Twin Poles One: Journeyman of Magnetism Part 5
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"So. You believe him, chere?"
Rogue looked up from the last of the cinnamon coffee. "About what?"
Remy made an exasperated gesture. "He don't want anyone to help him because it's a matter of honor. The great Master of Magnetism-- or Journeyman of Magnetism, whatever-- he don't want help from us mere mortals, because it's just some broken power line or something. You believe any of that?"
"It's sure not hard to believe Joseph wouldn't want help," Rogue said musingly. "The man is almost as stubborn as he used to be, and that's still a whole lot of stubborn. Why? You think it's something else?"
"Think about it. He goes off because he's getting some kind of weird magnetic signal. He says it's probably a broken power line or something, but it don't seem to Gambit like Magneto ought to be vulnerable like that. Something's getting on his nerves, it ain't going to be by accident."
Rogue's eyes narrowed. Joseph's behavior seemed odd to her as well, but she didn't like the note of suspicion in Remy's voice. The man just wants to do something on his own. With a pride like his, and after what happened yesterday, who could blame him? "What're you saying, Remy?"
"I think someone's sending him a message. And he don't want us around because whatever it says, it ain't something he wants the X-Men to hear."
"I think you're just jealous. You ain't never going to accept that Joseph's not the man he was, are you? Just because he's my friend, and you and your ego can't stand me having a man friend."
"He was just your friend, chere, I'd have no problems with him."
"I never said he was anything more than that. You been listening to gossip, Remy? I sure don't think Joseph said him and me were together."
Remy shook his head. "This has nothing to do with it, anyway. Trust me, Gambit know how to tell when a man lying, and Joseph just not very good at it. There more to this than a broken transformer or something. Someone, they send him that signal. Maybe the X-Men want to know about who might be sending signals to Magneto, non?"
He had a point, unfortunately. Joseph hadn't told her the details of what happened went when he went on his quest to find Avalon until today. His little stunt of impersonating Magneto might have saved the day, like he claimed. But it probably had won him enemies-- such as Cortez-- and seriously dangerous psycho friends, like Exodus. Suppose Exodus had decided that the time had come for Magneto to return to his former place as leader of the Acolytes, regardless of "Magneto's" opinion in the matter? Joseph could be walking into a trap. He hadn't the experience or skill to protect himself against people who were a match for Magneto, and if this was an old enemy of Magneto's... "It could be a trap," she admitted. "He might not know what he's getting into." She stood up. "We'd better go along."
"Just you and me?" He grinned at her.
That was probably a bad idea. For one thing, if they were going to go up against people who were ready for Magneto, her and Gambit by themselves wouldn't necessarily be a big help. On the other hand, if she called the entire team in on this, it was likely to end up in exactly the same sort of situation that Joseph probably wanted to avoid. The X-Men tended to be trigger-happy when it came to Magneto, or allies of Magneto, and while last night's revelation confirmed what Rogue had wanted to believe all along, she wasn't sure that the rest of the team would still entirely trust Joseph, even knowing now that Magneto's memories were entirely purged from him.
That didn't leave her with much choice. She couldn't think of anyone she could recruit on this kind of short notice who she could trust not to attack Joseph and whoever he was going to meet unless it was actually necessary. "Yeah, I guess. We'll bring a portable Cerebro to track him and radios to call in for backup if we need it."
Five minutes later they were in the air, Rogue carrying Gambit and Gambit carrying the portable Cerebro. "Got a lock on him yet?"
"Yeah, didn't go far. I'm picking up his signal about forty miles northeast... wait a min, I'm getting something strange here."
"What?" She tried to look, but given their positioning this was impossible. "What's it say?"
"I got it set to look for Magneto, right?"
"Well, it finding two of them again. One about forty miles northeast, and one still traveling that way... no, he stabilizing, too, round about there... now I'm just getting one."
"Does that thing have a replay function?"
"Yeah, just a sec... yeah, I'm seeing two of them still. One moving, one not."
"And now you're getting just one, because the moving signal stopped at the same place the other one was?"
Two signals that stabilized into one might have been a glitch-- except that the portable Cerebro was unlikely to have the exact same problems that the more powerful stationary version had, and something had struck Joseph down the other day-- something, or someone, with more control over magnetism than he had-- something, or someone, that was perfectly capable of sending the signal he'd picked up--
Rogue picked up speed, while Gambit radioed the team. Joseph was walking into really bad trouble.
The signal had stopped as Joseph approached it. Now he was picking up a standing field of considerable power, on the other side of the Hudson near Marlboro.
