Twin Poles One: Journeyman of Magnetism Part 7
Rotating Disclaimer: Marvel owns everyone in this chapter but insists on making them do mean things to each other. Also, it bears repeating that in this story, nothing that takes place after about UXM #340 occurs, including retcons. Thus, Magneto's real name is still Erik Lehnsherr, though neither of them are going to use it anytime soon.
Joseph opened his eyes and looked up at the ceiling of a wholly unfamiliar room.
I know this place. Not the room-- he'd never been here before within his memory, he was sure. But this physical location, this node on the planetary electromagnetic grid, was naggingly familiar. That surprised him. He had been to places Magneto had been-- the mansion, for instance-- and never felt this sense of half-recognition before. Perhaps it was related to what Jean had talked about, the fact that most of his adult memories were literally erased and not just inaccessible-- but he was quite positive that Magneto hadn't gone to America until he was an adult, long past the point where even the few fragments Jean had been able to recover for Joseph stopped, and this was North America, beyond a doubt. Joseph concentrated, trying to narrow it down. Southern California, or northwestern Mexico, he thought. Maybe New Mexico, but he didn't think he was that far east. His directional sense wasn't precise in a place he'd never been before-- or in this case, a place he couldn't quite remember when he'd been before-- but when he tried to send out a scanning wave to locate himself more precisely, nothing happened.
That jolted him. He sat up, and the world spun around him. Dizzy and weak, and very hungry, but his lungs didn't hurt at all. Something had healed him. He had no reliable way to tell how much time had passed, though it felt like he hadn't eaten in a day or two. Hadn't drunk either-- his lungs didn't hurt, but his throat felt cracked and dry, and there was the bone-deep thirst that came from losing too much fluid. A carafe of water and a glass, both plastic, sat next to the bed he was lying on. Shaking slightly, he poured himself a glass of water, spilling a little bit of it.
His powers didn't work. He could see EM fields as clearly as ever, and with that sight he could see that he was still generating a low-energy resting field, but he had no conscious control over it, or any other electromagnetic energies, at all. But he wasn't wearing a collar, and he knew, without having the faintest idea how he knew, that power suppression fields should either not work on him at all or should shut him down completely. This bizarre partial ability was something he was going to have to investigate, assuming he lived; most of his research lately into ways to shut mutant powers down had been focused on ways to turn off particular subsystems of power without shutting them all down, in particular ways to turn off Rogue's absorption ability without endangering her by cutting off her strength or invulnerability. If whatever his captors were using on him could be adapted to help Rogue...
...but then, that assumed he would live through this, and he wasn't quite certain why he was still alive in the first place. Surely keeping the real Magneto alive was a liability if your plan was to replace him with a duplicate. Unless the idea was to interrogate him to get whatever information they could to perfect the disguise, a thought which struck Joseph as terribly amusing. Even if he told them anything, an unlikely occurrence in the first place, the idea of someone using his knowledge to try to perfect a Magneto impersonation was ludicrous. Of course, as soon as they figured that out they would most likely kill him, and before that time he could probably expect torture, or a psi-probe, which for him was basically the same thing. So it wasn't really funny.
There was a source of electromagnetic energy approaching him, at about the speed of a human walking. It was low-level, about the same strength and intensity as his own resting field-- in fact, it was nearly identical to his resting field, which certainly gave it away what it was. Joseph flattened himself against the wall behind the door. He was still weak and hungry, but functional, and against someone who had his powers while he himself didn't he would likely only get one chance. There was nothing he could use as a weapon in the room-- the plastic carafe was too light, and the only other things in the room were blankets and pillows-- but he'd been in fights with his bare hands before. Admittedly, never since waking up in South America with amnesia, but Jean's probe had raised images of himself as a child, being yelled at by his father for getting into yet another fight, and he suspected the bone-deep memories would be there for him, the knowledge of what to do as soon as he started to try to do it.
He hoped, anyway.
The door opened, and the doppelganger stepped inside. Joseph swung his fists into the other's face, as hard as he could.
The blow bounced harmlessly off the other's shield, a shield that hadn't been there the moment Joseph began the swing. The double gave him a hard look, and Joseph found himself staggering backward, a wall of force pushing him back into the center of the room. The door swung shut behind the double. "Is that enough, now?" the man asked, in German. Joseph recognized the specific dialect-- he had never spoken it since his awakening, but it was, in fact, his native language, the tongue of wherever it was that he'd grown up. "You've made your futile attempt, will you now finally stop fighting and listen to reason?"
