Twin Poles One: Journeyman of Magnetism Part 3
Rotating Disclaimer: Marvel only owns one of the people in this chapter, but they'd be mad if you or me tried to make money off it anyway. Margaret Santoro is my baby and cannot be used (except in Sub. Cafe stories) without my permission. And no, I don't look like that. Honest. Really. Just because I'm short and have red hair and have an Italian grandmother. I'm nothing like Margaret. Would I lie to you? :-)
Senator John Lightman and his wife sat tensely beside their daughter, a pale and drawn shadow of the child she had to have once been. As if her illness drew energy out of her parents as well, they were also drawn and pale, and didn't seem to have had a good night's sleep in weeks.
Dr. Margaret Santoro strode in wearing the inhuman avatar she chose for her gray work. She noted, gratified, that the parents tensed, their body language transparently fearful. People who were already comfortable with mutants were a source of income, no more, since she could expect them to pursue her objectives anyway. It was the ones that feared her who made valuable additions to her portfolio.
"Senator? Mrs. Lightman? I'm Dr. Mystery." As if they wouldn't have guessed that. She affected the appearance of a taller woman for these meetings, one with gold skin that gleamed like an Academy award and whiteless purple eyes. But while her appearance was deliberately chosen in part to "freak the mundanes", she carefully observed the normal proprieties of a doctor speaking to patients.
"We-- we wouldn't have come here," the Senator said, clutching his daughter's hand. "But we've tried everything for Mindy. You're our last hope, Doctor."
She was always their last hope. And she always came through. "I understand that Mindy has leukemia?"
"Yes, that's right," the wife said.
"I'll need to examine her."
"Of course, of course." The parents moved to stand. Margaret waved them back down.
"I can do it right here. With your permission, I will put my hands on her and use my powers to examine her."
"Use your powers?" the wife squeaked.
"Don't be silly, Dot, of course she has to use her powers," the senator said, sounding none too thrilled about it himself. "Mindy, hon, the doctor has to examine you, all right? She's going to touch you."
"Will it hurt?" Mindy asked, her voice small and exhausted.
"Not at all. You might feel a funny tingle, but that'll be it."
Mindy didn't flinch away as Margaret put her hands on the girl's skin, touching the child's forehead and cheek. With the connection completed, skin to skin, she could feel her way into the flesh, probing for the disease. Distress reports came in from the brainstem like soft murmuring voices, whispering of a body under siege from within. Pain signals made their insistent presence known like an irritating beeper that wouldn't go off. The girl had been dosed with painkillers, but they were doing little to douse the signals. She showed little sign of the pain she must be in. Such a brave child, Margaret thought. The terminally ill ones were often brave, as if God gave them some grace to accept their fate, a grace He denied most adults. That wasn't always a good thing; they were brave and resigned and accepting of their fates, not railing against it and struggling to live. The undignified desperate struggle to live was what Margaret found more compelling. Against her will she remembered Celia, and winced inwardly. Everyone reminded her of Celia, particularly the children. They probably always would. How many hundreds of years will I need to put in before I can forget?...
She felt out the sites of the illness, the places where the body turned in on itself. A very standard leukemia, no challenge for her skill. Margaret stunned the disease into temporary remission, and triggered neurotransmitters in the brain, flooding the child's body with endorphins. That done, she withdrew.
Mindy blinked. "Mommy? I feel good, Mommy. I think she fixed me."
"You healed her? Just like that?" Dot Lightman asked, astonished.
"No-- I triggered a temporary remission, and removed the pain, so she needn't suffer while we negotiate. I can heal her, easily. It will take three treatments, each at least one week apart. When the process is complete, Mindy will be completely healthy, with the genetic potential for cancer purged from her system entirely, so the likelihood of her developing any other form of cancer at a later date will be much smaller than the average person's risk."
"Oh, God..." The mother started to weep. "Oh, God, thank you..."
