any use of his power this close to Cerebro would probably be rather like sending Charles an engraved invitation. That, and he felt like a bull in a china closet here. Cities were such delicate things, to one who perturbed magnetic fields simply by existing. A simple use of his power to change a traffic light here might send a flux through nearby power lines that might electrocute innocent people, and he was still trying to avoid hurting the innocent. He might have to kill civilians in his war for a mutant homeland, but he considered it morally imperative to make the casualties as low as possible. Certainly he didn't want anyone to die just because he wanted to cross the street in a hurry. Thus he held back, waiting.
Words didn't do justice to how much he hated cities.
As he waited, a young woman approached him, a frantic and distracted look to her face. "Excuse me, sir, can you tell me how to get to City Hall?"
He glanced at her. "I'm not a native of this city. You'd do better to ask someone else."
She looked around at all the people bustling past. "Are you sure? I mean, you don't have any idea at all?" she asked in a lost voice, as if she considered him her only hope.
As it happened, he did have some idea of what she was talking about. "I believe that you can take a subway there. Or no, I believe here they call it an elevated train. There are stops all along Market Street--" he pointed in the general direction of Market Street. "Cross over to that street and ask a native where the nearest El stop is. I don't recall the cost of the fare, but it's probably inexpensive, and there is a stop for City Hall, I believe." He didn't take subways himself-- taxis were considerably more anonymous, and rented cars better still, for one who considered money no object-- but he tried to know as much as he could about the rapid transit systems of any given city he visited, as he could cause serious damage by using his powers too near a subway's third rail if he didn't compensate for it. And also because, in general, he liked to know his way around. It wasn't inconceivable that he'd have to hide from pursuers in a subway. Certainly preferable to hiding from them on a boat, something he actually had done and regretted every minute of.
She smiled broadly. "Thank you," she said effusively, and reached to clasp his hand. "Thank you so much--"
Startled, but not wishing to be rude, Magneto let her touch his hand. He didn't imagine for a moment she might be a threat, until the world exploded, and then it was far too late.
The first thing he noticed was that his head hurt worse than it had in twenty years, when the migraines he used to get had finally tapered off. The second thing he noticed was that he was in some kind of vehicle, being transported somewhere, and that he was leaning against something warm and large and human-shaped. And the third thing he noticed was that he didn't know where he was.
This was actually quite terrifying. Magneto's sense of the geomagnetic field ensured that no matter where he was, no matter what had been done to him, he always knew where he was. The talent was not always as useful as it could be-- when he'd been kidnapped by the alien Stranger and taken to another planet, all his powers had been able to tell him was that he wasn't on Earth, which he'd known already. But even then, there wasn't this terrifying absence, this total blindness and numbness to the electromagnetic fields around him.
He tried to summon power. Nothing came. Not even pain, which usually accompanied unsuccessful attempts to invoke his magnetic abilities. It was as if his powers were simply gone. Even the passive ones-- he hadn't been able to wield magnetism until past his 24th birthday, but he'd had an internal compass since he could walk far enough to get lost if he hadn't had one. Even under the effects of power suppressant fields, even when Zaladane had stripped him of almost everything he had, he had always had that. Now it was gone, and the surge of fear he felt gave him sufficient energy to open his eyes.
The light was blinding, additional agony to go with the pain in his head. Involuntarily, he moaned, shutting his eyes again and trying to lift his arm to block his eyes, so he could open them with better control of the light flow. But his body was sluggish and unresponsive.
"You're waking up already? I'm impressed."
The voice was strangely familiar. A man's voice, deep and resonant, with an American accent. He knew that voice. It was coming from right beside his ear, presumably from whoever he was leaning on. Magneto turned his head toward the sound-- moving slowly, as any sudden movement made it feel as if his head was about to fall off-- and cautiously opened his eyes again.
And stared at his own doppelganger, silhouetted in red afternoon sunlight.
Afternoon? It was early morning when I lost consciousness... For a moment he floundered in confusion. Could he have managed to mistake afternoon for morning? Without his power to tell him what direction they were traveling, he couldn't know that reddening sun was setting instead of rising... but no, he didn't feel as if he'd been unconscious through an entire night and toward a new morning. And the sun had been higher and brighter when... whatever had happened had occurred. Had the woman attacked him? It was the only possibility, but then what was the significance of the man who looked just like him? Shapechanger, perhaps?
He felt a hand on his leg. It felt as if the hand was touching bare skin, though he 'd been wearing pants when he lost consciousness. "Well, I'm glad to see you waking up so promptly," the voice said, and now he knew where he'd heard it. It was exactly like his own, except that the speaker had an American accent and cadenced his words very differently than Magneto would have. Like a different person, speaking in his voice. Not a perfect doppelganger, then. "It hasn't been any real fun with you asleep."