Joseph stepped backward, hands up in a useless fighting stance. "Why am I alive?" he asked harshly, in the same language.
"Because you aren't dead, I would imagine."
"That is not an answer!"
The man looked startled, then laughed. "You are like me. Even knowing what you are, I didn't entirely expect to hear my own words out of your mouth. No, you're quite right, you deserve a better answer than that. You are alive because it was never my intent to kill you, nor does it serve any purpose I might conceivably imagine to do so. Though you certainly did try your best to force me to it."
Joseph's eyes narrowed. "What is it to be, then? An attempt to brainwash me? To extract any useful information I might possess from my mind, to complete your impersonation? Or do you somehow need access to me in order to maintain my shape and my powers?"
"Actually, I thought I would feed you, and then see if you'd listen to a rational explanation of what you are, and I am." A package wrapped in tinfoil floated toward Joseph. Joseph stared at it without any move to take it. He was hungry enough that the sight of something that was clearly supposed to be food set his mouth watering, even though he had no idea what it was... but he was wary.
"What is it?"
"A roast beef sandwich." The doppelganger looked at him and sighed. "Boy, you have been unconscious in my care for two hours, now. If I'd wanted to drug or poison you, there were far easier ways to do it than put it in your food."
He had a point. Joseph took the tinfoil-wrapped sandwich, unwrapped it, and broke it in half. The doppelganger's magnetic field was not powerful enough anymore to disguise the patterns of bioelectricity running up and down the spinal column and through the brain. This was a living creature, not some sort of robot. Of course it could be a living creature with a healing factor, but he could only take the precautions he could take. Joseph handed half to the doppelganger. "Eat this."
"I just told you--"
"I won't eat if you don't. There may be something in it that needs to be introduced with food, or some other thing I'm not taking into account."
"Oh, for the love of God," the man muttered. "Very well." He took a bite of the sandwich from the middle, and a second bite from the crust side. Then he handed it back. "Are you satisfied?"
It was as close to proof of the sandwich's innocuousness as he was going to get, and he had no idea how long he was going to be held prisoner-- it would be foolish to refuse all food. Joseph took the sandwich half from his alter ego's hands, and ate, disciplining himself not to wolf it down like a starving animal. It was exactly the way he liked roast beef sandwiches, which frightened him. Knowing how to use his powers better than he himself did was one thing. But knowing him well enough to know just how he liked his food? "Talk, if that's what you've come for," he said between finishing the sandwich half and starting the second half.
"I will be blunt, then, since you don't seem to have grasped what I tried to tell you before your friends came and attacked me. You are not Magneto. I am, or was. You are a clone, with a partial copy of my memories."
"I grasped--" Talking with his mouth full. Joseph hastily gulped down the bite of sandwich still in his mouth. "I grasped what you were trying to tell me. I simply didn't believe it. What proof do you have?"
"What proof do you need? I have beaten you in combat with our powers-- three times now. I am, plainly, older than you. You admit that you suffer from a loss of memories. If one of us is a duplicate of the other-- and it's obvious that one of us must be-- I am obviously the one with the greater claim to being the original."
"Hardly," Joseph retorted. "If you were copied from me when I had all my memories and looked my true age-- or at the least, as old as you look-- it would only make sense that you would look older and have greater knowledge of how to use your powers. I don't know what happened to me to make me lose my memories and years off my apparent age, but given the things I do know have happened to other people, such a thing is far from implausible. In fact, I'm given to understand that I've lost years off my age before, which would explain why you look forty and not sixty."
"Occam's Razor would argue against your theory, boy," the doppelganger said. Joseph was beginning to get really, really tired of being called "boy." Just because he looked barely out of his teens didn't mean he actually was. "Your explanation invokes more complications than mine-- my version explains your age and amnesia, while yours simply states that they aren't that implausible."
"Your explanation does no such thing. If I were the sort of clone who's created to be a precise doppelganger, I should look the same age as you. If I were the sort who's created as an infant, then either I should be an infant, or I was created some twenty-odd years ago and we would still need to account for my amnesia. And your explanation doesn't account for the fact that you don't know the X-Men's names." Joseph smiled fiercely, triumphant. "If I'm not the real Magneto, then the real Magneto should certainly know the names of his greatest enemies. You called one who I have reason to believe Magneto knew well 'the flying young woman.'"