"Doctor, I-- I don't know what to say. I'll pay any price, I'll give you anything. Please, make my daughter well."
Promising. "Very well, Senator. Come into my office, and we'll discuss price."
He glanced at his wife, who was hugging their daughter and still crying with joy. "My wife should--"
"It would be better if she didn't. Share anything of our conversation that you like, when it's over, but I'd prefer initially to talk to you alone."
"A-- all right."
In her office, she sat in a stuffed recliner on the other side of an ornate, expensive desk, gesturing her guest to an antique wooden chair with leather padding in front of the desk. "The monetary cost of your daughter's treatment will be eight thousand dollars. It can be paid in as many installments as you like, but I will not perform the final treatment and cure your child permanently until full payment has been received. Will this be a problem?"
"No, no." He shook his head. "I can get that much together easily. I-- I'm surprised, Doctor-- I'd pay anything, you know that, and that's more in line with what I'd pay for standard treatments for leukemia, I mean the kind of experimental treatments they don't cover on insurance are even more expensive than that--" He stopped, apparently aware he was babbling.
"I can't ask for all that much money without drawing attention to what I'm doing," Margaret said. "So most of my price is exacted in non-monetary form."
He stared at her. "What do you mean?" he asked, his voice hardening.
"You're a powerful man, Senator Lightman." Margaret leaned back in her chair. "My people are at war for their very existence. Hate groups kill us with impunity. The United States government funds the building of weapons designed solely to kill or control us. There's even an organization within the government whose aim is to eradicate us, and in the wake of Onslaught and the assassination of Graydon Creed, it's gaining serious political mileage. You may have heard of it-- Operation: Zero Tolerance."
Sweat stood out on his face. "I've-- heard of it, yes."
He was probably one of its supporters. Well, that would change. "In a very short while, you will owe your daughter's life to a mutant," Margaret said coolly. "I want your support for basic human rights for mutants. Oppose the Sentinels program, oppose the Mutant Registration Act, and for the love of your daughter, oppose Operation: Zero Tolerance."
"Isn't your daughter's life worth a bit more than a few more coins in your re-election fund? Don't tell me you can't be bought, Senator. I have evidence that says otherwise."
"You don't have anything you could possibly prove in court--"
"I'm not interested in dragging your name through the mud," she interrupted exasperatedly. "I'm interested in your support. I could use my powers solely to make money, but then what would I do when the Sentinels smash in my door? All the money in the world won't save me if I'm declared a nonperson and my assets forfeit." She shook her head. "No, Senator. I need you to help me protect my people."
"You have to understand, Dr. Mystery, that it just isn't that simple. Not all mutants use their powers to heal or aid humans. People like you are clearly not the norm for mutantkind. If you were, perhaps it would be different, but there are so many terrorists out there, people like that Onslaught, Apocalypse, Magneto-- and then there's mutants that might not even mean any harm, but just cause wanton destruction and death anyway, because they're irresponsible. Don't we have the right to protect ourselves from the kind of destruction uncontrolled mutants can cause?"
"Of course you do, but building giant killer robots and dedicating black organizations, paid for by our tax dollars, to our eradication is not how to do it. If you want to stand behind safe, sane legislation to protect mutants and humans from each other, I have reason to believe Senator Schumaker will soon be presenting a bill that suits. Give him your support."
"He's a Democrat."
"And the life of your daughter is not worth a bit of disagreement with your party? Do something brave, Senator. Create a bipartisan coalition to support a humane solution. If you don't-- if no one does-- it's a bloodbath ahead, because mutants won't stand by and allow ourselves to be destroyed. Unlike the Jews in Germany, or the Bosnians more recently, we do have the power to fight back."
"If I refuse? Will you refuse to heal my daughter?"
