Rotating Disclaimer: Thanks to Chris Delaney and Link, my physics advisors, I have rewritten the fight scene to be a little more in keeping with real world physics. Any errors that remain are my fault! Or they're Marvel's. Hard to tell.
His duplicate was making no attempt to conceal himself from Joseph. Joseph soared into the stratosphere after him, putting on a serious burst of speed as soon as he was clear of Storm's winds. The ground below was invisible under a layer of clouds, and the air thin enough that he had to hold air from below to him in a bubble, when he drew even with the doppelganger.
The man slowed, matching speed with Joseph. "Are the X-Men fools, to send you after me? Or is this your own idea?"
He was shouting, to be heard over the wind and the terrible thinness of the air here, but what Joseph heard was barely audible-- he could only tell the man was shouting because he looked like he was. Joseph responded in kind, shouting to be heard.
"You used my powers to attack the X-Men." Joseph stared at the man with his best grimly forbidding expression. "Perhaps you truly didn't intend to harm me, at the beginning, but your actions hardly bode well for that."
"I seem to recall that they attacked me first."
Which was true, but hardly relevant. Nothing mattered but the fact that the man had struck down and nearly killed Rogue with Joseph's power. Joseph had been preparing for this the whole flight up here, concentrating and readying his energies. Now, without further warning, he matched and disrupted the doppelganger's field, and in that moment of disruption struck at him with lightning.
The responding explosion of power, as his strike surged through the other and triggered a violent discharge of energy, flung him some distance from his doppelganger, who began to fall, clearly stunned. For a moment Joseph watched him fall, wondering-- playing possum? But he couldn't afford to let the man die. He swooped in and grasped him, lifting him with his power.
It was a mistake. Perhaps the other was playing possum, or perhaps the touch of Joseph's fields revitalized him. He duplicated what Joseph had just done, matching and canceling Joseph's fields, and continuing to match his polarity as Joseph desperately tried to shift away from his. He released the man and fell, losing his oxygen bubble in the process. The air here was thick with ozone-- though Joseph was used to the smell of ozone, this was overpowering, and made the thin air essentially unbreathable.
The doppelganger didn't pursue his advantage, fleeing instead. Joseph put a ridiculous amount of power, and speed, into a dive for lower atmosphere to collect more oxygen, wondering how the doppelganger had managed to avoid having to do that-- electricity could cause oxygen to become ozone, perhaps some manipulation of magnetic fields could split it back out into oxygen again? He'd have to test that. Later. Right now he was utterly focused on collecting more breathable air, and then zooming back up after the doppelganger, focusing enormous amounts of power on his shield to protect himself from friction heat as he traveled at thousands of miles an hour. The doppelganger, apparently unable or unwilling to expend such power on travel, was traveling at less than Mach 2, so Joseph caught up with him quickly enough.
By now they were effectively out of atmosphere entirely, 80 miles above the surface of the Earth by Joseph's estimation. This far up, they couldn't speak to each other-- their oxygen was contained entirely inside their fields, and sound could not transmit through the vacuum between them. Nevertheless, when Joseph drew even with the man again it was easy enough to read his lips. "Persistent, aren't you, boy?"
He didn't expect his double would be able to understand him, but he responded anyway. "You tried to kill Rogue, butcher! I will hound you into death if I must, but I will see you pay for that!"
This time he was entirely prepared for the attempt to disrupt him. He shifted his own polarity rapidly and kept changing it, fast enough to stay just barely ahead of the doppelganger's attempt to match and cancel it. This took all his concentration, though, and by now he was beginning to tire, having expended much of his personal energies in getting to this point. After pushing him to stay barely ahead of the disrupting wave for a good minute or so, the doppelganger simply gave up and fled, and for a moment Joseph was too dizzy from the rapid shifting of his personal field to realize it. By the time he did, the doppelganger had a good head start again. Grimly Joseph smiled. Running away again? And you wanted to convince me you are the real Magneto? He followed, as once again the doppelganger went up, away from Earth.