The hand moved up his leg, stroking it. The sensation was irritating and overfamiliar. Magneto looked down, and stared stupidly at what he was seeing for several seconds, unable to process it. The hand on his leg was grotesquely huge, even though it looked just like his own. No, it wasn't huge. It was just bigger than it should be against his leg. His leg was too small, too thin, and shaped wrong. And the wrong color. It was still white, but with a more sallow tinge to it than his own extremely pink flesh. And why was he able to look directly at the flesh of his leg, anyway? Where were his pants? Whatever shirt he was wearing, it was too light, too cool-feeling to be his shirt, and there was something constricting around his chest, and his socks and shoes were gone, replaced with wooden clogs and bare skin, and instead of pants he seemed to be wearing something blue that bunched up around his waist and upper thighs and left all the rest of his legs bare. And the hand lying limply beside his leg was far too small, and...
He looked back up at the doppelganger. "Who... are you?" he forced out, past a dry and hoarse throat-- and froze in shock. The voice speaking those words was cadenced as his own was, did have his own accent-- but it wasn't his voice. It was a woman's.
"Isn't it obvious?" the doppelganger said, and smiled broadly, an expression that would never have made its home on Magneto's face. "I'm the Master of Magnetism. And you... are nobody."
Suddenly he knew what had happened. Painfully he looked down at the hands that probably belonged to him, focusing on trying to move them. They twitched, proving his theory. Delicate female hands; the strong masculine hand that should have been his and wasn't was still running up and down the leg that shouldn't have been his and was.
"My... body..." he said hoarsely. "You... took..."
"You are quick on the uptake," the other said. "Yes, I took your body. And a lovely body it is, too. Why, I can control almost every aspect of this car without even having to think about it hard. We ran out of gas two hours back, and it just doesn't matter."
Car. Yes, that fit. The ride was too smooth, too quiet to be a train or plane. He was in a car, in the back seat, sitting next to the body snatcher, leaning on her in fact since he didn't seem to have the strength to support his own weight. It was a taxicab. He could see someone in the front seat, driving the car. But that didn't make sense; she had said she was controlling the car, with the powers she'd stolen from him when she took his body and left him in hers. Did she leave him in hers? That made sense; he hadn't been able to see what this body looked like very well, but the blue thing bunched around his waist could very well be the denim skirt the young woman on the street had worn. Of course, there were no guarantees that that had been her real body, either. She might be serially jumping from body to body, dumping her new victims into the bodies she'd just vacated.
"Oh, you're concerned for the driver? Don't be. He's quite beyond your concern." She smiled cruelly at him. "If I were you, I'd be more worried about what I'm going to do to you."
His head hurt so much, and he was starting to feel nauseous. He really was in no condition to deal with this. Not that it mattered. "Taking me... where?"
"Someplace safe. Someplace far removed from civilization, where no one's likely to come investigate." She grinned again.
This was not promising. "I've... allies... find me... stop you..." A lie. His Acolytes were all dead, murdered by Cortez's manipulations and his own blind foolishness in succumbing to them. He still didn't fully understand why he had lived, why once again he'd been the sole survivor. But he had vowed not to let anyone else flock to his banner until he was prepared, until he had once again raised Asteroid M and made all the necessary provisions for its inhabitants' safety. Right now, he had no allies, no one who would notice if he lived or died. Most of the world thought him dead already. He hoped, though, that perhaps the lie would give her pause.
"I doubt it," she said cheerily. "If they come looking for you, what they'll find is me. And I'll seem to them to be you. I don't think any of your allies would be overly concerned about one human woman, now would they?"
"I... will stop... you..."
"I'm sure you will. One fragile, feeble, powerless female against the Master of Magnetism. I'm already trembling with fear."
Her voice-- his voice, her tone-- was amused, as if he were so little threat to her that his posturing couldn't even make her angry or defensive. Which, in his current condition, was very likely the case. Magneto cursed the impulse that had let the woman touch him. Lost his edge, not paranoid enough by far. He should at least have thrown up a biomagnetic shield. But the damage Cortez had done him had weakened him enough to make such subtle operations difficult, and who expected a slightly pudgy, ordinary girl with mousy hair, asking for directions on a Philadelphia street, to be a threat? Stupid, stupid. He'd been in this business long enough to know better. Never let down your guard. Well, he wouldn't make that mistake again, if he survived this.
The car, which had been making its way up a pebbly dirt trail through forest, now came to a rest beside a small wooden house, nestled in a small clearing amongst the trees. "We're home. I suggest you take a good look at the outdoors while you still can. This is going to be the last breath of fresh air you get for a very, very long time."
She got out of the car. Frantically he tried to make his borrowed body work, fighting the pain and the sluggishness, trying to crawl away from the door. This didn't faze her in the slightest; she simply walked around the car, opened the other door, reached in, and pulled him out, using nothing more than his stolen body's physical strength. Weakly he tried to resist, but this body simply had no strength-- he desperately hoped that was a temporary aftereffect of the transition, not a permanent state. She lifted him, and now he could see that the driver was dead, springs from within the seat driven into the back of his neck, holding him in place. Fury welled. The body snatcher had murdered an innocent with his powers. But there was nothing he could do-- he hadn't the strength to escape her grip as she carried him into the house and down a flight of stairs into a basement.
"Your body is so magnificently strong. I can carry you with hardly any exertion at all," she gushed. "This is wonderful! Oh, I'm so glad I went into Philly yesterday. To think I'd have missed this opportunity!"
