Twin Poles One: Journeyman of Magnetism Part 2
Rotating Disclaimer: Yes, this is part two of "Journeyman of Magnetism", the first story in the Twin Poles series, the series that sets out to try to do right every single Marvel cliche. Except for Summerses. Mama don't 'low no Summerses round here.
Marvel owns 'em all, except for the ones it doesn't, and only they are allowed to make money off them. This part contains some disturbing and graphic imagery. Yeah, you thought it was gonna be a laugh romp when you read the first part, right? Life is funny like that. :-)
"Joseph!" The voice was distant. Desperately Joseph fought to regain his bearings, to slow his fall, but the feedback had stunned him and his powers were sluggish to respond. He felt Rogue catch him. By the time she'd landed he was mostly recovered, enough to levitate himself out of her arms and stand up straight, or mostly straight, anyhow.
"Joseph!" It was Storm. "What happened?"
He probed again. Nothing there. "I'm... not entirely sure," he confessed reluctantly, walking somewhat shakily over to the edge of the field, where he'd detected it. Still nothing.
"Give me a report," Scott demanded, arriving at a dead run and somewhat out of breath.
"I sensed a powerful magnetic field, right around here," Joseph began, hesitantly. They were outside the game now, and he was no longer an expert, no longer a team leader-- once again, now, the mistrusted weak link.
"How long had it been there?" Bishop demanded.
"I have no idea. It was-- I don't know how better to describe it-- it was folded in on itself. Focused in one area, nothing projecting outward, so it would have evaded my detection indefinitely if I hadn't scanned the entire field while I was coming down." He reached out and waved his hand through the area, as if expecting to encounter something invisible. Nothing met his touch. "When I tried to probe it, it sent-- static at me. As if, for a moment, it overloaded my own ability to detect and control magnetic fields with a charge too great, too rapidly changing, for me to process it. It disrupted my powers completely for a moment."
"Are you all right?" Rogue asked.
"I seem to be, yes." Except he had a terrible headache.
"Where did you detect the field?" Bishop asked.
Logan loped over and sniffed. "Ain't nothing been here but you, Joey."
"Are you sure?"
"You sure you detected a magnetic field?"
"I could hardly be wrong about that."
"Me neither. Scents don't lie. There was anything other than you over here, even a robot, and I'd know it."
"How the heck is this possible?" Bobby asked. "You're supposed to be the Master of Magnetism, aren't you? So how could something generating a magnetic field hide from you, much less nail you when you caught it?"
"I never titled myself Master of Magnetism," Joseph snapped. "That was Magneto, and if you had failed to observe, I am not Magneto-- not in the ways that matter. I do not share his ideology, his insanity-- nor, unfortunately, his skill. All it would take would be a wielder of electromagnetic energies with more skill than I have, not more skill than Magneto had." He considered. "That being said, I still don't understand it either. Magneto I may not be, but I'm not wholly incompetent either. Polaris could not have done this, and I know of no one else."
"Quasar?" Jean asked.
"Why would he bother to spy on us?" Beast asked. "I've met the lad, and he seems a straightforward soul."
"Why didn't any of us see the whatever it was?" Bobby asked.
"It was bending light rays around itself," Joseph answered. "Had we been looking straight at it, and something had moved behind it, we'd have observed a distortion. But out here, nothing would likely have moved behind the field."
"Could you do that?" Bishop asked.
"Certainly, it's a simple trick." Bishop scowled; apparently that wasn't what he'd wanted to hear.
"I'm going to check Cerebro's logs," Psylocke said.
"Good idea. Joseph, I want you to keep scanning. Tell us if there's anything unusual. Jean, you detect anything?" Scott asked.
"Already looked, lover, and no. I got a distress flare from Joseph when he fell, but nothing from the surrounding area."
"Well, keep a lookout out. That goes for everyone. Let's go see what Psylocke has for us."
Inside the mansion, the entire complement of X-Men trooped warily into what had once been Charles Xavier's study. Psylocke sat with Cerebro on her head, looking over the logs and shaking her head.