And flew at full speed directly into a field of space debris. The debris-- some of it pieces of satellites, some of it chunks of meteor in Earth orbit-- were almost all ferrous, and the doppelganger had magnetized all of them and set them spinning, generating a dozen conflicting fields. He could no longer see the doppelganger's field so clearly-- which was the idea, no doubt. It was cleverly done-- Joseph had been too intent on pursuing his double to notice the man flinging power out to magnetize space debris. Many of the pieces had decided that they loved Joseph's polarity and were spontaneously flinging themselves at him, and when he repelled them, that action drew others. It took a minute or two to clear away enough of the debris, and account for it in his mental map of the magnetic fields, that he could find his double again.
By the time he did, it was almost too late. An enormous chunk of ferrous rock was bearing down on him at immense speed. While the rock was exquisitely susceptible to his power, it had so much mass and momentum that it took all of Joseph's power to deflect it back into space, back toward the double, who easily dodged out of its way since it was moving much more slowly now that Joseph had deflected it. For a moment Joseph was drained, vulnerable, and in that moment the doppelganger matched him and popped his shields like they were a soap bubble.
Before, down in the stratosphere, the air had been thin and rancid with ozone. Here, there just wasn't any air to speak of at all. The oxygen his field had been holding to him dispersed, as did his protection against the intense ultraviolet radiation of this region. Though his tolerance for EM radiation was much higher than human, levels this high could burn even him without a magnetic field to protect him, and while he could get his shields back up to protect from that-- and did-- it was too late to prevent at least a first-degree sunburn, and far too late to retrieve his air.
He realized he was defeated. The double's shields were still up, and while Joseph could try to concentrate on popping them too, and leaving the other in the same boat as him, he probably had only a minute or two of consciousness left before anoxia got him. He dove for Earth, and the thickness of sweet atmosphere over a hundred miles below.
The double grabbed him back.
Joseph strained at the power that held him, trying to find its weak points and disrupt it. As before, it kept changing, shifting too rapidly for him to compensate. The double clearly intended to kill him-- or at least knock him out-- by holding him here until his oxygen ran out. By Joseph's calculations, the double couldn't have much more than a few minutes of air left to him either-- his force bubble was bigger than Joseph's had been, with more air in it to begin with, but sooner or later it would run out. Unfortunately, that wouldn't happen nearly as quickly as Joseph would suffocate. With all his strength, he grabbed at the debris he'd shoved aside earlier and started flinging it at the other, hoping to distract him enough to be able to bring down his shields, or else break free.
It wasn't working. The man was simply and easily deflecting the debris. Spots of gray were starting to dance in Joseph's vision, and he could hear a roaring sound. He concentrated everything he had on breaking the other's grip, fighting with desperate fury. It was no longer possible to hold his breath, but when he exhaled he couldn't draw in anything more, literally could not fill his lungs with anything at all. They felt flat, his chest concave. Collapsed. His struggles to breathe became as frantic as his struggles to free himself. Burning pain shot through his chest, and more and more of a bubbling liquid feeling, and he tasted blood in his mouth. Alveoli in the lungs were rupturing, either from the vacuum or the strain he was placing on them by trying to breathe. If he didn't break free soon he wouldn't have to worry about suffocating-- he would drown in the blood in his lungs. He struck with all the power he had, hitting out against the weak points of the fields that held him--
--and he did it. He tore free.
He rocketed downward, putting on as much speed as he could manage. The world had started to go black around the edges. It didn't matter. If he could only hit air he would be safe, he would live--
--and something grabbed him again, yanking him back like a fish on a line, pulled out of air to suffocate in the cold of space.
With the last of his strength, Joseph attacked the double. But he was long past the point where desperation and adrenaline could substitute for oxygen and a clear head. The last thing he saw was his opponent absorbing harmlessly the energies he'd flung to free himself and save his life, and then his oxygen-starved brain gave out on him and he knew that, after a lifetime of struggling, he would indeed die this way. And then the double's hands reached for him, and then there was nothing.
Magnus dropped into atmosphere with his unconscious burden as fast as he could, fast enough that Joseph had only been unconscious for a few seconds before they were once again in lower atmosphere, where the air was breathable. The boy's fields had dropped to a low ebb as he lost consciousness; there was nothing anymore to prevent Magnus from reaching in and artificially keeping him unconscious by manipulating the electrical fields of his brain while he performed mouth-to-mouth. There wasn't enough blood to prevent Joseph from breathing on his own again, finally, but far too much for Magnus' liking. It had never been his intent to kill Joseph.