She hesitated. The need to appear ruthless and uncompromising warred with the need to appear humane and compassionate. "I won't refuse, no. I'll put her into remission. She'll need to come back to me once every six months for a treatment, or the disease will re-occur. For the rest of her life, Senator." Margaret leaned forward. "You see my purpose, don't you? If my people are hounded, rounded up and killed or imprisoned, as Operation: Zero Tolerance wishes--"
"It won't come to that."
"If ever it does, and I am killed or imprisoned, Mindy will die six months later. So it will be in her best interests for you to aid me anyway. Agree to aid me, and we needn't put her-- or you-- through the hassle. Besides," and she leaned back again, "you never know. What if Mindy is a mutant?"
"I--" He started, flustered. "Well, of course she's not a mutant. Neither her mother nor I have any record of--"
"Do you know why they call us mutants, Senator? It's because we have mutated. Changed, from the genetic structure of our parents. My parents weren't mutants. Just because you and your wife aren't mutants doesn't mean Mindy might not be. In fact, leukemia is caused by the same factors that cause mutation. The same factors that gave your daughter her disease might have mutated her. You don't know, do you?"
"Couldn't you tell if she was?"
"I didn't check for it. But yes, I could check."
"Well, then you could fix it, couldn't you?"
"Certainly I could. And if she was black, I could make her white and blonde and blue-eyed. And while I'm at it, I could make her a boy. Have you any idea how offensive what you just said is?"
"Well, I-- I didn't mean to give offense. I just want Mindy to have a normal life, that's all."
"Most mutants do. I don't look like this all the time, Senator. When I'm not treating hopeless cases, I live in a nice little house just outside San Diego, with two cats and a dog. I go dancing with men friends on weekends, I buy groceries, I do my laundry. I choose to look like this when I'm treating people like your daughter, because I have no desire to be kidnapped and pressed into the service of crime lords or the government."
"Why would the government kidnap you? Even a mutant has rights. If you committed no crime--"
"--I would still have the power to make old men young, cure impotence and infertility, heal disease and scarring, change people's appearances... come now, Senator, don't be naive. If you had a way to compel my service to heal your daughter without paying my price, you'd do it. And I suspect you're basically a good man, whose concern is for the child he loves. Can you say none of your colleagues would want me to heal them? To restore lost youth, or whatever they had lost?" Unbidden, an image rose to mind of the room, the smell of the antiseptic and the old men screaming under her hands, while snipers behind glass aimed lasers at her in case the important men screaming did not get up and walk away healed when she was done. Not this time.
"I... suppose power corrupts. There are some bad elements in any system, but that doesn't mean the system is evil."
"Of course the system isn't evil, it just isn't designed to protect people like me." She shook her head. "We're sidetracking. If Mindy proved to be a mutant, she could still have an entirely normal and happy life, so long as you didn't reject her for it and the government didn't kill her for it."
"I would never reject Mindy. No matter what. If-- if she was a mutant--"
"Then your opinions on appropriate treatment of mutants would be rather different, wouldn't they?"
He stared at the carpet. "Very well-- Dr. Mystery. You win. I guess I'd do the same as you're asking, in my place, and if you can give me back Mindy's life, if you can make her healthy-- I guess I owe it to you to try to help your kind. But I'm not going to just vote the way you want, understand. I will study the issues and do what I judge to be best to protect both humans and mutants. I have to do that for my own constituency, or else I'll be voted out of office and I won't be able to help anyone. Do you understand?"
"Of course." She stood up. "I'm glad we could come to an agree--"
The phone rang, the urgent ring. "--ment, Senator." Margaret picked up. "Yes?"
"Doctor, the ghost is on his way in. He looks upset about something."
"I'll deal with it, thanks." She looked up at the Senator. "You'll excuse me, something's come up. Make a second appointment with the receptionist-- tomorrow is probably free-- for Mindy's first treatment. There'll be no charge for the examination and pain suppression today."