Curious. If it was a foe, it was a particularly incompetent one, to choose a locus of such intense magnetic energy as a place to confront him. Which argued that it might well be a friend, but then, friends of Magneto's weren't necessarily friends of Joseph's. He landed in a newly harvested field, on what was apparently a rather large farm, and walked cautiously to a barn. There were no signs of living bioelectric energy patterns inside, but it might be hard to tell something so subtle in the center of such a powerful magnetic field. Something inside was throwing off a tremendous amount of energy. Shielded, he entered.
The barn was mostly empty, and smelled of nothing stronger than old hay and apples. A man stood in the shadows at the back of the large empty area. Joseph stepped forward--
--and realized that the magnetic field was actually coming from the other man, a split second before the man stepped forward as well, into a band of sunlight, and Joseph saw his face.
It was his own, twenty years older.
Without hesitation, Joseph attacked, flinging power at his doppelganger. Fool, fool, to come here alone. The other would kill and replace him if he could, use the trust Joseph had worked so hard to win from the X-Men to destroy them all, and he could not allow it. But the other seemed to absorb his attack, drawing Joseph's power into himself without any apparent signs of pain or harm. Of course-- raw power against one who could seemingly duplicate his powers was a foolish idea. He reached for steel instead, pitchforks and spades and other tools at the back of the barn, but even as he grasped them his doppelganger had grasped him, twisting his own fields around him and binding him with his own power. Joseph fought frantically, trying to draw on the energies the other one was generating as well as generating his own, but it was like he was playing tug'o'war over the magnetic energies with someone who was braced behind a huge rock, while he was sliding on mud. He couldn't seem to get a proper grip, not with the constant rapid changing of the field's polarity and loci of charge, and then he was lying on the ground, immobilized to the point where he couldn't even properly breathe, his own power wound tight around him and every attempt he made to free himself only tangling him worse. The other knelt on top of him, hands pushing his upper arms against the dirt of the barn floor. Grimly, desperately, he kept trying to fight his way free. I won't die! Not like this--
"Boy. Are you going to stop struggling and listen, or must we fight?" the man demanded in the slightly deeper, slightly more commanding variant of Joseph's own voice that he identified as Magneto's. "I don't wish to harm you!"
"You-- have an interesting way-- of showing your-- concern," Joseph gasped. "Let-- me up!"
"I am hardly that big a fool. Give me your word that you won't attack until you have heard me out, and I'll release you."
"So you can-- kill me and take-- my place with-- impunity?" Joseph mustered up all of his strength, focusing on the weak points of the threads that bound his power. "I-- think not!"
He flung the other man off him, freeing himself for a second. It was no more than a second, though. The other caught himself before he hit anything, and sent a feedback wave at Joseph like the one that had stunned him at the mansion. He was a little better prepared for it this time, but not enough. It stunned him, numbing his power for a moment, and in that moment his opponent bound him again.
"Listen to me, boy. If I wanted to kill you, I would have already. I came here to talk to you. If you keep struggling you may well win free, for a few moments at least, but in the end I will win, and a battle between us could cause untold damage. Do you truly wish to cause an electromagnetic pulse, barely 90 miles from New York City?" The man was grasping his uniform shirt, holding him up by that, his face right in front of Joseph's and his voice painfully loud at that distance.
He had a point, unfortunately. Being one of the heroes bound one to care about the fates of the innocent. Joseph had read about Blackout Thursday, the incident where he'd EMP'd the world and killed over a thousand people. An EMP so close to the major airports of the Eastern Seaboard would cause untold death and destruction as planes fell out of the sky. And yet, he couldn't simply give in.
"Talk," Joseph grated out. "I will listen, at least." Listen warily, while working his way free of the other's control as best he could. "You can begin with who you are."
The other man released him physically, though his powers were still bound. "Who do you think I am?"
"A replica of me. Someone, or something, capable of duplicating my powers and appearance. Probably for no pleasant purpose."
"A reasonable suspicion, given what you know," the man said. "I suppose, in your place... no, strike that. Obviously, in your place I'd make the same guess. But there's much you don't know, Joseph. Tell me, how is it that a mere doppelganger could possibly hold you captive with your own power?"
I wish I knew. "If you've done your research, you must know I have suffered a certain degree of memory loss." Such as all of it. "If you somehow duplicate my skills from when I had all my memories..."
"There is a much simpler explanation." The man's eyes bored into his. So very like his own face, and yet so different-- not just the age difference, but other things. A confidence Joseph could only pretend to, an arrogance he couldn't allow himself. "I am the true Magneto, and you are the replica."
"Naturally you would say that."