None of this would have been necessary if you hadn't lost control, old man. If you had found some other way to disable them and flee, if you had taken into account that the boy would likely bring his friends, if you hadn't panicked when the red-haired witch tried to attack your mind. He shook his head. And to think he had tried so hard to let the boy simply exhaust himself and give up. He could curse Joseph for being so damnably stubborn, for refusing to simply give up and let Magnus fly away unmolested, and for forcing the confrontation until Magnus had to half-kill him to stop him, but the boy came by his stubbornness honestly, after all. No point in cursing him for doing exactly what Magnus himself would have done under similar circumstances. Magnus liked to think he would show a little bit more sense in attacking an opponent who was clearly so much more skilled than he was, but then he remembered what he'd tried to do to Onslaught. No, Joseph's actions were written in stone from the moment Magnus used his energies to stun his friends. Particularly the girl with the stripe in her hair. Her reaction when she'd thought Magnus was threatening Joseph, and Joseph's consistent reactions to her being in danger, indicated that she might well be more than a friend-- certainly plausible; she was a beautiful girl, definitely the kind Magnus himself would be interested in if he felt himself capable of being interested in anyone anymore. And if that were true, Magnus had made a rather bad tactical error in attacking her.
Ah well. Either Joseph would accept his apologies once he accepted the truth, or he wouldn't. It would be painful to be hated by his own double, but then, apparently his son hated him, his daughter was dead but had hated him before he died, his best friend hated him, his best friend's students most especially hated him... this would be nothing new. There was only one person in the world that didn't hate him, and he was about to anger her terribly-- she had asked him for one thing, regarding his mission with Joseph, and he was about to deny her that.
Still. He couldn't let the boy die, or be permanently maimed. Even if he did hate Magnus forever, it hardly mattered. He was the only second chance Magnus was ever really likely to get, and his well-being rather more important than not angering Margaret-- she was swift both to become angry and to forgive, and he was fairly sure he could talk reason into her if he had to. As soon as he confirmed that Joseph was breathing again, albeit a bloody, bubbling, shallow breathing, he headed for California at high speed.
Margaret, predictably, was not happy.
"Hello? Is there still brain damage in there? All the work I did to put your brains back together, did someone knock you upside the head and break them apart again?" She spun away from him, pacing frenetically. "I asked you one thing, just one thing, that you don't get me involved with this crap, and what do you do?"
"What was I supposed to do, Margaret? There's blood in his lungs, and evidence of possible radiation burns. The damage may well be permanent without your aid."
"And I care why, exactly?"
He kept control of his temper. "Because I care. And you've repeatedly implied that that which concerns me is a concern to you as well."
"Why do you care? You told the brat he isn't Magneto. That should have been the end of it."
"He is my genetic duplicate. I'd call a man with half my genes my brother, or my son. This one has all of them. Can I do less for him than I would for a brother or a son?"
"You certainly could. He's a hunk of cast-off protoplasm that happens to have your shape. Magnus, I made him, the way you'd make a piece of machinery."
"And was it not you who told me that, having made him, you now recognize him as a person? I don't understand your difficulty."
"My difficulty is that I didn't want to be involved with this nonsense at all!"
"And if I brought home a complete stranger and asked that you heal him, you would not?" He stared at her. "Margaret, I have seen the way you deal with your patients. Even though you are using them for financial and political gain, I cannot but see the care you take with them as anything other than a desire to heal. That is your power."
Her eyes narrowed. "You are so naive," she muttered, but reached for Joseph. "Put him on the table."
Magnus set him down, and winced as Margaret grabbed the boy's face, without any particular attempt at gentleness. He didn't understand it. She had never been anything other than tender and gentle with her patients. It was hard to reconcile the woman who could casually dismiss a young man as "a hunk of protoplasm" with the one who'd healed him and comforted him, forced him to confront his own memories with firm and implacable compassion and held him as he came up from them sobbing. Joseph's body twitched, jerking under her ministrations, and his face under her hand seemed to Magnus to be twisted in pain. "Is he suffering?" he asked sharply.