"Nothing is present now," she said. "And the only thing here that's remotely suspicious is a double blip for Joseph."
"What's that mean, a double blip?" Gambit asked. "If there be two of Joseph, I figure that sound suspicious enough, non?"
"It might have significance, but it most likely doesn't. Cerebro is powerful enough to detect mutants hundreds of miles away, and with that kind of sensitivity you get false positives. Powerful mutants in close proximity to Cerebro often show up in duplicate or even triplicate." She glanced at Joseph. "You used to duplicate all the time when you were here last."
"Of course, the last time someone showed up in duplicate, it was you, Betsy," Hank said. "And indeed, there were two of you. Can we rule out the possibility that somehow, there were two of Joseph?"
"A Magneto-bot?" Scott said. "Magneto claimed that it was a robot duplicate that worked with Mesmero; could there be other such duplicates running around?"
"How could you build a robot duplicate of me? Wouldn't channeling the power required destroy the robot's systemry?"
"It can be done," Storm said, turning toward Joseph. "We have never encountered a robot duplicate of Magneto-- we, meaning those of us who joined the X-Men later-- but we did encounter duplicates of all of us. Including Shadowcat, whose power disrupts electronics. So clearly it can be done."
"I tell you there wasn't any flaming robot," Logan growled. "Even the best ones have a funny scent to them. I'd've smelled that."
"Besides, I may not have Magneto's skill, but I'm sure I could outdo a robot duplicate of him," Joseph said, slightly miffed that this was even being taken seriously as a possibility. "They can't be very intelligent."
"Do not be so certain. The Doom bots we've encountered have been terribly convincing," Storm said. "Of course, I suspect Magneto was less sophisticated a programmer than Doom."
"Is there any possibility it's something Magneto himself left the last time he was here?" Jean asked.
Joseph shook his head. He'd never been clear on the timeline-- he knew Magneto had worked with the X-Men once, since they often spoke of him "betraying" them and he knew he'd been friends with Charles Xavier, but he wasn't certain how many years ago that had been. Still, it was impossible. "That was not a permanent alteration to the local magnetic fields. Something was there, generating it."
"What about Onslaught?" Scott asked. "He had Magneto's powers."
"Great. Another enemy returning from the dead," Warren muttered.
"Unlikely. Onslaught had a very different psionic signature," Psylocke said. "Let me show you." She pulled up the two signatures, Joseph's and Onslaught's. "As you can see, while Onslaught did have Magneto's magnetic powers, the fact that he also shared Professor Xavier's telepathic powers makes his signature very different to Cerebro. In comparison--" she pulled up a third signature-- "this is Magneto. Notice it is identical to Joseph's. And this is Polaris, and you'll note how far removed hers is from any of the others'."
"Could Joseph himself be the source of the anomalous field?" Scott asked slowly.
Joseph scowled. "I don't see what motive you could conceivably think I have for putting on a ruse like this."
"No, not a ruse." He turned to Jean. "If the real Magneto were still present in Joseph's brain-- or if some element of Onslaught had survived, and was hiding there, without Joseph's knowledge-- and that second consciousness had attacked Joseph with his own power, could that have caused a double blip?"
Jean nodded. "Definitely. You'd have two of the same mind-- or what looks to Cerebro like the same mind, anyway-- using the same physical set of powers twice. Given that Onslaught without the Professor is Magneto, essentially, or Magneto's dark side at any rate, I don't think Cerebro could make the distinction if either Magneto or Onslaught was present in Joseph's mind."
"But I sensed something outside myself," Joseph protested.
"Of course you did," Jean said. "Joseph, do you know anything about brain disorders?"
"...no." Safe answer-- if he knew, he didn't know what he knew.
"Apply an electric current to the right part of the brain, and the person thinks they're hearing voices, or eating foods. Stroke can lead people to think half their body doesn't exist, is alien to them. If you subconsciously sensed a presence in your brain, without the training a telepath has in separating self from other, you might naturally have believed the presence to be outside yourself."