"It's a far better explanation than that some sort of unholy simulacrum could defeat the Master of Magnetism so thoroughly with his own power." Abruptly the power that bound Joseph was released. But by now Joseph was intensely curious. If the other attacked him again, he would respond in kind, but he wasn't going to attack again himself. Not just yet, anyway. "Listen to me, Joseph. I am Magnus, once called Erik Lehnsherr, and I have come to take the burden of being me away from you. You have no need to fear me-- I have no desire to kill you, and less to replace you. I simply wish you to stop trying to replace me."
"If I truly have no reason to fear you, why did you attack me yesterday?"
He shrugged slightly. "I had no idea who you were, yesterday, and little desire to reveal my existence to the X-Men. You would have disrupted my screen of invisibility if I hadn't stunned you. The flying young woman was right there-- I saw no reason why she would not catch you."
The flying young woman? Oh, nice try, but Joseph knew too well that Magneto had a history with Rogue. He would not refer to her as the "flying young woman." It had been tempting to believe, for a moment-- the thought that he might not, in fact, be Magneto was seductive. As it was intended to be, no doubt. Careless of the doppelganger, or whoever had prepared him. "And why, exactly, have you come to tell me this? Out of the goodness of your heart?" He narrowed his eyes. "I know Magneto. If you truly were the real one, and I the copy, you would hardly be trying to make peace with me. The real Magneto would kill a duplicate for the effrontery of pretending to be him." He remembered his own brief psychotic episode where he'd thought he was Magneto, and had insisted desperately to himself that Joseph was a weak fool who'd deserved death.
"So I fail your test, because I did not try to kill you after all? You know nothing of Magneto, boy. You know fragments only, and the biased words of the world and of Charles's students. What can you know of what you do not remember?"
"More than you, apparently." Joseph braced himself. There was no way to beat the other by attacking him directly, but if he tried some sort of magnetic judo, letting the other attack him and using the attack against him as the other had done to him, he might have a chance. "You see, I know that the real Magneto would know 'the flying young woman's' real name, and use it. Clearly you have good control over my powers, but you know even less than I do of Magneto's life."
The man laughed.
Joseph really hadn't expected that. It wasn't a villainous laugh, or a snickering laugh, or a cruel or mocking laugh. If anything, it seemed self-mocking, but not bitterly so. "A child shall lead the way," the man said, still laughing. "You're wrong, of course, but in another sense you're absolutely right. I am not, in a certain sense, the 'real' Magneto-- though I am rather closer to real than you. What I am is the real Erik Magnus Lehnsherr. Inasmuch as that means anything, given that to me, Erik Lehnsherr died many years ago."
"What is that supposed to mean?"
"I mean that I--"
He didn't get a chance to finish the sentence. The roof smashed in, Rogue barreling through it at high speed. "DON'T YOU TOUCH HIM!" she shouted, changing course to descend upon Joseph's doppelganger.
The other flung up a force field, and Rogue smashed into it. The doppelganger was driven to his knees by the impact against his shield, but Rogue was flung wildly, bouncing off and flying madly at the wall of the barn. Joseph reacted instinctively to catch her, cushioning her. A telekinetic field grabbed him, pulling him away from the doppelganger. Instinctively he almost lashed out, realizing at the last second that it was Jean holding him.
"Jean, let go! I'm all right!" Damn, it was the entire team. Exactly what he'd hoped to avoid. He'd wanted answers, and it didn't look like it was going to happen now. Gambit had flung several cards at the doppelganger, which had exploded harmlessly against the man's shield. The rest of the team were piling on, attacking from all different directions. So far the shield was still in one piece.
"Fools! I didn't come here to fight you!"
"Then you shouldn't have messed with one of the X-Men!" Bobby shouted, piling ice on the shield. The temperature of the room dropped noticeably.
So I'm one of the X-Men when a duplicate shows up and tries to take my place. That's good to know. Although, Joseph was troubled. None of them were letting the man talk, and while he didn't believe the other's story about being the real Magneto for a minute, it was true that the man hadn't threatened him. Immobilized him, yes, but Joseph had attacked first.
"You okay, sugar?" Rogue, recovered from her fall, flew over to where Joseph stood by Jean.
"I'm fine. Rogue, I don't know if this is--"
Rogue wasn't listening. She turned and charged back into the battle the moment she heard that he was all right. The weight of the ice on one end, the energy blasts and punches that were slamming into the force field from other directions, and now Rogue's piledriver fists against it were seriously weakening the shield. Joseph noticed that despite this, the other had not yet launched an offensive attack.
"Joseph!" Cyclops shouted. "You can disrupt his shield and let us in at him! Jean, get me information!"