"He's unconscious. What do you think I am?" she retorted, but the twitching and facial spasms abated.
There were some powers that seemed to be morally dangerous. His own, which made it so very easy to kill at a distance. Charles', which must offer the constant temptation of rewriting other people's thoughts to conform to his desires. Mystery's was one of those. Magnus believed-- he was quite sure-- that she was basically a good person, ruthless from a harsh life but fundamentally not selfish. But her cavalier attitude toward bioethics deeply disturbed him. If one could create a human being with a touch, could one really comprehend how miraculous that creation was? Wouldn't one be inclined to dismiss one's achievement as routine and easy, the way he himself would dismiss the creation of a robot?
It was obvious to Magnus from watching him, and from the brief interaction that they'd had, that the boy had a personality, and that it was distressingly similar to his own. He couldn't think of the boy as a "hunk of protoplasm"; his choices were to consider Joseph an abomination that had to be destroyed, or his son/brother/alter ego, and abominations didn't play soccer with their friends and laugh and frizz their hair beyond recognition so that they could keep a ball on their head while flying. He was too damnably normal, too much like the man Erik Lehnsherr might have grown into if the shadow of the Holocaust had not fallen across his life and consumed all that was good in it.
My second chance, he thought again, and pushed it away. The boy was plainly himself, with his own life, not merely Magnus' innocent doppelganger. He could not browbeat the boy into playing the role he wanted Joseph to take; that would work about as well as trying to convince him not to attack, or not to pursue, had. He remembered the words from one of the books-- "He never saw us as people, certainly never saw us clearly enough to recognize us as his children. We were only tools, weapons for him to use for his cause, and if we made the mistake of having minds of our own, we paid for it, dearly." Wanda's words. Wanda was dead, and he had never met her, and it was a wound in his heart every time he saw her picture. How could he have failed to recognize her as his child, when she looked like Magda reborn? He'd lost her, lost Pietro, apparently by treating them as objects instead of recognizing them as people with minds and agendas of their own. And Joseph was far too much like him to tolerate that kind of treatment nearly as long as Wanda and Pietro apparently had. Stubborn young fool. And a stubborn old fool. A matched set. We are identical opposites, twin poles, but I've yet to see if we will attract or repel. Manipulating magnetic fields was far, far easier than influencing the polarity of another's desires. Well, he would see.
Margaret released Joseph. "He'll be ravenous when he wakes up, and probably awfully thirsty as well. Are you going to take him back to the X-Men right away, or what?"
"I went rather out of my way to talk to him, and our conversation was interrupted. Judging from the tenacity with which he pursued me, I believe he, too, would rather we talked before I sent him back. So no. Do you have any sort of power suppressant fields here?"
"I got your power suppressants right here," Margaret said, holding up her hands. She touched Joseph's head again, more lightly this time, her fingers burying themselves in his hair. "There's a neurotransmitter, catalysine, found only in mutants. Do you remember?"
He nodded. Another of the things he knew and had no recollection of learning. "The substrate of mutant power. But have a care, Mystery. I seem to recall that my own powers aren't wholly dependent on catalysine."
She nodded. "You generate power without it, but you can't manipulate that power at all. You turn into a battery for the use of others, blocked entirely from the use of your own energies. In the long run the absence of catalysine would eat you alive if something didn't drain off the energies. In the short run, however, if I strip all the catalysine out of his brain, it'll take him a day or two to replace it all and then he'll be fine. Will you need longer than that?"
"A day or two should be fine. Will there be any side effects?"
"Yeah. Don't let him handle videotapes without insulated gloves. As long as you don't get him seriously pissed or seriously frightened, his energies will be at a low ebb without the feedback of catalysine to kick him into higher EM production, and obviously you can bleed him off if he does start getting excitable, but actually letting him touch magnetic media will be a bad idea."
"You can't simply suppress the ability to generate electromagnetic energies?"
"Sure, but I'm not going to. A temporary lack of catalysine will fix itself. A temporary disruption of the electromagnetic pathways and the generation matrix probably won't, and then I'd have to come in again, and either he'd see me or you'd have to knock him out first, which doesn't sound like what you want to do. I want to stay out of this, Magnus."