"Did you know her name, when you were still living in South America?"
"I hadn't met her yet."
"Yes, you had, if you were Magneto. You say I cannot be the real Magneto because I do not know the girl's name. It's true that I don't know her name, but did you know her name before you met her? Met her as Joseph, I mean? Did you look at her and suddenly recognize her as a figure from your past?"
"I thought not. So if the true Magneto would know her name due to past interactions with her, then both of us are disqualified."
Joseph shook his head. "I have amnesia, if you'll recall correctly."
"Indeed. And I, too, am missing a large piece of my memories, but unlike you I do remember who I am. I am missing time, not my entire identity."
"I know who I am."
"No, you don't. In more senses than simply believing you are Magneto when you're not. You don't even know who Magneto was, truly. You know what you've been told, but you plainly know nothing of Magneto's life. Have you even read the books?"
Joseph frowned. "Books? What books?"
"I'll take that to mean 'no.' This is the difference between us, Joseph. I remember my family, and their deaths. I remember the camps, and fleeing them with Magda. I remember my daughter's death, and my friendship with Charles Xavier, and the work I undertook to serve justice and hone my skills for the struggle ahead. What I do not remember is what happened after I decided to become a terrorist-- anything belonging to the publicly known career of Magneto. What do you remember?"
Shadows, and fragments. "I have no proof that you know anything that isn't publicly available. I know that Magneto was incarcerated in a concentration camp, that his wife's name was Magda, that he was friends with Charles Xavier once. If you want to prove that you're Magneto, you'll have to prove that you know something that isn't public knowledge."
The man's face twisted in sudden rage, and his magnetic field intensified by several orders of magnitude. Involuntarily Joseph took a step back, suddenly realizing at a gut-deep level why Rogue, or anyone, had feared him. "You demand to know something the world does not?" he asked. "You refuse to believe that I am the true Magneto until I tell you something I have told no one else? And pray tell, Joseph, how would you know anything I haven't told anyone else, with your near-complete absence of memory?"
The power levels radiating from the man were enough to fling a tank, intense enough that they were leaking out into his visible aura, making him glow. "I could tell you of the time my partner and I lifted a body from the pile in the chamber, to carry it to the crematorium, and it was my uncle, his body curled uselessly around my little cousin as if he'd tried to protect his son with his last breath, and failed. I could tell you of the awful bargain I made with one of the kapos, my second night in Auschwitz, to preserve my life, but what good would it do to tell you any of this when you remember none of it?"
He advanced on Joseph, who held his ground despite an overwhelming instinctive need to back away. If he was to be killed, physical proximity wouldn't make a bit of difference. The double went on. "Do you remember standing by Charles' side in the bar fight, suspecting that if you were not so drunk you would probably do the sensible thing and drag him out of there, and privately rejoicing that you were too drunk to be so sensible? Do you remember teasing Marya about her historical romances, and reading the love scenes out loud at the dinner table for revenge because she kept making rude comments while you were trying to listen to a radio play? Do you remember Anya looking up at the stars and asking what they were, and remembering doing the same thing with Father, and you vowed--" his voice, which had begun the tirade thick with rage, was beginning to break with some other emotion, and there was a suspicious brightness in his eyes-- "you vowed you would do better than he had, you vowed you would not let yourself be killed and leave her alone to a cold universe, and instead you failed far more terribly than he had, you held her tiny burnt body in your hands and buried her, and all your hopes with her--" He cut himself off, and Joseph knew exactly why. The doppelganger's voice sounded just like his own did, when he was just barely balanced this side of weeping.
The man's words evoked memories just like Jean's psi-probe had, but naturally, without the sense of pain and violation that had brought. "'The stars,'" Joseph whispered, barely trusting his own voice, "'are just like the sun, but very, very far away. They're like giant gas lamps, burning in outer space, and if you flew there as fast as an airplane could fly, you couldn't get there for hundreds and hundreds of years. And maybe one of those sun-stars has a planet going around it, just like Earth, and maybe there's a little boy, an alien little boy, on one of those planets, pointing up at the sky and asking, "Papa, what are stars?", right now.'"