I can do that, but is it what I want to do? If the X-Men piled on the doppelganger, Joseph might never find out who he was, who had sent him, or why he was able to duplicate Joseph's powers at a greater level of skill than Joseph himself had. His eyes narrowed. "Are you going to try a telepathic probe?" he asked Phoenix.
She nodded. "His mental shields are strong, but he's distracted. If you bring down his shields--"
"--Wolverine, or someone, will kill him before we get any information. No, I have a better idea." He reached out for the shields, his own power flowing around them, disrupting them in small annoying ways. A huge cascade of ice crashed through the shield, nearly on top of the doppelganger, who kept having to compensate for Joseph's pokes at his shield as well as the blows the X-Men were raining on it. Joseph was tensed, ready for anything, knowing that if the doppelganger had the tiniest fraction of the personality he was mimicking, he would turn and retaliate any moment now.
Unfortunately, being ready didn't save him, or any of the others.
The doppelganger screamed, presumably in response to Jean's mind-probe, and suddenly something took hold of Joseph's own fields and yanked. Current arced between him and the doppelganger, a deadly circuit that ran straight through Jean and Rogue. Joseph screamed, fighting desperately to get control of the current, to wrench it away from the straight-line path between himself and the doppelganger, or shut it off. He flung himself sideways, moving the arc so it was no longer going through Jean, at least, but not far enough to get it away from Rogue before every muscle in his body locked into place, current moving within him from the pathways where it would be safe and controlled, shifting into his muscles and electrocuting him. Oddly, there wasn't very much pain-- he was just frozen, his nerves too overloaded to allow him to move.
"Joseph! Stop!" Storm was screaming at him. "You're killing her!"
"Break the circuit! Someone break the circuit!" Scott screamed. A wall of ice appeared in the path of the electrical arc, and melted almost immediately.
Frantically Joseph fought to regain control. His power was killing Rogue, the person he most cared for in the world at the moment, and he would make it stop or die trying. And then the circuit broke spontaneously, the doppelganger releasing his control over Joseph. A wall of magnetic force smashed outward, slamming the X-Men backward. Joseph, though staggered and dizzy from the attack before, compensated desperately, trying to protect his friends from being flung into the walls. The doppelganger went straight up, smashing through whatever remained of the ceiling.
Scott staggered to Jean's side even before the shockwave ended; Remy was already kneeling by Rogue. For a moment Joseph could see nothing but darkness. They were dead, they were dead and he had killed them, through his failure, his inability to get control back from the doppelganger. And then Scott spoke, his voice thick with relief. "Jean's alive. She's alive. She's just stunned."
"Thank God," Joseph said hoarsely. He felt on the verge of falling over. The forcible rerouting of his own energies had left him with a terrible headache, and a debilitating weakness and dizziness. He was almost afraid to ask. "And Rogue?"
"She all right. No thanks to you," Remy spat.
"Remy, enough. Clearly Joseph was not in control of what happened," Storm said. "That was your assailant from yesterday, Joseph?"
"I'm going after him."
"You're doing no such thing, mister. Whoever he is, you're obviously not a match for him," Cyclops snapped. "You're practically falling over already, and that's just from being used as a weapon against us. Don't you think he'd be able to do worse to you without us to distract him?"
Of course. But it didn't matter. "He has used my powers to harm those I care for," Joseph whispered harshly, looking down at the stunned forms of Jean and Rogue. Rogue was close to invulnerable, but she'd taken a lot more current than Jean. "He has my face, he has my powers, and he claims to have my name. I will have answers from him, and I will make him pay for what he's done to Rogue and Jean."
Cyclops shook his head. "Don't be an idiot!"
Perhaps the combat had left him so much on edge that he jumped at shadows. Certainly he couldn't see anything in Cyclops' eyes to telegraph what was about to happen. Yet somehow he knew, and spun, throwing up a force shield to block Psylocke's strike before it ever connected. Before any of the rest of the X-Men could also get the brilliant idea of knocking him out for his own good, Joseph took off, following the departing magnetic signature of the doppelganger.
He heard Cyclops shouting. "Joseph! Cannonball, Storm! Go after that idiot and get him back here before he gets himself killed!" Poor Cyclops. He had to know that neither Cannonball nor Storm could come close to matching Joseph's speed. Jean or Rogue could have, but then, that was probably why the doppelganger struck at them. Joseph had to fight his way upward through gale-force winds, slowing him considerably, but he was enough faster than either Storm or Cannonball that it made no difference. His muscles ached terribly from the electrical attack, but up here his powers re-stabilized as he drew more of the Earth's magnetic energies into himself, so that the headache and the dizziness faded.
Next: Joseph gets his butt kicked. (Saw that coming, didn't you?)
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