"But in a specific place?"
"That could certainly happen," Jean said.
"Why does this theory disturb you so badly, Joseph?" Hank asked. "Surely you understand that, if it were the case that Onslaught or the original Magneto were yet concealed within your brain as uninvited house guests, we would not hold you personally culpable. Everything possible would be done to humanely exorcise the entity in question without harming you."
"I'm not afraid of being harmed," Joseph said sharply. It was a lie-- the thought of anyone, even allies, in his head made his skin crawl. But the thought of enemies hiding there was worse. "It's just-- I don't believe it. I definitely sensed something out at the edges of the playing field, and it attacked me magnetically, not telepathically, when I sent a magnetic, not telepathic, probe at it."
"But Joseph, that might just be your perception," Jean explained patiently. "Your mind subconsciously translating the intrusion, your response, and the attack into terms you can understand."
"We can't take the chance," Scott said. "You understand that, don't you?"
His voice was gentle, and that was what really scared Joseph. Scott had never made any secret of hating and distrusting Joseph. He was professional about it-- if Joseph was the best candidate for a job Scott wouldn't pass him over, which was how Joseph had gotten to be Gold Team leader in the soccer game-- but this gentle tone was all wrong from him. It meant Joseph was, in Scott's opinion, in deadly danger, and to be treated like a dying man rather than like a potential enemy. Which meant that if Joseph resisted the mental probe-- or if he submitted, did have houseguests in his mind, and they couldn't be purged-- that Scott would have him killed, Joseph thought.
But it didn't matter, did it? These people were his only friends, teammates who'd taken him in in his confusion despite the fact that he'd tried to kill them all several times in the past he couldn't remember. He owed them too deeply, and if his life was the price of protecting them, so be it. He took a deep breath. "Yes, I understand. What do you want me to do?"
"Submit to a mental probe," Scott said. "If you're clean, then great. If some other entity is in your head, I want your cooperation in purging it."
"You'll have it."
"Sit down," Jean said gently. Joseph obeyed, choosing a large, stuffed chair. He had to try to relax.
Something began. It was like an annoying tapping on his skull, or tugging at his hair except under the scalp, or something. He had a sudden vivid mental image of his head submerged in maggots, squirming and writhing and trying to eat their way into his head. The headache he'd had since the attack intensified, and Joseph shifted in his seat, turning his head back and forth in a useless attempt to flee the sensations. Something utterly disgusting and alien, like a slimy tentacle or an insect, bit suddenly into him in a place underneath his skull, and instinctively he responded, flinging up metaphoric iron plates around his brain to protect it from the squirming creatures. The sensation stopped.
"Joseph, you're shielding," Jean said. "You have to drop your shields."
With great reluctance, he let go of the imaginary iron plates. The squirming returned. "No, Joseph. All the way."
"I don't know how!" He put his hands to his head. "It feels like you-- you're--"
Jean sighed. "Then I don't know if this will work."
"Magneto was capable of voluntarily lowering his shields," Storm said. "He did so on the Beyonder's battleworld, in order to lend strength to Professor Xavier. I had the impression it was very difficult for him, however."
"And that was before the Professor attacked him," Jean pointed out. "And in any case I'm neither as powerful nor as close to Magneto as the Professor w-- is."
"Perhaps I should do it," Psylocke said. "A quick surgical strike to open the defenses--"
"And if there is something in Joseph's head, it'll likely respond to that with deadly force, and Joseph himself will be too stunned by your psychic knife to hold it back." Jean shook her head. "It could work, but it's risky."
"I would far prefer to attempt to lower my own shields than have them torn open," Joseph said, trying to keep his voice even. If there was anything worse than having his mind invaded, it would be having it assaulted the way Psylocke's attack would. "If I fail, perhaps Psylocke can be a last resort."
"That's reasonable," Psylocke said.
Rogue took his hand in her gloved on and squeezed lightly. "You need moral support or anything, Joseph, I'm here."