The other one's eyes had gone wide. "You-- do remember?"
Joseph nodded, slowly. "Father said that. When I, you, whoever, whichever of us it was, we were, what? Five? Six? And then-- and then Anya asked the same thing-- and it was an alien little girl, but it was the same, we said the same thing, we'd remembered after all those years--" He swallowed. Curious, this. He'd never had an image this clear. Jean's mindprobe seemed to have broken the amnesia in some ways-- the fragments that were actually there, as opposed to the things Jean claimed had been wiped forever, were clearer now than they'd ever been. "And I said to Father, I said when I grew up I was going to be an astronaut and go off into space and meet that alien little boy, and he laughed and said maybe I would, maybe I would..."
"Whereas Anya was more interested in asking why it was dark at night. I remember. Do you?"
"Why it was dark at night? No, but I remember her asking about different languages, and why was it that the word for 'dog' was different in German and in Russian, and could she have a puppy?" He shook his head. "Did I ever get her one?"
"No, you-- I-- Magda and I, we couldn't afford a dog. I was... going to become an engineer, and we'd move to Paris, we'd bribe someone for the papers once we had the money, and then, I promised Anya she could have her puppy." The doppelganger took a deep breath. "So. It seems you remember more than I thought you do. Enough to satisfy you, then, that my lack of knowledge of things such as the X-Men's identities does not mean that I got all my knowledge of Magneto out of a handful of books? That I don't merely have more of the skills of Magneto than you do, I have more of the memories as well?"
Joseph sighed. He wasn't out of this yet. He had to push aside the emotional storm the memories had begun to summon, and deal with the present. "I'll concede that, however you got Magneto's memories, you got more of them than I have," he said. "Which could mean that you are the original, and I the copy. It could, however, also mean that you were copied before my mind was wiped. You could stand there and recite my entire life story to me, and it wouldn't prove that it's your life story and not mine."
The other clenched his fists. "Damn you, boy, why must you be so stubborn?" He fixed Joseph with a suspicious glare. "Why do you cling so hard to the thought of being Magneto? Do you want to be Magneto? Does my past, the hardships you cannot remember, seem romantic to you somehow?"
That infuriated Joseph. He stepped forward, half-intending to grab the other and shake him, before it sank in that this was a bad idea. Instead, he checked himself, but his own fists clenched. "Do I want to be Magneto?" he repeated disbelievingly. "Want to be a mass murderer with the blood of more than ten thousand on my hands? Why, do you want such a thing? I want nothing more than to be free of that burden, to know and know it to be true that the blood is not on my hands, that I am not responsible for death and madness and painting mutantkind as monsters in the eyes of the world. If that were true-- if I could know it to be true-- it would change everything. These past months, I have endured things I would never have voluntarily submitted to, except that I felt I deserved them, that I needed to atone for my crimes. If I haven't committed those crimes at all--" He thought of how the original X-Men treated him, how even Rogue often dismissed his contributions and had attacked him for wanting to know more of his past. All the times he'd swallowed his pride, accepted their treatment of him as a monster barely deserving of a chance at redemption, because that was what he was. But if he wasn't... "It would change everything," he repeated. "But I would need to know. I can't simply believe what I want to believe, because if I allow myself to believe I'm not Magneto when I truly am, if I don't seek to atone when I truly do have such crimes on my conscience... I can't allow that. So I can't trust you. You could be lying, or deluded. And besides, if you are the true Magneto it makes no sense that you would simply want to talk to me and convince me of that fact, without trying to recruit me to your cause or bend me to your will."
"Whereas you're clearly spending all your time trying to recruit me to your cause or bend me to your will."
"Aside from the fact that I am the initiator of this little conversation, how so?"
Joseph stared at his double, hard. "I have seen enough to know that Magneto was a monster, an evil man. The only thing I was, and remain, unable to reconcile-- I know what I am. I have killed, far too easily... I am not a good man, nor an innocent one, whatever the X-Men may think. But I'm not a monster. I was never able to understand how simply losing my memories could have changed everything that I am, everything that I believe at the deepest core of myself. If you are the real Magneto, and I am not, then the explanation is simple. I'm not a monster, because you are. Which doesn't argue that I should believe anything you say."
"And what monstrous things have I done so far? Quite aside from the patent absurdity of refusing to believe I'm the real Magneto because if I were the real Magneto you couldn't believe me when I say I am, your theory doesn't seem to have much evidence to recommend it."