She brushed past him and down into the complex before he could speak. As soon as she was safely in the elevator, hidden from any patients on the ground floor, Margaret shifted to her human avatar, her native form-- a small, compactly built woman with a gymnast's body, Mediterranean tan skin, and wavy red hair, shoulder-length. The person she was going to see could be trusted with the knowledge of her human form, and while he was in no position to despise an inhuman appearance, she knew that he was not yet used to this brave new world he'd awakened in, nor the beings that populated it. Besides, she liked her human form. The other was for show. This was her.
She met him as he came in through the doors at the far end of the complex. The staff called him the ghost, since none of his names were suitable for possible public consumption and that one suited, or had. He was pale as a ghost, and for a year he'd haunted the complex like one, a silent pale shadow who might turn up anywhere but who never offered commentary on what he saw, except possibly to balk at doing something he was supposed to. Now it fit less well-- his excursions to the outside were restoring color to his face, and while he was not what he had been, and probably would never be, he was regaining the fire of life. Not a ghost anymore, he was her Lazarus, called forth from the tomb. She smiled at him as he entered.
He didn't smile back. Instead, power flung her against the wall, pinning her. "Who is he?"
"Who is who?" Margaret reached inside, altering her own genome, adopting a new temporary power. If she had to, she could stop him. But she'd rather not reveal that she had the power to do so. He would be a dangerous foe if he thought he'd been deceived.
"The boy with the X-Men. The one with my powers, and my face."
"Is he with the X-Men? The agent I sent to look for him lost track somewhere in South America."
"So you do know of whom I speak." The power intensified, almost crushing her against the wall. "Who is he?"
"You seem to know a good bit about him yourself. Went to Westchester, did you?"
"I warn you, Mystery, I will not be toyed with. Answer me!"
"And I warn you, Magnus, that what I gave I can take away." She let her voice grow cold. "Set me down, and we'll talk."
"Are you threatening me?" His eyes narrowed. "I know your limitations, Margaret. Skin to skin, are they not? Tell me how you would take anything from me when you cannot touch me unless I allow it."
Adopt the ability to suppress your powers, without which you can't stop me from doing anything. She didn't say that. "Cut the macho bullshit. It doesn't become you. You want to talk, put me down. You want to make threats, do it somewhere else. I'm a busy woman and I don't have time for this crap. Besides, this is a lousy way to treat the person that saved your life."
He released her. "Very well. I would prefer to grant you the benefit of the doubt in any case. So. Who is he?"
"I haven't exactly asked him for a formal introduction."
Magnus made an exasperated noise. "You know very well what I mean! What is he to me?" He stepped forward. "He's the clone, isn't he?"
"What clone, indeed. In the early days of my recovery, I overheard you discussing a clone with someone-- a man on a viewscreen."
"You couldn't exactly have overheard me looking at a viewscreen, Magnus."
"I was looking for you, I believe... it wasn't my intent to eavesdrop, but you were clearly occupied, and there was so much I didn't know. I don't recall much of the conversation, only that you talked about a clone escaping. I hadn't the faintest idea you meant my clone until--"
"I told you not to go to Westchester. What if they'd seen you?"
"Firstly, do not interrupt me. Secondly, they didn't see me, and thirdly, I do not take orders from you. Suggestions, perhaps, if I agree with them."
"Why didn't you agree with my suggestion that you not go to Westchester?"
That caught him. He looked vulnerable, a trifle bewildered, as he had so often in the past year and so rarely recently. "I-- he was my best friend. I needed to see what he had become-- what his work had led to."
"You didn't see him, did you?" Of course he hadn't. The man was in a maximum security prison, awaiting trial for his role in Onslaught. But it would not be a good idea to tell Magnus that.
"No. But I saw a child with my face." His eyes bored into hers. "He is my clone, isn't he?" It wasn't really a question.
"See, you didn't need to ask me. You already knew."
"Mystery!" His voice was like a whip. "You try my patience. If he is my clone, how did he come to be? Did you create him, and if so, why? And what is he doing with the X-Men?"