He smiled wanly. "That's quite all right. This phobia of mental intrusion is just that, a fear, and I won't let fear rule me. I will lower my shields." He released her hand and turned back to Jean. "Have you any advice?"
"Just try to relax as much as you can. You're among friends."
I'm among friends who tore my mind open and scattered the shards of my self to the winds, and who will kill me if what they find in my mind is not to their liking, he thought, and forced it down. Magneto had been a monster, and they'd done what they had to do. As for this time, he was sure they wouldn't kill him except as a last resort, if for no other reason than their long friendship with Rogue.
The squirming maggots on his head sensation started again. Joseph tried closing his eyes, but that made matters worse. He opened them and focused on Rogue, needing something to distract himself as he forced himself to breathe evenly and deeply. Don't think about squirming slimy creatures eating his brain. Look at Rogue. Think about how good she's been to him, think about how much he wanted to help her, think about how he cared for her. Concentrate on how beautiful she is, not on the thing invading his brain.
"Still there, Joseph. Can you let them down further?"
It wasn't maggots. He knew the power of visualization, and tried to change his. It was Rogue's fingers, naked fingers stroking the bare skin of his head because he'd succeeded, he'd cured her, and she could touch him, and it wasn't slimy and sickening and chitinous, it wasn't an invasion, it was wanted, desired. He held the visualization for a moment, trying to turn the imagery into something pleasurable and desirable, tapping into his own sexual frustration. Then the image twisted on him, and a tactile image came out of nowhere of a body on him, much larger than his, pressing him down, touching him in places that made his skin crawl and no! it wasn't that, he had to make it change, had to invoke something more compelling to shut the horror out-- oh god, was he going to have to sit here and actually fantasize about having sex with Rogue in order to get rid of the persistent imagery of rape and violation Jean's slow assault on his shields was causing? Right here, in front of all these people, with Rogue herself watching and Jean halfway inside his mind? He couldn't do that, he couldn't--
--and then a sensation like his head was made of glass and it was breaking, liquid brain oozing out like ichor, and he screamed--
++/lullaby soothing gentle arms rocking/ it's all right it's all right I'm in ++
Oh dear god that was so much worse, like the maggots were now crawling through his brain, leaving slime trails everywhere. Nausea rose in his throat. The constant stream of soothing nonsense Jean was sending at him as she probed was the only thing that kept him from breaking, from flinging his shields back up and trying to flee. He could feel her touching his memories, fondling them, like a giant dripping slimy tongue slobbering all over his most private places. Joseph heard himself whimpering, felt Rogue's real-life gloved hand stroking his arm, and felt a horrible sick humiliation. He was being raped in public, and they could all see his reaction, his humiliation and fear and disgust. He couldn't be more exposed if he stripped naked in front of them all. That in fact would hardly bother him in comparison to this.
++almost done I'm almost done you're doing so well just hang on for a little bit++
She touched memories, evoking them in chains. Ghosts flitted through his head, insubstantial things. There was a woman, and he loved her, but she'd hurt him and there was a fire and a little girl burning and the sick stench of burned flesh skeleton men all around him in rags and he was one of them, his hands on a small child's naked body, limp and dead, tossing it into flames and the bile wanted to rise but the hunger so cold so hungry so scared and the guns fired at him and he burned his parents screamed falling into darkness with his sister's hand in one and father's in the other dreaming in the darkness a woman reading to him and he sat on a man's lap while the man showed him a beautiful rock and talked about asteroids someday he was going to live there he was going to be an astronaut and Mother ruffled his hair "you'll write from Mars when you get there won't you? and come home for Yom Kippur?" and a girl older than him laughed "that's our Erik, living in space already" and she was kicking a boy "don't call my brother a bastard!" and he didn't know what it was but it was bad so he waded into the fight because he couldn't hide behind a girl and she was off to school with her books and he wanted to follow her and Father "in two years you'll go" and he said "I want to learn everything, Father, everything there is to know"
++/concern/ Joseph, do you see it?++
/shaking fear remembered trauma remembered love/ a blank wall-- what does it mean?