"You nearly killed two of the X-Men!"
The double sighed. "That was an accident."
"An accident?" Did this creature, whoever he really was, expect Joseph to believe that?
"No. No, I misspoke myself. I should say, it was not what I intended." He walked over to the carafe of water and poured himself a glass. "None of this has come out as I intended. When I went to visit the X-Men, it was only to see what they had become-- I knew nothing of them, you understand, other than what I have read, but I know them to be Charles' students and I wanted to see what he had made of them. And then I saw you. I observed you for several minutes before you noticed me, trying to fathom what you might be-- I'm sure you of all people know how unsettling it is to see another version of yourself. When you noticed me, I stunned you only so that I'd have freedom to leave without the X-Men coming after me, as I wasn't sure, with the loss of the latter part of my life, I'd be able to defeat them. I wasn't sure how close my combat skills were to what they had once been, and I recognized none of them, knew none of their powers-- it was regrettable, and I think it set us on the wrong foot from the beginning, but I didn't feel I had a choice."
"You are not claiming to have created me?" Joseph asked skeptically.
"No. When I learned what you are-- I would never have willingly cloned myself, certainly never inflicted my memories on an innocent creation. And certainly never allowed him to run about believing himself to be Magneto, carrying the burden of guilt that should be mine alone. I determined to talk to you, to tell you what you are, and I tried to summon you in such a fashion that you'd come without the X-Men-- but you attacked me, and then you brought them--"
"They followed me. I didn't bring them."
"So I didn't misread you, then. That's good to know-- it's unpleasant to think one does not know oneself." He smiled briefly. "You, I could defeat easily enough, and I found when the X-Men attacked that I did actually remember something of their powers and capabilities. The girl with the stripe in her hair, the one you say I have a history with-- she's invulnerable, isn't she? And she flies, and is enormously strong-- that much, I saw for myself."
"Yes, you did," Joseph replied guardedly. He wasn't going to give anything away about any of the X-Men or their powers if he could help it.
"I meant only to hold them all off until I'd figured out some way to defeat them, something that wouldn't involve hurting them. I had no desire to hurt them. But then you began harrying me, weakening my shields-- and then the mindwitch attacked me." His eyes narrowed. "I'm afraid that any intentions I had of sparing the X-Men hurt disappeared then. You may take this information back to your friends-- I do not like telepathy. And I will always respond to a telepathic attack... badly. As you saw." He shook his head. "Even then, I had no real desire to kill them. I'd have held you in place and maintained the circuit exactly where it was if I'd wanted the red-haired witch dead. And the other girl, the striped one, could have flown in pursuit if I hadn't struck her down, and I knew she was invulnerable so I had to make sure of her. Then you pursued me, after I'd flung them all off, and kept pursuing me with a dogged persistence that I'd call moronic were it not that I'd have done the same thing in your place-- which makes it no less moronic, but I'm in no position to criticize you for it. I did nearly have to kill you, and for that I'm sorry. But after that display of persistence, I had no guarantee that even dispersing your oxygen would stop you-- I was sure you'd just return to atmosphere, get more air and then come back and intercept me en route." He sighed. "From your point of view, I'm sure I've done the unforgivable. I struck down your friends, and, I suspect, one that you love, and I used you as a weapon to do it. I've defeated you in combat three times, and if your pride is the smallest fraction of mine I know too well how that stings. But looking back, I can't see how I could have done anything differently, not and expected to survive it."
Unfortunately, Joseph couldn't see how the other could have done anything differently either. He knew too well what it was like to be beset by people who wanted to kill you when you had no quarrel with them, didn't know them or their capabilities, and how you might find yourself using deadly force against them without ever having come to the decision that they should die, only because you were so harried that you couldn't hold back if you were to live. As much as Joseph wanted to hate him for what he'd done to Rogue, it was true that Rogue had been at the forefront of that attack, without listening to reason or the other's protestations that he didn't want to fight. Of course, Rogue had been that ready to attack because she'd thought Joseph was in danger-- but if he hadn't been in danger, if it was true that the man only wanted to talk, then it was Joseph's fault, because he'd made Rogue suspicious and brought her chasing after him.
Next: More talking magnetic heads.
As usual, send me any and all feedback. 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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