She sighed. "He's a byproduct." This was not a conversation she'd wanted to have. Margaret turned her back on her patient and headed back into the complex.
Magnus followed her. "A byproduct of what? What is that supposed to mean?"
"A byproduct of healing you."
"I cannot see how healing me could possibly have necessitated creating a clone."
"Not a clone. A copy." She turned to face him. "A clone's only a genetic copy. He's a physical copy. He may look younger than you do, but only because I didn't bother with the cosmetic work." She turned and started walking again. "I duplicated you precisely-- every injury, every old scar, every iota of damage to your brain."
"Why? Why create a copy of me?"
"The other two are dead, don't worry."
Power stopped her dead in her tracks. "Mystery, face me. I will not have this discussion while you are walking off, as if you're barely managing to squeeze me in between appointments."
"I am barely managing to squeeze you in between appointments. I'm already late for my 3 o'clock."
"You will be considerably later if you don't answer the questions! Why create any number of copies of me? And why are two of them dead?"
"For you, silly." She did face him. "Look, it's simple. The human brain is an insanely complex thing. I can do whatever I like to the genome, but there are only a few hundred billion possible combinations in a genome. There are trillions and trillions of combinations in the brain. Even for me, healing a damaged brain is a challenge, and yours was so toasted I was terrified of losing pieces of you in the process. So I created some copies, and experimented on them first. I couldn't just start out working on you-- I might have killed you, or done you damage even I couldn't undo. That's what happened to the first two copies-- when I tried to undo the damage to their brains that I'd copied from yours, it... didn't work out. So I disposed of them."
His eyes were wide. "You are a monster," he declared. "You would create sentient life so casually, with a wave of your hand, and dispose of it afterward as if it were a soiled glove?"
"Get off the high horse, Magnus. You've done considerable experimentation on sentients yourself."
"I have? That wasn't in the book."
"Savage Land Mutates apparently can't read. Or perhaps your biographer just never asked them. But yes, there are a number of beings out there who could tell you all about the experiments you performed on them, the pain they suffered when you altered their genomes without even experimenting with animals first-- since animals didn't have the potentials you were looking for, and you saw the Savage Landers as subhumans anyway, beings you could just mutate or do anything else you felt like to them." She hated the look of shock on his face. God, why hadn't she been able to give him back the last twenty years? That book was so full of missing pieces it was almost useless. "The copies didn't suffer," she told him. "They weren't sentient beings, since I never let them wake up and develop self-awareness. It was far more humane than if I'd worked on animals."
"And what of Joseph, then?"
"Is that his name?"
"It's what they called him. I must assume it's his name," he said sharply. "Why did he live?"
"Because he didn't die."
"That is not an answer."
"I mean it. The process didn't kill him-- I healed him perfectly, which I used as a guideline to heal you, so I saw no reason not to let him live."
"Didn't you?" He stood closer to her, getting in her space. It might intimidate other people, but since Margaret's power worked by touch, it was totally ineffective on her as it actually made him more vulnerable to her. Or would have, if he weren't shielding himself. "Why would you let a 'byproduct' live? If he wasn't a sentient being to you, why not simply dispose of him, and have no inconvenient questions to answer later?"
She shrugged. "I used him in a different experiment, since he worked out so well. At the time I hadn't had any luck restoring your memories, so I tried copying them into him. It... well, it didn't work very well. He ended up with only the barest of fragments. But in order to check that, I had to wake him up. And once I'd woken him up, he was a person. I couldn't just kill him."
"So-- if he does not have my memories, whose does he have? He appeared to speak English well, and be reasonably adept with his powers."
"He has your experiential skills. Some of them, anyway. A good portion of your scientific knowledge, much of your skill-- the stuff I was able to restore to you fully. What you lack twenty years of, your life memories, he doesn't have at all. Or not much, anyway."
"Does he know what he is?"
"I doubt it very much."