++/determination/ you're hiding something back there-- if there's anything it'll be there++
then you have to go in? /shaking terror no! determination anger i will not let fear rule me/
++yes /forgive please/ this will hurt++
A membrane in his head tearing open-- a door, torn off its hinges-- a wall smashed down--
He lies on a table immobile no thought no emotion only peaceful empty acceptance of existence and a red-haired woman bends over him, her hand touches his naked chest and it's like acid, like drilling into his body, no thought in his mind but pain and fear, he cannot fight and he has no mind or words to plead with and he can do nothing but scream--
"Don't hurt him!" The voice came from very far away. Something held him immobile, and he struggled weakly, but his limbs felt so heavy and he couldn't reach his powers. "He didn't mean to!"
"If he's hurt Jeannie I'll kill him," a voice growled, full of menace.
"I'm all right. I'm all right. Just a little shaken."
"Jean, what did he--"
"I touched a nerve. Joseph, can you hear me?"
His head hurt so much. It felt like the outside of it had been someone's punching bag and the inside had been scraped raw with a dull knife. Something in his mind was screaming with terror, get up, get up and prove you're all right or they'll kill you, if you let them see weakness you'll burn. Joseph forced his eyes open. "What happened?" he tried to ask, but his voice slurred to mush, as if he were drunk. He'd have to do better than that. He marshaled all his resources and forced his voice not to slur. "What happened?"
"You went berserk and threw Jean across the room," Rogue said, her face coming into focus a few inches above his own. "I had to hit you to put you down."
So that explained the outside of his head, at least. And his body felt a mass of bruises. He wondered if she'd actually had to hit him that hard. "Is-- is she all right?"
"I'm fine, Joseph. I was alert for any reaction like that from you, so I got my own shields up in time."
The memory she'd touched rose up again, filling him with visceral terror and remembered pain. He tried to force it away. "What-- what was that?"
"You don't know?"
"That's-- all I see. Who is she?" Anger gave him strength. He sat up slowly, mindful of his head. "What did she do to me?"
"Joseph, I don't know. That one isn't connected to anything else inside your head."
"What are you talking about?" Scott asked.
Jean took a deep breath. "Well, the good news is that Joseph is clean. Totally. Not only is there no evidence of another presence in his head, but Magneto's memories just aren't there." She shook her head. "It's really odd, actually. There's a number of disconnected images, mostly relating to Magneto's childhood and adolescence, a very little bit from beyond that-- some especially traumatic images and a number of memories of having had memories. That is, Joseph has no memory of the actual event, but remembers remembering it, so a kind of summary exists. The only coherent chunks are from early childhood, before the camps-- everything after that is disconnected and interleaved with nightmare imagery. And sparse, very sparse. I'm not even detecting a lot of afterechoes of memories that used to be there. In a memory erasure this complete, I'd expect to find billions of memory fragments and resonances from throughout the life, and they're just not there. There's absolutely nothing at all from his career as Magneto, barely anything from his adult life." She looked over at Joseph. "Magneto is dead. Joseph can't possibly ever turn into him again-- not to say Joseph couldn't go bad, but if he ever does, it'll be Joseph going bad, not Magneto resurfacing. Magneto isn't there."
He should be grateful for that. He never wanted to be Magneto again, and from the brief fragments Jean had made him remember briefly, he didn't want to remember having been Magneto, either; that life seemed to contain nothing but pain. And yet he felt an obscure sense of grief. Magneto was dead. He had never known the man, never could. To the best of his knowledge, Magneto had been a monster-- and yet he recalled those flickering images of the boy with his family, the older sister teasing him and the father teaching him and the mother reading to him, and he felt a terrible grief for that boy-- both for what he'd gone through, to make him into what he later became, and because the man he'd grown up into was dead, and Joseph would never recover any more of him than the fragments he had now.
"That's great!" Rogue said. "That's really wonderful news!"