"Why? Are you afraid of his reaction to you?"
"I'm not interested in being his mommy and less in being his creator. I met some of your Savage Land Mutates, you know. A more fucked-up bunch of losers it would be hard to find. They were abandoned by their creator, and turned seriously weird as a result. As far as I'm concerned, if Joseph wants a creator he can go look for God. And if he wants a mommy, he can advertise in the papers. I have no use for him anymore."
That sounded stranger the more often she said it. There was something there, some reason Margaret was rejecting Joseph so vehemently, he felt sure, but he couldn't begin to guess what. Really, he knew very little about her. Given what she knew about him, that hardly seemed equitable, but he wasn't going to push it. All he did know was that she had been through her own variety of hell, as he had been, and that she had known him once, clearly during the time period he had no memories for. She didn't want to talk about it, and remembering how silent he had been on the subject of his own experiences, he could hardly blame her. She knew what she knew because he'd told her-- most of it when he was coming up from another session with nightmare, weeping or screaming or simply shaking with reaction, and he had to speak of it or go mad. Some of it, he might have told her in the forgotten time, but while he got the impression from her that he had been more open then than in the life he did remember, he couldn't imagine ever having confided all that much in anyone.
"I will put him in my old room. Is there anything he should be eating?"
"The usual. Iron. Protein. He's more than a little on the anemic side, so he should clearly be eating more iron anyway."
"He might not know he has to."
"Probably doesn't. Ah well, when he passes out in the middle of a mission I guess the X-Men will know better than to keep people's dietary requirements from them, won't they?"
That hardly sounded like something students of Charles would do. "They probably don't know. I can't imagine I advertised such a thing. A heightened need for dietary iron is small, as weaknesses go, but it's still a weakness and I can't imagine sharing such a thing with my enemies."
"Good point. We done here? I've got work to do."
He hesitated. The tone of her voice was far more brusque than he was used to from her. "I'm on your list now, aren't I?"
Margaret laughed. "My shit list, you mean?"
"The list of people you would prefer not to talk to at the moment, at any rate."
"You know, I did only ask you for one simple favor, and you did utterly screw it up."
"I would prefer to remain off the list if possible. What will you accept as amends?"
"I don't know, Magnus. I think I need to see some serious groveling here."
"Then you're doomed to disappointment, because I don't grovel. What about black and white cookies from a New York bakery instead?"
"Ooh, you're ruthless." She pressed her hands to her abdomen. "Right through the stomach. But I don't know. I haven't had a good black and white cookie in ages, but it's been even longer since I had real Italian food without cooking it myself..."
"You drive a hard bargain, woman. Dinner in New York City? An expensive Italian restaurant, and a trip to a bakery?"
"Come now, you make it sound like I accidentally destroyed your computer again, or something equally heinous."
"I'm a New Yorker. If I didn't push my luck, how could I maintain my reputation?"
"Your abominable accent would give a hint."
"This from the man who can't decide whether he's from Germany, Russia or Israel?"
"You forgot Poland. And Brazil. And the Ukraine, which is not in fact Russia."
"There is so not any Brazil in your accent."
"Besides, my accent is attractive. Yours merely makes you sound like a cab driver."
"You're living in the past again, Magnus. Cabbies don't speak English anymore."
"And what you speak is English?"
"It's Brooklynese. And it's very faint. You're just a snob who learned to speak English from some damn Brits or something."
He laughed. "Of course I'm a snob, and so are you. We are merely snobbish about different things." With his power he lifted Joseph off the table. The young man was indeed a little too pale; it was hard to see under his tan, which was considerably darker than Magnus' had been in years, but there wasn't enough red in his coloring. "I shall see to Joseph. Go see to your work."
"I am going to hold you to that dinner date."
"I wouldn't dream of reneging."
Next: It's Two Stubborn Men With Egos The Size Of California, head to head in verbal combat!
Hear that little crickety sound? It's going "critique me, critique me!" I like feedback, including tough, serious criticism, so if you have anything to say to me say it! 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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Part Seven of "Journeyman of Magnetism"
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