Magnus spoke slowly, a trace of horror in his voice. "He must... believe himself to be me. If he is with the X-Men... and he has even fragments of my memories... if he does not know what he is, they have no way to know..." Blue-grey eyes focused on her, trying to pin her like a hawk's gaze. "I want to meet him."
"Well, call up his social secretary and see if he can squeeze you into his calendar," Margaret snapped. "I haven't got any control over him. After he left here I lost interest entirely."
"You sent an agent after him."
She made a dismissive motion with her hands. "Routine follow-up. I didn't really care what happened to him, except that he could provide you some degree of protection by drawing what fire would be aimed at Magneto."
"You sent a complete innocent out in the world, thinking he's me, to draw fire that should have been aimed at me?"
"Not really-- I let him go because I didn't have time to deal with him, and I figured he deserved to live, at least, for all he did for you. I couldn't have saved you without him, without the experiments I successfully completed on him. But I didn't really care what happened to him after that. My concern is you, not your doppelganger."
"I can't allow that." He was shaking his head. "I can't allow him to carry that burden. Not if he is an innocent."
"Last I heard, he killed half a dozen people in South America in rather gruesome fashions."
"And still you don't care what he does? If he's a monster with my face and my powers, I must destroy him; if he's an innocent, I must take the burden of being me off his back. Even if he is not an innocent, he is at least innocent of being me." She could still see the horror in his eyes. "I know... something... of what it is to awake, to a world you do not know, and learn that you have been a monster. But I at least have some context, some way to relate who I am to who I clearly became... he must have nothing. A tabula rasa, and they are telling him he is the evil Magneto, and how could he help but believe?... No, I can't permit that."
She sighed. "Don't show up on their doorsteps and announce that hey, I'm the real Magneto, can I have a chat with Joseph please? At least do me that favor."
"I would hardly be that big a fool. No, I'll speak to him privately, without involving the X-Men." He turned and started back the way he'd come.
"You aren't even going to stay here and eat? I'm making deviled beef tonight. You liked that last time."
Magnus turned back. "You are quite positive that you are not Jewish?"
Margaret grinned. "Catholic all the way. You're picking up the Italian part. If I was Jewish I'd have to say something like, 'Go on, go ahead and leave me. Drive a knife right into my heart, that's all right.'"
He laughed. "You seem entirely too young to be my grandmother."
Older than I look. And younger than you know. "I'd prefer not to be your grandmother if I can help it."
"I'd prefer that as well. And that you didn't try to be my mother. I am apparently over sixty years old, and quite adept at caring for myself."
"Except when you're not."
"Dr. Santoro, I am as healed as I will be. I'm no longer your patient. Do not strain our alliance by presuming too much control over me; I neither require nor desire someone to take care of me." He looked at her hard. "Especially one who might take it into her head that caring for me might involve creating a hapless clone as a byproduct and letting him run around free without any attempt to monitor his activities or let him know the truth of his identity."
"I don't tell you how to reshape metal. You can second-guess me all you like, but the facts are, you'd still be drooling onto your diapers if I hadn't done what I did."
"Fair enough. But understand that I must undo as much of the damage you did as I can."
"Be my guest. But don't bring him back here, and don't bring me into it. He isn't to know about me-- I don't want him turning up on my doorstep looking for Mommy."
She watched him leave. Damn the man. Had her Magnus been so exasperating? A sudden memory of throwing glassware at him, in a house they'd taken over as a base, his voice overriding hers no matter how loudly she screamed at him, and Celia calling them both idiots and screaming at them-- okay, yes, he had been. She'd gotten used to the ghost, and the return of the real Magnus was going to drive her up the wall.
Still, it was good to see him have a will again, instead of being a passive silent reed that bent to the whims of others. Margaret turned back and headed for her appointment room upstairs again. She was very late for her three o'clock.
Next: Back in Westchester, we get bad puns and cinnamon coffee from Gambit, and Joseph does his Magneto imitation.
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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