Rogue, dancing on Magneto's grave. Joseph shoved that image out of his mind. Why did he feel so horrible? So angry at his dear friends, so grief-stricken at the nonexistence of his personal demon? He actually felt like he might break down crying, or attack someone, equally counterproductive activities. "What about that other thing?" he said harshly. "If you are so knowledgeable about the contents of my mind, can you tell me what that means?"
"What what means?" Bobby asked.
"None of this has yet explained why Joseph went berserk," Storm said severely.
"Yes. That's what Joseph is asking about." Continuing to talk about me as if I'm not here. The invisible mutant. Magnetic cellophane. "There was a repressed memory, something buried behind layers of psychic shielding. I thought that if any other entity was in there, that's where it would be hiding, so I probed that area. What I found--" She hesitated. "It was a mindless, visceral memory, something composed entirely of sensation, no thought. Probably something that happened when he was in a coma. It's an image of him being in-- perhaps a laboratory of some sort-- and a red-haired woman touching him, and pain, as if just her skin touching his causes agony. There's nothing else, and Joseph doesn't recognize the woman-- and I don't either. The memory doesn't appear to connect to anything else."
"So why was he repressing it?" Scott asked.
"I don't know. It was very painful."
"Yes, but so were a lot of things in Magneto's life, and he didn't repress them."
And you're an expert on Magneto's life, are you Scott? He was going to lose it. "If I am indeed clean, I'm going to excuse myself," Joseph said, standing somewhat shakily. "I have an unpleasant headache." And if I don't get out of here I will either start weeping openly or kill you all, or perhaps both.
"You don't look at all well," Hank said. "Perhaps you should remain here for observation."
"I think not," Joseph snapped, unable to keep all the rage out of his voice. "What I require right now is rest and privacy. If you wish to pick apart my brain you may do so when I'm actually not present rather than pretending so."
On that note, he stalked out. Predictably, Rogue followed him. "Joe? You okay?"
"My name is Joseph. Not Joe, Joey, Magneto, Magnus, Maggie, Bucket-head, Erik, Lehnsherr, or kiddo. Get it right."
"You know, you don't have to get pissy with me. I'm trying to help you here."
"Then try leaving me alone. That would be a great help."
She came around in front of him, blocking his path. "What's gotten into you?"
He took a deep breath. I will not throw her into the wall. She is my dear friend, and she is only trying to help. I will not pull the girders out of the wall and wrap them around her neck. Tempting though it may be. "Are you insensitive, or simply stupid tonight, Rogue?" He stared at her. "I am in a great deal of pain, and I've just had my mind torn open and sifted over in public. I am dangerously close to losing control over my temper, and I want nothing more than to go to my room and pretend none of you exist until such time as I feel capable of being a civil being again."
"I think you're overreacting," Rogue said. "I've had mental probes before. It ain't fun, sure, but nothing I'd think you of all people wouldn't be able to handle."
She had no idea. His mind had just been raped and she was telling him to stop whining. Something in him very nearly snapped then. For a moment, all he knew was an overwhelming desire to hurt her, to fling her into the nearest wall and crush the life out of her with his power.
She backed away from him, fear suddenly on her face. "Joseph?"
He saw himself mirrored in her eyes-- a demon glowing with energy, face contorted with fury-- and was suddenly sickened. Rogue had faced down the Friends of Humanity, Sentinels, and Onslaught with a warrior's courage, and yet he was such a monster that he could frighten her. He forced the rage down, trembling with its force. Deep breath. Release the energy, let it flow away. "Rogue-- I'm exceptionally poor company right now. Please, leave me be."
"A- all right. Get some sleep."
He managed to make it to his room without further incident, and flung himself onto the bed without even undressing, though the fastenings of his boots were metal so he did pull those off with his powers. Within moments he was asleep, a sleep that quickly proved fitful and nightmarish.
Next: We travel to California, where the doctor is In, and Joseph's mysterious attacker reveals himself.
I love feedback. Love it love it. Good, bad, indifferent, let me know what you think! This series is a lot more flexible than some of my work, so feedback will have a bigger influence on its direction than on my other stories. Thanks, Alara
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