There was a bed in the basement, also a bathroom with no door. The body snatcher dumped Magneto on the bed. "You're still entirely too out of it," she said. "Take a nap, relax. The weakness you're feeling will pass. Then we'll begin the real fun."
She floated back up the stairs, chuckling gleefully. At the top of the stairs, he heard the door close and an iron bolt slide shut on its other side.
Move! He didn't know how long he had before she came back, and he was fairly certain he didn't want to be around for it if at all possible. If he was going to escape, it would be best to do it now. He forced himself to sit up, kicking the wooden clogs this body was wearing off his feet. The world swayed dizzily, and the nausea increased severalfold. With a terrific effort of will, he forced himself not to throw up right there, and tried to stagger off the bed, heading for the washroom. He was too dizzy to stay upright, though, and fell to hands and knees as soon as he was off the bed. The skirt tangled around his knees as he tried to crawl; he had to keep stopping to pull it free, and every brief delay to do so made him think he wasn't going to reach the washroom in time. But he was practiced enough at fighting nausea that he did indeed make it to the toilet before finally letting this rebellious borrowed body have its way.
Even after he'd emptied the contents of his stomach, he was racked with dry heaves for a minute or two more. Eventually he got them to stop, and by leaning heavily on first the toilet and then the nearby sink, got himself upright. He stared at the mirror over the sink. It was the young woman who'd wanted directions, all right. Smallish, maybe 5 foot 4 at most, with thick, somewhat greasy light brown hair, shoulder length and straight. She had brown eyes, set slightly too close together, and a nose a little too big to be attractive, and she weighed a little too much-- it showed in the puffy roundness of a face that should have been more like a triangle. Not a tremendously attractive girl, which made him think that this was her original body after all. Why would a body snatcher steal such an ordinary looking body? And if that was the case, that placed her age-- this body was somewhere between 23 and 27, he was fairly sure. So the body snatcher was young, possibly inexperienced. Advantages for him. He needed all that he could get.
When he tried to drink some water, to compensate for what he'd just lost, his stomach rebelled again, and he retched. Obviously he couldn't put anything in his stomach now. He settled for rinsing his mouth out with the water without swallowing, to wash the taste of the vomit out of his mouth and fool his dry and acid-burned throat into thinking he'd drunk something.
Though much of the nausea had passed now that there was nothing left in his stomach, the headache had if anything gotten worse, and he still was too dizzy to stand unassisted. There were ways to deal with headaches. Close your eyes and let them unfocus under your lids. Rub your temples. Breathe evenly and deeply. None of it worked any better than it had the last few times he'd had truly severe headaches. Magneto opened his eyes, giving up on the attempt to conquer the migraine. He lurched from the sink to the doorjamb-- the bathroom had once had a door, it had just been removed, apparently-- and from there fell to the floor and crawled back to the bed, again wrestling with the skirt as he did so.
In this condition, it was unlikely he was going anywhere. Magneto scanned the room, looking for anything that might mean a weapon or a way to escape. The windows were the kind you found in basements-- small, looking out just over the dirtline, and they were glazed with safety glass and barred. The bars were the sort to keep burglars out, not prisoners in, but the effect would be the same. No escape there. The top of the stairs might be possible, if he were stronger-- the door had been bolted, he'd heard that clearly, but perhaps he could break down the door, or smash a hole in it. But he'd only be able to do that if she left the house, as she'd certainly hear him trying to escape that way, and she'd probably think to reinforce the door with steel, given that she had his powers. He'd already seen there was no exit from the bathroom, so unless there was a hidden door someplace, he was not going to be able to escape anytime soon.
The question was, what would that cost him? The fact that she hadn't killed him immediately didn't mean she wouldn't kill him at all. Serial killers often kept their victims captive for hours, days or weeks before killing them. Which was it? If she was going to kill him quickly he had to keep struggling to find an escape route, regardless of how sick he felt and how little chance he had, because he couldn't simply give up and allow someone to kill him. On the other hand, if she was planning to keep him alive for some time, he could take the chance that there would be a better opportunity to escape later, when he was rested and this horrible sickness had worn off. Whatever she chose to do to him could be endured, as long as it didn't kill him.
He considered. If this was her original body, she might be reluctant to kill it, perhaps even unable. A fragile thread to hang his life on, but there was more. She had said he wouldn't be seeing the outside world again "for a very long time," implying that she intended to hold him captive for a very long time. If she had intended to kill him, it was most likely that she'd have said "ever."
To hell with it. He was probably rationalizing, trying to convince himself that she wasn't going to kill him so that he could excuse trying to sleep off the sickness. He really didn't have sufficient evidence one way or the other. But he couldn't escape right now. He was entirely too sick, and if he used one of the very few opportunities he'd be given to escape, in his current condition he'd just end up wasting it. If she intended to kill him, there was absolutely nothing he could do. He curled up on the bed and closed his eyes, trying to force himself to sleep despite the tension he felt. It was not that hard a thing to do-- he'd become practiced at sleeping the night before battles, or sleeping the night before the Germans made their selections and condemned people to the gas chambers, when either way he might not live to see another sunset.
Body Snatcher: Chapter One Part B
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